The Coolest Wine Shop in the West? – Le Vignoble, Plymouth

Wine shops are getting cooler all the time. Pop to London and there are an increasing number of independent wine shops that are the antithesis of old fashioned dusty old shops full of smelly old men wearing tweed that we often think of when talking about wine merchants (although these days they are equally likely to be wearing red trousers instead).

Whether it’s The Sampler, Bottle Apostle, Vagabond or Hedonism there is a decidedly cool edge to these (and many other) wine shops. Of course all those that I’ve mentioned have one thing in common – Enomatic. It isn’t a pre-requisite of cool to have one but a shop that people can hang about in a bit more generates some extra cool – other cool places like Planet of the Grapes and Vinoteca have other ways of ramping up the cool.

I have friends in Plymouth and visit 2 or 3 times a year but until relatively recently if we wanted to buy wine we had to leave the city or bring a bottle with us. That all changed with the redevelopment of Royal William Yard into a food and drink destination. Taking a small unit with a nice patio area owner Yannick Loué has put together a wine bar and shop that has a cool feel to it. With a range of wines available from the Enomatic machines plus Champagne or English Sparkling wine by the glass it’s a cool place to hang out.

I visited on a Wednesday evening, not the busiest time in the week and found that whilst not rammed full there was a gentle buzz to the place. Customers ranged from younger than me to some significantly older. We popped in not only to try the wines but also test out Coravin that Yannick is one of the UK’s first retailers to adopt. I started with a bright and fresh Nyetimber Rose’ before sampling a wild ferment Assyrtiko from Gaia on Santorini. The red that really stood out was the wonderfully fragrant and fresh Fertuna Lodai a lovely Super-Tuscan. I confess that I was so busy chilling out, chatting to Jon and Yannick and having some nice wine that I can’t really remember everything that I tasted. In my book that’s a win.

It’s a cool, exciting place to go and a cool wine shop to buy wine from a small but very carefully chosen range. Perhaps the only thing missing was a bit of Miles Davies…

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Weingut Felsner, Kremstal

Manfred Felsner is one of the stars of Kremstal, which is one of the better wine producing regions in Austria for white wines made primarily from Gruner Veltliner. Felsner’s vineyards are on the Northern banks of the Danube to the East of Krems in what in many ways can be considered an extension of some of the best bits of Wachau (which for me is the best white wine growing region in the country).

Since 1990 Manfred has worked to bring slopes and old vines back into play while he has reduced yields and intervenes less in the vineyard in the hope producing expressive wines that are varietally true whilst showing off their individual site and regional character too.

The wines produced here are either bottled at Kremstal DAC (Klassik and Reserve) or under the generic Niederosterreich (Lower Austria) region.

Klassik Moosburgerin Gruner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal DAC

Lovely length and concentration, minerally and tight. Fine with some power. 90

Gerlissen Gruner Veltliner 2014, Niederosterreich

Really lovely depth and freshness. Pure with white pepper and baked limed. 89

Reisenthal Gruner Veltliner 2013, Niederosterreich

More mineral and perhaps less open and obviously fruity but has lovely purity and expressive nature. 90

Reserve Rohrendorfer Leiten ‘Alte Reben’ Gruner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal DAC

Really lovely, brightness, rich mouthfeel and tightly wound. Limey and white pepper with lovely concentration and purity. 91

Klassik Gebling Riesling 2013, Kremstal DAC

Lime and mineral but for me this tastes unpleasantly soapy. I think is possibly a disulphide fault? No mark given.

 

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Domaine de l’Hortus, Pic St Loup, Languedoc

Domaine de L’Hortus is set in an almost impossibly beautiful part of the Languedoc and is a true family affair with father Jean Orliac now having taken a back seat the domaine is run by his four children – Yves, Marie, Francois and Martin. They are undoubtedly one of the finest producers in this enclave that until recently was ‘Coteaux du Languedoc AOC’ (now just ‘Languedoc AOC’). This is one of those estates that just expect to try and do things right rather than cutting corners so perhaps it’s not surprising that despite buying the property in 1980 as a piece of barren scrub it took until 1990 for the first wines to be made.

As well as the wines of Hortus, the Orliac family make wines at Clos du Prieur also in Pic St Loup (headed by Marie) and good value range of wines under the ‘Le Loup’ label.

