Recent Wines (June/July 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

Philippe Alliet is a mercurial vigneron who makes Chinon east of the town, in the back streets of Cravant-les-Côteaux. He is best known for his single vineyard Côteau de Noiré, but Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2008 comes from Cabernet Franc vines over fifty years old and is a gem. Perhaps 2008 was not the finest vintage here, but the old vines have produced a complex wine where the fruit on the nose is morphing into something leafy and smokey. There’s a plumpness as well as a lightness (I know…but it’s true). Very impressive and, in view of the vintage, pretty much ready to drink at around a decade old. I dare say more lauded vintages may go longer, and this 2008 is in no desperate need of drinking.

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Txacoli is getting better known these days, but if you’ve never drunk this Basque wine, then this hot English summer is surely the time to do so. Getariako Txacolina 2017, Ametzoi is a showcase for the autochthonous Basque variety, Hondarrabi Zuri (with a little Hondarrabi Beltza for company). This small, golden grape produces wines in three DOs, of which Getariako is the one most often seen outside of the Pays Basque.

With just 10.5% alcohol, this version is apple fresh and frothy, with just a touch of salinity (maybe that Bay of Biscay influence). Ignacio Ametzoi’s Txacoli is always one of my favourites, full of youthful vigour when drunk soon after release, it has a crispness which reminds me of just picked, cool, apples, and a greenness reminiscent of the rolling Basque hills between San Sebastián and Bilbao. Re-freshing!

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Bourgogne Aligoté 2017, Du Grappin is probably the unicorn wine of this batch. It proved hard to source any initially, and then I ended up, somewhat embarrassingly, with three bottles. Andrew and Emma Nielsen have really hit on something here. Eighty year old vines from the “Perelles” lieu-dit in the Macon village of La Roche-Vineuse provide the grapes. The soils, White Bathonian Limestone with marl give a mineral flavour and texture, but the acidity is in no way biting, as can be the case with Aligoté. It’s what you’d expect from vines this old.

Foot crushed, basket press, six months on lees, no fining nor filtration…in other words great care has been lavished on this. Beg a bottle if you can, or indeed the skin contact version which is about to be introduced to that salivating public very soon, at Wine Car Boot in London on 28 July. Sadly I won’t be there, but I think they will sell rather a lot of it.

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More recently I drank my first full bottle of Du Grappin Beaujolais-Villages “Nature” 2017. I admit that I’m finding that the amazing “Le Grappin” Côte d’Or wines are getting harder to afford, so it’s good to know that the “Du Grappin” label continues to provide amazing value with wines of quality coupled with genuine personality.

From La Pente in the village of Lancié, where the terrain is granite and schist, it undergoes a traditional whole bunch fermentation in concrete and wood. As with most of today’s wines, there’s no fining/filtration, and as the name suggests, no added sulphur. There is, however, a bit of CO2 to preserve freshness, and this really enlivens an already fruity wine. This bottle showed no reduction, nor spritz, although they recommend a carafe (not a bad idea, here).

This is just lovely, juicy cherry, “smashable ©”, bojo. #gogamaygo as they say.

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ZBO 2016, Riverland, Brash Higgins – Brash Higgins is the label of Chicago native Brad Hickey, who makes wine in South Australia’s McLaren Vale. He should be far better known. Perhaps his range is too wide for many importers, though his labels are striking. He is most famous for his sous voile masterpiece, Bloom. Although the variety there is Chardonnay, it is made almost exactly like a Vin Jaune, even down to ageing, and bottling in a 70cl clavelin look alike.

One of Brad’s loves is amphora, and he makes several wines in these vessels. ZBO is Zibibbo, sourced from Ricca Terra Farms in the Riverland Region on the Murray River, east of Barossa in South Australia. The region may not be known as a quality fruit source, but Brad has found 70-year-old bush vines here. He trucks the fruit to McLaren Vale, where it spends 150 days in amphora. Only 105 cases were made in 2016.

This is dry “Muscat” with a lovely apricot nose. The palate shows a little lemon extract and a touch of honey. There’s that lovely amphora texture too. As it is unfined/unfiltered you get a bit of cloudiness at the end, for me a pleasant contrast to the clearer first two-thirds of the bottle. Despite 13.5% abv, this is remarkably refreshing, and so long as well. Vagabond Wines is the exclusive UK importer of Brash Higgins. They should have stocks of the 2017.

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Pinot Noir “Sand” 2016, Jean Ginglinger, Pfaffenheim – Jean Ginglinger is a biodynamic producer whose family has been making wine in the region since the early 1600s. I’ve been drinking so much wine from “up north” in Alsace, that it’s nice to be reminded that the Haut-Rhin is just as good a source for exciting natural wines.

“Sand” is a Pinot Noir blended from all Jean’s different plots, because 2016 was no less a horribly small vintage in Alsace as anywhere else in France (although he did make an unusual blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir that vintage as well). It ticks all the boxes for gluggable glou with strawberry and light raspberry fruit dominating. It actually manages 13% abv, yet has good acidity, and indeed a very tiny bit of volatility, but I loved it. Serve a little chilled. I bought this at Le Verre Volé in Paris.

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“Perfect Strangers” Artisan Cider, Charlie Herring Wines – Charlie Herring is the label under which Tim Phillips made wine first in South Africa, and now from his walled vineyard near Lymington in Hampshire. He has also begun making beer, but his largest crop comes from his old orchard behind the vineyard. You can read more about Tim (if you haven’t already) here…when the two of us visited Ben Walgate back in late May.

Perfect Strangers, with its lovely “A Humument”-inspired label, is actually a blend of apple cider and wine, rather like Tom Shobbrook’s “Cider”, except that this is somewhat more appley (the Shobbrook version, made with pears, has Mourvèdre added, which has a more prominent, rather than dominant, influence). So good, and if I’m honest you are probably more likely to get hold of some of this than the rarer wines Tim makes.

Artisan cider is surely underrated. The increasing propensity for small scale English winemakers to produce some cider to supplement their wine output is doing nothing but enhance the reputation of this beverage as a quality product, not merely a rather unsophisticated drink. Perfect Strangers (ie cider and wine) is far from being unsophisticated, but it is also a real thirst quencher. Contact www.charlieherring.com for stockists.

“Murmure” 2016, Domaine Rietsch, Mittelbergheim – I visited Jean-Pierre Rietsch last October, and he was kind enough to sell me a good selection of his wonderful Alsace wines. Murmure is a dry Muscat Ottonel, the fruit coming off Mittelbergheim’s marno-calcaire soils. The grapes undergo semi-carbonic maceration for seven days and the wine is aged six months on lees. This 2016 was bottled with 0.5 g/l of residual sugar and 9 mg/l sulphur.

I’d argue this is a genuine terroir wine with beautiful balance. As with Brad’s ZBO, this wine is slightly cloudy as it has no pre-bottling filtration, nor fining. There is lees texture and precision which, although Muscat doesn’t perhaps make wines to which one would always add this adjective, is very elegant. I think that is something which can generally be said of all of Jean-Pierre’s wines, and they also all show very considered winemaking.

I’m not sure Rietsch has a UK importer right now. Someone will put me right on that, if they indeed do. If it is true, it is quite unbelievable. He’s one of the best, if not the best, producers in the village…in Alsace even.

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Petnat 2015, Vol 4, Fuchs und Hase, Langenlois – Fuchs und Hase (which translates as “Fox and Hare”) is the joint label of Austrian Kamptal producers and good friends Alwin and Stefanie Jurtschitsch and Martin and Anna Arndorfer. These two top producers decided to work on this petnat-only project together.

Volume 4 is a blend of Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner, fermented in stainless steel undergoing a 12 day maceration on skins, and was bottled just three weeks after the harvest. It then spent twelve months ageing on lees in bottle before disgorgement. There is no added sulphur, and just 10.5% alcohol.

It is dry, and quite gentle for a petnat, but has lots of dry extract and acidity. Nice length too. I drank Vol 1 back in October last year, which blended the two varieties here with Gelber Muskateller, if I recall correctly. That was good, but the hot summer weather brought out another side to this wine. Only 1,000 bottles were made and it’s worth seeking out as a relatively inexpensive crown-topped fizz whilst you can still find it.

It’s imported by Les Caves de Pyrene and I understand that there is also another Volume I’ve not tried which blends Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon. On the evidence of the first two Volumes, I really need to try some of that.

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This article has stretched a little more than I originally intended, but last night we had a lovely Al fresco dinner at home with friends, and I just can’t resist sharing something about what we drank.

Two lovely wines and one stunner. Käferberg DAC Reserve Grüner Veltliner 2011, Davis Weszeli comes (like the Fuchs und Hase wine above) from Langenlois in Austria’s Kamptal Region, just east of the Wachau, and is designated Erste Lage (rather like a Premier or Grand Cru). This terroir sits at around 300 metres altitude, comprised in different parts of sandy loam, clay and gneiss. The altitude, and cool valley location, allow for a long hang time, thereby allowing the Grüner to become fully ripe, although this wine doesn’t always attain the 14% abv reached by this 2011.

It was rich and smooth with relatively low acidity, but showed really delicious stone fruit and texture. It went down very well with a red rice salad with tamarind and soy dressing, and spanakopita. We didn’t carafe it as suggested on the back label, but we did serve it only cool (though maybe a tad cooler than the suggested 12-14 degrees because we knew it would quickly warm up on a sunny evening here). An impressive wine, more so for failing to display its alcohol overtly in any respect.

I bought this from Newcomer Wines back in the Boxpark days, but I think Vagabond (again) might import Weszeli now (they had a Weszeli free-pour event last week).

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A wine which has been tucked away even longer in my cellar reminded me that I just do not drink enough sweet Chenin Blanc. Chaume 2005, Domaine des Forges is made by Claude and Stéphanie Branchereau, who farm a few hectares at St-Aubin-de-Luigné at the top end of the Layon tributary of the Loire. Dark hued, this is peachy and creamy (“peaches” our guests chimed, and they were right). It tasted rather like a peach tarte-tatin, rich, concentrated, long and moreish. Shame this was just a 50cl bottle.

These wines are not only indestructable, not only invariably delicious, but they don’t really cost all that much. I’d had this so long I can’t really recall where it came from, but interestingly (it may be the answer) an unspecified (doubtless recent) vintage appears on the Waitrose web site at under £10.

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I’ve told you those two were good, but I’ve saved the best until last…and this is a wine you can buy because I only got my bottle two weeks ago. Champagne Dehours Oeil de Perdrix Extra Brut is a palish pink made from mostly Meunier with 17% Chardonnay in this rendition – presumably 2015 fruit mise en cave in July 2016 and disgorged July 2017, with zero dosage.

Jerôme Dehours is based at Mareuil-le-Port, with vineyards centred round Cerseuil (one of Mareuil’s three constituent hamlets in the Marne Valley). It’s an area I know as Raphael Bérêche has vines here. Dehours is a Meunier specialist whose wines sit on the foundation of terroir with little dosage to “obscure” it. The terroir is indeed singular, being one of the coolest (no, let’s say “coldest”) in the region, but Meunier doesn’t resent a nip in the air as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do.

The Oeil de Perdrix (partridge eye) has just a hint of pale pink colour which reflects a bronzed glint in the sunshine. The fruit is quite fresh and light, a rare whiff of strawberry here, but there’s also something more savoury. The Meunier gives it a little body and perhaps a slightly generous quality, but it is a truly appealing wine, really so good.

The wonderful thing about it is its price. This cost me £45, and whilst it might not quite match the amazing quality and individuality of Jerôme Dehours’ single vineyard wines (of which Peter Liem says “buy them without hesitation” (Champagne, Mitchell Beazley, 2017)), nor does it match their price. This came via Solent Cellar in Lymington. I know H2Vin import a few Dehours Champagnes, and I know this came via them, but they don’t list this particular Oeil de Perdrix on their web site. I think Solent Cellar may have half a dozen left.

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These articles are supposed to be restricted to wines we drink at home, but there are three other drinks that I must mention. The photos below show Karim Vionnet “Grabuge!”, a sort of demi-sec Sparkling Beaujolais with just 7.5% alcohol, which was THE most perfect evening beach drink a couple of weekends ago. Then, on Saturday, we drank the L’Anglore Tavel from Eric Pfifferling at Plateau in Brighton, with Starvecrow Petnat Cyder (and a mean negroni). The food included one of the best dishes I’ve had there, a spaetzle with broad beans and ricotta.

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, Beaujolais, Champagne, Cider, English Cider, Loire, Natural Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Recent Wines (May 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

I’m getting behind (as usual) with this “recent wines” malarkey, so I’m going to split May and June into two more digestible bites – eight wines from May today and then eight wines from June next week.

PN17, Tillingham Vineyard, Ben Walgate, East Sussex – You may well have read my article about my visit to Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines (26 June) and I’ve certainly been talking up what Ben is doing for much of this year. In my defence, I’m hardly the only one to do so. I make no apology for featuring his pink petnat here.

Quite a lot of the driving force in the English wine scene is from fairly large companies. The likes of Nyetimber are not massive compared to the big Champagne Houses, but they are companies who can supply wine across the country and on export markets. The wines are wonderful, and this is what the industry needs to grow. But what we also need are the innovators, those who will push the boundaries, and experiment.

Ben (and Tim Phillips of Charlie Herring Wines in Hampshire) are the small guys who are doing just that. Ben’s production is currently tiny, but like Tim, everything he makes is exciting. PN17 is simply named, a “petillant naturel” from 2017 grapes, and it is a relatively simple wine too. The grapes are predominantly Dornfelder (which I think is a perfect choice for English petnat, more please) with a little Pinot Noir (which helped restart a sluggish fermentation). It is fruity, precise (very) and the gentle but persistent fizz gives the wine a nice bite. Although it doesn’t (shouldn’t?) count, it just looks so good in the glass as well.

I know there’s hardly any around. If any retailers still have some they should shout out because I know a good number of wine lovers who are sorry they didn’t get a bottle. I only managed five bottles from three separate sources…three more to go and I’m trying to share them.

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Nevrosé 2016, Domaine des Bodines, Arbois – I have been seeking out the wines of Emily and Alexis Porteret for a few years, but October 2017 was the first time I had visited the Domaine des Bodines, on the edge of Arbois, just up the road towards Dôle.

I had first heard of the Porterets from Evelyne Clairet of Domaine de la Tournelle, because Alexis had worked with her husband, Pascal, for a couple of summers. Bodines has a lot in common with Domaine de la Tournelle, especially their love of the land itself, and the desire to express purely that through their unmanipulated wines.

Although I am lucky to have one or two Bodines wines at home, this was the only wine Emily had left to sell on that visit last year. Although it is pale and may look like a Ploussard, it is in fact Pinot Noir, from a plot intent on giving good yields. You’d never believe this lovely fruit-driven wine has 13% alcohol, with its strawberry scent adding to the mirage. Bottled as a Vin de France, this is firmly in the glouglou tradition. In this context it is just fantastic.

Check out my piece on Bodines here.

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Ryzlink Rýnský 2015, Jakub Novak, Moravia – I’ve been drinking quite a few of the excellent Czech wines imported from Moravia by Basket Press Wines over the past twelve months. It’s amazing just how good these wines, all from small artisans, are. This wine is from a producer often stocked by Basket Press, but this bottle came from Winemakers Club on Farringdon Street (London).

As the name makes clear, this is the vrais Rhine Riesling and it is stunning, seriously. As the alcohol content (13.5%) suggests, it has body, but it also combines it with great definition and real presence. It’s almost certainly the best Moravian wine I’ve drunk to date (there are a few contenders), suggesting that we will hear a lot more about the region over the next couple of years. I’d also put it amongst a handful of the best white wines I’ve drunk this year.

