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  • The Top Four Wine Tours

    Wine tours are a fantastic way to really immerse yourself in the heritage and culture of the grape. They are equal parts education and entertainment, giving you the chance to learn about the wines you love in the heart of the regions that produce them. However, there are almost as many wine tours as there are wines, so here’s a look at our top four.

    1. France off the Beaten Path offer small group tours to the Provence, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Dordogne and Loire Valley regions of the world’s most famous wine producing country. The six-day tours focus on local experiences and activities, with luxury accommodation and stunning French cuisine thrown in to complement the wines you sample. Visit: traveloffthebeatenpath.com

    2. Burgundy Discovery is owned and operated by an English couple living in the Burgundy region of France. They offer a variety of tours through the Burgundy region, visiting local, family-owned wine cellars and world famous vineyards. Their five-day wine tours combine visits to the Burgundy region with trips to Tuscany, the Rhone Valley and the Savoy region of France. Burgundy Discovery wine tasting tours are all-inclusive and escorted by an English-speaking guide. Visit: burgundydiscovery.com

    3. For bolder flavours, you might want to consider a trip to America. Napa Valley’s oldest continually operating winery, Beringer Vineyards, offer you the chance to enjoy a wide diversity of award-winning wines in beautifully landscaped grounds. You can find more details at beringer.com

    4. A renaissance in exports has put Chile back on the map as a serious wine producer. Neighbouring Argentina has also established itself as a force to be reckoned with, producing some of the most exciting dessert wines to be found anywhere in the world. Winetours.co.uk offers a South American Wine Tour that takes in some of the best vineyards of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

    Posted: Saturday, 22 January 2011 09:50:23 Europe/London

  • Don’t Write Off Chardonnay

    Chardonnay has developed a bad reputation amongst wine lovers in recent years. It tends to be associated with heavy oaky, buttery flavours and has almost become something of a stereotype, thanks to films such as ‘Bridget Jones’. However, more and more wine drinkers are re-discovering the true qualities of the Chardonnay grape and appreciating its subtler characteristics.

    The 1970s have a lot to answer for in Chardonnay’s transformation into a wine that at its worst was regarded as nothing but ‘cheap plonk’. It was during this decade that the Paris Tasting was won by a Californian Chardonnay. Wine producers scrambled to try and emulate the Californian Chardonnay’s oaky undertones. The secret was revealed to be in the American oak barrels that were used to age the wine. American oak has a looser grain than French oak and imparts a buttery, woody quality into the wine. Wine producers across the world decided that this was the way to create world-class wine and began to follow suit.

    Unfortunately, the process seems to have been taken too far, resulting in the cloying, oak flavours that masked Chardonnay’s true qualities. However, after reassessing production methods and thanks to a change in public taste towards lighter, crisper wines, there are now more un-oaked Chardonnays creeping into the spotlight. These Chardonnays have returned back to their authentic roots and the result is a selection of fruity, medium-bodied wines that are perfect accompaniments to pasta, pork, seafood and chicken.

    Possibly the best way to appreciate Chardonnay is to sample a Chablis. Chablis is made using nothing but Chardonnay grapes and the majority of these wines are un-oaked. Those that are tend to be subtle, rather than overwhelming the grape’s natural flavours. The same rule applies to our Montenisa Brut, which uses the Chardonnay grape alongside a small quantity of Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero grapes to achieve a crisp finish with hints of apple and white peaches.

    The beauty of the Chardonnay grape is its dependability - there are some things that just shouldn’t be tampered with. Chardonnay is for wine drinkers who know what they like and aren’t going to be influenced by the latest trend or fad in winemaking. As reliable and enjoyable as a Sunday roast, this grape is at its best without frills and extra trimmings. While some may see it as a ‘middle-of-the-road’ choice, it still offers a rich and complex concentration of flavours that don’t need any fancy gimmicks to reveal their true character.

    Posted: Thursday, 20 January 2011 09:50:23 Europe/London

  • Wine Conversations: An Interview with Robert McIntosh

    How is the Internet changing the world of wine? To find out, I spoke with Robert McIntosh, organiser of the European Wine Bloggers Conference and author of WineConversation.com about how he got interested in wine and how he's seeing social media transforming people's relationship with wine.

    How did Robert first get interested in wine?

    Robert spent part of his childhood in Italy and so was more aware of wine than the average child in Scotland. At university, he had already become interested enough in wine to ask the staff at the local Oddbins to help him organise a wine tasting for his 21st birthday. The helpful advice of the Oddbins staff allowed Robert to develop his knowledge of wine. Nowadays, with the decline of highstreet wine retailers, Robert's concerned that it is has become harder to find people, like those staff at Oddbins, who can help novices get into wine.

