Like something out of Dr. No

Balance is sometimes defined as a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportion. In art, “balance refers to the use of artistic elements such as line, texture, colour, and form in a way that renders visual stability” (Eli Anapur). In motor racing the balance of the car is measured to the milligram. Listen to Hamilton: “Something is wrong. The balance doesn’t feel right.”

I am musing on this as I sip another perfectly balanced Sanford Pinot Noir. A wine is said to have good balance when all the different components – alcohol, acidity, tannin, sweetness – are working in harmony. For me, if a wine tastes beautiful but I cannot really single out any particular element which makes it so, then I will write “perfectly balanced” in my tasting notes. And if I’m feeling a bit artsy then “equilibrium” will also appear.

But to get back to the gig – and those Sanford Pinots. Yup, in terms of wine, we are visiting Californian royalty. Before we reach the winery I ask Steve to pull over so I can photograph the sign: “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard.” I stand and stare for a moment. This very spot is where the now world-famous Santa Rita Hills area was “invented” in 1971.

Looking for the best location to perfectly ripen grapes, botanist Michael Benedict, working with his friend Richard Sanford, toured the cool coastal regions of California, eventually deciding on a part of the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.  The first vines were planted in 1971, and soon the Pinot Noir from this remote vineyard created a buzz. Others soon followed, and the original Sanford & Benedict Vineyard formed the backbone of what is now the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. It has been named one of the five most important and iconic vineyards in California by Wine Enthusiast.

In 1997, La Rinconada Vineyard was planted next door. It was to this vineyard that the affable and gregarious Trey Fletcher, chief winemaker at Sanford, took us when we first arrived. Home to 20 vineyard blocks and 12 clones, La Rinconada is primarily Pinot Noir. Trey jumps out of the jeep and we bend down to look at the soil. The lower portion of La Rinconada is a sandy loam, which transitions to more clay loam mixed with diatomaceous earth and shale on the hills closer to Sanford & Benedict.

We climb towards that vineyard, climbing, climbing. Again, we jump out of the jeep. “Notice the difference,” says Trey. Here, there is more calcium rich clay soils with shale and chert- a result of the sloughing off of the top half of the mountain ten thousand years ago. “Also, look at the vines – they were planted on their own root stock. Phylloxera really has never been an issue here.”

Also in the jeep with us is Chuck Cramer, the guy who represents Sanford in the UK. Looking more and more like a character from an Elmore Leonard movie, Chuck is very Californian. Extremely so. Very much. Never stops. Chuck is such a common American name. Think: Chuck Berry, Chuck Norris, Chuck Connors. But as a northern England lad, Chuck for me will always mean Coronation Street. “Oh, ‘eck, Chuck…” (As a Shakespeare enthusiast I’ve never been able to get my head around Othello’s request to Desdemona: “Pray chuck, come hither.” Where did that come from?)

We climb to the top of the hill, to the original winery barn which looks drop dead gorgeous. It gives amazing views over both vineyards down towards the winery. And everywhere is the breeze. It is the east-west orientation of the Santa Ynez Valley which provides a pathway to the Pacific Ocean and its maritime cooling influence, allowing cool air to be drawn inland. Later we will see the fog which is common in these parts.

Back at the winery we are joined by associate winemaker Laura Roach. Here, Trey shows us something neither Steve nor I have seen in any other winery – a series of “elevators” containing four tanks which are installed on hydraulic lifts within the winery tower. Trey explains that this unique gravity flow system allows him to gently move the wine from tank to barrel or bottle without pumping and agitating the wine. We step into one of the tanks and the lift takes us up to the roof. It is like something out of Dr No.

Back down in the cellar, the tasting is a sublime experience. The 2020 Pinot – just about to land in our warehouse – is a beautiful expression of red and black cherries, so soft and supple.

The 2017 S&B Pinot is a step up in intensity, just a touch more body, just a touch more firmness, just a touch more tannin. But always just a touch.

A 2019 S&B Block 6 has a feel of strawberry liquorice about it, and ever such a hint of salt. Or am I imagining it?

A 2019 Dominio Del Falcon (what a name!) feels as though it has a touch more alcohol. But only a touch. Balanced by just a hint more acidity. It is in perfect balance. There’s that word again.

Pinot Noir is so damned difficult to get right. Over the years it has probably caused me more disappointment and frustration than any other grape. Sometimes it can be thin, but more often the major issue is that the wines can often appear over ripe, even gloopy. But here every one of them is textbook – beautiful examples of what that grape can achieve.

