Tag Archives: Assemblage

Boundaries are there to be pushed

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

-David Shearsby, Account Manager, London

A french memoir

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

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

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

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

Pierre Naigeon in Gevrey-Chambertin

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

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

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

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

Vintage Variation

Making wine is not for the faint hearted! You can prepare as best you can, have everything ready to go and just at the point when everything seems to be going swimmingly, Mother Nature intervenes in the blink of an eye, often with devastating effect. Late spring frosts across Europe have been awful; Extreme drought has been all too common in California, Australia and South Africa; golf ball-sized hail stones can rip through a vineyard in a matter of minutes destroying both grapes and vines; and torrential rain, at the wrong time, can lead to a rapid change of plans and the five star vintage ruined. An unexpected natural disaster is only ever just around the corner.

It is however these unexpected challenges which seem to bring the best out in some winemakers. In a perfect vintage, the pressure is on the winemaker to not mess up that which nature has delivered on a plate. Any winemaker would of course jump at the opportunity to make a wine in the ‘vintage of the century’, that has the potential to age for decades, impress critics and consumers alike and help to raise the profile of their winery. But in the more challenging years when conditions are far from perfect, this is when the best winemakers earn their stripes resulting in wines that stand out against their peers.

An often unexplored side of vintage variation is rosé wine, particularly with those at the premium end of the market. When consumers, and those in the trade, think of rosé, it is often assumed that they should be consumed when they are young and at their freshest, however when made in a different style, perhaps with some oak ageing, they can age and develop just as well as whites and reds. In the South of France, Gérard Bertrand’s goal is to do just that in Clos du Temple – create a rosé wine that carves out a niche in the market, competing one the same level as some of the world’s finest wines. First made in 2018, each of the three vintages produced so far have varied in style, and continue to do so as they spend more time in the bottle. Having recently tasted all three alongside each other it is clear that Bertrand is achieving his goal; creating a premium rosé that doesn’t have to be enjoyed young but can provide a different experience when aged.

Look out for the new release of Jim Barry’s The Armagh Shiraz 2017 which comes from eight acres of vines grown in the shallow gravelly heart of the McCrae Wood vineyard in the Clare Valley. The parcel of vines for The Armagh was planted on its own rootstock, during the drought of 1968/1969 with the first vintage release not until the 1985 vintage. Every vintage of these cherished old vines is unique and the 2017 is looking fantastic from a later, cooler harvest, but this won’t be physically available until spring 2022 nor ready to drink for a few years. We do however have two fabulously different vintages in stock for immediate enjoyment – The Armagh 2012 from a lower yielding vintage, as a result of the very wet 2011 season, however the quality is exceptional and now approaching 10 years of age it is entering its prime (98 Pts – James Suckling); By contrast The Armagh 2013, due to the exceptionally hot summer is packed with power and incredible intensity with lots of dark fruit and mocha flavours (96 Pts – James Suckling).

Finally, one wine region that experiences significant vintage variation is the Douro in northern Portugal. Vintage ports are only released in the best vintages, which works out on average to be about three times every decade. At Barros, whilst the vintage does play a part, the vagaries of vintage are less pronounced due to the long ageing in casks and careful blending develop the complex flavours and incredible length. Barros 10yo and 20yo tawnies are without doubt some of the finest on the market but it is for their Colheita ports that they really stand out. The 2005 Colheita (Best Fortified Trophy, Wine Merchant Top 100, 2018) still has flashes of red berry fruit but with a dried fig and hazelnut character. The 1996 was a big volume vintage by Douro standards which would hint at less intensity on the wines, but the Barros 1996 Colheita (17.5 pts Jancis Robinson) is beautifully soft and velvety with rich dried fruit and a wonderfully long finish. For the ultimate treat for your customers you must try the 1978 Colheita which at over 40 years of age is concentrated and powerful with classic spice and nutty texture all beautifully supported by balanced acidity and a flavour that goes on forever.

