Category Archives: Travel

Poise, elegance, balance – a Nureyev wine

You forget just how steep the vineyards can be in Tuscany. Rolling hills, lone cypress trees, hilltop villages and medieval fortresses, yes, they all spring to mind when you think of Chiantishire. But, crikey, this is a steep slope.

We are at the top of the hill and the vines on both sides are majestic, the patterned seersucker rows stretching hypnotically into the distance. This is EM Forster country, but all I can think of is: I hope this driver knows what he is doing. There are four Land Rovers in single file formation, and our driver waits until the one in front has negotiated the slope before engaging the gears. And away we slither.

But, of course, we need not have worried. Riccardo Giorgi and his team are not only excellent winemakers, but they are expert at manoeuvring four wheel drives around the vineyard. And what a vineyard!

Tenuta Perano lies in the heart of the Chianti Classico region in Gaiole. And the reason for the procession of four wheel drives is because Frescobaldi have invited 50 or so of their distributors from around the world to enjoy their first sight of the new estate. Later on there will be hot air balloons, a presentation from Lamberto Frescobaldi and a steak cooked by rock star Panzano chef Dario Cecchini.

Two things strike you immediately: the altitude (“it is 500 metres above sea level compared to 250 metres for Nipozzano,” Lamberto Frescobaldi tells me later, over dinner). And the estate lies in a beautiful amphitheatre which catches every last drop of the sun. This is balanced by the tramontana wind, which sweeps through at night to lower the temperature. It is this combination of altitude, vineyard siting and the free draining galestro soil that gives the Perano wines such character.

The estate now produces three wines, a Classico, a Classico Riserva and a Gran Selezione “Rialzi”. “There will be no IGTs from here,” says Lamberto. I can’t wait to taste them over dinner.

But first, I almost come a cropper in the hotel air balloon. It all looks a bit precarious and the wind isn’t helping, but I manfully haul myself into the small basket with three other distributors, all of us wearing looks of trepidation. The weather is playing up, and it takes a long time before lift-off, and when it does the hot flame which our pilot blows into the balloon seems to come perilously close to my head. These days I haven’t got much up top and for a moment I worry about getting my bonce singed. Meanwhile, one of the spectating distributors shouts up to the pilot: “Don’t lose that salesman – he’s my best man and sells thousands of cases!”

When we eventually make it back down – thank God – we are then taken on a tour of the winery – probably the most pristine I’ve ever seen.

And then comes the T-bone!

The legendary showman Cecchini (strapline: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter) enters to a blaze of klaxon horns. “To the table!” he exhorts, kissing everyone, and dishing out huge wedges of beef. It is complete chaos but no-one seems to care. The steak is sublime – and doesn’t he know it! Later on I queue to get my photograph taken with him like some fawning teenager. But, then, everyone else does.

Meanwhile, I listen to Lamberto talk about the wines. “We are looking for poise and elegance, and balance here,” he explains. He tastes the Classico. “This is a Nureyev wine,” he says.  The Riserva has more weight, but the tannins are sweet and soft. “This is a feminine wine,” he says. And then we move on to the Gran Selezione, the Rialzi, which means rise in the land. “This one is masculine,” he says.

Talking of masculinity, here comes the marching Cecchini again, now singing. Best to keep my head down, eat his steak and drink the wonderful wines.

Michele Chiarlo is the Picasso of the wine world

“We are – and always will be – only Piemonte,” says Michele Chiarlo.

We are standing in the cellars at Chiarlo’s Calamandrana winery and the still sprightly 83 year-old is telling his audience of worldwide distributors where his priorities lie. We are the lucky ones who have been invited to his annual symposium, and Michele, who still visits the winery every day, is proudly showing us around the barrel room. The Alliers oak tonneaux are gleaming, but as Michele explains; “I want to capture exactly the terroir and not the oak. These here are merely to prepare the wine for release.”

This terroir-driven focus has always been at the heart of the Chiarlo philosophy, further proof of which is Michele’s insistence on producing single-varietals rather than blends and only using indigenous grape varieties. This philosophy has been infused into his sons, winemaker Stefano and Alberto, who takes care of sales and marketing. The focus is rooted in an exceptional collection of vineyards in the Barolo and Barbera appellations.

But it wasn’t always like this. Michele chuckles; “fifty years ago, when I started making Barbera, people thought I was crazy.” But the proud owner of La Court has had the last laugh. “We have made our reputation with Barbera.” It continues to this day: the first vintage of Cipressi Nizza was immediately hailed as Wine of the Year by Wine Enthusiast.

And while the Cerequio and Cannubi Barolos are world class, the Barberas are world WORLD class, and you have to think this is where his heart ultimately lies. We decide immediately to christen him the Father of Barbera. Michele laughs sheepishly. A lifetime of accolades has not changed an essential humility.

But when Stefano takes us into the vineyards, he is keen to emphasise the family’s Barolo heritage. “Every Barolo producer wants to have a piece of Cannubi,” he says, scrambling over the unique terraces which characterise the vineyard. And from where he is standing he can point upwards a couple of hundred metres to where the ultimate Barolo vineyard, Cerequio, lies – the extra altitude the defining nature.

So, this then, is Michele Chiarlo. Exceptional vineyards; exceptional wines. A sixth generation wine family rooted in Piemonte’s terroir which has built up a worldwide reputation, underlined by a stunning collection of 90-plus points from Parker, Suckling and the Wine Enthusiast.

And yet.

This only tells half the story.

So far, we could be talking about any number of winemakers. There is something else, and it is difficult to put a finger on it. But then you walk around the amazing Chiarlo Art Park at the La Court vineyard. This diverse selection of world-class modern art dotted incongruously around the vineyard may help explain the attraction of Chiarlo. This modernity also finds reference in the stunning series of labels which adorn the great wines. Has there ever been a more eclectic, stylish and individual set of labels? And maybe it also finds reference in the style of the wines, which, in the Classico selection, allow the consumer to enjoy at a relatively early age – key for the restaurant trade, but in the individual Cru, also remain true to the ageing tradition.

It is this fascinating juxtaposition between tradition and modernity which lies at the heart of the Chiarlo appeal.

Looking at the art selections, I pipe up: “Michele is the Picasso of the wine world.”

“Yes,” says another distributor. “He even looks a little bit little Picasso!”

The purest juice

So artisanal is the inaptly named Château Grand Pré that we cannot find it! Twenty minutes ago Bev and I left Fleurie’s Place de l’Église on the D68, driving past the Auberge du Cep, heading for the border with Chiroubles. But in spite of Bev jumping out and knocking on various houses, we cannot find it. Eventually she phones our host, Romain Zordan, who laughs and tells us he will pick us up. About thirty seconds later he arrives, we turn the car round and minutes later arrive at an old farmhouse that we have already driven past twice. Duh!

