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  • African dreaming

    In a bid to shake off the doldrums this gloomy British summer has brought on, Kathrine Larsen MS reflects on her trip to South Africa earlier this year – when blue sky abounded – and shares eight lesser-known facts about this New World wine country and our producers in the region.

    1. Around 75 different grape varieties are authorised for planting in South Africa, the majority of which are white, with Chenin Blanc taking the clear lead.

    2. Chenin Blanc, native to France’s Loire Valley, first arrived in South Africa in 1655, when Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company founded Cape Town and planted its first vineyard with the variety. Today, 20% of South African vineyards are planted with Chenin Blanc.

    KLarsen 399 3. The most planted red grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. Lesser-known, on-trend varieties include Cinsault, especially when produced in a slightly natural style, and Tinta Barocca when crafted from old vines in Swartland.

    4. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester’s sparkling wine, Sparklehouse, is named such because Ken thinks of Chenin as the workhorse of the South African wine industry.

    KLarsen 3395. Leaves on vines can act a sunshield, and help prevent grapes from getting burnt. “Due to the Sparklehorse vineyard’s exposure to sun, we ensure the leaves on the afternoon side of the canopy are not removed. If the vines get burnt, this is an easily noticeable flavour in the finished wine”, said Ken.

    6. Bush vines produce lower yields and more concentrated clusters with smaller grapes and thicker skins than their trellised counterparts.

    7. One of the main purposes of Ken Forrester’s Petit range of wines, is to provide work for people who desperately need it. But Ken’s social philanthropy doesn’t stop there. He’s also donated a van to a member of the community, who then went on to successfully set up their own business driving the vineyard staff to and from work each day.

    8. While visiting Thelema, I began to truly understand just how important social sustainability is in South Africa. While driving through the vineyards, we pass by the staff housing and Thomas Webb explains to us that when his parents started Thelema back in 1983, workers were paid in envelopes. Over the years, they’ve helped all the staff set up bank accounts, and to become properly integrated in the system.

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  • Australian wines come up trumps

    The godfather of Australian wine writing and judging, James Halliday, has announced his scores for the 2018 edition of The Australian Wine Companion, and we’re delighted there’s such a strong showing of producers from the Enotria&Coe stable.

    The pinnacle of these annual awards is the coveted title of Wine of the Year, which this year was taken out by Henschke Hill of Grace 2012.

    Following the announcement, Halliday commented that Henschke is the best medium-sized producer in Australia, and has gone from strength to strength over the past three decades under the guidance of winemaker Stephen and viticulturist Prue Henschke.

    “I would really like for the Henschke vineyards to be seen as Australia’s first grapes … I would like people to perceive that’s what this is about; there’s no other wine in Australia that’s made from vines that are 100 years old and then made from them for another 50 years,” Halliday said.

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    Tasting and whittling down nigh on 10,000 wines for the guide is no mean feat for Halliday, and this year more than 1200 wineries across Australia have been featured.

    Inclusion in the renowned guide is one thing, but several of our producers went one step further raking in 90+ scores for their wines: Henschke and d’Arenberg both received 33, Howard Park 27, Kooyong 15 and Fowles 14. Other Aussie estates to feature include Glaetzer, Heartland, Stargazer, Skillogalee and Tempus Two.

    Enotria&Coe’s star-studded Australian portfolio is nurtured by our passionate buyer Maggie Macpherson who, and under her guidance the portfolio has grown from strength to strength with each passing year..

    “As a buyer, nothing makes me prouder than to see my producers gaining this sort of recognition from such esteemed people as James Halliday. I’ve gone through the hard yards with each of these producers – I know first-hand how incredible these wines are and, what’s more, how passionate the people who produce them are – so it’s incredibly rewarding to see them enjoy some time in the spotlight.

    “Australian wine is going from strength to strength, and now these producers can confidently share the world stage. Australian wine is in a really good place now, but I’m even more excited for the future,” Maggie said.

  • Behind the scenes with Cecchi

    Words: Leonardo Bassano

    The story of the Cecchi family began in 1893, with Luigi Cecchi and his formidable tasting talent. Fast forward to the 1930s, and Cecchi wines were being exported outside Italy. In the 70s, the family moved to Castellina, the historical Chianti Classico production zone. In the 80s they invested in San Gimignano, and then in the 90s, they purchased the vineyards of Val delle Rose in Maremma. At the turn of the century, the estate crossed regional borders and invested in Umbria, with Tenuta Alzatura in Montefalco. In 2015 Cesare and Andrea, the fourth generation, returned to Castellina, with the purchase of Villa Rosa.

