Elixrr Meets English Fizz Producer Hoffmann and Rathbone

In this video Elixrr visits Hoffmann and Rathbone on one of the last days of the 2015 harvest.


Winemaker Ulrich Hoffmann near some freshly harvested Chardonnay grapes.

After 16 years of working for a variety of topnotch wine producers across continental Europe, the US, and Southern England, Ulrich Hoffman along with wife Birgit Rathbone decided to settle down.  Seeing the potential  in the Southern English Sussex terroir and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning British wine industry proved to be too exciting a prospect to resist.    Five years in, Hoffmann and Rathbone is already garnering international recognition, having recently been awarded a Decanter gold for their Blanc de Blanc.

IMG_0004 (1)

Hoffmann and Rathbone’s Decanter Gold Awarded Blanc de Blanc

A boutique producer of just 10,000 bottles, Hoffmann and Rathbone are in the enviable position of having to allocate much of their production.   It’s no doubt due in part to the care winemaker Ulrich Hoffmann takes in sourcing the best grapes from neighboring grape producers and ensuring that their sparklers spend enough time on the lees.


Their current range of fizz has been aged anywhere between 20 and 44 months, similar to top Champagne houses and includes a Rose Reserve (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), a Classic Cuvee  (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and a Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay).

Check out Hoffmann and Rathbone’s website for more about their selection: www.hoffmannandrathbone.co.uk.

More About English Sparkling 

Top English sparkling is reminiscent of top Champagne; the bubbles are fine, the younger versions are pleasantly fruity with bright acidity that offers precision and backbone.   Both sparklers are ageable and food friendly.   And the soil and climate in Kent and Sussex, where most English Sparkling wines are made is similar to that of Champagne, although according to winemaker Ulrich Hoffmann, the acidity in England is a little different and may need longer time ageing in order to balance out.

British wine has been in existence, some believe for millennia going back to Roman times.  The only lull in British winemaking happened  over the period between WW1 and WW2 with commercial production recommencing again around the 1950s.  After some experimentation with different, mostly frost resistant varietals and crossings primarily from Germany,  attention turned to varietals like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with the thought of producing traditionally fermented sparkling wines


English Chardonnay Grapes

Although, many of those German developed varietals are still grown, close to half of all grape production today, according to the Wine Standards Branch, Food Standards Agency is made up of the Champagne varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Pioneers such as Denbies and Nytiember and a bit later Ridgeview have done a lot to put English sparkling on the map, paving the way for the likes of Hoffmann and Rathbone to come on board and make their own quality English fizz.

Over the last sixteen years, English sparklers have won a number  of international competitions and there seems to be no doubt that this trend will continue.   The future looks bright for English sparkling and its successes will only increase as the industry develops and knowledge of the English terroir deepens.


A Vineyard in Sussex with similar soil and climate as in Champagne.

Add Some Fizz to Your Holiday Fun

Italy with mom and dad 308

The holiday season is again fast upon us and now comes the stress and indecision– what to serve?  Although, there are a vast array of beverage options, for me, nothing  makes a festive occasion pop more than a little fizz in the glass.

Italy with mom and dad 194

What can be better than sipping on this magical elixir with its perky bubbles that tickle the palate pleasingly?   Not only are well-made versions of fizz  fun to drink,  but most are also very food friendly and can pair with everything from oysters to poultry ending on dessert.  Of course, drinking fizz solo can be magic, too.


The Traditional Way

Some sparklers are  made in the ”Traditional Way” or what used to be referred to as the Méthode Champenoise, the method used to make Champagne.  In Champagne, the effervescence is produced by adding a mixture of yeast, sugar and wine, known as “Liquor de Tirage” to the bottles of dry still wine.  The addition of sugar and yeast causes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which creates the bubbles.

Other Methods of Bubble Making

The Charmat Method, used notably in Prosecco and Asti production requires putting wine into tanks where it undergoes a secondary fermentation and then is later bottled under pressure.

The Transfer Method similar to the traditional method involves putting a mixture of wine, yeast and sugar (liquor de tirage) into a bottle for its secondary fermentation.  The main difference between the traditional method and the transfer method is that after the wine has gone through its secondary fermentation, it  is then transferred into a larger pressurized tank where the sediment is filtered out and the dosage is added.  This is a cheaper process than the traditional method where each individual bottle needs to be disgorged (the sediment removed) and dosage(sugar+wine) needs to be added.

Other sparklers are made by simply injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) to a still wine, the same process used to make soda

What is Dosage?

