helena nicklin

Once & Future Wines with Joel Peterson

Joel Peterson is known affectionately in the wine world as ‘The Godfather of Zin’. He’s the man who gave Zinfandel its iconic status in the US, having co-founded Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma back in 1976. It was from here that the expression ‘no wimpy wines’ was born and Peterson became the poster man for rich, concentrated, figgy Zinfandel wines that packed a huge, alcoholic, tooth-staining punch.

Fast forward to now however, and Peterson’s focus has shifted. He sold Ravenswood to Constellation in 2018 and has gone back to his roots, literally, to embark on a much smaller project where we gets to make tiny quantities of fine wine from vines that are often over 100 years old. Gone are the jammy, powerhouse wines made in huge quantities. Say hello to concentrated, yet fresh, lean and perfumed wines where often, only a couple of hundred cases of each are made. This new project is called Once & Future.

“I never want to produce more wine than I can physically make myself,” he tells us at a recent tasting of wines from the just-released 2017 vintage. “Once & Future allows me to get back to what I always wanted Ravenswood to be: a small project with old vines and a keen sense of place.”

Joel looks for forgotten vineyards with old vines with grapes that should have had more of a legacy than the ‘blight’, as he calls it, of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. From the sandy soils of Oakley Vineyard where 117 year old Mataro (Mourvedre) vines stands on their own roots to 129 year old Zinfandel vines in the famous Tuscan Red Hills Series soils, these Once & Future wines, while a new project for Joel, showcase a real snapshot of Californian viticultural history.

The Once & Future Wine Range

We taste through the range of six wines and it becomes apparent immediately that this is not Ravenswood mark two; these are wines in a totally different league. Grapes that traditionally have made juicy, boozy, inky fruit bombs are graceful, light on their feet and silky, mineral smooth. All are incredibly bright, supple and fresh. Still so young, but incredibly drinkable, it will be exciting to see what happens to this with a few more years of bottle age.

On the table

Coming soon to Hedonism Wines and Harrods.

2017 Once & Future Oakley Road Vineyard Mataro from Contra Costa County. RRP £56

2017 Once & Future Oakley Road Vineyard Zinfandel from Contra Costa County. RRP £48

2017 Once & Future Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel from Sonoma Valley. RRP £48

2017 Once & Future Teldeschi “Frank’s Block” Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley. RRP £48

2017 Once & Future Sangiacomo Vineyard Merlot from Carneros. RRP £56

2017 Once & Future Palisades Petite Sirah from Napa Valley. RRP £56

By Helena Nicklin

Coravin: The ultimate wine preservation gadget?

Coravin The Three Drinkers Title.jpg

Head to any restaurant that’s rather proud of its wine list and chances are you’ll spot a quirky looking gadget by the side of the bar. This is Coravin: a needle-based wine preservation system that allows you to pour a glass of wine without pulling the cork. Pretty nifty, no? Coravin has revolutionised the way we taste wine in bars and restaurants as establishments can now offer a tasting sample of something really rather expensive and special without worrying about wasting the rest of the bottle. For consumers, this works well; it may allow them to taste a Screaming Eagle Cabernet without having to splash several thousand pounds on a full bottle. That tasting sample may still be £100 for 25ml, but at least it’s a little more attainable…

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How does Coravin work?

The Coravin was invented by Greg Lambrecht: a surgeon from the US with a true passion for wine. Like most wine lovers, Greg found tasting many different bottles a pure joy, but hated having to wait for dinner parties full of people to pop the corks and not waste the bottles. One day, he brought his experience with spinal tap and chemotherapy needles to the table. He developed a device that allowed a thin needle to pierce a cork and displace the wine with inert argon gas while it was being poured. The addition of argon gas meant that the wine left in the bottle would not oxidise, but the genius bit was working out that the cork would reseal itself immediately (or after a few seconds if very cold).

When to use Coravin at home

“A Coravin is a wine bar in your house. You are only limited by the amount of different bottles you have. Why not have a great wine on a wednesday!” - Greg Lambrecht

The first cry from wine drinkers when presented with this funky little gadget tends to be ‘but we drink the whole bottle!’ I confess, this was me until I realised that we could taste six (or more) different wines in one night. It’s also the perfect way to check whether a wine you have been laying down is ready to drink. Just pour yourself a sip and put it back if its not ready. The latest version, model 11, also comes with a little shower attachment to aerate your wine.

