Category Archives: wine

Randall Grahm: Unfined and Unfiltered


The first time I met Randall Grahm we were quite literally running all over the place. It was January 2007 the ’06 wines had just finished fermenting and he hadn’t tasted them yet.  We went from barrel to tank back to barrel, then tank again. He was figuring out what would go in to his top blend Le Cigare Volant.

The guy was twice my age, towered over me like Herman Munster….and I could barely keep up.

I use the word passion very sparingly, it’s written on the back label of far too many bottles, but that was what I was witnessing. Randall Grahm was one of the most focused, intense and passionate winemakers I had ever met and I was completely awestruck.

However one of his best traits is the fact that he gets back to you. In today’s world of fast emails and quick texts people tend to forget about how communication works.  When I first reached out to Randall he didn’t know me from Adam, but still responded insightfully, I only mention this because in the last month alone, I’ve contacted several PR’s to get information for random stories….to no response. What gives?!?
I’ve interviewed Grahm several times now over the years and he is always willing to get back to me, no matter how busy or where he is in the world.  Most importantly, there’s no BS, he’ll give it to me straight.

Below is our latest correspondence.

Randall Grahm Bonny Doon

How do you feel about being awarded the first ever Rhone Ranger, life-time achievement award?
(I wrote about it here for Decanter.com)

I am very touched by the acknowledgment, but being slightly neurotic, it is of course impossible for me to feel that I’ve truly accomplished much. I sometimes say that if were to die anytime soon, people would say, “What a great marketer he was!” and that, of course, would be utterly unsatisfactory (even if I’m dead).  The biggest challenge I have right now is to persuade people that I am more than an interesting historical figure, that the work that I’m doing now , or aspiring to do, is what is really interesting and potentially capable of making a real contribution.

Since you started making Rhônes, how do you think the grapes and styles have progressed in California?

There have been a number of positive developments as well as a few false steps.  As far as the false steps, because our industry is so “hot,” many folks tend to be a bit over-anticipatory, i.e. eager to jump to the “next thing” before the “next thing” is really properly understood.  We were a bit irrationally exuberant about a number of Rhône grape varieties – Viognier was imagined to be the next great white variety.  It’s an interesting grape, but really a fairly specialized one.  Syrah (see comments below) has largely been a great missed opportunity, with so many plantings going in in inappropriate areas.  In a very real sense, the great recent success of the wine industry has also created a number of big problems.  I think the biggest has been the new level of competition and the enormous financial pressure that wineries now experience.  This has tended to largely discourage risk-taking and experimentation, and (with a few notable exceptions) results in a startling sameness of wine styles.  I am not a great lover of the over-extracted, over-ripe, over-oaked International Style, but many producers feel this is crucial to achieve notice in the wine press, and that without high point scores they will be unable to sell their wine. (They’re probably right.)  While there may have been a macro-trend toward the consolidation of wine styles, this has also engendered a (healthy) micro-trend of some distinctive wines being made.  There are now some truly fabulous Rhône style wines made in California that did not exist before.

Pace pinot noir, American winemakers are still mostly looking for big, blockbuster styles and want to make wines that “make a statement.”  (We seek imminence on the palate.)  But not only do many winemakers seek powerful wines, they are also seeking wines that have great economic viability, i.e. can be grown at very high yields/acre.  The problem is that many wineries don’t quite understand that these dual objectives are generally speaking, somewhat mutually exclusive; you have to choose one horse or the other.  As a result, some anemic wines end up artificially enhanced with the various tricks at a winemaker’s disposal, and you get a bit of an anonymous wine at best, a gloopy mess, at worst.  On the other hand, people are now planting Grenache for the first time in years, which is enormously heartening. Go figure!  (Might the Mayan Calendar be correct after all?)  (What I would really love to see is the proliferation of low-tech, low-input, low-yielding, dry-farmed, head-trained vyds., but that might be a while to come.)

2008 Bonny Doon Cigare Volant "En Foudre"

2008 Bonny Doon Cigare Volant “En Foudre”


Although it is a life-time achievement do you feel you still have more up your sleeve, so to speak?

