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Expert’s Choice: St-Péray

1 hour 43 min ago
The town of Saint Peray in the Rhône

The fortunes of all wine regions wax and wane, but the story of St-Péray, the most southerly appellation of the northern Rhône, is more turbulent than most.

Making traditional-method sparkling wines as early as 1829, St-Péray soon rivalled Champagne in quality and price. In the late 1800s it was devastated by phylloxera; but as it tried to recover, larcenous négociants put paid to its good name by passing off inferior wines. By the end of the 20th century it had slipped into obscurity – but St-Péray is rising again, and this time it’s the still whites in the ascendant.

The town of St-Péray sits on the west bank of the Rhône in a picturesque valley created by a tributary called the Mialan. One side of the valley is granite, the other is a limestone outcrop with the ruined 12th century Château de Crussol on top. Vines grow on both soils: limestone imparts freshness and tension; granite brings ripeness and salinity. At just 89ha under vine, it’s a small appellation, but a growing one.

St-Péray only produces white wines, using Marsanne, Roussanne or both. Marsanne brings stone fruits, body and structure. Roussanne is less common as it’s sensitive to disease and can ripen suddenly, but it contributes aromas of pear, floral notes and freshness. Most producers blend the two or use pure Marsanne, particularly for sparkling wines.

Despite the paucity of St-Péray mousseux nowadays, there is a diversity of style. Even the lightest have an unusual breadth on the palate. More concentrated examples, with long lees ageing, can be remarkably full-bodied, rich and flavoursome for a sparkling wine. Today’s St-Péray mousseux doesn’t have the finesse of good Champagne, but it does have a distinctive and characterful style. Quality-minded producers such as Rémy Nodin are spearheading a gradual recovery.

The still wines, however, are now world class. They vary from medium-bodied, fresh and floral in style to full-bodied and opulent. What characterises St-Péray in the context of other northern Rhône Marsanne-Roussanne wines is a certain softness on the palate. Crucially this must be balanced – often by both acidity (never high in St-Péray) and light tannins, minerality and a pleasing bitterness. Otherwise the wines can be flabby.

Since St-Péray has hit its stride again, some have pushed an ambitious, concentrated style. When it works, the wines can impress and work well with rich dishes. But if overdone they lack drinkability and refreshment – even more so with prolonged oak ageing. Those who focus on tension and freshness tend to produce a more precise and articulate expression of the terroir.

Cooler years, such as 2014, often give good results as they preserve the all-important acidity and freshness. Warmer years have traditionally been less successful, but I was impressed with the consistent quality from the hot 2015 vintage. These will be best drunk young, but St-Péray isn’t a wine for long ageing in any case – and 2016 is looking even stronger. The future is looking bright again for this phoenix of the northern Rhône.

Matt Walls’ top St-Péray picks

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Great places to eat in Healdsburg

Sat, 14/09/2019 - 14:00
Fancy a picnic? The branch of Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg.

Healdsburg’s rising popularity has seen it dubbed a ‘miniature San Francisco’ by some observers and there has been debate about how this small town can reap the benefits yet preserve its community, with affordable housing high on the agenda.

It’s the sort of gentrification tale that will be familiar to many.

To its credit, Healdsburg has built much of its reputation as a growing culinary capital on local sourcing and a celebration of Sonoma County’s rich variety of wines.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here is some inspiration for places to visit during your stay.

See our updated list of Healdsburg wineries to visit here Wine tour planning stage

Great coffee can be found in the Flying Goat café, which has good wifi and also makes a good venue for planning out your day – even if the airy, minimalist vibe could be slackened slightly to allow a couple of extra tables and chairs. There is also a branch in Santa Rosa.

The Costeaux French bakery is an alternative option and is something of an institution, known in particular for speciality breads, including sourdough, and many cakes.

Healdsburg restaurant ideas

Restaurant ‘SingleThread’ is one of only seven three-star Michelin restaurants listed in the guide’s 2019 edition for California, released in June. ‘Guests may never want to leave,’ its anonymous inspectors noted.

You can book an 11-course tasting menu and the wine list, as you’d expect, is extensive.

Château Latour from the 1940s and Mouton Rothschild 1982 are some of the ‘old world’ classics on the list, but they sit alongside wines from smaller-scale California producers that can be pretty difficult to find for those living beyond the state’s boundaries.

A more casual dining affair nearby is pasta specialist Brass Rabbit restaurant, where you can enjoy a delicious array of dishes paired with an eclectic list of wines designed to show the diversity on offer across Sonoma County and further north.

Italian varietals are a particular feature, such as Idlewild’s take on Nebbiolo from the Fox Hill Vineyard in Mendocino County.

You can continue the Italian theme at Idlewild’s nearby tasting room, opened around two years ago, where you’ll find northern California examples of Cortese, Dolcetto and Barbera, plus charcuterie and local cheese.

Close by and with a slightly more fine dining theme is Valette, opened in 2015 by local chef Dustin Valette and his brother, Aaron Garzini.

Decanter contributor Courtney Humiston previously named Valette as a must-visit for anyone exploring the food scene in Sonoma County.

‘Valette brings fresh energy to Healdsburg’s town centre in the form of house-cured meats and fresh pasta,’ she wrote in 2016.

‘Their wine list is closely connected to the local winemaking community, featuring a variety of choices from all over Sonoma County.’

Other fine dining options include Dry Creek Kitchen, owned by chef Charlie Palmer, which has a Sonoma-dominant wine list of around 500 different labels.

Campo Fina is a casual restaurant known for wood-fired pizza, while Barndiva is a good bet for outdoor space.

Craft beer

Barrels, Brews & Bites is another good option if you’re seeking a chilled vibe with comfort food, offering tapas-style ‘bitty bites’ – definitely try the truffle fries – plus the unambiguously-titled ‘bigger bites’. Craft beer is the thing here, but there is a decent selection of wines, too.

Duke’s for cocktails

Whether it’s before or after dinner, or perhaps after lunch on a weekend, you’ve got stop by Duke’s and marvel at the mesmerising array of spirits lined along its bar.

Those liquors are put to good use in a superb range of cocktails.

Treats and on-the-go

Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie bar specialises in small-batch dairy ice cream from its local creamery. It also has vegan ice cream and sorbets. The same people are behind Moustache Baked Goods, also in Healdsburg.

Oakville Grocery’s Healdsburg branch, lying on the corner just off the main plaza, is a treasure trove for anyone looking to piece together a picnic, from fresh sandwiches and local cheeses to craft beers and chilled wine.

Detox option

If you fancy a strategic alcohol breather and enjoy authentic Japanese food, then The Taste of Tea serves excellent ramen and rice bowls for both lunch and dinner.


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Médoc Cru Classés 2010: Panel Tasting

Sat, 14/09/2019 - 08:00

Looking back, the biggest shock of the tasting was the the omission of the first growths from the top wines list. They were out scored by many other châteaux by the three judges, Steven Spurrier, Stephen Brook and Michael Schuster. As Steven Spurrier explained at the time, young, fruit forward wines are always more appealing in early, blind tastings.