Jakub’s background will prick up the ears of anyone who has tuned in to the Moravian natural wine scene. He was taught winemaking at college by Jaroslav Osička (also a member of the chemical-free Autentisté group of winemakers), and worked in the cellar at Dobrá Vinice, another of the region’s pioneers in natural winemaking. With only around a hectare of his own vines he has to buy in fruit to make his domaine viable, but all grapes are carefully sourced. The Riesling is one of the hardest to find, tiny quantities of just a few bottles entering the UK. If you hear of any going then run. Contact Jiří or Zainab at Basket Press for news on any of Jakub’s wines.

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“Oh Yeah!” Savagnin 2015, Hughes-Béguet, Arbois – More Jura, this time an ouillé (topped-up) Savagnin from the young master of Mesnay. Patrice is an emeging talent with vines in his home hamlet and at Pupillin. This Savagnin is quite fruité, a joyful, lively wine with a tiny bit of CO2 to add piquancy to the grapefruit-freshness on the tongue. It’s so alive and a real pleasure to drink. It’s yet another wine where you just don’t notice the alcohol (13%) and it slips down all too easily.

This is bottled unfiltered, so it is slightly cloudy as you reach the bottom of the bottle. If you want it clear, then stand it up for a day or two. There is no added sulphur here either. This is from a batch I picked up on a visit in 2016 and it has lost none of its zip, even though (as almost everywhere) 2015 was relatively warm here. I would argue that 2015 was Patrice’s best vintage up to that date, and the wines (as I said at the time) have great potential.

This bottle sports the lovely new labels Patrice copied from the 19th Century lithograph his grandfather used for his distilled gentiane spirit.

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Y’a bon The Canon [2014], A&J-F Ganevat (Vin de France – Jura) – Jean-François Ganevat makes an increasing range of negoce wines, usually as a chance to experiment, and to purchase fruit from other sources. This red is made from a blend of old Jura varieties, the like of which you will find in the nursery at Château-Chalon but in very few vineyards, along with Gamay. Ganevat is showing an increasing interest in using grapes from outside the Jura region, especially Gamay, which in this case was purchased in Beaujolais.

You can only tell the vintage here from the cork. The bouquet is very fruity, with cherries and other red fruits (certainly strawberry). The palate shows lightness but just enough structure (and 13% abv) to make it go with the kind of cheese, charcuterie and rillettes dishes you’ll probably find at any bar serving it. It is none the worse for some extra time in bottle, the fruit seemingly not at all diminished. But I doubt it is intended for long keeping.

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“Lezèr” 2017, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Foradori – The problem with Foradori’s wines has always been their need to age to show their best. So often I see pictures on social media of bottles of the senior wines popped open before their time. This cuvée was wholly new to me this summer, and it’s a chance to sample the Foradori genius in another guise.

This wine’s birth, fortunate as it is for us, was born from adversity, namely a hail storm in 2017 that destroyed 40% of the Teroldego crop. What resilient biodynamic fruit that was saved underwent a short maceration and fermentation in a whole range of different vessels to make a light red.

Lezèr, marketed in a clear bottle, is Teroldego intended for instant glugging. It’s a vibrant red which has a lightness of being, and a balanced 12.5% abv. So it’s easy to drink, but it doesn’t lack substance. Certainly the acidity comes with a tad of structure too. I bought three bottles and served this one just a little chilled, which I think worked well, accentuating the wine’s positive aspects. In every respect, this makes a perfect picnic or beach red, though it wouldn’t fall down at a barbecue.

The grapes come from the alluvial soils of the Campo Rotaliano, the heartland of the Teroldego grape. It is bottled with just 27mg/l of sulphur after vinification in cement, wood and amphora, which may be why this has a nice, slightly grainy, mouthfeel under the fruit when chilled. Many retailers will have sold this through. Try Ten Green Bottles, or Solent Cellar, which are the retailers where I bought mine. AG Wines is the importer for the UK.

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Vinel-lo [2016], Partida Creus, Baix Penedès – This is the estate created by former architects Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerosa, who moved from Piemonte to Barcelona for their practice, before heading up into the hills to Bonastre, in Tarragona Province, to make wine (and grow food). In a short space of time they have achieved a rare fame in the natural wine world, and I see their bottles in almost every natural wine bar I visit in Europe, and indeed in the cellars of several  producers as well.

Vinel-lo comes from a blend of grapes planted on chalky-clay soils. These include Garnacha, Sumoll, Trepat and Carignan. Unusually, the wine has a prolonged fermentation as each grape variety (around eight of them) is added one after the other. Whole bunches with stems are used. After fermentation the wine sees seven months in stainless steel tanks before bottling without sulphur.

Vinel-lo is often the easiest Partida Creus wine to find. Its generous Catalonian character shines through concentrated fruit and even a touch of richness on the palate, but (not always the case in this region) light of touch at the same time (only 10.5% alcohol). Bottled unfiltered, it has some large chunks of sediment in the bottle, and a touch of CO2, but it is totally delicious. I keep buying single bottles of this, but every time I drink one I promise myself I’ll buy another. This one came from Noble Fine Liquor, though they do look out of stock currently. Try some of the other usual suspects.

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Morgon 2016, Kéké Descombes, Beaujolais – Kewin Descombes is one of the newest of the new breed of young bojo producers to burst onto the scene. To be fair, he’s been around making wine for about five years (2013 was his first solo vintage), but as George Descombes’s son, and therefore a direct descendant of the Gang of Four, there is no hiding for Kéké. And this guy is only just in his mid-twenties,

Yet talent isn’t necessarily hereditary. Having a whole six hectares in Morgon and Beaujolais AOC to work is a good start. The vineyards are farmed organically so far, but with a strong will to produce the best wine possible from both appellations.

The delicious, light, Cuvée Kéké is in the latter AOP, from rented vines. The Morgon is sourced from the Courcelles vineyard (on granite), is made in cement vats using whole clusters, and is in some ways in the same style, an easy drinking Morgon (interestingly, he made a restrained Morgon in the hot 2015). The bouquet has a quite haunting cherry scent, and it is relatively lightly structured on the palate, yet that little bit of grip does ground the wine and make it food friendly. It’s just the most delicious glugging Gamay, but with a little something extra from reasonably old vines, some up to sixty years of age (although there is a Vielles Vignes cuvée as well).

Young Descombes is imported by Red Squirrel.

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We strayed into June with that last wine, but I shall throw out another batch of wines next week. I say wines, but I shall also be including the Charlie Herring “Perfect Strangers” cider+wine brew from Tim Phillips…quite astonishing. I also realised a month ago that I’d been drinking too little Alsace this summer, despite my Alsace love-fest last year. And I’ve now decided on my favourite Brash Higgins wine after Bloom! The unicorn wine next time will be an Aligoté. Bet you can guess whose it is, or can you?

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Posted in Czech Wine, English Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Spanish Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Lodi Old Vines with Abe Schoener

I’m not usually star struck when it comes to people in wine, but I have to admit that the wines of Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project had a big influence on me when I first came across them through The Sampler some years ago. It wasn’t only what they tasted like, it was also the philosophy behind them, ideas which helped shape the change in the way I began to think about wine.

This tasting at Sager + Wilde‘s Hackney Road venue was based around Abe’s home region (all but two of his wines now come from Lodi), showing some Scholium Project wines and some neighbours. For palate calibration (and the sheer joy of it) we also had some of Eben Sadie’s wines from South Africa (there’s a connection – I’ll come to that). The intention was to look at a region of old vines (old in a Californian context) and see what kind of wines are now being made in this long misunderstood part of the Sunshine State. Abe is just such a charismatic guy and it was fascinating spending the afternoon with him

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We’d better begin by explaining where Lodi (pronounced Low-dye, or Load-eye) is. The region sits at the head of the San Joaquin Valley, east of San Francisco and south of Sacramento. The area is quite warm, hot even, with soils in the main of a light alluvial nature, washed down from the Sierra Foothills, largely through the valley of the Mokelumne River.

Let’s face it, Lodi isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking about Californian winemaking, and there’s a reason. Historically, Lodi was planted with eating grapes, such as Flame Tokay, and smaller quantities of commercial wine varieties like Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel and Carignanne. There’s even some Kerner and Dornfelder here, perhaps betraying the ethnic origin of the original settlers.

Because the region was seen as one producing dull, workmanlike, wines, these vines (some planted back in the 1920s in the Kirschenmann Vineyard, and even as long ago as 1886 in the case of Bechtold Ranch, where ancient Cinsault was planted by German immigrant Joseph Spenker) were left undisturbed, often on their own rootstocks because the soils here also contain a large percentage of phylloxera-resistant sand.

When I say “workmanlike”, the region was once one of the fruit sources for Mondavi’s lower level Woodbridge label, and the Zinfandel here was probably saved from being ripped out by the fashion for that frightening white version so beloved of the supermarkets at the end of the Twentieth Century. The renaissance was begun by Randall Grahm. He has since left Lodi, but his legacy has been the rediscovery of quite unique pockets of old vine material on equally cool pockets of land where the river meanders and creates ox-bows and horseshoes of cooling water on what is basically a flat river plain.

In fact the supposed heat of Lodi is not quite what the statistics, and the books, will have you believe. Of course, we are not talking cool climate, rather warm to hot (average temperature during the growing season is 20.4 Celsius, and annual rainfall is a meagre 483 mm), but the region does get some of the mists up from the San Joaquin river delta to the west. It’s cooler here than in the north of the Napa Valley, for sure. The region also benefits from reasonably good water supply, with many underground aquifers, something rare in the State.

The final piece in the jigsaw is the “Lodi Rules”, not a football or baseball variation, but a wine certification scheme based on sustainable farming, which was put in place by the super-effective Lodi Winegrape Commission. These rules not only help preserve the old vineyards, but also enhance the name of a region whose fruit was once anonymously blended into wines from more famous Californian wine producing areas.

A group of wine trade professionals tasted fifteen wines in a couple of hours at Sager + Wilde, and I don’t propose to provide detailed notes for them all. Some will only warrant contextual comment, but some of the wines tasted were pretty damned good, for sure. You will recall that I mentioned a connection with Eben Sadie in South Africa. That connection is Tegan Passalacqua. Tegan is Abe’s closest collaborator, he’s the winemaker at Turley Vineyards, and his own brand, Sandlands. Tegan trained partly in South Africa and, working with Sadie, and was strongly influenced by him, as indeed was Schoener himself.

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We began with an Eben Sadie wine, Sadie Family Mev Kirsten Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch. What a wine to start with. I’m quite familiar with the Sadie wines, but not this one, and boy was it amazing. It comes from the oldest Chenin vineyard in South Africa, situated now within the urban confines of the town. Mrs Kirsten was the owner, who passed away in 2014. Like all of Eben’s wines, it is unirrigated (Sadie is quoted as saying “to irrigate is to negate the vintage”), and the wine has the length and concentration of the finest Chenins in the world. It’s what you expect for £100/bottle, but still.

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We moved on to contrast it with a Lodi wine, one that was totally different. Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc 2017 was there to show how what is supposedly a hot region can produce light whites. This 12.5% white was quite commercial, but floral, fresh and pleasant, and a pointer towards some traits we might pick up on as we began to explore a couple of the individual vineyards of Lodi.

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The Kirschenmann Vineyard is planted not far from the town of Victor, just east of Lodi. The soils here are alluvial and less loamy than those in the west. They have a high quartz content, and go down about forty feet to a bed of limestone. The oldest rootstocks are from the 1920s, but most are 1970s plantings, some grafted quite recently.

Tegan’s Sandlands Kirschenmann Chenin Blanc 2015 contrasted deftly with the younger FTP-C Scholium Project Kirschenmann Chenin Blanc 2017. Sandlands showed sweet oak and freshness, Scholium a little reduction but with great zip. The latter wine was cloudy from no filtration, and it also had no sulphur added. Quite a lovely mineral wine at just 12.5% abv. A true wine of soul for me.

Bechtold Ranch, is now owned by Wanda Woock Bechtold, great granddaughter of the Joseph Spenker who we noted had planted the site back in 1886, twenty-five acres (just over ten hectares) of ancient Cinsault vines which are some of the the oldest in California. The fruit is renowned to give wines relatively light in alcohol, and the wines are usually noted to be highly refreshing.

This is pretty well exemplified by the Scholium Project Bechtold Ranch 1MN 2016, a funky and fruity light red made in the Scholium Project’s small wooden open fermenters, with foot treading and, where possible, a dry cap, unpunched. Between 60 to 70% whole clusters help give the wine lovely lifted, fresh, fruit. Some sensitive souls might find a touch of volatility offputting, but obviously not me. You have to be pretty sensitive to these things to let it spoil the wine’s pure drinkability. You need to think about what Abe and his team are aiming to achieve.

Michael David Winery is one of the bigger, more commercial, producers in Lodi. Their Bechtold Ranch Sinso Red 2016 is very different. This producer does maximise the use of Lodi old vines, but it’s a classic, straight wine, clean with good acidity and 14.5% alcohol. They have taken irrigated old Cinsault, fermented it in large tanks with pumpovers, used commercial yeasts, and almost certainly acidified. It may cost $50 a bottle but for me it is a very ordinary wine. Yet it still shows (or hides, perhaps) the quality of the fruit, or at least something is there under the simplicity.

The third Bechtold wine was our first look at Turley Wine Cellars. Larry Turley started this venture in 1993, having sold Frog’s Leap. His mission was to focus on old vines no matter their yields, nor even the vineyards’ state of health. Tegan Passalacqua came along as a harvest intern in 2003 and is now Director of Winemaking.

Turley Bechtold Ranch Cinsault 2016 comes from the middle of the vineyard, where the loam is deep and the grapes produce none of the dark and jammy wine for which Lodi was once associated. Early harvesting has produced a wine of only 12.5% abv, yet one which is concentrated and tastes stronger. It has a slight buttery, minty, note and no reduction. It’s impressive, in a totally different style to the Scholium wine.

It was paired with another South African from Eben, Sadie Family Soldaat Swartland Grenache 2016. This has dense fruit richness, characterised by big legs. There is also some evidence of whole bunches (a slight stemmy note), but in contrast to the Turley, this actually tastes less alcoholic than the 13.5% on the label suggests, doubtless on account of its incredible freshness.

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A couple of wines (A Klinker Brick Carignanne and a St Amant Zinfadel), both 2015, demonstrated a different side to Lodi, where fruit from the region is still going into pretty commercial wines of the type we’d see in the supermarket. Abe’s point is that they do fill a market need. People seem to want to drink big wines with oak chips or staves, or at least they are told that they should like them.

Why make wines like this? For sure it is trying to recreate the Napa model from lesser fruit without the investment, nor perhaps the skills? We had an interesting aside about viticulture. It’s not just the oak regime, but Abe told us that the commercial growers go for vertical shoot positioning. That’s fine in Bordeaux where the vines need air and sun, but in the Lodi climate the grapes see too much sun. Then they are left to hang until every bunch is ripe, so that the ripest bunches may have a potential alcohol of 18 degrees.

Michael David Freakshow Zinfandel 2016 was in the same stylistic mode, with a label to match. A $20 wine made in large quantity to give people what they think is a taste of something better. There is nothing intrinsically bad in this wine, although it appears to be highly manipulated to my less experienced palate, but I would say that the whole philosophy behind it is flawed…that is, from my perspective. I’d like to see cheaper wines be fruity and fresh, gluggable, without tannin and “oak”, which makes them near useless with food when all that is overdone.

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We returned to the Kirschenmann Vineyard with two reds. I have neglected to say that Tegan Passalacqua now owns this vineyard, and both of the reds here are made from one hundred year old Zinfandel. Turley Zinfandel 2016 is very classy for Zinfandel, showing old vine concentration, but with a touch of elegance you might not expect from the variety.