    Does Robert have any particularly fond wine-related memories?

    Robert recalls a visit with his wife to a restaurant in Chablis. He'd been getting more wine at that time and the restaurant owner recommended a 10-year old Burgundy. When Robert started drinking it, the difference in quality from the wines he was used to was immediately clear. That moment of realisation cemented Robert's appreciation for good wine.

    What does Robert enjoy most about his work with wine?

    For Robert, it's all about the people. He enjoys working in the wine industry because people are passionate about what they do and, in general, they're nice people. Robert spends a lot of time championing the use of social media in the wine business and is clearly fascinated by how platforms such as Twitter and blogs are bringing more people into conversations about wine. He's excited by what these new forms of interaction mean for the wine industry, whether it's novices asking for recommendations about wines to try, or wineries sharing the stories of their heritage.

    What developments in the wine world is Robert most excited about for 2011?

    "None," is Robert's first reaction. But with a chuckle explains that, actually, what he sees for 2011 is a combination of things:

    Robert sees the trends of the last two years continuing, with more wineries and retailers getting involved in social media.

    He's hopeful, too, that more wine drinkers will start looking outside their 'national bubbles' for information about wine. Robert feels that, within each country, people tend to get stuck with national perceptions about wine from particular regions and countries that may or may not be accurate. He's keen to see people reading what people from other countries have to say, for example Portuguese writers talking about Portuguese wines. And Robert isn't all talk on this subject. As well as his involvement with the European Wine Bloggers Conference, Robert is also a co-founder of the Born Digital Wine Awards, set up to recognise the best examples of the new wave of online wine journalism.

    What projects is Robert working on this year?

    The inaugural Born Digital Wine Awards will be taking place in May at the 2011 London International Wine Fair and, in October, Robert will be co-organising the latest instalment of the European Wine Bloggers Conference. Robert's other plans for 2011 include developing his blog, wineconversation.com, in new ways, and exploring some new social media concepts for the Rioja wineries for which he is a brand ambassador.

    For someone who’s just getting into wine and is keen to try something a bit different, are there any wines Robert would suggest?

    "That's a difficult question," remarks Robert. He's currently keen on wines from Mount Etna in Sicily, but that's hard to get hold of in the UK, so he feels it's not a useful thing to suggest to friends. Instead, Robert's recommendation to people who are just getting interested in wine is to learn about the different wine regions. "Don't just focus on the grape variety," he advises. Rather, Robert suggests that people get to know the general taste of a region and to try that region's blends of grape varieties.

    If Robert could be sharing a bottle of wine anywhere in the world right now, what wine would it be and where?

    "At home with some friends, whilst the kids are with a babysitter," is Robert's response. He enjoys traveling for his work but Robert is also very happy simply enjoying where he is. His wine of preference to share with these friends? An '82 Rioja.

    Thanks Robert!

    Posted: Wednesday, 12 January 2011 09:39:20 Europe/London

  • Writing About Wine: An Interview With Tim Atkin

    What's your favourite thing about wine? For many of us, wine is something magical. It evokes passion. It's a way to discover charming foreign lands. And yet wine can also be a mystery.

    In this blog we're going to be interviewing wine experts and aficionados to get a flavour of what they love about wine, how they were first introduced to it, and what they are excited about now in the world of wine.

    In the first of this series, we're honoured to welcome Tim Atkin, an award-winning wine writer and Master of Wine with 25 years' experience. Tim writes for a number of publications, including The Times, Decanter and Woman and Home, appears regularly on BBC1's Saturday Kitchen and runs his own wine school at Vinoteca in London. He's a co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge, the world's most rigorously judged blind tasting competition.

    Tim, welcome to SommelierCellar!

    How did you first get interested in wine?

    I studied French at university and was lucky enough to spend my year abroad in Avignon, very close to Chateauneuf du Pape. That sparked my interest.

    Do you have any particularly fond wine-related memories?

    Yes, they tend to be people and place, as well as bottle-related. I've been lucky enough to travel to most of the world's vineyards and to meet some fascinating people. Interviewing Gerard Depardieu was probably my favourite moment.

    What do you enjoy most about your work as wine journalist?

    The fact that it's so diverse. And it doesn't feel like work most of the time. A friend of mine calls it the most "un-job like job in the world".

    Would you have any recommendations for someone who’s a budding wine journalist today?

    Consider another career? Seriously, the future is on line. If you want to write about wine, start blogging now.

    What developments in the wine world are you most excited about for 2011?

    Natural wines. And some new countries like Turkey, Lebanon and China.

    What projects do you have planned yourself for this year?

    Expanding my website www.timatkin.com.

    For someone who’s just getting into wine and is keen to try something a bit different, are there any wines you’d suggest?