As will be seen from the tasting, the first growths – to which I gave three 20 points and one 19.5 after the en primeur tastings in 2011 – were outranked by some lesser wines. One should always buy the latter in great vintages like 2010 and I have to admit that, in this tasting, I preferred fruit over structure. Is Prieuré-Lichine better than Margaux, Haut-Batailley better than Latour? Of course not, but they showed beautifully.

Next year will be the “ten years on” tasting, and to see if the first growths are starting come into their own, and it will be fascinating to find out if the vintage is still considered five star.

Médoc Cru Classés 2010

This should be one of the very best tastings of the year. The 2010 vintage of Bordeaux: the châteaux owners’ near-unanimous choice for the best year out of that double-barrelled gift of 2009–2010. Almost every owner of a classified growth will tell you the same thing: 2009 for immediate charm, 2010 for going the distance.

In terms of taste and structure, 2010 is often called the architect’s vintage; producing physical wines with angles, depth, length and width, beating previous records for levels of tannins, fruit and acidity, but all perfectly balanced. Even the colour was off the charts – anthocyanin content (the red, purple and blue pigments in grape skins) in Cabernet Sauvignon in Pauillac was recorded at an average of 2,500mg/l in 2010, compared to 1,500mg/l in 2009.

The long growing season seemed to particularly suit Cabernet Sauvignon, with many estates putting record percentages in their blend (of the wines tasted here, Château Margaux and Ducru-Beaucaillou both have 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mouton 94%, its highest in decades). Couple this already-intensely flavoured grape with the small berry size resulting from the dry summer, and you had small yields of richly concentrated wines, on average 10 to 30% down on 2009 production.

By Jane Anson

The results

Claret lovers have been spoiled for choice – 2009 and 2010 were both great vintages. But they do differ, the panel reminded us, with 2010 best for classic, structured, ageworthy wines.

‘The overall quality of these wines was pretty stunning,’ exclaimed Stephen Brook, who affirmed ‘the hype is justified; this is a truly great vintage’. Fellow judges Steven Spurrier and Michael Schuster agreed, adding that the 2010s are ‘finely textured and ripe’ and will be ‘extremely rewarding’ once they have fully matured.

‘What’s interesting is to view 2010 in the context of the several years beforehand,’ said Spurrier, who labelled 2000 as a ‘great vintage’; 2001 ‘now recognised as being just as good’; 2002 ‘rained off’; 2003 ‘terribly hot’; 2004 ‘a bit lean’; 2005 ‘sensational’; 2006 ‘classic Bordeaux, a bit tough’; 2008 ‘nice and attractive’; 2009 ‘the best vintage in our lifetime’; and 2010 as ‘now being seen as even better’.

So what makes the 2010s stand out? ‘It wasn’t as hot as 2009, so the acidities didn’t drop in the grapes,’ explained Brook. Schuster added: ‘2010 is very different from 2009. These wines are more linear, more tannic and more vertical, if you like. They’re less sweet, fleshy and generous than the 2009s, but the best of them will be very, very fine indeed.’

Spurrier continued: ‘What we’re looking at is a vintage that is extremely ripe, and extremely classic, and it’s rare to get that balance. The tannins are a little more severe, but they’ll soften. The fruit is more precise; not as obviously plummy, but it will come out in time. It’s all in the structure.’

Despite praising the overall quality of the 2010s, the judges did note that some of the wines ‘have sat back on their heels’, becoming ‘closed and conservative’, so finding the nuances either aromatically or on the palate was ‘quite difficult’. Brook said: ‘The wines weren’t explosive or fleshy in the way the 2009s were; they were a bit difficult to read. Nonetheless, I gave a score of 17-plus to about 60% of the wines, which means Highly Recommended for the majority, which is unusual.’

But with the Bordeaux 2010 prices having eclipsed those of the previous vintage, is there any value to be had? ‘I think 20% of these wines will be outside the pockets of most Decanter readers, but this vintage will show them what Bordeaux is up to now,’ Brook said.

Top Médoc Cru Classés 2010 of the tasting

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Red wine for autumn: Ten to try

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 16:09

There’s no denying it, autumn is upon those of us in the northern hemisphere. Leaves are clogging up driveways, it’s getting dark earlier than we think it should, and the shops are looking ahead to Halloween, bonfire night and – gulp! – Christmas.

As we look to heartwarming dishes – tied together with seasonal ingredients – to keep the impending chill at bay  it makes sense to alter our drinking habits too. Below are some great red wines, selected by our experts, to ward off the cooler evenings and help you get in an autumnal mood.

If you’re in the southern half of the world, you might want to see our summer wine ideas.

Red wine for autumn: You may also like: Five island wine regions to visit this autumn Dos and don’ts in the wine shop Removing sulphites from your wine

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Antinori's Guado al Tasso and Matarocchio

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 12:05
Antinori's Tenuta Guado al Tasso in Bolgheri

When in 1992 Antinori decided not to produce its flagship Solaia, Tignanello, nor its ‘riserva’ of Chianti Classico due to the terrible harvest in Tuscany, Guado al Tasso was vinified anyway.

Aldo Fiordelli’s top Guado al Tasso & Matarocchio wines

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Could you get paid to make your own wine in Italy?

Fri, 13/09/2019 - 10:20
Castellino del Biferno in Molise.

Molise authorities will pay newcomers €700 per month for up to three years as part of plans to boost population numbers, the region’s president, Donato Toma, told the Guardian newspaper.

Money is available provided that the person promises to start a business and moves to a village with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, the paper reported Toma as saying.

Mountainous Molise is one of Italy’s youngest regions, having become independent after a split from Abruzzo was officially implemented in 1970.

It is also one of the country’s smallest one wine producing regions, encompassing four DOCs: Biferno, Pentro di Isernia, Molise del Molise and Tintilia del Molise – that last of which was only approved in 2011.

Major grape varieties include Montepulciano for reds and Trebbiano for whites, particularly in Biferno, although naturally the Tintilia DOC is based around the red wine grape variety of that name.  You’ll also find Aglianico and Sangiovese, plus white grape Bombino.

Biferno Rosso Riserva wines must be aged for at least three years before release.

See also: The risk takers: The realities of buying a vineyard

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New ‘no-deal Brexit’ paperwork could hit UK wine industry with £70m bill

Thu, 12/09/2019 - 17:08

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) says that new UK Government paperwork to be introduced in the event of a no-deal Brexit will cost UK wine businesses £70 million.

Whitehall officials agreed earlier this year that the paperwork – which will deal with wines coming into the UK from the EU and for English wine exported to EU countries should Britain leave the EU without a deal – would be suspended for nine months from the point of no-deal, but has since made a U-turn.

This extra ‘red tape’ will see an estimated 500,000 new import certificates (known as VI-1 forms) required for wine coming into the UK, all accompanied by lab analysis. European wine producers will have to pay to file the VI-1 form and for laboratory tests for every consignment of wine sent to the UK, no matter how big or small.

