South America Wine Tour - Part 2 - Argentina

The early morning sky striped with soft greys and apricot, almost a mackerel sky, as the sun rose, saw a sleepy and subdued  group board our luxury coach for the day across the Andes. Leaving Chile for Argentina, we left the Maipo valley and headed towards the Acconcagua Valley. As the city sprawl of Santiago faded behind, the scenery became scrub land with the odd cactus dotted around. Climbing slowly, the valley ever narrowed, with ice cold streams rushing along beneath abandoned rail tracks. Our final destination was Mendoza, but first a farewell to the wines of Chile en route. So we stopped high in the Andes at “The Soldiers Leap”, where legend has it that General San Martin (liberator of Chile, Argentina & Peru – bit of a local hero!), jumped this wide gorge on horseback and thus escaped the invading Spaniards.  There was a selection of wines from estates we had no time to visit, giving a good overview. The Pais Reserva del Pueblo from Miguel Torres showing the renaissance of this ancient grape variety, through to Cinsault made in clay amphora by the innovative De Martino team. One of Chilean first Icon wines, Don Maximiano Founders Reserve from Errazuriz showed  power and complexity and to finish the Cab / Syrah/ Merlot/ Carmenere / Petit Verdot blend from Encierra was a great full stop to our Chilean wine experience – Now Argentina beckoned.

But first, the dramatic backdrop of scree covered looming mountains led to a series of 33 “caracoles” or hair pin bends – wonderful views but glad that Ski Portillo was at just beyond switchback 33 for our lunch stop. During the winter, Portillo is Chile’s oldest & leading Ski Resort, but in February in their summer, the ghost like ski lifts, endless signed photos of skiing legends from Europe and the cosy Chalet like décor,  are mere reminders of another season. A reviving aperitif (farewell to Pisco Sours!) was taken on the terrace overlooking the azul blue lake, apparently formed by the tears of an Inca Princess crossed in love.

Aconcagua is the highest peak in the Andes, and as our new Argentine driver was keen to underline, is 100% Argentinean not Chilean! At some 6962 metres high, altitude can be an issue for climbers, so thankfully our viewpoint of its snow capped peak, albeit slightly covered with cloud, at just over 3000 metres was less energetic. The dreaded customs border crossing awaited – delays of up to 8-10 hours are not unusual – and so our speedy 2 hours and 3 minutes processing was a great start to our Argentine experience.

The landscape and geology of the Andes changes dramatically on the Argentine side as we dropped down towards Mendoza – technically a desert but the unseasonal heavy rain that marked our journey made this difficult to judge – so Derek hosted a tasting to dispel the rain and introduce our palates to Argentina – albeit with a Chilean twist, by tasting  from Montes Argentina outpost Kaiken wines.

No one has been more influential on the modern Argentine wine trade than Nicolas Catena, hence him being awarded Decanter magazine’s prestigious Man of the Year in 2009 - so where better to start our tastings on this side of the Andes, than at their impressive Catena Zapata cellars in Agrelo. Built  in the shape of a Mayan pyramid temple, it is a quirky cellar to visit. Joined by their winemaker Ernesto, it was a great lesson in understanding their approach to high altitude vineyards. From the rooftop terrace, the volcano Tupungato gleams in the distance, and which is where Catena source their high altitude grapes from in the Uco Valley.  The Catena Alta Chardy 2014 was a revelation – having tasted this wine for many vintages, the oak management improves each year and the 2014 was an elegant example with balanced freshness and acidity as well as the oak structure – bit of a bargain at only £15 from the Wine Society.  2013 Catena Alta Malbec had beautiful ripe tannins and sweet black fruit – at the first sip, I started dreaming of a garlicky roast cannon of lamb, perhaps with minted flageolet beans! Staying in the Alta range, the Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 was very different to many  New World Cabernets, being fresh, sweet black cherries, a hint of chocolate and with no green aromas at all. Moving onto three of their Icon wines – the Catena Zapata Nicasia ‘12 had lovely rich fruit, the Malbec Argentino 2011 blending fruit 50% each from their historical Malbec vineyards,  Nicasia and Adrianna giving a rich complexity to the wine. Ending on their Nicolas Catena 2011,  a world class blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Malbec from four of their best vineyard sites. There were 210 separate microvinifications (picking different lots and rows at different times) which all added to the myriad of layers in this wine. Although the 2011 vintage, this wine still has a long aging life in it, the beautiful bramble fruit backed up with hints of cassis and chocolate made it the perfect finish to the tasting. Wines available from their UK importer Bibendum.

It would seem hard to follow the Catena wines – but I had chosen next to visit my old friends at Bodegas Cassone. A real family run boutique estate not far outside Mendoza, the charming wine maker Federico Cassone with his lovely wife Connie, welcomed us under the shade of an olive tree in their 100 year plus old Malbec vines. Against a stunning backdrop of the Andes, Federico explained their philosophy at the estate, along with the family’s history having originally arrived in Argentina from Piemonte in North West Italy (home to Barolo & Barbaresco). First wine of the tasting had anyone whose palate may have been flagging sit upright like a meerkat on look out! Their Obra Prima Rosado from Cabernet Sauvignon is simply one of the most delightful wines of South America – even persuading the non Rosé lovers of the group. Pale salmon in colour, it has a wonderful freshness combined with creaminess – think strawberries & cream. Heaven on it’s own in a hammock , but would also pair wonderfully well with a trout and watercress tart. La Florencia blend of 60% Malbec with 40% Syrah, named for Federico’s mother and the labels showing her favourite flowers,  was plums, blueberries and a touch of white pepper – great balance of spice & freshness, it would pair well with red pesto or even the classic cacio & pepe pasta.  The Obra Prima Malbec ’12 had  a great purity to it, none of the jammy gloop that one sadly encounters in some Malbecs on the UK market – fragrant, brambles, with fine tannins, although it will last well, I am not sure if patience will permit!

Staying in their Reserve line, the Obra Prima Cabernet ‘14 (70% Cab Sauv / 30% Cab Franc) was stunning, mint & liquorice on the nose, tapenade and lovely herbal coming from the Cab Franc on the palate – where was a plate of tagliata or lamb with black olive crust when needed?  Ending on the Obra Prima Maximus ’11, which seems well named being as muscular and powerful as Russell Crowe in a gladiators outfit! 40% Malbec, blended with 20% each of Cab’s Sauv & Franc, this was a very serious wine with ripe plum fruit and nice touch of minerality.  The Italian attitude to hospitality lives on today in the Cassone family, so we decamped to their front lawn along with Federicos' parents for a “light snack” that would have kept most delis’ going for a month. A wonderful array of salamis, hams, cheese and of course empanadas (the competition for best empanada still continuing on this side of the Andes!) awaited – as did the gorgeous family dog, who though v nervous as a rescue dog, soon became my new best friend& happy to share my empanada…!  Yet more wines appeared including their fragrant Torrontes, a great variety as an aperitif with notes of tropical fruit and elderflower.  The wonderfully friendly Cassones make wonderful wines and all unbelievably good value! – there were already several orders placed before we left the cellar!  A simple perfect visit and very hard to leave! UK importer is Justerini & Brooks

Mendoza is a bustling university city, with lots of parks to explore but the heat of the day lured most of the group to the air conditioned bar or relaxing by the pool before our evening visit.  Familia Zuccardi have two estates, the original cellars just outside Mendoza and a new one in the Uco valley, and they have a wide range of wines – producing large volume of easy drinking wine through to small production, quality focused, terroir centered wines. The company’s owner, Jose Alberto Zuccardi has been joined by his son Sebastian as wine maker and his daughter Julia in the family company. The short pre-dinner tasting including their Ancellotta, to show off this unusual red grape variety from their experimental range, their Z and two of their Uco wines – the Vistaflores Aluvional reflecting the soils created by glacial movements over many years. But there is only so much tasting to be done in one day, so the remaining five wines were served over an inventive tasting menu devised by their in house Chef – Matias Aldasoro. Their Fiano (a white more normally found in Campania in Southern Italy) paired well with the tomato starter, the veal capaccio with oregano ice cream stood up well to the rustic notes of the Zuccardi Emma made from Bonarda, a red grape hailing from North West Italy. The main of baby goat with raspberry ketchup and consommé of goat bought out all the brambly black fruit of the Zuccardi Q Malbec. For desert, apple cake, pear granite & Catalan peach cream echoed the ripe apricot elements of the Malamado Viognier. So if anyone still thought that Argentina was only about huge hunks of BBQ steak – this tasting menu left them in no doubt that inventive modern Argentinian cooking is very much alive – and such flavour experimentation reflects the open minded wine making approach of the Zuccardis. UK importer is Alliance Wine.

The Uco Valley lies to the South East of Mendoza City, although technically still falls under Mendoza, it is very different to the more traditional Mendocino vineyard regions. With the Tupungato volcano dominating the skyline, and the many off shoots of the Tunuyan River spreading like tentacles, the region is (for now) gloriously unspoilt against wide open skies with incredible luminosity, although vineyard plantings have doubled since 2001. Not only key Argentine names but also from France, including famous Consultant Michel Rolland and several Bordeaux Chateaux and the Lurton Brothers amongst others. The vineyards are planted at a higher altitude then their city cousins, which gives a cooler micro climate. Heading through police road blocks(protection of the biosecurity of the Uco for its fruit & veg industry), the Uco Valley with its poplar lined roads is the place that has the Argentinean winemakers excited. As Sebastian Zuccardi points out, there should be more recognition of the different wine sub regions rather than all being clumped under one classification. The investment in the region over the last 15 years has been considerable and there a host of fascinating estates to visit, from an architectural point of view as well as vinous!

But sadly our time in Argentina was limited, so we headed to one of the most impressive estates, Bodegas Salentein.  Owned by a Dutch family who named the estate after their Castle in Holland, no expense was spared in the design of the winery, which blends in well against the mountains. Having tried to work out how many barrels I have seen over the last 20 years of visiting wine estates (the computer ran out of zeros), it is hard for me to be truly impressed by a cellar but the design of the barrel room 8 metres below ground level is rather good – complete with piano for concerts (limited length of time only to avoid disturbing the wine too much)! But it is the table in the tasting room that is truly breath taking, hewn from a single piece of rock from San Juan – a hand deep in depth and long enough to comfortably seat 30 people! Hosted by the very knowledgeable Marcelo Gil, the tasting started with the Reserve Chardy ’15 from the Las Pampas Vineyard at 1250 metres asl, it was all greengages and clotted cream with 60% of the wine having undergone malolactic fermentation. The Primus Chardy ‘14 was different in style, a blend of several parcels, it was a very textural wine with a long finish. The Primus Pinot Noir ’11, with fruit coming only from their higher altitude vineyards, had a nice nose of violets, hint of tobacco with good structure. Their Numinia Gran Corte ’14, a blend of 62% Malbec, 21% Cab Sauv, 8% Petit Verdot, 5% Can Franc, 4% Merlot but tweaked every vintage. A huge red wine that needs time. The Primus Malbec ’13 showed how fine the tannins can be with the Uco cooler, longer ripening time.

The cellars are also home to the family Art Collection of modern Argentine and Dutch artists, so a quick visit for some culture to feed the soul but before long, lunch called, so a short hop along a tree lined avenue to their Posada. With their in-house sommelier, we had chosen another four wines with lunch, to show how food friendly are the Salentein wines. Red Tuna Sashimi  paired happily with the Single Vineyard Chardonnay, whilst for the main course of pork marinated in dark beer and honey, I’d chosen to show two wines, to see which people thought matched best – the Single Vineyard Pinot Noir and also the Primus Merlot. Despite the threatening rain clouds arriving in style ,causing an impromptu table rearrangement, this caused much discussion with the group divided as to which worked best with the pork. Their Primus Merlot was one of the first merlots to ever impress me in Argentina, with its elegance, and whilst I’d have been happy with either with the main course, the acidity of the Pinot Noir worked superbly with the richness of the pork.  To finish, the Single Vineyard Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc was all clementines & apricots – simply delicious end to a relaxed lunch in the vines. UK Importer is GP Brands

Nights off on wine tour are essential to allow people to explore on their own according to their hunger levels – those who fancy no more than a lettuce leaf & a glass of mineral water after a full days tasting to those made of sturdier stuff, who see a free evening as a good reason to discover even more wines whilst on the other side of the world. Both Derek and I love the restaurant Azafran in Mendoza, for featuring great local produce with traditional recipes reinvented. But it is their wine list that keeps us going back – superb selection and fair prices, it also has a glorious wine room, with walls lined with bottles where we ensconced a select few of our group at the circular table  – having checked them for corkscrews first!

