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As our range of Rhône 2017 En Primeur goes live, our Buyer Fiona Hayes reports on how the region fared in 2017 and what the wines taste like
The 2017 vintage follows in the footsteps of two highly regarded years in the Rhône Valley. As such, speculation was rife as to whether 2017 could compete or even better the efforts of 2015 and 2016. The answer, perhaps, isn’t that simple. The vintage will be noted by many for its extremes in weather during the growing season, with “coulure” and “sécheresse” words on the lips of every producer we visited. Although this affected the amount of wine produced, the quality remains high and there are some very approachable examples that I believe have the capacity to age.
In the North, the wines will be noted for their warmth, displaying a juicy, ripe profile and supple tannins, while the South’s wines will remembered for less Grenache dominance in the final blend, contributing to the visibly lower alcohols despite the warm vintage and firmer tannins.
Both North and South experienced a very mild and dry winter, which – combined with little rain during the growing season – meant that the vines were under some drought stress, contributing to reduced yields across the region. The mild spring temperatures led to earlier than usual flowering, a crucial stage at which pollination is ready to occur, determining yield for both the current and subsequent vintage.
A sudden drop in temperature followed in late April, which was far from ideal, leading to poor fruit-set, known as “coulure”. Fertilization fails to occur and fruit growth is significantly impacted, meaning there are far fewer grapes. Earlier-budding varieties such as Grenache and Viognier are the most susceptible, so reduced yields both in the Southern Rhône (down 40%) and in Condrieu (down 50%) were typical.
Aside from a couple of pockets that experienced hail or frost damage, Syrah in the Northern Rhône went through flowering and fruit-set relatively unscathed. It was the same for other Southern Rhône varieties, such as Mourvèdre, which – as a result – make up a higher percentage of the blends this year.
A warm summer ensued and “sécheresse” (drought) meant that some vines struggled. As a result, the berries tended to be smaller (less juice) with thicker skins (more tannin) for the reds. For the whites, this means a richness and concentration, with fruit flavours at the tropical end of the spectrum. Harvest was earlier than “normal” and many growers had already harvested a third to half of the vintage by 1st September.
The drought’s impact is most evident in the South, where the tannins are more pronounced in the reds. It is, as Vincent Avril from Clos des Papes explained, the quality of tannins – rather than acidity – that determine a wine’s cellaring potential in the South’s warm climate. Those who have managed extraction well in the cellar have succeeded in making very good wines that will also age very well.
The 2017 vintage saw a return to warmer growing conditions in the North compared to the cooler temperatures experienced in 2016. As a result, the wines are driven by darker red fruit and spice, with a more supple tannin structure. Although growers spoke of reduced yields due to a lack of rain, these are more modest reductions compared to their Southern neighbours.
Notable exceptions to this are St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, where frost and hail caused damage (down up to 30 and 10%, respectively). In Condrieu – with Viognier being particularly susceptible to “coulure” – some growers reported losses of 50%.
Winemaking rockstar Yves Gangloff defines the vintage as “solaire”, but one that offers freshness, giving the wines instant drinking appeal, as well as the potential to age. Many growers feel the quality is on par with the highly regarded 2015 vintage, however the tannins are much juicier in profile, rather than firm and rustic.
There is no denying that the whites are rich and more tropical in profile than both 2015 and 2016. We have been careful to select only those that managed this well – choosing exceptional examples that demonstrate the luxurious opulence balanced by the acidity and energy that top growers are aiming to showcase.
This was a warm vintage with summer temperatures easily hitting above 40⁰C. But – while there is a density and core concentration that oozes generosity – the wines are remarkably balanced, with a vibrancy and alcohol levels kept in check. Growers made comparisons with 2015 and ’16, with ’17 being more concentrated than ‘15 but less powerful than ‘16. Vincent Avril suggested his 2017 has similarities to other rich and highly regarded, age-worthy examples such as 1990 and 2010.
Although Grenache’s susceptibility to “coulure” was the biggest factor in reduced yields, some isolated areas suffered from hail damage – something mentioned specifically at Vieux Télégraphe. Switched-on winemakers picked early enough to retain acidity and – especially for the whites – blocked malolactic conversion taking place.
Tannin management was spoken about by many winemakers in the South, with a need to manage the thicker skins of 2017. Minimal extraction helped to achieve a finer tannin structure, something that Domaine de Marcoux’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape displays particularly well. Notably less Grenache, combined with typically more Mouvèdre and Syrah in the wines, as well as a warm year, has resulted in wines that offer firmer tannins, more garrigue, spice and dark berry fruits, a deeper colour and a broader, juicier mouth-feel.
Stéphane Tissot amongst his vines in the Jura. Photograph: Jason Lowe
Just an hour’s drive east of Burgundy, the Jura is one of the wine world’s most fashionable regions. Burgundy Buying Assistant Will Heslop walks us through the range of one of our favourite producers in the region, Domaine Tissot
The 40-odd hectares of Domaine Tissot are split into almost as many tiny parcels of vines, planted on a patchwork of terroirs around the town of Arbois in the Jura, one of France’s most spectacular wine regions. The entirety of the domaine’s holdings are farmed biodynamically by Stéphane Tissot and 15 full-time staff – a huge number for a domaine this size, but biodynamics calls for many more pairs of hands than conventional viticulture.
