All posts by HN Wines

WOTM: Champagne Collet Brut 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs NV

Our October Wine of the Month – Champagne Collet Brut 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs NV – is an Art Deco inspired assemblage of six Chardonnay parcels from the best Premiers and Grands Crus of the Champagne region. The three pillars of this Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru come from the three famous Grands Crus of Champagne – Avize, Oger and Chouilly. Avize is a rich Cru which brings power; Oger offers tenderness and Chouilly imparts elegance and finesse to the blend.

In a nutshell

Vivacious and fresh, this 1er Cru delivers bright citrus notes with hints of white pepper, brioche and smoke, complex and elegant with a lovely long finish.

The producer

Champagne Collet with its elegant Art Deco packaging is evocative of the Belle Epoque era from when it was established. It is the oldest cooperative in Champagne, dating back to 1921. Since its inception, Collet has been creating Champagnes of character with authenticity, elegance and great finesse. Located in Aÿ, in the heart of the Champagne region, Collet represents some of the finest growers and mainly sources from vineyards which are based on Premier and Grand Cru sites. Each cuvée reflects the diversity of the region’s terroirs and has been masterfully blended to suit gastronomic cuisine.

The wine

The Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru was aged for a minimum of five years in Collet’s centuries old limestone cellars.

The Diversity of Wine, by Chris Losh

There’s been a lot of talk in the wine trade of late about diversity – and rightly so. The industry’s track record in employing minority ethnic, physically impaired or non-CIS people is, to put it politely, not where it should be.

It’s something that needs to be addressed, and which all parties assure us is being addressed. So let’s hope in 12 months’ time it actually has been addressed.

We all know that the industry can move on these issues. There are, for instance, significantly more women throughout the trade than 30 years ago.


After five years working on My Weekly magazine in 1995 Chris Losh entered the world of drinks writing and, despite all advice from his doctor—and the wishes of most South African winemakers—has stayed there ever since. He began on Wine and Spirit International, editing it for several years before moving on to edit Wine Magazine. In 2007, he helped to set up both Imbibe magazine and the Sommelier Wine Awards, and has spent much of the last three years eating, drinking, and listening to French sommeliers talk about minerality. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer Feature Writer of the Year.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that literally every single one I’ve spoken to has got toe-curling examples of thoroughly inappropriate behaviour towards them down the years, from well-intentioned stupidity to outright harassment or discrimination.

That, and the fact that it’s taken, well… ages. Still, not enough of them are in the top jobs. So despite progress on one level, there’s still some way to go. But their influence is growing – and with unacceptable behaviour constantly at risk of being called out on social media, there are fewer places for sexist or misogynist dinosaurs – or discriminatory companies – to hide than there were.

What we need now is similar progress for the other under-represented groups. But much faster and in a more structured way. It simply can’t take 30, 40 or 50 years for LGBTQ+, disabled and non-white people to become not just a regular or accepted presence within the trade, but an influential part of it.

And their journey from here to parity can’t – and shouldn’t – be as fraught with trauma, micro-aggressions and outright opposition as has been that of women.

Certainly, if the wine world is looking for examples of the benefits of being open to ‘otherness’, it could do worse than take inspiration from what’s happening at the production level of its VERY OWN INDUSTRY.

Wine’s first big diversity shake-up happened 30-40 years ago, when the New World blew through the hidebound, slightly complacent European wine scene like a hurricane.  Wine became simple, accessible, fun… It was like someone just turned up at a slightly stuffy European garden party with a ghetto blaster.

Since then, the pendulum has steadily been swinging back in the other direction. Big fruit and simplicity are still there to an extent, but, increasingly so are nuance, complexity and unfamiliarity.

‘When I started in the trade I wanted to demystify wine,’ says Hallgarten Novum’s Steve Daniel, who has lived through all the changes. ‘Now I want to demystify it. I want to put the romance back into it. It’s about where it comes from, the people who make it, the history…’

It is, in other words, about diversity; about accepting it, embracing it and revelling in it.

‘Different’, of course, takes many forms – in wine as in life. But there are three big trends.

 

Emergence of the Ancient World

So, you’ve heard of the New World and the Old World? Well now it’s time to get to grips with the Ancient World.

Georgia and Armenia have been involved in a slightly amusing battle over the last ten years to see who can unearth the oldest examples of wine making. Currently, the record is held by Georgia which reckons it has found fragments of pottery wine jars going back 8000 years.

It’s safe to say that this makes France’s Roman viticulture and the Bordeaux declaration of 1865 look somewhat unimpressive. Winemaking in the Caucasus is ancient indeed.

Armenia was badly served by the communists, who used it largely for brandy production, but has come storming back over the last 30 years with interesting red and white indigenous varieties.

Georgia’s wine industry never went away, and is well on the way to developing a cult following. The white varieties Mtsvane and (particularly) Rkatsiteli are becoming well known, as is the red Saperavi, which has the advantage of being easy to pronounce.

Vachnadziani cellars, Georgia.

Georgia’s tradition of fermenting wines in qvevri (large earthenware jars) has spread worldwide. Zorzal, in Mendoza, for instance, are huge fans of fermenting in concrete eggs.

‘It helps to enhance the character, texture and sensation of chalky soil in the mouth (salinity),’ says winemaker Juan Pablo Michelini. ‘We can show the purity of an enhanced terroir…. The cement egg gives us a much more vibrant, electric, tense, nervous pure and local style of wine.’

David Rego, export manager at Herdade do Rocim in Portugal’s Alentejo region agrees. Like most wineries, they make wines with concrete and also more conventionally, with stainless steel and oak barrels.

