Cru Classy

London Cru is London’s first urban winery, importing grapes in refrigerated trucks straight after harvest and turning them into wine in a pretty much state of the art winemaking facility in West London, right underneath the offices of innovative London wine merchant, Roberson.

When you think of a winery you might think of one of those architect designed extravagances in Northern Spain or California, or maybe you might think of a few vats and barrels bubbling or snoozing in a little back street in Vosne or Sancerre. London Cru don’t have anything flashy, or quaint, like that to boast about from the outside. Once you leave the noise and bustle of South Kensington, the closer you get to West Brompton Station, the quieter and less salubrious it gets, and you kind of wonder why houses are so expensive in this part of London SW6, much of which is one big building site anyway. The winery is tucked behind a rather unattractive mid-20th Century building, down an access slope, but once inside, you could be in any modern, well maintained, wine domaine. Stainless steel tanks sit on a scrupulously clean concrete floor, and all the equipment gleams. A separate room contains racks of rather more barrels than I expected, from a nice assortment of famous name coopers. Altogether, impressive, indeed classy.

I’ll admit I had left it rather a long time to make a visit to London Cru. It must be a couple of years since I tried the first of their wines to come my way. Spirit of London was a blend winemaker Gavin Monery and the in-house team put together for UK supermarket Marks & Spencer. It was the 2013 vintage, a blend, if I remember correctly, of two thirds Cabernet Sauvignon from the Languedoc and one third Piemontese Barbera. Not as fine as the wines I was to taste yesterday, but it was good, and it was adventurous of Marks & Spencer to create the label. It was thanks to Roberson’s Paul Williamson, a frequent attendee at the Oddities Lunches, that I finally got to visit London Cru. Thanks Paul, and thanks Gavin for spending a good part of your afternoon with me.

The first part of the visit gave me a short opportunity to nose around the vats, and to get an explanation of how the winery gets its fruit. They work with people either known to Roberson, or recommended by their growers. In the past they have worked with people like star Languedoc producer Jeff Coutelou. For the 2016 harvest they used sources as diverse as Syrah from Calatayud in Spain, to Bacchus harvested in Essex and Kent. The fruit is picked into the grey plastic containers you can see winemaker Gavin Monery demonstrating in the photo below. Half to two thirds full, the grapes are not crushed at all. They travel as swiftly as possible to SW6 at a temperature of around five degrees celsius, and when they arrive they are dry, with no broken berries. This enables whole bunch fermentations when preferred, and there’s a modern basket press to press the grapes when required as well.


If you think it’s a long way to truck in grapes from Spain or Italy, you have to remember that it is pretty normal to truck grapes across Australia, and that producers are letting grapes rest in a protective environment, or giving them a cold soak before fermentation and pressing more and more often. Of course, being made in London, the wines don’t have a designated region of origin in their own country. They are Wines of the European Union, but the main thing is their quality, so what are they like?

I got to taste three wines from bottle yesterday afternoon, and all were actually more impressive than I expected. I was expecting them to be good, but was perhaps surprised by how good. That’s down to two things. First, getting good grapes. They are not just grabbing anyone’s leftovers. For example, Luca Roagna recommended the grower and vineyard for the Barbera (and even helped pick it). Secondly, Gavin knows what he’s doing. His winemaking CV includes supervisory roles at Cullen and Moss Wood in his native Western Australia, and he’s done European harvests with several well known producers in Burgundy, and with Jean-Louis Chave in the Northern Rhone.


2016 Syrah, just put in the pot

Charlotte Street 2015 is a Limoux Chardonnay of perfect freshness. It was barrel fermented (old oak) after cold whole bunch pressing, using 20% ambient yeasts and 80% Burgundian strains. It then had eight months resting on its gross lees for a touch of richness, enhancing flavour, before undergoing just a partial malolactic. You get creaminess, stone fruit like white peach, and a touch of citrus, but there’s great focus and clarity. At just 12% alcohol you really want to keep drinking it. Very successful. Apparently Richard Hemming MW reviewed this wine favourably in comparison to “most Chardonnay made in Burgundy”, if that isn’t a challenge to seek some out. I remember the excitement when I first tasted Limoux Chardonnay in the early 1990s, but I really think this is at another level.

Barbera 2014 was sourced from Giovanni Cordero, near the village of Priocca, in Cuneo Province (just west of the A33 Autostrada, between Alba and Asti). It is given a 3-4 day cold soak and a warm ferment at around 30 degrees. About 70-80% goes into old oak, and 20-30% into stainless steel (which helps give an aromatic lift to the final bottling). Indeed, the acidity and freshness balances the lush fruit rather well, and the tannins are particularly well managed. Brambly, but none of the weedy, stalky, bitterness you can get with some cooperative Barberas. It has the amplitude and drinkability of, say, a good juicy Gamay along with the grip and structure for ageing.

Syrah 2014 was sourced with the help of Norrel Robertson MW from Manuel Lashera’s vineyards in Calatayud, Spain. These vines are at 900 metres altitude, on thermally efficient decomposed granite, and the freshness that Gavin seems to look for in his wines is clearly the product of cool nights, and slightly early picking. Low rainfall is also key. The grapes are harvested with a PH of around 3.4, but they are not short of acidity. The fruit here is plummy, but it is overlaid with notes of coffee, chocolate and a little spice. The wine is attractive now, but give it five, even ten, years and it will definitely improve further. It clearly has that kind of potential.

I’m amazed at just how good the reviews of these wines have been from wine professionals, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the range develops. I tried the 2016 Bacchus from tank. It has almost finished its fermentation, with just about 10g/l of sugar remaining. The juice was quite exotic, one of those musts you have no difficulty quenching your thirst on without spitting. This year the grapes were sourced from Essex as well as Kent. Gavin wants to preserve the nose, which has really lovely elderflower, and a little Sauvignonesque cut grass. He half joked that he’d love to try making a pét-nat from it. I really think that would work, and he should set aside a little to experiment. Bacchus can be dull and all about the acids, but if the bouquet is preserved as intended, this will be something altogether more exciting…didn’t think I’d ever say that about Bacchus, with profound apologies (yet again) to certain English vineyard consultants.


Delicious, refreshing, cloudy Bacchus must

Then we repaired to the barrel room for a drop of Pinot Noir. This comes from Limoux, like the Chardonnay. It’s quite dark in colour right now, and it’s awaiting its malo (Gavin says it will get paler after the malolactic) as it rests in wood on its lees. It has that nice fruit of gently basket-pressed grapes, with a little tannin to give structure. I’m putting this, stylistically, somewhere between good Bourgogne Rouge and somewhere New World, maybe Mornington? I’m not feeling that we’ll be getting masses of complexity, but there will be juicy fruit in abundance with a bit of the grip demanded by food when it is finally bottled. But who am I to judge these things?

Pinot Noir from the barrel

London Cru’s expanding range demands attention. These are remarkably good wines, though voices far more experienced, and far more high profile, have said this long before I have. The full current range will be launched to press and consumers over the next month, and in fact I’m gutted to be over in Paris on the day of the November Press Launch (well, a little bit gutted). If you seek them out I promise, on the basis of what I tasted yesterday, that you will be very pleasantly surprised. Do look out for the 2015 Albermarle Street, a Rias Baixas Albarino from near Pontevedra, which has also had astonishingly good reviews, though it was not available to taste.

London Cru has a pretty decent web site – check it out here.


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Oddities on Tour

I really have forgotten how many of these Oddities Lunches we’ve done now. I must look it up so we don’t miss an important anniversary, but this month was special because Oddities went on tour for the first time. The venue was Sager & Wilde‘s Paradise Row bar, a couple of minutes away from Bethnal Green Underground. I’ve been to S&W Hackney Road a few times, but this was my first visit to the Railway Arch. It’s a nice big space, and we had it all to ourselves. There’s no doubt that the folks there pulled out all the stops to make us very welcome. The food was very good and the service could not be faulted, especially their generosity in replenishing us with clean glasses through the meal. A very big thank you to the Sager & Wilde team for another brilliant lunch.

       Whelks in Bean Broth with Sorrel – Slow Roast Lamb, Black Trompettes and Cabbage

One first time Oddities attendee said, on the Wine Pages Forum, that it had taken him back to the early days of wine tasting, where it was all both daunting and exciting. I think the whole ethos behind these lunches is to bring excitement back into wine appreciation. Broadening horizons, challenging preconceptions, and challenging ourselves and our palates. The conclusion is almost always that what we are tasting is very good, sometimes very beautiful, and occasionally stunning. It’s such a relief that there are hundreds of brilliant wines out there made in strange places from unusual varieties, because the Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhônes some of us drank in our youth are now mainly in the domain of the very wealthy.


“Kalkspitz” 2015, Christophe Hoch, Krems, Austria – This is made in a pétillant naturel style from a blend of mainly Grüner Veltliner, then Zweigelt, plus other varieties, just east of Krems, though of course this wine is labelled as a Landwein, not Kremstal. One Austrian retailer described it as like a cross between cider and root beer. One person at lunch said perry is more apt, and I agree. It’s a bit mean to serve a wine like this as a refreshing aperitif to an unsuspecting audience, but these people know what to expect (mostly). You usually have the choice of cloudy (due to the yeast still in the undisgorged bottle) or clean (by standing it up for a couple of days). Thanks to our wonderful railways I had been forced to leg-it from a far away rail terminus. Up and down the stairs of the London Underground it went, so (very) cloudy it had to be. But dry and refreshing it was…I was pretty thirsty. When I first wrote about this wine on my Blog I said it was one of the weirdest wines of the year. There you go – Newcomer Wines sell it, if you dare.


Kayagatake Koshu 2012, Grace Vineyards, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan – I’ve had quite a few Koshu, having been to Japan several times, and sought it out in the UK. It’s not impossible to find, as supermarket chain Marks & Spencer even had one some time ago (they may well still sell it). I like the grape variety, for me it’s the best of the Japanese grapes, but it can be a bit “dull” on the palate and mushroomy in its cheaper versions. This one was pale in colour, very fresh and with good acidity. I’m not sure I’ve had a better one. It really is a grape worth trying.


Pinot Auxerrois “Schouwen-Druiveland” Barrique 2013, De Kleine Schorre, Netherlands – Like a Number 74 bus, none for ages and then two come along at once. No sooner have I drunk my first truly good Dutch wine (Apostelhoeve Riesling) and along comes another. Golden yellow in colour, it does have a PG nose to it, but I had wrongly guessed Semillon. It had that touch of richness.  It was also very fresh and clean, but with depth too.


Clairette Blanche 2014, Craven Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa – I’ve had two or three wines from Craven but not this one, and I’d been wanting to try it (as indeed the next wine as well). It had a smokiness on the nose, but the palate was clean, refreshing. We went all around the houses trying to identify this…well, you don’t often see Clairette vinified as a single varietal (do you ever?). A couple of people were kicking themselves for not guessing it. One of the nicest wines in an excellent, great value, range from this producer.


“La Rapture” 2013 (Vin de France), Turner-Pageot, Languedoc – This would be a Faugères if Sauvignon Blanc were allowed in the AOC. I did guess the grape variety simply because it reminded me of some of the “natural wines” from Sancerre. As it opened in the glass it did in fact become more like the Sauvignon Blanc we are used to, but for a few minutes it seemed to cloak itself in a greater complexity (no, it wasn’t reduction!). Another nice and relatively inexpensive wine. I’m told Leon Stolarski Fine Wines may have some on special offer at the moment. Well worth a look (actually, if you like Languedoc-Roussillon you really should know this excellent importer of small producers from Southern France).


Rufete Blanca 2014, Sierra de Salamanca, Vinas del Cambrico, Spain – Salamanca is one of my favourite cities in Spain, home to the country’s nicest “Plaza Mayor”, its oldest university (1134), and a spectacular double cathedral, yet I had no idea it possessed a wine region. Neither had I tried Rufete before, so it’s little wonder no one guessed the grape variety. This was the first of my “wines of the day”. I know what I thought it was. I was erring towards some Chenin Blanc in there, and I was willing to go out on a limb with an Eben Sadie Chenin Blend. Oh the pleasure of blind tasting! Oh the thrill of seeing your friends laugh at your ignorance. But I stand by the Chenin similarity, and the quality of this wine is little short of stunning. That’s why tasting this sort of thing blind is so exciting, you lose the chance to be influenced by your unconscious bias. Well done OW Loeb for sniffing this out. I think quantities are tiny.


