The Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon in the Troodos Mountains

The Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, also known as the Frequency Illusion, is a cognitive bias which describes a tendency to keep seeing things, names or ideas, very soon after we have first met them. It was coined in 1994 by a commenter on the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ online discussion board.

Having just heard about the Baader-Meinhoff German terrorist group, he started to see Baader-Meinhoff everywhere. The experience is caused by two psychological processes. The first, selective attention, kicks in when you’re struck by something new; after that, you subconsciously keep an eye out for it, and as a result find it surprisingly often. The second process, confirmation bias, reassures you that each sighting is further proof that the thing has gained omnipresence.

And right now, standing in the vineyards of the Kyperounda winery in the heart of Cyprus, I am experiencing it.

It’s not so much a name or an idea. Rather, it is a year.

1969.

My only connection to Cyprus goes back to that year. I had a photograph. It was of my newly-married aunty Eileen and her husband, Dougie. He was in the RAF and had been posted to Cyprus. They had left home for the island only a few weeks before. The photograph shows them at dinner at a restaurant. On the back my aunty had scribbled a few sentences about how much she was loving Cyprus, but how much she was missing home. I think it made me cry a little. But what beguiled me was that they were eating outdoors. To an eight year-old growing up in Jarrow this was as exotic and as continental as it could possibly be. My aunty had joined the jet set and turned into Brigitte Bardot overnight. Furthermore, I was fascinated by the remains of the meal on their plates. What was this? It didn’t look like the kind of meat and potato dinners we ate at home. No, it looked … glamorous. (I now think it was langoustines). When the height of sophistication was two weeks in a concrete outrage on the Costa Brava, and when something weird called a croissant was making its first appearance in the relatively new phenomena of supermarkets, here was my aunty eating exotic food on a sun-kissed island in something called The Med. I took the photograph into school to impress. Left it lying around. “My aunty,” I would say to any kid who asked. No other comment was necessary, my eight-year-old mind felt.

The memory of that 1969 photograph is triggered by our host, Kyperounda winemaker Minas Mina, pointing to the top of Mount Troodos. “Over there is where the British barracks are,” he said. We pause only briefly (and I have my flashback), before Minas leads the charge back into the vineyards.

The thing about Kyperounda is that it has the highest vineyards in Europe at 1,400 metres; only Argentina has higher-sited vineyards in our portfolio, and I am so grateful for the cool of the altitude, as the sun is blazing. We are scrambling up and down hillsides thick with thorny vegetation, in which vines appear to be randomly mixed in with other green plants. “We use cover crops in the vineyard to encourage biomass and to keep things as natural as possible,” says Minas. We come across a vine so big it is almost a tree. I’ve never seen anything even resembling this before, and I christen it Hemingway’s Vine.

This is wild and earthy agriculture. There is little delineation between vineyard properties. Crops seem to merge into each other. I look through the binoculars to what look like peculiar lemon dots a few hundred yards away. Through the glasses I realise these are the bright yellow baskets into which Vietnamese grape-pickers, barely visible amidst the vegetation, are gathering the vintage. Definitely no machine harvesting in this vineyard.

Minas points to a slightly more uniform vineyard. The EPOS Chardonnay we had at dinner last night came from this vineyard, but sadly they lost the entire production this year because of hailstones. I marvel at the expense of working in such conditions. We climb back into the four wheel drive and as Minas drives back to the winery, he points to various plots of land and explains that he spends most of his winters scouring the land for vineyards he can purchase, but getting local farmers to sell is a very difficult job, even when they are not getting much money for their cops.

Sitting in the back seat, I hang on as Minas throws the vehicle around steep bends. My rucksack falls open and a paperback, which I bought to read on the plane, falls out. First Man is the biography of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on to the moon.

In 1969.

It is one of my first television memories. Shadowy, grainy, black and white pictures, radio static, repetitive bleeping of the transmitter; hypnotic. And even the eight year old could recognise the import of the eternally famous words: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was only much later that I realised that, famously, that is not what Armstrong said. He forgot to use the indefinite article; “a man…” became “man…” which is grammatically incoherent. At least that’s what I’d always thought. But the book is not clear on this. In it, Armstrong seems to be saying he might have said it: “Perhaps it was a suppressed sound that didn’t get picked up by the voice mike.”

