Vosne-Romanée blew me away the very first time we met – Pinot Noir as I had never known it. "I just don't get red Burgundy, it's just all a bit thin, a bit weedy' was my line, having just arrived from Oddbins in 2004 to work for independent merchant The Winery, Little Venice. Owner David Motion's riposte: "Really? Ok, try this", plucking a bottle from the old apothecary shop's wooden shelf – Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru 'Les Beaux Monts' from Domaine Michel Noëllat. One sniff, without tasting, I put the glass down: "Ok. I get it."
The perfume of top draw Pinot Noir is the seducer, and the memory of that first time winged back as David popped a bottle of Vosne from Domaine Robert Sirugue during lunch at Brat restaurant (BYO bottle), a domaine he imports directly from the grower, as with all of the Burgundy he lists.
Owning 11 hectares of vines in the sleepy village of Vosne, the winery is run by 5th generation siblings Jean-Louis and Marie- France, Jean-Louis' son Arnaud now the winemaker. This village wine is made from twelve lieu dits (including Aux Reas, La Croix Blanche, Les Chalandins), and despite being young, its already oozing with red cherry scented grace and charm – silky stuff.
The Domaine appears to be flying quietly under the radar in the UK, while garnering a cult following in Japan after an appearance in Manga comic 'Kami no Shizuki' (The Drops of God) . Relatively excellent value for the finest spot on the planet for Pinot Noir, they own a plot of 1er Cru 'Les Petits Monts' which overlooks the hallowed Grand Crus of Richebourg and La Romanée – reader, I bought one.
Vosne, you're a babe....
Vosne-Romanée 2016, Domaine Robert Sirugue
Grüner Veltliner 'Grundstein'
At Thai barbecue restaurant Kiln in Soho, we've put this charmer on the list. Grüner Veltliner from Julia Nather and Josef Schenter. 3 hectares farmed, from two separate parcels of fruit, loess and rockier quartz/schist. Unfiltered and unfined, some whole bunch, touch of time on skins.
Most of the grapes were whole bunch pressed, with fermentation kicking off the next day. 20% of the grapes were fermented separately, on their skins for five days, pressed, then blended with the rest of the juice where they finished fermentation together. Kept on fine lees in steel tanks for eight months. Unfined and unfiltered , with a tiny touch of sulphur added just before bottling.
Corking stuff. Nailed on spanker with Isaan style Haddock larb and sour turmeric curry of Pollock.
Rosé yeah, whatever yeah? Well, seems the rosé category has been on good form over recent years, and Mirabeau are a good place to start for classy, dry rosé. A stunning weekend of weather in London (with a Provençal kinda swagger) had me dashing into the garden with samples from Mirabeau, set up by British couple Stephen and Jeany Cronk.
Ideally the sunshine will be bathing the garden – rosé drinking with an overcast sky just doesn't cut it – and this pale, delicately scented glass of redcurrants, strawberries, raspberries and whatever other summer berries you may find in there, will slake the thirst admirably. 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah, grown on clay and limestone at 300-400m altitude, some of the highest in the area, with sustainably certified vinification.
Get on it, ice bucket out, smoked salmon blinis flying – the Instagram post must include #bliss for maximum #jelz.
Available: waitrose.com (£13.99)
Zin Bitch Strikes Again
3 Ball Zinfandel is a blend of grapes from three Californian counties, made by a chap known out there as ‘Zinbitch’. True story. Christian Tietje has acquired this memorable moniker for his winemaking at Cypher Winery, crafting high end Zinfandels. This latest project is a blend of Sonoma County, Paso Robles and the foothills of Amador County, with a splash of Petite Sirah and Carignan lobbed in.
A right ole' mouthful this one, charging out with dark cherry and blackberry, then slapping you about a bit with a healthy 15% ABV, but it's all in seamless balance – plush, lush, silky, satisfying.
A discovery while visiting The Fordwich Arms pub in Kent, where some cracking cooking is going on, where the open fires make you want to stay all day, and where co-owner Guy Palmer-Brown has assembled an interesting little list.
And Christian? Oh, he's noted as the "surfer, punk rocker, metal artist winemaker" who fell in love with wine and oysters in a small fishing town in Maine, and ended up cooking in seafood and Italian restaurants across New England. Obsessed with seafood and the ocean, he also makes a wine he considers the "ultimate" seafood wine, blending Viiognier, Riesling, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay – it's called Octopussy.
When he's not being a Zinbitch he's surfing on California's Central Coast, popping oyster shells, or welding a metal sculpture: of course he is. Rock 'n' Roll winemaker....
Poised, taut, nervy, with echoes of great white Burgundy. I worked a vintage with Jamie Kutch in Sonoma in 2006, for boutique Pinot Noir producer Kosta Browne, sorting the grapes as they came to the winery at 6am. He made his first experimental barrels of wine that year, under the tutelage of winemaker Michael Browne. Under his own label, he is now making some of the most profound, exhilharating wines – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – in California.
