Y2KX The Mystical Being 2017, a skin-contact Sauvignon from Marlborough

Skin fermenting Sauvignon (top), with the striking Y2KX labels (bottom). This particular wine is the unicorn on the left.

It was good to try this: a really characterful, interesting Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. It’s from Y2KX Collective, a virtual winery, who are specialising on making interesting wines. Alana Mcgettigan is the winemaker here, and the director and majority shareholder is Roger Kerrison, who’s worked widely in the drinks industry (previous stints include Renaissance Brewing, The Darling Wines and Grove Mill). This is their skin-contact Sauvignon, and it’s really good. The labels are designed by Phil Constantinesco, a French artist, and they are lovely.

Y2KX Collective The Mystical Being 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is Sauvignon Blanc, with 60 days skin contact, then aged in used barrels for 9 months. Two picking bins were used for fermentation, one half whole bunch and half destemmed, the other all destemmed. This is the first vintage. This is really balanced, delicate and restrained for a skin contact wine with lovely grapefruit, citrus and pear fruit with some really attractive tropical fruit aromas, as well as a good lick of fennel. Good acidity and a little bit of structure in the mouth with great purity of fruit and lovely skin-ferment complexity. Shows great precision. 93/100 (Available in NZ from Cult Wines, $37.50)


In Niagara, Canada: Jackson-Triggs/Arterra

Jackson-Triggs is an important winery for Canada. The story begins back in 1989, when Dr Allan Jackson, who managed the Canadian wine company of brewer Labatt, joined forces with Donald Triggs, who’d previously worked with Labatt, to complete a management buyout of their Canadian wine operation. This became Cartier Wines, and it had operations in both Niagara and the Okanagan.

Then, in 1993, they began a journey of expansion. They purchased Canada’s most famous winery, Inniskillin, to form Vincor International. Vincor went on a growth phase and purchased wineries in Canada and North America, and they were also in the wine distribution business. They became the fourth-largest wine company in the USA, but in 2006 they caught the eye of Constellation Brands, who purchased them in a hostile takeover for CA$1.5 billion.

Marco Piccoli, winemaker, Jackson-Triggs

Vincor kept its name until 2012, when it was changed to Constellation. In 2016 Constellation Brands Canada was purchased by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund for CA$1 billion, and changed its name to Arterra Wines Canada. In addition to Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin, Arterra also own Stellar’s Jay, Sumac Ridge and Se Ya Later ranch, as well as 163 Wine Rack Stores which operate outside the LCBO monopoly in a grandfathered-in arrangement selling Canadian and blended wines.

Indeed, Jackson-Triggs began life producing International Canadian Blends (ICBs; known at the time as wines Cellared in Canada, CICs). This commercially significant yet controversial category relies on blending together some Canadian wine with imported bulk wine to make an entry level product that provided a home for some of the region’s harvest (currently around 15 000 tons of Ontario grapes end up in these concoctions, and must form a quarter of the blend). They are controversial because they were made to look like Canadian wines; the rules have recently changed and ‘Canada’ will soon no longer be mentioned on the label of ICBs. But they will still be using brand names that consumers associate strongly with Canada.

Arterra is Canada’s biggest wine company, some twice the size of its nearest competitor, Andrew Peller Wine Group.

In 2000, Jackson Triggs decided to create a VQA brand, focusing on Niagara-grown grapes. This has since grown to a sizeable 200 000 case production. The winery here processes some 23 000 tons of grapes, with their own vineyards supplying around 20% of their needs. Sparkling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the main focus.

We visited with Jackson-Triggs Ontario winemaker Marco Piccoli, who arrived here in 2005, when the VQA wines were at 80 000 cases. He’d worked at Bidoli,a small family-owned winery in Friuli, Italy from 1994 until 2000, when he quit to train as a winemaker. He got a scholarship to work with Luigi Bosca in Argentina, and also did a Masters degree in Germany, doing lots of work on viticulture. Piccoli then travelled, and during one of these trips he ended up in Niagara, and met Don Ziraldo, one of the founders of Inniskillin. Ziraldo hired him, and he’s still here now.

Piccoli believes that there is lots of potential for sparkling wine, and so they are investing heavily in promoting this. It’s now 12% of production and is the fastest growing category in the portfolio. ‘Pinot Noir here is hit or miss,’ says Piccoli. ‘It is challenging to make good table wine with it because it is thin skinned and close to harvest you get rain and humidity, and it breaks down. For sparkling it is ideal, though. It ripens in a time frame for sparkling where there is no rain or humidity so the grapes are very healthy.’