The WSTA claims that the process will add an estimated 10p on a bottle of wine and see reduced choice for consumers. The burden, particularly on small wine producers that often stock independent wine merchants, is likely to be too great and in some cases wine supplies from smaller vineyards into the UK are expected to dry up.

The UK industry’s ties with the EU run deep with 55% of wine consumed in the UK is imported from the EU.

‘The Government’s failure to honour commitments to suspend the VI-1 forms is a real blow for the UK wine industry,’ said Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the WSTA . ‘The additional form filling and laboratory tests required for a no-deal scenario will add a massive burden on exporters and importers alike. Wine inspectors will find themselves drowning in paperwork and consignments are going to be held up by unnecessary additional red tape.’

This is the latest in a series of criticisms of the Government from the WSTA, with the trade body furious at wine duty hikes enforced by the Chancellor in February and the potential fall-out for the wine trade from a no-deal Brexit.

‘We can only conclude from this that Government doesn’t understand the value of the UK wine industry nor the value of imports in general to the UK economy,’ continued Beale.

‘Imports are worth roughly the same as exports to the UK economy. The burden of import certificates for wine will not simply fall on EU businesses – their pain will be shared by UK importers and ultimately UK consumers.  There is however a simple solution, suspend the introduction of pointless import certificates and use the time to develop modern import rules that are fit for purpose.’

Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Wines and Spirits added: ‘This U-turn is yet another example of Government failing to listen to industry experts and ultimately failing to back British business.  The worst case assumptions outlined in the Yellowhammer contingency plan are likely to become a reality if we end up with a disastrous no-deal Brexit.’

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Rush of releases shows Bordeaux merchants expanding their horizons

Thu, 12/09/2019 - 12:22
Masseto 2016 was released this month. It joined the Place de Bordeaux in 2008.

A fresh cache of Latour 2011 was released from the first growth Château’s cellars this week, but it will have to share the limelight with a host of top wines from around the world that are now using Bordeaux’s renowned Place to present their latest vintages.

Wines released via Bordeaux négociants in the last two weeks include the 2016 vintages of California’s Opus One and Verité wines, plus Masseto, Solaia and Nicolás Catena Zapata, as well as the 2017 wines of Almaviva, Seña and Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin.

Opus One signed up to the Place back in 2004, but the trend for Bordeaux merchants to offer wines made beyond its borders in the month of September has become more firmly established in recent years.

It has come amid a broadening of the fine wine market, together with smaller en primeur campaigns in general.

The trend also shows how top producers have placed confidence in the sales networks of Bordeaux négociants.

Gavin Smith, head of fine wine at UK-based Fine & Rare merchant, said in a blog post this month that the Place can save a lot of leg-work, and cost, for wineries.

‘Within hours, the wine would have been offered to thousands of merchants reaching millions of customers almost immediately,’ he said.

Not all estates listed above have released 100% of their production via the Place de Bordeaux.

Catena, for example, first launched its flagship Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec blend, Nicolás Catena Zapata, via the Place in September 2018, but only to cover markets in Europe and Asia. It has released its Adrianna Vineyard, Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec on the same terms.

Latour this week also used the September release period to re-release its 2011 first wine, the final vintage that was offered en primeur by the estate. It was being sold by the UK trade at around £5,460 per 12-bottle case.

‘Today’s release price positions the wine above all other “off-vintages” available on the market such as 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008,’ said Liv-ex.

See also: Vérité – Sonoma micro-lot wines


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Top UK and European vineyard stays by train

Thu, 12/09/2019 - 11:23
Loisium Wine and Spa Resort, Langenlois, Austria

Autumn is a magical time to visit northern hemisphere vineyards; the vines glow golden and green in the late summer sun, there’s still enough daylight to explore the great outdoors and for many harvest is full swing so the sights, sounds and smells of this annual activity are high in the air.

With UK vineyards and wineries beginning to realise the opportunities that tourism brings, many now offer rooms or guesthouses in amongst the vines, opening up a whole new world to explore for the wine-loving traveller.

Here we take a look at some of the best vineyard stays accessible by train, and as well as the best places to stay in the UK there are many possibilities further afield in mainland Europe, all striking distance from railway stations and easy to get to via Eurostar from London St. Pancras.

So if a quick hop to some of the UK’s most exciting estates, or a day on a train racing through Europe with your feet up, a glass in one hand and a novel in the other, sounds like the perfect autumn getaway, there’s plenty here to inspire you…

Chapel Down, Kent, UK

Nearest station: Headcorn

The Kent winery has teamed up with the local Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast – on the Sissinghurst Castle Gardens National Trust estate – to offer travellers a base from where to explore the surrounding area, including of course the Chapel Down wine estate. Packages include vineyard and winery tours, a tutored tasting and a lesson in sabrage – not for the faint-hearted! From central London you can be in the Garden of England enjoying a glass of English fizz in under two hours.

  • Chapel Down Winery & Store, Small Hythe, Tenterden, Kent TN30 7NG
  • Open 10am-5pm.
  • Vineyard tour and tastings: booking in advance advisable.
Rathfinny Wine Estate, Sussex, UK

Nearest station: Seaford

A stone’s throw from the south coast is one of the UK’s newest wine estates. Rathfinny was established by Sarah and Mark Driver in 2010 and is pushing to become one of the UK’s premium sparkling wine houses. As well as its Sussex fizz Rathfinny makes still wine under the Cradle Valley label and gin. Its Flint Barns are the perfect retreat after a day by the sea or on the South Downs, offering open fires, snugs and home-cooked meals in the dining room.

  • Rathfinny Wine Estate, Alfriston, East Sussex BN26 5TU
  • Cradle Valley winter tour & tasting: selected dates November-March. Buy tickets in advance.
See also: Wine tour ideas for Autumn

Denbies Wine Estate, Surrey, UK

Nearest station: Dorking

Head to the Surrey Hills and one of England’s largest wine estates for a stay in the UK’s first vineyard hotel. Denbies, near Dorking (less than an hour by train from London), was planted in 1986 and stretches over 265 acres where award-winning still and sparkling wine is grown and made. Denbies Vineyard Hotel offers views across the Surrey Hills and from here you can explore the estate and the local area, and enjoy on-site tastings and a vineyard tour by Land Rover-pulled ‘train’, no less.

  • Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6AA
  • Estate open: April-October, Monday-Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm, Sunday 10am-5.30pm. November-March, Monday-Saturday 9.30am-5pm, Sunday 10am-5pm.
  • Indoor wine tasting: run on the hour daily between 11am-4pm, all year. Advance booking recommended.
  • Vineyard train tours: March-October. Advance booking recommended.
Camel Valley, Cornwall, UK

Nearest station: Bodmin Parkway

Billed – by some – as the ‘California of England’ Cornwall has its own burgeoning wine scene which may not rival Napa or Sonoma but is responsible for some of England’s finest wines. At the heart of this is Camel Valley where Bob Lindo and family have been making wine and welcoming visitors for 30 years. Stretch your legs after the four-hour train journey from London’s Paddington with a vineyard tour and tasting before staying in one of the estate’s barn-converted cottages offering stunning views across the vineyards and down the valley.