‘Clay amphorae are more faithful to the terroir,’ he says. ‘They better preserve each grape character and do not impose themselves over the grapes like barrels do.’

It’s a bit like playing the same piece of music on a different instrument. Amphora-fermented wines are like a cello note: lower, longer and more insistently with depth and texture; stainless steel (plus oak) are more violin: louder, brighter and higher pitched.

There are cases to be made for both, but the added choice is exciting – particularly when it comes to food matching.

Herdade do Rocim winery, Portugal.

Growth of indigenous European varietals

One of the interesting aspects of the New World explosion was the way in which it introduced the public to the idea of varietal labelling. This, in turn, allowed them to buy wines from countries they might not have previously considered, reassured by a comfortingly-familiar grape variety.

It’s one of the reasons you can find Shiraz, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc et al all over the world; wineries planted them not just because they thought they would taste good, but also because they thought they would be able to sell them.

But now the focus is shifting. Right across the Old (and Ancient World) producers want to show off the grape varieties that have been in their vineyards for centuries, even millennia. Varieties which, surprise surprise, are often better suited to the climate than the international versions.

Turkey’s native Öküzgōzü and Kalecik Karesi reds and the Narince (to rhyme with ‘ninja’) white are fascinating – and, I’d say, much more worthy of your pound than the myriad French varieties the country produces.

Kayra vineyards, Turkey.

More wine savvy customers probably know about Portuguese Touriga Nacional-centric blends from the Douro because of its links to port. But there are great combinations of local grapes all over the country, usually in a highly approachable style, and they’re starting to appear in greater numbers.

Hungary, meanwhile, is starting to gain ground with Furmint. The white Tokaji grape has a taut, slightly austere air to it, but its aficionados love its disciplinarian acidic smack.

Countries like Croatia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and even Poland are all coming forward too.

If I had to pick one style that I think really ought to take off, however, it would be Malagousia. Greek whites in general are terrific – zesty, herbal and very different. Assyrtiko – particularly grown on the wind-lashed volcanic clump of Santorini – is, I’d argue, one of Europe’s great wine styles.

But Malagousia, from the north of the country is simply impossible to dislike – kind of a Greek Albariño. It’s a great story, too – with the variety essentially rescued from extinction by one man, Evangelos Gerovassiliou of Ktima Gerovassiliou.

‘It wasn’t normal to grow Malagousia when I was young,’ he says. ‘But I believed in it from the start. It was so expressive.’

You should believe in it too.

Evangelos Gerovassiliou, Ktima Gerovassiliou, Greece.

Old friends in New Places

This final category is, perhaps, the one that has received the most attention. While the New World countries mostly made their name with the classic French varieties of Burgundy, Bordeaux and the northern Rhone, the last 20 years has seen significant experimentation.

Some of this can be attributed to a yen for innovation – New World winemakers don’t like to stand still for too long. But it’s also down to a growing awareness of the nuances of their terroir (new varieties simply work better in some vineyards than what was originally planted), and – inevitably – to climate change.

Water shortages and climbing temperatures have seen Australian growers putting in increased amounts of Mediterranean grapes, which weather the country’s hot temperatures far better than the likes of Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc.

As you’d expect, they tend to be riper than their European counterparts – a Tempranillo from the Adelaide Hills is not going to taste like a Rioja. But they also hold their structure better than French varieties, and – crucially – need less water.

Nebbiolo, Nero d’Avola and Tempranillo are probably the most successful reds; for whites, Fiano is a standout with Vermentino a close second.

In cooler New Zealand it’s no surprise that the shift has been to other cool-climate styles as they search for alternatives to Sauvignon Blanc: Riesling is well established, but Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Gris and even Albariño are looking really promising. South Africa’s growers, meanwhile, are paying more attention to some of the old vine varieties that would have been used for port and brandy production, and are making stellar wines out of them.

Some New World growers are even making Trousseau, which isn’t even that widely planted in Europe. Riccitelli are leading the charge in Argentina, so perhaps it could follow Malbec and have a renaissance on the other side of the world.

There is, in other words, an extraordinary amount happening at the moment. These ‘different’ wines might not be cheap – but that’s not their shtick. They’re indisputably different, vibrant, unexpected, quirky. Thinking they should be cheap as well undervalues their uniqueness.

Sure, they might be hand-sells. But whether you’re a restaurant or an independent merchant, you owe it to your customers to embrace the diversity on offer at the moment and at least try.

 

Chris Losh’s Recommendations

Jako Vino, Stina Pošip, Dalmatia 2019

These guys have put a lot of time and effort into reviving an ancient vineyard on the island of Brac, planted with local varieties. I had zero familiarity with the Posip grape, but I’d quite like to get to know more about it after this. When cool, there’s an attractive brisk mint/lime-leaf quality to the variety, which broadens into a beguiling tropical note as it warms up in the glass. One for herbal chicken dishes.

Zorzal, ‘Eggo Franco’ Cabernet Franc 2018

The impact that the egg fermentation has on this variety is fascinating. Cab Franc can be in that leafy coriander area with not much behind the screechy aromatics. It’s distinctly ‘marmite’. But here the aromatics are toned down – it’s pepper-spiced not leaves – and they’re integrated into a broad mulberry palate, that has a great granular texture to it. Really versatile.

Ktima Gerovassiliou, Epanomi, Malagousia 2020

I tend to think of Malagousia as the Greek version of Albarino, and that’s borne out by this wine. It’s like inhaling the aromas from a basket full of cut lemons and limes, but on the palate an attractive fuzzy peach note rumbles away in the background to broaden things out. Great as an aperitif then on with a seafood main course. Impossible to dislike.

