Category Archives: Wine

On the Geography of Wine


MeursaultIt is many years since I wrote substantively about the historical geography of viticulture, but I have nevertheless retained a keen theoretical and practical interest in wine and the vine ever since.  It was therefore with very great pleasure that I  accepted an invitation from an old friend, Barney Warf (well-known for his paper on the historical geography of cannabis) to contribute an annotated bibliography on the geography of wine to the series of geographical bibliographies that he is editing for Oxford University Press.

I hope that this annotated bibliography will be of use to all those with an interest in the geography of wine.  This is how the introduction begins:

“Wine has fascinated geographers since Antiquity. Greek and Roman geographers wrote extensively about wine and grape growing, drawing on earlier texts, most of which have not survived. In the early 20th century, geographers in wine-making regions of the world, especially France, began to develop a distinctive style of wine writing that placed viticulture as a central element of many European landscapes and geographies. However, it was not until the 1980s that professional geographers in the English-speaking world turned in any numbers to research and publication about wine. Geography is central to understanding grape growing and wine making, regardless of how the discipline is defined: wine is one of the most sensitive of agricultural products to variations in the physical environment; landscapes of the vine and wine reflect deep cultural resonances about the relationships between humans and the places in which they live; and the spatial distribution of wine production and wine styles vary significantly across the globe. This centrality of geography to wine means that there are few books about viticulture and wine making that do not contain some mention of geography, which makes it challenging to compile a comprehensive annotated bibliography on the subject. Almost every descriptive account of a wine region refers to its geography, usually focusing on its physical environment, and the influence that this has on the character of the wines. Moreover, important publications by archaeologists, historians, and economists, alongside many others, frequently refer to aspects of geography in their understandings of wine, often in terms of its role in international trade, its spatial variability, or the significance of the environment in shaping the distribution of grape growing and wine production. This article focuses primarily on the works of writers who call themselves geographers, or who write in geographical publications, but it also includes important publications written by those from other disciplines where they contribute significantly to what might be called a “geographical understanding” of wine. Attention concentrates on more recent geographical material published on wine, but classic texts and important earlier research and writing that shaped the field are also included, where of particular significance. The bibliography seeks to illustrate the breadth of geographical work primarily in the English language, and where authors have written several papers on a similar subject, only the most detailed, or accessible, are usually cited. It also seeks to provide examples of the research by geographers in many different parts of the world, drawing on evidence from Europe, Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and both North and South America.”

The bibliography then covers the following main topics:

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Texts on the Geography of Wine
    • French Wine Geographies
    • Wine Geographies in the English language
  • Geography, Environment and Terroir
    • Wine and Climate
  • Geography and Wine in Antiquity
  • Geography in the History of Wine
  • Geography of Wine Appellations and Demarcation
  • The Economic Geography of Wine
    • Wine Tourism
  • Spatial Distribution of Wine and Geographical Accounts of Wine Regions

Do please suggest additions or alterations that I can make to enhance the value of this resource

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Bibliography, Wine

Exploring Central Otago’s wines


One of the challenges in trying to buy wines in New Zealand is the dearth of good wine shops across most of the country.  Yes, it is possible to buy many New Zealand wines in supermarkets, such as Countdown or New World, but they do not have the range of quality wines that are made in New Zealand.  Indeed, many of the cheaper wines sold in such supermarkets are actually from Australia,  or even France.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I visited the old mining town of Arrowtown, to discover the Arrowtown Wine Store.  This has an amazing selection of New Zealand wines, especially from Central Otago, and particularly their Pinot Noirs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are so many impressive things about this shop: the range of wines that they stock, especially from Central Otago; the wonderful comments written by the staff about each of the wines, which perfectly capture their characteristics; the knowledge and hospitality of the store manager Tracy Grigor; and the fact that many of the wines are on sale at prices that are usually equivalent to the cellar door prices of the local wineries.  Anyone interested in wine, and especially the wines of New Zealand, who is visiting central South Island should make their way straight to Arrowtown and look out this great little shop!  The only rather bizarre thing, at least for visitors from the UK, is that currently it remains cheaper to buy these wines in the UK than it is in New Zealand, despite the collapse in the value of the pound post-Brexit!

