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As 25th December approaches and planning begins for feasting galore, our Buyer Catriona Felstead MW argues that one region might just have the answer to any and all of the season’s food-pairing conundrums
It’s easy to get tied up in knots when planning what to drink for Christmas – which different grape varieties are best, Old World or New World, oaked or unoaked… Some take pleasure in the choosing, but if Christmas is starting to creep up on you unawares then let me give you the quick-fix, a 100 percent reliable, one-stop-shop for all your Christmas needs: Rioja.
Rioja might initially lead to thoughts of rich, fruit-forward, oaky red wines but there is so much more to this region. In fact, I will go as far as to suggest that Rioja would be the perfect choice to match each stage of your entire three-course meal.
Let’s raise our forks and think about the starter. If you have never tried white Rioja, now is the time for you to dive on in. These white wines have, as a general rule, spent some time in oak. A Rioja Blanco Crianza must, for example, have spent a minimum of six months in oak barrels out of its two-year ageing process before release. As such, these wines have a golden colour to them that might make you think they are rich and heavy – but think again. There is nothing more exquisite than the balance of the elegance and freshness in a well-judged white Rioja, such as 2014 Allende Blanco or Palacios Remondo’s Placet, with the gentle harmony that oak can bring. Expect notes of citrus and peach alongside a mouth-watering savoury character, all leading to a long, complex finish. These are the perfect food wines and would be ideal with starters with a richness to them, such as smoked salmon pâté or, quite frankly, anything with garlic (white Rioja sings alongside garlic).
Then there’s the main course. This is probably a little bit more in your comfort zone, but classic red Rioja makes for a fine match with roast meats. Depending on your preference, choose a Crianza such as our own-label Rioja or 2015 Amézola Crianza for a medium-weight style to go with simple roast turkey and duck. A red Rioja Crianza has spent a minimum of one year in oak out of a two-year ageing process so has evident vanilla character but also forward, juicy red fruit. If you are settling for a richer gravy or the classic match of roast lamb, then a Reserva level such as 2011 Allende Tinto will be even more rewarding. Reservas have spent a minimum of one year out of three years’ ageing in cask and tend to have deeper, darker fruit alongside more structure and power.
And finally, I have two curveballs for you. Firstly, if you are reading this and thinking “Yes, but I still prefer a lighter style of red wine with my turkey,” then Rioja can also provide: let me introducing Palacios Remondo’s beautiful La Montesa – a fascinating Rioja Crianza made with over 90 percent Garnacha. This is beautifully pure and refreshing and will appeal to the Pinot Noir lovers amongst you.
Secondly – and bringing us perfectly on to the cheese – there is the anomaly of the ridiculously long-aged wines of celebrated Rioja producer Bodegas López de Heredia. Not only would their current releases of 2009 Viña Cubillo or 2006 Viña Tondonia Tinto Reserva go well with richer meats but the additional notes of leather and cured meats, stemming from such a long ageing process, would make them a to-die-for match with Montgomery cheddar, as well as being surprisingly reliable with the rest of the cheeseboard too.
Food for thought? To my mind, Rioja is a much more varied and stylistic wine than you might think – and the great news is that it is also generally very good value. All that remains is a toast to a wonderful Christmas lunch for all – ¡salud!
We’ve put together a six-bottle mixed case with three of Cat’s recommendations (offering a saving of 25 percent): find out more here.
Every month we highlight one of the wines currently available to taste in the Enomatic machines in our London shop. This time, it’s the turn of a Christmas favourite: our rich and nutty own-label Tawny Port
What is it? Port is the most old-school of wines, but – if you’re not quite yet ready to plunge into the world of Reserve, Crusted, LBV and Vintage – then Tawny is an excellent “gateway” to the category. And when it comes to Tawnies, you can’t get much better value than this.
