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May 9, 2017

Regional spotlight: La Rioja, Spain

rioja-wine-region-spain

 

Nestled underneath the Cantabrian mountain range in northern Spain lies the country’s most celebrated wine region: La Rioja. Often referred to as Spain’s early answer to fine wine after receiving expert advice and guidance from Bordeaux winemakers in the late 19th century, who were looking for pastures new after the devastating effects of phylloxera on their vineyards.

 

Rioja established itself in the winemaking world over 150 years ago and wineries can be found the length and breadth of the region, almost 600 in total, stretching from Haro in the west to Alfaro in the east.

 

Haro is the pinnacle for winemaking in the region as many of the first wineries were established here at the end of the 19th century. The newly built train station replaced horse-drawn carts for transporting wine back over the Pyrenees Mountains to France. This area is known as Barrio de la Estación and has the world’s largest concentration of century-old wineries.

 

The region is divided into 3 zones, each very different to one another. They are:

 

La Rioja wine region map and soil type

Credit: winederlusting.com

 

Rioja Alta: The most western and also the highest zone of the region. The soils contain high proportions of iron and clay and when you factor in the cool temperatures from the altitude (700m at its highest point), this ‘terroir’ creates elegant wines with good tannin and acidity levels – perfect for ageing.

 

Rioja Alavesa: Nowadays this province is classed as belonging to the neighbouring region of the Basque Country, but was once part of La Rioja. Similar in style to wines of Rioja Alta, this northern-central zone is said to have the best vineyards in the whole region which are found on the south-facing chalk and clay soils. The climate is distinctly Atlantic and the Cantabrian mountain range helps to protect the region to some extent from the relentless wind and rain from the north.

 

Rioja Baja: The south-eastern zone where the climate is more Mediterranean and as you would expect, much warmer. The soils here are on large, flat ancient river beds and are very calcareous which bare resemblance to the galets pudding stones of the southern Rhone Valley. More approachable, early-drinking as well as good blending wine can be found here.

 

Know your Rioja: grapes and labels
Riojan wines are not only protected by Spain’s oldest wine classification system known as DOCa (Denominación de Origen) which was officially recognised in 1925, but it also the highest classification available: Calificada. This was awarded in 1991 and makes La Rioja the only place in Spain to have been given the honour.

 

The regions regulatory board establishes and maintains controls ranging from choosing permitted grape varietals, controlling maximum allowed yields to approving vinification and ageing techniques and even marketing and branding.

 

Les vignobles de La Rioja, appellation d'origine controlee. Les vignobles de La Rioja, appellation d'origine controlee.

 

Due to the diverse range of soils and climates in the region, there are many different grapes grown in order to provide the highest quality wines available. The principal varietals are:

 

Tempranillo: The king of Rioja and a native varietal. It is the most widely planted grape counting for almost three quarters of vineyards in the region. It is capable of producing wines with great ageing potential due to good alcohol levels, colour and acidity balance.

 

Garnacha: Grown all over Spain but supports Tempranillo extremely well in Rioja by adding aroma and body to blends.

 

Graciano: Another indigenous grape to the region which is far less known than Tempranillo, but just as complementary in blends by adding freshness and acidity. It is becoming more and more common to find 100% examples of this varietal, particularly from La Rioja Alavesa.

 

Mazuelo: The last of Rioja’s native varietals and the smallest in terms of production with less than 5% of total vineyard plantings. It falls short in terms of flavour profile, however has an abundance of tannin, acidity and colour which again blends very well with Tempranillo.

 

Viura: Many people associate Rioja with red wine, but there are also some fantastic whites to be found too. This is the main white varietal producing wines with beautiful floral aromas and great acidity which are ideal for both young and aged white wine. It is known as Macabeo in other regions of Spain.

 

As a result of the variety of grapes grown in the region and infinite blending options, there are of course many different styles of wine too. Riojan wines have great ageing ability and affinity to oak (usually American), which plays a decisive role in the winemaking process as the wine evolves and develops. However, winemakers in Rioja are constantly pushing boundaries therefore it’s important to know what’s in the bottle and what style of wine is best for your palate using the follow label chart as a guide…

 

rioja-wine-labels

Credit: riojawine.com

 

Joven: Young wines in their first or second year that see no oak in order to preserve their fresh, fruity flavours. Very easy to drink and often served chilled.

