Green field with a little house in the middle
Family of different generations sitting on a stone wall

The family Drouhin grew up in the vineyards and acquired a deep understanding of wine alongside their father, Robert Drouhin. They all have their own role and they share the same passion for wine

Veronique Drouhin was not supposed to run one of the world’s most celebrated wine producers. The scion of a family with holdings throughout Burgundy and beyond, she was born with the odds stacked against her in two ways: she was the second child, where traditionally the elder child took on the family business; and she was a woman in the very mannish world of wine.

“I did not think, when I was at school, that things would end up the way they did,” the urbane, lively head of Maison Drouhin says ahead of our tasting of some of her finest wines. But her elder brother, Philippe, decided that he wanted to devote his energies to being in the vineyards, making the wines great rather than running the company. And Veronique, although she is too modest to say so directly, showed the commercial nous required to take the company forward in the 21st century.

Drouhin is famed for making wines of finesse, vibrancy and balance. That was not necessarily always a plus point: there was a time earlier this century when many consumers of fine wines thought that the more powerful a wine was, the better. And being the head of a negotiant-producer, which both owns its own vineyards and buys grapes from small producers with their own vineyards, was also a double-edged sword as high-end consumers sought out tiny production boutiquewineries as a status symbol.

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But the pendulum has swung the other way, both on style, with finesse and balance most definitely back in vogue, and in terms of consumer demand, as the cost of wines from tiny producers shot upwards beyond sustainable levels. Drouhin, which makes wines from some of Burgundy’s most hallowed vineyards, suddenly looked like excellent value as well as high quality.

If there is a grace to the wines – more on which in our tasting notes below – there is also a grace to the head of the Maison. When I ask what she would have likely done if she had not been born into a major French wine dynasty, Veronique replies that she might have become a music. I can imagine her playing a Chopin sonata as much as I can imagine her tasting her wines or hosting a collector’s dinner.

Read more: A tasting of Dana Estate wines

Wine cellar

After carefully harvesting the precious fruits of a year’s labour, Maison Drouhin let their vines enter a period of rest, an enchanted interlude called dormancy.

Drouhin makes wines at a variety of price points: just days before this tasting of some of their highest-end wines, which costs hundreds of pounds/euros/dollars a bottle, I partook of a bottle of a more lowly Drouhin Savigny-les-Beaune red Burgundy, from the fulsome 2020 vintage, at a London restaurant. It was delicious, balanced, moreish; and very much in the style of all the others. But if you are seeking a high end Burgundy at a relatively reasonable price, look to the below.

The Drouhin tasting. Tasting notes by Darius Sanai

Whites:

Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, 2018

The Chablis brand might suggest a certain austerity and steeliness; this grand cru, from one of the most celebrated vineyards, had that but also breadth, depth and white nectarines. Very classy and surprisingly powerful; a Jaguar E-type of a wine.

Green field with a little house in the middle

The harvest date is determined through regular samplings. Maison Drouhin closely monitors the health and maturation of the grapes.

Beaune Clos des Mouches, 2019

A white wine from Beaune? Sacré bleu – or sacré blanc!  But what a wine this rare and prized bottling is. Rounded, rich fruit with freshness and sex appeal and a lot of layers. An open-topped classic two-seater Mercedes SL from the 1980s.

Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru Morgeot, Marquis de Laguiche, 2019

From Chablis we headed south through the forest of the Plateau de Langres (Chablis is not connected to the rest of the Burgundy vineyards), over the continental divide and down to Beaune. Now we travel a few kilometres further south, with the Cote d’Or hills rising to our right, in our 1973 Porsche 911S, in a solid period dark green. That’s what this wine is: super-elegant, precise, crafted, stunning.

Multiple wine bottles standing next to each other

The harvest date is determined through regular samplings. Maison Drouhin closely monitors the health and maturation of the grapes.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2019

Back up the road we go, past Beaune, to the rounded Hill of Corton. Corton Charlemagne is one of the most celebrated white Burgundies, and this is a beautiful interpretation, with stony fruits and the complexity to match a three Michelin-starred chef’s signature Escoffier-style white fish main course. A 1960s Citroen DS Decapotable (in black, with cream leather) of a wine.

Reds:

Volnay Premier Cru Clos des Chênes 2018

Such finesse, a wine that only hints at its true depth of first sip, then keeps speaking with you, reciting poetry in your ear.

Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches 2018

Beaune is only a few kilometres away from Volnay, and this wine is made with the same, pinot noir, grape variety by the same producer: yet while retaining Drouhin’s finesse, this has power and muscularity. Like a Duke from the court of Louis XIV expounding on the virtues of his house musicians.

Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Amoureuses 2009

On first sip, this is a balanced, structured and slightly delicate red Burgundy. By the end of the second glass, it’s an artist, a pianist, a poet and a dancer – and not a particularly chaste dancer. A Chippendale from the 2000s, or a brilliant burlesque; all at the same time. Astonishing.

Chambertin Clos de Beze 2003

This is a wine you would have at your last supper, with capon, truffle, caviar and tripe sweetbreads (and maybe some pommes dauphinoise). Like a Falstaffian royal performing a perfect ballet while reciting Rumi.

domainedrouhin.com

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oak barrels of wine
man standing by wine bottles

Axel Heinz is a winemaker and the estate director of Ornellaia and Masseto

Axel Heinz is Italy’s most celebrated winemaker, responsible for star Super Tuscan wines Masseto and Ornellaia, among others. Over three vintages and on Zoom, he gives Darius Sanai a private tasting and insight into what makes his estates, by the Tuscan coast, so special

If you were to meet Axel Heinz without knowing his trade, you would likely guess that he is a university professor, an academic of some kind criss-crossing his way through a cosmopolitan spiderweb of colleges. His conversation has an international feel of the old school: his perfect, lightly-accented English is pure boarding school, his manner is enquiring, sharp and kindly, all at the same time.

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But Axel is not an academic, although his knowledge base and expertise would instantly see him propelled to a professorship in his relevant field. He is a winemaker, and now estate director of Ornellaia and Masseto. This means this German winemaker with an English education and French roots is responsible for the creation of two of the greatest wines our readers will know, at arguably the greatest wines estate of Italy, and among the greatest in the world. Neighbouring each other, they sit on a slight plateau sloping down to the coast of the Maremma, in Tuscany; you can see the sea from the vineyards. Behind are the forested mountains of the Colline Metallifere, which bring a coolness and freshness to the summer nights, a little like the forest leading up to the plateau de Langres does for the Cote de Nuits in Burgundy (although the Colline are higher, at more than 1000m compared to around 600m for the high ridge in Burgundy).

We always enjoy our private dinners with the ever personable, thoughtful Axel. In the current climate, we sat down with him for a tasting, one-to-one over zoom, with him at the estate in Bolgheri in the Maremma and us at the LUX office in London, of some of the great vintages of Ornellaia, sent to us directly from the estate. Below are his detailed thoughts on each wine, followed by our own reflections.

wine bottles

Ornellaia 2018 La Grazia Vendemmia d’Artista with label designs and artworks by Belgian artist Jan Fabre

Ornellaia 2018

Axel Heinz: I always like to taste youngest to oldest, so you know how the younger wines will develop. 2018 was a rainy year, so the wine is a bit lighter than usual, balanced and fresh. I like to use a narrower glass than most sommeliers recommend; not too wide, in order to get the best from the wine. This seems a particularly open, vibrant wine. It’s already quite delicious, even so young. I would have it with a rare bistecca alla fiorentina (Tuscan T-bone steak).

LUX: Zingy and fresh; if your idea of Tuscan wines is big, punchy beasts, think again. Quite delicate, balanced, and complex with cherries and bags of mixed herbs. Refreshing, for a super Tuscan.

Read more: How will the art industry change post-pandemic?

Ornellaia 2008

Axel Heinz: This was an astonishing vintage. It was incredibly hot all year and then there was a dramatic drop in temperature from 38 degrees to 18 degrees and it stayed that cool all through the second half of September and all of October. It means the wine has the boldness and exuberance of a very hot year, combined with the tight frame which indicates the weather in the second half of September.

