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WOTM: Peterson Winery, ‘Mendo Blendo’, Tollini Vineyard, Redwood Valley 2018

Following a recent buying trip to California, Hallgarten Head of Buying, Steve Daniel, discovered a whole raft of new wines from across this iconic wine producing state. One such producer he discovered was Peterson Winery.  For our January #WineoftheMonth we are focusing on their Tollini Vineyard, ‘Mendo Blendo’ – a blend of Petite Sirah 42%, Carignan 25%, Syrah 25%, Grenache 8%. A perfect way to kick off #TryJanuary!

In a nutshell:

A smooth, balanced, yet robust blend showing ripe blackberry, toasty cocoa and hints of spicy cedar. Richly fruited, with coffee and cigar box on the finish.

The producer:

Owner Fred Peterson is an iconoclast with an old-world winemaking philosophy and a devotion to sustainable farming. He was the Vineyard Manager of Legendary Ridge Vineyards from 1985 to 1990. The Peterson approach is to capture the essence of vintage and vineyard, a philosophy they call ‘Zero Manipulation’, with low tech, yet high touch winemaking techniques to produce artisanal wines of a place: wines with soul. Based in the Dry Creek Valley in northern Sonoma County, Peterson Winery was established in 1987. The evolution of Peterson Wines and winemaking accelerated when Fred’s son Jamie became assistant winemaker in the summer of 2002 and by 2006, Jamie was given the overall responsibility of winemaker. As a winegrowing team, Fred and Jamie meticulously assess the grapes from each vineyard and vintage, evaluating how the weather, soil and site are interacting for the particular vintage. The duo pour their heart and soul into every bottle, producing beautifully balanced wines which truly reflect the time and the place.

The wine:

The gentlest winemaking techniques were employed to maximise flavours, aromas and the original essence of the grapes from the given vineyard and vintage. Spontaneous fermentation took place with natural yeasts and punch-downs and rackings to help the wine develop. The wine was then barrel-aged for 22 months in 18% new American oak, 22% two-year old European oak and 60% neutral barrels

WOTM: Berlucchi, Franciacorta, ’61 Satèn’, Brut, NV

Our November Wine of the Month is a new addition to our sparkling wine range from one of the finest and most historic Franciacorta producers, often being described as the producer that invented Franciacorta. The award winning sparkling wine is Berlucchi, Franciacorta, ’61 Satèn’, Brut, NV – 100% Chardonnay from the Lombardy region of Northern Italy.

In a nutshell

An elegant, smooth and refined sparkling wine, with a soft, creamy mousse enveloping notes of peach, apricot and tropical fruit balanced by a lovely tangy freshness.

The producer

The Berlucchi family winery was founded in 1955 by Guido Berlucchi, Franco Ziliani and Giorgio Lanciani. Together, they transformed Franciacorta into one of Italy’s most prestigious regions for the production of sparkling wine. Franciacorta’s renaissance began with Guido Berlucchi’s creation of the very first Classic Method wine in 1961. With a pioneering spirit, Berlucchi introduced and promoted expertise that had not existed in Franciacorta until that point, inspiring many other passionate, forward-thinking producers to follow suit. Together, they transformed this region into the crown jewel of Italian winemaking. From their estate in Borgonato, Berlucchi follows a philosophy of high-quality viticulture that is environmentally sustainable. In 1962 they introduced ‘Max Rosé’, Italy’s very first Classic Method Rosé. After nearly 60 successful years at the helm of the company, Franco Ziliani passed his expertise onto the next generation, his children Cristina, Arturo and Paolo. In 2022, Berlucchi was awarded the prestigious ‘Winery of the Year’ by Gambero Rosso.

The wine

The grapes were gently pressed and the musts underwent cold static clarification. Fermentation took place with selected yeasts, controlled at 16°C. Once the first fermentation was complete, the wine was racked to remove the coarse lees. The base wines was refined on the fine lees for around six months with variable frequency bâtonnage, before the final blend which included 10% reserve wines aged in French oak barriques and tonneaux. The secondary fermentation to obtain the sparkling wine, took place in bottle; it was refined on the lees for 24 months, followed by a further two after disgorgement.

HeadStart in Bordeaux

The Hallgarten HeadStart apprenticeship sees one individual experience all parts of the Hallgarten business within an 18 month programme. From the accounts team, to marketing, to spending time with one of our producer partners – it is truly a 360 degree experience! HeadStart apprentice, Alex Parsons, has just returned from Bordeaux where he spent a month with Estelle Roumage, at Château Lestrille. In his own words, here’s what he got up to:

“Hard graft! Long Hours! You’re going to be exhausted…!” Swiftly following by a smirk was what I greeted with for most of the time before I went away. A harvest – a vintage, however you wish to call it – has been a dream of mine to be a part of since I started getting into wine, and now was my opportunity.

Château Lestrille in the criminally underappreciated Entre-deux-Mers within the Bordeaux appellation, was the destination. Family run since 1901, Estelle Roumage heads up a small but truly extraordinary team that just don’t stop. Sylvia (Oenologist), Valerie and Donny (Winery) are patient and incredibly determined to get things perfect when they know they can. Patrick is part of the vineyard team and was very welcoming. Valerie and Patrick were especially tough to communicate with as my French is abysmal and they don’t speak English, though we did enjoy the occasional fist-bump and shouting the odd French term to our own amusement.

The very first day set the tone, really. Estelle greeted me at the airport, regaling me with tales of the harvest so far (I arrived towards the end of the white grapes being harvested). Early mornings – she had been up since 4am (local time) – and long days. In short, this month I was out there was not going to be a cakewalk.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever gone from an office job to a job where every day is a workout, but this was it. No one can prep you for the sudden change or for the realisations along the way, so let’s go through the realisations that I had while experiencing winemaking first hand in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever been.

