Celebration of Wine at Château La Clarière

One of the quiet, unsung heroes of the Wine Trade, Tony Laithwaite was recently awarded a CBE for services to wine both in the UK and globally. The timing was perfect to celebrate this well -deserved “gong” as he so self -deprecatingly calls it, as this year is the 50th Anniversary of his eponymous company. Originally this began with forays back & forth to France in a rather ramshackle old van filled with cases of wine direct from the producer, followed by an open letter to the Sunday Times tackling the problem of fraudulent wine which resulted in the creation of the Sunday Times Wine Club now celebrating its 46th anniversary, and today Laithwaites lists wines from Uruguayan Tannat to Moldovan Pinot Noir, through to Fine Wines from the leading estates in the more classic regions – and most other regions in between.

Tony Laithwaite, Laithwaite Wines
Tony Laithwaite

Back in 1985, Tony created the Confrères, a group of loyal clients who believed in his “Direct from the Vineyard to the Consumer” philosophy and backed the investment at a Château on the Right Bank. The success of the Confrère project has been outstanding, and some 34 years later, Love Wine Food had the pleasure of organising a private wine tour for members to inaugurate the renovated Château La Clarière, joined Tony and his son Tom Laithwaite.

chateau la clariere

Landing in Bordeaux, our first stop was for lunch at La Terrace Rouge, with its beautiful views over the vines of St Emilion, enjoyed with a glass of Chateau Thieuley in hand. One of my personal bête noires is the modern style of Bordeaux Blanc that only use Sauvignon Blanc, which are so mono dimensional. How delightful to drink this wonderful blend with a hefty percentage of Semillion and the aromatic Sauvignon Gris as well as SB giving the wine a complexity of ripe fruits but with good balance of citrus and white flowers. It paired very well with seasonal asparagus & smoked sturgeon from the region. The Chef is a friend of the Laithwaites having worked close to their HQ in the UK, and the slow roasted rump of veal was the perfect foil for the Merlot Cabernet Franc blend of Clos Magne Figeac. But star wine of lunch (ably assisted by a dried fruit caramel tartlet) was the Lions de Suduiraut from Sauternes, a hedonistic balance of acidity & sweetness, loaded with enough notes of Marmalade to make even Paddington Bear blush!

Our base for this celebration tour, was the lovely Château Grand Barrail, close to St Emilion. As the sun shone through the art deco style stained glass windows, throwing pink, green & blue reflections which danced across a battalion of wine glasses, it seemed the ideal time for a glass of Laithwaites Champagne. A perfectly executed Spelt Risotto of summer truffles made the wine pairing of Le Coin Blanc made by 100% Sauvignon Gris, sing with spiciness and a just a hint of oak to balance out to a rich mouthfeel. Chocolate is always such a hard call to pair with wines, but our choice of the Maury La Font del Bosc, from Grenache complimented the dessert of Valhrona Chocolate Entremet as if had been made for each other! Wonderful end to the first evening with Tony explaining about the wines, despite the very noisy frogs on the terrace after dinner!

Castillon La Bataille is home to Laithwaites Le Chai au Quai, which sits on the banks of the tranquil Dordogne River. A gentle meander through the narrow alleyways lined with bougainvillea, led us to the honey coloured stone Chai, originally built in 1856 and today is HQ to Laithwaites wine production, sourcing grapes from all across France. Winemaker Mark Hoddy weaves his magic on a range of wines, not just from Bordeaux but from the Languedoc, Minervois and beyond. The philosophy is to make the best wine from a particular parcel of grapes, unfettered on many occasions by sometimes outdated appellation rules – such as La Chimère, a surprising and attractive blend of Rhône Syrah & Bordeaux Merlot.

Mark had arranged a blending session to put the palates of the Confrères to the test. Once the initial terror of being asked to create a new blend had worn off, the noise levels and laughter rose along with some healthy competitiveness creeping in amongst the barrels.

After so much hilarity, palates needed enlivening after so much tannin, so a welcome glass of Harrow & Hope NV, made by Tony’s son Henry at his estate near Marlow. Made from the three classic varieties of Pinots Noir & Meunier with Chardonnay, but with the Pinot Noir shining through in the glass, this is an excellent example of why it’s an exciting time for English Sparkling wines.

The predicted heatwave had landed and so lunch was inside the barrel hall, where even the gleaming stainless steel vats were bedecked in festive bunting! A host of wines waited to be discovered over lunch: La Voûte - a Chardonnay with good oak management to let the ripe exotic fruits come through: SCG - a voluptuous blend of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache from the Languedoc, the delicate Le Champe des Etoiles Pinot Noir and the rather unusual Le C du Chai.

A few hardy Confrères braved the sun for a meander around the medieval village of St Emilion – leaving the others to retire to the cool air conditioned Chateau hotel for a post prandial siesta whilst muttering about “Mad Dogs and Englishmen….”. The exquisite small town of St Emilion was gearing itself up for the celebrations of 20th anniversary of being listed as a UNESCO World heritage Site. The heat rising from the polished, well -worn cobbled streets meant that a stroll around actually meant darting into the best Macaroon shop in town (deliciously delicate and irresistible) followed by a swift retreat into a cool courtyard for a chilled glass of Bordeaux Blanc!

On the crossroads in one of the small villages of the Right Bank was our evening appointment at le Comptoir de Genes. The musical notes of a very French Trio drifted across the air to greet us with songs by Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and a healthy helping of Django Reinhardt. The Comptoir is a wonderfully relaxing, welcoming bistro and second home for meals to Tony and his team when visiting La Clarière. The wine list is no mere tome of bland pages, but islands of wooden cases dotted around the restaurant, so you can simply wander from case to case, read the back labels & tasting notes before deciding!

We kicked off with an unusual white, Cabernet Blanc, which was a first for everyone on this grape variety, followed by JMS Sauvignon Blanc, named after Laithwaites Head wine maker, Jean Marc Sauboua, who has created an excellent example of complexity thank to the barrel fermentation as well as crisp freshness – delicious with the sea bass carpaccio starter. The South West of France is renowned for its duck and so the Magret de Canard called for a punchy red, the Belle Roche Cabernet Sauvignon, which was all blackcurrant & spice with a velvety finish – a heavenly match.

On our last day, driving through the picturesque narrow lanes, Tony pointed out the places that launched his love of wine, including the site of the archaeological dig which was his original reason for being in the region – until he quite rightly was diverted into a new passion for the world of wine.

Château La Clarière, the spiritual home of the Confreres was the highlight visit and it nestles in the Bois Jolie with views across the Dordogne Valley and across to St Emilion. Thankfully the heatwave had a bit of a lie in, so that we could have a stroll through the meticulously tended vineyards in the company of Jean-Marc Sauboua, their talented head wine maker, with a glass of Wyfold, the English fizz made by Tony’s Wife & Business partner, Barbara at her vineyard in Oxfordshire.

A spectacular tasting awaited in the new barrel hall, with JMS, Tony and Tom working well as a trio of presenters, gently (ish…) joshing each other. JMS had dug deep into the library stock to show Château La Clarière in four vintages – 2018 -2009 – 1999 – 1989, and a fascinating comparison of vintages. But the great surprise (though possibly only to me!) was La Clarière Blanc 2018, a blend of Semillion & Sauvignon Blanc, with 60% barrel Fermented and 40% in stainless steel – an explosion of white flowers in the glass, multi layered palate including peaches, a real delight! Next up was JMS’s own venture in Rioja, Altos R Pigeage, which shown in magnum , was simply stunning. All the dark fruits of Tempranillo, with sexy chocolate, cedar and smooth fine tannins.

A quick saunter through the barrel hall, breathing in that unmistakable (and expensive!) smell of new French oak barrels (they really should bottle it as a perfume!) , led to the Château’s terrace where a refreshing apéro awaited before the final lunch in the very newly completed Grand Salon of Château La Clarière. Truly impressive how the Château has been restored with sympathy and vision, and the beautiful fireplace which the name of the property etched into the pale stone was just beautiful. A smoked trout and celeriac starter was ideal with the refreshing Rosé de La Clarière and the sixth vintage of the tour of Clarière competed the Confrères true full immersion and understanding of the wines from this exquisite wine estate, and the result of the passion & belief of one man. But there is a solid team spirit that exists at Laithwaites, and this was easily shown by the “mystery” Sauternes that JMS produced like a magician at the end of lunch – not even Tony knew about that project – but from the smiles, it looks like being a future success!

What better way to end up three days of enjoying the company of Tony & Tom Laithwaite plus the home team of winemakers, discovering a great range of wines – and understanding why 54 years ago, Tony thought that this small area on the Right Bank was paradise – the Confrères all agreed!

For more information on how to become a Confrere, contact : confreres@laithwaiteswine.com

Grand Salon of Château La Clarière


English Vineyards

Sipping Syrah in the vines overlooking the Apalta Valley in Chile. Tasting Pinot Noir in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. Dining in a medieval Tuscan Castle with vertical vintages of Chianti. Just three of the many memories over my 22 years of escorting wine tours around the world.

So it was wonderfully different to simply walk out of my front door, and after a five minute stroll to meet the train from London and welcome my clients on our first Love Wine Food private tour in Southern England. From the LWF HQ, which nestles in the heart of the South Downs National Park and surrounded by nearby vineyards, I’d designed a two day exploration of English Vineyards for the members of a London Livery Company.

