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All the latest and other musings from Simon.

Tuesday 12th September 2017 14:38pm

This is a picture of a wine merchant skipping up the Apennines...

Wine merchant skipping up the Apennines

Just back from walking the Via degli Dei, literally the Way of the Gods, from Fiesole, just outside Florence, to Bologna. It sounds a long way but it's under 80 miles of walking. Of course there is the small matter of the Apennines in the way, with one crest at over 4,000 feet, but it was a glorious excursion, often through tranquil woods of beech and chestnut, and occasionally marching on 2,000 year old cobblestones laid for the military Via Flaminia. We finished by tripping down the longest arcade in the world, over 2 miles downhill from the Sanctuario di San Luca to the old gate of Bologna (Tagliatelle al Ragu here we come!).

...and this is what kept the wine merchant going....

Up in the hills, far from civilisation, wine prices reverted to the level last seen in Britain in the 1980s. Here is a list from a little inn in Monzuno - and yes, these are prices in euros for 75cl. bottles of wine, not glasses.  Oh happy days... a bottle of gently fizzing, just off-dry Pignoletto to start with and a chunky Sangiovese Rubicone from Emilia-Romagna to follow - with change from £11 quid..

wine list Italy

Friday 26th May 2017 17:07pm

California Dreaming...

We just received a smart and expensive brochure of the "California Collection 2017". It's a selection of the best 50 wines (from a tasting of 150, all in the UK market with large or specialist importers) selected by a panel of independent wine merchants as suitable to be sold by independents. The gushing introduction, written by a good man who should know better, closes: "..right now it seems to me that California has never been better placed to serve the UK's independent trade".  Well, I looked at this selection: the average recommended retail bottle price is £29.56. 

What planet are these people on?  Some of these wines might work at the long-term £:$ exchange rate, which is 1.60, but at 1.25-1.30? ...forget it. I know one should not compare apples with oranges: we buy very little wine from UK wholesalers and source and ship our own wine whenever we can, but around that price (remember, the average for the Collection), you can buy Cote Rotie, Pomerol or Savigny 1er Cru, Barolo or Brunello, and for a lot less some really great wines from the Cape, Chile or Argentina. Whoever financed this exercise must be sitting on a lot of stock....

Thursday 11th May 2017 16:11pm

Fearful Frost in France - price rise alert?

As we have been speaking to our French growers over the last fortnight the real scale of the devastating frost(s) which struck almost all wine-producing regions of France on the nights of April 27th and 28th has begun to sink in. The geographical extent of the frost is appalling - from Champagne southwards, and also into Piedmont and northern Spain (English vineyards were also crucified). The frost was particularly damaging as budbreak was around two weeks earlier than usual across most of France - so all those burgeoning shoots were burnt off.

Worse hit are probably Champagne and Bordeaux. The former may be 20-25% down on a normal crop, but for the latter it was the worst frost damage since at least 1991. Even the left bank Medoc vineyards near the Atlantic were badly affected, but on the right bank some vineyards fear they may have lost 60-80% of their potential 2017 harvest. In St Emilion temperatures of -4° celsius were recorded and only the high plateau was spared. In Chablis the vineyards were again badly hit - as in 2016 - but further south the vignerons of Burgundy seemed to have taken extreme measures to ward off yet another year of low yields. Hugh Liddell, owner of vineyards in St Aubin and Chassagne-Montrachet reported that:  "On our first day we woke to what we thought was very thick fog. It turned out to be smoke. Each vigneron from St Aubin to Dijon lit a damp hay bail which created a huge amount of smog. Not very eco friendly but it did the trick!!". (Apparently the supply of candles which are usually lit in the vineyards ran out!). Even in the southern Rhone and Languedoc there was significant frost damage. The Schenks at Grand Arc in the high Corbieres reported extensive blight. The difference is that they hope that, with their warmer climate in the south, the vines might recover, put out a second set of buds and still ripen a crop. This is near impossible in the north or Bordeaux.   

