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    UK Buyers/French Producers on: Champagne, Crémant & sparkling

    Sparkling wine has enjoyed unprecedented success in the UK over the last 10 years, but where does French sparkling sit alongside the two powerhouses of everyday sparkling wine – Prosecco and Cava? To find out, The Buyer teamed up with Business France, to host an online Zoom panel debate with leading UK wine buyers of independent importers and merchants, who had the chance to chat live with three very different representatives of the French wine market covering sparkling, Champagne and Crémant.


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    One Step Beyond: Download the full landmark conference report

    When The Buyer came together with Sophie Jump to organise and hold the inaugural One Step Beyond Conference in early March the focus was 100% on analysing the most disruptive changes in consumer behaviour and technology. Little did we know that just over two months on so many of those changes have now been put on fast forward because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Here is the full report from what was a breakthrough conference for the drinks, retail and hospitality sectors. A day that brought experts from outside the industry’s comfort zone and gave them the platform to set out what we can all expect from consumers and technology in the future. Predictions that are already being seen in how fast businesses and consumers alike are responding to the challenges of Covid-19.

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    The Buyer’s Case: Top buyers put Boisset FGV wines to the test

    The hardest job for any wine producer, no matter how prestigious or respected, is getting their wines in front of the right buyers who can ultimately make the difference in getting their wines on to the lists of the restaurants and bars that really matter. That’s what The Buyer’s Case project does. Link producers looking to build distribution in the premium on-trade and specialist retail sector with key buyers in those channels. Here’s how major French producer, Boisset FGV worked with The Buyer on its own Buyer’s Case initiative.

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    California Buyers Trip Part 2: the wines and styles ready to export

    Having the opportunity to go to California and meet over 100 producers in an intense five days of tasting doesn’t come around too often. But it proved to be an invaluable exercise for the group of leading wine buyers from both the UK and Irish on and off-trade markets. In Part One of our report we looked at their general feedback on why they wanted to go on such a trip. Here in Part Two we drill down into what they really thought of the wines and the opportunities of giving them a chance in the markets over here.

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    California looks to bring right producers & buyers together

    If you are a wine buyer for a leading importer, restaurant group, or independent merchant then there are times of the year when you are no doubt spoilt for choice with invitations to go and visit different regions and countries. But which are ones are going to be the most useful, effective and important to your buying needs? It’s what made the recent California Wine Institute event for leading UK and Irish buyers so different. And relevant. Rather than take a group of buyers on a bus around a select group of producers, the Institute brought the producers to the buyers for a series of back to back tastings hosted in the same venue. It meant the busy buyers were able to see over 100 wineries across five days of intensive tasting and take a deep dive into the kind of wines being made across the state. What’s more the producers did not currently have distribution in the UK or Ireland, or both, and had to have wines, with volume, that could the hit the main commercial to mid premium price points. The Buyer’s Richard Siddle, who helped to identify and recruit some of the buyers invited, was also there to get an insider’s take on how it all came together.

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    South Africa Restaurant Safari – 9 buyers, 18 wineries, 2 Land Rovers

    Here’s a conundrum for you. How do you get nine of the UK’s leading wine buyers to meet 18 winemakers in four restaurants in different parts of London in under five hours? Well, throw two Land Rovers into the mix and you are half way home. It’s certainly how The Buyer teamed up with Wines of South Africa to take a group of top buyers on a tour of London restaurants, and the chance to meet some of South Africa’s best winemakers at the same time. Eating, tasting, chatting along the way. Buckle up and join us on the ride…

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    Buyer French Debate: Rise of Crémant & other sparkling wines

    In part one of The Buyer’s debate, alongside Business France, between leading importers, merchants, restaurants and wine producers from most regions of France, we focused on the rise in and importance of organic wines. The tasting and discussion also looked at how different styles of sparkling wine are now really coming to the fore, and how Crémant, in particular, is presenting a real premium alternative, ideal for promoting and driving in the premium on-trade.

