In Champagne Part 1 – Montagne de Reims

I’m currently sitting in a small hotel room in Épernay, the self-styled capital of Champagne, with freezing cold legs, seeing as it’s -5 degrees out there. I’m in France for four days on an AWE (Association of Wine Educators) trip to Chablis, but I’ve decided to tag on an extra day and a half in Champagne en route to Burgundy. It would be daft not to! For this particular mini trip I’ve decided to eschew the big Champagne houses and focus instead on the small independent Champagne producers, the récoltant manipulants (I discussed the different types of Champagne producer recently in this post), in search of some really good value bubbles.

This afternoon was my first sortie, briefly exploring the Montagne de Reims, one of the classic Champagne sub-zones, where I’ve had two excellent domain visits… Continue reading

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Grower Champagne

Well the party season is upon us and it’s time to start thinking about bubbles.  Now there are plenty of cheaper and excellent alternatives, like Prosecco for example, but for many people, tough times or not, bubbles means Champagne.  However, even if you’re determined to stick to Champagne for those parties and special occasions, there are still plenty of interesting alternatives to the big and famous brands that account for the vast majority of the sales.  Let’s have a look… Continue reading

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Riesling Trocken

The other week I was searching for a bottle of Malvasia delle Lipari for the Italian wine course I’m running, which I tracked down to The Winery in Maida Vale, West London (see here for the post on the Malvasia).  It’s a small but perfectly formed emporium, selling interesting wines from small producers that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.

Whilst there, I soon realised that regardless of the fact that I’d come out for a bottle of Italian Passito and even though Italian wine was clearly one of their specialities, their real niche is German Riesling from small independent domaines.  More specifically they had a great line-up of Riesling Trocken.  Riesling what? Well, before looking at the specific wines I took away with me, let’s have a quick look at the different styles of German wine…

For a start the whole conversation here is about quality German wine.  We’re not talking about supermarket bottom shelf hopelessly cheap branded wine, Liebfraümilch, Blue Nun or Black Tower -  we’re talking about superb wine and in particular Riesling.  The same applies to other varieties – Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Silvaner for example – but we’ll confine our discussion Continue reading

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The Wonders of Italian Passitos

I’m currently running an Italian wine course that tours the country over six weeks.  Sourcing the wines for the course is a fun task, but for some wines an extremely tricky one.  For things like Chianti and Barolo you’re fairly spoiled for choice in the London market, leaving me a different problem of which example to go for.  However, trying to find some of the rarer wines I wanted for the course (that are classic styles within their own regions of Italy, but don’t travel much), was considerably harder.  The toughest job of all was getting the passitos I needed, which are wines Continue reading

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Chenin the Versatile

In the summer we spent a week in Touraine, which meant getting to drink plenty of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, the two primary varieties of the Central Loire.  The latter gives good quality and great value wines in the appellations of Chinon, Bourgeuil, Anjou Villages and Saumur Champigny, but we’ll save that story for another day.  The real superstar of the region is Chenin Blanc, an almost forgotten variety in the international market, yet one of extremely high intrinsic quality and unsurpassed versatility, being responsible for white wines in almost every Continue reading

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Exploring the Maĉonnais

Welcome back to Hugo’s Reserve after the August break.  We spend two weeks in France, the first in Touraine in the Central Loire (that’s another story) and the second in the Maĉonnais, in Southern Burgundy.

As you can see from my rather fetching hand-drawn map, when travelling south through Burgundy, the Maĉonnais is the last wine zone you get to (before the vineyards merge seamlessly into Beaujolais).  There’s plenty of Maĉon Rouge, usually from Gamay (the same grape variety as Beaujolais) and a fair amount of Bourgogne Rouge, made from Pinot Noir, but overwhelmingly it’s white wine country here, with white Burgundy from Chardonnay (as usual), made in a wide range of qualities and price points.

Up to about ten years ago, the Maĉonnais was very much the poor relation of the other Burgundian sub-regions.  In recent years however there have been huge improvements in both vineyard and winery, resulting in the Maĉonnais being the most exciting hunting ground in Burgundy for high quality white wines at a good price.  Continue reading

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Calabrian Rarity

Anyone been to Calabria?  It’s just about the most remote region of Italy, being the toe of the boot, as my simple but charming hand-designed map shows.  The Apennines run right down the middle of the region, leaving just a strip of low-land either side.  This doesn’t leave many places for growing grapes (or anything for that matter) and Calabrian wines are a rarity outside of the region, let alone outside of Italy.

Now they are rare, but some of them are very good indeed.  The best reds are made from the local Gaglioppo (yet another interesting and obscure Italian variety), which by reputation reaches its heights in the small appellation of Cirò.  The other appellation that apparently makes good wines from Gaglioppo is Savuto, but it’s so rare you’re unlikely to ever see a bottle.  Finally right in the tippy-toe in the town of Bianco they make some superb white wines from Continue reading

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Swiss Oddities

Who has drunk any Swiss wines?  Not many of you I’d bet, apart from my dedicated Swiss readers of course.  Like its Alpine neighbour Austria, Switzerland makes some excellent wines but doesn’t have the economies of scale of the larger producing Countries.  This applies to Swiss wine even more so than Austrian wine, the latter being increasingly represented on the UK market, primarily with white wines from their calling card Grüner Veltliner but also increasingly with wines from the their interesting native red varieties Bläufrankisch and St-Laurent.

In Switzerland, the production is much smaller still than Austria and the wines are even more obscure.  The key region for quality is Continue reading

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Exploring the Wines of the Veneto

In my current Italian wine course we’ve been taking a tour of the whole boot, starting at the North and slowly working our way down to the South and the Islands over six weeks.  Last week we were looking at the Veneto, so I thought I’d write a primer on the key wines found there… Continue reading

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Visellio Primitivo Salento 2001

Whilst we’re on the subject of where varieties emanate from, how about California’s own Zinfandel?  Well, a few years ago DNA evidence showed it to be the same variety as Primitivo, which comes from Puglia, the heel of Italy.  That they are one and the same was already suspected as they both make wild tasting, tannic, brash and alcoholic wines, whether in Italy or California.  For completeness we should note that it’s also in fact the same variety as Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia, but let’s not worry about that for now.

Whatever name it goes by, it’s certainly not shy and demurring.  No Pinot Noir this.  It’s got loads of Continue reading

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