The addition of the “Liqueur d’Expédition” is used in sparklers made using the Traditional or Transfer method and is a solution of cane or beet sugar mixed into a small amount of reserve wine.  Liqueur d’Expédition is added to the wine just after disgorging, a process by which the lees are removed.  The amount of sugar in the Liqueur d’Expédition or  grams of sugar per liter added to the wine is referred to as dosage and determines the category of champagne, which is based on sweetness level.

Sweetness Categories

The dosage determines the sweetness level of the resulting Champagne.   Bone dry  “Brut Nature” or “Zero Dosage”  or Non-Dosé” styles, roughly 0-3 grams sugar, to Extra Brut at around 0-6 grams,  Brut (0-15 gram residual sugar), Extra Dry or Extra Sec (12-17 g/l RS), Sec  or Dry, which has perceptible sweetness (17-32 g/l RS)  and at the end of the spectrum to the sweetest Demi-Sec ( 32 to 50 g/liter RS) and Doux styles more than 50 grams/liter Residual Sugar.

Non-Vintage (NV) Versus  Vintage

Most sparklers are a blend of different vintages and are referred to as NV or non-vintage blends.  It is common in Champagne, Cava and other regions where the traditional method  is used to find sparklers made with wine from  a few different vintages or over several vintages used in its blend.  This adds a richness and complexity to the resulting sparkler and masks potentially weak vintages with better one.  The goal of most Champagne houses is to have a style that they replicate through the years and blends over multi-vintages often allows this.

Only the best grapes are chosen for vintage sparklers and usually are sourced only in better or superior vintages depending on the producer.  Vintage wines are usually aged longer than non-vintage wines, too.

Grape Varieties Used

Sparkling wines are made using a variety of grapes.   Typically, Champagne from France is comprised of one or all of the three main grapes grown in the region; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  Although,  .3% of Champagne is planted with White Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris and are among the other grapes allowed in the making of Champagne, these varietals aren’t often seen in the large brands most people are familiar with.

Outside of Champagne, one can find fizzes made with all sorts of grape varietals, namely everything from Riesling, Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Glera to red varietals such as Syrah/Shiraz.

The bottom line, sparkling wines come in all flavors and sweetness levels.  There is sure to be one that fits the occasion and palate of any guest.

Below are some Great examples of sparkling wine options for the upcoming holidays:


2011 Cuvee Memoire Brut Nature Blanquette de Limoux, France

It is thought by some historians that the first traditional method sparkling brut wine in the world came from Limoux, and more precisely, was discovered by the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, long before Champagne was discovered.   Blanquette de Limoux is mostly (about 80% at least) made up of the traditional Mauzac  grape with often a bit of Clairette, Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc added to the blend.

This example of Blanquette de Limoux comes from a 4th generation run family estate located by the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Made from organic grapes, this sparkler has zero dosage and a blend of Mauzac and Chardonnay.  The wine spends 8 months on the lees and is aged 24 months on the laths, it is a rich and minerally with some pear notes.

IMG_0012 (1)

Montlouis Cremant de Loire NV, France

Made in the traditional way with 100% Chenin Blanc, this cremant has about 7 grams of residual sugar and exhibits lots of apple, honey dew and nectarine flavors.

Paul Berthelot Libertine NV, Champagne, France

There is something fun about Champagnes made with 100% Pinot Meunier, such as this one.  Often fruit forward with red fruit flavors like juicy wild strawberries, this is just a fun wine that is somehow serious all at the same time.  Coming in at around 7 grams of sugar, this is in the middle range of Brut.


Paul Berthelot Libertine NV Brut Zero, Champagne, France

This 5 generation grower Champagne producer  made this Champagne by sourcing Chardonnay grapes from 35 year old vines and then leaving for a minimum of 3 years on the lees;  zero dosage added.   Toasty vanilla, citrus, custard with some mineral notes.

Pure Prosecco

Pure Prosecco NV Veneto Spumante, Italy

Very fruity, floral, mineral peach notes.  Simply yummy.


2009 Armilla MCC Avondale  Paarl, South Africa

Made with 100% Biodynamic/organic Chardonny grapes, 3 years on the lees, this is a bold sparkler with ripe baked apple, quince, toasty vanilla and hazelnut flavors.

Louis Barthelemy Brut Zero Topaze NV Chardonnay, Champagne, France

Made from 20% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 40% Pinot Meunier, this Champagne is a blend of  mostly the 2008/09 vintage.  Grapefruit, lemon with mineral notes.


