Holy Smoke – Cannabis Wine is Coming!

Two words: Cannabis Wine.  It might sound like something invented by Willa Wonka, and yet, it is a real thing.  It’s coming.

Cannabis Leaf

In fact it’s been around for several years but, due to the differing possession laws from country to country, it’s been very hard and very costly to get your hands on a bottle.  The tail end of last year saw Canada follow the likes of Spain, Uruguay and various US States by legalizing the recreational use of Cannabis and, with another large world market opening up, the potential for infused drinks has moved a sizeable step forward. 

With many other countries allowing Cannabis possession for personal use, experts believe that it’s only a matter of time before more and more change their stance and get onboard with full legalisation.

Whilst Cannabis wine isn’t likely to replace the aesthetic pleasure of reaching, for example, for a Chilean Cabernet, low/no alcohol alternatives are very much in fashion, and there is already evidence that the latest generation of drinkers are shunning alcohol, such is the rising concern about what we put in to our bodies. 

Many wine drinkers would surely love to be able to get the same relaxed pleasure of taking a glass without the risk of a hangover, at a fraction of the calories and without ingesting alcohol.  And Cannabis users would surely love not to be risking their lungs each time they smoke it?

Cannabis Wine

So how does it work?  Avoiding any serious mind-altering implications, only the non-psychoactive stress-busting compounds of the Cannabis plant, such as CBD, are used.  The natural flavour profile of the leaf plays a dominant part to the taste and each producer will work to tease out the intricacies, in much the way standard wine is blended.

Whilst alcohol is a proven antiseptic and disinfectant, it has no health benefit to the body, but Cannabis has a long-proven track record of doing good, providing chronic pain relief, relieving stress disorders and treating epilepsy.  Being able to freely access a safe dosage, in a legal way, would be a benefit to users both existing and new.

That’s certainly what top drinks manufacturers are pinning their hopes on, and companies such as Diageo, AB InBev and Constellation (who collectively own top brands including Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Gordon’s, Bud and Stella) are already upping their investments in Cannabis growing companies.  One is actually selling off some of its established brand portfolio to fund the move.  With other possibilities on the table, such as infused sparkling water, even Coca-Cola are reported to be in talks.

Whilst our current legislation remains as-is, it may still be some time before we see bottles of Cannabis wine adorning the shelves of UK supermarkets, but the UK cannot afford to ignore the growing trend, especially one led by the Americas. 

If the predicted revenues touted by the Canadian government are anything to go by, in a post-Brexit world, we may actually not be able to afford to miss it.

This article was originally published in the March 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.
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Drinking To The Limit

So that was January, a month of mixed feelings for wine lovers. Do you carry on as normal, observe ‘dry January’ to put right any festive indulgences, or maybe even just use it as a yearly detox?

Official Doctor evidence is still wonderfully confusing, with conflicting studies offering either extreme views or fence-sitting conclusions. Will sudden abstinence do more long-term damage than the short-term benefits? It seems, no one knows.

‘Dry’ campaigners will argue that if you need to take a monthly break from alcohol you’re probably drinking too much anyway. Sobering stuff! Whether you chose to ignore it or observe it, I hope you made it through OK.

Speed Limit

Most calendar months now have appropriations such as ‘Stoptober’ or ‘Movember’. There’s even ‘Veganuary’! February doesn’t seem to pair with any such affiliations: you’re simply back to getting on with your life. It’s perhaps a nice time then to reflect on an alternative viewpoint to the annual October to January ‘should-we-shouldn’t-we’.

My driving instructor once told me that road signs displayed the speed limits, not the targets. Recent research suggests that, when it comes to drinking, people not only need to observe the healthy drinking targets, they also need to exceed them! All for the sake of the Government and the good of the country.

To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that anyone should drink to excess, but there is a clear confliction of interests. The Chief Medical Officer (representing the Government) might suggest one upper limit intake figure will keep us healthy and living to a ripe old age, but the Government at large are particularly reliant on keeping the taxes pouring in.

Pennies

The study showed that if drinkers stuck to the current weekly alcohol consumption guidelines (14 units for both men and women), overall alcohol sales would fall by £13 billion per year, a revenue decline of 38%*. That’s a massive shortfall in the expected tax generation and their wider overall financial calculations. To clarify, the Government balance sheet currently factors in people vastly surpassing their own suggested health guidelines.

