Grapevine Archive for 2015

Tue 07 Feb 2017

Staff Choice: Spanish Innovation At Its Best

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Whenever I speak to Spain buyer Pierre Mansour about his latest finds, his excitement is obvious. The country really is a hotbed of value right now.

What’s more, the 2015 vintage has been a generous and successful one, resulting in a procession of affordable luxuries reaching our cellars in recent months.

Where to start exploring? David Connor from our Cellar Showroom had little hesitation in recommending this under-£9 garnacha, which has already received plaudits from Decanter Magazine, Tim Atkin MW and, most importantly, many fellow Society members.

Laderas del Tietar

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Laderas del Tiétar Garnacha, Gredos 2015

I have to say I have real passion for Spanish wines and this grenache – hailing from a small region north of Madrid high in the Gredos mountains – is a great example.

The grapes come from old low-yielding old bush vines grown in the Gredos mountain range near Madrid, and it’s this combination of high altitude and low yields that gives the wine a freshness and vitality that will raise a smile and have you reaching for a second glass. For me it was the perfect antidote to the more esoteric wines we tend to drink over the Christmas period and certainly punches above its weight.

As for what I would drink it with… well, when one of the winemakers was asked the same question at our Spanish tasting last year he simply replied, ‘whatever you like’!

David Connor
The Cellar Showroom

£8.50 – Bottle
£102 – Case of 12
View Wine Details

Categories : Spain
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A few of us from around The Wine Society sat down with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams the other day to plan the forthcoming en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône vintage. The wines will be available to order in late January.

The picture Marcel painted for us was of an excellent vintage, and our message to members is to start getting excited.

Weather patterns were complex and it’s a difficult vintage to generalise. Annoying for those of us who enjoy the simplicity of summaries, but stimulating stuff for those of us who enjoy exploring the numerous fascinating differences between wine regions. Being both of those things myself, I was unsure how to feel about it… until the wines were poured.

Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône was very successful in 2015

Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône was very successful in 2015

Each one of them was a joy. Tasting and talking with Marcel, it seems that the principal uniting factors in the 2015s are to do with generosity and pleasure. Even given the Rhône’s impressive run of form over the last few vintages, this is the sort of vintage that will delight aficionados, and would make a great first en primeur buy if you’ve yet to take the plunge. Most will be delicious throughout their drinking windows, with younger wines being gorgeously approachable but complex and fine too.

The northern Rhône’s reds performed superbly overall, with Côte-Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage looking especially successful. In the south, where the majority of wine is made, the picture is inevitably more complicated, but the successes are quite magnificent, and there are some very special wines indeed. The more mountainous areas tended to perform best: lovers of Vinsobres and Gigondas, for example, are in for a particular treat.

The white wines are rich, powerful yet balanced and rather wonderful. There will be fewer on offer than in 2014, but they will be worth looking out for.

Lovers of Gigondas are in for a treat this year

Lovers of Gigondas are in for a treat

Another exciting announcement is that Marcel has decided to feature some new faces in the forthcoming offer – more news on that very soon. Keep an eye on your letterboxes, inboxes and thewinesociety.com for the end of January!

Martin Brown
Digital Content & Comms Editor

Categories : France, Rhône
Comments (5)
Thu 08 Sep 2016

Italy: The People, The Places, The Prosecco

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I was thrilled to be asked to accompany Sebastian Payne MW on his trip to Italy earlier this year.

In the early days of my career at The Wine Society I used to travel abroad with our buyers quite often, sharing driving, taking photos, note taking and gathering information which may be of use later… recipes from the region, maps, leaflets printed by our growers.

I always felt there was such a wealth of information and rich experience to share with members that it was a shame we didn’t have more outlets in which to do this. Sure, such trips helped build up information for tasting notes, Newsletter articles, our printed offers, and later, this blog, but I have always been passionate about being able to bring our growers closer to our members; something I have endeavoured to do through Societynews and in the Wine World & News pages of our website and occasional blog posts.

