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    Woman by vineyard sign in Chianti

    I Fabbri

    Dylan’s Travels to Chianti

    Arriving at I Fabbri

    I finally arrived at the little square where Susanna had told me to park. With no visibility I had little idea which way to go into the mist: up, down, north, south, east or west! A forester in a Land Rover emerged and offered for me to follow him. He indicated for me to turn down a narrow track and I finally arrived at the Castello di Lamole.

    The Wine Maker-Importer Relationship!

    Susanna was waiting and directed me into a little parking space. We hugged like old friends, but we have only met briefly maybe three times! Is it because of the product you have been selling for years that means you feel like such old companions? In the same way as when you meet old college friends and you can pick up again at the drop of a hat we chat away!

    Woman by Chianti sign.

    She led me up some stone steps to a beautiful compact tasting room. On another day I’m sure it would have had a spectacular view over her treasured vines.

    She had left a successful career in fashion in Florence more than 20 years earlier to come and resurrect her family’s vineyard. This is a family history she can trace back 400 years. I-Fabbri (blacksmiths) maybe attests their former graft in the north of Italy but surely four centuries of lineage is enough for a family to claim roots.

    Tuscany

    The vineyards are some of the highest in Tuscany, really not too far from Florence, maybe 35 kilometres (which even in the day could take a heroic hour or more in a motor car on a night like tonight). But tonight, as the light outside faded, I might as well have been visiting a vineyard in the depths of Armenia or Moldova or halfway up the Catalan Pyrenees!

    Chianti vineyard

    The Tasting

    Two tables were set – one had glasses and three bottles of Suzanna’s labours and hard to ignore was another with two place settings bowl and dinner plates, neat napkins, more glasses. I would not starve before losing myself in the forest later!

    We tasted through her different cuvees as she explained the nuances between them. The bedrock of Tuscany and Chianti is Sangiovese and make up the majority of her wines – bar one. A little proportion of Caniolo here, 20% Merlot in the Olinto giving a hint of plumper fruit and one cuvee of Merlot from vines she planted before 2000 as she re invigorated her ancient family fields and terraces of vines.

    Lamole Chianti Classico

    100% Sangiovese Grosso come from the highest vines up to 630 metres (most of the way up our local mountain Cader Idris as I look out from my kitchen in Dolgellau now). Aged in cement tanks for 12 months. ‘Cement’ just doesn’t sound so romantic but is the bedrock of some great wines. I find age and experience tend to cool the enthusiasm of wine makers for oak (once again awarded Tre Bicchieri in the prestigious Gambero Rosso Guide).

    Terra di Lamole

    This wine has the addition of 10% Canaiolo grapes from lower vineyards (down at 550 metres!) and some from her oldest vines planted around her birth in the 1960s. Here there is some use of oak a proportion spending time in 500 litre French oak barrels.

    Riserva Chianti Classico

    The Chianti is all made in 500 litre French Tonneau, the 2020 for around a year. This use of not new oak is about giving texture to the wine and for sure rounding the flavours.

    Grand Selection Sangiovese Grosso

    The Grand Selection Sangiovese Grosso is from some of the oldest vines. It is only made in the best years and is aged in 1500 litre Allier tonneaux for 24 months. This is the highest representation of what those 60-year-old vines can do.

    “Il Doccio” 2018

    This finished off the tasting. It is 100 % Merlot and demonstrates what restraint in the high hills of Lamole can produce. It is delicious but not overblown.

    Susanna is erudite, modest and charming – her wines reflect this. They are powerful but not blockbusters where impact is impressive but whose pleasure may wane. With the wines of I Fabbri the pleasure grows. The complexity reveals itself: the fruit is there, the acidity is there, the tannins too. It is the balance that makes these wines so good.

    And the Socialising!