I think that I really have a great contribution yet to make, if I can live long enough and can find the financial wherewithal to make some of these projects happen. The basic tragic flaw of the American Rhône Ranger movement is that in a very real sense, we are utterly derivative.  We are would-be/could be Rhône clones, and generally the best thing we can say about ourselves is how Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie-like are our efforts.  This, of course, is utterly absurd, but begs the question of how we in the New World might ultimately arrive at creating our own unique style that speaks to our place rather than is so hopelessly referential.  If we can achieve that, we have then truly grown up.

You are known for going off the normal grid with your viticulture/winemaking practices and the grapes you use.

What sites or grapes are you working with now that you find particularly interesting?

I’m working to develop a beautiful piece of property in San Juan Bautista, and hoping to do so with a unique approach of de-emphasizing varietal characteristics, so that a different aspect – the soil characteristics – might therefore emerge.  This would be/might be (no one knows!) accomplished by creating a highly diverse population of genetically distinctive grapes, planted from seeds rather than from cuttings.  Honestly, if I could somehow contrive to produce a wine in the New World that evinced a real sense of place, that would be a true accomplishment of a far greater magnitude than popularizing a particular grape variety or wine style (or making the world safe for screwcaps).  A vin de terroir is something that is capable of nourishing and enriching people’s lives in a way that far transcends the most artful wine of effort.  I’m not yet certain which grapes I will use to create these new varieties, but certainly Mediterranean grapes that have significant drought resistance will play a role.  The real question for me is how to grow grapes in a fairly dry climate (dry-farming is absolutely an imperative) while still producing a wine of some real finesse.  This is my morning meditation.

Bonny Doon Randall Grahm

What do you think is the current state of Rhone in California, particularly Syrah? (last time I asked you that, you felt there was a divide…is that still the case?)

There is still a great divide between people who chase point scores with massive wines and those who make quieter wines of elegance and finesse (and have to sell every single bottle themselves, one by one).  The fact that one can now find some beautiful California Syrahs that are under 14% alcohol, some even under 13% (or 12%) is enormously heartening.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by the great classic wines made by traditional winemakers, who work  diligently without a lot of pretense to produce wines expressive of their unique terroir.  Our culture is somewhat addicted to the “new” and “progressive,” but greatness is greatness, and to experience that is always thrilling to me.

 Bonny Doon Winery is in Santa Cruz – you can find more information and their wine on their website https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/

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Fortifying Santa Barbara


In Britain, drinking Port wine around Christmas is about as quintessentially English as drinking cups of tea, hiring a chimney sweep, or being rain-soaked. Technically speaking, Port should have all the boxes checked for a blockbuster, 100-pointer, trendy wine: huge and full-bodied, rich multilayered depth, sweetness (that is Amarone sweet, not sickly sweet) and most of all high in alcohol.

santa barbara

Suffice to say, Port has an image problem.  Maybe because it’s the festive tipple of choice for old Aunt Rose and Uncle Harry or maybe it’s not as fashionable as Pinot Noir, who is to know?  What we can say however, here in Santa Barbara, port and other fortified wine has a lot going for it, mostly the diversity in choice.

There are a handful of wineries making some sort of fortified wine style.  It might be the traditional Port using grapes found in Portugal, or a New World take on one of the oldest of Old World wines.  It’s not all Port in Santa Barbara though, as there are also some fine examples of other types of fortified wines.

Port 101

Port is one of the oldest traded wine commodities and its roots are deep in British culture, mostly because they discovered it.  In the late 1680’s, King William III of England embargoed and later heavily taxed any trading with France.  In search of quenching their wine thirst English merchants traveled south and eventually found their way to Oporto, the second largest city of Portugal, and the mouth of the Douro River.

The Douro is a beautifully winding river with steep cliffs on either side, terraced with vines.  It is also considered the oldest demarcating region in the world, having its appellations mapped out in the late 1700’s.  Due to the heat the grapes tend to get very ripe resulting in fermentation that is quick, fast, and culminates in a wine deep in color and high in alcohol.  This type of wine proved to be a major hit back in London and donned the name ‘blackstrap.’  Evidently, it was also perfect for fortifying.