So when we launched Travels in Wine, I thought this was an inspired way to bring members closer to the coal face of wine buying.

Travels In Wine

So, given the green light to go out and get the most out of five days in the field with Sebastian to come back and share the experience with members, set me thinking.

What do members want to know? What will they find interesting? There’s so much to take in – which aspects should I focus on to tell people about?

To a certain extent, you can’t predict what will emerge from these visits and it’s often the unexpected stories that you stumble across that have the most value. But for me, the interest has always been the people behind the wines. So that had to be my starting point.

Though I have visited Italy a couple of times under my own steam, I calculated that it had been almost 20 years since I had last been with Sebastian in a professional capacity. A lot has changed in the interim period. Indeed, one of the main purposes of this trip was to taste the new 2015 vintage and put together the blends of several of our Society and Exhibition wines – many of which either didn’t exist 20 years ago or came from different sources.

We would be calling in on some of the same people I had visited with Sebastian 20 years ago, but now it would be the next generation we would be seeing; the same kids who were at college or just leaving school are now at the helm of their family businesses. It is important to find out what makes them tick and build relationships with them.

Something that certainly hadn’t featured at all in any of our lives 20 or so years ago was Prosecco. Who would have predicted back then what a global success story it would be today? So this was certainly something I was keen to find out more about.

The pointy hills of Valdobbiadene DOCG where the good Prosecco comes from

The pointy hills of Valdobbiadene DOCG where the good Prosecco comes from

How had the Prosecco phenomenon come about? What are the key factors behind producing good-quality Prosecco, as opposed to the vast quantities of indifferent and insipid bubbles that the market is awash with?

As well as visiting our Society’s Prosecco producers, the Adami family, we were also going to see producers of some of the region’s top-quality Prosecco, Nino Franco, so I was very interested to find out what differences there were between the two.

We would be going to the beautiful walled town of Soave, somewhere that had featured on the last tour when we had visited the Pieropans. This time we would be visiting their neighbours, the Coffele family, the other star turns of the denominazione. I was interested to understand the differences in style of these two houses and meet the family, of course.

Alberto Coffele proudly shows us around the family vineyards

Alberto Coffele proudly shows us around the family vineyards

Soave, like Prosecco, is another wine which is rather a victim of its own success. Cheap wines from the plains having done nothing for its image and are a world away from those made in the Classico district. While it is obvious to state that ‘the good wines come from the good vineyards’ I wanted to find out more about the key factors that influence the top-quality wines.

I have always had a soft spot for The Society’s Verdicchio but confess that I know little about its provenance. Perhaps this is because, unlike many of the wines under our label, this comes from a large (admittedly family-owned) outfit who are part of a global olive oil press manufacturing company.

In this kind of situation it’s just as important to keep up with those in charge. People come and go, winemakers change, priorities may shift. Happily for us, our man, David Orru has been in situ for many years now and is a great fan of The Wine Society. We had heard though that there was a new winemaker in post and that a consultant was involved in things, so we were keen to find out more about this.

I don’t quite remember when we first listed The Society’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but I do remember we were ahead of the curve of popularity with this wine and that members were quick to spot a good thing when they tasted it too. Way before the pizza chains started listing rather pale imitations of the style!

Rocco Pasetti was thrilled with the 2015 vintage and experimented with different types of fermentation, particularly for his reds

Rocco Pasetti was thrilled with the 2015 vintage and experimented with different types of fermentation, particularly for his reds

There’s a human tale behind this wine, too – perhaps not what you’d expect from a wine sourced from a cantina sociable – so, with my inquisitive hat on, I wanted to get to the bottom of this story which involves one of Italy’s best winemakers along with the fortunes of current star of the Abruzzo, Rocco Pasetti.

Do visit our Travels in Wine pages to read about the first leg of our Giro d’Italia, and let us know what you think.

