Category Archives: Campaigns

The Perception of Minerality

I first used the expression salt-and-caramel in a tasting note about four years ago. My memory is a little hazy, but I think I scribbled it during a sampling of Juan Pablo Michelini’s Zorzal wines at Prowein. I was searching for words to describe the amazing tang which cut right through the sweet fruit in the red wines; a kind of refreshing acidity at odds with the opulence around it. I thought the phrase a little childish but that it would mean easy recall when I referred to my notes later.

And then, of course, I found myself writing that phrase again and again. Salt-and-caramel. Slightly irritating habit, this, like wiggling your leg in the waiting room. What was happening? Were my taste buds changing? After thirty years in the trade? Odd.

I recalled that Prowein moment a few weeks ago while reading a Wine Folly blog, I Tasted 3 Rocks, So that you don’t have to! In this light-hearted piece, posted in May 2019, Madeline Puckette described licking pieces of chalk, river stone, and slate. She found the connection between slate and Riesling to be apposite; that “chalk feels like licking a hard sponge that sucks all the moisture out of your mouth,” the flavour reminding her of a Brut Zero Champagne; and that while “river stone is supposed to remind people of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir,” its flavour is pretty gross.

Puckette was seeking to explain minerality, but concluded: “Minerality is neither a single compound nor the vines” ability to “suck the minerals out of the soil,” but is a combination of many different aspects including esters, trace minerals, acidity level and a wines’ alcohol level. So, when wine writers write “minerality” they are trying to put a name on a multi-faceted characteristic that science doesn’t have a definition for.”

It’s a bit old hat, this minerality thing. Been done to death. A bit late to the party. And as Alice Feiring said: “Minerality has become a dirty word par excellence.”

Walking between the raindrops, then.

I know, but it doesn’t go away.

Minerality famously did not appear in Ann Noble’s 1984 Wine Aroma Wheel, nor in the first four editions of The Oxford Companion to Wine (“imprecise tasting term and elusive wine characteristic that, along with the descriptor mineral, became common currency in the early years of this century.”) But here are two definitions relayed by Jamie Goode in his Wine Science:

Stephen Spurrier: “I suppose it is easier to define what it is not – that is, it is not fruit, nor acidity, nor tannins, nor oak, nor richness, nor fleshiness. It is not really a texture, either, for texture is in the middle of the palate and minerality is at the end. I think it is just there, a sort of lifted and lively stoniness that brings a sense of grip and a sense of depth, but it is neither grippy (which is tannin) nor deep (which is fruity.)”

Michael Bettane: “Minerality is a fashionable word never employed in the 1970s and 1980s. The only no-nonsense use is to describe a wine marked by salty and mineral undertones balancing the fruit, more often a white wine rich in calcium and magnesium as many mineral waters are. For a red wine I have no idea.”

Now Goode himself: “I know what I mean when I encounter some characteristic in a wine that makes me think “mineral”, but I can’t be sure that when other people use it they are referring to the same thing. I suspect that it’s sometimes used as a way of praising a deliciously complex wine, in the same way that “long” is often thrown into a tasting note when people really like the wine but have run out of more concrete descriptors.”

Similar sentiments from Sam Harrop: “Minerality is a term I have used for many years with a clear and personal understanding that not all wine professionals might share.”

But what is it that provokes these “allusions to minerality,” to use Doctor Peter Dry’s words? A prickling on the tongue, or a savoury aroma on the nose? And – from a commercial point of view – does describing a wine as mineral confer a kind of supremacy? A more romantic artisanal image?

Beverly Tabbron MW, Jim Wilson and Steve Daniel.

Steve Daniel, Beverly Tabbron MW and I had a chat about this in Hallgarten’s tasting room. Steve, fresh from describing one wine as “saltier than a bag of KP nuts,” said: “There is definitely minerality in wine. It has to be there. It’s not acidity, it’s not body. It’s a skeleton which will change but which will let you know where the wine is going.” Steve strongly believes that there is a relationship between minerality and volcanic soils, such as those on his beloved Santorini.

For Bev, minerality is shorthand for a “form of freshness, a salinity. Sometimes I wonder if it is a mild spice.” Then she paused. “But are we just being lazy?”

It seems an elusive concept. Are we searching for a connection between this taste and – inevitably – the impression of rock from which the vine draws its nutrients?

Two well-recounted experiments:

At the end of the 20th century, a German scientist, Andreas Peuke, planted Riesling in three different pots with different soils (Loess, Muschelkalk and Keuper). After some time he collected the resin from the plants, analysed them and compared them. To his surprise, there was a huge deviation in the nutrient levels in the three plants. A definite connection?

Randall Grahm soaked rocks into tanks filled with wine; he too, concluded that the rocks altered the wine to a great extent, detecting changes in the aromas and mouthfeel, and he felt that the wines had gained a higher degree of complexity and density.

But as we know, the correlation between minerality in rocks and minerality in wine has been largely debunked over the last decade by some really clever people, most famously by Alex Maltman, professor of earth sciences at Aberystwyth University, who opined that the geological minerals in rocks (made from chemical elements) are different from the fourteen nutrient mineral elements required by vines. The rock’s chemical elements do not degrade easily and only slowly release their nutrients for vegetation. Then, some of these nutrients are then removed each year in crops, and the soil is further enriched by compost and fertiliser. The result is that almost all of the nutrients in wine come from this humus of decayed plant and animal matter, rather than the geology.

“There would seem to be no basis for the common assertion that a particular kind of bedrock produces certain wine flavours. The term minerality is a contemporary invention.”

Viticultural guru Dr Richard Smart told the Institute of Masters of Wine that viticulture “is not an issue” in wine minerality: of those fourteen nutrient mineral elements, “three of the most important (N, P, S) are not derived from minerals; they are absorbed directly from soil organic matter (humus). Even those which are commonly found in minerals (K, Ca, Mg, and Na) are not directly extracted, they are firstly cycled through organic matter.” He cited minerality as an “invented term as a wine descriptor.”

And in any case, rocks have no flavour at all. Apparently, the “flavour” of stones is caused by an invisible substance called petrichor, which, according to Wikipedia, is “constructed from Greek petra (πέτρα), meaning “stone”, and īchōr (ἰχώρ), the fluid that flows in the veins of the Gods in Greek mythology.”

Whoa!

Petrichor

Derived from organic matter like oils from plants, petrichor floats through the air and comes to rest as a thin film over everything on the ground, including rocks. This coating then releases its flavours (vapours) only when a rain hits the ground; hence the smell of rain.

So, sadly, it looks as though the romantic in me is going to have to take a back seat; it seems I am not sucking from the rock’s core when I savour my Zorzal Malbec.

But if the perception of minerality doesn’t come from rocks, where does it come from?

