The Wine Show – Series One Round-up & Review

Last weekend saw the broadcast of the final episode of The Wine Show, the first UK mainstream channel series devoted to wine since Oz and James left our screens in 2007.  The series was independently produced by Infinity Creative media and tendered out to the networks as a finished product.  Without the guarantee that the show would be picked up it’s all credit to those involved for having the foresight and production values to be able to get wine back on the small screen without a direct commission.

wine show 1

Hosted by actors and self-confessed wine novices Matthew Rhys and Matthew Goode, their journey to becoming better acquainted with the world of wine is supported by experts Joe Fattorini and Amelia Singer.  Together they make a great team who are always engaging on screen, with particular praise going to Matthew Rhys who is naturally funny and always ready with a witticism.

Joe: “Why did you choose this wine?”

Rhys: “Mine was the cheapest”

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Joe: “I have a dilemma”

Rhys (who is Welsh): “I know Dai Lemma, lovely boy!”

They’re clearly all having a great time and this selection of bloopers shows you just how much.  It’s also a pleasure to see that Joe, true to his word in the show, is readily available via Twitter and happy to chat to you about wine.  He truly seems like a chap you could go for a drink with.

Each episode follows a standard format, beginning with a filmed section from somewhere in the wine world, followed by a look at wine gadgets, food and wine matching, choosing a bottle of wine to create the perfect Italian case, and then one final filmed piece.

As a lover of wine facts and wine education, something I initially struggled with was the radical change of presentation style that’s been used.  Gone are the days of an introduction as to how wine is made, what styles are available, and why it is made in the countries that it is made in.  With this show you are straight in to a wine adventure, picking grapes at 4am in a vineyard in South Africa.

When I try to help others to understand the complex world of wine I always start with a few core fundamentals to give them something to balance upon; key grape varieties being one obvious example.  This didn’t seem like a first concern here and I was amused to note that the first mention of a grape variety comes a full 27 minutes in to the programme (and even this was by the guest chef rather than the hosts).  Consequently I struggled to identify whether they were trying to make wine look sexy for novices or to teach people already interested in wine, facts that they wouldn’t find in a textbook (which is done amply in the stunning location shoots).

Even though Joe is on hand to clarify the finer points, both Matt’s tasting notes frequently start and stop with “ooh, that’s good” or “I like that”.  Bottle labels aren’t poured over to wean out details such as alcohol levels, and scarcely any mention is given to bottle price, retailers or availability.  To their credit, all of the information is available on their website and signposted as such in the show, so is completely available should you wish to delve deeper.  Keeping it simple on screen allows each piece to remain relevant to all without becoming bogged down in the detail.

Once the series hit its stride my concerns were alleviated (episodes 3 and 7 are particularly brilliant in storytelling wine history and wine future) and, as each episode is standalone and could technically be slotted in anywhere in the series, I do wonder if they just started with the wrong episode?

Perhaps it was chosen as it was the only one to feature wine stalwart Bordeaux?  Opening proceedings with the sweet wines of Constantia before going on to talk about a £300 cork removal device seemed just a little bit too niche for the average viewer in my opinion.

Created initially for my own reference, I thought I would share my personal view of the series content and where I think each item sits in terms of accessibility (green indicates accessible to all, amber less so).  It’s worth clarifying that all of the content is interesting, but where gadgets/bottle prices have slipped in to the £100’s of pounds, or chef created food dishes move on from what the average viewer is likely to re-create (lobster with cabbage and strawberry cake, for example), I’ve moved the accessibility up to amber.

For completeness, I have colour coded the intro’s/outro’s in dark blue and advert breaks in grey.

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As you can see from the above, the series covers 11 countries: Portugal, Chile, France, South Africa, Australia/Tasmania, Italy, USA, Moldova, China, Santorini, and Israel.  Making full use of the allotted travel budget (and who could blame them) there were multiple films from some of the further flung places, whilst other regions were left out of the mix.

I can only hope that a second series is quickly commissioned and we get to explore the absent big hitters such as Spain, Germany and, dare I say, England!

