About thegrapewizard

I'm currently in the Wine Industry, loving every minute of it, experiencing enriching journeys and tasting some fabulous wines along the way !!

Is Chapel Down becoming the frontrunner for the English wine industry…?. English wine is set to be as big as Oregon now; in 2040!

 

If you are ever lucky enough to drive down the motorway in the garden of England and turn off one of many roads then I’m sure you’ll experience quaint little England. Nice neat houses, quiet country lanes and maybe even a fabled sloe gin hedge! But one such village, Tenterden, is witnessing a revolution. Here lies Chapel Down.th

Ever since the popularity of English wine Chapel Down has been at the forefront of consumers minds for its approachable price and pleasant characteristics. This mini industry from the 388 Acres is operated from 4 vineyards. Kits Coty vineyard, Court Lodge Farm, Street Farm and a newly acquired parcel of land near Boxley.

Having visited the estate this month I was impressed by the operations, by the enthusiasm of the staff and by the range of wines. Far to short an article to list them all here!

Two things that are evident in the industry today is firstly all producers do not lay their wines down for investment and as a result omit a vintage ratings system. Secondly due to the nature of youthful wines and the lack of oak the wines are intentially made to be drunk young.

So for the majority of still and sparkling wines they are void of oak. Very few will venture into Grand Cru Chablis characteristics. It’s almost a cartel of an Anti –Oak movement. It’s a brave producer that goes alone in this embryonic industry. On the flip side drink them young and you sell more and you avoid storage costs on older wines. Costs are also recouped quicker. Forward thinking for an industry on the up. So not only does Chapel Down have prime vineyards in the heart of the garden of England (Kent) but it also produces a world-class range of sparkling and still wines, together with the award-winning range of Curious beers & cider.

Trade body Wine GB has said that it believes the UK industry, which includes vineyards across England and Wales, could be producing 40 million bottles of sparkling wine per year by 2040.How could you disbelieve them. 2018’s bottle production was 15.6 million bottles produced up from 5.9 million in 2017. Quite remarkable!

Because of their brand they supply Gordon Ramsay, The Royal Opera House, The London Symphony Orchestra, No 10 Downing Street and are the official sparkling wine of the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Races ….but all this talk of British wines! Why do we like it so much and why is it so popular? Look at the White Cliffs of Dover and you see chalky soils. Perfect climatic conditions with perfect soils. This combination allows vineyards to produce world-class sparkling wines and dry aromatic still white wines. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Bacchus all thrive on the South Coast

Chief grape varieties at Chapel down

  • Chardonnay:Grown largely for sparkling wines.
  • Pinot Noir: The variety thrives in cool climates (UK) & produces delicate thin-skinned grapes with low tannins & an abundance of red fruit
  • Bacchus:England’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc. Sometimes shows punchy tropical fruit to more restrained citrus and gooseberry.

Chapel Down has its own premium of wines range :

Kit’s Coty.

The Kit’s Coty vineyard has a lime-rich chalk soil and a unique microclimate on the North Downs. It is named after the monuments to the first settlers of Britain’s earliest farming society who recognised the fertility of the land in the third millennium BC. The expansive southerly aspect ensures the vines capture the sunshine all year long while free-draining chalk soils provide the perfect condition for producing well-balanced vines and intensely flavoured fruit. 3 notable examples include:

KIT’S COTY COEUR DE CUVÉE 2013. First British wine over £100.00 per bottle.

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KIT’S COTY BLANC DE BLANCS 2014 Chardonnay 40.00 per bottle.

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KIT’S COTY CHARDONNAY 2016 Wild-ferment Chardonnay, which has been matured in old French oak for nine months. £30.00 per bottle.

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3 grape varieties tried and tested and worth recommending.

ROSE BRUT

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GRAPE VARIETY 100% Pinot Noir

TASTING NOTES: Fresh strawberries, cherries and redcurrants with background notes of toasty shortbread. The palate is crisp and fresh, its fine mousse contributing to the light and effortless style.

SERVING SUGGESTION : Great as an aperitif or for pairing with light pasta dishes and summer fruit desserts.

 KITS COTY BACCUS 2017

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GRAPE VARIETY: 100% Bacchus

TASTING NOTES: This very ripe style of Bacchus has guava, melon and peach aromas with background oak influence. The palate is pure and focused with more tropical flavours and an exceptional length.

SERVING SUGGESTION: An ideal pairing to white crab meat salad, asparagus risotto and lightly smoked fish.

 

CHAPEL DOWN TENTERDEN ESTATE BACCHUS 2018

GRAPE VARIETY: 100% Bacchus

VINEYARDS : Fruit is sourced exclusively from the Tenterden vineyard, which is home to the oldest Bacchus vines producing the lowest yields but finest fruit.

TASTING NOTES: Aromas of lime zest and elderflower followed by a refreshing palate of juicy citrus fruit and a pure mineral finish.

SERVING SUGGESTION : A great match with Pork Belly or pair with a wide variety of seafood dishes. An ideal alternative to New World Sauvignon Blanc.

 

Music Pairing

Sometimes its not just the words that matter its the vibrancy and energy that is displayed. Still as fresh as it was all those years ago….. See where I’m going with this !

(and these two need no introduction!)

 

Always remember you can email me at jason@thegrapewizard.com or sign up to my website following the links on my homepage

GW

Put together a world class wine , globally renowned members club in London and an experience never to be forgotten – Hubert Bouard of Ch. Angelus

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Last month I got the chance to go to a vertical tasting (Upright bottles in a line!) at a fabulous members club in Pall Mall.

