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Madeira Wine

Madeira is world famous for its amber nectar of fortified wines. It’s also a semi-tropical paradise of diverse vegetation. Its warm climate and position as an island in the Atlantic (it’s four hours flying time from London) have allowed diverse varietals of grapes to grow at far lower altitudes than would normally allow them to flourish; it’s also protected them from disease. Thus has the wine industry in Madeira been able to grow.

For Madeira is a tropical El Dorado of vegetation. Beautiful plants grow as weeds on the side of road owing to very fertile volcanic soil. Mountains tower over lush valleys with a labyrinth of tunnels to get from one side of the island to the other. The south and east of the island face the European coastline and enjoy a softer, milder climate. The landscape is sculpted by terraces from the coast to virtually the towering peaks of the mountains with all available space given to agriculture from banana groves to vineyards. The west coast faces out to the Atlantic and is wind swept, wild and very mountainous, with a cooler and mistier climate.. In the past 25 years, Madeira has transformed into a prosperous island with mass tourism, far from the impoverished place that I remember from my first visit over 40 years ago. Hoards of cruise ships arrive on a daily basis. Yet apart from the celebrated Madeira wine, the island’s other most famous export is the footballer, Christiano Ronaldo.

The secrets to this mysterious wine

Over the centuries Madeira became a stop off point between Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world. Wine would be supplied to ships, but journeys were long and excessive heat would spoil the wine. By adding a touch of grape spirit, it was found that the wines could better endure these treacherous journeys. Indeed, it was found that the heating and cooling of the wines during the journey, together with their constant movement, actually improved them. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Madeira was as popular as Claret/Bordeaux wines - they could travel much better.

The main grape varieties are: Boal (Bual), Sercial, Verdelho, Malvasia (Malmsey), Terrantez and Tinta Negra. Tinta Negra accounts for 90% of production and grows mostly on the south and east side of the Island down to the coast. All the other varietals are grown on the upper, cooler slopes. The best and most prized vineyards are in the centre of the island in surrounding a village called Rosario. The island has an astonishing number of tiny terraces of vineyards, perched high up in the mountains.

Harvesting usually starts mid August to October. The grapes are then graded in accordance to the style of wine required and, once pressed, the must (grape juice) is fermented partially or totally, with the process then stopped by the addition of grape spirit, which is the fortification part. This process is carried out in accordance to the style that is required: dry, medium dry, medium sweet and sweet. The wines are then divided into two according to quality: Estufagem and Canteiro. The wines placed in Estufagem are heated and left for 90 days and then bottled and released two years afterwards. With the Canteiro technique, wines selected for ageing are placed in oak casks for a minimum of two years, high up in the cellars to evolve. After a further three years of bottling the wines are released.

The style of sweetness depends on when the fermentation was stopped but also the type of grape variety. Boal (Bual) – medium sweet, Sercial - dry, Verdelho – Medium dry, Malvasia (Malmsey) – sweet, Terrantez – Medium dry and medium sweet. Tinta Negra varies in style, depending on how it is made. The styles of Madeira are very complex and varied. However, aged Madeiras mainly from Tinta Negra grapes start from 3, 5,10, 20 and 30 years old, which refers to the average age of grapes that are included in the blend. 40 and 50 year old Madeiras are very rare. By contrast, Colheita is made from the single varietal grapes. They have a minimum of 5 years in the same oak cask producing young and fresh young vintage wines. Finally, true Vintage Madeira (Frasqueira/Garrafeira) is made from a single varietal of the grapes noted above. They have a minimum of 20 years in the same oak cask and are aged in bottle over a number of years depending on the vintage grape variety and style.

Both Port and Madeira are fortified but the experience could not be more different. Madeira’s characteristics reveal themselves in a more gentle way compared to Port, we find. And of course, Port does not so much have the different styles in terms of sweetness/dryness or grape varieties (being largely touriga nacional). Madeira tends to be fresher and fruitier; dry or sweet with notes of sweet spices, chocolate, caramel, and coffee; herbaceous, tropical fruits from Angelica to apricots, sweet apple and quince. A veritable treat in a glass!

With new technology, the tenacity of the Islanders and changing tastes, Madeira is having a revival alongside other fortified wines such as Sherry. The varietals are very rare and are only found in small quantities elsewhere such as Crimea, Australia and Constantia in South Africa. We think it is one of the wonders of the wine world. As a wine, it is superbly versatile. Served chilled, once opened, it can literally last for months, as the way that it is made makes it virtually indestructible.. Almost uniquely, 150 year old Madeira wine is still very drinkable. It’s quite usual to find 100 year old bottles being served at still extraordinary reasonable prices.

The main Madeira producers are:

Henriques & Henriques
J. Faria & Filhos
Madeira Wine Company (Blandy’s)
Pereira d’Oliveira
CAF – Cooperativa Agricolado do Funchal

The producer that we would recommend with the most interesting and accessible selection and range of vintage wines is : Pereira d'Oliveira and to view our range with tasting notes :Madeira wine selection




Wine is perceived as one of the most natural and healthy of alcoholic beverages. Consumers might be surprised to discover that the majority of everyday wine is produced using a wide variety of chemicals, both in the vineyard and the winery, traces of which can end up in the final wine (ever wondered why cheap wine gives you such a headache?). A vineyard is almost unique in that vines cannot be crop rotated, and cannot be left to lie fallow. As a consequence the use of agrochemicals over time leads to a build up of pathogens and a depletion of soil health. This weakens the vine, creating a cycle of dependency on chemical treatments. As vineyards become “green concrete” wine makers are waking up to the fact that high input farming using synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers is becoming unsustainable. At the same time consumers are becoming more aware of the ingredients in the food and drink they buy, looking for healthier, additive free options. The coming together of these two phenomena has resulted in a number of alternatives for the thoughtful and environmentally conscious wine consumer, but what are the difference between the various classifications, and which, if any, has any real meaning?


Organic producers will only make good wine if they also made good wine before becoming organic. This may seem self evident, but organic certification is - at its simplest - adhering to a list of chemicals not to add to your vineyard. Tick the list and you can be certified organic, irrespective of the quality of what you produce. An oven pizza may be labelled organic but it's not exactly haute cuisine. Requirements for organic certification vary widely around the world, with many countries not “recognising” each others accreditation, so there are plenty of grey areas. To add further confusion, in the EU organic accreditation covers only the grapes, and not what happens in the winery. Hence you will only ever see an EU wine labelled as “made from organically grown grapes”. Think of the organically grown lettuce that is treated with chemical preservatives to keep it fresh on the supermarket shelf. Organic therefore is no guarantee that a wine has not had chemicals used in the processing of it. There are many superb examples of high quality organic wineries, but the term should be treated with caution unless you know the producer in question, or trust the place or person you buy it from.


Biodynamics requires a much greater commitment from the grower and is often referred to as “super-charged” organics. Rather than simply reducing chemical inputs, biodynamics is a proactive attempt to bring life to the soil by the use of composts and organic preparations. Biodynamic vineyards always “feel” alive and healthy. Practices take into account the seasons as well as lunar and solar rhythms, which would not have seemed strange to our ancestors. Rudolph Steiner founded the biodynamic movement in the 1920s in an attempt to bridge the two worlds of modern science and what he referred to as “peasant wisdom”. Some critics are sceptical of the more arcane elements of biodynamics but often concede that the end result is better tasting wine. This may simply be down to the old maxim that the best fertilizer is the farmers footsteps. Some of the worlds leading wine producers are now working biodynamically including Felton Road (New Zealand), Domaine Leflaive (Burgundy) and Zind-Humbrecht (Alsace). For many it is a practical and sustainable farming solution, and as such you will not always see it written on the label or used as a marketing tool. Biodynamic certification is a sound guarantee of responsible environmental practice, the wines should always have a clear sense of place (terroir) and quality can be exceptional.


Natural wine is a relatively recent phenomenon, but one that is currently at the cutting edge of the wine world. In its simplest form, natural wine takes organic or biodynamic practices in the vineyard as its starting point, and extends them into the winery in an attempt to reduce the total use of chemical inputs and manipulations throughout the entire production process. The key difference is often the low or zero use of sulphur dioxide (SO2). Natural wine is not an accredited or legally defined term, but refers to a broad range of desirable practices both in the vineyard and the winery. These include the use of organic or biodynamic treatments to bring life to the soil, hand harvesting, no chapitalisation (added sugar to raise potential alcohol), no added enzymes, natural wild yeasts, no added “flavourings” or adjustments (oak chips, tannin powder, acidification or de-acidification), low or zero use of sulphur dioxide through ferment and elevage, no or very light filtration and fining and finally low or zero sulphur additions at bottling (understood to be less than 20ppm for white, 10ppm for red). In essence, nowt taken out and nowt put in.
There is also a recognisably “natural wine style” emerging, which for many is the chief allure of this category. For some it is also its biggest weakness. At their best, natural wines display lightness and purity of fruit. They have higher levels of acidity, often combined with more restrained levels of alcohol, for reds often in the 11 to 12.5 range, yet are fully flavour ripe. They are lean, fresh, mineral and often have little or no new oak. As a result they can be incredibly drinkable. They can also be nutritious in the true sense of the word, being living products, they appeal to the stomach as well as the palate. Think Yakult or unpasturised cheese. The driving philosophy of many natural wine makers is simply to make a wine that they can drink a lot of, which may sound strange, even irresponsible, until you consider that many “modern” show-stopper wine styles can impress with a sip, but are impossible to finish the bottle. Natural wine can often be simple, but what they lack in weight or complexity they make up for in drinkability and fun.
Like biodynamics, natural wine is a trustworthy sign of environmentally friendly vineyard practices as well indicating the minimal use of additives and chemicals inputs in the winery. As such it is the most “organic” of the accreditations if by organic we mean low chemical additives. In addition natural may also signal a recognizable style of wine. This style may not be everybody's cup of tea, but ultimately this will depend on whether you like your apple juice cloudy, your cheese stinky and your milk straight from the cow. The proof of the pudding will always be in the drinking, and the best bottle on the table is always the empty one.


Orange wine is also known as skin-contact white wine. Skin contact is another term for maceration, or the period during winemaking when the grape skins remain in contact with the juice, the same process in making red and some rosés wines. Most red wines are made by fermenting grapes with their skins for the entire period of alcoholic fermentation, though the juice can be separated earlier if the winemaker seeks lighter taste or body. Rosés usually undergo less than 12 hours macerating on their skins before the juice is pressed off and fermentation is allowed to finish, though some can rest on their skins for up to a week. With white grapes, if you let the juice ferment on the skins, it extracts additional tannin and flavor, just like in red wines. In this case the juice of white grapes is left to ferment on the skins and it extracts additional tannin and flavour, just like in red wines and becomes darker. The colour is closer to straw than apricot, the nose and palate of skin-contact whites reveal a very different kind of wine. The aromas are bolder and more intense than if the same grapes were vinified as traditional white wine. It’s akin to the difference in intensity between rosé and red wine. The palate has deeper flavours as opposed to breezy citrus. Skin contact draws out fleshy apricot and intense floral notes in some wines, particularly if the maceration is long. One of the most surprising aspects of skin-contact whites are their tannins, something associated typically with red wines and some rosés. Skin-contact whites with months-long macerations can be quite full and roughly textured. 

Happy Hunting!


Wine Regions and Types of Wine

Amarone, the most famous of Italy’s dry dried grape wine, is produced from the identical grape varieties (Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella Corvinone and Dindarella) and in the same production zone of Valpolicella. Amarone DOC is made from selected superior whole bunches of grapes which are dried in special drying chambers where the grapes are strungup from the ceiling. The grapes are left to dry until January following the vintage. After the drying process(a weight loss of some 30-40% of the initial weight occurs during this time), the grapes are pressed and fermented dry. The wine is then aged in wooden casks for a minimum of 2 years.

Bordeaux is both the largest producer of AC wines (50,000 hectares of basic AC Bordeaux are planted) and the source of the most sought after ones. It has top quality varietals, a moderate climate, and a long heritage of producing diverse styles across the price spectrum, as well as a complex trade structure that continues to perplex and attract wine lovers everywhere. The major influences on the climate are the Atlantic Ocean and the Dordogne and Garonne rivers (that connect to the Gironde estuary), which moderate temperatures, cooling them in summer and warming them in winter. Annual rainfall is relatively high, particularly in the Médoc, at around 1,000 mm per year, therefore the most prized soils here are gravel-based, which encourage free drainage. The humidity of the closest vineyards to the river, in Sauternes and Barsac, contribute to the formation of Noble Rot, which concentrates the natural sugars, flavours and acidity in the grapes, and results in some of the finest sweet wines in the world. Entre-Deux-Mers (literally ’between two seas’, or the two rivers mentioned above) is often the source of excellent value wines. The best are found from the slightly higher plateau, which is windier and therefore drier in climate. Here, stony and sandy-clay soils meet, giving crisp, elegant whites and supple reds for drinking in their youth.

Red Bordeaux, which is traditionally known as claret in the United Kingdom, is generally made from a blend of grapes. Permitted grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Today Malbec and Carmenere are rarely used. Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux's second-most planted grape variety) dominates the blend in red wines produced in the Médoc and the rest of the left bank. In Saint-Émilion, Pomerol and the other right bank appellations Merlot is the most dominate. White Bordeaux is predominantly, and exclusively in the case of the sweet Sauternes, made from Sémillon and then a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle -. Dry white wines are made mostly from Sauvignon.

Bordeaux blends
Centuries of making (and drinking) wine led to the blend that has become synonomous with Bordeaux. Winemakers in the New World replicate this formula to create successful blends in their respective regions - you may see Bordeaux blends from the US labeled Meritage (rhymes with heritage). The name defines American wines made from Bordeaux grapes.

Notable Facts - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. These five red grapes are the components of a classic Bordeaux blend. Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot usually play the lead role, while Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot act as the supporting cast. These three grapes help to add color, structure and body in varying amounts. A Bordeaux blend typically, but not exclusively, uses at least three of the five grapes to be labeled as such, but many wines in Bordeaux and else where stick to just two. The beauty of the blend? Each year the percentage of each grape in the blend can vary and the winemaker can include more of the variety that excelled in that particular vintage.

Champagne remains the pinnacle of sparkling winemaking, despite the proliferation of ’traditional method’ sparkling wines on the market. The region’s success continues unabated, even in recessionary times. The winning combination of top quality grape varieties, a northerly climate, hundreds of years of winemaking using the ‘méthode champenoise’, as well as an efficient marketing strategy, has ensured the reputation is upheld. The vineyards of Champagne cover an area of 34,000 hectares, or 3.4% of the entire French vineyard area. There are 15,000 growers who work these vineyards, with 150 cooperatives of varying sizes, and 300 Champagne ’houses’, or négociants. Most of the area lies on limestone soils, which is important in this relatively wet climate - amongst other benefits, limestone drains well, preventing problems associated with waterlogging or excess vine vigour.