On to the Chardonnays. The 2018 has a lovely ice cream sundae feel to it, lovely balance of fruit and acidity.

A 2019 Long Rows Block Chardonnay has a Meursault-type character to it, a touch of creaminess.

A 2019 Founders Vines Chardonnay has “more satin and less merino wool,” according to Trey. Not gonna argue with that.

Note: “gonna” rather than “going to.” Rubs off on you, this place.

L.A. is a great big freeway

“So. California. Welcome. We’ve been expecting you.”

Back on the road again after two years of COVID lockdown – how exciting is this! – and one of our first trips is a belter. Our California list has not been updated for some time, and Steve and I are here to put that right. Like a couple of schoolkids.

First port of call after negotiating LA’s freeways is with Andrew Murray at his Foxen Canyon Road winery near Los Olivos.

If you were looking at someone who represents the very opposite of the admittedly clichéd and out-of-date notion that California is all about blockbuster Cabernets and heavy Chardonnays, then this is your guy. Andrew fell in love with Rhône varieties like Syrah and Viognier in the late 1980’s while traveling through France. Leaving his UC Berkeley palaeontology studies behind, he pursued his new mistress, Syrah, with an internship in Australia. Returning to the States, he founded his eponymous Santa Ynez winery and vineyard in Santa Barbara County, which reminded him of the Rhône Valley.

His film-set style winery looks almost too gorgeous to be true. He explains it used to be an art gallery and points to the space where an Andy Warhol exhibit was once hung. In the very same space he now produces his own masterpieces.

We taste a Riesling from a series of wines on tap which has proved tremendously popular with the public. God, this is scintillating – my first California wine on this trip and I definitely hadn’t expected this!

But he surprises me with one of his first comments. “Actually, while I really love the reds of the Rhone Valley, I’m often not that keen on their whites.” He finds some of the whites from the Rhone – especially involving Roussanne – a little heavy, and now gravitates towards Chablis and Meursault because “they are so bright.”

And it is that expression which comes back to me time and again as we taste his whites – “so bright.”

“What I do is to try to take white Rhone varietals and put my own stamp on them,” he explains. “I’m a neophyte in that respect.” An Enchanté blend of Roussanne and Grenache from 2020 defines his point. It has the haunting and ethereal character you often get in that type of blend – but it also has a wonderful strip of minerality and zing.

He bring out some of his E11even series of wines, including a 2020 Sauvignon Blanc which is sub-branded Unplugged. I am surprised that he got away with this branding and mention the Unplugged series of albums. “That’s what inspired me to take up guitar playing,” I volunteer. “I can do a version of Layla.” But thankfully Andrew – and Steve – look singularly unimpressed. On the other hand, Steve is impressed with the wine: “It’s not often I say I really like California Sauvignon Banc – but I really like this wine.”

“I’m not looking for typicity; I’m looking for atypicity.” I wonder for a second if Andrew has invented a new word.

He describes one of the flavours in his Esperance Rose 2021 as watermelon rind, which morphs into a nod towards Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar, at which we all nod knowingly, like guys do.

Now we move onto the reds.

An Espérance 2019 (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) has an incredible dandelion and burdock nose and on the palate is an inky mouthful of blackcurrants and blackberries.

An E11even Cabernet Franc 2019 is described by Andrew as “not so much bell pepper as roasted pepper.” Wow! Hints of rhubarb and nettles and sherbert. A cracking wine.

A Tours Les Jours 2018 – coming soon to us! – is ridiculously drinkable. No, absurdly drinkable. No, no, hold on –  insanely drinkable.

A Roasted Slope Syrah 2019 is young and sturdy, full of cereal aromas. “Class,” says Steve.

An Etranger 2019 (Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah) is highly perfumed, masses of yellow plums, strident, edgy. Andrew explains the name. “I am a fan of Albert Camus and was a moody existentialist when I was young.”

Thankfully, he appears to have grown out of it, I think, as we finish the tasting.

What a tasting. Too many wines to describe fully here. What a start to our trip.

But then tiredness takes over. It’s great to be back on the road again – but, crikey, we are so out of practice!

 

WOTM: Ippolito 1845 ‘Mare Chiaro’, Cirò, Calabria 2021

Our May Wine of the Month is a new addition to our portfolio, located in the southern tip of Italy – Ippolito 1845 ‘Mare Chiaro’, Cirò, Calabria 2021. The Greco Bianco grapes for this wine come from the ‘Feudo’ and the ‘Difesa Piana’ vineyards, two renowned viticultural areas in the Cirò Marinatwo renowned viticultural areas in the Cirò Marina region.

