The Debris of a Blending Session

Lined up like village colleens, all waiting for the dance
A nervous last audition, their ballroom of romance
All dressed in scarlet dresses, wearing their Sunday best
Their generation’s finest, the blender’s final test

Grenache, Merlot and Syrah, Cabernets one to four
Waiting on the tasting bench, resplendent in Self-Pour
The winemaker is ready, the arbiter supreme
Nervous giggles, chatter, perhaps perchance to dream

He swirls, he spits, he noses, the PH not quite there
Acidity is lacking, but the perfume fills the air
Lavender, thyme and pepper, the Languedoc garrigue
Bound for the assemblage, will they sadden or intrigue?

Some samples he pulls forward, some he treats with disdain
Some will make the final marriage, others will remain
The wine-stained tasting notebook, the splashes on the tiles
The debris of the tasting room; chin up, maintain your smiles

The Cabernet’s cool and distant, Mourvedre’s in a bit of a mood
The Merlot will pull, it’s certain, the Cinsault will sing and be rude
I lack their front, their bravura, mine’s a subtle sense of style
I need a change of fashion, quiet drinking for a while

Drought and stress I overcame, frost and hail and rain
Treat my soul with gentleness, rejection feeds the pain
Eager, smile and puppy eyes, a dance? why, yes, of course
But after one turn round the floor, a thank-you, no remorse

If the vintage will allow me, I will return once more
An ordinary heartbreak, walk back across the floor
Pick up my coat from the kitchen, stoic, show no pain
Make my way to the chip shop, and a long walk home in the rain

What does the WSET Diploma really look like?

24 wine enthusiasts gather in a classroom in London. Armed with notepads, 12 tasting glasses and a passion for all things wine they are embarking on an in-depth exploration of the world of wine: the WSET Diploma in Wines. After graduating from Plumpton College, Hallgarten & Novum Wines Marketing Coordinator recently embarked on her fourth level of WSET qualification – below she takes a look at it from behind the tasting glass.

 

The assembled band of 24 students glance around furtively, looking, intrigued at the classmates they will spend over 120 hours and nearly 2 years studying with. All have the same aim: to achieve WSET’s ‘flagship’ qualification, the final and most challenging course they offer. Despite such a specific goal the group is diverse, a range of ages and backgrounds, those already working in the wine trade, those who hope to and dedicated consumer enthusiasts. We leave that first introductory class both daunted and excited, eager to join nearly 10,000 Diploma graduates from around the world.

But what drives an ever increasing numbers of WSET diploma students and why is this important to the wine trade?

In 2018/19, celebrating its 50th year, WSET saw a 15% year on year increase in students, more than 20,000 of them in the UK. For those in, or hoping to be in the wine trade there are some clear benefits to achieving such well recognised and respected qualifications. The Diploma in particular is known by employers to be rigorous, demanding knowledge and commitment. Given the complex and ever-changing nature of wine having a high level of wine education can be very appealing to those working in the trade, giving them a greater understanding of such a huge topic.

Both employee and employer stand to benefit. Qualified staff can ensure customers perceive a business as knowledgeable and trustworthy. In addition, having wine educated employees enhances the customer experience which can boost sales. Wine knowledge is communicated to the customer and research proves customers with some level of wine education spend more. For the consumer in both the on and off trade, wine buying, like any purchase, has a level of risk and for more expensive wines the risk increases. Education can alleviate this and increase customer spend.

Conversely, this increase in demand and uptake of consumer wine education means staff in the trade need increasingly high levels of knowledge to meet the needs of their ever more savvy customers. The story and provenance behind wine has become more and more important to the consumer in recent years, increased wine education amongst staff means they are well equipped to impart plenty of information to the customer. Furthermore, staff who have all studied tasting through one standard approach can give consistency to the way they evaluate wine and as such enable them to describe wine to customers with clarity.

Qualifications like the diploma can benefit both wine trade professionals and their consumers. Providing employees with confidence to talk in detail about all aspects of wine means they can pass forward this knowledge to customers, putting them at ease and potentially enabling them to be more adventurous in their wine selection.

Heroic Viticulture!

God, this is an untamed landscape. I’ve never stood in a vineyard like this before. It feels more like a small jungle, a mass of unkempt and wild shrubbery, misshapen and twisted, like Triffids. And, dotted everywhere, huge lava outcrops. A Jurassic park of a vineyard.

If you look closely in the undergrowth you will see vines. But they look wild.

Which is the entire point.

Steve Daniel and I are on the impossibly steep slopes of Mount Ilice, an extinguished crater on the south-eastern flank of Mount Etna. From this vineyard of extraordinary beauty comes an extraordinary wine: Calmarossa.

We are visiting Santa Maria La Nave. And we are in awe.

