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Vegan Wines Wine Woman Song

How to Shop for Vegan Wine: What You Need to Know

If you have recently gone vegan and are looking for a way to replace your old go-to wines with vegan wine, then you are in luck.

With the growing popularity of vegan wines, there are now more options than ever. And with that comes confusion— what is vegan wine? What should I look for? How do I know if it is good?

Here are some tips on how to navigate the wine aisle when looking for great vegan wines.

What is vegan wine?

First off: what is vegan wine? Vegan wines are without animal products.

Although the Vegan Society accepts the use of by-products like casein and egg whites in winemaking, it is important to know that just because the animal is not killed in the production of wine does not make it vegan. For example, the wine labels stuck to the bottle may have connective tissue or bone in the adhesive.

Today there are several choices winemakers have to use non-animal ingredients. These include wines made with animal-free agents such as pea protein and even potatoes, as well as carbon and clay-based agents.

More than ever, options are available for winemakers who want to support the vegan lifestyle by drinking great wine. 

Why are some wines not vegan?

You might be surprised to learn that most wines even use animal-derived products. 

To be considered vegan, the grapes must have been grown without animal products. The same goes for the production in the winery. 

For example, whether it is a Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc or Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, grapes grown on a vineyard where pesticides do not have animal by-products. 

The same goes for any other type of alcohol produced with grapes: it must be free from animal-based ingredients or animal by-products to qualify as vegan.

Most of what makes wine non-vegan is what happens in the winery. 

Why is wine filtered through fish bladders?

In the winery, this is process of ‘fining’ the wine. In particular, with what is called isinglass (fish membranes). 

So, what is fining all about? Simply put, fining is a process that removes impurities from wine. Fining agents are used in most types of wine to remove particles and other things that may give the wine an unpalatable taste or appearance.

The most common fining agents concerning vegan wines are casein, isinglass and egg whites.

Fining agents are used in the production of most types of wine to remove particles and other things that may give the wine an unpalatable taste or appearance. 

When fining agents are added to the wine, they stick to molecules in the wine making process and sink to the bottom of the barrel, taking elements such as tartaric acid, plant proteins and phenolic compounds along with them.

What are the non-vegan ingredients used to make wine?

You will find thse in the animal-based fining agents. 

This process removes protein, yeast, cloudiness, “off” flavours and colours, and other organic particles. Traditional fining agents include:

  • Gelatin (made from animals
  • Blood and bone marrow
  • Casein (milk protein)
  • Chitin (fibre from crustacean shells)
  • Egg albumen (derived from egg whites)
  • Fish oil
  • Gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts)
  • Isinglass (made from fish bladder membranes) has historically been used in clarification processes but is being phased out because it’s not considered humanely sourced by most vegans today; casein (another type of protein found in dairy products such as cheese) may be used during fermentation as well.

Let’s go into some of these in more detail (some readers may want to skip this next section).

Why is normal wine not vegan wine?

For wines that are not vegan, winemakers can use a range of non-vegan materials to fine the wines:

Egg whites

While you might be surprised to learn that egg whites are used in wine-making, it’s a common practice. The proteins in the egg white help clarify the wine, making it more transparent and vibrant while taking out bitter tannins. Traditional cakes in wine regions are often made with all those discarded egg yolks, such as canelé in Bordeaux.

Casein, a milk by-product

Commonly used in the production of red wine. This is done through the use of fining processes, which are usually performed to clarify the wine and take out the bitter tannin taste. The casein is added to the wine and then left to settle.

Fish bladders, or isinglass

Not commonly used in wine production today, although it is useful to know the term isinglass. Instead of fish bladders, winemakers use other clarifying agents such as bentonite clay. These ingredients can be used to clarify wine without being derived from animals.

Animal blood

The practice of using blood in wine fining dates back to ancient times, though it has gradually dwindled due to the availability of other methods. It was banned in the US and Europe in 1997.

The winemaking process for a vegan wine is slightly different from that of normal wine. 

The good news? Several common fining agents are animal-friendly and used to make wine vegan. 

Carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel, and vegetable plaques are all suitable alternatives.

In addition to the wine label, you may want to consider taking a look at the back of the bottle. Here’s what you might find:

* Ingredients list. Sometimes a winery will list all of its ingredients, including whether they are animal-free or not. It is not required in the United States, or other markets, but ingredients must be labelled on all wines sold within the EU market by the 2022 vintage.

* Shellac or beeswax: Although it won’t be on the ingredients, check for these non-vegan enclosures.

* Winery website or social media accounts. Many producers have websites where they talk about their products and how they’re made—you can usually find this info by searching for their name or scanning through their website/social media accounts for mentions of “vegan.”

Many wines are made without any animal products, but there’s no specific certification for them.

Many wines are made without any animal products, but there’s no specific certification for them. 

There’s also no official definition of what qualifies as vegan or not.

Some brands advertise their wines as vegan-friendly, others don’t label their product at all (which is legal in the U.S.), and some brands don’t even realize their process includes animal products until it’s pointed out to them by vegans or vegetarians who’ve discovered this information on a website.

How to spot a vegan wine label

Look for the words “Vegan” on the label

While some non-vegan wines don’t explicitly state that they use animal-based fining agents, vegan producers often promote their products on their labels. 

There’s more to a wine’s label than meets the eye.

Vegan Society logo

The Vegan Society has a trademark that allows companies to show that their products don’t contain animal derivatives or ingredients. If you see this logo on a bottle of wine, it’s because the wine is made according to vegan ingredients.

vegan wine label
vegan wine label / image: wset global

Does it mention it is “unfiltered” ?

This could be a good sign for vegans. If a wine is unfiltered, it means that there has not been a heavy fining process, if at all. Because of this, most unfiltered wines are vegetarian/vegan friendly.

Is it considered a natural wine?

This term is often used interchangeably with “Organic” and can be a bit confusing; however, “natural” to can describe wines that haven’t been processed with any chemicals added to preserve their flavour versus something made entirely out of grapes or fruit where nothing has been added afterwards either before bottling or after bottling (for example, pasteurizing). They are often unfiltered and cloudy. 

Is it biodynamic?

Like natural and organic wines, this biodynamic can be a tricky one for vegans because the wine could look unfiltered, too. Bio stands for biodynamic farming which means that all aspects including what fertilizers are used have been carefully considered when growing these plants so there will be a minimal environmental impact. Biodynamic principles are based on the work of Steiner who advocates working with the cycles of the moon and Steiner principles. However, viticulture based on biodynamic principles can and does use animal products (for example, cow horns) instead of chemical fertilisers.

Does organic mean vegan?

When you’re shopping for vegan wine, you may come across the term “organic.” 

Organic wines are made without the use of artificial ingredients or pesticides and other chemicals and are strictly regulated in the EU. But organic doesn’t necessarily mean vegan—some wines use animal products in processing, ageing, bottling and labelling.

Here’s what you need to know about whether an organic wine is vegan:

  • In the processing stage: Some winemakers use natural compost on their vines as a method of protecting them from pests. Other winemakers will clarify the wine with milk products (such as milk proteins. If a wine says it’s produced “using organic practices,” but doesn’t specifically mention that no animal products were used during the production process, then it’s not 100% vegan-friendly; however, if it does say this explicitly then you can be sure that no animal products were used throughout the whole process from start to finish.
  • During ageing: Some winemakers age their wines in wooden casks that previously held sherry or port—both of which contain fining agents made from gelatin.
  • During bottling: Some producers bottle their wines using traditional cork closures—which often contain animal glues.
  • On labels: Many traditional paper labels contain casein glue (from milk), while some have been known to rely exclusively on synthetic or bio alternatives to glue made from bone.

What is the difference between vegan wine and vegetarian wine? 

Vegetarian wines may be made with eggs and casein (milk protein), which means that if you’re concerned about being vegan, you’ll want to check the labels of your favourite wines before buying them.

A bottle of wine can be vegetarian and not vegan— even if it isn’t labelled vegetarian, don’t be afraid of asking about that bottle of red wine in a restaurant. Although it’s safe for you to drink if it is labelled vegan.

All wines aren’t made the same, but there are good vegan options out there.

There are many different types of wine for vegans, in every style of wine from sweet to sparkling wine. Although if a wine is vegan doesn’t mean it’s always good. Much like normal wines. 

If you’re concerned about the ingredients in your bottle of Pinot Grigio or Chianti Classico, and unsure, consider asking knowledgeable staff at your local wine merchant about vegan options and don’t forget: there’s no shame in asking for clarification on the labels, whether the style is a light Pinot Grigio or expensive Pinot Noir. 

Are animal products ever in the finished wine?

While some of the agents used in the process are quite strange for non-winemakers, it’s important to note that the amount of fining agents that are left over in the finished product is completely trace

This means that unless you are a vegan or vegetarian, you shouldn’t be alarmed by the number of animal protein products that are used in the production of wine.

Although for vegans, this cold comfort if animals are involved.

If you love wine but want to avoid animal products, there are options available to you.

There are many vegan wines available on the market today (and more are being created every day). 

As veganism becomes more popular, supermarkets such as Asda, Co-op, Waitrose Cellar, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s all offer their own-brand vegan wines. Lidl and Aldi also stock a selection of vegan wines. 

Supermarkets are working with winemakers to encourage the use of non-animal fining agents in their products.

Many wineries have begun offering vegan-friendly options to the market since more people have been making the switch from non-vegan to plant-based diets over recent years. 

Conclusion

The wine industry has evolved significantly in recent years, and we can now find an extensive selection of vegan-friendly wines. 

Hopefully, this will help you be a more informed shopper when you want your wine vegan. Every year offers something new, so be sure to check out what’s available on the shelves (or the trendiest wine bars, if you tend to seek out organic or natural wines). 

And if you’re not a vegan, keep in mind that all of these wines taste the same as normal wines and are great for non-vegan friends and relatives, too. Now that’s a bottle of vino everyone can raise their glass to!

Here are the vegan wine selections for the major UK supermarkets today:

Are you or your family and friends vegan? Share your tips here or send me a tweet

Cool Down Frappato Wine Woman Song scaled

Frappato: A Guide to Summer’s Essential Red

From the island where there is ice-cream for breakfast, Frappato red wine knows how to cool you down when the temperature rises.  The best comes from the hot region of Ragusa in southern Sicily, where it reaches over 40 degrees in summer (also home to some of the world’s best sun-dried tomatoes, too). Here’s what you need to know about this lesser-known Italian red wine:

What is Frappato? 

The first thing to know is that it’s a red wine made from Frappato grapes.  If you ever saw the opening shots of the Italian series, Inspector Montalbano, you may remember the baroque architecture of Monica and Ragusa in the opening shots before a swim in the Mediterranean. 

Frappato has a history of cultivation in Sicily stretching back to 1760s, though its exact origins are unknown.

The name could have derived from several different words; Jancis Robinson and Jose Vouillamoz in Wine Grapes suggest it may come from a corruption of the word “frutatto” meaning ‘fruitful’.

The grape is also used in Sicily’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, which is a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola (another Sicilian grape.)

Frappato add freshness and aromatics when blended with native other grape varieties from Sicily, such as Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese.  The grape is also used in Sicily’s only DOCG – Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which is a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola (another Sicilian grape.) This wine is very different than Sicilian red wines you’ll find at the supermarket. It has more body and tannins, while still retaining some of the strawberry fruit aroma.
Frappato - Map of Sicily / Wiki Commons

Frappato from Ragusa – Map of Sicily / Wiki Commons

 
Ragusa province Sicily Wine Woman Song

Ragusa province Sicily – Lyle Wilkinson / unsplash

How do you drink Frappato?

Wine and food pairing

There’s something about its freshness and elegance that makes it perfect for hot weather. It’s also a very quaffable red wine, meaning you can serve it at more casual gatherings—think BBQs or pool parties—without feeling too fancy. It’s not just an apero option, either. Frappato pairs well with grilled meats, so consider this your go-to when hosting a barbecue or outdoor party during the summer months.

What is Frappato wine similar to?

Frappato may remind you of Beaujolais. It’s a light, fruity red wine that has some spice and is not too tannic. Although the spicy cherry and blood oranges flavours places you straight away in southern Sicily.  It can be aged for around 5 years, but it’s better drunk young. This makes it a good choice for people who don’t want anything very heavy or complicated. It’s also great with food as it pairs well with Mediterranean cuisine and grilled meats.  
Dattorini tomatoes @winewomansong

Dattorini tomatoes and oregano in Monica /My photo @winewomansong

Frappato is known for its bright acidity

Understanding acidity is the key to food and wine pairing. And the best way to get to know a grape variety is to try it with food. Especially a Sicilian grape variety. One of the best ways to enjoy Frappato wine is with seafood and pasta. The bright acidity of this red wine makes it an excellent choice for pairing with seafood because acidity enhances the flavours of dishes made with fish and shellfish, which tend to be relatively mild in flavour on their own. The best way to enjoy Frappato is by itself, or paired with lighter fare like
  • Grilled meats
  • Seafood
  • Salads dressed in olive oil and vinegar,
  • Aged cheeses (like pecorino),
  • Cured meats (such as prosciutto), or
  • Fresh fruits such as strawberries or figs.
Cos Frappato Sicily - Wine Woman Song

Cos Frappato Terre Siciliane igt / @wineandwear

Frappato has a low to medium alcohol content, with most falling around 12.5 percent ABV.

Frappati are low to medium alcohol wines, with most falling around 12.5 percent ABV. They’re also surprisingly light-bodied, considering they’re full of fruit and acidity—but not so light that they taste like a cheap glass of red table wine.

Tasting notes for Frappato

There are simple Frappato that tastes of boiled strawberries and cherry. And then there is the complex versions blood orange, flowers and almonds with tertiary characters of dried strawberry and tobacco. Here are some other flavours you can expect from a glass of Frappato, from primary to tertiary characters:
  • Strawberry, pomegranate and blood orange
  • Almond, clove aromas.
  • Dried strawberry, tobacco, clove

How do you serve Frappato wine?

Frappato should be served slightly chilled. To get the most out of your bottle of Frappato, chill it down to make it more “smashable”. You can chill this down to 10 degrees Celsius, which means you’ll be able to open it up, pour yourself some glasses for your friends and family members (or yourself) on a hot day, enjoy good food together…and then do it all over again when the night cools down!

Final thoughts

The mark of a good everyday wine is its versatility. Whether it’s served chilled in the summer or un-chilled during winter, it has layers and flavours that keep you coming back. But Frappato is the ultimate summer wine. To best enjoy your Frappato, embrace the idea of chillable reds and stay cool. 

Recommended wines: 

There are a few Frappato wine from Sicily you must try if you ever see these labels, including: 
  • Occhipinti il Frappato Terre Siciliane
  • Donnafugata Bell’assai Frappato
  • Feudo di Santa Tresa Frappato
  • Pianogrillo Frappato
  • Frappato Scoglitti
  • Gurrieri Frappato
  • Portelli Frappato

Waitrose Loved & Found Frappato £7.99

Waitrose Loved & Found Frappato

Waitrose Loved & Found Frappato – a good introduction to Frappato from the Loved & Found series from Waitrose Cellar. This captures the spirit of Frappato, easy and juicy red that is perfect for chilling. 

You may also like to read –   Greek Red Wine: New Waitrose Agiorgitiko
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Priced Out of Fine Wine? Why You Should Look to Dão Red Wines Today

The Dão region in Portugal has always fascinated me due to the amazing reds you can find for an affordable price, and the fact that it’s so often overlooked by wine lovers. 

When you have tasted some of the best wines in the world, you can’t easily go back to drinking what you can afford. I’ve even seen people stuck in dead-end jobs for decades so they can keep their wine discount.

It’s like pizza. I have had one too many good pizzas in Napoli. Now I can’t eat anything less than a slurpy sourdough base and the radioactively bright-tasting tomatoes.

And the same goes with wine in pubs. Why bother? I’ll have a gin and tonic. 

Some may say, nice problem to have. Boo hoo. But that’s not why I’m saying it. Working in wine is more like Upstairs, Downstairs. You are always looking for the best value. 

Here’s my Monday to Thursday sales when I worked in Holland Park. Bought with an unsurprising level of ennui you find in people who rule the world: 

  • 1 bottle of Pouilly Fume plus 1 bottle of non-brand Champagne, or
  • 1 bottle of Cloudy Bay plus a Brouilly 
  • 1 bottle of Montagny and a pack of quail eggs

I could not drink this every night. I would be dead. But then I don’t have million-dollar bonuses in the City to lullaby me to sleep every night. And anyway, I need to protect my hard-working liver for the long haul.

When you work in wine you need to box clever. 

How to drink quality red wine everyday

Less is more. When it comes to wine, I always look for something that is less about reputation and presentation and more about pleasure and quality.

This means that there is a certain amount of finesse in the wine but at a price that is below it’s benchmark in other regions. It could be because the name is too difficult to pronounce, or it is a wine region without any marketing budget. 

Right now where I find plenty of this in organic red wines from the Dao in Portugal. It’s where I am finding a lot of joy in wine. 

Here’s what I look for, and in this order:

  1. Dão wines
  2. Organic wines
  3. Portugal.

So, it’s not every Portuguese wine, not every Dao wine, not every organic wine.  Two out of three is not bad. 

Dão Red Wines: Grapes and Terroir

The Dão wine region in Portugal is known for its wine production. It’s located just south of the famed Douro Valley. The region is also home to the Touriga Nacional, which is a principal grape for port wine.

Today’s best reds from Dão are made from the Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional. Several other common grapes such as Jaen and Baga are also commonly used in the Dao Portugal wine region, and many producers make use of oak maturation and lengthy maceration to create big, bold and tannic reds (these are not the wines I particularly like, but it is common).

Bastardo and Baga grapes are also widely planted in this area, and these are some of the lesser grapes that dominate Bairrada.

The Dão River is significant enough to have its own DOC. This river has carved its way through crystal-rich granite for thousands of years.

I have a fancy idea that it’s the granitic soil in the Dao that gives these wines a refreshing quality.  But more tech/MW wine people would argue how much does soil type affect the taste of wine? 

I would say we are talking about acidity when we talk about minerality (freshness you taste), whether it’s a Dão wine Ald special or from a Dão wine gift from  specialist importers. Dao has a certain freshness without pretension. 

Final thoughts

The Dao region of Portugal continues to surprise and educate. It’s a region that is full of natural beauty and doesn’t have the marketing budgets of other countries but makes really delicious red wine. 

There are a whole lot of winemakers making excellent organic wines. Some new and some old. Don’t be shy to explore the world on your own and discover your own finding. Just remember that, once you find them, keep them close. 

Recommended wine –

Dão Red Wine: Gota Wines Prunus Tinto 2018

Dao Wines - Wine Woman Songs

Dão Portugal – elegance, refreshing and deep fruit. (This is an affiliate link but recommendations are me!)

You may also like to read – 

An Engineer’s Question at a Wine Tasting Made Me Think About Time and Life

 

Image: Robert Delaunay Portuguese Woman / Wikimedia Commons

Have you tried any wines from Dao in Portugal? What do you think?