In a nutshell

This crisp and refreshing Greco delivers intense aromas of tropical fruit, pear, peach and floral notes through to a vibrant palate with a delicious saline note on the finish.

The producer

With over 170 years of history, Ippolito is the oldest winery in Calabria. Located in the historic centre of Cirò Marina, the heart of Calabrian viticulture, the farm comprises a 100-hectare agricultural estate near the Ionian Sea. Winemakers for five generations, the Ippolito family values its heritage and follows a sustainable philosophy to protect the terroir, enhance the native vines and preserve the ecosystem. Balancing a traditional approach with investment in research in the vineyard and the cellar, they strive to create wines of elegance, exclusivity and identity. The Ippolito family are passionate about preserving the extraordinary heritage of the region, they only cultivate native vines such as Gaglioppo and Greco Bianco, and for the past 15 years have been engaged in a research project on native vines.

The wine

The wine is a blend of grapes harvested in two steps; the first enhanced the freshness and aromatics, while the second tranche of harvested grapes imparted structure. The grapes were hand-picked and carefully sorted, crushed, destemmed and cooled to 14°C before being gently pressed. The must was cool settled at 8°C, prior to fermentation with selected yeasts which lasted for three weeks in stainless steel tanks. Post fermentation the two wines were skilfully blended before being aged for four months in stainless steel tanks.

Creating Buy-in

As with so many things, the last two years have forced change at a faster pace. Countless businesses have managed to pivot to a ‘work from home’ model seemingly in a matter of weeks. Zoom calls became a novelty, then standard fare, then the butt of jokes almost overnight.

How people choose their wine has also evolved. There will always be those that scoop the cheapest wine offering into their trolley while debating if that MIG welder in the middle aisle is a sound investment. But the number of those that want to learn a little more about what they drink has swelled dramatically. Possibly because furlough afforded people the time to drink more and to google more, and because the information is so readily available and increasingly user-friendly.

If you have a mind to, there are apps that offer you wine reviews with the scan of a label, there are even apps that bring the label to life. There are QR codes and embedded links everywhere, even in this magazine. But the strongest platform for enquiry is social media. Posts can introduce you to the wine maker, the brand, the vision even!

An occasional mistake in wine is to try and feed the customer stats. The level of oak or maturation time is important, but very few get excited by numbers. People buy into anecdotes and authenticity. Stories they can then tell their guests when they hold court at a dinner party. Perhaps the producer still ploughs its vineyards with the help of a horse?

These stories play out brilliantly on social media. This can take a consumer product and personalise it to the point that can inspire emotional investment. In some cases this can become a brand following as in the case of Grande Marques or the latest Provence Rosé but, for those that aren’t dripping in marketing budgets and celebrity endorsements, personal honesty can shine through.

In the past few years there has been a surge in demand for organic and regionally authentic wines. The Indie retail customer is no longer content with international grapes grown everywhere. With access to much more information and, recently, more time, the customer is prepared to buy into not just a bottle of wine but the principals and ideas that made that wine. There is a greater level of enquiry which demands a greater level of accountability. As an evolution to brand alignment based on aspiration (those Veuve Wellies may have had their day) we are now seeing emotional alignment to ethical principles. There is more kudos at the dinner party to a wine that has been ethically produced using sustainable principals and region specific grapes than one seen on reality television. I hope…

The increase in access through social media has been bolstered further by online tastings. In order to tap into the demand for experiential tastings a numbers of Indie retailers hosted tasting events during lockdown. Although the logistics of getting wine to anything up to 200 individual homes may have been a headache the opportunity to have the winemaker, often sitting in his or her winery, on the call more than justified it. This offered a level of connection not seen to the average customer and a huge spring board to emotional investment. In a lot of cases it also translated into sales. Not just of the wine tasted but of all wines from the maker.

Some customers will consider a £3 wine excellent value. Some will never leave a specific grape or region. However, there are increasing numbers of the inquisitive, the scrutineers. With phones in hand and apps at the ready looking to introduce new wines and new places to their circles but only once they have scrolled the ‘gram and checked the credentials. Everyone likes a good a story, especially if there is a horse involved.

The Alternatives to HEAT

Knowledge is power… And knowing how disastrous the 2021 vintage was in many parts of the winemaking world, culminating in a shortage of some of the best-selling wines such as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, discerning customers are already seeking out exciting new alternatives.