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grande Reserve Brut 2014 Niagara, Canada
6000 cases. Traditional method, aged on lees for 3 years. Hand picked. 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. Dosage 6 g/l. Warm, a bit toasty, rounded and a bit spicy, with rich pear and peach fruit. Has some depth here: a nice rich style. 88/100

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Grande Reserve Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc Brut 2015 Niagara, Canada
1000 cases. 12 months on lees, the minimum allowed by VQA, so as not to obscure the Sauvignon character. 12 g/l dosage. Lovely fruit here: tropical notes, a bit of grassiness, some table grape, and a bit of sweetness. Very attractive in a fruit forward style. This works really well. 87/100

Jackson-Triggs Moscato 2017 Niagara, Canada
Charmat method. The fermentation is stopped leaving some sugar. After a certain point with Moscato the terpenes start oxidising so it needs to be picked at relatively low Brix. This is the second year they have made it. They harvested at 19-21 Brix and were happy with the way the terpenes turned out. 60 g/l sugar. Highly aromatic: this has rich aromatic grapey characters. Very fruity and expressive and bright, this is bottled joy. Very nicely done. 88/100

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve White Meritage 2017 Niagara, Canada
80% Sauvignon and 20% Semillon this year, but it can vary. Gives this some skin contact: destemmed grapes spend 4-8 hours in a tank, kept cold. No barrel. This has bright tropical fruit and some citrus brightness. Very clean, fruity and attractive with a crisp juiciness. Lovely fruit quality. 89/100

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2016 Niagara, Canada
Nice weight with well integrated oak. Very well balanced with good texture, fresh pear and white peach fruit and some citrus. Shows mealy, spicy intensity. 91/100

Arterra Chardonnay 2016 Niagara, Canada
No sulfites until after malolactic fermentation. 10-15% in barrel. This is a bold, rich, spicy style with rich toasty oak and some hazelnut. Generous pear and peach fruit here with a savoury, cedary, slightly minty edge. A very rich, satisfying style with bold pear and peach fruit. There’s a lot of personality in this wine. 89/100

Arterra Pinot Noir 2016 Niagara, Canada
In 2009 Marco started making apassimento here. He thinks it is well suited to the region. With the Arterra project, he tried it on the Pinot Noir. 20% of the grapes are dried for a bit and this portion is fermented separately in stainless steel. The 80% normal portion is fermented and aged in barrel. This is savoury and spicy with nice density. It’s grippy and a bit smoky with some spicy cherry and plum fruit. Quite dense and angular with a savoury twist on the finish. Needs time. 86/100

Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Shiraz 2015 Niagara, Canada
Lively, peppery and quite intense with high acidity. There’s some pepper and menthol here. Lots of dense, spicy, vivid fruit with some oak imprint. Lots of everything here with a distinctive, savoury, slightly medicinal twist. Supple and bright with high acidity. 88/100

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Restaurants: Hide, London

Hide is the hot new London opening of 2018. I’m not so good at catching new openings – I’m hardly in the country – but the Monday before last I ate there for the first time, curious to see what all the fuss is about. Here’s my brief review.

It’s owned by Yevgeny Chichvarkin, who is also owner of the fabulous Hedonism Wines, just round the corner from the restaurant. So one of the big appeals of Hide is that you can order wine from the extensive (and not just expensive) Hedonism list with a modest £30 cash mark-up, which seems extraordinarily generous once you are talking even modestly serious wine.

There are three elements to Hide: Above (swanky, tasting menu), Ground (a la Carte on the ground floor) and Below (cocktail bar). We dined at Above on the 10 course tasting menu (£95).

To get to Above you need to ascend the most elaborate staircase you can imagine. In swirling natural wood, it apparently cost £3 million alone. Money isn’t an object here: lots of staff have been recruited at higher-than-average salaries. And there are lots of staff: the staff to guest ratio is pretty insane, which means service is prompt and attentive.

The decor is nice in a modern Scandi sort of way, and much less fancy (in the show-off sense) than I was expecting. It’s a bright, airy space.

The food? As you can see from this picture of the first course, it’s clever and intricate, and slightly over the top. The pheasant quill as a serving implement; the simple but delicious vegetables; and a lovely broth. All together. There’s variety and surprise here. The only disappointing dish was the lamb, which was perfectly correct in its sous vide paleness, but seemed a very cautious and predictable way of preparing it.

