We were back at Rochelle Canteen on Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, on Friday for our fourth of six Oddities lunches this year. There was no theme this time, everyone bringing a wide range of wines, which (miraculously, as always seems to be the case) were a delight to taste. Maybe the majority of the wines were not quite as obscure as we sometimes get, but there were some real treats. As always, the food was brilliant, little short of perfect, and it deserves more than a footnote – so here are some food pics before we launch into the liquid refreshment. A sardine starter, deep fried rabbit with aioli, and (for my sweet tooth) berries and meringue to finish.
Priorat Blanco “Pedra de Guix” 2012, Terroir Al Limit Some of us wondered whether this was a Chardonnay on the nose. It’s actually Macabeo/Grenache Blanc and Pedro Ximenez, a wine once made by Eben Sadie, along with his partner Dominik Hubre in Catalonia’s mountains. Sadie is no longer involved, of course, but Hubre fashions wines with as much class as we have come to expect from that great winemaker (as you’d expect for a wine in the £40-50 bracket). Beautifully balanced with 13% alcohol, fruit aplenty, but with a savoury quality too. It was the White of the Day for many of us, and up there as one of the wines of the lunch. Very impressive indeed, especially with a few years in bottle.
Caiati 2014, Michèle Alois Quite a few of us were sniffing around Southern Italy with this wine, but my guess of Sicilian Catarratto was off the mark. It’s a Campanian Pallagrello Bianco! Two decades ago there was a regional project to rediscover Campania’s pre-phylloxera grape varieties, and Alois is cultivating several of them, including this. The wine has a deeper colour than many Italian whites, and is quite fruity. A genuine rarity but, on this evidence, well worth the effort.
“Smiley” V2 Chenin Blanc NV, Swartland, Avant Garde Wines Quite an enigma. I’m not sure we arrived at Chenin very quickly. In fact, I thought the nose quite Sauvignon Blanc-like, though not the palate. It’s actually the second wine of Silwervis. It is 70% tank fermented and 30% in a concrete egg, whole bunches and minimal sulphur. A fun natural wine, a little funky but nothing to worry anyone but the die-hard conservatives, and extremely refreshing. The sheep’s head on the label? Silwervis is supposed to be Afrikaans slang for the meat left on a sheep’s head, a delicacy.
Rosé des Riceys “En Barmont” 2006, Olivier Horiot Many readers will know Horiot through his Champagnes, or even via his Coteaux Champenois red, but the pink wine made in the villages which form Les Riceys, on the Aube/Yonne border, is almost unknown outside of France. I first discovered it when we visited friends honeymooning near there in the mid-1980s. I kind of fell for a hauntingly perfumed rosé, yet this single vineyard cuvée was more of a light red, perhaps reminiscent of old Burgundy, though at just a decade it’s not old by Cote d’Or standards. Having written about this, albeit briefly, in my blog post on pink wines a few days before the lunch, I was slightly crestfallen that no one guessed what it was. Never mind, it went down well enough. It was good, if not quite as hauntingly perfumed and cold tea-like as some bottles can be. As you will see from the back label, Horiot suggests this will age five to fifteen years, and unusually for a rosé, it does have this reputation for improving over time like a fine red.
Sumoll “1954” Orange de Noirs 2014, Costador The “1954” here refers to the year these Sumoll vines were planted at 650 metres on clay and limestone in Penedès’s mountainous terrain. Fermented on skins in amphora, this orange wine from red grapes is then aged 8 months in French oak. We’ve had a few bottles of Sumoll’s more usual red iteration at Oddities before, but this is complex, and stunningly good. Another of my wines of the day.
