All the entries for the 2022 UK Wine List of the Year Awards, co-hosted by The Buyer and Star Wine List, are in and as the judges sit down to go through them and work out who is going to go through to the final awards ceremony, we take a closer look at our partner for the Californian wine category and how Louis M. Martini, part of E&J Gallo Winery, is increasingly targeting the premium on-trade with its extensive portfolio of quality Californian wines.
The finalists in the UK Wine List of the Year awards will gather at the Winemaker’s Club in London on February 21 to see who has come out top in the various categories, including California Wine List of the Year, sponsored by Louis M.Martini. Here Edouard Baijot MW, director of fine wine for E.M.E.A at E&J Gallo Winery, explains why it is taking part.
Why do you want to partner with the UK Wine List of Year awards?
Star Wine List is a great platform that has become a reference across Europe for all sorts of wine establishments, from wine specialists to wine bars and hotels.
For Louis M. Martini the UK is a very important market as it has an exceptional concentration of restaurants, bars and pubs that offer an superb breadth of wines from all parts of the world. The UK is also a region full of highly respected and enthusiastic wine buyers and sommeliers.
The wine industry is flourishing but that’s also because the UK is a market where consumers are increasingly interested and inquisitive about fine wines from California’s most famous regions such as Napa Valley or Sonoma.
Partnering with Star Wine List and The Buyer is a great opportunity for Louis M. Martini to continue to build awareness about California wines, meet sommeliers and buyers and give them an opportunity to taste our portfolio of wines. Louis M. Martini is a winery with a unique story and typicity of wines that makes it particularly interesting for sommeliers who want to tell a story to their customers when offering them a wine.
How important is the premium on-trade to Louis M Martini and what steps are you taking to promote your wines in the UK?
The on-trade is key for Louis M. Martini as we offer a selection of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel from different AVAs and price points that can suit various accounts from casual dining to high end hotels, bars and fine dining restaurants.
We initially focused on selling Louis M. Martini via independent wine merchants and off-trade specialists and we are only at the beginning of our expansion into the on-trade, so that’s why we are investing to give the community of sommeliers the opportunity to taste our wines and learn about the winery.
Louis M. Martini is ideal for the on-trade as it’s exactly the category that consumers are interested in: premium quality, but still at affordable prices, with a strong regional typicity, a sense of terroir.
Looking at the Napa Cabernet category, our Louis M. Martini Napa is showing exceptional quality for its price. In addition, we have a vast portfolio of Cabernets of different styles:
* Our Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon is fruit-forward, smooth, very versatile, an ideal pairing with food and perfect by the glass.
* Our Napa Cabernet Sauvignon shows structure, an ideal match for richer meat based dishes.
* Our Monte Rosso Gnarly Vine Zinfandel has real typicity, showcasing the concentration and complexity of the old vines’ fruit it is sourced from.
What have been the most recent developments at Louis M Martini in terms of wines and styles being produced that you would like sommeliers and buyers to know about?
Our signature wine Louis M. Martini Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is the perfect example of the winery’s evolution.
Twenty years ago, Louis M. Martini Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was only $20 when it was purchased by E&J Gallo winery. Merlot was the second most important varietal in the blend of our Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 2007, Merlot was replaced by Petit Sirah to bring structure and complexity to the wine.
The vineyards that we recently purchased, such as Stage Coach, means that 95-100% of the grapes come from our vineyards allowing Louis M. Martini to access the best quality fruit, this is especially significant in a region that’s as small as the Napa Valley. Up to 50% of the fruit is sourced from our mountain vineyards and 50% from our valley vineyards. Mountain fruit brings complexity and intensity to the wine, while valley fruit brings fresh and juicy characteristics.
Assembling various AVAs has also contributed to an increased complexity, structure and ageing potential. Another example is our single vineyard Louis M. Martini Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon that offers the expression of a unique grape varietal combined with a unique terroir.
Monte Rosso is one of the most distinct vineyards out there. The vineyard sits high above the Sonoma Valley, rolling across steep, rugged terrain in the Mayacamas mountains. The vineyard’s high-altitude position, low-yielding vines, iron-rich soil and ideal western exposure produces wines with a unique sense of terroir.
The top wine ‘Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon’ is crafted from a handful of select blocks in the historic Monte Rosso Vineyard. The blocks were aged separately for months before the final blend was assembled and sent back to barrel for more ageing.
What do you see as Louis M Martini’s key point of difference when it comes to listing Californian wines?
When asked to explain the main characteristics in the wines, Michael Eddy, our winemaker, says: “Louis M. Martini wines showcase a ripe, modern fruit profile, classic California structure and a notable backbone of acidity and tannin.”
