A guide to Wine Storage

Buying wine, for investment or consumption, is a process that lends itself to great care – especially when considering the wine storage.

What is often then overlooked, or perhaps lopped on as an afterthought, is where that carefully considered investment is going to be stored.  Under the stairs?  In the boiler cupboard?  Perhaps the garage feels a safer bet?

So much of wines’ value, whether the end game is drinking or selling, is wound up in its provenance and the condition it was stored in. Storing wine in an official government bonded warehouse can protect exactly that. Above all, wine needs consistency. As a living organism, it is of course affected by surrounding conditions – heat, light, humidity, movement and ventilation are all massively important. As a perishable asset, that can become devalued if stored incorrectly, it’s worth getting the basics right.

TEMPERATURE – The singularly most crucial of all factors of wine storage. The optimum temperatures to store wine is in-between 10 – 15 degrees, but deviating slightly from this is not the end of the world, as long as it isn’t subject to huge fluctuations. Most professional wine storage facilities keep the cases at a cool 12 degrees and won’t vary from it by more than half a degree either side.

As a liquid, wine contracts and expands with its surrounding temperatures. Temperatures over 30 degrees will start to significantly change the structure of the wine, with the colour, clarity and flavour compounds within it all becoming detrimentally affected. Anything below -4 degrees and you run the risk of the wine freezing, again changing the compounds of the wine, and also potentially forcing the cork out of its bottle. This can also happen if the temperatures are too high, which can lead to premature oxidisation.

LIGHT – is also an important influencer when it comes to wine storage. Not only does light bring provide heat, it is also magnified through glass, especially clear or lighter bottles. Sparkling wine is particularly susceptible and UV light is even more penetrative than its regular perpetrator, so your wine storage facility needs to be dark.  The most diligent of collectors would also suggest using incandescent or sodium vapour lights in a cellar/storage facility. Just in case.

HUMIDITY – Too little and the cork will dry out, lose its elasticity and let air in; too much and the actual liquid will remain intact, but the labels and cases can disintegrate.  Not only are they important for identification, but if you are planning to sell your wine, damaged labels and cases will seriously affect its value.

For the perfectionist, wine is best kept at 70% humidity, with an acceptable range being 50-80%. A standard fridge comes in at 20% which will dry out the cork, even if the wine is laid flat. A good reason not to leave your wine in the fridge for too long! If conditions feel a bit dry, a good way to humidify matters is a big bucket of water in proximity to the wines. Sounds basic but can have a remarkable conservatory-complex effect.

VENTILATION – It may sound obvious, but stow away your loot in a musty basement and you will know about it. Corks are not air-tight, so any lingering smell of anything, savoury or less so, will work its way in and tarnish the wine.  And no one wants ‘hint of mothballs’ on their tasting notes. Wine likes well-aired, controlled environments, with consistency being the key and a few well-recommended optimums for perfection’s sake.

MOVEMENT – The less of it, the better. Any kind of vibrations from noise, machinery, even transport, is damaging to wine.  The waves disturb the sediment, not to mention liquid itself and can seriously affect the wine’s ageing process and natural composition. Bottles need to be kept flat with the label facing up, so that the wine comes into contact with the cork, keeping it moist, any sediment will form in the bottom of the punt.  Minimal disturbance means minimal bits floating around the glass when it finally comes to drinking time.

SECURITY – Crime within the wine world does not limit itself to fraudulent bottles in Asia.  It is seen as an easily tradable commodity – ie. Easy to shift and tricky to trace. Closer to home (should your wine be there), you don’t want to come back after a week away to find someone has tucked into your prized case, only to have had a couple of glasses and thrown the rest down the sink because ‘it didn’t taste very nice’. Security works at all sorts of levels, most of all for your own peace of mind.

Having scrupulously covered what environmental influences need to be factored into your storage plan, it feels important to check-in with why all of the above are so important.  And it all boils down to PROVENANCE. Not only protecting the quality and ageing of the wine itself, but also the accreditation that surrounds its history. Which is where storing your wine in a bonded warehouse really comes into its own.