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10 Facts About Martinique Rum (That Will Make You Want to Book a Tropical Holiday)

Ah, rum. What is the first thought that springs to mind? Pirates, island paradises, and shivers of Captain Jack Sparrow. Rum reminds me of freedom and adventure.

Martinique, a small island in the Caribbean, has one of the largest and most diverse rum industries in the world.

The high level of quality control and craftsmanship that goes into each bottle makes Martinique rum an excellent choice for sipping straight or mixing

Rhum Agricole

Rhum Agricole is a style of rum made in the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Most rum is distilled from molasses, a byproduct of the process of refining sugar cane into white sugar, and is produced wherever there are sugar plantations and distilleries. Rhum agricole, meanwhile, is distilled directly from the fresh pressed juice of sugar cane. So it’s has to be as close to the source as possible. That’s what makes it special; it tastes like its local agricultural provenance: its terroir.

The resulting liquor has a flavour profile that’s brighter and more herbaceous, with notes of grassy citrus, minty herbs, and fresh cut cane.

Martinique

Martinique – Image Mini Bonz / unsplash

10 Quick Facts about Martinique Rum

  • They have their own appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) quality designation, like French wine, and are produced under strict guidelines.
  • Their distinctive flavour comes from sugar cane juice that’s distilled from fresh sugar cane—in contrast to molasses-based rhum agricole from the other islands in the region.
  • Martinique rhum has its own AOC designation, like French wine
  • It’s produced on Creole stills
  • It uses an industrial yeast
  • There is no pot still used, like other fresh cane juice rhums
  • This style of rum is often described as earthy, vegetal, grassy, and herbal; some also have overlying tropical fruitiness – bananas, papaya, mango.
  • Not only are these flavor profiles attributed to using fresh cane juice instead of molasses, they are also courtesy of a chemical reaction: esterification. Before distillation, rhum juice is left to ferment for up to 48 hours, which draws out the naturally occurring funk notes.
  • Unlike molasses or other sugar-based rums, no additional sweetening agents or coloring can be added to rhum agricole, AOC or otherwise.
  • Rhum is dependably low in residual sugar, with perhaps only as much as 5 mg per 750-milliter bottle.

What the world needs right now is to sit down with a bottle of aged rum, a good book and their favourite music. Sadly, the world doesn’t always have time for that.

This could be the next best thing if you can’t step on a plane and get away. The mind drifts off on a tropical breeze and warm sand between the toes.

Which rum cocktail is your favourite to start your summer?

Rhum Clement XO Agricole Rhum

Rhum Clement XO Agricole Rhum. This is an affiliate link, so if you click on it I get a few pennies. (The recommendation is all mine.)

You may also like to read – 

Greek Red Wine: New Waitrose Agiorgitiko

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New Greek Red Wine: Waitrose Agiorgitiko

There’s a new Greek red wine at Waitrose: Strofilia Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko.

Greek red wine at a reasonable price is hard to get hold of outside Greece. People often forget that it’s one of the most popular types of holiday wines in the world. Or maybe they’re not used to fish kick-starting a wine tasting note! Either way, that’s an issue that needs solving.

And the solution? Here it is – a red wine called Mountain Fish. It’s made from Agiorgitiko grapes, which are normally prized for their low level of acidity and high levels of natural sugar. This gives an excellent balance of fruity flavours and fresh, creamy notes. There’s also a very slight spiciness about this wine classic.

Greek Red Wine: Agiorgitiko

This new wine for Waitrose is made from 100% Agiorgitiko, which is found in the Peloponnese region of Greece.

According to some, the myth surrounding this wine stems from Saint George drinking it after defeating a dragon. However, the story is that this grape is named after a church named after St George located in the area.

Made in a small mountain town called Psari (meaning fish) with around 600 inhabitants. The crumbling stone village looks exactly as it did hundreds of years ago. Wandering around on Google Maps, I can imagine myself walking through the area and picking the wild herbs growing near the road.

The low-acidity aspect of this wine will make it very popular, and it’s a good label for a shelf at a supermarket.

This wine has a soft and creamy texture, and it’s a good choice for those who like to drink red wine without too much acid.

Final thoughts

I came across this wine online, which is strange since my Waitrose in North London is a well-watered part of town. I would buy it at a discount through Waitrose’s online offers. Order online at Waitrose Cellar. com.

New Strofilia Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko £8.99

You may also like to read – 

A return to pleasure in wine?

 

 

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This Throwaway Remark About Terroir Has Stayed With Me for 7 years

Some people collect empty crisp packets, I collect throwaway remarks on twitter about wine.

It could have been 7 years ago, when an American blogger touring Beaujolais wineries tweeted something along these lines:

I’m surprised more natural wines are not fervent nationalists they way they talk about the land..

It could have been the febrile political times at the time, but it struck a nerve. Were natural wine not so Gaia-an as I liked to believe? 

Natural winemakers do talk about expressing the terroir. This concept that annoyed the hell out of new world countries in the 2000s, has been embraced by winemakers today. For natural wine, terroir is an idea given helium and floats high above the landscape in the realm of ideas and philosophy.

But could all this take about the land turn rancid?

Terroir as nation. Terroir as nostalgia.

Is this where the right and left meet in wine: in the concept of terroir?

*

When I visited the restaurant Verre Vole in Paris, I remember they gave us a bottle of natural wine at lunch that mentioned all the people who picked the grapes on the back label. I hoped this was going to be a trend we’d see more. Alas, it didn’t come to be.

This is the idea of terroir that I do agree with natural wine.

Through natural wine we become aware how we are connected to the environment and the people we live. How wine has become an industrial product (in the past three to four generations). How the seasons show up in the vintage and tell us about what we are doing to our planet.

The art of listening. If we step back and listen, nature will express what it needs and re-balance and re-adjust (whether that is in the favour of humans or not).

*

When I sold natural wine, a customer said it sounds like these natural winemakers are lazy. Letting go and doing nothing all day and letting nature do all the work.

To me, it sounds idyllic. And it shows in the wine: there is a relaxed feeling to some of the fruit and a good wine will be generous with its flavours on the palate.

At least English wine has not become too patriotic. And I hope it continues.

But let’s get real: all wine is patriotic on some level, it’s just that UK has been a net importer over the centuries. Ask a Pays d’Oc producer about cheap Spanish wine coming across the border. (Or don’t if you want to have a pleasant meal.)

Recommended wine (affiliate)- 

Marjan Simcic Pinot Grigio Brda

I’m fascinated by Slovenian wine, especially the wines from Brda. This is one of the stellar winemakers. This is an affiliate link, so if you click on it I get a few pennies. (The recommendation is all mine.)

You may also like to read  – 

The year without smell 

Image: Glamour Daze

Follow Your Nose Wine Woman Song scaled

The Year Without Smell

In the greater scheme of things it was nothing. But it was a peculiar type of nothing that lasted for months.

I lost my sense of smell during the c19 times. As you can imagine, smell is important for wine. As I came to find out, smell is a lot more than just my profession.

Having no sense of smell put me in a loop for months. Then again, that’s not saying much in a rollercoaster year for everyone. My nose not working only added to the dizzy disorientation.

I got off relatively lightly compared to many people (including a friend who passed away during the early peak in 2020).

All you had to do was look out the window and see the ambulances lined up outside to remind you. To paraphrase Jack White and his ubiquitous football song, every person has their own story to tell, from the Queen of England to the hounds of hell.

Every generation has a story on how it ruined their lives.

Talking about wine is trivial, and yet, the wine industry was also deeply affected, like everything else.

For me, personally, it was a loss of smell. Because I am still coming to terms with this time without smell, I putting down my thoughts here.

Apart from being unable to move from the crushing fatigue, I had no sense of taste. Everything had the texture of stale white bread.

Or I could only smell chemical smells, even in things without man-made chemicals, like black coffee.

Sometimes I would imagine the the weird taste of coffee to have something to do with all the people who made the coffee – and the journey from where the beans were harvested to Italy to UK.

Coffee is one of my favourite smells in the world. I thank it for bringing me back to life every day. Now it was gone, and lost in my own memories, I thought about what was behind my daily coffee ritual (yes, even when unwell).

The web of people involved in the production of coffee: Who were they? Were they treated well? What were their lives like?

Did the virus allow me to have a super-sensory power – was I tasting sweat and tears of people far down the coffee supply chain?

When you have so much time on your hands, there is imagination. And a sensitivity to nature. Nature’s vast web connecting us together. Through supply lines, through virus, through the environment.

I spent most days looking at the trees outside the window change colour and the days grow longer and then shorter. 2020 was a jubilant year for nature. Nature was ecstatic. Not having cars and traffic was also a rare joy. Only until the cars disappeared, I realised how much noise and stress traffic caused. No longer did we have a fine black dust on the window sill.

It took me about 4 months to taste wine again. Or more to the point, trust myself I was tasting correctly.

I did not find any joy in wine or tasting – it fell dead flat like a prat fall on the tongue. I was not seduced by it – I just fell full of liquid.

The only upside was the pleasure I had sharing dinner with my husband in these formless days. The wine gave our time shape.

It made me think about wine in a new way.

Without taste, and without applying taste, it became its lowest common denominator. Almost a knock out one-two punch.

Without a sense of smell, wine had no greater meaning. But without smell, other things lost their meaning, too.

I felt like I was swimming in custard; that I became custard. (I ate a lot of the traditional Devon’s custard pandering to the sick child!).

Nietzsche and a nose for philosophy

Frederick Nietzsche announced philosopher’s must “have a nose” for philosophy.

Nietzsche claimed:

“All my genius is in my nostrils,” condemning philosophy for failing to give due attention to the sense of smell.

Philosophers move forward into the world with a sense that most people ignore until it is gone. To sniff things out. A sixth sense.

It took me a while to return my palate to a state where I could trust it again. Could I have lost it forever? Had my tastebuds been damaged forever? I mean, who knew what the virus was doing at the time.

I would ask my husband (who also has his diploma and has a superb palate) what he is tasting and see whether we match up. Carefully calibrating my tastes again.

What is left in wine when you lose your sense of taste?

When expressive wines are lost on you without a sense of taste, the relentlessness of drinking is what is left. There is the social relaxation, but the wine without taste is like a repeating formula when its stripped of it smell and context.

For nearly a year, if I did drink anything, I mostly drank the same wine. It was an unfiltered wine (with a lot of sediment) from Sicily, imported by Caves de Pyrene and about £9 a bottle.

It’s not a complex wine. It’s organic, like most wines from Sicily are organic by default. But the variation in each bottle helped me bring back my sense of smell.

By the time there was a vintage change, I could taste it. The difference. And I knew I was back.

 

Planeta Etna Bianco – I have always admired Planeta in Sicily. This is an affiliate link – if you click on this link I will get a few pennies. However, recommendations are my own.

You may also like to read –

This Engineer’s Question at a Wine Tasting Made Me Think About Time and Life

 

Stay Salty scaled

What Wine with Pork?

I’m often asked about pairing wine with pork.

The wrong wine to pair with a pork dish often leaves a bland, bland meal.

Either the white meat becomes too dry and difficult to digest with a tannic wine. Or salt pork dishes completely overwhelm the wine.

  • That’s why you don’t need to believe in one single rule when it comes to pairing wine and food.
  • Read on for some basic guidelines for pairing wines with pork dishes.

With the right wine, hearty pork dishes can truly shine.

When pairing wine with pork, choose a wine that complements, rather than overwhelms, the dish you are preparing. But choosing a bottle based on color isn’t always the best way to do this.

Some of the best pairings are white wines as well, which may seem counterintuitive at first, as we often associate red wine with more robust flavors like pork and charcuterie platters.

But there’s no denying that pork goes well with many wines, and it doesn’t matter if you’re serving roast pork with rosemary or braised chicken legs with apples and bacon (both classic dishes).

Wine can help bring out the flavor of your dish and also break up some of its richness and balance other ingredients in your meal (think peppercorns, for example). It all depends on the type of dish you are cooking and the food pairing style that works best for your taste buds.


Pork with light spices like cumin, garlic and fresh herbs is delicious with white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and German Riesling.

Pork with light spices like cumin, garlic and fresh herbs is delicious with white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and German Riesling.

These wines are generally lighter in body, but have good acidity that complements the mild flavor of the pork. They also typically have a fruity sweetness that enhances the pork’s natural flavour while reducing its fat and richness.

The sweetness of pork glazes or sauces goes especially well with sweet wines like Riesling or Gewürztraminer.

Wine and pork are a heavenly marriage, as the sweetness of pork toppingsor sauces goes particularly well with sweet wines like Riesling or Gewürztraminer. Sweet wines offer a nice fruity balance to the richness of hearty meats like pork.

If you’re looking for something dry, try the Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, a Côtes de Provence Rosé aged in oak barrels. Bacon, knuckle, or other savory foodsin a pork dish go well with a crisp, high-acid white wine like Verdicchio.

The saltiness of the dish will determine whether you prefer something dry and light or sweet and heavier.

If you have a savory dish, consider a crisp, sour white like Verdicchio.

Verdicchio is a type of Italian white wine produced in the Marche region of central Italy. It has a clean, bright taste with hints of citrus, green apple and pear.

It is very popular in its region because it also accompanies fish dishes, such as mussels or mussels, often seasoned with a lot of garlic (this would be an example of what is called a “salty” taste). This is an excellent value and versatile wine too.

 


If you have a juicy cut of pork that is definitely the star of the plate, you can opt for bold big reds like Shiraz or a bold Grenache.


If you have a roast pork that is definitely the star of the plate, you can opt for bold big reds like Syrah or a bold Grenache.

These wines must be full and full of fruit aromas, with notes of pepper and spice. They must age in oak barrels for at least a year before they are ready to drink, but it’s worth it!

Sweet fruit-based sauces and spicy foods both pair well with sweeter Riesling wines.

When it comes to wine, Rieslings are the perfect choice for pork dishes. If a sweeter taste isn’t your thing, try a semi-dry wine. The right combinationcan make a difference in how you perceive the flavors of your dish and what you want to drink next time!

Herb ribs are perfect with a dry rosé or a fruity red wine (Gewürztraminer if you want to stick with the white).

If you are looking for a wine to go with your pork, look no further. The classic boneless pork chop is often served with a side of sauteed vegetables and some type of starch such as mashed potatoes.

So, if you want to serve it as a main course, go for something more full-bodied like rose or Gewürztraminer. But if you take them as an aperitifbefore dinner, choose something lighter, like Sauvignon Blanc or German Riesling. If you like red, try Syrah or Grenache.

Roast pork goes well with Zinfandel due to the high acidity and berry flavors in both the wine and the meat.

Zinfandel is a good choice because it has low acidity and berry flavors, which go well with pork.

The wine also resists the strong flavor of the meat, making it an ideal choice for roast pork. It is a great option for Christmas.

Ham can also be better with the right wine

Ham is a great choice to pair with wine, but it’s not the only one. In fact, if you’re like me and have a long list of foods that go well with wine (as opposed to just one or two), it’s time to explore new pairings beyond a sandwich.

Final thoughts on pork with wine pairings:

So! Hope this gave you some ideas to try the next time you serve pork for Sunday lunch, or even a cheeky bacon roll and Alsatian Riesling.

  • Pork with light spices like cumin, garlic and fresh herbs is delicious with white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and German Riesling.
  • Hearty stews are good with full-bodied reds such as Shiraz (Syrah).
  • The sweetness of pork glazes or sauces goes especially well with sweet wines like Riesling or Gewürztraminer or Zinfandel.
  • Bacon, knuckle, or other savory foods in a pork dish go well with a crisp, high-acid white wine like Verdicchio.
  • Sweet fruit-based sauces and spicy foods both pair well with sweeter Riesling wines with good acidity.
  • Pork ribs are perfect with a dry rosé or a fruity red wine (Gewürztraminer if you want to stick with the white).

British pork is one of the best value meats available from butchers in the UK. There are many ways to pair wine with pork and make it work. Try these tips and let us know what happens.

 

Wine recommendation for pork – Turkey Vineyards Zinfandel

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Turley Dusi Zinfandel 2020 from Templeton Gap Distict, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California

What Wine with Pork?
What Wine with Pork?
What Wine with Pork?
What Wine with Pork?
What Wine with Pork?

 

Cellaring Wine Wine Woman Song scaled

This Engineer’s Question at a Wine Tasting Made Me Think About Time and Life

“Ok, but does a winemaker think about movement in wine?”

This was the question by an engineer at a wine tasting of Dom Perignon vintages ten years ago. I still think about it. 

“I hear you talk about structural elements (tannins, acidity, the colour palette, and palate), and yet you don’t talk about movement.”

This question threw me at first, because I had not prepared to answer philosophical questions about time and space at the end of a boozy tasting. Then again, there is always one question at the end of the wine tasting that makes you glad you remain sober throughout. 

What is movement in wine?

Movement is bubbles.

The most obvious sense, bubbles move. They want to escape the pressure of the bottle. How bubbles move are important to a sparkling winemaker. The size, shape and how it clings to the glass is all considered. Fine and fast bubbles are the key. The finer the bubble, the more refined the wine.

Movement in the finish.

How many number of seconds or minutes a wine lingers on the palate? Some wines last for minutes on the palate (and even longer in the memory). A wine with powerful attributes in structure and flavour will often have a long finish on the palate.

A glass of red wine or white wine can still be powerful in alcohol and have no structure on the finish. If there is a hot vintage for a cool climate grape. Even if it is the best vineyard in the world, excessive heat will blow out the flavours and structure.

Movement after cellaring wine.

A winemaker will have an idea about how a wine will progress over time but this is not something they can control. I have spent time many visits in cold cellars in Burgundy tasting older vintages to see how older vintages have developed. It’s never what you expect. Even the winemaker can never tell. Even if they have had the vineyards kept in the family for a century is still learning every time they open bottle.

So what?

I could use this as a heading for nearly every post on wine.

Is it necessary to think about movement? Well, as much as it is interesting to think about any ideas.

It’s good to go back to basic wine sales experience.

There are wines for different situations. Rather than one is better than the other.

Some wines are better to splash about by the pool. Then there are serious creations that deserve attention for pulling in all your senses and memories. They hold wonderful surprises in the glass over time, especially if you are lucky to have a cellar.

(Not having a cellar is one of the biggest regrets of my career. It’s not been possible to live in central London in a one-bedroom flat. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but yet again, I would love to have checked up on some wines over time. A cellar is there for moments in your life.)

The space for you in the wine story.

Movement in wine is outside of the winemaker’s control.

A winemaker can work on the wine structure and create the best conditions for longevity to happen.

But once the cork or cap is on, and the wine is sent on its way in the world, and you are cellaring your wine, even if you have near perfect conditions, they are unique to you.

Despite the engineer wanting to control movement, this is not possible with wine. It moves, but it is not always planned and predictable. Of course, it depends on the frame. Most people drink their wines before they will ever see how they develop into maturity. Not many people I know are cellaring wine today.

So, what is movement in wine?

