In the latest instalment of our series looking at wine faults, we look at how light can damage wine
Ever wondered why Cristal’s clear glass bottles come wrapped in orange plastic? This fault is the simple answer.
Light can cause the production of volatile sulphur compounds in a wine, giving it aromas of cooked cabbage or onion – a fault described as light strike. It doesn’t take long for it to take effect, either – some suggest as little as half an hour in direct sunlight can mar the wine.
It’s only certain wavelengths that are damaging, so can be easily prevented by bottling wine in dark glass (and the thicker the better, too), or using protective wrapping (à la Cristal).
It’s a particular problem for sparkling wines or rosé, the latter of which is rarely bottled in coloured glass.
For wines in clear glass bottles, it is avoidable: they just need to be kept in the dark (or shielded from light) as much as possible to avoid being “light-struck”.
Each month we shine a light on one of the bottles in the wine-tasting machines in our London Shop. This month, we’re looking to the Southern Hemisphere for some much-needed sunshine, with Dean Hewitson’s Baby Bush Mourvèdre
What is it? The ebullient Barossa winemaker Dean Hewitson farms the world’s oldest Mourvèdre vines (planted in 1853); understandably the resulting wine, his Old Garden Mourvèdre, commands a certain premium. His Baby Bush vineyard, however, is – as its name implies – grown from cuttings of those remarkable pre-phylloxera bush vines, offering the same remarkable vine DNA, combined with the vibrancy of youth.
Why’s it different? Mourvèdre isn’t necessarily anyone’s go-to grape; but, tasting this, it really should be. Its distinctive savoury edge – herbal and earthy – is balanced by deliciously ripe bramble fruit. Plush and velveteen, with plenty of acidity to offset that Barossa sunshine, this is bold and beautiful.
What should I eat with it? Grill a steak, or we’d be tempted to order a pizza – it’ll stand up to some more substantial toppings. If you’re feeling fancy (Sunday lunch, maybe?), this herb and pepper-crusted rib of beef would do nicely.
There are few things more reassuring – or quintessentially
British – than Claret. Philip Moulin – a man more devoted to Bordeaux than most
– argues that the region’s wines are peerless companions for a Christmas feast
Over the years, I’ve had many people tell me (sometimes even
those whom I trust) that red Bordeaux, or “Claret” – as we call it fondly in
Britain, is not necessarily the best thing to go with a traditional Christmas
dinner. It is claimed that the wines’ subtleties are lost amongst the powerful
flavours that are part of a yuletide roast. To my mind this is stuff and
nonsense. For me, Claret is the finest partner to a great number of what we
consider to be the cornerstones of a Christmas feast. Whether it’s turkey with
all the trimmings, a decadent goose, a rib of beef or even the joint of ham on
Boxing Day, an even-mannered, savoury bottle of Claret is the absolute ticket.
I would go further and say that, for me, a decent case of
Claret is an absolutely essential part of Christmas. With its
inviting notes of cigar box, pencil shavings and blackcurrant fruit, there is
something reassuring about it that few other wines can come close to offering.
With food, red Bordeaux is more than capable of holding its own, but it rarely
shouts too loud either. It is the classic accompaniment to a roast, with just
enough fruit to be charming, yet enough structure to refresh the palate and
bring the dish to life. Come the end of the meal you know exactly where you
stand, or rather where you ought to be sitting – namely in your favourite
armchair, clutching the last glass from the decanter, and perhaps a corner of
the decent Cheddar you were hoping your companions were too full to tackle.
Three to try
2016 Berry Bros. & Rudd St Julien by Château Léoville Las Cases: Coming from one of the great terroirs of Bordeaux, and from arguably the best vintage in the last 20 years, our own St Julien is a clear contender for best-value wine on our list. With fabulous intensity of fruit, silky tannins, and beautiful balance, it would be hard to find a finer Claret for the price, and this will be a perfect match for all the Christmas Day classics.
2013 Ch. Haut-Plantey, St Emilion: A firm favourite of traditional Claret drinkers, Haut Plantey is the perfect example of a plump, rounded St Emilion. It manages the neat trick of being both gorgeously fruit-driven, yet serious and savoury at the same time. I would save this for Boxing Day, and enjoy it with slices of gammon and a wedge of mature cheddar.
2011 Château Giscours, Margaux: This is one of the grand old names of Bordeaux, and one of our favourite châteaux in recent years. The languid, opulent style of Giscours wines is instantly apparent in the 2011 – an easy, rounded sort of vintage. Full of dark, glossy cassis fruit, with hints of creamy oak, this is an effortlessly graceful Margaux for drinking now.
With the 2018 vintage due to be released early next year, we sent Andy
Harris from our marketing team to accompany our Buyer as he tasted his way
round Burgundy. Here, he shares what he learnt about the region, its wines and
the almost impossible job of a Buyer
It often sounds like an envious job, a tasting trip. In many
ways, it is; but it’s also gruelling work. In my mere three days, I visited 15
producers and sampled 300 wines in the Côte de Beaune. Our Buyer Adam Bruntlett
won’t return for another four weeks. Tasting begins at 8.30am each day and
carries on unabated, save for an hour’s respite at lunchtime, till around 6.30pm.
By the end of the first day, I felt like I needed to shave my tongue – and we “only”
sampled 76 wines that day.
It was fascinating to see how Adam worked; there’s clearly
an art to buying wine – especially in Burgundy, arguably the world’s most
intricate wine region. Dissecting huge volumes of information, asking the right
questions and finding the point of difference in four or five Meursaults in the
eighth hour of tasting is seriously hard work – and I say this as someone who
tastes a lot of wine for a living. This vast array of detail has to be
distilled before assessing which wines will make up a balanced portfolio. Until
you’re there, it’s hard to grasp quite how difficult this is.
It was also the passion and incredible knowledge of the
winemakers that stood out. During my sojourn I met a fantastic array of personalities
(and varied attire). But the thing that bonds them is their remarkable understanding
of the land they work with. If you know something about the wines of the region,
you know that there is a mind-boggling array of climats and lieux-dits.
Yet I simply was not prepared for just how complicated it is.
For instance, in any one plot, for almost all of the wines
you care to mention, the growers will know the gentle undulations within a slope,
the precise makeup of the soil; how in the space of five metres the clay or
limestone will change, impacting the grapes in numerous, subtle ways. When you
are making, in some cases, 50 or more cuvées, this level of cognizance
really is incredible. In the winery, this familiarity, with even a particular
vine, will be applied to getting the very best out of what nature has provided.
The wineries and the cellars may change, but – whether water is seeping through
the wall of a musty and mould-covered ceiling, or it’s an immaculate modern
space – the precision is the same.
Having visited the region, it is now perfectly clear why Burgundy’s
classification system is based on vineyards, on the quality of terroir,
which is supremely complex. To be involved in this region at all you must have
immense passion and an encyclopaedic knowledge, often built up and passed on
over generations. My trip has changed my perceptions of Burgundy, but not in
the way I thought it would. Despite currently beavering away on my fourth
Burgundy campaign, it is clear I am very much still a novice. There is so much
more to learn about this remarkable and beguiling region: what better way to
start than over a bottle or two over the weekend. Salut!