Impressive Russian River Valley Chardonnay at the Marks & Spencer press tasting, and a rare treat to find a decent, elegant Sonoma County Chardonnay that doesn't make teeth itch and toes curl at the price. I fell in love with this region twelve years ago, eventually spending a harvest working 'crush' at boutique Pinot Noir producer Kosta Browne – the landscape, the restaurants, the wines....yep, I fell for it all with goofy abandon. Sideways comes to mind...
Classy, subtle yet ripe, a lick of buttery oak, a beam of bright acidity. Worth pouncing on. Not much around, so worth looking to find it on the M&S website. £16.
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A collaboration between two friends, viticulturist Pedro Barbosa and winemaker João Cabral de Almeida, the aim is to produce the best possible expression of the Loureiro varietal, the grapes coming from Pedro’s family estate in the Barcelos region of Vinho Verde.
Portugal’s northernmost wine-producing region, wines here are valued for their bracing acidity and freshness. This example has more concentration, texture and richness than many, and was a great foil for a dish of Cornish crab with courgette and confit lemon at Neo Bistro – a thrilling recent opening near Oxford Circus, with a smart, sharply assembled wine list.
Larry Cherubino purchased his first parcel of land in Frankland River, Western Australia, with wife Edwina in 2004 — the winery has gone on to become one of the top flagbearers for Western Australia, winning awards such as Winery of the Year in 2011, and Best Value Winery 2017 in the respected James Halliday Wine Companion.
Fruit is sourced from the 'Channybearup' vineyard. Handpicked, whole bunch pressed, and aged in both two-year-old French oak barrels, with a small portion of new oak. A Chardonnay with enough texture and weight on the hips to tackle stronger flavours, yet with a Burgundian-esque litheness.
Coped impressively with several dishes at one of the most exciting Chinese restaurants in the UK, A. Wong — in particular, a new dish of garlic steamed lobster with mung bean noodles and superior soy.
Keats & Syrah
Franz and Martina Weninger expanded their family Austrian winery in 1992 by hopping across the border into Southern Hungary, and now son Franz Reinhard Weninger and wife Petra run the second project in Sopron-Balf, on the Austria/Hungary border. This wine is from the oldest Syrah vineyard in Hungary, the soils rich with gneiss (a glittering rock) and mineral rich schist.
A beautiful expression of Syrah, peppery and savoury, a bright acid core, with flashes of black olive. Chosen for us by sommelier Lionel Periner (studying for his Master Sommelier qualification) during a cracking lunch at Adam's Restaurant in Birmingham. The John Keats quote on the label from the poem Endymion gave this Keats lover an added reason to enjoy it, as it sailed across both duck and turbot dishes — an assured choice from a top sommelier.
Jim Barry was a huge influence on the reputation of South Australia's Clare Valley as a top Riesling region, founding the winery in 1959 with his wife Nancy. His son Peter now runs the company, who I first met while working for Oddbins in 2013, and his Riesling was one of the first I had tasted from the region.
They have just produced the first Australian Assyrtiko, the Greek grape grown on the island of Santorini and famed for it's high acidity and piercing minerality — a wine to look out for.
This Riesling carries the signature calling card of the Clare Valley, intense lime character (juice, zest), and a bone-dry, whistle clean finish as lithe as a whippet — slammed back at Planet Of The Grapes in Holborn on a warm evening, surely the best named wine bar in London?
When I’m scanning a restaurant wine list and see Jean-Paul & Benoît winking at me, I find it hard not to order immediately: one of my favourite domaines in Chablis. With a history stretching back to 1620, the Droins are one of the most established names in the region with thirteen hectares of vines covering seven Premier Cru vineyards and five Grand Crus.
‘Vaillons’ is one of the larger Premier Crus, the wines tending to be a bit more floral and delicate, although this has all the characteristic saline minerality that makes Chablis so alluring – a region where Chardonnay expresses itself as a sleek, finely chiselled number.
Enjoyed as part of a long lunch at The Ten Cases in Covent Garden, alongside fried squid and their brilliant soft shelled crab with avocado and jalapeño. The rack of lamb to share with a devastating BRICK of dauphinoise alongside was the real star.
Step To It
Stomper. The ancient art of 'pigeage' is celebrated in the name of this wine, the 'little' referring to the fact only small children could fit into the top of one of the barrels to foot crush the grapes. Ah, the romance of winemaking is still alive.
Six friends decided to start the winery after the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, after which Managing Director Angela Clifford thought "something brave needs to be done next", and they began by specialising in Pinot Noir and Riesling. 'Little Stompers' is a brilliant off-shoot.
Two separate vats are involved in this wine: one with Pinot Gris and a bit of Gewürztraminer (5%), the other with Pinot Gris with its stems intact, to be duly stomped.