For those that don’t live in London. There is a street in London filled with members clubs – traditionally gentleman’s clubs. Some have been around for 200 years. Some as late as a few years ago- such as  67 Pall mall.

 

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67 Pall Mall – in the heart of London !

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Lutyens-Room – one of the many fabulous meeting rooms

Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

Downstairs Bar

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Lovely wine fridges !


67 Pall Mall   has now become firmly established as a wine only members club and is revered as such
. It is not a stuffy club – nor sometimes dated like so many clubs “on the strip “. So when I got the chance to go – I naturally accepted.

If your ever in a room and feel your privileged to be there (and that happens very rarely for me in this industry). Then this was the time. Expecting a meeting room filled with plastic chairs, a few bottles on the side and maybe some out-of-date  biscuits to dry the mouth – this was what I was expecting.  This was not the case

 

 

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“67” is a Georgian end of terraced town house(see above) and inside is a rabbit warren of corridors and secret doors. The basement reveals itself to to be a very grand affair. 

 

 

Place sat for 20 people and a 2 course lunch. (notice Stephen Spurrier and Hubert Bouard )

This was serious ! MW’s littered the table,  2 producers and Steven Spurrier as well as a host of CEO’s and other people of influence. 8 years ago I never thought I would be in a select group of people tasting the finer characteristics of one of St Emillion’s top producer. I guess the boy had come a long way! I am still in the industry that i love and I’m still writing for a magazine . So this experience I was always going to be thankful for. 18 glasses in from of me this was going to be tough!

The tasting was organised by Hubert Bouard (pictured below)

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and Klein Constantia ( of which he part owns and is in collaboration with KK) hence both of them were here. Half of the 18 glasses of wine were Klein Constantia’s the others were Hubert’s. On this day he was also highlighting his affordable range of £15-30 wines as well as Ch. Angelus.(see below)

 

 

The many faces of Hubert Bouard !

 

 

Huberts new range of wines (below) and Ch Angelus

 

 

  • This 2017 Chardonnay has tropical fruits, pineapples and nectarines and a touch of  baking bread and ginger on the nose and palate. Good finish on the palate. Around £28 Drink till 2020
  •  2017 Cabernet Sauvignon notes of  cassis, black plums and forest floor fruits , some savoury notes.  Soft smooth tannins with a finish that resembles some sort of menthol. Drink till 2025
  • 2017 Cabernet Franc shows potpourri together with red fruit, red currants, raspberries and the fabled pencil shavings of Bordeaux. As with Cabernet Franc i always refer to this humble varietal as the “smelly grape” and thus shows a gentle fragrance. Drink till 2025
  •  2017 Merlot red and black plums the nose , savoury and forest floor fruits on the palate together with cigar box. Drink till 2025
  • 1989 Ch. Angelus – Dark purple colour. Blueberry and Blackberry on the nose with hints of black olives, liquorice and cedar wood on the palate. Also shows Coffee beans and enticing chocolate characteristics. Drink till 2028

 

Ch. Angelus and the Classification system.

If you ever need to understand the importance of Ch. Angelus in the Bordeaux empire just look at the 1855 classification

Bordeaux introduced the classification in 1855 under Napoleon III, and it now serves as a measure of quality and prestige worldwide. Its aim was to highlight the soil’s typical characteristics. Some wines not included in the classification are sometimes more highly regarded than those in the classifications eg Petrus 

There are several classifications in Gironde (Bordeaux) , listed in order of seniority: 

If you want to read more about the subject of each classification, please click on one of the 5 links immediately below

The 1855 classification

The Graves classification

The Saint-Émilion classification

The Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification

The Crus Artisans classification

 

Key points of the St Emillion classification

  • 82 crus in the AOC classification
  • Started in 1954
  • The governing body (INAO) must revise the classification every ten years.

 

All of them contain varying degrees of producers. Some small. Some global. But one thing you should consider is that being in one group is not a disadvantage of not being in another. There are tables that showcase the best. But if you are looking for something that is not extortionate then there is a classification for you.

Link to all St Emillion producers

St Emillion differs from the rest as it has 3 categories – class A, class B (top tier and second tier)  and then the rest of the producers.  Currently Class A has 4 producers Class B has 14 producers. Then 63in the rest of the 3rd category.

Assessment : 63 Producers-good producers. Class B Very good producers.Class A  – exceptional producers  

For this reason, as you can understand,  it was a good and rare experience to accept the invitation to the tasting.

HISTORY

Château Angelus, until 1990 was known as Château L’angelus, or simply L’angelus, is a Bordeaux wine from the appellation Saint-Émilion, since 2012 ranked Premier grand cru classé (A) in the Classification of Saint-Émilion wine. The winery is located on the Right Bank of the Bordeaux wine region, in the commune of Saint-Émilion in the department Gironde. (see map on right)

Key historic points of Ch. Angelus

  • The estate has been owned by the Boüard de Laforest family since 1909.
  • The name refers to the three Angelus bells audible from the chapel at Mazerat, the church in Saint-Martin de Mazeret and Saint-Émilion. 
  • Hubert de Boüard de Laforest joined the family business at Angelus in 1976
  • The estate has been classified as a Premier grand cru cru classé (A) since 2012.
  • The estate consists of 23.4 hectares (23 Twickenham rugby pitches)
  • Grape variety of 51% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • The annual production averages 10,000 cases of the Grand vin and 1,000 cases of the second wine.