    So back to the other table. Hospitality in Italy comes hand in hand with my work that is wine but so often food makes the experience so special. I follow her down another stone staircase to the kitchen below. A simple meal is ready to throw together. We break bread together, literally –  crunchy croutons to scatter into the delicious potato and pumpkin soup, drizzled with a little fine olive oil. Now we relax and conversation can spread to how much olive oil one might use in a week (one litre for a family would be normal). Politics and the state of the world however horrible seems more bearable with some simple meatballs in tomato sauce and small diced fried potatoes garnished with rosemary and of course a glass of I Fabbri in hand.

    Lost Again!

    Such an experience would make any job worthwhile. I have to say it is not always so, but this is a visit to stay in one’s memory for years. The time has flown and I am late to reach my accommodation. Susanna wrapped up the slice apple tart for me to take with me. She phones the hotel to say I am on my way and will be there in good time. We go back out into the dark, mist and drizzle and hug like the old friends we now are! She gives me the sort of directions that are vital to get me straight to my hotel: left at the end of the track, right when you get to the bottom of the hill and right again by the pharmacy in the village. Instructions that seem so obvious immediately, but sadly half an hour later I’m now further from my bed than when I left her! Eventually I have headed up and over some strange mountain (Chianti is hilly) and I arrive at the hotel. A light is on, a little envelope on the doorstep with my key and directions to my room.  I slept so well!

    Click HERE to see her wines on our website.

    Husband and wife outside winery

    Cantinarte

    I was on my way to Cantinarte – an epitome of a family run business in Abruzzo, central Italy. They are all immersed in this beautiful winery: her father checks the vines and the quality of the grapes every day and harvest is very much a family affair. They hand-pick and personally select the grapes for the very best quality in Cantinarte. We started buying from Francesca a few years ago and I am reminded why. Her respect and commitment to the land and itssustainability is unquestionable. This is farming at its best.

    Dylan with Francesca at her winery in Italy.

    Finding the Vines!

    Now sometimes it is just not what you expect. Oh yes, I knew I would have a wonderful warm welcome from Francesca and her husband. The tasting was already laid out for me and of course there was food afterwards – a simple and delicious soup of beans and vegetables typical for the area. Cheese and salami followed – the salami a particular speciality of the South of Abruzzo. But where were the vineyards?

    The table in Cantinarte, Abruzzo ready for the tasting.

    A Beautiful Landscape

    Having driven through the mountains to Navelli, the small village clinging to the hillside, I had not yet seen a single vine. Where do they make their white wine? All was revealed as we drove across a muddy field to see the two-hectare vineyard hidden behind the village. Strong protective fences have been erected to keep out the wild pigs and deer! Immaculately trained, at this high altitude they produce wonderful white wines from pecorino and pinot gris grapes.

    Worth the Trip

    The Reds that are so good come from lower down the valley around the hilltop Roman city of Chieti and are powerful expressions of those typical Montepulciano grapes. Don’t take my word for it, as soon as I returned, we put them in the pods for you to taste! They will be there for another week or so, or click here to see our present online selection.

    Cantinarte wines from Italy. One rose and two reds.

    Take a Break in Italy!

    You can also go and stay in this very beautiful area, Francesca not only produces her own organic wine, but also olive oil. You can also organise food activities!  I would highly recommend it with a visit to Cantinarte’s historic olive oil museum.

    AI Picture of the shop with a sheep

    Understanding Rioja

    Rioja (pronounced “ree” + “OH” + “kuh”) as we know it is a red wine, made using the Tempranillo grape. Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinto are also grown in small quantities as blending companions.

    What will you taste?

    You can expect a Rioja red blend to have complex flavours, earth and leather layered with dark fruit, tobacco, and plum.

    A white Rioja has flavours of toffee, raisins, dry fruit and good acidity balanced with great freshness.

    A White Rioja you ask?

    There is also white Rioja, this is usually made from the grape Viura (this too is almost always made using blending companions). The Izadi white that we sell consists of Viura, Garnacha Blanca, Maturana, Tempranillo Blanco and Malvasia y Torrontes.

