We’re delighted to have partnered with Nappy Valley NET, the Mums Guide to South West London life, in the run up to Christmas to produce the perfect stocking filler – a special case with a saving of £19.89!
Available to Nappy/Valley/Netters and our Customers this case is crammed with 12 irresistible wines for the festive season; including divine Pinot Gris and Bordeaux Blanc, award winning Clarets, delicious Bordeaux Rose, Oscar winning White, and Gold Medal Pinot Noir, this case is full of tempting treats. View here.
The case features:
2 Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire 2014
Soft, smoky Pinot Gris from the Loire Valley. Crisp, fresh and mouth watering. Gently spiced flavours of ripe pear, white peach and lychee with a touch of lemon and ginger. Pleasantly intense aromas and very nicely balanced with floral overtones. Generous with a lingering freshness. 100% Pinot Gris. 12.5% abv. 75cl.
2 Chateau Roc de Levraut Bordeaux Superieur 2012 – Bronze Medal
Refined Bordeaux Superieur with soft, melting tannins and lovely balance. Layered flavours of blackcherry, blackurrant, chocolate and mulberry with notes of anise, cinnamon and vanilla. Fine, fresh and full of finesse. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon 13.5% abv. 75cl
2 Chateau Ballan Larquette Bordeaux Rose 2013 – Silver Medal
Bordeaux Rose. Satiny smooth, delicious and elegant with good refreshing acidity. Sensuous flavours of dark red cherry and ripe strawberry lifted by mouthwatering notes of pink grapefruit, sweet hay and spice. A sophisticated wine. 45% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. 12.5 % abv. 75cl
2 Chateau Rioublanc Organic Claret 2010 – Gold Medal Winner
Organic Gold Medal Winning Claret. Beautifully balanced with great structure and a fine nose of luscious black fruits. Deep flavours of blueberry, ripe blackberry and dark plum with notes of vanilla, pepper and oak. Soft, elegant tannins awith a nice lasting finish. Decant 2 hours before serving. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% abv. 75cl.
2 Chateau Ballan Larquette 2013 – Bordeaux Oscar Winner
Stylish Bordeaux Blanc with good structure, acidity and balance. Light, bright and thirst quenching. Layered flavours of lime, apple, white peach and sweet red gooseberry with notes of dried herbs and acacia blossom. Lovely long finish. 50% Semillon, 50% Sauvignon Blanc. 12.5% abv. 75cl
2 Le Chapitre, Pinot Noir, Val de Loire 2014 – Gold Medal
Pure, fine Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley. Remarkably fresh and beautifully structured. Flavours of morello cherry, kirsch and mocha with overtones of pepper, earl gray tea and forest floor. Polished, soft tannins and lovely balance. Vibrant and full of finesse. 100% Pinot Noir. 12% abv. 75cl.
Whether it’s down to adventurous wine enthusiasts or those who are tired of the same old wines there has been a resurgence in interest in the world’s lesser known grapes. So are you missing out on wines made with grapes you’ve never even heard of? You could be . . .
Consumer fatigue is a well known problem – just look what happened to Chardonnay. We may fall in love with popular styles but they can soon become repetitive and we end up bored of them. However thanks to a combination of different factors incredible wines are being made from endangered grapes being rescued from the critical list. There are plenty of rare and obscure grapes out there that have been saved from extinction by passionate and pioneering wine makers. Many of these grapes are capable of producing fantastic wines in these hands . . . and why not? They did so in the past!
Most wine lovers don’t know that the grapes we are used to today are the survivors of a great disaster that wiped out Europe’s grapes 160 years ago. Before Europe’s vineyards were devastated many grapes that we haven’t heard of today were used to make wines.
Once a solution to the crisis was found scores of grape varieties disappeared as wine makers hastily replanted with grafted vines that were a) readily available b) easier to grow and c) produced a reliable cash crop. Sadly a lot of great grape varieties got lost in the rush.