It is difficult to make definitive choices about the best Pinot Noir wines made in Central Otago, but those from the following producers are definitely worth getting to know better:

Some of my pictures from these wineries are shown below:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Zealand, Wine

Rapid tour of northern New Zealand wineries


Twelve hours between flights into and out of Auckland provided a great opportunity to explore some of New Zealand’s more northerly vineyards.  Despite only having a couple of hours sleep before arriving around 05.00, and with a forecast of rain and thunderstorms, I set off northwards in the dark and rain.  The only trouble was that most of the wineries did not open until around 11.00, and so I had a lot of time to explore the surrounding countryside – much like the Scottish borders, and so very wet!

However it was great at last to see the vineyards and wineries at Kumeu River, Nobilo and Vila Maria (all pictured below).  Fortunately, the sun came out amazingly for a few short minutes when I was at Kumeu River, and so I could actually get some pictures that had a bit of brightness and contrast in them!  Their Chardonnays have long been one of my favourite New Zealand wines, and they are some of the closest New World wines to traditional Burgundies.  Visiting on a very rainy day, though, emphasised the heavy clay soils on which the Kumeu River vineyards are cultivated, a marked contrast to some of limestone soils of Burgundy!  I will have to look into that and explore further.

Not sure I would necessarily recommend driving a couple of hundred kilometres between flights in the rain, especially since to keep on the safe side I did not even taste any of the wines!  It was privilege enough, though,  just to visit!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Photographs, Wine

Majeka House – a lovely place to stay near Stellenbosch


For anyone seeking a comfortable and relaxed place to stay while exploring the wineries of Cape Province in South Africa I can thoroughly recommend the Majeka House, just outside Stellenbosch.  Hidden away in a quiet residential area, the hotel provides a wonderful oasis of luxury in which to unwind at the end of a busy day of tasting!  With a warm welcome, beautifully hand-crafted rooms, great views, a relaxing pool, and the fine Makaron Restaurant (one of the top 20 in South Africa), it is a very special place to stay.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Breakfasts are delicious, although I definitely preferred the anti-oxidant juice to the green revitaliser!  Also, beware the white pebbles in the birdcage at dinner – I dread to think of the teeth damage if someone bit hard on them!  As the above pictures illustrate, though, the food was innovatively presented, and of very high quality.  Make sure you book in advance, because the restaurant gets very full!

2 Comments

Filed under Africa, Restaurants, Wine

My favourite South African Wines…


ThelemaA visit to the Cape Province of South Africa last week in order to help select wines for the Athenaeum provided a great opportunity to learn something about  recent changes in the wine industry in the Cape and to taste some of the really excellent wines that are now being produced there.  It is some 40 years since I last visited Stellenbosch and Paarl, and it is great to see the quality of wines now being made in the region.

Thanks to Stuart and George who arranged the itinerary, and the hospitality of many amazing wine makers, we had the privilege of tasting nearly 200 wines from Stellenbosch, the Cape Peninsula, Franschhoek and the hinterland of Hermanus.  While this represented only a small fraction of the many wines now being made in South Africa, it did highlight three significant things for me:

