Decanter Wine Retailer of the Year Awards
Yesterday evening, Jack, Shana and I donned our best clothes and headed to the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair for the Decanter Retailer of the Year Awards. With our fingers firmly cros...
Anna Von Bertele
A letter to Cathy Corison
Dear Cathy, I felt slightly overwhelmed driving along the Napa Valley Floor on my way to see you. With so many wineries lining Highway 29, I can imagine as a tourist that it would be very confusing - who to visit and which wines are worth tasting? However, luckily I had an appointment with you, a producer of some of the best Cabernets of the region, so I could feel quite smug as I headed towards my destination. The entrance to the Corison winery was one of my favourites. Justin immediately greeted me with a glass of your Corazón Gewürztraminer. I wasn’t familiar with this line of wines but loved the meaning of the label and how it is the ancestral form of your family name. It was a stunning example of the grape, dry with spicy characteristics. A very refreshing and delicious way to start the day at 10am. I was then shown your vineyards – I’d expected them to be all over the valley – I had no idea that your most iconic one, Kronos, was your back garden. Being able to walk out the door and be face-to-face with the magnificent 80 year-old vines was really special. Nearly as special as trying the wine while looking at the gnarled old vines, so majestic and producing such stunning wine. The 2012 had so much depth and complexity – if I close my eyes I can still taste it lingering on my palate now. I also enjoyed being able to taste four of your Napa Valley vintages side by side and really understand how the wine changes over time, going through peaks and troughs. I loved your analysis of a wine being “like an interesting person - they’re always interesting but they go through ups and downs.” I found your 2006 to be the most interesting “person” on that day – at first, a stunning palate of cranberry and raspberry, which then evolves in to something more mysterious with hints of cedar and tobacco with a powerful, long finish. I also enjoyed the much younger 2013 – although it didn’t have the age, it was ripe and fresh, like a precocious child, full of potential who will become wiser with time. As this was a great Napa vintage, I look forward to seeing how it will evolve – I’ve just bought a bottle for my dad’s 60th birthday. It was a honour to try your wines with you and especially inspiring as you were one of the first female winemaker in the area. I hope the 2016 harvest is going well. Love, Anna X
Behind the Scores – Decanter Magazine
Wine scores are an integral part in the way we interact with wine. Sure it isn’t exclusive to the world of wine, we use rating sites to make decisions whether to watch a new film that has hit the cinemas, which restaurant has the best food, or if the latest music album of our favourite artist is worth listening to. Ratings and reviews give us an insight into the quality of something we are interested in experiencing, and that is still (to some extent) unknown to us. Wine scores and reviews are particularly useful. How often have we browsed an online shop or the shelves of our favourite wine merchant and were overwhelmed by the sheer variety of wines on display? The answer is most likely going to be “too often”. With the recent outstanding scores some of our California wines received from the Decanter Magazine, I thought it was time to introduce some of the most important and highly regarded wine critics to you. Each and every wine critic and rating site is unique, have their own areas of specialty, preferences and scoring systems. Nonetheless, and important to highlight, professional wine critics have, despite their own preferences, the ability to rate a wine by many different features that stand for quality: how well is the wine made? Is it a unique and complex wine or is it one dimensional and boring? Is the wine well balanced or does it have too much of one component (such as alcohol, acidity, tannin or oak)? These are just a few examples of questions that wine critics attempt to answer with their reviews and scores. Wine scores and tasting notes therefore are instrumental in helping to answer the question “Will I like this wine?” before the “Do I like this wine?” Today I’m looking at Decanter Magazine, and how to read their scores and reviews. Decanter Magazine is a UK-based wine magazine, which is considered to be one of the most reputable wine publications in the world. Published monthly, the magazine includes tasting notes and reviews, industry insights, news and stories on wine regions and winemakers, as well as vintage charts and buying guides. Since 2012 all wines tasted by Decanter’s wine experts are scored on a 100-point scale, whereas previously it was on a 20-point scale. The new way enables readers to be able to use whichever scoring system they are most familiar with, and can, using the conversion table, easily convert any score from one system into the other. The wine critics who review the wines for Decanter are some of the most renowned in the industry. They taste the wines blind, and are always mentioned by name, so that you can find an expert whose taste in wines is most similar to yours. Finally these experts tend to review wines from regions they specialise in, which ensures that the scores reflect the wines heritage and the region’s style best. William Kelley, the North America Correspondent for Decanter Magazine and former president of the prestigious Oxford University Wine Circle, is one of the publication’s key