The Blending Room

Cresting a hill on the D610 as it winds its way north east from Puichéric, we are greeted by a blanket of vines, straddling the hills in regimented rows like a military cemetery, majestic in their orderly fashion, but uplifting, the jasmine, russet and golden leaves swaying gently in the morning breeze.

The sacrament of morning, said Elizabeth Barrett Browning: it draws you higher.

We’re heading towards Argeliers, where Steve will put together the blends for our French country wines. The Minervois is truly inspiring; passing La Redorte, stretching out on either side of the road, there are vines to the right of us and vines to the left of us as far as the eye can see, shimmering in the soft southern light.

But alas, things are not quite as sunny as they seem down here in the Languedoc.

As we are gee-ing ourselves up in the tasting room, Sébastien Tomasoni, the Co-Op cellar master, tells us that the Languedoc has lost half its production in recent years.

“Ten years ago we produced twenty million hectolitres, now it is closer to eleven million hectolitres. The future is bleak,” he says. “Spanish producers are very aggressive.” This morphs into a discussion on Marine Le Pen’s chances in next year’s General Election. Support for her in this part of the world is very strong. Sébastien shakes his head glumly.

He should be more positive: after a €5 million investment, the winery, originally built in 1931, is one of the market leaders in the region. As we limber up, Steve and I are both intrigued at the news that the Co-Op employs a mobile bottling line, capable of bottling 5,000 bottles per hour.

To business: lined up against the wall are twenty or thirty sample bottles. They look like shy schoolgirls at the village dance, standing on the edge of the floor, nervous, waiting to be asked, hopeful of making the cut.

At 9.15 we begin; the chips are down.

Sauvignon Blanc is first up. Sébastien explains that it was a difficult year for Sauvignon Blanc, and indeed the wine seems overly restrained.

We move onto the Chardonnay – again, a difficult year, according to Sébastien (“I am sad about the Chardonnay.”)

There are three different samples. The first is voluptuous but lacking in acidity. The second is aromatic, but lacking in intensity. The third has a touch of a bitter finish. Steve calls for a blend of the first two – much better, nice finish.

Vermentino is next up. This has a lovely spicy nose, and with huge intensity – a lovely wine. Steve blends some Vermentino into the Sauvignon Blanc and that wine immediately improves.

In between blending, Sébastien tells us that they had mildew for the first time in thirty years. “Bizarre, as the summer was quite dry on the whole.”

It is 10.15 by the time we turn to the Grenache Blanc – and this brings forth nods of appreciation. This is a gorgeous, expressive wine. This means our Tournee du Sud Grenache/Sauvignon will be really good. We go 70/30, then switch into 80/20. Wow – this is going to be a gorgeous wine! Steve rubs his hands in glee. “Never mind blending the Grenache,” I say. “We should bottle all of it as single varietal. Make a statement. It’s beautiful.”

Viognier is next. Two sample bottles. Both good, but both needing work. So we add in some of that Grenache Blanc in a combination of 60/30/10. Almost there. So we try 50/40/10 and – hey presto – this wine is a stunner!

Now it is 10.45. We take a deep breath, then crack on. The three house wines are next: Heraldique, Chevanceau and Les Boules. For this, Steve goes through around twenty four combinations of grapes using Marsanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Vermentino, before settling on the three different blends.

Now it is 11.45.

Time for the rose. This is where it gets tricky. It takes seven different blending combinations before we come up with a lovely Syrah/Cinsault/Grenache/Grenache Blanc/Vermentino number which does the trick. “There we go,” says Steve, handing me the glass. “Smells like a rose.” But I mishear the second part of the sentence because a lorry arrives to make a delivery and I think he has said: Smells like Teen Spirit. “Oh,” I say, “Nirvana.” “Not quite,” says Steve, “but getting there.”

And the tasting goes on. Through the Pinot Noir samples and then the Merlot samples, with the blending room now looking like a bomb site, purple-stained glasses, clumps of soggy kitchen paper, slippery and reddened worktops. Well after midday we continue, the pangs of hunger now beginning to kick in.

Three Syrah’s are evaluated, discussed, blended. Then three Cabernet Sauvignons, followed by three Grenache reds (which, like their white equivalents) look wonderful (or is this just psychology?) Then, we turn to our innovative Pinot/Grenache blend. The Pinot comes from young vines, and the combination of the two wines is really lovely.

1.30 pm and we’re still going strong. Some pizza has been delivered next door for a working lunch – but we must crack on!

Marselan, Mourvedre and Carignan are next in line for the treatment. We go through the blending for the house wines. The Marselan is a great sturdy blending wine. But it’s difficult to find the three combinations we want. And the smell of that pizza is beginning to waft into the tasting room.

Eventually, at 2.30, we bring the session to a close. It’s been a five and a quarter hour stint.

The pizza lasts 30 seconds.

