Boundaries are there to be pushed

Japan, Georgia, India, Armenia, Cyprus. What comes to mind when you think of these countries? It is not the typical who’s who of winemaking countries, but seeing wines on lists and on shelves is fast becoming the reality of the modern wine world. Producers are pushing the boundaries of their capabilities in the winery and vineyards to the limits, and frequently beyond what were previously their boundaries would be. New grape varieties are being created, historical ones replanted. And ancient winemaking techniques are being revitalised much to the delight of the modern, edge-seeking consumer. This can be a lot to take in for those in the trade, never mind the consumer. The key is to dip into this cornucopia and search for the jewels to crown your offering.

 

There are a multitude of ways we can use this new abundance of wines to be an opportunity. Simple upselling: More desirable varieties can now find their way creeping down the wine list, replaced by Catarratto, Ugni Blanc, Fernão Pires. ‘House’ Sauvignon Blancs and Merlots from France or Chile can move down the list to make room for more competitive value found in lesser known varieties, regions or countries such as North Macedonia or Croatia – great wine places where production costs provide relative bargains. Wines from these countries have been widely available in supermarkets for a number of years now and so consumers are far more used to seeing them, and don’t have the misconceptions of years past. This diversification also means it is no longer necessary to replicate countries and varieties quite so frequently. Customers will pay for comfort of knowing exactly what they are drinking, but others will appreciate the opportunity to explore more so at tempting price points.

 

Not all customers want to be challenged, and that’s fine. The classics are classics for a reason and the comfort-zone is a very nice place to be. However, we can still provide great options in these regions by using slightly ‘left-field’ options. For example, Bordeaux can still offer fantastic value in sub-regions like Blaye, Cadillac or Fronsac amongst others. A wine from one of these areas will generally be far better than a similarly priced Margaux or Pomerol, but still has Bordeaux on the label and will provide a much better experience (and price) for the guest.

 

For those willing to creep outside of the norm there is a huge array of styles, regions, grapes on offer for them to explore. This is where the ‘weird and wonderful’ come into their own. Alongside a good team understanding, lesser-known wines from Greece, Croatia and Georgia can, and do, compete at the punchier end of a wine offering. It takes a confidence in ones’ customers and team to list these wines ahead of another, more familiar name, from more recognisable countries and regions, but this is what can really separate a wine offering in this increasingly competitive space. Customers rarely talk about what a great Chablis they’ve had, because they get what they expect; whereas a fantastic wine which they have not had before – or even perhaps had a negative perception of previously – is often noteworthy enough to tell friends about.

 

I love wine lists which tie together the whole concept of a business. The opportunities here are hugely varied, but traditional French and Italian restaurants are renowned for having the majority of wines from their respective countries. If you were in Bordeaux you would do very well to find a wine from anywhere more than 30 miles away, and the same goes for Burgundy, Alsace and many other wine regions. This is because the wine and food of a region grow up together, and so work harmoniously to create the perfect experience. This same concept can be mirrored elsewhere, now that we have the range of wines available to manage it. An Argentinian restaurant no longer has to look to Europe for fresh, aromatic wines, they can look much closer to home in Cafayate or Patagonia where the extremes of climate are being utilised to increase the diversity of wines being made. Wines from India, Japan and the Middle East can all be used to add some locality to a respective wine list. The world in general has become so much better connected, and alongside cheaper travel, cultural knowledge has spread much more readily making local, regional gems easier to find. This too can be said for winemaking, which through shared experiences and practices is developing at a fast pace.

 

Push the boundaries. Your customers, team and accountant will thank you.

-David Shearsby, Account Manager, London

A french memoir

During the years that Beverly Tabbron MW have been responsible for the purchasing of our French portfolio, she has made many memories – memorable for so many reasons – of her various visits to our producers. Being a wine buyer certainly has its advantages and privileges; you get to travel to some beautiful parts of the world and spend time with some delightful wine growers. Here is her French memoir.

I, like many of my colleagues, have been missing trips to our producers due to the imposed travel restrictions. Now that we are (hopefully) out of the woods and able to travel, I am looking forward to being able to visit winemakers in person later this year – those who I have only been able to communicate with via Zoom, telephone and e-mail over the last 18 months.

Regardless of restrictions, and thanks to modern technology, we have still been able to introduce new wines to our portfolio from regions new to our list. I have discovered Domaine Vendange and their wines from the Savoie region – a mountainous part of France and part of the gruelling Tour de France route, where they produce tantalising wines from Jacquère, Altesse and Mondeuse with amazing minerality imparted from glacial soils. I have been looking for a range of wines from this part of the country for a while and am very excited to meet winemakers Diane and Benjamin in person, rather than virtually.

