The first couple of months of the New Year are always a mixed bag for us. Following the Christmas chaos, organised chaos I’d like to add, January inevitably feels a little sluggish. There is a flip side to the calm start to the year. As well as having some time to plan our exciting wine tasting events for the year, a little bit of design work (new bags, banners and the like) and having a general website content catch up, I find myself in the gloriously manic wine tasting season.
This season comes around every year and lasts from mid-January to mid-March. Of course, we taste wines all year round but these early months are when we cull and refresh our range the most. We’ll taste anything – low-alcohol wines from Australia? Yep and no thanks; sparkling wine from Spain with a Sherry dosage? Let’s go for it; £5 Italian Sauvignon Blanc to £100 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon? Everything has equal billing and I’m always delighted to be surprised so why not.
We have a few of options when it comes to tasting new wares. First, there are the agent and ‘body’ events. The agent/importer tastings tend to take place in London and will feature their entire range. They’re good fun and a great opportunity to taste new vintages of wines we already sell. The ‘body’ events can be massive. These are organised by a particular trade body or collective along a theme, so Wines of Australia, Wines of Argentina, The BFT (Big Fortified Tasting) etc. They can be massive affairs that are often pretty daunting – the recent Wines of Australia tasting featured over 1,000 wines from 245 wineries on 80 tables. The second, much more civilised option is to taste at our HQ.
We’ll gather samples from new importers, unrepresented vineyards and wines we’ve found at tastings before our ninja tasting team and crack through them. I would say this is a much softer paced affair than the big external tastings but in reality it’s still pretty full on. Two days into the week and we tasted 40 wines last night (highlights below), have another 72 tonight and the rest of the week is looking pretty stacked. We’ve had a bit of a fag-packet wine tasting calculation in the office and reckon we’ll taste around 2,500-3,000 wines between us by the end of February. I think next year I’ll make a note to keep an eye on numbers so I can bring you the exact number, it might also be worth mentioning it to my doctor.
For us there’s not a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to choosing new wines so when we taste we have to think about how the wine will fit into the existing range and what part of our business it’s for. Will the wine be for wholesale or retail, website or agency, special parcel or new continual line? The wine tastings can be a mixed bag and you can quite easily taste 50 wines and only think one or two are worth pursuing. Other times, like last night, you can taste 40 and love 15 of them – it’s all about tasting as much breadth as possible so we can find wines you’ll love. Last night’s tasting, with one eye on our spring Grapevine, had a range of wines from Argentina, Australia, Burgundy and a few thrown in from New Zealand and Chile. It was a joyously stimulating selection that is sure to appear over the coming months; we know you’ll love them so watch this space.
Puro Corte d’Oro 2012 – an amazing Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend from Mendoza. Made by an acclaimed Argentinian winemaker who also plies his trade in Pomerol it’s sumptuous and so classy. A likely special parcel of 20 dozen – should be about £18 (normal price £25). I’m in love with the packaging too.
Serbal Cabernet Franc 2015 – sometimes you come across a winery and winemaker at a wine tasting that can do no wrong. Atamisque is a perfect example of this. They make 13 wines and they’re all brilliant. This is from their Serbal range (all unoaked) and has amazing bell pepper and pencil shaving notes. It has loads of red berry fruit and top-notch freshness – great to see these ‘new’ varieties performing so strongly.
Catalpa Malbec 2013 – Philippe Caraguel from Atamisque can do no wrong for me. Malbec of this quality is hard to find and for sub-£15 it’s crazy. There’s layer upon layer of classic sweet Malbec fruit and subtle French oak (50% of the wine) with a resonating freshness. When this hits I’d be stocking up for summer and beyond. Take a bow Philippe.
VIK 2011 – What better way to finish a Monday night tasting than with an ‘icon’ wine? It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère blend from Millahue with a splash of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. Sure, a £100 bottle of red from Chile might not be a school-night pleasure but it’s astoundingly fresh and complex. Think Bordeaux with a much broader aromatic range. You should take a peek at their winery/holistic retreat vik.cl/en/ – heavens above…