Sparkling wine is closely associated with the Champagne region in France, however due to favourable climate conditions and mirroring clay soil to that in Champagne, English sparkling wines are slowing seeing popularity globally. English sparkling wine did out perform certain Champagnes' in blind tasting contests. Interestingly enough, Champagne estates are expanding by purchasing English vineyards.
One notable vineyard I had the true pleasure of visiting not too far from London is Hambledon Vineyard, around an hour train ride, set in a beautiful English countryside and near a quant little village Hambeldon, Hampshire. Tucked away, by following the signs to the vineyard you enter a traditional red brick gate. As you amble up the hill you can slowly notice vines on the sides of the avenue and a beautiful victorian house up the hill where the hosts were waiting for us.
To the rear of house I greeted the managing director, Ian Kellett, who I had a pleasure to meet during my WSET course. A remarkable wine professional with a calm aura and yet striking ambition for Hambledon Wines.
We started with a tour of the vineyard and wine production facilities, curated by a lovely wine expert who took us through the history of wine making of the estate as well as the vine growing process. From wine pressing machines to labelling - (two foxes drinking), a very creative way to position the brand, some humorous wine stories and also outlining the future strategy of the estate.
After a very insightful production facility tour we returned to the reception for some tasting. Having tried quite a few different varieties of sparkling wine, from rose to zero dosage as well, it was evident that the flavours were incredible with strong aromas and hard to place one as favourite. This vineyard does hold a firm vision of the the management team as it has, without a doubt, every potential to grow in stature due to its premium wines and the genuine team spirt of the staff. I look forward to seeing what the future entails for Hambledon vineyard.
Wine of the recommendation
Premiere Cuvee Brut is a lovely white sparkling wine that I immensely enjoyed tasting due to its palete of orange blossom, red apples, fresh lemons and hints of ripe pear and white flower on the nose that adds more complexity. The wine is gorgeously balanced taking into account also its complexity of tertiary aromas of almond brioche, nutty hints that create a pleasant fresh acidity. This wine has a beautiful long finish developing minerality and chalkiness from Hemisphere that is truly unique and demonstrates premium quality.
This lovely sparkling wine goes well on its own at any occasion, possibly best when over few chit chats with your friend. It also serves well with various simple appetizers and various simple starters such as a simple beautiful dish Vegan baked feta with olives and thyme by the very talented ' the tasty other'. Premiere Cuvee Brut goes well with a simple white fish or shellfish dishes, such as big grouper baked in sea salt also by 'the tasty other'. Yum!
Non alcoholic and zero sugar sparkling wines are a thing now. Hambledon vineyard has embraced the trend and produced a zero dosage rose wine Premier Cuvee Rose, absolutely delicious and safe to say does't make you guilty. Fresh aromas of strawberries, lemon and ripe peach.
French epitome of wine
What is more to say than what has already been said for one of the oldest wine producing regions in France. Bordeaux city on its own has many qualities: an elegant regional city, a historic art centre, a fine collection of medieval churches, a centre for higher education, fine dining and most importantly the epicentre of french wine production.
As a wine enthusiast if you find yourself visiting Bordeaux one stop is a must - 'La Cite du Vin', the world beating wine museum. A place that showcases history of wine production, design and packaging, food pairing and much more. This project was created not by simple wine professionals, rather it was a collective effort of historians, oenologists, scientists and architects. It demonstrates the profound experience of the wine world and history through interactive installations cleverly done presentations that do a fantastic job of conveying the story of wine. One that left me amazed can only be described as an 'immersive multi sensory journey of wine tasting'. La Cite du Vin is a modern contemporary museum, even a non-wine lover would find the museum mind blowing.
The rooftop tasting bar Belvedere does not disappoint either, with its cleverly designed interior that embodies wine elements, as well as offering a great selection of world wine to taste with a beautiful panoramic view of Bordeaux. On my visit I decided to select a glass of Georgian wine. Not by coincidence, there was a temporary exhibition of Georgian wine that left me more astound about the history of wine making.
Some would argue Bordeaux region is the world's capital of wine with many well known wine appellations. One I had a pleasure of visiting was Saint Emilion - une petite magical place. This place dates back to Roman times where the first vineyards were planted as early as the 2nd century. This beautiful commune positioned on the hills has a rich history that is embedded in the architecture dating back to 8th century. One of the first citizens to migrate was a travelling monk Emilion. Fellow monks followed him and started making wine - making it the first commercial wine production.
Wine of Recommendation
There is no such thing as selecting just one wine of choice in Bordeaux. I enjoyed a bottle of the Chateau Barrail Saint Andre 2013 due to its beautiful balance with fresh red fruit of strawberries, cherries, black peppery notes and subtle tannins.
