All posts filed under: Mediterranean wines

In Montpellier for Vinisud 2016

Last week I was at Vinisud 2016 in Montpellier for the Mediterranean wine trade fair. It was my first time at this event, and as far as locations go, you could not do better than tasting wines on the sunny coast of France in February. I was there as a Vinisud Ambassador, along with Charlie Arturaola (producer of the film, “The Ways of Wine” and other wine films), Denise Medrano (The Wine Sleuth), and Michelle Williams (Rocking Red Blog). The Ambassador team was a social media powerhouse, becoming a sounding board for the producers and presentations. In a single day, the TweetReach broke new records via the official #VINISUD2016 hashtag with nearly 1,500 twitter posts recorded. According to Sylvain Dadé of specialist agency SOWINE, which hosted the Vinisud Digital Hub, over the last two days of the show, 533,000 accounts were reached with 4.8 million prints. On Tuesday, we found #Vinisud2016 was trending on twitter alongside that other little event going on at the time, The Grammys (!).  Charlie, Denise and Michelle are true social media professionals at the top of their game; each of their presentations at …

Wines from Lebanon: Why we need boozy long lunches more than ever

It’s been one year since my trip to Lebanon. Last week’s tasting of Lebanese wines in London’s Borough market had been planned weeks before hand, but it happened to coincide with the same week as the attacks in Beirut, and on the next day, in Paris. Can we ever understand the horrific events of the past week? The time calls out for civilisation. I agree with the message from the Charlie Hebdo illustrator, Joann Sfar, after the Paris attacks: “Our faith goes to music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and joy!” For me, that means eating together, friends and a glass of wine. That is why a long lunch of mezze and Lebanese wine was the perfect tonic for the time.   A very brief history of food and wine in a complex region The story of wine is the story of civilisation. It was the ancient sea-faring Phoenicians that introduced, encouraged and propagated viticulture in the ancient world when vitis vinifera was still only a weed in many areas across the Mediterranean. Around the same time they also developed and spread the use of an alphabet. In more recent times, the Lebanese …

On Berry Bros & Rudd blog: Marco de Bartoli’s Vecchio Samperi Ventenniale

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Marco de Bartoli winery in Marsala, Western Sicily. This is where I tasted one of Italy’s great wines: Vecchio Samperi Ventennale. When Berry Bros & Rudd asked if I could write about one of their Italian wines, I could not go past Marco de Bartoli’s famous Marsala. This is a story of one man (and wine) against the odds. Read the full story on Berry Bros & Rudd blog, “One man’s perpetual drive for quality” here >   

Anything but Assyrtiko: Greek wine reviews

I do not drink enough Greek wine to say Anything but Assyrtiko just quite yet – there is still so much to love about Santorini – but after this selection from the Daily Drinker for my Greek wine reviews I can see past the horizon beyond Santorini. Under the blaring midday sun on the beach, imagine a very cold white wine called Roditis by Tetramythos as the high thrilling squeal of children chased by waves, with the Malagousia, Domaine Gerovassiliou creating a general hubbub of civilised conversation of adults on the towel nearby. As the sun goes down, these voices become more distinct and clear – the Kidonitsa, Monemvasia Winery draws near and whispers idle romantic thoughts with rich fruit that lingers beyond midday, yet as fresh and essential, as a cool shower at the hotel before dinner in the local restaurant. The Robola, Gentilini is a complex, balanced wine that continues the holiday as the true souvenir of the summer in Kefalonia. A timeless Greek wine, it could be the best white wine from anywhere, yet as specific to its time and place, …

Greek Assyrtiko: between thyme and the deep blue sea

What is the Greek wine Assyrtiko? Grown on the volcanic soil of Santorini, it is a white wine that when good, is a summer wind by the sea made into taste and smell. Last night I had the Hatzidakis Assyrtiko with hot salmon, fresh herbs and dijon mustard on ciabatta and, although it is not a traditional Greek dish, it is an excellent match for this wine: as clear as white houses against blue sky. For those who had too much cheap retsina on a package holiday once: this wine will rock your preconceptions about Greek wine. Let in the fresh air. There is no reason why Santorini AOC should not be more well-known: minerally, fresh and from a major Greek Island. The technology is there to create fresh white wines, hopefully Hatzidakis will pave the way for more wines from this region. Tasting with a handful of vine-ripened tomatoes before dinner lifted the wine to another level, and my friend suggested it was the methoxypyrazines that are working together in tomato and the Assyrtiko (the green tastes in wine, …