Joanna Goodman
Communications Editor

Comments (1)

Think of Burgundy and, for most, whites and reds share equal interest.

Think of the Rhône, however, and invariably it’s the region’s generous spicy reds that tend to spring to mind.

I’ve been singing the praises of white Rhône for many years, particularly when asked by Society members for a white wine to serve with food. It seems my interest is shared as in recent years there has been a growth in plantings of white varieties in the region.

Condrieu is well-known, and the white wines of Saint-Péray continue to garner deserved recognition. White Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape can take on a sherry-like nuttiness with age. The white wines of these four crus provide a rich palette of options for food.

However, perhaps the most exciting of my own recent finds have been younger white Rhônes, which offer more accessible appeal, freshness and fragrance, alongside that same generosity you get from their red cousins.

Viognier vineyards in Condrieu

Viognier vineyards in Condrieu

There really is no such thing as a typical white Rhône, due in no small part to the fact that so many grape varieties can be used. For me, this just adds to their charm: with such diversity available, there is a wine to suit nearly every occasion.

Furthermore, recent vintages have been very impressive, including the remarkable 2014s.

Some white Rhônes (and food matches) to try:

Grignan-les-Adhémar Blanc Cuvée Gourmandise, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£7.50) offers a very respectable introduction. The perfumed viognier grape stands proud in the blend, providing a fruit-driven framework that would suit a multitude of salad options; my favourite would be a chargrilled chicken breast salad with a touch of Caesar salad sauce.

Vacqueyras Blanc Les Clefs d’Or, Clos des Cazaux 2013 (£11.95) is a bone-dry white but with a touch of roundness and fruit from grenache blanc and roussanne. A tried and tested pan-fried prawn favourite!

Lirac Blanc La Fermade, Domaine Maby 2014 (£8.95) shows off the charms of this underrated southern village. The base is grenache blanc, but the ingenious addition of some early-picked picpoul introduces a vivacious, almost Burgundian feel, which works beautifully with smoked salmon.

Laudun Blanc, Domaine Pélaquié 2014 (£9.50) is a full-flavoured herb-infused gem with a delicate sweet nuttiness to the flavour. Great with roasted squash.

Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Guigal 2014 (£9.95) is a fragrant generous gastronomic delight, the viognier grape lending its aromatic qualities to the blend and making it a good partner with mild curry.

Viognier, Grignan-les-Adhémar, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£9.50) employs oak subtly, creating a creamy-textured background for the characteristic apricot notes of viognier. Try with fish pie.

So whether it’s salad, seafood, squash, curry or pie on the menu, the Rhône’s white wines offer a multitude of matches. I do hope you’ll give one a go.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : France, Rhône
Comments (1)
Thu 26 May 2016

Cairanne: The Birth of a Rhône Cru

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Once upon a time, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel were the only two named ‘crus’ of the southern Rhône.

But of course it is the ambition of every village to aspire to cru status.

Making it happen can be a long process and has to involve a Paris-based body called INAO which stands for the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine. It alone can decree that Brie de Meaux can be called Brie de Meaux or that Chambertin can be called Chambertin.

In the case of Cairanne, that process seemed interminable.

Cairanne: 'a church at the top, lots of winding lanes and plenty of character.'

Cairanne: ‘a church at the top, lots of winding lanes and plenty of character.’

The case for Cru Cairanne began when the appellations were first created back in the 1930s. Growers then were far-seeing, and even then had begun by insisting on low yields and that only a certain number of grape varieties could be used.

There were geological surveys, an infinite number of tastings and meetings, and plenty of politics and negotiations to determine which could be crus and which vineyards couldn’t.

What makes a good Cairanne?
With a majority of grenache in the blend, Cairanne is never going to be anything less than a full-bodied, generous wine with a certain fruity charm and tannins that should always be well integrated and soft.

The upshot is that Cairanne is now the 17th cru of the Côtes-du-Rhône, joining the likes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage; and it applies to both red and white wine though red is by far the more important.

