When travelling with wine, savvy wine lovers know that they can transport up to 120 standard wine bottles, between any two EU member countries without paying any duties, pending the booze is not for resale. This, of course includes individuals bringing back wine to the UK. Hopefully, with all the Brexit turmoil and associated speculation this rather useful law will remain in place.
For travellers visiting wine producing countries such as France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal it makes sense to take advantage of this generous duty-free limit if only because wine purchased from within the UK carries a much larger price tag. This is in part because for every alcohol bottle purchased locally at large portion goes to the taxman. Britain and Ireland are known for some of the highest alcohol duty rates in Europe, alongside Scandinavian countries.
Aside from the economics, there is a certain magic of buying wine directly from the winery, after wine tasting and selecting exactly the wines you enjoyed most. Europe’s wine regions are littered with amazing family-owned, artisanal wineries that simply do not produce enough wine to export outside of their region, let alone to other countries. Often, your only option is to buy these bottles directly at the cellar door.
Some wineries and wine stores can ship your wine home, but that pesky excise tax will need to be added along with additional alcohol import costs. E.U duty-free limits do not apply to shipping. Shipping wine and alcohol by non-licensed individuals into the UK is illegal.
If you’re driving back from your wine holiday you can stock up on wine in your car. Many however don’t realize that you can also bring it back with you on the airplane as long as you follow these simple rules below:
If wrapping your bottles in clothes seems too risky, there are a number of bottle protection products that will give you peace of
mind. For transporting a few bottles you can pick up a bottle sleeve, such as the reusable Bottelo, available from Lazenne. It’s made out of tough, durable and flexible plastic, cushioned with a layer of air-filled bubbles (similar to bubble wrap). It has a secure sealing system to prevent the spillage of liquid, should the bottle break. When packing place these near the centre of your suitcase and you’re travelling in style and with piece of mind.
Seasoned wine lovers will appreciate a dedicated wine luggage like Lazenne’s 12-bottle or 6-bottle airplane wine carrier. This specially designed wine suitcase can be checked like any other baggage and can take all that baggage handlers throw at it, protecting your precious wine. It works with a range of bottle types from standard, up to most sparkling wines. Its minimalist design means that when fully loaded it weighs 18-20 kg, meeting most airline luggage weight limits.
Guest Post by Paul Budny from
Stop for a moment and still your sparkling mind: can you recall where you were when you first tasted Bollinger RD? Or where you tasted your first Cristal? What about when you first discovered Nyetimber? Chances are that it was probably a different place each time. For me, all these memories come together since I first tasted all of them in the Southwest’s (arguably the country’s) most comprehensive wine lounge for Fizz in all its forms – Le Vignoble, in Plymouth’s Royal William Yard.
Set in the historic surroundings of an old naval victualling yard, this elegant venue and wine shop is the culmination of a life’s dream for its charming French propriétaire, Yannick Loué. Around fifteen years ago, this aspiration was a seedling germinated while Yannick was sitting drinking coffee in a bar on the marina in Bonifacio, Corsica. While people-watching he noticed the privileged yacht-owners buying champagne to take back on board their luxury vessels, and the idea for selling champagne and fine wine was born.
While working in hospitality the UK in the interim, Yannick noticed that there were very few specialised independent wineshops, but a lot of chains. He found that wine knowledge in general here was poor. Most people seemed to depend on a sommelier, not really understanding what they liked themselves. He wanted Le Vignoble to be somewhere that people could explore and learn about wine. With his background in hospitality he was never daunted by the long hours necessary in setting up and running an independent hybrid wine shop and lounge. The result is an elegant yet welcoming establishment which has become very popular in the area, and has enabled a growing appreciation of fine wine and bubbly in the South West.
Although initially Yannick was keen to stock Champagne from independent Growers, it soon became apparent that, in the Southwest at least, consumers liked the big brand names, which Le Vignoble stocks in abundance. A fine selection from houses such as Krug, Billecart-Salmon, Dom Perignon, Bollinger, Ruinart and Louis Roederer is available, in addition to their latest offering, a fine grower Champagne from Larnaudie-Hirault, imported directly from the producer to offer the best possible price to their loyal clientele; Le Vignoble has exclusivity for supplying Larnaudie-Hirault in the Southwest.
Aside from Champagne, Yannick is a champion of English Sparkling Wine, particularly from vineyards in the Southwest, and every year during English Wine Week hosts a showcase tasting with a number of winemakers. Always a sell-out event, Le Vignoble’s clients look forward to this fantastic and fun event from one year to the next. English wineries featured at Le Vignoble include Camel Valley, Furleigh Estate, Polgoon, Sharpham Estate, Knightor Winery, and, of course, Nyetimber. It is really satisfying to see English Sparkling Wine so well-represented here. So many wine bars and restaurants throughout the UK fail to support our home-grown wine industry, which is disappointing, of course, but I think they also miss out because the fine wine consumer today expects to see our excellent English Sparkling on the menu. I have always thought Yannick well ahead of the game in this regard.