Whilst you might be lucky enough to have access to a perfectly conditioned cellar, the reality of buying wine for any kind of investment purpose, be it financial or personal, is the necessity to make sure its history is traceable.

BUYING WINE When buying wine, there are so many things to think about and it can often feel rather daunting. From deciding what, when, how much and who from, the bit after the buying is easily forgotten and yet arguably the most important part of your purchase. Where are you going to keep it? Professional storage facilities are by far the best options. As a fully-accredited, government bonded warehouse your wine cases remain duty and tax exempt until you decide to delivery it to your home. If you’re selling your cases to a wine merchant who has a bonded warehouse, or who are based abroad, the logistics are simplified and you still won’t have to pay the tax.

Depending on where you’ve bought your wine from, bonded warehouses like London City Bond or Octavian Vaults can help with the movement of your wine, and also with its certification and insurance. You are also guaranteed optimised and constant conditions for the safe-keeping of your liquid assets, until such time as you choose to move it on. You may also find the wine is already stored there (as the 2 most established and respected warehouses in the UK, many merchants hold their stock with them) which makes for an easy transfer via accounts and very little, or no movement of the actual stocks. It also means they will already have all the existing paperwork, authenticity reports and condition reports, on file.

With such an array of options, you’ll soon be able to view our resource on Bonded Warehouses, which outlines the best available warehouses in the UK and their contact details.

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  • A Guide to…Wine Tasting

    A wine tasting is one of those events that either fill people with joy or dread… or perhaps a healthy alternation between the two for trade-folk. Joyous or quaking with fear, it is undeniable there feels like a lot of social pressure around a event that essentially allows us to try something we like, or indeed might like.

    But why? It all boils down to confidence – the wine world can appear full of pretentious rituals and arm-waves, how can you possibly affect the right glass swill if you haven’t grown up on an châteaux estate; or spent a lot of time with people who have. Luckily things are changing, and an informal wine tasting should be seen as being a good symptom of this change. With events popping up all over the country, from the more serious to light-hearted; an increasing amount of shops heralding enomatic wine tasting machines and the good old world wide web making it all the more accessible, the wine world suddenly feels like a far more democratic one.

    However, it does help to have a few things in mind, an internal set of pointers if you will, before skipping into the room, head held high. Herewith a few suggestions that we feel lend to a more enjoyable and productive wine tasting experience…

    Remember you’re there for YOU. Yes, you. Whilst it’s important to talk to others and listen to any experts who might be lurking around, how you taste wine, and even why you’re there, is all ultimately very personal.

    Enter with an open mind… maybe you know what you like, maybe you don’t, the important thing is to try as much as you can, especially anything new or rife with preconceptions. This is best way to educate your palate.

    Talking to people makes the whole experience all the more worthwhile, and infinitely more enjoyable. Find the hosts; let them know what you like and listen what they suggest. Are there any sommeliers? They’re there for a purpose: to help and guide. Chat to fellow tasters. It’s interesting and there might be something that you’re struggling to define that they just so happen to have pinpointed. It also helps find personal descriptors for wine terms that might have previously felt a little too arm-wavy for comfort.

    Nibble away. Empty stomachs at a wine tasting are a dangerous thing; no one wants to be the one who trips on their shoe, launches into a table of glasses and upturns a plant pot for good measure. (Although if this does happen, it makes for a great story). The food is also there for a purpose (and that’s not to line empty stomachs. Eat before) – to cleanse your palette in between different wines. Tastebuds can be susceptible to influence too, so do your best to keep them fresh.

    Drink water too. Not expecting it to turn into wine, but to keep everything fresh, and hydrated. Your tastebuds, notes and head later on/the next day will thank you. And it rinses your glass.

    Make notes. However you like. They’re for your own recollection and development, not anyone else. Perhaps take pictures of labels. Number them off in your notes. Gone are the days where labels had to be soaked off into scrapbooks, let your smart phone be just that.

    Take your time. There’s no point in blustering in, gulping down and exiting… First off there’s far too much glassware around for that kind of behaviour, but also there’d be no benefit to you – to really taste a wine takes time, and checking off of the senses:

    First – LOOK. What colour is it? how viscous (thick) is it? can you glean any initial smells without moving the glass?