Why’s it different? From the dramatic, terraced slopes of the Douro, this wine is created exclusively for us by the team at Quinta do Noval – the house behind the legendary Naçional. It’s a blend of different wines – each one adding a layer of richness and nutty complexity – that have an average age of 15 years old (sadly there is no 15-Year-Old category for Port, so the label can only legally state “Special Aged Reserve”). Filled with notes of dried fruit and nuts, the wine’s caramel sweetness is countered by vibrant acidity making it deliciously moreish.
What should I eat with it? Our Buyer Catriona Felstead MW suggests a chunk of blue Dolcelatte cheese, which sounds ideal (although we might be tempted to sample a whole cheeseboard). It’s also one of the rare wines that works with chocolate (particularly something like caramel truffles). Equally, it’s delicious and complex enough to sip on its own.
While the country might be associated with Marlborough Sauvignon, New Zealand has much more to offer. Recently returned from the country, Amanda Barnes explains why Syrah is emerging as one of its most prized varieties, producing complex and cellar-worthy styles
New Zealand’s Syrah has won a disproportionate number of awards. Less than one percent of the country’s wine production is Syrah, yet it claims six percent of New Zealand’s Fine Wine acknowledgements and has recently scooped several big international trophies. There may not be much to go around but, as the growing accolades prove, demand for New Zealand’s Syrah has never been higher. Plantations have more than tripled in the last 15 years, closing in on 500 hectares. It’s been a fast rise to fame for a variety that had – until recently – all but disappeared from New Zealand’s shores.
In 1832 James Busby brought the first Syrah cuttings into New Zealand and Australia. Shiraz took off in Australia but in cool-climate New Zealand it struggled to ripen and few vintners warmed to its charms. It was abandoned by producers and dwindled to just a few experimental vines in a viticultural research station. When funding dried up in 1984, the station was declared ready for the bulldozer and so was Syrah’s underwhelming history in New Zealand.
The spontaneous actions of a soil scientist, however, changed Syrah’s fate. Dr Alan Limmer rushed to the rescue of a handful of Syrah vines as the bulldozers moved in. He planted the vines in Hawke’s Bay where they thrived in the warmer climate and, to everyone’s surprise, New Zealand’s Syrah was saved from extinction at the last hour. Almost all of New Zealand’s Syrah plantings today can be traced back to these rescued vines.
Today Syrah is the third most planted red variety in New Zealand and over three quarters of those plantings are in Hawke’s Bay. The warm and sunny region was known for its ability to ripen Bordeaux varieties but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that producers started unlocking its potential for Syrah – especially in the subregion of Gimblett Gravels, an old river bed with deep gravel soils.
One of the most emblematic Syrah wines of Gimblett Gravels is Le Sol made by Craggy Range. Since its launch in 2002, Le Sol was an instant hit for its full-bodied and rich style – quite the anomaly for New Zealand’s wines at the time. Tasting a vertical (2002 to 2016) of Le Sol in Hawke’s Bay earlier this year showed not just the wine’s ageing potential (the 2004 stood up remarkably well and 2011 was only just beginning to hit its stride), but also the gradual change in approach and confidence in the individuality of Hawke’s Bay Syrah.
The early 2000s were more focused on achieving full ripeness, perhaps in defence of the widely-held and inaccurate belief that New Zealand couldn’t make full-bodied red wines; the resulting wines more closely resemble stereotypical “New World” Syrah styles with dense fruit concentration. From the 2013 vintage, however, there’s clearly a confidence in its peppery dark fruit, refreshing spine of acidity and palate power that comes with the territory (more akin to Northern Rhône than old-school Australian Shiraz). The modern vintages of Le Sol are more lithe, spicier and more focused and – if the earliest vintages are anything to go by – they will have a cellaring potential for some 15 years or more.
Compared to Sauvignon Blanc, the motor of New Zealand’s wine industry, Syrah is still diminutive in size. But for what it lacks in proportion, it certainly makes up for in personality and the true colours of New Zealand’s Syrah are beginning to shine.
