A Christmas Poem
The year is drawing to a close and what a year it’s been;
With winsome whites and rich, round reds and plenty in between.
And so to cap it off in style we thought we’d give reflection
to weather, vines and all things wine; vinicultural perfection.
The new year dawned with dismal, dull and doubly deep dark days
Demanding moreish Malbecs or commanding Cabernets.
But winter’s cloak was thrown off with the onset of the spring;
By Eastertime the weather was fine and the Rosé well stuck in.
Every day brings grimmer tales that global warming warms
Yet summer stuck two fingers up and gave us cold, wet storms.
But in amongst the weather-beaten, raindrops of the night
Odd summer days and Chardonnays confirmed that all was right.
This year we gave new debuts to some fresh and charming wines
From Priorat and Puglia to Riojas quite sublime.
As autumn saw new stocks arrive, our enthusiasm glowed
O’er Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernet Francs and wonderful new chateaux.
Newsletters went out every month and each one made a point
With witty quotes and thoughtful pics, and new wines to anoint.
The wine facts of the week were bold (and sometimes even clever),
A factual hoard that gave reward to researching endeavour.
Without a doubt this is the very last note of this year
But fear not long, they will return, of that you can be sure.
O’er Christmas we’re still working hard to keep your cellars full,
To stabilise dwindling supplies; make sure you give us a call!
As Circle Wine grows into a majestic conquistador
We thank you for your custom over the past 12 months and more.
Our thanks are truly heartfelt and especially sincere;
So we’ll bestow a list below of our Best Wines of the Year!
Merry Christmas and and Happy New Year from John & Sara and all at Circle Wine!
Spanish wine has come a heck of a long way since Ovid suggested that it was only good for getting one's mistress drunk but, to be fair, his comments were partially in jest and they were made some 2,000 years ago. Nowadays, state-of-the-art wineries in Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are creating wonderful winning wines that have critics singing from the rooftops and consumers purring with pleasure. So hang on to your sombreros as we take a trip through Spanish wine country.
Based primarily on Spain's most versatile grapes, Tempranillo and Garnacha, today's wines are rich and powerful but beautifully crafted with depth, style and complexity. Importantly they also embody powerful elegance. We have chosen our favourite six, each of which has scored more than 90 points and all of which are modern-day classics that retail at less than £30 a bottle. These are wines that will continue to give pleasure for years to come.
Mariano Garcia is a true icon of Spanish winemaking, having spent 30 years as head of production at legendary Vega Sicilia. He now spends his time on a series of ventures including his family owned wineries in Tuleda del Duero and Toro. We are offering his signature Mauro 2011 at £27.50 per bottle (£330 per case/12). It offers rich fruit, is drinking perfectly now, scored 91/100 and is described as an "exuberant wine...opulent and round". We had a couple of bottles the other night; stunning.
If it’s value for money that you seek, look no further that Garcia’s entry level wine, Prima 2013 from Toro. This is fruit rich and satisfying but with well integrated tannins, balance and elegance. And at only £12.50 per bottle (£150 per case/12) and with 90/100 scored this is arguably the best value wine in the Circle Wine stable. Try it and you won’t be disappointed.
From one icon to another, Peter Sisseck is the Dane who currently wears the crown as King of Ribero del Duero with his Dominio de Pingus winery having eclipsed Vega Sicilia as the most famous and expensive in Spain. If you are after his 1995 Pingus, expect to pay around £1,500 a bottle! If, on the other hand, you want to see what the fuss is all about, try his entry level Psi 2010 at a far more affordable £22.50 per bottle (£270 per case/12). It scored 92/100 and is considered "the best Psi to date". Blackberries, blueberries and vanilla dominate here with taste buds being the winners; simply delicious.
If Rioja is more your thing, we have two to offer; one traditional and one modern. First up, the traditional. La Rioja Alta is one of the most celebrated wineries and their Gran Reserva 904 label is saved for the very best. They release the wines only when ready so the 2005 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 fresh off the boat and ready for drinking. It is "balanced, subtle, truly elegant and classical" and scored a whopping 96/100. Drinking now or over the next 2 decades, this is quite stunning and remarkable value for the quality at only £29.50 per bottle (£354 per case/12). The Gran Reserva 904 also tends to appreciate well. The 1994 vintage is currently selling at £1,200 a case despite being their lowest scoring wine in 20 years.
