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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.


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

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.
Hints of red apple, flat white peaches, thyme-lavender garrigue notes. Dry and vinous. Provence rosé doesn’t get much better.
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.
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.
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.
According to her own website, Kylie Minogue Côtes de Provence Rosé is limited to 672 cases, and is only available on her website:

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 (📸 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

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



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:


Auction Website

Instagram: @BidforBeirut

2. Buy More Lebanese Wine.



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

Red wine with oysters

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.

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

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

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.

Read more: natural wines in Paris


A little news: Wine Woman & Song is in the Top 100 Wine Blogs (World)

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.


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


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. 


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 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.


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


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.


Paso Robles AVA courtesy Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance


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 “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

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

In fact, 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 it’s 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 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 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
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 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 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

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.


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

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 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)

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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

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

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

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


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


Georgian grapes - Lukasi Kisi

Lukasi Kisi with Ketevan Gersamia at Anona Restaurant in Tbilisi


Previous post: Impressions from a Journey to Georgian Wine Country

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 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). 


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 


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 


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. 

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

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 boat to find out where you are.”

It was clear the style of Brunello di Montalcino differed greatly according to place.  This may seem obvious, but having tasted a couple of hundred individualistic wines in random order at Benvenuto Montalcino, ‘obvious’ is not a bad place to start. As Speller called it, it’s a “jewellery box.” And, at the moment, it is a jewellery box filled with beautiful beads and brooches all tangled together. 

Attitude and Altitude 

An easy way to think of Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is to divide the small wine region into two parts – north and south. In general, one third of the producers are to the north of Montalcino where it is cooler, while two-thirds of vineyards are in the warmer south. Although the effect on altitude has an impact, for example, in Torrenieri to the northeast of Montalcino town, it is lower-lying with the heaviest soil giving wines a fuller-body but, of course, there are higher-altitude hillsides and exceptions.

The area clearly has different soil types, up to ten different soil types, from Galestro clay in the north-west, clay deposits in the north-east, and limestone and sandstone in the south east:

Soil types in Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Soil types in Brunello di Montalcino DOCG

Comparing the style of wine from two producers from one area – what part of their wine comes from vitification and what is from vinification? What is down to the sub zone and what was the personality of the winemaker? 

This is the question when tasting two producers from Montesoli in the north, such as Baricci and Canalicchio di Sopra. Widely acknowledged as a Grand Cru area, if there were to be a Grand Cru classification. Of course, it is not officially recognised as a Grand Cru. However, if there were a Grand Cru classification… then, this may be it… 

This mind loop for conscious consumers is the ‘elephant in the room’. The producers need some sort of classification but did they want it based on quality (and all the politics that go with it)?

To Sub Zone or Not To Sub Zone

Driving up to the medieval town of Montalcino, the first thing you see is the facade of a fort. In a small wine region, it is not always easy to put one’s head above the parapet without being shot down.

From outside the fort, it may not seem controversial to talk about sub-zones in Montalcino. Yet there were hesitations from some producers – would this lead to a French cru classification of wine? Or even, would sub zones become a strait jacket for the winemaker into making a pre-determined style? If a sub-zone was found in a lesser zone, would it be unfairly devalued?

Unlike France, Italy’s appellation system is not based on classifications of quality. Barolo and Barbaresco are the only ones to have officially introduced subzones. Walter Speller proposes not a classification, or a cru system, but to use subzones as “a way in to this complex region.” For a complex and small wine region, without an official detailed map of the vineyards in each area, this could be helpful. 


What does the original brunello producer think? His grandson, Tancredi Biondi-Santi opened up the topic, “Sub-zones are a fact, but it is difficult to match the sub-zone to the style of wine, which can give different results in different vintages.” 

Arguably, the different vintages are apparent but neither do they betray the Biondi-Santi style. In fact, the current work at Biondi-Santi shows what can be achieved by learning more about place and individual sites.  They are focusing on four small plots with different aspects and expositions to understand the impact of soils in the vineyards of Greppo. They vinify each plot separately and work with Garbellotto (barrel-makers) to collaboratively create a new system to analyse how the texture of the wood affects aroma from each plot. They also analyse the vinification of each wine from each soil type to see what the soil is giving to the wine. 

The argument has moved on from the modern vs traditional style of winemaking that dominated his parent’s generation. Like many winemakers of the new generation, inspiration is taken from their grandparent’s style. Interestingly, Franco Biondi-Santi (Tancredi’s grandfather) proposed sub-zones in 2013, according to Speller. 

Humans have a talent for classifying

Whether Montalcino winemakers can come together to agree on what is needed for the fine wine consumer in the crowded market, the trend for customers to learn more about the producers, sub zones and regions is not going away. To understand more about a wine from a particular area of Montalcino does not take away from it’s individuality (as if an Italian wine could lose its individuality even if it tried). An Italian sommelier commented after the tasting, “This is an opera, and the opera is called Brunello di Montalcino’. And the show must go on. 


A symposium of nine Brunello di Montalcino producers hosted by Walter Speller on Monday, 18th June at 67 Pall Mall, “Exploring Brunello di Montalcino Sub Zones – The next generation on how to approach Montalcino’s terroir.”

The roll call of producers: Biondi-Santi, Baricci, Capanna, Canalicchio di Sopra, Casanova di Neri Cortonesi, Le Potazzine, Le Ripi and Talenti.

Reprinted on The Buyer – Does Brunello need sub-zones to bring new life to its wines?

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 in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which addressed the rise of non-tariff trade barriers, strengthening its positions on non-tariff trade barriers, combined with the establishment in 1995 of new enforcement mechanisms through the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Nevertheless, the increasing global nature of the drinks industry exists within a complex framework of international tariff and non-tariff trade barriers. While there has been tremendous growth in the global trade of drinks, along with considerable tariff reductions, there has also been louder demands for local protectionism, especially to protect local industries, which have seen more non-tariff trade barriers imposed on the global trade of drinks .

1.1. Tariffs

The World Trade Organisation defines a tariff as “customs duties on merchandise imports,” which “give a price advantage to locally-produced goods over similar goods which are imported, and they raise revenues for governments.”

In general, there are two types of tariffs: an ad valorem tariff and a specific tariff. An ad valorem tariff is calculated on the fixed percentage of the value of the imported good. A specific tariff would be a set-priced tax regardless of the value of the good. Governments then collect the taxes at the time of customs clearance.

The level of tariffs is constrained by WTO rules: all members are committed to set tariffs at levels which cannot be raised without compensation to other countries (called the “Most Favoured Nation Tariff”). Applied tariffs may be reduced or cleared in the framework of other preferential agreements.

For consumers in the importing countries, as well as exporters, tariffs are the most visible trade barrier as they increase import prices. Yet, the increase in non-tariff trade barriers is now more commonly becoming a trade barrier.

1.2. Non-tariff trade barriers

As the WTO succinctly describes on their website, non-tariff trade barriers (NTB) are noted as “red tape, etc”. Informal barriers can be a result of a conscious decision by governments to favour domestic over international goods, or it can be a by-product of practices and policies that are rooted in domestic institutions .

