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Burgundy 2016 En Primeur – despite the challenges, a vintage of profound and exhilarating wines

Thermal underwear, tooth protection gel, antacids, a thick note book.  Essentials for any wine trade trip to Burgundy in November.  With these items safely stowed away in my luggage I was fully prepared as I set off for Beaune at the start of November to taste the 2016 Burgundies from barrel. It is always an intense week, and with an itinerary including 18 producers and 215 wines in 4 days this trip was going to be no exception.  It is however, without a doubt the best way to really understand the vintage so one must take it for the team and not complain too much!

Jean-Marc Millot, Me and James

[enjoying some stellar wines with Jean-Marc Millot and James Snoxell]

Prior to setting off I had heard a lot about frost decimating yields yet again, of high mildew pressure in the early summer, and drought pressure in the late summer.  A challenging growing season to say the least, but what of the quality of the wines?  At that point not much had been said.

It was thus with an open mind that at 9am I was at our first grower, bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to start exploring the vintage with my taste buds. Without exception each producer outlined the trials that they were up against.  Freezing conditions and clear skies on the night of 26th April resulted in frost devastating huge swathes of vineyard.  As Gérard Boudot of Domaine Etienne Sauzet gravely said it is the first time in living memory that the great grand crus of Montrachet have been effectively wiped out.  In the Côte de Nuits, Romain Taupenot explained just how extreme the weather conditions had been, with Marsannay experiencing -4 degrees celcius and being severely affected, while Morey-St-Denis only dropped to ‘just’ -0.5 degrees celcius and was thus barely affected.  The yield on his Bourgogne Aligote was an eye wateringly low 4.5hl/ha though thankfully Mazoyères-Chambertin produced a good crop at 38hl/ha.

The frost killed the young buds thereby massively reducing the crop (between 40-95% depending on the vineyard) and retarding growth by up to 6 weeks leaving a very irregular crop.  In May and June humidity was high resulting in significant mildew pressure.  Vignerons were in the vineyards daily trying to mitigate the threat.  Many were forced to forego their organic or biodynamic practices in order to salvage something.  Come July their fortunes began to change as hot dry weather set in allowing the grapes to steadily ripen (albeit at different stages depending on whether it was frost affected or not). By the end of September when harvest was starting, the vines were beginning to show signs of heat stress.

Thanks to these extreme conditions, the bunches that were left on the vine had very small berries and were fantastically concentrated.  For the final phase of ripening, the colder nights of September had set in resulting in an amazing retention of acidity, moderate alcohol levels, beautifully complex aromatics and exceptional terroir transparency.  For Pinot Noir this was an absolutely sensational vintage showing profound and thrilling wines. In the words of the venerable Michel Lafarge it was the most joyful and exuberant vintage he had ever tasted.  For the whites it was more variable, with the best producers crafting exceptionally concentrated, graceful and complex wines while those who struggled made more exotic, weighty wines.

Although 2015 was a spectacular year in Burgundy for red wine showing depth, richness and freshness, for me 2016 has such clear definition and compelling complexity with beautiful filigree tannins elevating the aromatics and personality of each individual site that I found it utterly mesmeric. This is my kinda red vintage; intellectual yet beautiful. I just wish there was more of it.Aurelien and me

[with Aurelien Verdet]

  • Alex

Judging the McLaren Vale Wine Show

Wine shows (aka competitions) are an important part of the wine scene in Australia and operate on a number of levels. There are the big national shows such as the Sydney Royal Wine Show, then there are state shows such as the Wine Show of Western Australia and then there are also smaller regional shows. Beyond that there are specific shows for different categories of wine, such as the Alternative Varieties Show and the Cool Climate Wine Show. Wine show judges are, unsurprisingly, predominantly Australian and tend to be winemakers – each of whom will have completed an intensive four day wine assessment course led by the AWRI and have been associate judges for a number of years before progressing to full judge status. It is quite a different process to what happens in other countries and adds real rigour to the judging. Some shows also invite along an international judge to join the panel to add a different perspective. And this year I was invited to be the international judge at the McLaren Vale show – considered to be one of the top regional shows in the country. Lucky me!

So just last week I found myself in the barrel hall at Serafino winery in McLaren Vale with this scene in front of me:

McLaren Vale Wine Show Judging

The judging bench

Right, time to get stuck in!

