New Horizons for Champagne

2016 was a busy year for the Comité Champagne … it saw the launch of some terrific initiatives: the Champagne Campus and the 3D VR app telling us about the region and the wines. But the big news was the designation of the Champagne region as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each of those would justify a podcast on their own but I like efficiency and there was only one person I could go to to tell us about all those thing: Thibaut Le Mailloux, the Communications Director of the Comité Champagne.

Cono Sur at Fizz

When you are VERY successful, when you have the highest-selling red wine in the UK and a range of awards in your award cabinet (we all have one, don’t we?), do you rest on your laurels? Do you sit back and admire your success? No, you don’t because the a) there’s someone right behind you, keen to take the top slot and b) Why would you? There are always new things to do so why not do them?

Thus it was that I met the team from Cono Sur at Fizz, the Sparkling Wine show last October. Cono Sur Bicicleta is the most successful range of red wines in the country and Cono Sur have gained a reputation of drinkable, good quality wines, both from Bicicleta and from their other ranges, including and perhaps especially Reserva Especial and Silencio. So now, the front-runner in red is launching sparkling wines: a single Brut and a Rosé – no fancy marketing, no grand story, no alternate versions, just those two wines made to be easy and pleasant to drink. This is what sets Cono Sur apart – clarity, simplicity and an adherence to their vision of “No family trees, no dusty bottles, just quality wine” and uncluttered labeling. It’s a formula that works. In fact, their policy of simplicity and clarity run through everything they do so, when I spoke with them at the show, the interview was remarkably short – to the point, comprehensive and, yes, clear:

Wines of Brazil

Brazilian wines. You’ve seen them – they’re the ones that look just like anyone else’s wines. They are in Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and other retailers but don’t go looking for bright Brazilian colours or the yellow, green and blue of the Brazilian flag – they’re nowhere to be seen. Brazil takes its wine pretty seriously and they see no need to appear faddish. Is this a good idea? Well, I spoke with Judy Kendrick of JK marketing about this: JK marketing this year won both the International Wine Challenge 2015 ‘Generic Campaign of the Year’ and The Drinks Business Awards 2015, ‘Best PR Company‘ for the campaign for wines of Brazil so, if anyone should know, she should. I met her at Fizz, the Sparkling Wine show in Church House in London.

Premium Cava at Fizz with Richard Hemming MW

Fizz, the Sparkling Wine Show in London every autumn is a terrific opportunity to get your taste buds and nose around some of the best new non-Champagne sparking wines on the UK market. It’s held in Church House in London in their glorious round hall and is organised by the indefatigable Ben Campbell-Johnson. It is also a great place to learn new things. For example, you may have Cava pigeonholed as a low-quality, volume drink to take to parties where you can foist it on other people, while you scoff the Champers but, according to Richard Hemming MW, you’d be, at least partly, wrong! Cava is emerging as one of the top non-Champagne sparklers. Now this came as a surprise to me so I went along to ask him what he means by this:

Rhône Vignobles

If you are a French wine-maker, it is likely that you are a fairly small operation and that you could benefit from some sort of collaboration with other makers – be it through a coopérative or a négociant. Some, like the group calling itself Rhône Vignobles, choose a looser connection.
They held a tasting, with the able assistance of Peretti Communications, in London and I went along to see what’s what. Read More

Champagne Bureau Annual Tasting 2015

The Champagne Bureau’s Annual London Tasting was held this year in One Great George Street, ’round the corner from Downing Street, the Palace of Westminster and along the park from Buckingham Palace. As ever, the Peretti team set up a splendid bash. The great, the good, the adequate and the befuddled congregated like wildebeest to watering hole.; they all wanted to find out what’s gnu in Champagne. (sorry)

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Fizz – The sparkling Wine Show

Once again, Ben Campbell-Johnston has put on a show of sparkling wines other than Champagne (other than a few specialists or boutique producers). This time held in Church House, a terrific venue. A grand time was had by all.

The Definitive Italian Wine Tasting 2014

Sometime life simply gets in the way. There are periods when everything is going swimmingly – you do what you want to do in the time you need to do it and it all runs smoothly. Then there are the periods, of indeterminate duration, when there is too much to do, too much to consider and too much to think about to achieve any of the stuff you wanted to. Such has been our situation since the simply beautiful Definitive Italian Wine Tasting last June (I know!!!) in the Royal Horticultural Halls’ Lindley Hall.