  • First, the quality of the wines has improved very dramatically indeed over the last 15 or so years.  There are without doubt now some really excellent wines being made in South Africa, and they are very good value indeed, with many of the best wines being priced at under ZAR 250 (£15) a bottle.  We scarcely tasted a poor bottle, and it was difficult to choose those that I preferred best for my list of favourite wines below!
  • Second, South African wine makers have definitely learnt and understood the importance of terroir. Given my geographical wine “upbringing” in Burgundy, I have always argued that the physical environment has a very important role in determining the character of a wine, and it is good to see the increasing differentiation that now exists in the planting locations of different grape varieties in the Cape area.  Many of the wines we tasted emanated from some of the cooler vineyard locations, higher up on the mountain slopes, in windier locations, and closer to the sea.
  • Third, South Africa’s vineyards have to be amongst the most beautifully situated in the world, with many of them being in very picturesque locations, as I hope the pictures below illustrate.  Whilst leafroll virus is a serious problem for grape-growers, it does have the merit of turning vines a beautiful red colour in the autumn!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Despite the pleadings of my colleagues, I am still not convinced by many of the Chenin Blanc wines we tasted, perhaps with the exception of some of the sweet dessert wines.  I’m sure that some of my reticence stems from tasting too many rough Steen wines when I was younger!  While I recognise that modern good quality Chenin Blanc wines are indeed being made, I simply don’t particularly like them, finding the astringent flavours that I encountered in my youth all too often still to be present.  Likewise, I have to confess not really to liking wines made from the Pinotage grape.  All too often they too retain bitter flavours, and I found many of those we tasted to be rather unbalanced and poorly structured – with one delicious exception!

So, to conclude, my favourite wines, in alphabetical order of producers were:

  • 4Buitenverwachting (with MD Lars Maack)

    • 2009 Christine – excellent open fruity nose; 14.5% alcohol; rich, rounded, soft tannins; red fruit flavours; 45% Cabernet Franc contributes to tobacco and chocolate flavours (with 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot); well balanaced and good length
  • Chamonix (with Wine-maker Gottfried Mocke)

    • 2011 Pinotage – a very unusual wine made in a similar style to Ripasso, combining fresh wine refermenting with air dried grapes; half-picked very young and undergoes carbonic maceration; other half desiccated and refermented with first picking; grown at 440 m 9on Greywacke soils; 14.5% alcohol; kept mainly in one-year-old Pinot Noir barrels; dark red with complex green and dark fruit flavours; very soft tannins.
    • 2012 Chardonnay Reserve – 13.5% alcohol; 14 months in 228 l French oak; 30 year old vines which show character and personality; 80% barrel fermented with 20% in 600 l concrete eggs, which enable wine to be oxygenated and the lees stay in suspension for longer than using other fermenters; high acidity early grapes are put into concrete, with later pickings going into barrels; always goes through malo-lactic; tries to pick fruit at lower sugar levels to make wines more in a Burgundian style; 65% new oak used for this vintage, which remains very evident; need to keep for some time.
  • 5Cape Point (with Wine-maker Duncan Savage)

    • 2011 Late Harvest Noble 8 – only made when conditions are right, with some 2000 half bottles being produced in 2011; 160 grams residual sugar; 10.5% alcohol;  Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon botrytised blend; rich balanced fruit flavours; good length; acidity balances out the rich fruit; dried apricot flavours.
  • Delheim (with Viticulturist Vic Sperling)

    • 102009 Vera Cruz Shiraz – we had the last bottle in the cellar sadly; produced from bush vines; 14.5% alcohol; rich, intense fresh red fruits on the nose; fruity flavours of plums and jam; good length and complexity; their Vera Cruz wines are only made in years when the fruit is good enough; a powerful wine to be kept for a while.
    • 2013 Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest – botrytised Riesling from Simonsberg Mountain; good acid balance; not overly rich; classic slight petrol nose, but well structured and luscious flavours of honey and apricots.
  • Glenelly (with Wine-maker Luke O’Cuinneagain)

    • 12012 Oaked Chardonnay – light golden colour; blanche toasted 500 l barrels designed to keep as much natural fruit flavour as possible; fresh with good fruit expression; distinctive pear flavour, with slight citrus touches; richer and softer than their unoaked Chardonnay; good structure and depth.
    • 2010 Syrah – designed to be like a northern Rhône wine; 100% whole bunch fermented; purple-red colour; very clean, with slight smell of bacon; white pepper and floral aromas; relatively low alcohol at 13.9%; soft tannins, but needs time to develop.
  • Klein Constantia (Wine-maker Matthew Day)

