10 New Rules You Need To Know About Wine

Think you know about wine? Read our 10-point plan for amateur oenophiles (that's 'wine aficionados') and think again. From the rise of English sparkling to the return of Beaujolais, here are the new rules to enjoying our favourite tipple

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1 | It’s All About Growers’ Champagnes

What’s your favourite champagne? Krug? Moët? Dom Pérignon? While the grandes marques are prestigious, reach for something less predictable: growers’ champagne. These are small-scale producers that, like the grandes marques, seek to express vintage variation and terroir (a vineyard’s geology, geography and growing conditions) in their wines. Sandia Chang, an owner-founder of growers’ champagne and hotdog restaurant Bubbledogs on London’s Charlotte Street, explains: “I was first educated in growers’ champagne working in New York at Per Se. It was a place where everyone drank Krug, but there were these quirky bottles on the list that cost a quarter of the price and they drank amazingly well. When I moved to Copenhagen [to work at Noma], they were even more popular, but in London, no one was drinking them, so we opened Bubbledogs.” bubbledogs.co.uk

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2 |  English Sparkling Is Actually Good Now

A decade ago, our homegrown wine often left a bitter taste in the mouth, but it’s time to revisit. “English sparkling is roaring stuff!” says wine critic Olly Smith. “For my 40th, I celebrated with a massive bottle of Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rose Brut from Cornwall — there’s nothing I’d rather open — while producers such as Ridgeview and Gusbourne are doing amazing things. What’s more, 2014 is looking like a corker of a vintage: Jody Scheckter, the former F1 driver turned organic farmer, has a bumper crop that’s looking very exciting. Get involved.” threewinemen.co.uk. camelvalley.com. ridgeview.co.uk. gusbourne.com. laverstokepark.co.uk.

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3 |  Beaujolais Is Back...

At best, you might think beaujolais is lightweight; at worst, the nadir of naff Eighties marketing. “Its reputation was blighted by the nouveaux campaigns,” Smith says. “The wines were thin, acidic and horrible, but now if you look to the named Cru villages of Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin à Vent, for example, the wines are extraordinary. We’re talking stuff that’s so fruity and delicious, it’s like drinking a cranberry the size of the sun. And it’s not all youthful: there are also phenomenal aged wines that have developed subtle, savoury layers that you just wouldn’t associate with beaujolais, such as top producer Jean-Marc Burgaud. Plus you can get all this at prices to make your wallet grin — it can actually be hard to spend more than £8 per bottle.” jean-marc-burgaud.com


4 |  ...So Is Riesling

In the early 20th century, German riesling was more revered than the Grand Crus wines of Bordeaux; by the Seventies, its appeal had hit the mainstream (your parents probably drank it at their wedding), but, perhaps due to the arrival of dubious quality wine brands, its popularity didn’t endure. These days, riesling is the darling of merchants and sommeliers, who gleefully look to it as an unfashionable source of superb value. “It’s lovely when trends come back round, especially with grapes such as riesling, grown in old, prized vineyards that are holy places in the world of wine,” Smith says. “I’m a huge fan of these elfish and nimble wines. Spätlese (“late harvest”) for example is just a gorgeous lemon-sherbet experience of sweetness and zest, and it’s a helpful accompaniment to Asian food.” Of course, as its resurgence becomes more established, so too will its cost: indulge while prices favour early adopters. winesofgermany.co.uk

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5 |  We’re Drinking Wine With More Alcohol...

Open a decent Barolo and it’s easy to knock back a 15 per cent bottle, but the escalation in wines’ alcohol level is a recent phenomenon. Martin Hudson, master of wine and education specialist at wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, explains: “Wines are higher in alcohol now. A couple of decades ago, Bordeaux reds were typically 12 or 12.5 per cent, but now it’s more like 13.5 per cent. This is due to better viticultural practices, meaning more sugar and ripeness, which translates into more alcohol; improved weather forecasting, so farmers can allow grapes to sit on vines longer to reach full ripeness; and inoculated yeasts (as opposed to wild ones), that are more efficient at converting all the available sugars into alcohol. However, many traditional Italian varieties now have so much fruit or acidity they balance out the alcohol so you don’t notice it’s there.” bbr.com


