Spring picks at Lea & Sandeman
This is a new version of a piece I originally wrote for The Buyer, aimed at the premium ‘on trade’. I’ve added a couple of wines and skewed it towards what you’ll find if you pop into one of their lovely shops (in west London), or online https://www.leaandsandeman.co.uk
As I walked into the Lea and Sandeman press tasting, in the homely surroundings of a Fulham pub, I received a seemingly random question by text, from a friend, a well-known BBC broadcaster and occasional wine enthusiast: “Should I return to German wine?”
I’m not sure when he left to be honest, but my answer was – of course – a big fat ‘ja’.
If my response needed any validation, it came a mere ten minutes later, from the trestle tables at the White Horse.
… it’s the stuff of dreams for Germany’s winemakers …
Lea and Sandeman have a direct line to the punter, through their stores in Kensington, Chelsea, Chiswick and Barnes so they have a pretty good idea of what’s pricking people’s interest at a given moment.
“I would say there is much more enthusiasm for German wine than there was a decade ago”, co-founder Charles Lea told me, “and it’s coming from a more sophisticated younger audience, who understand it, and realise it’s not necessarily sweet”.
So millennial buyers, free from prejudice, de-coding those notorious labels, raving about Riesling? It’s the stuff of dreams for Germany’s winemakers and the new signing on show certainly supported the sentiment.
The latest ‘find’ for Lea and his team is the Mosel’s Lehnert-Veit, led by 10th generation winemaker Peter Lehnert, whose wines are a paean to purity.
The Kies 2016 Riesling Trocken is all about fruitiness, with grapefruit and lemon blossom suggesting just the slightest nod to some of the sweeter German wines of the past, despite being technically dry. It’s a refreshing summer wine and a relative snip at £14.95. From a little further up the slate slopes, where the wines take on a sublime stony edge, comes the superior Schiefer 2016 Riesling Trocken, for £16.50. It’s exquisitely balanced, with a lip-smacking limey freshness, and feels more like the great food wine Riesling was born to be. For just a little more, £17.95, the Günterslay Riesling Trocken has a touch more texture and spice.
All three wines find themselves in tune with the times, at 12% ABV or less, and I would highly recommend a tasting tour of all of them over the early summer! If you have to pick one, I’d opt for the Schiefer.
… a reputation that punches well above its size …
Lea and Sandeman is a relatively small player on the wine scene, with a reputation that punches well above its size.
“We are perfect for smaller winemakers: our biggest supplier is 60 hectares and our smallest just over four,” Lea tells me. “The danger is that you can get lost with a bigger player. That fact gives us access to some excellent producers, with whom we work as a partnership”.
And I reckon that’s what people are looking for, from a modern wine shop.
Charles Lea doesn’t see any end in sight for the recent rosé boom: “We have a bigger range of rosé wines again this year. Each year we’ve bought more, we have sold the lot, so we are stepping it up a gear again”.
Some of the new 2017 wines were still showing their youth, in the rush to get them on the tasting table, but the Languedoc Roussillon’s Domaine Saint Felix Grenache Cinsault will shape up to bring plenty of summer fun, with its simple, fresh, punnet-of-strawberries character a bit of a steal at £7.95.
… a finish to rival a summer sunset …
At the other end of the pink price spectrum, Bandol’s Domaine Tempier 2016, already offers a rich feast of complexity, with peaches and cream, cherries and berries, all contributing to a serious wine of significant weight, with a finish to rival a summer sunset. It’s pricey at £27.95, but it’s an exceptional wine – definitely one for those who don’t normally relish a rosé.
The reds on show at the press tasting fell into two distinct categories: picnic and barbecue.
The former was dominated by Beaujolais, with six wines, leading off with the Domaine Rochette 2016 Beaujolais Villages, offering a whiff of summer greenhouse, with crunchy red cherry, blueberry and cranberry, at an affordable £13.25. My top pick from this producer was Domaine Rochette Morgon Côte du Py 2016 which, for £16.75, offers an explosion of ripe red cherries and berries, with really well-integrated oak affording it a gentle, seductive spiciness.
A good Beaujolais, lightly chilled, makes a superb summer’s afternoon wine and it’s a great match for a light herb-roasted chicken, or some poached salmon fillet.
My favourites were a sleek pair from Fleurie’s Domaine Coudert, named after a racehorse: Clos de La Roilette 2016, at £16.50, has dark cherry, rose petals and cinnamon, with a charge of energy, juicy tannins and an elegant finish. For £18.50, its sibling, the ‘late harvest’ (as the name suggests, kept on the vines longer and harvested later) Clos de La Roilette Cuvée Tardive, offers a richer, deeper, more complete, summer crumble of red fruits and spice, with an invigorating sense of tension in the final furlong.
… longing for a seared steak …
Finally, just a few feet away, but several miles apart by style, Tim Smith’s muscular selection of Aussie Shiraz battled it out to be the best for the barbecue.
Shiraz, done the Australian way, is a big, big wine, but – done well – it can still be charming.
Produced from select parcels, some from hundred-year-old vines, the 2015 Tim Smith Barossa Shiraz, £26.50, felt like the torchbearer in its section of the tasting, with its rich herbal black fruit, dark chocolate, charred cedar and nutmeg. Despite all that heft, this award-winning wine still manages to retain a brilliant sense of freshness and, although it’s not an obvious one for casual summer glugging, it left me really longing for a seared steak and barbecued corn. Now all we need is a proper nice long summer.