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Did you know?

Some interesting facts about wine and winemaking...

A

Anti-oxidants :

Chile's proximity to the Equator means it gets intense sunshine which in turn leads to deeply coloured grape skins and therefore deeply coloured red wines which, when analysed, have considerably higher levels of anti-oxidants than any other red wines in the world.


B

Barrels :

Check the wording on the label. "Barrel-aged" or "Barrel-fermented" means just that, but "oaky" or "oaked" probably means that the wines has been oak-chipped (massive hessian sacks filled with oak shavings hung in a vat of wine to flavour it). Cheaper to do but not the same quality.


C

Chateuneuf du Pape :

literally means "the Pope's new castle", or The Pope's Newcastle Wine as we call it. A severe disagreement between Pope Boniface VIII and France's Capetian King Philip The Fair led to the election of a french Pope in 1305. Pope Clement V moved to Avignon in 1309. Benedict VIII was the 9th and last Pope to live at Avignon before it was abandoned definitively as the papal seat in 1404 following a five year siege.

Corkscrews :

The first corkscrew is thought to be invented in the late 1700s but the heyday of corkscrews coincided with the great period of British manufacturing and invention in the middle of the 1800s. The first patent registered was to Samuel Henshall in 1795 but by the beginning of the 20th Century, over 300 corkscrew patents were registered.


D

Dom Pérignon :

Pierre Pérignon was born to a clerk of a local judge in the Champagne region. In 1668 he transferred to the Abbey of Hautvilliers. He served as cellar master of the Abbey until his death in 1715.

In his era the secondary fermenation in bottle that gives sparkling wine its sparkle was an enormous problem for winemakers. Bottles would explode, starting a chain reaction. Nearby bottles, also under pressure, would break from the shock of the first breakage, and so on. Dom Pérignon's work was to try and avoid refermentation.

While the Dom did work tirelessly and successfully to improve the quality and renown of the still wines of Champagne, he did not invent sparkling wine. There is documentary evidence that sparkling wine was first intentionally produced by English scientist and physician Christopher Merret at least 30 years before the work of Dom Perignon.


E

Eighteen Fifty-Five classifiacion of Bordeaux :

Prepared in for the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, the leading brokers of Bordeaux created their own hierarchy of the market's leading Châteaux of the Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac, although Ch. Haut-Brion from the Graves was included because of its fame and popularity. The five tier ranking for the Médoc was based on the market values of the wines at that time.  Sauternes and Barsac received two tiers, although Ch. Yquem was recognised to stand above the rest of the First Growths of the Sauternes. There has only ever been one change, the promotion of Ch. Mouton-Rothschild to First Growth status in 1973, after considerable lobbying by Baron Philippe de Rothschild.


F

Fruit-driven wines :

Possibly the opposite to 'terroir' (see T below). New World wines took off in the UK because they offered good, consistent fruity wines suited to our palate. European producers have been losing market share to these for the last 15 years. However, there are signs of us tiring of big, up-front fruity blockbusters and small passionate estates from Europe are fighting back.


G

Guyot :

Single Guyot or Double Guyot are systems of training vines. Gobelet is another. Many European wine regulations specifically state which training systems must be used for which wine, how many buds per branch are allowed etc. All of which affects yields and quality. Big prairie vineyards in Australia have preferred roadside hedge-trimmers and claim to have similar results..


H

Hungarian Tokaji :

is one of the classic dessert wines of the world. Puttonyos is the measure of sweetness of a Tokaji wine. Traditionally measured by the number of hods of Azsû (the sweet, nobly rotten grapes) added to a barrel of wine, but now measured in grammes of residual sugar. Generally rated from 3 to 6 Puttonyos (6 being the sweetest).


I

Ice Wine :

is a dessert wine made by leaving the grapes on the vine long into late autumn until the first frost which freezes the water in the grape. The frozen grape is harvested and crushed. The ice is discarded so the remaining juice is that much more concentrated resulting in a sweet wine. Mainly seen in Germany and Canada.


J

June frosts in Sancerre :

In Europe, the further north you go, the greater the risk of frost damage to the vines. It's serious when there's a hard frost after the flowering as the frost kills the flowers and it's the flowers which produce the fruit. Late May is usually the danger time but in 1981, 1991, and 1995 Sancerre experienced some particularly hard and late frosts…actually into June. Between 80% and 95% of total Sancerre production was lost in those years.


K

Kimmeridge Clay :

is the calcareous clay in Champagne named from the village of Kimmeridge on the Dorset coast of England where the same soil stratum surfaces. No surprise, then, that the best English wines are Sparkling and one or two of them giving Champagne a run for its money.


L

Legs :

Swirl the wine around the glass as high as you can. Then hold the glass up to the light and check out those legs. The fatter they are and the more slowly they come down the glass the more viscous the wine. A sign of quality.


M

Muscadet :

is a grape variety not a region. Grown around the town of Nantes in northern France it produces the classic dry white arguably the best wine to accompany seafood. (See O for oysters)


N

New Zealand :

400 hectares of vines in 1960, 22,000 hectares today and still only produces less than 0.3% of the world's wine. However, they deifintely punch above their weight in the recognition stakes. We all know how good their Sauvignon Blancs can be, and also look out for that other cool climate grape – Pinot Noir. NZ is arguably the best place outside France for these two varietals.


