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The World of Sparkling Wine

Let’s face it, we all love bubbles. Whether they are in a glass, bottle, can; even floating in the air, sparkling wine has fascinated us for many years. There is an undeniable sense of ceremony to both opening and drinking sparkling wine, and yet, as a whole, we understand relatively little as to how it is made. Or indeed about respective cork-poppers around the world.

Champagne – the original sparkling wine

First let us consider the original perpetrator and undeniable ‘Grand Seigneur’ of fizz: Champagne. Having stood the test of time, the ‘Méthode Champenoise’ is protected to be called so just in the region and the particulars of each champagne house are a closely guarded secret. A general overview (for a more in-depth account please see our Guide to Sparkling Wine) of events would be as follows: grapes are harvested early to retain acidity and first fermentation happens in tanks. The resulting ‘cuvée’ is then blended and bottled with additional sugar and yeast for secondary fermentation. This involves being left ‘on the lees’ where the bottles are systematically turned and tilted to as to collect all the yeast deposits in the neck of the bottle. Once these have been removed the bottle is topped up with a special ‘liqueur d’expédition’; a blend of the original cuvée, a small measure of sugar and sulphur dioxide.

Given the variances in each Champagne house style, blend, cuvée, and taste; not to mention the harvest from year to year, you can begin to imagine why sugar levels vary so much from one bottle to another. Whilst we may not tend not to over-analyse exact sugar quantities as consumers, we inevitably gravitate towards styles that suit our own tastes, sweet-toothed or less so! With the growing global interest in the sugar content of what we consume we thought it would be interesting to have a look at the different classifications of champagne (from ‘Brut Nature’ through to ‘Doux’) and their corresponding sugar amounts.

Sparkling Wine and Champagne's Sweetness Levels

Being made from grapes, champagne, or indeed any fizz or wine will, of course, contain residual sugar. The variance in champagne is better defined than with other sparkling wines: the sugar additions, both before secondary fermentation and in the final ‘liqueur d’expédition’ may well be closely guarded Maison secrets, but they, alongside the final grape blend, allow for the 7 different classifications above. Champagne’s penchant for classification is all part of their armed protection, given the rise in sparkling wines from elsewhere and that their 3 chosen grapes are not specific to the area.

In fact, the Champagne blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir is used in both the UK and Australia for their sparkling wines.; they even use the same method to produce it, although outside of Champagne it is called the ‘Traditional Method’ as ‘Champenoise’ is protected. These grapes work particularly well in cooler climates as they retain the all-important acidity at harvest, and whilst the blends and end products may be different, there is no denying the Champagne influence on both UK and Australian sparkling wines. The UK soil is even created by the same fault line, ensuring mix of chalk, clay, and sand: ideal for the grapes in question. What is interesting is Champagne houses recent interest in vineyards in both Hemispheres: both in terms of quality and quantity of sparkling wine globally and how climate change will affect vineyards moving forward.

Champagne vs sparkling wine from other regions

But not all sparkling wines follow the Champagne holy grail when it comes to grape varieties used: in fact most countries now produce their own sparkling wine, be it sweet, dry; delicious or less so. Even within France there are plenty more offerings, ‘Crémant’ being the predominant name used for sparkling wines from other regions. Crémant is limited strictly to 8 appellations and handpicks from a specific selection of grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.

Given the technicalities and extended processes needed to make wine sparkling, it tends to suits particular grapes more than others, those that can retain acidity but with residual sugar for the fermentations – a fine balance to strike. If you also consider the variance in climate and soils, the difference and restrictions in use of grapes globally, country by country, becomes a logical conclusion.

Sparkling wine grape blends

Over the border to Spain heralds an interesting story – with most vines of the Penedès region wiped out by phylloxera in the late 19th Century, white grapes were introduced to the region as a bit of an experiment. The resulting Cava has stood the test of time with those local grapes, save for the addition of Chardonnay to the blend in the 80s. Portugal too favours local varietals for its sparkler: grown all over the country, Espumante varies region to region thanks to the Portuguese policy of localisation but is predominantly made from a blend of 3 local grapes: Gouveio, Arinto, and Bical.

Keeping within Europe the Italians also favour local grapes although all three pinot grapes (blanc, grigio, and noir respectively) are allowed in the blend. What is interesting is the 85% minimum quota of the Glera grape, which gives Prosecco its distinctive palate and ensures it is seen as a bit of a safe bet alongside the more complex Champagne. It also means it is subject to Glera thriving of a given harvest, hence the recent “Prosecco drought” headlines.

German Sekt is made predominantly from a blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir: it tends to be bottled and named at the local level, so by village and producer rather than anything more controlled. 90% of the grapes used are sourced from fellow Europeans, so Italy, France or Spain: this evidently is enough of a journey for the grapes as the end product is barely exported!

Last but by no means least we look at 2 new world offerings, USA and South Africa respectively. Whilst the USA follows the Champagne blend (with the addition of Pinot Blanc being allowed), production is not regulated and tends to cater for a rather sweeter palate, therefore is not a huge success outside of the US. South Africa on the other hand, regulate their Cap Classique assiduously with growers having formed their own organization, complete with its own trademark, to protect both quality and production. Sparklers stamped with the Cap Classique mark are made from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc traditionally with the inclusion of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the up.