Natural yeasts, a year in barrel, bottled without fining or filtration. A lot of guff is spouted about wines that tick the 'natural wine' boxes - and this sits firmly in that category - but this is clean, balanced, has heft and grippy texture (a beguiling russet tinged number) and is a captivating drop – (£26.95 retail).
The Prüm family history in the Mosel goes back to 1156, but it was Johann Josef Prüm who founded the estate in 1911 – the Prüm wines are regarded amongst the finest in Germany. Katharina is now at the helm of running this prestigious address, and they tend old vines in some of the top vineyard sites, including the legendary Wehlener Sonnenuhr (named after the sundial built in the vineyard in 1842 by Jodocus Prüm, an ancestor of J.J. Prüm).
Poured from magnum at Gezellig (a Dutch word translating loosely as ‘atmosphere, good times, being together’), a two week stint at Carousel London by former sommelier Wieteke Teppema and chef Graham Long. A riotous menu involved Scotch Eggs and sausage rolls, Szechuan roasted duck, and a Riseley cheese and lamb fat toastie.
@GezelligLND (more dates and restaurant soon)
The Ramey Chardonnays have been regarded as benchmark Californian wines for many years now, David Ramey and his wife having founded the winery in 1996. Relatively long ageing on the lees in Burgundian oak barrels ensures a plush, richly textured style that are amongst California’s finest Chardonnays.
Grown in the cooler Napa Valley district of Carneros, temperatures during the summer are kept relatively cool by marine air flowing through the Petaluma Gap, resulting in wines which have less of the blowsy opulence of many from the Napa Valley. Larry Hyde converted the site from pasture and fruit orchards in 1979, and top wineries who make wine with his fruit include Kistler; Paul Hobbs; Schramsberg; Joseph Phelps; Patz & Hall and DuMol.
This was leaner and more restrained than expected, tightly coiled with a beam of acidity hinting at a long future ahead – decant and savour over a couple of hours. Enjoyed during a fine lunch at Le Caprice where Dorset crab with gazpacho jelly, yellowfin tuna ceviche, and an exceptional burger with Mayfield Swiss and bacon played starring roles.
Jamie Kutch jacked in his job on Wall Street in 2005, setting out for California to make wine with no previous formal training. His Pinot Noirs quickly began garnering a cult reputation, and by 2009 his ‘Kanzler’ vineyard wine was on the list at The French Laundry.
This is his second Chardonnay vintage and this is already tasting like one of California's most elegant and profound. I worked alongside Jamie in 2006, sorting grapes and working crush at Kosta Browne in Sonoma (a boutique Pinot Noir producer), when he was making some of his first barrels of Pinot Noir – it has been fascinating to track his progression since those early days.
His wines are marked by their delicacy, freshness and modest alcohol, a result of his preferred style of wine, as well as sourcing fruit from some of Sonoma’s coolest coastal sites. Now, he's shaking moves amongst the best winemakers in the state, and this wine echoes many of the qualities of good white Burgundy: there’s no finer compliment that can be given to a Chardonnay made outside of the Côte d’Or.
Keller’s reputation just keeps growing. I first sold these wines while working at a German specialist importer, The Winery in Maida Vale, back in 2004 – now his wines regularly make an appearance on some of the best wine lists in town.
Rheinhessen used to be notorious chiefly for producing bulk wine as well as the much-maligned Liebfraumilch (mostly Müller-Thurgau rather than Riesling), but growers like Keller have made great strides in raising its profile for producing high quality Riesling.
The Keller vineyards are based at the foot of the Donnersberg mountain – the highest in the region – and where rainfall is the lowest in Germany, helping to limit yields and increase fruit concentration. ‘Von der Fels’ is made from a selection of Klaus-Peter Keller’s top sites, and is a fine example of dazzling dry Riesling, chock-full of sleek, saline, citrus-charged minerality.
Enjoyed alongside some stunning plates at Ta Ta Eatery, a unique spot from Zijun Meng and Ana Gonçalves in Haggerston: a ferociously good match with a tempura of nuka pickled asparagus with crab and lovage mayonnaise.
Sometimes a wine screams out ‘value’ so loudly that not ordering it when it’s on a restaurant list is something akin to vinous madness: why spend twice as much on a wine that delivers similar quality? Originally built on the ruins of a 12th century Benedictine Priory, Château Thénac produces just such a wine.
A Merlot dominated blend with splashes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, this has been talked up by some commentators as a ‘baby Pomerol’, made in the Bordeaux hugging appellation of Bergerac, in the heart of the black truffle growing Périgord region.
An experienced winemaking/vineyard consultant (Denis Durantou of Château L’Eglise Clinet), allied with a moneyed owner (Eugene Shvidler, a mate of Roman Abramovich) who has invested heavily in the Château, has ensured the production of a wine that inspires a genuine ‘WTF?’ reaction when tasting and acknowledging the price: £25 on the list at Lorne Restaurant in Victoria, alongside dishes of lamb rump and some wonderful pork faggots with cauliflower cheese.
