Mas des Dames - Lidewij in London
The story of how Dutch-born Lidewij of Mas des Dames became a winemaker is pretty cool – so cool in fact that she wrote a book about it. After a very successful career in advertisi...
Anna Von Bertele
Right now I’m sitting at my desk feeling pretty satisfied, perhaps even smug, as last night I got to eat at one of the most talked about, hard-to-get-into restaurants in London - The Barbary. I had high expectations which were vindicated because not one single dish disappointed. My only problem was that I was a little over-zealous and got too full before being able to try every dish on the menu. I'm still fantasizing about quite how heavenly the dishes were. The best news of all – they've used one of the best wine suppliers in the country.... So I thought I'd share the top three dreamy food and wine matches from my evening. Sunier's Fleuire with baba ganoush. This is one of my all-time favourite dishes and the Barbary did it to perfection – so smoky and silky with scattered pine nuts on top which added another dimension to the texture. The fruit, purity and depth of this biodynamically made Gamay provided a match made in heaven. Matthiasson Linda Vista Chardonnay with Cauliflower Jaffa style - deep fried florets with a tomato, coriander salsa – the acidity and subtle creaminess of this Napa Chardonnay paired with this dish was so divine it left me wondering if I needed meat in my life… However, this notion was short-lived. Our Slingshot Napa Cabernet with Pata Negra neck followed – the juiciest, tenderest, melt-in-the-mouth chargrilled pork was the perfect counterfoil for the pure fruit and soft tannins of the Cabernet. There are too many delicious dishes and wine combinations to mention, but I’ll let you go and discover them for yourself (make sure to try the monkfish and Austrian Zwiegelt too!) I’ll leave you with thoughts of the naan e Barbari, a soft flat bread cooked in their clay oven, the most perfect accompaniment to all the sauces and spices - just don’t make my mistake and make sure you save room for all the other delicious food. In some ways, I’m glad I didn’t get to try the whole menu - it means I'm going to have to go back there again soon!
Anna Von Bertele
A letter to Smith-Madrone
Dear Sam, I’d read about Spring Mountain and how your vineyards were different to those you might find on the Napa Floor. But I wasn’t really prepared for just how different your location would be. What a stunning place to work - none of my photos do justice to quite how breath-taking your views are. Thank you so much for letting me come and visit and showing me round. Arriving, I don’t think I was quite ready for the glass of wine in the golf buggy challenge – although I think I did well and managed not to waste a drop of your gorgeous Riesling as we flew over the rocky terrain. It was a stunning drive, whilst you pointed out the different vineyards and how carefully the varieties are planted depending on their exposure. I also loved seeing the red-barked Madrone trees (and understanding this is how the winery got the name Smith-Madrone), as well as hunting for deer tracks to see where they’re trying to get to your tasty grapes – hope you’ve managed to keep them away! Your wines tasted amazing on top of the mountain – it was great to try the 2013 and 2014 Riesling side by side and understand how the vintage conditions as well as the age affects the wine. I also enjoyed trying your flagship wine – Cook’s Flat Reserve 2009. Though this might be slightly out of my price range so will stick to the excellent Napa Cabernet for now. It’s perfect for our darker, colder evenings that are drawing in in London. It was also great to meet your uncle in your authentic tasting room – trying wine with a stag watching over us felt quite majestic. Hope to see you in London soon! Love Anna X
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 crossed, we were hoping to win the two awards that we had been nominated for: New World Specialist for the USA and Online Retailer of the Year. Our first award of the night recognised us as New World Specialist Wine Retailer of the Year for the USA. This is the third year in a row that we have been praised by Decanter for our trailblazing American range. We’re very proud of the response to these fantastic wines, with both trade and retail clients raving about them. One judge commented that our portfolio of 31 different US producers represented a ‘who’s who of quality’. Up against some big names, we were extremely nervous when it came to the announcement of Online Retailer of the Year. However, we came out on top with the judges calling our ‘elegant website… a joy to use on any device, with algorithms supporting customised recommendations, powerful search/filtering options and effortless functionality’ Just when we’d started tweeting about our two wins and singing our own praises, we were thrilled to scoop up a third unexpected award for Judges’ Choice. Commending us on our seamless transition to online retail following the closure of our iconic shop in Kensington High Street, Decanter further applauded our ‘commitment to excellence, innovation and enjoyment in wine retail’. Needless to say, we were thrilled with the results of the evening, after winning three awards when we had only been nominated for two. Obviously none of this would have been possible without the support and loyalty of our amazing customer base, so to celebrate, we’re offering 20% off 500 bottles for this weekend only.
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.
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