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Summer pinks and party fun!

It`s true that in-vogue pale pink wines tend to be the driest of the Rosé wines, and that they partner food very well as well. In summertime, our favourite pairings include salads, paella, charcuterie, seafood, and especially oily fish, and shellfish. In last week`s blog I started my short-list of favourite Rosé wines, and I gave my top two spots to French wines of this nature, not least for the joy they give us with food. Wine No 3 is altogether different, a Spanish Rosado, Rioja Izadi Larrosa, £16.99, in of itself a foodstuff. It has a beautiful magenta hue, the colour of Fuchsias. Its flavours are reminiscent of ice pops. Do you remember the Mivvi ice lollies, ice cream centres with fruit ice outers? Strawberries and raspberries. In the world of wine, it`s Eton mess. Joyous, and delightfully extravagant!  Wine No 4 Cotes de Thau by Maison Boutnot £13.99 – Fourth spot is our most recent French addition, which comes in a uniquely tall and elegant bottle. Its salmon-pink colour looks like a sunset.  It also comes in magnum size (£24.99) which makes a wonderful gift. The wine is technically dry, yet simultaneously sumptuous, textural, and tangy. Red currants and raspberries prevail over strawberries. Wine No 5 Borsao Seleccion Rosado, £9.99 – another from Spain, from Campo de Borja, east of Rioja, this party guzzler is aromatic, fresh, and fruity.  The deep salmon-pink hue and colourful label is typical of Spanish rosado, ideal of a summer`s evening, and frankly, better than Sangria. Wine No 6 goes to Italy`s Lunetta Prosecco Rosé, £11.99, our single best-selling sparkling pink. This also comes in picnic-sized 20cl bottles (£3.99), a lightly effervescent pink with aromatic redcurrant and citrus notes. We have stocked the wine for all my years here in Gt Horkesley, but only now are we able to call it Prosecco due to a change of rules allowing the use of up to 15% Pinot Noir grapes, required to colour the wine. Previously Prosecco had to be 100% Glera, Prosecco`s white wine grape. Now you know.

 

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Fifty shades of pink

 

Never have I so enjoyed pink wine as I have this summer. So many shades, from pale salmon-pink, to deep copper-rose.  The quality and range of Rosé wines has never been better. So those of you who sniff slightly as you turn away the pink, I urge you to think again. In the next weeks I will briefly profile my favourites, starting with the palest and driest. No 1 – Whispering Angel, £19.99. It`s not actually my favourite, but it has my first spot because it is a leading light in the premium brand category. Frankly, it`s an example of the power of marketing and its producer, Chateau d`Esclans, deserves credit for its huge success. The whole country ran out of stock recently, except us (remarkably), and it was like a run on the bank. Customers flocked from everywhere. They like the feel of it, the look of it, the association with fun, success, and glamour.  The wine is good too. It has a peachy colour and an aroma which is a blend of strawberry, pink grapefruit, and melon, and on the palate, it is crisp, and intense. Perhaps more than any other wine, Whispering Angel can also be applauded for the success it has brought to France`s Provence region. Provence Rosé is a successful brand in of itself, and much of this is down to its leading wine brand. People quite often ask me if I think it is over-hyped, and over-priced. I think of the happiness it brings, and I ask what`s too much? No 2 La Lauzeta `Corteza` £18.99 – Personally, I prefer my second spot wine to WA. It was recently described by a famous wine critic “as pure as a mountain spring”, which describes it perfectly. Even paler than Whispering Angel, it has a wonderful rocky mineral quality derived from the schist soils of France`s Saint Chinian region, and the most delicate notes of red fruits and peach. Such beautiful balance and precision, I can`t recommend it enough. Next week we explore those deeper shades. Cheers everyone!

 