Vintage variation should be expected, embraced and celebrated as great wines can be made no matter what Mother Nature throws at us. We are blessed to have a selection of wines from all over the world, however, due to the nature of the business we don’t pick and choose which vintages we will buy and support, we work in partnership with our producers to make sure that every year, the wines that have been carefully nurtured in the vineyard and cellar are given every opportunity to be enjoyed by consumers everywhere. There is an obsession to compare one vintage against another however the diversity of the wines within a vintage and the anomalies of the weather between vintages lead to many unexpected surprises.

– Christo Lockhart, Hallgarten Sales Manager, London

Embracing Change

Things change, Steve Daniel writes. Life changes. I think we have all being given a brutal taste of this in the last 18 months. We adapt, change and ultimately learn to live with it. The world of wine is less dramatic, but like everything else it is not immune to change.

What we take as an absolute given at this moment might not be the case in the future.

At the turn of the last century German wine was the most revered and expensive in the world, and Château Petrus was just another Bordeaux Château until the 1960s. If you did not have Muscadet on your wine list or on your shelves in 1990 you would have either been fired or declared clinically insane.

How many people still have Muscadet on their absolute must-have list? A small number, I imagine. But what happened to it? In 1991 there was a devastating frost, supply dried up, prices sky-rocketed and the industry had to find an alternative. New Zealand Sauvignon, and the New World in general, arrived to mop up the demand. And where is Muscadet now?

If 20 years ago I had said that one of the most popular red wines, and an absolute essential on any rack, would be Argentinean Malbec most be people would have laughed!

I remember tasting Picpoul de Pinet in the Languedoc in the 1990s and saying what a brilliant wine it was to a producer, and that I was going to buy it. The producer laughed at me and said: “you are crazy no one buys Picpoul”. Well, now everyone buys Picpoul.

So, things change. These changes are usually precipitated by an event or a series of events.

With crystal ball in hand, where are we today and what events might mark a change to our drinking habits?

Within the wine trade it usually starts with natural events such as drought or frost, or hail, or fire which has an impact on supply and ultimately has an economic impact. Or the impact could be more gradual due to changing tastes of consumers, or the changing style of a wine due to climatic changes.

So what are the areas of concern and interest right now? I am going to focus more on white wines here…

New Zealand Sauvignon – the current go to wine on every retailers’ shelf and every wine list in the country. Due to unprecedented demand and short vintages in succession we are now looking down the barrel of shortages and price hikes (sounds a little like Muscadet in 91!). So what should we be drinking instead? My money is on South Africa. For me the Cape produces world-class Sauvignon Blanc from its cooler coastal regions. Lots of the vibrant fruit, similar to what you get from Marlborough, but with a more classic steely back bone closer in style to Sancerre pre-global warming. It is great value and we should all be doing the beleaguered growers and the winemakers of the Cape a favour. They have had to deal with drought and a COVID crisis that is as bad as anywhere on the planet. So, make sure you add Cape Sauvignon to your list!

Burgundy has been decimated by frost and hail, and there will be shortages and price hikes particularly on the household names like Puligny and Meursault. If you are looking for absolute quality, have some cash in the bank but still want to save a few pounds, South Africa delivers once again. Some of the most impressive Chardonnay I have tasted recently from anywhere in the world – and at any price – have come from the Cape. Richard Kershaw and Sam O’Keefe make stellar examples that you simply have to try.

California can also make beautiful examples of Chardonnay, particularly in the cooler areas like the Santa Rita Hills. For a taste of what they can offer, try the iconic Sanford wines.  Australia is also making beautifully elegant wines in cooler areas, such as in Mornington Peninsula and Western Australia. Names to look out for are Paringa, Oceans Eight and Larry Cherubino.

Larry Cherubino entrance, Australia.

All these wineries also make spectacular Pinot Noir. If you are looking for value Pinot as an alternative to Burgundy, then Chile is the answer particularly, particularly those from the cool rolling hills of Leyda. The area reminds me of Santa Barbara, as do the wines.

