Christine Austin looks back at the drinking highlights of 2017 from her travels in the world of wine.

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. 2017 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. Jean Pinder and her husband Roger were the lucky winners of a fantastic trip to Henry Fessy in Beaujolais and Vidal-Fleury in the Rhône. We headed first to Beaujolais, a beautiful region of hills and granite soils where the juicy Gamay grape is transformed into wines tasting of cherries and strawberries. Henry Fessy owns some of the best vineyards in the region and makes a wide range of Cru Villages wines. From St Amour to Moulin à Vent, each Cru showed its characteristics and style. The next stop was Vidal-Fleury in the heart of the famous Côte Rôtie where vines have to cling on to single posts to stay rooted on these steep slopes. We tasted wines from Condrieu, St Joseph, Crozes Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, each one shining with clarity of fruit and depth of flavour.



Jean and Roger enjoyed the trip enormously, ‘It just isn’t possible to do this kind of trip on your own. We have met winemakers and viticulturalists who have shared their enthusiasm and knowledge, it has been fabulous’.

Another highlight of the year was the most extraordinary tasting at York Food and Drink Festival when Laureline Perraudeau from caviar specialist WG White and Christina Larsson from Champagne Devaux came together at King’s Manor to present an evening of Champagne and caviar. The caviar on offer was not just a few tiny sprinkles of black dots, this was caviar dolloped on to the fist, using special mother of pearl spoons and scooped straight into the mouth. The flavours were sensational – each style of caviar, Royal Oscietra to Royal Siberian Malossol was carefully matched to a different cuvée of Devaux champagne. This was an absolute treat for the tastebuds and one that we would like to repeat at the 2018 York Food Festival.

New Zealand has now become such an important wine producer for the UK that in early 2017 it was time for me to head down under to find out what is new in the land of the long white cloud. Starting on the beautiful island of Waiheke, just a short boat ride from Auckland, I explored vineyards and wineries, all the way down to Central Otago on South Island. There were so many highlights it is difficult to pick out a few, but the tasting by the beach at Man O’War on Waiheke was certainly one.

I enjoyed visiting Elephant Hill in Hawkes Bay, not just for the fabulous lunch but also to see how that this designer winery is making excellent quality wines, in particular their Syrahs that have exceptional depth of flavour. Craggy Range, also in Hawkes Bay has shaken off its carefully constructed style to become harmonious and elegant while Martinborough, now renamed Wellington Wine Country is still making outstanding Pinots. Escarpment is still one of my top wines, but the tiny producer Schubert makes delicate, ethereal, multi-layered wines that have a sense of joy as well as flavour.

Heading to South Island, Marlborough is naturally a major visit and it was good to see how producers are now embracing ecological aspects of viticulture. 98% of all New Zealand winegrowers are regarded as sustainable which means they use environmentally responsible methods of production in order to maintain New Zealand’s ‘green’ credentials. With sheep and chickens roaming the vineyards and a carbon-neutral winery, Yealands stands out for its attention to sustainability and its wines are good too.

One key visit in Central Otago was to Archangel, the property owned by the Zurakowski family who are now thoroughly integrated into New Zealand life, but whose roots are in Yorkshire. Now with extensive vineyards surrounding their modern tasting room, the family make a range of wines that not only reflect their home but also, through the name Archangel, the heritage of their family. Find these wines at Brasserie 44 in Leeds.

Germany featured on my itinerary this year and it was so good to see how wines from the terrifyingly steep slopes of the Rheingau manage to capture the character of both the grape and the soil. VDP – the leading quality wine organisation has become the essential guide to quality wines, especially Rieslings. These nerve-tingling, linear, minerally wines are a taste of how German wines used to be long before they went sweet and flabby. They need sunshine and food to enjoy them properly but top-quality German wines are the bargains of the wine shelves.

There was sunshine in Montepulciano where grapes grow between the sea and the mountains and there was more sunshine and quite a lot of hail in the hills of historic Soave. Each of these regions was remarkable for the dedication of individual families who have farmed the same land for generations, growing grapes and making wines, each with an eye towards improving quality each year.

The year ended with a trip to California, avoiding the fires which seem to be more newsworthy here than they are over there. Yes, there was devastation in some parts but the fires didn’t reach the vineyards, nor damage the wines. I shall revisit the Golden State this year to catch up on developments north of the Bay.

2018 will bring a trip to Champagne 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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