Little Black Book

lynsey and sergioUrban wineries are still relatively scarce, though today there are quite a number of them in cities like San Francisco, Cape Town, Sydney and even New York. But in the past decade or so, London has become the once unlikely home to a handful of fully functioning wineries, a mini-trend begun when London Cru launched seven or eight years ago. One of the latest to join this movement is Black Book, created by husband and wife team Lynsey and Sergio Verrillo in 2016 and based in south-west London.

American-born Sergio is winemaker, and the couple say “Black Book was born of a love of three things: cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; the English wine industry; and this fair city we call home, London.” Indeed Pinot and Chardonnay are the core of their range, but it’s a restless and experimental set-up here, with wines like the ‘petnat’-style sparkling Seyval Blanc tasted here and a forthcoming small batch Bacchus/Ortega blend.

The winery sits inside a railway arch in Battersea, with all fruit sourced from growers within two hours of the city. “Essex it such a hot spot for still wine grapes,” says Sergio, who selects fruit from well-located vineyards with the highest quality grapes. Having grown up in an Italian-American family, he recalls wines being made in the back garden of their Conneticut home.

Once settled in London he began work as a sommelier, including stints at Maze and Chez Bruce, before enrolling at Plumpton College to study for his degree in Viticulture and Oenology. Practical exprience was gained at Greyfriars in England, Calera in California, De Montille in Burgundy, Mulderbosch in Stellenbosch and, finally, Ata Rangi in New Zealand, before Black Book became his and Lynsey’s full-time business and passion.

Their cellar boasts a pneumatic press and a range of French oak barrels from 228- to 600-litres in size, where the majority of wines are fermented with natural yeasts and minimal or zero addition of sulphur during vinification. There’s a natural – certainly low-intervention – ethos throughout the winemaking, and it’s a truly impressive portfolio, standing with the best of English still wines on the evidence of this tasting.

The Wines

Black Book runs a Wine Club and its own online shop at blackbookwinery.com, and the wines are also in selected retailers. Though the event is sold out, ticket holders can also meet the team and taste the wines at my Edinburgh Festival of Wine 2019.

(2019) From the Yew Tree Vineyard in Didcot in Oxford which Sergio says is a "good ripening site." Made traditionally, this is an experimental wine, made from a parcel of Seyval Blanc they were unexpectedly offered. Half made in steel, half in old Burgundy barrels. Indigenous yeast and in barrel for 7 months before bottle ageing. As it has not been disgorged there's a fine haze of cloudiness, then crisp green apple and lemon, vivacious aromas. Fine, racy, sparkling Muscadet-like character in the mouth, but with an intriguing, slightly waxy texture.
(2019) Sub-titled 'Painter of Light', this delicate but intense Chardonnay comes from clay soils planted with Burgundian clones. Whole-bunch pressed into oak with natural ferments and natural malolactic, with lees stirring. Biscuit and breadiness, a fat lemon and touch of orange. Good richness. On the palate, very clean, a touch funky, a nice pithy lemony character, the acid pure and touched with salty minerals. Long, and super fresh.
(2019) Sub-titled 'Nightjar', made in small open-top fermenters, with 25% whole bunches then into larger oak barrels for maturation, always cool. Quite pale ruby, lovely soft and earthy, a touch of beetroot and rhubarb, subtle creaminess, herbs, but not green, a touch sappy and fresh and very well-balanced and delicious.

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