Author: Juel

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 …

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 …

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… 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 …

Red wine with oysters

Red wine with oysters is not something normally I would have considered. It has been drummed into me since day one of wine life: oysters are for white or sparkling wine. Wouldn’t the red wine be overkill for the delicate oyster?

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… Established in …

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 …

Wine Treasure

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 …

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. 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

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 …

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 …

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. 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 …

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 …

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? 3 Red Japanese Wines Here are three red …

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 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 …

Georgian Wine: 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 …

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.  Atlantic conditions When Pontet Canet …

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 …

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 …

Enter the Jewellery Box: Brunello di Montalcino Subzones

From 1869, up until the end of World War II, there was only one ‘brunello’ in Montalcino and that was Biondi-Santi’s brunello. In the space of 57 years they produced only four vintages (1888, 1891, 1925, 1945). For the lucky ones, life was simple and the choice was made for you. Today, the wine market is complex and more accessible than ever. With so much information at our fingertips, everything has become easier. Everything, that is, except choosing: the number of producers of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG has grown exponentially. In 1960, it was 11 producers; in 2012, it was 258.  Is there a way to help the wine buyer understand a region with so much growth but little organisation? The pros and cons of subzones were recently debated at a Symposium of nine Brunello di Montalcino producers held at 67 Pall Mall in London. Brought together by Walter Speller, who explained to the producers, as much as the audience of trade and press, “These are top class producers, bringing it forward… sometimes you need to rock the …

Truck and Trailer Approaching a City 1973 Jeffery Smart

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

Here is the recent essay I wrote for the WSET Diploma Unit 1 assignment – Protectionism in the Global Drinks Trade – a topic that is becoming more relevant and critical as we approach the Brexit deadline in March 2019. This is written as an academic essay outlining the tools of protectionism, such as tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers, and how they are used in international wine and drinks trade. It’s not my usual post, but now more than ever in the UK, it is important to look at both sides of the trade argument, and I have attempted to do this without emotion or politics.  __________________________________________________________________ Protectionism in the Global Drinks Trade 1. Introduction and the tools of protectionism Significant progress had been made since the Second World War in lowering international trade barriers, particularly those associated with tariffs. However, while there has been a decrease in tariff barriers, there has been an increase in non-tariff barriers to international trade, particularly those related to technical standards. In 1994, a multilateral trade agreement was concluded …

Viva Vermentino di Gallura DOCG

With most of my days spent in front of a screen lately – for work and study – it felt great to be back amongst the vines. This time in Sardinia. After judging at the Concorso Enologico Nazionale “Vermentino” alongside the very talented, Susan Hulme MW, we visited the only DOCG on the island: Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.  About Vermentino di Gallura DOCG A little bit of background. Vermentino is grown across Sardinia, but the grapes used for the production of Vermentino di Gallura DOCG must come from the territory of Gallura, in the north of the island, which includes the municipalities: Aggiues, Aglientu, Arzachena, Badesi, Berchidda, Bortigiadas, Budoni, Calangianus, Golfo Aranci, Loiri Porto San Paolo, Luogosanto, Luras, Monti, Olbia, Oschiri, Palau, S. Antonio di Gallura, S. Teodoro, S. Teresa di Gallura, Telti, Tempio Pausania, Trinita d’Agultu, in the Province of Olbia-Tempio, and Viddalba in the Province of Sassari.  This is quite a list. Yet Sardinia is an island with a long viticultural history. The Sardinian people I met had an intense sense of their locality and …

Donnhoff Riesling and climate change. A visit to the Donnhoff vineyards in Nahe, Germany

As we walked up towards the famous Hermannshöhle vineyard in the Nahe, Helmut Donnhoff shouted back to of us, slowing down everyone by taking photos of the spectacularly steep vines, “Hurry up. There are beers waiting for us a the end!”  He has known this vineyard since he was a child. The Hermannshöhle vineyard was replanted in 1949, the year of his birth. As he showed us the frost damage on the canes from April frost, he explained how strange it was for this vineyard to be affected by frost,   “Cornelius (his son, who is now the winemaker, born in 1980) did not believe that frost could happen here. Now he knows that anything can happen.” He recalled his first vintage was 1971, one of the best vintages of the century. We joked that 1971 was a high standard to forever live up to. As we drove up to the Felsenberg vineyard near the “Donnhoff Castle” I asked, “What is the difference between working in the 2017 and 1971 vintage?” He thought for a while, slowing right …

&.. there is more to Germany than Riesling. Pinot Noir, otherwise known as Spatbugunder