Sparkling wine consumption

With all this growth and increasing regulation within the world of Sparkling Wine, the next logical question is surely who is drinking it and how much? We teamed up with The IWSR (International Wine & Spirits Research) who have the world’s largest wine and spirits’ database and who kindly supplied us with global consumption data. First, we consider how much of the country’s Sparkling Wine is consumed in the country itself vs abroad alongside the consumption of Sparkling Wine within that country – how much of it is home fare vs imported bubbles made elsewhere. This provides the 2 pie charts as seen in the infographic below: red donating the domestic figure (percentage and volume respectively) and blue the foreign or abroad figures.

Sparkling wine consumption

Immediately there are some interesting observations to be had: France, Spain, and Italy predominantly drink their own fare and have strong export figures. This tallies with Champagne, Prosecco and Cava being the most widely available and recognized sparkling wine offerings. This almost matches up to the overall market share figures as shown by the colour-coded ring next to our world map, although interestingly both the US and Germany hold a larger chunk than Spain! The Germans certainly drink the most bottles per head a year (at 8 and a quarter bottles): they barely export their Sekt and certainly opt to predominantly drink local too. The Americans share similar export figures and have a more even-handed approach when it comes to what they drink at home. Given the size of the US population, their relatively low bottle count a head is not surprising!

Closer to home, the UK is evidently the smallest market: no export to report on as yet and predominantly drinks import, sitting discreetly within the other category on the Market Share representation. Portugal similarly barely exports and yet drinks predominantly it’s own fare: each area’s Espumante a reassuring staple both in restaurants, bars, and at home.

However, when you consider the UK’s growth, both in volume and value over the last 5 years, a different picture is painted. With volume up 35.4% and value 40.8%, the UK sits high and dry (or indeed less so!) above its European counterparts. All the more so if you consider that this growth is entirely driven by domestic consumption… and with the likes of the US and Asia sniffing around our sparkling fare, we should have plenty more cause for celebration. This becomes all the more interesting when you compare with what’s happening in France: whilst the French evidently dominate the overall market share, but in fact the volume they produce has scarcely (0.2%) moved over the past 5 years. With the value up 1.9%, nearly 10x the rise in volume, it is clear that the price is going up whereas yields are not.

Growing market Australia may be also on the up but still has some way to go until it starts competing with Old World offerings. Australians do drink most of their own fare and their 2 pie charts are fairly evenly matched, meaning their export and import figures are reassuringly proportionate to what they consume at home: definitely one to watch for the future. All the more so with the gap being left by Champagne: smaller yields at increasing cost could lead to their pricing themselves out of the market.  Across the Southern ocean, South Africa may not be big players on the market share front as yet, but they do export as much as they drink. When you consider they consume the least per head out of all the countries detailed, this perhaps feels less significant, but Cap Classique is a bit of a hidden gem – those in the know are stocking up.

With this growing market, both in terms of consumption and production, showing no sign of slowing down, and the increase in offerings from countries far and wide, we can only feel there are exciting times ahead for Sparkling Wine. The UK, Australia & South Africa especially have some big and promising boots to fill. Not to mention local fizzes as yet to be detailed: from South America, Russia, and the Baltics – everyone is at it! With Prosecco allegedly in shortfall this year; Champagne with another reduced (yet spectacular, or so we hear!) harvest, the next 10 years could see some very interesting progression and diversification within the world of sparkling wine. Let’s just hope we have plenty of cause to celebrate!

 

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  • Month Ahead: October

    After the rainy flurry of new starts & moons that was September, October comes as a welcome sigh of sunny relief.  Events in the wine world echo our sentiment, with ample intimate & relaxed options to pepper days & evenings with.  Alongside some pretty fascinating tastings, from Champagne to Rhone to Bordeaux, we have dinners, pairings & musical all sorts.  Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen hosts a wine & cheese pairing night, which promises to be fun, straight up &, of course, delicious; OR, for those with sweet teeth in our midst, head to Whole Foods in Kensington for a evening of wine & chocolate.. We feel it might be wise to cover both, for full palatial research purposes. Enjoy!

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    Thursday 1st
    Guigal Cote Rotie & Condrieu Tasting
    West London Wine School, Fulham

    Friday 2nd
    Golden Age of Bordeaux Dinner
    Milsoms, Dedham Essex

    Sunday 4th
    Sunday Specials – live music & wine tasting
    Bedales, Borough Market

    Wednesday 7th
    ‘The Lost Grapes’ – tasting
    Bedales, Borough Market

     Wine Chat – Supermarket Sweep, Tasting
    Unwined, Tooting

    Thursday 8th
    Autumn Lunch
    Le Gavroche, London

    Cheese & Wine Matching Masterclass
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Bottle vs Magnum vs Jeraboam Tasting, Jancis Robinson
    67 Pall Mall, London

     Friday 9th
    World of Wine: Chile & Argentina
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Saturday 10th
    World of Wine Tasting Day
    St John’s Chophouse, Cambridge

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Café 21, Newcastle

     Monday 12th
    Intro to Wine
    Unwined, Tooting

     Tuesday 13th
    WSET Level 1 Course
    South West London Wine School @The Mitre, Greenwich

     Fine Wine Rhone: Chateau de Beaucastel Vertical
    West London Wine School, London

     Wednesday 14th
    Grapes Deconstructed: Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay
    Unwined, Tooting

     Celebrate Chocolate Week: Chocolate & Wine Pairing with Amelia Rope!
    Whole Foods Market, Kensington High St, London

     Handford Super Second Bordeaux 1989 v 1985 v 1982
    Handford Wines, London

     Friday 16th
    World of Wine: USA & South Africa
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Discovering Wine with Monty Waldin
    Hawkwood College, Stroud

     Saturday 17th Oct
    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Sam’s of Brighton, East Sussex

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    The Midland Hotel, Manchester

