Chile: A Call at Midnight

My first trip to Chile for a few years (I used to travel here three or four times a year in the first decade of this century) and this is the first time I’ve managed to get here in one flight, having previously always changed en route: good start!

 

Interesting conversation on the plane before take-off between the cabin crew and a musician sitting in front of me. He had paid for his cello to be on the seat next to him instead of going in the hold, and there was a ten-minute discussion in which the crew told him that they’d “been boning up on the airline health and safety instructions and they state that the cello must be placed with the fat part of the body on top…”

 

The good start is dampened somewhat by one of the longest immigration queues I’ve seen in ages, but the frustration dissipates when you get into the chilly ice clear Santiago morning and are soon careering down Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins (still amuses me).

 

I then spend some time in a bar watching the highlights the final day of the Premiership and chuckle at a tweet which says that the Wolves supporters are celebrating non-existent Brighton goals to mess with the Liverpool supporters’ heads.

 

Then Roberto Echeverria arrives with a bear hug and we begin the three hour journey to the estate at Molina in the Curico region. The Echeverrias are one of our longest-standing partners, and as we walk through the gallery in the beautiful hacienda house, Roberto shows me the ancient wind-up wall-mounted telephone from which his father took the call from Peter Hallgarten late one night in 1993 to tell him that Hallgarten was about to place its first order.

Some of the faces are familiar, but as we enter the winery I meet one who isn’t: Victor Ribera, a Valencia-born winemaker who bears an uncanny resemblance to Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul and who has worked at the winery for the last five years. It is Victor who does the jumping around among the barrels to draw samples, while Roberto – who married Julia, one of our sales executives a few years ago and who obviously enjoys her cooking – watches on with a patriarch’s nodding approval.

 

We begin with the tanks and taste a selection of Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays from the home estate – the Chardonnay (clone 76) which will go into the Unwooded Chardonnay Reserva already has a splash of Viognier which gives it a big dollop of richness.

 

We then try another Chardonnay which has a fabulous nose of vanilla chocolate and orange peel, and Roberto sees my eyebrow lift quizzically. “This will be one of our Natural wines,” he tells me. “So fermentation is much slower and it hasn’t yet gone through malo.” “I didn’t know you made Natural wines,” I admit. Roberto grins. “This is what I wanted to show you.” He tells me that he originally made a very small batch for their Canadian importer, Steven Campbell,  and then sold a parcel to New York which sold out in a week. Any orange type wine is snapped up immediately by the Big Apple!

This is my first visit since the huge earthquake in 2010. I remember at the time Roberto sending me videos and photos of the massive damage to the winery, with tanks split and massive structural damage. Now he shows me a tank with what looks like a huge scar along one side. “After we’d sorted out all the insurance, we had these broken tanks sitting here, so we pulled them apart and put them together.”

 

I love wineries. I love tasting the raw fruit. I often want to say: “But don’t bother with ageing for a year; just bottle now.” In the past that has usually been met with the winemaker rolling his eyes at my enthusiasm or stupidity. But now Roberto tells me this is what they are doing. “We are removing the juice from the skins much faster and we are toning down the amount we put in barrel. We are trying to get the wines out fresher than we used to.”

We taste ravishingly young Cabernet Franc, piercing Merlot, and then heart-stopping Cabernet Sauvignon. Victor laughs at my spitting, some of which misses the spittoon and some of which dribbles down my chin. A confession: after 30 years in the trade (which I’ll celebrate in August), I have still not mastered the art of spitting. I have a colleague who can hit a target from fifteen feet and make a spittoon sing at impact, but I’m more of a gobber than a spitter.

 

One of the Cabernets has so far been treated as a Natural wine – no sulphur, wild yeast fermentation – but Roberto tells me that not all will be bottled as Natural and some will go into the conventional blends. But this Cabernet has such steeliness and verve. “Previously we would have used barrels to soften the tannins; now we’re looking to soften the fruit tannins during fermentation to remove that need,” explains Roberto.

 

We go to a dark corner of the winery where Victor carries out his experiments. “We hide them here so no-one can shift them accidentally!” Some of these barrels contain the wines which have been part of a project which Roberto has made with Steven Campbell and winemaker Thomas Bachelder, using fruit from Litueche on the Colchagua coast. The wines are destined to be bottled under the RST label.