Rick Longoria walking his vineyard

Rick Longoria walking his vineyard

It was while shipping this wine from Portugal for its rough sea journey to the Britain that merchants would top the barrels up with a measure of brandy, to help with stabilization.  However, the wine that Port derives from today, was actually being made by an abbot in a monastery of the town of Lamego, located in the high altitude mountains above the Douro river.  It was discovered by sons of a Liverpudlian wine merchant, they found the abbot adding brandy to partial fermented wine rather than the finished wine and thus started the British love affair with Port.

Fortified not Late Harvested

Fortified wine is any wine that has had a high alcohol spirit, usually brandy, added to it.  Although port wine grapes are usually picked later, it is not to be confused with late harvested wine.  These are grapes picked late to make dessert wine, high in sugar content but low in alcohol.

Daniel Gehrs Fireside Port
Daniel Gehrs Fireside Port

The winemaking process for fortified wine is very much like that of regular still wine, only with a few added steps.  Of course starting off with the grapes, you set them off on their primary (alcoholic) fermentation. However, instead of letting the wine stop fermenting naturally, you prematurely stop it by adding the brandy.  The brandy will kill all the yeast thus disallowing the fermentation to continue and leaving you with a rich, full-bodied, sweet wine, high in alcohol (because of the brandy).Consilience Zinfandel Port

Here in Santa Barbara or half way across the world in Portugal, the process is the same, the difference being that California, unlike the Old World wine producing countries, has no governing body monitoring the process.  This in turn allows for a variety of styles from the producers, all making fortified wine, all making it similar to the process above, yet all with a twist of uniqueness making it Californian in its own right.

Gypsy Canyon Winery and Vineyard 

Gypsy Canyon Angelica

Gypsy Canyon Angelica – photo cred: http://californiawinereport.blogspot.com/

While scoping out her new property to plant Pinot Noir in Lompoc, Deborah Hall owner and winemaker of Gypsy Canyon, in Santa Rita Hills, happened upon a vine, then another and another.  Soon thereafter she discovered that she was standing in a three acre Mission grape vineyard, mostly like planted in the late 1880’s by Franciscan monks.  It had been hidden for all these years, under sage brush.

Since very few wineries use the grape any more Hall headed to the Santa Barbara Archives Library figuring the padres had the most experience with the varietal.  What she found was that the local padres did in fact use the grapes to make wine and actually used it to make a fortified wine called Angelica.  Hall uses the same winemaking recipe she found in the archives.  In the archives she also found a note by Father Dúran to Governor Figueroa stating that although the white wine made at the San Gabriel Mission was used at the altar, the wine called Angelica should be used for—whatever.  The vines used are on still on their own roots and not grafted, and it is only producing Mission vineyard in California over 100 years old.  “I’ve named the v

ineyard, Dona Marcelina’s Vineyard, in honor of the first woman wine grower in California.”

Lucas and Llewelyn Vineyards

L&L has been a making a port style wine for about ten years.  What is unique here is that each year the port variety changes.  Sometimes it’ll be Merlot other years maybe Syrah.  It changes because they like to use the grapes that will gain the most ripeness each year.  Megan McGrath Gates, head winemaker, (who I incidentally went to high school with at Midland, in Los Olivos) very much enjoys this non-dedicated method.

Megan McGrath

When not making wine Megan doubles as a hand model.

“We are very humble in our approach to making port.  I’ve been to the Douro and wouldn’t try to sell our wine as traditional, rather we are almost throwing caution in the wind, we are trying to be creative and have had really good results.”

Daniel Gehrs Winery

Dan Gehrs has been making port wine in the California since the late 70’s and continued to do so when he moved to Santa Barbara in the early 90’s.  For his port wine Gehrs sources fruit, a mix of traditional Portuguese grape varieties, from Amador and Madera County.  He finds that he really like the grapes coming out of northern California, also soils, particularly in Amador, are similar to those found in the Douro.  “Port is the most fashionable of fortified wines, it has a great history with the Portuguese and the English.  I have always admired Portuguese ports, I enjoy the wine and making it, but it’s a challenge as a winemaker to work along those lines and produce something that is reasonably outstanding.  Striving for perfection the Fireside Port is the wineries mainstay, while Gehrs also makes a ten year old tawny as well as various other single variety ports.