Overall impressions? Very positive. It’s high end, and it delivers. It’s a beautiful space, and while I won’t be rushing back for the ever so slightly cautious yet visually arresting and technically astute cooking, the thought of raiding Hedonism’s list with good food is an appealing one. There are wines on that list that you just can’t find anywhere else, aside from the seriously expensive glitz.

Matassa, revisiting the debut vintage

I found a bottle of Matassa’s first release kicking around. I bought a six-pack from Sam Harrop when it was first released (£15 a bottle then) and tucked it away. This was the 2002 vintage, and just 1800 bottles were made. I think, if I recall correctly, that this was from a single old Carignan vintage. It has aged really well. Sam is no longer involved in the project.

Domaine Matassa 2002 Côtes Catalanes, France
From granitic slopes, and weighing in at just 12.5% alcohol, this has developed really nicely. Complex, lively and spicy with lovely intensity. Vivid, fresh red cherry and blackberry fruit. Juicy and fresh with real finesse. Linear, pure fruit and real elegance. 94/100

Video: the Finger Lakes Wine Region

I’m just back from a trip visiting the wine regions of New York State. Here’s a short film giving you an idea of what the Finger Lakes, the largest of the wine regions here, looks like.

Over the next week or so I’ll be writing up the visits in full detail, explaining a bit about the wine regions of New York – and what makes them special – and also recommending some of my favourite wines and producers. For now, though, there’s just this short film to whet your appetite.

In Niagara, Canada: Stratus

I’ve been to Stratus a couple of times now. It’s such a distinctive winery, with a very modern design. This isn’t surprising: it was established by David Feldberg, president and CEO of the Teknion furniture business, and whose father Saul was the founder of the Global Furniture Corporation.

Stratus’ impressive winery relies on gravity flow and geothermal energy. In 2005 it became the world’s first LEED-certified winery.

The vineyard is 62 acres divided into 44 different plots with 16 different varieties, and it’s part of the Niagara Lakeshore subregion.

The winemaker here is the extravagantly bearded JL Groux, and he hails from France’s Loire Valley. His signature is harvesting at full maturity, and in a typical vintage, three-quarters of the vintage will take place in November. Initially, the idea at Stratus was to create complexity through blending, and while the Stratus White and Red are still the core of the range, varietal wines have been added. As this tasting showed, these late-picked blends do age well.

Stratus Chardonnay 2015
40% new oak. Fresh with nice intensity. Toasty, nutty edge to the bright pear and pineapple fruit. Has a slight cedary edge. Fresh style with a savoury character. 91/100

Stratus White 2014
54% Chardonnay, 35% Sauvignon, 5% Semillon, 5% Viognier, 1% Gewurztraminer. No new oak. Unusual stuff: fresh with a fennel edge to the citrus and pear fruit, with some table grape notes and a bit of green tea character. Has some subtle green notes. 90/100

Stratus White 2007
85% new oak. Supple and expressive with tangerine, pear and apricot notes. Has some spiciness with a bit of fine toastiness. Has developed really nicely. Very subtle green hints and nice fine toasty notes. Lots of life in this still. 92/100

Stratus Gamay 2015
13.7% alcohol. 15% whole bunch, then aged in old barrels. Sweet liqueur like cherry and berry fruits here. Very sweet and seamless but with a bit of spicy grip on the palate. Ripe fruit dominates this. Has nice brightness countering. Very attractive. 91/100

Stratus Red 2014
13% alcohol. 52% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 2% Syrah. 34% new oak. Fresh, vivid and crunchy with nice blackcurrant and raspberry fruit. Grainy and gravelly with nice structure and good acidity. Fresh style with ageability. 92/100

Stratus Red 2007
40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 5% Gamay. 88% new oak. Nicely savoury with a gravelly, cedary edge to the attractive plum and berry fruit. Has developed really nicely into a savoury maturity, and the oak has integrated well. Fresh and structured. 92/100

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2015
35% new oak. Nice ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit with a slightly cedary, savoury twist. Ripe but balanced with nice warmth and concentration. 91/100

Status Decant Cabernet Franc 2015
In the very distinctive bottle from designer Karim Rashid. 50% new oak. Intense and concentrated with spicy oak and dark black fruits. Bold, firm and tannic with nice acidity. Very tannic and intense. 90/100

Stratus Botrytis Semillon 2016
81 g/l sugar. Complex and tangy with nice pineapple, apricot and lemon notes. Sweet but balanced with a lovely crisp, spicy finish. Has good concentration, but it feels quite light and expressive. 92/100

