#NZV16 Day 25

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The amazing Bill who always puts a smile on my dial. BTW this isn’t his usual attire, it was short shorts and crazy socks day today.

Here are two vids for you as I missed yesterday (apologies).

Yesterday was a day of three halves – which I know doesn’t make sense – however it is quite fitting for the roller coaster of emotions that yesterday brought about.

It was smooth sailing in the early morning with lines being set up for rose (for which the juice tasted delicious). I had the wonderful feeling of thinking I was finally getting the hang of this new cellar hand business. Then we were setting up for the Sauvignon Blanc mountain that was heading our way that afternoon. Set up was complete, lines organised, tubs and hoses all cleaned out, presses at the ready… when we were asked to re-set in a completely different way. Basically this means changing the hoses, tubs, lines, the lot, and re-cleaning the lines. Which I’m sure for those that have worked in wineries before is no biggie. But for newbies like myself this is a lot of work and a tad frustrating, especially when you’re still trying to get your head around Y’s, T’s, where valves need to go, and the effort that goes into dragging long 3 inch hoses from one end of the cellar to the other. It was also the first 12 hour shift and I had the not very helpful ‘hangry’ going on. All in all not a good mix.

BUT

All the cliche’s for you now – time is a healer, the ability to reflect is a wonderful thing, tomorrow is another day. All so true. Oh and a glass of wine after work is fantastic!

The afternoon was really fun. Sauvignon Blanc was flowing and I got to work the receival bin. This involves greeting the truck drivers and checking the grapes for any oil or rot, processing the driver and tonnage paperwork, running the receival bin, crusher and destemmer, pumping all the goodness to the press and also doing any additions to the grapes (enzyme in this case). It’s really cool and quite quick. We were having trucks with between 8 to 10 tonnes turning up around every 20 minutes. So we’re sending around a tonne through the pump to the press every 90 seconds or so. As the grapes flew so did the time and the final 6 hours of the day went by in a blink of the eye (just to continue the cliche thread).

Today it rained…

so I got to calibrate the volume of tanks….

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Oz – the land of variety!

Tonight at work I hosted our first New World Wonders wine course. We tend to provide many courses focused on the old world countries of France, Italy and Spain, so it was about time we offered our punters a more in-depth look at what the new world has to offer. Proceedings kicked off with New Zealand and Australia and quite rightly so – with these two being so popular in the UK due to the quality and diversity of wines they produce.

New Zealand…diversity…why yes indeed! We didn’t even touch a drop of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc tonight, or anything from Marlborough for that matter. Instead we headed a hour or so drive from Marlborough, through the Rai Valley (where those wonderful river scenes were shot for the latest Hobbit film) and over to Nelson.

Nelson shares many of the same climatic features and grape varieties that we find in Marlborough. However production here is tiny in comparison. Tonight we tasted the 2012 Seifried Pinot Gris.

ImageThis wine proved to be the most popular still white with the group tonight. I was particularly enamored with its rich, luscious texture, complemented with crisp acidity. The palate delivered pear, crystallized ginger and banana and the finish was long and layered.

The rest of the Kiwi contingent consisted of the 2012 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago Pinot Noir and the 2010 Cable Bay Five Hills Merlot – Malbec. Both were fab and I’ll go into more detail another day. But I want to get stuck into the Oz line up as the diversity we sampled was super!

We started with fizz – the best way to start of course. And it was the Blind Spot Sparkling Brut from Tasmania which went down a treat. Everyone voted this their best value wine of the night and for £13.95 from the Wine Society, it certainly is a steal.

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Crisp, clean and complex. The Blind Spot delivered lemon, toast, yeast, sharp apple and slightly softer peach on the palate. With its creamy mousse and long length, I found this one hard to spit out (in fact I may have accidentally swallowed it). This is the fizz I want to be drinking throughout the London summer, on Tooting Common with a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel.

Next it was onto the Vasse Felix Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc – Semillon. The Sauvignon dominated the palate with all of its herbaceous goodness, the Semillon provided texture and softened out the acidity. Very refreshing and good value from Waitrose at £13.99.

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The 2012 Grant Burge Miamba Barossa Shiraz displayed all of the character that an Australian Shiraz should. Preserved cherries, cassis, a grind of black pepper and smokey, sweet oak delivered powerfully. I’m always struck by the value that Australian Shiraz provides – you get a lot of wine for your pound in terms of quality and flavour. It was crying out for a side of meat but we soldiered on and nibbled away on some blue cheese and strong cheddar.