Hambledon Vineyards are located in the eponymous village in Hampshire and is the oldest commercial vineyard in England. Vines were originally planted in 1952 on the property by Major General Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, with valuable help & insight from the De Billy family who own the famous Champagne House of Pol Roger. At a time when English wines were virtually unheard of, Hambledon enjoyed prestigious clients, such as being served by the Queen at official functions as well as Embassies. The modern story of Hambledon was reborn in 1999 when it was bought by Ian Kellett, who had absolute belief that Sparkling Wines were the future of the estate, thanks to the chalk on which the vines are planted. The Classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinots Noir & Meunier were planted and the relationship between Pol Roger and Hambledon was rekindled.

Last year, they undertook a huge new planting of 230,000 vines bringing the total of land under vine to a substantial total of 85 hectares. Their expansion investment also includes an impressive vast new cellar, mostly underground so it will have a permanent natural cool temperature with no need for air conditioning. The obvious slight problem was the solid chalk which although so beneficial for the vines, is less than amusing to dig out in such large quantities, hence the chalk “mountains” dotted around waiting to be backfilled in around the cellar hiding it almost from view.

Chalk "mountain" hiding

Hambledon have just launched their fourth wine, the Première Cuvée Rosé and we were privileged to be the first guests to the estate to taste it. In an eye catching bottle shape, it’s rather unusual to be made with 100% Pinot Meunier, which normally only makes up a smaller percentage of the sparkling blend, so it was fascinating to taste a pure expression of the variety. Made with Zero Dosage, it was bone dry with attractive raspberry notes. Only 4000 bottles were made in its first outing, so somewhat of a rarity. It compliments their Première Cuvée made from 73% Chardonnay and 24% Pinot Noir (the rest a splash of Meunier), it was beautifully rich and lots of toasted brioche notes thanks to an extended 42 months lees contact. The Classic Cuvée was reminiscent of sherbet with its lively freshness and the Classic Cuvée Rosé version made from 90% Chardonnay with 10% PN red wine was all strawberries & cream in the glass.

Although many people go to wine tastings, it’s not very often that consumers have the opportunity to do a comparative dosage tasting. Dosage is the addition of wine & sugar back into the wine after the yeast sediment has been disgorged in Champagne and Sparkling Wines. The numbers of grams of sugar per litre governs the taste and texture of the final wine. Taking four glasses of Classic Cuvée, one with Zero Dosage, 4 gms, 6 gms and 10 gms. It is truly incredible how much difference such an infinitesimal variance has on the wine, creating more roundness or less for a racier acidity and vital to get this spot on to truly establish the House Style.

Staying on the chalk soils of Hampshire, our lunchtime appointment was at Danebury Vineyards, close to the picturesque village of Stockbridge. Originally the property was part of a famous racehorse yard, patronised by Royalty during the 19th Century. Danebury is owned by an Austrian family, who cherish this pocketsize estate. Often the term boutique vineyard is bandied about, but is most apt for Danebury’s small 2.8 hectares of vines.

Being suitably British in our studious ignorance of threatening rain clouds, we started with a vineyard visit in the company of Patrick, who tends this immaculate grassy vineyard to hear about the challenges and benefits of making wine in England following organic principles. Kicking off with a welcome glass of their Sparkling Cossack, named after the winner of the Epsom Derby in 1847, which was trained at Danebury. Made from Auxerrois Blanc and Pinot Gris rather than the classic Champenoise varieties, it has a gentle mousse and hints of citrus fruits.

A canter through their white wines, starting with their Madeleine Angevine, a variety that hails from the Loire valley, which has a delightful nose of elderflowers leading into crisp hints of lime. An extremely attractive and dangerously drinkable wine which is perfect for Spring. Their Schönburger (the variety is a cross of Pinot Noir & Muscat), was more full bodied and aromatic. The Danebury Reserve, a blend of their four white varieties displays a savoury aspect on first taste, which when combined with food comes into its own with riper stone fruit notes coming through and went well with the delicious luncheon of chicken poached in white wine with braised lettuce. Danebury is a wonderful small hidden gem of an estate set in the beautiful Hampshire countryside.

A reviving break to give palates time to recuperate with some free time in beautiful Winchester, the first Capital of England, with its impressive Gothic Cathedral and 12th Century illuminated bible.

Our evening visit was to Coates & Seely, a small scale artisan producer of Sparkling Wines located not far from Winchester. One aspect of wine tours is that after two decades of vising wineries around the world, LWF understands well that it is vital to avoid endless repetition at wine cellars. Nothing is more depressing for a vintner than seeing visitors eyes glaze over when faced by yet more barrels or another gleaming avenue of stainless steel tanks. So all praise goes to the wonderful Nicholas Coates, co-owner of Coates & Seely, who nixed the idea of a cellar visit (though looking forward to going back another time to see the concrete eggs!), and instead invited us to relax in a delightful setting with a glass or three of their gorgeous sparkling wine – a much more enjoyable way to listen to their history and philosophy. Charming, with a slight maverick streak, Nicholas is the epitome of an English Gentleman, who along with his business partner and old friend, Christian Seely, have a passionate belief in making great sparkling wines in England and labelling them as Britagne wines.

Their wines, always with a French winemaker at the helm, are created with reserve wines for the NV, which gives an attractive depth. Their vintage wines – amusingly called La Perfide – are treated to extended lees contact, anything up to five years which gives wines of great complexity and are only released in the best years. Refreshingly honest, Nicholas was a veritable font of anecdotes of how he and Christian have developed the estate, since in 2008 (over a few bottle of Champagne) they decided to start this new project of English sparkling wines to rival the best in the world. Since they are the only English Wine to have been stocked at the George V in Paris – they are definitely on the right path! Virginia, Nicholas’s wife had prepared a tempting array of local food, starting with Canapés of Blinis with Smoked trout from the River Test and melt in the mouth shortbread made with Tunworth Hampshire cheese. Her beautiful menu continued with venison fillet showing that Sparkling wines can be enjoyed throughout a meal rather than simply as an aperitif.

Such a glorious range of wines, and convivial company meant that my tasting notes of all seven wines rather went by the wayside. The Brut Rosé NV, made by the saignée method was an elegant pale shade with alpine strawberries on the palate and had great balance of acidity. The 2009 Brut Rosé La Perfide was full of complexity and toasty notes thanks to 6.5 years on the lees and a further 3 years bottle aging – this is a wine to be savoured, choose your company well or treat yourself to enjoy alone with a good book overlooking the watercress beds of Hampshire! Brut Reserve 2011 La Perfide in Magnum of 65% Pinot Noir with the rest Pinot Meunier was an absolute delight and still incredibly vibrant in the glass. To finish, in honour of absent friends, we enjoyed Château Suduiraut, the Sauternes estate that C&S's other owning partner, Christian Seely looks after in his role of head of Axa Millésimes Wine Portfolio (who own Pichon Baron in Pauillac, Quinta do Noval in Portugal et alia). Truly a memorable evening – and looking ahead to my next day at the Races, secure in the knowledge that C&S wines are now listed at 14 of the Jockey Club’s Race courses in England and served from Albion, their 1952 British Charabanc with her British Racing Green Livery.

Our second day of this private wine tour saw a quick hop over the county border into West Sussex to Stopham Vineyard. Welcomed by their head winemaker Simon Woodhead, a blustery walk through the vines was the perfect start to understand the philosophy of the estate. The vineyards are sandy loam, which is free draining (vines hate wet feet!) and made for an interesting comparison to all the talk about chalk soils the day before. Sustainability and responsible agriculture are at the heart of their vineyard practise from careful soil management through to increasing their biodiversity, including planting 400 metres of natural hedgerow. They only use grapes from their own six hectares of vines for complete control over their fruit quality.

Their Pinot Blanc is one of my favourite English still wines, indeed is the one that I tend to take as a gift when visiting wine makers abroad to show them what English wine can achieve. A fascinating visit, with Simon explaining lots of viniculture & vinicultural practises. A very appealing zesty white with slight hints of ripe melon & greengage, the Pinot Blanc works happily as an apèro or with fish and is remarkably rounded considering that it does not undergo malolactic fermentation. But it has competition in the shape of the recent award winning Pinot Gris. We tasted the 2017 vintage which has 15% of Bacchus in the blend. Off dry thanks to a perfect pitch of residual sugar, just enough to give it body & character, with stunning nose of white peaches and spice – truly delicious and would work well with aromatic Asian food. From next vintage, it will be pure Pinot Gris as the Bacchus will be bottled as its own variety – so lots of exciting things to look forward to at Stopham. Their Sparkling is the house Fizz at the V&A in London - is there a better excuse to visit a Museum? The tag line on their bottles is “Made with passion and precision in West Sussex” which sums it up perfectly!

Nutbourne Vineyardshwas our lunchtime appointment, almost walkable across the fields as also close to the village of Pulborough. Owned by Bridget and Peter Gladwin, who took it over in 1991 (although vines had been planted on the estate since 1980), Nutbourne has a wonderful range of wines produced from seven different grape varieties on their 26 hectares of vineyard. Welcomed by their adorable collie Buddy, and a glass of their Nutty Brut Sparkling, produced from Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, Bridget led us up into their windmill, from where it’s a lovely view across their vines. It was interesting to be visiting the vineyards at time of bud burst and fingers crossed that there are no more frosts.

