Back on the blogwagon

September 26, 2015

I have recently written a small piece which has been posted on the BB&R blog:


The Best of the London International Wine Fair 2010 part 2

June 21, 2010

The Best of the London International Wine Fair 2010 Part 2

So having had over two weeks to recover; we can get back to the tales of the LIWF!

I previously mentioned the ‘Wine Gang’. They describe themselves as: “A unique collaboration between five of the UK’s leading wine critics.” Their aim? “Our comprehensive assessment of wines in the UK will help you buy smarter and drink better.”

Now this is essentially a very good idea. These 5 journalists have combined their powers to create a web site that reviews most of the liquid available on UK shelves. It is great if you want to know what is popular/rated/affordable/on-offer although subscription involves a yearly fee of £19.99.

The journalists points of view are valid and the website is well made but you still have agree with or at least appreciate their coalition. Tim Atkins seems to head the group and he does a great job (already being heavily involved with the IWC) promoting better wines. The other writers are a little more subdued; all, that is, but for Olly Smith. From my perspective he is full of front with no substance. I am sure the man knows a good wine but he seems more interested pretending he is continuously presenting ‘Iron Chef’. It could be the blinding grin, the posh accent or the orange face; I am still undecided.

Their stand at the show ‘The Top 100’ was a display of high quality wines from all corners of the world. It is another great place to go if you fancy a relaxed but focused tasting, and other than the smiling promo girls trying to flog you a subscription, it is a great snapshot of the show.
There were many gorgeous things that caught my fancy but I will avoid listing them as the info required is already on the wine gang website:

So now on to the part I enjoy the most at these big shows: the smaller producers with their variety of hidden treasures!

The three wineries I would like to showcase are Mont Tauch, Ken Forrester and Willi Opitz. The first two are old favourites and the third is a very new and exciting discovery!

* Mont Tauch are a southern French cooperative winery based in the Fitou area. For years they have produced a variety of rich full-bodied reds that are very adapted to the UK market. At the show I was taken through their new range which, with the consumer in mind, is divided into three selections.

The entry-level are labelled ‘Fresh and Fruity’, ‘Smooth and Fruity’ and ‘Full bodied and spicy’. These are very self-explanatory and ideal for people who are unfamiliar with wines from the Fitou.
The second level of wines is the Cellar reserve these are all Fitou’s but the difference between them is the area they were grown in (Maritime, Altitude and Altitude Old Vines)
The premium range gets seriously yummy! These are single vineyard wines showing great individual characteristics. They are all very dark and dense with full-on berry fruit, well integrated oak and coffee/chocolate notes on the finish. Out of the three (Montluzis, Le Tauch and Les Hauts de Pazilos) the Montluzis was my favourite as the bigger use of the Grenache grape makes it that touch more elegant and sophisticated.

I have always loved Mont Tauch having harvested there and witnessed the great quality standards in wine making. They make most of the Fitou on sale in the UK so if you have not tried any yet then TRY SOME!

* Ken Forrester has been a major influence in the making of high quality white wines in South Africa since the eighties. Working mainly with Chenin Blanc he makes clean crisp opulent honey scented wines that are extremely good value for money and available in Major retailers across the UK. His ‘KF Chenin Blanc’, and ‘Petit Chenin’ are very quaffable good-all-rounders however the one every body wants to try is ‘the FMC’.
The FMC is Ken’s attempt at making ‘the best white wine in the world’. I could not say that he has quite achieved this accolade yet but this liquid is not the less delectable.
This off-dry Chenin Blanc is golden in colour, with an inviting nose showing fresh tropical fruit drizzled in honey. The palate continues with balanced honey, fresh fruit (passion fruit, quince?) and then moves on to a subtle spice finish. This is a GREAT wine for food match providing hours of fun (in moderation..). No current UK listing but could prove to be the perfect ‘.com’ addition (nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more).