Later in the day we will repeat the exercise in Florensac, before heading back across the Minervois the following day to Rieux, for another four-hour session. The visit will end with Steve and I slumped over merguez, calamari and frites in a café down the by Canal du Midi. As we sink a beer in the dusk, we reflect on some potentially very good wines. It’s been a good visit. But I cannot help thinking of Sébastien’s fears about the Languedoc, and some of his phrases keeps repeating themselves. “We need people to turn the Languedoc around. We need leaders. We need someone like Gerard Bertrand.”

Which, funnily enough, is exactly where we are heading…


WOTW: Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Domaine de la Solitude, Rhône Valley 2012

In a nutshell:

An opulent wine which retains the estate’s characteristic elegance and shows a modern style of winemaking.

The producer:

Wines have been made on this estate for several hundred years, dating back to 1264 when the family arrived from Italy to serve the pope in Avignon. The three hats depicted on the label, refer to two bishops and a pope, who were among the fore fathers of the Lançon family. Today, the Domaine with 38 hectares in the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation is managed by brothers Jean and Michel Lançon, together with Florent, Michel’s son. Florent, who is passionate about innovative winemaking, whilst honouring traditional values, has recently started working with new tulip-shaped concrete vats which were initially designed for Cheval Blanc and are at the cutting edge of winemaking technology. Domaine de la Solitutude’s wines are renowned for their characteristic elegance whilst expressing the true origins of their terroir.

The Wine:

The grapes were meticulously sorted, destemmed and gently crushed before entering concrete fermentation tanks via gravity. The juice underwent a 25 to 30 maceration, with lees stirring to give complexity to the resulting wine.. A proportion of the wine was aged in new and one year old oak barrels for a period of 12 months.

Tasting Note:

Ripe Morello cherries are complemented by vanilla and spice. Elegant and smooth. A wonderful accompaniment to a slow cooked beef and wild mushroom stew, or rich, game dishes.

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer and Jim’s view of Greek wine

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats wrote On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer after reading Elizabethan playwright George Chapman’s translation of Homer. Although Keats was very familiar with Homer through previous translations, Chapman’s version had an enormous impact on him. He saw Homer through fresh eyes. The volta within the poem – “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken” – conveys his sense of awe at the discovery that he could transcend his role as a passive viewer of literature, and the knowledge that he, too, could create great works.

It’s a bit bonkers, but this poem came to mind during Saturday’s Decanter tasting at the Landmark Hotel, as I toured the Greek section and met up once more with Angelos Iatridis and Evangelos Gerovassiliou, whom I had visited the previous week on a tour of Hallgarten’s northern Greek estates. To say the scales fell from my eyes during my visit would be an understatement on a par with Keats’s conversion (though given that we are talking about Greece, something by Lord Byron might have been more appropriate.)

Of course, I’ve tasted them, written about them, sold them and discussed them with Steve for the last four or five years. But it is only when you go there and see what they are doing, how they are thinking, what a difference they have made, that you begin to appreciate how good they are. Ktima Alpha, Gerovassiliou, Biblia Chora, Manolesakis – all great producers. I must also get to Gaia and Monemvasia (and no doubt Steve has got another half dozen up his sleeve!)

So the scales have fallen from my eyes. Just like they did for the Cockney poet. But let’s face it, it’s a tad unlikely (just a bit!) that I’ll be able to come up with anything that matches Keats’s Melancholy, Nightingale or Grecian Urn, even with the best inspiration to hand.

Talking of which, where’s the nearest Malagousia?

Jim Wilson, Portfolio Director

Langan’s Brasserie Premium Australian Tasting – Come On Aussie, Come On!

So: how was it for you?

For me, it was depressing: and with a touch of deja-vu, because for the second time this year I went to bed quietly confident that we’d get the right result – only to wake up to find mayhem. At three a.m. things were a little tighter than we’d hoped and Florida was proving to be stubbornly resistant, but I was still confident Clinton would carry Pennsylvania. And surely Wisconsin, Ohio and North Carolina wouldn’t all vote for Trump? Would they?

Well, at least it was good to see their pollsters are every bit as useless as ours.

There is drizzly rain and a chilling wind in central London. But on the other hand I have the perfect antidote; Hallgarten’s tasting of our new Australian range at Mayfair’s wonderful Langan’s Brasserie.

It’s mid-afternoon by the time I arrive. Langan’s is iconic but always reassuring and thankfully I see the ground floor is packed out with lunchtime customers. Trump’s election doesn’t seem to have bothered them.

Upstairs in our tasting room, the first person I run into is Our Man in the South, Daniel O’Keefe, who is in raptures. “Marvellous wines, marvellous wines…” I point to Amelia Jukes: “All her work!” – Hallgarten has taken over most of the business that Amelia had built up through her Hallowed Ground Agency. And what an amazing job she has done. The wine-up in this room would knock most UK agency/distributors for six.