So, with apologies to everyone who wanted to see this, here is a snapshot of the day – it was instructive, fun and beautiful.

Vijay Amritraj Reserve Wines Launch party

Grover Zampa joined forces with tennis legend Vijay Amritraj to bring out two wines from their vineyards in Bangalore, southern India.

They chose Vijay’s annual Wimbledon Summer party at the St James’ Court Hotel – a Taj hotel to launch them. This glamorous even was attended by stars of the worlds of tennis and wine and a splendid time was had by all.

Wines of Portugal and Discover The Origin

Wine people are generally lovely! Winemakers have the long view to life that is needed when working in a job where, from planting to drinking can be 30 years! Wine importers and sellers and keen for us to buy things that make us feel good (if used in moderation) and, generally, wine writers and journalists really, REALLY love their work. Occasionally we even get paid to do this … not often and not many of us, but occasionally. So it was an utter delight to meet Jane Parkinson and hear her expound on the subject of Discover The Origin and Portuguese wines and, the very next day, attend the Wines of Portugal Annual London Tasting.

We knew it would be lovely, we didn’t expect it to be so interesting and surprising:

Fizz Sparkling Wine Show

As winter takes its hold and the mince pies are starting to make you yearn for a light green salad with balsamic dressing, it can’t be avoided, I’m afraid: Christmas is here. You will need to provide drinks (probably wine or sherry) for your guests and family (I suggest a discrete store of something stronger for yourself in those quiet moments) and sparkling wine will be required, nay demanded.

Now, you don’t want to spend buckets of dosh on a few bottles of Champagne, when you can spend a few pounds on buckets of sparkling enjoyment from other wine regions. So, feeling public-spirited, we’ve investigated the UK’s first wine show dedicated to non-Champagne sparkling wines. The conclusion we reached may surprise you .. OK, it might not.

Merry Christmas. Read More

Gusbourne Estate

English sparkling wines have a perception problem: Yes, they’re good, yes, they’re elegant and stylish, yes, they’re local but, when you come down to it they’re just not Champagne, are they?

For now.

True, they don’t yet have the history that comes with Champagne; but the times and the weather they are a’changing: with European temperatures rising, what were optimum conditions for Champagne are now found in Southern England. And it’s starting to show: Kent’s own Gusbourne Estate sparkling wines won medals galore this year against top Champagnes, gaining themselves much interest from buyers, journalists and consultants around the world, most of whom had, previously, simply not heard of Gusbourne.

So, to find out what they’re all about and how English wines are mounting a serious quality challenge to Champagne, we ventured down to Kent to meet the owner and the grower.

Tapas Fantasticas 2013

As I’ve said before on these pages, what you wear to a tasting is important because you’re likely to spill some wine on it. However, occasionally, the appropriate dress is a raincoat and wellies. Not because it’s going to be “that sort of party” but because it will be outdoors in this washout of a summer!

Tapas Fantasticas took place in mid June in Potters Fields Park next to City Hall in London. It was a celebration of Rioja‘s food and wine, with some music thrown in. Read More

Thiénot UK and Canard Duchêne

The UK Champagne market is, as we’ve said again and again, complex and crowded. Importers and makers need to fight prety hard to be noticed. One of the problems is the sheer number of brands and labels available. However what we, the consumers, often don’t realise is which Champagne is owned by which other Champagne house.

So to clarify one point: Thiénot UK own Canard Duchêne and they offered us the chance to take a peek at their output in the gorgeous surroundings of 6 Fitzroy Square in London: Read More

Champagne Bureau Annual Tasting 2013

It’s spring, it must be Champagne!

As the years roll by, I’m start to realise how short they’re becoming. Why, it seems only a couple of weeks ago that I was at the Champagne Bureau‘s annual tasting in the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London. As it happens, they DID hold the tasting the week before last, so that’s OK, then. Each year, there is an effort by the communications office to send out a new message about Champagne. This year, it’s that we’ve been drinking more expensive Champagne and this event was a chance to taste some of it in one of the most beautiful rooms in London.