In the last thirty years, Hubert de Boüard de Laforest has constantly challenged practices and techniques for the benefit of his land and the unique characteristics of the wines grown on it, enabling Château Angelus to be recognised as one of the foremost properties in its appellation area. This recognition has been documented in one classification after another, the last of which awarded Château Angelus the status of Premier Grand Cru Classé “A”. (See above)

From the very beginning, the Château Angelus wine label has always featured a bell on a light background as a reminder of the devotion of the same name. Over the years the bell has become the emblem of the property and has been depicted in many different styles

Wines

3 wines of Ch. Angelus

Carillon d’Angélus was first released in the 1987 vintage. Over the years it has acquired its very own identity.  The wine is a  blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon selected from different Saint-Emillion terroirs. The vinification and ageing techniques are adapted with precision to its particular style. It is highly appreciated for the purity of its fruit aromas, its velvety tannins and elegant finish.

Expect to pay £75-85 per bottle ($110-130) 

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When the Château Angelus philosophy of excellence is applied to a selection of different Saint-Emillion terroirs, No. 3 d’Angélus results. Blended with 85 to 90% Merlot, this wine is made for instant enjoyment as soon as it is delivered from the winery. It is a refined version of its illustrious parents, which provides enjoyment while waiting the necessary years for the First Wine and Carillon d’Angélus to reach their full maturities. The vines used to grow No. 3 d’Angélus are cultivated with the same care as those used to make its elders and their fruit is vinified with the same precision. The yields are larger and the wine is aged for a shorter period with no recourse to new wood: only one- or two-year-old barrels are used. No. 3 d’Angélus is an easy-going, attractive wine, which gives its all when very young and can yet benefit from being kept for five to eight years.

Expect to pay approx £44 ($55)

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50% Cabernet Franc and 50%. Dark plum/purple in colour. Notes of blueberry and blackberry the nose together with  olive, liquorice and cedar wood. In the mouth the sensations are more espresso roast and chocolate. Drink now to 2030.

Expect to pay £450-550  Magnum $800-950 (tried in this tasting)

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Cinematograhy

Ch. Angelus has even appeared in James Bond’s Casino Royale

 

Wine paired with Music

As with all articles i like to add a song , an album or just a piece of music. Angelus is steeped in tradition and thats its attraction. Sometimes  music pairing just feels right. In this instance  Tyler Childers song of Whitehouse Road shows a melodic uplifting beat that gradually improves over the length of the song. It is thoughtful,  insightful and above all allows the listener to take their time and listen and enrich the listening experience.

In the same token Angelus should be enjoyed over time , no rush , no stress  and the individual should enjoy the moment. So linking the two I’m trying to nudge the attraction  of the wine not just to its traditional consumers but perhaps a more diverse audience.

Don’t worry ill never pair any wine with Justin Bieber. Life is too short !

GW

Billecart- Salmon – Understated Elegance.

Visiting Champagne is always a treat.  The treat this time is that I also had the family in tow, a celebratory long weekend of birthdays and anniversaries.  This was to be their first wine tour and our first family holiday all together since childhood.  What could go wrong?

photo by Leif Carlsson

I decided that the best way for my siblings to understand the magic of this effervescent drink was for us to take in the diversity of what the region has to offer. So we based ourselves in Epernay, the regions capital in a gite at the start of the Avenue de Champagne  – a famous street lined with the HQ’s of many leading champagne producers such as Moet et Chandon, Mercier and De Castellane.  The trip was to include a visit to a small organic vineyard, several tours of the major well-known champagne houses and a private tasting organised by yours truly @TheGrapeWizard.   But the highlight and the most anticipated was to the most admired producer in the industry, Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Ay.

photo by Leif Carlsson

Maison Billecart-Salmon is a small-medium family-owned producer at the very top end and as you might imagine they are not able to say yes to all of the huge number of visitor requests.  So it was with excitement, anticipation and a sense of awe that, like an excited herd of young billy goats,  we all trotted off on our last day.

Pulling up to the house we were not disappointed; an elegant building of tan coloured stones, luxurious yet understated.  Jerome, our guide for the tour, greeted us warmly.  Elegantly dressed, with refined manners and a subtle galliac dry humour he had us all transfixed.

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TheGrapeWizard & Jerome

History was made 200 years ago, in 1818, when Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon who owned a vineyard were married, marking the creation of their Champagne House. Ever since, through 7 generations, each member of the family has stayed faithful to the motto: “Give priority to quality, strive for excellence”.

Our tour started outside at the esteemed 1 hectare vineyard Clos Saint Hilaire (which is about the size of Twickenham’s rugby field).

photo by Leif Carlsson

Clos St Hilaire

A Clos is a parcel of vines enclosed by a wall on 3 sides.  Whilst grapes of different vintages and vineyards are blended, a Clos Champagne is made from the grapes from a single parcel of land.  There are only around 20 Clos in the Champagne region and since one vine produces only around 5 bottles of wine you understand the cost of this most rare of vintages.  The vines, soil and subsoil are farmed bio-dynamically with the use of draft horses and even grazing sheep to keep the weeds down!

photo by Leif Carlsson

The Clos Saint-Hilaire creates an exceptional champagne exclusively from Pinot Noir on limited release of between 3,500 to 7,500 individually numbered bottles and only in vintage years.

