The Most Intelligent Wine Newsletter In The World
An MW Once Said…
It was Rod Smith MW that said to me, that the week or so before the Stage 2 exam he booked a few days away in the Mosel to get his mojo back1. A final in-depth spin through a vineyard, step foot on some soil, remember why he was doing it. Some last minute inspiration.
Fresh air breezing through, furtively feeling emerging buds, taste some amazing wine, eat good food. Chat wine with wine people.
That felt like the best possible thing to do.
Instead, I went to the London Wine Fair.
It’s Possible to Expect Too Much
In all aspects the MW gives you a thirst for knowledge, instills a relentless pursuit of intricate detail. You wouldn’t apply unless you deeply cared for rootstock combinations of specific clones on certain sites.
Even the geeks couldn’t really care less, but I’m told so often that it’s the fundamentals of the programme.
So, I went to the Intelligent Wine Fair of London, to cram some facts. Extract the details.
Here are some conversations I had and wines I tasted. Memory joggers and refreshers.
The Sauvignon Blanc Producer in the Loire
Obviously I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.
SBPITL: This is a map of the region, we only grow one grape, Sauvignon Blanc.
DK: Any clonal or rootstock differences?
DK: Any soil geology differences?
SBPITL: No. This one is the Quincy.
DK: That’s lovely, bright, fresh. What’s the winemaking, is it all stainless steel?
SBPITL: Yes. This is the Pouilly Fumé.
DK: Fantastic, really elegant. Do you do anything different in the winery between each plot, or region?
SBPITL: No, they’re all made the same. This is the Sancerre.
DK: OK, the Sancerre has a little more mineral, chalky character, and is a little leaner, why’s that?
DK: OK, great, thanks.
I’ll pop that in my notebook for a future essay.
The Chenin, The Chardonnay, and The Albariño
I tried to take a look at style and quality across single varietal wines from different regions.
The idea here is that I wanted to have a little cross-producer look at entry, mid and premium tiers from similar regions and grapes.
Just to get a refresher on what makes a cheap Chenin taste like a cheap Chenin, and then upwards through the tiers.
Repeat with Chardonnay.
It was, unlike the Loire Valley producer, quite helpful.
Producer A’s entry Chenin, one I know well was fermented in stainless, then racked to old barrels. Tasted like it too, just a hint of creaminess.
Their Mid-Tier ‘Reserve’ Chenin was fermented in the newer oak, and then matured in those barrels for a bit. The oak felt rich and bold, toasty and creamy. Obvious.
The Top-Tier, “only made in the best vintages” Chenin, was lean and austere and yet complex and elegant. It was also triple the price.
The thing to learn is that the top-top wines aren’t just the ‘this goes up to 11’ versions of the Mid-Tier wines.
I noticed this across the board. The Mid-Tier felt the most ‘overt’ while the Top-Tier was intense, but restrained. A good bit of learning.
Repeat with Chardonnay
Albariño on the other hand was absolute chaos in comparison. They all taste the same. Six months in tank on the lees, like a basic Sur-Lie Muscadet, but peachy and saline.
I tasted through maybe fifteen on the Rias Baixas stand. Different regions, geology, and soils. Same grape, same winemaking, taste the same.
Yet, wildly different prices and ‘quality tiers’. So, all Albariño is Mid-Tier if you’re asking me to take a punt in a blind tasting. Some more learning.
The nice guy from Hatch took me through some side-by-side Chilean varietals.
Two Pinot Noir. Yep. Definitely Chilean
Two Carmenere. Also clearly Chilean.
Two Cabernet Sauvignon. Surprisingly, Chilean.
The entry point wines showed bright crunchy fruit, ripe, fleshy, green pepper notes. Varietal character lees relevant.
The premium wines felt overworked, and toasty, with rich structure and some green pepper herbaceous notes. Varietal character less relevant.
I think that’s all I need to say about that. Gaja Nebbiolo Langhe, Barbaresco, Barolo, and another Langhe.
Ridiculously, the guy I wanted to talk to has nipped off for a sandwich so the wines were just a bit of a free-for-all.
We were all too bowled over by the quality to take advantage of the situation. The wine industry, folks.
I’m off to Champagne on Monday for an actual day or two of ‘mojo-gathering, feet in the vines, eat some food, talk wine to wine-types adventure’.
I’ll probably see you on the other side.
Just a quick thanks to Fiona Beckett. We were on a judging panel together at The IEWA last week, and off the back of that Fiona popped this newsletter on the Recommendations bit of her own Substack, which I’m appreciative of. So here’s a link to Fiona’s, Eat This, Drink That newsletter.
Rod, correct me if I’ve remembered this incorrectly.