While I was at the KF stand, Ken himself turned up. It was 6pm and then end of the show and the ushers were trying their hardest to get the days punters to go home. Ken was enthusing about a stand he had just visited, “Go see Willi Opitz”, he said, “I wager he makes some of the best sweet wines in the world”.
So off I ran.

* Willi Opitz was really the highlight of the show for me. I don’t think I have ever met a more passionate, excentric and enthusiastic winemaker. As I approached the stand Willi was packing up while complaining that the austrian officails in charge of this part of the show had told him off for being too popular. “The government is against me for having too many people at my stand[ …] how can they criticize me for being to popular!”

Having won the IWC award for Best Late Harvest Winemaker in 1997 Willi Opitz has been making amazing quality Austrian wines for the last 20 years. He started out as an amateur during the Austrian wine crisis, experimenting in a plot behind his house, since then he has made wine for Bill Clinton, the McClaren racing team and supplies 10 out of 11 Austrian wines on sale at Harrods.

Despite the fact the show was officially over our host was very willing to let us taste the wines so we whipped through them quickly.

We discovered a selection of late harvest or ice wines made from a variety of grapes from Zweigelt and Pinot Noir to Pinot Gris and Riesling, all beautifully made and very distinct in character. The tasting was based on trying these sweetie delights with a chose food to match. We had the Ice wine with chocolate moose, the Pinot Gris with Vanilla Panna Cotta cream and a sweet red with blue cheese.
The combinations were divine. To taste the wine and then try it again with a complimenting good flavour really showed the thought behind each bottle.

As we were ushered out of the show Willi managed to give us his DVD (he has also recorded a CD of the sounds coming from fermenting wines in the cellar) and renamed himself ‘Austrian Public Enemy number 1’. With such skill and passion the man is definitely an excentric if not a wine genius and I look forward to seeing new things coming from his winery.

And with that flurry of Austrian exuberance we come to the end of our tales of the London Wine Fair 2010. It is a great event, but unfortunately not open to the general public. My advice? Get a job in the wine trade!

Art3: The Best of the London International Wine Fair 2010 Part1

May 21, 2010

Art3: The Best of the London International Wine Fair 2010

This Tuesday 19th of May, I made my way to the Excel centre in London for the first day of the International Wine Fair. This is the biggest show of the year where you will find anyone who is anyone in the UK wine industry.

The festival lasts three days but most people attempt to do it in one. This insurmountable task becomes apparent upon entry to a hall in which one could casually park a jumbo jet.

Having worked at the show for the last two previous years, I had forgotten how difficult it is as a ‘punter’ to fray your way through the suits, the wannabe wine buffs, the red-nosed aficionados and wine makers from all over the globe.

However the effort is always worth while in the search for hidden gems, and I was on a hunt for something exciting, something to write about…

Fortunately, there are always pillars to lean on. Both the International Wine Challenge and the Wine gang’s Top 100 are good starting points; these give you a well chosen snap shot into what is being exhibited. The IWC is now arguably the biggest award giving body in the world. They are unable to show all the wines they have awarded as there are hundreds. When we approached the stand they had about 24 wines on show, all great examples of their own genre. Here are a few that were really outstanding:

Barolo Cerequio – Michele Chiarlo 2005

Drinking perfectly now this serious red is all about balance. The warm toasted oak nose with delicate red fruit invites you in, and then the glorious palate of ripe fruit and rich dark under tones combined with lovely acidity and firm but not over-powering tannin brings you to an opulent long finish. Really can’t go wrong here!

Chablis 1ier Cru Montmains – Simonnet Febvre 2008

A classically flinty nose, but one with depth and elegance. Very inviting. The palate takes us through Beautiful layers of fresh citrus fruit, apples with a very smooth almost almond finish. A well-balanced white that makes you think that France can’t be doing that badly.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Blind River 2009

One to watch. I love recommending wines that will take some of the lime-light away from the overly hyped ‘Cloudy Bay’. This is a beautiful Kiwi Sauvignon, it pretty much has it all: gooseberry bush with animal notes, fresh citrus burst, smooth almost creamy body and lip smacking acidity. Above all it is not at all angular or over-done. A definite crowd pleaser.

