Despite an erratic supply side, horrific shipping costs, exchange rates and glass shortages, there is plenty to be optimistic about in today’s market argues Hatch Mansfield CEO, Patrick McGrath. At 19 agencies, his portfolio is covering all bases and in manageable proprtions. Kate Hawkings talks to McGrath and MD Ben Knollys about the ‘state of the union’ and picks out 10 new wines that she thinks you should consider for your list.
“Portugal is hitting all the right notes at the moment – great value for money, food-friendly and accessible – and Esporão covers three major regions for us very comprehensively,” says Ben Knollys, Hatch Mansfield MD.
“It’s a shit show,” Patrick McGrath MW described the state of the wine industry at Hatch Mansfield’s 2021 portfolio tasting, as reported by David Kermode of this parish this time last year.
Citing lack of stock due to worldwide shipping chaos, exacerbated by widespread weather-related reduced yields, McGrath pronounced “It is, without doubt, the most challenging time that I have ever seen.” Quite a claim from a man who is nudging into his 40th year in the wine business.
McGrath has since moved to a new role, remaining very much involved as Hatch Mansfield’s CEO, with Ben Knollys taking over as MD. So how are things looking one year on?
“In terms of production, 2021 was a very difficult harvest for many. 2022 is looking better but it was very dry so yields are low, although Champagne has had a good year for both quality and quantity,” McGrath tells me.
“The supply side is still quite erratic, but it’s getting better, however, shipping costs are horrific. Exchange rates are a problem as the value of the pound has dropped off*, then there is the added pressure of glass bottle shortages, but we’ve definitely been seeing increased consumer confidence across all sectors. Higher price bands and large formats are still growing, which is really encouraging.”
“The trend for lighter wines also continues to grow,” he goes on. “This is a major challenge with climate change, but winemakers are working really hard in the vineyard to produce fresher, cleaner wines; even in places like Chile we’ve seen a drop in abvs of around 2% in the past five years or so.”
Hatch Mansfield has been going since 1994, established with core producers Villa Maria, Errazuriz and Louis Jadot, and now has 19 exclusive brands covering over 60 wineries. Heavy hitters such as Taittinger and C.V.N.E sit alongside more boutique and lesser known independent, family-owned labels from both the New and Old Worlds – the rightfully revered Zuccardi from Argentina, Robert Oatley’s immaculate Australian collection, super-sleek Italians from the super-smart Gaja stable, Kleine Zalze’s fine array from Stellenbosch, and more.
Pioneering Rhône producer M. CHAPOUTIER joined in 2020, just days after the first Covid lockdown, and the latest addition is Esporão which joined last April, based in the Alentejo but with estates in Vinho Verde and the Douro. Most of its fruit is estate grown, all is organic; and Esporão is now one of the largest organic wine producers in the world.
The Hatch Mansfield route to the on-trade is through various regional and national wholesalers, while they reach off-trade customers across a wide spectrum.
“Obviously supermarkets are our biggest customers because of brands like Villa Maria and Errazuriz,” says McGrath. “But independents have always been very important to us. We currently have around 320 off-trade indies, from places like Hedonism all the way to corner shops like Spar and Nisa, and it’s great to see the good ones are doing really well.”
I met Ben Knollys at the Taittinger table, clearly relishing his job as Hatch Mansfield’s new MD.
“Despite the many challenges, there’s much to be excited about,” he says cheerfully. “It’s great to have Chapoutier on board, of course, and I think Esporão is a fantastic addition. Portugal is hitting all the right notes at the moment – great value for money, food-friendly and accessible – and Esporão covers three major regions for us very comprehensively. A key strategic imperative for us is not to have too many producers; the 19 we have now feels just about right.”
McGrath agrees. “Consolidation is the key word for the future,” he says. Holding on tightly and not looking down? I ask. “Exactly that,” he grins.
