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Muddy meets: Julia Jenkins, Flagship Wines

Wine expert Julia talks Picpoul de Pinet, Gewürztraminer and Godello.

Why Flagship Wines?

Flagship is a term that is used a lot in the wine trade for highlighting some of the real stars in wine range. For me, I feel that the flagship wines are the ones that have a wow factor whether they’re £7 , £27 or £107 a bottle. I’ve been in the wine trade all my working life, so quite a long time now. I was a buyer for various large companies and I was the Marketing Manager for Sainsbury’s wine department where I set up and launched their mail order business. After my second son I didn’t go back to work because I travelled a lot. I decided set up something of my own on a much smaller scale in 1995, and in 2001 I launched Flagship Wines, opening a shop in 2004.

Can you remember the first time wine made an impact on you?

Yes, I can. It was when I was working for the off licence division of Bass which is where I did all my wine exams. My boss loved wine and he had recently added some new wines from Alsace to the range and asked me to try one of them. He said, ‘This is the real star’, as he gave me some Gewürztraminer to taste. My face obviously told him what I thought of it. He said ‘Oh, Julia, there’s no hope for you,’ although he was joking. I do actually quite like wines made from this grape now.

Flagship Wines

Cork v screwcap?

Before the use of screw caps, I remember reading a quote saying that one in every eight bottles imported into the UK had some degree of cork taint. That problem decreased as screw cap use increased. In that sense it’s very positive. Wine matures at a different rate with a screw cap. It can sometimes be a little reduced compared to when closed with a cork, but it just means that it hasn’t been in contact with the air. With cork, wine breathes a little bit. But all you need to do is to aerate it before drinking. You can pour it into a decanter, or even pour it into a jug and then back into the bottle. Some reds do benefit from being decanted. If you let the air in, a red wine can really show off.

Flying reds at Flagship

If you could do a wine tasting evening anywhere, where would it be?

Perhaps the Jacobean dining room at Hatfield House. It was built when a dining room was an important room and it’s got fabulous windows and tapestries. Although for a good wine tasting evening, it’s just nice to be somewhere you can relax, enjoy some really good food to complement lovely wines, and have somebody there who can tell a story that engages you, possibly the winemaker who is probably passionate about what they do. We do tastings in the shop every Friday evening, and they are very popular and free. We’ve also just had our first food and wine evening at Carpenter’s Nursery in Sandridge, near St Albans. It was in one of the growing tunnels and everyone sat on hay bales around a long, low table surrounded by plants. Tasting English and Italian wine paired with produce grown by Carpenter’s, matched with locally made cheese and chocolate made for a different and fun evening. The next one will be in the autumn.

Come dine with me, Hatfield House

Are you a fan of English wine?

English still wine is still a bit hit and miss because of the UK climate. Although the Champenois are getting a little bit twitchy about the quality of English fizz! At Flagship Wines we have Henners; they’re not far from Nyetimber. The raft of counties on the South Downs – Kent, Sussex and Surrey – create good conditions for sparkling wine. But it’s never going to be cheap. It is up in the echelons of champagne prices. There are no economies of scale.

What’s on trend right now?

Picpoul de Pinet is fashionable now, but it’s still a serious wine. Because it’s from a tiny growing area, it can never be a mass market wine. The region can’t be expanded as they’ve had to do for Prosecco, so it’s still got a bit of a cachet and the grape has retained its integrity in terms of its flavour.

Could you give us a simple starting place for wine tasting?

It’s good to start with pure fruit. You don’t want to start with complicated flavours with someone saying, ‘Oh there’s a bit of oak in that’. A Sauvignon Blanc has that lovely zesty tanginess and it’s very fresh and very clean. It’s straightforward: grapes are picked and fermented and then bottled. So you get lovely easy flavours. A Sauvignon should taste fresh and tangy with a little bit of zest to it, whether it’s gooseberries from New Zealand or nice grassy nettley things from France. And then if you can remember what Sauvignon Blanc tastes like, that can be your benchmark. Every wine you taste afterwards can be a slight variation on a theme that can add to your enjoyment. Or if you know that you don’t like it for some reason, but you like another style, that can be your starting point. It’s about building up a memory bank of flavours.

Who do you admire in the wine world? Please choose people we might know! Perhaps a television wine person?

Jane Parkinson and Olly on Saturday Kitchen are great. They don’t just talk about food, they put together a bit of a food and wine package just by saying, ‘This goes with this’. And they are able to talk about wine in everyday terms rather than making it mysterious.

Olly Smith

What are you drinking at the moment?

At the moment I’m enjoying southern French reds and Italian whites and occasionally a Picpoul or a Godello, a white from Galicia.  I can enjoy wines from Australia. We were New Zealand merchants of the year and won a trip to New Zealand and I do like drinking wines from there. We’ve recently taken on some wines from Lebanon. Domaine des Tourelles. Chateau Musar brought Lebanon to everyone’s attention because they were making it during the Iran-Iraq war. They had to cross the lines with all the grapes. We’ve also taken on some new things from Eastern Europe. There are always new wines coming out, or regions to revisit.

Time for a schooner?

Any secrets you’d like to share?

Portugal and Alsace are hidden secrets.

Wine o’clock. Your thoughts?

I’m not quite sure what it means. Isn’t the sun always over the yardarm somewhere?!

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

The name of my first wine business was called Wine on Tap. We now have a service with this name. For people who have a case a month or so. It’s so that people always have a full wine rack. I choose the wines for them and I’ll always put in two or three things that I know they like and then I’ll send some different things too. Customers always tell me that they’ve never had a bad bottle from me. We can also do national next day deliver and same day in St Albans. And we supply pubs and restaurants and can do training for staff.

Some of Julia’s events for your diary:

Fri 22 Sept, Jeremy Borg from Painted Wolf at Flagship Wines; Fri 6 Oct, sherry & cheese at Fleetville Larder; Fri 6 Oct, Chilean wines: Cabernet, Carmenere & Carignan, Flagship Wines.

Flagship Wines

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