Depending on the vintage, Stéphane produces up to 28 separate cuvées, from four varietals, in an exceptionally broad range of styles. The whites are made from Chardonnay or the indigenous Savagnin grape, while the reds are either Pinot Noir or one of two other local heroes, Trousseau and Poulsard.
Stéphane’s Chardonnays, which tend to be aged for a year in Burgundian oak barrels (between 10 and 20% new) are the cuvées most indicative of the nuances in terroir here: south-facing vines on soils of deep clay account for the ripeness and gossamer texture of Les Bruyères; Graviers, on the other hand, is a more austere, mineral cuvée from shallower soils, strafed with limestone.
Naturally, the non-Chardonnay cuvées also tell us plenty about where they’re grown, but the way they are handled in the winery is perhaps of greater interest. In this regard, the domaine’s five Savagnins make for a particularly thought-provoking comparative tasting. The Traminer (a synonym of Savagnin, typically denoting a non-oxidised wine) is made in similar fashion to the Chardonnays – the emphasis therefore on freshness, terroir and varietal character. The Savagnin, by way of contrast, spends 32 months under flor in barrels which are not topped up (allowing the flor to breathe), where it develops the aromas of nuts, celery and camomile beloved by devotees of oxidative wines – a family including Fino and Manzanilla Sherry.
The herbal, almost tannic Savagnin En Amphore, meanwhile, is macerated for four months then matured for three in 420-litre amphorae, and is sulphur-free. Like the Traminer, it’s non-oxidative.
Finally, still Savagnin, come the two whites most emblematic of the Jura: the Vin Jaune (from the lieu-dit La Vasée) and Château Chalon from the eponymous appellation. Both are matured for six years in used barrels – not topped up – during which time around a third of the wine evaporates, the remainder becoming more concentrated, with a higher level of alcohol. Since the winemaking is identical, the distinction between these two wines brings us back to terroir. Stéphane finds the Château Chalon a touch more mineral and precise, owing to the vineyard’s Liassic clay soils – tellingly, he identifies similar characteristics in Sursis, a Chardonnay grown on the same terroir.
The noteworthy winemaking techniques don’t end with the domaine’s whites – far from it. Whole bunches of Pinot Noir from the En Barberon vineyard are heaped into tronconique vats – large wooden vessels tapering upwards – for five weeks’ maceration before the wine is transferred to barrels. The process is evident in the wine’s spicy, lifted bouquet and remarkably supple tannins. The Trousseau En Amphore is a red counterpart to the amphorae-raised Savagnin, with the same energy and depth of flavour, and a similar mouth-feel.
Certainly then, the wines of Domaine Tissot could be described as cerebral, but they’re also sensual – above all when paired with the right dish. There are few better gastronomic combinations than Vin Jaune with aged Comté. Equally, poulet au vin jaune, served with the same wine the chicken has cooked in, is an upgrade on an already sumptuous French classic, coq au vin. Among the reds, the plush, cherry-scented Trousseau Singulier will have you reaching for a plate of charcuterie, and Stéphane recommends haunch of venison to accompany his Pinot Noir En Barberon.
Stéphane invariably signs off emails with the phrase, “la vie est belle”. Uncork any wine from Domaine Tissot, and you’ll be hard-pressed to disagree.
Ch. Léoville Barton, St Julien, one of the stars of the Southwold Tasting this year. Photograph: Jason Lowe
After three days of intensive blind tasting – sampling 264 wines – Philip Moulin reports on how Bordeaux’s 2015s showed at this year’s Southwold Tasting
From the first barrel tastings, this was deemed to be a great St Emilion vintage, and I think it’s fair to say that this is still the case now the wines are in bottle. There are still too many properties in this region which are trying a bit too hard – producing wines that lack delicacy or a sense of place. However, the quality of the Merlot in 2015 does shine through, and collectively these wines were a pleasure to taste.
Leaving the Premier Grands Crus Classés to one side, our top wines were Canon and Figeac – stylistically different, but both utterly seductive in their own way. There is an ease and effortless balance to these two wines which puts them, for me at least, above the likes of Valandraud, Le Tertre Rôteboeuf and Clos Fourtet, all of which showed well. Special mention should go to Trotte Vieille, which has been making great strides in recent years and was delicious in 2015.
Staying on the Right Bank, the wines of Pomerol were absolutely cracking. It’s an unfortunate truth that these are tiny properties, with lots of people chasing not a lot of wine. Consequently, anything I say here is almost irrelevant. However, if you are lucky enough to have bought a case of either Lafleur, L’Eglise Clinet or Vieux Château Certan, then give yourself a pat on the back. They were all glorious examples, and all showed their own inimitable style. For me personally, Vieux Château Certan had a touch more nerve and pace than the other two, and I put La Conseillante right up there as well. Le Pin sadly, did not show well, but we didn’t have a spare bottle to taste. Pétrus was in a league of its own – our second best wine of the whole tasting, and showed extraordinary class.