Condrieu is pricey. The Northern Rhône is where the Viognier grape reaches its apogee, throwing off the traits that can make its lesser iterations a cumbersome, heavy-legged, overly rich, hotly alcoholic and flabby mouthful. Pierre Gaillard has been working the vineyards since he was twelve years old, going on to study oenology in Montpelier.
While it has Viognier’s signature apricot and peachy twang, this beguiles with its grace and mineral poise. Grown on granite soils, this spends 7-8 months in barrel (just 5% of which is new oak), and is a barnstorming advert for elegant Viognier at the top of it’s game. Honeysuckle and jasmine scented, a fragrant gem. Pricey? Of course, but £43.95 (retail) of ‘worth it’.
Sometimes a label jumps out from the shelf and gives you a double palmed smack on the chops (Eric Morecambe style), daring you to pick it up and buy it. Enter Delinquente with their eye-catching bold images, drawn by Adelaide street artist ‘Ankles’, the edgy faces looking like members of cartoon band Gorillaz.
Riverland is Australia’s largest wine region (rarely seen mentioned on bottles) and is also one of the biggest bulk wine producing regions in the world, with many big brands sourcing their grapes from here.
Con-Greg Grigoriou buys grapes from smaller growers he trusts, who work their vines organically, with Italian varietals representing the thrust of his production. He wants to make wines that are pure, drinkable and ‘smashable’ – this dark, brooding number jumped off the shelf at Forest Wines in Walthamstow, and was duly smashed down alongside barbecued lamb ribs in the garden.
The village of Auxey-Duresses tends to be the one that slips under the radar, jammed as it is between the two more illustrious (and pricier) villages of Volnay and Meursault – for this reason, it often delivers great bang for buck from vines a short stagger away from the famous vineyards that command the high prices.
Gilles Lafouge represents the sixth generation of winemakers stretching back to the 17th century. A nutty complexity on the nose marked this out as good Burgundy (we were tasting blind), and my guess was angling towards Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet. Around £80 on the list here, it kept step with the more illustrious Comtes Lafon Meursault we tasted afterwards.
Enjoyed amongst a flurry of other top wines at Hedone, where chef/owner Mikael Jonsson’s obsessive attention to sourcing delivered, amongst much else of merit, the best sweetbreads I’ve ever had: quite remarkable.
The Bénard-Pitois family have been making Champagne in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ since 1878, currently run by Michelle and Laurent since 1991. They own all of their vines which are solely on classified Grand Cru and Premier Cru sites, 9.5 hectares located on the hills of six villages in the Great Marne Valley and the Côte des Blancs.
The 'Carte Blanche' is a classy drop, dominated by 75% Pinot Noir, with 20% Chardonnay and a splash of Pinot Meunier. Brought into the UK for the first time by new wine importer, Mayfly Wine Co., run by the fly fishing obsessed Pete Goss (the company name is a nod to this), who has worked at top London merchants including Roberson and Armit. £22 a bottle retail? Get some in. Home drinking....
Brothers Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson are the third generation of Finlayson winemakers, their father having been a pioneer of cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fruit for 'Malabel' comes from a high altitude site, 700 metres high and surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the Cape.
Grapes are completely de-stemmed, fermented with native yeasts, and spend 14 months in a barrel (30% new oak). Very pretty, bright red cherry scented, supple and silky. Went down a treat with an artfully presented tagine of chicken, and a fat raviolo of braised oxtail at Elystan Street in Chelsea.
Adam Pico is a third generation grower in Chablis, his grandfather having first planted vines in the 1940s. He managed to acquire small plots of vines and began farming them biodynamically with minimal intervention, and made with a natural yeast fermentation without any fining or filtering of the wines. His domaine ‘Pattes Loup’ has attracted many admirers for producing complex, thought provoking Chablis that is up there with the best in the region right now. Poured by the glass at The Laughing Heart’s new Bluebird bar beneath the restaurant. Leo Carreira was cooking for the night, the first of a guest chef series – sea trout crudo and Crevettes prawns with their head juices (flavour bomb) with daikon, were worthy foils for the wine.
Husband and wife Eleni and Edouard are regarded as one of the exciting new breed of Chablis growers, inspired and guided by the iconic Chablis domaine Vincent Dauvissat. Reclaiming a small parcel of vines from Edouard's family, they have set about making a couple of compelling wines: they are the antithesis of the waves of generic bulk Chablis that cram the supermarket shelves. This 3.2 hectare plot is located just beneath the Premier Cru of 'Montée de Tonnerre'. Played a fine part during lunch at Noble Rot alongside braised cuttlefish risotto, and their slip sole and smoked butter.