Chateau Barrail Saint Andre 2013 is a lovely table wine and goes well with
slow cooked beef, vegetarian stews and chicken medallions in a mushroom sauce.
AUBE WINE ROUTE in CHAMPAGNE
Sparkling wine for most individuals may only be drunk on special occasions and their go to choice when they want to put their head down would be a simple glass of wine. It is no surprise however, for the locals in Champagne region, France, having a bottle of their local bubbly chilled and ready in the fridge at all times is just something of a norm. Visiting the Champagne region has provided me with a profound appreciation towards this magnificent baroque beverage. Taking into account that most wine estates make a sparking wine using a traditional method, which is very complex, it is no wonder that the name Champagne is exclusively designated to the region.
The historic province of Champagne stuns by its beautiful views of hillsides, vineyards, houses and wine cellars that are protected by UNESCO World Heritage. There are about 260 Champagne houses, representing over 70% of production and 90% export. The region is defined by five wine districts: Vallee de la Marne, Montagne de Reims, Cote de Sezanne, Cote des Blancs and Aube; in total there are over 2000 vineyards to visit.
While visiting this region one is to realise how much the history of wine making is deeply embedded within the culture and pride of the locals. It also embraces modern sparkling wine making with more experimental blends and organic varieties that sees young production houses emerge.
From world renowned prestigious champagne houses to classic ones, while visiting Aube, Champagne de Barfontarc, is one to mention. In the 1960s around 50 wine makers from the local villages of Baroville, Fontaine and Arconville united to create a Champagne house in Baroville, what is now known as the Champagne de Barfontarc. Champagne de Barfontarc with their roughly 20 employees have grown the brand over the past few decades internationally. Their wines have won numerous awards (including Decanter Bronze 2017) and are listed every year in the Guide Hachette - the most popular wine guide in France.
Champagne De Barfontarc wines have a depth of flavour with delicious green fruit aromas highly influenced by the yeasty character from the bottle ageing. Wines own a remarkable quality and kinfolk, are certainly below their price level. Like most champagne houses, their wines are dominated by three main traditional grape sorts of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Wine of recommendation
Blanc de Noir would surely be one to highlight. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this wine depicts aromas of green apples and pears, hints of apricot, with the toasty and buttery spicy character from ageing. It is great for every occasion due to balanced palette, lovely freshness and beautiful bubbles.
This champagne is great as an aperitif. It goes well with the cheese palette, beef dishes such as Roast Beef or Pastitsio. The lovely bubbly goes superbly with the a nice vegetarian risotto such as Lemon Saffron Barley Risotto.
Highly recommend booking a 'One Day Harvester' activity where you have an opportunity to spend half a day in the vineyards picking grapes as a true harvester. The views are amazingly beautiful, you are able to learn more about the wine making from the experts that is also accompanied with few glasses of champagne to taste. To top it all up, after your hard work you are served a homemade comforting lunch that is so delicious with the company of other pickers. Did I mention? There is some French cheese...
white grape variety from KUTJEVO, slavonia
The Kutjevo wine region is nestled in the rims of Pozega valley on the slopes of mountains Krdnija and Papuk, bordering the narrow valley of the river Kutjevcanka. The area capitalises on 800ha of high yield vineyards of Slavonia county. This region is predominately known for its white wines; White Pinot, Pinot Gris, Traminer, Riesling, including a unique wine 'Grasevina'. Grasevina, also known as Welschriesling, is the most planted grape variety and highly consumed from this region. Interestingly it doesn't have any link to German Riesling but like Riesling it thrives on cooler soil and continental climate.
On my last adventure to the region, I had the honour to visit this special place and admire its rich history and wide range of delicious wines. This region is truly special for its traditions, beautiful nature, delicious food and obviously distinctive wines. There is certainly a lot more to Croatia than its gorgeous blue coastline.
A little bit of historic background of the wine region that produces the highest yield of wine in Croatia... As the story goes many centuries ago Illyrians arrived to Kutjevo recognising this region as ideal for wine growing, and embraced agricultural enterprises. By the beginning of the 13th century, Cistercian monks migrated to the region and opened the Kutjevo cellar, which now represents the oldest cellar in Croatia. Definitely worth a visit! Some exquisite archival wine can still be found here - only look but can't drink.
On the Kutjevo wine estate, there is a beautiful castle of Kutjevo that symbolises this region in its genuine nobility. For almost 800 years this estate has a rich story to tell of wine making, visits of prominent historic figures and charming antidotes. One to note is Empress Maria Theresa who lived there and enjoyed local wine.
