Well indeed, what a year 2020 has been! Like no other, for sure. But although everyone involved in the world of wine has experienced life in different ways, wine is still there, and has given us all immense pleasure, a snapshot of which was provided by a dozen friends in wine in my last article. So, of necessity my annual review of the preceding year is bound to be a little different. That said, 2020 provided enough highs to write about, and as I sign off for the year with the hope that 2021 brings more of a return to our wine normality, principally wine travel, trade tastings and lots of companionship, let us take a page or two to celebrate the best “winey” things from the past twelve months.
If you’d have asked me how my blog was going in April or May, I might have said it looks as if I hit my peak readership in 2019, yet for some reason readership picked up again in the second half of the year and, as I begin this article on 16 December, I have already topped last year’s readership by a little more than a thousand. So, whilst an increase of maybe 3,000 on last year (currently running at a little over 1,000 a week) may be modest, you can’t imagine how motivating it is to still be climbing the mountain.
What is worth mentioning is that so far during 2020 I’ve been read in 114 countries (three new ones added in the past fortnight). Only around half my readership (19.3k) were in the UK, with the USA, France, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and a number of other European countries following in our wake. But I’m very pleased to see so many other nations represented, and I’ve often wondered who my two readers in the Vatican City might be. One never knows.
In 2020 I managed to publish sixty-four articles, and before I move away from all this statistical nonsense, I thought I would list the twelve most popular, for they make interesting reading in considering what people find attracts them to Wideworldofwine.
These dozen were articles (from most popular down) on Victoria Torres Pecis (yes, this has been the most popular article of the year, “The New Star of the Canaries”); extreme viticulture in Nepal; unicorn wines (maybe Fifty Shades of Unicorn was an enticing title?); Pieter Walser’s Blank Bottle Winery; on Tongba, a Tibetan/Nepalese experience made from fermented millet grain; unusual grape varieties; Bindi Wines (producer of the most sensational wines I tasted in Australia in 2019); another article on Nepal (A Month of Drinking Differently); then come two articles on Gut Oggau and Rennersistas in Burgenland; on the Durrmann family in Andlau (Alsace); then finally a tourist guide to Arbois and the Jura for wine lovers.
This year has not been packed with big trade tastings, interesting wine dinners and lunches, and visits to see producers. On that note I had to forego visits to Austria, Alsace, Jura and again to Australia, along with my annual trip to Nepal and a much hoped-for return visit to the vineyards of Nagano in Japan. These trips, tastings and dinners have, in the past, made up the bulk of my writing, along with my monthly round-up of “recent wines” drunk at home.
So, 2020 in many ways forced me to think on a wider horizon. The focus changed from tasting to dreaming. Plenty of vicarious wine travel seemed to hit the spot, and other articles which seem to have had a lot of hits, especially in the final quarter of 2020, have included those on the wine regions such as Burgenland, Aveyron and Bugey. The title of my site perhaps hints strongly at how wide my horizon is, but it is inspiring to think that others are equally interested in something more than just the classics, though I in no way denigrate those regions.
The year began, as you may remember if you allow yourself to cast your mind back that far, with a number of exceptional events before the Lockdowns began. In January we had the Bogans in London (Haisma, Le Grappin and Eyre) and a great Nekter Wines tasting at The Ten Cases, not to mention another Wines of Hampshire event at 67 Pall Mall, showing the strides made yet again by some of England’s finest sparkling wine makers.
Two major tastings took place in quick succession at the end of January and late February, namely Dynamic Vines at their Bermondsey HQ, and Viñateros in the Royal Agricultural Halls in London’s Victoria. Both were sensational, and little did I know that as we headed off to Tromso in a bid (successful) to see the Northern Lights in mid-February, they would be the last large-scale tastings I was to attend this year.
We came back to what also turned out to be two exceptional dining experiences, the last for the remainder of 2020. The first was the annual trip to The Sportsman at Seasalter on the North Kent coast, which although it has become a regular jaunt with similarly open-minded wine buddies, involving far too much time spent on trains and in taxis (and too much wine if I’m honest), remains a genuine treat every time. The food is hard to beat, perhaps only The Ledbury in London equalling the experience in all my years of dining in the UK.
We had begun 2020 on New Year’s Eve, dining at Wild Flor down in Hove, a quality neighbourhood restaurant which truly specialises in the kind of wines, admittedly mostly of a more classical bent, which someone like me will appreciate. We dined there with a friend on the very night that the first English Lockdown was summarily announced (in fact I heard the news on the BBC as I was putting on my shoes and coat to head down). The team there provided a truly memorable, celebratory, evening that I shall not forget any time soon.
Although we are mostly talking wine here I ought to mention the best dish I ate at home. It was a mushroom wellington made with chestnuts and pecans, and do you know what? It was from a Moutard de Maille recipe, appearing as an ad on Instagram.
