As I said in an Instagram post on Wednesday, the London Wine Fair is perhaps not my usual habitat, at least at first sight, but it does give me the opportunity to look outside my box and discover some new things. London Wine Fair 2022 proved successful in that respect, if for reasons the organisers might be less pleased about.
I normally spend much of my time at this large industry event up on the top floor of Olympia’s exhibition hall, in the gallery. Here is the section sadly still named “Esoterica” which in the past has been packed with small and medium-sized independent wine importers. Their wines are not esoteric to me, but then I can see that in the context of the “Trading Floor” below, they may well seem so to the beverage merchants. This time there were just under thirty exhibitors up there and it did seem much sparser. Joining them on the Gallery level were the producers looking for UK representation: “Wines Unearthed”. There’s always something here. The “Alliance Riceys” was my pick (see below).
Down on the trading floor things are mostly about the industry mainstream. Large importers, peripheral activities (publishing, education, vineyard services etc) and the large country or region pavilions (India, Greece and Romania, for example, mingling with Côtes du Rhône, Wines of Murcia or Provence, and so forth). The “Drinks Britannia” corner of the Trading Floor is always well attended, as are all the events taking place around the edge, from special tastings, industry briefings, awards ceremonies and masterclasses.
This means that I’m going to take you on an eclectic journey through the event, perhaps giving a flavour more reminiscent of a few sips than a whole bottle. There won’t be many detailed tasting notes, although we shall still taste as we go.
I hadn’t tasted Graft’s portfolio since before Covid and it was nice to reacquaint myself with a few of their wines. The first wine, however, is currently on its way to the UK and I mention it because I was seriously impressed. Dorper Chenin Blanc 2020 is from Stellenbosch in South Africa. Reg Holder is the winemaker. It’s a barrel-fermented example full of exotic passion fruit and peach on the nose, with a quince-like dry finish. Plenty of acids to balance the oak. Potential to age.
Koerner Clare Valley Pigato 2021 is a perennial favourite on top form. It’s from Koerner’s Gulleyville Vineyard in Watervale, off Terra Rossa soils, with destemmed, whole berry fermentation. It rests on lees for seven days and then has just seven months in stainless steel before bottling. It’s a fresh Vermentino, the bouquet showing orchard fruits, spice and floral notes, fine-boned but juicy fruit refreshing the palate.
Clos Cibonne Tibouren 2020 is the latest release of this Provençal classic, a wine which ranks among the finest Rosés of a region more soaked in mediocrity than most. Very pale, salmon pink, delicate yet with an intensity of old vine flavour, proving that the Tibouren grape is indeed a lost classic.
Vinteloper Shiraz 2019, Adelaide Hills is, as with all the wines made by this Adelaide Hills producer, a modern wine in the best sense. If you cast your mind back to the Australian bush fires of late 2019 (I was there at the time, up in NSW), you may remember that Vinteloper suffered terribly and this lovely red is going to be the last wine made from their own fruit for some years. All I will say is buy it and support this fabulous producer. Maturation was in large French oak for 15 months, then six more in bottle before release. Drink or keep up to a decade.
Alliance Riceys (Champagne)
The three hamlets in the very south of the Champagne Region, almost hugging the border with Chablis, which make up Les Riceys are now much better known than they were when I began to get to know its wines back in the late 1980s. Always a source of Pinot Noir for the large Champagne Houses up north, it was best known for an amazing still rosé which, with age, became one of the most hauntingly ethereal examples of Pinot Noir in France.
Today Les Riceys is full of small grower-producers and two of them, Champagne Péhu-Guiardel and Champagne Arnaud Tabourin, have joined together to seek a UK agent. They are typical of Champagne’s less high-profile growers, many of whom make good, interesting, wines, often less expensive than the more high-profile names we all know, but who we may never encounter, even in France.
I tried two wines from each. The Péhu-Guiardel Blanc de Blancs comes from a 2019 base, has 20 months on lees and a 6g/l dosage. It’s 100% Chardonnay farmed under “Exploitation de Haute Valeur Environmentale” accreditation. They make a Rosé which is blended with 18% still red Pinot Noir. I enjoyed the typicity of the BdeB, which was very obviously Chardonnay. Here, with the pink, I liked the fact that they have made something a little different. The dosage is not excessive but it isn’t totally bone dry like a Brut Zero.