Loup y es-tu Blanc, Vin de Pays de Val de Montferrand 2014

A white blend based mainly on Viognier this is soft and slightly perfumed on the nose with citrus, and apricot blossom notes. Elegant and excellent value for money. 90

Bergerie de l’Hortus Blanc, Vin de Pays de Val de Montferrand 2013

A blend of 30% Rousanne, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Viognier, 10% Sauvignon Gris, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Petit Manseng, 5% Bourboulenc. Fresh with a lightness and airy feeling yet at the same time concentrated. Mineral with bright citrus fruit, pear, peach and melon with honeyed richness running through it’s core. It’s long and precise on the finish. 91

Grande Cuvee Blanc, Vin de Pays de Val de Montferrand 2013

70% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier. Deep and quite profound lovely richness and complexity. This has apricot, peach, pear and melon fruit with citrus and green apple. Plenty of minerality this is long and mouthfilling and I love it. 93

Le Loup dans la Bergerie Rouge, Vin de Pays de Montferrand 2013

40% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 30 Grenache. Very fresh fruited with good concentration but relatively simply. It is however incredibly drinkable – one of those wines where the bottle is gone before you realise it! Good length. 89

Bergerie de l’Hortus Rouge, Pic St Loup – Languedoc 2013

60% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache. This has concentration and real depth. It’s not big and jammy but  rather elegant and restrained. Fresh with a touch of savoury character this is a lovely elegant style of wine with good length and complexity. 92

Grande Cuvee Rouge, Pic St Loup, Langudoc 2012

60% Syrah, 35% Mourvedre, 5% Grenache. This is really deep with bright cherry notes, plenty of pepper and some savoury earthy notes. Thyme and oregano mix with fruit and mineral notes in a really complex wine that has fine ripe but ever so slightly rustic tannins. A pretty complete wine. 93

 

 

 

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A fantastic new Austrian wine producer

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I happened to be in London earlier this week for a meeting and was really pleased to see that there were a couple of tastings that really floated my boat on at the same time. One of those was the Annual Austrian Wine Tasting. It was great, well organised, a nice venue but I just don’t feel like I was able to do it justice. I has a number of things I wanted to do, I wanted to check out some wines from a few highly rated growers, I wanted to taste across a number of regions to remind myself of their stylistic differences and I wanted to taste some interesting wines that were not readily available in the UK.

I sort of managed all three but to be honest the tasting was so big that I hardly scratched the surface. There were 26 wineries there all looking for representation and I managed to taste with just one – but it was a good one. Why choose this one? Purely on the labels on the table I’m afraid.

Austrian wine is still (and always will be) quite niche in the UK, but that means there are plenty of great wines not yet over here or yet discovered so pretty much any importer looking for good wines can easily go and find something new that is worthwhile bringing over. There are a few importers who do a magnificent job of bringing some of the best, Fields Morris and Verdin and particularly Clarke Foyster have mouthwatering ranges of some of the very best producers.

I first really came to understand something of the Austrian wine scene when I visited the Northern winelands (technically ‘Lower Austria’) on a whirlwind three day trip that took in Wien, Burgenland, Nieusiedlersee, Kamptal, Kremstal and the Wachau and also included tutored tastings covering Styria and Wienviertal DAC. Since then I’ve bought decent, well priced Austrian wines when I get the  opportunity to, Waitrose do a pretty good job for everyday drinking.

Weinbau Alexander Koppitsch

A relative newcomer from Burgenland home to some of Austria’s finest red wines Alex is the winemaker here while from spending a few minutes talking with him and partner Maria it is clear she is the natural sales and marketing manager. The wines here are produced in a natural way with the grapes being grown biodynamically with minimum intervention. I tasted immediately after finishing tasting from wineries such as Pitnauer and Moric so to stand up to those was going to be something of a test. The thing that really stood out for me here was the exquisite freshness and purity of fruit – this was wine that tasted of fresh berries and could only translate their variety and place to the glass. I was pleased to see that others at the tasting were also giving these wines the thumbs up and it sounded as if a number of people were interested in importing them so I hope we’ll see them over here soon.

