Issue: 24 / Sunday 13 May, 2018
Repeatedly I get asked, “How did you get involved in the wine business?” and “Is there one wine, experience or other memory that best expresses the story of why you do what you do?” For me, the answers seem somehow less obvious, or maybe just less important, however, the purpose of this short article is to answer those questions…
Wine beginnings & my love affair with wine.
My childhood chalice was never filled with wine and we were complete strangers until I reached my late teens. I do vividly recall ordering, on many occasions, a bottle or two of the German colossus ‘Black Tower’. This became my fail-safe choice until I finally grew up and, more importantly, found a partner who was appalled by my vinous tastes!
The Sotheby’s Guide to Classic Wines, was my first wine book and lit the touch paper that ignited my passion for wine. It was at the tender age of eighteen, whilst drinking a bottle of 1976 Penfolds Grange (purchased for less than £50.00), procured from the Nobody Inn, Doddiscombsleigh, that I had any epiphany. My olfactory senses were opened and I simply fell in love. Literally, I was stopped in my tracks. Yes, I was incredibly inexperienced, but I could not escape the precision, the profound aromatics that perfumed the air around me. I was too young to pick-out specific characteristics, but I will always remember the wines physical presence on my palate that I found most overwhelming. It was sensual, silky and the tannins were seamless. I had never tasted anything quite so extraordinary and, to this day, it remains one of the greatest wines that I have ever tasted – Perhaps the emotional attachment lends me to this decision.
I immersed myself completely in learning, collecting, appreciating and most importantly tasting wine. Thankfully, wine became my career in the late 1990s, a blessing as I can honestly declare that I never tire of the subject.
My palate has worked incredibly hard over the years and has, at time resented the long hours, purple-stained teeth, excruciating levels of tannins that have played havoc with my entire digestive system. Regardless of those endurance exercises, I am blessed, for more great wines have passed my lips than I would ever have imagined at the beginning of my career.
How I Taste
My method is terribly simple: I look, take a deep sniff, taste, spit, occasionally dribble, jot down my thoughts, which become more illegible as the years pass, score and move on to the next wine.
Wine, as with many fields is subjective, therefore I feel it is extremely important to be honest with oneself. There is absolutely no worth in echoing the exact same sentiment as my peers or the famous wine critics if I see the same wine from a different angle. Some, would say, that I am excruciatingly honest, which I actually take as a compliment. Of course I do not go out of my way to be different but, if it is to the benefit of my clients, then I am not shy in telling them to avoid buying a wine if I personally think it’s tosh.
Today, sampling leads to the possibility of purchasing for The Vinorium shelves which is an entirely different kettle of fish. I will often sample with the team as it’s a great way for them to learn however, the real acid test is taking the remaining content home and pouring a glass in the peace and quiet. If the wine doesn’t hit the spot at home, it never appears on our shelves.
What qualities do I value in a wine?
Personally, I favour wines with elegance, balance and a sense of belonging – ‘terrior’ as we like to call it in the trade. I have a fondness for wine that is produced in the vineyard rather than those stressed, overly extracted ones that are forced out in the winery. I adore crisp acidity, structure, and I have a real weakness for mature wines as they offer so much more: tobacco, lead pencil, truffles, a myriad of exotic fruit, spices, and tannins become seamless. I suppose this is wines evolution after spending 20+ years, locked in a bottle.
Do you I have a favourite grape variety?
Certainly, one of the most difficult questions to answer and possibly one in which I may appear to be sitting on the fence. In my youth, Shiraz would be the clear winner however, as my palate ages I often find myself edging towards Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, mature Cabernet Sauvignons (or Bordeaux blends). There are few grape varieties that I do not enjoy sampling / drinking but those which are dialled-back a little are more favoured. I would hate to be pigeonholed as one of those old-school Burgundy come Claret fuddy-duddies, which I am far from. I love fruit as long as there’s balance and I like to see the skill of the winemaker coming through. I would certainly opt for a New World Pinot Noir and Chardonnay over Burgundy (any day of the week). I love Bordeaux and have been working in this region for twenty years but the Cabernet Sauvignons coming out of the Margaret River are every bit as good. Riesling – I adore great German Riesling and would challenge anyone who has no appreciation. Sample one of Keller’s Grosse Gewachs wines and expect to be astonished. Simply one of the greatest winemakers on our planet today.
Do you have a favourite wine at The Vinorium?
Almost impossible to answer as I have an appreciation for every wine we list. After all, I am the buyer and know each wine intimately. Nonetheless, and for the sake of putting myself under pressure, if I had to choose one bottle, I would opt for Paul Lato’s 2015 Pinot Noir 'Atticus'. Regrettably, recently sold-out however, this was the finest Pinot Noir I sampled and purchased during 2017. Thankfully, I have a personal stash at our HQ which I have no intention of sharing!