Stratus Riesling Icewine 2017
125 g/l sugar. Balanced and pure with sweet citrus, pear and apple fruit. Lovely acidity with a slight honeyed edge and some grapey characters. Not as intense as some icewines, but very pure and quite elegant. 92/100

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On jealousy

Jealousy is one of the ugliest of emotions. A quote, popularly attributed to Gore Vidal, reads thus: ‘It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.’ That sort of professional jealousy, common in the media, isn’t very nice. It raises its head at award ceremonies, and when one of your colleagues releases a new, positively acclaimed book, or when a friend gets a headline speaking gig you thought might have been yours. And how many writers, initially eager to nurture young talent, suddenly turn when they realise the talent they are nurturing has the possibility of eclipsing (or even simply coming close) to theirs?

When it comes to wine regions, there’s often a bit of jealousy around. There might be a producer who has been working hard for 20 years making good, solid wines in reasonable quantities. And then all the visiting journalists talk about is a young winemaker producing six barrels of funky natural wine who’s only in their second vintage. But it needn’t be that way. The most important thing when a journalist or influencer visits a wine region is that they come away enthused and excited. The wines don’t need to be commercially relevant and it’s not necessary for the winegrowers visited to have paid their dues. A rising tide floats all boats and if a region becomes sexy and gets some limelight, then that benefits everyone. There will always be trends and fads, and there’s always a fascination with the new, novel or esoteric on the part of journalists. Don’t waste negative energy on jealousy: if you do your thing conscientiously and well, your turn will come.

Jealousy also rears its ugly head in personal relationships. I’ve been in a couple of relationships over the last few years and, to be honest, I’ve never thought of myself as a jealous person. But in these new relationships, it’s been a surprise when suddenly jealous feelings pop up out of nowhere, with minimal provocation. And it’s a very uncomfortable emotion indeed. I’ve had to take a step to the side, and look in, and say ‘what’s happening here?’ My conclusion is that it’s an entirely negative emotion, and it’s usually unjustified. It’s a shadow of psychology that has deep evolutionary roots . In a small tribal society (of the sort in which our current psychology evolved), you need to be a little bit vigilant, because in evolutionary terms a successful female mating strategy is to choose a kind, solid partner and then have kids via a more alpha-male type without the solid partner finding out. The safe guy will then raise this alpha-male-sired kid with all those strong genes. So males need to be a bit vigilant or they might end up raising someone else’s kids. This is, of course, not a justification for this behaviour. It’s just that it’s a potentially successful strategy on the part of the genes and thus such behaviour will likely maximize differential reproductive success. It’s a depressing reality. Fortunately, we also have empathy and personal morality which can help counter this sort of thing. Most of us want to be kind, good people, not selfish douches who can’t control our urges.

So that occasional jealous pang is a ghost from our evolutionary past, and the best way to deal with this is to silence the voice when you hear it. If you nurture jealous feelings, or give them air time, you will be miserable. And vigilance isn’t going to stop your partner cheating if that is what they want to do. Sometimes, of course, your partner may step over some agreed boundary, and a conversation will be needed. But most of the time jealousy is unfounded, and it can also be very hypocritical if you have different standards for what is acceptable for you and what is acceptable for them. It’s always good to do a quick personal inventory to check that you aren’t judging others more harshly you judge yourself. Ultimately it all comes down to trust. If you can’t trust your partner, then you have a big problem that vigilance and jealous feelings will not help in the slightest.

The best solution is to remember that another’s success is not your failure. You have your portion, and you don’t need more. Be grateful for what you get. By all means strive to do better, but don’t be so driven that anything less than number one – or all of the trophies in life – will satisfy you. You cannot be friends with jealousy.

From time to time it will knock; if you open the door and invite it in, it will consume you.

A lovely orange wine from Vermont: Iapetus Tectonic

I met Ethan Joseph of Iapetus Wine in Nova Scotia last year, and recently again with Nathan Kendall in the Finger Lakes. He gave me a bottle of his orange wine, made with hybrid grape La Crescent, fermented on skins. This shows lovely character and personality. Ethan is winemaker at Shelburne Vineyard in Vermont, which is where these grapes come from, but this is his personal project. He also makes a Pet Nat under this label.