The high proportion of still red wine makes this cuvée quite dark for Champagne, almost a red. It’s not unique and you will certainly come across this colour in the wine bars of the region, but English importers rarely try to sell these darker Champagnes. It’s a real shame. The result is nicely fruity but also assertive. I liked the combination
Arnaud Tabourin’s Cuvée Or is 100% Pinot Noir from a 2016 base. It saw ten months in oak and was given a dosage of 6g/l. It tasted fresh and youthful, very lively. This producer also makes a Rosé des Riceys still wine. I tasted the 2017 which had a nice pale red with burnished orange colour, combining delicacy of fruit with a bit of tannic grip. This may not age a decade or more, like a single site version from Olivier Horiot, but it will still age. That said, the family say they prefer it young and fruity.
This is the only producer I tried from the “Wines Unearthed” but they are typical of many here who just need to find the right agent. I doubt they are charging the prices we are increasingly seeing from the big-name growers, and affordable artisan Champagne is always welcome. Nice people on this stand, too.
Nyetimber (Hampshire, West Sussex and Kent))
I paid a couple of visits in the Drinks Britannia area. The Nyetimber Bus is always a big draw, so their tasting bar is always crowded. Competition is hot these days for the accolade of the “finest” producer of English Sparkling Wine, and I would guess that Nyetimber continues to work towards, perhaps as they would see it, maintaining that position (though rivals might disagree).
So here we must, to assess how they are faring, taste their entry level wine and their best wine, must we not? Well, I can say that the Classic Cuvée, here adorned with a special Jubilee sleeve, is as fresh and attractive as ever. It’s a pale and delicious, elegant blend of traditional Champagne varieties.
As for their top wines, well I asked to try the Tillington Single Vineyard Cuvée but was told “computer says no”. I’m obviously not important enough to taste Tillington, rocking up in casual attire at LWF, though I have sipped a glass on other occasions. I did try Cuvée Chérie, which is a “lightly golden” Demi-Sec. It certainly has more finesse than some versions of this sweeter style of sparkling wine can exhibit. It’s a style which wine professionals can be too sniffy about. This example is far from the coach party-pleaser some accuse demi-sec of being.
Lyme Bay Winery (Devon)
Lyme Bay Winery is near Axminster in Devon. They did own around ten acres of vines there, but these have been sold. The grapes are sourced mostly from Essex and Kent, as is much of the fruit made into wine in the West Country. Their Pinot Noir is sourced in Essex, for both still and sparkling wines, but I first wanted to try the Bacchus 2021 with fruit from Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire. Apple-fresh with elderflower and grapefruit from a mid-October harvest, this was very attractive and almost as good as the multi-award-winning Pinot Noir 2020.
The Pinot Noir fruit is specifically sourced from a vineyard by the River Crouch, planted with both Dijon and Spätburgunder clones. It sees 30% new oak, which is noticeable on the nose but doesn’t dominate. It is more rounded and fruit-driven than you might expect from a young wine that has seen some new oak, a nice smoothness balanced by a little grip on the palate. I think it well deserved its IWSC and IWC Gold Medals (it also bagged a Silver at the Decanter Awards).
Lyme Bay Brut Reserve 2020 blends Pinots Blanc, Meunier and Noir with Reichensteiner, Bacchus, Solaris and Chardonnay. It retains a quite high dosage of 10g/l but in this case, combined with the more unusual grape varieties, it gives the cuvée a point of difference. It was nicely fruity and a little aromatic. Equally tasty, but in a different way, was the Brut Rosé made from whole bunch pressed Pinot Noir. Cool fermented it retains a delicate lightness despite its mid-salmon pink colour. They call it fruit-driven, and it is, but there’s also honey and a touch of black pepper.
These are wines I would buy, especially as they are less speculatively priced than many (£22.50 for the Brut Reserve, £30 for the Rosé, £17.50 for the Bacchus and £27.99 for the still red Pinot). The latter is around the going rate for English Pinot Noir, but it’s a good one.
Ktima Tselepos (Greece)
Tselepos owns a number of wineries in Greece, in Mantinia, where Yannis and his wife Amalia settled in 1981, and Nemea, which was the source of the first wine from Tselepos I tasted back in the 1990s. I also tried one of their wines from a single vineyard on Santorini.
