Finding faults: light strike

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Illustration: Nicolas Boron
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”.

Read the rest of our series on wine faults here.

Category: Miscellaneous

On the pour: Baby Bush Mourvèdre

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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

2016 Hewitson Baby Bush Mourvèdre, Barossa Valley, Australia

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.

How much? £1 for a taste, £19.50 for a bottle

Drop into our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall to taste it for yourself.

Category: Miscellaneous,New World

The comfort of Claret

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Photograph: Jason Lowe
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. 

Browse our full range of Claret perfectly suited to drinking this Christmas on bbr.com

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Burgundy 2018: an apprentice at large

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Photograph: Jason Lowe
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!

Burgundy 2018 will be offered en primeur in January 2020. Follow all our coverage of the vintage here.

Category: Burgundy Wine