The Scholium wine, FTP-Z 2016, comes in at just over 15.1% abv. There are no punchdowns or pumpovers, yet the phenolics have extracted themselves and the wine has sweet fruit, yet it also has remarkably balanced acidity for the level of alcohol. Both wines were harvested on the same day.

To end this fascinating tasting we drank another two white wines…for palate calibration! One was another South African, the classic Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2017 which I probably don’t need to introduce to many readers. The grapes come from Swartland bush vines planted in 1972 on decomposed granite, quartz and silica. The wine has a remarkable freshness to it, and is in the “natural wine” mould (I think they do add a tiny bit of sulphur at bottling).

Having drunk the “Baby Bandito Keep on Punching” Chenin recently, this wine is clearly a step up, and something a bit different to the Eben Sadie we drank at the beginning of the tasting. When Craig Hawkins says he just makes wines he and his wife Carla like to drink, he’s far from alone in that sentiment, but you do get the impression that he means it, and if you don’t like them, tough. Most people I know do like them…a lot.

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The final wine, a sort of added extra, was Scholium Project VLV Reserve, Bokisch Vista Luna Ranch White 2016. This is a Verdelho grown on the only Lodi site of the tasting which  is not flat and more or less at sea level. The soils are pushed down glacial deposits rich in quartz and iron. It carries 13.91% alcohol really well, being very mineral, as well as nursing a tight muscularity. The wine has a nice granular texture to it. Stunningly good, a Scholium wine I don’t recall drinking before, but one I’d like to buy (Shhh but it happens to be one of Abe’s cheaper wines!).

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What did I learn here? I learnt about a Californian wine region I’d only really read about (John Bonné is a recommended source, in his The New California Wine (Ten Speed Press, 2013)). Of course, I’d tried many Scholium wines but I’m not sure how much it had registered that they were largely from Lodi.

We did learn about the old vine material in Lodi, and we saw evidence of the different ways that old vine fruit is used – some for artisan wines and some for more commercial product. We learnt about soil complexities, and how that (as well as other factors such as earlier picking) can ameliorate a hot climate, and enable fresher and lighter wines, including whites, to be produced in a region more noted for monster reds.

We had it confirmed what world class wines are being made by Eben Sadie. I knew that, but the two wines tasted yesterday took my understanding to a new level. But in looking at Eben Sadie, Abe Schoener, Craig Hawkins and Tegan Passalacqua as well, we also learnt that in an age where the vineyard is now king, there is room for the winemaker as philosopher to impact the whole style of wine coming from a particular site.

This was a wonderful event, and very warm thanks must go to Abe for talking to us, and to Christina Rasmussen for organising it. The S+W staff hosted us with enthusiasm, so thanks go to them as well.

Hey Abe, I drank a glass of The Prince later on, raising it to you on 4th July. Cheers.

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Utravino – The Full Piemonte

A lot of my articles draw attention to small importers, often working in specialist areas. Without the innovation and deep knowledge these small merchants bring to the table we’d probably miss out on some spectacular wines, as I hope recent articles covering wines from Central Europe have shown. The small guys are the ones most likely pushing the boundaries.

Whilst many of these small importers are at the cutting edge of the natural wine movement, it is no different in the world of classic wines from classic regions. Ultravino has only been known to me for around eighteen months (they were born in 2017). I attended a Tasting of their wines at 67 Pall Mall in November 2017 and a few of the wines on show at the Summer Portfolio Tasting yesterday (at Citizen M Hotel near the South Bank in London) were the same vintages, giving us an opportunity to taste them with a little more age.

The Ultravino list shows a real depth of knowledge in Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero, introducing boutique producers of the highest quality in necessarily small quantities to a select group of Nebbiolo lovers, most of whom share a real passion for this singular European terroir, possibly the only one capable so far of taking this fickle grape variety to greatness (although the wines of Ar.Pe.Pe in Valtellina do show the consistency to challenge that supposition).

From my perspective, this Tasting exceeded the previous in quality terms. Every single wine here was enjoyable in its own way. In many cases purchasers were given a genuine dilemma – whether to stretch to some of the top wines, which showed exceptional class at fairly steep prices, or whether to snap up some of those producers’ so-called lesser wines which seemed, looking at the quality:price ratio, to offer real value for money.

I happen to love the wines of Barolo, Barbaresco and (increasingly) Roero, and the region itself, one of Italy’s too often forgotten destinations for wine tourism (and also, in my humble opinion, the best food in Italy). If you share my passion you should take a look at the Ultravino portfolio.

I shall cover the white wines, all Arneis, first, and then the red, mostly Nebbiolo, wines by producer, with a couple of Barbera thrown in as we go.

The Classic White Variety – Arneis

Arneis can be a marmite variety for some. As with Viognier, I know people who love it and those who just can’t get along with Arneis. What I enjoy is the pure variety which producers manage to conjure out of it. It’s a subtle grape which can give fruity wines, erring towards the peach and apricot spectrum. Others tease out of it the flavours of quince and other similarly bitter notes which add a refreshing twist, rather like a gin and tonic. Those wines more often seem to show fruit reminiscent of pears. Acidity levels vary too, so there is no one iteration of the variety in the wider region.

Roero, to the northwest of Alba, is the heartland for Arneis, where the variety of terroirs (chalk, sand and clay) give different qualities which, when blended, add interest and complexity. Arneis has also crept down into the Langhe, allowing another string to the bow of Barolo producers, and this is why Ultravino chose to concentrate on it.

It can be a notoriously difficult grape to grow (prone to low acids and over ripe flavours), but producers are discovering that when the quality of the wines is proven, perseverance is rewarded. There have been examples of Arneis in the UK for many years, but it is perhaps only just beginning to gain wider recognition among lovers of the region’s reds.

A very good start on a scorching hot day (the whites were well iced and tasted on an outdoor terrace in the shade) was Ca Rossa “Merica” 2016. This was very fresh with a little body, and the bitter twist here almost went as far as juniper. No less attractive was Val Del Prete “Luèt” 2016. At just £45/6 IB this is surely remarkable value from Mario and Giovanni Roagna, who make biodynamic wine from their Cascina at Priocca. Their four hectare amphitheatre of vines is farmed with great care, and it shows in all of their wines. This is a summer garden wine par excellence.

Giovanni Almondo is considered by many specialist commentators to be the best producer of Arneis in the whole of Italy, certainly in Roero. His “Le Rive” 2016 is very probably the best example of this variety I have ever tasted. At £105/6 IB it is perhaps equally the most expensive I’ve tried, but if you want to see the subtlety and class, and nascent complexity of which this variety is capable, head directly here, do not pass go! However, Giovanni makes an Arneis which will cost you just £65/6 IB. “Bricco delle Ciliegie” 2016 has less of the ethereal about it, but nevertheless is a wine of zippy acidity and wholly refreshing qualities. It comes from vines planted in a former cherry orchard.

Almondo is blessed with some exceptional soils. Sand seems to give wines of good acidity, with the limestone soils giving the wines structure and clay adding complexity. Of course alongside these varied terroirs, Giovanni has some old vines which reach more than sixty years of age in places. Old vine Arneis can be a different beast to an Arneis you might find in the supermarket (Malvira’s Roero Arneis, which many readers will have seen in Waitrose in the UK,  is a pleasant enough wine for around £11 but it doesn’t show the added dimension that the Almondo wines have).

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The final two Arneis were less intriguing as to complexity, but made up for it with pure drinakbility. Palladino showed some mightily impressive reds indoors, but their Roero 2016 white was pale and fresh, and quite distinctive. It won the “Star of Italy” and “Star of Piemonte” awards at the Harper’s Wine Stars Competition 2017I’m positive that the judges loved that vibrant freshness which just lifts the wine. Livia Fontana Langhe Arneis 2016 is just a little fuller and perhaps fruitier. A wine for simple drinking.

For me, both of the Almondo whites were exceptional, and for general drinking, especially at this time of year, I liked the Palladino and the Val Del Prete.

The Region’s Reds – Terroir Wines Plain and Simple

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Actually, Nebbiolo is rarely simple, except for perhaps one or two co-operative examples from the Val d’Aoste, and the kind of Barolo made for the lower end of the supermarket chain. The examples from Roero bore this out. Roero is no longer a region you’ve never heard of, but incresingly is a source for great value but ageable Nebbiolo.

Val Del Prete showed again what good wines they make. I’m guessing many will ignore them in favour of the big boys here. That would be a shame. “Vigna di Lino” 2013 has a gorgeous colour, lovely Nebbiolo scent, a smooth body, and the sense that it has a bit of age. Although it’s not like a complex Barolo, you can have this for a mere £85/6 IB (though currently out of stock, it is due back in the autumn). Their Riserva 2013 is a bigger wine with tannic structure, but it is a wine which will clearly age.

I’d recommend tasting it for yourself, because I don’t claim to be an expert on the ageing of Nebbiolo at this level, but I found it an impressive wine for just £130/6 IB, bearing in mind that Jancis Robinson said of 2013 “the prognosis is for a vintage similar in quality to the already legendary 2010”. What I can say is that 2010 Roero has aged well, and is a great value bet for those wanting Nebbiolo to drink other than just on special occasions.

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As an aside, staying in the region near Nizza several times, I realised that when Barbera is given the best sites (as there, but never in the Langhe), it produces wines with noticeable terroir specificity. Roero-grown Nebbiolo can often express site better than generic Langhe Nebbiolo, though this is a broad generalisation. But those of us who look for individual character as much as we look for a particular definition of quality, should bear Roero in mind.

Ultravino showed some lovely red wines from Giovanni Almondo“Bric Valdiana” came as both 2014 (from magnum) and 2015, two wholly contrasting vintages. 2014 gave us tannin and good acidity, but is somewhat lighter than the smooth 2015, which showed more concentration. I’m not yet as convinced as some commentators as to whether 2015 is generally a vintage for me on account of low acids (I like a bit of fresh acidity in a young wine). That the producers here generally managed to keep their 2015s at least a little fresh at this tasting was a good sign. This could certainly be said for Almondo’s wine, and even more so for Cà Rossa Valmaggiore 2015.

That said, Cà Rossa Mompissano Riserva 2013 was even more impressive. My note says “so alive”. Angelo Ferrio’s Riserva comes from unique terroir where the white soils contain marble. It sees thirty months in large oak and clearly has massive potential, as did the 2010 when I tried it back in 2017. You forget you are in Roero here, and it may surprise you to know you can purchase this for £125 for six in bond (around £20 before taxes for a wine with genuine potential over the medium-to-long term).

BARBARESCO

My friends know, because I’m constantly telling them, that Barbaresco is the place to look for interesting top quality Nebbiolo. After all, Barbaresco has a co-operative which has been turning out magnificent single vineyard Nebbiolo for as long as I’ve been drinking the variety. Without the fame of Barolo, you just need to look harder, and that’s what Ultravino has been doing, as have canny purchasers. They showed two producers well known to anyone who has ventured into the region, plus one absolutely oustanding newcomer.

Paitin is based at Serraboella, which is about half way between Neive and Mango, in beautiful rolling hills which make this bit of Piemonte so attractive to first time visitors. The Pasquero family are best known for their singular patch of vines within the Serraboella vineyard itself, Sori Paitin, which produces wines of some longevity.

Sori Paitin 2013 shows its class immediately through the lovely ethereal and haunting scents which dominate the bouquet. As with Pinot Noir, for me, fifty percent of the pleasure from this variety is derived through the nasal passages. The best wines have not so much the “power” as the gift to transport you somewhere else, in this case directly to the vineyard. Actually, as I type I’m listening to Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole (the Habanera), and that has a similar quality.

Serraboella 2013 may be from a larger parcel, but it also serves up the structure and tannins with underlying ripeness which mean that you should not be broaching this for a long time. If the price differential (£150 as opposed to £200 for six in bond) is important, you won’t feel hard done by.

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My problem has always been that I like Paitin and Giorgio Pelissero more or less equally. The wines of Treiso can show the more elegant side of Barbaresco and although there can be structure here, you do get a sense of that elegance. The “Tulin” 2013 has, additionally, an almost meaty edge to it, something like an almost imperceptible hint of iron or a little blood from a rare steak. This is almost a family trait, yet “Vanotu” 2013 has less of this, and is a little plumper. Price would suggest it is the finer wine, but the differences for me are more about terroir than quality.

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Silvia Rivella is the label of former Gaja winemaker of forty years, Guido Rivella. After retiring from Gaja in 2015 he has been making tiny quantities of wine at his small family estate at Barbaresco itself, and Ultravino has the UK exclusivity for these wines. They are something special, though that is not to say that they are easy wines. For a start, despite using large old wood, they do have power, and tannic structure of the kind one might associate with barrique wines. They also show amazing levels of concentration, concentration which almost takes your breath away in the top wine. Prices are steep, but as we shall see, there is value.

Barbaresco “Montestefano” 2015 is that top wine. The asking price is £380/6 IB, but there is potential for this to be world class. Slavonian oak dominates yet underneath the fruit is elegant, despite the vintage. “Fausoni” 2015 is a little cheaper (£315/6 IB) and is very classy too, with fine ripe and well managed tannins. There is concentrated cherry fruit here. It’s a wine that somehow manages to be big yet subtle at the same time.

The (relative) bargain here is the straight Barbaresco 2015 (£230/6 IB). There is the sort of concentration which you don’t always find at this level, and despite the genuine excitement and class in the two single site wines, this one would be my own personal selection. A chance to taste what I think is greatness without breaking the bank completely. But beware, Ultravino has an allocation of a mere 300 bottles of the 2015s across the three wines.

Striking a note of optimism, Rivella reckons his 2016 fruit is the best he’s seen harvested in the whole of his career. I think many will find these wines to have been almost shocking to taste, such is their concentration. They do, however, clearly have underlying subtleties which will come to the fore when properly aged.

I believe Guido’s daughter runs a small bed and breakfast/agriturismo, so in theory you could go and taste for yourself. My hunch is that everything not sipped goes back into the barrel. These wines are, as far as I’m aware, available for pre-order, shipping for Autumn.

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BARBERA

We were shown Barbera from two producers. Both were quite big wines with smooth fruit and alcohols topped 14%. They were not the classic Barberas with acidity and that bitter twist finish, but they still seemed to go down well in the room. I would describe Palladino “Bricco delle Olive” 2015 as more of a “classic Barbera from a warm vintage”, a bigger wine yet without losing the qualities which we look for, of ripe fruit and freshness, a bit of acidity and bite.

Livio Fontana Barbera Superiore 2015 is from Castiglione Falletto and is a wine for ageing in the classic “superiore” style. It has seen a couple of years in oak and then an extended period in bottle before release. I did prefer the 2014 when I previously tasted it, but that may well be personal preference.

BAROLO

Although I judge Ultravino on their exceptional selection from the two lesser appreciated regions, there is no doubt that they will be judged by many on their Barolo selection. There were no wines from Chiara Boschis on show yesterday, but there were some fine Barolos from Carlo Revello, Livia Fontana and Palladino.

Carlo Revello & Figli makes classic La Morra Barolo, in a softer style but still with grip. In the past this producer has been known for using small oak, but in 2016 Carlo began replacing the barriques with larger Slavonian oak. The pendulum is most definitely swinging back in Barolo, as producers realise that the problems of the past were caused by hygiene, and the state of repair of the vessels for ageing, not the size of the vessel. Larger oak is now seen to enable terroir expression unencumbered by extraneous flavours like toast and vanilla. In particular, Slavonian oak is coming back too.

We had four wines from Carlo, three single site wines and a blend. Both “Gattera” and “Giachini” were from 2011, a very dry vintage in parts, where water stress has led to many making wines of little interest. That is not the case here. Although there is none of the stewed fruit character some 2011s display, the alcohol levels do reach 15%. This is also the case with the “Roche” 2012 (a generally much lighter vintage).

