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.
Nestled discretely in the former home of the now-defunct Hambros bank, opposite Britain’s oldest wine and spirits merchant, Berry Bros & Rudd, you will find 67 Pall Mall. Spanning three floors, in a building imagined by renowned English architect Edwin Lutyens, the private members club has come to be a mecca of sorts for wine lovers the world over. While the decor is grandiose and traditional, the team, lead by Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn, is innovative, energetic, and dynamic. Facing a global pandemic, they’ve revolutionised wine tasting at home, shipping some of the worlds greatest wines around the globe to existing and newly-subscribed ‘digital members’. The club has demonstrated unparalleled resilience and commitment to delivering to members despite facing an existential crisis. Further expanding their repertoire, I was excited to receive word from Ronan of the imminent release of the club’s inaugural book. ‘Wine and Food: The Perfect Match’ sees Sayburn and head chef, Marcus Verberne, guide readers through an introduction to wine and wine service followed by 100 mouthwatering recipes and wine pairings. The book is available now, in this article I took a sneak peek prior to launch.
In 1224, in his notable poem Battle of the Wines, Henry d’Andeli tells the story of a famous wine tasting organized by the French king Philip Augustus. In this tasting, samples from across Europe were tasted and judged by an English priest. The priest classified the wines as either ‘Celebrated’ in the case of those which pleased him or ‘Excommunicated’ for those that did not. With the rise of the industrial revolution and the growth of international trade, the wine industry has become a $354.7 billion global market. But wine quality cannot be ascertained ex-ante, for this reason, the industry faces an information asymmetry problem. The producer, distributor or retailer involved in the economic transaction often possess greater material knowledge than the general consumer. Where this is the case, systems emerge which attempt to address this information imbalance. Filmmakers spend millions creating trailers, in literature, there are renowned awards such as the Booker Prize, and in the wine industry there have been scores and competitions. From well-established, renowned international awards to small, emerging regional competitions, format and scale is broad and diverse. However, in a marketplace where applications like Vivino provide consumers with immediate community-generated reviews, whether competitions are effective tools in establishing objective, qualitative benchmarks to aid purchasing decisions or serve as revenue-generating marketing machines is not altogether clear. In this article, I explore the research on wine competitions and discuss what producers should consider before entering their wines into a competition.
Unlike most other agricultural products, bar the most niche of fruit and vegetable, a wine’s origin, in some cases down to a single acre of land, is touted as a semi-mystical source of quality. Although lacking an exact definition, Jancis Robinson notes terroir to be a vines ‘total natural growing environment’. While some consider farming practices a function of terroir, for the most part, it is inclusive of the place, not the person. It is said that the soil, subsoil, rocks, exposition, mesoclimate, and microclimate of a particular vine, are amongst that which most influence the grapevines phenotype. Although romanticised by the French, recognition of place precedes them by some time. The Ancient Greeks were known to stamp amphorae with a seal of origin, the result being different regions established varying reputations for the quality of their wine. But one need not look to Ancient Greece to observe the importance of place. Anybody who has planted in their own garden will recognise that particular plots, even within a 30m² site, perform better, yielding more fruitful results, than others. However, both viticulture and wine differ greatly from almost all other farming endeavours. The sheer volume of decisions made by the vigneron and the subsequent scale of their influence is so vast that one must wonder to what extent terroir can really be credited for the style of the finished wine. Amongst natural wine circles ‘sense of place’ has become a hallmark of authenticity. To ‘let the place show’ is the mantra of the most zen winos. But when these ‘small’ decisions yield such notably broad variance, is this a plausible proposition? Has fetishising terroir obfuscated and subordinated the role of the farmer? A recent conversation with Wine Advocates, Dr William Kelley, stoked my thoughts.
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.
Growing awareness of the impact of food on wellbeing is a good step forward in terms of public health. However, there is growing concern over whether it is problematic to consider all preservatives and additives in general as harmful. An unfortunate byproduct of growing public concern has been that unscrupulous charlatans are more able to sensationalise objectively harmless additives and capitalise upon unsuspecting consumers. Admittedly there has in the past been genuine scandals creating cause for concern, the 1985 diethylene glycol scandal an example of one. With that being said, robust regulatory systems, regular review of the science, and a large amount of data now required pre-approval, should give consumers confidence that they are buying wine free of harmful additives. Winemakers are well aware of the stringent regulations they are subject to and have a good track record of compliance. Modern consumers expect to purchase quality products (albeit this is a somewhat subjective measure) which are free of spoilage and have a long shelf-life. In order to achieve a consistent quality product in a commercially viable manner, winemakers have available to them a number of harmless additives. Whilst there may be over 60 additives available to winemakers, the reality is that only a handful are used in often small, measured quantities. In this article, I hope to demystify common additives in winemaking and provide a more nuanced exploration of what these ‘additives’ are, how, why, and in what quantities they are used, and to discuss their harmless nature.
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.
Following the launch of Avaline, Cameron Diaz and her business partner Katherine Powers parody of an honest, transparent product, the wine industry has been rightfully quick to point out how and why ‘clean wine’ is problematic. Writer, Sophie Griffiths of Vignette Wine, points succinctly to its disingenuous claims, (Avaline itself by any objective standards is a conventional wine), lack of transparency and the unsettling image it projects of the wine industry as a whole. Optimistically surfing Diaz’s wave, laden with millennial buzzwords, is Good Clean Wine, the brainchild of Courtney Dunlop and Elle Feldman. Following an unimaginably embarrassing Forbes article, in which the pair took turns to shit on the wine industry, I launched a tirade on social media. From claiming ‘toxic gunk’ in wine causes hangovers to their suggestions that winemakers simply ‘throw a bunch of junk in the wine’ as it ferments’ I decided they needed to be challenged. In the name of transparency, I was of course immediately blocked, as were many others. Critical comments were deleted from their Instagram page and the initial Forbes article edited retrospectively. Perhaps evidence of the pairs reflection? Alas, this was not to be the case. In a further Forbes article, the two double-down on their misinformed, misleading and frankly troubling insinuations about the wine industry and consumer health. Seeing as though the team at Good Clean Wine just doesn’t seem to get it, in this article I will spell out exactly what’s wrong with their brand and how they market it.
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.
Viticulture is a long-term endeavour, one which is intrinsically linked to the wellbeing of the planet. Much more than being an organisational buzzword, to Ruinart, sustainability is the realisation of their responsibility to preserve. Extending this responsibility beyond the vineyard, for the past 10 years, Ruinart has progressively implemented eco-conscious practises across the entire business, from project proposals to service to packaging. Having already redesigned their existing gift boxes, the second skin is the evolution of this aspect of their commitment. The result of 2 years of research & development, the entirely recyclable second skin saw 7 prototypes prior to completion, is 9 times lighter than previous gift boxes and achieves a 60% reduction in carbon footprint compared to the current solution. Beyond this, working with manufacturer James Cropper and packaging expert Pusterla 1880, the manufacturing process itself is both efficient and sustainable. The impact of climate change on viticulture simply cannot be understated, effectively tackling this is a much broader undertaking than working the land. With the help of Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaïotis, I took a more detailed look at the second skin packaging.