Made for food: the joys of Sherry


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A bottle of Amontillado Sherry lies on a wooden table, behind the soft blur of pink-petalled flowers which just about edge into view.

From the delicate, almond flavours of Fino to the slightly richer, nutty notes of Amontillado, Sherry wines are deliciously versatile and pair fantastically with food. Rebecca Lamont tells us more about this often-overlooked style of wine.

I always champion the underdog, but I can be pragmatic too. If you told me there is only one wine I can have on my desert island or for the rest of my life, I’d plump for our Own Selection Fino Sherry, no question. It’s my go-to and I adore it. I reserve the Amontillado for those special “treat me” moments. Both are delicious, keep well in the fridge and are very affordable. Tragically, the demand for these graceful elixirs is low, even though they are hugely labour-intensive, intensely complex, and incredibly versatile.  

Fino Sherry goes with everything – and yes, I mean everything. My motto is: “if in in doubt, choose Fino”. It will never let you down. Try it with your favourites. Mine are Bolognese, croque monsieur, croque madame (can you think of any other wine that goes with a fried egg?), truffled anything (crisps, brie, popcorn), smashed avocado, stuffed aubergine, hummus, beans on toast, sashimi – the list goes on. Even chocolate brownies are great. I reserve Amontillados for purely sipping, as opposed to guzzling, with food. It brings out a gentle nutty nuance that marries supremely with consommé, tempura, artisan cheese, crunchy nibbles and traditional Iberian cured meats. 

Homegrown delicacies from Spain, particularly from the Jerez region where most Finos and Amontillados are made, are heart-warming options too. In fact, the food tastes even better with them. Try with pan con mate; Marcona almonds (my absolute favourite – I’d need them on the desert island please); hand-carved, cured black-foot pig; Gordal olives stuffed with fresh orange; fabada; paella; octopus; shrimp; sopa de pescado; and morcilla de Bourgos. On home turf, I’m in heaven supping with kedgeree or roast chicken, and I can’t wait to have a glass with English asparagus. If it’s all you’ve got with Easter lamb and Jersey potatoes, I’d holler with joy. What’s more, you’re receiving all this wonderful complexity for a comparatively modest price. 

The value is phenomenal. You can find this bottle of Fino for £12.95 and Amontillado for £15.95, which, quite frankly, is the bargain of all bargains. To be honest, I don’t really understand how the producers manage to sustain their business, because the production is breathtakingly complex, and these wines are aged for longer than the most expensive wines in the world made today. 

The extended ageing reworks a plain white wine, made in the heat, to something refreshing, extraordinary and intricate. They become delicate and fine, bitter and yeasty and a touch nutty. This is why they are perfect for food. Incidentally, bitter and yeast components are on trend currently. Cocktail bars are getting in on the act too, producing dynamic drinks that are embracing these wines as key ingredients. So maybe Fino fashion is just around the corner, after all. 

Sherry was the height of fashion in Shakespeare’s day – it was the go-to drink, and its day will come again. In the meantime, you can head out to the trendy, tiled, small Spanish bars in your local town or city, or have yourself a tapas crawl around the bars in Seville or Córdoba. Maybe meet your mixologist to shake up a new Amontillado cocktail.  

Or like me, put your feet up, Marconas and truffle crisps assembled, supper on the go, take the first sip of the Own Selection Fino and exhale: bliss. You have everything you need.  

A quick guide to the key Sherry styles

Fino: dry, yeasty, almondy; pale lemon in colour

Manzanilla: dry, yeasty, almondy; pale lemon in colour and produced nearer the coast

Amontillado: dry, yeasty and delicate, with an amber colour and nutty character

Oloroso: dry and nutty; deep brown with notes of coffee

Palo Cortado: a dry, magical mystery wine; complex and rich, with a brown colour

Pedro Ximénez: sweet and rich, with a deep dark brown colour and notes of toffee and chocolate

Discover our Fino Sherry here, and our Amontillado Sherry here

Category: Miscellaneous

Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre: the GSM blend


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Photograph: Jason Lowe

The blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre – or GSM – is a staple in the Rhône Valley and other warm climes. Here, we take a look at what makes it a recipe for success.  