In the hands of the lovely Sonia Spadaro Mulone, Santa Maria is not just a wine producer, but one devoted to the preservation of ancient vine varieties and centuries-old traditions, a kind of Etna natural history preservation society. “I live for and dedicate every day of my life to my indigenous vine varieties and my wines, taking care of them and sharing their beauty with the world,” Sonia has said. “Many of them are taller than me – they are ancient, fierce, and have been there for centuries. My duty is to protect and safeguard this invaluable heritage.”

The vineyard in which we are standing, situated at 800 metres, was finally purchased in 2016 by Sonia and her husband Riccardo following years of negotiations with numerous owners. They had begun managing it many years before, following in the footsteps of a devoted farmer, Don Alfio, who had biodyanamically cultivated the main part of the vineyard for more than fifty years. It had a pre-phylloxera heart (Sonia’s word) and included some varieties that were almost extinct.

But right now there is a fog which is not so much rolling in as sprinting in from the sea and within minutes visibility is down to fifty yards and you get an eerie Lost World feeling. And then we are sprinting for the car as a downpour of tropical proportions thrashes us.

To say that Sonia and her team are passionate about their work would be an understatement of volcanic proportions. Not only are they acting as wine archaeologists, but they are doing so in some of the highest vineyards in Europe. CERVIM, the Centre for Research, Environmental Sustainability and Advancement of Mountain Viticulture, which was set up to promote vineyards at altitudes over 500 metres, vines planted on slopes greater than 30% vines on terraces of embankments, and planted on small islands in difficult growing conditions: refers to this kind of winemaking as ‘heroic viticulture.’ Santa Maria La Nave was admitted to CERVIM a few years back.

The history of Santa Maria La Nave goes back to 1954, when farmer Giuseppe “Peppino” Mulone moved to Catania with his family, and became fascinated by the fertility of the volcanic soil, the lushness of the vine varieties and the magnificence of the grapes. Peppino’s passion for Mount Etna’s vines was handed down to his son, Angelo, and then his grandson Riccardo, his wife Sonia, and their workers, winemaker Enzo Calì, viticulturist Vincenzo Avellina and agronomist Andrea Marletta

And now we are heading to Santa Maria’s tiny underground maturation cellar where we make our way down the spiral staircase, wearing disposable polythene footwear to ensure there is no spread of germs. Attention to detail!

Here we taste through the five different barrels of the 2017 vintage which will be blended into Calmarossa. The wine is composed of 85% Nerello Mascalese, the undisputed prince of Etna varietals but one which was abandoned for generations, and 15% Nerello Cappuccio, a grape which produces epic colour, but one which has often not been held in particularly high esteem, something Sonia and her team are slowly changing. “Some brave winemakers have started to enhance the true nature of this vine variety with a bit of innovative craziness,” she states.

The difference in the barrels is amazing. The first has extreme toffee apple flavours, with a hint of saltiness; the second is more restrained with a touch more steeliness; the third is the biggest yet, with huge deep berry flavours and a delicious hint of sweetness on the finish; the fourth is an amazing concoction of baked cherry pie with a blackcurrant lozenge type kick; the fifth is the most reserved, with beautiful firm tannins.

We then go on to try the 2016 vintage from bottle. Masses of herby notes on the nose, silky and moreish on the palate, complex multi-layered and contemplative. Brilliant.

Now we try the Millesulmare Sicilia DOC Bianco, made from Grecanico Dorato, an ancient varietal which was originally thought to be Greek but one which has now been genetically linked to Garganega. It tastes beautifully, redolent of stone fruit, hints of gooseberries and a touch of lanolin. The grapes for this wine are a pie’ franco, grafted onto Richter 110 and Paulsen 1103 rootstock. They are grown in Santa Maria’s other vineyard, Casa Decima, at Contrada Nave, on the other side of Etna, the north-western slope, at an even higher altitude of 1,100 metres, and it is to here that we drive the following morning.

Thankfully, the rain has cleared and we make the ninety minute journey through the higgledy piggledy southern Etna sprawl and emerge at the far more beautiful northern slopes, where Steve and I jump out of the car and take our picture-postcard photographs of the summit.

The Casa Decima vineyard is one of the highest vineyards in Europe (and was once owned by Lord Nelson, no less.) The team began here in 2000, working with an agronomist who was conducting a fifteen-year experiment to find the best vine stock. “We grafted about six thousand plants of Grecanico Dorato and five hundred of the almost extinct Albanello. Many of them were abandoned and covered by brambles,” states Sonia. In 2004 they bought a number of adjoining plots from local farmers: perfect to preserve a precious DNA that was at risk of extinction. “We found a very high number of gaps in our vineyard, mostly caused by wild animals. In spite of the damage they made, we welcomed them, since they are natural inhabitants and they help us to preserve the local ecosystem. We promised ourselves that we would treat this small vineyard as an oasis, whose rhythm should be natural and chosen by the plants, and not by the human obsession to subjugate nature and use it to produce more to make more money.”

Here the views are expansive, the vineyards a little more restrained than those on Mount Ilice, the views breath-taking. “When I saw one of my neighbours spraying his vineyard, I was so distressed that I immediately tried to buy it,” Sonia states.