There’s a refreshing bustle, some serious wine evaluation taking place, concentration. I nod at some of the faces dotted around the room. And then I join in.

Few wineries as young or as small as Canberra’s Eden Road have won so many prestigious awards – 45 awards in the last few years, including Australia’s most important, the Jimmy Watson, for its first vintage of The Long Road Shiraz in 2009. The key is the altitude; Eden Road Wines is situated in High Country (it’s cold up there!) as Managing partner Christopher Coffmann tells me. And, wow, the 2015 Skin Contact Pinot Gris Rose is a Grace Kelly of a wine – glacial elegance. Then it’s on to the 2011 Canberra Shiraz, which is looking magnificent – tar, coal, liquorice, vanilla.

Fox Gordon’s iconic E&E Black Pepper Shiraz won acclaim as the best red and best wine at the IWC a few years ago. We’ve got quite a wodge of their wines on show today. The 2015 Abby Viognier is a sumptuous and rich Viognier, enveloping your palate, throat passage and heart. I pause. There is a hum of concentration throughout the room. At these events there is normally a lot of chatter, old friends catching up. But here there seems to be a definite appreciation of the wines. To cushion the shock of Donald’s victory, I think, we should all try a glass or three of Fox Gordon’s Nero d’Avola 2015: wonderfully original.

Now, onto something more familiar. We’ve been working with Larry Cherubino for a few years now, but we’ve only just inherited his Laissez Faire wines via Hallowed Ground. These are Larry’s range of natural wines, the purest expression of natural winemaking made in small batches from hand-harvested grapes. Oh God! The 2015 Fiano is witheringly beautiful: charm, style and elegance in a glass. Still reeling, I move on to his 2015 Porongorup Pinot Noir, a cornucopia of bramble and dark forest fruits, gamey, mushroomy, a touch of the Little Red Riding Hood mystery (can’t think why, just keeps recurring in my mind as I taste.)

I have to move away now, have a chat with Amelia, who is five months pregnant and radiant. She must feel so proud exhibiting the fruits of her labour, so to speak. But she has to dash off to chat to another one of customers. So I crack on.

Langhorne Creek’s Lake Breeze was named Australia’s Champion Small Winery a few years back and – and this is becoming a familiar story – has achieved an extraordinary level of success in Australian Wine Shows, including 25 trophies and over 100 gold medals since 1994. And tasting the Bernoota Shiraz Cabernet 2012, it is easy to see why. This is an example of what Australia does best, exhibiting a magnificent generosity of fruit and spirit. If only politics was as smooth.

One of the big gains with working with Hallowed Ground is the chance to work with two wineries in the M4ornington Peninsular, where we had been looking for a partner for some time. Ocean Eight’s Mike Aylward was named “Young Gun of Wine” in 2011 (some title, that!) And here we have a Hollywood of a Pinot (the Aylward 2012): definitely an Oscar winner, appropriate here at Langan’s, where the walls are adorned with film stars and other celebrities dining at the restaurant.

Meanwhile, no less a figure than James Halliday described the Paringa Estate as “One of the best, if not the best, wineries on the Peninsula”. The estate was founded in 1984 by teacher Lindsay McCall, when he purchased a derelict orchard in 1984 on Paringa Road. In 1996, Lindsay gave up teaching to focus entirely on Paringa Estate: 25 years on, Paringa Estate is one of the most highly awarded wineries in Australia, regularly winning gold trophies for their Shiraz, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay. My God: the Paringa Estate Pinot Noir 2010 is a sublime wine. Gpd! This might be the star of the whole tasting.

Ravenswood Lane shows what you can do with the beautiful cool climate fruit from the Adelaide Hills. Marty Edwards follows a philosophy of minimal intervention, respect for organic principles and is committed to capturing the nuances of each site and variety. This is definitely true of the Sauvignon Semillon 2014. I am not the only one purring as I swish the wine around my mouth, coating my palate with peach and lemon. Great stuff!

Teusner Wines was created by Kym Teusner and Michael Page in 2001 – in order to save an old Grenache vineyard from being torn up! Teusner’s philosophy is to produce only exceptional, affordable wines by being very selective about the fruit that is sourced from old, well maintained vineyards. “We started small and rode the wave and this is where we’ve ended up. These are wines that we love to drink, we are not chasing markets,” says Kym Teusner. The Woodside Sauvignon 2014 is looking magnificent, open full and rich but also still with beautiful acidity.

Ulithorne Wines is located in the heart of the McLaren vale, in the area of Seaview on the northern side of the Onkaparinga River National Park. They have made some wines especially for Hallgartens, including the affordable Dona range. This is actually the first time I’ve tasted them as they are still on the water and Ryan Kinghorn has air-freighted these over to us. My Managing Director, Andrew Bewes, has already texted me to say the range is looking great. And he’s right! The star is the Dona Blanc 2016, a Marsanne, Viognier and Pinot Gris blend, which has those brilliant secondary characters that the Rhone Valley does so well.


