Grapevine Archive for Chianti

Wed 11 Jan 2017

Buyer Freddy Bulmer: My 2016 Highlights

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I had to pinch myself a few times throughout 2016. Since landing my dream job as trainee buyer (and subsequently taking on buying duties for England, beers and accessories), I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people, visit some beautiful places and experience some remarkable things.

One thing that will stick with me though is some of the fantastic people that I have been lucky enough to meet who, whilst all have stories of their own, always share one thing in common with me: a love of wine.

Putting together a list of just three bottles that really meant something to me from 2016 was not easy, as there were so many more that I wanted to select. However, I settled on three very special wines from three very special producers, in three completely different wine-producing regions of the world.

You can buy a convenient three-bottle mixed case of these reds for £38 – with UK delivery included – via

1. Château Monconseil Gazin, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2013 (£9.50 per bottle)


My very first trip accompanying one of the buyers was in January 2016 when I went to Bordeaux with Head of Buying Tim Sykes. The main goal of the trip was to blend the new vintage of The Society’s Claret but while there we managed to fit in visits with a few other producers. Our last visit of the trip was to a small, humble producer in Blaye on the right bank of the Gironde.

After a few days of suits and ties and smart sales folk, it was lovely to meet a proper winemaking family. We weren’t talking to a sales representative or a marketing person but the owner and winemaker of a small and excellent-quality winery. Jean-Michel and Françoise Baudet are the couple in charge here, at one of the oldest wineries in Blaye. They love nothing more than driving visitors around their vineyards and talking them through the subtle nuances that each vineyard has on their wines. After the tour it was time for a bit of cake before going to the airport.

This was the first time that I felt like I got to the heart of Bordeaux; despite all the money in the region and all the marketing, it is people like these who live for the wine and who make good wines at very affordable prices.

This 2013 vintage of Chateau Monconseil Gazin was one which I remember for its soft tannins, fresh acidity and feeling of being complete, by which I mean everything was in harmony and as it should be. Fresh fruit is there, but it is soft and relatively gentle, with an appealing, simple charm. For me, this wine spoke of its place very well, from the freshness in the fruit on the highest vineyards, kept cool in the wind, to the ripeness of the fruit that bit closer to the river, where the temperature is moderated thanks to the influence of the Gironde.

2. Chianti Rufina Riserva, Villa di Vetrice 2011 (£10.95 per bottle)


When I joined The Wine Society’s Buying Team, I was lacking in the foreign language department, other than a miniscule amount of Italian. In order to fit in to such a linguistically talented team of buyers, I had to brush up on it! After a number of Italian lessons, Sebastian Payne MW, our buyer for Italy, said: ‘If you really want to learn the language, you need to get out there!’ So I did.

I spent a couple of weeks working at wineries in Italy; firstly with the lovely folks at Vallone in Puglia but I spent the second week with the truly lovely, and truly Italian, Grati family in the Rufina Valley of Chianti.

I’ve never had a week where I felt so looked after and learned so much. The warm and incredibly intelligent Gualberto Grati and his sister Christi are now at the helm of their family winery, having taken over from their parents who live at Villa di Vetrice itself. I managed to experience all sorts of jobs which surround the harvest on my visit, from the picking of the grapes, to hanging up bunches in the vinsantaia (see above), to carrying out a whole experimental micro-vinification of the very rare grape variety sanforte.

Sitting around the family table for dinner at Vetrice on the first night of my visit, not being even nearly competent with my Italian, was a strange mixture of lovely and terrifying. However when, on the last night of my trip, Gualberto and I were invited for dinner with Christi, her husband Luca and their two daughters, I found I was able to have a conversation in Italian, the feeling of pride was really quite memorable. It was all thanks to the kindness and patience of this Tuscan winemaking family.

Their wine is really rather delicious too! This one combines the rusticity and ‘hands-off’ approach to winemaking found in the most authentic of Tuscan wines with such obviously excellent fruit, from a region that really seems born to produce wines. Silky smooth yet still fresh, thanks to the signature acidity of the Rufina valley. A charming, approachable and thoroughly enjoyable wine, whilst still smart and proper, much like the family who make it!

3. Hedges CMS Washington State 2015 (£13.50 per bottle)


I’d never been to the USA before being lucky enough to get a place on a trip arranged by the Washington State Wine Commission. The bulk of the trip involved a small group of us visiting a number of wineries spread over five days. I wasn’t able to fly out to Seattle until the day after the rest of the group, which meant that I would be there a couple of days after they had all gone home again at the end of the trip. With that in mind, I had made plans to go and visit a couple of producers who we already worked with at The Wine Society, one of which was Hedges Estate.