  • Camel Valley, Nanstallon, Bodmin, Cornwall PL30 5LG
  • Grand tour & tasting: Wednesday 5pm April-October & Thursday 5pm August.
  • Guided tour: 2.30pm Monday-Friday April-September, with additional dates in October/November.


Chateau de Pitray, St. Emilion, France

Nearest station: Castillon

Hit the continent and live like a (pre-revolution) French king at the spectacular Château de Pitray in Bordeaux. Just five miles from Castillon railway station, itself only two changes from London St. Pancras (Paris and Libourne), this 17th century castle overlooks the Dordogne River and wine has been produced on the estate for more than 300 years. Visit the vineyard and cellar and enjoy the nearby town of St-Émilion before a relaxing dip in the pool and a night in one of the castle’s classically-dressed rooms.

  • Chateau de Pitray, 33 350 Gardegan-et-Tourtirac, France
Champagne Roger Coulon, Champagne, France

Nearest station: Reims

The Eurostar to Paris then a 40-minute TGV train to Reims means it has never been easier to get to the homeland of fizz. The Le Clos des Terres Soudées guest house on the Champagne Roger Coulon estate in Vrigny has been in the hands of the Coulon family for eight generations and produces notable wines from estate-grown fruit. Complimentary tours of the cellars, followed by a tasting, are available to all guests, who from here can also explore the historic city of Reims, just five miles away.

  • Le Clos des Tertres Soudées, 25 rue Saint Vincent, 51390, Vrigny
  • Visit to the winery, cellars & tasting. Tuesday-Sunday morning by appointment. Complimentary for guests.
Loisium Wine and Spa Resort, Langenlois, Austria

Nearest station: Langenlois

It’s possible to get to Vienna in a day from London by train (St. Pancras-Brussels, Brussels-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Vienna) and can be done for around £100 if booked in advance. From Vienna hop on a local train to Langenlois then take a well-desserved rest among the vines at the incredible Loisium spa hotel, where you can take a dip in the outdoor pool or enjoy the full spa experience before dinner in the stylish modern restaurant. The wine-themed hotel is the perfect base from which to explore the region’s famous wine producers.

  • Loisium Wine & Spa Resort, Loisium Allee 2, 3550 Langenlois
See all of our latest travel guides for wine lovers here

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Anson: Lalande-de-Pomerol 2015 horizontal

Thu, 12/09/2019 - 10:31

Any horizontal of 2015 Right Bank is worth a look at right now. Approaching five years on from the vintage, it’s pretty much exactly the time that you’re going to be finding these wines on shelves and in restaurants – and when an appellation like Lalande-de-Pomerol is perfect to start drinking.

See Jane Anson’s 31 Lalande-de-Pomerol wine tasting notes and scores You may also like Anson: Liber Pater wine and the rush for rare grapes in Bordeaux
Anson: Irish influence in Bordeaux
Anson: What will the new grape varieties mean for Bordeaux?

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UK government says no-deal Brexit will see return of duty-free alcohol

Wed, 11/09/2019 - 16:09

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has promised to bring back duty-free shopping with EU countries if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

Travellers to the EU from the UK would not have to pay excise duty on alcohol in a duty-free shop and would be entitled to bring back limited quantities of alcohol from duty-free shops in Europe.

A statement from the Exchequer’s office claims that a bottle of wine purchased duty free at Heathrow Airport on the way to the EU could be up to £2.23 cheaper.

It goes on to add that people travelling back from the EU will still be able to bring back unlimited amounts of alcohol for their own use, if they pay duty in Europe, as is currently the case.

‘As we prepare to leave the EU, I’m pleased to be able to back British travellers. We want people to enjoy their hard-earned holidays and this decision will help holidaymakers’ cash go that little bit further,’ said Javid.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), was quick to use the announcement to highlight the UK’s ‘excessive’ duty levels.

‘The Chancellor’s announcement to reinstate duty free for travellers moving between the UK and the EU is welcome,’ said Beale. ‘But it is also a distraction from the main issue – the UK’s punitively high rates of excise duty. Duty Free is attractive to UK consumers wholly thanks to excessive and increasing duty levels.

‘Wine drinkers in Spain and Italy, and 13 other EU countries enjoy duty free purchases without having to leave their shores. The UK alcohol industry is one of the most heavily taxed in Europe, with wine the 3rd highest duty rate – and fastest rising in recent years. And we have the 4th highest duty rate for spirits in the EU.’

Beale went on to call for a duty cut on wine and spirits at the next budget, which the WSTA has been campaigning for.

‘There are much bigger issues which would adversely affect our industry in the event of a no deal Brexit, such as the potential introduction of tariffs on wine. So the Government shouldn’t only tinker with duty free allowances for travellers. No ifs, no buts, the Chancellor should go further to back British business and support cash-strapped consumers by cutting duty on wine and on spirits at the next Budget.’

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Matt Walls' most exciting Cairanne wines

Wed, 11/09/2019 - 11:15

When I asked Denis Alary of Domaine Alary why it took so long for Cairanne to decide to push for promotion from ‘AOC Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Cairanne’ to its own appellation of ‘AOC Cairanne’, he said ‘because in the minds of many winemakers, we were already a cru.’

Matt Walls’ exciting Cairanne wines from recent vintages:

Below are the top 16 wines tasted, scoring 92 points and above. See Walls’ pick of 30 exciting Cairanne wines here.

See also: Best Rhône 2016 wines Best Rhône 2017 wines

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Lawsuit alleges multi-million dollar wine dinner fraud

Tue, 10/09/2019 - 17:30

Thirteen plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against New York-based businessman Omar Khan, mostly alleging that he duped them into investing in his plans to make money by holding luxury dinners with some of the world’s rarest wines.

Complainants in the case have asked for at least $8.3m plus interest in damages, the court filing shows.

Despite Khan reporting that the investments were successful and profitable, it has since been discovered that ‘most of the “ventures” were in fact not real’, the complainants said in court documents filed with the Supreme Court of New York on 3 September.

Omar Khan could not be immediately reach for comment, but has reportedly denied any wrongdoing.

Speaking to the New York Post, Khan was quoted as blaming ‘cashflow issues’ for some dinners not taking place.

The lawsuit also names Khan’s company, International Business and Wine Society LLC, and his wife, Leslie Khan, as defendants. Khan’s strategic consultancy, Sensei International, was also named as a defendant in the case. ‘Khan is an alter ego of Sensei,’ said the filing.

Khan held networking events and dinners for wealthy people, at which he would pick individuals to charm, according to the court filing. He would then persuade them to invest in his luxury wine dinner business idea.

Retired mathematician Kresimir Penavic was owed around $6.9m by Khan, said the lawsuit filing.

In one example, it said that Penavic invested $75,000 in a planned wine dinner in London, but ‘this event never even took place’ and no funds were repaid.