And that’s it. Wow – what a tasting. Time has flown by and now it’s time to leave. I leave Chris to tidy up and make my way back out into the London darkness. I’m now cooking, full of it, full of good Aussie spirit. I’m up for anything. Tonight I will be seeing Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Julius Caesar at Donmar’s tent at King’s Cross. I’m excited: the two other plays in the Donmar trilogy, all set in a women’s prison, were sensational (The Tempest might be the production of that play I’ve ever seen.) But how I wish I could take a bottle with me to drink during the play. What would I choose? Despite the weather, I’m warm as I make my way across Mayfair and up to Regent’s Street. Thinking of Australian wines, I cannot get that old Australia cricket song out of my head, the one they used to sing during the Packer era… Come on Aussie, Come On Come On, Come On Aussie, Come On…Da da da da da da da….What great days. And what great cricket. Thommo smashing the ball into Bumble Lloyd’s box…Ian Chappell’s moustache… Come on Aussie, Come On Come On, Come On Aussie, Come On…A helpless Colin Cowdrey, “Good morning” as he passes and incredulous Thomson on his way to the crease…Doug Walters smashing the last ball of the day for six at the WACA…Ah, those were the days. So what would it be? The Paringa Pinot? The Fox Gordon’s Nero d’Avola? Something from Larry…?

Come on Aussie, Come On Come On;

Come On Aussie, Come On


Jim Wilson, Portfolio Director

A Great Greek Trip – Day four

I am being driven at high speed – maniacal speed – by Dimitris Seitanidis. We’re on our way from Kavala to Drama (the modern-day spelling of Hydrama) to visit the Manolesakis Estate, whose wines we started importing earlier this year. Dimitris, it would appear, could also work as a tour guide as well as a wine exporter. Later he will take me on a hair-raising moonlight tour of Thessalonika, chock-full of his flowery accounts of the town’s history.

Drama has the reputation of producing the ripest grapes in Greece, explains Dimitris. “George Manolesakis came from Crete after the war. By the early 1980s, he was working for the local producer Nico Lazaridis. And then, in around 1998, he founded his own company. You’ll like George, he is a quiet man. Dignified.”

Worse, still, my mobile phone is playing up. But I’m determined not to faff around. Best not to make a Drama out of a crisis. I groan inwardly at my pun.

“So. Here we are!”

We pull up at a pleasant modern building on the outskirts of town. Compact, this is the winery from which 150,000 bottles are produced each year. I am greeted with polite restraint by George (whom you immediately warm to, as he has a wrinkled and mischievous face, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Barry Cryer). He and his winemaker, Angeliki Apostolakis, give me a guided tour of the small, meticulously clean winery which actually looks more like a large house with attached garage. An original garagiste.

It’s all very polite, a touch reserved.

And then in walks Stavros.

Stavros Manolesakis, George’s son and general manager. Stavros the Greek. Big bushy beard and moustache, open necked shirt, billowing black leather jacket, big bear hug. “A typical Crete guy,” whispers Dimitris. He is almost a parody, I think, as he rat-a-tat chatters with Dimitris. Later I find that this is a delightful chap, who in his spare time creates banquets for the villagers and who delights in cooking for any local wedding in the village. He shows me a photograph of him barbequing 140 kleftikos. He is frustrated that I have not chosen to stay with his family.

“Next time, you stay with me and I cook,” he states. This is not a question. I’m not going to mess with Stavros.

We jump in his BMW and he begins tearing through the vineyards, seemingly oblivious to the effect on the car’s undercarriage. Quite dramatic, I think. (I cannot get Drama out of my head – what a great name for a place.)

We screech to a halt.

Stavros proudly indicates the surrounding sea of vines. “Now we have 25 hectares. They are dotted around the village in small parcels, none more than three kilometres from the winery. All are hand-harvested.”

Stavros’s father originally planted western varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlot and (not an obvious choice, this) Ugni Blanc. It is only in the last five years that he and Stavros have begun serious plantings of indigenous varietals. This seems to be a common theme on my trip. Now the area is best known for Assyrtiko, Limnio, Roditis and Agiorgitiko. Angeliki explains that Drama’s continental climate, rich soil, and gentle slopes provide ideal conditions. The result is low yields per hectare and a low volume wine production.

Like the other producers on my visit, they are trying to buy other plots throughout the area, but the locals are not stupid and are holding out for higher prices.  “What can you do?” asks Stavros, as we climb back into the car and charge back to the winery, where Stavros directs us into the tasting room.

“Let the tasting begin,” he announces.


  • Estate White 2015 (Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc 60/40). Lovely nose, very inviting, simple, steeliness of the Sauvignon toning down the rich peach and guava of the Chardonnay. Great balance
    in the mouth, very easy drinking.
  • Malagousia 2015 – fabulous nose, very very lively, vibrant, a touch of the zibbibo.
  • Exis White (Malagousia/Assyrtiko) 2015 – creamy nose, touches of ice cream sundae, spicy palate, but beautifully balanced, acidity started to tail off now.