“Faster, easier more fun than opening a bottle…”

The models

Coravin model 1 is the original, analogue version that comes in white. You can upgrade your colour and feel with the model 2 elite, choosing from rose gold, steel blue or even, bright red amongst others. If you really want to go to town, then the model 11 is for you. Fully automated and rechargeable, you can hook it up to bluetooth. It has an LED display that lets you know when to charge it or replace the capsule. You can also sync it up to the Coravin Moments app (iphone only currently), to match wine to music, food or anything else.

What about Screw Caps?

Believe it or not, there is now a screw cap attachment for the Coravin. It looks like quite like a regular screw cap, but with a silicon seal that reseals itself after the needle has pierced it. You do need to quickly replace the first screw cap with this, so a small amount of oxygen gets into the bottle then, but the wine can still last for several weeks if kept cool and on its side. Each Coravin screw cap can be reused up to 100 times.

Our verdict? It’s a wondrous thing and a great conversation piece at a dinner party. No wine lover should be without one.

See more at coravin.com

Buy Coravin Elite 2 here on Amazon. RRP £257.66

Buy Coravin Model 11 here from Wanderlust wine. RRP £845

By Helena Nicklin

Sassicaia: The first Super Tuscan

Running parallel to the Tuscan coast in the Maremma and beginning just below Livorno, you’ll find Bolgheri D.O.C: one of the newest - and arguably most exciting - appellations in the whole of Italy. Though formed as recently as 1994, Bolgheri D.O.C has already achieve legendary status in the world of fine wine and it’s all because of one curious, fearless man and a particular wine he created that broke all the rules: Sassicaia.

A love story that started it all

The story truly began after World War One, when Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, a Piedmontese agronomist who’d fought as part of the cavalry, enrolled in the faculty of Agriculture in Pisa. He brought with him to Tuscany his beloved horse and it was through his involvement with the local thoroughbred community that he met Clarice della Gherardesca, whom he married in 1930. The two moved to Rome to breed race horses, but returned to her home town of Bolgheri after the second World War. Mario busied himself helping to reorganise the property his wife had inherited, which had become neglected during the war. The name of the property was Tenuta San Guido.

From grain to grapes

As an agronomist, Mario Incisa helped the property thrive with fruit, vegetables and other agricultural products including incredible tulips that even turned the heads of the Dutch. Eventually, it was the turn of grapes. Now, growing up in a noble family, Mario Incisa had tasted a lot of wine from Bordeaux, which he loved. It was therefore only a matter of time before he turned his attentions to winemaking. Wine was already being made in the region with the local Sangiovese grapes, mostly down in the drained marshlands by the sea, but it wasn’t producing fine quality or enough quantity - a key factor in production at the time. This was not the wine Mario Incisa wanted to make; he wanted to create a fine Bordeaux - only at home, in Tuscany and to hell with what teh rules said in the D.O.C. wine guidelines for the area. He set about studying what made the wines of Bordeaux so good. Was it the grapes? The soil? The climate? Or was it something else entirely? So, off he went to stay with family friends at Mouton Rothschild (as you do when you’re a nobleman) to find his magic formula.

Friends in high places

Back in Italy after studying Bordeaux in depth, he realised that the position of his vineyards needed to be more inland, slightly higher up and on stony soil, like much of the left bank of Bordeaux. He found the perfect spot in the hills of Castiglioncello di Bolgheri: a family lookout, surrounded by forest and with a stunning view over area. He planted his first vines here at 400m above sea level, facing east and 15km away from the sandy soils by the Tyrrhenian sea. More interested in creating his own ‘Bordeaux’ than playing by the rules, Mario Incisa planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and named his vineyard ‘Sassicaia’, meaning ‘area of many stones’.

