A new, ultra rare Champagne icon: Armand de Brignac, Blanc de Noirs Assemblage Three

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If you don’t know Armand de Brignac champagne by name, you will certainly know it by sight. With five cuvées (styles) in the range, you’ll spot them a mile off in their iconic, metallic gold, silver, pink, purple and platinum-coloured bottles. Yes, it’s the brand owned by rapper Shawn ‘JAY-Z’ Carter, but it’s worth noting that these ‘ultra-prestige’ champagnes have been crafted by the Cattier family, who have been making wine in and around the Montagne-de-Reims for thirteen generations, so they know a thing or two. 

These champagnes command the highest prices as they are made in tiny quantities, using extremely selective methods and meticulous attention to detail. Without the pressures of creating huge volumes, they say they are free to craft the most ‘perfect’ wines possible. Armand de Brignac only use the first half of the first press of grapes for their cuvées (the best bit). In the case of the Blanc de Noirs however, they use only the first third of the first press, meaning it takes even more grapes to craft a single bottle. 

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Armand de Brignac, Blanc de Noirs ‘A3’

The Blanc de Noirs ‘Assemblage 3’ (A3) is only the third Blanc de Noirs Armand de Brignac have ever produced, the first being released in 2015. Only 3535 bottles of this release were created and each is inscribed with its own number. Like the other four cuvées in the range, A3 is a blend of three vintages: 2009, 2010 and 2012 and as the name ‘Blanc de Noirs’ suggests, is made with only red grapes: 100% Pinot Noir in this case - no Pinot Meunier, the other red grape that would have been permitted. Winemaker Jean-Jaques Cattier says the following of this wine:

“Because of the power that comes from using 100% red fruit, it can be a challenge to achieve a balanced Blanc de Noirs… Using only parcels of only the very best Pinot Noir, we’re able to meticulously balance the acidity and sugar, achieving a Blanc de Noirs style with integrity to the powerful style, but with balance and texture.”

Winemaker Jean-Jacques Cattier with Armand de Brignac CEO Sebastien Besson

Winemaker Jean-Jacques Cattier with Armand de Brignac CEO Sebastien Besson

What does Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs A3 taste like?

With an attractive, copper- gold hue, this is a champagne that is understated when first poured, but opens up quickly and changes with every sip, each time offering a new note you hadn’t spotted before. Exceptionally complex, it gives rich brioche notes with crisp, red apple skin and blackcurrant leaf flavours. There’s a subtle vanilla pastry creaminess and a light citrus finish that really lifts the wine and balances the richness and power. A gastronomic wine at its finest and the ‘yin’ to Armand de Brignac’s Blanc de Blanc ‘yang’.

What to eat with A3?

The complexity and power of this extraordinary champagne means it will suit many fine dining dishes, both sweet and savoury. The house suggests foie gras, lamb tagine with apricots, spiced rack of lamb and Clafoutis with fresh, dark fruits. Now we’re hungry!

A3 Fact & Figures

Grapes: 100% Pinot Noir

Villages grapes sourced from: Bouzy, Verzenay, Chigny-les-Roses,Ludes & Rilly-la-Montage.

Multi Vintage: Base of 2012 with 2010 and 2009

Number of bottles produced: Only 3535

Disgorgement date: April 9th, 2019

Dosage: 8g/l

ABV: 12.5%

Sizes available: 750ml only

Drinking window: Drinking now but can be kept until 2030 in the right conditions.

RRP: £1,095 per bottle.

Stockist: Available exclusively from Harrods from Sept 19th until November 16th

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By Helena Nicklin




Spotlight on: Greyfriars Vineyard, Surrey Hills, England

All eyes are on English wine at the moment. Let’s face it; there’s not much else to be proud of about our country right now, so the fact that English wines are soaring in terms of quality and innovation is just what we need. 

A welcome break from the madness of London, we three took a trip down to Greyfriars Vineyard in the sunny, Surrey Hills. You may have whizzed past them on the Hog’s Back at Puttenham on the way out West but we very much suggest you stop in next time. Alternatively, you can jump on a train from Waterloo to Guildford and be there in less than 40 minutes. 