Now to the Left Bank, and starting with Pessac-Léognan. Not unlike Pomerol, this is a region which showed well at all price levels. There is some decently ripe fruit in this lot, and some jolly good drinking to be had. Not for the first time, Smith Haut Lafitte won the flight, but I had it level-pegging with beautiful pure, elegant Domaine de Chevalier which came second (do have a close look at Esprit de Chevalier, as it offers fantastic value and a genuine feel of the Grand Vin). Carmes Haut-Brion has been sneaking up the inside rail for a few years, and showed brilliantly this year – a vibrant, powerful wine which will provide enormous pleasure, and should age well too. My final nod here goes to Malartic-Lagravière, which – rather like Carmes – has been getting better and better in recent vintages and has made a classic, savoury Graves.
Moving north, Margaux has historically been a mixed bag, even in good vintages. However in 2015 the weather gods shone here, and this is one of the most consistently high-scoring Margaux vintages in years. Top of the pile was a sensational wine from Brane-Cantenac and yet another great example of Rauzan-Ségla. I couldn’t split them on points, but reading my notes again, I would say that Brane tipped it. It had such fabulous focus and drive – a lift and finesse which set it apart. Palmer was glossy and gorgeous – it’s hard to fault, and I suspect will show beautifully in years to come. There is density to Palmer which I think has yet to really show itself. Ch. d’Issan deserves a mention – tremendously elegant and seamless Margaux, with a long life ahead of it.
I’ll come back to St Julien – let’s skip to St Estèphe. Invariably the most backward of the Médoc communes, the last thing St Estèphe needs is rain in September, just before their Cabernet is ready. Sadly, they got rather a lot of it. Montrose was the increasingly predictable star here, but gosh… if there is one bargain to be found in Bordeaux these days, I venture to suggest it is Ch. Meyney. Honestly, if you can find it, buy some – I gave it the same score as Montrose. It doesn’t have the same polish, and the tannins might be a bit more pronounced, but Meyney is the steal of the vintage for me. While on the subject of value, Ch. Capbern continues to impress. I’ve already finished my 2014 from this improving château, and the 2015 will be just as good.
Ch, Figeac, St Emilion. Photograph: Jason Lowe
Pauillac: as a rule, when all else fails, I’ll buy Pauillac. However, it’s a shame to say that it was one of the weaker communes this year, as it shared a fair amount of the rain that hit St Estèphe. The best wine in the Pauillac flight would have come fourth in St Julien. That may be a harsh comparison as St Julien was so good in 2015, but Pauillac is not a cheap commune, and you need to tread carefully here. Ch. Batailley was rather voluptuous and oaky this year, and I was in the minority in that I really loved it. Please take my word for it – it will be a lovely bottle of Claret in a few years’ time. Pichon-Lalande was highly rated in barrel, and it showed beautifully here, with its perfect poise and balance just pipping Pichon Baron at the post. Lynch-Bages came next – a benchmark Pauillac, but huge and unyielding at this stage. It needs a long time.
Which brings us back to St Julien, literally and stylistically sandwiched between Margaux and Pauillac. The most consistent flight by far, there was hardly a weak wine here. You can buy St Julien 2015s with confidence across the board. Plaudits justifiably rained down on Léoville Barton – this was my wine of the vintage. Bold words perhaps, when all three Léovilles were superb and this is the cheapest by a mile, but this is definitely Grand Vin and a masterclass in Médocain power and restraint. It’s also worth noting that Beychevelle only narrowly missed a podium spot with a stylishly decadent wine this year.
A word on the white wines: Sauternes and Barsac were uniformly lovely in 2015. Yquem (as it should be) was the pick of the bunch, but there was a raft of good-value wines not far behind. Doisy-Daëne was runner up, with its usual taut, nervy and exciting self. I adored La Tour Blanche, which came third, and was opulent and nuanced in equal measure. The dry whites were commendably consistent too. Haut-Brion Blanc was peerless, but is unattainable. Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc rarely puts a foot wrong these days, and – as with the red – is hard to fault. Bouscaut Blanc, for me, remains the best-value white in Bordeaux.
It was not too much of a surprise that St Emilion should dominate the names at the very top of the tree this year. Ausone was the wine of the tasting by a fair margin. It showed an ineffable sense of power and grace which was truly superb. The Médoc First Growths showed admirably in my opinion, with Haut-Brion the most immediately impressive and the group’s favourite. I didn’t give Margaux my highest score, but I went back to re-taste it afterwards and am sure it will provide a fitting epitaph to the man who made it. It was charming, refined and complete.
Overall, and in comparison to the previous four years, this was an easy vintage to taste. Certainly not quite as universally superb as was originally stated in some quarters, rather, a very good vintage across the board, with a few problem areas, and several real successes. When the group was asked to place the 2015s alongside vintages from 2000 onwards, they put it fifth, behind 2010, 2009, 2005 and 2000. I was struck by how approachable many of the wines are already, and that is not a bad sign in any vintage. There are some lovely wines here, mostly for the mid-term.