It’s very much a family affair at Nutbourne, as Bridget is an artist, whose ethereal paintings are the labels on all of their wines. Her husband Peter, is an excellent chef (indeed owns a prestigious London Catering Company as well as being a key member of Wine GB), two of their sons run three London restaurants which they supply with Sussex produce foraged on the Nutbourne family estate (as well naturally as Nutbourne wines on the list). As we explored the vineyards, there was a deliciously distracting scent wafting across of Sussex lamb roasting in the clay oven with old vine cuttings. A smoked trout & horseradish mousseline was a great foil for their unoaked Chardonnay. But truly exciting to taste was their Pinot Noir 2018 – still unfinished, so a barrel sample, but it was so vibrant in the glass with cherries, red fruits and an underlying touch of smokiness. To watch out for when it’s released! Dessert was a lemon posset with delicious homemade Florentines which was paired with their Hedgerow Wine. Made from Bacchus and Huxelrebe grape varieties in an off dry style with delightful aromatics, thanks to some daring late harvesting. Nutbourne are hosting a Pop Up Restaurant in the Vines for English Wine Week at the end of May – so do book yourself a ticket for a great day of delicious food & wine.

Our last visit to round up these couple of days exploring English Vineyards was to the Surrey Hills to the small estate of High Clandon Owned by Bruce & Sibylla Tindale, this pocketsize vineyard on Chalky Limestone is situated in an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), with spectacular views across to the City – on a clear day, it almost seems as if one could reach out and touch the Shard! Walking through their wild flower meadow that edges the vineyard (followed by a small coterie of inquisitive ducklings), it’s clear that the vineyard is their absolute passion – and they are very much hands on doing all the vineyard work throughout the year themselves – with one being very much in charge of the Chardonnay vines and the other tending the Pinot Noir vines! On the far side of the vineyard is their wood planted with oak & hazels, which is their truffière – gradually becoming home to Burgundian truffles.

Their focus is all about the vineyard and growing the best fruit possible, whilst the wine making is entrusted to the brilliant Emma Rice at Hattingley Valley, who have a much larger wine making facility. In the High Clandon Wine Lodge, which is filled with artwork and sculptures from local artists, a relaxing tasting was prepared around the log burner, a welcome sight on this English Spring day. The Elysium Cuvée 2013 of 54% Pinot Noir & 46% Chardonnay was very approachable, with lovely notes of apricots and was complimented by the homemade Gougeres (an English twist on the classic French cheese puff). To finish in style, we’d decided to open a couple of Library Wines – the Aurora Cuvée Rose 2011 was the palest of salmon pink shades with not only strawberries but a delicious butterscotch finish. The Queens Jubilee Cuvée 2008 of which only 1100 bottles were produced, from 56% Chardonnay was the perfect finale. Still lovely freshness with a good mousse, on the palate it was all stone fruit and some lime to end. Before we disappeared, there was one last wine – the Essence of High Clandon, an Eau de Vin du Vin. Double distilled from their Chardonnay & Pinot Noir grapes, and infused with 14 local botanicals plus a small additional of their own honey, whose bees enjoy the wild flower meadows next to their vines. A great expression of this little magical corner of quintessential England in the Surrey Hills to end our tour.

English Wine is going through a very exciting time, no longer the joke of hobbyist wine makers with more enthusiasm than knowledge, it is now a serious industry and growing very quickly. Last year’s vintage of 2018 was for most producers a blessing as the large yields have given them opportunity to build up reserve wines, even though at the time of harvest, the challenge of what to do with so many grapes was a very real worry! Sparkling leads the way with 72% of English production, with Chardonnay & Pinot Noir making up the Lions share at 58% of vineyards as opposed to other varieties. Vineyard plantings are rapidly increasing, which I see first hand here around LWF HQ in Hampshire, and since 2015, the amount of land under vine has increased by 47%. But with over 520 vineyards that are producing grapes for commercial use and only 164 wineries, there is a concern for over production without sufficient infrastructure. English Sparkling only makes up 2% of all Sparkling wines on the home market so there is room for sales expansion and export markets will only increase but it is a time for long term planning in English Vineyards. But what an era to be experiencing as a wine lover in England. There are some great Sparkling wines being produced to rival Champagne, as has been proved repeatedly in recent blind tastings. There are a handful of winemakers already making delicious still wines, like the Pinot Gris at Stopham, I drink it because it’s delicious wine and not simply to be patriotic. Finally your low “wine miles” count can easily persuade you into enjoying a second glass or so without worry!

For more information please visit: www.winegb.co.uk

Mornington Peninsula Tasting

Once the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia, was simply a costal weekend bolthole for the good folk of Melbourne, but over the last thirty years, it has developed into Australia’s leading cool climate wine producing region. Pinot Noir & Chardonnay are key varieties but the diversity of terroir in such a small region is fascinating.

Since I joined the wine trade, many tastings have become behemoths, where the sheer number of wines overwhelms even the most hardy & dedicated of tasters. True, one can focus, be it on a certain grape variety/ region / vintage / price point, but all too often means one misses out on the unexpected vinous surprise!

So, it was sheer heaven to attend the Mornington Peninsula tasting in Australia House yesterday.  “Small but perfectly formed” as Kylie Minogue has been described many a time, the Mornington Peninsula Tasting (or the only MP I’m ever likely to invite for dinner), featured nine of their leading wine estates, allowing us, the interested of the wine trade to focus and contrast the variety in the region.

Kicking off with the brilliant and welcoming Rollo Crittenden (on the family’s website as “all round good bloke”), from his family’s Crittenden Estate, as the Wine Maker, he is the second generation taking this great property forward. One of the early wine estates to believe in MP, starting there in 1982, their style of making wine is small scale production and reflects their sustainable respect for the land, which gives their wines a purity of fruit in the glass.

The Zumma Chardonnay ’16 was beautiful, bright and good backbone of minerality, the Zumma Pinot Noir ’16 from their home vineyards, using 20% of whole bunch retention, was deeper in colour and flavour profile than the (albeit lovely!) Estate PN ‘16 , but the Zumma has an inviting savoury depth and a wine crying out for food! Guinea Fowl roasted with porcini mushrooms maybe?

Fascinating to taste their two wines made from the Savignan grape variety. Not a spello of Sauvignon, this white variety is found almost exclusively in the Jura and made to make Vin Jaune. Decidedly quirky as a variety, it was planted in Australia erroneously in the belief that it was the Spanish white variety Albarino. Crittenden only have half an acre planted but the wine gives an individual aroma of toasted hazelnuts, very reminiscent of sherry, even more so when it leads through to almost salinity on the finish. The Estate Version was lovely but the Cris de Coeur Sous Voile Savignan, aged with a “veil” of yeast was a revelation. A Salome of a wine that just unveils its layers little by little, but to be enjoyed with a plate of aged Comté cheese – bliss!

The next estate of Ocean 8 (no presence of the all- female cast of the new version of the famous film trilogy) but welcomed instead by their friendly & enthusiastic Winemaker Mike Aylward, they showed only three wines as those are available in the UK (though am plotting to lay my hands on a bottle of their Late Harvest Pinot Gris when I’m in Oz later this year). The Pinot Gris ’17 was very approachable with a good rounded mouth feel. The Verve Chardonnay ’15 was early picked, a touch of malo but still retaining notes of pink grapefruit, with a lovely balanced acidity. Tasting the 2012 vintage (unlisted & under the counter wines are always so much fun at tastings!), which shares similar characters to the '15 as were similar vintages, but obviously with more depth thanks to the three extra years of age. Their philosophy of having only used barrels rather than new, lets the fruit shine through, which is sadly not something to be said for all Chardonnays. 

Paringa Estate under the aegis of Lindsay McCall, has its vines planted on an old apple orchard (there must be a soil synergy between vines and apples trees as have found this in South Africa, Chile through to the UK). Disappointed not to be able to try their Riesling, but the Estate Pinot Noir ’15 was very appealing, slightly smoky, with enticing black cherries – a textbook tempting example of this precocious variety. The Paringa Pinot Noir '15 was suitably spicy, perhaps from the red volcanic soil that the vineyard is planted on, but certainly showing why it has won a considerable bunch of awards!

Stonier Wines were on my “must taste” list before arriving and with good reason. One of the first pioneers of the region starting in 1978, in this maritime climate, when the elegance of Pinot Noir & cool climate Chardonnay were – how to put this politely – mostly less understood in Oz then they are today! The Stonier Chardy ’17 was bright, with attractive ripe melon notes. The Reserve Chardy ’16 merited the startling tasting note of “weird note of buddleia on the nose” – only a few minutes later did I notice this was due to the slightly overpowering & ill thought out perfume of the lady behind me. The Trio of Pinot Noirs were simply delicious – The Stonier PN ’17 was remarkable quality for their “basic” (sorry!) PN, bright fresh ripe raspberries. Their Reserve PN ’16, fermented in open vats was a hint of mint on the nose, leading into a balsamic savoury character with a longer finish, a leap in quality (reflected quite rightly for that amount of work in the price!). But the outstanding Windmill Vineyards PN 2015 was pure delight. A small harvest for this selection in ’15 nonetheless has given a charming wine full of nuance and will only improve with time in bottle. An outstanding range of wines from Stonier.

