Tag Archives: Lenka

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.

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.




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 (N.B.my 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.


A few thoughts on New Zealand

Recently I found myself reading Oz Clarke’s article on Sauvignon Blanc. I found myself disagreeing with it on an epic scale. It also reminded me that I owed you all a blog post relating to my recent trip to the land of gooseberry and passion fruit, New Zealand. So here goes. Spoiler alert: it is NOT about Sauvignon.

In fact, throughout my whole time in New Zealand, I drank Sauvignon Blanc just once. Well, ‘drank’ may be an overstatement, it was more of a case of it being ‘forced down my throat’ by my lovely friend Kat and swiftly gargled with a much nicer drink, Seresin Chardonnay. So I did well then. Yes, NZ produces wines other than SB!

This was actually my first trip to Middle Earth and wine was not the no.1 item on the agenda. That was to follow in the footsteps of the Fellowship of the Ring, do some hiking and indulge my obsession with volcanoes (volcano-spotting, if you will). Of course I can’t help being an MW student and therefore had to visit at least a couple of wine producing regions to learn a bit more about them. And when I wasn’t prancing around vineyards, I was tasting in bottle shops or drinking in wine bars.

What follows are a few observations about the regions and wines. I should stress that I am no expert on New Zealand wine. I don’t often drink NZ wine at home due to my Sauvignon phobia but I know that NZ can offer so much more. Here are 5 observations:

1. NZ Riesling is getting pretty good. Perhaps it’s because the vines are growing up, perhaps it’s better winemaking. In any case, by the end of the trip, Riesling became my restaurant white of choice. My favourite producers were Pegasus Bay and Valli. I thoroughly recommend a visit to Pegasus Bay, it’s simply stunning and not far from Christchurch.


2. Central Otago needs a rogue. Perhaps they have one and we simply did not encounter him/her. This is a young wine region, granted, but I could not help feel that the wines we tasted were somewhat samey, especially in the case of Pinot Noir. Often picked far too ripe and showing that sweet rhubarb character accompanied by liquorice. No tannin whatsoever. Consumer-friendly to the tee but perhaps not challenging enough for me. This is by no means a bad thing, merely a personal preference (I like tannin!). I just feel like I want to see someone break the mold and do something brave, make a wine on the wild side. The best Pinots I tried were Felton Road 2014 Calvert (more elegant than the opulent Cornish Point) and 2012 Burn Cottage, the latter from a cool vintage and therefore showing savoury, sappy fruit.

3. Syrah is where it’s at. Whether from Hawke’s Bay or Waihiki, Syrah is the variety to get excited about. No news there, I know, but it’s nice to be reminded. I loved the restrained style of Te Mata (the 2014 Bullnose is classy) and the structured intensity of Elephant Hill’s 2013 Airavata. It has tannin! And 30% whole bunch! Yay! And then there is the famed La Collina, a wine that isn’t afraid to show a little funk.

4. There are 7ha of Gamay planted in NZ. 6.7ha of those belong to Te Mata in Hawke’s Bay whilst the rest can be found at Rippon in Wanaka. I happened to try both! Very varietal and fresh, great reds for hot NZ summers. I believe Te Mata Gamay is even available in the UK so check it out.

5. I found a Gewürztraminer that I liked. It is called The Gallery and it is made by Misha’s Vineyard in Central Otago. The 2013 vintage had pared down aromatics, textural mouthfeel and actual acidity! All natural!

And that is it, my friends, short and sweet. Like I said, it was a holiday. We had hobbitses to visit and a ring to dispose of. If you haven’t been to NZ, I would strongly urge you to go. Even if you have no idea what a hobbit is.