 

Natural wines are the subject of some debate. For some they represent winemaking at its most pure; for some critics the wines are simply undrinkable, some of them, they swear, tasting like cider and smelling of old socks. The choice of not adding sulphur (or to add it only in minute quantities) is what causes a lot of the fuss. Sulphur acts as an oxidant and without it, the critics say, the wine simply turns yellow. Certainly you get a lot of curious flavours in natural wine.

But equally, they can be some of the most exciting wines you will taste, with a purity of fruit that is unrecognisable in more commercial offerings.

There is no question which side Romain is on. He shows us vines which are 80, 90, 100 years old. He prunes by hand. No herbicides are used. He ploughs round the vines throughout the year to limit weed growth, encouraging the vines to dig deep, to reach down to the granite. Yields are low: about 25 hl to 35 hl depending on the vintage. Wild yeasts.

He explains all this with the loud and slightly manic passion of a visionary while the two of us shiver. In twenty years of visiting Burgundy I have never known it so cold, and much as I love the Beaujolais countryside, I am dead glad when he takes us into a renovated cellar where he has laid on a lunch of bread, Munster cheese and saucisson. I normally eschew food during tasting, but I am famished and this just looks so French that I tuck in. As does the Master of Wine.

The Fleurie 2017 has a huge, ripe, sweet fruit nose, with really intense flavours in the mouth. Liquid jelly. They didn’t do carbonic maceration because hail destroyed half the vineyard and they weren’t able to fill the tanks. Half full bunch and half destemmed (although Romain pronounces it “steamed” and for a second I think he’s invented some amazing winemaking technique.) Soft, flowing tannins. A magical bottle of wine.

The Morgan 2017 has a much funkier nose. Lots happening in here, the merest hint of reductiveness on the nose. But in the mouth all traces disappear and you have a rich chocolatey mouthful. Simply gorgeous.

The Cotes de Brouilly 2017 underwent full carbonic maceration and is the chunkier of the three wines, imbued with the flavours of the famous blue granite, which gives it a vibrant violet character. But, unbelievably, it has a “lifted” quality, as if the wine is floating above the ground. I cannot do the quality of this wine justice.

Better still, the vibrant acidity of the wine cuts through the salami and cheese perfectly. We are in picnic heaven.

We then brave the cold again as Romain takes out round the back of his cellar to an old warehouse where he keeps his canary-coloured tanks. And then it is back outside where he opens up an old shipping container in which he keeps a few barrels of white. The sample shows this wine to be good but not in the same class as his reds.

Incongruously, this container is parked on the edge of a house in which Franck Duboeuf and his family live. No-one has done more to promote the wines of this glorious region than Franck’s father, Georges Duboeuf. I know: I used to work for him. And while the differences between Duboeuf’s and Grand Pré’s wines couldn’t be greater, both offer excellence in their own way.

But I have never felt such excitement in Beaujolais as that which feel now, sitting munching my cheese and salami in Romain’s little cellar. These wines are brilliant. They are uncompromisingly brilliant. The purest juice I have tasted on the entire trip.

Shabby Chic

We first came across this producer when we tasted the Domaine Gouffier Aligoté a couple of years ago. It knocked us for six. It was about as far removed from your customary tart and bitter aligoté as was possible.

So how good to finally visit Frédéric (Fred) Gueugneau and Benoît Pagot at their farmhouse on Fontaine’s Grand Rue, southwest of Rully. Set behind a gravel courtyard, their 19th century farmhouse is filled with a beguiling collection of peeling French farmhouse furnishings, quirky wallpaper, crumbling pargetting, and odd-looking objets d’art, its faded glory complemented by modern low-slung couches, a widescreen TV and a monstrous sound system complete with mixer. You’d pay some fancy interior designer a fortune to come up with such shabby chic. The farmhouse acts as a base for the pickers during harvest, and you get the impression that for the joyeux vendangeurs, it must be one long acid house.

With 5.5-hectares spread across eight appellations, the domaine was in need of a fresh start following the passing of Jerome Gouffier in 2012, and, as we set up the tasting in the kitchen, Fred, who worked at La Chablisienne for eight years, explains what they are looking for. “To reinvigorate the vines, to bring organic practice, to have the wines less in barrel, more in tank.”

The Aligoté En Rateaux which excited us has now moved on to the 2017. While not having the knockout punch of its older brother, it has a vivacious flower and citrus feel to it and simply fills the mouth with flavours and piercing acidity.

The Bouzeron Les Corcelles 2017 reminded me of some our Greek wines, with its volcanic feel and saline quality. A huge mouthful.

The Rully Premier Cru Rabource 2017 has an inviting and open nose of elderflower and apricot. An amazing wine.

We finish with the red Mercurey La Charmée 2017 which lives up to its name with real purity of fruit – blackcurrants, this time – and beautifully integrated oak.

The tasting has been one stunner after another.

Fred and Benoit, now in hoodies and trainers, take us outside to the rustic winery and proudly show off a barrel room housed in a stone-domed cellar which served as a bunker for Napoleon’s army.

Once more, as with so many of our new producers, what we have here is a mixture of reverence for what they have inherited along with a determination to make their own mark on Burgundy’s history. This place is in good hands.

“I don’t want to ever leave Italy”

Hallgarten Marketing Coordinator, Charli Truelove, recently took to the road with Sales Manager, Phil Brodie in the Midlands team, and a group of his customers to experience the culture, cuisine and of course the wine in Emilia Romagna with the team from Cevico.

 

Day one we arrived in Bologna, the home of Bolognese, and were greeted by Alida Sangiorgi, Marketing Manager at Cevico, and our bus driver, Mauro, who took us to our first stop – an incredible visit and lunch, cooked by Chef Paola Cucchi,  at Tenuta La Massellina,  in the Castelbolognese commune of Emillia Romagna. The estate is owned by one of our most important partners, Cevico, and is the source of some of the Emilia-Romagna wines in our portfolio.

Here we were joined by more of the Cevico team who shared so much knowledge with us over the coming days; Cristina Melandri, our guide from the Cevico team and Alberto Medici, co-owner of the family run Medici Ermete.

After the already action-packed first morning and lunch, we took to the road once again to visit Basilica San Vitale one of the most important surviving examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe. The walking tour unveiled of some of Ravenna’s historical monuments including Dante’s Tomb.

To finish the day, more food followed – it’s true what they say about how fantastic the cuisine is in this part of the world! A spectacular 7 course dinner awaited at Furfanti with the Cevico team. Both the food and wine were both unsurprisingly incredible… I am already thinking; “I don’t want to ever leave Italy.”