Greyfriars has been part of the English wine scene since 2010 when owners Mike and Hilary Wagstaff took over, having decided to make the move to winemaking from engineering and law respectively. Their aim was to expand the vineyards already there and to grow them from hobby scale to boutique commercial scale. When they took over the vines from the previous owners, they were planted mostly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which was quite unusual at the time, but rather fortuitous given how well those varieties are now performing. “Most people were growing horrible German hybrids,” says Mike. Luckily for them, the chalky hills had already proved their worth for the vines. All that was left was to smarten up the winemaking and do some planting. “We’ve now gone from 1.5 acres to 40 acres, so 16 hectares,” says Mike. “Big enough to be serious but we’re not a huge conglomerate.”

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The Wines

In the nine years under the Wagstaffs, Greyfriars have made a splash with their distinctive, authentic wines and eye-catching branding. They now boast and impressive range of thirteen  wines, each with a signature style, reflecting the unique local soils and climate.

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The Non Vintage Sparkling Range

Three crisp, refreshing sparklers await you at a seriously impressive price for what they are. The non vintage sparkling cuvée (£18.50) is an elegant blend of the three ‘champagne’ grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and touch of Pinot Meunier. The non vintage rosé (£18.50), made from 100% Pinot Noir is pale and pretty with a red apple skin tang. The unique non vintage sparkling fumé (£18.50) however is certainly one to try. 100% bubbly Sauvignon Blanc, it’s zippy, herbaceous and citrussy. A true point of difference. All three are excellent for the price and happily, relatively low in alcohol at 11.5%! 

The top-end non vintage wine however is the blancs de noirs (made entirely with black grapes). It’s 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and has a moreish, fleshy texture with beautiful red fruit aromatics. £30 and worth every penny. 

The Vintage Sparkling Range

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Seriously special, these vintage wines feel like a big step up. The 2014 Classic Cuvée is fleshy and rich (£23). The limited edition Cuvée Royale 2015 is extraordinary. A blend of 50:50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is has an unctuous mouthfeel with brioche notes and poise from the red fruit. And finally, there’s the 2014 Oaked Blanc de Blancs: a wine made from 100% Chardonnay with a tropical note and vanilla finish. Delicious!

The Still Wines
Greyfriars make a range of still wines too, usually single varietal and grapes you don’t usually associate with England: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and also, a strawberry- scented still rosé. All priced at £13.50, you could try a mixed case and taste them all!

See more about Greyfriars Vineyard on the website here.

Buy the wines here.

Address: Greyfriars Vineyard, The Hogs Back, Puttenham, Surrey, GU31AG, England, UK

It’s Wine Tax Freedom Day! Join the movement

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The 12th August 2019 is Wine Tax Freedom Day! So what is that? Why is it important and how can you help?

33 million people in the UK drink wine. Fact. It is now officially the UK’s most popular alcoholic drink according to most recent ONS data*, yet tax on wine has risen significantly faster than for other alcohol types over the last ten years. New movement ‘Wine Drinkers UK’ are calling on the UK Government to cut wine duty at the next budget and address a decade of unfair treatment compared to other alcoholic drinks.

Since 2010, excise duty on wine has increased by 39% compared with just 16% for beer and 27% for cider and spirits. In real terms, for wine bought to consume at home (i.e. not in bars and restaurants), this means that consumers pay £3.06 tax on every bottle of still wine (£2.23 on duty + 83p on VAT ). For a £5 bottle of wine, that equates to 61% tax! Sparkling and fortified wine have even more duty.

Why now? After a decade of unfair increases and in the light of the recent social findings over two surveys taken nationally and regionally, it’s time to address this. The lazy assumption has always been that wine is only drunk by the wealthier, ABC1 classes. What these surveys show is that wine is the drink of choice for just as many ordinary, working people (C2DE). 80% of the UK population over 18 drink alcohol and of these, 81% drink wine. That equates to 33 million wine drinkers, all being taxed unfairly highly. If you consider that the price hikes on non-UK wines are being exacerbated by the devaluation of stirling too and that this is only going to get worse, then now really is the time to act. 

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How much of a bottle price is duty? Duty on a 75cl bottle of still wine (between 5.5% and 15% ABV) is £2.23. On sparkling wine, such as prosecco and champagne, duty is even higher at £2.86. If fortified wine is your thing (between 15% and 22% ABV) then duty is even higher, at £2.98. The UK pays more tax on wine than any other country in the world. Its total alcohol duty revenue is 12.1 billion, of which wine equates to 4.4 billion pounds. In fact, the British pay 68% of all wine duties in the EU! This even takes into account the high tax levels in other northern European countries.