The intriguing moniker of the estate Ten Minutes by Tractor was given for the very prosaic (& Aussie!) reason that when it was formed of three family vineyards, which were only 600 seconds away from each other by Tractor! The 10x Chardy ’16 was in football pundit speak – a wine of two halves! The nose was rather unusual but the palate was an explosion of that I can only describe as lemons along with crystallised pineapple (apologies for that being an OTT description but I was using crystallised pineapple in cooking the day before the tasting!). The Estate Chardonnay ’16 was quite broad whilst the Judd Chardonnay from the same vintage was more elegant with white peaches with nice acidity.  Their Pinot Noirs ranged from the very quaffable 10x ’16, through the Estate with a nice hint of spice and finishing on the Coolart Road ’16 which differs dramatically to its two other siblings, being more dark and vegetal. 

Yabby Lake (established 1998), owned by the Kirby family, make some serious Pinot Noirs & Chardonnay. Block 1 Chardonnay from ’12 vintage has a pure linear profile, despite its 5 years of age, it was still vibrant, youthful and a while happily to develop more. Their Red Claw PN is often my “go to” wine on a Tuesday evening after a hard day as it’s easily available in M&S (and good value at about £12 for a wine with this much personality!). Their super experienced winemaker Tom Carson did not seem to mind as I skipped the Red Claw, along to their Block 2 Pinot Noir ’15 which was a true delight to taste, and showed the complexity this wine has achieved since they started the Block programme in 2008 – wonderful layers of spice and fruit, with complexity and potential. It had me dreaming of a plate of lamb chops grilled on a BBQ of vine cuttings!

The very first Mornington Peninsular Wine I ever tasted (quite a while ago now!) was from the Moorooduc Estate and they did not disappoint on revisiting! Hosted by their charming Wine Maker, Kate McIntyre (not only WM aka Wine Maker but also MW – Master of Wine - only 380 of them in the world). Each wine on show displayed great purity & finesse reflecting their incredible attention to detail in the vineyards. The Pinot Gris ’15 was supple, delicately aromatic and rather refreshing. The McIntyre Chardonnay ’15 from their oldest vines was quite impressive in its lean elegance, but it was when the flight of Pinot Noir began that Unicorns started dancing around the room (metaphorically speaking – I was spitting out of course!). The Estate Pinot Noir ’15 led to my rather simplistic but ultimately unfussy Aussie tasting note of “YES!”.  Lovely ripe red cherries and a touch of liquorice.  The McIntyre PN ’15 ticked every box, supple but present tannin, rich balsamic notes and just needed a roast goose topped with Chinese Five Spice! But it was the Robinson PN ’15 (which had been my first MP experience all those years ago!) which stole the whole tasting. When a wine sings as well as this in the glass and all the elements are so well married, I find it hard (or even pointless?) to say it has notes of this or that. Just let it be said that if you are a Pinot Lover, you need to get some of this in your cellar now, by whatever means necessary!

Before tasting their Syrah (an excellent cool climate example of this variety similar to those coming out of San Antonio in Chile from Casa Marin), I was distracted by their ongoing Pinot Noir project. Five wines to taste from different vineyards – same clone, same vintage (2016), same vinification, the only difference is vineyard location. Fascinating to taste side by side – ranging from smooth & velvety, through to raspberry jam (without the stickiness of negative connotations), some Lapsang Suchong notes – each vineyard had something different to say. But if you were in a blind tasting, you’d want to encounter the McIntyre PN ’16 – instantly recognisable by an explosion of Eucalyptus. Apparently the vineyards are harvested in three tranches, and the section closest to the tree line, always given that dominant mint aroma, which was followed up with deep blueberry notes – heaven! A truly awesome range of wines from a world class producer. By the way - If you struggle to remember this Aboriginal name of the estate, you could always try Kate’s rather tongue in cheek helpful tip – just imagine a Cow, a Kangaroo and a Duck in a line!

I’m off to New Zealand in a few weeks, taking clients on tour around 16 wineries on North & South Island, and my return flight touches down in Melbourne. After this tasting, I am seriously plotting as to how can change my flight to fit in a few days in Mornington Peninsula! Not least because Aussie friends keep raving about the food there as well!

If like me, Pinot Noir seduces and excites you, do check out the Pinot Celebration Australia in February 2019 – a real festival of Pinot Noirs not only from Oz but around the world paired with some great foods. www.pinotcelebration.com.au


For more information do visit - https://www.wineaustralia.com/  https://www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/  https://mpva.com.au/










Restaurant Review: The Three Buoys

Waking this weekend to sunshine that makes resistance futile, my desire to be on an Island was overwhelming. Yes, I know that Britain is an Island, but I confess to having a “thing” about Islands off Islands – it’s something about the double feeling of escapism which gives that frisson as you step off the ferry onto the Aeolian Islands (off North Coast of Sicily) or onto Bruny Island (off Tasmania). But somewhere closer for the day was needed and so the Isle of Wight beckoned.  Sixty one minutes later, one excellent train connection with the ferry and a charming transfer along the pier in a vintage London Underground Carriage and our feet were in the sand on Ryde beach!  Ryde, although the largest town on the island, often is overlooked in favour of more stylish yachtie Cowes or beautiful Bembridge, but Ryde has an eclectic mix of shops dotted along Union Street (including the wonderful Aladdin's Cave of  Elizabeth Smith!)and of course the excellent museum of Donald McGill, designer of the saucy postcard which caused Police Raids in the1950’s for being offensive!

After a blustery stroll along the long sandy beach alongside Appley Tower, although slightly eerie with a 21 Gun salute booming out of the mist somewhere on the mainland (as a Happy Birthday Your Majesty!), lunch beckoned. So what a heavenly surprise it was to discover The Three Buoys Restaurant. On the top floor of an unassuming building, the bright & airy New Englandesque décor is a pleasing surprise.  Beautiful paintings by Penelope Walford, (a local artist who lives on a houseboat in Bembridge) adorn the walls. The tables on the terrace were deemed a tad chilly, but the tables inside still look out over the beach.  Hard to choose a pre-prandial G&T from their Gin menu, but with the restaurant focusing on local produce, it had to be the Mermaid Gin distilled just a stone’s throw away! Lovely Citrus notes, backed up with slight salty tang which was echoed in the samphire & lemon floating amongst the ice. To stave off hunger pangs, the bread board came with two flavoured butters – smoked cardamom and the other with fennel seeds – quite delicious!

Unlike a recent visit to a “Celebrity” Chef’s restaurant, the Three Buoys menu was balanced and well thought out, so for starters I plumped for Scallops served with wild garlic, black caraway seeds & fermented grains, whilst PJ was struggling to choose between the Beetroot Salmon Gravlax served with Kohlrabi or the Pig Cheek with sweet potato, mango glaze & miso. Whilst the descriptions might sound slightly like a Chef who is trying too hard to prove seasonality alongside trendy ingredients, the actual delivery of the dishes was spot on – scallops cooked to perfection, the pig cheek melt in the mouth.

Mains on the principle menu included temptations such of Isle of Wight Lamb, with aubergine & harissa chickpeas as well as a mountain of Mussels cooked in a Thai Coconut broth, but the Daily specials were impossible to resist. PJ’s choice of Plaice, a fish which inexplicably seems to have fallen out of fashion, delicately cooked and served with black olive crumb & poached radishes. For me, the Sea Bass - a thick fillet with perfectly crispy skin, topped with samphire, excellently cooked flakes falling apart alongside charred asparagus & fennel seeds. The only thing awry on the plate was an small odd polenta cake but apart from that it was pretty close to perfection – especially the seasoning which can make or break a dish – this is a Chef who understands balance!

The Wine List is well chosen and fairly priced – something of a surprise in restaurants these days.  A Clare Valley Riesling matched well with the scallops and the Sea Bass. Made by two MW’s (Masters of Wine – of whom there are only 370 in the world!) , the Courtesan Riesling from Wild & Wilder had lovely lime & pink grapefruit notes, wonderfully fresh with no oak, but thanks to a couple of months lees contact, was rounded and rich enough to compliment  the mains. Good to see wine by the glass were not just the run of the mill, but included a Feteasca from Romania – the best way to get people to sample something different!

Sadly despite the delicious sounding desserts – Textures of Rhubarb or Spice Pineapple with Coconut Ice cream will have to wait for our next visit.

A great meal is never just about the food, but whole experience – The Three Buoys ticked lots of boxes – seasonal food cooked brilliantly with precision & flair, fairly priced wine list, great panoramic view of the beach and best of all -  friendly, knowledgeable staff. Very pleased to have discovered this small gem of a restaurant, and on an Island! The Isle of Wight produces some great food from garlic through to tomatoes – so a longer gourmet weekend away exploring the Island is needed - but a lunch booking at the Three Buoys will certainly be included again!





Wine Evening at Hambledon Vineyard with Joe Wadsack

Salvador Dali, the calorific value of Guinness and  Georgian Architecture. It may seem find to find a link between these subjects, but they all featured in the fascinating presentation by Joe Wadsack at the “How to be a Winemaker evening” at Hambledon vineyard, which I’d bought for a birthday present for my fizz loving other half!

Arriving to a backdrop of beautiful winter skies, nestled on the side of a valley on the chalky hills of the South Down National Park in Hampshire (England), Hambledon Vineyards hosts a creative calendar of events from the perhaps expected ones such as wine tastings, WSET qualifications  through to the more eclectic Yoga in the vineyards. Hambledon is the oldest commercial vineyard in the UK, started in1952 by Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, with lots of advice from the Pol Roger Cellar Master, their vines are planted with the classic Champenoise grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Meunier.