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Laithwaites Premiere Tasting – July 2016

Laith Prem July 16

Time for the latest Laithwaites Premiere wines now and, after a good year in the scheme, this is the first time that I’ve received a wine that I’m already familiar with.  When you’ve found a wine that you know you like it’s easy to enjoy it, forgetting about the mechanics, so I welcome the opportunity to critically evaluate it again.

First we head over to Spain and the north-west central region of Rueda which is known mainly for white wines, including their speciality grape Verdejo.  A nicely warm continental climate gives the vines hot sunshine during the day and, when twinned with the high altitude of the plantings, cool temperatures at night allowing the grapes to fully develop their aromas and flavours.

Tesoro de Castilla Verdejo 2015, Castilla, Spain, 12.5%, £7.99

In the glass this is a pale lemon colour with subtle golden green hints.  The nose is full of waxy lemon citrus, white florality (reminiscent of a lily) and has a good level of intensity to draw you towards it.

The palate has a good medium weight with a waxy oily quality much like a Chardonnay.  The first fruit hit is the generous lemon and lime citrus followed by a touch of grassiness.  By law some Verdejo’s (not labelled as Rueda Verdejo) can include as little as 50% Verdejo in the blend with the rest topped up with either Sauvignon Blanc or Macabeo (Viura), and this can account for the SB like grassy qualities.  In this case though the wine is 100% Verdejo and so it is down to mere grape similarity.

The acid is well balanced with the fruit creating a juicy, gloopy, almost voluptuous mouth-feel.  There’s a tangy fruity end to the palate which lasts for some time, and even perhaps a small amount of tannin.

The wine is clearly all about the core citrus fruits and I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.  Having conducted some research on the Laithwaites website I found that this wine has scored slightly less than 2 stars out 5.  Added to this was the fairly low price-point of £7.99 (when compared to other Premiere offerings) and I was ready to treat this as a fairly academic review.  When reviewing a wine I usually conduct it based on my initial thoughts from the first appearance, returning to clarify my views with a glass later in the day or even in the following days.

Imagine my surprise then when I was fully about to start my third glass without writing even the first line of a tasting note.  I tasted this on a gloriously warm day which perhaps worked to the wine’s advantage, but many of the lower starred reviews had commented on an unbalanced acidity of which I saw no sign at all.  A good bottle and one which I would happily purchase again.

Papavero

Il Papavero Primitivo 2014, Puglia, Italy, 14%, £8.99

Primitivo (aka Zinfandel in the US or Tribidrag in Croatia) is a spicy plummy grape from Puglia in southern Italy.  This bottle is a Laithwaites customer favourite (me included) so it is no surprise that I have enjoyed it on many occasions.  I do find it odd that it forms part of the palate-expanding Premiere scheme when it is so widely recognised, and perhaps Laithwaites could have included the equally well-rated, but not so best-selling white or rosato from the range.

If the map view of Italy is shaped like a boot, then Puglia is situated at the heel of the boot. The land here is flat and rolling and one respected wine academic once described it to me as ‘the heel without the hills’.

Care has gone in to the presentation of the bottle with the label (highlighting the English translation of ‘Il Papavero’) depicting a poppy.  In the glass this is a dense, dark (but not quite opaque), ruby purple.

The nose is forthcoming and full of ripened black cherry, pepper spice, brambles and vanilla, and feels warm, velvety, rich and rewarding.  Nestled amongst the vibrantly youthful fruit there are also tertiary characters lurking and I could detect leather and tobacco.

The Palate, like the nose, is rich and fresh and full of black cherry, pepper spice and meaty characters.  The overall palate feels complex yet smooth and mellow, and thoroughly impressive at this price-point.

There’s also the Italian hallmark of high acidity (allowing the wine to be enjoyed with the local cuisine of tomato and meat dishes) but it counterpoints equally with the richer meatier aspects of the wine.  A pleasure to drink.

Verdict: A tough one this month as the Il Papavero absolutely has the upfront complex qualities, but there’s kudos points for the hidden charms of the Tesoro de Castilla, so I’ll call it a draw.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #4 – July

A quick glance back at last month’s report on the progress of my vines shows that I requested less rain and lots more sun to help the vines along.  I couldn’t have been more rewarded and, as I write, we are seeing some of the hottest July weather on record with the mercury hitting the low thirties.

