Longing for Liguria
Peering over the shoulder of my fellow commuter I see a familiar picture in the Guardian Travel section entitled ‘Genovese Made Easy’; it’s a picture of a quaint fishing village nestled between the hills and the sea. The buildings are an array of different colours, from terra-cotta red to a striking yellow. They embody the ruggedness of their surroundings and are weathered from their constant exposure to the intense sun, wind and rain. I sigh. I was just there, far away from the delayed District Line and the crowd of overheated passengers. There must be a strand of Ligurian ancestry in my DNA and I think it’s somewhere in my stomach. This was my 3rd trip to the Cinque Terre, just south of Genova, and now that I know where and what to eat I venture out beyond the ‘easy’ tourist restaurants to the local spots where I practice my mix of Italian-Spanish. It’s a bit more of an effort but it’s always worth it, I get to eat and drink like a local! The Cinque Terre is located within La Spezia province and is the home of pesto, Torta di Verdura, Forinata - a chickpea flour pancake baked in the woodfire oven and covered in local sweet cheese - and of course Ciuppin, the traditional fish stew of Liguria. The simplicity of the food is inspiring; the quality of the ingredients makes me envious. The villages of the Cinque Terre are surrounded by ancient, terraced farm land that carves out the mountainsides and blankets them in green. Tomatoes, vineyards and trees - fig, olive and pine - cover the hillsides in all directions, just take one of the many well marked paths from one village to the next and before you know it you will be wondering through the steep vineyards of the Cinque Terre DOC. Zig-zagging over the walking trails are monorail tracks used for harvesting the local grape varieties like Bosco, Albarola and the more well-known Vermentino. Upon harvesting, some of the grapes are then laid out on straw to dry, making the sugar super-concentrated, together they make up the blend in the sweet Sciacchetra wines that are served around the villages with local cheese and desserts. Although rarely seen in the UK, the dry wines of the Cinque Terre have more than a few relatives available here in London, like one of my favourites from Tuscany: Fattoria Kappa ‘Etabeta’. Etabeta and onion focaccia with pesto - the perfect snack for a Sunday afternoon in the garden! My favourite pesto recipe: 50g fresh basil leaves 65g freshly grated Grana Padano 240ml extra virgin olive oil 45g pine nuts (organic - to avoid pine nut mouth) 3 garlic cloves minced 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Blend and serve.
Top 5 Greek Wines
What are the best Greek wines to be drinking right now? Greek wine fan and Head of Consumer Sales Simon Huntington takes a look at the most delicious styles. Hellenic Titans There’s been a revolution in the quality of Greek wine production over the last ten years, with memories of overtly ‘pine fresh’ retsina and simple, alcoholic, rustic reds now well and truly banished. Greece has instead turned itself into one of the most exciting wine producing countries in the world, choc-a-block with interesting indigenous grape varieties and utterly delicious wines. So where do you start on your Hellenic wine odyssey? We run down the top five Greek wines to be drinking right now: 5. Peloponnese Moschofilero If you like good-quality Pinot Grigio, this local Greek grape’s for you. Pronounced “moss-coe-fill-eh-roe”, this is a delicious white grape you’ll find planted all over Greece’s Peloponnese region. It varies quite a bit in style, with entry-level examples showing delicate floral aromas, with light, soft, easy-drinking character – a bit like a Greek take on Pinot Grigio. Higher-quality Moschofilero wines show greater intensity, texture and mineral complexity. Try the Thea Mantinia from Seméli as an example of one of the best. 4. Nemea Agiorgitiko An indigenous Greek version of Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon. You probably have to speak fluent Greek to do this one full justice, but it’s pronounced something like “ash-ee-or-shee-teeko”. It’s considered to be the best quality red grape grown in the Nemea region of the Peloponnese, where it makes full-flavoured, polished and age-worthy reds, showing complex notes of dark fruit, leather, tar and spice – a little like Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of the best examples come from Asprokambos – the highest altitude part of Nemea – we recommend Bizios Estate’s Agiorgitiko. 3. Naoussa Xinomavro Greece’s world-class grape. Xinomavro (“cazee-no-mav-roe”) is one of Greece's world-class grapes, capable of creating breathtakingly complex wines. As a thin-skinned, highly tannic variety, it requires extremely careful handling. Apostolos Thymiopoulos is described by leading Greek Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis as "one of the stars of Greek winemaking" and his Xinomavro is breathtakingly good; full-bodied yet somehow supremely graceful. Try Thymiopoulos’ Jeunes Vignes as a great entry-point, then graduate to his Earth and Sky Xinomavro when you want to taste the best. 2. Santorini Assyrtiko A unique white that’s incredible with grilled fish. Assyrtiko (“ass-ear-teeko”) is probably the best-known Greek grape internationally, based entirely on the reputation established by one tiny island in the Cyclades - Santorini. Santorini’s grey sand-like volcanic soil is so poor that almost nothing will grow – except for this supremely hardy grape, which produces exquisitely fresh, lime-infused whites, with laser-like mineral intensity. The best of the traditional producers is Matthew Argyros, whose Santorini Assyrtiko is stunningly good, while new kid on the block Vassaltis Vineyards is garnering a great deal of international acclaim and Michelin Star restaurant listings. But don’t forget Santorini’s “other grape” Aidani. Argyros also make a superb example, which shows wonderful notes of cucumber, pear and smoky minerals. 1. Limniona from Thessaly Greece’s answer to Pinot Noir. Limniona (“lim-nee-ona”) is Greece’s answer to Pinot Noir, producing wines with fragrant aromas of red-berries and rose petals, over delicate, rounded, silky texture. Many Limniona vineyards were grubbed up during the 1980s and 90s, as the vine is not particularly productive, and the wines anathema to the then-fashion for heavy, inky-coloured, oaky reds. Fortunately, far-sighted producers like Christos Zafeirakis returned from training in Bordeaux and Piedmont to save his family vineyards, producing a superbly complex, juicy Limniona. It was scored at 95 points by Decanter Magazine recently and will partner beautifully with barbecued lamb kebabs, boeuf bourguignon, or ratatouille. Yamas! For more fantastic Greek wines, check our our Hellenic Titans collection and sign up to our mailing list.
