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The great grape comeback . . . why you might be grateful for Gamay

If Gamay isn’t on your radar but you enjoy your Pinot Noir you are missing out – for Pinot is Gamay’s parent and this grape might just be your next big discovery. Both hail from Burgundy and both have a similar light bodied style but unlike Burgundy, good Gamay doesn’t have to cost the earth. Fruitier than Pinot; Gamay is the grape behind Beaujolais and, thanks to a huge revival, this once ‘retro’ grape is making a comeback. It’s poised to become a serious contender on the world stage . . .

Gamay's under the spotlights once more
Gamay’s under the spotlights once more

Back into the limelight

Decades ago Gamay found fame with the craze for Beaujolais Nouveau and, like most fads, it was destined to fade away from the spotlight. However, Gamay never quite got to take that final bow and the curtains didn’t drop on its last act. Instead Gamay went on a world tour. Stepping out of the spotlight paid off and the resulting resurgence in interest on developing Gamay’s potential has lead to it finding a new home in the New World wine regions of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the USA (California and Oregon).

Both Gamay and Pinot Noir make light bodied wines
Both Gamay and Pinot Noir make light bodied wines

In the Old World of Gamay’s native France, it has moved once more into the limelight as passionate producers have pushed the grape to new heights with the best wines coming from the Beaujolais Villages and Cru Beaujolais AOCs. Beyond Gamay’s stronghold in Beaujolais the grape has now found a second home in the Loire.

Today Gamay is full of possibilities, it’s repertoire is growing with variations on its style being developed constantly in different sets of countries.

Gamay’s spreading popularity has also lead to it being being blended in an ever evolving set of wines from across the world with Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

Gamay grapes
Gamay grapes

Gamay’s lineage

Gamay’s full name is ‘Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc’ and it’s thought to have originated in the village of Gamay, south of Beaune in Burgundy. The local names for the grape are ‘Bourguignon Noir’ (Black Burgundy) and ‘Petit Bourguignon’ (Little Burgundy). Gamay’s parents are the black Burgundian grape Pinot Noir and the white Gouais Blanc. Given Gamay’s deep rooted connections with Burgundy it seems strange that this grape found its home in Beaujolais. The reason behind this is down to its success. Gamay is easier to grow than Pinot Noir as it ripens 2 weeks earlier and it produces a stronger, fruitier wine. Back in the 1360s villagers in Burgundy preferred to plant Gamay over Pinot which lead the Duke of Burgundy to outlaw it in 1395. The Duke preferred his Pinot and that was that. Fortunately Gamay was adopted by Beaujolais . . . and the rest is history.

The difference in styles between New World and Old World Gamay

New World Gamay

Gamay's signature flavour is of cherry
Gamay’s signature flavour is of cherry

It’s a little early to put a definitive style on cool climate Gamay from Canada and New Zealand as Gamay is still making its first appearance there. There’s much expectation (and excitement) about what wines will find favour.

  • Flavour profile: In general the wines have less of an earthy undertone than those from France. They are characterised by a light body, gentle tannins, vibrant red cherry flavours, fresh acidity and intense perfume.

Gamay can express roasted fennel seed / fenugreek notes
Gamay can express hints of roasted fennel seed / fenugreek

Gamay didn’t make its debut in California until the 1990s as Napa wine makers had been mistakenly growing Valdigue instead, believing it to be Gamay.

  • Flavour profile: Grown at higher altitudes Californian Gamay is typically light bodied, lively and aromatic with bright, sweet and sour morello cherry flavours lifted by roasted warm spices (fenugreek and fennel seed).

Australian Gamay is also new on the block thanks to the warmer climate not suiting Gamay (which prefers cooler temperatures). However antipodean wine makers have persisted and Gamay growing has developed.

  • Flavour profile: These wines are light bodied and tend to have deeper fruit flavours than their New World cousins of black cherry, crushed strawberry and violets with juicy acidity.

Old World Gamay

Beautifully perfumed, Gamay can show notes of Peony
Beautifully perfumed, Gamay can show notes of Peony

Gamay is Beaujolais’ star and the better wines come from the AOCs Beaujolais Villages and Crus Beaujolais.