Deardorff classifies NTB into three broad categories, to which examples have been added:

  1. administrative procedures and unpublished government regulations and policies – includes bureaucratic delays and discretionary licensing (for example, import quotas or export restraints, which may favour domestic producers); rules of origin, antidumping, countervailing duty and other types of government investigation (for example, unfair trade actions may be used to foster a climate of uncertainty for foreign suppliers, such as corrupt and lengthy customs procedures).
  2. market structure – nations may differ in levels of public ownership, monopolization, and the regulation of economic activity (for example, competition or antitrust policies; foreign exchange controls and restrictions; or, domestic subsidies and industry bailouts).
  3. political, social, and cultural institutions – whether the nation operates under a federal system (i.e. United States or India) or practices preferential procurement in some areas; or, governments promote the national interest (“Buy National” policy) or to enhance cultural identity (local content requirements); or, if the country has inadequate infrastructure (for example, needing a certified EU laboratory in the country for testing products before customs clearance); or, embargoes to block trade (such as South Africa during apartheid); or, to protect health and safety or environment standards (for example, licensing, packaging, and labelling requirements; sanitary and phytosanitary rules; food, plant and animal inspections; import bans based on objectionable fishing or agricultural methods).

2. Protectionism in the drinks industry

2.1. Tariff barriers

Following the definitions above, a tariff on wine can be expressed as an ad valorem tariff, with one rate or different rates according to the price level of the product; or, a specific tariff such as volume-based (per litre) or alcohol-based (alcoholic strength); or, a mix of ad valorem and specific rates. In addition, tariffs can differ by type of wine (still or sparkling, bottled or bulk wine).

Specific tariffs based on volume are the most popular in Europe and North America, whereas ad valorem tariffs are more common in the Asia-Pacific region, with the exception of Japan and Malaysia. Overall, tariff protection is quite low in countries which have long been involved in importing wine (North America, European Community, New World producing countries, Japan).

For example, the countries of North America have the lowest protection of their domestic market in comparison to the tariffs applied to their trading partners, as the Wine Institute notes, “virtually all U.S. wine exports to the major markets, other than Canada, face tariffs that are double or triple those rates. For example, the EU import tariff ad valorem equivalent (AVE) is approximately 32% , Japan’s AVE is 22.5% and Switzerland’s AVE is 90% on red wine and 106% on white. By comparison, the U.S. import tariff AVE is 1.4%.”.

In general, EU tariffs for non-EU countries are: €32/100 litres sparkling wine, €13.10 for still wine up to 13% abv, €15.40 for still wine over 13% abv but up to 15% abv. There is currently free trade between the EU member countries, as well as trade agreements with Chile and South Africa (through the South African Development Community) who are completely, or nearly free of tariffs with the EU. In contrast to the US and the EU, the tariff level is high in countries which have recently experience growing wine imports, for example in emerging Asian markets.

For instance, India has notoriously complex duties with varying state policies. Alcohol is one of the most highly taxed products in India and the use of wine is discouraged by Article 47 of the Indian Constitution. In 2007, the European Union challenged India under their free trade agreement and requested WTO consultations on their protectionist policy on wine and spirit tariffs for imported wines, with high federal Basic Customs Duties (of 150% for spirits and 100% for wines) with Additional Duties levelled on top, raising the cumulative federal duty burden up to 264% for wines and 550% for spirits.

When India was challenged it exempted alcoholic beverages from the Additional Duties, and announced it was doing so in lieu of applying state-level excise duties on wine and spirits. The Indian government customs duty on wine import in India has been increased from 100% to the maximum permissible WTO rate of 150% and is 150% for imported spirits .

As India is a growing market for the Scotch Whisky Association, it has been lobbying for India to reduce the 150% tariff on whisky. Despite the high tariff, in the first half of 2016, sales of Scotch Whisky grew in India 41 per cent by volume and 28 per cent by value.

After China acceded to the WTO in 2001, its world wine trade concessions to its main partner countries reduced its tariffs on wine from 65% to 14% in the short space of 3 years. Canada and Chile have also reduced their tariffs to open up to international markets with a fourfold decrease using free trade agreements; Chile has set the highest number of FTA, reducing their effective trade barrier from 10% to 0.64% AVE.

However, as mentioned in the introduction, although the trend for countries is to decrease their tariff rates, some countries have diluted their WTO agreements by increasing technical barriers to free trade.

2.2. Non-tariff trade barriers

Technical barriers to trade (TBT) remain the main non-tariff trade barrier concern for drinks producers and importers. The following four TBTs most concern wine producers in various markets as well as, spirits and wine importers:

2.2.1. Wine Labelling regulations

The lack of consistency on health warnings, ingredients and languages on labels is a considerable cost to wine exporters. In 2014 it was reported, “up to half a million bottles of wine and spirits are stuck in Indian customs, according to importers, because labels are not printed in English or because many drinks, including Scotch whisky, do not list their ingredients.”

2.2.2. Oenological practices

For wines authorised into the EU, the wine must be produced in line with the oenological practices of the EU. This regulation may be based on health and safety, but sometimes the justification is seen as a technical barrier to trade by producers outside of the EU. For instance, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics argued, when ’New World’ producers of wine use new and innovative processes that have not yet been proven to be unsafe on scientific grounds are unrecognised by the European Union.

2.2.3 Maximum residue limits of agrochemicals

Imports of wine products can be restricted where the residues of common agricultural chemicals in wine exceed specified maximum residue levels. These can be normal agricultural chemicals, but in another example, the South Korea restricted imports of French wine when French wine makers used powdered beef blood as a fining agent in wine.

2.2.4. Certification and testing procedures (conformity assessment)

To access markets, a complex sets of certificates are required, which may or may not be justified in protecting public health increasing the amount of time and cost involved. In February 2013, the European Union faced a market access barrier to China when Chinese authorities asked for the results of tests of phthalates in every consignment of wine and spirits from the EU. The EU argued their exported products are compliant with domestic health and safety in Europe. However, China was concerned about the dumping of stock. In turn, the EU claimed the testing to be an imposition of unjustified antidumping and countervailing measures on EU wines.

2.3. Other non-tariff trade barriers

2.3.1. Higher Domestic Taxes on Imported Alcohol

Alcohol and health is a legitimate governmental concern; it is a non-essential good and can be taxed as a useful source of extra revenue for governments. When governments discriminate against imported alcohol by taxing it higher than local products, taxes become an impediment to free trade.

In 2016, the EU challenged Colombia’s differentiation of domestic taxes based on alcohol strength. Alcohol under 35% ABV was taxed at a lower level than higher ABV imported spirits (gin, vodka, Scotch Whisky, etc). The EU challenged this under WTO rules as local aguardiente and rum fell under 35% ABV while imported spirits from the EU did not, and so, it was argued, were unfairly taxed .

2.3.2. State Monopolisation

National alcohol monopolies have existed to restrict the sale of alcohol, such as the Nordic alcohol monopolies: Vinmonopolet in Norway, Systembolaget in Sweden, Vínbúð in Iceland, Rúsan in Faroe Islands, and Alko in Finland. In India, there is TASMAC in Tamil Nadu and the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (with five dry states). In the United States, there are 17 states that have a state monopoly on the wholesale and retailing of alcohol and 200 dry counties where alcohol is prohibited or strictly restricted. 

Canada also has an alcohol monopoly in the form of the Provincial Liquor Crown Companies. In 2016, the BC Liquor Distribution Branch was requested by the EU, the United States and six other governments to stop discriminating against imported wine under GATT/WTO rules. The issue involved the British Columbia monopoly, where there was a “store-within-a-store” concept with a separate cash register for imported wines; meanwhile, domestic wines, or local BC wines, were featured on regular grocery shelves .

2.3.3. Intellectual property: Geographical Indications

On the one hand, the EU protects Geographical Indications (GI) as an assurance of quality. On the other, in the United States, GIs are administered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and treated as brands and trademarks. Consequently, the United States views EU protection of its registered GIs as a way to monopolise the use of certain wine and spirits terms and a form of trade protectionism. Despite the 2006 U.S.-EU Agreement on Trade in Wine, the United States believes new GIs from the EU lacks transparency, often resulting in substantial bureaucratic delays and adding costs to trade.

