As the festive empties clang into the recycling bin, I am reminded of the happy occasions they accompanied, with friends and family gathered around the table. Some of the bottles we opened this year came not only with fabulous tastes but also with memories of trips, special places and people. 2016 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 winners of the Fiendish Wine Quiz. Bev Madden and her husband Andy were the lucky winners of a fantastic trip to top sherry producer, Gonzalez Byass in Jerez, in southern Spain. After meeting up at the airport, we were whisked off to explore the vineyards and bodegas where this fabulous wine is made. The heat and bright sun in the vineyards contrasted with the calm and cool of the bodegas where the casks of sherry mature. Tasting so many sherries, some straight from the cask was a revelation. One of the most enjoyable aspects was discovering the way that the Gonzalez Byass flagship brand Tio Pepe goes so well with food – not just as an aperitif with canapés but with all kinds of grilled fish.

Another surprising discovery in 2016 was the development of the wine industry in Uruguay. Here massive investment by former oilman Alejandro Bulgheroni is transforming barren land into a mini-Tuscany of vines, creating a patchwork of plots each one making the most of its soil and its aspect to the sun. Bulgheroni is a serial investor in vineyards and has now assembled a portfolio of properties in Argentina, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Barossa and California. He has built a state-of-the-art winery, complete with a top-class restaurant and soon there will be a hotel and golf course on the development too. Investment like this is not just a vanity project; it brings work for the locals and an dramatic uplift in living standards. It also bring us some delicious wine. Find Bodega Garzón Viognier (£13.95) and Tannat (£13.95) from Uruguay at Corks and Cases in Masham. It would be good to see Bodega Garzón Albariño available in Yorkshire too. This delicate grape does well in the coastal climate of Maldonado.

As grape varieties and tastes go in and out of fashion, Albariño continues to gain fans. It was the clear winner at the Supermarket Challenge tasting held at The York Festival of Food and Drink when all the major supermarkets brought along a dozen wines for tasting and visitors could wander from table to table, comparing tastes. I was behind one of the tables and fairly quickly the buzz went round that my table had the best Albariño in the room (Marks and Spencer Bodega Castro Martin Albariño £13) so I was kept busy pouring and talking about the fresh peach and apricot nuances of this grape.

Albariño’s natural home is the wet and breezy top left-hand corner of Spain, known as Rías Baixas. This is part of Galicia, a region that is unusual for its weather, culture and sheer distance from the rest of Spain. With green hills and steep-sided valleys it has a character all of its own. The Albariño grape may have a delicate taste but it has a tough skin which is how it survives the damp weather. Grown on pergolas so the grapes catch the breeze, this crop is often grown on small family-owned plots then taken to larger producers to be made into wine. My top favourites from this region include Palacio de Fefinañes (Martinez Wines £19.49) but to get your tastebuds in tune, start with Viña Tableau Albariño 2015 from Waitrose (£7.99).

Also famous for its steep-sided valleys, I made my first ever visit to the vineyards of Switzerland where the emphasis is definitely on small producers making high quality wine. It was here I encountered new red grape varieties Gameret and Garanoir that have been created to ripen in the relatively short summers and add new flavours to a Gamay blend. I also learnt to appreciate Chasselas, which, if not over-cropped produces a soft creamy, delicate flavours that accompany the local lake fish perfectly. Heida, Petite Arvine and Amigne were also new varieties for me, each one adding its own flavours to my tasting repertoire.

It is the region of Valais that really showed me just how difficult it is to make wine in Switzerland. The vines grow on terraces which is the only way to cultivate these steep, stony slopes and working the vines has to be done by hand.   The result is a range of quality wines that offer a different tasting experience. Swiss born, and now Bradford resident Joelle-Nebbe-Mornod runs Alpine wines bringing these gems to the UK. Find her and a fine selection of wines at


My summer trip to Vancouver brought the vineyards of Washington State and Oregon within easy reach and so I set off to explore these regions. Oregon was outstanding for the sheer quality of its Pinot Noirs. Willamette (pronounce it to rhyme with dammit) used to be sheep and fruit growing country but in the last 40 years it has transformed itself into a world-class Pinot producing region. Top producers such as Adelsheim, Domaine Drouhin, Beaux Frères and Willakenzie stood out for their elegance and quality. Watch out for Résonance (£42 Halifax Wine Co.), the latest Oregon project from Burgundy négociant Jadot.

Washington State was fascinating because of the small-scale, high quality wineries operating close to Seattle. Ch. Ste Michelle is the main producer in the region. Find their wines at Hic! in Ledston.

My exploration of English vineyards, to Jenkyn Place and Exton Park showed me just how fast the English wine scene is developing. Tasting a range of English fizz at the York Food and Drink Festival demonstrated that these wines are now achieving world-class quality. Expert winemakers, such as Dermot Sugrue at Jenkyn Place and Corinne Seely at Exton Park, are definitely lifting the quality and reputation of English wines and this is bound to continue.

2017 will bring a trip to the Rhône and Beaujolais with the winner of this year’s Fiendish Quiz; I will be looking for another taster to join me for the International Wine Challenge and I look forward to meeting many of you at food and drink festivals in Leeds and York.


About The Author

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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