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    The oldest of the family estates is Villa Cerna, the vineyards of which stretch across the first hill that you come across when arriving from Siena. The historical estate is 280m above sea level and the exposure of its vineyards, the diversity of the soils, and the micro-climatic nuances create the particular features of the wines crafted here. The estate now comprises of 80ha of vineyards planted with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Colorino Toscano.

    At Castel Montauto the vineyards are densely planted, allowing for lower yields. Twenty of the estate’s 48ha are planted with Vernaccia at 300m above sea level. In Maremma, the Val delle Rose now consists of 150ha with a new cellar equipped with the latest technologies in winemaking for the production of fresh Vermentino and Morellino. Tenuta Alzatura, in the Sagrantino di Montefalco production zone, has three vineyards, and the terroir of each expresses unique social and cultural roots of local viticulture.

    I met Isotta, from the Cecchi Marketing team, who showed me around the main winery in Villa Cerna. A wonderful place where tradition, history and modernity combine. Isotta is young and smart, and when I was asking my usual questions about soil/winemaking, she showed off her knowledge and business acumen. This demonstrates how this family business combines a passion for great wines produced from unique terroir, with a market-driven approach and consumer focus. I was then treated to a wonderful lineup of wines for our degustazione.

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    Vermentino Litorale 2016, Val delle Rose: smell of sea breeze, herbs, apples, pears, beautifully easy to drink, but with great character, perfumed, crisp, fresh and dry. Aurelio 2015: on the nose, lots of ripe red and black fruit, pepper, cedar, tomatoes and rosemary. Fantastic balance between acidity, tannin and fruit concentration.

    Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2011, Poggio al Leone: perfumed nose (roses and violets), a crisp palate, quaffable but with great structure.

    Ciliegiolo 2015, Maremma: this was the unusual one. Good red fruit, very cherry-like, medium tannins, good acid, very singular and characterful with hints of dark chocolate.

    Chianti Classico 2014, Cecchi (6 months in oak): vibrant nose, lively, flowers, cherry. Lovely drinking, smooth tannins, good acidity, easy to understand, crushed red plums.

    Villa Cerna Chianti Riserva 2013: Primary, secondary and some tertiary aromas too. Earth, mushrooms, sweet spices, cloves on the nose. Very soft tannins, subtle, crushed ripe cherries, crisp. This wine is very enjoyable now but can also age 10 or 20 years. Elegant and expressive.

    A big thank you to Isotta and the Cecchi team. Great wines, great people. This brief visit was inspirational and makes me want to return to Tuscany.

  • New Zealand’s Green Team: Part Two

    Sustainability is serious business for Carrick, located in Central Otago, New Zealand. Nearly 10 years ago, they completed the process of becoming certified organic across their entire vineyard and winery. However, the tendrils of their green philosophy extends well beyond their vines and the word sustainable has more meaning than simply a wine descriptor. From the cardboard they use for their wine cartons which is sourced from a mix of industrial pulp waste and NZ curb-side recycling, to  soap used in the bathrooms that is transferred onto the hand towels, the team at Carrick lives by the mantra, “you are what you eat”.

    For the second instalement in our series on New Zealand's green winemakers, we caught up with Carrick's Chief Winemaker, Francis Hutt, who shared his thoughts on the topic.

    On Carrick’s winemaking philosophy…First and foremost we seek quality fruit from healthy vines. This is our daily focus, and what led us to organic and biodynamic farming. It’s all that cover-cropping, seaweed, preparation 500, and solid hard work in the vineyard that equates to my winemaking being an exercise in understanding site expression, rather than fixing problems with chemical additives. Most of all it is the concept that the land is left in a better state from which we first  started that motivates me to produce quality wine from healthy soil. 

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    On taking a vineyard into organic production…Good communication and a good support network are vital. Build a fit-for-purpose strategy that aligns with the needs of your estate, people, and economic position. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions, plan well, and react quickly to what you’re seeing. Going organic doesn’t mean you do nothing, and remember, what works next door might not work for you.

    On the benefits of organic production when stacked up against conventional growing methods…First off, the people working in a vineyard are not exposed to pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides that have shown to create a whole lot of health problems. A lot of the guys that come through working in the vineyards are completely unaware of the environment they’re exposed to. We want to provide healthy, long term, sustained employment for our community, that’s not having a negative impact on the environment that we share with them. In doing so, then maybe when land scarcity forces the sale of vineyards for housing developments the community might step in and object to such developments.

    In 2014, Aubert de Villaine of Domaine Romanée-Conti came down to our Pinot celebration and we signed the dossier for world UNESCO protection of the vineyards in Burgundy, for precisely the same reason. Nuits-Saint-Georges’ urban sprawl is a hot topic around town. New Zealand doesn’t have the same reputation as the vineyards of Burgundy do, but Kiwis value their environment. All eyes are on the Dairy sector in NZ at the moment, but in time hopefully the public will turn their attention towards grape growing and we will be in a good position to argue our worth to the wider community.