The preceding weeks of this mini-heatwave have been firmly nestled in the range of 20-23°C, making it a largely warm month, punctuated by the odd shower here and there to clear the heat.

Chard July 16

In the above picture we can see that flowering has finally started on my Chardonnay but is still in it’s early days.  What it lacked in vigour these past 8 weeks has finally become a thing of the past and, along with my MVN3 (mystery variety number 3), has required careful trimming to curb its growth.

Ortega July 16

The Ortega has found (as I seem to recall it did last year too) a certain decent height that mirrors the top of my trellising and remains at that level.  In a similar fashion to last year it is also the vine to suffer the most obvious signs of infection, requiring careful removal of leaves with lumps full of a white powder (caused by blister mites, and can be seen in the picture above if you look really closely).

MVN3 July 16

Finally, my MVN3 continues to lead in the growth stakes and has some pretty sizeable clusters forming.  It’s a shame that I still don’t know what it is!

The forecast for the next two weeks continues to be warm, although back to the much more acceptable levels of 20-23°C, which will be nice.

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Le Petit Ballon – Clos de l’ours Rosé Tasting

I was recently introduced to Le Petit Ballon, a French wine subscription service who have amassed over 40,000 customers, making them the number one choice in the country. Since their 2011 launch, this success has seen them expanding in to both Belgium and the UK in 2015 and, in the current age of ‘time-poor’ consumers favouring convenience at every step, monthly subscription boxes are booming.

In the UK wine market things remain fairly uncrowded with perhaps half a dozen players vying for your custom, and so it is a ripe time to be offering a new option.

Le Petit Ballon

The no-commitment service operates at two different price-points to ensure that you stay in control of the types of wines that you’d like to try.  Each monthly package consists of two full (75cl) bottles of wine and a full colour magazine (‘The Gazette’) telling you all you need to know about the wines you will be tasting.  Membership also brings the added benefit of receiving at least 20% off the range of artisan wines offered in their online shop, and this ensures that should you find your dream wine on the scheme, you’ll be able to order further supplies no matter how rare the producer.

The first package on offer is ‘Grape Expectations’ which focuses on showcasing great value wines from artisan producers you won’t find on the high-street.  The second, higher tier is the ‘Age of Raisin’ package, focusing on more prestigious labels.

All of the wines featured in the service have been personally selected by Jean-Michel Deluc, a former Sommelier Chef at The Ritz and a man with many other culinary credits to his name, so is a palate you can trust.

For summer 2016 Le Petit Ballon have just launched a new cache of Rosé wines, and I leapt at the chance to give one a try from producer Clos de l’ours.  Ours translates as ‘bear’ which is a nod to the bear-like qualities of winemaker Michel (who would easily be able to give you a bear hug) and he is also referenced in the name of the blend ‘Grizzly’ (Michel has a big beard!).

Clos de l’ours was founded in 2012 (although the vineyards have been in operation much longer) and whilst they are still in the early years of business they have a clear philosophy of how they want to farm their land.  Respectful of the existing vines being farmed organically since 2000, they continue to use minimal intervention in the wine-making process to allow nature to take its own course.

Le Petit Ballon 2

Clos de l’ours Grizzly Organic Rosé (blend) 2015, Provence, France, 14%, £13.90 (£11.90 to subscribers)

The colour of this wine is a pale-ish pink, conjuring up for me the colour of farmed salmon with hints of onion skin. It looks clear, clean, fresh and inviting, and the slate-grey colour of the label immediately sets off the pale colour of the wine superbly.  The blend is a veritable compendium of the classic southern french red grapes of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvédre, Carignan and Cinsault, with the addition of the white grape Rolle to finish it off.

The nose was nicely forthcoming and full of various red fruits, but in the main strawberries and redcurrant.  In addition to this there was a discernible dash of lemon citrus and a whiff of smokiness at the tail end.

