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

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!


Wine Festival Winchester 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winchester Wine Festival 2016

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