Where events did take place, the filing reported that plaintiffs have faced difficulties extracting their profit share.

The post Lawsuit alleges multi-million dollar wine dinner fraud appeared first on Decanter.

Bordeaux red blends around the world

Tue, 10/09/2019 - 14:30

Bordeaux‘s signature grape varieties have traversed the globe, to the extent that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have risen to the summit of the world grape planting league in the past two decades.

What’s in a Bordeaux red blend?

A Bordeaux red blend usually combines two or more of the classic Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet SauvignonMerlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenère and Malbec. A white blend would most likely include at least two from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle.

It is not a legal or technical term

There are no specific rules on percentages in the finished wine, yields when growing or planting regulations as found in Bordeaux itself. It is simply a term for the grapes used.


However, some wines made in the USA may use the trade marked term ‘Meritage’ on labels, if they are a member of the Meritage Association. This means that the wine must combine two or more of the five red varieties above, and can also use St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenère. No single variety can constitute more than 90% of the finished wine.

Are they just copies of Bordeaux wines?

It’s not as if winemakers on Tuscany’s Bolgheri coast or on the gravel soils of Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand are seeking to make carbon copies of Bordeaux wines. Climate, as well as vineyard and cellar techniques, differ within and between areas.

And it’s completely up to the winemakers themselves whether or not to use the term ‘Bordeaux blend’ when describing their wines.

Yet, there is a sense, too, of paying hommage to what Bordeaux has achieved in terms of structured wines that are built to last – sometimes for many years.

While the existence of Bordeaux blends, even as a term in itself, underlines the maritime French region’s enduring position as a benchmark for fine wines, it also says something about the versatility of the grapes themselves.

The fine wines below have all been reviewed by Decanter experts.

Words by Jim Button and Chris Mercer.

Fine Bordeaux red blends from around the world:

The following wines have been tasted by Decanter experts


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Champagne set for smaller 2019 harvest as picking begins

Tue, 10/09/2019 - 12:36
Champagne vineyards near to Verzenay.

Frost, heat spikes and fungal infections have kept Champagne houses and growers on their toes in the 2019 growing season.

But, recent good weather and a promising forecast have boosted spirits in the region, where several producers have reported good levels of ripeness in grapes as picking began this week.

Champagne’s 2019 harvest was expected to shrink by 17% versus the relatively large 2018 crop, said the French agriculture ministry in August.

If proved correct, that would put the 2019 harvest 5% below the region’s five-year average.

Challenging conditions in 2019

‘2019 has been a very challenging year between April frosts, two record-breaking heatwaves during the summer months of June and July, and drought throughout most of the year,’ said Antoine Malassagne, co-owner of Champagne AR Lenoble, at the end of August.

Around 5,000 hectares of Champagne vineyards were affected by frost this year, with a fifth of those suffering ‘100%’ damage, according to regional trade body Comité Champagne in July.

Malassagne said, ‘The yields are going to be significantly lower than they were in 2018 to say the least, and it will be more important than ever for our harvest team to do lots of sorting in the vineyards so that only the best and healthiest grapes are brought to our three Coquard presses in Damery.’

Oidium – also known as powdery mildew – has been a particular problem for producers in several areas and Malassagne highlighted a serious attack Lenoble’s Chardonnay grapes in the grand cru village of Chouilly.

Promising ripeness

Still, it remains early days for the 2019 vintage and there was optimism in the region for grapes that survive the sorting table test.

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, chef de cave and executive vice president at Louis Roederer, said on Twitter that the house was seeing good levels of freshness and ripeness in the first Chardonnay grapes to be harvested today (10 September) – in Vertus in the Côte des Blancs.

Champagne Barnaut, based in Bouzy in the Pinot Noir-dominant Montagne de Reims, said on Instagram this week that it was seeing very good ripeness, good acidity levels and excellent aromatic potential in grapes. ‘What could be better?’ it said.

Champagne’s regional council, the Comité Champagne, has set maximum yields for 2019 at 10,200kg of grapes per hectare, down from a limit of 10,800kg in 2018. If producers cannot reach this level, they will be able to make up the difference by releasing wines from their reserve.

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How to pair wine with sushi

Tue, 10/09/2019 - 10:00
Sushi can work with many wines, from Pinot to ChablisWine with sushi – Pairings to consider:
  • Kai / Shiromi: Dry, mineral white wines
  • Sunomono / Dashi: Koshu
  • Akami: Pinot Noir
  • Edomae: Bordeaux, Rioja and Brunello
  • Soy sauce dishes: NZ Pinot and Burgundy

As one of the most popular Japanese cuisine internationally, Sushi – to some extent – shapes the world’s impression of Japanese food.

This artisan, delicate dish is usually made with a small ball of rice vinegar-infused steamed rice, combined with a variety of Neta (ingredients).

The ‘Nagare (flow)’

‘Sushi is designed to be enjoyed in one bite,’ says Hiroshi Ishida, Best Sommelier of Asia-Oceania in Hong Kong in 2015 and vice chair of the 2019 Decanter Asia Wine Awards.

‘It doesn’t seem sensible to order a different glass every time you have a different flavour of sushi. Therefore, every wine should at least work with two to three sushi dishes.’

If you are going to authentic Japanese restaurant, where sushi dishes are freshly made one by one in front of you, the first and most important thing to do is let the chef know that you would like to pair your sushi with wine.

‘The “nagare (flow)” of the sushi being served is essential to the pairing experience,’ says Ishida.

‘For instance, you will struggle to find a wine that can pair well with Ika (squid), Hirame (Japanese halibut) and Maguro (Tuna) all at the same time,’ he adds.

Therefore, a good sommelier would ask the chef to group the dishes by each category of ingredients. These categories include Kai (shellfish), Shiromi (white fish) and Akami (lean cut), according to Ishida.

‘If you are ordering an assorted sushi platter, be aware that there may not be one wine that matches every piece perfectly. So consider wine pairing before you place your order, if you don’t have the help of a sommelier.’

A touch of freshness

Kai (shellfish) and Shiromi (white fish) are fresh in flavours – they are served as they come, without extra processing or seasoning.

‘You don’t even need soy sauce to enjoy them – just eat with a pinch of salt, and maybe a touch of wasabi,’ suggests Ishida.

‘These dishes are best paired with dry, acidic and mineral white wines such as Chablis, Albariño or an Assyrtiko from Santorini.’

Pinot and rice

Akami (lean cuts) are richer in flavour and texture, so the natural choice would be a lighter red wine, especially Pinot Noir, said Ishida.

‘I think Pinot Noir generally pairs nicely with steamed rice. The sweetness in rice usually works nicely with the acidity in Pinot Noir. ’

Even better if the sushi rice is seasoned with Akazu, a red vinegar made using sake lees, which tends to work well with red wines.

The ‘Edomae’ style

‘Edomae’ in Japanese meaning ‘slightly processed’. So in sushi terms, ‘edomae style’ usually refers to dishes that are slightly scorched or seasoned with sauce.