For a more modern style you would be hard pushed to beat Valenciso Reserva 2008 which "year in, year out is among the best in category", Described as "explosive, aromatic, perfumed...elegant and complex" this is a wine that has it all. Another high scorer at 93/100 this would win our value award in today's selection at a relatively modest £18.75 per bottle (£225 per case/12). Oh, and they also make a terrific white rioja.
Finally, to offer an alternative to the Tempranillo dominated fivesome above, we love the big wines that hail from the increasingly fashionable Priorat denominacion in Catalonia. Les Crestes 2012, Mas Doix, comes from a cooler micro-climate in Priorat producing a softer, more feminine wine compared to some of the brutal big boys out there but it is still succinctly summarised as "a stunningly profound Priorat". Another high scorer with 94/100 it too is a contender for best value here at £19.75 per bottle (£237 per case/12).
Choices, choices, choices and if you really can't make up your mind pick a selection from above and we'll make up a mixed case for perfect Christmas drinking.
Today, as a pleasant diversion, I thought that we would consider the world of wine by numbers; to plant a seed of information that might grow into a mighty fact tree. So to begin with let's consider the humble wine grape.
In terms of acreage planted the wine grape is the number 1 ranked crop in the world. That’s not a bad place to start. Each acre of vineyard produces approximately 5 tons of fruit which makes a healthy 3,985 bottles of wine. That is the equivalent of 797 gallons of the stuff or, put another way, a rather satisfying 15,940 glasses of vinous nectar.
Looking at that in barrel terms, that’s roughly 13.5 barrels per acre with each barrel producing nearly 25 cases of wine and we’re talking real cases of 12, not the new world, namby-pamby 6-packs. That’s nearly 1,200 glasses of wine per barrel based on the rather generous assumption that each bottle produces only 4 glasses of the stuff. In reality, a small pub measure of 125cl gives you 6 glasses per standard bottle whilst their goliath measures of 250cl gives you 3 glasses. Either way, we’ll settle for 4 glasses although we prefer to think of it as 4 happy people.
Telescoping back to the global picture, wine is made in every continent except for Antarctica, using many of the more than 10,000 grape varieties that can be found around the world. Some of the rarer ones have gorgeously bizarre names like Scuppernong from North Carolina or the Rotgipfler grape from Austria. Far, far more wine is made from old favourites and staples such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Collectively the more than 1,000,000 wineries make 36 billion bottles of wine each year. Now that’s an awful lot of happiness out there!
It’s been a while since I was able to look at a mathematical conundrum with anything other than a dispirited sigh accompanied by the question, what’s the point? But occasionally some deep rooted empirical logic steps forward and miraculously restores a fundamental confidence in formulae and algorithms. So bear with me for the next 2 minutes while I try to explain the importance of avoiding the £6.00 bottle of wine.
The reason that this is important is that it was revealed the other day that despite a general rise in consumer confidence, 80% of all wines purchased in the UK are still priced at £6.00 or below. We aim to reverse this trend backed by the steely logic of mathematical reason. Consider the following:
First off, each bottle of wine sold in the UK is subject to £2.05 of duty and 20% of VAT. For a £6.00 bottle that means that more than 50% of the cost goes straight to the government. On top of that approximately 70p is spent on labelling, bottling, corking (or screw-topping) and packaging with another 50p on shipping, storage and logistics. So less than 30% of the cost of the bottle is left for the cost of production, sales and marketing and the merchant’s margin. In real terms the pure cost of the wine filters down to a few pennies.
However, if you shift to a £7.50 bottle of wine, the charge components (aside from the VAT %) remain constant, which means that the actual cost of the wine content is roughly £1.25 better off than the £6.00 bottle. Put another way, by spending an additional 25% you have increased the pure cost of wine (with a basic correlation to quality) by over 500%, more than enough to transform a wine from challenging to charming. And, in simple terms, that is why we sell wines that start at £7.50; to ensure that you are receiving real value for money instead of gut rot.