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Old Bank Hotel, Oxford

     Wednesday 21st
    Wine Heroes: Cullen & Margaret River, Australia
    Unwined, Tooting

     Discovery Wine Tasting & Antipasti
    Jamie’s Italian, Bristol

     Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Wine & Cheese Night
    Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, London N1

     Thursday 22nd
    Humble History of Wine in London
    Haciendas Club, EC4V London

     An Evening with Les Vignobles Foncalieu
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     An Evening of Fine Wine with MOW Matt Flemming
    Avery’s Cellars, Bristol

     Friday 23rd
    World of Wine: Sparkling, Sweet & Fortified
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Saturday 24th October
    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Bank Restaurant, Birmingham

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Apex Hotel, Edinburgh

     Wednesday 28th
    Passport of Wine: ??? vs ???
    Unwined, Tooting

     Italy Showcase Tasting
    Avery’s Cellars, Bristol

     2014 Loire = Pure Awesome!
    Vagabond Wines, Fulham

     Thursday 29th
    Discover Italy: North & North-West
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Saturday 31st
    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Radisson Blu, Glasgow

     

     

     

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  • Month Ahead – September

    Annnnd the heaven open once again to welcome us into September! (for those still holding out for an Indian Summer, don’t lose faith. Just yet.)  We are all feeling in a relatively glass half full frame of mind. As is the industry, it transpires.. From Turkey to Portugal; Chile to New Zealand – we’re trotting into Autumn in a most global manner. (& should the aforementioned seasonal sunshine not descend, perhaps some tastebud-teleportation will)

    The wine world is bursting with options this month.  So much so, we’d be hard-pressed to list them all – feels like a good month to expand respective wine knowledges in earnest. Good thing cellars are well-protected against the elements..

     

    Tuesday 1st

    Destination: Portugal, tasting & nibbles
    Bedales, Spitalfields

     

    Wednesday 2nd

    Beginners Guide to Wine
    Vagabond Wines, Fulham

     World of Wine: Burgundy & Loire
    Fulham Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Thursday 3rd

    4 week Course – Introduction to Italy
    Fulham Wine Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Friday 4th

    Wine Tasting: Loire & Burgundy
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     

    Saturday 5th

    Wine Advisor Masterclass
    Averys, Bristol

    Wine Tasting with Jancis Robinson
    Southbank Centre

     

    Monday 7th

    New Zealand Wine Tasting: Craggy Range
    New Zealand Cellar, POP Brixton

     

    Tuesday 8th

    Tech Tastes Wine
    The Collective Elevator, 14 Bedford Square

    Grape debate: Grenache based blends
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     

     Wednesday 9th

    Wine Workshop: The Next Big Thing
    Bedales of Borough

     Wine Tasting Evening & Antipasti
    Brasserie Blanc, London

    Wine Tasting Evening & Antipasti
    Jamie’s Italian, Bristol

     World of Wine: Bordeaux, Rhone & South
    Fulham Wine Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Thursday 10th

    ‘Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy’ tasting
    Victualler Wine Bar & Wine Shop, E1

     Turkish Wine Tasting
    Swirl London at Clerkenwell London

     

    Friday 11th

    Wine Tasting Bordeaux & Rhone
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     

     Friday 11th to Saturday 12th

    Festival of Chilean Wine
    Mercardo Chileano, Old Spitalfields Market

     

    Saturday 12th

    Discovery Day Tasting
    Bosworth Hall, Warwickshire

     

     Tuesday 15th

    New Zealand Wine Tasting – Nautilus Estate
    New Zealand Cellar, POP Brixton

     Ar. Pe. Pe Wine Dinner
    Percy & Founders, Pearson Square W1T

     

    Wednesday 16th

    New Arrivals September Tasting
    Avery’s Bristol

    The Dirty Dozen Importer Tasting
    The Landsdowne Club, W1

     

    Thursday 17th

    Discover Central Italy Tasting
    Fulham Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Friday 18th

    British Beer Tasting (& food pairing)
    Fulham Cellars, West London Wine School

     

    Tuesday 22nd

    Discovery Day & Tasting
    The Milestone, Sheffield

     New Zealand Wine Tasting: Seifried Estate
    New Zealand, POP Brixton

     A dinner by Gary Foulkes of The Square
    76 Tetherdown. Muswell Hill

     

    Wednesday 23rd

    Wine Workshop: Wine & Travel
    Bedales of Borough

    New Wave South Africa Tasting
    The Vinyl Factory, Soho London

     

    Friday 25th

    Champagne & Sparkling Wine Evening & Antipasti
    Brasserie Blanc

     New Zealand Wine Tasting: Coopers Creek
    New Zealand Wine Cellar, POP Brixton

     

    Saturday 26th

    Andrew Jefford presents weird & wonderful wines
    HIX Mayfair

     

    Monday 28th

    A journey through the senses with Georg Riedel
    Vinopolis, SE1

     New California Arrivals
    The Lockart, W1

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  • A guide to… Harvest

    With fingers, buckets & grapes a-quiver; or indeed machines all of a-whir, we take a look at how the harvest actually works. And why it’s such a nail-biting time for producers, viticulturists & consumers alike.

     

    First things first, when?

     

    The exact time of year chosen for harvesting grapes is perhaps the most crucial in the end result. Whilst many of the timely factors could be considered as variable, there is an undeniably fixed influence that sets some steadfast parameters: hemisphere. Wine growing regions in the Northern Hemisphere tend to harvest their grapes in-between August & October; Southern Hemisphere counterparts tend to run in-between February & April. There are, of course, exceptions to rule – things can kick off as early as July in California for that extra bit of acidity & as late as June in cool-climate New Zealand for the sweeter wines.