The Great Wine Blight aka the Phylloxera Epidemic
The great wine blight was caused by a variety of aphid known as grape phylloxera that originated in North America. It’s thought that the aphid was accidentally carried across the Atlantic to Europe in the late 1850s by plant collectors and wine makers importing American grapevines. The aphid was first identified in France around 1863 by the botanist Jules Emile Planchon and by 1889 up to 9/10ths of all European vineyards had been destroyed by the bug..
There is no cure for grape phylloxera (even today) but there was a solution. French colonists in America had watched the grapevines they had brought with them die and it soon became common knowledge that European vines would not grow in American soil. They therefore resorted to growing the native American grapevines instead of the vines they had brought with them from home. They didn’t know it back then but the American vines were resistant to the bug. Working with Planchon and the American horticulturist Thomas Volney Munson, entomologist Charles Valentine Riley grafted French vines onto resistant American rootstock from grapevines in Texas. This technique worked and it saved the European grapes.
There are European grapes that, despite the odds, survived the blight and there are pockets of them dotted throughout France. Chateau Haut Bailly is an example in Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux. Over 15% of their vines are ancient, pre-phylloxera stock. Domaine Plageoles is another vineyard specialising in wines made from historical grape varieties that survived in Gaillac and Bollinger in Champagne also possess pre-phylloxera vines.
A famous plot of surviving vines lies at Plaimont in Saint Mont, Gascony. These are very old, non-grafted vines that grow in 10 metre deep sandy oils. The plot contains some of the oldest vines in France, some are believed to be over 200 years old, giving new meaning to the term ‘vielles vignes’ (old vines)! The plot was declared a national historical monument in 2012 andholds a unique collection in France (around 116 different, rare grape varieties) and this botanical heritage is now attracting attention from researchers, scientists and vintners alike.
What’s remarkable is that these vines give a glimpse into viticulture hundreds of years ago, and they have preserved varietals long since forgotten. Added to this are over 30 unknown varieties – their names lost long ago – discovered abandoned, yet still thriving, in deserted plots.
These vines are of vital importance as they hold the genetic keys to today’s grapes and can help winegrowers of the future. As the climate changes the old varieties have qualities that may come back into the fore and we might be drinking wines made from grapes named Arrat, Canaril, Aouillat, Chacolis, Miousap, Claverie, Morrastel and Morenoa in the not too distant future!
It’s not all about preservation; wine makers are rapidly replanting rare, old grape varieties and new discoveries are coming to light on a regular basis. Liber Pater is probably the most well known example of a modern wine maker using old grape varieties. This is a premium vineyard in Graves that set about replanting rare grape vines using propagation from their own pre-phylloxera, ungrafted rootstock. Sadly they had their vineyard vandalised last week. The vines were a historical treasure and included varieties that existed in Bordeaux 200 years ago: Castets, Mancin and Pardotte. You may not have heard of these grapes before but the wines they go into can fetch up to 3,000 euros a bottle!
Of course you don’t have to splash out on expensive wines to be adventurous – there are many small producers who make amazing artisan wines from forgotten grapes. If you are fed up with the same old wines and want to discover some new gems the choice is varied and it’s growing annually.
So, how adventurous are you? If you have fallen in love with a new discovery please let me know!
‘Where to buy the best Merlot?’ is a question fans of this soft, smooth and fruity grape often ask. Merlot lovers could do well by looking in Bordeaux, Merlot’s birthplace. Bordeaux has earned its reputation as a prime source of superior quality wines and you’re getting a lot more for your money with a Merlot from Bordeaux . . .
To be fair, most of Bordeaux’s Merlot goes into its Clarets, particularly those from the Right Bank AOCs, but Bordeaux also produces some hedonistic 100% Merlots that are at the pinnacle of their game. Chateaux Petrus, Le Pin and Clinet are famous names that roll of connsoisseurs tongues and they are all incredible wines made from Merlot. They have incredible price tags too. However smaller chateaux with lesser profiles also produce superb Merlots and it is here that true bargains can be found.
Bordeaux’s Merlot came into being when the two red grapes Cabernet Franc and the newly rediscovered Magdeleine Noire des Charentes crossed at some distant point in the past. No one knows whereabouts in Bordeaux it happened but the new grape flourished and producers started to cultvate it in their vineyards for the qualities it brought to the wines: lush texture, fruitiness, richness and smoothness. Merlot’s flavours and fragrance of blackberry, plum, black cherry, dark chocolate, anise, blueberry and cedar added a new dimension to Bordelaise wine making too.
