An exploration of wine

Producers and Places introduction and index

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Santorini view

Sunset in Santorini with a glass of Karamolegos Assyrtiko

The places where grapes are grown are rarely less than beautiful, and in places like the Greek island of Santorini or Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands, picture-postcard stunning.

Similarly, the people behind the wines are rarely anything other than generous, dedicated and passionate about what they do.

This part of the site is dedicated to bringing to life some of the regions where interesting wines come from, some of the key wineries in those places, and the viticulturalists, winemakers, marketeers, owners and others who get these wines from grape to your glass.

Much of what’s here has come from visiting the wineries themselves, sometimes from winemakers coming to London to show their wares at dinners and tastings, occasionally just from reading and learning, and often from simply drinking bottles here and there.

Either way, this is my attempt to unveil a bit of the world of wine.

Over time, the following list of countries, regions and producers will get its own posts. These will progressively get linked up as and when that happens!

France

La Grande Dame; la Belle France. Any exploration of the world of wine kinda has to start here. Mine did, in Chablis and the rest of Burgundy, followed by Bordeaux, Alsace and the Rhône in successive years. All the major ‘international’ grape varieties started here, and it remains the heart of the wine world.

Regions and some selected producers:

  • Alsace: Trimbach, Weinbach, Hugel, Josmeyer, Zind-Humbrecht, Schlumberger
  • Champagne: Taittinger, Bollinger, Jacquesson, Delamotte, Françoise Bédel, Moutardier, Moutard
  • Burgundy
    • Chablis: Jean-Marc Brocard, Daniel-Etienne Defaix, Billaud-Simon, Laroche
    • Cote d’Or:
      • White: Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne; Leflaive, Olivier Leflaive, Francois Carillon
      • Red: Volnay, Vougeot, Gevrey-Chambertin; d’Angerville, Bertagna, Bouvier, Roche de Bellène
    • Northern Rhône: Chapoutier, Guigal, François Villard
    • Southern Rhône and Provence:
      • Chateauneuf: Château de Beaucastel, Château Sixtine
      • Gigondas: Domaine Santa Duc, Château de Saint Cosme
      • Ventoux: Chêne Bleu
      • Rasteau: Cave de Rasteau
      • Lirac & Tavel: Domaine Lafond Roc Epine
    • Bordeaux:
      • Médoc: Château Pontet-Canet, Château Lascombes, Marathon du Médoc
      • Péssac-Léognan: Domaine de Chevalier
      • St Emilion: Château Troplong-Mondot
      • Pomerol: Château Gazin
      • Sauternes & Barsac: Château Climens, Château Rieussec; Château Suduiraut
      • Entre-Deux-Mers: Château Bauduc
    • Languedoc-Roussillon:
    • Loire:
      • Sancerre
      • Chinon
      • Vouvray
      • Savennières
      • Coteaux du Layon
    • South-west France:
      • Jurançon
      • Madiran: Alain Brumont

Italy

Close to France in scale, yet never quite conquered the world in the same way. Equally great wines in different styles and a myriad of indigenous grape varieties that are only now becoming mainstream in Global viticulture. Quantitatively successful with Prosecco and Pinot Grigio, and historically with the likes of Frascati and Soave whites, and Chianti and Valpolicella. But all too frequently quality was not even a secondary consideration. Fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. And under-visited by me at least.

Regions and some selected producers

Spain

So much more than Rioja. The 1990s Spanish wine renaissance, after joining the EU in the 80s has created a hugely exciting place to find emerging producers, places and grape varieties. From the cool and crisp Atlantic North West to new-wave old Sherry, this is a super place.

Portugal

Portugal is waking up. A new generation of winemakers are creating a suite of still wines that are refreshing the country’s wine scene. But the stars continue to be the fortified wines of Port and Madeira – both painfully underrated (and beautiful places).

Regions and some selected producers:

Greece

Most people’s reaction to Greece is “Greek…wine?? They make wine there?”. Yet this is the country of Dionysus, that the Romans called Œnotria – the country of wine. Perhaps spoiled by Retsina (or low-rent Retsina anyway) and underinvestment, there is much to be hopeful about and much to explore from indigenous varieties like red Xynomavro, Agiorgitiko and white Assyrtiko.

Regions and some selected producers

  • Santorini: Sigalas, Artemis Karamolegos, Argyros, Gaia, Hatzidakis
  • Nemea
  • Naoussa

Germany

The land of Riesling and acidity. Dramatic landscapes catch the limited Sun to ripen grapes (and increasingly with aid from Global warming). Adding Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Silvaner to the Riesling mix gives extra dimensions to Germany. All a long way from ‘70s Blue Nun.

Regions and some selected producers:

  • Mosel: J. J. Prum, Selbach-Oster, Dr. Loosen, Max Ferdinand Richter
  • Rheingau: Robert Weil, J. B. Becker
  • Kaiserstuhl: Reiner Probst
  • Wurttemberg

Austria

No, they don’t add antifreeze to Austrian wine. That was 1985. Since then the very well-organised Austrian Wine Marketing Board has supported the recovery of Austria’s reputation, with a powerful focus on quality. And every MW student in Europe gets an immersion in their first year, with a week in the botrytised wine centre, Rust.

Regions and some selected producers:

  • Wachau: Domaene Wachau, F. X. Pichler
  • Kamptal: Schloss Gobelsburg, Bründlmayer
  • Kremstal: Stadt Krems
  • Burgenland: Weingut Tremmel, Pittnauer,
  • Sudsteiermark

Hungary

Post-communist private enterprise has flourished in Hungary, driving a quality resurgence in classic Tokaji botrytis wines as well as new wave dry whites. Other emerging regions too.