Fermentation, probably. To rehash well documented findings, it may come from sulphides produced by yeasts as they work their magic in converting sugar into alcohol. If the yeasts are having a hard time finding enough nitrogen in the must, they may produce volatile sulphur compounds such as hydrogen sulphide and mercaptans (thiols), often called reduction and which can usually be the cause of rotten egg smell. But sometimes these compounds, such as ethyl mercaptans, can also give off flinty or struck-match aromas that can be quite mineral in character and seem to add complexity to a wine. It’s a thin line. Modern reductive winemaking techniques, like the use of closed top stainless steel fermentation tanks which limit the wine’s exposure to oxygen, can also encourage the release of these subtle sulphur compounds.

And then, of course, there is the other common form of sulphur: sulphur dioxide can affect taste perceptions of minerality. Their presence may ‘tweak’ the flavour profiles of wine in a more salty or bitter direction, creating a mineral effect.

Sam Harrop: “Complexed sulphides are one of the main aromatic indicators of minerality. Reductive handling at wine phase is vital to protecting mineral perception – both aromatically and texturally. Wines with mineral perception have a low pH, complex acid profile, complex sulphide aromas and necessary aromatic and textural balance to provide the x factor”

I suppose that one crumb of comfort for those looking to equate minerality with terroir may lie in the fact that if one of the reasons for the dodgy performance of the yeasts is because some vineyard sites are deficient in nutrients – so causing the yeasts to stress and produce these volatile sulphur compounds – at least it is the effect of the vineyard.

Explanation over, then.

And yet…

Whatever the reasons, it still seems odd to me that the use of minerality is so ubiquitous when it apparently didn’t even exist before about 1984.

Each week in our tasting room in beautiful downtown Luton, Bev, Steve and I attempt to delineate every new wine into just three words. We stock about 950 wines, and when we trawled through our database we found that we had used the word minerality in 49 of them – around 5%. These include seven red wines, one rose and 41 whites, all of which had been tasted in the last six months. Intrigued, we looked at this list, but couldn’t find a common theme. The surprise was the absence of Greek wines, which, given our focus on Greece and the character of its wines, gave us pause for thought – and gave Steve the hump. “I can’t believe we didn’t describe Gaia’s Thalassitis Assyrtiko as mineral.”

Gaia Wines, Santorini

So earlier this week we gave ourselves a couple of hours and went through a selection of a randomly chosen dozen of these wines. The results were surprising.

Whites

Australia – clos Clare Riesling, Watervale, Clare Valley, 2016

Jim: “This has an amazing nose.”

Steve: “Limey and a little phenolic.”

Result: definitely not mineral.

Austria – Johann Donabaum, Grüner Veltliner, ‘Johann’ Federspiel, Wachau, 2018

Steve: “This definitely smells of slate. This has to be a mineral wine.”

Bev: “It is not a vinous taste. It has a slightly ‘drying’ taste in the mouth.”

Result: still mineral.

Crete – Idaia, Vidiano, Dafnes, 2018

Jim: “Wow! What an astonishing nose! Mouth-watering, very complex, a touch of seaweed?”

Steve: “Chalky. This is what it would feel like if you put a lump of chalk into your mouth. This is limestone. The scientists say you cannot taste limestone, but you know what I mean.”

Bev: “It has a non-vinous finish, and so for me that is mineral.”

Result: still mineral, in fact even more so.

France – Gouffier, Rully 1er Cru ‘Rabourcé’, 2016

Jim: “Evolved, just a touch of controlled oxidation, gorgeous, but not mineral.”

Bev: “Apricots and tangerines. Opulent.”

Result: a long way from mineral.

France – Domaine de la Villaudière Sancerre 2018

None of us finds the slightest bit of minerality with this wine.

Steve: “Why doesn’t Sancerre taste like Sancerre any more – this is like an Hawaiian pizza.”

Bev: “This was closed when we first opened it. Now it is almost pineapple.”

Result: nowhere near mineral.

Italy – Feudi di San Gregorio, Fiano di Avellino, ‘Pietracalda’, Campania, 2017

Jim: “This is easily the most mineral. Mineral on the nose, mineral on the finish, perhaps fuller in the mouth.”

Bev: “Wet stone again.”

Result: still mineral.

Ancilla Lugana, ‘Ella’, Lombardy, 2018

Steve: “I don’t know why we would describe Lugana as a mineral. This definitely isn’t.”

Jim: “This is like charcoaled pineapple. A fantastic, vibrant and crisp wine, but not mineral.”

Result: not even close to mineral.

Reds

Argentina – Zorzal, Malbec ‘Eggo Tinto de Tiza’, Tupungato, 2017

A touch faecal when first opening, but within minutes this disappears.

Steve: “This is definitely a ‘natural’ wine. Alive and kicking!”

Bev: “Edgy.”

Jim: “This is my salt and caramel wine.”

Result: mineral, no question.

There were four others where we were unsure. So, of the twelve wines to which we originally assigned the descriptor mineral, only four would now definitely qualify for it. And four would not even come close.  A conundrum: while accepting that wine – of course – changes character as it lies in bottle, here we have three so-called experts, with 60 years of experience between them, conceding to fundamental variances in their use of minerality over a relatively (six months) short period of time. Are we just not good at writing tasting notes? Are we incompetent? After all, WSET students are discouraged from using the word mineral. Blimey!

With most (though not all) of the wines, we found that the fruit elements were now much more advanced than in our original tasting; revelatory so in some instances. Are we writing our tasting notes without giving the wine a chance to recover in the warehouse after reaching us? Or are we – as Bev has suggested elsewhere – just lazy? Using the word minerality as shorthand for something else? And even as I write this, landing on my desk is a note from a producer: “After a long and passionate work in our cellar, we are proud to introduce our new-born: a rich white wine, with notes of tropical fruit and a full body which is supported by great acidity and minerality.”

Well, what do our winemakers make of this?

Juampi Michelini (whose wines kindled this essay!) says: “Of course it is necessary to have mineral soils, especially if they are loaded with chalk. But it also has to do with earlier harvest times, something that has been done more and more throughout the world in the last seven years, as well as more reductive fermentations.

Juampi Michelini, Zorzal Wines

“I describe almost all of my Zorzal wines as being mineral wines – but I always say that minerality is more a sensation of textures than of aromas.”

In the appropriate setting of La Cambuse du Saunier, a bucolic oyster shack which borders a sea salt farm near his Narbonne winery, Gérard Bertrand paused. “Ah, minerality! So controversial. I make a link between minerality and salinity, and the salinity comes from limestone, and if you suck a limestone rock – that is minerality.” He put his index finger into his mouth. “You can feel the minerality in the middle of your tongue.

“You cannot make this during the vinification process. This comes from the rock. We do an experiment. We put Château la Sauvageonne in front of a piece of schist rock; we put Château l’Hospitalet in front of limestone, and we put Château de Villemajou in front of silex, and we ask people to taste the stones and then the wine. They all get the link.

“People need to suck stones.”

