Ahead of this Thursday’s ‘Rhone Rangers’ LockdownLive! event, we thought we’d re-visit some basic principles of French wine labelling.  Here’s a quick outline of what AOC means :

In French – “Appellation d’origine Controlee”

In English – “Controlled designation of origin”Rhone Rangers header square

The principle is that a wine with an AOC classification has a guarantee of quality and origin, and the winemaker has strict guidelines to follow in order to obtain the classification.

AOCs vary massively in size. Some can cover large areas with a variety of climate and soil characteristics, others are small and incredibly uniform.

The Côtes du Rhône AOC covers about 400 square kilometres of land.

We must remember though, a wine that doesn’t carry an AOC classification is not necessarily of lesser quality.  It can mean that the winemaker simply hasn’t the desire to jump through all the hoops required to obtain the classification.  Or he may disagree with some of the AOC regulations.  For example, I know a winemaker who’s AOC states that there must be zero irrigation of the vines.  But he knows that a small amount of irrigation leads to far better results.  So why wouldn’t you?

Join us for ‘Rhone Rangers’ – a Lockdown Live event on Facebook – 7pm Thursday 22nd Oct 2020.

 

The captivating Pedro Urbina with his very special wines

A few years ago, we had a phone call from a friendly Spanish winemaker named Pedro, who happened to be in the area and wanted to pop by and share with us a few of his aged Riojas.  Not wishing to be rude (or indeed miss an opportunity), we agreed to meet with him.  Trouble was, Pedro was flying home and could only spare 10am Friday morning, particularly grim because it was the morning after a family wedding…!

Years ago, a 10am tasting after a night on the town would not have daunted me.  But 25 years in the trade and you really start to feel it!  Suffice to say, this was one tasting I wasn’t looking forward to.

And so it was, a couple of Alka Seltzer and here we were, at the beginning of a fabulous new trading relationship with the most charming of winemakers.  Pedro rocked up (he is a bit of a rock star to be fair) with his basket of goodies and, well, the rest is history.

Boy, were we impressed and stunned with excitement.  Pedro Urbina has an impressive handle on the English language – one of those people in life that you simply like to sit back and listen to.  He has a simple manner and within moments of meeting him, we were captivated by his angle on winemaking in the Rioja region.  Pedro is the current winemaker in this old family winery – he may be young, but he certainly knows what he’s doing.

The Urbina family enjoy a unique stance on Rioja wines, preferring to keep them in their cellars for considerably longer than most Rioja producers, releasing only when their wines begin showing real maturity.

That day, Pedro brought with him a selection of his older wines, very old to be precise.   In all my years in the wine trade, I had never experienced such old Riojas.  We started with a 2008 Crianza.  2008!!!  Most Crianza in today’s market is 2018!  It was a golden/brick colour, to be expected given its age, yet deliciously fresh as a daisy on the palate.

Next was a 1999 Crianza – yup nigh on 18 years old, fruit-driven with vanilla tones and once again fresh and zippy.  Then came my favourite – a 1998 Reserva Especial.  Its colour was almost orange, its flavours gamey and herbaceous in one.  The wine had complexity and sure enough, every sip took on a different angle.  Pedro suggested pigeon as a food accompaniment.

We followed this with a 1996 Gran Reserva.  This wine had spent significantly longer in tank before barrel age and bottling.  It was noticeable how much more depth and weight there was here.  Beef was the food suggestion here or a very tangy Cheddar.

Finally, Pedro’s ‘piece de resistance’, the 1994 Gran Reserva Especial.  He had enjoyed this himself the previous night with truffle-infused cheese.  Exquisite, enough said.Bodegas Benito Urbina Rioja Gran Reserva Especial

A few years on and we still have stocks of the 1994 Gran Reserva and the ’99 Crianza, whilst the ’98 Reserva Especial has been superceded by the 2006 vintage – I find myself jumping up and down whenever I mention the 2006!

Make no mistake, Urbina wines are something very, very special.  Always top of the class and hugely respected across the wine trade.  What more to say than thank goodness for Alka Seltzer!

If you’d like to learn more, be sure to join us live in conversation with the maestro himself on Thursday 8th October 2020 for a Lockdown Live! special event.

