Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Back to the UK

I finally arrived in the UK late on Saturday after being stuck in a very (-8 degrees C) cold Bordeaux airport!

By the time I eventually arrived at our head offices in Theale on Monday morning, the snow had covered Theale vineyard in front of the offices. It's here where our English sparkling wine is made - and now not only does Theale Vineyard Sparkling Wine taste like a top Champagne, the vineyard looks like it's in Champagne!

I sent fresh samples of the Chai 2009 white wines ahead of me last week and thankfully they were waiting for me in the tasting room and I was able to give the staff a first glimpse and taste of what I have actually been up to since August!

More snow fell last night and things were a bit slippery this morning so I hope I can get down to Dorset for Christmas.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The 2008 Laithwaite Merlot tastes superb

I would like to take it out of barrel before Christmas and bottle it in the first week of January to capture all the beautiful blackcurrant fruit.

Unfortunately wines have a life of their own and sometimes everything is ready at the same time! With a full week of cellar work already planned and 150 barrels to rack and clean – it’s all quite a lot of work to do immediately.

But the wine comes first so I have called in the expert French cellar rats Petit Denis and Jeff (the winemaking cavalry!) to give us hand. With their expert help I can efficiently empty and clean the barrels at the perfect moment for wine quality!


Friday, 11 December 2009

Clare and I went to see Caroline and Anwar Hussein, owners of Chateau Fontcaille Bellevue in the Entre Deux Mers today.

Clare, our Bordeaux buyer, discovered and has been buying from this great value little Chateau for our customers for many years, so I was delighted to go and have look myself.

The Château grows 100% black grapes made up of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon which is quite rare for the Entre-Deux-Mers. But due to their unique pocket of terroir the black varieties are better suited. We were met by Caroline and Anwar who introduced us to Jean-Louis, their Oenologue and the cellar master who keeps the vineyards and cellar in perfect order.

We were here today to get a first glance and taste of the 2009. We tasted the different vats and they were absolutely superb and a true example of the sheer quality of the 2009 vintage. This little Château is always consistent and never disappoints but my money is certainly on some of the 2009 already!

Caroline and Anwar very kindly invited me for lunch but due to the Chai being in full swing today, I sadly had to decline and rush back to help Chris with our mammoth task of blending the 2009 Chai unmentionables – including the CY, VC, JMS. I can now reveal that I have made an all new Vent de Folie Blanc – my big 2009 vintage secret is finally out. But you’ll just have to wait and see what grape variety it’s made from!


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

As we arrived into the heel of Italy early yesterday evening, the scenery changed dramatically.

It was like crossing a border to Greece and Tunisia rolled into one. We passed a big natural harbour, where fresh water springs mix with sea water creating a unique blend of water for the sea life of which we sampled last night at the 'La Barca' in Pulsano.

The restaurant was very special indeed! The seafood and presentation was out of this world along with a superb friendly, laid back atmosphere created Saverio Gallione the owner chef! The fish was so fresh and Saverio showed us some of the fish caught that afternoon that we were to eat tonight.

Keeping me company on the table was the director of the San Marzano winery, Filippo, Giorgio (our friend we make Alta Tierra in Chile with), JMS and Anne.

Saverio was placing dishes with a huge range of local specialities all over our table. We tasted some great wines by Filippo from very old vineyards. Filippo joked soon they will be putting "made from old winemakers" not "made from old vineyards"!!!!

This morning though I woke up with the Gulf of Taranto (the instep of the boot of Italy) almost on the hotel doorstep. Filippo is already up and once again raring to go! This morning we are going to the winery in San Marzano. On the way we drive through a maze of 400-year old olive groves and 60-year old vineyards trained on the locally named Alberelo method.

A thorough look around the winery was first on list. JMS and I inspected the facilities and tasted the vats with Filippo, then swiftly up to the tasting room where we met with the president. The tasting room is worth a mention as it looks like a hair salon! But the sinks and flexible showers are just beautiful over the top Italian wine tasting accessories!

