Saturday, 2 November 2013

Winning Welsh Wine

Back in June this year I blogged about the rise of English wine having attended an English Wine Tasting in central London. Well, it seems those Celts across the border would also like to get in on the act. On Monday 28th October I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the inaugural Welsh Wine Awards at the beautiful Llanerch Vineyard in the Vale of Glamorgan near Cardiff.

Actually my route to getting an invite to the event that was attended by around 40 of the great and good of Welsh Wine, along with a few journalists, is testimony to the power of social media. Through connections on twitter and this blogger site I appear to have made it onto a mailing list of the recently formed Welsh Vineyards Association chaired by Richard Morris.

The email I received invited me 'as a leading wine writer / critic we would be delighted if you could attend'. Please excuse me blushing at this point and of course my friends and family laughed out loud (LOL if you will) when I told them. But no matter, the invite was there and I WAS delighted to attend.
Help yourself! 35 wines from the inaugural Welsh Wine Awards
35 wines from 9 of Wales' 17 vineyards were entered into the competition that was judged to the exacting standards of Decanter as would be used in wine competition throughout the world. So no 'gimmes' for being a relatively new industry. The judging panel consisted of Roger Jones, chef proprietor of the Michelin starred The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, Bill Gunn MW former UK MD of Pol Roger and Julie Bell, Manager at the award winning Felin Fach Griffin in Brecon.

And the results were remarkable. But then I knew they would be as soon as I started tasting the wines. The guests were invited from 1pm, the judging having taken place in the morning. On arrival, I was a little nervous as I did not know anyone else invited but I needn't of been. Soon I was chatting away quite happily in the cosy confines of the Cariad Restaurant and Bar. All of the wines were set up on the bar for us to try and it was very much help yourself to whatever you wish.

Cariad Wine in the  Restaurant of the same name. LOVEly!
I had to be a little careful as I had a long drive home afterwards so I attempted to try a wine from each of the Vineyards. I particularly liked the wines from Tintern Parva and found myself trying all of their wines.

Helpful list left by the staff for me to photograph.
Not sure about the Pea Soup but the others were great.
Whilst sampling the wines and chatting we were served a selection of delicious canapes. The staff had left a list of them on their station so I got a cheeky photo. The smoked salmon mousse was especially good with the great sparkling wines we were trying.

Soon we were called to take our seats and a simple, but delicious, lunch of grilled pollock was served. And again, we could help ourselves to whatever wine we liked to enjoy with lunch. I chose the Wernddu White 2011 which was later announced to be a Bronze medal winner.

Smoked Salmon Mousse anyone.
And so to the award presentations. Of 35 wines entered fifteen bronzes, five silvers and one gold were awarded. A fantastic achievement for an industry that is still in it's infancy and an organisation that has only set out on it's life in 2013. A full list of all the entered wines and winners is included below. I would like to thank Teleri Fielden for her help for supplying me the full list of wines and winners. She is also behind the marketing effort Wine Trail Wales, an attempt to champion Welsh vineyards as a tourist attractions in their own right.

I mentioned Richard Morris as the Chairman of the newly formed WVA (Welsh Vineyards Association) earlier and it was he who invited me to this ground-breaking event. And it is also he who has much to be proud of as his fantastic wines from Ancre Hill Estates garnered three bronze, three silver and the one prestigious gold medal awarded for the Ancre Hill Sparkling Rose 2009.

That was not quite the end of my day though. I was very impressed with Llanerch and went to thank Ryan Davis, it's owner, before organising a tour with Ben, a very helpful member of the team. And what a place. They have the fabulous Cariad Suite and Junior Suite in the main house and seven further studios in a second building. All are beautifully appointed but the Cariad Suite is breathtaking. My thoughts turned a long promised weekend away with Louise, my wife and hopefully a chance to also attend the Angela Gray Cookery School to improve our cooking skills.
Emm...Yours truly right of shot on Welsh language TV

After a long drive home I was monitoring twitter for feedback on the day when I found out a feature about the event was to be on S4C's Heno (Tonight), the Welsh language channel. We hopped over to the channel and within five minutes there I was, right of screen, being filmed by the camera crew mentioned earlier. And, yes, I've told everyone about it I've met since.

That is it for now. I will be back with another blog soon. If you would like to meet me in person and home is in the UK why not take a look at my website Maybe you need an excuse for a party involving tasting some lovely wines. Do get in touch.

You can also follow me on twitter. or see my facebook page

Until next time, enjoy your wine. Cheers! or in Welsh Lechyd Da!