The so-called “Rhône” blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre — GSM —  is tried and tested in hot climates around the world. The GSM blend combines the best qualities of each grape and expresses the individual characteristics of where they are grown.


Grenache is a thin-skinned black grape variety which grows well in warm climates such as southern Europe and South Africa. This is thanks to its resistance to drought and ability to thrive in challenging dry, low fertility soils. Imagine the galet (pebble) strewn vineyards of the Rhône as an example. Grenache adds rich, red fruit flavours of strawberry and maraschino cherry to the blend with a refreshing herbal lift and is sometimes compared to Pinot Noir for its elegance. Grenache-dominant blends tend to be lighter in body than those with a higher percentage of Syrah.


Conversely to the elegance of Grenache, Syrah is renowned for its body and structure, providing the solid backbone to any blend. It adds a deep ruby colour and flavours of dark fruit such as black plum, blackcurrant and bramble berries. It also has a characteristic note of black pepper which adds an extra element of spice and tingle on the palate. Any Syrah-dominant blend will be fuller-bodied, more tannic and perhaps more savoury than Grenache-dominant wines. 


The final ingredient in these blends is Mourvèdre, known in Spain as Monastrell and in Australia and California as Mataro. Smoky, savoury flavours abound with this grape which sometimes displays a pleasantly gamy quality. It can even develop enticing flavours of dark cocoa and tart black fruit. Often higher in tannin than Syrah, it tends to contribute further structure and colour to a GSM blend as well as additional complexity and flavour. Australian producer, Hewitson make their Baby Bush wine entirely from Mourvèdre. It is an illustrative example of what this varietal will add to blends.

GSM blends: where in the world?

Perhaps  the region best known for producing GSM blends is the Rhône Valley in France – hence why they are sometimes known as “Rhône blends”. While Burgundy is a region of wines made from single grape varieties, the Rhône is famed for its blends. Over 20 different grape varieties are grown there and arguably its most famous wine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is a blend of up to 13 permitted grape varieties. With its warm, Mediterranean climate and often challenging droughts (such as the 2005 and ʼ12 vintages), the Rhône is a perfect home for these hardy, drought-resistant varieties.

GSM blends are produced in many other warm-climate wine regions around the world. Australian wine is synonymous with Syrah (Shiraz, as it’s known there) where it is regularly produced as a single varietal. With their preference for what could be considered the national grape, many Australian GSM blends lead with Syrah. Some producers even refer to them as “SGM” blends. With a savoury hint to the finish, there can be a suggestion of pomegranate on the palate.   

Elsewhere in the New World, the USA and South Africa are using their warmer climes to produce their own iterations of the GSM. Produced in California and as far north as Washington State, the USA expressions of these wines tend to be a little jammier with plum and violet to the fore. The South African blends, in what could be argued as a New-World style, are also adopting this approach to juicier fruit flavours and richness. However, with their traditionally high levels of alcohol, these rambunctious and exuberant flavours of cherry and red plum are elegantly balanced in the final wines.

In Spain, GSM blends sometimes show additional characteristics of vanilla and coconut. Still with their succulent and juicy fruit flavours, they are delightfully smooth on the palate with integrated acidity and precision. It is this acidity which prevents the sweeter hints being overtly saccharine and dominating. 

GSM blend food pairing

With their complexity and structure, GSM blends are fantastic for pairing with food. Robust and tannic, they are tremendous matches for heady, strongly flavoured dishes, particularly those considered too overpowering for lighter wines. The smoky, peppery flavours of GSM blends partner delightfully with chargrilled and barbecued foods – from sirloin steak to cheese-stuffed, chargrilled peppers. They are a universal success at any summer barbecue.

To discover more about our Rhône 2021 En Primeur offer, click here.

Category: California,Food & Wine,Miscellaneous,New World,Old World,Rhône Wine

Tasting the Rhône


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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Our Rhône 2021 En Primeur offer is now live. As part of the launch, we held our Rhône tasting in the Cellars at No.3 St James’s Street last week. Here, Alexandra Gray de Walden shares her thoughts on the wines from this challenging vintage and discusses the real impact of climate change with the region’s producers.