The champagnes of Maison Billecart-Salmon are created thanks to the knowledge of the men who rigorously cultivate an estate of 100 hectares, across 40 crus of the Champagne region combined with a complex and thorough blending process supervised by the elderly head of the family Monsieur Antoine Roland-Billecart. The majority of the grapes used for vinification come from a radius of 20km around Epernay, where the Grand Crus of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay co-exist, in the ethereal vineyards of the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs.

The Cuverie

photo by Leif Carlsson

As part of the ever present quest to raise the quality of their champagnes, in the Fifties, the House were the first to use the technique of cold settling (normally used in the brewing industry)

The “cold settling” step involves letting the pressed juice, skins, and sometimes stems settle overnight in a vat for up to three days wherein the solids sink to the bottom. Typical temperatures for this process are between 41-50 degrees fahrenheit (5-10 Celcius). The purpose of this step is to clarify the juice to prevent off-flavors from being present in the final product. Once the suspended particles have settled, the clear juice is transferred, or racked to another vat or fermentation vessel. This is really only used for the production of whites and rosés.

combined with the use of stainless steel tanks for a longer fermentation at a lower temperature. The vinification is carried out cru by cru, grape variety by grape variety which allows for conservation of the full range of characteristics of the terroir to be captured.  The low temperature encourages the most delicate ofaromas and allows all the purity of the fruit to be expressed. The elegance produced is the absolute signature of the Billicart-Salmon style.

Next on the tour was a visit to the Chais (wineries) one of which is a brand new state-of-the-art room built to celebrate Billicart’s bicentenary.  They house 400 small and 24 gigantic oak casks where the wine is vinified in oak to reveal all its richness and aromatic complexity to create their latest cuvee “Sous Bois”.

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The bottled wine then makes it’s way down to the chalk cellars which date from 17th and 19th centuries. Over three to four years, the non-vintage champagnes really blossom, staying around twice as long as the fixed regulations of the appellation. The vintage cuvées patiently wait ten years before they begin to reveal their maturity.

Allowing time to play its role is behind the grandeur of Billecart-Salmon champagnes.

And time now to savour the results. It did not disappoint.  Tasting notes below.

If you want to learn more about Billecart-Salmon, catching up with an interview with Mathieu Roland-Billecart, the current CEO and the Chef de Caves then please go over to my website www.thegrapewizard.com. Simply sign up with your Email.

Tasting Notes

IMG_2002Billecart- Salmon Cuvee Elizabeth Brut Rose 2007

A salmon pink appearance with a whiff of red berries, citrus peel and stone fruits. Some would say fresh figs, white peach, almond macarons. A delight !

On the mouth a mixture of nectarine and cardamom – exposing the elegance of a tangy mandarin together with delicate flavours of cedar and exotic wood.

Pair with creamy poultry, langoustines and /or  crunchy hibiscus macarons.

Serve at: 11-12°C

GW Rating 5/5

Photo 11-02-2019, 11 45 15Billecart- Salmon Cuvee Louis Brut Blanc de Blanc 2006

APPEARANCE
golden yellow hue and a few green glints of youth.
PALATE
A beautifully refreshing flavours of citron zest, peach and white pepper
AROMA
whipped cream, white flowers and citrus fruits
Pair matches such as turbot or a creamy shellfish risotto.
Serve at: 11-12°C
GW Rating 5/5

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Billecart- Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut 2006

APPEARANCE: yellow gold veiled in luminous golden reflections.

PALATE:honeyed notes associated with stone fruits with aromas of citrus zest.

AROMA: preserved peaches, fine apple tart and lemon verbena tea

Pair with roasted poultry or a turbot in a creamy sauce.

Serve at: 11-12°C

GW Rating 5/5

photo by Leif CarlssonBillecart-Salmon Extra Brut

APPEARANCE

A pale gold intensity.

PALATE: biscuity flavor with notes of white flesh fruits

AROMA :dried fruits and brioche combined with floral notes. Subtle notes of lemon verbena.

TASTING: Pair with prawns, grilled scallops and ceviche.

GW Rating 4/5

As for the family dynamics and the smooth running of a 4 day getaway for the first time ever… well thats a story for another day !

Any more info wanted on Billecart-Salmon please contact me. Truly a delicious wine and a fabulous House.

MUSIC Pairing 

 

GW

Brexit – Another day, another €. Where have we all gone wrong !

Brexit – It doesn’t have to be all bad news

So as I write this, in the month the UK leaves the European Union, negotiations are still on-going and it remains unclear what the exact impacts of Brexit might be on the wine industry. 

As a major importer, the UK market is one of the most important global wine markets.  The UK accounts for nearly 15% of the world’s wine imports. The drop in consumption assumed in the most severe Brexit scenario would have a ripple effect, depressing the value of the global wine trade by 3.5%. 

No wonder then wine producers and retailers alike are preparing for the worst and taking measures should a no-deal Brexit come to pass.  Producers across Europe are rushing to bottle early and as you would imagine UK retailers are being prudent and stockpiling.

The most noticeable impact of Brexit is the rising prices of bottles imported into the UK. The price of a bottle of wine has already risen by almost 30p since the Referendum in June 2016 and this is only set to continue.  This is bad news for British wine lovers.

Non-EU importers

Both the US and Chile have signed trade continuity deals with the UK to ensure there is no disruption to wine trade after March 29th. These countries have very similar deals with the EU currently so the status quo should stay the same no matter what

The UK is the fourth largest market for US wine exports, and around 9% of UK still wine sales in 2018 were Chilean bottles, so it was imperative that these trade relationships were maintained.