 

This poem from Sufi poet, Kahlil Gibran , sums it up how life (and wine), moves ever onwards – and out of our control. 

“Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For thir souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”

 

Cellaring wine: Dom Perignon 2012

Dom Perignon Vintage 2012 Label

Dom Perignon Vintage 2012 Label

Dom Perignon Vintage with Gift Box 2012, Vintage Champagne France (Affiliate link – please simply click through and I will receive a few pennies.)

As we are talking about longevity, bubbles and Champagne: Dom Perignon. This Champagne has been a guest at some major turning points in my life. I’m keenly interested in following the longevity and movement over time for life.

What about you – do you have a wine you remember from a significant moment in your life? And have you gone back to it again after a few years had passed? Do you cellar wine?

Image: Unsplash/ Igor Rand

This Engineer’s Question at a Wine Tasting Made Me Think About Time and Life
This Engineer’s Question at a Wine Tasting Made Me Think About Time and Life
This Engineer’s Question at a Wine Tasting Made Me Think About Time and Life
This Engineer’s Question at a Wine Tasting Made Me Think About Time and Life
This Engineer’s Question at a Wine Tasting Made Me Think About Time and Life
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A Return to Pleasure in Wine?

Hello.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to write for my old friend Wine Woman & Song.

It’s been so long, it feels new again.

Which is where I want it to be. 

The Google beast punishes the sin of inconsistency.

You must turn up, and act the right way. If you want to get in.

Writing, especially about wine, became a social charade. Like standing in cold midnight rain outside a club trying to crack a smile from the bouncer. Maybe they will take pity on the mascara running down your face. 

Then again, why not go around the back? There we find the door wide open. Now that’s a way more fun way to get in to a club.

That’s how I felt when I first wrote this blog. 

A night out. An adventure. Fun. 

Where is the fun?

Friends and family are always shocked to hear I ever have a bad day at work.

But you work in wine? Isn’t that supposed to be fun?

And yet what I see is very different. Not just today. But my whole time working in wine. I find most people who work live with a level of maudlin.

It’s a combination of tiny tastings of alcohol with excel spreadsheets and the constant damp smell of cardboard boxes. Tiny margins. Good tastes. Disappointments. 

Where is the pleasure?

I think about pleasure quite a lot in my work day.

And I make nothing from writing here. Nada. But I value the freedom. The space. There’s other ways to make money from writing but writing a journal on an unaffiliated WordPress is not it. 

The party is over there.

Don’t look here.It’s on Instagram and TikTok. It’s fun but after a while, I find watching people dance boring. Or more to the point, striving to dance. The whole world is manically dancing like a malfunctioning robot with a rictus grins.

There is no benefit for me to write this other than to write this. I think that is exactly where I want it to be. Who will continue reading? Who still reads this? I might as well send out missives to the void.

I will wait and listen.

Back to pleasure (and wine)

What is the difference between pleasure and desire?

That may sound strange. But after working in wine for 20 years, hear me out:

I know there is pleasure in the great wines, and I’m lucky to have experienced more than my fair share. But was it the wine, or was it the company?

What is pleasure is the act of sharing in the wine together. At the table. With friends. Especially with people who appreciate the special glints and hints you find in wines.

This is what is left in the remote world. I look into the future. I want it. I desire it. Or do I?Like a long-distance lover, it’s without context, without everyday shitty reality. It’s better to keep it as a beautiful idea rather than messy real life. I don’t want to put down the toilet seat.

I have talked about wine all day for decades. Where do I feel pleasure in wine? When I’m on holidays.

The languid days, the long lunches, exploring new wines and food. The lack of pressure apart from the warm rock behind your back and the tide coming in.

My desire is for a holiday. A good book, and some wine. And if I am lucky, some pleasure to share the experience with friends.

And you?

Today’s featured wine is fun and highly desirable, anytime:

Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2020 Gamay from Beaujolais, France at Wine.com (US affiliate link – please click to check it out and I will receive a few pennies per click)

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Classic Cocktails of the City: Los Angeles’s Appletini Cocktail (1996)

Classic Cocktails of the City: Los Angeles

The Appletini cocktail was a drink created in Los Angeles by Lola’s West Hollywood restaurant bartender Adam Seger in 1996. Los Angeles’s Appletini cocktail is in America’s top ten contributions to the cocktail world.

The 1990s was a different time for a lot of things, including cocktails. Today cocktails focus on naturally sourced ingredients; the original Appletini of the 1990s was about as natural as Baby Spice in the Spice Girls’ red and blonde streaked hair. In other words, the bright green 90s drink was not very subtle at all.

Bright green artificial apple flavors were the whole point of this cocktail. It was born in the era before September 11 and even the internet and social media. The cocktail features a famous scene in The Social Network. Mark Zuckerberg declared Appletini his company’s official drink.

It seemed like every restaurant in the 90s had to have it on their drink menu. Was it because Apple as a company was on everybody’s radar at the time? (Maybe.) In the 1990s, Los Angeles’s cocktail personified California and was adopted by bartenders around the world. For a few years in the late 1990s, it was the drink for Fridays after work at Lola’s West Hollywood.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3mX9pc_0Z8a1z9a00
Image Credit: appletini by remy sharp is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The History of Los Angeles’s Appletini

Appletini was created in 1996 by Lola Restaurant bartender Adam Seger with Lola’s owner Loren Dunsworth (a.k.a. Lola). With one of L.A.’s first martini menus, the restaurant became a popular destination for after-work drinks and signature cocktails in the mid-to-late 1990s.

The drink was first known as the ‘Adam’s Apple Martini’ because Adam was the bartender who created it. It was a mouth-puckering sweet and sour taste. As it came to be known, the appletini’s principal ingredients are vodka, a radiant, possibly radioactive green schnapps that gives the drink its signature hue and melted Jolly Rancher taste.

Before September 2013, you could find Lola’s restaurant at 945 N. Fairfax Avenue in West Hollywood. Loren Dunsworth told The LA Times in a 2012 interview (12/29/2012):

“We had a bottle of Apple Pucker and a bottle of Ketel One and we combined the two and I thought, ‘It tastes just like a Jolly Rancher. We sell ludicrous amounts of apple martinis. I don’t know of any craft cocktails that people seek out the world over like they do the apple martini. I think it makes people happy.”

Unfortunately, like all popular cocktails, it became a little too popular. Once Lola’s restaurant closed down back in 2013, you may find an Appletini on the menu at Steakhouses, where it remains popular today in Los Angeles. Of course, you can always ask your bartender to make one for you. 

Sometimes bartenders add a dash of triple sec, sirope, or a sweet-and-sour mix, which acts as a push-up bra for a flavor that’s already the opposite of subtle.

How to make your own Appletini

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Image credit: ‘Appletini round David Deas by Adam Comer.ford by CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Try this modern take on the classic Appletini. Although often called an Apple Martini, it is not a true martini at all, but it’s still being ordered because it’s fun to drink. Today’s bartenders use fresher and more natural ingredients, but here is the original recipe I use to make at home:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces vodka (regular or apple-flavored)
  • 1/2 ounce green apple schnapps
  • 1-ounce apple purée (or apple juice)
  • 1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

Garnish

  • 1 or 2 thin slices of apple or maraschino cherry

Shake the liquid ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker—strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with apple slices.

Final thoughts on Los Angeles’s Appletini

The modern version is not so green in color nor “green” in taste. Although I prefer the apple-on-apple flavor of the original, this 1990s style of drink is a lot sweeter than most cocktails made today.

It’s easy to see why Los Angele’s Appletini is due a comeback any day now. Martinis are good. Check. Apple is a flavor that everybody recognizes and enjoys. Check. And everyone looks back fondly on the 1990s. Check. Expect to see a revised and retooled version of the Apple Martini in a bar near you soon.

Modern Appletini. Photo by Polly Alexandra on unsplash

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Trinchero Family Estates: What I Learned From This Napa Valley Success Story

Do you still believe in the American dream? I want to believe in the idea of it, at least. Whether it is still possible to achieve massive success from hard work alone, you would have to ask a young American. What I do know is most dreams reanimate after a few glasses of excellent wine.

In reality, few of us have time to actively search for life-affirming, life-changing wines, let alone indulge in a few moments for our dreams, even when we decide to open a special bottle.

How often do we allow ourselves to be inspired by the Californian sunshine in a Chardonnay from the Napa Valley, for example? It’s easier to stick to the tried and tested, even if trying new wines and tasting new flavors might do you a world of good.

Despite tasting many Californian wines over the past few years, I am sad to say I had not tasted one of the legends of the Napa Valley, the Trinchero Family Estate.

They are the second biggest family-owned winery in the United States, with a story that reads like the American dream from rags to riches. Could I learn anything about Napa Valley wines – or even some lessons about business?

The opportunity presented itself when Trinchero sent four wines from their Napa Valley wines range. California Wines UK and Lanchester Wines then set up a Zoom meeting for a panel tasting with the winemaker, Joe Shirley, at the winery in Napa.

 

The American dream in action

Roger and Bob Trinchero, 1970’s. Photo courtesy of Trinchero Family Estates

If you have not heard of Trinchero Family Estates’ wines, you may know Sutter Home. And if you have not heard of Sutter Home, then you may know the wine responsible for launching thousands of palates: White Zinfandel.

Before you scoff, remember — every wine lover has to start somewhere. You may have started with Chateau Y’quem for your eighteenth birthday, but believe me, most people in the world begin with something more humble. It is usually something sweet, and probably pink.

In wine circles, the origin of White Zinfandel is well known. It is an innovation that came about from a set of coincidences in the winery. You can find the technical details elsewhere, but what is essential for this post is how the Trinchero family turned a mistake into a new category of wine.

The family’s approach in the early days would be familiar to many Italian immigrants. The family traveled from Italy to New York and out to the wild west coast of California. Without capital, nothing was wasted. That includes good juice. And that is how White Zinfandel was born.

Sales for White Zinfandel have not dropped since the 1980s. White Zinfandel is the happy cash cow for Trinchero Family Estates. It allowed the winery to focus on their premium Napa Cellar wines in the 1990s. What was considered a mistake became an essential innovation. 

 

Striking gold in the hills

The Napa Cellar wines are part of the bigger drive for quality in the 1990s. On a Zoom call with Joe Shirley, the winemaker since 1998, he explained how the style has changed over the years.

The style has shifted over the years because the focus in the Napa Valley has moved from what happens in the winery to what happens in the vineyard. This can be seen in the use of oak. It is only there, Shirley says, to “put the fruit in context.”

They use extra fine-grained barrels, which have a lower impact on the wine’s fruit. Napa Valley wines in the past were higher in natural sugar with broader-grained oak. The wine was made in the winery. Today, Shirley prefers to start with the quality he finds in the vineyard, from their estate and grower vineyards, “The terroir is so distinct… I simply guide the wine.”

By focusing on the unique terroirs available to them, Trinchero are able to focus on the quality. As the saying goes, don’t try to be someone else, they are already taken. 

 

Trinchero Family Estates: Napa Cellars Wines

Compared to many European wines, the Napa Cellars Chardonnay has a distinctive ripe tropical fruit and full-bodied roundness in the mouth. The long finish is deliciously creamy creme brulee, coconut with bright lemon notes. The food suggestion by Trinchero was coconut crab curry, and I am fully on board with this suggestion.

In general, Zinfandel is not my go-to wine style. It’s usually too high in alcohol for me, with a sweetness I don’t have in my diet. When the Zinfandel is from the Napa Valley, you find it is more restrained than Zin from Lodi, but the unwieldy grapes will always make this a high alcohol wine.

There is undoubtedly a place for Zinfandel in my life, but before I tasted this Napa Cellars Zinfandel, I did not know where. What you need is spicy food. Zinfandel’s natural fruit sweetness calms the heat in spicy dishes. It’s the only wine I’d like to drink with spicy Mexican or Indian food, although I imagine it would go very well with grilled meats.

There is no mistaking the Napa Cellars Pinot Noir is from California. The fruit does not skip a beat. It’s full-bodied and luscious. More is more. While the flagship, Trinchero Family Estates BRV Cabernet Sauvignon is a powerful wine with signature Napa Valley velvety tannins and a satisfyingly long finish.

 

Takeaway

After the tasting, I kept the opened bottles to taste with dinner. This is the real test for me: Rarely do I drink wines without a meal. On the slow cooker, we had Cochinita Pibil – citrus-roasted pork – stewing away all day to have after the tasting.

After a feast of Mexican food and wines, which included half a bottle of the Napa Cellars Zinfandel at 14.9%, I thought I might be feeling a bit rough the next day. I’m happy to say I am up with the larks and writing a post. This, to me, shows the quality of the wine. It’s not everything, but wines with too much winery manipulation are felt the next day.

Trinchero Family Estate has developed long associations with growers over the years, intending to keep the vineyards working for the next few generations in the family. Not only is this a sustainable way of thinking, but it also gives better-quality fruit.

Even though they are a true American success story, it’s clear Trinchero hasn’t forgotten what is essential to their success. Wine is nothing without good fruit, good vineyards, and good wine to share with food and big dreams. 

 

More posts on California

Image credit: Photo by Randy Tarampi on unsplash.com

 

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Cook with California Competition

Attention sommeliers! If you work in the UK on-trade, would you like to win a trip to California? It’s a fantastic prize. If you are a sommelier or chef friend, here are the details from the California Wine Institute in the UK.
 
It’s called Cook with California. Open to those working in the on-trade (chefs, restauranteur, and sommeliers), it is a food and wine matching competition to show off your flair with flavor. Each team will have two participants; one chef and one sommelier.
 
The ultimate goal is to show how British food matched with Californian wine. In the same vein as Masterchef, a panel of industry experts in UK wine and food judge the results.
 
The first prize is a trip to California. You will visit producers and wineries, and experience a stage at a top restaurant kitchen. There are also four prizes for finalists. Each wins a 12-bottle case of super-premium California wine.
 
Each entry will propose three courses from the following five options:
 
First course
 
Second course
 
Main course
 
Dessert
 
Cheese course
 
Each of your courses will have a match with a specific Californian wine available in the UK. The California Wine Institute will announce the winner in June. 
 
Once you have submitted your Registration Form share your photos via Instagram. Use the hashtag #cookwithcalifornia and tag the Instagram account @california.wines.uk. For the registration and more details, visit California Wines  Or email the California Wine Institute: ukcontacts@wineinstitute.org.
 
In boca di lupo! 
 
Want some inspiration for your wine choices? Take a look at my recent posts on Californian wine
 
Photo by Juliana Malta on unsplash.com
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The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia Is an Essential Book for WSET Diploma Students. Here’s Why

Oh, look. It’s Alexa sulking in the corner of the room. She’s gone silent since The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia arrived. A new version of an encyclopedia beats the internet for authority and imagination every time, especially if you study for the WSET Diploma or Master of Wine.

Some people say the latest WSET diploma covers more knowledge today than the inaugural Masters of Wine in 1953. In those days, the highest wine qualifications needed an in-depth understanding of France – Bordeaux and Burgundy, in particular – and a smattering of facts about the new world if you didn’t choke on the words first. Now professionals in the wine world need to know wines from every continent—moreover, we find increasingly complex scientific advances and global business interests behind decisions in the wine world.

It sometimes feels as if you can never have enough books when you are studying for your professional exams today. You can pass the Diploma with the information WSET provides you; but, who wants a simple Pass? While most people start the Diploma with higher ambitions than Pass, many soon realize after the first set of exams, there’s a lot more work than they originally thought to achieve those Distinctions.

Recently the courier lugged up to my apartment a heavy slab from National Geographic. Written by Tom Stevenson, and edited by Orsi Szentkiralyi, The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia is a treasure trove of wine knowledge with imagery that blows most wine photography out of the water. 

How can New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia help with your WSET Diploma study?

To give an idea of this encyclopedia’s scope, there are 798 pages in three parts. The last edition was published in 2011, which makes it ten years of research for this edition. When we are used to the notion of information being weightless as data on the internet, the weight of the book is significant; it’s almost too heavy for me to take down from the bookshelf. Instead, I’m keeping it on the coffee table, where it tempts us to read more.

The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia – Tom Stevenson, and edited by Orsi Szentkiralyi

Suppose you want to do more than Pass your Diploma. You want Distinctions all the way, baby. Oh yeah. In that case, you need to improve your knowledge of the business and marketing side of the wine regions you study. This is where the latest Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia comes in.

There are a few regions I know in-depth and very well. Since my Diploma, and through experience, I have a broad knowledge of nearly all wine regions. Even if my understanding of some of the re-emerging areas, such as Mexico, could be better.

I have a history working in Bordeaux and Burgundy and have recently become more involved with California. I also started my career in Australia, so I know these wine regions inside out. So it made sense to check the book with my own knowledge on these regions. And I was eager to see if there were new things to learn in this new edition. There’s always something to learn about when it comes to wine; the learning never stops.

Logical layout for studying WSET Diploma

Let’s look at the encyclopedia with the eyes of a student who is about to study their Diploma (Level 4), MW, or even Level 3: I open the section called “The Wines of the Americas”.

If you want to do well at the Level 4 Diploma stage, you need to have a deep understanding of the six factors in Level 3. What you will find very useful in the encyclopedia is the boxed out section called “Factors affecting taste and quality.”

It’s not the Six Factors for one state alone, but they have information for each region in the Golden state. It’s a convenient summary of information for students. For Mendocino County, for example, the boxed out section explains each of the factors which you need to know in Level 3:

Location
Climate
Soil
Aspect
Grape Varieties
Viticulture and vinification

These are near enough to the basics you need to know for Level 3. And you would get a pass if you knew these points when it comes to sitting your Diploma exams. If you learn the manuals that WSET gives you – and I mean know them inside out – you could pass on the manuals alone. But if you want to do better than pass, you must not forget to add what you learned in WSET Diploma Unit 1 – The Business of Wine.

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Sharpshooters in California – The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia

Understanding the Business of Wine is key

Because the Diploma is a professional degree, the knowledge of the wine market is what distinguishes the Diploma level from Level 3. What makes the encyclopedia worth its weight (and it’s a heavy tome) is the business and wine producer sections. The business and marketing statistics are up to date and in-depth. If you are studying, and especially if you buy this book while still fresh off the press, you will be exceptionally grateful for the statistics.

But it’s the information on the large companies behind the wine industry that I found extremely useful. This is the sort of knowledge that will nudge you closer to a Distinction if you can show it in your exam essays. And it’s all in one handy space rather than multiple tabs on your computer.

In the chapter I’m looking at now, there are excellent stats on California’s grape varieties and crush volumes over the past few years. The introduction to each chapter, and the images and maps, also bring all the (often) dry facts you learn in Diploma manuals to life.

Useful facts you can use in WSET Diploma exams

For example, in the boxed-out section under North America, “Largest Wine Groups of America,” you have all the facts and figures, and history, of the biggest companies according to volume. This is insanely useful, just as it was with Tom Stevenson’s Christie’s Champagne & Sparkling Wine reference. Each of the producers are detailed with useful information and statistics.