Consilience

Brett Escalera has made a Zinfandel port since the inception Consilience, in 1999.  Originally, he thought o make a Zin table wine but it came in so ripe he ended up making it in to port.  “I love port and love dessert wines. The genesis of my port was out of a necessity.  Here I was with these grapes that I knew make a decent table wine out of, so what do you do when life hands you lemons—you make lemonade.” “The flavor profile really exudes Zin. That’s what distinguishes it from traditional port.  It’s a California port in the fact that it tastes so much of and has loads of Zin character.”

Longoria Wines

Rick Longoria is making a port style wine from Syrah, just enough for the tasting room pretty much every other year since 2004.  Much like Escalera at Consilience the original vintage was a matter of consequence.  When some Syrah grapes arrived he felt they were way too ripe for his style of Syrah.  “I know for a lot of guys it would have been ideal to make some killer Robert Parker scoring wine, but for me, it wasn’t the winery’s style,  I said gosh, let’s look into a dessert wine.”  It has worked out well for Longoria, and Vino Dulce ended one of the bestselling wines.  He feels like Syrah is good grape to use as it keeps its spicy character and wants to offer a different take on the traditional style.

 

Margerum Wine Company

Margerum Amaro

Magerum Amaro….aka ‘the bomb’

Doug Margerum is making more of an herbal digestif than a port-style wine.  It’s called Amaro and its closest known relative on the shop shelf would probably be Fernet-Branca.  Much like port the wine is fortified with brandy, however with a few added ingredients, “roots and bark, lemon and orange peel and just about anything else I can find” explains Margerum.  He found when traveling through Italy, all the little wineries would have a house Amaro, each time similar in taste yet unique to the winery.  Upon returning he decided Margerum too would have an Amaro to share with its visitors.

It is made in the solera system where barrels all bleed into each other, vintage after vintage or in Margerum’s case – batch after batch.  It is an aging style used to make Sherry wine and creates wine that consistently tastes the same year after year despite using different vintages in the process.  Although Amaro goes well by itself, especially after dinner, Margerum like mixing it into his ‘Perfect Manhattan.’

Fess Parker Winery

Fess Parker Winery has had made a non-vintage port off and on since 2000.  The original idea came when Eli Parker (Fess’ son) planted a vineyard of traditional port wine grapes, at his house.  Now with Blair Fox at the helm the tradition continues.  “Fortified wines are cool because they have that aged, nutty, oxidized character that you don’t typically look for in young still wine.  The uniqueness here is Fess Parker are using traditional port style gr

Fess Parker Winery

The man

apes, the likes of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao–grown in Santa Barbara County.

Although we may not have the rain and sleet of British weather, our nights do get cold.  What a perfect time to crack open a bottle of port to warm yourself up with a few sips.  Santa Barbara is spoiled for choice when it comes to fortified wines and any of the above would be perfect after a meal, with cheese or dessert, or better yet, in your favorite seat next to a log burning fire.  Enjoy.

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Garagiste Festival, taking the wine show helm in Paso Robles


Now that Hospice du Rhône has vacated the festival ‘throne’ in Paso Robles, CA there is an opening for a newly crowned king.  The Garagiste Festival is only in its second year but might very well be the heir apparent.

There is a2nd Annual Garagiste Festival Paso Robles sameness recipe that a lot of wine shows just can’t seem to break.  Endless rows of clothed folding tables in some sort of pavilion or civic center, a of mass people all who all seem to be asking for the same wine and of course the tiny ISO approved wine glass.

Well there is a light at the end of the dimly lit wine show tunnel and it just might be The Garagiste Festival.  It’s breaking the wine show mold and this is partly due to the grounds they host the show on, Windfall Farms.  A converted barn, gives a more intimate feel when you chat to the producers.  It only allows wineries producing 1200 bottles or less to pour their wine, so a lot of the wineries here don’t have their own pump, let alone a tasting room.

