Wine column

Fine wine on safari (8/19/2017)

Wine and luxury game park tourism make for a heady blend in southern Africa. For publication in the week starting 21 August 2017.  

We do not usually associate game parks and lodges in southern Africa with fine wine, but the Singita company has managed to combine an appreciation of wine with a growing reputation for conservation and wild-life safaris.

Singita means “place of miracles”. It started in 1993 with a single lodge, Singita Ebony Lodge, built on what is now known as the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. The company currently operates 12 luxury lodges and camps in five wilderness regions in Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe. All up the estates cover about a million acres (almost 405,000 hectares) of land.

Along the way Singita has become known as one of the most influential buyers and collectors of fine South African wine. The company says it is dedicated to environmentally conscious hospitality, sustainable conservation and the empowerment of local communities.

Guests enjoy a range of South Africa’s finest wines while on safari, including some labels that are exclusive to Singita. The company also exports wine to guests through its Premier Wine Direct Service. Wines are delivered door-to-door anywhere in the world and represent about 30 per cent of the value of what Singita purchases.

Francois Rautenbach is head of Singita Premium Wine. He said acquainting guests with the scope and depth of Singita’s wine offering and staying in tune with what they wanted to drink inspired him to continue to aim for excellence. “The fact that we are becoming adept at turning guests from all corners of the globe into ambassadors for South African wine is a bonus.”

Singita has invested in developing the best wine culture at its safari lodges. A range of premium wines from exclusive labels such as De Morgenzon and Klein Constantia are flown to lodges from Singita’s cellars in the Sabi Sand and from a huge maturation facility at Delvera Estate in Stellenbosch.

The wines are free to guests in the sense they are included in the daily rate. Yes, people can drink as much as they like. The company makes its rates available online and prices can be as high as about USD 5,000 a day for one to three guests for cottages in certain lodges. Rates for all properties can be found at https://singita.com/rates/

The wine list covers about 222 labels and 20,000 bottles in Singita’s cellars alone. Many of the wines are not available anywhere else, and older vintages of wines are the norm rather than the exception at lodges. Wines are matured under carefully managed conditions, which is why the lodges are able to offer the majority of their red wines at five years or older.

Wines aged 10 to 15 years are regularly served to guests. Most guests appear to favour barrel-fermented whites and red blends featuring Cabernet Sauvignon or straight Cabernet Sauvignon. On average about 50,000 bottles of wine are consumed each year at the 12 lodges. The ratio or red to white is about the same, though the percentage of red wine increases to 55 per cent in winter.

Each lodge has seven in-house sommeliers available to lead informal and bespoke wine tastings within each lodge’s temperature controlled cellars.

Rautenbach is also head of Singita Premium Wine and manages the selection, acquisition, maturation and distribution of wine to each lodge as well as overseeing Singita’s extensive wine cellar. He has adopted a long-term approach to compiling Singita’s impressive collection and says he is constantly looking for new developments rather than reacting to trends. His list includes many limited‐release wines, plus bottles from auctions complemented by wines from smaller producers and emerging winemakers.

Rautenbach runs Singita’s apprenticeship training programme to develop the next generation of African sommeliers. The programme provides education, personal mentoring and formal wine training.

The company created its Premier Wine Direct Service a decade ago to ensure wines enjoyed while on safari could be packed for guests as checked luggage or shipped directly to a guest’s home.

Singita’s mission is to share a unique part of the world, while maintaining respect for the natural environment and challenging accepted notions of luxury. CEO Luke Bailes said guests chose to stay at the lodges because they have a reputation for being rare and authentic “while embodying a philosophy of sensitivity”. “There’s an authenticity of place at each of our lodges that is not only a rarity but touches guests on every level – spiritual, emotional and physical.”

Bailes said Singita was committed to facilitating the development of neighbouring rural populations through partnerships on specific initiatives including education, healthcare, nutrition, training and business development. “Modern conservation requires a keen focus on keeping tourism, the community and wildlife in a constructive balance,” he said. The health and survival of each of these aspects was crucial to the survival of the whole, he wrote on the company web site.

Singita’s story began in 1925 when Bailes’ grandfather purchased a piece of land in what would later become the Sabi Sand Reserve in South Africa. That estate, totalling about 18,200 hectares, has evolved from its early days as a hunting concession to become an exclusive conservation reserve where all species are protected.

The company is based on a low-impact yet high-value tourism model – fewer guests pay a premium for the privilege of experiencing vast open spaces. This enables the company to sustain the vast wilderness areas and their resident wildlife, while providing an exclusive safari experience.

Singita recently completed the refurbishment of its original lodge, Singita Ebony in South Africa. Bailes said the company would only develop new properties if they were better than, or as good as, those the company already had. He said this “disciplined approach” was designed to maintain Singita’s reputation and continued to deliver the “best possible guest experience, while still benefiting the land and communities in which we are privileged to operate”.

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Rosé revolution (8/11/2017)

A third of all the wine the French drink is rosé. How and why did this style become so popular in France and elsewhere? For publication in week starting 14 August 2017.

Two decade ago rosé was seen as little more than an alco-pop, an alcoholic version of soft drink. But more rosé is now sold in France than white wine, and rosé imports to the United States are increasing 50 per cent a year. A third of all the wine drunk in France is rosé and it is appearing on the wine lists of fashionable restaurants around the world.

A documentary released this week explains this radical change from pseudo soda to sophistication. The Rosé Revolution, or La Revolution du Rosé: How A Ridiculed Wine Became a Winner, is the work of San Francisco-based video-journalist Ken Kobré. He shot the documentary on an iPhone in France, Italy, the United States and South Africa.

In a telephone interview Kobré said his summer home in Provence is surrounded by vineyards, and he set out to make a short wine video to help with the development of an iPhone app he created. The more he learned, the more fascinated he became with rosé wine because, he said, “perception trumps reality”.

The poor reputation rosé had in France started in the 1930s. Provence is considered the best region for rose. Parisians would go there on holidays and from the late 1930s restaurants in the capital started to order rosé from there. But the wine needed to have sulphites added as a preservative. These sulphites gave people headaches and rosé became known as the “mal de tete” or “headache” wine. Sulphites are mostly no longer added to rosé.

In the 1960s outsiders started to buy chateaux vineyards in Provence, hiring young winemakers keen to make a reputation. They planted grape varieties more suited to rosé, and experimented with new production methods. More recently movie actors have endorsed this style of wine.

Rosé can be made in four ways, though the fourth is illegal in France except in the Champagne region. With the direct press method, a pneumatic press like a big balloon presses grapes gently so that only light and fresh juice escapes through tiny holes in the base of the press. The resulting wine is pale pink. In the second method, known as the maceration technique, crushed grapes are left in contact with skins from two hours to a couple of days before the juice is cool-fermented in the same way as a white wine. The colour is determined by how long the wine stays in contact with the skins.