I put the book back into my rucksack as we arrive back at the winery. Minas gives us a quick tour. Stylish and modern, the winery is built on three levels in order to take advantage of gravity to move the grape juice in the gentlest possible way. Kyperounda grows the usual western varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, but Steve and I are more interested in the native grapes. We are here to have a vertical tasting of the wonderful white wine we import, Petritis, made from Xynisteri, and to put together two single varietal wines using Maratheftiko and Lefkada, two red grapes which are almost always blended.

In the tank room we taste a few Xynesteris. One is absolutely fabulous and its zinging acidity leaps out of the glass. Minas tells us it will obtain its complexity only after sitting for six months on the lees. With a glint in his eye, he then gives us some light coloured juice and are asked what it is. Steve and I both wonder about fermenting Chardonnay, and are put out when we realise it is Lefkada which is being made into rose.

Upstairs, we get started on the Petritis, a wine which works really well for us. A 2018 is a little closed, but with attractive stone fruit, a touch of beeswax, lovely mouthfeel; a 2017 is quite exotic – honey and banana, a touch of oxidation – but quite attractive, adding to the character; a 2015 is sadly oxidised; a 2014 is very good: again, a touch of semi oxidative character, reminding me of some Adriatic whites; a 2010 is well developed and showing a bit of age, but has masses of character – again I get a beeswax and honey aroma and quite sweet finish. It reminds me of an aged Grüner Veltliner; finally, a 2007 is the colour of Sauternes: toffee, rich and honeyed in the mouth, marzipan and fruitcake. Amazing!

As Minas sets up the red blending sessions, I wander out to the terrace and take in the spectacular view. You can see all the way down to the fleshpots of Limassol, some 25 miles away.

The other book I read on the plane on the way over to Larnaka was Ian Penman’s It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track. On 26th September 1969 the Beatles released Abbey Road. Reading Penman’s wonderful book, I came across his thoughts on Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight. I had to put the book down and run the song through my mind. It is the delicious climax of the epic second side, and what always gets me is the change from A-minor to D-minor on Sleep pretty darling, do not cry… McCartney pitches it perfectly and whenever I hear it, wherever I hear it, I have to stop and pause. Imagine being able to create something so beautiful.

Minas signals for me to come back inside. Steve is rubbing his hands as we begin our tasting.

First up, a selection of Maratheftiko vintages:

A 2018 is fresh, vibrant, fruit pastille, lightish; a 2017 is oaky and just a touch volatile; a second 2017 is a little bretty and definitely not as stylish as the first two; another 2007 is a completely different animal – a big brute, quite tannic, huge finish. We think for a while. What does this need? Then we try a 2018 Syrah. Yes, this might do the trick, with its immediate white pepper appeal.

The first blend Steve puts together comprises 90% of the first and fourth Maratheftiko samples and 10% of the Syrah. Doesn’t work: the Syrah is too dominant. For the second blend he removes 5% of the Syrah. It tastes like a good wine but after a while we conclude that it is losing its character. Steve tries a third blend, this time with 80% Maratheftiko and 20% of Syrah. Mistake. It has lost all of its character. We scratch our heads for a while, and then Steve remembers that he has tried a Cabernet Sauvignon on previous visits. Luckily, Minas has quite a lot of back vintages, so we happily work our way through a vertical tasting. A 2004 has a slightly “sour” nose and is too aggressive; a 2005 is fresher and fruitier, well balanced with a lovely fruity finish; a 2007 is very different to the others – very fresh and very herby with a high phenolic content. So we take 85% of the Maratheftiko blend, 10% of the Syrah and add 5% of the 2005 Cabernet. Bingo! This retains the vivacity and character of the Maratheftiko on the nose, but has also got structure and a touch of tannin on the finish. A lovely, lovely wine. High fives all round.

Minas clears up the debris of the tasting and now Steve and I both I go out to the terrace to take an espresso.