Beaujolais Villages AOC tend to vinify their wines in a similar method to neighbouring Burgundy. Wine here are aged briefly in oak barrels which gives an intriguing depth and compexity.

  • Flavour profile: Grown on granite Beaujolais Villages trademarks are vivacious fruit driven wines, light bodied, lively and aromatic with notes of morello cherry, violets, strawberry, raspberry, peony and peach. They can possess savoury and earthy undertones with hints of cinnamon, white pepper and smoke.

Collectively known as the Beaujolais Crus – these are the 10 top Beaujolais Villages that produce deliciously structured wines:

  • Fleurie

    Beaujolais, Gamay's stronghold
    Beaujolais, Gamay’s stronghold
  • Brouilly

  • Chenas

  • Morgon

  • Chiroubles

  • Julienas

  • Cote de Brouilly

  • Moulin a Vent

  • Saint Amour

  • Regnie

Beaujolais Nouveau!
Beaujolais Nouveau!

Beaujolais Nouveau is designed to be drunk young – and it can also be drunk chilled – the French drink it as an aperitif before meals. Each year the Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday in November, and not earlier, by decree of the French Government. Just after midnight on the given day a race begins to ship the wine out all around the world as quickly as possible, generating stunts (balloon, elephant and rickshaw races) and excitable headlines.

Beaujolais Nouveau is not fermented in the usual way – carbonic maceration is used. This means that the grapes are fermented without being crushed. The resulting wine is very fruity and low in tannin and can be ready inside 6 weeks.

  • Gamay makes a surprise entrance!
    Gamay makes a surprise entrance!

    Flavour profile: Beaujolais Nouveau is very light bodied and has exuberant fruit flavours of black cherry, crushed strawberry, lilac and violets with zesty acidity. Thanks to the carbonic maceration it also has subtle hints of pear drops (boiled sweets) and occasionally bananas.

The Loire produces fine Gamay wines, particularly in the area around Touraine (it’s also used in Anjou to produce Roses).

  • Flavour profile: Gamay wines from the Loire exhibit thirst-quenching freshness with a good depth of fruit (black cherry, raspberry and peach), light body and earthy, lightly spiced tones. The wines have a more herby note with floral aromas of lavender and rose.

There are some promising Gamay wines coming out of the Loire Valley which beg further investigation. Keep an eye out for them as we are increasing our range at and hope to bring you some pleasant surprises.

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Saint or Sinner? How to pick a good Shiraz wine

Australia’s signature grape, Shiraz, holds a secret. It’s an old variety from France and it’s the grape behind the famous Hermitage and Cote Rotie wines in the Rhone. Known as Syrah in France, this prized black grape has hundreds of years of history. Capable of producing beautiful blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvedre; Shiraz also stands proud as a single variety wine in its own right. Here’s how to pick a Shiraz that suits you from the different styles available across the globe . . .

Shiraz Syrah
Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape

The difference between Shiraz and Syrah

Technically there is no difference between Shiraz and Syrah – they are both the same grape which produces deeply flavoured, full bodied, fruity wines. However styles vary from big, bold and brazen on one side of the spectrum to mellow, fine tuned and rich on the other.

Wine makers using this grape have more than a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to expressing its characteristics and you’ll need to know where the wine comes from to be able to tell what style it is. As a rule of thumb if a wine is labelled as Shiraz it hails from the New World – eg Australia, South Africa, California; if it’s labelled Syrah it’s from the Old World – eg France, Italy, Spain.

The difference in styles between New World Shiraz and Old World Syrah in general is that:

  • New World Shiraz is more powerful than Old World Syrah with intense fruit flavours, a higher alcohol content and firmer tannins.

    Shiraz / Syrah grapes
  • Flavour profile: sweet blueberry, boysenberry, mulberry, black olives, tar, liquorice, charcoal, dark chocolate, black pepper, cloves. Fruit forward, tannic and intense.

  • Old World Syrah is a slightly lighter style with rich, ripe flavours and softer tannins. Most of these wines age well and are often hailed as being ‘more elegant’ than their New World rivals.

  • Flavour profile: blackberry, dark morello cherry, cassis, smoke, sweet anise, spice, herbs, leather, black pepper, mocha, savoury undertones. Mellow tannins, seductive aromas with a long finish.