Add into the equation the continued challenges across Burgundy. A region that has been continually impacted by consecutive cold/wet/frost/hail vintages, now really is the time to take advantage of those new and exciting wines from around the world, which are made by some of most exciting winemakers, breaking boundaries, experimenting with unusual varieties and much more. You don’t have to settle for second best when exploring these wines and your customers might just find their new favourite.

As global warming and unpredictable weather become an ever present issue, the extraordinary weather patterns that have caused the issues above are driving winemakers to explore more and more extreme wine growing regions to make their wines. Whether it is high altitude or vineyards close to the ocean, a cool climate is an essential requirement when making wines to catch the eye of the classical wine consumer. The winemakers featured here are all working in these extreme environments – and their wines are as good as anything from those from vintage-affected regions.

Richard Kershaw is one of the newest inductees into the Cape Winemakers Guild (in December 2021) and is also the only Master of Wine who is actively making wine in South Africa. Not bad for a man from Sheffield! He specialises in site and clone specific Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir from Elgin (Clonal Selection) and other cool climate growing areas in the depths of the Cape (G.P.S. Series).  Despite the incredible detail to which he goes, his winemaking is non-interventionist and he is making some of the very best wines, especially Chardonnay, in South Africa today.

He is meticulous in his viticulture and winemaking, paying special attention to coopers and which barrels work best for specific wines and particularly around clonal selection. He has selected clones of Chardonnay and Syrah that are most suitable for the cool climatic conditions that Elgin offers. The Clonal Selection Syrah 2018 is “a thrilling and emotive Syrah” (97 Pts – Decanter) with Neil Martin (94 Pts – Vinous) labelling it “Absolutely top class” and we certainly don’t disagree. The G.P.S. Series Chardonnay comes from (rare in the area) limestone rich soils in the Lower Duivenhoks River. The resulting wine is vibrant and zingy and according to Neal Martin (93 Pts – Vinous) “This is almost disarmingly harmonious… Warning: You will definitely finish a bottle, even if you didn’t plan to”.

Fine wine doesn’t have to be expensive. Spain, with is a veritable smörgåsbord of wine regions, appellations and grape varieties certainly has some of the most exciting and pioneering winemakers of the northern hemisphere. One winemaker leading the way here is Xosé Lois (XL) Sebio who has been reinvigorating ancient and abandoned vineyards and producing a stunning collection of wines with a very marked identity. XL Sebio’s main aim is to make authentic wines which are far removed from conventions and modern fashions, but at the same time express the terroir from which his wines come with soul and personality. The ‘O’Con’ Albarino 2019 comes from old Albariño strains from the Aios area, in Sanxenxo. (Rias Baixas – Pontevedra – Galicia). The grapes come from an old hillside vineyard plot, with spruce soils, on top of an old tungsten mine. The freshness, depth and meatiness of the old vines help to produce a deep, elegant and sapid wine.

Finally, breaking from the cool climate theme we head to the beautiful island of Santorini. Unique places create unique wines, and Santorini provides this in spades. The soil is volcanic and mineral rich and the indigenous varietals have evolved alongside the island itself. The most famous of these is Assyrtiko, which thrives on an island which has long sunshine hours, a lack of rainfall, sea mists and strong cooling summer winds, all contributing to the unique microclimate. Gaia Estate is one of the pioneers of the Greek wine revolution. Established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. The Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is a gem of a wine and a fabulous alternative to White Burgundy. The wine is fermented naturally in a mix of stainless steel tanks, wooden casks (15% French oak, 15% American oak, 15% in acacia casks) and 10% ceramic vats. The resulting wine is truly unique, with layers of intriguing flavours, a mineral salty tang and beautiful acidity.

Ultimately, the challenges that we all face over the next twelve months can easily be overcome with creativity and helping consumers to get outside of their comfort zones to explore the myriad of stunning and extraordinary wines made by legendary winemakers of the future. And you never know, if they just give these wines a chance, they may not go back to what they wanted before.

WOTM: Akriotou, ‘Erimitis’ White, Sterea Ellada 2020

Our April Wine of the Month is a new addition to our Greek portfolio from the team at Akriotou. The grapes for the ‘Erimitis’ White, Sterea Ellada 2020 are sourced from Plataea, a small village at the foot of the Kitheronas Mountain, in Central Greece. This wine is a blend of native varieties: Savatiano, Assyrtiko and Aidani, which are suited to the hot, dry climate as they have good drought resistant properties. 