“We are looking for pure essence of Mount Etna in a glass,” she says. “We only grow local vine varieties. Our wines are the product of an extreme viticulture, performed in demanding and wild areas at high altitude, in precious patches of land which have been safeguarded during the centuries from the devastating volcanic eruptions, or in plots on steep slopes of ancient extinguished craters.”

Heroic indeed!And quite beautiful.

WOTM: Gouffier, Cuvée Baudron, Bourgogne Rouge 2017

A new addition to our portfolio this autumn from France, the Gouffier, Cuvée Baudron, Bourgogne Rouge 2017 was made in honour of the Baudron family who owned the domain before the Gouffier family, in the first half of the 20th century.

In a nutshell

A delicious Pinot Noir showing all the hallmarks of a good red Burgundy, with a vibrant bouquet full of red berries and delicate notes of spice, silky and intensely flavoured.

The producer

Gouffier owns five and a half hectares of vineyard in the villages of Fontaines and Mercurey in Côte Chalonnaise. Historically it was run by the Gouffier family for generations until Jerome Gouffier handed over the reins to his close friend Frédéric Gueugneau, formerly at La Chablisienne. Since 2011, Frédéric and oenologist Benoît Pagot have brought about a new style of winemaking. They follow an organic philosophy to create wines that are modern and approachable, but with all the style and panache of good Burgundy. They have created a collection of wines of outstanding originality, verve and spirit.

The wine

The hand-harvested grapes were vinified with 25% as whole bunches, which helped to impart structure. The wine was matured in 228 litre French oak barrels, of which 25% were new. The barrels came from forests in the centre of France.

Best served with

Perfect with roast poultry or duck terrine.

WOTM: Undurraga ‘TH’, Cabernet Franc, Maipo 2015

One of our very new additions to our portfolio from Undurraga, one of Chile’s most awarded wineries. This Cabernet Franc from the ‘Terroir Hunter’ range is no different having recently received 93 points from Tim Atkin and we are sure will receive many more in the months to come.

In a nutshell

A mature wine with intense black fruit aromas complemented by hints of cedar, spice and floral touches of violets. Firm, mature tannins surround a fresh, textured palate with harmonious balance.

The producer

Undurraga is one of Chile’s most prestigious wineries, consistently receiving high scores from top wine critics around the world. Founded in 1885, Undurraga owns 1,350 hectares of estate vineyard in Chile’s premium wine producing areas such as Leyda, Cauquenes and Itata. Head winemaker Rafael Urrejola has spent a great deal of time understanding the diversity of Chile’s vineyard sites; the result is the emblematic ‘Terroir Hunter’ range. Undurraga cultivates their vineyards with respect for the environment and follow a philosophy of minimal intervention in the cellar in order to showcase the terroir.

The wine

The Cabernet Franc grapes were sourced from a selected vineyard planted exclusively for this range in Catemito, in the Valle de Maipo. The vines are 12 years old and planted on their own rootstocks. This low-yielding terroir of 2.25 hectares was subjected to a controlled limited water supply during the ripening process and the resulting yield was 1.5 kg per vine, providing the necessary concentration for a rich, ripe wine.

The grapes were de-stemmed and carefully sorted to ensure only healthy, ripe fruit was crushed. The grapes were transferred by gravity into the vat, where they underwent pre-fermentation cold maceration under anaerobic conditions for five days at 6 to 8°C. Fermentation took place with natural yeasts at 27 to 28°C for 13 days with three daily pump-overs. The wine was left over its lees and skins for an additional 12 days to further enhance its structure. It was aged for 16 months in French oak barrels.. The floral, well-structured Cabernet Franc is gently softened by a touch of Merlot.

Best served with

Serve with game, grilled red meats or cheese.

Australia, the End of the World and incredible Marsanne*

What do you call it, Global Warming or Climate Change? Either way, the globe is warming and the climate is changing. How worried we should be in the wine trade?

 

After all, we are endlessly hearing about the stumbling blocks in Europe. Diminishing yields might be pushing up fruit quality but it is definitely pushing up prices, and that’s before whatever is going to happen on October 31st does or doesn’t happen. Wines from traditional European countries will always be a fundamental part of our portfolio, but where can we turn to for alternatives? What about Australia?

 

I took advantage of the Australia Redefined tasting to learn a little about our historically important new partner in Central Victoria, Tahbilk, and also to take the temperature of the room (see what I did there?) to see how worried the Aussie winemakers are. Now, if the stupid lanyards would stop flicking the name tags around, I could stop harassing brand managers and students with questions WAY out of their comfort zone!

Harvest dates in Australia are traditionally between February and April, depending on where you are and how kind the weather is. Every winemaker I spoke to in the hall told me they are harvesting earlier now, consistently days or even weeks earlier, but this is not news. In June The Drinks Business quoted Geoff Merrill, owner and winemaker of his eponymous wine label in McLaren Vale; “over the past 20 years we have seen an average shift in harvest date by approximately two weeks earlier…”

 

Is this important?