“Aspriu” 2012, Celler Pardas, Penedès – This producer is based in the hills inland from Sitges, in the Province of Barcelona. I have been lucky enough to drink their excellent red wine made from a local star variety of some obscurity, Sumoll (called Collita Roja, I’m glad I still have a bottle left). This white wine is made from a variety more often associated with sparkling Cava, Xarello (or Xarel-lo). Another lovely wine from Pardas, this comes from a 1.2 hectare plot at around 200 metres altitude. Grapes are picked, refrigerated, macerated on skins for 12 hours, then part (2/3) fermented in concrete egg, part (1/3) in Hungarian oak on lees. I don’t think you’ll find these wines in the UK but they have a nice web site at . Check it out. Nice wild boar on the label too.


“Vinu Jancu” 2014, La Garagista, Vermont, USA – I tasted this domaine’s wines at the Real Wine Fair in London this year and liked them a lot – you can read about them in my first article on Real Wine 2016 here (I came away with a bottle of their pét-nat, “Grace & Favour”). This wine, made believe it or not from the hybrid variety, Crescent, spends five weeks in demijohns macerating on skins. It has an onion skin colour and is all quince and lemon. I looked back at my notes last night and it seems to have been my favourite wine from La Garagista back in April. This was another contender for Wine of the Day.

Pinela 2014, Vipava Valley, Batic, Slovenia – Pinela is the autochthonous grape variety which is a speciality of the Vipava Valley in Western Slovenia (north of both Kras and Trieste), and the mainstay grape of this producer. Batic are one of the regions best producers and the family claims to have been winemakers since the 1500s. This is the second Batic wine I’ve had this year and both have been very fine. The Pinela has had a little skin contact but it’s a long way from being an orange wine. Elegant and complex, a good match for firm fish and white meat, and another example of a completely unknown grape variety making wine as good as any classic variety.

Arbois 1988, Camille Loye, Jura – I hope that I’m using the correct tense here when I say that Camille Loye is in his nineties. He’s retired, but I do hope still going strong as I’m pretty sure the sign to his d0maine, which appears in a photo in Wink Lorch’s Jura book, was still there last month. Loye is one of the great old winemakers of Arbois, but not nearly as famous as Jacques Puffeney of Montigny-les-Arsures and Pierre Overnoy of Pupillin. When he started out in the 1950s I’m guessing he never dreamed how fashionable this corner of Eastern France would become. This wine tastes nothing like its age, a Loye trait, I understand, from what Wink says. It was a privilege to drink this brambly-smooth medium bodied Trousseau. You could be fooled into thinking it’s about a decade old, maybe fifteen years, but hardly twenty-eight. Lovely. If you ever see any, grab some. It’s not all about Puffeney and Overnoy, however masterful that pair can be.


Gamay 2014, Cave Spring Cellars, Niagara Escarpment VQA, Canada – My second Cave Spring of the year. This Gamay is from fruit grown on the Escarpment at Beamsville and Twenty Mile Bench. The fruit is really pristine, almost as you imagine a nicely focused cool climate Gamay to be, but don’t read that as in any way under ripe – this is perfectly ripe. And I’m going to use the “M”-word again here, very mineral too. But nevertheless, definitely Gamay, especially on the nose. If it reminds me of anywhere, I’d guess Geneva. I like this. Of necessity, I imagine, it costs over £20 retail in the UK, but well worth a try if my description appeals. Try Theatre of Wine for a bottle.


Rossese di Dolceaqua Superiore “Posau” 2012, Maccario Dringenberg – Rossese is the mainstay red grape of this DOC of Western Liguria, near the French border, and this is one of the finest examples made. There’s a touch of earthiness, but it’s bright, fragrant, with red and black fruits and as the grapes are grown at altitude (up to 500m) it clearly benefits from the cool nights, which remove any chance of it being a jammy, alcoholic, wine. I’m not sure whether this wine currently has a UK importer, but we are beginning to see more Ligurian wines in the UK (Red Squirrel has several), and they are increasingly worth making a detour for.


Massandra Pink Muscat 1950, Ministry of Food of the USSR, Crimea – It was a privilege to drink this rare gem, but also a little chilling. Maybe very few of us were born when this was made, but I’m old enough to remember the USSR and the Cold War. Now, with Crimea de facto part of Russia again and an icy wind blowing once more from the East, this seems an uncomfortable blast from the past, culturally. But not uncomfortable to drink. It definitely had the characteristic nose of Muscat (Pink Muscat is always so gently aromatic). It had a lot of sediment but fortified to 15% it was still a magnificent wine, just scented, mouthfilling and very long. Perhaps fading a little, but not much. In the end, there was no contest. Despite Silver and Bronze medals to Vermont and Salamanca, it’s Gold to the Crimean. Now, anyone remember when it was the Russians who won all the Olympic Golds?



The full lineup

Just a quick mention for  Mother Kelly’s next door. We decanted for a swift beer and they have a very good selection. Several of us had the very good Estonian Session IPA, pump 5 on the list.

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Va Tutto…Bon

Tutto Wines held their French Portfolio Tasting at Ducksoup in Dean Street, Soho, yesterday (hence the linguistic mangling). Many of you will already have read my article which covered the (mainly) Italian side of their list, which they showed at the Vaults Tasting in Farringdon last week. As befits a small but adventurous importer, the French side of the list is pretty tiny, only seven producers on show, but it is very well formed. They also happen to work with a couple of producers whose wines I have loved for a few years, but who are hard enough to find in France, let alone in the UK. Their availability in London seems almost a miracle.

LA GRAPPERIE – Coteaux du Loir

You probably don’t need telling that the River Loir is a northern tributary of the Loire itself. The wines up there are not especially well known, but it does provide a young winemaker with an opportunity to grab some land for less than a small fortune. Reynaud Guettier, based in Bueil en Touraine, has done just that, around 4-5 hectares in numerous plots of old vines (most around 40 to 80 years old). He began work in 2004, but Tutto have just been working with him for a couple of vintages. The wines are all Vins de France and, like all the wines on show yesterday, no sulphur is added.

La Bueilloise 2013 is a pét-nat made from an even split between Chenin Blanc and Pineau d’Aunis. The latter is a terroir sensitive variety found mainly in Anjou and Touraine, which often produces palish, peppery, reds (and pinks) which can be surprisingly tannic if not handled well. It’s sometimes known locally as Chenin Noir. The grapes for La Bueilloise are direct pressed, so the colour is in the dark yellow to orange spectrum. It’s quite cloudy, though that may be the latter part of the bottle with its yeast sediment. It’s also very fresh and dry, quite precise and direct. Nicely savoury on the finish too. It comes off a mixture of red clay, limestone and some silex, and you get the impression that the terroir comes through the winemaking, not always common with the pét-nat genre.

Aphrodite 2010 is old vine Chenin (some vines are 100 years old), undergoing a direct gravity press into old barrels, lees ageing without stirring, for three years. Nice complexity from this six year old with its soft and gentle nose.

La Désirée 2011 is a Chenin selection with a five year élèvage in old oak. The nose is more varietally Chenin than the Aphrodite. It’s a bigger wine, perhaps less fresh but this is down to more body and complexity. Quite an imposing wine, in a positive way. Impressive.

Le Gravot 2011 is a blend of 75% Pineau d’Aunis with Gamay, Grolleau and Côt (aka Malbec), whole bunch fermented before a year’s ageing. It has nice fruit complementing a lovely pale red colour, but there is that characteristic tannic bite and peppery finish, so I definitely recommend it as a food wine. It could alternatively take being served cool.



Robinot is pretty well known to lovers of Loire natural wines. He’s knocking on, in his sixties, but this unassuming man, described by some as a Loire Legend, has his wines served in some of the smartest and hippest bars and restaurants in Europe and beyond. He’s also a prominent member of the small SAINS group (Sans Aucun Intrant ni Sulfites Ajoutés), which is a strong signal as to what you are getting here. Jean-Pierre is also famous for his first career – he ran the well known bar, Ange Vin, in Paris before returning to the place of his birth, Chahaignes, to begin a new career as a winemaker in 2001. In fifteen years he has achieved miracles, but not without pretty much alienating the region’s wine authorities, who perhaps find the wines a little atypical, but more importantly, too intellectually challenging, at a guess.

L’As des Années Folles 2014 is Robinot’s beautiful pétillant-naturel, a blend of Chenin and Pineau d’Aunis, the latter adding a touch of colour after 15 months on lees. Frothy, fresh and clear, this is perhaps Robinot’s simplest wine, but boy is it good. Very clean as well, on nose and palate.

Bistrologie is the one I know best from this range. The 2013 is 30-y-o Chenin Blanc given a one year élèvage. The orange hue is not from skin contact, but from late picking with possibly a hint of botrytis. I like this wine a lot, very “drinkable”, if you know what I mean.

Charme 2013 gives you 20 year older vines and a longer ageing for a few more pounds. The main difference to me is in the nose, a higher tone and greater precision and concentration.

Le Regard 2014 has a nice “iron filings” nose with maybe a hint of violets or lavender. It’s 100% Pineau d’Aunis aged in fibreglass vats (must admit, the nose got me thinking concrete, it has a nice earthy element beneath the smooth fruit).

The last wine from Jean-Pierre is Nocturne 2014, his most expensive wine (this, and Le Regard, are both also available in magnum). It is made from very old Pineau d’Aunis (80-110-y-o) vines and this time aged in old wood, not fibreglass. Colour isn’t really deeper than Le Regard, but the nose is much more concentrated, quite lovely in fact. There’s also more tannin so it does seem to need ageing, but it has the whiff of potential about it. A very impressive bottling.



Regular readers who go back a long way with me will know that I’ve visited Alice and Charles’ Arbois domaine, and love their wines. I’ve purchased them on all my recent visits to the region, but apart from a brief spell with another UK importer, they have been off our UK shelves for a while. Sad, because their wines are just so exciting and interesting. But they are also pretty scary for the traditionalists. They’ve had a hard time of it since starting out in 2005- originally calling themselves Opus Vinum, but hey, guess what, the folks at California’s Opus One didn’t like that and threatened all manner of nastiness through the corporation’s lawyers, so the story goes. It saddens me most because Alice Bouvot (I’ve only met Charles briefly) is such an amazingly nice, kind, person, as well as a talented and extremely hard working winemaker. Every other producer I know in Arbois always has nice things to say about them.

They renamed themselves as Domaine L’Octavin, retaining a link to their passion, Opera, and have built a range which seems to grow every year. They have been inspired and aided by Stéphane Tissot, and in fact they do seem to have plots of vines in locations quite close to some of his (and I’m sure the bubbling amphora in their winery has something to do with Stéphane – I think it came from Frank Cornelissen). Such is the demand for these wines that two of their five on the Tutto List had sold out in bottle before the tasting, but there is still a little of the Corvées Trousseau in magnum. The remaining three wines are available, but will probably sell out quickly.

Pamina 2014 is a Chardonnay from Le Mailloche, the site for possibly my favourite of Stéphane Tissot’s single vineyard bottlings. One reader I know will be interested in the fact that the vines used to be farmed by Domaine Villet, one of the very first organic domaines in the region. It has 18 months in old wood and is a very unusual Chardonnay, really taking you to a different territory. How you react will probably determine whether you are wary of this domaine or filled with enthusiasm. Personally, I’m in the latter camp, as you can see. An exciting wine, which in a quiet and understated way almost redefines the grape variety.

Ulm comes in both 2014 and 2015 vintages. 2014 is 85% Pinot Noir blended with 15% Chardonnay, whole bunch fermented for three months. Very appealing nose, dry, it has a chalky finish but smooth fruit as well. 2015 has a different blend, 55% Pinot Noir with 45% Chardonnay. That makes for a pale, light red so that you might think it’s a Poulsard. It is clearly quite youthful and has a little tannin, but there’s a really nice mouthfeel. It’s a very tasty wine in both vintages, but the 2015 blend somehow appeals more, although it’s slightly less approachable.

