You might have seen the dramatic images in the press last weekend of wine growers in Chablis taking desperate measures to avoid the total loss of this year’s crop, due to frost da...
What is Vegan Wine?
The vegan community is on the rise, but does the decision to go vegan mean giving up your favourite tipple? Certainly not! Many wines in our range are suitable for vegans - but both vegans and non-vegans may wonder why animal products might be involved in wine production at all. Wine comes from fermented grapes. If these grapes were left to grow wildly and the fermentation process totally uninterrupted, the product would certainly be vegan. However, the taste would be nothing like what we’re used to drinking, since winemakers typically intervene in the process to improve the quality of their wine – and these interventions may sometimes involve products derived from animal sources. A basic understanding of the winemaking process will shed some light into vegan-friendly wines. The process goes as follows: Harvesting - Crushing - Pressing - Fermentation - Clarification and Fining - Stabilisation - Bottling At the crush, the winemaker can add enzymes such as pectinase to aid in the extraction of flavour aromas. These enzymes can be naturally extracted (from mushrooms), or synthetically produced in a lab. The choice boils down to price points sought, the grape variety and suitability to the winemaker’s preference. Then there’s the clarification and fining stage, performed because most drinkers don’t want “bits” floating around in their wines. After fermentation, the alcoholic liquid isn’t the clear and bright elixir we see on our shelves; it is more akin to a cloudy cider than a glass of wine. Simply filtering the wine isn’t as easy as it sounds, since the lees is so fine that you’d need specialized membrane filters, which come at a cost and may harm the wine’s flavour. The answer is to use fining agents such as Bentonite, Casein, Gelatine, Isinglass, or Kieselsol, which can be natural, synthetic, plant or animal based. The reason that animal products might be used at this stage may be due to cost, but also because some fining agents are more suitable to certain styles of wine. For example, Albumin from egg whites gives a smoother mouthfeel and softer tannin profile to fine red wines, hence its widespread use in Bordeaux. It’s important to note that, whatever fining agent is used, it doesn’t remain in the wine – the process of fining removes both fermentation particles and the fining agent itself. However, vegans will still wish to avoid drinking wines which have been fined using an animal-derivative product. There is good news however. As winemaking science continues to make great strides, winemakers are finding increasingly clever ways to achieve stable, clear wines with minimal intervention – and being vegan is no reason to avoid drinking wine, since our range of vegan-suitable wines is sufficiently diverse to please even the most discerning of palates. Here are a few of our favourites.
Anna Von Bertele
I often daydream about living in the Golden State and, sitting in the sun on Saturday in London, looking up at the vast blue sky, I felt I could have been in one of David Hockney's California paintings. I imagined mountains in the distance, palm trees all around and a clear blue swimming pool I could dive in to... recurring motifs in Hockney's work. That evening, Tate Britain had invited Roberson to present four of our Californian wines to people visiting their current David Hockney exhibition. The Californian wine we sell benefits from the expanse of sky and climate Hockney captures, so the opportunity to introduce people to some of our favourites, to give a taste of the state before they immersed themselves in the paintings, was a marriage of senses. It was hard to narrow down our huge range to just four wines from the region, but we eventually settled on Lioco's Sonoma County Chardonnay, Lompoc's Pinot Noir, Peirano's Old Vine Zinfandel and Slingshot's Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines, which encapsulate the balance and elegance that define our range, evoke the sense of possibility of the landscape they come from in a way akin to the paintings on display. The selection also demonstrates the variety of the regions, four of the main grape varieties and the approaches of producers inspired by different features of California. Enjoy these wines and feel the inspiration from this incredible region.
Bacchus - England's Grape
If the name Bacchus solely conjures up for you the image of a debauched ancient-Roman god of feasting and drinking excess, then you probably haven’t tasted what is fast becoming known as “England’s grape”, by the same name. Whereas the Roman god of wine is often portrayed as a slovenly glutton, the grape variety Bacchus is all nerve-tingling freshness and zingy citrus – something fabulous to install in an ice-bucket on a sunny summer’s day and sip instead of the usual Sancerre, or Pouilly Fumé. It wasn’t always obvious that this would be the case; originally conceived at a German Wine Institute in the 1930s as an early-ripening cross between Riesling, Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau, the grape never really took off in its native land, other than as something to blend in with other less-flavoursome varieties. However, following the grape achieving protected status in 1972, it began to be adopted by English winegrowers, who found that England’s cooler climate and shorter annual growing hours resulted in a gorgeously fresh, aromatic, Elderflower character to match with Bacchus’ naturally exuberant varietal flavours. Today, Bacchus is regarded by the English Wine Producers body as “one of the UK’s better varieties, capable of producing world-class wines” – and nowhere is this truer than at Roberson’s winery downstairs: London Cru. As Victoria Moore wrote in The Telegraph in March 2016, London Cru’s last vintage of Bacchus “might just be the best I’ve tasted…. 20 per cent of it has been aged on its lees in old wooden barrels to give it some texture, and the wine is absolutely bone dry. It’s lovely: broad, yet also fine, redolent of elderflowers and fat blades of grass.” If our preliminary tastings with London Cru winemaker Gavin Monery are anything to go by, the new vintage 2016 is looking even better, adding floral and stone fruit aromas, with richer texture in the mouth, from 5% barrel fermentation. So this summer, side-line the Sancerre, as you won’t taste anything more delicious, or quintessentially English, than London Cru’s Bacchus. While the grape variety might have started its life in Germany, it really has found its true home in the heart of England’s countryside. London Cru Baker St. Bacchus 2016 is available now.