Day two, we drove along the coast to Rimini to visit Le Rocche Malatestiane, which takes its name from one of Rimini’s oldest noble families, the Malatesta family. We were given a tour by our guides, Elena Piva and Enrico Salvatori, where we were shown and told about its fermentation tanks, grape drying process and barrel cellar, followed by a wine tasting of three whites and three reds each more moreish than the last. Including the Antica Marineria Bianco, an oaked-aged white wine made from 100% Sangiovese. We talked everything from soils, fermentation, ageing and grape varieties – a very interesting tasting and visit.

Following this busy morning, we stopped for lunch at Trattoria Zaghini Santarcangelo where we were treated to a divine array of foods, and probably the best pasta I have even eaten (the wine was pretty good too), all set in a beautiful traditional Italian restaurant surrounding.

We were well in need of a walk after such an indulgent lunch, so stopped off at Santarcangelo, a medieval town 10km north of Rimini which had the atmosphere of a large village rather than a town.

The final evening of our trip of course involved more fantastic cuisine, with dinner on the canal at a seafood restaurant, Cesenatico. Alberto Medici toasted the evening with his Lambrusco – Medici Ermete ‘La Favorita’ Rosso Secco, Lambrusco NV – a chilled sparkling red, nothing like I have tried before, filled with an abundance red fruit flavours with a delicate finish. A truly spectacular wine!

Island Hopping Wines

With  the UK enjoying Mediterranean style weather and many predicting a vintage year for English wine, we have taken a closer look at some of the sunny island wines you can serve here.

From the popular holiday destinations of Mallorca and Tenerife, to the picturesque and idyllic Santorini, to the lesser known island of  Brač off Croatia, there is plenty to tantalise taste buds.

From Mallorca… Bodega Biniagual, ‘Memories Negre’ 2013

Located in the heart of Binissalem, the small village of Biniagual was renowned for its wine production until the phylloxera plague destroyed most of the vines at the beginning of the 20th century.

“An approachable red with bright aromas of wild red berried fruits combined with a subtle hint of spice. Showing a beautifully balanced structure, soft and smooth with plenty of vibrant fruit and a satisfying finish. ”

From Brač, Croatia… Jako Vino, Stina ‘Cuvee White’, Dalmatia 2016

The beautiful Croatian island of Brač is famous for its white stone, which is known locally as Stina and was the inspiration behind the name of this stunning collection of Jako Vino wines.

“A youthful yet complex nose delights with layers of floral hints with tropical notes of apricot and mango. The full bodied palate is dry, refreshingly balanced and full of juicy yellow fruits with citrus hints on the lingering finish.”

From Santorini… Gaia Wines, ‘Thalassitis’, Assyrtiko 2017

One of the pioneers of the modern Greek wine revolution Gaia Estate was established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. This wine is made from the island’s indigenous variety Assyrtiko Episkopi, Akrotiri and Pyrgos regions.

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

From Tenerife… Bodegas Viñátigo, Listán Blanco 2017

The philosophy behind Bodegas Viñátigo is to revive and promote the extensive varietal heritage of the Canary Islands. The journey started in the 1990s, at a century old plot in the village of La Guancha, in the north of Tenerife, where the traditional varieties of Listán Blanco and Listán Negro were vinified in the old family winery.

“Made entirely from the local Listán Blanco grape, the wine shows aromas of dry fruits and an enticing hint of fennel. The palate is full-bodied with a refreshing, balancing acidity and ample fruity flavours and floral notes. A lovely crisp wine with great intensity and a long, persistent finish.”

From Sardinia… Poderi Parpinello,Isola del Nuraghi, Cagnulari 2015

Giampaolo Parpinello and his son Paolo strive to reflect the Sardinian terroir and reveal the typicity of the wines, on a 30 hectare estate the family have been running for three generations.

“A deep, intense Cagnulari with delicate aromas of wild flowers backed by concentrated, ripe red fruits and a touch of spice. Dry and elegantly structured with a smooth finish.”

From Crete… Idaia Winery, Dafnes, Vidiano 2017

Idaia Winery is located in Venerato, a village in the heart of the vineyards of the Malevizi district, which is part of the Dafnes appellation area.

“Delicate aromatic characters of ripe pear, melon and a hint of banana, lead to a refreshing acidity which balances the rich and charming palate. With an impressively aromatic aftertaste, this is the quintessential introduction to the Vidiano grape.”

 

For further details on any of the wines above, please get in touch with your account manager. 

Viñátigo, Volcanic Wines & The Black Dribbler

The first exhilarating thing you see as the plane approaches Tenerife is a snow-capped Mount Teide rising out of the mist. Considering the island’s reputation as a sunseeker’s paradise, this mirage-like sight – a Kilimanjaro of the Canaries – comes as a jolt.

Exiting the airport, the hoardes of holidaymakers turn left and dash to the fleshpots of Playa de las Américas and Los Cristianos; Steve and I turn right and make our way up the A1 autoroute through an unpreposessing industrial coastline until we turn inland and hit the beautiful town of San Cristobal de la Laguna.

“Welcome to the north, the real Tenerife,” says a genial Juan Jesús Méndez Siverio, the owner of Viñátigo and a man who is about to become a winemaking hero to me.

Steve and I listed the Viñátigo wines late in 2017, following tastings in London. We know the wines are extraordinary – but now we are about to find out just how extraordinary.

First things first, we say, as Juan cranks up his four wheel drive. Pronunciation? “Ah,” says Juan. It is vin-YA-t’go.”

Crossing the island, we become aware of the change in scenery and vegetation. “The south is hot and flat and arid, only good for average grape-growing,” says Juan in broken English. “But here in the north…” It doesn’t need more explanation. Here the vegetation is lush and green, the land heavily sloped, dotted with smallholdings, the moody clouds rolling in quickly off Mount Teide.

Juan takes us to the Valle el Palmar in the foothills of the mountain, climbing from sea level to 1,000 metres in less than five minutes through twisting hairpin dirt paths. It is so steep I’m convinced we are going to topple over backwards, and by the time we clamber out it is misty and damp and we appear to be standing in the clouds.

This is the organically-farmed Finca Los Pedregales vineyard, home of the mighty Tintilla.

“Is very small, two hectares, 33 terraces, very difficult to harvest, hard work,” jokes Juan. He holds up a bottle with the familiar ladder motif on the label and Steve and I both sigh “Ah!” as we now know where the ladder = terrace logo originates.

“Everything comes from the mountain,” Juan explains. “You have to pay it respect. It is the highest mountain in Spain. But for us, is importance because it is a volcano. The soil, you see. The soil.”

