Category: Musings

Wine storage 101: The ten golden rules

The small peaks in temperature that we briefly called a heat wave in London is long over. But in the few days of stifling humidity, I did wonder: are my wines going to taste ok when I come to taste them in the autumn?

I, like many others who live in the city, have trouble with space. Without a garage or a cellar, finding a place to store wines at the right temperature can be a real issue. This is especially true if you’re living in rented accommodation and you don’t want to make the investment of getting a wine fridge.

Just then, Ebba Riismark from got in touch about their products. As I had no experience with wine storage, I thought it would be interesting to get some insights from the experts. So without further ado, here are the ten golden rules for wine storage:

Wine rack with bottles

You love wine.

And just like the way your interest has grown, so has your collection. But how, and where, should you store them? Even more importantly, how do you make sure they remain their absolute best when doing so?

There are many different wine storage solutions, and finding one that fits you might not seem like the easiest thing to do. However, if you just follow these ten golden rules of wine storage, you will be more than half way there.

1. Keep it cool

The first thing to make sure is that your wine is stored in a cool place.

If it’s not kept below an appropriate temperature level, the wine will become cooked. Wine cannot stand high heat and temperatures above 22 degrees Celsius can be disastrous.

2. … but not too cool

Besides avoiding the heat, you should also keep your wine from getting too cold.

Regular fridges are way too cold, and can only keep your wine in good condition for a little while. If you plan to store your wine, or aging it, the ideal temperature is at 12 degrees. Whatever the wine, the temperature should be between 10 to 14 degrees for it to flourish in the long run.

3. Constant is best

When you have the right temperature, you should also make sure that you keep it at a steady level.

Wine likes temperature to be constant, and too much fluctuations will harm the quality of the wine. Actually, a steady temperature is more important than the exact degree itself. So before you hunt the perfect temperature, make sure that it can be held at a steady level.

4. Watch out for the sun

Ever thought about  why wine bottles tend to be colored?

Basically, the shaded glass works like sunglasses for the wine. No wine is especially fond of the light, and the sun with its UV rays are particularly bad (except some sweet wines, which already had extreme sun treatment). The best way is to store your wine behind solid doors. But if you want to show off your collection, glass doors are fine too – just make sure they are UV protected.

5. Free from vibrations

No wine likes to be shaken around a lot.

In fact, vibrations could be pretty harmful to the wine and should be avoided. Most vibrations come from machines placed nearby your storage, or from the storage itself. Therefore, always make sure that your wine cooler’s compressor is fitted with a silencer. Also worth considering is that wooden shelfs naturally absorb vibrations better than metal ones do.

6. No smell

You should keep your wines away from strong odours.

In a regular fridge there can be many odours affecting your wine in an unwanted way, which is why it is very important to store your wine in a cooler that has perfectly pure air. The reason is that wine naturally breaths through its cork, taking in the surrounding air.

7. Appropriate humidity

Apart from breathing through its cork, the cork also works like a humidity control for the wine.

If the cork is not kept in a humid condition, it will dry out and allow air to enter the bottle. If this happens, the wine will become oxidised very quickly and potentially turn sour. Lying the bottle on its side will help, as would naturally humid conditions in the air.

8. Always store sideways

As mentioned in the previous point, keeping the bottle on its side can help prolong the life of a wine.

The moisture of the wine will seep into the cork and help to prevent it from drying out. This position will also help any sediment to settle in the bottom of the bottle.

9. Wine cooler

If you don’t have a cellar nearby, a wine cooler or cabinet is probably the best way to store your wine at home.

With a cooler you will have full control of all points above. A cooler is often smaller than a cabinet, and is great for storing wines for a shorter period of time. In the long run, and if you have a large collection, it might be worth investigating into alternatives.

10. … or cabinet?

Unless you have a very serious collection of wines, a wine cabinet might be sufficient.

The bigger size and better gadgetry will mean that it can handle aging and long-term storage better.