But the evening’s event with Joe, was not arrogantly designed to promote their own (superb!) sparkling wines – but an opportunity to directly compare a variety of fizz in the company of one of the most knowledgeable & entertaining communicators in the Wine Trade. A real tour de force, with endless energy, whose enthusiastic presence is quite compelling, Jo’s mind works like a Classic American Pin Ball machine - bouncing everywhere, landing on subjects at a tangent, scattering fascinating nuggets of knowledge as he enthuses around the central theme. I  wish it were possible to have Joe on a rewind function,  you are so overwhelmed with the depth  of knowledge,  it would be fabulous  to have him on catch up to listen again later!

Tasting events can often be too formal and rather off putting for the consumer, but this was a remarkable privilege whilst being great fun! There were only 6 wine lovers at the event (due to the bad weather) listening to Joe’s years of experience of the wine world for almost four hours! With such a select number, there was a great opportunity for interaction & discussion – the lady who was there as part of her Year Long celebrations of her 50-th birthday, who was emphatic about her love of Bolly through to the lady from the New Forest decided dislike of Cava – for all, it was fascinating opportunity to taste a range of sparklers side by side.

A glass of Hambledon on arrival was served with some delicious patés, including vension and  smoked salmon to stave the hunger pangs!

The tasting kicked off with a glass of Prosecco – Conegliano Valdobbiadene La Marca to be precise – which qualifies as  DOCG, Italy’s’ highest wine classification. Prosecco has really taken off in the UK, since 2008, sales have increased by 6000%!!! Joined now by the Scandi counties and the US in their love of this classic Italian sparkling wine, this marketing phenomenon shows no sign of abating.  A shaft of brilliance from Joe described Prosecco as the Lager equivalent of the Sparkling wine club (not in a bad way!) . Uncomplicated, reliable, low acidity, quite mono dimensional, this is easy drinking fizz ideal for BBQ’s or rainy Tuesday evenings after a bad day at work.

Personally I am not a fan of Prosecco (except for some Colfondo styles, which are bottle fermented but this is a tiny production compared to the big companies), but the La Marca poured as first wine was fresh crisp green apples, simple clean  and unchallenging – and would find great success in many wine bars.  Moving up the production method scale, using oak barrels and bottle fermentation, next up was Cordoníu Cava from the vineyards of Penedès, just an hour outside Barcelona, Spain. Although Cava has lost out recently to Prosecco in the UK at the entry level price, it still is huge consumption in Spain. Our small group were not that enthusiastic, it was more yeasty which was more layered in flavour, but slightly flat on the fruit, and as Joe pointed out, suspect it was a bottle fault (it happens) as certainly usually a much more enticing wine. Top end Cava is a heavenly delight such as the Grand Reserva 457 but at a price over £100 a bottle, I should expect so! But despite the poor showing of the Cordoníu this evening, generally speaking for a party wine, you get more complexity from your Cava than Prosecco at same price point. Interesting also to hear about how one of Cava’s main grape variety, the weirdly named Xarel- lo which gives acidity to the wine, is now increasingly being planted for still wines in the region.

Amongst the critiques of the wines, the aim of the evening was to show how a winemaker would approach making the final sparkling wine blend. Joe shared the brilliant BLIC theory (I am not going to explain here as would spoil for anyone yet to attend the evening)  - but it shows consumers an insight into how the professionals in the wine trade approach a wine.

Our third glass was back to the classic Home of sparkling, with the omnipotent Champagne Laurent Perrier on show. The bubbles were much finer than previous two, making it a more appealing texture and sensorial perception. Joe’s refreshing honesty about the marketing aspect of the big Champagne brands and how that has helped them to dominate this market for so long – working out to an average of £10 a bottle of your Champagne bottle price goes on marketing alone! The LP (whose strong market presence is down to the trade off as wine bars still clamber to get their hands on the delicious LP Rosé) was discreet but with  lovely pink  grapefruit note on the nose, notably more complex but to my taste just too technically perfect – everything was there but no passion.

Last in the flight of finished wines was the Hambledon Classic Cuvée, which although is a NV was based on the 2014 vintage, when the quality of the Meunier (previously known as Pinot Meunier) grapes was outstanding. Keeping an objective view, despite tasting it in its spiritual home, of the four the Hambledon won for pure individuality, complexity and interest in the glass. Blend of 40% Chardy, 31% Meunier & 29% Pinot Noir made with 7.6 gms residual sugar per litre, it charmed the group.

This stage of the evening is where it became fascinating technical for those who have never blended wines before. Hambledon’s brilliant Events Manger, Katrina Smith along with their Wine Maker Felix  Gabillet (yup – French!) had lined up four versions of Hambledon to taste – in which the only varying factor was the amount of dosage added at the end of fermentation. This decides the mouthfeel, texture, taste and aging potential of the wines, and for famous names of Champagne is usually about 10 gms per litre added, but Hambledon have done extensive research on varying dosage levels.

Kicking off with the Zero dosage, understandable racy acidity, with a nose like a Nashi pear, with waxy white lilies - it simple danced on the tongue, a thrilling wine but not for those of a nervous disposition!  The 4 gms dosage per litre had more roundness – and interestingly 5gms / litre is the magic number to help the wines aging slowly and gracefully.  6gms / litre in comparison felt quite heavy but with attractive biscuit notes and good long finish – very easy to drink! 10 gms had a different bubble formation and to my personal taste was slightly unbalanced as lacked the necessary acidity. But totally fascinating and the group loved having the possibility to taste these wines side by side for a direct comparison. Even more fun, was the choosing of which dosage to go into the bottle we were each given to take home – so all off to the cellar to bottle and label our own Hambledon after a delicious supper cooked by South African Steve, one of the team who makes a mean Coq au Vin, ideal to soak up the tasting and paired superbly with a surprise Alsace Pinot Noir!

Having first focused on getting the vineyards as they wanted, Hambledon  is currently undergoing a huge investment with new gravity fed cellars and tasting room. So do go and visit them at this exciting time in their (and English Wines’) development.  The momentum of English wine is on a roll – no longer a laughing stock to amuse our cousins over the Channel – but there are some outstanding sparkling wines being made in England. Certainly, where I live on the South Downs, there is an explosion of vineyards being planted  all around. Increasingly also the still wines are gaining attention – but the sparklers are the stars, even getting listings on export markets (including France!).

A brilliant evening, and a real privilege to have the company of Joe and his immense knowledge – not to mention pithy quotes – not sure how we got onto the subject of Merlot, but his view on this grape variety was “The Tofu of the wine world, only to be used to numb the pain of attending a child’s party”! Joe’s parents ran a gastropub, he was an RAF pilot for a spell, before heading  to Bordeaux to study wine making and went onto to become wine buyers at several UK companies including Waitrose. His enthusiasm for all things food & drink – along with a healthy dose of refreshing honesty – meant for a brilliant – both fun & informative - evening in his company.

Hambledon are holding another date for this course later this year – for details do contact Katrina Smith on katrina.smith@hambledonvineyard.co.uk

Oh and in case you’re wondering apparently Guinness brewed in the UK is only 210 calories a pint vs 600 for that which is cask conditioned in Ireland!


Left Bank & Right Bank Bordeaux

Waking up in London to the snowfall of the “Mini Beast from the East” was not the best weather to kick start Day One of a recent private Bordeaux Wine tour that I had the pleasure to organise for a London Livery Company – especially when the tail of the BA plane has to be de-iced before departure! But soon off to land in Bordeaux bathed in sunshine.

Taking the classic Route des Châteaux (rather more prosaically known as the D2), our wine guide, the esteemed Derek Smedley MW pointing out the Chateaux, the list reading like a desert island wine list as we meandered from the Haut Medoc through Margaux, St Julien and onto Pauillac to our first hotel.  A converted Chartreuse, the glorious Cordeillan Bages  surrounded by vines, it was the ideal place for a reviving glass of Blanc de Lynch 2015. 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% each of Semillon and Moscatel creates an aromatic delight – rounded mouthfeel but lightened with incredible notes of tangerine.

Château Lascombes in the Margaux appellation has had a chequered ownership over its history (including a spell under British Bass Charrington), but today the property is firmly back with quality wines, in great part thanks to their General Manager Dominique Befve, who welcomed us for an evening tasting visit. Against the backdrop of the ivy clad Chateau, listening to Dominique’s charmingly accented English, we heard about their concentration on the viticulture – to the point that 80% of their wage bill is spent in the vineyards and only 20% in the cellar.  In the barrel hall, emptier than usual which was a stark reminder of the frosts that hit in April 2017, when the estate lost 40% of their production. Unusually for the appellation, Lascombes has a higher percentage of Merlot in its vineyards of about 50%, the remainder being Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. No better way to illustrate this than tasting the 2017’s from barrel – just a fortnight ahead of the annual En Primeur Campaign. Each of the three grape varieties tasted as a separate component. Rich ripe fruit of the Merlot, tighter note on the Cab with more linear acidity and the herbal peppery notes of the Petit Verdot – but they were all united by fine supple tannins. Dominque also made an ad hoc blend of the 2017 in the glass – fascinating to taste at this stage in its life.

Le Chevalier, the second wine of the estate, but  2010 was soft & approachable – perfect with the ravioli (despite the amusing menu translation of “Creaminess of Undergrowth”!). Onto Le Grand Vin 2011 which happily paired with the pigeon, before the 2009 which was heaven with the Comté, still young but with depth of character. Obviously no sweet wine at Lascombes and so with dessert, a Barsac from Dominque’s friends at Chateau Coutet 2005 (magnum) – a delicious, rich wine with great balance.