    On the characteristics of organic wine…Resilience, vibrancy, energy and stability. I remember attending an aromatic symposium a few years ago in Nelson; Matthew Jukes, Jamie Goode and a bunch of winemakers where there. We tasted so many wines made with extraction enzymes, with an enormous amount of aroma that did not reflect well with the palate. The wines looked artificial, and after a few years in the bottle they completely fell over.

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    On lessons learnt from organic viniculture…Don’t worry so much about the laggards, they can really get you down. Focus your energy on the people who get it, and are engaged. Spend your time on developing these people’s skills as their engagement will make all the difference. Especially when you ask them to head out hand-weeding first thing in the morning, or assure them that collecting piles, and piles, and piles, and piles of leaves in autumn for compost is worth the effort.

    On the biggest barriers to organic viniculture…Personally, I think regulations are inhibiting growth of the sector. For example, we don’t label organic for Enotria&Coe because of the warehouse auditing process – organic products must be stored differently from non-organic. Plus, it costs you extra to be audited as an organic importing and distribution company. We’ve removed organic claims from all our export markets except for Sweden, Norway and Finland, which is not at all surprising. It’s all these extra little hoops you need to jump through that make it “too hard”. We spend all our time showing that our wines are organic, when non-organic winemaking is seen as straight forward. I think mandatory ingredient labelling might generate more interest from consumers. At present, there are a lot of things in wine that are not put on the bottle. Also as water pollution problems steadily increase, I think people will start asking more questions about farming practices.

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    On the rising popularity of these wines with consumers…They’re definitely gaining traction in New Zealand, and also in places where pollution’s in your face. Like with the Palm Oil peat fires in Malaysia, selling organic wine in Singapore is easy, they get it straight away. China is the same. However organic certification in America means something different to Canada, to Japan to Europe, so it can be confusing. Organic in America is effectively “Natural Wine”, so we keep away from talking about it over there also.

    Carrick sells most of its wine through restaurants in New Zealand. Single vineyard, certified organic works in this context, but in the supermarket, not so much. Buyers just want to know quickly and easily without too much trouble. That’s why we’re certified, to back up our claims. We just need to get comfortable with advertising that fact.

  • Henschke reaches new heights

    Last week, Liv-ex published its fifth Classification of Bordeaux where it places fine wines into five classes solely based on price. On the basis of average trade prices per case, the classification looks at which wine labels would be considered first to fifth growths today.

    For the first time, this year’s classification has been extended to include regions beyond Bordeaux, and we're delighted to see Henschke as just one of the three Australian producers to make the cut. It should come as no surprise that the wine in question which saw Henschke included in the line-up was their iconic Hill of Grace Shiraz.

    Not only is the inclusion an important recognition of the high calibre wine Henschke is crafting, but it also shows that Australia is capable of producing wines that can stand their ground and compete with the very best of Bordeaux.

    To be considered for the list, all wines must be traded broadly with at least five vintages being traded on the platform in the last year, and all wines must be over £250 a case.

    The famous Burgundian estate Domaine de la Romanée-Conti topped the charts this year.

  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Poliziano

    Words: Leo Bassano

    Montepulciano’s history has always been linked to the fame of its wine. Legend says that the own was founded by the Etruscan King Lars Porsenna and the people of Chiusi, who changed its name from Mons Mercurius to Mont Politicus. In 1868 many bronze items produced in Chiusi were discovered in an Etruscan tomb near Montepulciano. These included a cylix (wine cup) depicting the image of Fufluns, the Etruscan version of Bacchus (the god of wine), playing with a maenad at cottabus, a game in which wine plays a leading role. The fame of the vineyards of Mons Pulitianus has been documented since the late Middle Ages. In the 16th Century, the cellar man to Pope Paolo III Farnese defined Montepulciano as “vino da Signori”, a wine suitable for noble tables.

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    Vino Nobile’s industry developed in the 1920s and 1930s, and Fantini and Cantucci are two estates from that time still producing wines. In 1933 Cantina Fanetti, presented a prestigious, highly-praised red wine at the first exhibition of typical local wines held in Siena. Other wineries followed this example, and in 1937 a cooperative winery was founded with the aim of creating a sales structure for wine produced by small-scale growers. Most of the wine produced was Chianti, with small quantities of Nobile. However, today the cooperative mainly produces and bottles Vino Nobile. In the sixties, there was a dramatic increase in vineyard planting, as it happened in Chianti and Montalcino. Thanks to Avignonesi and Poliziano Vino Nobile gained momentum in the 80s. Avignonesi’s introduced his Vino Nobile in 1978 and also planted international varieties like Cabernet and Merlot. Recognition of DOCG status came in 1980 and Vino Nobile began a new life.