     

    But what dictates the process kicking into action, & why?

     

    The ripeness of a grape is dependent on its balance between sugar, acid & tannin. This is of course an inconsistent beast: different grapes become ripe in different ways (& at different times) depending on what kind of wine is being created & indeed the personal style and flourish of the winemaker. Throw varying grape blends into the equation & you begin to see just how much rides on the aforementioned flourish & the levels of skill involved.

     

    Previous trends (& indeed this is still current in some Domaines) saw the use of a ‘refractometer’ to guage the acidic levels & properties before they were deemed ready to pick. Now the move is to increasingly more by eye, taste & feel. A more personal & indeed subjective approach vital to ensuring the quality & balance of the end product.

     

    However for grapes to simply ripen at the same time, year on year, is a physical impossibility. Mother Nature, as we all know, does not play her merry dance as such. Climate & weather play huge roles in determining when grapes are harvested & are largely responsible for the variance we see between years, hence the significance of a wine’s vintage.

     

    Ideally grapes benefit from a cool but moist winter, moving into a warm & dry summer. Too much moisture in the summer & grapes can over-ripen, or rot; too little moisture in the winter & sugars can struggle to form. Hail or rain the summer which can destroy ripe grapes, not only paving the way for disease, but decimating that year’s harvest along with. The only time rot is seen as a positive affliction is in the case of noble rot, or Botrytis, creating sweeter wines from certain grapes which have the right properties for the disease to spread. Again this is a timely affair & needs exactly the right moisture/heat balance to spread exactly the right amount. No one said simple.

     

    Which grapes when..?

    As we’ve touched upon, there is no such thing as a clockwork regularity when it comes to making wine, but there is a logical order to things. First off we have the grapes destined to make sparkling wine which need to maintain low sugar levels & a high balance of acidity for their two fermentations. Next come the white grapes: this of course depends on the grape, climate, region & wine they are destined to make but earlier harvested grapes will generally be more acidic & with lower sugar levels, the balance shifting the longer they are left to ripen.

     

    Next come the red wine grapes, these take a bit longer to ripen & need that all-important balance of tannin, acid & sugar, the acidic properties of the grape acting as mediator between the two. And last but not least we have the sweet wines as mentioned above: the grapes need longer for the botrytis to set in, concentrate the sugars & yet not too long to lose all of their acidic properties.

     

    The logical question now is how?

     

    Grapes do not simply drop off their vines as & when ready to make their way to be crushed. Although perhaps if they were feeling particularly user-friendly they could then gently roll their way down a hill, forming neat little piles of good & bad grapes at the end of each vine row. Perhaps Mother Nature would entertain a discussion at least..?

     

    For now, grapes are either harvested by hand or by machine, processes which are the source of continual debate within the wine world. Whilst machines make for speedy & cost-efficient (80-200 tons / 24 hours vs our fair hands’ 1-2 tons in the same period) work, they are also far more rough & don’t benefit from the precision of harvest by hand. By hand may be slow & comparatively costly, but the human eye can be selective upon picking & safeguarding quality & saving on further rounds of sifting.

     

    Machine work in two ways: either by slapping the vines with a paddle or shaking them as they drive by. Grapes are then caught by the machine & drawn through a de-debris’ing process into trailers. If the grapes are delicate, or indeed terrain rough or steep, machine harvesting simply isn’t viable, hence many vineyards opting for the more gentle yet laborious hand-harvest. However in really hot & flat climates, machines can be vital as they can be run overnight when the air is cooler & less humid, for transportation back to the winery in the morning.

     

    Then what..?

     

    Once the grapes have made their way back to the winery, by whatever mode & in whatever form has been decided for them, they are sorted by hand or machine, destemmed & prepared for their primary fermentation. This involves removing the skins for white wines, or leaving on for red & then crushed (or just enough skin contact for maceration for rosé), either by foot/hand for the traditionalists, or by a wine-press. They are then ready for their initial fermentation tanks, perhaps with the addition of a little yeast, where they will rest undisturbed the next 1 to 2 weeks. And SO the magic begins…

     

     

     

     

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  • Month Ahead – August

    Annnd August is upon us!  Like a swoosh Summer (doused with its inevitable rain) – calendars clear & all the sensible Europeans go on holiday. High-time we all followed suit aside from obvious school holiday connotations. Luckily the wine world has more European influencers than most, so if you ARE actually away, you’re not missing a huge amount.  That said, there are little gems in & amongst the quiet (& rain).. From Saturday tastings nationwide courtesty of Wine Unearthed; to some vinous island hopping (Sicily to Sardina. Alliterative too) at Soho’s Ape & Bird; to a 2 day wine festival hosted at the Oxford Union.  Suddenly being quiet feels rather nicely busy…

     

    Saturday 1st

    Wine Unearthed Cambridge Tasting Day
    St John’s Chophouse, Cambridge

     Wine Unearthed Manchester Tasting Day
    Old Midland Hotel, Manchester

     

    Wednesday 5th

    Summer Wine Workshop
    Bedales, SE1

     West London Wine School English Wine Tasting
    The Cellars, Fulham SW6

     Eno-Club Rebooted – The Islands
    Ape & Bird, Soho

     Tech Tastes Wine
    14 Bedford Square, London
    Saturday 8th

    Wine Unearthed Old World Wine Tasting Day
    Old Bank Hotel, Oxford

     World of Wine Liverpool Tasting Day
    Radisson Blu, Liverpool

     Wine Unearthed Edinburgh Tasting Day
    Apex International, Grassmarkets Edinburgh