I found a bottle in the cellar with no vintage, possibly a 2013 from before the days when you could stick a year on a Vin de France. Must drink it soon. I have also drunk several other Octavin wines recently, mentioned somewhere in the “recent wines” posts on the Blog. One of them, the Dora Bella Poulsard, is one of the wines sold out by Tutto. Both that and the Trousseau, which they still have in magnums, are at least as good as those tasted here. Also look out for Cherubin, a Vin Jaune except that all L’Octavin wines are made outside the appellation system, and “Cul Rond…“, a blanc de noirs Poulsard, vinified as a white. Smells of Poulsard, has the texture of a Poulsard, but is white, so a nice visual challenge. Oh yes! Perhaps Tutto will get some in the future. I know Alice was working on a blend of Jura and Savoie grapes, a bit like Ganevat with his Jura/Beaujolais project. This couple never stand still.




Frédéric Cossard makes wines under the Domaine de Chassorney label, and also operates as a micro-negoce, and I tasted a mix of the two yesterday. The USP chez-Cossard is a very long fermentation, with no cooling of the must, and when I say “long”, I mean at least 40 days, sometimes months. The wines undergo no burgundian batonnage, and are not racked, but attention to detail enables the fruit to be kept pristine. Frédéric makes a raft of wines, and Tutto were showing six.

Bourgogne Blanc Bigotes 2013 is, like its red cousin, a negoce bottling but it still comes from 40-year-old vines, near Puligny. Simple but savoury, and very fresh. These wines are not cheap, at this level of the AOP, but they are very good, as good as many domaine Bourgognes.

Combe Bazin 2014 is a village Saint-Romain, from a reasonably large lieu-dit up in the hills (on limestone, south of the village, above Sous le Château). The nose begins quite linear but the palate is nicely rounded yet fresh, not heavy. I do like this, a good leap from the Bourgogne (in quality, not price). It may be climate change, but have we not seen a real quality jump in both Saint-Romain and Saint-Aubin in the last few years? Of course, 2014 is generally excellent for Burgundy whites (not shabby for reds either, of course), so this is a relative bargain.

Bourgogne Rouge Bedeau 2013 is from three different vineyards near to Volnay, the fruit macerated for one month in open topped conical vats. Pale, fruity nose and smooth on the palate.

Saint-Romain Sous Roche 2014 is made from more old vine fruit from a site further north and next to Combe Bazin. This, however, is a rouge, and even this young, there are cherries and berries matched with intense (and cf my previous article, I’m going to use this word without shame) minerality.

Volnay 1er Cru 2013 is a blend of Frédéric’s two Premier Cru sites which suffered from hail in 2013, not surprisingly as Volnay copped it badly. Slightly hard and closed nose to start with but the nose develops in the glass. It needs a little time. The fruit is nice here, it’s just still grippy. A good effort in the circumstances, showing that attention to detail in a tough year will yield results. Not sure how much of this he made, but there can’t be a lot.

Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Damodes 2013 is, along with the two Bourgognes, a negociant wine, although I think the domaine may own some Nuits vines in the Clos des Argillières Premier Cru. It comes from a split site on the border with Vosne. South of the vineyard road is Premier Cru and north of it is the Village AOC. Presumably, as this is not labelled 1er Cru, it’s from the northern section. It’s another precise wine but bigger than the Volnay, and with more evident structure. It’s hard to read – it certainly has the fruit to age and I think it is going to be more impressive than the Volnay in time, for sure. Not quite as pretty, though.



These wines are very much worth a look. To say they are good value perhaps does them a disservice, given their provenance in a region increasingly being noted for quality as well as well-priced wines. Jérôme Guichard bought his few hectares of vines from Guy Blanchard. Never heard of him? Well, his wines were served at the opening of Racines in Paris for starters.

Jérôme has a mix of about 1.5ha each of Chardonnay (the original parcel), plus Gamay planted on black volcanic soils in the 1940s, just after WW2. The Chardonnay, Vin d’Montbled 2014 is quite unusual, with a spectrum on the nose quite unlike what you’d expect of Chardonnay. Blanchard’s Chardonnays were said to smell like Savagnin (as a compliment), but this is something different. The wine on the palate is really vivant and fresh.

The Gamay is called Jus de Chaussette and I tasted the 2014 again. It is fermented long and slow as whole bunches. The nose is pure Gamay but, along with the cherry fruit on the tongue, there is a spiciness you don’t expect from this variety. Fascinating in a good way. Both of these are wines to try, the Gamay being remarkably cheap for such an artisan wine with a real point of difference.


What can I say about Julie Balagny? I adore her wines, more than any other of the newer producers who are setting Beaujolais alight (and there are a good few). But her wines are harder to find than hens’ teeth, and I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I’m sitting here typing this when I should have put in my order, and you lot are going to beat me to it. Not only that, my usual Parisian sources are, almost as we speak, being scoured by certain individuals and when I go in a couple of weeks, they will be cleaned out (my friends tell me they are even thinner on the ground there than a year ago).

Thankfully Julie doesn’t suffer fools, and I know people who’ve tried rocking up at her place and been given short shrift, so that method of procurement is probably not recommended. If these are all gone I may cry. But be warned. It’s not Bojo as we know it, Jim. Leave your expectations at the door…and wonder just how the Tutto boys managed to land a pallet (if probably a very small one)? The one advantage I have, I think, is that people who don’t know the wines might look at the prices and find them high for Beaujolais. You won’t find them cheaper anywhere else…in fact, I think you won’t find them hardly anywhere else.

Simone is the one with the punky lady on the label, although you can’t always go by labels here, which are prone to change. It is usually a Fleurie, but in 2014 the fermentation either got blocked or wouldn’t finish. So Simone in 2014 is a Vin de France, quite easy going, just 12.5% alcohol, and quite frankly, delicious.

Beaujolais 2015 is Julie’s straight cuvée from a parcel she only acquired last year. It’s a carbonic maceration wine, I think technically “Villages”, but the vines (near Fleurie but outside the Cru, not in the south of the region) are around 80 years old. Cherries and more cherries, a touch of high toned fruit, but its rounded mouthfeel makes this classic glugging.

Moulin-à-Vent “Mamouth” 2015 is made from some of Balagny’s oldest vines, over 100 years, planted on a steep, quartz-rich, slope. The nose is deep and serious, and so is the wine itself. Serious stuff, and seriously good, but very distinctive. This may actually be the finest cuvée I’ve tasted as yet from 2015, and I’ve had quite a number. But remember, I’m biased and this can’t possibly be seen as an objective statement!



Manuel Di Vecchi Staraz doesn’t sound very French, and in fact he comes from Tuscany. I admit, I knew nothing about him until yesterday. He makes what looks like a red pét-nat with a name remarkably similar to Lambrusco, a wild looking Mourvèdre in a litre bottle, and a pink wine in a tetra-pak p0uch, called Judas.

On show at the tasting were two wines. Ellittico 2015 is a Grenache/Carignan blend (bottled as Vin de France, not a Collioure table wine) , foot trodden, 2-3 week maceration, old oak. Delicious! Plummy with perhaps a hint of violets.

Even better, but frustratingly bottled in a 40cl “vase” (albeit a very lovely one, just not much in the bottle) is Manuel’s Banyuls 2012. 16% alcohol, smooth, concentrated, long…the nose is stunning, kind of caramel/toffee with red plums with a bit of butter too. Every sniff is different as it evolves in the glass. It’s smooth, not at all spirity (Manuel distills his own spirit for fortification from Grenache), and has a lightness to go with the concentration. It’s hard to judge a wine like this on a mere “sip and spit”, you really need a contemplative glass, of which 40cl won’t provide many (maybe just enough to share, but preferably for solo consumption). But admitting that, it does seem exceptional, and a little different to the more classically produced Banyuls I’ve drunk. This is a barrel-aged version, no demijohns or carboys.


For a nice touch, Alex of Tutto pulled a bottle from under the counter before a few of us left the tasting. It was made from one of those myriad but delicious Piemontese grape varieties which are now seeing a wider appreciation outside the region, Pelaverga. It’s not (I think) one of the wines they currently list from Olek Bondonio. Olek makes wine in Barbaresco and quite a few people commented positively (some extremely positively) on his Barbaresco Roncagliette 2013 at the Vaults Tasting last week. Pelaverga 2015 comes from the same site as the Barbaresco. It’s a simple, quirky, wine with predominantly red fruits (strawberry, mainly) but a touch of bramble in the texture on the finish. If you like your Freisa, Grignolino (Olek also makes one of these) or Ruché, then this is one to try.


Tutto Wines are:

Alex Whyte – ; Damiano Fiamma –

For prices and availability contact Tutto.




Posted in biodynamic wine, Burgundy, Jura, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On Rocky Ground, Again

I first wrote about “minerality” under the title “The Rudest Word in Wine” back in August 2015, and I guess that title sums up the approach of many wine pros. I think, re-reading that article, in some ways it probably conveys my argument more succinctly than what I have written here, today. The term has been under intense discussion in the wino Twittersphere this week, and as I became involved in that conversation, I wanted to set out my own position again. I think perhaps I’ve developed my thoughts a little over the past year, and I do think it’s a topic that needs revisiting. You see, as usual, I believe I have some of the answers, and it’s deceptively simple. If you are interested in what I think, then you can follow the link (above) and read that article first. If you are just a little bit interested, then you can read this one. They cover much of the same ground, although as I said, my own thoughts have evolved a little in the intervening twelve months or so.

Minerality, as a term cropping up in tasting notes, has been around for quite a long time, but some of the older and wiser wine writers seem to think (according to Jamie Goode in the article to which I link, below) it was the 1980s when it first really saw the light of day. In the last few years it has become ubiquitous. This probably has something to do with a shift in emphasis in the wine world, from cellar to vineyard. Remember back in the 1980s and 90s, where it was all about working the juice. New oak, battonage, micro-oxygenation, even cryo-extraction. Now the focus has shifted onto getting really healthy grapes to express as best as possible the site from which the wine is made. The “Terror of Terroir” as some cynics like to put it.

Minerality is not something which has only formed in the mouths of wine writers. Producers and wine merchants have not been slow to jump on the bandwagon. The idea that your vine is sitting on a steep rocky slope, sipping up all that mineral goodness in the rocks, and converting it directly into something you can perceive in the glass, sounds very evocative, does it not? I think it may have been wine writer John Livingstone-Learmonth who coined the phrase soil to glass transfer, which appears to encapsulate this idea perfectly, although I’m sure that is NOT what John really means at all by that phrase.


The backlash began maybe a year ago. Scientists and some scientifically qualified wine writers have pointed to the physiology of the plant and its system for taking nutrients from the soil. It doesn’t take a great deal of concentration to follow their arguments, like those put forward at a recent Institute of Masters of Wine seminar, which was followed by a Drinks Business Headline “An [IMW] seminar on mineralogy has utterly debunked a persistent myth about minerality, saying it is not related directly to any sort of nutrient uptake by vines”.

The man who has done most to contribute to the scientific side of this debate is Alex Maltman, Professor of Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University in Wales, and regular contributor on wine’s relationship to its physical environment in serious periodicals like World of Fine Wine. Professor Maltman outlines several reasons why “minerality” is a scientific myth. So, we learn that mineral nutrients are not the same as those required by the vine; mineral elements are not necessarily bio-available to the vine; and mineral elements do not dissolve, nor vaporise, and if found in wine at all, they are found at levels way below the taste threshold. I could go on but you get the idea, or rather, facts, don’t you. You have to say that if Professor Maltman were to appear as an expert in a court of law, it would be, as we lawyers almost never say, an open and shut case.

The best article I’ve read on the subject was a précis of a talk given in Barcelona in 2014 by Dr Jamie Goode, on his site, titled “Rescuing Minerality“. I’m not going to reproduce all of his arguments here, and if you are interested in a more nuanced look at the science, I would strongly suggest you follow the link. One of his points of departure from Prof. Maltman is in suggesting that minerals transferred to wine are far more likely to come from nutrients broken down in the soil from decaying microbial matter rather than from decomposed bedrock, for example (which is a myth Prof. Maltman is keen to debunk).

I am not a scientist. In fact, I trained and worked in the law before wine became a complete obsession. So naturally, I can see the scientific clarity of Prof. Maltman’s arguments, and I can also see the clearly nuanced argument put forward by Dr Goode, who has a PhD in Plant Biology, as well.