Furthermore, the late 2018 October budget saw duty frozen for beers and spirits, but not for wine, which saw a 7p per bottle increase (9p for sparkling). This signals that, whilst appeasing the concerns of beer enthusiasts who make up the core drinkers of our sadly diminishing pubs (go CAMRA!), it isn’t a tax holiday on general alcohol drinking, it’s a tax grab on the increasing number of home/wine-drinking austerity minded folk.

Figures for the financial year 13/14 (the latest available) show that 81%* of off-trade revenue (i.e. sales outside of pubs/clubs/restaurants) can be attributed to people drinking outside of the recommended limits. Can we expect producers and suppliers to swallow the additional tax hikes? Unlikely. We’ll simply end up paying more per bottle.

Do the Government actually want us to cut down our consumption levels to improve our health, or continue drinking to generate the taxes? It’s a ponderous question.

* Blenheimcdp

This article was originally published in the February 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine vertical 1966-1975

Great bottles of wine seem to find their way out on to the market over the festive season, but this year I have been truly spoilt for choice.  UK wine merchant Laithwaites has offered up not just one, but three, magical vintages from the 20th Century.

The modern-era of winemaking is well written as starting with the 1982 vintage.  Prior to that the last three truly great years had been the 1975, 1970 and the 1966.  Imagine my surprise when all three of these Bordeaux vintages became available, and at very respectable prices too.

villemaurine logo

The well positioned sloping limestone vineyards of St. Emilion Grand Cru estate Château Cardinal-Villemaurine were, until recently, owned by the Carrille family.  The familiar story of complex French inheritance laws finally necessitated a sale.

Needless to say, buyers were extremely forthcoming, and the land was eventually sold to top drawer Premier Grand Cru Classé house Château Angélus, who clearly saw the quality.  The actual buildings and stock, however, stayed with the Carille family.  Jean-Marc Sauboua, a Bordeaux native and winemaker/buyer for Laithwaites was first on the scene, and given the keys to their vaults, tasting wines back to the sterling 1947 vintage.

Picking out the most-lauded pre-1982 vintages, from a time when vineyards were tilled via horse drawn ploughs, and grapes were fully hand harvested, this is an extremely rare trilogy of Bordeaux wines to come to market.

Gravity fed cellars avoided the stress of pumping over and, post two years on oak, the maturing bottles were kept at a constant cool temperature.

villemaurine 1966

villemaurine stains

From the above images we can see that the bottles have certainly been re-labelled, but existing dirt on the bottles, which carries on under the new labels, show that the physical bottles are original.  The corks are fully branded but it is unclear as to whether they have been re-corked prior to re-release.

villemaurine corks

Each of the following three wines are Merlot based blends which, if following the pattern of the vineyard plantings, would be potentially 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet France and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The average age of their vines was 30 years old, spread over 12 hectares.

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1966, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £50

Garnet in colour, with a thick sediment on decant, the nose was pungent and vegetal with stewed prune and figs.  Dark cherry and berry fruits fleshed over time in the decanter, but the overall sensation was rustic.

On the palate was faded black cherry, raisin, bitter chocolate and a touch of liquorice. Pepper spice, spent wood and a tea-like brew (following time in decanter) met with the still fresh acidity which kept everything lively and accessible.

The mid-palate carried well through to the acid and spicy and savoury characters, and the finish was respectable, carried by the acid and the dying embers of the black fruits.

Clearly a touch past its best, the sheer academic quality of drinking a good condition 1966 Bordeaux meant this was utterly worth the bottle price, and a good reminder of what mellow, but rich, wine tastes like at a modest 12.5% alcohol.

The tasting guide says drink to the end of 2022, but this feels like one to drink-up fairly soonish to me.

villemaurine 70 label

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1970, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £40

Raspberry red in colour with garnet tints, this gave a finer sediment than the 1966.  Buyer Jean-marc was quoted as saying “I had to buy you this 1970. Delicate maturity”.

The nose was prominent, incredibly clear and well defined, even after 48 years.  With silky tones of mature (dried) red and black cherry, rich tinned raspberry, a perfumed floral vanilla nose and hints of raisin, this felt incredibly layered and complex.

The palate had a good medium weight with a touch of stew-like quality, but extremely well rounded from the off without the need for time in the decanter.  Black cherry, redcurrant and cake spice dominate and, despite its age, the fruit felt very much alive as well as mature.