Not to mention useful AVAs’ lists, the label vocabulary, or even the section on vine pests. There is even a picture of a sharpshooter, which was my favorite thing to say when I was studying: Sharpshooter! Even if it is a devastating fact for Californian vineyards. Well, I can’t explain why I found it so funny other than study madness.

WSET is wary of recommending more than what they want you to study. Right or wrong (and we could debate this until the whisky bottle is dry) the exams only mark what they need you to know – not much more. It is why I found it quite tricky studying because I would go down rabbit holes when something particularly interesting showed up.

Extra reading, outside of the curriculum, did not help me when it came to the exams. It is why I don’t want to tell you to read too much. Unless it’s worth your time. There’s so much information; you need to narrow down the amount of data if anything.

However, I would highly recommend the latest edition of The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia for students and wine lovers alike. Published in November 2020, WSET has recommended previous editions of the Encyclopedia; I would be surprised if they did not recommend this book. Especially now, as it is fresh off the National Geographic press with all the latest up-to-date information.

Final thoughts on The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia and WSET Diploma study

The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia combines the best attributes of other resources needed by WSET diploma students in one hefty book.

You will find the maps and the winery knowledge the is located in The Wine Atlas, and even Tom Stevenson’s Christie’s Champagne & Sparkling book. If you referred to The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia with The Oxford Companion to Wine they give you, along with the WSET Unit manuals, you will be racing ahead of the pack before the exams. You won’t need anything else.

If only the book could help you with the tasting component of the exam. There is some good basic knowledge about tasting and assessment. It’s not SAT (Systematic Approach to Tasting). Be careful here – stick to what WSET wants you to know before your exams; otherwise, it may become too confusing. But it will be helpful for keen wine amateurs, where amateur comes from the French for love (amour).

My husband and I both have a Diploma, and we’ve already consulted the book a few times in casual conversation over the past week alone. It looks good on my coffee table. Although it will be helpful for MW or Diploma, it’s not only good for studying. You will come to find it a joyful accompaniment to your wine knowledge – whether you are studying or collecting wine.

Five out of five stars

A tremendous tome full of the latest wine research by Tom Stevenson, and edited by Orsi Szentkiralyi, The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, National Geographic (November 2020).

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Heat Spikes, Smoke Taint, Quality Wines: The Top 3 Things To Know Before You Buy 2020 Californian Wine

Record heat spikes, uncontrollable fires, and shuttered tasting rooms: 2020 was tough. Like most of the world, Californian vintners want to move on.
 
The Californian wine industry has been through many disasters over the century. From fires to earthquakes to the Prohibition. Yet winemakers are stoic, if not optimistic, about the quality in the first pandemic year. As a wine lover, you will need to know what to look for when these 2020 wines reach the market.
 

The impact of the Glass Fire on the 2020 vintage

 
The Glass Fire began in Northern California on September 27, 2020, at 3:48 AM (PDT) from an unknown cause. It lasted 23 days. 11 of Napa Valley’s 475 member wineries reported large or total structural damage. Napa Valley Vintners report fewer than 20 of Napa Valley’s winemaking facilities affected.
 
The fire started near Glass Mountain Road in Deer Park, Napa County. It then spread into Sonoma County. It began as a single 20-acre brush fire, then grew and merged with two smaller fires. By the night of September 27, and into the next day, 11,000 acres were on fire.
 
There is a strong impulse not to look backward. At least 80% of Napa Valley wineries have pushed on to produce the 2020 harvest. Although volumes are small compared to previous years.
 
The Glass Fire devastated the Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain AVA. In Santa Cruz’s mountains, the fire encroached homes and cellars. Winemakers are desperate to prevent smoke and heat from ruining the entire crop.
 
There were also other fires further south in the state. The fires in Salinas and the Carmel Valley surrounded Monterey vineyards. These wineries could not pick red grapes in 2020. This could be a devastating blow to one of the best pinot-noir regions in the world. Although, the white-wine grapes were less affected. Paso Robles and Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo County were also affected but to a much lesser degree.
 

How smoke taint affected the wines

 
Smoke taint appears in wine on the nose and palate more as sour ashtray taste in finished wines. For many winemakers, it was smoke taint that was the vintage’s unknown factor. How would the hazy conditions affect the flavor of the grapes?
 
The 2020 vintage allowed winemakers to understand the varying effects of smoke. How does smoke pass through the grape’s skin to affect the wine?
 
Old smoke blowing over vineyards turns up as hazy air and dull weather. This does not affect grapes as dense smoky air, which contains volatile phenolics.
 
We may need to understand this more as wildfires become more common with global warming.
 
The USDA shows California’s harvest decreased by 13.9 percent in 2020. Although this was due to lower yields, rather than smoke taint.
 

Winemakers searched the state for quality grapes

 
After two bumper crops in 2018 and 2019, the 2020 vintage will be a smaller year for growers and winemakers. Even before the fires, winemakers already predicted yields to be lower.
 
 
 
Winemakers from further north descended on Santa Barbara to buy grapes. Wineries in Santa Barbara County were fortunate this year. They were not affected by fires or smoke taint. The buying interest from Northern California helped raise Pinot Noir prices for growers.
 
 
The reduced volume of grapes could have a silver lining. In recent years, growers have experienced downward pressure on prices. This was due to high volumes in recent years. The smaller-yielding harvests may balance the market, especially for those buying bulk grapes. Bu growers that lost most of their crop will not be as optimistic about their futures.
 
 

Final thoughts: A small but memorable vintage

 
The exceptional weather conditions at the start of vintage in California saved many. It set up the regions for an excellent, low-yielding vintage. Here’s what you need to know when buying wine from the 2020 vintage.
 
 
 
  1. The Glass Fires devastated Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain AVAs. Other areas remained unscathed. Remember, California is a large wine-producing state.
  2. There is a difference in the quality and taste of grapes affected by the direct smoke and grapes. Wineries who only experience hazy air from other regions were not affected.
  3. Some Northern California winemakers purchased grapes from unaffected regions further south. Areas such as Santa Barbara county benefited this year.
 
Napa Valley, Sonoma, Mendocino County, and the Central Coast, reported concentrated, high-quality fruit. If harvested early, the winery may have escaped the fires’ devastation and impact.
 
With so much diversity in Californian wine, there will be many wines not affected by fires at all. When the 2020 vintage comes through, the wines will remind us of how we triumphed over adversity. One day, this year will only be a memory. 
 
The whole world can drink to that.
 
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What Makes New York Wine, New York Wine?

What makes New York Wine unique? Wine has deep roots in New York State and a long history of winemaking. A recent panel discussion draws on three winemakers’ expertise from the Finger Lakes region, located in New York State, to explore the state’s wine industry today and tomorrow.

New York State Wine is on the Rise

What is the New York State of Wine? The purpose of the international tasting was to define the region’s profile with panelists from around the world. Responding to the audience, the panel discussed issues such as land use, climate, vineyard practices, and geographic designations that influence the taste, character, and quality of New York wine.

The Finger Lakes Region has made a name for itself, becoming one of New York’s most famous wine regions. With that said, many people don’t know much about New York wines.

Wine-making has a long history in the Finger Lakes area, and there is a lot of this going on today, especially with the planting of new vineyards. When is it appropriate to start labeling wines as New York State? What do we need to do to make that happen? How can New York State wines compete against California and other regions?

New York State Wines Map

New York State Wines map

These questions, and their answers, were the basis for our discussion with three winemakers while we tasted three distinctly New York State wines.

#1 Living Roots Bone Dry Riesling 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State

Sebastian & Colleen Hardy’s winery, Living Roots, is based in Rochester, New York, and they also have a winery in South Australia.

“The Finger Lakes provide insulation for the vines; it is very cold, especially in the winter – it also extends the growing season,” said Sebastian Hardy.

This bone-dry Riesling is full-bodied and rich from a single vineyard in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

“It is the first vintage of our Shale Creek wine. It is a steep block with shale soil and catches the afternoon sunlight. Riesling suits the Finger Lakes so well and can make so many styles. The slow ripening process is great for richer and riper flavors, high natural acidity – ripe citrus, stone fruit, wet stone, waxy. Texture to carry it when it is bone dry.”

The Living Roots Riesling has attractive aromas of pear and stone fruits and is well balanced by clean citrus flavors, with a crisp acidity that makes it ideal for drinking on its own or with white meats and seafood. The wine undergoes cold fermentation in stainless steel to preserve the bright fruit character and fresh acidity of Finger Lakes Riesling.

#2 Weis Gruner Veltliner 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State

Peter Weis is a 6th generation winemaker from the wine heartlands of Germany in the Mosel Valley. His winery is now on the Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes, New York. It is unusual because it is a “Y-shaped” lake, which people in the past called, Crooked Lake.

“When I came to the United States from the Mosel, I stopped at Sonoma for a short time. Surprisingly a lot of similarities and soil types.”

Weis makes a whole spectrum of styles from ancient red Saperavi to ice wine to wines made from hybrid Cayuga White, a grape that can handle frigid temperatures.

Much like the Mosel in Germany, Finger Lakes also has slate soil and limestone, enabling winemakers to source different grapes for different styles of wine.

“The climate is very similar to the Mosel – but what Mosel was like twenty years ago,” says Weis. It shows the effect of climate change on growing conditions in cool climate regions.

“The Finger Lakes is a home away from home. It was closer to home, distance-wise (from other wine areas such as New Zealand) and also in wine style.”

#3 Red Newt Cellars Cabernet Franc 2018 Finger Lakes, New York State

Local Rochester lad, Kelby Russell, journey in wine begins and ends in the Finger Lakes. Although it wasn’t always certain he’d end up back in the Finger Lakes. Growing up in Rochester in the 1990s and 2000s, when Kodak was collapsing, it was not the best time to find a job, and his parents thought he’d leave Rochester forever after university.

But he caught the wine bug. As he says, by mistake. He exchanged working in a winery in Tuscany with room and board and he never looked back. When he came back from abroad, he threw himself into Finger Lakes, then did a harvest in Marlborough, Tasmania, and Yalumba in Barossa Valley.

Working in Australia inspired Kelby to make reds that are a joyful and absolute pleasure to drink and have a certain spark to them. The patchwork of soils in the Finger Lakes means winemakers love to work with different expressions of Riesling this allows.

The 2018 Cabernet Franc from Red Newt Cellars is dark ruby and has aromas of roasted pumpkin, violets, and carmelized dark fruits. This medium-bodied wine expresses black cherry, boysenberry, and currants with hints of rose petal. The finish has a reasonable length of spicy black pepper on it.

Final Thoughts


New York is one of the most diverse wine regions globally, with over 400 wineries planted on thousands of acres of land from Seneca Lake to the Hudson Valley. Yet, despite all this diversity, a significant question remains unanswered: what exactly makes New York wine, New York wine?

In the 21st century, we have countless options when it comes to getting our wine fix. Understanding where New York Wine is today and where it’s going in the future requires a global perspective.

Wine-making has a long history in the Finger Lakes area, so there is a lot of this going on, especially with new vineyards being planted. It’s still in the process of being discovered.

As Kelby Russell from Red Newt Cellars says, “Finger Lakes always feels like the bridesmaid never the bride.”

But in 2020, this changed – and wineries found more people visiting the Finger Lakes from New York than ever before. More visitors put upward pressure on quality and cellar doors.

Through tastings and events, New York wineries network with some of the most influential winemakers in the world to deliver a glimpse into the diverse state of New York wine.

“Growing up in this area,” says Kelby Russell, “It means so much more to bringing the Finger Lakes wine region to the world.”

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We Talk Wine Here in California

Finding out what goes on in California regarding wine and grapes can be very difficult. The price of tasting wines is often high. Then there are all the different regions, grapes, and competing publications.

When it comes to California Wine, news can be hard to come by unless you listen to other people talking about their opinions on what they have heard and tasted. All wine lovers should be able to read all about the topics from around the planet. Free of charge. And I aim to make sure you get more than enough on the Newsbreak app that interests you from every angle of the winemaking world.

Here you’ll find out what’s happening in California’s wine, grapes, and insider stories.

If you have ever had a glass of fantastic wine in the U.S., the odds are that it was a grape juice from California. Eighty-five percent of all wine in the United States is grown in California. It is an area that has a fascinating history of winemaking and viticulture with so much to explore. With all the new areas being planted in today’s market and all the nuances and complex flavors of terroir – it is a great time to be alive if you love wine.

The first vineyard is said to have been planted in Calfornia all the way back in 1683 by Spanish Jesuit Missionaries in Baja, California, and planted the first variety named “Misionéro.”

When the modern winemaking revolution began in California with the Gold Rush of 1848, the grapes grown in Napa and Sonoma were local varieties that thrived best in their terroir. Zinfandel is an excellent example of one of the original grapes that took hold and thrived here.

Northern California

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The Napa Valley wine region in Northern California is only 50 miles northeast of San Francisco. The perfect climate and unique topography of Napa Valley produce wines known and adored worldwide for their distinct character and quality.

The wines from Northern California are a diverse lot and provide a broad range of choices. The appellations you find in Northern California are the best known for wines in the United States and the world. Yes, Napa Valley and Sonoma get their fair share of attention. But there’s a lot more to choose from when it comes to wine in Northern California. There are still many small and obscure areas making extraordinary wines that people need to know.

The North Coast AVA lies north of the San Francisco Bay Area and is home to many different wine grapes. The North Coast AVA is an American Viticultural Area that includes six counties located north of San Francisco: Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano.

For example, Mendocino County is the heart of the Anderson Valley has several plantings of Pinot Noir and some Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The sub-appellation Russian River Valley offers Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, and some other varietals’ smaller plantings. Lake County features a wide variety of varieties — from collectible Zinfandel to Chardonnay. At the same time, Los Carneros produces fascinating wines made where Napa and Sonoma meet.

The wine industry in California is a booming industry generating a lot of attention throughout the world. The Californian wines are becoming more frequently sought after. There is always a lot of news about the latest vintages and the goings-on within this flourishing industry.

Southern California

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Southern California provides sunshine, surf, and sand, plus a rich environment for its wine producers. Wineries exist throughout Southern California, with new wineries opening all the time – Southern California is one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the world.

Wine lovers from around the world are discovering how exciting the wines of Southern California are. And what’s more, they’re less expensive than their European counterparts. With sparkling wine, dry white, and red wines, there is something for every palate. You will discover why some of the best wines in the world come from southern California.

What’s happening in California is changing quickly and affects what grapes are grown and used.

Last few drops

I can’t help but notice an increasing number of people are moving from the traditional wine regions to California. California is one of the centers of excellence in the wine universe. California is known for producing all sorts of wine from all kinds of grapes. The winemakers are talented and innovative.

I have worked in the wine industry for twenty years in every aspect of it, from vineyard to retail and worldwide. I write about wine and I love learning about wine. There are so many wines to try, so this is my take on what is happening with California’s wine market, which I will update a few times per week on Newsbreak.

A significant part of what drives interest in wine is the sense of place. But when it comes to choosing the wines you will enjoy before you buy, a bit of news goes a long way.

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New California Wine Collection from Penfolds – A Multi-Continent Blend

Who says you can not blend fine wines from two continents? Aussie winemakers have always cast aside unwritten stuffy traditions in wine. Penfolds have combined the outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley with Australian Shiraz to create an international blend called Penfolds with a wine designation they call “Wine of the World.” The latest project is called the Penfolds California Wine Collection: four California-based wines from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles, with prices ranging from $50 to $700.

“This is not us marching into California to show people how to make wine,” Penfolds Winemaker Peter Gago told Wine Spectator. “It’s made with respect.”

According to their AVA, fine California wines tend to be strictly produced—not to mention consumed and collected—but the Penfolds philosophy does not work this way. It’s a radical approach to blending wine, but cross-regional blending is a perfectly normal way of doing things in Australia. Particularly for Penfolds.

Founded in 1844, Penfolds is a historical treasure in Australia. Penfolds Grange holds almost mythical wine status in the country. Considered one of the world’s great wines, Grange has always been a blend of Shiraz sites. It is highly collectible worldwide and is one of the world’s top wines: The 2015 vintage is currently available for $900 for wine connoisseurs with deep pockets.

It’s not the first time Penfolds has crossed continental borders, nor is it the first wine behemoth to do so. The remarkable history of this expansion, as well as Penfolds’ new-world willingness to buck the rules and go its own way, is what makes the Penfolds California Collection stand out.

Do you feel skeptical about a premium blended wine? In France, multi-country varieties are far from premium wines. Peter Gago pointed out to Wine Spectator Magazine when Penfolds launched Penfolds Grange in 1951, it was deemed radical at the time and was not critically acclaimed until 1962. Gago laughs, “I’m hoping it takes 11 days for these.”

Penfolds California Wine Collection

Much like the Penfolds range, The California Collection wines are defined by bin numbers and work up the quality ladder. All of the new releases are from the 2018 vintage:

  • Bin 600 Cabernet-Shiraz ($50)
  • Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon ($70)
  • Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon ($149)
  • Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon ($700 a bottle)

What is unusual is the Quantum Bin 98. The Bin 149 carries the moniker “Wine of the World” on the label, as the Quantum includes Australian Shiraz, and the Bin 149 has some Australian Cabernet blended in. This a designation created by Penfolds and is unique in the world of wine. The “wine of the world” is contained in the bin with the label that reads, “Australia,” and includes a blended Australian Cabernet.

According to Wine Spectator, Gago says the Aussie wine blend developed naturally. He tasted the Australian benchmark wines with his team, bringing California wines along for comparison. They added a bit of Australian wine and the overall blend became better.

The experiments started in the late 1980s when Penfolds planted cuttings of grapes from revered sites in South Australia, including Kalimna and Magill Properties, grown in California soil. Now that Penfolds is part of the Treasury Wine Estates portfolio, the winemaking team also has links to prime grapes in Napa and Sonoma, operated by sister wineries such as Beringer Sterling.

Peter Gago explained to The Drinks Business the specific vinification and vitrification approach in California:

“We use a Burgundian approach in California – we went in quietly and started making wines from small blocks in premium sites, whether it be Rutherford or Oakville. Our goal is to communicate Penfold’s signature style from premium raw materials. For decades, we’ve been known for multi-regional Australian wine styles. So producing a wine that spanned two continents was the logical next step in our brand’s history.”

The South Australian Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings thrive under the Californian sun. Cabernet Sauvignon is a key grape variety in fine wines from California, particularly in Napa Valley and Northern California.

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Also published on Newsbreak.

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Napa Valley’s Duckhorn To Raise $100 Million in First Public Offer

Duckhorn Wine Company, a Napa Valley-based portfolio of wineries headed by Duckhorn Vineyards, filed a notice with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on February 23, announcing its intention to go public and raise $100 million in an initial public offering. However, Renaissance Capital estimates it could increase up to $300 million.