One of the regions that I look forward to visiting regularly is Burgundy, and I have vivid memories of so many tastings with Pierre Naigeon in Gevrey-Chambertin. Pierre is able to wonderfully explain the various terroirs of the region, ranging from cooler to warmer sites and the different soils, providing a complete masterclass on Gevrey-Chambertin. Pierre vinifies all of his parcels separately meaning he makes over 75 different wines – and there is a lot to taste as a result. He rushes around the winery with his pipet and glass fetching samples from tanks and barrels, and recently eggs, explaining everything in fluent English. As a result, I have missed trains and follow-on appointments after a tasting with Pierre having been so engrossed with the tasting. One year we even missed lunch as we overran – quelle horreur (this is France after all) – and were so grateful to Sebastien and Anne Bidault of Domaine Bidault, and Robert Gibourg who provided an ad hoc picnic of cheese, bread and cold cuts when we finally arrived to see them. Their wines tasted even better afterwards.

Pierre Naigeon in Gevrey-Chambertin

We have been working with a number of the Chậteauneuf-du-Pape producers in our portfolio for many, many years. I remember one occasion when André Brunel of Domaine les Cailloux reminded me that our companies have been working together since 1955 (I hasten to add that I was not around at the time)! This really stresses the importance we place on long term and consistent partnerships that we enjoy with many of our producers. Our partnerships with Château Fortia and Domaine de la Solitude also date from around this time, and we are now working with the next generation of the families who are coming through and taking over the reins at the estates. The wines are perhaps a little more modern in style as a result, in-line with current drinking trends but it is always such a pleasure to be able to visit these Domaines to see their diverse styles.

One of our favourite producers is the delightful Estelle Roumage of Château Lestrille, who is such a good ambassador for her wines and the region. Here she is behind the wheel of her 2CV taking Jim Wilson, our Portfolio Director and myself for a tour of the vineyards. Her white barrel-aged Bordeaux, Château Lestrille Capmartin, is made from a good proportion of Sauvignon Gris together with the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle, a great illustration of the diversity of grapes that France can produce.

One of the downsides of being a buyer is that you always seem to travel to taste new vintages in the winter. I have often been in Burgundy, the Rhône and the Loire tasting ice cold white wines from tank or barrel in freezing cellars – hard to keep focused when your hands are shaking so much and a struggle to make your notes! I remember one particular year when I was in Sancerre where the wine was just undergoing its tartaric stabilisation with ice on the outside of the tank. It still tasted good once it had thawed out in the glass and mouth!

I read recently that France is estimated to have between 7,000 and 10,000 grape varieties, although only 250 are officially authorised by the Minister for Agriculture and 95% of all wines are produced from the main 40 varieties. It is always exciting to discover the lesser-known grapes and be educated, however long you have been in the business and whatever qualification you hold, and I am looking forward to continuing my exploration of the vineyards of France in the years to come.

WOTM: Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Reserve Vielles Vignes Single Block Barba Yannis, Xinomavro 2017

Our November Wine of the Month is a multi-award-winning wine from northern Greece, recently scoring 93 points in Decanter magazine Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Reserve Vielles Vignes Single Block Barba Yannis, Xinomavro 2017.  Made from 100% Xinomavro, on 01st November we celebrate #XinomavroDay. A day dedicated to this grape variety most commonly found in Greece to symbolise the typical end of harvest in Northern Greece and the start of the production of wines made from Xinomavro.

In a nutshell

This is a savoury red made from 90 year old vines with an enticing aroma of raspberries and sun dried tomatoes combined with liquorice and wild herbs, lovely flavour concentration and a dry finish.

The producer

Alpha Estate is located in Amyndeo, North West Greece. It is the brainchild of two visionaries, second generation vine grower Makis Mavridis and Bordeaux trained wine maker Angelos Iatrides. Angelos is one of the most talented winemakers working in Europe.
This pristine estate in the cool highlands of Western Macedonia comprises 120 hectares of privately owned single block vineyards and employs the most up to date vineyard techniques and winemaking technology to produce world class wines from French and indigenous Greek varietals.

The wine

The Xinomavro (pronounced Ksee no’ ma vro) grapes were destemmed, lightly crushed and cold soaked with skin contact. Fermentation took place using an indigenous yeast strain which has been isolated from the specific block. The grapes were vinified at gradually increasing temperatures, before being maintained “sur lie” or on its fine lees, for 18 months with regular stirring. Maturation took place in Allier-Jupille French oak casks of medium grain, for 24 months, with a minimum of a further 12 months ageing in the bottle prior to release. Bottled without fining and filtration.
The Single Block Barba Yannis is named in honour of Mr Yannis, from whom the single block of 3.71 hectares was purchased, in 1994. The estate vineyard is located in P.D.O. Amyndeon, in the region of Macedonia and is situated at an altitude of 620 to 710 metres above sea level.