The Northern Rhône

Last week saw the launch of our 2021 Rhône En Primeur campaign and with it, the corresponding tasting. On Tuesday 7th March, our Sussex and Napoleon Cellars played host to some of the Rhône’s most celebrated producers and of course, their delicious wines from the 2021 vintage.

Producers from the Northern Rhône took residence in the split-level Sussex Cellar. Wines from names such as Domaine Marc Sorrel, Franck Balthazar and Domaine Yves Cuilleron were all available to taste in one room. For a keen Rhône enthusiast such as myself, this was quite an experience. We were lucky enough to have most of the producers themselves joining us too and offering first-hand accounts of the vintage and direct comments on their winemaking and stylistic choices.

It is safe to say that the 2021 vintage was tremendously challenging for producers in the Rhône. Frost in April obliterated many of the region’s vineyards – up to 80 percent in some quarters. But winemakers are made of stern stuff and so this is a vintage owed entirely to their hard work and dedication.

Attitude over adversity

As these had been the first April frosts in the Northern Rhône for over 40 years, I was keen to hear our producers’ thoughts on the past year. Almost as rare an occurrence as frost in April, the representative at the tasting from Domaine Yves Gangloff was Yves himself. Tasting his succulent, rich and deservedly venerable wines with him, I bravely brought up the topic of global warming in our discussion. What came next, I found both disturbing and depressing.

“I live near a large river”, Yves told me. For clarity, I should point out that he doesn’t mean the Rhône River at this point. “It usually dries up in the summer with the water returning in October. I’m still waiting for it to refill from last summer.” Anybody who saw images of scorched earth in England and parched vineyards on the continent will see how this has happened. Global warming is a very real threat to winemakers worldwide and adaptations are having to be made. For instance, some wine regions are permitting the growing of new varieties which can withstand warmer temperatures – as in Bordeaux in 2021. When I ask Yves what precautions he is taking to futureproof his enterprise, he laments that it is already too late.

My strongest affection in the Northern Rhône has always been held for Condrieu. These fragrant, deep and occasionally oily white wines are what first made me fall in love with the Rhône. I tasted examples from five producers at our tasting. Whilst they were all unmistakably Condrieu, the variation in floral lift, fruit flavours and acidity were vast. This is anything but a one-trick pony.

The Southern Rhône

Producers from the Southern Rhône were nestled in our Napoleon Cellar for the evening. While the region may be best known for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the wines from that renowned appellation were not the only stars of the tasting. Wines from across the south were showing brightness, intensity and certainly no ill-effects of those pesky April frosts. Still rich and concentrated, the cooler temperatures have meant lower levels of alcohol in the final wines. This does seem to have given the vintage something of a classic elegance.

While a plethora of weather extremes battered our Rhône winemakers this vintage, the final wines have not suffered for it. This is a vintage of “attitude over adversity” and the results are full of flavour and layered with complexity. The 2021 wines are drinking beautifully and I cannot wait to see how they mature.

Our Rhône 2021 En Primeur offer is now live.

Category: Miscellaneous,Old World,Rhône Wine

The Super Tuscans: 10 years on


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Last week, our Pickering Cellar was the setting for a masterclass on Super Tuscan wines. Covering a range of styles, from 100% Sangiovese wines to those using solely international grapes, and across a broad span of sub-regions and vintages, it beautifully illustrated the diversity of this category. Here, Barbara Drew MW picks out a trio of wines from the 2013 vintage and discusses how they were showing on the night.  

The Super Tuscans are a category of rule-breaking Italian wines that came to prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

There’s no legal definition of these wines, and the term in fact hides a multitude of complexities. Super Tuscans are made using an array of different grapes, winemaking techniques, and also hail from a range of sub-climates. This tasting was an opportunity to explore all of these styles and discover which were most favoured.

Attendees ranged from those with cellars full of Italian wines, to collectors looking to broaden their horizons beyond Bordeaux, so there was a good range of opinions in the room. Whilst the 2007 Masseto and 2018 Grattamacco were some of the favourites on the night – for their silkiness and depth of floral complexity, and their elegance and incredible value, respectively – it was a trio of 2013s that best illustrated the variety and ageing potential of these great wines.  