The raw blending wines were very good indeed and we were soon through the whites and into the blending of the reds – including the 2009 "Edizione" and a brand new Chai project wine.

The president mentioned that he was a keen fishermen and that the Gulf of Taranto had the best fish in all of the Mediterranean. After last nights meal I certainly agreed with him. Next thing we knew JMS and I had 3kg of line caught fresh sea bass, their eyes still glistening given to us! We divided the fish up, wrapped it in local newspaper and packed it in our suit cases! What a plan; I was going to cook fresh sea bass from the Med in London tonight for Libby!!!


Friday, 4 December 2009

Filippo is our great friend and head winemaker of Farnese.

He will be driving JMS and I around southern Italy tomorrow and Friday where we will be tasting and blending his wines for the Chai.

Had a great meal last night and we left our food choices in the knowledgeable hands of Filippo. He knows the food and what wine matches and his selections didn't disappoint.

The antipasti (starter) lasted for what seemed like forever, as small but endless dishes of fresh, uncooked, delicately marinated and thinly sliced squid, langoustines, gambas, sea snails, swordfish and slithers of red mullet were served, accompanied with fine sparkling Francecorte. The main was baked Turbot, roasted zucchini accompanied by Filippo's top Chardonnay 'OPI' 2008.

This morning was glorious, the sun reflecting from the Adriatic sea some 50 metres from my hotel window and behind me, the snow-capped mountain of Della Maiella!

After breakfast we head off into town to Farnese's head office which also happens to be a castle!

Valentino is in fine form and waiting for us with the tasting all prepared. I almost thought it was going to start on time but then I remembered I was in the south of Italy!

After lots of banter and coffee the tasting finally got started. We began with the 2009 whites; Trebbianos, Pinot Grigios, Pecorinos, Greco di Tufo, Passarinas and Fiano di Avalino. Then the reds, consisting mainly of Sangioveses and Montepulcianos.

We tasted and blended until early afternoon and once the blends were decided we made for the excellent restaurant 'L'Angolino di Filippo' on the sea front. Absolutely fabulous fresh pasta and seafood finished with a 'sorbeto' – a blend of sparkling wine and lemon sorbet, whipped up with cream into a sort of milkshake – perfect!


Thursday, 3 December 2009

Stunning views this morning of the snow-capped Alps

We flew over Switzerland into Italy, passing Genoa, taking a big left turn from the Mediterranean into Pisa airport.

Soon after landing JMS and I met up with one of our wine buyers, Anne Forest and we hurtled towards Chianti following the Arno river to meet Paolo Masi in Rufina north east of Florence.

Firstly we went to Paolo's winery to see the 2009s and after to the his amazing house on the hill, overlooking the steep vineyards, to taste his range of wines and to work on our special Chai Tuscan red wine – it’s going to be a beauty!

Paolo kindly gave each of us a bottle of his fantastic olive oil made from his own olive groves. At 6pm we made our way to the East coast and then directly 300km south, hugging the coastline down to Ortona, to stay the night and most importantly meet up with Giorgio Flessati and Filippo Baccalaro for dinner!


Wednesday, 2 December 2009

I am writing this on the runway at Heathrow waiting to fly to Pisa for a week-long Italian tasting trip.

Yesterday I collected and prepared 12 full bottle-fresh samples from the Chai of different 2009 'elements' of the Grand Chai Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnays to make the CY and Viogniers for the VC. I then took (or lugged!) these to the UK head office this morning for a blending session with JMS to decide the 2009 final blends.

The 'elements' consisted of the same wines but treated differently; some had malo-lactic, some had barrel ageing (different oaks or age of cask), ferment methods in tanks also differed (yeasts, temperature, lees).