Who sets drinks duty and is it the EU’s fault? No. Duty and VAT is set by the UK Government, not the EU. Brexit is impacting currency rates and therefore how much it costs to import wine. Eventually, this will have to be passed onto customers. It is assumed that all alcohol duty rates increase by Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation year-on-year at the annual budget. However, the UK Government can decide to freeze or cut duty on different alcohol beverages as it wishes.  

How can you get involved? Support Wine Drinkers UK on social media by retweeting twitter messages, posting on instagram and using the hashtag #CutBackWineTax. Twitter: @WineDrinkersUK .

Who are Wine Drinkers UK? Wine Drinkers UK is backed by several wine companies, agents and merchant with support from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and wine media,.

*THE SURVEY

Wine Drinkers UK carried out two surveys with YouGov: a national survey with over 2,000 UK adults and a regional survey in 8 additional cities with over 3,200 UK adults (400 adults in each city. The total sample size was 2072 adults. The figures are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

  • Gender: male (958); female (1114)

  • Age: 18-24 (193); 25-34 (203); 35-44 (370); 45-54 (375); 55+ (828)

  • Social grade: ABC1 (1229); C2DE (843)

  • Region: A representative breakdown across all regions covering England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The latest ONS figures show that 20% of UK adults are teetotal, which means 80% of the UK’s population drinks alcohol.

According to the latest population data from ONS there are 52.3m people over the age of 18 in the UK, which means 41.8m drink alcohol (when taking into account 20% being tee-total).

81% of people in our nationally representative survey said they drink wine which means there are 33.9m wine drinkers in the UK.

By Helena Nicklin



How do you like your eggs? The effect of vessels on wine flavour and texture

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The world of wine is changing so quickly, people like us need to do our best to keep up. With this in mind, the three of us were intrigued to attend a tasting held last week by award-winning Languedoc winery Domaine Gayda and their importer, New Generation. 

This fascinating tasting showcased the dramatically different effects that vessels used to age wine can have on its flavour and texture. Why is this important? These days, most consumers are looking for wines that can be opened straight away rather than laying them down to age for years, so winemakers from regions with traditionally heavier red blends such as the Languedoc have had to revise their techniques. Forward-thinking Gayda have been experimenting extensively since 2012 to see which methods produce the most delicious wines that can be drunk straight away.  Here’s what they trailed and what we found.

The vineyards at Domain Gayda. Credit:  www.gaydavineyards.com

The vineyards at Domain Gayda. Credit: www.gaydavineyards.com

Same grape, vineyard, vintage and fermentation

To do this experiment, the domaine took exactly the same wine (100% Syrah from 30 year old vines in the south-east facing, Col de la Dona vineyard in Roussillon, harvested by hand and fermented in stainless steel) before transferring it into nine different vessels and left for nine months. Here’s what they used and the effects we tasted on the wine in practice:

Stainless Steel Tank (1500 litres)

Considered to be the benchmark for a neutral sample. Result expected: Clean, bright fruit and lean texture.

Terracotta Egg (700 litres)

The most amount of oxygen exchange expected due to porosity of the material. Egg shape allows for most amount of liquid and lees movement. Result expected: a more oxidative style with overripe fruit and juicy texture.

Concrete Egg (1600 litres)

Inert and cool with little oxygen exchange. Egg shape allows for most amount of liquid and lees movement. Result expected: Freshness, minerality and aromatics.

Plastic Egg (High density polyethylene egg - 1000 litres)

Plastic but with oxygen exchange to mimic a new oak oak barrel (17 mg/l per year oxygen transmission). Liquid and lees movement. Result expected: Freshness and aromatics with perhaps a wider, more lush texture from the extra oxygen.

Oak Foudre (v large barrel -2000 litres)

Oxygen exchange and a good amount of lees and liquid movement allowed. Result expected: ripest fruit with noticeably creamy texture.

Oak Barrel 500 litre (1 year old)

Half the size of a foudre and quite new, with some movement of liquid and lees. Result expected: subtle oak flavour and marked tannic structure with some creaminess from oxygen exchange.

