Etna Wine's Eruption of Quality
Head of Off-Trade Jack Green checks out Mount Etna's thrilling wine scene. Excuse the early pun, but the wine scene in Etna truly is erupting at volcanic pace. From a mere five quality producing wineries only a few years ago, to more than a hundred today, winemakers are flocking to the slopes of the Mount Etna in search of a truly magnificent terroir. It’s all in the soil. Jancis Robinson calls Mount Etna the ‘Burgundy of the Med’ and it’s the volcanic soil and high altitude, which play a vital role in making these elegant, brooding wines, with that signature acidity. It seems crazy; why make wines where there’s a constant threat of the vineyards being ruined by Etna's lava flows? It’s incredibly remote and it’s not like these ancient, twisted, knotted vines are easy to tend. The soil composition changes regularly as the active volcano rumbles and spits like a sleeping dinosaur. Mount Etna’s rough, steep and bitterly cold in the winter, yet the wines produced are some of the most imaginative in Italy. And Etna's wines remain incredible value for money, despite all the efforts and adventures in coming here to make wine. Nerello Mascalese is the predominant red varietal here, like Pinot Noir pumped up on steroids. Wines made from this variety are brisk and thirst quenching. Etna wine producer Le Cantine Murgo do a fantastic job, ageing their red in oak for about 8 months, before letting it rest in bottle. It’s incredibly fragrant, with bags of lofty sweet cherry and wild strawberry fruit on the nose. Pair it with Italian food, anything and everything and you’ll be half way to Mount Etna before you’ve finished your first glass. But don’t overlook Murgo’s delicate, floral white and juicy, refreshing rosé. They’re so highly sought-after in Sicily itself, that our latest arrivals are the first shipment of these wines we’ve ever been able to pry free of the island’s grasp.
2016 Bordeaux En Primeur
Now that my liver and stomach have finally recovered from the intense Bordeaux boot camp that is En Primeur week it is time to put my thoughts and observations into words. It has to be said, and at the risk of sounding too salesy, 2016 looks like a truly wonderful vintage. However, with my uber critical cap on, I must point out that there are some duffers out there still to be avoided. That is the reason we donned our glad rags, dodged spitting splash stains and risked our health, to be able to give a true assessment of the quality of the vintage and to advise what chateaux are worth parting with your hard earned cash for. While we might complain that it is hard to taste so many wines and it is a real drag to visit so many beautiful chateaux, it really is a privilege to experience Bordeaux during the EP week. It is not often you get to experience the beautifully creative ways in which the Bordelais like to display their millions. I jest. It’s wonderful. The most tiring aspect though is trying to give every wine the full attention it deserves, in order not to miss a gem here or over play a first growth there. It is only fair on our clients to be unbiased and thorough in our assessments. While this was only my second full En Primeur tasting week I can already say that 2016 was a lot less tiring than the 2015 campaign. My simple explanation for this beyond experience is the freshness of the wines. Vintage Overview The three most common words from my hundreds of tasting notes must be ‘freshness’, ‘balance’ and ‘elegance’. While the 2015s are very good wines they were difficult to taste with their higher levels of extract and tannins. The 2016s also have high levels of tannins but they are wonderfully silky and smooth and sophisticated. By the end of the week it almost felt like there was a mantra learned by the chateau staff to preach to the tasters: ‘after a wet spring we had a dry and hot summer; the vines were able to soak up the required water from the soils’ reserves; the gradual and even ripening as well as big day/night temperature differences during harvest has resulted in very good fruit and freshness'. However they have a fair point. On the most part the fruit is wonderfully sweet and ripe, rarely overripe, save for some unscrupulous right bankers who might be still living in the Parkerised past, tannins are silky and freshness abounds. The majority of alcohol levels haven’t exceeded 13.5% yet there is plenty of concentration and power. This leads me on nicely to the observation that there is a genuine sense of terroir in the 2016s, especially on the left bank. The Margauxs are elegant and floral, the Pauillacs are dark and brooding and the Graves are minerally and ethereal. The Northern Medoc in particular benefitted from favourable conditions and this is reflected in the overall high quality of wines across the board from there. Margaux Margaux was a big winner in 2015 and I’ve read elsewhere people down playing its merits for this vintage, which is somewhat understandable given the consensus that the further north you travel on the left bank the better in the 2016. However I am a big admirer of the wines from here in this vintage. Ethereal, floral silky soft tannins and beautiful fruit. Some of the wines using younger vines or higher percentages of Merlot are not as strong but there are plenty of chateaux worth raving about. Rauzan-Segla again is a stunning wine, Palmer is incredibly strong and Cantenac-Brown is one to look out for. The big boy of course is not to be forgotten, a top top Margaux. Saint-Julien Saint-Julien is one of our favourite appellations of the vintage. Very classic, very pure with some chateau potentially making some of their best ever wines. Leoville Barton have made a classic, Las Cases is stunning, Ducru-Beaucaillou is big and bold but beautifully balanced and fresh, Beychevelle continues to improve. On the value end Saint-Pierre and Clos du Marquis stood out as excellent. Pauillac The wines of Pauillac are very classic Pauillac. Powerful, dark and brooding with quintessential cassis fruit, pencil shaving minerality and cedar complexity. Followers of the 1st growths will have zero complaints. Grand Puy Lacoste have made a really classy wine, Pontet-Canet s one of the wines of the vintage, without question. Pichon Baron is a big complex wine that has a long life ahead of it. Clerc Milon is beautiful and fruit forward. Saint-Estephe Cos d’Estournel surprised us all by releasing very early last week. It was a welcome surprise as the price was the same as last years, a trend that we don’t expect to continue unfortunately. The wine is super, I can highly recommend it. Saint-Estephe