                 Welsh Vineyard Association Wine Competition 2013

Class 1- Still White and Still Rose
101   Ancre Hill  Chardonnay  2010                                      BRONZE
102   Tintern Pava   Bacchus    2011                                    SILVER
103   Glyndwr Rose  2011
104   Ancre Hill  Rose  2010
105   Wernddu  Rose  2011
106   Tintern Pava Bwthyn Rose  2011                                 SILVER
107   Pant Du Rose  2012                                                   BRONZE
108   Tintern Pava Bryn Heulog  2011
109   Tintern Pava Sir Fynwy  2012                                      BRONZE
110   Sugerloaf Madeline Angervine  2011
111   Wernddu White  2011                                                 BRONZE
112   Sugerloaf Blush  2011
113   Sugerloaf Abergavenny  2011                                      BRONZE
114   Sugerloaf Calon Lan  2011
115   Ancre Hill White  2012

Class 2- Red Wine
201   Whitecastle Rondo  2012                                            BRONZE
202   Ancre Hill Pinot Noir  2009                                          SILVER
203   Tintern Pava Ty Coch  2011                                        BRONZE
204   Ancre Hill Pinot Noir  2011                                         SILVER
205   Glyndwr Red
206   Whitecastle Pinot Noir  2012

Class 3- Sparkling White and Sparkling Rose
301   Wernddu Sparkling  2007                                            BRONZE
302   Glyndwr White Brut  2009                                           BRONZE
303   Ancre Hill Sparkling Pinot Noir/ Seyval
         Blanc  2008                                                               BRONZE
304   Sugerloaf  Rhosyn  2007                                             BRONZE
305   Tintern Pava Dathliad Rose  2010
306   Llanerch Sparkling Blush  2011
307   Glyndwr Rose Brut  2010
308   Ancre Hill Sparkling White  2008                                  SILVER
309   Llanerch Sparkling Brut  2011                                      BRONZE
310   Whitecastle Regent Rose  2011
311   Ancre Hill Sparkling White  2009                                  BRONZE
312   Tintern Pava Dathliad White  2006                               BRONZE
313   Ancre Hill Sparkling Rose  2009                                  GOLD
314   Meadowview Gwyn-y-Fro White  2010                         BRONZE


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Pouilly-Fuissé versus Pouilly-Fumé

Anyone who has done any formal training on wine will know that the first country that you learn about is France as it is still the epicentre of the wine world and from where most of the classic grape varietals that we know and love are from.

Of course the naming of wines in France, as in the rest of the old world is about place rather than grape variety which can often lead to some confusion and the above is one of my favourites. The reason being is that despite having very similar names Pouilly-Fuissé and Pouilly-Fumé are two entirely different wines. They are both white wines but taste quite different. I would think that most people would be able to tell them apart after tasting both. But this does not seem to prevent the confusion.

La Roche de Solutre above Pouilly
Pouilly and Fuissé - Got it!
Pouilly-Fuissé is part of the Maconnais in the southern Burgundy region and is entirely made from Chardonnay grapes. No other varieties are permitted in the appellation that dates back to 1936. The area is dominated by the limestone escarpment of La Roche de Solutre (opposite) that towers over the area. There are 3 different communes that are covered by the AOC. They are Chaintre, Fuissé, Solutre-Pouilly and Vergisson.

But nevermind all this nonsense, what does it taste like. Well to my mind Pouilly is classic, no nonsense Burgundy Chardonnay, often quite oaky, but with elegant overtones. It is the kind of wine that needs food to match. It may overpower some seafood but I suggest Monkfish or lighter white meat dishes. Also great with Asparagus. If you like heavier Chardonnay rather than Chablis it is well worth a try. Although you will be paying at least £15 for a bottle and up to £35 for a really good one.

And so to Pouilly-Fumé a fabulous wine from the eastern end of the Loire Valley Region, sometimes known as the Central Vineyards region. (I think you can now tell which is my favourite). Most people are aware of Sancerre which is on the opposite bank of the Loire river and makes the worlds most well regarded Sauvignon Blanc. Well Pouilly-Fumé is also made from Sauvignon Blanc and is pretty fine stuff in my view. Sancerre can be a little rich for the blood of most pockets but Pouilly-Fumé can be picked up for just more than £10 and the really special ones for less than £20.

If you love Sauvignon and let's face it most of us do it's well worth a try. Pouilly-Fume has been an AOC since 1937. The wine produced is typical zingy Sauvignon but with a lovely minerality on the palate that is hard to beat. Great with some fresh seafood as simple as a fresh piece of cod but can easily be drunk as a lunchtime ar afternoon aperitif. And I often do. Just yummy.

The Vineyards of the Loire Valley Region with Pouilly at the far eastern end
Well there you have it. The difference between Pouilly-Fuissé and Pouilly-Fumé as clear as I can make it in a short blog. Not wines I would expect you to be drinking everyday, more a little treat for once a while. But both extremely delicious, although my favourite would have to be the Sauvignon.

That is it for now. Hopefully I will be back soon with another blog. If you would like to meet me in person and home is in the UK why not take a look at my website Maybe you need an excuse for a party involving tasting some lovely wines. Do get in touch.

You can also follow me on twitter. or see my facebook page

Until next time, enjoy your wine. Cheers!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Port, Porto and The Douro Valley

I shall begin by saying that my wife Louise absolutely adores port and will have a glass, or two, most nights before bedtime. Her love of the Vinho de Porto stems from a childhood where her Grandad often gave her sips to try. Or so she says, I just call her the 'Portoholic' of the family.