From the rest of the world, you can find Prosecco, of course, and also Sparkling Wine from the New World – USA, Australia, Brazil and even Canada!
Aside from the English Wine Week showcase event, Le Vignoble usually hosts 2 or three other Champagne or Sparkling Wine events per year, always sold out. There is also a good selection of fizz by the glass, in addition to the wide range by the bottle, with usually at least 4 options available – usually a Prosecco or New World Sparkling, two local Sparkling and one Champagne. You can see why I like to pop in on a regular basis for light sparkling refreshment!!
I talked to Yannick about what the future holds for Champagne and Sparkling Wine. He believes that Champagne Houses may have become complacent having had it too easy for too long, and that there is a serious risk of Champagne being surpassed by English Sparkling in the future, especially in the UK market. This risk is accentuated now with the weak pound, an effect of the EU Referendum and looming Brexit. Certainly Yannick finds that English Sparkling Wine is more popular already with the clients of Le Vignoble, that local people really buy into local producers.
With regard to other Sparkling Wine from around the world, Yannick thinks that the most under-rated is probably Tasmania – this is a region we must watch out for in the future.
His favourite way to enjoy Champagne or Sparkling Wine – At the beginning of a holiday in the South of France with his better half, Ele, or overlooking the River Tamar at their home in Cornwall.
Le Vignoble relaunches today after refurbishment and introduction of a new menu, check it out!
For details of Sparkling events at Le Vignoble, keep an eye on their website levignoble.co.uk
Amidst the green and rolling hills of Dorset, you will find a very special vineyard- Bride Valley. Special in its own right with south facing sun-drenched slopes and quality chalky soil, but also special because it belongs to Steven Spurrier and his lovely wife Bella.
It feels slightly surreal to find oneself sitting in the home of one of our great wine icons, drinking his fine English sparkling wine, and talking about the future of the English wine industry, especially after wandering with him through his vines. On this beautiful sunny morning the vines were just about to flower- the improvement in the weather could not have come at a better time. Steven tells us where each of the varietals are planted- Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay- and the contrast in colouring of the vine foliage can be clearly seen in the morning light. He shows us where they have planted trees as windbreaks and wild flowers to enhance the ecosystem. We encounter a few bunny rabbits scampering amongst the vines and are serenaded by the birdsong all around us. Bliss.
After many years in Paris, Steven and Bella searched for some time for the perfect family home in England, and discovered this beautiful property in Dorset after a recommendation from a friend some 30 years ago. Although Bella managed a sheep farm here for many years initially, Steven was always curious about the soil, and often wondered about planting a vineyard. He took some of the soil with him back to France for analysis by viticulture experts, who initially assumed the soil was from Champagne! From then he always knew a vineyard on the sunny slopes of Bride Valley would do well, but it was not until 2008 that he and Bella decided to take the plunge. With English Sparkling Wine becoming more firmly established, and knowing that Ian Edwards at the nearby Furleigh Estate would take care of their wine-making, they set off for the esteemed Pépinières Guillaume vine nursery in Burgundy, where they bought their first vines for planting.
The first Bride Valley harvest was in 2011, released in 2014 to much acclaim, and sold out very rapidly. There are now over 10 hectares under vine in Bride Valley, 55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier. In 2016, with the vines maturing, in addition to the increase in planting over time, they hoped for their best harvest to date.
Spending time with Steven is strangely relaxing. No doubt the surroundings help, not just in the vineyard, but also his 17th century home and colourful English country garden. However, it is so easy just to listen- he is softly spoken and enjoys telling stories of his 50-odd years in the wine industry. The conversation naturally flows, and I find myself hanging on his every word. The maestro. How much I could learn from this gentle and modest man.
Our discourse, of course, turns to the Judgement of Paris, which Steven organised in his wine school in Paris in 1976. French wine experts carried out a blind tasting of French and Californian wines, and were astonished when they realised the top spot in both categories, Chardonnay and Bordeaux/Cabernet, went to Napa! This changed the history of wine for ever, finally giving Napa Valley the credentials it so greatly deserved. The United States government decided in 2016 to fly the US flag over the United States Capitol on May 16th in recognition of Steven, celebrating the 40th anniversary of this momentous occasion in the history of Californian wine, an industry that now contributes more than $162billion to the US economy. He proudly yet humbly shows us the framed Resolution from the House of Representatives, and the flag itself which they subsequently sent to him, beautifully folded in a presentation case.