Ten Top Tips from the Hatch Mansfield tasting
Wild Steps canned wines
Hatch Mansfield is dipping its toes in the alternative format waters with ‘Wild Steps’, their own-brand range of premium, organic, canned wines comprising a white, red and rosé, all made in Mendoza and canned in the UK. Launched this summer, they’ve been a big hit with younger drinkers, particularly on the festival circuit. Nifty QR codes printed on the pleasingly textured cans reveal all the information an interested imbiber might wish for. RRP £3.99/250ml
Taittinger Folies de la Marquetterie NV
Made from a blend of 55%/45% Pinot Noir/Chardonnay from the first pressings of single-vineyard fruit, 30% of which is fermented in oak, this serious cuvée has a really charming nose of white flowers, peaches and French pastries with a generous, rounded body that reminded me of apricot jam on slightly burned, buttered toast. A real treat. RRP £76.75
Ladoix Le Clou d’Orge Blanc 2019
Part of Louis Jadot’s Burgundy stable, this sensational wine drew gasps of joy from several of my fellow tasters. From close to the Corton grand cru and made from grapes grown by the Gagey family, this has 25% new oak. Ripe and voluptuous with a seam of subtle spice. “Probably the best value wine in the room,” muttered a well-respected taster nearby. RRP £34.45
Château de la Terrière Régnie Sauvage à Poil 2020
Part of the Terroirs et Talents association of small estates in Beaujolais and Maconnais who retain their own strong identities but share warehousing and sales teams as well as the renowned collaborative wine culture of the region. RRP £17.50
Grégory Barbet of Chateau de la Terrière makes this wonderfully rustic and juicy whole-bunch Gamay fermented in stainless steel and bottled without sulphites. Wild but not dangerous with lots of fragrant fruit and just the right amount of crunch.
C.V.N.E Asùa Reserva 2013
There was a lot to like on this table, quelle surprise. I could have picked the stunning Contino Gran Reserva 2011 (in magnum at £141.65 RRP), or Viña Real Barrel-Fermented Bianco 2020, fantastic value at £11.95 RRP, but this stood out as a great example of a modern Rioja that wears its 18 months in oak very lightly. 100% unblended Tempranillo from Haro at a welcome 13.5% abv. RRP £20.55
Gaja IDDA Rosso 2019
A new project on Sicily for this rightfully revered Italian producer that remains family owned after five generations. 100% Nerello Mascalese grown on the slopes of Mt Etna, this has the characteristic purity and elegance of that grape, with a savoury bite and just a little lick of lava on the finish. RRP £39.40
Unfortunately I neglected to photograph the bottle because, fickle drinker that I am, my head was turned by these beauties in the photo above. Grazie to Gaja for generously showing no fewer than six wines marked POA – the ones you can’t afford if you have to ask the price. It’s such a treat to taste such things; my tasting note for the Sperss 2014 in magnum simply reads ‘OH GOD. SENSATIONAL!’.
Esporão, Quinta do Ameal Solo Único 2020
Quinta do Ameal is one of Vinho Verde’s most respected estates and makes Loureiro something of a speciality – Jancis Robinson is a great fan. This wine is from Solo Único, one of its highest vineyards, and is fermented in cement which gives a lovely chalky texture to its zippy, saline freshness. A fine example of when Vinho Verde goes beyond the familiar cheap and cheerful spritzy wines. Very special. RRP £21.55
Robert Oatley Signature Series Pinot Noir 2020
Robert Oatley founded his eponymous winery in 2006, making wine from family vineyards planted in the late 1960s. Now led by Bob’s son Sandy, skilled winemakers work under the direction of vigneron Larry Cherubino across Australia’s best wine regions, tended as organically as possible and very much with an eye on minimal intervention. This is from its maritime-influenced Signature Series range, a gorgeous lifted and perfumed Pinot Noir from cool-climate sites across the Yarra Valley. Delicate, with cherry and strawberry-scented fruit underpinned with a restrained savoury finish. Excellent value. RRP £14.40
Kleine Zalze Project Z Riesling/Verdelho 2020
Project Z began in 2013, focussing on a selection of vineyards on extraordinary sites around the Western Cape fermented and/or aged in a growing collection of Italian amphorae. This is from the project’s second release, an aromatic blend of Riesling and Verdelho that sits in perfect balance with a lovely taut acidity. Delicious right now, but I’d like to taste this in a few years’ time, too. RRP £29.95
Zuccardi Soleria by Malamado NV
Three-times winner of the ‘World’s Best Vineyards to Visit’, Zuccardi’s winery stands in Argentina’s high-altitude Uco Valley, and is now in the hands of Sebastián, the third generation of the family, whose pioneering vision is to ferment all the wines in concrete, giving a contemporary freshness and great clarity to its whole range.
From the entry-level Los Olivos label Chardonnay and Malbec, both giving great bang for £11.60 of buck, to the mighty, meaty Finca Piedra Infinita 2017, here in magnum at a robust £123.85 RRP, I loved all Zuccardi’s wines on show, but this sticky treat (the Soleria by Malamado NV) stole my heart. RRP £18.85/50cl
The only fortified Torrontés produced in Argentina, made from grapes left on the vines to concentrate the sugars before being fermented then fortified with grape spirit and aged in old oak barrels which are left exposed in direct sunlight for 40 months. Orange blossom, marmalade, salted pecans and a little bit of warming spice with a really seductive, silky texture.
*The tasting took place on 20th October, before the Chancellor’s budget-that-wasn’t-a-budget saw the pound plummet still further.
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