    Where to find Rioja

    Rioja gets its name from its location ‘La Rioja’ which is in North Eastern Spain, it also extends to the neighbouring Basque Country, Navarra and Castilla Y Leon.

    Rioja stretches for about 100km along the banks of the river Ebro. It is sheltered from the Atlantic by the mountain range Sierra Cantabria and is sheltered from the Mediterranean by the mountain ranges Sierra de la Demanda and de Cameros. This allows the cool Atlantic and/or warm Mediterranean winds to influence the growing conditions.

    There are 3 sub regions of Rioja which have an inevitable effect on the wine/Grape. West to East.

    Region Soil Type
    Rioja AltaAtlantic influenceClay Limestone Alluvial
    Rioja AlavesaAtlantic influenceClay Limestone
    Rioja Oriental  (recently changed its name from Rioja Baja)Warmest region Mediterranean influenceIron rich Clay red soils Cobblestones

    When to drink Rioja, understanding the Classifications

    Rioja has a classification board called the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja, who inspects the quality of producers to ensure consistency. There are 4 different main styles of Rioja wine.

    Generic – No ageing requirements

    Crianza – Aged for 2 years. 1+ in barrels.

    Reserva – Aged for 3 years (1 year in barrels and 6 months in bottles)

    Gran Reserva – Aged for 5 years (2 years in barrels and 2 years in bottles)

    Pairing

    Rioja traditionally pairs well with ham, fish – tuna/hake, artichokes, asparagus, cheese etc..

    So why not join us on the 22nd of March and see how well it pairs with Lamb!!

    Ceri 🙂

    Bottle of wine a lamp and glass table

    Crozes-Hermitage

    Producer of the Month – Domaine les Chenêts Crozes-Hermitage

    The vagaries of weather had made Madame a bit distracted the last time we visited Domaine les Chenêts a few years ago. They had had some heavy rains and hail which had destroyed a proportion of the crop. By now, the weather had swung to the opposite extreme and the Northern Rhone was subject to blistering hot weather. This meant she wouldn’t do a tasting so we had to bring a couple of bottles home to sample. They have now converted their some 13 hectares of vines to organic farming I’m pleased to say.

    A picture of the winemakers in Crozes Hermitage with barrels.

    Good Value Rhone Wine

    Hermitage stands as a beacon of wine excellence. This renowned wine region, often overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, Hermitage, boasts a rich history dating back centuries. With its diverse terroir and dedication to producing exceptional Syrah wines, Crozes-Hermitage has emerged as a hidden gem for wine enthusiasts seeking quality and authenticity.

    Syrah

    The vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage stretch across rolling hillsides, basking in the Mediterranean climate that graces the Rhône Valley. The region’s soils vary from granite in the north to alluvial terraces in the south, providing a unique canvas for winemakers to craft expressive wines with distinctive characteristics. Syrah reigns supreme here, producing red wines that exhibit a harmonious balance of fruit, spice, and earthy notes, while Marsanne and Roussanne grapes contribute to the production of elegant white wines.

    Explore Crozes-Hermitage

    If you can, exploring Crozes-Hermitage is a delight. The charming villages dot the landscape and are full of family-owned wineries. Some preserving age-old traditions, other innovative producers pushing the boundaries of winemaking.

    Special Offers

    This March 2024, we are featuring Domaine les Chenêts as our producer of the month. This weekend to kick it off you can taste it along with other Syrah/Shiraz to compare and it is also available in the pod by the glass. Make the most of the special discount of 10% off the Crozes Hermitage if you buy this month.

    Person picking grapes in a field, clouds and trees

    Why Not Welsh Wine?

    To celebrate St. David’s Day why not open a bottle of fizz to celebrate? Maybe even a Welsh fizz? 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have even thought of this but in the past decade we’ve seen a rapid development in the wine scene here in Wales, both in quality and in drinkability. We are seeing more and more Welsh vineyards producing extremely good wine. Many are winning awards e.g. White Castle Vineyard in Monmouthshire and Conwy vineyards.

