A dozen wine obsessives congregated once more at Rochelle Canteen on Friday in order to taste another batch of weird and wonderful wines from out of the way regions. I think we might have surpassed ourselves in terms of wine regions, if the first two wines were anything to go by. I’m not sure that the wines themselves quite scaled the peaks of some of our previous encounters – there were no Gravners or Selosses – but equally, I didn’t hear anyone express any great negativity about the wines either. Add to that the food, many saying it was the best Oddities meal yet (which is something I hear every time we visit Rochelle Canteen) and everyone left feeling happy and sated. I will readily admit that I was even less restrained when it came to the food than the wine.
In any event, the beauty of these lunches in not the Parker Points esteemed wine writers and Masters of Wine might award the wines (though both come to these lunches from time to time and always show restraint in relation to such vulgarity). It’s the act of discovery which counts. Making a rarely, if ever, encountered wine your wine of the day, discovering more evidence that a far off country can do wonders with a classic if normally regionally constrained grape variety, or even better, finding a brilliant £13 wine that’s available in a well known London wine shop: all of these came to pass.
1. Chöying White 2016, Laurie Lange, Kathmandu, Nepal – Laurie Lange is an American who spends part of the year studying in Kathmandu and the rest guiding tours in Alaska. She’s turned her hand to wine after success with mushrooms, and plans to take on beer as well. The grapes come from India, via the street, and we think they could be the table grape, Thompson Seedless. The vinification vessels are 9 litre water containers of the type you see in offices, or doctors’ surgeries. The first time I tasted this it reminded me of Vaudois Fendant/Chasselas. This bottle was more aromatic, but with a chalky dryness. It shows a creditable 13.5% alcohol, which most people picked up on, and there’s a touch of skin contact in the colour, there being a tinge of onion skin. There’s also much less acidity than when I tried this in Kathmandu, so it may not be a long keeper, though still very fresh. I’m sure Laurie will keep me up to date. It’s a creditable effort and if anyone had any suspicions that it was “home made” they didn’t voice them. Laurie has an off-dry rosé bubbling as I write. [We’ve just bottled our own white here and there’s a bottle in the fridge waiting for the sun to dip below the yard arm. I’m sure it will be less appealing than this was.]
Laurie’s Chöying – it means “body of qualities” in Tibetan)
“White Buried” 2013, Luckett Vineyards, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia – We get a few wines from Canada to taste, but this is my first ever wine from NS. The 100% L’Acadie grapes (me neither) are vinified in Hungarian oak, placed underground in the same terroir as the vines. Just 200 cases are bottled. Some guessed a hybrid grape variety but that was about as far as we got, other than (eventually) Canada. It’s a fresh medium white with a slightly smoky nose, replicated on the palate, the oak being mostly, but not wholly, integrated. Very nice to try this. When wines of unusual origin taste good the concept of these lunches is vindicated…and we learn just a little more about wine.
“Imathia” White 2014, Chrisohoou Estate, Naousa, Greece – This was one of my top wines on the day, brought along by Jason (Theatre of Wine). Quite “Greek” (it’s from the northern Greek province of Central Macedonia), though not quite sure how we define that? Also quite Chenin-like, if obviously not Chenin…which must sound very cryptic. It probably just means “suitably different from what we usually encounter”. I think we’d realised by this stage that guessing the wines was going to be unusually tough this month. A fresh, minimum intervention, white made from the Priknadi grape (another variety I was encountering for the first time). Lovely, herby with citrus, 13% alcohol. I’d probably pair this with risotto, despite mixing Greek wine with Italian cuisine.
Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Alte Reben Reserve 2011, Mosel – What? You say! An Oddity? But this is a wine not commercially released, which underwent 24 months ageing on lees. Made as a dry wine as an attempt to replicate the wines Ernie’s grandfather made, this is a real success, a super wine. Dry, without petrol notes, just what I insist on calling great minerality in its texture and dryness. Many, myself included, put this as either a New Californian, or New Zealand Riesling. Totally threw us, but an unqualified success. I do rather wish I had a few bottles.
Rkatsiteli 2012, Kakhetia, Georgia – We were unable to decipher the estate name from the Georgian script (sadly the English script, as you will see, does this nice wine few favours). A touch of sweetness on the nose might deceive, but the palate is dry, textured by skin contact but not as much as many, see photo (I would say it actually tasted more like a traditional white wine than the often almost tannic style of some orange wines), and it had an unusual freshness, good length and concentration.
Stapleton & Springer “Blanc” Pinot Noir and Stapleton & Springer “Orange” Pinot Noir, both 2014, Moravia, Czech Republic – These two wines, forming a pair, are both available (I believe) for £13.75 btl/£12.50 case, from London’s Lea & Sandeman. Pinot Noir vinified en blanc is rare, but not unknown. Vinified as an orange wine is really unusual. Both wines are lovely, but most of us were very impressed by the latter…although to be fair, I’m not sure it was exactly orange in colour. There was definitely a touch of pink. Lovely strawberry nose which eventually gave the variety away despite what we could see. Amazingly gluggable and refreshing. This would have made most people’s top four, I think. Must grab some. They also have a couple of cuvées which retail at around £3 more, and which look interesting. See here.