Eiswein Rheinhessen 2008 – Schmitt Sohne 2008

Now this is Top of the pops! The wine fair is always a great opportunity to try gem like this which are unusually hard to find in the market. With sweet blossom, honey and citrus note on the nose the palate follows with more of the same crowned by the perfect balance between sugar and acidity.

And at only 8.5% alcohol there is no holding back. The production of this wine relies on the weather. Some years they can hardly produce any Eiswine. The producers tell me that 2008 is almost out of stock and that there is very little 2009. So fingers crossed for 2010, if it’s a good year this could well make it into a Christmas offer at Aldi so keep your eyes peeled.

For full info on these go to the International Wine Challenge website via the link below:

As there is soooo much to tell you about this great event I will split this article in two and post the second half as soon as possible. Oh and look out for ‘the best in show’. It is all VERY exciting…

Favorites #1: Alsace Grand Cru Pinot Gris

April 19, 2010

This section is quite self-indulgent really. It’s just a space to enthuse about my favorite wines, hopefully it might inspire you to give them a try…

So number one on the list is a ‘Grand Cru’ Alsace Pinot Gris.

A quick resume of what this means to those who have not had the pleasure of trying one of these yet: Alsace is a region of France bordering Germany, this region has exchanged hands between the two countries many times throughout history, and thus has strong influences from both sides. ‘Grand Cru’ in Alsace means this wine is produced from the best grapes in the area. Pinot Gris is the grape variety,very closely related to the Italian ‘Pinot Grigio’ (genetically at least…)

Alsace in itself is rather an unusual region in the fact that they use a selection of grape varieties that you will find almost no where else in the world. The wines come in elegant long green bottles and the wineries will often have german sounding names.
This is really one of my favorite wines. It is unusual in style compared to many white wine you may have tried but has great depth and complexity. In my family Alsace wines are mainly consumed at Christmas but do not let this put you off cracking open a bottle right this minute!

So, tasting note time:

Beblenheim Tokai Pinot Gris Grand Cru Sonnenglanz Heimburger 2007

This bottle was kindly given to me by my ex-employer and is a great example of this classic style.

The wine is pale lemon colour in the glass. On the nose it shows medium intense well-developed tropical fruit and stewed plum with honey, white blossom and sweet spice notes.

On the palate it is medium sweet, with a bit of body. The flavours are fat tropical fruit, honey and spices. Quince jelly comes to mind, of the soft sweet and delectable variety. The finish is smooth and moreish.

This is a wine that has so much to offer, it has many layered aromas and flavours that just keep going. It will match with a surprising variety of foods including foie gras, light Thai/Chinese dishes or even sweet pastries.

Despite the price tag (prob about £20) this is an investment really worth making. One for a special occasion or just to discover something different. And if it is not to your liking then there are many other grape varieties in Alsace that might tickle your taste buds. Don’t miss out!

Favorites and Guest Articles

April 6, 2010

Just a quick note to say I will be adding two new categories to the blog very soon called Favorites and Guest Articles. This is pretty self explanatory so I will leave it at that but if anyone fancies proposing a guest article then please get in touch…

Art2: “And now for something completely different..”

March 9, 2010

Art2: “And now for something completely different..”

Question:How many Indie kids does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: An obscure number that you have probably never heard of…

And that hilarious icebreaker brings me to write about the Specialist Importers Trade Tasting that I attended on the 24th of Feb at Vinopolis. The SITT describes itself on its website as: “SITT is designed specifically for wine buyers from the independent on and off trade, and for press visitors interested in ‘real’ wines.”

Specialist importers are the wine industry equivalent to the independent labels of the music business. These people are all about the product. This is a far cry from the big corporate agencies that ship thousands of hectolitres of cheap liquid into the country diluting the quality of wines in our local supermarkets.