Côtes du Rhône Google Hangout: When wine goes high tech

For a drink that’s been much the same for thousands of years, wine, or at least how it’s consumed, has become increasingly high tech in the last few years.

For instance, this website lives entirely in the digital age. As well as numerous images, the recently launched Heard on the Grape Vine podcast makes sure that there’s a good multimedia mix. Amateur Wine is plugged into social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. And then there’s apps like Vivino

All of this digital talk can feel a bit lonesome (and no one wants to drink on their own), until a couple of weeks ago when I took part in my first Google Hangout with Côtes du Rhône wines.

The Hangout was hosted by Dr Jamie Goode, wine blogger turned wine journalist and fellow IWC wine judge, and as well as Amateur Wine, there were also eight other wine enthusiasts. Over the course of an hour and half, we tasted six red wines from the Côtes du Rhône appellation.

It was intended to be a mix of educational and fun, although we were relying on all our internet connections so there were times when it cut out and times when it was slow (You can watch an edited version of the video here.), but as a way of bringing wines to an audience, it was a very innovative approach. We had some great wines of course.

More than anything though, it showed that wine, as a sensory object, can be shared from just about anywhere. Which, in a round about way, leads me to think about vlogs. In the world of beauty and fashion, vlogs are incredibly popular so why not for wine?

Well, watch this space.

The Côtes du Rhône wines

Here’s the wines we tasted, in order, for the Côtes du Rhône Google Hangout (the tasting notes are mine from the night):

 Gabriel Meffre La Châsse Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2013 Gabriel Meffre La Châsse Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2013. A grenache dominant blend. Light and fruity. Strawberry forward with gentle oak. Simple but effective. RRP£6 available from Sainsbury’s.
 Delas Frères Sainte-Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2012 Delas Frères Sainte-Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2012. A little hot on the palate. A touch of funkiness with a sourness on the finish. Possible fault. Not very attractivec. RRP£9.99 available from Majestic.
 Domaine Chaume Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012 Domaine Chaume Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012. Biodynamic. Lots of fruit, very fruit forward and expressive. Wine to drink with after-dinner conversation. RRP£12.25 available from Berry Brothers & Rudd.
 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône 2012 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône 2012. Noticeably more alcoholic though balanced considering high ABV. Dark fruits much more prominent. RRP£16.75 available from H2Vin.
 Domaine Georges Vernay Sainte-Agathe Côtes du Rhône 2012 Domaine Georges Vernay Sainte-Agathe Côtes du Rhône 2012. From Northern Rhône, a cooler climate wine. Rubber and maybe thyme notes. Almost minty with a touch of black pepper. Light cherry. Elegant. RRP£19.95 available from Berry Brothers & Rudd.
 Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet Red 2012 Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet Red 2012. A lot of sweetness and fruit coming through. A hint of development with gentle tannins. Needs time to open up. RRP£16.63 available from The Little Big Wine company.

Chianti Classico and Gran Selezione tastings 2014, Florence

This time last year I was in Florence for the launch of the new Chianti Classico classification, the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. It was part of the Anteprima di Toscana where several other appellations were also celebrated. As the wines are becoming more widely available, and indeed starting to be ready to drink (albeit only a small handful), I thought I would put down a few thoughts.

Black rooster, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

A short note on Chianti Classico

Chianti Classico is a Tuscan appellation situated within the wider region of Chianti. It’s worth clarifying that all Chianti Classico wines can also be classified as Chianti (though the former generally commands a higher price) but not all Chianti wines are Chianti Classico. There are also other Chianti sub-regions, falling under Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli, and Rùfina, which are separate and distinct from Chianti Classico.


Until last year, there were two Chianti Classico appellations – Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, both requiring at least 80% Sangiovese grapes and a maximum of 20% Canaiolo grapes in the final blend. It’s only since 1995 that 100% Sangiovese-based wines could be classed as Chianti Classico. And in the interest of quality, and style, Chianti Classico wines cannot be released until the 1st of October of the year following the harvest, while Chianti Classico Riserva must be aged for at least 24 months, including at least three months in bottle, prior to release.