 

Klassik Gruner Veltliner 2014

Full bodied Gruner that is weighty and concentrated. Lovely length and purity this is stylish and elegant. 90

Klassik Weissburgunder 2013 (Pinot Blanc)

Elegant but manages to be relatively characterful with poise and focus. Mineral and ripe peach and citrus notes. 90

Reserve(?) Gruner Veltliner 2013 

Fragrant, textured and complex with lots of concentration. It managed to marry lovely elegance with that body and has plenty  to offer. 90

Klassik Balufrankisch 2013

Fresh cherry and really pure and precise. Lots of redcurrant and strawberry fruit. Relatively simple the fruit is really right to the fore. Deliciously drinkable. 88

Klassik Zweigelt 2013

Leafy mineral with plump red berry fruit, I have to admit to not normally liking Zweigelt – (maybe my tastes are changing but I found several here that I liked) There is again lovely purity and focus with slightly tart acidity that works really well freshening the palate. Good length. 91

Klassik ‘No. 4’ Cuvee 2013

A blend of Zweigelt (60%), Blaufrankisch (20%). St. Laurent (20%) and Syrah (5%). Bright elegant with lots and lots of berry fruits, it’s almost like a wine made from summer pudding. Sweet fruited stylish and complex it’s pure and long. 91

Klassik Pinot Noir 2013

Lovely  fresh berry fruit, very clear Pinot character this is sweet fruited and fragrantly perfumed with some savoury and mineral notes. Really very drinkable and well thought out Pinot that presses a lot of buttons. Accessible but serious too. 90

Reserve Neuberg Blaufrankisch 2012

A wine with real depth and complexity with is brightly fruity,  quite profound, fresh and fragrant. Terrific length and poise. Really very good indeed. 93

 

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A Social Media Suggestion

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Last week I suggested that the way much of the trade uses social media is not all that  effective – and buy that I am not referring to individuals but more to organisations. The issue here is that to do well on Twitter for instance you need to be able to be part of a conversation rather than standing on your soap box and shouting. To do that you need some access to twitter regularly and that means time. Time as we know is money and for many in the industry the short term gains from that are so unknown that they are unwilling to go down that route.

Here’s a thing though – it wouldn’t cost anyone much money to do it, it would be semi-independent and wouldn’t take up much time. The idea is not mine I hasten to add – it’s come about after a twitter conversation involving Jamie Goode, Bianca Ford from Yapp, Stephanie Searle from The Wine Society and others talking about Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014. It all came from a review that Jamie gave of the wine which rated it highly, there were some who questioned his judgement on it, but Jamie stood his ground. Others waded in, and so Jamie quite sportingly suggested everyone pop to Tesco, the wine was on offer then, and buy a bottle, return at 8pm and taste together using the #sundaywinelive tag.

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It was quite fun, there was some serious tasting, Jamie dug out some pictures and a video of the estate, people larked about a bit, various people, mainly Jamie did some fun impressions of other wine writers – so we got his tasting note written how he would write it but also how others might do it… So all in all it was pretty relaxed and not an air of seriousness about it.

Then people started to ask about doing it again, but at the time nobody was willing to arrange or organise or take the bull by the horns to get it going. And that is a massive chance (I was one who ducked my head down when talking about it so I am as much if not more culpable than any others) to start doing something with the power to really reach people going to waste.

So here’s the thing, it would be really easy to organise. You just need a willing blogger, who picks a wine they have tasted and liked recently BUT that has good national distribution and then once a week, once a  month or whenever (Regularly though), and using that hash tag, or another suitable one for them and plans a tasting calendar, publishes it well in advance so that people can buy and join in and off they go.

But here’s the thing – as a ‘nobody’ in the world I have maybe 500 followers – I don’t hunt down followers, I’m not after a massive audience personally – but it means that I would not be able to do  something like this. That said if the industry, or at least people within the industry got involved almost anyone could.

Here’s how.

1. A Blogger decides to go for it – they pick their day, their hash  tag and so on.

2. They release details of when they are going to do the tastings, what the hash tag is and so on.

3. Brand owners, national retailers and so on come together to tell people about it. After all if the blogger is recommending Tesco Finest Swartland Syrah why wouldn’d Tesco back it if it costs them no money.

4 Brand owners could also submit wines for consideration for inclusion (the blogger would need to be able to make the call on inclusion or not), but part of the deal should be that if you want the wine included you tell your followers about the tweetup.