Oak Barrel 228 litre (1 year old)

Half the size again and quite new, with some movement of liquid and lees. Result expected: more noticable oak flavour and heavier tannic structure.

Oak Barrel 228 litre (3 years old)

As above but after two more years of use. Result expected: less oak influence in terms of flavour, but a creamy structure because of the oxygen exchange. 

Sandstone Jar

The material and shape of this jar allows for the least amount of oxygen exchange and movement of liquid and lees. Result expected: reduced flavours (a bit stinky and sulphurous), savoury notes and less fruit. 

Conclusions

The differences were clear, but there we certainly some surprises. The most perfumed, pretty aromatics came from the eggs, especially the plastic one with its oxygen exchange system. The large oak barrel gave a wine that felt it had developed too early; that was overripe and lush, but would probably not go on much longer. The traditional stainless steel felt less fresh and round in comparison to the eggs, highlighting that these new vessels really do have a great place and purpose in modern winemaking. The more classic vessels - the smaller oak barrels -gave the most classic result of slightly spiced, textural wines with open, ripe fruit, but they still felt that they would be best tasted after a bit more time.

All in all, this was an incredibly interesting experiment that made most people in the room rethink their preconceptions about which materials do what to wine. It’s worth noting however that this was a big, ballsy Syrah and the results will be slightly different with other grape varieties. It’s all about choosing your vessel according to desired style. As Gayda winemaker Vincent Chansault says, it’s just like pots and pans for cooking. You chose one over another to add a certain nuance to your dish. With wine, it’s just the same.

Taste the Syrah

Syrah plays a large part in Gayda’s top wine: Chemin de Moscou

  • Try Chemin de Moscou 2015 RRP £29.95 from Amazon

See more about Domaine Gayda

See more about New Generation Wines

By Helena Nicklin

The Wine Society: Top picks for Spring & Summer 2019

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As wine writers, we get invited to a lot of press tastings, where we are lucky enough to try many of the wines on offer from various merchants, clubs and supermarkets all at once. One tasting we are always happy to go to is that of The Wine Society: a national institution that despite being founded in 1874 has moved seamlessly with the times to offer genuinely fantastic examples of key grapes and styles of wine as well as hand-picked, lesser known wines from places you may never have heard of (but that will blow your mind). The best bit? As The Society is owned by its members, there are no obligations to place huge margins on the wines, so everything you taste punches well above its price tag as the buyers have the freedom to buy the best. With wines from £5 all the way up to iconic, more collectible bottles, this is where to come to learn your wine basics by tasting through their benchmark styles before moving on to expand your palate, happy to do so as you know and trust their choices.

Here’s our pick from yesterday’s press tasting:

SPARKLING

Crémant de Jura, Domaine de Montbourgeau, France, NV. £14.50

Fabulous, classy, Champagne-style bubbles (traditional method) with loads of tang and flavour. Made with 100% Chardonnay and ridiculous value. 12%

Alfred Gratien Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, 2012. £39

Proper, seriously good, 100% Chardonnay Champagne with all the trimmings: brioche, apple-skin, peaches, rainbows...

Alfred Gratien Brut 2006, £42

If you’re into aged vintage Champagne with a slight funky edge, you will adore this. Rich, round and a touch nutty, there’s so much going on.

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WHITE CLASSICS

The Society’s Exhibition Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2018. £14.50

Yes, you can find some cheaper Albariño, but this is the best version we have tasted for ages. Crisp and citrus with a chalky kick and tropical, peachy note. Gorgeous.

Contino Blanco, Rioja, Spain, 2017. £20

A very well put together white Rioja that is fresh, floral with buttery, pineapple notes right now, but will also age beautifully. Made by a tip top producer.

Jacques Saumaize, Macon-Vergisson Sur La Roche, Burgundy, France, 2017. £12.95

Quite simply, a beautifully fresh and youthful, unoaked Chardonnay with tonnes of fruit.

Soave Classico, Calvarino, Pieropan, Italy 2016. £18

Soave can be boring but Pieropan’s is the icon. Incredible texture, floral aromatics and ripe fruit. Summer in a glass.

WHITE ‘MUST-TRY’ QUIRKIES

Quinta de Calçada Alvarinho, Minho, Portugal, 2018. £9.50

Another gorgeous Albariño but from Portugal this time. Saline and citrussy with great texture. Say its name out loud for extra enjoyment.