My own interpretation doesn’t require me to pass any form of judgement on these arguments, because for me, “minerality” is not necessarily a scientific term. It’s a descriptive one.

Those who follow a fundamentalist approach in favour of vines taking up minerals in the soil, and then being transferred into the finished product in a way that we can perceive through taste (and there are such people), often cite taste sensations which their critics suggest are merely manifestations of acidity in the wine. I can see that, to an extent. But such assertions are predominantly made about white wines – a slatey quality in Mosel Riesling, flint in Chablis, chalk or tufa in some Loire whites, and so on. Yet what I perceive as a mineral taste sensation is also equally apparent in plenty of red wines, like those I mention in my previous article: Ahr Spätburgunder, Marcillac, Etna Rosso and Valpolicella for example. I am thinking in particular of wines grown on volcanic soils and rocks, although the same or similar kinds of flavours (and smells) come through in wines which have spent time in terracotta too (COS Pithos is a really good example of this).


What I am experiencing with these wines is, in terms of taste, clearly something to do with texture and mouthfeel. I am convinced it’s more than acidity because you can find the data for acidity in, for example, wines from the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer in Germany. Some wines clearly have the mouthfeel I am describing, but they are not necessarily the wines with greater pure acidity. Obviously the perception of acidity in these wines differs depending on the residual sugar which balances it, but I still believe that some sites in this wider region have a propensity to produce wines with more “minerality” than others. This would suggest at least the possibility that terroir could be an influence on the perception of minerality in these wines, along perhaps with acidity.

Let’s consider the reds. I will accept that in an appellation like Marcillac, in the Aveyron in Central France, the sensation which I call “minerality” could be as much to do with the dominant local grape, Fer Servadou, as it is connected to the local volcanic soils. The problem is that when there are so few good local producers, extensive research over different sites is made harder. But those wines do show a clear sensation on the tongue and in the mouth that I call “minerality”, though here it is hard to differentiate this from another controversial tasting term, “earthy“. The issue is somewhat easier to explore in Sicily, around the Etna Region. Here there are more wines and more very good producers. There is also a clear differentiation here between wines grown on volcanic soils and those which are not. Here, it is not always easy to perceive differences in mouthfeel, except perhaps for a direct and tangible freshness. But maybe that’s again just a manifestation of the dominant Nerello Mascalese grape variety and its other variants? Or perhaps it’s down to the predominance of biodynamic and/or “natural” viticultural practices and winemaking techniques?

So, we are not really sure whether we can perceive differences in minerality which might show which “soil” or “rock” we are supposed to be tasting, yet we can usually determine that a dryish Riesling is from the wider Mosel, that an understated Chardonnay is from Chablis, or that a particular red is probably a single Contrada wine from Mount Etna. Those who know Domaine Cros’s “Lo Sang del Païs” Marcillac can often spot it in a blind tasting. But it’s self evident that we decipher these wines based on a host of different perception factors, obviously not by deciding what kind of minerals we think we can taste.

I’m not sure it matters too much what minerality is, and where it comes from right now. That is something we can work on. The startling conclusion from the IMW seminar, which made the headlines on social media, was that whilst no one really knows what minerality is, it is nevertheless something most wine tasters think they sometimes perceive. So I think we just need to say loud and clear to the scientists that when we use the term minerality, NO!, we don’t mean to suggest that we have mineral nutrients there in the glass, derived directly from the bedrock itself.

In order to do this we will need to be careful not to use words like “slatey” in relation to Mosel Riesling, or “chalky” for Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Descriptors like those might at first seem rather apt, none more so than my own infamous “tastes like the wet pebbles from an alpine stream”, used to convey the pleasure sensation of drinking a bottle of Blanc de Morgex which had been cooling in exactly such a stream, with a picnic lunch high up in Aosta’s Val Grisenche (see that previous article). Apt as those descriptive words may seem, they do erroneously, and misleadingly, appear to convey the notion that the rock has been sucked up by the vine and squeezed from the berries into the glass.

What is it we are using a term like minerality for, if not as a description of some sort of “bedrock-to-glass” scientific process? For communication of course. Because it does evoke something textural that we can all perceive, and it goes beyond merely saying that a wine has texture. When I use the term I am sure that fellow tasters know to what I’m referring, exactly. And I can assure you that Vin Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle Cuvée Rayon, from the Morgex cooperative, truly does taste, among other things, of wet pebbles.

In conveying the majesty, or the beauty, indeed the magic, of wine to those who read our inconsequential scribbling, we have an urge to convey more than facts. We want to communicate the same sensations we experience in a way that will perhaps inspire the reader to go out and seek those same sensations from the same bottle. It’s the answer to the foremost question for a wine writer: How do we share the glass in front of us with the reader? We mustn’t mislead, and in the area of mineral-like sensations, there’s a real risk we might do so. But minerality is not the only evocative term we use, and even if it might be the most contentious, it does clearly evoke something we can all relate to.

Does it matter that “minerality” lacks precision, even if it doesn’t lack meaning as a descriptive term? The scientific, analytical approach of the Master of Wine qualification might well say that it certainly does matter. I think that the poet would say that it doesn’t. And the best wine writing surely combines both analytical precision (to educate us) and poetry to inspire us.


Posted in Minerals and Wine, Subjectivity in Wine Tasting, Wine, Wine Science, Wine Writing | Tagged | 4 Comments

A Different Market Tavern

In England at least, a market tavern tends to be a noisy pub selling warm beer with generous amounts slopping onto a sticky floor. Old Spitalfields Market has Taberna do Mercado, a very different proposition, and as we are not blessed with a large number of Portuguese restaurants in the UK, having a tapas style restaurant a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street Station is exciting. Even more exciting when you know that this is a collaboration which involves Nuno Mendes (Chiltern Firehouse etc) and chef Antonio Galapito.

Dashing straight from the Vaults Tasting, we were pretty hungry, but a large pile of small plates and copious quantities of wine managed to sort us out. Perhaps the tapas idea is a bit misleading, the restaurant itself describing its wares as “pesticos, tinned fish, pregos and bifanas” – in other words, the kind of fare you’d find in a “typical Lisboeta”, though in the circumstances I’d add a very good one. The plates are small, but there’s plenty on the menu to fill an empty stomach.


The wine list at Taberna do Mercado is pretty interesting. You don’t often see red Vinho Verde on a UK wine list and Adega de Monção makes a deep purple, lightly frothy, version which is served here in a white ceramic cup, a modern take on the traditional pottery cups it is sometimes served in locally (although I remember it being served more often in a small glass). The bitterness of red Vinho Verde goes really well with this kind of food, and we drank it with our first two dishes, prawn “rissois”, breadcrumbed parcels of delicious prawns in sauce, and battered green beans fritters.

Friends had arranged corkage on a bottle and they pulled out a real cracker. When they produced the Niepoort Coche Douro Branco 2012 the waiter became much warmer. This is the first time I’ve had this particular Niepoort cuvée, and I thought it was exceptional. It’s made from a blend of traditional Portuguese varieties, mainly Rabigato, Codega do Larinho and Arinto, grown at altitude (600-750m) on schist. I could swear it is really top quality Chardonnay grown on limestone, having a kind of Burgundiqan character (weight, buttery, nutty, rich – if still youthful). Asked where I’d place this, I did rather sheepishly venture Meursault. It’s not a cheap wine, probably retailing for at least £75 in the UK, but I was very impressed.


One of the specialities of Taberna is “tinned fish”. When I saw this on the web site I admit I got the wrong idea, thinking they meant a commercial canning, potentially good but not what you expect in a restaurant. But, of course, they cook the fish themselves, in tins, and although they have a blackboard of “specials”, always a good place to go, the tinned fish is something you shouldn’t miss. We ate mackerel and monkfish, and the Coche washed it down nicely.


Naturally Taberna also has a good selection of cured meats, and we tried a couple. I particularly liked the cut from under the shoulder, one we were told is rarely seen outside Portugal. The waiter warned us there was a reasonable amount of fat, but to be honest this was a plus, not a negative. Very thinly sliced, it melted in the mouth. We also chose the Pork Secreto from the specials board, one of the more expensive dishes on the menu (£15), but an exquisite plate of pork strips, smoked, and served with seaweed and cucumber, which was my savoury dish of the day.We drank a glass of Vadio Bairrada 2012, nicely rich with a grippy twist of fruit and tannin on the finish, another good combo.

When in Rome…well, in Northern Spain you have flan, the crème caramel variant, and in Portugal you have the custard tart. I can honestly say that nowhere have I had such a magnificent custard tart. Be warned, if you don’t make sure to order when you book they will be all gone. The couple I dined with had the foresight, having dined there before, to add on some extras to take home. The Bairrada long finished, the chef suggested a glass of unusual white (not tawny) port, Casa de Ste Eufemia Special Reserve 30-y-o (19.5%). Sweet but also a lot more complex than your usual white port, and again, a perfect accompaniment to the dessert.

We finished with very decent coffee and a small glass of botanical gin. The bill, including £15 corkage and service came to a pretty reasonable £40 each, considering we had quite an appetite to assuage. I will hopefully go back before too long.

Taberna do Mercado is at 107B Commercial Street, London E1 6GB, just inside Old Spitalfields Market (tabernamercado). For compulsive wine buyers, it’s just over the market from a branch of Vagabond Wines (with their selection on enomatics), and a mere five minute stroll, back towards Liverpool Street Station, from the exceptional Uncorked…it would be rude not to.

Posted in Dining, Wine, Wine and Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vaulting Ambition

Yesterday I was at the autumn outing of the Vault Tastings, held at Winemakers Club’s Holborn Arches site. The Vault Tastings comprise six small, and not so small, importers (plus a “guest table”) who share a common outlook, even if their portfolios are quite different. A lot of the wines on taste at these events tend to be the sort of thing which will creep under the radar at some larger agencies, and that would be a shame. You can be sure that at The Vaults you will taste plenty of wines that we’d be the poorer for not having available. The importers are Tutto Wines, Howard Ripley, Gergovie Wines, Carte Blanche, Clark Foyster and Winemakers Club, and the guests were SWiG. In addition, the wine importers were joined this time by Androuet, the cheesemonger, Cocoa Runners (fine single estate chocolate) and The Charcuterie Board (British cured meats).

The Winemakers Club

John Baum and his team are appropriate hosts for The Vaults Tastings. The wines they import are, by their own suggestion, “local wines from around the world”. These wines are pretty much singular creations, outside the norm, often even within their own countries and regions. I’m not sure any producer at this tasting better exemplifies this than Hegyi Kalo from the Eger region in Hungary. Followers of the Blog may have read about the unusual Grüner Veltliner with 100 days of skin contact which I drank recently. I’d rank it as one of my top wines of the year so far. On show yesterday were their Czereesnyerees and Kekfrankos, both following a similar, if less extreme, path of skin contact weirdness, a mountain of thrills and something to make the more conservative wine critic shudder. If I ever took Robert Parker prisoner (let’s face it, he’d never answer my dinner invitation) I’d say he could only leave after a sane and objective critique of the Czereesnyerees, and after having written its name fifty times with no spelling errors.

The other truly standout producer on show here was Domaine des Marnes Blanches. Pauline and Géraud Fromont, based down south in Sainte-Agnès, are rising stars of the Jura Region. Again, I recently drank their multi-site 2011 Savagnin, Empreinte, stunningly good with a few years of bottle age. This time I tried a couple of wines from the generally excellent 2015 vintage, the single vineyard Savagnin Muscaté “En Jensillard”, and the Poulsard (both Côtes du Jura, both delicious, although they both need more time). Then a treat, a sip of the off-list Vin Jaune 2008. Like that of Domaine de la Tournelle in particular (see recent “Jura Week 1”), it’s a VJ which has such freshness it could be approachable young (though obviously will improve with keeping). In a month where I’ve tasted rather a good number of Vins Jaunes, this was one of the best, very impressive indeed.

I must mention the bracing pét-nat from Crocizia in Italy’s Emilia Region, made from Malvasia, and Riecine‘s ever exciting Chianti Classico (2014 on show). The latter is a wine I don’t buy often enough, mainly because there are always too many new wines when I venture under the arches, but I really love it. I also mustn’t forget to mention Romeo del Castello (Allegracore, always impresses) from Etna, nor indeed Karim Vionnet.

