Champagne versus sparkling wine: the Bothy Vineyard challenge

The Bothy Vineyard ( is Oxford’s nearest vineyard. Run with imagination and dedication by Richard and Sian Liwicki, it produces award-winning white, rosé and red wines. New from Bothy this year is their sparkling brut rosé, Halcyon Days. But this piece is not a plug for Bothy but an opportunity to write about a remarkable tasting last month.

Bothy vineyard

The Bothy Vineyard

Richard is, to put it politely, a bit of a sceptic about champagne. He reckons that there are sparkling wines in the market which are not only preferred by tasters but considerably better value than the real stuff. So, he challenged a group of the Bothy’s friends (we all put in a few days’ work a year in the vineyard in return for a bottle or two and some of Sian’s top-notch cooking) to produce their best bottle of champagne or sparkling wine for a taste-off.

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Back to the terroir – Lambrusco re-booted

I went a week or so ago to the inaugural Oxford Wine Festival (

Among a range of interesting stands (and an excellent bar with some fascinating wines run by 1855 – I came across the range of Lambrusco wines imported by Kilgariff & Kahan and could not resist the opportunity write about red fizz for once.

Lambrusco is one of those wines that, rather like Beaujolais Nouveau, lost itself to easy drinking marketing in the 1970s and 1980s and has been painfully trying to regain lost ground ever since. Continue reading

Sovetskoye Shampanskoye – Stalin’s ‘plebeian luxury’

On 28 July 1936, Stalin signed Resolution no 1366 setting up three wine trusts that were tasked with making Soviet champagne. This was something of a challenge to Soviet vine-growers since until 1935 champagne or sparkling wine was seen as a ‘bourgeois luxury’ and they had been encouraged to root up the noble grapes planted in the nineteenth and early twentieth century in regions such as Abrau-Durso (on the Black Sea shores of the Crimea). These noble grapes had been the basis of a small production of Russian sparkling wine by the traditional method (what we now know as méthode champenoise) but official Soviet policy was to replace them with more prolific varieties.

Stalin (perhaps under the impulse given by Anastas Mikoyan, the People’s Commissar for External and Internal Trade), decided that champagne was ‘an important sign of material well-being, of the good life’. The pressure was on to show that under Communism goods such as champagne and caviar that were once the preserve of the wealthy were now available to Soviet workers.


Mikoyan, Stalin and Ordzhonikidze – the ‘Caucasus trio’ – with acknowledgments to Wikipedia

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The Kate Moss coupe: Caring’s champagne coup

London restaurateur Richard Caring (The Ivy, Annabel’s, Le Caprice, Soho House) has been described by restaurant critic A.A. Gill as aiming for ‘the restaurant equivalent of LVMH’. Fittingly then, it’s LVMH’s Dom Perignon champagne brand that – along with Caring and 34, another of his London restaurants – will benefit from a latest masterstroke of marketing.

Moss glass

The Moss glass (with ‘Kate’ signature on the bottom). Courtesy of 34 Restaurant

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Pol Roger – drinking the 1892 vintage

Blog readers (thank you all) may remember that I wrote fairly recently about an excellent Pol Roger tasting given by Cassidy Dart in Cambridge.

Cassidy recently tasted some of the older Pol Roger wines as part of the launch activity for the latest 2002 vintage of their justly famed ‘Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill’ (an immediate sell-out) and I thought his informal notes were worth a post on their own – plus some added commentary from me.

Pol Roger brand

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Pedro Ximenez, 1911-2010: wine legend come to life

It was the year that saw the first non-stop flight from London to Paris, the year that saw the launch of the Titanic – and the end of the last Chinese Imperial Dynasty. It was 1911 and now I can say I’ve drunk wine over 100 years old.

A little fragile perhaps but still vivid on the nose with aromas of ginger, citrus and burnt sugar. A little less length than its younger siblings but still a force to be reckoned with. And there’s still stock available should you want to buy a bottle of this rare and remarkable wine.

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Brandolatry in the 19th century

‘Brandolatry’ – or the ‘worship of brands’ – seems like a remarkably modern concept but the term was coined by William Hudson, a nineteenth century wine merchant and champagne expert who was an astute – if sometimes rather under-handed – publicist in the years 1868-1897.

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‘Harvested to the sound of gunfire, but drunk to the sound of trumpets’: tasting Champagne Pol Roger

1914 was one of the finest of all champagne vintages. Harvested by women, children and old men in the absence of the men of fighting age, it became Winston Churchill’s favourite wine (and favourite vintage).

Cassidy Dart, of Pol Roger UK, who presented the company’s range of 7 wines at the Bridge Street Wine Bar in Cambridge last week, has tasted this wine twice (lucky man). He describes it as still having a few bubbles, though the colour is slowly shifting towards orange / brown (as happens with almost all old white wines).


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‘On the scale from riches to ruin’: the cargo of champagne in R.L.Stevenson’s Ebb-Tide

One of Robert Louis Stevenson’s very last books was Ebb-Tide. His step-son Lloyd Osbourne shared the credit for this 1894 work but it seems clear that Stevenson wrote all the second part (‘The Quartette’) and heavily revised the first part (‘The Trio’)[1].


Briefly, the story is of a trio of ‘on the beach’ bums; each a failure in his own way, each hiding his real identity, each close to the point of death or despair on the wind and rain swept beach of Samoa. Continue reading

‘Archer Up’ | celebrating the great Victorian jockey

Fred Archer committed suicide on 8 November 1886. Delirious with wasting and purging to make the 8 stone 7lb weight for the Cambridgeshire Cup (the only classic race he had never won) and suffering the effects of typhoid fever he shot himself. The gun is still in the National Horse-Racing Museum.Fred Archer_200913

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