What does this mean for wine drinkers? For certain large regions, notably Champagne and Bordeaux, it's probably not going to have too bad an effect on prices: the former usually enjoys high yields and blends wines from various vintages anyway. Bordeaux had good-sized harvests in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and there will be a lot of wine there to sell. However, we fear horrible pressure on those regions which already can sell their wine effortlessly. The bulk price of Chablis is already through the roof after a small crop in 2015 and a frost-affected 2016. In Burgundy, if we get a very dry and hot summer - accompanied by the hailstorms which seem to afflict the region every year now - yields may be tiny. It's a horrible prospect to think of buyers from all over the world fighting over Chardonnay and Pinot already experiencing a worrying imbalance of supply and demand.

Thursday 6th April 2017 17:22pm

Blasts from the Past: Courbis, Cornas La Sabarotte, 2000

Blasts from the Past: an occasional recording of a wine we used to sell, enjoyed in full maturity. Last weekend I opened a bottle of the Courbis, Cornas, La Sabarotte 2000 with the hypercritical daughter. Soon after this vintage we stopped shipping from the Courbis brothers for two reasons: they liked a bit too much new oak for our taste; and personally they were just a bit smooth and glib. However, they knew what they were doing with their top Cornas, from vines planted in 1947. 2000 was a good rather than great year in the northern Rhone, but this wine was amazing. Dense and sombre, with a scarily open (for its age) perfume of mocha and black fruits, this was fat and velvety, flavoured with blackcurrants and savoury touches. It had so much energy and power for a 17 year old wine. We used to sell this for £30ish. I see very recent vintages are £50ish - to be honest, that looks good value if they develop like this bottle.

Thursday 1st September 2016 16:22pm

Press Release

Hampshire’s Hidden Award-Winning Wine Merchant celebrates shop reopening on September 24th

Tucked away on a farm estate in Twyford is one of the country’s top independent wine merchants. 2016 has been a year to celebrate for Stone, Vine & Sun, recently winning two national awards at the 2016 International Wine Challenge: Specialist Wine Merchant for both South Africa and Languedoc-Roussillon; and also being shortlisted this August by Decanter magazine as one their Top Intermediate-sized Wine Merchants of 2016. The success of the business is based on prospecting – travelling the world to find brilliant small growers, whether in France, Italy, South Africa, or South America, and introducing their wines to British drinkers.

Shrugging off any concerns about Brexit or competition, and buoyed by an increase in sales to restaurants and the growth of their acclaimed Doorstep Dozen Wine Club, the owner of Stone Vine & Sun, Simon Taylor, is investing in his warehouse wine shop in Twyford by expanding and improving the retail space and increasing the capacity for tastings.

Stone, Vine & Sun is planning a celebratory reopening on Saturday 24th September, 9.30am-6.00pm. As well as the chance to see the new look shop and taste a large selection of bottles, all wines will be discounted by up to 20%. Delicious wood-fired pizzas will be available with a free glass of Chianti to accompany them; there will be a cheese and wine matching opportunity, with the chance to try a range of cheeses with varied wine styles; and a light-hearted blind-tasting competition to win a magnum of Champagne. Hampshire cricketer, Twyford resident and wine enthusiast Jimmy Adams will cut a symbolic ribbon on the new shop at 12 noon.

Simon Taylor reports: “There’s a huge advantage in operating from a converted chicken shed – low-cost warehousing means we can offer better value, and there’s plenty of parking space. However we are hard to find. We sell our wines so successfully all over the country – to Michelin starred restaurants, Oxford Colleges and private customers from Cornwall to Aberdeen – but after 13 years here we are still being ‘discovered’ by wine drinkers who live a mile away. So we thought we would push the boat out, have a jolly open day and welcome more Hampshire wine lovers”.    

Wednesday 13th July 2016 13:39pm

Last week I attended (Simon was at the opera) the IWC Awards dinner in the hope we might pick up an award for either Languedoc & Roussillon or South Africa. We didn't win one but two, all credit to Simon and Francois for sourcing such great wines.    

