It’s that time of year when we need to start shaking things up for Christmas. It’s been a bit of a year for that already… We’ve had the Brexit-induced currency devaluation to contend with, followed by the Chancellor, in his divine wisdom, taking his slice at budget time, and now we’re having to plan ahead following one of the worst grape harvests in living memory. Late frosts and a hot, dry summer have meant yields are down by 25% – 50% across most of Europe. We all know how farmers like to moan, but this time they might have some justification.
Wine is a classic example of that old saying from The Leopard: ‘If things are going to stay the same around here, something has to change.’ Wine is a tiny part of the business, so the range has to stay small. To keep it interesting and vibrant, we must make some changes. Hopefully the quality continues to improve, but there are inevitably a few casualties in the form of old favourites no longer being available.
Before we go on to the chunky autumn and Christmas reds, two wines we added in mid-summer that seem to have flicked a few switches are our Fedele Nero d’Avola and Fedele Catararatto Pinot Grigio from Sicily. The Nero d’Avola is classic Nero d’Avola. We listed it in the summer because it’s perfect for barbecues, with bags of red berry fruits, smooth tannins and that sweet edge that works with caramelised meat and veg. So, worth an outing for Bonfire Night, but it’s also a great value Christmas party wine.
The Catarratto/Pinot Grigio white is even better. The two grapes together create an enjoyable, everyday drinking wine with intense citrus aromas and tropical fruit flavours; perfect with seafood or by itself. Veneto Pinot Grigio now has DOC status, which will inevitably lead to price rises – as will this year’s bad harvest. So, we’ll have to look elsewhere for our fridge door staple. It could be that Sicily provides the answer.
Also Italian and returning is Barone Pizzini Pievalta Verdicchio. From the Marche on the Adriatic coast, it’s a style of white that works well by itself or with many antipasti, fish and vegetable dishes. We love it – so much that we’ve also listed a sparkling version: Barone Pizzini Perlugo Spumante. 100% Verdicchio, traditional method, zero dosage (no sugar) fizz with an inviting leesy lemon nose and long-lasting fine mousse. Delicious, says Jancis Robinson.
My favourite of the new reds, and perfect for the autumn, is Dominio de Basconcillos Ribera del Duero. Historically, Ribera’s reputation has been built around Vega Sicilia. It’s acknowledged as one of the world’s great wines, and everybody has tried to copy its style of heavy, tannic wines aged for years in old oak. Many aren’t even released for a decade. All very old-school, but now, at last, things are changing, and the iconoclastic wine hipsters are moving in – with spectacular dividends. The Basconcillos is aged in oak for a mere six months before bottling; just enough to round things out, making it smooth in the mouth with ripe, velvety tannins. Long, elegant, fresh and very well balanced across the palate, it’s perfect with a roast or hearty Spanish stew – fabada asturiana, for example.
Over in the Languedoc, Mas Gabriel winemaker Peter Core probably wouldn’t call himself a hipster (despite playing the saxophone). Peter and his wife Deborah have been making wine in their tiny cellar at Caux, near Pezenas 20km from the Mediterranean, for about a decade. I met Deborah at the London Wine Fair years ago and have been wanting to list their wines ever since. A stellar 2014 vintage and a 93/100 rating from Robert Parker, Wine Advocate did the trick and now it’s here. Mas Gabriel’s Clos des Lièvres is 70% Syrah/30% Grenache and Carignan, a year in mainly used 500l barrels, and a real box of tricks – maybe too many. One minute it’s blackcurrant, then chocolate, then eucalyptus, then something else. It just keeps giving.
And that’s not all folks! Arriving in November, in plenty of time for Christmas, are Domaine Begude’s top end ‘Esprit’ Pinot Noir and ‘Etoile’ Chardonnay. 2016 was a great year for Begude’s Pinots (we sold out months ago) and the barrel aged Esprit is even better. The Etoile Chardonnay never fails to impress and 2016 is no exception.
We all have our fantasy wine Christmas dinner (or maybe, sadly, it’s just me), probably with a £10,000 bottle of Romanée-Conti as the ‘piece de resistance’. But really, nothing works better than fizz, followed by Chardonnay, followed by Pinot Noir, followed by a glass of PX with the pudding. If you’re hitting the cheese board before the pudding, then chuck in a bottle of Mas Gabriel Clos des Lièvres as well. It will happily follow you to the sofa.
We really do have Christmas all wrapped up.
Browse our whole range of organic wines for autumn and winter here. Check back in November to see our extra Christmas stars!