At the recent South African tasting held at Phonica Records in Soho’s Poland Street, I asked our award-winning winemaker, Samantha O’Keefe, who said: “It’s a sensation of cold in your mouth.” “Cold?” “Yes.” She laughed. “But I work in feelings and colours and so my tasting notes are often odd. But certainly my wines on stony vineyards give me more minerality than those from red shale soils, which are fuller and richer. I definitely do not think it is a flavour. It’s more just a feeling in your mouth. I think it might just be a way of differentiating from those sweeter, fuller types of New World wines which you often get. But I don’t know!”

She paused again. “Minerality is a texture. It’s a stony quality: wet pebbles. I use minerality a lot. But maybe I am being lazy.”

Lazy. There’s that word again.

It does seem as though some winemakers are anxious to maintain the link between minerality and their wines (as you’d expect!) But are we talking about terroir as opposed to minerality? Playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order?

Some key words: refreshing, zingy, acidity, a certain sourness, licked stones. A kind of austere or nerviness or tension; or simply the opposite to ripeness. Whenever I come across what I think is minerality, I pause: “Hello darkness, my old friend…”

But I’m still nowhere near working out what it actually is. Mind you, far better minds than mine have tried and failed; the Oxford Companion to Wine again: “it is not possible to determine whether minerality is a terroir or winemaking effect.”

And why does this bother me so? Why this sophistry in trying to describe something which isn’t there? A flavour – an essence – which may not exist? Am I bending my language to fit a need? What is the need? What is it about minerality? At what point does minerality trans into Fashion? “Sparkling or mineral sir?” Well mineral, obviously, because mineral is Brioni, sharp suited and therefore Continental. But sparkling is, well, gas, isn’t it, and a bit Wyoming. Minerality is cool, it is quartz and diamonds and vaguely Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Good evening, Commander Mineral, we’ve been expecting you,” white gloves ‘n all. Mineral is nuance. It is class, it is style, and hardly Biffo the Bear. “Indeed.” “Yes, indeed.” “Minerality, yes.” “Yes, indeed.” Opulence, move over, Vanilla step aside and all you other flavours tripping the not-so-light fantastic to the strains of the Fat Belly Boogie. Sodium and calcium and manganese are important and not flippant at all and their nexus endows us as professors in white lab coats, like those Cambridge chaps who discovered DNA in the pub. So when I say: “minerality!” am I a luvvy satisfying my inner core, my night primaeval, by licking from the core of the earth and sharing in a pagan rave with matter which is six hundred and fifty million years old? Is it my soul I search for? Aristotle’s tabula rasa? Core is a great word, it is a key word and if you prefix it with hard you get an awkward word, a dangerous word, a bit nihilistic, but who other than the hardcore would go the Paul Grieco’s Terroir tasting to drink wines from heavy-metal soils matched with heavy metal music? Do metal and core satisfy some kind of prehistoric desire to engage with the elements, to go deep, really deep, in to the earth because deep is good, deep is important and it is the opposite of shallow and who wants to be shallow? No, we’ll keep digging in a maelstrom of kinetic exuberance, knocking at the gates of perception, nosing the brimstone, surrendering to something so great no-one understands it (though it may be “the only true measure of greatness in wine”¹), digging like Heaney’s Old Man, right down into the “roiling, boiling, sulphurous, belching belly”² of the earth, seeking approbation and Dante’s felicity and Milton’s liberty to know, desiring good or desiring God, ingesting Plastic Soup, and not flopping into the chair to watch Corrie but rather romanticizing we are the Underworld Gods, Hecate and Hades, with petrichor running through our veins.

Minerality: is this the taste of what is not there?

Reading List

¹ Sam Harrop. Winemaking Intervention in Minerality Perception

² Alice Feiring. The Dirty Guide to Wine

Madeline Puckette, Wine Folly

Jamie Goode. Wine Science

Alex Maltman. Minerality in wine: a geological perspective

Dr Peter Dry. Terroir – It’s the Rocks That Matter

Oxford Companion to Wine

Wendy Parr, Alex Maltman, Sally Easton, Jordi Ballester. Minerality in Wine: Towards the Reality behind the Myths

Women In Wine

In organoleptic experiments to test the wine tasting ability of men and women, female participants consistently come out on top. Their superior palates and tasting precision are well documented in scientific papers and journals, which explains why the female success rate in the Master of Wine qualification is now higher than male.

This is now being reflected in wineries and cellars around the world as female winemakers take the helm in a traditionally male environment. We are proud to represent some of the best female winemakers in the world, and we truly believe that the wines crafted by these talented women – from Japan and South Africa to Italy and France – are some of the very best in the Hallgarten portfolio.

Lucia Minoggio, Castello di Nipozzano, Italy

Lucia’s family has always been linked to wine. Her mother, grandfather and her great grandfather were wine-growers in Piedmont. Lucia herself developed a passion for dance at a young age winning a scholarship at Balletto di Toscana in 2003 in Florence where she danced for 5 years. Meanwhile, she started studying winemaking.  In 2008 Lucia left her ballerina career, to pursue her winemaking dream. Lucia’s first encounter with wine, after her graduation in 2011, was in the heart of Chianti Classico where she worked for two years in many different sectors of production in the cellar and lab. Dealing mainly with red wines, she was introduced to the wine industry under the guidance of leading consultant winemaker, Franco Bernabei. In 2013, she travelled abroad to learn more about wines around the world which helped broaden her skills and knowledge. She started working as winemaker for Frescobaldi at the beginning of 2016.

Valeria Antolin, Piattelli, Argentina

It is hardly a surprise that Valeria Antolin became a winemaker. Her father was a famous sparkling winemaker in Mendoza and she followed in his footsteps, taking a degree in Agronomy from Universidad Nacional de Cuyo before working her way up at Piattelli. She has been with the estate since it was founded in 2002 and is now the principle winemaker at its Mendoza and Cafayate (in the Salta Province) wineries.

Samantha O’Keefe, Lismore Estate Vineyards, South Africa

Samantha O’Keefe’s is an amazing story. Berkeley-educated Samantha O’Keefe left her native California and an executive TV job, in search of a simpler life. She settled into her own sliver of paradise in the form of a 600 acre former dairy farm in Greyton, South Africa. Nothing seems to faze her, she shares her property with a troop of baboons and a leopard. She has made her mark since her inaugural vintage in 2006 with a string of stunning cool-climate wines that have wowed customers and critics the world over.

Estelle Roumage, Château Lestrille Capmartin, France

Estelle Roumage embodies this outstanding family domaine in Entre-deux-Mers, close to St Emilion in Bordeaux. Her wines are delicate and precise, and consistently punch above their appellation. She manages to blend respect for tradition with a modern outlook to vine management and winemaking techniques. On top of this Estelle has a real passion and talent for bringing her wines to our customers to share, to taste, to learn, to engage, in a way that really ignites their taste buds.