The (newish) Gran Selezione

On 17th of February 2014, a new tier in the Chianti Classico appellation was announced – the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

Gran Selezione press conference, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

This new appellation builds on the Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva appellations but with additional quality requirements. In particular, the grapes used for the wines must come from the estate and ageing must be at least 30 months, with three of those in bottle. In 2014, 34 wines were unveiled in Florence, some with availability of just a few hundred bottles and others with hundreds of thousands.

An even better Chianti Classico?

Needless to say, the wines unveiled at the launch last year came from some of the region’s best wineries though whether they are better wines for it is another question.

Unveiling Gran Selezione, Chianti Classico tastings 2014

At the time, a few of the producers I spoke to weren’t overly enthusiastic about the new appellation. Applying for Gran Selezione and marketing it would cost more money but the potential gains were yet to be seen. That said, many did welcome the additional recognition for quality and some of the producers were already making wines under the requirements prior to its introduction. Of course, you can be sure that the Gran Selezione will come with a higher price tag.

For consumers, there’s always the worry that, while trying to achieve a defined terroir style, the wines are being funnelled down the same route to produce basically the same wines. The result might be very “correct” wines but, potentially, ultimately uninteresting. Meanwhile, the results remains to be seen.

Comestible interlude at Chianti Classico tasting:

Appellations and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP)

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

The Douro Valley has been demarcated as a wine region since 1756. In fact, it’s one of the earliest demarcated wine regions in the world. Originally, this was accomplished with rudimentary stone pillars, one of which can still be seen in the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto, or IVDP.

Located in the centre of Oporto, one of the IVDP’s main roles is to certify the port and Douro wines for DOP status (the Portuguese appellation system). A task it’s had since 1933.

Lab, IVDP, Oporto

There are some 130 people who work for the IVDP, not all of them are tasters of course. Some work in the lab where the wines are tested for, well, anything that shouldn’t be there, to ensure that chemically, the wines are up to scratch. The tasters, meanwhile, taste a maximum of 20 wines a day and declare their sensory suitability. Incidentally not all of the tasters have formal qualifications, e.g. from the WSET, but they apparently go through four months of training (in tasting as well as being tested for consistency) before being officially approved on to the tasting panel.

It’s worth talking about because what it really means to have an appellation status isn’t always clear. I alluded to this in the main post for Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley. The appellation system varies from region to region and country to country, and arguably doesn’t always result in great wines; terroir or no terroir.

In the Douro Valley, the port and dry Douro wines must be made from grapes sourced within the demarcated region, as for any other appellation, and the resulting wines also have to be tasted and tested at the IVDP before being allowed to be exported. As a consumer, you can actually take a guided tour at the IVDP.

It’s not a fool-proof system but I think through this two-stage process, ultimately, better wines will be made. Albeit ones that fit snugly into the IVDP’s idea of port and Douro wines.

What terroir? Finding authenticity in wine



Tree in vineyard in Georgia


It’s that French word that’s regularly brandished left and right by wine folk when they want to talk about a wine’s sense of place. It’s a word that embodies everything from geography, geology to climate. It’s all encompassing when it comes to the identity of wine.

Terroir is certainly helpful when a wine is too boring to stand up on its own two legs. It’s definitely useful when creating individuality out of homogeny. And it’s all too easy to throw out there as a catch-all when you have nothing else to say about the wine.

Of course every wine has to come from somewhere but the reality of modern wine making means that, like this word which didn’t exist in wine lexicon several centuries past, a wine’s roots have become obscured.


A brief vine history

Purple grapes

With the collaborative efforts of archaeologists and grape geneticists, we have come to a conclusion that the original vines came from the Caucasus. It’s a vast region that includes modern day Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. It’s said to be the first place in the world where wild vines were domesticated, cultivated and made into wines.