It was a few years after its release before I got round to Abbey Road. No, the cultural event of 1969 for me was Where Eagles Dare (although it had been released on 4th December of the previous year.) I must have seen this about eight times. For many years I was one of those saddos who would use “Broadsword Calling Danny Boy” as a faux greeting, before Geoff Dyer used the phrase as the title of his quirky book about the film. The memory came to me when I was standing on Mount Troodos earlier. Kyperounda ticks all the boxes, I thought: minerality, indigenous grapes, island locale, altitude – and it was the latter which jolted me back to 1969. Our forthcoming Q3 promotional theme is to be called Altitude! (“…and we must keep the exclamation mark…” I told our Head of Marketing). Standing on Mount Troodos, shivering, I thought that a still from the film’s opening sequence, showing the British commandoes flying over the Alps, would make a great background picture, and I gleefully texted head office. (But such are the lies that memory plays on you. Later at my hotel, when I downloaded the introduction from YouTube, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I’d remembered, and the photography was compromised by those odd Hammer House of Horror titles. Now I would have to go back to the Head of Marketing with my tail between my legs.)

I am jolted out of my memories by Steve. “Back to work,” he says.

Lefkada, then. We has less to play with here. A 2018 is fresh, minty, herby, with good acidity. A 2007, by contrast, is an absolute monster, very dark and oaky and blackcurranty. Steve asks Minas to blend 85% of the 2017 with 15% of the 2018. This is far too heavily balanced towards the heavy 2017, and I much prefer the 2018 wine. Steve agrees, so we then take 80% of the 2017, add 10% of the 2018, and then 10% of our favourite 2005 Cabernet. Nailed it! Really good balance.

Before we leave, we taste some examples of Commandaria, possibly the oldest type of wine still in production. During the Third Crusade, Commandaria was served at the wedding of Richard the Lionheart to Berengaria of Navarre. Traditionally, this has been made as a fortified wine, but Kyperounda’s is an exceptional example of an unfortified Commandaria, made from 85% Xynisteri and 15% Mavro. Grapes are dried in the sun for twelve days (Minas had earlier shown us the ageing tables downstairs in the winery.) This shrivels them and concentrates sugars, flavour compounds and acids. A slow, cool fermentation follows in stainless steel tanks. The wine is then matured in used 225 litre French oak barrels for six years. The wines we taste, from 2005 and  2006, are unctuous and sweet, with lovely toffee apple character and masses of raisiny fruit.

I finger my rucksack as we drive to our hotel and I can’t help rifling through the Armstrong book again. Maybe it’s because it is the 50th anniversary, but I find myself fascinated by the issue of the missing “a.” I had read somewhere that despite his initial claim that the mike may simply not have picked up the word, Armstrong had acknowledged since that he couldn’t hear himself utter the word in the audio recording of the transmission.

In my room, waiting to go to dinner, I do a quick trawl of the internet. Almost immediately I have the answer. In 2006, I read on one of the many Armstrong/Moonwalk sites, a computer programmer called Peter Shann Ford downloaded the audio recording and analysed the statement with software that allows disabled people to communicate via computers using their nerve impulses. In a graphical representation of sound waves of the famous sentence, Ford said he found evidence that the missing “a” had been spoken after all: It was a 35-millisecond-long bump of sound between “for” and “man” that would have been too brief for human ears to hear.

So Armstrong did get the phrase right!

This somehow seems to energize me and I gush out this information to Steve in the bar over a beer. He obviously thinks I’ve lost the plot and suggests I drink something stronger. I scan the shelves and see a bottle of Commandaria. How time changes over a 50-year period. Commandaria may be facing a difficult future, as it is a style of wine which has gone out of fashion and Minas told us that not many new winemakers wish to take up the good fight. The future of the island – the future of Kyperounda – may lie in the beautiful crisp white wines they make, such as our Petritis or indeed the red blends of grapes which a curious world is waiting to discover. Commandaria is of a different era. It reminds me a bit (and unfairly) of Emva Cream and Bristol Cream, those staples of British Christmas households in the sixties which seemed to me then to define exoticism – until I saw that picture of my auntie Eileen.

But unbelievably this 1969 thing will not go away. In the restaurant they’re playing Riders on the Storm, which seems a bit incongruous. This is Steve’s and my era and we chat about those old rock stars. “Remember him… remember her… wow, he was good…” But their hedonistic lifestyles, while we wouldn’t have minded some of it, also came with occasional tragic consequences. We reminisce on how many of the died before their time. Surfeit of excess. Brian Jones, he was the starting point wasn’t he? In 1969. And then there was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1970, and Jim Morrison himself in 1971.

Amazing. A different era. Doesn’t happen these days.

And yet.

Amy.

Who died within the last decade and joined Jones, Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison as a member of the 27 Club: the age at which they passed away.