With global warming some of the old, classic white wine growing areas are not making wines like they used to. I think the most obvious examples to me are Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume and Chablis. The reason the world fell in love with these wines was their freshness and minerality. My personal opinion is that the wines are now much riper and have lost some of their “Va Va Voom” or Vif as the French say.

Rather than being safe and looking for alternative sources of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, I think it is far more interesting to look for wines that maybe share the original style you were looking for, rather than the grape.

Areas that make wonderful wines that have that life, minerality and acidity might not be totally obvious. The North West of Spain and Portugal is a treasure trove for fresh, vibrant whites. I believe most people have now tried Albarino but there are so many interesting wines being produced in the region; try a Treixadura from Ribeiro, an Avesso, or a Loureiro from Vinho Verde. Godello is an excellent alternative to Macon. The wines are amazing and offer real value.

My personal go-to for white wines is Greece. I believe Greece is making some of the freshest, most interesting white wines on the planet right now. They are never going to be at the house wine level or even first price varietal, but pound-for-pound and excitement per mouthful they can compete with anywhere in the world. If you haven’t already, you must try these grapes: Assyrtiko, Vidiano, Malagousia, Kidonitsa , Monemvasia – all of which show why Greece is the word.

Assyrtiko vines, Santorini.

I believe the coastal regions around the Mediterranean are making great wines – Vermentino from Sardinia is amazing, as is the same grape often called Rolle in the South of France. I don’t need to mention Picpoul which still offers great value and reliability, and is now a mainstay on shelves and wine lists. Croatia makes wonderful wine from Malvasia, Posip and Vugava and the first ever Assyrtiko is now being produced in Lebanon. It’s vibrant, fresh and amazing value you will soon see more of it in Lebanon and around the world. Lebanon also makes amazing wines from indigenous grapes, like Obeidy.

For me, islands make the best wines. I have already mentioned Greece and Sardinia, but Tenerife, Majorca and Cyprus also make world class examples of mineral-driven white wines. The cooling effect of the proximity to the sea with the salty tang it imparts, the amazing terroirs and local grapes all add up to an exciting package.

Talking of islands, Blighty is making some great bracing white wines. I have often heard Bacchus referred to as the UK’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc – why can’t this be the next world-beating white wine? Or, with global warming, will we soon have Marlborough Sauvignon from Wiltshire?

Oh and I almost forgot, I think Muscadet is well worth re-visiting. Fresh, Crisp, mineral and offering great value! Surely it’s time Muscadet made a comeback… It’s been over 30 years now!

There is a vinous treasure trove out there, and sometimes shortages and adversity make us reach out to try new things. There has never been a greater need to do this than now. Diversity is the key. It makes for more interesting and unique wine lists, more exciting wine shelves and happier customers.

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.

The three pillars of sustainability

People – Planet – Profit. 

Sustainability. A hard and complex thing to define, as it covers so many different aspects but it does seem to be the current buzzword as we are all increasingly becoming more aware of our health, well-being and the environmental issues around us.

I recently attended a webinar on sustainability where it was mentioned that 25% of all greenhouse gases come from agriculture and animals, and the care of vines is no exception. The concept of ‘regenerative farming’ is central to an increasing number of wine producers who believe in the importance of biodiversity and the harmony of nature in the vineyard.

As a vineyard is in essence a monoculture of a perennial plant, disturbance to the soil should be kept to an absolute minimum to ensure that the natural micro-organisms in the soil are encouraged and maintained. Cover crops can be grown to capture carbon and to minimise water use, particularly where water used for farming is expensive to buy and may be short supply at certain times. Sheep are sometimes encouraged to graze in the vineyard on grass, and cover crops to encourage plant growth and biodiversity. Selected rootstocks may also be used to restrict the vine’s vigour, requiring less control. All of these different processes will encourage vines to use their own resources to work hand in hand with nature.