With the saignée method — the word means “bleed” in French — early in the production of red wine some of the juice is separated while it is still pink so it can be made into a rosé. The fourth method is mostly used outside the European Union and involves adding small amounts of red wine to a base of white wine. The same technique is used to make rosé champagne.

The colour of rosé varies from country to country. The French generally prefer paler, softer and more delicate pinks. Paler rosés tend to have less expressive flavours compared with darker or richly-coloured pink wines. Provence is still royalty in terms of rosé production but winemakers from outside this region are also making wines with the same ballet-shoe hue, often to an equally high standard. Rosés from Provence offer a fine balance of fruit sweetness and citrus freshness combined with an elegant mid-palate and a bone-dry finish.

The documentary describes how rosé labels are designed to attract women, who tend to buy more rosé than men. This has occurred around the world since rosé became widely available in supermarkets. Gilles Masson, director of the Centre for Research in Rosé Wine, concluded after years of testing wines profiles – using black glasses to disguise colour – that no correlation exists between colour and taste with rosé.

Some of France’s best rosé comes from the Languedoc, in particular from Gerard Bertrand Wines. One of the best is Château La Sauvageonne Rosé La Villa, which is matured in oak. It is said to be as good as barrel-aged Garrus from Château d’Esclans, long regarded as the benchmark for fine rosé. Bertrand’s rosé is about half the price.

Patrick Schmitt MW, writing in the drinks business magazine, said rosé was still mostly a relatively simple strawberry-scented drink “best served straight from the fridge” but noted that the range of styles had expanded over the past few years. “Not only that,” he wrote, “but the quality levels have broadened too, with rosé moving successfully into the sphere of luxury drinks.”

The darkest rosés come from Portugal and Spain, with hues from Italy mid way between those from France and the Iberian peninsula. England is making some quality sparkling rosés and these tend to be at the pale end of the colour continuum. Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex makes some crackers. Schmitt said it was “further evidence that England is becoming a serious source of fizz”. Greece is also making high-quality rosé, he said, citing the quality of producers like Alpha Estate and La Tour Melas.

Kobré’s documentary ventures into controversial territory for the final quarter of its hour duration. He interviews Professor Robert Hodgson of Humbolt State University in California about research proving that wine judging is very subjective. An identical wine was slipped three times into the same judging panels, and received a range of marks from gold to nothing from the same judges. Professor Hodgson repeated this experiment for a decade before publishing.

Wine is the second largest industry in France. Given that a gold medal sticker will boost wine sales in many countries by 50 per cent, Professor Hodgson’s research is important. Will this part of the video appear when it screens in France?

Research by Professor Hilke Plassmann at the INSEAD graduate school of business in France also features in the documentary. She used MRI technology to measure pleasure centres in the brain. People were served the same wine yet were told that the wine sold at a range of prices. The pleasure centre of participants’ brains glowed more strongly when people were told they were drinking expensive wines even when it was cheap wine. “Price as much as taste influences pleasure,” Kobre said.

La Revolution du Rosé: How A Ridiculed Wine Became a Winner is available for preview sales on iTunes from 11 August 2017. It is an important and timely contribution to our knowledge of the world of wine.

Noted Kobré: “I explored whether the price of a wine could affect a drinker’s pleasure, and also the actual significance of awards, plus the impact of award labels on sales of wines. No matter how well you think you know wine, I think the answers will startle you.” Do watch this important film.

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Natural wine from Georgia (8/5/2017)

A new book highlights the beauty of traditional winemaking in Georgia using clay pots known as kvevri. For publication in the week starting 7 August 2017.

Wine has been made in Georgia for at least 8,000 years, making it one of the earliest wine regions in the world. Georgia is celebrated for the way it produces wine in clay containers called kvevri (also known as qvevri or churi in different parts of the country).

Kvevri are large egg-shaped vessels used for the fermentation, storage and ageing of wine. They look like amphorae without handles, and are either buried so that only the top shows, or set into the floors of large wine cellars. Kvevri vary in size from 20 litres to about 10,000 litres, though the average tends to be about 800 litres.

This traditional method using clay jars has been recognised as part of UNESCO’s list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage”. The UN body established its list to protect important cultural practices, which it sees as a repository of diversity and creative expression.

Kvevri feature in an excellent new book by Carla Capalbo, Tasting Georgia: A food and wine journey in the Caucasus. Capalbo is the author of Collio: Fine wines and foods from Italy’s north-east, which won the Andre Simon wine book award in 2009.

Early in the book Capalbo says that her focus is on winemaking via traditional methods, despite the wide range of other wines produced in Georgia. “The so-called natural winemakers who are bottling wines made in this way [with kvevri] – now more than 50 – form only a tiny percentage of Georgia’s enormous wine output.”

But these wines are attracting the interest of wine enthusiasts around the world, she writes, noting that kvevri winemakers have become “cultural ambassadors for Georgia” as their wines appear on the lists of leading international restaurants, and the unique method drives wine tourism to Georgia from around the world.

Kvevri are handmade using the coil method where clay is wound in a coil from the base to create the pot. After the pots are fired, beeswax is spread on the inside to seal the container. A coating of powdered lime with cement and sand is applied to the outside to strengthen the vessel. This also acts as a disinfectant. The clay used to make a kvevri must be carefully chosen, because its characteristics will influence the flavours of the wine inside.

An external wire support is provided on larger pots to help deal with the pressure of the liquid inside and any earth tremors. Pots tend to be buried up to their lids in sand and gravel to manage the range of temperatures during the year, and to absorb any shocks from the ground, Capalbo writes.

Grapes traditionally are pressed by foot but more recently a hand or mechanical crusher is employed. The juice is poured into the pot along with grape skins, stalks and pips. Some regions do not include stalks, depending on the local winemaking style.

Juice is left to ferment in the kvevri for at least five to six months before being decanted and bottled. Wines tend to be consumed within a year, though some winemakers are experimenting with methods that produce longer-lived wines.

During fermentation a cap forms as skins float to the top, buoyed by carbon dioxide. The cap is punched down into the must using a long pole. After fermentation, solids in the wine settle naturally into the kvevri’s pointed bottom. Red wines tend to be removed from their solids soon after. White wines generally receive more skin contact, varying from days to weeks, to produce so-called “orange wine”.

The most archaic and unusual of traditional Georgian wines are known as Kakhetian (orange or amber wine), which have been macerated for several months with skins, seeds and stems. They can be very tannic. Wine-makers who use kvevri claim that their wines are stable and do not require chemical preservatives to ensure longevity and superior taste. Capalbo points out that wines from west Georgia are often paler, lower in alcohol and fresher because they spend much less, if any, time on the skins.

