Some nice wines from small importer Tiger Vines

Tiger Vines is a small import business run by James Thomas. He worked with Domaine Laroche, then spent two years at Majestic Wine, three years at Bibendum and eight years with Billecart-Salmon UK. His philosophy with Tiger Vines is to find the most tenanted producers working with great terroirs, and he began with Champagne and the US West Coast. There’s no specific philosophy he embraces, other than terroir-driven, authentic wines of real interest, and usually these tend to be made with minimal intervention. I tasted through a range of the wines Tiger import, and was impressed. Here are my notes.

Champagne Mouzon Leroux
Based in Verzy. Converted to biodynamics, but not certified. Worked with Pierre Frick in Alsace. Uses a mix of oak and stainless steel for fermenting base wines.

Champagne Mouzon Leroux L’Atavique Tradition NV France
65 Pinot, 35 Chardonnay, all Grand Cru Verzy, 80% 2013, 3 g/l dosage. Tight and concentrated with hints of apple and keen lemon notes. There’s some structure here with lots of complexity. Dry and mineral with lovely intensity. Lovely intensity to this robustly flavoured wine. 92/100

Champagne Mouzon Leroux L’Incandescent Rosé de Saignée NV France
15 h maceration, Pinot Noir, 1 g/l dosage. Grand Cru Verzy. This is powerful and concentrated with lovely raspberry and cherry fruit. This has some structure, too. Quite powerful and linear, with lovely fruit expression. Such a different style, and really lovely. 93/100

Champagne Philippe Gonet

Champagne Philippe Gonet Brut Reserve NV France
Based in Le Mesnil sur Oger. 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Meunier. Bouzy and Ambonnay for Pinot Noir, the Chardonnay is from Mongeux (?). 7 g/l dosage. 150 000 production, moving towards organics. Pierre and Chantelle Gonet are seventh generation. Growers. Tight with subtle toasty notes and a lovely lemony core. This has nice density and focus with purity, and a hint of pithiness. Real refinement here, with a touch of richness on the finish. 92/100

Champagne Pierre Cellier NV France
Second label of Philippe Gonet. This is lively and bright with keen citrus fruit and a touch of toastiness. Has some obvious sweetness from the dosage, but there’s lovely fruit here. Has nice precision. 89/100

Champagne Philippe Gonet Rosé NV France
90% Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Noir from Vertus. 7 g/l dosage. Floral and a bit sappy with some green hints to the cherry and redcurrant fruit, with a brisk citrus character. Nicely savoury with keen acidity. 91/100

Storm Wines
Ernst Storm is the brother of Hannes Storm from Hemel-en-Aarde in South Africa, and like his brother, is making some very smart wines – in this case from Santa Barbara County in California.

Notary Public 2014 Santa Ynez Valley, France
Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc. Complex, sweetly fruited nose with some grassy edges to the peach and citrus fruit. The palate is complex and quite intense but really focused: it hasn’t gone blowsy and rich, but is tight and linear with a mineral edge. Such a lovely wine with good weight and freshness. Has some herb and mineral characters. 92/100

Storm Pinot Noir Presqu’ile Vineyard 2014 Santa Maria Valley, California
20% whole cluster, 20% new oak, picked early. Concentrated but fresh with nice vivid, herb-tinged raspberry and cherry fruit. This has lovely fleshiness with silkiness, some liqueur like richness, but also freshness. 93/100

Storm Pinot Noir John Sebastiano Pinot Noir 2014 Santa Rita Hills, California
Has some richness, but also freshness. Lovely raspberry and cherry fruit, with a sweet character but also good structure. Nice precision to the fruit, with good structure. Lovely focus to it. 94/100

Domaine Vaquer, Roussillon

Domaine Vaquer Cuvée Esquisse 2017 Côtes du Roussillon, France
Mostly Roussanne, the rest Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Maccabeu. No malolactic. Fresh, lively and pithy with nice pear and citrus notes, and some hints of wax. Nice density with freshness too. Good weight. 90/100

Domaine Vaquer L’Ephémère 2016 Côtes du Rousillon, France
Bright pink in colour. Fresh red cherry fruit with nice density. Good citrus freshness with a tiny bit of grip. Lovely freshness and focus. 89/100

Domaine Vaquer 1986 Vin de Pays Catalan, France
80% Carignan, 20% Grenache. This is savoury and mellow with complex red cherry, plum and spice notes. Really complex with a Nebbiolo-like complexity and structure. Has lovely developed complexity here. Earth, herbs, some tar. Mellow. 93/100

Domaine Vaquer L’Expression Carignan 2016 Côtes Catalan, France
Vivid and intense with concentrated, sweet. Lush blackcurrant and blackberry fruit with good acidity and focus. Has harmony and detail, and lots of structure. But there’s lovely flesh here. A nice contrast. 93/100

Domaine Vaquer Heritage Rivesaltes Hors d’Age 1986 Roussillon, France
Very rich and exotic with table grape, raisin and spice with a bit of grip. Concentrated and smooth with lovely intensity of fruit. Apricot, marmalade and almond notes. 93/100