As far as we are concerned, it means that from the 2015 vintage just ‘Cairanne’ need appear on the label. Goodbye ‘Côtes-du-Rhône Villages’!

Quality won’t change that much as most growers have been making such brilliant wine anyway. Yields are a little lower which will mean that the wines should have more substance and greater concentration.

Cairanne itself is a delightful place to visit. It’s an old village, typically laid out, Provence style, on a hill with a church at the top, lots of winding lanes and plenty of character.

These days there are some good places to eat with the choice possibly headed by the Tourne au Verre. This is very central and has an excellent wine list with most if not all Cairanne producers represented. The food is good and simple, and one can eat outside in the summer.

Cairanne vines

The 2015 vintage is looking very promising, and some of the wines will soon be in bottle.

As for the 2016 vintage, flowering is still a little way off but so far so good…

So, roll on Cairanne, the Rhône’s newest cru!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Comments (7)
Mon 11 Apr 2016

Bordeaux 2015: First Impressions

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I am just back from a six-day visit to Bordeaux tasting the 2015 vintage.

Traditionally the Bordeaux châteaux and merchants open their doors to the wine trade in early April to show off the fruits of the latest vintage, and this year there was a particularly strong attendance from wine merchants around the globe, no doubt attracted by talk of the best vintage for a number of years.

View from Château Léoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien

View from Château Léoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien

I tasted several hundred wines from across the communes and appellations of Bordeaux, from Pauillac to Pomerol, Sauternes to Saint-Emilion, and from Bourg to Barsac. Many wines were tasted at the châteaux, but also at an excellent tasting organised by the Union de Grands Crus at the new stadium just outside Bordeaux, and at tastings put on by various négociants (merchants). This gave me the opportunity to taste many wines several times, a necessity when the wines are so young and can vary considerably depending on the freshness of barrel samples presented. As a result of these tastings I now feel I have a good ‘handle’ on the 2015 vintage.

What is clear is that 2015 is a very good vintage, unquestionably the best for claret since 2010. The wines have attractive balance, with perfumed bouquet, fresh, fleshy fruit and silky tannins. Whilst the wines do not have the weight of the 2009s and 2010s, they have real charm and vibrancy of fruit. French winemakers sometimes use the term ‘peps’ for wines that display freshness and vitality, and I think that the word neatly sums up the 2015 vintage.

Quality can be found at all levels in 2015, from first growths down to petits châteaux, and the wines will provide a great deal of drinking pleasure for members in the years to come.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac

The most consistent left bank wines are those of the southern Médoc, with Margaux and Saint-Julien performing particularly well. Pauillac produced some outstanding wines, but there is less consistency here (and in Saint-Estèphe) and we will be particularly selective in our purchases from the northern Médoc this year. Pessac-Léognan and Graves made some lovely wines, and our forthcoming en primeur offers will provide members with plenty of choice, both of reds and dry whites.

On the right bank, the wines of Saint-Emilion are excellent, displaying ripe merlot character, and fine tannin texture. Pomerol is slightly less consistent, but nevertheless produced some delicious wines with good ageing potential.

The vineyards of Saint-Emilion, viewed from Château Ausone

The vineyards of Saint-Emilion, viewed from Château Ausone

Finally, Sauternes and Barsac have enjoyed a very fine vintage, with plenty of noble rot, backed up with balancing freshness.

Bérénice Lurton at Château Climens, Barsac

Bérénice Lurton at Château Climens, Barsac

We will be offering an en primeur selection from top châteaux towards the end of the month, and this will be followed up with our main offer in June.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

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Thu 31 Dec 2015

Rioja Harvest 2015: Sights and Sounds

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Read part one here, which includes news from Viña Amézola and Bodegas Palacio.

