In just two days, a team of riders will start a gruelling journey: cycling 325 miles, over four days, from London to Champagne. The team, made up of our colleagues and producers, will be headed by our Chair Lizzy Rudd – and is aiming to raise £325,000 for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation as a result, to help fund vital research into a cure for MND.
We weren’t sure how many people would sign up for a charity cycle from London to Champagne. But when we first put the idea to everyone at Berry Bros. & Rudd, we had so many people volunteer in the first two weeks that we had to stop taking applications.
In our 325 years of history, this is our biggest fundraising effort yet: cycling for four days, covering 325 miles, to raise £325,000 for the fight against MND.
I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) five years ago.
MND is one of the cruellest diseases you can think of. It’s degenerative, it’s paralysing and it’s terminal. Your muscles waste away and will never build up again, your intact mind is trapped in a failing body. Life expectancy from diagnosis is just two years.
It affects one in 300 people. The number of people living with MND isn’t low because it’s rare – it’s low because life expectancy is so short. Because of that, awareness also isn’t as high as it should be.
There’s currently no cure, but that doesn’t have to be the case. MND is not an incurable condition, it’s just underfunded. Charities like My Name’5 Doddie – named after my friend, the late, great Doddie Weir OBE – are doing a huge amount to help fund crucial research.
In the UK alone we have multiple research streams on the brink of a breakthrough. That’s why we took on this challenge – to raise money for the research that they’re doing, to help support those with MND, and to find a cure.
It’s been a real source of pride to see so many people get involved in this. We have the cyclists, the team on the 325-mile cycle. Among them are colleagues from across the business, as well as some of our producers, and some of our customers. Many of them have never attempted a cycle this long or this difficult.
Behind them, there are so many others who have supported with fundraising events, encouraging the team through the training, and spread the story of the ride to their own friends and family.
It’s an immense challenge. 325 miles across two countries – that’s a huge undertaking. There’ll be tears. But the amount we’ll be able to raise, and the awareness we’ll spread as a result, is invaluable. Every single pedal we push, every penny we raise, every bit of media coverage that teaches someone about MND – that all brings us closer to finding meaningful treatments, and a cure.
You can find out more about the ride, and donate, via our JustGiving page here.
Almost every wine, regardless of region or brand name, has a year on the label – the vintage.
This is the year the grapes were grown, and those four numbers contain a multitude of information: whether the spring was cold, with frost, leading to a small harvest; whether the summer had heat spikes, resulting in lower acidity than usual in the wine; or whether the autumn was fine and dry, resulting in ripe, soft tannins. The year has a huge impact on the style and quality of a wine, and its potential for ageing.
But occasionally, there is no year on the label. Such wines are non-vintage (or more accurately, multi-vintage). A non-vintage wine is one that does not come from a specific year, but is the result of wines from several years being blended together. In the wine world these are remarkably rare, confined to wines such as Sherry, blended through the years and across barrels to add huge depth and complexity to the wine.
But whilst globally rare, regionally they hold great sway in the key sparkling wine producing regions of the world, in particular Champagne. Non-vintage (or NV) Champagnes are the engine room of Champagne production, accounting for approximately 90% of the region’s annual output.
To understand why, you need to look both at the climate in the Champagne region, as well as the industry here. Traditionally the climate here has been unpredictable. The region suffers from cold winters, which can extend long into spring, resulting in frost at budbreak and rain or wind at flowering, both of which can result in smaller volumes of fruit. Summers can be warm and bright, but just as often grey and rainy. Unlike most still wine-producing regions where grapes can be left on the vine to develop flavour and sugar into the autumn, in Champagne they must be picked early, so the base wine remains low in alcohol (around 10-10.5%). This weather variability means that some years the wine produced is quite different in character to others – with more noticeable acidity, less alcohol and less ripe fruit flavours.