Every time I go to Paris now, I trawl those secret places where you can find, if you are lucky, a few bottles of some of the new, young, Beaujolais producers who are reinvigorating this region that was once drowned in a sea of cheap nouveauKarim Vionnet is one such guy, ever since I brought back a bottle of his “Vin de Kav” Chiroubles a couple of years ago. On taste was his Beaujolais-Villages “Du Beur dans les Pinards”, although I’d perhaps recommend his straight “Villages” 2015 as an introduction to the masses of fruit which Vionnet manages to combine with a lively freshness. The “Beur” has more structure and this particular ’15 needs more time to soften a little. Karim is a worthy successor to the “Gang of Four” in his methods and philosophy.


Tutto Wines

Tutto is an Italian specialist which actively seeks to champion some of the lesser known grape varieties of this viticulturally diverse nation. My standout sips included wines made from Pignoletto – from Orsi San Vito in the Colli Bolognesi (a rare grape which thrives here, making light but piquant white wines, often with a little CO2); Zibibbo – an increasingly well used white from Sicily, this version from Barraco having a very unusual (but lovely) nose which reminded me of Lucozade (for non-UK readers, an orange flavoured sparkling glucose drink); and Malvasia – Skerlj‘s Carso white, a wine from limestone terroir showing a mineral complexity and texture, added to by three weeks on skins and three years in old barrels.

My picks from the reds were very different. A fruity Oltrepo Pavese from Barbacarlo was perfumed and simple in a good way, and a typical Lombardian food wine. La Distesa “Rosso Nocenzio” 2014 is a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese with a nice lick of cherry on the nose and grippy tannins – a well made example of a Marche Rosso in a classical style, from Cupramontana in the aforesaid region.

Hard to say which was my favourite wine on the Tutto table. The Carso from Skerlj came close, but it was possibly just pipped by a non-Italian…well, almost Italian. Marko Fon makes his Vitovska in Kras, Slovenia. The clue is in the regional name, remarkably similar to Carso over the border, of which this region is a geological continuation. The Vitovska is a lovely, quite delicate, wine. Tutto also list Fon’s Malvazija, which wasn’t on show but must be worth a try.



Swig is another small independent importer who bring in an impressive selection for their size, and their reputation has grown as a result. Few on the London wine scene will not have heard about them, and their wines are available in increasing numbers of restaurants and small independent wine shops. At tastings like this it’s just not really possible to try every wine on the table, so you have to go and do a bit of prior research, along with seeking the ongoing recommendations of friends who’ve hit them before you. Even so, I’m bound to miss some gems, but with Swig the list of wines I want to mention is quite long.

I already know Collard-Picard and I’ve passed their premises on the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay many times. Swig were showing their Cuvée Prestige, which is a fine bottle. One half Grand Cru Chardonnay, plus 25% each of Premier Cru Pinots Noir and Meunier, fermented in large foudres. There’s no malolactic fermentation, so the wine is very fresh and has a very neat line and precision. At around £40/bottle (less by the case), this is excellent value for a non-vintage prestige blend.

Two New World wines impressed a lot, and I know from the social media noise that others agreed. BLANKbottle is the label of Pieter Walser, who makes wine in the Western Cape. His story is colourful, to say the least, and almost unbelievable. The “blank bottle” name apparently comes from his managing to sell a load of unlabelled Shiraz to a customer who hated Shiraz, all he had left after the South African tax authorities had confiscated almost all of his entire stock. That behind the cuvée Orbifrontal Cortex (Grenache Blanc, Semillon, Verdelho and Clairette with “definitely no Chenin” it was stressed) is equally strange (all to do with meeting a neuro scientist on a plane and later being wired up to test his reactions to his different cuvées), but the wine is delicious and as distinctive as its label.

Continuing with the crazy stories, Brandon Keys’ “One Ball” Chardonnay from his BK Wines in the Adelaide Hills means exactly what you are thinking, though not about Brandon, he’d want me to add (maybe). It’s another distinctive wine, slightly leesy, but unusual enough to keep your interest as it develops. Certainly in the new, leaner style of Australian Chardonnay. One of those wines you actually want to drink a whole bottle of to see how it changes along the way.

There was nice Sicilian Grillo from Valdibella and a very tasty and precise dry Riesling from Stefan Winter (Rheinhessen). Even better, perhaps, was a very unusual dry Tokaji Szamorodni 2010 made by Karadi-Berger. It’s steely with nuts and dried fruits, complex and suggestive of skin contact. There’s a touch of nicely bitter orange peel on the finish.

I also enjoyed Yabby Lake‘s Red Claw Pinot Noir. It’s not a complex wine, but it has bags of fruit on the nose. It’s a good introduction to both Yabby Lake, and the Mornington Peninsula, my own personal favourite Aussie region for Pinot Noir. I have also seen the Red Claw Pinot in Marks & Spencer in the UK, although it’s no cheaper than at Swig.

Before leaving the Swig table, I must just mention that they have a good range of AA Badenhorst wines from The Cape/Swartland (in fact their whole South Africa offering is well worth checking out). They have a few Badenhorst bottlings you wont find in some other stockists, including their marvelous vermouth made from Chenin Blanc, Caperitif, which you can even accompany with Adi Badenhorst’s own proprietary tonic water.


Howard Ripley

I wasn’t going to taste at the Howard Ripley table, only because I often manage to get to their own tastings (I’m sure you all read my notes on the German GG and Reds event at Gray’s Inn, published 9 September), and I know their wines pretty well. After all, they have one of the best Burgundy portfolios around, and in my personal opinion, the best German selection out there. But by lucky chance a fellow taster mentioned that they were showing a wine I’d never tried before, from one of my favourite half-dozen producers from their German list, Peter Lauer.

The Saar Riesling Cremant (should we use an accent?) Brut is a non-vintage wine labelled not as a Sekt, but in the French style. What is Florian trying to tell us? I had no idea they made this wine, and I can’t see it on their web site, but there we have it, Howard Ripley have some. It’s really good, certainly one of the nicest German sparklers I’ve had recently. The remarkable thing is that it tastes like Riesling, which is something you can’t always say about Riesling Sekt. It has a great mousse, a nice bead too, and it’s not at all heavy and lumbering (though neither is it insubstantial). The best bit is the price, around £17/bottle in bond. I think they brought it in for a restaurant client, but you can buy some.

Clark Foyster

Clark Foyster are kind of non-specialist specialists, or is it the other way round? They don’t do every country or region, but those they do, they do pretty well. They have one of those ranges full of wines which are often just a bit too well known to grab the fashionistas, yet in truth, they share the philosophy of the other Vaults attendees, stocking wines made by committed family producers.

If you look at just the Austrian wines on show at this tasting you might get an idea of what I mean. Felsner Grüner, Polz Sauvignon Blanc, Feiler-Artinger Zweigelt, Stadt Krems Riesling, Pittnauer Pinot Noir and Moric Blaufränkisch. All the producers will be known to Austrian fans, all the wines are good. The one you might miss is the Polz. You don’t see a lot of Austrian Sauvignon Blanc in the UK and this is the best version I know.

Other wines to look out for? The Jacques Picard Champagne Brut Réserve is good, and was always my choice for aperitif when I dined more regularly at one of the 28-50 restaurants, back in the day when Xavier was working the floor. The Greek range here is interesting, and they showed wines from two good estates, the well known Argyros (an Assyrtiko from Santorini), and the perhaps less well known (in the UK) Katogi-Strofilia (a red Nemea, “Mountain Fish”, made from the local Agiorgitiko). I have a soft spot both for Santorini whites, which are generally of high quality and always worth a punt, and for Nemea, which can sometimes be hit and miss as to style. This one is deep purple, fruity and unoaked, and all the better for it.

I didn’t try the Vinho Verde from Adega de Monçao, although I drank their excellent red version at lunch afterwards (more of which, in the next article).


Carte Blanche 

These guys have been around for about seven years, importing stuff at the quirkier end of the spectrum. They emphasise their modus operandi of actually hitting the vineyards with a degree of regularity just not possible for those with an enormous portfolio of hundreds of wines. They have a good selection from Languedoc-Roussillon, with names you might know. Domaine de L’Horizon, Maxime Magnon, Pas de L’Escalette, and Clos des Augustins to name just some of them.

I already know the Domaine de L’Horizon wines, from the exciting region around Calce in Roussillon, but my pick of the Southern French was probably Magnon’s “Metisse”. The best introduction to Magnon is to mention that this Burgundian, who makes wines in the Hautes Corbières, studied under Jean Foillard (everybody’s favourite Beaujolais producer at the moment, me being no exception), and then was mentored by Didier Barral. Carte Blanche also showed a couple more of his wines, Le Begou and Rosetta, the Rosetta running the Metisse a close second.

I was especially keen to try the wines from Bodegas Vidal Soblechero (Pagos de Villavendimia), based in La Seca, Castilla y Leon, Spain. This producer is technically making Rueda, although they try to avoid being put in that pigeonhole. The wines would probably scare anyone looking for a Spanish Sauvignon Blanc lookalike. The main grape is Verdejo, although they also have Viura planted. El Escribiente is an inexpensive field blend of the two, from vines astoundingly (for the price) up to 200 years old. Finca Valrrastrojuelos is a single site Viura, whilst Fincas El Alto, Buena Vista and Matea are all Verdejos. The last two are available in genuinely tiny quantities and very much “price on application”, but the El Alto is more affordable, a very nice wine with an exquisite nose. It’s crisp but doesn’t lack the body to accompany food.


Gergovie Wines

Gergovie are perhaps the most outspoken of the Vaults group in their shunning of anyone using pesticides and chemical fertilisers. As they point out, there’s really no such thing as “non-intervention” winemaking, but Gergovie follow producers who intervene in the vineyard (pruning, trellising, ploughing etc are all interventions) “with respect to vine and soil”. Gergovie are perhaps even better known in London for the bar/restaurant at their distribution warehouse, “40 Maltby Street”, not far from London Bridge Rail Terminus.

Gergovie only brought thirteen wines, and four of those were from Savoyard producer Jean-Yves Péron, who farms a few hectares on steep schistous slopes, at Conflans, near Albertville. The first wine I tried set the tone, a Vin de Table/Vin de France blend of Altesse, Jacquère and very quickly pressed (so as not to taint the juice red) Mondeuse. I think it is aged, at least in part, sous voile. There’s a slightly sour note to it, but it’s full of mineral expression and purity. It’s called Côtillon des Dames.

La Grande Journée is 100% Altesse with an extra month on skins, followed by a year in old oak. Really characterful, if scary, a wine which seeks to thrill by balancing precariously on the edge (you do need to mull this one over before pronouncing it sane). Champ Levat is red, a Mondeuse which has undergone a 15 day whole bunch maceration. It isn’t as dark as some Mondeuse (which can be quite purple). There’s summer cherry on the nose, refreshing. Côte Pelée is usually the more extracted of the reds, the big brother, and a wine for keeping. It still has just a year in oak, but maceration time is two months, four times as long as the Champ Levat.

There’s no doubt Savoie is coming up on the rails behind Jura and Bugey, so it’s a good time to go exploring. There are plenty of decent mainstream producers around the Savoie sub-regions, but if you want to explore the outer limits, head to Maltby Street.

What else was interesting on the Gergovie table? One of their band of Auvergne growers is Patrick Bouju, and his Re-Bus is mainly Chardonnay (allegedly with some Trousselier and Vermentino?). Patrick Meyer makes wine in Nothalten, up in the area near Andlau and Barr in what must be the most exciting part of Alsace at the moment. His Muenchberg Grand Cru lives up to this site’s name. Michel Guignier‘s Beaujolais “Granite” is, as you might expect, a very grippy and mineral version. Head here if you want to try a different expression of Gamay to the soft and fruity wines more often associated with the industrial produce of this AOC. You won’t find many more beefy Beaujolais. I should also mention Jean-Christophe Garnier, who farms at La Roche Bézigon, Layon (Loire). He makes some lovely wines, including some very different but often stunning Chenins (I had an old one some time ago which was lurking as a bin end on the list at Quality Chop House – lingering unloved until we spotted it one cold Monday evening).