    • 22013 Sauvignon Blanc – made with free-run juice from grapes from across the property; very pale in colour; up-front nose of gooseberry and blackcurrant leaves; 4 months in steel on lees; fresh in mouth, with balanced acidity on edge of tongue; quite light and eminently drinkable
    • 2008 Vin de Constance – classic dessert wine made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, left to dry on the vine; good rich flavours of candied orange, with other fruits including a slight pineapple taste; good depth and length; balanced acidity.
  • Meerlust (with Chris Williams, Cellar Master)

    • 62012 Pinot Noir – a serious wine; lovely rich nose; has been made since 2004 on coolest hilltops, which catch the breeze being only 3 kms from the sea; vines grown on decomposed granite; picked at 4-6 tonnes per hectare; vinified in small batches, some with natural fermentation; has an interesting liquorice nose; quite soft tannins; needs keeping for several years.
    • 2009 Rubicon – excellent Bordeaux blend style wine (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet France and 1% Petit Verdot); very rich and intense rich blackcurrant fruit flavours; complex; good length; well structured; definitely for keeping.
  • Newton Johnson (with Bevan Newton Johnson, MD)

    • 32012 Family Vineyards Pinot Noir – really good wine, clean, well structured, medium length, and rich complexity of Pinot flavours resulting from use of grapes from three adjacent vineyards (20% from Mrs. M, 30% from Block 6, and 50% from Windansea); first made in 2008/9; red fruit rather than vegetal.
    • 2012 Windansea Pinot Noir – Pinot Noir from a single vineyard which has more clay than adjacent ones, giving a deeper colour; a bit closed and more restrained than the fruitier more open Mrs. M and Block 6; well structured with good acid balance; excellent finesse; red and black berry fruits.  A really excellent wine.
  • Spier
    • 21 Gables Sauvignon Blanc – hand harvested; made from grapes grown in Durbanville near the Atlantic on red gravel and clay soils; nose of new mown hay; acidity clearly felt at edge of tongue; but well structured; rich complex flavours of gooseberry and slight asparagus; 13.5% alcohol.
  • Thelema (with Cellar Master Gyles Webb)

    • 82011 Cabernet Sauvignon “The Mint” – made from the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines they planted, with eucalyptus trees nearby, which give the wine a distinctive minty nose and flavour; mid-red colour; well-balanced and good structure; will be long-lived.
  • Vergelegen (with Wine-maker Andre van Rensburg)

    • 2011 Merlot – the first 100% Merlot wine made at Vergelegen since 1998; although Andre sees himself mainly as a Cabernet Sauvignon producer, he believes they have the environment to produce excellent Merlot; lovely soft nose and very gently tannins; still a bit young, and lacking a bit in length, but overall very pleasant.
    • 72010 DNA – Cabernet Franc does well at Vergelegen, but the yield needs to be reduced down to around 4 tonnes per hectare; aim is to pick the fruit as late as possible; mid-red, quite intense colour; 65% Cabernet Franc, Merlot 21% and Cabernet Sauvignon 13%; fantastic high notes on nose; very soft tannins; not as strong a smoky nose as I would have expected with this amount of Cabernet Franc; wine is designed to be fruity rather than green.  Wine is made in recognition of Andre’s respect to Cheval Blanc, with the DNA often being thought of as being similar to terroir.  Others might think that it is short for “Dickhead ‘n Arsehole”!  Incidentally, the label is not a fingerprint, but rather the contours of a hill!

Finally, I have long appreciated the work that Charles Back has done at Fairview, and particularly his BootLeggerscommitment to social change in the region.  In 1997 he helped establish The Fairvalley Workers Association, which aims to help workers at Fairview to have their own land, and he was also the driving force behind the Fairvalley wine brand that is owned by the Workers Association, with profits from the sale of their wines (made using cellar facilities at Fairview, and FairTrade certified) being used to support community development initiatives.  Being in South Africa enabled me to access further wines that it is difficult to get in the UK, and so I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to explore the shelves of Bootleggers in Fourways Crossing and purchase additional wines, including some of Fairvalley’s remarkably good value 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was delicious with boerewors, as well as  a bottle of Fairview’s 2010 Goat-Roti (Syrah/Viognier blend) that went especially well with barbecued fillet steak!