A good proportion of a winery’s emissions come from the use of diesel vehicles so far-thinking producers are making the investment in electrical vehicles for working their land – as we all will probably need to do in the not too distant future. Or indeed, revert back to the traditional use of a trusty plough horse leads to less compaction of the soil and is also a lovely thing to see!

A few of our producers are installing beehives in their vineyards to promote pollination and obtain honey as a welcome by-product! The composting of pruning and grape pomace for natural fertilisers is also becoming more widespread, rather than sending for distillation as in the past. Using sexual confusion in the vineyard from insect pheromones as an alternative to chemical pest control is becoming increasingly popular with growers as they realise the advantages for the environment.

Many people would automatically think that an organic wine would be sustainable by definition but with the contentious use of copper as a treatment against diseases in the vineyard, which is allowed under organic viticulture, and which can contaminate the soil as a heavy metal if it is used too frequently; the issue is more complex than just acceptance of all organic wines as sustainable.

Biodynamics are a continuation of this theme, where all vineyard practices (and winemaking) are carried out according to the moon phases, using specific treatments for disease prevention as well as natural fertilisers and which are now being recognised as more main stream – previously perhaps dismissed as rather hippy and ‘woo-woo’. I know from tasting wines which are produced using biodynamic and organic techniques that they seem to have more depth of flavour – more ‘soul’ and energy, if I can express it that way. One of our producers, the redoubtable Gérard Bertrand in the South of France is fully embracing this way of working with all of his estates either already certified as biodynamic or in conversion, and the results in the quality of his wines speak for themselves.

While researching the sustainable credentials of our suppliers, I was struck by how many of them have this ethos central to their production values and guides everything they do from vine to bottle. A great many of them have gone the extra mile and gained certification in their country – such HVE (Haute Valeur Environmentale) in France, WIETA (Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association) in South Africa, Sustainable Wine of Chile, Bodegas de Argentina Certified Sustainability, Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, to name a few – all of these regulate the use of insecticides and pesticides as well as fertiliser and water usage with protection of the environment in mind, and to maintain the biodiversity of the local area.

Climate change is also necessitating a rethink by wine growers who have difficult choices to make if their vineyards are affected by the extremes of weather which we currently seem to be experiencing – by rot in the case of excessive humidity or Summer hail damage, whether to irrigate (if even allowed and if the vineyard is set up for it) in case of drought, loss of fruit caused by Spring frosts; the challenging factors are unfortunately endless.

If they are passionate about the environment and their philosophy is to avoid chemical treatments, the choice is stark. Either compromise on their principles and lose their sustainable or organic status or accept the loss of their crop with the accompanying loss of income. I remember talking to one of our organic producers a few years ago who had had to make that choice – and he decided to remain organic and lose the majority of the crop. I felt so sorry for him but admired his tenacity and adherence to his principles. The news coverage of the frost in France’s vineyards in April where the countermeasures taken in the form of burning straw or heaters raised their own issues with complaints about damaging the environment through smoke contamination is another case in point – faced with losing your burgeoning crop or taking these extreme measures, what decision would we make ourselves?

We are probably just at the start of the sustainable journey and I look forward to seeing how viticulture, and winemakers, adapt over the years to come.

Wine descriptions, are they a waste of ink?

So let’s just say I’ve got some previous with wine descriptions on lists. Saying that I’ve got beef might be a little strong, but you could definitely conclude that I’ve had a love-hate relationship over the years.

From very early on in my wine career I decided that the generic descriptions made available to sales reps left a lot to be desired. Now this sounds a little arrogant but I remember thinking at the time, they don’t really mean anything, let alone activate sales. Let’s take a look at the following tasting note and see how inspired we all feel:

‘A lovely, refreshing wine with aromas of grapefruit, citrus, stone fruits and delicate notes of fresh acacia flowers on the nose.’

Blah, Blah, Blah! It’s just so boring and are consumers really that interested in this kind of information? Do they even know what acacia flowers smell like? I don’t, and I love a bit of gardening. I’ve always believed that customers would only read one or two generic descriptions before switching off.

