A Taste of
The Vinorium

Issue: 56 / Sunday 3 February, 2019

 
 

HQ Musings...

January has come and gone and it is now the first of February, which brings me to my weekly task of sharing our news. Where to start as it’s been a frenetic week? Let’s get the bad news out of the way and disclose that UK wine duty rates have increased, effective immediately. Still wine under 15% alcohol now stands at £2.23 per bottle with wines 15% and above costing a lofty £2.98. Sparkling wines and Champagne costing the consumer £2.86 per bottle. On a positive, all our current stocks which are offered from our HQ shop and warehouse are priced at the old duty rate. Unfortunately, and there’s no escaping it, all wines purchased under bond and flipped to duty paid will incur the new rates as will all new shipments / arrivals. 

Several UK wine companies including online retailers Wine Direct and Just in Cases have ceased trading after their parent company, Fermentation Ltd, was placed into administration. From the High Street, Oddbins is reportedly poised to enter administration, which and for those in the know, does not come as a surprise, but nonetheless a very sad situation and an incredibly worrying time for all their staff and our industry in general.

As reported by Harpers Wine & Spirit “Duff & Phelps are set to be appointed as administrators by Oddbins parent company European Food Brokers, which hopes to sell the chain, according to a report by Sky News on Monday afternoon. The Guardian reported seeing an email from EFB to staff which said directors had decided its retail businesses “cannot continue in their current form”. A spokesman for Duff & Phelps told Sky News that the “deterioration of the High Street, combined with the continuing economic uncertainty surrounding the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, has resulted in an unsustainable, tough physical retail market. “We will endeavour to continue to operate all stores as a going concern while options are assessed for the business, including a possible sale. “All businesses continue to trade until further notice. European Food Brokers Limited and its additional businesses continue to trade and are not part of this announcement.” Oddbins, which has around 100 stores, including subsidiaries Wine Cellar Trading and Whittalls Wine Merchants, previously went into administration in 2011. Several stores were then bought by EFB, which is run by businessman Raj Chatha. Oddbins, which opened for business in 1963, reportedly made a net loss of more than £4m in the 18 months to the end of July 2018”.

As a whole, our industry is incredibly fragile with many of our leading importers running at huge losses. Some, are simply making just enough but these business models are unsustainable particularly with the burden of Brexit hanging on our shoulders. I am genuinely concerned for their staff and wonder what can be done (They are revered by our trade publications who clearly turn a blind eye to what is, in fact, a terrible and incredibly worrying mess)? 

For many, January is one of the toughest months in the wine trade. Call it a hangover from the exuberance of Christmas, coupled with everyone’s attempts to become fitter, healthier and, of course, to reduce one’s wine consumption. Michelle, who has been working with me for six years took the ‘dry January’ challenge and succeeded, which is most impressive. I cannot go a day without wine let alone an entire month. Tonight, she will be celebrating with one of my all-time favourite Champagnes, Egly Ouriet’s VP Extra Brut Grand Cru, which is simply magnificent and a fitting reward for a month of abstinence.

If you thought the House of Arras late disgorged 2003 was a triumph, well – be prepared to be amazed.

January 2019 has been a record-breaking month for team Vinorium with website sales obliterating 2018’s figures. Despite the industry norm, we have enjoyed a 44% increase compared to last year (only August & December ’18 being stronger), non-trade sales increasing by (a smidgen under) 45% and international trade sales being on-par. The number of parcels leaving our HQ was staggering with our huge ’18 August sale and the Christmas month of December 2018 being the only two months with stronger figures. Of course, this is entirely down to your continued generosity and support which will never go unannounced. Thank you very much indeed.