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My own favourite from Carlo Revello was actually the blended wine. RG 2013 does have the advantage of vintage, of course, and it’s a selection from Roche dell Annunziata and Gattera (hence the letters). It shows that characteristic La Morra softness, a smooth wine which might be approachable younger than many 2013s. The grapes come from sandy soils at altitude, and from a windy site where temperatures can be kept down, or at least kept consistent, in a hot year. “RG” is £225/6 in bond.

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Livia Fontana showed yet more thoughtful winemaking with her reds. And, as always, value is to the fore at this Castiglione producer. With two hundred years of winemaking history behind them, Livia runs the company with the help of her two sons, Michele and Lorenzo. These may not be the top wines of the DOCG yet they do display typicity for the wider Barolo region, and more specifically, for the terroir of their village.

So “Villero” 2013 has the structure of this well known site, where they have around a hectare of vines at between 300 to 350 metres altitude. Winemaking is described as traditional, which means fermentation in stainless steel followed by at least 40 months in cask, and then more time in bottle. This wine has structure, and I personally think it would benefit from more than a decade further cellar ageing. Yet the tannins have that velvet texture which does signal approachability sooner, if that’s how you like your Barolo.

“Fontanin” 2013 is the less expensive option. It’s nicely made and £140/6 IB as opposed to £225 for Villero. Winemaking looks just the same so what you are paying for with the senior wine to some extent is the fame of the vineyard, which of course probably gives that wine a little more concentration and longevity. But in a vintage like 2013 the cheaper wine can shine.

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We finished with the Palladino Barolos. Palladino operates out of the old Cappellano Winery in Serralunga, and they are also great terroirists. The wines from the 2013 vintage are quite big, it must be said. They have tannic structure, and in some ways that structure seemed if anything a little accentuated since I last tasted them in 2017. But I find them very impressive, and I do have a soft spot for Serralunga.

Both “Parafada” and “Ornato” show subtle differences between them. The former sees a year in barrique before going into larger oak, and it combines elegance with power. Ornato is a site on clay and chalk, with none of the common (to the region) sand in the soil. It has a real earthy quality, and the structure (I think) to age like a Riserva. That’s not something to ignore when it can be had for £190/6 IB, as opposed to £310/6 for the next wine.

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Palladino Barolo Riserva “San Bernardo” 2012 won a “Platinum Award” (97 pts) at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018. This is a powerful wine, of the type which tends to stand out in these awards, but that should not take anything away from what is a brilliant wine, quite spectacular, and a nice way to end the tasting.

It’s just that if I’m buying Barolo to lay down, the Ornato ticks all the boxes, if not quite to the same degree, for £20 less per bottle before taxes, and to be quite frank what you save on a six pack is more than enough to buy a nice Roero, or half a dozen Arneis to see you through the heatwave. I would leave the senior wine to those who can easily afford it, and hope that one of them is kind enough to open a bottle for you if one is still here in 2038.

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I think I’ve done enough to communicate my enthusiasm. There are plenty of big name wine merchants who can furnish you with the big names of Barolo. I have a hunch, from chatting to people at the Ultravino Tasting, both those who I knew and those I’d never met before, that this is a slightly different crowd, more clued up, and more able to judge a wine on its special qualities rather than on name.

It’s often disappointing when you take a wine to a dinner that you know to be of spectacular quality, yet the guests have never heard of the producer. Some, not all, of those imported by Ultravino fall into that category. But this is a special list. The depth of knowledge shared between James and Gabriele is such that there are no duds here, not remotely. It’s a case of what style you like and how you want to spend your money. This is especially true as Nebbiolo wines head towards becoming “the next Burgundy”, in terms of price and rarity on the secondary market.

What I would say is that tasting these wines brings proof of their quality, and (to me) more importantly, their personality. If you don’t necessarily want the wines which the books, perhaps written a few years ago, will tell you are the best, but instead prefer to look for differentiation and terroir at a sometimes more affordable level of pricing, then get down to the next Ultravino Tasting. If you want the opportunity to try the “impossible to source” wines of Sig. Guido Rivella, then don’t leave it too long to give the guys a call.

Ultravino can be contacted via james@ultravino.co.uk or directly from their website here.

The few photos below are from the slightly unusual venue of the “boutique” CitizenM Hotel, Bankside. Downside, they call themselves “cool”, upside, it is pretty cool.

 

 

Posted in Fine Wine, Italian Wine, Piemonte, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Paris (What We Drank In…)

I’ve just been over to Paris for a long weekend, my first trip there since November 2016. The city was bathed in early summer warmth and sunshine, which can rather make it seem like the best city on earth at times. I’m sure the sunshine helped make it seem like my best trip in years.

I know that many readers would be straight off the train and down to visit Camille at La Buvette, or in for a bottle of Métras at Septime La Cave, within the hour. It wasn’t that kind of trip for us. Staying with friends, we largely gorged ourselves on art (with a little opera). Nevertheless, we still managed some wine shopping, a lot of eating, naturally, and some very good wines. Most of them were in a more classic style, but they were all of the highest quality.

First of all I need to tell you about three Champagnes, one of which (the Val Frison) was a new discovery for me (thanks go to Peter Liem’s recent book). Bérêche Campania Remensis Rosé is probably my second favourite of Raphaël’s wines, after Reflet d’Antan. The colour is almost bronze, and reminds me of the metallic glaze on lustre ware pottery. Blending Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Ormes on the Petite Montagne, it is a true terroir rosé, and it almost tastes, albeit subtly, of that terroir in a way very few pink Champagnes do. Colour is obtained by adding a touch of red wine, dosage is low at 3g/l. It is lace-like, with a well defined backbone of acidity. If you want an elegant rosé this is a benchmark.

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Agrapart “Terroirs” is a contrast, but in many ways similar too. Pascal’s Grand Cru is a blanc de blancs, with fruit coming from Oiry, Oger, Avize and Cramant in the Côte des Blancs. It is one of Agrapart’s fuller wines, but it shares with the Bérêche a precision and a rapier-like thrust of balanced acidity which gives structure, and seems to bring out the terroir (the latter being, after all, the raison d’être for Grower Champagne). It’s another massively impressive wine, no less so the quarter of a bottle we had left for the next day.

What I find interesting with the Agrapart wines is that all this precision and frame/structure comes from wines aged not in stainless steel, but in large old oak, and I believe they really do reflect the land on which the grapes are grown, as well as the skill, if not genius, of their creator.

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The third Champagne was my first taste of the wines of Val Frison, who is based at Ville-sur-Arce in the Aube/Côte des Bar. I think Valérie’s “Goustan” blanc de noirs may be available at The Good Wine Shop in Chiswick, but I spotted this blanc de blancs rarity at La Cave des Papilles, where they had several of her cuvées. Val Frison “Lalore” is unusual for Val in that most of her six hectares or so of vines are Pinot Noir. This comes from a single plot of Chardonnay vines called Les Cotannes, which is on Portlandian soils, as opposed to Kimmeridgean, more common down there.

It sounds a little mean to say that Lalore was not quite in the same class as the previous two Champagnes, and that would in fact give the wrong impression. This was very good indeed, good enough to spur me on to seek out more of Valérie Frison’s wines. It had a little more weight than the previous two Champagnes, but also such magnificent Chardonnay fruit. A year or two will add further complexity, but some is already showing.

What makes this wine is terroir, again. It is so difficult, in the face of this word being outlawed by so many commentators of a scientific bent, not to bring in the “M” word, but the acidity and texture cannot be better described than by “minerality”. Yup, I’m after more of these! Being a Brut Nature seems to suit this wine and its ripe southern fruit.

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Speaking of southern fruit, with temperatures up in the mid-twenties or higher it was a good idea to break out some Provençal wines, but no pale coral rosé I’m afraid. I adore the wines of Château Simone (we even tried, unsucessfully, to find the property once), but I have drunk the white far less often than the red and the pink.

This estate sits among wooded hills to the east of Aix-en-Provence, within sight of Mont Ste-Victoire (you could certainly at one time catch a glimpse as you whizzed past on the Autoroute), and the vines are on north facing limestone slopes.

Château Simone Blanc 2014, Palette is as distinguished as its lovely label. Although young, you can begin to taste and smell the herbs and beeswax which also give the wine a distinctive texture. The scent is gentle too, but both bouquet and palate have real presence, and of course length as well. The grape mix is around 80% Clairette with a little Muscat, Bourboulenc, Furmint and very ancient varieties. The vines at Simone are incredibly old, some 160 to 170 years of age. It certainly used to be the mantra here that vines were only replaced if they died.

The power of suggestion is just too much – you look at the label and can imagine yourself inside the old château when sipping this, with the smell of wood and leather and just a hint of dusty furniture…yet there’s a lemon water freshness too, which lifts you out of the dream like a cup of lemon tea. I used the word “wondrous” on my original IG post, and it is.

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As a total contrast we drank a big Bandol another night, but why is it that big Bandols don’t seem, to me at least, to be a bad choice in the heat (albeit with a touch of breeze drifting languorously through the large open windows of a Paris apartment)?

Domaine Tempier Bandol “Cuvée Spéciale Cabassaou” 1988 was a rare chance to drink a top Bandol with proper age to it. This is very important. Cabassou is a tiny parcel of around 1.2 hectares just below the larger Tourtine, and is said to represent the best wine at Tempier. Vines are quite high up here, over 100 metres altitude. The plot, and cuvée, is mainly Mourvèdre, with five percent made up from Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. It has, at this age, a softness that you don’t see with Mourvèdre until the edge is taken off it with time.

It has a meaty, almost feral, quality yet in retaining its structure, that never escapes the fence which the wine has built to contain it. I’ve seen it described as “earthy”. Maybe that texture has left it at this age, but there is something of an iron or blood note which adds intense spice, though in tiny measure. For me this will match any Bordeaux or Northern Rhône, although I’d say it is drinking nicely now.

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I am not massively familiar with the wines of Martin Tesch from Langenlonsheim in the Nahe, though naturally I’ve known him by reputation for many years. I was kindly sold the next wine by an acquaintance a few years ago when I mentioned this on the Winepages Forum. In view of who I was staying with, I thought it a good wine to bring to Paris (and also, not least, because it isn’t French).

St Remiguisberg Riesling Trocken 2006, Weingut Tesch, Nahe comes from what some commentators say is the Tesch vineyard which produces his most complex wines. The soils are decomposed volcanic rock and they seem to give the wine a very fine spine of structure and hardness, over which the body is finely toned but not without just an ounce or two of fat.

The fruit is spectacular, even at over a decade old, but more remarkable is the zippy lime and lemon acidity, which to me seemed to have the freshness of a younger wine. Again, I’m sure that this is very much a terroir wine. The word to sum it up though is “purity”. It’s a wine that’s not quite in your face (no doubt age sees to that), but it’s still shouting out until the afterglow slowly subsides more sedately, with a slightly oily texture replacing the attack, and a more complex herby flavour replacing the citrus.

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Occasionally a treat is, unexpectedly, even better than you hoped. When someone pulls out an old wine you feel honoured. When that person is an expert on the wine region in question your hopes are raised. But old Burgundy is fickle and you need to be prepared for anything. Or do you? How many times does a slightly unfancied wine from Burgundy, especially a red one, come up trumps?

Beaune Hospices de Beaune “Cuvée Hugues et Louis Bétault” 1964, Jacques Delaporte was such a wine. The colour was magnificent to begin with. It lacked any hardness and there was fruit there, both on nose and palate. The most definite sign of age was the sediment, compacted and hard. Definitely a John McEnroe wine (“you cannot be serious”). There’s little more to say really, except that I’m sure it wasn’t made by Rudi. Astonishing for a wine of more than fifty years of age. Why on earth should you believe me? I wouldn’t. Wow!

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Paris has changed quite a bit over the past few years, and no more so than for the lovers of natural wines. All the old haunts are still just as good, for me the twin retail summits being La Cave des Papilles on rue Daguerre in the 14th, and the Caves du Panthéon on rue Saint-Jacques in the 5th. I will just mention here a couple of new discoveries (to me, at least).

There seems to have been a move in Paris of late to combine a wine shop with something random. There’s one near the Bastille which has an art gallery/shop attached, and a remarkable place near Les Papilles that sells wine and accordions. Also reasonably near to Les Papilles is Mi-fugue, Mi-raisin, which is a music and wine shop. To be fair, the wine side (which takes up most of the physical space) was so exciting that I only gave the CD racks a cursory glance. Particular strengths are in Jura and Savoie (for me), and next visit to Paris I will be heading here before I’m loaded with almost too much to carry. Like the man below!

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Another new (to me) cave worth looking in at if you are near to a branch is Divino. I know some of you are ahead of me here. There are two branches, the first on rue Elzevir in the Marais, about half way between the Cognacq-Jay and Picasso Museums. The second branch is on the Boulevard Voltaire, close to the Charonne Métro Station, which is probably more out of the way for most people.

That’s not to say, of course, that the old favourites are not still attractive. Verre Volé has a larger wine shop  on rue Oberkampf (half way between Oberkampf and Parmentier Métros, and of course this area has become natural wine central, with the two places I mentioned at the top of this article within walking distance), but the Verre Volé restaurant on rue de Lancry up on the Canal Saint-Martin (not far from Place de la République) remains the number one place for Paris first timers, and for many years after for many visitors.

Take away prices are still reasonable. They won’t sell any unicorn wines…if they get just half a dozen they’ll save them for the restaurant, but I bought a delicious Ginglinger Pinot Noir from Alsace (I say delicious because we drank it last night). The canal itself remains one of the most pleasurable places to stroll on a dimanche, along with the city’s markets.

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Of course these high profile places are all well and good if you can blag a table, but what does the natural wine obsessive do if you can’t. Paris has not only opened more good wine shops than I can ever remember over the past few years, but all sorts of random restaurants have been bitten by the natural wine bug too.

Okay, we are in Oberkampf here (naturally the best place to stay in Paris), but local friends took us to a neighbourhood North African restaurant. I was bursting for a tagine and I didn’t give the wine for lunch a lot of thought. What a gem Le Tagine (13 rue de Crussol, Métros – Filles du Calvaire or Oberkampf) turned out to be.

Okay, be warned, the tagines don’t come with couscous, but the food is delicious and the wines…take a look at this mere part of their selection…not bad. The Arena was a good match.

 

 

I’ll leave you with a flavour of our weekend of art and music. The architecture exhibition was Junya Ishigami – Freeing Architecture at the Fondation Cartier (again, in the 14th). It has been extended into September, such is its success, and it is highly recommended assuming you are open to this sort of thing. I loved it. Fondation Cartier was designed by Jean Nouvel, who also designed the fabulous Institute du Monde Arabe, over in the 5th near the Pont de Sully.

 

One final word of warning – the queues at Eurostar‘s Gare du Nord terminal seem to get longer and longer. The fairly recent admonition to arrive at least an hour early should be taken as a minimum now, or at least that was our experience this week. I’ve heard of a couple of people missing trains and having to pay a hefty supplement to catch a later one.

 

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Posted in Champagne, Fine Wine, Paris, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tillingham

Having got to know Ben Walgate and his wines over the past year I had been itching to make a visit to his Tillingham Vineyard, within sight of Rye in East Sussex. I finally got a chance just over a week ago and I was able to take along Tim Phillips, aka Charlie Herring Wines (this is Tim’s label he set up for his South African range – Tim learnt his winemaking over there and has been producing wines from South Africa whilst setting up his Hampshire facility). This enabled two stellar winemakers, both doing similarly exciting and innovative things, to meet. Both love experimenting, both are developing some boundary pushing English Sparkling Wines, and both are supplementing their wines with cider projects.