079Our final wine for the night was the Stanton & Killeen Classic Rutherglen Muscat.

081Until the 1960’s, fortified wine was the most popular style of wine in Australia. It wasn’t until migrants from Europe brought with them their wine culture and knowledge that ‘light wine’ production started to dominate. The Seppelt family, for example, have been making fortified wine in the Barossa since 1878.

The Stanton and Killeen Classic Rutherglen Muscat was my favourite drop of the night. Now, it is certainly sweet, but not cloyingly so. There’s lovely acidity in this wine, but it’s the flavour which is magic. Orange peel, raisin, toffee, caramel, coffee and just the beginnings of mushroom sneak through. It has a massive length and paired wonderfully with blue cheese and dark chocolate. A great alternative to old world sweet wines and available at the Wine Society for £16.95 (375ml).

I feel that tonight, we still just scratched the surface of Australia’s’ wide wine range. And over the coming months, I will certainly be delving further into what this huge and diverse country has to offer. I hope you do too.

Three Kiwi Pinots

I recently got to select three examples of Pinot Noir from New Zealand, at different price points, for a tasting we were hosting at West London Wine School. Being a massive fan of Pinot Noir (this grape is my usual Friday night tipple) I was rather excited by this mission.

For the purpose of the tasting, I chose wines that have wonderful people and great stories behind them. I believe that it’s not just the flavour and the texture of a wine that can bring pleasure – but also knowledge about the place, the people and how the wine’s made that can enable a fuller and more pleasurable experience. 

My first two wines were from Marlborough. Although Marlborough has a cool climate – moderated by the ocean breezes, we also get a lot of sun. Around 700 hours more than is needed for grapes to fully ripen. Some of the grapes for the first two wines were sourced from the Wairau Valley. The Maori refer to the Wairau Valley as ‘Kei puta te Wairau’ – the place with the hole in the cloud. When you are in Marlborough, standing out in the sun, soaking up the big blue skies, you feel like you’re frying. Due to the angle NZ is to the sun, there is less ozone for the rays to shine through. 

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Marlborough is a region where sunscreen is a must. What this extra sun does to the grapes, is it allows the skins to get a bit thicker – giving more colour to the wine and a bit more tannin, as well as riper fruit flavour. Overall, a fuller, silkier style of Pinot Noir is produced.

To balance out this intense sun, in the late afternoon a cool, refreshing easterly breeze flows in from the ocean, dramatically reducing the temperature. Sometimes during the ripening season, there can be a 30 degree change in temperature, which grapes love. It allows the acidity to remain high and the ripening season to extend – giving more concentration of flavour. 

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My first selection was the 2012 Matua Pinot Noir, available from £8.99 (Tooting Bec Food and Wine) to £12.49 (Majestic). Matua produce great quality wines at affordable prices and won the IWSC trophy for New Zealand Producer of the Year 2012. 

This wine is made by head winemaker Nikolai St George. A touch of Central Otago fruit is blended to give depth. Three days cold soak prior to fermentation extracts more colour, tannin and flavour. A small proportion is aged in oak for 8 months.

I love this wine because I can buy it at my local food and wine in Tooting for under a tenner. When I drink it, it transports me home. The texture is smooth and the I can picture the big, blue sunny skies of Marlborough as I taste the ripe cherries and hint of sweet spice and smoky oak.  Great on its own, but matches terribly well with lamb chops or smoked cheese.

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Wine number two was the Jules Taylor Pinot Noir from Marlborough which is available at Vagabond in Fulham for £19.99. I’ve been a fan of Jules Taylor wines for a long time and have been especially impressed in the past by her Gruner Veltliner.  

After initially training as a Zoologist, Jules studied winemaking and viticulture at Lincoln University and worked vintages in Piedmont, Sicily, Australia and Cloudy Bay before taking on her own venture and producing her first vintage under the Jules Taylor label in 2001. Jules won the IWSC trophy for New Zealand Producer of the Year 2013. 

For her Pinot Noir she sources her grapes from quality contract growers in the Wairau and Southern Valleys. Grapes are handpicked and allowed to cold soak for 5-10 days. Indigenous yeasts and lees maturation bring complexity and rewarding weight to this wine. A vivid ruby colour leads on to ripe cherry, raspberry and plum on the palate with cocoa and a touch of savoury earth. The wine is clean with refreshing acidity and is simply stunning and remarkable quality for the price.