When fermentation is complete, the top of the pot is sealed, though small amounts of oxygen enter through the pores of the clay. After wines are bottled, the empty kvevri is washed, sterilised with lime and re-coated with beeswax, ready to be filled again. Kvevri can last for “decades, if not centuries, if they are well cared for,” Capalbo writes.

Leftovers from the winemaking process, known as pomace, consist of a mixture of pips, skins and stalks. The Georgian word is “cacha”. It is distilled into a high-proof brandy called “chacha”.

Capalbo quotes wine historian Giorgi Barisashvili from Ilia State University in Georgia, who said that kvevri wines were forbidden during the Soviet era, but noted a revival in recent years. The skill of making kvevri has been handed from father to son, and is believed to have happened for at least 8,000 years.

Wine is supremely important for the people of Georgia. Capalbo illustrates this through the charming story of when two Georgian men meet, the first greeting is “How are you?” while the second is “How is your vineyard?”

Capalbo has created a beautiful book after years of extensive research. It is well written with an approachable style, and organised in a natural flow based on trips from the capital, Tbilisi. It is also superbly illustrated with almost 400 photographs the author has taken. The 70 recipes are appealing because of the use of fresh ingredients and the authentic nature of the simple yet elegant fare. The book also contains details of 60 restaurants and wine bars, and 40 family wineries that specialise in natural wines.

Capalbo admits she loves the Georgian way of eating, with “multiple dishes arranged on the table at once”. “It’s both an ancient and a modern way to eat, dominated by fresh vegetable cookery with aromatic herbs, nuts and delicate spices that make the flavours distinctive. If the cooking techniques are mainly simple, complexity is attained by combining diverse dishes.” Noted chef Yotam Ottolenghi calls the book a “love letter” to the food and wine of Georgia.

This splendid book would make an excellent Christmas present, or indeed any form of gift for family or friends. It is published by Pallas Athene (464 pages).

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Volcanic vines and wines (7/30/2017)

Around the world, soils created by volcanoes produce exceptional wines, but especially so in Soave in Italy. For publication in the week starting 31 July 2017.

Volcanoes have a strong grip on Mankind’s imagination. They have been seen as the playground of the ancient gods, a place of myth where traditions are forged in heat and mystery.

Events relating to them usually occurred in an atmosphere of fire, noise and smoke. Ulysses encountered the gods in the Pastures of the Sun near Mount Etna. The shield of Archilles was created on Vulcan’s forge. The gates of Hades were said to be at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.

In his recent book Volcanic Wines, Canadian sommelier John Szabo notes that the oldest civilisations of the Mediterranean developed around volcanoes. Volcanoes could be creative as well as destructive. Szabo wrote they could be a “huge plough which nature uses to overturn the bowels of the earth”.

Volcanoes produce a range of soils. These in turn can produce a range of intricate wines, given that soil and climate – known as terroir – exert such a major influence on wines. Volcanic soils give special properties to wines including high acidity, minerality and salinity plus a potential for longevity.

Szabo doesn’t claim that soil is the only factor. He believes the preservation of indigenous grape varieties and ancient cultivation methods also make volcanic wines distinctive. His book cites examples of great volcanic wines on the Canary Islands, in Madeira, on the Greek island of Santorini, in the Golan Heights, around New Zealand’s Lake Taupo and in the Andes Mountains in Chile.

Recent research conducted in the Soave region of Italy shows how volcanic soils there have evolved and acquired complex structures, deeply influencing flavours in the wines. Soave produces about 50 million bottles a year from about 7,000 hectares of vines. Main export markets include Germany, the UK and the USA. Only about 16 per cent of Soave is consumed in Italy.

Garganega is Soave’s main grape and can comprise anywhere between 70 and 100 per cent of the blend in both DOC and DOCG wines. For Soave DOC the other part of the blend can be Trebbiano di Soave, also known locally as Verdicchio and Nestrano, up to 30 per cent. Yields for DOC wines must be no more than 14 tonnes per hectare and wines must have a minimum alcohol of 10.5 per cent.

DOCG Soave also contains mainly Garganega, though the other 30 per cent can include Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Trebbiano di Soave. In France Trebbiano di Soave is known as Ugni Blanc, where it is used to make cognac. It is different from the Trebbiano Toscano variety grown in Tuscany in northern Italy.

Garganega can produce a range of styles from dry and fresh through to a sweet nectar known as Recioto di Soave. Mists from the Po River valley influence the region’s climate though humidity can create problems for winemakers because of mould and other fungal diseases. Garganega’s thick skin helps it resist disease.

The Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave represents winegrowers in the region. The general manager of the Consorzio, Aldo Lorenzoni, believes that its wines are “a happy combination” of terroir and the Garganega grape. Lorenzoni said an on-going study of sub-zones in the region and cultivation methods had boosted knowledge of “how truly expressive the Garganega grape can be”.

Earlier this year Lorenzoni’s Consorzio published a report, Soave Volcanic Wines. In it he writes that cultivation of soils since ancient times have meant the gradual evolution of a terroir that provides an ideal environment for making great wine.

The Soave region only produces whites. It is in north east Italy, stretching east of the city of Verona to the foothills of the Lessini Mountains. Soave has DOC and DOCG designations, the latter also known as Soave Superiore. Both are sub-divided into general and “Classico” designations for wines produced in the heartland of the Soave region.

“Wines from volcanic areas enjoy a special reputation, … and they have always been readily traded thanks to their richness, alcohol content and ageing potential,” Lorenzoni wrote. White wines are often distinctive with bright fruits, freshness from high acidity, along with steely salinity, plus savoury and spicy notes.

Increased temperatures because of global warming have become a concern when grapes get burned. Professor Federica Gaiotti, from the CRA wine research centre in Conegliano, stressed the importance of protecting young grapes through careful cultivation of leaves to form an umbrella. Based on research she had conducted between 2003 and 2011, she said the Soave region needed to use a pergola style of cultivation for better shade management. “Compared with Guyot and Double Guyot trellis methods this means four to six degrees lower temperature in the vines,” she said via an interpreter at a wine conference in Soave.

Professor Gaiotti also noted that the heat from Guyot trellising increased sugar levels whereas pergola meant less sugar and more pronounced aromatics in the grapes. “The training system has a huge impact on grape flavours,” she said.

Pergola vines tend to be up to two metres from the ground, compared with Guyot which can be just over half that height. The main limitation of the pergola training system was the need to pick grapes by hand, which was more expensive than mechanised harvesting. “Pergola is labour intensive; the pickers have sore shoulders from having to reach up for the grapes,” Professor Gaiotti said.