Bordeaux is the birthplace of Merlot.
I’d place a bet that Merlot started out on the Right Bank as the soil type and conditions there suit it down to the ground.
The earliest recorded mention of it dates to a Right Bank wine labelled ‘Merlau’ in 1784. ‘Merlau’ means ‘blackbird’ and either refers to the blueish black colour of the dark skinned grapes or the blackbirds who couldn’t eat enough of them.
As time progressed Merlot found a home in the rest of Bordeaux. Its main champion was Armand d’Armailhacq who introduced it to the great estates of the Medoc AOCs on the Left Bank. Thanks to him Merlot took root at First Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Classified Growths d’Armailhac and Pontet Canet. Today, Merlot is not only one of the primary grapes used in Claret and the most planted grape in Bordeaux but it is also one of the world’s most planted grapes.
Merlot is the star player on the Right Bank thanks to the region’s pockets of iron rich clay. Pomerol Merlot’s are among the world’s most prestigious with Saint Emilion coming in close behind, followed by Fronsac. Looking beyond these well known AOCs there are superb Merlots being produced on similar soils under similar conditions. Tracking down the talent in the sea of hopefuls is one of the joys of being a wine merchant although it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Finding the perfect candidate:
A good Merlot shouldn’t burn out. Fruit bombs tend to suffer from fatigue; one quick burst of power and then they are exhausted. This is where Bordeaux really comes into its own, producing velvety Merlots with good structure and layers of fruit to enjoy is one of the region’s strengths.
Given that Merlot thrives on clays it makes sense for the talent spotter to hunt down areas that fit this criteria but fall under the radar.
Looking beyond the Right Bank, the hillsides of the Dropt Valley in the Pays du Haut Entre Deux Mers (the Highlands of Entre Deux Mers) is a good place to start. The Entre Deux Mers is a great inverted ‘v’ of land sandwiched between the right bank of the river Garonne to the south and the left bank of the river Dordogne to the north. Named ‘between the two seas’ thanks to the two tidal rivers; it’s bordered by Graves and Pessac Leognan to the west and Pomerol, Fronsac and Saint Emilion to the east. The south facing open mouth of this ‘v’ spills out into the Pays de Hauts Entre de Mers and disappears into the Cotes de Duras and du Marmandais in the Lot et Garonne.
Of course borders drawn on maps don’t apply to soils and the clays that nurture the Merlots under Pomerol and Fronsac naturally pop up elsewhere.
There are less well known pockets of favourable soils suited to a variety of famous Bordeaux grapes dotted throughout the entire Entre Deux Mers but it is the Pays de Haut and its outlier the Cotes de Duras where Merlot has deep roots (in more ways than one).
It is here that you can find petits chateux wine makers producing lovely examples of pure Merlot wines (and Clarets but that’s another story).
Newly discovered: Chateau Grand Champ
Chateau Grand Champ is a recent discovery of mine and I have introduced it to the UK for the first time. The chateau is a fourth generation family owned property in the village of Camiran, bordered by the River Dropt.
The Pauquet family specialise in making award winning single variety wines and this Merlot won Gold Medal at the Concours de Bordeaux.
The wine is named after the ‘great field’ (Grand Champ) that bears the grapes next to the 18th century limestone petit chateau.
Camiran lies deep in unspoilt countryside overlooking the Dropt Valley in the Pays de Haut Entre de Mers. This a sleepy, secret region tucked well away from the beaten track – in fact roads were scarce here as the nature of the river made building them difficult. Even today the best way to discover the region is by bicycle along the lanes and tracks. The valley is scattered with little wine making farmsteads, meadows, plum orchards and vineyards. Camiran’s history is linked to the River Dropt, along which wines were traded for centuries. The settlement had its own little port between the 15th-19th centuries which was a hub for sending wines to Bordeaux.