It is really very very simple, costs  nobody (except wine drinkers) very much and will engage people. You see the first  one of these was done on the hoof, and attracted a small number of people (who were all well engaged with it) but this is something that could easily snowball. It might take a year to really get going but if the various elements of the trade supported it I see no reason why it wouldn’t make some noise in the long term.

There are then ways to take it one from there, the blogger could move into live video broadcast, or even  live video conference with a selection of other tasters viewing online (this again has been done – but as far as I know only once).

Generic bodies, retailers, brand owners and distributors could all support the channel which in turn could generate copies and spin offs all of which add to the overall consumer engagement experience.

Here is the thing though – it won’t happen. Why not? Because I am not sure there is a willingness to to support a venture like this, from either retailers or brand owners. If it’s done on one persons back and they feature their wine they may be happy to support it, but to help it get off the ground? I doubt it.

So here it is then. If you are a blogger or a tweeter and would think about making this something regular then I’d love to hear from you. I’d be interested in your comments but please also send me a message via the Contact Me page to tell me you are interested. If you are a retailer, brand owner, agent, distributor, importer or generic marketing body and would be interested in seeing if we can make this work then please also get in touch. If we can work together to make it happen it’ll be great.

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A brilliant Beaujolais from Jean Foillard

Jean Foillard’s Beaujolais is a wine that will split a room I suspect – but for all the right reasons. People looking for a bright, fresh youthful and relatively simple glugger will be disappointed by this wine I suspect – but for wine lovers everywhere this is a stunning wine.

Morgon is the second largest of the ‘Cru’ of Beaujolais – those villages who make a wine named after themselves rather than under the more generic Beaujolais or Beaujolais Villages appellation. These Cru are capable of producing the best quality wines in a range of styles from the lighter more fragrant Fleurie at one end to the fullest bodied, richest style found in Moulin a Vent. Morgan sits close to Moulin a Vent in style and the best wines from Morgon come from the Lieu Dit of the Cote de Py – a slope that is a mix of Schiste and Granite that produces the densest most structured wines in the appellation. These wines defy the thought that Beaujolais should be drunk in their youth requiring 2-3 years before they should even be broached but continue to improve for a number of years after that.

Jean Foillard is one of the finest of all Beaujolais producers, making wines that turn their backs on the commercialism of the big brands and instead focus on truly traditional methods using vines that are old and low yielding, late harvesting to ensure full ripeness, traditional vinification techniques and an overall ‘natural’ approach that avoid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertiliser and uses minimal sulphur.

I tasted this at a large tasting of wines including some smart Burgundy producers and this really stood up to the mark.

Jean Foillard Morgon Cote de Py Vielle Vignes 2012

A profound wine that marries a lovely complex nature, fine structure with depth and complexity, and yet is so incredibly approachable and drinkable. It’s one of those wines at a tasting that you get to it and want to stop, pull up an arm chair, pour yourself a glass and just enjoy it. Bright red cherry fruit, deep and satisfying, it has lovely freshness and good length. This is ‘proper’ wine made drinkable if you like. All the complexity and subtleness you might find on a wine with some age, wrapped up in a youthful shell that bursts onto your palate. I loved it immediately. 92 points.

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A lovely white Burgundy

A few years ago (2008) I went on holiday to Burgundy staying in a brilliant apartment above a winery in Chorey les Beaune. Over the course of the trip we visited a few estates but with a non crawling youngster were a little limited so tended to pop in on odd occasions to places. We were with friends and so apart from a couple of visits which we planned most were on the hoof with either a wife and child (sort of in tow), a friend or on this occasion a friend and his wife.

Aside from Bize, we also popped in during afternoon nap time to Tollot Beaut (two of us went for a walk, saw the sign and Nathalie was accommodating enough to show us around there and then), a boys trip to Chanson, and amazing solo trip to see Pierre Morey and a group visit to Louis Latour.

Perhaps my one regret was not walking more in the vineyards, but with Burgundy so close, children getting older and a love affair with the region I can’t imagine it will be a place I don’t see again.

Domain Simon Bize Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru ‘Les Vergellesses’ 2006

Lovely mature nose, citrus, butter pastry and  mineral, on the palate it is intense and concentrated with apricot and baked lemon notes. Mineral and long with really lovely freshness this has really good complexity. It’s exactly where I like white Burgundy to be in terms of maturity. It has a slightly creamy texture some nutty tones of cashew and almond. Terrific stuff. 91 pts.

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