In a nutshell

A rich and textured wine with delicate notes of peach, bergamot, lemon and pear complemented by buttery overtones through to a refreshing zesty finish.

The Producer

Vasiliki Akriotou is an oenologist with over 20 years’ experience in the wine industry. In 2015, she created her first range of wines from a micro-winery in the heart of Greece, which reflected her philosophy of winemaking. The vineyards are situated among the snow-capped mountains at altitudes of 280 to 380 metres above sea level. The range includes is Ορειβάτης, which translates as the ‘Mountaineer’ made from Savatiano, which recognises the steep, challenging terrain. This sublime, premium range of wines made from old vines of native grapes, is a true expression of this fresh mountainous terroir.

The wine

Vinification took place separately for each variety. The grapes were carefully selected, destemmed and crushed before the free run must underwent cold skin-contact maceration for six hours. Controlled fermentation took place at 14°C, with bâtonnage of the fine lees twice a week. The three wines were deftly blended and matured in stainless steel tanks for a total of 10 months, during which bâtonnage took place twice weekly for three months, reducing to once a fortnight for seven months, imbuing the wine with a lovely texture.

Getting to know Phil Innes, Loki Wines

In the latest issue of our wine-focused magazine, Assemblage, we took a step away from the Hallgarten business to catch up with some of our partners in the wine sector about how they have fared over the last two years. Here we spoke to Phil Innes, owner of Loki Wines.

What are your biggest learnings from the pandemic in 2020 and 2021?

A: The biggest learning is that even in adversity companies can adapt and thrive in any situation. We are coming out of the pandemic with an additional store, plus a significant online operation. As well as areas such as virtual tasting which I never thought would be so popular per pandemic. Also I really learned the importance of all the years of customer engagement that built up good will that we managed to use to our advantage during the pandemic.

What trends are you seeing from consumers in 2022?

A: South Africa has been massive, the country has always had a very strong following, however the last 12 months has seen big growth which I don’t see decreasing.

Where do you think is the next up-and-coming wine region?

A: Although we already do a lot with Greece, I think we will see this area growing in importance as people are actively trying to discover new wines, and have an understanding of the world of wine prior to France and Italy. I think that whole area including Croatia, Slovenia, Armenia, Turkey and Lebanon will continue to see an increase over the next couple of years. I am still waiting for places like Bulgaria and Romania to come more into the consumer consciousness. I have seen some great examples coming out of these countries.

Which grape variety are you most excited about?

A: Can I tentatively say that Riesling is going to be very exciting… I just think Riesling has struggled with consumers, but certainly the dryer styles are becoming more popular now. It may be Riesling’s time to shine.

Are you seeing an increasing demand for sustainable and natural wines?

A: I think we are seeing a slight plateauing in interest, however vegan wines are continuing to grow in popularity.

What is your personal favourite wine/food pairing?

A: You can’t beat a good steak and Bordeaux

How do you organise the wines on your shelves?

A: By country

What are your plans for your shop in 2022?

A: We are currently refurbishing our first two sites, and also looking for a 4th site in the Midlands. I think as we come out of the pandemic traditional bricks and mortar retailers will see a big increase in demand as people continue to use online, but also want to go back to more face to face and expert opinion.

What is the best-selling style of wine in your shop?

A: Still Argentinian Malbec and New Zealand Sauvignon.

Quick-Fire Questions 

Dinner party or wild party?
A: Dinner Party

Cornwall or Ibiza?
A: Ibiza everyday.

Pinot Noir from Cote de Beaune or Central Otago?
A: Cote de Beaune

James Bond or Jason Bourne?
A: Bond

English bubbles or Champagne?
A: Champagne – Sorry England

Rich and robust or delicate and nuanced?
A: Rich and Robust

Negroni or Pornstar Martini?
A: Negroni – who in the wine industry chooses Pornstar Martini!?!

South Africa and why everyone should be drinking their wines

Many people still see South Africa as the new kid on the block in the New World. This in some ways is true, but the reality is that wine has been made in the Cape for centuries. The first wines were produced in the Cape in 1659 and the country has some of the oldest wine estates in the world. However there has been a qualitative revolution in the last 20 years, which seems to gather pace every year. The wines have been elevated from the old school and mundane to world-beating and cutting-edge. I have been lucky enough to have witnessed the transformation of the wine industry and country since my first trip, during South Africa’s winter of 1994.

It was a few months after the country emerged from the shackles of Apartheid, and the wine industry was stuck in a time warp – it was like revisiting the 1970s. There was a palpable feeling of uncertainty, and in some people, fear. No one quite knew what was going to happen.