We taste a Cabernet Sauvignon inoculated with a Tuscan yeast – “My baby,” says Victor. I am shown the Cabernet Sauvignon destined for the Family Reserve being pumped off the skins “earlier than in the past” and I then taste two separate juices from the pressed grapes, one of which has an incredible primitive stalkiness. We taste a Carignan and a Garnacha, so-named in honour of Victor. The Garnacha has a fabulous smokiness. “Only 300 dozen produced,” Roberto tells me. I tell him to let me know when he is going to release it. Then, an amazing Garnacha-Mourvedre blend.

I am excited about this visit and, later, as we walk through the 80-hectare vineyard, and Roberto shows me where they are replanting with better clones, I find myself thinking back to that midnight phone call in 1993, and reflecting on how good it is that one of our longest-standing, and probably more traditional producers, is meeting today’s wine challenges. I must make sure Roberto sends me those experimental wines!

 

For more information on any wines from Viña Echeverria, please speak to your account manager.

Who made wine first – Armenia or Georgia?

Until very recently, if you’d asked me about Armenia, I’d have had to have thought fairly long and hard. Religion? High priests, pointy hats, long beards? Maybe I would recall some vague memory from the history classroom of the Armenian genocide of 1915. Oh, and the Kardashians, of course. After that…

 

But step forward Victoria Aslanian, owner of the ArmAs winery. “These are only some of the things Armenians have invented,” she states indignantly. “Colour TV; single pour faucets; MRI machines; the MIG jet; bendy straws; ice cream cones; car transmissions. And did you know, Armenians make up thirty per cent of all Moscow-Los Angles Aeroflot flights.”

 

You learn very quickly not to mess with Victoria. Choosing the main course for dinner, she senses our hesitancy. “Ah, decisions, decisions,” she says. “Like when you first use your tongue. Should you go right or left?” She had greeted us on our arrival at our Yerevan hotel with: “I’ve had a bottle of wine sent up to your rooms. And some dried fruit. Later I will send up the girls.”

This is one sassy lady.

 

And don’t even try arguing with her about whether Georgia or Armenia came first in the winemaking stakes. “We were first. Six thousand years ago. Actually, probably a bit longer.”

 

We had driven from Tbilisi to Yerevan. It takes six hours but seems to last forever. The scenery in southern Georgia is drab, but when you pass into Armenia, via a very dreary Eastern European border crossing that brings to mind John le Carré – and with a Major Toilet Blockage Issue – you are suddenly in the land of snow-capped mountains, switchback roads and grip-the-armrests drama. And round every corner the potential to glimpse Ararat.

 

It is hard not to be enchanted by Yerevan, apparently one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, but now with a vibrant pavement cafe culture, full of youth and heady promise. At eight in the evening the streets swarm with promenading families, and, later (this city stays open very late), students chat noisily in the endless wine bars on Teryan Street.

 

The following day we take the 40 minute journey to the ArmAs winery. It was founded in 2007 by Victoria’s father, Armenak Aslanian. There are 180 hectares lying 1880 meters above sea level, 30 layers of soils, and over 300 days of sunshine per year. “Look, it’s volcanic soil,” she says, running it through her fingers. “It has limestone and calcium carbonate.”

“It will produce mineral wine,” says Steve.

 

Winemaker Emilio Del Medico is not present, so Victoria conducts the tasting. Of the two whites we try (Kangun and Voskehat), it is the Voskehat that is looking much the better, with a 2016 showing huge perfume and elderflowers on the nose, and a rich, lyrical intensity on the mouth. There’s a touch of the Gruner Veltliner about it.