I enjoy this show because you are going to find a few of gems.  Last year I discovered one of the most serious natural wine producers in the Central Coast, Ambyth Estates,
who proved that wines with acidity exist  in the land of big fruit and even bigger alcohol.

Another positive on the Garagiste front is the total lack of fluff and glitter that tends to pair far too often with wine shows.  I have no doubt this is due mainly to the one of the show’s co-founders, Stewart McLennan.  Stewart, who’s an Aussie, is all you would expect in a brash, to the point, no-nonsence antipodean.  Such personalities are very welcome in the slightly plastic Californian wine world.

I asked Stewart if he was taking Hospice’s spot “I don’t want to be the next Hospice, I don’t like their time slot in Summer and I don’t want to lose our location here. I do however want to grow Garagiste to include wineries from oversees like they did.” There are also rumors/rumblings of the Garagiste Festival traveling out side of Paso to other wine regions in California….I’ll be the first to support that,  and wish the supporters luck in their quest.

So, of the 48 some producers on show, here are my favorites, no particular order.

Ground Effect – Nick de Luca’s wine was one of the few from Santa Barbara County. Nick’s very into low, low sulfur use btw.  2011 Rock Garden is a blend of Syrah/Grenache/Zin – it had some dense concentration, a deep of berries, lavender and herb like finish.

2010 Ground Effect Rock Garden

2010 Ground Effect Rock Garden

Stage Left Cellars  – Melinda Doty and her husband make their wine in Oakland.

The 2009 The Escape Artist is 100% Syrah from Watch Hill Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.  Lovely fruit on this one with loads of spice and minerals.

2009 Stage Left Cellars The Escape Artist

2009 Stage Left Cellars The Escape Artist

Chris Von Holt  of Von Holt had a 2010 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard from Russian River Valley. Really liked this Pinot sour cherry fruit and pencil lead minerality, some nice tarry asphalt as well.

He just got mentioned as of one of Jon Bonné’s Top 100 in the Chronicle too (good job guys).  Also, interesting to note, you hear about ex-lawyers/doctors retiring into the wine world.  Well Chris was a secret service man – working with a bunch of different presidents and a certain president’s daughter who went to Stanford!!!!

2010 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley

2010 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley

Paix Sur Terre is owned by Ryan and Nicole Pease – their making Rhône blends – Particularly liked the 2010 Passenger, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre all though the alcohol was a bit high for me at 15.6%, the wine still came out quite balanced.  Labels are pretty sweet too. Their 2010 The Other One was quite a good tipple as well of mostly Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah.

2010 Paix sur Terre Passenger

2010 Paix sur Terre Passenger

2010 Paix Sur Terre The Other One

2010 Paix Sur Terre The Other One

Les Deux Chats – Being an owner of two cats myself how could I not mention these guys!

Liked the 2010 Viognier, despite being from the fairly hot climate of Lodi and having 15.4% alcohol (WOW!!!) the wine was surprisingly soft, well balanced, not flabby and very pleasant.

2010 Les Deux Chat Ripken Vineyard Viognier

2010 Les Deux Chat Ripken Vineyard Viognier

Amy Butler of Ranchero Cellars, named after her vintage Ford Rancero, sources her 2010 Carignan from 5ft high ancient vines up in Mendocino.  Love this stuff and had it last year….this vintage was actually better than the ’09 I had last time. Also, just found out Amy won “Spirit of Garagiste’ award! Congratulations!

2010 Ranchero Cellars Carignan

2010 Ranchero Cellars Carignan

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Vindictive ***hole? No, it’s Volatile Acidity! please vote


Partly due to this article http://huff.to/jKqGDN that rubbed me the wrong way and partly due to a wine I cracked open last night…I would like to know your thoughts on Volatile Acidity….the notorious VA!

his is your brain on Ethyl Acetate

This is your brain on Ethyl Acetate

I am a fan.  This is mostly influenced by the winemaker guy, Gavin Crisfield, I worked  for  in the Languedoc.  Gavin really likes VA and played the winemaker’s equivalent of Russian roulette by intentionally oxidizing his wines, mostly in the form of long barrel aging.