Indeed, there is the only place that you will find indigenous grape varieties too numerous to count. It’s in the thousands in case you’re interested. For everywhere else, the first vines were introduced through colonisation or trade.

Whether it was by accident or on purpose, we began making wines for ourselves and according to our own tastes. When Pliny the Elder wrote about wines from a certain place, he meant it could have come from nowhere else. Such is the distinctive style.

These ancient wines were nothing like the sort we see today. Mixed grapes, berries, herbs, spices and a multitude of other “preservatives” were added to these “wines” which would then be cut with fresh or sea water and sweetened with honey before consumption.

With so little manipulation in the vineyard and in the winery, and no talk of international grape varieties, or indeed grape varieties at all, these wines really did have terroir. Even if the resulting liquids were highly adulterated and nothing like their modern day equivalent.


Wine making in the modern day

Wine cellar in Georgia


Wine making today is much more sophisticated, not least in grape varietal selection but also in the actual wine making process. Gone is the art of wine making, it’s the era of science now.

For the modern wine maker, there’s a myriad of ways in which they can make the sort of wine they want, almost anywhere in the world.

While a grape’s variety and growing conditions will affect the resulting wine, so too will careful planting (selecting the right location and direction of planted vine), vine training (manipulating the vine’s direction of growth) and canopy management (trimming of the shoots and green grapes). In fact, there are so many things that you could do in the vineyard before you come to making the actual wine that even grapes from the same plot of land could produce very different styles of wines.

Before getting to the actual vinification process (wine making), decisions have to be made about when the grapes are harvested; how or whether they’re pressed; and whether the berries are sorted, from unripe to ripe and from leaves and stems.

Finally, in the winery, there are choices about whether the wine is fermented in a barrel or tank; what kind of barrel and what kind of tank; do you add yeast and if so what strain; does it go through secondary fermentation; is the wine aged, how and for how long; do you add additional wines, acid or sugar etc.


Losing terroir?

Blending experiment, Talisker, Isle of Skye

The choices available to winemakers have increased the wines available to us today. The wide spectrum gives us the choice that we’ve always craved, enabling us to match wine to food, occasion and even mood.

But this choice has also taken something away. A wine’s sense of place. Or its terroir, if you will.

There’s no longer just one place that could and does produce any particular style of wine. Why else would we get confused about Old World and New World wines in blind tastings?

The names of the wine regions may be protected but the actual wine styles are not so how can we talk of terroir when two almost identical wines could be found on opposite sides of the planet?

Choice, it seems, exists but it’s two of a kind.


Romancing terroir

Man by grape crusher at Pheasant’s Tears vineyard in Georgia

There is something to be said about terroir though – the idea of it is terribly romantic.

In Georgia, I had a fling with terroir.

There, the wines, made with indigenous grape varieties in Qvevris (clay vessels with a pointy base) buried up to the rim, were as close as to the ancient wines as they come.

After harvest the hand-picked grapes would be crushed and placed into the vessels, stem and all. The opening of the Qvevri would then be covered with a slate slab that’s sealed with wet sand, ensuring close to air-tight conditions inside the container. The grape juice, skin, stem and pips are left to macerate and ferment for up to six months, and often longer, until wine is produced. The result is an ultra-natural wine with nothing added and nothing taken away.

At the Pheasant’s Tears’ “cellar”, I had my first taste of Qvevri wines – a red wine made with Saperavi grapes.

It was confusing. And surreal.

Outside were undulating rows of vines, laden heavily with bunches of fruit, vying for the soft glow of the setting sun. Small plots of vineyards were interspersed with pomegranate trees bejewelled with ruby fruit, ripe to the point of splitting.

Inside, a sealed Qvevri, some months into fermentation, was carefully pried open revealing a heavy purple crown. The mass of grape skin and stems had to be pushed down with a wooden cross paddle attached to a long stick to reveal the wine. The wine itself was made according to thousands of years of tradition with indigenous grapes. No fashionable international grape varieties, no fancy wine making equipment, no talk of terroir. All very laissez faire.

