Category Archives: Our Wines

What does a wine merchant drink at Christmas?

 

If you would like a little help stocking up your wine rack for Christmas please come in and talk to us. Tell us what you like and what you don’t like, and you’re bound to leave with some truly wonderful finds to complement your food offering and make your Christmas really memorable.

For a little inspiration here is what Jon drinks at Christmas (a slightly edited version anyway, we know you don’t have all day!)

Christmas Eve. This has to be one of the best times of the year. That delicious moment when everyone is home and you can start the party. I like a crisp, well chilled white wine, something refreshing like Sancerre or Pouilly Fume. These are from Sauvignon Blanc grown in the upper reaches of France’s Loire valley. They lack the pungent fruitiness of New Zealand Sauvignon but replace it with a tight, stony crispness that is impossible to beat.
Domaine Roblin Sancerre, £19.50

Christmas Morning. My family tradition calls for Champagne at this point. Personally these days I usually opt for English Sparkling Wine from one of Devon or Cornwall’s own vineyards. Every bit as good and local too.
Trevibban Mill Brut, £30

Christmas Lunch. Burgundy is the absolute classic here. These are the most tricky wines of all to get right. The whites are from chardonnay and the reds from Pinot Noir. The best guide to quality is the name of the producer rather than the micro zone the wine comes from, but you must get advice and you must spend a decent sum or you will be disappointed. When the wine is good, there is nothing better in the world; buttery, complex, creamy whites and multi-layered, complex, delicate reds with the odd mushroomy twang to keep your interest until the very last drop.
Les Heritiers Hautes Cotes de Beaune Blanc, £22
Amiot Servelle Chambolle Musigny, £65

Christmas Day Evening. By this point fatigue has set in, the palate is a little jaded and a disagreeable hangover lurks nearby. I find that something sweet does the job, ideally sweet and fizzy. So a nice Moscato d’Asti is perfect; this is low alcohol with a delicious grapey fresh taste and a lick of comforting sugar. For something stronger and sweeter, go for vintage port, ideally with a couple of decades age. This is another absolute classic, rich full and, if well aged, tastes a bit like Christmas cake.
GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti, £20
Quinta do Infantado 2011, £58

Boxing Day. Head out for that walk, get some air, chase the dog / children about and you will be ready for one of life’s true pleasures; the boxing day left-overs lunch. What to drink? This is a chance to go off-piste; so top quality of course, but less trad. I’d love a rich complex, full bodied white from South Africa. For red a lovely gentle, spicy Rhone wine, so Gigondas, Lirac or everyone’s Dad’s favourite, Chateauneuf du Pape.
Miles Mossop Saskia, £18
Domaine Gallety Cotes du Vivarais, £25

Discovering New-Wave South African Wines

Travelling to the Southern Hemisphere for Spring as the leaves turn in Cornwall is always tempting, but was not the only reason for Jon’s trip in October. “There are really exciting young winemakers in South Africa creating interesting, modern wines from well-established old vines,” he explained. A trip to meet some of these producers first-hand was an exciting prospect…

As well as visiting vineyards in well-known Swartland, Franshoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch, Jon also visited the lesser known region of Elgin which is traditionally renowned for growing apples. As you will read, Jon returned fired-up by the experience, and he has chosen four white and four red wines on the menu by the glass to help you get to know them too.

Over to Jon to tell us more…

The overall feeling I had after my trip was of the amount of young, skilled and forward-thinking winemakers. They have studied their craft then travelled the world honing their knowledge and expertise, and returned full of enthusiasm and ideas. Working with old vines that have been in the ground for 100 years or more means that they have access to excellent quality grapes to craft their wines with – it’s not like planting a new vineyard and starting from scratch.

What has changed is not so much the viticulture or the way in which the vines are grown, but their methods of making the wine – the vinification. Thirty years ago the style favoured by critics was for big, heavy extracted wines. Now the grapes aren’t pressed for as long, making lighter, fresher wines. By doing this the winemakers can really show difference, reflecting the terroir of each particular vineyard.

This can really be seen in the wines of Donovan Rall, who is enamoured with Mediterranean varieties. We are stocking his Tea Leaf Chenin which comes from a small plot surrounded by native rooibos plants that lend their flavour to the wine. This is a great example of how the terroir effects the grapes and produces a distinctive, complex wine that is still modern thanks to its juicy drinkability.