 

Crianza: Translating literally as ‘aged’, these wines are often in their third year and have spent at least one year ageing in oak casks and one year in bottle (6 months ageing in casks for whites).

 

Reserva: They are only declared and made in the best vintages due to their good ageing potential. They have been aged for a minimum of three years of which at least one year will have been in oak casks (for whites, the minimum ageing is two years with at least 6 months in casks).

 

Gran Reserva: They are only declared and made in exceptional vintages and are simply the top wines available. They have been aged for a minimum of two years in oak and three years in bottle (for whites, the minimum ageing is four years of which one year is spent in casks).

 

If you’d like any more information on La Rioja wine region or would like some wine recommendations, please give me a call in the office on 01325 776446 or email me, andrew@bcfw.co.uk and I’d be happy to help.

 

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April 25, 2017

Seresin Estate: Organically Biodynamic

Clive Douglas, Seresin Wines, New Zealand

Seresin Estate Winemaker, Clive Douglas

 

A new world winery with an old world approach, Seresin Estate was founded in 1992 by cinematographer Michael Seresin. It was in the early 1990s when Michael had the desire to create a winery that produced wine in the most natural way possible with no compromise on quality. This innovation is still at the forefront of the company spirit and is very much reflected through the wines.

 

Michael Seresin’s initial passion for organic farming naturally progressed into biodynamics with Seresin Estate becoming one of New Zealand’s first biodynamic wine estates. Fully biodynamic certified since 2006, Seresin remains the largest organic/biodynamic wine estate in New Zealand. Biodiversity plays a key part in Seresin’s farming; the vineyards are planted alongside olive groves, orchards and vegetable gardens as well as a good proportion of the land being inhabited with livestock.

 

Seresin Estate

 

Situated on the Wairau river terraces of Marlborough, New Zealand, Seresin Estate comprises of 60 hectares of vines over three vineyards: Noa, Tatou and Raupo Creek.

 

Noa has 45 hectares located in the centre of the Wairau Valley and is where the winery and cellar is located. The soils are typically alluvial, free-draining Waimakariri, planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Riesling. The vineyard is also planted with olive groves and orchards which plays an important part in the Estate’s biodiversity.

 

Tatou is located slightly west of the Noa vineyard and spreads over 15 hectares. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are planted here on the alluvial shingle soils which produces charming concentrated aromatic wines.

 

The largest vineyard is Raupo Creek with 52 hectares of rich clay soils located in the foothills of the Omaka Valley to the south of the Wairau Valley. Though not all planted with vines, Pinot Gris, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier are the main varieties grown here, with the grass land which is unsuitable for vine growth is put to great biodiversity use for sheep and cattle.

 

seresin-estate-wines

 

It is from these vineyards, the stunning wines that we love begin their journey, skilfully crafted in the winery by winemaker, Clive Douglas to produce delicious wines true to their region and terroir. Feeling tempted? If you love good wine, give them a try… All are available by the bottle, why not make up your own mixed wine tasting case.

 

Seresin Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Attractive nose of herbaceous and grassy undertones fused with gooseberry, passion fruit and minerals. More exotic fruit with a creamy complexity on the palate. Added fatness from a wee bit of Semillon that is well knitted together with plenty of freshness and minerality.

 

Seresin Estate Chardonnay 2014
Lovely nose of apples and pears, concentrated with rounded silky mouthfeel, good structure with a mineral backbone, hints of oak with an impressive focus. Good finish and length.

 

Seresin Estate ‘Leah’ Pinot Noir 2012
Our favourite of the Pinot Noirs we tasted… Our Princess Leah! The nose offers good concentration of summer berries with added damsons. Soft, subtle texture with blackcurrants, black raspberries and juicy damson. Rounded and generous yet well balanced with plenty of finesse and class. Marathon finish with a touch of toasted nutmeg.