Tillingham is in its early stages of development with vines going in this year (current wines are made from bought-in fruit from a nearby producer) and big plans for the outbuildings on the farm. These range from a small hotel and on-site restaurant, to woodland walks and more qvevri. It’s all quite different to Tim’s very small scale walled garden vineyard and orchard, but the one thing which links these two quite different personalities is that they are both making fantastic drinks. With three other wine personalities making six of us to share the fun, we were allowed an extensive tasting of what they are both making at the moment.

Tillingham – The Vineyard and Winery

 

You can see from the photos that Ben is using an array of equipment for making his wines, experimenting in so many ways (he built his own cool storage room to look after the sparkling wines). The wine he’s opening in the top left photo is a case in point. It comes from the fruit harvested from the climbing tree vine in the middle of the photos. No one has any idea what it is, but Ben harvested a load of grapes from it. The resulting wine is just fresh and tasty, though it won’t be commercialised. The guy with the cap (second row, far right) is Tim.

The large derelict room (fourth row, far right) is on the top floor of one of the outbuildings, and will become the restaurant. All plans have been completed and planning consents obtained, and finance is in place. Ben hopes that the restaurant and hotel/rooms will be completed within the year.

The old barrels contain the latest batch of Starvecrow Natural Cyder, which Ben makes with neighbours who own a large orchard of Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Braeburn and Bramleys. The last cider release was the wonderful Petnat Cyder which is still available in small quantities in a few outlets. The new batch of Starvecrow Natural Cyder has just been bottled, as has a minute amount of Starvecrow Qvevri Cider.

I first tasted the Qvevri Cider at the London Wine Fair, and when we were at Tillingham it was days away from labelling. It’s a fantastic product, with the texture of a qvevri wine overlaying apple fruit. It’s made in one of the two qvevri in the photo below, but there’s only 200 litres of it. The other qvevri (400 litres) contained Ortega, which Ben has just bottled. He also plans to expand his collection of these sunken pots, imported directly from Georgia.

 

The little buggy was just big enough for us to pile into for a jaunt among the vines. Recent planting was carried out by an experienced team from Romania, with a little help from a team from Les Caves de Pyrene and Red Squirrel Wines. Around three-and-a-half thousand vines went in, including 500 Gamay plants, 200 Chenin, Pinot Gris and Ortega. More classic varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Ben also planted a block of Madeleine Angevine, an out of favour Loire variety which makes crisp, dry, slightly floral wines. It appealed to Ben because he has been able to obtain plants on their own rootstock.

Viticulture here is part-biodynamic, with preparations made on site (Ben plans to restore the loft above the qvevris for drying plants for the bio preps). Winemaking follows a natural path with very few interventions.

 

Tillingham and Tim Phillips/Charlie Herring – The Wines

Whilst out in the vineyard Ben opened a bottle of the Tillingham Qvevri Ortega which will be released soon. We were the first people to taste it from bottle…including Ben. There is also a barrel aged version (second fill oak from Mercurey), but the clay-aged version is magnificent. There has been a real buzz around this wine ever since people started tasting it from the qvevri. It aged seven months on its skins and a thin layer of flor formed on the top of the liquid, giving it a slightly nutty note. For Ortega it’s almost profound, and certainly very good indeed.

Only 490 bottles were made, and they were filled on Ben’s inert bottling line, with no added sulphur. It will be called Artego because the vines from which Ben bought grapes did not go through DEFRA’s PDO Quality Wine Scheme for English and Welsh Wines, so cannot carry the varietal name “Ortega”.

Next we tried Ben’s Chardonnay, intended for ageing in bottle. It comes from three different clones and was aged on gross lees in barrel (sourced from Nyetimber), with batonnage, before going through malo. This is pretty oaky right now, not surprising as it was bottled just a week before we visited. It will need a good year or two, preferably longer, for the oak to fully integrate but it shows enormous potential. What matters is that the fruit is great.

 

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Qvevri Ortega

The first of Tim’s drinks was neither a wine nor a cider, but a beer. Tim is in the process of getting his brewer’s licence so he can’t sell this yet, but he’s made an amazing beer from wild hops on his property near Lymington and growing by the roadside. Strange Brew is a sort of Christmas Ale, around 7% abv, but not heavy, very fresh and fruity. The only issue with wild hops is a lack of acidity, so Tim added around 7-to-10% of his 2013 cider (hence the name, which is also a deliberate musical reference to the Cream song)…job done.

This is fantastic, with depth, texture and body. Tim is bottling it in Champagne bottles, with some going into magnum (I’ll warn you, Tim loves magnums). I’ve already ordered one of those, hopefully to pop at a party some time next year.

 

 

Tim is making cider in the same mould as Tom Shobbrook (funny that Tim knows Tom), but whereas Tom blends wine and pear cider, Tim is using apples and wine (hence the name). The result, Perfect Strangers, is fantastic, fruity with a nice winy finish. The small addition of  wine doesn’t drown the apple fruit. It continues the label homage to artist Tom Phillips’ 1970 work, A Humument, where he took a secondhand book and drew, painted and collaged over the pages, whilst allowing randomised words of the original text to show through in order to create a new story. This cider creates a new story for English craft drinks, and it’s hard to see anyone bettering it.

 

The new Starvecrow Natural Cyder is delicious, and is certainly fresher than the last bottle from the previous batch I drank recently. That was nice but this batch is a good step up, with the stark freshness of a new bottling. As I have already mentioned, it is made from an unusual combination of Golden Delicious and Jonagold varieties, with some Braeburn, and Bramley adding acidity. It’s a wild cider, made from indigenous yeasts, then aged in those old whisky casks we saw above, and bottled unfiltered (so that unless you stand it up and pour carefully, it will be cloudy, which would be my preference for pouring).

The black label is the Natural Cyder tasted above, the red label is the Petnat Cyder

What we were unable to taste was Ben’s wonderful PN17. This is a petnat made from Dornfelder, with a small addition of Pinot Noir. Dornfelder is an underrated variety, certainly for sparkling styles in England and Wales. Bolney Vineyard, near to me in Sussex, makes it as a brambly sparkling red. Ben made a deliciously precise but fruity pink, but all that is left are the few bottles you might find in select retailers supplied by Les Caves de Pyrene. Be swift!

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Tim brought along two of his bottle fermented sparklers. A 2013 Chardonnay The Bookkeeper (which alludes to Tim’s alter ego in accountancy) has finally reached the stage where he deems it possible to release. I say deems, he showed this at his recent open day and the batch that had been disgorged sold out. As a zero dosage wine it’s pretty fresh and linear, but very much in the blanc de blancs style. I believe another batch is on the way.

As you can see, Tim’s labels are exquisite. The Bookkeeper actually features a chainsaw because Tim sees himself as far more at home performing outdoor tasks in the vineyard and orchard. No less exquisite is the wine in the bottles. Some prefer the Chardonnay, but my own personal favourite is his sparkling Riesling, Promised Land. I tasted this before dosage and in fact I suggested to Tim he think about releasing a batch as a brut nature. But this one, with I think he said around 6g/litre, is delicious. It’s a minor miracle to find Riesling in England, but the brick walls of the Victorian former kitchen garden create a microclimate which allows the variety to ripen.

Another case of regulatory precision means that Tim cannot label this as “Quality English Sparkling Wine”. Riesling is apparently not a permitted variety for that particular designation in England and Wales, only the three “Champagne” varieties conforming. In this case, I can assure you, the quality is remarkably high. It retains Riesling character with a rapier-like backbone of acidity, enlivened by Tim’s wonderfully ripe fruit. 11% alcohol seems to be just right.

 

 

We all had a wonderful morning, capped off with a barbecue lunch – local lamb provided by Ben, along with a great cheese platter and home made apricot tart, washed down by a couple of reds brought along by one of the participants (including a stonking Songlines Syrah 2004 from McLaren Vale).

Ben is shaping up to become one of the stars of English Wine. Of course, Tillingham as a vineyard and producer is in its early stages of development here. What Ben makes is only available in tiny quantities right now. He’s putting in a lot of vines. But what sets Ben apart from most (not all) English winemakers is a desire to experiment. It’s in his DNA. So long as there are people like him to push at the edges of what English wine is doing, then the industry will progress. It needs the innovators alongside the big name producers.

Ben is largely represented by Les Caves de Pyrene, although Butler’s Wine CellarPlateau and Ten Green Bottles, all in Brighton, have stocked the ciders and PN17 petnat.

Tim’s beverages are of no less a quality. With a full training in winemaking and a lot of experience (which included a formative spell with Julian Castagna in Australia among others, and a spell with the Riecine crowd in Tuscany, from where he knows Tom Shobbrook), Tim has the viticultural and winemaking scientific background which allows his risk taking to be calculated. Tim farms organically, using a range of biodynamic preparations (a subject on which he is highly knowledgeable), and uses natural winemaking practices in the cellar.

The main difference between the two, I think, is that Ben has a very outgoing personality and is a great people person. Tim is a little bit more reserved, though still very personable. He often says he wants to be “the best winemaker you’ve never heard of”. But I think he is coming around to realising how good his wines are, and the consequent need to get them out there. He can easily sell the vast majority of his production from the cellar door, but he’s now allowing a handful of his wines into select retailers (Solent Cellar, Winemakers Club and Ten Green Bottles should have some bottles arriving during July).

You will certainly hear a lot more about Ben and Tim over the coming months and years.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Cider, English Cider, English Wine, Natural Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sportsman (but Seasalter, No Football Here)

I do actually enjoy the football, but pretty much nothing would have got in the way of another trip to The Sportsman at Seasalter in Kent last Friday. Certainly not the seven hours on various trains it took to get there and back, nor even an England match, had there been one. The Sportsman is a gastronomic treat that can occasionally be equalled, but not bettered.

I rarely get a chance to go, and missed out last year. After a two year wait to go again there was always the question of whether the food would live up to the last time, but it did. When we combine the wines (BYO thanks to a friend’s connections), I can say that this was my best visit yet.

We were there for the Tasting Menu, which is ostensibly eight courses, although several other items turn up so that you kind of lose count. Taking sixteen bottles of wine between eight of us probably had something to do with that as well.

This article is really a chance to post up a load of photos rather than waffle on, but please take it as encouragement to go if you haven’t already done so.

First up we opened one of my wines, Vilmart Couer de Cuvée 2003 which we drank with the little hors d’ouvres in the scond photo. Vilmart is always good in so-called off vintages. For some reason Laurent seems able more than most to tease the best out of them, and their top cuvée is (in my experience) never lacking. Indeed, it is the only Champagne that I bought from the disappointing 2001 vintage. This 2003 performed marvellously, showing complexity rarely found in mere premier cru fruit, but always in a properly aged Coeur.

 

Next we went for a daring combination which worked, a trout tartare with soy matched with Puffeney Arbois Savagnin “Naturé” 2014. This was the ouillé (topped-up) vesion of course, and many will know that this is the last vintage Jacques made before his retirement. It will age magnificently, but the freshness it displayed here was to the advantage of the trout.

 

Poached rock oysters with various accompaniments were so fresh and delicious. Caviar, rose petals, beetroot and crystallised seaweed were among the list of things I think I heard reeled off from the end of the table. We were treated to a (Maison) Leroy Montagny 1er Cru 2014, which was quite lean and perhaps also quite youthful, but then you don’t see the Leroy negoce wines too often.

 

The class of the kitchen kept up the pressure on the wine with an oh so delicate chilled asparagus soup with milk foam, accompanied by a raw asparagus tart with cream cheese and borage, which matched its delicacy.

Here we went with Weiser-Kunstler Enkircher Ellergrub Riesling Trocken 2015 (only the back label survived – see photo). The Ellergrub vineyard is one of the finest in the Mosel (classified Grand Cru in the unofficial 1897 mapping of the river’s vineyards), and here we have one of my consistently favourite producers. 2015 was a warm one but this wine still has definition, acidity, and backbone. Mention should be made of the restaurant’s home baked bread, just in the corner of the left hand photo below – a treat of itself.

 

It’s usually around this stage when everyone realises the food is coming faster than the wines, but from here the wines took off. Domaine Marcel Deiss Engelgarten 2014 is one of Jean-Michel’s field blends, consisting of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat. I don’t think field blends are taken seriously enough in Alsace, given the quality of the famous Deiss wines.

This is a delicious wine, intense on the attack, quite floral on the nose. It showed really well, although I personally think a wine as good as this needs quite a few more years in the cellar. It was liked on the day, but may have stunned with due ageing.

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The next dish out of the kitchen was perhaps the one which many of us were waiting for, the slipsole in seaweed butter. The butter is made at the restaurant. It is a deceptively simple signature dish. The key is in cooking the fresh fish to perfection, combined with the subtle flavours of the butter. The dish becomes something quite ethereal. To do this day in, day out, shows a mastery of cooking better than any flash or complicated dish.

The perfect accompaniment for the butter was a Chardonnay of extraordinary quality from one of the Jura Sud-Revermont’s masters. Chardonnay “La Bardette” Ouillé Nature 2014, Domaine Labet. A wine from vines over seventy years of age, it has a mineral profile, yet didn’t overpower the fish with its expressive fruit and nuts. The wine and the dish were so individually good, I suppose, that they worked together.

At least the equal of the Bardette was one of my wines of the day, Sadie Palladius 2014. This was another young wine, a blend of a host of varieties (Chenin, Semillon and Semillon Gris, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Verdelho, Palomino Fino and Clairette). It was the first vintage of this wine to be made in amphora and it was already showing a touch of complexity. Rich and stunning, with a lot of potential for further development. South Africa’s Swartland can be more than proud.

 

Time to open the reds. Two wines from the increasingly expensive and highly regarded Domaine Prieuré Roch were a fascinating contrast. Coteaux Bourguignons Gamay 2015 was a delicious use of this disloyal grape, lightish, very lively, and completely likeable. Ladoix “Le Cloud” 2015 was a nice fruity Pinot, light but still with a good heft of tannin at this stage. But a good example of how the once-lesser villages on the Côte d’Or are thriving under the care of top producers.

Between these two was sandwiched a classical Beaujolais from a top domaine, Fleurie 2014 “Clos de la Grand Cour”, Domaine de la Grand Cour, Jean-Louis Dutraive. I am a big fan of the wines from 2014 in Beaujolais, but if anyone wants to know why this wine still has pronounced acidity it is, I would suggest, because it is too young. It should blossom into a classic. Only 12.5% abv, with the potential for elegance. Serious Fleurie.

With the three reds swishing around it would be easy to forget the summer vegetable tart which appeared (with goat curd and onion). The dish was one which might have had less impact with that amount of wine to compete with. It didn’t. A simple dish, yet a great blend of flavours, and it melted in the mouth.

 

 

We took a breather with another white which might have been momentarily forgotten. Tenerife produces wines which have now received due credit. Taganan 2016, Envinate is made from Canary Islands staple variety Listan Blanco (the local name for Palomino), blended with Albillo, Malvasia, Marmajuello and others and is fresh, nutty and soaked in delicate iodine salinity. A true “Vino Atlantico”.

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Turbot is one of my favourite fish and if this restaurant can’t do it well, then who can? In a Tasting Menu you won’t get a big piece, and size is really my only (wholly unreasonable) disappointment with this firm and flavoursome version. Here it is done with bacon, an asparagus spear and a Fino Sherry sauce. If you are going red with Turbot you need something fine. I’d brought an Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche 2004. My thinking was that 2004 was generally a fairly disappointing vintage on the Côte de Nuits (a ladybird year to top everything), but I’d heard Rousseau did well (I only had the single bottle, bought near release).

The wine here was, unlike a few on the day, unusually mature, with more weight and complexity than I expected. I think some real Burgundy experts might have been hyper-critical, but it was generally appreciated for its quality and presence. I did rather like it and I can be a little over-critical of wines I take along to lunches and dinners. But as I said, despite a certain majesty, it’s quite mature.