The wine is 15% alcohol, but one of the pieces of magic of Bolgheri [the area where Ornellaia and Masseto are made] is that it is rich and opulent but also balanced, with refreshing acidity and a bit of firmness. It’s a privilege that we have something that saves us, which is the closeness of the sea and the cool air. Because if it were just about us keeping the alcohol level down, you would notice some under-ripeness. That’s the beauty of this place. And the refreshing acidity is part of the terroir..which means there are a few things about making wine that we are unable to explain. It may come from our closeness to the sea or the hills behind us that catch moisture and coolness.

LUX: Rich and multilayered, but still fresh; unlike other Tuscan wines from this year, it doesn’t taste of alcohol or jam. A wine for a long, stimulating, thoughtful evening with an old friend you haven’t seen for years – but with the ease at which it disappears, you will need a couple of bottles.

Wine estate

The Ornellaia wine estate

Ornellaia 2000

Axel Heinz: This is similar in character to the 2018, so maybe the 2018 will taste like this in 18 years. This is all about lace and silk, delicacy. I would drink it with something not overpowering, maybe mushrooms or something slow-cooked. It’s ready to drink now, but great wines plateau for a long time.

LUX: A dual-character wine, easy to drink if you feel like something that just vanishes from the glass, but interesting if you want to think about it, with that unique Ornellaia character, fresh, herbs and grilled lamb overtones, and very clean, neither too dry nor too jammy on the finish. Like the others, a unique style of wine, first made only a couple of decades ago, but destined to be one of the world’s great wines for centuries to come.

Find out more: ornellaia.com

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mother and daughter in vineyard
mother and daughter in vineyard

Amélie Buecher, winemaker at Vignoble des 2 Lunes

LUX tries an at-home wine tasting experience with VIVANT, and discovers a group of women who are committed to producing and promoting organic wine

After a tiresome year of Zoom meetings, virtual exhibitions and product launches, it’s difficult to get properly excited by the idea of another digital platform, even if there is the alluring promise of real wine to drink at home, but – and bear with us here – VIVANT is actually doing something a little bit different.

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Launched by American entrepreneur and investor Michael Baum, VIVANT is a super slick, ultra modern online market place/educational centre/streaming service for wine enthusiasts who not only want to drink great wine, but also learn about it from expert advisors and producers through interactive wine experiences and beautifully curated content.

wine tasting test tubes

VIVANT’s ‘Women in Wine’ tasting kit

There’s a wide selection of experiences to choose from, divided into categories such as ‘Food & Wine’ or ‘For Serious Wine Geeks’ with varying difficulties depending on your existing wine knowledge. We were invited to experience the ‘Women in Wine’ tasting event and about a week before kick-off (the events happen in real time), a beautiful, white box arrived by courier, containing six 100ml test tubes of wine along with the login details for the platform.

Eventually the evening rolled around, we logged onto the site, and the event began promptly at 6pm with the virtual appearance of our wine advisor Kateryna Dobbert. The format was impressively futuristic, resembling a kind of spaceship control panel with Kateryna talking in the centre of the screen and a message board running down the side where participants could enter questions, comments and ‘cheers’ other members by pressing a wine glass icon. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy, but it got more fun after a few (or several) sips of wine, and we realised that we could earn points through our interactions which contributed to our VIVANT level (although we’re still not entirely sure what that level equates to beyond self-satisfaction).

Read more: Olivier Krug on champagne and music

The experience was divided into a series of videos in which the producers of each wine talked about their processes and some of the challenges they faced as women in a traditionally male-dominated industry after which Kateryna guided us through a tasting with a few follow up quiz questions to test our knowledge. It was well-focused and fast-moving, with the whole experience lasting around forty minutes, but it could have been comfortably stretched out over an hour as we occasionally felt rushed through the tasting parts.

The wines themselves were excitingly varied and after the experience ended, the platform handily saved the corresponding bottles to our profile, avoiding the hassle of having to note down the names of our favourites.

women winemaker

Coralie Delecheneau, winemaker at Domaine La Grange Tiphaine

While our experience highlighted women in the wine industry, VIVANT is centred around promoting and supporting sustainable producers and organic wines. Each of their winemakers is required to sign the VIVANT environmental pledge, which, amongst other things, promises that no synthetic chemicals or additives will be used in the vineyards or wine making processes. The general idea is to create a global community of producers and consumers who are committed to making more environmentally-conscious choices and although the future remains to be seen, it feels like a good start.

Find out more: vivant.eco

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man in vineyard
man in vineyard

Lamberto Frescobaldi is the president of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi

Lamberto Frescobaldi is the 30th generation (yes, you read that right) head of Florence’s Frescobaldi dynasty which has done everything from build bridges and palaces in Tuscany to create one of the world’s most epic wine groups. In the first of a new series on leaders in the wine world, the owner of Masseto, Luce, Ornellaia and many other wines chats to LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai over a tasting of the Frescobaldi’s flagship Luce wines

Lamberto Frescobaldi:

“Frescobaldi is a family that goes back to 1000 when they showed up in Tuscany, and then arrived in Florence around 1100, so from a little village out of Florence to Florence. Then a gentleman called, like me, Lamberto, in 1252, built the bridge where now is Ponte Santa Trinita, there is a little square called Piazza de’ Frescobaldi, for the bridge that he built there and he owned all the houses there.

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He comes up quite strongly under the light of Florence in that century. Then the Frescobaldi, began to do as many families of Florence did, they became bankers. Because in those days one of the things that was complicated was to ship money. Money was risky, has always been risky, and so funnily enough the first cheque ever invented was here in Florence by Francesco Datini, he invented the cheque, it was a revolution. Think of taking a piece of paper and writing a value! It was a total revolution.

vineyard estate

The Luce wine estate in Montalcino, Tuscany

And then they understand that it is important to move the paper, but not to move the money. So, the money was here and there. Then the Frescobaldi, around the 14th Century, they actually become important bankers through Europe. It was the aristocratic families of Europe, they were always fighting between each other. The Frescobaldi became bankers of the families of England. They actually moved to England, and they became very powerful because they were bankers of the king. And the king actually gave them the run, in Devonshire, of the silver mines. Then they became too famous and too powerful and then the king, I can’t remember which one, but he kicked them out of England. Then they came back to Florence, and from bankers they became farmers.

Read more: Durjoy Rahman on promoting South Asian art

wine cellars

Inside the Tenuta Luce cellars

So, long story short, I believe that my family have always been very forward-looking and innovative. And that is reflected in what happened with me and the Mondavi family (the legendary wine family of California, who have Italian origins). Around the mid 90s they show up in Italy, and they wanted to do something in Italy. They had moved from Italy 1908, and they went to America because Italy was a tough country in those days. And here they wanted to come back, and we got together, and there was again a beautiful relationship. This changed my way of doing my job, Mondavi opening up a window, a window opened giving me the opportunity to taste wines everywhere around the world. Sharing fears and also the beauty of producing a wine together. And now it is the 25th anniversary of Luce, the wine we created together.”

wine bottles

The Luce wine library

There follows a tasting of Luce wines, with Darius Sanai’s notes below each:

Luce 2013

A big, powerful, rich wine but also fresh and light, a remarkable combination. Plenty of fruit, plenty of tannin. I would drink this in five years with a pici al cingiale (thick Tuscan pasta with a wild boar ragu) on the terrace of the Villa San Michele above Florence at sunset.

wine bottle

Luce 2017

Luce 2006

Less power, more softness, an almost gentle wine but with a long backdrop of olive groves, fading into the olfactory distance. One to drink while perched on the old city wall of Montalcino, looking over the Colline Metallifere hills towards the sea hidden beyond, and across the endless forest.

Luce 2002

An almost gentle red wine, belying the Tuscan reputation for producing big reds. Yet there’s a persistence of dried berry, vanilla, and the kinds of herbs you sprinkle on pizzas that make it very moreish. A lunchtime wine, on the Piazza del Campo in Siena, looking at the people wandering past as another day disappears.

Luce 1998

Wow. You wouldn’t believe this wine is older than this millennium. Both powerful and zingy, it has a different character to the others, fascinating to see what can happen as great red wines age. Peppers, cherries, and also a waft of Bistecca alla Fiorentina, beautifully balanced. One to drink over dinner, in late autumn, in your Florentine palace, with your loved one; and like the Frescobaldis, I think this wine will last forever.

Thank you to Lamberto Frescobaldi for his time and the wines for this tasting.