 

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March 14, 2017

Viva Vilarnau Calçotada 2017

Vilarnau Trip

 

I was lucky enough to have been invited by Hamish Bredin of Gonzalez Byass UK to visit the fantastic Vilarnau winery just north of Barcelona which produces our new Cavas which are just fantastic and look really impressive with their iconic Gaudi inspired labels.
My journey started like many with the early morning train to the airport where I met up with Hamish and few of his other guests and we started the trip with a crisp cold glass of cava in the airport bar, as is only right when journeying to the home of this underrated fizz.
Even though it was an early start we didn’t arrive into Barcelona until early evening, so we jumped into a couple of taxis and headed straight to the harbour to meet the rest of the Gonzalez Byass team and their guests at Barceloneta which is a remarkably impressive restaurant overlooking Barcelona harbour with many boats that were larger than my humble street back in York. We were treated like royalty there in the private dining room where the conversation and food was excellent accompanied by some superb wines form Gonzalez Byass. This was such a memorable evening after a long day.

 

The itinerary stated dinner then a nightcap somewhere on las Ramblas street…..I should of known from my years living in Spain, that their night caps tend to draw out well into the early hours of the next day. Being the discerning professional reporter I conscientiously embraced the Spanish culture. After the 3ish nightcaps I made my way back to our hotel overlooking one of Barcelona’s iconic landmarks the Gaudi cathedral…….WOW! For Gonzales Byass, there really was only one place to stay in Barcelona as Vilarnau uses Gaudi’s iconic colourful designs as inspiration for the packaging for the Brut and Rose Cava.

 

Vilarnau Vineyard

 

Tuesday morning was another early start with the journey to the winery in the hills outside of Barcelona, this is such a beautiful part of Spain with rolling hills and fantastic blue skies even in February – a refreshing change to our dull winter back home. Upon arrival at the winery we were greeted by Eva Plazas, one of the head winemakers at the vineyard. Eva took us on a tour of the vineyards explaining the history of the area along with a detailed description of the terroir. Vilarnau have started the process of becoming an organic vineyard and hopefully should have the certification in the next 2 years so watch this space!

 

We then headed down towards the cellars and Eva detailed the journey the beautiful cava grapes have to make before it is the finished product. The whole process must run like clockwork to keep up with the huge demand for this outstanding range of wines. Eva spoke about how they are constantly experimenting to get the best results, from the blend of the Macabeo, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varieties to the wood that actually makes the barrels and how long they should age.

 

Vilarnau Cava Mosaic

 

The itinerary then stated that we would have a mystery exercise which transpired to be a task where we made replicas of the Vilarnau bottle design out of smashed tiles. It is safe to say the group of people I was with were not the most naturally creative but we had great fun. All our hard efforts paid off as my team came third…out of three! This exercise summed up the fun, tradition and spirit expressed in Cava and especially here at Vilarnau.

 

We then headed back to the winery for one of the highlights of the trip for me – the Calcotadas. Calcotadas is a Catalan traditional gastronomy of wood fired large spring onions that are roasted over vine shoots from the vineyards. The Calcots grow around the vineyards and are in season February so my timing was excellent! The Calcots are grilled in the flames from the vines to the point of charring. The blackened Calcots are then wrapped in newspaper to cool slightly.

 

Vilarnau Calcotadas

 

We all stood in awe as these amazing onions were presented on terracotta tiles accompanied by Romesco sauce, and – you guessed it – lots of Cava. Eva advised that we all wear bibs as it could be a little messy – and she wasn’t wrong! She then proceeded to present two glass pouring vessels called Porron’s filled with Cava and you then needed to pour the cava with one hand into your mouth…The traditional Catalan way.
This fantastic trip was finished off with the sun setting over the Spanish hillside and a toast by Eva before we enjoyed our final meal in the vineyard. The food was delicious traditional Catalonian cuisine and that was paired perfectly with the full range of Cavas produced at Vilarnau.

 

This was a truly memorable and enjoyable insight into the love, spirit and tradition that goes into every bottle of Cava form Vilarnau. Thank you Hamish and Gonzalez Byass for hosting me on this fantastic trip.