    Saturday 15th

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Bank Restaurant, Brindley Place Birmingham

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Café 21, Newcastle

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Greigs Restaurant, Mayfair
    Wednesday 19th

    Wine Workshop: The Rebels
    Bedales, SE1

     

    Friday 21st – 22nd

    Oxford Wine Festival
    Oxford Union, Oxford
    Saturday 22nd

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Goldbrick House, Bristol

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Radisson Blu, Glasgow
    Wednesday 26th

    Americans Tasting
    Avery’s, Bristol

    Bluffers Guide to Burgundy
    Vagabond Wines, Fulham SW6
    Saturday 29th

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Radisson Blu, Leeds

     

     

     

     

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  • Wine Words 6

    Big wines need big descriptors & here we have just that.. Whereas one word feels like an obvious compliment, the other is guised, or perhaps I should say weighted: the strong undeniable tarry connotations of asphalt need something less manmade & caustic to soften & fill it out.  If balanced well it is a treat to behold & make for a memorable wine.  Both words are bandied about regularly for big-hitting reds & both give an idea of the overall body & feeling of a wine.   Read on for a more in depth look at them in individual use..

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    Asphalt |ˈæsfælt |

     

    Referring to all sensory points: smell, taste & feel of a wine, asphalt is that strong, smokey & slightly sweet distinctive punch that can either define full-bodied red wines or destroy them depending on how well it is balanced with fruit. In this case, it defines!

     

    Like: BBQ leg of lamb

     

    For example: “Another 2009 that exhibits over the top extravagance and richness, and one I can find no fault in, the 2009 Cote Rotie La Landonne offers a colossal and full-bodied profile that carries incredible aromas and flavors of roasted meats, smoke, asphalt and assorted meatiness that’s all grounded by a massive core of fruit. A huge wine, it stays perfectly in check, with notable freshness, a deep, layered mid-palate and masses of fine tannin that carry through the finish. Hide this beauty in the cellar for another decade and enjoy.”

    (Robert Parker reviewing Côte Rotie Landonne, Guigal 2009)

     

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    Opulent |ˈɒpjʊlənt |

     

    Refers to the style of a wine; a generosity throughout the whole drinking experience. Oplulent wines are generally viscous in the glass; give strong, characterful noses; warm & full in the mouth & leave you feeling sated & yet like luxuriating in a little more.

     

    Like: Chocolate fondant

     

    For example: The single vineyard wines begin with the 2007 Shiraz Barney’s Block McMurtrie Road in McLaren Vale. It was aged in 50% new French oak for 20 months. Opaque purple-colored, it offers up a captivating nose of sandalwood, incense, lavender, bacon, and blueberry. Velvety-textured, layered, and opulent (a rarity in this vintage), it has enough fine-grained tannin to evolve for 3-4 years. This lengthy effort has a drinking window extending from 2013 to 2027.

    (Robert Parker reviewing Barney’s Block Shiraz 2007)

     

     

     

     

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  • 7 Summer Wine Trends

    Summer is well & truly here & it feels like a good time to think about a few trends that are going to tide us through these thirsty months.. From unlikely wine sources to cosmic cow horns buried deep beneath the vines; growing grapes varietals to charging our glasses by tap.. The wine industry is an ever-evolving beast. And a fighting fit one at that.  Read on for some vinous inspiration, or perhaps just an affirmation of what your sediment granules said a while back.

     

    WINE ON TAP

    There’s something inherently simple & yet luxurious about the idea of your wine being tapped into a carafe: the stuff replumbing dreams are made of. And more & more restaurants are cottoning on to this reverie of ours, not to mention wine merchants. Light, refreshing & increasingly good wines are becoming readily available & demand is certainly not dwindling.  Throw in the obvious environmental benefits, not to mention ease of a top up, dreams may well be en route to becoming a reality.

     

     

    NEW WORLD SPARKLERS

    A worldwide Prosecco shortage & an increased interest in more purse-friendly corks to pop to celebrate all things summer, park, picnic, shoelace-tie.. you name it: nothing quite says summer like something cold & sparkling And the New World are well-poised to capitalize upon this: with delicious & reasonably priced fare coming in from the likes of South Africa, (look out for Cap Classique) to California, to Australia where French Champagne houses have started investing in land: the future looks decidedly fizzy.

     

    ONLINE

    Sales for online wine have grown exponentially each year: 600% since 2006 to be precise, with UK & China leading the way. And it’s not just any old wine. Fine wine is specifically on the up – you only need have a cursory meander on Google to work that one out. At the lower end of the market, more & more of us luxuriate in having our weekly grocery shop delivery to our doors. & now we have a handy excuse to avoid braving any form of enclosed retail space with the heat…

     

    CHINA

    The news that Chinese vineyards have surpassed France in terms of surface area (production is still French-dominated, hands down) should go some way into proving just how serious China is about its wine. Whilst the foundations are evidently there to make the stuff, more significant is how much they consume: China buys more red wine than any other country in the world. Consider the different occasions & pairings the rest of the world need to catch up with & you can see why China is more than one to watch..

     

    RIESLING

    Long evenings/days supping wine in the heat can take their toll, especially for the more thirsty amongst us: Light, refreshing, unassuming & versatile: Riesling has a LOT going in its favour. Germany’s indigenious grape is being grown across more & more of the world too, so it’s not in short supply. Go dry & crisp or full & sweet & quaff all by itself or with anything from Vietnamese to Indian, cheese course to fish; with Riesling you can most certainly have your glass & drink it. Whatever the occasion.