Bending down and holding on to the sides, and with great fear of falling in, I managed to scoop up a little of the wine in a shallow clay bowl. Despite being careful to push away the skin, a little had gotten in.

I had a weary sip, conscious of other unseen foreign objects that might be floating around in the wine. Evidently I was more familiar with the hyper-sterile conditions in modern wine making than this rustic approach to things.

The wine had an intensity that I couldn’t have imagined. The perfume was an intoxicating blend of fruit and floral while the dark, cool liquid tasted distinctively of grape juice with uncanny layers of berry and structure that could only come from wine. It was vibrant. And alive.

What gave this wine an incredible sense of “terroir” was not geography, geology or climate but a sense of place. A sense of here, now, this.

Right there and then, it was undeniable was that this wine could be made nowhere else.

And yet, what if I had sampled it in a sterile tasting room with polished tasting glass where I could discern the colour as deep purple, the bouquet as blackberry with a hint of spice and its lengthy finish as carried all the way to the end by copious amounts of fruit and, at the time, low tannins?

I imagine I would probably have said that it was a very distinguished wine but without the wow factor. At least not the kind I experienced in the midst of all the action in Georgia. After all, Qvevri wines are now made in Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland amongst others.


It’s time to get real

Laurent Perrier Tous Les Sense at Massimo, The Corinthia, London

Wine making today is too market driven for the sort of authenticity of terroir that Pliny wrote about.

Vines are planted in regions that would have been impossible without modern viticulture. Grapes are selected not because they have any connection with their locale but because they are popular on dining tables on the other side of the globe. Wines are made according to a brief that will sit comfortably anywhere in the world and not just its immediate environs.

The wines themselves are all too often approaching homogeny because individual styles of a region are forsaken in pursuit of a common goal – fame on the world’s stage. With increasing globalisation, terroir should no longer be taken to mean a sense of place but rather, a wine making style because that’s the only thing left that really distinguishes one wine from another.

The romantic terroir, the mark of authenticity, that we so enjoyed embracing? It can only be found when we rediscover our own identities and our own wine styles.

How to sabrage according to WineChap’s Tom Harrow

This is part one of two on Charles Heidsieck and the art of sabrage. Read part two here.

As party tricks go, sabrage is pretty awesome.

In layman’s (or woman) terms, it’s playing with swords whilst under the influence of alcohol, only the amount of alcohol available for consumption is drastically reduced if the sabrage goes awry. Nothing like the promise of danger to get the party started it seems.

But there’s definitely nothing better than a round of sabrage before getting to know Charles Heidsieck.

According to legends, Charles Heidsieck was the original Champagne Charlie who inspired George Leybourne’s song (Langham Hotels worldwide toasts Champagne Charlie daily at 19.05). It was he who broke away from the Heidsieck & co family name and put his own stamp, or rather, his own name, on the Champagnes. And it was he who was credited with introducing America to Champagne.

Not quite the inventor of sabrage but quite the maverick nevertheless. So you see why sabrage is the perfect introduction to proceedings.

Tom Harrow sabrage

The introduction was made by Tom Harrow of WineChap who had hosted various sabrage events.

Apparently bottle shape, temperature, vintage and the style of wine will all affect the success of sabrage. The key is finding a sturdy bottle (for safety reasons) that’s well chilled (reducing spillage) and encloses sparkling wine with pressure of around seven bars. In this case, a bottle of Charles Heidsieck (or a practice bottle of Cava for the less experienced).

Every bottle has a fault line which is found about 2cm below the cork on one side of the bottle in the form of a slight dent. You’ll probably need to remove some of the label at the neck to find it but you will definitely need to remove all of the label in order to successfully sabrage.

The fault line is where you need to take aim, but don’t fire just quite yet.