 

But it is the reds which are the real stars. Areni is Armenia’s best known variety and may be, according to Wine Grapes, a cross between a Sangiovese and a Pinot Noir. The 2012 vintage has a lovely nose, lots of dark fruits and mulberries, and a beautiful silky mouthfeel. The Reserve version has extra oomph, is raisiny and more alcoholic. I prefer the basic. However, for me it is the Karmrahyut which is the best grape we taste. The 2014 has incredible perfume, rose petals and violets, and is soft and easy drinking, like a really great Beaujolais. Meanwhile, the 2013 Reserve is another beast altogether, with voluptuous and dark plummy fruits, and hints of pomegranates. The Karmrahyut is an unusual grape in that the juice is red, rather than clear. Victoria has used this uniqueness to make a rose wine, by having only one hour of skin contact. The result is a beautifully light red wine with masses of soft berry fruit.

Later we sit on the veranda before dinner, hoping for a glimpse of Mount Ararat, but, alas, it is cloudy. Victoria is still in full flow. She tells us that Armenia has an incredibly patriotic diaspora. “It’s amazing the amount of Armenians who have been displaced and who come back at every opportunity. I am biased, but I think we are one of the proudest countries in the world.”

 

It’s hard not to disagree. Over the years this country has suffered at the hands of Turkey and Azerbaijan, and remains (along with Georgia) an island of Christianity surrounded by Muslim countries. You have to feel a natural affinity for it – even before you taste the amazing array of grapes they produce.

 

Plucky is the word I am looking for.

Georgia On My Mind

I had wanted to come to Georgia for a few years now, but after spending four agonising hours en route in a half-finished and desperately grey Kiev airport, I was beginning to have second thoughts. Thankfully, one flight later that all began to change and, as we drove in darkness from Tbilisi Airport, the neon lights of a city never appeared more welcoming. A slightly bonkers taxi driver added to the fun. Hearing we were from the UK, he decided to demonstrate his knowledge of London football teams.

“Tottingham. London, yes?”

“Ah, yes,” we said.

“Chel-SEA.”

“Yes. Chelsea.”

“London. Very good. Arsen-AL, Ful-HAM, Vumbledon!”

“Yes.”

“West Ham UNITVED, West Brom-WICH Alvion!”

“Yes. Oh no, hold on. Not West Brom.”

“West Brom-WICH Alvion!”

“No, Not London. Birmingham. Sort of.”

“London!”

We kept quiet and let him get on with it, and thankfully a few minutes later this nutter pulled up outside one of the old town’s evocative hotels, the kind you look at longingly as you drive down the street before realising with glee that this is the one you’re staying in.

 

It was midnight, but, thankfully, Tbilisi appears to be a city that rarely sleeps and we were able to grab a bite to eat. Next morning we were met nice and early by Vladimer Kublashvili, who sounds like a racing driver but who is the chief winemaker at Khareba. It takes around three hours to drive to one of Khareba’s wineries at Terjola in Imeriti in western Georgia (their other main winery is in the east in Kakheti.) We zoom past Josef Stalin’s birthplace of Gori (“most people keep quiet about it, but you do get some worshippers,” says Vladimer.)

 

It’s a slightly odd landscape. On the one hand you might be driving through Surrey; other times the view reminds me of the flat plains of northern Italy as you drive towards Verona from Brescia; turn a corner and you have an Alpine scene in front of you; the snow-capped mountains bring to mind Mendoza; and once you get north of Tbilisi, that dusty straight road could be the famed Dead Dog Highway of Chile’s past. And – making us feel at home – the flag of Saint George seems to be flying everywhere.

 

We visit three of their vineyards to look at Tsitska, Krakhuna, Tsolikouri and Otskhanuri Sapere. Khareba has too many white grapes so they are planning on distilling some into brandy, explains Vladimer. On the other hand, there is so much demand for Saperavi that they are planting another 200 hectares.

The winery, renovated in 2011, is so clean you could eat your lunch off the floor. Here, they produce more than 40 premium still and sparkling wines, working with 20 indigenous grape varieties. Vladimer then shows us round the 900 square-metre ageing cellar equipped with French oak barrels.

 

And then we go to the hallowed Qvevri room. I get an odd sensation, a sense of wonderment. It is as if the values and traditions of the trade in which I have practiced for the last thirty years are being re-evaluated and reinvented before my very eyes.

Gazing once more out at the vineyards, Vladimer says that they are investigating converting part of their production onto biodynamic wine. “We called in and expert and we asked how much he thought we should convert,” says Vladimer. “He replied: “Well, how much are you prepared to risk?””

