This is super cool. O-Port-Unidade is a charity Port, organized by Axel Probst, German fighter pilot and Port lover (his website is World of Port). 24 Port producers (with one famous absentee, I guessed correctly who this was) joined in, donating old vine grapes (average age 35 years) to the project from the 2013 vintage. In all, 20 tons of grapes arrived at the Niepoort winery on 22 September 2013, and they were foot trodden by the contributing producers, plus Axel.
It’s going to be bottled in June this year, and I tried a cask sample of it. I haven’t got detailed notes, but I can say that it is rich, intense, bold, vivid and powerful. But it’s also beautifully balanced, with a lovely freshness. This is a serious young vintage Port of the highest quality, with a good back story.
Dirk Niepoort is in town, so yesterday we arranged to have lunch at Kitchen W8. It’s been a while since I caught up with Mr Niepoort, who is one of my top wine heroes. He brought along his new Bairrada wine, Poeirinho, and also a small bottle containing a mystery wine: it turned out to be a Madeira from 1795, which is by some distance (20 years) the oldest wine I have consumed.
As an aside, Kitchen W8 is an exceptional restaurant. It was my first time here, and the food was superb. The wine list is good but not great and could do with a bit of work. Service was spot on. It’s owned by Philip Howard, the chef and co-owner (with Nigel Platts Martin) of The Square. It has a Michelin star, but it could, I reckon, get two on yesterday’s showing.
Poeirinho Baga 2012 Bairrada, Portugal
It says 12% on the label, but this is actually 11.6% alcohol. It’s made from Dirk Niepoort’s two vineyards in the region, plus bought in grapes. The Niepoort vineyards are over 80 years old, and the youngest brought in grapes are from 100 year old vines. Half is made in lagares with an average of about 60% stems, and the other half has longer maceration with around 15% stems. The wine is aged in old barrels of 2500 litres, and 15 000 litres were made, of which only half has been bottled so far. Amazingly fresh and lively with intense, vibrant red cherry and blackberry fruit. Really focused with nice tannic structure, as you’d expect from Baga. Pure, linear and super fine, a wine that speaks of its terroirs. Dirk reckons that Bairrada has the best terroirs in Portugal. He says this wine is ‘exactly what my dream was about, except it is a lot better than I expected.’ 95/100
In this glass, an unnamed Madeira from the 1795 vintage! Amazingly intense, spicy and powerful with great acidity. Complex notes of raisins, citrus peel, some herbs, leather and earth. Profound and multidimensional, this doesn’t have any of the slightly deviant flavours that extremely old wines sometimes do. Scoring it is silly, but I’d give it 98/100. Remarkable.
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Some more Canadian highlights. They might be tough to locate, but they are worth the chase.
Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
Thomas Bachelder is one of Canada’s winemaking heroes. This Chardonnay has a wonderful matschstick/mineral and spice edge to the nutty nose. Very fine and expressive palate with pear, peach, spice and lovely depth. This is serious. 94/100
Domaine Queylus Merlot Cabernet Franc Grande Reserve 2012 Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Stylish and fine with nice blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Sweet with a savoury, spicy edge. Generous and fleshy and quite delicious. 93/100
Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011 Four Mile Creek, Niagara, Canada
Refined and slightly mineral pear and peach nose. Lovely texture here: spicy and mealy in the mouth with nice density and a hint of creaminess. A lovely broad yet refined Chardonnay. 93/100
Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Vinemount Ridge, Niagara, Chardonnay
A rich but delicious Chardonnay from a Niagara newcomer (first vintage was 2012). Rich, creamy and toasty with pear and white peach fruit. Bold but refined with smooth textured fruit and nice personality. 93/100
Church & State Quintessential 2011 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A Bordeaux-style blend. Fresh, pure and direct with a gravelly, spicy edge to the black fruits. Superb effort showing lovely balance and focus, offering structure and purity. 93/100
Painted Rock Merlot 2009 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Very attractive supple blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with hints of tar and gravel. There’s a fleshy, fresh fruity core to this wine but it also has plenty of complexity, too. Sophisticated stuff. 92/100
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Thursday’s Canadian wine tasting and seminar at Canada House was a great success. Lots of energy and enthusiasm, great people, and some lovely wines. Here are some of my favourites, that you should try if you get a chance.
Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvee L 2012 Ontario, Canada
This is a blend of Prince Edward County and Niagara fruit. It has an amazing nose that’s super-refined with toast, nuts and minerals. The palate shows broad pear, ripe apple and spice notes with lovely peach and toast complexity and a mineral/citrus core. Quite profound. 94/100
Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2011 Niagara Peninsula, Canada
With a taut, mineral nose and a fresh lemony palate this is a really impressive, linear Chardonnay with amazing finesse and some good reduction supporting the fruit. Stunning effort. 94/100
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008 Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada
A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fine, expressive and creamy with some toasty notes and keen acidity. Fresh and lemony with a hint of nuts and cream. Impressive. 92/100
Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 Vancouver Island, Canada
Leafy, fresh and appealing with juicy red cherry fruit and lovely poise. Really pretty with a fine, leafy, sappy edge to the elegant, light, red cherry fruit. 93/100
Le Vieux Pin Cuvee Violette Syrah 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Violet, pepper and olive nose is really appealing. Fine, expressive, meaty black fruits palate with a sweet core of fruit wrapped in bright peppery notes. Very elegant style. 93/100
Hidden Bench Locust Lane Pinot Noir 2011 Beamsville Bench, Niagara
I really like this. It has a fresh, nicely defined cherry and raspberry nose. The palate shows supple plums and cherries with a slight waxiness and some faint meaty notes as well as focused pure fruit and some grippy structure. This is already lovely but has potential for further development. 93/100
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Spent the day today driving round English vineyards with two Canadian wine peeps, Andrew and Nicole. We visited three of the finest English producers, and each visit was quite special in its own way. Full write ups to come (of course), but for now some quick notes and a few pictures.
First visit was Nyetimber. Probably the most famous English sparkling wine producer, and rightly so. Brad Greatrix showed us around the home vineyard (above) and took us through an extensive tasting. Nyetimber have 150 hectares now, in 8 sites in Sussex (on greensand soils) and two newer sites in Hampshire (on chalk). The wines released so far have all come from greensand, and they show lovely delicacy and detail of fruit. The chalk soils will add structure and acidity to the wines, Brad reckons (they’ve only made wine from them since the 2013 vintage, and these aren’t in the blends yet).
Highlights? The 2010 Classic Cuvee, just released, is every bit as good as the fabulous 2009. The rose is quite special. The 2009 Tillington is profound, and it was nice to have a vertical of both the Blanc de Blancs and Classic Cuvee. In general, the wines here are getting better every year so go for the more recent vintages.
After a lovely pub lunch in Tillington, we headed to Hambledon. Ian Kellett has ambitious plans here, and his focus is on chalk soils and Chardonnay. The wines are pretty spectacular. We looked at the base wine blends from 2014 and they are just lovely. The current releases of the Premiere Cuvee and Classic Cuvee are quite special. Ian reckons that the goal for the English wineries should be for them to take 25% of Champagne’s market share in the UK (currently 33 million bottles) within a decade. He’s amazed that the Champenois aren’t paying more attention to the UK sparkling wine scene, because it is set to become a very serious competitor for this, the leading export market for Champagne, in a relatively short time.
The chalk soils give a lovely acid structure. Kellett’s approach is to take a non-vintage model, which makes a lot of sense.
We had a look at the gravity flow winery, together with its two ultra-cool Cocquard presses, which give an incredible level of control over the pressing stage, which is one of the critical points in fizz production.
The final stop was at Coates & Seely. Nicholas and Virginia Coates allowed us to invade their spectacular home in order for us to hear the story of Coates & Seely and taste their wine. Like Hambledon, these are wines made from grapes grown on chalk, and this gives them a keen acid structure and linearity. Coates & Seely are also aiming at a non-vintage model, and both the regular and rose NV are seriously good wines. Nicholas is very excited about the impending release of the Blanc de Blancs and the Perfide vintage Blanc de Blancs, which he thinks are very special. The pink Perfide is certainly a special wine.
It was a good way to end a really lovely day. I never thought I’d be taking foreign visitors round England’s top wineries like this. How far the English wine scene has come in such a short time, because all three of these producers are making world class wines in my opinion, and they aren’t alone.
Lovely lunch at my current favourite restaurant, Grain Store, today. The redevelopment at Kings Cross along the Regent’s Canal – where Grain Store is located – is looking good, and it was stunning in the May sunshine. Between two, we had three small plates and one large one, and came away well fed. On the wine front, we started with a glass of the Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2009, which is just fabulous. And then a bottle of the Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Von Den Terrassen 2013, which was bright and precise. The wine list is very good (but not quite great), scattered with quite a few interesting things, and it’s well priced.
This was a lovely dish: watermelon, Padron peppers and a pecorino and olive ‘truffle’
This was also superb. Raw mushrooms on a bed of broad bean and chick pea hummus, topped with a slow-cooked ducks egg.
This? It’s roast endives in Kimechi butter, with courgette spaghetti and hot smoked sea trout. Rich, comforting flavours.
This is butternut squash ravioli, mustard apricots and rocket. Grain Store is affordable, inventive and delicious. I also really like the space, with the open kitchen providing a nice focal point. It’s also cleverly acoustically baffled, so the noise level doesn’t get too high. It just works.
My view is that limited success is the enemy of real success. Many wineries are selling enough wine that they just keep going with their current strategies, even though these are not optimal, and are actually limiting their future success.
The problem is that when things are sort of working, people are reluctant to make the changes that they need to make for true progress. There are many potentially great wine businesses that will never fulfill their potential because they are doing OK.
For example, I recently visited a winery that is doing quite well. They are family owned and their success has allowed them to buy more wineries. The result is that they have a confusing portfolio, with a number of sub-brands and different winery names, all in the same sub-region. I can’t work out which sub-brand belongs to which winery, and there’s a lot of duplication in their range.