Selected producers:

Tokaji: Royal Tokaji, Oremus

England

The most exciting thing for a southern Englander is the true quality potential for traditional method sparkling wines. Now estates are planting and using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, on underlying Downland chalk that passes through the White Cliffs of Dover, only to emerge in…Champagne…English sparkling will be a world-beater. Still wines much less so.

Selected producers:

  • Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Denbies

Australia

“Sunshine in a glass” brought Aussie Chardonnay to the UK in the 1980s and Barossa Valley Shiraz gave the world an alternative name for Syrah. Variety and winemaking were all. But that stuttered in the early 2000s. Since then, smaller, quality estates are going back to find and express their regions. A spirit of innovation and exploration is back in Australian wines, and quality is in the ascendency.

Regions and selected producers:

  • Clare Valley: Jim Barry, Knappstein, Kilikanoon, Mitchell’s, O’Leary Walker
  • Barossa Valley: Two Hands Wines, Wolf Blass, Penfolds
  • Eden Valley: Yalumba
  • Adelaide Hills: Shaw+Smith
  • McLaren Vale: d’Arenberg, S C Pannell
  • Margaret River: McHenry-Hohnen, Vasse Felix
  • Mornington Peninsular: Kooyong, Moorooduc
  • Macedon Ranges: Curly Flat

New Zealand

Cool climate but with plenty of Sun. Aotearoa is the master of pure, crisp, aromatic whites – 75% of which is Sauvignon Blanc; 80% of that from Marlborough. But NZ was also the first place outside Burgundy that, for me, mastered finicky Pinot Noir. Dramatic scenery and great wine.

Regions and selected producers:

  • Central Otago: Felton Road, Mount Difficulty, Two Paddocks, Wooing Tree, Carrick, Akarua
  • Marlborough: Seresin, Spy Valley, Cloudy Bay
  • Martinborough: Palliser, Martinborough Vineyard, Ata Rangi
  • Kumeu: Kumeu River

South Africa

320 years old, or 20 years. South Africa’s centuries-old wine industry, established as the Cape was colonised, turned inward during Apartheid and fell behind the modern wine world. Since its end, the new generation of winemakers have studied in Stellenbosch but then travelled the wine world, before returning to revolutionise the wines of the Cape. The pace of change is staggering and probably faster than anywhere else in the world. I finally visited in late 2015, to witness that development.

Regions and selected producers:

  • Constantia: Klein Constantia, Groot Contantia, Constantia Glen, Constantia Uitsig, Buitenverwachting, Steenberg
  • Stellenbosch: Jordan, De Morgenzon, Vilafonté, Thelema, Rust-en-Vrede, Kanonkop, Rustenberg, Glenelly
  • Franschhoek: Chamonix, Rupert & Rothschild, Allée Bleue
  • Hemel-en-Aarde: Newton-Johnson, Ataraxia, Hamilton-Russell, Crystallum
  • Bot River: Gabrielskloof
  • Paarl and Wellington: Linton Park, Fairview
  • Swartland: Porseleinberg, Mullineux

Argentina

The home of great Malbec is getting greater. Winemakers are developing in two directions. First, better balance of ripeness, freshness and oak. Second, deeper exploration of terroir – understanding both the effects of altitude and the impacts of what’s beneath the soil. Much of the region is actually quite flat – albeit at 600-1,500m above sea level – but soils are complex alluvial, colluvial, wind-blown and sedimentary. With many pockets of very old, own-rooted vines, quality is coming to the fore.

Regions and selected producers:

  • Mendoza: Achaval-Ferrer, Norton, Terrazas de los Andes, Mendel, Catena Zapata, Pulenta Estate
  • Valle de Uco: O. Fournier, Zuccardi, Finca La Celia, Atamisqué

Chile

A long-time staple for entry-level wines from international varieties – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dominated by 4 companies making 80+% of the countries wines. And yet, a new Chile is emerging. A combination of the big boys trying to make high-end ‘icon’ wines and exploring some more extreme terroirs, and a set of determined small producers taking a different view of places to grow and of old, own-rooted, alternative grape varieties. High on my list to visit and understand better.

Selected regions and producers

  • Aconcagua Costa
  • Leyda: Viña Leyda
  • Errazuriz, Julio Buchon, De Martino

USA

Almost the original New World country. In reality, dominated by California, with 90-95% of all US production. That includes high-volume Central Valley production of E&J Gallo and friends. But also top-end wineries, epitomised by Napa Valley, home of the $100 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Other places, like Sonoma, have a less corporate, more artisan feel. Whilst styles are generally ripe and big, there are many very fine wines. Also generally fantastically easy, enjoyable places to visit.

Regions and selected producers:

  • Napa: Sterling, Beaulieu Vineyards, Cakebread, Stag’s Leap Vineyards, Freemark Abbey
  • Sonoma: Rafanelli, Martinelli, Lytton Springs
  • Santa Cruz Mountains: Ridge
  • Santa Barbara: Qupé, Au Bon Climat
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Virginia
  • New York

Canada

There’s more to Canada than ice wine. But it is this nectar that they do more reliably and arguably better than anyone else. Nevertheless, dry whites and reds are showing some promise, especially from the Okanagan.

  • Ontario: Inniskillin, Peller Estates
  • BC: Okanagan Valley

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