Throughout 2020 wine merchants were trying to keep connected with their customers in different ways, but none more so than the “Wine Zoom”. Now I won’t lie, nor pretend I’m the only one, who got totally “zoomed-out” in those early weeks of Lockdown. The problem was zooming wine in the day and facetiming family and friends in the evenings. I developed an allergy to screen talking which required a long mid-year detox to overcome. Yet those early Zooms provided some exceptional insights (though some were boring and some suffered from insuperable tech issues, not to mention the occasional feeling of embarrassment when you see the only other “attendee” drop off, leaving you alone with the broadcaster – it only happened the once).
The Zoom events helped me to focus on the best way to help a lot of small wine importers (and it remains so) – to buy wine from them. To those who received a mere six-bottle order from me, I’m sorry but I had to spread the love around. To those I purchased from more than once, what could you possibly have done to deserve such largesse, hey?
I will say that the necessity of creating a working interface with private customers for importers whose main business was previously with the “on-trade” resulted in the lucky consequence that we individuals were given the chance to buy wines which would normally end up in restaurants. Some of these wines would have been hidden away for the favoured few. I, for one, have really benefitted and snaffled a few unicorns. There’s still time. I know my “Time for Delivery” Insta-pics have received plenty of likes and hey, yes, I’m waiting for another delivery as I type (Modal Wines). You know, stockpiling before Brexit…
To take my eyes off the screen I’ve done a lot of reading (real books, for those still attracted to them), and some of that reading has been on wine. I have to say, 2020 has not seen as many wine books published as I would have wished, but almost all those I have read (not all published in 2020 of course) have been exceptional (well written, engaging, informative). I have most enjoyed Jamie Goode’s “Goode Wine Guide” (he does so love to prod the shiny buttons), Luis Gutiérez’s “New Vignerons”, and Alice Feiring’s book on Georgia, but my Wine Book of the Year Award for 2020 (although it was published in 2019) must be The Wines of Germany by Anne Krebiehl MW.
The “MW” is important, but not for the reasons you might think. I was aware of Anne when her MW dissertation on Spätburgunder earned her not only a big prize, but also the respect of all of us who have long fought the corner for Germany’s red wine terroirs. Add to that the fact that she understands Deutscher Sekt like no one else I know, and you have a voice for modern German Wine.
Actually, I do know one or two lovers of German Wines who have raised an eyebrow or two over a couple of omissions from her book (published in the Infinite Ideas Wine Library), but surely she easily makes up for these by having her finger on the pulse of German wine like no other writer today. That she is a young woman is perhaps telling. She may not have quite the same perspective as I do (that is surely the MW thing, though having ended my wine education after my WSET Diploma, perhaps my view is somewhat skewed there), but she appreciates the transformation of German wine by the next generation in a way that perhaps more traditional pens cannot. She is happy to remove her MW hat (not that I’ve ever seen the fabled MW hat, nor the lapel pin either, though it exists) and show us pure unbridled passion for her subject. To combine knowledge with passion is, for me, the ultimate attraction in wine writing.
All I can say is that in all the forty years I have been enjoying good German wine, it has never been so exciting, and that of all the worthwhile voices currently writing on the subject, none excites me more than Anne Krebiehl’s.
Before talking actual wine, I think I must just mention two developments of 2020 which stand out for special recognition. Both new ventures are brave at this time, but both have proved thus far exceptional contributions to our passion.
The first is Littlewine, or littlewine.co. Littlewine was the brainchild of Christina Rasmussen, a wine journalist who also worked in Wine PR, and Daniela Pillhofer, who co-founded Austrian specialist Newcomer Wines with Peter Honneger in 2004. Littlewine is both an educational platform for wine knowledge focused on wines with soul and integrity, and an online bottle shop where one is able to sample such wines. The model is a subscription one (the “Backstage Pass”), but also with plenty of free content. The wines on sale, which change regularly and feature some of the finest and most innovative low intervention wines available in the UK, are exceptional too.
The second is Trink Magazine. Of course, I can’t be wholly objective here because since their launch late this year they have published my article on the market for German and Austrian wines in the UK. But the reason I think Trink Mag is important should be obvious to my readership. Its aim is to translate (often literally) a German-speaking perspective on the wines of the German-speaking regions of Europe (Austria, Germany, South Tyrol and German Switzerland/Deutscher Schweiz). Its founders are Valerie Kathawala (based in New York) and Paula Redes Sidore (based in Germany).
I have been a follower of Valerie’s writing for some time, and we share so many passions in wine, so I was naturally thrilled to become part of the Trinkmag story. Trink may of necessity move to a subscription model, at least in part, but I do recommend expanding your mind through its varied articles. The writers really are some of the best in their respective fields. If their “TrinkTalks” start up again online, I can assure you they are well worth checking out.
After a substantial couple of thousand words of waffle I do need to tell you about some of the astonishing wine experiences I’ve had this year. Like everyone who shares this passion, I have been drinking more and better at home. Each month I publish here (in two parts now) an article called “Recent Wines”, which I try to limit to sixteen wines a month. These are not meant to be “the best” I’ve drunk that month, but the most interesting. You won’t therefore read about every bottle in a six-pack, nor perhaps about too much DP and Comtes.