The winemaking is very good, and the wines taste great. The packaging is OK but not great, and – as with many wineries – their various websites are terrible. They seem to have grown organically, with no real strategy. Their problem? They are doing OK, so what could potentially be a great winery with a strong international reputation is actually an OK winery with good domestic sales.
What this winery needs to do is to start again with their branding and communications strategy, consolidating their range and deciding which name they are going to build their brand equity in: preferably the winery name. As they have a few wineries in the region, it would make sense to bring them under one banner, and cut out the duplicates, making a compact range of wines under a single winery brand.
This would save the duplication of effort. This would give them a great chance to get an excellent designer in and help them build the visual element of their brand. They could then begin an effective communications strategy with one good, modern website (no flash!) and an effective social media plan.
This sort of approach could help create something great, rather than something that is merely good. But it would require courage and vision. I suspect that the limited success that they currently enjoy will prevent them from pursuing this sort of approach, and will keep them merely bolting on and adapting the existing structure on the fly, rather than tearing it down to begin again. Limited success is so often the enemy of true success. Sadly, the period of limited success is just the time to start the hard work of rethinking branding strategy. Once you get to crisis, which is normally the time people are forced to rethink their approach, it is too late, because there are neither the time nor funds available to set about this rebuilding strategy.
Very impressed by this. It’s the Craggy Range Avery Vineyard Sauvignon, and it’s a very stylish, refined expression of the Marlborough style. It’s from a mature (22 year old) vineyard planted on stony soils between Blenheim and Renwick (in the Rapaura subregion), and it’s a relatively warm site.
Craggy Range Avery Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. Very lively and expressive with open tangerine and passionfruit characters. Smooth and beautifully textured with lovely focus and a bit of exoticism. This isn’t your herbaceous, green style, but has more of an emphasis on ripe fruit. A very pretty, balanced wine. 91/100 (£12.99 Waitrose)
Released today, some interesting stats on English wine. It’s a success story, for sure.
In 2014, production was the equivalent of 6.3 million 75 cl bottles, which is a 42% increase in volume over 2013 (which itself was a record breaking year). This is a reflection of a good growing season with the added impact of lots of new plantings coming on line.
There is no official breakdown of styles, but the two trade bodies, English Wine Producers (EWP) and United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA), reckon that of this 6.3 million bottles, there were 4 million bottles of sparkling wine produced.
The area under vine has doubled in seven years, and is now just over 2000 hectares. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most popular varieties. Bacchus, widely used for still wines, is the third most widely planted grape variety.
‘There’s no doubt about it,’ says Julia Trustram Eve of English Wine Producers, ‘England’s future is certainly a bright one.’ She cites a growing acreage, larger volumes to sell to meet demand and international recognition through competition successes as evidence for this. In addition, in 2016 the UK will host the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium. ‘It couldn’t be at a better time,’ says Julia.
Lunch today at Francis and Bronwen Percival’s place in Borough Market. As you’d expect, fabulous food and drink. Also present, Neil Beckett and Jasmine Hirsch. It was a lovely afternoon, and my brief notes on the wines and food can’t do it justice. We began with two excellent Champagnes. You always get good Champagne here.
Champagne Cédric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs NV France
This is a vintage 2007 wine. It’s a lovely bold, toasty rich style that’s powerful but refined with some precise lemony notes. Lively and intense with real power and focus. 93/100
Champagne Marie-Noëlle Ledru Ambonnay Grand Cru 2006 France
An insider Champagne. Marie-Noëlle Ledru owns six hectares of vines, five of which are in Ambonnay, and riddles and disgorges all her bottles by hand. This is very fine and complex with lemony, herby notes. It’s taut with a bit of spice and nice lemony notes. Complex and thrilling. 94/100
We then continued with some excellent food, well matched with lovely wines. And, of course, some of the best British cheeses.
Le Macchiole Paleo 2004 Tuscany, Italy
This is a varietal Cabernet Franc. It shows sweet, ripe, rich and smooth gravelly black cherry and blackberry fruits. Ripe, yes, but so fine and delicious with lovely fruit intensity. Compelling. 93/100
Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine L’Inédit 2009 Alsace, France
This is a special cuvee of Riesling from Weinbach, and it’s amazing stuff. Powerful, dry, spicy and intense with notes of citrus, lime, honey and pear. Off dry, concentrated and precise. 94/100
Kracher Nouvelle Vigne Zwiegelt TBA No 1 2004 Burgenland, Austria
Remarkable stuff. Orange/brown colour with some red hints. Sweet, intense and spicy with notes of raisins and herbs. So rich and textural, this is a dense, almost structured sweet wine of great intensity. 93/100
Wine needs to be put into context. There is only limited pleasure in wine on its own. While people like me obsess about great bottles, in truth there is only a certain amount of joy to be had from even the most incredible wine aside from the context of sharing a bottle with good company, and – ideally – matched with lovely food. Gastronomic pleasure needs to be in context, and to be honest we’d still have had a lovely lunch if only modest wines were served because of the context. But in this context, great wines are free to express themselves to their full extent.