The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Champagne appellation law only allows grapes grown according to appellation rules in specifically designated plots within the appellation to be used in the production of Champagne. Some sparkling wines produced in other regions of the world use other grapes.
In the Côte des Blancs, where Chardonnay thrives, the Vallée de la Marne has a sunny climate, bringing a fruitier, forward character to the wines, which is accentuated by the Pinot Meunier variety. Both the warmer slopes of the Montagne de Reims and the more southerly vineyards of the Côte des Bars, in the Aube, suit Pinot Noir well.

Malbec or Cot
Malbec is Argentina's flagship variety, and the country has the largest Malbec acreage in the world. This variety originally comes from South West France, where it is called Cot and features a hard, tannic style. Due to its intense color and dark hues, wines obtained from this variety were once called “the black wines of Cahors.” These wines consolidated their prestige in the Middle Ages and gained full recognition in modern times. The conquest of the English market was a crucial step for the success of Cahors wines in England and around the world. In 1852, Malbec was brought to Argentina by Michel A. Pouget, a French agronomist who was hired by the Argentine government. When phylloxera destroyed French viticulture towards the end of the 19th century, the “Cot” fell into oblivion. However, a culture of appreciation of Malbec had already consolidated. Malbec in particular adapts quickly to the varied terroirs offered by Argentina’s landscape and begins to produce wines better than in its original land.Argentina became the only country to have original Malbec vines of true French heritage.
"Good Argentine Malbec, and there is a great deal of it for Argentina is one of the world's most prolific wine producers, is deeply coloured, spicily rich with an exuberant juiciness and has as a trademark an almost velvety texture". Jancis Robinson

Argentina is currently the main producer of Malbec in the world, with 76,603 acres of vineyards planted across the country, followed by France (13,097 acres), Italy, Spain, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA. Argentine producers have grown Malbec extensively in every wine region of the country. Today, opulent, vigorous Malbecs may be found all along the Andes mountain range, from Salta to Patagonia. Mendoza is the main Malbec producer in the country, with 65,730 acres, representing 85% of all Malbec vineyards. San Juan ranks second with 6,700 acres, followed by Patagonia (Neuquén and Río Negro) with 2,230 acres, Salta with 1,730 acres and La Rioja with 1,235 acres. Malbec wines have Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC) in some Argentine regions, which helps to protect the name of the area and forces winemakers to maintain the high quality of wines. Malbec Luján de Cuyo was the first Denomination of Origin (DOC) of the Americas. Malbec from Luján de Cuyo has an intense, dark cherry red color, which may look almost black. It shows mineral expressions, with black fruit and sweet spices standing out. Malbecs from Tupungato, Tunuyán and San Carlos (in the Uco Valley) are more elegant and display distinctive spicy and floral notes. In Patagonia (Neuquén and Río Negro) the climate is slightly colder and altitudes are less extreme, which leads berries to retain acidity, yielding wines with notes of ripe black fruits in combination with a marked mineral tone. The north (Salta and Catamarca), instead, is one with the sun and high altitude. Malbec from this region expresses a unique personality: aromas of very ripe red and black fruits, black pepper and paprika, with a very solid structure of solid, sweet tannins. Malbec expresses itself very well in regions with broad temperature ranges and calcareous, clayey or sandy soils as those found at the foot of the Andes. These geographic and climatic features make Argentine Malbec stand out particularly for the quality of its tannins: sweet, silky and mouth-filling. What to Look for in Malbec Malbec’s most significant characteristic is its intense dark color. Its aromas evoke cherries, strawberries or plums; in some cases it is reminiscent of cooked fruit (e.g. marmalade), depending on when the grapes were harvested. In the mouth Malbec is warm, soft, and sweet, with non-aggressive tannins. When it is aged in oak, it develops coffee, vanilla and chocolate aromas. When to Uncork a Bottle of Malbec In general, Malbec is a variety that characteristically offers a burst of fruit flavors. This feature may confer great complexity to wines aged in new oak. Young unoaked Malbecs should be consumed quickly; those aged for a few months in oak may be kept for 2 to 3 years; “big” Malbecs can age well in the bottle for a decade. Pairings with Malbec Malbec pairs well with red meats, grilled meats, hard cheeses and pasta with tomato sauce. "When consumers think of malbec, only one country comes to mind: Argentina". Malbec Has Its Own World Day On April 17 1853, with the support of Mendoza’s Governor Pedro Pascual Segura, a bill for the foundation of a Quinta Normal and a School of Agriculture was submitted to the Provincial Legislature. The House of Representatives enacted this bill as law on September 6 of the same year. The efforts made by Pouget and Sarmiento at the Quinta Normal of Mendoza played a key role in that process. April 17 was chosen by Wines of Argentina for the celebration of Malbec World Day, not only because the creation of the Quinta Normal represented the transformation of Argentine winemaking, but because it amounted to the starting point for the development of this variety, the flagship of the Argentine wine industry worldwide.

Super Tuscan from Tuscany
Super Tuscan wines are based on the Sangiovese grape and "Bordeaux-blends", meaning a combination of grapes typical for Bordeaux (esp. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). This has proven to be very good for these grapes. One of the first successful Super Tuscan based "Bordeaux-blend" was Sassicaia, by Tenuta San Guido.

Madiran was created as an AOC in 1948 and made from a blend of 40-60% Tannat , Cabernet Franc (locally also called Bouchy), Cabernet Sauvignon and Fer (locally also called Pinenc. Madiran is also known as the most healthy of red wines due to the high levels of procyanidins it contains. This is said to be good for reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and encouraging healthy blood clotting.

Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh
The area also produces dry and sweet white wine and sparkling wine under the two appellations Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec, which cover the same area as Madiran AOC. The main grape varieties are Courbu and Petit Manseng, which together must make up at least 60%, and neither of which may exceed 80%. Accessory grape varieties (up to 40%) are Arrufiac, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc, with Sauvignon Blanc being limited to a maximum of 10%. The proportions of grape varieties allowed have been modified in recent years, with the most recent changes being implented in 2005. Previously, a certain proportion of Arrufiac was prescribed, and Sémillon was allowed.
Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec, which are dry white wines, must be made from grapes with a minimum potential alcohol level of 11%, and contain no more than 3 grams per litre of residual sugar. Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, without the "Sec" (dry) designation, is reserved for semi-sweet and sweet wines and must be made from manually harvested grapes with a minimum potential alcohol level of 12%, and contain a minimum of 35 grams per liter of residual sugar. High-end sweet Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh wines are usually made from dried grapes.

The Rhône wine region in Southern France is situated in the Rhône river valley and is generally divided into two sub-regions with distinct vinicultural traditions, the Northern Rhône (referred to in French as Rhône septentrional) and the Southern Rhône (in French Rhône méridional). The northern sub-region produces red wines from the Syrah grape, sometimes blended with white wine grapes, and white wines from Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier grapes. The southern sub-region depends on the specific AOC rules, grapes blended into southern Rhône reds may include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault. White wines from the southern Rhône sub-region are blends of several wine grapes. These may include Viognier, Ugni Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, and Clairette.

Côtes de Provence
The Côtes de Provence AOC is the largest appellation in Provence, with boundaries reaching from the alpine hills in the north to Saint-Tropez on the southern coast, and extending west to Aix-en-Provence. It encompasses several winegrowing areas, each with geographical features that give the wines distinct personalities. This AOC accounts for 75 percent of all wine produced in Provence, with 89 percent of production being rosé. Rosé wine is made from red (or black or purple) grapes. But whereas red-wine makers allow the grape skins to ferment with the juice for an extensive period, rosé producers keep the skins in contact with the juice for only a brief time. Then the pink-tinted juice is drained, or bled off, from the skins. The resulting colour, ranging from pale pink to a deeper shade of salmon.



Champagne remains the pinnacle of sparkling winemaking, despite the proliferation of ’traditional method’ sparkling wines on the market. The region’s success continues unabated, even in recessionary times. The winning combination of top quality grape varieties, a northerly climate, hundreds of years of winemaking using the ‘méthode champenoise’, as well as an efficient marketing strategy, has ensured the reputation is upheld. The vineyards of Champagne cover an area of 34,000 hectares, or 3.4% of the entire French vineyard area. There are 15,000 growers who work these vineyards, with 150 cooperatives of varying sizes, and 300 Champagne ’houses’, or négociants. Most of the area lies on limestone soils, which is important in this relatively wet climate - amongst other benefits, limestone drains well, preventing problems associated with waterlogging or excess vine vigour.

The primary grapes used in the production of Champagne are Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Champagne appellation law only allows grapes grown according to appellation rules in specifically designated plots within the appellation to be used in the production of Champagne. Some sparkling wines produced in other regions of the world use other grapes.

In the Côte des Blancs, where Chardonnay thrives, the Vallée de la Marne has a sunny climate, bringing a fruitier, forward character to the wines, which is accentuated by the Pinot Meunier variety. Both the warmer slopes of the Montagne de Reims and the more southerly vineyards of the Côte des Bars, in the Aube, suit Pinot Noir well.



Producing Rosé
Rosé wine is made from red grapes and grape skins fermented with the juice for only a brief time at cool temperatures, between 13C & 14C , which gives it an aromatic lift and finesse. Then the pink-tinted juice is drained, or bled off from the skins according to taste and market desire resulting in colour ranges from pale pink to a deeper shade of salmon.




Calvados received Appellation d'Origine status in 1942 and today three different appellations exist for calvados. Each appellation has unique and distinguishing characteristics, which concern the geographical area and the distillation process. The geographical production areas are strictly defined and all operations that result in the production of calvados are carried out within these zones. The Appellation Controlee System is a set of rules designed to guarantee and maintain the characteristics and quality of the product and its century old traditions.

AOC Calvados

In short apples from the Calvados region made a single, continuous distillation process using a column still.

AOC Calvados Pays d'Auge

The most controlled and perceived highest quality. In short apples from the Pays d'Auge distilled in a copper double still.

AOC Calvados Domfrontais

Made of at least 30% pears in the Domfrontais region with a single, continuous distillation process using a column still.

Fermier Calvados

Some producers live up to another quality control the production fermiere or produit fermier, which indicates that the calvados is farm made in the traditional way. The whole process from apple to calvados is carried out on the farm according to the highest quality demands.

The Orchard

It all starts with the right apple not just any apple and certainly not eating apples. Instead small fruits with great aromatic intensity are used. Generally sweet varieties of pear are chosen. For the making of calvados, hundreds of varieties of apple can be used. Traditional producers grow 20 to 40 varieties. The various varieties ensure the production of a juice containing the necessary sugar, tannins and acidity.Traditionally the harvest was carried out by shaking the branches of high stem trees. The apples would fall onto tarpaulins spread out below the trees where they are gathered by hand and placed in sacks. Apples to be used for calvados would be stored on the floor, piled to a height of about 70cm.

Grating and Pressing

There are three different periods of ripening early season apples, which ripen in September, mid season apples ripening from October to mid-November and late-season apples, which are harvested in December and generally stored until January.The mid and later season apples are used for the production of Calvados early season apples would have to be mashed early when temperatures are still too high for the production of good cider. The apples used must all be equally ripe when the crusher transforms the apples into a homogeneous pulp.The pulp is left to work for a few hours allowing the apples to soften, making it easier to extract the juice tannins and aromas once the pulp is conveyed to a hydraulic batch press, which extracts the juice by squeezing. Most of the flavour is extracted from the skin and not from the pulp. Compared with cider for drinking cider for distillation is fermented until crisp dry.The fermentation takes place in large oak barrels. The cider ferments for anything from 6 weeks to a year depending on the producer and then can be aged for a further year before distillation.


Early European distillation was primitive and shrouded in mystery. Apothecaries and monasteries sold alcohol not as a beverage but as a medicine, aqua vitae or eau de vie a cure for anything or a life-span enhancing elixir. Before 1942 Calvados was still widely called eau de vie de Calvados which translates to water of life of calvados. Many wood-fired stills are still used today although gas-fired stills require less attention. From the home made to the high-tech the variety and individual characteristics of different stills contribute to the individuality of what they produce.

In general the flavour of calvados distilled in double distillation is more complex compared to that distilled in a continuous still. AOC Calvados Pays d'Auge is distilled twice, the first distillation of cider yields an intermediate product with strength of about 30%. This product is distilled again. The liquid produced is not called calvados but eau de vie de cidre and is colourless with strength in the region of 70%.

It produces a burning sensation on the palate and gives off an aroma of fruit and alcohol although made well and served chilled it will stand up to good vodka. The column still is used for the production of AOC Calvados and AOC Calvados Domfrontais it easier to control and runs continuously, making it a much safer and cheaper choice. Many stills were mounted on wheels so they could travel the countryside bringing the skills of the distiller to the farm.

The distillation of cider takes place in a single operation of continuous production. The cider enters the top of one column, passing downwards from plate to plate. The more volatile compounds evaporate out due to the heat and the vapour given off from the cider rises gradually becoming enriched as it bubbles back up through the cider. These vapours condense in a second column producing a liquid with again strength in the region of 70%.

Ageing and maturing

The producers of calvados have agreed to age the spirit for a minimum of two years or three years for Calvados Domfrontais and then test it before the spirit is sold as calvados. Much is aged for a great deal longer and some is aged for between 20 and possibly 60 years. Ageing and maturing are not the same thing age being the time spent in cask while maturity expresses the result. In dark and peaceful cellars under the expert eye of the cellar master calvados is aged slowly in oak casks often firstly in small new casks and then in older larger barrels. As time goes by the most volatile compounds that give the young calvados its burning taste disappear. The calvados extracts various substances from the wood, including tannins that give it colour and body. Its bouquet intensifies and its colour changes from golden to deeper and deeper shades of amber. On contact with oxygen, the wood compounds dissolved in the spirit and undergo chemical transformations producing new aromas. Often former sherry and port casks are used. This helps yield fewer bitter tannins and helps to give finer colour, more body and greater aromatic richness.

The Angels share

Whilst in the cask the calvados evaporates through pores of the wood and this is known as the Angels share. The angels are quite thirsty and represent an annual loss of between 1 and 3 percent in volume. This can rise to 6 percent in small casks. This however is not all bad as aromas become more complex and concentrated and controlled by temperature and humidity the angels speed up their work intensifying the aromas and improving the quality so the calvados requires less reduction before bottling. Big casks are often half filled to increase evaporation.




Madeira's mainland cousin, Port, enjoys a unique status as the ultimate fortified wine.The wine industry on Madeira is a small one. This tiny Portuguese island off the north west coast of Africa has around 1,500 hectares under vine, whereas the Douro Valley has around 40,000 hectares planted for the production of Port. Notably, the bulk of Madeiran plantings are American Vitis Labrusca varieties, introduced post-Phylloxera, and now illegal in Madeira production.