 

He bends down and hands us dense pieces of the phosphorous-rich rock, crumbling and black. The weight of it comes as a shock. But you can smell the minerals. I strand back and hold it – and  then the rain comes.

Not your average rain, but great wind-driven stair rods spearing into your face.

We leg it back to the car.

Minutes later, back at sea level at the pretty port of Garachico, all is warm and sunny and you might be in a different world. We sit on a harbour wall, buffeted by Atlantic waves, and sipp Juan’s Malvasia Aromática Classica, while we gaze up at Mount Teide, now framed against a beautiful azure sky. “In the eighteenth century the last great eruption destroyed this port. You can see where the lava ran.” Juan points to the valley which runs from the base of the mountain to where we stand.

Peculiar place, I think: one minute you could be in Malaysia; the next, Dorset.

The Malvasia has incredible acidity which masks the 60 grams of sugar. This is the type of wine which made Tenerife famous in the 16th century, when it was one of the most prized wines in Europe. Juan reminds us of two quotes in Shakespeare: in Twelfth Night Sir Toby Belch tells Sir Andrew Aguecheek: “O knight, thou lack’st a cup of canary. When did I see thee so put down?” and in Henry IV Part 2 we have Hostess Quickly admonishing Doll Tearsheet: “But, you have drunk too much canaries, and that’s a marvellous searching wine.”

A marvellous searching wine!

The island lived off wine from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. When the American Independence was signed they celebrated with Canary wine.  And then the grapes were supplanted by bananas and then tourism.

“One of my ambitions is to hold a wine tasting at Canary Wharf,” says Juan.

“I think we can arrange that!” says Steve.

During the drive to the winery in his home village of La Guancha, Juan fills in the gaps. He is a fourth generation winegrower, but the first in his family to study on the mainland. He owns 16 hectares, and works closely with 40 growers, who own another 21 hectares. His total production is 12,000 cases. Such limited production means he has to augment his earnings by teaching as a professor of viticulture and oenology at the Ciclo Superior de Vitivinicultura.

“We started off by trying to improve our production of the traditional grapes of Listán Blanco and Listán Negro. But when I began to research the wines for my classes in the late 90s, I became more and more interested in our winemaking history. The Canary Isles is one of the few areas in the world where phylloxera has never occurred and this means that we have an incredible amount of indigenous varietals. But most had become unfashionable, and were almost extinct. A lot of them only existed on the tiny island of El Hierro, the Jurassic park of vines.

“So I began to work with Fernando Zamora at the Rovira i Virgili university in Tarragona. First, we tried to identify these varieties. We found more than 80.”

Listán Blanco is Palomino, Gual is Madeira’s Bual, Listán Negro is the Mission grape. Tintilla and Marmajuelo are unknowns but probably originated on the Spanish mainland, where they were wiped out by phylloxera.

“Then, we transported many of them from El Pinar to Tenerife and began to propagate them.”

As a result of the work, he has become a seminal figure on the island.

His promotion of these near-extinct varieties explains why many of Viñátigo’s bottlings are small-runs and hand-numbered.

That he has done all of this without trumpeting his achievements and with minimal fuss immediately elevates him to winemaking hero to me.

At the stunning small winery we are joined by Juan’s winemaker wife, Elena Batista, who shows us round. It’s a beautifully designed winery, built into a hillside, with a Batcave feel to it. Small batch fermentation and vinification in 40 separate stainless steel tanks is key. Everything is gravity fed and the winery is cunningly designed to allow for natural ventilation. “Everything is designed to completely eliminate any chance of oxidation,” explaines Elena. Every piece of machinery is mobile. “The idea is that the machinery is designed around the grapes, not the grapes around the machinery.”

It is pristine clean. Viticulture is sustainably-focused. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermented using indigenous yeasts. Grapes go through two triages, first in the fields and then again in the winery. Minimal sulphur is used in the winery and no synthetic materials are used in the winemaking.

After asking Juan to pose with a bottle of his 1697 Malvasia, we get down to a tasting.

 

  • The Listán Blanco 2017 has only just been bottled and has a saline, mineral feel to it. I’m struggling to find a more descriptive word, but Elena tells me: fennel. Ah! Tom Cannavan, writing about the 2016 vintage, mused that this “was the perfect white wine: fruity and with a herbal tang, medium-bodied yet not without palate weight and texture, and shimmering with soft but ever-present acidity to the last drop. Ultimately a fairly simple wine, but utterly delicious.”

 

  • The Marmajuelo 2017 is a massive step up. It still has a magnificent saline character, but now has nuances of tropical fruits – pineapple – to give it roundness and a richness. Cannavan, again, on the 2016: “This is a lovely, limpid white wine, described to me as being ‘A bit like Chablis’ by the sommelier in a restaurant, and whilst it does have a limpid clarity and freshness, it is just overflowing aromatically with passion fruit and guava, in a much more vivacious style. It is easy drinking, despite very good acidity, but with a smooth weight of fruit and a hint of minerality too. Terrific and different.”

 

  • The Gual 2017 has a darker, heavier feel to it. This bottle is from 50% grapes fermented in stainless steel and 50% fermented in concrete eggs. Juan then brings out a 100% concrete egg wine, which has an incredible yeastiness and body, due to the suspension of the yeast. A wonderful example of what the eggs can lay.

 

  • The Vijariego Blanco 2017 has just been bottled and is difficult to nose, but has a pear and stone fruit nose and reminds us all of Greek’s Assyrtiko.

 

  • The Negromoll (2017) is a fascinating wine; my favourite Viñátigo. It certainly has a touch of Pinot Noir about it, but without the surliness you sometimes get with that grape. This grape seems genuine, seems to want to please. It has beautiful cherry fruit and a surprising gutsiness to it. Brilliant stuff. We must bring this to a bigger audience, Steve and I agree.

 

  • The Ensamblaje Blanco 2016 is a blend of Gual, Marmamjuelo, Vijariego Blanco and Malvasia Aromática, has massive acidity and lots of stone fruit and more than a touch of the northern Rhone about it. The ’17 is more saline. Juan says that saline is a characteristic he looks for in all his white wines.

 

  • The Listán Negro 2017 is a beautiful everyday glass of wine, with a touch of rosehip and black pepper. Incredible value-for-money.

 

  • The Tintilla 2016 is a much bigger wine; there is masses going on: dark chocolate, tobacco, cranberry. A powerful, serious wine.

 

  • The Baboso Negro 2012 is a big beast, with a massive perfume of violets and a heavy and structured palate with oozing black plums coating the mouth. Very intense. Juan tells us that they nickname this grape the Black Dribbler because it has very thin skin and when it gets close to ripeness it can split and dribble. This is almost too much for Steve and I to take in. The Black Dribbler!