 

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March 9, 2017

A Room with a Viu: Harvest Time in the Colchagua Valley Pt. I

louis williams
There can be no denying that the Colchagua Valley is stunning. At 7:00, golden sunshine starts to pick through deep purple cloud over the Cordillera, contrasting with the green of vines below and illuminating the bicycles and faces of the harvest workers, ready to start picking. The Colchagua is located within Chile’s Central Valley, to the south of Santiago and is renowned as one of the country’s premium wine regions, producing excellent expressions of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Here Viu Manent rub shoulders with Los Vascos, Montes and L Apostolle among others, great names of Chilean wine.

 

I have kindly been granted a two week stay with Viu Manent, a Bon Coeur producer, to learn about the estate during the busy harvest period. First a week in the fields, and second a week in the bodega (winery) with head-winemaker Patricio Celedon. This family owned (of Catalan origin) estate recently celebrated its 80th year of production and is very much part of the cultural landscape in the Valley. With a 100% Chilean winemaking team in place, it seems appropriate that Viu Manent are producing wines that Champion the country{s emergence as a contender in the fine wine arena.

 

I arrived on foot to the estate on the 27th of February and introduced myself to the team in the winery (not very well as I was later mistaken for the Burgundy giant, Louis Latour) very excited at the sight of rows of gleaming tanks alongside concrete egg fermenters and French oak Foudres. Miguel Mujica, Viticulturalist (agronomist), dragged me away from these bubbling works-in-progress to show me some of the estate, pointing out the different plots and grape varieties placed with reference to the soil types and aspect, collectively what is known as terroir. Upon seeing a large patch of burnt hillside, Miguel, who has been responsible for monitoring the health of the vines here for some 12 years, spoke about the unprecedented and devastating fires that laid waste to large parts of the country in January. These fires saw the loss of a number of lives in the country as well as 100+ year old Carignan vines in Maule and elsewhere. “it is a tragedy” he said frankly to me, “we have been very lucky that we do not seem to have any problems with smoke damage, but for some people this is a total disaster”. Indeed Viu are separately vinifying plots that may have been affected by the plumes of smoke that overtook the country at this time, just to be on the safe side.

 

harvest at Vui Manent

 

Back at base and assigned a bicycle for commuting purposes during my stay, I was given my marching orders by Don Jose, head of the San Carlos vineyards that constitute the vines around the bodega: onsite daily at 6:00 (with a half hour ride in on the bike). So that’s where the scenes described in the first paragraph come in, a week spent observing and aiding the hand harvesters from dawn til mid-afternoon within two of Vius home vineyards. The image that I had in my mind of manual harvesting was fulfilled and exceeded as I watched a team of experts attack their task with extreme vigor. Hanging bunches of grapes were shown no mercy by a group who are paid by the kilo for their days work, and the best among whom run back and forth from vine to harvest trailer for the greater part of five hours solid. This is not just an act of physical strength and endurance but also of skill, using energy in the most efficient manner possible. At the tráiler, limpiadores trade encouraging smiles as they remove leaves and other non-grape matter from the harvest, that tractoreros then sweep off to the bodega.

 

These scenes are now less common than they were, as machine harvesting has expanded to account for some 80% of the total vintage at Viu Manent (mirrored throughout the valley). Where once there were 200 workers with secateurs now there are 30, harvesting where gradient will not allow the machine to pass, or where whole bunches of grapes need to be harvested in the case of some wines. The 30 remaining skilled pickers seem also to maintain some of the romance of these beautiful vineyards. Fortunately, increased production has created more work in the winery and in tourism at the estate providing a stable livelihood for a great many local people who may before have worked in the harvest (la consecha).