“RPM” Gamay 2013, El Dorado, California – Made by Arnot-Roberts and Rajat Parr, this was another contender. More structured than much Beaujolais, quite a serious wine. It’s far from the first really good Californian Gamay I’ve sampled in the past couple of years, but made without too much hang time it keeps itself quite taut. Yet another example of Roberson’s skilful selection of these New-Cali wines, and I’ve yet to taste a wine from either Arnot-Roberts, or Rajat Parr, which was anything less than exciting. A great combination.
Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato 2013, Montalbera – Sorry about the blurred photo here. I’ve had this wine a good few times, most recently I think at one of Warren Edwardes’ spice oddities lunches. I like it a lot, although I didn’t recognise it on this occasion. It seemed a bit fatter than I remember, and also lacking quite the brambly bite on the finish which might have brought a glimmer of recognition. Or perhaps I was concentrating too much on the wonderful Wiltshire Duck which was sitting in front of me? Anyway, I’ve recommended this wine before so I’m happy to do so again. The same producer makes a delicious Freisa too.
Humagne Rouge 2009, Simon Maye & Fils, Chamoson, Valais (Switzerland) – I was perhaps more disappointed here than by any other wine. I’ve had it a few times before and it was lovely, like a smoky Syrah-like red with concentraed fruit. Humagne is, of course, one of the signature grapes of the Valais, and although I drink more Swiss wine than many, I so rarely take them to tastings. The fault here was a certain hollowness in the middle. It may well have closed down, as a couple of people suggested. A shame.
Chianti Classico Brolio 1964 (?), Barone Ricasoli, Tuscany – With the date indecipherable, we relied on Antoine’s memory. It was the first ever fine wine he bought, so it was wonderfully kind of him to share it. It was on its last legs, to be fair, but not wholly shot at all, and at least 50% spotted it was Sangiovese (to be embarrassingly honest, the other 50% thought it was Nebbiolo!).
Brunello di Montalcino 2006, Altesino, Tuscany – What is my problem today? I thought this was Barbaresco, and I wasn’t completely alone there. Altesino is the first Brunello I bought, early 1980s vintages after a tasting with David Gleave at the old Winecellars in Wandsworth. Maturing nicely with poise, and not showing any of the real bombast of some modern Brunello (among its fans, 2006 is seen as an elegant vintage in Montalcino, lacking the power and fat of some). It grew on me too. I’ve not bought Altesino for ages but I’m told (thanks Shon) that it can be well priced at auction these days. This is approachable now but will mature.
Cuvée “Longo Mai” 2009, Domaine des Hautes Collines, St Jeannet/IGP Alpes Maritimes, Provence – This IGP sits up above Nice, and is even tinier and less well known than Bellet, though it shares the equally rare Braquet grape variety with that AOC. This cuvée also includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot and Syrah, all vinified separately before blending and transfer to glass bonbonnes. These are left outside (as sometimes happens in Banyuls at the other corner of Southern France), usually on a rooftop here, before three years of oxidative barrel maturation. This wine divided opinion quite sharply. Some people said they didn’t get it. It was probably, by a whisker, my personal wine of the day, so there you go. Unusual, complex and thought provoking, even before discovering its method of production.
Campania Rosso IGP 2011, Azienda Monte di Grazia, Tramonti (Amalfi Coast) – 90% Tintore with 10% Piedirosso from old vines, made with minimum intervention just inland from the Amalfi beaches, yet far more exciting than many wines flogged to tourists. The vines are actually 120 years old, and the result is far too serious for undiscerning tourists, for whom a “mere IGP” might be misleading. A nice touch of age here, which I suspect those centenarian vines merit. It also has that iron filings and earthy note which you find in nearby (red) Lacryma Christi (though those wines are most usually 100% Piedirosso, the minor component here).
Ajaccio AOC Cuvée Faustine 2004, Comte Abbatucci, Casalabriva, Corsica – Another thing we don’t often get treated to, a magnum of Corsican wine with more than a decade under its belt. It’s a blend of Niellucio and Sciàccarello, made by a family directly descended from Napoleon Bonaparte. Their now biodynamic domaine dates back to 1950. A wine with evident age to it, most had a stab at an old Tuscan (well, Niellucio is Sangiovese), but we thought it older than 2004. There was a move towards Corsica as its origin once Tuscany was rejected. Think old Chianti with a bit more bite. Very enjoyable, and a generous bottle for our final red.
Galilee Mount Hermon Dessert Muscat 1990, Yarden, Israel – Made at Yarden’s Golan Heights Winery from Muscat à Petit Grains grown in Galilee, it’s rich but not heavy, quite sweet but not cloying. 14% alcohol. It’s actually a good wine which is readily available in the US for very little money. These two halves had received the kind of bottle age I suspect this wine rarely manages and it was still fresh. A nice wine with which to finish the meal, and no great complexity to interfere with the sheer indulgence of our delicious rhubarb crumble. Sometimes the simple wines make the best matches.