 

  • The Ensamblaje Tinto 2014 is a blend of Baboso Negro, Tintilla and Vijariego Negro with ten months average oak-ageing. This is a big wine, with toffee, caramel and cedar box on the fore-palate, then cassis and dark chocolate.

 

  • Then after tasting two editions of the Elaboraciones Ancestrales, we are given an Orange wine, a Gual, made in the same way as the first Gual we tasted, but left to macerate for much longer. Unlike a lot of orange wines, this is beautiful with lots of mandarins on the nose, well-balanced and very clean, with a hint of quince.

At dinner that evening, while eating through different types of potato (your humble potato is elevated to gourmet status in Tenerife, a result of the island importing many different types from Peru centuries ago), we discuss the concept of volcanic wines. John Szabo, the Canadian Sommelier, had visited Juan and Elena during the writing of his book, Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, and the Tenerife wine industry makes great play on the volcanic nature of their wines.

“But how do you define a volcanic wine?” I ask.

“Minerality,” says Juan.

John Szabo, in his book, prefers “umami” which is something Steve, Bev and I have sometimes picked up in our tasting room, but we thought it was just Luton!

“It’s a smokiness in the wine,” says Elena.

Steve, with decades of knowledge of Greece behind him, says all volcanic wines have “tension.”

Darren Smith, writing recently in Imbibe, noted that there may be no such thing as a “volcanic” wine; because each volcano had its own wine suite, hinging on its particular chemistry (basic or acidic/alkaline), its own soil texture (loose pumice or scoria, sandy, clay-rich, or bedrock lava), its own micro-climate and its own cultivars, we would be better off referring to such wines in the plural: volcanic wines rather than volcanic wine.

Saltiness is also a common thread for Szabo, as Smith points out. In his book Szabo refers to a ‘weightless gravity’, a subtle power, concentration and longevity, and very much more of a savoury aspect to the wines than a fruity one.

“I agree with that,” says Juan. “ That is present in some of our wines. It may be from some of our plots we have right down by the sea’s edge. Salt must influence the wines, a little like the sea does for malt whisky on Islay.”

As for minerality, that, too, is a difficult concept to pin down. Steve and I use it a lot in our wine descriptions, but as Jamie Goode writes in Wine Science, minerality means different things to different people. Goode recounts  Stephen Spurrier telling him that “minerality did not exist as a wine-tasting term until the mid-1980s. During most of my time in Paris I don’t think I ever used the word.” Spurrier does use the word now. “I probably associate minerality with stoniness, but then stones are hard and minerality is generally “lifted.” No wonder we are all confused.”

Goode goes on to say that Jancis Robinson told him: “I am very wary of using minerality in my tasting notes because I know how sloppily it has been applied.”

“This is what makes wine so beautiful,” says Juan, as we prepare to leave.

While we were eating, a tropical storm had developed. The 100-metre race to the car park became an assault course as we dodged the flying branches of palm trees, one of which attempted to beat Steve to death. We ended up thoroughly drenched.

So much for sun-kissed island, I thought as I reached my room. But, fortified by another glass of a magnificent Baboso Negro (The Black Dribbler), I realised this had been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I used to have a Shakespeare blog, so I was familiar with his references, but Juan and Elena had also brought to my attention a quote from another of my heroes, John Keats:

“Souls of Poets dead and gone,
What Elysium have ye known,
Happy fields or mossy cavern,
Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?
Have ye tippled drink more fine
Than mine host’s Canary wine…”

Once more, the Cockney poet nails it.

The perils of travelling with the Portfolio Director

We arrived late at Michele Chiarlo. Gen and I had touched down at Milan airport at dusk and picked up the hire car. “No need for the satnav, Gen,” I stated. “I know a shortcut.”

So obviously we got lost.

By the time we arrived in Piemonte it was pitch black. Picture this. The small village of Barolo is in the middle of nowhere. It is surrounded by very steep hills. It is freezing cold in the winter, and tonight it has snowed heavily. The hapless Geordie driver peers through the windscreen, his demure brand manager in the passenger seat (wondering what she has done to deserve this.)

“I think it’s down here,” I say.

“Are you sure, Jeem? That road doesn’t look safe.”

“Trust me, Gen. I’m an old hand at this. I’m sure these are Chiarlo vineyards and those lights at the top of the hill – that’s the Chiarlo guest house.”

I edge the car forward down a steep hill – and then the fun starts.

After 50 yards we hit black ice. Car skids. Dirt road. Pitch black. Can’t control the car. Heart in my mouth. “Brace yourself!”

I career down the ice. There’s a solid brick wall on one side. A vineyard on the other. I try to steer the car into the vineyard: softer landing.

It is at this point that Gen shows her class.

“Oh no, Jeem! Not there – that’s Cerequio!”

Five yards later we hit a dry patch and the car skids to a halt. And we breathe again.

Thankfully, the rest of the trip is much less eventful and a lot more fun. After somehow managing to get the car out of the vineyard, we eventually find the Chiarlo guest house and meet up with Stefano and Erica for a bite to eat and a catch-up.

Alberto joins us for the business meeting, and then conducts a brilliant tasting. A couple of highlights for me:

Cipressi 2015 (the second vintage to be made under the new Nizza DOCG) – looks spectacular. On the nose you get hugely perfumed blackberries, massive and profound. On the palate: lovely, grippy, sappy tannins. Mouth filling, a touch of savoury now begins to assert. Huge finish which goes on forever.
Cerequio 2013 – refined and elegant nose, loganberries, cranberries, exotic fruit. A touch of boot polish. Tannins are firm but not harsh, coating rather than dominating. A touch of bacon sandwich on the finish, but very soft and smooth and classy. Needs at least another two years.

The following morning we drive to the winery, gorgeous snowy vistas every side of us. At the winery a sprightly Michele welcomes us, proudly showing us through the fermentation and barrel rooms, before making Gen’s day by posing with her for photographs. The 82 year-old, who still works at the winery every day, tells us the ’17 vintage will be short on volume but good in terms of quality – especially for Barolo. I cross my fingers and hope Gen doesn’t volunteer that I almost wiped out a row of those precious Cerequio vines!

Brilliantly Bordeaux

No matter how often you visit this place, it still beguiles you. The transition from the dreary detritus and strip malls of the Bordeaux conurbation to the wealth and imperious Proustian splendour of the Medoc is almost seamless.

From each side of the D2 the vines stand tall, straight and proud, in immaculate rows, lining the gravelly earth like bearskin-clad grenadiers parading for some local dignitary, or, more elegiacally, like the massed white headstones of a battlefield cemetery.

