You may have noticed that over the past year we have run profiles on a number of distributors, producers and pioneers within the wine industry. That’s because here at Wined Up, we like to talk about people and projects that we genuinely find interesting. We don’t plug certain companies for advertising revenue; we profile them because we like what they are doing. Last year, Lily met Rachel Leach of Swig.co.uk, they hit it off and after weeks/months of diary coordination we recently managed to meet up and try a few of Swig’s wines.
To give you a bit of background on Swig, they’re basically a company after my own heart. Started by Robin Davis as a shop in Belsize Park around 20 years ago, Swig imports artisanal wines to the UK. Since the dawn of Internet shopping and increasing overheads e.g. rent etc., Swig is now online, selling to the public and to restaurants.
Wined Up’s whole ethos is about making Wine accessible to the everyday person and Swig encompasses that. It can be a bit daunting when people say they are specialists and it can be easy just to opt for the supermarket because they stock their shelves with grape varieties and brands that we know but companies like Swig are helping us get the best wine and the best value for money, whether if that is through private sales or selling on to restaurants and bars.
The way Swig does this is simple. They all try a shitload of wine. “If you want someone to give you a hand and point you in the direction of a wine you might be interested in but wouldn’t necessarily look at…we do the shopping for you and we have all tried the wines. The top guys make the end decision but everyone has tried it and gives their opinion” Rachel explained.
It’s a small team of about nine people so it isn’t crazy to suggest that everyone tries the wine. This is the attention to detail that you just don’t get with bigger distributors. I’m not taking anything away from bigger wine distributors like Virgin or Laithwaites etc. because they will have had their buyers who have carefully picked the wines that they are showcasing but there’s something refreshing about hearing that everyone gets an opinion from top to bottom, which for me personally gives me more confidence and trust in who I am buying from.
So, recently we met up with Rachael at our favourite restaurant, Merchants Tavern, and tried a few of their wines. By a few, I mearn half a dozen.
One thing we love here at Wined Up is a natural wine (you may have noticed from our previous posts), so we were excited when Rachel pulled this out of her bag.
This wine in particular, as stated in the name is a lovely Sparkling Chardonnay. It’s from Adelaide Hills, more specifically and area called The Basket Range. Petillant or ‘Pet Nat’ as it is sometimes called is a style of sparkling wine. Fermentation is started in Stainless Steel tanks and bottled mid way through. This can leave the wine a bit temperamental as Rachel described that in some cases you can get an overly fizzy bottle when upon opening the pressure has built up so much it explodes and you lose all the liquid and sometimes they can be completely flat. It’s all about how much sugar you put in to give you the right quantity of pressure. It’s a balancing act essentially!
Rachael described this as “Probably the most drinkable wine ever”. Normally, I hate it when people say, “Ooh it’s very drinkable”, even when I find myself saying it (normally if I am describing a low tannin red) but she was spot on. This wine itself was so drinkable. I loved the slight sweetness to it, the yeastiness that you normally get with a natural wine was there but where some natural wines have that overbearing ‘natural’ smell that sometimes overpowers them, this was light, fruity and dangerous. What I mean by dangerous is the fact that we later polished off this bottle without realising. Sometimes with sparkling wines they can be a bit too gassy but this one had the right balance of pressure and sugar and just kept us coming back for more!
As a keen skateboarder, well actually let me rephrase that. As someone who should have given up skateboarding a long time ago but tries to carry on, I was blown away to hear that Brendan and Kirsty (The BK behind BK wines) have a skate park in their back garden. BK started in 2007 and Swig have been importing since their second vintage so it’s great to see a long-standing relationship between the two enterprises.
This particular wine was a treat. It was so easy, so light and only 180 bottles have been imported by Swig so it was a real treat to have tried it. I personally got a real orange scent from it but nobody seemed to agree with me!
Ok… wine two.
You may know that I’ve got a soft spot for Chenin Blanc after reading my article on natural wine and how it was a low-intervention Vouvray that got me serious about wine (of course you read it, but if you didn’t then click here). Well anyway, I always get a bit excited when someone pulls a Chenin out. Rachael did that for wine two.
Badenhorst wines is owned by two cousins, Adi and Hein. Adi is the principal wine maker and as Rachael puts it, one of the most knowledgeable people n South Africa when it comes to wine… she also mentioned he looked a bit like Father Christmas (which after looking him up I can see where she’s coming from… he has an impressive beard).
Again, it was like Rachael knew exactly what we wanted to try because this particular wine was again, a natural wine. Sometimes, despite really liking Vouvray, I tend to shy away from South African Chenin Blanc. This is purely because I’ve had some really bad expressions of it in shit pubs and bars, so it was great to try this one. This particular Chenin comes in at £12.50 from Swig and is such value for money. Forget everything you know once thought about South African Chenin Blanc and just go buy a bottle.
This is a Chenin from old vines. The significance of old vines is that typically the juice that the grapes yield is a lot more concentrated, which you can argue makes for better quality wine When a vine is young it will produce a high yield of grapes but as it gets older it will start to reduce its yield and produce less but more concentrated grapes (read more about nature and vines here). During maceration, the wine has about 15% skin contact, which isn’t quite enough to turn the wine orange but enough to give it a bit more texture and depth.
On the nose Lily and I were hit with peaches. I didn’t want to say peaches as typically with South African Chenin I normally get that aroma but there really was a lovely aroma of peach and quince. It was extremely fruity and floral. For me, this was a fantastic Chenin. Medium-dry, had a nice body and depth of texture from the skin contact and low in acidity.