Laguardía at sunset with the granite slopes of the Cantabrian mountains behind - the point at which the Alevasa vineyards stop

Laguardía at sunset with the granite slopes of the Cantabrian mountains behind – the point at which the Alevasa vineyards stop

While they are used to dramatic temperature differences in Rioja, such heat as we experienced during our visit in October was not usual.

How had this affected the vintage?
You might assume that the winemakers we visited would be ecstatic about an early vintage of ripe healthy grapes. Yes, it’s fair to say that there were plenty of smiles on faces – but these are wines that are crafted for the long haul and the winemaking men and women behind them are a pragmatic lot… and these were early days.

María José of López de Heredía told us, ‘we don’t like to judge our harvest straight away. Our grandmother told us you must always wait until after the second fermentation’ (that is the malolactic fermentation – you can read more about that in our series of winemaking articles.)

The general feeling is pretty positive though: the summer was continuously hot and dry and the tempranillo grape – the main constituent of Rioja – was picked in good health and full ripeness. Small grapes (the result of evaporation caused by the heat) may result in lower quantities, however.

María said that having a mix of grapes gives Rioja producers a distinct advantage and that in 2015 at López de Heredía they will reduce the amount of garnacha they use (a variety that tends towards high alcohol levels) and will increase the amount of graciano and mazuelo, two grapes that give highish acidity to the wine. In the face of a changing climate these grapes might become more important, she suggested.

The railway quarter in Haro
López de Heredía, together with La Rioja Alta, Muga and several other well-known names, are all in Haro’s historic railway station quarter. Here the harvest was still in full flow, with tractors trundling in and out of their impossibly picturesque wineries.

The view from Haro town of the historic railway station quarter, where so many famous bodegas are based in a tiny area

The view from Haro town of the historic railway station quarter, where so many famous bodegas are based in a tiny area

Of all of these, López de Heredía’s is the most surreally romantic.

López de Heredía

López de Heredía

López de Heredía

Grapes are brought in to the winery in poplar wood crates in the way that they have been for centuries. The technique hasn’t been retained for any reasons of sentimentality; María tells us that they have discovered that the unusual shape of the crates and the poplar wood from which they are made are ideal for their wines. ‘The wood harbours the indigenous yeasts that we want for fermentation. We have experimented with other methods over the year, but we have come to realise that our predecessors knew what they were doing!’

Across the road at Bodegas Muga, we were treated to the full spectacle of the harvest being brought in. Trucks were unloading and grapes weighed and analysed (15% of grapes come from a network of small family growers as was traditional in Rioja); an optical sorting machine ensured only the best berries made it through to be made into wine, and the barrels were being made and toasted to just the right levels in Muga’s own cooperage. Muga is one of the few wineries in the world whose barrels and casks are made by their own coopers.

La Rioja Alta – ageing the wine and the effects of climate change
The other bodega we visited in the station quarter was La Rioja Alta – home of our Exhibition Rioja Reserva. Here, too we were treated to a tour of the cellars but the wines are not made here (fermentation, bottling and labelling all now takes place at Labastida a new winery some five minutes away).

José Féliz racking our Exhibition Reserva Rioja

José Féliz racking our Exhibition Reserva Rioja

So no sights and sounds of vintage here, just the row upon row of barrels gently ageing and La Rioja Alta’s classically styled reservas and gran reservas are given considerable ageing and are only released when fully ready. For example, the gran reservas are aged for on average 11 years (the minimum is five) – five or six years in barrel and at least five in bottle.

What sets the wines apart from other traditional producers and the reason we chose them for our Exhibition wine is that their wines still retain vigour and feel alive. This is attributed partly to the skilled job of racking the wine (moving it from one barrel to the next to remove sediment and clean the barrel). At La Rioja Alta this is done traditionally and it is only after five years’ training that a new cellar hand will be allowed to do this skilled job on their own.

The rackers get to know their barrels intimately and notice when things aren’t quite right. Interestingly our guide told us that they usually rack every six months but climate change is having an effect on this part of the winemaking process too. They are starting to notice as humidity levels have dropped slightly the wine is maturing more quickly, the pores in the wood presumably widening ever so slightly. Now they check the barrels more often and top up the barrels every month.

