Vines growing on organic soils in the Canaries

Vines growing on organic soils in the Canaries

It’s extraordinary to think that volcanic soils are amongst the most fertile, yet it’s true. As volcanic soils begin to age, they begin the processing of breaking down, releasing the very nutrients and minerals that allow plants to prosper – nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and chlorophyll. And because volcanic soil is virgin soil, it’s entirely organic with no chemical fertilizers, additives or the like, so no unwelcome contaminants.

With Mount Etna anything but dormant, grapes have been thriving on the foothills for centuries.   Mount Vesuvius (that hasn’t exploded for centuries) is considered to be one of the top ten active volcanoes in the world and is equally covered in crops.  Generally, the higher the altitude of the vines, the better the quality (cooler temperatures mean longer, more even grape maturation on the vine).

Check out our volcanic wines – they rate amongst the most naturally produced wines in the world.

For more information on organic and naturally produced wines, click here>

 

 

Today sees the launch of a new listing for us from a super producer, based in the stunning Paarl region of the South African Winelands.

Anyone who has taken time to visit the wineries of the Western Cape will know that the region is arguably one of the gems of the wine world.  My first venture to South Africa was in the Year 2000, when sanctions had only recently been lifted, and expertise was joined with excitement in the development of their wine industry.  Throughout the apartheid era, a co-operative (KWV) monopolised the industry, and whilst volume was not inconsiderable, quality was lacking in most areas.  Insufficient funding to sustain wineries, poor winemaking and often lack of hygiene were all contributors to a nation’s wine industry that was lagging way behind the buoyant Aussies and Kiwi production that we have come to love so much.

Those days are in the past, and South Africa these days is well positioned in the everyday, less expensive category, right up to the best of the boutique range.  And we Brits can’t get enough of them.  I for one am amongst their #1 fans – how a country could turn an industry in such a short space of time has to be admired.   Visiting those Winelands time and again is a joy that everyone who has a penchant for wine and travel should explore.  (Give me a shout if you want any advice on where to go.)

Our latest additions – a white and a red known as Jonty’s Ducks have a delightful story.  Organic is their middle name – just watch this video and our web-footed friends and you’ll be instantly charmed.  As for the wine, well if this isn’t worth a look, then….

Find the wines here>

 

 

IMG_4509During a recent visit to the gastronomic region of Italy, Emilia Romagna, we stumbled across a wine which we really weren’t expecting – and it was everywhere!

But first, the food.   Bologna is the real foodie capital of Italy, with the local Tortellini, Lasagne and Tagiatelli on every menu in town.  Just up the road is Modena – the home of Balsamic Vinegar.  Then 40 minutes further west (north-west) is Parma – you guessed it, Parma Ham and Parmesan cheese.

The wines from the region of Emilia Romagna are somewhat overshadowed buy it’s neighbouring states, but there are some fantastic wines being
produced in this area.IMG_4510

We visited Monte Delle Vigne, outside a town called Ozzano Taro (20km from Parma).  This is a modern and spacious property, the vines looked in great condition and the state of the art winery was very impressive.   They produce a number of high quality wines here but what we were interested was their Lambrusco(s).

Now why does this word strike fear into our hearts?  Is it due to the similarly named Lambrini?  The ‘Urban Dictionary’s’ definition of which is amusingly as follows: Lambrini is cheapo wine that is around 7% and its only about £2.00 Mainly drunk by chavs because they cant afford any decent sort of beverage.”

That aside, Lambrusco is a red grape of which there are around 60 different varieties – similar to Muscat in that sense.  The grape skins carry a rich pigment which produces ruby coloured wines, whose foam can only be likened to cherryade.IMG_4514

We were interested in their most traditional style wine, ‘I Calanchi’, which is made from Lambrusco Colli di Parma.  This wine is totally dry – whereas some of the scary Lambruscos we had dared to taste in Bologna were much sweeter.   Actually, pleasantly surprised.  Served at a nice chilled 12 degrees or so with some delicious Parma Ham and Parmesan, this wine was actually very pleasant and made for a nice change.

You will see in the video below that we were actually slightly frightened by the look of it, but, don’t be, if you see it, it’s really worth a go.