Skin-macerated whites were once a rarity savoured by curious wine-lovers, but now wine lists country-wide have a dedicated “orange” section. As his book Amber Revolution is released, orange-evangelist Simon Woolf argues why – when it comes to wine – we should be embracing shades of gold
I don’t need to be told that orange wine is hyped. My google alert for the term churns ever more traffic into my inbox, notifying me as everyone from the Littlehampton Evening Herald to Joe Winelover’s blog publish their virgin exposés on the style.
Most such pithy pieces treat orange wine as a curio that needs to be explained, demystified and examined as if it were an obscure but hip trend such as eating goji berries on your soya-milk porridge. The more intelligent hacks usually add, quite correctly, that the technique – of fermenting white grapes with their skins, instead of without – is as old as winemaking itself.
In some ways, they’re all missing the point. Orange wines are no more than a missing link, the rediscovery of a venerable technique that was conspicuous by its absence during the second half of the 20th century, when wine technology grabbed the industry in a stainless-steel embrace and soft-pressed all the colour out of white wines.
All wine-lovers implicitly accept the notion that red grapes make a radically different wine depending on whether they’re skin-fermented or not. No one expects the grand wines of the Médoc to taste or smell the same as a Bordeaux rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. The grapes for rosé might be subjected to a very short pre-fermentation maceration, before being pressed, or letting the free-run juice just bleed off. They’re generally fresh and lively, with high acidity, simple primary fruit characters and a suitability for drinking young and enjoying with the accompaniment of sun, sea and banter.
Take the same grapes and throw them into a vat with their skins (and maybe some stems for good measure), and a vast array of flavour and aroma compounds are extracted, along with tannins and polyphenols that lurk in the skins. A few weeks of maceration, followed by prolonged ageing in oak, may well add oxidative components to the finished wine. Wine critics revere the additional dimension, awarding it notes of woodsmoke, sous-bois or sundried herbs.
Why then should it seem so odd if white grapes are treated in the same fashion? The skins of many white varieties hold a great deal more flavour and character than their flesh – humble grapes such as Trebbiano di Toscana or Welschriesling are transformed by a week or more of skin contact, suddenly putting on weight, gaining depth, texture and complexity.
If one accepts that the true characters of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache or Nebbiolo are not revealed in a rosé, why should regal varieties such as Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla or Sauvignon Blanc show everything they have to give when they’re disrobed and fermented without their skins?
There are many practical reasons for including skins in a ferment. White wines fermented just with the pulp often need more support from the winemaker, both to complete their fermentation and to remain stable in the bottle. Their skin-fermented orange cousins, richer in natural yeasts and antioxidant compounds, tend to be far healthier and more stable, requiring little or no intervention.
The ability for orange wines to allow the winemaker to step back and let the grapes express themselves naturally increasingly endeared winemakers in Slovenia, Northern Italy and Georgia to return to this pre-technology method of working with white varieties. Over the last decade, the technique has spread worldwide – orange wines are now made on every continent.
The vast range of flavours – concentrated or dried fruits, herbs, nuts, green tea, umami hints, chamomile – and textures ranging from leesy and smooth, to grippy and boldly tannic has endeared orange wines to a whole range of drinkers who may never have previously believed that “white” was for them.
One to try
2013 Fog Monster, Chenin Blanc, Amador County, California, USA: This skin-contact Chenin Blanc is made by Andrea and Chris Mullineux, of famous South African producer Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. Andrea is Californian and while the couple make this while out visiting her family. The fruit spends two weeks on its skins before being foot-trodden and pressed to concrete eggs, where it waits for 12 months. The result is a golden wine with notes of white stone-fruit and spice, while the palate has a tannic grip that cries out for hard cheeses.
A Parisian bistro advertises the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau
On Beaujolais Nouveau Day, Sophie Thorpe traces the history of the Nouveau style and explains why Beaujolais – and even Beaujolais Nouveau – is back on trend
Today, the third Thursday in November is known to those with a vinous slant as the day on which Beaujolais’ “Nouveau” wines are released into the world. These fruit-forward bottlings of the new vintage had their heyday in the ‘80s – but are now seeing a resurgence.
