Monthly Archives: April 2016

Forensic Tasting

Watching the nail biting finale of ‘Line of Duty’ last night as AC12, the police anti-corruption unit, struggled to hunt down a network of bent coppers it struck me how similar the job of the Chief Superintendent was to the average MW student.

Superintendent Hastings was faced with what appeared to be a clear case of insider corruption with all the evidence pointing towards DS Arnott.  Similarly at a superficial glance, the blind wine will instantly give you some information; dark ruby, meaty aromatics, fresh acidity, ripe tannins – it’s got to be shiraz right?  Or has it?

Thankfully Hastings is a fastidious chap and unwilling to take things at face value.  Slowly, by asking the right questions he begins to unravel the intricate web of lies laid by the evil DI Cotton incriminating Arnott for his own highly corrupt actions.

In a glorious flash of (mildly sozzled) insight I saw that this is exactly what the blind taster must do; refuse to take the wine at face value but to look closely at the forensic evidence.  Do the tannins really correspond with Shiraz or might it be a riper vintage/warmer climate for Cabernet Sauvignon which has taken the edge off those notoriously angular tannins?  Does the acidity level really correspond?  Could that meaty complexity be from age rather than grape variety?  Is there in fact a subtle whiff of herbal/cassis fruit that might, just might, suggest it is in fact Cabernet Sauvignon?  Peeling back the layers and questioning the evidence at each turn is as vital a tool in the wine tasters arsenal as it is in the detectives.

In the 2 ½ minutes you have to analyse the wine in exam conditions that is a lot of questions to ask, but not to do so would run the risk of false identification.  Hastings was equally pushed for time as his 24 hours for holding a suspect without charge drew to a close, and that tense, sweaty uncertainty was something I think all of us blind tasters can sympathise with.

Admittedly as blind tasters we are not ridding the world of corrupt and brutal criminals but nonetheless here’s raising a glass to you Supt. Hastings, for your unwitting lesson in the importance of forensic analysis in blind tasting.

  • Alex

Forensic tasting

Revisiting my Research Paper

When I handed in my MW research paper last June I was more than happy to forget about it for a while. After months of study and endless hours of analysing data and drawing graphs with Excel, it was fantastic to turn that part of my brain off to relax and enjoy the summer. Even once autumn came around and I got the longed-for phone call saying that I had passed, still my research paper spent time metaphorically gathering dust in the depths of my computer memory. But as a bit more time passed I realised that although my paper had achieved its primary goal of making me an MW, it hadn’t actually done any wider good for the industry.

Research papers aren’t automatically published anywhere – and so all the effort I had put in wasn’t actually benefiting anyone. My paper looked at how independent wine merchants use their websites, analysing their e-commerce and/or marketing capabilities – and gave some insights and suggestions for the merchants to look at when updating their websites. I really wanted to pass these learnings on so they could be of some use – and so I could feel that all those months of research had a tangible benefit.

And so the time had come for me to go back to my paper and condense it down into a readable form for an article to be published in The Wine Merchant magazine. After some months of distance from the research I really enjoyed going back to my paper and picking out the key insights. At the time it was all-consuming and so hard to really appreciate, but now I can see just what I got out of it – not only in some interesting and (hopefully) useful research, but also in the new skills I learnt along the way. Sometimes people can assume the third stage of the MW course is the easy bit – well, you’ve got the exams out of the way haven’t you? – but really it is anything but. It requires a very different way of thinking and studying, not to mention being much more lonely as you steadily work your way further and further into your particular subject.

But I would argue that the research paper also gives a huge amount of satisfaction. At the end you have learnt something about wine that perhaps no one knew before – or at least hadn’t done the research to prove that it is so. Being able to pass this new knowledge on to other people in the industry and hopefully help someone somewhere – that is pretty fantastic. And so I was very pleased when my article was published this month and I was finally able to share my findings with the merchants that I researched. I hope that it is of use to them.

If you would like to read the article, you can find it here – just scroll to pages 26-27.


From Bacchus with love

It would be fair to say that I slightly fell into the wine industry. After studying genetics at university and realising that I didn’t want to work in a lab for the rest of my life I had to decide what to do next. A temp job doing data entry approving credit cards for people already in debt (not my finest hour) and then another as a receptionist paid the bills for a while until the call to the big smoke came. It seemed like a lot of my friends were moving to London and so I thought it was about time I got a permanent job somewhere and joined them. I had always enjoyed wine and so decided to have a go at working in the industry by applying for a place on Oddbin’s Trainee Manager programme. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Looking back now I’m not sure I ever thought about wine becoming a career – at the start it was just a fun job in a great city. But with the benefit of hindsight it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only did I meet my husband through the trade, not to mention numerous friends, I have come to appreciate what a fantastic industry this is to work in. OK, I might be a little bit biased but it seems to me that the people who make up this industry are an incredibly kind, generous and friendly bunch. It’s safe to say that the wine industry is not one to make your fortune in – but this means that everyone in it is a part of it for the simple reason that they are passionate about wine. This is the same for your local wine store staff as the top names in the industry. The love of wine is a true democratiser and is the thing that binds us all together in the trade.