But faithful readers…what are your thoughts?

Would you be so kind as to vote below…merci.

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I seem to write about Pinot a lot, even though it’s not my fav grape


The story of Sanford Winery isn’t a happy one, but a story nonetheless told time and time again through the history of wine.  Sanford was one of the top Pinot Noir producers in Santa Barbara for much of the late 80’s and 90’s.  Richard Sanford set up the organic vineyard and to cut a long story short….the place ended up going to the man.

However, all is not lost – because the vineyards are still in operation and the grapes bought by the very famous winery Au Bon Climat, (aka ABC).

Au Bon Climat (ABC) Pinot Noir

I tried the ABC Sanford & Benedict recently and was quickly reminded of how good the Pinot in Santa Barbara is, especially from the popular Santa Rita Hills…although it still has some time there is lots of cherry, some herbs and a savoury, velvet-like palate. The wine does come at a price though, averaging about £25.  Find it though, and you should be happy.  Here are some agents that sell it online, found them on wine-searcher.com also Berry Bros sells a lot of the ABC range.

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Wine books…always a crap shoot


Wine books that list wines are always going to be a tough read – you have to be interested in wines and not mind sleuthing around chapter after chapter for interesting tipples.

When you are starting out in the wine world they are an amazing resource.  For instance, when I first moved to the UK I had a part-time job at Sainsbury’s, stocking the wine shelves no less.  At all times I kept Hugh Johnson’s little pocket book in my pocket, this of course led to countless old ‘are you happy to see me?’ lines but in all seriousness I was forever referring to it in a bid to not stock the shelves. In short, it was a useful way to relate myself with wines that make up that  great wall of wine available in our supermarkets.

Robert Parker’s Great Value Wines isn’t much different to the other listing wine books, except that no wine is more than £20. Robert Parker, btw, is the best known wine critic in the States and considered one of the most influential people in the wine world.  And it’s unfair to say that Robert Parker himself chose all these wines because of the 22 chapters he only does two, the rest are compiled by his tasting team.

One of the team who I pay particular attention to is David Schildknecht. Firstly, because he covers my favourite region the Languedoc, secondly because his notes are some of the most concise and detailed I have come across and lastly because of passages like below:

Furthermore, Roussillon is arguably the most exciting – perhaps last –
wine-growing frontier of France, now overrun by new-comers from
all over France and abroad, lured by the smell of vinous black gold.

Some may argue that he is a bit too wordy… whatever, I find his writing to be some of the most interesting in the wine world.

As lists books go this is a very complete collection of wines. However, the overwhelming problem with the book is that a very great number of the great value wines are not available in the UK, so we are immediately losing the saving in shipping costs!

I can’t help but think the book was written for the American market and in post-editing all dollar signs were replaced with pound sterling.

One of the highlights of the books is the in depth analysis before each region by the Parker taster who specialises in that region.  However, there are dramatic inconsistencies with each one.  The wordy Schildknecht gives the reader lots to pour over as does Antonio Galloni and Neal Martin (although where Neal Martin actually list sub-regions Schildknecht integrates the sub-regions into the text). Dr. Jay Miller on the other hand and even worse Robert Parker himself are very limited in what they say in their chapters.  Parker reviews Bordeaux and California each only receiving an intro of one page, yet the two regions are some of the bigger chapters in the book…

Despite this, there is a great section in each country’s introduction called drinking curves, a quick synopsis of the ageability, in a very general sense, of the region’s wines… however for some reason not every country has one.

There was a great opportunity in this book to take over where the now no longer printed Wine Report left off. Although I would never imagine this book to be as in depth as the Wine Report it could have had a very good stab at giving the reader a detailed look at what’s happening in each region.

Lastly, anytime I see a listing wine book I instinctively search for the winery I spent most of my time working at, that is Domaine La Sauvageonne, in the Terasses du Larzac, deep within the Coteaux du Languedoc. And I can happily say that it is not only listed but two wines are included – you can find Les Ruffes and Pica Broca both at everywine.com

Great Value Wines is good idea and areas of the book are interesting but with the lack of UK suppliers and the inconsistencies chapter to chapter, overall this wine list book sadly seems incomplete.