Every year the wine trade’s leading Bordeaux experts meet to assess the most recent vintage to reach our shores in bottle: this year it was the turn of Bordeaux 2015. Philip Moulin explains how the Southwold Tasting works and why it matters
Every January since 1980, a group of roughly 20 UK wine merchants and journalists gather to taste and evaluate the most recently shipped vintage from the best châteaux in Bordeaux. The tasting was first organised by the Suffolk-based merchants Adnams and was usually held, until recently, at their headquarters in Southwold.
Although the event itself is now hosted by Farr Vintners, overlooking the Thames, it is still known as the Southwold Tasting. The group of tasters comprises the Bordeaux Buyers from the UK’s top fine wine merchants, as well as some of the best-known wine journalists, including Neal Martin and Jancis Robinson MW. Amongst them this year were no fewer than seven Masters of Wine, and many of the “team” have been doing this since its inception tasting. There is an enormous amount of accumulated wine knowledge in the room.
The tasting this year amounted to 264 wines, from the 2015 vintage, all tasted blind over three days. Despite appearances to the contrary, this is tougher than it sounds, being both academically rigorous and physically demanding of one’s palate. It is, however, an undeniably fascinating experience and is definitely the highlight of my tasting calendar.
The format of the tasting has remained largely unchanged over the years: wines are tasted blind, in flights of 12, within their peer groups, and are then scored out of 20 (not 100, as is the modern norm). At the end of each flight, scores are collated and compared, and then the wines are discussed one by one. It’s not a quick process, but, as I said before, it is absolutely fascinating. I never fail to be struck not only by some of the differences of opinion, but also how, invariably, the best wines (or the ones I deemed best) somehow seem to rise to the top of the collated scores. It is rare to find that a wine you doesn’t also impress the majority of other tasters.
Photograph: Jason Lowe
My first Southwold Tasting was the 2011 vintage, and as such I am still a “newcomer” to the group. When the event was still held in Southwold, at the end of each flight, we took it in turns to be the first person to announce our scores to the rest of the group. It was a daunting experience having to state one’s opinion in front of such an illustrious group of tasters, many of whom had been my wine idols, and whose opinions I always felt must hold more sway than mine. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to give a really low score to a First Growth, only to discover that everyone else had given it say 19.5/20 (very rare, incidentally). Or almost worse, to give a very high score to a wine that the rest of the group unanimously loathed.
I needn’t have worried. As it happened, with the 2011s several people had to read out their scores before me. By the time it was my turn, I’d realised that no one expects you to have identical scores to theirs. The joy of such a large group tasting is that when the scores are averaged out, the cream always rises. It doesn’t matter if you have an “off-moment” with the odd wine, because if your score is anomalous it won’t be detrimental to the final result.
Moreover, everyone makes mistakes, and no one thinks badly of you if you do. The averaging of the group scores also helps to iron out the differences in personal taste around the table. Some of us prefer wines with ample fruit and a lick of oak, others relish a little more delicacy and restraint in their wine. Try as you might, it’s hard to eliminate one’s own preferences entirely, and you quickly get a feel for the individual tastes amongst the group.
One other thing which I couldn’t help but notice at my first tasting was the extraordinary depth of knowledge amongst the group. Bordeaux has always been my favourite region, and with more than 20 years in the wine trade, I felt reasonably sure of my own tasting ability. However, I was impressed when, as the more outspoken members of the group read out their scores, they would often say which wine they thought it was. Usually their guess was backed up with some snappy reasoning, and very often they were spot-on. It’s a neat trick this – satisfying when you get it right, rather less so if you get it wrong. It’s not really the point of the tasting, indeed it can be distracting, but it’s fun, and personally I now think that I concentrate harder when I’m looking to spot certain wines in a flight.
I suspect that, as a group of tasters, the Southwold group probably tends to be a little conservative in its final analysis. However, with the wines all tasted blind, and taking into account the experience of the group as a whole, I doubt there is a better overview of a nascent Bordeaux vintage available anywhere.
Come back tomorrow, when we’ll post Philip Moulin’s report on how the 2015s showed at this year’s tasting.
We asked Adam Holden from our Wholesale team – a man equally at home in the cellar and kitchen – for his tips on matching wine with lamb. Our friends at Farmison, meanwhile, have prepared a recipe that would make a fine feast for two this Valentine’s Day
Lamb stands apart from the robust flavours of beef and richly unctuous textures of pork. It is an elegant treat for the carnivorous epicure – and no cut more so than the rack. There is an inherent sweetness and delicacy to this cut that demands careful consideration of its wine partner. To pair perfectly, the wine should have subtlety and grace. A little tannin is a must – particularly for the sweet, fatty crust – but the tannins should be silken. The fruit should have a hint of sweetness to it, and a certain grainy minerality should be present to bring some texture to the palate.
