Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Short on Sparkle...? Nah...

Wine fashionistas have been panicked recently by rumours working back from Italy that there is going to be a shortage of Prosecco. The Sunday papers suggested that droves of Ladies Who Lunch would be trawling the nation’s shelves with sharp elbows and flailing handbags, prepared to defend their hard won stash to the death. One commentator, social rather than equipped with any degree of actual wine knowledge, struck a rather tearful tone in her piece, clearly in a funk of melancholy at the merest whisper of the possibility.

Prosecco has become fashionable. It’s been around for ages and many of you have quietly enjoyed the odd bottle from time to time over the years, but only now that the herd instinct has randomly tuned into Prosecco as The Thing To Drink has it become a widespread fad. In some quarters, being seen to be drinking it is more important than actually enjoying what you are drinking. It’s the same thing as wearing a particular clothing brand because “Paris says…” or sporting a variant of bling because Hollywood’s current favourite does - not because you like it yourself. 

It does look good doesn't it...!

The way the market reacts to such spikes depends to an extent on the product in question. If you are manufacturing an item of clothing that suddenly goes ballistic you gear up your factories and churn out more. If you are producing what is basically an agricultural line you are dependent on the seasons’ turn: last year’s harvest is over, the wine is finished or in the process of being made and there is no more until the next. Furthermore, a vine is a fruit tree - you can’t just sow a seed like wheat and watch your crop pop up - it takes years to come to its best.

This means that, human nature being as it is, there will always be the temptation for less scrupulous producers to cut corners and produce poor wine. You are their target. Look what happened to some Chardonnays when that was all the rage; learn from what happened to Pinot Grigio more recently - it’s still flying high, but some is plain awful.

John Ruskin’s commercial view was this,

“It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money - that's all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.” That this is still so relevant today suggests that consumers have learnt little in over 150 years.

If stocks of Prosecco really are stretched, rest assured that Wines of Interest will not be compromising on quality, nor should you: the bandwagon being ridden by the multiples will see that there is ample heartburn material around for the, um, less fussy. At the moment we have had no notification of any impending shortages from any UK importers and it’s business as usual.  In any case, the word is that the better DOCG vineyards escaped the bad weather that affected the 2014 harvest.  The more recently planted DOC areas on the flatlands (younger vines planted in response to the recent spike in Prosecco popularity, and producing less flavoursome fruit as a result) is where the wet weather did most damage.

There are alternatives too. The bright light of Prosecco should not blind us to some seriously good non-Champagne sparklers from elsewhere and if you drink sparkling wine because you like sparkling wine, please tune in to this pair of belters. 

Paola of Cantine Beato Bartolomeo, our favourite Prosecco producer.

If Prosecco risks shooting itself in the proverbial foot by lowering the bar to fill demand quickly, think what Cava has already done. All that low grade, cheap fizz for the holiday crowds in Spain from the sixties onwards has done permanent damage to the reputation of the good producers too. While consumers need to bear in mind that not all Prosecco is good, they must also remember that not all Cava is bad. We carry a Cava called
Mas Macia which is a single estate wine produced in an idyllic spot about an hour out of Barcelona and it is excellent. Made in the méthode traditionelle with its secondary fermentation in the bottle, the wine is rested on its lees for upwards of 24 months and develops flavours more reminiscent of a much more senior sparkler. At £11.25 Mas Macia costs less than our top Prosecco and delivers more complexity.

The cellars at Bohigas, where Mas Macia Cava is matured.

We have a new fizzy in from France from a single domaine in the Jura called
Domaine Désiré Petit which hits that halfway price between the other sparklers and Champagne. It is a wine of tremendous vivacity and considerable style made from Chardonnay, also bottle fermented and showing the gentle bready, creamy notes of correct maturity. Designated as Crémant de Jura it will appeal to those who love Blanc de Blancs Champagne but not its £30-ish price tag. This super Crémant is on the shelf at £16.95 - not a day-to-day bottle perhaps but cracking value nonetheless. 

The Desire Petit vineyards in the Jura

In the immortal words of Corporal Jones, DON’T PANIC! No shortages here at present, just more choice for lovers of good fizz. 
Click here to see what we currently have available.


Monday, 18 May 2015

Time to look beyond Chateauneuf…?

At the southern end of the Rhone Valley, just to the south of the village of Vaison-la-Romaine, the Dentelles de Montmirail dominate the skyline.  The Dentelles are a small chain of mountains which are effectively the foothills of the highest peak in Provence, Mont Ventoux, situated just to the east.  They have something of an impressive and imposing nature being the result of layers of Jurassic limestone, folded on end to sit vertically and subsequently eroded into jagged and menacing forms as if standing sentry over the precious patchwork of vineyards beneath.