 

Friday 22nd April 2016 17:57pm

Vinitaly: another week, another mammoth wine tasting

Last week I spent three days in Verona tasting Italian wine. If I wanted to see the greatest number of our growers and producers - from all over the world - in one place I should have gone to Prowein a few weeks ago. Prowein has matchless transport links and superb Teutonic organisation. But given a choice between Dusseldorf in mid March and Verona in early April, there really is no contest. Yes, there’s a huge queue to get into the enormous halls of Veronafiere every day at 9.30 am because the Italians can’t be bothered to invest in more electronic gates; yes, there’s a frustrating wait to leave your suitcase because there are only two staff working (whilst a few metres away numerous “customer service” ladies are sitting practicing dolce far niente); and yes, it’s absurd that one of the most visited tourist spots in the city is the home, with decorative balcony and aged creeper, of Shakespeare’s wholly fictional Juliet (or rather Giulietta). But the city centre, ringed by the river Adige, surrounded by pretty hills, and with snow-covered mountains in the distance, is just so beautiful, marked in particular by a lovely pink marble. It’s not a sterile museum city either, but full of smart shops and bustling and bicycling locals. I love the way the city embraces local wine too, particularly Valpolicella and Amarone, whose bottles adorn not just food shops but boutiques, antique shops and even chemists. At the end of each working day I dined outside on fine Italian cuisine (avoiding the donkey and horse dishes which have studded Veronese menus since the locals ate them all whilst cooped up by the Austrians in one of those typically theatrical late nineteenth century sieges) and excellent local wines by the glass. Surely this is more civilised than bratwurst and lager (don’t you love national stereotyping?).

What was I doing when I wasn’t sitting in Piazza Bra watching the world go by, or admiring the balcony where Garibaldi famously declared “Rome or death!” (he has to be the greatest non-artistic Italian of the last millennium)? Well, I tasted a lot of wine. In particular I spent much of the first two days tasting Barolo – hard work as high levels of acid and tannin took their toll. But I have emerged triumphant with the wines of the Boasso family, who own vineyards in famed Serralunga. Expect those to arrive in the summer, along with terrific new vintages from our organic stars, Fiorano in the Marche and Di Filippo in Umbria. 

One last thought: until this trip I hadn’t realised quite how difficult the cold and rainy 2014 vintage was pretty much all over Italy, especially for red wine. I became slightly paranoid, imagining every 2014 wine to be dilute and weedy. Of course there are some super wines, but do be warned.

Thursday 21st April 2016 10:50am

Bordeaux 2015 - the hype begins

The first prices are coming out for 2015 Bordeaux, and, like spring, so are the first efforts by certain UK merchants to hype the vintage. Here goes an early sighter from one well-known London merchant:

"15 is the perfect opportunity to get back to Bordeaux. Analytically the wines are very impressive, lots of concentration and good pH… I can never remember a vintage where the mid-palates have been so sweet and so exuberant and delightful to taste… It’s going to rank up there with one of the best vintages of Bordeaux in the last 20 or so years.”

One of the best vintages?  20 years encompasses 1995, 2000, 2001, 2003 (which they no doubt hyped too, although some wines are falling apart), 2005, 2009, and 2010. What does one of the best mean?  In the top half? Perhaps this is why we remain a small merchant - we're just too honest... 

Friday 8th April 2016 16:28pm

Bordeaux 2015: primeurs week

A first for me – attending the bizarre whirl which is the primeurs week in Bordeaux. It’s an absurd ritual. First, there are dozens of tastings going on every day: at the Chateaux themselves; held by any number of associations such as or Le Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux; tastings of organic wines; umbrella tastings organised by the consultants such as Hubert de Bouard or Stephane Derenoncourt for all the estates they and their large teams advise (there were over 60 at de Bouard’s tasting at Angelus); and tastings at the negociants, the businesses with great holdings of Bordeaux stock. There is a frenzy to it - can one fit in yet another tasting? - and snobbery too. For example, the grandest will only present their wines at their own Chateaux, and strictly by select invitation. Secondly, I heard about a big tasting of classed growths held by the Union des Grand Crus to be held on Monday at the new football stadium. As this is 10 minutes from the airport, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get an overview of the vintage - and it was, with a chance to chat to many Chateaux owners. But, wow, was it difficult to find out about (it wasn’t mentioned on the Union’s own website) and get into: one had to be accompanied by a negociant and booked into a two hour time slot. Surprise, surprise, the event was so discreet that there was hardly anyone attending – a bit like the empty stadium itself! 