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    Buyer Debate: the opportunity for French organic wine

    For the latest The Buyer Debate we teamed up with Business France to bring producers from different regions of France together with key buyers from across the premium on-trade to look at two key growth areas not only for French wine, but the premium wine category as a whole: organics and sparkling wine. It was an opportunity to meet, taste the wines and then explore why French winemakers are increasingly turning to organics and sparkling wine production. Whilst assessing just what it is leading UK wine distributors, merchants and restaurant and bar owners are looking for when taking on a new French wine supplier. There was a lot to cover. So much so that we have broken down the report into two parts. First up we look at the rise in organics and both the opportunities and the challenges there are in making and selling organic wine.

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    Behind the scenes on The Buyer’s Vouvray Restaurant Tour

    It’s one thing tasting wine professionally it is quite another to go on an eating and tasting tour of top London restaurants to experience food and wine in the same way your customers do. Which is what The Buyer’s most recent restaurant tour was all about as we were able to introduce different styles of Vouvray wine to a tour of buyers covering wine merchants, sommeliers, importers, consultants and journalists. As we publish our full report from the event, Richard Siddle picks out the highlights.

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    Buyer debate: Indies put Ribera del Duero through its paces

    Even for a wine region that is as relatively small as Spain’s Ribera del Duero it’s important to taste as many wines as possible if you are going to truly understand, experience and enjoy its enormous diversity, says wine writer and critic, Tim Atkin MW. To help do just that, but also debate and share what leading UK buyers think of Ribera del Duero, The Buyer teamed up with the region’s generic body, a panel of top wine merchants and Atkin himself to see what opportunities there are in the burgeoning independent retail and wholesale sector.

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    Douro’s Soul Wines Debate: why the wines are ideal for the UK

    “There is a deliciousness to these red wines. I am hugely impressed by them. The quality has blown me away.” Just the kind of review any wine producer would want for their wines, particularly if it comes from such as senior a figure as John Graves, on-trade channel director at Bibendum Wine. But Graves was not the only UK panelist in our debate with the Douro Valley’s Soul Wine producers to be impressed with what they saw and tasted. In part two of our report on the wide ranging debate we assess the opportunity for Douro’s wines in the premium on-trade and what steps producers need to take to make the most of them.

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    Sommeliers on Chile: The Buyer & Chono Wines debate

    To try to unravel and understand Chile’s position in the premium on-trade, The Buyer teamed up with Ellis Wines and its Chilean producer partner, Chono Wines, to bring
    together a group of senior wine trade professionals, buyers and sommeliers to debate what are the opportunities and challenges for Chile as a whole. It was the chance for these leading figures to share their experiences with Chilean wines in their restaurants and businesses and look at the kinds of wines from Chile that they are looking to source and select for their wine lists.

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    Mionetto and The Buyer Prosecco study tour and report

    Is there a more misunderstood wine category than Prosecco? It might top all the best selling charts, but it is too often dismissed or taken seriously by some professional wine buyers. To help get to know not only the beautiful region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, but to explore the different quality tiers of Prosecco and the potential they have in the premium on-trade, The Buyer teamed up with leading Prosecco brand, Mionetto, and its UK partner Copestick Murray, to host a study tour with key buyers and influencers of the area and the city where Prosecco truly comes to life – Venice.

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    Jackson Family debate on Californian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

    It’s nice talking about and throwing the spotlight on new wine regions and emerging styles of wine and little known grape varieties, but at these times of the year restaurant and bar customers are looking for the classics and the tried and tested. Which is why for our latest major debate we teamed up with Jackson Family Wines to look at what leading wine buyers, sommeliers, distributors and merchants think about Californian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

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    Special Report: Sonoma County Vintners London Wine Bar Tour

    Organising a wine tasting where all your guests are sitting in one place can prove to be a challenge at times, so you can imagine the potential for things to wrong if you then invited those guests to go on a tour of restaurants and bars around London, tasting different wines, matched to each outlet’s food along the way. It certainly made for a very different, fun, highly informative and memorable day for wineries from Sonoma County Vintners and our panel of “tour-ists” willing to go on the adventure with us.