For my third wine, I head south, to the wondrous Central Otago. 

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The climate here is very cool and continental. It is too far from the coast to receive those refreshing sea breezes. The region warms up slowly during spring and then retains its heat well into autumn. One criticism of the Pinot produced here is that it is often all fruit and can lack complexity and finesse. In very hot years and often in previous vintages, this has been the case. However, as the vines get older and producers alter their harvest times (often a lot earlier than in the past) the wines are becoming increasingly taut and complex. Central Otago is a compact area over diverse landscape with vineyards experiencing various micro-climates due to varying altitudes and aspect.

Most people believe that N.Z is relatively new to the wine-making game, with most vines being planted in the 1970s. However Central Otago’s first gold medal was at the Sydney wine competitions in 1881 for a wine, simply named ‘Burgundy’. The vines for which were planted by Frenchman Jean Feraud. Even the French could see the potential of this area over a century ago. 

My third Pinot Noir was the 2010 Two Paddocks First Paddock from Gibbston, Central Otago, available at Noel Young Wines for £49. 

Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Peaky Blinders) planted his first 5 acre paddock of vines in Gibbston, Central Otago in 1993. At the same time, his good friend planted the paddock next door – and that’s where the name ‘Two Paddocks’ comes from. 

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Gibbston is the highest sub-region of Central Otago, with north facing slopes. Some years it is too cool here for grapes to ripen fully. But when they do ripen, they obtain beautiful elegance and balanced intensity of fruit. 

The grapes are hand harvested and 50% went through whole bunch fermentation (whole bunch fermentation can give a touch more fragrance and slightly firmer tannins). A 5 day cold soak took place, followed by fermentation using indigenous yeasts. The wine is matured in French oak for 11 months – a mixture of new, second and third year oak barrels being used.

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The wine has finesse on the nose with ripe strawberries, a slightly sharp tang of cranberry and vibrant spice. The layers and complexity flow through on the palate with taut, structured tannins, balanced by trickling acidity and a silky texture. Damson, strawberry, anise and floral notes thrill the palate. This is certainly one of the most intriguing NZ Pinot Noir’s I have experienced. 

Sam Neill’s passion for Pinot shines through in what he produces in N.Z. The ‘First Paddock’ is only produced in exceptional years. It is not a greedy wine, and Sam has no intention of being a bulk producer. When it is made, it expresses the vintage and its environment – following a more ‘old world philosophy’ where wines should express a sense of place. 

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My Dad took my sister and I to the premiere of Jurassic Park when I was 12 years old at our local cinema. It was an 11pm screening which was super late for us! This was in 1993, the same year Sam planted his first vines. When I research, and drink this wine I admire the talent and vision of Sam. I think of all the things he’s done in his life and as my mind wonders, I remember being back in the cinema with those that I love, watching crazy dinosaurs! A beautiful thought to have whilst sipping a glass of wine.

An insight into Indian wine with Barry Dass.

Barry Dass has been importing Anokhee wines, from Vallonne Vineyards  in India, over the last year. Here he lets us in on the struggles facing the Indian wine industry, why the Nashik region is well suited to the vine and his favourite Indian wine and food match.

Barry, how did you become involved in Indian wine?

Having been in the fashion business for over 35 years, I spent a lot of time dining with buyers and suppliers which helped develop my love for fine wines. India also became our main country of supply, with most of our factories based in Delhi and Mumbai. I regularly travelled to India and it was on one of these trips, a few years ago, that I was introduced to Indian wines and managed to visit some wineries.

I realised then that the wine industry in India was rapidly changing and that Indian wines should reach beyond its own borders. Where better than the UK to share Indian wines, as the UK has such a long history and love affair with India.

 

Anokhee wines are from the Nashik District, within the region of Maharashtra. What makes Nashik successful for wine production? 

Nashik is the broader term given to the region. In fact, Nashik is a combination of many smaller areas with different soil types and varied landscapes. Although Nashik has been producing table grapes for a long time, it is only in the and past ten years or so, that wines have been produced within the region on a major scale.

Nashik is around 150km from the Mumbai coastline and approximately 500m above sea level. The altitude brings a cooling influence to the area. It has consistent tropical temperatures throughout the year. During the ripening season, daytime temperatures reach 20-25 degrees C and in the night-time around 6 – 10 degrees C. The grapes mature from December to February, when they are then hand harvested in the early hours of the morning to retain their fresh fruit flavours. I believe these are the factors that make Nashik a successful wine-producing region.