Pepe Mendoza, Moscatel, Macabeo, Airen & Alicante blend, Spain, 2018. £11.75

(Available from July) A happy, summery wine. White flowers, oranges and lemon cream with the lightest touch. Huge drinkability.

Szolo Tempo Tokaj Furmint, Hungary, 2017. £14.95

Hungarian Furmint is a grape to look out for if you love refreshing, crisp whites with an off-dry element, like this one. Perfect with mildly spiced thai food.

Blackbook Winery, The Mixup, England, 2018. £18

Properly quirky, this one! And made in London to boot by this exciting new winery. 50:50 Bacchus and Ortega grapes. Sweet, grassy nose but dry palate. Very textural. A great food wine. Gloriously different and unique.

PINK

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Corent Côtes d’Auvergne, Saint-Vernay, France, 2018. £9.50

Did you know that Corent must always be rosé and always made from the Gamay grape? This dark pink wonder is all tangy, wild strawberry with a subtle, savoury note. In between a Provençal and Tavel style. Delicious and great value.

Domaine Alzipratu, Fiumesecco Rosé, Ile de Beauté, Corsica, France, 2018. £14.50

A crazy Corsican name, this easy-to-love pink is made from the local Sciaccarellu grape and it has an incredibly soft, round palate with charming peach and melon flavours.

RED CLASSICS

El Pacto, Crianza, Rioja, Spain, 2016, £11.50

All those classic Rioja flavours, but with a particularly fresh acidity and lovely herbaceous note. Not overblown. Infinitely moreish.

The Society’s Exhibition Margaux, France, 2015. £23

This Margaux shows why this Bordeaux appellation is so sought-after: positively regal with silky, dark fruit, classic, Cabernet features and a seamless, mineral core. Gorgeous plum and violet notes too.

The Society’s Exhibition Fleurie, France, 2018. £10.50

Beaujolais is back and it’s better than ever. This Fleurie has all the hallmarks that make the appellation famous: perfume and light-bodied silkiness, but it’s a million miles away from the soapy styles of yore. Crying out for charcuterie.

Langhe Nebbiolo A Mont, Paolo Conterno, Italy, 2016 £18

This wine is just how you want non-Barolo nebbioo to be: ethereal and earthy with subtle violets and rose. Utterly beguiling.

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RED ‘MUST-TRY’ QUIRKIES

Undurraga Cauquenes Estate Carignan, Chile, 2016. £8.95

Chilean Carignan is getting really good. Tangy and refreshing, it’s got a moreish, chewy texture and strawberry jam notes.

Cirò Rosso Gaglioppo, Santa Venere, Italy, 2017. £9.95

Rustic, but with charm, this is earthy and fruity with fairly high tannin. A bit like a fruitier Nero D’Avola. Made with Gaglioppo grapes from Calabria.

Duché d’Uzès, Les Perrasieres, Domaine Camp Galhan, France, 2016. £10.50

If you’re a fan of Syrah form the Northern  Rhône, you will love this. Tonnes of thyme, rosemary and violets on the nose and a silky, plum fruit texture. Great value for great Syrah.

Kardarka, Maurer, Serbia, 2017. £14.50

A Serbian wine, no less! Kadarka is the grape and makes wines that are really light in colour and bright red. The flavour profile is so interesting: rose petal and figs, with a viscous, licorice and caramel finish. Definitely worth a taste and only 11% abv.

By Helena Nicklin





Perfect Pairings: Manzanilla with Fish & Chips

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If you’re thinking ‘Manza-what-now?’, you’re not alone. Manzanilla is a style of aged white wine that’s a bit different to the norm as it’s made in a super dry, deliberately savoury style that evoques salted almonds and something reminiscent of twiglets. It sounds weird, granted, but it’s immensely moreish, umami and textural - the very definition of a food wine. It hails from the south of Spain, not far from Seville, where it is sipped chilled on hot, dusty nights with small plates of nuts and tapas.

Why it works

The crispness of the Manzanilla cuts through the oiliness of the batter beautifully and the saltiness of it balances the fat and brings out the subtle flavours in the fish. Zesty, fresh, saline and nutty, it’s little wonder that Manzanilla is perfect with seafood. Cuisine in the Spanish, seaside town where it’s made is dominated by fresh fish and as they say: what grows together, goes together!