 

Sonia Spadaro, Santa Maria La Nave, Italy

Born in Augusta, on the Ionian coast of Sicily, Sonia grew up in the orange groves of Lentini, watching Mount Etna erupt. Sonia discovered the world of wine by chance and decided to start tending to the family vines and work in the cellar on the vinification processes. After graduating in economics, she completely devoted her life to wine and became the owner at Santa Maria La Nave as well as becoming a sommelier. Santa Maria la Nave is a small boutique winey on Mount Etna, specialising in wines from autochthonous varieties.

Stefanie Weegmuller, Weingut Weegmüller, Germany

Stefanie is one of the first women to have worked in Germany’s male-dominated wine industry. She has supremely mastered the technical aspects of winemaking, and – crucially – brings heart and sensuality to her work. She has been making the highest quality Pfalz wines for more than 25 years, assisted by a largely female team at the winery and behind the scenes. Her clean, pure wines have a delicate Pfalz spice and are very generous in fruit and length.

 

Chloe Gabrielsen, Lake Chalice, New Zealand

Raised in Turangi on the shores of the mighty Lake Taupo, Chloe’s early exposure to viticulture began with helping her parents pick out wine from the local store (they were fiends for a big Aussie red). After finishing College in 2001, Chloe moved to Marlborough to pursue a Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology degree through Lincoln University, completing her first harvest at the Saint Clair Family Estate in 2006. Now more than ten vintages later, Chloe is the winemaker at Lake Chalice, producing the very best results for this superb winery… that is, when she’s not being a Mum to Asher, member of multiple sports teams, performing in Kapa Haka (Māori performing arts), being a cross-fit addict or cooking a mean kai (kiwi food)!

 

Ayana Misawa, Grace Winery, Japan

It’s fitting that Ayana makes wine in Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture from the revered Koshu grape, as her father Shigekazu Misawa is regarded as Japan’s Koshu pioneer. Ayana has studied winemaking on three continents, at the Institute of Enology and Viticulture in Yamanishi, the Faculty of Enology of the University of Bordeaux, and South Africa’s Stellenbosch University. She has also made wine at some very well-known wineries, including Cape Point Vineyards in South Africa, Catena Zapata in Mendoza, Errazuriz in Chile and Mountford in New Zealand. She has now returned to her homeland and works for Grace, one of Japan’s most prestigious wineries.

Volcanic Campania

The Campanian Volcanic Arc has at its centre the mighty Mount Vesuvius. This is dangerous territory. A devastating earthquake rocked Avellino in 1980; it  was from these ruins that Antonio Capaldi built Feudi di San Gregorio. The  winery champions Avellino’s native grapes – Greco di Tufo, Fiano and  Aglianico, as well as the Falanghina from nearby Benevento.

In less than 30 years it has become a benchmark for the region.

The flagship Serpico Irpinia is produced from centuries-old Aglianico wines and is an unforgettable mouthful of dried cherry, liquorice and leather.

The Aglianico grapes used for producing Serpico are produced in a historic  vineyard named “Dal Re”. This historic region of the Apennine countryside is known as Irpinia and it has a unique terroir and climate in which vineyards  coexist with fruit trees, olives and aromatic herbs. The winds here divert a  beneficial rainfall which creates a microclimate in Irpinia that differs from   Campania, the winters though brief are snowy and cold and the summers can be wet and prolonged.

Recently the winery has begun producing a stunning array of traditional-method sparkling wines under the Dubl label – these are not to be missed! Produced using the traditional method sparkling wine, the end product has a fine and persistent mousse. A fresh and aromatic wine with notes of crisp golden delicious apple, peach and floral hints of camomile, complemented by rounder notes of apricot.

For more information on the wines of Feudi di San Gregorio, please get in touch with your account manager.

Volcanic Soave

The Tessari family began farming on the dark and volcanic land of the Rugate hill, near the centre of Brognoligo, over 100 years ago. The volcanic origin of the land and its limestone and basalt characteristics make the soil generous, capable of giving life and taste to the typical grapes of this region, Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave.

The estate was renamed Ca’Rugate in 1986, taking its name from the volcanic  hills where the vineyards are located. Now run by the fourth generation,  Michele has brought with him a lively, passionate and entrepreneurial spirit.  Considerable expansion has taken place in recent years with investment in a new technologically advanced cellar and expansion into the Valpolicella area  with the purchase of vineyards in the hilly zone of Montecchia di Crosara.

Monte Fiorentine – which lends its name to the Tessari family’s highest cru – is a territory in the Rugate district, in the heart of the Soave Classico,   characterised by hills with an average altitude between 120m and 350m. It is a historic vineyard par excellence, evocative, homogeneous and entirely planted  with Garganega grapes.

Ca’Rugate has been awarded the prestigious ‘Tre Bicchieri’ award rating from Gambero Rosso multiple times, making it one of the most awarded producers in the competition and has been hailed by the New York Times as one of the  ‘Top Five producers of high end Soave’.

For more information on the wines of Ca’Rugate, please get in touch with your account manager.

Volcanic Santorini

At the centre of the most seismically active area in the eastern Mediterranean, Santorini is a unique region for the cultivation of vines. The volcanic, porous soil, the long hours of sunshine, the lack of rainfall throughout the year, the sea mist and the strong winds during summer, the traditional ‘kouloura’ (basket shape) training system, and some of the vineyards dating back almost 3,000 years create rare, precious wines.

This unique combination is most evident in two of Gaia’s wines. The Wild  Ferment Assyrtiko is made from grapes from upland vineyards in Pyrgos. The bigger day/night temperature range up here means longer ripening periods which, combined with some skin contact at cool temperature, helps to extract phenolics, giving you a peachy, minerally, umami-rich and powerful wine.

 

Meanwhile, Gaia’s Thalassitis benefits from sea spray which hits the low-lying vines and confers a stunning, almost indefinable salty character which adds complexity to this steely grape.

One of the pioneers of the modern Greek wine revolution Gaia Wines was established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. Operating two different wineries they make cutting edge  wines in both Nemea and Santorini. Gaia’s main aim is to present the potential of the indigenous Greek grape varieties to wine enthusiasts worldwide.

 

For more information on the wines of Gaia Wines please get in touch with your account manager.

Veganuary

If there has been one buzzword in the food and drink world recently, ‘vegan’ is surely it. Veganism has skyrocketed in recent years and with it the demand for vegan wines.

Although wine is made solely from grapes, it would be wrong to assume that  all wines are suitable for vegans. To celebrate Veganuary, the go-vegan month,  we have hand-picked a selection of vegan wines from our portfolio that your customers are sure to love throughout Veganuary and beyond.

 

2015 Sauvignon Blanc ‘Eggo Blanc de Cal’, Zorzal
Mendoza, Argentina

Made by Juan Pablo Michelini, the man with the best beard in Mendoza! Cool climate new world Sauvignon Blanc made in the style of a flinty Pouilly-Fumé with minimal intervention.