The Evil Monkey

South Africa riding high

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South Africa riding high

I spent yesterday afternoon tasting my way through a frankly impressive line-up of wines at the New Wave South Africa tasting, organised by a group of UK importers. The tasting aimed to convey some of the vibrancy and excitement that has been building in the country for some time now. It brought memories of my trip down there earlier this year. South Africa has only really been on my map for the recent few years; I have to admit that the ‘classic’ South African style of wines had never really appealed to me and to some extend I still don’t much care for Stellies Bordeaux blends or banana-chocolate Pinotage.

This new wave of producers, mostly from the cool (temperature-wise very hot in fact!) Swartland region, is really reinvigorating the industry with their take on what is fast becoming the ‘new’ South African style: think texture, acidity, whole bunch, lower alcohols, old vines and atypical varieties. Drinkable wines as well as wines that challenge.

There are so many ‘young guns’ doing interesting things, it’s impossible to talk about them all. Aside from the great wines they’re producing, it is their camaraderie and unpretentious demeanours that really draw you in and make you want to be part of the revolution.

I think overall the white wines have the most potential as they are wonderfully textured and full of life whilst the two red varieties showing the best potential are undoubtedly Syrah and Cinsault.

Here’s my pick of the bunch:

Craven, Stellenbosch

Aussie dude Mick and South African belle Jeanine are causing a bit of a stir different in good old Stellenbosch. Their skin contact Clairette Blanche is honeyed and fragrant, the 10.7% Pinot Noir is fresh and vibrant but their best wine is a vivid, peppery Syrah from the Faure vineyard, oh so drinkable and red fruited.

Kershaw, Elgin

Chardonnay and Syrah made by English Master of Wine Richard Kershaw in cool Elgin. The Chardonnay is in a different league and I’m confident in saying it is one of the best currently made in South Africa.

Eben Sadie, Swartland

Eben needs no introduction. The man who put the Swartland on the map is not sleeping on his laurels though. His wines are constantly improving, the 2013 Palladius is quite possibly his best to date. I can’t wait to taste his Mencia at some point in the future and see how the Assyrtiko, Fiano and Greco he’s planted turn out!

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Porseleinberg, Swartland

Callie Louw makes just one wine from the schist soils of the Porseleinberg, a 100% whole bunch Syrah. In 2013 it’s fermented in a mix of concrete egg and foudre and is all structure, finely balanced sandy tannins, fresh acidity and concentrated black fruit scented with wild herbs.

Mullineux, Swartland

The single terroir wines are truly special, the 2013 Schist Syrah was, for me, the best wine at yesterday’s tasting. Such varietal purity and structure is not often seen outside of the Northern Rhone. Real class. Very hard to get, alas.

Crystallum, Hemel-en-Aarde

Sublime classy Chardonnays, ‘The Agnes’ draws comparison with the modern Aussie styles, showing a subtle struck match and grapefruit pith character. The ‘Clay Shales’ is supercharged with terroir and soil expression. The ‘Peter Max’ Pinot Noir shows soft, elegant hedgerow fruit and lovely balance, too.

Alheit Vineyards, Western Cape

Alheit’s white blend, Cartology, is considered one of the finest whites currently made in South Africa and it’s easy to see why. This wine is all about finesse and texture. It has richness and spice but also balance and floral elements.


And i am also very much looking forward to seeing Ryan Mostert’s Silwervis wines in the UK! Only tried the whites so far but have been very impressed. The NV Smiley is already on pour in Kensington Wine Rooms.


Riedel Glass Tasting

I recently attended a glass tasting organised by famous Austrian glass manufacturer, Riedel, hosted by Georg Riedel. I had never been to one before so was quite intrigued to see what it’s all about. I do like experimenting with glassware and have often found that wine tastes different in different types of vessel. Back in the days when I studied for the WSET diploma, we were forced to blind taste wine out of tiny ISO glasses. I have always hated those as I find they mute the potential of a wine. Recently I have become a fan of Zalto, much like many of my peers in the wine trade. The thin glass, elegant shape and the subtle way the liquid enters your mouth really does make for a superior drinking experience. So I was looking forward to discovering what Riedel had in store for us.