If you like big, bold wines with tannin, pick Shiraz. If you like full bodied wines that pack a softer punch, pick Syrah.

Languedoc Roussillon - Shiraz's second home
Languedoc Roussillon – Shiraz’s second home

That’s all well and good when your bottle of wine has either Shiraz or Syrah printed on the front label but France has the added complication of labelling its wines by region rather than grape variety. The wine regions in France that produce both 100% Syrah and Syrah blends are in the south east of the country: the Languedoc Roussillon and the Rhone.

The Languedoc Roussillon – Syrah’s second home

  • Syrah has found its second home in the Languedoc Roussillon with the grape thriving in the well drained, rocky soils. Single grape variety wines are produced throughout the region with some lovely 100% Syrahs coming from the vineyards along the Herault river, the Gard and l’Aude.

The Rhone - Syrha's birthplace
The Rhone – Syrha’s birthplace

The Rhone – Syrah’s birthplace

Syrah’s birthplace is in the northern Rhone and Hermitage is famous for it. So much so that Hermitage’s Syrah was added to Bordeaux Clarets in the 18th – 19th centuries to improve the Bordelaise blends. It was done in times when there was a particularly poor vintage (this was also common practice in Burgundy).

  • Hermitage – Primarily 100% Syrah. Officially wines can also made with the white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne added to a Syrah based blend. This is no longer common practice and most red Hermitage wines are pure Syrah.

  • Cote Rotie – Many wines are made with 100% Syrah but up to 20% of the white grape Viognier can be added a blended Syrah based wine. This style has a beautiful fragrance.

  • Cornas – 100% Syrah.

Crozes Hermitage from Paul Jaboulet Aine’s flagship Domaine de Thalabert in the northern Rhone.
Crozes Hermitage from Paul Jaboulet Aine’s flagship Domaine de Thalabert in the northern Rhone.

Syrah blends

We are increasingly seeing New World Syrah blended with other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo and Sangiovese but its been used in blends in France for centuries. It’s traditionally blended with Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault in France – as well as the white grapes Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane in the Rhone.

Rhone blends using Syrah

  • Crozes Hermitage and Saint Joseph – Syrah is the dominant grape here with blends being allowed to contain up to 75%. The remainder is made up with 15% of the white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne.

  • Chateauneuf du Pape – Grenache & Syrah blends (with lesser amounts of Mourvedre, Vaccarese, Counoise, Cinsault, Piquepoul Noir, Muscardin and Terret Noir. Small amounts of white grapes can also be added to the red wine blend.)

    Chateauneuf du Pape from Domaine Roger Perrin in the southern Rhone.
    Chateauneuf du Pape from Domaine Roger Perrin in the southern Rhone.
  • Gigondas – Grenache & Syrah blends (with a minimum of 15% Syrah in the blend).

  • Cotes du Rhone – Most blends here are based on Grenache, Syrah or Mourvedre with smaller amounts of Carnignan, Vaccarese, Counoise, Cinsault, Piquepoul Noir, Muscardin and Terret Noir.

Languedoc Roussillon blends using Syrah

Like the southern Rhone, the Languedoc Roussillon uses Syrah in its blends. Light bodied Grenache is king here but Syrah is next in line, lending power, structure and a hit of front loaded flavour to Grenache based blends.

Fitou – Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Syrah blends.

Corbieres – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan blends.

Minervois – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (60% of the blend) and Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Bourboulenc.

Faugeres – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

Saint Chinian – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

Costières de Nîmes – Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre blends.

la poulardiere red small r
La Poulardiere, Cotes de Rhone

Syrah’s lineage

Syrah’s parents are the rare French grapes Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Dureza is a black grape and comes from the Rhone Alpes region. It had practically disappeared but thanks to the discovery that it was the parent of Syrah pioneers in the Rhone have reintroduced it in the Saint Joseph AOC. Mondeuse Blanche is a long forgotten white grape and is also the ancestor of Viognier. It comes from the Savoie region, north of the Rhone.

