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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. (more…)

The Wine Gang Christmas Fair Ticket Offer


Like wine?

Well, if you’re reading this, let’s assume you do.

So here’s an offer that is hard to refuse. Discounted tickets for The Wine Gang’s Christmas Fair. (more…)

A Kind Of Magic


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. (more…)

A Jolly Bolly Contest


Everyone has their price. Turns out, for me, it’s a bottle of Bollinger Rosé NV Champagne.

I was sent one to help promote a Facebook competition called “Travel with Bollinger Rosé”. (more…)

To Be Or Not To Be Prosecco


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. (more…)

Le Fizz, C’Est Chic


It’s a glorious early summer evening. I’m 28 floors up at Galvin At Windows in London’s Park Lane, overlooking the Queen’s back garden. And I have a glass of the newly-released Bruno Paillard 2002 Blanc de Blancs Champagne in hand.

In a world where Champagne houses seem to fall over themselves to seduce wine writers around new releases, this feels intimate, stylish and relatively low-key. But then, should I expect anything less from a producer who is seen (or sees itself, according to a friend) as the Chanel of Champagne?

Probably not. (more…)

You Won’t Get Bored In Bordeaux


The grey door to my hotel room didn’t have a number. Instead, a smear of orange paint. But that wasn’t the end to its quirkiness. Inside the vast, stylishly-furnished room was a table filled with figurines of scantily-clad ladies. Pictures on the wall were arty shots of women’s nether regions. And if you looked closely at the print on the headboard, oh my! The face of a woman having um, a good time. (more…)

Good Shoes Would Choose Bordeaux


They say you can tell a man by his shoes.

So, what to make of wine consultant Olivier Dauga’s snazzy scarlet lace ups with lethally-pointed toes? Or cowhide slip ons? An ebullient maverick who’s a bit of a dandy, perhaps.

Definitely not your usual Bordeaux man-in-wine, that’s for sure. Or at least what I had in mind prior to my visit.

But that’s the point. For Olivier wants to demonstrate that there’s more to Bordeaux as a region than fancy châteaux and grand, unaffordable wines you have to wait decades to drink. (more…)

It’s A New Dawn, A New Life


“Are you selling wine?” inquired the customer.

At first I was a bit puzzled. Here we were, standing in my three-week old wine shop, surrounded by bottles of the stuff. Then the penny dropped. What he actually meant was (after checking labels for prices): “Are you ACTUALLY selling any wine?” And to be fair, it made a change from the more usual comments about “being brave”.

But I don’t think opening an independent wine shop in a West London during an economic slump is about “bravery”. It’s about risk. (more…)

Bring Out The Old, Ring In The New


I recently wrote about how special it was to drink a wine from your birth year. In this case, it was Port.

But, on reflection, drinking a wine made before you were born is probably more magical – once you have a few decades under your belt. Especially when it’s illegal. OK, OK, I’m exaggerating a bit. The Sandeman 1955 Port inside the bottle I am holding in the picture below didn’t break the law. But the bottle itself – a tregnum (2.25 litres) – is no longer a legal size for the sale of Port. (more…)