The folks at DK kindly sent me the book to review.

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January blues wine of the month


No pay check till Feb? No problem!

You can still get a bottle of decent white wine from the South West of France at the shrapnel price of £3.99.

Made from Producteurs Plaimont it is called Vieille Fontaine and available at Tesco Extra.  It’s made in the Gers region of SW France (They are famous in the States for the Colombelle wine).

This guy is a crispy bomb! A completely refreshing tipple. Lots of citrus loveliness mixed in with granny smith apples. The grapes are of the local sort – Colombard and Ugni blanc.

As for my food pairing. Well eggs are a notorious wine killer – usually they only go with bubbly stuff, but Vieille Fontaine went perfectly with the omelette – it’s all about the acidity in the wine cutting through the egginess of the, uhm, well, eggs.
A great pairing at a super budget price.

My bottle of Vielle Fontaine was kindly sent to me by the folks at Westbury (thanks Sandra) but if you would like your own, and I highly suggest you try it out,  they’re at Tesco Extra.

Vielle Fontaine 2008 £3.99 available at Tesco Extra (and online for even cheaper)

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not a winter warmer…but as fresh as they come


Here’s a quick video on the Innocent Bystander’s – slightly bubbly Pink Moscato 2009

It was full of aromas and had lots and lots of berry fruit just jumping out of the glass.
And by no means sickly, with bubbles and balanced acidity it just cleansed the palate.

Available at various online retailers – check wine-searcher and Harvey-Nics for about £5.99 – that’s a half-bottle, by the way.

innocent bystander pink moscato 2009

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Find your perfect match without online dating


Perfecting the fine art of food and wine matching takes nothing more than practice. And what better way to hone your expertise than diving in to the sinful world of gluttony.
There are times it just goes all wrong but those are out weighed massively for the times it goes all right!
Just before Christmas I was invited by Scott Burton (@scottburton) of Cube Communications to what seemed to be a very interesting food and wine tasting: ‘we’ll see if top end Aussie wine can stand up to Michelin starred French cuisine’.

Hmmmm…Besides steak I didn’t know Oz had anything ‘top end’,  and the restaurant was Roussillon so I at least knew one variable in the equation would work out!

Each dish matched individually to a McGuigan wine – and must say overall Roussillon’s food is superb.

Here are descriptions of my three favourite food and wine matchings (out of  the 5)

Perfect Partner

Milk Fed Lamb & Thyme – Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Lamb and Bordeaux is a classic food and wine match and the Aussie substitute didn’t by any means back down from this challenge.
There was loads of blackcurrant with this Cabernet but also a mistletoe/mint leaf flavour that slotted in like a puzzle piece with the thyme rubbed lamb.

McGuigan Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (thanks to Mathilde Cuisine for photo)

Match Made

Lobster & Purple Basil – Light Lobster Bisque infused with Purple Basil, Scallops & Confit Tomatoes Tortellini Mcguigan’s Earth’s Portrait Riesling 2004

Lobster & Purple Basil

Matching a wine here would be especially difficult as it would need to fit snugly between the buttery exploding richness of the lobster bisque and the delicate scallop flavour and texture.
Riesling is perfect for the job!  And Earth’s Portrait is an amazing example of what Australia can do with grape.  The distinct Riesling nose of kerosin/diesel backed by raw peach and stone fruits filled the acidity gaps in the dish. The wine is very fresh too and almost cleans the palate with every sip, that is despite it being 6 years old.
Riesling is a go to wine for many of London’s sommeliers, the Aus stuff  is especially good for matching with a variety of winged and finned foods.

McGuigan Earth’s Portrait Riesling 2004

STAR PAIRING

Wild Sea Bass & Razor Clams with Sechuan Pepper matched perfectly with the Bin 9000 Semillon 2003

Wild Sea Bass & Razor Clams (thanks to Mathilde Cuisine for photo)

Australian Semillon is some of the best in the world and, as you can see, this wine came littered with awards. This little guy threw out pear skin and apple pulp from the glass and was especially crisp.