Syrah or Shiraz – the legend of its name

There are two legends as to how Syrah/Shiraz acquired its names; both tell that the grape hailed from foreign climes, perhaps, thanks to Syrah’s seemingly exotic flavours (one of the local Italian nicknames for the grape is ‘Balsamina’ . . . perhaps a reference to Balsamic vinegar given ithe condiment’s sweet/sour, fruity smoke infused taste?).

Rocca Maura ‘Cuvee 1737’ Cotes du Rhone
Rocca Maura ‘Cuvee 1737’ Cotes du Rhone

The name ‘Syrah’ is supposed to be derived from ancient Syracuse in Sciliy. Syracuse was a powerful city during the ancient Greek rule in 400 BC and the grape was thought to have been brought to France either by the ancient Greeks or by the legions of the Roman Emperor Probus some time after AD 280.

The name ‘Shiraz’ comes from the old city of Shiraz in Iran where the legend has the grape originating from. The ancient city produced a well known Shirazi wine and tradition has it that the grape was brought from Shiraz to France by a wandering hermit.

Syrah is the perfect Winter red
Syrah is the perfect Winter red

Warming Wines

With Winter’s cold snap tightening its grip on the UK you’ll see sales of Syrah/Shiraz shoot up – this is a warming wine. It’s big flavours and hearty body are perfect for raising the spirits on cold frosty evenings and for enjoying with rich winter dinners. We have been exploring Syrah’s potential and have some new discoveries coming onboard soon so keep watching for our new arrivals!

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What wines to watch out for in 2016 – Are our tastes changing?

Are our tastes are changing? A look at wine trends for 2016 shows that dry, lighter styles of wine seem to be on the up. With under the radar wine regions opening up and the number of high quality, back water producers being discovered our horizons have widened. Thanks to the web our wine knowledge is growing and our palates are developing a thirst for the pure, pale and polished . . .

Are we heading for a tend in more minimalist styles of wine?
Are we heading for a tend in more minimalist styles of wine?

Growing desire for the ‘pale and interesting’

Are we heading for a trend in more minimalist styles of wine? Gone are the heavy, oaked whites and red fruit bombs of the past.

We are seeing the rise of ‘less is more’ amongst reds, roses, whites and bubbly. The rise of the subtle and sophisticated, the delicate and dry, is certainly taking off.

Paler Pinots
Paler Pinots

White Wines in 2016

We’ve seen tastes for lighter styles of wines swell with the success of Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), Picpoul de Pinet (Languedoc) and cold climate (high altitude/ alpine) Sauvignon Blancs. As predicted last year Muscadet has seen a resurgence as has the ultimate French Chardonnay, White Burgundy. Thanks to Burgundy’s ascendence in fine wine sales at En Primeur interest in this fine honed style has seen people searching for less expensive Burgundian whites.

The ‘trickle down’ effect results in new discoveries as wine lovers hunt out cheaper alternatives that offer quality and value for money.

Top class Bordeaux Blanc - Chateau Lynch Bages
Dazzling, dry Whites

The UK is now the number one export market for Chablis. Lovers of Chablis are in turn uncovering the delights of the Cotes Chalonnaise and fans of Pouilly Fuisse are finding less pricey wines amongst its homeland, the Maconnais.

Bordelaise whites, the Bordeaux Blancs, continue to gain fans as their styles adapt to fresher, crisper tastes. Thanks to the combinations of grapes (usually Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Semillon and Sauvignon Gris) these whites can be fine tuned to suit a variety of palates and pair beautifully with food. The UK is Bordeaux’s largest export market for its dry white wines. High end Bordeaux Blancs are pricy but there are excellent mid range whites. Producers in Sauternes and Barsac are changing tack and turning from sweet white production to creating superb dry whites that meet with rave reviews. The trickle down effect is revealing hidden gems buried within the wine region, bringing little known appellations to light.

Lighter Loire whites are seeing a revival (lead by the strong growth in Muscadet and increasing interest in Chenin Blanc) so expect to see more wines from Vouvray and Saumur in the UK. You’ll also see Pinot Gris from New Zealand making its debut and more dry Riesling from Germany.

Rose Wines in 2016

Delicate, pastel Roses
Delicate, pastel Roses

Rose is where we see the swing towards the pale and pastel before our very eyes.