At these multiple and overlapping tastings one inevitably tastes samples of supposedly the same wine which can vary alarmingly in colour, aroma and flavour. How the journalists are meant to make definitive pronouncements or wine buyers make important buying decisions on such young wines which can appear so different, I do not know.  And that is without the way the samples are prepared: in theory these are to give a representative sense of the Chateaux’s efforts, but they may be made up differently for different audiences – there is muttering about a “Parker” sample, one which is on the turbo-charged side!

So why did I go, when we at SVS have never yet made an en primeur Bordeaux offer?  Let me tell you – to benchmark the wines from some of the vignerons we work closely with and Chateaux we follow against higher classed and much more expensive names.  For example, on the right bank it was really exciting to see that the 2015s I tasted from our young(ish) stars like Frederic Borderie at Gravieres de la Brandille and Chateau Les Combes, Mickael Moze-Berthon in Montagne Saint-Emilion and Gregory Naulet at Vieux Chateau Palon stood up really well against many more famous St.-Emilion Grand Crus. So we may well make a selected en primeur offer of our favourites later in the year. (There was also the vital matter of topping up our Bordeaux stocks with wines which are already drinking well rather than being for drinking from 2018).

Now I suppose you want to know if it’s a great red vintage?  Well, it’s certainly a very good vintage, and some wines this year are great, but the wines are not homogenous. I won’t bore you with a lengthy exposition on the weather, but after a very hot midsummer it rained a lot from August to October, especially in the northern Medoc.  So vineyard management and the choice of picking dates were not easy. Some wines in the northern Medoc did appear dilute this week, but on the other hand many others felt more balanced and promising than a lot of wines on the right bank where the fruit at times seemed a little figgy and over-ripe. So it’s very difficult to make generalisations. 2015 is not 2009 or 2010, when one could buy anything with confidence. And I do have one specific concern.  In the summer heat of July I think some winemakers may have decided that this was another 1982 or 2009, that they had a “great” vintage on their hands, and they were determined to make the most of it. They then had to wait for the Cabernets to ripen, especially on the left bank, and in some cases the fruit, left to hang too long, lacked freshness.  But some, still in pursuit of that anticipated greatness, over-extracted as well, compounding the problem. One could spot immediately those overdone examples: with inkily flat hue, a lack of perfume, crushing tannins and a total absence of aromatics.  But it’s mean to end on a bad note – I enjoyed some really lovely 2015s: in no particular order these (many from the consistent over-achievers) offered a hint of greatness: Carbonnieux, Malartic-Graviere, Troplong-Mondot, Petit-Village, Cantemerle, Beychevelle, Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Phelan Segur. And remember that Norman No-mates didn’t taste the first growths and super seconds!

Friday 18th March 2016 13:27pm

Bulgarian Wine?   

We are open-minded here, so yesterday I went to The New Bulgaria Trade Tasting, in a rather pokey basement of the Bulgarian embassy in Queensgate, South Ken. It was a strange event, not what I expected, perhaps because many of the estates came from Thrace. I was hoping to taste local varieties, Mavrud for example, but I seemed to be mainly tasting the same international varieties one can find all over the world: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier; and for the reds almost exclusively Bordeaux varieties and blends, plus some Syrah.

The second disappointment was the price tariff usually quoted. I gently explained to one man that his Sauvignon Blanc (perfectly good, but unexceptional) was priced at more than we paid for Sancerre. Under communism the Bulgarian wine industry became a sea of mediocrity. On the evidence of this tasting (presumably highly selective, tilted towards wineries with aspirations to penetrate what they perceive as the made-of-money UK market) it is possible that the see-saw has gone too far. This bunch of producers were mainly focussed on boutique production (several wines I tasted were lots of only a thousand bottles or less), with rather exciting ideas of achievable prices in euros.  

Having said that, some of the wines tasted were really excellent. I am not sure we are ready to jump in yet, but you never know. Anyone for a £20 Bulgarian Bordeaux blend?  It would put many St Emilion Grand Crus and Pomerols in the shade..

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