Only about 12 per cent of all the vines in Italy are grown using the pergola vine training methods, but in Soave pergola represents about 85 per cent of all vine structures.

Professor Attilio Scienza, a wine historian at the University of Milan, said the pergola method developed about 3,000 years ago along the Po River. It probably evolved from natural wild vines that clung to trees and shrubs. He showed images from Medieval manuscripts depicting pergola methods, and noted that the great Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci had developed pergola methods in a special vineyard in Milan in the fifteenth century. Sadly, during World War 2 American bombs destroyed that vineyard, Professor Scienza said. He has published more than 400 academic papers on wine history.

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Virtual reality and champagne (7/23/2017)

Champagne house Nicolas Feuillatte should be congratulated for finding new ways to introduce people to their wines. For publication in week starting 24 July 2017.

Global sales of champagne were down about 2 per cent last year compared with 2015. About 306 million bottles were sold last year against 312 million in 2015.

The biggest fall was in the United Kingdom – almost 9 per cent – with the decline almost entirely attributed to Brexit, industry sources said. The United Kingdom remains Champagne’s number one export market by volume with about 31.2 million bottles sold in 2016.

Meanwhile, sales in the United States, Asia and some northern and southern European nations continued to grow. These helped offset the declines in the United Kingdom and France.

Decanter magazine reported that sales in France have been declining steadily since 2010, but the fall was especially noticeable last year because of the country’s continuing economic crisis and a drop in tourism linked to terrorist attacks in 2015 and last year.

Thus it is understandable that champagne houses are looking at new ways to market their wines. Earlier this month Nicolas Feuillatte offered the world’s first multi-sensory champagne tasting in London via virtual reality. Nicolas Feuillatte is the third best-selling champagne brand in the United Kingdom.

Participants experienced the sensation of walking inside a series of bottles of champagne. It was this columnist’s first experience of wine virtual reality, and it was not an entirely pleasant experience.

The main problem with virtual reality is the clunky size and nature of the headset. If one wears spectacles, the headset must fit over the spectacles. The fit must be perfect; otherwise light seeps in. This produces a sensation of one’s glasses being squashed against one’s head.

The other problem is the body’s reaction to any strange and new experience – it begins to sweat, especially when one of the virtual reality experiences is standing on a diving board looking down into a dark abyss. This caused my spectacles to fog even more, limiting my vision. The heavy cable connecting the headset to the laptop housing the virtual reality software got caught between my legs as I staggered around the virtual reality environment.

The discomfort and difficulty in seeing through a foggy eyepiece caused frustration and tended to negate any pleasant sensations coming from the wine. Indeed, the headpiece pinched my nose making it impossible to detect the subtle aromas of the range of four champagnes.

The public relations note advertising the event spoke of users being led “into an enchanting world in virtual reality … inspired by the beauty and mystery of the different Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte brands” and promised a “delight to the senses as it brings together virtual reality and Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte’s best-selling wines”. Frankly, it was not so much delight as endurance. Thank goodness for the champagne bar that was available after the VR trip where a range of Feuillatte’s champagnes were available. That was the much more pleasant experience.

During the virtual reality episode people tasted Nicolas Feuillatte non-vintage Brut Réserve, non-vintage Brut Rosé, the 2008 Blanc de Blancs, and the 2006 Palmes d’Or. The last is a 50:50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and is a beautiful wine, despite the distractions of an uncomfortable virtual reality headset.

Also available to taste were the 2008 Brut Millesime, its cepage the traditional blend of Pinot Noir Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and the 2006 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs (as we know, this style is only Chardonnay). Both are good wines, though both struggled when compared with the formidable 2006 Palmes d’Or. This was simply a reflection of the quality of the Palmes d’Or.

Afterwards in the champagne bar all these champagnes tasted so much better. A second and third tasting confirmed the excellence of the 2006 Palmes d’Or. Olivier Legrand, communications manager for Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, also confirmed this was the first virtual reality tasting in the world. “We wanted to try something different.”

The central London building in which the tasting was held was entirely white, from the walls and ceilings to the flowers in the large number of vases around the building. All Nicolas Feuillatte staff wore black, a nice contrast, as they offered delicate nibbles.

Most of the people at the tasting were fashionably-dressed women aged in their twenties and thirties, presumably a cross section of the brand’s intended demographics. Somewhat eerily, they all dressed the same, and sat stroking their hair as they focused on the screens of their mobile phones. None seemed interested in talking about their virtual reality experience.

Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte was founded in 1976 in the heart of the Côte des Blancs and is the youngest of the large Champagne houses. It is also the biggest growers’ brand, with about 4,500 contributors. Grower champagnes are wines produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes come. Some of the big houses buy grapes from other parts of the region.

Nicolas Feuillatte is the best-selling champagne brand in France and third overall in the world. They have access to more than 2,250 hectares of vines, among them 13 of the 17 Grand Cru and 33 of the 42 Premier Cru estates.

According to French law, brut champagne must spend a minimum of 15 months in the cellar, with at least three years for vintage champagne. Nicolas Feuillatte has extended the cellaring process to obtain extra finesse. Their brut champagnes spend three years in the cellar, and vintage champagnes age for at least four years. Olivier Legrand said the Palmes d’Or collection is sometimes aged for eight to 10 years. The last showed it is a beautiful wine despite the distraction of virtual reality.

Footnote: One of the highlights of Vinexpo this year was a vertical tasting of Vinedo Chadwick cabernet sauvignon from 1999, 2003, 2009 and 2015. The 2014 Vinedo Chadwick was the first Chilean wine to receive a perfect 100 points in international competition. Marketing director Loreto Queirolo has just announced that the 2015 Sena from the same stable has also been awarded 100 points in competition. At he same time the 2015 Vinedo Chadwick scored 99 points.

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Peerless Oregon Pinot Noir (7/15/2017)

If wine consumption per head in America rose by even a relatively small amount, the world’s wine sellers would rejoice. For publication in week starting 17 July 2017.

The world wine market was worth almost USD 176,000 million in 2014, the most recent year for which global figures are available. Wine research group IWSR and Vinexpo released data showing wine sales will grow about 1.4 per cent in volume in the next couple of years.

The United States remains by far the most valuable wine market with sales worth USD 29,150 million, followed by the highly taxed United Kingdom at USD 17,340 million, France at USD 17,330 million and Italy at USD 13,760 million.

Yet wine consumption in the United States is low by world standards when measured on a per capita basis. Croatians consumed 46.9 litres per head each year, the highest in the world if we exclude the outlier of the Vatican City. The Portuguese (43.7 litres), the French (43.1) and the Serbians (42.5) were the world’s other major consumers last year.

Americans were well down the list at about 12.7 litres a head, placing them well out of the top 50 nations. If Americans were to consume as much wine per head as the Portuguese or the French the USA could not produce enough and the world’s wine markets would be dancing with joy.