See our video here: https://youtu.be/vcHPoElszy

Ridgeview Vineyard Chardonnay Vines

Ridgeview Vineyard Chardonnay Vines

We decided to take a mosey down to Sussex this weekend and have a nose around a producer who has been on our radar for some time. Ridgeview Vineyard was founded in 1994 by Mike and Chris Roberts.  Their mission – “to produce world class sparkling wines in the South Downs of England”.  Members of the second generation of the family are now established in key roles within Ridgeview, keeping the family tradition going. They have their original vineyard right next to the winery which is 100% Chardonnay and produces their Blanc de Blancs – a zesty, crisp little number.  Their other vines are dotted around the surrounding countryside. We were met at the winery by the lovely Hannah, who generously took us through the 6 wines of Ridgeview.  They only produce vintage wines these days, so no blended non-vintages.  We were tasting 2013 (2012 was a disastrous year in the industry and the previous vintages were like the proverbial ‘hot cake’). English sparkling wines are growing a strong reputation in the wine industry and amongst consumers too.  We hope to have one of the Ridgeview family and their wines at our up coming tasting so stay tuned! View our other sparkling wines here >

Ridgeview Vineyard Wine Tasting

Ridgeview Vineyard Wine Tasting

Ridgeview Vineyard Wines

Ridgeview Vineyard Wines

 

KeisersbergIf you’ve never visited Alsace, put it on your list of places to visit before you die.  The region is, without question, a ‘must see’.  What’s more, we’ll put you in touch with our good friend Christophe Scherer, son of Andre, who will delight in showing you around his impressive (albeit tiny) cellar.

Known to most for their Rieslings, there are in fact several more grape varieties to choose from.  The most notable are Sylvaner, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir.   Then there’s the Cremant d’Alsace – made in exactly the same way as Champagne, but a fraction of the price (more on Cremant to follow shortly).

Unlike other French regions, local Alsatian wine regulations state that the grape variety must appear on the front label.   You might argue that this could be to do with the Germanic influence in the region (remember Alsace has passed from German to French rule fairly regularly and as such has its own very unique way of going about things).

We visited Christophe Scherer last year who, with his wife, now runs the family business of Andre Scherer Wines.   Welcoming us to his property in nothing more than shorts, T-shirt and wellies, we knew we had a friend and Scherer Signsupporter of Hannibal Brown forever!

JK and Christoph Scherer

Jude and Christoph Scherer in his cellar

Christophe prefers to pick his Riesling relatively early, focussing on freshness with good, racy acidity.  His Riesling Reserve Particuliere is a great example of the style that he favours.  His Pinot Gris Reserve is a new addition to our range – full-flavoured and ripe, it makes for a wonderful contrast to the zippy Riesling.

The beauty of Alsace is extraordinary, the wines are delightful and the romance is well and truly alive.

And when you’ve had enough of the Route du Vin d’Alsace, step onto the Route du Fromage – this is Munster land afterall!

I recall when is was a kiddy, my Mother used to keep a bottle of a well known brand of dry sherry under the kitchen sink.  Those were the days when Sunday Lunch was a real family affair.  Nowadays, Mother’s tipple has shifted towards jolly nice white wines supplied by yours truly in bucket loads.  (Curiously,  I don’t remember there being wine on the Sunday Lunch table, but I cannot imagine she drank sherry throughout the meal.  I assume there must have been wine – either that or she’s busy makng up for lost time..)

Don't try this at home!

Don’t try this at home!

So how surprised were we, in our recent outing to the Canaries, to discover there was very little in the form of sherry available.  Clearly, these Spanish islands prefer to stick to their local wines.  One waitress looked blankly when we asked for sherry, though she did turn out to be Argentine so we let her off the ignorant hook and made no mention of the Falklands.

Fortunately, we did find a very delicious bottle of dry Manzanilla during our travels and some exceptional roasted almonds – a must with any dry sherry.  Socks chilled off, this makes for one heavenly sun-downer!  The incredible dryness is something one has to become comfortable with.  Once that hurdle is overcome, the challenge is not to polish off the bottle in one sitting!  But beware – the alcohol on dry sherries is between 15 and 17% ABV.

Duty Free out of The Canaries sells litres of sherry for just 5 euros, so indulge we did and continue to enjoy the distinctive nutty ‘flor’ character that makes sherry so unique.

Old hat?  Not in my book – watch this space whilst we source the perfect Manzanilla for you…

More on sherry in tomorrow’s blog.

 

 

 

 

Taking Hannibal on his winter hols is always a treat.  Leaving the depths of winter in favour of the warmer climes of the Canaries this January proved not only a perfect break but a delve into some intriguing new wine discoveries.