Despite the political disagreement on the definition of GIs, there is agreement between EU policy on GIs and some US winemakers. In June 2016, Napa Valley wine growers “expressed their support to EU officials,” and argued “for expanding and protecting the use of GIs in the United States”.

2.3.4. Service Trade Barriers

Restricting the sales, marketing and advertising of spirits and wine is also a trade barrier, as seen recently in Turkey, with its stricter laws introduced by President Erdogan in 2013. The recent government ban covers the advertising of alcohol at point-of-sale, broadcasting and journalism, as well as internet sales, and even consumer wine tastings. Mandatory labelling in Turkey, on every bottle of domestic or foreign wine and spirit, must now clearly state on the back label, “Alcohol is Not Your Friend”. Outright restrictions on alcohol are a barrier to trade wine and spirits, although “rules disciplining this form of protectionism are less clearly articulated.”.

3. Conclusion and personal commentary

Recently, the case for protectionism has been proving popular again on a political and emotional level. Free trade policy aims to increase choice and reduce prices by allowing international products to compete on the domestic market by reducing or removing tariffs; in contrast, protectionism aims to “make local industries more competitive by increasing the price of exports or restricting the quantity of imports entering the country.” Although, whether a protected industry is truly competitive is debatable.

Despite tariffs decreasing since the Second World War, it should be noted that non-tariff barriers have been increasing since the mid-1990s. Recently, fast-growing new wine and spirits importing countries are setting up alcohol regulations which could prove to be non-tariff barriers. Indeed, in some of these countries, such as India, growing interest in domestic wine and spirits production could lead to maintaining (or raising) protectionist policies and stepping up support for local producers.

Scotch Whisky Association head, David Frost argues, the lack of tariffs in the EU for Scotch Whisky, “makes production cheaper, paperwork simpler and competition stronger and hence better for the consumer.” France (in the EU) is the biggest market by value of Scotch Whisky in the world, and despite the potential future growth in emerging markets such as India, Frost argues many discriminatory trade barriers in these markets need to be first “knocked down”.

Some economists argue applying tariffs to an “infant industry” as one of the special exceptions to free trade. Small local industries are given a chance to develop and become efficient producers without pressure from external competition. Using the previous example from Canada, wine from British Columbia may be a ‘unique product’, and according to free trade economics, should give Canadian wine a ‘comparative advantage’ with its trading partners. However, the markets are asymmetrical: Canada is only one of many producer countries in the EU and US, and a small one at that. Nonetheless, they were challenged for promoting B.C. wines over imports in their local supermarkets, which was seen as unfair to foreign wines.

Indeed, protectionism helped to develop the export success story that is today’s Australian still wine industry. Australia developed its domestic market in the 1970s by protecting it from imports, as a University of Adelaide paper notes, “prior to the 1980s wine import tariffs were virtually prohibitive, with imports rarely accounting for more than 1% of domestic consumption”.

However, the protection of an infant industry can “distort the market by raising the domestic price of the imported good above its world level”. When an industry is larger and developed, and export sales develop faster than domestic market sales, as happened to the Australian wine industry, or today’s mature Cava industry, free trade becomes more important than protectionism. It also encourages industry development through new competition. For instance, the impact of high sales of Prosecco after 2010 on Cava’s key export markets (UK, Germany and Belgium), has forced the export-dependent Cava industry to improve its quality image with the new premium classification of Cava del Paraje Calificado.

Apart from infant industries, the opportunity presented by increased technical barriers to trade, and other protectionist policies in the drinks industry, is for government regulators, such as customs and tax officials, or government wine laboratories for conformity assessment, for certification and analyses for wine products, and for sanitary and phytosanitary rules. For example, technical regulations may be important for health and safety reasons, such as the EU regulations applied to non-EU imports, although it was seen as a protectionist tool, as when Chinese authorities decided to assess chemicals in the wine (that are accepted in the EU) to stop what they perceived as dumping of excess EU stock.

There may be short-term benefits of protecting a fledgling local industry from global competition, but for outside drinks producers, or when that infant industry matures and needs to export to grow further, too much protectionism is a burden to trade. In particular, increased technical and non-tariff barriers. All things considered, more tariffs are not the right solution, especially when there is a free market solution: develop the necessary infrastructure for the local drinks industry through trade associations. Trade associations, such as the Scotch Whisky Association or Wine Australia, can help the industry to compete on the global market with marketing, events, advertising, government lobbying and research support for developing the industry.

Overall, there is more opportunity for the drinks industry with free trade rather than protectionist policies, however it is a fine balance: between developing the local diversity of the drinks industry while also removing market inefficiencies to global competition that may hurt the dynamism of the drinks industry, and consumers, in the long term.

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Image – Truck and Trailer Approaching a City 1973 Jeffery Smart

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 community. I was pulled aside a couple of times about how they speak not just a dialect, but a completely different language

Will the real Vermentino, please stand up?

Awareness of locality is fantastic for wine-making but it can be tricky to judge Vermentino from Gallura against other Vermentino from Italy, such as Liguria or Tuscany. They are quite different. 

At the tasting, there was much discussion about the different expressions of Vermentino from different parts of Italy. One of the issues was that some were “too Sauvignon Blanc”. It was explained that semi-aromatic Sardinian Vermentino was the real Vermentino, and Vermentino could not be too aromatic.

I had no issue with the idea of judging a wine on franchezza (frankness), or talking frankly, for that matter. But, for me, the differences only shows the versatility of the Vermentino grape. Vermentino from Sardinia may not have intense aromatics but it is a benchmark style and the Gallurese have every right to be proud of their wine. 


What is the style of Vermentino di Gallura DOCG?

I do understand the frustration by some producers. There appears to be confusion on some sites and in the press to what makes Vermentino, well, Vermentino-ish. I’ve seen Vermentino categorised as an aromatic variety. Outside of its traditional European areas, Vermentino can be more aromatic in style. But this is not Vermentino di Gallura DOCG from Sardinia.

Vermentino from Gallura is fuller-bodied and semi-aromatic. The best have a straw yellow colour with greenish reflections, which can be dry through to sweet, with sometimes a slightly bitter aftertaste. The good examples keep the alcohol in check without the flavours becoming too overblown. This is quite a feat in the face of the heat; some vineyards had not had rain since January – nearly 9 months. 

Zuppa Montina

Zuppa Montina and Vermentino di Gallura DOCG

A Short History of Sardinian Wine

Vine culture in Sardinia probably dates back to the 8th century BC when groups of Phoenicians, especially Carthaginians, settled in the coastal areas where they founded Coralis, while the Sardinians retreated inside the island. Later, Romans took the trouble of landing in Sardinia by planting their farm-villas, equipped with wine cellars. To find traces of wine in Sardinia after the barbarian invasions and the obscure period of the High Middle Ages, one has to wait for the times of Eleonora d’Arborea, author of the Carta de Logu (1395). Most importantly in the Oristano area, viticulture had a significant boost with laws introduced forbidding poorly-kept vineyards.

In the modern era, having missed the phylloxera epidemic at the end of the nineteenth century, Sardinian viticulture had its biggest increase since the 1960s thanks to the efforts of the private company in Alghero, Sella & Mosca, founded by two Piedmontese pioneers in 1899, and various works done by the Agricultural Development Agency of Sardinia.

Vermentino and Food

The fuller-bodied style of Vermentino from Sardinia is perfect with the heavy dishes from Monti, such as Zuppa Montina (above), which is a deliciously soupy cheese dish. It tastes a lot better than how it looks. Closer to the sea, there is fresh fish and calamari dishes from Olbia, which also work well with this food-friendly white wine. 

