Shortlisted for a Roederer!


I heard this week that I've been shortlisted for an award - Online Communicator of the Year for the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards.

I was asked to submit a couple of articles from work that I published last year, so I chose The kingdom of the blind and Undeniable class - the panel must have enjoyed them. Since the awards are international in scope there is a lot of competition, so it's a nice award to be nominated for.

The awards ceremony is at The Royal Academy of Arts in London on 18th September. It's the third time I've been shortlisted but I haven't bagged one yet so keep something crossed for me!

Images of Laudun and Chusclan

Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Laudun



The village of Laudun, from the valley floor


Sandy soils of Laudun, and drip irrigation - an increasingly common site in the Southern Rhône


Joséphine Arnaud of Château Courac in one of their vineyards


Roman artefacts that have been dug up in the vineyards of Château Courac - a coin minted in Sicily


Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Chusclan



Chusclan vignoble looking south towards Orsan


Grégory Brunel, Vice President of Maison Sinnae (formerly Laudun Chusclan Vignerons) in the Château de Gicon that they now own


Deep sandy soils in the valley floor


Gilles Chinieu of Domaine la Romance - limestone soils towards the north of the appellation


Outcrop of galets at Mouticaut


Benjamin Boyer, Château Signac


Images of Cairanne


Denis Alary of Domaine Alary with a map used during Cairanne's promotion to Cru


One of Domaine Alary's galet-strewn vineyards on the Montagne


Romain Roche, Domaine Roche


Alluvial soils of the Garrigue


It does rain here occasionally...


Bruno Boisson, Domaine Boisson



Lighter gravelly clay soils of the Terrasses de l'Aigues


Loïc Massart, Domaine Les Chemins de Sève


Looking west from Cairanne


Marcel Richaud, Domaine Richaud


Blending the 2018s, Domaine Richaud

Images of Sablet and Plan de Dieu

Images of Sablet



The village of Sablet


The sandy soils of lieu-dit La Piaugier near the village


Thibaut Chamfort, Domaine La Verquière


Cheval Long towards Séguret


Les Briguières towards Gigondas


Images of Plan de Dieu


Endless vines, looking towards Mont Ventoux (centre) and the Dentelles de Montmirail (right)


Ancient river bed, free-draining pebble terroir


Standing in lower altitude IGP terroir, looking towards the raised pebbly plateau of AOC Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu - olive trees and figure for scale


The Rules of BYO

Many of us have a few ‘special’ bottles in our collections but finding the time to drink them can prove surprisingly tricky. We don’t all have the skills or the space to cook a meal for friends at home, so one solution is to open treasured bottles in a decent restaurant. But with different policies, corkage charges – and with some restaurants refusing outright – what’s the best way to proceed? According to wine writer David Crossley, “once you get used to doing it, you cease to be shy about asking.” I’ve spoken to head sommeliers, restaurant managers, collectors and wine lovers in an attempt to draft the unspoken rules of engagement.

Always call ahead

“Firstly, definitely call the restaurant ahead of time just to make sure everyone is aware and agrees to the corkage policy,” says James Fryer, Beverage Director at the Woodhead Restaurant Group (Portland, Clipstone, Quality Chop House). “No-one wants to start off the evening with the old ‘are you aware of our corkage policy?’ line.” Everyone I spoke to agrees that calling ahead is the golden rule.

And don’t just ask the restaurant if it’s OK to bring a bottle, enquire specifically if there is a corkage fee (i.e. a charge for taking your own wine) and what it is. How much is fair depends on the type of restaurant. Wine writer Simon Reilly regularly takes wine to restaurants if their wine list is uninspiring or if he’s “meeting up with fellow wine geeks.” He reasons that a corkage charge equal to the cost of the cheapest wine on their wine list is fair. “At least they’ve got an income from booze they are happy with as otherwise it wouldn’t be on the list,” he says. Fees are entirely at the restaurant’s discretion however, and anything from £10 to £30 is common, with some top-end restaurants charging even more. Sparkling wines sometimes attract a premium.