Other Mediterranean grape varieties that have been given a modern twist include Mourvedre and Grenache. Young winemaker Jolandie Fouche joined Kloovenburg and the du Toit family approximately three years ago. The historic vineyard benefits from her no-nonsense approach that relies on smell, touch and experience to create wines with their own character. This is clearly shown in the Kloovenburg Grenache, with its super-pure fruit and elegant dark cherry, plus a herbal note that makes this a vibrant, juicy mid-weight wine.

The trip was a revelation to me and I’m really looking forward to bringing more of my South African discoveries onto the shelves here at Scarlet Wines.

Introducing The WineBarn

We are hugely excited to be working with The WineBarn, a German wine importer headed up by native wine expert Iris Ellmann. We are their first Cornish outpost, providing a footing in the far West alongside their mainly London stockists, which include Harvey Nics, Harrods & Selfridges.

After attending their portfolio tasting in London last month, Jon was blown away by the diversity and quality of the WineBarn range. He has added about a dozen of these intriguing new finds to our collection; they are now available to trade and retail customers and we are looking forward to offering several by the glass in the café over the coming months.

Iris has hand-picked a wide selection of great producers – from historic family estates to up-and-coming young winemakers – all of whom she knows and deals with personally on her travels through Germany’s 13 wine growing regions.

Jon has selected whites, sparkling and red wines, all of which we can’t wait to introduce to our shelves.

Here’s a few to look out for…

Whites

Allendorf, 2016 – Save Water Drink Riesling
A delightfully fresh Riesling with scents of fresh grass, pineapple and apricots. Perfect with fresh Cornish shellfish, or our local asparagus when in season.

Weingut Aldinger, 2014 – Sauvignon Blanc Grand Reserve Dry
This complex and rounded Sauvignon, which is left on the lees for 5-6 months, has aromas of gooseberries, redcurrants und citrus fruits. It combines good minerality with a savoury finish.

Sparkling

Allendorf, 2015 – Riesling Sekt Brut
This sparkling wine is a nice aperitif or palate cleanser. Tender aromas of peach and apricots and a hint of apples. On the palate it shows delicate fruit-flavours and a complex character.

Reds

Weingut Bercher, 2015 – Burkheimer Spätburgunder Village Pinot Noir
From the Baden region, this Pinot is surprisingly juicy and full. The spicy-sweet aroma of dark chocolate, orange and figs makes this a good match for some of our Eastern-inspired lamb dishes.

Weingut Becker, 2013 – Becker Family Pinot Noir
This Pinot Noir is grown on a rare area of limestone soil. It is light in colour with scents of wild berries, tobacco, spices and forest floor. On the palate it is juicy and elegant, with good length and structure.

If you’d like any more information, or would like to introduce some of these wines to your own restaurant list, please get in touch with Jon.

Award-Winning Polgoon Wines Available Here

Congratulations to Polgoon Vineyard & Orchard, which recently won recognition from prestigious worldwide competition, The International Wine Challenge.

Our nearest vineyard neighbours received Commended Awards for both the 2014 Bacchus and 2014 Madeleine Angevine.

We are pleased to have stocks of the Bacchus here at Scarlet Wines, which has also just been awarded a Gold from the United Kingdom Vineyards Association.

The Bacchus is described as follows:

“A single estate and single variety, exuberant white wine that has a nose of fresh spring grass, gooseberry and elderflower. The aromatic palate is full of tropical fruit and peach flavours. Ideal pairing for crisp salads with goat’s cheese or Cornish shellfish – particularly crab – and fresh vegetables such as peas and asparagus.”

We are currently recommending the Polgoon Bacchus with our Seafood Platter, with fresh seasonal sides including Broad Beans and Rocket Salad.

Polgoon occupies a sunny hillside on the edge of Penzance, where grape varieties suited to the Cornish climate are grown alongside apples and other fruits used in their ciders and juices.

Owners Kim and John Coulson established the vineyard and orchard from scratch; the site is now a magnet for food and drink enthusiasts with tours and tastings, and a deli selling other Cornish produce.

John was pleased with the results of this year’s competitions, saying: “It is extremely special to receive such prestigious awards; I am especially proud of our Bacchus winning Gold from the UK Vineyards Association. It is all very excited for not only us all here at Polgoon, but also for the English wine industry as a whole.”