Backed up with a still-lively mouth-watering acidity, the finish was in the realms of 2 minutes long and full of the depth of the palate.  Simply divine.

Laithwaites currently have magnums available for this vintage.  I would say that this is a must purchase.  The tasting guide says to drink to the end of 2022 but this one feels like it could go a little further, such was the was the immediacy, the freshness and the vibrancy.

villemaurine 75 label

Château Cardinal-Villemaurine 1975, Merlot Blend, St Emilion, France, 12.5%, £35

After a succession of dull vintages, 1975 was welcomed with open arms.  Medium ruby in colour with garnet tints, the sediment was once again fairly fine.

The nose was very clear and pronounced like the 1970, but in this case the character was overly herbaceous as opposed to fresh, with figs and prunes and a prominent mushroom tone.

The palate held a good weight, and a fresh high acid balanced against the faded blackcurrant, redcurrant and cherry.  The overall composition, whilst pleasant, seemed to drop off in the mid-palate.

The fairly short finish was saved somewhat by the acidity, but the overall savoury and herbaceous character of the wine wasn’t something that excited my palate, alive though it may be.

The notes say to drink to the end of 2025 and, for this one, it would be interesting to see which way it goes – it could do either.

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Aldi Wine Club 19th Panel round-up

I last wrote about the Aldi Wine Club (AWC) back in May, not because I was part of their latest panel, but more to address the fact that it had been a good 6 months since the previous panel had taken place.

Since that time the regular panels have returned, and I welcomed sight of the 18th iteration. The disappearance had all the hallmarks of the now-defunct Tesco Wine Club, and the natural need for supermarkets to keep tight purse strings on all non-essential spend. In a clear nod to this austerity, the number of AWC bottles to be received each month has been reduced from 2 to 1.

All fair enough I guess but, since the Aldi range has changed significantly over this period, I readily signed up to be a part of the 19th showing, which contained 3 previously untried wines all at superb price-points.

19th aldi 1

This Italian Sangiovese Loves…., Sangiovese (100%), Sicily, Italy, 12.5%, £4.99

First off of the blocks was the curiously and purposely titled ‘This Sangiovese Loves….’

Italian wine is well known to match Italian food, so the food mix (also extending to other Italian stalwarts such as pasta, meatballs and sausage) is no great surprise. I regularly heap praise on Aldi wine labelling – I think they’re clever, interesting and, above all, show attention to detail, but in this case, things seem to dumb down just a touch.

The grape ‘Sangiovese’ might put a potential purchaser off, as might the fact that they shouldn’t drink the wine tonight if they’re not tucking in to an Italian dish (it will go well on its own or with others). Of course, many non-wine aficionados could use the label as an ‘expert’ guide through to tasting perfection, so it may well be six of one, half a dozen of the other.

The above said about the quite literal descriptive title, the bright orange capsule and neck brace offset the dark wine superbly and is a real shelf eye-catcher, and it’s nice to see a wine at the modest level of 12.5% alcohol.

A nose of silky vibrant red cherry, a touch of menthol, and dollops of vanilla created a full and lovely expression. The modest alcohol gave a palate that was lighter than expected for the colour, with fresh black cherry and liquorice. The mouth-wateringly high acid (characteristic Italian for a food match) was evident throughout.

With a light-tannin and tea infused finish, the fruits dipped away to a disappointing end, I’d disagree with the label that this was close to a full-bodied wine. It has certainly got well-defined and forward flavours but that isn’t quite the same thing. The wine in general is much more accessible.

19th aldi 2

Organic Prosecco, Treviso, Italy, 11.5%, £7.99

We’re back to the classic-looking Aldi range now and one fantastic looking squat bottle, extremely reminiscent of Ruinart Champagne. I’d pick it up on visual alone.

Highlighting the Organic heritage, the Aldi notes tell us that the grapes were sourced from the Corvezzo family’s 150-hectare estate, 30km north-east of Venice. Grown with no pesticides or herbicides used in the vineyard, the grapes are predominately handpicked and gently pressed to ensure only the highest quality of juice is used. The winery is committed to using renewable energy wherever possible. Already a great reason to pick up the bottle and to feel good when drinking it.