I’d heard that Christophe Hedges was a pretty cool guy and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. He lives with his wife Maggie and their two young sons, in a beautiful white-stone house which is down the end of a dirt track, in the middle of the vineyards of Red Mountain. I drove down the track and pulled up outside the house, which was clearly still undergoing some construction work. I walked around the side and knocked on the door but there was no answer.

Eventually, this tall, muscular wine god of a man came around the corner. This was Christophe, who it turns out is not only a great winemaker but also a seriously good stonemason. So good in fact, that he built the house himself!

The Hedges family were like something out of a film – painfully good looking with perfect smiles and a sense of coolness and calm about them which makes you feel like they just love living life. When I went to visit them, I had just left the rest of the group who had flown home and as I got into my hire-car I distinctly remember a sudden sense of real loneliness, now finding myself in a small town in a country I had never been to before, almost 5,000 miles away from home. When I got to the Hedges’ home, it was like seeing old friends.

I tasted a lot of good wines with Christophe, many of which could have been featured here; but for me, this was perhaps the most approachable now. It encapsulates the terroir of Red Mountain, with a hint of earthiness and bright, fresh acidity. The complexity of fruit here is impressive, thanks to the clever blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, making a wine which is juicy and bright, while maintaining a peppery touch and a firm backbone.


Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

Buy the three-bottle mixed case for £38 – with UK delivery included.

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Fri 18 Jun 2010

Italian Road Trip

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Sebastian Payne and I spent a busy couple of days last week in Tuscany – we have an upcoming Italian offer and we had one day in Chianti Classico and one in Montalcino which both use predominately the sangiovese grape to make their wines.

Before enjoying the rustic charm of Tuscany though, we had to get there, managing to get through our Ryanair flight without buying their duty free, scratchcards, telephone cards and even the smokeless cigarettes they were announcing every few minutes on the admittedly smooth flight over.

We based ourselves at Felsina in Castelnuovo Berardegna in the South of the Chianti Classico region where they gave us a great welcome. It’s a mixed used estate with 70 hectares of olive trees and about the same of vines, primarily sangiovese. The rest of the estate is given over to a few cereals and forest. Our first tasting of the day was actually 4 single-varietal olive oils (see photo below) – Giuseppe is re-introducing single varietal oils, with the trees harvested at different times per variety just like grapes.

Felsina Single-Varietal Olive Oils

Felsina Single-Varietal Olive Oils

The estate was put together from 11 small-holdings, or subsistence farmers, and Felsina respect this heritage by making a wine from the original 11 vineyard parcels, one per small-holding. They started working with 100% sangiovese in 1983 before it was actually allowed within the Chianti Classico appellation.

After tasting the wines and olive oils at Felsina we visited Fontodi in the Concha d’Oro (golden shell) at Panzano. Our host, Giovanni Manetti, had to leave us to our own devices for a while he dealt with a surprise visit from the organic regulation inspectors – “funny how they come as soon as it is sunny” he says, reflecting on the recent rainy spell! Giovanni had no problem with the inspectors as he’s been running organic for some years and has persuaded most of his neighbouring growers to do the same. Fontodi are in the middle of major works as they build a new barrel store, and we did discuss with them whether there was a market in the UK for their old barrels as flowerpots for our members.

One food tip from rural Tuscany – beware the Bistecca a la Florentina in the Trattoria del Berardegna in the village unless you are really carnivorous. Over an inch thick, only lightly seared and brought by the kilo! Giovanni’s Chianti Classico was a perfect match though.

The next morning I took this picture near Felsina – it could be part of a bigger estate but it looked to me like a smallholding with a few vines and olive trees. One bottle of wine per vine would give a year’s supply for the guy living in the building at the bottom I think – a simple life but a good one?

Felsina Smallholding

Felsina Smallholding

Then on to Montalcino to visit prospective new producers, finishing the day at Laura Brunelli’s (she supplies our ‘Gianni Brunelli Brunello de Montalcino‘). The wines, including the Riserva 2004 and the younger Vino Rosso, were great, and the view from her terrace was to die for. She invited us to stay longer with typical Tuscan warmth but my family – and the World Cup – proved stronger…..but before that ….Ryanair and the smokeless cigarettes!

Categories : Italy
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