However, it wasn’t until we got to Cagliari that I really understood how Vermentino fits in with the night, cheese and food. Cagliari is a must-visit once the tourists depart on their cruise ships and the island becomes off-season and quiet again. The little bars up from the harbour are run by people who are passionate about smaller producers in wine and cheese, if they are not moonlighting in the bar themselves. 

This is a refreshing trend to see wines that are not from the larger co-operatives. It may be easier to book a trip to Cagliari and go to 7diVino bar than to find a bottle of Meigamma on the shelves outside of Sardinia. Thankfully, you can find plenty of decent Vermentino  in the UK and US, too. 

Percorino Sardo and delicious meaty, savoury seadas or sebadas

I visited as a guest and judge of the Concorso Enologico Nazionale “Vermentino” 27th and 28 October in Sardinia.

Related posts: 

Pure Pleasure State: Vermentino! (Amore, Amore, Amore)
vermentino di sardegna: what’s cool in wine right now 

Corse you can: wines from Yves Leccia, Patrimonio, Corsica

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 down to glance at vines as if they were children playing by the side of the road,

“The difference is that the weather was very mild… Long periods of gentle sunshine. Not too much rain, not too much heat. There were no extreme (weather) events. That is the difference between the weather now and then.”

“The average temperature has increased by 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius since the 1970s,” he said, and admitted the riper fruit is something he welcomes (in a region at 49.800 degrees North), but overall, it is not a good thing for winemakers in hotter climates, especially in Southern France.

“It wasn’t possible to do 4 grams of residual sugar in the 1950s and 1960s (as it is today for the 2016 Dellchen Riesling Grosses Gewachs).”

Dark storm clouds were gathering over the valley. We got out at the Felsenberg vineyard and climbed though nettles and up the old stone stairs to the castle fort to see the view along the river. Big splotches of rain fell on my camera.

“What do you think has changed the most, in that time – the vineyard or the winery?”

The biggest difference, he said, is in the vineyard… and then, we quickly went back to the van just before it began to downpour. A few minutes later, rivulets of water were flowing down from the vines towards the river.

We drove slowly back to the village of Oberhausen, in sheets of rain along the winding roads down to the town. As we drove, Helmut was gauging how much of the slate and soil would be eroded and have fallen to the bottom of the hill. When we arrived at the restaurant in the village, the rain stopped. Like clockwork. Time for that beer.

11 July 2017

Winery Facts – Dönnhoff


Winemaker: Helmut Donnhoff and Cornelius Donnhoff

The Estate: Hermann Donnhoff – VDP member

Location: Situated in the village of Oberhausen between the villages of Niederhausen and Schlossbockelheim in the rocky landscape of the middle Nahe

History: The Donnhoff family first came to teh Nahe region over 200 years ago. As time went by they turned their modest farm into a wine estate, with the acquisition of top vineyards. Helmut Donnhoff has not only been making wine here since 1971 but also purchased top sites, including Kirschheck, Dellchen and Krotenpfuhl. 

Vineyards: 25 ha

Grapes: Riesling 80%, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris 20%

Vines: 15-60 years old

Production: 150,000 bottles

Grosse Lage: Hermannshohle (translation – Herman’s cave); Felsenberg (Rocky hill); Kirschheck (Cherry hedge); Dellchen (Little Dell); Brucke (The bridge); Krotenpfuhl (Pond frog); Kahlenberg (Bare hillside); Leistenberg (Slate hill); Hollenpfad (Path to hell). 



This visit was part of the 2017 Masters of Riesling (and Pinot Noir) with Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies (ABS).

The ABS First Taste Grosses Gewächs Tasting (Riesling 2016 and Spätburgunder 2015), will take place on 7th September in London as part of their ABS Portfolio Tasting. 

Related post: German Pinot Noir 2015 – Furst and Jean Stodden 

More WWS posts on Riesling

&.. 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 weather days. Wine is not an exact science, in many ways it’s also an art, and German winemakers are becoming adept at quick problem solving. The unusual weather patterns means vines are growing at different times than normal and met with unusual or early frosts, such as in April this year, and are exposed to more extremes in weather. 

As much as I love Burgundy – and there are evidently close friendships between the winemakers in Germany and Burgundy – when Germany has a warmer vintage such as 2015, it really can deliver for Pinot Noir drinkers. These are sophisticated, elegant reds with fascinating regional differences. 

The 2015 Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder) Grosse Gewächs release is in September 2017. 

Weingut Rudolf Fürst (Franken)

After arriving at Frankfurt airport, we drove to the iron-rich red sandstone region of Franken. After tasting the excellent Grosse Lage wines, including the sublime Centgrafenberg GG, we had a perfectly-matched meal made by the Fürst family of venison and home made pasta (I believe the venison came from the hills around the vineyard). 

This is a family affair since 1638, with Paul and Monika’s son, Sebastian Fürst, recently taking over the winemaking. They own 19.2 hectares with an average yield of 20-55 ha. Sebastian explained how they used candles during the unexpected frost in April to warm up the vines and stop them dying in the extreme cold. The candles cost around 10 euros each, so it was a difficult but necessary decision!

Fürst Centgrafenberg GG Spatburgunder 2015 - my favourite red wine

Fürst Centgrafenberg GG Spatburgunder 2015 – my favourite red wine of the trip

Spectacular tasting room at Fürst – overlooking Franken

The vineyards of Fürst

Tasting the Fürst Grosse Gewachs

Winery Facts – Furst

Winemaker: Sebastian Furst

The Estate: WEingut Rudolf Furst – VDP member

Location : Burgstadt, Franken

History: Since 1638, the Furst family have been making wine in Burgstadt, Franken. In 1979, Paul and Monika Furst built the new estate in the vineyards of Centgrafenberg. 

Vineyards: 19.2 ha

Grapes: 60% Spatburgunder and Fruhburgunder, 15% Riesling, 25% Silvaner Weissburgunder and others

Grosse Lage: Hundruck (Dog’s back)’ Centgrafenberg, Scholossberg, Karhauser Volkach. 

Production: 120,000 bottles

Jean Stodden (Ahr) 

In the tiny region of Ahr, Jean Stodden make deep-coloured Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder) with fine, silky tannins. Walking up the steep slopes behind the winery was thirsty work. Within only 7 hectares of vineyard, the diversity of slate and soil is astonishing – from coloured slate to greywacke and grey slate, loam and loess. The Grand Cru Herrenberg vineyard has slopes at 60 degrees and the vines are hand-picked. French clones of Pinot Noir give the wines a classical feel, but they speak of this unique corner of red-winemaking in Germany. 

German Pinot Noir can often have a note of smoky bacon

The Jean Stodden vineyards in Ahr

Vines and slate in Ahr

Winery facts – Jean Stodden 

Winemaker: Alexander Stodden

The Estate: Jean Stodden Red Wine Estate – VDP member

Location: The village of Rech in the middle of the Ahr Valley (an hour south of Bonn, Ahr)

History: The family has a long wine-making tradition and has been growing grapes here since 1578. Alexander’s grandfather started vinifying his own Pinot Noir in 1900. 

Vineyards: 7ha

Grapes: Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) 90%, Fruhburgunder and Riesling

Grosse Lage: Recher Herrenberg; Ahrweiler Rosenthal; Neuenahrer Sonnenberg; Dernauer Hardtberg

Age of vines: 10-80 years old 

Production: 45,000 bottles 


This visit was part of the 2017 Masters of Riesling (and Pinot Noir) with Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies (ABS).