The last day of the tour, was a flight to Buenos Aires with time to explore this cosmopolitan capital before our final dinner together at a local steak house, Fevor in the heart of the Recoleta district. Having checked it out previously for its fabulous steak, I chose it for its wonderful wine list (not to mention impeccable service). Derek had fun deliberating which wines to end this South American Wine Tour, so chose Colomé Torrontes from the Salta region, the highest vineyards in Argentina for our last white. With the steak, there HAD to be a Malbec, so cue Padrillos Malbec 2015, made by Nicolas Catena’s son on his own estate. But also a blend, courtesy of one of Argentina’s most respected winemakers, Susanna Balbo, the first Argentinean female to graduate as a Wine Maker back in 1981! The Brioso ’13 with a fairly Bordelais blend of Cabs Sauv & Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot – which ticked a lot of boxes with the steak – showing good wine, good food, good company equals the perfect evening!

This was my 20th Wine Tour to South America, and there continues to be an on-going excitement in the wine trade in both Chile and Argentina, both countries now with a greater understanding of the land they have already planted through to the newer regions being explored and cultivated. So much has changed in the last twenty years and continues to do so with every vintage. Combined with the welcoming hospitality of the South Americans on both sides of the Andes, this tour was a fascinating way to give an insight not only into the wines but also the people and their history.

Sadly on this occasion, we did not have time to visit the vineyards of Uruguay as I have done on many previous South American Wine Tours, but that will be for next time!

To read my blog on the Chilean part of this tour -

To see full tasting notes written by the ever brilliant Derek Smedley MW – do visit his website

For more information about Argentinean Wine, do visit Wines of Argentina

All photos taken by Cindy-Marie Harvey.

South America Wine Tour - Part One - Chile

Wide cerulean blue skies against a backdrop of snow-capped Andes, rolling vineyards of Sauvignon and Cabernet combined with a carnivores heaven of endless BBQ’s – what is the first thought that springs to mind when people think of visiting the wine lands of South America? Well, all of these are true but there is so much more – and more diversity to discover than most people associate with the wines of Chile & Argentina. Fancy Riesling with a racy elegance or a wonderful smoky Pinot Noir, maybe a cool climate Syrah or even a glass of little known Sauvignon Gris? All to be found – and more – from some of the most exciting vineyards of the New World.

My first Wine Tour to South America was in 1998, and have been returning annually, with the tour I organised for a London Livery Company this year being my 20th time exploring the vineyards of Chile & Argentina . It has been fascinating to see the developments in both countries over two decades – not only the wine focus  but also from the social and economics point of view.

The wine consultant to these clients is the fabulous Derek Smedley MW. One of the most respected members of the wine trade, with a wealth of experience, Derek first visit to the vineyards of South America was in the 1980’s and he has continually been revisiting over the last 20 years. As a Master of Wine, of whom there are only 356 in the world, Derek’s in depth knowledge of wines from all over the world was valuable in putting the wines tasted on tour into context, and he was always there to clarify any wine questions throughout the tour!

Several of the group met up the night before in Santiago and were swiftly introduced to that heavenly (if what somewhat dangerous!) South American aperitif – Pisco Sour. Discussion rages if Chilean or Peruvian Pisco’s are the best – but I will be diplomatic and say that they are simply delicious and possibly best to stop at the second one!  If you fancy trying them at home this summer, lots of recipes on line and the Whisky Exchange has a great selection of different types of Pisco.

Surrounded by an alarmingly large number of suitcases, we set forth on our first day, a Sunday so the streets of Santiago thankfully quiet, for our first visit to Vina Aquitania, which was started by three friends in the 1990’s. Bruno Prats (then of Cos D’Estournel), along with the late Paul Pontallier (of Chateau Margaux) joined with their Chilean friend Felipe de Solminihac to start a Chilean wine project together. Later, they became the “Four Musketeers” when they were joined by Ghislaine de Montgolfier (of Champagne Bollinger).  The cellar is surrounded by their vines, which in turn are edged by the ever encroaching suburbs of Santiago, giving the cellars a slightly surreal setting.  Hosted by Felipe's son, Eduardo de Solminihac, it was the perfect visit to set the scene for our Chilean wine adventure.  Many of the group are self confessed serious Champagne lovers, so it was interesting to see the positive reaction to their Sparkling wine, with Zero Dosage, just what was needed to put a zing into a Sunday mid morning.

Truly a boutique estate, where even the labelling is still done by hand, a full tasting had been set out invitingly on the lawn.  The estate also owns vineyards in the very south of Chile in Malleco and the SOLdeSOL Chardonnay and SOLdeSOL Pinot Noir displays lovely cool climate characteristics. The Chardonnay with its twice weekly battonage was rich & buttery with hint of hazelnuts  whilst the Pinot Noir had a great nose of black fruit and raspberry leaves balanced with fresh acidity and black cherries.  For a group of wine lovers, many of whom lean towards the Bordeaux end of the wine spectrum, the Lazuli Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 was the real star of the tasting, showing classical Maipo Valley Cab of cassis & mint with discreet tannins and a delicious elegant finish or as described by a certain MW, “moresome” – which became a new tour word! Wines available in the UK via Stone, Vine & Sun

Tearing ourselves away for our lunchtime appointment, we headed further down into the Maipo valley, to meet up with leading Chilean wine maker, Alvaro Espinoza. Alvaro has been instrumental in spreading the word about the advantages of following organic and biodynamics principles in the vineyards. Although he consults for a larger estate, we caught up with him on his own personal estate, Antiyal. A fascinating walk through the vineyards, lined with almond trees, whilst Alvaro explained the main points of biodynamics, including the herbal preparations needed and the various animals that also “work” in the vineyards!

A brief visit to the cool cellar, where Alvaro proudly showed off his concrete eggs, a new cellar discovery for a few people in the group.  Increasingly more popular (despite the hefty price tag), winemakers from Bordeaux to Tuscany, Chile to the Uco Valley in Argentina are choosing concrete eggs for fermentation. The egg shape ensures a continual movement of liquid and the concrete provides a stable environment, which gives the resulting wines more texture and vibrancy.  Joined by Alvaro’s wife Marina, we enjoyed a welcome glass of their Sparkling (Chardonnay & Pinot base) on the roof terrace of the cellars with lovely views across the vines to the mountains.  Moving to Alvaro & Marina’s house, a relaxed lunch in the garden paired with their Antiyal wines showed exactly why Alvaro firmly believes in the holistic approach of biodynamics are right for his wines. They all showed a real sense of terroir, from the Pura Fe Carmenere , through to the Kuyen, a blend of Syrah, Cab Sauv, Carmenere and Petit Verdot showing lovely spiciness. To finish, their flagship original wine Antiyal, made with Carmenere, Cab Sauv & Syrah is always a favourite of mine from the early days when such world class wines from Chile could be counted very quickly.  As always,  a big seductive red with lovely smoky blackcurrants and a surprisingly elegant finish.  There are quite a few sceptics about the Steiner principals of biodynamics, but for me wines made under this style of viticulture are without fail, more vibrant and alive in the glass. Whilst I might not go as far as a sommelier friend who has his hair cut according to which day it is in the lunar biodynamic calendar (leaf, root, fruit etc) to slow regrowth, I do hope that more wine makers convert to this more natural respectful way of viticulture. UK Importer is Vintage Roots

A free evening  at our next base in Santa Cruz, resulted in some rather amusing discussions on orange wine the next day. Several of the clients headed to a local restaurant, where the owner is passionate about natural food. However, amongst the various wines sampled, he suggested an orange wine – which the clients were convinced was a gentle joke to wind up visiting tourists, such was its un-drinkablity. They were suitably horrified the next day to be told that actually Orange wine is style of wine made by quite a few winemakers in countries as varied as Austria to Georgia.  Here is not the place to explain the concept, also as I am most assuredly not a fan of the style if you are interested, there is a lot on the web!

Happily our visit the next day was to the Montes winery in the Apalta valley, a short hop outside of Santa Cruz. Nestled at the foothills and surrounded by vines, the winery was designed with Feng Shui principals. Welcomed by Dennis Murray, son of one of the original founders, and Maria Walker, their export manager and of course the beautiful Montes Angel who stands in the reception, thankfully almost totally uninjured from the 2015 earthquake which saw her thrown out into the vineyards.

The cellar visit was impressive from the roof top selection tables, which were being prepared for the forthcoming harvest (the winery is of course all gravity fed – no pumping)  through to the barrel rooms, where the wine is played classical music as they believe this has a beneficial effect on the wine, following a study carried out on the differences of music and ice & liquid. But as Dennis pointed out with a twinkle – only classical never AC/DC for Montes wines!  A veritable array of glasses awaited in the tasting room (374 glasses in total – glad I was not on polishing duty later!) with  a stunning view over to the steep slopes of their Syrah vineyard.

Joined for the tasting by two of their winemakers, Andrea and Gavin, the tasting ranged from the Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc with its elegant nettle nose through to three Icon Wines. The Outer Limits CGM was a wine with Grenache being the link between the other two varieties of spicy peppery Mouvedre and the brambly Carignan, all planted on 45 degree slopes! It would pair wonderfully with cassoulet. The Montes Alpha Chardonnay simply gets better with every vintage, and it a complete steal at the price of just a smidge over £10 – it is all buttery but with a lovely melon fresh sweetness as well.  Knowing that two of my favourite Chilean wines were hiding in the final flight was great to know – the Montes M from predominantly Cab Sauv with Cab Franc Merlot and PV was cigar box and Bordelais in its leanings, but for me the Purple Angel and Folly show how stunning the top wines from Chile can truly be. The Purple Angel almost all Carmenere with just 8% of PV was rich blackberries and bay leaves, whilst the Syrah dominant Folly was sheer heaven in a glass!

Montes have always, since its creation and thanks to Aurelio Montes, been a winery that queries every pre-conception of wine making in Chile, and have – and continue to – challenge and lead the way, from the planting of vines on the impossibly steep slopes through to Aurelio’s current project of placing dynamite in some of his vineyards to see the effect on the sub soils, and if this helps the roots to achieve greater depth without needing to irrigate. Very hard to follow such a tasting, but next up was a tractor ride to the middle of their steep vineyards for lunch with spectacular views across the valley. The region had been consumed by smoke the week before due to the forest fires further across, and so in view of the surrounding bush,  a planned BBQ was replaced with a delicious three course lunch – after of course the omnipresent Chilean Empanada – delicious with a refreshing  glass of their Cherub Rosé, all strawberries & cream in a glass – with several other wines to relax with over lunch! UK importer is Liberty Wine

One of the great advantages of New World wineries is the freedom they have to experiment and so where better to visit next than Cono Sur, whose advertising strap line is  “No family trees, no dusty bottles, just quality wine”. They source grapes from almost all of Chile’s vineyard regions, from North to the very South and this makes for a fascinating range of wines to taste. But first a visit to their vineyards at their cellar in the Colchagua Valley with one of their winemakers, the brilliant Guillermo Sanchez, to meet their (very noisy!) geese. Guillermo was fascinating about their sustainable philosophy and in detail about their integrated pest management.  Everything in balance in a natural way, so the geese are released into the vines to eat the burrito spider which damages the soil and eat the vine roots. In front of their beautiful renovated country house, our tasting of seven wines required our attention!

