You can always tell a PR person. . .

. . . but you can't tell him or her very much. (Sorry, old joke, but still true.) Some bright spark has declared this "National Picnic Week," which sort of fits neatly with the overlap of "International Champagne Week," (which has generously been broadened to include just-plain sparkling wine), ignoring the fact that the former is always an uncertain excercise in England, and the latter should be celebrated all year. Now, a New Zealand winemaker has declared that Donald Trump is not welcome to visit his winery. As Trump is a teetotaller who hasn't announced any plans to travel to New Zealand, this seems more than a bit gratuitous, to say the least, which is something I'm happy to do.

On the road again

Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, one of the great weekend pleasures was to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and spend a day in Sonoma, wending my way round what was known as the Sonoma Farm Trails. Napa may have had the glamour, but Sonoma, rustic and rumpled, had the variety: Aside from good wine in informal tasting rooms, I could easily find first-rate cheese, poultry like quail, guinea hens, and ducks, herbs, fruit of all sorts, just-dug vegetables, and plenty of jams, jellies, and sauces (and recipes!) from enterprising cooks. Besides the bounty, it was a good reminder that wine is an agricultural product, with good farming at its heart.
         I had a pleasant flashback to those days last week in West Sussex, at the farm shop on the Cowdray Estate, one of the best in southern England. I stocked up on duck, chicken, pork, cheese, asparagus, and new potatoes—all organic—and, discovered, in a small building next door, the English Wine Company. There were wines available to taste, and we liked the Albourne Estate Bacchus so much we bought some (Bacchus is a grape that’s known as a “cross,” interbred from three German grapes, including Riesling—it’s hardy, can thrive in difficult conditions, and in good years makes a fresh and lively white wine, with a heady elderflower aroma; it’s perfect with light fish like plaice). I also picked up a brochure, detailing the South East Wine Route, showing a map and information on 17 wines with public tasting rooms, as well as another 17 open by appointment. Many have farm shops, and as we discovered on the way back home, when we stopped at Secrett’s farm shop near Milford, many farm shops now sell English wine—deliciously complete. Have a look at  

Paris when it sizzles

As Bogart said to Bergman in "Casablanca," "We'll always have Paris." As Steven Spurrier said to me 40 years ago, "I don't have a thermofax machine, but there's a chap nearby who does--I'll send you some interesting stuff." Steven set off a big bang with what became known ever after as The Paris Tasting, and I was happy to amplify it, and the wine world has also always had Paris ever since. When Warren Winiarski came over for a visit a while back, we had a bit of a reunion. Typical--Steven and I with glasses in hand, Warren with large pebbles--he rocks! (Although, to be fair, we were in a vineyard at the time, so he could say it was research.)
        Less talked about is the fact that, every time the tasting has been re-staged by Steven and various cohorts, usually on decade-marker anniversaries for the reds involved, California Cabernets always came out on top. (When we did it at the 30-year mark here in London at Berry Bros & Rudd, California took all five first places, led by Ridge "Montebello".) As Steven said, “the California wines were made to express, rather than to impress.”
        Now, the tables may have turned again: At a recent tasting of the 2000 vintage, Bordeaux beat the daylights out of the Californians. Someone was paying attention, obviously.

Serious fun in Portugal

A few countries around the Mediterranean have a delicious identity crisis—in a varietally organized world, dominated by the likes of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and flashy new arrivals such as Pinot Grigio, what do you do when your wines are made from quite unfamiliar grapes, singly or blended with other strange-sounding ones? Greeks and Croatians generally put the grape names on their labels and hope for the best; in the western Balkans, they seem content with local markets, exporting a bit to close neighbors who might be anti-Russian (Communism nearly ruined winemaking behind the Iron Curtain). 
        In the Douro Vally in Portugal, the problem has been different, less a matter of shifting gears than of building a new car. For many centuries, the steep, terraced hillsides above the namesake river have been planted to a hodgepodge of mostly red grapes that went into Port; now, the world is inclined more to lighter table wines. Those old vines yield superb fruit, and can make splendid table wine as well. Reform, rejuvenation, or renovation? How do you tell the story?
        For five of the region’s best small independent winemakers, the answer was to form a loose sort of bromance: The Douro Boys, whose slogan is “flying the flag for the Douro, enabling dry wines.” “We have fun, but we’re serious,” said Cristiano van Zeller, when we chatted at Decanter’s recent Fine Wine Encounter devoted to Iberian wines. They are Francisco Ferreira, of Quinta do Vallado; Dirk van der Niepoort, of Niepoort; Francisco Olazabal, of Quinta do Vale Meão; Tomas Roquette, of Quinta do Crasto; and Christiano, who owns Quinta Vale Dona Maria.
        At a Masterclass during the tasting, the flag flew well. Niepoort’s white from 2014, known as Tiara (principal grape in a complex blend is Codega do Larinho—see what I mean?) was pale gold and full-bodied, rounded but braced with quietly firm acidity. Quinta Vale Dona Maria’s two from 2013, Douoro Red and Vinha da Francisca were both vibrant, the former a little lighter (a blend of 25 grapes), the latter a touch more tannic, and a blend of only four grapes, predominantly Touriga Nacional. Quinta do Crasto’s Vinha da Ponte 2012 was bold and loaded with fruit but with muscular structure that will guarantee a long age, surely at least 20 years at best. Quinta do Vale Meão’s Douro Superior 2013 went for almost classical Bordeaux-style elegance for its multi-grape blend, another 20-year winner, surely.
        There was talk of terroir, interestingly complicated when you have so many different grapes and also many sorts of soil and exposures to sunshine along those terraces, even in small vineyards. In the end, though, as it’s about flavour and enjoyment, they’re home free. Find them at, or on Facebook.


You could be forgiven for not having noticed, but the first week of May was “World Wine Week.” The second week of this well-blessed month has been declared “British Sandwich Week,” perhaps appropriate enough, as the handy meal was invented—or at least named--in England. In between these two sort-of events, May 6 was designated “International Sauvignon Blanc Day.” Busy month for food and wine! 
         What was most interesting about Sauvignon Blanc Day was that the official Bordeaux Blanc group made a great deal of noise about it, celebrating its principal grape with much fanfare, but didn’t once mention the minor but crucial partner in the blend, Semillon. If ever there were a grape worthy of being acclaimed as Best Supporting Actor, Semillon should win in a walk, but it seems to be a victim of fashion. It was once a serious contender in Washington State, but even Pinot Grigio has overtaken it there, and Chile has cut back its acreage. Only Australia honors it (and does it proud, as proven by a recent bottle of Tyrell's Hunter Valley 2005), which may be something to consider while we ponder our wine choices for “Barbecue Week,” which is the last week of May. Shiraz, anyone?
copyright 2010-2018 by Brian St. Pierre