    The style of Vino Nobile remains difficult to pinpoint. Depending on the producers, you can find resiny, spicy and herbal wines, or fruity and rich ones. Generally speaking, Vino Nobiles have softer tannins than Brunello, and broader less acidic profiles than Chianti Classicos. The slopes of Montepulciano are generally more open, allowing more sunlight and gently rolling than the tight, steep ones of Chianti Classico and Montalcino. The altitudes are similar, but the soils are generally sandier and more alluvial, allowing for an earlier ripening of the grapes. Vino Nobile strikes a balance between Chianti Classico and Brunello.

    The story of Poliziano started in 1961 when Dino Carletti bought 22 hectares of land in Montepulciano and planted specialised vineyards. In 1980 Federico Carletti took charge of the estate, with a more contemporary approach and production philosophy. Over the years the vineyards increased outside the Montepulciano denomination, in Magliano and Cortona.

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    The vineyards in Montepulciano are mostly in the south, sloping towards the east, and grown at an altitude of 280-450 metres above sea level. The soil here is mainly clay and volcanic tufo with a moderate presence of stones. The vineyards in the Cortona DOC denomination produce the label In Violas and are divided into two parcels: Farrata, at an altitude of 350m with sand and clay-rich soil with some skeletal stones, and Cignano, where vines are planted on clay soil with southwest exposure and at an altitude of 300m. The Losha label is produced in the Maremma, where the vineyards near Magliano are planted on rich sandy, clay and limestone soils.

    The vineyards are cultivated organically and each plot is taken care of by hand, from choosing the buds, to pruning or tying back the trellis. They do not use fertilisers or pesticides, instead implementing a rigorous agronomic management, a terroir driven by biodiversity and sustainability.

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    With more than 50 years of experience, Poliziano has perfected the handling process in the cellar, with the objective of producing wines that are not uniform but expressive of their territory, with nuances and personality. In the cellar the grapes are sorted with a new state-of-the-art fibre optic camera destemming machine, the first of its kind in Italy. Poliziano is the perfect combination of new technological approach, and traditional values and wisdom.

    The fermentation cellar was built in 1988, positioned directly beneath the area where the grapes are destemmed, therefore using gravity to move the must into the tanks instead of pumps. The stainless-steel tanks allow for controlled temperature and micro-oxygenation and the techniques used are punching down, delestage, and pumping-over with the different varieties fermented separately. The main aim of the maceration is to extract the pest polyphenols from the skins, the most noble of the tannins. The wines mature in a dedicated aging cellar, completed in 2005, with around 4000 barrels between barriques and tonneaux, including an automated system of controlling the humidity and washing and cleaning the barrels.

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    I was hosted by Jennifer, a lovely American lady who is also a writer and knows her wine very well. We tasted the Rosso di Montepulciano 2015, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Asinone 2013 and the Mandrone di Lohsa 2012. The Rosso is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot and part of the wine spends around six months in big botte. It’s a wine produced to be fresh, young, with intense fruits such as raspberries, red cherries and hints of pepper. A great combination with an everyday meal like pizza.

    Next, we had the Vino Nobile 2014, a wine made with 80% Sangiovese plus Colorino and Canaiolo, aging in wood for 15 months, two thirds in French barrique and tonneaux and a third in traditional botte. Medium intensity on the nose, with notes of red and black fruit, cherries, forest fruit and some aromatics; soft, smooth tannins with a crisp character. Though it was a difficult vintage, the wine was very elegant and balanced.

    Then it was the time for the top one, the Asinone 2013; the grapes for this wine come from a 12-ha single vineyard, where years of experimentation with Sangiovese identified the best potential for this variety. The wine spends around 18 months in French barrique and tonneaux. It’s intense, perfumed, wild berries, spices and cedar on the nose; the tannins are tight as it feels it would benefit from some more years in bottle; lots of red and black fruit on the palate, such as dark cherries and ripe plums, but perfectly balanced by a vibrant acidity; very long length. The more you drink, the more you think it’s a “meditation wine”. After a few minutes, Jennifer said I had to try it with 8 months aged pecorino Pienza DOP, claiming it was the best match with Asinone and she was right!

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    Last but not least, we tasted the Mandrone di Losha, a Maremma Toscana DOC blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Alicante. The wines spends 18 months in new French barriques and 6 months in bottle. It’s peppery, with tobacco notes, sweet spices and blackcurrant. Even though it’s a big wine, it’s surprisingly easy to drink; hints of smoke with dark plums and refreshing acidity. A wine I would definitely have with barbeque.

    A big thank you to Poliziano’s hospitality, the place is unbelievable and the wine even better.

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