    What grapes are used?

    To battle the harsh and unpredictable climate in Wales, some selected species of grapes must be selected to withstand fungal disease, rot and frost. Solaris is a common grape used all over Wales due to its resilience. It produces aromatic wines with hints of gooseberry, elderflower and citrus fruits that are complemented by good acidity and freshness. Those of you who like a good French Sauvignon Blanc would love this zingy and fresh grape variety.

    A vineyard in Wales
    Solaris grape picking at Gwinllan Llaethliw Vineyard, Aberaeron

    We are always on the lookout and researching new and interesting Welsh wines and are sampling new local vineyards even as close as Pwllheli! More natural and experimental wines are also being produced in the south of Wales, with use of barrel ageing and fermentation processes using ambient yeasts. Velfrey Vineyard in Pembrokshire produce a wine named, simply, ‘Naturiol’ made  with Seyval Blanc grapes “naturally fermented meaning no added yeast or sugar, half in stainless steel and half in old oak barrels that were previously used for white Bordeaux which lends the gentle smoky flavour.” [1] Only 7% in alcohol, this wine is super zesty and interesting and perfect for those in search for low alcohol alternatives but with plenty of oomph.


    [1] Velfrey Wines, Velfrey Vineyard, Naturiol, Seyval Blanc

    Welsh Sparkling Wine

    A good array of traditional method (Champagne method) sparkling wines are also being produced. Montgomery Vineyard sparkling wines are among a very popular selection, ranging from crisp and dry to sweet and fruity. The Seyval Blanc is a particular favourite, expressing aromas of pear drops, crisp green apples and a floral touch. See for yourself and taste this exciting wine from the comfort of your own home with a virtual tasting hosted by Llinos and Dylan on the 1st of March. For more information follow the link: Montgomery Virtual Tasting

    Osian

    Osian holding a bottle of red wine

    Dry January

    Let’s face it, I’m not going to join the Dry January army and give up drinking wine for a month. Not even a week actually! I recognise that for my physical and mental health, a moderate consumption is necessary. However, I would no more aim to practise this for just a month any more than I would eat fruit and veg for just one month of the year.

    Dry January or Less Wet Year?

    In a world that often advocates extreme resolutions, embracing a year-round approach to reducing wine intake offers a more sustainable and realistic perspective on healthier living. Rather than succumbing to the pressure of Dry January, the long-term benefits of moderation are more compelling. Cultivating mindful drinking habits throughout the year has a far better chance of success with me than deprivation. By consciously savouring and thinking about what I’m drinking I find it really does slow down my drinking naturally. I can hear howls of laughter from my friends as I write. Ok, I’m not saying I’m always successful but it’s definitely more likely to fit in to my lifestyle you rotten lot!

    Drink Well, Drink Less

    It follows that if I’m drinking less, I can, if I want to, spend more on that bottle. That’s my logic and I’m sticking to it. A more complex wine may have more flavour and depth and I find that trying to label those flavours and aromas changes my approach to drinking. We’d like you to join us having fun learning about producers and the wine they make all year around. So to kick off we’re doing ’Try-January’ with Osian’s choice of 2 wines you may not have sampled.

    Cantinarte, Ode Montepulciano DOC

    The grape is Montepulciano. It’s from south-east facing slopes in Chieti on silty clay soils, long maceration in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness. No oak but still has body and is robust with good structure. A wine with dark berry fruit, big power and structure. Francesca is a biodynamic and organic producer of wine and olive oil. Have a look at her site.

    Madonnabruna, Pecorino

    This lovely Pecorino (it’s the name of the grape as well as a cheese) has aromas of acacia, jasmine, lemon blossom, yellow fruit and nuts. These are followed by flavours of apricot, peach, pear and lemon with a mineral edge.