 

We begin the tasting. As with a lot of Georgian wineries, they split their production between the traditional Qvevri wines and more modern, European style wines.

 

Of the European style wines, a 2018 Rkatsiteli (“Rick Astley” back in our tasting room) has a beautiful saline feel to it. You get a hint of the superb minerality of this grape without the extreme Qvevri overtones. This is Pinot Grigio with Attitude. The 2018 Krakhuna has a touch of the Campania about it to me, though Steve thinks Malagoussia, with a hint of grassiness complementing a richness on the palate. The real star of the modern whites, however, is a 2018 Mtsvane, a nuclear grape with a powerful nose of ginger and coriander, yet stunningly light on the palate. Of the Qvevri whites, a 2017 Tsitska has an amazing mouthfeel, “like sucking water through a bed of silt,” says Vladimer, an challenging description which somehow does the wine justice. But the best Qvevri wine is a 2014 Rkatsiteli, with masses of quince – funky doesn’t even come close.

Of the reds, we’re talking Saperavi, Sapervi, Saperavi! The first (2018) is a gorgeous, rasping mouthful of cheery cherry fruit, exactly what a Beaujolais should be. Higher up, the grape becomes more complex and more savoury. A mid-range version from the Mukuzani region is an epic wine and reminds me of Malbec in its silkiness, and also of a Lancelotta, that dark coloured Emilia Romagna grape which goes into Lambrusco and which used to be sent up to Burgundy to add colour.

 

The Qvevri reds are equally as shocking as the whites. A rare 2013 Otskhanuri Sapere (there are only 20 hectares in the whole of Georgia) has an amazing nose, with salami and orange peel, and lasts forever in the mouth. An Aladusturi has wet, earthy tones with loads of green vegetables. A 2018 vintage, the tannins are still young and rasping, but it will develop superbly. We end with another fabulous 2015 Saperavi, with liquorice, eucalyptus and bay leaves. It has a very “grapey” feel and has soft tannins.

 

What a tasting! I reflect later, as we eat dinner at the g. vino wine bar in the old town’s vibrant Erekle Street, listening to an old hippie murder a series of early 70s British rock classics, throwing in some Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. With its stunning mix of Byzantine, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Beaux-Arts and Middle Eastern architecture, Tbilisi is a beautiful city. And with an amazing nightlife, it may be the next go-to stag destination – but it deserves better than that.

 

This could be just the end of another buying trip. But, oddly, it feels much more than that. This is a centuries–old country which feels incredibly young (at least the capital does). They unashamedly celebrate their traditions but are incredibly inquisitive about western culture. They have put up with repeated Russian incursions and come out of the other end smiling.

 

I’ve rather fallen in love with Georgia.

 

Mind you, I cannot get out of my head the thought that there is some demented taxi driver raging at the night: “Chel-SEA! Arsen-AL! Ful-HAM! Vumbledon! West Ham UNITVED! West Brom-WICH Alvion!”

WOTM: Zorzal ‘Eggo Blanc de Cal’, Tupungato, Sauvignon Blanc 2015

From a high altitude, drip irrigated vineyard in Gualtallary, Zorzal ‘Eggo Blanc de Cal’ 2015 is everything you might not have ever tasted in a Sauvignon Blanc – egg fermenters, volcanic soil and Argentinian – the perfect bottle to open on International Sauvignon Blanc Day 2019.

In a nutshell:

A characterful Sauvignon Blanc showcasing a strongmineral and  gunflint intensity, combined with grassy andherbaceous notes.

The producer:

Zorzal is an Argentinian boutique winery which has been dedicated  to the production of high quality wines since 2008 and is located at the highest point of the Uco Valley. Hailed as one of the most exclusive and well-regarded areas for viticulture in Argentina, the terroir is revealed in the Zorzal wines through a respectful, non-invasive winemaking process that puts austerity before exuberance and fruit before wood.

The wines have rapidly gained international recognition. Founded by the Michelini brothers, who are outstanding in their passionate leadership in the vineyards and winery, this highly regarded winemaking duo have become renowned as the trendsetters of the Argentinian winemaking scene.