German Pinot Noir 2015 – Furst and Jean Stodden

German Pinot Noir 2015 is a guilty pleasure. On the one hand, the fruit from this warm and dry vintage is ripe and delicious. They have come into the world with adorable baby fat. But make no mistake, they are not exactly childish or simple. They have a sophisticated poise, even at this early stage, with just the right amount acidity to balance the ripe fruit.  On the other hand, it is difficult not to think about the wider implications of seeing warmer temperatures at this latitude. If wine grows best between 28th and 50th degree of latitude, the wineries we visited were at the limits: 49.7136 degree North (Fürst in Bürgstadter, Franken) and 50.5133 degrees North (Jean Stodden in Rech, Ahr). Many winemakers we visited on the ABS Masters of Riesling trip observed, from their vantage point at the edges of viticulture, the climate is changing. The silver lining for these stormy times ahead, is that red wines from Germany are having their moment. Arguably, the best yet after a few lean years.  These are strange …

The Zero Dosage Dilemma – A Visit to Hambledon Winery Hampshire

Zero Dosage champagne is a dilemma for purists. On the one hand, it shows us an expression of the wine without the mask of added sugar before bottling. On the other, it can sound a bit similar to other marketing re-mixes such as Coke Zero, or perfume houses that put out so-called limited-release versions just before Christmas. Whether the finish of a sparkling wine with a sugar dose – and it is only a pipette – masks or enhances is a matter for debate.  “You either love it or hate it,” our guide at Hambledon Winery in Hampshire, Joe Wadsack explains, “It does take a while to get used to it, like jumping into a cold sea, but that shock is also what you want.”   Most people like to think they like “sugar-free” but would they if they were handed a glass at a party? To understand how dosage adds to, or takes away, from a wine, we tasted four different levels of dosage and the differences were quite apparent:  Zero dosage (Brut Nature = No added …

Loire Moments at the London Edition Hotel for London Wine Week 2017

Heeding a call for “Loire Moments” during London Wine Week, I left my ordinary world of peak-hour crush on the Underground, horizontal rain and broken umbrella to find myself in the foyer of the London EDITION hotel, 10 Berners Street, with a glass of sparkling Monmousseau Touraine Brut in my hand.  Our exquisite hosts, Douglas Blyde and Lindsay Oram, had created a menu matched with six wines from along the Loire River, with four-courses cooked by Chef Phil Carmichael from Jason Atherton’s upstairs Berners Tavern. Even saying the word, Monmousseau, puts my mouth into a kissy kiss pout and silly voice that I find happens to me when I’m around the super cute. A baby swaddled in a blanket disguised as a burrito or watching a labrador puppy try to go down a staircase for the first time. That’s about all I can watch nowadays, by the way, after recent horrific events – in fact, my year can be summed up by the bleak New Yorker cartoon, “my desire to be well-informed is at odds with my desire to …

A Judgement of Our Times – Trump Wines

If logic applied, the Trump wines (i.e. a project with enough built-in cynicism owned by teetotal reality-TV-star-turned US President Donald Trump) should be reliably terrible. But these are extraordinary times, as Adam Curtis explains in his political documentary HyperNormalisation; and in 2017, we prefer to retreat into a simpler world rather than face the huge complexities of politics today. And, he argues, this trend began 40 years ago. That’s about the same time as the Judgement of Paris tasting of 1976, where Californian wines were pitted against the French greats and won. After the “A Judgment of Our Times” blind tasting, for a brief moment, I felt outrage similar to Odette Khan after the original tasting. Organised by Evening Standard drinks writer Douglas Blyde, and James Hocking, wine director at The Vineyard Cellars and The Vineyard Hotel, we arrived with no idea of what to expect. We then entered the dining room where a large canvas shows the original participants of The Judgement of Paris in a heated debate. America First We tasted two wines at a time, completely blind. One of the wines in …

IYour Sommelier Wine Club review. Image: Henri Matisse 1951

Spin Around Three Times: Your Sommelier wine club review

Shall we stand here after work in a busy supermarket and choose the one with the Chateau on the front or the one with the Chateau on the front? We could always spin around three times, put our hand out blindly and just reach for something under £15 per bottle? Or I might just ditch this whole supermarket-stressy-idea and go home. Perhaps this is the point where Your Sommelier wine club hopes to help.  Around 8,500 Chateaux produce wine in Bordeaux (despite the repetition of releases from the en primeur campaign currently raging in my inbox). Bordeaux is a lot more than just the Grands Crus Classés and is one of the biggest wine-producing regions in the world. You can find yourself plenty of decent wine in Bordeaux, and even more of what WSET may call “medium” – i.e. medium alcohol, medium body, medium intensity. Nothing wrong with a medium wine. I have plenty of friends who are medium wines! It’s more than acceptable during the week and I love sitting in a bistro in Bordeaux city over a glass of AOC Bordeaux red and watch the skateboarders flip out. …