    Make Wine Your Hobby

    These are available to try in the bar and you can buy them online with the code ‘TryJanuary’ for a postage discount of £5. So new year, new beginnings and there is so much to learn. Make wine your hobby!

    Try January Tasting Notes
    vines, sign, post, clouds, sky

    Eiswein in Canada

    Exploring the Frozen Elegance of Canadian Eiswein

    My first surprise was to see grape vines growing wild. I spotted them immediately as we walked along a local footpath on my first day there. I have never witnessed this before, they twist and turn and bind themselves to the very tops of the trees. Pointing them out to Maggie I said that I had read about how virulently they grow. But this was first hand evidence that I had never seen in Europe. I’m assuming it’s the phylloxera resistant American vines that enables this. Nearly all European cultivated vines are grafted to American rootstock to avoid this devastating little bug.

    However, they were acidic and sharp to the taste and what I was more interested in was the delicious Eiswein. Canada has established itself as a global leader in producing some of the finest sweet wines. When it comes to Eiswein, Inniskillin stands out as an emblem of excellence. I went with my Canadian relatives to this lovely vineyard to sample some of these delicious dessert wines.

    Eiswein: A Natural Wonder

    Eiswein is a luxurious dessert wine made from grapes that have naturally frozen on the vine. We used to import our own from K+K in Austria. However, the climate has not permitted its production for a while sadly. I think the last one was 2014. The freezing of the water content in the grape concentrates the sugars and flavours. This result is in a wine of exceptional sweetness and complexity.

    Inniskillin: The Canadian Eiswein Trailblazer

    Inniskillin Vineyards were founded in 1975 by Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser. They played a pivotal role in establishing Canada’s reputation as a producer of world-class ice wines. Located in the heart of the Niagara Peninsula, Inniskillin benefits from a unique terroir that’s ideal for Eiswein production. I was curious as to how the up to -30°C winter temperatures didn’t kill the vines. However, my cousin Kevin pointed out the great big escarpment rising out of the flat Ontario lands. This, along with the vast bodies of water (Niagara and Lake Ontario) create that essential rise in temperature. Therefore the vines are not killed by hard frost.

    Inniskillin winery vines

    The Harvesting Process

    The key to crafting exceptional Eiswein lies in the timing of the harvest. Grapes for ice wine must be picked when the temperature drops to around -8°C (17.6°F) or lower. Typically in the early hours of the morning. This meticulous process requires a dedicated team of vineyard workers who brave the frigid temperatures to hand-pick the frozen grapes.

    Grape Varieties

    Inniskillin specializes in several grape varieties for Eiswein production. Riesling, Vidal (Terri’s favourite), and Cabernet Franc are among the most popular. Each grape variety brings its own unique characteristics to the final wine. This results in a diverse portfolio of ice wines to suit different palates. I have of course bought some home for us all to try. So it’s a pudding night for the staff soon! Some lovely fruity puddings or delicate sponges will complement them well. Dylan might make his Cointreau ice cream and some creamy blue cheese for the Cabernet Franc – I get so excited!

    dylan and Kim red wine glasses and bottle

    Martin Freixa Old Vines 2020

    Martin Freixa – a visit from the producer

    Today we tried the Martin Freixa wine – with the producer! What a treat. It’s a good job I liked the wine isn’t it? It was rich, full, and fruity. This wine is Limited Edition, with only 5000 bottled, the bottle we opened was number 4860! And it is exclusive to us in the Uk.

    Tasting wine in the shop

    The label has Joaquim’s picture on it. His red glasses were in colour, but they were too striking, so he opted for a plainer look!

    Martin Freixa Old Vines wine

    The wine comes from Montsant, a once ‘forgotten’ region and is a high-end wine region. The climate is Mediterranean with continental influences. Summers are dry and rainfall only occurs in Autumn. The vineyard is 3.7 hectares. The grape is 100% Samso (also known as Carignan)

    70 Year Old Vines

    The vines are over 70 years old, they need little water, and don’t produce many grapes. The old vines are known for a softer, rounded wine, low in tannins. On tasting, I agree. It is very pleasant.