The Nouveau style of wine was originally made for post-harvest celebrations and was consumed locally. After the Second World War, a change in the law allowed producers to sell this young wine commercially and the style’s popularity soared – no doubt helped by the fact it provided welcome cashflow for the region’s vignerons. Starting with Paris bistros, the craze eventually spread to markets around the world, from Australia to Japan. By 1988, Nouveau accounted for 60 percent of Beaujolais produced.
But the Nouveau dream didn’t last. As its popularity rose, quality was sometimes forgone; resulting in a glut of wine in the early ‘90s. Tastes changed too, and bold, richer styles of wine became the new darling of the market (perhaps in line with the rise of a particular critic and his palate – Robert Parker Jr). Today, however, the pendulum is swinging back toward juicy, fresh and elegant styles of wine, ripe for the rise of Nouveau.
Beaujolais and Gamay are finally being taken seriously, with wines from the region’s 10 Crus sitting alongside Burgundy’s best on some of the world’s most venerable wine lists. The last few years have even seen a new wave of producers comfortable enough to reclaim Nouveau, embracing its “smashability”, but producing high-quality examples of the style.
Elsewhere, producers are beginning to imitate the Beaujolais style – crafting early drinking, carbonically macerated “Nouveau” wines that are mouth-watering, balanced and unbelievably quaffable, whether that’s in Tasmania, the Adelaide Hills, Sonoma or elsewhere. They’re not limiting themselves to Gamay either, but working with Pinot Noir, Syrah and other grapes too.
As Nouveau sees a renaissance – in the Beaujolais and elsewhere – the day now provides an excellent excuse to talk about the many brilliant wines produced in the region.
Join the Cru: three of Beaujolais’s best
2017 Morgon, Côte du Py, Jean-Marc Burgaud (£18.95): The slope of the Côte de Py yields Morgon’s best wines – the hard granite soils and aspect producing dense age-worthy styles. With a streak of minerality, a pretty nose of berry-fruit and florals, and structured tannins, this is outstanding now with time in the glass or decanter but will only improve with time in the cellar.
2015 Moulin-à-Vent, Les Rouchaux, Thibault Liger-Belair (£22.50): Thibault is one of several Burgundian producers looking south, to the Beaujolais, where land prices are cheaper to craft serious terroir-driven expressions from the region. Much like Jean-Marc’s Côte du Py, this will only blossom with time, but now offers sweet, dark fruit, spice and mineral freshness.
2017 Régnié, Domaine Julien Sunie (£23.50): A champion of the natural wine movement, Julien’s wines are reliably delicious. This – in contrast to the other two wines here – is a more “traditional” idea of Beaujolais; more gratuitously fruity, yet no less serious in terms of quality.
A note on production: how Nouveau is made
To create a wine that is suited to being consumed only weeks after harvest, producers employ carbonic, or semi-carbonic, maceration. Whole bunches of grapes are placed in a carbon-dioxide-rich environment, encouraging the berries effectively to ferment within their own skins. The result is a lower-alcohol, soft, fruity, aromatic style of red wine; sometimes bearing a hint of bubble gum or banana. At their best, these are wines that can be glugged happily, chilled lightly and sit perfectly alongside platters of charcuterie.
Olivier Bernstein, photographed at his cellar in Beaune by Jason Lowe
After our Fine Wine team’s third day tasting Burgundy’s 2017 vintage in situ, Chris Pollington considers how the region’s wines – the ultimate expression of terroir – depend not just on the vineyards, but on the talents of its remarkable vignerons
Wednesday saw us focus on the reds after Tuesday’s day of whites, tasting a fascinating mix of reds spanning the Côtes de Beane and Nuits. First out of the blocks was a new producer to our list in 2016, Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, a domaine forged by the union of François Bitouzet’s forebears to the Prieur family. The Bitouzets hail from Volnay and produce mostly red wines, while the Prieurs hail from Meursault and produce mainly white. The result is the perfect domaine for these two twin villages with almost equal amounts of red and white wine. The whites here displayed great subtlety on the nose, but shone on the palate with restrained, well-defined fruit and acidity; while the reds showed very well too, with their delightful red-fruited Volnay Premiers Crus leading the way.