The weather was dull, wet and windy, and the wines on the whole were way off the mark, especially compared to Australia, New Zealand and the then emerging Chile. However there were something going on and a few shining exceptions showed the promise of the country. There was also an acceptance of this, and a willingness to learn and to achieve. I was struck by the spirit and commitment of the people I met, and a bloody mindedness to make something happen. South Africans are entrepreneurs -they have to be.

Years have passed and with every year I have visited as a wine tourist I have seen improvements. Improvements in the wines, wineries, food and tourist infrastructure. I know there are still many injustices and inequalities in the society but I am not qualified to comment on them or to go into them here. I am talking purely about the wine industry and the industries that support it.

So, why everyone should be buying South African wine?

Well the first and foremost is the extraordinary value for money that the wines offer! South Africa is producing wines at every price level and all at a high quality. I am happy to go out on a limb and say that entry-level Chenin Blanc from South Africa is offering some of the best value for money on the planet, and every restaurant should consider it for its house wine or one level up.

Chenin is a real trump card. South Africa has lots of Chenin planted in almost all the growing regions, in amazingly varied terroir. They have some venerable old vines that should make the Loire jealous. Chenin loves South Africa, and the young and young-at-heart winemakers have embraced it and coaxed the grape into some of the most exciting wines on the planet. For me, top Chenin has layers of tropical fruit, can take or leave oak, really expresses the terroir and most importantly retains great acidity. In the right hands it can achieve greatness that can stand shoulder to shoulder with top white Burgundy.

Talking of white Burgundy, there are drastic shortages of the Burgundian classics this year. Very little Chablis, Puligny, Meursault and Mâcon and all at very high prices. South Africa makes great Chardonnay. From fresh unoaked Macon and Chablis lookalikes to full-on oaked Chardonnays which sit somewhere in style between classic Burgundy and California, and at amazing prices for the quality. This year we are going to see shortages of white wine in Europe and price increases across the board, and we also have a critical shortage of that restaurant must have New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. South Africa can fill some of the gaps. I believe South African Sauvignon is more than a match for Marlborough or Sancerre. Stylistically it is cross between the two styles but leaning more to the minerality of Sancerre. It offers exceptional value in comparison to both. So be bold and offer your customers a better option!

Recently there has been great interest in Rhône varieties grown in South Africa led by the pioneering winemakers of the Swartland. Once again South Africa is able to take on France with some amazing wines made from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc.

I have tasted amazing wines that take on classics such as Côte Rôtie, Cornas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and at a fraction of the price. Even Pinot Noir, the most fussy of all grapes, is showing excellent results in the cool regions to the South. Some amazing examples are produced – and again at very attractive prices.

South Africa is really delivering on quality and value. If you need to look for other reasons to buy South Africa look to recent events in the country.

The country has had years of drought making vine growing very tricky indeed and some growers are on the point of giving up. The drought has also led to an increase in wild fires and a number of properties have had extensive damage. Our very dear friend, Sam O’Keefe, had her beloved Lismore Estate destroyed. Luckily she is up and running again, fighting to make world class wines.

We have all suffered from the pandemic, but South Africa has been hit very hard and the wine industry has been hit harder than most. In South Africa there has been shut downs and the banning of sales of alcohol (including wine) both domestically, and for export. This has meant no income at all for the wine farms for many months. The Cape before COVID was welcoming 10 million tourists and this income stream has also dried up. So the Cape is in the middle of a perfect storm.

The one thing that has struck me is that not one of our Cape producers has complained or moaned about this. They just get on with it and try to make the most of the situation. They don’t want our charity, but what I would say is buy their wines, give them a helping hand in the process help yourselves to some amazing wines, from amazing people in a beautiful country.

And when this COVID nightmare is over, get over there and see for yourselves one of the most exciting wine growing regions of the world!

WOTM: Badia a Coltibuono ‘Cultus’ Chianti Classico Riserva 2017

We are taking a closer look at some of the new additions to our portfolio with our Wine of the Month for March; Badia a Coltibuono and its ‘Cultus’ Chianti Classico Riserva. An incredible location and region is the perfect backdrop to the rich history and legacy of such an estate. 

In a nutshell

Ripe red fruits and flora notes follow in the wake of a balsamic quality. Bursting with character with a lifting assortment of chocolate, liquorice and an elegant finish that lingers pleasantly on the palate.