  • Estate Red (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah) 2011 – dark fruit, restrained at first, then opening out after ten minutes, soft vanilla, very easy drinking. According to Stavros, this is what defines Drama.
  • Exis 2015 (Xinomavro/Limnio)– lovely creamy nose, serious fruit, brooding, fruits of the forest. Good food wine

On the way back to the airport, I muse on my visit. In a world awash with Cabernet and Chardonnay, the 300-plus varieties of Greece – including Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko and the undoubted king, Malagousia – offer a wonderful point of difference. Steve was 20 years ahead of the rest of us, so we are all trying to catch up. The best way to convince yourself of this, of course, is to visit the estates on which they are produced, so with apologies for those great producers I haven’t visited on this trip – Gaia, Monemvasia and Idaia – here are my five picks from the trip:

  • Alpha Estate Axia White 2015 (Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc) – nervy and steely and poised; like a highly-strung filly panting in the starting gate. It is beautifully balanced. The acidity feels understated, but the wine stays in the mouth for an eternity, lingering like a love song.
  • Gerovassiliou Estate White (Malagousia/Assyrtiko blend) 2016 – roll out the barrels: this is a stunner! Beautiful nuances of cream, peach and tangerine, then moving on to soft spiciness in the mouth, white pepper, jasmine, exotic, something of the souk about it. Just bottled.
  • Gerovassiliou Avaton (Limnio, Mavroudi, Mavrotragano) 2013 – interesting wine, this. The deep black fruit is obvious, but running through this is a fault line of minerality. It has an edginess to it. Poised, like a gymnast.
  • Biblia Chora Estate Red 2012 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Limnio) – a fantastic and classy nose, definitely claret-like. Beautifully integrated into the oak, real concentration of flavours and well balanced. Although aspiring to favour the indigenous varietals, this becomes my wine of the trip.
  • Manolesakis Estate Red (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah) 2011 – dark fruit, restrained at first, then opening out after ten minutes, soft vanilla, very easy drinking.

In the Papers: Bloemendal Takes Time On The Independent

On the Independent online on Sunday, Terry Kirby, looked at which South African wines would improve if you weren’t to drink them now – an interesting idea.

Kirby suggested resting Bloemendal’s Suider Terras, 2014, on the rack for 10 years:

“Most Sauvignon Blanc is best drunk young and fresh when it is at its most vibrant…but not here. This already barrel-aged wine from a boutique winery can be drunk now, but is designed to develop even more in the bottle, so the limey, grassy acidity mellows into something structured and intense. Richer fish dishes are in order here, now or in the next decade.”

A little patience can go a long way…

In the Papers: Château Ksara in the Evening Standard

Lebanese wine is as much of a mystery to some as Lebanese food. Evening Standard’s Nuria Stylianou has introduced readers to her four must try Lebanese wines, and the food from Arabica Bar & Kitchen to pair with them.

Stylianou describes the Château Ksara, Reserve Du Couvent, 2013:

“A medium-bodied red with Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from Château Ksara. Lebanon’s oldest and largest producer in the Bekaa Valley, Château Ksara has been making wines since 1857, when the founding Jesuit priests created the country’s first dry red wine. Ruby in colour with vanilla spice, cassis, blackberries and plums with a herbaceous undertone, Reserve de Couvent is aged in oak for six months to add a little smoke to the mix. A match for lamb chops with za’atar – the blended spices and fresh rosemary complementing the herbal element of the wine.”

A Great Greek Trip – Day Three

This is so apt. We’re on our way to visit Biblia Chora, which nestles in the foothills of the majestic Mount Pangeon. Now here’s the thing: according to Greek myth, Pangeon was where Dionysus – the God of Wine – was raised; the wine here is going to have to be good.

We’re very late. The drive from Domaine Gerovassiliou, skirting the Halkidiki peninsular, has taken longer than we thought. No worries. A typically laid-back Vassilis Tsaktsarlis, owner and winemaker, welcomes us expansively. I later find out that Vassilis is 50 years old. He is undoubtedly the youngest-looking 50 year-old I’ve ever seen who has not worked in Hollywood.


We go for a tour of an absolutely pristine winery, built on two floors below a beautiful reception area which would do justice to a four-star hotel. “We started to build the winery in 2001 and finished in 2007,” he states proudly. Vassilis set up the winery with his good friend and mentor, Vangelis Gerovassiliou and €15 million was invested and. As well as the regulatory stainless steel and oak barrels (all red wines are aged in French oak), Vassilis has ten small tanks for research, into which he processes grapes from 24 different experimental vines. “Next year we are looking to experiment with concrete egg tanks, but this is risky because we rely heavily on the home market.