Domaine Guion, Bourgeuil

Domaine Guion Bourgeuil Cuvée Prestige 2015 Loire, France
Organic. Stephane Guion, 80 year old vines. Beautiful perfume here. Floral, gravelly, chalky cherry fruit. Has richness, freshness and structure with nice crunchy tannins balancing out the seductive sweet fruit. Lovely chalky, gravelly detail. 93/100

Domaine Guion Cuvée des Deux Monts Bourgeuil 2014 Loire, France
Three old parcels. Perfumed blackcurrant and black cherry fruit nose. Supple, fresh, leaf-tinged elegant palate with lovely cherry fruit. Very fine-grained and delicious. Supple and expressive and so pure. 93/100

Anne Sophie Dubois, Beaujolais

Anne Sophie Dubois Fleurie L’Alchemiste 2016 Beaujolais, France
20% whole cluster. This is supple and pure with very fine, clean cherry and raspberry fruit, together with fine grained tannins and hints of pepper and herbs. So refined with good structure and purity. Elegant and refined. 93/100

Anne Sophie Dubois Ici et La 2016
80% Gamaret. This is a bit meaty and spicy with a funky edge to the raspberry and cherry fruit. Has some crunch and density. Lively acidity. Some olive complexity, too. 91/100


David Bienfait, Mâconnais

David Bienfait Les Crays Pouilly-Fuissé 2015 Burgundy, France
Based in the Maconnais, he makes just three wines. This site was planted in 1940. Works organically, but not certified. This is in old demi-muids. Concentrated and linear with a creamy, bready edge to the pear and citrus fruit. Has a seamless quality to it. Lots of wine here: broad, with some generosity. Fresh slightly mealy citrussy finish. 92/100

Contact: Tiger Vines
James Thomas: 07540199908


Alternative Bordeaux (4) organic farming in the Cru Bourgeois

Jérôme Bibey, Ch Labadie

The Médoc is at the heart of Bordeaux. As well as the 60 Grand Cru Classé estates that sit at the top of the hierarchy of vineyards, there are another 280 estates that compete each year to be part of the Cru Bourgeois selection. In the next part of the Alternative Bordeaux series, we go to Château Labadie, which since 2008 has been selected for the Cru Bourgeois. We met here with young proprietor Jérôme Bibey, and also the people behind two further Cru Bourgeois properties, Maxime Juillot of Château Sémillan Mazeau, and Pierre-Alexandre Gazaille of Château Meyre. All three have been working with organics over the last few years.

Labadie has clay and limestone soils, as well as about 20% sandy soil with. The limestone in the Médoc is from the sea and the lagoon, and also from lakes, depending on where you are. Clay is found on top of the limestone. There is also a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon in the northern Médoc, and this has to be on the limestone because it ripens faster. ‘I’m trying to produce wine the right way,’ says Jerome. He doesn’t use pesticides, and just copper and sulfur for fungicides. ‘But it’s difficult to work the soil for 70 hectares, so I need to use some herbicide.’ He has a lot of clay soils, and these are hard to work. The trunk disease Esca is a bit problem. ‘I need to remove and replant 10-15% each year. The Cabernet is especially problematic. Since we started using only copper and sulphur, two years ago, it looks like we have less disease.’

Château Labadie 2014 Médoc, Bordeaux
55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. Supple blackcurrant and blackberry fruit with nice stony, cedary complexity. Shows a touch of toast and spice from the oak. Nice elegance here with a smooth texture and a hint of chocolate. Supple and delicious drinking now. 90/100

Château Pontet Barrail 2014 Médoc, Bordeaux
This is Jerome’s grandfather’s property, but the wines are made here. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and the balance Petit Verdot and Malbec. Comes from the oldest vines of the property. Quite dense and structured with sweet black fruits and some spice and cedar. Tannic but with attractive ripe fruit characters, too. Supple and attractive with a firm woody edge. Needs time to settle down. 89/100

Malbec de Labadie 2015 Médoc, Bordeaux
Vivid, sleek and intense with a floral edge to the nose. Very fresh and aromatic with nice vivid black cherry and raspberry fruit. Really pretty and expressive with lovely fruit expression and a bit of pepper on the finish. 91/100

Pierre-Alexandre Gazaille, Ch Meyre

Pierre-Alexandre Gazaille started at Meyre with organics in 2008, and the first certified vintage was 2011. It was the second cru Bourgeois to be certified as organic. Out of more than 250 chateau there are still only four organically certified,’ he says. ‘People are paying more attention so I hope there will be more. In 2008 when we started it was quite difficult. 11, 12 and 13 were quite low yielding vintages.’

