Category Archives: Wine

Are the days of long lists numbered?

Jon Harris, Hallgarten’s Director of Scotland and NW England has pondered the future of long lists and just what a short list would comprise of.

First up, I agree the question is quite ambiguous – the answer really is dependent on the kind of venue you are talking about; however for this piece I am considering a long list being one that is 60 bins or so.

In my opinion there are still some places where a wine list should be a leather bound tome, covering every country, region and producer imaginable – the type of wine list you can happily spend a few hours flicking through. Wine is hugely emotive and romantic for many, and the UK market is one of the most exciting and diverse in the world. It is vital our top sommeliers and buyers keep this tradition alive. 67 Pall Mall is the shining beacon of this.

All that being said, for a huge proportion of the UK On trade it is simply not a sensible option. With a move to a more casual cooking and dining style (just look at Nathan Outlaw’s announcement in June closing his 2-star Michelin flagship restaurant to replace it with a ‘more accessible’ dining option) it is important the modern wine list keeps pace.

I am sure some of the traditionalists even within my own business will disagree, but I believe you can build an exceptional, balanced and exciting list in under 40 bins. Here’s how it could look:

  • 3 or 4 sparkling wines. You can cover entry-level, an interesting upsell or Rosé and a Champagne
  • 10 to 14 whites and reds. Anything less than this and you run out of room for the more esoteric wines, certainly once you include the “must haves” (Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, etc)
  • 3 Rosé allows a range of styles and regions to suit customer pallets and price points
  • 2 or 3 sweet wines, including fortified – unfortunately a declining category but essential for a quality restaurant. Try adding them to your dessert menu as well as or instead of the wine list.

There are a number of benefits of a shorter list. Firstly this approach allows a range of list design options, from the more traditional by price or alphabetical by country, to a modern style-based model. I am a big advocate of a list constructed by style/flavour profile: it forces the customer to read the list to find what they actually want to drink, rather than purely selecting by price or grape variety. It also makes sure the list’s creator is offering an even(ish) balance of styles, not simply what they like to drink.

Having a more concise list also allows you to include and give focus to some exciting and esoteric wines at key price points. On a larger list these quirkier wines can often get lost as customers search for something they recognise, or rely on a Sommelier’s recommendation. Here they are front and centre.

The shorter list gives you the opportunity to offer a large majority (or all) of the list by the glass. This not only has margin benefits, as the GP on glasses is usually higher than by the bottle, but offers the customer the chance to experiment and experience the range.

A shorter list by no means removes the need for a Somm or buyer; in fact, it arguably makes their role more important – shorter lists need to be regularly changed, usually seasonally, in line with food menus. This means the link between food and wine is more important than ever, and any decisions must make real commercial sense and not purely be whimsical.

An important financial consideration is stockholding value. A more concise list will automatically help control par levels and stock management. In the On trade where margins and cash are almost always tight (particularly at the moment), it is vital not to tie up too much in stock.

Finally team training. This has become increasingly important over the years and can have a huge impact on wine sales. A couple of years ago, one large national customer of ours was able to attribute a 7% growth in value and volume directly to our training programs. A shorter list makes training easier, and opens it up to all the team, not just a select few wine specialists and Sommeliers. If all your team are selling better wine, it will drive incremental margin.

I understand that for the purists out there having a list with just one or possibly no Bordeaux or Burgundy mentioned will simply not cut it, but for much of the trade I believe an exciting, regularly changing, concise list is absolutely the way forward, not just financially but predominantly to enhance the guest experience.

A Brave New World…

Sometimes we all need the tried, tested and familiar around us, whether that it is our choice of food, drink, fashion or general lifestyle. But sometimes – and social media is a great inspiration here – we need to think outside of our comfort zone. Wine is no exception.

Here at Hallgarten & Novum we are proud of our eclectic offering in terms of wines, whether that be new grape varieties or unfamiliar countries (when it comes to winemaking.)

And it is often the “Old World” which is leading the way.

I remember the first time that Steve Daniel introduced me to our new wines from Armenia; I was so impressed by the lovely perfume of the Karmrahyut grape, vibrantly redolent of rosemary and lavender. Our new range from Vachnadziani is a wake-up call, with refreshing mineral laden whites from those hard to pronounce varieties such as Rkatsiteli, Krakhuna and Mtsvane putting me in mind of good Chablis.

Grape varieties such as Santorini’s Assyrtiko have established themselves in our UK market as go-to wines, and are now spreading their influence to other countries. We have examples of this grape from the Lebanon from Oumsiyat and Australia’s Clare Valley from Jim Barry, all showing the lovely freshness and salinity which has made the grape so popular.