Most of the wines I tasted were from Mantinia fruit and made using the Moschofilero variety. Mantinia is one of the three major regions on the Peloponnese, based on a raised plateau north of Tripoli. As such, it’s cooler than you might expect, allowing for freshness in a variety that has lovely floral overtones, whether made still or sparkling.
Amalia Brut NV is sourced from a vineyard at 720 masl, the wine being a traditional method sparkler with just over nine months on lees. The floral bouquet is balanced by deeper brioche on the palate. Amalia Rosé on the other hand comes from the Asprokampos sub-region of nearby Nemea and it is made from that region’s most well known variety, Agiorgitiko. Again, the vineyard is at altitude (760 masl) and early harvesting preserves freshness. A similar maturation to the white sibling gives a wine which is driven by bright cherry fruit.
Mantinia PDO 2021 is a still white wine which takes us back to Moschofilero, grown up at 680 masl. After a pre-fermentation soak of eight hours, the must sees a temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel. Very fresh, as a result, the aromatics (floral and grapefruit) are preserved. The palate has a nice herbal finish. The freshness means that you don’t notice the 13% alcohol.
Blanc de Gris 2021 is another high-altitude wine from a region called Perpatiara, in Arcadia (in the far northeast, close to Türkiye (Turkey’s new official name) and Bulgaria. It sees fermentation split equally between amphora, stainless steel tanks and oak foudres. The wine is mineral, chalky even, in texture, floral but intense, and could be aged for perhaps five years.
Tselepos produces an Assyrtiko wine from a single vineyard on Santorini called “Canava Chrissou”, owned by the Tselepos family. Santorini VV 2021 is made from 100-year-old vines grown on the island’s famous volcanic soils. It has a delicious minerality but is more approachable than some Santorini’s, which in youth can be quite hard.
Last, I tasted their red Nemea (apologies for no photo). I think I was told that this comes from the family’s second estate, Ktima Driopi. Anyway, it is made, of course, from Agiorgitiko and spends eight months in used barrique. The altitude (even as high as 900 masl in Nemea for viticulture), proximity to the sea, cold winters and above average rainfall allow for wines which are fresher and less heavy than you would expect. Plump cherry fruit is balanced here by that fresh acidity. They make a more ageworthy reserve wine, but for me, this is really nice, Nemea just as I like it based on fresh fruit. I like Agiorgitiko. I also like Tselepos.
Champagne Virginie T (Champagne)
This is the label of Virginie Taittinger and Ferdinand Pougatch, who is Virginie’s son. They are based in what was once Champagne’s most famous village, Sillery, at the foot of the Montagne de Reims. The label was launched in 2013 long after Virginie’s family sold the famous house of the same name, and today it acts act as a boutique producer and small negoce, making around 80,000 bottles.
Virginie T Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut is typical of the house. A Chardonnay which has seen a minimum of six years ageing, dosed low at 3g/l. A bouquet of lifted white flowers and a touch of citrus with elegance to the fore. They currently choose to sell direct, online, which is fine as they do ship to the UK. I’m not sure that their online strapline for this cuvée excites me: “less sweet, more trendy”, but perhaps something was lost in the translation. What I will say is that it’s an impressive Champagne which, if purchased as a six-pack, only costs (according to their web site) £36 per unit. I can’t quite believe that.
Virginie T Rosé is a Rosé d’Assemblage with a blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir with red wine sourced from Cumières and Bouzy, on the southern edge of the Montagne. It sees four years ageing and has a pale-to-mid salmon pink colour. Red fruits are more elegant than pronounced and it majors on finesse. It appears, unusually for Champagne where pink wines usually command a premium, to sell for the same price as the Extra Brut.
There is an ever so slightly cheaper Brut in the range, along with a Brut Nature and a Grand Cuvée which are a little more expensive. So, considering the pedigree of the house, they represent remarkably good value from a boutique producer.
I was very interested to taste their organic cuvée, called Transmission. It’s a multi-vintage Pinot Noir based on 2017 (89%), with reserves from 2015 and 2016. Dosage is 5g/l. Its source is the Aube, specifically Neuville-sur-Seine, Celles-s-Ource and Les Riceys. Maturation is in stainless steel and only 2,500 bottles are currently produced. However, once more, the computer said no. Was it my casual jacket rather than my often-smarter attire? Should I have wheeled out the red trousers?