The 2013 vintage

Within the line-up we showed three wines from the 2013 vintage. Whilst often derided as an annus horribilis within Europe, this vintage is a great example of how sweeping assessments are often unreliable. Even within Bordeaux, where the weather truly was less than ideal, different communes experienced differing levels of luck with their wines.

Over in Tuscany, many hundreds of miles away from the key regions of France, the weather was quite different. This vintage is remembered as beautiful and classic, neither too hot, nor too cool, producing wines of freshness and elegance and with serious ageing potential too.   

The line-up of 2013s contained a Tignanello, Sassicaia and Ornellaia, which represent the broad spectrum of Super Tuscan wines. Whilst Super Tuscans are often grouped together, in fact there is much variation between them, not least in the hillside wines from the Chianti region and those from Bolgheri.  

Hill versus coast

The wines from the Chianti zone of production, such as Tignanello, could often in fact be classified as Chianti Classico now the local regulations have softened somewhat. Nevertheless, most producers of these styles still prefer to market them as IGT Toscana, a regulation with broader rules on permitted grape varieties, winemaking styles and labelling. To those in the know, this indicates their differing style from more traditional Chianti wines.  

The hillside Super Tuscans are generally marked by notable, bracing acidity, and often sour cherry and herbal flavours. Nevertheless, they may show more glossy fruit character and sweet spice from new oak barrels than their cousins which are labelled as Chianti Classico.

The wines from Bolgheri, by contrast, tend to be richer and fuller-bodied, with riper fruit and often slightly more integrated acidity. These, by law, are dominated by international grapes, and so there are generally clear cassis and blackcurrant characters evident in the Bolgheri wines, as well as softer tannins.  

The 2013 Tignanello is predominantly Sangiovese, though it has around 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Cabernet Franc. We found that this was the wine which felt the most Italian – with sour cherry, dried herbs and bright, racy acidity. Some savoury, spicy characters were just starting to emerge, but this will still hold nicely for another 15 years at least.  

Heading to the coast, the 2013 Sassicaia is a different creature. Grown in Bolgheri, the land here is much flatter, affected by cooling coastal breezes and gravel soils rather than altitude and chalky galestro. The blend is also entirely international grapes, being 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. Not dissimilar to a Left Bank Bordeaux, the wine nonetheless was showing a beautiful richness due to the warming Mediterranean sunshine.

Considerably smoother and more rounded than the Tignanello – thanks to the Cabernet – this was the wine of the night for many. Starting to take on layers of tobacco and hints of earth, there is nonetheless a beautiful depth of ripe blackcurrant and cassis character here, that will support another 20 years’ ageing at least.  

By contrast, the 2013 Ornellaia was more akin to a Right Bank Bordeaux, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in almost equal measure, the balance being made up of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. There is always a richness and plushness to Ornellaia and that was absolutely in evidence here, with the wine tasting far younger than its 10 years would suggest. Underneath the richness, and sweet oak character there is serious structure, with bold but ripe tannins and gentle acidity which will support the ageing beautifully.  

The verdict

Although the joy of wine, and a tasting such as this, is the opportunity to taste different styles and pick your own favourite, nevertheless there were some common themes that emerged.

The Tignanello was admired by those who had cellars of Italian wines, with many agreeing it has more than earnt its place alongside Brunellos and Barolos. Like those other fabled regions, it does ideally need food to tame it though, with cured meats, some local Pecorino or even some fresh olives helping to complement its structure.

The Sassicaia meanwhile, with its rich blackcurrant notes, had a beautiful elegance to it, whilst the tannins were not as overt as in the Tignanello. Particularly for those less familiar with Italian wines, this wine was a favourite.

Not to be left out, the Ornellaia garnered fans for its rich and forward style. Nevertheless, much of the joy in Ornellaia is the fruit, something that will, eventually, start to fade with age. It was deemed that of all the wines, the Ornellaia was one to start drinking now or in the next five years, to make the most of its hedonistic charms. Clearly a rematch in five years’ time is required! 

To learn more about our educational masterclasses, and see what we have coming up here.

Category: Italian Wine,Miscellaneous