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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.

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

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

In a nutshell:

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

The producer:

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

The wine:

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

Best served with:

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

 

Summer Wine

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

The Beauty of San Marzano Wines

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

 

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

 

Day one

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Day two

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Day three

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

In a nutshell:

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

The producer:

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

The wine:

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

Best served with:

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

How to make the sociable product, sociable

Generally I consider myself lucky, because without intention or purpose, after years of experience in the industry, I have found myself in a position where I work alongside one of the most enjoyable, fascinating and sociable products available to anybody anywhere… wine.

 

This most sociable of products certainly makes my job interesting. The grapes, the countries, the stories, the tastes; there are endless variations to wine, and yet there is always something new and exciting round the corner.

 

So, how do you make this most sociable of products reach the most sociable of industries? In my job as Events & Design Manager I create and host a multitude of events, based on theme or focus that is at the forefront of the industry’s mind that can really bring our product to life. As I’m sure you can imagine, the possibilities wine provides are boundless, but therein lies the challenge!

 

How do you come up with new and engaging events about a product that has been around for centuries? The goal is to create tasting environments that are thought-provoking and stimulating, and to ensure that whilst there is a theme, the guest does not get weighed down by that and has the opportunity to do what they came to do: taste wines that will enhance their wine list.

The beauty of wine is that it brings people together. Tasting events do the same – facilitating conversation, allowing everyone to be sociable and engage with a glass in hand, either on their own or with a group of peers.

I want everyone to enjoy Hallgarten Wines tasting events, and yes I know it is business to most, but ultimately pleasure to everyone at the same time!

 

What does it look like? Smell like? Taste like? Sociable events like these represent an opportunity to get up close and personal with the product, and whether you are an expert or not, everyone’s opinion is valid as wine is such a personal, sensory experience, no one can ever be too wrong.

I feel lucky to be the one to establish these sociable occasions and see the joy it brings people. There’s nothing I enjoy more, than the buzz of an event and knowing I’m responsible for putting a smile on people’s faces.

 

Vinexpo Bordeaux: the end of an era

Some you may have seen that Vinexpo Bordeaux is moving to a new slot in February in Paris from next year.  Having been a regular visitor over the last few years, it was fairly apparent that the fair would not be continuing in its current form and needed to be revitalised mainly due to the importance of the monster that is now Prowein in Dusseldorf in March.

 

They had already moved the event to May this year in order to avoid the excessive heat that has accompanied Vinexpo in June in the past – one famous year when the ground temperature in the car park was measured at over 50 degrees – and reduced the duration by a day but the fair was a shadow of its former self.  For those who remember the marquees hosted by the Champagne houses and Bordeaux negociants together with restaurants with lakeside view, to see the lake looking so deserted was quite a shock!

I took the opportunity to visit some of our Bordeaux producers mainly to see what might be new and interesting in their range.  Without added sulphites is very much in vogue and I was impressed by the couple that I tasted with Antoine from Corlianges who supply us with the Mayne Mazerolles and Merigot.  Dominique is making some full bodied examples from his estate at Domaine Montfollet in Blaye which may be worth a second look.  Antoine was his usual bouncy and enthusiastic self and said how much he had enjoyed his recent visits with a few members of the sales teams in the UK.

 

I also focussed on looking at organic wines and as well as some potentially interesting Bordeaux wines from Passion et Terroirs (supplier of Fleur de Lisse), there was a dedicated organic section with a range from around the world showing the importance of this category. From France, wines from Fronton, Madiran, Jurancon and Bergerac could be up for consideration at some point in the future!

As a finale Thibaut and Marc from Chateau Boutisse and I were serenaded by a loud and enthusiastic percussion band from Cuba on the rum stand adjacent – I don’t think that Bordelais were very impressed!

 

So the Bordeaux Chateaux will have to find another way to host their dinners as the wine fair focus moves to Paris – and Dusseldorf of course.