 

Well, WSET quali’ holders, let’s revise.  Before you harvest, you are looking for the following: sugar ripeness, acidity and phenolic ripeness (flavours and tannins). Pick early and acidity is high, possible too high (antacid anyone?), your tannins will be as rough as old socks. Pick too late and your tannins will be silky smooth but your high sugar levels mean the alcohol will be through the roof (Plink Plink Fizz!). Compounded by having lost too much acidity, your wine is now out of balance and really not very nice. Chances of sugar, acid and phenolics ripening at the same time in a normal year? Pretty low. Chances of them ripening even vaguely in the same ball park as each other if everything is happening too fast? Zero.

 

This is where Alister Purbrick at Tahbilk, Bob Berton, Larry Cherubino and all the other New World producers have the advantage. No Appellation (PDO) rules! These are European regulations that define and restrict vineyard practices and winery processes. In the New World, if your vines are too vigorous and the fruit is ripening too quickly, create more competition for resources by upping plantings and yields. Allow a thicker leaf canopy to shade the fruit and – yes, this is true – use a sunscreen on the vines; I know, right? Pick when you like.

 

Now you are in the winery, feel free to acidify or de-acidify. Many wineries, especially in California, will water down the wines to a more accessible ABV (just 15 %!!!). In fact they can do whatever it takes to regain balance and make a consistently good wine.

 

This of course is all fine and good in the short term, what about long term? Australian farmers already have to buy their water on licence, even if the water runs through or the source is on their land! Harsh, but a really fair system for all and it stems wastage.

 

Specialist reports show which grape varieties will flourish in harsh, hot and dry conditions, so those companies with a long term plan will be ahead of the game. Bordeaux started planting experimental vineyards of Portuguese grapes years ago, but they will need a change in the appellation law to be able to use them. With no such restrictions it’s no coincidence we are seeing trends of Aussie Nero D’Avola and Fiano.

 

The Purbrick family at Tahbilk, now in their 5th generation, are about to have their family AGM.  The topic of debate?  Tahbilk in 150 years. Now that is planning.  Larry Cherubino told me he planted his Fiano a decade ago. Quite a gamble when it can take that long just to get cuttings through quarantine, planted and fruiting, and all for a variety most people have never heard of. All the more reason why we need to educate wine drinkers that there is more to wine than Chablis and Savvy B.

 

I feel I need to point out here that Australia is a pretty big place. I believe you can fit the UK into it 32 times, so we need to be careful not to generalise. I am sure we all over-use the odious word ‘terroir’ in our day jobs, especially the sales team and me, and we must not forget that as a rule Hallgarten & Novum Wines stock some pretty good wines, that come from really specialist terroir environments.

Unlike classic regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy that were planted just because the location was convenient for trade or passing Roman legions, the New World is generally planted intelligently. Tahbilk has the triple cooling of coastal influence, being surrounded by rivers and waterways, and a lot of green stuff the family have made a point of planting (they are also completely carbon neutral and don’t need to off-set). Western Australia has the benefit of being quite wet in relation to the rest of Australia, not to mention getting the brunt of unobstructed cool winds from the Antarctic. Coonawarra was planted in 1890, not for its location to habitation or rivers, but based on scientific guidelines, a first for Australia. And as for Barossa, Clare and Eden VALLEYs, well, the clue’s in the name.

 

In conclusion? I teach WSET, so my instinct is to hugely over-simplify everything, but here’s what I think. Thanks to the ingenuity of humankind, the love Australians feel for their country and the climate protests happening around the word as I write this, the industry will probably be okay for a while yet. HOWEVER, it’s important that we help our customers, and our customer’s customers, really understand what else is out there, be it English, Croatian or Australian. (Contact an Educator and Trainer near you).

 

*You’ve GOT to try the Tahbilk Marsanne!

 

WOTM: Bodegas Ondarre, Ondarre Reserva, Rioja 2014

A classic Rioja Reserva from one of the standout producers in the region. The grapes are grown in vineyards covering 1,200 hectares around the winery, at the point confluence of La Rioja, Alava and Navarra, resulting in the optimum climate and terroir.

In a nutshell

Leather, vanilla and spice of traditionally made Rioja
enveloped in an elegant and textured palate.

The producer

Bodegas Ondarre, is based in Viana, a historic town six kilometres from Logroño, Rioja’s capital. Founded in 1986 it has quickly become one of the standout producers in the region with its elegant and distinguishable style. Their most acclaimed wines are their Reservas, which win top awards and critical approval every year.

They attribute their success to the hard work in the vineyards and their continual investment into the winery and barrel stock. They use both French and American oak casks to help them obtain the incredible character in their wines. As well as their Reservas they produce a few thousand cases of a single varietal Graciano. A real rarity due to the low yielding nature of the vine.

