In hindsight, the fact that Matera is to be European Capital for Culture in 2019 would have been motivation enough for visiting Basilicata, but that was not my first objective. In fact, it wasn’t even on the list of priorities. These were, in descending order, to visit my old friend Martine Greslon and her cookery school, to make a pilgrimage to the volcanic vineyards of Mount Vulture, to spend a night at Francis Ford Coppola’s boutique hotel where Sofia Coppola was married, and to bask on golden sands by an azure Ionian Sea.
The question for any serious wine lover is not, can you can afford the Wine Society’s £40 lifetime membership but, with £20 off your first order, can you afford not to join? Fringe benefits such as delivery, storage and voluminous tastings aside, TWS demonstrated, with mouthwatering highlights from its Spring collection, that in quality, variety and value, its list is the equal of any in the country.
The French like to say of Crozes-Hermitage ‘La Syrah est ici chez elle’. Roughly translated, it means that the syrah grape is sitting pretty in its natural habitat on left bank of the Rhône River. Here the sprawling appellation of Crozes-Hermitage spreads out behind the Valrhona chocolate town of Tain, surrounding the commanding hill of Hermitage from whose grand and potent wines it takes its name.
On the face of it, there’s little to choose between Lidl and Aldi. They are both as German as schwarzbrot, both discounters place value before beauty and both are serious threats to The Big Four: Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda and Tesco. More to the point, both have substantially upped the wine ante in the last couple of years with credible wine ranges increasingly appreciated by wine drinkers of all classes.
Aussie wine traditionally puts on its best strides on Australia Day, and the word on the street after its showcasing of 1000 plus wines was that Oz has boomeranged back. Not that it actually went anywhere unless you’re of the whingeing Jeremiah persuasion. 14 trophies and 40 gold medals at the most recent Decanter World Wine Awards is proof that the Australian wine success story has remained consistent despite, admittedly, an Achilles heel of excessive discounting and a failure to communicate the value of its fine wines.
I was barely off the plane when Terry Dunleavy, the then New Zealand head wine honcho, accosted me. ‘Should we stick to sauvignon or diversify?’ Too jetlagged to think, I muttered something inane to the tune of if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it. 25 years on, sauvignon blanc remains New Zealand’s bread and butter at more than 20,000 hectares planted, but 14,000 hectares of pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and aromatic white grapes testify to a much tastier wedge of jam in the sandwich.
It's a shame that Greece has been tarred with the retsina brush for so long. While it may not yet have achieved the Olympian heights to which it aspires, Greek wine has unquestionably embraced modern civilisation, with refreshing whites and fine reds making waves from expressive indigenous varieties such as Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko, Liatiko and Mavrotragano.
London’s Burgundy week and the buzz it engenders kick starts the wine year like no other. This January was even crazier than usual with 19 wine merchant tastings in three days and throngs of consumers waving cheque books like Union Jacks at a Royal wedding. Why? Because 2014 has been heralded as a great vintage for whites and a good one for reds, thanks to beautiful Spring weather, followed by a cool August and then an Indian summer.
With 30 branches spread throughout Cumbria, Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, Edwin Booth’s eponymous family chain has rightly been called ‘the respectable face of British supermarkets’ for as firm a commitment to producers as to customers. The small is beautiful link between its Holme Farm venison, Johnson and Swarbrick poultry and Mrs Kirkham Lancashire cheese extends to the many family growers that populate its wine range.
It’s an enjoyably sobering experience taking a group on a wine walk at one of our Wine Gang winter festivals before Christmas; enjoyable because it gives a genuine insight into consumer tastes and sobering at the thought that consumer likes and dislikes are as varied as those of Jack and Mrs Spratt. Despite healthy disagreements though, a number of wines are greeted with unanimous transports of delight.