For more information, visit: en.lucedellevite.com

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winery at sunset
winery at sunset

The vineyards of Château Mouton Rothschild. Photo © Studio Goodday. Courtesy Château Mouton Rothschild

This morning, Château Mouton Rothschild revealed its latest artistic collaboration with Xu Bing. We take a closer look at the Chinese artist’s label design for the 2018 vintage

Since 1945, Château Mouton Rothschild has invited an artist to design a label for its latest vintage. The collection of miniature artworks, which are transferred onto the wine bottles and also exhibited in a special gallery in the château, features some of the most famous artists from the past 100 years including the likes of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter and now, Xu Bing.

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One of China’s most renowned artists, Xu Bing is best known for his installations which often explore the relationship between image and language. His artwork for the 2018 vintage label is a continuation of his ‘square word calligraphy’ series which originally involved the artist organising English letters into structures that resembled Chinese characters. The idea was to break down cultural barriers by demonstrating the similarity of components in both languages and therefore, demystify the Chinese written language for non-Chinese speakers.

label artwork

Xu Bing’s label continues his ‘square word calligraphy’ series

For this artwork, the pair of elegant, stacked symbols once again appear to be an example of traditional Chinese calligraphy, but the characters are, in fact, composed of the Latin alphabet and denote “Mouton Rothschild”. 

Read more: Fashion entrepreneur Wendy Yu on creativity and charity

wine label

Château Mouton Rothschild’s 2018 vintage with label design by Xu Bing. Photo © Studio Goodday. Courtesy Château Mouton Rothschild.

The design’s inspiration comes from the layered experience of tasting wine, each character reveals itself as the reader engages more deeply with the image, but also with the idea of history, symbolism and reinvention. By reimagining the literary shape of the iconic winery, Bing symbolically suggests the possibility of new discovery in the old.

Discover Château Mouton Rothschild: chateau-mouton-rothschild.com

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Louis Roederer International Wine Awards
Louis Roederer International Wine Awards

The 15th edition of the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards took place at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Last week, the 15th edition of the annual Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards took place at The Royal Academy of Arts in Mayfair. Chloe Frost-Smith recounts the evening

Bottle of champagne being poured into a glassWine experts and distinguished guests sipped glasses of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV champagne, admiring an exhibition of works from the Artistry of Wine Award shortlist against the backdrop of a full-sized copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s mural painting The Last Supper and the Royal Academy‘s collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.

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The winners were announced in the amphitheatre that forms part of the RA’s remodelled wing, and prizes were presented by Charles Metcalfe, the Chairman of the Judges and award-winning wine author. This year, more than 200 entries were received from writers from 23 countries. Karen MacNeil, a regular contributor to the likes of Decanter, won the new award for Consumer Title Writer of the Year, which recognises wine writing beyond specialist titles. Photographer Leif Carlsson was awarded the Louis Roederer Artistry of Wine, Malu Lambert was named the Montblanc Emerging Wine Writer of the Year and Andrea Frost won the Marchesi Mazzei Wine Columnist of the Year.

Grand staircase and archway of a museum building

Read more: Richard Mille’s Alpine athletes Alexis Pinturault & Ester Ledecká

Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle was named the Domaines Ott* Wine Feature Writer of the Year and Simon Woolf received the Domaine Faiveley Wine Book of the Year for Amber Revolution, while US wine importer and writer Terry Theise won the Chairman’s Award for his book What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking.

The evening concluded with an informal tasting session in the RA’s Collection Room, allowing guests the opportunity to experience each sponsor’s sommelier selection in the most sophisticated of atmospheres.

To view the full 2019 shortlist visit: theroedererawards.com

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Two men sniffing a glass of white wine in a restaurant
Two men sniffing a glass of white wine in a restaurant

Sommelier Marc Almert (right) perfume training

Marc Almert was recently named Best Sommelier in the World at the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) championships in Antwerp. Originally from Cologne, the 27-year-old is currently the Head Sommelier at luxury hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich. Here, he gives us an insight into the work and passions of a top sommelier 

Young man wearing a shirt standing in front of an orange wall

Marc Almert

1. Where did your passion for wine come from?

What initially got me interested into wines was a question. I started training as a hotel specialist in my home city of Cologne and I wasn’t drinking any alcohol at the time, because I did not like it. During my training, I noticed I liked some wines and some spirits, however only on certain occasions or paired with certain foods. This intrigued me, and I wanted to understand why certain wines and beverages differ so greatly. And by asking questions and diving deeper into the topic the passion was aroused.

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2. What is more important for a great sommelier: knowledge of wine, or the ability to deal with customers?

A mix of several features makes a good sommelier. Of course, a profound knowledge of wine and other beverages is crucial. However, having an encyclopaedic knowledge and not being able to apply can be done by books to. A sommelier is a host, entertainer, coach and of course also a waiter – he or she needs to adapt to different kind of guests and their needs and tastes within mere seconds and then ensure they have a great experience throughout the entire evening.

Young man standing in front of a black wall at the Gaggenau sommelier awards

Marc Almert was also the winner of the prestigious Gaggenau Sommelier Awards in 2016

3. What is the most pleasurable part of your job? And the most frustrating?

As a sommelier you should be intimately familiar with most wine growing regions, with their geographic features, their cities, their people, their food, language and of course their wines. This is a most pleasurable and informative way to learn. Taking these new learning points back to your team and then sharing them in trainings with the Baur au Lac staff but even more so with curious guests in the restaurant is one of the most satisfying parts of my job; enhancing the guest experience at the Pavillon [restaurant] by being the vintners’ ambassador.

Wine is a natural product. Many wines are also sealed with a natural product: cork. It is often disappointing when a lot of work has gone into a great bottle of wine on behalf of the vintner, it has been stored in perfect conditions over years or even decades, the guests and myself are excited to open and try it – and then it’s tainted by its cork. That can be quite frustrating, hence I am very happy for the cork industry to keep minimising this problem with new technologies and developments.

4. Are the world’s great wines worth the price?

What do you expect from a bottle of wine you buy or open? Essentially to me it is this question that defines its worth. If it is from a legendary winemaker, a highly rated vintage and a coveted provenance, which has made it quite rare, it can well be worth its price. The price of such bottles does not necessarily reflect the mere production costs, but much more the special moments they create when sharing such a bottle amongst fellow wine lovers, the memories they bring back to trips, countries or even challenging years of history. And of course, then pairing it with intriguing food, such as from our two star chef Laurent Eperon.

Read more: Savills’ selection of luxury chalets in St. Mortiz

5. How has your job changed with the rise of wine bloggers and comparison sites?

The wine world has become a lot more transparent. This has especially led to trends evolving much faster, and quickly becoming more global than it used to be. Due to many crowd sourced comparison sites the industry has also become a little more democratic in its ratings. Furthermore, we see more and more guests coming to the restaurant that are very well informed about the wine world in general and current trends and upcoming winemakers and regions in particular.

6. You are allowed to drink only one wine (or champagne) for the rest of your life. What is it?

For a sommelier it is almost impossible to choose one single wine. If I had to though, it would probably be a well matured Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. These wines have a great structure and depth to them, vibrant acidity, low alcohol and just the right amount of sweetness – an eternal pleasure.

For more information visit: aupavillon.ch/en/marcalmert.html

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Contemporary concrete architectural entrance way to a building
Sloping vineyards with a house in the far distance

The vineyards of Masseto slope down towards the sea from the mountains of Tuscany’s Maremma region

Masseto, Italy’s most celebrated wine, is made from spectacular vineyards by the Tuscan coast, backed by ancient forests, looking out over the Mediterranean. This spring, it received a stunning new winery, whose wonders are all contained underneath the blue clay soil, as Darius Sanai, one of the wine’s most obsessive aficionados, discovers

Photography by Marius W Hansen

As you approach the Masseto winery, the overwhelming feeling is one of luminescence. There is a glow from above, and behind, as if the narrow road you’re driving along is the entrance to some new, celestial world.

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There are three shades to the luminescence. The piercing blue of the sky (the sky always seems to be blue around here in the Maremma, the coastal strip of Tuscany halfway between Pisa and Rome); the deep primordial green ahead, which emanates not from the vineyards that surround you but from a thick forest on the mountains in front, forest that looks as wild as it must have been in prehistoric times, with little or no sign of human intervention; and then there is a silver, which seems to come from a different direction altogether, subtle but enveloping. As the road heads up the slope through the vineyards and towards the new winery, you feel that you’re about to be welcomed through into another world.