6 | ...But Not For Much Longer

Demand for low-alcohol wines is on the rise. “In Australia, there’s a shift away from big, alcoholic, oaky whites towards wines I’d describe as borderline anorexic: the grapes are picked early to maintain acidity and keep alcohol levels low,” Hudson says. “In places such as California, we are seeing producers experimenting with physically removing alcohol.” However, those seeking to preserve their livers needn’t opt for Frankenstein wines. Hudson also points out there are plenty of wine regions that still produce naturally lower alcohol styles. “Look to cool climate regions, such as Germany. Varieties there, such as riesling, have got a huge amount of aromatic concentration, so less alcohol doesn’t mean you’re losing out on flavour. In fact, they’re some of the most intensely flavoured wines around.”


7 | You’ll Need To Know About Natural

In the US, France and especially Italy, natural-only wine lists are de rigueur. But what exactly is a “natural wine”? Master of wines Isabelle Legeron, author of Natural Wine and founder of the RAW Wine Fair, explains. “Currently there is no official definition of natural wine,” she says. “But, simply put, it is a wine that comes from grapes grown organically and fermented naturally, with no regulation of acidity, no addition of sugars and no sulphites. Strictly speaking, there is nothing added, nothing removed.”

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Does it make better wine? “For me, the wines are more satisfying, wilder, broader and more authentic in taste,” she says. “If I really want to experience an expression of a grape variety in a particular place, then that is best achieved when you don’t manipulate the wine too much. Think of it like unpasteurised cheese, or sourdough bread, you get a broader array of flavours.” The UK market is more than ready to experience wines on the wilder side, Legeron thinks. “The market is quite immature, but it is changing. In London especially, there are natural wine bars opening, and there’s a hotbed of producers in the Loire, the South of France and Italy. Alexandre Bain in Pouilly-Fumé is a great place to start.” rawfair.com. domaine-alexandre-bain.com.

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8 |  Wine Is More Democratic Than Ever Before

“Wine is no longer the preserve of the rich, old or serious,” says Ruth Spivey, founder of Wine Car Boot, which showcases London’s best independent merchants at car park-based events. “Good wine is for everyone.” She’s not wrong. From the changing way it’s being sold in shops and restaurants (and car parks), to the emerging new breed of wine bars, there’s never been a more exciting time to get into wine. Charlotte Sager-Wilde, co-founder of her eponymous wine bar and its new sibling Mission, says: “We make wine accessible and take away any pretensions or elitism that was previously linked with it. I’m hoping more great wine bars will continue to open. So far, our success has exceeded all expectations — it’s been a crazy nine months. It’s given us freedom to have fun with wine.missione2.comwinecarboot.com. sagerandwilde.com.


9 | No One’s Buying By The Bottle

“The way restaurants offer wine has changed beyond all recognition in the past five years,” says Damian Carrington of wholesale supplier Fields, Morris & Verdin. “The main trend we’re seeing beyond all others is for smaller lists that offer wines by the glass. It’s only really in the big hotels and Michelin star places that you get a great tome of a wine list that you have to wade through. This means that there’s a wider diversity of wine styles for customers to choose from. I think that the classic regions have a part to play, but there is a growing realisation that really great wines can come from anywhere in the world. We now sell as much Blaufränkisch from Austria as we do white Bordeaux. It’s good news for the consumer: it means you can take a risk on a new style of wine if you’re buying a glass, where you might not be willing to experiment with a bottle.” fmvwines.com


10 | It’s About The New, New World

Restaurant wine lists are as susceptible to the vagaries of fashion as the rest of us. A couple of years ago, we saw wines such as Picpoul de Pinet (France), Albariño and white Rioja (both Spain) cropping up, but now restaurants and wine bars are returning to the New World to showcase a younger generation of winemakers. “California is very hip again and we’re selling more South African wines than ever,” Carrington says. “We’re seeing a new wave of young buck producers. Alongside the great [Californian] names like Ridge, look for brands such as Tablas Creek.” Ruth Spivey agrees: “I’m seeing great stuff coming out of Swartland [South Africa].” Meanwhile, for Charlotte Sager-Wilde, “new California” is unquestionably where it’s at.  
ridgewine.com. tablascreek.com. swwines.co.za.

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