Winemakers are rediscovering old techniques such as fermentation in amphora. Look out for the amphora wines from Rocim from the Alentejo region in Portugal where traditional vinification in ‘tahla’ meets modern winery techniques.

With global warming, some regions are now being forced to rethink the varieties that have traditionally been the mainstay of their vineyards as producers are faced with higher temperatures, less water availability and more weather extremes.  Bordeaux, for example, is looking at different varieties such as Alvarinho, Marselan and Touriga Nacional which are more mildew resistant and can cope with the warmer temperatures which are driving up the alcohol levels of Merlot in particular leading to a change of style compared to 20 years ago.  The traditional wines of Bordeaux may look very different in the future!

With 40 years in the wine trade and 24 years as an MW behind me, one of the pleasures that I continue to have is to discover grape varieties and wines hitherto unknown to me and then to share this enthusiasm and encourage consumers to explore these wines for themselves in this Brave New World of wine.

Great Wines, That Don’t Cost the Earth

As consumers, we all want to do the right thing for our health and the health of the planet, and buy organic and sustainable. Until very recently this meant paying more and in many cases radically changing our buying habits.

Historically organic wines were quite rare and we would have to pay a significant premium for them, and sustainably produced wines were rarely mentioned. I remember having conversations with consumers about organic and sustainably produced wines, and they were just not interested. I also remember having conversations with wine producers who were farming organically and sustainably and asking them why they were not shouting about this; their response was no one is interested, and in fact, some consumers think organic wines won’t taste good!

How times have changed. I think most people in the supply chain are acutely aware of the impact us humans have on the planet.

Winemakers and grape growers have worked relentlessly in the last 30 years to increase quality at every price level. Initially the biggest and quickest increases came from investment in winemaking equipment, technology and expertise and it became possible to make very drinkable wine, at very attractive prices. There were massive investments in the wineries and winemakers. But technology is only a part of the equation.

The more forward-thinking producers soon realised that their biggest and most precious asset is their vineyards – it’s also the most fragile. If a piece of machinery breaks you can repair or replace it. If your winemaker leaves you can find another. It’s just a question of a little time and money.  A vineyard is a living thing. It is a whole ecosystem and if you abuse it you can irreversibly damage it and jeopardise your unique asset. If you break it, you cannot just throw money at it. You have to work out the best way to treat your vineyard to allow it to produce good fruit for the longest time. You also need to protect those living things that work in your vineyard, including your work force! This is a long term investment in time, money and working practice.  Invariably this means adopting a sustainable holistic approach.

This is something that the artisanal small domains have known for a long time; the wines they produce are outstanding and you pay a premium for them. The fact that many larger producers have now adopted the same principles means that you can now get organic, sustainably and ethically produced wines at everyday prices. You no longer have to go massively out of your way or pay a huge premium to get great tasting wines that won’t cost the earth.

We are very proud to represent many forward thinking producers of all sizes. Below is just a selection of producers that are ticking the sustainable boxes and producing amazing wines.

Colomba Bianca, Sicily

Sicily and Italy’s largest certified organic producer with over 2,000 hectares of organically farmed vineyards. Try their amazing ‘Vitese’ Grillo.

Perez Cruz, Chile

One of the pioneering wineries of the sustainable movement in Chile. They have been farming sustainably since 2005 and are one of the first boutique producers in Chile. Their Cabernet must be one of the best value for money red wines in the world, using fruit only from their amazing Alto Maipo vineyard.

Piattelli, Argentina

An amazing family-run winery that operate vineyards in Mendoza and Cafayate, farmed sustainably and organically. The Alto Molino Malbec is a great introduction to the wines of Cafayate.

Echeverria, Chile

A family-run winery from Molina. One of the pioneers of modern winemaking in Chile, they farm organically and are certified Sustainable. Their No es Pituko “Natural Wine” range are must tries – give the Chardonnay a whirl.

Lake Chalice, New Zealand

A boutique, fully sustainable producer, making stunning food friendly wines. The Nest Sauvignon Blanc is a stand-out great value Marlborough Sauvignon.

Prapian Estate, Italy

The pride and glory of the Sacchetto family. A beautiful new winery and an amazing organically farmed vineyard, creating an amazing single-vineyard Prosecco. A real step up in quality from regular Prosecco. Try the Brut Organico Valdobbiadene.