Based in Napa Valley, Duckhorn has been operated by TSG Consumer Partners since 2016, a private equity company headquartered in San Francisco that controls $9 billion in assets. On February 23, they have listed under the symbol NAPA to trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

Duckhorn Vineyards, Decoy, Kosta Browne, Goldeneye, Paraduxx, Calera, Migration, Canvasback, Greenwing (in Washington State), and Postmark, are among the premium wines Duckhorn Vineyards manufactures and offers in all 50 states and over 50 countries at rates varying from $20 to $200 a glass. The organization still manages and maintains eight state-of-the-art wineries and 22 sustainably farmed Estate vineyards spanning 843 acres.

For the twelve months ending October 4, 2020, The Duckhorn Portfolio was the biggest premium wine supplier and the eleventh largest wine supplier by total market volume in the United States.

From 1,600 cases in 1978 to $117.5 million worth of sales in 2015

Over the last six years, the business has seen rapid revenue growth; comparative estimates for 2015 were $117.5 million in sales and $9.6 million in profits.Margaret and Dan Duckhorn built up a winery on a 10-acre property just north of the town of St. Helena, which still hosts its tourists’ facilities and key winery.

In the inaugural 1978 vintage, Duckhorn offered only 1,600 cases of wine. Since the beginning, the soft and easy-drinking Merlot has been the signature grape for their wines. Arguably Duckhorn is responsible for the Merlot trend in California, well played in the wine film, Sideways.

The IPO will raise money to support growth and future acquisitions as the business continues to expand. It will also encourage TSG to quit the company for $600 million five years after acquiring Duckhorn. Allegedly TSG was looking to sell the firm, probably to Constellation Labels, but that didn’t succeed.

It purchased Central Coast Pinot Noir maker Calera in 2017 and Sonoma Pinot Noir specialist Kosta Browne in 2018. Duckhorn manages and maintains eight wineries.

Merlot trendsetter

Duckhorn Vineyards has established a reputation worldwide and across the United States for its Napa Valley Merlot. It is one of North America’s prime producers of Bordeaux-style wine. Bordeaux blends do very well in the Napa Valley, a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

In the 1970s, many Napa Valley vineyards used the traditional Bordeaux blend. Duckhorn vineyards are renowned for being one of the first to focus on a 100% Merlot, arguably starting the trend for Merlot as a red wine choice.

In Bordeaux, especially in Pomerol, the right-bank wines also focus on Merlot. Dan Duckhorn felt the grape was underloved in North America. When it is used as a standalone variety, it can produce wines that are soft and seductive. It was a canny move at the end of the 1970s. The market was ready for premium wines with mass appeal.

Vineyard Sites of Howell Mountain

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn have always been interested in selecting the best fruit, whether from carefully sourced sites in the Napa Valley or their Estate.

The winery’s seven estate vineyards are scattered around the Napa Valley’s alluvial fans and the prized slopes of Howell Mountain, each with its unique microclimate.

Consequently, winemaker Bill Nancarrow has a range of vineyard blocks from which to select, each with distinct flavor profiles. He can harvest while the flavors are at their best and the tannins are at their softest by treating each vineyard block separately.

Grapes are hand-picked and hand-picked before crushing, and specific vineyards are collected often, picking only the mature fruit for each passage through the vineyard. In 2017, Duckhorn’s Merlot Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard 2014 was Wine Spectator Magazine’s Wine of the Year.

 

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15 Japanese Sake Terms You Need to Know to Look Like an Expert

Following on my previous post, here are fifteen Japanese Sake terms to make you look like an expert the next time you order Sake. Kanpai!


1. Ginjo

Ginjo is a highly polished style of sake.


2. Daijingo

Daijingo is even more polished than Ginjo.

If you see this on the label, you can expect a clean and delicate style, with fruit and floral aromas is perfect with seafood. They can be served cool.


3. & 4. Kimoto, Yamahai

Yamahai (or you may see Kimoto, its predecessor) is the traditional process of making Sake where a starter culture naturally develops over a few weeks (much like sourdough bread). The Sakes are fuller-bodied, with higher sweetness and acidity, with a rich and deep flavour. Sometimes showing a gamey flavour, they are particularly good with meat dishes.


5. Tokbetsu

Translated as ‘special’ in Japanese and can mean a few things when written on the label – whether it is a special type of brewing or a higher rice polishing level than usual.


6. Junmai

Junmai is a word you will often hear in Sake circles. Translated as ‘pure rice’ where nothing else is added other than rice, water, and koji. It is a heavier Sake style that works very well with food – although it should not be considered better than other Sake as a different style.


7. Honjozo

A style where a tiny amount of alcohol is added to the Sake. Alcohol stabilizes the Sake but also carries the flavour, and some would argue, makes it more drinkable. This is a good choice for warming.


8. & 9. Muroka, Nigori

Muroka and Nigori are terms that describe filtering the Sake. Muroko is clear but is not charcoal filtered; Nigori is where the Sake is not filtered but milky or cloudy – you may see some remaining rice solids (much like an unfiltered wine).


10. Genshu

Genshu is an undiluted Sake (without added water) and is a strong style that suits rich dishes.


11. Yamada Nishiki

Considered the best rice for making Sake.


12. Namazake

Namazake is an unpasteurized Sake. Sake producers normally pasteurize rather than add preservatives, as winemakers do. Unpasteurized Sake is a fresh and lively style that needs to be kept in the refrigerator. It is not a complex Sake, but a chilled Namazake is perfect with super fresh sushi.


13. Koshu

Koshu is aged Sake. Unlike wine, there are no aging regulations, but it is generally agreed that it is over three years old. Aged Koshu is a niche style as most Sake is produced to be drunk young.


14. Umeshu

Umeshu is a plum liqueur made from plums preserved in Sake. It is usually sweet and tangy. Drink straight, mixed with Champagne or soda, or simply over ice.


15. Futsushu

This can be translated as ‘ordinary Sake,’ and most Sakes served hot in restaurants in Futsushu. Much like the classification for table wine (such as Vin de France), this can either be low quality or allow the Sake producer to break the rules.


If you want to know more about Japanese Sake terms, check out the previous post, How to Read a Sake Label


tom crew NLcLjLNUJbY unsplash scaled

How to Read a Japanese Sake Label

With so many unfamiliar terms, and often in Japanese, Sake can be an impenetrable subject. To read a Japanese Sake label, where is the best place to start?
In simple terms, what you need to know when drinking Sake is the fragrance and flavour. Before you get to the drink, you need to get past the label first. Understanding a little about some of the styles and a few terms mean can help you find the best Sake for you.

What is Japanese Sake?

Before we look at the 15 Sake terms, you need to know, let’s start at the basics: what is Sake?

Sake is made from rice, a mold (called koji), water, and yeast. There are two broad styles: sake with distilled alcohol added or without distilled alcohol added (junmai).

Within these two styles, there are varying degrees of rice polishing. The amount of rice polishing affects the aromas and weight of the Sake. Rice is milled to remove the outer portion of fats, proteins, and minerals to leave a starchy centre. Sake rice is polished so that somewhere between 80% (very cheap Sake) and 35% (very expensive Sake) of the grain remains. This percentage is called seimaibuai.

All premium Sake has been polished down to at least 70% of the rice grain’s original size.


Two Styles of Japanese Sake (According to Polishing Rate)

1. Sake with Alcohol Added

  1. Honjozu (70%)
  2. Ginjo (60%)
  3. Daiginjo (50%)

2. Sake with No Alcohol Added

  1. Junmai (70%)
  2. Junmai Ginjo (60%)
  3. Junmai Daiginjo (50%)

In my next post, I will explain the 15 terms you may find when you read a Japanese Sake label to understand and enjoy this fascinating drink.

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5 signs you are not ready for natural wine. Yet.

Having a glass of wine over Zoom – as is the way, lately – I was talking to an old colleague who lives in Sydney. She wanted to know what wine was in my glass. It was a natural wine by Monteforche in the Veneto.

“It looks cloudy, is it a wheat beer?”

“It’s a natural wine.”

“It looks faulty.”

“I think you would love natural wines. You do have to get your head around it first.”

“Yeah? Why should I have to get my head around anything? I have wine to relax. Not to think too hard.”

“Give it time.”

“Time?” she laughs, “That’s one thing I don’t have,”

I let the conversation drop.

After all, I can’t put my hand through the screen and offer her a taste of what’s in my glass. As much as I wanted to.

The natural wine journey begins…

Monteforche Cassiara 2018 (Veneto). Moscato and Garganega blend from Oranj

Recently, I met Edwin from new natural wine, art and music platform, Oranj Wines. His background is in craft beer. So it was interesting to hear him mention he had been on a “natural wine journey.”

What is a natural wine journey?

(And it is a journey.)

I started my natural wine journey in bars and bistros in Paris. Nowadays, fantastic natural wine can be found in most wine shops and restaurants in London (and around the world). And there are new start-ups such as Oranj.

Let’s start at the very beginning. How can you tell who will understand these wines or even if these wines are for you?

1. Spend the majority of dinner trying to decide whether a wine is faulty

One night you’ll be at a fancy restaurant, dressed up for the occasion and ready to spend considerable money on your evening. Then, usually, an alpha person will stand up to point out to the sommelier, and so everyone in earshot, that the wine they are drinking is FAULTY!!!

Usually announced when everyone else at the table is midway enjoying their glass of said “faulty” wine.

Instead of being the professional he/she claims to be by such announcements and swiftly telling the staff to change the bottle without fuss, they bring all the focus to them and carry on about their “wine knowledge”.

All wines have faults. Natural wine or not. It’s not a crime. It’s wine. The irony is that after ruining everyone’s meal, it might not even be a fault.

It is very unlikely this person will ever have the patience to understand how natural wine works. They have to get over their ego first, and that can take decades, if ever.

2. Tasting in acronyms

You will recognise this one if you have ever studied wine.

We all have acronyms to get through the endurance test that is the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Test) exams. As long as you tick the boxes in the WSET exam, and learn the acronyms to help you do that, then you will pass.

There is a need to have an industry-wide standard of wine language such as WSET. It’s just that natural wines don’t readily fit into the checkboxes that are drilled into you.

If you continue judging natural wine this way, you will get lost pretty quickly.

Some of the Masters of Wine alumni are experts in orange wine and natural wine, so it is not necessarily about the wine education system.

Think outside the box.

3. First impressions mean everything

Isabelle Legeron MW did an interesting experiment in her seminal book, Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally. It’s quite cunning.

Without anyone looking, she put red dye in people’s white wines. Asking everyone to tell her what they tasted, she found they described cherry and berry characters, which are more reminiscent of a rosé.

For white natural wine: it is usually cloudy due to no filtration. As my friend said in our Zoom call, it looks faulty. Is it orange or white, sparkling or still?

First impressions don’t mean everything when it comes to natural wine. And anyway, these wines take time.

4. Point and trophy gatekeepers

Usually deeply involved in the process of giving out points and trophies in the wine industry.

Natural wines just don’t fit into the schema.

As is everywhere, some people love to wear their white scientists’ coats in a room full of wines, and then others are happy to hang up their coat when they walk out the door of the tasting room.

Natural wine can make these people very unhappy. Nul points!

5. Not open to recommendations

On the other hand, some wine gatekeepers can be immensely helpful.

A sommelier with an interest in natural wine, or a wine club such as Oranj wine, can point you in the right direction.

Nowadays you can find someone in every wine setting who is on their natural wine journey. And you know wine people, they love to recommend a wine given half the chance.

Let go of clenching the wine list. Some of my best natural wine experiences have been on-the-spot recommendations. These are small producers with tiny productions. It’s not easy to follow up wines that you have enjoyed in the past so it pays to ask.

Conclusion

Natural wines are small producers working within a low-impact philosophy. It is fair to say it is the opposite of wines made in larger quantities for supermarkets.

My humble advice is to let your natural wine breathe, give them time, and even shake the bottle vigorously to let more air into the wine. These are not instant, grab and go wines. It’s closer to the slow food movement.

The takeaway is natural wines can be difficult, they can be different, but they are also delicious and worth the time on a Sunday afternoon on a balcony somewhere. Breathe and let the wine unfold.

A good wine is a good wine. Good natural wine is simply a good wine.

It may take time; free your mind and the rest will follow. 


Thanks to Oranj Wines for the wine samples that are part of their Summer Wine offer.

Special offer for Wine Woman & Song readers –

Until the 6th of September, Oranj is running a ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ offer on all individual bottles and mixed cases from the bottle shop: customers can get 20% off using checkout code SUMMERWINE.

Image: Artwork in the September Jura case by Rachel Bungey

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New Kylie Minogue Côtes de Provence Rosé

Well, knock me over with a feather. The new Kylie Minogue Côtes de Provence Rosé is quite a serious Provençal rosé.
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Hints of red apple, flat white peaches, thyme-lavender garrigue notes. Dry and vinous. Provence rosé doesn’t get much better.
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Earlier this year, the entry-level £9 “Kylie” Vin de France rosé sold out three times over in Tesco – released to coincide with her 52nd birthday.
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The Kylie Minogue Côtes de Provence rosé is in quite a different style from the first “Kylie” wine. This wine has a sense of place.

Holiday in Provence

The winemaker is Christophe Gautier at Château des Anglades, a 27-hectare estate near Hyères on the Côte d’Azur, which is in the process of organic certification.
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Kylie Minogue chose the Provence rosé blend from samples sent to her West London home during lockdown (Grenache 50%, Cinsault 40%, Rolle 10%).

Fo all those down the back, who would not be satisfied until she swapped pop star aristocracy to clean out stainless steel vats, she bravely admits she is not involved in the winemaking.

Kylie Minogue at the The Ritz drinking Kylie Minogue wine

Kylie Wine Empire

She has bigger plans. The two Rosés released to date are only the beginning.

Her range starts with democratically-priced wines from the south of France. Along with the original “Kylie” Vin de France Rosé at £9 per bottle, today sees a “Kylie” Pays d’Oc Merlot and Gascony Sauvignon Blanc and join the stable.

Following the Kylie Minogue Côtes de Provence Rosé, her next wines in the premium tier will be a Margaret River Chardonnay and a Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, reports Drinks Business.
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According to her own website, Kylie Minogue Côtes de Provence Rosé is limited to 672 cases, and is only available on her website:

kylieminoguewines.com
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Better the Devil You Know

Compared to other celebrity wines, there is an inclusiveness to the Kylie brand that has been developed over decades. It’s something too easily forgotten by wine professionals: her wine range embraces all people. There are steps on the wine journey and not everyone is at the same stage.

If you are a fan, after a few glasses of shimmery rosé, it’s hard not to belt out at least one of her songs from her three decade career. For her many fans, the thrill of drinking Kylie’s wine will be irresistible.

During a pandemic, a little star dust in your life is worth every penny.

Even if you are not a fan of Kylie Minogue, this Côtes de Provence rosé can stand alone on quality.

💖 Welcome to the newest addition to Kylie Minogue Wines #CotesDeProvence #Rosé www.kylieminoguewines.com (📸 at The Ritz London)

Posted by Kylie Minogue on Wednesday, 12 August 2020

First published on Instagram @winewomansong

Related post: Fashion and Wine, Pt 2: Minima

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The Last Time I Was In Beirut

November 2014 I was completely lost. The company was about to be restructured. I had been working long days in the office and long nights at events. My nights often involved too much leftover wine. I would drag myself out of bed every morning and did not recognize myself with a puffy face and bags under my eyes. 

I had been in the wine industry my whole working life; and I felt I did not belong at all. 

My job was about making wealthy men drink more wine. The type of men who treat you like a waitress no matter how much responsibility you had. Living in London by myself never left me with any money. I felt like I was simply living on scraps from their tables. 

At one of these events, I had invited a friend. He bought fine wine for a wealthy press baron. He could find the wine he needed for his customer’s cellar at our Bordeaux tasting. It is always good to see a familiar face in the crowd.  

“Do you want to go to Lebanon?”

He asked, unsure; he had his phone in his hand ready to make it happen.

The war in Syria had kindled into a wildfire by 2014. Refugees were escaping across every border. I only saw Beirut on the news; reporters at a safe distance from the Syrian war to file a report. 

“Yes, definitely.”

—-

On the Road to Damascus

Three weeks later, I am on a plane for Beirut. I did not know what to expect. I could read parts of a book from through the seats in front of me. It was called, “Pity the Nation”.

We arrived after sunset. Beirut disappeared behind us as we drove to the Bekaa Valley. A highway sign pointed to the turn off for Damascus. 

That’s what I wanted to know.

What would be my road to Damascus? 

The lights disappeared outside of the city. I laughed to myself, how many times had I said, it was a “Damascene moment”? And about ridiculous things. Now here I was. On the actual ROAD to Damascus.

The truth is I wanted a conversion. A great change of ideas. What was going to be changed?

“This is us, here,” the Arabic driver said and we tumbled out into the dark streets into a power outage. The Christmas tree that could have been a bonsai Lebanese cedar was twinkling with lights. 

The first thing we do after dropping our bags is have some wine. 

——

The next day, my phone died.

That was my internet and my camera for the trip. Gone.

I had plugged the phone into the charger overnight. The next morning, I found the electricity shortages had short-circuited my phone. 

Outside for the first time, I could see the Valley mountains in the light. We drove to Chateau Ksara. Founded in 1857 by Jesuit monks. They inherited a 25-hectare plot of land between Tanail and Zahle in the Bekaa Valley.

The monks planted Cinsault, Carignan and Grenache grape varieties brought from Algeria. We learned on the tour at Chateau Ksara, their planting had laid the foundations for the modern Lebanese wine industry. 

I took notes; one eye looking for an electrical socket for a charger. The blank face of the phone stared back at me.

At lunch, we had skewers of chicken and roast potatoes. I happened to sit down next to the owner. He pointed out I had not touched the food. Was everything okay?

The owner called one of the waiters over and whispered in his ear. 

I was not making a good first impression for anyone.

“Stupid phone”, I cursed, under my breath, “There’s more important things than you”.

Turning it on and off. Taking it apart. Putting it back together. I was running out of time. After lunch, we would be at the next winery. 

How was I going to buy a phone in the middle of the wineries of Lebanon?

The waiter came back from the market. He handed me a second-hand Nokia.

“No, I can’t possibly take this!”

“My gift,”

“No, it is too much!”

I wanted to throw all the money at him with happiness. He refused to take any money. It got to the point where my insistence felt insulting.

I humbly accepted the gift.

We finished the visit meeting the Syrian women picking the grapes. They had just arrived in Lebanon. We smiled and waved. They covered their faces with their scarves as they sat in the shade for lunch.

“I know you will have some great wines in Lebanon,” he said as he waved us all goodbye. 

And he was right.

Note about the photo: I turned on my new phone, and this is the first photo I took.

The Last Time I was in Beirut - Buy Lebanese Wine and #BidforBeirut Auction
First photograph thanks to Chateau Ksara

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How to help Beirut.

Buy Lebanese Wine and #BidforBeirut Auction

Last week’s blast in Beirut decimated the city with glass shattering across the size of Greater London.

There are 46 wineries in Lebanon with 24 are members of the “Union Vinicole du Liban” (UVL) – the country’s official association of wine producers for exposure to international markets. 50% of the production of wine is exported. 85% of Lebanon’s food is imported.