Awards: 16.5 Points; Jancis Robinson // 94 Points; Decanter Magazine

 

2017 Smederevka, Tikveš
Tikveš, Macedonia

Smederevka (Smed-er-EV-car) is the most popular white varietal of the Republic of Macedonia. You must try this: while relatively low in alcohol, it is full of flavour with stone fruits, tropical fruits and zest.

2017 ‘Sophia’, Basilisco
Basilicata, Italy

A peachy little number! Luscious organic Fiano from historic Basilicata in Southern Italy, made from vines from a single hectare vineyard on ancient volcanic soils. Wonderful freshness and minerality.

2017 Zibibbo ‘Vitese’, Colomba Bianca
Sicily, Italy

This crisp, fruity Zibibbo shows lifted notes of succulent white peach combined with soft floral aromatics of orange blossom and jasmine. Bright and perfumed with a zesty citrus finish.

Although winemakers may let a wine settle, waiting for the proteins capable of haze formation to clear naturally and leaving it unfiltered, most producers will filter out these impurities through the fining process.

To do this, traditionally, a number of animal products have been used in fining through adding substances like casein (milk), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (meat) and isinglass (fish), which act a bit like a magnet drawing all the smaller particles together so that they can be filtered out. These substances aren’t left in the wine so most
winemakers manage to avoid disclosing this on allergen labelling.

However, for ethical reasons you can understand why vegetarians, and in some cases vegans, might want to steer clear.

2017 Kratoshija, Tikveš
Tikveš, Macedonia

Kratoshija (Krat-oss-SHEE-yah) is a native grape of the Republic of Macedonia and a relative of Primitivo. Sustainably farmed, this is a vibrant red fruit bomb, offering excellent value.

Awards: Top 100; Wine Merchant

2014 ‘Silhouette’, Olifantsberg
Western Cape , South Africa

Naturally fermented in open-top fermenters to encourage a lower alcohol and sulphur content. This handcrafted wine is based on Syrah, with small additions of bush vine Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre.

2017 Nero d’Avola ‘Vitese’, Colomba Bianca
Sicily, Italy

A brilliant, deep red organic Nero d’Avola from Sicily with rich, juicy flavours of ripe plum and black cherries interlaced with subtle violet notes.

2016 ‘Le Prieuré’, Château Ksara
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

A rich and spicy unoaked red made from organically grown grapes at Lebanon’s oldest winery. A blend of Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah and Cab Sauv with supple fruit made for a hearty vegetable stew.

Awards: Silver; IWSC

 

 

For more information on any of the wines above or for our full vegan portfolio, please get in touch with your account manager.

Fire in the booze!

From Santorini to Soave, some of the world’s most interesting and talked-about wines come from vineyards planted on volcanic soils. It comes as no surprise that there’s been an explosion of interest in these ‘volcanic’ wines from sommeliers and wine merchants alike.

So what singles out these wines among all the others? Certainly the mineral-rich nature of volcanic soils plays a massive part, as does the finite-availability of wines from such specific sites. It’s true that vines grown on plain old clay or limestone can be world-beating, but you can find these soils in every wine-growing region of the world.

The ‘wow factor’ and story of behind volcanic wines shouldn’t be overlooked either. These vines grown on ancient soils really do take terroir to the next level with their mineral characters, fresh acidity, salinity and distinct longevity. The sight of green shoots and leaves emerging from the black volcanic soil is as ethereal as its gets in the vineyard.

According to Jamie Goode in his book The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass, wines from volcanic soils are said to be riper, weightier, richer, and with texture and minerality that make them age worthy. Quite an attractive list of assets, but where do these characters come from?

Volcanic soils are rich in potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium, as well as other elements, which can contribute greatly to a wine’s mineral profile. Potassium-rich soils tend to produce wines with an almost almond-edged and savoury finish, while black volcanic soils enhance the citrus, peach and apricot aromas. They all enjoy a wonderful freshness.

Add to this the fact that volcanic rocks constitute high levels of macro-porosity in soils which allows water to be delivered to the roots of vines very slowly. This water-retaining property can be a lifesaver during a dry growing season when vines must rely on groundwater to survive.

The aspect of the volcano itself and the altitude at which many vineyards are planted also help to produce top quality fruit, as does the unflinching determination and attitude of generations of viticulturists who have risked eruptions to plant, tend and harvest vines. Simply put, these are very special sites, and they look awesome too.

Here’s a few volcanic suggestions from our portfolio.

Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo, Campania, 2017:
“An aromatic and mineral wine showing flavours of peach, melon and citrus over a creamy texture.”

Ca’Rugate, Monte Fiorentine Soave Classico, Veneto, 2016:
“A beautifully layered wine with a rich flavour of ripe pineapple through to a fresh, mineral and lemon finish, full of flavour.”

Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko Santorini 2017:
“Explosive minerality with fresh lemon zest on the nose, crisp acidity on the palate and underlying floral notes. Refreshing with a crisp, mineral finish.”

Domaine Lavigne, Saumur Champigny Vieilles Vignes, Loire, 2016:
“A red Loire showing typical Cabernet Franc rhubarb and graphite character with a refreshing dryness on the finish.”

Chateau Grand Pré, Morgon, Beaujolais, 2016/2017:
“Rich, fleshy and balanced, with an appealing sauvage nose of green plums, chunky cherries and a hint of smokiness and spice.”

Basilisco, Teodosio Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, 2014:
“A full bodied and concentrated wine with aromas of soft fruit, plum and Morello cherry. Well balanced through to a dry, lingering finish.”

Women with Bottle

In organoleptic experiments to test the wine tasting ability of men and women, female participants consistently come out on top. Their superior palates and tasting precision are well documented in scientific papers and journals, which explains why the female success rate in the Master of Wine qualification is now higher than men’s. This is now being reflected in wineries and cellars around the world as female winemakers take the helm in a traditionally male environment.

We’re proud to represent some of the best female winemakers around, and we believe the wines crafted by theses talented women from Japan and South Africa to Italy and France – are some of the very best in the Hallgarten portfolio.

Let’s take a look at these women with bottle.

Ayana Misawa – Grace Winery

It’s fitting that Ayana makes wine in Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture from the revered Koshu grape. Her father Shigekazu Misawa is regarded as Japan’s Koshu pioneer. Ayana has studied winemaking on three continents, at the Enology and Viticulture Institute in Yamanishi, the Faculty of Enology of the University of Bordeaux, and South Africa’s Stellenbosch University. She has also made wine at some very well-known wineries, including Cape Point Vineyards in South Africa, Catena Zapata in Mendoza, Errazuriz in Chile and Mountford in New Zealand.

She’s now returned to her homeland and works for Grace Winery, one of Japan’s most prestigious wineries.

Try the; Grace Winery, Private Reserve Koshu, Yamanashi 2016

“Pure, sublimely crisp and mineral in style, this wine is fresh and elegant with subtle notes of citrus fruit and white pear. The palate, like the nose shows white fruits and spicy white pepper notes with a savoury note on the finish.”