     

    GREECE

    #SaveGreece has been trending on all platforms, & for good reason: the debt riddled country needs all the help it can get to pull itself from the murky depths of over-printing & over-spending. And help is indeed at hand in the form of our friend the humble grape, albeit under the guise of some not so humble names. Assrytiko, Moschofilero & Agiorghitiko may not roll well off the tongue, but they certainly do once they’re rolled into it.

     

     

    BIODYNAMIC

    It may seem odd to cite a method of farming that stems from a series of lectures that took place in 1924, but the production of biodynamic wine has been steadily growing since the 80s. With Burgundy & Alsace leading the way in France, Bordeaux has followed suit.. and it’s not just any old vineyards either: think Domaine Romanée Conti in Burgundy or Bordeaux’ Chateau Pontet Canet. Serious wines for serious drinkers and/or collectors. As consumers we increasingly like to know exactly where our produce comes from, the less chemical additions the better. The beauty of the biodynamic theory is considering a farm/vineyard as one living organism: all treatments are produced from elements of that organism & the cosmos that surrounds it: sound voodoo-triguing enough? Wait until you taste the stuff..

     

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  • Month Ahead – July

    July is upon us.. and it is HOT!  Nothing like a good old heatwave to build up a thirst.. Quieter than it’s earlier summer counterparts, July should be seen as a month of rest & enjoyment. More of a slow down & smell the roses (or indeed vinous bouquet) kind of affair.  With this in mind, there is still plenty to do: from rebellious wine makers to pop up tastings to a tour around our fairest of gardens, Kent.. And if nothing below tempts, then it feels like a good excuse to find a park, pop a cork & keep those roses close to hand.

     

    Wednesday 1st

    ThirtyFifty Tasting
    Piccolino, Cork St, Liverpool

    EnoClub Rebooted – Italy’s Midlands
    Ape & Bird, Soho, London

     Thursday 2nd

    Emerging delicious Austrian wines
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     Rioja Tasting with Suzy Atkins
    Prohibition Wines, Muswell Hill

     Friday 3rd

    Explore Sauvignon Blanc
    The Mitre Greenwich, London

     Saturday 4th

    Wine Unearthed – World of Wine tasting day
    Bank Restaurant, Birmingham

     Monday 6th

    Domaine-Direct pop up wine tasting
    Brunswick House, London

    Tuesday 7th

    Thirty Fifty Wine & Antipasti Evening
    The Milestone, Sheffield

    World of Wine: Germany, Alsace, Austria & UK
    West London Wine School, Fulham, London

     Wednesday 8th

    Wine Workshop: The Rebels
    Bedales, Borough Market

     Tech Tastes Wine
    The Collective Elevator, Bedford Square, London

     Tuesday 14th

    Bastille Day Tasting
    Handford Wines, London

     Wednesday 15th

    Wine Discovery Evening
    Brasserie Blanc London

     Saturday 11th 

    English Tasting Tour – Kent
    Kick off English Grounds, London Bridge

     Saturday 18th

    WSET Level 1 with 2 course lunch
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Goldbrick House, Bristol

     World of Wine Tasting Day
    Greigs Mayfair, London

     Wednesday 22nd

    Wine Workshop – Same but Different
    Bedales, Borough Market

     Friday 24th

    Explore Cabernet Sauvignon
    The Mitre Greenwich, London

     Saturday 25th

    World of Wine Tasting Day
    Sam’s of Brighton, East Sussex

     Tuesday 28th

    World of Wine – Chile & Argentina
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     Wednesday 29th

    Aromatics Tasting
    Avery’s, Bristol

     Thursday 30th

    New World Wonders: California, Canada & Virginia
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     Friday 31st

    Chablis Masterclass, Domaine Laroche
    West London Wine School, Fulham

     

     

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  • Sparkling Wine & other tales..

    Believe in the impending Prosecco shortage or not, sparkling wine IS a rather fitting way to celebrate pretty much anything. Be it the pop of the cork, or rush of bubbles as it’s poured, us Brits have held a trusty & well-documented love affair with fizz.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that we’re now producing our own, & not just any old plonk.. UK wine won no less than 80 medals at this year’s International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC).

     

    Given this unequivocal rise, all things Italian shortage & summer being nearly upon us (a cause for celebrations in its own right) it felt like a timely opportunity to consider the bubble-options available,  & learn a little more..

     

    Sparkling wine puzzled people both side of the production fence for many, many years.  The Greeks & Romans saw them as a sure fire sign of spirits (good AND bad) in their favourite tipple; the more pragmatic cited phases of the moon; those brave enough to work in the cellars sought cast-iron facial protection.  It should therefore come as no surprise that Dom Perignon was initially tasked with removing bubbles by his monastic superiors at Abbey Hautvilliers. Or indeed, that CO2 is a naturally occurring phenoma.

     

    It came down to the Brits, however, to finally understand both the origin & virtue of bubbles: a British scientist named Christopher Merret wrote a paper detailing sugar’s propensity to turn wine into something altogether more effervescent.  The Brits also had the manufacturing advantage to bottle the stuff: with sturdier glass & the use of corks, they had an evident upper-hand over their iron-clad counterparts the other side of the channel.  So much so, champagne was shipped over the aftorementioned in barrel for bottling.

     

    Even though CO2 is natural in wine, there are (of course) many different ways of making it.  From the traditional ‘Méthode Champenoise’ (only allowed to be called so in Champagne; traditional method elsewhere!) where secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle; to the Italian ‘Metodo Martinetti’ (latterly adapted by Frenchman Eugène Charmant & now named after him) where it all occurs in tanks & then bottled under pressure; To hybrid of the two,  the ‘Transfer Method’ where the secondary fermented liquid is transferred back into vats for blending & ageing; To the damn-right lazy injection of CO2 via a carbonator!