Take something special

It goes without saying that just rocking up to a restaurant with a bottle of ‘value’ supermarket plonk isn’t going to win you any friends. Fryer says “we’re not going to turn anyone away, but it can feel like you’re trying to cheat the system” with a very cheap bottle. Restaurants offer corkage policies so guests can take something special that they happen to own, rather than a way of them saving a few quid. “And special doesn’t mean expensive,” he continues, “just something interesting, something different.” When pushed on what kind of wine might be considered too cheap, he suggested that a retail price equal to the price of the restaurant’s house wine would be a good starting point.

With a corkage charge of £25, if you spend less than £15 retail on a bottle of wine, it’s likely to be cheaper to buy the same bottle directly from the restaurant anyway.

You might also want to think about the restaurant’s cuisine and how it works with the wine you want to take. If you’ve got a great bottle of Riesling you want to open, it’s more likely to show its best at a fish restaurant rather than a steakhouse.

Offer your server a taste

“A big point-scorer (although by no means required) is to offer a taste to the team member who is looking after you,” says Fryer. “For me, many of the most prestigious and formative wines I’ve had the privilege of tasting have come from generous patrons offering a sip of BYO bottles. It’s an incredibly useful resource for us as we train and develop our palates.”

Check it’s not already on their list

Rémi Cousin is Head Sommelier at Le Gavroche and he suggests checking that the restaurant you’re visiting doesn’t already carry the wine you’re planning to take. “If the restaurant has it on their wine list then I think it is a little ridiculous,” he says. It suggests you’re simply trying to avoid paying the restaurant’s mark-up. The easiest way is to look on their website before booking.

Buy off the list as well

Buying other drinks while you’re there is seen as friendly gesture if taking your own bottle. Joey Scanlon is Head Sommelier at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and he suggests buying a second bottle if in a group. “Usually restaurants will waive a corkage fee if a bottle is bought,” he adds. During his career he’s noticed that approaches to corkage differ widely from place to place however. “For example, when working in Napa corkage was widely accepted versus working here in Dublin, where corkage is not something that is widely appreciated.”

Exceptional service = exceptional service charge

The professionals quoted here work at restaurants with serious in-house wine expertise, but smaller local restaurants can be just as uncertain about corkage etiquette as most of their customers. The only places that I’ve encountered that have refused to accept corkage under any circumstances are neighbourhood joints who simply aren’t familiar with the concept.

Steve Thomas lives in Islington and works in insurance, and regularly takes bottles to his local Italian. “They let me bring my own wine but have never explicitly asked for a corkage fee,” he says. “I usually give them an additional £10-15 on top of the service charge.” Having to deal with a customer’s own bottle can be nerve-wracking for staff and goes beyond standard service, so it’s good to acknowledge this one way or another.

A bottle means 75cl

Matt Whitaker is Restaurant Manager at Pompette in Oxford and he’s had “a few customers in the past try the old ‘one magnum equals one bottle’ trick,” he says. If you’re taking a magnum to a restaurant, expect to pay double the standard charge.

When not to take a bottle

There are some places you wouldn’t want, or wouldn’t need, to take your own wine. David Crossley suggests places such as Noble Rot, The Remedy or 40 Maltby Street, “places where the wine list is so good that I don’t need to lug wine around all day.” He also points out that some restaurants stock wines that simply aren’t available to buy retail, such as Terroirs near Covent Garden, which occasionally stocks cult Jura producer Domaine des Miroirs.

One final tip

A few years ago, I went to Chez Bruce in Wandsworth. I’d brought a bottle of 1998 Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape which I gave to the sommelier on arrival. He offered to decant it for me, and served me a taste at the table to check its condition, like he would with any bottle of wine. “It’s corked,” I said. We stared at each other – he couldn’t offer a replacement because I didn’t order it from their list. Just as well I’d brought another bottle, just in case. It’s worth dropping a backup bottle in your bag – the safety net for the BYO pro.