Remove the wire cage around the cork and aim away from people and other things you don’t want to damage in the unlikely event that you have a bottle that’s holding back a lot more than the seven bars.

Take your sabrage weapon (be it a sword, spoon or even ipad) and tease it along the neck, flat against the shape of the bottle, and across the fault line. When you’re comfortable, follow through with your tease, but don’t lift your weapon at the last minute. The cork and annulus should slip cleanly off with ease. That is, the rim of the bottle is the only part that’s taken off with the cork – you’re not hacking off the neck here!

Anyway, after you pop your cork, it’s time to enjoy some Champagne. Do use a decanter or some other intermediary device if you think your sabrage skills might not have had the desired effects on the content of your bottle.

Charles Heidsieck hosted a tasting and dinner. Amateur Wine was a guest at the event. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

Brancott Estate, capturing the premium market

Brancott Estate at The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

Brancott Estate is one of those brands that established a bit of a cult status while your parents were just finding their wine feet.

Ok, maybe not that long because Brancott Estate as a brand has only existed for a few years; prior to that it was Montana. But there is some truth in the cult status.

One lady I spoke to said that all of the wines at her wedding were from Brancott Estate because she loved them so much. Of course when she chose the wines, they were still Montana. Evidently the transition between the brands has been pretty smooth.

The irony is, while Brancott Estate has managed to hold to this cult status, it’s in fact a mass market brand. Apart from being incredibly readily available, it’s also produced in that global, world dominating way – in bulk.


So why this cult status?

Well unlike your average Blossom Hill, the company is always trying to differentiate itself with different wine experiments. Something that Jacob’s Creek has also tried to do with its Reserve label, albeit with less success.

Chosen Rows, Brancott Estate at The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

As well as the mass market product, which happens to be quite good, it also regularly releases smaller quantities of more premium wines. A few months ago it was the Brancott Estate Chosen Rows and last year it was a new dessert wine not yet available in the UK.

While these wines aren’t super premium, they are hitting the top end of the market for your every day wines – around £30.

Unlike the artificial inflation of the prices of Chanel bags, the pricing isn’t just a marketing strategy – it is a more premium product.

The wines are produced in much smaller quantities in comparison to its mass market products with a lot more hands on wine making involved. Hands on being the operative phrase as the grapes are harvested by hand rather than machine.

The most important point is that they’re designed to have mass market appeal. The wines are pleasant, interesting but not too challenging. The price is a little steep but not insurmountable.


Is it just good market(ing) sense?

Of course some of it is down to clever marketing.

The name Brancott Estate offers the wine provenance. We envisage that the wine is from an estate called Brancott with perhaps a big Chateaux-style house, even if it’s not, and automatically attribute history, and by extension, experience to it.

The realities of the quantities produced are still pretty big compared to the small artisan growers out there. With the brand’s large overreaching arm, it’s able to distribute its wines across the globe, creating an illusion of scarcity.

That is not to say that the products aren’t good. Because they are. And that’s where it really hits home.

A selection of quality wines, accessible in more ways than one and yet scarce at the same time. Is there any better way to capture a premium market?

Brancott Estate hosted a series of events over a period of months to introduce their new wines. Amateur Wine was a guest at the events. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

What’s in a glass? On Riedel and glassware

Riedel tasting, Qin Xie

I dare say the majority of us never stop to consider the humble vessel that carries our favourite tipple and delivers it to our palate with ease. Instinctively, champagne comes in flutes and whisky in tumblers but then what?

For one company, the shape of the glass is everything. And that’s Riedel.

Based in Austria, the fine glass company has over 250 years of history and makes everything from glasses to decanters. More decorative pieces are produced under Spiegelau and Nachtmann but the Riedel branch of the business is all about the varietal specific design.

It was the 9th generation Claus Josef Riedel who first unvealed the company’s varietal specific glass in 1973. The idea was that the shape of the glass changed the way that the wine and its aromas were delivered to the palate and nose respectively. That means a different glass is needed for each type of wine to enhance its properties, say the fruit in a Pinot Noir or spice in Shiraz.