Back from the Edge: Cinsault in Lebanon

It’s nearly three years since I’ve been to Lebanon. While social media has become heavier and more political, the new wine from Domaine des Tourelles is fresher and even more joyous.  The new 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes was launched in London after a sell-out season in New York. Not long ago, Cinsault in Lebanon would have been pulled out in favour of more popular French varieties. Not noble enough; a workhorse grape; not enough money in it. Yet much like Carignan in the Languedoc, some old vines of Cinsault had been spared the vine pull. In retrospect, thankfully so. Cinsault in Lebanon was originally brought to the country by the Jesuits of Ksara from Algeria and today around 40% of grapes planted in Lebanon are Cinsault. But it is the recent success of South African wineries with Cinsault that have helped Cinsault reach new audiences. Far from the big, bold South African reds, the pretty aromatics and drinkability of South African Cinsault – such as ones from Flotsam & Jetsom and Waterkloof – are a welcome change, and work well with food.  Some …

Looking back at Chateau Sociando-Mallet

The Chateau Sociando-Mallet house style is the equivalent to those modern interiors you see in French design magazines that I like to browse at the newsagent waiting for the Eurostar back to London. Clean lines and sparse interiors with a simple piece of design in just the right place. Modern, not excessive in style; and, it never seems to mess up. Meanwhile, there’s baroque elephants up the road at Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estephe and further south in Pauillac, the route des Chateaux of super-second Chateaux that can rival Kensington Palace Gardens for real estate bling. Stuck in the middle with you, as the song goes, is Sociando-Mallet, where the focus is simply on the essentials to make good wine: aspect, the soil, the fruit and the vintage. A vineyard with a view The view of the Gironde from Sociando-Mallet has to be one of my favourites in Bordeaux, especially at sunrise. As the road along the Gironde in Pauillac swings up a small hill to Saint Estephe, you will find Sociando-Mallet and a view of the river looking wild and …

Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria

Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé, Donnafugata at The Modern Pantry, London

Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé Grape: Zibbibo (Moscato di Alexandria)Region: Sicilia DOCYear: 2014Alcohol: 14.5%Price: £39 Supplier: Liberty Wines Why can’t we start dinners with the dessert course? Do it all in reverse. This greedy thought occurred to me as we finished the lunch with a glass of Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell. Considered one of the “grandi vini” of Italy, Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria perfectly matched with a dessert of popcorn pannacotta with brown bread ice cream and a miso and orange caramel. Wonderfully done, I loved the touch of wild fennel in the flower arrangement, too – this is a herb found by the sides of the road in Sicily, so very happy to see it in London (having just been in Marsala a few weeks ago).  To get to the island of Pantelleria, it’s a small-plane flight from Palermo towards the coastline of Tunisia. It’s a windy spot in the Mediterranean, with volcanic soils, which is perfect for drying and concentrating grapes. A technique called passito.  …

2014 Mouton Rothschild label by David Hockney

The 2014 Mouton Rothschild label shows the friendship between the late Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and British artist David Hockney. ‘In tribute to Philippine’ Most of all, it is a fitting tribute to the Baroness, who died in late August of the same year as the wine. Although it was her father who began the tradition in 1945 to commission artists, it was Madame de Rothschild who brought her own vibrancy and verve to the Chateau. The label shows the energy in the vibrating lines. The story in her obituary in the New York Times recounts when she approached Francis Bacon for the 1990 Mouton Rothschild label. She asked, “if she could use his painting of a nude that her father rejected, Mr Bacon asked what had changed. “I’m not my father,” she answered.” David Hockney is well-known for his smoking, but after his heart attack, he no longer drinks. Chateau Mouton Rothschild pays artists with five cases of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine from the current vintage and five cases from other vintages.  Let’s hope that he has a drop and shares it with his many …