Cave Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura NV Trousseau, France

Made with 100% Trousseau grapes this wine exhibits rose petals floral notes along with juicy strawberries and raspberries along with slight oxidative quality, this has spent 4 months on the lees.

Cave Jean Bourdy Cremant du Jura NV, France

Made from 100% Chardonnay this cremant has spent 4 month on the lees.  Displaying some oxidation, this  sparkler has some custard, stone fruit, citrus, salty minerality characteristics.


2010 Hoffmann & Rathbone Blance de Blanc, England

Made from a boutique producer in East Sussex  this Blanc de Blanc is made from 100% Chardonnay.  After 4 years on the lees and 7 grams dosage this is a complex sparkler, with citrus

Elixrr Visits Artadi and the Rioja Region

On my recent trip to the Rioja region in Spain, I was lucky enough to catch the first day of harvest at Artadi.  Artadi is one of the top bodegas in Rioja and uses biodynamic and organic concepts in the vineyards.

On September 11, 2015 they began harvest in their El Cerredillo vineyard by picking Viura grapes.  The weather was beautiful on the day, as you can see above and below.


A vineyard worker happily picking Viura grapes on the first day of harvest.

Below some vineyard pictures at Artadi:


Tempranillo grapes in the Vina El Pisón vineyard.


More Tempranillo in the Vina El Pisón

Below more pictures of the El Cerredillo Vineyards.




Cristina Amutio and Me in the El Cerredillo Vineyard

Now some from the Viña El Pisón vineyard:


The Viña El Pisón Vineyard 


More Viña El Pisón


A fig tree with delicious, ripe figs in the Viña El Pisón vineyard.

To find out more about Rioja and Artadi, check out the video I made of my trip there.



Part 3: Elixrr Goes to the Franken Region and the Hans Wirsching Winery for Harvest 2014

In the last of our series covering Germany, harvest 2014, Elixrr focuses on the Franken region and top producer, Weingut Hans Wirsching.   In part 3, we will be meeting with Andrea Wirsching to examine the vintage, the estate and the region.


Part 2 Harvest 2014: A look at the Mosel and the Wegeler Estate


Bernkastel Doctor Vineyard

It’s the second leg of Elixrr’s trip for Harvest 2014, this time going to the middle Mosel for a visit to the Wegeler Estate and the world famous Doctor Vineyard.


Harvest workers in the Doctor Vineyard

The famous slate soil of the Doctor Vineyard

The famous slate soil of the Doctor Vineyard






A New Treatment for the Vine Disease Esca?

Esca is an incurable vine disease with very little treatment possibilities.   The disease is spreading at an increasingly aggressive pace to the point that some wine grape growers fear  that Esca could develop into a devastation similar to phylloxera, a louse that nearly destroyed Europe’s wine sector in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Due to the work of a professor in France, there may be a treatment that could help battle the disease.  Elixrr went out to an old Riesling vineyard to explore a possible new treatment for Esca with wine grower and importer, Toni Moran.

Part 1 of Germany’s Harvest 2014: A look at the Pfalz, Mosel and the Franken Region

Want to know more about the vintage?  Watch Elixrr’s  3 part-mini documentary series on Germany’s Harvest 2014. Part 1 is featured above.

Grapes in the Pfalz

Grapes in the Pfalz

Elixrr looks at three regions and 4 estates in a documentary series covering the 2014 harvest in Germany.

Covered in the 3-part series are the following estates and regions:

Part 1

Last day of harvest at the Friedrich Becker Winery.

Last day of harvest at the Friedrich Becker Winery

Weingut Friedrich Becker – Pfalz

Vineyard in the Pfalz

Vineyard in the Pfalz

Weingut Rebholz – Pfalz

Part 2

Weingut Wegeler



Wegeler harvest manager, Peter

Wegeler harvest manager, Peter Hettgen-Cues

Part 3

Weingut Wirsching

Hans Wirsching Winery

Hans Wirsching Winery

Adrea Wirsching

Andrea Wirsching

Part 1 is now available (above).

Vintage 2014 in a nutshell:

Warm nights and high humidity, rain, hail in places and the first-time arrival of the Cherry Vinegar fly or Spotted Wing Drosophila across many wine regions in that part of Europe made harvest 2014 a vintage many winemakers will not soon forget.   In fact, when asking some winemakers in Germany about the challenges and what vintage might compare in terms of the harvest the answer was a decisive “none.”