Estelle Roumage – Château Lestrille

Estelle Roumage embodies this outstanding family domaine in Entre-deux-Mers, close to St Emilion. Her wines are delicate, precise and consistently punch above their appellation. She manages to blend respect for tradition with a modern outlook to vine management and winemaking techniques. On top of this Estelle has a real passion and talent for bringing her wines to her customers and engaging, in a way that really ignites their taste buds.

Try the; Château Lestrille, Le Secret de Lestrille, Bordeaux Supérieur 2012

“A rich, powerful wine with a beautiful balance between roasted aromas and intense black fruit flavours. Structured, it has velvety tannins and well integrated oak, complemented by complex dark berry flavours, hints of cigar box and a smooth, elegant finish.”

Juliette Joblot – Domaine Joblot

Juliette’s father Jean-Marc Joblot introduced her to winemaking on the family estate in Givry. She started making the wines herself in 2010 and has never looked back. “I learnt a lot from my father,” she says, “and now I make decisions.” She’s aware that little-by-little more women are entering the world of winemaking but is also quick to point out that in regions like Burgundy it can be difficult to be a women in the winery “because the Bourgogne men are very macho!” The young yet determined Juliette is further exploring her father’s approach of ‘lutte raisonnée’ in the vineyards, and is also looking to retain more freshness by limiting oxygen contact in the winery as much as possible.

Try the; Domaine Joblot, Mademoiselle Blanc, Givry 1er Cru 2016

“Elegant and poised, this stunning wine shows complex aromas of yellow stone fruits and citrus notes layered with delicate floral nuances. Harmoniously balanced, it has a generous texture on the palate and a wonderful tension on the finish.”

Caterina Bellanova – San Marzano

Caterina is the queen of San Marzano and Primitivo is considered the king of Puglian grapes: this is certainly a winning marriage! Named European Producer of the Year 2015 in the Sommelier Wine Awards,  San Marzano is one of the most professional, forward-thinking cooperatives in Southern Italy with a reputationfor producing great wines. Trained biologist Caterina Bellanova, whose wines reflect the region and its native grape varieties, is at the helm.

Try the; San Marzano, Edda Lei Bianco, Salento 2016

“A distinctive blend with delicate aromas of sun-ripened peach and floral aromatics, which are interwoven with delightful hints of freshly squeezed lime, mint and herbal complexity. Beautifully balanced, the rounded palate is elegantly styled and has a touch of minerality on the finish.”

Louise Chéreau – Chéreau Carré

Chéreau-Carré has always been a family affair, and Louise Chéreau is the third generation to work in the winery which was founded by her grandfather in 1960. Alongside her father Bernard, she is heavily involved in the winemaking process, working the vintage from harvest to blending. “It is great to learn from my father as we build together a solid philosophy that will last until – maybe – a new generation is coming. We are a good team.”

Try the; Chéreau Carré, Château de Chasseloir, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie 2014

“The wine was matured on its fine lees- “Sur Lie” -until bottling which imparts an attractive “prickle” on the palate and a nice weight. Dry, with a characteristic crisp acidity and a bright, fresh minerality.”

Steffi Weegmüller – Weingut Weegmüller

With 300 years of winemaking history and a gaze to the future, the Weegmüller sisters have excelled in making delicious Riesling. Steffi is one of the first women to have worked in Germany’s male-dominated wine industry and she has mastered the technical aspects of winemaking, and – crucially – brings heart and sensuality to her work. She has been making the highest quality Pfalz wines for more than 25 years aided and abetted by a largely female team at the winery and behind the scenes. Her clean, pure wines have a delicate Pfalz spice and are very generous in fruit and length.

Try the; Weegmüller, Bürgergarten, Pfalz, Gewürztraminer Spätlese Trocken 2015

“Aromatic and restrained Gewürztraminer with a creamy texture and notes of rose, lychee, delicate spice and fresh ginger. Elegant, balanced and full of flavour.”

Nadine Ferrand – Domaine Ferrand

Nadine Ferrand is the latest family member to take helm at the Domaine in the heart of Pouilly Fuissé. She has transformed the vineyard and winery since taking over in 1984. She and her daughters are clearly doing something right as the wines regularly receive high scores from Robert Parker. Nadine Ferrand has brought the domaine to the top of Pouilly Fuissé. Her wines with vivacious fruit notes, buttery roundness and appealing minerality have been recognised by the Sommelier Wine Awards as a jewel of the appellation

Try the; Domaine Ferrand, Saint-Véran 2016

“This is a refreshing, complex and velvety white from Saint Véran. Ripe fruit flavours of juicy white pear combine with delicate notes of zesty lemon. Softly textured, with a harmonious balance between refreshing acidity and fruitiness, this shows great finesse on the finish.”

Samantha OKeefe – Lismore

Samantha O’Keefe’s is an amazing story. A native Californian, Berkeley educated, she and her husband realised their dream and bought a mountain in Africa. But then her husband upped sticks and Sam was left to bring up two young boys on her own, 300 metres up a mountain, surrounded by wilderness (and baboons). But nothing seems to faze her and she has made her mark with a string of stunning cool-climate wines that have wowed customers and critics the world over.

Try the; Lismore, Greyton, Reserve Chardonnay 2016

“A stunning example of a restrained, cool climate Chardonnay. Intense citrus aromas and classic soft fruits are layered with honey and vanilla notes. The palate is beautifully balanced with a refreshing, crisp acidity and a distinct minerality. Concentrated and refined, with a lingering citrus finish.”

Elizma Visser – Olifantsberg

 

Olifantsberg is situated on the Breedekloof’s Brandwacht mountain slopes, and is owned by Hollander Paul Leeuwerik, who is making great strides in progressing towards producing excellent Rhone-style wines. Elizma Visser joined the Olifantsberg team in 2015. This down to earth Elsenburg-trained winemaker has worked in France and Italy, before returning to South Africa.

Try the; Olifantsberg, Grenache Blanc, Breedekloof 2016

“A unique style of Grenache Blanc which shows delicacy and finesse. Subtle aromas of lime blossom combine with green herbal notes, white peach and quince through to a beautifully balanced and richly textured palate with a delicious saline hint on the finish.”

 

Ten Reasons To Love Riesling

July celebrates the 31 days of German Riesling campaign from Wines of Germany, so we ask the question, why does everybody love Riesling wine so much?

Below we explore a few reasons why it is universally popular.

  1. Germany continues to reign supreme in the world of Riesling growing 60% of the world’s crop, however the rest of the world is quickly catching up. Australia comes in a clear second with 12%, with our own clos Clare’s Watervale Riesling 2016 (part of the Matthew Jukes 100 Best Australian Wines) standing out from the
    Vineyard with Riesling grapes on Mosel river in Germany.

    crowd in our portfolio.

 

  1. Contrary to popular belief, two thirds of German Riesling made is dry and has incredible acidity levels. Riesling also has universally low alcohol content.