1)            Grape skins are heavy.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been surrounded by the pulped skins of about a million grapes sitting idly in the bottom of a tank. Moving them is one the toughest things I’ve ever had to do, other than trying to open my one-year-old niece’s hand when she’s holding something she shouldn’t. Not to mention the tank I was in was rendered frictionless by the time the juice has its way with it. Shovelling heavy grapes, trying to keep one’s balance, becomes a little bit of a circus act of which you are hot and sticky throughout.

2)            There are a lot of grape skins.

Once all of them are out of the tank and filtered into the press to extract that last bit of juice from them, there must be someone on the press pushing or pulling them to equal the distribution, otherwise they won’t go in. Using a shovel and my will to live, I moved those skins, but they would not stop coming. It felt like years before the stream ended, not to mention the occasional moment where my stability was tested, and I almost fell in headfirst.

3)            Le graisse c’est la vie.

To those of you who do not speak French – what I’ve recently discovered to be wonderful to listen to – this means “fat is life”. Butter, lard, any combination or derivations of them are essentially the way they live in this part of France. It’s a culture, a way of life, traditions and heritage depend on it, and it’s delicious, truly. The food that I was able to enjoy at the incredibly deft hands of Estelle was inspirational.

No matter how demanding things were physically or mentally, it was an experience of a lifetime and I do consider myself lucky for having been able to do it (I thanked Estelle and her family every day for the opportunity, and I will continue to do so until the day I die). I’ve been home for three weeks and my feet still despise me. It took me about a week to get used to it, and another two weeks for my body to realise it was used to it, and by the fourth week it wanted to shut down. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was unique, exciting, different and I cannot be more appreciative to Hallgarten or Chateau Lestrille for giving me the chance.

WOTM: Campo alle Comete, ‘Stupore’, Bolgheri 2019

New to our portfolio, Campo alle Comete, is located at the foot of the Castagneto Carducci hill in Bolgheri. The oldest vines are planted around the cellar surrounded by the Mediterranean bushland. Our October Wine of the Month is Campo alle Comete, ‘Stupore’, Bolgheri 2019, a blend of 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Syrah.

In a nutshell

An intensely aromatic Italian blend with notes of fresh plum layered with sweet roasted cocoa, tobacco and characteristic Bolgheri balsamic notes. Silky and smooth.

The producer

Campo alle Comete is a 26 hectare estate nestled at the foot of Castagneto Carducci on the Etruscan River, just a stone’s throw from the Tyrrhenian Sea. The winery takes its name from historical connections, from the days when the Bolgheri countryside was marked by fields ‘Campi’ and when at night the paths were illuminated by stars -and the occasional comet- ‘Comete’. Evoking the soul of the place, which is rich in history, Campo alle Comete has an imaginative air, but behind the whimsical labels lie some seriously good wines. The visionary is Antonio Capaldo, who was attracted by this new adventure when he acquired the property in 2016. Seeking a new form of expression, he produces wines from international varieties. Renowned Italian illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli, depicted Campo alle Comete in a painting known as ‘a place suspended between reality and imagination’ and her artwork has inspired the labels.

The wine

The grapes were gently destemmed by a shaking motion, so that the whole berries reached the sorting table for careful selection. The best fruit was transferred to either concrete vats or stainless steel tanks, where fermentation took place with selected yeasts under temperature controlled conditions. The wine underwent malolactic conversion in French oak resulting in a softer texture. The wine was matured for nine months in new French tonneaux and second passage, French oak barriques.

WOTM: San Marzano ‘Anniversario 62’, Primitivo di Manduria Riserva 2018

Created in honour of its founding year, San Marzano ‘Anniversario 62’ this year celebrates the 60th anniversary of the one of Puglia’s most successful cooperatives.

This iconic wine come from the central area of D.O.P. “Primitivo di Manduria”, where they are grown in very old vineyards in San Marzano and Sava, and was this year included in The Wine Merchant Top 100.

In a nutshell

A densely flavoured and fleshy wine with hints of prunes and chocolate covered black cherry combined with fresh herbs, quite delicious.

The producer

In 1962, 19 vine growers from San Marzano whose families had farmed the land for generations, combined their efforts to establish ‘Cantine San Marzano’. Through the decades this cooperative has grown significantly, attracting over 1,200 vine growers. Using modern and technologically advanced vinification techniques they produce elegant wines that pay homage to the ancient Apulian wine traditions. The fusion of time honoured tradition, passion and contemporary techniques, enables this winery to produce wines with distinctive varietal and regional characteristics while reflecting the local terroir. In 2021, San Marzano was awarded the ‘Cooperative Winery of the Year Award’ by Gambero Rosso.

The wine

Only the best fruit, from the best plots was selected to produce this wine. The grapes were hand-harvested once they had reached an advanced state of ripening. Temperature-controlled fermentation took place at 24 to 26°C and lasted for approximately 15 days. The wine went through malolactic conversion in stainless steel vats before being racked into French and American oak barrels, where it matured for 18 months.


Steve Daniel: My Italian Education

My first experience of Italian wines on mass was at Vinitaly April 1987.

I had just joined Oddbins as a trainee Wine Buyer in the February of that year.

My previous experience and observations of Italian wines were very limited, and those that I had tried in my previous 2 years trying to get in to the trade, usually picked up in a Peter Dominics or supermarket or similar had not left a very favourable impression. My initial impressions were:

Barolo “thin, tannic, acidic only for those into S&M”. Chianti, “thin and less tannic S&M for beginners”. Frascati a curious cross between ground almonds and baby sick. Soave, watery and acidic no discernible character ditto most other Italian whites. Lambrusco Rosso sweet and frothy. White Lambrusco Yikes.

I did manage to taste some of Oddbins offerings before setting off, which were mercifully better than my previous encounters.