No one anticipated the Asian pest’s arrival, which caught winegrowers flat footed.  The pest that is known all over Asia and now in California, Canada and other areas in Europe primarily goes after red wine grapes when it isn’t attacking berries and cherries.  However, it does go after white wine grapes when there isn’t anything else, so many white wine only grape areas were impacted.

The fly is called the cherry vinegar fly because in addition to attacking cherries and other berries, as mentioned, the part of the fruit it infects takes on a  vinegar-like odor.

There is good news to the vintage, however.  Despite the challenges, the grapes had no trouble reaching physiological ripeness.  With care in the vineyards, there will be some very good wines to choose from this vintage with the caveat that quantities will be considerably down in many regions.   Some estates are reporting that this year will yield a 25-40% less in an average year.

Critical in 2014, was the used of hand-pickers, a practice mostly associated with top estates.  Stick with top producers and there is an abundant choice of premium quality wines from the vintage.

Want to know more about the vintage?  Watch Elixrr’s  3 part-mini documentary series on Germany’s Harvest 2014. Part 1 is featured above.



UK’s Craft Beer Movement Gains Momentum


Brew by Numbers co-founder Tom Hutchings

A few weeks back the second annual London Craft Beer Festival took place. I was struck by the energy,  reminiscent of the almost counter-culture, rebellious hipster vibe that the American Craft Beer movement had in its early days.  These independent brewers seem unafraid to take inspiration from across the pond and around Europe, having fun creating innovative brews at premium quality levels and maintaining a unique British identity.


A stout from Alpha State Brewery

So, now that there are many delicious, well-made, exciting beers to be had in the UK, the only downside seems to be in finding them.  It is surprising how few pubs seem to have taken hold of the movement.  Sure, some pubs might have an odd craft beer on tap, but more often than not, what one finds are the usual suspects.


Partizan’s Cuvee Lemon

Is it laziness or is it the big guys paying for space/tap lines?  Or, are consumers satisfied with the current fare on offer and therefore on-premise establishments see no need to diversify their selection and create more work for themselves?


Bethnal’s Pale Ale

I don’t have enough data to answer this conclusively.  Consumption of micro-brews on-premise is increasing rapidly; 79% over the previous 12 month period according to the Publicans Morning Advertiser’s article Demystifying the Craft Beer Movement by Jessica Mason.  Still, craft beers only represents 1.9% of the total beer volume according to Mason.  There is still a lot of hard work to be done before craft beers represent a sizable chunk of the UK beer market.


Having worked in distribution/import in the US, it was common place for the big players to offer incentives or kickbacks to licensees in order that they carry their products,  no matter what laws might have been on the book to the contrary.   It often made it challenging  working for smaller players who didn’t have this type of “marketing” budget and to find those accounts who saw the bigger picture–that offering a better beverage selection wins repeat customers and new business.


This brings me back to an analysis I did of the Australian beer sector a few years back.   According to data it appeared that Australia was on the verge of becoming a wine drinking nation.  Wine consumption was increasing, while  beer consumption was dropping significantly to 66 year lows according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)(Sun Herald, 4/2/2014, Philip Hudson).

The incomplete, raw data supported what the “experts” conjectured;  consumer tastes were changing and Australians were set to become a nation of wine drinkers .  After digging a little deeper, however, the conclusion made didn’t match with other pieces of the puzzle.

First, it was identified that due to a wine glut, wine prices were depressed.  Beer prices on the other hand were relatively high, especially in on-premise environments mostly due to Australia’s excruciatingly high  level of taxation on beer–among the highest in the world according to Carlton & United Breweries corporate affairs director Jeremy Griffith.  (Sun Herald, 4/2/2014, Philip Hudson).


Second, the vast majority of pubs continued to pour the same boring, flavorless mainstream beers that they had for years.  The big players often paying for their tap lines in some fashion or other, to keep the standard fare on tap despite hardy demand for craft beers according to Fairfax Media. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/business/competition-probe-circles-beer-makers-lion-carlton–united-20140530-399qj.html#ixzz3CS6xL1fY

The moral of the story, the trade hasn’t been responsive or encouraging to the changing taste of consumers.  People have been left to voting with their palates and opt for wine or something else.


Back in the UK, the last several years have seen incredible growth in the UK independent beer movement, but it will be interesting to see how far the movement will go.