Many regions of America could best be described as “beer and bourbon” towns, which shows the influence of culture on wine consumption. Despite cultural differences, some wine companies in America have a passion for making great wine. One of the most prominent is Jackson Family Wines (JFW), a family-owned and run company that crafts wines of distinct character and quality. The company focuses on sustainable viticulture practices along with responsible vineyard and natural resource management.

JFW comprises more than 50 brands, focusing on the premier wine-growing regions of California and Oregon. JFW also produces wine in Australia, Chile, France, Italy and South Africa. Chairman and proprietor Barbara Banke has spent the past two decades managing the company she co-founded with her late husband, wine icon Jess Jackson.

A tasting in London of Pinot Noir made by a range of JFW estates in Oregon showed the high quality of this variety from that state. In recent years JFW has increased its number of hectares in Oregon to almost 700 (1,725 acres). The most recent acquisition, last November, of the Willakenzie Estate brought yet another luxury Pinot vineyard into the portfolio. Previously the company acquired boutique producers Penner-Ash Cellars, Zena Crown and Gran Moraine along with exceptional single vineyard / single variety estates Siduri and La Cremain in the Willamette Valley.

Oregon is Pinot Noir country, with almost two thirds of vineyards planted to this variety. The state produces maybe one per cent of the wine in America, compared with almost 90 per cent in California, but tends to win a much higher proportion of medals and awards.

Most of the wine is consumed domestically, so why bother with the expense of bringing five winemakers and Jackson family members to London for a press and industry tasting? The answer appears to be a desire to have the quality of these wines appreciated in one of the world’s major wine markets. It’s the vinous equivalent of the lyrics of that great Frank Sinatra song: “If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere.”

Most of the recent vineyard acquisitions were made through bank loans, Barbara Banke said, which was one of the advantages of being a family-run operation in the sense that the banks know the company. Barbara’s son Christopher confirmed that the family were taking a “long-term perspective” and saw Pinot Noir as a “multi-generational wine”.

Some of the finest Pinots at the tasting came from the Zena Crown Vineyard. Winemaker Tony Rynders said Oregon was a region “in the process of arriving on the world stage”. Rynders was previously the winemaker at Domaine Serene in Oregon, widely regarded as the source of some of the best Pinots in the country. He established his own label, Tendril Wine Cellars, to focus on Pinot Noir and Zena Crown is one of his many successes. Currently about 90 per cent of the wine is sold domestically.

The lovely pinots from Willakenzie Estate are named after the sedimentary soils on the estate and are a tribute to the two main rivers in Oregon that meet near the estate. Winemaker Erik Kramer was a geologist in a previous career. While in Chicago in 1997 he was mugged. Kramer described this as “an epiphany moment” which led him to become a winemaker. He has previously made wines at Domaine Serene and Adelsheim Vineyards.

The same week the Circle of Wine Writers organised a tasting of “alternative” wines from California, hosted by Justin Knock MW. Alternative was defined as based on small production – wines from grape varieties that represent less than one per cent of California’s massive production. The state grows at least 100 varieties.

Marimar Torres, founder of Marimar Estate, offered an outstanding Albarino from the Don Miguel Vineyard in the Russian River Valley of California. Some Spanish varieties have thrived in the state in recent years, and this wine from an organic estate displays a gentle creaminess that makes it stand out from Spanish wines made with the same grape.

Another outstanding wine was a red blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah by Slacker Wines called Computer Geek 2014 that had been deliberately inoculated with brettanomyces. Known by the slang term “brett”, this is usually a wine fault but winemaker Matt Trevisan has managed to create a profound array of aromas that sing in the glass and tantalise the nose. Think equine and quinine notes mixed with cassis and morello cherries.

The tasting also included a chance to sample a wine from what is believed to be the oldest significant planting of the Cinsault grape in the world. The vines from which the 2015 Bechthold Old Vines was crafted were planted in 1886. Amazing to think these vines predated the birth of the automobile or the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

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Bordeaux 2016 impresses (7/9/2017)

Visits to a range of Bordeaux chateaux showed that 2016 was an exceptional vintage. For publication in the week starting 10 July 2017.

Bordeaux is difficult to comprehend without years of tasting and research. One way is to focus on an area, and this column proceeds from this position, acknowledging the benefit of focus. This column considers the wines of the Cru Bourgeois and the Medoc.

Château Ramafort has the distinction of owning what is probably the biggest cellar in Bordeaux. Andrew McInnes said the cellar, built in 1990 and known locally as “The Cathedral”, holds more than 2.5 million bottles and enables the company to cellar 10 separate vintages. The idea is to release wines as they become ready to drink, and supply specific clients around the world with aged Bordeaux.

McInnes described the process as a “just-in-time” source of supplies for restaurants and specialist wine shops. Chateau Latour studied the design of the cellar about three years ago when it decided to end its en primeur business.

Château Ramafort is in the northern Médoc commune of Blaignan about eight kilometres beyond the St-Estephe appellation. Grape-growing began in the 17th century. Half of the vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance Merlot, and vines have an average age of 30 years.

Wines are made in a fruit-forward style, McInnes said, with ripe dark fruits balanced by a medium to full-bodied palate. The wines offer perfumed aromas of violets and gentle spices, with silky tannins. Barrel samples of the 2016 vintage suggested this would be one of the best for many years. McInnes described the 2016 as having the best characteristics of the 2009 and 2010 vintages, regarded as the previous best in the region. “It has the brightness and appeal of the 2009 and the body of the 2010.”

Nearby Château Laffitte Carcasset is a much smaller operation and makes about 200,000 bottles a year. Winemaker Pierre Maussire said about 80 per cent of the 2016 vintage was sold en primeur. The eighteenth-century chateau, situated in the middle of the gravelly plateau of Saint-Estèphe, is surrounded by magnificent vineyards and chateaux.

Maussire said the soils were like the layers of lasagne, with sand on top of gravel, which was atop clay. The 2016 we sampled was “probably better than the 2009 vintage,” he said. It contained “the best Merlot” he had ever grown. All of the 2016 wines were sold en primeur in two days, a reflection of their quality. The estate also stores wines in 700-litre amphorae as well as traditional oak barriques.

Château Laffitte Carcasset has produced wine since 1790 after Joseph Laffitte, who managed the king’s financial affairs, purchased the estate and planted vineyards. In 1955 Viscount Pierre de Padirac bought the property and improved the vineyard, helped by his son Philippe. The family recently sold the chateau and it was being prepared for the new owner when I visited. It is in an excellent location in the centre of Saint-Estèphe next to some of the best-known names in the area.