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    Closures Debate: what do you want to put in a bottle of wine?

    Outside of the natural wine debate is there a more contentious issue than the one that surrounds the type of closure you have in your bottle of wine? To assess what leading on-trade buyers and sommeliers now think about closures we teamed up with Vinventions, one of the biggest suppliers of all types of closure from cork to screwcap, to make the issue of closures the latest topic in our Buyer Debate series.

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    The Buyer’s Case with Castelnau Wine Agencies

    Every wine as soon as it is made puts its self up for judgement. Be it the end consumer who wants to drink it with their dinner, or the trade buyers and wine critics looking to score, assess and adjudicate on whether it is suitable for listing in the first place. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and Castelnau Wine Agencies was happy to put its range of wines from producers all over the world up to the test in our latest Buyer’s Case project with leading on-trade buyers and influencers in the trade.

    Tasting Tasting: Panel Tasting

    The Buyer’s Case with Cave de Vignerons de Saint-Chinian wines

    The Buyer has been set up to help drinks producers and leading on-trade buyers better understand their needs and where possible work closer together. This is best demonstrated by The Buyer’s Case initiative where we link up with a wine producer or importer and ask leading buyers to taste, assess and offer professional feedback on their wines. Here we turn to the Languedoc-Roussillon and present wines from leading producer, Cave de Vignerons de Saint-Chinian to leading on-trade decision makers.


    The French debate: putting France under the spotlight with Foncalieu

    France might be the best selling country in the UK on-trade, but that does not mean it could not sell. To help better understand the opportunities and challenges facing French wine in the premium on-trade, The Buyer linked up with Les Vignobles Foncalieu and leading buyers from the different types of operator, including high end restaurants, independent wine merchants and national wholesalers all working the French category in the north west of the country.

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    New Zealand Debate: the opportunities and challenges

    New Zealand’s enormous success in the UK off-trade, where its Sauvignon Blanc has created a category of its own, has not always been reflected in how many of its wines are on premium on-trade wine lists. The Buyer teamed up with Villa Maria, and its UK partners, Hatch Mansfield, to ask a panel of leading UK buyers to set out the challenges and opportunities for New Zealand in the premium on-trade

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    The Buyer’s Case with Les Vignerons Foncalieu

    The Buyer’s Case is a new initiative that gives producers the chance to show specific drinks to key buyers in target channels of the on-trade. For our first Buyer’s Case we teamed up with Les Vignerons Foncalieu and selected key buyers in its main distribution areas in the UK on-trade to show their wines. Here are the results.

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    Virginia Wine Project: bringing producers and buyers together

    The Buyer teamed up with Virginia Wine and some of its key producers to help them better understand the needs of the UK premium on-trade and how buyers might relate to their wines with both a business roundtable debate with key players and a study tour of leading London restaurants, wine bars and merchants to see the kind of offers they have and where their wines might fit in.