These dishes tend to have stronger, sometimes smoky flavours, explains Ishida.

‘With the help of Akazu (red vinegar), they pair nicely with classic red wines such as Bordeaux, Rioja and Brunello. Anago (salt-water eels), Unagi (fresh-water eels) and Scorched Maguro (tuna) fall into that category,’ he adds.

The taboos

‘Rice is like a cushion when it comes to pairing – it absorbs flavours, so in fact nothing will go horribly wrong,’ says Ishida.

However, sushi dishes are generally delicate and gentle in flavours, so powerful, New World-style wines with high alcohol and heavy fruit extraction tend to overpower them.

‘For instance, an importer would struggle to convince his/her customer to pair Napa Valley Cabernet with Japanese food,’ he says, but quickly adds that there are some more delicate and restrained New World wines which could work nicely with sushi.

Japanese wines

‘It’s worth pointing out that Japanese wines are not necessarily perfect matches to all kind of Japanese food,’ says Ishida.

Koshu wines from Yamanashi County, for instance, are a good match to Kai (shellfish), as the latter has a hint of bitterness and a depth of umami flavours. It also works with bitter-flavoured vegetable sushi, he explains.

An even better match is Koshu wines with Dashi – a seaweed-based broth, which is one of the fundamental cooking ingredients in Japanese cuisine, especially miso soup.

‘Starters such as Sunomono (Japanese Vinegar seasoned salad) are also nice to have with a sip of Koshu,’ he says.

The devil is in the condiments

‘Finally, I would like to stress that if you’d like to fully enjoy sushi with wine, make sure you use quality soy sauce and wasabi. Low quality condiments almost certainly bring down the entire pairing experience,’ says Ishida.

‘Dried up wasabi paste left in the corner of the restaurant won’t do your sushi any justice. If you are spending money on top quality Maguro (tuna), abandon those cheap soy sauces and wasabi pastes that only have a spicy kick.’

As a matter of fact, in order to let the consumer savour original flavours of Ika (squid), many Japanese chefs would simply serve it with salt.

‘If you’d love to enjoy sushi with soy sauce, it’s worth noting that very acidic whites may not be the best choice, but red wines with reserved fruitiness such as Burgundy or Old World-style New Zealand Pinot Noir tends to make soy sauce sing.’

See more food and wine pairing advice

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Discover Cellier des Dauphins Reserve

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 12:24

The Cellier des Dauphins vineyards lie in the Rhône Valley, the foothills of the southern Alps rising in the distance. In these terroirs, sun-drenched vines swaying in the southern breeze, grow the renowned grape varieties that have made the Côtes du Rhône famous: Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and many other regional grapes.

Such diversity enables our winemakers to produce aromatic blended wines of great complexity. Among the Côtes du Rhône AOCs are 20 Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations and the most illustrious Crus.

Savour life’s special moments with Cellier des Dauphins’ sun-drenched wines and experience the southern France conviviality. Our brand new Côtes du Rhône Réserve AOC are crafted with passion and attention to detail, from the vine to the glass. They are made from grapes harvested from select vineyards around the villages of Richerenches, Vinsobres, Puyméras, Tulette and Saint Maurice.

Cellier des Daphins AOC Côtes du Rhône Réserve Rouge

Grown on sunny slopes and harvested at the peak of ripeness, Syrah and Grenache grapes give the wine its deep ruby colour. Extraordinary care during extraction accounts for its unctuous quality and rich mix of sun-baked black fruits. Astute élevage (aging, fining, filtering, and blending) yields a round wine with soft ripe tannins and long finish.

Decanter awarded Réserve Red 97 points and Platinum Medal with the following tasting notes from the jury: “This is delicious! Very classy and appealing aromas of flowers, garrigue, spice and forest floor. On the palate sweet vanilla oak marries into the charming and svelte herbal, red and blue fruit mix. It’s full of flavour, super supple, super drinkable and authentic. Bouquet, taste, finish: all are magnificent!”

Cellier des Daphins AOC Côtes du Rhône Réserve Rosé

Early harvesting in the fresh daybreak hours is the secret of this dazzling pale wine. Gentle pressing transfers the entirety of the grapes’ freshness and the bold, crisp slightly acidic taste of red fruit. It is aged on lees, which bolsters the fruit flavour and adds mineral tinges.

Cellier des Daphins AOC Côtes du Rhône Réserve Blanc

A skillful combination of Viognier, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc grapes account for these fresh aromatic white wines. Astute blending of subtle roast and butter scents, with ripened fruit flavours (apricots and peaches) offer round complex wines.

Find out more about Réserve and our different wines on Cellier des Dauphins Facebook, Instagram and Twitter social media pages.


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Ballard Canyon AVA and must try wines

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 11:57
Stoplman Estate Vineyard in Ballard Canyon

Ballard Canyon is working towards establishing itself as the capital of Syrah production in California. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate the western side of Santa Barbara County while Syrah waits in the wings, but in Ballard Canyon the Rhône variety takes centre stage.

Syrah makes up 50% of the appellation’s planted acreage, and following the official formation of the AVA in 2013, a custom bottle with the words “Ballard Canyon” surrounding the shoulder was created exclusively for estate-grown Syrah. ‘The Ballard Canyon Bottle is my baby,’ says Pete Stolpman, President of The Ballard Canyon Winegrowers’ Alliance. ‘It is our symbol to the world that we are an AVA dedicated to this grape.’

Located directly in the centre of the east-west positioned Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon occupies a unique north-south orientation. There is an impressively consistent Pacific breeze which drops the temperature 10-15 degrees right at midday, as well as massive diurnal shifts of up to 40 degrees once night time falls. Sand is a common soil type in the heart of the appellation, a major factor contributing to the elegance and “pretty” nature found in many of the resulting wines. Clay is also prominent, while limestone is found in the northern section.

The Syrahs from Ballard Canyon are typically more lifted and bright than the dense and supple examples found elsewhere in California. Stolpman’s Estate Vineyard and Purisma Mountain Vineyard in the middle of the appellation produce bright, pure and floral expressions with a granular tannin structure. Larner Vineyard sees more maritime fog later in the day, and one often finds a more savoury character from its fruit. Roussanne and Viognier produce remarkably focused and precise wines which are, more often than not, more lively and energetic than their old-world counterparts.

Maintaining perspective of the infantile nature of any multi-generational project is crucial to its long term success, and Ballard Canyon displays a healthy mix of “Rhône varietals or bust” trailblazers mixed with outside-the-box experimenters. Beyond Syrah, a wide swath of grapes are planted, nowhere more-so than at the Jonata estate.

The forward-thinking relative of Napa’s Screaming Eagle, their holdings include varieties from the Rhône, Bordeaux, Italy, and even a nursery of selections from Santorini. When the property was purchased in 1999, neighbouring producers suggested that “historically speaking”, Ballard Canyon was planted to Syrah so Jonata should follow suit.