WOTM: Xosé Lois Sebio, ‘O Con’, Rias Baixas, Albariño 2017

Introduced to the Hallgarten portfolio in 2018, this oaked Albariño from Xosé Lois Sebio recently came out on top in a panel tasting of Galician’s best Albariño, described by one sommelier as; “like a lemon meringue pie, with zesty, salty butter. Super-creamy too – this really stands out in terms of quality, and I think restaurant guests would be happy to pay extra for it.”

 

In a nutshell:

An intense and aromatic example of Spain’s iconic variety, Albariño. Citrus fruits combine with floral notes, vanilla oak and pine nuances in this deliciously opulent and creamy wine.

 

The producer:

Winemaker Xosé Lois Sebio has produced this stunning eponymous collection of wines as a result of a personal quest: to find wines with unique personality from more risky processing zones and with a very marked identity. This original and quirky range is made from high quality grapes in areas which are often neglected or simply different; vineyards that are difficult to farm due to the high costs of conventional viticulture.

Away from fashions and conventions, the sole intention is to respect and express the soil, variety and area; producing wines with soul and personality. The wines are vinified with minimal intervention and low sulphur. These are collectable wines for lovers of the authentic and different.

 

The wine

The grapes for O Con come from a single vineyard ‘Sobre a Mina’ in the DO Rias Baixas in the North West of Spain. The old, low yielding 70 year old Albariño vines are planted at a density of 1,000 to 2,000 vines per hectare and produce grapes with concentrated flavours.

The vineyard is situated on a hillside at an altitude of between 50 to 100 metres above sea level, where it is influenced by cooling sea breezes from the Atlantic.

The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation, retaining its naturally refreshing character. The wine was aged for 11 months in second and third fill French barrels of 228 to 600 litres.

 

Best served with

Seafood or delicate fish dishes.

 

For more information on ‘OCon’, Rias Baixas, Albariño 2017 or any wines from Xosé Lois Sebio, please get in touch with your account manager. 

Argentina: Who cares if I miss the plane?

When you get to the last day of a two-week buying trip on the other side of the world, you just want to get home. You’re thinking of getting this last appointment out of the way and getting to the airport.

 

Well, banish the thought – we are here to visit Riccitelli!

 

I always knew that working with Matias would be an interesting gig; during my time representing Bodega Norton I worked with his slightly bonkers dad, Jorge, one of the funniest men in the wine trade. Today, as Matias is slumming it in Brazil, I have an appointment with a third member of the family, the vivacious Veronica.

 

“Jeem!” she shouts and rushes towards me with eyes that could melt an igloo. She gives me a conspiratorial smile and lugs me into a winery which is compact and modern and clean. But you don’t really notice any of this. Instead, your senses are caressed by the sounds of laughter – real belly laughter – and loud Latino jazz-funk which dances through the open plan space that is at once a staff room and a tasting room. There is a lovely chaos here. They are having a staff meeting to the sound of Cumbia Colombia in a room adorned with pop art by the local artist Federico Calandria. You think to yourself: This is exactly where I would like to work. This is a place of hugs and kisses rather than handshakes. Day-glow Mendoza-style. And very loud shirts.

The winery is located in Las Compuertas, the highest part of Lujan de Cuyo at about 1100 meters above sea level. To the south is the Rio Mendoza, to the east is Vistalba and to the north is Chacras de Coria. They also work with partners in the Uco Valley who have plots of land in Gualtallary, Chacayes (very trendy right now), Altamira and La Carrera.

 

But for all the modernity you have to remember that they have some history here. The Malbec vines surrounding the vineyard were planted in 1927. Because of their success (the winery has a capacity of 250,000 litres but they are producing 400,000 bottles per year), they have to first harvest and ferment the whites and rosés, then move them out and use the tanks for the reds. Veronica shows me the stainless steel square-shaped open top fermenters that Matias himself designed (to save space, as round tanks take up more room – but also to allow the workers to jump in and tread the grapes.) But they really need to increase capacity. Whatever they do, you know they will do it with a sense of elan and fun.

 

I won’t repeat all of my tasting notes, because they would seem a bit toadying. But here are some highlights:

 

Hey Rosé! Malbec 2019 is looking fresh and lively, with a smidgeon of lavender shimmying through the soft strawberries.