All applaudable, but did it translate to the palate? With a very fine bead, there was ripe green apple and pear, fleshy in the main but with detectable pips. Added to this was a light lemon mousse and a touch of honeycomb and cream creating a quaffable, frothy, weightless, but layered, depth. The crisp citric finish lasted longer than a minute, giving off a drying touch of white grapefruit. Although Extra Dry, there was a touch of sweetness coming from the lower than usual alcohol level.

19th aldi 3

Freeman’s Bay, Winemakers Reserve Pinot Gris 2018, Gisborne, New Zealand, 13%, £5.79

The third panel slot was originally slated to be this £6.99 Gavi di Gavi but, for whatever reason, this Pinot Gris was subbed in.

With a wonderfully fragrant nose, detectable from a few paces away, this was full and dense, conveying a veritable fruit salad of honeyed citrus, yellow tropical pineapple and melon, orange tinged satsuma, and fleshy green pear and grapefruit.

A rich and oily texture combined extremely ripe, pure fruits, almost to a concentrate level. A medium mouth-watering fresh acidity led through to a tangy satsuma and white pepper spice on the finish. In a word (or three) – lush and moreish, and a definite buy from me.

With thanks to Aldi for sending through the bottles used in this review.

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Kelman Wines @ Friarwood

Many times I’ve lamented that my current tastings calendar doesn’t really fully explore the wines of either Portugal or Germany. So when my friends at London fine wine merchant Friarwood partnered up with Portuguese artisan winery Kelman, I jumped at the chance to give their wines a try.

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Hailing from the Dão in the northern part of the country, and one of the oldest demarcated wine-regions in the world, the year 2000 saw Kelman planting 6 hectares of traditional Portuguese grape varieties to fully explore the country’s winemaking roots. They produced their first wines in 2013.

Surrounded by mountains, their vineyards benefit from diurnal temperature fluctuations, key for producing elegant wines with long ageing potential. Fruit is manually hand-harvested and entirely foot-trodden in traditional granite lagares dating back to 1741. In the winery they practice non-interventionalist winemaking methods.

Commenting on the partnership, Auriane d’Aramon, head wine buyer for Friarwood said: “We were looking for a small independent Portuguese winery, producing classic yet unique, quality wines. We were absolutely thrilled when we discovered Kelman producing some carefully crafted, limited small batch wines from Dão. Made with unique grape varietals that are classic to the region, their entire range is very consistent and elegant”.

When the wines arrived I was immediately taken with them. There’s a handful of things on a bottle that say ‘buy me and try me’, and the Kelman range ticks several boxes.

1. A well-designed label – the front label is actually split in to 3 sections which, when aligned next to the back label, form the scripted K of Kelman. It’s not printed, it’s the glass showing through the labels. Very clever.

2. Indigenous grape varieties – I’m always keen to try something new and interesting, in this case, the Alfrocheiro grape.

3. Numbered bottles – All wine is of course, limited edition, but there’s something special about knowing you are trying X% or bottle number X of the overall production volume.

Everything’s looking good – on to the tasting.

Kelman Encruzado

Kelman Family Vineyard, Encruzado (100%), Dáo DOC, Portugal, 2017, 13.5%, £17

This was presented in a Burgundy shaped bottle; number 2,490 of the 3,750 produced.

Lemon gold in colour, this wine needed a little coaxing on the nose to get the best out of it. The tasting note (which I read after conducting the tasting) said chill well, but I actually got more out of both the nose and palate when it had warmed through a little. I was then able to get the light tropics of pineapple and yellow melon, along with a dash of lime and a touch of honey. An underlying richness was peppered with warm cakey spices.

The medium bodied palate was both vibrant and inviting; soft, yet strong, with an oily and rich textured creaminess from 5 months batonnage. Peach and satsuma and a hint of grapefruit added to the citrus and melon, the low acidity gave way to a clear saline after-taste, which carried for several minutes and defined the palate.

This saltiness, whilst not to my palate preference for on-its-own drinking, suggested a food match, and it paired wonderfully with some Gorgonzola, with really brought out the depth and well-crafted layers.

Kelman Tinto Reserva

Kelman Family Vineyard, Tinto Reserva (blend), Dáo DOC, Portugal, 2016, 14%, £19.90

Presented in a broader, heavier Burgundian style bottle, this was numbered 331 out of the 4,230 bottles produced, and comprised a blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, and 15% Alfrocheiro. The Touriga Nacional was aged 12 months in new French oak.