Only around 420 hectares is planted with the six traditional varieties permitted in Madeira. Of these, Tinta Negra Mole makes up around 85%, mostly used in the cheapest wines along with Terrantez. That means there are only around 60 hectares planted to the noble varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey. There is a very active movement towards reclaiming the traditional and noble varieties, with EU-backed replanting programmes under way. However, with over 2,000 small farmers working tiny parcels of terraced land on little more than a subsistence basis, this is no easy task. Replanting these ancient, impossibly steep slopes is a whole different ball game from ripping up a few dozens rows on the flat.

Another problem the Madeira industry has faced is the ratio of bulk wine shipped, as opposed to bottled product. Just a few years ago, 75% of all wine was shipped in tankers for bottling as cheap Madeira in European export markets (notably Germany, France and Belgium). Since 2002, the Madeiran industry and government have focused their efforts on drastically re-shaping this imbalance. Not only will locally-bottled wines sell at higher prices, but quality control should be greatly improved. In 2002, bulk shipping was already down to less than 50% of all exports, and will continue to fall.

There are still remarkably fine Madeira wines being produced of course, and fanatical connoisseurs can choose from a mesmerising variety of styles, from searingly dry Sercial, to lusciously sweet, aged Malmsey. Today, production involves only a handful of companies. Giant of the industry is the Madeira Wine Company (MWC), an association now jointly-owned by Blandy's and Port shippers, the Symington family, which has absorbed numerous smaller producers and shippers over the years. MWC is responsible for 50% of all production, and trades such well known brands as Blandy's, Cossart Gordon and Leacock & Co. The biggest independent company is Henriques & Henriques (H&H), and there is only a handful of other smallish producers, including d'Oliveira, Borges and Barbeito.




All sherry is matured through a system of barrels called the solera system. Sherry wine has a unique property in that it takes on the characteristics of the older wine once blended. The Solera System has therefore been developed to take advantage of this. At each stage the wine is taken from the bottom row of barrels ie the solera or shipping solera and then is filled from wines from younger criaderas (or sherry nurseries as they are known). At each stage about a third of wine is taken out and replaced with wine from the one above until the new wine of the year goes in.In this way, the wine in each butt is refreshed at least three times a year. There is no virtually other wine which is blended in this way. It takes at least 4 years minimum to reach the age of consistency in the solera at which the wine might be bottled.

The Solera system

The whole nature of Sherry depends on the Solera system. Each house has its own brands and styles. The job of the wine maker is to ensure that those styles are continuous so that the consumer always gets consistent style and quality whenever he or she buys a bottle of that wine. Following is an in-depth account of how the Solera system works and what is involved for the wine maker.

The Solera system is the method used in the production of Sherry to ensure a consistent quality, based on the fact that old wine can be refreshed by the addition of a younger wine, which then acquires the characteristics of the old wine. It is a traditional form of fractional blending.The Solera system consists of a stock of wine in butts, split into graduated units each of a different maturation development and each of equal volume. The final stage of finished wine is called the solera. The supporting steps, or scales, are called criaderas.

Wine for blending is drawn from the solera, which is replaced by wine from the immediately supporting criadera of wine of the same style, a little younger and less complex. From there, replacements proceed in succession down the scales of the system until the youngest criadera is refreshed with carefully selected wine from a suitable añada stock. There can be differences in the number of scales from start criadera to solera. This is largely dependent on the style of the finished wine. Soleras of very old quality wines will be refreshed from other mature soleras of similar styled wines but not from añada stock.

When wine from the oldest casks of any one solera is withdrawn for bottling - usually between 10% and 15% of the wine in any one 550 litre cask - the same amount of wine is removed from an equivalent number of the casks of the first criadera or nursery. This wine is then blended and added in equal proportions to the space left in the casks of the solera. During the course of the following months - the period may be anything between 3 months and 2 years depending on the age and concentration of the wine - the slightly younger wine amalgamates with and takes on the characteristics of the majority older wine and eventually becomes homogenous with it. All the wine in the cask becomes exactly the same as the wine which was taken out months previously.

At the same time wine is taken in the same quantities from second criadera, blended together and added to the space left in the first nursery. The same homogenisation process occurs. From the third nursery, wine moves to the second and so on, until the youngest nursery is reached. This is then refreshed with young wine in añada which is showing the style characteristics of that solera.

There are a couple of points that need to be noted about the Solera system.

Firstly, the whole system from the youngest criadera to the end is known as a Solera, whilst the oldest wine in it is the Solera. It is not usual to withdraw wine from every barrel in a Solera at any one time. The amount of wine withdrawn, and thus the number of butts affected, will depend precisely on the amount required for bottling. Secondly, these bodega butts of 550 litre capacity are only filled to 500 litres, to allow the circulation of air needed to help the flor work, or to encourage oxidation in the case of Amontillado and Oloroso.

There is a restriction on a bodegas throughput set by law. Each bodega may, in one year, withdraw for sale or shipment a maximum of 35% of its total stock. Buying in wine at any stage of maturation to increase the size of their Soleras is quite usual, as demand for a particular style grows. Conversely, selling stock for the opposite reason is also quite normal.

Fino and Manzanilla

Light in colour, dry and delicate in taste.

Don't just think of Fino and Manzanilla as aperitif wines. Some of the world's greatest white wines, they are just as happy as part of a meal, as versatile as any white wine. Certainly both will be drunk to accompany the tapas that form such a vital part of the Andalusian meal. Fino and Manzanilla are the Sherries that must be chilled.


Amber colour, classical dry through to medium Amontillados are versatile.

Delicious on their own they are equally an accompaniment to soups, especially light meat soups such as consommé. But they also go with so many other foods: seafood, game dishes and meat terrines. Amontillados should be served cool, but not too chilled.

Palo Cortado and Dry Oloroso

Amber gold, powerful and dry.

Palo Cortados and Olorosos are concentrated wines for rich foods.They partner cheeses, very rich meats such as venison and smoked game. These wines should be served slightly cooled.

Sweet Oloroso and Cream

Dark golden colour, rich and sweet.

Fine sweet Olorosos and Creams can be consumed with many fruit based desserts, or as an after-dinner digestif.

For those with a sweet tooth, one of the great Sherry and food combinations is that of vanilla ice cream drenched in some of the immensely sweet Pedro Ximenez Sherry. These wines should be served in copitas, slightly chilled if the day is warm but at warm room temperature as a warming drink if the weather is cold.




Port also known as Port wine, Vinho do Porto, Porto, or Porto wine is a sweet, fortified wine from the Douro Valley in the northern part of Portugal; it takes its name from the city of Oporto, the centre of port export and trading. Port has been produced in Portugal since the mid 15th Century. Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, when merchants were permitted to import it at a low duty, while war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine.

The continued English involvement in the port trade can be seen in the names of many port shippers: Croft, Taylor, Dow, Graham, Symington. Similar wines, often also called ""Port"", are produced in several other countries, notably Australia, South Africa, India and the United States. It has been produced in and around St. Augustine, Florida since the mid 16th Century. In some nations, including Canada, after a phase-in period, and the countries of the European Union, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as ""port."" In the United States, the Portuguese product, by Federal law pursuant to a treaty with Portugal, must be labelled ""Porto"" or ""Vinho do Porto"" for differentiation. The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP or Port and Douro Wine Institute) regulates the Port industry in Portugal.

Port wine is typically richer, sweeter, heavier, and possesses a higher alcohol content than most other wines. This is caused by the addition of distilled grape spirits (such as brandy) to fortify the wine and halt fermentation before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. It is commonly served after meals as a dessert wine, or with cheese. In France, white port is served as an apéritif. It has an alcohol by volume content of roughly 18% to 20%.Wine with less than 16% ethanol cannot protect itself against spoilage if exposed to air; with an alcohol content of 18% or higher, port wine can safely be stored in wooden casks that 'breathe', thereby permitting the fine aging of port wine.


Port from Portugal comes in several varieties.


Though it accounts for around one percent of production, vintage port is the flagship wine of all Portugal. It is made entirely from grapes of a declared vintage year. Not every year is declared a vintage in the Douro, only those when conditions are favourable to particularly flavourful crops of grapes. The decision to declare a vintage is made by each individual port house, and is based on several factors, most notably the weather and the ability of the marketplace to absorb a new vintage. While it is by far the most renowned type of port, from a volume and revenue standpoint vintage port actually makes up a small percentage of the production of a typical port house. Vintage ports are aged in barrels for a maximum of 2 years before bottling, and often require another 5 to 15 years of aging in the bottle before reaching what is considered proper drinking age. Since they are aged in barrels for only a short time, they retain their dark ruby colour and fresh fruit flavours. Particularly fine vintage ports can continue to gain complexity and drink wonderfully for decades after they were bottled, and therefore can be particularly sought after and expensive wines.

Although it bears the word ""vintage"" in its name, single-Quinta Vintage Port is produced from a particular vineyard and usually from a lesser ""undeclared"" year. Neither it nor the so-called ""late bottled vintage"" wines are true vintage port.

""Port"" wines produced outside of Portugal may be labelled with a vintage date, but rarely possess the quality and proven age-ability of true vintage port. They are vintage in the sense that they come from the produce of a specific year, but in most other respects are the opposite. They typically are meant for immediate consumption, produced nearly every year regardless of vintage conditions and are made from grapes of no particular distinction. Prices for ""port"" are similarly lower compared with genuine port. Nonetheless, some such ""ports"" or port-style wines improve with age. There is rarely universal agreement on the quality of the wine produced from a given year, and in some years a single producer may be alone in declaring a vintage. However, occasionally the harvest of a year is so good that all the major producers declare a vintage, and it is in these years that the port that is produced can last for over forty years, commanding high prices at auction.


Tawny port is aged in wooden barrels, exposing it to gradual oxidation and evaporation, causing its colour to mellow to a golden-brown after roughly ten years ""in wood."" Often they have pronounced ""nutty"" flavours. Tawny port without an indication of age is a basic blend of wood aged port. Aged tawny port is a blend of several vintages, with the average years ""in wood"" stated on the label: 10, 15, 20, and 30 years are common. Tawny ports from a single vintage are called Colheitas (pronounced col-YATE-ah, meaning harvest or vintage). Tawny and Colheita ports are always ready to drink when released and do not typically benefit from aging in bottle, although they will not degrade either. Because it has already been exposed to oxygen, an open bottle of tawny resists oxidation the longest of all ports. ""Tawny"" port produced outside Portugal is rarely aged long enough to develop a natural tawny colour. Instead, it is the result of blending ""ruby"" and ""white"" ports, or possibly the addition of caramel colouring. This is increasingly no longer true as Australia produces some excellent aged Tawnies. Yalumba has released a 50 year old tawny and Hardy's Whiskers Blake, Rosemount's Old Benson and Galway Pipe are also made in the traditional manner. South Africa's largest wine producer KWV also makes tawny port in the traditional manner.


Garrafeira port is similar to Colheita. It is made from grapes of a single vintage, aged in wood between three and six years and then aged in large approximately 10L glass demijohns for an extended time.

Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV)

LBV (Late-Bottled Vintage) port is intended to provide some of the experience of drinking a vintage port but without the decade-long wait of bottle aging. In contrast to vintage port's short time in barrel, LBV port is aged between four to six years in barrel, to mature it more quickly. Typically ready to drink when released, LBV ports are the product of a single year's harvest and tend to be smoother and lighter-bodied than a vintage port. LBV ports that are filtered do not require decanting and are ready to drink at bottling. Unfiltered or ""Traditional"" LBV ports require decanting like vintage ports do, and may improve in the bottle.

Reserve or Vintage Character

The confusingly named Vintage Character or Reserve port is essentially a premium Ruby port. In 2005, the IVDP prohibited the use of the term ""Vintage Character"" replacing it with the term ""Reserve.""


Crusted port is a blend of port wine from several years, but retains the crust otherwise restricted to vintage ports.


Ruby port may contain wine from several vintages. Ruby ports are fermented in wood and aged in glass, which preserves the wine's red colour. It is considerably cheaper than vintage port, and can be used in cooking or to make cocktails.


White port is made from white grapes, and generally served as a chilled apéritif. It is the only one which is optionally available dry as well.

Grapes and the ""Port"" Appellation

Red port can be made from many types of grapes (castas), but the main ones are Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. White ports are produced the same way as red ports, except that they use white grapes-Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Malvasia, Rabigato, Verdelho, and Viosinho. While Porto produced in Portugal is strictly regulated by the Instituto do Vinho do Porto, many wines in the U.S. use the above names but do not conform to the same standards. Thus each genuine port style has a corresponding, often very different, style that can be found in wines made outside Portugal.


There is a unique body of English ritual and etiquette surrounding the consumption of port, stemming from British naval custom.Traditionally, the wine is passed ""port to port"" -- the host will pour a glass for the person seated at their right, and then pass the bottle or decanter to the left (to port); this practice is repeated around the circle. If the port becomes forestalled at some point, it is considered poor form to ask for the decanter directly. Instead, the person seeking a refill would ask of the person who has the bottle: ""do you know the bishop of Gloucester?"" (or some other English town). If the person being thus queried does not know the ritual (and so replies in the negative), the querent will remark ""He's an awfully nice fellow, but he never remembers to pass the port"".In other old English traditions when port is decantered, commonly at the dining table, the whole bottle should be finished in one sitting by the diners, and the table should not be vacated until this is done."




The Cognac Delimited Area extends along the banks of the Charente all the way to the Atlantic coast. In the heart of the region lies Jarnac, Segonzac and Cognac which gave its name to the spirit. Cognac lies 465 kilometers south-west of Paris and 120 kilometers north of Bordeaux.The entire Cognac vineyard covers around 80.000 hectares.

Grape varieties

The main grape variety that is planted is Ugni blanc (mostly ""Folle Blanche"" and ""Colombard""). This slow ripening variety is very resistant to diseases and produces a wine that has two vital qualities : a high level of acidity and a generally low alcohol content.


The cognac region is characterised by the great diversity of its soils : uncovered champagne plains with chalky soil, stony red-soiled plains and green valleys separating hillsides and marshlands, crossed by woods of various species of trees. There is only one zone which carries the ""Appellation d'Origine Controlee"", but there is more than just one type of cognac. This zone is itself divided into different vintage regions which have each their own characteristics.The 5 regions spread in concentric circles around Segonzac and Cognac. They are the heart of the country which produce the most beautiful spirit in the world.

The Grande-Champagne

Situated in the heart of the cognac region, Grande-Champagne is the most prestigious cognac vintage. It has a very specific type of soil called the campus, the climatic conditions are the most favourable, protected to the west from the Atlantic climate and to the east from the continental climate. Grande-Champagne spirits distinguish themselves by the floral dominance of its fragrance which is reminiscent of the vine's flower, dried vine shoot or even dried lime tree leaves. Its bouquet is remarkable. After ageing, the aromas grow and mature. Floral scents turn into fruity aromas.