But I digress- we are treated to a tasting of the 2013 Blanc de Blancs and 2013 Rosé Bella in the garden room, surrounded by flowers and foliage, with a view to the garden, where a treehouse and swings indicate how much of a family home this is, how Steven and Bella clearly value family time with their grandchildren. First, the Blanc de Blancs- 95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier; disgorged after 15-18 months on the lees and released for the summer three years after the vintage. With a dosage of only 8g/L, this is dry, fresh & clean with crisp acidity, lively citrus and brioche notes, a fine persistent mousse and a chalky mineral finish- a truly elegant Blanc de Blancs.
Steven’s sparkling Rosé is named as a tribute to his right-hand woman, his lovely wife Bella. The Rosé Bella 2013 is 85% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier. The deep pink rose colour results from 24 hours on the Pinot Noir skins before fermentation, and the dominance of the black grape is evident on the nose and the palate with strong raspberry and strawberry notes, with a hint of citrus from the Chardonnay; fresh, dry, and beautifully balanced with a low dosage of 7 g/L- Steven favours this drier style. The luscious long finish perfects this “English Summer” in a glass. Only 750 bottles were made of this rare English beauty in 2013; we can only hope for more in the future! The Rosé is disgorged after 15 months on the lees, and released in the autumn 2 years after the vintage, and I believe the 2014 is now available.
While we savour these excellent wines, I ask Steven what he thinks the future holds for the English Sparkling Wine industry. He feels that the future is strong, yet while all the producers are currently like colleagues working together towards the same goal, he fears that larger commercial producers may upset the balance. He states that if the owners “continue to sing from the same hymn sheet, [they] should represent the best that England can produce- then we are all friends”.
Before leaving, I ask Steven what was his most memorable sparkling moment. He pauses to think for a minute, then smiles at me enigmatically and says with a chuckle that there are “too many bubbles to remember”.
Sorcha & Steven are currently working together on a weekend Wine Tour to Provence for Spring 2018. If you would like to register your interest now, email Sorcha at email@example.com or sign up for our mailing list to be one of the first to know
Let’s talk about Cava! It is little wonder that Wine Tourism is undergoing a surge all over the wine world, when you consider the typical climate, the beauty of wine regions, and most importantly, the end result. For lovers of bubbly, the options for wine tourism are more than one might think, with many still wine regions also producing sparkling. Today, however, we are concentrating on Cava in Catalunya – Cava is Spain’s traditional method sparkling wine. 95% of this famous Spanish bubbly is produced here, mostly in the area around the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.
From the mountains to the sea, the breathtaking landscapes of Catalunya provide both a perfect backdrop and a myriad of conditions in which to grow the traditional Cava vines. There is a lot more to Catalunya than Barcelona, yet visiting only the region’s capital is a mistake many tourists make. This is a stunning region for wine tourism, with an abundance of Cava houses to visit, both large and small, from the historic family houses of Codorníu and Freixenet, to the smaller artisanal producers such as Gramona and Llopart.
Catalan generosity and positive spirit provide a genuine feel-good factor wherever you go. The wineries really do welcome visitors, and are so proud to show you their extensive cellars and impressive winery buildings, often in the Modernist style of architecture.
Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel.lo vineyards abound- these are the most well-known varietals for Cava, although Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir and Trepat (Rosato only) are also permitted, and more recently, Chardonnay, which was authorised in 1986 and is the featured grape of Codorníu’s Anna range. No matter which time of the year you visit, the vineyards will always provide a learning experience, from winter pruning through bud burst, inflorescence and grape setting, veraison and full ripeness. It can be quite soothing to wander through the vines, enjoying the peace and the sounds of the countryside, while contemplating the time and effort that goes in to producing one single bottle of the finest fizz.
Prepare to be astonished by the extensive cellars of the larger Cava houses. Electric trains are frequently employed in ferrying visitors for miles underground, through ancient tunnels lined with riddling racks, emerging in to the stark contrast of the modern bottling and packing areas. It feels like quite an adventure through history and time! Each visit is different, and each winery has a different approach to the conduct of their tour, but if you get the balance right between the large and small houses you are sure to acquire an excellent knowledge of Cava and its production.
In the United Kingdom, since quality Cava is not widely available, and the supermarkets and large wine retailers sell mainly entry-level Cava, we tend to get little experience of the Reservas and Gran Reservas, which can be truly stunning wines. The best winery tastings, therefore, include these finer offerings, with their complex flavours and aromas, and persistent finish. Zero dosage (Brut Nature) is quite common in Cava production, the grape varieties providing enough interest on the palate through ripeness and their own characteristics to avoid any sense of austerity. One of my favourite memories of my last Cava tour is drinking Llopart’s Brut Nature Gran Reserva Original 1887 amongst its 75 year old Xare.lo vines, with the serrated mountain of Montserrat in the distance. Wine tourism truly does not get much better than that!