Using all these various components in various proportions we can lift the nose, fatten the palate, sharpen the acidity or increase the palate length. We spent the whole day blending in the professional tasting room until we came to a decision, it takes time as we winemakers are always seeking for the perfect wine!

Sometimes it is good to remove yourself from your normal environment (in my case the Chai) and taste your wines away from home! By the end of the day we had agreed on the blend for the Grand Chai Blanc 2009, CY 2009 and VC 2009.

These wines are scheduled to be bottled in the first week of January so when I am back in the Chai next week I will begin the actual full scale physical blending operation. Blending 3-4 weeks in advance allows the different elements of the blend to be perfectly homogenised prior to bottling.


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Burgundy Trip

Monday 23rd

A bumpy late flight got me to Lyon airport at 11:30 pm where unusually JMS was on time to pick me up! In the car was also Helen McEvoy and Becca Reeves, two of our wine buyers and we whizzed off deep into the Mâconnais arriving 100km’s later in the village of Tournus to stay at the lovely 'Le Rampart' hotel.

Tuesday 24th

After a quick breakfast we all met up to go for a huge tasting at Cave de Mancey with the incredible Bernard Derain! We had a look round the cellar first to see the winemaking facilities (very impressive) and barrel store.

We then found ourselves at Bernard’s wine shop and tasting room where Bernard led us through a wine journey of Burgundy, tasting glasses in hand we started with the whites, followed by the sparkling and finally onto the reds. It was a long but excellent tasting during which we were also entertained by Alain Roy. The 2008’s are superb throughout the whole region and below is a list of a few of what I tasted!


AOC Macon Villages 2006-2009
Cave de Mancey
Domaine Vercheres
Domaine Dupre
Domaine de Borie
Domaine Touzot

Chateau La Saude AOC Montagny 1er cru
Domaine Feuillarde AOC Saint Veran
Domaine Chataignerai La Boirier AOC Pouilly Fuisse
Domaine Michel Briday AOC Rully
Domaine Chambris AOC Haut Cotes de Beaune
Clos du Cronin Bitouzet Prieur AOC Mersault
Bitouzet Prieur AOC Mersault 1er cru
Domaine Vincent et Francois Jouard AOC Chassagne Montrachet
Domaine Vincent et Francois Jouard AOC Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru 'La Maltrose'
Domaine Vincent et Francois Jouard AOC Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru 'La Chaumees'

Red 2008

Domaine Chiofflet-Valdinaire Clos du Choue AOC Givry 1er cru
Domaine Labry AOC Hautes Cotes du Beaune Louis Laquin AOC Satenay
Domaine de Miex-Folout AOC Mecury 1er cru
Domaine des Chambris AOC Hautes Cotes de Nuits Bitouzet-Prieur AOC Volnay Domaine Jerome Sordets AOC Pommard 'Les Vignots'
Domaine Jerome Sordets AOC Pommard 1er cru 'Les Fremiers'
Edmound Cornu AOC Ladoix
Edmound Cornu AOC Ladoix 1er cru 'Le Bois Rousset'
Jean-Claude Belland AOC Aloxe Corton 1er cru
Christian Clergy AOC Chambolle-Musigny
Jean Chauvenet AOC Nuit St.Georges
Dupont-Tisserandot AOC Gevrey Chambertin
Dupont-Tisserandot AOC Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru 'Lavaux Saint Jaques'
Didier Chevillion AOC Gevrey Chambertin 'vieille vignes'
Jean-Claude Belland AOC Chambertin Grand Cru
Dupont-Tisserandot AOC Charmes- Chambertin Grand Cru
Dupont-Tisserandot AOC Mazis- Chambertin Grand Cru

Merci beaucoup Bernard!

We had a well deserved bite to eat and left at 14:30 with a car boot full of Magnums kindly given to us. We headed down through Burgundy and the Rhone towards our next tasting at Domaine de L'hortus in AOC Pic Saint Loup in the Languedoc.

