An idea conjured up during a glass of wine on a balmy summer evening came to life last month, when Victoria Moore (wine columnist for The Daily Telegraph) and I headed down to Wiltshire for a little daytrip to Yapp Bros.
Me – freshly back from South Africa, and Victoria – freshly back from Greece, it didn’t matter that our suitcases remained unpacked as we piled into my car that morning, we were too excited. After all, we both know the wine merchant’s two affable custodians – Jason Yapp and Tom Ashworth – very well, we’re both immense fans of their wines, we love the English countryside and this trip was super low maintenance. No passports, planes or 8-course meals here, but instead a Nissan Figaro and one of the best English country pubs I’ve ever seen.
On the site of an old brewery in Mere, Yapp HQ consists of a chocolate box clutch of buildings, somewhere between higgledy-piggledy and quaint, they frame a pretty courtyard. It’s the kind of place where you feel instantly at home, the buildings have that reassuring feeling that time has stood still, in an aesthetic sense at least. But of course the contents of those buildings will have changed many times over since Yapp Bros began back in 1969, when Jason’s dentist father, Robin Yapp, started the business. He was a “Rhône virgin in the right place at the right time,” says Jason.
Sure, he may have been in the right place at the right time, but he also had the guts and courage to start importing wines from regions like the Rhône and Loire when other importers back in the UK continued to coo over the fashionable regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
It was a risk worth taking, because today Yapp has the enviable position of being the exclusive importer of some of the regions’ (now back in fashion) top names. But it’s not just about the top names here, Yapp manages to sniff out seemingly unsniffable hidden gems, not just from the Loire and Rhône, but from all over the France, making it today, one of the most reliable and exciting places in the UK to find a wine.
There’s no denying though, their affinity with the Rhône oozes out of every pore. Every wine poured at the tasting was accompanied by a fascinating tit-bit. Jason and Tom’s enthusiasm and intimate knowledge of the producers and regions is both extreme and addictive, I came away feeling as though I’d swallowed a Rhône encyclopaedia.
“Lirac is where phylloxera first struck in France.”
“When Jefferson said the finest wine in the world was Hermitage, he was talking about white Hermitage [not red].”
“Did you know it was Georges Vernay who saved Viognier from worldwide extinction?”
“It’s a big myth that wines from the Southern Rhone don’t age well. [1990 was a touchstone vintage].”
This endless stream of colourful anecdotes was brought to life by a rollercoaster of flavours in the tasting, some of the highlights (there were MANY) include:
Hermitage, Domaine J-L Chave 2001, £120 (archive stock, but still available to buy)
White Hermitage with beguiling aromas of honeycomb and beeswax. Pure on the palate, with a tropical tickle of mango and then a full-fronted assault of peach lusciousness. Divine.
Georges Vernay, Condrieu Coteau de Vernon 1997, £79 (archive stock, but still available to buy)
Hedonism doesn’t even come close to describing this wine. Using grapes from the sweet spot of Condrieu’s vineyards, this has creamy texture, caramelised pineapple developed flavours that are generous and long, and then finishes with a savoury roasted nut flavour. So many layers, so much joy. A winter white wine to marvel at in front the fireplace. Delicious.
Francois Gay et Fils Beaune 1er Cru les Teurons 2009, £26
Made by the only Gay in the village, apparently (Jason delivers this punch line far better than it reads here on the screen), this is a gorgeously fragrant Burgundy Pinot that I found to be really confident in its raspberry purity, rather than being a bit dumbed down and earthy (as young Burgundy Pinots can be). Feminine power rules.
Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz 2000, £40
This was the only wine in the tasting about which Jason ordered me to tweet, and I could see why. Yapp only lists a couple of Australian producers, and this one was tasting brilliantly, it really showed the mettle of aged Aussie Shiraz. Profound and rich, like a liquid dark chocolate mint with gutsy depth and texture. I did tweet about it as it happens, not because Jason said so (no offence, Jason!) but because it was a really impressive wine
Vin de Corse Porto Vecchio, Domaine de Torraccia 2009, £13.25
Discovered with the help of Jason’s next door neighbour, author of the Rough Guide to Corsica, this blend of Nielluccio and Sciacarello together with the slightly better known Syrah and Grenache, this worked for me thanks to its paprika- and cumin-spice nose followed by a palate that’s as close as you can get to oregano-infused sundried tomatoes without actually eating them. A cheery wine that’s crammed with flavour. Seriously good value for money.
The tasting was followed by an aperitif with Robin Yapp, whose house – with a mind-blowing personal cellar – is on the same premises as the business, then we squeezed back into my little car.
I say squeezed, because Tom and Jason joined us as we headed to supper, together with overnight bags, a case of wine for the country pub we were about visit, and leftover bottles from the tasting clattering around in the foot-well.
Supper at The Beckford Arms with our leftover tasting bottles was delicious, and after Jason and Tom caught their taxi home, V & I settled in front of the pub’s huge log fireplace on the marshmallow-soft sofas with a glass of whisky from the honesty bar (which turned out not to be an honesty bar after all, but early preparation for a shooting party the next day).
Fantastically good quality and honest food, cosy surroundings, attention to detail in the bedrooms, and not just luxurious smellies but a tea cosy and a freebie bar of Dairy Milk – to have in the cavernous bath I presume – or is that a Flake?, the freshly baked bread at breakfast (I swear it was), I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. If you’re heading down that way, I can’t recommend The Beckford Arms enough.
And as you can probably tell, the same has to be said of Yapp Bros.
Mere, Wiltshire, BA12 6DY
01747 860 423
The Beckford Arms
Fonthill Gifford Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP3 6PX