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
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.
I’m always amazed by the reaction when I talk to people about the abundance of vineyards we have in the beautiful South West of England. People, in general, seem unaware of this bounty on our doorstep, and nothing gives me more pleasure than introducing my bespoke groups to our fine wineries on my day tours and short breaks in the region. It was therefore a great opportunity for me to meet some more of our local producers at the Southwest Vineyard’s annual tasting event held at the Phoenix in Exeter at the end of June.
As a guest of indefatigable Hilary of Eastcott Vineyard in Okehampton, I was pleasantly surprised by the number and quality of local producers exhibiting. In addition to the fine offerings from Hilary & Richard at Eastcott and a number of other Devon wineries, Dorset, Cornwall and Herefordshire were all well represented, giving me lots of ideas for future wine tours in the South West. It was nice to meet Emma Coulson from Polgoon, a great ambassador for their family-run estate near Penzance. I enjoyed a long conversation with Geoff Bowen from Pebblebed near Exeter and Frank Myers from Wythall Estate in Herefordshire on the EU Referendum- as well as the wine, of course!
Dorset was well-represented too with Rebecca Edwards from award-winning Furleigh Estate. I adore Furleigh’s sparkling Rosé! My recent visit to beautiful Furleigh will be the subject of another post soon.
It’s always lovely to catch up with Duncan Schwab from Sharpham and his sidekick Tommy, who is always smiling and obviously adores his work. We fixed a date for me to drop by, and this visit will be covered in a future post. At this event I tasted their award-winning red wine, a tribute to their winemaking skills in this cool English climate.
It was also fantastic for me to finally meet Wine Educator Rebecca Mitchell in person after knowing each other for quite some time via Twitter.
It was so much fun to explore our beautiful region’s wines at this excellent event, but it’s even more fun to explore them at the vineyards. If you’d like to explore the wineries of the South West get in touch with me by Email or call me on 01752 662801 or 07866 472724. I can organise both daytours and shortbreaks here in this beautiful part of the world for private or corporate groups.
For more information on the South West Vineyards association check out their website here.