Matias Riccitelli ‘Old Vines From Patagonia’, Rio Negro, Trousseau 2018

Trousseau is originally from the Jura, though (known as Bastardo) it’s also grown in the Douro. But it doesn’t taste like this in either place. It’s surprisingly pale – Burgundy Pinot like – with sappy red fruit flavours. But it’s through the palate where this scores. Savoury and even gently earthy, with a brisk acidity and taut tannins. There’s something quite Italian about its structure, so no surprise that it’s a superbly versatile – and different – mid-week food wine.

Bodegas Viñátigo, Marmajuelo, Islas Canarias – Tenerife 2020

The Viñatigo winery is all about reviving native grapes. This is a laudable initiative in itself, but even more so when you get results like this. This Marmajuelo is a deep golden colour, with lush, plush tropical and stone fruit layered over a gentle net of acidity. Cheerfully sun-filled, it’s silky and mouth-filling and absorbs spices and strong flavours without overwhelming them.

WOTM: Undurraga ‘TH’, Valle de Maule, Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Our September Wine of the Month hails from Undurraga’s TH range. A range devised by head winemaker, Rafael Urrejola, who is renowned for his ability to to detect soil types and characteristics in Chile’s regions, using his intuition to find the best spots for planting vines.
Grapes for Undurraga ‘TH’ Cabernet Sauvignon are grown in the Cauquenes area is part of DO Valle de Maule, in a vineyard with deep soils and variable texture. The topsoil consists of clay with high silica content, with partially weathered granite and even quartz in the subsoil; these properties allow for good water retention, releasing it slowly as the vines need it.

In a nutshell

This is an expressive and full-flavoured wine revealing complex aromas of blackcurrant with hints of spice and warm earthy notes, juicy benchmark Cabernet.

The producer

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

The wine

The grapes were carefully selected to remove any green or dehydrated berries. The healthy grapes were crushed and cold macerated for five days at 4 to 6°C to obtain good intensity of colour and aroma concentration. Fermentation took place with natural yeast at 26 to 28°C, lasting for 18 days with three daily pump overs. Post-fermentation maceration took place on the lees lasting for 14 days, enhancing the structure. The wine was racked into French oak barrels, of which 30% were new, where malolactic conversion took place before being aged for 14 months.

The Homeric Vineyards of Vatsa in Kefalonia

We recently welcomed the wines of Domaine Foivos to our portfolio, from the incredible island of Kefalonia. Expert on all things Greek wine, and part of the Foivos team, Cyril Meidinger, recently shared his thoughts on the viticulture and the history of the vineyards on Kefalonia; particularly the Vatsa Vineyard, just outside the Domaine Foivos winery, where the Nautilus and Pandrosos wines are grown.

Odysseus, famous for his long journey, trying to return home after the events of the Trojan War was met with endless seas of vineyards upon arrival. The fruits of his labour presented itself in more than one form. Whispers of magnificent vines as early as the Homeric times reveal themselves today. In celebration of the hollow horse creator’s victory, indulging in a delightful Kefalonian wine, made for the ultimate reward. The taste of Kefalonia being the most pleasurable for the palate and senses.

Legend describes the creator of this enchanting vine as a king named Kefalos whom journeyed from Attica. In an effort to preserve the memory of his native land, vines were planted as a daily reminder of his heritage in a place known as Thineia (‘’Athenian land’’). Today this ancient vine is cherished and protected by the people of Kefalonia, continuing to keep the legend alive.

Part One

Domaine Foivos has been cultivating vineyards in the Vatsa area of Kefalonia since 1999. The vineyards are located on the south peninsula of the Island in an area called Paliki, which is said to have been the kingdom of Odysseus. Those Vineyards have been planted hundreds of years ago and this specific area is already mentioned 1200 years B.C. by Homer in his writings. They have remained phylloxera-free on their own indigenous roots ever since, at about 800 meters from the Mediterranean Sea in a plain enclosed by small hills. The Vatsa vineyards are composed of about 30% Mavrodaphne, as well as Muscat a Petit Grain, Muscatel, Tsaousi and Vostilidi on clay and limestone soils. The terroir of Vatsa is perfect for growing quality vines, having accumulated all the fossilized seashells from the nearby hills in its underground.

Mavrodaphne is also cultivated mainland, though in Kefalonia, the focus has been on dry vinifications of this variety, resulting in its own PDO Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia. Yannis Karakassis MW describes this variety as ‘’of particular interest as they yield intensely complex herbal wines, with aromatic character, mild tannins and acidity’’ based on his 2017 study of The Vineyards & Wines of Greece. Vostilidi is also a jewel of Kefalonia, saved from extinction as Vostilidi’s cultivation is mentioned in Latin literature as early as in the 16th century, during the Venetian rule on the island. During those times, sweet Muscat of Kefalonia was entirely exported to Venice and received international recognition early on.

The overall yields on the 100 + year old vineyards are tiny, averaging about 2.5 tons per hectare and cultivated biodynamically, without the use of pesticides. Majority of the vineyard is actually made of bushvines, which create perfect conditions and shade resulting in ideal ripeness of those ancient varieties, whilst preserving a unique acidity.

Due to the age of the vines, they have adapted to the environment and have been shaped over time to withstand adversity and stress. These vines have learnt to cohabitate with their enemies and to survive, providing the best and most delicious grapes, with minimal viticultural efforts needed and most importantly, with minimal interventions. This long-term familiarity with their growing environment made the vines resistant and immune to diseases, whilst farmed dryland without the use of any pesticides and with a biodynamic approach.