“We produce 600,000 bottles per year, and 68% is for the home market, but we also export to 19 countries.”

Vassilis originally worked for Nico Lazaridis, before striking out on his own. He explains that Gerovassiliou comes to the winery once or twice a month and then spends a great deal of time during harvest time, when they put the blends together.

As it is late, we get stuck in to the tasting, leaving the vineyard tour for the morro.



  • Vidiano 2015 – Lovely creamy nose, a touch of lanolin, ethereal. Vidiano is a Cretan variety and we already list a brilliant Vidiano from Idaia, based in Crete, so Biblia Chora’s is unlikely to be listed. But tasting this version does remind me of what a great selection we have from the eastern Mediterranean. Sometime soon we must take advantage of the “Ottolenghi Effect” and highlight our wines from Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Cyprus and Lebanon (though we’ve yet to list anything from Ottolenghi’s home country: memo to self.)
  • Estate White (Sauvignon Blanc/Assyrtiko): Spectacular nose, as big as a circus tent. Green peppers sprinkled with white pepper. Herbaceous and with rasping acidity. Discussing Assyrtiko, Chris Losh from Imbibe muses that Assyrtiko is a great supporting grape, often allowing other grapes in a blend to show their best. This starts me thinking of other great “supporters.” Mm. Well, in terms of football, Peter Beardsley was the Assyrtiko to Gary Linker’s Malagousia (I’m going back a bit, there.)
  • Areti 2013 (Assyrtiko): big steely Premier Cru Chablis nose, tangerine, a touch of petrol. Full bodied in the mouth but acidity kicks in at the end.



  • Estate Red 2012 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Limnio) – a fantastic and classy nose, definitely claret-like. Beautifully integrated into the oak, real concentration of flavours and well balanced. Although aspiring to favour the indigenous varietals, this becomes my wine of the trip.
  • Ovilos 2008 – smoky nose, very expressive and upfront. Tannins still very firm but not harsh. A touch of minerality. Good balance.


The next morning Vassilis takes us on a tour of the vineyard, pausing by a couples of acres of scrubland, situated incongruously in the middle of the vines. He explains: “This is the problem we have in trying to buy land from locals who do not cultivate it. This small area is owned by nine people and they cannot agree between themselves what to do!” But that is very much a one-off – most of the land is beautifully cultivated and in the early morning sun, the contrast between the green and gold of the white varieties and the red glow of the Agiorgitiko causes the heart to sing. “We began planting in 1998 and now we have 48 hectares under vine, all organic,” he explains. “Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko are the most planted.”

As Vassilis begins to elaborate on the two climates – Mediterranean and Continental – which affect the land – my eyes begin to wander and in the distance I am hypnotised by the site of the mountainous peninsular of Halkidiki. “You can just see Mount Athos, right at the end of the land” says Vassilis, seeing my preoccupation. He turns back to the vines. “Mount Pangeon is protecting the vines from the cold North winds, the soil is rocky, and well-draining. These are ideal conditions for cultivating vine…”

“Didn’t they shoot a James Bond movie on Mount Athos?” I say. That brings the conversation to a stop, but Vassilis quickly corrects me: “No. You’re thinking of The Holy Trinity Church at Meteora in the centre of Greece.” Ah. We turn back to the vines. “Which one was it?” I say. Chris and Vassilis look at me in puzzlement. “The James Bond movie?” We pause and think. “I think it was For Your Eyes Only,” I say again. Chris and Vassilis leave me to my ruminations while they continue with the discussion on the vineyard. But now I can’t get rid of that theme tune which was sung by, who, Lulu? No, hold on. Getting confused again. It was Sheena Easton, not Lulu. “For Your Eyes Only, da da da da dah…” Yup.

What a place this is!


Barullo – The Sound of a Crowd


For two days, hidden away behind the bustling streets of Hoxton, in the loft of JJ Studios, were a collection of the finest wines Argentina has to offer presented by the nation’s innovative winemakers.


Leading, modern winery, Da Paula, showcased wines made using a controlled irrigation system with melt water from the Andes and minimum use of pesticides and fungicides in the vineyard. To minimise the impact on the environment weeds and endemic plants are preserved, and natural fertilisers are used to maximise the true expression of terroir. Included on the tasting table was the Sauvage Blanc, Argentina’s first sparkling wine made from Sauvignon Blanc and named ‘sauvage’ the French for wild


The selection of wines from Andeluna demonstrated the exceptional quality that can be achieved from vineyards planted in the foothills of the Andes, 4,300 feet above sea level. None more so than the Passionado, Cuatro Cepas 2012, made from the winery’s four key grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc), individually vinified and aged for 12 months, then blended and left to rest for six months in new French oak barrels; resulting in the perfect combination of Andeluna’s vines that year.


