Mark Patana

Mark Patana wins Ruinart Sommelier Challenge

Medlar’s Mark Patana has capped a whirlwind 12 months by taking top spot in the Ruinart Challenge.

It’s the 27-year-old’s second win in a year after claiming victory in the Chaine des Rotisseurs last June, and books him a week-long trip to Champagne in the autumn as a VIP guest of Champagne Ruinart.

The competition involved contestants sitting a 40-minute exam during which time they had to blind-taste four wines. This year all four were Chardonnays: Vincent Dauvissat Premier Cru Chablis Les Vaillons 2019, Domaine de la Vougerie Beaune 2018, Domaine Faiveley Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2019 and Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2018. Tight, cool-climate and reductive, the latter was the hardest wine for most of the sommeliers to pick.

The tasters wrestle with the four Chardonnays before them. Very few identified the fourth wine.

The entrants had to fill in a tasting sheet for each wine, based on Court of Master Sommelier tasting criteria. As well as aroma and palate descriptors, the 25 contestants had to provide a vintage, assess where each wine was from and describe serving criteria and food-matching suggestions.

‘Doing it in 40 minutes is tight,’ said Mark, ‘and writing it down is a format I’m not used to – I usually talk about the wines. But you’re going to taste some amazing wines.

‘So I tried to relax and say ‘right, let’s have some fun!”

Several of the judges correctly identified most of the wines – including the runners-up, Faidon Dernikos from 67 Pall Mall and Coravin’s Frederic Mounnery, both of whom will receive a magnum of Ruinart.

However, as well as sound tasting skills, it was Mark’s comprehensive and imaginative serving suggestions that made him stand out.

‘We had people who got a lot of the wines right,’ said judge Ronan Sayburn MS of 67 Pall Mall. ‘But he got the added details – the serving and the food matching – which is a sommelier’s job.’

The three winners, Faidon (right), Mark (centre) and Frederic (left) with judges Ronan Sayburn MS (second right), Roxane Dupuy (second left), and Ruinart chef de cave Fred Panaiotis (back middle)

Originally from Milan, Mark is excited about going to Champagne for the first time in his life.

‘I’m most looking forward to going to the crayeres and seeing them with my own eyes,’ he said. ‘Feeling the natural environment and seeing how the wines attain such complexity and maturity. It’ll be very special.’

‘It’s the best trip you can have,’ said Roxane Dupuy, winner of the Swiss heat in 2018 and now of The Twenty Two. ‘You go to places that are not open to the public, with amazing tastings. I met some of my best friends through the Ruinart Challenge.’

Other contestants: Alex Ranzetta, the Royal Exchange
Augusto Gherardi, La Dame de la Pic
Nicholas Sharp, Roots
Grande Millesime

Latest Gosset Grand Millésime hits the UK

If you’ve run out of your 2012 stock of Gosset Grand Millésime then we have good news for you because the 2015 has just landed.

Importers Louis Latour have told the Sommelier Collective that the new vintage arrived this week, slightly earlier than expected.

It’s great news for fans of the oldest wine-producing house in Champagne, who often have to wait many years for vintages to land. Typically only two or three Grand Millésime wines are released every decade, with 2015 following 2012, 2006 and 2004 of recent launches.

Like all of the Gosset wines (bar one ultra brut) the wine sees no malolactic, giving it a characteristically bright line of acidity that helps with the wine’s longevity. With four and a half years in bottle, it receives extended ageing before release. Using fruit from some of the most highly-rated villages in Champagne – including Verzy, Ambonnay, Avize and Trépail, it’s a wine that is drinking well now, but also has many years ahead of it.

We asked Cellar Master, Odilon de Varine, for his take on the latest vintage.

What are the similarities – and differences between Grande Réserve and Grand Millésime?

They share the same Gosset champagne style of extreme freshness balanced with an extra-long maturation on the lees, giving complexity, depth, richness and length to the aroma. However, while Grande Réserve offers a constant year-on-year style, Grand Millésime expresses the uniqueness of the harvest.

It is a memory – a ‘souvenir cuvée’ expressed through the Gosset style.

Odilon de Varine

How does the 2015 Grand Millésime differ from 2012?

At Gosset there is no recipe to compose the blend of every cuvée – and that’s even more true when it comes to vintages, which express the tone of the grapes of the year. So a cuvée can be radically different to the previous one. While our 2012 was a Chardonnay-dominant blend (67%), our 2015 includes 59% of Pinot Noir.

Why the big change?

2015 was a relatively warm year in Champagne, and Chardonnay was quite ripe. So we selected Pinot Noir from particularly fresh terroirs this year. Tasting blind – as we always do – we found the balance we were looking for. It’s an interesting style of Pinot Noir. Aromatic, but fine and fresh.

Have vintage characters altered due to climate change?

Fruit can reach a higher level of maturity more often, and the level of acidity is slightly lower. But the evolution of growing practices (cover crops, ploughing, no fertilisers) is impacting the style of musts and wines in a sensible manner. The replacement of old vines is an issue too. The proportion of musts from younger vines is declining – and we need young vines to keep freshness and liveliness of the musts at their top level.

What food matches do you suggest for the Grand Millésime 2015?

It’s the perfect partner for fruity and spicy dishes, such as chicken in lemongrass, a lamb tagine with lemon and almonds, roasted gambas with pilau rice or griddled vegetables. The wine is both very fresh and very fruity, so it will cut through spices and exotic flavours, but also match any fruity dish, whether it’s sweet or not.

The Gosset Grand Millésime 2015 is available for £46.63 ex VAT from Louis Latour.

Collective members who want to engage more with Gosset should enter the Gosset Matchmakers competition. Open to chef/sommelier teams with less than five years’ experience each, it’s a great chance to show off your creative skills when it comes to food and wine pairings. Plus the winners get a three-day trip to Champagne for a blending masterclass with Odilon himself. So what are you waiting for? Click here for more information, and here to enter.

Odilon and deputy cellar master, Gabrielle Malagou check their handiwork
Julio Tauste

‘You need to wake up, study – and always be improving…’

After nearly seven years in the UK, Orrery’s Julio Tauste is dreaming of attaining his CMS Advanced qualification

Brought up around Alicante, where his family had several restaurants, Julio grew up literally surrounded by hospitality, making the move to the UK in 2015, where he joined the D&D group. After several years at Launceston Place, he has been head sommelier at Orrery since just before Covid in 2020.

What experience did you acquire in Spain?

I always worked in the family restaurants, but in 2007 I decided to move on and became Food and Beverage manager at Huerto de Ivancos in Valencia. I then joined Akellare in San Sebastian in 2009. It’s a very well-known restaurant with a high-profile chef – three-star Michelin. It was high pressure – tiny details on every single matter. But that didn’t bother me. When you have the skill – it’s like riding a bike – you know what you are doing.

The three-star food at Akellare – ‘Tiny details matter’ says Julio. Pic: Kent Wang, Flickr

Why did you leave Spain to come to the UK?

After two years at Akellare, I joined Metro group – they are a big company supplying the on-trade with thousands of wines to restaurants all over Spain. I got my WSET Level 3 in 2015, and I realised that if I wanted to go further I had to move countries, because it wasn’t possible to do the Diploma there. The sommelier profession isn’t so well known in Spain.

Who did you work with at Launceston Place?

At various times Gareth Ferreira MS, Agustin Trapero and Piotr Pietras MS. It was an amazing team! I became head sommelier at Orrery in January 2020.

Julio with some of the ‘amazing’ team at Launceston Place

So you’ve stayed within D&D…

You need to be a bit loyal to the company. Then they trust you when it comes to buying a wine or doing a pairing. I think I’ve become more skilled at F&B as well.

In what way?

D&D have a big list of suppliers, and we work very closely with them. We need to be able to trust them – that when a wine is put on by the glass they’ll have stock, for instance. Particularly with Brexit when there are problems with the borders, we have to play a lot with the wine list, with things going out of stock.

What about personal development?

We’re very involved with training – with new educational materials, with competitions. It’s important to be always learning. I’ve got my CMS Advanced exam in June.

It’s really tough because you need to pass all three parts at the same time.

Which is the toughest bit?

The blind tasting! Always! The hardest one for me to spot is Sancerre because to me it’s close to Chablis. I often get them mixed up on the nose. But I think Chablis has more cleanness and slightly different flavours on the palate. That’s how I pick it. Spanish styles are the easiest for me – Albarino and Rioja.

Tell us about the list at Orrery.

We’re a French restaurant, so we need to focus on French appellations. We’re very big in Bordeaux and Burgundy, red and white.

Fine dining and elegance at Orrery…
… where Julio is head sommelier
Hoping for a busy terrace this summer

Is it hard to sell alternatives?

Some guests do ask for different appellations than Bordeaux, so we have places like Marcillac or Pacherenc du Vic Bilh. And Cahors Malbec too is very good value wine. Full-bodied and rich, it does the same kind of job as cru classé Bordeaux, but much cheaper. They’re useful when people want to have two or three bottles of wine. We need to look after the guest.

How are you set for Burgundy, with the upcoming shortages?

We’re fine at the moment. They allowed a new appellation in 2017, Bourgogne Cote d’Or, which is pretty good value wine. Also places like Marsannay, Maranges and Rully red – these places are less well-known but are good value. We might not be able to get Vosne-Romanée without spending big money, but we should be able to find these.

Any substitutes from outside France?

Our customers are ok with Bordeaux-red substitutes – Napa, Australia, even Chile. For red Burgundy we have alternatives from Pisoni Estate (Sta Lucia Highlands), and Williams Selyem (Russian River) and Errazuriz or Montes from Chile. For white Burgundy, I’d look to Kumeu River (New Zealand), or Mayacamas on Mount Veeder in Napa.

Vineyards in the Hemel and Aarde Valley
And the dramatic coastline of Hermanus, Walker Bay – one of Julio’s favourite regions for Pinot

Where, for you, are the most exciting wine regions?

Walker Bay in South Africa [above]  – amazing Pinot Noirs. I also love Sherry. It’s very good value. Also Hawkes Bay Bordeaux blends. Whenever I recommend that the guests love it because they’re expecting a Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc [from New Zealand] and this is something different. It’s a great substitute for Bordeaux.

What do you think is the most important thing in hospitality?

To be humble. You always need to live for the guest. Guests in the UK are very high profile. You need to wake up, study and always be improving.

What do you do in your time off, Julio?

My son is 13 now, which is a difficult age, so the most important thing when I have free time is to spend it with him. We play football, handball and basketball.

Julio with partner Nuria. Making the most of family in his time off is important to him
Best UK Somm 2022

Charm wins out as Chris Parker takes Best UK Sommelier

Chris Parker, head of wine at Winchester’s Inn the Park won this year’s Best UK Sommelier competition at a tense final in London yesterday.

As one of the 12 finalists in the Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year, the win gives him a unique chance of ‘doing the double’ – holding both top UK somm competitions at the same time.

Judge Olivier Gasselin described him as ‘a very big talent’.

Following a morning session, where contenders had to sit a one hour theory paper, taste three wines blind and do a food and wine pairing, 15 ‘semi-finalists’ were chosen. The three highest scoring contestants – Giuseppe d’Aniello (Berners Tavern Edition), Chris Parker and Francesco Varoni (Il Borro) went on to compete for the top prize on stage.

The seven ‘live’ tasks, to be completed in half an hour in front of 200 spectators and 12 judges were: a tasting of three wines, serving sparkling wine as an aperitif, themed food-pairing with four courses, decanting, identifying two beers and three spirits, explaining wines on a list, and talking about a famous person and wine estate.

The hot and noisy atmosphere in the Leonardo Royal Hotel – which seemed sometimes to make it hard for contestants to fully understand their instructions – only added to the pressure on the somms.