experts. Luckily for us, William was kind enough to give us an insight to his approach in tasting and reviewing wines, and what he believes make reviews an important reference point for wine drinkers around the globe. Interview with William Kelley Hi William, thank you very much for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers, and of course congratulations on being short-listed for the Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year Award! How did you get into wine? And when did you start reviewing them? I was initiated into wine, if I can put it like that, when I tasted a bottle of 1955 Château Lynch Bages at the age of seventeen. It was a radically more complex and compelling beverage than any I'd encountered before, and I resolved to learn more. While my parents drink wine with meals, their interest doesn't go much further than that, so I was fortunate to be mentored by an older wine writer named Hugo Dunn-Meynell, who passed away in 2013. Under his guidance, I cut my teeth as a taster on many of the great clarets and Burgundies of the post-war period. '55 La Mission Haut Brion and '61 Palmer come to mind as two bottles that really made an impression, but there were many." I also joined the Oxford University Wine Circle as an undergraduate and ultimately served as its president for four years, which was certainly a bit of a distraction from my doctorate, but also a unique opportunity. We hosted weekly tastings with many of the world's best producers. I remember cooking dinner after tastings for people like Krug's winemaker Eric Lebel (who made his first visit to the UK to present a tasting for us), Yves Gangloff, François Mitjaville, Jeremy Seysses, Rodolphe Péters. Those were unforgettable times, and we also drank a lot of great bottles, which is really the only way to develop one's taste. At some point it dawned on me that a career in wine was really what I wanted to pursue—writing about it and perhaps some day making it. So I ended up heading out to Napa Valley to work a harvest, and started writing for Decanter around the same time, becoming their North America Correspondent this year. What do you think is the most important aspect of wine reviews for the consumer? Above all, reviews need to be useful. So a tasting note should identify a wine's distinguishing features; the characteristics that differentiate it from other wines and give it its personality. Perhaps most importantly where North American wine is concerned, that includes giving a sense of what stylistic camp a wine falls into: whether its aesthetic is restrained and classical, say, or super-ripe and modernist. Because I'm reviewing wines for a large audience, I try not to be too dogmatic about questions of style (though my own taste is pretty classical): some readers will like one thing, others another, and I want my notes to be useful to everyone. But I do try to indicate clearly where a particular wine sits on the stylistic spectrum. How do you prepare yourself for a (Decanter) wine tasting? Do you have a ritual? I don't have any particular ritual. I simply try to make sure I'm in an environment without distracting ambient aromatics, holding a familiar wine glass (ideally a Zalto Universal), and tasting a wine that's at the correct temperature. Wherever possible, I like to taste wines repeatedly and follow them over several days, a practice I followed extensively for my 2013 California Cabernet reviews. I also think it's important not to fall into the hubristic trap of speed-tasting, or lining up too many bottles to taste in one day. It's definitely challenging to judge big, tannic reds that may be shut down, and it takes time and concentration. If it's taken a winemaker 18 months or more to make a wine, I think it behoves me to give it more than fifteen seconds of my cursory attention. What do you consider the most enjoyable/ most difficult part of a tasting? I love tastings that deepen one's understanding of a particular wine and how it evolves over time. Ridge's Monte Bello, for example, usually has really high acidity and a correspondingly low pH: sometimes as low as 3.3 or 3.4, which would be more usual in a white wine, especially in California. It's a characteristic of the high-altitude limestone site, and it makes most Monte Bellos pretty tight and structural just after bottling. It takes experience to read a wine like that and know how it's likely to evolve, but once you've acquired that over the years then it's great fun contemplating the beauty that's going to develop with bottle age. So vertical tastings can be very informative, as you get a sense of things like that. I also love it when producers really succeed. Cathy Corison's 2013s, for example, may well be the best she's made to date—and I've tasted almost every vintage she's made back to 1989. Both the regular bottling and the Kronos really have the x-factor in 2013; the sort of wines that just proclaim that they're special. Raj Parr's 2014 Sandhi Chardonnays are the same. If I really don't have anything bad to say, then writing a note is a real pleasure; I can let myself write like a wine-lover, not a critic. By contrast, the most difficult thing is reviewing and scoring a wine that is technically correct, but just soulless and dull. I can think of some California wines that might be superficially appealing—perhaps because of richness and 'fruit-weight' or whatever—but are really totally anonymous. Once you've tasted fifteen of them in a row, you become hyper-critical of wines like that. Of course, I think it's important to be critical, but I also try hard not to be polemical. It's about finding a balance.