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Summertime high spirits

Today we are celebrating Copper in the Clouds, joyfully fab homespun spirits, and liqueurs, playfully distilled, bottled, and hand finished on Dowsetts Farm in Hertfordshire. Oh, what fun these are! Take their organic Flowerbomb dry gin, packed with floral botanicals of rose, lavender, jasmine, orange blossom and goodness-knows, full of the joys of spring and summer. Top up with Fever Tree Premium Indian tonic, and away you go. Alternatively, try their Lychee and Raspberry pink-gin. This Panda-loving treat boasts Oriental lychee, Sicilian lemons, fresh English garden mint, and delicious British-only raspberries amongst the aromatics, East meets West. The Panda – quite possibly Kung-fu Panda, as a cub, or juvenile – makes a second appearance in Copper in the Clouds liqueur version, namely Lychee with A Hint of Lemon Gin Liqueur. Lemons, incidentally, flown in by eagle (or is it hawk? Can`t quite tell). This is lovely served with Prosecco in a Champagne flute, especially when monkeying around on a giant leaf in a Lilly-pond. Alternatively for a longer drink, with lemonade, garnished with mint leaf and raspberry. Oh joy! Their Pineapple and Basil Gin Liqueur is adorned with a young king, who happens to be a hedgehog, with a pineapple throne, and his faithful Peacock servant. With tonic this makes a refreshing, tropical fruit drink which is splendid garnished with fresh basil and lemon peel. The guitar-playing racoon is sure proof that this is to be drunk exclusively by the fun-at-heart! And did I mention the Prickly Pear and Mandarin Gin Liqueur? Most fragrant of all their liqueurs, distilled and infused with the spiky fruit of the Opuntia cactus, namely Prickly Pear, as well as his partner in crime, Mandarin. No doubt tricky (prickly) to harvest, Copper in the Clouds employ the picking services of the nimble native red squirrel, an elephant who hauls, and a scaled pangolin who steers, and together they bring in the harvest. Aside making a fun G&T, try with soda and ice in a tall glass. Gee it`s swell. And then there`s the bear, the fox, and two pink mice… but that`s another story.

 

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Wine my passion

Yesterday I was reminded just how lucky I am. A shard of light broke the overcast sky and, filtering its way through our Choisyia, I was suddenly covered in an illuminous, dappled yellow light. It was warm too, the cool air snuffed out in a blink. I was working at the time in my garden porch, tasting a selection of burgundy wines and assiduously writing tasting notes. I raised my glass to the light (it was a Meursault by David Moret, the glorious 2017 vintage), and before my eyes the yellow-gold liquid appeared to burst asunder, fragmenting into a kaleidoscope of yellows, pinks, and oranges. It was beautiful, and I allowed myself to wallow in the moment.  Not for the first time I thought: “Oh boy, life is good”, and I thanked my lucky stars.  I married well, for one thing; that helps. I have good friends and family around me, also a big plus. I live in leafy Great Horkesley, with a garden porch for my office. How good is that? These things I appreciate enormously, no question. But in that precious moment I was thinking about wine, my life in wine, and just how lucky I have been all my working life. I`ve worked in a vineyard, helped make wine, both imported and exported wine, tasted wine as a buyer, and as a judge. I`ve been a wine broker, marketer, wholesaler, and retailer.  I`ve travelled the world for wine. I write about wine. I have also had the pleasure of teaching others about wine. And I have been, and continue to be, a student of wine. All this, and wine my passion. How lucky am I?   You too can learn about wine and enjoy a career in the industry. UK`s Wine & Spirit Education Trust “WSET” qualifications are globally recognised as the international standard, designed for the enthusiast just starting out in their careers, as well as for the established professional. But as a first step why not drop into the shop to say hello. Many a wine journey has started here in Gt Horkesley.

 

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Rathfinny Blanc de Noir, an English rose

Introducing my absolute favourite English sparkling wine, the Rathfinny Blanc de Noirs, Vintage 2016, £42.99 per bottle – a wine that looks set to become one of this country’s true icons. And this, their second only vintage! Who, you might well ask, is the genius behind it? The answer, in short, is Mark and Sarah Driver, former hedge fund manager and solicitor, respectively. They had a dream, and employed both a Champagne winemaker, and a Kiwi viticulturist, to help them bring it to fruition.    Rathfinny Wine Estate`s first plantings were in 2012, expanding quickly to around 90 hectares of vines on Sussex`s South Downs, stretching roughly between Brighton and Eastbourne.  The plan is to grow it to 140 hectares, making it one of England`s most significant vineyards. Quality wine production is their paramount aim, growing Champagne grapes on chalk, with their Blanc de Noir leading the march. Produced from 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier grapes, it is made in the manner of Champagne, using the traditional bottle method of fermentation with 36 months maturation on the lees. The date the 2016 vintage was disgorged was timely, just before Covid hit, on 23.01.2020. This is the moment the lees were ejected, having accumulated in the neck of the bottles. The bottles were subsequently topped up with a 3g/l sweet wine liqueur called `Dosage` and the Champagne cork stoppered. After a further resting period, the wine now limpid and the bubbles returned to saturation, labelling and boxing-up were carried out, and the Sussex sparkling wine was ready for release. We opened a bottle last weekend. It is the most beautiful golden-rose colour, its effervescence a steady stream of tiny bubbles. Aromas and flavours revealed themselves gradually in the glass, of strawberry, raspberry, red apple, pink grapefruit, and toasted almonds. Oh joy! We had it with Paella, but the owners have recommended you enjoy it with duck rillettes, or rare-cooked venison steaks. It`s also said to be rich enough to accommodate the hot and sticky notes of Vietnamese Caramel Pork. 