In trying to organise something nice for us to do for our Wedding Anniversary I struck on the idea of actually going to Porto to see and learn about how it is produced. Unfortunately the only flights to Porto from the UK are from either Gatwick or Liverpool, neither of which are particularly convenient airports for us. No matter I booked us to fly out from Gatwick on Saturday 8th June.

I am calling the northern Portuguese city Porto, but for most of the last 300 years in English we have known it as Oporto. This has always caused me confusion but I can now clear that up. In Portuguese "o Porto" means "the Port" and a misinterpretation linguistically led to English speakers calling the city Oporto. You can actually use either name but I prefer Porto.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon and took a rather scary cab ride from the airport to our hotel the Hotel Carris Porto Ribeira, a lovely place just a minutes walk from the Douro River and our room, as requested by myself had fabulous views of the river and of the Port houses on the opposite side of the river in the district of Vila Nova de Gaia.

The View from our hotel room across the Douro
The only plans we had for the weekend were a trip to the Douro valley on the Sunday and a vague idea of touring some of the port houses on the Monday so after unpacking we went for a walk by the river and then towards the city. The first thing that struck us both, and I am sorry to say this, was how grimy and unkempt the city seemed. Graffiti everywhere and many, many beautiful but delapidated and empty buildings. I kept reminding Louise that relatively speaking the Portuguese are quite poor even compared with their near neighbours Spain, where we have been many times. I have to say our first impressions were not so good. I have since read that the authorities in Porto have a problem with people leaving the city centre for the suburbs and are starting to address this with a program of refurbishment. And we did see evidence of this too.
Chocolate cup of port for a euro!

Our first taste of port came in a rather touristy way. A lady selling chocolate cups filled with port for a euro on the street. Yes, it was tacky, the chocolate was average and the port very cheap but hey, it was fun!
We dined simply in a restaurant around the corner from the hotel and hoped for better things on the Sunday.
Map of the Douro river region and it's proximity to Porto

The Sunday tour began with us being picked up at our hotel at 8.30am. There were seven of us on the tour, a real cosmopolitan bunch comprising Americans, Canadians, Dutch as well as us Brits. The drive to the wine region was actually quite long and it was almost two hours before our first stop. But what a view. And the next stop was even better. Having reached Pinhao, the centre of the port wine making region, we climbed inexorably up to the top of the hills to see one of the most spectacular views you could ever wish to see. Sadly the weather was somewhat grey and cloudy but event that did not spoil it.

The spectacular Douro Valley with Pinhao in the distance
By this stage I think we were all hungry and thirsty but we had a short boat trip to complete before lunch in a local restaurant. Lunch was good, if a little late and we feasted on simply cooked meats, salads and potatoes with carafes of wine and port to accompany it.

Louise with the 3 taster wines
at Quinta do Portal
Finally at around 3.30pm we arrived at the cellars of Quinta do Portal for our first tour and tasting of the trip. The cellar and tasting areas are away from the major tourist areas and were  rather stark and foreboding on arrival. Our guide told us a little about the architect, Siza Vieira, a rather strange man it seems, who will not let the company make any changes to the building without his say so and is obsessed with the colour grey. This meant that it felt like we were entering a nuclear test facility rather than a port house and even the name of the company was not allowed to be signed on the front entrance. Honestly, just bonkers! After a short tour of the cellars we tasted three wines, firstly a Moscatel, secondly a pink port (at Louise's suggestion) and finally a 30 year old tawny (Wow!).

From there it was back to the minibus and home to Porto. All in all the tour was frankly disappointing. Badly timed in that we did not have lunch until 2pm and I would have expected to visit at least two wineries but the scenery was spectacular and it did make us realise how hard it is to harvest the grapes on such steep terraces.

Taylor's - There I can see it, just can't find it!
And we found it, eventually!
Monday dawned still grey and cloudy but we had a plan and it involved port (no surprise there). This was the day we had allowed for touring some of the port houses on the river in Vila Nova de Gaia and our favourite house, Taylor's was first on the list. Finding it proved more difficult. We could see it from our hotel room (see the photo above) but did not realise how twisty the roads are on the other side of the river. By 10.30am we were flagging and I had to use my phone to give us walking instructions to find it. But the find was definitely worth it.
The ceiling of Taylor's sumptuous tasting room

A tour of the cellars was 3 euros and included a tasting of 3 ports. Normally you would do the tasting after the tour but the next English tour wasn't for half an hour so we sat in the glorious surrounds sipping at our ports, a Chip Dry White Port, a Fine Ruby and a Ten Year Old Tawny.

Left to Right - Chip Dry White, Ruby, 10 year old tawny
At this point I should confess my knowledge of port styles wasn't, until this trip, as good as it should be for someone with a WSET Advanced Certificate. So a quick guide in a few paragraphs based on the knowledge gained from the tour.

White Port - Made from just white grapes and usually aged for a short period. Serve chilled as an aperitif or mixed in a cocktail, possibly with tonic water as the Portuguese do. The lowest end of the quality spectrum.