It's a pleasure when the local village pub puts as much effort into sourcing their wines as they do into the quality of the food coming from the kitchen, and that's exactly what The Horse and Cart in Peasmarsh - close to picturesque Rye - are doing with some aplomb. A massive five litre of Izadi's Rioja Reserva was on the bar this weekend (to drink in or take away), and sets their stall out from the kick off. We content ourselves with Sartarelli's consistently excellent Verdicchio (£28 to drink in), but another visit may see us pile into Massolino Nebbiolo, Isola e Elena Chianti, or a magnum of Fontodi's benchmark Tuscan red, Flaccianello. Locally shot venison with dauphinoise, Rye Bay scallops, and a cracking breakfast featuring their own sausages completed the weekend stay. Owner Marc Wise used to co-own a wine merchant — ah, that would be it then.
A partnership between St John Group’s Trevor Gulliver, winemaker Benjamin Darnault and Fergus Henderson, the wines of Boulevard Napoléon consistently offer some great value drinking. A 75-year-old single vineyard produces the fruit for this 100% Carignan, and this burly, dense, brooding wine has some serious cojones – its 14.5% ABV will sneak up on you and hand out a friendly slap on the cheeks (Morecambe and Wise style). The collaboration is named after the street where the winery is located in the village of La Livinière, and now produces a slew of great wines. A recent arrival on the list at Yardarm in Leyton, a wonderful little wine shop/bar and deli on Francis Road that has been part of the resurgence of dining and drinking options in E10.
Frascati, Marlene? A mention of Frascati conjures up images of naff 70s and 80s dinner parties and wine bars, a wine that somehow lost favour in the UK amidst a sea of the cheaper, 'battery acid-alike' end of the spectrum. Archeological evidence points to grapes for wine being cultivated around the town of Frascati since the 5th century B.C., and supped by the denizens of Ancient Rome. This tiny two hectare estate run by Chiara and Daniele was a former producer of the bulk 'chugging' stuff, but now produces some eye-wideningly exciting wine. Mainly Malvasia with some Trebbiano, unfiltered with no sulphur additions, this has verve and texture to burn: seamlessly balanced. Imported by Winemakers Club who have just opened their bar and restaurant in Deptford High Street — the Lazio Rosso made with Cesanese is beautiful, too.
Ted Lemon is a veritable 'daddy' of the Californian winemaking world. The first American to be appointed winemaker and vineyard manager at a Burgundy estate, while working for Guy Roulot in Meursault, Ted has been espousing the benefits of biodynamic farming and winemaking way before it started to become trendy. I visited him while working a vintage at Kosta Browne winery in 2006, and his obsessive attention to detail was plain to see within minutes of meeting him. The Hirsch Vineyard is one of the most sought after on the Sonoma Coast, located on a series of hilltops running inland from the Pacific Ocean. Fermented in traditional open top fermenters with native yeasts, 20% whole bunch for added twang, and native yeasts - all while observing the lunar calendar as a guiding principle. Some may still find this all a bit 'batshit mental', but his wines are amongst the most elegant and seamless in California.
One of the most recognisable categories in the wine world, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire’s Sancerre appellation can often be a 'yawn-off', and - more often than not - a right royal ‘rip-off’ too. Wines from nearby Quincy, Reuilly, Menetou-Salon or a generic Touraine often tend to outperform standard Sancerre, at a snip of the price. Enter the wines of Sebastien Riffault, atypical in style and something of a vinous slap in the face if plodding Sancerre is what you’re expecting. Fermented in large oak barrels, wild yeasts, unfiltered, no sulphur additions: golden hued and lushly textured, this is serious and age-worthy Sauvignon, not to be boshed straight from the ice bucket. Enjoyed at Primeur in Canonbury, as they showcased a flavour of what to expect from their next restaurant in Holloway, the seafood-focused Westerns Laundry. Cuttlefish, ham and squid ink croquettes – blew the bloody doors off.
Winemaker Christelle Betton farms just 5 hectares on her family estate in the Northern Rhône, with 'L'Espiegle' (translating as 'mischievous') coming from her younger vines. Aged in 4-8 year old white Burgundy barrels, every parcel is vinified and aged separately. This 100% Syrah has the characteristic flashes of cracked black pepper and meaty undertow of good Syrah, is impeccably balanced, and immediately loveable. Picked up at Theatre of Wine's newest shop in Leytonstone, owner Daniel Illsley imports this wine from the domaine himself. Immediately taken to Panda Dim sum across the road. BYO restaurant, pork dumplings and Syrah — turns out they get along really well.
Rosso di Valtellina, A.R.Pepe
On the Italian/Swiss border, nestled high up amongst the alps, the Perego family have tended their vines on the steep granite terraces of Valtellina since 1860 – the Nebbiolo grown here has the romantic moniker of 'Mountain Nebbiolo'. Fruit for this wine is sourced from the lower slopes of their 'Sassella' vineyard from vines up to 50 years old. Poured from magnum at Breddos Tacos during the takeover by their friends Guerrilla Tacos from Los Angeles, its high toned, sour cherry character was a worthy partner for oxtail tacos, clam tostadas and squid noodles with crispy pork: there may also have been mezcal.
