Mags Janjo is no stranger to readers of The Buyer – from winning a place to study for his MW through the Golden Vines Scholarship to supporting female winemakers across the globe with the diverse portfolio at MJ Wine Cellars, the wine distribution business he set up in 2019. Following initial success at wine trade shows, Janjo and the team put on their inaugural portfolio tasting at the WSET School in Bermondsey earlier this month. We sent our very own Mike Turner to taste his way through the wines on offer.
Aside from meeting the team and discovering their USP, Turner picks six of the best from the MJ Wine Cellars portfolio that need to be on your radar.
When the chance to head down to the MJ Wine Cellars’ tasting earlier this month popped up, I was keen to stick my name down. Without wishing to sound too “fan-boy” about it all, I’d heard he was an impressive human being. The Chief (The Buyer’s editor-in-chief, Richard Siddle) has been following his career for the last couple of years and if the Chief takes an interest in your career, then there’s got to be something going for you…
MJ Wine Cellars evolves as Janjo continues his studies
I started this particular portfolio tasting keen to know more about the fledgling set-up at MJ Wine Cellars and the team behind it all. Janjo is the founder and sales director. It’s been an interesting journey since founding the company in 2019. Initially the idea was to broker and create blends for large players in the industry, but as a small team they managed to adapt quickly to the changes Covid threw at them.
“As we entered the HORECA and B2C world, we knew we had to start niche,” reflects Janjo. “If people want Bordeaux or Rioja, then there are big players already offering a wider range than we could. So to show off really interesting Greek, Cypriot, and Hungarian wines gave us an edge and a platform to build from. We’re now adding excellent wines from Alsace and Burgundy wines to boost the portfolio and add to click-bait for the B2C e-commerce. It’s shaping up nicely.”
Having a solid team around him is doubly important for Janjo as he continues to offer his services as a tutor for the WSET whilst studying for his Master of Wine qualification.
“I enjoy it in a nihilistic kind of way,” he jokes. “I’ve had nearly 15 years now in the wine industry and I’m seeing the positives in being humbled by the standard and depth of knowledge I’m expected to achieve. It’s definitely a marathon not a sprint, and I’m so lucky at MJ Wine Cellars to have the team I’ve got.”
MJ Wine Cellars team continues to build
“The team is now three and a half, I would say,” comments Janjo. “My sister Maddie Janjo is another vital cog in the machine helping with our copywriting and content. It helps to have an Oxford graduate in English in the family!” Anyone running a fine toothcomb over my own copy and grammar (as a Maths graduate) would surely agree. But it’s the permanent members of staff Janjo has acquired that help the business to tick.
To his right hand comes Drew Slowe performing the vital role in any organisation such as this by supporting sales and managing logistics. Slowe was brought in from The Wine Society, having previously worked across hospitality roles, to help implement trade growth.
“Effectively that means logistics,” smiles Slowe. “I spend lots of time in front of Excel files and on the phone to delivery companies, but it needs doing. I’ve also taken on the role of keeping the website and our e-commerce up to date. It’s done well over Covid and continues to help us legitimise our business whilst being a shop front for the trade accounts too.” It appears that every business needs a ‘Drew’!
They’ve recently been joined by exciting-wine-talent Henna Zinzuwadia to focus on on-trade sales. She joined as recently as June 2022. She has spent five years as a sommelier across the capital, including time at the fabulous Akoko in Fitzrovia, and continues to be part of the Bori Table wine and supper club.
“It’s been a brilliant start,” enthuses Zinzuwadia. “Mags and Drew are great, the wines are really fun, and I’m feeling very lucky to showcase them to our clients. To be able to walk in and present wines from Ntsiki Biyela, a multi-award winning black, female winemaker of Zulu origin is an honour. First and foremost the wines are great, but the stories just add so much to our clients.”