Cono Sur have a range of labels including the widely available easy quaffing Bicicleta range (with the bicycle on the label)   - bu we were concentrating on their premium 20 Barrels range. Starting with a Sauv Blanc from Casablanca only 14 kms from the Pacific, which was all grapefruit lime and slightly salty through to their 20 Barrels Chardy 2016, of which 1% goes into concrete eggs giving great structure without the use of oak – ripe and rounded like a Charentais melon. The Bloc 23 Single Vineyard Riesling was a revelation – elegant white flowers with 7 gms of residual sugar giving no sweet sensation just balance. Pinot Noir is something of a passion at Cono Sur, so much so that back in 1999 they created a separate winery at the property solely for thr Pinots. They also employed a Burgundian consultant in the shape of the brilliant Martin Prieur, and this is reflected in the style of Pinot they produce with the 20 Barrels Pinot 2015 which was v sweet fruit backed up by smoky black cherries. In comparison, alongside was their Icon Pinot Noir, Ocio 2014 , which had much more meatiness to it. From their plots in the Limari valley came the 20 Barrels Syrah 2015 with black inky fruit, pink pepper spice, mulberries was suggested as a tasting note – but it ended with a delicious tapenade savoury richness. A glass of their Sparkling Brut was the perfect way to start lunch with a delicious BBQ on the verdant lawn – with several more wines to taste (drink?) over lunch! UK Importer Concho Y Toro UK


Heading back to the Maipo, where our next three nights would be on a private wine estate, which is some 2600 hectares bordered by the foothills of the Andes and the River Maipo. Vina Tarapaca has had a varied history since its foundation in 1874 including featuring as alimony in a high profile divorce country in the Catholic dominant Chile.  Today, the estate is an enchanting place to stay,  the Villa with more than a passing resemblance to Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara – but instead surrounded by vineyards and a tempting cooling swimming pool!

During our stay, over relaxed dinners on the terrace, we tasted a huge range of their wines including their Method Traditionelle Sparkling from the Casablanca Valley through to the delicious Late Harvest , an unusual blend of  Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon and Moscatel which was the perfect pair for the dessert of Lucuma Mousse! UK Importers are Laithwaites

Away to the west of Maipo are the Casablanca, San Antonio & Leyda valleys, where the proximity to the Pacific Ocean means that the vines benefit from the cool climate. First stop was the boutique estate of Leyda, in the eponymous DO Leyda. Originally the site of a blue tiled train station, it was the last station on the route from Santiago to the coast. The young team of their Viticulturist, Winemaker and Export Manager welcomed us to a delightful shady dell under the trees, set up immaculately for a full tasting including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah from each of their three lines – Reserva, Single Vineyard and Lot. Absolutely fascinating to be able to taste all 12 wines which really displayed the terroir of each parcel and the microclimate created by the vines proximity to the ocean with its cooling affect of the Humboldt current. The Reserva SB was all aromatic green nettles, whilst the Single Vineyard from the IC Davis Clone 1 was flinty and minerally, with a long finish. This particular vineyard is named Garuma after  a local bird and the vineyards have three pickings times several days apart to combine zest & acidity with a little more richness on the later picking.    The Lot 4 SB, which is planted with the 317 clone from Sancerre, was attractive gooseberry on the nose and followed up with great mouthfeel thanks to 20% fermented in French Oak.  Of the three Chardonnays, the one that impressed was the Lot 4 Chardy 2014 with a deep golden hue and remarkably elegant. In the Pinot Noirs: –  Reserva PN 2016 was bright fresh red fruit, the Single Vineyard PN 2015 sang with hints of raspberries but nice structure, whilst the Lot 21 PN 2015 – well - it received the “Delicious – Must Buy!” tasting note! – it was black cherries, warmth yet elegant.  Cool Climate Syrahs are getting a fair bit of press attention in the last couple of years – and with good reason. The freshness that the wines attain due to the slow ripening season of this Chilean cool climate region, brings an added complexity to the variety. The Reserva 2015 was blueberries and with an attractive acidity. The Lot 8 Syrah 2013 was an impressive wine to end on but for me the star of their Syrah stable was the Single Vineyard 2014, white pepper combining with blueberries again and even a hint of chocolate on the finish – heavenly! Some of their wines available in the UK from The Wine Society.

Hard to tear oneself away from this “Winnie the Pooh thinking spot” under the trees for our next tasting, but onto another small estate, this time family run, Casa Marin  owned by the dynamic Maria Luz Marin.  The vineyards are situated less than 4km from the Pacific Ocean and so have a very particular micro climate, which is reflected in the elegant and mineral charged wines. Maria Luz has had a long career in the wine trade, but when she wanted to plant in the then ignored San Antonio Valley, she was considered totally crazy! Thankfully, she remained determined and planted in Lo Abarca with their first harvest in 2003. Today, Chile is unrivalled in the number of its young female winemakers, but their path has been helped by Maria Luz who was the first female Chilean winemaker to really make her mark. She has been joined by her charming son Felipe as wine maker, whose training in California and experience in New Zealand, bring an added dimension to their wines. Their flagship Sauvignon Blanc Cipreses 2016 is one of the most elegant SBs around (it has won Best Sauvignon Blanc in the World from Decanter magazine), floral on the nose, and salty minerality on the palate, but it was the texture that impressed most – and with a PH of just over 3, this wine will age superbly, so do buy a few bottles to stash away for a few years. A serious SB that would work well with food!  I will confess to be a Riesling lover – so imagine the delight of tasting two vintages of their Riesling Miramar! The 2015 had a classic petrol nose but enlivened by lime and sherbet  whilst the 2009 with the extra 6 years of bottle age showed how right Felipe is in saying their Rieslings can age happily for at least 15 years. If you are unsure of Riesling, with memories of cheap over sweet wines, now is the time to give it another go – the residual sugar of 9 gms per litre give a great balance to the natural acidity – and one reason why it works so well with dishes with a classic asian influence but also well with seafood (seabass cerviche with a miso dressing would be heaven!).  If you have trouble finding the Miramar, then do look out for their other Riesling stocked in Marks & Spencers – you cannot miss the hippyesque label!

Sauvignon Gris is an almost forgotten variety that has found its home in Chile, and their Estero 2016 was a good example of this pink tinged grape, with grapefruit & herbs on the nose. The Pinot Noir Abarca Hills 2011 was glorious – green tomato leaves backed up with smokiness on the palate. But time for some lunch in their wine bar, where the great pairing was the seafood risotto along with the Vinedos Lo Abarca Sauvignon Blanc, Felipe’s own project – he only made 2700 bottles of this wine! One of his tasting notes for this wine is celery on the nose – which is a new one on me – but having tasted it, it is spot on! Dotted around the cellar and gardens are various beautiful mosaics designed by Maria Luz’s sister Patricia, everything from  the life size gentleman above through to a woman reclining on a bench – one more sign of the attention to detail at Casa Marin. UK Importer is Alliance Wine

After so much wine tasting, a day of R&R was called for, so a whole day to relax and let one's palate recuperate was planned at Vina Tarapaca. A "do as much or as little" policy was in place – some went off horse riding with their gaucho, whilst others attempted the wicked pitch & putt, cooled off in the pool or took a horse drawn carriage around the estate. For those missing their daily tannin hit, there was an (optional!) wine tasting with a difference. Hosted by the always smiling estate Manager, Claudia Diaz, she had prepared a blending session. Split into three teams, with ten different barrel samples to use, the aim was to create a Cabernet Sauvignon blend - up to 15% of Merlot or Syrah was permitted and there were Cab's sourced from various vineyards on the estate. Armed with pipettes, this could have been a recipe for confusion, but neither Claudia or I had taken into account the competitiveness of the teams! The resulting noise levels from intense discussions could be heard across the estate and were not suitable for those of a nervous disposition - but what a hoot! Both Claudia & I in tears of laughter as the teams surrounded their final blends with more security than Nato, but phrases such as “A smidgen more of that organic syrah will give the right elegance” through to “1% of this will make all the difference on the finish” floated on the air. Derek Smedley MW had the unenviable task of judging the final blends – all I can say, although the wine trade would have missed him madly, he should have been in the diplomatic service!

Lunch under the cork trees beckoned, so a glass of Sauvignon Sour to revive the palate after the blending. An invention of Tarapaca’s excellent in house Chef, Juan, it is a fabulous lighter (less alcoholic!) alternative to Pisco Sour – simply replace Pisco with Sauvignon Blanc in the recipe – delicious! Chile produces some of the best fruit & vegetable in the world, so a relaxed lunch of technicoloured salads was perfect with a full Chilean BBQ.  Sadly our last night at this small piece of Paradise in Chile, as we had to leave Tarapaca early the next morning for our adventure over the Andes to Argentina.


To read about the Argentina section of the tour, please do check out my blog.

For more information on Chilean Wine do visit the excellent Wines of Chile

For further tasting notes of these wines visit Derek Smedley MW’s excellent website -

All photographs taken by Cindy-Marie Harvey

Lea & Sandeman Italian Tasting

The start of the year are busy tasting months in the wine trade – it seems like there is one every day at times and some of them featuring so many wines that it can be quite overwhelming – especially for the palate! How perfect it was to attend the Italian Tasting of Lea & Sandeman in London recently. The location was the Getty Images Gallery, whose walls were filled with quirky photos.

Not only was it the excellent quality across the board of the wines, but the well-chosen small selection of producers that had been invited, gave them chance to really discuss their wines with visitors.

If you have not yet discovered Lea & Sandeman, they are one of London’s leading Independent Wine Merchants with four Branches in Chelsea, Kensington, Barnes and Chiswick – then you have a treat in store! Their advertising motto is “Most Original Wine Merchants” and that is certainly apt.

Lots of people getting into wine feel unsure about buying wine in an independent rather than simply picking it up anonymously from a supermarket. Reasons range from “Feeling embarrassed about not knowing enough” (if you know at least one wine you like – that will give their friendly staff somewhere to start suggesting other interesting wines in that style)  Or “It will be much more expensive” ( Not True. Lea & Sandeman had Five Wow Factor Wines Under £10 in Victoria Moore’s article in the Daily Telegraph in February 2017).

So if you want to explore excellent value wines, unusual grape varieties or treat yourself to one of their selection of Fine Wines – get yourself along to one of their branches to find a wealth of interesting wines!

The Italian Tasting kicked off with some sparkling from Corteaura, a producer in Franciacorta in Northern Italy, (think Milan and along the map a bit towards Lake Iseo!), whose Pas Dosé Brut (with no dosage) was exactly the thing to invigorate the palate. Their Saten Vintage 2010 with extra time in bottle gave a full smoothness combined with a lovely apply finish.

Skipping to the other side of Italy, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, the wines of biodynamically certified Az Ag Visintini were a delight. The Ribolla Gialla 2015 with its slight spritz, good freshness and green apples would be an ideal apero. The Friulano (local variety used to be called Tocai until the Hungarians got defensive and had that banned) was a good example of the variety with its slight bitter almond nose. It needs time in bottle to really express itself, drink too young and will seem a little flat – so good to taste the 2014 vintage which showed also the complexity due to lees contact.  The star of their wines was the Pinot Grigio 2015 – do not fall over in shock – I am not talking about the anodyne examples that flood the UK market, but real proper Pinot Grigio! It is “Ramato” so a gorgeous coppery pink tone that comes from the skins of the grape – and was bright and minerally in the mouth.