Details about the event are available HERE>

This past weekend, we spent with friends who are genuinely interested by the origins of our wines. Furthermore, by their support for organic farming and the overall ethical thinking of ourselves and so many of our great producers.

But what they really wanted was a simple definition of what  ‘organic’ means when it comes to wine.  So I’m writing a summary of the key points that I think everyone should be aware of…

First simple statement to understand :  Organic wine is wine made from organically grown grapes.  Simple. 

Second simple statement to understand :  Any chemical compound used in organic grape growing/wine-making must not have any detrimental effect on the environment or on human health.  

Grapes are certified ‘organic’ according to their nation’s regulations*.  This mean grapes grown free of synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or any chemical residues.

What does this mean?  Well, instantly the environment is cleaner, the soil and water free from chemical hazards and the vine feels better!  And if the vine feels better, then you can be sure that the fruit it yields should naturally be healthier.  And so it follows that we the consumer should be healthier too!

Wine that’s good for you – now that’s something to shout about!

*Bear in mind that there are plenty of wine producers who choose not to attain certification.  That is not to say that they are not producing organic wines, just that they choose not to spend their hard earned pennies on achieving certification.  

 

Ugni Blanc can produce high volumes if not managed.

It’s kind of odd, isn’t it – there we all were, in a state of lockdown, wondering at the extent of the loo roll run.  (The sensible folk amongst us paid little attention.)  And as we sat in our gardens on the warm spring evenings with just our neighbours to chat to, we were all grateful for the on-going availability of our beloved wine favourites – a far greater necessity than excess loo roll if you ask me!

It’s fair to say the wine industry (us included) worked its socks off to ensure continuity of stock for home sales.  Without pubs and restaurants vying for our attention, home consumption has never been so great.  But it still cannot account for the overall reduction in national consumption and we are now beginning to see the reality of a wine river emerging across Europe.

As the new harvest looms large (some wineries have already started picking), many wineries are reporting surplus wine stocks that they have been unable to sell during the pandemic.   Add to this that the 2020 harvest across Spain, France and Italy is set to be pretty high in both volume and quality and the dilemma of what to do with the excess begins to unfold.  Take Spain as an example, who have reported a potential 14% increase in volumes compared to the 2019 harvest.

Many wineries are reportedly turning excess stocks into industrial alcohol at a cost of millions of Euros.  Much of this may turn up back on the market as sanitizer which, whilst being of some benefit, is heart-breaking for the winemakers.

Then there are the wineries who are at the high quality end of the spectrum.  These wines have the potential for a long and valuable life and nobody in their right minds would want to destroy them.  So space is required – and a lot of it – but where?

And then there’s the thinning, or ‘green harvesting’ as it is known, where the quantity of grapes is literally reduced on the vine.  This is not an uncommon practice and is certain to take place in regions such as Champagne this year.

On the other hand, look out of the window and we see inclement weather which could reverse the problems overnight – a touch of early frost here, too much rainful there and the problem could resolve itself, or at least be semi-managed.

It’s true to say the 2020 vintage will be memorable whichever way it turns out.

 

Mention Chile these days across wine industry experts and you’ll find buckets of respect for what this country has achieved.

Chief Winemaker Meinard Bloem at Casas del Bosque

It’s true, Chile has been producing wine since the Spanish conquistadors pitched up in the 1600s, tempted by just how perfect the growing conditions were for making wine.  Surrounded by the Andes on one side, desert in the north and the Pacific on the west, it proved an ideal land for growing, well, just about anything.  In recent years, it’s been regularly reported that if, hypothetically, all of the Chilean farmers of all crops came together, there would be a strong argument for certifying Chile as a nation 100% organic, such is the limited need for pest control and the like.  That’s quite a statement to make and whilst it unlikely to be achievable on paper, in practice it’s worthy noting that, overall, Chile likely produces the most wine with the least chemical intervention.

Casas reds

A brace of perfection!

Our good friends at Casas del Bosque are no different and we are proud to have listed them within our portfolio since Hannibal Brown was founded back in November 2012.