Rose Port - New kid on the block. Strictly speaking a ruby port that has had little contact with the skins, similar to a rose wine.

Ruby Port - Aged for a short period of two years, often in concrete or stainless steel vats although sometimes in large oak casks (Taylor's do this). Not intended for ageing and has a bright claret colouring. Good with cheese, especially blue veined cheeses.

Reserve - Fancy name for a ruby port that maybe of slightly better quality. Used to be sometimes called 'Vintage Character' until that was banned in 2002.

LBV - Late bottled vintage. Staple of every decent restaurant or hotel throughout Britain. Essentially an aged ruby port that has had 4 - 6 years ageing. There are two types, filtered and unfiltered, the filtered being ready to drink the unfiltered more like a vintage port that needs decanting. Filtered LBV's are more common in Britain and can be kept for a short time.

Tawny Ports - Port aged in smaller oak barrels. The barrels are not completely filled to allow some oxygen to oxidise the wine a little. This gives it a somewhat nutty flavour and also with age the port will tend to brown. A simple tawny will have been aged two years but there are also 10, 20, 30 and 40 year old tawnies with naturally increase in price the older they are. Great with desserts.

Some of the names of the 32 port houses
Vintage Ports - They wine is initially aged for 2 winters and then an assessment will be made if the port is of sufficient quality to 'declare' a vintage which happens around three times a decade for the large port houses. The port is then bottled and continues to age in the bottle. Vintage port only makes up a small percentage of port production but is of the best quality. The port can then be aged for decades and gains great complexity whilst retaining it's fruitiness. Some 19th century ports are still drinkable today. The port will need decanting on opening as it will throw a significant sediment.

Single Quinta Vintage - In the slightly lesser years the port house may declare a single quinta vintage. That is a vintage from just one of it's estates. These are still sought after from the bigger houses.

Douro River with the old Rabelo boats.
Historically used for transporting the port down river.
Armed with the above knowledge we proceeded to the Taylor's on site shop after our tour and made some purchases. I should say that our nephew is called Taylor, hence why we love the port and we purchased a single quinta vintage from his birth year (he is currently 8 years old) as an 18th birthday present for him in 10 years. We also did the same for our wedding year (2002) and hope to open that for our silver wedding. I hope to still be writing this blog when that day comes.

And guess what. The next day we did all again but around Cockburns!

Enjoying what you're reading. Why not book me for a personal wine tasting with your friends. Ideal for a birthday, celebration, or alternative stag or hen party. See my website.

In the meantime, cheers! Enjoy your wine.

Next time: Celebrities and their vineyards.


Follow me on twitter: @gloryofwine

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Rise and Rise of English Wine

The rise and rise of English wine. It could be a poem couldn't it? I'd like to think by John Betjeman, although in his day if you had suggested he may like to drink English sparkling wine or Merret (more of which later) instead of Champagne I'm sure he would have laughed heartily, despite being the most patriotic of Englishman.

I should make clear here we are talking about English Wine rather than British Wine as has been vitriolically pointed out to me twice in the last week. I'm not sure that anyone is actually aware of British Wine or what it is. British Wine is a very inferior product made from grape juice imported into the UK where as English Wine is produced from fresh grapes grown in England, or Wales or apparently Scotland in the very near future. Just wanted to make that clear as was made clear to me at both events I have attended in the last week.

English Wine is definitely on the rise and whilst I don't think the French are quaking in their boots just yet there is plenty of interest in our viticulture. Grape growing and wine making first started commercially in Britain in the 1960s but it is only in the last 15 years or so that it has become widely regarded and today many high end restaurants are actively stocking and pushing English wines, and with good reason. Our Sparkling Wines in particular are seen as more than a match for Champagne and this is proven in the number of awards they have won.

You may not be aware but English Wine Week took place in the last week of May and lots of events took place around the country to celebrate.

One event I attended was "English Wine in an English Rose Garden" which took place in London  on Saturday 1st June and was hosted by Kelly of, an award winning provider of weekly food and drink experiences. I must give credit to my wife's cousin Carly and her partner James at this point. It was they who organised the day out for us and what a day it was.
Kelly Bayliffe of Tastour
I cannot really say too much about the venue. But I was very impressed that Kelly had managed to set up two tables with all the nibbles, wine, glasses, etc with no help at all having been dropped off in a taxi in the middle of London with masses of people about.

The tasting was all about English Wine and we sampled 3 sparklers, 3 rosé and a sparkling red. Unfortunately Kelly did not give out tasting notes or a list of wines that we tried, which I thought was a bit disappointing, and it was difficult to make notes standing up, especially as I had forgotten to take a pen with me. 

But no matter, we started with a Nyetimber Classic Cuvee which as luck would have it I had tried only the week before at another tasting. I bet in a blind tasting you could not tell it apart from Champagne. It has classic Champagne characteristics with a real biscuity, yeasty flavour and a long lemony finish. We moved on to Camel Valley 'Cornwall' Brut which was a Gold Medal winner and tasted it. Delicious. Matthew Jukes of the Daily Mail rates Camel Valley as "the number one winery in the country" and no wonder. Later on we also tried Camel Valley Sparkling Red which was certainly one of the best sparkling reds I've tried. 