The producer

In 1051, the abbey called “Badia” was inhabited by a community of Vallombrosan monks who dedicated their time and effort to study, aiding those in need and cultivation of vines and olive trees. The monks excelled in the practical elements of agricultural development and they chose the name ‘Badia a Coltusboni’, Latin for ‘good worship, good agriculture and good harvest’. Over a tumultuous period of history for Italy, the abbey was handed over to many, but in 1846 the 74 hectare estate was purchased and has been passed down through 6 generations of the Stucchi Prinetti family. Today, the family have leant themselves purely to the development of their estate, hospitality and their family’s heritage in terms of winemaking methods and customs.

The wine

The blend of the ‘Cultus’ (‘cultivation’ in Latin) is primarily Sangiovese, but with traditional varieties of Colorino, Canaiolo and Ciliegiolo added to bolster the flavour. These varieties were replanted recently to more traditional propagation methods in an effort to maintain the legacy and spirit of the estate’s history. The elevation of the vines at 250 – 330 metres help to keep the vines aerated and ventilated, keeping them healthy in the warmth of the region. Hand harvested fruit are met with wild yeasts in the winery as fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks. The skins were left to macerate for 20 to 35 days and afterwards the wine was aged in 225l French oak barriques for 14 to 16 months.

A story about more than just a dog…

We spoke to our dear friends, Mulderbosch, in South Africa and they sent us this heart-warming tale about the new vintage of their flagship wine, Faithful Hound – a blend of five different grape varieties, made in Stellenbosch. Have a read and tell us what you think! 

“This is a story about more than just a dog…

In 1993 we launched our maiden Bordeaux-style red blend, calling it Faithful Hound. As it was inspired by an unswervingly loyal and devoted dog, our intention was to make a wine that would stay true to its style, never wavering or caving in to passing trends.

From the get-go Mulderbosch Faithful Hound has been a winner. We’re happy and proud to say it’s been that way for close on 30 years now. And while its popularity grows, so does its international and local critical acclaim.

But back, for a moment, to the faithful hound that lived out his days on the farm. Many years passed and beloved as he’d been, after 21 years we felt in need of a label update. We wanted a strong, visually compelling look, with good shelf standout, that would focus primarily on the contents of the bottle. And so, we took the dog out of the picture.

But over the years, people would continue to ask: “What happened to the dog on the label?”

Faithful Hound wasn’t just a representation of a once-loved dog. He’d become a symbol of constancy and fidelity. So, to show our appreciation for the constancy and fidelity wine lovers have extended to us, he’s back on the label. This time with a lifted tail, signalling a joyful, upbeat outlook and Mulderbosch’s belief in the future. His optimistic tail also reminds us to make the most of life.

And now, to what’s inside the bottle: our special corner of Stellenbosch has and always will be our guiding star. We still harvest the same fine vineyards here, but as we’ve learned more about the myriad intricacies of our precious eco-systems, we’ve made important farming improvements.  We’ve invested in low-impact weed control and that means NO pesticides. We use only organic fertiliser to nourish the soil. We’ve cut down on water consumption in the vineyards and the cellar. And we’ve installed solar power in our cellar and our production line to further enhance energy saving.

We also conserve more indigenous habitat (have a look at our flora and fauna and our marshlands, on the farm or on our website, when you get a chance). We’ve also stepped up our integrated pest management (have a look at our owl family, for instance). We’ve made it our mission to farm better, wiser, and more regeneratively with the health of the soil as our starting point.

The 2019 vintage of Faithful Hound features all five Bordeaux varieties, with Cabernet Franc in the lead (29%), followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Merlot (22%), Malbec (12%) and Petit Verdot (12%). It’s a rich but refined blend of complexity and depth. It unfurls layer by layer to reveal a bounty of beautifully integrated berry and savoury notes, supported by fine-grained tannins.

It will give you great pleasure now, but it has the staying power to last another 10 years at least. The composition will change slightly from year to year to accommodate vintage expression, but the style will remain constant. As will our appreciation for your loyalty.

The Mulderbosch Team

 

 

You can check out their amazing vistas and unique pest-controlling owl family here: https://mulderbosch.co.za/

And here’s their range on our own website: https://www.hnwines.co.uk/wines-producers/producers/1680 

Location, Location, Location

Climate change has a multi-faceted effect on wine production. It influences which grapes can be grown, the character they develop, how healthy they are, and the way in which they are nurtured and vinified. How climate change affects wine regions varies markedly depending on their location. Increasing temperatures and extreme and erratic weather can be hugely challenging for wine producers.