Rioja is often cited as the classic pairing for lamb, where Tempranillo’s bright strawberry fruit is a happy match and any oak-aging yields a softness to the structure, along with a sweet notion of clove and savoury vanilla. Pinot Noir in all its guises will also provide the goods, with is summer fruits and poise. Try a lively young Bourgogne Rouge or an irresistibly fruit-driven New Zealand example. Bordeaux should never be overlooked, with such variety and versatility; go for finesse rather than power, which means heading for appellations such as Margaux, Graves and the Right Bank’s St Emilion and Pomerol.
For this dish, I’ve selected our Extra Ordinary Claret made for us by Ch. Villa Bel Air. The sensational 2015 vintage has brought a wealth of ripe fruit to the wine, which enhances the sweetness of the lamb. Unusually for the Graves region, Merlot dominates the blend here which ensures a soft approach on the palate, with just enough texture to provide a foil for the fatty crust. While the Cabernet Sauvignon and a hint of oak provide welcome texture and savoury notes of tobacco and cedar to complement the umami of the anchovy in the dish.
Herb-crusted rack of heritage lamb with tenderstem broccoli and anchovy
400g trimmed heritage rack of lamb
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
Knob of unsalted butter
1 bunch tenderstem broccoli
1 shallot – finely diced
1 garlic clove – peeled and crushed
6 salted anchovy fillets
½ lemon – peel only
For the herb crust
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
10g grated Parmesan (optional)
Finely grated zest ½ lemon
Handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 sprig rosemary, leaves only
3 sprigs thyme, leaves only
20ml olive oil
Sea salt flakes & freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan or gas mark 6), then make the herb crust by blending all the ingredients together to create a fine crumb.
Heat a little olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan. Season the lamb, then sear over a medium heat until nicely browned and turn off the heat.
Place the rack fat-side up in the pan and brush with a generous coating of Dijon mustard. Press the herb crumbs onto the mustard, then drizzle with a bit more oil.
Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden and the lamb is cooked (to a core temperature of 58°C); if you prefer your lamb well-done, give it five minutes more. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for a few minutes in a warm place
While the lamb is roasting, trim the tenderstem broccoli and blanch it in boiling salted water for two minutes. When you drain it (keep the water for the next step), run it under the cold tap to ensure that the cooking process stops, then drain thoroughly and keep to one side.
Peel half a lemon and then finely slice the peel. Blanch the slices in salted water for two minutes, then sieve them out
Soften the shallot and garlic in butter over a medium heat. This shouldn’t take more than five minutes. Add the blanched broccoli and toss until fully heated through.
Carve the lamb into chops, cutting between the bones, and divide onto warm dinner plates. Finish with the broccoli, dressed with thin slivers of anchovy and lemon peel, a drizzle of olive oil and any crumbs that have fallen away from the lamb.
The Champagne region wasn’t always known for sparkling wine. Sophie Thorpe uncovers how the region discovered the bubbles that made its name
It’s hard to disassociate Champagne with the style of fizz that we know and love today, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the region became known for sparkling wine.
The vine arrived in Champagne as early as the 5th century, along with the Romans. The wines made, however, were pale reds, slightly wan styles of Pinot Noir that nevertheless competed with those made further south in Burgundy. The wines of Äy were as respected as those of Corton.
There was a problem with the wines. The region’s cold winters would chill the wine as it was fermenting, stopping the reaction before all the residual sugar had been converted into carbon dioxide and alcohol. As spring arrived, and the wines warmed up, the remaining sugar and yeast would start fermenting again. As the wines were in bottle at this point, the carbon dioxide had nowhere to go and would make the wine fizzy.
These accidental bubbles were considered a fault. The glass bottles of the time were not prepared for wines with such pressure and, as a result, many bottles unexpectedly exploded. This phenomenon wasn’t understood and winemakers duly pointed the finger at nefarious spirits, earning Champagne the name of “le vin du diable” (the devil’s wine).
The region’s winemakers were desperate to rid the wines of their problematic “pop”. Dom Pérignon – the Benedictine monk who gave his name to the prestige cuvée – was one of the many locals charged with this task, hoping to cure the wines of their expensive and suspicious behaviour.
Although Dom Pérignon is often said to have invented sparkling Champagne – emerging from the cellars in the late 17th century, exclaiming “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” – this is, unfortunately, a myth. In fact, it is an Englishman often credited with solving this devilish mystery.
Wines were at that time shipped across the Channel (and around the world) in barrel, not bottle. They would then be bottled by merchants in the UK. The wines continued to suffer from their sparkling issues, but it was soon remedied.
In 1615, Parliament banned the use of wood as a fuel; the resulting switch to coal had a significant impact on the glass bottles made in Britain. The new coal-fired glass was much stronger. As such, they were able to withstand the pressure of sparkling wine.
In 1662, Christopher Merret presented a paper to the Royal Society, outlining what we now recognise as the “méthode Champenois” – the traditional method of making sparkling wine, with a second fermentation in bottle. This combined with the nation’s new, strong glass meant that Britain could savour the wines’ sparkle. In honour of Christopher Merret, English sparkling wine producer Ridgeview has hopes that “Merret” will become the protected term for our nation’s fizz.