The final sparkling wine was actually my favourite of the day. Ridgeview Bloomsbury is a Chardonnay dominated classic blend with a touch of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir to add finesse and structure just like a classic Champagne. And to me it tasted as the best Champagne should with lovely overtones of melon and honey. We moved onto some rosé wines shortly after tasting the Ridgeview but I could have drank the fizz all afternoon. Wow. 

Selection of the Wines tasted at the English Wine - English Rose Garden Event
I mentioned Merret at the start of the blog and it has been, controversially, suggested that it was Britain Christopher Merret rather than Dom Perignon who invented sparkling wine in the mid 17th Century. I have to give credit for this information to Kelly as it was a new factoid for me. The thought is that whilst the French have Champagne, Spanish, Cava and the Italians Prosecco the English have Merret. Not sure it will catch on but Ridgeview have started putting the Merret name on the neck of their bottles.

Our day with Tastour was completed with a tasting of three rosé wines that were all good but it felt a bit after the Lord Mayor's Show after the Merret. See I told you it would catch on. I should conclude by saying it was a great event, Kelly clearly knows her stuff and a big thank you to Carly and James for buying the tickets for us to attend.

One issue I know someone has with Kelly is Tina Abbiss of Halfpenny Green Vineyards which is only about 3 miles from my front door. Whilst in London Kelly suggested that 50 degrees was the northern limit for successful grape growth and Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire was the most northerly commercially successful operation. Well actually, no.

Tina, from Halfpenny Green
 with budding vines for 2013
Halfpenny Green Vineyards, which is 52 degrees north is celebrating 30 years of wine making this year and is still owned by Martin Vickers, a lifelong farmer, who started with a half acre experiment back in 1983. In fact the operation is a proper family operation with son Clive as winemaker, daughter-in-law Lisa managing the very successful tea rooms and wife Tina running the sales and marketing of the business. And it was Tina I went to see to talk about their wines. The operation has now expanded to over 30 acres of vines with more planned and currently a new extended winery and visitor centre is being built on site. I toured the current winery with Tina. They actually now produce wines for 30 operators as well as their own hugely successful wines. Overall they bottle 90,000 bottles a year from the winery.

Help me Rondo, Help, help me Rondo.
Award winning Rondo wine from 2011
Halfpenny Green produce a whole range of wines from dessert wine to sparkling to a full bodied red. Full bodied red I here you cry? In 2011 growing conditions were perfect to produce a full red wine from the Rondo grape which came in at a whopping 15% but on my tasting was quite delicious. Full and ripe with juicy tannins and velvety, long finish quite unlike many other wines from these shores. Good enough in fact to bad a Silver award at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2013. Unfortunately the weather in 2012 put paid to a repeat performance but they are hopeful for 2013. I should say I tried many of the white wines they offer and all were very pleasant and I hope to try the dessert wine and sparkling wines some time soon.

I should conclude by saying that we have to remember how hard it is to produce quality wines in England. It is estimated that in any decade two years will be great, four years acceptable, and the other four years useless due to our unpredictable weather patterns.

So hats off to all English wine producers, especially Martin, Clive, Tina and the rest of the 40 employees at Halfpenny Green, for giving us a little something to shout about when it comes to wine.

Cheers. Enjoy your wine.

Next time: My visit to Porto in Portugal

Follow me on twitter @gloryofwine

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

What's in a Name? - New World versus Old

Firstly some housekeeping. I flagged up at the end of my last blog that I would be writing about my local vineyard next. Unfortunately I have not yet had chance to do the tour of the place with the owners and I would like to wait until I have done that before I write about it even though I know it well. Hopefully next time.

On Day 1 at wine school the first thing you learn is about how, historically, winemakers name their wines. Well actually, that is not quite true. The first thing you learn is that white wine is not made from white grapes and red wine is not made from red grapes and that rosé is definitely not made by mixing red wine and white wine together.

What I mean is that old world wines from France, Italy and Spain most prominently name their wines based on place rather than the type of grape variety. This is why we get Rioja, Chianti and Beaujolais instead of Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Gamay. In the new world winemakers make the name of the grape variety pre-eminent so we talk about the Chardonnay of Australia, Chenin Blanc of South Africa or Pinot Noir of New Zealand.

It's not an exact science but it is a good rule of thumb. I say this because there are some new world wine areas that are increasingly synonymous with a particular style of wine. Perhaps the best example these days would be Marlborough 'Sauvignon' from New Zealand.

Australian Burgundy anyone?
In fact if we go back some 25 years plus it was common place for the new world producers to use French names on their bottles so we had Australian Burgundy or Chablis for example. Even in Europe this practice existed to a certain extent. Spanish Cava (which I have to say is a fabulous way to start an evening) was commonly called Spanish Champagne, I suspect primarily to encourage British consumers to buy when in the Costas on the early package holidays of the 1960s and 70s.

Of course this practice no longer exists due to the European Law Protected Geographical Status regulations which protects the status of many local specialties including many British ones including Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Stilton cheese. See, Europe is not all bad.