Apricot and muted cerulean shades of a beautiful sunrise  made an early morning stroll around the vineyards of Pauillac hard to resist, a chance to recharge the energy levels before a big day of wine tasting ahead! Away in front of me, the Gironde estuary was perilously high, hence the flood alerts worryingly in place.  Heading into the warmth of Château Latour was the perfect shelter from the rains. I am not a fan of videos at wine estates – so many are either Disney Like or corporate puffs of pretty pictures, a macho voice over and mean absolutely nothing! However, at Latour they have a brilliant interactive screen which shows the plots of the vineyards with great depth of information. Later this year, the vineyards of Latour will be certified as organic, but within the Clos of their main vineyards, they are already practising biodynamic agriculture. Following the writings of Rudolph Steiner, this is  a brilliant and effective holistic approach of returning life to the soil.  I am a huge supporter of Biodynamic wines and  the attention to detail that goes along with biodynamic processes ,such as Latour’s use of 10 horses working the vineyards for reducing soil compaction.

In the cellars amongst the hundreds of barrels, the team were racking the wine in the traditional way using a candle to check the clarity of the wine. A task carried out 5 times in the first year of the wine’s life, and then gradually less, given the numbers of barrels, this task must seem akin to painting the Forth Bridge.  Latour’s style is powerful, complex and with huge aging potential. The Pauillac de Latour was quite relatively light reflecting the 2013 vintage, the Les Fonts de Latour had good fruit, but of course it was the Grand Vin 2006 which showed the real character of Latour. Lovely dark chocolate, blackcurrants as well as cedar and coffee with good length. Despite being already 12 years old, this is a wine still with a long way to travel.

Staying in the Pauillac appellation, Château Grand Puy Lacoste awaited. One of the oldest estates in the Medoc dating from the 16th century, the Borie family came to own the estate in 1978. Owned & managed since then by Francois – Xavier Borie, this Grand Cru Classé estate produces wines of consistent excellence.  Perhaps the family’s attitude to their wines is best summed up by this quote from Xavier  "I do what I love, what I believe in. We want to build Grand-Puy-Lacoste's renown on consistent quality rather than showy effects. I'm suspicious of wines made for competitions; I prefer that Grand-Puy-Lacoste create a reputation based on the long term, vintage after vintage. Pretentiousness, fleeting fashion and short-term media attention is not what we do.".

Tasting the two wines – Lacoste Borie and the Grand Vin both in 2014 & 2015 was fascinating and showed the estate’s style. In 2015, the older vines in the vineyards had a good resistance to the strong heat and gave sweet ripe fruit, and thanks to the 5% of Cabernet Franc in the Grand Puy Lacoste ’15 was outstanding – and will try my patience to cellar it for another five years at least!

The Medoc has many beautiful Châteaux but very few are actually lived in, so what a privilege to be welcomed into the family home of Grand Puy Lacoste, by Francois Xavier & Marie Helene Borie who live in this gorgeous property. A reviving glass of Champagne, before a delicious lunch, devised by Madame Borie – paired with a selection of GLP vintages. The notes of the black cherry of the 2009 Lacoste Borie worked  well with the earthiness of the mushroom tarts, whilst the GPL 2005 showed extreme elegance & finesse. For the cheese the GPL 2000 with its hint of smoke and liquorice was delicious! Charming company in a beautiful setting and world class wines – what a real honour to be enjoyed!

Château Ormes de Pez, located in the St Estephe classification is owned by the charismatic Jean Michel Cazes. A brief tasting stop to taste two of his properties wines side by side. Ormes (Elms) de Pez (peace) is naturally very different stylistically to his Pauillac estate of Lynch Bages.  Ormes ‘16 showed very sweet fruit, highly untypical of its classification whilst the Lynch Bages ’16 was all bilberries and rather inviting. Compared to the 2011 from both estates, it was interesting to revisit the Lynch Bages 2011, which whilst perfectly nice, did not have the wow factor as when I last tasted it two years ago – but I think that may well be down to the distracting weather outside – for it had started snowing! This was rapidly turning into a wine tour of four seasons in one day to misquote Crowded House!

Unheard of in the Medoc this late in March, the snow made for a magical arrival at Château Pichon Baron, which with its turreted towers is already one of the most fairy tale properties in the region. Welcomed by the ever charming Nicolas Santier, a brief cellar walk through, as the snow fall increased outside, Nicolas lined up a tour de force tasting. A flight of 2016’s, 2015’s and a couple of older vintages of the Grand Vin to complete.  Pichon Baron is owned by Axa Millésimes, who own a host of other well-chosen estates, including Château Pibran, further north in the Pauillac appellation. Pibran ’16 was all ripe blackberries balanced with spice and drinking alarmingly well now.  The Tourelles de Longueville is not precisely the second wine of Pichon Baron in the accepted sense, as the grapes most come from one particular specific plot (Saint Anne).  In the ’16 the Tourelles was appealing thanks to a higher percentage of Merlot. Les Griffons de Pichon Baron (the name arriving from the estate’s coat of arms) is understandably known as “Pichon for the Impatient”  and in ’16 was delicious cassis, whilst the Pichon Baron ’16 was peppery and hints of cherry. In the flights of 2015’s, Les Griffons has lovely notes of chocolate and black fruit, rather too easy to drink now but will repay a little patience – and is incredibly good value for this quality of wine – not something one can say too often on the Left Bank! To end the tasting with a further three vintages Pichon Baron was fascinating. Although still technically infanticide, the '15 was voluptuous, deep cocoa notes and black fruits, with a purity of elegance – sublime. The ’12 was a challenging vintage with lots of rain, and shows a slight restraint but that having said, paired with some lamb chops BBQ’ed over vine cuttings would be rather lovely! The ’10 was starting to open up into its aging plateau and showing the time in bottle.

Battling the snow storm (yes really!) into the illuminated Château, where a welcome glass of Champagne Agrapart was waiting. The hospitality of the Bordeaux Châteaux that kindly open their doors to us is legendary – and no more so than the habit of offering a reviving glass of fizz after all the tannins in the tastings. Pichon’s choice of Champagne was interesting from the Cotes de Blanc, whose winemaker uses Burgundian approach in his vines, whilst remaining very Champenois in his cellars. Almost biodynamic in the vineyards, their wines are exciting with a good minerality.

One of the other Axa properties is Château Suduiraut in Sauternes, and interesting that due to the ever diminishing market for Sauternes, they are increasing production of their dry white wine “S” from that estate. Principally from Semillion grapes, it was the perfect foil for the scallops in sorrel sauce. A hugely indulgent main of Charolaise beef (cooked to perfection by Chef Thibault) needed a wine with attitude, so step up the Pichon Baron 2007 in magnum – muscular, almost masculine (if I dare say that) and depth of complexity. In comparison the Pichon Baron 2006 (magnum) was linear and  great balance between acidity, fruit & tannin. Both equally seductive, just for different foods or moods. Sauternes is such a glorious wine that it is a shame so many people have fallen out of (or never gained!) the habit of indulging in this unctuous, golden, rich honeyed wine with hints of clementine. The Suduiraut 2005 was delicious enough on its own but picked up the tonka beans and fresh fruit in the dessert perfectly.

Château Margaux is always such an honour to visit, with the iconic Neo Palladian Villa at the end of a tree lined avenue. The new cellars by Sir Norman Foster in 2015, have been well designed to integrate alongside the existing buildings which are listed as a national monument. Inside, the James Bond style futuristic cellars are immaculate, allowing the white production to take place in the same property as the red. Margaux is one of only a handful of estates in Bordeaux that has its own in house cooper, making and taking care of their barrels. The Grand Vin 2004 was classic Margaux, lots of blackberries, blackcurrants, slightly herbal notes – very balanced. But for me, the delight of the Pavillon Rouge 2009 with its elegance, fresh redcurrants and slight cloves on the finish – sheer heaven. With the arrival of the estate’s third wine, and greater selection, more plots that were originally destined for the Grand Vin, now find their way into the Pavillon – it far outperforms its second wine status.

An impromptu tasting was slotted in (too cold to visit the vineyards!), so we called into the excellent Cave d’Ulysses in the village of Margaux.  A veritable Aladdin’s Cave for wine lovers, the shelves hold tempting vintage verticals from all the leading Bordeaux Chateaux as well as covering all other French wine regions – and beyond. Quite a rarity in a region that traditionally has been a little insular in admitting that wine might be made elsewhere! The incredibly knowledgeable Dominique decided to show a couple of wines blind to liven up the taste buds. An excellent Vouvray from the Loire was all white flowers and apricots, whilst the Rauzan ’13 was wonderfully smooth for that vintage.

Château Leoville Barton in St Julien is always a highlight of any visit to the Left Bank, and where better to finish our time on this side of the River. The Barton dynasty started in 1722, when Thomas Barton left Ireland for Bordeaux. We were welcomed by the 10th generation, Lilian Barton Sartorius and her daughter wine maker Melanie, for a refreshingly honest and amusing cellar visit. The 2016 Langoa Barton was for me the star of the tasting, amazing length and velvety mouth feel.  Over lunch, their white, La Croix Barton Blanc ’16 worked well with the Oeuf en cocotte, but the Langoa 2006 was the perfect match with the slightly spiced duck (think warm spices such as cumin & star anise rather than hit of chilli)  picking up the spice of this wine. The Leoville Barton 2004 served with the cheese really showed off their Super Second status, and one can understand why Lilian’s Father, the wonderful Anthony Barton has compared it to the excellent 1996 vintage. Hard to follow but a delicious Raspberry Charlotte with the first French strawberries of the season made for a sensational end to a delightful lunch with the Barton family.