 

Take a look at the De La Casa labels: you’d think there’s a bit of Quentin Tarantino in there, but they were designed by local artists. The Blanco de la Casa 2018 is a blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc (Gualtallary, calcareous soils at 1400 metres), 40% Semillon (La Consulta, sandy soil) and 20% Chardonnay (La Carrera at 1700 metres). It is a rapacious mouthful, a touch, nay, a hint of pineapple, but with lively bounce-of-the-wall acidity. And they call this their house wine, for Heaven’s sake.

 

They have renamed the Riccitelli Vineyard Selection range as the Riccitelli Viñedos de Montaña range which makes sense. The Chardonnay 2018, from 50% used oak and 50% concrete tank, is so fragrant and elevated that you might be in Puligny territory. There is a touch of (very expensive) ice cream sundae, but the overall impression is one of raciness and verve (and it reminds me of another of our wines, Ocean Eight’s Verve Chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsular.)

 

I am already in danger of deliberately missing my plane home. That would be a terrible shame. Yup, a terrible shame.

 

The Patagonia Old Vines Semillon 2018, from 75-year-old vines in the Rio Negro, is utterly compelling, full and rich, but in no way overpowering; it leaves you pleading for more.

 

I taste a Sauvignon Blanc 2018, their first harvest of this wine, destined for an amazingly-designed range called Vinos de Finca. Goodness me – you what? From Mendoza vineyards, this leaps out if the glass with a stunning intensity that is almost painful but at the same time heavenly to taste. Blimey, how many more ranges is he going to invent?

 

Veronica keeps giggling at my reaction, like she’s saying: Yeah, I know, ridiculous isn’t it!”

 

But surely she is going to bring something up which doesn’t hit the mark, falls a bit short, promises more than it delivers. Could this be the one that breaks the sequence? But, no, this one is brilliant, too. What about that one? Nope, that’s brilliant as well. Crikey, surely something’s going to disappoint…

 

On to the reds. We start with a couple of the new Riccitelli Viñedos de Montaña (ex-Vineyard Selection) wines.

 

The Viñedos de Montaña Malbec 2017, from Gualtallary fruit, is classic Malbec, dark and brooding, a hint of the earth, dark plums.

 

Then we come to a mind-bender: the Viñedos de Montaña Cabernet Franc 2015 which we have stocked for some years but which I haven’t tasted for a few months. This pulls out all the stops, with a heavenly, subtle nose of brioche, oak and currants. It lasts forever, a lingering flavour of herbs. Now I know what they mean when they tell me Cabernet Franc is the grape of region, with this being sourced 50% from Chacayes and 50% from Campo de Los Andes.

 

This is a Thursday afternoon in a winery by the foothills of the Andes and the sun is shining. The wine is flowing and the music is contagious. I will ask for their Spotify Playlist – but will it sound the same in Romford?

 

Now comes a new wine, a Vinos de Finca Malbec 2016. This is a more lighter(ish) style of Malbec, in contest to the Viñedos de Montaña version. This needs food, but its beautiful acidity would go really well with any kind of meat. We want more more more of this. “That’s the idea,” says Veronica. With a certain insouciance.

 

We now have an interesting contract between the Apple Doesn’t Fall… Bonarda 2017 and a more pricey Vinos de Finca Bonarda 2017, from Vistalba fruit. We stock the Apple and this shows lovely red and black cherries and good acidity. It is an easy drink to understand. The Vistalba, however, is a different animal altogether. From 114-year old vines, this has lovely anise wrapping itself around cherry red. There is a hint of mint, too. This is hugely complex with a touch of garrigue. But would we sell more of this at a higher price than we would the Apple?

I ask for Veronica to pose with the bottles and rather sheepishly she does so. The labels scream come-and-get-me and are so brilliantly gorgeous you want to drink all of their contents.