So I was not coming at this from a very educated position.

Anyway I was told to go to Vinitaly and sort out our Italian range. If I came back with a decent selection I was safe for the moment. If my suggestions were appalling I would probably be fired as I was in my 6 months’ probation period. No pressure then!

I was hosted by the Italian government and was whisked off to Verona and installed in the beautiful Accademia Hotel right in the centre of Verona.

That evening I had a wander around the streets which was amazing. I had never been to Italy before. I had been brought up in the North in the grim 1970s and was now living in a converted toilet (bedsit) in Muswell Hill. So it was a sensory overload.

It was love at first sight. I could not believe how beautiful the town was. How history was just around every corner. The pavements were made of marble for god’s sake. As for the Italian’s. I could not believe how stylish they were. Dressed sublimely, stylish supremely confident and all beautiful, even their dogs were better turned out than me. Yet they were really friendly. They were certainly living and loving La Dolce Vita. I needed some of this.

The next day I was let loose on the fair. To say Vinitaly was a revelation is an understatement.

Firstly it is enormous. It looks like a series of Aircraft hangers dumped on an enormous expo park. Well I think that is probably what it is. There are thousands of winemakers present.

Inside there were the most impossibly beautiful Italian women and immaculately turned out winery owners and export directors behind every stand. The winery owners were accomplished jugglers act with enormous Riedel glasses in one hand and usually a cigarette in the other. Yes the Italian’s smoked at Wine Fairs and spitting was optional. My first Italian and pretty much my only Italian was “Voglio Sputare”. I felt a little out of place and to be honest a little daunted.

Luckily for me some members of the UK Italian trade took me under their wing and decided to educate me. Luckily for me they were some of the greats of the trade and pioneers of quality Italian wine. Renato Trestini, one of the true pioneers and a wonderful human being who is sadly no longer with us. Paul Merrit and Michael Garner, the authors of the definitive book on the wines of Piemonte. I shared my initial musings on Barolo with them. They carried on my education regardless.

“Luckily for me some members of the UK Italian trade took me under their wing and decided to educate me.”

Michael Benson who was living in Verona and who quietly steered me in the right direction regarding culture, wines and things to see and do in Verona and last but not least 2 heavyweights of the industry, Nick Belfrage and David Gleave. Both were generous with their time and were patient with their ignorant but very enthusiastic pupil.

Within moments of my first tastings I realised there was a lot more to Italian wines than I had previously been exposed too. Not all Barolo tasted like the horrors previously encountered. Conterno sorted that out. Soave did have flavour and depth. Pieropan sorted that out. There were so many revelations. Super Tuscans Sassicaia etc , Super Barbera from Chiarlo and Giacomo Bologna. Angelo Gaja anyone! The most amazing sweet wine I had ever tasted Acininobili from Maculan. Every stand I went to there was something of real interest and quality. I was lucky I had good guides.

Exploring a few stands on my own over the 3 days of the show didn’t dissuade me from the fact that Frascati tasted of ground almonds and baby sick and there were still lots of badly made red wines that tasted of stables and fruit flies, and whites which were insipid at best. But there was more than enough, particularly on the reds and sweet wines, to show back at the ranch and hopefully prevent my summary sacking.

“Within moments of my first tastings I realised there was a lot more to Italian wines than I had previously been exposed too.”

Anyway people were pleased with my selections, not least the ever enthusiastic and educated shop managers and the wine press. So I survived.

So what has changed since the late 80s and where does this leave us now. Italy is recognised as one of the greatest wine producing countries and their classic wines, still mainly reds are revered around the globe. Everyone knows Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Amarone and their rightly lauded producers.

For me there has been a gradual increase in wine quality particularly initially through the 90s. The reds led the way and the big hitters in Piemonte and Tuscany led the way. Barolo became more poised and balanced, Chianti became fruitier and better balanced.

But new areas began to establish their credentials. The wines of Puglia and Sicily came a huge way from hot sometimes dirty wines to full throttle new world reds and whites. Campagnia began to establish its terroir driven wines particularly through Feudi di San Gregorio.

So where are we now? I am most excited by the huge improvements in quality in lesser known areas and particularly with white wines. I think my excitement is reflected in recent additions to our range. We have now got some fantastic examples of the quality and value that Italy offers. The whites are totally on trend. Crisp bright and usually unoaked or lightly oaked and produced very often in a sustainable eco-friendly way. The reds are fully of fresh crunchy fruit. The array of intriguing local grape varieties adds to the excitement.

We have one of the best Verdicchios in Colpaola. Which is an amazing intense, mineral driven white wine that is a shoe in for the Chablis slot on a list as is Soave. Ca’Rugate make wonderful volcanic Soave that more than fill the gap left by shortages in Chablis and Picpoul this year. We have seen the amazing rise in quality and popularity of grapes such as Pecorino and Passerina from the Marche and Abruzzo. The wines of Carminucci are fine examples. The wines of Umbria also reflect this transformation and we have added two fine organic estates in Di Fillipo and Roccafiore.

Calabria is also waking up from a long slumber with some great Ocean influenced whites and reds. Ippolito the oldest winery in the region has reinvented itself. Greco, Pecorello or Calabrese for anyone?

Oh and everyone must try the amazing Frascati from Castel de Paolis. This is an amazing wine. One of the best examples of a terroir driven volcanic white you will ever try. The wine rightly wins the Coveted Tre Bicchieri from Gambero Rosso every year and is rightly considered one of Italy’s finest white wines. Not a hint of ground Almonds or baby sick here.

As I write this I am excited to be getting ready for my 31st trip to Vinitaly. Since my first trip 35 years ago I have improved my wardrobe and I have to say I have a weakness for Prada, my only Italian is still Voglio Sputare. I love Italy and its wines and I will still be daunted by the 4,500 producers and 100,000 visitors awaiting me and I still class myself as an enthusiastic amateur. I am always learning and Italy always has something new and exciting to offer.