The wine

Each grape variety was fermented separately in temperature controlled vats at 28 to 30°C, which lasted for between 16 to 18 days. The wine was blended and then aged for 16 months in American and French oak Bordeaux type casks imparting subtle oak complexity. During the maturation the wine was racked four times, in order to gently extract phenolic compounds by oxygenating the wine. This produced a softer wine which exhibits great varietal fruit character.

Best served with

Serve at room temperature to accompany tender lamb cutlets, game – such as pheasant or partridge; or mature cheese.

A voyage (in a parachute)

“But where’s the music?” I ask.

 

Rafael Urrejola looks at me quizzically.

 

I put down my glass. “I read in Tim Atkin’s recent report that you have one of the great Spotify accounts and that you always have music in the background.”

 

He laughs out loud. He has an open and friendly face and the grin is infectious. “I will get it.”

 

He leaves the spotless tasting room and returns a few minutes later with a Bluetooth speaker which he hooks up to his mobile. Second later Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger are belting out “(You Gotta Walk) Don’t Look Back” and I am doing a kind of jig while tasting a lovely Chardonnay. When I was a kid in the seventies and this song was on the radio we would all shout “BING BANG BONG” at the end of every “I’m gonna walk an don’t look back…”

(Throughout the tasting, if any wine hits the highest of heights – a ten-pointer – it gets a BBB for Bing Bang Bong in my notebook.)

 

I am in the tasting room of Undurraga, brought here in part by a longing to taste through the Terroir Hunter range with Rafael, named as one of South America’s top ten winemakers in Tim’s Decanter report a couple of weeks previously. Terroir Hunter must be the most accoladed wine range in Chile, I thought, as I drove down to the Talagante winery, before ducking past the tourists to meet with Rafael.

 

Leyda is where he made his mark and Undurraga were early pioneers – “It’s great that we have our own estate in Leyda as grapes there are not cheap” – but he is now keen to talk about other, more recent discoveries in Cauquenes and Itata. He also mentions Limari; only Tabali has more experience here, he thinks.

We go through the Undurraga U range which he oversees. All the wines are sourced from either their own vineyards or from long-term contracted partner growers. They are all pristine and do exactly what they say on the tin. I check the prices; they are also remarkably good value-for-money.

 

Undurraga is undergoing a renaissance after various ownership issues and this is my first in-depth tasting for quite some time. What have I been missing? The Aliwen and Sibaris ranges are full of lovely lovely wines.

 

Aliwen range
  • Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah 2018: this has some guts. The Syrah seems very upfront – “from Cauquenes,” says Rafael.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2018: fabulous nose. Tannins firm but not overpowering.

 

Sibaris range
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Leyda: epic nose, amazing length. Still a bit closed (just bottled). A combination of clones (Clone Davis 1, known for its very minerally flavours and Clone 242 (French clone) which ensures complexity. Grassy. “Leyda is giving the saltiness and minerality and salinity from the Humboldt current,” Raffa explains. This is a Bing Bang Bong wine.
  • Black Edition Cinsault 2018: a heady wine, curranty, liquorice, lime and tar. Very long finish. Red fruit. Pear, very herbal, has lots of acidity. Minty.

Now we come to the Terroir Hunter range. I’ve been waiting for this!

 

“With TH I am not looking for the mainstream market. I want this to be a “proposal” wine,” says Rafael. “Edgy but not radical, a discussion wine.”

 

All these wines are made in small 300- to 500-case lots from diverse grapes and areas. Tim Atkin calls TH “a range of brilliant, site-specific wines. Nor is this entirely down to the quality of the grapes; Urrejola’s winemaking touch is gentle and unobtrusive, yet still apparent.”

 

“TH is all about drinkability and minerality,” says Rafael. “I call this the “One-More-Glass” range.”

 

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Leyda: the first Leyda wine they produced. From granite, not chalk. Of the 140 hectares they have in Leyda, around 5½ are on limestone. “We always search for this soil in the vineyard.”
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Limari: bigger and a touch sweeter than Leyda.
  • Chardonnay 2016, West Limari: alluvial soil in the Quebrada Seca, sometimes referred to as the Chilean Montrachet. Concrete eggs. Native yeast. Open and serious nose. Flinty and fruity, a great combination from the lees, but bold in its acidity. Rafael thinks Limari is THE place for Chardonnay in Chile.
  • Pinot Noir 2016, Leyda: alluvial soil. Three blocks of granite. French clones, southerly exposure. Windy, so cooler. Whole bunch fermentation. Has wonderful tension on the palate and crunchy berries on the palate.
  • Syrah 2015, Leyda: WHA!!!!!!!!!! Dry farmed. Black olives, huge mouthful of fruit. Staggering complexity, masses of ripe fruit, acidity, tannins. Bing Bang Bong.
  • Carmenere 2016, Peumo: the best Carmenere vineyard in Chile, according to Rafael. Deep red soils, long ripening season which is exactly what Carmenere needs. Rafael thinks that everyone will change their mind about Carmenere. “Eventually they will see that it is a grape with huge minerality and fruitiness, rather than the old- fashioned coffee/mocha flavours.” Bing Bang Bong.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Alto Maipo: typical. This is the coolest vineyard in Maipo. 30 year-old Cabernet, alluvial soil, 800m altitude. Red fruit and graphite. The tension and grip keeps the wine in check and stops it from becoming overpowering.
  • Cabernet Franc 2015, Maipo: much cleaner and more elegant than most Cab Francs. I might not recognise it as Cab Franc! Rafael: “This is more Maipo than Cabernet Franc. You get great structure but you don’t necessarily get that Loire acidity. But do you need it?”
  • Rarities Garnacha Carinena Monastrell 2015, Cauquenes: 500 dozen made. Grafted on to 100-year-old Pais to get the benefits of really deep roots. Fabulous salinity and saltiness.