Try: Barbadillo Solear Manzanilla

Considered the benchmark for Manzanilla, this wine has been aged a bit longer than most (6 years) and is lip-pursingly dry and saline with subtle, chamomile notes.

RRP: Currently on offer at £9.19 from Waitrose for 70cl or £5.25 for 37.5cl from various stockists (see below*) including The Wine Society.

More about Manzanilla

You will know Jerez by its English translation: Sherry. In Europe, it’s usually the region that gives the name to a style of wine, so in the UK and the US, wines from here are known as ‘Sherries’. This fact has become a bit of a problem for the region as ‘Sherry’ is a word with so many associations to all things sweet, such as trifle and that sickly stuff in granny’s drinks cabinet. While it’s true that you can get sweet, ‘cream’ Sherries, the real stuff; the interesting stuff is bone dry, saline, nutty and complex. Manzanilla, like Fino, is white wine made from the Palomino grape that is aged in barrels under a layer of ‘flor’, which is a frothy, white yeast up to 2cm thick that protects the wine underneath from oxidation. This flor can only grow in this very specific part of Spain, which is why its effects on the texture and flavour of the wine are unique. The wines are also made using a solera system, where older barrels are topped up by the fresher barrels over time. Typically, the final wines are blends between 4 and 7 years old.

The difference between Manzanilla and Fino sherry is that Manzanilla is ever so slightly lighter than Fino in both colour and flavour, thanks to the cooler location where its made and aged, just down he road from Jerez in Sanlúcar de Barrameda by the sea. Manzanilla is still ostensibly known as a Sherry and Jerez and Sanlúcar are the only two locations where these wines can be made.

*Other stockists of the 37.5cl bottle:

Amazon, Oddbins, Bestway Retail (Wine Rack), Cambridge Wine Merchants, Connolly’s Wine Merchants (West Midlands), Village Wines (Kent), Baythorn Wines (Essex), Martinez Wines (Yorkshire), Lewis and Cooper, R Campbell, Roberts & Speight (Yorkshire), The Wine Press (West Midlands), Beers of Europe (Norfolk), Vintage Cellars (London), Sandhams Wine Merchants (Lincolnshire), Corkscrew Jersey, Mumbles Fine Wines (Wales), Richard Granger (Tyne & Wear), Alexander Hadleigh (Hampshire), Shaftesbury Wines (Dorset), George Hill of Loughborough, The Fine Wine Co (Scotland), Borders Wines (Scotland).

By Helena Nicklin

Disclaimer: We are regularly sent samples to taste for consideration for magazine pieces and social media. Not all of them are used. We are not paid to feature anything unless the article or post clearly states that the content is a promotion or sponsored.

A Super Tuscan Rising Star: Tenuta di Biserno

We’re massive fans of Italian wines and Tuscany in particular holds a special place in our hearts. Helena Nicklin heads to a lesser known part of the region to get to know a very exciting wine producer…

If you’ve tried the finest wines from Tuscany, chances are that they’ve been touched by the hand of the most famous wine family in the region, if not the country: Famiglia Antinori. All those beautiful names - Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Massetto, Solaia, Tignanello - have been blessed with the Antinori magic and most of them still are. But this is not a story about the famous Tuscan region of Chianti, where wine tourism mechanics move like well-oiled machines. This is about another coastal Tuscany; a part that’s still rugged, still being discovered and gorgeously authentic called the Maremma.

What’s more, it has already formed a reputation for making wines that breaks the rules but in doing so, have created fine wines to rival the very best in the world. We’re talking about the Maremma, which is coastal Tuscany. It’s an area that splits into three sub regions: Upper, Central and South, but it’s the Upper or ‘Alta’ Maremma where the very best wines are being made. Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Massetto – yes, but there’s a new kid on the block steaming through the ranks and it’s made by Lodovico Antinori’s team at Tentua di Biserno in Bibbona.