Fashion dictates the paler the better and ‘fab and faded’ is the order of the day.

We are seeing top notch roses from France being hailed as the must have ‘posh pink.’

Bordeaux Clairet - a Light Red?
Bordeaux Clairet – a Light Red?

Rose has enjoyed a huge rise in popularity over the past years and it’s now drunk all year round, having stepped away from being the typical summer time tipple. Sales of Rose have been lead by the USA but this is leveling off as dark, fruity ‘blush’ Zinfandels fall out of favour. France has long produced lighter syles of rose, Provence being famous for it. Rose wine sales top those of white wines in France and there are plenty to choose from. We are seeing wines coming into the UK from rising rose producers across the length and breadth of France. Expect to see light styles of rose coming in from Lorraine (Vin Gris), Lirac in the Rhone Valley and Arbois in Jura.

Many high ranking Bordealise Grand Cru Classe have a rose in their ranks and you’ll find Petit Chateaux producing them further down the scale. Two styles are produced – light, dry Bordeaux Rose and deeper coloured Bordeaux Clairet (a unique wine to Bordeaux). Bordeaux hasn’t really got to grips with marketing its Clairet outside its borders as most of the French perceive it as a ‘light red’ rather than a ‘rose’ – if you fancy trying something exceptional then Clairet is for you.

Red Wines in 2016

Lighter styles of reds are taking off – Pinot Noir has enjoyed a boom in popularity thanks to Burgundy’s market performance.

Lighter Reds
Lighter Reds

The knock on effect from this has also seen a Beaujolais revival and the red grape Gamay is predicted to become a winner. Wine regions around Burgundy are also tipped to rise – Jura in particular and Savoie to a lesser extent. Expect to see more Austrian red wines and German Pinot Noir this year.

You’ll also see more Cabernet Franc wines around too; more subtle than Cabernet Sauvignon, this grape is featuring more and more both in single grape variety wines (Loire) and in blends (Bordeaux).

Cru Bourgeois - the next big thing?
Cru Bourgeois – the next big thing?

Blending is no longer a mystery to wine lovers and wines made in this fashion from a combination of complimentary grapes are hot property. Bordeaux, as you know, is the world’s master blender and can adapt its styles to suit the trends. With recent vintages Bordeaux has shifted to a more classic style rather than bold block busters.

Thanks to the prestigious Bordelaise Grand Cru Classes having priced themselves out of most people’s reach there has been a resurgence of interest in the better wines nudging below the greats. Eclipsed by their top performing brethren these producers are a wonderful source of high quality wines at easily affordable prices. We’ve seen sales rocket on our Cru Bourgeois and Bordeaux Superieur Clarets.

Petillants - subtle Sparklers
Petillants – subtle Sparklers

Sparkling Wines in 2016

English Sparkling Wine is big news as our love affair with bubbly has moved beyond Champagne. This change in consumer’s tastes has meant that sparkling wines have become more of an everyday tipple rather than a luxury for special occasions. The UK is exploring beyond the realms of Prosecco to encompass sparkling Cremants and Vins Mousseux from across France.

Expect to see lightly sparkling ‘Petillant’ wines from France move up a notch this year.

Alpine Reds
New Alpine Reds

Grape Expectations in 2016 – Bolder Undercurrents

As the UK grows more adventurous with wine lovers on a quest to try something new the trend in trying out different wines is set to continue.

There are bolder undercurrents at foot here amongst higher altitude wines.

Long lost grapes such as the Chilean red grape Pais (of Spanish origin) are being revived, as are many forgotten French favourites. The Bordelaise red Petit Verdot grape is now being feted in Australian vineyards. New on the scene are the alpine red grape Mondeuse Noire (similar to Syrah) and the white Jacquere grape from Savoie in Eastern France.

It will be interesting to see what new delights 2016 brings but one thing is for sure; we are entering the age of plenty as far as wine is concerned. With more wines available than ever and access to undiscovered wine regions opening up there are an abundance of wines yet to savour!

Keep an eye on our website as we have some exciting new finds being added shortly.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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The Ghost of Christmas Past – The drinks that time forgot

What were we drinking at Christmas in the Past? See if you recognise any of the forgotten favourites below . . .