I am reeling, but there’s no time to stop because we move on to the Founders Collection, for decades the more traditional range in Undurraga. The Carmenere 2016 from 40 year-old vines in Colchagua has amazing sweet fruit, with a touch more richness and body and less minerality. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 from 35 year-old vines is about as typical a Maipo as you can get. Big fruit. Rafael explains that this is the most traditional of all their wines.

 

The Trama Pinot Noir 2015 shows big and old fashioned Leyda fruit. Two hectares on limestone. Very herbal and salty notes. Neutral oak. Eggs. Has the sweetness of the New World. In a previous tasting at Prowein Steve Daniel had raved about this. The Vigno 2015, a blend of Carignan and Cinsault, has an amazing nose. Minerality and fruit. Black olives. Almost painful to hold. From dry farmed Cauquenes wines. Whole cluster fermentation.

 

We finish with the Altazor, for which the great Alvaro Espinoza still consults. Sourced from the best part of Pirque, this Cabernet Sauvignon has lovely soft fruit. Very soft. Earthy, but not bloodthirsty. The name was inspired by Vicente Huidobro, the only Chilean poet other than Pablo Neruda that I’ve heard of, whose most famous poem translated means Voyage in a Parachute.

 

I’ve not been in a parachute but I’ve been on quite a voyage!

WOTM: Larry Cherubino ‘Laissez Faire’, Pemberton, Pinot Noir 2018

A wine new to our portfolio from the world-renowned winemaker, Larry Cherubino. This elegant Pinot Noir is part of the Laissez Faire range, which takes inspiration from organics, biodynamics and natural winemaking practices. Whilst they could be called ‘natural wines’; Larry Cherubino likes to think of them as “post natural” wines.

In a nutshell:

An elegant Pinot Noir expression, showing black cherry and strawberry notes with savoury undertones and delicate hints of oak spice. Smooth, long and silky.

The producer:

Named ‘Winery of the Year’ by James Halliday and Matt Skinner, Larry Cherubino wants his wines to be distinctive and to speak clearly of their variety and vineyard site. He believes in paying meticulous attention to the vineyard, canopy and water management, picking at the right time and minimal intervention in the winery. Larry also makes wine under the Laissez Faire label, an exquisite range of natural wines which are the ultimate expression of site, made in small batches from hand harvested grapes. From delicate whites to opulent reds, all his wines have pure class and finesse.

The wine:

Laissez Faire means “let it be” and this is reflected in the hands-off approach of winemaking. The grapes were hand-harvested, sorted and naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts. The wine spent eight months maturing in French oak foudres, offering optimal fruit expression and oak integration. As the name suggests, no additional acids, enzymes or yeasts were added during vinification and the wine was not fined. There was zero sulphur use throughout the winemaking and only minimal sulphur was added at bottling.

Best served with:

The perfect accompaniment to pan-seared duck or roast vegetable tagine.

 

Summer Wine

“Strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring – my summer wine is really made from all these things!”

 

Hallgarten brand manager and one of our Greek wine experts, Evangelia Tevekelidou, has been considering what ‘summer wine’ means to her. 

This is how Nancy Sinatra describes her summer wine, and I have to admit, she makes me want a sip of it! Okay, okay, maybe more than one sip… But what is a summer wine really? What does it smell or taste like? Where does it come from? Is it a white, rosé or red? If you ask me it can be (nearly) anything! But anything, is a boring answer, so let me narrow down my thoughts. A summer wine must be a wine that reminds us of summer.

 

For me – coming from Greece – summer is a direct association with holidays in the islands (ideally in the Aegean). So, surely a summer wine in my eyes should also be coming from these islands… One that comes straight to mind is Poderi Parpinello ‘Sessantaquattro’, Vermentino 2018 from Sardinia – the Smaragd of the med. Aromas of yellow fruits, dry but smooth and very textured on the palate, this Vermentino is the perfect match for shellfish by the beach.