has also produced the potential wine of the vintage. Calon-Segur is an absolutely stonking wine and I’ve no doubt it’ll be highly sought after. Montrose is also worth a mention, very polished and sexy. Graves/Pessac Some mixed quality to be found here, but some real highlights. All the wines from Haut Brion and La Mission are very strong indeed. Other big names such as Pape Clement, Domaine de Chavalier and de Fieuzel are all very solid but the one chateau which has stood out for me is Malartic Lagraviere. Both the red and white were extremely impressive, very well made, expressive and classy. A special mention to Carmes Haut Brion. What an incredibly beautiful chateau and new chai. Without doubt this is a wine to follow. The quality there is going to steadily improve. The 2016 is very solid and should be great value. St Emilion This is always a difficult appellation to make judgement on given the vast amount of chateaux with various styles and terroirs. It appears on the surface that winemakers are beginning to evolve once more to appeal to the modern palate for lighter less extracted wines. Yet there is plenty of plushness and concentration still here. We are huge fans of Tour Saint Christophe, which embodies the positive changes happening in St Emilion; true terroir expression, bags of fruit, yet classy, elegant and fresh. Cheval Blanc as always is superb. Angelus for me is just stunning and up there with my wines of the vintage. Canon have produced another winner, hopefully can get our hands on some this year. Pomerol The wines of Pomerol seem to have a substantial plushness and big juicy fruit. There is certainly balance and freshness in places. Lafleur is supposed to be spectacular, from reports. Vieux Chateau Certan is a beauty. Beauregard, La Pointe and Gazin all deserve consideration. The Roberson Approach As always, we will only recommend chateaux which we believe offer a good enough proposition for the buyer in terms of quality and value. Given our independent nature, we are in a great position to be able to give an honest assessment of the merits of individual chateaux. We hope that the chateaux owners release at prices which provide value against 2009 and 2010. If they creep near to the current market value for those vintages then it won’t be a successful campaign. Without doubt 2016s prices will have a premium on any vintage since 2010, including 2015. However, with our recommendation, certain chateau are definitely worth buying if released at the right price. Let the fun and games begin. To be kept in the loop for all of Bordeaux's 2016 releases, please contact Private Client Sales Manager Paul Williamson.
2016 Bacchus - Winemaker's Thoughts
With the 2016 London Cru Baker St. Bacchus now out in the wild, I thought I'd give you a bit more of an idea of the process that goes into turning this world class grape into wine, at Roberson's winery downstairs. The fruit for our 2016 Bacchus was grown in two separate vineyards - at Sandhurst vineyards in Kent, and Great Whitman vineyards in Essex. The fruit from Kent was picked around a week earlier than from Essex, giving more herbaceous character, with nettle and cut grass aromas, while the later-picked Essex fruit added floral notes and ripe tropical fruit. Both sites were picked at good natural sugar levels, giving 10% natural alcohol and balanced flavours. The grapes were harvested by hand and sorted in the winery before being gently pressed as whole bunches. A lot of aroma precursors in Bacchus are found in the pulp near the skins, so the pressing is a balancing act; we have to gently extract these precursor compounds while at the same time avoiding extracting phenolic compounds from the skins, which can cause bitterness and astringency. After pressing the juice was settled for three days before the clarified wine was pumped into a clean stainless steel tank for fermentation. At London Cru we try to get the best out of each vineyard, so in 2016 we conducted yeast trials with the Bacchus, splitting the juice into four batches and inoculating each with a different strain. The individual yeast strain has a huge impact on the eventual style of a wine, with each offering slightly different taste and aroma profiles. We also experimented with French oak barrels (5% of the blend) which were allowed to start fermenting with ambient yeast, resulting in lower overall aromatics but more texture on the palate. After fermentation the wine was kept in contact with the remains of the yeast (the ‘lees’) for four months, which gave it some textural, mouthfeel qualities that subtly balanced the crisp natural acidity. As always, the 2016 Bacchus was fermented bone dry with no residual sugar, so it’s a really fresh, vibrant style of wine. The nose is floral with hints of elderflower and fresh cut grass, and the crisp acidity lends itself well to all sorts of food combinations, but some freshly shucked oysters or good fish and chips would be the way I’d choose to go. What could be more English than that?
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 damage. After weeks of warm weather prior to the weekend, the newly emerged vine buds were at severe risk of frost. Budburst is one of the most crucial parts of the vine life cycle, as it starts the formation of what will later become the grapes. If the temperatures go below zero, as was the case at the weekend, the development of the buds might be stopped and will therefore impact the yields of the vintage: decreasing volumes and driving prices up. To fight against frost, the Chablis producers, who were already severely affected last year, turned to radical actions in order to limit the damage. There are different techniques employed in order to warm up the soil: Wind machines - sometimes helicopters – these direct warmer air from an inversion layer above, downward around the vines and displace the colder air on the ground away from the vineyard. Over-vine sprinklers – the water freezes the canes and buds in ice, releasing small amounts of heat that protects the vines from damage. The growers need enough water until the temperatures rise above 3 degrees, otherwise it would destroy the production. Heaters (snudge pots), seen employed by our grower Chavy-Chouet in the image above, which heat the air around the vines to prevent frost damage. All wine regions are at risk of frost but especially in Burgundy, Champagne and Sancerre, where the climate is more continental, with large temperature swings between summer and winter.
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.
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