Dubbonet - The Queen Mother's favourite1950s

After the end of World War II rationing continued until 1954. Wine was an upper class drink and the nation enjoyed Beers, Stouts, Pale Ale and Cider. The ladies enjoyed Port & Lemon. Sweet and alcoholic, this was made with Port and a dash of lemon juice – it’s still enjoyed today. Sweet Sherry was popular and Harveys Bristol Cream was a top seller.

Dubonnet was popular in the 50s, the Queen Mother used to like a Gin & Dubonnet cocktail.

The Queen also enjoys Dubonnet – in 2009 The Queen’s love of Dubonnet had staff at Lord’s cricket ground frantically searching for a bottle ahead of her attendance at the Second Ashes Test. Dubonnet was created in 1846 by the Parisian chemist/wine merchant, Joseph Dubonnet, as a means to make quinine more palatable for the soldiers battling malaria in North Africa, Dubonnet’s mix of fortified wine, a proprietary blend of herbs, spices and peels, and the medicinal quinine is a recipe that has earned it legendary status.

Drambuie - another Royal favourite
Drambuie – another Royal favourite

Drambuie was the first liqueur to be allowed in the cellars of the House of Lords in 1916.

A year later Buckingham Palace ordered a case for its cellars. From that point on Drambue gained favour during the 50s despite production being interrupted by two World Wars. Drambuie is a liqueur made from scotch whisky, honey, herbs and spices. According to legend the drink was created for Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The Prince gave the recipe to his loyal clan chief, John MacKinnon, and the MacKinnons produced Drambuie until William Grant & Sons bought the brand in 2014.

The Snowball - still popular today!
The Snowball – still popular today!

The Snowball was invented at some point in the 1950s and its popularity peaked in the 70s.

The Snowball dropped out of fashion but thanks to Nigella Lawson (and more than a few avid fans) the Snowball has become fashionable again. It’s a mixture of Advocaat and Lemonade with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, garnished with a maraschino cherry. It’s sold commercially in small bottles but is easy to make at home.

Babycham - made with pears
Babycham – made with pears

Babycham was invented in the 1940s by the Showering brothers in Shepton Mallet, Somerset.

Babycham is a sparkling drink made from pear juice and was first bottled commercially in 1953. This was the start of a successful journey for the little drink. It became one of the largest selling alcoholic drinks enjoyed by women and was the first alcoholic product to be advertised on British TV.

Heineken - probably the first Lager in the UK!
Heineken – probably the first Lager in the UK!


The 1960s saw a boom in the British economy; this was the decade when we saw the spread of Indian restaurants and the first Lager take off. Heineken signed a deal with the English brewers Whitbread which enabled them to produce Lager at their brewery in Luton. The rest is history!

Wine drinking still remained a minority activity in the 60s but with the rise of the ‘dinner party’ more middle class families were serving it at their dining tables.

Blue Nun, Italian Chianti in straw flasks and Mateus Rose were the wines of choice. Empty bottles of Mateus Rose and Chianti were used as ‘chique’ candle holders!

Blue Nun is a German Liebfraumilch and between the 1950s and 1980s was probably the largest international wine brand. After World War II Blue Nun was so fashionable it sold for the same price as a Bordeaux Second Growth Grand Cru Classe!

Chianti bottle being used as a candlestick
Chianti bottle being used as a candlestick

Mateus Rose was created in Portugal in 1942 and production began at the end of the Second World War. It reached the height of fashion in the 70s and by the late 1980s Mateus accounted for over 40% of Portugals table wine exports and world wide sales were 3.25 million cases a year. As with most boom or bust situations the over exposure lead to Mateus falling from grace but it is fast picking up as a ‘retro wine’.

Sherry parties also took off at this time and although the preference for sweet Sherry remained dominant posher parties included Dry styles such as Amontillado and Fino.

Cinzano - Bianco with lemonade was a very popular choice in the 70s
Cinzano – Bianco with lemonade was a very popular choice in the 70s


The 1970s saw the rise of Campari, Cinzano and Martini & Rossi as fashionable drinks. They are all Italian Vermouths – fortified wines with combinations of herbs dating back to the late 1750s.