Part Two

The Vatsa vineyards are a true treasure that needs to be maintained and preserved for the generations to come. This part of the island hasn’t been affected by phylloxera, therefore the vines are still on their own indigenous ungrafted roots, producing an intensity and a complexity that can’t be replicated. The vineyards have been revamped initially just after World War I around 1925, and a second time in 2015, grafting new vines on some of the older roots. The technique used there is to cut the trunk of the original vine just above the ground, and from there vine grows new shoots from the original trunk and roots or by planting in the ground some of the existing shoots and cut them when they create new vines and roots. The original roots are so deep into the ground that they reach all minerals and water needed to produce exceptionally concentrated and healthy grapes.

Of the above varieties grown on our Vatsa vineyards, two PDO Sweet Wines, Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia and Muscat of Kefalonia as well as two PGI Mantzavinata Wines (white and red), which are blends of all those indigenous varieties are produced.

Theodore Orkopoulos and archaeologist wife Stavroula have made it their personal mission to maintain those historical parcels of indigenous Kefalonian varieties in order to prolong this heritage for generations to come.

With merely a total of 160 hectares left on the island of Kefalonia, it is paramount that such ancient vineyards get the attention and the fame that they deserve. Assyrtiko and Santorini have been in the spot light over the last few years, we believe the time has come for Kefalonia to take the international stage with indigenous varieties like Mavrodaphne, Robola or Vostilidi coming from some of the oldest vineyards in Europe.

Conclusion

Perhaps Odysseus’s plan to sack the city of Troy using a giant hollow horse, started with a conversation with fellow comrades enjoying a delicious glass of Kefalonian wine. Perhaps one could say that Kefalonian wine is a potion for creative victory. One thing is for sure, this undiscovered ancient wine of Kefalonia poses the power to unlock the extraordinary.

– Cyril Meidinger

WOTM: Kershaw Wines, ‘Clonal Selection’, Elgin, Chardonnay 2018

A new addition to our portfolio, made by one of the few MWs making his own wine in the world – Kershaw Wines, ‘Clonal Selection’, Elgin, Chardonnay 2018. Awarded 92 points by Tim Atkin, the grapes for this wine come from eight to 10 small parcels of vineyards in several locations in the Elgin Valley. Elgin is the coolest wine region in South Africa and is situated on an inland, hexagonal-shaped plateau, at an altitude of 300 metres.

In a nutshell

A restrained, mineral style focussed on elegance with a white fruit character, a touch of oatmeal and delicate oak spice notes.

The producer

Made in tiny quantities, Richard Kershaw MW’s wines are always in high demand. Born in Sheffield, Richard trained and worked as a chef before discovering wine. After extensive travelling he settled in South Africa in 1999, and by 2009 he was Group Winemaker at Mulderbosch and Kanu. He established Richard Kershaw Wines in 2012, specialising in the cool-climate wines of Elgin. Being one of the few MW’s to make his own wine, he uses his vast knowledge to craft stunning wines that are easily a match for some of the world’s very best wines.

The wine

The grapes were hand-picked in the early autumnal mornings and were gently whole bunch pressed up to a maximum of 0.6 bar or until a low juice recovery of 615 litres per tonne was obtained. The juice was transferred via gravity directly to barrel, without the use of pumps. The unclarified juice underwent spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts. Malolactic conversion was discouraged, retaining a crisp style. The wine matured in Burgundian French oak for 11 months in total, of which 39.4% was new oak; and of that 82.2% was aged in 228 litre barriques and 17.8% in 500 litre casks, before racking, blending and bottling.

 

WOTM: Brezza, Vigna Santa Rosalia, Nebbiolo d’Alba 2018

A new addition to the Hallgarten portfolio, our July Wine of the Month is Vigna Santa Rosalia, Nebbiolo d’Alba 2018, from Brezza was made organically, with minimal addition of sulphur. Recently awarding it 16.5 points, Jancis Robinson describes the wine as having “freshness and texture in spades.” We are very excited to have this, and the full range from Brezza, in our portfolio!

In a nutshell

A pale, perfumed wine with notes of berried fruit with characteristic hints of roses, violets and subtle earthy, savoury and leather notes.

The producer

The Brezza family own 12.5 hectares of vines split between the commune of Barolo (in Cannubi, Castellero and Sarmassa), the two hectare Santa Rosalia estate just outside the Barolo DOCG zone between Diano d’Alba and the town of Alba itself, and two further plots in Monforte d’Alba and Novello. Throughout the vineyards, the family practices an environmentally friendly approach to viticulture and the estate has been certified organic since the 2015 vintage. In the cellar, winemaker Enzo Brezza follows a traditional approach with minimal intervention. In order to maintain freshness and purity, many of the wines are bottled with glass Vinolok closures.

The wine

The grapes come from a 1.2 hectare single vineyard called Vigna Santa Rosalia, which was planted in 2004. Located around the town of Alba, it has been organically farmed since 2010. Situated at 300 metres’ elevation, the vines are planted at a density of 4,000 vines per hectare and have a westerly orientation, capturing the afternoon sunshine. The Nebbiolo vines are the Lampia and Michet clones and are grown on rootstocks K5BB and 420A. Guyot pruned and espalier trained, the vines are carefully cultivated by hand, with green harvesting and thinning taking place to control yields and increase the concentration of flavour in the grapes. Green manure is employed to enhance the vitality of the soil and the cuttings from the grass cover crops are left on the soil, to help increase the nutrient value. In accordance with organic viticulture, copper and sulphur are used when necessary; herbicides and pesticides are not employed. Harvest takes place by hand.