The Dentelles de Montmirail

The Dentelles guard some illustrious names, most notably Chateauneuf du Pape though over the course of the last few decades or so many of the surrounding vineyards have raised their winemaking to such levels that villages such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Rasteau and others now enjoy the prestige of their own village appellations and in many cases rival the wines of all but the very best Chateauneuf producers.  In many cases the lesser-known names represent much better value for money.
Chateauneuf du Pape
We have always offered a range of wines from the southern Rhone from a few well-chosen individual producers but the recent sale of Domaine de Cassan and the decision of the new owner to sell off their Gigondas vineyards mean that we will be keeping our eyes (and mouths) open for a new addition or two in due course.

If you’ve enjoyed the wines of Domaine de Cassan in the past and wish to grab a few bottles while we still have stock left of their 2009 Gigondas or 2010 Ventoux ‘Les Esclausels’ then now is your time!  Possibly more intriguing is their 2010 Beaumes de Venise Rouge – another of the villages with its own appellation, widely known for its sweet Muscat desert wine, though here is a fine example of red Beaumes de Venise (80% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 2% Mourvedre aged in cuve).  Again stocks are limited.

Domaine de Cassan

We have also bought the last of the stock from the UK agent of the 2009 Vacqueyras from Domaine Saint Pierre.  This wine is no longer available in the UK and we have a couple of cases left.  It’s 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with production at only 35hectolitres per hectare it’s a wine of rich concentration, power and depth.  The grapes are destemmed and cold-macerated, then blended and macerated for about 3 weeks under temperature control, with daily punching down of the fermentation cap, and aged for 6 - 12 months in large oak foudres, before assemblage and bottling.  It can be drunk now, but if you lost a few bottles under the stairs of a few years it wouldn’t matter!

The vineyards of Vacqueyras

Fascinating and powerful reds are very much the order of the day in the southern Rhone.  They’re usually Grenache or Syrah-dominated blends and frequently contain smaller proportions of other local grapes  to add to the blend.  With a sprinkling of deliciously fragrant whites and mouthwatering roses as well, the southern Rhone is well worth exploring and if the only name you are familiar with from this part of the world is “Chateauneuf” do have a look at our website or pop into the shop and we’d be pleased to suggest some clever alternatives to the most famous of names.  Equally, if only Chateauneuf will do, we have plenty to choose from.

Our Other Southern Rhone Wines:

2009 Lirac Rouge ‘La Dame Rousse’ (last few bottles, 2010 to follow)
2006 Lirac Rouge ‘Cuvee de la Reine des Bois’ (last few bottles, 2007 to follow)
2012 Tavel Rose ‘La Dame Rousse’ (2013 currently being shipped)
2013 Cotes du Rhone Rose currently being shipped

Other follow-on vintages of Domaine de la Mordoree wines available on request.

We also have several vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape ‘Cuveede la Reine des Bois’ available from Domaine de la Mordoree.  Please visit our website for full details.


What's The Point Of Paying More...?

“So, when I pay £10 or £15 for a bottle, what do I get for my money?  What is it in that bottle that justifies the extra cost?” 

This was a perfectly reasonable question posed at a talk I had been asked to present to a group of local businessmen and women.  There are a few obvious answers of a more nebulous nature; market forces, quality of the vintage - general sort of background information.  Then there is what goes on that we don’t see and therefore perhaps do not appreciate both in terms of physical effort and, less easy to define, philosophy, if that doesn’t sound too poncy.  The best way I can illustrate that is to reproduce a modest chunk of a newsletter that arrived in the middle of December summarising the challenges of 2014 in one vineyard.
“At the end of August, I met a fellow winemaker at a supplier we both use.  He was all tanned: his face looked calm, he was clearly in good shape.  He said, “Hi Christophe, how are you?  Did you see the vines?  Not ripe and plenty of rot; I just got back from 3 weeks’ vacation and it’s a disaster, it’s sickening.”  I replied “Me?  No vacation, we worked all summer like crazy: pruning bunches, reducing leaf cover and everything is ripe and healthy.”   In his eyes there was a blank stare and I could see him getting mad; he replied, “The cemetery is full of people like you.”  He turned and walked away. 