‘Producing wine in the Médoc is quite stupid,’ says Pierre. ‘ We are between the Garonne and the Atlantic Ocean, and, as you know, the biggest enemy for the vineyard is humidity.’ But he adds, ‘it is not more difficult to be organic in Bordeaux than Champagne or the Loire Valley. Of course, if you compare organic agriculture in the north of Spain or south of France, it is a lot easier there.’ Pierre points out that the problem of organic treatments is that when you have the disease, it is too late, you don’t have a remedy.’ One of the problems with organics in the region is that the official advice about applying treatments, which work by contact, is that the intervals are determined by rainfall, which washes them off. ‘The thing we forget is that in June and July we have a lot of fog, and this also helps drain the compounds off. You can have no rain for three weeks but the humidity removes the copper so you need a new treatment.

Pierre also notes that in Bordeaux, many of the organic vineyards are on the right bank where the properties tend to be smaller. ‘In the Médoc we traditionally have bigger properties, with a lot of plants per hectare. It is more difficult to work these organically.’ The right bank averages 6 ha per property, while the left bank averages 30.

Château Meyre 2014 Haut Médoc, Bordeaux
44 Merlot, 40 Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 PV, 5% Cabernet Franc. Supple, spicy and direct with a savoury spicy edge to the fruit. Some cedar spice and a hint of mint. Has a juicy quality and some elegance, with a bit of grip on the finish.  89/100

Maxime Juillot, Ch Sémeillan Mazeau

Maxime Juillot’s Château Sémeillan Mazeau is based in the Listrac appellation from the south of Médoc. Soils are sands and gravels, with 10% clay limestone. In 2012 he started converting to organics, and from 2015 has been certified.

‘The ideal size [for an organic vineyard] is 10 ha,’ he says. ‘You can do this with one person, with 7000 plants/hectare. If you have 110 hectares, you need 11 people.’ Maxime adds, ‘One of the the problems is that the plants are not used to this kind of agriculture. It takes for the plants to get used to this agriculture.’

Château Sémeillan Mazeu 2014 Listrac-Médoc, Bordeaux
15% aged in barrels. Supple and fine with lovely texture and weight. Lovely elegant red fruits with some blackcurrant hints. Very supple and elegant with lovely purity and weight. Shows lovely elegance with nice balance to the fruit and fine-grained tannins. Such a lovely wine. 92/100

Pierre adds, ‘when you taste organic wines you will see that most of the time there is more freshness, because we work on the soils. You have lighter, fresher wines, probably more elegant.’ Maxime agrees: when you work the soils you drain the potassium, so the pH of the wines is lower. The wines are more acid.’

How does it affect yields? ‘When we started we lost yield,’ says Pierre. ‘After 2 years we got quite normal yields. Organic agriculture requires more tools and more people. For me you need 10 years.’

‘Everyone knows that organic wine is the future for the next generation,’ says Pierre. ‘The vineyard was planted 40 years ago, and I am just 28. I think about the vineyard for the next generation – the wine business is a very long-term business.’

Maxine adds, ‘let’s hope that in 10 years everyone will be organic.’

An interview with the three:

New York Wines (17) Boundary Breaks, Finger Lakes

Bruce Murray, Boundary Breaks

Bruce Murray comes from central New York. A few years ago he enjoyed one of Germany’s leading Rieslings (a Spatlese from Nahe genius Helmut Dononnhof Riesling Spatlese with a Thai meal at the Lotus of Siam in Los Vegas. ‘This was a pairing and experience I never forgot,’ he says. He came back to New York and looked for a place to establish a Riesling-focused vineyard.

He found it in the Finger Lakes: ‘I lucked into an ideal spot,’ he says. It was a field with no vines, close to the water on the east side of Seneca Lake. ‘In terms of vineyard establishment it is hard to get a better spot,’ Bruce says. His objective was to make enough wine for this to be a sustainable business, which he reckons is at the 20-25 000 case levels. ‘Around here you can scrape by at 5000 cases, selling through the tasting room. The zone in the middle is a no mans’ zone when it comes to economics. To be able to have a sustainable business at $20 a bottle, you need to make a lot of it.’

He adds, ‘Weimer, Frank and Ravines have done this, but it is kind of an exception. The history is most people were thrown into the business without thinking it out.’

Bruce had some good advice. These were heavy soils so he began by installing drainage in every row, which keeps the vineyard dry and allows him to hang fruit for longer. ‘The drainage tile is the most valuable investment we made,’ he says. The cost was $8000 an acre. He planted 8 acres in 2009, 6 acres in 2010 and a further 6 acres in 2013. He’s also added small amounts of red. The reorganized Scott Henry trellising yields 4-5 tons/acre at 22/23 Brix.

Winemaking is contract, and he has worked with seven different winemakers so far, including Kelby Russell, who currently makes about 20% of the wines. The first goal was to get distribution, and only then was the Boundary Breaks tasting room opened. It now accounts for around 40% of revenue.

‘I aspire not to go broke but not to work myself to death,’ says Bruce.

Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling 239 2015 Finger Lakes, New York
Made by Kelby Russell. Rich and quite textured with sweet pear, peach and orange peel flavours. There’s nice texture here with a generous mouthfeel and a hint of sweetness. Full bodied. 89/100

Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling 239 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
Juicy and lively with lovely bright citrus fruit, as well as some melon and pear richness. Lively and juicy with good acidity. This has pure, sweet fruit with nice intensity and depth. Finishes limey and zippy. 91/100

Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling 239 2017 Finger Lakes, New York
Zesty and juicy with a bright lemony edge. Zippy with good concentraton and depth of flavour. Very fine and expressive with nice intensity and a mineral edge. There’s a hint of sweetness, but overall this is dry. Nicely weighted. 90/100

Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling 198 2014 Finger Lakes, New York
Made by Kelby Russell. Very bright and lemony with sweet apple and melon notes. Very rich and sweet with real intensity and high acidity. 88/100

Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling 198 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
Powerful, sweet and limey with melony richness and keen acidity. Juicy, vivid and intense with a long finish. Quite sweet. 91/100

Dr Riesling 198 2017 Finger Lakes, New York
Very fresh, pure and vivid with lovely lemony intensity. Bright and zippy with keen acidity too. Has great focus and intensity. Sweet but with great tension and freshness. 93/100

Boundary Breaks Riesling 110 Grand 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
Made at Sheldrake Point by Dave Breedon. 14.5% alcohol. Picked at 26 brix, with 10 g/l rs, Auslese Trocken style. Rich and intense with powerful herb-tinged citrus fruit, together with some pear and cabbage hints. Has some warmth on the palate, finishing a little salty. 88/100

Boundary Breaks Gewurztraminer 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
Made at Sheldrake Point. Richly textured with some lychee and pear fruit. Rich and smooth with nice rich grapey fruit. Some smoky hints too. 88/100

Boundary Breaks Gewurztraminer 2017 Finger Lakes, New York
Bright and linear with a freshness under the grape and lychee characters. There’s some varietal character and also nice brightness. Well balanced. Juicy finish. 89/100

Boundary Breaks Harmonic Red 2015 Finger Lakes, New York
Made at Sheldrake Point. Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Sweet, plush, berryish and a bit spicy. Nice smooth, pure fruit here. Quite a rich style with little oak influence. Grainy and chalky with good structure. Attractive stuff. 89/100

Boundary Breaks Harmonic Red 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
Ripe yet fresh with juicy raspberry and blackberry fruit. Supple and gravelly with nice grainy structure. Good concentration and density with nice weight. Polished and sophisticated with nice density. 90/100

Boundary Breaks Riesling Ice Wine 2018 Finger Lakes, New York
This is bright, lemony, pure and complex, with some passionfruit, honey and spice notes. There’s a brightness and balance with incredible tension between the sugar and the acidity. 93/100

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New York Wine (16) Swedish Hill, Finger Lakes

The story at Swedish Hill is a common one in the Finger Lakes. Grapes were planted here for Taylor Wines, and then in the 1970s with their demise these grapes had no home. So Swedish Hill was one of those properties who put in a winery in order to use the grapes.

The industry at the time was growing native and the lesser hybrid varieties. ‘Decisions were made in a peculiar way as to how hybrids were selected,’ says winemaker Dave Peterson. ‘Aurora was the biggest hybrid here, chosen for Taylor Wines by picking date: it came in before the other grapes.’ So companies such as Swedish Hill ended up making wines out of what they had in the vineyard. ‘Seasoned as growers we didn’t know how to make and market wine. You were dealt a short deck of cards, working in some cases with inferior grapes and most growers were financially stressed, putting wineries in.’ So unlike regions such as Napa, it wasn’t lawyers and doctors who were building wineries, but farmers. At Swedish Hill, they bought surplus dairy tanks.

This was a 1200 case winery initially, but now makes 40 000 cases. There are also two sister properties: Penguin Bay and Goose Watch. Most of these wines are made at Swedish Hill. In addition, this is a custom crush facility making wine for 30 clients. Of their vineyards, 50 out of the 90 acres are vinifera, and they buy grapes from 14 other growers. Their most important variety is Riesling, and their second most is Cayuga. They recognize the importance of hybrids for the region. ‘It’s not a Budwesier world in terms of beer, and its not a Chardonnay world for wine,’ says Peterson. ‘This will create an opportunity for some of the hybrids.’