One of the most Popular American Micro-Brews, Sierra Nevada

One of the most Popular American Micro-Brews, Sierra Nevada

Will the big guys start making more interesting brews and steal the independent’s thunder?  Or, will independent breweries continue little by little to chip at the big boys?  Time will tell, but I am hoping beer lovers continue to find greater choice and quality both in the pubs and in their local shops.


Chilling Your Favorite Whisky with Rocks from Vermont

Teroforma Whisky Stones 6 WebHave a friend who is a Whisky aficionado and don’t know what to get him/her? Or, are you looking for something to add to your own Whisky experience?  Whisky Stones are a modern take on an old Scandinavian tradition whereby cold stones are used to chill down the temperature of spirits.

Teroforma Whisky Stones 3 Web

co-Founder Andrew Hellman came up with the idea of making Whisky Stones after he found a bag of loose stones in his own grandfather’s liquor cabinett and learned the tradition of how they were used to chill down alcohol.

Whisky Stones are handcrafted in Vermont from soapstone by the Vermont Soapstone company, one of America’s oldest soapstone workshops in the country. Soapstone, a talc-schist comprised mostly of the mineral talc has the benefit of being flavor neutral, non-absorbent, and can retain either heat or cold for a relatively long period of time.  The stones are light weight with no sharp edges, so drinkers don’t have to be afraid of the stones damaging their glasses.

Teroforma Whisky Stones 5 Web


Falling for Whisk-e-y in Fall

Now that we are heading into colder weather, what could be better for a nippy Autumn night, but a fabulous whisk(e)y?  Do you like peaty flavors in your whisk(e)y?  Something sweeter and more complex? A little fruit maybe?

Below, are some Whiskies that that might fit what your palate: italy 281 Made at Kilchoman, the first distillery to be established on Islay in 125 years and one of a few still practicing floor malting.  Kilchoman has brought back the tradition of the farm distillery to Islay by being the only to do all parts of the production process at the distillery from growing their own barley to bottling.

Their spirits are matured in first fill bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky and first fill Oloroso sherry butts from Miguel Martin in Jerez, Spain.

This 2008 single cask release has plenty of butterscotch, vanilla, some spicy fruit and smoky, peaty notes.  Logging in at 61% alc, the only downside to this whisky is that you can only find this bottling at the Whisk(e)y Exchange.

italy 282

Easier to obtain, but no less good, the 2007 vintage is made by using 80% Bourbon barrels and the balance from Sherry Butts.  This is the oldest whisk(e)y available at the time of any given release.  The 2007 vintage has salty peat, clove, vanilla, nutmeg and smoked fruit notes.

italy 303

From the Highlands in Scotland, Balblair has been making Scotch since 1790. Balblair is unique in its production of only vintage Scotch, signifying the year it was made.

Balblair is typically fruity, smooth and complex.  Their 1975 bottling made 100% with Sherry Casks is no exception.  The complex, smokey, spicy-sweet aromas are followed by honey, citrus, vanilla and spice notes on the palate, finishing long with a touch of coconut, vanilla and smoke.

italy 301

Ok, this is rare and retailing for 2,500 GBP, so not exactly affordable. But, it is too delightful not to write about after having tasted it!  On the nose, lots of fresh fruit aromas; citrus, stone fruit and some herbal, mint notes.  On the palate some toffee, spicy fruit, a touch of apple and herbal notes.  Very long on the finish, ending with smoky, vanilla flavors.  So perfectly integrated and at its peak, this is worth seeking out.

italy 302

AnCnoc is another Highland whisky, also typically fruity with complex, spicy flavors and aromas.  Lots of fresh citrus and apple flavors with some nutmeg and ginger, finishing with notes of smoke and vanilla.

italy 292

Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr was considered to be one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry, combining classic with modern bourbon making techniques and innovating climate control ageing in warehouses.  E.H. Taylor Jr’s Small Batch is made by hand and aged in the very warehouses the Colonel constructed over a century ago.

Full of apricot, peach and butterscotch flavors this bourbon has sweet popped corn/salted caramel notes.  The long finish ends with some smoky tobacco flavors. italy 290

Rock Hill is a “Rye Recipe” Kentucky Straight Bourbon.  Bourbon in general must be made from at least 51% corn, meaning that this “rye recipe” bourbon just has more rye than the average bourbon.  In addition, Bourbon can not be distilled to more than 160 proof, nor can additional flavorings or colors can be added at any time.  Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred oak barrels.

The Rock Hill is very spicy and nutty, with dried red fruit, caramel, toffee and almond paste flavors.  Smooth and honey-like on the finish finishing with notes of butterscotch, toffee and almond.