Last wine tasted was a François DhumesTête de Bulle pét-nat from the Auvergne. Gamay, 10% alcohol, residual sugar, pale, light and fruity, hardly wine at all…utterly delicious!

There were, sadly, no Barranco Oscuro wines on show. Luckily, as you probably noticed, I managed one or two in Granada this summer, but Gergovie are the people to go to for this iconic natural wine estate in Spain’s Alpujarras.

The admirable stance Gergovie take on chemicals etc makes their range both exciting, but also challenging for mainstream drinkers. Whilst I am on the “exciting” side, it’s only fair to point out that the wines I mention above will not necessarily be to the immediate taste of those more tutored on classic wine styles. Maybe try a trip to the wine bar to dip your toe in the Gergovie stream. There’s adventure to be had if you are up for it.

That pretty much sums up the Vaults Tasting for autumn this year. I’m sure you’ll agree that there were a pallet load of wines worth buying, and I’m worried that in my enthusiasm I’ve recommended too many. So here is my Vaults Fourteen (two from each attendee):

  • Marnes Blanche Poulsard and Hegyi Kalo Kekfrankos (Winemakers Club)
  • Marko Fon Vitovska and Skerlj Malvasia (Tutto)
  • Blankbottle Orbitofrontal Cortex and Collard-Picard Cuvée Prestige (SWiG)
  • Peter Lauer Cremant Riesling and Julian Haart Piesporter Riesling (Howard Ripley)
  • Polz Sauvignon Blanc and Pittnauer Pinot Noir (Clark Foyster)
  • Maxime Magnon Metisse and Vidal Soblechero Finca El Alto (Carte Blanche)
  • François Dhumes Tête de Bulle and Jean-Yves Peron Côtillon des Dames (Gergovie)

All of those would be both exciting and interesting to anyone looking for that great adventure in wine. We are seeking stimulation over perfection, no?

Posted in Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Jura Week 5 – For the Visitor to Arbois

Having written on three producer visits and the Biou Festival in Vadans in my first four articles of “Jura Week”, I’m going to end my 2016 Jura excursion with all the odds and ends which might be of interest to any potential visitors to Arbois and the northern part of the region (and I know that if everyone who has told me they plan to visit next year actually goes, I may find myself without a place to stay). Restaurants, shops, walking, and a look at that fascinating unspoken rivalry between Arbois (styled as Capital of Jura Wine) and Poligny (Capital du Comté).

I had been looking forward to writing a review of Arbois’ newest restaurant, Aux Docks. When I was in Arbois in September 2015 it was still a work in progress, on the site of what was once a fairly run down and ordinary café on the Place de la Liberté, in the centre of town. It is now a nice looking bistro-style restaurant with a nice looking wine list. The only problem is that one of us doesn’t eat animal produce.

This is a fairly common choice and although France has in the past been slow to acknowledge that anyone should make such a food choice, it is now pretty common. At Aux Docks you will not find vegetarian dishes on the menu, but that doesn’t deter most people from asking. Sadly, here, a request as to whether they might be able to cater for someone who doesn’t eat meat was met in what we perceived as a very offhand and flippant, even patronising manner – “we have plenty of vegetables”. It’s the way it came across.

I can say that Arbois acquaintances who have eaten there have said that the food is quite good. There seemed to be people in there every night, although it was never busy (perhaps the time of year). Please excuse my not trying it out. There’s enough choice in Arbois for us to go where we perceive the welcome to be warmer. Vive la difference! For the casual day tripper, Aux Docks is very well placed for lunch or dinner and has plenty of tables. I suspect it catches more simple passing trade than any of Arbois’ other restaurants.

I’ve written before about many of the Arbois restaurants. Jean-Paul Jeunet sits at the top of the list, retaining its two Michelin Stars. The food is very good indeed here, though it’s very much old-style Michelin in its decor and formality. Certainly a place to try at least once if you can afford to. La Balance (more formally La Balance Mets et Vins) had been for sale, and I believe it is now under new ownership. Apart from not seeing one long time member of staff, you can’t really tell. The menu, which focuses on fine locally sourced ingredients, hasn’t changed at all, but it does (as always) provide vegetarian food, even having a separate vegetarian menu. Les Claquets, the favoured hangout of the natural wine fraternity, is still going, if very obviously up for sale (big sign outside over the tables), and we didn’t visit this time.

Les Caudalies is somewhere we’d not previously dined at. I’m not sure why. It’s a smart hotel set in a small park at the far (northwestern) end of town, so to speak, that is unless you are coming from the railway station, and it’s right next to “La Finette” (a simple place, the first we ever ate at in Arbois). Les Caudalies is run by Philippe Troussard, who is a Sommelier “Meilleur Ouvrier de France“, quite an honour for someone so young.

Contrast the reaction here when asked about vegetarian or vegan dishes. First, when booking, Philippe said that of course they could cater for any dietary requirements. Then, after arriving the next evening, we were asked specifically about whether the chef could or couldn’t use a whole list of ingredients. I chose a €43 Menu with a starter based around the most delicious ancien varieties of tomato, of several different colours; then a main course of the traditional regional dish here described as Poulet Fermier aux Morilles et Vin Jaune, plus a venerable cheese selection and dessert. After an aperitif, we drank a  wonderful Jacques Puffeney “sous voile” Savagnin 2011 (€59).

The food at Les Caudalies is very good indeed, as good as some Michelin “one stars”. They included several little amuses bouches. The starter included an exquisite red pepper sorbet. Service is pretty attentive, and my only negative comment is that a couple of the younger waiters seemed to find the formality somewhat amusing on the night we visited. Maybe just a bit of inexperience. We were one of only four occupied tables, so a little quiet for a Friday, albeit just out of tourist season. The bill came to €165 for two, so not a cheap night out, but I can certainly recommend it. It’s the closest you’ll get to Jeunet in Arbois, at probably a bit more than half the price, and there’s plenty to satisfy the wine lover who wants to go large, and doesn’t have a twenty minute walk home afterwards. Their take on chicken with morels in a Vin Jaune sauce was a little different. Always a rich dish, it was lighter than some, and well judged for quantity (unless perhaps you are exceptionally hungry).

Arbois seems to grow the number of restaurants it has each time we visit, and it’s impossible to try them all, but I do try to sample all the wonderful food shops in the town. Not least, the chance to buy Comté, and the region’s other cheeses, Morbier and Bleu de Gex, in versions which completely surpass those you’ll find almost anywhere back home, and, more to the point, at prices substantially below what we pay here, by at least half. Top of the list of shops is naturally Hirsinger, the chocolatier of national, even international, repute. We didn’t go as far as last year, the amazing €40 chocolate tart, soaked in alcohol, for our very own Biou Festival meal with friends. But I did succumb to a cake and a bar of their own chocolate (€9.50 for the latter, but amazing stuff).

Arbois is unusual in the number of wine shops which individual producers have in the town. I know I’ve written about them on previous visits, but it bears repeating. For anyone travelling through, say on the way back from Geneva or perhaps on a day trip from Beaune, it means you don’t necessarily need to spend the day driving round individual estates to buy wine. Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot (Domaine A&M Tissot) have a shop which could not be better placed on the Place de la Liberté, opposite Hirsinger – because there’s almost no Arbois producer you’d want to buy some wine from more than those guys (though they also have a “by appointment” tasting room at the domaine in Montigny-les-Arsures, a nice drive through the vineyards, and you might get to see their rows of amphorae in action).

Arbois’ Place de la Liberté and its arcades at the centre of town. Most of the essential supplies you’ll visit Arbois for can be found within a minute or two either side of this square.

Domaine de la Pinte, who I wrote about in article number 4 of my 2016 Jura Week, are a few seconds along the Rue de L’Hotel de Ville, in the direction of the river (always good for one or two older cuvées, all at good prices, including an off-list Vin Jaune, not cheap but remarkable value). I should also mention the shop of Domaine Rolet, just opposite La Pinte. Rolet are a large, reliable, family company with a decent range of wines. They are, to my knowledge, the only people who sell Vin Jaune in a smaller, half-size, bottle. This means that if you want to try Vin Jaune, but don’t want to risk the €40-€50 asking price of a Clavelin, you can grab a sample here. It’s also a nice size to save for cooking with, though I must say I’ve not actually cooked with Vin Jaune for a very long time. It’s too expensive, and as I’ve said before,  a decent sous voile Savagnin will do the trick for me.

The nicest place in Arbois to sample an individual producer’s wine (plus those of a few friends) is at the Bistrot de la Tournelle, where you can drink that domaine’s wines (see Jura Week 1) with simple dishes and plats in the riverside garden of their Arbois headquarters (5 Petite Place). Sadly, if understandably, it’s only open from the end of June until the first week in September (from when the tasting room is also closed for the harvest), and it also closes when it’s wet.

Arbois only has one good general wine shop, and unfortunately its status is doubtful. The brilliant Jardins de Saint-Vincent, at the top end of the Grand Rue (No 49), specialises in natural, biodynamic and organic producers, mainly local but also from the rest of France. I have made some exceptional discoveries there, such as my first bottles of L’Octavin, Ratapoil, Buranfosse, Giles Wicky and Les Bodines. Last year it was firmly shuttered for the whole week we were in Arbois. This time the shutters were taken down, and there was wine inside, but nothing moved and it didn’t open once whilst we were in town. The shop is owned by Stéphane Planche, previously Head Sommelier at Jean-Paul Jeunet. I’m told he’s now back consulting at Jeunet, and he also has a business importing Jura wine into Switzerland. Although a couple of vignerons told me they thought the shop was still open, it looks very much as if it is only for private tastings, according to Stéphane’s web site. Perhaps it may also open in peak season?

                                           A&M Tissot and Rolet’s Arbois shops – tastings available

Arbois also boasts a very special vinegar producer, Philippe Gonet. You can buy his extensive range of artisanal vinegars (Red Poulsard, Vin Jaune etc) at Vins et Vinaigres, 16 Grand Rue (thirty seconds past Aux Docks, but on the left – Grand Rue passes both sides of the Place de la Liberté).

It’s a good time to ponder upon the relative prosperity of Arbois and Poligny. Both were a little dull when I first came to the region, though not without their considerable charm. Arbois, with its producer wine shops, sort of had the edge. With the addition of Les Jardins de St-Vincent and some new eating places (Les Claquets was a great place for cheap country dishes and new natural wines), Arbois seemed to streak ahead. But on this visit, it seemed that quite a few shops further from the centre had closed their doors, and a few others looked almost on their last legs.


Poligny, on the other hand, seems to be undergoing a quiet renaissance, and this year a newly paved area around the streets leading up to the central Place des Déportés (officially opened with some pomp and ceremony during our stay) has given the town a spruced up feel. Whilst Arbois styles itself as the capital of Jura wine, Poligny has turned to Comté. The main facility of the big Jura cheese co-operative can be found on the edge of town, and there are several shops selling Comté (and other fine local produce) in the town centre.

One of these, known under the multiple names of “Epicurea“, “Essencia“, and “Fromagerie Vagne“, owned by Philippe Bouvet, not only has probably the best cheeses in the region, but specialises in natural wines. I’m not going to spoil the surprise for the visitor, but if this kind of wine is your thing, you want to pay them a visit. As well as the big Jura names in this field, look out for producers outside the region such as Vignes du Mayne/Julien Guillot (Maconnais) and Cécile & Vincent Balivet (Bugey/Bugey-Cerdons). The store occupies a site that has been a wine shop for as long as I can remember, on the northern corner of the Place des Déportés, near the military statue of General Travot. Bouvet also now owns the deli near Hirsinger at the top of the Grand Rue, in Arbois.

Epicurea in Poligny and Napoleonic General Travot

I think it’s clear that despite the massive increase in popularity of Jura wines internationally, and the inevitable drip by drip increase in wine tourism as a result, Arbois seems a town of mixed prosperity. I hope that the long term prognosis is good. It’s a place of unrivalled tranquility, and some of the walking in the surrounding countryside is hard to beat, anywhere in France. It just needs a bit of investment, and sprucing up. I know the town pretty well and can get under its skin. The casual visitor could, after having visited the wine shops and bought some chocolate and cheese, leave thinking the same.