For those looking for somewhere quiet and relaxing to stay while exploring the vineyards of the Cape, I thoroughly recommend Majeka House, just outside Stellenbosch, which also houses the excellent Makaron Restaurant!

 

4 Comments

Filed under Africa, Photographs, Restaurants, Wine

Jordan Wine Estate, Stellenbosch


It is some 40 years since I was last in Stellenbosch – and how it has changed!  Today, I had the privilege of being introduced to the wines of Jordan Wine Estate by Gary and Kathy Jordan – in the company of some good friends.  It is great to see the impact that UC Davis has on far-flung parts of the world, and also to meet wine-makers who combine expertise in geology and economics to produce some really very good wines!  Terroir is definitely alive and well here.  Sadly, I’m not yet able to share the flavours of the wines virtually, but I hope that the images below capture something of the beauty of this part of South Africa, as well as the care and attention to detail that marks out wine-making at Jordan Wine Estate!  Have to say that I particularly enjoyed the 2011 Cobblers Hill – and the lunch!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Photographs, Wine

Hostageria de Poblet: peaceful place to stay to the west of Barcelona


There is always a tension in writing about hidden away places where I have enjoyed staying.  Were they to become overly popular, that would destroy much of their secrecy and solitude!  However, earlier this year I discovered somewhere really lovely, and hope that by mentioning it here others will take the opportunity to enjoy what it has to offer.

The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet in La Conca de Barberà just to the north of Reus and Tarragona, and some 130 kms west of Barcelona, is one of a group of Cistercian monasteries founded in Catalunya in the 12th century, shortly after the conquest of the province by the Catalan-Aragon monarchy.  Others  include the monasteries of Vallbona de les Monges in l’Urgell and Santes Creus in L’Alt Camp.  One day I must walk the Ruta del Coster that joins them all up!

The monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet itself had become very run down by the early 19th century.  The confiscation of church lands in 1835 and the consequent expulsion of the monks led to further decay, and it has only been in recent years that some of its character has been restored.  A community of monks returned to the monastery in 1940, and in 1991 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Since then it has attracted increasing numbers of visitors, many of whom are drawn there by its magnificent setting among woods and streams sheltered by the Prades mountains.

In 2010 a new modern guesthouse, the Hostageria de Poblet, was built within the old walls of the monastery, and it provides a simple, minimalist place to stay. For those who like quiet, hidden away places, set amidst vineyards and rolling hills, the Hostageria is most definitely worth a visit.  As their brochure notes, “There are no televisions in the rooms to respect the silence and the living dynamics of the monastery”.  That having been said, the guesthouse does have Internet access for those who do not want to escape the modern technological world completely!  Currently, the Spring price for a double room varies between $49 and $59, which makes them really excellent value for money.

The Hostageria also has a restaurant that serves delicious local food – but do note that the lunch menu is much more extensive than that available in the evenings.  Alongside the restaurant is a culinary school, designed to provide both a theoretical and practical training for people living in the comarca of Conca de Barberà.  The Spring menu offers three courses for €20, with a typical choice being

  • Torradeta d’escalivada i formatge de cabra gratinat
  • Llom de bacallà a la mel a l’estil dels monjos de Poblet
  • Iogurt del monjos amb gelat de nata i xarrop de grosella

The monastery also has its own wines, developed in collaboration with the Cordoniú Group. Nine hectares within the walled enclosure were planted in 1989 with Pinot Noir grapes, chosen in memory of the Cistercian wine makers of Burgundy.  Although Pinot Noir is not widely grown in Catalunya, the wines from the monastery, include the 100% Pinot Noir Abadia de Poblet, as well as a lesser wine known as Intramurs, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Merlot, and both are definitely worth tasting while staying there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Photographs, Restaurants, Wine