 

  1. Riesling grows best in rocky, steep terrain where the vines can get a great deal of sun, such as in the Rhine or Alsace.

 

  1. Riesling’s roots date as far back as 1435, when a German count bought six Riesling vines – making it the first documented varietal sale.

 

  1. Riesling is a brilliant test of terroir. Due to its light body and low alcohol they rarely come into contact with oak which means, when you get a good Riesling, you know the winemaker has planted them on the best soils.

 

  1. Riesling can be the base for amazing dessert wines. A high level of Tartaric acid in Riesling grapes allows the wines, no matter the sweetness, to have a wonderful fresh acidity.

  1. Riesling pairs very well with spicy foods – its low serving temperature and crisp finish makes it the perfect wine for Thai, Indian or Chinese foods. When serving Riesling with meat, choose white meats, such as chicken, turkey or seafood, such as crab or shrimp.

 

  1. Riesling has a unique acidity, minerality, and fruit flavour with aromas of wet stones, smoke or even petroleum (a highly prized note in aged Riesling). The chemical compound for this petrol characteristic is ‘1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene’ – aka TDN.

 

  1. Riesling grapes can be used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. Riesling makes excellent dessert wines and is typically thought of as a sweeter white wine. But that there are many “dry Rieslings” that are in fact very crisp and food-friendly, similar in body and style to a light, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc.

 

  1. Riesling has some of longest life expectancies for wine due to its low pH (high acidity). The high sugar levels also increase the longevity of this wine. In Bremen, Germany – they have Riesling back to 1653!
They say it takes 30 days to acquire a habit…  #31DaysofGermanRiesling

Jon Harris’ Top Picks From The Mediterranean Roadshow

On the fourth and final leg of Hallgarten’s Mediterranean Roadshow we welcomed guests to the 29 Glasgow , where they were treated to a range of 95 wines to taste.

The tasting featured the unique flavours of many indigenous varietals from countries on the Med’s shores – the South of France, the Maremma, Southern Italy and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily including wines from the more marginal Mount Etna.

From the more exotic and adventurous Eastern Mediterranean, we will showcase wines from Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Lebanon, countries which have emerged on to the UK wine scene over the last decade.

Jon Harris, Sales Director – Scotland, picks out his Top 3 wines from the day…

1

Château Ksara, Blanc de Blancs 2016 Blanc de Blancs, Château Ksara, Bekaa Valley 2016

 

“Perfect for summer, fresh and bright with a surprisingly rich finish”

2

San Marzano, ‘Tramari’ Primitivo Rosé Salento 2016 'Tramari' Primitivo Rosé Salento IGP, San Marzano, Puglia 2016

 

“As with everything these guys do, exceptional, looks great, tastes even better. Defines the term “Brosé” – a rosé wine acceptable for men to drink in public!”

3

Colomba Bianca, Kore Nero d Avola 2016Nero d'Avola 'Kore' , Colomba Bianca, Sicilia DOC 2016

 

“Excellent example and perfect for BBQ season. Big, bold and spicy but not over extracted.”

Four Days, Four Locations, Four Tastings

At the start of June we went on a tour of the UK with the unique flavours of many indigenous varietals from countries on the shores of the Med – the South of France, the Maremma, Southern Italy and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily including wines from the more marginal Mount Etna. From the more exotic and adventurous Eastern Mediterranean, we will showcase wines from Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Lebanon, countries which have emerged on to the UK wine scene over the last decade.

The Roadshow stopped off in Bristol, London, Birmingham and finally Edinburgh.

Justin Keay, writing for The Buyer visited us in London to taste through the range of wines and below is what he thought…

Under the direction of its head of buying, Steve Daniel, has been steadily building up its Mediterranean wine portfolio collecting together wineries from the Lebanon, Occitanie, Italy, Turkey, Cyprus and Croatia. But it was the wines from Greece that Justin Keay was particularly enamoured with.

UK wine supplier, Hallgarten, thinks small is beautiful, and they’re right. When it comes to the  Mediterranean, the smaller wineries in its portfolio are producing world class wines that also deliver outstanding value for money.

Last September, Hallgarten took its South African wines and winemakers out on the road, hosting a series of tastings that showed how far the Rainbow Nation’s wine industry has come in recent years. Recently it’s been the turn of Hallgarten’s impressive Mediterranean portfolio – four tastings, four days, but made worthwhile by the sheer quality of what was on show.

Less can be more, I said to myself, noting that in just 95 wines and 11 tables Hallgarten had wrapped up much of what is currently interesting in winemaking in the Mediterranean.

So what were the stand-out wines?

Starting with the eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon’s Château Ksara – located in the Bekaa Valley, adjacent to Syria – was showing 10 wines, all pretty good by any standard. The reds, for those who like their Bordeaux blends, are well made and quite serious although it was the Cuvée 3eme Millenaire 2013, (a blend of 40% Petit Verdot, 30% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Franc) that really impressed. This was full-on cassis fruit intensity, good balanced oak (14 months in barrel), and still very much in its youth.

The stars here, though, were the whites, specifically the Chardonnay 2014 and the fresh, fruity Blanc de Blanc 2016, a blend of 55% Sauvignon, Semillon and Chardonnay. This last wine, which spends several months in French barrique has a wonderful, light oak mouth feel. Very moreish.

Mediterranean
Daniel O’Donnell in London November 2016 for a Masterclass
on the wines of Kayra

At the next table, Turkey’s Kayra Wines showed its continuing renaissance under chief winemaker, Californian Daniel O’Donnell. His high end reds Buzbag Reserve 2013 and Versus Okuzgozu 2014, are both excellent, with the latter a full-bodied, rich wine that could still do with a few more years until it reaches its best.

The entry level white, however, Buzbag Emir-Narince 2015 proved that O’Donnell’s work has truly permeated through even the lower end of the Kayra range. Refreshing, just 12% MediterraneanABV, but lovely fruit on the palate.

Hallgarten had also pulled out its excellent Gerard Bertrand range, some wonderful Italian wines, two wines from Croatia’s Kozlović winery (including a distinctive, quite bitter Teran from the variety that makes the ultimate ‘Marmite wine’), and from Cyprus Kyperounda‘s Petritis 2016 a wonderful 100% Xynesteri that has understandably become a bestseller on that eastern Mediterranean island.

The Greek wines were the centrepiece

However, for me it was the three tables featuring the crop of Hallgarten’s  Greek range that were the centrepiece of this tasting, and especially the whites, which were almost uniformally highly accessible, despite most being made from indigenous varieties of which I’d never heard. Most were also lowish in alcohol, being typically around 12.5%.

“These wines have been really well received even in parts of the country you wouldn’t necessarily expect, because they are approachable and work well with and without food. We had one restaurateur who put a Gaia white as one of his house wines and he’s amazed how well its selling, even better than his Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc,” says Steve Daniel, Hallgarten’s head of buying, who says the growing interest in a healthy Mediterranean diet has also boosted interest.

