Held in London just as the travel ban started to take effect in Northern Italy, but just prior to full lockdown, Armit’s Italian tasting displayed many of the crown jewels of the Italian wine scene, even though many winemakers could not make the trip. Armit’s new managing director Brett Fleming is bullish about the company’s future, aiming to take it from £20m to £30m turnover over the next few years, and he sees the Italian wines as key to this growth along with boosting the importer’s profitability. As well as the on-trade, Fleming will be looking to prioritise the private client and off-trade side of the business, seeing opportunities for some of Armit’s premium producers. Justin Keay was there for The Buyer who tasted his way round the room and picked eight producers that shone on the day.
Most readers of The Buyer will have a pretty good idea of the basics of wine-pairing. It’s a skill isn’t it, picking the right colour, variety, style, producer (even vintage) to go with a variety of dishes… in the hands of the right sommelier it is almost an art form. But put aside for a minute the fresh goat’s cheese salad, rib-eye and poached rhubarb crumble, how good are you at picking the right wine to go with what you only just managed to find at the back of the decimated supermarket shelves during lockdown? So what wine do you think sir or madam would like to complement the delicious umami succulence of their Chicken and Mushroom Pot Noodles?
A who’s who of the UK sommelier scene showed up for the Flint portfolio tasting, one of the last to be held before lockdown. The reason? The day had been specially curated with the sommelier in mind – wines that are just right for the on-trade, and a set of masterclasses that offered genuine practical help. The one compered by Ronan Rayburn MS and Stefan Neumann MS on blind tasting was the best masterclass that Mike Turner has ever attended, and he has attended a few let us tell you. Other subjects covered included the cutting edge of sustainable practices in Europe and America, and an in-depth look at the white wines of Italy. In addition to reporting on the day Turner also picks 6 of the Best – the pick of the wines which he thinks will work best for sommeliers.
Peter Ranscombe goes back to school during four masterclasses in London to learn why California’s wide variety of terroirs and blending options allows it to produce competitively priced wines below the £50 mark without compromising on quality. From larger American Viticulture Areas like the Central Coast and Sonoma County through to pockets including the Alexander Valley, Carneros and Mendocino, the sheer scale of The Golden State allows suppliers to find wine-by-the-glass candidates that won’t break the bank.
Greek wine is on a surge of popularity in the UK right now – sommeliers can’t get enough, it seems, of Assyrtiko, Xinomavro, Mavrodaphne, Malagousia, Moschofiliero and Agiorgitiko – in many cases quite literally. There is a shortage in supply of quality Greek wine in the UK, writes Justin Keay, with most large importers not yet on the bandwagon. There are a couple of exceptions with Cava Spiliadis being the most notable. At its second UK tasting, this New York-based importer showed over 100 quality wines with the least well known being the most popular.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Michael Baum is a self-avowed disruptor, and a biodynamic evangelist, who sees sommeliers as key to the success of Château Pommard, the prestigious Burgundy estate he acquired six years ago. At an exclusive lunch he tells Victor Smart how he intends to get from a direct-sales model to 25% of production channelled through restaurants and bars. As well as opens the latest releases including the sought-after ‘Simone’ which has a trade price of a cool £300 a bottle.
While Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling may continue to grab all the headlines, Syrah was Peter Ranscombe’s pick at last week’s ‘Unsung Heroes’ tasting, hosted by Washington State Wine. He finds out that – thanks to its complex mix of soils, warm summers and cooler autumns – the state can produce wines that have the ripe fruit flavours of the new world alongside the structure and the freshness of the old world. Apart from reporting on the two Jamie Goode masterclasses, Ranscombe also picks his Top 10 Syrahs from the tasting.
With wine events getting cancelled every day it was refreshing to see Daniel Lambert Wines’ portfolio tasting still going ahead last week. Despite Covid-19 and uncertainty over Brexit, Lambert is reporting 12% growth this year with his portfolio getting stronger every year, focussing as it does on family producers. That’s certainly what David Kermode thought who tasted the wines for the first time and was impressed with a number, particularly a sparkling from Montgomery Vineyard (lead picture) which is the UK’s highest vineyard near Powys and is made of 95 percent Seyval Blanc with the remainder early ripening Pinot Noir Précoce. Kermode lists his Top 10 wines from the tasting.
With the Bordeaux en primeurs cancelled the Grand Circle des Vins de Bordeaux’s London tasting last Thursday was the first and only glimpse at Bordeaux 2019 for the foreseeable future. 2019 was a vintage which was all about the hot dry summer and the resulting high pHs – which led some châteaux to acidify. The whites are great, the reds mixed between good and very good, depending upon how much Merlot was in the blend – the Merlot ripening early and the Cabernet Sauvignon caught out at some estates by a lot of October rain. Geoffrey Dean tasted through the wines, talked to Grand Cercle’s Alain Reynaud and the winemakers about how 2019 compares with other vintages of the 21st Century.