For the anoraks, it is one legendary châteaux after another.. “Oh, look, there’s Latour, don’t see that every day, do you… oh, hang on, there’s Pichon Longueville on the right… and there on the left is Lafite Rothschild…” It’s as if a sports fan was able to travel down one road with all the world’s famous stadia on either side. Oh, look, there’s San Siro, oh, and over there is Yankee Stadium, oh wait, there’s the MCG…

Chateau Preuillac, Medoc

Our first destination is Château Preuillac, a Cru Bourgeois estate in the Médoc, near the village of Lesparre. Our host is Ken Lee, a Bordeaux-based Singaporean consultant whose schoolboy looks mask a hard business edge, and who spends the entire journey on his mobile phone, chatting away in a mixture of Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese and Malay, but who – touchingly – ends every conversation with a “bye bye, bye bye!”

Preuillac is an imposing château. Built in 1869, and formerly in the hands of the Mau family, it has been refurbished and renovated by Ken’s new owners and is ripe for re-assessment. Standing in the 30-hectare vineyard (split roughly between cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a smattering of cabernet franc), winemaker Nathalie Billard explains that the estate lost 10% to April’s devastating frost, but considers they were lucky.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Preuillac

Then we move on to Nathalie’s pride and joy: three new 160 hectolitre foudres, newly commissioned by her, which have joined the existing decades-old foudres and which will act alongside the oak barrels to fashion the wine. Here, they are looking for classic claret, and a brief tasting of the 2015s and 2016s shows they are on the right path; the ’16 in particular is a really, really elegant wine: dark berries, beautiful young fruit, broad, rich, complex, obviously young, oaky. With a bit of luck, it will be spectacular.

Foudres, Chateau Preuillac

But, sadly, this is a whistle-stop tour, and we have to jump in the car, where Ken’s colleague, Dimitri, drives us through the Bordeaux rush hour to our base, Château Senailhac, a drop dead gorgeous, all-singing, all-dancing, bells and whistles, full monty of a château, complete with personal assistant, and ours – and ours only – for the

Beverly Tabbron MW & the author, Jim Wilson, adjoining Cheval Blanc

full week. Sinking into a 19th century chaise-longue, I tell Bev that I feel like James Bond. “So that means you must be Pussy Galore.” The website promises an “Unforgettable Stay.” Blimey!

Moving on…

Next morning we head out east to the right bank. You are struck (as ever) by the difference between this hillier landscape and the flatter Medoc we visited yesterday. Here, it looks as if everything has been thrown together in an artisanal, higgledy-piggledy way, a bit louche and in need of a haircut, more rambling than the formal stand-to-attention correctness of the Medoc. It wears its wealth lightly. Mind you, it also has more surprises: Cheval Blanc looks like a spaceship which has landed in a fold in the hills and is now floating on a sea of vines.

Our first appointment is at Château Mayne Blanc in Lussac Saint-Emilion. Chatting with chief winemaker Jean de Cournuaud, we hear more about the frost – but this time the news is much more devastating. They lost 90% of the crop. “All of our vineyards north of Libourne were lost.” He pauses. “But, life goes on.” In the winery he proudly shows us his fermenting eggs – the first in Bordeaux. “The main advantage is that they allow for a very soft pigeage.”

Chateau Mayne Blanc, Lussac St Emilion

We taste a selection of 2015 and 2016s (these to be mostly blended out of tank in January) We purr with contentment, and the Cuvée St Vincent in particular has a fabulously rich nose, with serious dark and broody tannins. Firm, not harsh. Long, long finish.

We approach Libourne from the “wrong side” – the east – rather than the more usual approach across the bridge, and this throws me completely, until the Dordogne and the familiar quaint quayside come into view. Thirty minutes away in Fronsac, Château Puy Guilhem is a 14-hectare vineyard with a spectacular view of the spire of the Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church.

Merlot vines, Chateau Puy Guilhem

Winemaker Pierre Sallaud discourses on the difference between Fronsac and Canon Fronsac, both of which are made at the property. “Well, actually, there actually isn’t a great deal of difference. The Canon Fronsacs should have dense tannins and be slightly bigger, whereas the Fronsacs might be slightly softer and lighter.”

We taste the ’09 Fronsac – there is really generous fruit, still young, tannins beautifully integrated. Superb claret. This, and the ’10, is ready to drink now, but the later vintages we taste – the ’14s, ’15s and ’16s – are even better. I compare the ’14s: the Fronsac has very sweet fruit, rich and already drinkable, medium weight, very good balance. Good gutsy wine. The Canon seems younger in its development, more spritzy, with tannins that are still harsh. Apparently, I’m not the only one who prefers the Fronsac to Canon Fronsac: Pierre tells me that James Suckling does, too.

Stems & pips, Chateau Puy Guilhem

The following day we taste at Château Plain Point, undergoing renovation and set to be spectacular. The more recent wines are much better than the older

Bev and Ludovic Laberrere, winemaker at Chateau Plaisance

vintages. Back in the Entre-deux-Mers, then, and to Château Plaisance, where we are entertained by an affable winemaker, Ludovic Labarrere, who shows us some wonderfully forward 2016 Bordeaux and Cotes de Bordeaux wines.

The 2015 Bordeaux is beautifully ripe, kicking way above its weight. I prefer this to the Cotes du Bordeaux, which seems a little tougher, less obvious and less chatty. Meanwhile, the 2016 Bordeaux is a bit of a wild teenager, vivacious young fruit not yet set. I get raspberry syrup, vermilion. And, from somewhere in the near distance, quince.

We’re on a mission to source good value wine from lesser-known appellations, so next morning we drive up to Blaye and I get lost.

The last time I was here was about 15 years ago. Château Solidaires used to be famous for white wines, and the tank sample of Montfollet le Valentin (60% Sauvignon/40% Semillon) has a gorgeous melon and spice nose and lovely minerality. We’re after more of this, so we amble over to winemaker Jacques Chardat’s chic and modish house on the edge of his vineyard, where he and his wife Sabrina put on a marathon tasting and then roll out a stupendous four-course lunch.

Bev and Dominique Raymond, wine maker Chateau Solidaire, Cotes de Blaye

This epic repas floors me, but just as I’m wussily starting to flag, I spot Jacques’ collection of vinyl stacked next to what looks like some very expensive hi-fi kit. Jacques, who is obviously a bit of an ex-hippie, spots my interest – “Formidable!” – jumps up and puts on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy at full blast. This is the first time I’ve been accompanied by Robert Plant at a tasting – and, God, it’s loud.

Suddenly its Knebworth 1975 all over again, as Jacques launches into some kind of jerky, staccato dark Parisian blues jive and belts out “Let me take you to the movies, Can I take you to the show….”, while I do my frenzied air guitar bit à la Jimmy Page. Meanwhile, MW Bev is trying to ask extremely serious and relevant questions above the racket: volatile acidity, yields? while rolling her eyes at our antics. What on earth possessed her to invite me along?