Traditionally this large variability in style was undesirable, particularly for the large brands that once dominated the region. Those producers creating millions of bottles of wine needed both volume and consistency, year in, year out, and blending the tool to achieve this aim. In addition, blending across vintages was a great way to improve the overall quality of wine produced. By adding in wines from years that are excellent, which might otherwise be bottled as standalone vintage wines, it adds complexity and quality to the non-vintage wines. Such wines can even be aged for a few years, to develop even greater complexity. However, non-vintage wines are particularly problematic in the cellar; without an excellent management system (our app, perhaps) you’re never entirely sure when a wine was originally laid down, and therefore when it should be drunk.
However, a new trend is emerging in Champagne. Whilst the weather is as variable as ever, it is certainly warmer, and the years when grapes simply weren’t ripe enough to produce good wine are rare indeed. Some argue that the grapes are now of sufficient quality to produce a vintage wine every year, and that is what a handful of producers do. Others argue that multi-vintage blending is an asset, adding complexity and depth to a wine, and wish to continue. But they also recognise that consumers want to know more about what’s in their bottle; what year the wine has come from; what the characteristics might be; and how long it might age for.
As a result, Champagne Houses are increasingly releasing ‘expressions’ of non-vintage wines. Producers such as Krug and Jacquesson led the way, numbering each non-vintage release so that consumers, if they wished, could see what the majority vintage in the wine is, understand the character, and keep track of its ageing if they left it in their cellar. Other producers, seeing the benefit, are following suit. Louis Roederer have recently shifted their approach to their non-vintage wine, instead moving to a series of numbers “collection” wines. The number refers to the youngest vintage in the blend – Collection 243 being made up of 2018, Roederer’s 243rd vintage – supported by oak-aged reserve wines. And, to add further complexity, Roederer add in wines from a Perpetual Reserve; a tank filled with older wines that is continuously topped up with younger vintages as the wine within is used.
The wines themselves still show house style first and foremost. And they lack the distinct variations in flavour and structure of true vintage wines. But for those in the know, it is a little easier to detect subtle changes between the years. And for these modern non-vintage wines, the problem of heading into your cellar and trying to work out which non-vintage Champagne to drink first, has now, happily, been eliminated.
Read more articles about Champagne and sparkling wine here.
We recently had the great fortune of sampling a line-up of exquisite wines of this Alsatian icon. Here, we paint a brief picture of what you can expect from Hugel et Fils’s stunning “noble” wines.
Hugel is one of the oldest wine estates in the Alsace region of Eastern France. The winery was founded in 1639 by Hans Ulrich Hugel, even predating us here at Berry Bros. & Rudd. Impressively, it has managed to remain within family hands for close to four centuries, and is today run by the 13th generation of the family.
The family own more than 25 hectares of vineyard land in Riquewihr not far from Colmar, a picture-perfect fairytale town comprising medieval timbered houses and old wine shops. Almost half of Hugel’s sites are classified as Grands Crus. Only the “noble” grape varieties can be used to make Grand Cru wines in Alsace, and these are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat. The average age of Hugel’s vines is 30 years old, lending the fruit extra concentration and richness.
If, like me, you’re a fan of ripe, full-bodied whites, you’ll adore Hugel’s wines. Rugged Alsace is blessed with some of the sunniest weather in France, and the warm autumns here allow the grapes to ripen on the vine, resulting in concentrated sugars. This practice is known as vendanges tardives, yielding gloriously fleshy, often sweet wines. Brimming with ripeness and refreshing acidity, many will evolve beautifully in the cellar.
If you’re looking for something special, I can’t recommend these wines enough. Below, you’ll find a brief snapshot of six wines from our recent tasting.
A quick explainer
Estate wines are from a selection of grapes from Hugel’s vineyard plots situated in Riquewihr commune, which are cultivated on a unique mix of clay and/or marl soils. These offer the classic flavours you can expect from these grapes, and exceptional value.