For Australian wines the process took a little longer and only on 1st September 2010 did the practice become illegal although in reality Australian winemakers has stopped using French names when their wine became all the rage in the 1980s.

Over the last 20 years in the time that I have worked in the hospitality trade the knowledge of the general public about wine has increased about 100 fold. These days virtually anyone who drinks wine will know what grape varieties they like to drink. And they will ask for wines by grape variety. I am confident that of the many people that come in and ask for a glass of Merlot if I offered them a glass of St Emilion (leaving aside price issues and I do know that a lot of St. Emilion is blended with Cab. Franc and a little Cab. Sauv) many would say 'no thanks just the Merlot please'. And that really is a great shame because the best wine will always be French.

A classic selection of French wines - How many grape varieties can you see named?
With the massive advancement of Australian, Californian and more recently Chilean and New Zealand wines the vast majority of the public know only grape varieties and not the classic regions and I for one am very sad about that and am making it my aim to encourage people to learn more.

One of the common questions I ask my staff, and they always forget, is what grape variety is Chablis? It causes so much confusion and discussion. In fact I am too embarrassed to repeat the answer one of my staff gave to me to this question. But hey, I'll never give up trying to educate. Oh, and of course it is Chardonnay by the way.

If you enjoy what you're reading why not book a wine tasting with me. See my website at or follow me on twitter.

Until next time thanks for reading and enjoy your wine.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tales Of The Old Waiters' Friend

File:Korkenzieher 01 KMJ.jpg
The corkscrew at its simplest
Ah, the waiters' friend. Once the most important piece of kit that any waiter, barman and especially sommelier could have in his pocket. If you're not sure what I mean I'm guessing you have not worked in hospitality. At home you might call it a corkscrew.

Whatever you call it,  for almost 400 years the corkscrew was the way to remove your corks from your wine bottles.

Karl Wienke's original
patented waiters' friend
Actually the waiters' friend is a specific type of corkscrew, designed with a folding body mechanism similar to a pocket knife. It was conceived by German Karl Wienke in 1882 and patented in Germany, England and America.

There have been many embelishments to the original but the basic shape remains the same. And to this day it is the best way of removing any cork from a bottle. Why anyone would want to spend £140 (US$215) on a Le Creuset Wine Accessories LM-G10 Geo Lever Corkscrew just to do exactly the same job I have no idea.

The idea of opening a bottle of wine as a spotty, wet behind the ears youth of 18 when I started in the trade was utterly terrifying. And I find that that continues today with the 18 year olds I employ. Second only to the fear of opening a bottle of Champagne but we will leave that to another day.

10 years old and still works perfectly.
My home waiters' friend from Vinopolis in London
with 'wineman' my lego mascot
Having worked in the trade over 20 years I have used and lost many a waiters friend and even today I cannot put my hand on my current one. It is probably in my draw at work. But the one I have at home was purchased from Vinopolis, the wine museum in London, over 10 years ago and has done sterling service and shows no sign of wear. But how long I will actually continue to need it for is anyones guess.

The problem with cork is that it's a natural product and therefore is prone to shrinkage, allowing oxidation of the wine and is also the main cause of cork taint. The chemistry here is quite complex so I will leave that to wikipedia but the problem of cork taint has been taxing winemakers for over 60 years. The percentage of wine affected depends on which latest study you read. It is generally agreed to be around 6-8% of bottles although other studies have it as less. A major problem no matter who you believe.

The solution to this has been the screwcap or Stelvin Closure. I love that term. If I ever get a band together I think that would be its name. And now topping the bill The Stelvin Closure. Sorry, day dreaming there for a moment. It was developed in the 1960s by French company La Bouchage Mechanique and first used commercially in Switzerland in 1972, the year of my birth. Australian winemakers soon adopted them but the general public were not so keen and even 30 years later some wine lovers dismiss wine with screwcaps as cheap. But this is a dying breed.

In recent times most, even French, winemakers have embraced the screwcap.For example in 2001 1% of New Zealand wines were in screwcap but by 2004 that was 70%. And for me, besides France, New Zealand makes the best wine in the world. Stelvin isn't completely faultless though, as it is estimated that 1 in 50,000 bottles can be affected by reduction which is the opposite of oxidation. So you still need to do a taste test at the table with your guests in a restaurant setting.

So is the end nigh for natural cork. Well not for a good while yet. Almost 69% of the world wine is still in cork although this is reducing rapidly. Also the top producers of some of the great French wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy are yet to be convinced of the ageing potential of a screwcap and are still to change. But I suspect this is only a matter of time.

So how to enjoy the corkscrew or waiters' friend whilst it is still around. Perhaps a visit to the The Corkscrew Inn in Vancouver, Canada which celebrates every facet of the humble cork extractor. Or if that's too difficult at least visit the Virtual Corkscrew Museum. Honestly it's fun!

Next time: My local vineyard. Yes, in Wolverhampton!

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!