Following Nebbiolo Day, which turned the spotlight on Italy’s noblest grape, Sangiovese Reset was a day-long event in London last week which just beat the country’s lockdown and attempted to set the record straight about Italy’s workhorse grape variety. Assembled by the same events team, ‘Reset’ showed how Sangiovese is going in the right direction with producers eschewing new oak in order to bring out the best in the variety and also try and tame its often uncompromising tannins. Justin Keay was there for The Buyer, and highlights the 10 producers he thought shone the most on the day from Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Umbria and many more regions.
The wines being made in Portugal have changed in just the last few years, and they are really hot right now. To celebrate the dynamic changes taking place there trade body Wines of Portugal took the theme of Taste A World of Difference for its annual portfolio tasting. They changed the venue, the style of the tasting, drafted in Three Wine Men for the evening consumer event, and have put even more oomph behind their already-impressive education programmes, Organics section and focus on the excellent white wines coming out of the country.
It was one of the hottest tickets in town – the inaugural tasting event run by OenoTrade, a wine investment company embarking upon a journey into premium on-trade both as a supplier and as owner of a proposed chain of wine bars. Screaming Eagle 2016, Latour 1982 and one wine whose release price for the 2015 vintage was a cool €30,000 a bottle – making it the world’s most expensive wine; there were some serious wines being popped. Justin Keay went there for The Buyer and reports back including recommendations of the Top 10 wines from the backbone of the OenoTrade portfolio.
The new vintage of Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill is always a hotly-anticipated release and 2009 vintage is no exception. Hubert de Billy, 5th generation family member and director of Champagne Pol Roger, explains to Anne Krebiehl MW the thinking behind the new wine, and how if 2008 was aimed at collectors then 2009 is aimed at drinkers. De Billy says that the House still tries to anticipate what Churchill would have said on each new release to keep it true to form – “Burgundy with bubbles” effectively – and how the wine is all about Pinot Noir and long ageing. In her tasting notes Krebiehl describes the wine as having “opulence and freshness that destines it to be a party wine.” Looks like it’s all round to Anne’s place!
Over the past half century, wines from Italy’s Pasqua family have flowed into the UK market through two of the most established and respected wine importers Whighams of Ayr and Corney & Barrow which bought Whighams in 1994. Peter Ranscombe joined the wine merchant to celebrate the golden anniversary of the partnership with a special tasting in its 18th century Scottish cellar and a dinner at the nearby Turnberry Hotel.
International vineyard visits and wine tastings – which involve winemakers flying halfway around the world – come with a hefty carbon footprint, and more besides, if we look at the restrictions currently being placed on travel in and out of countries affected by Coronavirus. Besides, sometimes vignerons just need to be at the winery or amongst the vines. Which is why Mike Turner decided to conduct a virtual wine tasting with KWV winemaker Izele Van Blerk and viticulturalist Marco Ventrella through Facebook Live. He was in Lincoln, they were in South Africa, and a bunch of wine enthusiasts joined in from all over the globe. Here’s how it went…
Just four years ago it was hard to tell most Japanese Koshu wine apart, writes Peter Dean. Subtle, sublime, delicate and highly uniform, Koshu could easily have become simply a category of curiosity. But this month’s Koshu of Japan trade tasting displayed how the wines are changing for the better. The increase in vine age and improvement in winemaking technique are resulting in seriously good wines – still, sparkling, orange and now reds – which are perhaps the most exciting development of them all.
It was just under two years ago that Tamra Kelly-Washington, former winemaker at Yealands, took over the reins at Seresin Estate – the Marlborough-based winery run by famed cinematographer Michael Seresin. With the wines now being distributed in the UK by Enotria&Coe, David Kermode aka Mr Vinosaurus, thought it was time to give the new vintages the once-over to see how they have progressed, looking at Leah Pinot Noir 2017, 2014, 2007 and 2004 as well as the 2018 whites.
It is a year since Champagne Bollinger launched the monumental La Grande Année 2008 and between that vintage and La Grande Année 2012 it has bottled no other La Grande Année wines. The 2012 more than lives up to expectations, Anne Krebiehl MW writes, with the 2012s being hedonistic from the get-go in contrast to the 2008’s understated appeal. Iconic English St JOHN Restaurant was chosen for the UK launch because of its focus on craft, simplicity and the essence of ingredients – key tenets shared with Bollinger and the construction of these stunning wines.
To celebrate 150 years of business in the wine trade James Davy uncorked an 1870 Madeira and an 1870 Port at its Old World Portfolio Tasting. Treating on-trade, consumers and the wine bars as one integrated business unit is one of the secrets of its success, says Davy. But so is its portfolio that covers all bases, argues Justin Keay. Davy’s focuses on small, almost boutique producers and has an impressive 90% exclusivity on its wines. Keay focuses on three producers in particular that highlight the direction Davy’s is headed in.
The volcanic heartland of Central France was the setting for Vinora, a 3-day wine fair and conference focused on celebrating the volcanic wines of the world – with particular emphasis on the wines of the Côtes d’Auvergne AOC and Puy-de-Dôme IGP. David Kermode travelled to Vulcania, a theme park near Clermont-Ferrand that hosted the event; hears from geologist Patrick Marcel and author John Szabo MS, attempting to shed some light on the link between volcanic terroir and what we experience in the wines; Kermode also picks 10 volcanic wines that ‘blew him away’.