Riedel is still the only company to tailor glasses to the grape and remains the industry leader, releasing new designs every year. Most recently it partnered with luxury boutique tea merchants Lalani & Co to examine the changing profile of tea according to the service glass, with future plans to develop and tailor glasses for teas (current library can be found at Browns, Trishna and Hibiscus).

Riedel tasting, Qin Xie

So what is it about the glass?

I went to a tasting with the 10th generation Georg Josef Riedel at Lord’s Cricket Ground to find out more.

Having previously received a short demonstration of Riedel glasses, I knew vaguely what to expect – that wines will vary in taste and smell in the different glasses. What I hadn’t expected was that the tasting would begin with bottled mineral water.

The water was poured into Riedel’s Vinum Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet glasses and sampled in turn. The aromaless liquid served well to demonstrate how the different glasses delivered the water to various parts of the mouth making the liquid seem at times more refreshing and others higher in minerality.

Wines representing Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet varieties, presented in labelless cups, were then sampled in turn. They were of course, as expected, enhanced or diminished according to the glass they were in.

What was really surprising was the results of the small food and wine pairing session.

In your average food and wine pairing session, you’d expect to learn that certain foods work well with a wine depending on things like sugar, salt, acid and fat content in the food. In the Riedel tasting, it was all about how the perceived compatibility of a food and wine pairing changed according to the glass which the wine was drunk from.

The conclusion?

A remarkable difference was revealed despite the small selection of chocolates for tasting against the various wines and glasses. So much so that a pairing was noticeably improved or indeed otherwise depending on the glass used. It seems, the shape of the glass not only had an effect on the wine drinking experience but also the food pairing. Now that’s food for thought.

(First seen on The Prodigal Guide)

The Chinese Wine Market: an update from Château d’Anglés


Map of the South of France, Languedoc wines at Apero, Ampersand Hotel

Not long ago, I attended a tasting and dinner at Ampersand Hotel focusing on Languedoc AOC in the South of France. Specifically, we tasted a selection of wines from Corbières Boutenac AOC, La Clape AOC and Minervois La Livinière AOC.

I had the great fortune of sitting next to Vianney Fabre from Château d’Anglés, who was happy to discuss the Chinese wine market at great length.

Château d’Anglés has the pedigree

Château d’Anglés is a family owned vineyard in La Clape AOC. The owner and winemaker, Eric Fabre, was once winemaker at Château Lafite Rothschild. The pedigree, as you can imagine, is impeccable.

Vianney is the youngest of four siblings and worked for a while as the export manager at Bollinger. After joining the family business, he started looking after the sales side of things for Château d’Anglés, for which he spends much of his year travelling.

Menu, Languedoc wines at Apero, Ampersand Hotel

Château d’Anglés in China

China was a region that Château d’Anglés had always planned on entering. Part of the Château d’Anglés strategy was globalisation, spreading risk across multiple markets. Their foresight and knowledge about the local market is really quite impressive.

For China, the planning started some ten years ago with actualisation around six. They’re currently working with Jebsen Fine Wines on long term strategies, with a focus on the “second cities”. That is, outside the obvious targets of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong; though obviously those are still important.

I was excited to learn that the city I was born in, Chengdu, was definitely on their agenda; their wines will have to fight hard against the heavily Sichuan-peppered cuisine though.

The scene in China

Having just returned from an extensive sales trip to China, Vianney had some great insights into the Chinese wine market.

The biggest contrast between the UK and China is arguably culture, and this translates across to the wine market too.

Rather than purchasing wines from the supermarket or wine merchant as we might do here, the majority of the consumption comes from gifting. Gifting, corporate or otherwise, is indeed big business in China, especially around major festivals or holidays.

The other key market has been the army, which actually surprised me.