I have judged at a number of wine competitions now, both in the UK and Europe, and have found each varied in terms of set up and method of judging. McLaren Vale was no different. We had three panels of judges, each with a chair judge, two judges and two associate judges (whose scores aren’t necessarily included, but opinions certainly are) and each panel judged around 100 wines a day for two days, with a third day of trophy judging. Throughout each day we’d be given a number of ‘classes’ of wines – say, Shiraz 2016 or younger, Rosé or Grenache dominant blends – which we would taste and score individually at our tables. Then at the end of each class the panel would get together, read out our scores and see where things stood.

Some wines would be easy – either not making the cut at all, or with all of us judging it in the same medal bracket (bronze, silver, gold). Other wines might be more controversial and would require discussion before deciding on an overall score. And for some wines that one or more of us gave a gold medal to, we would call them back and re-taste to come to a consensus. In many ways, this discussion was the most interesting part of the day – we could all learn from each other and with perhaps 25 wines in a class it is possible to ‘miss’ a wine. So, when another judge awarded a wine gold and you didn’t it was good to re-taste to see if you should give it a higher score, or indeed if the other judge was just being a bit generous.

Throughout my two days of judging my panel covered everything from rosé to fortified wine and encompassed all of the major red varieties in the region as well as some of the emerging Mediterranean varieties. It was a wonderful opportunity to really get under the skin of McLaren Vale and learn more about the varying wine styles, sub regional differences and vintage variation. I have written before about my love for Grenache so it was wonderful to see these wines really shining in the show – there’s no doubt in my mind that Grenache is a real star in the region. But throughout the classes I found wines of real interest and varietal typicity with – most importantly – a sense of place. It is that sense of place that made certain wines in all categories stand out during the judging, where winemaking had focused on allowing the bright fruit characters to shine through and not be dominated by either oak or whole bunch influence. I could see the beauty of the region reflected in these wines and hope this focus on the ‘less is more’ style of winemaking continues in the future.

After two days of pretty intensive judging (and teeth that seemingly got ever blacker), the third day of trophy judging was simply great fun. The top golds in various classes were drawn together and then the whole judging panel tasted the wines again to decide the trophies – such as Top White, Best Small Producer, Top Mediterranean red etc etc. Some trophies were easy to decide, whilst others split the room.

Trophy judging

Trophy judging

The final trophy, the Bushing Trophy, is awarded to best wine of show and we had seven wines to choose between, including a white, five different reds and a fortified. Not an easy decision to make. Although I was pleased that the wine I eventually chose was the one that got the most votes from the other judges too. The Bushing Lunch was held today in the Vale when all of the results were announced – and the Bushing Trophy went to the Kay Brothers Griffon’s Key Grenache 2016. A hugely worthy winner from the oldest winery in the region still in the founding family’s hands.

After all of the trophy judging was done, my fellow judges were able to relax with a refreshing ale. But for me, my work was not yet over – I had one more trophy to award: the International Judge’s Trophy. Suddenly the pressure was on: choosing this particular trophy was my responsibility and mine alone. So I worked back through all of my notes and picked out five wines that had stood out for me during the judging, but which hadn’t been awarded a trophy. And then I had to taste through them all and make my final decision. Easier said than done I can tell you. But after some contemplation it was clear to me that one wine stood out beyond the others and so that is what I gave my trophy to: Graham Stevens Vintage Fortified Shiraz 2017.

My commentary on the wine that was read out at the Bushing Lunch is as follows:

Amongst all the wines I tasted during the show judging, the Stevens Vintage Fortified Shiraz 2017 really stood out for me and so I am hugely pleased to award it the International Judge’s Trophy. For me, this wine reflects not only the rich history of McLaren Vale and fortified wine, but also the future of the region with its beguiling fragrance, bright blue fruited style and utter drinkability. Fortified wines are often overlooked these days, perhaps dismissed for being old fashioned or something your Gran would drink – quite at odds with the crunchy, juicy styles of red wines winning awards around the world. But here is a wine that couldn’t be further from that stereotype. Rather than a wine to fall asleep with in a cosy armchair, this has a vibrancy and energy to it that leaps out of the glass and you certainly don’t need to wait until after dinner to enjoy it. With a wine like this it is clear to me that McLaren Vale’s fortified wines aren’t just a part of the history books – but deserve their place in the future too.