I cannot bring myself to award “Wine of the Year” in each category this time around. It would be unfair to the children of my cellar who have provided untold amounts of light in the darkness. It would be nice to think I could keep this “best of the best” list to twelve wines, but that ain’t gonna happen, is it! We start off with the wine I drank on New Year’s Day 2020, from a producer whose several wines consumed this year have raised him even further in my personal pantheon, and we end with, would you believe it, a Red Bordeaux (but not remotely as we know it). Remember, these wines are not points scorers, they are wines which inspired me.
- Gewurztraminer “Demoiselle” 2016, Domaine Rietsch (Alsace)
- Trossen Rot 2018, Rudolf & Rita Trossen (Mosel)
- Gringet “Les Alpes” 2016, Domaine Belluard (Savoie)
- Counoise “David Girard Vineyard” 2018, Keep Wines (Napa)
- Mischkultur Gemischter Satz 2018, Joiseph (Burgenland)
- “Superglitzer” Rot 2018, Rennersistas (Burgenland)
- Pas à Pas Savagnin Rose MV, Domaine Rietsch (Alsace)
- Eastern Accents 2018, Réka Koncz (Hungary)
- Promised Land Riesling Brut Nature 2013, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire)
- Chardonnay Rose Massale 2016, Stéphane Tissot (Jura)
- Méga-Gamay Vin de France, Domaine L’Octavin (Jura)
- Chianti Classico 2005, Castello di Ama (Tuscany)
- Lorchäuser Seligmacher 2011, Eva Fricke (Rheingau)
- Furmint “Aus dem Quarz Unfiltriert” 2018, Michael Wenzel (Burgenland)
- Rakete 2018, Jutta Ambrositsch (Vienna)
- Frankovka Modra Unplugged 2015, Magula (Slovakia)
- Bierzo Godello “Cal” 2017, Veronica Ortega (Léon)
- “So True” 2015, Patrice Beguet (Jura)
- Devin 2018, Magula (Slovakia)
- Ripken Vineyard Ciliegiolo 2018, Keep Wines (Napa)
- Skin Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2018, The Hermit Ram (North Canterbury)
- Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016, Blank Bottle Winery (Swartland)
- Poulsard “Sur Charrière” 2013, Domaine Labet (Jura)
- Cœur de Cuvée 2003, Champagne Vilmart (Champagne)
- Intergalactic White Blend 2019, Renner und Rennersistas (Burgenland)
- ZBO (Zibibbo in Amphora) 2018, Brash Higgins (Riverland/McLaren Vale)
- Fleurie « Chavot » 2014, Julie Balagny (Beaujolais)
- Amigne de Vétroz Grand Cru 2017, Jean-René Germanier (Valais)
- Bulles de Comptoir #7, Charles Dufour (Champagne)
- Jankot 2018, Stekar 1672 (Slovenia)
- Miracle 2018, Osamu Uchida (Haut-Médoc)
If there are awards to be made, I would really like to focus on just two young winemakers. The last thing I wish to sound is I any way patronising, but 2020 has had its dark side for wine. There have been several high-profile issues surrounding the treatment of women in various parts of the wine trade, several of a serious nature. Wine is unquestionably still dominated by older white males, and those of us who find this unacceptable must work for greater equality and transparency on matters including gender and race.
It is nevertheless reassuring that the past decade has seen not only an increase in the number of high-profile women winemakers (something I feel Austria has led the way on in many respects), but those women are, in so many cases, making the most exciting wines. Regular readers will know the women winemakers I have long admired, with an uncanny number working within a stone’s throw of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee. But in 2020, following my discovery of Victoria Torres Pecis (La Palma, Canary Is) last year, I got to try the wines of Vernonica Ortega (Bierzo, via Indigo Wines) and Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary, via Basket Press Wines). You can currently try Veronica’s wines easily because importer Indigo Wines now has an online shop. Basket Press Wines has a pop-up shop on Hackney Road (almost opposite Sager + Wilde) through December, though their wines are also available online. For what it’s worth, those two are what I’d call my discoveries of the year. They are very fine winemakers.
With that I will sign off. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my highlights of a peculiar year. I don’t now expect to publish more this year, but I hope to be back in early January, doubtless with a clutch of superstar wines from December, along with a new and exciting-looking wine book to review. This really is a time for hibernation with a real fire and as many glasses of wine as I can reasonably get away with. I shall dream of real vineyards next year. I’ll leave you with some photos of what, for any wine lover, will strike a chord as some of 2020’s happiest moments, that #timefordelivery. Just a selection, mind.
Many thanks go to (in no particular order) The Solent Cellar, Modal Wines, Basket Press Wines, Littlewine, Vine Trail, Indigo Wines, Uncharted Wines, Tutto Wines, Nekter Wines, Alpine Wines, Equipo Navazos and Butlers Wine Cellar for inspiring me to part with too much money.