In recent years Domaines Rollan de By has become one of the most respected Cru Bourgeois estates. Jean Guyon bought two hectares in Bégadan in 1989 and has gradually expanded his holdings to 90 hectares, encompassing Château Greysac, Château de By and Château du Monthil.

A highlight of the estate is the beautiful collection of sculptures which align the entrance road, and which reflect the beauty of the wines. Jean Guyon’s son Matthieu said wines were a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with about 10 per cent of Petit Verdot for freshness and intensity of colour. All wines are charming and elegant.

Chateau Charmail in the Saint-Estèphe appellation has almost 28 hectares of vines that surround the beautiful chateau. The property pioneered a form of cold maceration, also known as “cold soaking”. The technique is a way to extract colour and flavour from grape skins prior to fermentation. Extraction also occurs during fermentation, but many winemakers believe cold soaking brings out more beneficial aspects of the grapes.

Grapes are chilled to stall fermentation. The length of time varies according to the winemaker’s goals and the grape variety. The winery also uses a machine to sort berries in water, whereby unripe berries float and ripe ones sink. Wines are not filtered. Owner Bernard d’Halluin purchased the estate from Olivier Seze in 2008.

Three in four bottles are exported to Europe and some parts of Asia. Bernard d’Halluin believes 2016 will be a magnificent wine – “the best of Charmail for many years” — describing it as a “blue wine”. “You can tell a great vintage by the bright blue colour of the vineyard workers’ hands after they pick.” About 95 per cent was sold en primeur in May.

Charmail is near the banks of the Gironde River. The influence of the river means temperatures tend to be milder in the summer, and the river protects the property from hard winter frosts. Frost can have disastrous effects on vines in this area, and some predict the 2017 vintage will be much smaller than 2016 because of frosts.

Laurent Saint Pasteur.jpg

Laurent Saint Pasteur

Château Cissac has not used insecticides for five years on its 70 hectares of vines in Cissac-Medoc. Winemaker Laurent Saint Pasteur has been making wine there since 2001 and has high hopes for the 2016 vintage. He is so dedicated to his vines that he lives in the vineyard: “I live and sleep Cissac.” He described Cissac wines as “classic” Medoc in terms of the cepage, the oak treatment and production methods. They are elegant, refined wines that benefit from cellaring for at least half a decade.

Winemaker Anthony Yaigre at Château Beaumont in Cussac Fort Medoc also has high hopes for the 2016 vintage after we tasted barrel samples. “Our wines really become approachable after half a decade in the cellar.”

The aromas of a barrel sample of 2016 Chateau Mongravey Margaux were so pungent and beautiful they could be detected from metres away. Owner Karin Bernaleau said this vintage would be “superb” when fully matured. The chateau has received glowing reviews from many of the major critics.

Footnote: An innovation to attract the youth market featured at Vinexpo in Bordeaux last month. The SoYoung company supplies wine in 250ml bottles – the same size as a soft drink container, with a quick-release ring-pull cap similar to a can. The SoYoung logo says “just pull and drink”.

Six wines are available – two each of sparking alcoholic reds and whites – plus a red and white sparkling grape juice with no alcohol. Two of the alcoholic drinks have 11 per cent alcohol and are designed for consumption during the day. The other two have 5.5 per cent alcohol and are intended for drinking at night. All wines come from Portugal though the company is based in China with offices in Hong Kong and Portugal. More details can be found at http://www.soyoung2.cn.

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Vinexpo in world’s wine capital (7/2/2017)

Vinexpo is one of the major wine marketing events around the world. For publication in week starting 3 July 2017.

Bordeaux describes itself as the “world capital of wine”. Vinexpo is held every two years in Bordeaux and late last month attracted more than 2,300 exhibitors from 40 countries, and about 45,000 attendees from 150 countries.

This year is the tenth anniversary of UNESCO naming Bordeaux a world heritage site. The region is famous for the number of magnificent chateaux. Lonely Planet and the Los Angeles Times recently ranked Bordeaux as the number one place to visit in 2017.

Vinexpo is an international wine marketing brand. The main Vinexpo alternates each year between Bordeaux in France and Hong Kong. Other Vinexpos are scheduled for Japan, New York and Austria next year.

The venue on the northern edge of the city is one of the few that can accommodate so many people and events. The walk from one end of the show to the other is about 1.6km. The logistics are formidable: 22,048 glasses, 56 tastings and debates, and hundreds of public and private tastings, dinners and parties.

Major debate topics included the impact of climate change on the wine industry, the use of data in tracking consumer choice, the impact of Brexit on the world wine industry, and the influence of e-commerce on future wine sales.

World wine research group IWSR and Vinexpo released data that showed China will become the world’s second largest wine drinking country within about four years. Imports are expected to leap 80 per cent, to reach the equivalent of almost 95 million 12-bottle cases, and create a market worth USD 22,000 million. Last year the Chinese market consumed almost 53 million cases. China will represent almost three quarters of all worldwide wine growth over the next three years.

The relationship between Bordeaux and China has always been strong. A quarter of all wine sold in Bordeaux last year went to China. The Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), which translates as the Bordeaux Wine Bureau, reported that exports to China last year rose 16 per cent compared with 2015 and exceeded the previous best sales year (2012). Bordeaux sold 6 million 12-bottle cases to China in 2012, while in 2016 the volume was 6.25 million cases.

Thomas Julien, CIVB’s China market director, described exports to China as “healthy”. “With new consumers coming into the wine category, wine is becoming an even more fundamental part of urban life. Imported wines are becoming a status symbol among affluent young people,” the June edition of the IWSR Journal quoted him as saying.

Bordeaux is the largest single AOC in France and makes the equivalent of 667 million bottles a year from about 112,000 hectares of vines. Nine in 10 bottles are red or rose, with the rest white or sparkling.

People from 150 countries visited Vinexpo this year, an indication of the increasingly global nature of the wine business. It is a trade-only event. About three in five of the attendees came from France, with China and the USA the next most represented nations.

Lei Zhao is general manager of the Chinese online wine company Tmall, which offers its services to French companies seeking to sell in China. One in four of all bottles of wine sold in China go through Tmall, which is part of the huge Alibaba Group. The company’s wine sales in 2015 totalled 10,000 million RMB (about USD 1.46 million) and were expected to be worth 60,000 million RMB this year (about USD 8.78 million), Lei Zhao said through a translator.

China was “enchanted by wine” with younger generations becoming more sophisticated, he said. The Alibaba Group controls all aspects of the social media spectrum in China, owning the equivalent of Facebook, YouTube and Amazon. “We are a data company,” Lei Zhao said. “We know who comes to our site and we are able to profile our consumers.”

Vinexpo’s new president, Christophe Navarre, advised attendees to “keep an eye” on China’s emerging NingXia region. About 20 producers attended the show. Younger consumers were eager to know more about wine and needed greater access to information, Navarre said. “That is why digitalisation presents challenges and opportunities for our industry.”