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Wolf Blass premium wines

You may know the wines of Wolf Blass from the supermarket, where his Yellow Label wines sell pretty well. But Wolf began by making premium wines, characterised as Black Label, Grey Label and, more recently, Platinum Label. These high-end wines are much more about the individual character of the vineyards and are priced to match.
As a new-comer to the range beyond the ubiquitous Yellow Label, I was delighted to be invited to the 2011 UK launch of the rest of the range, held in the breath-taking penthouse of the Radisson Edwardian Hotel in Mayfair.
There I was given a chance to talk to Wolf Blass’ chief wine-maker, Chris Hatcher:

Chateau Tooting

While the grand wine houses boast of their age and ancient heritage and the newer wine-makers talk of creating a lasting presence in winemaking, there is a group of Londoners who are doing it the way it has always been done.
The Urban Wine Company have been gathering the grapes of private growers around London to create a wine that has been dubbed Chateau Tooting, although this year’s output goes by several names. Read More

What’s New In Champagne?

Some things are traditional and unchanging; or at least that’s the impression we have. It always rains at Wimbledon, the hats are huge at Ascot and Champagne will always be, well, Champagne. So, one might ask, what’s the point of the Champagne Bureau’s annual tasting in The Banqueting House, London if we’re going to get more of the same? Obviously, there’s the chance to taste unaffordable vintages and spend time in beautiful surroundings. But the times they are a-changing. There are trends and fads, styles and fashions so I went along in the spirit of research to find out what’s new in the ancient and tradition-bound world of Champagne: Read More

Frescobaldi

A new vintage of wine like CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino is usually launched with a tasting and, occasionally, a party of some sort. These may be in highly prestigious city venues, in quirky Hoxton restaurants or at trade shows. While the tastings at the trade shows can justify themselves in a purely business sense, the other lunches and gatherings are, on the face of it, simply the chance for a good party. Read More

Biodynamic Chablis

You will probably have heard of organic wine production but have you come across biodynamics? It’s the new kid in town, utilising homeopathy, astronomical charts and other practices that might seem odd at first sight. However, more and more growers are adopting biodynamic wine production methods in the belief that it is the best right way to produce the best wine. This is most obvious in Chablis and so I went to a seminar on the subject at the Royal Opera House in London to find out more. Read More

Terroirs et Signatures de Bourgogne

A stroll through the wine section of your local supermarket or wine retailer will show shelves with almost equal space given to new and old world wines, to Italian and French, Chilean and South African. This is unrecognisable from 20 years ago, when the French dominated fine wine drinking in the UK and top of the wine regions was Burgundy, with legendary names like Latour and Chablis. So, for wine-buyers, why bother with Burgundy these days? The wine is generally more expensive than the rest and there is always a niggling worry that the region has been left behind by wine producers who change their styles to entertain and delight the palette. A perfect opportunity arose to answer that question in the annual trade tasting for the Burgundy region, held at Lords Cricket Ground. What do the makers have to offer a buying public spoiled by head-spinning choice? Read More

Anthony Rose – A Voyage Of Discovery

The wines of the south west of France or, in French, Les vins du Sud-Ouest, have, since the horrors of phylloxera, been fighting to get recognition on the international wine market. Cooperatives and wine makers have taken the region’s local grapes, such as Gros Manseng, Fer Sarvadou, Tannat, Pinenc and Loin de l’oeil and, using the diverse terroires, have created a range of wines that can now hold their own among the more traditional grape varieties. The region includes appellations like Cahors, Madiran, Saint-Mont, Fronton, Gaillac and Irouleguy. A seminar was held at the London International Wine Fair in May 2009, hosted by Anthony Rose, wine writer for The Independent Newspaper, to publicise these wines. I went along to Excel for the LIWF to find out what they have to offer and perhaps get some recommendations for summer drinks or wines for laying down. Read More

Wine and Health

Every week, we hear conflicting stories about the health benefits of wine – it gives you cancer, it helps you live longer, it’s good for you, it’s bad for you … but one thing that appears to be true is that people in areas of the world that grow certain red wines tend to live longer. To try and get to the bottom of this, I went to a seminar co-hosted by Roger Corder, professor of experimental theraputics at the William Harvey Research Institute; he has published a book called The Wine Diet, which looks at wine in relation to our health. He told me which types of wines we should drink if we want to get gain the most health benefits while ejoying really good glass of red.

The Champagne Bureau

The Champagne Bureau’s annual tasting 2009 took place in March in the Banqueting House in Whitehall in London. It was a chance for the Champagne industry to get together and show the year’s new wines. I took my grumbling liver to Westminster to find out the state of the industry at this time.