Goose Watch Cabernet Franc Rosé 2017 Finger Lakes, New York
Pale coloured. Light and fresh with bright lemon and cherry fruit, with a delicate personality and good acidity. Pleasant stuff with clean bright fruit. 87/100 ($15)

Penguin Bay Dry Riesling 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
7 g/l sugar. This is bright and juicy with good acidity. This has nice pure citrus fruit with a bit of sweetness on the finish. Quite linear and bright. 86/100 ($15)

Penguin Bay Dry Vidal 2017 (final blend) Finger Lakes, New York
8 g/l sugar. Clean, bright, fresh and citrussy. Nice purity here with bright lemon and pear fruit, and some stoniness, too. Crisp and focused. 87/100 ($15)

Swedish Hill Riesling 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
Off-dry style with 20 g/l sugar. Fruity and clean. Sweet and quite simple with citrus and melon fruit. Juicy with nice acidity. Fruit-driven style. 88/100

Swedish Hill Blue Waters Gewurztraminer 2017 Finger Lakes, New York
Off-dry. Lively and very fruity with fresh citrus and pear fruit with some table grape character. Very fruity style with lively acidity. 86/100

Goose Watch Lemberger 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
The first to grow it here. Juicy, bright and fruity with a savoury cedar and vanilla edge to the juicy berry fruits. Supple and drinkable with nice sweet fruit. 86/100 ($19)

Swedish Hill Cabernet Franc Lemberger 2016 Finger Lakes, New York
Supple, fresh and fine-grained with a nice leafy chalky edge to the sweet cherry and berry fruit. Juicy but smooth at the same time with nice elegance. Very drinkable. 90/100

Goose Watch Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012 Finger Lakes, New York
Nice gravelly depth to the fresh, supple, lighter blackcurrant and cherry fruit. Has nice brightness and drinkability with some tannin and a hint of nice green. 89/100

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Be a wave catcher

There’s a lot of luck involved in success. I think it’s Gary Player, the legendary South African golfer, who came up with the famous line: ‘the more I practice the luckier I get.’

It’s a good philosophy to have. Rather than blaming others for our lack of success, it gets us working hard and persevering in the face of adversity. I love the Sherman brothers’ song from the brilliant (but overlong) 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Roses of Success. Work hard and take responsibility for your own life, and don’t blame others. When it goes wrong, pick yourself up, lose the self pity (it’s ugly and reeks of entitlement) and have another crack.

But there does seem to be a lucky element to most success stories. Good timing, coincidences, being in the right place at the right time, and making calculated gambles that pay off.

In my own work life, I was in the right place, at the right time, to establish myself as a wine writer. I had a technical background (PhD and working as a science editor), I worked with words (I was an editor), and I loved wine (I was a wine geek). Along came The Internet, and most of us thought it was cool but we never realized what an impact it might have on our lives, within such a short time. I started discussing (and learning about) wine on bulletin boards, and began a hobby website (one of the first on wine), and it wasn’t great, but it was good enough, and I then began to get commissions to write, and a book deal (Wine Science). I also landed a newspaper column. These were waves, and I caught them.

I think the right attitude to have is to be a wave catcher. You prepare yourself. You get in the water wearing a wetsuit and with a surf board. You have already spent some time learning how to surf. Now all you need is a wave, and when one comes along, you catch it. You can’t make the wave happen. And no matter how much you want to surf, and how good you are at it, without the appropriate wave, there will be no surfing. Don’t punish yourself if there are no waves: that’s out of your control. But you can be competent and prepared, and waiting in the sorts of places where waves tend to happen.

That’s the practice. Practice and you’ll get luckier. But you still need some luck.

Mining the seam

The world is changing fast. Nothing is forever: we know that. But the pace of change seems to increase every decade. Sometimes it seems that change is so rapid that it’s hard to keep up. And cope with it, to. It messes with your head.

Technology has been the driver for a lot of the recent change, and many of the changes have been beneficial. Technology has had a massive impact on what I do for a living, which is communicating about wine. I create content and get paid for it. It’s a more complex narrative than you might think, though. It’s not just the simple story that I was doing a job and technology made that job obsolete. I came into wine writing through the emergence of the internet, and therefore I entered a world of work through the same technological change that is slowly killing that world of work.

But back to the topic of this post. It pays to mine the seam. I’m using a coal mining metaphor here: if you fin d a seam of coal, carry on mining it while it is still profitable to do so. Don’t worry about the next seam all that much. Focus on the current one. Yes, it will run out, but in the meantime, give it all your attention. There will be another one after, for sure, but don’t let the search for the next one diminish the current enterprise.

I’ve been a freelancer for ten years in a dying trade: wine writing. Wine writers with national columns used to have it a lot easier 20 years ago. But that’s not the point. My seam is still good. Have I had to work hard? Yes. Have I had to adapt to new technology? Of course. Am I scared of the future changes and do I wish that things could stay the same? That’s fruitless. Change is inevitable.

[But this doesn’t mean that I or anyone else has to embrace all change with open arms. Some changes are for the worst and should be resisted. It’s especially important to think of whether a change has the potential for any undesirable unintended consequences. Take genetically modified vines with resistance to fungal diseases. Vitis vinifera is susceptible to powdery mildew and downy mildew and with relatively simple genetic modification could be rendered resistant, and this would have massive environmental benefits in terms of reduced spraying. But the unintended consequence of doing this are that we’d end up with just a few varieties, and likely a single clone of each, and these would end up ousting all the other varieties. It would be a viticultural disaster.]