 

The Republica Malbec 2016 is the star of the show. From fruit drawn entirely from around the winery at Las Compuertas, this is like walking across a carpet of violets; so incredibly floral with soft sweet tannins. “Soft, soft, very soft,” says the admiring Veronica. “People say the Uco Valley is the future for Malbec. And we agree that parts of the valley do make very good wine. But we have to stand up for our own vineyards. We are Mendozinians and we must shout about it.” The multi flagged label is a tribute to the town’s forefathers: French, Spanish and, particularly for the Riccitelli’s, Italian. “This is our homage to our heritage.”

 

I am almost sated but there is one more to go; the Riccitelli & Father 2015, which consists of 80% Malbec from 1927 ungrafted vines in Las Compuertas and 20% Cabernet Franc from Chacayes in the Uco Valley. This is redcurrants mostly, a big gushing waterfall of them, and with a lovely soft coating of anise on the finish.

 

And, sadly, now I really do have to dash to the airport and leave behind this fabulous and exuberant city. Veronica has proved a wonderfully vibrant host. Now imagine if Matias had also been here with her: I’d never have left!

 

Sitting in the departure lounge, it’s easy to remember the warmth of the visit and the slightly giddy atmosphere and the sheer jollity of Riccitelli. But actually that would miss the point. Because underneath the bonhomie is an acute mind at work. Matias Riccitelli lives and dreams his work. And in case you want to evidence about how much he immerses himself in every aspect of his wines, take a look at the video about the making of the labels for the De La Casa range: that’s him in the red and black checked shirt. The winemaker.

For more information on any wines from Matias Riccitelli, please speak to your account manager.

Argentina: Bittersweet Symphony

Doña Paula is at the forefront of wine and soil research in Argentina.

 

Over the years they have conducted trials in 700 soil pits in various fields.

  • What does each type of soil give to each grape, to each wine?
  • Is soil the biggest factor in a wine’s tannic structure?
  • Do the most restrictive soils, whether they are less deep or have a higher stone content or have a layer of calcium carbonate limiting the root’s growth, produce a bigger concentration in the wine?

 

I am standing beside one of the soil pits with Marcos Fernandez, Chief Winemaker at Doña Paula. We are in the middle of their famous Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary. “Alluvia is rocky and with a high chalk content. This gives excellent acidity and very good tannin structure.” He crumbles the soil while I snap away with the Nikon.

Climbing out of the pit, Marcos picks up a stick and draws a very rough map in the soil. “Gualtallary is shaped like a cone, see. And this vineyard is right in the middle.” On my previous travels through Tupungato other winemakers had sometimes pointed out the vineyard to me as we passed. “That’s Doña Paula’s Alluvia Vineyard,” they would say in hushed tones.

 

But even within the vineyards there are differences. We jump in the four wheel drive and we career around the vineyard. In the southernmost part Marcos shows me Malbec bush vines in stony calcium carbonate soil. Then, after a few minutes of bumpy riding, we get to the northern extremity. Here the vines are Guyot-trained. “Here we have less stony soil and a touch more clay and sand.”

Back to the four-wheel. “We pick by spots and not by rows, using GPS. We are trying to identify every little spot. Here, this is Block 10. We only realised in 2015 how good this was, so we started vinifying it on its own. Previously it had gone into the Estate wines.”

 

We look at some of the vines. “We are removing some Chardonnay and replacing with Cabernet Franc.” (More testimony of how well-regarded that grape is in these parts!)

 

On the drive up to their home vineyard at Ugarteche, Marcos explains: “We are picking earlier, getting less extraction, toning down the oak.” He pauses, strokes his chin. “At some point in Argentina we lost the ability to do different things. But we are now arriving at the first point in the history of fine winemaking in Argentina. Right now.”

When we arrive at Finca El Alto in Ugarteche it is already dark. In the tasting room, set up in the middle of the vineyards, we are joined by Eduardo Alemparte, the group’s Viticulture Director.

 

It is a huge tasting. We start with the Paula range, going through a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. All are tasting spot-on, especially the Chardonnay. Marcos explains that many of their export countries prefer some oak, especially China and some mid-European countries, but he keeps this to a minimum for our market and the USA. The Malbec is also looking very good. This undergoes a low temperature fermentation at 22 degrees, compared to the 28 degrees for the Estate Malbec. It has masses of yellow plums and what Marcos refers to as “high intensity” aromas.