Contemporary concrete architectural entrance way to a building

The entrance to the new winemaking buildings at Masseto winery

All this makes the entrance itself to the new winery, which opened this spring, even more remarkable. Rather than a great ziggurat to commemorate the otherworldly location of the home of one of the world’s greatest wines, you are greeted by a building that seems to sink far into the mountainside.

And this, perhaps, is the point. It is only when you enter between the stone sentinels at the entrance to the new winery, and disappear into the blue clay soil, that the adventure really begins.

A slim wine cellar with bottles from floor to ceiling

Masseto is perhaps the only Italian wine that has passed into the pantheon of high-luxury brands. It is a wine venerated by connoisseurs, while its serving is also seen as a mark of the ultimate respect by those with just a passing interest in wine, along with names like Pétrus, Lafite, Latour and Domaine de la Romanée- Conti – all the others are French. All the more remarkable, since Masseto has only been a wine since 1987. And since its birth, until the opening of the new winery in 2019, it has always been seen as the ‘big sister’ wine of Ornellaia, made on the same premises.

Read more: Karl-Friedrich Scheufele on Chopard’s partnership with Mille Miglia

This spring, Masseto finally received its own home, distinct from its sister wine, a few hundred metres away on another part of the same slope. The new winery is one of the most striking creations of anything in the increasingly rarefied world of fine wine.

Amid the vineyards, there is a beautiful classical building, terraced, with views across the vineyards and to the Mediterranean Sea, just a couple of miles away. It is the sea that gives Masseto’s vineyards their luminescence, and the wines themselves a kind of olfactory luminescence, lifting up and away, balancing the richness and power and complexity with a kind of angelic delicacy only the very greatest wines in the world can achieve.

Underground wine cellar designed in contemporary architecture

A table of red grapes being sorted by hands wearing white gloves

The glass-cube tasting room, and some of the merlot grapes harvested from the vineyard

But enter inside, and underground, and you are in a different universe. The landing area drops away to a vast, concrete-lined chamber, more redolent of a modern Abu Simbel in ancient Egypt than of a place where wine is made. Rows of wooden barriques line the room; everything is perfect, geometrically, but also puzzling, as if you have entered a kind of contemporary MC Escher drawing. A concrete wall swings open to reveal a room lined with what seem at first to be beautiful black tiles, but turns out to be the ends of Masseto bottles, stored geometrically in racks, black against the grey of the stone. Most remarkable of all is a glass tasting room, a cube in the middle of the winery, where you can taste wines looked on by the wines themselves, buried in the deep underbelly of Tuscany.

The architecture is the creation of Milan-based firm ZitoMori Studio. Masseto CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja comments: “Years of planning and effort have been dedicated to building the right home for Masseto. One that consolidates three decades of experience, where every aspect has been designed to meet the winemaking team’s highly detailed requirements.”

Ordered lines of wine vines in a sloping field

Contemporary clean architecture of a wall and door leading into a wine cellar

The orderliness of the vineyards outside are matched by the clean and uncluttered design of the new winery buildings

Colour portrait of a middle-aged business man

Giovanni Geddes de Filicaja, CEO of Masseto

Commercial director Alex Belson comments about the architecture: “The architectural brief specified the winery must be a masterpiece in its own right. Quite simply, we needed to give Masseto the home it deserves and its own architectural identity. The brief also stipulated the winery must have minimal visual impact, and that the existing Masseto House (a classified building on the hill above the vineyard) be restored with integrity and to meet Italian architectural heritage requirements.”

To do this, says Japanese-born architect Hikaru Mori, “We created a series of spaces, not by construction but by extraction from the hill’s monolithic mass. The diverse internal volumes, heights and levels are reminiscent of a gold mine as it follows seams of precious metal to the core.”

Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard

Axel Heinz, Masseto’s Estate Director

But the architecture would mean nothing without the wine, and Masseto is a wine that is even more special than its setting. Axel Heinz, the estate’s director, has been in charge of the winemaking since 2005 and he says, “The core of Masseto, its warp thread, is a Mahler symphony played by a full orchestra. The weft is a small chamber music ensemble. It’s that orchestral power that needs very careful handling. It has to be balanced by the softer elements, which add complexity. People sometimes describe Masseto as single vineyard wine, but it’s not. There’s an incredible range of plot expressions and different proportions of clay, gravel and earth. It’s more like an intricate patchwork, with the blue clay at its core.”

Heinz also pays tribute to the importance of the sea, both in the light it donates to the vineyards, and the cooling breezes that temper the summer heat and give the wine its freshness, however ripe the vintage. But like the greatest wines, and the greatest poetry, and the greatest vistas, you cannot analyse the beauty of Masseto. It comes from the soil, the grapes, the winemaking, the weather, the microbiome of the earth, the human appreciation of the aesthetic, both in taste and in vision.

For me, Masseto shares with a handful of wines the distinction of being rich, powerful and deep, and also feather light, almost transparent. A big, rich red wine that lifts you up, with a thousand nuances. Different vintages have different characteristics, but there is a commonality in this lightness of being that differentiates it from any other wine I have had from Italy, and which it shares with a clutch of peers at the tip of the world wine tree. Grape variety is irrelevant here. One or two of the great Napa Cabernet Sauvignons have it, as do a handful of top Bordeaux names, and the greatest (and eye-wateringly expensive) wines from the likes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leroy, Mugnier and Armand Rousseau from Burgundy. In the context of many of these peers, Masseto, whose price has rocketed over the past few years, seems positively decent value.

And none of them have a view of the Mediterranean across the coast of the Maremma. It’s going to be fun tasting future vintages in that glass tasting room.

Find out more: masseto.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 19 Issue

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Reading time: 6 min
Underground wine cellar with wooden barrels and concrete walls and ceilings
Underground wine cellar with wooden barrels and concrete walls and ceilings

Designed by ZitoMori Studio, Masseto’s new cellar lies deep beneath the Tuscan soil

Italy’s most celebrated wine producer, Masseto, recently opened a stunning new underground wine cellar. Irene Belluci discovers

Masseto’s new wine cellar has been designed to blend, or rather sink seamlessly into the curves of the Tuscan landscape. Designed by Milan-based architecture practise ZitoMori Studio, the space expands deep underground in a vast concrete chamber that feels like a sacred tomb.

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‘To represent the effort made to produce the wine made here, we created a series of spaces – not by construction, but by extraction from the hill’s monolithic mass,’ explains Hikaru Mori. ‘The different internal volumes, heights and levels are reminiscent of a gold mine as it follows seams of precious metal to the core.’ Inside, the clean lines of glass and steel balance with rows of oak barrels and textured surfaces, whilst cut-outs in the walls, frame the vineyard’s famed blue clay soil.

An underground wine cellar

A slim wine cellar with bottles from ceiling to ground

 

Find out more: masseto.com

 

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Reading time: 1 min
A sommelier in the act of pouring wine into a table of glasses
Gaggenau formal dinner layout with black table dressing

The scene of the 2018 Gaggenau Sommelier Awards ceremony gala dinner, held at the Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing

More than sheer knowledge of wine, it takes dexterity, impeccable service and the ability to inspire the diner to be a top sommelier, as the finalists of the 2018 Gaggenau Sommelier Awards in Beijing discover. Sarah Abbott, a judge at the final, describes the peaks of that fine wine world

We are watching Kei Wen Lu about to extinguish a candle. He pinches – does not blow – the flame out. I breathe a secret sigh of relief, and discreetly tick my scoresheet. Beside me, fellow judges Annemarie Foidl, Yang Lu MS and Sven Schnee mark their scorecards.

A sommelier smells a glass of red wine

Kai Wen, one of the 2018 finalists

Such is the assessment of elite sommellerie. Kai Wen won the Greater China heats of the Gaggenau Sommelier Awards, and he is now performing the “decantation task” in the grand final, in Beijing. He faces a room of Chinese and international press, and the relentless gaze of we four judges.

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For this task, there are 40 elements on which our young finalists are judged. Decanting seems straightforward, perhaps: open a bottle, pour it into a decanter, leaving any sediment behind, and serve a glass to each of your four guests. It is the attention to tiny details that transforms the everyday to the excellent, and the exigent to the sublime.

This task has been created by judge Yang Lu, Master Sommelier and Director of Wine for the Shangri-La Group. Yang has passed the toughest sommelier exam in the world and knows what it takes. Mentor and hardened veteran of elite sommellerie, he challenges these young recruits with his relentless eye for excellence.

Two men and a woman stand in front of Gaggenau sign and sleek metal cabinet

From left to right: David Dellagio, Mikaël Grou and Emma Ziemann, three of the finalists, in front of Gaggenau’s wine storage cabinets

The guéridon must be wheeled smoothly to the right of the host. The bottle must be eased from the shelf and placed gently into the wine basket. You must remove the capsule foil cleanly, and the cork smoothly, without disturbing the bottle in its cradling basket. Ah, but have you remembered to light the candle before you’ve uncorked the bottle? And to wipe the bottle lip with a clean napkin before extracting the cork? And have you assembled those napkins on the guéridon before you bring it over? Kai Wen’s hand is steady as he decants the wine over the lit candle. The room is eerily silent, a camera man is panning up close, and Kai’s every move is magnified for audience and judges on TV screens.

Yang has set traps. He has planted dirty glasses. And he has set out two different vintages of the requested wine. One ‘guest’ decides that she doesn’t fancy the red wine. Can she have a glass of sparkling wine instead? Contestants will lose six marks if they pour the sparkling before serving the other guests their decanted red. More points are ripe for deduction for forgetting the side plate or to offer to remove the cork, or for unequal pours. And for puffing out that candle.

Kai Wen is friendly, focussed and diligent. He avoids most of the traps and completes the decantation within the scarce nine minutes.

Read more: How politics trumps science in the GMO debate

Despite the rigour and specificity of the marking scheme, the personal style of each contestant comes through. Emma Ziemann is the Swedish finalist. Confident and authoritative, she impresses by greeting the judges as if in the theatre of a busy service. She holds our eye, and sails through the decantation, coping well with a dastardly technical question from Yang – designed to put the contestants off mid-pour – about the Saint-Émilion classification.

The pressures of time and occasion are merciless, and most evident during the blind- tasting challenge, in which contestants must taste, describe and identify seven wines and drinks. All identify the Daiginjo Sake without problem, but the old stalwart of French crème de cassis liqueur stumps several. These non-wine beverages are served in opaque black glasses, masking any colourful clues.

A sommelier in the act of pouring wine into a table of glasses

Mikaël Grou, the eventual winner of the 2018 Gaggenau Sommelier Award

South African finalist Joakim Blackadder shows relaxed charm and cool humour. Mikaël Grou, the French finalist, excels. Engaging and poised, he tastes, describes and correctly identifies five of the seven wines and beverages within the allotted twelve minutes. Mikaël impresses for the range and precision of his technical vocabulary, and for his enticing, consumer-friendly descriptions.

All instructions from the judges are spoken and may be repeated only once. It is easy to miss a critical detail. Young, enthusiastic Zareh Mesrobyan is the British finalist. Originally from Bulgaria, he works for Andrew Fairlie’s renowned eponymous restaurant in Scotland. Annemarie Foidl, head of the Austrian Sommelier Association and our chair of judges, gives the instructions for the menu pairing task: Zareh has thirty seconds to read the menu, and four minutes to recommend one accompaniment for each course. “Please include one non-alcoholic beverage and one non-wine beverage.” Zareh seems to love the task. He does triple the work, giving not one but three creative and detailed pairings for each course. Sadly, he cannot gain triple marks.

Read more: Artist Rachel Whiteread on the importance of boredom

The structure of sommelier competitions is well-established around the world, and ours includes many of these classic elements. But Gaggenau is looking for that extra spark, so Annemarie has devised a new task called Vario Challenge, after Gaggenau’s new wine storage units. Built into the stage wall are several wine storage units, calibrated to different temperatures. Each contestant must work their way through a delivery of twelve wines, describe each wine to the judges as if to a customer, and put the wine in the correct cabinet. Swiss finalist, Davide Dellago, excels, wheeling between judges and Vario with grace, and summing up the style and context of each wine with wit and confidence.

The world of sommellerie can seem elitist and arcane. The cliché of the stuffy sommelier
persists, rooted in an increasingly faded world of starched cloths and manners, and of
knowledge used as power, not as gift. As Yang Lu says to me later, it’s critical that sommeliers retain their love for and connection with customers. They must work the floor. Taking part in competitions is a means to an end, not a job in itself.

And what is that end? After a gruelling day of competing, our six finalists worked the floor at a gala dinner. Here is the theatre where sommellerie performs. And this was quite a production. The Red Brick Art Museum, a young, bold architectural venue in Beijing’s art district, was a hip, stylish space. Banqueting tables were dressed in silver and late-season flowers and berries, evoking autumnal birch and harvest bounty. It was time for our young sommeliers to serve not clipboard-wielding judges, but honoured guests.

A chef and assistant plating up dinner in the kitchen

Chef André Chiang plating up for the gala dinner

Our finalists presented six wines with six courses, to each table. The menu was created by André Chiang, the Taiwanese-born, Japanese-raised and French-trained chef, who won two Michelin stars for his Singapore restaurant, Restaurant André. Thoughtful and visionary, Chiang is a revered superstar of contemporary Asian culinary culture. So, the pressure was on.

Sommelier talks guests through wine choices

South African finalist Joakim Blackadder

The finalists had been given just two hours on the previous day to taste the wine with the judges and acquire the facts they needed to tell their wine stories with conviction and colour. All the wines were Chinese. Just five years ago, matching exclusively Chinese wines to food of this nuance, precision and individuality would have been a tall order. Big, gruff, blundering Cabs were the rule. But the ambition and accomplishment of Chinese winemaking today has soared, and these were excellent matches. So it was that our contestants were able to tell a new story of Chinese wine to guests. Of six different styles, of six different grapes, and from six different regions.

Grace Vineyard Angelina Brut Reserve 2009, an intricate and sabre-fresh, champagne- method sparkling, was served with the pure, enticing first course of braised abalone with green chilli pesto and crispy mushroom floss.

They presented Kanaan Winery’s mineral, elegantly aromatic 2017 Riesling with the softly textured, seductive second course of asparagus, caviar broken egg and non-alcoholic Seedlip Garden 108 herbal spirit.

Read more: PalaisPopulaire & Berlin’s Cultural Revolution

Contemporary Chinese wine is inspired by European traditions, but the deeply traditional aged 2008 Maison Pagoda Rice Wine thrilled our sommeliers with its tangy, nutty intensity. Both strange and familiar, it recalled old Madeira or Oloroso, but with a deeper, salty well. It was superb with the dark marine crab capellini, laksa broth and curry-dust sea urchin.

There is one dish that Chef André never removes from his restaurant menu (I suspect, having tasted it, for fear of riots). European culinary tradition and Asian technique come together in this dish of foie gras jelly, black truffle coulis and chives. Part jelly, part mousse, this intelligently decadent dish was paired with the delicately sweet, honeyed 2014 Late Harvest Petit Manseng from Domaine Franco-Chinois.

The first and only red of the evening was perfumed and confidently understated. 2015 Tiansai Vineyards Skyline of Gobi (yes, as in the Gobi Desert). This scented, floral and plush syrah/viognier was a surprisingly successful pairing with chargrilled Wagyu beef.

You know that a wine culture is developed when signs of an iconoclastic counter-culture peek through. Our final wine of the night was, in essence if not in name, a natural wine. Bottled in one-litre flip-top bottles and made from the too often dismissed hybrid grape vidal, the 2017 Mysterious Bridge Icewine was as wild and fresh as the mixed-berry jelly dessert with which it was served.

Our sommeliers told these stories. They blossomed in service, freed from the heat of their earlier competition but also strengthened by it. They delighted our guests with their own delight in these new discoveries. This is the calling of sommellerie – to notice, describe and share the beauties of wine with new ideas of what is beautiful.

In the end, Mikaël Grou was victorious. But, as fellow judge and head of Brand Gaggenau, Sven Schnee said, each of those young sommeliers were winners. They, and we, were touched by this experience of Chinese history, culinary culture and pure vinous potential.

Discover more: gaggenau.com

This article was first published in the Winter 19 Issue

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Reading time: 8 min
Man testing wine from a line of oak barrels
Man testing wine from a line of oak barrels

Tuscan winery owner Giovanni Dolfi, who acted as a mentor to 2016 Gaggenau Sommelier Award winner Marc Almert

The art of the Master Sommelier is steeped in tradition, but with the rise of ever-more sophisticated technology, Rebecca Gibb reports on the evolution of the role for the modern age
Portrait of Hong Kong's finest sommelier Yvonne Cheung

Hong Kong-based
sommelier Yvonne
Cheung

It was 7.30pm and the sun had descended into the western horizon, leaving another sultry evening in Hong Kong. The cacophony of car horns resounding from the tomato-coloured taxis inching their way along Queensway became a murmur, as diners ascended the 49 floors to the calm of luxury hotel The Upper House. In its restaurant, sommelier Yvonne Cheung was guiding a bottle of 1989 Cheval Blanc from its rack, as if it were a newborn. Sealed almost three decades ago when Hong Kong was still a British colony, its russet liquid was about to be released from its glass cocoon. But with no candle to hand, she gave the traditional process of decanting a modern twist, pulling out her iPhone, scrolling up and clicking the flashlight button, transferring the bottle’s precious contents with the assistance of Apple. Some 8,000 miles away, Patrick Cappiello’s lavishly tattooed arms were on full display as he sabred another bottle of prestige Champagne in a New York wine bar. Once a suit-and-tie-wearing sommelier, Cappiello encapsulates everything that has changed in the world of wine service, ditching the formal business attire, and adding a sense of fun.

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Cheung and Cappiello are key members of the sommelier revolution. The meeting of tradition and modernity in wine service has tracked fine-dining trends: in recent years hushed dining rooms, starched tablecloths and haughty waiters have been ditched in favour of less formality. This casualisation of dining has occurred at the highest level, which has also altered the appearance of sommeliers: the man or woman dishing out wine advice is just as likely to be wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of their favourite death-metal band as a shirt and tie. Texas-based Master Sommelier James Tidwell recalls: “Everybody used to be in suits. When I started the Court of Master Sommeliers courses, I saw people turning up in tuxedos because that was the standard of the time! Now you see sommeliers serving in jeans and T-shirts. Casualisation of dining has casualised sommeliers, but their role is still: how do you get the wine to the guest in the best possible condition? That might be baskets and candles, but it might be decanting it with your iPhone flashlight.”

The world of the modern sommelier flowed into suburban living rooms in 2012 with the release of Somm, a documentary following a group of sommeliers in pursuit of the prestigious – and often elusive – Master Sommelier (MS) qualification. Variously described as ‘rock stars of the industry’ and ‘sickly gifted’ the film raised the profiles not only of those ‘egomaniacs’ attempting to pass one of the most difficult exams in the world, but of the entire profession. Almost overnight, it became cool to be a sommelier and audiences realised it was worth listening to the guy offering wine advice (it usually is a guy – of the 249 Master Sommeliers in the world, only 25 are women).

The 21st-century sommelier

While technology has helped candle-less sommeliers decant mature bottles, it has also empowered diners. The rise of wine apps means people can now compare the average retail price of the bottle with the list price through Wine-Searcher, they can view drinker ratings on Vivino and, in 2016, a free app named Corkscrew, a ‘sommelier in your pocket’ teamed up with London restaurants, providing food and wine pairing suggestions based on the venue’s menu and wine list. Marc Almert, sommelier at five-star Zürich hotel Baur au Lac doesn’t think apps will replace sommeliers, but they may change their role. These apps, “Help the guest to be more self-assured when ordering wine,” he says. “Thus we become less of a wine consultant and more of a conversation partner. It allows us to exchange with the guests more openly.” Almert’s view of this evolution is echoed by sommeliers on both sides of the Atlantic and the Far East, but with the development of other technologies that replace the need for humans, including driverless cars, the sommelier-less wine list seems to be the logical conclusion.

Read more: Exploring the rugged beauty of Tajikistan along the Pamir Highway 

That said, a survey of 250 sommeliers across the US in 2000 found that when there was a sommelier in the dining room, more than a third of diners asked for wine recommendations, more parties ordered wine and the average bill was higher. It is apparent that some diners avoid buying wine because of the perceived risk – what if they buy something they don’t like or that won’t please their fellow diners? A sommelier can help to alleviate that fear, leading to increased sales. A more recent study of 50 restaurants in the Spanish city of Valencia also found that a knowledgeable sommelier with a well-curated wine list enhanced the customer’s satisfaction, raised the venue’s prestige and increased profitability.

Portrait of a Sven Schnee, global head of brand for Gaggenau

Gaggenau’s head of global brand, Sven Schnee

And there is an increasing number of knowledgeable sommeliers. Since 2012 – the year Somm was released – more than 50 people have passed the MS exam, swelling its ranks by almost a third. What’s more, hundreds participate in fiercely fought sommelier competitions each year in the hope of being crowned the best sommelier in the country – and the world. These competitions aim to test the knowledge and ability of sommeliers, take them out of their comfort zone, and make them better hosts whether they win or lose. Before lunch service begins, you’re likely to find the most competitive sommeliers poring over wine maps, studying obscure appellations or trying to identify the origin and variety of wines from taste alone. The final of the biennial Gaggenau Sommelier Awards 2018 takes place in Beijing in October, bringing regional winners from North and South America, Europe and Asia. Sven Schnee, Gaggenau’s head of global brand, is also a judge. “Sommeliers are part of the culinary culture and, unlike chefs, they are heavily under-appreciated,” he says. “The sommelier has the most interaction with the customers. He must understand the components of the food, the wine and the interaction between them, but most of all, must be the perfect host.”

The UK leg of the competition was fiercely fought and judges Richard Billett, head of Maison Marques et Domaines, the UK arm of Champagne Louis Roederer, Craig Bancroft of boutique hotel and Michelin star restaurant Northcote and LUX Editor-In-Chief Darius Sanai were looking for personability as well as wine ability. “It goes without saying that a good sommelier needs to be highly knowledgeable, but knowledge is a precious quality that needs to be handled in a very careful and respectful way,” says Bancroft. “Many customers do not fully understand the role of a sommelier and sommeliers must understand that their role is to provide the customer with the best possible wine experience that suits the occasion and the price range in which the customer is comfortable.” Billett also emphasises the importance of people skills: “A good sommelier who recognises the importance of his role in the customer experience will prove to be a commercial and reputational asset for the restaurant. An arrogant and unhelpful one, a liability.”

Line-up of three finalists at the Gaggenau UK sommelier competition 2018

Zareh Mesrobyan, winner of the first Gaggenau UK Sommelier Awards (centre) with fellow finalists Tamas Czinki (left) and Luca Luciani (right)

Clearly, Almert offered the full package in 2016, becoming the global winner of the Awards. Still in his twenties, he is full of energy for his profession but long – and unsociable – hours, the increasing pressures of the job, and a desire to see what else they can do beyond the dining room means that you’ll find many experienced sommeliers now working outside the restaurant business in distribution, retail and education. For example, Tidwell spent two decades on the floor but now runs an annual conference for US sommeliers, Texsom. “As you get older, being on the floor of a restaurant early in the morning and hours that are not conducive to having families or friends outside of the business is less appealing,” he says. “Plus, the wear and tear on the body will eventually add up.”

Read more: Test driving the Maserati GranTurismo MC 

However, once a sommelier, always a sommelier. Fellow MS Gearoid Devaney is the director of London-based Burgundy wine importer, Flint Wines, and runs City wine bar and restaurant Cabotte. He believes that even if you are no longer on the floor, you are a sommelier for life. “I work as a wine merchant with a sommelier outlook in terms of the service I provide and delivering wine to people. I will always work with a sommelier’s brain. It’s about being the link between the producer and the end consumer and doing that with integrity.”

Whether they are on the floor for a year, a decade or a lifetime, sommeliers are dedicated to being personable and ever more professional in the face of technological advances. Wine is the reason for a sommelier’s existence but distilled to its essence, it is about caring for people. And Bancroft predicts a bright future. “There will always be a place for a sommelier,” he says. “The human touch, the real understanding of what someone is looking for, and for a sommelier to be able to deliver that to a client, truly enhances the dining experience.”

The first Gaggenau UK Sommelier Awards

Zareh Mesrobyan, from two-Michelin-star restaurant Andrew Fairlie in Gleneagles, Scotland, has been crowned the winner of the first-ever Gaggenau UK Sommelier Awards. He will represent the UK in the global competition in Beijing in October. Mesrobyan competed against Luca Luciani from Locanda Locatelli and Tamas Czinki from Northcote in five rounds including blind tasting, food and wine pairing and service role plays. Judge Craig Bancroft said Mesrobyan has a “superb chance of success on the worldwide stage”.