 

Dining at The Sportsman and looking out on the salt marshes of the North Kent coast, the expectation for salt marsh lamb is high. Today it came as a roast shoulder with baba ganoush. After the turbot we all thought it couldn’t get any better…actually, we did have an inkling through having tasted lamb here before. So good.

Two very different wines accompanied the lamb. Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Il Paradiso di Manfredi was far less of a monster than some might have expected. This small “natural wine” producer, fairly unique in Montalcino, makes very elegant wines, but they don’t lack for richness. I would also say that I did expect it to taste younger, but that unexpected touch of maturity was to its advantage.

The second red with the lamb, with no disrespect to the Brunello, was sensational, if somewhat more youthful. Raphael Bérêche makes some of the best Coteaux reds in the whole of Champagne. This Bérêche Coteaux Champenois “Les Montées” 2014 from vines at Ormes (Marne Valley) was a true delight to try. I try to visit Craon de Ludes as often as I can and I have never bought one of the Bérêche red wines. The simple reason, they are expensive and buying one means losing one corresponding bottle of Champagne. Next visit I won’t make the same mistake…that’s all I’m saying.

The general, clichéd, view of still wines from Champagne is that they are not very good. Climate change has helped make this view outdated. So has the focus, and care lavished, on these wines by top grower producers like Bérêche. Some may think me mad, but I do believe that some of us will be seeking out the still wines of Champagne in a decade or less with the same ardour that we same wine nuts seek out Grower fizz today.

A slight hiccup here means that there’s no photo of the lamb. Oops! I really wasn’t that drunk, as the remaining pics prove! I obviously got all over excited here.

 

The excitement did continue when the cheeseboard came out. We went back to the Jura Region and another master, J-F Ganevat “Cuvée Prestige” 2008. This Savagnin isn’t a Vin Jaune, yet it sees around eight years under flor/sous voile. It comes with 14% alcohol and it is richness personified, with massive presence. A great wine. I think we drank my only bottle of this last year, but I’d be as keen to find this again as one of Manu Houillon’s Overnoy bottlings. It is attaining the same “unicorn wine” lack of availability.

 

Nearing the end of the show, dessert came in three tranches. First up, Elderflower fritters with elderflower posset. Then, if those delicate morsels were not enough, rhubarb soufflé with rhubarb ripple icecream, the hot soufflé just waiting to receive the cold ice cream. Finally, a melt in the mouth salted caramel chocolate tartelette, of which I was unable to steal more than just my own.

 

We only had one dessert wine but its sweetness meant we only needed a little. It was a Vin de Paille from Stellenbosch in South Africa. It was dark and delicious, tasting of the combined purity and richness of sun-raisined grapes (enough acidity to stop cloying). But by this stage I had lost the will to focus and I apologise to the kind man who brought this for getting no further information. The strong espresso, de rigeur at lunches like this, helped not one bit. Nor does the label. Perhaps someone will recognise it.

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The Sportsman is at Faversham Road, Seasalter, Whitstable, Kent (01227 273370). Check the website for opening hours here. The Tasting Menu (also see web site) must be taken by every diner on the table (max 10). Tasting Menu service begins promptly at 12.00, because you will be there a good four-and-a-half hours. It’s worth it.

Trains run from other London stations, but the 10.10 from Victoria (to Dover Priory) will get you to Faversham by 11.27, from where a taxi (approx £10) will get you to The Sportsman in good time, so long as one is available.

Make time for a post-prandial stroll if the weather is agreeable. The flat coastline and salt marshes are very attractive, and even pleasantly bleak when the weather is not so good. Some members of our party walked to Whitstable (for a pint) after lunch.

 

Col, Andrew, Tony, Vaughn, Robbie, Ben and Simon, all looking surprisingly firm on their feet in the face of a little camera shake from me

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Bojo Rising Part 2 – The Tasting

If you read Part 1 of my article on the Westbury Comms/Inter Beaujolais Annual Tasting which took place on Thursday this week you will have gained an overview of what is happening in this once more buzzing region of France. You will also have already met a few of the new faces in Beaujolais who are at the dynamic heart of the region’s renaissance in what I like to call the post-Nouveau era.

This second part looks at the wines of a much larger group of producers who presented bottles from both 2016 and 2017 in the main tasting room. More than two hundred wines were set out before us, so even though there are a lot of wines mentioned here, I have really tried to focus on those which spoke to me. I’m an experienced taster, but I won’t claim I didn’t miss anything. Indeed, at the end of the afternoon a friend pointed out a wine I’d failed to register first time around, which by around 4.30pm was showing as well as any in the room

This is what you need to remember about a tasting like this. Wine is alive and evolves both in the glass and in the open bottle. All you get is a snapshot, no matter how good the taster may be. But what I hope the wine writer can do is give a flavour of (in this case) a vintage, or a Cru village. And, of course, to highlight some of the wines which stood out for me, for their excitement or personality.

I’d also like to plug the 2016 and 2017 vintages. There were some nice 2015s on show (for sure) last year, and in fact as you will see later, a few nice 2015 wines on show on Thursday, albeit one of the best from that warm vintage showing more like a Côte Rôtie than a Beaujolais. 2016 sees a return to a more classical style, not quite 2014 but closer.

That said, I think the diversity of wines here is one of the strengths of the Beaujolais Region as a whole. People might complain that they don’t know exactly what to expect, but nobody expects every Côte d’Or village or vineyard to taste exactly the same. In fact the diversity of soil and rock strata in the Beaujolais creates a wonderful opportunity for producers to make differentiated cuvées, from a range of named lieux-dits, which just adds interest to the region, at least in my view.

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I’ve pretty much placed the wines of “basic” Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and then the ten Cru villages together in groups. This doesn’t imply that all wines from a particular cru taste similar. Actually, I think it highlights better the diversity I mention, but it is also a convenient way of looking at things, and it gives me the chance to insert some text-breaking label photographs on which you can rest your weary eyes.

BEAUJOLAIS

Beaujolais tout-court actually comes in three colours. As I commented in Part 1, the potential for Chardonnay in the region is as yet relatively untapped (only 2% of production is Beaujolais Blanc at present). We didn’t see the iconic Terres Dorées from Jean-Paul Brun here (a pity), but eight or nine straight Beaujolais Blanc were on show. None matched the excitement I recall when I first drank the Brun in the 1990s, but I have picked the first wine of the tasting, from Domaine Bertrand (2017), because with an ex-cellar price of less than €5 it represents good value. If you want nice clean fruit without fat, then Beaujolais Blanc will increasingly become a genre to explore.

Of the red Beaujolais, I was struck by Domaine Séléné 2017 for its freshness, with fruit and acidity spot on where Beaujolais should be. That domaine gets a mention in Part 1, as does Kéké Descombes’ “Cuvée Kéké” 2017. It’s a wine that feels not complex but nevertheless exciting, with a lightness of touch (and just 12% alcohol).

Domaine de la Rocaillère 2016 Vielles Vignes had just an extra half percent alcohol, but had more body and is perhaps a little more traditional. It has a lovely earthy texture though, and is one of several very good wines tasted which are being brought in by Fields, Morris & Verdin, who I would recommend exploring for some newer producers who are a little less fashionable and well known, perhaps.

 

BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES

“Villages” can also come in three colours. You don’t see a lot of pink bojo, but Gamay makes excellent, fruity, rosé for summer and is well worth a try. The best of the few on show for me was Château Thivin, which was nothing more, nor less, than nicely refreshing. Soft pressing, cool fermentation, malolactic, very low sulphur, a pretty, pale, pink.

“Villages” white was well expressed via David Large “Dos Argenté” 2017. It’s a wine from low yielding fruit (not always the norm for the blancs) off granite (again, less usually planted with Chardonnay). He ferments in pyramid-shaped fibreglass tanks too. Doesn’t that make you want to try it?

There were a good few fruity and tasty reds in the Villages appellation. One good stalwart that will often get mentioned is Domaine Manoir du Carra whose Beaujolais Villages 2017 was full of vibrant cherry scents and flavours. A wine I’d never tried before was Glou-Glou Gamay 2017 from Jean-Baptiste Duperray/Terroirs Originels. With no back label this was short on the detail, and some might find it a bit too textured, but it has food matching potential, I think.

Le Grappin requires little introduction to many of you. Emma and Andrew Nielsen made a Beaujolais-Villages “Nature” in 2017. Cards on the table, I bought some without tasting…thankfully I enjoyed the sample on this table (phew!). You get fruit but it has a savoury lick as well. And texture, enhanced by five months on lees. Classy, thoughtful, winemaking from Mr Nielsen.

Guy Bréton goes back several vintages with me. Cuvée Marilou 2017 stood out most for its gorgeous scent but the palate gives you a nice balance of fruit and acids. Domaine Séléné 2017 is one of the producers Jamie Goode highlighted in his Masterclass (see Part 1). Sylvène Trichard and Elodie Bovard really have something here, and this wine has real zip, bite, plus a bit of body (14% abv). Finally, Bénat-Chervet 2016 gets a mention. Geoffrey Bénat has made a “Villages” from 40-year-old vines off granite at 400 metres altitude, vinified by semi-carbonic maceration. Lovely texture.

 

CHIROUBLES (334 hectares, largely on pink granite and sandy soils)

We don’t see a lot of Chiroubles, but Patrick Bouland Chiroubles 2016 is as good an example as any. Vibrant colour, mellow cherry scent, the interest here is added to by a nice bitter note on the finish. It comes from 60-year-old vines, and this is perhaps where that extra complexity comes from, but the vines are also planted at 10,000 per hectare, quite a high density. Semi-carbonic maceration and tank aged.

RÉGNIÉ (368 hectares on granite, clay and sand with “ancient stones” (sic))

There is lots of interest now in what was once the maligned newest Cru of the region (promoted 1988). It seems to be an unfailing source for interesting wines today, not least because some of the best new growers have land here.

I’d never heard of Hatch Mansfield’s Château de la Terrière “Vin Sauvage a Poil” (2016), though I have heard of the lieu-dit Siberie from which it comes. It’s quite a dark wine, fruity, mineral and simple in a good way. As the label states, “A natural wine is a wild wine”. This isn’t all that wild compared to some, I can tell you. So it should encourage a few to try it.

Antoine Sunier Régnié 2016 is good, as expected. Slightly more “Pinot-like” than some wines here, and if you look for a delicate lightness of touch, then this assured winemaker is for you. Imported by Indigo Wines.

I mentioned (Part 1) that in Jamie’s Masterclass the back row boys got a sample that was not quite right of Pierre Cotton’s Brouilly. Pierre Cotton Régnié 2016 was spot on. Slightly lifted fruit on nose, very fresh (and potentially refreshing, though I didn’t glug it, of course). Very alive, but with some depth too (from 80-year-old vines in “Buillats” on sandstone). I thought this very good indeed.

I mentioned Charly Thévenet “Grain et Granit” 2016 in Part 1 as well. One of my several wines of the day. I love the serious mineral texture combined with JG’s “smashable” quality fruit.

 

BROUILLY (1,257 ha, mixed soils of clay, granite, blue stone, alluvial sands and limestone)

Jean-Claude Lapalu Vielles Vignes Brouilly 2017 stood out here. You do get a bit of alcohol on the back of the palate (13.5%) but there is just a nice presence with this wine. It yearns for an uncomplicated steak, not over cooked.

I also liked the depth on the bouquet with Domaine Bertrand Pisse-Vielle 2016, which has quite high acidity and a mineral bite (if you like that style). It’s off soils including schist, which I can imagine as I taste. Traditional vinification includes 50% partial destemming, a fifteen day ferment with temperature allowed to rise to 28 degrees, and ageing in ten year demi-muids for 14 months. You get the picture.

There was another Bertand Brouilly which also caught my attention. Vuril 2016 is a different plot on clay, silt and limestone. Quite a different wine results. It is paler and lighter, yet has even more texture. This sees 14 months in concrete tank. Whether the differences are down to terroir or ageing vessel, I applaud Julien Bertrand’s decision to produce and release these two different cuvées.

Now we come to another of the “Wines of the Day”, and close call as it was, this might actually get top prize from me. Domaine de Botheland Brouilly 2016 is from Laurence and Rémi Dufaitre’s estate, available here via Les Caves de Pyrene, but whose wines I’ve bought many times in Paris. They have been growing Beaujolais grapes for eleven or twelve years now, initially sending them to the co-operative, but Rémi’s first solo vintage was 2010 and the quality always seems to get better and better.

This Brouilly is very pale indeed, perhaps even the palest wine on show. The fruit is a delicate cherry and strawberry combination, clearly Gamay yet with some of the qualities of aged Pinot Noir…thinking Rosé des Riceys. It has a long finish where there is a surprise to come after the gentle attack – a bit of grip. It is perhaps atypical for a Beaujolais Cru, but a lovely, lovely wine. It isn’t cheap though, with a RRP of £23-£24/bottle.

The last Brouilly to get a plug is Château des Tours 2016. It’s time for something more traditional, even down to the label. Traditionally vinified in the Beaujolais sense here, and the nose is unmistakable. It tastes perhaps a little more alcoholic than the 12.5% on the label for some reason, but it has a lovely smoothness. As I was saying, thank you for diversity.

 

FLEURIE (914 ha, lots of pink granite (oh how apt!!!) and clay)

Fleurie is not always the “pretty little wine” that the elderly gentleman taster of old might make a clichéd claim for it to be. The first wine here, Domaine de Colette 2017 is youthfully tannic. It’s a genuine contrast to the Dutraive wine above, and with its 13% alcohol level, may well appeal more to those looking for a bit of heft in their Bojo without going over the top.

A domaine we have seen before crops up again in Fleurie. Domaine Manoir du Carra “Clos des Déduits” 2017 is a dark wine with vibrancy, good fruit, good acidity and genuine personality. In style it is more assured and classy than “on the edge exciting”, but there is room in Beaujolais for a steady hand as well as risk.

Bernard Métrat “La Roilette Vielles Vignes” 2016 is another very assured wine in a quite trad style (brought in by Fields, Morris and Verdin again). It has possibly a little more structure than many ’16s. It has nice fruit as well, which came through as the wine finished long. Pretty good value if around £17 retail as claimed.

Du Grappin Fleurie-Poncié 2016 is as good as ever. It’s not always my own favourite Bojo from Andrew and Emma (but other more notable writers have raved), but the 2016 is damned good. 70-year-old vines off pink granite, mica and quartz, made from grapes chilled overnight, carbonic in concrete, neither SO2, nor pumpovers/punchdowns…you get the picture. The nose is reticent at first but then you get a double hit of both higher register and deeper fruit. It’s Beaujolais with a nod to the philosophy of their Burgundies, perhaps. Okay then, it’s a cracker. Worth the RRP of £28 in this case.

Julien Sunier Fleurie 2016 is a pale wine with good depth of fruit plus texture, balanced with a touch of high tone, lifted fruit, ie a slight bit of volatility but not a problem as it finishes pretty clean. Antoine or Julien, who to choose these days? Impossible to say. I do love Antoine’s Régnié, but I’d not turn down a bottle or three of this. About £23 from Roberson.

Another star wine came from this famous village, Domaine Marc Delienne “Abbaye Road” 2015 (sic). A producer I don’t know at all, this had very smooth fruit with a sour cherry finish. It manages to be a (almost) pretty wine (and I really didn’t want to use that word for Fleurie) despite a hefty “2015” 13.5% abv. But what it unquestionably was is a wine one would describe as very good indeed, especially for the vintage.

Lastly in Fleurie a mention for Alpine Wines’ Domaine du Granit “Les Garants” 2015. It is a darker wine, perhaps characteristic of the vintage. I’m sure the organisers were not really after any 2015s this year, but it was interesting to taste another one at this age. It has, in this case at least, begun to settle down a bit.