WOTM: Domaine Foivos, ‘Robola of Kefalonia’, Robola 2020

Our June Wine of the Month is a new addition to our portfolio, and one that screams summer – Domaine Foivos, ‘Robola of Kefalonia’, Robola 2020! From Kefalonia, an island off the west coast of Greece, and made from the island’s most well-know indigenous variety, the grapes for this cuvée come from 20 year old vines that are ungrafted and grown on their own indigenous roots in a vineyard in Fragata, on the free-draining slopes of Mount Ainos.

In a nutshell

An incredibly fresh and pure wine that is full of tension. The herbal and citrus aromas create a harmonious fusion through to a palate with lime citrus intensity and mouth-watering freshness.

The producer

The Foivos winery evolved from the historic Mantzavino winery, one of the oldest in Greece. The winery was bought in 1996, and in 1999 Theodorous Orkopoulos produced his first vintages. The winery specialises in rare Greek varieties as well as the better known Robola.

The grapes are farmed organically and biodynamically, and Foivos also explores alternative winemaking practices such as fermentation in Amphora and ageing under water. This winery is making some excellent terroir-driven wines that rank among some of Greece’s finest. Many people believe Kefalonia to be the next Santorini: watch this space!

The wine

The grapes were carefully selected and sorted in the cellar, destemmed and gently pressed. The must was fermented with wild, indigenous yeasts at low temperatures in stainless steel tanks to retain the purity of fruit and aromatic integrity. The wine was gently filtered prior to bottling. Made in an unoaked style to fully express the character of the Robola variety and the mountainous terroir of Mount Ainos.

WOTM: Lake Chalice ‘The Raptor’, Marlborough, Sauvignon Blanc 2018

When you think of Sauvignon Blanc, which region springs to mind first? We, and we are sure a lot of consumers, automatically go to Marlborough. To celebrate this grape variety, we have picked a quintessential Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Lake Chalice ‘The Raptor’ 2018 – as our May Wine of the Month to coincide with 07th May or, International Sauvignon Blanc Day.

One of the world’s most popular grape varieties, and one of the most widely-planted, Sauvignon Blanc is recognised worldwide for its fresh and aromatic qualities.

The grapes for this wine were sourced from a single vineyard in the rich loamy soils of the Dillons Point area of Marlborough’s Lower Wairau Valley. Shaped by a slow convergence of tectonic plates, the Wairau Valley offers a veritable patchwork of contrasting soil types linking the Alps in the west with the Pacific Ocean in the east.

In a nutshell:

Ripe grapefruit and lime aromas are neatly framed by notes of blackcurrant leaf followed by a textured palate bursting with sweet passionfruit and ripe pear with a hint of white pepper on the finish.

The producer:

Lake Chalice was established in 1989 with a vision of producing internationally recognised wines from the heart of the Marlborough region. New Zealand’s native falcon, the ‘Kārearea’, is proudly displayed on every bottle of Lake Chalice wine. Kārearea favour the remote mountains and foothills of the upper Awatere and Wairau valleys and these valleys are home to Lake Chalice’s three unique vineyard sites. Each vineyard has a diverse microclimate, biodiversity and terroir which are seamlessly translated into multi award winning wines by talented winemaker Chloe Gabrielsen. Taking a boutique approach she handcrafts parcels of fruit from single vineyards into elegant, aromatic, fruit driven wines and has garnered a global reputation of outstanding quality. Certified ‘Sustainable Winegrower of New Zealand’

The wine:

The grapes were harvested in the cool of the evening to retain the freshness and quickly pressed off the skins to ensure minimal skin-contact time. The juice was settled and cool fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with carefully selected yeasts to encourage maximum thiol characters. Thiols are the compounds naturally found on the Sauvignon Blanc grapes which are responsible for Marlborough’s signature tropical notes.

How have Wine Merchants adapted to COVID?

A lot has happened since the first lockdown was announced on 23rd March and as this is being written, we are about to enter a second national lockdown on November 5th. It has taken a good degree of ingenuity and resourcefulness to navigate the different tiers and rules associated with these for a consumer, yet alone a business owner, and it will continue to pose challenges for operators throughout the country.

Whilst our On Trade cousins have been incredibly unfortunate not to be fully open for business for several months, Off Trade wine outlets have been permitted to carry on operating. We are truly grateful for the support of all our customers in these uncertain times, and in tune with this special edition of Assemblage, we wanted to highlight a few of those customers and how they have managed to thrive in the face of adversity over this year.

 

Loki Wines

Despite being able to open their premises when the Prime Minister said wine shops were on the permitted list, owner, Phil Innes, decided to keep the Loki Wines shops closed until 4th July to focus on their online offering. At the beginning of the year he had already put the wheels in motion to make his online sales a key part of Loki’s strategic plans, so he was well placed to capitalise on the situation; but its success has been phenomenal and what Phil described as an ‘insignificant’ part of their business now represents 30% of his sales. Central to this success was the ability to adapt to, and market online tastings via social media.

By pairing up with a local deli, Phil has been able to provide a wine with food tasting, often featuring winemakers as an added dimension. Free same day delivery for the produce being tasted is offered in the local Birmingham area, and next day via courier for those living further afield. The tastings have been a roaring success and they have regularly sold between 200-300 tickets for each session to participants all over Europe – even as far away as Canada!