A vibrant deep ruby in colour, this had an immediately accessible floral rich nose of vanilla, violets and silk. The fruit was equally intense, full of black cherry and touches of prune, a touch of milk chocolate, and winter cake spices. For a wine that is only 2 years old, this was full of complex character yet managed to retain a feeling of light effortlessness.

The palate gave up a broth-like, stew-intense complexity; incredibly rich and body warming. I noted figs and cinnamon, bitter chocolate, coffee beans, light plum and redcurrant to finish. Medium weight but fully packed, this carried a light grainy tannin, a nice fresh medium acidity and held a long finish characterised by the coffee/tertiary notes.

To me it had all the class of an aged Claret but with the body and building power of a new-world young-gun. Simply superb and well worth seeking out.

You can buy the Kelman range exclusively through the Friarwood website.

With thanks to Friarwood for supplying the bottles used in this tasting.

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Manzanos 1961

Vinous dreams come in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s trying a revered vintage, getting a fantastic bottle at a bargain price, or perhaps even simply getting a night on your own without the kids to enjoy the bottle in question.

Thanks to the UK’s leading online wine merchant Laithwaites you can now sort two out of three dreams straight away, just leaving you to just find the babysitter.

1961 Banner

1961 was (and is) a well lauded vintage in France – Could this Rioja keep up the pace?  JFK had just become the US President, the space-race was in its infancy and the Beatles were still trying to decide on a band name.  We’re talking seriously old-school.

Commercially viable volumes of very old bottlings such as this are increasingly unheard of, and it is only thanks to the extremely close relationship between Laithwaites head buyer Beth Willard and 5th generation winemaker Victor Manzanos, that such a rare gem has made it to the UK market.

Building a strong relationship both professional and personal, Beth was on hand to support Victor through the tough times following the sudden death of his father.  Maintaining almost daily contact as the London based Victor returned to Spain to take over the family business at just 19 years old, Beth was top of the list when Victor unearthed a fantastically old cache of bottles.

Beth takes up the story: “Until around 10 years ago Manzanos were a medium sized producer focused on the area around Azagra and Calahorra in Rioja Oriental (formerly Rioja Baja). They are now one of the biggest producers of wine in Rioja and Navarra, owning several bodegas and lots of vineyards throughout the whole region.”

“Their extended family has been a big holder of vineyards dating back to the late 1800’s and (because of the large expansion) only now has Victor had a chance to dig around to see what they actually hold. In Azagra, close to where the principle bodega is located, some of his relatives’ own tunnels are full of old bottles of wine.”

The great news for wine lovers is that these older wines are now being assessed with a view to offering further archive releases in the future.

Following the discovery, the hand-harvested 1961 (mechanical picking was still in its infancy then) was rebottled, recorked and relabelled as the original packaging wasn’t up to today’s commercial standards.  The wine, however, was perfect, spending 3 years in French oak and then having laid perfectly untouched since being bottled in the mid-1960’s.  I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

1961 Bottle

Manzanos 1961, Rioja, Spain, Tempranillo based blend, 12.5%, £30

Some older wines can disintegrate a bit when left to decant for several hours but I decanted, and wasn’t disappointed.  The wine evolved significantly over several hours.

Still retaining a glossy ruby colour, there were hints of garnet colouring to the core, and a light water-white rim.

Shortly after opening, the nose began with a Burgundian barnyard tone, but this developed to include figs, mushroom, roasted nuts and sweet tobacco.  Further developed fruit came in the form of herbaceous wild black cherry, a touch of red cherry, and a whole load of green bell pepper.

Pronounced in character with a real sense of density from the off, the wonderfully fragrant nose only got better as time went on, adding liquorice, bitter black chocolate and treacle/caramel.

The palate, as expected, was extremely evolved with the tertiary notes of roasted black coffee.  Chewy, dense, with an almost oily thick texture it was still rich and broth-like, but retained a refreshing zing of acidity to balance it out and keep it fresh.

Further black cherry fruit came to the fore over time, along with pepper spice, liquorice and a light vanilla relief.  Light chalky tannins were still evident.

The finish is in the 1-minute range, carried by the acidity, black cherry and caramel.  If I was being super-critical, it’s a shame that the finish didn’t last longer, but it was still more-ish enough to have me reaching for the next glass.