No-deal Brexit

Currently there are no tariffs on wines imported from the EU.  The UK is the second largest importer of French wines and spirits, behind the United States, having imported 1.3 billion Euros of alcohol from France in 2018.

A no-deal Brexit for the UK could disrupt EU wine imports through long border delays, import taxes, decreased British demand and increased competition from non-EU markets. 

Things will also become difficult as the paperless electronic system used at present will expire if we are not in Europe – without this system in place, businesses would be forced to rely on pen and paper until a new system is in place

Some EU suppliers are already vulnerable to a decline in trade, due to poor weather conditions, so to have barriers put up could pile on the pressure among some European growers.

In addition, every single bottle of wine destined for the UK from the EU ‘could’ be faced with paying to get a laboratory technical analysis of the wine to comply with new regulations. It effectively means all wine from the EU will be faced with the same restrictions that the EU currently places on all wine entering the EU from outside countries.

Another headache for EU producers is the risk the UK will negotiate more favourable trade agreements with other wine-producing nations, such as Australia, South Africa, Chile and Argentina, at the expense of European exporters. 

Ultimately EU wine businesses will face costs which UK consumers will be passed on to UK customers to pay.

Good news for English wine?

So is there is a silver lining in all this for UK winemakers?

The industry is small but growing, with more than 500 vineyards and about 130 wineries in England and Wales, many of which specialize in sparkling wine. 

UK supermarkets will only be able to absorb the higher costs of imported wine for so long. This will give locally produced wines an advantage, since retailers won’t be forced to hike prices because of the exchange rate or tariffs.

As a result, British wines will seem relatively less expensive, encouraging people to switch over. So little of the wine Brits drink comes from the UK because of small-scale production and a focus on sparkling wine make it a pricier alternative to imported bottles.  There is an opportunity here for the UK government to encourage this further by, as many are suggesting, cutting the cost of domestic duty for UK produced wine post-Brexit.

So whatever the outcome  – Brexit or no Brexit  – I for one will be continuing my journey of discovery around the UK.  And not because it may be relatively cheaper but because it is becoming so much better. 

Here are my top 3 tips for a post-Brexit toast.  Assuming we will still have something to celebrate!

2013 Hattingley Valley ,Blanc de Blancs – Pale golden colour with gentle green hues and delicate bubbles, this Blanc de Blancs displays beautifully the pure linear character of the Chardonnay – white stone fruit, citrus fruit and a delicious honeyed character on the nose; clean and mineral flavours with pastry and brioche notes on the palate. It has a well balanced and refreshing acidity that gives way to a creamy mouthfeel and long, complex finish.

2013 The Mount Vineyard, White pinot  – This unoaked white pinot is pale gold in colour and made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. It has fruity flavours of grapefruit, melon and green apples with an aroma of spicy almonds, mouth-watering citrus acidity and a long finish.

2014 Camel Valley Brut  – Young and lively, with a floral, sweet-hay scent, drier palate with a creamy finish. This wine is excellent to drink young, or can be cellared to allow the structure and more mature characteristics to evolve

A bold new distillery, a bold new venture from the Yorkshire Dales- with not a flap cap in sight !

 

Now I know what your thinking, thegrapewizard has now written a few articles on topics other than just grapes recently. So please let me reassure you: the grape is still my main passion and over the next few months I’ve a couple of fantastic interviews with your favourite big names, interesting small producers and distillers.   But before all that another topic I am passionate about is gin.  

We have all witnessed the recent meteoric rise of gin.  In 2009 Sipsmith (amongst others) began lobbying the government to challenge a law that required massive-sized stills for making ginand forbade small batch distilling. In March of 2009, after 18 months of negotiations, London’s first copper pot distillery in over 200 years was finally permitted to open. If it had not been for this bold step, many start-ups would not have ever had the chance to follow.  The Yorkshire Dales Distillery is one such company. 

The high, breathtaking views, swooping twists, hills and bends, and picture-postcard villages of the Dales evoke an era of a sleepy rural idyll, straight out of All Creatures Great and Small.  It is somehow quite surprising therefore to discover that an ultra modern business has sprung up in traditional England.  Tony and Sarah Brotherton’s business is situated just outside the historic market town of Richmond.  It is a family affair and their desire to both work and play in the industry has seen their small craft Distillery flourish.   Indeed Tony’s Grandparents were the original G&T fans that first inspired their passion for handcrafted homegrown quality.  Tony’s career in the British Army has also inspired the business to give back into the community by providing opportunities to train veterans, ex offenders, young people and the long term unemployed. 

In their pursuit of technical excellence in distillation, they produce London dry gins and vodka in very small batches using traditional techniques resulting in exceptionally smooth and unique flavours. Many of their botanicals are sourced locally: the Dales honey is sourced just a mile away from the distillery and then there is the unique and ancient water source from Swaledale.  Every bottle is hand bottled, labelled and signed and they also offer a bespoke distilling service for a number of private clients and businesses. 

Award winning

Recently the Yorkshire Dales Distillery won the Local Product of the Year 2018 category in the Flavours of Herriot Country Awards.  The judges described their products as “epic!!!”

Purple Ram London Dry Gin

Smooth and quadruple distilled and 100% vapour infused through select Yorkshire botanicals including artisan local honey.  Great served with Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water

On the nose; sweet spicy orange and cardamom with a delicate juniper finish. 

On the palette; clean cinnamon, orange and grapefruit. Delicate use of honeysuckle

Finish: A balanced Juniper finish with sweet nuts

Desert Ram Army Strength London Dry Gin

Made smooth and strong through quadruple distillation and 100% vapour infused with North African and Middle Eastern inspired botanicals.  Sit back into that comfy chair and imagine great times gone by. 