Business has been brisk and never one to stand still, Phil is close to opening his third site, saying:  “Although online has become a really important part of the business, I still believe that the core business in the future will be in the bricks and mortar. This is because what sets us apart from online is our ability to hand-sell every bottle to the customer, and give them an experience in a store that starts the journey to enjoying the wine”

 

Wine Down

Wine Down in the Isle of Man was faced with closing their premises for On trade sales and the prospect of losing a significant amount of turnover, so owner, Anne Harrison, lost no time in emailing a daily changing menu and wine offering to her extensive database for delivery the next day; it became a vital part of her income during those initial few months. So much so that she was able to retain all kitchen staff and floor crew for taking, preparing and packing the orders for delivery with her husband and son – who was an enforced return from university – in support, to undertake the deliveries.

Emboldened by the success of the Off Trade wine sales and in preparation for re-opening, she grabbed the opportunity take over the next door premises, and create a dedicated shop and bar area. It would be easy to suggest that it is business as usual on the Isle of Man because they have no cases of COVID, but as business and leisure visitors are not permitted, and events like the TT races were cancelled, footfall is significantly down which has had an impact, so they need to be as rigorous as ever in their pursuit of a great wine offering and service for their residents to maintain their position as the best wine retailer on the island.

 

Love Cheese

As the name would suggest Love Cheese is first and foremost a cheese shop, but their wine sales have trebled since the pandemic. Whilst they have stayed open throughout, Harry Baines explained that they were forced to reduce their opening hours in order to cope with the increase in deliveries. Love Cheese is another example of an operator rapidly adapting to the online tasting platform; they decided to advertise their cheese and wine tastings via Facebook in order to gain traction quickly.

Their customers would receive a box of 5 wines – decanted into smaller format bottles – and five cheeses, sufficient for two people. They began by offering weekly tastings, selling 46 boxes for the first one and 150 boxes for the second – given the labour intensive nature of the preparation, it prompted them to conduct the tastings once a fortnight instead. They sold 285 boxes for the latest tasting in November, so there are no signs that the interest is subsiding, and Harry believes this is a direct result of “people looking for distraction and entertainment”. On the back of the confidence he has built with his customer base, the café which was always attached to the shop has morphed into a wine bar which was beginning to do well ahead of the second lockdown. He is convinced this new look bar will do well once again, as customers crave a return to social interaction and a normal life.

 

This is not an exhaustive list and there are too many examples to mention everyone, but we trust these real-life scenarios can bring a ray of light, a glimmer of hope and the prospect of better days for all of us!

WOTM: Zorzal ‘Eggo Tinto de Tiza’, Tupungato, Malbec 2017

Which wine from our portfolio would tie in perfectly to both Malbec World Day, on 17th April, and Easter at the start of the April? Zorzal ‘Eggo Tinto de Tiza’, Tupungato, Malbec 2017 – our Wine of the Month for April, of course!

Follow an in-depth look into the subject of Minerality in 2020, Jane Macquitty described this wine in The Times as: “tart, zingy, inky-black fruit” and “the most full-on” mineral red she had ever tasted.

In a nutshell:

Edgy, mineral and layered, this intensely flavoured wine is marked by flavours of wild herbs and cloves against a background of smoky blackberries.

The producer: 

Zorzal is an Argentinian boutique winery which has been dedicated to the production of high quality wines since 2008 and is located at the highest point of the Uco Valley. Hailed as one of the most exclusive and well-regarded areas for viticulture in Argentina, the terroir is revealed in the Zorzal wines through a respectful, non invasive winemaking process that puts austerity before exuberance and fruit before wood. The wines have rapidly gained international recognition. Founded by the Michelini brothers, who are outstanding in their passionate leadership in the vineyards and winery, this highly regarded winemaking duo have become renowned as the trendsetters of the Argentinian winemaking scene.

The wine:

The grapes were destemmed. Fermentation took place spontaneously with native yeasts in egg-shaped containers made of cement at around 24°C. The wine remained on its skins for two months, followed by pressing and was then returned to the egg. The egg shape helps to keep the liquid constantly in motion, so the temperature is more consistent and the lees remain in suspension. The resulting wine achieves a greater character and volume on the palate. The wine was aged for 12 months in the same container, with a view to conserving its pure, authentic character, without interference from any other influence such oak from another terroir.

THE 2020 Harvest

Well, it’s definitely going to be a vintage to remember – for lots of reasons!

2020 will go down as the year of COVID, a year when authorities paid winemakers millions to turn their wine into hand sanitiser, a year in which finding grape-pickers was more challenging than ever before – and a year when we all had to find different ways of working. And – in some regions at least – it was a year of potentially excellent wines.

Europe’s 2020 wine harvest was underway relatively early following a warm growing season, but in many areas it is also taking place against a backdrop of lost sales – largely due to the economic impact of COVID lockdowns.

The rise and rise of English wine continues apace, helped and hindered by COVID, but for Dermot Sugrue, the “biggest challenge I had was finding pickers. All the big boys (Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Chapel Down etc.) hoovered up all the professional pickers so I was struggling to find enough to pick the Pinots from Mount Harry Vineyard near Lewes, which makes up most of the Sugrue South Downs blend.” However, after he put the call out he got a “terrific response” from Hallgarten staff, who descended on the vineyard to help. “Oh, and it’s going to be a brilliant year with simply exceptional fruit!”

On the other side of the world, a country which fared better than most against the Coronavirus was New Zealand, where wineries were able to complete the grape harvest as “essential businesses.” The total harvest of 457,000 tonnes reflected the near perfect growing conditions. Julie Ibbotson of Saint Clair said: “This vintage was certainly like no other, with the implementation of various stringent guidelines, procedures and protocols, with strict rules surrounding both transport to and from the winery and accommodation arrangements. Social distancing quickly became the norm. But the quality of fruit from Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay has been exceptional.”

Jaime Quendera, winemaker at the top-notch Pegoes Co-Op, near Lisbon, said: We have not had any cases fortunately. We have been working normally, but within the so-called “new normal”: we divided the wine cellar in two, with different shifts and times, with a disinfection between shifts. Our great fear was in the vineyard, but we implemented the same “mirror” plan, prolonged the grape reception for four hours longer, and managed to get everything in. We expect fresh and fruity whites, and very good, ripe and elegant reds. It could be a very good year.”

Meanwhile, over in Tuscany, Antonio Zaccheo, owner of Carpineto, said: “Quantities are a bit lower than average yet the quality is very good with some peaks of real excellence. As for Corona, our activity is outdoors and on a farm, so we’ve been able to follow the paces of Mother Nature without problems. On the sales side, it is another story. All the On premise sales were drastically disrupted and the outlook is definitely cautious.”

Commercially, South Africa had a tough year. Rob McKinlay of the Swartland winery said: “It has not been easy. Interruption to export for six weeks, then local bans on alcohol.  At the winery all the internal protocols had to be renewed in line with the safety of our workers, especially on the production line. And as for cash flow, nightmare, but all the staff have been paid on time and no one working at Swartland will go hungry because of this epidemic.”

Commenting on the harvest, Jean Naude of Groot Constantia said: “Our harvest was nearly completed when the hard lockdown was initiated by our Government. We are also very fortunate that not one of our employees as yet have tested positive for the virus. 2020 produced a big crop, where most varieties exceeded our expectations, notably Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage and Shiraz.”

In France, which expected a harvest at around the 45m-hectolitre mark – roughly in-line with the five-year average – the Government gave €250m to aid the wine sector.

Philippe Goulley, of Domaine Jean Goulley in Chablis, said: “Commercially, it was very hard from mid-March to the end of April. In addition, there were many constraints in the cellar – but Chablis is a very small city so we were able to cope. And the vintage: in my opinion it’s one of the very best vintage of the last 30 years.”

That was echoed by Fabrice Brunel, of Domaine André Brunel in Chateauneuf du Pape. “It will be a great vintage in terms of quality and volume. It should be on par with 2019 in terms of complexity, colour and concentration. We didn’t decrease the investment due to COVID. We lost sales in the on premise, but gained in shops.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, the mercurial Andy Quady tells us: “Fortunately we have not lost anyone to that sickness yet but some of our workers had to be quarantined and tested when someone had contact with a person who tested positive. We had a COVID task force which includes: working at home for all office workers; mandatory mask for employees and visitors; mandatory daily temperature checks for employees and visitors; daily sanitizing of work areas; zero company travel except to support winemaking visits to vineyards. But at the same time, we are having a great sales year; we are trying our best to work round this.”

In Spain, two of our suppliers are very optimistic about the vintage. In Navarra, Jose Maria Fraile of Tandem said: “Thanks to our export markets, we are all fine and swimming hard. We started the 2020 harvest on September 16, as usual later than the rest of the region due to our cool Atlantic influence Continental microclimate in any case one week ahead of last year. We can inform you the wines are looking great. The aromas at the winery are sublime.”

In Rias Baixas Inma Pazos of Xose Lois Sebio, tells us: “2020 was a strange year for everyone. We are all concerned how life is changing after this. But Nature is stronger than we think and it will adapt to the new situation. In our winery we had to adapt our methods and as wise people know: in the worst crises come the best opportunities. COVID taught us to a better organization to keep our staff safe and this resulted in a optimize harvest after all: 150.000 kg collected – one of the biggest in my life. The white grapes are very healthy – and the reds are going to be awesome!”

Nature is stronger than we think and we will adapt. Wise words.

In Australia, 2020 was a challenging vintage with wine grape losses due to smoke or fire damage reported in 25% of Australia’s wine regions, but the overall loss was less than 3% of the harvest.

As Matt Herde from Tahbilk informed us in January: “It has been a very tough season in the vineyards right around Australia. It has been very hot, very dry and very windy; we anticipated crops being lower than average, but that is the fickle nature of agriculture in Australia. Rainfall has been below average with the Tahbilk vineyard team kept busy with extra irrigation management; however, overall the vineyards look in excellent condition and we still anticipate a good vintage.”

This was concurred by White Winemaker at Berton Vineyards, Glen Snaidero, who tells us: “What a year full of challenges! Despite having to face a season of drought, bushfires, threat of COVID 19 and multiple rain events in the middle of harvest, remarkably 2020 will be another good vintage in terms of quality for Berton Vineyards. Lower alcohols will be found in some varietals, particularly blends of Semillon, a result of late season rains in February and March but the clean fresh fruit flavours have not been affected.”

In Argentina, Dona Paula’s award winning viticulturist Martin Kaiser said: “The 2020 vintage will be remembered as a special harvest for many factors: It was the warmest vintage of this century, together with the 2009 vintage. And the relatively heavy rainfall fell in a few intense episodes, so dry days predominated, with low relative humidity. These conditions favoured a fast accumulation of sugar in the grapes, so that the harvest was ahead one week in average for the white grapes, and between two to four weeks for the reds. This rapid accumulation of sugars made us fear for the evolution of the polyphenols (tannins). But the good news is that we managed to achieve an optimal polyphenolic maturity, so the wines are of outstanding quality.

Meanwhile, in Chile, Santiago Colvin Izquierdo of Ventolera, told us that “COVID didn’t affect the harvest, because we finished before our authorities took measures. After the harvest we took all the measures in the warehouse to avoid any problem and to take care of the health of our employees. And the vintage looks great.”

International Women’s Day 2021

This week we are celebrating the amazing women that make Hallgarten what it is today. We are proud to represent some of the best female winemakers in the world, and we truly believe that the wines crafted by these talented women – from Japan and South Africa to Italy and France – are some of the very best in the Hallgarten portfolio.
Sonia Spadaro, owner and winemaker at Santa Maria La Nave, Sicily.

Born in Augusta, on the Ionian coast of Sicily, Sonia grew up in the orange groves of Lentini, watching Mount Etna erupt. Sonia discovered the world of wine by chance and decided to start tending to the family vines and work in the cellar on the vinification processes. After graduating in economics, with plans to become an archaeologist, she trained as a sommelier and then completely devoted her life to wine and after a few years working in vineyards on Sicily, became the owner at Santa Maria La Nave.

Santa Maria la Nave is a small boutique winey on Mount Etna, specialising in wines from ancient, rare indigenous varieties. Their two vineyards were the first is on the northwest side of Mount Etna – the highest active volcano in Europe and a Unesco World Heritage site –  located at 1,100 metres above sea level, and are among the highest and most extreme vineyards on the continent.

Valeria Antolin, winemaker at Piattelli Vineyards, Argentina.

It is hardly a surprise that Valeria Antolin became a winemaker. Her father was a famous sparkling winemaker in Mendoza and she followed in his footsteps, taking a degree in Agronomy from Universidad Nacional de Cuyo before working her way up at Piattelli. She has been with the estate since it was founded in 2002 and is now the principle winemaker at its Mendoza and Cafayate (in the Salta Province) wineries.

In the words of Valeria:

“Winemaking is our expert craft and rooted deeply within my heritage. My father was a well known Winemaker, as was my Uncle & Grandfather. There has always been a bottle of wine on the family table. Today that bottle is Piattelli. ”

Chloe Gabrielsen, winemaker at Lake Chalice Wines, New Zealand. 

Raised in Turangi on the shores of the mighty Lake Taupo, Chloe’s early exposure to viticulture began with helping her parents pick out wine from the local store (they were fiends for a big Aussie red). After finishing College in 2001, Chloe moved to Marlborough to pursue a Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology degree through Lincoln University, completing her first harvest at the Saint Clair Family Estate in 2006.

Now more than ten vintages later, Chloe is the winemaker at Lake Chalice, producing the very best results for this superb winery… that is, when she’s not being a Mum to Asher, member of multiple sports teams, performing in Kapa Haka (Māori performing arts), being a cross-fit addict or cooking a mean kai (kiwi food)!

Estelle Roumage, owner and winemaker at Chateau Lestrille, France.

Estelle Roumage embodies this outstanding family domaine in Entre-deux-Mers, close to Saint-Émilion, a region Estelle describes as the Tuscany of Bordeaux; hilly, with beautiful biodiversity, groves, rivers and different cultures.

After graduating from Hull University in the 1990s and spending time in London, Estelle spent four years in Madrid, then to Marlborough, New Zealand to learn more about winemaking. She then returned to Entre-Deux-Mers to the family farm, and has been making wine and running the estate ever since!

Her wines are delicate and precise and consistently punch above their appellation. She manages to blend respect for tradition with a modern outlook to vine management and winemaking techniques. On top of this Estelle has a real passion and talent for bringing her wines to our customers to share, to taste, to learn, to engage, in a way that really ignites their taste buds.

Samantha O’Keefe, owner and winemaker at Lismore, South Africa.

Californian Samantha O’Keefe has found paradise and the perfect terroir. Tucked into the foothills of the Riviersonderend, a dramatic mountain range at the bottom of Africa, Lismore Estate Vineyards was born alongside Sam’s nascent family. A passionate vision, combined with vines planted at 300 metres, which are chilled by winter snow and nourished by the African summer sun, produces classic, cool climate wines which are rich, complex and lovingly hand-crafted.

In December 2019, Sam suffered an awful bushfire at her winery. Thankfully, she was safe, and thanks partly to donations from around the world, fund-raising events in major wine centres, the generosity of her fellow growers who supplied her with grapes (including some from the unbelievably-named Corona Vineyard), but mostly due to her own indomitable spirit, she immediately set about rebuilding her business and we are very excited to taste her latest wines.

Elizma Visser, winemaker at Olifantsberg, South Africa.

Elizma joined the Olifantsberg team in 2015 following extensive winemaking experience; studying Oenology and Viticulture in Stellenbosch and working in France and Italy, before returning home to South Africa.

Her time making wine in Europe proved to be an excellent springboard to go on and start creating elegant Rhône style wines of her own.

Elizma certainly has her work cut out, looking after all areas of the management of the vineyards and winery at Olifantsberg. In the vineyards, Elizma’s focus is on taking care of the soils and maintaining the quality and sustainability of the vines. Whereas her focus in the winery, is to get the best expression of the fruit using a variety of techniques.

Özge Kaymaz Özkan, winemaker at Kayra, Turkey.

One of the winemakers of Kayra is Özge Kaymaz Özkan, a talented woman who has been with the company for over 15 years. Being from a family who used to work for Tekel, Turkey’s state monopoly in spirits, she was practically born and raised in the industry.

Kayra produces premium wines from the Anatolia region -considered to be the birthplace of wine- and is at the cutting edge of winemaking. The wines are made from unique local varieties as well as international ones. These ancient indigenous varieties are being vinified using modern techniques and are producing award-winning results.