Quite austere on its own (but still medium plus in weight, so not heavy in any way) this would stand up very well to most well roasted meats.  Sadly I tried it on its own and can only imagine how it would have drunk alongside a beef joint.

Knowing that there will only be so many bottles available for a relatively short time, and at a very agreeable price, I have several more cellaring, so I’ll hopefully be able to find out in time.  I fully recommend that you grab yourself a bottle (you can purchase it here) whilst you still can to give it a try for yourself.

Drink to 2026.

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Restaurant Etiquette

10_Wine Rack

The approaching festive season means that its highly likely that you’ll either be invited to, or attend, a restaurant in the coming months. 

Whilst office parties rely on set menus and transient wine choices, more intimate gatherings can potentially propose certain wine-specific theatrics and, if you don’t know why you’re doing them they can cause confusion and even prompt cries of wine snobbery!

The most obvious example is the server asking you to taste the wine before you ‘accept’ it, which people often delegate to other members of the party as they don’t feel qualified enough to pass judgement.  Far from expecting that you are an instant wine connoisseur being given a last-minute option to double check that you’ve made an informed and delicious decision from the menu, or even a ‘get out of jail free’ card if you don’t like the wine you’ve selected, it’s simply a quality control check.

Wine is a living, evolving, drink, and the theatre derives from proprietors letting customers sample the contents to ensure that the bottle has been correctly stored and is free of impairments.  Tasting the wine, the perceived scary element, is actually largely unnecessary.  A dull colouring or an unexpected/pungent aroma will tell you all you need to know about the wine quality before it ever hits your lips.

Comedian Michael McIntyre does a wonderful routine (worth checking out on YouTube) where he mocks the perceived ‘try-before-you-buy’ wine process, and the fact that it is offered for no other beverage.  Should customers be allowed to know the breeding of the cows providing the milk in their cappa-frappa-cino’s?

Grumpy Waiter

Ultra-pretentious establishments may ask if you want to sniff the recently removed cork.  Once again, as the bacterial taint in wine historically came from the cork base touching the wine, this is a theatrical dinosaur rolled out to identify faults.

If you’re unsure which bottle to select, the best advice I can offer is to simply trust the wine list or, if you’re at an upmarket establishment with a wide-ranging selection, trust the sommelier.  Apart from the larger chains or less attentive establishments where wines may be listed on availability and profit margin alone, most restaurateurs are attuned to the implications of customers getting it wrong. 

Well aware that food and wine matching is a key part of the full sensory experience of eating out, much work goes in to the finished wine list, ensuring it complements the menu in the best possible way.  Sommeliers spend years training with the one desire of highlighting the best wines, based on customer preferences, food matches and individual budget.

Restaurants with a culinary direction will have also already done the hard yards for you so you can be confident buying a bottle of a grape variety you’ve not tried or heard of before.  Steak restaurants will list wines that go well with steak, Italian restaurants will list wines that go well with Italian food and so on.

Whatever you go for, in pretty much every case, the wine that goes best with a meal is the wine that is freely flowing.

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the November 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.

Digby Fine English & Gurasu: Introducing the English Sparkling Wine Glass

I’m a big fan of stemware and devote much house space to carrying different glasses designed to enhance varying wine styles. Given the number of tie-ups that proliferate the wine world (I’m fresh from trying UB40’s Red Red Wine!?) I’m actually surprised that more wine critics haven’t jumped on the stemware bandwagon over the years.

Wine guru Jancis Robinson launched her new glassware a couple of months back. For those not familiar, Jancis has pared her range back to just one glass, suitable for all wine styles. The logic being that, whilst there are certain small fractions of extra pleasure that can be gleaned from style-specific glasses, the regular drinker has no space to store them all, and the proliferation of styles available means that wine begins to become a little less approachable.  All very true.

Digby Bottle

Shortly after I was interested to see negotiant Digby Fine English announced a new shaped glass, specifically designed to draw out the best qualities of English sparkling. Although English sparkling goes from strength to strength in terms of quality and renown, work continues to drive its identity (is it English sparkling, Merret, British fizz?). The clear visual identity of a bespoke glass is a logical step, but would it actually make a difference to the taste? I popped along to the launch to find out.

