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.
Wind Gap meets London Cru
Forget the bore of allocating designated drivers and the nightmare of getting lost in miles of countryside. Wineries are increasingly setting up shop in surprisingly urban settings, allowing them to select grapes from the best of the surrounding vineyards. Roberson Wine’s sister company London Cru is the only such enterprise in the UK, however making wine in an urban setting is more common for those across the pond in the US. California in particular is a hotbed of urban wineries - Golden State winemakers are ripping up the rulebook and opening boutique, quality-focused wineries and tasting rooms in the heart of inner-city neighbourhoods across the state. Wind Gap Wines are one such producer, based out of downtown Sebastopol in Sonoma County. Roberson Wine has been importing Wind Gap since its inception, and last week chief winemaker Pax Mahle visited Roberson and London Cru last week to swap notes and talk all things wine. Wind Gap Wines is Pax’s own label and all of the winemaking takes place at his city-centre base. He has a spot in The Barlow, a trendy industrial complex for artisans, with all of the vineyards he uses within a two-hour radius. It is easy to point out the similarities between the set up of London Cru and Wind Gap. However, more interesting is the similarities between winemaking ethos of the two city-based wineries. London Cru’s winemaker Gavin Monery is an ardent proponent of letting the grapes do the talking in his wines, selecting the best grapes from specific vineyard sites and allowing the fruit to sing. Likewise, Pax focuses on making honest, authentic and compelling wines that are true expressions of fruit. Both look for special vineyard sites to help them do this. For Pax this means seeking out vineyards that are planted along, or directly influenced by, a ‘wind gap’. That is, a geological break in the coastal hills that funnels wind inland that helps to keep the vineyards cool. This coolness, coupled with picking at lower sugar levels, gives the final wines an alluring freshness – a clear eschewal of the big, ripe styles traditionally typical of California. While Sebastopol is within spitting distance of a multitude of exciting Californian vineyards, Gavin must travel a little further afield to find exciting cooler-climate vineyards for London Cru. However, found them he has with grapes from (among others) a planting of Syrah 1,000m above sea level in rural Calatayud and an ocean-lashed, verdant Albariño site in Rías Baixas. Both Gavin and Pax focus on making wine with as little intervention as possible. They have a love for the craft, and for the grapes themselves; you won’t find these winemakers adding sugar, or needlessly stripping the wine of complexity through filtration. We tasted Pax’s wines while he was visiting, and we weren’t disappointed. Of particular note was the Chenoweth Pinot Noir 2013. With grapes from a site further north than Wind Gap’s other sites, this wine is full bodied and decadent but still has the wonderful tell-tale elegance of Wind Gap’s other wines. Alternatively, the wine to watch from London Cru’s latest release is Charlotte St 2015 - refined and elegant with hints of citrus, tropical melon and quince.
A Guilt Free March
I’m dying for a biscuit. Something crumbly, sweet and smothered in chocolate. Apparently this is “illegal” for the next 40 days as the office has gone healthy for Lent. No sugar, no snacks, no wine. What no wine? According to iquitsugar.com you can cut out sugar and still drink wine because it contains minimal amounts of fructose. “If the wine has been fermented to ‘dry’ (white or red) it contains very low levels of residual sugar – less than 1g/litre – and in most cases not at a level that can be practically tested.” Thank God for that! So here’s a guilt free look at what’s going on this month. The Raw Wine Fair is open to the public on Sunday 12th March. It will feature over 150 growers, including our own Mathieu Deiss, and is a brilliant opportunity to find out about and taste a terrific range of natural, organic and biodynamic wines. The Washington and Oregon Trade tasting is also in town. Unfortunately, this isn’t open to the public but we know how much you love Bergström, particularly Old Stones Chardonnay, so we are holding an informal drop in tasting at The Atlas with producers Josh and Caroline. This is really exciting because they don’t come to England that often, and you will have a chance to preview some of their latest vintages, including those not yet landed in the UK. We are also really chuffed to be working with Selfridges on their pop up roof top restaurant WastED. We are all big believers in the project and it’s been a great way for us to shine a light on the green value of wine on tap. It’s one of the most talked about dining experiences of the month: it’s fully booked for dinner, but if you’re lucky you could get a table for lunch or afternoon tea. Mmmm afternoon tea. What no biscuits? Better pour myself a glass of wine then.>
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