Monday, 14 December 2015

My new blog is at:

I've now decided to focus my wine writing, such as it is, on sustainable wine. By that I don't just mean organic, or biodynamic, or natural wines, but also climate change, and other, wider issues in wine sustainability. The new blog can be found at:

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Wine and climate change

I've been to at least 30, maybe 50 vineyards since 2012.

At every one, I've asked the winemaker about climate change and temperature rises.

All of them, bar none, have noticed higher temperatures than in the past.

This is because, as you will likely know, alcohol levels are going up.

More sugar in the grapes from earlier ripening of course pushes up alcohol levels.

Meanwhile climate change makes weather more volatile, which doesn't help grape quality.

As Jancis Robinson noted recently:

"Hotter summers have played a key part in boosting average percentages of alcohol from roughly 12-12.5 in the 1980s to 13.5-14.5 today."

So far of course, all this has been offset by much better vineyard practices, more technology used in wineries, yeasts, and increasingly, use of biodynamic farming methods to help with natural pest control and encourage soil balance and vineyard fertility.

But as Robinson points out, this doesn't always solve the problem:

"Growers have observed to their dismay that grapes have been accumulating the sugars that ferment into alcohol much faster than they have been accumulating all the interesting elements that result in a wine’s flavour, colour and tannins — the phenolics."

Alcohol levels have also been pushed by competition in the old world with the new world wines which have more alcohol, climate change aside, due to growing temperatures.

Add to this the 'Parkerisation' of much of the wine industry (By which I mean forward fruit, higher alcohol trends originally driven by the US market and US market-making of Robert Parker) and the picture does become complex.

But that hasn't stopped top wine makers talking about having to add water to wine in the future.

Or 99.999% of scientists agreeing the temperatures are going up. 0.8 of one percent globally so far, with a lot more to come, alas.

So climate change is a big worry for wine makers, drinkers and the industry in general.

One winemaker I met in Languedoc last year lost his entire crop in 2013 due to a tornado.

That may not be specifically due to climate change. I am sure it wasn't, but it may be a sign of things to come.

This article from offers a few indications of how vineyards may soon tackle climate change.

Some of the changes afoot in the midst of recent 40 degree celsius weather in Bordeaux during June include:

  • Less trimming of leaves, normally done to give exposure to the morning sun 
  • Using 'roof tiles' on young vines to protect them from the sun
  • Putting in anti-hail nets to protect fruit from volatile weather (like in 2013 in Bordeaux)

Other techniques I have heard about from winemakers (the Perrin family who own Beaucastel) include using new types of yeast in fermentation.

Another is physically planting vines in directions better suited to wind and weather. I'll be looking into these in further posts.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Balthus 2007, world class 'garagistes' wine for £30 ish a bottle

Of course most of us don't drink £30 bottles on a regular basis.

I don't. My stock wine at the moment is Domaine de Sarabande 2010/11 at just over a tenner a bottle.

Alternatively the UK Wine Society has superb Rhone wines at as little as £7 each. Paul Jaboulet is one name to try, well known in the region.

But now and again you want to try something a bit special. Something a little rare or unknown.

Balthus is one of those wines. It's not super cheap, but it's a wine that has apparently beaten first growth wines at ten times the price in blind tastings.

Fine and Rare have it at £200 for six. A bit punchy on price? Maybe. But for what you get it's worth it.

It's from a tiny vineyard where they work really hard to only use the best of the best grapes, with lots of pruning early on to make the vines work really hard in producing the best grapes possible.

Then they use a slightly different process in production. Read all about it here. And the "garagistes" movement/style here.

The result is a really concentrated, 100% merlot wine that's quite different from anything else I've had. It needs a lot of time in the decanter. I would suggest four hours, then saving half for the following day.

Wine can't breathe enough (within reason) in my view. I had 1967 Bordeaux the other day that my friend finished the following day and said it was much better.

The Balthus is quite acid to start, but when it opens, really silky, smooth and rich. The tannins fall away and the concentrated dark fruit lingers wonderfully.

Highly recommended as a wine to show off to friends over dinner, given the tiny production and approach taken by the makers. Always nice to drink something wonderful with an unusual story behind it. Particularly when you know some people have paid 10 times the price for similar wines voted not as good as this by the experts.

More on how it scores is here.

Here's a fun video of the taste test where it beat so many top wines.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Wine Society's 1914 wine list

A friend of mine sent me this the other day. The names, descriptions and general look and feel mean it's a bit of fun, and history to peruse.

Watervale Clare Valley Riesling 2005 - Fantastic Aussie grape juice

This is a superb Aussie Riesling by Jeffrey Grosset in South Australia.

The Clare Valley, where it's made, looks pretty stunning from this collection of google images.

I'd be the first to admit to not knowing much about Australian wines, particularly the whites. Being so close to France here in London it's easy to be snobby about New World wines, particularly the whites.

That's why I'm mentioning this one on the blog. It's a superb example of what is, for me, an unusual white.

I've had a fair few Rieslings from Europe and they can be, as you will likely know, very varied. The range is possibly greater than any (or at least many) other grape(s).