Digby 33

Patrick Schmitt MW began by explaining that the launch was very timely, tying together two of the hottest wine trends at the moment: English wine and stemware. He likened the Digby concept to the well-publicised comments by Maggie Henriquez, CEO and president of Krug, who led the field in suggesting that Champagne should no longer be served in flutes. Arguing instead that the wider rim of a white wine glass would better release the full aromas and sensory potential, she said that drinking Champagne from flutes was akin to “going to a concert with ear plugs”.

Proceedings were then handed over to Trevor Clough, CEO of Digby, and Joanna Maya, the designer and owner of luxury crystal glass producer Gurasu. Trevor took the lead, explaining that the new design was 2.5 years in the making, being required to hit a number of touchpoints. For him, fine wine is all about the nose, the complexity, the personality, and what he described as “the length of the conversation”.

The grapes that Digby buy in all come from producers along the chalky south downs of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset. Having a wide pick of grapes on chalk gives their wine fresh acidity and drive, and Trevor wanted this precision to be reflected in a modern, linear design, as well as being able to quickly express the complexities of the quality fruit.

Digby 22

We were offered up their 2010 Vintage Brut in four different glasses: A flute, an ISO glass, a coupe, and the new Digby design. All of the wines had just been poured, and all at the same time (we were not told if all the flutes had been filled first, and the Digby’s last).

A couple of years back when there was a general shift away from the flute to serving Champagne in a white wine style glass, I made the transition and have never looked back. Here though, the flute was more like a test-tube, extremely thin and long. The wine never stood a chance.

Jumping forward to the coupe, there is a good reason that this was dropped as a sensible vessel for sparkling wine.  Swirling the liquid to aerate it is nigh on impossible without spilling, the nose of the wine was non-existent, and the journey of the bubbles was short and largely non-visual. Aside for one thumbs-up for the coupe on the grounds of ‘romance’, both the coupe and flute scored a monumental thumbs down from all present.

Here’s where it got a bit harder as, for me (and the general consensus), there was actually very little between the standard ISO wine tasting glass and the Digby. Both gave well on the nose and we could start appreciating the bready, toasty notes and citrus/orchard fruit. For me, the ISO filled out the palate making it feel fuller and rounder, whereas the Digby really lifted everything, making it smoother, softer and a lot more about the mousse.

With the flute and coupe almost out from the start, and feeling the odds had been somewhat stacked towards the Digby, I asked why we hadn’t had the opportunity to taste against a white wine glass, as per the Krug conversation. Apparently, this was considered but ultimately not run with. I wonder why?  In summary, there was a Digby difference but, I may err toward Jancis, in that it becomes fractions of extra pleasure.

Digby Glass

Clearly Digby and Gurasu have taken their time over the design, going through many iterations before hitting on the one that gave them the elegant, Georgian, classical style they are rightly proud of, but I was also interested to know if there had been any sort of ‘space-race’ to be first to market?

Trevor explained that, whilst they had worked on the project in something of a bubble, he was not aware of any other English producers who were doing a similar thing. He went on to say that, if any were and created a differing design, it would be welcomed so as the consumer could get the most from their wine.

Digby range

Available through the Digby website and via Harvey Nichols, a single glass is available for £32.50, or you can purchase two with a bottle of the Digby Vintage 2010 for £100. Each is handmade from lead-free crystal (the exact make up is a secret!), and is dishwasher safe.

With thanks to The Drinks Business for proving access to this masterclass.

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Georgia On My Mind

I’m always pleased when wine questions turn up in the pub quiz, a recent example being “Where can you find the worlds largest wine cellar?”.  Having visited the sprawling vast caverns of Champagne, where you sometimes need a motorised vehicle to get around, I offered it up as my answer.  I was wrong, its actually in Moldova.

Chalk Cellar

This reminded me that many people naturally think of France as the birthplace of wine when the truth is much more Eastern European.  In fact, it’s just across the Black Sea from Moldova, in Georgia. 

The oldest known evidence of wine-making there dates back 8,000 years, with scientists able to trace the organic compounds found in wine-making in various pottery shards.  This historical importance, along with over 500 unique indigenous grape varieties and unusual wine-making techniques, should make Georgian wines an easy sell.  How come then, most of us have never seen or tried them?