We raise a glass.

It brings a tear to the eye.

A different era.

Sleep pretty darling, do not cry…

Winemaker Profile: Johann Donabaum

“Great wine is unique. It is as distinctive as the territory and the soil it is growing in and as inimitable as a signature.” Johann Donabaum

 

In 1961, Johann Donabaum’s parents decided to give up mixed agriculture and specialise exclusively on viticulture instead. Although it may have been perceived as a risk at the time, this turned out to be an inspired choice.

Viticulture and winemaking has been a constant throughout the majority of Johann Donabaum’s life. Growing up surrounded by family vineyards, he graduated from Krems School of Viticulture whilst still a teenager. Following his time studying, Johann completed a seven month apprenticeship with F X Pichler. This valuable experience gained him a great deal of new ideas and insight into the practices of a great wine producer, preparing him for his own successful winemaking career.

With his studying and training complete, Johann returned to the family vineyards. His father gave him the go ahead to take the helm and the young Johann was keen to implement his own ideas for the future. He had a clear vision of the direction he wanted his winemaking to take and he decided to focus on quality rather than quantity and champion terroir. This has led to his wines coming to be considered among the finest in Austria and attracting positive praise on the international stage.

Johann cultivates 7.5 hectares. For him, terroir is absolutely crucial. His knowledge of his vineyards is extremely detailed and this means he is able to cultivate the vineyards with exceptional care and attention. Understanding all the nuances of the different plots means they can be given individual attention and this enables Johann to truly express the terroir of his vineyards in the resulting wines.

Using the right grape varieties for the soil is key and many of Donabaum’s wines are on extremely steep terraces where the soil is rich in gneiss and slate. Johann, therefore, uses these plots primarily for growing Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. Johann’s aim with these wines is that they are forceful, dense, juicy, elegant and mineral.

Johann has a strong wine philosophy. He believes wines should be mirrors which reflect origin and terroir, and also the meticulousness and signature of the winemaker himself. For him, the vineyard is where the foundations are built for the quality of the wine and so getting the viticulture right is hugely important. Precise and careful cultivation is how Johann goes on to create wines of the highest standard.

A visit to Languedoc and Gérard Bertrand

Hallgarten & Novum Wines Marketing Coordinator, Charli Truelove, has taken to the road with Sales Manager, Phil Brodie in the Midlands team, and a group of General Managers from Revere pub group to experience Gérard Bertrand’s wines in the South of France.

Gérard Bertrand is one of the most outstanding winemakers in the South of France. He owns 15 estates among the most prestigious crus of Languedoc-Roussillon. Formery the IWC Red Winemaker of the Year and Wine Enthusiast’s European Winery of the Year, he is known locally as the “King” of the Languedoc. Wines bearing Gérard Bertrand‘s signature have a unique style, driven by the fundamental values of excellence, authenticity and innovation.

The Languedoc region, in my opinion, should be considered the next premium wine region of France alongside the likes of Burgundy and Bordeaux. The climate, terroir and winemaking skills have long been over-looked because of the wine trade’s interest in other regions, however only now is this area coming to the forefront of the trade’s mind thanks to producers such as Gérard Bertrand. The quality of Gérard Bertrand’s Estates consist of the finest terroirs of the Languedoc region and the quality of the wines is phenomenal which is reflected in the awards his wines win.

I had the pleasure of staying at Chateau l’Hospitalet. Gerard’s Grand Vin La Clape was voted Red Wine of the Year 2019 at the IWC awards this year. Here we were lucky enough to receive a tour of winery, tasting freshly pressed grape juice – Marsanne, Viognier and Roussanne, at the start of the fermentation process.

Gérard’s philosophy is that to be in harmony with nature is the best way to bring out the typical character of a terroir and to create fine wines. Gérard Bertrand switched to biodynamic farming at the Cigalus Estate in 2002. This type of wine growing strengthens the balance between the vine and its environment. A healthy vineyard, a protected environment and acclaimed wines show just how effective this approach is. Some parcels have been identified as having unique potential, revealing the individual history of the place and age of an exceptional terroir. They are recognized as the Grands Crus of the South of France. Just another example of showing off the amazing winemaking potential of the Languedoc.