Two wines for Christmas Day

At this time of year, I’m asked for my Christmas wine recommendations. There are two ways to approach choosing wine for Christmas day. Stick to the tried and traditional, or else, do your own riff from the standard hymn sheet. My favourite Christmas is when we tear up the hymn sheet altogether. One year, we drank mostly old vintages of German Riesling and had a great time searching for old bottles around town. (If you are in the UK, you can read it in this year’s Waitrose’s Food and Drink Christmas catalogue). This rather nerdy level of drinking is easy when there are only two of you. But if you have a big gathering with varying degrees of wine-geek-tolerance then you want a case of something that everyone will “get”. Not too precious, then again, it must have enough sense of occasion. With this in mind, and painfully aware of my tendency to go a bit over-the-top, when Wine Trust asked if I would like to pick my Christmas wine recommendations from their website, I chose a classic Oregon Pinot Noir and …

The hours between coffee and wine

I love coffee, I need coffee, I want coffee – as the greeting-card saying goes, “life is what happens in the hours between coffee and wine.” It is disappointing to end a good meal with muddy dishwater rather than a properly-made espresso. Thanks to Amir Gehl from Difference Coffee Co., who lured us to Harry’s Bar with both excellent coffee and a very good wine, indeed: 1929 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Intact and alive in the 21st century. After dinner, we then tasted the First Growth of coffee: Jamaican Blue Mountain, a Hawaiian Kona, and the infamous Kopi Luwak. The civet cat coffee Even if you have never tasted Kopi Luwak, you may know about the civet cat. Kopi Luwak is a coffee made from the Sumatran civet cat’s half-digested coffee cherries, which in the process of digestion, partially ferments the beans. As you can imagine, making coffee from the beans excreted by civet cats in Sumatra is not cheap. Although for coffee connoisseurs, much like people crazy about wine, 550 euros is a small price to pay for one kilogram of these rare, labour-intensive beans. Coffee and …

3 Wine Movies Reviewed: Sour Grapes, The Way of Wine & The Duel of Wine

Recently, three wine movies have explored the question: what is real (and fake) in the wine world? There is something quite unreal about the circus around fine wine. Especially over the past two decades, it has become a game for the supra-mangerial that has no relation to the humble product from the vineyard. Step back from three recently released films and it is easy to see why the question of authenticity, and what is real in wine, has become so important in the 2010s. Sour Grapes is the true story of the young emperor of fine wine, Rudy Kurniawan, who dazzled the fine wine auction scene in the early 2000s and went on to flood the fine wine market with counterfeit wine. Embarrassingly, a lot of wine experts went along for the ride. Jay McKierney writes that “The night before the auction I personally consumed, by my best estimate, over $20,000 worth of his wine – including the 1945 Mouton and the 1947 Cheval Blanc – and I was one of fourteen drinkers.” One of those drinkers being Rudy Kurniawan. Were they …

Rioja Alavesa trip #2 – a photo diary

Here are some of my favourite moments from the trip to Rioja Alavesa on instagram. I was thrilled to catch up with the Vinisud team again.For more instagrams from beautiful Rioja Alavesa, check out: charliewines (Charlie Arturoala), rockinredblog (Michelle Williams) and thewinesleuth (Denise Medrano). This week I am in the Basque part of Rioja – #RiojaAlavesa. Driving from Bilbao, it’s higher and cooler here. Very cool to see the Cantabrian mountains, they protect the vines from the Atlantic winds. There is still the humidity – great for vines (but not so much for my hair!) ;-) #winelovers #winelife #RiojaAlavesa #basquecountry #basquewine A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on Jul 7, 2016 at 6:00am PDT A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on Jul 7, 2016 at 6:00am PDT Getting the “Vinisud” band back together – on tour of Rioja Alavesa with rock stars @rockinredblog and @thewinesleuth. Later today we are giving a presentation to 100 producers about social media and wine trends with @charliewines chairing the panel (we will also see some of his film – The Duel …

Rioja Alavesa trip #1 – Will Basque Rioja break away from Rioja?

My introduction to Rioja Alavesa went a little something like this: “We are going to visit Basque wine country!” wrote Charlie Arturaola, “We are going to Rioja.” “Are we going to Basque country or are we going to Rioja?” I tapped back. “Both!” When you think of Basque country, you may be forgiven for thinking of tingly white Txacoli poured from great heights in the bars of San Sebastian.  But there is a part of Rioja, near the Cantabrian mountains, that is also part of the Basque country. What did the Level 3 WSET book have to say about the Basque part of Rioja? “Rioja Alavesa is situated to the west of Logroño, on the north bank of the Ebro. Vineyards are planted up to 800 metres into the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains. The soil is very chalky and the wines are perhaps the lightest of Rioja, but have the most finesse” (Wines and Spirits, Understanding Quality, WSET, 2012). And that’s it… Nothing about Vasco Pais, Euskadi, Basque Country. And about half as much information than for Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.  And yet, you …