Iapetus Wine Tectonic 2016 Vermont, USA
This is La Crescent on skins, 14% alcohol. It’s complex, dry and tangy with notes of citrus, spice, apricots and pear. This has a lively bite but it’s also quite structured and fresh, showing real detail and a nice acid bite. Bright and linear with purity and focus. A really lovely wine, beautifully packaged and a great bargain at $24. 93/100

Some impressive wines from Frankland Estate, Western Australia

I enjoyed revisiting these wines from Frankland Estate, and the current releases are really impressive. Head 250 km east of the Margaret River wine region in Western Australia, and you’ll hit the remote Frankland River region. With the coast quite a distance south, this is a cool climate wine region. Frankland Estate was established here in 1988 on the Smith family sheep station, and has established a strong reputation for its wines. Summers are warm and dry but the vines are dry grown, with their own Isolation Ridge vineyard organically farmed: there are very few pests and diseases here.

Frankland Estate Poison Hill Riesling 2017 Frankland River, Western Australia
Poison Hill is a 3 hectare vineyard located on a hill where the Heartleaf Bush, poisonous to all but indigenous animals, is found. It has white clay and weathered quartz soils. Whole bunch pressed, settled and cold fermented in tank. 13% alcohol. This is dry, mineralic and intense with lots of flavour. Taut citrus fruit with pretty floral notes, a bit of yellow plum and some nectarine richness. Lovely mouthfeel: this has a really nice linear quality with texture and fine spiciness, leading to a long finish. It’s quite structured but not at all austere, and really pretty. 94/100

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling 2017 Frankland River, Western Australia
Vines planted in 1988 on duplex soils of ironstone gravel over a clay sub-soil at 256 m. Most is stainless steel fermented at low temperature, but some is fermented in neutral oak. 12.5% alcohol. Very tight and linear with some grapefruit and lemon fruitiness, and keen acidity. Dry, mineral and intense with bracing acidity. Such a bright, vital wine that should age beautifully once it begins to unfurl. Has real finesse and fine spiciness on the palate. 94/100

Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward 2015 Frankland River, Western Australia
Named after Dr Harold Olmo, the Californian viticulturist who first identified the viticultural potential of the Frankland River in 1956. Mainly Cabernet Franc with some Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot from theIsolation Ridge Vineyard (duplex soils of gravel and loam over a clay sub-soil). Organic farming. Impeccable balance is the hallmark of this wine, which shows just what the Bordeaux varieties are capable of in this part of Western Australia. It has some sweet fruit – blackcurrant, blackberries and a hint of damson – but it’s not too sweet. The fruit carries itself quite delicately, and is supported by good acidity, a bit of cedary spiciness (although the oak is in the background, not up front) and some delightful chalky, green hints that add interest. Beautiful poise here: a wine made in a classically old world style, but with the generosity of fruit that has a bit of the new world to it. Should age effortlessly over the next couple of decades. 95/100

Frankland Estate Shiraz 2016 Frankland River, Western Australia
14% alcohol. From estate vineyards on ironstone soils. This has perfumed, supple, expressive black cherry and blackberry fruit with lavender, mint and ginger spice notes adding interest. There’s a bit of black pepper, too. Nicely expressive and detailed with a bit of grip on the finish. 91/100

Frankland Estate Chardonnay 2016 Frankland River, Australia
12.5% alcohol. This is textured and nicely weighted with a mineral edge to the toast, pear and peach fruit. It’s mealy and quite rich, but balanced by nice citrussy freshness. Lovely balance here. 92/100

These wines are available in the UK through their agent Berry Bros & Rudd

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Les Tourelles de Longueville 2013 Pauillac, tasted on camera

How does a second wine from a vintage widely regarded to be the worst of the decade shape up? I taste the Tourelles 2013 and discuss this question. And should wines be rated relative to their peer group, or should reviewers attempt, as best as they can, to give an absolute score across all styles of wines?

Heres my note:

Les Tourelles de Longueville 2013 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Second wine of Pichon Baron. This is fresh, bright and balanced with sweet blackcurrant fruit, as well as supple cherry notes with a bit of gravel and spice. It’s medium weight and nicely poised, with well integrated green notes sitting alongside the smooth, sweet, focused fruit. This is not a blockbuster, but it’s all the better for it. There’s a lovely harmony, purity and balance here, and it should develop nicely. It’s definitely made in a lighter style, with more Merlot, but I think the people who score hierarchically and by vintage reputation are missing something here: it’s a really supple, fresh, pretty wine with plenty of structure and grip. Benchmark Claret. 91/100