Judging at the McLaren Vale show was a fantastic experience and one that I hugely enjoyed. The competition was brilliantly organised and run – big thanks to Liam and Scott and the rest of the show committee and all the helpers for doing such a wonderful job. I learnt a huge amount about the region and its wines, far more than I could ever have hoped to otherwise. Meeting and talking to my fellow judges was also enlightening and I learnt a lot from them during our discussions, thanks to you all too.

So, to the show committee and the MVGWTA – thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful show and to spend time in your beautiful region. I hope it’s not too long before I return.


For a list of the trophy winners and full results of the judging, please see here.

Harvest Celebration with Gerard Bertrand


Clos d’Ora vineyard 

Recently I was invited to come down to sunny Languedoc and spend a weekend celebrating harvest with Gerard Bertrand and his crew. And 299 others, mostly journalists, bloggers and importers from 14 different countries (though the majority came from the US; clearly the biggest market for Gerard’s wines). An organisational challenge but one that was met and executed brilliantly.

This is only the second time that I have visited the Languedoc; the first was about 6 years ago and involved far too much driving to and from wineries. It is not a small place after all. The Sud de France, which includes Languedoc-Roussillon, claims the largest surface area under vine in France but also the highest concentration of organic vineyards.


Meat roasted over dead vines

Organics and, more importantly, biodynamics play centre stage in Gerard Bertrand’s operation. The former rugby player swears by homeopathy and his philosophy extends into the vineyard. At 500 ha, Gerard’s are the biggest biodynamically farmed estates in France, if not the world. Biodynamics is one of those subjects that causes controversy and debate. I have no doubt that it works because I have tasted the positive results many times. Though I, like many, also believe that what gives these great results is not just the rigorous application of preparations and processes in line with the biodynamic calendar but also all the extra time that invariably has to be spent in the vineyard.


On day one we were treated to a tasting of 13 wines from the various estates, led by one of the winemakers, Stephane. In fact there were two tastings, one organised for the European group and one for the Americans, each showing wines deemed stylistically appropriate for each market, i.e. we got the more elegant ones and the US crowd the sweeter, bigger wines. I thought this was really clever and showed Gerard’s commercial aptitude. This (European) tasting helped to highlight the definite style of Gerard’s wines and what he is trying to achieve. Gerard is, as Stephane put it “looking to translate the sunshine of the Languedoc into the wine”. He wants very smooth and soft tannins in his reds. In the vineyard it was clear to see that he is pushing for sur-maturite and the style of wines reflects this – they are plush, velvety and without rough edges. But they also show a sense of place, none more than his top estate and wine, Clos d’Ora, which we visited on day two.

Clos d’Ora is a stunning estate in Minervois La Liviniere. It was first discovered relatively recently in 1997. Back then, it was planted just to Carignan, now 60-70yr old. The place is so serene, Gerard comes here sometimes to meditate. The lovely smell of garrigue follows you around the 8 plots (9ha in total). Here you will find two distinct microclimates – the south-eastern side is affected by sea wind and has mostly marl soils. The north-west side is cooler and drier with continental influence and hard limestone soils. The estate is planted mostly to Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Mourvèdre lives on stone terrasses where it can get the sun and long ripening time it needs, whilst Carignan is planted just below. The Carignan grape bunches are kept a little shaded as this variety is prone to sunburn. When we visited it was a root day (and therefore time dedicated to working the soil) and viticulturist Nicolas was busy tilling the soil with the help of his mule ‘Victorieux’ and his lovely, if a little shy dog Link.



The first vintage of Clos d’Ora was 2012 so it is a relatively young wine. Over the weekend we were treated to a vertical of 2012-2015. These were undoubtedly the best wines of the trip with a clear sense of place and that classic black olive, reglisse and wild thyme character but also those very soft, velvety tannins that Gerard is so fond of.

If music be the wine of love, drink up! (sorry Willi. S)

This is a little recap of a piece I wrote for Armit following an event I hosted for them.  I am a firm believer in your emotional state dictating how you taste wine, and as such combining beautifully moving music with exceptional wines will undoubtedly impact your experience for the better…

Wine is the lubricant of social situations, the life blood of the party, the facilitator of great dinners.  Wine is almost never drunk alone. In silence. With a notepad.  Except it is, whenever there is a formal tasting we invite people to lock themselves in a little analytical box and block out the holistic enjoyment found in the glass.  This is denying them at least 50% of the pleasure that wine can offer; the emotional response to the smell, the sight and the taste that wine can invoke.