The Polgoon Bacchus 2014 is £15 a bottle in the shop, or £21 to drink in. It’s also on sale by the glass.

Christmas Cases

We have devised three special Christmas Wine Cases – brought together at a discounted rate for six bottles – showcasing Italian, French and Spanish classics. Take your pick!

Each case features some delicious bubbles, two reds and two whites, plus a bottle of decadent dessert wine. The wines are sold in presentation boxes and can be pre-ordered for collection or made up whilst you wait.

Italian Case (Normally £152, reduced to £135)

Bellavista Cuvvee Brut, Franciacorta, NV
Alpha Zeta Amarone, Veneto, 12
Fontodi Chianti Classico, Tuscany, 11
Vesevo, Greco di Tufo, Benventano, 14
Pieropan, Soave La Rocca, Soave Classico, 12
Cantine Leornardo, Vin Santo, Tuscany, 08

 

French Case (Normally £96.50, reduced to £85)

Cremant de Limoux, NV
Chateauneuf du Pape Closerie de Vaudieu, 12
Chateau Beynat, Cotes de Bordeaux, 12
Domaine des Ballandors, Quincy, 14
Pascal Pauget Macon Villages, Macon, 12
Chateau Dauphine Rondillon, Loupiac, 06

 

Spanish Case (Normally £59, reduced to £52) + Port

Babot Cava, Penedes, NV
Al Tesoro Verdejo, Castilla Y Leon, 14
Cien Malvasia, Toro, 13
Pedrera Monastrell, Jumilla, 14
Ontanon Ecologico Rioja, Rioja, 13
Grahams 6 Grapes Reserve Ruby, Porto, NV

Bottle Shape Clues

When you stand in front of a shelf packed with bottles of wine it initially looks like a bit of a jumble. Packaging of all colour, glass of all shapes, plain or colourful labels and different closures. But, look a bit deeper and pattern begins to emerge. There are, in fact, a few bottle shapes that are routinely used by wine makers (and marketeers) to give clues to the sort of wine they contain.

Let’s use one classic shape as an example; the flute. This tall, elegant, long necked bottle is usually green or brown rather than clear and wine in these bottles looks distinctly German. And for good reason, since much German white wine does indeed come in bottles of this shape. Wine from the French region of Alsace is also legally required to come in this bottle shape. All of that could be put down to tradition. But, what is more interesting is that winemakers in Chile, Australia and all over the place use this bottle shape when they are making a wine in a German or Alsace style.

So, the flute bottle shape has become a highly reliable clue that the wine it contains will be fruity, un-oaked, aromatic, possibly sweet and probably made from grapes like Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris.

This is a really useful idea and is a big help in decoding that pile of bottles you find on the shelf. Here then is a list of other shapes you will find and what they are likely to mean; a spotters guide to wine.

Bordeaux. After the flute this is perhaps the most recognisable with its high shoulders and parallel sides. So, the wine within is likely to be a blend of Bordeaux grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. As such it is likely to be medium bodied, strongly flavoured, fairly fresh and with quite a lot of chewy tannin. Perfect with hearty food, less good on it’s own. Good quality Chianti now also comes in these – perhaps because it shares some of these characteristics.

Burgundy. Wine in Burgundy is generally either white from Chardonnay or red from Pinot Noir. So, this round-shouldered bottle is a good indicator that a wine will be this style. Chardonnay is famously malleable so its flavours will range from citrus through to tropical, but in this shaped bottle it is also likely to see some oak. The red Pinot Noirs should have a generally light body and colour, bright fruit and a lovely aromatic freshness.

Rhone. These bottles are troublingly similar to the Burgundy bottle but are usually a little heavier and may have an embossed crest or text, with names like Chateauneuf, Gigondas, Lirac or good old Cotes du Rhone. Rhone wines we find in the UK are generally red and made from blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan. They are usually ripe, often spicy and often quite plump and soft. A good safe bet on many occasions.

Malbec. This macho, broad shouldered bottle is, perhaps, just emerging as a style, but increasingly Argentinian Malbec is to be found in these bottles. The bottle is a visual metaphor for this punchy, bold and food friendly style. You may also find Californian wine in this bottle shape, but again the wine is likely to be full bodied, full flavoured, ripe and rich. Let’s just hope it is not as tiring as the machismo it represents.