 

Alternatively, Bodegas Viñátigo, Gual 2016 from the volcanic soils of Tenerife, in Las Canarias, will definitely impress your palate the same way as an ‘elaborate’ summer cocktail; smokiness, jasmine and tropical pineapple on the nose, followed by a rich buttery palate and a long finish.

 

Another favourite summery wine is Gaia Wines’ Assyrtiko ‘Thalassitis’ from the iconic and ever-so-Instagrammable island of Santorini. Thalassitis, meaning ‘coming from the sea’ (Thalassa is Greek for sea), is one of the most terroir-driven wines I have ever tasted. You can feel the salt, the volcanic soil and the bone-dry conditions where these old vines are, not just surviving, but thriving.

 

 

Being from this part of the world, I could continue my island wine list even further, but what about a summer wine being low-alcohol and therefore fresher on the palate? Under the hot sun, the alcohol percentage could help you keep fresh as a daisy and not result in too many ill-effects.

 

I tasted this exciting wine in the Hallgarten tasting room recently and it could (technically) be considered as an island wine too. England is a big island, no? Yes, I am talking about an English wine, from Essex, New Hall Vineyards, Bacchus Reserve 2018. It is very pale in colour and the alcohol is only 10.5%, making it a perfect choice to enjoy under the hot sun. The wine itself has an abundance of green apple flavours, white pepper notes and it has an absolute freshness that will cool any palate.

 

 

A wine we have seen take the trade by storm in recent years is Koshu, from Japan. Island wine, low alcohol – it ticks all the boxes! Grace Winery’s Koshu Kayagatake 2018is very light and lean in its style, but also elegantly floral with thirst-quenching acidity and only 11.5%. Arigato freshness!

 

 

After spending some time thinking about these wines, I have just realised all of my summer wines are white wines. Does this mean that summer wine always has to be white – no. When people think of summer wine rosé often springs to mind or a lightly chilled, fresh red wine.

 

In Greece, we often see temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius in the sun and nearly 70% of our local wine production comes from white varieties. I might be biased, but it seems that this is why my summer wine, is a white wine. Oh, oh summer wine…

The Beauty of San Marzano Wines

Driving home from Gatwick airport I’m feeling an element of what some might refer to as the “holiday blues”. Yet I’m returning from an important, three day work trip to our Puglian wine supplier, San Marzano, where we hosted some of our Brighton-based customers; The Coal Shed, The Salt Room, 64 Degrees, Murmur and Chilli Pickle.

 

The tiredness, grey skies and torrential rain certainly doesn’t help matters when you land and I remember a comment made by San Marzano’s Export Manager, Angelo Cotugno the night before; “I’m not sure how you can live in the UK, I will never leave Puglia”. Having now visited this sun drenched part of the world I can understand what he means.

 

Day one

On arrival in Bari, Puglia’s capital city, its importance as an economic hub is very apparent. We drive past large, colourful warehouses one after the other, after the other.  The vast land stretches out; there are none of the rolling hills which I’ve become accustomed to seeing in other winemaking areas of Italy. Olive trees and grape vines are in abundance (as are the crazy drivers).

 

The sun is shining fiercely and we’re already talking about what wine we fancy drinking with lunch – the crisp and aromatic ‘Talo’ Verdeca or the fruity ‘Tramari’ Primitivo Rosé are both popular contenders but for Chilli Pickle owner, Alun Sperring, who prefers a red, a glass of ‘Il Pumo’ Negroamaro is high on his agenda. The beauty of Negroamaro, one of Italy’s oldest grape varieties, is that its acidity keeps it elegant and refreshing, even on the hottest days.

 

We are all surprised at just how flat the land is and we discover that only three out of our group of 12 have visited this region. Despite several of us holding some level of wine certification, our knowledge of Puglia and its sub-regions seem limited. 10 years ago Puglia took up just a few lines within the diploma syllabus – being the largest wine producing region of Italy it was famed for bulk, blending wine, as opposed to the quality DOC/DOP wines that the likes of our supplier, San Marzano are leading the way with.

After a few hours experiencing the incredible Puglian culture at Canneto beach club where we could enjoy all of San Marzano’s wines , we make our way to dinner at the 4 Seasons restaurant in a beautiful town called Martina Franca – one of the highest towns in Puglia where the native grape variety Verdeca is grown. The flat roofed houses, each have Pumos decorating their balconies – these urn like ceramic ornaments from which San Marzano’s ‘Il Pumo’ range of wines are named after, are a sign of prosperity and luck.

 

We are treated to array of local dishes; plenty of Burrata, orecchiette pasta and sweet, local tomatoes for which the area is so famed for. The cellar here is full of aging Negroamaro – a reminder that this area can produce amazing, age-worthy wine at usually half the price of some more traditional Italian fine wines.

 

To end the night we receive a heartfelt speech from our Business Development Director, Joe Wadhams, thanking our customers and San Marzano for a spectacular first day – their Puglian hospitality certainly exceeds our expectations.