On to the next one…
So we moved on to the next wine with what is possibly the most fun and interesting story of the day. Peter Wasler does not like to label his bottles. On his website Peter exclaims “Clothes maketh not the man; judge me on what’s in my bottle, not the varietal on the label”. Essentially Peter likes the wine to speak for itself and not be prejudged on which grapes it is made from. Rachael told us the ‘story’. All wineries have a story but I love this one in particular. Peter came to winemaking late and one day, early in his career a lady came to his cave and said she wanted to buy wine and said; “I don’t drink Shiraz”. Well the only wine Peter had at that point was unlabelled Shiraz so he poured her a glass and she subsequently bought three cases of it. Even if we say we don’t judge a book by its cover we generally do and there are many circumstances in which we just judge and typecast a whole grape varietal just on one experience from one expression of it.
That’s the story, now the wine. The thing is, as a oenophile I like to know which grapes are in wine. I try to enter wine with an open mind and not judge a grape varietal, but still want to know so I can further my understanding of which grapes hold which characteristics and which can blend together well. Lucky for us, Rachael had the grape list to hand. The Orbitofrontal Cortext 2016 is a delicious blend of Grenache Blanc, Semillon, Fernao Pires, Verdelho and Chenin Blanc.
We had been speaking before about how when we don’t like a wine the best adjective to use is ‘interesting’ and upon the first sniff Lily exclaimed; “this smells very interesting!” and then rectified it with “in a good way” and that’s the thing. It was an interesting smelling wine. I personally, before knowing the grapes that were used in it could have sworn that it had chardonnay in it. I later found out that this wine had been aged in French oak, which could potentially explain why I thought Chardonnay, but nonetheless this was an interesting scented wine… in such a good way. It’s one of the reasons why I love wine so much because you can claim to be such an expert (not that Lily and I do) and pinpoint the grape and the regions that a wine comes from just from smell but sometimes you get thrown a curve ball, something that bucks the trend and it just completely open your mind up to the possibilities of wine and the different expressions grapes and blends can have.
Peter is a wine maker. End of. He doesn’t own any vineyards, buys from co-ops and independent growers, which is brilliant to see. It shows the talent and how winemakers can put their own style on wines that they create from other people’s grapes.
The wine itself was really strong in scent and Lily even mentioned that it almost had a Gewurtztraminer feel to it. Floral and ‘perfumey’ which definitely comes from the Grenache Blanc that is in the blend. We paired this with the amazing deep fried oysters that I force upon anyone whom I take to Merchants Tavern. You can’t go to ‘Merchants’ without trying them!
It was at this point before going on to the reds that we exclaimed our love for pig’s trotters on toast. Rachael then made us stop eating them as she claimed the next wine would go amazing with them.
So, I always remember Cinsault from my days of working at Merchants Tavern because Tanya, my old manager used to grill me on which grapes that were in a particular wine that we served. I can’t remember which wine it was but I remember it had Cinsault in it!
Right before we went on to this wine it is worth pointing out that Rachael delicately brought us on to this one by saying, “Come on, chug people!”
So this is an old vine bush wine, which Swig argues is affordable but brilliant which to be honest for £14.50 per bottle, I will agree with. As Rachael said, Cinsault is kind of like the IT grape in South Africa at the moment and people are getting some great vintages out of it. This is a ready to drink style of Cinsault and has some really rich dark fruit aromas to it. Plum really spoke out to me on this one. Apparently I had gone in to a bit of a ‘wine daze’ and Lily kindly pointed out that I was having a moment. I felt a bit like Action Bronson when he had to take a moment in the bathrooms to look at himself in the mirror after trying his friend’s food on the first episode of ‘The Untitled Action Bronson Show’. My wine daze was because I was marvelling at how well this wine paired with the pig’s trotters on toast.
The wine itself was a lot lighter than I anticipated and had noticeable alcohol content which was probably because the wine was young and just hadn’t balanced out fully yet the sweetness of the pig’s trotters balanced out the rich alcohol content. As Rachael put, you could drink tons of this. It is this approach and way of describing wine in which I love. As much as I like to describe wine, it is really refreshing to hear people in the industry just be down to earth and say “you can drink tons of this”
It’s at this point that we started to get tipsy and my notes decreased. Good job that I was recording the conversation.
This is a delightful blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. The grapes are that of a traditional Bordeaux blend but it is made in a different way and in a different climate. Also, that might not be all the varietals
There is definitely a vegetal/spicyness to it that you get from a cabernet franc. Normally I’m not a huge cabernet franc fan but that’s me judging a book by its cover. This was a great wine with a lovely body to it and for £12.50 it is a bargain.
In what was the only ‘Old World’ wine that we tried at the tasting was the Yantra, A lovely deep Cab Sauv and Merlot Blend, so again like classic Bordeaux blend but from the lovely Tuscan climate. This was a rustic red with a lot of earth to it and despite the fact that we were drinking a Cab Sauv and merlot blend, this winery apparently one of two wineries in this region to produce cab franc. It was a fantastic wine. These grapes are non-indigenous to Tuscany so it’s fantastic to see places in this area pushing the boundaries and not just opting for the safe bet of Sangiovese.
So, that’s it! Our whole overview on Swig and the wines that they produce has come to an end. We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Rachel and to be honest I’d love to work for this company as it pretty much embodies everything that we at Wined Up stand love. Good wine, uncomplicated explanations and an emphasis on breaking the barriers of the conventional stuff that we see on a regular basis. They do great deals and bring in fantastic wine for a good price so visit their website for more details.
We will be running more profiles on other distributors so watch this space but for now, buy a case of wine from swig and let us know if you agree with our descriptions.
visit http://www.swig.co.uk or click on the links above to find out more about these wines.
– J A M E S