Inevitably, and off the back of such strong figures, we say a fond farewell to several of The Vinorium’s favourites, 2002 Henry’s Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, which has provided enormous amounts of drinking pleasure to so many customers, and the 2004 Wild Duck Springflat Shiraz with just over 1,000 bottles selling since last Sunday’s special feature. Wild Duck Creek wines have a huge following with our customers in Asia (they took 960 bottles last week!) and they will be let loose on our new ‘Reserve’  wines week commencing 11 February (we promised our UK & European customers first dibs). You may recall Wednesday night’s offer and the surprise return of one of my all-time favourites, the 2005 Robertson of Clare Max V. We thought it prudent to add the following title “Arguably the most requested wine in our portfolio is back… But we believe it will be sold-out within 48 hours!”. I kid you not, we sold-out in thirty-eight minutes to be precise with many customers left scratching their heads and rather upset. We are sorry for not being able to fulfil all orders, but I did sample a wine last week which is comparable and similarly priced. For those who missed out – Please contact Magda & Pete and we will ensure you receive first refusal. The returning wines from Henschke are also teetering on the extinction list too…

Samples are arriving daily with some absolute beauties ready to be opened by the team. We have an impressive line-up from New Zealand as we are keen to expand our portfolio considerably. On the subject of the enjoyment of sampling, we thought it’s about time to offer our first, full portfolio tasting. Usually, and for a company of our size, this is offered to trade / press with some private customers tagging on to the remaining few hours. However, the foundation of The Vinorium is firmly built around our private customers, who and in our opinion, take precedence over the press and trade. We have booked the St James Room at 67 Pall Mall, London for Saturday 28 September where we plan to show off our entire range of exclusive wines, new arrivals and some seriously good, rare treasures (100++ wines in total). We are also toying with the idea of running one or two ‘special’ masterclasses in one of their private rooms. This will be a strictly ticketed event with The Vinorium’s customers receiving priority. Full details and tickets will be available later this month…

Finally, and I am pleased to announce that we have signed the contract on our new land purchase which will house our new HQ. I am now in the second week of meetings with architects as I am keen to find the right fit for our plans, which are very special. I am hoping to share the drawings within the next few weeks and then, fingers crossed they pass planning consent!

Enjoy the remainder of your weekend,
Stu 

 
 

Our Wine of the Week

 

Two Hands Charlie's Garden Shiraz 2015

Peter Robinson "Dense, heady black current, blueberry and plum punch from the glass. The aromas are concentrated and tightly knit at first but after a little aeration, open up to reveal some sweet black cherry and violet. The concentration continues on the palate with youthful black berry fruits leading to sweet, clove spice that lingers on the finish. Although young, the tannins are ripe and provide perfect structure to the youthful fruits. This is the Eden Valley addition to the Garden series and when tasted next to the Barossa addition, had a comparative lightness but don’t be fooled, this wine still packs a punch."

 £27.50 per bottle

 
 

Biodynamic, Organic
& Vegan Wines

Written by Peter Robinson

As wine merchants we notice the trends that are developing, not just in winemaking with the producers we work with, but also with our customers and what they are asking for. As trends in society develop, subconsciously or not, consumer trends develop along with them. The more topics are written about, talked about and passively advertised, the more they leak into the subconscious of all of us. Consumers begin to ask a little more about such topics and producers and retailers begin to focus their information and advertising towards this, leading to a greater level of awareness and so trends continue to build. Is it a genuine shift in social consciousness or simply a knock-on effect perpetuating a cycle?

Sulphites in wine has been an increasing topic of debate over the past couple of years leading to a rise in so called natural wines, which have no added sulphites but only contain those that occur naturally on the grape skin. There is no legal definition of ‘natural wines’ so producers can use any number of non-organic vineyard methods and simply not add sulphur to the end product and still use the term ‘natural’ on the label.  The implication is however, towards minimal intervention throughout and I’m sure that most commit to this ethos. For me the term is a little ambiguous and lacks any real definition leaving the gates open for less ethically minded producers to take advantage of a growing trend. Producers such as Jamsheed from Yarra Valley have been producing wines with the highest ethos of minimal intervention for many years without the need to attach themselves to the fashionable, natural wine label. Their Beechworth Roussanne has a slight cloudiness showing the level of filtration and fining. This can put people off and we sometimes receive queries regarding this,but drinking a wine of this purity is an absolute joy and a pleasure that should be experienced.

The majority of producers who have a genuine ambition to produce wines as naturally as possible want to express the pure character of the grape varieties and regions. They will operate with as little intervention as they can. They will farm their vineyards organically, or biodynamically, use minimal filtration and use as little added sulphites as the conditions allow. They will have been doing so for many years without advertising this fact. It is a decision that is purely based on producing as good a wine as they possibly can. Don McConachy and Valerie Worsdale of Devotus from Martinborough, New Zealand have been producing wines in this manner since they began. Producing only exceptional quality Pinot Noir from their tiny, two hectares of vineyard, they are driven only by the desire for simple perfection and are not catering to a trend. The results of this are clear from the accolades they receive.

“We have an obsession with wine quality. We grow only Pinot Noir, nothing else. We don’t irrigate our vines, accepting highly concentrated grapes in preference to bigger yields. We cultivate our vineyard, growing crops of oats, clover, peas, barley and lupin between the vines, which are then ploughed back into the soil to provide organic nutrition for the vines. We teach our young children about the importance of respecting our soil. We have a long-term vision”

You can read more about Devotus in our full interview click here.

To become certified organic, it takes several years of conversion and for very small, family run wineries, the risk of an entire year’s harvest being lost if there were to be a significant pest problem may be too great to recover from. Producers may choose to not become certified organic but this doesn’t mean that they don’t farm in this way. Last weekend’s magazine talked about Liam from Wild Duck Creek developing an increasing interest in biodynamic farming methods. Their focus is on keeping their methods traditional and letting themselves be guided by the natural cycles of the vineyards, a concept that is consistent with the highest level of organic viticulture.

As minimal intervention goes, there is no stricter level of legal certification than biodynamic viticulture. Biodynamics is a vast subject and probably best covered in a separate article but in short it is about the complete sustainability, traceability and life cycle of the entire farm.

If you choose to use natural fertiliser then the animals that the fertiliser comes from must have been fed on biodynamically produced feed. The use of cover crops in between the rows of vines encourages natural, biodiversity in the soil. Devotus mix the used grape skins into the compost and so every product of the vineyard gets fed back into the life cycle.

The concepts of Biodynamics continue further with planting and harvesting days being dictating by the lunar calendar and various concoctions of herbal sprays being deployed. This is where the ideas can get a little holistic for some people but there is no denying that more producers are choosing to farm by these methods.

Whether you believe that the cycles of the moon can influence the quality of the grapes or not, the simple fact is that if a producer has this much dedication to meticulous detail, then this alone will influence the entire process and result in great quality wine. Sam and Mandy Weaver of Churton in Marlborough embrace this philosophy. Having a degree in Microbiology, Sam’s acute understanding of the land is admired by many other winemakers and he also works as a consultant to other producers both at home and abroad.

Prue Henschke has also been a great believer in Biodynamic viticulture and adopts the holistic approach in full. Since 1990, she has been applying these methods of farming and by the end of the decade, the evidence of Prue’s dedication and her unwavering attention to every detail from vine to bottle was beginning to show in the wines. We have stocks of these landmark Henschke vintages from 1999 to 2003 that have now been beacons of this philosophy for nearly 20 years.  

“Using the principles of biodynamics and organics enables me to create the best environment for plant growth and since I started using these principles, I am seeing the benefits in greater expression of aromas and textures in the wines from all our vineyards.” Prue Henschke.          

It is clear that many winemakers are concerned only with creating great wine and don’t feel the need to piggy back on current fashions. The fashions are consumer, and to a certain degree merchant led. An in vogue trend with many wine merchants at the moment is to advertise how many vegan wines they have in stock, suggesting that vegan wine is somehow a new thing. For a wine not to be vegan, it just has to be fined using egg whites, milk or isinglass (the protein obtained from fish swim bladders). Wine protein is positively charged and is responsible for cloudiness in wine.Albumin, Casein (the proteins found in egg whites and milk) and Isinglass are negatively charged particles. Working on the principle of opposites attracting, the positive and negatively charged particles bond together and drop out, resulting in a clear wine. These fining agents have been common throughout winemaking but equally as common is Bentonite, a clay-based fining agent that does exactly the same job and has been used for years. Wine makers from the USA seem to have been aware of this for a longer time, perhaps due to the US being a more health conscious nation.

Orin Swift from California only started in 1995 so it was natural that they would immediately begin with social responsibility in mind. They craft a unique range of wines and their modern and creative style of winemaking has gained them a reputation as one of the most exciting producers in California. Wild Duck Creek bottle all of their wines without fining with just a light filtration, evident in the Springflat 2004 with the succulent texture and mouthfeel of the wine, not to mention the sediment left after the last glass! Central Otago’s Felton Road is a notable example from New Zealand as are Glaetzer Wines from Barossa but the list is vast and continues to grow. I would imagine that out of our range, we have at least 200 vegan wines that have always been vegan but it is only very recently that this has been necessary information to obtain. I would imagine that many wine producers are now changing to Bentonite as a fining agent so as not to restrict their market and many a merchant is heavily advertising vegan wines in a bid to cash in on a trend. Veganism is rapidly growing amongst young Millennials who are more health conscious and ethically responsible than any generation before and it is a social responsibility for us to make this information available.

The increasing consumer awareness of these practices is a clear indication of society’s shift towards ethical and social responsibility but in truth, they have been employed for far longer than most are aware. It feels a little chicken and egg, as the higher the demand for wines of such practices, the more new producers employ these methods. The more producers employ these practices, awareness increases and demand continues to grow. I guess it is the quality of the wines that have been produced by the winemakers following organic, biodynamic and minimal intervention beliefs that leads to other winemakers adopting these methods, but for the consumers and the merchants, is it merely a fashion?

Would I be writing this article if it wasn’t?

 

Our top biodynamic picks

 

Château Pontet-Canet

The first classified growth in Bordeaux to start practicing biodynamic viticulture in 2004, Chateau Pontet-Canet has created the path that many other Chateaux have followed. In 2008 they brought in their first of many horse drawn carts allowing them to tend the vines whilst avoiding soil compaction allowing the roots to fully penetrate deep into the earth. They have been fully certified biodynamic since 2014 and are now considered to be amongst some of the most in demand wines in Pauillac.

Château Pontet-Canet 2012

94-96 Points - Neal Martin "There is certainly great purity and terroir expression on the nose: blackberry, briary and background scents of fresh raspberry and cold stone. The definition is very impressive. The palate is interesting – quite different from the previous vintages. I love the tannins here – very fine but lending the Pontet-Canet great backbone It is utterly harmonious but I feel more understated, perhaps more controlled than recent vintages. The finish is much more introspective – a Pauillac politely informing you to go away and wait before bottling before making any judgement! This is a divine Pontet-Canet - very succinct."

£90.00 per bottle

Les Hauts de
Pontet Canet 2008

 
 

92 Points - Stuart McCloskey

Clearly, lacking the extravagance of the Grand Vin however, it’s difficult not to be impressed. Silky/supple tannins work harmoniously with the high quality fruit. Cabernet flavours dominate with blackberry leaf, cassis with a touch of cocoa coming through as the wine starts to reach its tenth birthday. Really delicious but does require 2-3 hours in a decanter.

£33.50 per bottle

 

Clos Des Lunes Lune d’Argent 2015

Neal Martin "It has quite a forward, rich, generous bouquet with subtle honeysuckle and apricot notes merging with the apply aromas. The palate is fresh and crisp on the entry, a little grassiness at first, gently opening up to a gooseberry, nettle and green apple-flavored finish. This might be my pick of Olivier Bernard's three 2015 offerings under the Clos des Lunes label and it comes highly recommended."

 £16.50 per bottle

Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir 2017

97 Points - Bob Campbell "Delicious pinot noir, with a sumptuous texture and floral, plum, dark cherry and Oriental spice flavours. Supple, elegant wine with impressive underlying power - the flavours linger long after the wine has been swallowed (or spat in my case). An accessible wine in a very appealing style." (Only 17 left)

 £45.95 per bottle

 

Egly Ouriet VP Extra Brut

Egly’s extended aged Grand Cru is simply sensational and is a beautifully crafted blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, coming from the 1998 vintage. 72 months on the lees has produced a wine of immense complexity and power however, this is an extraordinarily elegant Champagne. Egly’s tell-tale Pinot notes soar from the glass after a little aeration with mineral notes framing the endless finish. Magnificent!  VP stands for 'vieillissement prolongée' (extended ageing).

£69.95 per bottle

Churton Special Blend Pinot Noir 2016

96+ points Stuart McCloskey “A fabulous mature nose of undergrowth, earth and balanced beautifully with a dash of spicy red fruits and rosehip, which could easily be interpreted as a high-class Burgundy. There’s lots to discover on the palate – time in the glass / decanter reveals a real depth and complexity rarely found at this price level. The palate is subtle, silky with a lovely sweet entry. Layers of fruit continue to build leading into blood orange, cranberry and a touch of warm spice. A beautiful wine with perfectly judged acidity and ultra-fine tannins. This is a model of pure sensitivity –simply, a faultless joy. Served using Zalto Burgundy glass. Drinking window: Now to 2023”

 £20.50 per bottle

 

Our favourite organic wines

 

Dog Point Section 94 2015

Dog point began their conversion to organic viticulture in 2009 utilising all waste products from the vineyards and recycling them back into compost. Vine prunings and winery waste are turned into mulch and fed back into the soil and fertiliser. They have even brought in a heard of sheep to keep the grass down.

97 Points Stuart McCloskey "Dog Point's Section 94 has always been a favourite of mine and can, in correct cellaring conditions, mature wonderfully over a decade. This is another example of a medium to full-bodied, textural style of Sauvignon Blanc. The grapes for Section 94 come from a single, low cropping vineyard parcel first planted in 1992. The fruit is hand-picked, whole bunch pressed and aged in older French oak barrels for 18 months. Every vintage has a funky edge which you either love or not. Those seeking simplistic Kiwi fruit pops should avoid at all costs as this is a serious, large scale wine that deserves a little respect. The aromas are taut, tightly wound with the ‘funk’ reducing with 20/30 minutes in a decanter (highly recommended). Tropical no - Yellow stone fruits in abundance with a vein of minerality appearing mid-palate. There’s a real intensity which is exceptional and rarely found with the majority of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. The finish is endless… In short, brilliant!"

£21.00 per bottle

 

Devotus Pinot Noir 2016

18.5 Points - Raymond Chan "Ruby-red colour with some depth, lighter on the edge with some garnet hues. The nose is elegantly proportioned with finely concentrated aromas of savoury dark-red berry and cherry fruit which form a tight core with notes of dark herbs, subtle whole bunch stalk fragrances and dark florals providing complexing interest. A little smokiness and earthy detail adds piquant intensity. Medium-bodied, the palate has a smooth and seamlessly concentrated heart of sweetly ripe dark-red berry fruit with plum notes, along with subtle, savoury herb and whole bunch stalk elements. The fruit richness shows with elegance and style, and is supported by fine-grained supple tannin extraction that allows the fruit sweetness to prevail. Fine, lacy acidity provides energy, and the wine flows along a velvety line to a long, sustained, complex savoury red fruited and herb nuanced finish. This is an elegant and stylishly concentrated, seamless flowing Pinot Noir with savoury red fruit and herb flavours on a fine-grained palate with good vitality."

