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.
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.