In addition to vineyard and winery tours and tastings, many estates also offer additional activities, such as cycling through the vineyards, picnics amongst the vines, perhaps even watercolour painting classes. Electric bikes are usually available for those less active amongst us so most people have the opportunity to enjoy this very special experience. Furthermore, the area is rich in cultural and religious heritage, including museums, art galleries, stunning modernist architecture, and elegant monasteries, both currently active and also those now converted to visitor attractions. No monastery is more deserving of a visit than Montserrat, perched high on the famous mountain of the same name, first founded in the 9th Century- a site of pilgrimage for millions, motivated by the legend that a visit to Montserrat absolves all sins!
Whether you choose to make your own Cava tour plans or prefer to have a dedicated wine tour specialist to organise everything for you, from travel and accommodation to winery visits and tastings, rest assured that a visit to Catalunya offers something for everyone, and the rich heritage of this fascinating region will leave you wanting more. You will also find yourself seeking out the finer Cavas that you never knew existed before your visit, but whose memory will linger on your palate for years to come.
•We are currently planning a luxury wine tour to Catalunya with Spanish Wine Expert Sarah Jane Evans MW. If you would like us to send you details of this tour as soon as it is available, then please register your interest now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or via the website contact form.
On the 21st July this year, #ukwinehour regulars from many corners of the UK descended on London to celebrate ukwinehour’s first birthday with a live meet-up and tweet-up. After a year of online interaction on Twitter from participating in the weekly wine Twitter chat, a year of sharing wine knowledge and developing wine friendships, it was a joyous occasion to see so many of us together in one place for the first time! I founded ukwinehour because of a lack of wine Twitter Chats on this side of the Atlantic, and it has been very satisfying to watch it grow and develop. You can join us every Thursday on Twitter from 7-8 pm UK time. Although I try to host personally as much as possible, I am so pleased to have a growing group of guest hosts now. I trust these guys completely and am so impressed with the excellent job they do when they take the reins. Thank you one and all.
We are very grateful to Ben Austin and his team at the Eurocave UK showroom on Chiltern Street, London, for hosting our first live meet-up. It was the perfect place to meet and mingle while enjoying the use of their beautiful Zalto wine glasses. It was really interesting to look around at the wine storage solutions and cabinets, and also the wide array of wine accessories that they have available. Check out their website here.
A number of wines were showcased at the event. Thank you to Luca at Vinitalia for asking to join us earlier in the year. Luca showcased a delicious creamy extra-dry Merotto Prosecco which was very well-received, in addition to some “baby amarone” from Accordini, a very interesting sparkling red Ottouve Lettere della Penisola Sorrentina DOC 2015 and a white Falanghina dei Campi Flegrei DOC. We are so grateful to Luca for his ongoing support of ukwinehour and #ukwinehourlive.
Fabulous Greyfriars Vineyard in Surrey also showcased their stunning Blanc de Blancs and Sparkling Rosé which everyone loved! It’s also a great place to visit, and some of our ukwinehour regulars helped with the harvest there this year. Thanks so much to Mike and Hilary Wagstaff for continuing to support and build such an excellent relationship with ukwinehour.
The other sparkler of the evening was the stunning Crémant de Loire from Langlois Chateau, courtesy of Matt Barrère at Mentzendorff. Thanks so much, Matt & Langlois, the Crémant was the evening’s much admired representative of La Belle France.
Paul Laurie shared some AA Badenhorst’s Papegaai white blend of Chenin Blanc, Marsanne and Viognier from The Pipe of Port and SWIG wine, and Andy Leach some Two Dogs, a Peacock and a Horse Sauvignon Blanc from Black Elephant Vintners. Thank you both for such interesting and enjoyable contributions.
Finally, the Sherry world was also well-represented, via Helen Highley, Sherry Educator. We enjoyed some Tio Pepe and Viña AB from Gonzalez Byass and some delicious Oloroso from Rocio Urium. Helen has since opened her own online exclusive sherry shop Sherry Boutique. I do recommend you check it out!
It was so much fun for everyone to actually meet in person, and we were so pleased that Joe Fattorini from The Wine Show could join us. He is such a great guy with some great stories to share. Sure, the ladies found him charming, but I think the boys all felt a little “bromance” for sure! Joe has been our special guest on ukwinehour and often drops in to join the chat whenever he can.
We are all looking forward very much to our next #ukwinehourlive which is provisionally planned for the 26th January 2017. It will also be held in London, as it is probably the most central place for people to access. However, we are still seeking a venue, so if you would like to host us at your venue, or know a venue that might be interested, do get in touch. You can email me at email@example.com. We are already receiving enquiries from suppliers and wineries who would like to showcase at our next event, so if you would like some exposure for your wines from Twitter’s most prolific wine tweeters then do let us know.
#ukwinehour every Thursday on Twitter, 19.00-20.00 BST/GMT