    Taste as widely as possible. And always trust your own judgment.

    If you could be sharing a bottle of wine anywhere in the world right now, what wine would it be and where?

    A bottle of great Sherry on the beach in Sanlucar de Barrameda.

    Tim, thanks for your time and for sharing a little of what wine means to you.

    To find out more about Tim, visit his website at www.timatkin.com. You can also follow Tim on Twitter, where he's @TimAtkin.

    Posted: Monday, 10 January 2011 11:35:54 Europe/London

  • How to taste wine

    I have been a fully committed wine drinker for many years, but have only relatively recently started to pay attention to what I’ve been drinking. For a long time the idea of wine tasting completely baffled me, and to me appeared pretentious and snobby. But I have learned a few simple rules that are easy to remember and have actually helped me to enjoy my wine even more! After all, why spend money on something if you’re not going to enjoy it to it’s full potential?

    So here’s a step-by-step, simple guide to looking at, smelling, and tasting your wine – the appearance, smell and taste of the wine are all equally significant.

    Step 1
    Pour yourself a glass of wine

    Step 2
    The first thing to observe is the appearance of the wine. It’s best to do this against a white background. Look at the colour: This can tell you the age of the wine. Red wines start life as a deep purple colour and over time start to take on a paler, brick red hue.
    White wines on the other hand, start out paler and become a richer, more golden colour over time. For both reds and whites, warmer climate wines tend to be more richly coloured than their cooler climate counterparts.

    Step 3
    Smell the wine. To strengthen the aroma, swirl the wine around in the glass and then put your nose in the glass and take a good, long sniff. Think about what aromas are coming up from your glass. Young wines will have ‘primary aromas’ that smell fruity – perhaps of blackcurrents or raspberries.
    As they age, wines develop ‘secondary’ aromas which can be more earthy, such as leather or oak. Some believe that this part of the wine tasting is just as satisfying as the actual taste of the wine. Each to their own.

    Step 4
    Tasting the wine. Take a sip and hold it in your mouth. Breathe in and out through your nose and slurp some air through your mouth over the wine. This helps release the aromas. It is also a great skill to do this without laughing.
    Notice how the taste changes as you hold the wine in your mouth. Now swallow. The taste that remains in your mouth is known as the ‘finish’. It may linger for a while and this is known as the ‘length’ of the wine. Wines with more ‘length’ are generally of a better quality.

    After following these four steps you should have a good idea about the wine and if you like what you see, smell and taste – bottom’s up!

    Posted: Monday, 1 November 2010 14:57:02 Europe/London

  • Top 5 Alternatives to Champagne

    Some say that there is nothing like Champagne. Once upon a time, this was true and the alternatives weren't that appealing. But recent years have seen outstanding improvements in other sparkling wine regions. Nowadays you can find very drinkable bubbly substitutes from all over the world.

    With the festive season fast approaching, we’ve decided to put together a list of the Top 5 Alternatives to Champagne.

    5. Cava

    Known as the Spanish Champagne, a toast in Spain is practically always drunk with Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine made by the champagne method. Cava is not the only sparkling wine made in Spain, so check the cork is marked with Cava’s distinctive four-pointed star. Like a girl band, Cava does not improve with age. So buy it, put it in the fridge, and enjoy it!

    4.Prosecco

    In recent years production techniques have improved, leading to the high-quality Prosecco produced today. Compared to other sparkling wines, Prosecco is low in alcohol, about 11 to 12 percent by volume, so you can have a glass without worrying too much about how often it’s topped up. The flavour has been described as intensely aromatic and crisp, with yellow apple, pear, white peach and apricot. Unlike Champagne, known for its rich taste and complex secondary aromas, Prosecco has intense primary aromas and is meant to taste fresh, light and simple.

    3. New World Fizz

    The best New World fizz is exuberantly fruity, richer than Champagne and offers great value for money These sparkling wines give crispness and finesse with graceful ripe fruit aromas leaving you with a rich creamy complexity on the palate. Perfect for impressing your guests at a festive dinner party, and won’t break the bank.

    2. Cremant de Bourgogne

    Like most wine regions across the world, Burgundy makes a sparkling wine, Crémant de Bourgogne. It’s a pity that the sparkling wines of Burgundy aren’t better known, because the quality is extraordinary. If you've ever been let down by pricier brands of bubbles, try some of this- it's astounding. It's produced the same way wines are made in Champagne - but because it doesn’t come from the famous region, you don't pay the premium connected with the name. Crémant de Bourgogne wines are a fantastic substitute for Champagne, but cost considerably less.