We were treated to a preview of 3 new wine glasses from the ‘Veritas’ range aimed at particular styles of wine and also sampled the new Riedel coke glass.
The 3 Veritas glasses were: New world Pinot Glass (1), Old World Syrah (2) and New World Cabernet (3).

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The tasting began with water.  I know! I was hoping the water would turn into wine once poured into the glasses but to my disappointment they do not possess magical powers (just as well, that would be a rather dangerous prospect). The water was there to illustrate the way liquid enters your mouth from different types of glass. The flow of water from the New World Pinot glass, which has a slightly curved top, was towards the front of the mouth. The Syrah glass has a much smaller opening at the top, which forces you to tilt your head back and thereby allowing the liquid to flow further back into the mouth. The New World Cabernet glass is wide at the top and allows the liquid to glide across the mid-palate. Ok, got it. So far so good, we were all nodding our heads in agreement.

Next, we were going to taste wine, finally! First up, a Central Otago Pinot Noir from New Zealand.  It certainly showed the best tasted out of the glass it was intended to be served in (1). Glass 1 showed the wine’s balance and soft tannin but also accentuated its sweet red fruit. Glass 2, on the other hand, showed more earthy, spicy characters and darker fruit. We were told by Georg Riedel that the Pinot taste from glass 2 should be more salty. Well of course it was, after he’d said that! I am not convinced how objective a tasting is when you’re being told what to taste! I noted that the wine tasted more Syrah-like, diminishing the Pinot’s prettiness. Glass 3 performed poorest, making the Pinot taste alcoholic and acidic. New world Pinot our of a New World Pinot glass = easy marks!

On our table, next to the glasses, was a collection of chocolates which were apparently going to be a perfect match with each wine. Mr. Riedel was convinced that the white chocolate with vanilla was a perfect match with the Pinot. Personally I don’t think white chocolate goes with any wine, no matter how hard you try. I could not get its taste out of my mouth and it really killed the wine for me. Just did not work.

Next wine was a Crozes Hermitage from Guigal. Tasted out of glass 3, it was dull with top heavy oak and more frontal flavours. Tasted from glass 1, it showed more fruit but also more acid, which skewered the balance. Glass 2 was, predictably, the best glass for it, showing black fruit, spice and pepper, all hallmarks of a classic Northern Rhone Syrah. This wine was paired with dark chilli chocolate. Again, I did not think this pairing worked. The chocolaty character is often more pronounced in New World Syrah, which I think would be a more appropriate match.

Lastly, we tasted a rather good Napa Valley Cabernet from Silver Oak. Tasted from glass 1, the wine showed everything, oak, acid, alcohol, tannins….lots of tannins. The wine looked showy and overworked. Glass 2 brought flavours of chocolate but more of an alcohol burn. Again the most appropriate glass, 3, worked the best. The open top allowed the more volatile notes to escape, showing a balanced if rich wine. This Cabernet was paired with plain dark chocolate….and it worked! Rich, chocolaty wine + chocolate = bingo. What I’ve been thinking all along.

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Last but not least we were treated to a Coca Cola tasting. This was quite entertaining. Firstly we poured some coke into a plastic cup. The bubbles clearly stuck to the side of the cup though the wine actually tasted less bubbly. Next, we poured it into the new thin Riedel Coke glass. No bubbles sticking to the side of the glass but more fizz in the mouth! Well there you go, if you see bubbles sticking to a glass, it means you may be losing out on the fizzy sensation in your mouth. I have learned something new!

After the masterclass, Riedel very generously allowed us to take the glasses home. I have since given the New World Pinot glass another trial. Last weekend I opened a rather lovely bottle of 2009 Morey-St-Denis from Domaine Dujac. Given the ripeness of the 2009 vintage I thought the wine could stand up to the glass. But just to be sure, I also tried it from a standard Riedel Burgundy glass and a Zalto Bordeaux glass.  The round Burgundy glass gave the best result!  I am hoping to give the Syrah glass a trial tomorrow, when I plan to open a bottle of Cornas. One has to keep on experimenting!