WOTM: Idaia Winery, ‘Ocean’, Dafnes, Crete, Thrapsathiri 2021

Our August Wine of the Month – Idaia Winery, ‘Ocean’, Dafnes, Crete, Thrapsathiri 2021 – comes from the largest of Greece’s islands. Idaia Winery is situated in the Dafnes region of Central Crete, using the  indigenous variety of Thrapshathiri (pronounced Thrap-sah-THEE-ree) which is grown in vineyards located at an altitude of 400 to 500 metres above sea level.  The soils, very low yielding vines and the distinctive microclimate, combine to create a unique terroir in which the Thrapshathiri variety thrives.

In a nutshell

A rich and impressive wine with delicate floral aromas followed by a generous and spicy mouthfeel with hints of savoury liquorice and pine and a refreshing saline, mineral finish.

The producer 

Idaia Winery is a boutique family-run winery situated in the Venerato, a charming village in the heart of the vineyards of the Malevizi district. Owned by husband and wife oenologists Vasilis Laderos and Calliope Volitaki, they specialise in producing wines from indigenous varieties and use their extensive knowledge, experience and passion to create these superb wines with strong personalities. Showcasing varietals such as Vidiano and Vilana, these crisp, dry mouth-watering whites are truly expressive of the terroir of Crete.

The wine

The winemaking philosophy is to create wines which showcase the quality of the indigenous varieties. Following a thorough inspection at the winery, the grapes were preserved for 24 hours at very low temperatures. The grapes were destemmed, then cold maceration took place for approximately six hours. The free-run juice was removed without having been pressed. After a cold settling, the wine was fermented with carefully selected yeasts which highlight the aromatic characters of this variety. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks at temperatures of 15°C, maintaining the purity of fruit in the resulting wine.

DIRT, by Olly Smith

“I feel the earth move under my feet”. The ferocious drama of an exploding volcano is a world away from the near imperceptible unfolding and recycling that gently shapes the living crust of our planet. Dirt isn’t really singular, but we tend to speak of it as though it’s one thing. The myriad physical matter contributing to the creation and character of the soil in a vineyard presents a colossal task of imagination. Who can hope to fully envisage the true scope and scale of its origins? As well as flora, fauna and weather, the silent remains of former inhabitants of this place all play their part. I think that’s why the sites of vineyards always feel poetic to me, gathering things that fall and giving life back through the vines. The soil is an ongoing opportunity, inseparable from the precise spot in which it exists yet always beneath our feet wherever we go.

I’ve always been struck by the impact volcanic soil has on wine. Whether it’s the acidity that flares out from a rich glass of Madeira or the intense finesse of Etna reds, an urgent cadence seems to be present across wines from volcanic soils which leads me to buy, keep and share a lot of them myself. Tokaji is one of my favourites and while it may not be top of everyone’s list, the thrilling zing of a bottle of sweetly charged 5 Puttonyos amplified by noble rot as well as the land of an old volcano is a lifelong delight of mine. The island of Santorini is another favourite, perhaps producing some of the most vivid volcanic wines. Great bottles typically deliver heroic intensity as well as thrilling, bristling zing across reds, whites and sweet wines pristinely charged with mineral-purity.

I first visited Santorini with Steve Daniel and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos many years ago when Campari was bafflingly unfashionable. Sipping Campari sundowners we discussed the pulse that seemed to pull through the dirt and pep up the fruit of the local vines. The nature of this UNESCO protected soil creates a phylloxera-free environment fostering spectacular vine age on the island which, coupled with different soil densities, elevations and aspects, gifts possibilities to intuitive wine growers and makers. One of the notable influences is the sea surrounding the vineyards on all sides. Yiannis famously experimented with aging his Assyrtiko called Thalassitis (‘from the sea’) underwater with really intriguing evolution, surging texture while still driving pure zing like a trident through the tastebuds. Without Santorini’s magic dirt, I’m not sure the wine would have evolved with quite the same spell-binding tension and focus.

Tasting wines from specific soil types for this piece was a revelation of tension, concentration, length and balance thanks in large part to old vines planted in specific soil. Let’s take a look at the specifics of some white wines and the dirt behind the label.


Jako Vino, Stina ‘Cuvee White’, Dalmatia 2020 

This blend of 70% Pošip, 20% Chardonnay and 10% Vugava is dry farmed in the Stipančić vineyard dating back to the 15th century on the Croatian Island of Brač. Vines are pain-stakingly grafted onto centuries old roots that plunge deep into limestone soil. The aspect subtly favours the sea at an altitude of 420 to 550 metres and the resulting wine initially reminded me of an Assyrtiko from Santorini. Aromas of salty smoke and a flash of white pepper, lemon so bright I wrote ‘ignition’ in my notes and the palate is remarkable, packed with salinity and invigorating as a citrus meteorite. This wine took my tastebuds into orbit, lifted by pristine acidity with a finish that just keeps on rising. And such depth. A truly stunning wine.



Bodegas Viñátigo, Vijariego Blanco, Islas Canarias, Tenerife 2020 

Imagine the wafting niff of ashes from the barbecue of the gods! This wine leaps out of the glass with a sherbet ash eruption of salty lemon rind. There’s a subtle sense of roasted nut along with a lacing of dried oregano and lemon thyme. It’s gorgeous. And to taste? My first note simply reads “Wow. What a lovely glass of wine.” It latches on to every single part of the palate, richly textural together with a presence of throbbing zestiness. You know that feeling of sunshine glinting off a very beautiful sea on a hot day? That’s what this wine is, two things in one: a sense of depth underpinning blinding freshness. And it simply doesn’t fade easily – like a suspension bridge attaching to the tip of your tongue reaching towards an endless archipelago of bright glimmering light.