Riccitelli Wines set up in 2010 by, Matias Riccitelli, the rising star who has already made a huge mark on the Argentinian wine industry by winning multiple awards in such a short space of time. Matias creates each wine through the combination of high levels of technology, rich native soils and new winemaking techniques; culminating in a truly personal style. A style epitomised by the Riccitelli Semillon, made with 60 year old vines and for eight months; 50% in concrete eggs and 50% in oak barrels.


The selection of wines from each producer demonstrated an incredible consideration of the country’s terroir and how sustainable production methods create a unique wine. Each of the 40 producers in attendance are certainly not afraid to push the boundaries of winemaking and challenge the norm in pursuit of perfection.



A Great Greek Trip – Day Two

At the foot of a master…

Like a lot of great men, the thing which strikes you about Vangelis Gerovassiliou is his humility. Here we are, Chris Losh and I, on the second day of our Greek trip, sitting on the deck of Gerovassiliou’s ocean-going liner of a winery, and he resolutely refuses to gloat when we keep bringing up the subject of his 1990’s single-handed resurrection of the then almost extinct Malagousia grape. Softly spoken, he is a man for whom a shrug of the shoulders says more than a dozen words.


“I had a lot of help. I was working a vintage in Bordeaux and was intrigued by what they were achieving. I got to know Peynaud. Emile Peynaud. I was introduced to him by Corinne Mentzelopoulos from Margaux.” (If this was anyone else, you’d think they were name-dropping, but Vangelis looks almost embarrassed, muttering under his breath about “luck.”)

“Peynaud liked the potential of the grape when I first micro-vinified it and so I planted four hectares at Domaine Porto Carras, where I was working. He convinced me to continue with my experiments, so I set about developing it during my twenty-five years at Carras.”

It has not been an easy ride. “In the 80s everyone attacked us for drip irrigating. Now everyone irrigates. But you learn something new every year. This year, for instance, we had a lot of rain in the spring and I was worried, But in actual fact, this has turned out to be the best vintage for a long time. So maybe we should irrigate more.”

So what about the wines?

• Estate White (Malagousia/Assyrtiko blend) 2016 – roll out the barrels: this is a stunner! Beautiful nuances of cream, peach and tangerine, then moving on to soft spiciness in the mouth, white pepper, jasmine, exotic, something of the souk about it. Just bottled.
• Malagousia 2015 – big, rich and textured, good body and satisfying round. Spices in the mouth, warm, enveloping. A foodie wine.
• Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – a lovely wine. Serious nose, Loire-type grassiness, touches of white pepper. In the mouth it is rich and complex with a hint of salted caramel meandering through the palate.
• Museum Collection 2014 (a blend of the major whites – Malagousia, Assyrtiko, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc) – Complex nose, stone fruits, quince, almond ice cream, incredible concentration of fruit and a long finish redolent of dried apricots.

But I want to taste the 2016s rather older bottled stock. Thankfully, Vangelis can sense this and I see him sneaking off to the winery, returning minutes later with tank samples of the 2016 whites. We wait in anticipation while he opens the Malagousia, then bury our heads in the glass. Some things stay with you for a long time, they play on your memory. This is such a wine. Thinking of words to write, what comes to mind is that it somehow sits between a Chablis and a Sancerre, having the steeliness of one and the richness of the other.


The Viognier has that lovely just-cut apricot smell. It lingers, it fills the room as I bend to write. But the maestro is not happy. Vangelis shakes his head and says we must waits few minutes. He thinks it is too closed.  So we wander away and look at other wines, but I’ve got one eye on my glass in the corner. After ten minutes Vangelis beckons us back, a quiet smile on his face. And now the wine leaps out of the glass like a salmon. This is a speedball of fruit. My mouth wants to explode. The mouth is filled with a wonderful piercing acidity.

• Estate Red (Syrah, Merlot, Limnio) 2014 – rich stone fruit, a hint of rhubarb. Stylish and smooth on the palate.
• Avaton (Limnio, Mavroudi, Mavrotragano) 2013 – interesting wine, this. The deep black fruit is obvious, but running through this is a fault line of minerality. It has an edginess to it. Poised, like a gymnast. It reminds me of the first time I ever tasted Mavrud, in Bulgaria, 22 years ago.
• Avaton 2016 from tank – Black Forest Gateaux, alcoholic, almost port-like. Massive.

In spite of the fact that we are novices in his company, Vangelis hangs on to our every comment. But there is a hint of mischief in his face, and, when we are finished with our opinions, he drops his bombshell. “Here in Epanomi, the 2016 vintage is the best of the last 30 years.”

Jolly good thing we were complimentary about the 2016s then!

Jim Wilson, Portfolio Director

A Great Greek Trip – Day One

No matter how many times you do it, there’s always something disconcerting about being deposited by the late night budget airline into a small, unfamiliar European city. Bleary-eyed passengers shuffle unseeing through the dimly-lit concrete arrivals hall and emerge into a cold night, now blinking against the harsh light of the bus concourse. Thessaloniki is considered an open-air museum of Byzantine art, according to VisitGreece, but tonight it’s pitch dark and we’re hungry, and all we pray for is a taxi.

But there are times in your life when you’re really grateful to be a wine buyer, especially when you work with producers such as Evangelis Gerovassiliou – the Godfather of Malagousia – who has arranged for us to be picked up. Minutes after landing we are whisked off in a cab (how guilty you feel, looking back at the queues for the airport bus) that winds its way us through the industrial surrounds of the airport to an amazingly funky restaurant, Duck Private Cheffing (some name!) where Evangelis treats us to carpaccio of swordfish, eggs sprinkled with black truffles (brought into the restaurant by a mate of his who tells us they come from Mount Olympus!), grilled langoustine, lobster, grouper and seabass. And four desserts. Four.

But to work.

I’m here on a long-awaited trip to visit some of our producers in northern Greece (and about time, too) and next morning, in the company of Imbibe’s Chris Losh, I am driving through the flat scrub hinterland of the city towards Amyndeo’s hazy, golden and tawny coloured hills which offer the promise of kind things.

Immediately upon arrival at Ktima Alpha, you feel at home. The winery is new, linear, cool, classy. The affable export manager, Kostas Arvanitakis – a touch of the Danny de Vito here – greets us expansively, takes our bags and whisks us away on a tour of the vineyards.


The estate was founded in 1997 by the experienced viticulturist Makis Mavridis and chemist-oenologist Angelos Iatridis. The winery and the 105-hectare vineyards are situated midway between two huge lakes on land which was previously underwater. “Here they have found many fossils, including some mammoth fossils,” explains Kostas, as we watch two falcon hawks glide overhead.

The vineyards are in immaculate condition. Ktima Alpha was the first vineyard in Europe to install subsoil irrigation pipes – in 1995 – and now have 500 kilometres of them. “That would get you from London to Newcastle,” I helpfully explain to fellow northerner Chris.

“We have fifteen varietals in production, with another twelve on an experimental basis, “ says Kostas, pausing to show us the prized 93-year old xinomavro vineyards; the winery’s Xinomavro Reserve regularly tops the bill as the best Greek red in international competitions.


“But still, I’d love to have a crack at Riesling.”

I tell him we’re more interested in indigenous varietals, but Kostas points out: “Yes, but blends are important to the consumer because they allow him to be introduced to obscure Greek varietals.”

Alpha is on a journey to increase awareness of Amyndeo, often in the shadows of its bigger cousin Naoussa down the road. Alpha are renting a satellite from the University of Athens to provide photographs to allow them to ascertain ripening potential. “We make our data available to the local winemakers. If we can help them, then we increase awareness of Amyndeo.” It seems to be working. Vineyard land is increasing in the region, in contrast to much of the rest of the country.

The €20 million investment in the winery is obvious. The winery is sparkling. We pose by the horizontal rotating fermenters, the French oak barrel room, the R&D department – “Angelos’ playground,” according to Kostas.


As we head towards the tasting, Chris asks him about the influence of awards and press comments. Kostas tells us that of all the awards the winery has won, gaining a spot in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines in late 2015 for the Alpha Malagousia Turtles Vineyard had the biggest impact on sales. “That got us noticed.”

We taste 22 wines, highlights being:


  • Axia White 2015 (Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc) – nervy and steely and poised; like a highly-strung filly panting in the starting gate. It is beautifully balanced. The acidity feels understated, but the wine stays in the mouth for an eternity, lingering like a love song. I announce this grandly. Kostas looks bemused, but does reveal that Australia’s Peter Barry has planted assyrtiko and has released his first commercial batch.


  • Xinomavro Hedgehog 2013 – masses of juicy just-pressed curranty fruit on the nose, ripe strawberry fruits, pomegranates, sweet, almost unctuous. Beautifully smooth in the mouth, oak integrated, soft tannins. Really gorgeous.
  • Xinomavro Reserve 2012 – classy elegant, Mayfair gentleman’s club on the nose, leather, sophisticated, Prime Minister’s Question Time – important and significant. Alcoholic, leather chairs, cigar smoke.
  • Xinomavro Reserve 2005 – right out of the top drawer. Serious, deep, moody, a big novel of a wine. Surprisingly upfront fruit, but in the mouth it is textured, gamey, supply and leathery. Perfect balance. Still got lots and lots of time.
  • Alpha Estate SMX (Syrah, Xinomavro, Merlot) 2013 – very soft, supply, an athletic wine, limbering up, ready to crush the oppo, good acidity, mocha, coffee, a touch of orange.

And then we have lunch. And this is what we have (unbelievably): lentils, eggplant, grilled cheese with red pepper jam, risotto, wild boar with pasta, steak, beef in muscat sauce. And three desserts. Lunch ends at 6.45.

It’s good to be in Greece.

Jim Wilson, Portfolio Director