Wine of recommendation
Grasevina Quality Wine is certainly one to highlight if you like Chanin Blanc and young Riesling. This wine portrays fresh aromas of sweet apples and pears, flowery notes of elderflower and certain minerality. This wine can also age well but I absolutely loved tasting the young year due to its simplicity.
This wine goes well with food, especially summer food - clams or oysters, pastas, white fish, poultry, smoked dry meat, salads among other. It unquestionably goes well with various dry cheeses.
One of the best times of the year to visit this region is at the start of the harvest season. Kutjevo town hosts traditional wine festival, known as Kutjevačko Vincelovo, offering wide range of traditional cuisine such as cooked Slavonian sausage and ham, accompanied by the local famous wine, while you have a pleasure to get entertained by tambourines and visiting a'cappella groups.
There are many wine estates to explore in the region so highly recommend visiting them. One to note is Krauthaker as their wines will surely leave you in awe!
Art and WINE ESTATEs
One thing that amazed me the most about South Africa, Cape Town and surrounding wine estates is a close relationship with the art scene. It is incredible how much creativity is nurtured and developed into unique art in this part of the world. Wine making itself is a rather crafty process with the aim to produce an art piece that speaks the poetry of a lifetime. At most of the wine estates I visited I could see a diverse spectrum of art whether it was in the form of a sculpture, painting, or a landscape garden. With the stunning scenery of mountains and vineyards, exotic flora and fauna, a great climate, bright blue skies it almost felt surreal. To an extent it felt like you are in a parallel world, one may call it a Wine Wonderland.
Few wine estates I would like to highlight for it's artistically beautiful settings are:
Nested on the dramatic slopes of Botmaskop alongside the Helshoogte Pass overlooking Banhoek Valley in Stellenbosch, Bartinney is a family run farm spread over 28 hectare that dates from 1912. With its incredible charm this historic estate doesn't only excel in wine but also has leapt into the spirt industry with its distinctive botanical delicious gin 'The Tempest Gin'. A botanical element is very dominant here even in the wine tasting as the hosts try to portray herbal influence in a wine aroma from the nutritiousness of the land where the vines are grown.
Their philosophy is simple 'everything has to work in harmony', agriculture with nature, people with animals, sustainability with excellence. Something to admire! This is very evident when you arrive to the estate when you encounter quite a few friendly golden retrievers, beautiful horses, breathtaking views of the well maintained vineyards and their gardens and certainly the balanced production manner of their products and services.
The Bartinney logo depicts a winged figure sculpture 'Elevage' created by the world famous sculptor Dylan Lewis that can be seen on the wine bottles. The sculpture resides symbolically in the estate's fynbos garden. Elevage resembles 'the French art of the selective maturing and ascension of a wine to its ultimate heights, unfurling its most noble traits.'
Wine of recommendation
One wine that left me dreamy for days with its long lasting taste is 'Hourglass Chardonnay 2015' vintage. It is from a vineyard that stretches 350m to 550m above sea level, which allowed greater exposure to the sun and winds.
Absolutely delicious Chardonnay with complex aromas and balanced acidity which make this wine delicate and soft - from my perspective a keeper. White peach, toasted brioche, jasmine and fresh lemon developed from exceptional weather and enhanced by 11 months ageing in French oak barrels.
This wine goes well with poultry, pork and rich fish with herbs and vegetarian dishes.
Don't forget to taste their 'The Tempest' gin.
Delaire Graff Estate is a state of luxury and art itself. Known for its renowned jewellery design and special gems, the estate also produces premium wine. The estate also offers fine dining at a spectacular restaurant incorporating home-grown fruit, vegetables and herbs.
We arrived to the estate rather spontaneously as the initial plan was to go on a different day a lunch booking. Luckily, the bar was still open so we could order few glasses of wine to taste.
Wine of recommendation
From this estate I would like to select 'Delarie Graff Merlot 2016' made from hand picked grapes from the Estate's oldest single vineyard. Such a gorgeous Merlot that hints southern sunny notes of spicy aromas of dark plum and berries, ripe tannins that are incredibly balanced and give a long sustaining finish to wine.
This delicious Merlot goes so well with meat, pates, cheeses and vegetarian stews.
Savour the moment with a glass of wine while observing breathtaking views of this luxurious estate. Staff are so friendly and well informed about different wine. The atmosphere was pleasantly buzzing.
Hidden away in the majestic Jonkershoek Valley on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, Stark-Conde is yet another family run boutique winery that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting for the unique scenery and great food reference to the 'Postcard Cafe'. This estate allows you to have wine tasting by their lake and admire views of surrounding wine estates and a beautiful chateau on the top of the hill, (I believe it's a private property before you venture to check it out...)