Traditionally focused on the domestic market and surrounding countries, the rug was firmly pulled from under Georgia’s feet when Russia imposed an import ban on their wines in 2006.  Low standards and a plodding reliability on the norm caused them to lose 90% of their exports overnight. 

Although lifted in 2013, the ban pushed them to improve quality and focus on further export opportunities, signing trade agreements with the EU and the quickly expanding Chinese wine market.  Russia once again accounts for 50% of exports but, in just 4 years, China has become their third largest market.

These sales are all good but, due to the local economies they are mostly low value, with rival brands competing on bottle prices in the £1-£1.50 bracket.  Serious future growth is dependent on higher value sales; hence them now looking to richer Western markets including both the UK and US.

Wine is not immune to the recent food trends for ‘natural’ ingredients and processes, and buzzwords including organic and biodynamic are never far from reach when talking about current production styles.

This ‘back-to-nature’ style perfectly suits Georgian wine as many producers still practice the traditional methods used for thousands of years.  Instead of fermenting/ageing wines in ultra-modern temperature cooled facilities, they bury them underground in large egg-like clay jars called ‘Qvevri’, where they utilise the naturally cool and consistent underground temperatures. 

Qvevri

Whilst this continued soaking of the grape juice on its skin is not so different to regular ‘over-ground’ red wine production around the world (the red colour comes from the grape skin, not the flesh), globally produced white wine sees little skin contact.  The Qvevri production sees them pick up a much darker hue, becoming ‘Gold’ or ‘Amber’ wines; a whole new spectrum of colour and taste.

These differences give unique selling points to Georgian wine and, with a little development to the quality classifications and labelling (both hindered by largely unpronounceable place names and grape varieties), they’ll be coming to a store near you very soon.

Two high-street staples have already taken the plunge and you can buy a Georgian white (aka gold) from M&S and a red from Waitrose.  Will you take the plunge too?

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the October 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.

Wine Science (aka ‘Frankenwine’)

Fake goods are a problem for many products, ranging from knockoffs of the latest popular toys to rare one-off items that belong in a museum.

Wine is an easy target for several reasons, and one serious decade-old scandal is still affecting the rare bottles market to this day.  The limited production each year creates a natural scarcity which further erodes every time a bottle is opened.  Throw in a fantastic vintage, where all of the elements in the vineyard and winery come together in perfection, and the increased desirability means the problem gets heightened even further. 

Mouton

Secondly, for French wine in particular, they follow a classification ladder, a pecking order of sorts.  This runs from your basic table wine through to Premier and Grand Cru level.  In Bordeaux things are taken even higher with their top 5 league table; The First Growths.  Including such wine legends as Mouton Rothschild and Lafite, getting one of these in a great vintage means prices reach a whole new level.  It’s asking for trouble.

If the intention of a fake is to deceive, that is clearly a malicious and criminal act.  But what if the faker is absolutely honest with you from the off that what you’re buying isn’t the real deal?

Scientist

Thanks to a group of US scientists working under the name Replica Wines, we’re about to find out.  Initially as part of a bet, they started stripping down the flavour and aroma compounds found in wine to their constituent parts, eventually devising a roadmap of some 600 components.

They then set about choosing a collection of well-known or cult wines in price ranges outside of day to day purchasing to unlock their individual scientific make-up.  Using their roadmap to deliver a taste profile for each one they now have something like 2,000 different wines available to replicate. 

Consumers are now effectively able to taste a Chateau Margaux at a fraction of the retail price.  Is this genius or is it a step too far?  It’s tricky to say.

Franken Soup

Would someone only willing to spend a token amount on a bottle of wine really care what a £450 Lafite costs?  And, even though these faked bottles are reported to have been already fooling the experts, could a wine aficionado ever really feel that they’ve tasted the proper stuff.  Although Replica claim a 95% match to the original there would surely still be a doubt.

As a wine writer I’ve often been frustratingly close to getting to try some of the top wines out there, but I don’t think I could trust something blended together like soup (the creations are amusingly referred to as ‘Frankenwines’).  No, I’d rather become familiar with a well-articulated tasting note and fill in the blanks mentally.

The wines have, however, been such a success in the US that they are making their way to the UK so, if it’s your thing, you will soon be able to try for yourself.  Branded under self-referential label names such as Knockoff and Pickpocket, these may well end up being the fakes that you don’t end up buying by accident.

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the September 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.