 

picking the vines

 

One afternoon, head winemaker Patricio appeared in the vineyard and gesturing from the cab of his pickup took me for a lap to determine the ripeness of the next block for harvesting. A good job any day as wine grapes are sweet and delicious, this was a great chance to ask questions about the terroir here and the philosophy of the estate and he gave some interesting answers, albeit around the chewing and spitting out of various grape skins and seeds. On the theme of the estates wines, Patricios empahsis is simple ” we do not use American oak because I feel that it makes wines of one certain style, giving flavours associated with American oak, we use considered amounts of French oak, because what we really want is to emphasize the flavours of the grapes!”. All of Vius wines up to the three top wines of the estate follow this ethos. I was also curious as to his attitude towards sustainability at Viu Manent, he answered “almost everything we do here is organic, the health of the soils is important to us. The difference is that we do not hesitate if we foresee a major plague approaching. If we stand to lose 50% of our crop to a pest, we are going to kill it”. This seemed rational and it is encouraging to see, across the board, winemakers and wine estates taking ideas of sustainability seriously.

 

On Friday, first week finished and feeling tired but happy, I cycled back into Santa Cruz, the main town of the area and the host of the yearly harvest festival La Vendimia. Needless to say, a good time was bound to be had by all and there was just enough time to visit the Los Vascos stall in the plaza before my technical analysis started to fade into the background of Chilean good cheer.

 

Read part 2 for a write up of a week spent in the winery at Viu Manent, including the tasting of many of the estates wines in tank.

 

 

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March 8, 2017

Meet the Team – 5 Mins with Andrew Ray, Private Client Sales

Andrew Ray, Private Client Sales

 

Name:
Andrew Ray

 

What’s your position at Bon Coeur?
Corporate & Private Client Sales

 

What does your role require?
My role is really rather diverse and that is something I love. Primarily, I’m part of the Private Client & Corporate Sales Team along with James, Peter & Amy, so I advise and guide our customers on finding the right wine for their needs. However, there is also the flip side of sales which consists of broking Fine Wines for our clients too. In addition to this, I’ll also be running Cellar 21 here at Moor Park where I’ll help to create and organise events and tastings.

 

La Rioja Alta

Favourite wine in summer?
It has to be something fresh, crisp and easy to drink. I think my favourite would have to be Albariño with its intense aromas of stone and citrus fruits with its vibrant acidity. Perfect for a sunny summers afternoon!

 

Do you have a favourite grape?
I’d say Riesling. I think it’s had a lot of bad coverage and there’s a bit of stigma about it being a super sweet German wine (which isn’t a bad thing might I add). However, recently a lot of people are starting to realise the grapes versatility and there’s a range of styles to choose between from bone dry through to super sweet. I genuinely think there’s a Riesling for everyone!

 

Who is your favourite wine producer?
I took my first steps into wine when I lived in the region of La Rioja, northern Spain. I was fortunate enough to know the Technical Director and Head Winemaker at Bodegas La Rioja Alta SA; Julio Sáenz Fernández. Both he and the winery taught me so much and introduced me to this fascinating world, so I’ve had a sentimental attachment to the winery since then. Essentially, they’re my Spanish family.

 

Do any wines bring back a specific memory?
On a recent trip to Spain I visited Peter Sisseck’s Bodegas Dominio de Pingus in Quintinanilla de Onésimo, Ribera del Duero. After a private tour of the site (which was more like a laboratory than a winery), we tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintage of PSI, Flor de Pingus and Pingus. I have to say Pingus 2014 was mind blowing and probably one of the best wines I’ve ever had. Unfortunately I’ve not drank it since but whenever I think about that afternoon it brings back fond memories of how lucky I was to taste those wines and be somewhere people don’t really get the opportunity to visit. It’s definitely my wine career highlight so far.

 

Would you choose a cheese board or pudding?
I’d choose a cheeseboard every time. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but absolutely adore cheese. I love a good blue, a taste I acquired when I lived in France and the smellier, the better in my opinion!

 

Do you like trying new wines or prefer an old favourite?
I’m divided on this one. I think we’re all creatures of habit to an extent and stick to wines we know and love. That being said, I think the beauty of wine is there are many styles available it would be a terrible shame to never try anything different. I love trying new wines, however, some special occasions do call for an old favourite to make an appearance.