Happily this mathematical truth means that you don’t have to spend loads to get good value; just enough to get past the £6 start point. And from there, it only gets better!
Wine and food pairings are always important; never more so than at Christmastime. After all, having spent more than a few hours purchasing, preparing and presenting a perfect Christmas feast, why would you not want to enjoy it with impeccably selected wines. So first the good news, Champagne goes beautifully with everything so don’t hold back.
The traditional full turkey lunch with all the trimmings always generates fierce debate regarding the best accompanying wine. Received thinking was that a fine red Burgundy would always hit the spot and, for those with more adventurous tastes, a spicy Chateauneuf du Pape would be perfect.
However, a recent panel of experts threw a cat amongst vinous pigeons by suggesting a classic Premier Cru Chassagne-Montrachet. Last year we followed their advice and tried theC los St. Jean 2011 by Domaine Paul Pillot and have but one thing to say: Bravo!
As with anything, preparation is the key. We recommend decanting all red wines save the very oldest, which may oxidise too quickly and spoil.
We have already nailed our colours to the wall regarding our love for Champagne but even our loyalties are tested when it comes to the vexous question of Champagne cocktails; do you or don’t you? The root of this dilemma stems from why would one want to alter a perfectly perfect beverage? But occasional decadence is no bad thing, so over the Yuletide season, our suggestion is simply to go for it.
The classic Champagne cocktail is served in a flute and involves a sugar cube, dashed with 2 drops of Angustura bitters, covered with a decent Cognac and then filled with a good Brut Champagne. In the 1970’s it was permissable to serve this with straws in the emptied shell of a pineapple; that’s certainly decadent but not to be recommended in polite society now!
Going back even further to the 1920’s, we recently stumbled across an old cocktail book from that era, one recipe from which opened with the immortal line, “Take 18 bottles of fine Brut Champagne…” You can’t deny it; they really knew how to party in those days!
The Circle Wine Company never intended to stand still; however the 2,700 miles of travel over the past weeks, taking in Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, Provence, Piedmont, Tuscany and Champagne was excessive even by our tireless standards. Having said that, it was a wonderful wine tour despite the bizarrely changing weather patterns which allowed us to encounter all of the seasons, often in a 24 hour period.
It started with an early rise, the dash to Folkestone, the Eurotunnel experience and then the slog down the A26 and A5 to Beaune. Our arrival in Burgundy was met with pouring rain and heavy-hearted growers, still reeling from the previous week’s hail storms. Whilst very local in scale, the vineyards of Volnay and Pommard were virtually wiped out with production reckoned to be down by 80% as a consequence. The frustration was all the more obvious as the vintage had been shaping up well to that point and hopes were high that the low volumes of 2012 and 2013 would be avoided.
On a more positive note, we enjoyed a great afternoon in the company of Domaine Faiveley tasting an extensive range of their excellent wines and touring their phenomenal facilities. Faiveley is one of the biggest domaines in Burgundy (115 ha) with an impressive list of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. They also share with Romanee-Conte the distinction of being one of only two domaines whose name appears in a Grand Cru wine; in their case Corton ‘Clos de Cortons Faiveley’. They are run by the energetic Erwan Faiveley, one of the youngest directors of wine in Burgundy and whilst he is a strong believer in tradition he is also keen to make his mark. The changes to the wine making team that he has introduced over the past few years have seen a distinct escalation in the quality of the wines which has been recognised with increasingly high critical praise. Today, the domaine is rightly recognised as one of the best in Burgundy. We tasted a dozen of their 2012 wines, from the basic Bourgogne Blanc through to their Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru. Each was beautifully made, well-structured and hugely tempting. We have ordered a full palate of wines to arrive in September. Look out for them then.
We also enjoyed a splendid dinner with the effervescent Emma Sarjeant from Antony Sarjeant Fine Wines. Emma is always entertaining company as well as a hugely knowledgeable and well-connected supplier of fine Burgundy. She treated us to a delicious dinner in a small restaurant off the beaten track in the Côte de Beaune. Quite simply, if you ever have the chance to order braised Burgundian beef cheeks, we strongly recommend that you embrace it. Delicious beyond words!
