Mark and Sam Fells are the young entrepreneurs behind Unwined, a very stylish new wine company. Like many of the new breed of wine merchants, the Fells have jumped from the corporate ladder to follow a dream: “For years we did the corporate thing – trying to balance the big career with some kind of quality of life. But, in the end, something had to give,” says Sam. “We wanted to work with people who were passionate, rather than ‘professional’: the kind of people who can spend an hour telling you about their wine, and still have you hanging on every word.” And so, with a philosophy summed up as “We think selling amazing products is always more fun than selling mediocre ones,” Unwined was born.
Unwined has certainly hit the ground running, not only with a very slick website, but with a fully-formed service that does a lot more than stack up some bottles and hang a sale sign around them. “Being a small company we simply can’t afford to be run of the mill. If we are to survive we have to be great at what we do.” says Sam.
Unwined also sells real artisan foods, with cheeses, smoked fish and meats, patés, olives, oils and nibbles, but also hand-made chocolates from Rococo, Charbonnel & Walker and master chocolatier, Enric Rovira. But most intriguing of all is the online “taste profiler”. Now, the idea of answering some questions on a web site so that it automatically comes up with a set of recommended wines is not new, but a glance at Unwined’s version suggests this has been approached more scientifically than most.
I spoke to Mark about the profiler: “we worked on the profiler with input from the University of Nottingham’s Sensory Perceptions programme, which also works with chef Heston Blumethal, trying to give some real scientific weighting to the questions and how they are answered.” Behind the profiler is a “fairly complex database,” that maps wines within multiple, weighted categories. Scoring a ‘hit’ of over 75% will cause a match to that wine, and every single wine sold by Unwined has not only been tasted, but has been carefully ‘programmed’ into the profiler database. Mark fells again: “we have tried to get this sophisticated enough to differentiate Syrah from Shiraz and an aged Bordeaux from a young one.”
So, there was nothing for it but to take the test myself, which I did, spending five minutes grading my likes and dislikes from 1 to 5 on about 30 aroma and flavour components from digestive biscuits to pine needles. The results? The profiler suggested ready-mixed cases in five price bands, with a money-back guarantee if I didn’t like any of the wines.
Selection one, £5 – £7 wines
Côte à Côte (France) VdP d’Oc 2003
This bountiful, fruity little wine from the Languedoc is a typical blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault, vinified without oak to express its vibrant fruitiness. The nose is crammed with crushed raspberry, redcurrant and cherry fruit with just a hint of something schisty and earthy, and the palate is equally juicy and fresh, filled with Morello cherry fruit and a nice kick of spicy tannins to add some savoury grip. Top class barbecue or pizza wine, with a modest 12% alcohol. £5.00
Statua (Italy) Rosso Sicilia 2005
Sicilian wines often offer a food price/quality ratio, and a point of difference with their local grapes. This Rosso comes in a screwcapped bottle and is a blend of Nero d’Avola, Frappato and Mascalese. The nose is expressive, with raspberry and light cherry fruit aromas, a certain bubblegummy quality and hints of an inky, plummier depth. On the palate it is vibrant and fruity, with no oak influence and a dry, redcurrant acidity that balances the finish. Good. £5.00
Cruz de Piedra (Spain) Garnacha 2004
Lovely, elegant packaging for this 100% Garnacha (Grenache) wine from the up and coming Calatayud region in northeast Spain. Made from very old, low-yielding bush vines, this has a deep, suave, polished nose of rich bramble and blackberry fruit, with a spicy component and a hint of damson jam. On the palate there is an immediate rush of very concentrated, thick black fruit flavours, with the initial sweetness of fruit giving way to a much darker, more edgy bittersweet character. There’s a terrific plum and cherry skin bite to this wine that makes the mouth water and keeps it focused and sharp. Tannins are supple and ripe, and the overall balance is excellent, with a little spice and chocolate filling in on the finish. Lovely stuff, and very good indeed, possibly excellent at this price. £5.75
Selection two, £7 to £9 wines
Quinta do Vallado (Portugal) Vinho Branco 2003
I have to say I’m a bit of a fan of modern Portuguese whites, which have received a lot less attention that the Douro reds, but which can offer really interesting, fresh aromatic and flavour sensations. This Douro white is a case in point, made from Rabigato, Verdelho and Viosinho, with only a small percentage fermented and aged in French oak barriques. It has a delicately perfumed and alluring nose, with tiny hints of a floral character, but much more honeysuckle and melon, with a leesy suggestion of oatmeal in the background. On the palate it is beautifully poised and limpid. A seasoning of lightly toasty oak is layered with really ripe, juicy pear and melon fruit, but then a rapier-like spine of citrus and white fruit acidity really extends the finish. This wine gives the lie to all 2003 European whites lacking acidity, as it is a perfectly balanced and seriously delicious wine with oak and fruit in perfect harmony. Excellent. £9.25
Kloovenburg (South Africa) Chardonnay 2005
This Swartland Chardonnay is made from a selection of grapes from low-yielding vineyards, and is aged for a short period in French oak. It has a very fine, Burgundian nose, with hazelnut and crushed almond notes over ripe, buttery, but quite refined orchard fruits. On the palate it is medium bodied and there is immediate freshness; there’s a rush of orange and grapefruit, with a pithy acidity cutting through. The oak begins to emerge on the mid-palate, with hints of more ripe, nectarine fruit, but all constrained by that nutty, white fruit character and acidity. There’s good length here too, in an impressive Chardonnay. Very good indeed. £9.50
Four Sisters (Australia) Shiraz 2002
Trevor Mast is best known as Winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran, but this is his own operation, named after his four daughters. Creamy, cassis and summer berry compote is the overriding impression on the nose, with a crushed fruit, velvety appeal and a drier fruit note of cranberry or pomegranate beneath. There’s a note of eucalyptus or camphor in the background too. On the palate this medium-bodied, creamy-textured wine has plenty of vivid, open red and black berry fruits, with fine-grained, supple tannins and enough acidity to sharpen and elongate the finish. A nice style between gluggable fruity richness and a more savoury, food-friendly restraint. Very good indeed. £8.25