Peninsula, Spain

Modern winemaking, major investment and a sustainable and organic approach in the vineyards. All the wines are technically brilliant. Try the Tempranillo which is a Gold Medal winning wine in SWA 2020.

Undurraga, Chile

Sustainable historic winery, making cutting-edge wines from some of the best vineyard sites in Chile. Try the ground-breaking TH range – the Chardonnay from Limari is spectacular.

Gérard Bertrand, France

Gérard is one of the pioneers of Biodynamic wine production in the Languedoc-Roussillon and the largest “Bio” producer in France. His Naturalys range is exceptional value and the Naturalys Merlot stands out above the rest.

Matias Riccitelli, Argentina

Matias is one of the superstars of Argentinian wine. He supports low intervention winemaking and organic grape growing. His wines truly represent the outstanding vineyards he works with. You must try Not Another Lovely Malbec – artisanal winemaking at a great price.

Herdade Do Rocim, Portugal

This is an amazing project in the Alentejo.  Fully signed up to Sustainable farming,  the grapes are all farmed organically – 70% are certified the rest in conversion. Minimum intervention in the winery and only natural yeasts are used. The wines are produced in the renowned Vidigueira area of the Alentejo the resulting wines have a freshness not often associated with the Alentejo. Try the Mariana Red.

Olifantsberg, South Africa

These are amazing handcrafted wines. The vineyards are farmed organically and heading towards Biodynamic. They believe in sustainable vine growing and winemaking and their style is very hands-off, with only natural yeast and use of large seasoned oak barrels and concrete eggs. These are beautiful handmade wines from one of the superstar producers of the future. Buy while you still can afford them! Try the amazing entry level Chenin Blanc.

Finca Bacara, Spain

Amazing 100% Monastell (Mourvedre) wines from high altitude vineyards in Jumilla. All the wines are made from organically farmed vineyards in a very modern fruit-forward style with amazing packaging. Try the Time Waits for No one White Skulls.

Bodegas San Alejandro, Spain

The Garnacha specialists of Spain. Working with high altitude vineyards in the Calatayud region, all their vineyards are farmed organically and are in conversion from 2019. They make great wines at all price points and consistently rate as some of the very best Garnachas coming out of Spain. Try the beautifully silky smooth and elegant Evodia.

 

Sustainability: We have no other choice

The problem is: it doesn’t sound very sexy. Sustainability.

Key word, at the moment, along with, say, Organic, or Biodynamic, or Natural. But an awkward word, too.

With Organic you get a wistful Tom and Barbara Good Life self-sufficiency schmaltz, you venerate queer carrots, and supplicate yourself – oh Lord! – to the soil, and perhaps (best of all!) subconsciously conjoin the word to a similar one which is very exciting.

Biodynamic, too, has its moments, with its odd combination of Rudolf Steiner argot, the bewilderment of physics, and a boyhood memory of Steve Austin, the world’s first Bionic Six Million Dollar Man.

And Natural is the best of the lot, redolent of Alpine yoghurt, the notion of innate talent, an appreciation of something not messed up by blokes, and, in the background, Aretha’s soaring You Make Me Feel….

But Sustainability – the yoke which brings those three together? Not many rock songs with that in the title. Inspiring nothing more than great spreadsheets, perhaps. Alice Feiring wrote that being sustainable is like being a little bit pregnant¹.

To be fair, in terms of wine, there is much much more to sustainability than solely how the wine is produced. The concept looks into every aspect of the journey from vine to consumer, including bottling, commercialisation, marketing, and human resources, and raises questions about energy usage, waste, social impact, carbon footprint and climate change.

But there is not one global definition or set of standards to which all producers can adhere – and therein lies an ambiguity.

Organic

Although consumers might assume that wine production has little impact on the natural world – in contrast to large-scale intensive agriculture – the reality is sadly different. Unfortunately, Vitis vinifera is a notoriously fragile plant. And most vineyards are monocultures that rely heavily on preventive spraying of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides to keep disease and pests at bay. “Awareness of the damage caused by overuse of chemical treatments has spread since French soil biologist Claude Bourguignon famously declared in 1988 that the soil of Burgundy’s vineyards was ‘dead’”³. Although it is simplistic, the growth of organic winemaking (which basically bans most chemicals from the vineyard and states that all additives need to be organic) is as a result of these concerns. It is rare today to find a French vigneron who does not espouse lutte raisonnée (literally ‘the reasoned fight’, meaning the measured use of sprays).