Bin 9000 went perfect with the fish/clam duo – the sea aromas from the plate stacked up well with the chalky/mineral/saline sparkling water flavours in the wine. But even better, the wine did not shy away from the light touch of spiciness in the dish.
When things get spicy in food it’s usually time to call up some off-dry and even semi-sweet wine, but no, this dry bastard was having none of it!
Above all the combined freshness of the wine and food really stood out.

Bin 9000 Semillon 2003 with Mcguigan's white wine maker Peter Hall

Sadly, you won’t find any of these premium wines in the UK, however, I’ve heard reliable rumours that Tesco.com will be doing a VERY limited premium mix case soonish and it might have some of this stuff in it…..stay tuned I will let you know when it’s out.

Any chef who openly winds up their sommelier on Twitter deserves a mention on this blog! In fact any chef who twitters from the kitchen deserves recognition. Follow Alexis here @roussillon_sw1

Alexis Gauthier is the man behind Roussillon

Finally,  had to add a picture of this guy.  Neil McGuigan is chief winemaker and heir to McGuigan wines.  He is hilarious, and really knows how to have a good time. Despite being completely jet-lagged and on a very regimented wine tour, he was by far the most energetic in the room.
It’s when you meet personalities like Neil that you realise all is not pompous in the wine trade.

Neil McGuigan - keeping the wine trade in check

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Rhone Gang – making wines you can’t refuse


Have you heard of the Rhône Gang? No? It’s probably because they are still underground, peddling their wares to mob bosses across the land.  Or most-likely because they are just recently being launched in the UK.
I ran into them two years ago at Vinisud.  Then, they were talented, Rhône winemakers trying to promote themselves en force, only at the begining of their underworld rulings.

The Rhone Gang - during their more innocent times

Now, things have changed. Individually, the wines are still excellent and have been recognised by some very influential wine writers on both sides of the pond.  But even better, and what sets them apart from other winery alliances (the Douro Boys for instance) is the Rhône Gang are making wine under their own Rhône Gang label, and it’s good.  Recently, Jason Haynes of Flint Wines (the Gang’s UK affiliation), made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, to come and try the wines, reviews are below.

During their un-steady younger years. Sadly, Pencil-head Eddie (on the far left) died tragically in a hose-pipe incident

I’ve also heard on good authority, that  Wanted 2006 is one of the most popular wines at the newly opened Galvin La Chapelle and that no strong arm tactics were used to get it a listing.

With this combination of good wine, creative labels and quirky website, the Rhône Gang is destined to be a hit in the next decade.

The Gangsters are comprised of the wineries – Avitus, Ch de Montfaucon, Ch Pesquié and Ch de St Cosme

Hold Up 2007

The Rhône Gang £9.95  Pinot Noir/Grenache Flint Wines –  0207 582 2500 www.flintwines.com

WTF. A Pinot/Grenache (70/30) blend from the Rhône?!?! Something we might see from Australia but France…JAMAIS!!

This wine throws away all those ‘France can’t compete with new world innovation’ accusations out with the spit-bucket. Pinot is sourced from Burgundy and Grenache from S.Rhône, as most of you might know, two completely separate areas on the French wine map. Sure we see Shiraz-Cabernet blends from Australia and there are Pinot blends from Chile.  In France, it’s sacrilege to openly blend wine with that from other regions (I say openly, because lots of wineries do it illegaly).

Fragrant, savoury, cherry (Pinot) nose and juicy red berry (Grenache) on the palate, backed by soft tannins. A very nice, every day drinking wine.

Wanted 2006

The Rhône Gang £23.50 Grenache/Syrah.Mourvèdre/Carignan/Cinsault and Cournoise
Flint Wines – 0207 582 2500 www.flintwines.com

Heavy, rich nose that is full of fruit and gushing with blackberries. It tastes just as good as it smells and is actually kind of savoury with rich, concentrated berry flavours…all that and perfectly balanced.

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