Flowstone Queen of the Earth
98 Points - Stuart McCloskey "A wonderful and super-expressive Chardonnay which possesses staggering depth and richness, yet remarkably light on its feet. The palate is expansive and builds with a little aeration (I highly recommend a decanting for 20-30 minutes). Stuart Pym’s natural touch with his wines is clearly evident – I love the interplay and perfect balance between the fruit, oak, and acidity. Lots of energy on display which will no doubt help with its long and glorious evolution in the bottle. This will bring much, much joy to those who prefer their Margaret River Chardonnay’s with a little more substance and character (rather than the linear style which seems todays fashion). For me, this is as good as virtually any Chardonnay from anywhere and will be a spectacular bottle in another 6-8 years. Best served in Zalto’s Bordeaux glass…"
Exclusive Tasting at Lord's Cricket
Along with Hardy’s UK, Paul Lapsley (the Group Winemaker who is flying over from Oz), Stu and I are hosting a special day at Lords Cricket Ground on the 24th May. We have an executive box for the England Vs Pakistan Test Match, which should be fun (if cricket is classed as fun!). The day commences at 10:00am and finishes around 6:30pm. A stunning range of Museum wines will be poured throughout the day and presented by Paul. We have a sumptuous selection of food (breakfast, elevenses, lunch and afternoon tea) which is enough to feed half the ground. Simply, email me with why you should be the lucky one to join our ten guests.
The state of art glassware from Zalto has found favour amongst our customers as is our No: 1 glassware of choice.
Zalto is the ultimate the vinous enhancement. Austrian masterpieces which combine stunning design with aromatic amplification and palate delivery the likes of which have never been seen before. They may not yet be the most famous name in glassware, but quite simply, they could be the best wine glasses you have ever used.
The range, known as ‘Denk Art’ takes its name from Father Denk an Austrian priest who worked on creating shapes with a local glass blower that maximise flavour. The Zalto company then set about making them into such fine and sophisticated vessels.
Wide bases, straight sides, ultra-thin stems; with perfect balance in the hand and such fine construction, you may worry that you’re going to break them just by drinking from them. BUT fear not… they are mouth blown and cooled very slowly making them significantly tougher than their rivals
Most important, is the way in which they transmit the flavour of the wine. Unparalleled aromatics in the glass mean the wine opens like never before; and thanks to the ultra-thin walls, the delivery of wine into the mouth is totally unimpeded – the only way to describe it is that it seems the wine just moves from the glass to the mouth with no noticeable sense of the glass itself. It’s as if the glass disappears.
(Box of 6)
Zalto Denk-Art Champagne Glass
(Box of 6)
Zalto Denk-Art White Wine Glass
(Box of 6)
(Box of 6)
(Box of 6)
Denis Durantou of the famed L’Eglise Clinet needs little introduction. Whilst we wait for the Grand Vin to be released, Denis wets our appetite with the following quartet, which were released on Friday. Put simply, all four offer some of the best wine money can buy during this year’s En-Primeur campaign (In fact, we said the same during the
past four years!).
The Côtes de Castillon property, Montlandrie comes highly recommended
@ £87.50 IB per case of six.
Neal Martin awards 91-92 and describes the ’17 Montlandrie as “utterly charming bouquet with blackberry, raspberry and just a hint of crushed violet. The palate is medium-bodied with fine grain tannin, dark fruit but fresh and lively, very precise with a welcome dash of black pepper towards the graphite-tinged finish. Denis Durantou described this as one of his favorite wines of 2017 and I can understand why. 2021 – 2035”
91-93 Lisa Perroti-Brown MW “A blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, the deep garnet-purple colored 2017 Montlandrie gives up notes of crushed black plums, red currants and black cherries with suggestions of cigar box, yeast extract, tapenade and underbrush. Medium-bodied with a solid backbone of firm, grainy tannins, it has beautiful freshness and a mineral-tinged finish.”
Saintayme @ £65.00 IB per case 89-91 Neal Martin “You could almost run away and drink this already! But for now, we should wait until at least Denis Durantou
has bottled it”
Les Cruzelles @ £100.00 IB per case 90-92 Neal Martin “Excellent – this is as good a Lalande de Pomerol as you will find in 2017”
Lunch at The Vinorium is a little different to perhaps what is experienced in most working environments.
Our director, Stu, always insists we have lunch together – no one is left behind at their desks and no one is there to pick up the phone (if you ever wondered why we seem to have left the office at such an early hour). It’s very much a family affair.
We sample wine with the majority of our lunches (note: this is a very important part of our wine education. Well, for one or two of us!)...