The first thing I notice on the palate is the wonderful depth that the wine exudes, which is an instant hit of pure fruit and a silky creamy weight.  Once again the red fruits are clean, nicely ripe and balanced with a medium fresh acid that is present, but happy to let the juicy fruits come to the fore.  Once again we are mixing strawberry and redcurrants, with background notes of raspberry and pomegranate.

The finish is long and carried by the creaminess and the smoky salty minerality you always find in a decent Provence Rosé.

Even though this wine is all about showcasing well delivered pure fruit, there’s an inbuilt complexity that makes this absolutely worth the price.  In my search for more words to describe its creamy rich body I kept returning to the glass time and time again and, although I failed to find the words, I was still amply rewarded with a well-realised wine.

I absolutely look forward to trying other wines in the range, and indeed, others offered by Le Petit Ballon.  You can find out more, as well as getting more info on their subscription options by visiting http://www.lepetitballon.com/uk/

With thanks to Clementine Communications and Le Petit Ballon for the bottle used in this tasting.

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Champagne in the 1890’s (Part 2)

In this fifth and final part of my historical series, we look back to the world of Champagne at the end of the 1890’s.

The vintages of both 1894 and 1895 were poor, but whilst the former year went universally undeclared, several of the better growers attempted to salvage something from the latter.

Mercier3

From a weather point of view growers would have been glad to see the back of the damp dismal spring conditions which saw much of the crop blighted by mildew.  By harvest time the sun was shining again and spurred some of the better growths to attempt a Vintage wine.  Many of the lesser growths avoided the exercise, probably all too aware that there was still a substantial amount of the massive (and better quality) 1893 Vintage still in the market place.  In time they would be the ones shown to be vindicated.

Only those who purchased and quickly consumed the wine would manage to avoid a sediment that many of the bottles gave off, even with just a small amount of ageing time.  The particles and their associated ‘smoky’ quality completely ruined the crystal clear aesthetic that consumers had come to expect and, even though the wines tasted fair, in the end much of it was returned to the shippers as ‘faulty’.

One London entrepreneur, keen to capitalise on the situation, was reported as foregoing his opportunity to return the bottles for a full refund (plus interest) and sold on the 1895 vintage as either ‘thick’ or ‘clear’.  With the thicker wine sold at a slightly cheaper price-point to acknowledge the quality difference, this was a very early example of giving the customers the option of tasting Champagne in varying styles.  The experiment worked and despite him technically only having half of his stock in saleable condition he soon sold out of his allocation completely.

1896 provided a yield as prolific as the 1893 but unfortunately it did not have the quality to match and was not offered as a vintage Champagne.  1897 was an even worse failure being only of average quality and with a tiny yield akin to the low level of the 1892.

Whilst 1898 saw an average sized yield, quality ranged from very good to very poor which created something of a mixed final product.  Only those shippers who were prepared to sacrifice any harm to their reputation in favour of having a product in the market after several lean years shipped this as a Vintage year.

Mercier2

As if to save the best for last, the final year of the decade (and indeed the century) saw wines of great quality produced.  The 1899 was a spectacular return to a quality not seen since 1892, but like this earlier vintage it also only delivered the quality in a small yield.  The forefather of modern wine writing Andre Simon described it as having the greenish tint of ‘Australian gold’ (as opposed to the reddish gold of a UK sovereign), and that it had a finality of expression unlike any other.  In addition, due to the fact that good quality Champagne had been some years in coming forward, merchants were happy to keep prices realistic and even swallowed a duty rise of 5 shillings per bottle up to 7 shillings per bottle so that they could keep their allocations.

Due to a strange quirk of fate and in spite of the demand it wasn’t just the limited number of bottles available that meant that this great wine would disappear from shelves fairly quickly. As they sat ageing in the cellars the Vintage of 1900 came along and being of equal quality and of much greater quantity it was widely favoured over the 1899.

At this point in time, due to the varying weather conditions seen from year to year, in was unlikely that you would get a Vintage release in consecutive years.  It even became something of an unwritten rule in the industry that consecutive vintages would not be released as it would help to preserve the notion that any declarations reflected the pinnacle of a growers offerings.  It seems unthinkable today that such a good wine would be kept aside when there was a perfectly good market awaiting it although it does occasionally happen (the 1990 over-shadowing the also great 1989 vintage is one recent example).