Kick-starting the Italian wine renaissance

The first vintage of Sassicaia was officially bottled in 1945, but it was not much like how it tastes today. Mario Incisa experimented for a few more years before deciding he needed help from a proper oenologist, so he looked to their cousins, the Antinori family, and spoke to their oenologist Giacomo Tachis. Together, Mario Incisa and Giacomo agreed they should make fine wines from Bordelais red grapes on this terroir and Giacomo helped to introduce modern processes he’d learned on Bordeaux to fine tune the winemaking. The rest happened impressively quickly. 1968 was Giacomo’s first vintage - and Sassicaia’s first commercial vintage - was 1968. Ten years later, Decanter Magazine held a blind tasting competition for ‘Great Clarets’ where the 1972 Sassicaia beat 33 wines from 11 countries to win its first international award. Heads were starting to turn towards this ‘table wine’ from Tuscany. Sassicaia’s fate was sealed with the 1985 vintage (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc), thanks to a stunning 100 point review from Robert Parker, who said of the wine that it frequently reminded him of a 1986 Mouton Rothschild, of all wines. Giacomo continued to work with Sassicaia, completing his final vintage in 2007. He died in 2016 and will forever be known as the man who kick started the Italian wine renaissance. Bolgheri got its own DOC status in 1983 but more recently in 2013, Sassicaia was awarded its own: DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia.

Tenuta San Guido and Sassicaia today

Today, Tenuta San Guido is run by Mario’s son, Marchese Nicoló Incisa della Rocchetta. Sassicaia is still their flagship wine, but the family wanted to produce something to that could be drunk while they waited for it to mature. Two more wines were born: Le Difese and Guidalberto.

WINES

Le Difese

‘Le difese’ are the tusks of the wild boar. This wine is their entry level label, made for immediate drinking within two or three years. The 2016 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese) is very red and black fruit forward, with lots of cassis and just enough structure and freshness to make this over deliver for the price.

£19.50 from Armit Wines

Guidalberto

Named after the Clarice’s father, Guidalberto was produced after the amazing 1985 vintage to cover market demand. Not a second wine, Guidalberto has its own identity and style, using some Merlot in the blend. The 2016 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% Merlot) has a darker, blue black colour with sweet, cinnamon oak on the nose and tightly woven bramble fruit on the palate, with delicate tannins.

Find the 2015 at Hedonism wines for £29.90

Sassicaia

We tasted the 2015 vintage (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc), which had an intense, cedar and spice nose with generous blackcurrant and bramble fruit on the palate. While this wine is so you, it has an incredible drinkability already thank to is cool minearlity and super fine tannic structure.

£148.60 from Armit Wines

By Helena Nicklin

Originally written for Winerist Magazine in October 2018


What is whisky with a wine finish?

By Helena Nicklin

There’s no drink that conjures up the spirit of cosy winter nights by the fire quite like whisky. Even for the many who don’t drink it, the aroma of whisky and wood smoke evokes warm memories of Christmases past with relatives, glass in hand, playing charades and stuffing their faces with Quality Street chocolates. I was one of those ‘many’ who remembered it rather than drank it  until this year, when my head was turned by the headlines in drinks papers about the continual rise in popularity of whisky, not just from Scotland but all around the world. Whisky tourism has risen by 45% since 2010 according to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and the value of certain collectible bottles has famously skyrocketed in much less time.

It was with zero hesitation then that when asked to co-present a TV travelogue through Scotland tasting whisky, I said yes. I was converted immediately upon arrival, of course. It’s hard not to be when tasting a product in the region where it’s made, especially while surrounded so deliciously by ancient castles, lochs, legends and wonderfully hairy cows. So this winter, I want to share with you a glorious discovery that has rocked my world of booze: whisky with a wine ‘finish’.

What is a whisky ‘finish’?

Single malt, blended whisky, Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Irish… there are many styles of whisky from many regions, but it’s the way distillers choose to ‘finish’ their spirits that can give them such a unique personality. What is a finish? It’s when the spirit is matured in a cask from one particular origin before spending time in a different cask from another origin. Most often, the first cask is American oak that has previously held Bourbon. The second cask is used to add extra nuances of flavour and complexity and it is here that distillers can have some fun. You may also see on the label ‘wood-finished’ or ‘double matured’, but it’s the same thing.

Fine wine whisky finishes.

On my recent trip to Scotland with The Three Drinkers, I met a man who whisky buffs describe as the ‘rock star of distillers’. He is Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stocks at Glenmorangie in Tain. Fearless in his experiments (he has a scientific background) and with a wonderfully potty mouth, Lumsden is man who oozes passion and Scottish charm. He also has a penchant for seriously fine wine, which is why Glenmorangie have had some incredible, limited edition whiskies finished in barrels that have held extraordinary wines.