On the road in California - A whirlwind visit of Napa
The last day in Napa Valley was filled with producer visits and covered both sides of the valley. If there was a common factor it would be a commitment to the vineyards first and foremost with the final product being wines of exceptional quality. Kongsgaard, located high on Atlas Peak, specialises in rich but balanced Chardonnay that are filled with exotic aromas and an intense, savoury Syrah. The winery is dug into the side of the peak with long, cool walkways lined with barrels and fermenting tanks named Ludwig and Fimasaurus and musical compositions taped on their sides. The wines are opulent and expressive while still maintaining balance and long lingering finishes. On the other side of the valley and up Mt Veeder is Mayacamas Vineyards, an almost forgotten hero of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. All too often in Napa Valley, wineries are sold and corporate companies from other sectors come in and take over without a complete understanding of what wine making is about, or even worse, no appreciation for what made the wines so special. I'm happy to say that Mayacamas has been given a new lease of life with Charles Banks, Andy Erickson, Phil Coturri and the always charming Jimmy Hayes bringing new life into the vineyards and wines. One predominant factor that makes the wines so unique is their location; they are at the start of the Mayacamas mountain range and the prevailing winds keep the vineyard cool with fog blanketing the lower parts of the mountain and vineyards. If you are lucky and the fog has cleared you may be be able to see San Francisco in the distance across the bay. Down to the valley floor is Corsion Winery. I'm greeted with a glass of Corazon, dry Gewürztraminer, to start my tasting - I couldn't be happier. By now the temperature is rising outside and the dry white wine is filled with lychee and white flower aromas and a crisp acidity; it's so refreshing. I always look forward to visiting Cathy and trying her Cabernets - like her, they never disappoint and they always leave you wanting another visit. I was fortunate enough to try 1999, 2010, 2013 and the 2012 Kronos, they all share a common core of restrained power but each had an individuality representing their respective vintage. Finally over towards Napa (the city) and Matthiasson Vineyards, I find Steve to be, like Cathy Corison; inspiring. He is a viticulturalist first, having worked for some of California's most well known winemakers. Now he is making his own wines. His philosophy and work in the vineyard is unique and so are the grapes he grows. From Ribolla Gialla and Refosco to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, the quality of the wines is a direct result of his viticultural skills. The wines linger on your taste buds and connect to the mind - they are subtle but cerebral. I've learned so much about Napa Valley over the last few days and have seen it from a new perspective. In the past I have often found it to be boring and repetitive, I can now see that I just didn't know the right people and hadn't tried the exciting wines they make.