So, mine the seam. Focus on the work in front of you and while that seam remains, mine it well. Be prepared to adapt, but don’t give up while a good seam remains. Futurists aren’t always so prescient, and human behaviour is unpredictable. Cassette tapes hit vinyl sales and then when the CD came along vinyl was almost wiped out and cassettes were doomed. But now vinyl sales exceed those of CDs and cassettes are dead. No futurist saw this coming.

I make a living in a dying trade as a content creator. I enjoy my work immensely. Could I do something else that makes me more money? Yes. And even within my field, if I chased the money, I could be richer. But I’m also aware that in trying to become richer, I could become miserable quite easily, just as some people end up taking a promotion to earn more money and enjoy higher status, but with it they end up leaving behind work they enjoy to spend time doing work that is stressful and less rewarding. So I’m going to continue to mine this seam for now.

Three Portuguese reds

Portugal is such an interesting wine country. These are three interesting wines that I’ve recently tried. The Almeida Garret is superb value, especially.

Alves de Sousa Quinta da Gaivosa 2015 Douro, Portugal
14.5% alcohol. Dense, ripe and nicely structured. Sweet plum, blackberry and cherry fruit with herbs and spices. This is a rich style of Douro, but it has balance and intensity, with an appealing savoury twist to the sleek fruit. Nice potential for development. 93/100

Altano Organic Red 2016 Douro, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. Floral black cherry nose with some olive hints. The palate is fresh and supple with bright berry and cherry fruits. There’s a sleekness but also some freshness. Supple and stylish with some grip. 90/100 (c£12 stockists National / Online: Amazon, Waitrose, E.H. Booth and Co, South East: The Vineyard (Surrey), Taylors Fine Wine (Surrey), The Framingham Wine Shop (Suffolk), Cambrdge Wine Merchants (Cambridge), North East: Mr and Mrs Fine Wine (Nottinghamshire), The Dram Shop (South Yorks), Fenwick (Newcastle), London: Harvey Nichols, Bacchus, South West: Magnum Wine (Wiltshire), Dartmouth Wine Company (Devon), North West: BJR Hanby (West Yorks), Swift Wines (West Yorks), Roberts and Speight (West Yorks), Lancaster Wine Company (Lancashire)

Almeida Garret Entre Serras 2015 Beira Interior, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. From the slopes of the Serra d’Estrela, with granite soils, this is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barocca and Trincadeira. This is so fresh and bright with nice concentration and freshness. Lovely black cherry and blackberry fruit with good acidity and bright, focused fruit. Hints of meat and olive too: delicious stuff. 90/100 (£6.25 The Wine Society)


Greek wine: two Xinomavros from Markovitis

Xinomavro classifies as an interesting grape variety in my book. It makes wines that seem to taste a bit like Nebbiolo, and so it was a treat to try these two from Markovitis, one old and one a bit younger. They’re so lovely. UK agent is Indigo.

Markovitis Winery Xinomavro 2012 Naoussa, Greece
13.5% alcohol. This is just so good, and very Nebbiolo like. Slightly faded red colour with a bricking rim, this is structured and savoury, but also has nice cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit. Some notes of tar and spice, and some attractive floral character, too. It has elegance, but also quite grippy tannins, very much in the Barolo mould. 93/100

Markovitis Chateau Pegasus 1999 Naoussa, Greece
12.5% alcohol. Now mature at age 19, this is savoury and quite elegant, with an earthy, spicy quality and some cherry and raspberry fruit, as well as a bit of tomato savouriness. It has some waxy, nutty old wine characters and a supple, refined sort of character. This is fully mature and quite delicious, and still has some structure. Nice to be able to find mature Xinomavro like this. 92/100



Some brilliant Californian imports from Nekter Wines

Jon Davey started Nekter Wines 2 years ago, after spending 16 years working in management consulting. He had developed an interest in wine, and on a holiday to south Africa he decided to bring some wine back. This was the spur for him to make a career change. He tried to get a good job in wine and couldn’t with his lack of experience, so he started importing wine. He began with a couple of producers in South Africa, then a few from California, and has taken off from there. The Nekter customers are predominantly London on-trade. In terms of the wines in the portfolio, stylistically and philosophically it’s minimal intervention – not ‘natural’ but doing as little as possible to the fruit. He’s grown to the point that he’s hired Imogen Taylor to work with him. The thing that sets Nekter apart is their specific focus on interesting producers in California, and the quality of the wines they have sourced from there. I tasted with John and Imogen at their offices, and was impressed by the quality of the wines. Prices indicated are the consumer prices from the Nekter website (the trade price is exactly half this in each case).