Wine doesn’t immediately strike me as the ideal choice for Chinese food when traditional Chinese offerings such as baijiu are an option but apparently it’s all down to ABV. Wine’s ABV peaks at around 15% while baijiu is more like 52%; less alcohol, less people getting drunk.

So what’s next?

Languedoc wines at Apero, Ampersand Hotel

As previously mentioned, Château d’Anglés is really focusing on the secondary cities and part of that is educating consumers.

Vianney suggested that the market was initially all about brands but it adapted very quickly to one which was equally interested in quality. More to the point, it was one which was particularly interested in value for money. And that’s perhaps why Château d’Anglés and other premium Languedoc wines have done particularly well in China.

In some respects, there’s also been changes in lifestyles to suit the wine. While white and sparkling wines have traditionally been rejected in favour of more palatable reds, tastes are changing. Sparkling, in particular, is seeing an increase in popularity owing to its enviable position in the luxury lifestyle market.

More than anything, it seems, China is a market that’s hungry for more. More wines, more knowledge and more diversity.

The inappropriate use of wines

A couple of months ago I was sent three bottles of Bordeaux by a friend for tasting. The Avery’s Pioneer Range Bordeaux 2009, Chateau Grand Jean Bordeaux Millésime 2009 and Dourthe Reserve Montagne Saint-Emilion 2009, to be precise. Nothing mind-blowing as they say but a fine selection of tipple for every day drinking. Shortly afterwards, another friend sent me a further three bottles of wine as a thank you gift. This time it was a choice selection from the 90 point club – that’s excellent for savouring.

Suddenly I had a small portfolio of enjoyable wines. Some would say that’s pretty good going and yet months later, the wines remained untouched. Until this week, that is.

After much struggle with a new and unfamiliar bottle opener from the Harrod’s Wine Shop, I managed to uncork the Avery. A deep inhalation down its neck was met with pleasure – robust plummy goodness. And then the purple liquor went straight into a measuring jug at 290ml and onto some cubed lamb-soon-to-be-daube waiting expectantly in the Le Creuset for its fruity marinade. The rest, uncorked, went into the fridge. Not a drop touched my lips.

Something similar happened a few months ago.

Shallots diced, parsley chopped, garlic minced and mussels scrubbed, I realised I had no white wine. How was I going to pull together a moules marinière? The Pommery which sat in the corner caught my eye. Swiftly the metal cage was disengaged, the cork wrestled out and the bubbles poured into the pan with the lid replaced firmly. A short while later, I had an indulgent lunch watched disapprovingly by the empty bottle.

Moules mariniere

For the passionate oenophile, this must seem appalling. But for the avid gastronome? Probably quite appeasing.

My reasoning was this: since I spend much of the week at events, mostly involving some form of drinking, I really ought to curb my enthusiasm when at home. After all, drinking alone was never fashionable. Eating alone, however, was run of the mill business. Weighing up the probability of a guest who would genuinely appreciate the wine against the probability of me seriously enjoying the food, my ravenous hunger won out. I suppose that makes me a better gastronome than an oenophile, when alone at least.

Of course not every meal is as indulgent as the champagne moules marinière. On this lamb occasion, the Avery was chosen for its full fruited body and generous tannins though perhaps more so because I judged it as the lesser drinking wine out of my collection.

As it happens, I was cooking the lamb daube for a friend who had come to photograph me spatchcock a poussin. The perfect opportunity to sample some of that wine you say?

Well a small splash of the leftover Avery was supped with the lamb before it was filed back into the fridge – unfortunately I didn’t have the good sense to serve it at room temperature. Still, the dulled flavours of the chilled wine remained richly plummy and heavily tannic. It was not at its best for drinking but served rather well as a side to the already basked lamb, which my friend appreciated so much more.

See what I mean about probabilities?

And the rest of that bottle of Bordeaux? Well, it’s going into next week’s coq au vin. Naturally.

(First seen on The Prodigal Guide)

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