Five of the judges: Igor Sotric (China Tang), Rudina Arapi (Galvin Windows), Remi Cousins (Le Gavroche), Olivier Gasselin (Jadot) and Eloise Feilden (Drinks Business)

Giuseppe d’Aniello went first, after what must have been a nerve-wrackingly long wait at the side of the stage. He was slick and focused in his technical skills, and briskly decisive with his blind tastings – even if he did somehow mistake a mezcal for a vodka.

But, like everyone, he struggled with the food matching round – finding wines made with flor from two different countries to match four dishes was definitely a tough challenge. Some judges said they felt Giuseppe needed to relax and interact with his ‘guests’ more to build on his undoubted skills at service.

Francesco Varoni was also confident in his tasting, though didn’t talk through his thought processes clearly and seemed less secure in his wine knowledge outside Italy. With more work, his time will surely come.

Giuseppe d’Aniello – ‘slick’
Chris Parker – ‘engaging’
Francesco Varoni – ‘confident’

Chris Parker’s performance was possibly less technically polished than that of Giuseppe, but he did a good job of fulfilling all the elements of every task, without seeming too hurried, and this, along with his relaxed manner won over the judges.

‘He was consistent, with good knowledge,’ said judge Rémi Cousin from Le Gavroche. ‘He missed some of the technical elements, but he was flexible and his personality was good.’

Former winner Matteo Furlan from the Ritz – who won the last competition in 2019 – was also impressed. ‘You score for knowledge, but our job is to engage and understand the customer,’ he said. ‘Chris showed us what a sommelier needs to do to entertain the guest; they want the emotion behind the bottle.’

The Best UK Sommelier competition is run by the UK Sommelier Association. In the past, the UK winners have gone on to compete in an international final, though details on this are yet to be confirmed.

The winners, with UK Sommelier Association president, Andrea Rinaldi (second left) and vice president Federica Zanghirella (second right)

Discovery Tasting: Alternatives to Burgundy

Stefan Neumann MS hosted a fascinating Discovery Tasting looking at wines from around the world that provide interesting alternatives for Burgundy, especially when some of the best might not be readily available.

To launch a series of virtual and live tastings, with Sommelier Collective Merchant Partner Fells, Stefan Neumann MS selected a range of 10 wines – chardonnays and pinot noirs – that offer valid and engaging alternatives to good burgundies. Picked from top Spanish, Italian, New Zealand, Tasmanian, Californian, Orgeon vineyards, the tasting provided a fascinating chance for our members to take a close look at quality wines from the Fells portfolio.

“Why are we doing this tasting?”, asked Neumann at the beginning fo the session, “we saw prices going up and volumes going down in Burgundy and you have two option: you can either complain or you can look for alternatives. Whilst I was on the floor I started to do this: to look for wines that would give the burgundians a run for their money. We have wines in the tasting that start at 11 pounds up to 30 – so really showing excellent value.”

Having a Master Sommelier on hand with such experience leading the tasting meant that members were able to share their impressions and anecdotes about alternative wines and how to build them into a wine list, whilst discussing customer experiences when suggesting and selling wines during service. Neuman gave some top tips on how to introduce alternatives to Burgundy by including the use of anecdotes and historical references to engage the person looking to enjoy the wine.

Stefan Neumann MS -. giving Burgundy a run for its money with the wines from the Alternatives to Burgundy Discovery Tasting

Whilst I was on the floor I started to look for wines that would give the burgundians a run for their money. This selection showcases wines that will do that, starting at 11 pounds up to 30 – so really showing excellent value.

Stefan Neumann MS

THE WINES

Jean Leon 2019 Chardonnay

“Founded in 1963 by an Italian imigrant but owned by the Torres family in 1984. They have a unique approach to making Chardonnay – a cool climate, Spanish Chardonnay. The fruit for this wine come from a vineyard in the early 60s. They use large vessels for fermentation and spend 6 months on the fine lees. No denying it is froma warmer region but the height of the vineyard give it great acidity which comes through. Historically Chardonnay was brought to this region by Cistercian monks in the 13th/14th century who came from the Burgundy region.” Stefan Neumann MS

“South of Siena, Ricasoli has been in the region in the 12th century and have been exporting this wine to the UK anf Holland for 500 years. Alot of Chardonnay is planted in the area but the site for this wine is very specific. They are very passionate about the terroir and broken down all of the soil types Planted on the R3 clone and aged for 9 months in tonneaux, the older vintages have more oak than the more recent wines are much more balanced they increased the barrel size. They have 15 years of making this wine so they know what they are doing.” Stefan Neumann MS

Harry Cooper “great blast of acidity and lovely oak balance.”

Torricella 2019 Ricasoli
Wente 2020 Chardonnay

“Important name in California, established in 1883, in the Livermoore Valley. This wine has a cool strike – even in summer it is cold because of the wind and the fog – giving it great citrus acidity. This is Wente clone, named in 1912, and this the most widely used clone in California right now. Five months sur lie with a little battonage going on and it has 2% of Gerwuztraminer in the blend to give weight and oiliness to the wine. Aged in larger formal, nuetral American oak.” Stefan Neumann MS

Angelo Margheriti “Lovely creamy texture.”

Harry Cooper “Like a vanilla bomb. Great with nutty cheeses.”

“When you pour this you will find a very positive note of reduction which I personally love. Clone-wise we are at 95 and 16, classic Burgundy clones and this example comes from the Renwick vineyard, close to Blenheim. Pressed directly into the barrel with some battonage. 2020 was a good solid vintage to buy, naturally the yeild was quite low. Reminds me a lot of Burgundy – turbot would match wonderfully with this wine.” Stefan Neumann MS

Konstantinos Katridis “Delicious – lovely taste of toasted almonds.”

George Doyle “Favourite wine so far.”

Valerya Toteyva “This wine would match perfectly with Pad Thai.”

Nautilus 2019 Chardonnay
Gran Moraine Chardonnay 2019

“Work more with whole clusters making this wine, you get a sense of it in the structure. 16.5 months in barrel, very specific, then they transfer to stainless steel to give grip and freshness from the cool climate there in Oregon. 8% new oak – so really more of a vessel that carries the wines than adds to it. If you look its on the same latitude as Burgundy which is why so many producers from there are investing in Oregon.” Stefan Neumann MS

“Hartford Court is owned by the Jackson Family, close to Santa Rosa and about 15 minutes from the Pacific Ocean. The Petaluma Gap really is a major factor in the production of great wines – very important for regulating the climate and making Pinot Noir work in the region. At Hartford, just on Pinot Noir they do 16 separate, different bottlings of their wines this example is from several differnet plots and the make up is not the same each year. 9.5 months in oak and 22% new oak, very precise and so open about what they do. Important to not ethat 92% of the fruit was picked before the wild fires so no worry about taint on the wines.” Stefan Neumann MS

Harry Cooper “Rich and juicy with great poise. Good with barbequed Lamb or pork.”

Hartford Court 2019 Pinot Noir
Dalrymple 2020 Pinot Noir

“Extreme wine producing region, established in 1987, looking straight over the Bass Straight. Tasmania has traditionally has been totally underated in terms of Pinot and Chardonnay production, where the wines were destined for sparkling wines, but now coming into its own. Dalrymple has been owned by Robert Hill Smithsince 2007. 11 months in oak and 24 months in oak. 2020 was a challenging vintage due to the rain. 28% less in terms of yeild because it was such a tough vintage. Great potential to age.” Stefan Neumann MS

“The winery was established in 1896, but the first vintage of this wine was 2018. 100% de-stemmed and handpicked, aged in a mixture of new and old oak for 11 months. Te Mata is famous for its top reds, especially wines like Bullnose. They are very specific about their sites and varietals. The inspiration for the name of this wne come from Dr. James Thompson at the Battle of Alma during the Crimean war. There are always very intriguing story behind the wines at Te Mata.” Stefan Neumann MS

Te Mata 2018 Alma
Torres, Marimar Estate 2013
Mas Cavallas

“Established by Marimar Torres, fourth generation of the family Spanish winemaking family, who was very brave to leave the family home in Cataluña to look for something different. A brave lady who have forged her own path in Sonoma, a cool climate area tyhat is strongly affected by fog and winds at the beginning of day. This estate is 2006 powered by solar panels, organically certified since 2006 and produce wines bio-dynamically and at the forefront of sustainability – from bees to bats to bobcats they are all about being close to nature. They believe the wines need to be aged and the wines are highly oaked in comparison to the other wines in this tasting.” Stefan Neumann MS

“Fresh, vibrant Pinot Noir made by Sam Neil one of the main protagonists in Jurassic Park, established in 1993 on the proceeds of the film – first vintage 1997. Two Paddocks own vineyards in the three major Otago Valley – Gisbton, Alexandra and Cromwell. This is the first wine where you will see the influence of 46% whole bunch press in the wine, perhaps in comparison to the other Pinots in this tasting.” Stefan Neumann MS

Two Paddocks 2018 Pinot Noir

This tasting was developed by The Sommelier Collective with Merchant Partner Fells.

Fells was established in 1858 and is one of the UK’s best-known suppliers to the quality on-trade. The company is best known as a fortified wine specialist since leading port producer, Symington Family Estates, acquired the importer in the 1970’s. However, the company has undergone many changes over the years with Torres, top Spanish producer, joining the portfolio in the early 90’s, followed by the Hill Smith family, owners of respected Australian wineries Yalumba, Pewsey Vale and Dalrymple, joining the company in 2018. These developments gave the company greater scale and an unrivalled position in the premium sector of the UK wine market.

Watch the video

Chaine des Rotisseurs

Two young star somms win Chaine GB

The results of this year’s Young Professional Awards, run by the Chaine des Rotisseurs have been revealed, with two young sommeliers picking up their first ever competitive prizes.

Freddie Johnson (aged 25) from the Fat Duck at Bray won the Young Sommelier of the Year title and will go on to represent Great Britain in the national finals in Wiesbaden, Germany, in the autumn.

Magdalena Babik (aged 22), from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, won the Gerard Basset Trophy, awarded for the best score in the blind tasting and food and wine matching sections. Ryan Duffy, of Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, was Highly Commended for his performance.

Freddie started at a culinary school in Woking, but was inspired by a wine course given by John Downes MW, and moved into the world of drinks, joining Vagabond Wines. He followed this up with a degree in wine and business studies at Plumpton College before working at Church Road restaurant in Barnes.

He is one of a team of eight at the Fat Duck, describing his time there as ‘quite a learning curve.

‘I suppose you could call me a rough diamond and I’m now being polished!’

Freddie Johnson

Magdalena has had an equally circuitous route into hospitality, working at a Fullers pub to pay her way through her university course in London, ending up at the Parcel Yard in Kings Cross.

‘I learned so much so quickly, and really loved it,’ she says. ‘That’s why I decided to ditch my studies and become a sommelier.’

On this evidence, they’ve both made great career choices. So very well done to both of the winners – and we hope to see you at an event, tasting or judging session shortly – and to see you rising up through the profession!

Discovery Tasting: Tasca d’Almerita

A riot of lagoons, mountains, islands and volcanoes, this tasting with Tasca showed off Sicily’s incredible geography to the max

Let’s face it, most of the wine trade don’t know anywhere near enough about Sicily. There’s a temptation to assume that because it’s an island it’s not very big, and because until 30 years ago much of what it produced went into bulk wine that it’s devoid of interesting terroir.

In fact, neither of these things is remotely true. Sicily is bigger than Wales. It’s 100,000 hectares of vineyard (just less than Bordeaux) makes it one of the biggest wine regions in Italy, and its scenery is extraordinary – as we discovered in this tasting.

Collective members tried wines from tiny windswept islands, salty lagoons, rocky mountains and Europe’s largest active volcano.

‘Everyone imagines Sicily is a flat island,’ says Alberto Tasca, of our hosts for the day, Tasca d’Almerita. ‘But it isn’t at all.

5 Territories, 5 Estates, 5 stories to tell – Tasca d’Almerita

‘70% of the production comes from hills, and that makes a big difference.’

Alberto Tasca

Tasca d’Almerita have an almost 200-year history of winemaking on the island, and exploring such diverse terroirs has very much become part of their philosophy, with the family-owned company adding small estates the length and breadth of the island.

‘We use as little ego [in the winemaking] as possible,’ explained Alberto. ‘We just want the wines to talk about where they’re from; the age of the vines and what kind of grape varieties they are.’

The Wines

Tenuta Capofaro, Didyme 2021

This comes from the island of Salina, off Sicily’s north-east coast. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place, with vineyards overlooking the thundering waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

‘It has a little what we call ‘sapidity’ – a kind of saltiness,’ says Alberto. ‘It could be because of the strong winds blowing salty water everywhere.’

The island used to be best known for making sweet wines from Malvasia di Lipari. But in 2013 – a big year – Tasca had no space to dry all the grapes, so made some dry wine as well – a style that’s become increasingly popular and should get its own DOC soon.

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

‘I see this kind of wine working very well with sushi,’ said Raphael Thierry. ‘The oily texture is perfect with the texture of the fatty fish like tuna and the saltiness of the wine combines well with soy sauce.’

Vines with a view out over the Tyrrenhian Sea. Spray could give the wines a gentle salty finish.

Tenuta Regaleali, Buonsenso Catarratto 2021

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

Tenuta Regaleali is the homeland of Tasca d’Almerita. It’s in the high, mountainous interior of the island. With much cooler nights, grapes ripen one month later here, which was particularly important in the days before temperature control, since it meant fermenting in October rather than much warmer September.

Catarratto is Sicily’s most-planted white variety, characterised by good natural acidity and an inherent ability to age, even without oak. ‘Because of its ability to hold acidity, you can get it ripe without worrying about it losing freshness,’ says Alberto.

It’s defined by apricot flavours. ‘But there’s a little sapidity to the finish of this wine which is just what we’re looking for,’ says Alberto. ‘We don’t want it to be all about primary aromas.’

Tenuta Regaleali in the mountains of the interior. The heartland of Tasca d’Almerita’s operation

Tenuta Whitaker, Grillo di Mozia 2021

Mozia is another extraordinary place: an incredibly low island off Sicily’s west coast, Alberto claims (almost certainly accurately) that these vines are the lowest vineyards in the world, just a couple of metres above sea level.

The sea around the island is so shallow that the grapes need to be transported to the mainland in small numbers of boxes at a time (see main picture), otherwise the boat runs aground.

Grillo is a cross between Moscato and Catarrato, and the vines are trained in the ‘Marsala bow’ – which involves intertwined bush vine branches trained on a wire, to protect them from the strong sea breezes. It’s a naturally rich wine, particularly from 2021 which Alberto says was ‘the warmest, driest vintage of my whole life.’

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars
Mozia: vineyards barely above the water, surrounded by a 50cm-deep sea

Tenuta Sallier de la Tour Madamarose 2021

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

This large estate inland from Palermo is at 450m of altitude and a mixture of sand and clay. ‘It’s the perfect place for Syrah,’ says Alberto. Tasca d’Almerita tried planting the grape at Regaleali, but it was too cool, and the soils too poor. It performed far better on this estate.

‘We think this is the best place for Syrah in Sicily,’ he continues, pointing out that the grape has a long tradition in Sicily, though it’s a different biotype to the examples grown in France and Australia.

This deep-coloured example from the hot 2021 vintage is ‘a step up in richness’ compared to a normal year, but Alberto says that it ‘pairs very well with food. That’s very much part of our culture in Sicily now. It’s great with barbecued meat.’

High, but warmer than the Regaleali estate, Sallier de la Tour is perfect for Syrah

Tenuta Tascante Ghiaia Nera 2019, Etna Rosso

Nerello Mascalese has found its spiritual home on Etna, which is just as well because it’s not an easy grape to grow. Tasca d’Almerita tried to grow it in Regaleali but ended up just using it for rosé. ‘It’s like trying to grow Pinot Noir in a place that isn’t suited to it,’ says Alberto. ‘But in Etna the volcanic soil brings a crazy tension to the wine.’

Pale in colour, John Prime commented that it ‘seemed to tread a fine line between Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo’ and Alberto backed this up.

‘It makes crisp, gastronomic wines,’ he explained. ‘They don’t work without food. There’s something nervous about it. You need an educated palate.’

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

This was (just) the most popular wine in the tasting, with our members suggesting it with lamb sweetbreads in miso caramel (Patrick Bostock), ‘red pepper cannelloni and lemon ricotta in our vegetarian tasting menu’ (James Payne) and ‘roast chicken or turkey’ (Jordan Sutton).

Etna’s grey volcanic rocks make for distinctive terracing

Tenuta Regaleali Rosso del Conte 2016, Contea di Sclafani DOC

available from Berkmann Wine Cellars

The ‘Conte’ was created by Alberto’s grandfather back in the 1960s. At that time, Chateauneuf du Pape was the most sought-after wine style, and after visiting the region for a month, he decided on blending two varieties together. It’s a mix of Nero d’Avola and Pericone.

‘Typically these two varieties were planted together because they ripen at the same time,’ said Alberto. ‘But they are totally different. Nero d’Avola is rich purple with a high acidity, Pericone is redder, with a rounder body.’

It’s easy to see how they might work well together, and they combine brilliantly here. From the excellent 2016 vintage, this wine was also popular with the Collective members.

Alberto refused to be drawn on whether he prefers the Etna wine or the Conte, but does say that in 2016 the ‘Rosso del Conte was amazing – better than the best wine we produced on Etna.’

Terraces tumble down the hillside on Mount Etna

Watch the video

Gosset cellar

How to win the Gosset Matchmakers competition!

We asked the experts for five killer facts to help you create a winning food-match

Entries are now open for this year’s Gosset Matchmakers – the competition where young somms team up with young chefs to create an inspirational food pairing with these top-class champagnes.

If you were thinking of entering, or encouraging one of your colleagues to enter (and you totally should because it’s a lot of fun with great prizes), we thought you might like a few expert tips to get you started.

So we asked cellarmaster, Odilon de Varine, and head of marketing, Thibaut de Mailloux, for the essential facts that prospective candidates needed to know about Gosset and its wines – and how this might affect how you go about matching them with food.

Odilon de Varine; Pic: Franck Kauff

1. Gosset is the oldest wine house in champagne

Gosset was founded in 1584 – so for the first 150 years of its existence champagne didn’t even exist! But that long winemaking heritage is still part of the house’s thinking today.

‘We always speak about making wines first, and then champagne,’ says Thibaut. ‘The bubbles are just there to enhance the wine.’

Throughout our conversation, the word ‘vinous’ comes up again and again. It’s a useful key-word to bear in mind when you start to drill down into what’s in the glass.

Vinosity and a bright acidity are hallmarks of the Gosset style

2. There is no malolactic fermentation in any of Gosset’s wines

Acidity is a key part of the character of any champagne. Many houses allow their wines to go through malolactic fermentation – when appley malic acid converts to softer lactic acid.  But not Gosset*.

‘The way we try to explain it is that our winemaking approach preserves all the natural freshness and aromas of the grape,’ says Thibaut. ‘Lactic acid is not part of the grapes when you harvest the fruit. So we block it for all the wines.’

Odilon also points out that, with climate change, there is probably the same amount of acidity in a non-malo wine now as there would have been in a malo wine 30 years ago!

3. The wines spend a long time on lees

Gosset’s wines spend much longer ageing in bottle than the stipulated minimum for the appellation. In fact, they spend six months on lees even before they are bottled! This extended contact with the dead yeast cells gives a creamy richness, rather than an overt ‘bready’ character, that wraps around the bright wire of the wine’s non-malo acidity.

‘It’s always about balance,’ says Odilon. ‘Balancing acidity, body and roundness.’

Extended time in bottle is crucial to Gosset’s complexity. Photo: Leif Carlsson

4. There’s a lot of subtlety in the wines

It’s important to distinguish between power and weight. ‘We believe our wines are powerful in terms of aroma, which doesn’t mean they are heavy,’ says Thibaut. ‘The acidity opens up the palate to be able to appreciate the extreme complexity.’

Odilon, meanwhile, focuses on the nature of the perlage.

‘For us the bubbles are just there to allow the wine to express itself,’ he says. ‘We have very fine, delicate bubbles. We want the wine to be there before the bubbles.

‘The palate-cleansing aspect of our champagne is very important,’ he goes on. ‘It prepares the palate for more flavours. That’s why we work a lot with salinity – and a small bitterness that helps to clean the palate.’

Again, the term ‘vinosity’ seems appropriate.

5. Explore the balance between red and white grapes

Gosset’s Grande Réserve brut is typically evenly split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (about 45% each) with 10% of Pinot Meunier. But it changes every year. ‘A recipe is the exact opposite of winemaking,’ says Odilon. ‘The grape varieties are tools [to create a consistent style].’

Nonetheless, Odilon and Thibaut point out that the more or less equal balance of red and white grapes can make for some interesting opportunities when it comes to matching, allowing you to pull out elements of freshness, aroma or florality from the Chardonnay, or richer more red-fruit elements from the Pinots.

Competitors to this year’s competition must come up with a food match for the Grande Réserve brut

A few highlights from last year’s winners

Last year’s winning dish from the team at Fischer’s, Baslow Hall in Derbyshire
Adam Eyre (chef) and Matthew Davison (somm) presenting their creation to the judges
And then later on finding out that they’ve won!

We hope you find this introduction to Gosset’s wines, history and style useful and that it inspires you to AMAZING food-matching suggestions. Don’t forget, you need to apply for your entry pack by June 23rd, and upload your entry (photo or video) by June 30th. So don’t delay! Apply today and get entering! More info here. And click here if you want to read the full story of last year’s final.

* Gosset’s Extra Brut (in the standard Champagne bottle) is the exception to the ‘no-malo’ style.

New Zealand

Life beyond Marlborough Sauvignon

Or ‘Why New Zealand wine doesn’t just have to be about gooseberries and passion fruit…’

Before this year’s big New Zealand tasting opened in London, there was a press briefing. It focused, understandably, on Sauvignon Blanc, which is 70% of the country’s total production. However, something else that was mentioned caught my attention rather more.

‘It’s not all about Sauvignon,’ said Wines of New Zealand’s Chris Stroud. ‘There are 28 different grape varieties in this room.’

Obviously, we know about Riesling, Pinot Gris and the odd Albarino, but still. Twenty eight? That seemed like a lot of wines that I wasn’t familiar with.

So in the couple of hours that I had, I decided to whizz through as many as I could, nobly ignoring expensive Pinots in the cause of education. You’re welcome.

My favourites are below.

De la Terre Viognier 2014, Hawke’s Bay

Tony Prichard used to be winemaker at Church Road, but set up his own wine estate (also in Hawkes Bay) in 2009. Volumes are small and the varieties unusual. In fact, it almost seems as though they’re single-handedly responsible for half of the ‘atypical’ varieties in the country, with a Montepulciano, Arneis, Barbera and very good Tannat alongside this Viognier.

All succulent apricots and white pepper, it’s exuberant, but not tarty and should be a crowd-pleaser as well as a useful food-matching option. It’s aged remarkably well, and on this evidence, there deserve to be more than 65 hectares of Viognier in NZ.

£11 ex VAT, Synergy Wines (small importer based in Yorkshire, but will deliver countrywide)


Rockburn Pinot Gris 2020, Central Otago

Pinot Gris isn’t really a minority grape any more in New Zealand. Plantings have grown a lot over the last 20 years, to the extent that it’s now the fourth most-planted variety. Its 2,700 hectares are as much as Merlot, Syrah, Riesling, Cabernet and Gewurz combined. But that still surprised me – and I liked this wine, so I’m including it here anyway.

It’s very much in a Gris rather than Grigio style – 11%, with 20g/l of sugar, but that isn’t noticeable, beyond a comforting plushness on the palate. A useful option on a tasting menu.

£17.28 ex-VAT, Hallgarten & Novum wines


Blank Canvas Gruner Veltliner 2015, Marlborough

Matt Thomson was winemaker at St Clair for many years, and acquired a deserved reputation for making elegant, high quality wines that were genuinely site-expressive. He left SC to set up Blank Canvas with his partner, Sophie Parker-Thomson MW. They look for wines that are ‘distinctive and cerebral’ and this is certainly that.

It’s bright, peppery and lemon-grass spicy; poised and supple, yet intriguing. When young it might have been rather austere. With the seven (!) years of age on it, it’s a super-interesting addition to any wine list.

£13.50 ex-VAT, Liberty Wines


Esk Valley Artisanal Collection Chenin Blank 2020, Hawkes Bay

Esk Valley was bought by Sir George ‘Villa Maria’ Fistonich in the 1980s, and it’s been a reliable source of good Hawke’s Bay wines pretty much ever since. Winemaker Gordon Russell has been there (as far as I can tell) for ever, and clearly knows every wrinkle of the land where he sources fruit.

There are just 19 hectares of Chenin in New Zealand, so this is a rare beast indeed – but well worth seeking out, particularly for the price. It’s got quintessentially exuberant pineapple and stone fruit richness, enhanced by creamy lees-work and stretched throughout with the grape’s characteristic balancing wire of acidity.

£10.52 ex-VAT, Hatch Mansfield

Taittinger UK Somm of Year

Finalists announced for Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year

After being postponed for two years because of Covid, the first round of judging has taken place for the 2022 Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year competition.

After a first round that saw competitors from 18 countries and a record 12 female sommeliers the quarter finalists are:

Rudina Arapi, London Hilton on Park Lane

Vincenzo Arnese, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

Stefano Barbarino, Coravin Wine & Bubbles Bar

Biagio Castaldo, Maison Estelle

Emma Denney, The Clove Club

Gareth Ferreira, Core by Claire Smyth

Christopher Parker, Inn The Park

Phillip Reinstaller, Trivet

Agnieszka Swiecka, The Five Fields

Lorenzo Tonelli, Maison Estelle

Dion Wai, 67 Pall Mall

Elvis Ziakos, TILA

Many congratulations to all of you from us here at the Sommelier Collective! And we hope you enjoy the planned visit to Reims with Taittinger.

The quarter finalists will be showing off their skills on June 27th at Berry Brothers’ St James office, with the final round of judging taking place on July 18th at the Savoy.

All somms are welcome to attend the final to support their friends/co-workers and pick up tips on how to nail service and blind tasting.

Good luck, in advance, to all the finalists with their training – and see you next month!

bordeaux

Bordeaux 2021 – the word from the en primeurs

As the châteaux open their doors to the trade, we caught up with some producers for their take on the vintage – and asked Collective members for their impressions

France’s 2021 vintage has been one of the most talked about of recent times. But for all the wrong reasons. And the famously brutal frost last April didn’t just trash volumes in the Loire, Burgundy and Champagne; it took a fair bite out of Bordeaux as well.

Alain Reynaud is president of the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux group of wineries, and his members make wines in the €5-40 area which covers around 90% of the appellation. He reckons that, on average, around 25% of the crop was lost due to the cold snap. This was followed up by a damp summer which created problems with mildew, which meant that some châteaux lost a further 25% of their total – or worse. Those practising organic or biodynamic viticulture were the most badly affected.

At Château Haut-Chaigneau, which picked just the wrong time to start its conversion to biodynamic viticulture, Andrea Giraud reckons they lost 60% of their crop. ‘Fortunately, we have a lot of stock,’ she said. ‘But we need 2022 not to be the same as 2021.’

It’s a cliché to say that a terrible start to the year was rescued by a good autumn, but that does seem to have been the case. A tasting of the Grand Cercle wines in London before Easter revealed good colour and decent fruit – though less depth and ageability than the top vintages. According to Reynaud, the polyphenol rating is just 70-80, compared to 100-120 in 2021.

Bordeaux’s chateaux suffered with volume, but quality was better than expected – and more ‘classic’

Millésime de restaurant

It is, to use another cliché, a restaurant vintage – accessible straight away. And since it is unlikely to interest collectors as much as a top year, prices should be the same as 2020, or even go down a little, making it affordable. It will be tough for the producers, charging less for a smaller year, but if they want to sell the wines, it’s what most of them will do – at least away from the very top châteaux.

All of which means that, for Collective members, this could be a useful vintage for wines around the £8-20 ex VAT level. And since they’re not too heavy, they could even be Bourgogne Rouge alternatives, since we know there’s hardly any of that about – and what there is is expensive.

‘From time to time we need years like this,’ said Reynaud. ‘But we can’t have them every year. If we made [wines like this] every year we would be dead very quickly.’

Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux’s Alain Reynaud

Expressive of vintage

What was very obvious from tasting wines particularly at this more affordable end of the scale is that the winemaking has been significantly more sensitive than might have been the case 20 years ago when it seemed like everyone was desperately trying to impress Robert Parker.

Oak use was mostly moderate, allowing refreshing, bright fruit to speak. The word ‘classic’ has been used, which can be a euphemism for ‘unripe’ but actually seems accurate here. The Grand Cercle wines I tried were refreshing.

Armit’s buyer, Nicolas Clerc MS, describes it as a ‘classic’ vintage – stylistically more like the kind of wines seen at the end of the 1980s or early 1990s.

‘There is a potential for ageing, but you need to know the people behind the wine,’ he said. ‘It’s a sensitive year and proper ripeness hasn’t always been easy to find.’

‘We didn’t try to make something that the vintage couldn’t give,’ says Jean-Francois Quenin, owner of Château Tour de Pressac. Which, if nothing else, makes these wines authentic expressions of their vintage.

Though of course, whether France’s winemakers will want to be reminded of 2021 is another matter entirely…

Collective members sample the vintages
There were a wide spread of vintages on display
Some tasters relax after a stimulating session

We took a string of Grand Cercle Bordeaux wines – en primeur and older vintages – to Edinburgh to get some feedback from Sommelier Collective members (above). Here are their favourites.

James Payne, Douneside House

Château Mazeyres 2021/2018, Pomerol

Both of these wines stood out for me. The 2021 was so different in its airy biodynamic texture, but still showcased a Merlot-dominant richness of plummy fruit and rounded mouthfeel.

The 2018 had an amazingly velvety texture which, for me, is hallmark Pomerol.

Isobel Salomon, Market Street Hotel

Château Grand Corbin-Despagne 2016, St Emilion Grand Cru Classé

This was all cherry vanilla ad barky chocolate notes, with a lovely eucalyptus note coming through as well. I’d have this with chicken or a hard cheese.

Maybe chicken drumsticks with lentils.

Graeme Sutherland, Good Bros wine bar

Château Soutard-Cadet 2019, St Emilion Grand Cru

Dense and dark with lots of pencil shavings and cloves with silky dark fruit, it was the balance of sweet and savoury that won me over.

Food wise, there’s no need to complicate it, this would be great with Sunday roast, or the Moorish dish, pinchos morunos – pork skewers marinated in paprika, cloves and garlic.

Molly  Buesnel, WineKraft

Château de Villegorge 2015, Haut-Médoc

I’m not typically a Bordeaux drinker, since I’m a vegetarian and don’t go for larger reds, but this was both silky and lighter in style; quite accessible with bright fruit and controlled oak.

I’d serve it with puy lentils and mushroom casserole.

Davide Traverso, Divino

Château Tour Baladoz 2019, St Emilion Grand Cru

This wine is still quite young, but it’s already starting to acquire some really nice complexity. There’s plenty of fruit, with a complex liquorice and aniseed finish.

It would be great with a fillet steak with a wine reduction sauce and steamed chicory.

Somms face big decisions as Burgundy shortage bites

How tough was 2021 for northern France? Well, Burgundian grower, Raymond Dureuil, told Jancis Robinson last year that he’d never seen such a bad vintage – and he’s lived in the region for over 80 years.

The April frost last year that decimated young vines – particularly Chardonnay – has been well documented. But to have it followed up by summer hail and then torrential rain around vintage simply added insult to injury.

Worse, it came on the back of a string of depleted vintages for Burgundy. Only one year in the last seven – 2018 – has been above average, with three well below, and 2021 something of a catastrophe in terms of volume.

Frost has been a growing problem for the vineyards of northern France. Pic: Francois Millo, courtesy of the CIVP

It’s a similar story in the Loire, where four of the last seven vintages have been 10-20% below the norm.

Put all this together, and it means that across northern France, wineries are in damage limitation mode. Allocations, particularly for white wines, are through the floor as growers attempt to eke out their depleted cellars.

And all the while they are praying there is no more frost. Chablis, in particular, seems to have been hit again this year – although not to the extent of 2021. Growers, importers and sommeliers all over the world are praying for a mild end to April. No-one can afford another short year.

Chablis is reckoned to have been hit with spring frost again this year

Major shortages

The trade all knew the situation would be bad – and now we’re seeing how much. One Collective member told me that his supplier usually has 70,000 bottles of Burgundy to sell. This year they’ve got 17,000.

‘We have been seeing reduced allocations on the popular appellations such as Meursault and Puligny over the last two years, and it is likely to get worse when I come to discuss the availabilities for 2021 [vintage],’ warns Beverly Tabbron MW, Buyer and Quality Controller at Hallgarten Novum.

‘I’m allocating Chablis,’ says Gearoid Devaney MS of Flint Wines and former UK Sommelier of the Year. ‘It feels deeply wrong…’

At Douneside House in Deeside, James Payne says he is ‘currently basking in the delicious drinkability of 2020 white Burgundy and a few 2019s’. But the future looks uncertain for restaurants who don’t have big stocks or preferential status with suppliers.

‘I prepared myself as soon as I knew,’ says Andre Luis Martins of the Cavalry and Guards Club in London. ‘I’ve got stock reserved for my house white, which is a Macon, because I’ve been a customer for years.’

Martins says he has stocks that will last him until the middle of next year.

Well prepared: the Cavalry & Guards’ Club’s Andre Luis Martins

Replacements

With big-name appellations so short of stock, merchants have been searching for new producers from different regions to make up the shortage.

Hallgarten’s Tabbron says she has looked to Macon Villages as an alternative to Chablis; Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Pouilly-Fumé instead of Sancerre; and Santenay, Hautes Cotes, Beaune and Monthelie to replace Puligny and Meursault. Although she accepts that ‘consumers are going to take some persuasion to move to these different appellations, away from the familiar ones.’

At Mentzendorff, Claire Scott-Gall says that AC Bourgogne and Chablis have become prohibitively expensive because many producers buy these grapes in, and the extreme shortage has sent prices soaring. Macon-Villages and Viré-Clessé are being shipped as alternatives.

But across the board, pricing is tough, with somms telling the Collective that they are seeing increases of over 20%.

‘It doesn’t make sense,’ says Martins. ‘I’m looking at Australia, the US, New Zealand – seeing where I can get Burgundy style Chardonnay that isn’t Burgundy. Prices have gone through the roof.’

The alternatives, as one Collective member put it, are a Chassagne for £100 or an alternative from elsewhere for £60.

Regions like Margaret River are alternatives
Pix (from left to right) Vasse Felix, Cullen
and Voyager Estate winemaker, Steve James

Of course, some venues can’t substitute A-list appellations with alternatives, no matter how good they are.

‘We do Puligny by the glass,’ says Igor Sotric of China Tang at the Dorchester. ‘Normally it would be £18 a bottle trade price, but now I’m paying £33 – and I had to buy tonnes of it to get the price down even to that. It’s pretty simple village wines – nothing spectacular or expressive.’

In other words, restaurants – and their customers – are going to be paying significantly more for the same or less, which could lead to a wholesale rethinking of the way a list is put together.

But less formal venues may well find it easier to switch from Burgundy…
… than those with very large, traditional wine lists

Tabbron describes entry level Bourgogne as ‘almost getting to the point that it is no longer competitive, particularly when compared to good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming from other countries’.

There are two big questions. Firstly, in the immediate short term, how do restaurants manage the shortages and price rises they are facing – and how do they ‘sell’ any changes to customers.

Then, in the medium term, whether the 2022 vintage will allow wineries in northern France to re-stock depleted cellars and, if so, whether prices will come down.

Either way, at a time of extreme social and economic turbulence, the Collective’s members look like they are going to have to face up to even more big changes over the next 12 months.  

Discovery Tasting: Alternatives To Burgundy
Monday 9 May, 4-5pm
REGISTRATION NOW OPEN

Francesco Gabriele

You should see my desk – it’s inundated with bottles!

Looking after the wines for the Iconic Luxury hotels group is a plum job. We talked to Chewton Glen’s Francesco Gabriele about his journey in hospitality, and why sometimes the best way to move forward is by taking a step back.

If you’re overseeing thousands of wines across five glamorous hotels, it probably helps if you’ve grown up surrounded by the stuff. Francesco Gabriele, Wine Director at Chewton Glen was raised on Sardinia, where his mum’s family ran a winery. In fact, one of his earliest memories is stepping into the damp, winey, earthy smell of the cellar with his grandfather.

Francesco in the vineyards of his Sardinian homeland

He was taking ‘a few drops’ of wine in his water from the age of six, and drinking small amounts with food on a daily basis from 14 onwards. And yet, it was nearly all very different…

Your family wanted a different career for you didn’t they?

My dad had an accountancy business in Rome. He thought I’d be a lawyer or solicitor or something in finance. So I studied economics at the university there. But then I went back to Sardinia and got a job as a bartender in a very ordinary kind of bar and that was where my hospitality passion started.

At a ‘food and cocktails’ competition
Making headlines as a young bartender in Sardinia

So not in wine at all, to begin with?

I did maybe five or six years cocktails and mixing, but there was always some crossover. Even if you are in the bar, if there’s a shortage in the restaurant you could find yourself working on the floor. It was a smooth transition.

Tell us about your early career

I spent most of my time in Sardinia on the Costa Smerelda with the Aga Khan’s group – probably the most luxurious group in Europe at the time. From there I went to Milan and did seasons back and forth between Milan and Sardinia until I moved to the UK 10 years ago.

Why the move?

I love to explore new places – I was an economic gipsy – not settled anywhere! But in Italy the season was starting to get very short. So I came to the UK looking for a bit more stability.

With the team at Tylney Hall in Basingstoke in 2012 – his first venue in the UK

Where did you start?

At Tylney Hall near Basingstoke in 2012. It was a four-star hotel and I was head sommelier, though there wasn’t a team – so I was just head sommelier of myself. Then suddenly Chewton Glen was looking for a sommelier.

You didn’t mind going down a level?

The head sommelier [at Chewton Glen] said ‘what’s wrong with you? You’re a head sommelier and your CV is brilliant, why do you want to come here as a sommelier?’ But for me Chewton Glen has always been the best of the best in terms of sommeliering and wine. Names like Gerard Basset and Alan Holmes have all worked there. For me it was like a dream.

I didn’t mind taking a step back. My wine knowledge massively increased when I went there.

We believe you’ve heavily reduced the wine list…?

We used to have 1,966 – I wanted the same number of wines as the date Chewton Glen started. But with lockdown the owners started to take a look at what was in the cellars and said we can’t keep this money locked away there. So we have 1300 wines on the list at the moment.

The elegant setting of Chewton Glen has massively helped Francesco increase his wine education

Do you still work on the floor?

I’d love to be on the floor engaging with people, but my role is a little bit more complicated because I look after the wines for the whole Iconic Luxury Hotels group which includes Cliveden, Lygon Arms in the Cotswolds, 11 Cadogan Gardens and the Mayfair Townhouse.

That’s quite a responsibility!

Even though I started as just a sommelier I was so determined. I said to my head sommelier ‘give me the chance and I will prove that I can do it.’ And I ended up as wine director for the whole group. It’s a huge number of wines. You should see my desk. It’s inundated with bottles.

You seem to have had a very considered approach…

I never ever rush anything in my career. I consider myself a very slow person. I do one step at a time. But every time I move forward I like to feel it’s a solid step. I need to be very comfortable and confident with what I’m doing.

Two regions to look out for: Greece (Assyrtiko pic via Jameson Fink, flickr)…
…and English sparkling wine

Wine-wise, what trends are you looking out for?

I don’t mind exploring new fashions, new wines, new styles. But it has to be really convincing. For me, I think the classic styles are still winners. There’s been a lot of talk about organic wines, biological wines, biodynamic wines. But for me there’s not enough to create a proper business. The one I can see working is English Sparkling wines. The 20 we have on are really good.

(To see the results of the Sommelier Collective’s English Sparkling Wine Awards tasting click here.)

Anywhere else?

I love Eastern Europe too. And Greece and Macedonia are really underestimated. As for Hungary – people don’t understand how good those wines are.

Any advice for young somms just starting out?

My advice would be ‘don’t be too ‘sommelier-y’ – too technical. We tend to be a little bit fancy – looking at what we want to explore rather than what is people’s tastes. Look after your guests in a genuine way. Be in hospitality!

With Bierzo legend Raul Perez…
…and on a Champagne trip with some of Iconic group’s somms. Trips are a big plus of the job.

Where do you stand on formal wine qualifications?

They are really important. I love the WSET, though for me it’s a bit too commercial. The Court of Master Sommeliers is the best. Unfortunately I only did the first two. I’m generally too busy to cope with any more.

What do you do in your time off?

I like to balance my family life. My daughter is four so we go to places where we can have fun like ski-ing or swimming or horse riding, but also close to a wine region where I can explore wine topics.

What do you think about working in the countryside rather than a big city?

I absolutely love it. In terms of work/life balance it’s the best. I have to go to London a few times a month. But big cities are more for young sommeliers to go to tastings and build up their network. But for someone like myself who’s quite settled the countryside is the best of the best!

The famous Treehouses at Chewton Glen – perfect for uber-VIPs to unwind
Diana Rollan

‘Believe in your dreams and never give up…’

It’s a big move from a village in Spain to head of drinks at restaurant group D&D. Collective member Diana Rollan tells us how she did it

When we catch up with Diana, she is in the process of shifting over to a new procurement system. ‘A massive piece of work’ that has been occupying her for three months. Plenty of glamour still in the drinks world, it seems. Moreover, this, it turns out, is the second time she’s had to do it in her professional career.

This, perhaps, is the downside of being the head of beverage for D&D – one of the UK’s best restaurant groups. The upside is obvious: a position of real influence that allows her to shape the drinking habits of diners across the UK, across more than 30 venues.

How did you get into wine and hospitality?

By pure chance. I wasn’t interested in wine, and certainly didn’t think I could develop a career in it. At the age of 19 I moved from a small town in the middle of nowhere to study political science at university in Madrid. I got a job at a small restaurant with a really good wine list and the sommelier there was eager to share his knowledge with me. From there I joined another restaurant where I got the chance to do a sommelier course at a hospitality school.

At D&D Diana is responsible for a group that includes 100 Wardour St…
…and the Butler’s Wharf Chop House. Pic Justine Trickett

What was that like?

It was quite intensive – full time from nine to five for four months. You had to have experience in a restaurant beforehand – and a practical paper where you had to decant, serve guests, talk about a wine and spot mistakes on a wine list. This was when I realised that I wanted to make a career out of wine and lost my interest in studying politics!

What attracted you to it?

I liked the fact that wine was in constant motion. There was always something new. And I loved that you can share wine and knowledge with people and also be learning yourself.

From there were you back into hospitality?

No. I started work in one of the biggest wine shops in Europe, Lavinia in Madrid. They had tonnes of wines from Spain but also all around the world.  I was there six years, but I wanted to keep developing my career and gain an international qualification, which I didn’t have access to in Spain. I only moved back into hospitality when I decided to come to London.

When was that?

In 2007. I started as an Assistant Sommelier at La Trompette. I hardly spoke any English, and a Spanish friend, Bruno Murciano MS, lined me up with the sommelier there, Mathieu Longueure MS because he spoke Spanish. After eight months I joined Hakkasan.

Picking up Group Wine Lists of the year for Hakkasan in Imbibe’s Wine List of the Year competition

What was Hakkasan like?

It was so different. It was really busy, and it pushed boundaries. It really helped me to see wine in a different way. And when I first saw the wine list I fell in love with the approach that [head of wine] Christine Parkinson was taking. I thought ‘wow she’s a visionary – I want to be part of this and learn from it’. My wine knowledge increased a lot, but it also helped me to see wines in a non-classical way.

Most of my current base of knowledge is down to Hakkasan…

Did you get any formal qualifications while there?

I went through the Introductory Court of Master Sommelier and also all the WSET qualifications up to WSET Diploma. I’m also a WSET Certified Educator for Wine, Sake and Spirits up to Level 3. The Diploma was the hardest. It was very academic and in English. I had to invest a lots of hours of study after working late shifts at Hakkasan so I struggled for a period of time.

Could you move upwards as your knowledge increased?

In fact, I wasn’t fully confident of my skills. I remember the first time Christine [Parkinson] asked me whether I’d like to come to head office and help her for a few hours a few days a week I said no. She said ‘all of your colleagues are waiting for this opportunity – and you’re turning this down?’ I didn’t think I was ready. I lacked a lot of confidence.

With the team opening Hakkasan at Abu Dhabi

Did you get a second chance?

She waited a few months and tried again. There was an opening at Abu Dhabi, and I went there for a couple of months to help set up the restaurant. From there I joined Christine in head office, eventually becoming a wine buyer. But it’s a good example of the difference between the male and female attitude. Men would never think twice about their capabilities, but as a woman we tend to over-think. Are we good enough? Am I the right person? Over the years I’ve learned that you need to be confident, believe in yourself and go for it!

What’s your role at D&D?

I’m Head of Beverage. I oversee beer, wines, soft drinks, spirits water… you name it. With 34 venues and so much variety it’s hard to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. But we have to keep innovating and bringing in ranges that attract the customers.

The famous brunch at Quaglinos – also a venue where Diana chooses the core wine range

Do you do the wine list for each one?

No. We have a great team of sommeliers and they maintain their own wine lists. But I do work on the concept of new sites, create the first lists and then work with the head sommelier to ensure that the range is fitting for that venue. I’m also in charge of the core range: 25 wines, 20 sparkling wines, 70 spirits and 15 beers, plus soft drinks. I need to develop those relationships and agree the contracts. We just did a collaboration with [London winery] London Cru for our own Bacchus. It’s been aged in Burgundy barrels to give it a bit more texture – more gastronomic.

Any advice for young somms – particularly young women?

Believe in your dreams and do what you want. Whatever position you’re in, keep going and never give up. I learned over the years that hard work and persistence pay off. It isn’t easy. As a woman, the lack of flexibility in our industry and having to go against some cultural stereotypes don’t help us. But my other half has been incredibly supportive of me and my dream and I’m incredibly thankful.

At the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your dreams your passion will pay off…

Family – and her partner’s support – have been crucial to Diana’s success
Cotes du Rhone

Discovery Tasting: Cotes du Rhone

It has a 2000 year heritage and is the second largest producer of appellation wine in France. Rhône expert Matt Walls talks us through the terroirs, trends and drive for sustainability in this benchmark region.

Numbers in the Rhône valley are daunting. With 67,000 hectares under vine, it’s second only to Bordeaux in terms of growing AOC wine. Matt Walls is one of the world’s acknowledged experts on the region, and, with over 5,000 producers of Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages, even he admits that you’ll never get to know them all. ‘There’s new producers popping up all the time,’ he says. ‘It’s what makes it so exciting.’

The sheer number of growers is one of the things that makes the Côtes du Rhône such a region to watch

Not only that, but there are also 23 grape varieties to get your head around. In a region that’s 87% focused on red wines, Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre are the big names, but Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise are increasingly influential too.

It helps to think of the region’s wines in the form of a pyramid. The bedrock is Côtes du Rhône, which is about half of all production, above this are Côtes du Rhône Villages, Côtes du Rhône Villages with a named village (22 of them), and then at the top 17 Crus (such as Gigondas or Côte Rotie).

The Rhône ‘quality pyramid’
The valley from north to south

The further up the pyramid you go, the tighter the regulations, with lower yields and more restrictions on permitted grape varieties. Côtes du Rhône Villages wines, for instance, can’t include the Cabernet/Grenache cross, Marselan.

One of the features of the Rhône is that it regularly delivers impressive value for money – something which we found in this tasting. But Matt points out that the ‘Côtes du Rhône Village wines with named villages’ area is a particularly good place for dynamic sommeliers to go hunting.

They’re places that have demonstrated something special in their terroir, and are striving to get to the hallowed cru status. It’s a fluid system. Cairanne was promoted to Cru status in 2016, Nyons to ‘named village’ status in 2020.

Vinsobres (above) was promoted from Côtes du Rhône Village named village to cru status in 2006

‘These are the kind of wines that somms should know about because you can demonstrate your knowledge,’ says Matt.

‘Your customers won’t probably have heard of these villages but they’re a great way to give them extra quality.’

Like everywhere else in the wine world, the Rhône is having to face up to climate change. Temperatures are 1.4 degrees higher on average now than they were in the late 1970s. Rainfall hasn’t dropped, but now tends to come mostly in the winter, leaving hot, dry summers. Vintages are coming earlier.

To combat this, growers are increasingly adding dashes of white wine to their blends, which is permitted under the legislation. Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Clairette are all popular.

The Rhône’s grape varieties are already highly resistant to drought, but varieties such as Carignan, which retains its acidity, and Counoise which tends to give ripe grapes at lower alcohol levels, are growing in importance.

Grenache – the most-planted red
Carignan – retains its acidity
Counoise – one to watch for the future

With lots of sun and the ‘natural disinfectant’ of the Mistral wind blowing down the valley from the north (sometimes so strongly that it can snap vines) the Rhône is a good place for hands-off grape growing.

Already 11% of Côtes du Rhône vineyards are certified organic. For Côtes du Rhône Villages with named villages this rises to 16%. And across the region, the amount of organic vineyards is increasing. The Haut Valeur Environnementale scheme (HVE) launched in 2011 encourages growers to make decisions that are good for the environment without necessarily having to commit to full-on organic conversion.

Growers limit chemical products, promote biodiversity and practise good water management. It’s all helping to preserve this essential region for future generations.

The Wines

Les Cassagnes de la Nerthe, AOC Côtes du Rhône, 2020 White

Our first white came from Chateau de la Nerthe, one of the oldest wine producers in region, which began in 1560, and is based in Chateauneuf du Pape.

Grenache Blanc is the most widely planted white variety, so no surprise it makes up 40% of the blend here, along with equal parts Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.

Grenache Blanc is a relatively plain variety but this makes it a good canvas on which to layer other, more expressive grapes.  

Acidity is not a big factor in Rhône whites – and it wasn’t in this rich, opulent wine. But Matt believes tasters need to reset their approach.

‘When you sink your teeth into a pear you don’t expect it to have acidity – you just appreciate its delicious flavours,’ he said. ‘Things don’t always need acidity to be refreshing. There’s room for other white wine styles out there. White Hermitage is low acidity but can age for 20 – 30 years and it’s brilliant with food.’

RRP £23.99, Bancroft

Domaine Galuval, AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages, Le Coq Volant, 2020

From round Cairanne and Rasteau, our second wine made an interesting contrast to the first. Equal parts Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette, with no malolactic, it was paler and crisper.

There was less of a sense of richness, and a little more freshness. At just 12.5% abv (low for the Rhône) it suggested it may have been picked earlier.

Rhône whites can be amazing value. While the first was very definitely a food wine, this well-priced example could work as a by the glass pour, though Steve Kirkham suggested it would also be a good match with sushi.

In a straw poll our tasters were evenly split as to which they preferred.

RRP £8.87, Awin, Barratt, Siegel

Domaine Eyguestre, AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret rosé, 2021

RRP £7.47, mrfrenchwine

Our only rosé and our first ‘named village’ wine, this came from Séguret in the Dentelles de Montmirail, round Gigondas. A mountain terroir, it’s a 50/50 Grenache/Cinsault blend from north-facing slopes at 250m altitude.

‘It’s nice to see Cinsault,’ said Matt. ‘It’s a lovely grape and people are just starting to get turned on to its charms. It retains its acidity and does well in dry, drought conditions, so we’re going to see more of that.’

The muscular food-rosés of Tavel are the best known pinks in the region, but many producers of Côtes du Rhône rosé are moving towards paler and drier styles. Somewhat more Provence-like, though with the advantage of being generally well priced.

Domaine St Patrice, AOC Côtes du Rhône, 2017

RRP £12.59, Charles Mitchell

Bordering Chateauneuf du Pape, this was a famous property in the 1800s but fell into disrepair and has since been revived, with its first vintage in 2015.  2016 was the star vintage for the region, though 2017 was also pretty good – structured and tannic.

A Grenache, Mourvedre Syrah, it’s quite old for a Côtes du Rhône, with most wines drunk within a couple of years of vintage, though the majority of wines happily last for several years and well-made ones from good vintages can go for decades.

‘These wines often last a lot longer than people think,’ said Matt, and our Collective members had good things to say about the commercial usefulness of wines at this price and in this style.

Domaine de la Mordorée, AOC Côtes du Rhône, 2021

This estate grows across a number of different terroirs. Certified biodynamic, this Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan blend tasted very Grenache-y – red plums and strawberries with a little floral, violet edge. Our tasters liked its fluidity, acidity and energy.

‘In Tavel you can only make rosé,’ explained Matt. ‘Reds or whites need to be bottled as Côtes du Rhône. But the sandy terroir is amazing – and you’re seeing a lot of experimentation there and in Lirac.’

Gonzalo Rodriguez found it ‘playful and perfumed but robust enough for food matching’. Sara Bachiorri described it as ‘elegant, beautiful, and fragrant. Very pretty’.

RRP £16.22, Lea & Sandeman

Domaine de la Montine, AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages, Caprices Village, 2020

Based in the northern reaches of the Southern Rhône, this wine is mostly Grenache (70%) on galets roulés (pudding stones) and tasted markedly different to the previous (sand-grown) wine: darker, richer and more structured.

Despite being only 30% Syrah, its brambly character meant it tasted a lot more Syrah-y, and we wondered whether there might be some whole-bunch in the ferment.

‘It’s something we’re seeing more and more,’ said Matt. ‘It helps to counter the hot vintages that we’re seeing. It adds freshness and a bit of herbal detail and reduces the alcohol level.

‘Syrah structure is quite particular,’ he continued. ‘You often feel tannin on the middle of your tongue rather than the lips, which is where you’d see Grenache tannins’. A useful tip for blind tastings!

RRP £10.49, Wine Society

Domaine de l’Amandine, AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret, 2020

RRP £12.70, Ellis of Richmond

From the mountain terroir of Séguret, this village goes right up into the mountains with lots of different expositions. Soils are mostly clay limestone, sometimes with a bit of sand.

The wine is made by a South African, Alex Suter, who was working in France on a year out and fell in love with the daughter of the estate owner.

There’s an unusually high proportion of Syrah in this wine (60%) – the variety responds well to the higher, cooler vineyards in this appellation.

Michael Stewart said the fruit ‘pops out – blackcurrant, black pepper and herbs.’

Domaine des Pasquiers, AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu, 2020

RRP £14.99, Hayward Bros

The ‘named village’ of Plan de Dieu is a very dependable appellation, with this estate one of the best producers.

It’s a high quality wine with lots of damson and plum compote flavours backed up by a herbal note. Generous and full-bodied it nonetheless has freshness and balance. Aemelia Nehab said it would be good with lamb and mint.

Certainly, it’s the kind of wine to back up Matt’s earlier assertion that the ‘named village’ part of the pyramid is the sweet spot in terms of quality and value.

Wisdom has it that Laudun could be the next to be promoted to Cru level, but Plan de Dieu, Séguret, Massif d’Ucheaux, Signargues and Sablet all have excellent – and very different wine styles too.

‘There are named villages that give wines with zing and electricity and ones that are bigger and more powerful,’ said Matt. ‘It all depends what you like.’


WINES OF THE RHONE by Matt Walls

If you’d like chapter and verse on the Rhône and its producers, check out Matt’s seminal Wines of the Rhône book, which was recently short-listed for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book awards.

Download the slide presentation

Watch the video

Romain - UK Somm of Yr

How To Win In Competitions

With the heats for the UK Sommelier of the Year competition approaching, we asked reigning champion, Romain Bourger from the Vineyard at Stockcross for his six top tips on how to succeed.


Get the basics right

If it’s your first time you just need to cover all the bases – studying the different countries. The classic ones, obviously, but don’t omit the more unusual ones. They’re putting more stuff in from places like Eastern Europe and Uruguay now.

Romain at work at The Vineyard

Prepare service, and work on your timings

We all practice service in the restaurant every day. But it’s important to be timed doing it and do training as well, so when you have a practical task you can stick to the schedule. When you’re doing a decanting, for instance, it’s important to have like a check list of everything that you need and make a plan for your station. You need to make it as flawless and easy for yourself as possible, so it all comes naturally.

Breathe – and get in your bubble

Calmness comes a bit with experience. The first time you are on stage it’s always a bit stressful and you can lose focus more easily. You can practice it by doing your training in front of a small audience. But having four or five people in front of you is different to having 200 people from the trade. Some people are more prone to stress than others, but before you go on stage take a couple of minutes to yourself to breathe, concentrate and get in your bubble.  At the upper level [like the Sommelier du Monde] some sommeliers treat it like a sport and would train like an athlete, training their mind as well as their body. Breathing exercises can help.

Performing in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking the first time

Be natural

When you’re on stage you should treat it as though you’re in your restaurant, serving your guests. Breathe, relax and be natural. Think it’s like you’re at home and you’re serving guests like you would at home. It’s easier said than done, but the judges basically want to know ‘would I want to be served by this person’ and if it’s very cold and robotic that might go against you.

Be creative where you can

When I won, the blind-tasting element was a scenario was two guests who had brought their own wine, and I had to analyse the wine, describe it, talk about temperature of service, decanting, whether to drink it now – then create a menu around those wines for the guest. So yes, there’s blind tasting but there are whole other elements around it. Some questions in the exam are closed questions, where there’s only one way to answer. But in these open scenarios it’s important to be imaginative. That’s where your personality can shine through.

Experience helps – and all experience is good

When I won I’d done a few competitions in the past and had feedback. That helps because you can focus on your weaknesses. But it’s not all about the winning. It’s a journey. You get good feedback, which means you can work on your weaknesses. It’s also great for networking. I’ve made some great friends through exams and competitions; different generations all going up the ladder together.

Hard work and practice were the key to Romain’s success in 2019

Discover more

If you’d like to take part in one of the many sommelier competitions visit our COMPETITIONS page for more details.

Read about Collective member Mattia Mazzi’s experience of competing in the last Copa de Jerez; and read Romain’s excellent article about the wines of the Santa Rita Valley in California

It Was Like The Champions League…

After taking part in this year’s Copa de Jerez, Collective member Mattia Mazzi is already dreaming of next year’s competition. This year’s Copa de Jerez [held on November 9th and 10th in Jerez] was incredible. Really unique. For me and my chef Vincenzo it was something else – and not what we expected. We were… Continue reading →

Santa Rita, Sideways and Sea Breezes

Romain Bourger takes us through Santa Rita Hills – one of the best cool-climate areas in the world. Located in the southern part of California, 148 miles north of Los Angeles it stretches for about 10 miles inland between the towns of Lompoc to the west and Buellton to the east.… Continue reading →

Italian white region

Discovery Tasting: Native Italian Whites

Italian whites are among the most food-friendly wines. And this dip into the portfolio of a family-run importer showed exactly why.

Carson & Carnevale is both a relatively new name on the wine scene and one which has been around for a long time. The company was founded five years ago when the Carnevale family (specialising in Italian food) and the Carson family (specialising in Italian wine) came together in a spectacular gastronomic union. You can only imagine the catering at the Christmas party!

The company imports wines from all over the world – in fact, it’s Californian, Spanish and, particularly, it’s Australian ranges are really interesting. But the heart of its business is Italy.

Their ethos is to find wines that are authentic and full of character, but still offer value for money – and we saw that in this tasting, with a range of wines which (with one exception) were all priced to be highly sellable.

Running from Sicily to the Alps, stopping off at most points in between, this was a fascinating snapshot of the country’s wines – and of Carson & Carnevale’s range.

Steep slopes of the Alto Adige round Nino Negri

The Wines

Tenuta Scuotto Fiano 2019, Campania

£16.01 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

Campania, in the south of mainland Italy, is 50% hills, 35% mountains and only 15% plains, and the vines for Fiano di Avellino are planted on slopes ranging from 400-600m above sea level, on a mix of rocks, ash, sands and clay.

Fiano di Avellino can range in style from light to full bodied, easy-going to age-worthy, happily lasting up to 10 years in the bottle, where it moves from grassy characters to smoky iodine-like notes. A late-ripening variety, its thick skins help it to resist autumnal weather.

From an excellent vintage and one of the best areas for Fiano di Avellino it’s had, 12 months ageing on fine lees.

Our tasters found hay notes and floral aromas of blossom. Honey and ripe yellow apples, lemon and pink grapefruits, also a ‘peach and lemon rind’ character. The extended lees ageing made it quite food friendly, combining weight but also freshness.

Food matches included linguine alle vongole.

The perfect wine match. Are you hungry yet?

Nino Negri Ca’Brione Bianco Alpi Retiche IGT 2019

£11.37 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

This part of Lombardy near the Valtellina DOC is a place where winemaker are happy to play around with a bit more freedom, and  locals claim this is where Nebbiolo (known as Chiavennasca) came from originally.

Both elements are visible in this wine which is a blend of international varieties – mostly (70%) Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – plus other indigenous varieties, including Nebbiolo fermented as a white.

Rocky terraced slopes give minerality and elegance to wine, while 12 months in oak adds extra weight and texture.

Our tasters found elderflower and peaches and loved its crunchy saline freshness.

Matches suggested were pork or veal tonnato, Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnuts, iberico and black truffle.

Nino Negri’s winemaker, Danilo Drocco

Sartarelli Tralivio, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOCI, Classico Superiore 2019

£11.38 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

In the Marche, on the eastern side of the Appennines, Verdicchio was described by Peter McCombie MW, who was presenting the wines, as being ‘one of Italy’s greatest white grapes’. It ripens slowly and reliably and retains high levels of tartaric acid, while the best examples can improve in bottle for as long as the average white Burgundy.

There’s been a shift to modern viticulture and lower yields over the last 15 years, which is seen in the fact that in 2006 60% of the region’s wines were produced by co-operatives, but that figure had dropped to 34% by 2017.

‘For us Verdicchio is a staple textured alternative to people who have been priced out of quality white Burgundy,’ said Allegra restaurant’s Max Manning.

This winery has picked up a couple of trophies in the International Wine Challenge down the years, and this wine, from 350m high vineyards in the rolling hills of Castello di Jesi was popular.

Our tasters found hawthorn, fern, elderberry, pear, almond and citrus; textural without lots of weight. A gentle austerity rather than fruitiness made it a real food wine.

Matches included baby spinach salad with goats cheese and walnuts, and rosemary and black olive focaccia. Plus, of course, the classic fritta mista di mare.

The rolling hills and shoreline of the Marche, home to Sartarelli

Le Morette Benedictus Lugana DOC 2018

£14.68 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

Officially, Turbiana is the same variety as Verdicchio, though, this being Italy, some feel there might be differences. At the southern end of Lake Garda, it’s quite a small appellation with calcareous clay soils, with the lake creating a mild microclimate.

Le Morette was founded 60 years ago and it’s still family owned and operated. This wine is mostly made in stainless steel, though a small proportion is fermented in small oak, though the latter is sensitively handled.

A Tre Bicchiere winner from Gambero Rosso, it was nuttier and rounder than the previous wine with a little textural grip from the skins.

Our tasters found almonds, jasmine flowers and a hint of peach compote, with Gordon Ramsay’s Emanuel Pesqueira suggesting it was not unlike Pinot Gris in the richness of its mouthfeel.

‘I love that textural peach note,’ said Eden Locke Hotel’s Isobel Salamon. ‘This would be lovely with curried flavours.’ Other tasters agreed, suggesting a coconut shrimp curry.

Lake Garda. Not a bad spot, all things considered. And the wine isn’t bad either.

Assuli Donna Angelica Lucido DOC Sicilia 2017

£11.51 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

From the western end of Sicily, this wine is made from Lucido, which used to be known as Catarrato and is related to Garganega, Soave’s variety. Grown all over Sicily, it’s the most widely planted variety on the island.

This variety is usually citrus and herbal, with a mineral aftertaste and some tasters have noted a resemblance to Viognier. This wine was deep yellow and very rich and stone-fruity.

Our tasters could see where the Viognier parallel might come from but felt it had lost more freshness than it ought to have given it was four years old – possibly a bottling issue.

Jon Carson of Carson & Carnivale said that recent examples have been popular with Michelin-starred restaurants, so it might be worth calling in a different sample bottle.

Plenty of sun in Sicily, tempered by sea breezes and a bit of altitude

Tenuta Sant’Antonio Vecchie Vigne Soave DOC 2017

£12.19 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

Back up in the north-east of the country, this came from a small vineyard to the west of the town of Soave from vineyards that are mostly loam over limestone, a terroir which typically gives honey and yellow fruit plus an acidic kick from the limestone.

Founded by four brothers in 1989 the business is still family run today.

‘Soave has a bit of a bad rep with the older guests,’ said Max Manning. ‘It was so mass-produced for so long it’s taking a while to get people willing to try the newer styles.’

The younger generation, though, seem more open to it. ‘If you list any Italian whites, you should have Soave,’ said Wiltons’ Monica Bachiocchi.

From 30 year-old vines, this was still remarkably fresh with tasters finding nuts citrus, mature white stone fruit and refreshing green almond.

Matches included squid ink linguini and onion tart.

The four brothers, who founded the winery over 30 years ago

Kellerei St Pauls Sanctissimus Pinot Bianco Riserva 2016

£47.97 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

Surprisingly, the most expensive wine of the tasting a) came from a co-operative – albeit one which was founded in 1907, and b) was a Pinot Blanc.

From the south side of Alps this is a region that gets lots of sun, but also a chilly downdraft from the mountains, giving big diurnal temperature shifts, which help with acidity. This vineyard, planted in 1899, is one of the oldest in the Alto Adige.

The wine is fermented with skins in large amphorae, then matured in large wooden barrels. There’s no evident oak expression at all.

With flavours of toffee apple, herbs and spice, our tasters adored this wine, commenting on its balance, complexity, juicy, creamy texture and persistence.

‘It’s complex with real minerality,’ said Emanuel Pesqueira, while Spry Wines’ Arthur Ng felt it ‘drinks like a Pessac with a few years’.

‘So much texture,’ said Elly Owen from The Old Garage. ‘The finish is so good!’

Matches suggested included turbot Veronique and champagne caviar velouté, cheese, and a high quality burger in a brioche bun.

‘It’s not an everyday drink,’ said Monica Bachiocchi. ‘But I love it!’

Be honest, would you have guessed this was Italy if we hadn’t told you?

Marchese Raggio, “Old Année” Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCG 2015

£13.50 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale

A staple of Italian restaurant lists for years Gavi maybe has a reputation like a more upmarket Pinot Grigio. But this wine, from a 500-year-old estate has more ambition than that.

From their best grapes, hand-harvested and softly pressed the wine has no malo (to preserve acidity), and a little batonnage to build in weight. It’s aged for three years in old oak barrels.

‘Gavi is the kind of wine where people tend to think they should have the latest vintage, but if you’ve got a bit of ambition that extra age is interesting,’ said Peter McCombie MW. ‘With time it does pick up a hint of liquorice or fennel – a bit of herbal spice.’

Our tasters found it crisp and clean with good primary flavours backed up by a singing acidity, and a slight austerity that made it perfect for food. The suggested match was crab linguini with a notch of chilli.


Drinking slightly older Italian whites made for a really interesting and unusual range of wines. As Emanuel pointed out, guests might be hesitant about this, but would be OK with it once the sommelier had ‘connected the wine to the vineyard’.

However, Valeriya Toteva from the Conrad Hilton was excited by the possibilities.  ‘As a sommelier, I’m looking for something new and unusual,’ she said. ‘It’s a plus to tell a story to our guests.’

The Marchese’s original document of ownership from 500 years ago

Download the tasting sheets

Watch the video

Tinashe Nyudoka

A Somm With A Dream…

Tinashe Nyamudoka left Zimbabwe in 2008 with one change of clothes and zero knowledge of wine. Since then he’s worked at the best restaurant in Africa, represented his homeland in the World Wine Tasting Championships, appeared on the silver screen, and – every sommelier’s dream – created his own range of wines.

The Sommelier Collective caught up with him at the Bibendum tasting in London.

Are you still a sommelier, Tinashe?

I’m no longer on the floor. But I’m helping out my old boss soon. He’s opening a new venue in Johannesburg, and he called me and said ‘I know you’re not doing anything in the evenings…’ He was convincing. I’ll do it for a few months as a favour then stop.

So how long were you a sommelier for?

I did four years at the bottom level, then had seven years at my peak – all in South Africa. I’d love to have been a sommelier in London. The last four years I worked as a somm I was already working on the Kumusha wines.

How did you make the step from ‘wanting’ to make wine to actually making it, when you have no wealthy backer, no vineyards and no winery?

So I’m not a fully fledged winemaker. I work closely with Attie Louw from Opstal to help me create my wines. I make decisions on the wine style, on the vessels to use, length of maturation and making the final blends. I used my networking and close relationships to make the step.

Tell us about the name

Kumusha means ‘origin’ or ‘homeland’. The label shows a picture of me looking out towards the mountainous area of my grandfather’s home. There’s a Protea flower – the flower of South Africa – and a Flame Lily, which is the symbol of Zimbabwe.

The White Blend
Breedekloof Chenin
And Cab/Cinsault blend

Which is the harder part – getting everything in place to be able to make the wine, or selling it?

Getting the wine in bottle is the easy part but selling is a challenge – especially getting distribution. 

Did the publicity for Blind Ambition help get you noticed?

Not really. The movie hasn’t made much impact yet. I’m big on social networks and that’s how I have grown my brand and the wines.

How has your somm background influenced the style of the wines you make?

My range includes top tier wines that are made with food in mind. I use my experience of food & wine pairing. Mid-tier style wines is more experimental: unusual blends and region specific. The lifestyle range is for everyday drinking. Nice quality wines that don’t dent the pocket. I was getting tired of big old wines. I wanted something that you could have a second bottle of without knowing it.

Tinashe on the label

With the other members of the Zimbabwe team in the film Blind Ambition

You’ve made the point before that in such a white industry you feel very much like an outsider. Is that changing do you think?

It’s slowly changing as the industry opens up. My mission is to use Kumusha Wines to open up more opportunities. 

Which was the hardest thing you’ve ever done: leaving Zim in the first place, competing in the Wine Blind Tasting Championships or launching your own label?

Leaving home was the hardest. It was the first time l ever left the country – venturing into the unknown.

Do you see yourself now as a sommelier or a winemaker?

I see myself as both – and more!

Blind Ambition – the film about Tinashe and his countrymen’s attempt to win the Blind Tasting World Championship is due to come out in the UK in the summer and should be well worth a watch. Tinashe’s Kumusha range of wines is available through Bibendum.

Five Faves

Top Five From My Cellar: Graeme Sutherland

In the latest in our series of Collective members’ recommendations, we caught up with the main man at Good Brothers Wine bar in Edinburgh and asked him to nominate the stars from his cellar

Celler Vega Aixala, Emma Albarino/Riesling 2020, Penedes, Spain

1 A cracking fresh blend from the north of Spain. Co-fermented in steel then left on skins for eight days it is packed with bruised apples flavours, racy acidity, lovely sea salt notes and beautiful length. This is slightly self-indulgent here as it is one of our own imports, but it truly is beautiful. Eva works her fruit totally organically and in a sustainable manner. There’s no fining or filtering and due to the care she takes, no need for added sulphur. It is natural without being “natural”.

Amazing with simple grilled prawns. 

£14.85 ex VAT, Good Brothers Wine Co

Port Phillip Estate, Quartier Pinot Noir 2019,
Mornington Peninsula, Australia

2 From the team behind Kooyong in the Mornington Peninsula this is a wonderfully fragrant Pinot Noir with lovely acidity. Loads of dark cherry and raspberry on the nose and baking spices balanced with a hints of citrus on the palate.  I have been a massive fan of Glen and his work for years and I am so glad to be working with them again.

Pair this with early season lamb, accompanied by asparagus and mint.

£11.11 ex VAT, Good Brothers Wine Co (Scotland); Jeroboams (Rest of UK)

Maison Crochet, Native 2020, Lorraine, France

3 We were introduced to this at the tail end of last year when our friend Severine at Sevslo Wine brought Wilfried in to see us. We were so impressed we bought everything available at the time and it has stayed on our list since. An equal blend of 33% Pinot Noir, 33% Gamay and 33% Chardonnay. Dark cherry, plum, clove, violet, raspberry…all lifted by the vibrant Chardonnay!

A properly incredible wine this one, right down to the crown cap.

£13.90 ex VAT, Sevslo Wines

Tenuta di Carleone, Chianti Classico 2018, Tuscany, Italy

4 Made by Sean O’Callagan, the Cornish legend! The memories of the first Wild Wine Fair after-party at Good Brothers live long in our memory! Sean, Tom Shobbrook and others dancing on the bar until the wee hours of the morning… What a night! The wine on the other hand is unmistakably Tuscan in origin. It offers a level of depth, power, and concentration that is rare for its classification.

The fruit — mostly Sangiovese — comes from some of the coolest blocks at the estate, which accounts for the wine’s vibrant acidity. The dominant flavours include plums, earth, cherries, liquorice, and cedar.

£14.11 ex VAT, Winemakers Club

Passing Clouds, Muri, Denmark

5 This isn’t actually a wine – it’s a non-alc tea-based drink from the legends at Muri Drinks in Copenhagen. Made from jasmine tea, it is a slightly sparkling alternative to a cremant.

Multi layered, slight honeyed notes and ripe fruits. An absolute belter for when your customers (or you) choose not to drink.

£11.30 ex VAT, Sager & Wine

And, the winner is…

The judges have deliberated and made their decision for the #koshufoodmatch competition. And, the winner is…

🥇 The overall winning dish is “Scottish mackerel fillet, marinated in rice wine vinegar & lightly torched” by Josie Phillips, The Macallan Estate

Koshu is a receptive/versatile wine that can accept even blue fish (mackerel) without any discomfort at all. A dish in which the body and flavour of Grace Koshu Hishiyama is well balanced with the richness of the pine nuts and rillettes, and the pleasant acidity of the Hishiyama can be expected to balance with the elderflower jelly. It is also interesting to note the spiciness (cumin in this case) in the delicacy of the Koshu, and the combination of yoghurt. A dish with a high degree of perfection.

🥈 The silver medal goes to “Cured seabass, pickled forced rhubarb, rhubarb juice & smoked oil” by Harry Cooper, FENN Restaurant.

This dish shows a good sense of the subtle astringency in the delicacy of Koshu and the smokiness that gives “Grace Koshu Hishiyama” its depth. A refined dish that adds a lingering root-like astringency behind the sharp acidity of rhubarb and smoked oil to the subtle flavours of sea bass.

Cured seabass, pickled forced rhubarb, rhubarb juice & smoked oil by Harry Cooper, FENN Restaurant

🥉 The bronze medal goes to “Handpicked Cornish crab, kohlrabi, apple and shellfish broth” by Max Manning, Allegra.

The delicate, gentle sweetness of the Cornish crab and kohlrabi is expected to harmonise with the subtle flavours of the Koshu. The combination of shellfish soup and seaweed with the wine’s minerality is also excellent. The textures of kohlrabi and apple and the fragrance of mint are also good accents.

Handpicked Cornish crab, kohlrabi, apple and shellfish broth by Max Manning, Allegra restaurant

Well done and congratulations to all. The Sommelier Collective would like to thank Grace Wines for hosting the competition for our members.

Find out more about this and other the competitions.

Shashi Prakash

‘I’d only ever drunk half a bottle of Kingfisher…’

Shashi Prakash had barely touched alcohol – and never wine – before he came to the UK. Now a serious wine geek, he has big ambitions for the places he works

One of the joys of the Sommelier Collective is the wide variety of our members. It’s the reason we run these Member Profiles – they’re a chance to celebrate the unique diversity of the hospitality industry. People who have come to the UK from all over the world – and each with their own unique story. But few are as remarkable as that of Shashi Prakash…

You’ve had quite a journey to get here…

I grew up in Jamshedpur – about four hours from Calcutta. I’d never planned to come and live in the UK or Scotland. But if you ask my mum I was always different from the rest of my family. My brothers and sisters all became teachers, engineers, doctors – but I wanted to be away from those things and do something that fulfilled me. My family haven’t come to see any of the places I’ve worked yet, but I’d love to bring them over so they can see where I work – and what wine is all about!

Shashi (here at Isle of Eriska) has worked at a wide variety of top class hotels and restaurants across the north of the UK

Had you tried wine before you came here?

Here alcohol is considered a part of your dining experience, but in India when you drink you’re considered not a good person. When I came here the only alcohol I’d had was half a bottle of Kingfisher when I left university and the students threw a party for us. I only drank out of respect for them. When I came here the first thing I tried was pear cider – I was amazed. It had such a sweet palate to it.

Why did you come to the UK?

I came back in 2009 to do my BA Hons in hospitality. I had no plans to stay here, but once you’ve got your degree you’re allowed to stay and work for a couple of years. The first job I got was in Gleneagles.

I stayed there for a bit then went to Seaham Hall near Sunderland where Kenny Atkinson was the chef – he had one Michelin star.

Christmas at Fonab Castle

When did your love of wine begin?

At Martin Wishart in Edinburgh. They had two sommeliers and I loved the way they used to talk to the guests. It was something amazing to me to see how one wine could go with the food and another one wouldn’t. The sommelier used to give me glasses of wine to taste after service. I’ve moved around quite a lot, but Martin Wishart had the biggest influence on me in terms of understanding the elements of fine dining service.

Have there been any big influences on your wine journey?

After Martin Wishart I went to the Horseshoe Inn, a three-rosette restaurant in Peebles [south of Edinburgh] in 2012. There I was lucky to find a gentleman called David Downey who was a bit of a mentor to me. I started my WSET qualifications and a couple of times a year we’d go out to restaurants and he’d let me pick the wine. I started to learn about wine from here onwards and it allowed me to see my restaurant career beyond food.

Have you done any wine qualifications?

A sabrage course could be next for Shashi… Pic: Andreas Nilsson, Flickr

I’ve done WSET Level 2 but I want to do Level 3 and get into a sommelier course. I’m very intrigued by sake, too. Next month I’m hoping to do a sabrage course as well.

What are your favourite wine styles?

Pinot Noir is my go-to wine. I’ve drunk it from all around the world. My taste is probably for fruitier wines rather than rustic ones. My favourites are Felton Road Block 5 – it has astonishing length. I also like some Austrian versions. Not many people know it very well, but I think it’s remarkable. When I speak to customers in the restaurant they have no idea how good Germany is for Pinot Noir.  White wise I’m a big fan of Burgundy – good Chardonnay and Chablis. Some of my GMs say I have very expensive tastes.

A Pinot lover, Burgundy is Shashi’s favourite wine region. Pic: Olivier Colas, WikiCommons

Tell us about your list at Fonab Castle

I’ve been here seven months – I was at Inverlochy Castle before that. We used to have 150 bins here but I’ve added a further 50-60 bins – mostly wines that are a bit quirkier, a bit different. Things like the Blank Bottle from South Africa. I think they are breaking the rules and just doing something they’re passionate about. It’s very food-driven wine as well.

Are the customers open to those kind of wines?

Our customers tend to be more adventurous in the summer. For the more hesitant ones, if they’ve never had a New Zealand Pinot Noir, they won’t spend £90 on it all of a sudden. Our job is to read the guest, rather than influence them into buying what we want to sell.

How do you balance your family life with the demands of work?

Our son was born in June and I wasn’t seeing much of him – I was working 15 hours a day at Inverlochy Castle. Fonab Castle is a bit more relaxed – it’s allowed me to get a better work/life balance. I’m lucky to have a very understanding wife. She was a chef before she got pregnant, so she understands that this is a job where you sometimes have to work six or seven days a week. My GM at Fonab is very understanding too. They don’t expect me to be here 24/7.

Shashi with his wife and their new arrival in Dubai 2021
Time off has been rare – but it helps that is wife is an ex-chef

You obviously love it, though…

I love being in this industry – I’m passionate about hospitality. I have so much respect for the people who do what they do – and I’m still in contact with a lot of the chefs I’ve worked with. One of our chefs at Isle of Eriska, Graeme Cheevers, got a Michelin star last month – he’s only been open eight months. There’s a guy who was with me at the Samling Hotel [Windermere], Tom Shepherd, who opened his restaurant – Upstairs – in Lichfield five months ago and he got a star, too.

Does their success spur you on?

I’m working with a chef who was with me at Martin Wishart. We are pushing for a fourth rosette and then eventually we’re hoping to get a Michelin star. If a restaurant is good, forward thinking and innovative, those are the kind of places I like to stay. If it has a one-star Michelin, what’s the next step? It’s important to keep moving and pushing ourselves.

With the team at Fonab Castle – next stop Michelin Star, perhaps?