This is 100% Vijariego Blanco from La Guancha in northern Tenerife. The ungrafted vines inhabit a century-old volcanic plot with low yields of between 3000 and 4000 kg per hectare. Wild yeast fermentation in Allier oak barriques of 225 and 350 litres of varying toast levels. The wine was subsequently aged in oak on fine lees for four to six months.  The result is a wine of presence, tension and scrumptiousness. And it made me crave fresh shellfish for days.


Castel de Paolis, Frascati Superiore 2019 

My late grandfather would always order Frascati. He adored the stuff and I can clearly recall his appetising glass, flecked with sunlit condensation and a glinting promise of refreshment. As soon as my nose hits the glass in this case, memories begin turning in my mind, but they are soon overtaken by the realisation that this is Frascati of a different magnitude. The instantly fresh edge makes me think of a swimming pool in a grove of limes. And then it begins to unfurl, a deeper late summer scent of subtle peach and a Mediterranean herb garden fringed with jasmine on a balmy breeze.

This is gorgeous, one of the most precise and saline wines I’ve tasted in recent years – If you love Manzanilla, you’ll adore this. It really reminds me of taking a dip in the sea on holiday and licking your lips – invigorating stuff. This is sublimely poised, a bright sky of a wine that calls out for feta, green bell peppers, tomatoes – all the good stuff. And of course, ocean bounty. Blended from Malvasia del Lazio 70%, Trebbiano Giallo 20%, Bellone 5%, Bombino Bianco 5% on volcanic soils south of Rome, this wine has an immense sense of focus, or largesse coaxed into finesse. Volcanic soils rich in potassium and phosphorus have a way of delivering moisture and mineral freshness to the vineyard, planted at 5,500 vines per hectare to limit vigour. The Santerelli family are rightly to be hailed for bringing Frascati into the realm of classics to rival some of the world’s most famous white wine appellations. And for respecting and harnessing the discreetly mysterious power of volcanic vineyards.


Jako Vino, Stina Pošip, Dalmatia 2020 

This Croatian gem is hauntingly pale exuding exotic scents of pineapple, peach and passionfruit. There’s a salty sage hint here too, and again a sense of salinity. It’s utterly mesmeric to taste, finesse is the hallmark and it’s super textural. Its boulders turning to diamonds, finely shredded coils of exotic fruit ground through a salt cellar, a wine of charm a lazer-guided precision. Hard to think of a finer aperitif, pass me a bowl of salted cashews and I’m all set.

This is 100% Pošip from Brač, Dalmatia, Croatia – famous for its gleaming white stone that famously made the White House in Washington. Dry farmed, the Stipančić vineyard traces back to the 15th century between 420 to 550 metres above sea level. Mainly tank fermented with a small proportion in wooden vats, this is benchmark brilliance.


All of these whites have a sense of mineral purity with intensity and delicacy in near perfect balance. Magnitude framed with finesse. They all deliver a sense of vitality, that the vineyard is giving electrification to the experience of tasting. Along with volcanos, quartz is a mineral in dirt which has been whispered to me in hushed reverence for the freshness it can bring including Marc Kreydenweiss in Alsace, Johannes Leitz in Germany’s Rheingau and Pedro Parra in Chile’s Elqui Valley whose precision viticulture has since become world famous.

And there’s another famous white wine whose dirt is almost as famous as the bottles themselves, the Albariza soil behind the fortified wines of Jerez. Antonio Flores, Winemaker and Master Blender at Gonzalez Byass in southern Spain’s Jerez told me recently, “The albariza soil is a white, porous soil which is very poor in organic material. Even though it is not a characteristic soil for winemaking, it somehow shows a perfect symbiosis with the Palomino Fino grape variety, which accounts for 95% of the current total production in Jerez. The Albariza soil is purest (based on amount of chalk in the soil) in the most renowned pagos such as Carrascal and Macharnudo, which is where González Byass has the vast majority of its vineyards. The white colour of the soil supports the maturation of the lower grapes in the bunches as it reflects the sunlight. The albariza soil is capable of providing our wines both with life and personality. Firstly, life, because the Albariza soil is made of millions of layers and has a significant capability of retaining rain water. We help it along by digging trenches (the Aserpia) in the ground after harvest and just before the rainy season starts. The soil then stores this underground and feeds the vines bit by bit. Most importantly, it is capable of storing the rainfall all the way throughout the long, warm summer, and this way keeps the vines alive through its natural water supply system. It also provides personality to the wines. Through the ageing of the grapes, the Albariza soil provides a saline touch to the grape which later is pronounced in the wines. This is why you will find that the dry sherries all share the same kind of salinity (in the sweet wines this is overwritten by the sweetness).” I love the passion here, the way in which soil and the work with the soil is spoken in terms of an ally, method as well as place, the ultimate author of the wine’s character even after such intricate stewardship through the bodega.

How about red wines? Most winegrowers I’ve spoken to attest to the value of low vigour soils when it comes to vineyards. Katie Jones of Domaine Jones in south west France is clear that “soil or ‘terre’ is so much part of the word Terroir – or what gives my wines their personality. I only have old vines, and the soils in my vineyards are basically not soil at all but stones and clay.  But the vines love it – cool clay to retain the moisture (we hardly have any rain) and stones to allow the roots to penetrate the soil.  Coming from Leicestershire I was shocked by what the locals called soil but the poorer the soils, the lower the yields and the more characterful the wine.  I do believe too that you can taste the stone in my wines especially the whites planted on schist.” I tasted three reds from disparate corners of the world, once again, the identity of their dirt was the thumbprint behind each bottle. Let’s take a look…


Feudi di San Gregorio, Taurasi, Campania 2016 

Initially there’s a lovely warmth to the aromas, baked strawberry, dried rose petal, cherry, baked almond, tobacco, dried herbs and a whiff of ash. And yet there’s a mysterious tension here. As soon as you sip it the palate is alive with acidity, incredibly fine, very firm tannin and a glass designed to enjoy with food. Umami, black olive and tomato richness with a pleasing micro-bitter thrill, I’m drawn to pair with glossy shellfish dishes such as lobster or prawn served in rich tomato sauces. Fillet of beef is the bullseye, I’d also love it with sausages from the barbecue. This is a wine of concentration and intensity without being overbearing. With volcanic soils, wines like this show gravitas. And drama. You may think you’re going for a walk with a poet but it turns out you’re in for a training session on a cliff edge with a boxer.

