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Last week we were proud to be awarded the 2015 Regional Merchant for the South and South East at the International Wine Challenge awards dinner, which took place at the Park Lane Hilton, London.
So what better time to showcase some of our favourite wine producers that we not only take pride in stocking but whose inclusion exemplifies our independent spirit.
Here are three of many favourites:
Henri Mandois, Pierry, Champagne
While not classified as a ‘grower’ champagne the Mandois family own 35 hectares of vineyard located across the famous terroirs of Epernay, Vertus, Pierry and Chouilly. This accounts for 70% of the fruit required for production volumes, the balance being sourced from long standing relationships with established growers. This is still something of a rarity in champagne and provides the Mandois family with greater control over quality, surpassing many of their counterparts.
A long-standing member of the shop portfolio, our range of Mandois champagne begins with the non-vintage Brut Origine, a classic blend employing the trinity of champagne grapes and offering tremendous value to boot. There follows a Brut Rosé and two vintage Blanc de Blanc (100% chardonnay) wines of which the sublime 2005 Cuvee Victor, lightly oaked and finely textured, is the zenith.
Grower Champagne – where 100% of the fruit used for production has been produced from vineyards owned by the champagne house.
The trio of traditional champagne grapes regularly blended are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Isabel Vineyards, Marlborough, New Zealand
These wines have been present on our shelves from the very first day we opened our doors in August of 2003. The roots of Isabel go back somewhat further, with the first vines planted successively throughout the early 1980’s and the estates first wine produced in 1994 – a Pinot Noir. A year later in 1995 the first shipments of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir made it to UK shores. As has been the case since that first Chardonnay vine was planted in 1980 the Tiller family owns and manages all aspects of the estate.
The vineyards are located right at the heart of Marlborough in the Wairau Valley, extolling the virtues of long sunny days, a relatively cool growing season and a temperate autumn, which helps optimize aroma and fruit flavour. The area under vine can also lay claim to housing some of the oldest vines in the region, producing grapes of outstanding quality spanning Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
Here’s a snapshot of some of their wines; they’re listed right here too.
Our top seller, and a Marlborough hallmark, is the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc; this one’s a relatively full bodied and ripe example yet discerning too, with the tangy attributes of grapefruit, gooseberry and elderflower balanced exquisitely with orange blossom, peach and subtle red pepper notes. It delivers an exceptionally long finish.
The chardonnay is a subtly oaked affair (using only French barriques). Aromas of honey, apricot and vanilla reveal citrus, nectarine and hazelnut inspired flavours. There’s also a redolent bready note present from time spent on lees (the dead yeast cells).
The Pinot Gris is opulent, mouth filling and almost dry in style, brimming with white pear, mango, nectarine and honeyed aromas. An understated spiciness lends itself to a satisfyingly weighty and textured palate displaying the essence of pear and lychee.
Chateau de Gaure, Roussillon and Limoux, France
We discovered Pierre Fabre’s fantastic wines last year at a wine fair in southern France and fell in love with his artwork nearly as much as we did his wine.
These kinds of wines will more than likely only ever feature in an independent wine shop. The economies of scale aren’t tangible for larger wine retailers to consider boutique small-scale producers like this. The front labels don’t convey any geographical information or grape variety. They are simply, and in our opinion quite brilliantly, emblazoned with one of the owner’s abstract paintings, changing per vintage. The Chateau also follows organic practices and some biodynamic principles.
Despite the niche overtones, most people who appreciate a glass of wine no matter where they shop would find it difficult not to be beguiled by at least one of the three wines we currently have available. They remain characterful yet always accessible and hold plenty of interest.
The two reds, both blends, are relatively full-bodied expressions using grape varieties associated with the Rhone and the Languedoc Roussillon regions. The entry level red is Syrah dominant - rich, ripe with brooding dark fruit and a hint of oak. The Chateau’s top red, Pour Mon Pere, is predominantly Carignan and Syrah, with a dash of Grenache and Mourvedre. Not necessarily a bigger wine than the former but it offers more complexity both aromatically and in flavour.
The Oppidum white is a classic Limoux style blend of 80% Chardonnay with the balance made up of Chenin Blanc and local grape Mauzac. Possibly our pick of the bunch; plenty of battonage and barrel aging translates to a rich full bodied wine offering white fruit, citrus and hazelnut notes. The oak is well integrated and backed by a resounding acidity. A must try.
Battonage – a French term for lees stirring usually performed with a long stick and particularly popular with barrel aged white wines. Lees are dead yeast cells that settle at the bottom of the wines fermentation vessel. Stirring the lees through the wine draws out their flavour, which can improve mouth feel and stability in a wine. Within barrel, lees stirring limits the level of oak flavour imparted into the wine while helping to prevent the formation of off odours (hydrogen sulfide) by oxygenating the bottom layers within a tank or barrel.