During my visit, we stopped at Chateau La Sauvageonne, here the first vines were planted in the 1970s. In 2011 Gerard bought property, the grapes grown here are 70% red 20% rosé 10% white. During the tour of the winery, we were shown how each day the winemakers measure sugar density and temperature and again got to taste freshly pressed grapes direct from the tank, we watched from the top of a tank how the pumping over process works and then ventured out into the vineyards to look at the Mourvèdre vines on the clay soils, which keep the humidity as there is no irrigation here.

With Cab Sav/Merlot blends dominating Bordeaux and Burgundy with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay what can Languedoc claim to be its flag bearer? Rosé perhaps? Recently Gérard Bertrand launched Clos du Temple – a truly unique rosé, alongside other premium rosé: Sauvageonne Rosé, which wins high points scores every vintage… even Jon Bonjovi’s son Jesse Bongiovi is choosing Gérard Bertrand and the Languedoc to produce their wine, Hampton Water.

Languedoc-Rousillon has made leaps forward in recent years in terms of quality and popularity, the region is dynamic and promising with some exciting terroirs and producers. We are so proud to represent this leading French name in the UK, and cannot wait to see where the next few years takes them on their wonderful wine journey.

Winemaker profile: Nicolò D’Afflitto, Director of Winemaking, Frescobaldi

Overseeing the winemaking and viticulture of all seven of Frescobaldi’s historic estates is no mean feat. Yet, Nicolò D’Afflitto has spent more than twenty years doing just that.

Following a rural upbringing on a farm, Nicolò studied Oenology at Bordeaux University, graduating in 1982. His winemaking experience was enhanced spending time living and working in the US before he returned to Tuscany. It was there, in 1991, he joined Frescobaldi, working at Castel Giocondo in Montalcino. Four years later, he was managing all the estates, nearly 3,500 acres in total.

With over 700 years of Frescobaldi winemaking history and the 2020 Gambero Rosso Winery of the Year under its belt, producing consistently great wines is crucial. D’Afflitto believes the vineyard is the key with terroir creating wines with individuality. As such, attention to detail in the vineyard is everything. Nicolò takes a different approach with each of the seven estates and each vineyard needs different techniques to nurture its specific attributes. Each estate has a winemaker, general manager and viticulturist and D’Afflitto is also closely involved, all with the aim of creating something truly special, as well as unique, from every vineyard.

For Nicolò, his top priority is always the fruit. This philosophy is carried forward in both the vineyard and winery with the soil, climate, vine and human input all vital. Combining this care and dedication in the vineyard with assiduous use of oak in the winery allows Nicolò and his team to produce wines that show the grapes’ full potential. Frescobaldi’s long and illustrious history is not forgotten either and Nicolò takes pride in the part culture plays: great historical figures including Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo have passed through Frescobaldi’s vineyards and its strong connections to Italy’s art, history and culture remain part of its fabric to this day.

Decades of experience managing Frescobaldi’s wine production means Nicolò has presided over many changes, including the replanting of Castel Giocondo and the introduction of new wines to the market, including Tenuta Perano – the family’s first venture into Chianti Classico and launched in the UK in 2018.

His work sees him travel thousands of miles per year visiting each estate every week to ensure the quality of all 12 million bottles produced reaches the family’s high standards. An experimental vineyard allows Nicolò to work on new trials and explore disease resistant varieties. This experimentation and strive for improvement allows Frescobaldi to build on their centuries of experience and strike the perfect balance between tradition and innovation.

What does the WSET Diploma really look like?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroic Viticulture!

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

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

Which is the entire point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroic indeed!And quite beautiful.

WOTM: Gouffier, Cuvée Baudron, Bourgogne Rouge 2017

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

In a nutshell

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

The producer

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

The wine

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

Best served with

Perfect with roast poultry or duck terrine.

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

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

In a nutshell

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

The producer

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

The wine

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

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

Best served with

Serve with game, grilled red meats or cheese.

Australia, the End of the World and incredible Marsanne*

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Is this important?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

*You’ve GOT to try the Tahbilk Marsanne!

 

WOTM: Bodegas Ondarre, Ondarre Reserva, Rioja 2014

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

In a nutshell

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

The producer

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

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

The wine

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

Best served with

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

A voyage (in a parachute)

“But where’s the music?” I ask.

 

Rafael Urrejola looks at me quizzically.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

In a nutshell:

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

The producer:

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

The wine:

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

Best served with:

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