Determined to reintroduce wine to its natural environment of social happiness and emotional stimulus, Armit were delighted to partner with the world renowned Philharmonia Orchestra for a unique evening of wine and music.  Our first event was an intimate recital of Debussy performed by principle flute Samuel Coles, principle viola Yukiko Ogura and principle harp Heidi Krutzen combined with a wine tasting by the inimitable Gaia Gaja of the eponymous estate in Piedmont.  Two Titans of two totally different yet complimentary worlds there for the sole pleasure of our delighted audience.

But the evening was about more than enjoying the two great past times of music and wine, it was about submitting ourselves to two forces that have the ability to stir our emotions.  Both have the capacity to incite powerful reactions based on personal experience and individual interpretation.  The Nebbiolo grape is responsible for the profound wines of Barolo and Barbaresco and is renowned for its intense power and tension yet its ethereal perfume and grace, wines seemingly designed to accompany the passionately haunting tones of Debussy.

So why don’t you try a little social experiment and have a taste of wine when you get in, then spend 10 minutes unwinding to your favourite music be that Neil Diamond or Daft Punk, then take another taste and see if the wine becomes more enjoyable as you let down your walls and become more receptive to pleasure.  We’d love to know what music worked for you….

  • Alex

Gaia Gaja presenting her wines in conjunction with the Philharmonia OrchestraGaja presenting 2

Mood wine; is your attitude the most important pairing?

How many times have you got home after an unpleasantly stressful day at work and decided to ease the strain with a really lovely glass of wine? But rather than sinking into the velvet depths of a beautiful and much anticipated bottle of red, your first sip reveals itself as bitter, hard and thoroughly disappointing. The cherry on the cake of a really shoddy day.

I hate to say it but there is an important lesson there; your mood can play havoc with your taste receptors. Stress and anxiety greatly heighten your perception of bitterness and astringency, thus opening a bottle of tannic red wine when you are angry and frustrated will cause the wine to appear excessively aggressive and hard edged. That same bottle, had on a lazy Sunday surrounded by the gentle repartee of your loved ones will appear elegant and nuanced.

The same can be said of white wine, when you are stressed, oak will become far more prominent, dominating the fruit and the perfume. So what to do to sooth the strains of the day? Rather reach for a beautiful Kabinett from the Mosel; let the touch of residual sugar take the edge off your angst, and the crystalline acidity boy your flagging spirits. With no oak to fight with you it will be a far smoother ride.

If you are thinking red, then look towards softer, low tannin wines with little or no oak influence, much like you would if you were pairing a wine with a spicy curry. Think soft, fruit driven Grenache from Australia, velvety unoaked reds from Alentejo, or juicy, perfumed whole bunch Cinsault from South Africa and save the Barolo and Bordeaux for when you are in your happy place. Next time you are in a foul temper, you will know what to do to open, pour and be yourself once more.

So what exactly is happening in your mouth to make it react so fiercely to the tannin and oak? Studies’ have shown that heighten levels of stress make one more sensitive, thus heightening the awareness to sensations such as astringency. This is because taste buds themselves are targeted by stress hormones. A study conducted by showed that in the case of acute stress, your adrenal glands immediately ‘release glucocorticoids (GCs). GCs flood into the blood stream and then travel throughout the body where they have significant effects on cells and tissues that express the GC receptor. We found that GR is … selectively expressed in the type of taste cells that respond to sweet, umami (savoury), and bitter taste stimuli.’ The plot thickens.

This sensitivity is compounded for those of us known as ‘super tasters’. Sadly this this not quite as auspicious as it sounds and is not a one way ticket to blind tasting glory but is more accurately described as a ‘hyper taster’. More specifically still, it is a hypersensitivity to certain bitter compounds that you are either born with or not. A final layer to the conundrum, highlighted by Dr. Jamie Goode is your saliva flow rate. Those people who have either a high or low saliva flow rate are far more sensitive to astringency than someone with a medium saliva flow.




So rather than debating whether you should be roasting or searing your duck to ensure you are creating the perfect pairing for your wine, maybe you should first be considering what your physiology and state of mind is telling you; if you are a highly stressed hyper taster with a very low saliva rate, beware of drinking a highly tannic, heavily oak red wine after a tough day!