The prompt for writing this came as a result of being sent a bottle of wine out of the blue recently. Tuffon Hall vineyard in Essex wrote to congratulate me on the imminent arrival of my baby girl Sophia – sending me a bottle of their Bacchus which they had named after their daughter, Amelie. It was such a lovely thing for them to do and is just one example of the generosity and thoughtfulness of people in this industry. It meant even more to me though as, unbeknownst to them, Sophia had to be in the special care unit for two weeks after her birth as she had some breathing difficulties. So to receive that bottle with the lovely note when I came home from hospital without her really meant a lot.

Tuffon Hall Bacchus Amelie 2014

Tuffon Hall Bacchus Amelie 2014

Sophia is now home and doing well and I finally opened the Bacchus last weekend when my fellow monkeys came around to visit her. Of course, being sent a bottle of wine like that immediately makes you want to like it – and so I was pleased that Alex and Lenka both enjoyed it too. It seems to me that although sparkling wine is undoubtedly England’s calling card, Bacchus really deserves to be better known and celebrated too. Although it is a German crossing named after the Roman god of wine, Bacchus seems to have found its spiritual home here in the UK – producing wines redolent of an English hedgerow in summer with low alcohol and a refreshing style. In this case, the Tuffon Hall Amelie Bacchus is a mere 10.5% and would be the perfect accompaniment to a summer lunchtime picnic. Elderflower-scented with hints of tropical guava; crisp and refreshing – and above all easy drinking. Give me a glass of that rather than a brash Sauvignon Blanc any day.


Greece is the word

Greek wine is the next big thing. Perhaps this is a strong statement but I have thought this for some time now. At the very least it should be the next big thing. If you look at the styles of wines that are currently popular among us in the wine trade and wine lovers, Greek wines fit the bill. Whether it is the quest for freshness and acidity or focus on old vines, indigenous varieties or low intervention, Greece has it all. For a country that is known for its incredibly reliable sunny skies and hot summers, its wines are often blessed with freshness and a lightness of touch so perfect for such weather. In fact, Greek wines often remind me of their Italian counterparts. Greece is also lucky to have grape varieties naturally high in acidity and its wines are incredibly versatile and food-friendly.

I was yet again reminded of this last month, when I visited the Oenorama wine fair in Athens (one of my favourite cities in Europe, as it were).  I got to try some wines I already knew quite well and many new wines that truly surprised and amazed me. I was also lucky enough to be invited to judge a blind tasting, organised by Greek producer La Tour Melas. The purpose of the tasting was to pit La Tour Melas (a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot) against three Right Bank properties (Ch. Lafleur, Ch. La Violette and Canon La Gaffeliere) and assess its potential to compete with Bordeaux at that level. It was certainly interesting and La Tour Melas stood up very well, beating Bordeaux in round 1 (2011 vintage) and coming second in round 2 (2012 vintage). Perhaps it was a relatively easy win in 2011, where La Tour Melas’s perfumed, plush and seductive style shone against the more leafy, restrained and tannic Right Bank examples. But in 2012, it was also my favourite wine, it showed promise for the future but was also lovely young. La Tour Melas works according to biodynamic principles and that biodynamic clarity really shows in the wine despite the use of 90% new French oak. This oak is clearly very good and well-integrated and does not detract from the fruit. All in all a very interesting tasting and I look forward to seeing the evolution and development of La Tour Melas in the future.

The Oenorama fair provided an excellent snapshot of modern Greek wines. From the usual suspects such as wines from Santorini, Nemea or Naoussa, there were also wines from lesser known regions and islands like Kefalonia and many an example of Savvatiano – a grape more commonly associated with Retsina but slowly trying to make a name for itself as a quality grape on its own. And, of course, I got to try grape varieties I’d never heard of, always a given in a country like Greece.

The wines that impressed me at Oenorama were a very diverse bunch. Here, I will pick my favourites. Some of these wines are available in the UK and some are not (yet, anyway!).


2014 Assyrtiko, Estate Argyros (Santorini)
Argyros is, in my humble opinion, the best producer in Santorini. Or it is certainly my preferred style of Assyrtiko. Very clearly mineral and saline, it has that trademark lemon balm note and precise, linear acidity. Not as reductive as some other producers but focusing more on precision and fruit expression. In 2015, Assyrtiko yielded grapes with thick skins so the wines will have a bit more phenolic grip.Available from Philglas & Swiggot.