Last of the True Romantics: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC

Often my friend from Rome, perhaps while we are walking down the street to the supermarket on a grey Saturday morning, will abruptly stop, hold his hand over his heart, grab my elbow to jolt me back and say with eyes wide open in shock, “Did you see THAT? That’s IT! I AM IN LOVE!”   Meanwhile, of course, the “love of his life” walks by completely unaware of the near cardiac arrest just caused. To be honest, I often never see what all the fuss is about, but for a moment, at least, the day seems just a little brighter for it.   I have to be careful when we are tasting wine together. He is often in raptures. That’s why, to tone down his enthusiasm about the good wine we tried from the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC in Campania, I started to talk about rocks and soil types in vineyards.   In particular, the soil type of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio – near the volcano Mount Vesuvius – which can often be found …

Reto by Ponce

  Fashion photography, much like most wine writing, can focus too much on the facts for my taste – shoes, hats, dress, size, price, perfunctory smile and twirl – and then, there is the photography that makes everything “rich and strange“. This is the photographer, Guy Bourdin: his exhibition is currently on at Somerset House in London. His posters stare back at me every night on the tube on the way home from work. The effect of his photography on the senses during peak hour is like seeing an elaborate window display of pastries when on a sugar-low. Although Ponce (pronounced Pon-the) is the winemaker on everyone’s lips at the moment, from his cool spot in Manchuela in Spain, I was blissfully unaware of the wine facts when I tasted Reto. It is big, wintry white wine that some may dismiss as easily as puff shoulders and flouncy gowns. It is big but this Albilla (the grape variety) is certainly more precise than a Chardonnay from the 1980s. Not everyone wants lean and mean and I believe there is a secret group of people …

Lebanon Diary – From Beirut to Paris

Overlooking the electrical storm over Beirut from my hotel room*, the city is peaceful. The rain has forced me back to the hotel. It is peaceful on the streets and for a Saturday afternoon it looks too quiet. Most of the people on the streets are either army or kids playing soccer on the empty roads. Especially around the park where families of 24 army who have been kidnapped by IS last month are occupying to demand action. In the farmer’s market there was a stall for the excellent Domaine de Bargylus from Syria being served with oysters. It was scene that could have easily been from one of my weekends in London. Although I am not sure how the wine crossed over the mountains into Lebanon. The market is between the new “Souk” shopping centre area controversially built on the destroyed ancient souks of Beirut. And a striking old building that was once a Press that is now just a facade pock-marked with bullet holes. It is almost impossible to not talk about the politics when talking about …

Lebanon Diary – Day 2

What is Lebanese wine, especially from the Bekaa Valley? What is Lebanon? Everyone is still out drinking Arak at Domaine des Tourelles, but I wanted to come home and write it all down before I lose it in an aniseed haze. It is amazing what happens when you don’t have a phone. Your eyes become the camera. Today was the first day I saw the Bekaa Valley in the light. The two mountains that cradle the valley are Mount Lebanon (towards Beirut) and the Anti-Lebanon mountains which form a natural barrier with Syria. Breathe it in – the bright white and bare soils on the hill behind the wineries that look almost biblical. So barren in parts after 1000s of years of civilisation, it is hard to imagine them ever having the luxury of trees. We stopped at Chateau Ka first for breakfast. We had Knefe (sweet cheese with rose water and orange blossom syrup in a bread roll) and Mankouché (za’atar and sesame seeds on warm pitta bread) which we stuffed with cucumber, tomato and mint …