We’re often asked how you go about making rosé wine. Is it red and white wine mixed together? Is it made from red grapes or white grapes? Is it more like a red wine, or a white wine? With Roberson’s sister company London Cru making its first ever rosé in its Fulham winery, we thought it was about time to debunk some common rosé myths... Myth 1 – Rosé wine is made from red wine and white wine Although some rosé champagnes are made by blending a small portion of finished red wine to a base white wine, this is not a method used for making still pink wines. In fact, it is banned in France and some other countries when creating a still rosé. There are two predominant ways of making still rosé – saignée and maceration or direct pressing. Saignée (say ‘san-yay’) means ‘bleeding off’ in French. This method involves placing red grapes in a tank, then after a short period running off a certain amount of juice from the tank which is then fermented and made into rosé. The resulting wine has a light (pink) colour because it did not have elongated contact with the skins and pulp in the tank before being separated. The leftover juice and skins in the initial tank is then made into red wine – this method has the added benefit of improving the concentration and quality of the red wine (like reducing a sauce in cooking). You could say it’s hitting two birds with one stone! This is the method used to make London Cru’s Rosaville Rd and it is often said to make the best quality rosé. Its proponents say it produces bolder flavours and greater varietal character. The second method is maceration or direct pressing. Red grapes are pressed straight after harvest (either as whole bunches or after being destemmed) and the resulting pale pink juice is then left to ferment, away from any contact with the skins and pulp of the grape. This is the most common method of making rosé and is popular in Provence. Myth 2 – Rosé is not a good food wine Falling in between red and white, rosé is less intense than a tannic, full-bodied red, but more in depth than a light white. This makes it perfect for food and really versatile. Top restaurants seem to agree, as rosé is asserting itself as a real contender on many a restaurant wine list. London Cru wrote a blog post all about rosé’s talents as a serious food wine. Think pasta parcels, risotto Milanese and soft, oozing burrata. Myth 3 – All rosé is sweet In the past, a lot of rosé wine had sugar added, and these rosés were often darker in colour with a brighter pink hue. These wines tended to be mass produced and low quality, but things have really changed. With the recent surge in popularity of rosé (#YesWayRosé), the trend is for drier styles and lighter pink colours. Like any wine, the style can vary, but the majority of rosé sold at a quality producer will almost certainly be dry, crisp and refreshing and perfect for sipping by the pool. Myth 4 – Rosé is just for summer You’ll find that a lot of rosé wine’s marketing focuses on it being the perfect summer aperitif or BBQ wine. However, there has been a real change in the thinking around rosé and recent surveys have shown that wine lovers are buying this usually summery drink throughout the year. This is especially true for bolder, premium rosés that pair perfectly with a range of foods. Hemmingway said rosé was “a great wine for people that are in love”. We agree – whatever time of year that may be!
On the road in California - Viano, Broc Cellars and Smith-Madrone
After a night in San Francisco and a great dinner at RN74, I was back on the road and headed to three very different wineries: Broc Cellars in an old industrial neighbourhood in Berkeley, Viano Vineyards that has now been surrounded by the growing town of Martinez and Smith-Madrone sitting just on top of Spring Mountain. The three producers couldn't be more different in terms of location, vineyard techniques and wines made, yet strangely they seem to have a lot in common. Firstly the guys behind the wineries are all pretty easy going, opinionated definitely, but really down to earth and reasonable. Secondly they have the oldest vineyards or vineyard sites of all the wineries that I will visiting, some dating back to the late 1880's, and thirdly they only make small quantities of (delicious) wines: Riesling, Valdiguie, Zinfnadel, Muscat blends, Nero d Avola and even some Cabernet Sauvignon.
An update from California
One of the many great things about this road trip is getting to see people in their natural environment, not pushed onto a crowded tube or paraded around London, darting in and out of restaurants as we try to keep up with the schedule. Getting to spend time with Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr in their vineyard and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto really opened my eyes to how to how special the Domaine de la Cote project really is. (Sorry folks you'll have to wait to hear more about this). I was also fortunate enough to pop into Graham Tatomer's winery in Santa Maria, I've wanted to meet him for a couple of years now and he certainly didn't disappoint, his exuberance for Gruner Veltliner and Riesling is encouraging and from what I've tasted the best is yet to come!Before leaving the area I met Jeremy Meyer from Jackhammer and got the full story on these brilliant single vineyard wines and I can honestly say they are just as good in can as they are in bottle. I'm keeping it short today as I've got to drive to the Santa Cruz Mountains in the morning - Mount Eden awaits.
We sell wine that offers quality and value at every level, from the everyday to the extraordinary. Read more about us.
We’ve won all the major awards in our category multiple times.
... London's best collection of seriously smart wine available by the single bottle