A few small parcels of vines to the west of the Swiss border and Lake Geneva are tended by Henri Le Roy, the local Savagnin grape producing utterly distinctive whites. I read that Henri ‘abhors’ oxidation in the cellar, making his wines quite different to the ‘Vin Jaune’ wines which the region is famous for. This bristles with lip-smacking acidity and a mineral thrust that somehow conveys the sense of the soils formed in the Jurassic era, chock-full of sea shells and ancient rock formations – 'saline tang' sums it up. Enjoyed during a jolly gathering of winemakers at St John at their annual ‘Vignerons’ Lunch’, with rabbit and prunes: cosseting creamy mash completed the scene.
Cantina Terlan have a formidable reputation for being one of the finest co-operative wineries in Italy (some would say, the world), and seeing any of their wines on a list is a nailed on “yep, we’ll have one, maybe two” – they deliver every time, on consistent quality and tub thumping value. Founded in 1893 and one of the first in the Südtirol, they now have around 120 local vineyard owners as members. Fruit for the Vorberg is sourced from various vineyard owners with vines on steep and sunny south facing sites in Monzoccolo, the mineral-rich soils of quartz and feldspar a relic of ancient volcanic eruptions. Slow fermentation in big oak barrels and ageing on the yeast lees gives this Pinot Bianco a flash of quiet class and a beguiling, subtle richness and texture. Enjoyed alongside burrata and sheep’s ricotta ravioli with porcini sauce and mushrooms, at Veneta in St James’s Market.
Why spaff £35 on a ho-hum big Grande Marque Champagne when there is so much good stuff available from the smaller growers,or - within even easier reach - one of the supermarket own labels? The answer: there is no need…at all. Falling for the sucker punch of the nefarious whizz of Champagne branding is something we have all done, but once you dig beneath the surface, drinking Champagne suddenly becomes tantalisingly affordable. Heck, it becomes a possibility to drink it every week. Champagne house Duval-Leroy (still family owned) make Sainsbury’s range of own label offerings, created by winemaker Sandrine Logette-Jardin, with the supermarket having been the first in the UK to introduce its own Champagne. 100% Chardonnay, this lithe and lemony little number is one I’ve bought many times, has won many awards, and is yours for the princely sum of….£16. Goosed down with merry abandon on New Year’s Day with smoked salmon blinis.
Andrea Visintini founded his winery in 1973, twenty-four hectares which cover some of the ‘sweet spots’ in Friuli of Collio and Collio Orientali. Recently fully certified as working entirely biodynamically in the vineyard, everything is now run by family members Oliviero and twin sisters Cinzia and Palmira. The Friulano varietal is indigenous to this north-eastern pocket of Italy, next door to Slovenia, and is capable of making some of the finest white wines in the country. This is one of the best selling wines at The River Cafe (£34), and its delicately scented charms were a blissful partner for the finest plate of pasta I’ve had all year, pillowy ravioli of fresh chestnuts wit buffalo ricotta and thyme. Service, food, buzz of the room: The River Cafe nails it, every time.
One of the finest estates in Montalcino, the Costanti family have owned their ten hectares of vines for over two hundred years. Vines are grown at relatively high altitude for Montalcino, adding a freshness and elegance sometimes missing from some of the more brutish, heavy hitting wines from Montalcino, and 100% Sangiovese allows the signature fragrance and red cherry scented charm of the grape to shine through. Enjoyed at the beautifully designed Luca, the new opening from the team behind The Clove Club. A fine partner for a couple of cracking plates of pasta, grouse ravioli and cannelloni of calve's head ragù.
Eva Fricke grows Riesling on the steep slopes of Lorch in the Rheingau, on slate and quartz soils that produce scintillating wines. Her experience spans time spent making wine at top estates in Bordeaux, Piemonte, the Hunter Valley, and a long stint making the wines of Leitz in the Rheingau. Her wines possess unerring poise and minerality, playing the role of 'conversion wines' for anyone who hasn't had good German Riesling. This single vineyard gem is a joy, dazzlingly pure, aromas of white peach, a palate oozing zesty grapefruit, with a lipsmacking finish that is just off-dry but beautifully balanced. A star of modern German winemaking.
Tim Schäfer-Frohlich has been described as a 'boy wonder' winemaker by more than one commentator, and his startlingly chiselled and focused dry wines in particular are regarded as some of the finest being made in Germany. Here we have a fruitier number, his Spätlese from the Felseneck vineyard opposite his house, which shows off an electrifying balancing act between fruit and acidity, chock full of lime and white peach, with a crystalline purity that is the hallmark of his wines. Devastatingly good as an aperitif, with a gentle 'come hither' ABV of 7.5%: finishing the bottle need carry no guilt. Slips neatly into the 'breakfast wine' category.
