Yesterday’s Oddities Lunch at Rochelle Canteen was a landmark of sorts, our tenth in a line of exciting events which take place every two months. Over those months we’ve drunk around 150 bottles of so-called oddities, ranging from wines some might not think odd at all, like a few of Champagne’s less visible wines or an old Burgundy, to yesterday’s stranger offerings – from Bali and Namibia.
In December the bar was set very high. Christmas joy was in the air and a few quite special wines appeared: a 1978 Clos du Papillon, a 2000 Breg from Gravner, the unicorn Mythopia from Switzerland, and a stunning (against all odds) 1990 Chateau d’Arlay from Jura, alongside my offerings from Selosse and Equipo Navazos. But as these lunches prove, there is a long and meandering river of vinous treasures and I’m sure more will continue to flow. They may not always be the brightest jewels in the chest, but that should not distract from their lustre. Every wine yesterday was tasty, and I enjoyed them all. Some may have been better than others, but there was no wine I’d not take to a tasting myself, or a dinner party, so long as the other guests were as open minded as the people who come to these events.
Of course, it’s easy to ignore wines like these if you can afford to drink large. The wines of regions like Italy’s Oltrepo Pavese, or grapes such as Veneto’s Raboso don’t figure highly on many wine lovers’ bucket lists. And I’m sure many would snigger at drinking sparkling wine from Bali, perhaps choking at the thought of Namibian Shiraz. More fool the fools. The Balinese sparkler was well made and would offend few if served blind as an aperitif. The Namibian Syrah? Well, see below.
The Canteen Venison Pie
This month’s bunch
Taika 2012, Costers del Segre, Castell d’Encus – This is a sparkling Semillon/Sauvignon blend from grapes grown at 1000 metres altitude in the Penedès mountains of Costers. You might remember we had this estate’s glorious Pinot Noir at the post-Vinoteca Tasting lunch at Quality Chop, a few weeks ago. No UK distribution, but tiny production. This didn’t quite match the Pinot, but it’s a lovely wine.
Tunjung Brut NV, Hatten Wines, Bali – The grape on the label of this sparkler claimed to be indigenous to Bali, but I’m assured it’s actually Chasselas, which I can well believe, after that fact was revealed. I won’t pretend this was as good as the Spanish sparkler which preceded it, but it was astonishingly well made in context. As I said above, you would be happy drinking it as an aperitif unless you were very mean spirited…or a wine snob. I’ve had many less appealing sparkling wines in my years of taking one for the team (aka vinous exploration). And it’s not even the first Balinese wine we’ve had at an Oddities!
Burg 2008, Marcel Deiss, Alsace – Sometimes I stray from the script of Oddities. The reason we serve the wines blind is for pure entertainment. Although I am happy to play the idiot by failing to spot a wine I know well, or coming up with the worst possible guess, I did nail this, at least as far as a Deiss field blend. I had no idea which one, and guessed 2004 – it did have a lovely degree of maturity but retained freshness. It was complex in a sort of unassuming way, as Deiss’s wines so often are, transcending grape variety. I love them, and it reminded me (I’ve said elsewhere I’m overdue another Alsace trip) that I’ve not drunk one for a while. One of my personal favourites on the day.
Fiano 2013, Don Chisciotte, Perluigi Zampaglione, Campania – This one was brought by one of our resident some-time winemakers, and was possibly the most distinctive wine of the day. Seven days skin contact has produced a wine of texture which is dry and almost tannic on the finish. More dark straw than orange, erring towards golden. I can almost smell its complex scents now. This is one wine I’d like to share an evening with, my idea of a Valentine wine actually. One you could really get to know better.
Watervale Riesling 2012, Clos Clare, South Australia – Clearly the least odd wine of the day on the surface, but scratch beneath. First, it’s a domaine many of us have heard of, yet is almost never seen in the UK. Second, it was to a certain extent slightly atypical. Although a few people guessed Watervale (especially our super-palate wine merchant, Mr Vintrepid), and we all guessed Riesling, it was more developed than many a fine example from this region. No searing acidity, but instead, lovely integration of all its elements.
Provinage 2010, Henry & Jean-Sébastien Marionnet – Always a pleasure to drink this distinctive wine in its distinctively shaped bottle, always therefore embarrassing when I fail to spot it. Pre-phylloxera Romorantin which ages like Chenin in some ways, and is consequently hard to spot unless the relevant lobes are on top form. Jaqueline Friedrich talks (in WFW 50) of taking a different Romorantin to a dinner party. She mentions its acidity, which when young can be very pronounced. But with age, it softens. And this wine is not exactly from Cour Cheverny, but a little further west, and is labelled as a Vin de Pays du Loir et Cher. Being made from the fruit of ungrafted vines, it is one of a dwindling number of wines unique in this way. If you get a chance to drink it, grab it. It’s good, too!
Combe Trousseau 2014, Stolpman Vineyards, Ballard Canyon, California – A Cali-Trousseau again. What a strange ring that phrase has. Not Arnot-Roberts this time, but one of Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman’s collaborations. It was Parr who first convinced Peter Stolpman to bung in an acre of Trousseau, and a little more has followed, so much do the Stolpmans love it. As did we. A wine of the day contender, light and fruity but with an edge, reminding me a little of Frapatto. Bigger than a Jura, but paler, hiding its 13% alcohol well. Meant to ask where to find it? I know Sager + Wilde nabbed some. This sort of wine is Oddities in a nutshell. Different but brilliant.