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    • Finca Viladellops is situated 45km from Barcelona on the Garraf Massif, a mountainous region that extends to the Mediterranean. There are 60 hectares of organically-farmed vines on a 400 hectare estate, 250m above sea level on very poor soil. The winery only uses indigenous grapes – Garnaxta for the reds and Xarel.lo for the whites. This splendid white is 100% Xarel.lo (a grape best known for making Cava) and is made from a selection of the estate’s oldest vineyards, which includes 30% rosé Xarel.lo, an almost extinct variety. The wine has been aged for a year and is structured, fresh, complex and balanced – a real eye-opener. Golden straw to look at, you find aromas of lemon oil, almond blossom, ripe Williams pear in a complex bouquet; the palate is fresh, bracing, with an attractive grapefruit-sour edge, and a tightly-wound mineral finish. Lots of detail here. Worked well as an
    • Fascinating full-bodied white blend from St Chinian in the Languedoc - a real Vin de meditation. Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne - fermented in new wood, lees-aged. On the eye: Golden yellow, seemingly aged/evolved beyond its four years of age; ripe, honeyed; the palate is rounded, lush, but reined in by mineral, acidity and touch of salty citrus. The wood is well integrated adding body, colour and richness. Works well without food but scallop carpaccio would be a good match. Cool label too - reminds me of the one on SA’s Porseleinberg.
    • Always a reliable and versatile wine that punches well above its weight. It’s fruit-forward and has plenty of red fruit concentration (morello) cherries, spice, wood sap, and a ripe, slightly confected grenadine syrup note; it’s the palate that delivers most, mainly due to a rock solid base of acidity and blue-plum-skin tartness that pulls it all together and balances it well. At 13.5% this allows the coastal Maule to shine through is good as a quaffer or food-pairing wine. Great value at £15.
    • Being hailed by winemaker Corinne Seely as the apotheosis of Exton Park’s expression of Chardonnay from the 60-acre estate in the Hampshire valley of Meon, this is an unique blend of 45 reserve wines chosen from the estate’s 10 year library. Unlike Champagne NV which uses one vintage as a base for the bulk of the wine, RB45 is a true multi-vintage blend that isn’t based on the latest vintage. After the vigorous mousse dies down, the wine has a steady, fine bead, medium shiny gold with a green hue; the nose has golden, honeyed autumn orchard fruit, an inviting ripeness, blossom honey, apple blossom, some complexity with hints of leesy patisierre notes, some nuts, grilled pain perdu, a hint of wood, all lurking in the background. The attack on the palate is fresh, invigorating, balanced and brim full of flavour. It has tension, bright acidity but a delightful textural
    • ‘Flagship’ wines from Bristol-based Xisto, which sails the wines across from Portugal under sail with a zero waste mandate. A blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and Tinto Roriz, and made by Mateus Nicolau de Almeida – biodynamic, hand harvested, foot trodden with indigenous yeast, and aged for eight months in concrete. It’s part of a project that looks at the difference altitude makes in the Duoro valley, this being the highest (400m). The wine itself has concentrated black fruit, structured, but fresh and well balanced at the same time, nicely textured. The Torna Viagem version has been sea-aged for one year, a process which seems to have developed it far more than the one year difference suggests, also bringing out earthier elements in the wine.
    • Luminous pale copper-amber with saffron highlights; hugely complex nose as you might expect, real solera touch, dried peach, fennel, liquorice, mango. Medium to full bodied, finely textured mouthfeel, broad, rich, complex and with a ripeness (it feels like a high rs) that keeps the wine so well balanced and juicy in the mouth without the ‘blotting paper’ dryness you can get with some orange wines. Just delicious. 13.5% 2016 vintage. One of the pioneers of the modern Greek wine revolution Gaia Estate was established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. Operating two different wineries they make wines in both Nemea and Santorini.
    • A standout from the recent Bristol Independent Importers’ first tasting – a biodynamic Aligoté made exclusively by Sylvain Pataille for Déja Bu Wines. The wine comes from 45 year-old vines in Marsannay-La-Côte and then spends 12 months in French foudres. The 2019 and the 2020 were on show, the ’19 having yellow stone fruit and citrus notes, the ’20 having more breadth and complexity, starting with a smash of fresh citrus and having a mineral and textured mouthfeel on the long finish. Both wines light and easy drinking and seriously good value at £13 a pop. (TD)
