The Call of the East
Berry Bros & Rudd offers remarkable value as well as leading the charge towards some wonderful wines around Eastern Europe and Mediterranean
Article by Rupert Watkins
Despite its traditional exterior and the lingering view it remains a haunt of the denizens of St James’s Palace and the clubs further up towards Piccadilly, Berry Bros. & Rudd has grasped the nettle of searching out interesting and reasonably priced wine for some time now. No longer merely the preserve of those looking for Bordeaux first growths, Berry’s Good Ordinary Claret is a steal at under a tenner (if you want to impress a dinner party, the magnum of that wine weighs in at a rather decent £19). Riddle was able to sit down and taste of few of the firm’s offerings with Demetri Walters MW to begin to scratch the surface of what this 300 year old institution is up to.
The traditionalist powerhouse of Bordeaux has struggled with some poor recent vintages, at the top end this has meant US buyers have somewhat withdrawn from the market though the rapidly improving Chinese palate may make up for this. However, seizing this opportunity, recent years have seen a resurgent take up for Burgundy and Italian wines and, more unusually, Eastern European, Greek, Cypriot and Israeli wines have started to come to the fore as their domestic wine making skills have matured. Lebanese wine is also making huge strides forward despite the strife in the country – Demetri commented he knew of two vintages though that had had to be harvested under fire in recent years. Offering good value, indigenous grape varieties, and a wonderful story behind them, these new areas are somewhere Berry Bros is taking a great interest in with the wine merchants offering over 40 wines now in stock.
Berry Bros has the advantage of having eight Masters of Wine (MW), twice the number of any other major wine merchants along with the fact its regional buyers live in the countries they specialise in. Demetri specialises in Hellenic offerings and champions Cypriot wine. He had two Greek white wines, a Retsina from the Tetramythos winery and a 2014 Domaine Sigalas, Santorini Assyrtiko for tasting. The Tetramythos Retsina is biodynamically made (where the vines are treated holistically as part of the greater environment and not in isolation) and, like all Retsinas, has no vintage though this particular wine was released in 2013. Very dry with lemon hints, the resin was apparent on tasting but the wine was light on the palate and would make an excellent aperitif or accompaniment to lighter fish. At just under £12 certainly one to consider for summer drinking. The Domaine Sigalas was very different. This comes from the Santorini wineyards which have high acid levels in the soil. A sweeter nose and far fuller in taste and texture, there was a slightly salty aftertaste and this wine would need heavier food. Though a white, it would sit very well with pork dishes, heavier fish and perhaps even game.
This part of the world has some incredibly old vines, some dating back 300 years and many Greek and Cypriot vineyards will have vines of well over 100 years old. Staying on the island of Cyprus, Demetri points in particular to the products of Kyperounda vineyards – the highest in Europe. The wine made from grapes picked here is also aged at altitude. The resulting 2005 Kyperounda Commandaria desert wine (though with 85 per cent white xynisteri grapes it can be classified as a white as well) represents a remarkable glass to drink – especially at its production techniques have been dated back to 800BC. Aged eight years in casks previously used for dry white wines, Kyperounda is sweet on the nose with nutty and vanilla hints. Not too heavy on the palate there are hints of apricot and maple upon tasting and a sweet lingering aftertaste. A delicious alternative to port with a blue-veined or other pungent cheese, Riddle fell for this one.
We moved to a Cypriot red wine, a 2012 Zambartas, Marathefiko Krosochorio. Made from the indigenous marathefiko grape, it has a very cherry-like nose and is full bodied. Slightly chewy on the palate due to high tannins, as a young wine this needs to soften and would be one to lay down for a couple of years to release its full flavours.
Looking further east, Demetri picked out a 2013 Shiraz from the Recanati winery just outside Jerusalem in the Upper Galilee valley. Whilst new and employing international grape varieties it is slightly harsh on the nose. However, on tasting it is very broad with a softer taste with plum and blackberry hints coming through. Definitely one to wile away an afternoon over a bottle or two. With a number of wines from this producer priced at under £20, there is no reason for the adventurous and bold drinker not to try something different.
For those who still feel slightly less sure about such unusual offerings, Demetri confirmed that Berry’s Good Ordinary range of wines remains exceedingly popular offering a certainty and value that is very hard to beat. Berry’s Good Ordinary range of wines include very drinkable Chablis, Margaux, Riesling and Malbecs (among many others), ensuring no palate is without something to tickle it for no more than £10-£15. The wine merchant has certainly given much thought to how it appeals to new, younger drinkers. Indeed, Demetri recalled when he began at Berry Bros it was not unusual that the shutters were kept closed and there was nothing on display at 3 St James’s Street. How times have changed – their current display of over-sized wine corks in the window is fun and inventive.
Demetri stressed the importance of education to this evolution – both individually and corporately. Berry’s has taken a lot of care over its wine school, its educational courses and making its website both accessible and useful to the neophyte buyer. Younger drinkers are keen to enjoy new, different wines; he stressed “authenticity” which has become ever more important. Restaurants slightly further away from prime central London such as the Clove Club, Peckham Bazaar and Kensington Wine Rooms have taken the lead in sourcing interesting and credible wines for a customer ever more inclined to try something new.
Should the Riddle reader feel the desire to reach outside their wine comfort zone and truly expand their wine appreciation and knowledge, throw away any pre-conceptions, a trip to the bottom of St James’s Street should be at the top of your list.
Riddle’s tasting list:
Greece: Tetramythos, Retsina Patras £11.95
Greece: 2014 Sigalas, Santorini Assyrtiko £16.96
Cyprus: 2012 Zambartas, Marathefiko Krosochorio £16.95
Israel: 2013 Recanati Shiraz, Upper Galilee £13.65
Cyprus 2005 Kyperounda Commandaria £17.95 (1/2l)
Enquiries: Berry Bros & Rudd, 3 St James’s St, London SW1A 1EG / 0207 0228973 / http://www.bbr.com/