 

Of the estate wines, a 2017 Estate Chardonnay has a lovely rich flavour; this has more than a nod towards the Napa.

 

Marcos tells me he is very happy with a 2018 Estate Riesling, which has lovely primary fruit characteristics and none of the off-putting aromas I occasionally get with this grape. There is a lovely touch of honey on the finish.

 

The 2018 Estate Malbec from Gualtallary sees 12 months in French oak and is memorably described by Marcos as tasting “like those juices you get at the end of a really good asado.”

 

The 2017 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Luyan du Cuyo, as Gualtallary is too cold. It has voluptuous fruit and a touch of tar.

 

We now come to an interesting tasting of two wines, the Blue Edition and the Black, both from 2017. Both have over 50% of Malbec, but the blue is then blended with Pinot Noir and Bonarda, whereas the Black has Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot added in. I prefer the Blue Edition, as I did when I first tasted these in London 18 months ago. It has more elegance and panache than the slightly chunkier Black.

 

We pause for a few minutes to clean the glasses. I look out at the night. It looks eerie and our little haven would feel quite romantic were it not for the fact that I am spitting and slurping with two blokes.

Marcos sets up the stylish Altitude wines, all named after the altitude of the vineyards: 969, 1100 and 1300. This is a fascinating tasting. The 2018 969 (55% Petit Verdot, 40% Bonarda, 5% Tannat) is sourced from the vineyard in which we sit. It has a beautiful mulberry nose, wonderful texture with a certain grippiness, and mouth-watering acidity. The 2017 1100 (60% Malbec, 30% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) is sourced from three blocks of the Los Indios Estate, in Altamira in the southern part of the Uco Valley. This has gorgeous mocha and chocolate flavours, with a hint of vanilla. It is more rounded than the 969. The 2017 1350 (50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Malbec, 5% Casavecchia – a native of Campania) is a more tannic and bigger beast. Dark flavours of tar and liquorice abound. We all think this needs a bit more time.

 

I keep going back to the 969, which is my favourite wine of the tasting. (Later I decide it is my favourite wine of the entire trip.) Goodness, the acidity running through this gives it a wonderful saline quality. Time and again I keep going back. How apt that on the day that Jagger and Richards end their lawsuit with the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft over Bittersweet Symphony, I get the same bittersweet tastes from this amazing wine. The bitter comes via the acidity of the grapes from their altitude and soil, and the sweetness comes from grapes which were picked at exactly the right minute of the right hour of the right day, and then handed over to a master craftsman. This is Fernandez’s masterpiece.

 

Now we come to the parcels of Malbec from individual plots:

 

The 2014 El Alto comes from this, their home vineyard, and is made from 42 year-old vines. Like the other two parcel wines, this is in French oak for 22 months. Curiously, it reminds me of a very good Chianti, with that odd boot polish smell I sometimes find in the Tuscan classics.  The 2014 Los Indios comes from Altamira in the Uco Valley and seems a touch more elegant, with redcurrants to the fore. Finally, the 2014 Alluvia comes from the last vineyard we visited, in Gualtallary. Wow, this has a gorgeous nose. Strawberries and a touch of umami. Lovely.

What a tasting this has been! Now, almost exhausted, we turn to the flagship Selección de Bodega Malbec from the 2016 vintage. 100% of the grapes are sourced from the Alluvia vineyard; 60% guyot-trained block 10 and 40 % bush vines. Lovely aromas of damson, violets and crushed strawberries tempts me to keep nosing. On the palate it is beautifully smooth and rounded. It’s easy to see why Tim Atkin gave this 95 points a month earlier. Marcos and Eduardo purr longingly. I nod in agreement. But I keep going back to that 969.

 

And then I go back again.

 

PS. If anyone is interested in reading about Doña Paula extensive vineyard research they can find more information at http://donapaula.com/terroir-in-focus/.

 

For more information on any wines from Doña Paula, please speak to your account manager.