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In England`s green and pleasant land ….

William Blake would barely recognise his England today – at least, not in wine terms. The last thirty years has seen more change than the previous two centuries. This can be attributed to Climate change, and to the investment in winemaking as a reaction to it. Forty years ago, I was a young member of the English Vineyard Association and typically English vineyards were of the Muller Thurgau, Huxelrebe, Bacchus, Reichensteiner, and Dornfelder grape varieties.  These were of German origin, wine grapes which ripened well even in England.  We also grew the French red wine grape, Pinot Noir, back then, but as a variety it barely ripened sufficiently to make good wine, quite honestly. I helped make a Pinot Noir wine in 1980. I was with a small team cultivating a 10-acre vineyard just north of Ipswich, in Otley, with our own small winery. I can smell it now! Although I recall we were delighted by the result, the descriptors “tart” and “rhubarb” tell you something of its nature! Fast forward ten years, a fraction of a fraction of a degree warmer, such wines were still barely ripe, but on a journey. Jump another thirty years, and the best of today`s Pinot Noirs are “deliciously tangy” (our Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir by Simpsons, in Sussex, “tangy dark cherry, smoky, ground coffee”). Yet, arguably, the best of Pinot Noir is reserved for England`s sparkling wine production, for which French Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes are grown here as well now. The three Champagne grapes.   Certainly, Chardonnay would have struggled to reach phenolic ripeness in England even a decade ago, and though Pinot Meunier has been around, in England it`s mostly been in a mutated form, one which achieves phenolic ripeness earlier.  For me, the best producers of sparkling wines are Simpsons, Hattingley, Nyetimber, and Rathfinny.  Best overall achievement goes to the mighty Simpsons, not least for their latest, 2020 vintage Roman Road Chardonnay. An excellent example grown on the chalk terroir of Kent`s North Downs.

 

 

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New Zealand, successful, sustainable

A last short story to hail New Zealand`s incredible achievements these past two generations, not just for its winemaking prowess, but for having achieved so much, in so few years, so sustainably.  For many it is the love, and the respect, for their beautiful land, and for the world we all live in, which drives them.  That they are creating a better world to pass on to their kids is not just important to them, it is vital. It`s a way of life. Indeed, it was the kiwis who were the first in the world to establish a national sustainability programme, to which a massive 95% of wineries prescribed. And the industry has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050.  Organic winemaking, now representing 10% of all wine production, continues to increase as part of NZ`s winegrowers` commitment to sustainability. And NZ`s wine industry has its fair share of sustainability champions.  It`s to one of these I dedicate my story now, an eco-warrior, no less.   Anyone who read last week`s article about Central Otago may recall I alluded to one of two NZ`s first `grand cru` back in 2010, the Felton Road Pinot Noir. Well, the other one was Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, of Martinborough, owned by highly respected and successful Clive Patton, a man I was lucky enough to meet, on my visit to the winery, the very morning after he had picked up his auspicious award. We had both been at the awards ceremony in Wellington and were, the both of us, feeling a little worse for wear for the celebrations. Nonetheless we tasted some nine wines anyway, together with winemaker Helen Masters, and it was a high point of the trip for me because it represented the pinnacle of achievement, in my mind, from both a qualitative and sustainable winemaking perspective. The grand cru award [in Maori “Tipuranga Teitum o Aotearoa”] was recognition of the qualitative achievement. But here was also a champion conservationist, dedicated to restoring and protecting New Zealand native flora, committed to organic farming, and sustainability, and, via The Crimson Project and other initiatives, a leading light in the protection of New Zealand`s native trees. My hero. Cheers everyone!

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New Zealand, rich wine diversity