What does a monkey drink at Christmas?


It’s that time of the year when the most important thing on any wine monkey’s mind is what to drink at Christmas. Fear not, we have some ideas and we’re not afraid to share them!


Fortified wines really come into their own in the cold winter months – there is something rather special about curling up on the sofa with a warming glass of port whilst it’s cold and dark outside. So it is no surprise that this is the time of year when port sales rocket – and you can generally find a good bottle on offer somewhere.

In our household though, port is for life, not just for Christmas. Even in the height of summer a chilled glass of 10 year old tawny can really hit the spot – surprisingly refreshing and just the right amount of indulgent.

But when Christmas rocks around it is time to bring out the big guns and we tend to enjoy some decent vintage port and aged tawny. This year we are spending the holidays in Porto with my husband’s family so the fact that we will drink some excellent port is a given. Just what it will be we will have to wait and see.

So rather than taking port to Porto to share with the Symingtons – which would be even more unnecessary than the proverbial coal and Newcastle – we will be taking out some Ridgeview sparkling. What better thing to have at an Anglo-Portuguese Christmas than English bubbles followed by port (with a glass or two of Douro red thrown in for good measure)? I can’t wait.

Feliz Natal


I’m feeling very Christmassy his year. This is not very like me but may be simply due to the fact that I only really celebrate Christmas once every two years. As someone who has always preferred the warmth of the sun to the warmth of the fireplace, I have a tendency to disappear somewhere warm every other year. And when it falls on a holiday year, I usually pack Riesling and Champagne.

This year I am staying put in misty, not so white London and will therefore give into Christmas tradition. In our household, that means duck and Burgundy. Not a traditional Christmas meal perhaps but a Czech-Australian couple makes its own rules – it’s not quite warm enough to put another shrimp on the barbie and there isn’t enough carp around (thankfully) to go fully Czech. So roast duck or confit duck is what we like to eat on Christmas Eve (I am Central European after all) and what generally goes with that is a bit of Burgundy. The white choice usually goes to Comtes Lafon, whatever we have hiding in the Eurocave and supplies permitting! Red does tend to vary from year to year but we like to open nice bottles from pretty classic names like Mugnier, Meo-Camuzet, de Montille and so on. Last Christmas we gave our hearts to a stunning G. Mascarello Barolo (a bit off piste!) but generally we do keep the theme to Burgundy. So it may be Messieurs Lafon (Meursault) and Mugnier (Nuits-St Georges) come Saturday.

Unlike Emma, I am not big on fortified wine. But this year I am determined to change that. I have some lovely old Barbeito Madeira that I brought back from the island a few years ago, a birth year Tawny port and some VORS sherry so these bottles may very well get some action next week.

No Christmas is complete without bubbles. My sparkling wine habits are pretty simple – I tend to keep to Champagne and decent Cava so there is a very high probability that you may find a photo of Cava Gramona or Villmart Champagne on my instagram feed.

Merry Crimbo!

Christmas is always a delicate balancing act when it comes to wine choices. I come from a large family of wine lovers which has its benefits, wide appreciation of classic and quirky wines, and its drawbacks, no open bottle lasts long. The mantra ‘you snooze you lose’ is yelled with reckless abandon down the dinner table as yet another bottle is finished before completing the rounds.

I am keeping a stunning bottle of Margalit cabernet franc 2008 from Israel, a wine of effortless classic charm, for a special occasion, however in light of the gannets that will be congregating it might stay hidden away!

In the Tilling household bigger is better so I think I will go for a magnum of the indomitable Birgit Eichinger Erste Lage Riesling Gaisberg Reserve 2015 from the Kamptal in Austria. It is a wine of spine-tinglingly purity, immense concentration and of course a fabulous acidity that means it will go a treat with the complex array of foods on offer from gravadlax to Turkey with bread sauce.

And with the Christmas pudding? I am going off-piste with the Masseria Li Veli Aleatico passito, an unctuously sweet, tremendously complex desert red from Puglia which a rich, chocolatey, spiced dried fruit profile that will be a match made in heaven.

Happy Christmas!

Merry Christmas from The Wine Monkeys and all the best for 2017…..we really hope 2017 pulls itself together!