     

    Let us first consider the most famous of all sparkling wines, the ‘Grand Seigneur’ if you will.. Champagne has long provided us with palate pleasure.  From Napoleon to Churchill, Byron to Balzac; greats both side of the channel offer quotes to pique even the most skeptical amongst us’ interest.  Churchill notoriously loved the stuff so much, Pol Roger have an entire cuvée named after him.  But what is the ‘Champenois’ secret.. & why do they still enjoy the global acclaim they do?

     

    Successfully creating sparkling wine is a labour of love (carbonator notwithstanding).  In Champagne grapes are harvested early for that all-important acidity; they are then pressed almost immediately (unless it’s a rose) to undergo their first fermentation in a regular fashion with the CO2 being allowed to escape.  The resulting liquid (which isn’t very drinkable) is then blended to form its cuvée – a blend of different wines from different growers & often different vintages (for Non-Vintage champagne at least!).  This is a crucial stage in a Champagne Maison’s quest for their house ‘style’. And perfection, of course.

     

    The cuvée is then bottled with additional sugar & yeast which help precipitate ferment no.2.  The bottle is then left ‘sur lie’, or ‘on the lees’, for a mimimum of 18 months (in the case of Non-Vintage) to 8 years for Vintage (with the minimum being 3) for the yeast to work its magic & form deposits.  The bottles are then ‘riddled’ – placed pointing down on a rack at 45% angle & systematically turned, shaken & lowered until all the lees are at the bottle neck.  The crown cap is then removed to extract the deposits, aiming for a minimal amount of liquid loss. (Today this is done by freezing the neck).  The remaining liquid is then topped up with a ‘liqueur d’expédition’, a mix of the original cuvée, touch of sugar & some sulphur dioxide for preservation’s sake.  NOW you begin to see why the Champenois guard their heart-strings with such diligence..

    Champagne tends to be made out of a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier; all of which thrive in its cool climate & chalky-limestone soil.  Vintage champagne (from 1 maison, 1 year) only makes an appearance if the growers deem the particular crop worth it: many of the grapes are sold to négociants & other houses.

     

    However, the king the bubbles only makes up for less than 8% of all sparkling wines. And is rightly protected by the French AOC system, despite its name being bandied about wily-nily by consumers & producers alike.  So what are the other pretenders to the throne?  And are they really pretenders or has the sparkling-road been sufficiently paved that there is ample room for many different types of bubbled fare.  Whilst Champagne is the indisputable trail-blazer (with a little help from the British), the latter is most definitely true.  Let us first consider Europe, in all her sharing & caring glory.

     

    The most obvious place to start is the rest of France; Champagne can only be from Champagne, but the are some other regions that make particularly delicious sparklers too.  These are generally called ‘Crémants’ due to their lower levels of  CO2 & therefore creamier texture.  It is made by the traditional method & is strictly limited to 8 different appellations: Alsace, Bordeaux, Die, Jura, Bourgogne, Limoux, Loire & Savoie.  The AOC also impose some fairly arduous guidelines as to its production too: grapes must be hand-picked & from a specific selection of grapes.   Other sparkling wines are similarly appellation-specific but are not allowed to call themselves crémants, & invariably don’t follow the ‘traditional’ method of production.  Think Mousseux, Blanquette, or even just plain AOC.

     

    Moving across the border the Spanish were playing with bubbles around the same time as the French.   In the late 19th century many vines in the Penèdes region of Catalonia were wiped out by phylloxera.  A Spaniard named Josep Raventos decided to try to turn bad fortune into good by replanting more white grape & experimenting.  The resulting ‘Spanish Champagne’ is what we now know & love as Cava & comes in four different guises from dry (seco) to sweet (dulce).  Grapes are mainly local, aside from Chardonnay which was only introduced to the blend in the 80s.

     

    Nestled in neighbours Portugal unsuprisingly produce their own fare too: ‘Espumante’ is produced all over the country, from the cool & wet Vinho Verde in the North to the hot & dry Alentejo of the South.  With little regulation there is, of course, great variance in quality: Portuguese protective bodies operate on a regional rather than national basis.  The BEST, however,  is found in DOC Barrida, which is just below Vinho Verde.  Worth looking out for!

     

    Hop over the Med, if you will, to fellow Romantics the Italians.  Similarly they produce fizz all over, regardless of climate & soils.  More typically Italian is the amount of different names bandied about: from Prosecco to Asti to Franciacorta: Lumbrusco to Oltrepo Pavese to Trento DOC.  The range of style varies dramatically too, from the very dry Prosecco to the sweet & low alcohol Moscato d’Asti.  Most are made with the Charmant (so returned to tanks to blend & age) with the exception of Franciacorta & Trento DOC, both of which follow the traditional method, the former most strictly with Vintage & non-Vintage varietals, 30 & 15 month aging apiece.

    The German term for sparkling wine is Sekt: ex-Veuve Cliquot employee, Georg Christian Kessler, brought it over in the early 19th Century.  Generally produced from a blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc & Pinot Noir grapes, the majority of Sekt follows the Charmant method, much like nearly neighbouring Italy.  What varies however, is where they source their raw materials from: around 90% of sekt is made from grapes harvested in Italy, France or Spain.  It also appears that was enough of a journey for the grapes, as sekt is barely exported.  The Austrians produce it too, only with local grapes Welchriesling, Gruner-Veltlinger & Blaufrankisch for rose.  Both countries opt for village & producer identification, rather than adhering to a uniform style or brand.