Matthiasson Family Vineyards ‘Tendu’ White 2016 Dunnigan Hills, California
10.3% alcohol. 75% Vermentino, 20% Colombard, 5% Chardonnay. The idea behind this wine, which comes in a crown-cap-sealed one litre bottle, is that it should be a barbecue wine – all about drinkability. This is fresh, lively and direct with nice citrus and pear fruit. This has lovely focus with pure fruit the main theme. Stony and pure. 89/100 (£27)

Ferdinand Albariño Borden Ranch 2016 Sierra Nevada Foothills, California
13% alcohol. Made by Evan Frazier who is assistant winemaker at Konsgaard, and it’s made at Atlas Peak. Matured in used oak. One sulfur addition at bottling. Beautiful aromatics with lovely citrus and apricot hints. Lovely concentration with rounded, rich tangerine and lemon fruit. Such finesse here: fine-grained and delicious. Mouthwatering and a bit saline. So nice. 93/100 (£28)

Donkey & Goat Perli Chardonnay 2014 Mendocino Ridge, California
Surrounded by redwoods on a 60% slope, 2200 feet altitude. 13.2% alcohol. Very fine aromatics: lemony and bright with a fine spiciness. There’s a slight mealiness, too. The palate is concentrated with nice ripe citrus fruit, a fine spicy dimension, and some stony minerality. So distinctive, vital, lemony and spicy. Such finesse and purity here. 94/100 (£39)

Big Basin Vineyards Coastview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 Monterey County, California
Clone 96, from two terraced rows in the highest vineyard in Monterey, at 2300 feet. Decomposed quartz and limestone, 2 new barrels out of 9. Distinctive and a little oxidative with some apple and pear fruit, as well as some citrus brightness. Some nice depth and texture here. Very interesting. 93/100 (£49)

Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher Roussanne 2016 El Dorado, California
Elen Ridge vineyard, 2400 feet. 14 days on skins then ageing in neutral oak. 12.1%. Such a beautiful nose: perfumed and exotic with floral tangerine and orange peel, as well as some apricot skin. Very delicate and exotic on the palate with nice grip and really pretty, perfumed apricot fruit. Such a thrilling wine. 95/100 (£48)

Benevolent Neglect Riesling 2017 Nelson Vineyard, Mendocino, California
From a 44 year old vineyard. Cole loam soil, fermented in stainless steel for 30 days. 11.3% alcohol, 14 g/l residual sugar. Textured and fruity with nice weight: there’s some sweet pear and apple fruit, with a slight stoniness. Such lovely complexity here, with some rounded fruit. 91/100 (£34)

Matthiasson Family Vineyards Tendu Red 2016 Dunnigan Hills, California
11% alcohol. Aglianico, Montepulciano and Barbera. This is delicious bright, pure and sappy with lovely red cherries and raspberries, and a bit of sappy greenness. So pretty with good acidity and lovely crunchy fruit. So fine and fresh and smashable. 90/100 (£27)

Keep Wine Counoise 2017 El Dorado, California
Jack Roberts (assistant winemaker working with Steve Matthiasson) and his wife JJ make this wine. Terrible label, brilliant wine. Pale pink red with a hint of orange. Bright and grainy and light with lovely balance and freshness. It has beautiful red cherry and strawberry fruit with good structure and acidity. Such zip and detail. Lovely wine with incredible elegance. Such a wine, with drinkability, elegance and also complexity. 95/100 (£32)

Calder Wine Company Carignane 2015 Mendocino, California
Rory Williams, son of John Williams of Frogs Leap. 80% from the Rovera Vineyard planted in 1942, and 20% from dry-farmed Cemetry vineyard planted in 1954. Two out of the 12 barrels were new American oak. Concentrated and ripe with sweet berry fruits and a bit of spiciness. There’s some sweetness to the fruit, and maybe a hint of spicy oak. Nice grip here with lovely freshness and direct fruit. Some raspberry and cherry on the finish. 92/100 (£34)

Big Basin Vineyards Homestead Vineyard GSM 2014 Santa Cruz Mountains, California
13.9% alcohol. High lying sites with granite/limestone soils. Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Old oak. Structured yet elegant with beautiful direct black cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit. Very refined with good structure and nice freshness. Lovely compact fruit. Such elegance. 94/100 (£38)

Benevolent Neglect Las Madres Syrah 2015 Carneros, Sonoma, California
13.9% alcohol. 40% whole cluster. So floral and expressive on the nose with some meaty reductive notes and some lovely peppery focus. The palate is fresh and complex with black pepper, a hint of meat and some olive tapenade character. Really nice varietal character: cool climate peppery Syrah with some incredible texture. 94/100 (£52)

Ashes & Diamonds No 1 Cabernet Franc 2014 Napa Valley, California
Made by Steve Matthiason. This is the first new proper winery in Napa for a long time, with all star collaborators, aiming to go back to the wines of the 60s and 70s that made Napa famous in the first place. This is picked a bit earlier than normal. 13.9% alcohol. This is the first vintage. Smooth and textured with lovely graininess. It’s smooth and ripe, but also fresh with lovely elegance, too. Has some chalky, grainy Cabernet Franc character, with a taste of luxury but also great balance. 94/100 (£90)

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Eating and drinking in London: The Wine Place

I recently popped into The Wine Place in South Kensington to taste through some of their range. It’s a really nice space, over two floors, and as well as operating as a wine bar, also runs tastings and events, and does a bit of direct importing too. Until recently there were three sites, under the name Vini Italiani – here in South Kensington, in Covent Garden and in Greenwich. But the Greenwich site didn’t work so well, so they dropped it, and in the process changed their name to The Wine Place. They have just reopened. This also means that in the future they will be able to branch away from solely Italian wines, even though this is currently their speciality.