I adore the wines of Feudi San Gregorio. I remember on a holiday in Rome many years ago working my way steadily through as much of their output as I could find. This 100% Aglianico from Taurasi, Campania is a superb example of the right grape thriving in the correct conditions, it simply couldn’t be any more expressive. The volcanic soils are thanks to the violent eruptions of Vesuvius, some distance away which last erupted in 1944. Great events crafting an intimate moment, worth a thought when you’re next sipping this wine.


Badiola Vino de Pueblo Rioja 2018, Laguardia L4GD4  

Wow! This red has that quintessentially Rioja scent – the tickle of oak and the smoky allure -but beneath it is a layer of something special, a little like the faint fine ashy mist that softly billows when you’re clearing out a fireplace. This wine is impeccably judged. Whoever harvested picked exactly the right moment! In terms of ageing, this wine has the next five years to evolve and unfurl thanks to very fine grippy tannin and eruption of redcurrant acidity. Super turbo-charged finesse is how I’d describe this wine’s overall impression. It feels like a chapter distilled into a sentence and the palate travels – you start with fruit and end with a mineral core of presence, structure and fine density. Vitality, a word that seems to cover all the wines in this tasting! This wine unites the long tradition of Rioja with an invigorating vision for the future.

100% Tempranillo from Rioja Alavesa this youthful wine project founded in 2018 emphasizes site rather than ageing. The bush vines are ancient, low- yielding, many planted in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s planted on clay-limestone with altitude.  And the results are exhilarating.


Undurraga ‘TH’, Cabernet Franc, Valle de Maipo 2017 

Lovely to taste a red with a bit of evolution, glowing garnet in the glass with a sweet and savoury aroma that I could happily enjoy for years. Cigar, blueberry, ripe raspberry, leather, black peppercorn, black olive and a tiny whisper of cola nut. Just lovely in its complexity and the same on the palate, a real sense of ease with intrigue. It’s a diverse spectrum of richness, plush, and beginning to enter its prime time. Firm fine to medium velvet tannin and the hallmark here is tastiness, enhancing rather than shutting down flavour. I’m tempted to nibble a piece of cheddar alongside, but roast lamb would be a treat, or a mushroom and red pepper kebab. This wine has density, raspberry zing, blueberry depth, baked black olives, rich umami – all held in thrilling tension. The secret headline is lovely minerality that shines through the tannin as the fruit fades and svelte structure takes gentle command. This lingering textural feeling to the wine is immensely moreish and totally satisfying. I have a feeling this red is one of the great the sleeper hits of the wine world and this vineyard will some day command prices to make many European vineyards blush. It has the charm and grace of old Bordeaux with audacious pride in the sheer quality of its fruit.

Undurraga has nailed this blend of 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. We are in Catemito, Maipo Valley an alluvial terrace formed in the Holocene period around 10,000 years ago. Sandy-clayey texture and lots of gravel for good drainage and a hand in balanced vigour and yields. These vines have barely begun at around 12 years old (own rootstocks) but the low-yield of 1.5kg already reveals what this vineyard is capable of. I couldn’t be more excited for its future. The wine is aged for 16 months in French oak barrels which for this rich style is just about bang on. Hard to resist a wine of this calibre and a daring look at Chile’s bright future.


These reds share a core of finesse, all the flavours in the world can dance around them but what seems to really matter here is structure, texture and a sense of density worn lightly. I remember standing with Nick Mills in Rippon vineyard overlooking Ruby Island glimmering in Lake Wanaka, New Zealand. I’ve always found Nick’s warm style of straightforward speaking to be as endearing as it is life-affirming. He held up some soil as he we were chatting, I forget his exact words but more or less described it as a heap of life in his hand. We went over to some steaming compost and the remarkable heat of it instantly showed how much energy was at play. Soil is a bit like a vinyl record. It can be in good shape, delivering a resonant experience. Or it can be in poor shape, not well looked after, creating a more hollow, glitchy experience.

Soil types, of course, are different from place to place, sometimes footstep to footstep. But a reassuring constant is soil’s ability to recover. It may take time, but a patch of earth that’s been farmed using chemical intervention seems to be able find its way back to balance given enough time. Today, soil and environmental health is a question more and more consumers are tuning in to. Coupled with the idea of the microbial activity in the soil, the symbiotic role played by mycorrhizal networks in the sharing and distribution of nutrients through dirt, the paradox of this silent yet characterful force is the loveliest thing to contemplate over a glass. We can’t escape it, the dirt is the land, the land is our planet and we are all joining forces with it sooner or later along with all beings that have passed before us. One love? I’ll raise a glass to that.



WOTM: Michele Chiarlo ‘Nivole’, Moscato d’Asti 2021 (75cl)

Our July Wine of the Month is a new take on an old favourite – Michele Chiarlo ‘Nivole’, Moscato d’Asti 2021, in a 750ml bottle! The Moscato grapes for Nivole come from the vineyards in the heart of the historic viticultural area of Monferrato, which have been carefully selected as they are the most suited to the Moscato variety.