The French historian and writer, Hippolyte Taine, wrote of the Dropt Valley in the 1850s that ‘this is a good country; a good country that reveals itself only to those who are able to discover it.’ Discovering Chateau Grand Champ is well worth it. The Pauquets practice sustainable agriculture (certified since 2004) and combine tradition and modernity. Merlot is their dominant grape and they have honed their craft to a fine art over the years; hence their array of awards in France.
Rich, rounded, classy, medium bodied Merlot. Full flavours of plump black cherry, blueberry and plum with lovely notes of ripe raspberry, nutmeg, chocolate and caramel. Silky sweet tannins, good structure and a long lasting finish.
100% Merlot. 13.5% abv. 75cl.
Being a smooth, soft, medium weighted wine, Chateau Grand Champ pairs well with a whole range of foods. It marries with Mediterranean pizza and pasta; tomato, bell pepper and aubergine dishes (moussaka, lasagne, stuffed peppers), chicken, pork, ham, lamb and steak. It can even be a match for pan fried salmon or tuna.
The British have always loved their bubbly. We’ve been entranced by Champagne since the 19th century and we’ve spread the love to encompass Prosecco. But we are missing out on a vast swathe of fantastic fizz. There’s a world of Mousseux out there begging to be discovered.
There’s no prospect of the British love affair with bubbly dimming. Sales are booming as we broaden our quest to discover quality fizz that fits the bill. Our first love may be Champagne but thanks to a growing demand for reasonably priced bubbly there is a wider choice of sparkling wines available today than ever before.
Traditionally France has always lead the way but in the past decade Cava (Spain) and more recently Prosecco (Italy) have made huge inroads to the market. Alarm bells sounded this year with a threatened Prosecco shortage caused by a poor harvest in 2014. This was followed by warnings of Prosecco price rises, partly down to the impending shortage, market manipulation and producers wishing to craft premium ‘top dollar’ Prosecco. It’s not surprising that Italian wine makers wish to up their game – in 2014 Prosecco sales outstripped those of Champagne for the first time. Only time will tell if Prosecco starts to become more expensive.
France has by no means been left behind. In the 2015 Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards on Sept 2nd France was the most successful country with 19 more gold medals (46 in all) than second placed Italy. It remains a fabulous source of sparkling wine.
Beyond Champagne France’s equivalent to Prosecco are the Vins Mousseux. ‘Mousseux’ comes from ‘mousse’ and refers to the foam of bubbles that froths to the top of the glass. Vins Mousseux are made the length and breadth of France and flagship grapes from each different wine region give each sparkling wine its personality and character. Better known regions span from the Loire, Rhone, Savoie, Languedoc Roussillon and Gaillac.
If you enjoy sparkling wine, French Vins Mousseux have a wide variety of styles to suit every taste. Vins Mousseux tend to be fruitier and more lively than Cremants and Champagnes. They are typically drunk young so that you get all the benefits of the aromas and flavours whilst they are still vibrant. Cremants and Champagnes (made by the Method Champenoise) lose their fruitiness as the wine develops and take on flavours of brioche, toast, caramel and nuts. Vins Mousseux have a mousse of bubbles that last till the last sip from the glass but the bubbles tend to be bigger and more zippy than Cremants or Champagnes.
Mousseux – the origins of effervescence
Contrary to myth the French didn’t invent sparkling wine (though they certainly developed it into what we know today). Wine becomes effervescent when it undergoes secondary fermentation. It’s a phenomenon that has occurred since the beginning of wine making itself – the oldest known document mentioning it is an Egyptian papyrus dated 522 AD. However, it was often looked on as a fault and as something to be avoided.
Taming the bubble
As wine making improved down the ages people began to enjoy its natural ability to twinkle. But wine makers didn’t understand what made it occur. What they didn’t know was that the bubbles were created when the wine underwent a second fermentation, producing an excess of carbon dioxide which gave the wine a fizzy quality.
A grand collaboration between the British and French, driven by a thirst for sparkling wine . . .