For updates on the Gaggenau Sommelier Award 2018 visit: gaggenau.com

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Reading time: 8 min
A bottle of Philipponnat champagne surrounded by roses
A bottle of Philipponnat champagne surrounded by roses

The latest release from renowned champagne house Philipponnat: Clos des Goisses 2009

Festive drinks parties might not have started just yet, but it’s never too early to stock the cellar, or drink champagne. Julian Campbell, Champagne Buyer at leading London wine merchant Justerini & Brooks recommends five champagnes for LUX readers

Philipponnat Cuvee 1522 2008 champagne bottle ictured on white background1. Philipponnat Cuvée 1522, 2008

Precise, aromatic notes of salt and red berries, brioche, toast and peach combine to produce an arresting initial impression in Philipponnat’s brilliant 1522 2008. A wine with a beautiful seam of fresh acidity that will allow this to age for many years to come. 8 years sur lie has given fabulous complexity with a savoury, very fine note of freshly baked pastries below the fruit, while also giving the mousse a wonderful finesse and sense of integration. The finish is long and deliciously salty. Only 1200 cases of this brilliant wine were produced.

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2. Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil 2006

All the minerality of Grand Cru Mesnil vineyards combined with Pascal’s vinous, long lees aged style – a real stand out in Pascal’s lovely range of Blanc de Blancs. The product of a supple, solaire vintage that has imbued this with lovely fruit to balance out the deep chalky notes, this is drinking beautifully now but will improve over the coming decade.

Bottle of Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2009 champagne3. Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2009

The latest release from renowned champagne house Philipponnat.  Opening up with a wave of wonderfully fresh cool chalk aromas, then a bold, expressive nose of grapefruit and fresh red berry, citrus and buttered hazelnuts and finally the faintest suggestions of fresh Victoria plum – there’s a great deal going on here, a wonderful marriage between complex richness and keenly rendered flavours. On the palate this is a big and powerful Goisses but also refined, brimming with rich red fruit, pastry, brioche, raspberry and finally the zest of lemons providing a keen, taut edge. Highly vinous, textural, long and complex, this is every bit as regal as we’d hoped. Superb, a true Clos de Goisses.

Read more: 5 travel experiences that will change your life

Egly Ouriet Les Crayerers champagne bottle and box4. Egly Ouriet Les Crayeres, Ambonnay, Grand Cru, Blanc de Noirs, Brut NV

There’s an element of generous sunshine in this tremendously vinous bottle of champagne, but also a mouth-watering stony element, clear cut golden peach and raspberry, and fantastic chalk definition and minerality on the finish. Long, pure and textural – truly a wine masquerading as Champagne. Made by grapes from an exceptional Ambonnay vineyard with 70 year old vines on intensely chalky soil (at times up to 100m deep).

5. Ulysse Collin, Les Maillons, Blanc de Noirs, Extra Brut, 2013 base

Harvest tends to start here, one week ahead of the other vineyards, and the resulting champagne presents the most glorious red fruit and spice characteristics, huge amounts of pinot appeal, the finest of mousses, with a flourish of red currant, raspberry and ginger spiced pinot fruit on the finish. Aromatic and extrovert while remaining exceptional precision and detail.

For more recommendations and to purchase online visit justerinis.com

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Reading time: 2 min
Sommelier pouring wine in modern style kitchen
Sommelier pouring wine in modern style kitchen

Gaggenau 2018 UK Sommelier competition winner Zareh Mesrobyan is a sommelier at the two Michelin-starred Andrew Fairlie restaurant at Gleneagles in Scotland

Last week Gaggenau’s 2018 UK Sommelier competition took place in London to decide which young sommelier would go on to represent the UK in the global challenge later this year. As a member of the judging panel, LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai recalls the event

There was a welcome relief from the soaring heat in central London last week when I spent half a day at Gaggenau’s home-like showroom near Mayfair (replete with icy air-con) judging their 2018 UK Sommelier competition. The winner would go on to China in October to represent the UK in Gaggenau’s global sommelier challenge, a significant accolade in the Somms world.

Detail shot of hand holding glass of red wine tilted at an angle

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Sommeliers are at once underestimated and overrated. In some (perhaps old fashioned) establishments, the sight of a patronising and overdressed gentleman approaching the table to tell me what to drink is enough to make me switch to ginger beer. But in most restaurants these days, sommeliers are younger, enthusiastic, and too often overlooked by customers who either don’t care what they drink or just plug wine list entries into an app – which doesn’t give the same results at all.

line of wine glasses with three men in suits sitting behind considering documents

The judging panel from left to right: Craig J Bancroft MI, Managing Director at Northcote, LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai and Richard Billett, Managing Director of Maisons Marques et Domaines UK

So kudos to Gaggenau for celebrating the sommelier, and it was a fascinating event and a close call between the eventual winner and runner-up. In the end, Zareh Mesrobyan‘s clear, fast and superior knowledge in the rapid-fire quiz (sample question: What is cremant?) distinguished him. Zareh Mesrobyan works at the rarefied two-Michelin star Andrew Fairlie restaurant at Gleneagles in Scotland, and good luck to him in China later this year. I’d be delighted to listen to the recommendations of this smart, well-presented and intelligent young man next time I go to Gleneagles.

Discover Gaggenau at gaggenau.com

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Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard
Man picking purple grapes on a vineyard

Axel Heinz, Masseto’s Estate Director and Winemaker

The maker of Masseto hosts a private dinner for LUX readers in London, along with LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai

Masseto label on wine bottle with red wax stampAxel Heinz is not what you would expect of a Tuscan winemaker. Half German, half French, he speaks English with a perfect Received Pronunciation public school accent, the result of a UK school education. He is also thoughtful and philosophical about the great issues surrounding wine – and how he has helped turn Masseto, the jewel in the crown of the estate he runs, from being just another good Italian red, to one of the world’s greatest wines, on a par with Chateau Lafite and Petrus, within just 15 years.

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Axel was on sparkling form while hosting a dinner for friends of LUX in London this week, introducing some wonderful vintages of Masseto.

Masseto's vineyard director Axel Heinz in a wine cellar

Axel Heinz at the LUX Masseto dinner

wine bottles lined up against a burgundy wall with a decanter

A selection of wines a the LUX dinner

The 1998 showed the mark of a truly great wine, having developed into a subtle kaleidoscope of delicate flavours and layers. I asked Axel what it was that allowed some wines to develop this astonishing complexity with age – to improve, rather than just get older – and his answer was that it is a blend of magic and expertise. Of the eight vintages we tasted, the 2006 is the most celebrated, but my favourite was the 2010, with its blend of power and poetry.

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Masseto is also changing, for the better, with a new winery opening on its estate on a hillside above the Tuscan coast, next year. It’s a magically beautiful place, and the place, and its creations, were celebrated with much gratitude and joy at our private dinner in London.

masseto.com

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picturesque setting for dinner by the poolside at a luxury villa
picturesque setting for dinner by the poolside at a luxury villa

Friday night’s dinner is typically hosted at various wineries across the Napa Valley. Image by Briana Marie Photography

This month sees the latest edition of the annual Auction Napa Valley, one of the most lavish and interesting events on the world’s charity and wine calendars. LUX editor Kitty Harris, who attended last year’s event as a guest of honour, recalls about her time spent drinking some of the world’s finest wines, dancing the tango at sunset on a hillside vineyard and witnessing the enormous generosity of connoisseurs and winemakers alike over the four-day event

Setting my bags down in the quaint Sutter Home lodge is like stepping back in time to the 1970s – when Sutter created the first White Zinfandel, a style of cheap and cheerful wine which I suspect is not going to be on any of the menus for my next five days. I’m told that every evening I will get a bottle of fine wine to take to my room or to enjoy on the wooden white porch. I opt for a glass of the house’s Californian Riesling while I prepare for my evening of festivities; I am told to wear white for Argentinian tango and dinner.