On the nose; Juniper and warm citrus, sweet peppermint and elegant pine characters

On the palette; Orange peel and cardamom. Wood and aromatic floral notes with candied rhubarb

Finish: Juniper and strawberry, with a hint of clove

Smokey Ram Yorkshire Vodka

Exceptionally smooth quadruple distilled vodka, 100% vapour infused through Yorkshire hay smoked peppercorns. Light and smokey with a gentle peppery feel.

On the nose; Rye flavours with a strong grassy note, pepper and light spice mixed with a touch of icing sugar

On the palette; Delicate evidence of white pepper and aniseed

Finish: Calm and delicate, evidence of a grain flavour

Wild Ram Yorkshire Berry London Dry Gin 

Use of Yorkshire berries and heather flowers give this quadruple distilled and 100% vapour infused a smooth, strong and warm character. Great served with Fever Tree Aromatic tonic.

On the nose; Red fruit and juniper with fragrant citrus 

On the palette; redcurrant, blackcurrant and plum juniper and a touch of pine. 

Finish: a sharp redcurrant morphs into strawberry cheesecake. Yum Yum!

Intrepid Ram Yorkshire Golden Rum 

The Caribbean meets the Yorkshire Dales!  Oak-aged in the Distillery and delicately infused with Yorkshire honey and heather. The demerara and chocolate finish is perfect for a Dark and Stormy cocktail.

On the nose: Bold oak and vanilla

On the palette: demerara and spice with a velvet chocolate finish

And now for the GW geeky stuff

Gin is an old spirit, dating back 600 years the trend today is for flavoursome botanical gins rather than the early juniper-led gins. 

Did you know that there are 3 types methods used to make gin 

Distilled gins

One shot distillation is the most traditional method and is preferred by craft distillers

Here a one shot producer distils either fermented sugar or a neutral spirit together with the juniper and the botanicals. Just the right amount of botanicals is steeped in the liquid like tea. Their essence is extracted by suspending the botanicals in a basket and exposed to the steam. Then just before the bottling the distiller adds water to cut the spirit to the proper proof 

This method requires more stills to produce even a fraction of what other Distilleries make but produces a better mouth feel and by exposing the liquid to the copper keeps unwanted sulphur compounds and acids out of the process 

Concentrate 

Distillers can stretch their gin.   Here the process produces bigger quantities by distilling a huge quantity of botanicals with just a small amount of liquid. The end result is a highly concentrated distillate to which the producer adds neutral spirits and water. 

Cold Compound 

This method is the simplest method where any sort of real or artificial botanical is added to a neutral spirit provided juniper is already present. 

So it seems the Yorkshire Dales, renowned for more traditional aspects of life; the Flat cap, the Yorkshire puddings and a qwerky sense of dialect is also a place where new things are being born.  In my opinion The Yorkshire Dales Distillery is one to watch.  It is embryonic but it is also a breakthrough cottage industry company.  Since 2009 and the change in law the small producer has flourished: there are now over 500 gin producers- so standing out is the key. The Yorkshire Dales Distillery has a unique provenance and uses alternative ingredients. 

If you have want to know more or have any questions regarding this or any other of question please feel free to contact me at Jason@thegrapewizard.com or my website thegrapewizard.com or anywhere on social media where you see thegrapewizard.

Interview to come…. Watch this space!

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http://www.yorkshiredalesdistillery.com

Eimverk Distillery Iceland

Eimverk Distillery Iceland

It’s the holidays and a short break is needed. Unfortunately I’ve chosen the wrong place to look for grapes as I am off to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. This is a breathtaking land of ice and fire: long winters, frozen lakes, spouting hot springs called geysers and big woolly jumpers which dot the otherworldly, volcanic landscape now familiar to all Game of Thrones fans.
 Around three-quarters of the island is barren of vegetation; plant life consists mainly of grassland, which is regularly grazed by sheep (sheep out number Icelanders almost 3 to 1).

Typical view of icelandic landscape

Fabulous vistas

Iceland’s national spirit is Brennivín. Its potency has earned it the nickname ‘black death’. It is a type of schnapps distilled from potato mash and caraway seeds and well known for washing down the taste of the putrefied-shark dish, hákarl. This spirit is only brewed in Iceland and only in one distillery!
 Imagine then my relief when I read that Iceland also has a booming craft distillery culture!!

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The Icelandic climate has only twice in recorded history allowed for decent amounts of grain – first during settlement times, and now, due to global warming. The early settlers grew and brewed barley into mead and ale, and after barley production died down, schnapps or potato vodka became the drinks of choice for Icelanders. Now, with barley production growing again, that equation has changed.
 I contacted Eimverk Distillery ahead of time and they invited me to visit on one of their afternoon distillery tours.

Arriving at the small distillery in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Reykjavik, I was greeted by CEO Halli Thorkelsson, an extremely personable, dry-witted, entrepreneur with a huge passion for his family run distillery.

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The distillery has already received critical acclaim for their gin named Vor, which got a Double Gold Award at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

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But we’re not here to just to just praise their gin, we’re here to taste their whisky as well, which is the first of its kind to be made in Iceland.
 What a pioneering spirit they have!
 Halli and his brother Egill wanted to see if they could make their own whisky, just for the fun of it. So they started to experiment with a small still and after more than 160 different recipes, learning the ropes along the way, they found one in 2009 that their friend’s and family’s feedback was worth pursuing.