Biodynamic

Famously outlined by Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner in a series of lectures in 1924, biodynamics is a holistic approach which focuses on maintaining soil health and linking soil management to lunar cycles, earth rhythms, and astrology – to guarantee happy vines. Some of the practices in biodynamics appear strange, such as using nine plant-derived “preparations” in crop management, and burying a cow’s horn full of manure into the soil, but advocates are convinced that the processes result in improved soil quality and overall vineyard health.

Natural

This is where it gets tricky. Basically, this takes the organic and biodynamic principles, but goes further in the winemaking processes, requiring that nothing be added or removed. The Naturalistes’ bête noire is sulphur dioxide (SO2). While sulphites are a natural side-effect of fermentation and are present in virtually all wine (“contains sulphites” must appear on the label if the wine has more than 10mg/l), the Naturalistes say that adding to this (EU rules allow for 160mg/l for red, 210 mg/l for white) changes the character of the wine, lobotomizes it and masks inferior quality grapes. And may give you a headache. Other key themes are using only wild yeasts, rather than inoculated, no fining, no filtration, and limited use of oak. The problem is that, unlike organic winemaking, which has strict certifications in every country of origin, no-one has codified the rules of natural winemaking.

One issue is that while the Organic/Biodynamic/Natural movements have definitely had an impact, they are still a little too much on the fringe to make a huge difference with general consumers. Which is why, despite its lack of cool, the doctrines of sustainability are so important:

  • Vineyard management does not just involve proscribing agrochemicals and cultivating other plants to encourage biodiversity, but also embodies the efficient use of energy, the reduction of gas emissions and the reduction and reuse of water.
  • In the winery, the use of renewable energy (solar panels, for example), and the reduction, recycling and reuse of waste are fundamental.
  • Wine packaging has been the subject of particular focus. Of all the carbon used in the manufacture of a wine bottle, 85% comes from the glass, 9% from the cardboard box of the packaging, 4% from the cork stopper, 1% from the paper label, and 1% from the plastic capsule: hence the call for lighter bottles.
  • Transporting the wine has come under scrutiny. Aircraft, trucks and ships are big emitters of CO2. The most common and environmentally-friendly route is by sea, five times less harmful than by land, and eleven times better than by air.
  • While all of these areas demonstrate direct causation, there are numerous secondary themes. Sustainability can cover the implementation of security, health, well-being, education and training programmes; it means encouraging an inclusive culture, with ethical standards of conduct, in which employees feel committed to the company’s philosophy.

Remember: this involves all aspects of the supply chain. Here at Hallgarten we are proud to have achieved ISO-14001 certification; gaining it has benefited not only our working environment but also our whole approach.

But there is also one other important driver, the game-changer: promoting a green image makes economic and common sense. There are unquestionable marketing advantages for producers to portray their wines as pure products, unsullied by chemicals. Which is why sustainable has become big business.

And which is why the number of sustainability certifications in the wine industry has proliferated in the last few years. They include:

  • The French government’s Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE). The target is for 50% of wine-growers to be certified HVE by 2025, with a 50% reduction in chemical sprays.
  • In New Zealand, 98% of producers have the Sustainable Winegrowing NZ certification, which requires adherence to standards in biodiversity, soil health, water usage, air quality, energy and chemical use.
  • 75% of Chile’s producers are certified sustainable. Producers have to meet the three “E’s” of sustainability – economic viability, environmental stewardship, and social equity.
  • Sustainable Australia Winegrowing is one of three certification programs of Australia’s EntWine program (whose goal is to foster environmental custodianship and continuous improvement).
  • In 2013, Bodegas de Argentina launched a sustainability protocol, modelled after the Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery (CCSW) system, and modified to fit Argentina’s unique climate and growing conditions.

Making this transition to more sustainable methods is tough. There are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions: biocontrols that attract beneficial insects in one place may attract pests in another; vineyards in humid regions depend more on fungicides than dry regions. Sustainable methods tend to be more labour-intensive and yields lower than for conventional viticulture, so wine prices are higher.

But ultimately, we may have no other choice.

WOTM: Andeluna ‘Blanc De Franc’, Tupungato 2019

In September we are taking a slightly different look at #CabernetDay, and celebrating with a Cabernet Franc Rosé – Andeluna ‘Blanc De Franc’, Tupungato 2019. Cabernet Franc first became widely used in Loire Valley around the 17th century and is also one of the parent grapes that created Cabernet Sauvignon.
Recently announced as Tim Atkin’s Rosé Discovery of the Year in his 2020 Argentina report, this is a new addition to our portfolio and a Rosé well worth trying as we approach the Autumn months.
In a nutshell:

A refreshing rosé with intense floral aromas, with spicy and herbal top notes of white pepper, tomato leaf and basil. The unctuous palate has a silky texture and is beautifully balanced by bright acidity on the crisp, spicy finish.