    • Vacheron has been certified biodynamic since 2005, cousins Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique Vacheron take a Burgundian approach to their winemaking, picking and vinifying by specific parcel. This is their entry level white: Pale yellow with green hue; the nose is complex with a real sense of breeding, the white fruit and gooseberry that is there is nicely matched with a grassy, smoky quality, the faintest hint of gunflint; on the palate the wine is fresh, elegant and classy, medium bodied with an assured balance, power coming from a real backbone of minerality. Good grip on the long finish. Ridiculously good for this estate’s entry level - really how I like my Sauvignon Blanc.
    • Louis Roederer is ditching its Brut Premier NV for this new cuvée that mixes the 2017 vintage with a range of reserve wines and also a new solera-style ‘reserve perpetuelle’ that will be topped up every year with a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The net result is a superb new Champagne that is effectively a vintage Champagne in disguise – it has greater complexity than the Brut Premier NV and greater depth and ready-to-drink flavours. There’s a discernible and pleasing contrast here between age and youth, the essence after all of a multi-vintage blend – the look and depth of aromas suggests an older Champagne (than the 2017 harvest that forms the majority of its base), the crisp attack of the palate is fresh, pure and high-toned. To look at the wine is medium gold, darker than I anticipated, the nose is a delight of sumptuously ripe,
    • Bertrand’s seriously good, super premium rosé (circa £200 a bottle) is not made for quaffing by the ice-bucket load but for a serious wine crowd. The price in this category will always cause a stir but this, in its third vintage shows once again that we are in Grand Vin territory, a rosé that has the designs of a serious fine white wine – on the strength of fruit and extraction, and the detail of its layers. Although the 2020 has the basic same winemaking as the previous two years – hand-harvesting, free run juice fermented at low temperatures and partially aged in barrel, the 2020 has had the Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Viognier chilled immediately after picking to retain freshness, aromas and a pale colour. The 2020 had a little more Syrah in the blend for extra minerality and more was aged in large format oak (500l)
    • The 2016 growing season got off to a good start with rain – following four years of drought in California, and the rest of the vintage had pretty much optimal conditions. You can feel this in the wine which has an assured balance, mixing complexity, elegance and a deep sensuousness of the fruit. The wine is a blend of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc, the wine spending 18 months in French oak, 75% of it new. Deep purple to look at, the aromas are a seductive mix of wild bramble fruit, black cherry, vanilla pod, liquorice, bay leaf; the medium to full-bodied palate continues the ripe black fruit and cassis theme with a tense, fine-grained texture and energy to the wine that keeps it fresh and structured mid-palate. Smooth and opulent and a pup of course. You need to keep your hands off this for as long as
    • Jacky Blot and his Montlouis-based estate specialises in Chenin Blanc and nothing else and has been practising hands-off winemaking for almost 40 years here, not fertilising, no chemicals, low-yielding vines, hand-harvesting and putting all his cuveés through the same winemaking regime – fermentation and ageing in 20% new barriques and then equal parts one, two, three and four year-old barriques. By not having malolactic fermentation his wines are racy, clear-cut and exceptionally pure. Les Hauts de Husseau is one of his most austere wines – the fruit coming from vines over 100 years old in the highest, coldest site he has. The combination of this exceptional South-facing spot with a hit vintage is a winning one, the wine being amazingly intense, long, textured, super pure and complex. You have Chenin’s crisp, tart apple notes, racy, electric acidity, a wash of fresh lemon juice and some honeyed apricot notes in there
    • Deep yellow-gold; gorgeously honeyed and fruity nose, you can play a game of spot the fruit! – fresh yellow peach, papaya, guava, tinned peach, tangerine; the palate is medium to full bodied, baked apple and sultana, pineapple, meyer lemon, mi cuit apricots, so ripe, honeyed, oleaginous, with the considerable acidity holding it all together, nice fine texture too. Stunning.