The last Côte de Beaune domaines of the week were Comte Armand and Domaine des Croix. Comte Armand was first up, where the Auxey-Duresses, Volnays and the very special Pommard Premier Cru Clos des Epeneaux showed particularly well. We were given the treat of trying young- and old-vine cuvées of the latter, which when blended together showed a wine much greater than the sum of its already impressive parts. After lunch a trip to a team, and indeed personal, favourite, Domaine des Croix proved a perfect reviver. After two vintages where the domaine had virtually no wine to sell, 2017 has provided welcome relief with a relatively abundant crop of excellent wines from Beaune and Corton. The whole range showed well, but the Beaune Premiers Crus Grèves and Les Bressandes were particularly impressive – the latter’s cool definition providing the perfect foil for the former’s exuberance.
I am getting ahead of myself, however, because sandwiched between these two visits, was the week’s most keenly anticipated tasting – with Olivier Bernstein. We have seen Olivier’s wines steadily improving year on year, with at least one wine each vintage surprising us with its leap in quality and entry into the upper echelons of our red Burgundy range. This year was the turn of the Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Champeaux to really shine, and shine it did. Huge depth and breadth of spicy black fruit is on show in the 2017, coupled with a perfectly balanced, elegant structure. The other Premiers and Grands Crus continue to impress with great showings from the Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Cazetiers, Clos de Vougeot, Clos de la Roche, Bonnes-Mares and the Gevrey quartet of Grands Crus.
Looking through the gates to Clos St Marc, Patrice Rion’s Premier Cru monopole in Nuits-St Georges, photographed by Jason Lowe
The team at Bernstein has been bolstered by the addition of the young and knowledgeable Pierre-Emmanuel in the cellars, allowing Richard, Olivier’s longtime assistant, to concentrate his efforts in the vineyards at this impressive domaine. These are some of the best wines we taste in Burgundy now and are always a highlight of our week. Never overblown or over-extracted, they show the result of careful work in the vineyard and cellar to produce wines with the effortless power, finesse, energy and harmony that only the greatest of Burgundies possess.
The day finished with a drive north to visit another Berry Bros. & Rudd favourite, Patrice Rion, in Nuits-St Georges. Patrice’s range of wines from Chambolle-Musigny and his native Nuits-St Georges continue to excite us with their elegance and beautiful fruit profile. In 2017, Patrice’s normal range has been boosted by one-off, limited-volume bottlings of Clos de Vougeot and Vosne-Romanée Aux Réas – both of which were excellent and of which we will be doing our best to get an allocation.
Having now had a chance to look at a good range of red wines from both Côtes, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is a vintage where the individual terroirs really shine through. In bigger, hotter years, many of the wines become homogenised, tasting more of the vintage than the appellation, lieu-dit, Premier or Grand Cru. In a vintage like 2017, compared variously today with 2000, a mixture of 2000 and 2002, 1979 and 1989, the vineyard gets a chance to define the wine, providing the genuine Burgundy-lover with a smorgasbord from which to pick and choose their preferred style of wine.
The skill of the modern viticulturist and oenologist certainly plays its part too. As noted after Monday’s tastings, the fashion for employing whole-cluster fermentation is evident at many domaines. Various producers are also favouring what they call “infusion” for their reds – pumping-over rather than punching-down to extract the colour, flavour and tannin from the skins and pips – a method that is considered gentler and to produce a better wine. In the vineyards, the presence of old vines can often be seen as beneficial to the quality of wine, but as vines get older, a combination of poor yields and sickly vines can cause problems for the vigneron, so the difficult decision to replant with healthier vines and sometimes better clones of Pinot Noir often has to be taken, cutting production for several years for that particular plot.