The Right Bank called for our last night near the beautiful town of St Emilion. This medieval town with UNESCO World Heritage Site status nestles on the plateau above Roman Limestone caves. Time for a relaxing dinner at the L’Envers du Décor, favourite wine bar of many of the local winemakers thanks to  their extensive wine list.  I love tasting from little known appellations, so Derek’s choice of Hauret du Piada from Cerons (Barsac) was a welcome start – it’s freshly balanced sweet Semillon was an excellent match for the Foie Gras. But the wine of the evening was Château Beauregard 2009 from Pomerol, reminding me why I love wines from that classification – abundant red cherries, hints of chocolate, wonderfully fragrant – superb!

J P Moueix, own two properties in Pomerol, one in St Emilion (as well as two in the Napa Valley). So to contrast the two neighbouring appellations,  starting off with a visit to their St Emilion property, Château Belair-Monange. From their superbly located vineyards, it is an excellent view across the plateau and gives an idea of scale of the limestone quarries, topped by a mere dusting of clay top soil.  When Moueix bought Belair, it took them four years to consolidate the quarries, using concrete the equivalent of twice the cubic volume of the inside of the cathedral of Notre Dame! Just 10 minutes away, is their property of Château la Fleur Petrus in Pomerol. The immaculately tended vineyards on the gravel & clay plateau of Pomerol are sown with oats or mustard plants between the rows. Our host, the knowledgeable Genevieve Sandifer is currently working on a history of the estates, and so it was fascinating to learn that Pomerol was founded by the Knights Templar. In the tasting, having the St Emilion and Pomerol wines side by side in both 2015 and 2010 vintages was a master class in terroir. The Fleur Petrus ’15 with good black fruit, firm but ripe tannin and a lift from a small addition of Petit Verdot. The 2010 Fleur Petrus had a delightful marzipan note on the nose, followed by perfectly balanced red fruit – my tasting note ended simply with the instruction to self “Buy”!

A short hop across the vines was our lunchtime appointment at Château Petit Village, still in the Pomerol classification. Great vineyards visit, explaining their sustainable philosophy in the vines, such as using pheromones to promote an integrated pest management system. Their Wine Maker, Diana Berrouet Garcia,  took us through a few wines before lunch, showing the 2014 of a classic vintage showing good freshness and the 2015 displaying all the power of a rich vintage. One of the most fun parts of planning a tour for me, is the pairing of the food & wine at Châteaux meals. But in all red wine regions, it can be hard sometimes to choose a starter that is not yet more meat, but which will pair happily with rich complex reds, so I was delighted that the smokiness of aubergine and the earthiness of mushrooms worked so well with the Petit Village 07 from magnum.

Heading towards the airport, there was time for one last visit in the Graves appellation to Château Haut Bailly.  Welcomed by the always charming Veronique Sanders, a stroll to the “magical hillock” of the property where six different varieties are planted over 4 hectares and up to 20% of the main blend is still sourced from these 100 year old vines. The vineyards can vary up to 20 metres in altitude which gives a great range of diverse growing patterns and complexity in the end wine. An outstanding tasting in the Château, of five vintages showed the link that to me represents Haut Bailly’s wines – pure elegance. Starting with the 2017 (a sneak preview ahead of the En Primeur campaign) showed great freshness and sweet fruit, the delicious 2014 coffee, cocoa & red fruits, the 2012 with  notes of sage on the nose, 2008 had strength yet balance and drinking rather well now, whilst the 2010 being one of their best vintages ever, is a blockbuster of a wine and will happily sit in the cellar for a long time yet.

A wonderful tasting to end these four days exploring the wines of Bordeaux. I look forward to my next Bordeaux Tour in June!





White Wines & Fish for the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is such an amazing charity – entirely funded by donations, their crews set sail without a thought for their own safety, often in dreadful weather whilst the rest of us are tucked up on the sofa at home. In order for them to be equipped to cope with the challenges that the seas around the UK throw at them when out on a “shout”, the RNLI is brilliant in raising these essential funds in all manners of ways! To run the RNLI last year cost £177.3 million (yes – please read that figure again!). In 2016 alone, they rescued 8, 643 people at sea, plus RNLI

Lifeguards went to the aid of a further 20, 538 beach goers!  So when they appealed this year for people to host a fund raising Fish Supper – it seemed a great way to invite a few friends over for supper, try out a range of wines to see what paired best with fish and top up the donation box as well.

Planning menus is almost as much fun as the actual cooking, but a bit of a quandary ensued for this evening. Fish supper implies a visit to the local “chippy” so would people be disappointed if the menu went all chi chi and offered a ballotine of poached salmon with yuzu dressing? So some canapés to pacify my need for pretty presentation followed by a Fish Supper involving batter but with a bit of a twist!

Cullen Skink

A trio of fishy Canapés to kick off with -  mini blini’s topped with smoked salmon, sour cream&  faux caviar, followed by Scandi inspired waxy potatoes topped with dill gherkins & smoked anchovy, ending with a shot of Cullen Skink (smoked haddock soup).

Baguette aux goujons de poisson sounds so much more elegant than Fish Fingers sandwiches, but not when made with rustic haddock fingers, lemon mayo and even a handful of rocket to pimp it up inside soft white rolls!

A beautiful platter from Southern Italy was heaped with golden nuggets of scampi, delicate lemon sole goujons and tempura king prawns. All very delicious, but of course no fish supper is complete without chips – so newspaper cones overflowing with steaming hot crinkle cuts completed the scene. Well almost, as individual ramekins of minted mushy peas were there for those of that odd persuasion!

So onto the wines - to avoid being too serious, we opened up a range of wines so people could taste a variety of grapes and countries.

Given the menu, whites obviously dominated, and with one exception all the wines were ordered from the brilliant Wine Society, whose list not only weaves around the wine world throwing up many a lesser known gem, but almost all the wine were just below a tenner!

Gewurztraminer is one of those divisive varieties (the Marmite Love it Hate it of the Wine World!) so it’s always great to see friends get excited about this aromatic variety. Add to the fact this one comes from Slovenia, Traminec from Dveri Pax, is a fun one to add into a blind tasting! Delicate rose notes typical of the variety backed up by lovely spiciness. Worked well with the oiliness of the smoked anchovies. £9.95 (WS)

Some classic wine pairings disappear as the wine sadly goes out of fashion. Muscadet used to be a default choice with shellfish, but sadly not offered as much these days as the ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. So how delightful to taste (drink…..) the Muscadet Sevre et Maine from the charming Bougrier family. They’ve been making wine in the Loire for six generations, including this lively, refreshing bone dry Muscadet, the acidity making it the perfect pair for the rich batter of the scampi. Great wine for a party being great value at only £6.50 (WS).

Tabali, a wine estate located in the mystical valley of Limari in Northern Chile, make a smooth Chardonnay Reserve Especial. Offering a more rounded mouth feel than some of the crisper other whites, it’s surprisingly richness (given the young vines and no oak) picked up the smoked salmon quite well. £9.50 (WS)

The volcanic soils of Mount Etna, home to the Carricante & Cataratto white grape varieties give wines with appealing layers of minerality. Tenuta Nicosia Etna Bianco with appealing red apple flavours paired happily with the tempura king prawns and the kick of the chilli dip. £12.50 (WS)

Encruzado is a lesser known white variety from the Dao region of Portugal, which sadly has seen so many vineyards recently destroyed in the forest fires. The Ribeiro Santo Encruzado is a delicious example to discover; citrus yet soft, a light touch of French oak adding complexity. £10.95 (WS)

Chateau Thieuley showed the elegance of a Bordeaux Blanc, when Semillion grapes are used in the blend, rather than the recent trend of doing 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This one also having a touch of Sauvignon Gris in the blend as well. Fabulous citrus notes, not just lemons but also tangerines & pink grapefruit. £9.50 (WS)

Hailing from the Cotes du Rhône, Secret de Famille Blanc from Paul Jaboulet Ainé is a blend of four whites grapes (including Viognier and Marsanne). Put quite simply, it ticked all the boxes for a good mouth feel, peach notes from the Viognier, well balanced and a great all- rounder wine – and I mean that in a positive way! Great value £8.50 (WS)

Matakana Estate Pinot Gris 2014 from New Zealand – the only wine shown not from the Wine Society but from our excellent local (Hampshire) independent Wine Merchant, The General Wine Company. Given this arrived in the hands of a vegetarian friend (no fish therefore), who is also lactose intolerant – it was much appreciated as a sop for the challenge of doing a “fish” supper for a veggie! It was deliciously rich with good acidity, ripe pears, slightly floral and honeyed long finish. £19.59 (General Wine Co.)

But for a couple of friends known for their devotion to reds, they gamely tried some of the whites before moving onto a couple of reds to see how well they worked with the fish.