    Then – SWIRL. Start of slowly and see how the wine moves. Are there any legs? (residual wine on the inside of the glass that dribbles down a bit like brandy sauce on a Christmas pudding) Swirling in itself can feel a bit of a rigmarole, but you don’t need to necessarily have the perfectly attuned flick of the wrist. Swirling is designed to open out the wine, to release aromas and let it breathe a bit more before it’s sipped upon. Keep the bottom of the glass on a flat surface if need be and move its contents as you choose. Smell again and notice any difference; how has it opened out and is there anything it reminds you of?

    After, and only after – SIP. Let those smells move into your mouth…Do they grow into something else? or close off slightly? Play with the wine in your mouth, swill it around, and carefully breathe air in through the wine. There should be no tastebud left untouched. Try without the swilling and breathing. Notice the difference?

    Now comes the conundrum: to swallow or not to swallow, that is the question. Well, the good news is (noble musings notwithstanding)… it doesn’t matter; you choose. Want to drink the wine, then do (mindful of how much you’ve already drunk and how long you’re going to be at the wine tasting for)… Or rather spit, then do. Spitting is traditionally how the trade operate as this is their job, and they might be off to another 2 or 3 tastings that day alone and need to keep wits and energies up. As a consumer, you decide depending on how you feel (and maybe how delicious the wine is, sometimes)… Just keep a bit of a tab on things and remember when you last ate.

    Holding your glass. Now this can feel weighted in social norms – how to hold, where to put (especially when taking pictures and notes), do I need to keep hold of the same glass, even? All of these concerns are valid, but for the most part become apparent from wine tasting to wine tasting. Sometimes you’ll be encouraged to keep hold of your glass, sometimes you won’t. And there’ll always be some sort of surface to place it down on either way. The important thing is when it’s in your actual hands, hold it properly by the stem. Holding by the bowl not only makes it dirty, but also changes the temperature of the wine. The stem also makes for an easier swirl. Self-styled as it may be.

    So there we are – go forth and taste! With a view to expanding your knowledge, moving out of a few comfort zones and meeting a few like-minded souls. Who knows you might even enjoy it, and if not, learning something new can never be a bad thing.  Especially when the finer juice of the grape is involved.

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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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  • Guide to Labels: Bordeaux

    Fine wine’s tour de force Bordeaux spans 120,000 hectares of vines, more than 8,500 growers & 60 appellations. Throw in a prevalence for all sorts of classification (blame Napoleon), it’s no wonder that there is rather a lot of information to absorb from its labels. And that’s before the content even comes into consideration.


    Predominantly what came to be known as claret, reds dominate in the Bordeaux region, but one shouldn’t forget the wonderful sweet wines of Sauternes & Barsac; neither the small percentage of dry whites, rosé & cremant.   Sporting a heady mix of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot, sauvignon blanc, semillon & muscadelle, Bordeaux has something rather special when it comes to producing what are arguably the best wines in the world. And it lies in both their climate & soil. Being next to the Atlantic, & with not one, but two source rivers dividing things up makes for a very changeable both. And goes some way into explaining how so many different grapes & styles of wine flourish in this area.


    With such variety, labels do not, of course, follow a steadfast set of rules, but we hope that the below will help give some pointers. Or maybe a dinner party conversation or two, at least.




    Bordeaux flies the flag for French wine classification. And in doing so created it’s very own asset class. It all stems back to the ‘Grand Exposition” of Paris in 1855. And Napoleon. Who wanted to create some a quality-based grading system to showcase the finest French wines to the rest of the world. Bordelais brokers opted for a price, production & location approach which favoured vineyards on the Left Bank of the river: 59 of them to be precise & 1 from the Right. Not wanting to be completely leftist, they also picked out 26 of the sweet white wines from Sauternes & Barsac with Chateau d’Yquem defining its very own class, ‘Premier Cru Supérieur’ (a little liquid gold never goes amiss, especially in Gaie Paris).  Over 100 years later, in 1959 the Right introduced it’s own ‘Graves Classification’ & popped a humble 23 chateaus on its books. If you can’t beat’em, join’em.