Cinzano came in the form of sweet white Cinzano Bianco and Extra Dry, Martini in the form of sweet, amber coloured Rosso. Both were mixed with lemonade. Campari was more bitter (often likened to cough syrup) and was drunk with soda.

Pony - the little drink now long forgotten
Pony – the little drink now long forgotten

The ‘little drink with the big kick’ took off in the 70s. This was Pony. Pony performed the trick of putting sweet cream sherry into a small bottle. Cherry B was a similar product that contained cherry brandy in a little bottle.

For those of us old enough to remember it Lambrusco was the Lambrini of the 70s and early 80s – it was cheap, cheerful and quaffable. Lambrusco back then came in a sparkling, sweet red and white and to my mind was the fore runner of the alcopop – but that’s a matter of personal opinion and another story.

Beaujolais Nouveau was also fashionable. Each year the new Beaujolais is released on the third Thursday in November, and not earlier, by decree of the French Government. In the 70s just after midnight on the given day a race began to ship the wine out all around the world as quickly as possible. It generated stunts and excitable headlines. There were car or balloon races, even elephant and rickshaw races, to bring the first bottles to Paris, Britain, Belgium and Germany.

Tabboo & Mirage - exotic drinks with tropical flavours
Tabboo & Mirage – exotic drinks with tropical flavours


With yuppie culture taking off in the 80s Champagne consumption rocketed. Prior to this date Champagne had been only drunk on special occasions. Top class Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe also enjoyed a boom and wine investment became ‘cool’. Bordeaux’s 1982 vintage was dubbed as ‘legendary’ by critic Robert Parker, causing its value to go through the roof. Having 100-point scales and a host of new wine publications, collectors could now make well informed decisions on what to buy, a trend that has continued to this day.

Exotic cocktails and drinks were the ‘in thing’ during the 80s – this was the era of fruit flavoured spirits Taboo and Mirage and the Blue Hawaii.

The movie popularised Chardonnay
The movie popularised Chardonnay


Sales of Chardonnay boomed in the 90s, in part due to the film Bridget Jones’s Diary. Unlike todays crisp Chardonnays these were heavier styles; aged in oak barrels with vanilla and butter like flavours. A backlash occurred in later in the decade when people tired of the style and the phrase ‘ABC – Anything But Chardonnay’ was coined.

Our tastes became sweeter and Alcopops arrived in the 90s with brands such as Hooch, Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Breezer filling supermarket shelves. Sales of Lambrini, a Perry (pear) drink boomed, as did strong, white Cider such as White Lightening.

We also saw sales grow in wines from around the world – red Zinfandel from the USA, sparkling Cava from Spain and Chenin Blanc from South Africa.

This movie knocked Merlot off its pedestal
This movie knocked Merlot off its pedestal

The Noughties

The Millenium has seen Sauvignon Blanc take over from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir battle Merlot (thanks to the film Sideways) the rise of Pinot Grigio and Prosecco. It’s seen Bordeaux break the bank thanks to the Chinese bubble in wine investment and Burgundy rise to the fore. Italian wines have stepped up to the mark and we are now used to seeing quality Argentian Malbecs, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, Spanish Riojas etc.

Our tastes have expanded to encompass all quarters of the globe and wines made from far flung grapes.

Thanks to the internet we can explore wine and its countries of origin, share our likes and dislikes and make wonderful new discoveries. The horizons are endless.

When we look back in the future I wonder what drinks we will consider to be nostalgic? Or what drinks from the past we will have brought back?

Merry Christmas!

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The Many Shades of Grey – Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio: How to spot a marvel from a monster

Pinot Grigio; aka ‘the Grey Pinot,’ has many faces. Curiously coloured with a myriad of shades, this little French grape adopted by Italy holds surprising potential. Originally a mutation, it has its beginnings in myth for this grape is both a Chimaera and a Chameleon capable of producing a variety of different styles of wine. Discovering the Pinot you prefer can be a minefield – here’s how to spot a marvel from a monster . . .

The Chimaera, a creature of many parts
The Chimaera, a creature of many parts

The Chimaera

Pinot Grigio is the same grape as the French grape Pinot Gris. It’s thought to have originated in Burgundy and it is a naturally occurring chimaera; a genetic mutation of the red grape Pinot Noir that occurred centuries ago. (The genetic term is derived from the Chimaera of Greek mythology, a fire breathing monster that was part lion, part goat, and part dragon.)