The Grossi Laüe, which means “great growth” in the Alsatian dialect, represent the greatest expressions of noble varieties from their historic vineyards: Riesling on marl, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer on clay. These will become more multi-faceted and complex with time in the cellar.
Vendage tardive translates to “late harvest”, and refers to the practice of leaving grapes on the vine until the fruit sugars concentrate. Hugel were the pioneers of this category in Alsace. These wines are almost always sweet, rich and full-bodied, although they don’t necessarily need to be.
This is a rich, full-bodied expression of Pinot Gris. There is plenty of ripe fruit on the nose: melon, peach, apricot, orange blossom and nectarine all abound. A subtle cream character emerges on the palate, alongside touches of honey and orange blossom. A fine thread of acidity and a little residual sugar keeps this in good balance. It’s delicious alongside slightly sweet chestnut flavours and soft cheeses.
“Like a well-made perfume, the Estate Gewürztraminer has a symphony of fragrance notes drawing you in,” says Account Manager Henrietta Gullifer. It’s brimming with wonderfully ripe flavours of lychee, rose, nectarine, peach and apricot, with a floral note of chamomile and a touch of spicy ginger. It’s a real treat now, and would make a beautiful match for a cheeseboard.
A sweet, fleshy ripeness runs through this wine. Lychee notes burst out of the glass on first whiff, alongside hints of roses and ginger. On the palate, flavours of mango, lychee and peach are held together with a fine acidity, offering a fresh overall sensation. It’s utterly delicious, and would pair very nicely with steamed fish with ginger.
Beeswax, blossom, nectarine and honey entice on the nose, and the palate offers notes of tropical and citrus fruits and a hint of cream. This is among the sweeter of Hugel’s offerings, but that richness is balanced by a good acidity. It’s the perfect partner for Chinese duck pancakes with hoisin sauce.
This has an opulent green-gold hue to it that entices at first sight. There’s a softness to this, with notes of sticky lychee, blossom, rich honey and rose. Account Manager Tom Cave suggests pairing this with a soft blue cheese such as a Munster. Whether you pair it with food or enjoy it alone, a chilled glass of this would be a real delight.
This is exquisitely fleshy and layered. The nose bursts with roses, stone fruits, sweet orange and that touch of petrol which is characteristic of Rieslings with a little age. On the palate, it offers orange syrup and a slightly nutty baklava-like note, with the subtlest hint of pistachio to complement the rich fruit. The sticky sweetness is beautifully balanced by a good acidity, to stunning effect. With a long life ahead of it, this will only improve in the years to come. It’s a real treat to end the tasting on.
Some white wines can truly be counted as household names. Stalwarts of many a wine rack, these have reached all corners of the globe, and are tried-and-tested favourites.
Yet venture outside the familiar confines of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, and there are real treasures to be found. Here, we’ve brought together some of our favourites from outside the better-trodden paths of the wine world.
Albariño is one of Spain’s most distinctive white grapes. Largely hailing from the rainswept, coastal region of Galicia, these grapes make wonderful wines: intensely aromatic, with a real saline edge. Many famous examples come from Rías Baixas DO. Albariño is also found in northern Portugal, where it is known as Alvarinho. Mostly, all are sold young and unoaked to preserve their fresh acidity, and all have a light texture.
Ideal for fans of Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis or Picpoul de Pinet, the best Albariños will be full of green fruit, peach and almond notes – alongside that famed salty note. Most of Albariño’s heartlands lie in proximity to the ocean, so it’s no surprise that seafood and fish are often recommended as food pairings. Our Own Selection Albariño is an excellent bottle to try: fresh and full of salted lemon and tarragon.
Arneis is a rare grape, although it’s increasingly being planted by leading producers in Italy. Meaning “little rascal” in the Piemontese language – a nod to how difficult it is to grow – Arneis is indigenous to the Roero Hills of Piedmont, just north of Alba. Having nearly become extinct, it has now made a small comeback. However, there are still only a few thousand hectares of vines worldwide.