 

COTE DE BROUILLY (340 ha, andesite granite, aka blue stone, and diorite)

David Large “Heartbreaker” 2017 mentioned in Part 1 gets us off to a good start here. The soils are on diorite, that rock we met in Part 1 (formed by volcanic activity yet not “volcanic”). Great focus, nice and fresh as well.

Another appearance, in fact two, from the reliable Château Thivin with their Les 7 Vignes 2016 which comes off metadiorite (which in this case apparently is volcanic according to the domaine). It’s very red in colour, nicely fruited with a little texture to it. Thivin makes another appearance with a cuvée called Zaccharie (2016), which comes off diorite on a steep slope. This is more purple in colour. It’s fruity and fresh but with more grip than “Les 7 Vignes”. Another good call in making the two parcels separately.

JULIENAS (578 ha, blue stone, granite, clay, slate, sandstone and alluvions (sic))

Whilst we are with old friends, Domaine Manoir du Carra Juliénas “Les Bottières” 2016 which is aged in cement tanks is a pale version of purple. The interest here lies in a mineral thing going on. They claim this costs just €5 ex-cellars so once more I’m almost confounded as to why nobody is importing this. But of course, although we did say in Part 1 that a market is developing for Beaujolais once more, there is still work to be done.

CHENAS (249 ha, granite, sand, alluvions and river stones)

Only one Chénas (Beaujolais’ smallest cru) caught my eye in the main tasting. Christophe Pacalet 2016 was textured and a little tannic, but extremely tasty. Christophe is well known in the village of Cercié (near Morgon) where he is based, after all Marcel Lapierre was his uncle, but he’s not as well known as his cousin Philippe, whose “natural” Burgundies (from up north) caused a stir a decade ago. Christophe’s Beaujolais prices remain quite reasonable compared to the Pacalet Burgundies these days (this wine should be around £18 retail via importer Raeburn Fine wines).

MORGON (1,114 ha, granite and blue stone with alluvial soils and blocks of clay)

Morgon is possibly the most famous Beaujolais Cru right now. It is blessed with a large viticole, but is also home to the most famous winemaker of the moment, Jean Foillard (whose wines were not on show this year). But given the size of the Morgon Cru it should come as no surprise that there are quite a lot of Morgons that get a mention here.

You probably won’t go wrong drinking Patrick Bouland “Courcelette” 2017, nor Domaine de la Bonne Tonne “Les Charmes” 2016 (the latter from Bancroft Wines). Bonne Tonne also showed their Morgon Côte de Py 2016 which I would say on the day had a little more acidity and a more savoury quality.

Château des Jacques 2016 is, of course, the Beaujolais estate of Burgundy negociant Maison Louis Jadot, one of the first Burgundian investors in the region (mid-1990s). This rich wine comes from lieux-dits Bellevue, Côte du Py and Roche Noir, all largely granite and blue stone. With weight and tannin it is a well priced classic wine (around £18 retail).

Antoine Sunier Morgon 2016 is another fascinating wine from perhaps the lesser known of the two Suniers (again, via Indigo Wines in the UK). It has a slight sourness (in a good way), but smooth fruit too. At their current stages of evolution I do prefer his Régnié, though in a year that might change.

Kéké (Kewin) Descombes Morgon 2016 is flavour packed and delicious (I’ve already drunk one of my bottles at home) with a little tannic grip which food smoothes out. Kewin is part of the Red Squirrel portfolio. Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Tradition” 2016 has a lightness, and also quite high acidity at present, but with grip as well.

Antoine’s older brother fights back in Morgon. Julien Sunier Morgon 2016 is palish but has genuine depth of fruit and a savoury finish. Guy Bréton Morgon Vielles Vignes 2016 has a little more depth and complexity, from 80-year-old vines in the Saint-Joseph and Grand Cras lieux-dits. Ageing on fine lees for eight months gives a bit of texture/structure, and the old vines may also be responsible for this wine’s notable length.

For another taste of Morgon’s most famous vineyard, try Jean-Mark Burgaud Côte du Py 2016. It’s not Foillard, but I know that like the more famous producer of this site, Burgaud’s wines will also age well, as a couple of relatively recent Côte du Py Réserves from 2010 attest. But this doesn’t lack for fruit here and now. Another import from Fields, Morris and Verdin.

The second Morgon from Kéké Descombes is his Vielles Vignes 2015. I’m going to suggest he is channeling his inner desire to make a Côte Rôtie here, but it is a very good wine, if not very Bojo. The darkest monster on show, with big tannins, but only 13.5% alcohol, which keeps it on a leash, albeit not a very tight one, so to speak.

A producer I’ve wanted to try for a while is Mee Godard. Mee actually went to wine school in Montpellier, and then worked in Champagne and Burgundy before arriving in Morgon in 2013. All her wines, I believe, are bottled as single vineyards/parcels, and will cost around £30/bottle, quite a lot for such a new winemaker with a short track record in the region.

The three Morgons I tasted are imported by Raeburn. Courcelette 2015 is fairly concentrated and elegant. Côte du Py 2015 seems quite similar. Grand Cras 2015 tasted the most differentiated – real concentration in the fruit allied to a real zip. All the wines are made in pretty much the same way so any differences are down to terroir. These wines were impressive but I think they need more time to knit. James Lawther in his Decanter Beaujolais article (the July 2018 edn) calls Mee’s wines “complex” and “structured”, suggesting the next vintage, 2016, are her best wines yet. I’m definitely going to follow Domaine Mee Godard.

 

 

MOULIN-A-VENT (717 ha on pink granite and manganese-rich granite)

This is the final Cru to get a mention. The wines I’ve missed out are not necessarily poor, this being just my personal selection. As I’ve said before, wines do show well at different times. That said, Beaujolais does not always appeal to me. There were one or two producers whose wines are generally not for me. But as we finish this long list of wines, we should remember those wonderful examples that do justify praise.

Yohan Lardy Moulin-à-Vent “Les Michelons” 2016 is one such wine. Made from 85-year-old vines it sees very little intervention. Carbonic maceration, no sulphur, and ten months in mixed sizes of wood. Very “vivant”.

A real contrast in style is the Château des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent 2016, way more classical in design and structure. Granite soils, destemmed fruit with a three week maceration including regular pumpovers and punching down of the fruit for extraction, and aged in small oak. A step up, and possibly the most expensive Beaujolais on show at £33 RRP, was this estate’s Clos du Grand Carquelin 2016. It tastes very young but is obviously impressive. Right now I’d tuck it away, but of all the wines on taste I think this will be most likely to age like a Burgundy. Perhaps that is the intention.

We end with another wine from a producer we’ve also seen before, Christophe Pacalet Cuvée Spéciale 2015. This does have heft and structure, but not as much as some 2015s. If you want to try that style of Beaujolais then at around £20 this may be one to go for (via Raeburn Fine Wines).

 

That’s a lot of wines (not too many I hope – someone did tell me they liked my depth of coverage yesterday, but this was maybe not the time for going too deep with each wine). This was a lot of tasting too, but if I stop and think how easy it seemed to taste so many wines, maybe that’s a pointer to why I love Beaujolais so much. The palate was not really fatigued, and you can’t say the wines lacked tannin, texture and (s)tructure either. I genuinely can’t wait for next year’s event (though a visit to Beaujolais would do me very well in the meantime, even if I doubt I can fit one in).

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Thank you to the Westbury Comms Ladies for great organisation and a superb tasting

For further info for the trade on the wines tasted, producers and importers, contact Christina Rasmussen via beaujolais@westburycom.co.uk

 

Posted in Beaujolais, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bojo Rising Part 1 – The Masterclass

Thursday saw the annual trade tasting for Inter Beaujolais, organised to perfection once more by Westbury Comms at The Trampery on Old Street. In my second article (to follow) I plan to provide an overview of the 2016 and 2017 vintages by highlighting the (er, my) best wines at the tasting. There will be rather a lot of those – my own outlook is very positive, because although quantities were affected by hail (especially in 2016 in some crus), the wines generally show a return to classical elegance after the riper wines of 2015.

I thought it better to focus my first article on Jamie Goode’s excellent Masterclass on some of the new faces in Beaujolais. This gives me an opportunity to paint a picture of the revival taking place in the region. Jamie’s introduction could have been written by myself, so aligned is our take on what has been happening and where Beaujolais, as a wider region, might go.

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From the post-industrial Nouveau era there has been a quiet revolution in Beaujolais, fittingly started by the Gang of Four (some might actually call it the Gang of Five: Lapierre, Breton, Thévenet, Foillard, and some would add Yvon Métras) under the influence of Jules Chauvet, a negoce and research chemist who many would call the father of the French natural wine movement.

From small beginnings and a storm of negativity from the establishment this movement encouraged a host of young people to change their whole approach to winemaking, and with it they changed the way that wine is drunk and appreciated all over the world. Low intervention wines are in many cases replacing (or at least becoming equal to) beer as the preferred recreational drink in bars the world over. Gluggable, smashable and glouglou are descriptions replacing collectable and fine wine (pronounced fane wane) for so many younger drinkers who identify more with the hard-worked, soil-encrusted, hands of young vignerons rather than the grey suits and Hermès ties of the estate owners (rarely winemakers) of the unaffordable classics, in the post-Parker era.

Young winemakers have populated regions with affordable land over the past decade or so, and for a time Beaujolais could be so-described. It saw an influx of new producers along with the children of established producers, increasing this century, as indeed did Jura and The Loire, as the natural wine movement grew. This has coincided with an influx of investment from the wine regions between which Beaujolais is sandwiched, Burgundy and the Northern Rhône, for the same reasons, vineyard prices having blasted off the planet in the classic regions (especially neighbouring Burgundy) during that time.

Of course not all of the great wines of the region are natural wines, but what the natural wine movement has done is create a dynamism that is benefiting everyone. All this comes at a time when the old norms of heavy oaking and big, jammy, fruit are becoming less fashionable in the wine world as a whole. People are looking for lighter wines, fruity, digestable, and (to use one of Jamie’s favourite descriptions) smashable. As the Goode doctor said, Beaujolais is a region whose time has come. You have the talent and the wines, and now you have the market too.

Gamay (wow, it took me a long time to mention the grape variety) lends itself so well to carbonic, or semi-carbonic, whole bunch fermentation, yet this is not the only method of winemaking employed in the Beaujolais region. Many young producers are using what some would call more “Burgundian” techniques, with pumping over and crushing. What is very clear is that the move to either zero, or minimal, sulphur additions is becoming popular with all of these young producers, whatever techniques of winemaking they use. This philosophy, and indeed low intervention winemaking as a whole, requires absolute focus on clean grapes (sorting out any damaged or diseased berries is essential), and a spotlessly clean winery.

Doing less, as Jamie pointed out, actually takes more skill and effort. What low sulphur wines appear to give you, along with the lifted fruit of carbonic maceration, is a wonderful texture somehow absent in more interventionist wines. This texture is in my view enhanced (and this doesn’t only apply to the Beaujolais region) by a return to using cement and concrete (either the old style of tanks or modern eggs and suchlike). All of this just seems to make Beaujolais at all levels so much more interesting. It’s ironic that by adding a little complexity through grip and texture the wines become, counter-intuitively, more pleasurable to knock back.

It also increases the wines’ versatility. You can drink them on their own, slightly chilled in summer and at room temperature at other times, but they go well with modern bar food (charcuterie, cheeses, rillettes etc), and many accompany a simple onglet (with frites, of course) to absolute perfection.

What next for Beaujolais? We have seen the rejuvenation (should that be “reju-vin-ation?) of the Crus, and the beginnings of the same thing happening in the Villages and straight Beaujolais appellations. There is now exciting wine being made as Beaujolais tout-court which costs very little and gives a lot of pleasure. We have also seen the revival of Beaujolais Nouveau in the past few years. Not of the mass produced semi-industrial product, but wines made in relatively small quantity by those new producers. Gamay makes a perfect early release primeur if it is done with love and care.

Another notable development comes in the number of lieu-dit or single vineyard parcel wines being released. When we talk about the diversity of terroirs in Beaujolais, even within the crus where it’s certainly not remotely all granite as some books might suggest, there is no better way to highlight this than by releasing named parcel wines. After all, we all know Morgon’s Côte de Py. There are many more worthy sites which will appear on labels more often over the next vintages. The fact that the wines do taste different vindicates this approach.

Jamie also recognises the potential for Chardonnay in the region. Back in the 1990s I remember buying a mixed case of wines from Jean-Paul Brun, whose estate is far south of the famous Crus of the region. One of those wines was his Terres Dorées Chardonnay, and I loved it immediately. I sadly see all too little of it these days, but Jamie rightly identifies the still inexpensive limestone-marl sites, mainly down in the thus far unfashionable south, as one of the great potential growth areas for Beaujolais.

The future looks bright, if in fact more red and white than orange here. Let’s hope that the appalling weather events which have struck Beaujolais in recent years don’t spoil the party. As Inter Beaujolais’ Geoffrey Bénat told me, the thing they need to work on is to raise the profile of the region enough so that, without becoming expensive and unaffordable (like Burgundy, for instance), the producers can get a little more money for their wines, so as to make the rejuvenation of the Beaujolais region sustainable. I for one hope in this he succeeds.

Jamie’s Masterclass allowed the crowded room an opportunity to taste eleven wines from some of the fresher faces of Beaujolais, and I shall run through them relatively swiftly. Many will get a second mention in my next article.

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Domaine Séléné Beaujolais 2017 – I tasted this quite early on in the main room and immediately identified this producer as interesting, both for the wine and for their packaging. The New Beaujolais usually comes with more inspiring labels which will appeal far more to a younger audience than the more traditional style. Something producers should note. Whole bunch fermentation, with the addition of 1g/litre of sulphur and nothing else. Fruity, with that lovely grainy texture. Glouglou but not at all soft and simple, and it should cost less than £15.

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Kéké Descombes Beaujolais-Villages “Cuvée Kéké” 2017 – Kewin has a famous father (George), but has gone in a slightly different direction. His wines, some of which I have already bought (from Solent Cellar via Red Squirrel), are one of my discoveries of the past year. This wine, from “Courcelles” off granite, is made by semi-carbonic vinification. You notice immediately how bright this is, with drive and focus, yet with structure too. There’s a tiny bit of volatility, but for me this is a small enough amount to add personality.

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Clotaire Michal Beaujolais-Villages “Napoléon” 2016 – This wine comes off sandy soils. Westbury’s Christina Rasmussen had created a wonderful display of Beaujolais rock types in the main tasting room, which illustrated so well the complexity of the different sub-strata and soils throughout Beaujolais. It’s biodynamic with plump fruit, quite pronounced fresh acidity, and more of that texture we so love. From Totem Wines.

Domaine Chapel Beaujolais-Villages 2017 – David Chapel has been based in Lantignié since 2015, probably the most likely village to gain cru status in the future. He didn’t have a wine background, being a former Sommelier and resident of New York, but his father had gained three Michelin stars in France (one of only nineteen chefs with that honour back in 1973) and is credited as one of the fathers of Nouvelle Cuisine.

This Villages comes from three named parcels at 380 metres altutude on decomposed granite, using high-density planting, and is made via whole bunch fermentation, aged in cement. It is very expressive, light in colour but lively, elegant and harmonious too.

I’d been keen to try the wines being imported by Rupert Taylor’s new Uncharted Wines venture, and this didn’t disappoint.

Romaine Saint-Cyr Beaujolais-Villages “Kanon Keg” 2017 – A young vine cuvée off clay-limestone made with 100% whole clusters and cold carbonic maceration. It sees eight months ageing in concrete tank. The wine is “bottled” in kegs and this method of delivery is the new and exciting way of serving wine “on tap” in bars which several producers have been experimenting with (most notably Andrew and Emma Nielsen’s Du Grappin label over previous vintages, and here from Uncharted Wines).