Both Arbois and Poligny have good tourist offices in or near the centre of town. They also both have mapped and marked town walks. That in Poligny is very historical, is longer than Arbois’ and takes you to a number of places you would almost certainly miss without the map. The town walk in Arbois has a very nice stretch along the River Cuisance, again, something that the casual visitor would miss. This stretch, which begins on a narrow road towards the cemetery, by the Eglise St-Just (opposite the Tourist Office), before taking a right turn at the garden nursery, only takes about fifteen minutes and I’d recommend it, even to a day tripper. This section comes out down by the Maison Pasteur.

There are a few resources which anyone visiting Arbois might find useful. For getting around, the IGN Map in their Série Bleue, number 3325O(uest) (Salins-les-Bains-Arbois) just squeezes in Arbois and surrounds (Pupillin, Montigny-les-Arsures), and you might decide to get a copy of 3225E(st) (Poligny) as well.

Pick up a town map from the Tourist Office (same goes for Poligny), both of which include the town circuits.

Mêta Jura produce a soft cover booklet, Arbois aux vignobles lumineux (€10), available around town and in the shop at the wine museum. It has a lot of useful information, with photos, but in French, of course.

Much of that information is also available in Wink Lorch’s more substantial, and essential guide, Jura Wine (Wine Travel Media, 2014). You won’t find a more thorough and well researched book on the region, even in French, which is why if you forget to order a copy via Wink Lorch’s you will find it in most of the region’s book shops. Apart from the detailed information on much more than just the wines and their producers, Mick Rock’s photos will inspire many journeys.

There’s an excellent map sold at the Arbois Tourist Office, published by Jura L’inattendu in their Promenades et Randonnées Series (Arbois – Vignes et Villages, €5). Both this and the IGN maps are at a scale of 1/25,000 (ie 4cm = 1km).

If you do the short walk in the above map from La Châtelaine to Le Fer à Cheval, along the ridge, don’t miss the château ruins (path to left of church) first. The site was occupied in the fifth century, but most of the ruins date from 13th to 15th. There’s not a full blown castle, just a few towers and walls, but the site is very atmospheric in the forest. Every time we’ve been we have seen chamois really close.

From La Châtelaine to Fer à Cheval, high above Les Planches

Other lovely walks include one through the vines (Les Corvées vineyard) to Montigny-les-Arsures. Try to return via a path up in the hamlet of Vauxelle (easy to accidentally walk up a driveway just below it – you need to enter up into the hamlet off the main road and basically turn right, soon reaching vines and pasture). This will eventually take you down into Mesnay, on the outskirts of Arbois, through a vineyard marked on the IGN Map as the Coteau des Nouvelles. This is if you read the map carefully. Good map reading is essential if you wander up into the woods where paths cross all the time, though some routes are well marked.

Montigny walk (Tour de Curon, Montigny village and pasture above Vauxelle)

Another nice walk takes you up to the Hermitage chapel you can see up on the hill to the southeast of the town. Walk a little way along the D469 (to Fer à Cheval and Champagnole), past the turnoff to Pupillin (which is just after Place Faramand), and climb the path by the small roadside shrine, maybe 50 metres further, on the right. Eventually you’ll climb rough steps through what was once farmed terraces which have been completely taken over by woodland since their abandonment. It’s not far, but it is quite steep. If you climb above the chapel on the road to its left, there’s a viewing platform from where I took one of the photos below.

Hermitage from above and below

There is some great walking up here, through forest and pasture. If you have the IGN Map, the GR59 can take you all the way to the Fer à Cheval, or on a somewhat shorter route in the other direction, to Pupillin. But even if Pupillin is your target, do take provisions. The village does have a very good restaurant (Le Grapiot), but it is extremely popular and gets fully booked, sometimes even midweek. Returning to Arbois from Pupillin, it’s far nicer to take the old road, now a rough path, which leaves the D246 on the right a little out of the village (follow your nose and the IGN). It’s a lot safer than negotiating the big bend where the road sweeps down into the edge of town. Alternatively, just follow the path in front of the chapel as it heads into the trees. You will come out in the cluster of new houses on the Pupillin road, where it’s just ten minutes back to Place Faramand on the edge of town.

Finally, don’t forget the Cascade des Tufs, about a ten to fifteen minute drive on past Mesnay. It’s near where the River Cuisance re-emerges beneath the limestone cliff below the Fer à Cheval. Park in the car park next to the church at Les Planches-Près-Arbois, and it’s about a 2.5 kilometre circular walk to the water falls.

As you can see, a place which the French often think of as rural and even a bit dull, is far from being those things. If you add in all the possible places to visit within a short drive from Arbois, you’d only cover half the things to do in a two week holiday. Lakes, forts, water falls and rivers with pretty villages straddling them, underground caves, open pasture, wildlife and even a toy museum make for pleasant day trips, not forgetting the region’s other prominent villages (not least Château-Chalon, Arc-et-Senans and the Abbey of Baumes-les-Messieurs). But even when you are busy, there’s always a sense of relaxing calm here…and the smell of wood smoke, Comté and Vin Jaune.

Arbois Museums:

Maison Pasteur – Pasteur’s house and laboratory. Endlessly fascinating, even to this non-scientist. Guided tour, mainly in French but most guides speak English.

Hôtel Sarret de Grozon – Not open all year, a provincial aristocratic home from largely 18th/19th Centuries. Far more interesting than it looks from the outside. Occasional special exhibitions.

Château Pécauld, Musée de la Vigne et du Vin – Perhaps in some ways the least exciting of the three, but the Jura wine museum has some nice artifacts and some explanation of Vin Jaune production in a lovely old building. The tiny museum at Château-Chalon has perhaps a more thorough explanation of sous voile ageing, via a video.

A final note – all the museums and shops close one or two days a week, and it’s not always the obvious days (Hirsinger, for example, is closed on Wednesday). Best to check out the relevant web site if it matters that somewhere is open.






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Jura Week 4 – Domaine de la Pinte

When people in London bars talk about the trending Jura domaines, you rarely hear La Pinte mentioned. This is a shame. They have a good UK importer (Liberty), yet one which has specialisations in countries like Italy and Australia, and no other Jura producers on their list. It’s also a domaine with a long history, founded in 1952, and has been selling wine from its tasting room and shop in Central Arbois for longer than some of the new kids have been out of High School, let alone viticultural college.

It’s a large domaine, with over 30 hectares planted, including 17ha of Savagnin, which Wink Lorch (Jura Wine 2014, p185) says incorporates the largest single plot of Savagnin in the world. They are fully biodynamic (both Ecocert and Demeter Certification). La Pinte, under the guidance of Pierre Martin, a member of the owning family, has been one of the prime supporters of young biodynamic and natural winemakers in the region, with former vineyard manager Bruno Ciofi having spent several years helping to organise the regional organic wine producers’ tasting, Le Nez dans le Vert (held several times at La Pinte).

Emmanuel Perraut is in charge of winemaking, and he is taking La Pinte to another level in terms of both developing the biodynamic aspects of viticulture, and experimentation in the cellar, so that today there seems to be a more dynamic approach to their range, as well as improvements already identified by Wink Lorch in their red wines. Accompanied on this occasion by some friends from Switzerland, we spent a good hour tasting with Laura Seibel, with whom I found a couple of brief connections – we’d said hello at Raw Wine in London earlier this year, and she also knows Severine Perru, Wine Director and sommelier at Ten Bells NYC.


Laura instructing her audience on La Capitaine

We decided mainly to taste some of the more unusual wines from the range, starting with La Capitaine. This is a single site field blend of Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau. It’s not an expensive wine, but in 2015 it’s on excellent form (as indeed was every 2015 we tasted in our week in the region). There’s still the tannin of youth, but it’s packed with concentrated fruit which makes it so drinkable, hard to resist. One of those wines where you find  yourself reaching for an adjective like vivid.

Melon à Queue Rouge is a natural mutation of Chardonnay which, around harvest time, has a propensity to develop bright red stalks. A handful of Jura producers bottle this old variety, found as far as I am aware only in the region, and although it shows a profile obviously connected to that of straight Chardonnay, it does come up with some lovely flavours of its own. We tasted La Pinte’s 2014. It lives up to the special billing by demonstrating a mix of yellow stone fruits with something extra, and exciting, almost tropical like guava or mango. It’s very hard to resist drinking the 2014 right now.


The next wine was a blind test. Definitely a little orange and a little cloudy, this appears to be a skin contact wine, and I’d have guessed, judging by the experiments going on around the region (you may have seen my photos of amphorae at A&M Tissot and L’Octavin from my 2015 Jura visit) that it had been made in terracotta. It was highly perfumed, and had quite a lick of acidity at the moment, which led me to suppose it was early bottled. I was only partially correct. Savagnin “Pourquoi Pas?” 2015 has had just three weeks of skin contact, and in concrete, not terracotta. It’s a wine with a wonderful bouquet, but I think I’ll leave mine to mellow a little, that is unless I can’t resist letting others taste it sooner. It’s an example of the experimentation going on here, and I think Laura had a hand in its conception. She’s had a little experience making wine in Georgia, so I can see what she’s plotting to persuade Emmanuel to get into. Really interesting wine.

This contrasted nicely with the 2011 and 2008 Savagnin cuvées, which show why La Pinte has always been famed mainly for their white wines made from this variety. At five years old, the 2011 could still be described as young, yet there are clear signs of an evolutionary arc of development. The 2008, still not quite fully mature, is nevertheless a lot more complex, very different. Throughout the region you’ll see even relatively inexpensive and unknown producers suggesting their €10 Savagnins should be kept for fifteen or twenty years. It’s unlikely these wines are kept even a fraction of that time, and I doubt it’s any different for La Pinte’s. But they do have a great capacity to age, not just those created sous voile, but the ouillé (topped-up) wines as well. Some of the Savagnins made under flor are, after all, merely wines which didn’t make the cut for Vin Jaune. If you are in Arbois, do remember that Domaine de la Pinte will likely have a few older wines to try, and they won’t break the bank to purchase (the 2008 is €19.50).

Cuvée d’Automne is a complex blend of 80% Savagnin from 2007 and 20% Chardonnay from 2009. The Savagnin is a mix of both ouillé and oxidative (ie under flor/sous voile) Savagnin, and it all makes for a complex wine with magnificent aromatics. I’ll put myself on the line here and say that it is the development of the bouquet in the Domaine de la Pinte range which I find the most impressive thing since I last tasted there in 2014. Although Chardonnay/Savagnin blends are surprisingly common (and delicious) in the region, this wine is an innovative blend. The Chardonnay does flesh it out a bit, but the limestone soils for this cuvée help it retain a nice freshness (much of the domaine’s production is on classic Jura grey marl, confusingly called Marne Bleu locally).

We ended the tasting with the 2006 Vin Jaune, a wine with a little more age than the current vintage offered at most addresses (La Pinte do have some much older VJs on their list if you have the money, though when you come to think of it, a hundred Euros or so for a wine several decades old is actually remarkable value). The 2006 is fresh and, perhaps, even on the lighter side for a Vin Jaune, which is actually how I like it. Complexity doesn’t have to be accompanied by weight. It’s the kind of Vin Jaune which you can easily contemplate drinking at this age, although it’s always a shame to deprive these wines of the opportunity to show their full potential. So often I see the current vintage of Vin Jaune or Château-Chalon being served in London. You wouldn’t do that with a top Burgundy or Bordeaux, and I think the fact that it’s released over six years after the vintage fools consumers, some of whom must wonder what all the fuss is about over this tight and acidic wine in a funny bottle, made from grapes with a yield of 20hl/ha.


There are two wines we didn’t taste. One is the once famous Côtes du Jura white field blend which Wink Lorch mentions in her book. It came from vineyards right up in the north of the region, near Port Lesney. The tiny vineyard was just too far away and too low yielding and was rented under a fermage agreement, not owned by La Pinte. So, I discovered, they gave it up. But one wine they still make is their Arbois Poulsard “L’Ami Karl“. It’s a pale red, almost a rosé, with reds fruits predominating over spice and liquorice. This is another wine which in the past I’ve bought older bottles of from the domaine’s Arbois shop. It’s a good example of how well Poulsard does age, most people supposing a wine made of thin skinned grapes and looking like a rosé requires drinking within a year. Rosé des Riceys, from the Aube, confounds expectations in the same way.