Discovering fine Greek wine

A visit to Tinos island and T-Oinos winery


A classic Greek scene

Greek wine is exciting. I have been saying this for a while. This has been reaffirmed to me by a recent visit to T-Oinos winery on Tinos island, organised by my fellow MW and Greek wine ambassador Yiannis Karakasis.


Tinos is a moderately-sized island (194 square kilometres) in the Aegean Sea and part of the Cyclades group of islands. This group includes the famous Santorini and neighbouring party capital Mykonos. Like many Greek islands, Tinos is a bit of a geological wonder. It is home to a Unesco World Heritage site – hills covered in huge granite boulders, according to mythology they were cast down by the Titans. As all wine geeks know, granitic soils are great for vine growing. So far, so easy. Except not. Tinos is a beautiful island alright, sprinkled with those charming white-washed little houses and over 700 churches and chapels. As lovely as it looks bathed in the sunshine, Tinos is also a very windy, dry and desolate place and this is hard terrain for viticulture. It doesn’t quite rain enough and there isn’t enough water for irrigation. In fact, T-Oinos only just manage to collect enough water for one irrigation run a year, reserved for their youngest vines.


Tinos has as many chapels as you can shake a stick at

T-Oinos winemaking consultant Thanos Fakorelis explains that when the vineyards of Clos Stegasta were first planted in 2000, high density of 11,500 plants/ha seemed the best option. Less canopy means less water requirement as well as less bunches per vine. Being so close together also helps protect the vines from the harsh Northern winds that sweep through this open plateau, which sits at 450m altitude.


Clos Stegasta vineyard

Walking through the Clos Stegasta vineyard made me wonder how the vineyard workers manage. The sandy soils (on granite bedrock) on a blustery day, the granite boulders in the summer heat. It isn’t easy, else everyone would be doing it. This is unique terrain, like that of another planet and for such hardship you can expect an equivalent price tag.


T-Oinos farm 11ha of vineyards, planted to Malagousia, Assyrtiko, Mavrotragano and Avgoustiatis. The first commercially released vintage was 2008. I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the wines. They have elegance and poise, a clearly defined line of saline ‘minerality’ runs through all the wines, white and red.


The three quality levels

Their Malagousia is a far cry from the overtly aromatic and a little simple whites that you will find elsewhere in Greece. The winemaker deliberately picks this grape at below 13% potential alcohol in order to avoid excessive aromatics, which are found above this percentage. Here, we’re looking at 11-12% abv. The wine has a restrained, tight nose which focuses on stony, grapefruit and lime aromas and a saline, oyster shell expression on the palate. It’s a delicious wine.


Rassonas vineyard

Where Malagousia is the ‘entry level’ white (though about £20-25 on the shelf), the top white Clos Stegasta focuses exclusively on Greece’s best white variety – Assyrtiko. We were lucky enough to be treated to a vertical tasting of this fabulous wine, vintages 2011 – 2015. The style varies as Tinos offers vintage variation much like any other place. The amount of oak used also varies, it can be a vintage decision or a purely practical one – in 2012 the volumes were so small (1000l only) that it neatly fit into two 500l French barrels. This vintage was not my favourite as I felt the oak was somewhat dominant here, hiding the character of the grape. Both 2011 and 2014 are vintages that clearly show Assyrtiko’s varietal character. This is not dissimilar to Hunter Semillon with its waxy lemon and citrus oil notes. Both wines saw a small amount of oak (10%) and I think this benefits Assyrtiko by adding a layer of texture without obscuring the grape. Saying that, I absolutely loved the 2013 Clos Stegasta white. One of my fellow MWs refers to it as the ‘Greek Coche-Dury’ and I would not disagree with that. The 2013 was fermented 70% in wood and 30% in steel and shows an outstandingly well-managed oak character – that cornmeal reduction and creamy spice really tempers Assyrtiko’s stand-out acidity. Granted, this may not be a typical Greek white, in fact given blind I would go straight to Meursault or a high quality Aussie Chardonnay, but there is no denying that this is a world class wine. I think quite a few people would be surprised to learn this wine comes from an island in the Aegean!