It is certainly hard to accept for others, but I cannot bear not doing everything possible to obtain the best wines.  In my case it’s more a state of mind, it is a philosophy of life and it is called a job well done.  Never give up, care for every detail, even when they have no immediate effect, constantly question what you are doing and always believe there is a better way, without losing sight of the core values of our winery, based on truly sustainable agriculture.  This implies never forgiving oneself for mistakes and making every effort to correct them.  Of course this is a little strange in these times when people say we have to take it easy, but one can never change!  My motivation in life is the quest for excellence.”

Illustrate this with 2011 when the climate threw many obstacles at him.  Forward growth in spring, rain when not required, not enough warmth here then excessive heat there, grey rot - contained - then “sour” rot - also beaten off - uneven ripening, forensic selection of individual grapes at the press house… you name it, Christophe dealt with it all.  The result?  “This was a superb vintage for whites and rosés and a very good one for reds.  Of course, because of all the sorting the harvest was small, but this is the price of quality.”  We opened a bottle of his “simple” 2011 Côtes du Rhône a couple of weeks ago (purely in the interests of research and quality control, you understand) and were amazed at its depth and style.  I wonder how well his indolent neighbour performed….

That, my friends, is why some wines can and should command higher prices than others.  Now, who is this driven man who seldom rests and whose perfectionism sends his neighbours bonkers?  It is Christophe Délorme of the Domaine de la Mordorée with holdings in Lirac, Tavel and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhône, whose wines, as our regulars will know, we have been banging on about for years.  Christophe’s reputation is very highly regarded worldwide and his wines, even his least expensive are all on allocation, but we have been able to amass an extensive collection of current and past vintages, particularly reds, for you to tap into.

These are hardly day-to-day, budget hoovering - they are much too special for that - but now you know why.  Nor, however, are they crazy prices if you look at what you pay for even modest Claret or Burgundy, so if you want something for the weekend, sir, a birthday bottle, or you’ve had a shitty week, worked like stink and damn it, you deserve a treat, Domaine de la Mordorée will see you right and put a great, big smile right across your face.

Domaine de la Mordoree - Available Wines

2013 Cotes du Rhone Rouge - please enquire
2012 Cotes du Rhone Rouge - please enquire
2012 Lirac Rouge "La Dame Rousse" - please enquire
2011 Lirac Rouge "La Dame Rousse" - please enquire

2012 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2011 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2009 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2012 Chateauneuf du Pape "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Spring Wine Offer 2015

Right then.  Some of you have done dry January and by the time you get this others will have nearly completed their Lenten deprivation.  By the beard of Zeus, some of you will have done both.  Eeeek.  Well done. Now that, surely, is enough flagellation for the time being.  Demonstrating considerable dedication to duty you have earned yourself a well-deserved, pretty enormous glass of wine.  I would suggest two - no, hang it, several - but the Joy Police may spot this and declare such a notion to be irresponsible.  So I won’t.

What’s it to be?  A fresh, lively white to cut the last of the winter dust?  Maybe a dark, fruit-filled red to ease down your Easter lamb or a subtle, white Rhône inspired smoothie for a free-range fowl?  Doubtless you’ve also been on a bloody diet for added torture; time to wave that off with a dish of savoury pasta and unhealthy gratings of cheese for which a keen, cleansing Italian red will touch the spot.  If you like the sound of any of that read on, for you will find all the wet part of it in the following offer.

There’s more to this offer than meets the eye.  Yes, the wines are delicious.  Yes, you get a bit of discount and yes, as ever you can slice it into reds only, whites only or mixed rations, all at the same very reasonable price.  However, for every dozen bought we will donate £8 to Cancer Campaign In Suffolk and for every half-dozen we will give them £4.  We trim your price and our margin; between us we will try to send a significant contribution to this valuable local cause. 

This is a great local charity that aims to help you, the population of Suffolk, regardless of gender, colour, creed or age and it deserves whatever support we can give.  If you would like to know more, tune into or email  or call them on 01473 211884.

If you need a box or two of wine this spring, choose one of these options – because you’re not just buying wine.

That’s the worthy bit; you’ll be thirsty now.

If you cannot make it to the shop we will be pleased to battle through “Gridlock Ipswich” to bring your wine to you.   Local deliveries are FREE for orders of £70 or more.  Delivery details may be found here.

The offer starts NOW and runs until May 30th 2015 and is available subject to stocks remaining unsold.  We will do our best to buy enough stock in advance to hold these prices for the full length of the offer, but reserve the right to make any adjustments should they become necessary.

Plan ahead: you have a long Easter weekend and two bank holidays in that period and it wouldn’t do to go dry!