Cool Climate Classic
Our Consumer Sales and Events ambassador, Lona Jones muses over the changing fortunes of German Riesling. Riesling - A steep slope to stardom German wines made an impression on me in the 80’s, with sweet, easily quaffable Liebfraumilch, Piesporter Michelsberg and Blue Nun being the mainstay of enlightened neighbours' drinks cabinets. Times and tastes have moved on, however, but the negative image of low quality, sugary German wines appears slow to shake off. But, what are we missing? The Victorians valued German Hock wines as part of a holy trinity, alongside Claret and Champagne, and a Rudesheim Riesling was paired with poached salmon and mousseline sauce, in the first class dining room of the Titanic. Luckily, German wines and Rieslings, in particular, have been championed by influential wine critics like Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson for some time and at Roberson, we feel it’s high time to celebrate this fine grape. In July, we're focussing on 31 days of Riesling. My favourite styles are bone-dry ‘Trocken’ or GG ‘Great Growth’ (equivalent to Grand Crus in Germany). Dry Rieslings are naturally high in fruity acidity, without the harshness attached to some other high acid grapes. Aromatic and often low in alcohol, they ripen late so, in cool climates, can only attain optimal ripeness in the best positioned vineyards. Try our delicious Weingut Weschler Riesling Trocken as an example. Despite my initial introductions, I have tentatively re-visited off dry and sweet versions of Riesling and can honestly say, these wines are a world away from the bulk versions popularised last century. Kabinett styles show punchy acidity with a hint of residual sugar and are extremely refreshing. Auslese is made from hand picked ripe fruit. This style can be fermented dry or ‘Feinherb’ which means ripe and balanced with some sweetness - as with the Green Capsule Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese from Markus Molitor. More often these are big complex, sweet wines that can age for decades. Markus Molitor's Gold Capsule series Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese is amongst the best there is. Whatever your preferred style, there’s no better time to acquaint yourself with the delights the Rhine has to offer and indulge in cool-climate, quality wines.
Made in England
Winery and Events Manager Lindsey looks at London Cru's role in the growth of English wines. A Rising Tide Floats All Boats As we are featuring wines ‘Made in Europe’ this month, it seemed only right that we should consider our own winery, sitting a floor below the offices of Roberson Wine in West London. For the last 6 years we have been making wines under the London Cru brand, establishing ourselves as a serious winemaker with numerous award-winning wines in our portfolio and a strong client base. Our claim to be ‘London’s only’ urban winery has, however, now been fine-tuned to ‘London’s first’ since the launch of several new urban wineries, not just in London but around the UK. We are both flattered and proud to see the concept take off and we love a challenge, so in the last six months we’ve rolled up our sleeves and refurbished our winery, creating a dedicated, stylish new tasting room and events space and have concentrated our efforts in sourcing and making only English wine, with carefully selected grapes from our home turf. Why make only English wine? Our most successful wines have consistently been made from English grapes, illustrating that people in London love quality, locally-grown and made wine. We’ve seen our friends in the restaurant trade listing more English wines too, reflecting their increased quality and consumer demand for local produce. The general buoyancy of the English wine market can’t be overlooked either, with a 2017 WSTA report stating that the UK wine market is the 6th largest wine market in the world and the 2nd largest trader by volume AND value. There are 503 vineyards and 133 wineries in the UK, and a million vines were planted in 2017. 2018 looks set to the follow this growth pattern, with Wine GB’s Julia Trustram Eve saying, “we have seen year-on-year growth for the last 10 years now – hectarage has doubled in the last decade – and it is set to continue.” Recent predictions suggest 1.7m vines being planted this year. As we’ve started the summer with record-breaking temperatures and hours of sunshine, all bodes well for English wines in 2018 and we are excitedly looking forward to what we can do with this year’s crop. While you’re waiting for the 2018 wines - try our 2017 West Sussex English Chardonnay, Chancery Lane">. Light and delicate in the mouth with aromas of fresh green apples and pears, it’s best when chilled to perfection and paired with a seafood salad on these glorious summer evenings.