Wine of recommendation
Some gorgeous red wines, particularly popular for Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties. One to note is their 'Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2014' awarded a tremendous 95 points by Tim Atkin in 2016 SA Wine Report, including other prestigious recognitions.
This wine was matured for 22 months in French oak barrels with blends of petit Verdot and Merlot to enhance aromas of blackcurrant, vanilla and leather notes among others.
This wine goes nice with red meat with herbal spices, hard cheeses and aromatic vegetarian curries.
Try to book lunch at 'The Postcard Cafe' and try their homemade banana bread with their homemade chocolate spread. So delicious!
Tucked away in Durbanville Hills Valley, this little gem is family run and they take pride in their homemade wine. Wines at Nitida are predominately white and are intriguing. 'Nitida' name and logo derives from tree leaves, inspired by a wildly recognised South African protea nitidus flower that can also be found in their garden. All wine bottles resemble some form of a plant or animal that can be seen at their farm.
Wine of Recommendation
I would like to nominate 'The Tinkery' for its effortless harmony. Every year a different grape is selected, 2017 was dominated by 100% Viognier. Exotic and yet fresh - the background jasmine introduces a silky synthesis of fruit and spice - peach, apricot, cinnamon and fennel.
Goes lovely with various tapas and cheeses.
Try 'The Matriarch (MCC)' sparking wine for its honey-crisp apples and brazil nuts aromas.
waterford estate Stellenbosch
While visiting South Africa back in January, among hiking the Lion's head in Cape Town, scooping up unique souvenirs at vibrant markets; selecting and visiting wine estates and vineyards was a great priority.
South Africa ranks seventh among the biggest wine producers globally according to the statistics published by OIV with an estimated 10.8 million hectolitres. My challenging mission was to condense wine estates in two weeks and every each one of them left me breathless for their beauty of landscapes, architecture and art, and most of all unique delicious wines.
I thought for this post it would be a great opportunity to highlight an estate that ticks all the boxes for great wine estate: exclusive wine blends, adventure and gorgeous scenery.
Waterford Estate Wine Stellenbosch
The Wine Safari experience offered by the Waterford Estate intrigued me to visit this estate. I was not entirely sure what to expect from a morning adventure and wine tasting. Having arrived at the estate that is set among beautiful Cape mountains forming breath-taking landscapes, I almost felt for a moment that I was in Tuscany as the venue resembles a traditional Tuscan Villa.
During the wine safari we had few pitstops where we tried a selection of different wines whilst absorbing breathtaking scenery while spotted few local animals and learnt more about host's wines.
The whole experience of the estate tour, wine tasting and pairing with some delicious and beautifully presented snacks, not to mention a unique wine and chocolate pairing, was absolutely exquisite.
Wine of recommendation
For this wine estate I've picked a wine that is one of the most distinctive blends that I've ever had due to its diverse grape union - Cabarnet Sauvignon as the base, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Barbera, Mouverde. 'The Jam 2012' vintage truly is a gem, named after the vineyard's owner and a truly beautiful wine.
The complexity of the wine with different aromas and powerful blend of fresh black fruit, spice, tobacco, leather that work well balanced together with elegant tannins that chance a long memorable finish for days.
Red meat, soft and hard cheese and spicy food.
The estate can be visited without any prior announcement, however for the wine safari make sure you book in advance, especially during the peak season. The safari is organised in very small pair groups or if preferable you have a possibility to book just for yourself and your partner.
Indigenous wine 'Babica' from Kastela - Plemestina, Trogir
As a Croat born for the first post I chose a small family run vineyard 'Kuzmanic Estate' from Dalmatia, Croatia. The Kuzmanic family started producing wine in 1720 with love and care, the same formula as they use today.
Wine of recommendation
'Babica' is a beautiful red wine - dominated by strong flavours of plums, figs, red cherries, herbal and earthy notes with elegant tannins. This wine can age well.
The wine is produced from the indigenous 'Babica' grape that is almost extinct and grows on the historic stone terraces that surround Primosten. Babica is related to Zinfandel but ripens earlier thus creating higher acidity and lower alcohol.
This wine is a locally handmade masterpiece by the Kuzmanic family produced solely from their own vineyard, which positions it to the highest wine classification 'vrhunsko' in Croatia. Croatia has over 300 geographically defined wine producing areas and they are predominately family run.
Smoked meats, hard and soft cheeses, it actually pairs very well with fish as presented by our friendly hosts. We had the opportunity to eat it with the local Adriatic mackerel.
This vineyard is a hidden gem and not easy to come by, as intended by the owner Ivan Kuzmanic! The wine can only be purchased at the estate.
If you would like to book your visit, find out more here.