This is a simple wine, the fruit reminding me a little of a Fox’s Glacier Fruit sweet, very cherry, but very much made for quaffing in a bar, and in that context (and with just 12.5% abv), just right. Only 150 kegs produced, though.

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Charly Thévenet Regnié Cuvée Grain et Granit 2016 – Charly needs little introduction, hailing from one of the great Beaujolais families, but he also had the good fortune to work for a while with his father’s friend, Marcel Lapierre. He started with three hectares of Regnié vines in 2007 and set out to build his own reputation. There are rumours that father and son may get back together again very soon, but in the meantime this particular wine has been just so good in recent vintages that I pray it continues to be made.

The grainy structure is very evident in a wine from 350 metres altitude on granite/clay with alluvial stones. The grapes are chilled before carbonic maceration, followed by ageing in old Burgundy barrels. Thick cherry fruit with a touch of tea leaf make this quite distinctive…and delicious. One of the best wines of the day. Roberson bring these into the UK.

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Domaine Chardigny Saint-Amour “A la Folle” 2017 – this is a domaine run by two brothers, Pierre-Maxime and Victor-Emmanuel Chardigny. You rarely see Saint-Amour wines retail in the UK (it was once a Valentine’s Day fixture, but Saint-Amour is in fact the second smallest of the ten Beaujolais Crus). This one is made distinctive by super high density planting (12,000 vines per hectare) on mainly clay/alluvium/limestone, and winemaking includes long vatting of two-and-a-half weeks with two pumpovers a day…so a far more “traditional” vinification, but of course not traditional for Beaujolais. It produces a more extracted style of wine, which highlights the diversity in the region.

Pierre Cotton Brouilly 2016 – Jamie painted a picture of Pierre Cotton’s cellar, a hotchpotch of very old barrels which looks kind of terrible, yet hides one of the region’s rising talents. Cotton’s Regnié performed very well at the main tasting, and the samples others tasted from here appeared very good judging by the reaction of the room. It was just that, sadly, the sample I tasted from was diagnosed as slightly faulty (not just by me but by several of those around me). But I am excited by Pierre Cotton’s project and I will not let one possibly not quite perfect bottle stop me trying more. Kiffe My Wines imports Cotton. See Part 2 for his Regnié.

David Large Côte de Brouilly “Heartbreaker” 2017 – Like Pierre Cotton, David Large has his labels well sorted. You can’t beat a bit of nostalgia for the cassette tape! David’s vines on the Mont de Brouilly are on Piedmont soils. I was informed that these are in fact “diorite”, with which I’m more familiar. Diorite is a soil type apparently not “volcanic” (as I had thought) but formed from volcanic activity, and the “mont” is not, as I had wrongly assumed for decades, an extinct volcano.

Yields are very low and the wines undergo a semi-carbonic maceration in concrete tanks for 14 days, after which the must is pressed, and finishes fermentation in fibreglass vats. Sulphur is added, but just 2g/litre. The wine is focused and fresh with very nice fruit, and I’m not sure why this guy is still looking for representation in the UK?

Domaine Anita Chénas “Cuvée P’tit Co Les Bureaux” 2017 – Anita Kuhnel is yet another very new Beaujolais vigneronne, starting out in 2015. Vinification here is uncomplicated, with semi-carbonic maceration over ten days, followed by eight month’s ageing in cement tanks. This cuvée is very purple in colour with carbonic fruit character on the nez. It tastes fruity and easy going with less texture than most of the wines here, but it is none the worse for that. You would only pay €6 ex-cellars for this, and Anita is currently looking for UK distribution. Possibly worth popping in here if you are in the region.

Yohan Lardy Moulin-à-Vent 2016 – This wine comes from southerly exposed vines in a lieu-dit called Les Michelons. This is a classic example of why we should see more vineyard names on labels. Here, Lardy and his group of likeminded growers possess 85-year-old bush vines (gobelet pruned), whose grapes undergo a low temperature carbonic maceration followed by ten months in wood of various sizes. No sulphur is added.

The result is very much a natural wine, but the old vines really give depth to the very clean fruit. Really good. I need to pay more attention to Monsieur Lardy.

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This is a mere snapshot of the new and younger names in Beaujolais. I could add a good many more, not least my own personal favourite Julie Balagny (whose wines may be a little too lively for the more traditional drinker). They show, I hope, a dynamic and vibrant region well on the way back to full health after years in the commercial doldrums. I hope that Beaujolais continues to grow its success. If it takes the lack of affordability in nearby regions (Burgundy, Rhône) to make people focus on Beaujolais once more, so be it. Don’t forget, his was once a region held in high esteem for just the kind of wines we are returning to again today.

Jamie Goode’s Masterclass went a long way to reminding us of what we are missing if we don’t encourage people to drink The New Beaujolais. Yet as the main tasting event proved, there are wines of no less interest from more traditional sources too, also a reminder of the breadth of diversity in the region, which can only be another strength.

 

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Beaujolais, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Meeting António Maçanita

There was a buzz being created around the Azores even before Sarah Ahmed wrote a revealing article in Decanter last summer, and that buzz has without doubt been created largely by one man, António Maçanita, the founder (with Paulo Machado) of the Azores Wine Company. Today I had the chance to meet António at Ten Green Bottles in Brighton, to listen to his story, and for the first time to taste the whole AWC range in one sitting.

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António Maçanita with Lisanna from Azores Wine Company’s UK importer, Red Squirrel

Most people are vaguely aware of where the Azores archipelago is situated, but perhaps many place it much closer to the Canary Islands, and Madeira, which have a warmer climate. The Azores actually sit almost a thousand miles west of mainland Europe, effectively a third of the way to America. They sit right on top of the North Atlantic Ridge, the great underwater fault line which splits the Atlantic Ocean. As America pulls away from Europe (at a rate of a couple of centimetres a year), magma is forced up through the split in the earth, and the Azores is a nine island consequence, made from pure volcanic rock.

Many of the islands which make up the Azores are very old, in most cases numbering millions of years. Fertile volcanic topsoils have formed, providing rich agricultural land. On Pico, the main island for viticulture, which is a baby of merely 300,000 years in comparison, there is almost no topsoil. The only productive agriculture on any scale is viticulture, but viticulture of a very unusual kind. Vines are planted in the cracks of the rock, from the very sea shore up to around 200 metres altitude. The clouds are drawn up the side of the 2,350 metre Pico volcano which dominates the island, leaving a sunny zone below. António repeated an old saying, “where the crabs are singing (in the sun) you find the best vineyards”.

If a sun-drenched island idyll is in your mind, you are wrong. António said it rains every day, perhaps an exaggeration, but with temperatures maintained around twenty degrees and a lot of rain, rot in the vineyard is a constant threat, yet there is a a determination to avoid synthetic vine treatments. The only answer is to raise the vines when they need ventilating, and to lower them behind protective walls when a storm is coming in. The threat of losing a whole year’s crop is constant and stressful.

The vines on Pico are protected from both the atomised sea salt spray, and the ocean winds which burn the vines, by low walled enclosures called currais. These structures are essential to any form of viticulture, and there are around 6,000 hectares of original vineyard protected in this way, an almost unthinkable feat for the early inhabitants to build. From aerial photos they look like the ruins of some ancient civilisation, but in reality they are a few metres more or less square, each adjacent enclosure protecting two or three plants. The only places I know of where vines are similarly protected would be in parts of the Canary Islands, and in parts of Santorini. Today there are just 150 hectares in production on Pico, and much much less on the other islands.

The story of Azores wine begins in the 1400s, even before the European discovery of  America, but after that event the islands became a regular stop on the slow transatlantic crossing. Prosperity followed, and Pico turned into an export economy, though much of the islands’ wines ended up in America labelled as Madeira. The golden age was in the early to mid-1800s, with the Azores producing twenty-five times more wine than Madeira. Then, in 1854, disaster struck, first in the form of powdery mildew, and then phylloxera in 1857. After the vineyards were decimated two thirds of the population emigrated to America, despite the switch from wine to whaling providing some subsistence for those who remained. Then the lights were switched off…

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Until 2010 when António came to the islands, initially with his experienced consultancy hat on. But when only one winemaker employed him, he decided to start his own project and the Azores Wine Company was born. The first vintage was 2014, and the wines are imported into the UK by Red Squirrel. Quantities are tiny, and the prices are not cheap.

But remember the costs of production, the small scale, and above all, the fact that you are buying unique wines from a UNESCO World Heritage Site (this very special viticultural landscape attained a UNESCO Listing in 2004). These are wines which are a true reflection of the local volcanic soils, from remote vineyards lashed by the wild Atlantic. What true wine lover wouldn’t want to buy into a little part of that?

Verdelho Original 2015, DO Pico

Saline, herby and fresh, this is a cool climate wine off volcanic terroir pure and simple. With 13% abv it is slightly broader than the nose suggests, slightly closed, with a nice stony texture and mouthfeel. You immediately understand that you don’t want to serve these wines too cold, just cool. The development in the glass as the wine opens is very noticeable.

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Verdelho Original 2016, DO Pico

The 2016 is a slightly brighter version of the 2015, and is a “three island blend” due to a very small 2016 harvest. Acidity is a touch fresher and it is more open for business from the off. António called it “seductive”, and it certainly is. Which of the two do I prefer? Hard to say. The 2016 is perhaps more immediately appealing, but I do have a bottle of the 2015 at home, as yet unopened. I’m looking forward to pairing it with food, where I think it will shine.

Arinto dos Açores “Sur Lie” 2016

This is also made from grapes from three islands, Pico, São Miguel and Graciosa (the latter of which only has around five hectares in production). This strikes a high note with its bouquet, very elegant and with a mineral whiff. The palate is more citrus than the Verdelho, but there is a very nice fruit to acid balance with the Arinto (a completely different grape to the Arinto found on the mainland). As a 13%er it has a little bit of muscle, but it is lightened and lifted by its acidity. Delicious. Arinto is the Azores’ most widely planted variety.

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Terrantez do Pico 2016

As with Arinto, this is not the same grape variety as the Terrantez from Madeira. The nose here is immediately interesting, both herbal and mineral at first, and then as it broadens a gentle floral note comes through. Again, it is asking or indeed crying out, please, not to be served too cold, which would kill the subtlety.

Terrantez was almost extinct when it was revived from just 89 original plants by AWC. Now they have 3 hectares, propagated by massal selection, and they make between just 800 to 900 bottles. It is, thus far, the only Terrantez wine in the Azores.

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Tinto Vulcânico 2016 

This 11.5% abv red wine is a blend of many different local varieties. António and Paulo originally only planned to make white wine, but local growers would bring along their red grapes, and they decided to try out a red cuvée, almost as an afterthought. The blend changes every year, by its nature, and the grapes come from around thirty or so plots on the island.

The fruit in 2016 was destemmed and underwent a wild/natural fermentation, mainly in a single tank, with grapes arriving in small quantities at different times. It saw around twenty days in total on skins. The result is a simple wine in some respects, yet unquestionably one with character and personality.

The nose at first shows quite amazing fruit concentration, like that in just ripe blackcurrants, where the fruit is matched punch for punch by the acidity. But as the low alcohol suggests, this is by no means a big wine. There is some bitter extract which adds something over and above the fruit dimension, and the fruit flavours linger, carried on the back of the acidity. This wine is very appealing in what has become the traditional glouglou sense, among the seekers of adventure in wine. Nice, and explanatory, label too.

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A Proibida [2013]

This final red wine has a bit of a chilling story. The grape variety here was thought to be Isabella, an American hybrid vine planted as a solution to that powdery mildew epidemic which devastated the original Azores vineyards in the mid-nineteenth century.

António found himself invited to a gathering of Azores wine people and an old farmer produced a jug of red wine. On tasting it, António thought wow! So he decided he had to make some. On placing the resulting wine on the market he was contacted by the authorities who pointed out that the Isabella variety is actually illegal within the EU, where American hybrid vines are banned. This is because, quite reasonably really, they don’t usually make wines of the same quality as vinifera varieties (although some hybrids are now making wine in the very north of America to challenge our preconceptions). He was told that if he did not remove the wine from the market he would face a fine and possibly prison.

António was forced to explain that Isabella was not in fact the varietal name, but the wine is named after Queen Isabella and made from a host of different, unknown, local grapes. It is now labelled with any mention of Isabella struck through, as if censored, and also stamped with the words “Autorizado com Cortes“, or “Authorized with Cuts”, which refers to the stamp used by the censors under Portugal’s Salazar dictatorship.

Why does this wine deserve our attention? Fine wine it certainly isn’t. Indeed, it more accurately represents the idea of a “tavern wine”. The first thing you would say is that this is a wine which speaks initially, and forcefully, through aroma. It has the so-called foxiness of a vitis labrusca hybrid, although perhaps not as strongly as some examples, and it also has a smoky note, which is not unpleasant. The palate is that perfect blend of high toned fruit and high acids (it is more acidic than any of the whites). If you don’t think it is possible somehow to combine notes of black olives and strawberries in a pleasant beverage, this is how to do it. Amazing!

I’m guessing that I’m not painting an immediately appealing picture, but unless your thing is high alcohol jammy Merlot, please persevere. António really hit the nail on the head when he called it a “twenty-second century wine”. If we want wine not to sip and admire, but to glug back as we might enjoy a beer, then this “tavern wine”, made with minimal intervention, is just the sort of thing we might want to try. If, like many people, you are re-evaluating what wine means to you, then this will not be your answer, but in appreciating something so different, it will help you on your journey. It paints a picture of what wine once was, and what, with a modern updating, it might be.

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As an aside, Isabella (the hybrid, not the queen) is often preceded with something like the descriptor “notorious”. It is particularly despised in Europe, or at least was, because it is thought that it was on a batch Isabella vines that the phylloxera louse first came to Europe from America. Let’s not blame the vine for vastatrix.

Like the wines of the Azores as a whole, Proibida may not be the finest bottle you try this year. You may also think that the price is not inexpensive for what it is, and what it tries to be (the answer to which is that it doesn’t try to be anything). Yet with all of these wines, you are tasting a range of genuine character, where terroir expression is real, not just some marketing verbage. They are clearly and genuinely “volcanic wines”, created by a thoughtful and fully engaged, highly competent (and, I think, soulful) practitioner.

In fact I liked these wines ever since I first tasted them something like a year ago, but as so often happens when a small importer discovers a star producer, I liked them even more having met António Maçanita. After all, what we all crave today is not a repetition of some generic tasting note about blackcurrant, cigar boxes and vanilla oak, but a real story. The Azores comes up with a fine (and long) story, and the wines illustrate it perfectly. This is why they are important.

If you want to read more about the wines of the Azores, the best place to start is Volcanic Wines by John Szabo MS (£30, Published by Jacqui Small, an imprint of Aurum Press, 2016), a fascinating look at most of the wine world’s volcanic terroirs. If you can find a copy, Sarah Ahmed’s article in Decanter  (July 2017) is an excellent overview of what’s happening in the Azores today. Both cover other producers and wine styles on the islands, and Sarah’s article has some useful information for anyone intrepid enough to consider a visit (which does not sound as difficult as you might think).

The Azores Wine Company is imported into the UK by Red Squirrel Wines in London (call 020 3490 1201 or email hello@redsquirrelwine.com or visit their web site here). Quantities of these wines are fairly tiny.

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Ten Green Bottles generously poured a few wines from “English Wine Week” for us to try. They have a nice selection of English wines on the shelves, and I must say the whole selection at TGB is looking very exciting at the moment. With more wines to come from Les Caves de Pyrene, now is a good time to make a visit to sunny Brighton. Don’t try to choose between Plateau and Ten Green Bottles, visit both.

Posted in Azores, Portuguese wine, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Volcanic Wines, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments