Why wines from Santorini are hot right now

Stefan Neumann attended The Sommelier Collective tasting of P.D.O. Santorini* wines at City Social. Here he gives us his top tips on the island, its wines and the best matches.

Sommelier Collective x Santorini wines

I could start this article by naming all the great producers of this wind-swept, sun-scorched, and utterly beautiful Greek island, but firstly we would need double the word count and secondly it doesn’t seem to be that fair.

Take the group of Marvel’s Avengers, they all have super-natural powers, and one isn’t better than the other, so regardless of whether you have Thor, Ironman or the Black Widow on your team, by simply buying and tasting wines from Santorini you are, like them, on the winning team.

The island of Santorini

The island & its influences

There are several factors influencing the island, so perhaps it is best to go back in time a little. Santorini currently has 1200ha of vines planted, which is down from 1500ha in 1997 and 4500ha at the beginning of the 20th century.

Wine on the island has been produced for thousands of years and historians still argue to this day about when vines were first planted. Over the centuries major volcanic eruptions, the latest in February 1950, have undeniably shaped the island’s topography. The combination of basalt, volcanic ash, sand and pumice stone is known as ‘Aspa’. The white, black and red beaches are just minutes apart by boat and offer a glimpse into the diversity of soils found on Santorini.

The strong winds are one man’s treasure another man’s burden. Yes, on the one hand it reduces risk of disease but on the other hand its destructive nature (especially in 2019) can cause more than just a headache.

The incredible number of hours spent in the vineyards alone is mind-boggling and the resulting yield even more. As low as 5hl/ha (2002) to an average of 25hl/ha results in wines with marvellous intensity and concentration. Unmatched not only in Greece but the world.

In a nutshell, all wines from Santorini are born by the earth’s giving and constructive nature, and an unbroken human will create something of unparalleled beauty.

Stefan Neumann

The perfect variety for the perfect place: Assyrtiko

Of 1900ha nationwide, a solid 1098ha are planted in Santorini, which means that every sixth bottle of Greek Assyrtiko is from Santorini which represents 90% of the total plantings on the island.

Known for its natural high acidity and sugar content, which can be rare in the world of grapes, its uniqueness really lies in the variety’s capacity to balance these two elements so perfectly.

It is precisely this balance and the grape’s ability to produce an array of different styles that makes it an absolute dream to partner with different cuisines. From unoaked to lees-aged and some oak-aged styles, it is nothing if not versatile and today you can even find amphora-aged wines. Regardless of the style Assyrtiko always carries its trademark freshness with an accompanying salinity and precision.

The native Nykteri varietal (meaning ‘product of the night’) makes big, bold and concentrated wines, often with a minimum of 13.5% abv and a minimum of three months oak ageing.

What other varieties are worth seeking out?

Mandilaria and Mavrotragano are some of the few red grape varieties found on the island. They are quite hard to find as they are only made by a handful of producers.

Aidani and Athiri are also minor players in terms of total plantings but have a vital role on the island. Aidani shines when vinified as a single varietal; Athiri is often used for the most precious and time-consuming style of all wine – Vinsanto.

God’s (Zeus) gift – Vinsanto

Vinsanto is made from sun-dried grapes (dried for 8 to 15 days) to concentrate sugars and total acidity (even more). This process, and the following oxidative ageing, yields wines so robust in nature yet so charming and luscious that time becomes secondary.

Often decades in the making, these liquid treasures are bound to no-one except good taste-buds and wine professionals seeking to explore perfect food and wine pairings.

Depending on the sweetness level and aromatic profile Vinsanto can comfortably be paired with honey and white chocolate desserts to nutty, coffee-infused or very chocolatey sweet treats. Personally, I find them so delicious on their own that all I need is a fireplace and a good book.

Just seafood, or more?

You assume correctly that Assyrtiko is delicious with seafood, of any kind, although I like to encourage looking a little bit beyond the horizon. Maybe it’s BBQ pork or slowly roasted chicken thighs, Assyrtiko is often a delightful accompanying partner.

Regardless of whether you are a global food trotter and like your ceviche from Peru, classic British fish & chips or an authentic Cantonese dim sum, this variety is a chameleon like no other.

What do I need to do to get the best out of my Assyrtiko?

Patience is a virtue, and by this I am not only referring to opening these wines when they are too young, but by giving them some tender loving care when serving them you will achieve great results.

Decanting is recommended as often the wines can have a reductive nature and larger glassware only helps to fully reveal their unadorned beauty.

My favourite expert comment!

Jancis Robinson was once asked what she would choose if she could drink wine from only one grape variety. Without a moment’s hesitation, she said: ‘Assyrtiko’.

Last, but not least, there is only one thing left to say: “Avengers assemble”… sorry “Assyrtiko assemble”.

*P.D.O. Santorini wines are required to be vinified from at least 85% Assyrtiko, with the remaining 15% from the white grapes, Athiri and Aidani.

The PDO requires that yields must not exceed 6.5 tons per hectare, however they rarely get above 3 tons.

The PDO also includes the naturally sweet wine, Vinsanto, which originated in Santorini, and is made from sundried grapes, a tradition followed since antiquity.

In addition, for naturally sweet wines only, small amounts of the white “xenologous” grapes Gaidouria, Katsano, White Muscat, Monemvasia, Platani, Potamisi and the pink skinned Roditis are also allowed.

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

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

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Time for something completely different

It is ten years since Ronan Sayburn, head of wine at 67 Pall Mall visited Grace Wine in Japan to learn about Koshu. And in that time he says they’ve gone from obscurity to award-winning status.

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Koshu has been cultivated in Japan for over 1,300 years and is a distinctive grape with pinkish-grey skin. It is a white vitis vinifera, now indigenous to Japan and produces quality, still, white wines.

Ronan Sayburn MS, head of wine, 67 Pall Mall

Grace Wine has been at the forefront of Koshu from Japan earning international acclaim and becoming an award-winning wine. They are very proud to have won Japan’s first ever gold medal in an international wine competition and have gone on to win gold medals for five consecutive years at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

Family owned since 1923 it is located 100km east of Tokyo in the prestigious Yamanashi prefecture in the Katsunuma village – an important village in the GI, renowned for its abundance of fruit trees.

Map locating Grace Wine in Japan.

Ayana Misawa is chief winemaker and fifth generation family member at Grace Wine, but being the owner’s daughter doesn’t come with any favours. Ayana took ten years to hone her skills and learn her craft working in the northern and southern hemisphere with an impressive selection of work placements and study periods including House of Arras in Tasmania (which shows in the Blanc de Blanc, see below).

The winery owns most of its own vineyard area, buying just a small amount of grapes from growers they have long established relationships with – essential, Ayana says, for their commitment to quality wine production.

Pergola system: Each bunch is protected by a small paper hat covered wax that allows water to run off and protects the grapes from heavy rainfall and subsequent damage in the typhoon season. Applied one by one, this meticulous work requires dedication and time to hand staple every single hat.

Japan has a difficulty in that vintage variation is huge with 160cm of snow falling in 2014 followed by typhoons in 2016, which was the most difficult year Ayana can remember. This makes winemaking more challenging than usual and another reason Ayana wanted to gain so much international experience before returning to the family estate.

Whilst Ayana describes the climate as continental, Sayburn was more confident in pointing out its sub-tropical micro-climate, with the whole region situated in a hot and humid geographical basin with clay soils where that the rain just runs off. Indeed, Ayana pointed to the similarity of heat during the growing season to the Hunter Valley in Australia – another region she spent time working harvest and learning her craft.

To find out more about Koshu and discover for ourselves the extraordinary range from one of Japan’s leading wineries we sat down with Ronan, and Ayana on Zoom, along with a group of fellow sommeliers to put his knowledge to the test. First we tasted the wines.

Tasting notes

2014 Grace Blanc de Blanc

A blanc de blanc grown on volcanic soil it displays minerality on the nose – a very saline wine. Whole bunch picked, as you’d expect, this wine was disgorged by hand in 2020. It had 60 months lees ageing and was described by Ayana as refreshing, bright and vibrant with brioche and nutty characteristics.

2020 Hishiyama Koshu

Koshu grapes – picked between the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon harvest – have thick skins, that protect from disease and botrytis, are a pinkish/grey colour. Notably for Koshu the grapes in this vineyard are grown on pergolas, with low yields and slow maturation. This wine has a flint noise, light aromas of yuzu, slightly lemon. Reminiscent of Albarino in flavour – without the high acidity. A fresh, delicate palate with phenolic character, despite no lees ageing. Will pair well with fish, sushi, rice.

2020 Misawa Vineyard Koshu

A single vineyard wine, not typical for Koshu, the Misawa vineyard, named after the family, is also VSP. Malolactic fermentation, 60% old/neutral oak, gives this wine a little more richness with delicate flavours of pear skin or agave on the palate and under ripe banana or mango. There is slightly more colour in this wine – which is understandable when you note the bunch size difference between pergola vs VSP. Battonage is kept to a minimum as it’s a delicate style of wine.

2016 Cuvée Misawa Koshu

The 2016 has an almost menthol aroma and juicer, bright tropical fruit characters of mango and papaya, with a clean palate. The development shown from age is positive – indeed, the 2017 won 98 points at Decanter World Wine Awards which gives further interest to the ageing potential of these wines.

2015 Cuvée Misawa Koshu

2015 has a smokier, almost spicey, nose with beeswax, toasty and richer flavours. It keeps the salinity of Koshu and has good acidity and good length. Sayburn said this older Koshu wine reminds him of an aged Swiss Chasselas.

2009 Cuvée Misawa Cabernet Franc

With just 500 bottles produced this wine was universally enjoyed by the guests, with Sayburn calling it “a really classic cabernet franc” and others comparing it to cool climate wines from British Colombia. It had a herbaceous, earthy nose with soft and complex tannins. More savoury on the palate than fruity on the nose with lots of tertiary and gamey flavours. Whist koshu is the most important grape for Grace Wine it is Cabernet Franc that is Ayana’s favourite, and it shows with this wine.

Food pairing

To illustrate how versatile these wines are when pairing with food, and in particular not just Japanese cuisine, we were presented with a four course tasting menu, curated by Sayburn and the head chef Marcus Verberne at 67 Pall Mall.

To start, the Blanc de blancs 2014 was paired with Citrus cured salmon, clementine gel, tobiko. The citrus flavours and celery notes from the tobiko linked the wine beautifully with the salmon. It is these delicate touches that harmonised the dish and the wine.

Next, the Koshu Hishiyama Vineyard, 2020 & the Koshu Misawa Vineyard, 2020 wines were tried alongside a Crab and avocado tarte. The sweet richness of the dish was well balanced and finely sliced grape gave freshness, alongside micro herbs for a touch of bitterness that elevated the pairings.

Moving on to more complex dishes Sayburn presented Glazed veal sweet breads, peas and confit lemon puree, potato shard, chicken jus. The ageing on both Akeno Koshu 2016 & Akeno Koshu 2015 allowed these wines to stand up to these bolder flavours – in particular the lemon puree, fresh peas and chicken jus gave the food pairing the acidity, sweetness and umami needed.

To finish, Roast rump of lamb, sauteed courgette, slow cooked cherry tomato, black olive jus had all the right elements to work beautifully with the Cuvee Misawa Ridge System, Cabernet Franc, 2009. The provencal-style vegetables ensured the flavours come together.

And no dashi, sushi, sashimi or wasbi in sight!

Working at The Ritz – London I already had the opportunity to taste Grace Koshu wine – a very versatile style, but very interesting given the origin of the indigenous grape. A clear and brilliant lemon style, with aromas of white peach, pears and minerality, on the palate and vibrant acidity, perfect to combine with seafood. 

Giovanni Andriulo, sommelier, The Ritz
Giovanni Andriulo, sommelier, The Ritz

Tasting highlight

Whilst Koshu is the most important grape grown at Grace, Cabernet Franc is Ayana’s favourite red grape variety. And it shows in the small 500 bottle production of 2009 Cuvée Misawa Cabernet Franc that we tasted.

Andriulo told us he: “was very impressed by the cuvée Misawa the Cabernet Franc 2009, intense, complex with herbaceous notes (mint, lavander, fennel) and with tertiary aromas due to a good bootle aging (wet leaves, vegetal, forest floor). A Cabernet Franc that may recall some styles in the right bank of bordeaux. Excellent combinations can be with grilled foods, grilling adds a bitter component to the food and creates a great stage for cabernet’s tannins and of course with red meats such as lamb.”

Whilst Koshu, or wine for that matter, is not a part of Japanese drinking culture it has gained a reputation for premium quality wine, much to do with the winemaking philosophy that mirrors Japanese life including respect, precision, and artisan craftmanship.

Attention to detail is part of the Japanese way of life and it shows in these precise wines. Nothing is left to chance and everything is considered. Even down to the labels – which happen to be designed exclusively for Grace Wine by Mr. Kenya Hara, celebrated Japanese graphic designer and art director at the famous Japanese chain store MUJI.

#KoshuFoodMatch competition

If you have not yet tried these wines now is your opportunity. The Sommelier Collective has teamed up with Grace Wine to run a food pairing competition. For more details visit #KoshuFoodMatch.

Entries close 25 February, 2020.

Grace Wine is imported in the UK by Hallgarten & Novum Wines

awards tasting

Chianti Classico Awards Tasting – We Reveal our List Champions

One of the defining elements of The Sommelier Collective is that it is entirely focused on what you – our members – want and need. And our Awards Tastings are no different.

Wines are rated and scored – for those of you who like numbers and ranking systems; and our judges select their own favourite wines from the tasting – for those of you who prefer peer recommendation.

Our tasters had many factors to consider when finding wines to be List Champions

But the third part of our judging process is choosing our List Champions. These are wines that stood out in the tasting either for getting the highest score overall (Best in Class) or having the best score to price ratio (Best Value).

But we also asked our judges to look for wines that were particularly well-suited to fulfilling certain key roles within the restaurant.

So we also gave out awards for the wines deemed Best for Group Dining; Best for Preservation System and Best for By The Glass. In making these assessments, our judges looked not just for quality but also for style, price and value for money. The winning wine had to be good, good for the role, and good for the money.

They are very practical awards that are designed to make it easier for sommeliers across the UK to home in on finding a specific wine style quickly. They’re a bit different, but we hope that you like them and find them useful – certainly our judges enjoyed having to think about the wines in this way.

Anyway, many congratulations to our winners. We hope that you enjoy trying them, listing them and selling them.

Stefano Barbarino (left), Lionel Periner (centre) and Fernando Cubas discuss the candidates for the Best for Group Dining award

Best in Class

Brancaia Chianti Classico 2019

This award goes to the wine with the best overall score. Since there were two other wines that averaged a score of 96, our judges looked at the one that had consistently high scores from all tasters (rather than, say, three very high scores and two lower ones). Price, too, was a factor. The Brancaia was significantly cheaper than either of the other 96-point wines, making it great value.

Our judges loved this, quite simply, for being a brilliantly classic expression of Chianti. Not big and shouty, but bright, elegant and beautifully put together. Any venue looking for a quality Classico expression should have this on their radar. And the margin options are good at this price.

‘Quite pale, which anticipates the suave, finely perfumed cherry nose. Very elegant and harmonious. Acidity is the leitmotif – vibrant, elegant Chianti.’ Mattia Mazzi

‘Floral, fruity, not too intense, delicate and elegant.’ Franco Fortunati

‘Classic Chianti colour and nose, with a high acidity and velvety texture. Aromas of tomato paste, dried oregano, dried roses, meat and pepper. Classic Chianti flavours.’ Paola Giraldo

Brancaia Chianti Classico

£17.77, Enotria&Coe


Best Value for Money

Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico 2018

On one level, value for money is easy to calculate – it’s the wine with the most number of points for the lowest price. But our judges also felt that we should be going for a wine with at least 90 points. Something, in other words, that our tasters really wanted to list. And at this level, the Rocca di Montegrossi really stood out. Serious quality for the money.

There was a structured linearity to this wine that really appealed to our tasters – like it was walking a tightrope between ‘fruity’ and ‘edgy’ but always perfectly in balance.

‘Pronounced on the nose, with ripe strawberries, cherries and earthy notes with a hint of vanilla and spices. Rich, but not harsh tannins. Complex, with well-defined flavours.’ Paola Giraldo

‘A dry, ‘vertical’ Chianti. A fine balance of nerves and fibre, length and intensity with purity of flavours.’ Mattia Mazzi

‘Black fruit, plums and balsamic notes, this is very clean and balanced. Great to pair with food such as pork and pasta.’ Franco Fortunati

Rocca di Montegrossi

Available from Flint Wines, £13.50


Best for By The Glass

Quercia al Poggio Chianti Classico 2019

The By The Glass criteria are easy to understand: the wine needs to be easy-going enough to drink on its own, but have the chops to work with food if necessary. The nature of Chianti – that it is largely a ‘food’ wine rather than ‘drinking’ wine perhaps explains why our winner here is priced where it is. The cheaper entries, while often pretty good, mostly needed food.

This light to mid-weight Chianti was one of the most drinkable of our tasting – certainly for the price point, all spicy red fruit, flowers and lift.

‘Classic fine Chianti aromas – red plum compote, flowers, a hint of freshly ground black pepper, mocha and slight smokiness.’ Lionel Periner

‘Ripe and juicy on the nose, with red plums and cherries. Very approachable.’ Stefano Barbarino

‘Vanilla, cinnamon and strawberry on the nose; good complexity and a round structure.’ Konstantinos Nestoridis

Quercia al Poggio Chianti Classico 2019

Currently not imported in the UK. Contact the winery for information. Trade price calculated at £12.46 ex VAT


Best for Group Dining

Villa Cerna Chianti Classico 2016, Cecchi

Group Dining is growing in importance in hospitality (or was, pre-Covid!) so having the right wines is really important. Our tasters wanted a wine that was very typical of its style, but also approachable for everyone and (very important) at the right price – several notches above ‘house’ or ‘entry level’ but not actively expensive.

Like many of the best wines in this tasting, the Villa Cerna managed to balance some classic Chianti savouriness with plenty of fruit ripeness, to leave a wine that was very much of its place, but still accessible.

‘Ripe red fruits. Smoky and toasty – elegant on the palate, with a beautiful stony finish.’ Stefano Barbarino

‘Fresh raspberries with a hint of saltiness. Very fresh and vibrant.’ Paola Giraldo

‘Cassis and pencil lead with hints of balsamic. Seductive tannins.’ Fernando Cubas

Villa Cerna Chianti Classico 2016, Cecchi

£14.70, Vinexus


Best for Preservation System

Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione 2016

We all know the importance of having a top-notch selection of wines on by the glass pour. It brings something special to your customers, allows for imaginative (and upgraded) tasting menus and can be good news for your cash take. Because these wines are often rare, unusual or expensive, quality and character, rather than price was the key factor here.

Gran Selezione can be a controversial style. Chianti purists don’t always like the oak use, though looking at the scores in our Awards tasting, our judges didn’t have a problem with it. Because the style is polarising, this is a good style to sell in single (expensive) serves, and this offering from Castello di Fonterutoli was reckoned to be the best wine of the tasting for that purpose.

It was different, self-confident and very definitely had its own character. Perfect for your wine preserver.

‘Red and dark berries, cooked blueberries and flowers. A creamy texture, with high tannins. Full-bodied, but the tannins, fruit and acidity are balanced.’ Paola Giraldo

‘Seductive and extrovert. Pretty, forward sweet red fruits. An artwork. I love this take on GS.’ Mattia Mazzi

‘Leather, tobacco and earthy.’ Franco Fortunati

Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione 2016

£30.66, Maisons Marques et Domaines


Chianti Classico Champions, 2021

Chianti Classico Awards 2021

Full list of award winning wines from The Sommelier Collective Awards.
ScoreProducerWineCategoryImporterTasting note
96BrancaiaChianti Classico 2019Chianti ClassicoEnotria&Coe
Price £17.77
Quite pale, which anticipates the suave, finely perfumed cherry nose. Very elegant and harmonious. Acidity is the leitmotif - vibrant, elegant Chianti.' Mattia Mazzi. 'Floral, fruity, not too intense, delicate and elegant.' Franco Fortunati. 'Classic Chianti colour and nose, with a high acidity and velvety texture. Aromas of tomato paste, dried oregano, dried roses, meat and pepper. Classic Chianti flavours.' Paola Giraldo.
94Il Palagio di PanzanoChianti Classico 2016Chianti ClassicoSeeking UK importer
Price £28.22
Forest floor, cedar wood and plums. A complex nose, but very elegant at the same time. Smooth and well-balanced with a long aftertaste, and very well integrated oak.' Franco Fortunati. 'The most complex, charming and classy of our flight.' Mattia Mazzi. 'Intense and pronounced, with aromas of kirsch, dark cherries, plums and balsamic. Still very young and bright.' Paola Giraldo
92Famiglia ZingarelliRocca delle Macie Tenuta Sant'Alfonso Chianti Classico 2019Chianti ClassicoSeeking UK importer
Price £30.00
Ripe but not cooked fruit, herbal - thyme, oregano, tomato leaf; forest floor, coffee, vanilla - high quality oak. Long, evolving finish with ripe tannins.' Klearhos Kannelakis. 'Dark fruit, hints of cacao and dry flower petals. Dry and spicy with a full-bodied structure. It would match with slow-cooked food.' Lionel Periner. 'Black fruit with hints of black pepper and spices - good concentration on the palate.' Fernando Cubas
91CasalosteChianti Classico 2018Chianti ClassicoLaytons
Price £14.55
Nice expressive red fruit - cherries, strawberries and tomato leaf. New French oak, with lavender, juniper and polished tannins.' Klearhos Kanellakis. 'Pronounced and complex, fruity, spicy and seductive with black cherries and roses. Very defined fruit, acidity and tannins.' 'Plump fruit, warm, gentle and approachable.' Mattia Mazzi.
91Conti CapponiVilla Calcinaia Chianti Classico 2018Chianti ClassicoCava Spiliadis
Price £14.50
A touch of liquorice syrup, blueberries, cinnamon, cloves and cedar. A great expression of age and balance.' Konstantinos Nestoridis. 'Moreish cherries, elegant and intense, the fruit is well-defined. A very well thought-out wine. It's a step up in concentration, colour and aromatic intensity.' Mattia Mazzi. 'Very fresh and smooth with a long length. It would be lovely to pair this with a beef tartare.' Stefano Barbarino.
91RuffinoSantedame Estate Chianti Classico 2015Chianti ClassicoBibendum
Price £16.85
A lot of earthy notes and pungent spices, such as black pepper and tobacco, but fresh on the palate and very well balanced. Would like to pair this with a loin of lamb.' Stefano Barbarino. 'Open and complex. Cherries and dark berries with lightly toasted bread and hints of pot pourri. Nicely aged Chianti.' Lionel Periner. 'Gentle and well-balanced between acidity, tannin and fruit. Silky.' Fernando Cubas
91Rocca di MontegrossiChianti Classico 2018Chianti ClassicoFlint Wines
Price £13.50
Pronounced on the nose, with ripe strawberries, cherries and earthy notes with a hint of vanilla and spices. Rich, but not harsh tannins. Complex, with well-defined flavours.' Paola Giraldo. 'A dry, 'vertical' Chianti. A fine balance of nerves and fibre, length and intensity with purity of flavours.' Mattia Mazzi. 'Black fruit, plums and balsamic notes, this is very clean and balanced. Great to pair with food such as pork and pasta.' Franco Fortunati
90RiecineChianti Classico 2019Chianti ClassicoAlliance Wines
Price £18.49
A very elegant young Classico. Approachable now, but with concentration and complexity. Pure, modern, top tier.' Mattia Mazzi. 'Great aromatic character of black cherries and black tea with violets and raspberries on the palate. Good complexity.' Konstantinos Nestoridis. 'Ripe on the nose, with crunchiness on the palate. Clean, gentle and lively. Youthful, but with lots of potential.' Stefano Barbarino
90Tenuta di ArcenoChianti Classico 2019Chianti ClassicoOenofuture/Jackson Family Wines
Price £15.00
The nose is open, with dark cherries, dark fruit, plum, light spices and a hint of bitter cacao. Harmonious, dry and elegant with great structure.' Lionel Periner. 'Dark fruit and sweet spices - vanilla, cloves and pine.' Klearhos Kanellakis. 'Ripe red plum fruit on the palate. Concentrated, with grainy tannins.' Fernando Cubas. '
89FonterutoliChianti Classico 2018Chianti ClassicoMMD
Price £13.15
Dry fresh berries, with a hint of spices and fresh oregano with some saline notes. Very Mediterranean.' Paola Giraldo. 'Cranberries, strawberries and cherries with hints of liquorice. Would pair well with a duck breast.' Stefano Barbarino
89BanfiChianti Classico 2017Chianti ClassicoLouis Latour
Price £13.08
Kirsch, dark cherries and strawberries. In a good way, it's not too complex - good balance, juicy and easy to drink.' Franco Fortunati. 'Violets, wooden box and red fruit. It shows off the region and the grape really well.' Konstantinos Nestoridis
89Mannucci DroandiCeppeto Chianti Classico 2018Chianti ClassicoFlint Wines
Price £11.50
Beautiful nose of black cherries, lavender and pine herbs. Savoury and sweet red fruit palate with silky tannins.' Fernando Cubas. 'Cherries, balsamic and a leather note with violets. Very enjoyable. Would work well by the glass.' Franco Fortunati.
89Lamole di LamoleChianti Classico 2018Chianti ClassicoAlivini
Price £18.00
Red fruit, floral aromas with bitter chocolate and thyme. Textured tannins and good length.' Fernando Cubas. 'Herbal, with a hint of sweet spice and white chocolate. Crunchy fruit on the palate. Easy drinking.' Stefano Barbarino.
89Quercia al PoggioChianti Classico 2019Chianti ClassicoSeeking UK importer
Price £12.46
Classic fine Chianti aromas - red plum compote, flowers, a hint of freshly ground black pepper, mocha and slight smokiness.' Lionel Periner. 'Ripe and juicy on the nose, with red plums and cherries. Very approachable.' Stefano Barbarino.
87Fattorie MeliniGranaio Chianti Classico 2018Chianti ClassicoBibendum
Price £9.00
Black plums, rosemary and rose petals on the nose and spicy red cherries on the palate.' Konstantinos Nestoridis. 'Lovely aromas. Dark cherry fruit, with a hint of gentle spice and dry herbs. Full bodied with dry, full tannins.' Lionel Periner
87Tenuta CarobbioChianti Classico 2016Chianti ClassicoSeeking UK importer
Price £12.10
Dark fruit, plums and balsamic. Good to drink by itself or with pasta dishes. Easy drinking.' Franco Fortunati. 'Red fruits, sour cherries and herbs. Dry, high tannins on the palate.' Paola Giraldo.
87BorratellaChianti Classico 2017Chianti ClassicoSeeking UK importer
Price £12.45
Fine herbal nose and a cherry palate with silky tannins.' Fernando Cubas. 'Simple wine, though with great vibrant fruit and nice freshness. Friendly.' Lionel Periner.
85CecchiVilla Cerna Primocolle Chianti Classico 2017Chianti ClassicoVinexus
Price £7.90
Red plums, berries and some floral character. Open and fruity, but quite light.' Lionel Periner. 'Ripe fruit, but also quite herbaceous. Dry tannins show its youth.' Stefano Barbarino.
96CasalosteChianti Classico Riserva 2017RiservaLaytons
Price £23.00
Dark berries, red fruit and orange peel, with meaty hints. Dry, but with a velvet texture - the tannins are dry, but well integrated.' Lionel Periner. 'Fruity, but with a herbal, leafy meatiness. Would pair really well with bolognese.' Klearhos Kanellakis. 'Very complex and seductive, rich and flavourful. Perfect for lamb cutlets and grilled parmigiana.' Paola Giraldo.
94Famiglia ZingarelliRocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2018RiservaSeeking UK importer
£36.00
Intense, with ripe fruit, herbal tones, a chalky minerality and some earthiness. Long, complex and high quality.' Klearhos Kannelakis. 'Earth, mushrooms, liquorice and a hint of blueberries. Savoury palate, with a hint of pepper and a stony minerality.' Stefano Barbarino. 'Fresh cut herbs, well adapted tannins and good balance.' Fernando Cubas.
92Castellare di CastellinaChianti Classico Riserva 2018RiservaBibendum
Price £20.19
Intense cherries, roses and an almost seaweed salad aroma - herbal with a hint of minerality. Complex, and very interesting.' Paola Giraldo. 'Cassis, black pepper and thyme, with hints of blueberry jam. Silky tannins with a balsamic finish.' Fernando Cubas. 'Elegant aromas with smooth texture and velvety tannins.' Lionel Periner.
92BrancaiaChianti Classico Riserva 2017RiservaEnotria&Coe
Price £26.15
Cedar, prunes, nutmeg, wet stones, liquorice and pepper. It's like a tomato-based Roman sauce! Huge potential.' Paola Giraldo. 'Wild strawberries and rosemary, with well-balanced acidity and tannins.' Fernando Cubas. 'A lot of floral violet notes on the nose, with ripe red and blue fruits and sweet oaky spice. Rich, but really drinkable. Great for pork chop with borlotti beans and a red wine sauce!' Stefano Barbarino.
92FrescobaldiTenuta Perano Chianti Classico Riserva 2017RiservaHallgarten&Novum Wines
Price £28.19
Tobacco, leather, baked fruit, wooden floor and sweet spices. Fruity, smooth and elegant.' Franco Fortunati. 'Cranberries, orange, silky oak - elegant and smooth with a hint of kirsch.' Lionel Periner. 'Sweet and sour on the palate - almost like Amarone.' Stefano Barbarino.
92Il Palagio di PanzanoChianti Classico Riserva 2016RiservaSeeking UK importer
Price £28.20
Very herbaceous with lots of pungent spices. Intense, with a long, spicy finish.' Stefano Barbarino. 'Kirsch, cherry, violets, leather and sweet spicy notes. Well integrated oak, with a long finish. Would work well in a Coravin.' Franco Fortunati. 'Tangible fruit, but multi-dimensional. Warm and firm. Developing nicely.' Mattia Mazzi.
91CarobbioChianti Classico Riserva 2015RiservaSeeking UK importer
Price £18.52
Cherries, orange peel and flowers. Full-bodied palate with coffee and toasted bread, but an elegant finish.' Lionel Periner. 'Blueberries, morello cherries and sweet spices, with hints of tea. Vibrant.' Konstantinos Nestoridis. 'Cinnamon, cloves, coffee, black fruit and violets. Would pair well with pasta dishes or mushroom risotto.' Franco Fortunati.
90BorratellaChianti Classico Riserva 2017RiservaSeeking UK importer
Price £17.31
Redcurrant and roses with sour cherries and sweet spices. Quite high acidity.' Paola Giraldo. 'Ripe fruit, soya and ink. Earthy tobacco. Long finish.' Klearhos Kanellakis. 'Herbs, game and red fruit on the palate with very fine tannins.' Fernando Cubas.
90CecchiVilla Cerna Chianti Classico 2016RiservaVinexus
Price £14.70
Ripe red fruits. Smoky and toasty - elegant on the palate, with a beautiful stony finish.' Stefano Barbarino. 'Fresh raspberries with a hint of saltiness. Very fresh and vibrant.' Paola Giraldo. 'Cassis and pencil lead with hints of balsamic. Seductive tannins.' Fernando Cubas.
90Fattorie MeliniVigneti La Selvanella Chianti Classico Riserva 2015RiservaBibendum
Price £12.55
Smoky and meaty on the nose. Blackberries and dark plums with a spicy background.' Stefano Barbarino. 'Not pretentious, but well-made and assertive at a great price point.' Konstantinos Nestoridis. 'Dark fruit and cranberries. Finish is elegant, but a bit short.' Lionel Periner.
89Mannucci DroandiCeppeto Chianti Classico Riserva 2017RiservaFlint Wines
Price £11.50
Elegant aromas of red fruit and sour cherries. Well defined, with fresh acidity. Would work by the glass.' Paola Giraldo. 'Gentle fruit, textured tannins and fresh herbs.' Fernando Cubas.
88Lamole di LamoleChianti Classico Riserva 2017RiservaAlivini
Price £21.00
Orange peel, forests and crunchy red fruit. Dry palate with smooth tannin.' Lionel Periner. 'Well balanced and well integrated.' Fernando Cubas. 'Lean and green.' Mattia Mazzi.
88Tenuta di ArcenoChianti Classico Riserva 2018RiservaOenofuture/Jackson Family Wines
Price £20.00
Mushroom, leather, tobacco, but doesn't develop too well on the palate.' Franco Fortunati. 'Cassis and Indian spices. Grippy tannins.' Fernando Cubas.
96RuffinoRiserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 Gran SelezioneGran SelezioneBibendum
Price £28.06
Cassis, strawberry and raspberry jam with pleasant use of oak that's well integrated. Smooth tannins and elegant.' Franco Fortunati. 'Well balanced and complex. Fruit, herbs, earth, cinnamon and smoky oak. Harmonious.' Klearhos Kanellakis. 'Ripe and fruity, with balsamic and liquorice notes. Saline, savoury and meaty on the palate.' Paola Giraldo.
95Castello di FonterutoliGran Selezione 2016Gran SelezioneMMD
Price £30.66
Red and dark berries, cooked blueberries and flowers. A creamy texture, with high tannins. Full-bodied, but the tannins, fruit and acidity are balanced.' Paola Giraldo. 'Seductive and extrovert. Pretty, forward sweet red fruits. An artwork. I love this take on GS.' Mattia Mazzi. 'Leather, tobacco and earthy.' Franco Fortunati.
92Rocca di MontegrossiVigneto San Marcellino Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015Gran SelezioneFlint Wines
Price £28.00
Ripe, dense, slightly woody and herbal.' Klearhos Kanellakis. 'Tangy and dry, with quite intense vigour. Tobacco, gravelly flowers and minerality.' Paola Giraldo. 'This wine is true to its place and coherent to its appellation. Extremely well made.' Mattia Mazzi.
91Quercia al PoggioVigna le Cataste Gran Selezione 2016Gran SelezioneArmit
Price £27.00
Blueberries and cigar box, with cinnamon, vanilla and firm tannins - would work well in a Coravin.' Konstantinos Nestoridis. 'Baked plums, and black fruit, balsamic notes, cedar wood, cinnamon and cloves.' Franco Fortunati. 'Nice fruit and richness, though the tannins cut in on the finish.' Paola Giraldo.
89Tenuta Di ArcenoStrada al Sasso Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016Gran SelezioneOenofuture/Jackson Family Wines
Price £28.00
Cassis, blackberries and herbs on the nose, but delivers less on the palate.' Klearhos Kanellakis. 'Fruit and roses on the nose with a hint of nutmeg and pepper. High acidity on the palate - this is still young.' Paola Giraldo.
88Rocca delle MacieRiserva di Fizzano Gran Selezione 2018Gran SelezioneSeeking UK importer
Price £60.00
Wild, spiced and polished. Definitely made to impress, with cutting-edge winemaking. Attractive and polished.' Mattia Mazzi. 'Still vigorous on the nose, and it needs to soften. But definitely complex, with ripe cherries, minerality and some earthy notes.' Paola Giraldo.
88Lamole di LamoleVigneto di Campolungo Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione 2016Gran SelezioneAlivini
Price £35.00
Floral and ripe-fruited, though still quite tannic.' Klearhos Kanellakis. 'Sandalwood and vanilla. Smooth and elegant.' Franco Fortunati. 'Plumper fruit, coarser tannin. Masculine and muscular.' Mattia Mazzi.

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We’ll be looking at English sparkling wine and New Zealand Pinot Noir.

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Many, many thanks to Fernando and the team at the Intercontinental on Park Lane for hosting the tasting, looking after us so beautifully and supplying us with lots of coffee. Big respect.

Next in the Awards series will be Great British Sparkling Wine and New Zealand Pinot Noir.

Chianti Classico Awards Tasting – Judges’ Recommendations

We know how important the opinions of your fellow sommeliers are to members of the Collective. So a key part of our Awards Tastings is to ask the judges to pick their own favourite wine from what they’ve tasted on the day.

It needn’t be the highest-scoring or most-expensive wine; it needn’t have won a Special Award. It didn’t even matter if the rest of their team didn’t like it as much as they did.

The point is, it was a wine that really spoke to them, for whatever reason. So if you like what they say about it, perhaps it will speak to you, too.

Mattia Mazzi

Il Palagio di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 (92 points)

This wine had gorgeous, tangible fruit, with depth of concentration and real multi-dimensionality, as if it was a blend of several different plots. There was warmth and muscle, but also restraint – it was really developing nicely. For me it had a sense of place, but also its own identity. It would work well by the glass in a wine preservation system.

Currently not imported, contact activities@palagiodipanzano.com for information. Predicted price £28.20

Mattia Mazzi, wine judge, The Sommelier Collective Awards 2021

Paola Giraldo

Casaloste Chianti Classico Riserva 2017 (96 points)

This wine has a complex, seductive nose – tomato passata, reduced sauce, bolognese, spices and nutmeg. It’s rich and powerful, but also a very good expression of terroir – complex and elegant at the same time, and I found it good value for money. It would be great with flavourful dishes like pan-fried meat with butter and herbs, parmigiano-based dishes, cured meat and stews.

£23.00, Laytons

Paloa Giraldo, wine judge, The Sommelier Collective Awards 2021

Stefano Barbarino

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2018 (89 points)

This is quite ripe, with plenty of strawberry and cranberry character, but it’s also herbal with hints of black pepper and slightly spicy on the palate. It’s fresh, clean and gentle, but also elegant – from a cooler vintage so it has nice freshness. The tannins are ripe and soft. It’s just a very enjoyable, easy-drinking wine, and I’d serve it with duck breast and cherry compote.

£13.15, Maisons, Marques et Domaines

Stefano Barbarino, wine judge, The Sommelier Collective Awards 2021

Franco Fortunati

Il Palagio di Panzano Chianti Classico 2016 (94 points)

This wine has a complex nose, with notes of wood floor, plums and cedar wood. It’s very smooth and elegant on the palate – well integrated with seamless tannins and balsamic notes. It’s nicely aged. It’s a complex wine but very well balanced and the price/quality ratio is outstanding. It’s a lovely expression of Chianti Classico, and I’d have it with rack of lamb.

Currently not imported, contact activities@palagiodipanzano.com for information. Predicted price £28.20

Franco Fortunati, wine judge, The Sommelier Collective Awards 2021

Fernando Cubas

Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico 2019 (90 points)

This is a ruby-coloured wine, with aromas of fresh and ripe fruit – mostly plums. It has good concentration on the acidity, but also neat structure – fresh acidity and grainy tannins with a finish that’s both savoury and long. I really liked its balance and concentration – particularly for the price point. It’d be great with beef, hard cheese and pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces.

£15.00, Oenofuture/Jacksons Family Wine Estates

Fernando Cubas, wine judge, The Sommelier Collective Awards 2021

Klearhos Kanellakis

Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, Famiglia Zingarelli (94 points)

There was ripe fruit here together with herbal notes, chalky minerality and a light earthiness. High quality oak, but also balanced with ripe tannins. It’s very classy – everything you would want from a top Chianti Classico, with a high level of complexity, typicity and elegance. It’s a good wine for wine-pairing; great with beef wellington, for instance.

Currently not imported, contact the winery for information. Predicted price £36.00

Klearhos Kanellakis, wine judge, The Sommelier Collective Awards 2021

Konstantinos Nestoridis

Banfi Chianti Classico 2017 (89 points)

This has an attractive ruby colour, with notes that are really reflective of the region. There’s wooden box, followed by a tart of Muscat grapes, then it’s dry on the palate. It’s friendly and relaxed, fresh but full-bodied. It’s great value for what it is. I’d have it with duck a l’orange with smoked beetroot.

£13.08, Louis Latour

Konstantinos Nestoridis, wine judge, The Sommelier Collective Awards 2021

Click here for the full Chianti Classico results and here to see our List Champions.

If you’d like to be considered as a judge for our next Awards tasting – UK sparkling wine and New Zealand Pinot Noir – please register here.

Register as a judge for our next Awards tasting, and you too could taste so fast you become a blur!

Discovery Tasting: Opus One

A tasting of one of California’s most famous wineries, presented by winemaker Michael Silacci was a special treat for the Collective’s members

Last week saw 30 lucky Sommelier Collective members log on for a one-hour masterclass with Opus One winemaker and head of viticulture, Michael Silacci.

As one of California’s most-established A-List wines, it was no surprise that we were heavily oversubscribed for  the event – and a further 20 members were keen enough to watch even without having access to the tasting samples.

Opus One was created by the coming together in 1978 of Baron Philippe de Rothschild (of Mouton Rothschild fame) and Robert Mondavi, probably the most important figure in modern Californian winemaking.

At a meeting at the Baron’s chateau in Bordeaux, it took these two wine world titans just one hour to outline the principles of Opus One.

  1. It should be a red wine made from Bordeaux varieties
  2. It should be a wine that people want to share with their friends and family
  3. It should be a place that people leave in better shape than they found it

The latter point is key. ‘Sustainability,’ as Michael Silacci put it, ‘is really ingrained into our system.’

The winemaker has even held off planting a six hectare plot near the winery because he wants to get every single element of the planting perfect: the trellising, the rootstocks, the row orientation – because he wants to be absolutely certain that the vines will still be around in 100 years’ time.

It’s a winery, in other words, where the long-term future is important, but that is still underpinned by an unshakeable ethos founded 40 years ago.

‘A journalist once asked me “who do you make wine for – Robert Parker? James Laube?”’ said Michael. ‘I said “I make wine for two people who aren’t alive anymore: Baron Philippe and Robert Mondavi.” My whole goal is to make a wine that gives you a sense of where it comes from.’

From To Kalon with love

For Opus One, that means 70 hectares of vineyard in Oakville, Napa Valley. The majority of the vines are in the hallowed To Kalon vineyards – reckoned to be the best site in Napa.

The winery experimented with biodynamism but rowed back on that because they felt it made the vines too vigorous. They still make preparations, however, which they use for compost.

Two of the last four years have been affected by wildfires. 2017, according to Michael, looked worse than it was since they had 90% of the crop picked before the fires arrived.

But 2020 could potentially be more awkward. The fires started in August and ran through the latter end of the growing season, though there was less smoke than in 2017.

‘It was long-time, low-impact,’ said Michael.

To safeguard against smoke taint, the team changed their growing philosophy of co-fermenting different varieties. Instead, they went back to picking, vinifying and (soon) ageing every block separately. Pressing was very gentle.

‘I’ll tell you what we have in 18 months,’ said Michael.

THE TASTING

The Discovery tasting included four vintages of Opus One and the current release of the Second Wine, Overture.

Opus One 2007

This was the year Michael had chosen to make the switch to full-on dry farming. ‘I wanted to encourage the vines to give a stronger expression of place, and I felt they could do that if the roots were down deeper,’ he said.

A warm, dry year made this difficult. And with plenty of Californian heat at play, Michael was keen to get some more Petit Verdot in the blend. The question was, how?

‘When we blended Cabernet and Petit Verdot as wine, it was like a dog meeting a cat in the street – they’d fight. Too aggressive, too harsh, too tannic.’

Then the answer came to him at 3am: co-fermentation.

‘It worked wonders,’ he said. ‘There was such an incredible harmony – and the layers were quite different. It was like kittens with puppies. They grew up loving each other, and this harmony came from there.’

Until 2020 (as explained above) they have co-fermented every year since.

Despite its age, Michael still sees plenty of ripe fruit – ‘baby fat’ as he calls it – in this wine.

Opus One 2011

California might be known for its sun – but not in 2011. It was a very cool, wet year.

‘We had learned so much from 2010 which was cool, but not as wet,’ says Michael. ‘We always tend to pick a bit earlier than others, and we learned from 2010 that we could go in early and capture a lot of the fresh fruit characteristics.’

Opus One is a very Cabernet-focused Bordeaux blend. And though it is never varietally labelled, this is the only vintage that did not have sufficient Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend (just 71%) that it could have been. The remainder is made up with 11% Merlot, 9% Petit verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

Stylistically, this wine was a lot more herbal, restrained and – for want of a better word – European. No surprise, perhaps that it came out top in our poll of tasters.

‘In the States, this vintage wasn’t really appreciated for what it is,’ said Michael. ‘I love the elegance of this wine – the silky texture – and it’s different.’

As a crib for blind-tasters, Michael says he can pick out ‘the fresh stems of red roses’ in both the 2007 and the 2011 before he swirls the glass.

Opus One 2015

From a warmer vintage, Michael and his team probably picked a few days later than they wanted to – by which time they were in the middle of a heat spike. As a result, they had to do a lot of ‘cherry-picking’ through the vineyards.

‘When we made the blend in January of 2016 I thought it was too intense,’ says Michael. ‘If it were a painting it would be like a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh – just exploding!’

After 18 months in barrel, that intensity was still there, and the team felt the need to calm the wine down a little, so began adding in small amounts of less exuberant wine originally destined for Overture.

Stylistically Michael still says he finds it closer to the warm-year characteristics of 2007.

Opus One 2016

Michael began a programme of isolating wild yeasts in the vineyard in 2012, on the premise that it increases the sense of place in the wine. It was a long process. They began by finding 50 yeasts from the vineyards, narrowing that down to 35, then 15 and finally six which they liked the most and sent off for analysis.

The lab results were surprising.

‘We found we had three wolves, two coyotes and a dog,’ says Michael wryly. ‘The wolves being the wild yeasts, the coyotes being [semi-wild] yeasts that had certain genetic connections to commercial yeasts, and the dog was a [domesticated] commercial yeast from the Rhone.’

This was the first wine to be made with over 50% of wild yeasts. Current vintages are 100% wild yeast fermented. But what does this process bring to the actual wine?

‘The aromas are different,’ explains Michael. ‘They can be a little more earthy. But the mouthfeel is what I like. When we blend, that’s what we’re looking for, and I love the way [wild yeast] adds little nuances and layers of complexity. The aromas will always come around.’

Of the four Opus One wines on show here, this is the one that Michael felt best captured his grape-growing and winemaking philosophy. Perhaps because of the wild yeast element.

Overture 2020 release

Technically, Overture is, indeed, a second wine in that it comes from the same estate as the main wine. But its philosophy is quite different since it’s a multi-vintage blend, typically of three vintages. The current release is made up of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

‘If Opus is an expression of time over place, Overture is an expression of place over time because the seasons get muted out somewhat and you really see the place coming through more,’ says Michael. ‘The theory is that Overture is the wine that you drink while you’re waiting for Opus, but I’ve always found it to be a good candidate for ageing as well.’

Certainly, it was popular with our tasters, with bright fruit, powdery tannins and a few more years of ageing. Several commented on its relative affordability, too, for venues that might struggle to sell the grand vin.

I don’t make wine for Robert Parker or James Laube. I make wine for two people who aren’t alive anymore: Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi

Michael Silacci

Members’ Q&A With Michael Silacci

There were too many members’ questions to include all of them here (sorry!).  But we’ve picked out a few of our favourites.

Do you get frustrated making just two wines? (Alexia Gallouet, Gymkhana)

I was making 17 wines at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars! I’ve always wanted to make a white wine at Opus. I’ve brought that idea up two or three times a year for 20 years and it hasn’t gone anywhere. But there’s so much going on with our five varieties and in the vineyard… there’s plenty of opportunity when you’re just making one wine.

Has your oak use changed? (Paul Robineau, 110 de Taillevent)

It’s been evolving over time. The barrel is a pedestal on which we support the wine. It needs to support the wine not mask it.

How do you think the 2007 and 2011 vintages will age and when does Opus One start to show its full potential? (Louise Gordon, Heckfield Place Hotel)

The general consensus is that the 2011 will not age as well as the 2007. But 1979 and 1980 are still ageing well and they were both picked earlier. I still get a lot of ‘baby fat’ on the 2007 – a lot of ripe fruit, and that has yet to fade away.

Regarding full potential: there’s a really nice window between 12 and 17 years. After 9 or 10 years they start to go into the tertiary stage.

You mentioned you use biochar in the vineyards. What does it achieve? (George Doyle, Fhior)

You put it near the root zone and it facilitates water uptake. [Because we dry farm] my hope is that it will help the vines out a bit.

What are your favourite vintages of Opus One? (Milena de Waele, Birley Club)

2010 without hesitation. It was the most challenging vintage I’ve ever been through. It was like being in a wrestling match with Mother Nature, trying to channel whatever she sent our way and turn it into something positive.

We stumbled on ripeness three weeks before we thought it would be ripe. It’s my all-time favourite. Though 1980, 1987, 1991 and 1995 are wines I like very much that I had nothing to do with.

Star wine: Opus One 2011

As voted for by The Sommelier Collective members that attended the tasting.

Tasting sheets to download

UK importer

The Opus One wines are available either through Waddesdon Wines or Bibendum. For further detailed information, contact European Export Manager, Charlie Matthews on +33 643 06 45 41; charlie.matthews@opusonewinery.com

Stars of Santa Rita

You might have seen Romain Bourger’s excellent earlier article on California’s Santa Rita Hills AVA. Here he picks out five wines that he thinks show why it’s so special.

MELVILLE, CHARDONNAY, CLONE 76-INOX, STA. RITA HILLS, 2018,

The Vineyard Cellars, £30-£35*

This wine comes from a cold and sandy spot on one of the western vineyards of the estate and is entirely made of Clone 76, one of the most planted clones, originating from Burgundy. It is only vinified on its lees in stainless steel tank without undergoing malolactic fermentation.

The result is a bright, pale green-yellow wine with delicate nose of fresh lemon, green apple and honeysuckle as well as a touch of fresh pineapple. It has a vibrant acidity and a slight, mouth-watering, iodine tone and a round palate. The wine shows great balance and purity.

I would suggest this wine with simply grilled plaice with lemon zest, all reminiscent of the saltiness and freshness found in this wine.

SANDHI, CHARDONNAY, SANDFORD & BENEDICT VINEYARD, STA. RITA HILLS, 2017

Roberson Wine, £45+*

An iconic vineyard indeed as it is the one that pioneered Sta. Rita Hills back in 1971. This is the ninth vintage for this highly acclaimed winery and shows an explosive minerality followed by fresh stone fruit and floral notes. It is an incredibly complex, textured and balanced wine, one that truly shows the level of Chardonnay in California.

I think that due to its complexity and texture, this wine would match with richer dishes such as lobster or poultry in a creamy sauce.

MELVILLE, PINOT NOIR, BLOCK M, STA. RITA HILLS, 2014

The Vineyard Cellars, £45+*

This vineyard is planted on clay soil on the top of a sun-exposed mesa. There is no new oak used in this wine (only neutral barrel from 5-20 years of age) and 70% is whole cluster.

The wine has a dark fruit component and more generous palate but keeps a great freshness and tannic structure. With great depth and complexity it is showing very well now but still has plenty of time to develop.

The ripeness of this wine would pair well with a pork belly served with roasted butternut squash (to which I’d suggest to add some rosemary) and balsamic roasted onions.

The Ojai Vineyard, Grenache, John Sebastiano Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, 2017

Tiger Vines, £25-£30*

Grenache often can be found at a high degree of alcohol and be ripe and almost a bit flabby. This example is none of those things. Planted on a loamy-clay soil with limestone it makes an extremely juicy and seductive Grenache.

The wine has a bright garnet colour and a light intensity that could be reminiscent of Pinot Noir. It is an explosion of ripe red berries and red cherry underlined by a delicate flavor of licorice and violet. The palate is soft, crunchy and juicy with a refreshing savoury finish.

This wine is so delicate that I would definitely pair it with a meaty fish such as some roasted monkfish wrapped in pancetta (somehow now of a classic combination) with a Mediterranean twist; I’d add Provence herbs to it and serve it with a traditional tian of vegetable (aubergines, tomatoes and courgettes, with extra thyme).

STORM WINES, PINOT NOIR, DUVARITA VINEYARD, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, 2015

Tiger Vines, £35-£40*

Although a relatively young vineyard (planted in 2000), this bio-dynamically grown Pinot Noir is made of three different Dijon clones (667, 115 and 113) and planted on sandy loam. The wine has a touch of whole clusters and only a kiss of new oak. The result is a robust Pinot Noir with an amazing forest floor complexity completed by ripe dark fruits, a light violet component and a long, savoury palate. It is not an extracted example of Pinot Noir and, to me, shows exactly what Pinot Noir is capable of.

Due to its great aromatics, I would suggest this wine with a gamey dish such as roasted pheasant with wild mushroom and a red wine reduction.

For more information about the wines of Santa Rita Hills region visit the website.

*All prices are quoted trade, ex VAT.

Santa Rita, Sideways and Sea Breezes

The Santa Rita Hills is 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.

What make this region so unique for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay especially are the transverse hills. Most of the hills in California run north/south parallel to the Pacific. But here they run east to west. So instead of acting as a barrier to the cool sea air, they channel it inland. As a result the vineyards have a great oceanic influence.

There are two east-west valleys between Lompoc and Buellton. The most northerly one runs along Highway 246 between Purisima Hills to the North and the Sta. Rita Hills. It has a loamy, shale-rich soil (part of the Monterey Formation) and generally makes more generous wines.

The other valley runs along Santa Rosa Road, between the Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills to the south. Its terroir is mainly made of clay, shale, alluvial soil (by the riverbed) and diatomaceous earth. The latter is an agglomeration of fossilised algae that resembles limestone and is where the Sandford & Benedict vineyard was first planted. (You’ve all seen Sideways, right?)

Map courtesy of Santa Rita Hills AVA/Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance

Diatomaceous earth is composed of diatomite – sedimentary formation of fossilised diatoms (algae) – silica and clay and can be compared to limestone as it forms soft white rocks.

Limestone soils are famous worldwide for producing great wines for a number of reasons. Diatomaceous earth (such as limestone) has an alkaline pH due to their high calcium content; this helps the vines to absorb nutrients as well as promoting water retention.

It is particularly important in clay soils as it offers better soil structure and, in periods of dry weather, makes it easier for the roots to go deeper in search of the water and nutrients needed. Soils rich in calcium also lead to higher grape acidity late in the growing season (which is particularly crucial in the Santa Rita Hills as the latter is very long in the region) and lower wine pH.

Modern history

The region’s modern history started in 1970 when Richard Sandford searched the region to find somewhere to farm. He analysed weather records from the area and found that the further inland you go, the hotter it gets, with one mile roughly equal to one degree more of temperature.

With this information, he located a two to four miles wide micro-climate on which to establish his vineyard and in 1971 he planted the Sandford & Benedict vineyard, eight miles east of Lompoc, with his business partner Michael Benedict. It was a watershed moment for the history of winemaking in the Santa Rita Hills.

The 1980’s saw a growing interest in this vineyard with vintners such as Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat) buying grapes from there as well as the Santa Maria Valley.

However, the rise of the region took time and, by the 1990’s, the northern part of Santa Barbara County had become Chardonnay territory. The warmer Santa Ynez Valley had also become known for growing Rhône varietals.

It was only in 2001 that the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley became the Santa Rita Hills AVA.

The climate in the Santa Rita Hills is relatively warm and consistent all year long but rarely exceeds 27 degrees Celsius as it is cooled down during the growing season by the strong oceanic wind and fog from off the Pacific. The wind blows during the early afternoon sending the vine into a sort of “ripening dormancy” and allowing them to slowly mature and achieve the best phenolic ripeness without sugar spiking. Alcohol levels are, therefore, lower.

It never gets very cold. Even in January the average temperature in Lompoc is 19 degrees Celsius.

The climatic conditions (warm, not hot, cooling breezes and fogs) and soils make the region particularly suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But though they do, indeed, thrive here other varietals are also grown, such as Syrah and Grenache.  

Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non planted his Eleven Confessions Vineyard just a few miles east of the Pinot Noir holy grail of the Sandford & Benedict Vineyard, for instance. The vineyard is planted to Syrah and Grenache primarily with the addition of Roussanne, Viognier and Petite Syrah as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Muscat. The cool climate allows for harvest around the end of October and sometimes even in November. It is densely planted and produces on average less than 600 grams of fruit per vine.

During the early 2000’s, the trend was towards bigger and plusher expressions of Pinot Noir. This was partly due to the long growing season that the region enjoys allowing a longer hang time on the vines and pushing the maturity of the grapes.

But since the mid-2000s, the region has seen a resurgence in term of style that seem to go back to its 1970’s roots as regards ripeness levels. Lots of wines nowadays have a true sense of place and terroirs with bright minerality, tension and lean fruit with this hint of ripeness as a backbone.

6 Names to look out for

1. Sandhi

(Roberson Wine)

2. Domaine de la Côte

(Roberson Wine)

3. Melville Winery

(The Vineyard Cellars)

4. Ojai Vineyard

(Tiger Vines)

5. Sine Qua Non

(Berry Bros & Rudd)

6. Au Bon Climat

(Fields, Morris & Verdin)

You can read and learn more about California in the LEARN section.

Discovery Tasting: Symington

The UK might be back to being shut in its houses and apartments again, and travel might be off the agenda. But our latest Discovery Tasting with Symington Family Estates provided an escape in both place and time.

Fifth generation family member, Anthony Symington, showed off a stunning range of ports and table wines that transported our lucky tasters not just from Lockdown Britain to the unmatchable beauty of the Douro, but back through the decades as well.

The Symington Family have been making ports in this part of northern Portugal for over 150 years, and with 26 quintas (estates) in the valley, are the biggest producer of premium port in the region. Every sommelier will be familiar with the great names of their portfolio: Dows, Warres and Grahams, plus the Douro’s ‘first first growth’ Quinta do Vesuvio.

But the tasting began with a couple of table wines, with Symington showing off their top wine, Chryseia, and its second wine, Post Scriptum, made in association with Bruno Prats, former director of Cos d’Estournel.

In fact, the latter is the reason why the wines were ever created. Visiting the family as a fellow member of the Primum Familiae Vini, he took a look at the Douro and asked bluntly, ‘why don’t you make red wine here? You’re crazy! You have this incredible unique terroir and varieties that aren’t used anywhere else.’

The two families teamed up to make Prats + Symington in 1999 and have been making Chryseia in the best years ever since, and Post Scriptum in the others.

The wines come from the Quinta de Roriz vineyard, which is the site of an old tin mine, and has an incredibly high mineral content.

‘You can taste this in these two wines,’ said Anthony. ‘Obviously they are Douro in style, but they have a fresh, graphite minerality running through them. From 5-10 years old it still has youthful fruit, but from 10-14 years it gets more secondary characteristics.’

Our tasters sampled the 2015, which is now starting to show really well and clearly has many decades ahead of it.

From here it was on to Port. All of the wines were from Grahams which celebrated its 200th anniversary this year. Though Covid scuppered any actual celebrations.

First up our tasters had a real treat with two single-vintage tawnies (aka colheitas), from two of the best port vintages of the last century: 1963 and 1994.

‘A colheita is a snapshot in time,’ said Anthony. ‘We don’t release the wines to coincide with an anniversary – just where we feel they are showing incredibly well.’

The ‘snapshot in time’ was particularly poignant for the older of the two. Not only were none of our tasters or panellists born in 1963 but the Douro was still incredibly isolated – a rural backwater six hours from Porto, with sporadic electricity. It was a wine with a finish that was measured in hours.

Yet the star for most tasters was the 1994. At 26 years old, it was at what many observers consider the peak age for tawny port. Food matches flooded in for these wines, from myriad desserts and cigar styles to beer-battered oysters.

They’re clearly a really useful style for restaurants, since once opened they can last happily for a month, so there’s little pressure on teams to sell them fast.

Speed of sell-through is more of an issue for bottle-aged ports, such as our final two vintages. But Anthony suggested three really great tips.

Three sell-through tips

  1. Decant the bottle on a Friday and sell it as a ‘special’ throughout the weekend – vintage port is fine for three days.
  2. Take advantage of their ‘half bottle’ presentation set, which features 37.5cl of vintage port, a decanter and a wooden presentation board. ‘It can sit on a list around £35 or £15 a glass.’
  3. Employ a Coravin using the same process as for ordinary table wine. ‘There’s no need to decant in advance. When you start getting near the bottom of the bottle sediment can sometimes partially block the needle but simply moving the bottle slightly dislodges this. When you near the end of the bottle you can decant the remaining few glasses out.’

Interestingly, Anthony also suggested that the traditional ‘Stilton’ match might need a rethink.

‘The older ports are more delicate wines,’he  said. ‘I don’t think you’d want a blue cheese with them, even though that’s the tradition in the UK. We often have it with a creamy sheep’s cheese.’

While the magnificence of the 1983 Grahams was not a surprise – it’s a top port from a great year – the quality of the Quinta do Malvedos raised eyebrows – particularly for the price. Though this wine is made to be drunk slightly younger (and really starts to drink well from ten years old) some tasters had examples from the millennium which they said were still fantastic.

All in all, it was a spectacular tasting of myriad wine styles, united only by their age and excellence. After all, how often do you get to taste six wines with a combined age of 150 years?

Star wine

As voted for by The Sommelier Collective members that attended the tasting.

Tasting sheets to download

If you just list one saké style, make it this one

At a time when restaurant lists are getting smaller, not longer and customers are hesitant about most things, it might seem strange to be talking about why you should be considering adding a sake to your list. It is, after all, not something that many UK diners are that comfortable with.

But bear with me. There’s logic here. For starters, sake is cool with the cognoscenti. It has heritage, history, tradition and an air of mystery. If you have drinks-literate early-adopters, sake is a great way for them to stretch their boundaries and look good while doing so.

Secondly, because sake isn’t made like wine (see box out below) it offers interesting food-pairing offerings, too. As a hand-sell or a pairing for myriad foods (the umami makes it incredibly across-the-board versatile) it really brings something to the table, in a non-threatening way.

In happier times, I might be suggesting creating a mini sake section for your list, complete with lots of beautiful, elegant sake-ware. Those days, sadly, are probably gone – at least for the moment.

So I’m going to suggest adding just one sake to your list. And if you’re going to do that, I think it makes sense to go for the best-seller: Sparkling Sake.

images courtesy of Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association

There are six reasons why

  1. It’s available in small bottles (e.g. 300ml).
  2. Styles vary widely, but the most popular type is low in alcohol (typically 5%).
  3. It has quite a bit of sugar, offset by a zesty sourness.
  4. It’s as easy to drink as Prosecco, but, being sake, it’s umami flavour profile means that it works with food too.
  5. It’s the style that newbies will try – and like.
  6. You can serve it in a sparkling or white wine glass – no need for dedicated sake-ware.

There are, as I said, lots of styles of sparkling sake, but here are two – at opposing ends of the spectrum – that are worth a look if you’re thinking of dipping your toe in the water.

Mio Sparkling Sake

£4.50 (150ml) from Tazaki Foods

Light, frothy, medium sweet with ricey, earthy notes and a core of yellow plum and ripe apple flavours. Very easy drinking, and guests always love it. 

Keigetsu ‘John’ Sparkling Sake

£19.90/37.5cl from Liberty Wines

This one comes in a 375ml bottle, like a half bottle of wine. A little more austere but still full of stone fruit, pineapple and citrus character. Very elegant. Full bottles are £32.04 ex VAT.

I’ll be returning to sake in more detail over the coming months, but until then, here are five take-away facts to help you make a start on the category.

5 Saké Facts

  1. Sake is made from rice, water, koji mould and yeast. Sometimes a little distilled spirit is added too, just to give a more crisp and aromatic style.
  2. The alcohol level of sake is usually around 15-16%abv.
  3. Sake should be stored upright, in a cool, dark place.
  4. Most sake is meant to be drunk within a year. The vintage is not really important.
  5. Sparkling sake should be served chilled. Most other styles of sake can be served cold, room temperature, or even warm.

Dicovery Tasting: La Rioja Alta

Twenty-four lucky members of The Sommelier Collective were treated to the club’s first ever Discovery Tasting this week (19.10.2020) from world-renowned winery La Rioja Alta.

Based in the famous Barrio Estacion (station quarter) in Haro, home to famous names like Muga, Cune and Lopez de Heredia, La Rioja Alta has been making world-famous wines since 1890.

‘It’s the most exciting place in Rioja,’ said winemaker Julio Saenz. ‘If you visit our street you can walk from great winery to great winery.’

Along with technical director, Alejandro Lopez, Julio showed the members six wines: four vintages of the flagship reserva Viña Ardanza, and two of the gran reserva, 904. The members had all received their specially prepared tasting samples a few days earlier.

The Viña Ardanza vintages ran from 1989 through 2000 and 2001 to 2010, the latest release to hit the UK. Since the latter is ten years old, you won’t be surprised to hear that this is a house that takes its cellaring seriously.

‘Barrel ageing is a big part of our history,’ explained Julio. The 1989 spent 42 months in very old barrels. The average age of the barricas then was 18 years old, but this has changed over time. More recent versions spend around three years ageing in barrels with an average age of four years.

Though the barrels are always American oak – and the time in wood is always followed up by four to five years bottle-ageing before release.  

Asked to describe the wines, Julio repeatedly used words like ‘intensity, complexity, soft tannins, balance and long aftertaste’. They are wines that build gently in layers rather than making a lot of noise.

Judging from comments throughout, that elegance was a big hit with the Sommelier Collective’s tasters.

The Viña Ardanza wines are all 80% Tempranillo from the Rioja Alta region, with 20% Garnacha (Grenache) from Rioja Baja.

The 904 Gran Reservas are 90% Tempranillo – from some of the highest (calcareous) vineyards in the region, with 10% Graciano, a beautiful but difficult to grow native variety, also from the Rioja Alta sub-region.

‘In our opinion, gran reservas are the best wines of Rioja,’ said Alejandro. ‘The best grapes from the best vineyards and the best barrels.

‘The grapes for this wine are grown at the limit of where you can grow Tempranillo in the north of Rioja. So it’s not easy to have grapes like this every year. It’s why we can only make it four times in a decade, in the very best vintages.’

Wines tasted:

QUESTIONS FROM THE SOMMELIER COLLECTIVE MEMBERS

Which is your favourite vintage – 1985 or 1989?

Julio: 1985 – the previous winemaker told me he thought it could have been the best vintage of that period. I think it’s more Burgundian. It has less colour than 1989, but it is one of the best vintages.

Which is more important, tannin or acidity?

Julio: We are looking for very good acidity, but not too high. We need balance between the alcoholic content and the acidity, and the tannins. Acidity is typically at 5-6g/litre. Our tannins in Rioja are typically very soft and elegant. In our winery in Ribera del Duero, for example, the tannins are higher than for Viña Ardanza.’

Would you say that softness and non-aggressive nature of the wines is the hallmark style of Viña Ardanza?

Alejandro: It’s elegance – easy to drink – but with complexity and a lot of aromatic intensity, with softness in the mouth. To get that we need first of all the best grapes, and it’s not easy to get those every year. So in some years we can’t make it. We only make Viña Ardanza six years out of ten, for instance. If the flavour profile of the grapes doesn’t fit we can’t make it.

Which have been the best vintages of Rioja?

Julio: We’ve only ever classified four Viña Ardanzas as ‘Reserva Especial’: 1964 and 1972 and two of the wines here – 2001 and 2010. 2001 was an amazing vintage for us.

Where do you buy your barrels from?

Julio: We make our own. We’ve imported staves since 1996. We dry them for three years then make our own barrels. We only use American oak, from Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. We need to have the control of this process because it’s so important to the quality of the wine. Toasting level is medium/medium plus.

Would you recommend decanting the wines?

Julio: I don’t recommend it. It’s better to open it just ten or 15 minutes before you drink it and move the glass to open the wine, and you’ll see the evolution then. Decanting it makes it worse. It drops its flavour quickly – and you’ll see that there is sediment.

STAR WINE
as voted for by the members

2001 Vina Ardanza
(50% of the vote)

La Rioja Alta wines are available through Armit Wines

Island jewel PANTELLERIA is no longer just about sweet wines

In the sea between Sicily and Tunisia, at the southernmost point of Italy, lies the island of Pantelleria.

Geographically, it’s closer to north Africa (Tunisia is 60km to the west) than it is to the rest of Italy, so it’s perhaps no surprise to discover that it has extremely long, hot and dry summers. Rainfall is about 300mm a year, with just 0.2mm of it falling in July.

In such arid conditions, vine growing is only possible at all thanks to morning dew and decent winter rains. Most of the production is focused on sweet wines, but there is more to it than this, as you will see.

Pantelleria is not large – just 80 square kilometres – and the vast majority of its vineyards are planted to Zibibbo, also known locally as Moscato D’Alessandria. Similar to Moscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc a Petite Grains) it is highly aromatic and with a medium acidity, which makes it well suited to the production of sweet wines. Closely related to table grapes it’s quite ‘grapey’ – with flavours of elderflowers, stone fruits, and sweet spices.

Although it is found dotted around other Italian Regions it probably shows its best in the Colli Euganei in the Veneto where it is used for another sweet appassito wine called Fior D’Arancio.

Two styles of sweet wines are produced on the island – Moscato di Pantelleria and Passito di Pantelleria.

For both the styles grapes have to be laid outside either in serre (glasshouses) which have to be ventilated, or without any covers, with is the traditional way of making the wines. This drying process concentrates the flavours and increases sugar levels.

For Moscato Di Pantelleria, grapes are dried for one or two weeks. For Passito di Pantelleria it can be upwards of a month.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to vinification for Passito di Pantelleria. The traditional method involves pressing of the dried grapes only, with gives wines with more syrupy prune-like aromas.

But some producers use a similar technique to Tokaji, where a base wine is made using non-dried grapes harvest and this is then macerated with the dried grapes. Introduced by Donnafugata in the 1980s, this technique adds both aroma and body, and gives fresher wine with more primary aromas.

Both techniques give wines that are opulent and very sweet, which makes them ideal for pairing with high-sugar desserts that would overpower most sweet wines.

I also find that Pantelleria wines have some sparse tannins, as the grapes are almost raisin-like and need quite hard pressing to extract the juice. This gives an extra dimension to the wines, adding a little astringency to balance the sweetness.

The Arrival of Dry and Natural

When it comes to allowing experimentation, Sicily is one of the most creative regions in Italy, so it’s no surprise that Pantelleria is no longer all about sweet wines.

Spurred on, no doubt, by the fact that the market for the latter is declining, for ten years or so, growers have started to produce more dry wines.

A range of Sicilian grapes are used for these, but Zibibbo is the most common and also, in my opinion, the best. Grapes are harvested when just ripe, at the end of August. 

The ‘natural’ movement is very active on the small island, with a growing number of amphora and ‘orange’ wines cropping up every year.

Zibibbo is really well suited to the latter, with a contrast between the sweet, exotic aromas on the nose and the very dry, lean palate.

The only downside is that they’re not cheap. Pantelleria is very small, so there are no economies of scale, and the climatic conditions mean that yields are naturally very low. Price-wise these are likely to appear in the upper middle section of the wine list.

On the plus side, this style works really well in pairing menus and by the glass. It’s different, surprising, and has a great story behind it.

Cellar suggestions: three to try for your list

Marco de Bartoli, Bukkuram Sole d’Agosto, Passito di Pantelleria, 2015

Les Caves de Pyrene £45+

Marco De Bartoli’s history is entwined with the history of modern Sicilian wines. From two wine producing families in Marsala, he returned to the region when he called time on his rally-driving career in the early 1980s. He, focused on low yielding Grillo, and high quality Marsala unheard of at the time and became the president of Sicilian wines for a couple of years before being mysteriously removed from his position. Nobody knows exactly why, but we can assume that his ideas where quite different to the rest of Sicilian producers at the time.

What he couldn’t achieve for Marsala, He did in Pantelleria, where he bought his second estate in 1989. He pushed to produce the highest possible quality sweet wines. Changing the way Pantelleria was going.

This is a prime example of the Passito di Pantelleria. Aged in very old barriques it is made in a sweet style with complex, chocolate, peach and mint aromas. It is best served alongside a chocolate mousse or a fondant.

Marco De Bartoli, Integer Zibibbo 2016

Les Caves de Pyrene £20-25+

Another offering from Marco De Bartoli. This time it’s a dry, skin-contact amphora-aged Zibibbo. The wines is  grapey, with aromas of nectarines and pear. A more mellow style than some skin-contact wines, it also has an unusually low alcohol level, thanks to the very early harvesting.

This works well as an aperitif or with starters of crudo.

Gabrio Bini,  Serragghia Bianco Zibibbo 2017

Tutto Wines £35-40

Serragghia is probably the most famous, natural style wine of Pantelleria. The vineyard is situated in close proximity to the sea enjoying almost constant sea breezes and temperatures are surprisingly moderate, even in the height of summer.

The eccentric, Gabrio Bini, moved from Milan to Pantelleria to be a winemaker, leaving behind his former architect career in the early 1990s. In 2000 he established his cellar, where no chemicals have ever entered. He does the least intervention possible in the vineyards.

A great example of the contrasting style between the aromatic intensity of Zibibbo and the drying influence of the amphoras that Gabrio buries in the depth of the cellar, this is a wine that has aromas of stone fruits and sage, with some saline notes.

The palate is bone dry with surprisingly strong tannins, which means that this can be served with monkfish or pork – just make sure that that the dish has plenty of flavour.

Learn more

Find out more about the traditional agricultural practice of cultivating head-trained bush vines on the island of Pantelleria.

Lambrusco – great value gems that are perfect for food

The plains of Emilia Romagna and Lombardy are home to some of the biggest foods in Italian gastronomy: prosciutto, Grana Padano, and tortellini to name but a few. And here they are paired with the local Lambrusco.

It’s a wine like no other – sparkling, bright purple in colour… and tannic – which makes is ideal to go with those high fat, opulent, local products.

Lambrusco in the area’s bars is served by the glass, alongside a platter of warm, oil-dripping focaccia and all the mouth-watering products that the region has to offer. In the local’s houses, Lambrusco often goes through the whole meal, where it’s sparkle and richness helps refresh the palate.

Emilia-Romagna – the gastronomic heart of Italy

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. It’s true that Lambrusco’s name declined in the 1980s when co-operatives produced most of the wines and their ethos was definitely one of quantity over quality.

But there have always been independent producers that have made high-quality Lambrusco and there is now an upwards quality trend. Admittedly there are fewer of these good producers than there used to be, and the number of hectares planted has declined. But they’re still there and they are still worth looking out for.

Lambrusco is great value for you and your guests

Vibrant, varied, good with food and by the glass, Lambrusco can really add something different to your list – and your customers’ experience. And since it is generally very cheap, it can be an affordable surprise for your guests.

clones and styles

Lambrusco is produced from the grape of the same name, though there are several different clones named after the villages where they originated:

  • Lambrusco Salamino is the most widely planted and the most aromatic; normally medium sweet, balanced by high tannins.
  • Lambrusco Sorbara is the most deeply coloured with lower tannins. It’s typically dry or off-dry.
  • Lambrusco Grasparossa is considered the finest clone, producing the deepest wines, with lower tannins. It’s usually found as a dry wine.

Other clones exist, and they can be planted virtually anywhere within the appellations, though each of the five DOCs has a minimum percentage required of each clone for the wines to be classified.

Frothy, yes – but there are multiple styles of Lambrusco

Modena’s province, is where most of Lambrusco is produced, and it has four DOCS.

  1. Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC is the most floral, and direct, with soft tannins. Produced on sandy soils, it is usually medium sweet and is well suited for a pasta dishes and/or grilled vegetables.
  2. Lambrusco Salmino di Santacroce is 90% made up of the Salamino clone and is produced on both flat and hilly sides. It is meant to be drunk young and tends to be sweet, with high acidity. Ideal served chilled by the glass as an aperitif.
  3. Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro comes from vineyards situated on the hillside, with longer ripening season, higher concentration, and more complexity. It usually the driest in style and most age-worthy.
  4. Modena DOC is the largest and the quality and style of wines here varies a lot

Most noteworthy Lambruscos are produced using the classic method, or Ancestrale (pet-nat), which involves bottling an almost fully-fermented wine and sealing it in order to trap the CO2 produced, rendering the wine sparkling.

These are definitely the styles that quality producers are championing, and can be a great companion to food, as they tend to be dry and complex with a savoury palate. They can also age for a few years, developing dry fruit and forest floor flavours with time.

Lambrusco offers great quality for the price, starting at £5 and rarely above £20; it has a unique style that offers something different for food-matching, but it can be easily served by the glass too. I have previously stocked Lambrusco by the glass in the summer season and it went down very well with my customers.

Of course, its reputation might mean that it needs to be ‘pushed’ to them. But in hot months served alongside charcuterie and fritters, it really comes into its own.

cellar suggestions: Three to try for your list

Lambrusco Reggiano DOC Concerto, Medici Ermete

Vinum Terra, £10-12

A classic method, Lambrusco, Dry with aromas of roses, cassis, plums and an undertone of sage and bread. Served with a rich steak or lamb it works really well.

Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC Secco I Quercioli, Medici Ermete

Vinum Terra, £8.00-10

Brut style, this has more direct aromas of maraschino cherries, plums and strawberries. I would suggest it goes best if you serve it with deep-fried vegetables or cheese.

Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro ‘Ribello’ Roberto Balugani

Fields, Morris and Verdin, £8-10

Ancestral Method, off dry, with savoury aromas, herbs, and plums. This has a delicate mousse and goes well as an aperitif with salami or with a cheese platter and tomato relish.

Weird Can Be Wonderful.

At a time when everyone is looking at what they eat, where its from and how it’s made there is still quite a big gap in choosing what we drink. When you go to most retail sellers the shelves will be filled with co-operative productions, own-brand labels and recognisable names.

I admit I shamelessly enjoy the 19 Crimes range (don’t judge!) despite the headache the next day. But really I find the more artisanal low-interference wines more interesting – my sommelier team and I have really come to enjoy them.

So the question is, how do we get our guests to experience them and discover more upon each visit?

My view here is that we aren’t necessarily trying to convince everyone that this style of wine is the future, just to be brave enough to mix them in every now and then.

A big challenge I had when expanding the “natural wines” part of the list was that committing to a bottle was a bit tough for many people, especially given the ethos of some producers.

For example when away on holiday my number two decided to buy six wines from a producer in Austria, all low sulphur and unfiltered, one of which was amphora aged and bottled in ceramic. He meant well but my god it was awful.

In order to expand the view of our clientele we introduced two wine pairings. But we didn’t take the usual approach of offering four/six glasses or a normal/premium version. Instead we gave them a choice of Classics or Weird and Wonderful. This gave the guest the option of experimenting or playing safe. I expected most diners to play safe, but in fact it was about 60/40 in favour of weird.

There is, of course weird and WEIRD, and we kept it relatively tame. So no Jura wines or whacking on a flight of Gravner Breg Bianco (although it did feature once). Rather, we used the ethos of low maintenance production and intervention in wines that still expressed freshness and had some level of familiarity.

Success rate of the weird pairing was fairly high, if people were not getting it after the first/second wine I would always suggest we swapped to classic. After all, it’s their money.

But the majority of my patrons who experienced this selection of “healthy” alternative wines were surprised with the overall quality and diverse flavours as well as the fact they were still able to speak after eight wines in a row (I pour generously).

They even came to me at breakfast the next morning, surprised and delighted that their head was clear and pain free! Often the wines I used were natural yeast ferments and therefore low alcohol as well as low sulphur.

Some of our best matchings from the ‘weird and wonderful’ wine flight

Don’t be feared of the weird. It shows that people can be encouraged to go outside their comfort zone if you make it easy for them.

Occhipinti SP68 Bianco, Sicily
Stockist: Les Caves de Pyrenne £12-£17
Served with a fresh crab dish.
Aromatic fresh and lively style.

Pheasants Tears Saperavi, Kakheti, Georgia
Stockist: Les Caves de Pyrenne £12-£15
Paired with venison during the season.
Bold flavours, leather, spice, mushroom earthy and autumnal but not overbearing.

Akashi-tai Ginjo Yuzushu Sake
Stockist: Wine Service £15-£20
Served with earl grey sorbet pre dessert.
Basically a lemon punch in the face, completely resets the palate before moving on. It woke people up pretty good too!