Follow me on twitter

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

My First Tasting Event

If you follow me on twitter or have read the previous blog you may know I have now started a new company offering bespoke, personal wine tastings in private homes. I realise from the outset this will be a major challenge and probably cause me a lot of frustration but no matter I am determined this is a viable business idea which I intend to make successful.

My wife Louise suggested I do a tasting event as a test run where I covered the cost of the event and invited guests to our house. We invited neighbours, who we know to say hello to, but not much more than that; the idea being that they would give me honest feedback. Also the advantage of neighbours is that they did not have to drive home afterwards. Three couples accepted our invitation and I also invited my mother and father in law who are big wine lovers. So with myself and Louise there would be 10 of us. Ideal.

The programme of wines
ISO tasting glasses were hired, a wine tasting program prepared and the wines purchased.
tasting glasses and wine tasting notes set up

At 7.30pm, once all my guests had arrived, I began the evening by thanking them all for coming and by telling them all they were guineas pigs tonight. I was quite nervous, obviously the onus was on me to keep things moving along with information and guidance but I was desperate not to come across as a wine bore. It's a fine balance that my wife and parents-in-law said afterwards I managed well. Judging the knowledge and interest of my audience is going to be a key skill if I am to make my business a success.

The first wine was a Picpoul from Felines Jourdan, purchased from Waitrose. Picpoul is one of those wines drunk heavily by the locals of Languedoc where it is produced but is not much seen in Britain. I started with it because it makes an excellent aperitif wine being crisp and dry. It was actually much darker in colour and heavier on the palate than I expected but it made a good start as everyone liked it.

Never mind the wine admire the label
The second wine was an Organic Viognier from South Australia produced by Yalumba, also from Waitrose. As you will no doubt know Viognier is one of my favourite grape varieties and this one did not disappoint. Rich and tropical with the usual palate of apricots. My audience were less keen, although they all agreed it was the nicest designed label of the evening.

Miolo Chardonnay - Disappointing
Third up was a Brazilian Chardonnay from Miolo that I have had for a number of months. I blogged about Brazilian wine previously and had high hopes but unfortunately the wine was disappointing. Rather thin, with dull flavours and little body everyone was quite happy to move rapidly on to the next wine.

Marlborough Sauv - Yummy!

The final white wine of the evening was a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc purchased from Tanners. Pretty much all Marlborough Sauv is great despite the recent glut of it to take advantage of the demand but I can say with all honesty that Tanners only sell good and mostly great wines and this was no exception. The usual nettle and gooseberry flavours were present and for most of my guests this was their favourite of the white wines.

After we completed the four white wines I was anxiously looking at my watch worrying about the time. I thought 90 minutes for the event and we were less than 45 minutes in but I need not have worried. After a little break where we enjoyed some of the food we had provided we started on the four red wines and the time flowed along nicely.

First up was a Cono Sur Pinot Noir from Sainsbury's. I figured a lighter red was the best way to start and I always think Pinot Noir is the first wine to try if you are new to red wines. I have to say I love Chilean wines, there hardly seems to be a bad one made and this was great too. Simple yes, but delicious all the same.

Next was another Chilean wine, a Gran Reserva Merlot from Luis Felipe Edwards. The use of Reserva, Gran Reserva and the like by Chilean winemakers is a bit arbitary as they have no legal standing but it does suggest better quality and this was superb. Merlot is probably my favourite red grape as it makes such easy to drink wine and this was definitely my favourite wine of the night.

Argentinian Malbec - Bring me that steak
Batting at number three was a Malbec from Argentina. It was a full on 14% and tasted it. I warned all the guests that it was probably a food wine beforehand and so it proved. Full of dark plum fruits with overtones of dark chocolate and mocha it would be great with a sirloin steak and chips!

The final wine of the night was really the centrepiece of the evening. It was by far the most expensive wine of the event and I hoped it would really stand out. A famous name from a famous appellation. Purchased from Tanners the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Télégramme, H Brunier et Fils is a classic only outranked by its bigger brother the Vieux Télégraphe. My guests immediately knew it was the most expensive wine of the night and all but one thought it the best and that says it all. Delicious plummy fruit with spice, a touch of leather and soft, ripe tannins.

The conversation flowed long after the last wine was poured and my guests enjoyed helping themselves to more of the wines they liked the most.

My final duty was to award a nice Hugh Johnson Wine Journal prize to Anita who I thought made the most interesting contributions to the evening. I was warmly thanked by all in attendance and those thanks have continued for a couple of days now. All in all a very successful event.

So now its over to you. Why not let me come to you and organise a wine tasting for you and your friends and family. Please do take a look at my website. and I hope you will get in touch. My packages start at £15 per person with 10 being the minimum charge (although it would work with any number from 6 up). I am based near Wolverhampton and will travel anywhere in the wider Midlands area. I look forward to hearing from you.

Next time: Tales of the old waiters friend, oh and the Stelvin Closure!

Enjoy you wine. Cheers!

Follow me on twitter

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Glory of Wine Tastings and Wine Serving Temperatures

Reading the above title you might be thinking 1. Boring, I'm not interested in his new business or 2. These are two different topics that are not interlinked. Well actually they are linked and I will eventually explain why. So I hope you will read on.