The Petite-Champagne

This large semi-circle covers an area whose soil, called ""santonian"" (chalk of Saintes) is very rich in limestone. A few regions in the Petite-Champagne produce a Cognac that may equal and even surpass the quality of some Grande-Champagne Cognacs. It also distinguishes itself by a dominating floral and somewhat fruity scent but the bouquet is much shorter.

The Borderies

This enclave of vineyards to the north of Cognac produces excellent nutty flavoured spirits on a decalcification soil. Some houses use it as a base for their best cognacs. A collection of suave scents brings to mind the floral fragrance of a bunch of violets or irises. Very finely scented, Borderies spirits have the added ability to age and mature faster than that of Champagne.

The Fins Bois

Forming a large ring with various types of soil, this region produces cognacs of many different qualities. The best of them see the light on hard limestony soils to the north-east and south-east. Fins Bois spirits are heavier and age rapidly but their fruitiness, roundness and smoothness on the palate are what give them their charm.

The Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires

This belt which marks off the cognac region is made of clay soils that are poor in limestone. Less length in the mouth and age much to rapidly.


The pressing of the grapes is done immediately after harvest. Nowadays, wine producers use horizontal flat presses or pneumatic presses. The juice is left to ferment straight away. The sugars are transformed into alcohol. The addition of sugar (chaptalisation) is not permitted. The wines are then stored with their residue.These two steps (pressing and fermentation) are closely monitored for they will have an important influence on the final quality of the spirit. The wines that are produced after roughly 3 weeks of fermentation (from the end of October till the last days in November) have an alcohol content of around 8%vol. They are just perfect for distillation.


The Cognac region has a limestony soil and a maritime and temperate climate that is humid, hot and sunny enough to ripen the grapes. Despite all these assets, the wines that are produced would not deserve their reputation if it were not for the alchemy that takes place in the pot still and that produces the cognac. The alcohol is produced during fermentation from the sugars that are naturally present in the fruit. It is found associated with many other components ; it has to be separated from these complex mixes, process which is achieved by distillation. The process of separation which takes place during distillation is based on the difference in volatility between all components. The only volatile substances that make it into the spirit become the main elements of the bouquet.

The Pot-still

The Pot-still is entirely made of copper because copper has a catalysing effect and it does not affect the taste of the spirits. The bottom of the main cauldron - where the liquid to be distilled is placed - is in permanent contact with the bare flame of the furnace. The wine is uniformily heated with its dregs over a large surface. The Alcohols and ethers evaporate. The onion shaped top canalises the vapours into the swan neck, through the ""chauffe-vin"" cooling them slightly before they reach the cooling tank known as ""the pipe"". The vapours travel through a long coil, condense and are collected in liquid form in an oak cask.

Double distillation

Distillation is carried out in two steps : two heating cylcles called ""chauffes"". The first ""chauffe"" which lasts between 8 and 10 hours produces a cloudy liquide called ""brouillis"" with an alcohol content of 24 to 30 %vol. The""brouillis"" is then redistilled. This second heating is called ""la bonne chauffe"" and lasts about 12 hours. This time, only the best, that is ""the heart"" of the distillation, is kept. The distiller separates the ""heart"" from the ""heads"" and the ""tails"" through a process called ""cutting"". The heads and the tails are mixed with the next batch of wine or brouillis in order to be redistilled. Thus only the heart, a clear spirit averaging between 68 and 72% vol., is kept for ageing to become Cognac.


The distilled wine must age before becoming Cognac. This ageing takes place in 270 to 450 litre oak casks. The natural level of humidity in the cellars is one of the main influencing factors on the ageing of the spirits due to its effect on evaporation. The charentais coopers have traditionally used wood from the Limousin and the Troncais forests. The Troncais forest, in the Allier department of France, provides soft, finely grained wood which is particularly porous to alcohol. The Limousin forest produces medium grained wood, harder and even more porous. Today, the Cooperage industries of the Cognac region, with their ancestral know-how, export all over the world. A Cognac's age is determined solely by the number of years that it has matured in wooden casks. The fundamental principle behind this fact is that in a glass bottle Cognac stops ageing. A Cognac that has come straight from the pot still has an alcohol content of about 70%. As it ages, Cognac concentrates the aromas and the colours as it darkens to a warm shade of ambre. During the first few years (from 0 to 5 years), the bouquet mellows and becomes less agressive. The spirit turns to a shade of yellow that darkens more and more. The odour of oakwood develops. Next, the taste becomes more pleasant and smoother. The oakwood fragrance introduces scents of flowers and vanilla...Beyond 10 years of age, Cognac reaches maturity and has a much darker colour. The bouquet is at its best and the famous ""rancio"" appears.

Angel's share

In order to develop all its qualities and also to reduce its alcohol content, Cognac must mature for many years in oaks casks.During this ageing, Cognac loses between 3 and 4 % of its volume every year. This evaporation represents 27 million bottles per year for the Cognac region ! Although it is a loss, it is a necessity for the maturing process and is poetically known as ""the angel's share"".


From beginning to end, the making of cognac is the subject of a complex alchemy. The quality of each and every cognac depends as much on the ""blends""as on the care given to the vine, the grape harvest, the wine making, the distillation and the ageing in casks. The cognac that you drink is in fact the fruit of ""blends"" of different vintages and different ages. It is these blends that produce the harmony in the taste. The ""blends"" are the result of unwritten ancestral know-how. They are the secret of the ""maitres de chai"" or ""cellar masters"", persons of exception who watch over the cognac from its exit from the still to the bottling. It is the cellar masters who, after years of patient training by the elders, decide to decant casks or to change cellars in order to best develop the quality of the spirit. They also decide when and how to assemble the spirits. It is often said of the cellar masters that they alone represent the true value of Cognac houses. The blending is done in several steps that are spread throughout the entire ageing process. The cellar masters do not use any instruments of measure, they rely entirely on their judgement of taste and smell. Their senses are so accurate that they are always right.

Blended Cognacs

Cognac, which has a worlwide reputation to protect, has established very strict rules to protect consumers but also to prevent its production and presentation from being counterfeited. This implies compliance to many rules for distillation, for stocking, for ageing or for blending etc.A cognac that is ready to be sold on the open market must be at least two and a half years old starting from the 1st October of the year of harvest.

***, V.S. (Very Special), Selection, de Luxe. The youngest spirit of the blends may not be less than four and a half years old. But often, the spirits are much older.

V.S.O.P., Reserve... The youngest spirit in the blends for Very Superior Old Pales, also called Reserve Cognacs is between four and a half and six and a half years old.

Napoleon, Imperial, Hors d'age, Vieille Reserve, X.O. All terms like Napoleon, XO or ""very old"" are blendss of spirits that are at least six and a half years old.

However, most Cognacs are well above this minimum imposed by the regulation. In fact some of the most prestigious names assemble spirits that are each at least dozens of years above the minimum required. The term ""Fine"" is authorised by the 1938 law and qualifies a vintage spirit.

For example, a ""Grande Fine Champagne"" qualifies a Grande Champagne vintage cognac assembled with spirits that come solely from the Grande Champagne region.On the other hand, the ""Fine Champagne"" appellation qualifies a cognac with at least 50% of Grande Champagne spirits and the rest from Petite Champagne.

The appellations by sub-region.

A "Grande Champagne" or "Fine Grande Champagne" cognac is assembled with 100% Grande Champagne spirits. A "Petite Champagne" or "Fine Petite Champagne" cognac is assembled with 100% Petite Champagne spirits. A "Fine Champagne" cognac is the result of an assembly of Grande and Petite Champagne spirits with a minimum of 50% from Grande Champagne. A "Borderies" or "Fine Borderies" cognac contains 100% of spirits from the Borderies area. A "Fin Bois" or "Fine Fins Bois" cognac contains 100% of spirits from the Fins Bois area. A "Bons Bois" ou "Fine Bons Bois" cognac contains 100% of spirits from the Bons Bois area.




Armagnac is a grape brandy from the Gascony region of South-Western France. Its closest relative is cognac, another grape brandy from an appellation located about 100 miles north of Armagnac. Armagnac even though it is related to and often confused with cognac, armagnac is very different with regards to its grapes, terroir, distillation, élevage, blending, aromas, tastes and textures. In truth, France's two finest brandies made from wine are not very much alike at all.

Armagnac pre-dates cognac by about 150 years but never achieved the widespread sales figures that its relatives in the Charente obtained. Armagnac is made from distilled wine, and grapes are the first factor that gives it an original personality. Even though there are nine permitted varietals in Armagnac, four grapes are commonly used: Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Bacco. While these grapes ultimately give different aromas and flavours, they more importantly offer different weights and textures on the palate.

Folle Blanche

In pre-phylloxera days, the staple grape for armagnac was the Folle Blanche. Its light- to medium-bodied wine is low in alcohol (7%-9%) and high in acidity, making it less than ideal at the table but perfect for distillation into fine brandy. Armagnacs made from high percentages of Folle Blanche offer seductive characteristics; they tend to be feminine and show especially well in their first fifteen years of life. They normally have a very fine texture and light, high-pitched aromatics (including budding vine flowers, white peach, dried apricot and orange peel). Unfortunately, the precocious Folle Blanche (known as Gros Plant in the Loire) gives low yields, is prone to mildew and rot and today comprises less than 3% of total vineyard plantings. Folle Blanche can perhaps be viewed as the soprano of armagnac grapes.

Ugni Blanc

Ugni Blanc, known as Trebbiano in Italy, is most famous in the Charente where it comprises 98% of the Cognac vineyards. Ugni Blanc is relatively easy to grow and gives high yields-in short, a big producer and wonderful investment for growers. It produces wines with elevated levels of acidity and low alcohol, yet is fairly neutral in taste. Ugni Blanc now comprises about 55% of the grapes used for the distillation of armagnac. At their best, armagnacs made with Ugni Blanc contain pleasing floral aromatics that tend to accentuate the spice notes from the oak in which they are aged. They are less powerful and less flamboyant than Bacco and, in comparison with Folle Blanche, less aromatic and less fine.


After distillation, Colombard's youthful aroma is slightly herbal and reminiscent of freshly mown hay. It never seems to develop the round flavors of Bacco or the delicate floral notes of Folle Blanche, nor does it provide the neutral foundation of Ugni Blanc. While the tenor is especially renowned in the opera world, it is not in Armagnac. Most of the Colombard now makes its way into the region's delightful Côtes de Gascogne wines.

Bacco 22-A

Bacco 22-A is a hybrid between Folle Blanche (a grape of the vinifera family) and Noah, a Labrusca grape. It was developed after the phylloxera and was very resistant to rot and mildew. It dominated the Armagnac vineyards between its invention in the 1920's and the 1970's, and most armagnacs on the market from that period are made with an overwhelming percentage of Bacco (occasionally spelled Baco). The end of Bacco is imminent, however, as the AOC board has decided hybrids will no longer be allowed within AOC regions after 2010. Obviously the bass, Bacco delivers an armagnac that is full-bodied, with plenty of fat and volume. With some age, it expresses itself with jammy dried plum notes, yet it can be somewhat rustic and lack finesse.

The Soils

Armagnac is divided into three sub-regions, the Bas-Armagnac, the Ténerèze, and the Haut-Armagnac.


The Bas-Armagnac (lower-Armagnac) is named for its lower altitude, rather than lower quality. The highest number of quality-oriented producers is located in the North-Western portion of the Bas-Armagnac, specifically in the département of Les Landes. This region, unofficially known as the Grand Bas-Armagnac, has sand-based soil, often with a high iron content (sables fauves) or with small pieces of clay (boulbènes) that tend to yield spirits that are very supple in their youth. The Bas-Armagnac is dominated by Bacco and Ugni Blanc plantings.


While several excellent independent producers exist in the Ténaréze, this central region is home to most of Armagnac's négociants. The soil base in the Ténarèze is harder (clay and limestone) giving spirits that are firmer in their youth. Spirits from the Ténarèze, however, generally have the ability to age longer than those from the Bas-Armagnac. Plantings are dominated by Ugni Blanc and Colombard, and many farmers divert a good portion of their crop into excellent Côtes de Gascogne wines or Floc de Gascogne, the region's equivalent of Pineau des Charentes.


While the Haut-Armagnac comprises nearly 50% of the Armagnac region and is the most visually compelling, one is hard-pressed to find any vines among its rolling hills. Only a handful of independent producers still exist, and the region's limestone soils generally give spirits that are both flat and hard.

The Distillation Method

For the distillation of armagnac, the main objective is to heat wine until it boils, purely condense its vapours, and finally reconvert this steam into liquid form again. Traditional armagnac is distilled once in a small continuous still called an alambic, which is often transported from one producer to the next between the months of November and January. Unlike a double distillation pot still that eventually heats wine to around 72% (144 proof), the armagnac alambic issues a spirit between 52% and 60% (104 and 120 proof).

First, the wine enters the fire-driven alambic and is warmed in a pre-heater. From there it passes into the main column where it cascades over a number of heated plates. When it reaches the lower boiler, it begins to steam and evaporate. The alcoholic vapours then rise back through the curved tubes within the plates, forcing the outgoing eau-de-vie into contact with the incoming wine and insuring that additional fruit elements and flavours are transferred to the spirit. Finally the vapours exit through the top of the column and into the condensing coil, where they are cooled from steam into liquid form before dripping into a wooden cask.

This lower-alcohol spirit retains many esters, acids and congeners that double distillation purifies or eliminates altogether. In their youth, these non-alcohols can make the spirit thick, rustic and slightly foxy. Given time these elements oxidize and gain tremendous aromatic complexity. One needs, however, at least 12-15 years of patience.

Unfortunately, the commercial market demands products that are young and inexpensive. Therefore, the blends of many négociants (3 Etoiles, VSOP, Réserve, Hors d'âge) incorporate a percentage of double distillation (reinstated in 1974) which permits the removal of the non-alcohols and ultimately yields a lighter, more neutral and consumer-friendly spirit that can hit the market after only several years.


Armagnac is traditionally aged in a 400-420 litre oak cask known as an une pièce armagnacaise. Armagnac barrels were originally Gascon oak, but the lack of natural resources now warrants an increased usage of oak from the Limousin forest. The differences between the two types of oak are not tremendous: Gascon oak tends to give more tannin, Limousin more vanilla. Adjusting time levels in newer and second-use oak can compensate for each barrel's physical differences.

Blended Armagnacs

Blended armagnacs can be a mixture of various vintages, various properties, various sub-regions and various distillation types. They are very frequently adjusted in one way or another by an enologist to promote colour and taste consistency. As in cognac, the goal is to standardize releases so that a VSOP or XO released in 1993 tastes the same as a VSOP or XO released in 1998.

For the mainstream, commercial market (supermarkets, convenience stores, sports bars), there are various categories that describe minimum ages for armagnac blends. These include 3 Étoiles (3 stars), which must be at least two years old, VSOP or Réserve, which must be five years old, Napoléon, Vieille Réserve or XO, which must be six years old, and Hors d'âge, which must be 10 years old. Occasionally these blends contain armagnacs that are older than the minimums, but they do not normally vary from their requirements by more than a few years.

Vintage armagnacs can usually be found in up-scale wine stores and restaurants. They must come entirely from the vintage listed on the label. As armagnac matures only in cask and not after being bottled, vintages must also state the bottling date on the front or back label. In this way, one is generally assured of the spirits exact age.




All the spirits mankind has distilled, refined and enhanced from nature's huge store of goodness, Scotch whisky is the noblest. It is a natural drink, a distillation of the riches with which Scotland is so abundantly endowed - of fields of golden barley and wheat; of clear waters tumbling down glens of granite and over moors of peat; and of the cool, pure air of Scotland.

The traditions of distilling and maturing Scotch whisky have evolved through the centuries, using crafts passed from generation to generation in a continual process of refinement. Whisky can only be called Scotch if it has been distilled and matured in Scotland.

Until 1831 and the advent of the patent still, all the whisky produced in Scotland was of the malt variety. Now, there are two kinds of whisky: malt whisky, used essentially in the creation of blended whiskies, or bottled in small proportions as a single malt; and grain whisky, which is combined with malt whisky to create the famous blends. Both varieties are produced differently - but both are produced in distilleries located in the most picturesque of settings, close to the natural ingredients on which their unique flavour depends.


Scotch malt whisky is made from malted barley, water and yeast. The first stage of production is the malting of the barley. The barley is first steeped in tanks of water for 2 to 3 days before being spread out on the floors of the malting house to germinate. To arrest germination, the malted barley is dried in a kiln, identifiable by the distinct pagoda-shaped chimneys, characteristic of every distillery.

Peat, a natural fuel cut from the moors of Scotland, is used to fire kilns in the drying process, along with more modern fuels. Smoke from the fire drifts gently upwards through a wire mesh floor to dry out the barley, and the "peat reek" imparts a distinctive aroma which contributes to the character of the final spirit. When dried, the malt is as crisp as toast.

The malted barley is then ground to a rough-hewn grist and mixed with hot water in a vessel known as a mash tun. This process converts the starch in the barley into a sugary liquid known as wort. The wort is transferred to a fermenting vat, or washback, where yeast is added and the fermentation process converts the sugary wort into crude alcohol, similar in aroma and taste to sour beer. This is known as wash.

The crucial process involving the distinctive swan-necked copper pot stills, where distillation separates the alcohol from the wash. Malt whisky is distilled twice, the first distillation taking place in a larger wash still, and the second in a slightly smaller low-wines or spirit still.The still-man raises the temperature within the wash still and gradually, the fermented liquid is heated and the alcohol in the wash vaporises. The vapours rise up the swan neck and pass over the head of the still, before being guided through condensers where they revert to liquid.

This liquid is collected in a receiver before being passed into the second low-wines or spirit still where the process is repeated. The still-man exercises much more control in the second distillation as only the heart, or "middle cut", of the spirit flow will be collected as new spirit. This takes place as the spirit flows through a spirit safe, where the still-man can observe, assess and measure it.

The first runnings from the still (foreshots) and tails (feints) are returned for re-distillation with the next batch of low wines. The "middle cut" is collected by the stillman, only when he is personally satisfied that it has reached a high enough standard.

Scotch grain whisky is made from wheat or maize which is first cooked under pressure in order that the cereal starches can be broken down into fermentable sugars. The cereals can then be combined with a proportion of malted barley in the mash tun and mixed with boiling water to produce the sugary liquid known as wort.

The resultant wort is fermented to produce the wash which then passes into the massive, continuously operating, two-columned Coffey or patent still. The skills of the still-man, required to judge the moment at which the Scotch malt and the Scotch grain spirit is ready to be collected, are crucial to the art of distilling.

Once the quality has been approved, the malt and grain new make spirit is ready to be filled into a variety of specially selected oak casks for the long period of maturation in cool, dark warehouses. Now time begins to work its miracle. The quality of the casks is carefully monitored because the new spirit is to gain character and colour from the wood in which it rests. Some casks will previously have been used to mature oloroso, fino or amontillado sherries; some will have contained bourbon and some will be oak. The type of cask used for maturation will have been determined by the master blender who is seeking a particular character and continuity of the whisky.

Only after a minimum of three years maturation can the new make spirit be legally defined as Scotch whisky. In practice, most Scotch whisky matures for much longer - from five to fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years and sometimes longer. It is this lingering period during which Scotland's cool, clean air steals through the porous oak of the casks and charms their contents, contributing further to the smooth and golden character of each distillery's unique creation.A proportion of the whisky in each cask evaporates annually and is lost to the heavens. This is known as the "angels share".

The greatest proportion of Scotch whisky produced in Scotland is consumed in blended form. The highly complex task of creating a marriage of single malt and single grain whiskies to make a blended whisky, is the responsibility of the master blender.


The art of blending is to produce a blended Scotch whisky, which is different from others, a little more subtle, a little more complex than the individual whiskies which have gone into the blend.

A blend is a careful and judicious combination of anything from fifteen to fifty single whiskies of varying ages, compiled to a highly secret formula. The master blender will have spent long years mastering and perfecting the art of "nosing".

For this most important of tasks, his equipment is simple - a tulip shaped glass, which will best capture the aroma of the whisky, and fresh water, which he adds to the whisky for nosing.His acute sense of smell enables him to determine which whiskies will combine successfully with others, and those which will fight. Keeping the incompatible apart is all part of the blender's skill.Once the blender has selected his single whiskies, he will nose them as new spirit fresh from the stills, to ensure they are up the required standard. He will continue to nose them throughout maturation, until he is content that they should be taken forward.

Eventually, all of the selected whiskies are brought together, pumped into vats, and then back into casks where they will rest for a further period of up to six to eight months. This is known as the "marriage" - the period during which each component whisky harmonises with the others.

When a bottle of Scotch whisky bears an age statement on the label, that is the age of the youngest whisky in the blend.

Upon completion of the marriage period, the whisky is ready for bottling. The blender will nose it again, once it is reduced to the alcoholic strength required for bottling, to ensure that the quality of the blend is consistent with all the others he has produced over the years.

Once it is finally bottled, Scotch whisky has reached the end of its long journey down the years in perfect condition, ready to be dispatched to whisky lovers around the world.


Grape Varieties

The Aligoté is a medium-fine plant which has a long history in Burgundy. A fairly vigorous white grape, its berries are larger and more numerous than those of the Chardonnay and, consequently, it is higher-yielding. It can be found almost anywhere in soils which, though good for vines, suit neither the Pinot Noir nor the Chardonnay. The wine made from it isn't sold under the name of the village where it is grown (with the sole exception of Bouzeron), but goes under the official name Bourgogne Aligoté. It can also provide one of the ingredients for sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne.

The most fashionable white grape variety in Spain. These aromatic, flinty wines from Galicia are now becoming more widely known as a perfect accompaniment to the seafood this green Northern province is famous for. When yields are kept low, and the fresh aromas of the grapes are preserved, the wines are distinctive and perfumed.

This relatively late ripening variety is grown most widely in the Monferrato hills in Piemonte, north-west Italy. Its principle characteristic is its high levels of natural acidity, even when fully ripe, making it a popular choice in hot climates such as Argentina and California‘s Central Valley. Once known as the ‘people‘s wine‘ of Piemonte due to its versality and abundant production, Barbera produces wines which are a deep, ruby red colour with full body, low tannins and pronounced acidity. Barbera d‘Alba, Barbera d‘Asti and Barbera del Monferrato are the three most famous DOCs with the best vineyard sites in Asti given to Barbera (rather than Nebbiolo as is the case in Alba). Much remains still to be done here, however, in terms of matching variety to terroir. Experimentation with new oak has led to significant changes in the character of Barbera, adding a spiciness and certain amount of tannin which helps to firm up its structure and soften the acidity. This fuller, richer style of Barbera will most likely remain the exception, however, rather than become the rule.

Black Muscat
Black Muscat, another under appreciated muscat variety, is known in Europe as a table grape variety, Muscat Hamburg, one of the very few black skinned muscats. If ripened to about 25 brix, it attains a rose-like aroma and litchi like flavor. This rose-like aroma led us to name the wine Elysium, Greek for heaven. Drinking this, you can almost feel you have fallen into a rose garden and been transported to heaven.


A late ripening red grape variety which could, according to Jancis Robinson, be called the bane of the European wine industry. It produces wine high in everything - acidity, tannin, bitterness, colour - everything other than elegance and finesse. It was planted in great quantities in the south of France in the 1960s due to its ability to produce huge yields for a thirsty but indiscriminate market. Despite the EU vine pull scheme, much Carignan still exists today, mainly in the Languedoc (Aude and the Herault), although most AOCs are steadily decreasing the proportion of the variety that they use in their blends, favouring instead on varieties such as Syrah and Mouvedre. Only the oldest, lowest yielding and best situated Carignan bushvines of Minervois and Corbieres are capable of producing deeply concentrated and characterful wines. The variety is also used, with much better results, in Spain, especially in Priorat where it is usually blended with Garnacha.

Until phylloxera arrived in Bordeaux in 1870 and promptly powered its destructive way through the vines, Carmenère was, along with Cabernet Franc, one of the most planted varieties in the region. After replanting began (with grafted vines to avoid phylloxera) and the growers wearily began experimenting with new rootstocks from overseas, it was discovered that Carmenère ripened more irregularly when grafted, so plantings were gradually phased out. Now it is barely seen in Bordeaux. It has, however, been discovered to have been thriving in phylloxera-free Chile all along, where, since it arrived in the 19th Century, they have thought it was Merlot. Chile is now the world‘s Carmenère powerhouse. Prone to develop a green and vegetal note unless ripened over a long, warm season, it produces wines with rich, black fruit, warm spiciness and enticing, savoury complexity.

The Chardonnay is also considered a Burgundian grape and has been for centuries. It is responsible for the prestige of the great white wines of the Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Chablis districts. (In Chablis it is locally known as the Beaunois grape.) It produces handsome bunches of golden berries about the same size as the Pinot grapes but more elongated and less densely packed. Though the grapes are small, they are rich in deliciously sweet white juice. The leaves can be recognised by the thick veins either side of the indentation where the stalk joins the leaf (sinus petiolaris).
Whenever fledgling wine regions have sought to establish themselves on the international stage they have planted Chardonnay. It is everywhere - from England to India and everything in between. The vanilla-scented, creamy examples which sparked such demand in the 1980‘s have moved on, but Chardonnay still has endless possibilities ranging from crisp and flinty, biscuity and toasty to unctuous and buttery. From easy drinking through to super-serious, there are few grapes which reflect so clearly the climate in which they‘re grown or the hands of the winemaker.

Corvina is an Italian variety grown predominantly in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. Corvina is blended with several other grapes to create the classic wines from this region - Bardolino and Valpolicella, plus Amarone and Recioto. When vinified fresh (ie not dried), it usually produces medium bodied wines with a light crimson colouring, sour cherry notes and a classic slight bitter cherry and almond twist on the finish. The small berries of Corvina are low in tannins and colour extract but have thick skins that are ideal for drying and protecting the grape from rot (for Amarone and Recioto). Ripasso wines are made from corvina made using a traditional Veronese practice Traditionally, the young wine was re-fermented on the skins of the Amarone grapes once they had finished fermenting in March. The new, more expensive approach is to ferment the young wine together with dried grapes in the January following the vintage, giving the wine more body and depth. This blend of modern and traditional winemaking produces a wine with a combination of freshness, structure and depth that is fairly rare among Ripasso wines. Following fermentation, the wine is aged for just over a year in a mixture of large oak and small, French oak barrels prior to bottling.

The grape for Gavi, one of Italy‘s best known whites, Cortese is grown almost exclusively in Piemonte, particularly around Alessandria. Usually vinified unoaked, at its best, it is aromatic but minerally, with good acidity even when fully ripe. It is also seen in Lombardy and the Veneto where the resulting wines are crisp and fresh.

Chenin Blanc
The world knows this chameleon variety in two guises. Supermarket shelves swell with easy-drinking, citrussy white wine from fertile valley floors in California and South Africa on the one hand while on the other, Chenin Blanc can be a honeyed elixir in varying degrees of sweetness from small village appellations in the Loire Valley. This is the traditional home of Chenin Blanc, where the mists rising from the Loire in the mornings envelop the vines and induce the onset of the mould Botrytis (noble rot) whose own characters meld with Chenin‘s acacia-and-straw flavours to create wines with complex flavours, bright acidity and outstanding capacity to age. Chenin can range from dry and intensely mineral in appellations like Anjou and Savennières, to lusciously sweet and honeyed.

Cabernet Sauvignon
How to introduce the most widely-known red grape in the world? Now planted nearly everywhere there are vines, growers the world over know that its distinctive black fruit flavours are a sure sell in export markets. Fairly low maintenance, it flourishes wherever there is warmth and sunlight. The coolest of marginal climates give green, capsicum flavours; in warmer climates the fruit flavours become richer and blacker, with a savoury ‘graphite‘ edge. Despite having been accused of encouraging homogeneity in international wine styles, it undeniably produces some of the greatest red wines in the world.

Cabernet Franc
Originally a native to the southwest of France, this is both parent to, and overshadowed by, the illustrious Cabernet Sauvignon. Although more prevalent on the right bank of the Gironde, Cabernet Franc has become viewed as the ‘insurance‘ grape of Bordeaux; it ripens earlier and is less susceptible to poor weather than the major Bordeaux varieties. This makes it suitable for cooler climes like the Loire Valley, where it has thought to have been grown since the sixteenth century. The Bordeaux connection has led it to be planted in most well-established world wine regions - albeit usually in the shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon - and used as a blending partner, although it is gathering credence for single varietal wines in Northern and Central Italy and Eastern Europe. The gentle growing season in cooler regions gives wines with lightish body, distinctive freshness and a mix of floral, red fruit and capsicum flavours; on the warmer Tuscan Maremma, the most southerly of these regions, it gains body and darker fruit character.

Dolcetto‘s name derives from its sweetness (compared to the other classic Piemontese varieties) which is emphasised by naturally low acidity and counterbalanced by often robust tannins. The counterpart of Barbera, which is high in acitidy, relatively low in tannins and lighter coloured, Dolcetto is often vinified in a light, frothing, youthful style and drunk in the first couple of years of bottling. A deeply-coloured, early-ripening variety, grown in Piemonte around Cuneo and Alessandria, it is usually planted in the sites which are not warm enough to ripen Piemonte‘s celebrated Nebbiolo grape.

Also known as Falanghina Greco, this is an ancient white variety from Campania, in southern Italy. With modern winemaking technology, it can now produce interesting, aromatic wines which are usually unoaked.

This is an interesting variety grown in southern Italy and responsible for Fiano di Avellino from Campania. With an attractive texture, sometimes with a silky, waxy character, it is less aromatic than Greco di Tufo but with more subtle aromas. It is also planted in Puglia and in the McLaren Vale in South Australia.

Frappato is used most notably as 40% of the blend to produce the D.O.C. Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Vittoria is located in south east Italy with an excellent micro-climate allowing late-ripening of the red grapes. The wines are characteristically fresh and distinguished by red fruit flavours. Cerasuolo is generally light ruby-red in colour, and bursting with aromas of berries - bilberry, blackberry and raspberry - bright, light, but persistent on the palate, juicily oozing a hedgerow of summer fruits. ‘Pithos’ from COS displays the personality of the Frappato grape with its exuberant expression of violets and raspberry blossom. The mouth is floral, warm and supple, the berry fruit flavours complemented by soft tannins, The Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classica from the same estate - a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola is in the same idiom but with greater definition and vivid minerality. The wines from this region are medium-bodied with moderate tannin; the COS wines unusually see no oak - the Pithos is fermented in traditional clay amphorae and other wines are fermented and aged in cement tanks. Freisa Pronounced as in when you’ve drained the last drop of this pale Piedmonteaser then Freisa has definitely left the building this grape variety is grown in the Piedmont region of north-west Italy, primarily Monferrato and in the Langhe, but also further north in the provinces of Turin and Biella. Synonyms for Freisa include Monferrina, Monfreisa, Fessietta, Freisa di Chieri, Fresa Freisa and Spannina.

The Gamay grape takes its name from a hamlet belonging to the village of Saint-Aubin, near Puligny-Montrachet. It is mentioned in a number of 14th-century written sources. It's a quite heavy-cropping plant with grape bunches more or less tightly-packed according to variety. The variety which concerns us here is the white-juiced black Gamay which, growing on the granitic soils of the Beaujolais hills, produces attractive, delicate and aromatic red wines (though on the clay-limestone soils of the Côte d'Or it yields only rougher wines). It is to this plant that the red wines of the Mâconnais and Beaujolais owe their reputation.

Greco Bianco is grown primarily in southern Italy and is assumed to be of Greek origin. In Campania it produces Greco di Tufo, which at its best is delicately perfumed, with an apricot fragrance and style reminiscent of good quality Viognier.

Other ‘aromatic‘ grapes pale into insignificance! Distinctive even on sight, its pink skin gives it one of the deepest hues in the white wine spectrum. Once tasted, Gewürztraminer is unmistakeable, with an aroma of ripe lychees and Turkish delight, many newcomers to wine find it the first grape they can identify. In too warm a climate it races to over-ripeness at the expense of acidity, so it is well suited to the established regions of Alsace and Germany, with cooler sites such as the Clare Valley in Australia or maritime New Zealand producing exciting examples as well.

Though the world is more familiar with its French name (Grenache), Garnacha probably originated in the North of Spain. It is now found, under a host of regional names, in Sardinia (as Cannonau), Greece, Israel, North Africa, France, Spain and Cyprus. Adoring the Mediterranean sun, it can accumulate up to 16 degrees of potential alcohol while still on the vine. It thrives in hot, dry and windy conditions grown as a bush vine. Less typically for a warm climate grape it has a thin skin. This means it lacks, at least at normal yields, the depth of colour for many red wines, but makes it well-suited to soft and fruity rosés and rosatos. The concentrated fruit from old, low-yielding vines like those in Priorat and Châteauneuf-du-Pape can, however, give wines of powerful intensity and deep colour, which demand cellaring. Garnacha‘s affinity for hot hillsides has also led it to California and Australia, where it was the most-planted grape until it was overtaken by Shiraz in the 1960‘s.

Gamay is Beaujolais - few are the wine regions whose identities are so tied up with their grapes. 99% of the Beaujolais vineyard area - a fifth of all France‘s - is planted with the grape. Here it reaches the pinnacle of its reputation as a light bodied, intensely fruity, racily acid wine often released quickly and intended for early, preferably summertime, drinking. It is bush-trained in order to keep its buoyant growth in check and often vinified by carbonic maceration. Some producers in the more distinguished villages vinify traditionally to give wines of greater structure and more restrained fruit. Gamay is also grown throughout Eastern Europe, the Loire Valley, Savoie, Italy and Switzerland.

Garnacha Tintorera
A synonym for Alicante Bouschet, Garnacha Tintorera is a red-fleshed grape variety grown in Spain whose name derives from the Spanish for ‘dyer‘ (tintorera). It is not the same as Garnacha (Grenache), but is a cross, bred by Henri Bouschet, from Petit Bouschet and Grenache. The resulting wine is more deeply coloured than white fleshed varieties. Also grown as Alicante, in Corsica, Tuscany, Calabria, Israel and N Africa, there are still reasonable quantities produced in the hot Central Valley of Spain.

Gros Manseng
Jurançon, in the foothills of the Atlantic Pyrenees, is the true home of the Gros Manseng grape. The distinguishing characteristic of this variety is its scything acidity, and it is not fanciful to perceive the purity and freshness as part and parcel of its mountain environment. For all that Jurancon has a long growing season and is one of the sunniest wine growing climates in France. This enables the grapes to reach maturity and acquire aromatic ripe citrus flavours.

Grüner Veltliner
Grüner Veltliner is famous as Austria‘s most widely planted variety but is now gaining respect in other regions as far afield as New Zealand. A late ripener, it is at its best in the Austrian regions of Wachau and Kamptal areas where in the hands of winemakers such as Loimer and Heinrich, it produces full-bodied and lively wines, with characteristic white pepper and spice notes.

Lagrein is a red variety grown in the Alto Adige area of northern Italy where it may be produced as a single variety, with a characteristic hint of bitterness on the finish, with good tannins and colour, or blended with Pinot Nero/Pinot Noir or Schiava. Winemaking techniques have now made the wine more approachable when young, with rounded, less astringent notes and the emphasis on its attractive fragrant character. The variety was mentioned as early as the 17th century in the records of the Muri Benedictine monastery near Bolzano in the Alto Adige.

Generally accepted to be of ancient Greek origin, shipped to Italy by the Venetian trading ships, the name Malvasia is believed to be a corruption of Monemvasia, the busy, southern Greek trading port of the Middle Ages. Widely planted in various different guises across Iberia and Italy, Malvasia can produce a wide range of styles, from sweet white to dry red wines. As Malvasia Fina or Boal, in the Douro, it is a key element of dry white port whereas in Madeira, its name was corrupted to Malmsey by English drinkers who for a long time favoured the richer, sweeter style of Madeira. As Malvasia del Chianti in Tuscany, it is an important variety in Vin Santo, made from slowly fermented dried grapes. As Malvasia Bianca in the Abruzzi area of Italy, it has a delicately fragrant quality, with notes of peach and liquorice, blending well with more buttery varieties such as Chardonnay. Malvasia delle Lipari is distinctive sweet wine from dried grapes produced in the windswept Aeolian Islands off Sicily.

In the past Marsanne was usually referred to in the same breath as its traditional blending partner, Roussanne, but it is now widely produced as an aromatic, ripe and full-bodied white wine in its own right. Modern vinification techniques have helped preserve its honeysuckle and almond perfumes while keeping its naturally low acidity as crisp as possible. Still most prevalent in the northern Rhône, it is made in limited quantities in Australia and California where blending it with fresher varieties such as Roussanne and Viognier is the norm.

Melon de Bourgogne
Burgundian in origin, Melon or Melon de Bourgogne is the grape from which Muscadet is made. With good resistance to relatively low temperatures, it produces a crisp, dry white which when well-made, is lightly floral, lively and fresh. Merlot Few grapes have been as enthusiastically embraced by wine producers worldwide as Merlot. It‘s earliest records place it on Bordeaux‘s ‘right bank‘ where the largest plantings are are still found. However, its soft, approachable nature means it has been planted extensively elsewhere. More tolerant of cooler growing conditions than Cabernet Sauvignon, there is great demand for its low-tannin, plummy Chilean incarnation as well as more demanding styles from low-yielding, well-placed vineyards across the world.

Now proven to have no relation to Cabernet Franc, low yields, the right soils and good vinification are now resulting in interesting wines made from the Mencia variety. Most widely planted in northwestern Spain, particularly Bierzo, it can produce wines which are appealingly full-bodied and concentrated, with attractive ripe berry characters supported by a good solid tannin structure, frequently softened by oak-ageing.

Not to be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano which is not made from this variety, Montepulciano takes over from Sangiovese as the predominant black grape variety moving down into southern Tuscany and beyond. A late ripener, it is not grown further north but thrives in the warm climate of the Abruzzi, the Marche and further south. In the past, its deep colour and plummy, chocolate and dark cherry character made it ideal as a blending wine for naturally lighter coloured varieties such as Sangiovese, but now it is more frequently produced as a single varietal.

Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains is considered to be the best quality Muscat and is known as Moscato Bianco in Italy. Planted all over Italy and much of France, both are used to produce sweet wines, often relatively low in alcohol (as for Moscato d‘Asti) or from dried or semi-dried grapes. Believed to be the oldest cultivated wine grape, it is thought, like Malvasia, to have originated from Greece and is still grown there. Its small berries are intensely perfumed, with a characteristic sherbety, grapey quality when vinified fresh and a luscious, orange blossom character when vinified dried. Australia‘s Liqueur Muscats are made from the same variety, known as Brown Muscat. . Muscat d`Alexandria Different from Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains or Moscato Bianco, Muscat d‘Alexandria is known as Zibibbo in Sicily where it is best known for producing Moscato di Pantelleria. Grown in France in the Roussillon, it is the still the primary variety for Muscat de Rivesaltes although in some cases is being gradually supplanted by the superior Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains.

Believed to be native to either Piemonte or Lombardia in northern Italy, Nebbiolo is responsible for producing some of Italy’s best known wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco. The grape’s characteristic tannin structure, marked acidity and often pale, ruby colour divide the wine world into those who do and those who don’t ‘do’ Nebbiolo. Akin to Pinot Noir in some respects, especially in the emotional response it triggers in many wine drinkers, it is demanding in the cellar and vineyard. It is low yielding and prefers calcareous marl soils with sunny slopes and good exposure. It buds early and ripens late, making it more susceptible to early frost and wet autumns. It is usually the latest variety to be picked in Piemonte, with the harvest sometimes stretching into November. In the cellar, winemakers have struggled for an eternity to soften the tannins of Nebbiolo. This struggle led to the ‘style wars’ in Barolo and Barbaresco in the 1980s and 1990s, when the so called modernists and tradtionalists argued as to the best way of vinifying and ageing Nebbiolo. With time, and better viticulture, today’s best producers have taken the best practices from both camps, ensuring that the wines now being produced are of outstanding quality. The grape’s name is thought to derive from ‘nebbia’, the Italian for fog, as the suggestive of the weather in late October when it is traditionally harvested. Some hold that the earliest mention is in AD1, when a wine from Pollenzo (just north of today’s Barolo zone) was described by Pliny the Elder. Outside Italy, it is cultivated to some extent in California, Australia’s Adelaide Hills and a little in Argentina, but its greatest wines are produced in the rolling Langhe hills. In addition to Barolo and Barbaresco, it also produces Langhe Nebbiolo (usually from younger or less auspiciously sited vines) and Nebbiolo d’Alba. North of Torino, in the tiny area of Carema, Nebbiolo, known locally as Picutener, is the primary variety. Nebbiolo grown in northern Piemonte, in the provinces of Novarra and Vercelli, produces distinctly different wines to those from the Langhe. The marine sand soils on igneous rocks are very high in acid and result in wines that have softer tannins than those in the Langhe. Until the early part of the 20th century, there was more area under vine in these two provinces than in the Langhe. Nebbiolo, here known as Spanna, was the major variety in wines such as Lessona, Gattinara, Bramaterra, Ghemme, Boca, Sizzano and Fara. Some of these wines are today being hauled back from the brink of extinction and Nebbiolo, still the predominant variety, is being supplemented by local varieties like Vespolina, Bonarda and Croatina. There are two distinct sub-varieties of Nebbiolo: Lampia and Michet. Rose, once thought to be a sub-variety, is now known, thanks to DNA profiling, to be a separate variety, though one that is related to Nebbiolo. The new clones developed by the University of Torino, particularly 71 and 66, are highly prized by quality conscious producers for their low vigour. Clones 385 and 423, from Picutener, have thicker skins, and are also sought after. .

Malbec or Cot
Malbec is Argentina's flagship variety, and the country has the largest Malbec acreage in the world. This variety originally comes from South West France, where it is called Cot and features a hard, tannic style. Due to its intense color and dark hues, wines obtained from this variety were once called “the black wines of Cahors.” These wines consolidated their prestige in the Middle Ages and gained full recognition in modern times. The conquest of the English market was a crucial step for the success of Cahors wines in England and around the world. In 1852, Malbec was brought to Argentina by Michel A. Pouget, a French agronomist who was hired by the Argentine government. When phylloxera destroyed French viticulture towards the end of the 19th century, the “Cot” fell into oblivion. However, a culture of appreciation of Malbec had already consolidated. Malbec in particular adapts quickly to the varied terroirs offered by Argentina’s landscape and begins to produce wines better than in its original land.Argentina became the only country to have original Malbec vines of true French heritage.

Negroamaro is planted primarily in southern Puglia on the eastern half of the Salento peninsula. It is the predominant variety in the DOCs for Salice Salentino, Copertino, Brindisi, Leverano, and Squinzano. It is later ripening than Primitivo, with higher acid and more evident tannins. These tannins have tended to be softened by the addition of the more perfumed and delicate Malvasia Nera to the blend. Mark Shannon of A Mano says that the name Negroamaro, which is said to have been brought to Puglia by the colonizing Greeks in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., is derived from Latin and Greek roots for its dark colour; nigra in Latin and mavro in Greek, citing one of the grape‘s synonyms, Nigramaro, as evidence.

Nero d`Avola
Nero d‘Avola is Sicily‘s most widely planted red grape variety. According to Alberto Antonini, it has many similarities with Syrah. Like Syrah, it greatly benefits from low vigour soil, a warm climate and low vine training. The best examples are deep coloured and full bodied with a damson and chocolate character, high levels of tannins and decent acidity. While Nero d‘Avola‘s home is thought to be in Sicily, one of its synonyms, Calabrese, suggests that it might have been brough to Sicily from Calabria. However, there is a small town near Pachino in southeastern Sicily called Avola, so some connection between the two must be assumed. Pachino was once as famous for its deep coloured blending wine as it is today for the quality of its tomatoes. Nero d‘Avola‘s transition from a blender sought after for its colour, to a variety that is making some of Sicily‘s best reds has been quick, so the variety would seem to promise more than it has yet delivered.

Pedro Ximénez
A white grape often associated with Jerez in Andalucía, but has now been almost all replaced by Palomino Fino. The vast majority of Pedro Ximénez comes from Montilla-Moriles further inland and its main role is as an imported sweetening agent in blended Sherry. The tiny hectarage which remains in Jerez is used to produce high-quality, intensely viscous, unctuously sweet varietal wine with dark raisiny flavours and an immediately seductive, silky mouthfeel.

Petit Manseng
Predictably, this is the smaller cousin to Gros Manseng of Jurançon. It is native to the area of southwestern France between Gascony and the Pyrenees, although plantings are now cropping up in California and parts of Australia. It is particularly suitable for sweet wines, producing compact bunches of tiny, thick-skinned grapes which are hardy enough to hang on to the vine well into the Autumn, letting the sugars concentrate as they dry and shrivel. The tiny quantities of ultra-sweet juice make spicy, floral, characterful wines with high levels of acidity.

Petite Sirah
Developed in the 1870s in France’s Rhône region where it is known as Durif or Petite Sirah, this grape variety is more commonly known by its slightly anglicized synonym, Petite Sirah -- particularly in California. The result of a cross between the noble Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin, Durif was developed to resist Powdery Mildew, to which Syrah is susceptible. Although mildew-resistant, the tightly-bunched variety was vulnerable to gray rot in the humid southern Rhône. Fortunately, the grape has adapted well to the drier climates of California, and to those of northeastern Victoria, in Australia. In fact, the grape has succeeded better abroad than in its south of France birthplace, where it is now almost extinct. Its small berries, and consequently high skin-to-juice ratio, allow Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannin levels, surprisingly high acidity, and thus the ability to age. Characteristically, these wines have dense blackberry fruit character, mixed with black pepper notes.

Petit Verdot
One of Bordeaux‘s classic black varieties, used to add spice, richness, tannin and colour to some of the best wines of the Medoc. It ripens even later than Cabernet Sauvignon so tends to only be used in the ripest vintages but its thick skins make it as resistant to rot, and it is capable of producing wines of huge concentration, power and finesse. In warmer climates such as Argentina, California and Australia, it has had notable success, both as single varietal wines and as part of blends.

This grape‘s unusual name is a corruption of an earlier one ‘piquepoul‘, meaning ‘lipstinger‘, a reference to the wine‘s steely core of acidity. Native to and grown exclusively in France‘s Languedoc region it has shot to popularity on top UK wine lists in recent years. Although it comes in Noir and Gris variations these are rarely seen outside France. As well as being the namesake of the popular appellation Picpoul de Pinet, in the Midi it is used as a blending ingredient for Vermouth. When care is taken in the vineyard and winery, Picpoul is citrussy and fresh with pronounced minerality, making it delicious with seafood.

Pinot Blanc/Pinot Bianco
It may be a white mutation of the popular Pinot Gris, yet Pinot Blanc has not achieved the same adulation as its star counterpart, and the nearest it gets to a leading role is in some parts of northern Italy and Alsace. It makes subtle yet bright, fresh wines that resemble a milder version of Chardonnay and are highly drinkable and food-friendly. In Alsace (where it is also called Klevner), Pinot Blanc can display a touch of spice with its rounded, creamy fruit, and is often used in the production of base wines for Crémant d’Alsace. In Italy, as Pinot Bianco, the wines are lighter and more minerally, with some apple and pear character. The variety is also planted in Germany and Austria (as Weissburgunder), eastern Europe and California, but has been largely ignored by the rest of the New World in preference for Chardonnay.

Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
Going by its Italian name, this is the UK‘s number one wine and enjoying roaring popularity. One of the many offspring of the genetically irresponsible Pinot Noir, the grape skins vary from grey to pink, which, if macerated, gives a coppery hue to the wine. Between 1990 and 2000, plantings of Pinot Grigio in Italy almost doubled. The vast majority of production comes from fertile plains in the Veneto in the north-east of the country, where often grapes are picked early to retain their acidity and before much flavour has time to develop. To some, this is all that white wine should be, crisp, mineral and spritzy; but further north in Friuli Venezia-Guilia and the Alto Adige, later harvests and lower yields ensure that the grape‘s unique flinty, gunsmoke and delicate pear fruit emerges. These wines are subtle, elegant and characterful. In the grape‘s other homeland of Alsace it goes by the name of Pinot Gris. Here, huddled in the sun behind the Vosges Mountains, it can develop deep colour and mouthfeel bordering on the oily. This is a grape with a remarkable adaptability - successful and delicious versions can now be found from such diverse regions as Transylvania, New Zealand, and much of Eastern and Northern Europe.

Pinot Meunier
A mutation of Pinot Noir, the dependable, late budding Pinot Meunier is prized especially in Champagne, where it is one of only three permitted varieties along with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is grown particularly on the north facing slopes of the damp, frost-prone Vallee de la Marne and the Aisne area. Its reliability has led to it being the most widely planted varietal in the region, covering approximately 40% of total vineyard area. It contributes youthful fruitiness to the traditional three-grape blend, complementing Pinot Noir‘s weight and Chardonnay‘s finesse.

Pinot noir
Ever since wine has been made in Burgundy, it is the Pinot Noir on which the fame of her great red wines depends. It produces compact, purplish-black grape bunches whose berries contain an abundance of sweet, colourless juice. The leaves, dark green on their upper side and a lighter green below are thick, as wide as they are long, and divided into three or five lobes whose incisions vary in depth according to the fertility of the particular plant. NB: the juice of the Pinot Noir is, as we have said, colourless, which explains why juice from the same grape is used in the making of champagne. In Burgundy, the skins (which contain the colouring matter) are macerated in the fermenting vats along with the juice, and it is this that gives the wines their attractive red hue.


Whether the South Africans like it or not, Pinotage is South Africa‘s native grape. Like Frankenstein‘s monster, it was spawned by a scientist in a laboratory and subsequently reviled in the land that created it. The scientist was Professor A.I. Perold, who created it by crossing Cinsault and Pinot Noir in 1925; Cinsault was then known as Hermitage, hence Pinotage. His aim was to replicate the flavours of Pinot Noir but with Cinsault‘s compliance in the vineyard. The latter he achieved, but Pinotage‘s unique flavours have proved divisive ever since. Not recognisably like any European grape, this variety has risen and tumbled with the whims of fashion, but plantings have gradually increased to 6.7% of South Africa‘s total vineyard area. The best examples come from low-yielding, old vines. With careful handling in the winery, these can be powerfully fruity, dark, long lived with a distinctive smoky character; whereas poorly made wines can exhibit a coarse, paint-like aroma which has led to some doubting the grape‘s potential for quality. For these reasons the rest of the vinegrowing world has been cautious to adopt Pinotage.

Primitivo can trace its lineage from the ancient Phoenicians who settled in the province of Apulia (Puglia), the heel of Italy’s boot. It is called Primitivo for its propensity to ripen before all other varietals. If made well, Primitivo tends to be juicy, well structured, and concentrated, with aromas and flavours of ripe blackberries, violets and pepper. (see Zinfandel)

Responsible for the highly popular sparkling wine from the Veneto, Prosecco is usually vinified fully sparkling or ‘frizzante‘ using the Charmat method and is Venice‘s favourite aperitif. Riesling A variety with plenty of nominations for the title of ‘greatest white grape variety in the world‘, Riesling has however, despite the wine trade‘s love affair with this grape, failed to capture the affection of the wine-drinking public outside its homeland in the same way as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Its inimitable, unique flavour is hard to describe and takes time to appreciate, however, few varieties have its capacity to reflect the land in which they‘re grown along with its own distinctive character, visible decades after bottling. Full of limey, green-apple fruit in its heartland of Germany and lean citrus notes in the Clare Valley in Australia, with the unmistakeable ‘kerosene‘ note in warmer climates, it is capable of greatness whether bone-dry, zestily off-dry or lusciously sweet.

It could be argued that Riesling is the world’s most undervalued grape variety. Not only is it often mispronounced (Reece-ling is correct) but it is also frequently misunderstood. Part of this misunderstanding is certainly linked to Riesling’s sheer diversity. Its wines can range from bone dry to off-dry to lusciously sweet; they can be sparkling or still and be high or low in alcohol. Moreover, it has its own very distinctive character which varies immensely, according to where it is grown. Unfortunately, this diversity has often been left unexplored and underdeveloped. Instead, in the case of German examples in particular, wines too low in flavour and high in residual sugar have all too often been produced, tarnishing the variety’s reputation. For years Riesling has been the sweetheart of the wine trade, with sommeliers and chefs finding endless food matches for its diverse styles and the trade in general proclaiming that they drink nothing but Riesling at home. The same enthusiasm for the variety is not, however, shared by the majority of consumers. Whereas other international varieties have mostly found their niche, be it by country, in the case of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or style, in the case of oaked or unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling has failed to establish itself. This has perhaps led to confusion among consumers who never really know what to expect when they open a bottle.

A member of the clutch of Rhône valley white grapes, and one half of the tag team behind white Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph and St-Péray. For many years it has been on the bench in these blends, however, as many growers steered away from it in favour of its less troublesome and more productive partner Marsanne. Roussanne gives very low, irregular yields and is prone to fungal diseases. However, its intriguing, slightly herbal aroma hinting of hawthorn and white peach has led to an upsurge in interest, and varietal wines as well as Rhône-styled blends are now made in California and Australia. High quality Roussanne-dominated wines have the potential to age gracefully for many years.

Sangiovese dominates red wine making in central Italy. Its name is said to derive from ‘sanguis Jovus’, or the ‘blood of Jove’. Giacomo Tachis once said that the story of Tuscan wine is the story of Sangiovese and the way in which it has adapted to different soils and climates. This story has become all the more compelling in the past two decades as the higher yielding clones of the post war years, planted in lesser sites (as volume was prized over quality in the 1950s, a time when there was a shortage of wine) have given way to lower vigour clones with smaller berries and looser bunches. The last two decades have seen it emerge as one of the greatest grapes of the peninsula, especially as top producers like Isole e Olena, Fontodi, Costanti and others have used a massal rather than a clonal selection to re-plant their vineyards. This gives them clones that perform well in their own soil and climate, an important consideration with an unstable and temperamental variety like Sangiovese. It is far more sensitive to site, and far less clonally stable, than other temperamental varieties like Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. Better clones, better vineyard management, lower yields and a more discerning eye to quality have all resulted in a proliferation of high quality wines emerging from Chianti. The rest of the world has noticed, and promising plantings, with the newer clones, can now also be found in California and Australia‘s Heathcote region.

Sauvignon Blanc
Few white grapes are as universally recognisable. While most are content to aim for no more than citrussy simplicity, Sauvignon Blanc is irrepressible. Its intensely green verve, tart fruit and racy acidity have driven plantings in nearly every cool grape-growing region on the globe. Though the south west of France and the more northern Loire Valley both claimed it as their own for many years, it has in the last generation found a new spiritual home in Marlborough, on New Zealand‘s South Island.

Sauvignon Gris
Sauvignon Gris is somewhat of a mystery – it’s a forgotten grape that is a mutation of the better known Sauvignon Blanc. It only counts for 2% of the white grape varieties of Bordeaux (332 hectares). It tends to mature very early and has a high sugar level. The grapes are a beautiful dusky pink/apricot colour and they have thick skins. However the main drawback of Sauvignon Gris is its low yield and at one point it nearly became extinct in Bordeaux. After the phylloxera epidemic the grape became obsolete but in the early 1980s it was rediscovered it in Touraine in the Loire Valley.

Semillon posesses many traits which should endear it to grape growers. It is resistant to many common diseases and it ripens cheerfully to produce, if unchecked, high yields of relatively neutral juice. However, its buttery flavour profile gives it an unfashionable affinity with new oak and its aromatics are muted, especially while young, not characteristics which make it attractive as a varietal wine to the majority of today‘s drinkers. However with age it develops beautifully tertiary flavours of honey and toast and, if picked late in a particularly warm region like the Hunter Valley, tropical notes of mango and apricot. It originated in the south west of France, and the Graves and Sauternes districts of Bordeaux legitimately call it their own. Here it is ceding ground to the trendier Sauvignon Blanc, but it is in botrytis influenced sweet wines like Sauternes and Monbazillac that it achieves greatness.

A potential rival for the crown of ‘world‘s greatest black grape‘, Syrah has emerged relatively recently as one of the most-planted grape varieties worldwide. The two ‘classic‘ regions in which it thrives are the Northern Rhône valley, where it makes fabulous, dense, spicy wines which age majestically for decades, and Australia, to which it was introduced in 1832 by the settler James Busby and goes by the name Shiraz. The two different names usually denote two very different styles. Shiraz has come to be used for richer, blacker wines with more ripe fruit flavour on the mid-palate, while Syrah tends to be used for structure-driven wines with more restrained flavours of black pepper and spice with characteristic black fruit. The grape is thick-skinned and prefers warmer climates, although its flavours tend to degenerate jammily if subjected to too much heat. Excellent examples in the Syrah style can be found in the Languedoc-Roussillon, the Hawkes Bay area of New Zealand and now some cooler parts of Australia; in its Shiraz guise Australia is still the heartland, but is also cultivated in South Africa and California.

The Tannat grape was introduced into Uruguay in 1870 by Basque immigrants and has transformed itself into the “national variety”, adapting itself perfectly to the local soil and climate. Considered an exotic grape variety, demand for Tannat is increasing rapidly. Uruguay is the only country in the world where significant amounts of Tannat are grown, more even than in its native Madiran and Irouléguy in south-west France. Tannat now represents approximately a third of all wine produced in Uruguay. Tannat makes a red wine of intense colour, good aroma and body which is well suited to accompany beef and other red meats. It is a strong wine with a great personality which will surprise you.

Tempranillo/Tinta Roriz
At first glance, the many appellations of Spain‘s and Portugal‘s top red wines are based on an equal number of obscure local grapes. What do the Tinta Roriz of the Douro, Aragónez of the Alentejo, Ull de Llebre of Penedès, Tinta del Toro of Toro, Cencibel of Valdepeñas and Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero have in common? They‘re all genetically the same grape. Thought to have existed in Northern Spain since antiquity, it is there making up the blends in almost all of the Iberian Peninsular‘s great red wines, even to some extent, Port. As Rioja is Spain‘s most successful liquid export, it is understandable that their name for this ubiquitous variety is the one the world has become familiar with. The name comes from its ripening habits; Temprano means ‘early‘, as Tempranillo tends to beat the other Rioja black grapes to the winery by around two weeks. Its thick skins give wines deep colour and longevity, but it doesn‘t race to high levels of potential alcohol like many of its Spanish peers. With an appealing range of uncomplicated flavours and an affinity with oak, it is rapidly being eyed by winemakers in other warm parts of the world, particularly Australia.