Mediterranean

First off were three whites from the Idaia Winery in Crete, which produces some 240,000 bottles a year mostly from local varieties. On offer here was the Idaia Gi Vilana 2016 (£10.75); the Vidiano 2016 (£11.57) and the Ocean Thrapshathiri (£11.24), all made 100% from their respective grapes. All interesting, for me the clear winner here was the Thrapshathiri, a delicate, fresh wine with lovely herbal aromas, and a clear crisp finish.

From the Peloponnese, a winery that is a virtual shrine to near extinct grapes, the wines of the beautiful Monemvasia Estate – which produces less than 200,000 bottles a year – were at the other end of the scale taste-wise, and no less interesting for that.

The 100% Kidonitsa White PGI Laconia 2015 is made from one of the grapes used in making Greek Malmsey, which originally hailed from Monemvasia and was first made Mediterraneanhere by monks back in the Middle Ages. This had a wonderful quince taste on the middle palate but a fresh finish, and was quite unlike the more full-bodied Asproudi White PGI Peloponnese 2015, which has benefited from barrel ageing and time on the lees. My favourite of this batch.

Moving swiftly on, to northern Greece and Macedonia, the wines from Ktima Gerovassiliou were quite exceptional. All of them. This winery – founded by Vangelis Gerovassiliou – is best known as having almost single handedly revived the Malagousia variety which almost disappeared in the 1970s – which generally produces well-rounded and aromatic wines that age well but are also very fresh and accessible when drunk young.

The best example here was the Malagousia PGI Epanomi 2016 (£13.55) a full and generous wine that has benefited from being part (20%) fermented in oak. Yet Ktima Gerovassiliou – which now produces 400,000 bottles with plans to increase up to 500,000 – is no one trick pony; its award-winning single varietal range were all pretty good (including a Sauvignon Blanc that spent six months in oak, and a Chardonnay, seven months) but the award-winning Viognier PGI Epanomi 2016 (£14.45) was quite exceptional – lightly oaked, with lots of peach and apricot on the palate, and of generous body. The reds are also good but needed more time, especially the still overly acidic Avaton PGI Epanomi 2013, an interesting blend of Limnio, Mavrotragano and Mavrudi.

And of course, Gaia, whose wines have long been favourites of mine. Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, chief winemaker of this pioneering producer (which makes wines on Santorini and in Nemea in the Peloponnese) was modest when I asked what makes them so special.

“When you have such fantastic raw materials – old vines, rich soil, wonderful weather – it is not so difficult to make such distinctive wines,” says Yiannis.

He’s being far too modest, of course, as one sip of his Thalassitis Assyrtiko PDO Santorini 2016 (£17.26) confirms. Made from very old vines, this is an amazingly full and saline wine, unsurprising because the vines are apparently regularly sprayed with sea salt, but also zesty and fruit forward. This is a superb wine with a remarkable sense of place, as is the Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2016 (£19.36) made from grapes grown at higher elevation and partly fermented in oak casks.

Mediterranean

Of the reds, the Gaia S. Agiorgitko Syrah PDO Nemea 2015 (£17.15) was the most memorable, fermented and aged in oak for 14 months, and checking in at 15%, though this is already so well-balanced that you really don’t notice it.

To finish? Gaia’s remarkable Vin Santo 2005 was the most moreish wine of the tasting, a deliciously irresistible blend of Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri from Santorini. Nectar of the Gods indeed.

 

Malbec, The Heart of Argentina

To celebrate Malbec World Day on 17th April and Malbec being the heart of Argentina we have selected a range of Malbecs that celebrate the essence of Argentina and will tantalise your tastebuds in April. 

Malbec is in the DNA of Argentina. It is grown in all the wine regions of the country, making up 35% of the hectares planted in Argentina.

 

2015 Piattelli Vineyards, Alto Molino Malbec

A vibrant unoaked Argentinian Malbec grown at high altitude, with its heady mix of plump, dark, brambly fruits, plum jam notes combined with sweet tannins and a velvety finish. The relatively cool climate gives a remarkably fine and elegant Malbec.

2014 Matias Riccitelli, The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree Malbec

A marvellous Malbec with explosive aromas of dark fruits and violets with impressive purity and length. All the hallmarks of world class Malbec from the young and innovative, Matias Riccitelli.

2015 Doña Paula, Estate Malbec Syrah

A more European take on Argentine Malbec. This Malbec Syrah blend, sourced from two of Doña Paula’s best vineyards in the Uco Valley, it is refined with a herbaceous character making this wine a perfect match with red meats and casseroles.

2014 Andeluna, Pasionado Malbec – Tim Atkin, 92 points

“The top Malbec at Andeluna (at least for now) is wonderfully fragrant and full of personality. It’s a big, bold wine showing masses of blackberry and liquorice notes, underpinned by the chalky acidity that’s such a strong feature of Gualtallary reds. The oak is  increasingly subtle on these wines”.

2015 Piattelli Vineyards, Malbec

Slightly smokey, with a fruity bouquet that delights the senses and warms the palate with notes of blackberries, blueberries and lavender. The ultimate steak wine!

2013 Doña Paula, Selección de Bodega Malbec

A blend of Doña Paula’s very best single vineyard estates from older and naturally lower yielding vines, which produce wines with great depth and complexity. The Seleccion is unfiltered giving even more character and concentrated black fruit and cherry flavours with a long and elegant finish.

2014 Andeluna, Altitud Malbec – Tim Atkin, 91 points

“Showing less oak, extraction and alcohol than in the recent past, this mid-level Malbec is aromatic, fresh and subtly oaked, with plenty of colour, aromas of violets and rose petal, sweet blueberry fruit and a chalky, minerally undertone”.

2015 Oveja Negra, Winemaker’s Selection Malbec Petit Verdot

Oveja Negra or Black Sheep is someone out of the ordinary who stands out from the crowd, like this Chilean Malbec Petit Verdot. It is tremendously aromatic and offers notes of violets intermingled with fresh black fruit aromas of 91 Points blueberries and blackberries.

And here’s a couple of suggestions from John Clarke, writing for The Independent:

2013 Dona Paula, Seleccion De Bodega 

“Sometimes you need a wine to push the boat out (rather than launch it, that would be a waste). This flagship wine, from the 1.35km-high Alluvia vineyard and the (only slightly less elevated) Los Indios and El Alto ones in Mendoza, does exactly that. It’s a layered and complex, full-bodied malbec with alluring dark fruit flavours, soft tannins and an elegant, lingering finish. Can be drunk now or will keep for several years yet.”

2014 Zorzal, Eggo Tinto de Tiza Tupungato 

“What comes first, the chicken or the eggo? Actually it’s all about the Eggo, since the name comes from the egg-shaped concrete vats the wine is matured in for a year without seeing a trace of oak. The result is a bright yet structured wine, bursting full of rich, dark fruit and berry flavours that has marked it out as one of Argentina’s most exhilarating malbecs. A wine to remember.”