In a nutshell

A gently sparkling dessert wine with intense peach and tropical fruit flavours, delightfully silky.

The producer

Michele Chiarlo is one of Piedmont’s most prestigious winemakers, producing outstanding wines from some of the most exceptional sites in Piedmont, including Barolo’s world famous Cannubi and Cerequio vineyards. Founded in 1956 by Michele Chiarlo and now run by his sons Alberto and Stefano, the Chiarlo philosophy “is to capture the terroir” and with judicious use of oak they develop some wines for ageing and some which can be enjoyed earlier. Their stunning collection of Barolo and Barbera wines consistently receive 90+ points from Wine Advocate, James Suckling and Wine Enthusiast.

The wine

The grapes were gently pressed and the must stored at very low temperatures. The temperature was raised and a slow fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel autoclaves until the alcohol level reached 5%. During this process, part of the carbon dioxide developed during fermentation remained captured, imparting the wine with its mild, natural effervescence. The temperature was then lowered to 0°C to arrest the fermentation and also to retain the natural sweetness and freshness of the Moscato grape. The wine was micro filtered to give the wine its clarity, purity and prevent any further fermentation of the yeasts.

HeadStart: In Marketing

It’s been a minute and a couple of months since my last update regarding my little journey and should you be sticking with it, I thank you! This time we shall be looking at my time in the company’s marketing department. My job has the benefit of seeing plenty all of the company’s big and small moments and how it all melds together into one big ball of wibbly-wobbly, drinky-winey stuff (if you get the reference, you’re better than most), and the marketing department is most definitely the communal “hub” of the company.

It was a dark winter’s day as I started with the department – I remember it vividly and unknowing what my first job would be just made the morning feel that little bit more ominous. I’d finished up the previous week with Customer Services’ Christmas rush and having a few – maybe slightly messy – days to reset over New Year’s. It was in this moment of questioning, when all hope seemed lost, that Mr Ben Jackson, a beacon of light, appeared to me like hope in a snowstorm. He was my point of contact for the next three months and what a point of contact he was.

He was like that fairy-tale hero, presenting himself only in times of great need and turmoil to save the lowly apprentice from the darkness that envelops them. His name is whispered in hushed tones across the new office – unsure as to whether it’s out of respect or dislike – and his poise over his work is second to none.

(Yes, to those who are wondering, he does check these before they’re released).

Without any sarcasm, he was incredibly helpful. He assigned a couple of press releases to write, which was a fair step away from my usual writing style. I’m quite flowery in the way I write and I digress often – you might have noticed. Writing a press release is different; you’ve got to be to the point and focused, without straying too far from the established formula of “main point, quote, fact, outro”. I make it sound so restrictive, but in a way it needs to be. The point of the piece needs to be clearly presented to the reader as soon as possible, with the bulk filled out with an understanding of why it’s happened without too much fuss or mucking around. I found them quite challenging, yet also quite therapeutic in a lot of ways because it took me away from my usual and I could just put things plainly, which is impossible to me in any other circumstance apparently.

2022 also marked the return of the Hallgarten Annual Tasting. It is naturally our biggest event of the year with so many moving pieces but after a year out and so long not being able to organise events of this scale, it was so good to finally get stuck in. More than 700 wines on show in the heart of London including plenty newbies we’d never seen before, over 100 suppliers crossing countries to join in, and with 1,000+ signed up to come and taste, it was a memorable moment when everything came together. Sarah Charlwood, our new Events Manager, did an incredible job organising everything to a tee even after only 8 weeks of being with Hallgarten and it was good fun to work with her with it, even in my limited capacity. She’s on holiday at the moment, a well-deserved one! The take-home for it all was more than just a roaring success, but that we have established that after a tumultuous couple of years, we are on the road to recovery.


It’s one of those beautiful balmy spring evenings when London feels immortal.

Steve and I are making our way – via a couple of Neck Oils – to Notting Hill’s Mazi restaurant. We’re here to catch up with two of our South African winemakers who are over here working the market.

But these aren’t just any two winemakers.

They are two of the most effervescent, inspiring, ravishing and super-talented winemakers on our list. (And I don’t even care for the phrase “super-talented!”)

Lovely to see you again, Sam and Elizma!

Hugs and kisses as we settle into Mazi’s courtyard. Then the shots of Mastiha Negronis are poured – followed quickly by another – and then the Assyrtiko, and then the sharing plates arrive, oh, and the bread, and the conversation is breathless. They’re catching up with each other as they’ve been working different parts of the country – “Oh, and I went there and you should have seen the restaurant…. “Oh, but I was there and  what a night…”  – and it’s non-stop. Steve and I can barely get a word it. We just nod.

And we eat. Heavenly plates: smoked aubergine; sea bass tartare; langoustine. The food here is stunning.

Samantha O’Keefe has the higher profile. Of Californian origin and owner of Greyton’s Lismore Estate, she had come from nowhere in double-quick time to become one of South Africa’s most awarded winemakers, with multiple Wines of the Year awards, before suffering the heartbreak of seeing her winery and house burn down in a December 2019 fire which went viral and provoked worldwide sympathy. She has rebuilt and is slowly getting back at her peak – but the memory still brings tears to her eyes.

Elizma Visser is the younger, and has been winemaker at Olifantsberg in the Breede River area of Worcester for the last few years, gaining a reputation for stylish and polished wines; Tim Atkin gave her the Best Young Winemaker gong in his last South African Report.

Amidst the giggles, there is much talk about itineraries, on which customers were soooo nice, and wasn’t that tasting well, and, oh yes, what plane are you on tomorrow morning?…

And the food keeps coming: courgette cakes; calamari; feta tempura.