Continuing my geographical flit around Italy, the next wines were Luigi Maffini from Campania in the South. He hails from the beautiful unspoilt area of Cilento, and his cellars are not far from the ruins of the ancient Greek City of Paestum. I’ve followed his wines almost since their first vintage, and it has been great to see them develop into really exciting wines from local varieties of Fiano for the whites and Aglianico for the reds. The two Fiano’s appear almost to be different grape varieties, they were so different in the glass – the 2016 Kratos still so young was delicate pear drops and flowers, whereas the 2014 Pietracatenata was creamy, honeyed, rich, slightly spicy – a wonderfully balanced wine and would pair excellently with tuna tartare that I enjoyed last time I stayed in the Cilento (which incidentally is where Ancel Keys, who “discovered” the Mediterranean Diet based his research).

In the South of Tuscany is the region of the Maremma, and home to the relatively young estate of Fattoria di Magliano.  Their Vermentino 2016 was all fresh, salty minerality and calling out for a plate of linguine with clams, the Illario Rosé made from 100% Sangiovese grapes was attractive strawberries & cream – showing well despite only having just been bottled.  Their Morellino di Scansano called Heba (the ancient name for Scansano) almost 100% Sangiovese except for a pinch of 2% Syrah. Sangiovese in the Maremma tends to be more brambly and black than Sangiovese found further North in Tuscany, and this was no exception but had lovely easy drinking fruit possibly reflecting its winemaking in cement vats.

One Italian wine that still sadly divides a room when mentioned, is Lambrusco so I was very pleased to taste the wines of Monte delle Vigne. Their vineyards are near the beautiful city of Parma and their Lambrusco Classico was fabulous deep purple in colour and alive with blackberry fruit. Their Cru Lambrusco I Calanchi was a step up in seriousness and with lower residual sugar, is a wine to match perfectly with the many pork dishes and products of Emilia Romagna – The Classico would be heaven with a platter of Culatello and Salami whilst the Calanchi would match perfectly with pork belly slow roasted with fennel. Time for real Lambrusco to really have its overdue renaissance in the UK! Their Rosso 2015 of 70% Barbera and 30% Bonarda grapes won Italy’s revered top wine award, Tre Bicchiere and compared well with the Nabucco 2011 70% Barbera and 30% Merlot, lovely dark fruit, ripe slightly raisin-ness that would hook up quite happily with a spicy Lebanese lamb flatbread! To finish, their Callas 2012 from 100% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, a lovely fragrant white only made in best years. The grapes are harvested later than usual (but not “Late Harvest”) giving a floral richness and depth which would go wonderfully with a plate of sweet yet salty Parma ham!

Geographically heading to Tuscany to one of my favourite small Tuscan producers, Il Poggerino which was hosted by the ever smiling and dapper winemaker Piero Lanza. Having tasted their wines which come from just outside Radda in Chianti in the heart of Chianti Classico, for several years it was great meet up with Piero in London. Poggerino was one of the first places that I encountered concrete eggs in Europe and Piero was fascinating on why he is focusing more on cement for his wines, as well as no small barriques but only large oak barrels. Il Labirinto 2015 was everything a Chianti Classico should be (in all but name!) – bright lively fruit and great purity. The Chianti Classico 2014 with its aging in large barrels still had a nice streak of acidity balancing the ripe plums and cherries.  Piero has chosen a play on words for the “Nuovo” Chianti Classico 2014 – (uovo means egg and nuovo means new) – and this wine is aged 100% in the concrete egg vats, which keeps the wine in continual natural movement. It gives the wine a clarity and real sense of terroir unencumbered by oak. Although they follow biodynamic practises in the vineyard, they are not certified (simply down to all the paperwork involved!). His Riserva Chianti Classico Bugialla 2013 was excellent, drinking well now but with about another 4 years to reach its peak and then 15 years on its drinking plateau after that – still cherries and plums but backed up by leather and cedar smoky notes.

Tuscany is such a large region speaking from a wine point of view – so after Chianti Classico something very different from Bolgheri, the coastal strip of Tuscany so famed for its Super Tuscans such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia. But what heaven to taste again the wines of Le Macchiole, to show that the region is not all about Bordeaux style blends. Their Rosso 2014 was a powerful blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, but the wine that really impressed was their Paleo Rosso. A 100% Cabernet Franc  with beautiful ripe fruit on the nose and a totally integrated, well balanced wine in the mouth – really outstanding, and as I found out  last year in Tuscany,  it goes very well with a simply grilled Florentine T bone steak! Comes with an not inconsiderable price tag, but I think well worth it – if you have a Bordeaux lover in your social circle and want to impress them with something different, this should tick all the boxes.  The Messorio 2009 which is 100% Merlot showed how well this grape variety can perform with no hint of flabbiness, but the other wine that really made me smile was Scrio 2009. A micro production of Syrah it showed great elegance, slight hint of eucalyptus and dark chocolate.


Staying in Tuscany, for the distinctly different third wine region in a row, Montalcino, from where there were two producers. Fuligni whose Rosso di Montalcino 2014 had bright red fruit and would be the perfect wine with meat based pasta al forno.  Whilst their Riserva Brunello from the much admired 2007 vintage was a great example of the classification, for me their star wine was the 2012 Brunello di Montalcino, which has bags of ripe fruit yet elegant and superbly balanced tannins. One to look out for. The second Montalcino producer Collemattoni showed a delightful 2011 Brunello with great balance, quite ethereal for a Brunello and ready for drinking now. I will be interested to taste the 2012 which should have more richness and sweeter fruit, with greater aging potential. Their Riserva Brunello Vigna Fontelontano 2010 was a bit of a beast in comparison but will be lovely with time in bottle. There is still a tannic dominance and it really needs food such as Peposa, a Tuscan Beef & pepper stew.

To finish, I was very pleased to return to my spiritual Italian Home, Piemonte – where I lived for five years. Sottimano are a producer that I have revisted several times and always been impressed with the quality across the board. After a delicious Dolcetto D’Alba with enough acidity to brighten the taste buds after all the previous tannins, the Langhe Nebbiolo 2013 was spectacular – a Barbaresco in all but name, it has enticing floral notes, a touch of garrigue and fine long finish – an absolute steal at the price under £20!  If only there had been a plate of tajarin pasta and white truffles to hand, my perfect day would have been complete!  What followed next was a mini Masterclass in the Barbaresco Cru’s of Sottimano – all of the 2011 vintage. Fausoni from 40 – 45 year old vines had good minerality with good red fruit and a hint of coffee, from its slightly sandy soils whilst Pajoré was the most intriguing Cru, slightly spicy tobacco and leather. Cotta managed to combine full bodied with elegance, slight hint of violets and a velvety finish. Curra had dense but ripe tannins, showing lovely salty almost liquorice flavours combine with spice and black fruits but still needs time, more so than the other Cru’s.

It makes such a difference having the actual producers there to chat to in depth about their wines – but obviously not all their Italian suppliers could be involved and so there was also a Self pour tasting table, where there was one complete gem hiding away amongst the whites - Lugana Felugan Feliciana. Sadly I’ve been more disappointed than impressed with many bland Luganas, but this one sang from the glass – it was creamy, white flowers on the nose and full bodied in the mouth – just the thing for a relaxed lunch of simply grilled fish on the shores of Lake Garda!

An excellent tasting from Lea & Sandeman showing the great diversity of Italian Wines.



Lazio Cookery with Palazzo Tronconi

Despite having a wonderful job that allows me to travel frequently to some of the most spectacular vineyard locations around the world, such as admiring Pinot Bianco vines against a dramatic backdrop of the Dolomites or maybe tasting outside a cellar on an isolated promontory in Campania with views across the bay to Capri, I am still an enthusiastic armchair traveller – especially if it’s about a foodie destination! Travel Guidebooks jostle for space with Recipe Books on my overcrowded bookshelves and so what nicer on a mizzling grey March morning, than to be invited to a recreation of a little gourmet part of Lazio in the heart of the Surrey countryside – without having to take a plane to Rome!

The kind invitation to the cookery class was courtesy of Bookings For You , who represent some gorgeous holiday rental properties throughout Italy, France and Croatia and one of their partners is Palazzo Tronconi, who came to the UK this week to introduce themselves.

Palazzo Tronconi is hidden away in a small unspoilt medieval village, Arce in Lazio about halfway between Rome & Naples. Owned by the very enthusiastic Marco Marrocco, he was joined on this gourmet experience by Leonardo Grimaldi, Head Chef who runs cookery courses at the Palazzo and Giuseppe Marcuccilli, Master Baker.

Marco is also the winemaker and very passionate about the natural aspect of winemaking. His vines are all cultivated not only organically but also bio-dynamically following the principles of Rudolph Steiner, but as Marco pointed out, far too many people are sceptical of biodynamics – so he prefers to let his wines be tasted first, stand on their own merits – and only afterwards tell the consumers about biodynamics! I’m a great believer in biodynamic wine but was slightly concerned when I saw all the references to natural wine, and feared that I might be presented with ghastly orange wines ( a wine fad I hope fades soon)! Thankfully, Marco shares my lack of enthusiasm for this fashionable style of wine, and instead makes his wines naturally and as I discovered later, wines that paired so well with the food.

Head Chef Leonardo decided to demonstrate five different dishes to showcase not only some great local products from their region, but also his own philosophy that less is more when you have great products, keep it light and uncomplicated.  Wishing to truly recreate his food, they travelled to Rome Airport with five suitcases stuffed with homemade jam, carefully wrapped eggs, olive oil and even bringing their own pasta pan!! As this was in a Fiat Panda, it puts an Italian slant on the old joke “How Many Chefs can you fit in a Mini!!!. It was impressive how much of the produce local to their region were DOP certified (the peppers, eggs, garlic, even the potatoes!). A shame that endless paperwork & bureaucracy seems to have delayed so many of our own traditional British foods from gaining this seal of authenticity and protection.

To welcome us, tantalising aromas of freshly baked bread courtesy of their Master Baker Giuseppe wafted through the kitchen and which to kick start the taste buds, was drizzled generously with Palazzo Tronconi’s olive oil – rather delicious with a fresh green herbal character, reflecting that the olive groves are also cultivated following biodynamic principles.

The antipasto was a modern take on an Italian classic, baccala mantecato, dried salted cod cream, which was a staple in the past for villages in the hinterland, miles from the coast and fresh fish. Having been soaked for several days to remove the salt, Leonardo kept the mashed potato and flaked cod apart and layered it in a “cheffy” tier, unlike the usual blend of the two. But the real genius was the dusting of their local pepper from Pontecorvo, which gave an elegant kick to the finished dish.

Two of the grape varieties planted at Palazzo Tronconi are only found in a 50 km radius, so truly indigenous and the others are also not well known. The vineyards were planted in 2011, and 2016 is their fourth harvest. To start,  we opened a bottle of their Fregellae, a white blend of Maturano, Pampanaro and Capolongo. I’ve only ever encountered the red version of Maturano last year in Rioja at Contino, Pampanaro in a fairly rare Castel del Monte wine in Puglia and Capolongo was a new one on me! Fregellae is named after a powerful Roman Colony that was based near their village of Arce. A glorious rich golden hue thanks to 30 hours of skin contact and one third of the wine being aged in acacia oak barrels, the wine has a wonderful food friendly sapidity plus good minerality.  In line with the natural wine ethos, he does not use selected yeasts but carries out wild yeast spontaneous fermentation.  Marco served his white wine noticeably warmer than is the norm (he suggests serving at 12 degrees) as colder temperatures bring the tannins to the fore, which can cause a bitter taste. A complex wine with attitude and character, which needs food and was the perfect foil for the salt cod.