The producer:

Founded in 2003, Andeluna produces premium mountain wines from their 70 hectare vineyard situated at an elevation of 1,300 metres in the rocky terroir of Gualtallary, Tupungato in the Uco Valley, Mendoza. By night, the moon can be seen illuminating the magnificent Andes Mountains nearby and the winery has been named after this stunning scene.

The vineyard is managed using sustainable practices and in 2015 the entire vineyard was soil mapped with cultivation methods adapted accordingly. Winemaker, Manuel Gonzalez (previously Head Winemaker at Pulenta Estate and Chief Oenologist at Trivento) works alongside Andeluna’s wine consultant Hans Vinding Diers, together they use minimal intervention to create outstanding wines which have propelled this producer into the global spotlight in a very short space of time.

The wine:

The fruit was vinified with minimal intervention following a philosophy of respecting the grape’s origins and terroir. The Cabernet Franc grapes were treated as though they were a white variety in the vineyard and the cellar. The grapes were immediately pressed with the free run juice being separated from the pressed juice. Only the freerun juice was used for this wine. Fermentation took place with natural yeasts in stainless steel tanks, without the influence of oak, in order to retain the purity of fruit.

Wine Merchants, What is your point of difference?

As we publish this we are emerging out of the coronavirus lockdown, hospitality businesses are reopening and we are looking to establish the ‘new norm’. With all the noise going on, it is become more important than ever to stand out from the crowd.

 Have you ever found yourself eating out (in the days when you used to be able to) scanning the list and seeing the same wine listed in other restaurants, wine bars and pubs you’ve been to before? In a similar way, if you see the shelves or check the websites of wine retailers up and down the country, really good wines do crop up again and again. That’s normally a sign of quality, and quite understandably a good wine is something that most buyers gravitate towards. Customers meet at winemaker dinners and producer trips and share their views and preferences, and it is inevitable that those conversations create curiosity and influence to an extent.

Although a list of SKU’s dotted with wines that are repeated elsewhere is not necessarily the sign of an identikit list, there is only so much differentiation you can make with your product range if you are selecting from the best suppliers, unless they have a dynamic, exciting, esoteric and regionally diverse list. With that in mind, how does a retailer really stand out from the crowd? As one of my mentors used to say, the most important difference you can make over your competitors in any business is ‘service, service, service’. It is amazing how you are prompted to rate any kind of product and service that you have used, and the truth is, that measure helps to elevate service levels especially with those where it does not come naturally. The bank I use has always been based on the principle of high levels of customer service, and everyone I have ever spoken to there is genuinely nice and helpful. It is in the company’s DNA. The garage I have to use for my car service contract is the polar opposite, where the staff were often surly and disinterested, and you can sense it is not a happy ship. Now that they are held to account for the way they interact with their customers, their attitude has definitely changed for the better, even though it does not seem genuine.

The wine business is no different. In the same way that you prefer to do business with a distributor that is flexible with minimum orders, where invoices and orders are accurate, arrive intact and when they are meant to, your customer expects the same reliability and flexibility from you. But that is only where the comparison begins; our customers are looking for a business partner they can trust with their advice on products, to share market data and analysis that shapes the way they interact with the consumer, with point of purchase ideas, which can range from shelf talkers to info-link labels accessible via your phone, and tips on category management by geography, style, occasion, shopper demographic, etc. Just as you are looking for a distributor who is willing to support you with producer dinners and tastings, in-store sampling and annual/bi-annual tastings , your customers are looking for a retailer they can trust to advise you about the wine that suits their requirements, and offers them regular opportunities to engage via events.

If things continue as they are, and lockdowns become ever more restrictive, those retailers with a decent website, where you can place your order and get the wine delivered, will have a distinct advantage as it stands. Those willing to adapt to the market conditions may thrive. Perhaps a distributor who offers to help with your orders – from picking to packing and delivering – would be an added bonus, so you can focus on selling and taking orders. I recently saw a flyer which had been popped through the letter box from a local florist which offered to help with deliveries of food and provisions to those that are house bound. It appeared to be a sincere act of kindness, and even if it is a shameless opportunity for good PR, where is the harm in that?

One thing is for certain, those that that have always offered that point of difference and continue to do so during this most difficult economic situation will emerge stronger ‘on the other side’ (to borrow one of the most utilised phrases of the moment).

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

With Pinot Noir Day around the corner, on 18th August, and the imminent launch of Assemblage issue #3 focused on Sustainability, we felt now was the perfect time to take a closer look at Larry Cherubino’s ‘Laissez Faire’ Pinot Noir 2018. While inspiration has been taken from organics, biodynamics and natural winemaking practices, the Laissez Faire range could be called ‘natural wines’; Larry Cherubino likes to think of them as “post natural” wines. 

In a nutshell

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

The producer

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

The wine

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

For more information on Larry Cherubino ‘Laissez Faire’, Pemberton, Pinot Noir 2018 and wines of Larry Cherubino, click here.

 

Sparkling Wine – an MW’s perspective

Hallgarten Head of Education, Beverly Tabbron MW, has used the last few weeks to ponder sparkling wine, the different forms and her favourite styles.

Sparkling wines have always been the choice for celebrations, and bubbles always make things go with a swing.  Champagne in particular has always been regarded as the aspirational fizz of choice, and the one to choose for that special occasion.

However Prosecco is now a go-to choice for many consumers. It is on all the shelves and can be seen on TV shows; hairdressers and cafes – as well as restaurants – might even offer a welcome glass of Prosecco on arrival. Like ‘Champagne’ it is almost a brand all by itself.

There is a wide range of Proseccos available for consumers to choose from, and we were delighted to launch our new Prosecco range from the Praprian Estate, owned by our long standing producer Paolo Sacchetto, which includes two sparklers which are both vegan and organic. Two hugely topical characteristics in wine and one of the main reasons why we introduced the range.

We like to encourage people to try something different and entice them away from their usual Champagne and Prosecco choices, so here are a few that could add a different sort of sparkle:

Made in the same production method as Champagne, but from the far north east of France is the Crémant d’Alsace ‘Saint Julien’ from Dopff au Moulin in Alsace. Dopff pioneered the production of Crémant when Julien Dopff attended an exhibition in Paris in 1900 and was introduced to the ‘Champagne method’ of producing sparkling wine with the secondary fermentation in bottle. He experimented with this back at his Domaine and voilà, Crémant d’Alsace was born!

We have all seen that England is establishing itself a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its sparkling wines produced mainly on the chalk soils of Sussex and Hampshire.  This is the same chalk strain that passes through Champagne giving good acidity and freshness, ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the main grape varieties that go into the production of both Champagne and English bottle fermented sparkling wines.  A great alternative to Champagne, and one that is grown and produced on our own doorstep.

For something different, a favourite of mine is the Pignoletto Frizzante ‘Romandiola’, a lightly sparkling wine made from the Pignoletto grape, slightly off-dry and a cross somewhere between Pinot Grigio and Prosecco in taste.  It’s a really refreshing and quaffable style, and not too fizzy either – in my eyes, one of the best wines to serve as an aperitif on a summer’s day.

Featured in issue two of Assemblage.

WOTM: Château de Campuget, ‘1753’ Syrah Sans Sulfites, 2018

A new addition to the Hallgarten portfolio from our long-term partners in the Northern Rhône region. The grapes for the Château de Campuget, ‘1753’ Syrah Sans Sulfites come from the Château’s own vineyard, which is situated 15 kilometres south of Nîmes, near the village of Manduel in the heart of the ‘Appellation d’Origine Protégée’ (AOP) of the Costières de Nîmes, however winemaker Frank-lin Dalle has chosen to designate this wine as Vin de France to distinguish the distinctive style of this wine, which has been made without sulphites

 

In a nutshell

This classy and intense wine shows a smoky, liquorice and plum character with a hint of dark chocolate and pepper.

The producer

Château de Campuget was established in 1942 and is a top quality estate near Nîmes, which is steeped in history. The Château itself was built in 1753 and at the same time the first vines were planted, prompting the 1753 range of wines which mark this historic date. The fusion of tradition and progression unite in the cellars here,  producing wines with integrity, finesse and a wonderful expression of terroir, from a wide range of traditional Rhône varieties. In 2019, Château de Campuget was certified as Haute Valeur  Environmentale, which officially recognises the environmental performance of winegrowers, including biodiversity conservation, plant protection strategies, managed fertiliser use and water resource management.

The wine

This wine was vinified without the addition of sulphites. The grapes were carefully selected to ensure only the healthiest and highest quality fruit was fermented. The berries were destemmed and vinified with minimal intervention in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks at 20°C. Post fermentation maceration lasted two weeks with twice daily pump overs extracting the rich fruit flavours and structure from the tannins. The wine was made without any oak influence in order to allow the purity of fruit shine through and was bottled early.