Pompette– £20 per bottle corkage, £25 for sparkling

Portland, Clipstone, Quality Chop House– £20 corkage, maximum two bottles per table; free corkage on Mondays at Portland and the Quality Chop House

Le Gavroche– corkage not allowed

Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud– corkage not allowed

Simon Reilly’s recommendation – The Sportsman,Kent– £10 any day for any ‘special bottle’

First published on

Images of Valréas and Visan

Images of Valréas


Looking north to the town of Valréas


Caroline Bonnefoy in full mistral!


Atop the Massif de la Côte, looking south


Jacques Coipel, Mas de Sainte Croix


L-R: Paul-Henri Bouchard, Domaine des Grands Devers; Emmanuel Bouchard, Domaine du Val des Rois; Aurélie Lardet, Maison Lavau; Julien Coipel, Mas de Sainte Croix; Stéphane Vedeau, Clos Bellane; Mathilde Mure, Domaine du Séminaire; Damien Marres, Domaine Grande Bellane; Caroline Bonnefoy, Domaine Caroline Bonnefoy

Images of Visan


The Village of Visan


Pebbly marls of the Visan hillside


Adrien Fabre, Domaine la Florane


The home town of legendary oeno-geologist, Georges Truc

Images of Tavel


AOC Tavel - 100% rosé.


Limestone soils to the west of the village known as Lauzes


Raphaël de Bez, Château d’Aquéria, joined his father and uncle at the estate last year


Christian and Nadia Charmasson of Balazu des Vaussières, whose natural Liracs and Tavel are now in Vin de France


Les Vignerons de Tavel, cave co-operative

Beaumes de Venise: the hidden red of the Southern Rhône

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge – and her sister, Pippa. Andy Murray – and his brother, Jamie. Beyoncé Knowles – and her sister, Solange. Having a more famous brother or sister can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it brings the benefits and opportunities of a star-studded surname. On the other, cynics may doubt the depth of your talents and it’s hard to escape the shadow of your sibling. So it is with Beaumes de Venise. Most wine lovers have heard of their sweet Muscats: not so many their reds. But they deserve a share of the limelight and there’s one estate in particular with an undeniable star quality.

One of the most beautiful places to make wine in the Southern Rhône is around the Dentelles de Montmirail, a high limestone outcrop topped with rows of jagged grey teeth not far from Mont Ventoux. Skirting around its base, you’ll find pretty Gigondas to its northwest and Vacqueyras to its southwest. Keep following it round to its most southerly point and you’ll find the village of Beaumes de Venise. With such celebrated reds being made nearby, you have to ask – what’s with all the Muscat?

Sheltered from the rampant north wind, Beaumes de Venise has a particularly hot microclimate – and Muscat loves the heat. It’s also particularly at home in the deep sandy soils near the village. (Surrounding hills are made from this compacted sand, it’s so soft you can find little grottos carved out of them – the name Beaumes comes from balma, the Provençale word for cave). It’s the perfect terroir for making sweet Muscat, a style that was once celebrated, but has since fallen out of fashion.

But most of the red grapes aren’t grown here. They’re planted higher up in the hills amongst dense woodland, in cooler sites, on different soils. At its highest point it shares a border with AOC Gigondas. Stylistically, however, the reds aren’t as polished and pure; they’re more like a musclebound Vacqueyras in need of a shave.

Beaumes de Venise Rouge can be gruffly tannic, deeply concentrated and potently alcoholic. Sometimes it’s all three of these things, but quality, though inconsistent, is climbing. When winemakers find methods of reining it in, the results can be impressive. Domaine de Fenouillet, Ferme Saint Martin, Domaine Martinelle, Domaine Saint Amant and Domaine la Ligière are all making fresh, bright wines without trying to efface its naturally broad frame and rugged character. And one producer in particular is making a wine that deserves wider renown.