Lebanon Diary – Day 1

I am writing this in a hotel on the Road to Damascus. The actual road, which is called – wait for it, I am not joking – Damascus Road. I am on the “Frontiere Syrienne” and the town of Damascus is only ten minutes drive away. I feel though I will have a Damascene moment… any moment. I am here to taste some Lebanese wine. Je suis arrivé au Liban. لقد وصلت في لبنان Don’t the customs people give a good indication to a new country? If I ran a country I would put the customs staff on PR training. And taxi drivers, particularly those who hang out at the airport. Luckily we have a very nice chap called Tony who will drive us around and will be able to help me with my very (very) basic Arabic. The customs officials have been amusing, if not flirtatious. I was asked twice if I also had a Lebanese passport, which is the nicest welcome I have had in a while. Apart from holding up the group who were waiting patiently …

Anti-Valentine Wine: 100% Bastardo

Before you are completely consumed with kitsch and regret, consider this for Valentine’s Day. When everyone else is popping pink Champagne and being overcharged at restaurants, you need an antidote to keep your mind focused on why you did the right thing. This wine made of 100% Bastardo even has soulless and cold eyes that stare out at you like some sort of ready-made vinous voodoo doll. Yet, the wine inside, perfumed, spicy and elegant like nothing you ever remembered about your time together, is a bit like a Poulsard or pale Burgundy. Bastardo is a grape variety also called Trousseau, one of the varieties varieties in Cotes du Jura, but in the hands of the mother and daughter team at Conceito in Portugal it appears stronger, less laden with romantic bliss than its French cousins, and does it in style. Self-assured winemaking, with a scary label, this won’t leave you to cry in front of the hundredth re-run of Bridget Jones this Friday night. Most likely it will make you laugh, which is exactly where you want to …

Bordeaux to Maroc

There was a lot of talk about Bordeaux before I left for holidays… Is en primeur 2013 on or not? On that hanging question, I left it all behind at Stanstead Airport for a week of mint tea and tagines in Marrakech. Of course, “getting away from it all” is not that simple. If only you could leave work behind sometimes, but when you work in the wine industry it seems to follow you around like your hand or foot. You try to get away but end up in some sort of Interzone only for it to arrive on the scene again like some Burroughs bug. Even in Marrakech, Bordeaux seemed to follow. It started with the Domaine de Sahari at the beautiful restaurant run by women called Al Fassia in the new town. We had to try the Cinsault (under the menu as a Vin Gris) and the red – a Carignan blend. Mysteriously, on the label it mentioned a “Bordeaux enologist” had some part to play in it. Later I found  it was owned …

Brilliant Grillo

One of the most exciting things I saw in Marsala at the government’s nursery vineyards were the experiments that crossed native Sicilian varieties with ancient Georgian Saperavi. Anticipating environmental change in the next 10 years, it is a forward thinking approach by the oenologists (then again, wineries take at least a generation to develop). The vineyards are part of a desire to return to the local grapes, to understand their natural expression, rather look at others for a style. Or have a style foisted on them. So much of Sicilian history has been this story. It is an island where the conquerors have left their mark, even in the wines – for example, Zibibbo is Arabic for grape. The conquerers have been Greeks, Spanish, Arabs, Italian, and in the case of Marsala, the British. For the wine lover, the market forces of the supermarket and EU have too often conquered Sicilian wines. There was not much incentive other than to make cheap wines in co-operatives. Now we saw a different story. In West Sicily, there …

2009 Occhipinti SP68 Bianco Sicilia

Future shock. There was an idea floating about a few years ago that mobile phones would develop an intelligence to predict your next purchase while walking down the street. The utopian marketers did not see it as 1984-style surveillance, nor as an over-enthusiastic vision from an IT consultant, but as a new form of enlightened self-interest moving at warp speed. If you liked a certain brand, and wanted it at a certain price, your phone would alert you as you are walking past a shop. Just think how easily I could stump the system: all I would have to do is put in my recent ten wine purchases. My phone would melt walking past my local delicatessen – where I have found some amazing wines recently.