2010 Thalassitis Assyrtiko Submerged, Gaia (Santorini)
Thalassitis Submerged Assyrtiko is aged for 5 years under the sea and sealed under Nomacork. This was an experiment to see how the wine would evolve. Gaia believes that ageing the wine under the sea means it gets zero OTR (oxygen transmission rate). They have found a lot of bottle variation among the submerged wines but don’t yet know why. The wine was tasted against the cellar aged version. Both wines have the same amount of SO2 yet show quite different characteristics. The submerged wine itself is very nutty with a waxy texture, herbal tones and lemon oil. Very interesting and on the reductive side though clearly varietally expressive.



2012 Nychteri, Sigalas (Santorini)
This is a very different style of Assyrtiko. As the name might suggest, traditionally the grapes were picked at night. The wines were often made from overripe grapes, too, and fermented and aged in barrels without topping up.  Stylistically, Nychteri therefore tends to be a richer, bigger expressions of Assyrtiko (which has to form at least 75% of the blend) at around 15% alcohol and a profile that goes more towards the oxidative spectrum of flavours; in this case with nuts and praline, spice and with a burnt sugar note on the finish.

2014 Vidiano Aspros Lagos, Douloufakis (Crete)
Aspros Lagos means ‘white rabbit’ and a little white bunny does indeed feature on the label. Vidiano is the most promising white grape of Crete, thanks to producers like Douloufakis who have helped resurrect it. This wine shows real complexity, a profile somewhere between Aussie Semillon (with its waxy lemon and tight acidity) and Roussanne (with its fragrant camomile note). It is textured but joyful to drink.



2015 Idylle d’Achínos Rose, La Tour Melas (Achínos)
A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Agiorgitiko. Whilst I am not a regular rosé drinker, I would happily drink this on warm sunny days. There are several things I like about this wine. Firstly it’s the smart packaging. It would look great on the shelf and you could be forgiven to think it is a rosé from Provence. The colour is very pale, too, and the wine is made in the Provençale style with sweet red fruit and a rosy perfume. But what sets it apart is its acidity. I am someone who truly loves high acid wines and this rosé has bags more acidity than its French counterparts. A real thirst-quencher. Available from Bottle Apostle and Wimbledon Wine Cellar.



2013 Daemon Grande Reserve, Ieropoulos (Nemea)
Ieropoulos is a winery that was founded in 2008. The vines are located at 600m altitude and planted on calcareous soils. Daemon is made from Agiorgitiko, the flagship variety of the Nemea region, and is the grown-up wine of this property. It is made according to Burgundian principes and aged in oak. Daemon shows real purity of fruit, spice, plums and fine, almost chocolaty tannins. It may be glossy and very well assembled but shows future promise, too.


2013 Rossiu di Munte Vlachiko, Katogi Averoff (Metsovo)
Rossiu di Munte means ‘red of the mountains’. Vlachiko is indigenous to mountainous Ioannina in mainland Greece. This one comes from the village of Metsovo at 1100m altitude, these are some of the highest vineyards in Greece. This is a variety I had not encountered before but was very pleasantly surprised about. It is a very elegant and light variety and this wine shows restrained and perfumed red fruit, peppery tones, stunning acidity and sandy, almost lavender-like tannins. This wine is not about ripeness, it’s about freshness and delicacy. A feminine wine and very much a style I love. More like this, please.


2011 Rossiu di Munte Cabernet Sauvignon, Katogi Averoff (Metsovo)
THIS WINE blew my mind. All the more amazing because it’s a Cabernet, a variety I am not known to be a huge fan of. This is a very different style of Cabernet, mind. It is packaged in a Burgundy bottle and it is clearly evident why – this is an elegant, fresh expression of Cab. Rather than showing cedar and spice and all things nice, this is a feminine, perfumed and pretty wine. Margaux more than Pauillac, if you will. Perhaps it is the fact that this is Greece’s oldest Cabernet vineyard. It was planted in 1958 with cuttings brought from Château Margaux, as it were. I would love to see wines from this producer in the UK!

2014 ΠΑΛΙΕΣ ΡΙΖΕΣ (Palies Pizes, meaning ‘old roots’), La Tour Melas (Achínos)
Made from pre-phylloxera Agiorgitiko vines with an average age of 108 years. Again, this is very much my style of wine. Aside from a great label (perhaps a touch similar to ‘Psi’ from Pingus and that could make it confusing) it shows perfume, plum and cherry yogurt notes but a really savoury finish and structural complexity. Available from Wimbledon Wine Cellar.


2010 Xinomavro, Elinos (Naoussa)
Xinomavro is the Nebbiolo of Greece. It shows a similar profile – high acidity, lots of dry tannins and that red cherry fruit. This wine was one of my favourite new discoveries from Naoussa ( favourite producer is Thymiopoulos and their Earth and Sky Xinomavro, which is simply stunning), it is quite ferric and ‘bloody’ but also showing leather and truffle and a gorgeous tannic structure.

Greece has plenty for everyone to choose from and I really hope the wines properly take off in the years to come.