I started with a glass of high end Franciacorta, and then went through the wines in their two enomatic machines. I really like the enomatic concept: as well as meaning that wines by the glass are always fresh, it gives you a chance to try before you buy. The wine range here – still all Italian – is wide and interesting, and I found some nice things as I tasted through.

Monte Rossa Cabochon Franciacorta 2011 Lombardia, Italy
70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. This is lovely stuff: tight but generous with lovely sweet pear, citrus and cherry fruit. This has nice freshness and weight with good precision as well as peachy richness. 91/100

Baldovino Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2017 Abruzzo, Italy
This is 100% Trebbiano Abruzzese grown on clay/limestone soils, fermented in stainless steel. Linear with nice fruit and a twist of waxiness. Lovely pear and citrus notes. Clean, fruity and expressive with some personality. 89/100 (£12.50)

Leone Conti Albana di Romagna Albana Progetto 1 2016 Emilia Romagna, Italy
100% Albana planted in 1978 on pergola, from clay/limestone/chalk soils in the hills above Faenza. 65% barrel-ferment, 35% fermented in steel. Rich and textural with bold pear, peach and spice, as well as a hint of vanilla. Full flavoured with nice complexity. A broad, appealing white. 90/100 (£19.90)

Vini Italiani Langhe Favorita 2017 Piemonte, Italy
This is one of Vini Italiani’s own label wines, made by Teo Costa in Roero, this 100% Favorita, grown on sandy soils. Very fruity and bright with nice freshness. Has bright citrus and grape notes. Very fruity and expressive. 88/100 (£14)

Tenute Viglione Falanghina 2017 Puglia, Italy
From vineyards at 450 m. Nicely dense with lovely pear and peach fruit, with some spice. Nice weight and texture. Supple and expressive. 89/100 (£14.90)

Benanti Pietramarina Etna Bianco Superiore 2015 Sicily, Italy
Supple and quite mineral with some lemony notes, nice freshness and weight, and a juicy lemony edge. Really interesting and textural. 91/100 (£48)

Donnofugata Vigna di Gabri 2016 Sicily, Italy
This is a blend of Ansonica, Catarratto, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, from southwestern Sicily. 85% tank fermented and 15% aged in used French oak. Waxy and herby with nice tropical notes, showing some canteloup melon and pear. Lovely texture and balance here. 90/100 (£30)

Casa di Baal Aglianico di Baal 2012 Basilicata, Italy
Organic. Matured in large barrels. Lovely savoury cherry and tomato and plum fruit with a nice spicy underpinning. Has good weight and nice focus. Grainy and grippy. 91/100 (£19.50)

Viglione Sellato Primitivo 2015 Puglia, Italy
Organic. Matured in larger oak. Very sweet, enticing black fruits nose. Ripe and textured with richness and lushness, but also freshness. Delicious and attractive. 91/100 (£15.50)

Condé Predappio Sangiovese MGA Riserva 2011 Emilia Romagna, Italy
70% matured in stainless steel, 30% in barrel. This has some flesh and also some nice texture with a bit of savoury development. Earth and leather hints alongside the sweet black fruits with nice density. 90/100 (£18.50)

Valdicava Brunello de Montalcino 2010 Tuscany, Italy
Grainy and grippy with nice density and good complexity. This shows earth, spice, good tannic structure. Very stylish with lots of savoury detail. 93/100 (£99.80)

Vini Italiani Barolo La Morra 2014 Piemonte, Italy
Grainy with nice strawberry and cherry fruit, as well as a savoury twist. Has a nice structural dimension with good balance. Really appealing. 91/100 (£32)

Taurasi Pietracupa 2012 Campania, Italy
Made from Aglianico grown in volcanic soils, this spends two years in large oak. Complex, savoury and with a lovely spiciness, this has appealing cherry and plum fruit with nice depth. Structured but also quite mellow with nice grip. Delicious. 93/100 (£51)

Tenuta Alfredosa Montefalco Rosso 2012 Italy
100% Sagrantino. Sweet, savoury, warm and spicy with nice grip. This has nice fine-grained tannins. Tarry with some mint and nice spiciness. Really refined. 92/100 (£47.50)

Zidarich Terrano 2014 Teran, Venezia Giulia 
Tarrano (translated red earth) is a red grape varietal native to the Carso (the region where Zidarich have their vineyards). This shows lovely sweet black fruits on the nose. The palate is floral with lovely blackcurrant and cherry fruit. Has such lovely purity and freshness. 94/100 (£30)

The Wine Place

72 Old Brompton Road
London SW7 3LQ

Unit 33 The Market
London WC2E 8BE