‘I’m a history guy,’ says Matt Dees, Jonata’s winemaker since the inaugural vintage, 2004. ‘If the Romans built your terraces, or the Crusaders brought your grapes back home, that’s “historically speaking”. If Charlemagne owned your vineyard, that’s “historically speaking”. If your neighbours planted five years before you did, that’s not history. We have a couple hundred years to go. We planted the whole Noah’s Ark of grapes, because who’s to say?’

As often happens when newly formed appellations are off the ground and beginning their ascent, dogmatic thinking from long-established regions can be pervasive. Shortly after acquiring their 600-acre estate, Jonata brought in a managing director from “a first-growth in Paulliac” to take soil samples and recommend what grapes should be planted and where. He told them to plant asparagus.

Clearly opinions and outlooks have changed, and the establishment of the Ballard Canyon AVA is another step in the right direction for Santa Barbara County wine country.

Providing more nuanced identities for its multitude of microclimates will only help to elevate the region on the world stage, and validates those that first recognized the special nature of this place.

Top 10 Ballard Canyon wines to seek out

Wine scores and tasting notes available for Decanter Premium members

See also Santa Rita Hills AVA and must try wines Santa Maria Valley AVA and must try wines

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Elin McCoy: Should Japan go beyond Koshu?

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 09:31

I’m standing in a vineyard where the vines look like small trees, their branches spread in a high canopy with pink-skinned grape bunches protected from rain by small wax paper hats. Anyone who has visited Yamanashi, Japan’s wine country, would instantly recognise them as Koshu, the unique white grape variety that the Japanese have been, justifiably, busy promoting internationally.

I became a Koshu fan on my recent visit, but the bigger surprise was how intriguing I found Japanese wines from more familiar grapes. The most impressive one I tried was Grace Wine’s Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2014, a traditional-method sparkling Chardonnay like a fine grower Champagne.

This led me to wondering whether Japan has to go beyond Koshu to become a global wine hot spot. Yes, Koshu’s low-alcohol crispness and range of styles, from sur lie to skin-fermented orange wines, put it squarely in today’s wine zeitgeist. But I’m convinced Japan’s take on Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will be even more key in getting less adventurous drinkers to think of the country as the wine world’s new star.

Few drinkers realise that Japan is now home to four major wine regions and 418 wineries, according to the latest figures from the National Tax Agency (Koshu grapes are grown almost exclusively in Yamanashi). And last year, the country took a big step forward towards international recognition and quality by requiring wines labelled ‘Japan Wine’ to be made from grapes that are grown in Japan.

New Zealand is probably the first country propelled to wine fame by a single variety with its distinctive Sauvignon Blancs. Japan seems to be trying to follow its route. The owner of Grace Wine, Shigekazu Misawa, helped found Koshu of Japan a decade ago, and it hosts annual tastings in London.

It makes sense to lead with native grapes, especially when Koshu wines have improved so much in the past decade, thanks to advice from Bordeaux wine wizard, the late Denis Dubourdieu. Bone-dry, intensely mineral and fragrant, they deserve wider appreciation. (I don’t have equal confidence in Japan’s native red Muscat Bailey A, a cross between an American hybrid and Muscat of Hamburg, whose wines taste of candied strawberries.)

But I hope winemakers will highlight their wines made from European varieties. Many had a subtlety that seems to be a hallmark of Japanese wines. I tasted a light, juicy Zweigelt and a crisp, aromatic Kerner, both from the Hokkaido Wine Co. The cool northern island is also the best bet for Pinot Noir, which the world can never seem to get enough of.

Even in Yamanashi, almost every winery offers wines from varieties besides Koshu. At Lumiere, a spicy Tempranillo and a soft, plummy Cabernet Franc stood out. Grace Wine, which makes several top Koshus, also excels with Bordeaux varieties. Its 2015 Cuveé Misawa, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot, is complex, silky textured, long and elegant. ‘Petit Verdot does especially well here,’ says winemaker Ayana Misawa, a graduate of the University of Bordeaux who has also dabbled with Albariño.

Because of Japan’s humid climate, growing European grapes is difficult. In their focus on finding the right terroirs for specific grapes, many wineries are turning to higher altitudes and making more single-vineyard wines.

Suntory’s Tomi No Oka winery, at the forefront of growing Bordeaux grapes, makes a spicy, cherryish Premium Iwadarehara Merlot from a gravelly river terrace vineyard. ‘Our goals have changed,’ says Hiromichi Yoshino of its wine development division. ‘Before our target of taste was Bordeaux. Now we want to express our own terroir.’

Japan seemed a hotbed of the kind of experimentation essential for getting global attention. Boutique wineries are opening, and oenotourism is starting. Michelin-starred restaurants showcase the wines. Next year’s Tokyo Olympics will spread the word to the world. And it shouldn’t be just about Koshu.

See also: Japanese Koshu – Wines to try

The post Elin McCoy: Should Japan go beyond Koshu? appeared first on Decanter.

Undiscovered Uruguay: Montevideo & Canelones

Sun, 08/09/2019 - 13:00
The coastline of Montevideo

Exploring Uruguay and its wine regions feels like you’ve just been let in on one of South America’s best kept secrets. One of the smallest countries on the continent, Uruguay doesn’t have the same bombastic personality as some of its Latin American neighbours, but sits as a silent siren for those in the know. Uruguay’s steadily growing economy and progressive politics have made it a haven for international investment, and its sleepy capital city is increasingly cosmopolitan, with Uruguay’s wine culture coming to the fore. As word gets out, there’s no better time to discover its capital, Montevideo, and nearby wine route.

Discovering Montevideo

The tortured notes of the ivories being tickled are all the more soul-stirring under candlelight. The pianist expertly pulls us through undulating emotions as he pieces together tango songs that were first written on the streets of Montevideo a century ago. Although this tango dinner show at Primuseum is number one on TripAdvisor, the small collection of warmly lit tables huddled around the piano and its pile of crusty old music sheets is satisfyingly intimate and personal. The friendly waiter pours me another glass of rich Tannat as I dig into my steak and wonder why Montevideo never received the same acclaim for its steak and tango as Buenos Aires.

Tango was, after all, invented between the ports and streets of both cities, and the steak is every bit as good (if not better, dare I say) in this country where cows outnumber people three to one. But Uruguayans don’t boast about their claim to tango or steak. Nor do they often confess that they have the longest carnival in the world – their 40 days makes Rio’s six look positively meagre. ‘We don’t really like to talk about ourselves too much,’ a Uruguayan friend tells me the next evening over wine in a hip urban market, Mercado Ferrando. ‘It just isn’t our style.’

Although no one will admit it, style seems effortless in Montevideo. The streets are a parade of architecture movements ranging from neoclassical giants like the Palacio Salvo and Teatro Solís theatre to belle-époque facades and modernist beach houses, which are all nonchalantly strung together. Even the airport has garnered design awards.

‘Montevideo has more art-deco architecture than any city other than New York – and yet it’s still off the radar as a destination,’ British-born Karen Higgs, author of the Guru’Guay Guide to Montevideo, tells me over coffee in the Old City where she’s been based since 2000. ‘The secret delights of Montevideo are not immediately evident, which is what makes their discovery all the more delightful.’