It's late February, or early March, and the weather turns unexpectedly warm. A wave of optimism sweeps the country as stuck windows are forced open and spider-infested barbecues are excavated from behind the shed. People everywhere suddenly remember summer, and at Roberson we feel an unstoppable urge to promote rosé. Everything is ready. The coals are heating up nicely, the summer playlist is just getting into its stride, and we hit send on our carefully crafted campaign... Thirty minutes later the wind is up, the rain is coming down, windows are slamming and even the most enthusiastic barbecuer is saying, 'You know guys, I honestly think you can achieve almost equally pleasing results with a combination of griddle and oven. Is the heating on?' Soon the spiders will return. It's a familiar pattern, and one reason we have banned the expression 'With summer just around the corner' from our marketing. But rosé is no longer just for summer. Years ago, it was overpriced and sickly, a cynical by-product of the winemaker's real business - making red wine. You would drink it on holiday, in the sun, with the exchange rate being so favourable (those were the days), but like Retsina it didn't travel. Now, Provence in particular is focused on making rosé for its own sake. There are some very good wines. Dry, with weight and layers of flavour, and delicious all year round, they work with a very wide range of foods, and not just (but certainly including) things you would eat on the beach.* So is there any reason why the best rosé should be more seasonal than, say, white wine? It seems not. Last year we sold very nearly as much pink as white. In January/February we sold more rosé than in July/August. Next time you're sitting inside watching your newly cleaned barbecue slowly fill with rainwater, a bottle of Provence's finest might just provide the lift you need. *In Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2017, rosé features as a suggested match with 26 foods. It makes a pleasing list: aïoli, avocado and tiger prawns, crudités, escargots (or frog's legs), chilled goats cheese, mayonnaise, pipérade, salads, tapenade, salade Niçoise, curry, paella, prawns with garlic, snapper (when cooked with Mediterranean flavours), barbecue (with Asian flavours), barbecue (Middle Eastern - cumin, mint), Chinese food (Cantonese), Indian dishes, Indian dishes (Sri Lankan), Moussaka, rabbit, tongue, couscous with vegetables, dhal with spinach, root vegetables, cheese (fresh, no rind - cream cheese, crème fraîche, mozzarella).
Anna Von Bertele
Working above a winery has its intriguing days – the whirring of the sorting machine, the aromas of fermenting grapes and most recently yesterday, the clattering of the bottling machine. And it is this development that I find the most exciting. After the journey the grapes have been on, this is the final preparation before the wine can be enjoyed. The clattering of the machine yesterday was particularly exciting – it was bottling our only English grape of the harvest, Bacchus. Five months ago, the Bacchus grapes in Great Whitman vineyard in Essex and Sandhurst Vineyard in Kent were picked and travelled to London Cru winery in London. Gavin the winemaker is particularly excited about this variety – it’s only recently been grown in England so all winemakers are experimenting with the best way to treat it. Most examples in the UK will have some residual sugar, however Gavin has fermented his to bone dry, managing to create the perfect balance between acidity and flavour, and he’s fermented 5% in barrel to add depth and texture to the wine. After much clattering, dubious music and chatter from the very helpful volunteers that came in for a day to assist, the Bacchus is now bottled and ready to drink. It’s having a couple of weeks to settle, but watch this space to have the chance to try what might just be England’s best Bacchus wine.
Old Stones - The Making of a Bestseller
Josh and Caroline Bergström from Bergström wines are in town for the Washington and Oregon Wine tasting, and this has given us a chance to sample their wines in the office once again. The end result was a confirmation of why ‘Old Stones Chardonnay’ is consistently one of our bestselling wines online. Story When you meet Josh and Caroline for the first time you really begin to fully understand their wines. Both make you instantly feel welcome. Perhaps it is the way they talk about their wines and the land the vines grow on. There is true conviction and a sense of pride, accompanied by gratitude and humility in their voice. The story of Bergström really begins in 1999, when Josh returned home to Oregon from Burgundy, where he had completed his postgraduate in Viticulture and Enology. He didn’t come back from Burgundy alone, but brought with him his fiancée Caroline, who he married that fall in the vineyards of the Bergström winery. The same fall also marked the first vintage of Bergström wines, made with high quality Pinot Noir sourced from a neighbouring vineyard. Value Since 2001 all fruit comes from his own vineyards, all of them farmed biodynamically. Needless to say, Bergström is now considered one of the finest producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in all of the United States, effortlessly matching top Burgundies but at a fraction of the price. The Old Stones Chardonnay in particular has outshone Burgundy at double the price. Style But it isn’t just the phenomenal value that makes Bergström an online favourite, it's also the style and quality of the wines. Their wines are, essentially, a perfect expression of both Josh and Caroline, with Josh spending ten months a year out on his tractor, managing the vineyards and caring for the vines all day, every day. The result is wine that is terroir-driven, with a strong sense of identity. The Old Stones is fresh, bursting with minerality and bright fruit. But what really makes the Old Stones so interesting is that it manages to combine several elements seamlessly together: it is vibrant, offering the generosity of the New World, and yet it possesses the elegance that you would expect from an Old World wine. When one of the most renowned wine critics in the world, Jancis Robinson, calls it “an old favourite” and describes it as “much funkier and more interesting than the average American Chardonnay, but much fruitier than many a white Burgundy”, then you know that you are doing something right! It is this balance between the ‘known’ Old World style with the intriguing New World twist that really gives the Old Stones the edge over other, often pricier Chardonnay from Burgundy and around the world, and in turn makes it one of our best-selling wines online ever! Food matching Finally, the Old Stones Chardonnay is extremely versatile. People have come and bought a case of the Old Stones for their traditional Sunday roast, whereas many others have a bottle at home that they will hold on to, and only open for a special occasion such as Christmas Eve or for a birthday. The wines, whether with pan-fried salmon, a Sunday roast or lobster and crab ravioli, are extremely food friendly.
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