The ABS First Taste Grosses Gewächs Tasting (Riesling 2016 and Spätburgunder 2015), will take place on 7th September in London as part of their ABS Portfolio Tasting. 

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

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.”  

Experimental zero dosage version of Hambledon – is it up there?

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: 

  1. Zero dosage (Brut Nature = No added sugar to under 3 grams/litre residual sugar)
  2. 4 g/l (Extra Brut = between 0 and 6 g/litre)
  3. 6 g/l (Extra Brut to Brut – less than 12 g/l) 
  4. 10 g/l – (Brut – less than 12 g/l)

The high acidity found in grapes from Hampshire – cooler for 30 average degree days less than in the Champagne region – are balanced by the right dosage. Dosage is not the same as adding sugar during fermentation (which increases alcohol). Adding a tiny amount of sugar after fermentation is complete, just before bottling, is more like a final finishing touch. The Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV normally has 8 g/l residual sugar, while the Premiere Cuvée is 6 g/l.  Out of the four samples, the 6 g/l had the most balance while the sample with the 4 g/l was almost out of kilter, a topsy turvy feeling that was not pleasant. But what about the Zero Dosage? 

 At the end of the tasting, we could choose our favourite to bottle ourselves. Hambledon Winery does not currently produce a Zero Dosage sparkling wine, so I wanted to make one. Or “not make one”, as there is nothing to add – losing the dosage step, the bottle is straight to the corking and labelling. 

Making our own bottle

Making our own bottle

I have to be honest, one reason I chose the Zero Dosage is because I did not want to wait around to drink the wine; it takes a few months for the dosage to integrate with the wine. A Zero Dosage sparkling can be drunk straight away and will develop like a wine in the bottle. 

Apart from my greedy thirst, without the dosage, it is possible to taste what is happening in the vineyards rather than in the winery. If there is one thing everyone knows about English sparkling is the famous chalk soils. Without added sugar, you can almost taste every individual pebble on the ground. 

The chalk soils in Hampshire (highlighted in black)

The chalk soils in Hampshire (highlighted in black)

As Joe Wadsack said, “a Zero Dosage is like driving in a Porsche, you can feel the crenulation of the road under the wheel.” It’s thrilling, but not for everyone – people with very sensitive palates will find the acidity too razor-like. For less-experimental drinking, for me, the Première Cuvée at 6 g/l residual sugar is the perfect balance.

A sparkling wine is always about the blend; a good wine is a blend of components that come together like a finely tuned machine. It will be very interesting to take one of England’s best Sparkling wines at zero dosage for a spin over the next couple of months and see how it develops. 

Thanks to Hambledon Winery for The Première Cuvée Experience. I was invited as a guest and all views are my own. 
You may like to make your own sparkling wine, too. The Première Cuvée Experience is an educational ‘how wine is made’ experience hosted by Joe Wadsack and Ian Kellett at a cost of £200 per head, including disgorging your own bottle to take home. It’s a beautiful part of the world and a short train trip from London Waterloo station.

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 remain sane”. Thanks to the Monmousseau Brut, I began to leave the outside world behind for the evening and have some fun. It was soon time to leave our glasses and move downstairs to the main event.

Green neon light!

Crossing the threshold of everyday reality into a dark room, we found ourselves somewhere between a disco and an aristocrat’s cave, complete with gold-framed portraits of eccentric relatives.

Once seated, the room was flooded with green neon light. “Loire Moments is to be a full sensory experience,” Douglas Blyde announced. The green light – and gentle nature sounds of birds twittering – signified the mouth of the Loire River, in the Nantais, where our dinner’s journey would begin. 

The Loire River is not a gentle river. Shallow with strong currents, it has a mind of its own. From half way along, the river flows north, changing direction with a curve that flows toward the Atlantic Ocean. The last time I was in the Loire, for the Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny, the winemakers took us on a traditional flat-bottom boat adapted over the centuries to navigate the moody tides. I saw first-hand how difficult it was to go from one side to the other.

The ‘Loire Moments’ dinner in London was a gentler affair, despite the sudden change in lighting. I found it amusing but some of the photographers demanded a change back to neutral light. Judging by my photos, perhaps they had a point. But I was quite prepared to go with the flow of the evening. It was a journey down a river, after all.

We had a good time over the last drops of red wine and an extremely good espresso before hitting the reality of the last tube home, then bus, then bus, then bed and then do the daily commute all again in the morning, waking with a lovely memory of a technicolour dream of a river.


GREEN LIGHT with sounds of the Grandlieu nature reserve

Muscadet ​​Côtes de Grandlieu, Clos de la Sénaigerie, Domaine des Herbauges​ 2015​

with Dressed Colchester crab, brown crab mayo, apple, coriander

Muscadet ​​Côtes de Grandlieu, Clos de la Sénaigerie, Domaine des Herbauges​ 2015​ with Dressed Colchester crab, brown crab mayo, apple, coriander

Muscadet ​​Côtes de Grandlieu, Clos de la Sénaigerie, Domaine des Herbauges​ 2015​ with Dressed Colchester crab, brown crab mayo, apple, coriander

AQUA BLUE LIGHTING with the bells of Saint Maurice, Angers

Savennières, Thibault Boudignon, Clos de la Hutte 2015

with Pan-fried rainbow trout, chargrilled courgette, cucumber, wasabi butter sauce, caviar

Savennières, Thibault Boudignon, Clos de la Hutte 2015 with Pan-fried rainbow trout, chargrilled courgette, cucumber, wasabi butter sauce, caviar

Savennières, Thibault Boudignon, Clos de la Hutte 2015 with Pan-fried rainbow trout, chargrilled courgette, cucumber, wasabi butter sauce, caviar

WARM RED LIGHTING with the champions of red wine, The New Pornographers (Bill Bruisers)

Chinon Rouge Joguet, Clos de la Dioterie 2009

And Saumur Champigny, Château du Hureau, Lisagathe 2014

with BBQ Dingley Dell pork chop, roasted calçots onions, apple, tomato and sage sauce

Douglas Blyde introducing the main course


HARVEST GOLD LIGHTING  with ‘Cheese’, Tim Minchin (Tim Minchin and the Heritage Orchestra)

Anjou Blanc, Clos de l’Elu Berners Tavern 2015, Chenin

And Anjou Rouge​,​ Clos de l’Elu Berners Tavern 2014,

with England versus France Cheese

England versus France Cheese

England versus France Cheese


Difference Coffee Co. Jamaica Blue Mountain

With Prévu, Pas Prévu, Milk Coffee & Sugar

I was invited as a guest and all views are my own.


To read more posts about the Loire

To Douglas Blyde’s column in The Evening Standard

A post on dinner with Difference Coffee Co.


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 each pairing had to be Californian – the hotel restaurant is one of the most important importers of Californian fine wine in the country. But what was the other wine? Clearly, the other was not French.

Maybe it was the whiff of bourbon on Wine 6 that gave a clue: NV Trump Winery “CRU” Fortified Chardonnay, Charlottesville, VA. Without knowing what it was, it was still a difficult wine to enjoy. A high alcohol, medium-sweet Chardonnay (fortified to 18%) – funnily enough, my notes read: I’m sure that a wine that smells of bourbon could be quite popular with some people.

For the sake of full disclosure, I did vote for one of Trump’s wines in the pairings: 2015 Trump Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – lighter in style, surprisingly fresh (speaking of the cool climate in Virginia, quite different than the full-bodied Californian style), and it was more to my taste with food.

The final score for the panel? California won all seven rounds; Trump: zero, nul point.