Mind over Malbec
Our European Buyer Jack Green spots the beginnings of a quality revolution in Cahors Malbec. Love Malbec? Of Cahors we do. On my recent visit to Cahors, a sleepy wine region in Southern France, I visited a new winery named Prieuré de Cénac, which has just been taken over by the renowned ‘Fabre’ family from Argentina. The place is picture perfect; as owner Hervé explained, when he first visited the Château ‘we stood quite still and were both struck by its beauty and overwhelmed with an incredibly good and peaceful feeling’. The principal variety in Cahors is Malbec, which is why this family, pioneers of Argentine Malbec, were so interested in making wine here. You can trace winemaking in Cahors back to the era of Ancient Rome, with some documents showing vineyards being planted around 50BC. That’s an awfully long time to perfect winemaking, and when Malbec vines from Cahors were taken over to Argentina, they discovered its terroir was perfectly suited to this Southern French grape. Argentinian Malbec has since become one of the most recognised wines in the UK and is poured, I imagine, in pretty much any restaurant in the country that has steak on its menu. So, what makes Malbec so popular? That story could start right here at Roberson Wine. Our founder Cliff Roberson cut his teeth in the wine trade many years ago by seeking out wines that supermarkets didn’t list but had huge potential. One of those was Argentinian Malbec. It became so popular for its favourable price and rich, exuberant, velvety palate that soon every wine shop in the country wanted it. For Hervé, having established one of the most successful Argentinian wineries after making his name as a respected wine merchant in Bordeaux, it’s a return to his roots. Cahors is the true birthplace of this magical varietal and it didn’t take him long to decide he had to invest in it. The vines of Prieuré de Cénac are grown on a plateau some 350 meters above sea level. Our favourite from this estate is the Mission de Picpus, recently awarded the Trophy and 95 points at the IWC awards. The wine is beautiful – bursting with dark fruit and soft, earthy flavours. This is a wine destined to be drunk with roasted meats, cassoulets or a lovely wedge of Comté.
Celebrating English Chardonnay
Liz Sagues, author of A Celebration of English Wine (Robert Hale, 2018), investigates the growing success of English Chardonnay English Chardonnay - Something to Celebrate? English Chardonnay: what a world away, in flavour as well as distance, from the gold-hued, oaky, vanilla-sweet examples that gave the grape such a bad reputation, prompted the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) movement and still influence those wine drinkers who have never realised that Chablis is made from Chardonnay. And Chablis is so much better a comparison for English Chardonnay than wines from hotter vineyards. Our home product isn't truly Chablis-like, even though some who make it hint at that. But it does share some characteristics, with a properly British individuality – after all, there can be very considerable similarity in the soils into which the vine roots dig. While English Chardonnay has the crispness of the French classic, there isn't yet the same stony minerality, and the scents and flavours more often evoke the flowers of hedgerow and meadow than tropical fruits. As befits so young an introduction, styles vary a lot, from the very light and almost tart to denser, riper wines. Oak rarely appears – generally, unless the cellar skill is very high, a good thing with such delicate raw material. Older vines, and a little more maturity before wines are sold, will surely raise the 'wow' level soon. Quite rightly, Chardonnay is called the chameleon grape, and England will as the years progress add more colours to the existing spectrum, though they will surely remain bright and fresh. To put the present story in context, a little history is relevant. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are now by far the most-planted grape varieties in England, a massive switch from the late 20th century, when Müller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc filled the vineyards and the noble varieties were rare. But they were there: Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, the man who revived English commercial viticulture after WWII with his 1950s Hambledon vineyard, had Chardonnay vines. Ripening was a problem, though. Pathé filmmakers recording the 1972 harvest thought the berries were 'too small and too green'; Chris Foss, head of the pioneering wine department at Plumpton College, felt much the same about other plantings a decade later: 'Chardonnay berries were like frozen peas'. The revolution in vine choice has come about for two reasons. One is that noble varieties now ripen properly most years in England, because of the gentle rise in summer temperatures (global warming is less welcome for the weather variability and violence it also brings). The other, probably more influential, is the success of English sparkling wine, where the vast majority of Chardonnay grapes end up. Fizz needs acid, and England's grapes have that. But the increasing, and increasingly good, examples of still Chardonnay are proving that the destination should not always be sparkling. A good number of new entrants release still Chardonnay while waiting for their sparkling wine to be ready for the market – it makes budget sense. There are, though, going to be more and more producers for whom still wine is most important, and significant figures favour Chardonnay. London Cru's 2017 Chancery Lane English Chardonnay is on sale now at £18 per bottle.
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