Neuras Shiraz 2009, Namibia – Or Rande der Namib Wüste, as the label says. My guess here – old Rioja (don’t fall off your seat!). I think someone else tried Musar (a better guess, I admit). Neuras’ vines are planted by cold water springs, and although proximate to the Namib dessert, they get gentle Atlantic breezes. The netting, protection not from birds but from baboons, and even the leopards which sometimes stalk them, also cuts out 25% of uv light. The grapes avoid baking, and the wine is matured in French oak, bottled unfiltered. I think this wine would astound most people, and not only for the fact that it is made at all. Actually, I did guess Namibia after we had established the continent, but only as an educated guess from reading far too much about wine in my life. This was brought along by a French wine journalist/educator, so don’t say the French only know French wine again. How she got hold of it, I don’t know, but it was a real privilege to try it. Very good.
Montebuono 1990, Lino Maga, Oltrepo Pavese – Effectively from the other side of the Po from Pavia, a DOC blending Barbera with other grapes, in this case plenty of Croatina (aka Bonarda). My guess was Marzemino, which wasn’t too far wrong. Really a good example of how such unfancied varieties can age into a mellow wine with a good degree of complexity, and one especially food friendly (12.8% alcohol seemed perfectly balanced for this). This is a wine which, for me, doesn’t always show best in line-ups like this. You have to try to imagine what drinking it over a couple of hours would be like.
Raboso del Piave 2010, Bonotto Delle Tezza, Potesta – Another obscure Italian DOC, this one from Veneto. Piave produces plains wines from east of Venice and south of the Dolomites. There’s a lot of simple wine made from French varieties, but the the local grape is the Raboso. As with the Pavese wine above, you see the qualities of a well made local wine when it has the chance to take on a little bottle age. Another wine showing food friendly character.
Rubin 2010, Uniqato, Bulgaria – Rubin is a cross between Syrah and Nebbiolo. The obvious question is why bother? But for whatever reason it was done, you can’t fault the wine. Uniqato is a brand of the Damianitza winery. It comes from the Trakiiska Nizina region (not part of Bulgaria I’m familiar with, but I do remember Damianitza from the first time around, back in the 1990s). This has 14.5% alcohol and it’s quite big. The grapes are harvested at surmaturité (leaving 3.5 g/l residual sugar after fermentation) and popped into a mix of French and Bulgarian oak for ageing into a rich, smooth wine.
Forcallà 2013, Rafael Cambra, Valencia – A slight anomaly here. I can find this wine on sale at merchants in Europe, but can find no mention of it on the producer’s web site, nor on that of the company I believed import it (Indigo?). It’s a local Valencian grape variety, if my German is on form, which tasted to me like a modern Spanish wine. I don’t mean as if it were from International grapes, though it doesn’t surprise me that Cambra grows plenty of those, but it was modern in style. Quite a bit of tannic structure on a big frame, though a not over the top 13.5% alcohol kept it from any flabbiness. Could need time?
Passopisciaro 2008, Etna, Sicily – The Passopisciaro vineyards are in Contrada Guardiola, mainly on the northern side of Etna at between 550-1,000 metres above sea level. This is their entry level wine, made from mainly Nerello Mascalese which is vinified in stainless steel before ageing, and malo, in large oak. It’s a big wine, weighing in at 15% alcohol. Yet it’s balanced and, at over seven years old, showing good maturity. I think I’d like to see a bit less alcohol as it does show on nose and palate. But 2008 was, I think, seen as a very good year here, and the vines even for this cuvée are between 80-120 years old. Overall, it’s a classy intro to this top Etna producer, and more easily affordable than the vineyard designated wines, a step up though they often are.
Von Lindenwingert Pinot Noir 2012, Weingut Sprecher Von Bernegg, Jan Domenic Luzi, Graubunden, Switzerland – We are onto the unofficial wines now. This always happens…”I just happen to have…”. I’m very glad this popped out of a bag. I’m a massive fan of Daniel Gantenbein’s wines from this bit of Eastern Switzerland, nestled below Austria’s Vorarlberg and Liechtenstein. But sadly his wines have doubled in price over six or seven years. I kick myself for not buying at £50/bottle for future drinking. It’s hard to find producers in the same class, although there are decent wines in this string of villages. Luzi has only been working his grandmother’s few hectares since 2008, and the sources I’ve read suggest he’s fanatical about quality. It shows. Not Gantenbein quality yet, but really one to watch. For me, another WOTD contender.
Fenestra Port, Silvaspoons Vineyard 2004, Lodi, California – I drank a half of this 18% alcohol, Touriga blend, last year, not that I spotted what it was. Smooth, rich, slightly sweet, it very much does what it says on the bottle. Not a wine of complexity, but at a decade it has a nice softness and warmth…but not too much – Lodi is in the Central Valley, but due to cooling breezes it is not a super-hot AVA by any means. I’d always encourage wines like this to be brought along to finish on nicely, although it was not quite all over…
Blanc de Blancs, Yarden Winery, Golan Heights, Israel – We do see one or two Israeli wines at these events, and they are always well chosen. This is a classic BdeB made from Chardonnay. It helps that Golan possesses easily the region’s coolest vineyards (it sometimes snows up there in winter), and this has a profile typical of many Champagnes: 12% alcohol, fresh, zippy, acidity and a mixture of mainly apple with a touch of brioche. Not a fine wine to challenge the finest of France, but more than a creditable effort.
So you see, nothing disappointing at all. Half of us repaired to Winemakers Club, under the arches on Farringdon Street, where I was able to sample Vinochisti‘s E3 Dry Erbaluce, Meinklang‘s magnificent “Konkret” (a skin contact wine made in a concrete egg, cherry wood brown and really quite mindblowing), and the exquisitely fresh Chardonnay from Domaine des Marnes Blanches, rising star of the Sud-Revermont (that’s Jura). For me, that was the time to head towards the crowded, four carriage, train home. Anyone with a pad to lend me close to St-Paul’s…?
The only Grand Crew we saw all day (ouch!)