The Don of Chilean Cabernet

Corks from bottles of Concha Y Toro's Don Melchor icon Cabernet

If you ever get the opportunity to visit the vineyard where Concha Y Toro’s flagship Don Melchor wine starts its life, you are likely to find yourself in a ditch. An actual ditch, dug just so that you can see, close up, the composition of volcanic stony soil in which the vines struggle to survive. Beats being handed a stone or rock by a winemaker, as is so often the case. Read More…

Wine Duty: Enough Is Enough

Sometimes, being a wine lover feels like you’ve made a pact with the Devil.

You’re labelled a “snob” for turning down a glass of cheap wine.

You’re branded a binge drinker because you dare to have a glass or two on a regular basis.

If you drink wine in the week, it must be a coping mechanism – especially if you’re a woman. And obviously, you have no control.

Rarely is it mentioned that many of us like wine for its taste and its alchemy with food – not for its alcohol levels.

Now, it looks like the UK’s wine lovers are about to get punished again. Read More…

And The BAFTA Goes To…

Me, dressed up, holding a BAFTA in a hallway outside the Style Suits at the Savoy Hotel

When Edgar Sampson wrote Stompin’ At The Savoy, I doubt he had in mind a woman clomping around in vertiginous heels, in serious danger of tripping over her £1000 floor length dress and smashing the glass of Champagne in her hand.

Yet here I was, tottering clumsily around the Savoy Hotel in the Strand, experiencing what it was like to be a EE British Academy Film Awards nominee getting ready for the big night.

You have to be good in heels, for a start. Or at least use your acting skills to pretend you are. And you would have arranged your designer dress weeks before, instead of selecting the one that fitted, straight off the rail. Read More…

What Wine, What Film 2014

Close up of Seresin Sun & Moon Pinot Noir label

Matching wine with food? That’s SO old school. Apparently.

Now, it’s all about pairing it with music, art, books and (in my case) film.

So, for this year’s EE British Academy Film Awards best picture nominations, here are my suggestions for what wine goes with what film… Read More…

The Bicycle Diary

A bike in front of vines

I thought someone was joking when they said that the bikes were waiting for us at Cono Sur.

But, as we rolled up the driveway to the Santa Elisa estate in Chile’s Colchagua Valley, there they were – a row of black, slightly careworn cycles.

I should have clicked, given that Cono Sur’s entry level range of wine is called Bicicleta. Read More…

Keep Carmenere And Carry On

Sign on Carmenere vineyard in Chile

You could call the arrival of Carmenere in Chile a happy accident.

It was Merlot the Chileans were after, back in the day. Unbeknown to them, they got Carmenere vines as well. Read More…

Sweet Dreams Are Made This

It’s late morning on a grey, overcast day and there’s a solitary man sitting between a row of vines near the Hungarian town of Tokaj.

He’s checking every grape and picking only those with the right amount of desiccation and “noble” rot, (botrytis cinerea).

It’s a lengthy, painstaking job that can take weeks of passing up and down the vineyard for those perfect grapes – or aszú berries, as they become known (and first mentioned in the 16th century). Read More…

Marsala Wine: Blame The Brits

The first thing you learn on visiting the Sicilian city of Marsala – where the fortified wine hails from – is the phrase Before The British.

There’s a clear diving line between what is legally defined today as Marsala and an older style of wine locally called “vino perpetuo”. Perpetuo is, as the name suggests, is a wine that appears to go on forever. It is kept in a barrel and topped up with new wine each year, when a quantity is removed. This is similar to the solera fractional blending system used for Sherry.

The sweet, fortified wine that most of us know was “invented” in the late 18th century. English merchant John Woodhouse, so the story goes, took shelter from a storm in Marsala, liked the perpetuo wine and wanted to take some home. To preserve the wine for the journey, he fortified it and tah dah! A rival to the highly-fashionable Madeira was created. Read More…

A Kind Of Magic

Glass of Barraco Vignammare Grillo 2012 by the Western Sicilian sea

What makes a wine great?

Technically, it’s about attributes such as balance, complexity and ability to age.

But this ignores the part that emotion so often plays. Where you were and what you were doing at the time you pressed the glass to your lips.

That last night of a fabulous holiday, a birthday lunch with your closest friends or, in my case, a little moment of magic in a vineyard by the glimmering Sicilian sea.

It wasn’t the most promising start, bumping along a dirt road to Nino Barraco’s Vignammare vineyard not long after a large, Marsala-fuelled lunch. With each twist and lurch, the sun in the western Sicilian sky slunk a little lower and the sea came no closer. Read More…

To Be Or Not To Be Prosecco

Label for an Italian sparkling wine by Nino Franco

The glass of wine in my hand doesn’t smell particularly fruity. Or blossomy. What I am picking up is more dried grass and lemon peel.

I take a sip. Yes, hay, some herbs maybe, raw hazelnuts, lemon peel and fresh bread. It feels dry, rounded but restrained.

Not what I’d expect from a glass of Prosecco.

Yet, according to producer, Primo Franco – of Nino Franco – this is exactly what his Grave di Stecca Brut 2009 is. Read More…