    Joaquin (Kim) says that the wine on a hot day could be chilled at 15 °C to soften the alcohol.

    Ceri

    A selection of Penderyn whisky

    Penderyn Single Malt Whisky

    Penderyn Single Malt Whisky has been successful in gaining protection in law as a Welsh product in the UK. PGI means Protected Geographical Indication and it is the 20th product from Wales to achieve GI accreditation, following in the footsteps of the protected designation of origin (PDO) for Welsh wine and the protected geographical indications (PGIs) for wine, cider and perry.

    The Welsh whisky industry is growing in importance and is estimated to account for some £23 million of combined revenues this year. This is very impressive in an industry that had all but died out. Read more about the history of Welsh Whisky here. These days, you can visit the Penderyn Distillery in the tiny little village of Penderyn in the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon). They have also opened a site in Llandudno and the old copperworks in Swansea. Whichever one you choose the sites and buildings

    The Legend pictured above is a Madeira-finish single malt whisky, bottled at 41% abv. (43% in the USA). It is a clean and well-balanced whisky which is smooth and fresh. It has a long finish of Madeira cake and sultanas. There are many others to choose from and there are miniatures available that make handy gifts or samples to choose which one you like the best! Have a look at our selection in our online shop.

    A selection of Welsh whisky from Penderyn
    Welsh lamb cooked in rioja

    What Wine goes with Lamb?

    We are often asked what wine matches certain foods and we really enjoy the challenge of choosing something good. So what wine goes with lamb? It’s a classic meat from North Wales and much loved by visitors and locals. My brother John farms lamb that graze overlooking the beautiful Cardigan Bay, if they were any closer to the sea they’d need snorkels. Richard, our local butcher at Roberts Brothers supplies Dolgellau all year round with some of the best lamb.

    What Wine goes with Lamb – Rioja?

    So, what do we recommend with lamb? Well, I always open with ‘drink what you enjoy’ and I wouldn’t dream of calling it more than a bit of fun when we do food and wine matches. But it does sometimes really, really work and then it does indeed become food heaven. We do tend to immediately go to a Rioja which is often served with lamb in Spain. Dylan has a much told story of the time when he shared a glass with Javier from Presagio whilst devouring sweet little lamb cutlets cooked on a fire made from the little sticks of vine prunings. He gets to have all the fun!

    What wine goes with Lamb – Bordeaux?

    Bordeaux reds are also a good match for a grilled piece of lamb such as rack or chops. If it’s a rich slow cooked dish I may opt for something really full like a Malbec or a Rhone red. Dylan’s Riojan Lamb from our book Rarebit and Rioja is delicious and really easy to prepare so here’s the recipe below. Rioja would be a fine match for this but also you could try something different such as Mencia which is juicy and light and will not be too hard on the delicate, sweet flavour of a leg of lamb.

    Let’s Get Spicy!

    One of my favourite recipes for a shoulder of lamb is from Lisa Fearn’s book. It is cooked in spice, wine and citrus for at least 4 hours until the meat drops off the bone and every ounce of fat has melted away. I mess around with my own version now and sometimes add honey or a new spice combination. Dylan will also finely chop leftover lamb and make a creamy and spicy sort of hash with peas in it to go with rice or your favourite grain. These are dishes that could support a flavour bomb of a Riesling. I would opt for a slightly off-dry if there are spices and cream – why not?

    Enjoy your Welsh Lamb!

    Whatever you choose, make sure you enjoy it. Remember it’s all about fun and enjoyment with family and friends. Experimenting is all part of the adventure and hopefully we can contribute to making it enjoyable. Let me know if you would like a food match article for a certain food – I’ll do my best!

    Llinos