“Wine continues to inspire me, but it’s a tricky animal to use with Scotch whisky,” he says. “I’ve tasted as many terrible whiskies made with a wine barrels as I have good ones. It’s been fascinating to watch though how actually, with a wine finish, whisky can change in the bottle over time.”

Naturally, it would have been rude not to taste as many as I could get my hands on and my goodness, I loved them, for their perfume as much as anything else. Glenmorangie is famous for its fruity, spicy whiskies that have elegant aromatics, thanks their particularly tall copper stills (the tallest in Scotland). Add a wine finish to the mix and you get some seriously special drams. It is not just Glenmorangie who use wine finishes, however. The Macallan is famous for its christmas-cakey, sherry finishes and several other big names have been doing their own experimenting with sweet wines, fortified wines and dry, still wines.

Here are some wine-finished Scotch whiskies that are well worth seeking out this winter:

Sherry cask finish: Glenmorangie Lasanta 12 Year Old

The richness from Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry is a wonderful addition to whisky. If you like those baking spice, christmas cake flavours, a sherry finish is for you.

RRP £48 from Amazon and Master of Malt.

Sherry cask finish: The Macallan Gold Double Cask

Finished with American and European sherry-seasoned oak, this whisky is ripe and rich, with a spicy kick and notes of dark chocolate orange.

RRP £39.99 from Master of Malt and Amazon

French red wine finish: Glenmorangie Companta

Finished with 60% Burgundy wine casks from Clos de Tart and 40% Rhône Valley casks that previously held Rasteau, this limited edition whisky has a beautiful, cherry red colour with peppery fruit up front and earthiness on the finish. Outstanding.

RRP £161.50 from Amazon

South American red wine finish: Glenfiddich 19 Year Old Age of Discovery

The full-bodied red wine gives this 19 year old whisky a warm, comforting, dark fruit and spice flavour. This is the third release of the whisky that was initially created to commemorate Charles Darwin’s 1831 voyage in HMS Beagle.

RRP £125 from The Whisky Exchange

Sweet ice wine finish: Glenfiddich Winter Storm

Incredibly limited edition Scotch whisky finished in casks that previously held Canadian icewine. This whisky has tropical notes of rose petal and citrus peel with a refreshing, crisp finish that’s completely dry.

RRP £199.95 from Master of Malt and Amazon

Sauternes Finish: Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or

Nectar D’Or has the succulent, honeysuckle and and orange peel notes that you’d expect from Sauternes. It’s golden and glorious; one for wine lovers for sure and a little easier to get hold of.

RRP £54 from Amazon and Master of Malt

Port finish: The Balvenie 21 Year old Port Wood

Aged in port pipes that are over 30 years old, this whisky is brooding and dark, with powerful fruit and notes of woodsmoke. One for the end of the tasting!

RRP £136 from The Whisky Exchange

Port finish: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban.

This intensely flavoured whisky spent ten years in bourbon casks before being transferred into ruby port pipes from carefully selected Portuguese quintas (wine estates). It’s an intriguing mix of sweet and dry with a unique, silky, voluminous texture.

RRP £49.95 from Amazon and Master of Malt

Don’t forget to check out The Three Drinkers do Scotch Whisky now LIVE on Amazon Prime!

This piece was originally written for Savile Row Style Magazine in December 2018

Meet the Godfathers of Provençal rosé: Domaines Ott

If you’re a wine drinker, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have noticed a surge in the amount of rosé wine on our shelves over the past few years. What has also changed however, is who is doing the drinking. Gone are the days of a female only audience who like a sweet style in hot pink because it’s pretty, it’s girly and it’s summertime. Real men now drink pink - and all year round, it turns out. In a sea of pale and dark rosé wines, some sweet, some dry, where no one seems to know what they’re getting, there’s one key region that’s leading the way for its consistency, quality and charm: Provence, France.

Provençal rosé is famously pale and dry, with a creamy weight and complexity that belies its powder pink looks. It’s a style you can rely on and one that goes with everything from media launches and film premieres on the beach in Cannes, to intricate food matches at the finest dining establishments in mid-winter. Provençal pinks are not just wine; they are a lifestyle, one that once back home in Blighty, has us heading to the nearest wine shop to seek out the names that will bring summer back into our lives again: Mirabeau, Chêne Bleu, Aix, Whispering Angel and of course, the grandfather of them all, Domaines Ott. But it wasn’t always this way.