Sparkling wine started to spread, becoming a popular choice of the French court under Philippe II. From the 18th century onwards, Champagne Houses started opening their doors. The region has finally found its fizz.
Each month we share a little bit more about just one of the bottles available to taste in our London shop. This month Joshua Friend picks something a little unusual: a Cabernet blend from Ningxia in China
2013 Ch. Changyu Moser XV, Ningxia, China
What is it? On the pour this month is one of China’s most famous wines. This dark, intense Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend is an absolute live-wire of a wine.
Why’s it different? Ch. Changyu is China’s oldest and largest wine-producer. Austrian Lenz Moser has been consulting since 2005 and makes this wine in Ningxia province. Combining the region’s warm continental climate with high altitudes (1,100 metres), Moser aims to express Old World elegance and varietal charm from this unusual corner of the world. Dark blackcurrants, dark chocolate and blood orange fil the nose, followed by fresh grass and eucalyptus. The wine offers great acidity and delicate tannins that add enough structure, while keeping a smooth mouth-feel.
One of the many zhezhi pigs that have filled our windows of our London shop at 63 Pall Mall to celebrate Chinese New Year
The Year of the Pig is almost upon us. If you’re planning a feast for Chinese New Year, Demetri Walters MW and Jiachen Lu suggest exactly which bottles to drink alongside Chinese food, whether it’s takeout or a tasting menu
Chinese food is such a broad subject as it includes cuisines from many regions, each of which may have a completely different food culture from a neighbouring region. For example, in Sichuan Province, each county has its own regional cuisine. We’ve based our short-list of dishes based on the Chinese food most readily available in the UK.
Spring rolls: Chinese New Year, or “Spring Festival”, is considered the beginning of spring. A Chinese take-away staple, spring rolls are a popular dish for Chinese New Year. Deep fried rolls filled with vegetables, meat or a mixture of both, need something refreshing to clean the palate after each bite. Maybe fruitier Prosecco goes better with the vegetarian spring rolls, while Champagne or English sparkling wine (with its good acidity) pairs better with the meat dishes. The same applies to any fried dishes (eg crispy skin chicken, salt and pepper squid).
Lightly seasoned seafood dishes: Alongside anything of this ilk – from seafood-based dim sum (har kow, scallop dumplings, etc) to steamed fish or simple stir-fried razor clams – light white wines with good acidity and minerality always work well. Try Muscadet, Aligoté, Chablis (or other leaner and unoaked Chardonnay), Albariño, lighter Grüner-Veltliners or Bacchus
Richer dishes: Dishes that are richer and stronger in flavour/seasoning, but not so much in soy sauce – so anything like lobster with ginger and spring onion, stir-fried prawns with chives, sautéed chicken with cashew nuts, etc – will call for a fuller-bodied wine. Vintage Champagne and nice white Burgundy would be good for finer ingredients.
Peking or Cantonese-style roast duck: This is a Pinot Noir dish, stereotypically. That said, an off-dry Riesling Spätlese would withstand the powerful flavours of the duck and plum sauce, while the delicate sweetness of the wine would mellow the attack of the spring onion, and bright acidity makes such dishes seems lighter and more vibrant. Our pick is, as it happens, dry – but fruity enough to work.
Dishes cooked in soy sauce, bean sauce, oyster sauce and black pepper sauce: Whether the main ingredient is meat, seafood or tofu, a red wine with a lower level of tannins generally outperforms a white wine. Generic red Burgundy and fruitier Beaujolais pair nicely with stir-fried clam in black bean sauce, while Beaujolais Crus, Rhône blends, aged Riojas and riper Zinfandels are delicious with sautéed beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce.
Sichuan food (hot and spicy):Gewürztraminer and off-dry Riesling are the stereotypical choices of wine to marry the flavours of these dishes. Meanwhile, Sichuan food can be quite oily and salty. Try a lighter-bodied dry wine of any colour but with good acidity and, if red, with supple tannins.
Desserts: Traditionally, the Chinese do not eat dessert at the end of a meal. Off-dry or medium sweet Gewürztraminer would go well with a platter of tropical fruit, as would Moscato d’Asti or something of equally vivid character. The very popular nian gao (Chinese New Year’s cake) is made of sticky rice. Different areas serve nian gao in different ways. Tokaji Aszú, Riesling Auslesen and Sauternes are delicious with deep-fried nian gao coated in granulated sugar. Oxidative wines such as Vin Santo, Commandaria and Tawny Port will be unconventional though delicious alternatives for nian gao flavoured with date purée or sweet red bean paste.
In the final instalment of our cellar updates, our Burgundy Buyer Adam Bruntlett reviews recent vintages of both white and red Burgundy, advising which wines should be drunk this year
The excellent 2017 vintage has provided a welcome reminder of the heights white Burgundy can hit. While it is tempting to focus on the “great” years such as ‘14 and ‘17, however, we have also experienced a succession of good-quality vintages in recent years, each of which possesses its own unique character. With winemakers working hard to tackle the issues thought to have caused the phenomenon of premature oxidation (premox), there has been a consequent increase in the prevalence of alternative closures to natural cork. Our good friend Benjamin Leroux has taken the bold step of moving to screwcap for all whites since the 2014 vintage, while numerous others – amongst them De Montille, Olivier Leflaive and Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin – are now using DIAM corks with very positive results. The result is much greater reliability and consistency than we saw 10 or 20 years ago.