Sophia Loren once famously said of her appearance “Everything you see, I owe to Spaghetti” and true enough pasta is the lifeblood of Italians. Marco was horrified that Chef Leonardo was only cooking 80 grams a person – far too little for an Italian! But Chef had two pasta dishes to show us – a classic Carbonara sauce and then a modern Deconstructed Carbonara. Like lots of people, I have had the unfortunate experience of variations of Carbonara (not all pleasant!), with the addition of cream and even once in Manchester with Mushrooms as well! Now, everyone to their own style of pasta sauce, but please just don’t call it Carbonara if it has cream in it! Using wonderful dried Rigatoni pasta from Otranto in Puglia (a beautiful coastal town to visit if you ever in the region!), made in the traditional way. When buying dried pasta, look out for Pasta Sbronzo on the label, which means the moulds used to shape the pasta are made of bronze and as with this producer, Benedetto Cavalieri, the process they use eliminates the mechanical destruction of the gluten, which is why this style of pasta tastes so much better than the industrially produced quality and also the slightly rough surface of the rigatoni means that the sauce clings to the pasta so much better! With so few ingredients in the sauce, they all have to be of excellent quality, hence why Chef carried over 20 eggs lovingly packaged in his airline luggage!  They are Aconaetana, which is a style of wild hen, truly free range and given to laying eggs in hard to reach places such as up trees! Named after the town of Ancona, with white shells – the best substitute would be free range duck or goose eggs.  Combined with the Guanciale and very generous amounts of Pecorino Romano and some Parmesan, it was totally sublime!

The deconstructed version, with the ingredients layered in individual serving bowls – the fried guanciale which was then dehydrated into crumbs, the eggs & cheese whisked until a zabaglione style mousse – very tasty but I’ll stay in the traditional camp!

Main course was a little later than planned as there was so much discussion going on and interrogation of the Chefs over use of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and I was chatting to Giuseppe who as Master Baker and being trained in my spiritual Italian home of Turin, had some great ideas for grissini – including one made with Vincotto (thick syrupy grape must) – which will be on the menu these weekend at my place!

As we prepared for the main course, there was an unexpected visitor in the garden, a sparrow hawk chasing his prey into the conservatory window – an unusual but effective method of killing his lunchtime pigeon. In line with true sustainability, the Chefs were heard discussing if it was time to change the main course to pigeon!

The local pig is the Caserta Black Pig, similar to those in Spain who yield such delicious Pata Negra. The pigs take twice as long to grow and mature as the more widely raised white pigs, and this difference in the flavour and texture was clear on tasting the main course of black pig stew which had been cooked for over two hours in Marcos own red wine, Zitore. Named after a pet name for Uncle Salvatore, this lively red is made from the Lecinaro grape variety, which means plums in the local dialect due to the large berry size of the clusters. It’s not a well-known variety (even the exhaustive Wine Grapes Book by Jancis Robinson which features 1368 different grape varieties did not have it listed!). Usually this variety gives paler red wines, more leaning towards Pinot Noir in colour, but the climate conditions of the 2015 vintage gave this wine a much deeper black cherry shade. On the nose, red fruits, slightly peppery followed up by a delicious chewiness, plums with a touch of vanilla and the perfect combination for the black pork stew, for which the official tasting terminology seemed to be “lots of yummy noises!”.

To finish off this gastronomic insight into the food & wine of the region once known as Ciociaria, Chef brought with him some of their homemade strawberry jam from the Kitchen Garden at Palazzo Tronconi. Firm pears were cored, filled with the jam and then poached in their red wine Mocevo. The natural fruit sugars from the resulting wine syrup was lightened by a judicious grating of organic lemon zest (their own of course!).

The passion and natural hospitality of the Palazzo Tronconi team shone through, including their humour and their pride in their region’s food & wine. Sartorially speaking, there was an amusing contrast between the professional chef’s whites of Leonardo & Giuseppe with the more relaxed winemaker style - the rather un-Italian footwear choice of Marco – flip flops & socks! But what a  wonderful day to celebrate the produce of this little known region. Just one note to self, remember never discuss Italian Football with a Chef who has a knife in hand!!

The 18th Century Palazzo Tronconi has just five guest rooms in its agriturismo. In May, they are opening a restaurant at the property, headed up by Leonardo. If you like exploring places off the beaten track, this might just be for you with the Abbey of Montecassino, Roccasecca Castle and Casamari Abbey just a short drive away. Also there are good foodie days out such as a rather early start for a visit to a buffalo mozzarella producer.  So next time I am in Rome, I’ll be checking out the property and naturally to try the Marcos wines in situ and paired with yet more delicious dishes from Leonardo & Giuseppe!


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Dry January – No Thanks!

Like so many people, for the last 18 years, I’ve subscribed to the concept of no wine or any other alcoholic drinks during the first month of the year. This somewhat misguided and often boring theory springs from that Calvinistic ethos of the dreaded “New Year’s Resolution”. But this year, I’ve decided on a new approach – let me introduce you to DLDBDI. This not so snappy acronym stands for:

Drink Less

Drink Better

Drink Interesting

Whilst none of us deny that having a few alcohol free days a week is good for our health – a month of abstinence has no real virtue if come 1st February, the top comes off (and stays off!)  the Silent Pool Gin and there is a sudden drought of Fever Tree tonic in your local Waitrose!

As every February, I will be visiting the vineyards of Chile & Argentina for a couple of weeks, a spell of healthiness beforehand is no bad idea – but this year, I’m changing January to make it more balanced!

“Dry” January of course comes with certain caveats. It’s a month with lots of trade wine tastings – and as that is technically work, it does not truly count.  Certainly it will be mostly spitting with hundreds of wines on display at each tasting – but there are always the absolute stars of the tasting which is would be sacrilegious to spit out!  Also, there are the two “Joker Cards” to play during the month . Experience has shown that these can save one’s sanity during this tough month – I had to attend a Christening once during a Dry month – following a rather odd  Happy-Clappy Church Service,  a glass of Fino would have been most welcome – and a chilled glass of Lime & Soda did not cut the mustard!  Don’t get me wrong - the people at the church were lovely and welcoming but song sheets that appeared as in a pantomime and getting members of the congregation to hold up pictures of sheep was a little bemusing!  Plus of course, there is 25th January for Burns Night – tantalising close to the end of the month – until you remember there are 31 days in January! And how is one supposed to toast the Haggis without a glass of Laphroaig to hand!

So, I’m paying more attention to what I drink in January and making a concerted effort to make it more interesting.  Drink Better is a relative concept – we all have different price levels of what we consider acceptable to pay for an everyday mid week bottle of wine, so you might just prefer to drink less wine this month but spend the same amount on fewer bottles and upgrade your choice. Given the base percentage of what makes up the retail price of a bottle of wine  - the duty, tax, bottle, cork or screw cap, distribution etc all are roughly the same on a bottle of wine that costs £4.99 as one that costs £9.99,  before you even take into account the cost of the actual wine. So it makes sense to spend that bit extra and you get more actual wine for your money!

But Drink Interesting is even more key to the idea behind DLDBDI . In the UK, we are so fortunate with wines from around the world so easily available. So why not put aside your default grape variety or wine country – and look out for wines from countries that you do not normally consider. Why not try Morocco, Slovenia or Moldova? But also in the classic countries, look out for different grape varieties, try Lagrein from Sud Tyrol, Encruzado from Portugal or Nero D’Avola from Puglia.

Or perhaps try out a new style of wine. January is the perfect month with its depressing grey drizzly days to (re)- discover the delights of Sherry and Madeira. Not wines on everyone’s radar, which is such a shame as they are great value for the time devoted to producing them.  There is a sherry for every occasion from bone dry Fino through to delicious sticky PX (perfect simple dessert when poured over Vanilla ice cream!) and who could fail to enjoy a warming glass of Madeira after a hard day in front of a computer  – perhaps a Bual with all its notes of marmalade and hazelnuts with a handful of almonds to hand (well they are a so called superfood!).

Or simply, change your wine buying habits! So often wine simply becomes just another thing on the shopping list at the supermarket (not always a bad thing – M&S currently have some very interesting wines) – but there is a plethora of Independent Wine Merchants in the UK who stock wines from lesser known regions, smaller producers and have the staff to make your choice an informed one – and often will have something open to taste as well! So search out your local Indie Wine Merchant and be daring in your choices – Drink Interesting! I’ll be posting some ideas for you on twitter throughout the month - And when you find something that really tickles your taste buds, do share it with me on twitter under the hashtag #DLDBDI

Dry January – No Thanks! Drink Less – Drink Better – Drink Interesting!

Wines Of Chile

If someone mentions Chile – what image does this evoke for you? Rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean, icy glaciers in deepest Patagonia, Lakes & Volcanoes, the Atacama Desert or the enigmatic statues of Easter Island? Whichever, it’s a safe bet that the picture that leaps to mind was not a swelteringly hot room in achingly trendy and hipster Shoreditch in London! But this week saw the brilliant Wines of Chile tasting with over 400 wines available to try in that very spot!

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited the vineyards of Chile every year for almost the past twenty years, and more than any other wine region of the world, it has been fascinating to follow its startlingly quick changes. Not only from North with vineyards in the Atacama Desert to the cool climate South of Malleco, but also the re- evaluation of already planted areas from the coastal regions to the Andes foothills.  Each time that I visit, there seems to be a new region that has been added to the Chilean Wine Map and that makes the Chilean wine scene very exciting.

The hottest day of September for 50 years is not the ideal atmosphere for wine tasting – the refreshing Pisco Sours (a typical Chilean aperitive) were beckoning – but whilst great for the soul and relaxation, they not ideal for the palate – so onwards to the 52 winery stands.

There was no way that each stand could be visited before I melted, so I skipped (with regret)  several of the wine estates that I know  well such as Carmen, Santa Rita, Luis Felipe Edwards.  Below is just a selection of the wines I tasted.

Errazuriz, one of the oldest of Chile’s wine estates founded in 1870, were showing an excellent range showing how their wines have developed with the sub division of Aconcagua and Aconcagua Costal. These are always textbook wines – and a great producer for those who want to start to learn more about Chilean wines – especially as they are widely available in the UK.  As always the Costal Sauvignon Blanc showed well,   but no surprise that the Don Max Founders Reserve with its Cab, Malbec, Carmenere, Petit Verdot remains one of their signature wines. But more interesting, was to taste the wines of Vina Arboleda, the personal estate of Eduardo Chadwick (owner of Errazuriz). Started in 1999, the estate concentrates not only on their wines but also on maintaining the bio diversity of the Aconcagua Valley, protecting flora & fauna.  Their coastal Chardonnay was a good balance of acidity as well as good oak management giving just enough vanilla to marry the minerality.  Their Syrah also showed well with good freshness and lovely dark fruits.

The Limari Valley is to the north of Santiago, and Vina Tabali is located in the delightfully named Enchanted  Valley, and their labels taken from the images of the original indigenous Molle & Diaguita people. Under the eye of Head Winemaker Felipe Muller, they produce a great range of very mineral, elegant style of wine including their delightful Talinay Pinot Noir, with good savoury character balanced with red fruits, which benefits from the limestone soils and morning mists coming in from the Pacific.

Montes Wines is a personal favourite of mine – having seen the company develop from the early days of Discover Wine based in Curico, to one of the most dynamic and innovative wine producers in the world. Their Montes Alpha range is quite outstanding value for each of the six different varietals – although the great wine making is always there at every level, with the small pinch of a 2nd variety – 10% Merlot in the Alpha Cab, 5% Cab in the Alpha Malbec – which is added to round out the main variety found on the label – which makes for very appealing wines.  The spicy Alpha Malbec is a great blend of fruit from their vineyards in Marchigüe and Apalta, both sub areas of the Colchagua Valley. Another project is Outer Limits, where the wines are made from extreme vineyards – either very close to the sea, planted at 45 degrees slope (mountain goats required for picking!) or from old vines such as their old vine Cinsault planted in the Southern Itata region on unirrigated land. Their Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc from the Zapalla vineyards just 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean, a is a revelation on the nose, recalling the first explosive Kiwi SB’s of 20 years ago, before so much mediocre Kiwi SB flooded the market (Don’t shout in dismay, there  are  of course  some stellar NZ Sauv Blancs out there but just many forgettable ones as well). But my last wine of the tasting was a treat to myself – no spitting allowed for one of  their Icon wines - Montes Purple Angel  - mainly Carmenere with a pinch of Petit Verdot – at 2013 it is tasting stunningly now with black fruit, spice and lushness but will happily develop for years still to come.  Pure heaven in a glass.