For full details of delicious wines of real character at reduced prices, please click here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Chateau l’Ermitage, Costieres de Nimes

We’ve stocked the ‘Tradition’ wines from Chateau l’Ermitage in Costieres de Nimes before, but the new vintages (tasted at a recent event in London) reminded us of just how good the wines from this property are.  If anything, the latest versions are even more impressive than their predecessors and we simply couldn’t resist!

The Château l’Ermitage estate is owned and run by the third generation of the Castillon family in the form of Michel, and his son Jerome.  Some sections of vineyard at Chateau l’Ermitage date back to the 12th Century, and the first cellars here were built in the early 1800s.  The soil is sandstone and the vineyards face south, towards the sea, with the sea breezes helping to mitigate the summer heat and retaining a freshness in the resulting wines.  The property is signed up to the Terra Vitis scheme which brings with it a commitment to safeguard the local environment – especially the vineyards - and a constant striving to make wines of true quality that have been crafted using natural methods that respect both Man and the land.  This is typical of many producers who follow an organic philosophy without embracing the formal restrictions of certified organic status.

Jerome Castillon of Chateau l'Ermitage

The appellation of Costieres de Nimes itself used to be part of the Languedoc but in the late 1990s the growers got together and requested to included as a sub-region of the Rhone Valley simply because their wines were closer in style to those of the Rhone than the wines of the Languedoc.  The French authorities took their time but the change was eventually effected in 2004.  Even though we are significantly south-west of Avignon here and nicely on the way to Montpellier you need to ‘think Rhone’….but with a gentle twist… !

Map of the Southern Rhone

We are now stocking 4 wines from Château l’Ermitage ; the fine trio of white, pink and red which will be accompanied by 50cl bottles of a splendid Muscat which is wonderfully fresh and pleasingly not-too-sweet.  We are sure it will win many friends !

The Château l’Ermitage Tradition Blanc is 60% Roussanne, 20% Viognier and 20% Grenache Blanc and has aromas of orange blossom with hints of peach, grapefruit and nectarine, all with a wonderful mineral edge.  It’s very clean and fresh and splendidly original.

The Château l’Ermitage Tradition Rose is 50% Grenache, with 25% each of Syrah and Mourvedre.  It is pale salmon pink in colour with a fresh berry nose.  A little fuller than Provence rose yet not as masculine as the roses from elsewhere in the Rhone Valley.  It is poised, elegant and mouthwatering.

The Château l’Ermitage Tradition Rouge is 40% each of Syrah and Mourvedre with 20% Grenache.  It is a hearty red with ripe tannins and plenty of red fruit flavours matched with a gentle savoury edge.  Yes it is youthful, but it is also very approachable.  It will keep if you wish, but it’s so attractive now that you may struggle to keep your hands off it…. We know we will !
Finally, 'Le Muscat' is 100% Muscat a Petit Grains which has its fermentation stopped by the addition of 7% grape spirit thus retaining a small percentage of natural, unfermented grape sugars.  It is wonderfully delicate though and, crucially, beautifully fresh, grapey and not too sweet.


Monday, 23 February 2015

Striking The Wrong Note

The latest issue of one of our trade publications carried a lead story last week about retailers who quote reviews and scores on wines by the American wine writer Robert Parker being sent a $199 annual invoice for a “commercial subscription” to his publication The Wine Advocate.  Apparently this is something that many wine writers are touchy about.  The article also mentions one wine writer (who we had never heard of) who does not even allow his name to be used without his express permission (probably why we’ve never heard of him).  He apparently demands £15,000 for his words to be used in marketing material and has taken legal action against both Majestic and Direct Wines for using his quotes without permission. Contrastingly, neither Anthony Rose (The Independent) nor Victoria Moore (The Telegraph and BBC Olive Magazine) make any such song and dance about their words being quoted having tasted wines, reviewed them and placed their comments in the public domain as long as they are accurate and attributed to them.  This seems fair enough since they’d already been paid to write their reviews and place them in the public domain.

Independent merchants (like us) have long complained that almost all wine writers only ever feature wines stocked by the large national chains (supermarkets especially) in their various wine articles.  Their reasoning has always tended to be that as they are writing for national publications they must necessarily focus on wines which are available nationally in order to maintain relevance to their readership.  This always seemed to be something of a feeble excuse to us since there are hundreds of wines sold only through small local independents which both deserve coverage and which are available nationally, albeit from a network of unconnected independents rather than one big national name.  We’re starting to wonder though whether the opportunity to charge an annual fee for a few favourable words isn’t the driver here. 