But everything revolves around the wines. Which of their wines they are happiest with; which new techniques they are working on; the difference in terroir and climate between their two areas. And here’s the thing, Elizma is beginning to work with Syrah, a varietal which has elevated Sam to world-class status. Better still, Elizma has two samples which we open and begin to taste. And it here that the relationship between teacher and pupil is most obvious, with Sam endlessly giving out tips and suggestions. Did you think about this? Have you considered that? Elizma nods. We drink. This is good. Very good. Black olives, anise, thyme and lashings of plummy fruit.

And unbelievably, after all the food has been cleared away, Elizma then orders a plate of lamb – and wolfs it down. What a gal!

I take a quick photo on the hand held, and – lo and behold – it’s quite decent.

Later, on the tube, I study it again. Take a look. What do you see? What I see is the absolute affection and respect these two winemakers have for each other. And the laughter.

A pleasure to share the evening with them.

On a Mission

Picture postcard stuff, this: it is a gloriously sunny northern California day, and we are sitting on the veranda of a century-old Hacienda, looking out over the very first parcel of land to produce wine in California, and admiring a Hollywood-type vista of vines and palm trees – and a restored turkey warehouse.

Hard to beat, this wine tasting lark. Heaven on earth. A rose Pinot Noir 2021 is reasonably deep in colour, and has a rich and expressive nose. Others describe it as guava and lime, but I get shedloads of raspberries. It has more body than most roses and has a beautiful firm textured mouthfeel.

But first, some history: in 1858, Emil Dresel, a German son of a wine producer in Weisenheim, emigrated to California in search of his fortune. On 12th March 1849 he purchased 400 acres of land two miles east of Sonoma Square, the spot where, just 10 years before, the Bear Flag Revolt had established California as a state in the American Union.

Emil planted cuttings of Riesling and Sylvaner, brought from his homeland, and possibly the first of those varieties imported to the United States. Emil and his brother Julius went on to become wine industry leaders, fervent Abolitionists, gamblers, land stewards – and intermittent outlaws.

Fast forward to 2007, when fourth-generation California farmers and brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani (of Croatian descent) took over the property, and christened it Scribe. Both had an interest in wine, having spent post-college stints at vineyards in Europe and South Africa. The property was a mess; a dilapidated turkey farm which had served as a brothel and a speakeasy! Over time, the brothers restored its soil, and in the process even unearthed a handful of treasures from its past—Prohibition-era glass and other old china, antique work stools and even opium vials.

“We planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. We also retained a tiny amount of the Sylvaner  – the only two hectares in the whole of the US – and a precious two acres of Mission,” says Adam.

Adam and Andrew sit before us, a sea of denim and a shared enthusiasm for sustainable winemaking that borders on the evangelical. Impossible to dislike these guys.

As we speak, Matt Ahern, the personable head honcho of the Scribe sales team, pours us the 2021 Rose Pet Nat. This is unusual in that it is a Pet Nat that actually tastes nice! It has a gorgeous nose of pink grapefruit and elderflower and – oddly – nettles. Huge mouthfeel, lots of body and – clean! Very moreish. Expect the Unexpected.

Next up, served with a smorgasbord of hors d’oeuvres, is a 2020 estate Chardonnay, harvested from a vineyard on the slope of Arrowhead Mountain in the southern Mayacamas, which has a steely, Chablis-like feel to it. Adam explains that the weight on the palate comes not from wood but from the intensity of fruit. Again, it has lovely texture.

But there is more to this place than wine. You feel as though you could kick off your boots, put your feet up and stay a long long time. Somewhere I read that Scribe is all about appealing to young, social wine lovers who feel that in a digital world, real luxury is good farming, good food and drink, and good people. The only bit I don’t qualify for is “young.”

Andrew explains that they farm as sustainably as possible, but are “pulling away from “Natural”,” feeling it too restraining. “We don’t call this wine “Orange” he says, as we taste a 2021 Chardonnay. “We call it “Skin Contact”.” It is beautifully aromatic, crunchy fruit and bags of salinity. “We look for nuance,” he says.

An estate 2020 Pinot Noir (about to be replaced by the 2021) has lovely soft red fruit, and then gamey nuances, and on the palate has that ravishing acidity that is the hallmark of good Pinot. Extremely soft tannins.

The wines are great, but we are desperate to taste the fabled Mission (Chile’s Pais, of course.) And, boy, it doesn’t disappoint. The nose is of bark and red clay, and on the palate is lovely soft raspberry jam fruit and those strawberry toffees you used to eat as a kid. Adam describes it as being somewhere between a Pinot and a Syrah. One of the highlights of the entire trip.

We finish with a Cabernet Sauvignon, which I hadn’t realised they made. “We’ve always had a foot in the Napa,” says Adam. They make two, from Atlas Peak East and Atlas Peak West; this is the east version. It is so ripe and juice that Steve describes it as “Bordeaux, but with nicer tannins and without the brett.”

I look out at the scene again. Everything seems so understated, so stylish – even the labels. And it would be easy for Andrew and Adam to look just a little self-assured. But in actual fact they are as courteous and humble a twosome as you could ever wish to meet. Matt is made of the same ilk.

And the hacienda does feel like a home. It was redesigned by artisan friends. Extended members of the family work here in what has been described as a perfectly-curated family business; Kelly Mariani, a veteran of Chez Panisse, looks after the kitchen; there are cushions and soft furnishings everywhere and it wouldn’t surprise you to see Joni Mitchell and James Taylor sitting cross-legged and strumming their guitars  – feather canyons everywhere – (which is appropriate because Andrew’s wife is the singer-songwriter Lia Ices); they have a writers’ residency (one of whom was essayist Sloane Crossly); and you expect at any moment they will all hunker down in front of some burning logs with a wood-fired pizza and the music clunked high.

Stylish wines. Stylish place. Stylish people.