Some wines are just cute, and this little chap beguiled us at a recent lunch at newly opened Jago restaurant. An estate with 26 hectares planted on gravel and limestone soil in the village of Cérons, one of the lesser known appellations in Bordeaux, produces this nectar that bristles with notes of Seville orange, candied fruits, orange blossom and flashes of saffron: gorgeously textured, too. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc with a splash of Muscadelle, this is a 'Sauternes-a-like' for those who don't want to spaff the big bucks on sweet wine. Cute.
Qupé are one of the great ambassadors for elegant and balanced Californian wines, and the Bien Nacido Vineyard is lauded as being California's first cool climate Syrah. We were lucky to encounter this older vintage being poured from magnum: a lick of savoury brambly fruit, lushly textured, a bright beam of acidity keeping everything in check. Joyful.
The tiny village of Chambolle-Musigny produces the most delicate, lacy, ethereal Pinot Noirs on the Côte de Nuits, and François Bertheau's wines possess all the grace and elegance of classic Chambolle. Grown on a 2.9 hectare plot, this still has plenty of freshness and verve despite the extremely ripe 2009 vintage. High toned, beguilingly textured — proper Chambolle-Musigny.
A comparative Pinot Noir tasting at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels pitted red Burgundies against each other, with a lone Italian flying the flag for the rest of the world — the satin textured interloper stole the show by showcasing the sensuousness, soaring aromatics and 'silk and lace' qualities of the varietal. A family estate in Eppan, South Tyrol, with 3.5 hectares at 500 metres above sea level. Perfect Pinot Noir land.
Muscadet is now a savvy choice on good wine lists, and Marc Ollivier makes a benchmark expression in the village of La Pépière, this wine coming from a 12 hectare stony, granite rich vineyard. Exhilarating, eye-widening freshness and minerality, taut and direct, a sleek racehorse of a wine. It's ok to drink Muscadet, when they are as good as this one. Honest.
From the best named village in Champagne, Pierre Paillard's grapes are grown in 22 Grand Cru plots in Bouzy, a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. Startling purity, flashes of pear and lemon tart, a whiff of brioche, and impeccable balance — all carried off with a wonderful creamy, satin textured mousse. A real show stopper, and great value.
Californian wine has hit a groove in London at the moment, largely driven by a collective being styled as 'The New California'. Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman are two of the major players, and their Domaine de la Côte winery makes this for wine bar Sager + Wilde. Their new opening Mission, majors on wines from The Golden State — this Pinot Noir offers a glimpse into how poised and graceful they can be. The best spot in the UK to drink Californian.
Andrea Visintini founded this twenty-four hectare estate in 1973 with vines in some of the sweetest spots of Friuli in Collio, North-East Italy, a region which produces some scintillating whites. Poised and elegant with a flash of red apple, a hint of white peach, and a touch of spice on the finish. Worthy of a case for home drinking. If it's good enough for The River Café, it merits a spot in your fridge. A classy drop.
Let's just say this: one of the best Pinot Grigios in any of the supermarkets right now. Fruit is sourced from a single estate near Lake Garda, and is a chiselled and taut expression of the varietal. Flashes of pear and apple, zippy lime charged acidity, and a focused mineral finish. £10 well spent.
Raptures in Chenin
Agnés and René Mosse produce wonderfully characterful Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley, firm followers of an organic and biodynamic philosophy from vineyard to winery. 'Arena' is a single vineyard plot of just 0.45 hectares. A vivacious, energetic wine which reveals apricot and quince, with a mineral core. Chenin Blanc in top gear.
German wine has a little strut in its step in the UK at the moment, and the recent German Wine Agencies tasting at Vinoteca Marylebone revealed some gems. This is a satin textured beauty from Marc Josten and Torsten Klein in the Ahr Valley, crammed full of bright red cherry and strawberry aromas, with a sleek, silky finish. Pinot Noir in fifth gear 'seduction' mode.
Sip & Polish
A reminder of one of Australia's finest expressions of Riesling at the Wine Australia tasting, held at Australia House. Made by the acknowledged master of the varietal, Jeffrey Grosset, an 8 hectare vineyard produces a wine of distinct steeliness and piercing minerality. A blast of lime, a flash of lemongrass, a whistle clean finish: an energising vinous slap round the chops.
Giulo Ferrari was a trailblazer in Italian winemaking, making Italy's first 'Metodo Classico' wine in 1902, inspired by the finest French Champagnes. This 100% Chardonnay has the poise, elegance, and razor sharp focus of the very best Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Tasted recently at the Harrods 'Stella di Stelle' pop-up, featuring five of Italy's finest restaurants until 31st January 2015.
Tested at Stelle di Stelle:
This 4 hectare estate in the municipality of Lavis just north of Trento, manages to craft a Chardonnay with a beguiling sumptuousness and complexity. Lushly textured while remaining bright and pure, Francesco Polastri is sprinkling some kind of vinous magic fairy dust in the winery.
