Feeling the burn

Photo by Daniel Salgado on Unsplash

“What’s the alcohol?” I asked. Paul Hobbs looked rankled. He replied with a slight sigh, “14%.”

I was struck by how light the wine in question felt, his 2019 Goldrock Estate Pinot Noir, I’d guessed it was lower. When I expressed my surprise, Hobbs said something interesting – the sort of thing that doesn’t often come out of a group Zoom tasting of the latest releases from X or Y estate. But Hobbs clearly isn’t your average winemaker, with a depth of knowledge that is profound, and a clear desire to dive into the nuances of each wine he makes.

He’d said that there was much more to alcohol than a number. That it was so much more complex. That no one talked about it. Obviously, I wanted to know more.

I ask about alcohols a lot more than I used to, a result of needing to nail them blind in an MW exam, and knowing that they can provide an essential clue for a wine’s identity. Of course we know that it’s easy for alcohol to be masked by other elements in the glass, but Paul offered a fascinating eye into how climate change doesn’t just mean that there’s a little more alcohol in a wine – but is changing the very nature of the alcohol produced.

Read the full feature on


Drunk, but not forgot

old vines white desante

There isn’t enough time to dedicate a feature to every delicious bottle uncorked, so – in lieu of that endeavour – here is a soon-to-be-regular round-up of the producers and wines that have lingered in my memory most over the last month


I’m still learning more about this ever-so-edgy Californian producer, and popped into Sager + Wilde for their takeover last month. Despite some dubious service from S + W team, I did eventually get a taste of the Valdiguié Rosé (only the second example of the grape I’ve found in the UK – the other being Broc Cellars‘ fantastic red), and the famous Trousseau Gris. The reds I’ve had previously have tended towards the overly natural, seeming a touch blurred in their expression; but these were delicious, clean, enchanting wines, with great acid and aromatics. Their annual Roberson release is looming, I believe, and I can’t wait to try and snap some up – the Gamay escaped me on the night…

Jérome Prévost

Phwoar, this is Champagne that is well worth the Insta-hype. I enjoyed a bottle of the Pinot Meunier dominant Les Béguines at Bright (read my review of this excellent restaurant here), and fear it may be a while before I can stump up the funds for another, alas.


A new producer just arrived at Berry Bros. & Rudd, this whacky couple is creating sensational, fascinating wines in the Napa Valley. Their top wines take the name of an extraordinary-sounding site, Proof vineyard – the red a field blend of Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet, the white a concoction of Green Hungarian, Golden Chasselas and Sauvignon Vert. The “lower-level” Old Vines isn’t quite as complex or deep in flavour as the Proof White, but is stunning nonetheless – layers of rich stone fruit, citrus pith, honey, minerality and such length. I’m a fan, and – having spent some time with them last week – there’ll be a write-up of an interview in due course. (And they were just one of the US invasion that took place last week – my Cali obsession continues, see my piece on the maverick duo at Birichino here.)


Reminiscin’ and missin’ Margs with a bottle of Leeuwin’s ’13 Art Series Chardonnay – still extraordinarily tight, it needed a decant but really opened up over a couple of hours. It’s proper good stuff. (And for more Margs escapism, I’ve penned a travel guide to the region, and a piece on the folks at Pierro.)


Relatively cheap and cheerful, a bottle of this producer’s single-vineyard Orestilla Lugana hit the spot on a sunny evening, consumed on the roof – slightly less glamorous than the vineyard and winery near Lake Garda. Much more serious than its price, it offers plenty of weight and fruit density, yet is oh-so-gluggable.

Gin and cold, cold lager

It’s hot, and this is really all I want at the end of an overly sweaty day (I may not have been too discerning on this front of late).

Taking it across the Pond


Me and the Yaris, my trusty companion throughout the trip

So, not to brag, but I’ve had a fairly awesome couple of weeks. I was tasked with the burden of receiving Berry Bros. & Rudd’s award for Best Industry Blog 2016 at the Wine Blog Awards, which were being presented at the Wine Bloggers Conference in… Lodi, California. It was difficult to accept such responsibility, but – ever dutiful – I obliged and rapidly booked flights. And two weeks’ holiday around the conference.

I split my time before and after the conference between San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Napa/Sonoma. I met so many wonderful people (including some fabulous bloggers, hello Wine Not Whine, Pig & Vine and 80 Harvests, and many many more), and had the chance to visit 15 producers, tasting 174 wines and driving 1,079 miles. While I feel I had the chance to see the full spectrum of California’s wine scene (from the more unusual and currently trendy to the established, polished and utterly glamorous), it’s hard to feel like I’ve totally grasped what’s going on: the state is huge and the sheer number of producers utterly daunting. But it is exciting to taste refined, elegant and restrained wines that are in stark contrast to the huge, over-ripe and highly alcoholic wines of yore.

You can have no doubt that I’ll be writing up features on my visits and the region soon with my take on the region, but – in the meantime, and if you happen to be at a loose end – you can read my report on Lodi here on