As far as Mr Parker is concerned, you would have thought that the opportunity for his words and influence to be spread far and wide throughout the wine world (and potentially increase subscriptions to his magazine) would have far outweighed the potentially damaging desire to send out a few invoices to drag in a bit of extra cash.  Apparently not.  It would seem that having grown his influence throughout north America and extended it worldwide he has now decided that the time has come to cash in.  Economists call this “market saturation” and our guess is that subscription levels have flattened out and this is the next wheeze to keep incomes up!

Recently we wrote, at length, about Christophe Delorme and his illustrious Domaine de la Mordoree estate in the southern Rhone.  Christophe’s wines are regularly featured by Parker and the Mordoree website carries links to the various reviews throughout the press, Parker’s included.  Frankly, Christophe doesn’t really need promoting; his wines are quite rightly very highly regarded indeed.  We are allowed a modest allocation each year and he could easily sell twice the amount he makes.  We wonder if Christophe will also be expected to pay to use Mr Parker’s reviews?  If we were to quote He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named we apparently should expect not only a fee for doing so but also a commission invoice for 2% of our sales made as a result – sod that.

In response to this we have removed all mention of Robert Parker from our website and have simply concluded that, instead of paying self-important wine writers a fee for us to tell you what they think, we will simply continue to tell you what we think.  After all, we taste before we buy and consequently believe in the lines we offer.  We already charge you for the wines you see, we reckon telling you what they’re like comes as part of the deal. 

In this topsy-turvy world of copyright and litigation is seems all too easy to lose sight of the fact that we are in this business to help people to enjoy themselves by finding the right wines for the right occasion.  We had previously regarded all wine writers as an impartial aid to this; reviewing the wines they are enthusiastic about and being paid to do so by the publications that print their words.  We have no reason to believe that wine writers are not impartial in their wine reviews.  However, with some also expecting fees from retailers and possibly producers, they could leave themselves open to the accusation that they are providing paid-for promotional material.

Maybe some good will ultimately come from all of this though.  Robert Parker has been widely seen by many in the wine trade to have become too influential anyway with the American and Asian markets especially guilty of blindly chasing everything he mentions favourably. The removal of his comments by many small independents like us as a result of this invoicing nonsense should help redress the balance and encourage more people to make their own minds up.  By all means use comments (including ours) to help make an informed purchasing decision, but when you actually drink the stuff your opinion should be exactly that, yours. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

In Praise of Godello

We have an old-ish copy of Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine in the office (the 3rd Edition from 1985) which makes no mention of most of the wine regions which make up our current Spanish selection.  Galicia is mentioned as an afterthought, at the bottom of the final paragraph in the page covering Spain.  There is a solitary reference to a grape variety called Albariño which might be worth watching in the future.

It turns out that Johnson was right, Albariño was worth watching, and has now been watched so much that it is becoming increasingly challenging to track down decent examples to offer for much under £12-£14 a bottle which is the point at which you could be forgiven for turning your attention to the likes of (for instance) white Burgundy.  Flying along not far behind Albariño (but far enough to avoid Johnson’s radar back in 1985) was another Galician grape variety, equally worth of note, called Godello.  Even today it’s still not fully on the radar of many white wine lovers which makes it somewhat better value than most Albariños which are now considered trendy.

Like Albariño, Godello makes whites that are high in fruit with characteristic peach and citrus notes.  It tends to be unoaked and provides a perfect accompaniment to gentle fish and seafood (natural Galician menu choices) but can also be enjoyed on its own for those who like their whites with plenty of fruit and a refreshing nip of cleansing acidity (think Pinot Blanc from Alsace, or dry Muscat, or perhaps a spritely Viognier and you’ll be along the right lines).

One such example is the superb 2013 Via Nova Godello from Bodegas Virxe de Galir in Valdeorras.  Valdeorras means “Valley of Gold”, so named because the Romans mined the local slate for precious metals.  These days that same slate produces a gentle minerally note in the wines adding a further dimension.

If you bought one of our Gold Christmas Cases at the back end of 2014 you may well have already tasted this super wine, but we have a couple of cases left and would like to shuffle them through ahead of next month’s Wines From Spain tasting where we will be on the look out for yet more fabulous wines whose origins never got a mention back in 1985.  We’ve even provided an incentive for you to buy a couple of bottles as you can see by visiting the Last ChanceTo Buy section of our website where there are still a few final bottles of some more old favourites to be snapped up before it’s too late.  As ever a 5% discount kicks in at 12 bottles (which may be mixed).