Brave new world at Viña Real
On our last day in the region and in complete contrast to the wonderful historic cobwebby cellars of López de Heredia, we found ourselves witnessing state-of-the-art winemaking in Viña Real’s purpose-built winery dug into the hillside in the Rioja Alavesa. Designed by Bordeaux’s Philippe Mazières, the architecture is as stunning as it is practical, the winery looking like a vast barrel on top of the hillside.

Viña Rea

The operation is vast here and highly ergonomic. Tunnels carved out of the hillside were built by the same company that constructed the underground system in Bilbão and took three years to make and were a considerable investment for the company. 25 thousand barrels and three million bottles are housed here, but only nine people are employed.

But the most impressive aspect of this circular bodega is the vat room where the design allows for the vast fermentation vats to be filled automatically using a robotic crane. Gravity alone is used to move the grapes and juice around the bodega avoiding the need for any pumping which has a negative effect on quality.

Grapes for Viña Real wines are hand-harvested then sorted by both a visual inspection and automated hoppers before falling into mini stainless-steel vats which are then slowly hoisted by a crane and moved around the circular fermentation hall by a huge electronic arm. We were lucky enough to see this in action.

You can watch the process in this short but noisy video!

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

• If you’re interested in buying wines from the Rioja region, including those from some of the bodegas mentioned above, visit our website.

• There’s more on the effects of climate change and its influence (or not) on rising alcohol levels in wine in our article by Caroline Gilby MW here.

Categories : Spain
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Wed 30 Dec 2015

Rioja Harvest 2015: In The Thick of It

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2015 was the earliest vintage on record in Rioja and inadvertently we were there to capture some of the hustle and bustle of harvest time.

On a recent study tour of Rioja, timed to take place just before the vintage, we found ourselves instead, right in the middle of the harvest – the earliest on record and three weeks earlier than usual.

Grapes in transit (not to one of our bodegas!)

Grapes in transit (not to one of our bodegas!)

Harvest is usually the busiest time of year for wineries and not the best time to visit, generally. But it is an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good and for us it was a fantastic opportunity to see for ourselves what actually happens when the grapes come in.

Visit a winery at just about any other time of the year and you’ll be struck by how empty it is. You’ll be lucky if you see another person as you are shown around vast echo-y galleries with serried ranks of tanks and barrels, perhaps with a bit of pumping over or racking going on if you’re lucky. It always makes me think that being a winemaker must be quite a lonely profession!

But seeing a winery in full flood (as it were) is to see it in its true colours, in full operational mode. All those things you’ve heard about or read in textbooks are happening before your eyes, and the wonderful thing about Rioja in particular, is there is such as contrast between the old, highly traditional and the bright, shiny new.

Tempranillo grapes arriving in good health at Amézola

Tempranillo grapes arriving in good health at Amézola

The whole region is in action and it’s quite exciting. In Rioja grapes are quite often brought some distances to the wineries and the roads are busy with tractors and trailors trundling back and forth with their load of grapes. Special road signs are put out to warn motorists of slow-moving grape carriers.

Extreme weather
At Viña Amézola, sisters Cristina and María said that normally they would start harvesting around 6th October. This year, they had pretty much finished by 1st October; the last of the grapes were coming in while we were there (theirs is only one of three bodegas in Rioja who don’t buy in any grapes) and Amézola were breathing a sigh of relief. Just up the road, some bodegas had lost their entire crop, and even the vines themselves, the result of freak, highly localised hail storms in August.

Tasting the new wine
Arriving at the bodega when we did provided another unforeseen opportunity – the chance to taste wine straight from vat just before fermentation had started (when the grape juice is referred to as ‘must’ and still tastes sweet), at a day old and then at two days old. It was fascinating to taste the work of the yeast on the juice in progress.