Montevideo’s streets can in fact feel eerily quiet during the afternoons, and it’s hard to believe that one-third of the country lives here. In the world’s most laid-back capital city, sipping yerba mate on the 22km seafront promenade constitutes a significant portion of weekend plans. In the evening, however, Montevideo is a hive of cultural activity – albeit mainly behind closed doors.

The Old City’s historic bars and cafes are a good place to start, and hark back to the golden era of Uruguay’s literati (including many tango composers). Catching a milonga dance is a quintessential Montevideo experience, but it is perhaps the murga that gives you a deeper insight into the idiosyncrasies of Uruguayan culture. This street performance combining political satire with comedy and song is a pillar of Uruguayan carnival, but performances and rehearsals are held year-round. Another rich cultural expression of Uruguay is candombe – an invigorating dance performed to the beat of many drums, which tells the tales of the African slave experience in Uruguay.

Bodega Bouza has 7.5ha of vines near Pan de Azúcar hill. Credit:

Canelones wine route

From culture to wine, the journey is easy, vineyards appearing before you reach the city limits – nearby Canelones became Uruguay’s prime vine-growing territory in the 20th century precisely because of its proximity to the thirsty domestic market. The mild Atlantic climate is also conducive to quality grape production, with rich clay soils spread across the undulating hillsides which channel refreshing coastal breezes – essential in this more humid climate.

Although Canelones hosts two-thirds of Uruguay’s wine production, 90% of the wineries are family-owned and it is often the family who welcome you in. Most are boutique producers, and each family puts its own unique stamp on its wines – as a result, exploring Canelones provides a wealth of diversity in wine styles and varieties.

‘A big difference in Uruguay [compared to Chile and Argentina] is that we do experience significant vintage variation here, which keeps us on our toes!’ explains Eduardo Boido, winemaker at Bouza, which sits at the gateway of Canelones. ‘Some years are better for white varieties and others for red, but Tannat emerged as Uruguay’s champion because we get great colour, acidity and concentration year on year.’

Tannat is Uruguay’s most widely planted grape variety, but there are many others that show promise, including Albarino. The Bouza family was the first to plant this Galician white grape, which thrives in Uruguay’s similar Atlantic conditions, as an ode to its Galician ancestors. This Spanish flair also makes its way onto the menu at Bouza’s excellent restaurant, which vies for attention with its extensive vintage car collection.

Another top spot for lunch is Artesana, some 30 minutes’ drive deeper into Canelones. This boutique winery was the first to plant Zinfandel, inspired by the California-based owners, and its outdoor restaurant among the vines is an excellent place to sample Uruguay’s only Zinfandel paired with a wood-fire menu.

The Pizzorno family also offers an intimate lunch and tasting, where you can explore its 80-year winemaking heritage and allow your mind – and tannic preconceptions – to be blown by tasting Uruguay’s first carbonic-maceration Tannat.

Another interesting exploration of Tannat is tasting the Familia Deicas terroir range at Juanicó, one of Uruguay’s leading producers with the oldest cellar in the country, constructed in 1830. Other notable historic wine families to visit include Carrau, Antigua Bodega Stagnari, Varela Zarranz and Los Nadies, ranging from major players to boutique.

There’s no lack of cellars to discover tucked into the folds of Canelones and Montevideo, and the wine families of this region will encourage you to continue your discovery of Uruguayan wine by visiting the nearby wine routes of Atlántida, Colonia and Maldonado too. Start planning your next trip to Uruguay now – you’ve just been made privy to South America’s best-kept wine secret.

Fact file: Uruguay

Area planted 6,343ha (26% Tannat)

Wineries 176

Exports to 51 countries

Accommodation, restaurant & bar suggestions Accommodation Casa Sarandi

For a home away from home, Casa Sarandi B&B offers plenty of character, comfort and all the insider information you could want. A cultural immersion in Montevideo’s Old City.

  • Buenos Aires 558, Piso 3, Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo 11200
Sofitel Montevideo

This 1921 art deco hotel is dubbed ‘palace in the sand’ for its prime beachside location in upmarket Carrasco. The epitome of opulent luxury, with handsome suites, a great restaurant, well-stocked cellar and a ritzy casino.

  • Rbla Republica de Mexico 6451, 11500 Montevideo
Restaurants & bars Alquimista

Tucked away in a peaceful corner of Carrasco, this B&B-turned-restaurant has tables set in different rooms of the house and garden, making you feel more like a guest than a diner. The innovative and colourful Uruguayan dishes are top restaurant quality.

  • Avenida Bolivia 1323, CP: 11400, Carrasco, Montevideo
Mercado del Puerto

Eating at Montevideo’s main market is more about the all-round experience than the quality. A carnivore’s delight, your eyes will water at the sight of so much asado (slow-cooked barbecue) – and that’s before the smoke hits.

  • Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825, Montevideo

If you want a side of tango with your steak, Primuseum is the place for you. This intimate restaurant set in an antiques museum in the Old City serves a Uruguayan tasting menu while local musicians deliver a captivating show.

  • Pérez Castellano 1389, Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo
  • Open: Wednesday-Sunday from 8.30pm
Lo de Porro

Lo de Porro in Las Piedras, a typical bar of yesteryear where wine is served by the jug and pasta is freshly rolled each day.

  • Batlle y Ordoñez esq. Garibaldi, Las Piedras
  • Open: Tuesday 11am-4pm & 8pm-12am, Wednesday-Saturday 8pm-12am, Sunday-Monday closed

The impressive cellar of Barolo stocks some 160 labels which can be ordered by the glass or flight, or uncorked at Fellini restaurant next door.

  • Arocena 2098, 11500 Montevideo
  • Barolo: Wednesday-Saturday 8pm-12am
  • Fellini: Monday-Friday 8pm-12.30am, Saturday 12pm-4pm & 8pm-12am, Sunday 12pm-4pm
Madirán & Mercado Ferrando

This urban market has several eateries, bars and boutiques ranging from gastronomy book shops to artisanal tap houses. Wine lovers should visit Madirán wine bar for its eclectic selection.

  • Chaná 2120 esq. Joaquín de Salterain (Barrio Cordón, Montevideo)
  • Open: Monday-Saturday 8am-1am,  Sundays 9am-4pm
Montevideo Wine Experience

Under the expert eye (and fluent English conversation) of Nicolás and Liber, a couple of hours here will give you a whirlwind introduction to Uruguayan wine. Stay late for the live music sessions.

  • Piedras 300 esquina Colón, Montevideo
  • Monday, Wednesday-Sunday 1pm-11pm, Tuesday closed
Getting there

Montevideo airport has daily flights from Madrid, Miami and Buenos Aires, or you can take a two-hour ferry from Buenos Aires.

More wine travel guides here

The post Undiscovered Uruguay: Montevideo & Canelones appeared first on Decanter.

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