Whilst I did not need convincing that glassware makes a difference, I do like it to be  proved to me. And proved it was.

Lenka (The Evil Monkey)

Chestnut flowers

Walking through Greenwich park on Saturday afternoon, I happen upon a familiar scent. No, it is not sweaty teenagers playing football in the heat or the smell of fresh dog on the pavement. It is a smell that, in the past, I found hard to describe, but now recognize instantaneously: slightly sulphurous, touch swimming-pooly (in a good way), dusty cement and lime-like (as my hubby describes it) – quite like Bordeaux-mixture, you could say. This fathom smell, which is much more pleasant than it sounds, is the smell of chestnut blossoms. And just like that, I feel myself being transported to Ribeira Sacra in Spain. You see, there are a gazillion chestnut trees growing in Ribeira Sacra, and when I visited this stunning Galician wine region a few weeks ago, they were very much in bloom. Now, said few weeks ago, upon arriving in Spain and as yet unawares of what it was I was smelling I remarked on how disagreeable it was how much sulphur was being sprayed in the vineyards by the growers. Even staying by a river in a canyon (Canon do Sil) we could not get away from this sulphur-like smell! I am forever grateful to Rafael Palacios, who when driving us through his vineyards in Valdeorras, pointed out that his top wine, As Sortes Godello, sometimes has the scent of chestnut flowers. This received quizzical looks from both myself and the hubby, as we’d never smelled chestnut flowers before. Not for a lack of chestnut trees in our local park! The car was promptly stopped and Rafael climbed out to pluck a couple of said flowers from a nearby tree. What a revelation! And just like that, I added another aroma to my list of tasting descriptors.


Whilst some people might find talking about scents in wine a chore, I find it quite interesting. Whilst where the MW exam is concerned I generally avoid off the wall descriptors, I do occasionally enjoy letting the nose roam free. I’m always smelling things, looking to identify more scents for the smell library. Whether I’m on holiday or at home, no flower remains unsmelled. The way I taste wine, I spend much more time going by the nose than the palate. I do this in the exam as much as when I drink for pleasure. There are certain smells that immediately make me want to drink a wine: lavender, violet and wild blueberry are particular favourites in reds. Often found in cool vintage Northern Rhones, some red Burgundies (certain 2009 Vosne-Romanees), a few Italians and in top Priorat, these are ultimately my favourite wines to drink as a result. I am less fond of smoke, unless it’s woodsmoke or the type that comes from roasting chestnuts (that reminds me of cozy winters). Cutting my finger and tasting the blood sometimes makes me think of Nerello Mascalese from Etna. Whites are even more delightful…..mostly as I often find them more aromatically complex than reds, with red Burgundy perhaps the one exception. Whites with a heady perfume of meadow flowers are just heavenly. I can’t eat a white peach and not think about drinking Albarino in the park on a hot summer’s day. Putting Vaseline on my lips sometimes makes me think of Semillon.

I’m stating the obvious here but one of the joys of wine is that it does not just smell and taste of grapes. Show me another beverage, alcoholic or not, that can remind you of a time, a place, a flower, a tree, a fruit or a vegetable, an animal or even a person. And if you often have wine on your brain, like me, sometimes this also works in reverse….places, people, animals, trees and food remind you of certain wines. It doesn’t help get the wine out of the brain, granted, but it’s a jolly nice feeling. Sometimes, being reminded of a wine through scents reminds you of time, a place and a person you drank that wine with.  The smell of chestnut flowers will now always make me think of Galicia, Godello and driving through a violent thunderstorm between wineries in Valdeorras and Ribeira Sacra. So let’s keep on smelling and let scent and wine help us create memories.