The Lebanese people are without a government. They need help from trusted organisations on the ground.

What you can do:

  1. #BidforBeirut” Online Auction Organised by Madeleine Waters on the Bank Holiday August weekend 2020. The auction of wine and experiences will go towards two charities: the rebuilding of Kamal Mouzawak’s Souk el Tayeb & Tawlet and Impact Lebanon who distribute funds to vetted NGOs. Buy Lebanese Wine and #BidforBeirut! To join the event:

#BidforBeirut

Auction Website

Instagram: @BidforBeirut

2. Buy More Lebanese Wine.

Stockists

London:

Borough Wines

Highbury Vintners

Wild & Lees

Outside London:

Talking wines (Cirencester)

D. Byrne Fine Wines

Great Grog – Edinburgh

Wood Winters

Wine Line Scotland 

Cork of the north 

Le Vignoble (Plymouth, Bath, Bristol)

The Wine Society

Majestic (Chateau Musar, Cuvee Pierrre Brun from Domaine des Tourelles)

Buy Lebanese Wine and #BidforBeirut

Lebanon Diary 2014

oysters red wine scaled

3 Ideas for Red Wine With Oysters That Will Thrill Your Palate

Scrolling through photos on my phone during lockdown I realised three things about myself.

One, I spent a lot of time in France last year. And two, I really had some great red wine with oysters.

It has been drummed into me since day one of wine life: oysters are for white or sparkling wine. Wouldn’t red wine be overkill for the delicate oyster?

Or, the other way around – the oyster would be too brutally metallic for the red wine?

But wait. Hold on. It’s not as if I’m a huge adherent to wine and food pairing rules. Or even, rules full stop.

Red wine with oysters - Wine Woman & Song

Red wine with oysters in Paris / Image: Wine Woman & Song

Three Red Wines to Pair with Oysters

In my mind I could physically feel the combination painfully jar. Like the sensation of chewing down on a piece of aluminium foil. Or licking the end of a live battery. A dull metallic buzz.

But it is so much more. I’m so grateful to the woman at the oyster bar in Paris who thrust this in my hand.

The secret to wine pairing is to match the acidity to the food. Plump oysters are not acidic and are cradled in briny sea water. The “minerality” is the key to matching red wine with oysters. The best red wines to match with oysters are light-bodied, earthy rather than fruity, and from cooler climates (with higher acidity).

1. Loire Pinot Noir or Gamay with oysters

One thing I love about going to Paris is the abundance of Loire wines in bistros and restaurants, especially natural wines. The light bodied, funky glouglou is perfect to wash down with a dozen oysters.

Beaujolais, rather than Loire, is usually more known as the home of Gamay and some of the more natural styles will also work well.

2. Jura Poulsard or Trousseau with oysters

There may not be many oyster beds to be found in the mountains of Jura in eastern France, but the light red natural wines are perfect friends with oysters.

3. Chilled reds from outside France

This is a wild card, but I encourage you to experiment. Take a light-bodied, or even a medium-bodied red and put it in the fridge until the dew forms on the bottle. There are no hard and fast rules. Try Teroldego from Italy, Bobal or Mencia from Spain, Cinsault from South Africa or Lebanon. Pinot Noir from Californian or light Italian grapes all the rage in Australia.

And the third thing from lockdown? Those photos on my phone only make me long for a restaurant, a holiday, a platter of oysters and a good bottle of wine.

Where to go for oysters in Paris

L’Huîtrerie Régis

Régis is a tiny oyster bar in Paris with only 14 seats and no reservations. The restaurant sources its oysters from around France and serves them raw, chilled and briny.

They concentrate on oysters with deep connections with oyster farmers from Marennes-Oléron, alongside daily cheeses and dessert. Despite its small size, the restaurant has garnered local fame for its friendly and welcoming owners – making it a pleasant place to stop in for an oyster or two. 

This restaurant is popular among locals as well as tourists looking to get in on the popular local secret near Mabillon metro station (between St Germain-des-Pres and Odeon). 

If you love oysters, this is the place for you. We had a small conversation with the owner. Not only were we inspired by the red wine with oysters, but one year later we ended up visiting an oyster farm on their recommendation. 

The restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere and the oysters are fresh. The best part? You’ll get to pick your own oysters each time since there are so many different choices.

L’Huîtrerie Régis

3 rue de Montfaucon 75006 Paris

Monday to Friday 12 to 2.30pm and 6.30 to 10.30pm
Saturday 12 to 10.45pm
Sunday 12 to 10pm

Read more: natural wines in Paris

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Kinero Cellars and The Royal Nonesuch Farm

Kinero Cellars and Royal Nonesuch Farm is what happens when a talented and original winemaker (Anthony Yount) has access to high quality vineyards around the Paso Robles area, allowing for high quality wine that are devoid of macho posturing or inflated ego.

People

At 25 years old, Anthony began his journey as a “cellar rat” at Denner Vineyards on the western side of the Paso Robles AVA. A cellar rat does all the odd jobs in the winery. Cleaning, working the tasting room with customers, or whatever is needed during vintage. It’s hard graft. A real education in more ways than one.

Since 2008, Anthony’s side hustle is producing his own single-vineyard white wines at Kinero Cellars; and, since 2011, his Estate red, The Royal Nonesuch Farm

Place

Paso Robles AVA is a part of the San Luis Obispo wine county on the Central Coast in California. It lies between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Here is Anthony pointing to where they are on a map of California. Imagine California as an outstretched arm…

Anthony Yount’s map of California.
On a Zoom call as part of the California Sommelier Sessions UK July 2020

Established in 1983, the wines from Paso Robles AVA show how the original pioneering spirit is still alive and present.

While 49% of grapes grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, the rest are mostly Rhone grape varietals. That’s a possible combination of 21 different grapes. What seems certain is southern Rhone varietals thrive in the steep hills of the western side of the AVA. 

Day and Night

If it were not for the natural ‘air-conditioning’ effect of the cool ocean breezes through the Templeton Gap, it would be very hot indeed. In summer, daytime temperatures can reach up to 47 degrees Celsius. The cool breezes cool down the grapes and give a fresh acidity to the easy ripeness.

Anthony also makes a Chardonnay in the coolest AVA in California, Arroyo Grande Valley AVA; as well as, York Mountain AVA for his The Royal Nonesuch Farm estate red, which is technically not in San Luis Obispo County but is contiguous to the western edge of Paso Robles. 

Wines

When pressed, Anthony explained he was really trying to get away from “the perfume counter at Macy’s” style of overblown aromatics. His wines have a a soldering sweet core of fruit that becomes mouthwateringly savoury on the finish.

The Chardonnay, for example, is full of delicious sunshine-y tropical fruit. Yet there is no feeling of the fruit being manipulated to a certain idea of what a Chardonnay should be.

As mentioned in previous posts, my theory on oak is much like my theory on makeup. It can either enhance or overwhelm beauty.

Following the analogy, these wines have a “natural” look. The relaxed feeling is partly down to partial fermentation in concrete rather than (over) extended sessions in oak.

Other decisions in the winery, such as extended skin contact for the Roussanne, as well as, wild yeast ferments for the Chardonnay, make these exciting wines to taste.

Organic

Organic credentials often comes up when talking about Paso Robles AVA. This is good news for winemakers and wine lovers alike: having good neighbours “upstream” is important for the day to day production of organic wine.

Although the definition of organic wine in the United States is not codified in the same way as the European Union (see my oh-so, thrilling study on international tariffs in the global drinks trade), winemakers still need to slog through 400 pages of documents to fill in to get an organic certification.

2020

With current labour shortages in California, from new immigration rules, the Covid -19 lockdown and high competition for vineyard labour from the marijuana industry, organic certification has been put on the back burner for now.

Nevertheless, they continue to practice organic viticulture. You may even find Anthony and family picking the grapes. Thankfully, Mother Nature has stepped up in the 2020 vintage. And while it’s tough work to pick grapes, these are small productions.

Kinero Cellars and Royal Nonesuch Farm wines

Taste

Kinero Cellars "Alice" Grenache Blanc 2018 California
Grape: White Grenache
Region: Willow Creek and Templeton Gap AVA
Year: 2018
Alcohol: 14%

Considered one of the leading examples of Grenache blanc in California, this is named after his martini-loving grandmother, Alice. He tells us, she does not like wine, but he still sends her a case anyway. It’s a pity, she really should try a glass! This is a taut and clean white Grenache with summery fresh stone fruit and a lovely honey/honeysuckle finish.

Kinero Cellars "Talley" Chardonnay 2017
Grape: Chardonnay
Region: Arroyo Grande Vineyard AVA, California
Year: 2017
Alcohol: 12.5%

Even though Arroyo Grande is one of the coolest AVA, the 2017 was a hot and difficult year. Regardless, there is a thrilling sense of poise and place. It can not be anything other than California. The light use of french oak from Tonnellerie Cadus (Louis Jadot cooperage) gives the bright Californian style a modern light-weight frame.

The acidity is very good with fresh grilled salmon. As did The Royal Nonesuch Farm red blend, below.

Kinero Cellars "Rustler" Roussanne 2017
Grape: Roussanne
Region: James Berry Vineyard, Paso Robles AVA
Year: 2017
Alcohol: 13.5%

Named after midnight cattle thieves, the Rustler is an intriguing wine from one of the best vineyards in the area. It’s the winemaking that really ups the ante for for what can be done with Roussanne: a glorious texture, a mysterious heart of umami, and uncannily toeing the line between being suitable for white and red drinkers.

Royal Nonesuch Farm Red
Grape: Grenache, Syrah, Graciano, Clairette Blanc
Region: York Mountain AVA, California
Year: 2017
Alcohol: 14.8%

The Royal Nonesuch Farm is named after a rowdy play in Huckleberry Finn. Anthony explains, it reminds him not to take himself too seriously.

Well, the wines are serious. There is a good amount of juicy wild raspberry fruit (from partial whole bunch fermentation) to lighten up the darker glimpses of blackberry, black cherry and spicy liquorice. At the same time, there is real concentration, complexity, structure and finesse.

Map

Paso Robles AVA courtesy Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

Info

Kinero Cellars website and The Royal Nonesuch Farm website and head photo from instagram

IGTV video from wine tasting.

Wines tasted courtesy of The California Wine Institute.’The California Sommelier Sessions’ is a series of importer-led online wine workshops.

UK supplier is Tiger Vines

More wine reviews: California

fine disregard

Fine Disregard “Lost Row” Stags Leap District Syrah

Fine Disregard "Lost Row" Stags Leap District Syrah
Grape: Syrah
Region: Stags Leap District AVA, Napa Valley, California
Year: 2016
Price: £30 approx

And this is what happens when two winemakers find an abandoned plot of Syrah up a side of a hill in Napa Valley.

One fateful sunny day they decide to make a small batch of a slightly unfashionable wine style in an expensive area of the Napa Valley – Stags Leap district (you may know its most famous inhabitant, Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon).

Napa Valley Syrah

Syrah is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about wines from the Napa Valley. Big bold Cabernet Bordeaux redux, yes. Rhone Valley, no. You’ll find that in more experimental region further south than the Napa Valley.

That’s why a Napa Valley Syrah is considered a bit of a unicorn wine.

Sourced from one row of Syrah vines grafted from Shiraz cuttings from the Barossa Valley in the late 1990s. Not incidentally, this was a peak time for the Barossa Valley style of wine.

It shows how fashion comes and goes.

Now it is a “lost row”. Lucky them because it’s got all the good qualities of Barossa Valley Shiraz (suave tannins, rich fruit) but with a gentler Northern Rhone herbal note (thyme, lavender).

Did these two winemakers eventually leave behind their day jobs at the big wine brand? Or are they still there and kept this as their part-time weekend project?

This red wine says something more than just a side hustle.

Unfortunately, the next vintage, 2017, is the last vintage made of this wine. It’s not purely academic to review it, though.

Isn’t the story of Californian wine still being written? Full of pioneers on the West Coast. And it’s worth being reminded of what Syrah/Shiraz can do in California now the heat is rising.

Fine Disregard “Lost Row” Stags Leap District Syrah

More wine reviews: California

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New Dolce & Gabbana rosé – Donnafugata ‘Rosa’ 2019 Sicilia DOC Rosato

Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria Donnafugata
Grape: Zibibbo
Region: Passito di Pantelleria DOC
Year: 2014
Alcohol: 14.4%
Price: £39
Retailer: Hay Wines UK

This is my third attempt to write about the new Dolce & Gabbana rosé. That’s because I am in two minds about another designer rosé. My nose scrunches up in ‘serious critic mode’ before I have even taken a whiff. Oh, so serious.

And yet, I’ve never had a bad wine from Donnafugata in Sicily. At whatever the price level.

From grandparents to teenagers, I’ve found Donnafugata wines enjoyed by all at a large family dinner table. In itself, making the wines very Sicilian and very Dolce and Gabbana.

Dolce & Gabbana’s Mediterranean style

Is there a fashion brand more associated with Sicily than Dolce & Gabbana?

One half of Dolce & Gabbana, Domenico Dolce, was born in Polizzi Generosa – near Palermo, Sicily – and his family owned a small clothing business, where Domenico worked from childhood.

On the new wine collaboration with Donnafugata, Dolce and Gabbana said, ‘We are Italian, we love to eat and drink a good wine, like Rosa, born from our collaboration with Donnafugata. For us it is like tasting the smells of our land, seeing its colours again and feeling its atmosphere.’

Not the easiest time for a wine launch. Unless it’s a rosé.

Drinking rosé appears to be the drink of choice for 2020 as Champagne sales plummet as the world in no mood for festive fizz under lockdown. It’s true, we are not exactly celebrating right now, but there’s nothing wrong with a glass of rosé to take our mind off all the Zoom and gloom.

And the numbers seem to agree. When lockdown restrictions eased in May, rosé sales in one U.K. supermarket were up 407% compared to 2019.

Although the colour is as pale as the popular Provencal rosé, traditional Sicilian grapes make up the blend: a lighter-style Nerello Mascalese and a sparky dark Nocera grape.

Holidays. In a fashion.

The Dolce & Gabbana rosé collaboration with Donnafugata had me straight back to Sicily on holidays.

The geometric label design is inspired by traditional designs on Sicilian carts. The colours are calming as a rose quartz and a sunny day by the sea…

That’s where I’d like to be, I dream away… I’d like to be somewhere by the beach for lunch, having a big plate of pasta, where every glass of wine requires to be drunk with dark sunglasses.

Dolce & Gabbana label
Dolce & Gabbana rosé label by
Donnafugata ‘Rosa’ Sicilia DOC Rosato

Instead we are at home. Summer 2020 has been cancelled. The shimmery, pale-pink, Sicilian wine brings back good memories of warm Sicilian nights: “jasmine, enriched with delicate hints of wild strawberry, peach and bergamot

Dolce & Gabbana’s Mediterranean style is an imaginary world. But it’s not a bad place to visit when reality is so very, very real.

Where to find it

Available on the Dolce & Gabbana website from June. Imported to the U.K by Liberty Wines.

Technical details ‘Rosa” Sicilia DOC Rosato PDF

Donnafugata Estate
Contessa Entellina Sicily, Italy
vintage glassware

How to find a wine treasure (now wash your hands)

How much are you willing to put your hand in the muck to find buried wine treasure?

Never has there been more choice in wine. Never has there been more rubbish, too. Ten years ago, the wine trade bemoaned the supermarket and the lack of diversity. Now we have more diversity, more wine suppliers, more regions, more access than ever before.

“What are these wines,” asks the bewildered customer, “can anybody tell me?” The poor staff looks up from studying their master sommelier examinations thinking, does it all come to this.

Since the last recession, this strategy has been happening across retail, including wine. When no one has heard of the product, the product is always new. When no one has even heard of who it is or where it’s from? How new. How exciting. But is it any good?

It’s good for the seller as they don’t sell anywhere else. Especially not on the producer’s own website. Unlikely to be fully referenced on the supplier’s website. Or, anywhere else online for that matter.

Of course, that’s the beauty of it for those who sell. You can’t compare it with anything else. The price can go unchallenged. The quality can go unchallenged. Will there even be a next vintage to compare? Probably not. Sellers are not really in the business of taking care of small producers with high fixed costs for the long term.

Here’s the thing though: some of them taste very good. You can still find a wine treasure. But be prepared to put your hands in deep and wash your hands afterwards.

Mouton close

Mouton Rothschild 2017 Label released

Chateau Mouton Rothschild
Grape: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot
Region: Bordeaux
Year: 2017
Alcohol: 12.5%
Price: Released £360 per bottle IB
Retailer: Fine Wine Merchants (en primeur)

Released today, the Château Mouton Rothschild 2017 label is by French artist, Annette Messager. Her artwork is entitled, “Hallelulah” – a reference to wine and milk in a biblical sense. Born in 1943, Messager is a feminist artist with images featuring poetry and dream-like symbolism. Her artwork and installations examine perceptions of women by individuals and by society at large.

Mouton Rothschild 2017 Label

Looking back over the labels since 1945, each year they are a testament to the the artist’s vision. For women, 2017 must be remembered as the year of the #metoo hashtag after the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations exploded on social media. The Mouton Rothschild 2017 label by Annette Messager is a perfect reminder of this time; on top of that, the wine is a very good vintage for top Bordeaux châteaux.

View previous posts on Mouton Rothschild labels

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Sweet diversity: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

The smoothness of the driving experience has changed. Now when you sit in a new car you can’t feel anything mechanical beneath you. You glide. The machine has disappeared from the experience. What is working to get you on the road has been computerised. Except for at the other end, say, when inside a Lamborghini. That’s when you are so close to the ground you can feel every pebble of tar on the road.

The reduction of dosage in sparkling wine reminds me of this: when you take away sugar from sparkling, part of the process of making sparkling wine, you lose the glide. Every crenulation of the road can be felt. Is zero dosage giving us the Lamborghini-effect for sparkling wines?

Or is it more like a bumpy Model T Ford with hard metal seats?

At a recent tasting of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG in London, we compared the wines, starting at zero dosage, increasing in Residual Sugar as the tasting progressed.

Sweet Somethings

The zero dosage wines are mostly sold in Italy (about 65% of production). The UK likes a little sugar in their Prosecco, but then, the market is two-thirds of the lower-priced Prosecco DOC (not the Prosecco Superiore DOCG). It’s a drink for a quick quaff with friends and often without food.

And yet, as the beautiful afternoon tea at the Hari Hotel in Mayfair showed, savoury food works well with the zero dosage styles of Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Whether this eventually appeals to the same people who like to have a casual Prosecco with friends will depend. Can the interest in “zero-sugar” Prosecco, alongside other bubble-based beverages with zero calories, turn people on to the drier style? Even if the normal, higher levels of sugar work well with cakes and sweeter treats.

What I enjoyed most was the Frizzante made in a Col Fondo style. Called Malibràn, from Credamora, meaning “trouble maker” – zero dosage, cloudy and fermented more like a pet nat with its softer bubbles. This had more depth of flavour from being unfiltered, which put it into a niche group of wines. This shows the diversity happening in the region.