Like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour
Like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour

Pinot Gris must have come as quite a shock to those ancient wine makers. The leaves of both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are so similar that you can’t tell the difference between the two grape vines . . . until the bunches of grapes begin to ripen and take on colour. Unlike the dark purple of Pinot Noir, the grapes of Pinot Gris are bathed in grey.

The Chameleon

Although Pinot Gris takes the name ‘Gris’ thanks to the soft grey tone of its grapes; like a Chameleon, Pinot Gris can take on a range of colour variations. It’s gentle grey tones can range from dusty violet hues to soft bronzed tones of pink.

Dusky violet Pinot Gris
Dusky violet Pinot Gris

It also has a bewildering variety of regional names in France. It was known as Pinot Beurot in the Middle Ages; a reference to the grape’s colour being similar to that of the homespun habits worn by the Cistercian monks. You’ll also find this grape called Gris Cordelier after the Franciscan monks known as Cordeliers. The monks were responsible for pioneering the spread of Pinot Gris beyond the borders of France in the 1300s.

Outside France it’s known as Pinot Grigio (Grey Pinot) in Italy, Grauburgunder (Gray Burgundy) in Germany and Szurkebarat (Grey Monk) in Hungary.

Marvel or Monster?

Bronzed pink Pinot Gris
Bronzed pink Pinot Gris

It’s not surprising that Pinot Gris is known both as a marvel and a monster. It’s Italian namesake, Pinot Grigio, has enjoyed meteoric success; sales have rocketed and over half of the UK’s wine drinkers are said to quaff it. The problem with new found fame is that a lot of Italian Pinot Grigio has become mass produced and is lacking the delicate, mild, citrus crispness that endeared it to British wine lovers in the first place.

Bad Pinot Grigio can be insipid and bland.

However this grape’s true merit is the different styles of wine that it is capable of producing.

Wine made from Pinot Gris
Wine made from Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is not only multifaceted but in the right hands its its multidimensional. It can produce a whole array of white wines from bone dry and light bodied right through to full bodied and deliriously sweet.

Low in acidity and high in sugars, Pinot Gris flourishes in cool climates. Germany and Alsace (northern France) produce both semi sweet (Moelleux) and sweet, late harvest (Vendages Tardives) Pinot Gris with spicy, nectar-like, intense flavours.

Generally French Pinot Gris tends to be more complex and more full bodied than Italian Pinot Grigio. Flavours tend to be deeper too – typically of pear, stone fruit and sweet spices.

In the Loire, Pinot Gris is used to produce Malvoisie Coteaux d’Ancenis, a subtly sweet fruity and floral style. There is one exception in the region – Christophe Rethore makes a dry Pinot Gris with only 2.5 grams of residual sugar. The result is a startlingly good dry Pinot Gris that I highly recommend.

Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire 2014 £6.99

Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire
Le Chapitre, Pinot Gris, Val de Loire

Domaine Rethore Davy’s Pinot Gris is grown on steep south facing slopes (10% gradient) which are divided between quartz and schist. These soils were specifically chosen to bring out the best characteristics of this expressive grape variety. Here, on the Mauges plateau, crossed by the valleys of the River Evre, the Pinot Gris makes a striking wine. Le Chapitre combines all the refreshing qualities of Pinot Gris in perfect harmony. The grapes are harvested in September when the grapes are nearly over ripe but before Noble Rot sets in. At this pivotal point, Domaine Rethore Davy captures the lush flavour of Pinot Gris with its twinkling acidity to produce its award winning wine.

Tasting Notes:

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.

Mists on the Mauges
Mists on the Mauges

Food & Wine Pairing:

Pinot Gris is the perfect wine to sit and relax with on its own but Le Chapitre also pairs well with food. It’s lovely with seafood such as crab spring rolls or chilli prawns, smoked salmon or gravlax, squid or grilled fish – try it with stuffed sardines. Le Chapitre is good with chicken or turkey, pulled pork, salamis, ham and pates, salads, soups and lightly spiced Asian cuisine.