 £36.95 per bottle

 

Shaw and Smith Lenswood Chardonnay 2014

97 Points – James Suckling "This is a very attractive and deceptively powerful chardonnay from a high-altitude site (500m) and one that delivers a latent, smouldering depth on the nose. Toasty, hazelnut-like oak breathes up through flinty complexity and a wealth of white peaches, melon, limes and grapefruit. The palate's super taut, really succulent and powerful, holding this thing tight for start to finish. Electrifying tension to this wine; new heights have been reached. Drink now to 2020+. 180 dozen produced. (only 16 left)

£47.95 per bottle

Cristom Vineyards Estate Viognier 2016

 

The 2016 Cristom Vineyards Estate Viognier exhibits the pure, and nearly textbook, characteristics of this varietal, with aromas of orange blossoms, honeysuckle, clover, and anise as well as the ripe fruit aromas of peach, apricot, and lychee. Slightly viscous on the palate, with bright and mouth-watering acidity that support the fruit structure of the wine, it is well integrated and perfectly balanced.

 £28.50 per bottle

 
 

Henschke Cyril Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

95 Points - James Halliday  "Bright, deep red-purple; the bouquet offers clean, gently ripe blackcurrant and mulberry fruit together with a hint of cedar; the classy, sophisticated, ultra-smooth and supple palate has excellent flow and mouth feel. For the record, the wine does have a percentage of Merlot and Cabernet Franc included."

£44.95 per bottle

Château Pedesclaux 2005

94+ Points - Stuart McCloskey "This is quintessential Pauillac and the best Pedesclaux I have sampled from the estate in over 10 years. The palate is full-bodied with copious sweet ripe black fruit, marked by soft tannins and wonderful harmony and tension. This is undoubtedly an outstanding Pedesclaux which could get better?"

 £39.25 per bottle

 

Superb vegan wines

 

Mayer Close Planted Pinot Noir 2017

Timo Mayer grew up in Germany and comes from an extremely long ancestry of wine making. He settled in Yarra Valley to begin his own wine odyssey and quickly began breaking boundaries of Yarra wine production adopting whole bunch fermentation and bottling his wines fully unfined and unfiltered for the unadulterated essence of the grapes to shine.

Whiffs of smoke, gravelly-earthy note, dark cherry, mushroomy funk, undergrowth; where the wild things are. Love this fog of scent. Fine boned in the palate, draped in silky-sweet cherry and herbal flavours, rolls on a sheet of glossy acidity, finishes fine, perky, tight and squeaky. It’s a superb pinot noir, detailed, complex, layered and yet compact.
Watch this unfurl.

£46.50 per bottle

 

St Hallett Old Block
Shiraz 2014

Violet ink in the glass, a nose of black plums, cassis, and cacao engage. The robust entry consists of a progressing palate of blackberry and boysenberry compote, a reduction of dark plum and ripe figs, and pure Amarena cherry. Flashes of vanilla and traces of minerality evolve into chalky tannins and a smooth lingering finish.

 £32.50 per bottle

Stolpman Vineyards Estate Roussanne 2017

The 2017 Roussanne Estate is quite delicate in this vintage. In 2017, the Estate has 12% Chardonnay, which adds complexity and nuance, while also pushing some of the Roussanne character into the background. Even so, it is a very pretty wine. Drink it over the next few years.

 £25.95 per bottle

 

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2013

97 Points - Stuart McCloskey "The 2013 is a beautiful and well-endowed Chardonnay. Rich, buttery pastry (a touch of crème pat / crème brulée) coats the palate. This is quite simply the richest chardonnay I have come across in a very long time, yet displaying incredibly ethereal elegance. I love the notes honeysuckle, poached pear with a little citrus underpinning the evocative mouthfeel. This is a magnificent Chardonnay which drinks amazingly well now but has the quality and structure to last another 6-8 years.

 £37.95 per bottle

Orin Swift Machete 2016

Violet ink in the glass, a nose of black plums, cassis, and cacao engage. The robust entry consists of a progressing palate of blackberry and boysenberry compote, a reduction of dark plum and ripe figs, and pure Amarena cherry. Flashes of vanilla and traces of minerality evolve into chalky tannins and a smooth lingering finish.

 £45.55 per bottle