This side-stepping of a Vintage could have marked a somewhat muted end to the century that had seen Champagne come of age, but with exports to the UK higher than ever before (10 million bottles shipped across), producers would have been content enough.

The following century, which saw Phylloxera finally taking hold and the physical destruction and financial instability caused by both World Wars, was now only just a blur on the horizon.

That, as they say, is another story.

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Champagne in the 1890’s (Part 1)

In the fourth part of this historical series, we look back to the world of Champagne at the start of the 1890’s.

Perrier Jouet Car

The final decade of the 19th century was known by some as the ‘gay nineties’, a time of peace and prosperity where the notion of care-free enjoyment spread throughout the population.  Catering for people who were keen to see and be seen, London was a vibrant hive of new restaurant openings including the Savoy in 1888 and the Trocadero in 1896.  The thriving rail network was also growing in expanse and prominence, opening up socialising opportunities to an ever growing number of people in the provinces.  When celebrating the good times there was only one drink to be seen with; Champagne.

If this all paints a rosy picture in England, for the French the beginning of the 1890’s would see their worst expectations realised, and the beginning of a battle that would haunt them for many years to come.

They would have begun the decade in an optimistic mood.  The 1889 had been the best wine of recent times and, although it had only yielded a small crop, this scarcity led to higher prices achieved in the market which was clearly good news.  In the end, they would need this extra revenue to carry them through the poor harvests of both 1890 and 1891, neither of which were considered of vintage quality.  This process of taking the rough with the smooth was very much part of daily life for wine producers at this time, but there would have been one additional problem lurking in the back of their minds.

Thus far Champagne had managed to avoid the widespread devastation caused by Phylloxera (the vine destroying louse).  Although most of France had already succumbed, the louse had yet to affect the northern French vineyards of the Loire and Champagne, as well as those in the lower half of Germany.  Many believed that it was the cooler climates of these northern European sites that kept them safe but, as they would soon find out, they were wrong.

The Marne was the first area to report a problem.  Champagne giant Moét & Chandon immediately bought the affected vineyard and burnt every last vine in an attempt to curtail the outbreak but it was too late.  The only let-off they would get would be that the louse took it’s time with the Champagne vines, attacking at a much slower pace than elsewhere.  By 1897 only 13 acres of vines had been affected but this figure would quickly rise to 90 acres the following year and balloon to 237 acres by the close of the decade.  This meant that for all the usual struggles vignerons went through to get bottles of Champagne to the market, there was a constant backdrop of trying new pesticides, vineyard flooding and numerous other witches brews to drive the Phylloxera away.

1892 was one of the smallest vintages on record with only 12.7 million bottles produced.  To put this in to context the yearly average at this time was just over 24 million bottles, so it was virtually half of what they needed to survive.  Once again, this scarcity had an effect on bottle prices which steadily rose up as consumers continued celebrating the ‘good times’.

Quantity would be more than catered for with the harvest of 1893 which brought in a whopping 74 million bottles.  Both the 1892 and 1893 were of vintage quality yet each completely distinct in terms of profile.  Whilst the 1892 showed more under-ripe fruits and had a steely acidity, the 1893’s were well ripened and described as ‘luscious and delicious’.  Over time though the 1892’s softened down and went on to be considered the better of the pair, with the 1893’s gaining a beeriness and dark gold colouring.  It seemed as though their muscle had soon turned to fat.

The unwanted consequence of such a large volume of Champagne hitting the market at the same time meant that the price per bottle changed again – this time downwards.  The persistent warm weather that had well ripened the fruit of 1893 had caused a drought in many of the Champagne vineyards, with the wells in some smaller villages drying up completely.  With small farmers having little else to barter with it was said that if you were to deliver water supplies to these remote areas you would be paid with bottles of Champagne.

It may seem like a dream, but there truly was a time and a place where Champagne was cheaper than water.

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