Fermentation is now done partially in amphorae

Now onto the reds, focused on Mavrotragano. This is an indigenous variety to the Cyclades and most famously planted in Santorini, where it fetches higher prices per kilo than Assyrtiko. Mavrotragano is a highly tannic and rustic variety and not easy to temper. In fact, some people in Greece are of the belief that it does not at all work in the volcanic soils of Santorini. Here at T-Oinos it seems to thrive on the granitic soils and produces wines with rounder tannins. T-Oinos produce two reds based on this variety – Mavro and Clos Stegasta. The latter is a single vineyard wine from the amphitheatre-like Rassonas vineyard. At 400m altitude it is a slightly warmer, more sheltered spot from the main Clos Stegasta site. Standing there, I was reminded of the terraced vineyards of Priorat. My favourite from this tasting was the 2013 Clos Stegasta Reserve red. It has a very seductive nose, showing wild herbs and lavender, plush morello cherry and almost a hint of orange. The tannins are tempered if still chewy and pencilly but have this with food and they disappear. At 14.5% abv, this may not look like a slight wine, but it is so balanced by that fresh, saline acidity, that you don’t even notice it.


Bottles in the vineyard

T-Oinos is doing a great job bringing attention to Tinos island whilst equally making some of the most exciting wines in Greece. They are available to buy in France and the U.K. (Via Wimbledon Wine Cellar and Handford’s). They may not be cheap but there is no doubt they are fine.




The Coravin Revolution finally reaches the Tilling house

I hold my hands up and admit I am a luddite.  I tend to view most technology whether it’s a computer or an iphone with a mixture of intrigue, confusion and fear.  Mostly fear of breaking it.  Enter the Coravin, a clever gadget founded in 2011 that penetrates the cork with a needle, drawing out wine and replacing it with inert gas to prevent oxidation thus allowing a wine to be drunk over months without compromising its condition.  It is something I have admired from afar as a ‘clever new-fangled gadget’ (I know, it is hard to believe I’m 34 not 84) and have always been happy to be rewarded with a glass from it as long as I didn’t have to manhandle it myself.

I’ll admit it proved particularly useful while studying for the MW practical exams, tasting from 15 bottles without opening them (and then being obliged to drink your way through the open bottles) Yet thanks to my study buddy (who was blissfully aware of this rather strange state of affairs) I was not obliged to work the contraption myself as she did all the pouring.

However, a month ago my boyfriend bought one for us to use at home in a bid to reduce waste.  It sat in its box exuding an unnerving ‘gadgety’ malevolence which had me resolutely drinking screw cap wine.  This week finally saw the end of the Coravin stand-off as my tech savvie boyfriend walked me through what is in reality a ridiculously easy and un-technical piece of equipment that a five year old could handle.  Suddenly a whole world of wine wonderment opened before me.

In this short time the Coravin has liberated me from the constraints of traditional drinking; rather than having to drink the same wine as your partner, now you can pick and choose according to your mood or your food and to hell with them!  More than that, you can indulge in a glass of something truly delightful when you are on your own, for the world of fine wine has become an everyday indulgence.  Suddenly mini victories can be toasted and tough days can be dissolved in a cloud of organoleptic pleasure without leaving you, like Odysseus being wooed by the Sirens call of the open bottle.  Is there the danger of constantly sneaking back to the Coravin for another glass? Possibly, but it is far less likely if you are as lazy as I am!

So to all you wine lovers, gadget-phobes or not, this snazzy piece of kit really is the dog’s and well worth the investment.


Let’s talk about Cava


Let’s talk about Cava

I have wanted to write about Cava for some time now. It was the subject of my research paper, the final stage of the MW journey, and as such I found myself somewhat drenched in Cava for most of last year. Whilst working on one’s research paper, an MW student is theoretically supposed to keep their subject secret. Of course, this is when you’re most tempted to write a blog about said subject. Conversely though, once you’ve finished the paper (and torn all your hair out), the last thing you want to do is write or discuss the research paper’s topic. You just need a break. Well, I’ve had my break and it’s now time to talk about Cava.

In June this year, the Cava DO invited me to Barcelona in order to participate in a panel discussion regarding a newly created quality category of Cava – Cava de Paraje. Paraje means ‘place’ and all Cavas labelled as Paraje will need to come from a particular, special place within a single estate. They will need to be: hand-harvested; aged for a minimum of 36 months (the same as vintage Champagne and longer than Gran Reserva); labelled as Brut (which, confusingly, includes Brut Nature and Extra Brut styles – both of which can be labelled as Brut) and approved by a tasting committee.