Today Louis M. Martini stands for classic Cabernet Sauvignon wines; full-bodied and well-structured, yet refined and elegant, and suitable for long ageing. This elegance is what makes Louis M. Martini’s difference as well as the diversity of terroir that the range offers. Monte Rosso vineyard and its iron rich volcanic soil for example is the source of a Cabernet Sauvignon that has one of the lowest Ph of California.
It is also the rich history and heritage of Louis M. Martini, which was one of the first wineries in Napa after prohibition, that makes this winery unique, with four generations of winemakers that led the way in terms of vineyard sourcing and winemaking.
Louis M. Martini has been producing Cabernets for 80 years. We know the terroir and we have a particular expertise with this grape varietal. The diversity of vineyards we own also give us control of 100% of the production from the vineyard to the distribution. This is key to reassure consumers about the quality of this wine.
In terms of your range which wines are you are specifically targeting at the UK premium on-trade?
Again, Louis M. Martini Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is particularly suited for the premium on-trade channel. The wine is complex yet with prevalent fruit. It is beautiful to drink now after aeration in carafe but it’s also a wine that can age for decades. This wine is of an exceptional quality but stays accessible.
Our Monte Rosso and Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon are outstanding wines. They are ideal for fine dining restaurants that have an extensive premium wine list.
What trends are you seeing in terms of the styles and regions and types of Californian wine being listed more in the premium on-trade?
There is a lot of interest for wines with structure and from famous regions such as Napa. But sommeliers are increasingly interested in cool climate wines too, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also emerging varietals from California such as Petit Sirah, Grenache and Syrah.
Talbott is a beautiful winery in Santa Lucia Highlands offering Pinot Noir and Chardonnays that are very balanced, with a round and delicate oak influence, more acidity than usual Californian wines.
What other styles of wines from California do you think are placed to do well in the premium on-trade in the future?
Today, the most in the know or educated consumers want wines from regions that are less known such as Paso Robles, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills. We have wines from all those regions. For example, L’Usine Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, Talbott Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, or the Language of Yes. The Language of Yes by Randhall Grahm is a proposition of two wines, one Grenache and one Syrah, both exclusive to the on-trade. The wines are very unique small lots, coming from small parcels of Santa Maria Valley.
What would you like to see coming through in the lists of Californian wines in this category?
More variety for the wineries in the wine lists, more diversity of grapes, AVAs, regions and more by the glass options to allow consumers to discover the richness of California.
Anything else to say?
At the Awards, we will be happy to offer our portfolio of Louis M. Martini wines for the tasting but this will also be an opportunity to discover another iconic portfolio of Californian wines – Orin Swift, from renowned winemaker Dave Phinney. Orin Swift are expressive wines and innovative blends, packaged with imaginative and artistic labels. Orin Swift includes a wide range of wines, from the iconic Napa Bordeaux blend Papillon to Zinfandel blend 8 Years in the Desert, Mannequin (100% Chardonnay), Slander (100% Pinot Noir). The common thread: expressiveness and a whole lot of character, sourced from the best of all California’s AVA’s to get a more unique style, increased complexity and continuity year-on-year.
The 2022 UK Wine List of the Year Categories
The full line up of categories in the 2022 UK Wine List of the Year is as follows:
- Grand Prix – more than 600 wines.
- Special Jury Prize – recognising a venue doing something out of the ordinary.
- By the Glass
- Sparkling Wine List
- Best Short list – up to 200 wines
- Best Medium Sized List – 200 to 600 wines
Country focused lists
- New Zealand Wine List of the Year – supported by New Zealand Winegrowers.
- German Wine List of the Year – supported by Wines of Germany.
- California Wine List of the Year – supported by Louis M. Martini.
- Best Austrian Wine List, presented by Austrian Wine.
Judges for 2022 awards
The judges for the 2022 awards once again includes a strong line-up of award-winning sommeliers, chaired by Ruth Spivery, UK ambassador for Star Wine List. This year’s panel includes:
- Salvatore Castano, Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa 2021
- Arvid Rosengren, 2016 Best Sommelier of the Word
- Raimonds Tomsons, wine director of Barents Wine Collectors & Co-Founder at WineTeach
- Rajat Parr, sommelier and winemaker.
The Judging Criteria
All wine lists are assessed independently by the judging panel who will mark them based on:
- Their depth and diversity
- Value for money.
The jury’s votes are then added up to decide the finalists and the winners.
The 2022 awards will be held in person on February 21 at The Winemakers Club in London with an informal ceremony designed as much as a networking, and tasting event and a chance to meet fellow finalists and peers in the trade. Guests will be invited to attend a walkaround tasting with our partners, the chance to take part in the awards and then enjoy an evening of drinks and food.