    • A limited edition release of 500 bottles from the family cellar – one of two special limited releases to celebrate 140 years of this iconic estate in the Langhe. 2000 was considered by many to be a ‘perfect’ vintage for Nebbiolo with lively acidity nice balance with a good level of ripeness and richness. For the Boffa family it was sadly the year that Rosy Boffa passed away, a woman so guarded about the family cellar that she wore the key around her neck! The wine is in a gorgeous place right now and by no means finished with its ageing, although everything is pretty seamless now. The richness of the sweet fruit is there with dried figs and truffles and a reduced balsamic note. Delicious. Good to see that Pio Cesare will be releasing as a matter of course, a similarly aged wine from its own cellar every year
    • Medium ruby, semi-translucent; attractively fruity nose of ripe red plums, cherries and redcurrants, balanced by savoury notes of cedar; the palate is medium bodied with black and red fruit, dark chocolate and spice with a vibrant core of rhubarb acidity. The alcohol is high at 14.5% but the ripe fruit, tannin structure and acidity carries it well. It comes across crisp and well balanced. Good example of Yalumba’s expertise in the Barossa and also the great value of the wine with it available to buy around the £16 mark.
    • I have a lot of admiration for the wines of Roussillon-based Domaine Lafage and this white blend only serves to confirm this. It’s a Grenache Blanc and Gris-dominant cépage with 20% of Roussanne – all from vines aged 90-100 years old, remarkable given that this has an RRP of £12.50 in the UK. It’s a classily-made, aromatic and fruity dry wine that is versatile both on and off the dining table. Pale green hue to look at the bouquet has honeysuckle, lemon zest, white-fleshed orchard fruit and a hint of peach/ tropical fruit, with a touch of fresh herb. On the palate the wine is fresh and cleansing, bright acidity, zesty citrus, mineral and a saline quality that I find in all his white wines – the vines grow on galet roulés soils right by the Mediterranean. There is a fruity mid-palate and with 30% fermented in new French oak
    • Delicious 100% Garnatxa Roja from Emporda - complex, good for aperitif, or food matching. Light gold; complex bouquet: pear, peach, apple with mountain herbs, chamomile flower, fennel, hint of wood; medium weight, full of flavour - quince jelly, lemons, orange rind, apricots and cream, nice weight on the mid palate that smacks of lees ageing and fine-grained texture; ripe but dry and balanced, dry finish. €13 a giveaway price for a wine if this quality.
    • It’s quite a leap of faith to make Brixton’s first definitive gin but Andrew Murray-Watson and Calandra Smith have only gone and done with it lovely, elegant but super approachable, easy to sip @BrixtonGin that is made where possible from botanicals and ingredients all grown in Brixton including the hibiscus, wood violet and raw Brixton Bees honey that make this such a fascinating and welcoming gin - ideal for martinis or like here as a classic  #gintonic . All backed up with the supporting cast of traditional flavours of juniper, lemon and orange peel. The result is a London Dry style gin, with a fragrant upwardly mobile Brixton twist. RS.  #bars   #bartenders   #gins   #brixton   #spirits   #cocktsails 
    • If you thought Priorat was just about making big jammy reds think again. Planetes de Nin, Partida Les Planetes 2017 from Nin-Ortiz is a good example of a more expressive, terroir-driven style where freshness and structure are obtained from the altitude, poor soils, biodynamic farming and vinification methods. This wine is a blend of 40% young Cariñena planted directly onto the slopes, then aged whole-bunch in foudres and 60% destemmed, amphorae-aged Garnacha. The bouquet is a delightful, pure mix of red cherries and violets, with more dark broody notes evident with more time in the glass – wild bramble fruit, smoke; the mouthfeel is medium-full, with intense black fruit, fine tannins and a chalky minerality – but the wine is carried by a beautiful purity and balance, which sucks up the 14.5% abv with ease and refreshes the palate. Drink now or cellar for 1-2 years.
    • Frascati has always had an illustrious past from the ancient Romans to the La Dolce Vita generation in the 1960s. It took a bit of a dip in the 80s and 90s but is fast coming back into international recognition and critical acclaim. One reason is the DOCG status this part of Lazio achieved for a Frascati Superiore (like this excellent 2019 example), the other is the improved winemaking, the Santerelli family that owns the Castel de Paolis, being one of the region’s leading lights. Their vines average 25 years of age split between Malvasia di Lazio 70%, with Trebbiano Giallo, Bellone and Bombino fermented and aged on its lees for 7-9 months. On the eye the wine is light straw yellow; a good deal of complexity on the nose, dried flowers, white fruits, pollen, grapefruit, herbal; medium weight palate with concentrated, sweet lemon citrus acidity; ripe pink grapefruit and