Côtes de Provence is the only French appellation dedicated purely to high quality, fine pink wines and it owes its name and success to one man with a vision: Marcel Ott. Marcel and his wife moved Provence from Alsace in 1896 after a grand wine tour of the country. The vine louse that destroyed many of Europe’s vines at the time had wreaked havoc in Provence, but Marcel fell in love with the area. Land was cheap, so they stayed and planted vines again, only this time, with different grapes: Sémillon and Vermentino for white wines and Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah for the pinks and reds. The estate built a reputation quite quickly for fine, textural white wines. There were pink wines in the region then, but much darker and sweeter than those we know now. Wanting something a little different, something more weighty and dry, a bit like the Alsace wines he was used to, Marcel pioneered a new style of pale, dry rosé. He sold it alongside his famous whites as a serious pink, where it quickly developed its own reputation as a boutique wine available only to those in the know. The question of moving again came up again - they were practically giving away land in North Africa – but Marcel’s wife put her foot down. She wasn’t going anywhere. The Ott’s stayed and the appellation as we now know it, began to flourish.

This pale and dry style of pink, with its trademark creaminess and weight from lees stirring and skin contact, was not the only thing Marcel and his family did for the region and its wines. They were responsible for the creation of the whole Côtes de Provence appellation. That’s some legacy! And not only this, but if you’ve ever noticed how a lot of Provençal pinks have unusual shaped bottles, that was The Ott family too: René Ott pioneered the first ‘skittle’ bottle shape in 1926, which many châteaux in the area have since emulated, though they are never allowed to be exactly the same as Ott.

Try a taste of the original Provence

Domaines Ott owns three estates: Clos Mireille and Château de Selle in the Côtes de Provence appellation and Château Romassan in Bandol AOC, each making distinctive wines in their own styles.

Château de Selle in Taradeau, near Draguignan, was the first estate that Marcel bought in 1912 and produces pink and red wines. Clos Mireille came next in 1936 and was originally famous for its ‘blanc de blancs’ white wines until it started also producing rosé in 2006. The terroir at Mireille is extraordinary for its microclimate and location right by the sea. Airborne salt from the settles on the skins of the grapes and the soil, which help to give it their characteristic saline tang.

Château Romassan is the newest estate acquired in 1956 and is located within the Bandol AOC area. Mourvedre is the key grape in this appellation, which Jean-Francois Ott describes deliciously as ‘the bad boy of wine grapes: meaty, gamey, a bit crazy. A party animal!’ Rosé from here is a little beefier, a little more structured and the reds pack a might punch.

Want to taste the wines? Head to Château de Selle where you can try them all – and totally for free. When I asked them why they don’t charge for tastings, I was told: “We say to our staff, ‘don’t worry about selling. Pour, let them taste. They’ll buy some anyway!’” They buy so much in fact that each visitor is limited to twelve bottles of each.

What to eat with Ott wines?

There’s a real confidence in the product at Ott. They know their wines are good and trust me, they really are. The pinks and whites are not just about summer sipping immediately after their release either; they can age. We tried a 2014 rosé which had developed an incredible texture and licorice spice. These are gastronomic wines that are incredibly versatile with food and work all year round. I personally love the pinks at Christmas when red feels to heavy at lunchtime as they’re awesome with turkey and all the trimmings. Other matches for the whites and rosés we tried include tagines and ceviche, but they can also take mild curry sauces, ground coriander, sushi and roast chicken. The reds are powerful, so great with stews and steaks. The Bandol also makes a fabulous, slightly surprising match for dark chocolate cake and red fruit salads.

So, with or without food, at Christmas or by the beach, picnic or fine dining, pink from Provence is a style you can rely on and once you’ve tried Ott, you’ll n’Ott go back.

Where to find Ott wines:

Clos Mireille Rosé 2017 RRP £37 from Oddbins or £33.95 from Slurp.co.uk

Clos Mireille Blanc de Blancs 2011 £29.95 from Fortnum & Mason

Château Romassan Rosé, Bandol 2016 £35 (£31.50 mix 6 price)

Château de Selle ‘Coeur de Grain’ Rosé 2017 £310 for 12 at Millesima

This piece was originally written for Savile Row Style Magazine in July 2018

By Helena Nicklin