Vina Ventisquero is a name that has been on my radar but never had opportunity to visit – so this was a great opportunity to taste their wines. One of the key features was the knowledge and passion of the stand’s host, Janina Doyle – whose energy in explaining their wines seemed endless. Just what was needed as my palate was fading by the time I reached their stand. Two wines revived me quite quickly – one decidedly unique (with no hint at hyperbole at use of that word) white wine is Tara –a Chardonnay from the Atacama Desert. Grown on rootstock chosen to combat the high level of salinity of the vineyards, this is a very particular wine and not to everyone’s taste starting with its cloudiness along with a saltiness on the palate that I can see would marry well with Chilean Sea Bass Ceviche – quite individual. In the red corner was Pangea, Syrah from the Colchagua Valley but with a twist in that their winemaker, Felipe Tosso has been joined by John Duval to work together on this project. Sound familiar? He should as John Duval was winemaker at Penfolds for almost 30 years – and has bought all his Syrah experience from working on that Iconic wine, Grange to Chile. Pangea was wonderful with notes of garrigue and lavender followed up with wonderful spice.

Marchigüe is a sub region of the Colchagua region off to the West and is a great source of premium fruit – so I was interested to taste at the Vinedos Marchigüe stand. Owned by the Errazuriz Ovalle family, they have substantial vineyard holdings (some in Curico as well).  They have traditionally sold a lot of wine for the own label market, so their name is not that well known (yet). So it was good to taste their Reserve wine – retailing between £10 - £15, their Sauvignon Blanc was zingy and refreshing, the Carmenere was well balanced – an un-showy and restrained example of this key Chilean grape variety. But like so many other stands at the tasting, it was their Syrah that really shone – lovely minty almost eucalyptus notes, with good acidity and spicy finish. Good value for that price point.

Valdivieso have vineyards in all almost all the key locations  and this is reflected in the range of wines that they produce under the aegis of their head winemaker Brett Jackson, originally from New Zealand, he is almost native now having worked in Chile since 1994. Whilst they are very well known for their sparkling wines - well they have been making them since 1879! – their single vineyard range are textbook varietals. Interesting to taste the Eclat Vigno from Maule – old vines Carignan & Mouvedre and made in a style that brings to mind old world rather than new.   They also produce one of the most enigmatic wines of Chile – Caballo Loco. Although there is now a Caballo Loco range which selects the best of their grapes from each region – their Syrah from Limari was particularly impressive – but the original Caballo Loco (“Crazy Horse” named after the original winemaker) is rare for red wine in that it has no vintage, grape variety or region declared on the label. This is because very unusually the wine is produced in a system similar to the solera used for sherry – they cross blend about 50% of each harvest,  so that there is a continuation  from edition to edition. Currently on the Number 16 version, its complexity and generosity in the mouth shows how well Chile does world class wines.

Vina Chocalán are based in the Maipo valley, a family owned cellar whose wines were  quite seductive. Their Pinot Noirs from San Antonio showed freshness and good fruit but with concentration as well. The Cabernet Franc was delightful and surprisingly rich and floral with no unripe greenness that sometimes crops up with this variety but the Carmenere Gran Reserva was  sublime. With 85% of Carmenere is blended 8% Cab Sauv, 5% Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, all of which resulted in a very classy wine, with great texture, spice and plums but with an underlying smoothness almost chocolatey –ness  (not sure that  is even a word …..)

Garces Silva Family Vineyards are based in Leyda  and were showing both their simpler range of wines under the Boya label as well as Amayna.  The Boya Pinot Noir was simple with good fruit – uncomplicated and perfect for the weather – one could see why it deservedly won the Decanter award for best Chilean Pinot Noir under £15 earlier this year! But their superior label, Amayna were more interesting – the barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc would be a wine to divide the crowd with the amount of oak showing on the nose but had a much more appealing palate – needs food.  Their Amayna Pinot Noir 2013 was elegantly attractive with a good minerality, slight hint of mint alongside cherries and good length.

Sadly I missed tasting Vina Tamaya whose wines from the Limari valley are stunning (as well as the location which is so beautiful)  -   also Odfjell from Maipo – but thankfully only a few months until my next foray to Chile in the New Year – so I look forward to tasting them in situ.

As well as the trade tasting, the event also is open to consumers and general  wine lovers in the evening – when the party really starts – with Chilean dancers, Pisco Bar and Chilean food on hand as well as those 400 wines to explore – it’s a great way to experience a little bit of Chile here in London! Keep an eye out for next year’s dates on

A great overview of how much Chilean wines has to offer from easy quaffing Sauvignon Blanc perfect for a Tuesday evening, through some impressive and very good value Syrah and of course their Icon wines which would benefit with time in the bottle – so  buy some of these wines such as Purple Angel,  Folly or Caballo Loco, stash a few bottles away in your cellar and be prepared to reap the rewards of treating these top wines with the same respect as more traditional Old World wines. Chile has something at every retail price so get exploring!

For more information on the wines of Chile – do visit -

The Sunday Times Wine Club Vintage Festival

A glorious sunny but freezing Saturday morning in April – what better way to give the day a lift by going along to a wine tasting that started with a snifter of Rosé from English star producers Ridgeview – swiftly followed by a glass of Krug and as a comparison another taster of Dom Perignon!

Being in the wine trade for over 20 years, there are so many trade tastings that I love to attend – serious tastings usually with a specific professional aim – but there is one Consumer Tasting aimed totally at Wine Drinkers rather than those in the trade, that I make time for each year.

Tony Laithwaite started his own wine importing business 50 years ago and founded in 1973, with the eminent Hugh Johnson as President, The Sunday Times Wine Club. Laithwaites  has done much over the years to help lessen the more formal stays of the wine trade and open it up to wine lovers keen to learn but often intimidated by the mystique or formality of wine.

Today Laithwaites in all its guises including the Sunday Times Wine Club is the largest Direct Sale wine merchant in the world – which makes it all the more remarkable the loyalty they maintain with their customers.

If for you, Laithwaites means mid-range easy drinking wines, quaffable but not that interesting - it’s time for a revisit. The huge range of wines is a vinous cornucopia of delights including small family run wine estates, many of whom have worked with the Laithwaites family & team for over 20 plus years.

Sunday Times Wine Festival

The annual Vintage Festival is now housed at the brilliantly located venue of Old Billingsgate with perfect view over to Tower Bridge and the Shard looming on the opposite bank.

There were 332 wines on show (plus a few beers and ciders sneaking under the radar) – no voucher system restricting what you can taste, just 87 different stands manned by Winemakers from all over the globe wanting to share their wines with you! In only 3.5 hours that’s quite a gallop around the wine world in one place!

Think of your favourite grape variety or your favourite region and you’ll probably find it somewhere in the hall. As well as great to see customers heading to their long time favourites, there was also opportunity to experiment – Feteasca from Romania or Cabernet from Moldova anyone?

First stand to welcome visitors strongly flew the flag for English Sparkling wines. Including the Wyfold Vineyard from the Thames Valley owned by Tony’s wife Barbara – which won the Battle of the Bubbles recently in a NZ vs UK sparklers to celebrate the Cricket in NZ!

Tony has owned a vineyard near St Emilion for many years and today in Castillon also has a beautiful cellar on the banks of the Dordogne River, where their in house wine making team produce a great range of wines.

Each stand is grouped into country zones within the venue – so into France, you could call into the welcoming Bougrier for some crisp Loire Classics or continue to taste attractive Beaujolais Cru, elegant Chassagne Montrachet, spicy reds from the Rhone and seductive wines from “the Lafite of the Languedoc” Mas de Daumas Gassac.

One my favourite wine estates appeared in the Hungary area – Royal Tokai, not only showing the fabulous intense unctuous Blue Label 5 Puttonyos but also showing their two Dry wines from Furmint and gloriously perfumed Yellow Muscat respectively.

Italy was strongly represented from estates reaching from Piemonte in the North through to Sicily in the South. The Poggio al Lago Ripasso showing why this style is so food friendly being perfectly balanced between a light Vapolicella and an intense Amarone (and Ripasso pairs perfectly with lamb and on trend ingredient beetroot!) . The ever smiling couple of Paolo & Anarita Masi were showing a strawberry scented Tuscan Rosé perfect for summer as well as their always very approachable Chianti Reserva.

Iberia is something that Laithwaites do very well – and their range of Portuguese wines are a source of fabulous value whites & reds. From a 17th century estate in the middle of Portugal, comes Lobo & Falcão with a white from mostly indigenous Portuguese varieties with a touch of Moscato, resulting in a refreshing peachy white. Its opposite pair in the red camp at under £9 a bottle punching above its price tag with spice and depth – a great crowd pleaser if you can bear to share.

I was impressed to visit Barbeito from Madeira – the wines of this small Portuguese Island in the Atlantic Ocean are sadly fast disappearing as fortified wines fell out of favour.  If you do one thing this weekend, please do go and buy one bottle of Madeira – it’s an incredible wine to sip & savour slowly, all it needs is good company, though the Dry versions also work with a host of foods such as roasted mushroom paté. Their Sercial 10 Year Old is wonderfully vibrant, dry and packed with dried fruit nuances.

Laithwaites have so many Spanish wines in their range, that Spain has its own sub zone of the hall – great news for Tempranillo fans! Baron de Barbon Reserva 2010 was a lovely expression of Rioja and their delicious Gran Reserva 2005 crying out for a plate of griddle lamb chops! Familia Martinez Bujanda were showing a great range as benefitting one of the best producers in Rioja  - including their single estate Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2009 – drinking well now but still has time to age very gracefully.

A host of Chilean estates were showing everything from a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Viña Falernia on the edge of the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth, through to a smooth Merlot from Viña Tarapacá.

It’s always a pleasure to taste at the New Zealand stands, especially at one of my all-time favourite producers, Hunters Wines. Their range of wines is stunning – but for me their Gewurztraminer with complexity, roses & lychees flavours is delicious – I showed this wine at a Charity tasting fund raising for the RNLI recently, it pairs beautifully with salty blue cheese. Good also to find something new at Insight Wines, whose dry Riesling with a little bottle age of the 2012 vintage showed how well this grape variety is suited to New Zealand.

There are so many delicious wines on the main floor for everyone to taste, that it might seem strange to also sell tickets to The Fine Wine Room, but it’s a fabulous part of the Festival if you want to get a bit more serious about your wines.  It also shows the excellence of world class wines that Laithwaites stock, which surprises some who may see them as a source of great easy drinking mid-range wines.

First stand in had Krug Grande Cuvée & Dom Perignon 2006 (as President Hugh Johnson said, “Not often you seem them on the same table”) – and for lovers of Classy Champagne. Louis Roederer Cristal 2007 was beckoning a few stands along.

Heading to Chablis, there was the great opportunity to taste Five Grand Cru’s from Domaine Servin.  For me the Les Preuses 2014 was glorious if still young – and tasting the Blanchot 2012 showed how well these wines develop in bottle. And for Chablis, ridiculously good value.

Staying in Burgundy, Drouhin were showing their minerally Puligny Montrachet and a rather lovely Red Beaune 1er Cru Champimonts, full of raspberry leaves (not literally!)

Moving across to the Rhône, the Ferraton family were showing their spicy reds including a glorious Ermitage Les Dionnières 2011. Not being in a Bordeaux frame of mind (it happens occasionally!), I skipped the three Bordeaux Fine Wine stands, but eagerly tasted at Weingut Leitz from the Rheingau in Germany. Superb wines across the range, but they were showing their amusingly named, award winning  Eins, Zwei, Dry Riesling 2015 in Magnum. It has appealing apple & lime notes and energy in the glass – it’s an impressive sight poured from Magnum (traditional German long slim style bottle), perfect for a party and would pair brilliantly with griddled seasonal asparagus.