The Trump Winery, managed by Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, is the largest vineyard area in Virginia. Of course: bigly. The wines are not available in the UK or Europe, and even if they were – apart from the novelty factor of seeing the hyperreal bling labels – there are better value wines for your money, even compared to the top-tier Californian wines we tasted against the Trump wines. 

But it’s not just about wine, anymore. The wine is hyper-normal. It is a simple symbol with complex politics behind it – what does the Trump Winery say about immigration policy, climate change, tax affairs? Ride up in the gold lift, see the Trump name everywhere, but this (what is now) a political wine left me feeling quite queasy on the way down. 


The wines tasted


A Judgement of Our Times at The Vineyard

Thursday 6th April 




2010 Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, Charlottesville, VA
RSP: £39.60

2013 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA


Mushroom risotto, parmesan and wild garlic

2014 Donelan Family Wines “Venus”, Sonoma County, CA
RSP: £44.80

2015 Trump Viognier, Charlottesville, VA
RSP: £28.05


Foie gras parfait, rhubarb, pistachio and brioche

2013 Benovia Winery La Pommeraie Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, CA
RSP: £41.07

NV Trump Winery “CRU” Fortified Chardonnay, Charlottesville, VA
RSP: £39.60


Pigs fillet, pickled white cabbage, roasted onion

2015 Trump Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Charlottesville, VA:
RSP £28.05

2013 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA
RSP: £25.03


Seasonal farmhouse cheese platter, fennel bread

2013 Peter Michael Winery L’Esprit des Pavots, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, CA
RSP: £69.60

2014 Trump Winery New World Reserve, Charlottesville, VA
RSP: £67.65

Result: California 7 – 0 Trump

Tasting panel: Douglas Blyde (Evening Standard), Paul Michael (The Vineyard Hotel and Peter Michael Winery,) Richard Siddle (editor of the Buyer,) Juel Mahoney (Wine Woman and Song,) Alastair Viner (head buyer at Hedonism,) Romain Bourger (head sommelier at The Vinyeard Hotel) and Mike Meyeres (head sommelier at Lucknam Park.)

Douglas Blyde’s column in The Evening Standard – This is what the wine tastes like from Donald Trump’s vineyard 

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.

Good place for coffee in Bordeaux city (and for skateboard mending)

Workshop – a good place for coffee in Bordeaux city (and for skateboard mending)

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. But, when there’s just so much of medium Bordeaux out there, where do you start? The fact is, there is a lot of awful stuff, too. I’d rather someone just tell me what they’ve had, that’s good. 

Three Bordeaux Bottles Standing On the Wall

That’s what I was singing to myself when I received a sample box from Your Sommelier Ltd. Their wine club sends a selection of three bottles per month and so here we go…. My first box delivered: three bottles of Bordeaux.

First of all, all the wines featured a Chateau on the label, so there is no way I would have chosen these wines from the shelf other than completely randomly and, perhaps, the district (Castillon Côte de Bordeaux is always worth a look).

In this genre, it is helpful to have someone else choose three quality wines. As well as having the information cards included inside the box about the region as well as the wine. Diploma students may find this useful, too – you only have to get up from studying to answer the door bell when they deliver.

The fairly objective, fact-driven notes are good for the student or that special group of wine drinker who are suspicious of the whispery, elusive and adventerous nature of the senses – every wine is given a context and is completely understandable. In fact, Your Sommelier wine club would be a good way to learn about a region or a theme every month from around France.


Your Sommelier wine club: The Wines

Château Relais de la Poste 2012

Bordeaux Côtes de Bourg

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot


Château Lamartine 2011

Castillon Côte de Bordeaux

85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc

AOC Bordeaux

70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillon

Three wines per month cost £36 delivered from Your Sommelier Ltd 

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 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes

Cinsault in Lebanon – release of 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes

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 of the prestige wines could settle with a drag of Marlboro Red rather than a food match. Old-vine Cinsault in Lebanon is not only abundant and easy-drinking, but also, importantly for this part of the world, drought-resistant.

The 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes has a mouth-watering umami character, liquorice and deep red fruit. It has freshness from grapes grown at 1000m altitude (the Cinsault grape has relatively low acidity), but it also has great intensity and richness from the 70-year-old vines and plenty of sunlight.

Cinsault in Lebanon is back from the edge and centre stage. For those who like wines to pour and drink and enjoy, Cinsault from Lebanon is another reason why we need boozy long lunches more than ever. 

Faouzi Issa, winemaker at Domaine des Tourelles


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 wide. The vineyard is slightly elevated on a gravelly mound. Sometimes you can taste the sea in the humid air.

The outlook here confirms the old Bordeaux adage, the best estates can view the river from their vineyards. But it begs the question, why did it take so long for anyone to plant here? When Jean Gautreau bought his 5 ha in 1969, at age 42, it was more shack than Chateau.

Think back to the wine market over 40 years ago, and it was a crazy time to buy a Bordeaux vineyard. Even more so when you consider the early 1970s during the oil crisis and the plummeting fine wine market. Yet, it must have heartened Jean Gautreau to be congratulated on his purchase by the cellar master of Château Latour, Jean-Paul Gardère, as well as by Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch Bages.

He knew he was doing something right. Quite an achievement for someone who had never made wine before. And it’s this sense of good instinct and self-assurance that can be found in the wines. It also explains why he does not show his wines in the usual big tastings. You have to come to him if you want to taste the wines during en primeur.

Chateau Sociando-Mallet Jean Gautreau 8 April 2013

My (blurry) photo of Jean Gautreau in the Chateau Sociando-Mallet barrel room, En Primeurs 2013

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to taste the wines in London at a dinner held by Richard Bampfield MW at 67 Pall Mall a couple of weeks ago.

The vintages

I have added the technical details below, because this is a wine that truly reflects the vintage: as you can see, the blend is always the same for the Grand Vin.

What is significant to note are the differences in harvest dates for each vintage. This shows the perfect time to pick the grapes varied, and compared to modern Bordeaux standards, Sociando-Mallet is one of the first to pick grapes in the area.

Personally, I loved each vintage as I would love each of my different children equally.  That’s not an opt out but reflects my opinion that Sociando-Mallet is a fantastic expression of vintage variation.

That is why the strongest vintages in the vertical tasting tended to be the stronger vintages in Bordeaux, in general: 2010, 2009, 2005. The 2005 Chateau Sociando-Mallet with the lamb was a classic wine and food match.

I hold a lot of affection for the 2011 with its lighter, fresher flavours bearing out like a Chinese fan (“it’s chic,” said Douglas Blyde at the dinner – or did he actually mean “CHIC? Maybe.).

The 2001 vintage had a lovely old-school claret feel; the 2014 had a very expressive perfume, smooth and velvety with plenty of promise. If I had to say anything, the 2008 was going through an awkward phase: quite stalky, it’s a bit lower in alcohol, and right now on the verge of taking on tertiary characters. I hate to use the word ‘sexy’ with respect to wine, but the 2009 was very flattering, but we will have to see how those 2009 Bordeaux will work out in the long run.