Though grapes with confusingly similar names exist around the world, Torrontés arouses excitement because of its potential as Argentina‘s most aromatic white variety. Owing parentage to Muscat of Alexandria, it shares some of that grape‘s floral, lifted appeal. The ready availability of vertiginously high-altitude vineyard sites in Argentina allow it to retain acidity and freshness.

Touriga Franca
The most widely planted black grape of the Douro Valley. Growers in the past favoured its even yields over the tiny bunches offered by Touriga Nacional, so that now it makes up a fifth of plantings there. Despite the name it has no proven link with France. It requires the light and warmth offered by south-facing slopes to ripen fully, giving wines with a powerful aroma of rose petals and mulberries.

Touriga Nacional
In the 1970‘s there was barely any Touriga Nacional growing amongst the other vines in Portugal‘s Douro Valley. Growers would actively avoid it due to its feeble yields, favouring other more productive local black grapes like Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. After realising the grape‘s potential for quality, the Port shippers experimented with clonal selection and different rootstocks in order to coax more from it; these were a success, and now Touriga Nacional‘s intensely heady perfume can be detected in most of the top wines of the Douro. Probably originating from the Dão region to the south, where it must constitue 20% of any red wine bearing the appellation, it is now the most highly regarded constituent grape of Port due to its deep colour, high tannin and concentrated, intense flavours of cassis and violets. Small quantities are being grown in Australia, but bar this Touriga Nacional has yet to travel the vinegrowing world.

Trebbiano di Soave/Ugni Blanc/ Verdicchio
This variety is said to be the same as Verdicchio, and to the Trebbiano used in Lugana, which today is known as Turbiana. Trebbiano di Soave has nothing whatsoever to do with Trebbiano Toscano, which is Ugni Blanc. Trebbiano di Soave, a low yielding variety that was used to augment Garganega‘s perfume, virtually disappeared from the hills of Soave in the 1970s and 1980s. Pieropan was one of the few producers who valued this vine, as others planted Trebbiano Toscano or Chardonnay. It has enjoyed a revival in the last 15 years, as its perfume, texture and acidity are highly prized for the production of top quality Soave. About 20% to 30% of Trebbiano di Soave in a blend with Garganega works well. It peforms best on the basalt soils of Soave Classico. The most widely-planted white grape in France, and is an authorised component in many appellations such as Vin de Pays de Côtes de Gascogne. Wines based on it are light, crisp, zesty and refreshing. The majority of grapes, however, don‘t spend long as wine because Ugni Blanc makes a near-perfect base for distillation, with a naturally high acidity, little aromatic character, delightful compliance in the vineyard and heavy crops. Enormous quantities of neutral wine bubble through the stills of Cognac and Armagnac every year to become those spirits. Genetically it is the same grape as Italy‘s Trebbiano. In all likelihood it arrived in France in the 14th Century, although it didn‘t take over as being the principal distillation grape until Phylloxera all-but wiped out its predecessor, Folle Blanche, in the 19th Century. A classic white grape variety from central Italy grown particularly in the Marche on the east coast. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi to the west of Ancona and Verdicchio di Matelica from hillside vineyards inland are the two major manifestations of Verdicchio. The lower yields and higher altitude vineyards make the Matelica usually of slightly higher quality. It is now made in a fresh, modern style, with none of the ‘governo‘ or fermentation on the skins which used to mask its delicacy. There is a characteristic bitter twist and a lively lemony acidity in the better made wines which give it an extra degree of interest. Known as Trebbiano di Soave further north in the Veneto, and Lugana when grown in Brescia, it was also one of the first Spumante wines made in Italy.

Prior to the late 1980‘s Viognier plantings were confined to south east France, and the Rhône in particular. In centuries past it was a common crop on the plains of the Southern Rhône, but over the years plantings declined as growers favoured higher yielding varieties. However, a spike in world demand for the distinctive, aromatic wine it produces, replete with white stone fruit, blossom and honey, led to a sharp increase in plantings in the late 1980‘s. It is thought to be native to the Northern Rhône where it is traditionally used as a lifting agent in blends, the exception being Condrieu, a varietal appellation. This small commune clinging to the steep west bank of the valley just south of Côte Rôtie produces the world‘s most sought-after Viognier. In the decades since its resurgence, the grape has been planted widely in the Languedoc, producing youthful, floral Vin de Pays, and also in the Americas and parts of Australia where the warmer growing season produces more alcoholic, concentrated examples.

Verdejo vineyards are located in the Segovia area of the Rueda DO which lies between Ribera del Duero to the east and Toro to the west. The old bush vines grow at an altitude of 800m in poor, sandy soils and produce very low yields of top quality Verdejo grapes which show brilliant freshness and excellent levels of natural acidity, rarely found in the grapes sourced from other nearby areas. The climate is continental with long winters, short springs and dry, hot summers.

Viura Known as Macabeo outside Rioja, Viura is a light, fairly neutral variety with a floral character and relatively low acidity which resists oxidation well and is frequently blended with more powerful varieties, both red and white. As Macabeo, it is now widely grown in the Roussillon as well as being northern Spain‘s most planted white grape variety.


Despite it now being discovered that Zinfandel is actually the Primitivo grape of southern Italy, like many of Hollywood‘s greatest stars, being an immigrant hasn‘t kept it from becoming a great national treasure. Brought to California originally on the back of the 1849 gold rush, it became a favourite miners‘ drink. Since then it has proven itself a great adaptor to the fickle American wine market; sweet and pressed quickly it makes the hugely successful ‘blush‘ style, or it can be painstakingly reared expressly for medal-gathering into titanic, alcoholic ‘cult‘ wines. Despite its versatility Zinfandel prefers warm open hillsides and is ideally suited to producing dry, satisfying reds which often share distinctive pruney, raisiny flavours.


Selecting wine by grape

Selecting a wine by grape

Choosing a wine by grape is a very daunting task as there are hundreds of different grape varieties. We have carefully chosen a selection of grape varieties and by clicking on the grape variety a range of wines will be selected.

In the winter it is advised to have heavier wines, big reds such as Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, GrenacheCabernet Sauvignon, TempranilloCarignan and Sangiovese. In whites a rich buttery ChardonnayGewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc from South Africa and Viognier mostly from the Northern Rhone Valley.

In the summer, lighter red wines such as GamayPinot Noir or a light Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot from Chile. For the whites a lighter style such as Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and most Italian whites would be more appropriate.

Ideal as an aperitif or a celebration – Champagne Pinot Noir & Chardonnay is a winner or sparkling wine as a Prosecco from Italy or a Cava from Spain, Vouvray sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley and Cremant de Bourgogne Pinot Noir & Chardonnay from Burgundy.

If you not fussed about bubbles Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc always goes down well with the ladies.

We have carefully chosen a selection from our range:

Malbec -red and rosé wines from Argentina and Cahors  

Riesling -white wines from Alsace, Germany, Austria, New Zealand and Australia 

Gewurztraminer -white wines from Alsace and Chile 

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio -white and rosé wines from Alsace, Italy and New Zealand  

Gamay -red wines from Beaujolais  

Sauvignon Blanc -white wines from the Loire valley, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Italy 

Pinot Noir -red and rosé wines from Burgundy, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, South Africa, USA and Canada  

Chardonnay -white wines from Burgundy such as Chablis, Languedoc-Roussillon, USA, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Italy and Canada 

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon -red wines from Bordeaux 

Cabernet Sauvignon -red wines from Bordeaux, Italy, Languedoc–Roussillon, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa 

Merlot -red and rosé wines from Red Bordeaux mostly Pomerol and St Emilion, Italy, Languedoc–Roussillon, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa 

-sweet white wines from Bordeaux and dry wines from Australia  

-red wines from Italy mainly from Veneto 

-red wines from Italy exclusively from Piedmont 

-red wines from Italy exclusively from Tuscany 

-red wine from Italy mostly from Apulia  

-red and rosé wines from the Southern Rhone, Languedoc-Roussillon and Australia 

Chenin Blanc
-white wines from the Loire Valley and South Africa  

-red, white and rosé wines from USA and Mexico  

-red and rosé wines from the Rhone valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Portugal and South Africa 

Touriga Nacional
 -red wine and port from Portugal  

-red and rosé wines from Spain mostly from Rioja and Ribera del Duero 

Try searching by wine, food or grape and see what results you can come up with.


Selecting food by grape

Selecting food by grape

Selecting food by grape is a daunting task when there are so grape varieties. We have carefully chosen a selection from our range of grape varieties and wine growing areas around the world, By clicking on the grape variety or region/ country a range of wines will be selected.

Beef, notably steak, Stews, game- Malbec -Red wines from Argentina and Cahors  

Oriental, spicy,fish , shellfish, aperitif- Riesling -White wines from Alsace  Germany Austria New Zealand and Australia

Foie gras, paté, asparagus, oriental, spicy- Gewurztraminer -White wines from Alsace Chile and USA

Spicy, fish, shellfish, aperitif- Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris- White wines from Alsace  Italy and New Zealand

Chicken, ham, coq au vin, charcuterie- Gamay -Red wines from Beaujolais

Shellfish, fish, aperitif- Sauvignon Blanc -White wines from Loire Valley  New Zealand Australia and Chile  

Poultry, light game, salmon, tuna, charcuterie beef stews, goats cheese- Pinot Noir -Red wines from Burgundy New Zealand Australia  Chile South Africa USA and Canada

Chicken, Fish, Shellfish, goats cheese, aperitif- Chardonnay -White wines from Burgundy USA  South Africa New Zealand Australia  Chile Italy and Canada

Red meat, game, roasts, soft cheeses, duck, goose, chicken- Syrah / Shiraz -Red wines from The Rhone Valley Southern France USA Australia New Zealand and South Africa

Red meats, mature cheeses - Cabernet Sauvignon - red wines from Bordeaux Italy  Southern France USA Australia New Zealand Chile South Africa

Poultry, light game, salmon, tuna, charcuterie, beef stews, goats cheese- Merlot -Red wines from Bordeaux mostly Pomerol and St Emilion Italy  Southern France  USA  Australia New Zealand Chile South Africa

Aperitif, celebrations, fish, shellfish, desserts- Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend Prosecco Chenin Blanc - try fizz Champagnes , Sparkling wines

Desserts - chocolate- Shiraz or Muscat -Sweet Red wines from USA and Australia

Desserts - cake and fruit tarts- Semillon Muscat Sparkling Moscato Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Blend Chardonnay Sweet white wines from Bordeaux mostly Sauternes Southern France USA

Try searching by wine, food or grape and see what results you can come up with.


Tasting Wine

Tasting is for pleasure, which is what we do every time we open a bottle of wine, requiring nothing more complicated than a moment's concentration and an open mind.

A combination of the senses: sight, smell and taste bring these senses together which makes us appreciate the art of wine tasting. To start our tasting we need a good glass that preferably has a small rim so that it can keep the aromas in the glass. We start by looking at a glass of wine first the thing we see are the tears which trickle down the glass showing us the amount of alcohol in a glass. Wine should be crystal clear and you should be able to see all the shades of colours through the glass. Looking at a glass in front of a white card you can see the colour much more easily.

Lack of clarity makes us aware that if it is cloudy it is a faulty wine or on occasions that the wine have been unfiltered and needs to be decanted. The colour varies greatly depending on the grape variety: the darkest usually being syrah/shiraz in reds and Gewurztraminer in whites; and the lightest is being a pinot noir in reds and pinot blanc in whites. The hue is colour on the edge of the glass showing the age: in reds blue if it is young and age if the colour is orange and yellow if there is oxidation meaning that the wine is off; in whites green if it is young and golden/ yellow with age.

To smell the wine it is best to try and retain as much of the aromas in the glass and to serve the wines at a higher temperature between 15c- 20c. For sparkling wines it is best to serve them at a lower temperature to keep their effervescence. Move the glass around with your hand in a clockwise motion, this creates aeration and then put your nose to the wine to get an idea of the smell, pull back and then again penetrate your nose again further into the glass and take a deep smell. By smelling the wines will indicate if the wine is fresh and clean or corked. By identifying that this could be corked, the smell would be sawdust /cork or damp cloths. This is caused by oxidization in the cork either an infected cork or the cork being dried out. Wines can also smell yeasty or vinegary due mostly to excessive amounts of sulphur or additives in the wine.

A good wine smells of a complexes bouquet of different aromas from fruity to oaky. Finally, it is time to taste the wine. This includes most particularly considering whether the measurements taken by the mouth suggest that the wine is in balance, and monitoring the length of the aftertaste, these last two factors being important indicators of quality. A fine wine should continue to make favorable sensory impressions throughout the entire tasting process. When tasting a wine take a small amount and swill it around your mouth without drinking to take advantage of the flavours. If it tastes of cork, dish clothes or it is fizzy this will mean it is off and it is advised to spit it out. This is a result as mentioned above in the smell section.

The balance involves a harmony of alcoholic strength, acidity residual sugar, tannins and fruit. If wines are very fruity and are high in tannins it means that they are probably very young. If they are high in alcohol with complexes flavours of the forest floor, vanilla, creamy, honey and spice and or sweet it means that there is some bottle age. Please remember as Individuals we vary in our sensitivity to different compounds and dimensions of wine and our brains processes vary which have a different effect on us depending on the state of our palate. So we all taste wines differently!

Enjoy your wine tastings! click here to view our events


Selecting a wine with food

Choosing a wine to suit the occasion depends on the time of year, the type of occasion and food

We have carefully chosen a selection a range of foods and occasions and by clicking on each a range of wines will be selected:

Asparagus - Chardonnay style wines

- Fizzy or dry wine

- Full-bodied red wine

- Mellow red wine

- Robust red wine

- Medium Dry white wine

- Buttery and citrus white wine

Foie gras
- Medium to sweet wine with good acidity

- Mellow red wine

- Only Italian red wine

- Medium-bodied red wine or a buttery white wine

- Mellow Red wine

- Full-bodied red wine

- Light to medium-bodied wine

- Light to medium-bodied wine

- Mellow red wine

Goats cheese
- Dry white wine

Desserts - Chocolate
- Sweet and dry red wine and PX sherry

Desserts - Pies , tarts and cakes
- Sweet wine

- Only Fizz

- Full-bodied red wine

- Robust red wine

- Robust red wine

- Mellow red wine

Shellfish - Bone dry wine

Spicy - Tropical Fruit flavoured white wine

Try searching by wine, food or grape and see what results you can come up with -


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