One of the great aspects about all wine tastings is the opportunity to catch up with old friends and none more so than seeing the charming and always full of energy, Maria Jose of Lopez de Heredia from Rioja.  Brilliant to taste their Bosconia 2004  & Tondonia 2003 side by side, with the Tondonia showing richness but none of the excessive heat of the vintage. A friend tasting with me was bowled over by their Crianza – which at under £14 for wine of this quality is v good.  In the superb words of Tony Laithwaite “Wine is an emotional thing so wines made by your friends taste better than anything else.”

A mixture of Italian wines were grouped on one stand – including the superb Barolo Bussia 2011 from Aldo Conterno in Piemonte, where the glorious ethereal quality of their style shone through – still young but I wish there had been a plate of white truffles with pasta to hand!   One of the most talked about wines in the Fine Wine room was La Poja 2010 from Allegrini in the Veneto, Italy. A single varietal wine from Corvina (one of the main varieties of Valpolicella & Amarone), it was supple, fresh and linear – delicious.

Tuscany appeared in the guise of Grattamacco from Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast, whose Vermentino was beautifully refreshing and their Cabernet dominant Bolgheri Superiore was pleasing all those who like Bordelais blends with a twist.

Not usually a huge fan of wines from the Barossa, but I was impressed with the Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2007 – there was power but thanks to balanced wine making and age in bottle, there was lovely mint & spice but still great freshness.

Trapiche from Argentina showed four Malbec’s showing the elegance from the high altitude of the Uco Valley from vineyards at 1200 meters above sea level for the Coletto Single Vineyard 2011.  But the wine that really sang was their Imperfecto 2011 – Never has a wine been so wrongly named as this was Perfection in a glass –principally Malbec with a whisper of Cabernet Franc, it showed complexity, minerality, freshness and deep dark fruit – a delight!

Wine is all about enjoyment not money, so I am not sure I should write the next sentence, but just to show what a great consumer tasting this is: The Fine Wine Room alone had 62 wines on show and if you bought a bottle of each of them it would have cost you £2357.39! So a great way for consumers to take their wine experience to the next level without costly mistakes of having to splash out without knowing anything about the wine first.

To keep the hunger pangs at bay, many of the stands on the main floor had bought regional nibbles with them to pair with their wines – but there are also a handful of foodies stands including Cheese from Paxton & Whitfield, Gressingham Duck and Iberico Ham. The fabulous Gorvett & Stone were selling their delicious handmade chocolates – the perfect thing to take home for energy levels later! (they do mail order – and the Fresh Mint Truffles are spectacular!)

After a hard 3.5 hours tasting – what better wine to finish off with than 20 year Old White Port from Andresen – Aged white port is so rare, and this example is heaven in a glass full of spice, marmalade & dried apricots – just the thing to revive!

My apologies to all the producers not mentioned – as could not fit them all in!  I skipped South Africa Australia & Argentina on the main floor completely though the seductive Malbec of Fabre Montamayou and the always popular wines from Familia Zuccardi were super busy every time I looked across!

A great consumer event for wine lovers of all interests – whether you fall into the “I know what I like” camp looking for more of the same variety or region – or keen to experiment, The Sunday Times Wine Club Vintage Festival covers all bases! An opportunity to meet in person these wine makers who’ve flown miles to share their passion for their wines with you!

So many wines still to discover, so I’ve put the date in my diary for next year already – it will be on 28th & 29th April 2017 at old Billingsgate – See you there!

Tickets already available at early Bird Discount on this link:

Links to Producers:


New Zealand Wine

New Zealand – One of the most beautiful countries to visit, with unspoilt landscapes  and whose vineyards  are the source of some of the most impressive of New World Wines.   This week, I had the pleasure of attending the New Vintage Release tasting in London. I tried to ignore the huge posters of the All Blacks that bedecked New Zealand House in anticipation of this weekend’s Rugby World Cup final – but when you are trying to concentrate on the finer elements of an Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, and there is a massive poster of Dan Carter kicking in front of you – it’s all rather distracting!

However, there were 187 wines to taste – so it was a case of forget about the Rugby World Cup final for now and concentrate on the wines. A balanced approach obviously required as not all 187 wines  could be tasted – so I tried to look out some new estates not tried before as well as some of the less famous grape varieties.

One of the appealing factors of the tasting was that all of the wines presented were produced sustainably.  New Zealand is  a great example of an industry working together to not only respect the environment but also the people and communities involved.

It may surprise some people but NZ produces less than 1% of the World’s wine production but they have a strong export focus which is good news for us wine lovers in the UK.  One thing that shone out across most  (though not quite all!) the wines on display was a purity of taste. Perhaps it is down in part to the fact that nowhere in New Zealand is further than 80 miles away from the sea.  The minerality shows through that little bit stronger, the fruit characteristics of the wines seem crisper. The overall excellent balance of the wine seems almost a given for many of the top NZ producers.

Wines were shown by variety and below are a few of my favourite wines of the tasting – so why not search some of these out to cheer on the All Blacks this weekend (Well  – with England out , we have to cheer for someone in the final!)  – Do see end of article for websites and stockists where available.

New Zealand white varieties:

Riesling – a very small amount produced, just over 2% of all NZ wine but the South Island is making some great examples.  Two producers stood out – Felton Road Block 1 Riesling Bannockburn 2015 from Central Otago (RRP 19.50) with a mouthful  of ripe yellow pears followed by  glorious honeyed finish  – tasting wonderful now but will improve in the bottle for sure.  The other star in this category that shown was Pegasus Bay Riesling 2013 from Canterbury  (RRP £16.50) was all white flowers and apricots but with a depth of flavour that showed the presence of some grapes having been left to achieve noble rot – to add complexity to the wine. Again drinking beautiful but will only develop with time in bottle.

Pinot Gris – One of my favourite varieties from NZ as it can be so diverse in style according to the region where it grows. Some can be delicate and light, others leaning towards a rich, ripe wine with great complexity.  Whichever style – they all have a tendency to be very food friendly.

Two wines that stood out were the Esk Valley 2015 from Hawkes Bay which at only (RRP £13.25), is great value for this level of wine. Made by the brilliant and unassuming Gordon Russell,  this Pinot Gris was lovely fresh pear and citrus notes but the slight increase of residual sugar gives it a depth of flavour that is really appealing.  (Note for anyone just getting into wine – do not worry about the residual sugar – it’s not going to be sweet – it just adds another dimension to the wine – more about this on the main website later in the year!) . The other one was a new estate to me – from Central Otago on the South Island, Rockburn Pinot Gris 2014.  It has a delicious nose of peaches and pears with lovely minerality on a clear finish.  (RRP £20)

Grüner Vertliner – Normally found at home in Austria, there are a handful of NZ producers experimenting with this white variety.  There was a good value (RRP£12.95) example on show – Yealands Estate Single Vineyards 2015  –  Not overwhelming, it has a lovely slightly spicy nose and  shows what can be produced from these coastal vineyards in the Awatere Valley.

Sauvignon Blanc: THE variety that most people associate with New Zealand – unsurprisingly when it accounts of 87% of all NZ wine that is exported (but interestingly only 66% of all wine produced – so time for other varieties to be given a chance on the export market!). This was a huge category with 52 different Sauvignon Blancs from five different wine regions.  Given that Marlborough produces the Lion’s share (think about 80%), I tried to avoid many of these on the hunt for something new. But I was interested on my tasting note for Esk Valley’s SB 2015 (RRP £12.15) that an unusual wasabi like warmth shone through all the expected  tropical fruit notes. Lovely.  Also, I was pleased to see that the Nelson Region has a lovely example from Seifried SB 2015 , a family owned winery, which had all the typical gooseberry and tropical fruit but with an elegance lacking in too many Marlborough SB’s. (RRP £12.99)

Chardonnay – Overshadowed in sheer volume by Sauvignon Blanc, there are so many styles of Chardy in NZ but sadly for my own tastes, many of the wines on show at the tasting, were unbalanced with not very good oak management, which dominated the fruit. Two exceptions to this were Stanley Estates Chardonnay 2014 from the Awatere Valley – which had good buttery notes but not too fat – lovely smoky finish – great with roast pork. (RRP £16.99). The other (well two) were from outstanding producer from Central Otago, Felton Road – Bannockburn Chardonnay 2014 was fresh, beautiful minerality, with an elegance of fruit – which at (RRP £20) slightly overshadowed  it’s (still brilliant) older sister  –  Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay. (RRP £24)

The “Other Whites” category was where I found not only my personal favourite white of the tasting  but also showed how interesting NZ Sauvignon can be with an appropriate dollop of Semillon in it (again for any newcomers to this wine malarkey – this was the traditional blend for White Bordeaux so it has a good precedent!) . Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon 2013 was delicious – tart gooseberry being balanced by sweet melon – an incredible flexible food friendly wine.  (RRP £16.50).

But for me the best white wine of the tasting was the Hans Family Mistral 2013. A glorious blend of Rhone White varieties of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne. All the old world Rhone nuances were there in abundance – from white flowers to apricots & almonds but so well made was this wine, that it was all brilliantly interlaced. My tasting note was “sheer perfection”.  Tasting heavenly now but will age well (if you can resist!)  Worth every penny of it’s slightly steep RRP £36. (available

New Zealand red varieties:

Pinot Noir:  As a self- confessed Pinot lover – this was always going to be a category to seduce and waylay me!  Sadly only 6% of the NZ export Market is Pinot Noir so having 55 different Pinot’s on show was a great experience.  There was a great variety of style from those chasing the more New World fruit to those looking more to Burgundy for Old World inspiration and converting that with NZ terroir into pure  balanced wines with a delicious savouriness.

(NB – Apologies if some of the same estates names crop up again – but having tasted a range of other producers – some making lovely wines but just without that edge that makes the wine sing –  there is a reason why these wines keep coming to the top of my tasting notes.)

Esk Valley Pinot Noir 2014 (RRP £17.10) had lovely cherry notes following into plums and a hint of dark chocolate.  It’s a very versatile wine – but would be a great choice for rich salmon dishes when you simply don’t want white wine with fish!

Felton Road had five Pinot’s on show and it was a fascinating mini tasting in itself to do them side by side. All 2014 vintage – Ranging from the Bannockburn  (RRP £28), through the Calvert  (RRP £33), the Cornish Point (£33), Block 3 (RRP £42) and Block 5 (RRP £42) – all of them showed the estates trademark elegance and minerality, with varying notes of ripe plums, black chocolate with an undertone of coffee and leather on the Block wines.  Interestingly, though I normally adore the seductive Block 3, on the day, the alcohol was still coming through on the nose and was a little closed so needs a little time yet in bottle. But the Cornish Point was vibrant and bouncy with drinkability! I would (and probably will)  have happily bought each of the five wines – which is quite impressive for one producer.

Muddy Water Pinot 2013 from their organic vineyards in Canterbury was delightful, quite floral on the nose but a lovely spicy finish (£RRP24.50)

Craggy Range’s Aroha Te Muna Road Pinot 2013 comes with a hefty price tag  (RRP £54.99) but was a delicious example of what this fickle grape variety can achieve when given the right place to grow (Te Muna means the Secret in Maori).  It was not so much the aromas that impressed me but the texture of this wine – with velvet mouth feel – very much one that needs some aging,

Syrah:  Perhaps a grape variety that surprises to be found in the Cool Climate of New Zealand, but although it’s only responsible for just over 1% of total production in the country, it is the buzz variety at the moment.  But forget any thoughts of Block Bluster Shiraz Aussie styles – here it gives a more Old World elegance and complexity. There is one region in particular that is THE home to some great Syrah – The Gimblett Gravels . A very particular site in Hawkes Bay on the North Island and all three of the Syrah’s that I was impressed with at the tasting came from there.  Craggy Range Syrah 2013 made from a Syrah clone bought over from The Rhone 150 years ago, was all black fruit and bags of pepper, with a touch of liquorice – but with great balance. (RRP £23.99)  Their other wine Craggy Range Le Sol 2013 was undoubtedly very well made with great complexity, but without having a plateful of Roast Lamb to hand, I was unsure if it was perhaps too intense. To be revisited in 5 years time. (RRP£54.99).

