We Brits have an extensive, historical love affair with Bordeaux. Since the 12th century, when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, who had decreed ships sailing from Bordeaux would be exempt from export tax, the volume of Bordeaux imported to the UK has represented a significant portion of total production. With top châteaux, on both the Left and Right bank, experiencing astronomical price rises in recent decades, and for many centuries Bordeaux known as a wine of the upper-class elites, there has been a stark failure by many, myself included, to explore the ‘rest’ beyond the few. Admittedly, for whatever reason, perhaps lack of inclination, poor on-shelf representation, or a blossoming new world ‘stealing the show’ I’ve failed to explore the abundance of keenly priced, equally quality-conscious, producers on both sides of the Gironde. Jane Anson’s wonderful new release ‘Inside Bordeaux’, an exciting new generation of winemakers, and a handful of recently-enjoyed superb bottles have convinced me to revisit the region and shake off my misconceptions. Having recently shared 8 distinctive Burgundies for under £30, in this article I point toward 6 great-value Bordeaux for under £22 that may just encourage you to dive a little deeper into the inspired winemakers of Bordeaux.
As a wealthy, mercantile nation, England had a marked influence on the development of sparkling Champagne. On both sides of the channel, the roots of the modern Champagne industry were laid during the Industrial Revolution. Most notably, the British method of coal-fired glassmaking contributed to stronger bottles able to withstand higher pressure. By the end of the 19th century, Champagne was making its mark and embedding itself into popular culture. Since 1950, global sales have grown steadily, with 13 million bottles sold in 2019 in the UK alone. To the surprise of many, there are almost 16,000 individual growers and 320 houses in Champagne. However, those 320 houses sell almost 70% of the regions total production. Only around 2000 of these growers continue to grow and produce their own wine. A concentration of powerful conglomerates raising the price paid to growers for their crop has made bottling one’s own wine economically unfeasible and increasingly unattractive. In 2018 alone, 120 growers disappeared. Despite being the second-largest consumer of Champagne, here in the UK, we import only 130 growers with the vast majority of sales achieved by the 5 largest houses. Lack of visibility in such an important market makes the prospect of surviving as a grower all the more daunting. Sip Champagnes is the brainchild of friends Daniel Blatchford and Peter Crawford. Together, photographer and tech-wiz Blatchford, and longstanding Champagne enthusiast and collector, Crawford, aim to platform underexposed artisan producers by providing customers with a unique exploration through a subscription model and standalone bottle shop. I spoke with the pair about this exciting project.
The earliest recorded praise of Burgundy’s wines was in 591 by Gregory of Tours, who compared their quality to the Roman wine Falernian, one of the first wines to be exported to Britain while it was a Roman settlement. Monks and monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church have since had an important influence on the history of Burgundy wine. The Cistercians, themselves extensive vineyard owners, were the first to notice that different vineyard plots gave consistently different wines. They, therefore, laid the earliest foundation for the naming of Burgundy crus and the region’s terroir thinking. Since then, aided by advancements in commerce, Burgundy has become the wine of choice for discerning wine lovers the world over. Fuelled by supply and demand, cultish following, and to some extent the escapades of Rudi Kurniawan and John Kapon, prices have skyrocketed seemingly without an end in sight. I count myself firmly amongst those struck by the magic of great Burgundy. When they’re on form, it’s best wines transcend what I had previously considered possible from the humble grapevine. That being said, when I share images of recently enjoyed bottles, I’m often asked by readers to recommend accessibly-priced or ‘under the radar’ bottles for those seeking obtainable indulgence. In this article, I’ll point you toward 8 Burgundian wines, from the estates of some outstanding producers, priced under £30 a bottle.
Although only average in size (4124ha under vine) the Nahe boasts some of Germany’s most complex, profound, and idiosyncratic wines. Often overlooked, the primarily south and southwest facing vineyards, stretching from Bingerbrück to Soonwald, are drenched in sun, lying in a transition zone between a continental and maritime climate. With vines in many of the regions most favourable sites, claiming monopole status over some, one producer is particularly emblematic of the Nahe’s unsung wonders. The Dönnhoff family first came to the region over 200 years ago, steadily establishing a modest estate. Since 1966, the famed Helmut Dönnhoff has made the wine, with 4th generation Cornelius now overseeing the families 28ha of vines, 25 of which are classified Erste Lage. Elliot Awin and the team at ABS Wine Agencies, importers of Dönnhoff, invited me to join them for a virtual Zoom discovery of the estate. Lead by Cornelius and accompanied by 6 wines, including a glimpse into 2019. We walked through the estate’s history and talked more about the challenges of producing laser-sharp, spicy, and intense wines vintage after vintage.
Alessandro Masnaghetti was born in 1962 in Milano and currently lives in Faenza, a small town near Bologna. In the late 1980s, Masnaghetti’s passion for wine evolved and became more important than his love for food. In 1994, whilst working for famed Italian wine critic Luigi Veronello, he created his first map, a map of the communes of Barbaresco. Despite printing roughly 3-4000 copies, only 20-30 sold, so mapmaking was put to bed until 2006. Even upon release of his second effort, only a small portion of producers and wine lovers thought the project to be of great importance. Fast forward 14 years and any self-respecting wine lover, or admirer of maps, counts Masnaghetti’s books, predominately his MGA volumes, amongst their must-have resources. Wine regions can be mystifying and Italian regions tend to be the most confusing of all. Masnaghetti’s latest project, Barolo MGA 360, brings all of his work to life in an accessible, easily-digestible digital format. I spoke briefly with Alessandro about this exciting new project.
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.
Winemaking is a labour of love. For those on the ground, romantic notions of sniffing barrels and stomping grapes are a stark contrast to their reality. Vintage by Villa Maria is a wine documentary with a difference. The film explores the trials and tribulations of a single harvest from the perspective of Villa Maria’s people. Filmed across 40 days it explores their motivations, passions and the unique challenges they face. In a style attractive to wine lovers and regular folk, Vintage balances new-found admiration with excitement, education and sheer grit.
Selecting a date upon which to begin harvest is arguably the most pressing, influential and troublesome decision required of any vigneron during the annual growing cycle. There is the romantic notion that growers arrive at this decision as a result of intuitive tasting of selected grapes picked randomly from a particular plot or row. Whilst intuition often proves invaluable, particularly in tough vintages, times are changing and the role of technology in tracking optimum grape ripeness is proving increasingly valuable. In no region are they pursuing optimum ripeness quite as comprehensively than in Champagne. I got to grips with just how this pursuit is evolving with Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de Cave at Ruinart.
There are few more colourful, vivacious and spirited individuals than Ernst Loosen. Those who have spent any amount of time with him will know well the personality of which I speak. Since the 1980’s he has produced world-class Riesling from the Mosel to Washington State, experimented with Pinot Noir in Oregon and shared his knowledge as far afield as New Zealand. Ernie is an innovator, he pushes boundaries, but most of all he rejects defeatism. Despite a host of existential challenges, with an open mind and curious inquisition Ernst has continued to evolve. I spent an evening exploring this refreshing outlook …
January has been damp at best. I fear the annual showing of Burgundy en primeur renders any future possibility of a dry month nigh on impossible for me and many alike. This past fortnight the Burgundians, with the help of London’s wine merchants, have offered the wine trade unrivalled access to their 2018 Burgundy vintage offering. In this article I will briefly share my thoughts and feelings on the wines, the vintage and what’s to come for Burgundy.