There are also a few wines that have their own highly specific bottle shapes, but that don’t represent a wider style. Provence has a unique, clear glass skittle shaped bottle, Picpoul de Pinet an embossed green flute shape. Barolo is similar to the Burgundy bottle but with a reverse curve in the neck. Muscadet has a bottle with distinct corners in the neck and is usually embossed.

A few final words of caution though. Since winemakers are a disparate, ungovernable, independent minded group if ever there was one, there will be many, many exceptions to these rules. Also, lots of places make styles that don’t fit these broad categories, all of Italy for example. Well, at least we tried.

The perfect wine list…

In which Jon reveals all the components of a top-notch list…

In 2013 UK consumers spent a little over £50 billion eating out. That compares to a similar, slightly lower, figure on alcoholic drinks and, by comparison, around £90 billion on groceries. Clearly restaurants are big business and a lot of people eat a lot of their meals out these days.

Which means, of course, that a lot of us are often choosing wine from that most troublesome document; the wine list. So, what makes a good wine list? I spend quite a lot of time writing them so I often end up trying to answer that question. Here are some thoughts.

Length is important. While personally I love a huge wine-library of a list I think for most restaurants, shorter is generally better. But, and this is crucial, the list really must be well curated. Short must imply hand-picked, carefully selected and well considered wines.

Seasonality. As food changes through the seasons so must the wine list. A minimum would be a summer and winter list. I guess this could be achieved by having a main list plus a few seasonal specials but some seasonal change is needed. After all, who wants a choice of hearty reds mid summer or six rose options mid winter?

It needs to match the food. Obvious I know, but this could be the country in question, certainly the style of food and also the price. It seems odd to see an Italian restaurant with an international wine list when there are so many great Italian wines that will surely also suit the food. A seafood restaurant will naturally offer more white than red, and first class food needs first class wine. A really good wine list can create a wonderful halo effect, setting customers expectations for the quality of the food.

It needs to give clear information. The basic information you need from every list is; who made the wine and what is it called, where is it from, which year and, of course, the price. Some comment is helpful to explain if the wine is oaked or not or whether it has any sweetness. Finally, the dreaded description full of words like tangy, zesty and fresh. I am amazed though, how often much of the above is missing.

Innovation. Personally I love to see something on the list other than just the classic styles. So, perhaps a nice Spanish Godello or a red Teroldego from North Italy. Unusual and lesser know wines can offer value, interest and can liven things up. Provided, of course, they taste great and go with the food.

Price. This is a tough one as restaurants need to make money. But, the more forward thinking operators accept that fair pricing will actually attract customers. Conversely, it worries me to see wine on any list much under £15 as, these days that is going to be very basic indeed.

Personality. This is the thread of style or interest that takes a list from good to great. You can tell when someone loves their wine and has enthusiasm for it. It is hard to quantify this fairy dust factor but you know it when you see it.

So, which restaurants have the best lists? Well I have my opinions but, since I’m selling wine to these guys, I’m keeping that to myself. There is only one way to find out. Get out there and spend your part of that £50 billion.

Reyneke Wines and Biodynamics

I am writing this on the train home from London where I spent the last three days at trade wine tastings.  There were plenty of wines to taste, many good but the absolute highlight of the trip was an hour spend listening to Johan Reyneke of Reyneke Wines.

A native South African Johan describes himself as a wine farmer, but he started out as a philosophy graduate and he spoke with a conviction and eloquence that I found captivating.  Johan has been making wine as Reyneke since 1998 when he took over the running of his family’s farm.  The farm was originally farmed conventionally but since taking over Johan went over to biodynamics.  Having seen the evolution from one system to the other he is particularly well placed to explain the changes that result.

Biodynamics is an approach originally proposed by Austrian Philosopher Rudolph Steiner way back in the 1920’s.  The shorthand way to think of it is like organic agriculture taken one stage further, so the vineyard is treated as an organism whose health the farmer carefully protects.  This means that no agrochemicals are used and there is a big focus on biodiversity and vine health.