Tmall have used technology intelligently to reach younger consumers. They employ virtual reality and augmented reality tools to show people the beauty of vineyards, and apps like FaceTime to connect consumers with winemakers. The company also makes extensive connections with customers through its WeChat and WhatsApp apps, plus the Chinese equivalents of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

They also organise the 9/9 Festival on September 9 each year. Last year’s inaugural event saw one month’s average wine sales achieved on that one day. Alibaba owner Jack Ma said he wants to a build a “new global silk road” using wine as a link between China and the world.

Next week’s column will discuss more about Bordeaux. Some highlights of this year’s event included an inaugural Riesling day organised by the German Wine Institute, DWI, to focus on a white wine that is under-appreciated. They organised a picnic by the lake outside Vinexpo. Sadly, the event coincided with one of the hottest June days on record. DWI’s managing director Monika Reule said the idea of a Riesling Day was to focus the world’s attention on the outstanding quality of German Riesling.

Vinexpo had a special section for 150 organic and bio-dynamic wines for the first time. WOW!, or World of Organic Wines, was a response to what organisers said was “growing demand” for organic wines.

A highlight of a visit to Bordeaux is a chance to visit La Cite du Vin, a magnificent wine museum that opened in June last year. It has won numerous design awards. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux and a former French prime minister, said it was paradoxical that the city, which had been made very wealthy on the back of the wine industry for centuries, did not have a museum devoted to wine. Finally the situation had been rectified, and he hoped the museum would become an “essential component” of any trip to the city.

  • Vinexpo next year will be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 29-31 May 2018. Australia will be the featured country, just as Spain was the featured nation at Vinexpo in Bordeaux this year.

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Roussillon’s graceful reds (6/25/2017)

France’s most southern region, Roussillon, produces reds that age gracefully plus stylish naturally sweet wines. For publication in week starting 26 June 2017.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the awarding of AOP status to four Cotes du Roussillon regions, all located near France’s border with Spain. AOP, or Appellation d’Origine Protegee, is a term the European Commission coined in 1992 to define agricultural products with a distinct regional character.

It is equivalent to an AOC, or Appellation d’Origine Controlee, which refers to regulations established in France to define quality standards for products like wine and cheese. It ties the name of the product to specific geographic regions.

The four AOPs celebrating their anniversary are AOP Cotes du Roussillon Villages, AOP Cotes du Roussillon Villages Caramany, AOP Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France and AOP Cotes du Roussillon.

Roussillon is in the deep south-west of France, in a sea-facing amphitheatre surrounded by three groups of mountains that form the borders of a rectangle, with the sea the fourth side. Wine has been made there for about 2,800 years, starting with the Greeks who arrived seeking salt and iron near the town of Banyuls.

The tallest peak, at 2,800 metres, is the Massif du Conigou in the Pyrenees. It constitutes the western border of Roussillon. Agriculture is the region’s main economic activity, and local market gardens produce high-quality fruit and vegetables.

About a third of Roussillon’s 23,000 hectares of vines are devoted to AOP wines, with another 5,000 used to make IGP wines, and another 7,000 devoted to sweet fortified wines known as VDN. This refers to “vins doux naturels,” or naturally sweet wines. They are fortified using a process called “mutage” which involves addition of grape spirit during fermentation.

IGP, or Indication Geographique Protegee, describes French wines that fall between ordinary wine (vin de table) and AOC/AOP. It has been adopted by winemakers who wish to have autonomy and freedom outside the strict AOC/AOP laws

Roussillon has an ideal climate for wine-making with dry and hot summers and mild autumns and winters. The region gets a lot of sunshine – about 316 days a year is one of the highest in Europe. Last year the nine AOP, three IGP and five VDN in the region produced about 605,000 hectolitres of wine, or about 75.5 million bottles. The region’s natural amphitheatre provides an ideal location for grape growing, and a range of winds that blow at different times of the year help to eradicate disease.

Yet the average yield per hectare in Roussillon is one of lowest in France because the countryside is arid and the soils dry, mostly schiste and gneiss. It’s really only suited for grapes and olives. About 30 co-operatives produce three quarters of all the wine, among them 2,200 family-owned estates. The average size of a family vineyard is 10 hectares.

The main white grapes are White and Grey Grenache, Maccabeo, Muscat a petits-grains, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino (known locally as Rolle). The main red grapes are the same as in the Rhone: Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault. Syrah tends to suffer during very hot summers.

Almost all wines are blends. Carignan and Grenache are the most widely planted varieties, and Grenache accounts for about 8,500 hectares of the 23,000 hectares in the region. Many of the red varieties were imported from the Rhone about 45-50 years ago.

Domaine Cazes is one of the biggest organic estates in the region, and some of the estate is bio-dynamic. The number of organic winemakers in Roussillon is rising each year, though exact figures are not available. A tasting of Domaine Cazes reds from 2004, 1996, 1990, 1989 and 1988 showed the longevity of these wines.

The blend tends to be 40 to 50 per cent Syrah with the balance Grenache and Mourvèdre. Wines start fresh and young with lively acidity combined with flavours of fruit compote and soft tannins. The 1989 was especially good, with the Syrah contributing pepper and spices, and lots of cherry aromas coming from a touch of Mourvèdre.

In neighbouring Languedoc, Gerard Bertrand is a former French rugby player who used his reputation and contacts to develop a major wine business, Gerard Bertrand Wines. The company currently controls eight estates, including the beautiful Castle l’Hospitalet in La Clape Massif, a limestone range overlooking the Mediterranean Sea amongst hundreds of kilometres of pine forests and garrique shrubs.

Wine Enthusiast magazine named Gerard Bertrand Wines its European winery of the year in both 2012 and 2014. The company has grown from three staff in 1987, including Bertrand himself, to more than 300 today, with exports to 160 countries. “We’re looking at exports to Pakistan and Afghanistan next,” Bertrand said with a smile, “but I’m having difficulties convincing the sales directors to go to those countries.”

L’Hospitalet adopted bio-dynamic wine-making practices in 2013, based on a philosophy that this is the best practice for the planet and people. Bertrand said he has noticed changes since then. “The people who work in the vineyards are happier.” Most of his other vineyards are embracing bio-dynamics.

Aromas and flavours offer two key dimensions of a wine, and reveal the terroir or “sense of some-where-ness” that bio-dynamics guru Monty Waldin described in his book on the subject. A third dimension was a wine’s power to evoke emotions. “Only the greatest wines travel directly to the heart,” Bertrand said.

He acknowledged that time he spent with Aubert de Villaine, owner of the great Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy, who taught the “vital fourth dimension of winemaking – spirituality”.

