In the world of wine, 2019 was a pretty impressive12 months. Here are a selection of some of my highlights.

As the festive empties clang into the recycling bin, I am reminded of the happy occasions they accompanied, with friends and family gathered around several Christmas dinner-tables over many waistline-expanding days. Some of the bottles we opened this year came not only with fabulous tastes but also with memories of trips, special places and people.  2019 was a great year – here are some of my drinking highlights.

As always the most outstanding trip of the year was the one I made with the winner of the Fiendish Wine Quiz.  After many almost-wins, Susan Doyle proved that persistence and hard work pays off by winning the Quiz trip to William Fèvre in Chablis and Bouchard Père et Fils in Burgundy.

We spent a day in Chablis, walking through the steep, stony vineyards owned by William Fèvre, and then we tasted the wines, wondering how those millions of oyster shells in the soil manage to carry their minerally, almost salty flavours into wines such as Chablis Grand Cru from the Bougros vineyard.  From there we were whisked off to Bouchard Père et Fils located in the 15thcentury fortress in Beaune.

With 130 hectares of top class Burgundy vineyards spread across the region, the quality of Bouchard Père et Fils wines is assured right from the start.  Heading off to a tiny, precious plot called Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus, exclusive to Bouchard Père et Fils, it was clear to see that these vines are healthy, thriving and well-managed.  As in Chablis, the soil determines the quality of the wine and the long slope of the Côte d’Or produces some of the best wines in the world.  A peek into the historic Bouchard cellars revealed some wines dating back centuries.  This cellar is where former US President Thomas Jefferson used to come to buy wine, a point which American–born Susan found fascinating.

William Fèvre Chablis and Bouchard Père et Fils burgundies are available at Penistone Wine Cellars.

Another fascinating trip in 2019 was to visit the sake breweries of Japan.  This was my first visit to Japan so I went out a few days early to become familiar with the country.  It was ‘Coming of Age Day’ while I was there and I was fascinated by the gorgeous traditional costumes of the young people of Tokyo.

From there is was a whistle-stop tour of Japan, visiting sake breweries, and discovering the intricacies of this refined, ancient drink.  Sake is becoming more popular, especially now that we are learning to match sake with Japanese food.   With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics we should get ourselves used to Japanese culture and sake in particular.

In March I headed back to California to continue a journey that had been cut short by wildfires and it was clear that California had bounced back.  With the wealth of San Francisco and Silicon Valley just a short drive away, wine tourism is a major attraction in Napa and Sonoma and the region offers tastings, wine-pairing lunches and even organic gardens to wander around.  Visits to producers such as Marimar Torres, Buena Vista, St Francis, Shafer and Duckhorn demonstrated the quality and diversity of styles in these two beautiful regions.  A main lesson learnt here is that fires that we see on the news are becoming more frequent, but they generally affect the dry hillsides and not well-irrigated vineyards.

One real opportunity was to visit Inman Family Vineyards, home of Kathleen and Simon Inman.  Simon Inman is from Yorkshire and the family spent many years living in the county before Kathleen’s love of winemaking drew them back to Sonoma County to set up their vineyards and winery.  If you get to California, you should call in.  They would both love to see anyone from where they really think of as ‘home’.  There are still no local stockists of these wines, but I have a feeling that if you want to try them they have a way through friends and family to get them to you.

A visit to Champagne in the middle of the June heat wave brought home the trials of being a grape grower.  For the man who grows the grapes nothing is guaranteed until the grapes are picked.  Since becoming UNESCO world heritage listed, Champagne has woken up to the idea of proper wine tourism.

Many of the houses have offered tours and tastings, and Mercier even has a train to take you around, but now there is a lot more thought going into making a visit and a stay in the region more enjoyable.  I particularly enjoyed a visit to Les Caves aux Coquillages in Fleury-la-Rivière where there are vines growing in the vineyards yet just a few metres below ground the proprietor is busy digging his own cellars and excavating shells that are millions of years old, left over from when this area was under the sea.  Viticulture, wine and palaeontology all in one place.

2020 is starting to look busy with various trips and tastings already in the diary. Whilst travel is always enjoyable, the main purpose is to find out where progress and the best wines are being made.  The world of wine is constantly changing, as new vineyards are planted and winemakers refine their work to produce even better quality.  But we have to do our bit too. The average price of wine sold in the UK is just over a fiver, and with the cost of duty, VAT, packaging and transport it leaves around 30p for the cost of the wine. Shouldn’t we all be embarrassed to put something worth so little on our tables?  Step up to a £10 bottle and the liquid inside is worth around £2.70, which means you are getting real flavour for your money and the man who grows the grapes has a chance of making a living. Unless we are prepared to pay more for our wine, the supply of a good value drink might just dry up.

If you would like to join me at work, I will be seeking a taster to join me for the International Wine Challenge in April.  Otherwise I look forward to meeting many of you at food and drink festivals in Leeds and York and at tastings around the region.

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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