O

Oysters :

Around the British isles there are basically two types of Oysters;

  • The native flat oyster (Ostrea edulis)
  • The pacific (or rock) oyster (Crassostrea gigas). (So, three commonly used names for the same thing!)

Native oysters :

are a lot flatter than the Pacifics and are virtually all dredged from wild stocks and some of these may be re-laid to grow and " fatten" on inshore beds. They take up to six or seven years, to reach maturity. Native oysters spawn (spat) in the summer, and so, traditionally, are not marketed in the UK from May to the end of August (when there is no R in the month). However, due to climate change (really) they will not be ready for another three weeks or so, and actually were still being sold well into May in 2007. The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers administers and polices the marketing of oysters in the UK.

"Spatting" is when they produce their babies. Natives keep the spat inside their shell, so if you open one during the spatting period you get a kind of black grit inside which is the young baby oysters. That's why you don't eat them during this period. Pacifics do not hold their young in the shell, that's why you can eat them all year round.

The Pacific oyster :

was introduced in the 1970's and is cultivated - being bred in hatcheries and then grown to market size in suitable areas. Techniques for on-growing Pacific oysters commonly involve use of plastic mesh bags ("poches") fastened onto steel or timber trestles with rubber bands. A few growers, who have firm gravel ground, relay their larger oysters loose onto the bed. The best farming areas are sheltered sites where some mixing of marine and fresh water occurs. Pacific oysters rarely spawn at our temperatures and so can be sold all the year round. They mature in two to three years. Pacific oysters come originally from Japan, and are the most widely cultured oyster in the world. They're supposed to be creamier than the Atlantic oyster.


P

Phylloxera :

was inadvertently introduced to Europe in the 1860s, possibly on imported North American vinestocks or plants and led to the destuction of most of the vineyards in Europe, most notably in France. Because Phylloxera is native to North America, grape species there are resistant. By contrast, the European grapevine Vitis vinifera is very susceptible to the aphid. Some estimates are that between 60% and 90% of all European vineyards were destroyed. A huge amount of research was devoted to finding a solution to the Phylloxera problem, and gradually a solution emerged; grafting a Vitis vinifera (European grapevine) onto a resistant Vitis labrusca (American rootstock). Pretty much all vines in Europe are grafted on American rootstock today.


Q

QWPSR :

Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions. This is the english term for what the French call Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). In Spain; Denominación de Origen (DOC), Denominazione di Origine (DOC) in Italy and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) in Germany.


R

Riddling :

Or remuage as they say in France. The process of gradually adjusting the bottle, moving it over time from an upright to an upside down position so that the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. Most big producers use "gyro-pallets" to do this nowadays, but there are still many smaller producers who do it all by hand.


S

Sauvignon Blanc :

is classically described as Gooseberries but I have seen Gunflint or "Cat's pee on a gooseberry bush" in some of the older books. It is said that Sauvignon Blanc originated in Bordeaux and takes its name from "sauvage" (wild) blanc due to its early origins as an indigenous, wild french variety.


T

Terroir :

That slightly difficult-to-define concept which explains why Ch. Latour on one side of the road is twenty times the price of Ch. X on the other side of the road. Why Chardonnay thrives in Burgundy but Sauvignon Blanc does better in Sancerre. Despite New World producers pooh-poohing the idea, we are now seeing regionality being advanced in Australia, too.


U

Unscrupulous or unethical :

I'm thinking about all those dubious Half-Price wine offers on the High Street. Oz Clarke had a go at them in his 2007 Wine Guide; "If the UK isn't going to become a laughing stock and a dumping ground for the international wine trade, we must stand up and be counted and buy the wine whose flavours will excite us at a price that is fair to us, to the retailer and to the producers." Hear hear!


V

Viognier :

White grape variety typically giving aromas of peaches and apricots. Originally grown in the Northern Rhone in Condrieu, now speading south and overseas. Some wonderful examples on our list from France and Chile.


W

Water :

2007 saw the worst drought for years in Australia. In many cases they diverted water from vineyard irrigation to ensure sufficient drinking water for the cities thereby ensuring a minimal crop this vintage, clearing the Aussie wine lake and unfortunately resulting in price rises.


X

Xtremely :

delicious wines which you can buy from The Real Wine Company. (OK, OK, but if you can think of a better X email me and we'll put it in here)


Y

Yeast :

turns sugar to alcohol. Thanks goodness for yeast! The yeast feeds off the grape sugars and when all the sugar is gone the yeast dies for lack of food and sinks to the bottom of the vat. This is called the lees or "lie" in France. So, Muscadet sur Lie means that they leave the wine with the lees (dead yeast) for a few months to add extra yeasty/biscuity flavour.


Z

Zinfandel :

Red grape variety grown in California making some very big red wines as well as slightly sugary Blush wines (aka Primitivo when grown in Italy.)