Manouches, Zelig-Caravent

    Tonight my friend from Agde and my travelling days (from a time when you could walk through customs with a corkscrew, wine bottle and shoes intact) bought me a wine from around his area in Languedoc. The wine is called Manouches. Quite by chance, my friend says. Then it is a wonderful coincidence: Manouches also means gypsy. But it means more than that. The word has an association with Django and jazz – “Perhaps because Django was a Manouche, and ‘gypsy-jazz’ music is so accociated with Paris & France, the word has become synonymous with gypsy-jazz guitar.” Djangology.net The wine has the intense pure blue fruit common to natural wines but it also has a dark shadow (non-fruit) that follows the bright midday sun (fruit): thyme and nuttiness (hazelnut). I like the Languedoc when it is like this: breaking the rules. It is a platinum gypsy: an unusual blend of 70% Alicante Bouschet and the rest Cinsault. Image: Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Countessa.

Vignaioli Naturali di Roma 2013

“I have a great appetite for splendour, but at the same time very simple tastes,” says the Valentino quotation at the entrance of his recent exhibition Valentino: Master of Couture in London. The Roman fashion maestro could have also been talking about Italian wine. On the weekend of February 9-10, I was in Rome for the Vignaioli Naturali di Roma. It was not the normal natural wine tasting (if there is such a thing as a normal natural wine tasting).

Beautiful Gestures in Campania

After paying for a ticket to see the Palace in Caserta I asked, why is the main entrance in darkness? To give you an idea of the opulence and amount of marble of this entrance, this is the same place that is used as stand-in for the Vatican in films and also used as a set for Star Wars. Yet when we arrived, we had to climb the marble stairs in darkness, reducing the grandest staircase I have ever seen to a hollow echo-chamber. The fabulous silk curtains were almost threadbare and sun-damaged, the walls cracked and scuffed.   Despite this neglect, every room overwhelmed, as if outdoing the previous room in their lavish praise to gold. My calves ached from the amount of walking on marble; it must have been kilometres.   There is also something of this forgotten glamour and grandness to the wines here. I tasted some true greats in Campania. They are unquestionably brilliant but… it is like talking on a radio in a power cut. And just as frustrating. It’s …

Pure Pleasure State: Vermentino! (Amore, Amore, Amore)

  The state of Vermentino is pure pleasure. So I raised my eyebrows to the challenge to show there were different styles of the vermentino grape. To me it is obvious: all vermentino seems to show a wave of glamourous flavour which ends in a quiet shhhh of reaching the shore. Whether the Vermentino is from Liguria, Tuscany, Sardinia or the emerging areas in Australia. But there are differences.    Solosole, Poggio al Tessoro, from Maremma is quite simply the taste of licking warm, bronzed skin after a swim in the ocean ending in the quiet of an acidic kiss. Australian vermentino, from Chalmers in Mildura in Australia, also shows the very lean, citrus mineral style after an exciting display of flavours (smoky, herbs, orange/lemon). If you know the superb Rieslings from Eden Valley you will know what I mean by the eventual leaness.   But it is Sardinia that takes the award for pure fabulous beach style; but, is it really surprising? There’s no other way of saying it – this is rich for …

Languedoc Seduction: Domaine Peyre Rose Clos des Cistes 2002

Winemaker Marlene Soria has achieved a grand clandestine moment with 2002 Peyre Rose Clos des Cistes. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this wine is not the dramatic Mediterranean garrigue character, nor the resolutely non-berry style of the dark rose and golden figs, leather and slight bay-leaf menthol. It is the fleshiness given to this powerful, idiosyncratic voice from the South of France: a region where a lot of voices have yet to find out what they exactly want to say. Compelled to find out more, I learned Soria stopped shipping to the US soon after gaining recognition in Wine Spectator as well as dumping the three previous vintages (1999, 2000, 2001) with the local wine co-operative due to taint from faulty enamel tanks. This, for a wine that easily commands over £60 a bottle. I questioned whether I should write about the vinous equivalent of a one-night stand, one that you and I may never see again (it is found in the UK in seriously low quantities). Yet, weeks later, its mysterious voice and …