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My host for the evening, Argentine Delia Viader, earned her title as the ‘Wine Mother’ after founding Viader in 1986 when she created her eponymous estate on the slopes of Howell Mountain, on the east side of Napa Valley, and soon gained worldwide renown for her highly-structured, Bordeaux-style reds.

wild party with gold streamers inside a luxury marquee

Guests dancing post live auction on Saturday night. Image by Briana Marie Photography

We are served Viader’s estate blend, made of 40 percent Cabernet Franc and 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, that evening; now ranking among Napa’s most esteemed wines, it is powerful yet restrained, a wine that combines California’s sunny fruit with a certain French hauteur. There is a mix of guests from around the world, and I (the only Londoner) sit around five tables with white table cloths below the shadows of trees for the evening meal. Argentinian style steaks and are served before we try our luck following the steps of the tango teachers. If there were any hesitations to begin with, all fears were lost as we happily swapped dance partners whilst the sun set behind the hills.

Auction Napa Valley is a phenomenon. The four-day fete raises money for 25 local Napa Valley nonprofits and strategic initiatives for the benefit of children and community health. Since 1981 they have invested $180 million into the area. The first evening, usually a Thursday, sees Napa’s vintners invite guests to dine with them at their estates. During Friday afternoon the live barrel auction is held at a different location each year depending on which estate hosts the events – this years is Charles Krug and last years was Francis Ford Coppola. Early Saturday evening the auction begins, prizes included a private dinner at The Restaurant at Meadowood’s Christopher Kostow, one of the youngest chefs to ever earn three Michelin stars’ and the chance to travel on the Coppola family’s private jet and a four-night stay at their hotel Palazzo Margherita in Italy. The event is attended by residents of Napa who range from Oscar winning director, Mr. Coppola, to venture capitalists Steven and Claire Stull and celebrities such as Oprah and Michelle Pfeiffer.

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Napa Valley Vintners, the nonprofit trade association who organise the auction, are my hosts for the weekend. Brian, my driver, picks me up the following morning for an adventure. We drive we pass a gigantic (35-foot tall!) stainless steel Bunny called ‘Foo Foo’, which I later learn was created by the English artist Lawrence Argent. This is one of the 35 pieces of contemporary art on show at the HALL winery. The 150-year-old site is owned by Craig and Kathryn Hall who compered a treasure hunt for us that morning. The 30 odd guests divided into groups and were given an iPhone with a pre-programmed game to follow. Tasks at different levels of the game included recreating your favourite music album cover – my team opted for the famous Beatles scene walking over the Abbey Road zebra crossing – and blending your own wine which was judged by the in-house wine maker. Sadly, I didn’t win, though I thoroughly enjoyed the vineyard’s classic Bordeaux varietals.

Francis Ford Coppola (director of ‘The Godfather’) and his wife, Eleanor and two children Roman and Sofia were the honorary chairs of the four-day fete. 2,000 guests frequented their historic Inglenook estate for the Napa Valley Barrel Auction which took place in the winery’s caves. The cool – in every sense of the word – atmosphere of the caves saw bidders vie for the 108 lots of 10 single cases of current Napa Valley wines. There was a buzz in the air, an energy and excitement that wasn’t just from the wines.

Man stands behind big silver bowls of tomato sauce

Saturday’s live auction with various festivities and food stalls

Outside in the mid-day heat, canopies kept the crowds covered and wines were flowing in areas according to their blends. Food stalls with grilled scallops, bursting with flavour, were served alongside freshly rolled sushi and tempura.

Read more: California takes on Chateau Latour and the world at an exclusive LUX wine tasting on Lake Como

For a little respite, I headed to Health Spa Napa Valley to revitalise before the weekend’s pièce de résistance: the live auction. Held at five-star hotel Meadowood Napa Valley, the host venue since 1981, the auction began under an enormous white tent in the theme of a 1930s nightclub, complete with a live jazz band. The top single lot was donated by Dalla Valle Vineyards: a week-long trip with the co-proprietor Naoko Dalla Valle to some of her favourite spots in her native Japan. Dalla Valle is a modern Napa legend, an estate situated on the Rutherford Bench, an area just above the river and below the steep valley sides on the east side of the valley, which some connoisseurs think of as the ‘first growth’ stretch of the valley, infusing its greatest wines with an almost imperceptible hint of ethereal ‘Rutherford dust’.

The highest-bidding lot was from Colgin Cellars, another Napa legend created by the redoubtable Anne Colgin, and included Colgin wines and trips to both Champagne and Napa. The bidding was vigorous with an astounding $15.7 million raised in one evening.

vineyard landscape with luxury canopy on a hilltop

The region’s stunning landscape provides the perfect backdrop for sunset dancing and wine tasting. Image by Briana Marie Photography

Following the live auction we moved to the garden for a candle lit al-fresco dinner of Italian family favourites prepared by Francis Coppola himself. The evening ended on the dance floor with a private performance by soul singer-songwriter Leon Bridges of Texas. The weekend went by in a flurry of excitement with a gentle buzz from the wines. And the fun wasn’t over: sampling cult wines from the Screaming Eagle winery, possibly Napa’s most famous (and most expensive) and the rounded hillside merlots from Shafer with the proprietors themselves was a privilege, inside the dreamscape that is Auction Napa Valley.

The 38th annual Auction Napa Valley runs from 27th May to 3rd June. For more information visit: auctionnapavalley.org

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Interiors of Michelin-starred Esszimmer restaurant in Munich
purple grapes hanging on the vine in the Masseto vineyard in Tuscany

The Masseto vineyard in the Maremma region of Tuscany

LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai was recently invited to a private tasting of Italy’s greatest wine, in a spectacular location. Masseto may now be a global superbrand, but it didn’t disappoint.

Italy makes many serious and famous wines, from the Barolos of Conterno to the Brunellos of Soldera. But there’s only one Italian wine which has crossed the Rubicon from the serious wine community – who examine vintage, vineyard, slope aspect and barrique ageing in exquisite detail – to what we call the general luxury connoisseur.

The latter is the category of wealthy people who live busy lives and, while immersing Chef prepares canapes to accompany the tasting of Masseto fine winesthemselves in life’s pleasures, don’t have time to work out which Conterno makes the great Barolos (it’s Giacomo) or whether Brunelli is the same as Brunello (it isn’t). They know and consume the greatest things in the world: they might own a Ferrari F12 TDF, a house in St Moritz and another in Malibu, eat at Osteria Francescana and own a Heesen boat and a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon. But they’re just too busy to sweat over the arcane detail of the wine world.

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That doesn’t mean they don’t know wine – they drink more fine wine than a Master of Wine could ever afford – and nor does it mean they only consume brands. Wine is a world where there’s nowhere to hide: if Chateau Pétrus really weren’t as good as it’s supposed to be, people wouldn’t buy it.

The wines that pass through the luxury connoisseurs’ lips are mainly French: Pétrus, Margaux, La Tache, Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc. And only one Italian wine makes it into this highest echelon: Masseto. Masseto is made a grape’s throw from the Mediterranean, in a beautiful vineyard sitting on a slope between the coast and an ancient forested hillside, in the Maremma region of Tuscany. This rather unspoiled stretch of Italy, between Rome and Pisa, produces other rather good wines, like Sassicaia, Tua Rita and Guado al Tasso (among many others). But it’s Masseto that has the brand recognition.

Interiors of EsZimmer restaurant for wine tasting of Masseto

EssZimmer: a sophisticated setting for a private tasting of Italy’s greatest wine

It’s made from Merlot, like Chateau Pétrus, and it’s rich, rounded, velvety and hedonistic. LUX had the privilege of being invited to a recent private tasting of no fewer than 15 different vintages of Masseto, held at the two Michelin starred Bobby Bräuer‘s EssZimmer restaurant at the BMW Museum in Munich, Germany. Hosted by winemaker Axel Heinz, and Burkard Bovensiepen, the owner of the BMW Alpina car company (and fine wine importer) and accompanied by such glorious dishes as ‘venison from the region, spice crust, onion ravioli’, it was beyond memorable.

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Masseto label on wine bottle with red wax stamp

Vintages served were the 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Did we have a favourite? The 1989 is no longer available but had a gentle timelessness that we could drink every day. The 2010, we would splash on as the world’s most lavish cologne, before licking it from the belly of…let’s move on. The 2011 was a Roberto Cavalli gown of a wine. The 1997 was a Chanel couture creation in all its perfection. The 2015 should have been undrinkably young; but was like drinking the stars.

Only the most recent vintages are available now, and we recommend drinking them with your favourite person, even if, in some cases, that means sharing them.

masseto.com

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