The difference I found in Johan’s explanation of Biodynamics was that he took sometimes new age sounding principles, and tied them back to practical, rational explanations.  Here are a few of them:

  • Johan maintained that the humus (organic matter) content of soil has a big impact on vine health and also on soil acidity.  Johan explained that scientific studies have shown that at 5% soil humus the vines are 3 to 4 times more disease resistant than at the 1% you would see in a non-organic vineyard.  When Johan took over the farm the level was around 0.9%, it is now 4.9% and the vines are far less prone to disease.
  • Johan felt that a side benefit of the higher level of soil humous is that the soil acidity has decreased.  At the same time as this the acidity of the grapes and correspondingly the wines has increased.  So much so that now no tartaric acid is added during winemaking.  This is pretty rare in the wine world but the result certainly seems to be wines that are really well integrated.
  • All of the wines are made with wild yeast fermentations.  This is a technique that allows fermentation to start naturally from yeasts that are present in the vineyard and winery.  The alternative is to add cultured yeast, something winemakers do to reduce the risk of a fermentation “sticking” which is when fermentation stops unexpectedly.  Johan claims he has never had a fermentation stick and attributes this to healthy populations of yeasts that are not routinely killed off by fungicides and other agrochemicals.
  • One of the principles of biodynamics is the use of cow’s horn manure and other biological preparations.   For the horn manure, dung from a lactating cow is buried in a cow’s horn in the vineyard in Autumn.  The following Spring the horn is dug up, the manure mixed with water and stirred with a carefully defined vortex motion and the resulting mixture spread at dusk onto the vineyard in very dilute quantities.  Johan describes the reason for this, initially crazy sounding process, in terms of the microbial health of the vineyard.  He claims that scientific testing has shown the dung to be incredibly rich in microbial life.  The vortex stirring introduces oxygen to the mixture and spreading it around the vineyard means more microbes in the soil.  The evening timing he suggests is simply to avoid heat from the sun that could kill the microbes before they can find their way into the soil.
  • Another crazy sounding idea is that the wine should be racked (moved from one barrel to another) on dates dictated by the phase of the moon.  Initially this sounds far fetched, but Johan’s explanation is that density of sediment within the barrels is affected by gravity and that this varies with the position of the moon.  On this point though I remain a little skeptical as the daily percentage variation in the Earth’s gravity field is small (less than 0.0001%) and it seems unlikely to make a significant difference, but at least there is something here that could be a rational explanation.
  • One comment I found particularly convincing was on the problem of Leaf Roll virus.  This a common viral disease of vines, spread in South Africa by the saliva of mealybugs.  Since moving over to biodynamics the virus has stopped spreading.  Johan said he did not understand why until he pulled up one of the now plentiful dandelion’s in the vineyard and found it’s roots infested with mealybug.  His suggestion is that the bugs simply prefer their natural habitat of dandelion to the vines.  In the past the dandelions would have been seen as weeds and dealt with accordingly.

The switch over to Biodynamics is a slow one though.  Johan felt it takes up to seven years for the full benefits to be seen, maybe even more.  After this time the wines show better concentration, more minerality and a more complex and variable spectrum of fruit flavours.

But what about the wine?  While Johan was speaking I had the opportunity to taste 6 of his wines.  They were all good, the whites exceptionally so.  The 2010 Reyneke Sauvignon was very bright and quite deep in colour, it had a lovely fresh acidity but with unusually complex fruit flavours for a Sauvignon.  The 2008 Chenin Blanc was concentrated, rich, ripe and wonderfully fresh and the 2009 Reyneke Reserve White was intense, powerful and long with great acidity and freshness of fruit.

The first red was the 2009 Cornerstone a blend of 50% Cabernet, 30% Shiraz and 20% Merlot, what stood out was the intensity and freshness of the fruit, while still being a very savoury wine that was complex and long to finish.  The second, the 2007 Reserve Red, was made from small parcels of vines among the vineyards.  It is developing nicely with heaps of concentration, and nice ripe tannin.  The Cornerstone is named after some of the original vineyard workers who are the cornerstone of the business and profits from it go to their housing and education of their children.  So there is a strong social element to the Reyneke philosophy alongside the biodynamics.

The link between all these wines was that they tasted of really healthy fruit and that they were pretty seamless, no out of place acidity or jarring notes.  Is that the result of biodynamics or is Johan just a very good farmer?  Perhaps in the end it’s the same thing.