With a nod to the premox issues of the recent past, it is advisable to drink any wines from before 2010, although there will be some excellent wines from higher acid vintages such as 2008 and 2007, and the best 2009s will offer a great deal of pleasure. The 2010 vintage was generally very well-balanced, but some wines do display a little more softness and exotic character and should be drunk within the next 18 months. As for 2011, its reputation for Chardonnay has grown from an inauspicious start, and the wines are showing well now but have limited scope for improvement, so should be enjoyed now and over the next year or so.
The 2012s are concentrated wines. They initially felt quite fat and ripe, but have gained finesse and should continue to hold for a further couple of years at least. It would be better to tackle the ‘13s now, although the complexities of the vintage and variety of styles produced means this is an inexact science. The early-picked wines are on the leaner side, while those harvested later show signs of exotic fruit. Neither style has the potential for serious ageing, so it would be best to drink these while waiting for the ‘12s and ‘14s to come around. The 2014 vintage is arguably the best for white Burgundy in living memory, and many of the wines can feel aggressively austere at the moment – I would recommend forgetting them for at least another five years, as even village and some regional-level wines will benefit from further time in bottle.
An extensive tasting of almost 250 2015 whites last summer showed the strength of the vintage in this colour. While there is undeniably more ripeness of fruit than in 2014, which makes the wines appealing even at this young stage, there is also plenty of balancing acidity that will provide decent aging potential. There’s no great rush, but they offer enjoyment now.
Amidst the talk of frost in the Côte d’Or, it escaped many commentators’ attention that 2016 is an excellent vintage in the Mâconnais, and I would recommend holding back some Pouilly-Fuissé, St Véran and Pouilly-Vinzelles wines from good producers, as these are on a par with the 2014s. In Chablis, recent short vintages may force one’s hand into drinking 2016s, but there should be no disappointment with these wines, which offer a classic profile in an approachable style. In the Côte de Beaune, those wines which had suffered from frost damage should now have settled down a little and it is worth approaching regional and village wines, but there’s no hurry.
The Côte d’Or 2017s should not be arriving until spring 2019 at the earliest, and I would certainly recommend leaving them for a while; while the perfect balance and charming fruit might seduce one into pulling the cork, there is much to be gained by allowing them a few more years in bottle. Chablis 2017s have the potential to sit on a par with the great 2014s, and arguably possess greater balance and a little more charm, so if stocks allow, they should be forgotten for a few years at least. In the Mâconnais this vintage displays a softer style than 2016, and consequently should be approached ahead of its predecessor.
Photograph: Jason Lowe
The 1999 vintage, now almost 20 years old, is one of the best red vintages of the turn of the millennium. While these wines should be enjoyable now, the very best examples still have time on their side, the top sites and most serious growers having limited yields to ensure concentration.
During our autumn barrel tastings many growers drew comparisons between the 2017 vintage and ‘00, explaining that both vintages gave wines which were approachable in youth, with harmonious balance and a red-fruit profile. Many of our vignerons opined that like ‘00, the ‘17s would likely drink well throughout a 15- to 20-year lifespan and would not “close up” at all. For the ‘00s, we are now coming to the end of that expected lifecycle, and I would agree that the wines should now be drunk up. Its successor, ‘01, has long been a favourite of mine, often somewhat reticent when first opened but unfurling nicely with air to give wines which are full of charm, if not possessing much potential for improvement.
A recent horizontal tasting of ‘02s in London showed the vintage to be one which is in a good place now, but which was perhaps less exciting and likely to improve than we had anticipated, though this was perhaps more a reflection of our changing tastes and winemakers’ changing styles than the quality of the wines themselves. There was certainly a feeling that there was a little of the ‘90s hangover of over extraction and heavy oak use, and had these wines been made by the same winemakers in their modern style they would have given greater pleasure. That said, these are excellent wines for drinking now and over the next few years.
The ‘03 and ‘04 vintages are somewhat yin and yang: the former offering a rich and spicy style, the latter leaner and more herbaceous in character. While the ‘03s are likely to plateau, both they and the ‘04s should be drunk now; they offer a fascinating glimpse of the variety of Burgundian Pinot Noir. In contrast, the ‘05s should still be forgotten, the tannic structure remaining firm and a little unyielding; this is a grand millésime and should be respectfully left dormant for another five years at least.
The trio of vintages after ‘05 sit firmly in the “drink now and over the next year or two” category, before we arrive at ‘09 and ‘10, two vintages which can wait a little longer, although the fullness and lower acidity of the ‘09s makes them more forward. The ‘11s should arguably be broached before either, however, and the best examples have shrugged off the herbaceous notes they had in youth, giving pleasant, middle-weight wines which give great pleasure at the table. Recent personal experience has shown that any reduction on opening a bottle can be swiftly cleared by briefly decanting.