Dom Perignon, the fabled French monk who the Champagne Dom Perignon is named for, wasn’t the first to laud the fizzing qualities of sparkling wine – it was being remarked on in 13th century France and its tongue tickling sensations were hailed as extraordinary. By the 17th century major developments were underway as producers sought to perfect the secondary fermentation. It was an Englishman who perfected the technique. Christopher Meret (born in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire) delivered a paper to the Royal Society in 1662 setting out a recipe for sparkling wine. He recommended adding sugar to a finished wine which would start off a secondary fermentation and produce the bubbles we love so well.
Different methods were developed as time went on. They boil down to two basic techniques:
Methode Charmat or Methode de la Cuve Close – used by most Vins Mousseux (and also by Prosecco, Asti etc!). Invented by Jean Eugene Charmat in 1907 (whose son was the creator of the sparkling wine Veuve de Vernay). The second fermentation takes place in a pressurized vat.
Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle – used by Champagne and Cremant producers. With this method the second fermentation occurs in the bottle.
The first mention of ‘Sparkling Champagne’ was in English, not French, in 1676. Bottles strong enough to withstand the explosive powers of fizz were developed by the English using coal-fired glass, corks were reintroduced to the French by British bottlers . . . and corks with wire muselets (which translates as ‘muzzle’) were invented by the French in 1844.
Discover the Duc
Popular in France, and exclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered in the UK, Duc de Berieu Brut and Duc de Berieu Demi Sec are made by along established negociant, with several prestigious chateaux to their name, who specialize in the production of sparkling wines.
Both these Vins Mousseux are made with Ugni Blanc, which is the French name for Trebbiano. The name Ugni Blanc holds the key to this grape, it’s derived from the old French name ‘Unia’ which comes from the Latin ‘Eugenia, meaning ‘noble’ and the grape is an unsung hero when it comes to sparkling wines.
Having taken both these wines to various shows up and down the country they have been favourably received especially when they are directly compared with Processco. The consensus of opinion is that they are clean and fresher than their Italian rival. So why not try yourself? At £6.99 a bottle you have nothing to lose!
Are you missing out on superb Bordeaux? Second Wines from the great and the good amongst the Grand Cru Classe are highly sought after but many quality vineyards in Bordeaux produce them. They are a wonderful source of lovely wines that are much more affordable than the Grand Vins heralded as the first label . . .
Bordeaux is the only wine region in the world that legally defines a chateau’s second label, enshrining a guarantee of quality in French law. Second Wines have really come into their own over the past few decades with more and more chateaux adopting the practice. But this is by no means a 21st century phenomenon, the practice of making a Second Wine is an ancient one. Records show that the owners of Premier Cru Chateau Haut Brion produced a Second Wine dating back to at least the 1700s.
Second Wines were born as chateaux expanded and improved their estates centuries ago – and this process continues today. Primarily instigated by the prestigious Grand Cru Classe, most Second Wines came into existence in the 1870s – 1930s as separate brands to the Grand Vins (flagship wines). As their popularity grew within the markets they have been rebranded and reborn from the 1960s onwards as chateaux owners realised their potential . . . and wine enthusiasts discovered their appeal.
Second Wines are neither ‘factory seconds’ or clearance goods. Far from it.
The main attraction of a Second Wine is that you are getting a highly crafted vintage that mirrors the more expensive Grand Vin. Second Wines share the same expertise that goes into the making of the Grand Vin and often share its history. However they don’t share the same price. Second Wines from top chateaux are usually priced less than a fifth of the Grand Vin (with some exceptions that command more).
Being wealthy, the Grand Cru Classes, were the first to embark on the strategy of producing Second Wines. The process may have roots embedded in the distant past but what has changed is the clout that certain Second Wines have within the market. Today there are more than 700 Second Wines.
Evolution over time has seen chateaux develop and rebrand Second Wines that come from both second estates and second labels:
1850s – Carruades created by Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Rebranded as Moulin de Carruades in the late 1960s and then again as Carruades de Lafite in 1980s.
1874 – Second Wine created by Chateau Pichon Lalande, rebranded as La Reserve de la Comtesse in 1973.
1902 – Second estate Clos du Marquis used as a Second Wine by Chateau Leoville Las Cases until 2007 which saw Le Petit Leon created as a premium Second Wine.