Bev tasting at house of Jacques Chardat, winemaker, Cotes de Blaye

“Every time I went into the vineyards I felt physically sick. I just kept staring at row after row of ruined vines. I felt like weeping.”

The next day we are with Estelle Roumage of Château Lestrille, standing in one of her vineyards in the Entre-deux-Mers, while she recalls the night of 26-27 April when the frost took away virtually her entire crop. In our job you sometimes forget just how fine a line winemakers have to tread, even in traditionally rich areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Vineyard, Chateau Lestrille

Estelle provides the backbone of our Bordeaux range and is exactly the type of producer we love to work with in other parts of the wine world but which are hard to find in Bordeaux. She has the quaintest of operations. She shows us round her vineyards in her battered and much loved 2CV, then drives the short

Estelle Roumage’s Citroen 2CV

distance back to her house and winery, which stands to one side of the D20 route de Creon, with her boutique wine shop on the opposite side of the road. This is where we taste.

The Lestrille 2010 has a lovely spicy nose, excellent dark fruit flavours and chunky weight. The Capmartin 2010 is lovely and soft, fleshy, plump, almost sybaritic; a Botticelli of a wine.

Chateau Lestrille, Capmartin 2010

The next day we drive around the rocade to Pessac Leognan and our final call at Château de Rouillac. As we get out of the car we stare in wonderment. It is not quite Versailles, but it’s not far off.

One of the first owners was Baron Haussmann, who acquired it in 1864; the luminous facades, the square courtyard with its appointments, the stables, are all his. In 2009  businessman Laurent Cisneros fell under Rouillac’s spell and set about bringing the estate back to life, showing the same determination as he did when playing professional football for Cannes alongside Zinedine Zidane, before turning his father’s small heating company into a thriving multi-million euro business.

Laurent has spared no expense in lavishing attention on the property and delights in showing you round the distinguished house, the state-of-the-art winery and the stables. And it is here that we meet the real star of the show: Titan, the mighty dray horse who ploughs the land (Laurent believes in sustainable farming.) Bev, taking one look at him, looks like a schoolgirl at her first pony show. And now it is my turn to adopt a dignified mien. Yup.

Titan at Chateau de Rouillac

Back at the winery, the wines are looking beautiful and I predict greatness in the near future. A 2015 white shows soft nuances of toast, butter, lemon, and on the palate its class is obvious. The 15 red shows a classic nose, with a touch of vanilla, plum and cigar. Very stylish. The whole place is.

Marvellous Macedonia

In September, South Sales Director, Daniel O’Keefe, took a trip to Macedonia and Northern Greece to visit a selection of our exciting esoteric producers from the heart of the Mediterranean.

Joining Daniel on the trip was Roger and Sue Jones, owners of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, a 1 Michelin  Star Restaurant in the Wiltshire countryside. Roger and Sue have been loyal partners of Hallgarten’s for about 16 years and we have become a central part of their restaurant . Over the years Roger has been highly influential, not only as a chef but also as a prominent wine writer and judge for Decanter, The Buyer and The Caterer.

Roger and Sue Jones, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn

Ktima Gerovassiliou

On the first day of our trip we met Thras at the Gerovassiliou restaurant which was house in the stunning winery.  We  started our tasting of the range mid-afternoon while as we had lunch due to Vangelis and Thras being tied up in the winery during the busy harvest period.

The Sauvignon Blanc was quite a hit and the new vintage of the Chardonnay showed amazing levels of complexity, especially when it opened up. The big hit here though was the freshness and viniousness of the Avaton and the Estate Red.

After the tasting we were taken to a fabulous and lively fish restaurant in a suburb of Thessaloniki, where the local seafood cuisine was almost as good as the wines we had previously tasted and later met with Vangelis’ wife, and the team from the restaurant.

Tasting at Ktima Gerovassiliou

Ktima Biblia Chora

The second day took us to Ktima Biblia Chora, established in 1998, the privately owned vineyard lies on the cool climate slopes of Mount Pangeon, at Kokkinochori near Kavala, Here we were  guided around the estate by the excellent Annagret Stamos who works as a chemist in the area. She provided us with a fascinating tour and insight in to the unique climate that dominates the area.

The Estate White 2016 was, as expected, showing very well and the Ovilos White was my favourite wine to date – fresher and with less pronounced wood.

Following this tasting, we went to a lovely, quintessentially Greek taverna near the beach with Annagret and tasted some older vintages.

Experimental vines at Ktima Biblia Chora

Alpha Estate

Visiting the Alpha Estate was truly an eye-opener! Located in Amyndeon, North West Greece. It is the brainchild of two visionaries, second generation vine grower Makis Mavridis and Bordeaux trained wine maker Angelos Iatrides. An immaculate Estate that almost feels as if it is high up  in the Andes.

To kick off the day, Kostas gave us a really comprehensive tour of the vineyards and an insight into the incredible investment they have made into infrastructure – underground irrigation in the vineyard and horizontal rotating vinifiers in the winery. Kostas gave a very clear explanation of the processes that were specific to Alpha and an exemplary rationale as to why Alpha are promoting Xinomavro as a key variety to watch.

The amount of energy put in to trials of different varieties and processes is very impressive. They have, in fact, donated a parcel of their land to the Thessaloniki Viticultural College. You get the feeling that the philosophy behind Alpha Estate is both long-sighted and very progressive.

The stand-out tasting of the trip (all of which were excellent) . We tasted the full range of wines and were even treated to to some of the older vintages. It was again the reds that really shone from this winery with the overarching theme of fresh, clean and beautifully structured vinious wines. Kostas was really able to make us understand the evolution of the winery and wines as they are now.

Later we went out to dinner at a traditional Taverna in the mountains near the Alpha Estate with 2 students who had recently been employed by Alpha, showing their commitment to supporting the local community.

 

Xinomavro old vines
Agiorgitiko at Ktima Biblia Chora
The barrel room at Alpha Estate
A corkscrew museum at Ktima Gerovassiliou

 

Tramin Takes the 90’s On Robert Parker

Following recent trip to the Alto Adige, Monica Larner, writing for Robertparker.com tasted a range of wines from the area, including those from Tramin – below is what she thought.

Cantina Tramin, founded in 1898, has 310 member winegrowers who follow its strict directives on the cultivation of the vines and covers 260 hectares of vineyards situated on the sunny slopes at an altitude of 250-850 metres above sea level. These vineyards are an integral part of the enchanting and picturesque landscape of the Alto-Adige region of northern Italy. In 2011, Cantina Tramin gained the “Double Stella”. This is given to a winery for achieving the prestigious “3 Bicchieri” 20 times and is awarded by the Gambero Rosso.”