    All this classy classing has left us with what we have today, with 5 growths: Premier right through to Cinquieme, collectively known as the ‘Grand Crus Classés’.




    The Bordelais are proud of rather grand homes, & justly so. Generally an image of the chateau takes pride of place on its bottled fare. If not the castle, then the family crest; the more aristocratically authoritative the better.




    Not the trickiest to grasp given we all abide by the Gregorian calendar.   A given vintage is often sold en Primeur (in the Spring after it was harvested) & kept in barrel for up to 2 years. Good things come to those who wait. And Bordeaux’s maritime environment makes sure there’s plenty of variation year to year, so eventual release is not without suspense.


    Château / Domaine


    Bordeaux is all about the brand & the name of the château or domaine is just that.. Big family names like Rothshild & Lurton are often included in the domaine name; no space for shy or retiring in this particular world!




    Bordeaux is far larger & more diverse than it’s singular city name suggests. With 57 different appellations, or areas, that are easiest to place into 6 main categories: Red Bordeaux & Red Bordeaux superieur (generally Right Bank & Entre Deux Mers & not classified); Red Cotes de Bordeaux (hilly outskirts & again not classified); Red Libourne (Right Bank); Red Graves (Left Bank); Dry White and, last but by no means least, Sweet White.


    Like Burgundian terroirs, appellations are dictated by their soil & the climate. Bordeaux, being by the sea, has all sorts of interesting subterranean differences going on: Left Bank is closer to the Atlantic, its nutritious & gravely top layer is particularly adept at the late ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes; Right Bank’s Saint-Emillion is further from the sea & predominantly limestone which is great for balancing water whereas Pomerol’s clay retains liquid & stops its merlot from over-ripening.  Sauternes sits between the Garonne river & its tributary, the Ciron; the difference in water temperature (Ciron is from a spring source) makes for the all-important morning mist that allows botrytis to work it’s noble magic.


    The most famous appellations have become household names & are synonous with the quality of wine produced there: Margaux, Pessac Leognan/Graves (the name changed in 1987), Sauternes, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Saint-Estephe, Pomerol & Saint-Emilion. Quite the stellar line up!


    Bottling Info


    Most Bordeaux is ‘Mis En Bouteille au Chateau”; unless it’s cooperatively grown fare (therefore not classified) & bottled by a Négociant, who will bottle from an array of sources & generally under their own brand, as per their Burgundian counterparts.


    Alcohol Content


    The Bordelais have come under fire for increased alcohol over the years; currently averages gradually creeping up to 14% which edges towards fortified territory & quite rightly helps deter from over-zealous swigging. Bordeaux definitely deserves its due respect!


    So there we have it – reassuringly complex & steeped in all sorts of grandesses. Napoleon would be proud indeed.



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  • A guide to.. Labels – Burgundy

    The role of a label is ostensibly product information.. & no more so in the world of wine where they hold a wealth of what can be very precise (& potentially confusing!) information. They can also be beautiful & alluring, especially by dint of what is held within the glass. A personal touch & marker of origin.


    And here’s where things get complicated; a wine’s origin is like an in depth astrological chart with all sorts of names, classifications & acronyms. What means what. & where. & how? And of course, there is no such thing as a standard. Wouldn’t sit well with all things vinous allure.


    We will do our best to demystify area labels with some regular overviews as to what it all means. Starting with the most famously complex of all..


    Burgundy, France


    For an area that predominantly uses 1 white grape & 1 red (chardonnay & pinot noir respectively), the Burgundy or Bourgogne region is alarmingly complicated. Delve a bit deeper & you soon see how this wonderful wine-growing area is brimming with subtle nuances: soil, slope, compass point, altitude; you name it, that makes up its complex terroir system & dramatically effects the end product. In fact, SO important is the appellation (specific area the wine comes from) that often there is no mention of what grape the wine is at all on labels; geographical origin really is paramount.

    For ease (& hopefully clarity!) of explanation we will aim to go through things systematically, but this doesn’t always hold true as there are no rules!