The wine:

The grapes were gently pressed and combined in the cement eggs. Fermentation started naturally with native yeasts at temperatures of between 18 to 21°C. When fermentation was complete, a partial malolactic fermentation took place. The wine was then left in the same cement eggs for five months, without separating it from the lees, which generated volume on the palate. It was bottled directly from the cement egg without any intervention to stabilise or filter the wine. The cement egg significantly helps with the structuring and stabilisation of the wine, through the natural movements that are created by this shape.

For further information on the ‘Eggo Blanc de Cal’, Sauvignon Blanc 2015 or any other Zorzal wines, please contact your account manager. 

Malbec World Day

Malbec World Day seeks to position Argentine Malbec as one of the most prominent in the world. Every April 17th, and throughout the whole month, different activities are carried out in major cities around the globe to celebrate the success of Argentina’s flagship grape. This is the perfect opportunity to shout about the inky, rich wine that is Malbec, tell your customers and open some bottles!

 

Doña Paula, Estate Malbec | 2017
Mendoza, Argentina

Winemaker Marcos Fernandez creates wines that reflect their sense of place from 100% estate owned fruit, which has been sustainably farmed and  handpicked from two of their finest, high altitude vineyard sites in Uco Valley,  Mendoza.

The cool climate allows the grapes to develop rich varietal characteristics, while retaining balanced acidity, producing an elegant and complex expression of Malbec.

 

Matias Riccitelli, Malbec ‘The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree’ | 2017
Mendoza, Argentina

Young, dynamic winemaker Matias Riccitelli deftly handcrafts wines to express the full potential of Argentine high-altitude terroir. The fusion of two vineyard sites at elevations of up to 1,400 metres brings complexity to this exceptional Malbec.

Made from carefully selected and hand-picked grapes, the cool evenings and warm days produce rich, concentrated flavours, while retaining a balancing freshness.

It’s no wonder this received 92 points from Tim Atkin.

 

Piattelli Vineyards, Malbec Premium | 2017
Salta, Argentina

The century-old vines are grown at an altitude of 1,700 metres surrounded by the stunning Andes Mountains. At this elevation the vines are exposed to intense sunlight, resulting in the grapes forming thicker and darker skins to protect themselves, and ultimately produce deeper colour and flavour concentration.

Valeria produces this exquisite Malbec, which is smooth and refined, full of rich black fruits and a touch of graphite from this cooler region.

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.

On the road with the training team…

This week we have been on the road with Garry Samuels, the newest member of Hallgarten’s training team. Garry has experienced many jobs in hospitality, from kitchen porter, to deputy manager, and through this experience he discovered his love of wine and educating those in the trade.

 

A week way out west with Garry… if you live in the east
  • Travel days: 4✔️
  • Towns/Cities: 4
  • Miles covered: 566
  • Venues Visited: 6
  • Team Trained: 68

Okay, so not an average week in the life of an educator and wine product trainer, but not far off. With customers to teach, spread from Torquay to Nottingham, sometimes you just have to pack your bag and spend some time on the road.

One of the main challenges I am often faced with, and was apparent on this trip, is the ability to quickly bounce between the educational needs of one group to those of another, for instance:

Venue one
Question: What’s your most popular wine?
Answer: Marlborough Sauvignon.

Venue two
Question: What’s your most popular wine?
Answer: Vodka, Red Bull

This really demonstrates the importance of training reflecting both the team members needs and the customer demands – just delivering the same two hour session every time simply does not cut it.  My project of late has been to centre training around wines sold by the bottle. Many front of house team members simply never have a chance to try these, so how do we expect them to sell them, more so if they are long, complex, unpronounceable foreign words… like Mâcon!

Other questions I always ask but are rarely answered correctly:

  • What does dry mean?
  • How many different types of Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc do you have on your wine list?
  • What wines work best with your spicy dishes? (Answer: IPA, obviously!)

So there is a large element of repetition to the job, addressing the foundation knowledge all the team should have, and yes, there is great opportunity to vary the delivery to make sure the training has the most impact on those it is aimed at, new or experienced.  And how do we know we have made a positive difference?  Responses like; “I NEVER KNEW THAT!!!”, “I don’t like wine but that’s really nice” and “When are you visiting next?”.