Tasting the new wine from the 2015 vintage at Viña Amézola

Tasting the new wine from the 2015 vintage at Viña Amézola

During our winery visits, we couldn’t help but remark upon the bundles of sticks that were often seen amongst the vats of fermenting wine. Apparently these are placed into the vats as a way of filtering the wine. Fresh reeds are harvested each year and from specific plots of trees; a traditional method that I for one had not come across anywhere else.

Bunches of reeds used to help filter the wine

Bunches of reeds used to help filter the wine

Bodegas Palacio, home of The Society’s Rioja Crianza, had already finished picking bringing everything in (from some 500 different plots) in a record 10 days. Every single vat in its vast cellar was full. Winemaker Roberto Rodriguez looked pretty exhausted when we arrived at the bodega on the outskirts of picture-postcard perfect Laguardía at early evening.

Feel the fermentation! The dense CO2-laden air and hum of the ventilating fans made the process of fermentation palpable.

Feel the fermentation! The dense CO2-laden air and hum of the ventilating fans made the process of fermentation palpable.

Opening up the enormous gates of the winery we were hit by a new sensation… enormous fans, resembling those you see on jumbo jets, were circulating the CO2-laden air. The noise and the lack of oxygen were quite overpowering. Roberto was anxious to check that we were all ok and that nobody had asthma – it is not unusual for people to suffocate in wineries and removing the CO2 safely is a challenge in the winemaking process.

Feeling a little light headed, we were taken to Roberto’s control centre. Looking like something out of a James Bond film, the array of dials and computer screens enable Roberto to monitor what is happening in every single vat, from temperature control to alcohol levels, wine densities, pumping over, micro-oxygenation etc. It makes it sound simple, as though with the press of a button all can be viewed and controlled, but clearly, there’s a lot more to it than that!

…back to talk of the weather
The medieval hill-top town of Laguardía is in the Rioja Alavesa region which produces grapes that according to Roberto are ‘the soul of Rioja.’ From the town you can look out over the surrounding vineyards and appreciate why this might be so. South-facing and protected by the Cantabrian mountain range, the unique soils and cool nights all contribute to producing grapes with finesse and crucially, the vital acidity that’s required to allow Rioja to age.

We were all too aware of this large diurnal temperature variation. In the day the temperature had got up to 28°C, now that the sun had gone down and we were taking an evening stroll around Laguardía we were all freezing.

These are just the conditions that the tempranillo grape loves.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Read part 2 here, including reports from López de Heredía, Muga, La Rioja Alta and Viña Real.

• If you’re interested in buying wines from the Rioja region, including those from some of the bodegas mentioned above, visit our website.

• There’s more on the effects of climate change and its influence (or not) on rising alcohol levels in wine in our article by Caroline Gilby MW here.

Categories : Spain
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Tue 13 Oct 2015

Bordeaux 2015: Checking In

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A quick update from my recent trip to Bordeaux:

Right bank merlot
At Château Pey La Tour in the Entre-deux-Mers the Dourthe team headed by Frédéric Bonaffous was busy with everything but picking! Some of the merlot grapes are in but the cooler (thus higher-trained) vineyards here are still a healthy verdant green and the grapes still maturing happily on the vine.

Grapes on the vine at Pey La Tour

Grapes on the vine at Pey La Tour

A pause at Château Durfort-Vivens in Margaux
All was quiet on our visit to Durfort-Vivens. With the merlot safely in and the weather set fine, there was ample time to prepare harvest and grape reception equipment for the first of the cabernets. A shower or two was forecast for the weekend but with a healthy crop on the vines, bright warm sunny days, cool dry breezes and markedly cool nights there seemed to be no reason for concern.

Indeed there were smiles all round. Owner Gonzague Lurton, just back from harvest at his property in Sonoma (small in quantity, but good quality), was happy and relaxed. Growers can afford to wait, especially those with the best terroirs, and even if the pressure to pick does come, the grapes are looking good enough to produce a very good harvest at least.