Everything , since then, has sprung from there.

THE GEEKY STUFF

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Eimverk gets most of their grain straight from the family farm. It’s 100% organic being exposed to nothing but the harsh Icelandic winter. With a shorter growing season, the barley with its low starch and sugar content, concentrates the flavours. The second ingredient, water, is a commodity that Iceland has in abundance and is so pure has no need to be treated – it comes straight from the tap!

Native botanicals


 Halli goes on to explain the inspiration behind their range of gins “Again we wanted to stay true to our heritage and only use native Icelandic ingredients. Vor, their small batch, barley-based, pot-distilled gin contains nine botanicals, wild picked Icelandic juniper, crowberries, birch leaves, thyme, Icelandic sea kelp and organically grown rhubarb and kale.

 

 

One variant is barrel-aged in first-fill virgin white oak barrels to give the gin a slightly woody, smokey character.

The surprise tipple of the day was their very pleasant `aquavit – Viti –

img_0741 dominated by caraway seeds and dill perfect as a digestif and awarded a Double Gold at the San Fransisco World Spirits competition.
 Pall, the charismatic, smooth-talking Sales and Marketing Manager took us through a wonderfully entertaining and informative tasting and tour.

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You get a real sense that the bold, pioneering, yet down to earth nature of Iceland is alive and kicking here at Eimverk. It’s still very early days for this young distillery so it would not be fair of me to compare its products to the more established distillers yet I do believe given time, these super-cool, passionate and friendly mavericks will mature into one of the Iceland’s main attractions.

Whisky

 

Their Young malt is called Flóki, Rating (4/5*) named after the first settler in Iceland and has a toasty, buttery oak aroma and tastes of oak leather and brown bready maltiness with hints of caramel shortcake honey and vanilla.

Their most unusual take on whisky however comes in the form of their “Sheep Dung” Whisky. “We wanted to make a whisky to emulate the peaty flavours of Single Malt but in Iceland we do not have any peat” said Halli “ The water in the ground is almost permanently frozen so it cannot form. The early settlers used to burn sheep dung to generate warmth. This sh*t is really good sh*t!!” He says with a smile. The barley is smoked over the burning dung to give it sweet almost green smokey notes which compliment the intensity of the barley. You may even find vanilla and white pepper.

Three farms Bjamholt Farm Eimverk family farm where they smoke their sheep dung for the smoked barley reserve  , Porvaldseyri Farm and Sandholl Farm

 

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FLÓKI – ICELANDIC SINGLE MALT WHISKY. Rating (4/5*)The distillery , for the first time in Iceland , has a 3 year old Single Malt. Their Single Grain Icelandic Whisky was released in a limited bottling in November 2017. Carefully distilled and made from 100% Icelandic barley and matured on ex-Young Malt barrels which have been mellowed by the maturation of our Young Malt.

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3 year old Single Malt,Rating (4/5*) Single Grain Icelandic Whisky will be released in a limited bottling of our very first 3 year old casks in November 2017.

Carefully distilled and made from 100% Icelandic barley and matured on ex-Young Malt barrels which have been mellowed by the maturation of our Young Malt.

Gin

 

 

VOR – SMALL BATCH
 (L) Rating (5/5*) Vor, Icelandic for spring is a premium pot distilled gin from a 100% Icelandic barley base.

In a delicate third distillation native botanicals are added to perfect an authentic taste of Icelandic summer.  Juniper Berries, Rhubarb, Crowberries, Angelica Root, Birch Leaves, Creeping Thyme, Iceland Moss, Kale and Sweet Kelp 100% are all grown locally and complement each other to produce a fresh and vibrant gin

Vor is a New Western style Gin with heavy botanical notes that compliment the sharp notes of juniper and the sweetness from our barley base.

VOR GIN – BARREL AGED RESERVE
 (M) Rating (4/5*) A special reserve edition of Vor Small batch gin which has been aged on new wood american oak barrel for a sweet and smoky gin with intense botanical notes.

This is truly a whisky drinkers gin as it is made from a new whisky base which is then re-distilled with our selected native botanicals’ and oak rested for a period of 2 months.

Perfect for sipping neat on the rocks, for martini’s or for an intense gin and tonic.

VOR GIN – SLOE STYLE RESERVE
 (R) Rating (4/5*) Following the tradition of Sloe Gin making in UK we have developed an Icelandic variation by using the available native berries. mixing blueberry and crowberry juice for a sweet and subtle sloe style gin. Perfect for sipping neat or in various cocktails.

 

Viti Brennivin

 

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VÍTI – ICELANDIC PREMIUM AQUAVITE
 Aquavite Rating (5/5*) also called Brennivín in Iceland has a dominant flavour of caraway seeds and is the traditional spirit of Iceland.

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Víti is triple pot distilled using a small batch distilling unit. This method gives a truly unique spirit base from the Icelandic barley and allows all essential oils from the native botanicals to be carefully preserved during the distilling process.

Visit Aquavite for more info on Víti Brennivín.

 

 

 

So the tasting with Pall went through 3 whiskeys and 3 gins as well as the aquavit. I wasn’t quite expecting the sheep dung to taste as it did- slightly reminiscent of soil and not at all smokey. Probably a lesson that I learn from wine tasting is never believe what you’ve learnt or what your heart says – taste and assess.   The sheep dung whiskey was smooth with a gentle earthiness. This was a great addition to the distillery. The three year old (a first for 🇮🇸) was smooth also.