Lenka (Evil Monkey)

Volcanic Wines – my current obsession

When you taste as much wine as I do, it is occasionally easy to get bored with certain styles or varieties that you last flooded your cellar with. I go through phases when it comes to taste in wine. I had my Alsatian/aromatics phase, Riesling phase (well, I still do, let’s be fair – it’s just not a winter wine), Chardonnay phase (currently slightly in sleep mode) and so on. Most recently, my ‘obscure varieties’ phase has slightly moulded into a volcanic phase. I am slightly obsessed with volcanic wines and would actually be quite happy not to drink anything else at the moment! It just so happens most are made from indigenous, slightly obscure varieties.

So, what do I mean by volcanic wines?  I’m talking about wines made from grapes grown on volcanic sites – whether currently active or passive, or previously active at some point in their geological past.  Volcanic soils are geologically young soils, rich in minerals and quite fertile. They are formed of lava, ash (which can form tuff) and pumice rock (scoria) and were formed either as a result of rock ejection from volcano eruptions or from lava flows. The Canary Islands, for instance, were formed as a result of submarine volcano eruptions. Basalt is the main component of lava-based volcanic soils. Basalt is dark in colour and therefore heats faster and this is useful in viticulture, especially in regions with high diurnal differences. This is what makes such soils unique.

So what is special about volcanic wines? Well, they are very distinct and quite different from everything else! Volcanic wines are not what I would consider ‘fruity’ but a little bit more interesting than that. The wines tend to have this amazing salty and oily quality to them but are also quite rich and aromatically complex. Their acidity is somehow rounder, less austere than that of say, Chablis. The whites go incredibly well with cheese, especially Comte. The reds can be a perfect match for salty, oily jamon iberico. You can tell me off for saying so but volcanic wines are incredibly mineral. I know some people hate this term, it is fashionable to hate it but it’s a very useful word and I know what I mean by so I shall continue using it if that’s ok (even if science says no). Words like sulphurous, salty, crushed oyster shell and wet stone (it may not be the actual stone we are smelling but it does have a smell) spring to mind and these all apply to volcanic wines. They are texturally rich and lip-smackingly good.

So where do you find such wines, you ask? Well, although there are some regions in the new world (Gisborne in New Zealand) and elsewhere (Golan Heights in Israel) that have such soils, most volcanic wine regions are to be found in Europe. Italy has by far the most these:  Sicily (Etna), Pantelleria, Campania (Vesuvius), Ischia  and Soave are the main ones. Below you will find a list of regions and grape varieties of interest and some of my favourite producers that are definitely worth trying!

Volcanic regions and their wines


Sicily (Etna)

Varieties of note: Nerello Mascalese (red); Catarratto, Carricante(white)

Nerello Mascaleseis native to the Etna region. Mascalese comes from ‘Mascalli’, a small place on the slopes of Etna. It’s a variety that tends towards reduction. It is hard to mature and has high tannins and acidity but shows beautiful perfume, sometimes edging towards ‘sanguine’ (blood).

Star producers: Graci,Tenuta delle Terre Nere

Graci produce both Etna Bianco and Etna Rosso. The whites are very fresh and zippy and evoke memories of swimming in the sea – that salty, marine freshness. The reds remind me of wild mountain herbs and balsamic. Alberto Graci’s top red wine, Quota 1000, is planted at an altitude of 1000m, this is one of the highest red vineyards in Europe.

Pantelleria (a small island off the coast of Sicily)

Variety of note: Zibbibo(Muscat of Alexandria)

Star producer: Donnafugata
Try their Passito di Pantelleria, in my opinion one of the greatest sweet wines on this planet. Forget oaky, alcoholic Sauternes. This wine makes you feel like you’ve just fallen into a basket of overripe apricots. (Not the kind of apricots you can sometimes buy in English supermarkets, mind. The ones you find falling off trees in central Europe towards the end of August.)