Even Chardonnay-phobes will be bewitched by this little beauty.
Walter Schug is a native of Germany's Rhein River Valley, arriving in California in 1959. The Carneros District, located at the south end of both the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, is blessed with cool marine air blowing in from the San Francisco Bay and morning fog. Exceptionally poised Chardonnay with a flourish of Burgundian elegance, this was a blisteringly good match with King Crab.
One / Four
Muscular and broad shouldered, this full throttle 14% brooding beauty combines 85% Sangiovese and local variety Ciliegiolo, from Maremma on the Tuscan coast. A gobful of brambly dark fruit. Whack.
TURKISH rosé DELIGHT
We're seeing more higher quality Turkish wines in the UK, and this was a pleasant surprise, made with the Çalkarasi varietal from the Çal district of the Denizli province of western Turkey. Fears of this being a clumsy rosé are swept away when accompanying a spicy Adana kebab — strawberry scented, with enough dry poise and acidity to cut through fatty lamb
Chateau Saint Lucie own vineyards on the stony slopes of the Mont Saint Victoire. Startlingly pale, beautifully balanced, ethereally refreshing — benchmark Provençal rosé. Only to be drunk outside with sunshine blazing. Niçoise salad optional.
Four barrels made of this 100% Chardonnay grown on limestone-clay soils. A lick of salty minerals, a flash of nutty almond, a wine exalted by a killer combination when poured alongside John Dory and brown shrimp butter — a Zen wine match.
This estate has been making minimal intervention, organic wines, years before it became trendy. Their 9 hectares of vines include Mondeuse, Gamay, Persan, Roussette and Jacquère, and this pear and quince scented gem is a great advert for 'natural' wine: no funk, just great clarity and freshness.
Riesling can be a bit sniffy about where it's grown, and the two vineyards providing the fruit here provide the ideal gravelly, calcareous soil the varietal loves. A blast of citrus and ripe apple with a mineral core holding everything together. Riesling at the top of its game.
Game of Clones
Bonkers blend of Chardonnay (ten different clones), Gewürztraminer, Friulano and Pinot Grigio. Chuck in a wild yeast ferment in French and Slovenian oak, stir well, chill, serve at once. Textural, aromatic, zippy (not Bungle). Have a conversation with this one — it answers back.
From Croatia's coolest region, surrounding the capital of Zagreb, comes this vibrant lime scented wine from a biodynamic estate, with more than a whisper of some of the off-dry Mosel Rieslings. Luscious and broad in the mouth, it finishes with the crunch and snap of green apple — reviving juice.
England's first Demi-Sec sparkling wine, 100% Chardonnay with four times the amount of residual sugar compared to the Brut style : a sparkling wine destined for desserts. Lacy and lemon scented, this has the verve and lushness to breeze through apple tart.
Muscadet? What? Undervalued, underrated, under the radar — a savvy choice today due to an improvement in quality across the region in recent years. Smoky minerality, laser beam focus, a whiff of anise. Jo Landron also has a quite spectacular 'tache: a true humdinger.
One of the most reliable
co-operative wineries in Italy, consistently nailing it. This 2012 has all the tightly coiled intensity of serious Nebbiolo, oozing dark cherry, plum and exotic spice — lushly textured and Rock Star attractive.
P.S, I love you
Sashi Moorman is making some of the most scintillating wines coming from California right now. Allied to his Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi projects with Rajat Parr, he makes this eye wideningly brilliant Syrah from Santa Barbara, Central Coast. 60% fermented with whole clusters, it has freshness and verve, alongside plush and glossy brambly fruit.
Roughly translating as 'ugly beautiful', Scott Schulz's 'Jolie-Laide' label is one to watch. Skin contact, whole cluster fermentation, it's all going on here. Pinot Gris with a blush of pink, a flash of red apple, and the most beautiful labels ever. Nothing ugly here.
Salmon hued like the prettiest Provençal rosé, this is bone dry with freshness and zip, a gentle sparkle, and oozing cranberry and raspberry with a lip smacking finish. Lambrusco to convert the unbelievers. Believe.
Pascal Doquet looks like Gene Wilder, yet somehow manages to craft Blanc de Blancs of tremendous finesse and precision. Wonderful when tasted at Bubbledogs recently, a list carefully cultivated by Sandia Chang.
Champagne 'Horizon' Blanc de Blancs, Pascal Doquet, Le Mesnil sur Oger
Sonoma is a great source of some of the most elegant wines in California. This blend of Syrah, Sangiovese with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon is a great example.
Mountain Valley Wine
Chateau Saint Lucie own vineyards on the stony slopes of the Mont Saint Victoire. Startlingly pale, beautifully balanced, ethereally refreshing — benchmark Provençal rosé. Only to be drunk outside with sunshine blazing. Niçoise salad optional.