Our wines are from the Igatpuri region of Nashik. The vineyards are on south facing slopes with gravelly soils. They are drip irrigated with water from the Mukhne damn, which sits at the foot of the slopes. It is understood that the Chenin Blanc grape variety does exceptionally well within the region.

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Wine consumption in India has increased a lot over the last 10 to 12 years. Are your wines well received by the domestic market as well as here in the UK?

Vallonne Vineyards, which produces Anokhee wines, is well represented in India and listed in some of the most prestigious and trendy restaurants and bars in Mumbai, Pune, Goa and Bangalore. The Anokhee brand was created exclusively for the UK market and the wines are not sold in India under the Anokhee label.

 

Your wines have been listed by some of London’s top restaurants, including The Cinnamon Club. Are you finding a market for Anokhee wines outside of Indian food establishments?

We need to raise more awareness in the UK, of the quality and variety of Indian wines that are available. Once more wine lovers are educated on these aspects, this will create demand for our wines outside of Indian food establishments and we will see more Indian wines listed in a wider range of restaurants.

 

It is a commonly held view that beer is the best accompaniment for Indian food. What do you think it is about your wines that makes them a good match for Indian cuisine?

Indian cuisine has evolved over the years in the UK and Indian restaurants are becoming more familiar with wines. The Indian wine industry has matured so it is no longer just beer that will successfully match your curry. The unique, spicy palate of our Indian wines works well with the spiciness of the curries. The flavours echo each other. This is something European wines just cannot match.

 

What do you think the main challenges are for the Indian wine industry?

Many! First of all the Indian Government does nothing to promote or raise awareness of Indian wines on the domestic and international stage. They have to support the industry. More education and resources are required to encourage people to drink Indian wine, rather than just beer and whiskey. Duty and excise from state to state is also another problem making wines too expensive for the average Indian.

 

The Anokhee wine range includes Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Which wine had been the most popular here in the UK?

The Vallonne Vineyards Anokhee Merlot is our most popular.

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And which is your favourite?

I think they’re all great wines! But if I have too choose one I would go for the 2009 Vallonne Vineyards Anokhee Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

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What is your favourite Indian food and wine combination?

The 2011 Reserve Merlot and my home-made Achari lamb, you have to try it!

 

Where can we buy Namaste wines?

At the moment they are on the wine lists of the Cinnamon Club, Tamarind, Zaika London or on-line at www.namastewines.com

 

Barry I would love to try your Achari lamb! Thank you so much for your time and your insight into the Indian wine industry. We wish you all the best with Namaste Wines and hope that more wine lovers get out there and choose an Indian wine to go with their next curry.

Dying to make a living

Flicking through the wine news over the last few days, there has been one story that has shocked me. This is the story of a 28 year old South African farm-worker being killed whilst protesting for an increase in his minimum wage of 70 rand (£4.94) to 150 rand (£10.59) per day.

Violence broke out on Monday the 5th of November as farm-workers from the Western Cape went on strike in protest for an increase in their minimum wage and improved working conditions. It has been reported that workers often don’t have access to drinking water or toilet facilities, are exposed to agricultural chemicals without the necessary safety equipment and live in conditions that are deemed unfit for humans (‘Ripe with Abuse’  a report issued in August 2011 by Human Rights Watch).

Vineyards and farm buildings have been burned during the protests as the striking farm-workers fight to gain the attention of their employers and government ministers.

Western Cape Agriculture Minister, Gerrit van Rensburg, suspects that there are more political motives behind the strike and that this is not just about increased wages for the workers. This may be so, however the fact does remain the the wages are ridiculously low and if I was working hard and not making enough to feed myself and my family, I would be angry and up for making my voice heard.

ImageFarmers try to save fruit containers set alight by protesting workers. Photo courtesy of the Irish Times.

The main thing that shocks me about this story is that there has actually been a death. Why do people often have to die for their cause before the rest of us to sit up and pay attention? Here I am, sitting very comfortably in London, often enjoying South African wine and teaching others about it. And over there, the workers who are harvesting the grapes are barely earning enough to scrape together a living. Risking their lives to get their working conditions changed for the better.

I feel very naive. I knew wages were low and conditions often trying for vineyard workers, but I had no idea just how bad the situation is. Having worked in Marlborough vineyards during my youth the most I had to complain about was being a bit bored and cold, but I’m pretty sure I made in an hour or so what the protesting farm-workers take a day to earn and I didn’t have a family to support.

