Beyond the borders: a modern take on Piedmont wine pairing

The Langarolo are typically isolated and individualistic people, they are dynamic but for much of history were tightly anchored to both culture and tradition. Piedmont has been home to serious winemaking tradition since the Middle Ages. Early references to Nebbiolo wines were documented in 1266 and in 1303. Despite early celebratory references, for several centuries farmers were at the mercy of middlemen, the wines of Barolo were sold for as little as $0.70 a bottle and were scarcely known further than 10 miles from La Morra. Beyond its winemaking, Piedmont has a cuisine unrivalled elsewhere in Italy. Arguably defined by a notable need for self-reliance, local game, cattle and root vegetables are cooked for long periods on low heat, developing flavours slowly and resulting in rich, warming and hearty dishes. Carlo Petrini, the visionary founder of the Slow Food movement, is from Bra, a town in Piedmont. As in most of Italy, native vines are abundant and though Nebbiolo rules, a handful of varieties, including a number not native to the region, are synonymous with modern Piedmont. However, though certainly content, for much of history the Langhe farmers were poor. Revolutions begin on empty bellies and the 80s brought with them unimaginable change. A small but significant economic boom, the rise in global consumerism and a small band of rebellious winemakers brought global acclaim to Piedmont. The region's wines are these days truly international; however, common wine pairings remain mostly wedded to its own food. I asked some of the UK's most exciting, vibrant and talented sommeliers, chefs, and wine lovers to offer a fresh, diverse and global take on Piedmontese wine pairing.

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Returning to Champagne Paul Launois: crafting a vision

I first visited Champagne Paul Launois in 2019, since then I've watched tentatively from the sidelines as Julien and his partner, Sarah, iteratively crafted what is a considered, artistic and exciting project. Their winery, once a press house belonging to Billecart-Salmon, can be found nestled among the tightly-packed ruelle of grand cru village, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a stone's throw from Krug's iconic Clos du Mesnil. Having traditionally sold their grapes to the village cooperative, three generations of the Launois family have tended to a little over 6.5 hectares of Chardonnay vines. Following nine years working abroad, in 2015 Julien and Sarah completed their first harvest together. A year later Julien began working on the single-barrel project, a personalised and intimate expression of Champagne shaped together by winemaker and wine lover. Following my first visit, it was the nature of their project that had left me enthralled. In a contracting market of growers, Julien and Sarah stood out to me as being among a small number who may well buck the trend. Though the project had impressed me in 2019, this time around the wines took centre stage and Julien's evolution as a winemaker was clear. Though growing in volume, their range of 4 cuvée is each year entirely outstripped by demand with strong interest from keen buyers the world over. I spent a late-summer morning with Julien tasting from his single-barrel library and discussing the future.

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Le Clos Saint-Hilaire: a single hectare at the forefront of winegrowing

Behind a patchwork of buildings in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, a so-called 'commune déléguée' in the Vallée de la Marne, a single hectare of south-southeast facing Pinot Noir vines produce arguably one of the world's most vinous and critically-acclaimed Champagnes. Le Clos Saint-Hilaire, its name lent from the local church of Église Saint-Hilaire, belongs to 'super grower' Billecart-Salmon. Though the commune itself is classified premier cru, albeit amongst only two villages to have scored 99% in the Échelle des Crus classification framework, seventh-generation CEO, Mathieu Roland-Bilecart has his own views on the cru framework. Views which are certainly emboldened by this tiny parcel off the Boulevard du N. Having produced only five vintages since it's first as a standalone bottling in 1995, you'd be forgiven for underestimating the extent to which this outwardly humble site continues to shape the houses persistent and determined evolution. Pointing toward the vineyards scattering of pumpkins and wool-laden residents, Mathieu describes the site as his research and development facility. Shortly after this years harvest, Mathieu and I wondered the site discussing in more detail its extended importance.

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In pursuit of excellence: 130 years of La Rioja Alta

Since the first Phoenician settlers arrived in 11th century BC, Rioja has had a long and colourful winemaking tradition. As early as the late 13th century there is evidence of Rioja's wine being exported into other regions and from the 15th century on, the Rioja Alta was particularly well-known for wine growing. As is the case across most of Europe, viticulture in Rioja can be traced back to the Roman empire and continued there even during Moorish occupation. As a result of the phylloxera epidemic, during which the French were the first and hardest hit, immediate and insatiable demand for all the wine Rioja could produce swept across France. By 1890, the influx of French négociant and winemakers, who had brought with them extensive knowledge, techniques and experience, had brought about a period of unprecedented growth for the region's industry. That same year, five Riojan and Basque families founded the 'Sociedad Vinicola de La Rioja Alta' which would later, after merging with the Ardanza winery, become La Rioja Alta S.A. 130 years later, La Rioja Alta, as well as being the only winery in Rioja to make 3 Gran Reserva, is globally recognised for its age-worthy, quality-driven, and consistently overperforming wines. To celebrate this laudable anniversary, and to mark the release of the 2014 Viña Arana, I discussed some of the estate's most impactful changes in recent decades with La Rioja Alta winemaker, Julio Sáenz.

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Charlie Herring Wine: Tim Phillips does English wine differently in Clos du Paradis

I had originally intended to speak to Tim Phillips, one-man-band at Charlie Herring wine, about his experience planting Riesling in England. Anybody who knows me knows all too well that I'm a Riesling junkie, so this prospect alone was sufficient cause for excitement. What I got from Tim was so much more. Previously I have discussed the challenge of oversupply in the English wine industry. If it is to maintain long-term viability and achieve truly global appeal, more of the norm simply won't do. We must push boundaries, we must exploit the opportunity afforded to us as a new world producer not bound by the complexities of intricate regulation. In a tiny 1 acre walled garden in the south of England, aptly named Clos du Paradis, Tim Phillips tends to a petri dish of exciting, exploratory winemaking.

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What makes a wine dry?

There is a somewhat small range of primary descriptors used by those in the industry which subsequently become the go to guidelines for a broad range of consumers. Whether a wine is dry or not is amongst the most popular characteristic used to judge whether one does or does not favour a wine. But what does it really mean? What makes a dry wine?

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