But don’t take my word for the importance of training, here’s what one of the students thought:

“Garry’s wine training gave my team the confidence to really sell our wines to customers, learning in-depth descriptions of the wines palates and the perfect food pairings for each wine. He engages well with the team and his clear passion for wine helps to motivate the team and make them want to be passionate about wine too, his friendly personality makes you feel at ease to ask questions about anything in the world of wine! The training has certainly helped improve my wine selling skills and I now feel more confident to upsell our higher quality wines to guests.”

 

As an Approved Programme Provider, our four WSET-Certified Educators have guided more than 300 students through WSET courses and our own Wine Sure programme. Contact your account manager for more information.

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 oldest, new wine producing country

Following a vertical tasting of the indigenous and international varieties of Turkey’s Kayra Wines, which specialises in the production of premium wines from the country’s Anatolia region, it was one statement that stood out more than the rest; “tasting old versus new vintages, it is not the wines that have evolved, but the winemaking and viniculture.”

 

Daniel O’Donnell, consult winemaker at Kayra, is one of the characters of the winemaking world that make you stand up and listen. Napa Valley trained, he apologizes profusely for the styles of Chardonnay coming out of the region in the 1990s before presenting the first bottle for tasting – an oaked Chardonnay. Not quite as oaked as its California counterparts a few decades earlier, the Vintage Chardonnay shows far more elegance, tropical fruits and a vibrant finish.

 

Next up – Narince. Going off-piste, this wine did not have a vertical counterpart because, as Daniel puts it; “they are yet to find an example that ages well”. Fresh, lively acidity, subtle orange blossom and a smattering of tropical fruit. In some regions of the country the leaves of the Narince vine are worth as much as the grapes, so it is not uncommon to pitch-up at the vineyard in the morning to be greeted by bald vines.

 

Turkey is the fifth largest grape growing country in the world and of that, 95 percent of wine sales are domestic. That’s a lot of wine being sold in Turkey! And out of the thousands of indigenous grapes grown in Turkey, it is Öküzgözü that is the most popular. Even with current economic conditions in the country, of which the winery has had to overcome many, the wine industry is still strong.

 

Then into the reds – Buzbağ. Buzbağ is the name in for a blend of two Turkish indigenous varietals – Öküzgözü and Boğazkere – grown in Eastern Anatolia and dates back to 1944 when two French oenologists looked at ways to revive the winemaking history.

 

The 2006 Buzbağ Reserv, which was the first vintage Daniel was involved with, is still showing very well. Nebbiolo in style, rustic, refined tannins and a touch of creamy vanilla from the oak. In comparison to the current vintage, 2016, which is showing fresh, plump fruit. The oak influence gives it a nose comparable to blackcurrant ice cream (if that exists). Hallgarten is currently selling the 2015 vintage, which is fortunate as the wine is still slightly young.

 

Öküzgözü (which translates to ‘bulls-eye’) was the focus of the next set of wines – a nightmare to grow, but when tamed, an exceedingly good pairing with rich stews and grilled red meat. The 100% Öküzgözü ‘Imperial’ and ‘Vintage’ range of wines from Kayra are made from a combination of owned and managed, whereas the premium ‘Versus’ is made solely from Kayraowned vineyards – all under the watchful eye of Daniel and Turkish winemaker Ozge Karmein.

 

‘Versus’ 2014 is a fruit bomb of wine, combining rich cassis, with baked black fruits and a touch of vanilla and hazelnut.

 

What did we learn from this vertical tasting? Kayra’s wines do age very well, but not as well as the winemaking team is, and the wines are heading in the direction of interest and refinement. The next vertical tasting in 10 years will be very interesting indeed.

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.

WOTM: Lake Chalice ‘The Nest’, Marlborough, Pinot Gris 2017

Taking its name from the stunning tree-lined lake in the heart of the Wairau Valley, Marlborough, our Wine of the Month for March is the water inspired Pinot Gris ‘The Nest’ from Lake Chalice.