We arrived at l'Hortus just before 6pm and were met by the charismatic Yves and Jean Orliac. We tasted some lovely 2009's including Roussanne, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Gris, barrel fermented Chardonnay, Syrah and Grenache.

Afterwards we tasted the whole range from the 2007 and 2008 vintages. These were absolutely stunning wines and are what we winemakers refer to as 'wines made purely in the vineyard' meaning that there is a huge amount of technical work in the field so that the grapes arrive in such perfection there is minimalistic work in the cellar.

Do look out for more wines from Domaine de l'Hortus – I personally recommend the Dolines de l'Hortus 2007. We said our goodbyes and began the long (450km) drive to meet Andrée Ferrandiz in Narbonne for dinner at the L'estagnol restaurant

Wednesday 25th

Just a short 100km drive today to Limoux to meet Laurent Mingaud and Guihellm Marty at the Sieur d’Arques winery to do a small 45 wine tasting! The tasting included Chardonnays, Viogniers, Mauzacs and a new Roch Lacour vintage, which tasted beautiful and is definitely going to be on my table this Christmas.

At the end of the tasting we were treated to a four-wine tasting of the single vineyards from the Clocher range. The 100% Chardonnay Clochers wines are made from grapes harvested from the most exceptional plots in the four Limoux terroirs with each Clocher wine having the name of its village of origin and its winemaker. The star vineyards from 2007 that we tasted were:

De la Serpent
De la Digne d’Aval
De Tourreilles
De Cepe

For lunch we were all treated to the legendary picnic! Homemade quiches, salads, Spanish Omelette, hams, cheeses, smoked salmon; merci beaucoup Andrée!

After lunch we made our way 25km’s North to Carcassonne for the second of today’s three tastings. We were met at Domaine Lalande by our friend and winemaker Richard Osbourne who was waiting with another 40 wines for us to taste. Richard came to France 20 years ago from Australia for a 3 month flying winemaker contract and never left! He is very funny and kept us very amused during the tasting.

One more tasting to go! So we once again back in the car and retracing our steps to Narbonne to meet Hervé Sabadeil and Laurent Torres. We tasted 53 wines here which included 2009 white Colombards and Ugni Blancs from Gascony, Sauvignons and Chardonnays from the Midi. The reds were also 2009’s and there was some really lovely Grenache, Syrah and Pinot Noirs.

A little fatigued Hervé and Laurent lifted our spirits and invited us to dinner at the fabulous Petit Comptoir restaurant in the centre of Narbonne.

The menu is small but the food is to die for I went for the ris de veau with wild mushrooms matched beautifully with a glass of white AOC Corbières from Chateau Ollieux Romarins. After all the tasting today it felt strange not to spit it out!! Fortunately the hotel was very close by so no late night driving tonight.

Thursday 26th

On the road early back again to Domaine Lalande in Carcassone (getting to know the 50km stretch of road quite well!) to meet the owner Pierre Degrotte, Andrée and the cellar master Antonio to taste the 2009 Whites and the Pinot Noirs.

We tasted 40 wines consisting of Maccabeu, Bourboulenc, Vermentino, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mouvedre and Pinot Noir. Once tasted, JMS and I set to work on blending the 2009 Champs d’Etoile. The Champs d'Etoile 2009 blending components are stunning and this is certainly one to grab when it’s released!

Another Andrée picnic but a very rapid one! We all bundled back into the car and made the last 350km leg of our tour to Bordeaux airport for the 5pm flight to London.

Friday 27th

To finish off the week I went right to the north of the Medoc early this morning to check our 2006 Grand Chai Medoc and to prepare the wine for the upcoming bottling. Our secret source is located on the excellent terroir of Begadon just north of St.Estephe some very good neighbours include Chateaux Rollan de By and Chateau Vieux Robin. The wine was looking very good, really powerful aromas of cassis and spice with a silky palate.

Next week I am off to Italy!