Bulgaria might not be the first country to spring to mind when looking for a Pinot Noir, but stand up Soli from Edoardo Miroglio. Made by an Italian in Bulgaria, this wine is delightful, relatively uncomplicated but all the more appealing and very food friendly - worked best with the richness of the scampi.  £9.95 (WS)

New Zealand is perhaps better known for that same grape variety, so the Kumeu Village Pinot Noir made by Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich was a great comparison with lovely raspberry and redcurrant notes. His family emigrated from Croatia to New Zealand in 1937, and their estate, Kumeu River is on the North Island, also making truly world class Chardonnay (albeit with a higher price tag than this!). £9.95 (WS)

Back to Mount Etna for the partner in crime of the Nicosia above – this time from the red Nerello Mascalese variety. Trademark minerality showing through the attractive notes of red fruit with herbal notes, almost savoury finish. Would have worked better with a tuna fish steak (or meat!), but was a great option for relaxing with after supper! £9.95 (WS)

Added to the number of bottles rapidly mounting on the table, two beer options for one friend who was designated driver! Sharps Brewery comes from Rock in Cornwall and two beers which matched the fish main course – Doombar Amber Ale, named for the notorious sand bank in the Camel Estuary and Sharps Sea Fury, brewed at the request of local fishermen to have a stronger ale to revive them after facing the storms of the Atlantic coast. Seemed an appropriate choice! My informal Beer Guru of the evening said the Doombar apparently went well with the prawns!

So apart from a fun evening with a group of friends, having shown off a wide range of some lesser known wines and test run them with various sorts of fish dishes, the eight of us managed to raise £151.32 for the Lifeboat – which is good news! Still not sure where the £1.32 came from – but as they say, Every Little Helps!

With the high costs of building and maintaining the boats and Lifeboat stations, the RNLI are outstanding at looking to the future. Their use of sustainable energy last year created at the stations by wind turbines and solar panels saved enough money to run nine inshore lifeboats.

Please do visit RNLI.com for more information. If there is any way you can get involved (last year I did the H2O Challenge giving up all liquids except water for a month – no wine for 31 days? That was a challenge and a half but raised almost £600 – not sure if that says something about my friends doubting my wine resistance levels?) , then there are lots of ways to help support this truly selfless charity.

PS – If you want to see the RNLI in action, available on BBC iPlayer is “Saving Lives at Sea”  following the work of Lifeboat crews as far afield from Tower Bridge on the Thames down to the Atlantic coast in Cornwall.

PPS – Apologies, I meant to take lots of great photos of the fabulous food, but we were having so much fun pairing the wines & fish that was forgotten!! So hence a few images from some of the empty bottles next day!



Hambledon Wine Festival

Take one Sunny, Summer's Sunday morning. Add in a beautiful setting, the Hampshire Countryside at its best, butterflies fluttering through the vines, bees buzzing on the lavender plants and a sparkling white marquee. Stir in a judicious selection of wines and delicious local foods and you have Hambledon Wine Festival which took place this weekend! The oldest commercial vineyard in England, making wine since 1952, the estate has undergone a complete renaissance since Ian Kellett took over in 1999. On the chalky soils of the South Downs (like those of the Champagne region), Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir have been planted with great success. The vineyards lined with hay bales, with the notes of jazz floating on the air, invited you to share in this fabulous festival. The resident canine welcoming Committee, Beka (a beautiful Ridgeback), led visitors through into the marquee where an array of wines & foods awaiting to while away the Sunday in relaxing style in the Culture of Wine!

With around 80 wines to taste, where to start? Kicking off in style with the home team, Hambledon hosted by the welcoming polyglot, Phillip Kellett, their Classic Cuvée Rosé was all strawberries & cream in a glass and truly hit the spot as the opening wine! But their Premier Cuvée, a blend of the three main grape varieties that go into that other sparkling wine, Champagne aka Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir was delightful, slightly toasty and hazelnut notes with a long finish. Showcasing these superb sparkling wines showed just how quality has become the focus for English Sparkling Wines.

The oldest Wine Merchant in Britain, and holder of Two Royal warrants, Berry Bros & Rudd chose seven wines from their extensive listings. The delicate pale Provencal Rosé Chateau la Mascaronne suited the sunshine perfectly and would be delicious with a hot smoked salmon steak. Their Pouilly Fuissé from Olivier Merlin showed how well Chardonnay can give an elegant balance of richness & fresh minerality - perfect for a classic Sunday Roast Chicken! Amongst their excellent selection was their own label Bordeaux, sourced from Chateau du Tetre, which was textbook Margaux and a lovely Rioja from Amezola de la Mora, full of vanilla, red fruits and a spicy finish. But when the main Wine Man of the day, acting MC - Joe Wadsack - decides that he is willing to part with his own cash for a wine, you know it's something notable. In this case, BBR's own label Good Ordinary Claret. For a very good reason, as the advert used to say "it does what it says on the tin" and at a special show price of just £8.50 (and even at the regular price of £9.95) it is undoubtedly a bargain! Despite the main shop in London, BBR also have a warehouse shop near Basingstoke, which carries a wide range of discounted lines with up to 30% off, worth a visit!

The General Wine Company have two shops in Hampshire, Petersfield (ideally placed next to the station so perfect to drop in & pick up a bottle of something to revive you after the current hideous train delays!) and Liphook. Known for choosing smaller wine estates rather than large brands, the festival selection was wide ranging including the wonderful Bellingham Bernard Series Viognier from South Africa which would have been perfect with a Chinese Spicy Ginger Sea Bream through to an elegant Reserve Malbec by Bodegas Fin del Mundo, which translates as the Cellars at the End of the World - appropriate as it's from the cooler climes of Patagonia in the South of Argentina!

Vin Wine Merchants, the new shop started by local Wine Educators, the Solent Wine Experience were showing a classic Entre Deux Mers from Bordeaux, an eminently quaffable summer white as well as for those after something a little more esoteric, a Marsanne Reserve from Uruguay! Their small courtyard in the heart of the attractive coastal town of Emsworth is a great place to relax and enjoy their wines with charcuterie & cheese platters. But it was the beautiful artwork on display that first enticed you to their stand. Striking drawings in Indian Ink of gnarled vines created by local Emsworth artist, Steven Massey, the pictures would make a beautiful present for any wine lover!

If someone offers you a Chardonnay from Canterbury, you'd probably think first of the South island of New Zealand, where the Canterbury region hugs the Pacific Ocean.  So at the Simpsons Wine Estate stand, a bit of a surprise to find out this wine hailed from a bit closer, from Kent. A new estate whose vines are still establishing themselves in that sunny corner of South East England, they also own Domaine Sainte Rose in Southern France and were showing a delightful Barrel Selection Rousanne, displaying how well this Southern Rhône variety has found a home in their Languedoc estate.

All this wonderful wine was superbly backed up by a tempting range of food stands as tempting smells wafted across the vines, of South African sausages on the Braai courtesy of the award winning Simply African Food. If you think you know Pork Pies, you'll think again after tasting the truly fabulous Pork Pie from Jake's Artisan Foods. Not filled with artificial pink mushy meat, these heavenly pies are delicious chunks of hand cut pork encased in a classic hot water pastry case and great tasting jelly. A perfect pairing for a glass of the spicy Crozes-Hermitage on the General Wine stand!

To keep the younger visitors smiling, refreshing local ice creams made from Jersey milk by Meadow Cottage Farmhouse were being served from an old fashioned tricycle. Two of the flavours Apricot & Mango and Vanilla & Stem Ginger would actually go quite well with a chilled glass of the Late Harvest Rousanne on the Simpsons stall. The image of a summer English fete was enhanced even more by the bunting on Crepe Britain, whose scrumptious crepes had some unusual fillings such as Chorizo & Jalapenos but what could be a more traditionally English flavour than Cheese & Pickle!

One of the most classic food & wine pairings is fizz and oysters, so as a happy match for the Hambledon sparkling, there was the Oyster Meister wandering around with a barrel of oysters on ice!

Cork & Cheese, a Hampshire deli that stocks a wide array of English Cheeses were there tempting all turophiles (that's Cheese lovers to most of us!) So a little retail therapy was called for (and cheese is SO much more fun to shop for than shoes!) Hard to choose but plumped for some Tunworth, a glorious squidgy Camembert cheese from Hampshire and even more local from the Goodwood Estate, Molecomb Blue, award winning soft blue cheese. 

Cupcakes seem to have taken over the world, so good to see Cupcakes with a twist from Boozy Bakers, staying with the day's drinks theme, make strictly for adults flavours with their Gin & Tonic, Prosecco or Limoncello flavour Cup Cakes.

Throughout the day, were a series of Masterclasses from their brilliant in-house Wine Educator, Katrina Smith,  superbly explaining all about Pinot Noir, through to Ian Kellett, (MD at Hambledon) who studied wine making at Plumpton College, waxing lyrical about the terroir of their vineyards and even a Masterclass with the energetic, enthusiastic whirlwind that is Joe Wadsack. A great personality of the wine trade, his depth of knowledge is so brilliantly communicated to all levels of wine lovers and combined with a true love of putting the right wine with the right food! Recently seen on This Morning tasting the new premium range of Bag in Box wines that are undergoing a revival, there seems no end to Joe's fount of knowledge all things food and wine! Hambledon have a gravity fed winery, so Felix, their French wine maker was also hosting visits to their cellars in between all the tastings.

Hambledon run a great event calendar, so if you'd like to learn a bit more about wine, why not sign up for one of their WSET courses!

A glorious day, which seemed so very typically English, held in Hambledon, the Cradle of Cricket, set against a bucolic backdrop, with the vines flourishing as a reminder that vines have been grown in England since the Doomsday book. Combined with the welcoming team at Hambledon, this is an wonderful wine event that is already in next year's diary!

If you'd like to know more about English Wines,  do visit http://www.englishwineproducers.co.uk



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.





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 http://www.mercadochileno.co.uk

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 - http://www.winesofchile.org