 

 

 

So as you can see from the photos that were taken over a four-day period Iceland is something else. You have all of natures wonders at your doorstep. Only 3 hours from London , probably 5 from New York and all set in spectacular scenery. Not many places encapsulate all that Iceland has to offer  – rugged landscape, world-class restaurants , cultured, cool and trendy and welcoming people. Surely a bucket list country.

 And don’t forget the Northern Lights!!! 

Music Pairing for Eimverk Distillery – Enjoy sitting in a club chair, a favourite glass and fill with Folk or Vor – relax and press play !

TGW

 

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Welsh Wine, yes Welsh wine at it’s best – and its delicious!

White Castle Vineyard Ltd
Llanvetherine,
Abergavenny,
Monmouthshire.
NP7 8RA

White Castle Vineyard is owned by Robb & Nicola Merchant and is situated in the beautiful rolling countryside of Monmouthshire in the village of Llanvetherine – Southern Wales. The 5-acre vineyard is planted on a south-facing slope that is ideal for growing vines and ripening grapes for this part of the country. Usually northern hemisphere vineyards need SE facing. Currently, in the UK we have close to 400 producers with 27 in Wales (2 even in Scotland)

Robb and Nicola
View down to the Barn from the vineyard

Most of the vineyards in Wales have an area just under 1 x rugby pitch size (1ha) for their vines. Whitecastle has just under double that. Not a big size by modern day standards but a great feat considering the attention it has received in recent years. Its reputation has been steadily increasing largely due to supplying major supermarket/s and producing some pretty good wines!

As well as tending to the vines Rob has also been busy restoring a 16th century Croft Barn with Lottery Funding. Seems he never stops!

After exhaustive research into vineyard management the owners decided on the most suitable grape varieties for growing and after farming the land and planting the vines the first harvest was available in September 2011 two and a half years from the initial planting (2008) 

The first harvest gained the vineyard Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) from Wine Standards, allowing the produce to be labeled Welsh Quality Wine. This is the top standard for UK wine and a great accolade for a 1styear of production.

WANT TO KNOW More. I can send you a fact-sheet about the quality control of wine. Email me thegrapewizard@gmail.com

When the vineyard reaches full production it should have the capacity to produce 12,000 bottles of wine a year, including sparkling wines.

Here is just a selection of wines from the vineyard.

Fortified Wine 1581 £25.00

Grape: REGENT

Tasting notes

Fortified wine. Deep Ruby in colour with a fragrant brambly aromas. The palette is Rich, round and smooth

Pair with Cheese, after dinner or alongside dessert.

Pinot Noir Reserve 2016 £25 

Grape: Pinot Noir 

Light and ruby coloured with a hint of vanilla, red currants and red cherries on the nose. On the palette is a big smack of blackberry and smoky vanilla

Pair with lamb, fish or pasta – might even suit Carpaccio of Ostrich!

WHITE WINE 

Gwin Gwyn 2017 £15

Grape: Phoenix and Siegerrebe 

A gentle “sniffy sniff” on the wine immerses yourself into a glass of floral elderflower with ripe citrus fruits.

Lemons
Elderflower

Pair with shellfish such as oyster’s prawns lobster and any fish with a hard back!!

Sparkling white 2015 £30.00 

Grape: Phoenix 

An elegant Brut made in the Champagne style. On the nose it has hints of elderflower and gooseberry. A delicate mousse worthy of a champagne house Biscuity aromas 

Pairing: most appetizers. Try it with fish and light. Toast with it before or after a meal. 

ROSE 

Rose 2013 £13.50

Grape:  Pinot Noir, Rondo and Siegerrebe 

Dry delicate rose with a hint of strawberry and summer fruits. Good acidity and very refreshing.

Perfect for a summer party on a hot summers day. This is a fabulous aperitif that can be enjoyed all year round 

Whitecastle also offers an option for members to plant One option for members is to plant a vine scheme. You can choose 1 of 5 grape varieties for 12 months. Rewards include: a personal certificate of adoption with a plaque with your chosen name placed on the vine. A tour of the vineyard for 2 people included with a glass of wine. An invite to the harvest to handpick the grapes, and a bottle from your adopted vine to take home. A great service and a revenue steam that will prove invaluable if an operation like this is to survive

2018 has seen an unprecedented year for yields on UK vineyards . This has been an exceptional year. Near perfect growing conditions created a bumper harvest. Whitecastle was no different . Harvest was on 27thSeptember with high yields and lasted till 21stOctober. Should be an interesting next 12 months  for the vineyard !

Both Robb and Nicola have been nominated for a few awards, this year, most notably The Rural Business Awards for Wales and Northern Ireland 2018 and were one of the finalists in the Best Rural Drink Business.

It is fabulous to see a UK vineyard and more importantly a Welsh one doing so well in the marketplace. It is testament to the hard work and dedication that all producers put in to produce a product that 10 years ago would have been ridiculed. Robb and Nicola are passionate about this venture and when I saw Robb at the WineGB event, showcasing his wine, he was very personable and spent an inordinate amount of time talking to me. I know this vineyard will go from strength to strength. The varietals may not be to everyone’s taste and consumers may not know what Rondo and Siegerrebe are but they are delicate and balanced. Think of Rondo as an alternative Pinot Noir.

To learn more please go to either www.whitecastlevinyard.com or visit my website (www.thegrapewizard.com) email me thegrapewizard@gmail.comand ask me any questions. Sign up if you want to receive an article every-time I post.

Photos courtesy of Whitecastle vineyard