I was sorry that Ferdinand was rather negative about organics in Champagne. Despite evidence to the contrary, he seems to think producers pay organics lip service and slip back into conventional farming after a few years. In fact, Ferdinand was quite outspoken on a number of topics, surprising as I had never met him before. He’s definitely a passionate, quality-focussed, advocate for his brand. One fact is certain, that the packaging for this organic cuvée is really nice, and in my view a lot smarter and perhaps more contemporary than the packaging for their main range, in my humble Champagne-buying opinion.
Japan Centre (London)
A few readers will know that I have several reasons to love Japan, and for over fifteen years I have bought sake from the Japan Centre in Central London. They have moved several times, but are now in Panton Street, not far from Leicester Square (alongside two other locations outside Central London). They now appear to be putting more into promoting sake, a good thing, and they were showing a range of quality examples at LWF.
I tasted three sakes from a number available. The first was called Born Gold from the Katoukichibee Shouten Sake Distillery. This is a very high class Junmai Daiginjo, polished to 50%. What does that mean? Daiginjo is the designation for the most “polished” rice and 50% is usually the maximum polish (that’s 50% of the rice being polished away). The purest rice, so to speak. Junmai sake is a pure sake with no extra added alcohol. This sake comes from the region of Fukui, north of Kyoto, the brewery founded by the same family as run it today in 1860. The Hyogo rice is of the highest quality and they use soft water pumped from underground in the Haku Mountains.
This sake is fruity, light, naturally brewed to 15% abv, and is very fine, clean-tasting and pure. I’ve not tasted sake this good for a long time. The person pouring said that she had been told this had been served in JAL First Class, but couldn’t verify that. It retails for around £50 for 720 ml.
Next, a sake speciality I am quite fond of, though perhaps that makes me the sake equivalent of a Bailey’s drinker (I never turn down a Bailey’s). It’s a Yuzusiyu, a Junmai sake with added yuzu fruit juice and sugar. Yuzu tastes closest to lemon, but that is no comparison. The best yuzu fruit sake has a kind of sweet and sour (or bitter) flavour. Often recommended as an aperitif, on the occasions we buy some we find it goes really well with lemon sorbet and fruit.
The final sake was another speciality, Nigori. Nigori sake is put through a wide-mesh filter so that some rice solids go into the bottle. The result is cloudy and the colour of milk. This lovely example was from the Gekkeikan Sake Company based in Fushima (Kyoto). It’s one of the world’s oldest companies, founded in 1637.
Nigori sake, as in this case, is often a little sweeter, thicker textured and more mellow than the clear sakes. This is dryer than some, though, with a cotton candy and umami flavour. It won’t break the bank to try this because 300 ml costs £8.19. Much sake is sold in a small 30 cl bottle.
I would suggest that these three styles of sake are a good place to begin if you want to explore this very different drink. Contrary to what some might think, it is not highly alcoholic, and is brewed, not fermented. It goes perfectly with all kinds of umami-rich food. Good Junmai Daiginjo doesn’t have to cost £50 either.
You can drink it in a glass, although in Japan you will be served it in a ceramic cup or earthenware pot (called a Choko). The latter can be of a pleasingly quirky, irregular, shape. Also look for sparkling sake, such as the bottle I purchased from the Oxford Wine Company, reviewed in my “Recent Wines April 2022 (Part 1)” published here on 12 May 2022.
The Japan Centre now has a dedicated Sake Sommelier, Bowie Tsang, who runs seminars for those interested, as of course does the WSET now. I can highly recommend Anthony Rose’s book, Sake and the Wines of Japan (Infinite Ideas, 2018). I think that anyone with any interest in Japan, Sake and indeed the burgeoning Japanese wine scene, should buy and read it. I often consider writing on the subject myself but I could never do it half as well as Anthony Rose and I guarantee that most serious wine lovers will enjoy it.
That’s all from LWF for this year. For me, as a visitor, it was a good Fair, enabling me to be quite random in my wanderings without the intensity and crush of some events, no matter how good. I hope that I have given a flavour of the event, supplemented by the photos below.
A few of the LWF Pavilions (clockwise: Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Romania and India)
Events (can you spot Tim Wildman pondering the question?) and peripherals (bottom pic is the Wine Scholars Guild stand)
Wine in a can was very big this year, as were very “fancy” bottles. Packaging seems to have moved on in the post-pandemic era.