Domaine de la Pinte now provides an extra level of excitement in their range of wines, and after this visit I sense an extra level of dynamism here. As I said above, La Pinte is imported into the UK by agent Liberty Wines, although  they only appear to list three wines at present. I think they would find a market for a good few more, and I hope that La Pinte don’t become lost as a peripheral addition to the Liberty portfolio. You will find La Pinte at a good number of independents who Liberty sell to.

The Domaine is situated on the Route de Lyon, just outside of Arbois, not far from Pupillin, but you can taste their wines in their Arbois shop, which is a matter of seconds away from Arbois’ central Place de la Liberté, more or less opposite Rolet’s shop, on the Rue de L’Hôtel de Ville.


If you are in Paris on 7 November you can taste their wines at the Parisian version of Le Nez dans le Vert, or for Australian readers, at Rootstock Sydney on 26/27 November. If you go to the latter, say hi to Laura.



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Jura Week 3 – Fête du Biou at Vadans

The Fête du Biou is a rather special festival at harvest time in the Jura Region. It takes place in Arbois on the first Sunday in September, with a smaller version in Pupillin on the third Sunday. What is much less well known, and I’ve not seen it publicised in the UK, is that the same festival also takes place in the village of Vadans on the first Sunday after the Saint’s Day of St. Maurice, patron saint of the village church.

The Festival of the Biou celebrates an obscure biblical story of the return of the Israelites to Canaan. Spies were said to have been sent out to survey the land and they returned with an enormous cluster of grapes, known as the Eschol, borne on a pole. There’s a famous painting by Poussin in the Louvre illustrating this (The Spies with the Grapes from the Promised Land). So every year the vignerons of the region get together and donate some fine looking red and white bunches which are made into a large cluster of grapes, just like that in the photos below. On the day of the ceremony the chosen producers go around the town or village in procession with the Biou, in the same way as they process with a cask for the Percée du Vin Jaune at the beginning of the year.

The Percée , linked to the festival of St. Vincent (patron saint of wine growers), and celebrating the release of the new vintage of Vin Jaune, has the major disadvantage of taking place in the coldest weeks of the year, in a region known for its tough winters. In whichever town in the region the Percée is held each year, vast crowds attend [although there will be no Percée in 2017]. In Arbois, the Biou Festival is only slightly less well attended. After the procession of the vignerons in their costumes, accompanied by all the pomp of a rural parade, the Biou itself is blessed in the Eglise St-Just, where it then hangs above the transept, eventually filling the church with the smell of just fermenting grapes.

The procession is a big thing in Arbois. The whole town turns out with thousands of visitors, and this year with heightened security it was almost impossible to drive in. Pupillin’s affair is somewhat smaller, although the village has seemingly established a welcome tradition that women vigneronnes carry the Biou – in Arbois it’s all very much a masculine affair.

But on Sunday 25 September we were invited to Vadans to witness the third of these festivals, an altogether smaller affair, but none the worse for that. Where on earth is Vadans, you ask? Arbois’ vineyards spread out from the town in several directions. Those up towards Arc-et-Senans and Port Lesney, to the north, are beginning to get some recognition now, via the small clutch of exciting producers up there. Vadans lies more or less west of Arbois, along the road to Dôle, close to Molamboz, Montmalin, St-Cyr, and a little way past the slightly better known Villette-les-Arbois. This is really a bit of a quiet corner of the Arbois vignoble, but there’s no lack of vines.

There are few producers around here you will have heard of, although Jean-Baptiste Menigoz at Les Bottes Rouge is at Abergement-le-Petit, on the other side of the D469. Joseph Dorbon is the largest viticulteur in Vadans and he has just three hectares of vines, although the larger Domaine de St-Pierre in nearby Mathenay has 6ha. One name you will have heard of is Puffeney. Frédéric Puffeney is the nephew of the newly retired “pope” of Montigny, whose small domaine produces less exalted, but equally less expensive, wines. I think his Crémant is one of the first to sell out, unsurprisingly for around €8/bottle.

One producer you won’t have heard of is Madelon Peters and Marcel Hendrickx, a Dutch couple who have settled in the village. Marcel is just starting out on the road as a vigneron, with a couple of plots of his own vines as well as some bought in fruit. The domaine doesn’t even have a name yet, though Domaine Marcelon has been mooted – it combines the couple’s names, but also translates as “little warrior” (derived from the Roman, Marcellus), quite apt as Marcel was one of the spear carriers at the Vadans Biou Festival this year, having carried the Biou itself in 2015.

Madelon and Marcel were the reason we were in Vadans, and it was to their house that we retired after the Marseillaise sung by the children, the speeches, and the drinks and cake (all the villagers club together to provide these) behind the Mairie, which followed the church service. It’s nice that it is the young wine producers who carry and guard the Biou as they move in procession around the village, and it’s the village teenagers who prepare and serve the food and wine under gentle supervision of the older producers. Everyone was very merry, and I had to endure some post-brexit ribbing with a certain stoicism, and the occasional wobbly old lady, but a fun time was, as they say, had by all. There’s no doubt that it’s really nice to experience events like this in rural France. You get a sense of the strong community which exists, as it certainly does in Vadans, and you can enjoy seeing the importance of the traditions which bind communities together. As the video shows, it’s all pretty informal and lighthearted, and we were made to feel very welcome as a part of it.

The Biou Procession and drinks, plus an amusing video showing off the prowess of the village band

Chez Marcel, we tasted a number of cuvées from 2015 and 2014 still awaiting bottling, and a little new must in vat. Marcel is still learning, and he’s a determined advocate of a non-interventionist approach to winemaking. This has led to a few issues, his 2014 Chardonnay not yet having gone through its malolactic, and a little brett on some Trousseau from 2014, but the wines we were able to taste showed genuine promise.

This was especially true of the bottle of red from bought in grapes which Madelon had given me to try a few days earlier. It’s a very nice Trousseau, well made with good fruit. A Pinot Noir/Trousseau field blend had been in tank for two days and had not yet begun its fermentation, but the juice tasted of pleasant cherry flavours, definitely showing potential. Whilst the 2014 Chardonnay in tank clearly needs its malo, another Chardonnay in wood previously used for two fermentations showed nice colour, although there was a little cloudiness due to moving the barrel whilst still on the lees. Again, I shall look forward to trying it when bottled.

                                               Marcel’s cellar, and his very nice Trousseau 

Marcel clearly knows what he’s doing, having helped out, and learnt from, two very highly regarded Arbois winemakers, André-Jean Morin at Domaine de la Touraize in Arbois (who is also, incidentally, a Biou carrier in the Arbois procession), and Frédéric Lornet, an experienced producer in Montigny-les-Arsures. The grapes for the lovely red we drank from bottle (see photo above) came from André-Jean. The wines are not commercialised, and this itself would be a big decision for Marcel, not least because of the vast amount of admin it would entail. But everyone must start somewhere, and it was interesting for me to see the work of someone who is a little (maybe a lot!) further along the road than I am as a winemaker. I’m looking forward to seeing how this small domaine progresses because I have a hunch that Marcel is quite serious about making the best wines he can, and I believe he has the determination and empathy to succeed.


Marcel himself – sorry it’s so big, Marcel, couldn’t resist…



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Jura Week 2 – Hughes-Béguet

If Domaine de la Tournelle has now established itself firmly among the top names in Arbois, Domaine Hughes-Béguet is one of a select band of young producers who will one day gain similar recognition. Patrice gave up a job as an IT Consultant in Paris, took the Wine Diploma at Beaune, and took over what has now grown to around four hectares of vines in Pupillin, Arbois, and his home village of Mesnay. He is committed to biodynamic methods, and is Demeter certified, quite unusual for such a small producer. In a region where biodynamics and natural winemaking are hardly a rarity, few are as committed to all aspects of ecology as Patrice, and few young vignerons work as hard as he does too. His only help is an intern, and in fact you can tell how busy a life he leads with two young children – he’s had no opportunity to update his web site.

The domaine is easy to find, right next to the church in Mesnay, a village which is more or less connected to the eastern side of Arbois. There’s a large hanging sign, somewhat like an English pub sign, and the cellars are right under the house. Despite the large number of cuvées Patrice makes from his small vine holding (I think he may be trying to cut back, but there are hidden gems awaiting the light of day), the cellar is neat and tidy even at such a busy time of year, tanks and larger wood kept clean, racks of bottles at the other end.

The treat for us was that Patrice had already harvested many of his grapes. He said they were very ripe, and healthy, a trait typical of vines treated with biodynamic preps, and he had been worried about the grapes swelling from the rain and the risk of encroaching disease. We were able, therefore, to taste our first 2016s straight from tank, just as they were beginning their fermentation.


Patrice Béguet feeling impish about the quality of his 2016s in tank

The Ploussard juice set aside for the 2016 pétillant naturel had a lovely fresh grapefruit flavour with a good lick of residual sugar (of course, it will ferment out dry). In fact, every tank sample tasted pure and fresh. The juice for the 2016 Ploussard itself had a ripe raspberry note, and already registered 2% alcohol. It will have a longer maceration. The Ploussard from Pupillin’s Côte de Feule had been picked the previous day and was already starting to ferment (a sign of good ambient yeasts). Even now you can perhaps see a different dimension to this must from such a renowned site. It always ages well, and I still have the odd bottle from 2011 and 2012.

The top Trousseau grapes from Les Corvées had not yet been picked, but those from Feule, and from Champ Fort (Patrice’s vineyard in his home village, Mesnay) had been. He used a tiny bit of Ploussard juice to get the fermentation going quickly, and he says they will have quite a long maceration. There’s already a hint of spice in there along with a touch of cassis.

You could happily drink these musts, and they have none of the potentially gut-rotting acidity that you can get when tasting some wines from the tank (none more gut-rotting than the Seyval Blanc we made last year).

                                                 Some samples from tank and barrel

2015 was Patrice’s best vintage to date. The wines have massive potential, and Patrice is very happy because it was the first vintage he felt he could bottle every wine without the addition of sulphur, and with no filtration either. This is normal for his reds, but a first for his whites. Patrice said that he sees a different wine emerge after those interventions and to be able to release the wine he has lived with through its élèvage, unchanged, is so satisfying. Above all, the wines keep their brightness of fruit and Patrice feels this is a big evolution in his winemaking.

I must say something about the new wine labels. The original Hughes-Béguet label was quite plain, and although a nice label doesn’t signify a nice wine in the bottle, it does help create a pleasing package and a good overall impression. The new label is an early twentieth century lithograph used by Patrice’s grandfather, who had a licence to distill Gentiane, a spirit made from the gentiane’s root, and Patrice has adapted it for the domaine. Very nice indeed.


New label

Patrice has always used wordplay for the names of his cuvées, and now we have a new set since I last visited him in 2014. “So True”, a typical French verlan, for his Trousseau; “Oh Yeah!” for his topped-up (ouillé) Savagnin with a Charles Mingus album connection; and “Straight No Chaser” (more Mingus) for the Chardonnay. I think the pink pét-nat remains as “Plouss’ Mousse” (being a Ploussard), and in true Burgundian fashion, the single vineyard reds, Côte de Feule and Champ Fort, remain the same as well. There’s also a barrel maceration cuvée called “Orange was the Color of her Dress”, another Charles Mingus song, showing where Patrice’s musical loyalties lie.

A final note – we drank the 2015 Ploussard pictured above with friends, accompanying an aromatic couscous dish with roasted vegetables, and it was delicious. There’s a slight spritz of protective CO2, then fresh fruit all the way. It’s a beautiful colour and, although it’s quite a light wine intended to be enjoyed among friends, it did the dish justice.

Hughes-Béguet wines have been quite hard to find in the UK. The Wine Society did import a couple some time ago, but the good news is that Les Caves de Pyrene are now importing the whole range from Patrice and Caroline, so British wine lovers will have access to them, including the stunning 2015s, when shipped (this importer has the most impressive Jura list in the UK). But if you do venture to Arbois, a warm welcome here is guaranteed, by appointment of course. If you don’t speak confident French, don’t worry, Patrice speaks excellent English.



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