The dedication, passion, single-mindedness and great skill of these wonderful wine producers should not be underestimated. The prices of Burgundian wines are rising, but so is the quality. I doubt there has ever been a better time to be buying wines from this great region, and I know I will be getting some of these delicious 2017s for myself in January.
Read more about our team’s trip so far here; come back tomorrow for their penultimate report.
Patrick Javillier, photographed in Meursault by Jason Lowe
As our Fine Wine team continues their journey around Burgundy to taste the new vintage en primeur, Peter Newton reports on day two – dedicated to the region’s whites, which show particular promise in 2017
Day two and we are up and out of the hotel early to meet with the delightful Marion, daughter of Meursault maestro, Patrick Javillier. This is the first visit of an almost all-white tasting-trail today.
First and foremost, this is proving to be a year for terroir, another “classic” Burgundy vintage where the soils more than the sun shape the profile of the wines. Right from our very first visit of the week at De Montille, one could sense that there were going to be some serious Chardonnays coming our way and day two has confirmed that in spades, with a further 56 white wines now under our belts.
Visiting Burgundy for a week every year is an essential part of the Fine Wine team’s calendar, giving us invaluable insight into Burgundy as a region, the character of each vintage and the performance of each producer and vineyard therein. Before we set foot amongst the vines of the Côte de Beaune this week, however, we had already heard rumours that 2017 was the next 2014 – the greatest vintage this century for whites and possibly the greatest in a generation or more. We will continue to shape our own views on that over the coming days, but our short time here has shown us that nothing is quite that simple, especially in a region as complex and nuanced as Burgundy.
A barrel of 2017 Bâtard-Montrachet in the cellar at Jean-Noël Gagnard
While we consider the finer details of what is unquestionably a fantastic white vintage, there are a raft of producers who it would be remiss of us to ignore. These vignerons have tasted their own 2017s as well as those of their peers many times over the last 12 months; and thus have some excellent insight on the style of the wines.
Olivier Lamy, of Hubert Lamy in St Aubin, pointed out that 2017 is among the warmer vintages of recent years, along with 2011, 2015 and 2018. David Moreau highlighted that picking dates were almost the same in 2017 as they were in 2015 – both vintages ripening similarly early. Antoine Jobard, from the Meursault property of the same name, also compared the vintage to the richer 2015, although feels it also has higher acidity. This was echoed by Caroline Lestimé, proprietor of the great Jean-Noël Gagnard of Chassagne-Montrachet, who talked about 2017 having similar density to the rounder 2015 vintage, but with a sharper edge and more velvety depth.
Jean-Baptiste, meanwhile, theowner of en vogue Meursault producer Domaine Michel Bouzereau, contemplated concentration levels, suggesting that the 2017 may just have a little more than 2014. Both Marion at Javillier and Jean-Philippe of yet another Meursault producer, Fichet, made comparisons with 2012, perhaps the best white vintage of the century before 2014 came along.
Asking for direct vintage comparisons is never an exact science, and of course it will change for each producer and village, but what seems to be apparent from those at the coalface is that 2017 is more in line with warmer vintages like 2015 but with added freshness and terroir finesse, like 2012. There is a consensus that 2014 is perhaps the more complete vintage but that the ’17s are not at all far behind – serious wines with undeniable quality and appeal.
White Burgundy seems to be making a real comeback after several years of uncertainty surrounding their ageing potential and the thorny issue of premature oxidation (premox). A renewed confidence amongst vignerons and consumers alike appears justified, with a raft of new practices being brought in to combat any potential premox problems – new corks and the use of alternative bottle closures, measured use of sulphur prior to fermentation and more carefully considered use of bâtonnage (lees stirring), to name a few. White Burgundy is on the up and this year is proving to be the perfect vintage to ensure that continues, producing wines with broad appeal, with classic, pure styles aligned with real ripeness and finesse.