Domaine des Bernardins can trace its roots back to the 1500s. Romain Hall’s family have owned the estate since 1820. Reserved but welcoming, Romain represents the seventh generation making wine here. His great-grandfather Louis Castaud was instrumental in securing the AOC for Muscat de Beaumes de Venise in 1945 – not long after Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the daddy of them all. They’ve long been considered one of the best estates for long-lived sweet Muscat (their 1987 was outrageously good when I visited), but its time they were equally fêted for their red.

Their Beaumes de Venise Rouge is no wallflower but wields its power relatively lightly, with enduring aromas of Provençale herbs and black pepper over vibrant forest berry fruits. What makes it stand out amongst its peers however is twofold; its consistency of style and quality and its ability to age.

Some would describe the style as a little old-fashioned, and it’s fair to say their winemaking isn’t exactly hi-tech. For a start they don’t remove any stems from their red grapes, and this has a conspicuous effect on the style, adding freshness and interest to the texture and aromatics, and helping to moderate alcohol levels. They co-ferment varieties in raw concrete tanks for 15 days, then the wine spends a year in steel tank before release. There’s no oak involved in the process.

Romain is keen to stress that “we don’t seek overmaturity or overextraction, we look for finesse, freshness and acidity.” They have a wealth of old vine material and they pick relatively early. Maceration is gentle – no punching down, just wetting the cap. It all adds up to a restrained and balanced example of what can be a domineering style of wine.

I paid them a visit in January and Romain opened seven vintages: 2017, 2015, 2013, 2009, 2005, 2000 and 1995. Today the blend is 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache Blanc – before 2015 it was two-thirds Grenache, one-third Syrah. Aside from that, nothing much has changed in its makeup over the years aside from the picking date – it’s three weeks earlier today than it was in 1995 to adapt to the changing climate.

The 2017 and 2015 were as good as their fantastic 2016, three excellent vintages in a similar vein of bright fruit with dried herbs, all subtly different, but equally fresh and balanced. The 2013 doesn’t quite have the fruit to match the stalk influence, but the 2009 and 2005 certainly do, two warm vintages that are still in great shape: the 2009 incredibly youthful still, the 2005 in comfortable maturity, with autumn leaves, liquorice and menthol woven through the deep, rich melted berries. The 2000 is tannic still but in decline, earthy with iron and dried blood. But the 1995 hangs on, with raspberry leaf, dried flowers and sage notes to its remaining dab of strawberry fruit. It still contains some tannic bristle, and approaches the end of its long life with a peppery sigh.

“Muscat is our baby, but we love making reds,” says Romain. Their sales of Muscat are stable, but they’ve doubled production of Beaumes de Venice Rouge in the past 10 years to 25,000 bottles a year. You can pick it up in France for €12.50 (Les Passionnés du Vin), in England for £15.20 (Tanners). It feels distinctly undervalued compared to top Vacqueyras and Gigondas. I wouldn’t expect it to stay this cheap forever.

“It’s hard for consumers to understand that two completely different wines come from the same terroir,” says Romain. But as tastes continue to move away from sweet wines toward dry ones, it’s time for Beaumes de Venise Rouge to step out from behind it’s golden sibling, and to be known for its own considerable gifts.

First published on

Images of Rasteau


The village of Rasteau, on a south-facing slope.


The cliff running down to the river shows the three types of clay: a thin layer of red clay, followed by deep yellow clay, followed by deep grey (sometimes called blue) clay.


The Coulon family of Domaine de Beaurenard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape have had land in Rasteau since 1980. New growth in one of their two biodynamically-farmed parcels.


And oyster shells in their vineyards.


Elodie Balme


Julie Paolucci and Nicolas Brès, Domaine La Luminaille


Robert Laurent, Domaine Combe Julière


Images of Côtes du Vivarais


Alain Testut, president of AOC Côtes du Vivarais


David-Alexandre Gallety, Domaine Gallety


Domaine Gallety


Rachel and Raphaël Pommier, Domaine de Notre Dame de Cousignac


The chapel of Notre Dame de Cousignac


Sébastien Etienne, grape grower for UVICA