Wines of note (white): Falanghina, Fiano di Avellino, Greco Di Tufo, Pallagrello

Who says Italian whites are boring? Well, the ones from Campania are not! These are amongst the most characterful in Italy. The theme here is yellow fruit: quince paste, golden delicious apples and conference pears.

Star producer:  Mastroberardino



Variety: Garganega from hillside vineyards, which have volcanic soils.

Star producer: Inama,Vicentini Agostino (brought in by Philglas & Swiggot, particularly impressed with this one!)
Basic Soave can be very bland indeed so look out for producers with good reputation and from hillside vineyards.



Varieties of note: Listan Negra (red), Listan Blanco(white) – both indigenous varieties

Star producer: Suertes del Marques.
Try their wonderful ‘Vidonia’ Listan Blanco. At about £20 a pop, it is worth every penny. Amazing with Comte cheese!



Regions of note: Tokaj (Furmint and blends, sweet wines), Somló (Juhfark)

Star producer: Tokaj Oremus, Mád, Royal Somló, Borbély
Dry Furmint can be quite rich and full bodied and is worth trying if you generally like varieties like Chardonnay. There are lot of Juhfark producers that I like, not so easy to find in the UK, sadly.

GREECE, Santorini


Variety: Assyrtiko

Star producer: Hatzidakis, Gaia

Assyrtiko is a great alternative to something like Sauvignon or Chenin, it has vibrant acidity but is much more interesting. Can be quite ‘sulfurous’ and reductive at times so give it some air. Hard to pick blind in an MW exam, as we found out.

Lenka (The Evil Monkey)

The magic of old vines – one for the geeks

I was lucky enough to attend an Old Vine Seminar put on by the Institute of Masters of Wine last week. It was interesting on many levels, the speakers were engaging and the 13 wines spoke volumes about the sort of complexity and intensity that one can expect from old vines. The moderator, Nancy Gilchrist MW, set criteria for inclusion as being wines made from vines 80 years of age or older.  The speakers were from South Africa, Spain, California and Australia and so (with the exception of a Greek Assyrtiko) were the wines.

So, what is it about old vines that makes them produce such high quality wine? According to Rosa Kruger, viticulturist from South Africa, it is their structure rather than their root system (the thick stems and wood provide apt reserves to keep them going) and the fact that the vines produce only the amount of grapes the climate allows them to. Old vines are generally better at preserving acidity and don’t rely on irrigation much, therefore are able to thrive in dry climates such as we can see in the Barossa in Australia. Their leaves don’t wilt as easily, which is better for photosynthesis and the vines stay fresher and greener and also build more disease resistance. Although how disease resistant a vine is depends very much on the variety, also. Australian winemaker Dean Hewitson has a great example of this – his 160 year old Mourvedre is thriving in his Old Garden vineyard whilst neighbouring Shiraz vines of a similar age suffer from eutypa dieback and botrytis.

There is no doubt that old vines are capable of producing serious, dense, mineral wines but, to be honest, the budding MW in me was looking for a counterargument. It never came. The seminar was an ode to old vines. And whilst this is completely on my wavelength and I definitely worship at the altar of old vines, I can’t help but mention some examples of where ‘quality equals old vines’ does not compute. There aren’t many, but some high profile producers have differing opinions. Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most famous winery, famously rip out and replant vines once they’ve reached 60 years. This is because these older vines become more susceptible to disease and produce bad fruit. Equally, the average age of vines that comprise Chateau Lafite is 45 years. Considered a baby by Barossa standards. Much like Vega, Lafite replant vines once they’ve reached 80 years, for similar reasons.  Some of the greatest and most famous wines ever produced were made from young vines. Take the example of the famous 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet which won the Judgement of Paris tasting 1976 and put Californian wine on the map. It was made from 3 year old vines. And, from what I am told, it is still going strong.  I haven’t tried it though we do have the ‘74 in our cellar, which I look forward to trying soon!