New Zealand, rich wine diversity

Besides the big two, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, New Zealand grows an eclectic range of grape varieties to produce a wide range of styles of wine. In order of plantings, from largest to smallest, Sauvignon Blanc is followed by Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Gris, and Viognier. In red, Pinot Noir is followed by Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. These account for most, but by no means all grape varieties grown in New Zealand. Mostly the vineyard plantings will have been selected to suit the specific vineyard terroir, which is a complex patchwork in New Zealand, and still evolving. Yet, at the same time, a pattern has already taken shape. Vines are well-established and styles of wine have emerged by region and sub-region. Today, we will touch on one: Hawke`s Bay, on the east coast of the North Island.  NZ`s second largest wine growing region produces delicious Chardonnays, but it is best known for its red wines, growing most of NZ`s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah vines; and since it has a similar maritime climate to Bordeaux in France, it is perhaps not surprising that it has established an excellent reputation for its Bordeaux blends. Indeed, Gimblett Gravels is a sub region within it which is not unlike the Medoc in Bordeaux with its deep, free-draining stony gravels, where Cabernet Sauvignon is King.  In Gimblett Gravels they are ancient silts and greywacke stones, deposited by the old Ngaruroro river, and exposed after a huge flood in the 1860`s.  For me, here, Syrah is King, not Cab. I urge you to try Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2018, £26.99 per bottle. It has the most amazing wild raspberry aroma, pure of fruit, with cracked pepper and hints of vanilla bean. It is powerful and has balanced ripe tannins, with refreshing natural acidity. Great to drink now, it will evolve over ten years.  If you can wait!!   Last chance today & tomorrow to take advantage of discounts available in-store for all New Zealand wines.

 

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Central Otago Pinot Noir, a story of evolution

New Zealand`s most significant red wine grape variety, by far, is Pinot Noir, with some 5,779 hectares of vineyard, representing 14% of total production.  The wines differ stylistically by region, to a degree, however, efforts to generalise seem sweeping, and clumsy, not least because the terroir everywhere is so diverse, but also because winemaking, and styles of wine, are still evolving.  Even since I was there, in 2010, the wine landscape has changed significantly. For example, back then Central Otago was known for its fruit-bomb Pinots, big, sweet, and richly fruited. The semi-arid mountainous area, of schist, silt, and loess, was seen as an extreme place to make wine, much talked about as being the world`s southernmost vineyards. But Central Otago`s “Felton Road” that year was one of just two wines afforded “Grand Cru” status in all New Zealand, so clearly there was potential there. Indeed, on that trip I met Quintin Quider, winemaker of Wild Earth at his Central Otago Bannockburn vineyard, who demonstrated the challenges he faced by pouring a bucket of water into the ground, in his vineyard, which disappeared in front of my very eyes! The solution was to be the vineyard`s conversion to organic farming, to retain moisture and nutrients. Today, his wine has become more sophisticated, more savoury, and is exemplary of Pinot Noir from the warmer Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago: a well-structured, most beguiling Pinot Noir displaying violets and toast amid red and black fruits, and a background of dried thyme, cloves, and earthy flavours, becoming silky with age. Typical of the region, the wine has depth and concentration of flavour due to Pinot`s low yield there; and it is adept at retaining acidity thanks to Central Otago`s diurnal influences. And yet the fruit ripens well, and correspondingly alcohol levels are relatively high, due to the region`s warm Continental climate. A wine of substance, then, yet at the same time intricate, complex, and age worthy.  And this, just one story of the grape`s evolution in one small pocket of New Zealand. Cheers everyone!

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New Zealand`s Stoke-by-Nayland

I have written about the success of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc brand, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the merits of the grape variety in other regions around the country.  Marlborough Sauvignon represents 56% of plantings as compared to just 11% grown elsewhere, but many of these are also excellent.  My absolute favourite is Nelson, located north west of Marlborough, on top of the South Island, where it sits in the cradle of picturesque Tasman Bay. Beautiful, tranquil Nelson, named in honour of British naval commander Admiral Horatio Nelson. It was a surprise to us, when we visited back in 2010, that Nelson has a `Stoke` and a `Nayland` in their city. On further investigation it turns out our local Suffolk village does, indeed, have an historic connection. British naval officer Captain Arthur Wakefield (1799-1843), born in Essex, helped found the new settlement at Nelson. Wakefield`s personal servant on the voyage was born in Stoke-by-Nayland so it is supposed that it was a nod to him; but the connection is deeper due to the influx of migrant workers which followed some years later, including fifty Stoke-by-Nayland residents and another forty from neighbouring parishes, who arrived at the new coastal settlement in search of a better life. Wakefield`s is a fascinating story, not least, because it was the time of Empire. But in fact, his work in New Zealand was after his service in the navy, working for The New Zealand Company. Historians, I recommend you look him up; his story makes terrific reading.  At any rate, it`s largely thanks to Wakefield that Nelson was born, and eventually Nelson Sauvignon Blanc. And due to Nelson`s stony, free-draining alluvial soils, its maritime climate, and high sunshine hours (the highest in all New Zealand), the wines are aromatic and fresh with bright, juicy acidity and tremendous purity of fruit. They are not unlike those of Marlborough, but stylistically, perhaps, more restrained. We stock Seifried Sauvignon Blanc, one of the best, for £16.99, with discounts available in-store through May. Cheers everyone!