     

    Hungary was actually one of the earlier European fans of fizz, Pezgo was first produced in 1835 & was a wholeheartedly local affair.  Given the grapes used, this means it can be quite sweet, although the introduction of Chardonny, & Pinot Noir, there are now much drier varietals on the market.  Their climate & soil is pretty much spot on too.   Moving more Baltic, there’s a whole host of local fare from the Soviet Union, most countries from Armenia to Belarus, have a pop.  The only ones that currently hit foreign markets are the Russians in Europe & the Moldovans in the US.  Quite the sparkle of adventure.

     

    Last but certainly not least of the Europeans comes the UK!  With conditions that are increasingly akin to those of Champagne & rather a healthy appetite for the stuff, us Brits produce reassuringly good, not to mention Award Winning, fizz.  And in the name of supporting local produce & lowering carbon footprints, we shouldn’t need any further encouragement to drink it.  Made following the traditional method, using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier (like Champagne) grapes, brands like Nyetimber, Ridgeview & Chapel Down are leading the way, regularly usurping more established opponents with professionals & consumers alike.  The only thing it’s missing is a name.   Whilst English Sparkling Wine does do what it says on the tin, it doesn’t feel as defined or as tongue-roll worthy as most European counterparts.  Or maybe that’s our crowning point of difference!?

     

    The New World naturally has a fare few options too: from the rather sweet (& not regulated) bubbles in the US, to a local Sparkling Shiraz in Australia.  Our compatriots down-under are, however, worth talking about in a bit more depth:  French Champagne houses have invested out there, & for good reason.  The white is made from a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier blend in the traditional method – given how quickly things have moved forward in a relativelt short space of time, they might well be one to watch.  Span the Oceans across to South Africa, Cap Classique is probably the most refined New World option.  Again, following the traditional method, growers formed their own organization to protect standard & those in the know are enjoying it’s slightly more under the radar price-tag.

     

    With SO many fancy fizzes on the market, we can now merrily toast away to our heart’s abandon.  Even if choice can feel a little threatening for those who rather the risk the glass falling flat, it’s reassuring to know cork-popping is well & truly a global pastime.  And perhaps the Italian drought need not evoke panic after all: the world does feel decidedly sparkly.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Calendar Month Ahead – June

    After the flurry of excitement that was May, June might seem a little on the quieter side.  But delve a little deeper & there are hives of activity all over the country, from Open Days at acclaimed Nyetimber, to a stroll in Provence courtesy of the Wine Society to a whole host of grower-presented tastings.  Summer is most definitely here, and to stay by the looks of things, so time to gently float through a few refreshing glasses & toast to the season.

     

    Tuesday 2nd 

    Flirting with fruit & wood: your wine PT
    Bedales, Borough Market

    Wednesday 3rd 

     EnoClub rebooted: Piedmont & Tuscany
    Polpo @ Ape & Bird

    Summertime Wine Trends mini Tasting
    The Red Herring, EC2V London

    Thursday 4th 

    Zind & Humbrecht Tasting, Richard Brazier
    Handford Wines, London

    Friday 5th 

    Burgundy Wine Tasting
    Nickolls & Perks, Stourbridge

    Jim Clendenden, Au Bon Climat: Pouring
    Prohibition Wines, Muswell Hill

    Saturday 6th

    World of Wine Tasting day
    Bank, 4 Brindley Place, Birmingham

     Jamie Magazine Launch – Lunch with Theo Randall
    Intercontinental,  London

     Saturday 6th – 7th

    Nyetimber Open Day Tours
    Nyetimber, West Chiltington

     Tuesday 9th 

    Butt Clenching Big Ones
    Bedales, London

    Wednesday 10th

     

    French Country Whites, Greg Sherwood
    Handford Wines

     Champagne & Sparkling Wine Evening & Antipasti
    Brasserie Blanc, London

    Thursday 11th

     

    1985 Bordeaux, 30 years on: Richard Brazier
    Handford Wines

    Winemaker Diner: Domaine Bohrmann & Chateau Lamartine
    Framingham Pigot, Norwich

    Wines of Bordeaux, Dan Harwood
    Albert Dock, Liverpool

     Friday 12th

    Cheese & Wine matching masterclass
    The Mitre, Greenwich

     Saturday 13th

    Brunello Night
    Caravan Kings Cross, London

     Planet of the Grapes Wine School
    Oxford Street, London

     Wednesday 17th

    Domaine Direct – Gevrey-Chambertin Tasting
    Drapers Arms, N1 London

    Tuesday 16th 

    Seductively Sweet
    Bedales, London

     Sesti Brunello & Phenomena Riserva, James Handford
    Handford Wines, Handford

     New Zealand – The Perfect Package
    Wine Society, The Lantern Colston Hall, Bristol

     Wednesday 17th

    Domaine Direct – Gevrey-Chambertin Tasting
    Drapers Arms, N1 London

     Thursday 18th

    An Evening in Provence
    Wine Society, Gunnels Wood Road, Stevenage

     Saturday 20th

    Introduction to New World Wine (Part 5)
    Handfords, London

    World of Wine Day
    St Johns Chophouse, Cambridge

     One Day Wine Course
    Thirty-Fifty, Brasserie Blanc, SE1 London

     Tuesday 23rd

    Non-Vintage Champagne Tasting
    Handfords, London

    Tapas & Wine matching
    Barcelona Tapas, Dulwich

     

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