Some can be, for me, a little too sickly sweet. That's personal given that the older I get, the less I like sugar in any form, even now in wine. Funny how your palate changes.

This was a gorgeous dry Riesling. What I found extraordinary about it was that you taste it in phases. I counted about five 'things' happening across a mouthful.

I've not encountered that quite so distinctly in any other wine I've had, which is why I must taste it again to check.

Here's what the maker has to say about it.

Jancis Robinson gives it 18.5 from 20 and said: "Intensely introvert and mineral. Very pure yet full bodied...Very persistent and fine. Racy and pure." I am not entirely sure what all that means, but this stuff is lovely. It seems to be hard to find, but worth the search if successful. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

A trip to champagne, in photographs

Chateau de Rilly, Rilly-la-Montagne. A lovely spot to stay and explore the region from

Lobster sarnie in a local one star Michelin in Ay. 

The champagne lunch menu. All local/grower champagnes

Roger Brun's English export Champagne. As drunk in barracks!

Phillipe Brun offers wonderful local/grower Champagnes at his Cave

Well worth a visit to Roger/Phillipe Brun's Cave in Rilly 

Just some of the millions of champagne bottles ageing at Moet

And a few more. 28kms of tunnels, many dug by hand in the 19th Century

The world's largest wine barrel in the foyer at Mercier

A reconstruction of how it used to be at Mercier 

Classy display of ageing champagne bottles in Mercier's 18kms of cellars 

No words needed here 

Starting a tasting before dinner in the vault/cellar at Mercier 

I can't talk enough how about how good their champagne is. Stunning. 

Birthday dinner in the Mercier vault/cellar. 30 metres underground. Wow. 

Dinner, all with Mercier's best champagnes. Who says
you can't have white/rose with beef?

Reims Catherdral, nearby. Gorgeous

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A quick look in the Berry Brother's vintage cellar

Last week I was lucky enough, with a few friends, to have a quick tour of the Berry Brother's cellars in London. The shop alone is worth a visit if you are in central London. The photos below speak for themselves, some lovely old wines in here, the earliest from the early 19th century. 

Agathon, Mount Athos, Evangelos Tsantali 2007: Organic Greek claret, yes really

very decent indeed
Well not quite.

Claret of course can only be from Bordeaux.

Unless, that is, you are Basil Fawlty.

But I blind tasted you on this you would swear this was 5-10 year old cabernet sauvignon from the left bank of the Gironde. You really would.

It took a while to come out of its shell and definitely needs 12 or 24 hours of decanting. I've had it open for 48 hours in the fridge with the air sucked out of the bottle and it's now really opening up.

And yes, it's from Greece. A blend of organic local Limnio and Cabernet grapes, it's really both a gem and a bargain.
It has the classic claret flavours for me. A little age, black fruit, a hint of smokiness and some tannins to give it character.

For £10.99 a bottle it's well worth a try. Here's where I bought it, my first purchase I think, from UK wine site Swig.

I'm a sucker for well written wine pitch from the various websites I sign up to for updates on wines. They sold me on the location as much as the tasting notes:

"The vineyards lie on the slopes of Mount Athos in Macedonia, which takes its name from the mythical giant, Athos, who threw an enormous boulder at the god Poseidon, but his aim was poor and it landed in the Aegean Sea, creating the rocky peninsula named after him. Known today by most Greeks as ‘Holy Mountain’, it is home to twenty monasteries (see photo above), where Eastern Orthodox monks live and work and farm the land organically. Evangelos Tsantali, the winemaker, buys their grapes and continues those principles in the winery, making a wine that is certified as fully organic."

"The blend is an even split between the local grape variety, Limnio, known for its velvety influence on a wine’s texture, and Cabernet Sauvignon. A double act similar to Bordeaux, where Merlot adds soft flesh to Cabernet’s muscle. Its gentle flavours and fine aromatics can be attributed to the fact that the vineyards sit at a height above sea level that confers warm days, but cold nights – the essential recipe for aromatic expression."

Swig Tasting Note: “Medium deep Morello cherry colour with just a touch of brick showing at the rim.  It has a delicately perfumed, Claret-like nose, with a lovely hint of autumnal maturity. It’s the sort of wine you want to sip slowly and keep coming back to, as it unfurls slowly in the glass. There are all the classic Cabernet Sauvignon notes of blackcurrant leaf, plum and capsicum, framed by notes of pencil shavings and powdered spices from the 8 months spent in new French barriques. The fruit on the palate is soft, ripe and subtly spiced, old-fashioned, almost, in its fine-grained texture and has the feel of a carefully handmade wine. The Claret-like impression on the nose gives way to a sunnier character on the palate, more reminiscent of a Tuscan Cabernet, with notes of dark cherry, cassis, laurel and the mellow aromas of mahogany and chestnuts. It’s not a ‘modern’ wine, so I wouldn’t recommend it if your default choice of red is a Californian Merlot, but it’s a lovely wine to serve just below room temperature and enjoy with a big cote de boeuf, a haunch of venison or barbecued lamb chops. 14% alc. Drink now-2017.”