Standout wines from the MJ Wine Cellars portfolio
What follows is my top pick for a mixed case of 6. There are a couple of notable exclusions that are definitely worth trying next time you get the chance with the MJ Wine Cellars team, including Domaine De La Denante’s Poully-Fuissé and a very good entry level Pinot Grigio from Azienda Vinicola Talamonti. But without further ado, here’s my top 6 from the tasting…
Aslina Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Stellenbosch, South Africa
You can understand why Ntsiki Biyela’s wines are a jewel in the crown of MJ Wine Cellars’ portfolio. The accolades she’s won and her inspiring story and efforts to raise the profile of young, aspiring black and female winemakers in her country has made her one of the most recognised names in South Africa. But you don’t win awards just for that, your wines need to be damn good. And they are. Her Chenin, Chardonnay, and Bordeaux blend are definitely worth trying, but almost weirdly I picked out her Sauvignon Blanc for particular praise. Those lovely grassy and gooseberry notes joined by green and citrus fruits also had a lifting dill herbal note running through it. (DPD £9.16)
Moschopolis Winery, Assyrtiko 6 2019, Organic, Thessaloniki, Greece
MJ Wine Cellars is particularly proud of its wines from Greece and Cyprus and you can really see why when you get a chance to try them. Moschopolis Winery was founded fairly recently in 2016 and make their wines from organically farmed vineyards at an impressive 500m up in the hills of Thessaloniki. The Assyrtiko 6 has a beautiful mix of stone and citrus fruit, but also honey, smoke, and a medicinal herbal note. The long lemon-and-honey finish made me think this wouldn’t be a bad wine for lead singers to quaff before they hit the stage. Beautifully balanced with a decent kick of acidity. Really enjoyable. (DPD £13.27)
Zambartas Winery, Xynisteri Single Vineyard 2021, Organic, Cyprus
Set up in the 1970s by Cypriot wine pioneer Akis Zambartas, and now joined by son Marco since 2006, this family- orientated winery is based in Paphos concentrating on indigenous Cypriot varieties. The Xynisteri grapes for this wine are from an organic single vineyard and produce pronounced aromas of green, stone, and citrus fruits with some doughy notes that I’m assuming are from lees ageing. I really enjoyed the bitter citrus pith finish. I’d drink it now, but it will be interesting to see where this one goes in the next three or four years. (DPD £13.74)
Sebestyén Winery, Kadarka 2019, Szekszárd, Hungary
Self-confessed Burgundy lovers and siblings Csaba and Csilla Sebestyén create classically styled cuvées from indigenous grape varieties. Their love of Burgundy has seen them work hard to match each variety to the correct terroir to create some seriously tasty Hungarian wines. Kadarka is a grape I’ve enjoyed on many occasions and this one was really tasty. For those of you looking for lower bodied, lower alcohol reds for lunch menus and great all-rounders for big restaurant tables, then this pale red wine bursting with cherries and redcurrants is for you. (DPD £9.41)
Domaine Guillot Gonin, Moulin À Vent 2021, Beaujolais, France
With 35 hectares spanning a number of the crus of Beaujolais, Corinne Gonin and Jean-Philippe Guillot are happy to be “hands off” winemakers. Their wines are designed to express each terroir, but also the fun of a well-made glass of Beaujolais. Their Moulin à Vent was my favourite, with much more subtlety in the red fruit flavours and smoothness in the albeit light tannins. A very easy wine to drink which is exactly what most of us want from a well-made Beaujolais. (DPD £10.76)
Vlassides Winery, Oroman 2019, Cyprus
Third generation winemaker and UC Davis graduate Sophocles Vlassides has blended the indigenous Yiannoudi grapes with Shiraz to produce a red wine that ticks lots of boxes. From the fresh, fruity and floral nose to the more brooding dark fruit and spice on the palate, this is a full-bodied red with plenty of intensity and finish and had me thinking about how well this would work at Zinzuwadia’s African supper clubs. (DPD £14.90)
If you want to find out more about the portfolio, or how to start working with MJ Wine Cellars go to its website HERE.
Mike Turner is a freelance writer, presenter, and educator and regular contributor for The Buyer. He also runs a wine events business, Feel Good Grapes, that explores and discusses the idea of sustainability in the wine trade.