Technical details

2012 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 28 September – 15 October
Yield: 54 hl/ha
Producing area: 61 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

2011 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 7 September – 27 September
Yield: 53 ha/hl
Producing area: 81 ha
Blend 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

2010 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 24 September – 15 October
Yield: 53 ha/hl
Producing area: 59 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13.5%

2009 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 18 September – 5 October
Yield: 58 ha/hl
Producing area 62 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13.5%

2008 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 29 September – 11 October
Yield: 45 hl/ha
Producing area: 90 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13%

2006 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 18 September – 4 October
Yield: 54 hl/ha
Producing area: 79 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 12.5%

2005 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 19 September – 6 October
Yield: 59 hl/ha
Producing area: 69 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13%

2001 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 26 September – 12 October
Yield: 61 hl/ha
Producing area: 58 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Tasting and Dinner at 67 Pall Mall, Friday November 11, 2016 with Pascale Thiel, Sybil Marquet and Richard Bampfield MW

Prices for Sociando-Mallet (US)


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 DOC
Year: 2014
Alcohol: 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

While there are many excellent sweet wines made with this technique, what sets a Passito di Pantelleria apart is the exotic Mediterranean notes and breezy freshness. It is an uplifting way to end a dinner, and certainly more upbeat than a vino di meditazione

The lunch ended with and impromptu singing of Brazilian tunes by our host, José Rallo, owner of the Donnafugata winery. There is no better way to describe the wines than through song.


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.

2014 Mouton Rothschild label

2014 Mouton Rothschild label

‘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 friends.

Holding history

This first growth may seem like one of the ultimate “investment wines” but it is better to open and enjoy wine with friends rather than lock it away forever. That’s what I think this label says, too.

Even if the opportunity to open the wine takes 87 years.

I have been very lucky recently to share the 1929 Mouton Rothschild with friends (read more in “In the hours between coffee and wine”). From the same year of the Great Depression, the 1929 vintage did not have an artist-commissioned work we have now come to expect.


1929 Mouton Rothschild – in the period before Mouton Rothschild commissioned artists for the labels – at Harry’s Bar, London, October 2016

The Baroness’ father purchased Chateau Mouton Rothschild in 1922 – where they commissioned only one label by artist, Jean Carlu in 1924. But was not until 1945 that an artist’s work featured on the labels. The first one in 1945 commemorated the Allied Victory of World War Two. The back catalogue of labels are a who’s who of twentieth century artists, including Picasso (1973) and Miro (1969) and more recently, the “Luxury and Humour” of Jeff Koons (2010).

Here’s to blue skies and good wine. 

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 a sweet Italian sparkling.

The 2013 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Willamette Valley could work for nearly everyone around the table. It is a classic Pinot Noir made by Domaine Drouhin, a Burgundian family, who realised Oregon’s potential back in 1960s and who became one of the pioneers of the style. It has good structure, good depth of red fruit but not too demanding, either. It is Burgundian in style but it doesn’t have the high highs of Burgundy, but neither does it have the low lows – in taste and cost. That’s a good thing for a big group. 

The other wine is not a traditional Christmas wine, but it should be: 2015 G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti. It’s a gentle frizzante style of sweet wine with low alcohol (5.5% alc). Rose petals, stone fruits and icing sugar lightness. It’s not as woozy as Champagne and the sweetness makes it feel like a bit of a treat. In its home in Piedmont, it is traditionally served with fresh fruit but it could also be great with Christmas biscuits, gingerbread or, to continue the Italian theme, with a slice of panetonne. 

As far as what I will do this year, I haven’t yet decided. But half the fun is in the choosing. And then, finally, to put the feet up and relax.


Christmas wine recommendations from Wine Trust 100


2013 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
Variety: Pinot Noir
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Year: 2013
Price: £24
Retailer: Wine Trust

2015 G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti
Variety: Moscato
Region: Piedmont, Italy
Year: 2015
Price: £12.95
Retailer: Wine Trust


Image Kolomon Moser

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 wine

As a result, Difference Coffee Co. has created coffee pods to make the gold-standard in coffee accessible to Nespresso machines; the pods keep the coffee fresh and in optimal condition for use, especially in restaurants. If you drink the finest wines known to humanity – and the 1929 Chateau Mouton Rothschild is in the pantheon – then it makes sense to end the meal with the the best quality of coffee. 

My impression of the coffee? There is clearly a difference between these terroir-led coffees and the usual coffee served in restaurants. It reminded me of drinking the very best wine: it has a clarity and almost sobering quality. The after-taste of the coffee is extremely clean and up-lifting.

The 1929 Mouton Rothschild? Here are my first thoughts after the lunch on instagram

Holding history. 1929 Chateau Mouton Rothschild at lunch. The first thing to consider on drinking very old wines is that they could have fallen over already. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to think the star may be too out-of-condition to sing. Think of how much this wine has gone through since 1929. But it was not only fine but it was on fire. Compote wild strawberries, mocha in background, fresh acidity even an hour later. Served with veal simply done and roasted artichoke…


Menu for Difference Coffee Co. at Harry’s Bar, 6 October 2016

Panama Geisha coffee ‘tea’, brewed for seven minutes
NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois


Seared blue-fin tuna, crunchy vegetables and Sicilian orange dressing
2002 Kistler Vineyards ‘Kistler’ Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley
2012 Rotem & Mounir Saouma Chateauneuf-du-Pape ‘Magis’ Blanc


Pumpkin and pickled fruit mustard ravioli from Cremona, with butter and sage
Castello di Vicarello ‘Castello di Vicarello’ Toscana IGT 2011
Stellenrust Quota Cuvée 2012


Roast t-bone of Limousin veal, sautéed porcini mushrooms and Albenga artichokes
1929 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild


Difference Coffee Co. tiramisu layered in a coupe and selection of Harry’s Bar desserts
Hawaii Kona from Buddha’s Cup Estate- Grade “Extra Fancy” 
Jamaica Blue Mountain from Gold Cup Estate – Grade 1 
Wild Kopi Luwak Grand Reserve 


Finished with an espresso martini made with Beluga Gold Line, Wild Kopi Luwak, St. George’s Nola Liqueur.


Thank you for the lunch, wines and good company, Douglas Blyde, Neal Martin and Amir Gehl, and the wonderful staff at Harry’s Bar, London W1K 2PD.

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 only enjoying Chateau Ribena – or did Jay drink the good stuff, after all? It’s a fascinating snapshot of a time when the economy had more money, and in turn, had more of the proverbial old fools. For many younger wine professionals – and, I would argue the wine industry has seen a lot more professionalisation since then – they may wonder if this type of regular extravagance was a myth. Did it even happen at all? Yes, it did. And it was all real. In some sense, we are still cleaning up the mess. 

The Way of Wine (2010) is a prelude to the recently released film, The Duel of Wine. 

We begin The Way of Wine with the whirlwind lifestyle of Miami sommelier, Charlie Arturaola. There’s the glamour of travelling the world on a wine bottle, as he says. His whole life depends on his palate. Even his wife, Pandora, is his manager and books him to host tastings.

When he loses his palate, his world falls apart. He needs to recover it. And fast. In search of a solution, he approaches major people in the wine world. He asks Michel Rolland, who suggests he “washes his palate with the finest wines of the world.” This leads him on a journey far away from his hectic party lifestyle and into the vineyards of Argentina.

The story continues in his second film, The Duel of Wine.  In this film, Charlie is working as a taxi driver in Miami while he recovers his palate. His wife, Pandora, is approached by a young sommelier, Luca to manage him all the way to the world championships of Sommeliers. This leads Charlie to go to the championships: to regain his crown and his marriage. 

The Way of Wine and The Duel of Wine are fun films with larger-than-life Charlie Arturaola providing plenty of laughs and madcap silliness amongst the serious side of wine. Sour Grapes is anything but funny for those who work in wine, although, it is good to know (spoiler alert!) the pied piper gets a taste of cold, hard reality in the end. 

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).

A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on

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 of Wine) #basquewine #basquecountry #RiojaAlavesa #winelife #winelovers #winegeek #travel #wine

A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on

🔑 #RiojaAlavesa 

A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on

Local tomatoes, fresh bread, wine and sunshine 

A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on


See also Rioja Alavesa trip #1 – Will Rioja Alavesa break away from Rioja?

