Christine Austin looks back at the highlights of 2018 from her extensive 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.  2018 was a great year – here are some of my drinking highlights.

Gosset Champagne

As always the most outstanding trip of the year was the one I made with the winners of the Fiendish Wine Quiz.  Tony Hughes and his wife Kathy were the lucky winners of a fantastic trip to Champagne Gosset in the heart of the champagne region.  With over 400 years of history, Gosset is on the ‘small and beautiful’ scale of Champagne production with access to some of the best vineyards and skilful winemaking. We tasted exceptional wines, toured some beautiful vineyards and discovered the real secret to making great champagne, which is clearly Gosset’s sheer dedication to quality at every stage.  What was Tony’s favourite champagne?  ‘I liked them all – but the 2006 Vintage was exceptional – like nothing I have tasted before, with gorgeous layers of flavour that went perfectly with food.’  Find Gosset champagne at many retailers around Yorkshire, including Bon Coeur and Field and Fawcett.

South Africa featured on my travel list when I attended Cape Wine 2018, the best showcase of South African wine. South Africa is a jewel in the world of wine and this exhibition brings together producers, winemakers, retailers and journalists from around the world with the aim of sharing new wines and discussing new initiatives. One of the major steps forward has been matching grape variety to region to get the best results. One fascinating tasting set South African Chardonnay against notable Chardonnays from around the world.  The South African examples all came from Elgin, a blustery ridge of land that catches sea breezes and where soil type, rainfall, sunshine and cool temperatures at night all come together to produce fabulous quality.  It was astonishing to taste – blind – Puligny Montrachet from a famed producer and see it eclipsed by a Chardonnay from Elgin. The star of the tasting was Richard Kershaw’s Chardonnay 2017, which costs a fraction of the price of the Puligny in question.  The fact that Richard Kershaw himself is a Master of Wine and comes from Sheffield surely should mean that his wines are available in Yorkshire, but so far they appear on just on a few restaurant lists.  It would be wonderful to see these Burgundy-beating South African Chardonnays on the shelf somewhere in Yorkshire.

 

Another extraordinary tasting highlighted the amazing silky, perfumed fruit of Pinots from Hemel-en-Aarde. If you venture to South Africa this winter, and to be honest I meet so many Yorkshire people in Cape Town in January that I worry that there is no one left in the county to turn off the lights, then a trip to the Hemel-en-Aarde valley is essential.  You will be too late for the whales in Hermanus, but take a left turn up the long winding road toward Caledon and call in on Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, Newton Johnson (they have Yorkshire heritage), Ataraxia and Creation.

At the York Festival of Food and Drink last September I lined up Creation Pinot Noir against Escarpment from New Zealand, Errazuriz from Chile, Domaine Drouhin from Oregon and a rather good single vineyard Burgundy.  Each wine had its own expression of origin, but Creation Pinot Noir 2016 (available from Harrogate Wines) stood alongside the Pinots of the world with exceptional quality and style.

Talking of Burgundy, I have fallen in love with this complex, difficult, fascinating region all over again.  A trip in June took me the whole length of the fabulous Cote d’Or where growers tend tiny plots of land, making small amounts of glorious wine.

At the heart of it all is Beaune, a beautiful, busy, wine-centric city. There is a chance to visit Burgundy and get to know its wines, in particular those from one of the oldest wine merchant houses in Burgundy, Bouchard Père et Fils, in the Fiendish Quiz which was published last week.  If you were away and missed the Quiz but would like to enter it is still available online, or you can email me (Christine@christineaustin.co.uk) and I will send it to you.  The closing date is 14 January so there is still plenty of time.

Earlier this year it was time for me to go back to Hungary where growers have shaken off their difficult history and are now making extraordinary steps forward in quality. The wines of Tokaji are well known, but one of the up-coming regions is Eger which used to be known for the production of Bull’s Blood.  Now those delicious flavourful, dark cherry and spice-edged wines are called Egri Bikavér, made from Kékfrankos and Kadarka grapes, grown on volcanic soil.

Italy has featured several times on my itinerary and in particular the Prosecco region which now exports one-third of all production to the UK.  There are several grades of Prosecco; the better ones from Valdobbiadene and Conegliano are really rather good and are well worth seeking out.  Sicily still seems to be living in another age, yet its Grillo-based wines are dynamic and delicious.

2019 is already looking 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.  South Africa has lost 5% of its vineyards in recent years as vineyards are pulled out and farmers switch to a more profitable crop – apples.  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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