95pts

Tramin, Terminum Alto Adige Gewurztraminer DOC 2013

“The air-dried 2013 Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Terminum (375 ml) really pops from the glass with honey, toasted almond, brown sugar and candied fruit. The grape is deeply fragrant in its natural state, but this expression of Gewürztraminer is dried into raisins before going into the press. This results in a larger scope and more evident opulence and richness. Late harvest fruit is also affected by noble rot or Botrytis Cinerea and this precious dessert wine offers soaring complexity and finesse as a result. Only 2,700 bottles were produced.”
(Monica Larner, 07/17)

93pts

Tramin, Stoan Alto Adige DOC 2015

“The 2015 Alto Adige Stoan is a very satisfying blend of 65% Chardonnay with 20% Sauvignon, 10% Pinot Bianco and 5% Gewürztraminer. The wine achieves pretty balance, based primarily on the robust and creamy nature of the Chardonnay that serves as the wine’s foundation. Upon that solid base, it offers bright floral intensity that comes from the Sauvignon and that small part of Gewürztraminer. The Pinot Bianco serves as the glue that binds these elements together with seamless transitions. The 2015 vintage was a bit warmer than average and there is extra richness and texture as a result. This is an excellent Italian white.”
(Monica Larner, 07/17)

92pts

Tramin, Nussbaumer Gewurztraminer Alto Adige DOC 2015

“Cantina Tramin promises fine results with Gewürztraminer and has shown a special focus on this fragrant grape these last years. The 2015 Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer is a rich and thickly textured wine with important depth and persistence. The wine glides smoothly over the palate. It offers candied peach, passion fruit, honey and candy-like flavours. It also shows an enormously perfumed bouquet with white rose and fragrant Indian jasmine. Some 70,000 bottles were produced.”
(Monica Larner, 07/17)

Fox Gordon: Style and Substance

This one was different!

Instead of the usual meeting in a winery or a Cellar Door or even the middle of a vineyard, my meeting with Fox Gordon took place in their boutique office on King William Road just south of Adelaide’s CBD. But you can tell what they are about as soon as you walk in: the office/showroom is beautifully “decorated” with bottles of their various brands. It is an arresting and ravishing site – a whole wall covered in horizontally-laid spotless virgin bottles. I immediately get out the camera and start snapping.

Sam and Rachel Atkins (nee Fox) are an attractive, open couple. They ask me what I would like to do: visit their winery, have lunch… But I’m quite happy to have a chat in their offices and drink the excellent Flat White from a stylish-looking coffee shop next door. (Though given how stylishly they are dressed, I feel a little sordid in my trainers and jeans, having spent the morning tramping through vineyards; very kindly, they affect not to notice, and their charming and typically open Aussie hospitality rather bowls me over).

Their story started in 2001 when they, along with friends Jane Gordon and David Cumming, decided to pursue their dream of creating great wine brands from beautiful wines. The name and logo celebrates the founding women, using Rachel and Jane’s surname to create the brand, and their stylised images to produce the logo. All the individual wines and sub-brands now carry the name of family and friends.

Ra (short for Rachel and pronounced Rar) tells me about their network of nine growers in the Adelaide Hills, the wine being made at a 14,000-tonne winery at Project Wines, which is almost on the border with Langhorne Creek. Sam then takes over to tell me that they are going to pull out of the Barossa Valley. It doesn’t suit their style; the Barossa is viewed as being traditional and the birthplace of huge, big ink buster wines, in contrast to Fox Gordon’s image and the style of their wines. The Adelaide Hills, which is where they will concentrate, is viewed as producing cool climate and cool-looking wine.

But this is not to say that this is a boutique operation in terms of size. This year they will make 40,000 cases, are present in the heavyweight Australian retailers, and have had wines listed in Matthew Jukes’ 100 Great Australian Wines for many years. Sam cut his teeth when working for BRL Hardy and introduced container after container into the UK supermarket trade in the late 90s. In addition to that, Ra has twice been nominated for the Australian Women in Wine Award, run by the London branch of Wine Australia, and during the time I was there she let me know that she hoped to be nominated again for 2017; there is substance as well as style.

The one potential fly in the ointment is the recent departure of well-known winemaker Tash Mooney. According to Sam, it was a natural parting of the ways. “Tash very much her own person and wanted to do her own thing and we had been together for a long time. And there’s no getting away from the fact that was a little uncomfortable with our marketing approach and its emphasis on viewing what we do in a wider context – a lifestyle creation.”

They are confident that their new winemaker, Marty O’Flaherty, winemaker for 15 years, will produce the goods.

I was fascinated by their choice of grapes with which to work, such as pinot grigio, fiano, tempranillo and nero d’avola. Sam’s eyes light up and he tells me of their relationship with an Italian, Caj Amadio , now in his 80s but who acts as if he is still in his 30s and whose family owns a vineyard in the northern part of the Adelaide Hills. “We just spent  great weekend with Caj and Jenny on Kangaroo Island, tasting both our wines and his vineyard remains a benchmark in terms of quality and a bedrock in terms of a source of European varietals,” commented Sam. “He’s one of the most amazing men you’ll ever come across,” says Ra. Montepulciano and nebbiolo are on their way, as well as a Fume Blanc style.

Not unexpectedly, they see internet sales and social media marketing as becoming more and more vital, and their POS and other marketing support materials are state-of-the-art and owe something to the approach of fashion houses. But you cannot beat old style distribution: during our meeting Ra took a call to say that Benares, arguably London’s finest Indian restaurant, had started listing their wines. Deep joy all round.

You leave the meeting enthused by Sam and Ra’s vitality, creativity and joie-de-vivre.

PS: to give an idea of the quality of the wines, I am attaching below my tasting notes from a recent Aussie tasting we did at London’s Langan’s restaurant…

Charlotte’s Web Pinot Grigio 2016
Inviting rich and fruity nose, sherbert, excellent acidity, great cool climate wine;

Princess Fiano 2015
Caused quite a stir when we showed it – great spice, a ballsy textured number with nutmeg and grapefruit. Great alternative to Campania.

Abby Viognier 2015
Wow, no messing here. Big and rich and layered, masses of apricot flavour, but still manages to retain acidity. Excellent winemaking.

By George Cabernet Tempranillo 2013
A 60/40 blend, with mulberry and blackcurrant flavours. Very attractive, lovely forest fruits nose.

Eight Uncles Shiraz 2013
Juicy, splurgey fruit, incredible moreish, leaps out of the glass. Plums everywhere.

Dark Prince Nero d’Avola 2015
Unfiltered and chunky with it. Gutsy, rich sweet peppery fruit