A sneaky peek at our 2016 wine varieties…

Event Wine Solutions Director Paul Scaife fills us in on his recent trip to visit our wine supplier and hints towards the wines we might be enjoying in 2016…

A fascinating time of year to visit our wine supplier in France is autumn. Whilst the source of our French Varietal range of Sauvignon, Cinsault Rosé and Merlot is from the Languedoc in southern France, the wines are bottled in Beaujolais Country, near Macon in southern Burgundy. This means that there is (still, believe it or not) a great deal of excitement about the release of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau, which traditionally happens on the third Thursday in November. So, in the tasting room of the winery at this time of year, are dozens of different blends of Beaujolais Nouveau prepared for the array of supermarkets, restaurants, café and bars that promote this year’s 2015 harvest wine for immediate and juicy drinking.

It’s true that in the UK Beaujolais Nouveau started its decline in the late 90s, after a string of poor vintages and the rise of New World Wine sales. However, in other countries, such as Japan, it’s still big business. I rather like the up front, easy drinking style of a light weight red wine that screams for pâté en croute, Jésus de Lyon and other charcuterie, but it appears that I am in the minority.

Talking of Beaujolais, we chose to bottle a delicious blend of Fleurie 2014 this year. Soft, elegant, but full of vibrant Gamay fruit, it was introduced under our new Comte de Bernadotte premium wine range, which also included a stunningly well-balanced unoaked Chardonnay, our Macon Villages 2014. Both these wines found their way to Latitude, Bestival, BBC Proms and other events, where they were met with great enthusiasm by our customers. At last, a range of boutique, fine wines in full unbreakable bottles, so you can share with friends!

The plan for this visit to our supplier was to review the performance of the varietal wines sold through over 70 festivals and events in the summer of 2015 and to look ahead to possible range additions for 2016. With most wines now having undergone their fermentations, there’s a good indication of the quality of the wines available and the growers and co-operatives from whom we source our wines for the blends are now doing their sums to see how much they can charge! With a solid summer of sunshine under France’s belt, the quality of the wines is good and in some cases, excellent. For example, we expect a strong performance from the regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, as growing conditions were excellent from the late May flowerings onwards, although lack of much rain in the later ripening period of August in Burgundy has meant there will not be a large quantity of wine, even though it’s likely to be of good quality.

Enough of other regions however, our main concern is in the Languedoc, from where our varietal wines are sourced. Volume and quality are good and the initial indications are for wines of suppleness and charm, though there are still some wineries yet to report. This is good, as for 2016, we want to add more to the range, for sale at a premium over the varietals, but below our fine Macon and Fleurie. We discussed the possibility of adding a Viognier nod Pinot Noir, to give customers a depth to the range available at events, whilst being reasonably priced.

Viognier is a white grape variety from the Rhone and southern France, much beloved of wine writers for its gentle apricot character, balanced by a firm, but not intense level of acidity. So, it’s a versatile wine for enjoying on its own, but a really interesting match to oriental dishes. This suits some of the street food traders’ offers at festivals and we have a hunch that Viognier could be an interesting addition to our range.

Pinot Noir is an elusive wine, often quite highly priced, particularly when it originates in Burgundy. Some of the world’s most famous wines, such as Nuits St. Georges, Gevrey Chambertin, Pommard and the like. All super yummy, but probably out of the price range of bar operators, alas. So, our vision is to find a Pinot Noir that has the character of the grape, with its gentle, almost floral character of summer fruits and suppleness, but from the south for affordability.

Although the wines haven’t been finished yet and we have to review the blends in February, to be sure of quality levels prior to spring bottling, indications are that we will be able to offer these complex wines alongside our French and New World ranges in 2016. Watch this space!