The passion was flowing at this busy event and it took me the whole afternoon to make it through the mainly high quality samples to be tasted. It proved indeed to be a treasure trove of delights with too many great wines to write about.

So in the spirit of the ‘Indies’ I will list a few that really stood out from the crowd, not only in essence but also innovation and originality.

Many of these wines are not available directly off the shelf in the UK but can be found in a smattering of good restaurants and small wine shops across the land and are also available for order from their respective agents.

– Jasnieres Cuvee Clos StJacques 2006, Loire France

Intense nose combining a multitude of aromatics with notes of pine sap, hazelnuts and almonds. The palate shows rich mineral, zesty fruit with an intense very long finish.

Yapp Bros, £13.95 per bottle

I was quite blown away by this great example of a lesser know geographical region. Jasnieres is north of Tours in the Loire valley. The grape used is the versatile Chenin Blanc. Produced since the middle ages, diverse historical figures such as Rabelais, Ronsard and Henry IV have enjoyed the pleasures of Jasnières according to the producer! This is a great wine for experimenting with food matching, definitely one for seafood or smoked fish.

– Domaine de Closvallon les Aurieges 2008, VdP Haute Valley de L’Orb

Crisp inviting racy nose of stone fruit and citrus. The palate offers layers of ripe peach, pear and lime with complex mineral and oak notes. This finish is fresh and very morish.

Dynamic Vines, £16.95 per bottle.

Another wine from an area you may not have heard of. This time from the south of France. The blend is of 7 grape varieties (which I did not have time to write all of them down!), they include Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Riesling, Viognier and Clairette. This is a great example of intuitive and inventive wine making. The blend itself is a bit mind boggling but the result is truly special and definitely worth a go.

– Gemtree Moonstome Savagnin 2009, McLaren Vale Australia

Pears, blossom, peaches and melon on the nose, simular fruit on the palate with an elegant racy ‘Riesling-style’ finish

New Generation Wines, £17.25 per bottle

A great wine to emerge from the Albarinio/Savagnin story, see below for more info:

Another fine example from the inspiring Gemstone range.

– Malbrontes Malbec Torrontes 2009, Mendoza Argentina

Sort ripe red berry nose with a light floral notes. Smooth almost creamy fruit on the palate with a warm spicy finish with notes of liquorice and violets.

Agents ‘Las Bodegas’, aprox £8.49 per bottle

The world’s first ever Malbrontes, blending a small amount of the white Torrontes grape into this rich tannic intense red softens the fruit and makes it a lot more approachable. This red could well be enjoyed without food which is a new trend for Argie reds. Jancis Robinson is already on this one!

– Domaine Compte Abbatucci Cuvee Faustine 2006, Corsica France

Warming dark berries mix with rustic earthy terroir on the nose. The palate is surprisingly elegant with continued mellow fruit and rich mineral notes coming from the granite terroir.

Dynamic Vines, £19.90 per bottle

Something different, This red is blended from two local varieties Sciaccarellu and Nielluciu. It is really juicy and complex with great finesse and good potential to age. Even the importer Frederic Grappe said it was his favourite wine at the tasting. With style and innovation you cannot go wrong..

Pas Pinot mais Pineau..

February 23, 2010

At last I have found a bottle of the delectable Pineau des Charentes in Hampshire!

Today I visited ‘The General wine company’ in Petersfield.

What a lovely independent wine merchants. They focus on France with a good geographical range and some tasty high-end specials. And they had Pineau! This juice/brandy mixture is perfect evening quaffing.

What with low sales of French wines at the moment and a general leaning towards sweeter liquids for the mass market maybe this is what our Gallic neighbours should be pushing…

In any case I will be consuming this opulent aperitif as of the now:

Pineau des Charentes, Coteaux de Saintonge from G.Vallein £11.99 per 75cl.

It’s not cheap but a must try for any novice.