Harvest action at Château Branaire-Ducru in Saint-Julien
Sorting tables were busy when we dropped in to see Jean-Dominique Videau at Branaire-Ducru.

Sorting table at Branaire-Ducru

Even with the remarkably healthy-looking grapes coming in, after destemming there are still a few leaves and small stalks to be picked out, all of which is done by hand here. The grapes were small and sweetly flavoured (they don’t always taste so good at this stage!) and the majority of the cabernets yet to be picked are in great condition.

Jean-Dominique Videau and The Society's head of buying, Tim Sykes, at Branaire-Ducru

Jean-Dominique Videau and The Society’s head of buying, Tim Sykes, at Branaire-Ducru

We finished our visit with a tasting of second wine Duluc and several vintages of the grand vin which only served to underline the consistent high quality being produced here, from great (2005) to more modest (2007 & 2004) vintages. Less well known than many crus classés, Branaire tends to be very fairly priced and deserves a greater following in our view.

Joanna Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Sat 19 Sep 2015

Bordeaux 2015: The Right Bank

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Head of Buying, Tim Sykes, continues his whistle-stop tour of Bordeaux to assess the 2015 vintage. After the Médoc yesterday, he heads for the right bank.

A damp start to Thursday in central Bordeaux, and noticeably cooler than yesterday.

Chateau de Pitray

Grape test at Chateau de Pitray

First stop is Château de Pitray in the Côtes de Castillon (an hour’s drive east of Bordeaux, beyond Saint-Emilion), which is owned and run by the very able Jean de Boigne. Pulling up in front of the imposing château I notice that the temperature gauge on the car reads just 13?C. Such low temperatures would be worrying if the grapes were a long way from reaching full ripeness. However, Pitray’s grapes are almost ready to pick, and the cool weather wards off the possible onset of rot which can attack the grapes in damp conditions.

On the dining room table Jean has lined up three plates, each bearing a bunch of healthy looking grapes. He invites me to guess which variety is lying on each plate.

I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory, managing to identify the cabernet franc (the right-hand bunch), but getting the merlot (middle) and malbec (left) the wrong way round.

All three bunches were picked first thing this morning by Jean, and they all tasted delicious.

Next stop Pomerol, and a first tasting from the 2015 harvest with Edouard Moueix at Château La Fleur Pétrus. The wine (or more accurately young-vine merlot grape juice) had deep colour and tasted lush and vibrant.

As we sat down to the traditional Moueix pickers’ lunch (thankfully indoors) the heavens opened and an unscheduled 15-minute deluge ensued. Christian Moueix, attending his 45th consecutive harvest lunch, immediately got up and announced to a euphoric group of 75 pickers not only that there would be no harvesting this afternoon, but also that the entire team was invited to attend today’s matinée performance of Marguerite at the local cinema.

Harvest lunch at Le Fleur Petrus

Harvest lunch at Le Fleur Petrus

I made my excuses and then headed off to Saint-Emilion to drop in on François Despagne at Château Grand Corbin Despagne. François, much like his neighbours in Pomerol, could barely contain his excitement at the quality of merlot grapes arriving in his cellar. The grape sorters (human not mechanical) were having to discard just a tiny fraction of the grapes, so healthy were the berries, picked just a few minutes earlier.

Having never had an opportunity to look around the cellars at Grand Corbin Despagne, François gave me a quick guided tour, including a peek inside the ‘Réserve de la famille’ – dusty bottles of vintages such as 1929, 1949 and 1961 lay enticingly in the wine bins.

1929 Grand Corbin Despagne

So tempting…the 1929 Grand Corbin Despagne

My last visit of the trip before heading back to the UK was to Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan, where ever-lively winemaker Rémi Edange updated me on the latest news from the Château. ‘Le potentiel est incroyable’ were his exact words – I don’t believe that I need to include a translation!

Categories : Bordeaux
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