Why introduce a new Cava quality category, you may ask? And why now, given Cava’s unfashionable image and falling sales? Well, this is precisely the issue. Given the current popularity of sparkling wine around the world, it is rather surprising how overlooked Cava is. Truth be told, Cava had been on a downward slope for a while, particularly when it comes to quality at the lower end of the market. Consumers were becoming disillusioned with the ‘earthy’, ‘rubbery’ styles of basic Cava that dominated supermarket shelves. Something had to give. Prosecco came along and shook up the status quo – that being Cava’s position as a cheaper alternative to Champagne. When it comes to cheap and cheerful, it does not seem to matter anymore whether a sparkling wine is made by the traditional or the charmat method. So long as it is fresh, fruity and not too acidic.

Cava producers seem to have woken up. If they want to win consumers back, they need to up the quality. It’s not just about price anymore, being the cheapest is not the game. Consumers are clearly prepared to pay more for Prosecco because they think it’s a better wine. So the answer is to produce better wine. Simple. I think this is slowly happening. Even the basic Cavas appear less ‘dirty’ these days.

But it is also important to find new consumers and focus on premiumisation. Consumers with a bit of interest in wine may appreciate the great value/quality ratio the more premium categories of Cava can offer and also their versatility with food. This is where the top three tiers of the Cava quality pyramid fit: Reserva; Gran Reserva; and, eventually, Paraje. I have tasted enough to know that these are sparkling wines to get excited about. Wines that are distinctly unique, of recognisably high quality and great with food, premium Cava can go places. And, in most cases (we will need to see what prices Parajes will fetch once they appear on the market), they won’t cost the earth.

Cava as a category is posed for revival and a focus on premiumisation is the way forward, especially as Prosecco’s ability to further premiumise appears to be limited. This may not mean increased sales volumes to begin with but value over volume is surely the preferred way forward.

Those countless MW blind tastings when it was acceptable to say to yourself ‘it’s rubbery, therefore it’s Cava’? I want those days to be gone.


Seedlip: a revolution in non-alcoholic drinks

As a winemonkey you might think that when I was pregnant not being able to drink wine must have been particularly tough for me. But actually I found that not drinking wine wasn’t really a problem – although I have to admit to savouring the odd glass of Champagne at special occasions. What I found harder was knowing what to drink instead of wine.

It wasn’t really during mealtimes that I had a problem – water was quite sufficient at that point. Instead it was those other drinking occasions: that pre-dinner tipple; when in a bar with friends or when everyone else was enjoying a cold beer on a sunny afternoon. At that point water seemed more than a little bit dull.

And so I experimented with various soft drinks and juices but quickly found that they were all far too sweet. Some were fine for a small glass, but I couldn’t have happily drunk more than that. I couldn’t seem to find anything that seemed like an acceptable non-alcoholic alternative that didn’t leave me feeling vaguely like I’d returned to childhood. Tonic water was my only saving grace, ticking the dry/bitter card – but it did always leave me feeling like I was missing an ingredient.

Then the other day I was introduced to a revolutionary new drink: a distilled non-alcoholic spirit. Yes, you read that right. It’s called Seedlip and I reckon it’s a game changer.

Seedlip - distilled non-alcoholic spirit

Seedlip – distilled non-alcoholic spirit

Seedlip is made with botanicals, just like gin – but without the alcohol. But rather than being based on juniper like gin is, Seedlip tastes of a complex mix of woody, heady spices like clove and cinnamon along with bitter citrus notes. Distinctly grown-up flavours.  I tried it mixed with some Fevertree tonic and discovered a delicious, refreshing drink with not even a hint of sweetness. Not dissimilar to a traditional g+t – but equally, something quite different. And completely non-alcoholic.

Launched at the end of last year, Seedlip is now available for sale in Selfridges and I hear it is also proving extremely popular in some of the top London bars and hotels as a base for non-alcoholic cocktails. I am sure the eye-catching label and elegant bottle design also don’t hurt – it certainly wouldn’t look out of place next to other premium spirits on a bar display.

So for all those mums-to-be out there, designated drivers or anyone who just fancies an alcohol-free day, you no longer need to feel like you’re choosing a drink from the kiddies menu. I just wish I’d discovered it when I was pregnant.