February 17, 2010

We now have a Twitter acount. Follow it for updates on new articles:


Art1 Australia: New Varietals Please

February 12, 2010

Australia: New Varietals Please

Having recently made the big step into full-time unemployment and in hope of inspiration for my new wine writing project, I recently attended the Australian annual trade tasting at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Through past experience of such events I knew what to expect; many rooms, full of tables shared by most of the big Aussie producers all showing pretty much the same thing.

Now this image I have just painted may sound a little crude, but from a grape varietal point of view at least, it is true. Australia may be a vast country over 13 times bigger than Francebut almost all producers use the same varieties. Despite its geological and climatic diversity it lacks the wide selection of indigenous grapes that allows European wineries to express originality and terroir.

Pick any table at random at one of these events and one can almost guarantee to find Chardonnay and Shiraz usually multiple examples of eachand probably a Cabernet/Merlot blend thrown in for good measure.

This is a nightmare for any taster as even the most trained palate will struggle to find a distinctive characteristic in such a plethora of rich full bodied juice monsters.

Following this reasoning I decided I would focus solely on those winemakers who stood out as showing something different from the rest.

Speaking to other people at the event, I sensed there to be a general consensus that there was not enough variety out there, but I was reassured that many wineries were starting to innovate more and that there were new exciting wines to be found.

With this glimmer of hope I set out to taste anything that stood out from the crowd. Here are the best examples of new varieties I found:

Tyrrell’s Old Winery Verdelho 2009

£8.49 a bottle from The City Beverage Company, Mill Hill Wines or Wapping Food

Fresh and lively with an intense sweet tropical nose with lifted spice aromas. Rich tropical fruit and honey flavours fulfil the palate and are complemented by a crisp lemony finish.

A great easy drinker, this refreshing white is vinified in the style of a Semillon with minimal skin contact and no oak leaving the fruit to show its full expression.

D’Arenberg The Money Spider Roussane 2008

£9.19 a bottle from Bibendum

Pyrazine, broad bean, Sauvignon Blanc-like aromas with some hints of honey, toast and nectarine. A dry and complex palate with lots of fruit and good overall balance.

This is an old friend. D’Arenberg are great Rhone influenced innovators and this white has such an inviting nose that it is great with food or served on its own.

– Tahbilk Marsanne 2008

£60.67 for 6x75cl at

Light, clean and fresh, limey and bright with a racy edge. There are fresh fruit notes, good intensity and freshness, with a balanced finish.

Tahbilk boast the oldest Marsanne vines in the land, with years of experience and many awards under their belt you cannot ignore this opulent white.

– Bleasdale Second innings Malbec 2008

Agent MWH Wine

Showing vibrant primary fruit flavours of plums, red berries and spices, this wine finishes soft and round with velvety smooth tannins.

In Australia, Malbec is rarely seen as a varietal wine. Bleasdale has been producing Malbec based wines since 1961. This red really showed well at the tasting. A perfect match for a nice juicy steak.

– Gemtree White Lees Shiraz 2007

£17.95 a bottle at Wine Direct

A beautiful ruby colour with aromas of black olives, black currents, violets and red berries. The palate is awash with red fruits with very silky tannins and a long elegant finish.

A serious beefy red with added finesse.

OK, I know I said I would not review any Shiraz but this one is an epiphany of wine making innovation. The Shiraz is left to mature on the Lees of a previously made Chardonnay white (Lees: leftover yeast sediment remaining from the fermentation that brings richness of flavour if left in contact with the liquid). This is presumably a first in the wine world it has got Jancis Robinson enthusing about it already and will hopefully lead way to even more experimentation in the winery.

In conclusion, I would very much recommend going out and trying something different. There is nothing like discovering something new that you like or uncovering an ‘old faithful’ made in a different style.

However, there is still a lot of room for improvement, there is an enormous palate of grape varieties in the world for the Aussies to play with. The potential is endless when you look at the diversity coming from France or Italy of styles and terroirs. I look forward to things to come.

Oliver Barton

Bad time to start writing!

February 9, 2010

Oh dear, Tim Atkin says its a hard time to be a wine critic at the moment:

Maybe some fresh blood is just what is needed.