Regions which would previously have been marginal, or even impossible, for successful viticulture are now able to ripen grapes. Traditionally 30°-50° latitude was considered the zone for viticulture but more and more areas including much of the UK and even some areas of Sweden are seeing vineyards appearing. Conversely, regions in Australia, the US and elsewhere are struggling with increasingly high temperatures.

Imagine, you have a pot of money and the freedom to establish a vineyard in any corner of the globe. It seems like a great choice to have but, as the climate changes, deciding what to plant and where is anything but straightforward. Much like property, when it comes to vineyards location is paramount. It’s much more complicated than which country or even which region, vine growers must consider all manner of factors to ensure their grapes can thrive.

Keep it cool?

If the climate is on the cool side, is there protection for the vines? Hills or mountains can keep wind and rain at bay and allow vineyards to succeed. The South Downs in Sussex and the Vosges Mountains in Alsace are just two of many regions where this can be seen. Where sun is scarce, are there enough sun facing slopes to allow grapes to ripen and are the flatter areas viable for any grape growing? Even if the geography looks favourable there is still the not-so-small matter of the soil being suitable particularly if large amounts of rainfall is likely.

Considering a cool climate site for a vineyard could be a wise investment for the future as cooler areas move in to the sweet spot for viticulture as temperatures increase. This makes forward planning all the more challenging though, as the right vines now may not work as the vineyard warms. A flexible approach when it comes to which wine styles to produce may be the answer. English wine has demonstrated that this can be effective. Starting out with only its sparkling wine really being recognised for their quality, English wine producers are increasingly making high quality still wines.

Or turn up the heat?

Where heat and dry conditions are the primary concern, mountains can once again be the vine grower’s friend. Not as a shield this time but for altitude, enabling grapes to have more diurnal temperature variation and a longer ripening period. Altitude plays a huge role in the production of many high quality wines. Moderating influences from nearby rivers, lakes or oceans may also be needed along with cooling breezes to offer respite to the vines. Mountains and water sources also need to be considered for ease of irrigation.

As in a cooler areas, climate change must be considered when in hot regions as the vineyard must be able to cope with potentially even warmer temperatures to come. Without cooling influences the quality of wine produced could be low or production could become unfeasible. A warmer site will ensure ripe grapes and may initially be ideal for producing high quality wine. Once again, future proofing a potential vineyards site is a challenging proposition with numerous factors to consider.

Grape Expectations

Grape varietal selection is pivotal to successful viticulture and climate change is altering the suitability of some varieties for the sites they were once synonymous with. Difficult decisions must be made between well-known international varieties which are likely to sell well versus those which are best adapted to the location. Some hybrid varieties, and others which have been used primarily because of their tolerance to cold may become surplus to requirements in many areas. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Assyrtiko and Vermentino will all fare better in hot conditions than the likes of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Selecting varieties which will work now and in the future as well as those which can produce consumer friendly wines is crucial.

The recipe for great wine requires the grapes, the soil and the topography to align As climate change continues this recipe will keep evolving bringing both challenges and exciting opportunities for winemaking.

WOTM: Lomond Wines, ‘Phantom’ Pinot Noir 2018

February’s Wine of the Month is a new addition to our portfolio; Lomond Wines. Situated as far south in South Africa as vineyards can get, the vines themselves are in view of the sea – only a hop, skip and a boat ride away from Antarctica on the Agulhas Plain.

Please welcome, the ‘Phantom’ Pinot Noir

In a nutshell

Medium-bodied, fragrant, with lingering notes of spices, red berry fruits and a grounded earthiness that brings it all together. A charmingly balanced red wine with nuanced oak and bright acidity.

The producer

Lomond Wines, aptly named after the Ben Lomond Mountain where the vineyards are planted, was established in 1999 overlooking the sea where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans greet each other. The cool air that washes over the vineyards from the sea and the 18 different soil types found around the vineyards – along with great drainage – makes for late ripening and intense and complex wines of world-class calibre. Scattered and surrounding the vines are the endangered Elim Fynbos, flora that is indigenous to the region, making the vineyards ever more picturesque. Since 2005, Lomond are proudly part of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy that strives to protect these beautiful, diverse plants. Not only do Lomond use sustainable practices, but they are pioneers in winemaking.

The wine

The 2018 was heralded by a cool, dry summer that slowed ripening down to concentrate the flavours. Hand-picked and hand-sorted grapes were fermented in open top barrels that underwent manual punch-downs. After this, the wine was transferred to a combination of 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill French oak, which it then spent 12 months in to mature.