For elegance, the Vidal Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2013 (RRP £17.10) shone through, No hint of gloop or over extraction – just very well balanced fruit, oak and tannin. A delightful wine (which would go superbly with beef or venison casserole!)

Other Reds:  The Merlot / Cabernet section, I skipped in the interest of keeping my palate alive – but there was one last wine to try for sheer interest value. The Single Vineyard Lagrein 2014 Stanley Estates in Awatere Valley. This red grape variety is usually found at home in Alto Adige in the North East Corner of Italy, but has made a good addition to this family run estate. It was instantly identifiable on the nose by an abundance of ripe blackberries and the lively acidity made it a vibrant wine which would be great with food – and the perfect wine to revive ones palate after such an intense tasting.

A great tasting (along with an amazing panoramic view of London from the terrace ) – which showed off some fascinating wines and showing that New Zealand is the source of so much more than just the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc!

When the main   goes live later this autumn – there will be a more in depth feature about which NZ wines  to pair with proper food, but for a fun approach for the rugby – do follow the NZ team link on the home page.


There are two excellent retailers of NZ Wine in the UK – which between them cover almost all the wines listed above.

Websites of all wine estates listed:

If you have any issues finding any of these wines through the above, drop me an email and I will happily provide you with the UK importer details, who will be able to help further with alternative stockists.

For more information on New Zealand Wine – do visit and

Wine Festival Winchester 2015

Last weekend saw the second edition of the Wine Festival in Winchester – brain child of Susie Barrie and Peter Richards. Not only both holders of the prestigious MW (Master of Wine) qualification (there are only 340 of them in the world!) but also married and local to Winchester.

Last year saw the inaugural Festival and this year’s version was eagerly anticipated and many people came back again to taste the great range of wines on offer.

There are many Wine fairs in varying formats out there for Wine Consumers – but this was great fun as there was something for everyone – no matter what level of wine knowledge you had.

I was actually working as part of the team – and helping out on the Follow Your Taste stand – an ingenious – slightly tongue in cheek – idea devised with colour specialists Farrow & Ball. Each style gives a strap line to help you find wines of a similar style to those you already drink. It’s not every day that one can get away with asking a good lady of Hampshire “Are you Fresh & Racy?” or “Feeling Fruity” to a Gentleman whilst his wife nodded enthusiastically!

As well as Master classes hosted by Peter & Susie, they were on hand throughout the four tastings sessions to discuss wines with visitors.

An over view of some of the wines that grabbed my attention at the Festival (in no particular order!)

Wines of Australia had a generic stand and had the delightfully named “Ladies Who Shoot their Lunch”. Not often a fan of Aussie Chardy, this was well balanced and nicely creamy without too much oak!

Watermill Wines were showing a range of wines in slightly quirky test tubes, which were proving popular as Christmas presents but far more interesting for me was the Markus Huber Single Estate Grüner Vertliner. Austria’s key white variety, this is a glorious example slightly spicy with elegant finish – very food friendly – available at Waitrose.

New Zealand wines showed a good selection but it was hard to avoid tasting the excellent Verdelho from Esk Valley. If you are looking for a little know grape variety (it originally hails from Madeira and there is not that much planted) – that has elegant minerality with delicate exotic fruit with clementine aromas, then give it a go. Stockist available via

One of the most popular stands was undoubtedly Hampshire Sparkling Wine Producers featuring Four different Wine Estates together – Cottonworth, Hambledon, Meonhill and Jenkyn Place. All making great fizz with almost zero “food” miles. -

The festival really flew the patriotic (and Local) flag for English Sparkling Wine.  There is the on- going discussion what to call it – what would be a good name for the English equivalent of Champagne –  In September, we were saying how about simply  A Glass of Hampshire – a Glass of Sussex  etc - so any suggestions do let me know! Also there were Exton Park, showing their fabulous sparkling including a Blanc de Noirs from only black grapes, made by French Female Wine Maker Corinne Seely – proof of how suitable this part of England is for wine making!

Hattingley Valley with their English fizz were next to my stand – and constantly busy – there will be a lot of their Classic Cuvée toasting Christmas morning across the county!

Stepping out of the vineyards of Hampshire across the border into Dorset, also present were the simply brilliant Bride Valley made by Bella Spurrier, with their gorgeous Blanc de Blancs sparkling.  Tasting with fellow Dorset producers, it was great to taste their Bacchus Dry, one of the most important white varieties for still wine in England.

Warner Edwards were showing off their Gins made in Northamptonshire – including a glorious Rhubarb Gin that will feature for sure in many a Christmas Cocktail – but also a Sloe gin that was wonderfully not too sweet as many of the commercial ones are.

Waitrose Cellar showed 13 different wines including a super Malbec from Zuccardi in Argentina, but the wine that stole the show was the Maury – sweet red dessert wine, which when paired with 70% Dark Chocolate  (they most conveniently had to hand) was a match made for the Gods. It was like the very best flavours of Black Forest Gateau, all intense and cherries, without the cloying cream.  A bargain at £10.99.

Corney & Barrow always field a very serious selection of wines – and today was no exception including their very good own label White Burgundy – but star was a dark brooding Poldark style of a wine (a description that had most ladies understanding whilst the men looked flummoxed and returned to taste the Margaux instead) – It was Psi from Ribera del Duero made by the ever brilliant Peter Sisseck.  So deep intense complex red that was crying out for a plate of roast lamb!

The Wines of Chile was manned by the welcoming Anita Jackson – and as one expects from one of the most exciting wine countries in the world – there were some stunning wines to try. Given that Chile has such a huge variety of climates, soils and grape varieties planted accordingly – there was something for every palate. Personally, the star was a spectacular Chardonnay from way down in the South from the Itata valley, Pandolfi Price Los Patrios Chardonnay -  it was almost petrol like Riesling on the nose, with full Burgundian richness and delightful smokiness in the mouth. One to watch available

There was a healthy selection of Independent Wine Merchants, with a great tempting range on show. The Naked Grape, who have stores in Alresford, Four Marks and Hungerford had everything from Prosecco to Australian Semillon, but the wine that really shone was the Ailala Treixadura.  I know not a name that trips off the tongue, but a Spanish white worth seeking out as it has great minerality, lovely grapefruit freshness backed with rounded apricot notes.  -

Back in September, I was tasting in the stunningly beautiful Douro Valley in Portugal, so it was good to see Quinta do Noval again. Their 20 year Old Tawny converted lots of visitors at the festival who said they did not like port! With freshness and elegance, this style of port is much more versatile than the usual LBV or Vintage. If you think all port is big red and heavy, think again and give tawny port a try.  The ideal wine to pour a glass, get out some soft dried apricots, a handful of nuts – all you need is a good book and somewhere quiet for a bit of me-time amongst all the bustle of Christmas

De Bortoli wines from Australia had a wide range from their Durif through to Sticky Muscat – but we all had to try their Yarra Valley Pinot Noir as one of the Festival team, Rebecca Fisher,  was working in the cellars in Oz for that harvest!

Wines of Spain had a seemingly unending range showing how well their wines go with food, having some Olives, Chorizo and Cheese on hand  to prove the point! Their white star wine was the delicious Pazo de Señorans, a white variety - albarino - which is a marriage made in heaven (or rather in Galicia!) with seafood. For the reds, the best on the stand without question was the world class Vina del Olivo from Contino. One of the most complex of Riojas with elegance and pure minerality with great depth,  it is one to treat yourself to for the festivities, given its rather impressive price tag of £58 but worth every bit!  Both available via

The enthusiastic team on the Majestic stand (who now sell wine by individual bottles rather than a minimum case order) were launching their  new range called Definition of which they were showing 12 wines. Impressively simple but effective idea – it’s a range of wines aiming to capture the quintessential qualities of some of the world most classic wine styles. It includes a lovely spicy Cotes du Rhone with great bramble fruit – an ideal crowd pleaser for Christmas parties and good value at only £8.99 -

The Wine Society’s list is always a great place to visit – they have an amazing range from across the world in every style – and thanks to its unusual shared ownership – all at great prices. If you want to find a Christmas present for a wine lover in your family that they will still be thanking you for in 20 years time – then buy them a share in the Society – It might just be the best £40 you’ve ever spent.  So many great wines on their stand – but the best value of the festival was undoubtedly their Adega de Pegões – a Portuguese white, a blend  with lovely fresh citrus notes backed up some subtle oak – an absolute steal at £6.75

For pure enthusiasm and eclectic wines – then Red Squirrel Wine is one of the most refreshing wine merchants around (they were offering Free Hugs on their stand!). The young team in charge love to share their passion for individuality and good wines from interesting wine estates. Ignoring their intriguingly named Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll Riesling, they had a lovely La Torricella Dolcetto – a red variety from North West Italy.  Often overlooked in favour of it’s more important neighbours of Barolo and Barbaresco, this was a lovely easy red with lots of easy red  cherries – it’s a perfect lunch wine that does not expect too much effort on your part other than simple enjoyment.

Berry Brothers & Rudd had a lovely classic range on show including the excellent Brane Cantenac from Bordeaux , but for me the Selbach-Osteler Riseling from the Mosel in Germany was heaven. Wonderfully refreshing, off dry, all lemon zest and flintiness. Weighing in with only 9.5% ABV, it’s a delight to drink – if you think you don’t like German Riesling after a bad experience with Liebfraumilch in the 1980’s – then time to find out what the proper stuff is like!

Armit wines always a default merchant for me to visit and although they had wines from South Africa, France and Spain, it was an Italian Red that delighted. Montessu from Agricola Punica, a blend of Carignana, Syrah & Cabernet Franc from Sardinia. It’s a joint venture including the team who own Sassicaia, the ultimate Super Tuscan Icon wine.  Full of black fruit with slight liquorice finish – it’s a wine that delivers above its £14.40 price tag.

Lots of visitors were surprised by the quality of Greek wine on Southern Wine Roads. From a refreshing white made of Moschofilero from the Pelopennese through to some big complex reds, there was a lot to discover including different grape varieties .

Honest Grapes had a stand hosted by the knowledgeable Nathan Hill, whose passions for individual wines  shone through. They had the Lavradores de Feitoria Douro Branco, a white from the lovely UNESCO listed Duoro Valley, which had good notes of lime and zing – perfect to revive one’s taste buds!

Also who had stands but sadly I did not have time to taste much were Santa Rita from Chile but who were showing the great Casa Real,  Beronia – though did make time for their classic Grand Reserva Rioja, Jackson Estate from New Zealand  & Wirra Wirra from Australia, Villa Maria. The Wine Butler (who were showing natural wines) , Botham, Merrill & Willis (ideal present for the wine loving cricket fan in the family!), Piersons, Sud de France -  So as you can see a wide selection of wines to tempt and discover!

To keep the munchies at bay sterling work was done by Chesil Rectory with their scrumptious cheese plates whilst Parsonage Farm and Devese Farm Animals had an amazing selection of Hampshire Charcuterie to sample.  The delicious artisan pork pies from Jake’s have raised the quality bar for all  other pies – scrumptious and happy to pair with a host of wines!

Whilst the ideal indulgent present to oneself after a hard day at the coal face of wine tasting, Dorset Handmade cholates from Chococo made the ideal end to a really rather great day.

Winchester Wine Festival 2016

Dates for next year’s event are already confirmed – 25th – 27th November 2016 so put it in your diary!