About five weeks ago I had an epiphany of sorts and decided my wine knowledge needed to be put to better use. Writing these blogs is all very well but it's not getting me anywhere closer to retirement. A combination of a number of factors led me to decide that I would start my own business offering private wine tastings in the home as a sideline to my full time job.

And for the last five weeks I have been running around trying to make that happen. Well, I say running around, of course these days most new business start ups are centered around a computer screen and that is where I mostly been when not at work. First a business name, then a business plan, then a logo and some artwork and finally a website. Plus the starting of a new twitter page gloryofwine.

Until I started this I did not realise how difficult constructing a website is and spent two whole days on it. It also made be appreciate how great the Blogger service from Google is as it is so simple to use. But enough about the technicalities you're here to read about wine.

One of the difficulties of taking wine, particularly white wine, to anyones house is controlling the temperature. There is always a worry that it will be too warm to drink unless you buy one of those wine jackets who Vacu Vin seem to have the leading product line in. And obviously this will need to be a consideration for myself once I start taking booked events. But the truth is most people, and I passionately believe in this, serve white wine too cold and red wine too warm.

Wine Temperature Serving Guide
Take a look at the diagram above, which comes from the excellent Bibendum website. Most domestic refrigerators are set to 5˚C as recommended by the Food Standards Agency. And I would bet that most people take their white wine from the fridge and serve it immediately. It's too cold. It will need a little time to warm up to be perfect to drink. Only once the wine is a little warmer, as high as 11˚C for some whites such as classic white Burgundy, will you be able to appreciate the nuances of the wine.

A similar rule applies to red wine. Nearly all homes have their thermostat in their lounge or dining rooms set to 20˚C for comfort, possibly higher. As can be seen above all red wines should be served below that. My father-in-law, has a great saying on this subject. The French serve their red wines "chambre" which we have translated as meaning room temperature which is only partly true. Chambre, of course, means bedroom in French, which traditionally would have been a little cooler.

So just remember to take that fine New Zealand Sauvignon out the fridge 20 minutes before you wish to drink it and leave the Chianti in a slightly cooler room until you need it.

Next time: My very first tasting event of my new business, oh and wine journals.

Enjoy your wine. Until next time. Cheers!


Follow me on twitter
Glory of Wine Tastings website

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Viognier, Verdelho and Verdejo

What is it about grape varieties beginning with V. There are loads of them, I suspect because the Italians and Spanish secretly love the letter V. And it's also confusing because many of them are also known by other names. Actually, a little confession here, it confuses me too. Until a week ago in my mind Verdelho and Verdejo were one and the same just different spellings from a different language. You know, the old syrah - shiraz or pinot gris - pinot grigio thing that still confuses my staff sometimes. Only when I tried a bottle of Verdejo did I think, hang on this doesn't taste like those lovely wines from Australia I tried that I realised my mix up. More of which later.

Firstly to Viognier - hard to pronounce, easy to drink. It's been on my list of up and coming varieties for some time now and whilst it's still somewhere in the higher reaches of the Championship rather than the Premiership (little English football analogy there for you) I'm pleased to say you do now see it in most supermarkets as well as the better merchants. And so you should. It's really rather good. In my mind I usually associate a fruit flavour with different varieties. For example say Chianti and I will shout cherries, say New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and I will shout gooseberries. A form of tourettes if you like. Well for Viognier it is apricots. I don't think I have tried one yet where they haven't been present.

Classically Viognier is French, like most of the classic varieties and is grown in the Rhône Valley. It produces, most famously, wines of the AC Condrieu which are 100% Viognier but is also grown in Languedoc and blended with the likes of Roussane and Marsanne in Vin de Pays from that region. Until recent times it was very much out of fashion and declining but successful production in Chile, the United States and Australia has seen it rise again.

But I think Viognier has one great asset, it is a fantastic accompaniment to chicken, virtually any kind of chicken dish you could think of from a whole roast bird to chicken tikka massala. So much so I call it the chicken wine and tell this to my guests in our restaurant. Having roast chicken for lunch this Sunday? Why not give it a try.

Crisp, dry Verdelho
Whilst I was in Australia I came across a variety that I did not know too much about. Verdelho is the principal grape variety of Madeira and is grown extensively in Portugal but I discovered it makes a lovely white wine and I tried two whilst in Oz. One from the Hunter Valley and one from Margaret River region. 

Rich, creamy Verdejo

Once back in the UK I decided I would blog about Verdelho and set out to find another one to taste. In my confusion in Majestic I purchased a Verdejo instead thinking it was the same grape. Of course it's not and I realised immediately. The Verdelho were herbaceous with bundles of acidity whilst the Verdejo was rich and creamy with notes of pineapple, almost like a Chardonnay. Still great wine though and well worth a try.

Next time: The launch of my new business offering bespoke, fun, informative wine tastings in your home.  Oh, and the importance of wine temperatures.

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!

Follow my new twitter account @gloryofwine