Follow me on instagram @winewomansong

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.


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. 

Basque Country

Vasco Pais, Euskadi, Basque Country in Spain. On the coastline is Bilbao and Donostia (San Sebastian), inland is Rioja Alavesa

And yet, you may know the wines from here: Ostatu, Remelluri, Artadi, and Vega Sicilia vineyards. You can find them in the wine shop under the big sign: RIOJA. I just did not know they were from the Basque part of Rioja.

What did it matter that the wines were from Basque country or not?

A fork in the road

On the journey of wine, this is the point where some wine lovers part ways. Either you are happy with the broad brushstrokes of ‘Rioja’, or you want to know more about where it comes from.

Rioja Alavesa is not only is a different style of wine, a different place. And after visiting there, I’d also say, it is a state of mind.

There is a tension between Rioja Alavesa and the rest of Rioja, overstated by the sub-editor in The Telegraph, “Rioja war as Basque vintners launch bid for independence”.

Much as there is a tension, I would not go so far as to use the word, “war”. It’s not unusual for wineries to want to delineate their sub-regions.

Aside from the stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap world of wine, the customer demands to know more about where a wine comes from: what makes the particular area unique? Especially, if they are paying more for a bottle.

For customers, Rioja has a fundamental problem: no consistency of style – despite the strict regulations on the amount of time in barrel on the winery side (joven, crianza, reserva, gran reserva etc). People know the over-oaked, vanilla bomb that tastes like baked plums. In fact, Rioja has a natural higher acidity from the Tempranillo grape.

In the glass, compared to the customer’s memory, they are different wines.

Rocking the Rioja boat

Despite this, Rioja is one of the most recognisable wine brands in the UK. It’s right up there with Argentinian Malbec or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This amount of recognition is an advantage for any wine region.

Yet, Rioja Alavesa is not always the “Rioja” customers are asking for. What is Rioja? Is it the blocky Gran Reservas, the old oxidative styles of Vina Tondonia, or the gold-net styles found on the top shelf at the local shop?

Wines from Rioja Alavesa have a clear sense of place. The ground here is calcareous clay; across the Ebro, it is iron based. The ridge of Cantabrian mountains stop the Atlantic winds and rain from the coast. The wet weather in Bilbao stops when crossing the mountains, and the land is dry and hot. People here work on a small scale and press the grapes near the vineyards – there is a return to the ways of their grandparents. The oldest winery has been found in the main town, Laguardia, working since before Roman times. 

A hop, skip and jump from Rioja Alavesa – in Bilbao – we stood at a bar before the flight home. Dazzled by colourful Pinxtos and good wine, what is clear is this part of the world knows the art of drinking and eating. The wines of Rioja Alavesa are perfect for the way we like to eat now.

Does Alavesa need to break away from Rioja to get the recognition they deserve?

Without echoing too much of the Brexit Remain argument, if some small changes can get through the bureaucracy of the Rioja wine board, arguably, it could make a big difference – more recognition of the sub-region on the label, for example.

However, it seems that big regional Boards across the world have a problem reconciling the demands of smaller producers. And Rioja Alavesa is mostly small producers. (I have only seen it work when the Board has recognised the importance of regionality, for example, Wine Australia and its recent Regional Roadshow.)

Anything is possible. A lesson learned from Brexit? Hear, listen.

Next post: Rioja Alavesa #2 – a photo diary

* I was in Rioja Alavesa to give a speech on the UK market and social media at a conference in Rioja Alavesa: “Challenges of winemaking: Survival and Evolution.” 8 July 2016, organised by Gerente de la Asociación de Bodegas de Rioja Alavesa (ABRA).

Trentino treat: Elisabetta Foradori Teroldego at Trullo

So happy to find Elisabetta Foradori’s Teroldego when at lunch today at Trullo in Islington. From Mezzolombardo in Trentino, Elisabetta has been producing red wine for the past 25 years from this one grape. The one grape. You could almost say she is Teroldego. Benchmark stuff. Energetic and purity of colour typical in the Dolomites. Tangy red and blue fruits with savoury twang. Lunchtime friendly 12% alc. Refreshing with hidden structure that makes it sing with fish to suckling kid to their beef shin paparadelle, which is a bit of a classic and thankfully always on the menu. Such a comforting and silky dish that matches the wine perfectly.

Corse you can: wines from Yves Leccia, Patrimonio, Corsica

Look up Corsica in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book and right at the end of the entry, like an afterthought or a throwaway line, he writes: “Original wines that rarely travel.” 

This is how the obsession starts. Thanks Hugh (again).

In the small entry, HJ then recommends the wines of Yves Leccia. As luck would have it, the opportunity came up to meet Yves Leccia at Vinisud in Montpellier, and he sent me some wines to taste at home.

It’s easy to like a wine – in fact, to like most things – when the sun is shining in the South of France, but how will they taste on a cold (as the Scots say) dreich day in London?

Yves Leccia Patrimony Rouge (Neilluccio and Grenache) and Patrimony White (Vermentinu)

Yves Leccia Patrimonio Rouge (Neilluccio and Grenache) and Patrimonio White (Vermentinu)

Yves Leccia Domaine d’E Croce Patrimonio blanc
Varieties: Vermentinu
Region: Patrimonio, Corsica
Year: 2013
Price: Approximately 27 €
Retailer: Kermit Lynch (US), no UK supplier

What struck me the most are the unique herbal flavours, much like the garrigue aromas found in the south of France. In Corsica, they call it fleur de maquis – the thickets of underbrush, rosemary and thyme.

The Vermentinu is finer than the Vermentino found in Sardinia or Liguria. You will find the typical Vermintino bitterness of breakfast grapefruit and the floral aromatics of dandelion and black tea. It has depth and texture with good body, loads of spritely energetic sunny grapefruit tangy flavours with a delicious herbal mineral background. It tastes of Mediterranean sunshine. I was dreaming of a big plate of fritto misto after a long walk along the beach.

Yves Leccia Domaine d’E Croce Patrimonio rouge
Varieties: 90% Neilluccio, 10% Grenache 
Region: Patrimonio, Corsica
Year: 2014
Price: Approximately 24 €
Retailer: Kermit Lynch (US), no UK supplier

This is  red could easily have been a jam fest but Corsica is similar to Japan in that it comes straight out of the sea and up. This altitude cools the grapes to give it freshness. The baking heat in July and August concentrates and intensifies the flavours, not only of the grapes, but also all the fruit and vegetables from Corsica. It is very ripe, creme de mure, black cherry, raspberries and wild herb with a long finish.

Patrimonio is situated in the north of the island and is the only area on the island where limestone soils can be found. Neilluccio is a native Sangiovese that was reportedly introduced by Genoese traders in the 18th century. It has developed its own identity, quite distinct from a Tuscan Sangiovese, it is darker in colour and with more body than what you would find in downtown Colli Senesi.

The Whole of the Moon

Yes, Hugh, absolutely right (again): these are original wines that don’t travel much. There could be a few reasons for that. One of them is that Leccia only produces 5000 bottles per year.

It is a good reminder that there is a whole world of wine out there. And I think of the lyrics to the song that comes up now and again on the radio by The Waterboys, The Whole of the Moon (1985):

I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw the plan
I wandered out in the world for years
While you just stayed in your room
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon

These wines are transportive. Stuck at home on a cold London night, I wandered out into the world of sun-drenched flavours, the fleur de maquis and tasted the mountains and sea. A restless wanderlust feeling that started from reading five small words in a pocket guide. I’ve seen the crescent with these excellent wines from Yves Leccia and now there is a whole other planet of flavour yet to be explored.