Argentina: It’s more than Malbec

Hallgarten head of buying, Steve Daniel, recently put pen to paper to recount his first experience of Argentina as well as looking at what the future may hold.

My first visit to Argentina was in the mid-90s. I had been travelling to neighbouring Chile since 1988, had seen their wineries evolve and Santiago transform from a rundown city with no night life into a dynamic, modern international power house with incredible restaurants and bars.

When I finally took the short hop across the Andes to Mendoza and landed in a rural, sprawling agricultural area of around 1 million people it was like stepping back into the 70s! The cars were ancient rust buckets, the town was very run-down and – for a vegetarian (no big juicy steaks for me) – the food was truly awful.

The one hotel that was deemed suitable for foreigners was The Aconcagua which reminded me of a very cheap youth hostel I had stayed in in Greece during my time as a backpacker. It had the noisiest most inefficient air-con I had ever encountered, and was one of the most uncomfortable stays I have ever endured.

Thankfully I was there to taste the wine and not rate the hotels. The red wines were old fashioned and heavy. Nobody talked about the whites, which was not surprising as they were completely oxidised and totally undrinkable when you did encounter one.

Most of the wines were produced in vineyards on the hot, flatlands around the city. The most common way of training was still an ancient Italian pergola system, which was all about getting as large of a yield as possible, and the wineries were old and not very clean!

However, the one thing that struck me was the vibrant energy of the people. They had an amazing spirit, and despite what their government inflicted on them, they embraced life and were still amazingly positive and joyful.

It is this spirit and ‘can-do’ attitude that was the driving-force that revolutionised their wine industry in the following years. The winemakers still have to deal with hyperinflation and a struggling economy, but they have managed to deal with everything their government has thrown at them and emerged triumphant.

So where is the Argentinean wine industry now?

The vineyards have spread from the flatlands around Mendoza to the foothills of the Andes, where the combination of altitude and latitude plays a fundamental role in the resulting wine. The cool, high vineyards of Tupungato, where Andeluna are situated and Juampi Michelini utilises his egg fermenters at Zorzal, and La Consulta are producing amazing fragrant white wines fully of verve and zip, and red wines of balance and class. Cafayate and Salta in the far north, where we work with Piattelli Vineyards, are some of the highest vineyards on the planet are making beautiful vibrant wines.

In the far cold south of Patagonia ancient vineyards have been resurrected and new ones planted. It is from this lesser-known of Argentina’s winemaking regions that Matías Riccitelli produces his ‘Old Vines From Patagonia’ range which have received critical acclaim since their launch.

In the vineyards, some of the old Pergola vines still exist but yields have been reduced and large areas planted using Guyot. The wineries are now state-of-the-art and chock full of stainless steel, computer-controlled and temperature-controlled winemaking gadgets. Gone is the one size fits all approach, each winery also has rows of barrique and new larger formats barrels, as well as concrete fermenters – including the in-vogue concrete eggs.

They are as well-equipped as anywhere on earth, but again, the thing that makes the difference are still the people. Argentinean winemakers can now make squeaky clean wines on an industrial scale if they want, but what really excites them is expressing themselves. These guys and girls love to push the boundaries of what is possible. Argentine Malbec has turned from an unknown 15 years ago into the darling of the wine consumer, and is the go-to for steak and a ‘must have’ on all restaurant lists, but Argentina has so much more to offer! It is a huge mistake to think that Argentina is a one-trick pony.

The high altitude vineyards of Argentina are growing some of the best quality Bordeaux grapes in the world. In my opinion, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from these high vineyards can more than rival anything from Bordeaux or the swanky Napa Valley, and at far more attractive prices.

The fragrant Torrontes is the perfect match with Japanese food. The Chardonnays have real depth and class and the best Sauvignon Blanc has a rapier-like intensity that are more than a match for Sancerre. The country’s high altitude vineyards are producing some of the most exciting wines on the world stage – something that was almost unimaginable during my first trip to the country 25 years ago. Oh, and as an aside, Mendoza has also transformed. There are amazing hotels to stay in and the food is amazing (even for a vegetarian). I would now thoroughly recommend a stay there!

Featured in issue two of Assemblage.

The Blink Effect

Do customers really make decisions on wine spend that quickly?

As I write this article we are all in Lockdown and the industry in which I ply my trade has been shut down. These are uncertain times, but I’m hoping that by the time this article is released the worst of this pandemic will be behind us. Let’s all hope for a bounce back of monumental proportions!