Even though Prosecco is one of the most successful sparkling regions, and causing a noticeable dent in lower-priced, own-brand Champagne sales in the last two years, the Prosecco Superiore DOCG knows it needs to drive very fast to keep ahead of this fast-paced, bubbly game. And keep going.

UPDATE:

I queried the classifications for the DOCG Prosecco as I wasn’t aware labels were able to be classified as Extra Brut. This is correct, and unlike the Asolo Prosecco DOCG, which are allowed to promote Extra Brut (drier styles). Here is what the DOCG Consorzio had to say:

As regards the Dosaggio Zero/ Brut Nature / Extra Brut I send you a clarification. Our rules of production at the moment say: D.O.C.G. (controlled and guaranteed designation of origin) «Conegliano Valdobbiadene -Prosecco» wines made in the Spumante version may be marketed in all the styles allowed by the laws currently in force, with the exclusion of the «extra-brut» and «dolce» («sweet») versions. This means that at the moment producers are not allowed to produce Extra Brut but they are allowed to produce all the other typologies, that are mainly Extra Dry, Brut and Dry. In the last years, the wineries have introduced also wines of the typologies Brut Nature and Dosaggio Zero (that actually are synonym in the sense that they represent the same level of sugar, between 0 and 3 g/l). When the new rules of production will be officially approved the producers will be allowed to produce Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore in the Extra Brut typology.

Watch this space.

Consorzio of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG #SuperioreAfternoon launched for the press at The Hari Hotel, Mayfair on Monday 25th March, including 42 producers of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG hosted by Sarah Abbott MW.

More about Zero Dosage

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7 Things You May Not Know About Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet has made me a lot of friends. It’s been essential chat fuel in London pubs since 2009. Here are seven facts you may not know about Picpoul de Pinet. It may even help with your next pub quiz. There’s a lot more to this easy white wine from Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France than you may expect. 

1. One third of all Picpoul de Pinet production is sold in the U.K.

1.57 million bottles were drunk in 2017/2018 compared to 1.08 million in 2016/2017 – an increase of 46%. That’s a lot of after-work drinks.

2. The Picpoul de Pinet bottle is called a Neptune

Since 1995, Picpoul de Pinet must be in a sleek green bottle. Up close, you will find it has three symbols on the glass: the waves of the sea around the neck of the bottle; the cross of its home in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon; and, columns along the base of the bottle as a nod to Roman Doric columns. It must have all three to be a real Picpoul de Pinet.

3. The “Picquepoul” was originally a black grape

Piquepoul is the white grape of Picpoul de Pinet. Pinet is the town. Stay with me. Picpoul de Pinet may be a white grape today, but records in the 1300s suggest it has changed its identity over the centuries by genetic mutation.

4. Picpoul vs the zombie vine apocalypse 

The vine louse called phylloxera nearly wiped out the world’s vines in the late 18th century. Thankfully, the Piquepoul grape survived because it thrives on sandy soils, which are fatal to the vine pest.

5. Picpoul de Pinet plus Oysters equals happy ever after

In 1971, a local mayor in the South of France held an event to celebrate “the marriage” of Picpoul de Pinet and Bouzigues oysters. Since then, it has become a classic food and wine partnering. The lemony flavours of Picpoul de Pinet means it’s happy ever after.

6. Only white Piquepoul grapes are allowed to be grown around Pinet

Piquepoul is the only approved variety in the Pinet region. This had a positive effect when introduced as a law in 1985 – doubling Picpoul de Pinet sales over the next decade. 

7. Picpoul means “lip-stinger”

An easy one to remember after a few glasses of wine with friends – if you don’t remember anything, remember this fact: Picpoul means “lip stinger” in local dialect. You may never know when you might need it.

What is a pub in London without a Picpoul de Pinet wine? It is fresh, salty, lip- stinging, eye-opening effervescence. Since 2009, it’s been London’s biggest chat fuel in pubs. Coming up at the same time as Prosecco, it’s also kind to the wallet, but Picpoul de Pinet stands apart for it’s small production volume. It’s a London thing – people want it like the latest sneakers: because it’s rare and popular.

More on wines from Languedoc-Roussillon

The official Picpoul de Pinet site (in English)

Wine Woman & Song Instagram

Millesime Bio scaled

Millésime Bio: The Taste of 2045

Touching down at the Millésime Bio organic wine fair in Montpellier. Sunshine. Organic wine. It did not take much cajoling by SudVinBio to accept the invitation; over 1,200 organic wine exhibitors from 22 different countries under the mild Mediterranean sun.

Millésime Bio in 2019

In its 26th year, Millésime Bio comes of age. Today it is a smooth modern event. Happily, there are still some tell-tale signs that it it true to its 1990s roots, a time when organic wine was more fringe than it is today. 

The layout for the tasting is egalitarian. Each winemaker’s table was presented simply with a white table cloth, which featured one or two producers. This was repeated for all the winemakers over four huge halls. I even saw one winemaker with just one bottle of wine to show.

Not much marketing, no massive winery stands, no sign posts showing regions.

Millesime Bio 2019

Millesime Bio 2019

At first, the four large halls felt overwhelming (how are we going to find the wines from this or that region?); after a few hours, it felt refreshingly democratic. To navigate around the event I downloaded the app to find different regions and producers (rather than the brick of a guide, which was a waste of paper if you are using the app. Go digital, people!).

Who knows what wine you will discover? A majority of the winemakers were family-run, small producers. This flat structure of the event gave each producer an equal platform to be heard.

Millésime Bio: Evolution of organic wine vineyard areas in the world

Millésime Bio: Evolution of organic wine vineyard areas in the world

Millésime Bio in 2045

In 2045, will a wine fair for organic wine even be necessary? Or, will the majority of wine be organic wine anyway in twenty-six years time? If trends continue, there could be over 1 million hectares of organic vineyards worldwide based on IWSR projections to 2022. 

Will wines even be physical, can they become replicated in a virtual space? In 2045, you can have a convincing smell of cassis and oak by shining light pulses at different wavelengths. Or perhaps at the other extreme, wines will it become even more unfiltered and organic.  The thrill for wine drinkers of 2045 is its un-virtual reality, much like how inner-city children, who have never stepped foot in a farm, feel like at a travelling baby animal show.

Twenty-six years ago in 1993, a young winemaker who wanted to practice organic winemaking often had to argue with his parents and grandparents to change their ways to their organic and “riskier” form of agriculture. The post-World War Two generation saw petro-chemicals as the gift of consistency, cash flow and food on the family table.

Back to the future, in 2045, the earth is full of residual chemicals that it just can not take any more even you could buy them.

Will our Earth exist in 2045? What will happen to traditional viticulture and agriculture? Let’s drink well today and go lightly forward, towards a more hopeful future.

Organic wine is only beginning. There’s a lot more to do.

What is Organic Wine? The Short Story from Millésime Bio:

  • No synthetic products, no GMOs
  • No herbicides
  • Sulphite level < conventional level
  • Respect for raw material
  • Positive impact on environment, health, jobs
  • European regulation
  • Controlled and certified

For more thoughts and facts on the EU regulations, see my previous post, What does organic wine mean today?

Thanks to Millesime Bio for the press invitation

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What does organic wine mean today?

Before I travel to Montpellier for Millésime Bio Organic Wine fair next week, I searched Google for “organic wine”. The oracle answered back with a riddle, like an old Zen master answering a question with a question, “What does organic wine mean?”

A sensible question to ask before an international organic wine fair. Although, in asking it at all, it reminded me of the days after the Brexit referendum, when we learned the most searched for question in Britain was, “What is the EU?”

“Argh, the B word”, as you splurt out your wine over your metropolitan-elite, wine-drinking ecru walls, “why do we have to involve Brexit in everything?”

Because it is involved with everything, especially wine. Brexit is a “mad riddle,” as Danny Dyer brilliantly put it, and organic wine is one of the most regulated wine styles in Europe. It’s worth stepping back and look at the larger picture when there is a pyromaniacal desire by some in government for a bonfire of regulations. 

What does Organic wine mean today?

So here we are. Only 9 weeks to go before the Brexit leaving date, with no plan by the government, and I’m off to an organic wine fair in Europe. A style of wine that is one of the most regulated labels.

EU Organic Wine symbol

EU Organic Wine symbol: What does organic wine mean?

If organic wine in France is anything, it is about the rules and regulations. In other words, as Brexiteers would say, organic wine means “red tape.” Is this such a bad thing?

I’m thankful for the strict regulations surrounding organic wine. Seeing the green-leaf EU standard on a bottle of wine is a reassurance of quality. At least I know there has been some thought put into what happens in the vineyard, winery and, hopefully, both.

The late- A.A. Gill in his one of his last posts, described the Brexit argument against the EU and its “red tape” in his own inimitable way:

If you’re really worried about red tape, by the way, it’s not just a European problem. We’re perfectly capable of coming up with our own rules and regulations and we have no shortage of jobsworths. Red tape may be annoying, but it is also there to protect your and my family from being lied to, poisoned and cheated.

The Sunday Times Magazine, “Brexit: AA Gill argues for ‘In’” 12 June 2016

 

Here are the actual words of the regulations to prevent people who buy organic wine from being “lied to, poisoned and cheated”. For those who find Brexit boring by now – and this complex and immense subject is going around and around in circles – here is the (unapologetically boring) facts on organic wine. 

Organic Viticulture: the European Union Regulations

Organic production is regulated throughout the European Union, since 1991, under regulation (EC) 834/2007, “Principles for organic production and labelling”, which defines rules for production, processing, distribution, importation, control, certification and labelling of organic products. This is further completed by regulation (EC) 889/2008, “Applicable rules for organic production”.

Organic agriculture is defined as “a system of agricultural management and food production, combining best environmental practices, a high level of diversity, the preservation of natural resources, the application of high standards of animal well-being and a production method based on natural methods and substances.” (Recital 1 of regulation (EC) 834/2007).

In France, Organic Agriculture (AB) is a sign of quality. The INAO (National Institute of Origin and Quality) is in charge of applying organic regulations.

Definition of Organic Viticulture

The principle of organic vineyard management is based on a global approach to vine/soil/environment, and on maintaining this balance.

• Organic production prohibits use of synthetic chemicals and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). The implementation of prophylactics (preventives) to reduce the sensitivity of crops to pest attacks is compulsory prior to using natural products for plant protection or biological control. In addition, management of adventitious matter* is mechanical (tillage, mulching, hand weeding, etc.).

• Organic production maintains and improves soil fertility, favour biodiversity and preserve water quality. Organic production implies the use of natural fertilisers only, such as green manure or compost.

Thus, the fact that organic viticulture uses no chemical products systematically entails an increase in labour resources: observation time in vineyard to anticipate intervention, mechanical rather than chemical management of adventitious matter, etc… This generally leads to an increase in production costs (variable, depending on environmental conditions).

* ‘‘weeds”

Definition of Organic Vinification

Organic Vinification Wine production is subject firstly to European legislation: “Common Market Organisation for Wine” (CMO wine: regulation (EC) 479/2008) and procedural requirements for oenological practices (regulation (EC) 606/2009). Since the 8th February 2012, rules for organic vinification have been added to the European organic regulation (EC) 834/2007, enabling certification of winemaking, and no longer just for grapes.

The rules for organic vinification came into effect on the 1st August, 2012. Requirements are same for all European countries. They are based on 4 key points from the CMO for wine: • 100% of all agricultural ingredients used must be certi ed as organic: grapes, sugar, alcohol, rectified concentrated must (RCM). • Restrictions or interdictions on use of certain physical procedures (e.g.: dealcoholisation, electrodialysis, filtration using a media with pores of < 0.2 μm, are all forbidden practices).

• Respect of a restricted list of additives and oenological auxilia- ries (organic origin favoured for some).
• Restrictions on total SO2 level in wine sold.

 

There we have it. At least for the consumer, it’s difficult to disagree with the need for red tape in organic wine to ensure the integrity of the label. I’m hugely looking forward to visiting the Millésime Bio wine fair next week to taste more. 

 

 

Image: Marc Chagall

Related post: Protectionism in the Global Drinks Trade: The Role of Tariff and Non-Tariff Trade Barriers

More: Millésime Bio

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Three Red Wines from Japan – Hokkaido, Nagano and Yamanashi

Much like slicing poisonous fugu fish to make sushi, the knife-edge climate conditions in Japan create a tension in the red wines from Japan that thrill. Of course, the wines won’t kill you the way a misjudged slice of fugu can; but, for Japanese grapes, the climate can be life and death – it’s certainly not easy to ripen on an archipelago afflicted by monsoons and typhoons. When the grapes do ripen, the best Japanese wines show a unique freshness, delicacy and intensity. 

If Japanese wine is exported – and it is an if as most Japanese wine is consumed domestically – then it most likely be a light white wine from the grape called Koshu. Fine and soft in texture, most Koshu are very pale, almost akin to water, in appearance. Similarly, the red wines are also light in style, but are developing more fruit ripeness due to better site selection and more European varieties planted. How do the vines fare in Japan under these knife-edge conditions?

Japanese Wine Regions

Red Wines of Japan: Map of Japanese Wine Regions courtesy of Wine Regions of the World

3 Red Japanese Wines

Here are three red Japanese wines that are all from the same vintage but from three very different regions: Hokkaido, Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures. 

Tsurunuma Zweigelt 2015, Hokkaido Wine Company, Hokkaido Prefecture Japan

The island sitting apart from the rest of Japan, Hokkaido is not only cooler, but it is also cool – a lot of younger winemakers are attracted to the area for it’s relative affordability and lack of typhoon season.

Established in 1974, the Hokkaido winery first had German winemaking influence in its initial stages. The soft juicy Austrian red grape variety (a cross between St Laurent and Blaufrankisch) is well suited to the wetter weather in Japan with it’s late bud break and early ripening. The wine shows fresh and delicate plums and red cherries with a clean, spicy finish. 

Merlot ‘Cuvée Masako’ 2015, Kusunoki Winery, Nagano Prefecture Japan

In 2002, the Nagano Appellation Control (NAC) was founded. In 2004, the Japanese government relaxed laws to make it easier for boutique wineries to set up. One of the outcomes was a 5 hectare estate set up by Shigeyuki Kusunoki in 2004. 

Nagano is the largest producer of Merlot in Japan, although this is closer to Pinot Noir in style than the Merlot talked about in the Sideways film. A fragile pale ruby colour with good intensity on the palate – this is low sulfur, minimal intervention from this small vineyard.

Cabernet Franc 2015, Grace Wine, Yamanashi Prefecture Japan 

Grace Wine is one of the most successfully exported Japanese wineries from Yamanashi, the largest wine region in Japan. Although I had tasted their Koshu a few times in the past, I was excited to taste their red wine to see if it matched the quality I knew from the Koshu. Koshu has been grown in Yamanashi for thousands of years, while the Cabernet Franc is a more recent blow in from Europe. 

More Saumur in structure than Bordeaux, although even more delicate, the Grace Wine Cabernet Franc has a good intensity of fruit ripeness with soft tannins from the delicate extraction in the winery. The delicate touches of oak – spice, tobacco, vanillin characters – with no sign of unripe green character combined with the delicate berry fruit. 

This post was made possible thanks to Wines of Japan UK and a masterclass with Sarah Abbott MW at 67 Pall Mall, London on Tuesday 23rd October 2018

Image: Blue Bird and Wild Grape Vine, Rakusan Tsuchiya

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Georgian Grapes and Wines (Organised by Region)

There are plenty of exciting Georgian grapes yet to be explored. Considered the birthplace of wine, there are 525 recognised Georgian grapes with over 425 regularly grown – and that’s not including the wild grapes that are yet to be named. 

There are five main wine regions in Georgia, with 18 Protected Designations of Origin recognised by the international wine community, and below, you’ll find four main wine regions visited this year, which are unique to each other in terms of climate, soils, grapes and history.

Let’s take a look at what there is to know about the major Georgian grapes in four major regions of The Republic of Georgia.

Georgian grapes and Georgian Wine Appellations

Georgian Wine Appellations – courtesy of Wines of Georgia

Georgian Grapes and Wines

IMERETI region

On the eastern part of western Georgia, Imereti is one of the most diverse regions for Georgian grapes, ranging from humid sub-tropical in the Lower Imereti and ending up at 2850m high on alpine meadows. Seventy percent of the Imereti region is mountainous. The Black Sea provides a warm, moderating influence in the winter.

Traditional winemaking with qvevri is used here, which are called churi in Imereti. Here, after fermentation, the wine is left in churi for about 2 months, after the pulp is removed it is transferred to the barrels. The wines here have higher acidity than in Khahketi, which benefits the quality of white wines from here. There is one Imereti PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) called Sviri PDO, which can be a blend of Tsitska and Tsolikouri, although sometimes it has Krakhuna added. The result is a moderate alcohol wine with creamy fresh fruit and a perfumed finish. 

Georgian grapes - Tstiska-Tsolikouri

Georgian grapes – Tstiska-Tsolikouri from Vartishke Cellar in Imereti

Tsitska white grape

Grown in the cooler Upper Imereti, and often seen blended with Tsolikouri as Tsitska-Tsolikouri. The Tsitska offers high acidity, with fresh lemon, honey and melon characters. As mentioned above, it is one of the grapes in the Sviri PDO blend. 

Tsolikouri white grape

In the 19th century, Tsolikouri was the defining white grape of Georgia and the second-most planted grape after Rkatsiteli. It is considered one of the longest-ageing white wines in Georgia. More full-bodied than high-acidity Tsitska, which it is often blended successfully, it can shows character of citrus fruit, white plum, yellow fruit and floral notes. 

Krakhuna white grape

One of my favourite white wines in Georgia is indigenous to Imereti; a full-bodied white wine reminiscent of an unoaked white Rhone variety. It can be made in the traditional or international style successfully, although I enjoyed it the most with less than 100% time in churi. As a grape variety, it has moderate to high yields and can accumulate sugar easily while also retaining acidity. Higher alcohol, a fuller-body with smooth glycerol feel when made in stainless steel, it shows tropical fruits, apricot and honey notes.

Otskhanuri Sapere red grape

Another gem from Imereti. A beautiful ruby colour, medium weight, the tannins can be rough but older versions have a rich and deep elegance. 

Aladastouri red grape

Another red grape from Imereti that has tremendous potential. As a dry qvevri wine, there are crunchy raspberry and black cherry characters much like a young Piedmontese red. Despite its thick skins, the wine has a light colour. 

Georgian Grapes - Aladastouri at Agricultural Reserach Centre at Saguramo, Georgia

Georgian Grapes – Aladastouri at Agricultural Reserach Centre at Saguramo, Georgia

MESKHETI region

You can smell the dry heat of continental Turkey down here on the southern border of Georgia. Considered one of the ancient winemaking sites, vineyards are traditionally grown in the valleys of the Mtkavari River. Although 900m is the lowest altitude at which vineyards are planted, so it is still very high altitude viticulture with long hours of sunshine. This is one of the driest regions of Georgia, with harsh winters and frost.