The lengths of protection, vines are buried deep into volcanic soil

The lengths of protection, vines are buried deep into volcanic soil

Had we not opted to ‘dangle’ Hannibal off the end of a kite surf of the coast of Fuerteventura, or give him a daily trouncing in the plentiful surf around the island, we would still be in total Canarian wine ignorance.  Yet the islands are alive with inexpensive wine curios that leave most of their imported counterparts for qualitative dust.

The Canaries, unsurprisingly import pretty much everything.  Way down in the south Atlantic, a stone’s throw from Africa, you can rely on year-round warmth (the temperature never dips below 18 degrees, even at night!), but you cannot rely on the prawns and calamari – frozen, tasteless and a real disappointment*.

As for wine, it’s Senor Torres of mainland Spanish fame who has a handle on wine consumption here.  There’s even Torres Olive Oil and Torres Balsamic vinegar to dip in your bread!    But we opted for sampling the local grog and in so doing, not only saved money (Torres – you are getting unnecessarily pricey, Sir) but enjoyed an array of flavoursome dry whites made from the local and widely abundant Malvasia grape.

The Canarians know a thing or two about winemaking – they’ve been growing grapes for hundreds of years to worldwide acclaim.  The sweet styles were highly sought after in 15th to 18th centuries and the likes of Shakespeare and Agatha Christie amongst others make reference in their respective novels.

We steered clear of the roses, fearful of the luminescence of many(!) and only sampled a handful of reds (the climate lends itself best to refreshing whites).   Our two favourites by far were a mouthfulling Lanzarote Malvasia from El Grifo that packs a refreshing punch; and in particular a Listan Blanco (grape used in dry Sherry) from Bodega Tajinaste, farmed up in the high, cooler hills.   Both were enjoyed with *home-prepared fresh prawns in garlic & chilli (thank goodness for self-catering) and both clearly favour fish dishes in a thumpingly well prepared garlic based jus.

Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are renowned for high winds, making both watersports and growing grapes a bit of a challenge.   But Canarians masters at both and when not riding their very own Kahuna, hey’re busy protecting their vines from the elements to ensure clean, dry, impressively well valued wines.  Check out Bodega Tajinaste here>

Volcanic circles form natural barriers to the elements

Volcanic circles form natural barriers to the elements

Circular vine protection from prevailing winds

Circular vine protection from prevailing winds

Viticulture in India has a long history and there is historical evidence of grapevines being introduced from Persia.

Sula Vineyards Grape Harvesting

Harvest time at Sula Vinyards

During the time of the Portuguese and British colonisation winemaking flourished in India. The end of the 19th century saw the phylloxera louse take its toll on the Indian wine industry as with much of the world.  Then religious and public opinion started to move towards the prohibition of alcohol.

After independence from the British Empire a number of states became ‘dry states’ and the government encouraged vineyards to convert to table grape production.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Indian wine industry was revived as international influences and the growing middle classes started increasing demand.  Now there are very few wineries who produce the quality and quantity suitable for export.  Sula Vineyards in Maharashtra state are one of the few who do and their Syrah and Viognier are fabulous.

View the wines here >

Preparations are under way for the arrival of Hannibal’s latest discoveries from unusual corners of the world.

Right now, he’s making his way through  Lebanon, towards the Bekaa Valley on the east side of the country.  Bekaa is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, dating back over 5,000 years and it’s said that this is where Jesus turned water to wine.

Lebanon mapThe Bekaa Valley is very much the fruit ‘n veg garden of Lebanon.   With the less fertile northern limits reserved for nomadic cattle grazing, the more southerly reaches are renowned for an array of vegetables and cotton.

Poppy Fields

Pretty Poppies

Thanks to the work of Jesuit monks in the mid 19th century, many of the best Lebanese vineyards are planted with French grape varietals – all the classic grape varieties are found in abundance.  And with the best wineries embracing modern techniques, it’s not difficult to understand why Lebanon has the capability of producing wines of world renowned quality

Hannibal will be launching his Lebanese wine range on 1st June, so stayed tuned.