Bertrand concluded that the essence of an exceptional wine was a “combination of time, space, energy, spirit and soul”. A great wine is connected to its terroir, grape variety, and the plot of land of its birth, but also the universe that surrounds it. “With this realisation, I dared to experiment with a new path that links bio-dynamics with quantum theory,” he wrote in his autobiography Wine, Moon and Stars. It was named best wine book in Europe last year.

Bertrand is a fan of old fortified wines. He prefers to drink them alone at home by the pool, under the stars after 10pm, looking at the sky. “You need to be alone to be connected,” he said with a smile, “it’s a chance to find the spirit of the wine.”

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Serbia’s finest wine regions (6/17/2017)

Zupa and Sumadija are Serbia’s most historic wine regions, with many cultural connections related to the vine. For publication in week starting 19 June 2017.

Grapes have been grown in the Župa region in central Serbia for at least 3,000 years, even prior to the Roman invasion. The region is centred on the biggest town, Aleksandrovac, though “biggest” is a relative term because the town only has about 7,000 souls.

The region’s biggest annual event is a wine festival held in late September, and the town has a cute wine museum built in 1991. The museum’s most valuable exhibits are four statues made by the first farmers in the region. They are said to be about 7,000 years old.

Župa currently has about 2,000 hectares of vines, though a century ago the area under cultivation was probably treble the current size.

The Ivanović family has been growing grapes in Aleksandrovac since 1814. On his return from World War One in 1919, Dragoslav Ivanović established a wine cellar. The company grew quickly and by 1940 it was producing 500,000 litres a year. Production stalled after World War Two as family estates became collectivised under the Communist regime. The renaissance of Serbian winemaking has only really occurred in the past 15 years, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In 1996 Dragoslav’s grandson, who has the same name, returned to Župa after his studies and used his grandfather’s notes, which had been hidden in dusty cellars for many years, to renew the family tradition. At the same time he has been unafraid to innovate and produces some remarkable wines.

Dragoslav’s 2015 No 3/4 Tamjanika is 85 per cent Tamjanika with 10 per cent of Sauvignon Blanc and 5 per cent Riesling, plus a touch of new oak. This is a sensational wine that smells and tastes of marmalade laced with ginger, with a dry textural finish. It is significantly more sophisticated than a range of wines made from the same grape tasted in Aleksandrovac last month.

Last week’s column noted that Tamjanika and Prokupac are the main indigenous grapes. Locals sometimes cultivate Prokupac in a traditional style: Vines are grown like bushes, with cordons bound together at the top. This guarantees a smaller crop, but with higher quality fruit; harvesting must be done by hand.

Tamjanika’s origins are uncertain. Some say it originated in France while others maintain it came from the island of Samos in Greece. The grape has been grown in Župa for several centuries and has adapted well to the terroir. The grape is probably a relative of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. In Serbia it has been named after the local word for francincense, tamjan, because of its intense aromas.

Another memorable Ivanović wine is the 2015 No 1/2 which consists of 50 per cent of the local grape Prokupac with a quarter each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine had only been bottled for a month before Dragoslav offered it for judging and it will get even better with time in the cellar.

Župa is about 230 km south-east of the capital, Belgrade, and consists mostly of softly-rolling hills surrounded by three mountain ranges. Vines are grown at between 250 and 700 metres. The climate is continental, similar to that of Bordeaux. Dragoslav Ivanović noted that accurate data about the current number of hectares of wine in Župa were not available.

During the Middle Ages Serbia’s three biggest monasteries had their vineyards in the Župa region. Winegrowing continued in the region under Turkish occupation during the Ottoman Empire. More recently, the national nursery for producing vine cuttings was established in Župa, which helped the region recover quickly from the phylloxera epidemic in the late nineteenth century.

Župa has a wine and agricultural school named after St Trifun (also spelled Tryphon), the patron saint of winemakers, built in 1926. It has 92 hectares planted to vines and a range of fruit trees. Zupa is a noted fruit region; indeed the strong connection between fruit regions that become wine regions can be noted around the world.

Zdravkovic Budimir, known locally as “Deda Buda” or grandfather Buda, is said to be Serbia’s oldest active winemaker and claims to have worked 77 vintages, though locals were uncertain as to his age. Milicia Smoljanic is the manager of the excellent Budimir Wines in Župa, which specialises in ageing Prokupac in old barrels of 3,000, 5000 and 7,000 litres. The results can be spectacular.

Deda Buda.jpg

Zdravkovic Budimir, known as “Deda Buda”

Alexander Raskovic, winemaker at Budimir Wines, created a delicious dessert wine from Tamjanika called Slatka Mala, which translates as “a little sweet”. Grapes were left to freeze on the vines a full three months after harvest, to concentrate flavours. The concentration was such that 2,700kg of grapes made only 1,000 bottles, about a third of what this quantity of grapes usually produces. Raskovic told me half the crop was stolen during those three months.

Some other exciting wines were encountered in the Sumadija region, about 100 km south-west of the capital, Belgrade. Excellent sparkling wines came the Aleksandrovic Estate: The 2015 Trijumf Rose, made from Pinot Noir, and the 2009 Trijumf Chardonnay, were easily some of the best sparkling wines tasted in Serbia. The latter was a veritable triumph of vinous delights with its profound expression of time, like musty books in a library, yet still fresh with lemon zest and brioche. Winery Aleksandrovic also makes excellent reds, with the Rodoslov Grande Reserve a highlight. The company’s drive for perfection is so strong that in 2014 the estate threw away 40 hectares of grapes because the quality was not good enough.

Special mention must also be made of Winery Radovanovic, also in the Sumadija region, who make reds from Cabernet Sauvignon and whites from Chardonnay. Owner Miodrag Mija Radovanovic presides over one of the most beautiful and precise estates I visited, and provided a vertical tasting of his wines at a memorable lunch under a huge walnut tree on a cloudless blue-sky day. His wines are a combination of tradition and innovation and should be sought out for their quality.

Last year more than 1.2 million tourists visited Belgrade — 13 per cent higher than during the previous year — suggesting the capital could evolve into a significant tourism destination, and later the rest of the country. The biggest groups came from China, Canada, Russia and the United States. Americans represented one of the biggest groups, at more than 16 per cent of the total. Locals regard 2016 as the starting point for a major evolution over the next five years that will culminate in 2021 when Novi Sad becomes the European Capital of Culture.

Disclosure: In May-June 2017 Stephen Quinn was a member of the first wine press tour to Serbia. It was organised by Wine Jam with journalist Paul Balke, and visitors were guests of the National Tourist Organisation of Serbia, Radisson Blue hotel and the Terra Travel agency.

Words: 1,035

Categories: Home page, Uncategorized

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