Next stop was Chateauneuf-du-Pape; a favourite tipple of ours and many others judging from the increasing popularity of their wines. We met with two top producers, Domaine de la Mordorée and Domaine Grand Veneur. In distinct contrast to Burgundy, the sun was shining with the pleasingly high temperatures mitigated by the fresh Mistral winds. Both domaines are organic and have produced perfect 100-pointers in the past few years. Domaine de La Mordorée treated us to a tasting of their top wine, the stunning 100-pointer from 2001. Unbelievable stuff.
We also greatly enjoyed an introduction to Lirac wines. Interestingly Mr Parker rates de la Mordorée and Grand Veneur as the top two best producers of Lirac wines, a style that we were previously unfamiliar with but quickly grew to love. Lirac sits on the right bank of the Rhône directly opposite Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In a previous life, when the mighty Rhône was far mightier still, both appelations were essentially part of the river; a shared existence that finds evidence in their similar large pebble-bound terroirs. And these similarities extend beyond the terroir with Lirac exhibiting many of the finest qualities of CNDP but at a fraction of the price. As more of the established growers look to set up operations in Lirac we believe that the popularity (and price) of these wines will most definitely increase. You heard it here first.
Provence was a profusion of delicate rosés and perfect blue skies, punctuated only occasionally by torrential rain and electrifying electrical storms. I am unclear on the geographic reason for it but the South of France seems to produce the biggest, fattest rain drops that can be found anywhere on earth. You know you are in poor weather when even the most aggressive of French drivers slow their cars to 20 mph!
Onwards to Tuscany, via Piedmont, where we cocooned ourselves in all things historical, cultural and oenological. Fortunately all of these things can be found at Marchesi Antinori who have been producing wine since 1385 and are now in the 26th generation of unbroken wine making in the family. Having expanded over the years they now own numerous wineries in Tuscany and beyond; their most famous and recognisable arguably being Tignanello, Guado al Tasso and Poggio Antico. More recently they have chosen to consolidate some of their wine making with their administrative offices at their truly amazing new facility in Bargino, 15 minutes south of Florence. Built into the side of the rolling Tuscan countryside, the offices are completely unobtrusive and at ease with their surroundings, even including a newly planted vineyard on the roof. The construction also takes the Antinori family back to their roots in the very heart of Chianti Classico country, where they undoubtedly produce some of the finest wines in the region. Readers of our newsletter will know that we are big fans of fine Italian wines and this visit simply confirmed that and made the feeling stronger still. As they say in Italy, Bravissimo!
There followed the long journey home, with some brief respite in the form of an ever-welcome stopover in Champagne. We met with the delightful Arnaud Robert of A. Robert Champagne. This remarkable family winery has been operating since 1722, making it somewhat more experienced than Ruinart (1729), Taittinger (1734), Moet & Chandon (1743), Lanson (1760), Veuve Cliquot (1772), Louis Roederer (1776), Perrier-Jouet (1811) and Bollinger (1829). Arnaud has been running the business for the past decade and has overseen an impressive expansion program whilst maintaining a focus on exceptional quality. We tasted a number of their wonderful champagnes including the Blanc de Blanc NV, the 2008 vintage Brut Champagne, Cuvée 1722 and their breath-taking Cuvée Le Sablon. A couple of interesting facts to finish off with: First, A. Robert Champagne is the official champagne partner to the Louvre Museum in Paris which is testament to their standing and status in France; and second, each first born son in the family is given a name that starts with ‘A’, presumably so there is no expensive re-design of the wine label. Great champagne and one that will start to impress in the UK soon.
Last but not least, we met with our old friends at Lanson. They treated us to a wonderful tour of their extensive caves where we could view the fruits of their labour. One of Lanson’s vineyards is unusually placed in the heart of Reims, in sight of the beautiful and historic cathedral and, rather more prosaically, next to the local football stadium. We had the great privilege of bumping into Lanson’s Chef du Cave, Jean Paul Gandon inspecting the wines with a particular eye on their soon to be released 2006 Clos de Lanson Blanc de Blanc, which is made exclusively from the grapes for the aforementioned vineyard.