From Bolgheri to Bibbona

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Marchese Lodovico Antinori came across what would become the Biserno Estate (Tenuta di Biserno) back in 1995. Located in the Alta Maremma, just north of Bolgheri in Bibbona, the area boasts wild, sweeping landscapes, pine forests, hilltop castles and stunning views all the way down to the Tyrrheniansea. Most importantly however (for the wine in any case), the combination of this climate, cooled by the sea breeze with the unique soils of the area made the Marchese sit up and pay attention. At the time, he had been looking for land with which he could extend his beloved Ornellaia vineyards, but he soon realised that the terrain was much hillier; much stonier than it was at Ornellaia and so would need to be a separate project with different grapes. In a surprising move that some might say is a sad regret for the family, Ornellaia was sold (a long story for another time), but this now meant that Lodovico could devote time to pursuing a new story in this incredibly exciting, undiscovered terroir on just the other side of the fence.

The Birth of Biserno

In the midst of the vines, the lemon trees and olive groves and with a gorgeous infinity pool, sits the Biserno guest house. Originally destroyed in 1850, it was rebuilt in the 1950s and while not open generally to the public, the eight bedrooms can available for exclusive, prearranged visits, which can include wine tastings, personal tours of the region and cooking classes on request. Tiziana, the in-house chef buys fresh produce daily from the local market and makes food with stunning simplicity with the lightest of touches. It is the vines and the wines however that demand even closer attention.

The Biserno wines

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49 acres of vines were planted at Biserno between 2001 and 2005. The clay element of the terroir particularly led Lodovico to plant Bordeaux varietals; Cabernet franc, then some Merlot with, interestingly, a generous dollop of Petit Verdot and a smattering Cabernet Sauvignon. Within these 49, there is a patch of 6 acres, which stands above the rest and is home to the star wine of the Tenuta’s stable: Biserno ‘Lodovico’.

Just like Sassicaia at the very beginning of the Super Tuscan story, Bibbona does not have its own DOC, so all wines, no matter how great, can only be called IGT (Indicazione Geographica Typica). This may change as it did for Sassicaia (Sassicaia was only granted its own DOC in 2013) but to be honest, they may not even want that. A DOC means rules after all – and we all know that Bolgheri didn’t get where it is today by following those! Here’s a look at what Tenuta di Biserno produce and where you can find them:

The Tenuta di Biserno wine range

Rosé - Sof A brand new rosé, named after Lodovico’s 21 year-old daughter Sofia who came back from travels demanding they make a dry pink. It’s made with more or less 50 % Cabernet Franc and 50% Syrah. 2017 is the first vintage and it has a very pretty, vibrant pink colour with a refreshing prickle of CO2. On the palate, bright red fruit settles to soft, strawberry cream and a saline finish.

£24.50 from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - Insoglio del Cinghiale (The wild boar’s hideout): Always mostly Syrah (it’s the only red Biserno wine with Syrah in it). Made to be released a year after production and meant for immediate drinking. The 2016 has a lovely purple hue and a typical Syrah garrigue character; herbaceous and violet-scented with bramble fruit a touch of smoked meat. There’s a cool, saline seam running through it too, which appears in many of the Biserno wines.

£21.50 from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - Il Pino di Biserno: A step up from Cinghiale and where Cabernet Franc starts to come into its own, with some Petit verdot, a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – like an inside-out Bordeaux blend. With a deeper colour and more complexity than Insoglio and with a year in oak barrels and 6-8 months in bottle before release, the 2015 had a generous, silky red fruitiness and spice amongst the brambles.

£42.20 - £47.95 depending on vintage from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - ‘Biserno’

With Biserno, Lodovico put the wheels in motion for the next Tuscan icon wine. 2007 was the first vintage and the blend is predominantly Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet franc and Petit verdot. The left banker of Biserno, as it were. You can see the vintage variations throughout the years. We tasted the following vintages:

2007: Animal, meaty and powerful. Lots of garrigue herbs. Not shy!

2008: More refined tannins; silky, with a mineral core.

2009: A warmer vintage, shown by lots of baked fruit, blackcurrant compote. Fleshy texture.

2010: Very cool, wet year creating a very elegant and cool mineral vintage that’s drinking well already. Not typical.

2015: Surprisingly drinkable given its youth. Very strawberry up front, with fine, tight tannins and secondary notes of spice just starting to show.

£95.95 - £102.95 depending on vintage from Corney & Barrow (also available in magnum and double magnum) and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux.