Anyway, more on this later, but for now let’s get back to a young Joe Wadhams who thought he was going to reinvent the wine description. So the first problem that I encountered was that writing your own quirky descriptions takes a very long time. You’re constantly trying to not repeat yourself – which when you’ve got a limited Essex vocabulary like me was pretty tough. My theory was simple though: try to describe the wine in a way that consumers could relate to, and try to make them laugh at the same time. Some were definitely more random than others. I once described an Assyrtiko as a ‘volcanic Chablis on steroids’ or I might have even said it was ‘like licking a volcano’ – I was drinking solidly back then so it’s a little hard to recall. So you get the general idea, they were pretty random but strangely consumers were lapping them up. They actually sat at the table and took the time to read them, I was amazed but at the same time I felt vindicated. If you want someone to read something just make it interesting.

Anyway fast forward a few years and I moved onto one of the big boys in our industry. So my less than orthodox talent for writing rubbish and getting people to read it soon got noticed. Before I knew it I was thrust into a huge project with Matthew Jukes to write interesting descriptions for about 100 of our wines. Let’s just say our approaches were a little different, but after a couple of months we’d completed the mission. Matthew’s way of writing is fantastic but his descriptions were incredibly detailed, so I was tasked with giving them a little trim. So you could say that for two months I was Matthew Jukes’ Editor – I like the sound of that.

Moving on a couple of months and I was standing at our portfolio tasting and the company had decided to put some of our wine quotes up on the wall. One of the ones they used from me I’d actually ripped off Olly Smith after I’d seen him on the box. I remember it as if it was yesterday – ‘this wine is like taking a chair lift up the rock face of sheer freshness’. So you can imagine my unease when Olly and I are standing under this quote at our tasting with his eyes moving upwards towards my undoubted plagiarism. He took one look at me and then thankfully we both started laughing!

It’s safe to say that after this period I completely lost the plot. I’d quite simply OD(ed) on writing descriptions so I then took them in a new direction. I decided I no longer wanted to tell the customer anything about the wine, and instead concentrated on writing descriptions that made little sense. Two of my weirdest were as follows:

‘A smoking jacket and beagle are recommended with this Claret’

And my all-time favourite:

‘Anglo French writer Hillaire Belloc once wrote “I forget the name of the place; I forget the name of the girl; but the wine was Chambertin.” 

The crazy thing is customers still loved them. It does make you think that customers just want to read something that’s engaging. This reassured my belief that notes about flavour mean very little to the average consumer.

After this period of tasting note madness I went into retirement and haven’t written a wine description since. I reckon my hiatus has lasted for roughly 8 years now. During this period I played around heavily with style headings. My theory was that many consumers only needed to know what style of wine it was. For example with whites were they Crisp, Aromatic or Rich. This approach might seem incredibly simple, but it seemed to work a treat and did make training staff a whole lot easier. Plus I was no longer sitting up half the night spewing out random quotes from Anglo-French poets!

So as I’ve said, this carried on for some time until the other day when I was hosting a tasting with one of my key accounts. We were tasting a wine from Kefalonia which is aged underwater, and to be honest is a little leftfield but damn good. The common consensus from around the table was, ‘we love it but how are we going to sell it’? I then had some sort of out of body experience and shouted across the table, ‘why don’t we do descriptions’?

I tried to catch the words but it was too late, I’d said it. So it looks like I’ve now gone completely full circle and I’m back where I started. What style am I going to go for? I think they will definitely be more grown up but I’m hoping they will still be interesting. My boss sent me an email the other day about a new Mencia we’ve brought in from Ribera Sacra. He said: ‘A sort of mid-way point between Pinot Noir and Syrah, but with high acidity’. I thought to myself, if I can combine information like this with a touch of light humour the balance would be perfect. So wish me luck.

The reality is descriptions can work but let’s make them count, and try to engage and relate to the customer. If we don’t that really would be a waste of ink.