1908 – Pavillon Rouge created by Chateau Margaux, reintroduced 1978.
1927 – Carruades de Mouton created by Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Renamed Mouton Cadet in 1930 which developed into a brand in its own right. 1993 saw Le Petit Mouton, created as a premium Second Wine.
1963 – Les Forts de Latour, created by Chateau Latour
What’s the difference between second estates and second labels?
1. Second Estates
Most Second Wines do not have the word ‘chateau’ in their label but in a few instances you will see some Second Wines that do. These are typically second estates that have been added to the principal chateau’s portfolio in times past. These second estates’ title, terroir and reputations have specific qualities to entitle them to produce wines in their own right rather than suffer the fate of having their lands swallowed up by their new owners.
Second estates are added to chateaux either through inheritance or by acquisition. The practice of buying up your neighbours is not a new one in Bordeaux. Successful chateaux often seek to expand by acquiring rivals that sit on coveted top quality land. These prime vineyards are sometimes absorbed into the buyer’s estate to enhance the Grand Vin or to increase its production. This happened to Chateau La Tour du Pin in 2012 when it was merged into the vineyards of Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc. (Sadly La Tour du Pin no longer exists, which is a shame as it was a lovely wine – however we do have some rare vintages available, 2006 and 2007.)
Alternatively second estate vineyards are exclusively used to produce a Second Wine. Chateau Moulin Riche, made by Chateau Leoville Poyferre, is an example of a successful Second Wine from a second esate. It was inherited by the owners of Leoville Poyferre in 1894 and was of sufficient status to stand alone from the Grand Vin. For many years it was effectively the chateau’s Second Wine but in 2009 it was granted independence in its own right thanks to its reputation. Leoville Poyferre then created an replacement Second Wine named Pavillon de Poyferre.
2. Second Labels
Second Wines also came about via methods of improvement. Chateaux have different plots of vines within their vineyards of varying age and grape variety. Each plot has its specific terroir and the batches of wines produced from these plots bear different characteristics. Chateaux develop consistent house styles by picking out the hallmark traits from these batches to create their preferred blend for the Grand Vin. However this presented a problem – what could they do with the quality wine that didn’t go into the blend? In the past this would have been sold off to the trade but as techniques improved and quality soared the chateaux realised this was a dreadful waste of a good product. The answer was to create a Second Label.
This process has been refined even further with a handful of Grand Cru Classe introducing Third and Fourth labels – Premier Cru Chateaux Latour produces Pauillac de Latour (3rd Wine) and Margaux produces Pavillon Blanc de Margaux (a white 3rd Wine) and Margaux de Margaux (4th Wine).
Nowadays most serious contenders on the Left Bank (the Medoc AOCs) produce a Second Wine. Second Wines are less common amongst Right Bank properties in Pomerol as their vineyards are much smaller.
Chateau Haut Manoir is the Second Wine of Chateau La Commanderie in Pomerol. It sits in the same pocket of land as top performing estates: Chateau Nenin is its nearest neighbour, Chateau La Conseillante sits to the east and Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc is less than half a mile away. Haut Manoir lies on lies on lands owned by the Knight Hospitallers of Saint John and it’s parent, Chateau La Commanderie, takes its name from the 12th century Hospitaller Commandry that was once situated there.
Haut Manoir will easily be appreciated by lovers of wine from this famous appellation. At £16.99 Haut Manoir was very well received by visitors to the Oxford Wine Festival when I introduced it there.
Fine textured and full bodied. Deeply layered flavours of black cherry, blackcurrant and chocolate with spicy notes of ginger and liquorice. Undertones of caramel and an elegant balsamic bouquet of black pepper and fig. Plush and polished with velvety tannins.
Food and Wine Pairing:
Haut Manoir bears all the hallmarks of a good Pomerol and being fuller bodied, sensuous and deeply flavoured it is perfect with game, roast lamb, duck and beef. It’s particularly good with venison, pigeon and wild boar sausages as well as Chinese dishes with Hoisin sauce, braised steak, hearty casseroles, truffle and mushroom based pastas, liver or kidneys.
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