Red - Biserno ‘Lodovico’

The first Lodovico vines were planted in 2012 and every year made a difference.  Helped by Michel Rolland, the Marchese always has the last say on the blend. Lodovico is generally around 95% Cabernet franc with 5% Petit Verdot. The 2013 had quite long skin contact (21-28 days) and was aged for 16 m in mostly new French oak. It showed immediate ripeness of fruit with sweet spiciness, concentration, fleshy and complexity. The production is generally small (5 – 10,000 a year) depending on the vintage and it’s only made in best years. Releases so far are 07, 08, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17.

£220-£240 from Corney & Barrow (2012 also available in magnum) and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux.

By Helena Nicklin

4 Reasons to love the Small Beer Brew Co.

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In the unassuming back streets of Bermondsey, South East London, an industrial estate is home to a tiny company that’s making big waves across the London drinks scene and beyond. It’s called the Small Beer Brew Co. These guys have found a much-needed niche in the brewing industry and are absolutely nailing it with their premium products and quirky packaging. Here are four reasons why you need to get to know Small Beer even if you don’t really drink beer. Yet…

1)    Low ABV, High Flavour

“We wanted to create something with world class taste, but a sociable ABV.” Felix James, co-founder.

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Small Beer founders Felix James and James Grundy created their own beer brand from scratch after searching in vain for truly delicious, well-made beer under 3% ABV (they would snatch precious minutes from their busy jobs to catch up with a beer before getting back to an afternoon of work). Everything they found was either too strong or too thin, with that cardboard, boggy flavour that gives away a low or no alcohol beer. There was literally no one making what they wanted: refreshing, aromatic, flavoursome beers well under 3% ABV that tasted like they were 5%. There was still work to be done in the afternoon; they didn’t want to reek of booze after a couple of pints after work; they wanted to remember - and enjoy - evening events without feeling like they were missing out on the epicurean, sociable side. So, they quit their jobs at a well-known distillery where they had met and began building their brand. Small Beer Brew Co. now produces four labels representing key beer styles, all of them aromatic and rich in flavour with an unctuous mouthfeel that belies the low alcohol level:

Lager (2.1%): Pale yellow, floral, crisp and citrussy. A classic pilsner style.

Steam (2.7%): Amber in colour, dark fruited and hoppy with notes of liquorice.

Session Pale (2.5%): Vibrant ‘session’ pale ale with tropical, pineapple notes but a super-dry finish. New!

Dark Lager (1%): Dark, malty and mocha. Incredible flavour and texture for a 1% beer.

small bee the three drinkers range.jpg

2) Small Beer is good for you!

Ok granted, we have to be careful what we say here. Everything in moderation and all that, but did you know that under 3% ABV, beer is hydrating rather than dehydrating? Above this level it becomes a diuretic. Lower alcohol also means fewer calories, which is another huge bonus. An equivalent serving of standard lager, for example, is around 180 – 200 calories. The Small Beer lager has only 79 calories and the dark larger, despite its mocha richness, has only 49.

As if we didn’t love it enough already, Felix goes on to explain to us that Small Beer is also isotonic and is packed full of minerals such as selenium, which is great for skin hair and nails. If you think about it, it’s little wonder that back in the 17-1800’s, ‘small beer’ was drunk instead of water as sanitation was so bad, water could make you sick. By the middle ages, they had realised that fermented drinks were less likely to make you ill, so everyone drank it, including children. Made to around 1% ABV at this time, it was also incredibly cheap. This is where the expression ‘small beer’ came from, meaning that something isn’t particularly important.

3) It’s authentic, small scale - and they know how to party!

Created by two friends with a simple, good idea for a product they saw the world needed, Small Beer’s home is in London, near the city and near the founders’ family and friends. It’s a modern, high quality take on a centuries-old English staple, it’s unique, looks great and it serves a fantastic purpose. Despite only having been trading for 18 months the capital has taken Small Beer to its heart and you can already see Small Beer in bottle shops, butchers and cheesemongers etc. as well as on draft in pubs around London (especially the South East, where James hand-delivers samples and personally talks through the range).

4) Did we mention that it’s all naturally gluten free AND vegan?

Nuff said. Stop by for a quick tour of the brewery and a drink. If you’re lucky, there will also be an amazing pop up there, or a music or comedy gig. Felix and James have even hosted weddings on site!

Seriously, check them out. The three of us just got back into beer.

You can find all their details here: https://theoriginalsmallbeer.com/

By Helena Nicklin