    1. Franciacorta

    Franciacorta is Italy's sparkling wine superstar. This fizz is made using the same methods and grape varieties as Champagne. It is fermented in the bottles, instead of in a vat, leading to smaller, more plentiful bubbles and a more delicate taste. The result is a stylish drink that beats its French non-vintage cousins hands down. It is a dry, somewhat complex wine, with hints of almond, vanilla, and yellow ripe fruit. It will be a talking point when you take it to a party. The down side is that is doesn’t turn up in the UK that often, so if you see it, snap it up immediately!

    Posted: Wednesday, 20 October 2010 12:49:22 Europe/London

  • What is fine wine?

    “Fine wine” is a term used by many in the wine trade (including us, SommelierCellar), but what exactly does it mean? Part of the problem is that there isn’t a commonly used opposite term: what should we call “unfine” wine? Everyday wine? Rough wine? Plonk? For the purposes of this blog, I’ll use the slightly politer term “table wine”, even though it doesn’t make much sense: “Fine wine” will almost always be savoured while at a table with a meal, while “table wine” is far more likely to be consumed in front of the telly, propped up in an All Bar One, out of mugs in the kitchen of student digs. Everybody in the wine trade talks about “fine wine”, but no-one has really bothered to make a clear case for what it is. Given that we sell what we believe is fine wine, I thought that we should at least try to define it. So here it goes:

    The average money spent on a bottle of wine in the UK is £4.24. 63p of that is VAT, and 1.69 is excise. Let’s assume that the retailer and the importer both take a fairly modest cut of 15%. The wine has to be shipped, bottled and labelled. By the time you add all that up, more than 80% of your money is going to the taxman and the middle men. If we were to define “fine wine” as wine where most of what you are buying is actually wine, then using these assumptions you’d have to pay at least £13.09 per bottle.

    That said, a purely monetary definition of what is “fine wine” feels somewhat cold and mechanical. What’s more, price is not always a direct indication of quality. There are some wine-makers out there who are trading on their name and past glories, rather than the quality of what they put into bottles.

    Wine is a fickle mistress: hard to understand, different every year, offering the possibility of great pleasure and so heartbreaking when disappointing. A more romantic way to describe fine wine is to say that it is wine that tells a story: wine where the experience of buying and drinking it connects you to the producer.

    A well-made wine will take you on a journey: it is something you will have an emotional reaction to at the first sniff or sip (rather than after the second bottle). Taking these two definitions together is quite useful: a wine that will tell you a story is one where a good winemaker invests the right time and tools to create something great.

    Posted: Tuesday, 5 October 2010 17:12:00 Europe/London

  • Buying Online

    It's hard to believe, but even ten years ago, hardly any of us bought anything online. Oh sure, websites were up and running and a fair percentage of us had access to the internet, but when it came to actually buying stuff, we preferred the high street or mail order.

    Partly this was a hang-over from the days of feeling that it wasn't a 'proper' purchase unless you had actually spoken to someone; partly it was a trust issue, that we weren't 100% confident about the security of filling in our bank details on a computer and firing them off into the ether. But largely it was a technology issue: internet connections were simply so slow and unreliable that browsing the net was intensely frustrating.

    Broadband, Amazon and ebay, though have changed all that. I'd guess that almost everyone under the age of 50 bought something online over the last 12 months, and I know a good few people who, like me, did their entire Christmas shop sitting at home with a large glass of Aussie Cabernet in their hand.

    Wine was fairly slow to take off online. But the last five years have seen a real explosion of websites. It's not just the supermarkets and high street retailers who sell online, but local merchants and a growing number of specialists (like Sommeliercellar) who don't have a physical outlet at all.

    The massive advantage of the latter type of 'online specialist' operations is that, with no bricks and mortar to pay for, their overheads are far lower and their prices, as a result, tend to be keener; it's the reason that Amazon is cheaper than Waterstones.

    The difference between buying a book and a bottle of wine, of course, is that when buying a book, you know what you're getting. So how do you get that same level of confidence when buying wine?

    Answer: you go with people whose recommendations you trust. This could be a journalist who writes for a national paper. But the disadvantage these columnists have is that they tend to be limited in their recommendations to wines that are available in the supermarkets. And the most interesting wines are, for the most part, made by smaller growers, who don't produce sufficient volumes to interest the likes of Tesco, Asda et al.

    This is the thinking behind Sommelier cellar. The people choosing the wine offers are two absolutely top class sommeliers and myself. Between us we've got decades of experience, and with our helpful, no-nonsense descriptions of the bottles, it means you can pick with confidence.

    The wines that we're selecting are really top quality, and they're not available on the high street. And with low overheads, it means you get great deals.

    So crack open a bottle, fire up the laptop and get choosing!

    Posted: Thursday, 19 August 2010 17:04:29 Europe/London

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