Fortunately there was sufficient time for a last glass before the final drive home.
Very pleasant all round.
Ready or not, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is about to be upon us. For those of you with teenage boys, who can barely mutter a passing pleasantry and yet can miraculously recite the entire skills ratings of every footballer ever born, this is not to be confused with the popular X-box game. This is the real deal; a feast of football fantasy that will take centre stage through June and July.
Traditionally, the build up to the tournament is a heady mix of unfettered optimism, rampant rumours and demanding organisation:
The new TV is in place; check.
The wine and snacks ordered; check.
The social calendar cleared for England matches; check.
And there we have it: Everything is in order. The world is a carefree, sunny place and all we await is for the golden generation to put their stamp on it (but maybe not literally). So why does something still feel missing? Well, granted the Panini World Cup sticker cards are but a shallow version of the Esso coins of yesteryear but that is mere commercial fluff. No, the real emptiness stems from a lack of an adrenalin-fuelled competition to grab your attention and hold it in an unflattering headlock throughout the 4 weeks of football frenzy.
We wish to remedy this state of affairs with a competition that, unsurprisingly, marries the beautiful game with beautiful wine. And there are sound reasons for doing so as the links between the World Cup and the world of viniculture are well established. For example, of the 19 World Cups played thus far all but 3 have been won by countries that rank in the top 15 wine producers in the world. The exceptions are Uruguay (twice) and our own dear England, since you ask.
To enter the competition all you have to do is order a case of any of our wines before the start of the tournament (June 12th). If you purchase a case of European wine, you get to select a European team; if you acquire a case of Latin American wine, you get to choose a Latin American team; and if you purchase a case of African or Australian wine, good luck.
Your team selection does not have to be the same as the country of origin of the wine but it does need to come from the same continent. So for example, you can select Brazil as your entry if you have chosen an Argentinean wine and likewise, you can enter Spain as your team if you have bought French wine. Once you have selected a team you need to guess the total number of goals that your team will score during the World Cup (remember, the teams that reach the final will play a total of 7 games). Once your choices are made you need to submit them to us and enjoy the games (and the wine).
The competition winner will be the person who selected the World Cup 2014 winning team and who guessed the correct number of goals. If there are no exact winners, the person who had the closest number of goals will win. If more than one entry wins, the prize of a magnum of Lanson Black Label Champagne will be decided on a draw. It was kindly suggested that the decider should be a penaly shoot out but aside from the logistical difficulties in arranging that, if it were between 2 English competitors the misses could go on all day!
Welcome to our very first Blog. There is no set format for this section – instead it will be a random repository for thoughts, concepts and frankly, anything that we find interesting. Some of the items will be wine related; some will not. The only criteria for entry is that it must be fun, quirky or generate curiosity.
To kick off with, we thought that we would share our views on the science of wine selection and our own top tips for buying wine.
Be adventurous – Wine makers are always seeking to be distinctive so don’t be afraid to try new things. Also, unusual wines are often attractively priced to tempt in new consumers, especially in restaurants.
Trust yourself – Everyone’s palate is different which means you don’t necessarily have to enjoy the wine that your noisy neighbour is trumpeting. There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to wine selection. If you find a wine that you like, make a note of it, take a photo of the label and add it to the yes side of your list.
Do your research – No, it doesn’t have to be extensive but do try to be aware of basic facts and geographies. If you have time, read reviews and note down what you like the sound of. And remember, it is easier (and cheaper) to make good wine in good weather. Places like Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy are often excellent sources of quality budget wines.
Have a plan – Try and work out in general what wines you like and keep a basic record. Then factor in budgets and locations and before you know it you will have reduced an intimidating list down to manageable proportions.
Ask for help – Remember that any wine sale is between consenting adults. We want to sell you wine as much as you want to buy it. It is in our interests to make sure that you are happy with your purchase as you will then buy more (we hope). So don’t be afraid to ask for an opinion and use that as a basis for selection.
To put all of that into practice just contact the Circle Wine Company or check out our wine list by using the tab on the left.