In a nutshell:

Aromas of freshly-cut pear mingle with citrus undertoneson this softly textured and beautifully balanced Pinot Gris.

The producer:

Lake Chalice was established in 1989 with a vision of producing internationallyrecognised wines from the heart of the Marlborough region. New Zealand’s native falcon, the ‘Kārearea’, is proudly displayed on every  bottle of Lake Chalice wine.Kārearea favour the remote mountains and  foothills of the upper Awatere and Wairau valleys and these valleys are home  to Lake Chalice’s three unique vineyardsites.
Each vineyard has a diverse  microclimate, biodiversity and terroir which areseamlessly translated into  multi award winning wines by talented winemaker Chloe Gabrielsen. Taking a  boutique approach she handcrafts parcels of fruit from single vineyards into elegant, aromatic, fruit driven wines and has garnered a global reputation of outstanding quality. Certified ‘Sustainable Winegrower of New Zealand’.

The wine:

The grapes were immediately pressed to minimise skin contact followed by coolfermentation in with selected yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, inorder to capture the desired level of fruity aromatics.

A small proportion was aged inseasoned French oak adding complexity to the wine. This wine was blended to beapproachable in its youth.
For further information on the Lake Chalice ‘The Nest’, Marlborough, Pinot Gris 2017 or any other Lake Chalice wines, please contact your account manager. 

The Annual Tasting… From the inside

Charli Truelove, Hallgarten Marketing Coordinator, was at the forefront of annual tasting logistics when we took to One Marylebone for the first time this year. Below she provides her perspective on what it is like from the other side of the tasting glass.

Arriving at the venue on Sunday to get ready for the two days ahead and prepare for what was our first annual tasting at One Marylebone; nearly 750 wines, from 152 producers, based in 23 countries were set to be on show for customers, press and those in the trade to taste. As soon as I stepped out of Great Portland street tube on that sunny Sunday I was wowed by the view that greeted me – One Marylebone. What is the first thing you should do in this situation? Take a picture of course…

Out of curiosity, I had a sneak peak of the venue on Google street maps before arriving, but was not expecting it to have quite this impact! The Grade 1 listed ex-church built, in 1826 is absolutely stunning. Pumped and ready to start the work ahead (unboxing, carrying, lining-up wines and generally making everything looked shipshape) I am even more bowled over as I step inside; up the stone steps through the impressive doorway into the beautiful wooden herringbone floored, stained glass magnificent venue.

The main task at hand on the Sunday was to simply make sure everything was in place for the two day tasting ahead. Wines numbered and on the table, boxes away, point of sale and signs in place, tasting books primed, pencils sharpened, all set up and ready to go.

On the morning of the first day of the tasting it is my responsibility to direct our suppliers to their designated table and it’s a pleasure to see the excitement on their faces as they walk into the venue and experience the new set-up for the first time.

As the tasting gets underway, by 11:30 I can’t help but notice a queue forming to get inside – ‘this is going to be a busy one!’. The day gets off to a flying start; corks were popping, laughter and chatter filled the building. No matter who you are in the trade, it is always a wonderful experience to taste wines poured by winery owners, winemakers, grape growers and wine experts, who embody the wines and it is clear to see the love and passion they have for what they do.

This year, the organising team decided to take our even catering to a whole new level – street level.  KERB is one of London’s leading street food organisations, whose sole goal is to make events taste better. We welcomed three different and exciting street food vendors, paired with wines from the tasting, to park up and serve their culinary delights to our guests.

  • Growlers – Portuguese rolls filled with hangar steak
  • Nazari – Inspired by Al-Andalus Moorish Spain
  • Hanoi Kitchen – The freshest Vietnamese street food straight out of Hanoi

My favourite was the Pregos – how can you argue with a steak sandwich on a Monday?

The new venue, new wines and new producers seems to be going down well with suppliers and guests alike. As I walk around taking photos and making sure everyone has all they need there is a positive buzz that fills the room, everybody is learning, pouring, tasting and generally getting excited about the wines and suppliers on show.

All in all a very successful annual tasting and my favourite venue so far. After three days, and almost 30,000 steps on my pedometer, I can’t wait to get planning next year’s!