According to Georgian researchers, many Georgian grapes could have originated here, such as Saperavi. Natenadzes’ wine cellar – who considers himself a cultural historian rather than winemaker – is one of the only ones to produce wine on the terraces here. 

Meskhuri Mtsvane white grape

Mtsvane means “green”; and so, this is the green wine from Meskheti. (See Mtsvane Kakhuri).

Georgian grapes from the Vardzia Terraces

Natenadze’s Cellar and Vardzia Terraces

Across the Mtkvari River

Across the Mtkvari River

KARTLI region

Kartli surrounds the capital of Tbilisi, which derives from the old Georgian word meaning “warm town”. Continental in climate with hot summers and cold winters. Vineyards are grown at 750-800m above sea level. The PDO is Atenuri PDO, which was already known in the Middle Ages for quality wines, in particular, sparkling wines from Chinuri. Wines are made both in traditional qvevri and international styles. 

Chinuri white grape

Outside of Georgia, the white grape Chinuri reputation rests on the wines of Iago Bitarishvili, who makes qvevri amber wines from this high acidity grape. Since 1998, his wines are responsible for introducing many wine professionals in Western Europe to amber wines made in qvevri. Traditionally, the late ripening Chinuri’s high acidity has been used to make a natural sparkling wine where the must taken to Ateni Gorg to a high and cold location for a long cool ferment.  The PDO permits the Georgian grapes, Chinuri, Gori Mtsvane and the French, Aligoté.

Tavkevri red grape

This was once all over eastern Georgia, but is now found mostly in its home of Kartli. As a young, dry wine it has fresh flavours of red fruit (raspberries, strawberries), floral (rose) notes. 

Georgian grapes - Iago Bitarishvili with qvevri of chinuri grapes

Iago Bitarishvili with qvevri of chinuri grapes

KAKHETI region

Kakheti has about 65-70% of Georgia’s vineyards and produces 80% of its wine. Bordering Russia and Azerbaijan, the Caucasus Mountain range provides cool breezes that flow south over the vines. The main growing area is in the Alazani Valley. It is home to 14 of the 18 PDOs, including Tsinandali PDO (on the right bank of the Alazani River, it is a white blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane Kakhuri), Kindzmarauli PDO (a naturally semi-sweet red), and Mukuzani PDO (a full-bodied, dark-coloured Saperavi red from the micro-zone on the right bank of the Alazani River). 

Traditional Wine Making in Kakheti

Kakheti has its own historically distinct winemaking process that is unique in the world of wine. The grapes are first pressed in a Satsnakheli (wine press) and then, grape must is poured into the qvevri for ten days with stirring four times per day. The stirring provides an even fermentation that can last between 25 to 40 days. The skins, stalks and pips then sink to the bottom. After malolactic fermentation, the qvevri are covered and sealed. 

At one of the great and few Qvevri makers in Georgia - Zaza Kbilashvilli

At one of the great and few Qvevri makers in Georgia – Zaza Kbilashvilli

Saperavi red grape

Saperavi is the ambassador for Georgian redwine around the world. It can be found across Georgia, but it’s home is in the Kakheti region. High quality reds with potential for ageing, they are one of only a few grapes with pink flesh (most grapes have clear flesh). The wines are high in tannin, colour and acidity and they need time to develop in the bottle. Masses of potential, but not convinced by the heavy Mukuzani PDO – yet. Hugh Johnson recommends Saperavi as a good alternative to Medoc reds.

In 2013, when I visited the Biesina experimental vineyard in Marsala, Sicily they were cross-breeding Sicilian grapes with Saperavi to study the DNA for future climate change. Then there’s the Saperavi clones in Australia, which are also good in drought conditions. There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the future of Saperavi. 

Rkatsiteli white grape

Where Saperavi is the ambassador for the reds, Rkatsiteli is for Georgian white wines. Often see as a traditional qvevri amber wine, and also made in an international style. 

Mstvane Kakhuri white grape

One of Georgia’s ancient grape varieties, which in the scheme of grape history, could make it one of the world’s oldest varieties. Often blended with Rkatsiteli, it provides aroma and delicacy in the blend. It is increasing in popularity as a qvevri style wine. Aromas of stone fruit, orchard flowers with good minerality. 

Khikhvi white grape

This white grape works well made in an international or qvevri winemaking, and as a sweet wine. Originally described in the third to fourth century, the vines are naturally low yielding but produce grapes that ripen with good levels of sugar. 

Kisi white grape

One of my favourite Georgian grapes for amber wine, which some consider to be a hybrid between Mstvane and Rkatsiteli. When made in a traditional Georgian qvevri, the wine becomes by complex aromas of pear, honey, tobacco and walnut, and of course, incredible textural tannins.  

Georgian grapes at Ruispiri biodynamic vineyards in Tsinandali, Kakheti Georgia

Ruispiri biodynamic vineyards in Tsinandali, Kakheti Georgia

Georgian grapes at Tsinandali

Tsinandali

Georgian grapes - Lukasi Kisi

Lukasi Kisi with Ketevan Gersamia at Anona Restaurant in Tbilisi

 

Previous post: Impressions from a Journey to Georgian Wine Country

qvevri

A Journey to Georgian Wine Country

If a journey is a spiritual search in disguise, then a trip to Georgian wine country is a pilgrimage. Since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, the wine world has split into two camps: on one side, wine as a luxury good, and on the other side, towards the organic, and at the most, natural wine. Georgian wine surfaced again at the right time. The story of the country’s re-emergence as an independent country, with wine at the core of its identity, and especially amber wine, coincided at the same time as the natural wine movement started to take off here.

Was I actually looking for the soul of wine? Soul is not a word that I would normally use about wine. It’s something I’d say about music – but, wine?

Georgia is the birthplace of wine, with the oldest evidence of winemaking discovered at an 8000-year old village near Tbilisi. As you are reminded everywhere in Georgia, there is a deep connection between the country and the history of wine: it is a country with 8000 vintages. It’s signature wine is the orange wines made in amphora, which in Georgia is described as amber wine made in terracotta qvevri (pictured). 

On the first night in Georgia, driving through the streets of Kutaisi after midnight, our Georgian guide told the first of her stories inside the green fluorescent of the minibus. She suddenly became animated and points out the new police station buildings. 

Since 2003, after the Rose Revolution, police station buildings in Georgia have been made of glass. As part of the crackdown on police corruption, the entire police force was disbanded and they started again with new recruits who had a spotless reputation. Not only can the public see through the glass to the offices, people working within the offices can see each other through the glass. In other words, there is no place to hide or to bribe. 

This came to be a metaphor for wine made in qvevri – it has no place to hide. What goes into the qvevri is the true state of the vintage – there is no manipulation, no adding of anything, and it is usually not filtered. The extended skin contact means the tannins can be harsh and poky if they are anything but perfectly ripe. If the grapes and stems are ripe or unripe, so be it – in it goes for 6 months. You can not predict the result other than the result will be uncompromising. As Andrew Jefford says, it can be a “kind of punk”. 

Visiting some places, it reminded me of the early days of DIY home brewing in the late 1970s. Nearly everyone seems to make wine in Georgia. As a country that has almost been under continuous occupation, their wine-making tradition has been carefully passed down within the family and across the villages. The people gather indoors for dinner and toast – Gaumarzos! – meaning literally, ‘to your victory’. Freedom of speech has only existed with family and friends around the table drinking their own wines.

The truth is what comes out of the qvevri is not always comfortable to taste, but it always tastes truthful to what goes into the qvevri. Flaws are not hidden by oak when wine is made in this way.

In contrast to the small qvevri producer, it would be too easy to visit the ex-Soviet bulk wineries inherited by Georgia after Soviet occupation and condemn them to wines that represent “non-truth” – commercially-minded, large scale and ambitious. That would be too simplistic. What was “Production Unit No. 2” is now a large piece of winery infrastructure for Georgian wine. Apart from the small producers, I found these large producers gave their own fascinating snapshot of the region and how they negotiate their Soviet legacy and make it work for the future of the Georgian wine industry.

The embargo by Russia from 2006 to 2013 forced Georgia to cut ties with their traditional market, Russia, which took quantity over quality. No longer could they be complacent about quality when attempting to access new markets across Europe and Asia. The large wineries also provide many jobs for local people who have so much inherent wine knowledge, and traditions of picking grapes, and making and drinking wine. 

Yet, it is the small qvevri producer that is the star of Georgian wine. After sitting through a meet and greet with Georgian wine producers and tasting up to 100 wines, this is an old and new country. It is the winemakers who are experimenting with the qvevri who are really moving their country’s winemaking forward. 

Most of Georgia’s reputations rests on the qvevri, and in fact, after a while, I wanted there to be more focus on the quality coming out of the vineyard. There came a point during a day of tasting nearly 100 wines – that with so many unfinished and fizzy wines – I had to put down my pen and just listen to the winemaker (or son or daughter of the winemaker) talk. After so much tradition and family tradition, I wanted to ask, how do you see the next 8000 vintages?

Outside of Georgia, Ancient Georgian winemaking has been an inspiration for making skin contact wine. For Italian producers, such as Gravner and Radikon. For Australian wine makers, where 25 qvevri were sent over in the past year, according to Lado Uzunashvili, where they have their own clone of Saperavi brought over in the 1950s via UC Davis and collected from Georgia in pre-phylloxera times. 

If a trip to Georgia is a wine pilgrimage, then every step along the way on the Georgian wine route has a meaning for the pilgrim – even more so as challenges emerge. There is no place to hide when it comes to amber wine, and it is the strength of the Georgian people who will carry the Georgian wine industry forward like so many parts of the renewed country. This is a country with an incredible inheritance of wine knowledge. It genuinely is one of the most intriguing wine countries I have been lucky enough to visit and it will stay with me for a long time. Thank you, Wines of Georgia

Next post

After the Russian embargo, and to gain access to markets in the European Union, Georgia delineated their Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) into regions and local styles. This was a big step towards developing the inherent quality found in Georgia. Find out more about the wine producing regions of Georgia and Georgian grapes in my next post…

 

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For whom the bell tolls: Chateau Angelus and organic viticulture

How is a top Chateau on Bordeaux’s Right Bank preparing for climate change? The big news for Chateau Angelus in St Emilion is they received their organic certification this year (2018) and have put in place new approaches for clonal selection.

Over lunch at 67 Pall Mall with the de Bouard family, the younger generation, Stephaine and Thierry, are clearly enthusiastic about their move to organic viticulture. The older generation present, Hubert de Bouard, was more sanguine. He believed the move to organic was tough, but “it’s a big wave we have to follow, but you can say, you have to do the job.”

It was difficult timing, when 2018 on the right bank is characterised by a battle with mildew. Stephanie told us, while “nature has the last word, we fought very hard.” While some of their fellow right bank Chateaux gave up their organic certification process, because they felt they were “going backwards”, Chateau Angelus stuck it through despite everything and say they were happy with the results. 

Monsieur de Bouard and Chateau Angelus 2015, 2012, 2011 and 2005

Atlantic conditions

When Pontet Canet pushed forward with biodynamic viticulture, some questioned whether it was possible due to the damp humidity of Bordeaux. Mildew damage is one of the more difficult problems for organic vitiuculture and in 2018 this was a problem on the right bank. In the end, you have to spray with copper (only on the surface). Four to five tractors spray the 42 hectares over one day – but with the clay soil in St Emilion, which is not easy to get the tractor through after the rain.

At Bordeaux university under Emile Puynard, Monsieur de Bouard recalled the great enologist saying, “a great wine is great from beginning in the barrel to the end.” Although he didn’t believe that you could necessarily tell a wine was organic from the profile in the glass. Much like tomatoes there can be non-organic tomatoes that are good, but that is where the analogy ends – intensive production can push through anything, “Wine is made in the vineyard, not on a computer, but with boots.”

Massale Selection

Next year, Hubert de Bouard and family will start a new massale selection of the Cabernet Franc. 

In 2019, they will be looking for Cabernet Franc that needs time on the vine, and gives less alcohol and more acidity. In short, better phenolic ripeness. A response to changes in climate over the years. Compare the difference to what he was looking for 30 years ago, where he was looking for Cabernet Franc with the most sugar to gain faster maturity and to gain more power. 

Chateau Angelus has always had a reputation for dynamic thinking, and their next stage in organic viticulture – in which the origins can be traced back to the 2012 vintage – they are planning ahead for a world where climate change and global warming is a reality. They can change the farming, and with Cabernet Franc on clay soils (which are like a tank of water under the vines in drought conditions), they are in a position to confront the climate changes.

There is change in Bordeaux. A response to future climate change challenges. The bells on top of the Chateau may be ringing out: for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee (and for all of us). 

 

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Sea change in Maremma: a dinner with Podere Sapaio Bolgheri DOC

Let’s be upfront, there have been a few Sassicaia wannabes when it comes to Bolgheri DOC: ambitious wines made with high extraction, high alcohol and a high use of new oak – and lashings of Merlot. Although, only established in 1999, Podere Sapaio could not be mistaken as just another one of these wines. 

Attending a dinner hosted by Walter Speller, and tasting through a vertical of Podere Sapaio’s past vintages, I tasted a winery that has been allowed to develop and experiment rather than be another cookie-cutter super Tuscan.

Before we turn to their main wines – Volpolo and Sapaio – here is a wild card wine to give you an insight of the owner’s open philosophy. Not many wineries in this area are experimenting with orange wines made of Ansonica (Inzolia) and aged in amphora. 

But back to the main story – the reds.

Bolgheri DOC is a relatively new region, coming to prominence in the 1990s on the back of a string of excellent Sassacaia releases, and wineries piled into the area to take advantage of the huge potential of the sandy soils, warm climate and cool coastal breezes. The natural advantage of the place is particularly evident in the latest vintages from Podere Sapaio, the 2015 Sapaio and 2016 Volpolo. 

As can be expected from a winery finding it’s feet, there comes a point where the style comes into its own. In the latest vintages, the style is fresher, yet more structured, with predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon but also an overall emphasis on freshness and reduction of oak. For me, the Merlot in the earlier vintages lacked the freshness of the tannins, although it was full-bodied and powerful. The focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than Merlot, gives the wine more transparency and structure. 

It is this light touch that bodes well and is evident by the number of experiments that he encourages, as well as his environmental philosophy. Whether it is Petit Verdot in amphora, the conversion to organic viticulture, or his orange wine in homage to his wife, Rabbit’s Paradise (very unfortunately, not available to buy). But particularly, his rethink of his use of Merlot. The current vintages are showing a real edge towards quality and longevity. 

Even at this early stage, their Bordeaux blend has changed over a relatively short space of time and has become less “Bordeaux” and more Maremma, in style. As Walter Speller argued, to be original is about origin. And it is: it is a red wine of clarity, freshness and hope that agrees with sliding glass doors opening onto a sea view.

Podere Sapaio 

Via del Passo di Bocca di Valle, 1, 57022 Donoratico LI (Livorno), Italy map

Located in the Bolgheri zone of the Maremma region. 

Bolgheri DOC

Before the creation of the Bolgheri DOC in 1994, wines from this region were called Vino da Tavola or IGT Toscana and referred to as “Super Tuscans” for their use of international varieties. The DOC states wines can be Cabernet Sauvignon (10 to 80%), Merlot (up to 80%) and other local red varieties (up to 30%). Red wines must be aged for 24 months.

The Wines 

Volpolo 

70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot 

16 months in barriques and tonneau followed by 4 months in bottle refinement 

  1. Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2016 
  2. Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2015  
  3. Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2014 
  4. Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2013 
  5. Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2011 
  6. Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2008 

Sapaio 

70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot 

16-17 months in barriques followed by 6-8 months in bottle refinement 

  1. Sapaio Toscana IGT 2015
  2. Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2013
  3. Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2012
  4. Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2008
  5. Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2006
  6. Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2005

And… Paradiso dei Conigli Ansonica (not for sale)

 

Thank you Walter Speller and Podere Sapaio for the invite and the team at 67 Pall Mall. 

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Schramsberg Vineyards at 67 Pall Mall

One of the joys of reviewing Californian sparkling wine is that I very rarely taste them and so have zero expectations. Only small quantities of the top Californian sparkling wines are sent to London and can be found at select restaurants such as The Vineyard, which recently hosted a dinner at 67 Pall Mall with vintner Hugh Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards, Napa Valley.

Schramsberg Vineyards is a part of the history of Californian sparkling wine. Robert Louis Stevenson first mentioned Schramsberg in his 1883 novel, the Silverado Squatters. In fact, he visited Jacob Schram at the Schramsberg winery in Calistoga on his honeymoon. A strange kind of honeymoon; to get there, he had to spend his time hacking through the thick undergrowth on the lower slopes of Diamond Mountain. About this time, in a moment of inspiration, he penned the romantic line, that “wine is bottled poetry”. 

On the plane over to London this time, vintner Hugh Davies said, he thought about the Schramsberg Vineyards featured on the wine list at the exclusive London’s Carlton Club in the 1880s. This was long before his family took over the winery in 1965. It would be a full eight years later, in the 1970s, before French Champagne houses came to California to prospect for vineyard gold. Perhaps, they were there after the sensation of President Nixon’s 1972 “Toast to Peace” on his visit to China that featured the Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs. After this visit, the wine has been featured at every president’s inauguration since then, even President Trump, despite Trump being teetotal and not drinking it.  

Sad. He missed out on some delicious sparkles. What makes great sparkling wine for me, is the brightness of acidity. The acidity of Californian sparkling is a bit of a paradox. How do they get this right in such a warm climate?

When a grape is picked at 10% potential in Champagne, it is ready to go; when it is picked at 10% in California it is physiologically unripe (the seeds are bitter). It is a difficult challenge to get this right as it can make or break a wine and it seems to be overcome here by blending and choosing cooler areas. The winery may be based in Calistoga – the top part of the Napa Valley – but most of the fruit is sourced from cooler regions such as Carneros and Anderson Valley, areas that were not explored in the 1960s. 

Before I arrived, I expected sparkling wines from the sunny uplands of the Napa Valley – compared to the grey skies of Champagne – as a sparkling version of a big Napa Valley Chardonnay, rich and very fruit-driven. The ripe fruit does not disappoint and is beautifully balanced by the acidity: this is a richer style of sparkling wine that speaks of California. We also had older vintages to see how they develop in the cellar, and they become complex and elegant over time.

If you are someone such as myself, who wants to taste an elegant, balanced sparkling wine, you may care to think outside of the box. Go on a journey, travel somewhere new, for as Robert Louis Stevenson said, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”

NB The last time I went to a wine lunch with The Vineyard, it was also for an American tasting but ended up being a blind tasting of the Trump Winery. Less blind tasting, more existential blinder. Read here

Schramsberg Vineyards J.Schram: 1997, 2003, 2008 (and 2007 not shown) vintages and 2008 Schramsberg Vineyards Reserve

Vintner Hugh Davies (middle), Schramsberg Vinyards

Vintner Hugh Davies (middle), Schramsberg Vinyards