For more on Hannibal’s wines for unusual origins, follow this link>

You may have noticed that in keeping with Hannibal’s theme of ‘unusual wines from unusual origins‘, we’ve just introduced some Indian wines.  Now, we may all harbour a reservation or two about the quality of Indian wine.  But take it from me, this ain’t no gimmick – the wines really do stack up.  A worker harvests grapes in a vineyard in Nashik, India

And why shouldn’t they?  After all, India does in fact have quite a history of grape growing – it’s been around since 400 BC.  Back then, it was mostly table grapes produced, but more recently (specifically during the British colonization), the Indians turned their hand to winemaking.

In the ’90s, winemaking pretty much exploded in India – a boom in the economy and the rising yuppy-ism suggested that huge domestic demand was just around the corner.  In fact, the boom lasted well over a decade, giving aspiring young winemakers plenty of time to prove that it really is possible to produce impressive, world-class wines.

On a more realistic note, as India has been hit by world recession, so too have a huge number of Indian wineries, leaving them strapped for cash and unable to progress.  

It’s true to say that some will survive – Sula Vineyards have developed a hotel and restaurant activity to shore up their winery earnings and we can be certain that they won’t compromise on their position as country leaders in winemaking.  Sadly, it seems likely that many wineries will revert back to the more lucrative earnings of table grapes, which will be a shame and a loss to us all.

Bottom line… don’t miss the opportunity – Indian wine may not be around for long.  Click on India>

On 26th January 1788 the first fleet of British ships landed at Sydney Cove, New South Wales.  The Governor, Arthur Philip, raised the British flag and a nation was born.Old Aussie Winemaking

On those first ships the team had the wonderful forethought to bring along some vine cuttings from the Cape of Good Hope.  Sadly the cultivation of those vines failed, but with huge perseverance the first wines were available domestically by the 1820s – “good on ya’!”.

They were obviously beavering away as in 1822, for the first time, an international award for winemaking was given to an Australian.

Once the ‘terroir’ and climate had become more familiar the quality of the wines being produced rocketed.  At the 1873 Vienna Exhibition the French judges praised some wines from Victoria in a blind tasting.  Once the provenance of the wine was revealed they withdrew their comments in protest stating that ‘wines of that quality must clearly be french’!

View our Australia Day offers here >

Last month, Hannibal Brown sent five lucky Golden Ticket Competition winners for a trip to Domaine La Maurerie in Saint Chinian, down in the south of France.  This is a wonderful account of the fun they had whilst down there.  Read on…..

DOMAINE LA MAURERIE – A LITTLE CORNER OF PARADISE

The instructions from Maria Depaule (co-owner of DLM, as we now refer to this wonderfully understated property) stated, “when you think you’re lost, you’ll probably be there”.  She was right – 5km after the last village, we took a turn off the main road.  And another 2km of meandering through grape-laden vines, we finally reached the tiny hamlet of La Maurerie and our home for the next five days.  Close to midnight, we arrived to a true Depaule welcome:  3 boxes laden with glorious La Maurerie wine, not to mention a friendly greeting from Carla, the resident wirey old farm dog.  Sitting outside our gite under the stars, several glasses down, it was hard to believe that we had been rushing around London just a few hours earlier.

Maurerie

Maurerie

We had timed our visit to DLM to perfection.  The locals, relieved and happy following a successful white grape harvest, were taking a well earned indulgent break before embarking on the reds.  The vines looked amazing with those plump purple grapes, crying to be picked.

Next morning, surprisingly fresh (it’s the lack of sulphites apparently), we were treated to a winery tour with Michel Depaule (vigneron and other half of this humble property) during which time he taught us that magnums were infinitely preferable to bottles as the ‘wine comes alive and develops far better’.  Maria, meanwhile, showed off the new winery equipment and their splendid party room (definitely NOT a conference room!).   We then began the day’s essential tasting with the newly bottled 2011 vintage.  We especially loved the Crestell – which tasted even better in the smug knowledge that we’d snuck a taste in before Hannibal!

We experienced market day in Saint Chinian, a quaint little medieval town with the biggest southern French character and rusticity.  Here, we petted the world’s smallest pig(!), bought the world’s most expensive macaroons and constructed world’s tastiest cheeseboard.  And after sampling (drinking) maybe a little too much of the local Saint Chinian co-oerative wine with the locals, we stumbled back across vineyards to our gite (the converted old barn of the DLM winery), where we barbecued on old vine roots and shared stories of the day’s events with our hosts.

The rest of the week involved kayaking, oysters, tractor driving, beach, walks and new friends.  This hamlet in the middle of nowhere managed to feel like the centre of everything to us lucky Golden Ticket winners.  Sante Hannibal!