We were charmed initially by the Carmenere Reserva.  Not so long ago, this grape variety was widely confused in the vineyards with Merlot, but for the fact that it presented a consistently more robust characteristic.  For those less familiar with this varietal, it’s worth remembering that Carmenere is to Chile what Malbec is to Argentina (and I defy anyone reading this to have never heard of the latter!).

Such was our intrigue that we researched Casas del Bosque more thoroughly, introducing Syrah Gran Reserva (aka. Ribena on steroids), the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and more recently the Cabernet Sauvignon.  Casas del Bosque don’t do blends – they prefer their wines to reflect true single varietal characteristics and they are masters at optimising the fruit and purity in each and every one of them.

To discover more, we’re excited to be tasting the Syrah and Carmenere with Meinard Bloem, Bosque’s Chief Winemaker, who joins us for a virtual chit-chat via Facebook Live! and YouTube on Thursday 6th August 2020.   We hope you can join us!

 

The power of social media has meant that the great flying winemaker John Weeks and I are back in contact and working together again for the first time in many years.  What’s more, he’s agreed to join us at 3.30am (his time, not ours) for next week’s Lockdown Live! event, entitled Boom, Boom, Barossa! when we’ll be discussing his latest wines that have just landed.

You really don’t get more ‘Aussie’ than John… he’s never more happy than when witnessing Australia knocking ten bells out of some other poor sporting nation.  Cricket, rugby, you name it, he loves it.  So travelling the world making wine provided great opportunity to witness his teams perform on foreign turf.  I did once take a wad of cash off him when England reclaimed the Ashes, but taking a bet with John is a nerve-wracking experience.

Born in Adelaide, John spent much of his working life searching out the best wines across the world.  He’s worked in wine regions in five continents and lived in France, Portugal and South Africa, before returning to his native Australia.  He can now lay claim to over 30 vintages under his vinous belt – quite a milestone for any winemaker.  Thankfully, he hasn’t kept his adventures entirely to himself, recently publishing a book entitled The Wine Prospector (enter our COMPETITION to win a copy – see below).

John isn’t just a great winemaker, he’s a real Aussie character.  He can order a beer in 11 languages – now who wouldn’t want a friend like that?!

John Weeks joins us live Thursday 30th July 7pm for our Lockdown Live Wine & Food event.

Win a copy of John Weeks’s entertaining book ‘The Wine Prospector’

Best canapé creation to accompany these wines wins.  Simply design your canapé and create it, post a picture on Facebook and remember to tag Hannibal Brown Wines plus one friend who you think would like to join us (or enter too!). The competition closes at 18.00 (UK time) on Thursday, 30th July.

The winner will be announced during our Lockdown LIVE! chat with John Weeks, so make sure you’re watching to see if it’s you! There will be a subsequent post about the winner (showcasing the canapé) on Hannibal Brown Wines social media channels.

The competition is in no way endorsed or sponsored by Facebook.

 

 

As the sun continues to shine (at least in somes parts), the summer of 2019 is seeing yet more rosé wine being consumed than ever before.

Remember, there are two basic categories of rosé wine – the first is where rosé is the result of failed red wine (literally a bi-product of inferior red wine); the second is those wineries that go out of their way to produce great rosés.

Earlier this year, we spent a considerable amount of time looking at competitors’ rosé offerings.  On the one hand, we wanted to see how good the market really was and on the other, we were keen to prove that our own rosé listings were competing with the best.

I am surprised, pleased, shocked, relieved – all of the above, to report that we have found no rosé to convince us that our own Chateau d’Ollieres is anything less than perfect drinking this summer.  Yup, we cannot find any other wine that comes close to Ollieres – neither at the price, nor for sheer enjoyment.

Chateau d’Ollieres is (unsurprisingly) situated in the tiny village of Ollieres, 30km east of Aix en Provence.   Owned by the Rouy family, winemaking has taken place here for over 200 years.  They use organic manures and hard-harvesting.  The blend is 50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 10% Syrah and the colour is as you’d expect – delicate baby pink.  This is an example of a winery that goes out of its way to make awesome rosé.  For die-hard pink fans, this is one to discover.

Chateau d’Ollieres 2018 – it doesn’t disappoint.  And worth a visit when you’re next in Provence!

It’s rare that I talk directly about an individual wine in a blog post, but I feel the desperate need to share with you one of the most pleasurable wine experiences I have had this year.

You can imagine that we get through a fair few bottles in a year, continually tasting both wines from our range as well as new kids on the block, as we strive to seek out the glory from the monotony.  And believe you me – there is a lot of dross out there.

Last week, however, saw a new arrival from one of our old pals in Alsace – Christian Binner.  His Riesling ‘Champ des Alouettes’ had us roaring with appreciation at this, his latest masterpiece, made from his tiny vineyards in Ammerswihr, Alsace.

The Binners date back to the 1700s, so there’s no shortage of ‘savoir faire’ in this family.  On the other hand, less is more when it comes to fine wine-making.  Under Christian’s stewardship, they farm organically and bio-dynamically.  They rarely filter (and when they do, sparingly), their use of sulphur is minimal (if not at all) and they use 100 year old barrels for slow aging.  It’s no wonder that the resulting product is harmony personified.  A split between honey and ripe quince and peaches, the flavours in this wine were simply exquisite.   Price-wise, take a small breath – £22.95 is a little scary on an unknown, but trust us, every single penny is worth it and more.

We will only ever hold minimal quantities of this wine – shout if you’d like us to reserve any for you.

exton-park-040-145x110

View from Exton Park Winery

As Euro zone wines gently increase as the pound falls to its 31 year low, let’s turn our heads towards our own home grown tipples…

2016 will surely go down as one of the most exceptional vintages in the history of English winemaking.

With the majority of vineyards in the south eastern parts of the country (think Hampshire, Surrey, Kent), the weather has been unbelievably kind with super temperatures that never really dipped at night (I do recall a rather memorable late evening in mid-July – 3.00 a.m and our guests were still comfortably seated outside – unbelievable!)

Many vineyards are now well into their picking but I read this morning that others are not kicking off this year’s harvest until October 8th.  Indeed the highly successful bubbly specialists of Exton Park have announced picking starts  Tuesday 11th.

The dry summer has continued throughout September (the highest temperature being recorded in September) and October shows no abate.  High daytime temperatures and warm nights make for ideal ripening conditions and hence we can confidently expect not just increased yields, but some super quality wines this vintage.

Sparkling production is also in a great position – up to double the volume in some vineyards compared to last year.

So before the sun says its final farewell this autumn, we should all be raising a glass of English wine and celebrating in style.  Afterall, knowing our unpredictable weather, it could be decades before we see these conditions again.

Check out our English 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

The Malbec Grape

The big day is 17th April!

Malbec with no added sulphites

Malbec with no added sulphites

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (the 7th president of Argentina) is the man to thank.  In 1853 he decided it was time to kick the Argentinian wine industry into action!  On the 17th April 1853 he submitted a proposal which would put Argentina on the world wine map.

It was that year, 1853, that the Malbec grape was introduced to Argentina.  10 years later the Phylloxera plague started killing off vines all across Europe and the Malbec vines in the Southern Rhone were taking a real battering.  Whilst that was happening, the vines in Argentina were adapting to the varied soil types and were starting to produce Malbec wines which were better than those from its homeland of France.

By the 1950s, Argentina was the only country left growing original Malbec vines of French origin.  The Malbec wines of France were hard and tannic, and the wine was quite often used for blending – just a small percentage added to other grape varieties to give those wines some tannic structure.

The Malbec wines of Argentina (especially the Mendoza region) are world famous, the wines are fruity, approachable, well balanced and offer a spectrum of styles.  From light and fruity to the more serious wines, aged in oak and with much raging potential.

Argentina is now easily the biggest Malbec producer in the world with 76,600 acres of vineyards planted across the country, followed next by France’s 13,100 acres.

So, it’s time to crack open a bottle and raise a glass to the Argentinians for the amazing transformation of this world class grape variety.

You can view our Malbec wines on our website here >

We often show Malbec wines at our wine tasting events, if you fancy a fun evening with your friends or event a get together with your colleagues then we would be happy to tell you all about our wine tasting events, simply get in touch.

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