I can’t remember the first time I heard the term ‘The Blink Effect’ but at the time I remember thinking, this all makes a lot of sense. From then on I’ve pretty much made this concept the basis for my sales patter over the last ten years, but is it real?

The premise behind my theory was that a consumer will make a very quick decision on what they are willing to spend on wine within seconds of entering an establishment. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’, “spontaneous decisions are often as good as, or even better than, carefully planned and considered ones”.

So if consumers are going to make a really quick decision, I wanted to make sure all my customers were armed and ready. Let’s just say I was an unequivocal believer and ready to spread the word!

So what are we talking about here? What can we change in an establishment to increase the average spend on wine? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get more bums on seats, so increasing the average spend has never been more important.

Firstly I want to acknowledge that the concept of any establishment has the biggest influence on wine spend. For example a restaurant specialising in burgers will undoubtedly have a lower average spend than a restaurant serving up rare breed steaks cooked over coal. It’s the little details that I want to concentrate on. My theory is that when you add up the effects of all these little changes, the positive impact on spend far outweighs the level of investment needed. I realise I’m starting to sound like Dave Brailsford (former Director of British Cycling) and his Marginal Gains philosophy, but I’m sure you get my point.

In my opinion, one of the key influencers on wine spend is stemware. It’s a simple concept: if you see a decent glass on the table you’d be more inclined to want to fill it with something good. If I go somewhere and see glasses that would be more at home in the Queen Vic, I maybe unfairly presume that wine isn’t a focus for their business. You’re hardly going to drop a Barolo into it! Is it really this simple though? Put out sexy glasses and watch sales sky-rocket! My colleagues have often asked me if I have proof that this actually works and to be honest I haven’t – but it has to make a difference, doesn’t it??

The actual visibility of wine in the outlet is another area that I like to explore with customers. It’s something else that customers can see, or not as the case may be, within seconds of walking into a restaurant. Again for me it underlines how serious an establishment is about wine. Now this could just be a simple wall display using dummy bottles, or budget permitting, display fridges on show in the restaurant. For me, any visibility should be seen as positive. I remember one customer asking me why wine sales had dropped and I could see three newly installed beer vats over his shoulder! It’s pretty clear to me, if you don’t show people that you sell quality wine, why would you expect them to buy it?

Place settings – now there’s something that keeps me awake at night! On one occasion I had to remind myself that I was supposed to be selling wine, after I’d spent the best part of an hour obsessing over salt and pepper mills with a customer. As a customer if you sit down at a table and everything just looks right, I believe this can have a really positive impact on wine spend. If I see salt and pepper pots that don’t match, I’m grabbing my coat and sprinting for the nearest exit! When a customer walks in, one of the first things they’ll see are the tables, so making sure they send the right message is vital.

I suppose what I’m saying is everything the consumer sees influences the average spend on wine. The reality is most of what I’ve outlined can be seen within 5 seconds of walking through the door. So if the Blink Effect is real and we only have a few seconds, let’s make them count.

-Joe Wadhams, Business Development Director

Featured in issue two of Assemblage.

WOTM: Kyperounda Winery, Petritis, Limassol 2018

High, high altitude! From one of the highest vineyards in Europe, atop the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus comes Petritis, from Kyperounda Winery. Made from the indigenous Xynisteri grape, this wine has a touch of oak to give it an added complexity and a long, persistent finish.

In a nutshell

Delicious aromas of fresh pineapple combined with vanilla and ripe pear through to a long and creamy finish.

The producer

This producer has not only the highest winery in Europe situated at 1,140 metres, but also the highest vineyards at over 1,400 metres above sea level. Located at Kyperounda, in the Pitsilia area of the Troodos mountain range, the Kyperounda Winery sits in an idyllic setting, with correspondingly spectacular views. The winery was designed to the specifications of experienced winemakers and uses gravity to produce wine in the gentlest possible way. Kyperounda Winery has been producing wine since 2003 and has already made quite a splash on the international stage.

The wine

The Xynisteri variety, pronounced (Sin-ees-ter-ee), is a native grape to the island. These indigenous grapes are grown on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains, in some of the highest vineyards in Europe. The plots sit on rocky terraces, where the soils are made up of sandy clay. Due to the altitude of the vineyards, Kyperounda invariably harvests approximately one month later than vineyards at half their elevation and the long hang time results in concentrated flavours in the fruit, while preserving refreshing acidity.

Find out more about Kyperounda Winery, Petritis, Limassol 2018 here.