These days we are all so much more aware of working conditions for the makers of our high street clothes and often choose to support local food producers. Do our same values and morals influence our wine choices – or are we easily swayed by the big supermarket mark-downs?

It can be tricky to know which wine producers do treat their employees fairly but a good place to start when buying South African wine is to look for the Fairtrade logo.

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Fairtrade has been around since the 1960’s and has many benefits. Its main aim is to ensure sustainability and development through trade but also focusses on improving living and working conditions for employees and invests in local community projects.

Of course there are many good South African wine producers that do look after their workers but won’t have the Fairtrade label. However without doing lots of research, choosing wines with the label is a good place to start.

I will certainly be paying more attention to where my wine comes from in the future. Will you?

A list of Fairtrade wine producers can be found following this link: http://www.fairtradelabel.org.za/product/wine.1.html

Tasting Russia, Lebanon and India

Yesterday I attended the London International Wine Fair. A show that in previous years had left me wandering aimlessly around London’s Excel centre, unsure where to begin when there are thousands of wines to try. This year I went with a plan – well the start of a plan as who knows what will happen after a few wines have been sampled!

My plan was to try wines from the lesser known wine producing countries. So I decided to attend classes on Russian and Lebanese wine and threw in a few swigs of Indian wine just to keep things fresh.

Russia has been producing wine for over twelve centuries and has over seventy thousand hectares under vine. Their severe climate can make production challenging at times but with increasing technology, investment and winemakers from around the world sharing their expertise, quality wine production is on the up.

The Russian tasting was led by an exceptionally enthusiastic gentleman who spoke with great passion and also a thick Russian accent. This did make it a tad hard to work out what he was going on about at times, so I decided to let the wines do the talking.

We sampled six wines which showcased a variety of indigenous and international grape varieties as well as a wide range of quality. The star of the show was the 2008 Myskhako Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Krasnodar. This wine displayed ripe black fruit and sweet spice on the palate with smokey and earthy notes. The tannins were well integrated and the finish was long and smooth. Had I not know this wine was Russian, I would have easily thought it could be from Bordeaux.

The pick of the Russian white wines was the 2011 Kuban-Vino Mer Noir Blanc, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat. This little number was light, dry, with refreshing acidity. The Muscat added a delicate grapey note on the nose and the citrus fruit from the Sauvignon Blanc shined on the palate.

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Unfortunately the remaining Russian wines did leave one pondering, especially the Garage Winery Klyuch Zhizni Krasnostop Zolotovskiy, which was overly oaked with massive tannins which ripped all of the moisture from my mouth. Personally, I would have left this one in the garage.

Wine journalist Michael Karam led us through a stunning selection of Lebanese wines. There is evidence of vines in Lebanon from around 750 B.C and currently there are forty producers. The influence of French wine makers is demonstrated through the varieties that dominate production and the elegance achieved through blending.

As it was such a stunning summers day in London, it was fitting that the top wine was the 2011 Chateau Kefraya Rose from Bekaa Valley. The blend of Cinsault, Carignan, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc may seem like a bit of a muddle but this wine was anything but. Beautiful pale pink with a light floral nose; pear, rose and nectarine notes flourished on the palate which had a soft and supple texture. A real treat and deserving of the £19 retail price.

The 2008 Coteaux de Botrys Cuvee de l’Ange was my pick of the reds. The blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre formed a vibrant, soft and juicy wine with dark plums and blackcurrant dominating on the palate. A subtle sharp cranberry note gave the wine a lift and I could easily knock back a glass or two with a beef shawarma.

Indian wines are becoming an exciting addition to the melting pot of wine available in London. The country has one of the fastest growing rates of wine consumption and experienced massive growth in production from the late 1980’s to early 1990’s.

Vallonne Vineyards is the first boutique winery in the Nashik Valley which is around 150 km north-east of Mumbai. I sampled four of their wines and it was the 2009 Anokhee Cabernet Sauvignon that got me excited. You can taste the hot Inidan summer in this wine as the black fruit is rich, ripe and supple. There is a pleasant sweet spice coming through from the oak and this would go exceptionally well with a spicy Masala.

I thoroughly recommend giving the wines from these countries a try. Waitrose and M&S stock a good range of Lebanese wine and the Indian Vallonne wines can now be found at London’s Tamarind restaurant. Russian wines can take a bit of searching out but I’m sure it won’t be long until we see wines from all three countries lining up on good wine merchants shelves.