    Producer name:
    (ie Aubert de Villaine, Jean Grivot, Domaine Leroy)


    This is generally at the top of the label & is whoever made/owns the land on which the wine was made. This can be a ‘maison’ or cooperative, where growers have passed on their grapes.


    (ie Beaune, Gevry-Chambertin, Meursault)


    This is (as the title might suggest) the village or town that the vineyards sit around. If it is just the name of the village & there is no mention of any other classification (Premier Cru or Grand Cru), then it means that it’s contents are of high quality, but not classed into the two superior categories. Which brings me neatly onto..


    (ie Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Villages)


    Because of the dramatic changes in soil type & climate, the exact position of a terrior creates very big differences in the end result; namely its quality & therefore how it is classified. The three main distinctions are Grand Cru – the crème de la crème with 32 allocated terroirs; Premier Cru – top but not quite Grand Crus with over 600 allocated; and then finally ‘Villages’ which is still classified & origin specific fare, just not deemed to be in the same league as the other two. Villages are also not necessarily all from one vineyard..


    (ie Domaine de la Romanée Conti – Grands Échezeaux, Domaine Leflaive – Chevalier-Montrachet, Comte de Vogüé – Chambolle Musigny)


    However IF the wine is from one specific terroir, which it definitely will be for Grand & Premier Cru wines, the vineyard will (most likely) be detailed next. Burgundy is a bit of a patchwork quilt of terroir-specific ownership, so one producer will bottle under lots of different vineyard or terroir names.   However, much of burgundy’s grapes are sold on to negociants (like Maison Bouchard Pere et Fils who then bottle cooperatively & distribute the fare under their own brand.


    (ie Chablis, Cote de Beaune, Beaujolais)


    Burgundy or Bourgogne is an enormous area, thankfully sub-divided into 6 appellations, or areas: Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, Beaujolais, Côte de Nuits & Côte de Beaune. Each appellation makes distinctive wines depending on soil, climate & predominant grapes. For example, Chablis in the Auxerre region right in the north is predominantly Chardonnay, cooler & a more mineral soil; Maconnais right down in the south-east is predominantly Gamay, warmer, flatter & mainly sandstone-based soil.


    Appellation Classification:
    (ie. AOP, IGP, Vin de France)


    By law, all French wine has to be classified, so the appellation classification will be found on every label. Unless it’s illegal which I’d probably steer well clear of. Appellations are divided into 4 different classes: “Appellations d’Origine Protégée/Contrôlée” (denoted AOP, since 2009 or AOC) which is highest classification & applies to most areas; ‘Vin Delimité de Qualité Supérieure’ (VDQS – the waiting room for AOP, only applies to a very small number of areas); Indication Geographique Protegée (IGP) or Vin de Pays (increasingly being replaced by former – from a given region, ie Cote d’Or but less strictly regulated); finishing off with ‘Vin de France’ (formerly ‘Vin de Table’ – the most basic classification – both titles do what they say on the tin; a “French wine” needs no further introduction!)  In Burgundy producers will often put the appellation or village name in the accreditation too, so “Appellation Beaune Contrôlée”, for example.


    Bottling detail:
    (Mis en bouteille…)


    This will either state “Mis en bouteille au domaine” which means by a producer who owns his own land & bottles there (as the best wines are); or “Mis en bouteille par/pour..” which means the gapes have been sold to a negociant.


    Producer Location:


    This will be the address of the Domaine; good for Google Maps if you want a better idea of where a given appellation is. Especially given how complicated the whole system is!  However, true to form, the Burgundians often just give a rough village & area associated with their Domaine as vineyards can be scattered, so best look up all the information on the label for absolute precision’s sake.


    Alcohol Content:
    (ie. x%)


    A given & legality – anything between 12% & 14% depending on colour, area & grape.


    So, there we have it.. sometimes there is good reason for a product’s information to be complicated, especially when that end product is something as rich & rewarding as a glass (or 2!) of burgundy. And as much as label content will jump around a bit depending on personal tastes & redesign, the information required is ever-regulated so once you start to get to grips with it all, can go a long way into helping understand one of the most traditional & wonderfully complex wine growing regions the world has to offer.


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