 

Dominio de Pingus

 

Outside work, where might you be found?
Outside of work I’m most likely to be in a café with a coffee and a good book. I never want to stop learning, whether it’s cultural, wine or even sport related. I’m currently reading ‘The Wines of Burgundy’ by Clive Coates MW which is a great insight into history, geography and geology of Burgundy.

 

What do you enjoy doing outside work hours?
I love having people over to my house, cooking some nice food and opening a good bottle of wine. My friends and family mean a lot to me so it’s important to have them around and spend time with them.
I’m an also avid rugby fan so often go to see Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park and when I get the opportunity, to watch England at Twickenham too.

 

Favourite fact about wine?
That at the end of the day it’s just fermented grape juice. I think it’s pretty remarkable that so many styles and variations come from something as humble as a grape.

 

Favourite part of working at Bon Coeur
I’d have to say the fact that every day is different and I’m constantly developing my wine knowledge. I’m relatively new here at Bon Coeur so I’m still learning the ropes so to speak, but in the short space of time my comprehension of Burgundy for example, has improved immensely with our 2015 En Primeur campaign.

 

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February 2, 2017

All you need is love… and a little wine

wine-st-valentine-day

Credit: wineadventures.ca

 

Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away and so, now is the time to start thinking about that special gift for that certain someone. Looking for inspiration, a quick survey around the office on how they celebrate Valentine’s Day brought a whole variety of answers, from the true romantics taking their other half for a cosy meal for two at their local fish restaurant for lobster and champagne to the V-day cynics that said it’s simply another day, a running theme did occur with the majority saying they would enjoy a nice meal (whether home cooked or at a restaurant) and splash out on a good bottle of wine. No matter what your price level or budget is, there are a whole variety of great quality wines to suit your taste.

 

valentines wine

 

Love on a Budget
Perhaps you haven’t been together long and a big grand gesture is too much or you want to get your other half something nice that won’t break the bank. Give these budget friendly wines a try and earn some brownie points. Not only do they all punch well above their weight the bottles look great too.

 

Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – Loire Valley, France
Fabulous refreshing zesty white that will hit the right spot.

Luma Grillo, Cantine Cellaro 2015 – Sicily, Italy
Looking for a little more body and fullness this is right down your street.

Le Saint Andre Rose, Saint Andre De Figuiere 2015 – Cote de Provence, France
There’s no wonder this is our top selling rose wine!

Vilarnau Cava Brut Reserva Rose N.V. – Bareclona, Spain
Fabulous mosaic bottle that gives most Proseccos a run for their money.

 

Valentines Wine

 

Something Special for Someone Special
Wanting to step up from the usual everyday drinking wines and spend a few more ££s per bottle, give these wines a try.

 

Jacques Boncoeur Brut Reserve Champagne N.V. – Champagne, France
Our very own award winning house champagne, punching well above its weight.

Chateau D’Esclans, Whispering Angel Rosé 2015 – Cotes de Provence, France
Chanel’s answer to rose wine, classy, defining and worth every penny.

Wild Rock ‘Cupids Arrow’ Pinot Noir 2013 – Otago, New Zealand
From the cool climates of NZ this pinot noir is worth the wait.

 

Valentine wine

 

Love has no Limits
Not got a budget and are wanting to splash out? These specially selected wines will have your Valentine weak at the knees.

 

Laurent-Perrier Brut Rose Champagne N.V. – Champagne, France
Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be the same without LP Rose.

Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume, Seguinot-Bordot 2014 – Burgundy, France
Treat your valentine this year and splash out with this head over heals 1er Cru.

Chateau Calon Segur, St Estephe 2007 – Bordeaux, France
Get lost in the aromas…wearing its heart on its sleeve, this 2007 is superb.

 

Gorgeous Glassware
Already got lots of wine and looking for something a little different? Why not give the gift of some gorgeous glassware? From wine glasses to Decanters, it’s the perfect gift to help make your Valentine’s Day experience even more special. Click Here for some more glassware inspiration.

 

If you would like any help or advice on finding the perfect wine for Valentine’s Day, please give me a call in the office or email me, amy@bcfw.co.uk  Cheers to a happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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