 

Day two

After a night’s sleep in the beautiful Relais Histò hotel in Taranto we set off early to experience some more Puglian culture. This time we board a private catamaran bound for the Salento Peninsula to discover the beautiful coastline around the heel of the Italian boot. The proximity to the sea is a constant reminder of how San Marzano can successfully produce wines of such elegance in this hot, flat setting. The constant cool sea breeze helps to retain the acidity in the grapes while the sunny conditions ensure plenty of fruit and ripe tannin – a perfect combination for age worthy wines.

As we board the boat, we are handed a glass of San Marzano’s ‘Tramari’ Rose – made from 100% Primitivo grown in the premium Salento sub-region of Puglia, this is the perfect early afternoon aperitif and pairs well with the octopus salad and seafood paella for lunch.

 

As we sail out further, we pass several ancient watch towers; Puglia’s strategic position and fertile soils made it an appealing target for colonization with numerous invasions from different parts of the world.

 

In the evening we travel to the small town of Grotagllie where we have dinner on the rooftop terrace of the Monun Hotel. This time the dishes are a modern take of the traditional fare – tomatoes stuffed with ricotta, raw sea bass with peach, seared Tuna steak and chilli infused ice cream. This fusion of new and old reminds me of San Marzano’s philosophy: “every day tradition and modernity”.

 

San Marzano was formed in 1962 by 19 local growers from the village San Marzano di San Giuseppe who had been growing vines for generations. The winery now deals with over 1,300 growers whose vineyards often cover no more than one hectare. The winegrowing here goes back centuries, yet the winemaking and approach is modern and forward-thinking.

 

Day three

On our final day we went to San Marzano‘s winery in the heart of the region. In many ways, we questioned if we needed to go, as we tasted virtually the whole range over the previous two days and once you’ve visited one winery you’ve seen them all, right? Well, we were wrong! The winery was an extremely interesting place to visit – first of all 70% of it is built underground; this is to maintain a constant cool temperature of 18C year round. In the cool cellar, 300 year old amphoras can be seen tucked away at the end of each row, alongside a couple of modern, concrete versions.

The rest of the cellar is full of oak barriques, a mixture of French, American and Russian oak depending on the wine inside. Back on ground-level, we walk amongst various sized stainless steel tanks and horizontal rotating fermenters – the majority of wineries use vertical  versions of these but the horizontal fermenters ensure a more even skin maceration during fermentation which is important for colour and complexity in red wines.

 

Before moving into the tasting room we’re introduced to San Marzano‘s Presidente, Francesco Cavallo, who has been at the forefront of the company’s success, continuing the passion and spirit of its founders since he was appointed in 1982. San Marzano‘s flagship wine, Sessantanni, which we taste shortly after is made in honour of these founders. The grapes for this 100% Primitivo are picked from 60 year old vines growing in the renowned Primitivo di Manduria DOP region. It’s full of lush black forest fruit, with underlying notes of fennel and herbs, and an extremely long finish.

 

Before we leave, Angelo mentions the new project that San Marzano are working on – Masseria Samia, a sustainable vineyard where they have lovingly restored its 16th century farmhouse which will eventually be open to friends and guests visiting the winery.

 

The atmosphere at San Marzano isn’t that of a large scale 15 million bottle operation. Their ethos and approach has an inclusive family feel, and their wines, just something special to share.

WOTM: Gérard Bertrand ‘Hampton Water’ Rosé, Languedoc 2018

We recently introduced this wine from award-winning music icon, Jon Bon Jovi, hi son, Jesse Bongiovi and acclaimed French winemaker, Gérard Bertrand, who joined forces to launch their premium rosé wine label, Hampton Water,’ in the UK.

In a nutshell:

Fresh and well-flavoured with distinctive and intense aromas of red fruit, citrus notes and a touch of delicate spice.

The producer:

‘Hampton Water’ captures the spirit shared between the chic Hamptons in the US and the equally stylish ‘art de vivre’ found in the South of France. This collaboration between Jon and Jesse Bon Jovi and Gérard Bertrand, is all about enjoying life and having a good bottle of wine to share with friends. Made in the Languedoc, it is a reflection of the Southern French terroir and Gérard Bertand’s wine-making expertise, while paying tribute to the glamorous Hamptons lifestyle.

The wine:

Each variety was harvested separately when it had reached optimum ripeness. The winemaking process was managed in order to respect the characteristics of each variety and the terroir it was grown in. The grapes were de-stemmed, cooled down to 8°C and transferred to the press to extract the must. Particular attention was paid to the pressing to ensure that only the first, highest‐quality juice was retained. The juice was then left to settle to obtain the precise aromatic profile specifically aimed for in Hampton Water. Fermentation lasted between 15 and 30 days, depending on the degree of clarification and the temperature. Approximately 20% was aged in oak, adding subtle complexity. Finally, after light fining, the wine was bottled early to preserve its fresh and fruity character.

Best served with:

The perfect apéritif; or enjoy with light salads, sushi or grilled fish.