Here are some interesting notes and observations I made, some you may know and some you may not:

          The oldest vineyard in the world is in Maribor, Slovenia and the vines are 400 years old

          The oldest vine still living in South Africa was planted in 1781 and produces 20 litres of wine

          Old vines don’t necessarily mean low yields – there are 80 year old Sultana vines in South Africa that yield 40 000 tonnes/hectare

          Old vines don’t respond well to shoot thinning and green harvest so this is often not necessary

          Spain, which has the highest amount of old vine Garnacha in the world, has gone from

189 000 ha in 2000 to 69 000 ha now, thanks to the EU vineyard grub up schemes.

In 1912 there were 44 varieties grown in Rioja, now there are only 7.

The wines shown at the seminar were:

1.       Assyrtiko de Mylos, Domaine Hatzidakis, Santorini 2011 (here the vines are woven into a basket to protect them from the fierce winds). I prefer the 2012 vintage of this wine, sampled recently at Vinoteca with my fellow monkeys, but I do love its saline, nutty, volcanic goodness and chalky texture.

2.       Soldaat Grenache, Eben Sadie, South Africa 2012 (100% whole bunch, completely unoaked and made without additions aside from a small amount of SO2). Very elegant and restrained wine with lovely red fruit expression.

3.       T’Voetpad Field Blend white, Eben Sadie, South Africa 2012 (Semillon, Semillon Gris, Palomino and Chenin, 108 year vineyard). This blew my mind with its aromatic, mineral and chalkboard nose and beautiful juicy mouthfeel with a touch of maltiness and a cantaloupe melon and waxy finish.

4.       Boekenhoutskloof, Marc Kent Semillon, South Africa 2004 This was quite evolved already with butterscotch and nuts, though still had the waxy lemon and lanolin texture. Probably my least favourite wine though.

5.       El Puno Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain 2009 Made by the flying Scotsman and one of the speakers, Norrel Robertson MW, I liked its sweet spice and strawberry scented fruit, fresh acidity and granular tannins and the anise finish.

6.       Pena El Gato Garnacha, Rioja Alta, Spain 2011 (14 m in large oak) This was cedary and savoury in the mount with a bitter chocolate tone and some fennel on the finish. Food wine for sure.

7.       Flor de Silos, Cillar de Silos, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2005 I am biased as I did vintage here in 2011 but this is made by lovely people and it’s ridiculously complex and young still. There is very little evolution here showing this has miles ahead of it with its finely grained tannins and fresh ,plummy fruit.

8.       Numanthia, Toro, Spain 2009 (recently bought by LVMH) This wasn’t my bag, big with with a dried fruit character, liquorice and a lot of oak evident. Concentrated though very ripe with a fig and date character and high alcohol.

9.       Old Hill Zinfandel, Ravenswood, California 2008 Pleasure in a bottle. Not ashamed of itself and we all loved it for it. Quintessentially American flavours with cherry cola notes , sweet liquorice but this beautiful raspberry chocolate note that carried through to the finish and gave it freshness.

      To Kalon I Block Napa Fume Blanc, Robert Mondavi, California 2010 For someone, who doesn’t like Sauvignon Blanc unless it’s oaked, this was a delight with its lemon butter and passion fruit cream flavours  with a little vanilla and subtle grassy overtones.

11.   Elderton Command Shiraz, Barossa, Australia 2009 Made by the lovely people from the Ashmead family from vines planted in 1894. This has vibrant acidity and a spicy, peppery profile with blackberry juice flavours and the sweetness of American oak.

12.   Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre, Barossa, Australia 2010 Best vintage of Old Garden I have tasted to date and it’s the vintage we have this to thank for. This is normally very  intense and black-fruited but the 2010 has beautiful, seductive perfume and a red fruit profile with a touch of Chinese five spice.  Gotta put some away!

 Lenka (Evil Monkey)