It’s an excellent choice for fans of Pinot Gris. Arneis produces lovely dry wines, with distinctively perfumed aromas of ripe apple, almond and pear. Medium to full bodied, they’re excellent to drink with creamy pastas and herb-rich chicken dishes. Our pick is the Roero Arneis from Giovanni Rosso, which also benefits from some delicious elderflower and melon notes.
Bacchus is seeing something of a revolution in England. It’s currently the fourth most-planted grape on these shores. It makes wines similar to Sauvignon Blanc: zesty, fresh, and full of green fruit flavours. England’s cool climate also coaxes out flavours of hedgerow, elderflower, and pear.
This hardy grape was first bred by humans at the Geilweilerhof Institute for Grape Breeding in 1993, as a cross between Silvaner, Riesling, and Müller-Thurgau. Originally, it was designed to be able to withstand cold, damper climates. This made it ideal for England, where the wines it produces are certainly worth trying. Flint Vineyard’s Bacchus is one of the best examples we’ve discovered: beautifully fresh, with lemon sherbet, saline and pineapple notes.
Furmint, in its sweet form, is best known for being used in Tokaji. Yet, some winemakers in Hungary and beyond are now championing dry versions. A smoky tinge is prevalent through most dry Furmints, which are sometimes compared to Riesling.
The rest can vary considerably: some have zippy, citrus freshness, others, richer quince-like fruit flavours. Other common flavours are ginger, spice and spearmint. All tend to have a rich, smooth and round texture, similar to Marsanne or Roussane. Oremus’ 2019 Tokaji Furmint Mandolas is a fantastic choice; drink alongside delicate Asian dishes like sushi or dumplings, or with a chicken liver parfait. The acidity will cut right through the fat.
Gewürztraminer is hard to compare with others. This distinctive grape is the second most widely planted grape in France’s Alsace region – although great examples can also be found in Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and even California.
Gewürztraminer grapes rapidly develop high sugar levels, which results in headier wines with warming alcohol, rich aromas, and a sprinkling of spice. The leading aroma will be that of lychee, alongside rose petal, ginger, orange blossom and peach. They’re often quite full-bodied – meaning they can hold their own against Asian, Middle Eastern or Moroccan spiced dishes. Our recommendation is the floral Gewürztraminer Trocken from Selbach-Oster; it’s a refreshing, yet intense, example of how fantastic this unique grape can be.
Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s most famous grape, although it’s widely planted across several Eastern European countries. The wines are d lean, with flavours of white pepper, fresh herb, green bell pepper and grapefruit – some from warmer regions may have some notes of peach and nectarine, too.
A great choice for fans of Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino, most Grüner Veltliners have a signature steely acidity that makes them ideal for drinking with creamy, fatty foods. For an harmonious pairing, we’d suggest trying the Kamptaler Terrassen from Willi Bründlmayer with a chicken supreme, or a four-cheese risotto.
Semillon (spelt Sémillon in France) isn’t a secret; after all, it’s used in a huge number of Bordeaux’s famed white blends. Yet, on the other side of the globe, largely in Australia’s Hunter Valley, it is being championed in single-varietal wines unlike any others.
In youth, these are lean and citrussy wines – it’s with age that they really come into their own. Hunter Valley-style Semillon should be drunk after at least five years in bottle, which will result in hugely complex flavours of wax, hay, hazelnut and fig. They’re a fantastic choice for lovers of the hefty flavours in “big” whites like Viognier or buttery Chardonnay – despite the fact that often, they’re lower in alcohol, sitting at around 10% ABV, and also are quite light-bodied. They do a stellar job of cutting through heavy, rich dishes: think risotto or pork belly. We’d recommend the Tyrrells HVD Single Vineyard as a fantastic example of an Australian Semillon – but try keeping it for a few years, to really see what it can do.