The 2012 vintage is another strong one. While the regional wines are very enjoyable, more serious appellations are a little firm and closed, requiring patience. Both ‘13 and 14’ are energetic, with good levels of acidity but relatively modest structure. It is a sad indictment of Burgundy’s restaurant scene that both are amongst the oldest vintages available on the wine lists of the region’s many eateries – along with a shamefully high number of ‘15s and even ‘16s – but fortunately they are vintages which are perfectly suited to the table, pairing effortlessly with a variety of dishes and never feeling excessively heavy or too much like hard work.
The ‘15 and ’16 vintages should both be left to sleep for some time. While ‘15 was a real crowd-pleaser, ‘16 is perhaps the connoisseur’s choice, offering greater finesse and elegance. Last spring’s review of ‘15s for the annual Burgfest tasting showed many wines on the point of closing up, and the majority are likely to now offer little pleasure for some years as they lie dormant.
The Beaujolais merits mention in this roundup, with the best wines offering as much ageing potential as many of the grander names of the Côte d’Or. While 2017 appears to be an excellent hybrid of the rich ‘15s and crunchy ‘16s, it is but the latest instalment in a series of excellent years stretching back to ‘09. Particular highlights for drinking now include the fleshy and dark-fruited ‘12s, and more vibrant and slender ‘13s. Two less-favoured Burgundy vintages – ‘11 and ‘14 – are strong years further south and can be cellared with confidence, while the rich and dense ‘15s certainly need more time than the more delicate and approachable ‘16s.
With just a few short days of Veganuary left, Douglas Storer explains exactly what makes a wine vegan and suggests five bottles fit for a meat-free feast
“Veganuary”, whereby people give up meat or animal products for the month of January, has gained popularity over the past few years. Recently, in particular, it has received a considerable amount of attention in the press, partly as a result of a particularly well-known purveyor of doughnuts and pasties releasing a vegan version of their most popular line.
Regardless of your preference for baked goods, more and more people are cutting out or cutting down on the amount of meat they’re eating for either health, ethical or environmental reasons. It can, however, be difficult to tell which wines are vegan-friendly, and why some might not be.
So what makes a wine vegan? Animal-based additives are often used to clarify a wine, a process which is known as fining. Without this process, most wines would appear a little bit hazy; something that might be seen as a fault – historically, at least – by many wine drinkers. When added to unfinished wine, these additives – or fining agents – cling onto the (naturally occurring) particles that cause the cloudiness – such as yeast cells or microscopic pieces of grape, thereby allowing them to “settle out” or be filtered out more easily. Some of the most commonly used fining agents include isinglass (obtained from the swim bladders of fish), albumen (egg white) or gelatine. Although the fining agents aren’t in the final wine, the fact that animal products have been used in the winemaking process rule these out for strict vegans.
Currently winemakers aren’t legally required to state on their labels whether wines are suitable for vegetarians or vegans; however, many winemakers nowadays are adapting their winemaking techniques or using production methods which negate the need for animal-based products – either allowing the wine to settle naturally (thus avoiding any additives at all), or more frequently by using an alternative such as bentonite (a type of clay).
With an increasing number of people choosing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, it may only be a matter of time until this changes. For now, however, here are five wines from our range that not only work well with a variety of vegetarian and vegan cuisine, but are produced using vegan-friendly methods.
Five vegan wines to try
2016 Rheingau Riesling, Selected by Eva Fricke, Rheingau, Germany: At this time of year, while recovering from the excesses of Christmas, lighter southeast-Asian-inspired dishes and stir-frys become a regular part of my meal plan. This organically certified aromatic Riesling has a refined floral character with a refreshing lime zing that lends itself perfectly to classic pho dishes or stir-frys.
2016 Mullineux, Kloof Street Red, Swartland, South Africa: This big, juicy red from South Africa is a classic southern Rhône blend. It would be an amazing pairing for mushrooms stuffed with black rice, sprinkled lavishly with vegan parmesan. The heartiness of the wine will work wonders with the meaty texture of the mushrooms and the punchiness of the cheese.
2017 Dog Point, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand: Sauvignon Blanc is a surprisingly versatile grape that makes it a perfect match for a host of salads as well as veggie burgers and asparagus. This wine has the classic Sauvignon zip of fresh acidity backed up by loads of ripe tropical fruit character.
2016 Frog’s Leap, Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California: Zinfandel is increasingly becoming one of my favourite red grapes, with this wine topping the list. Loads of lush, ripe fruit with hints of spiciness would make this a go-to pairing for a variety of Indian or Mexican dishes, but it would also stand up nicely to tomato-based pasta dishes. It’s certified organic as well.
Hambledon, Classic Cuvée, Sparkling, Hampshire, England: Let’s be honest, do you really need to use the excuse of food to have a glass of fizz? Probably not. With plenty of ripe apple and greengage character and subtle notes of biscuit, this is perfect as an apéritif or served alongside anything else that takes your fancy really. Delicious.