“Pét-Nat James” Vin de Table , Ormiale, Bordeaux I managed to guess this wine, though I’ve never tried it. As soon as I caught a whiff of what I took to be Merlot I knew I’d read only days before (in The Sampler’s Newsletter) that this was was (potentially) the first pétillant naturel from Bordeaux. It’s a bottle fermented blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Simple berry fruits and a texture that’s more mouthfeel than tannin, if you know what I mean. Something savoury, a food wine with a touch of freshness (the Petit Verdot, one presumes). Jamie Hutchinson recommends serving it at cellar, rather than fridge, temperature (we had it slightly cooler). I was thrilled to try it – it’s good, but if I’m truthful, there are some very good petillant naturels out there for half the UK retail price (£33). But still, fizzy red from Burgundy I’ve had aplenty, never before from Bordeaux. This is just what the region needs to bring in younger drinkers, fun wines and a touch of innovation.
Riflesso Rosi, Vallagarina IGT 2014, Eugenio Rosi This is called a rosato on the label, but it’s more like a light red. We had no idea of the grape variety, I was floundering in Switzerland. But in fact it’s Cabernet Sauvignon, albeit macerated for an unusually curtailed two days. The must is then added to the pomace of Nosiola grapes (to fix the colour, apparently). It has the colour and scent of pomegranate with cherry on the palate. A little perfume on the end also suggested to me a grape like Rondo. A very attractive light red, though more fascinating than high scoring in a traditional sense. But if you ever find it, at a retail price of around €11-12 in Italy, you must try it.
La Pépiè 2015, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, Domaine de la Pépière I’ve drunk what one would unofficially call sparkling Muscadet a few times, and very nice it was too. This is, again unofficially of course, red Muscadet from an estate well known for those under rated wines from the Melon grape. This cuvée is made from Cot, the regional synonym for Malbec, and one of three reds made on the estate. It does have that very deep colour, but thankfully not nearly the alcohol increasingly found in South American Malbec (just 11.7%). Consequently the wine is very refreshing and, grown on granite, it does have that liveliness you’d look for in a Beaujolais-Villages. This domaine makes biodynamic wines in the village of Maisdon-sur-Sèvre. Seek them out. This was tasty!
Slarina 2014, Cascina Tavijn This extremely rare and indigenous Piemontese grape is grown by Nadia Verrua on a 5 hectare plot in the Monferrato hills, near Asti. The soil is sandy and the wine is light and pleasantly perfumed. Made naturally and fermented in a variety of vessels, as with the wine above, this is far removed from a “competition wine”, but all the better for it. A lovely example of a little hidden gem of a grape variety which I’d not even heard of before I tried this. Piemonte seems to be throwing up so many of these almost lost autochthonous varieties, and every one I try has something good to offer. Tutto Wines, who sell this, describe it as a love child of Barbera and Ruchè, and that is a reasonably apt description if you know those two grape varieties. Tutto stock several wines from this estate, and I must say that they all look worth following up.
Carignan Reserva “Vinedo Silvestre” 2012, Villalobos, Colchagua Valley This is a reasonably well known example of “the new Carignan” which is rightly finding favour in Chile. It’s berry scented with a little crunchy fruit and, at 12% alcohol, provides excellent quaffing. The vines, many around 60 years of age, are left wild with no pruning (like Meinklang’s Graupert vineyards, which I’ve written about in previous posts). This means they grow into large bushes, or up trees, but they seem to find a natural balance and don’t over-crop. One attendee has tasted this wine several times and said that in its youth it’s much more punchy. One or two people down at my end of the table suggested it might have been a touch corked.
Tinto Joven, Bodegas Insulares, Tacoronte Acentejo DO, Tenerife We are very familiar these days with the wines of Tenerife via the renowned producers Suertes del Marques and Envinate. But the island has plenty more estates and this one is completely new to me. This young wine is mainly (95%) Listan Negro, the main red variety on Tenerife, here accompanied by 5% Negramoll. It’s cherry red with red fruits and violets, finishing dry and with a little structure you might not expect from the nose. I’m not sure whether this was NV or I just missed the vintage. A good reminder that Tenerife has a lot more to discover.
Domaine Tempier Cuvée Spéciale 1993, Bandol Well, for me I must admit my worst guess of the day, tasting this blind. It was certainly not a Portuguese red from Alentejo, and that guess was especially bad considering how well I know Tempier’s wines. This is well aged Mourvèdre, very complex. On my first few sips I awarded this my “red wine of the day”, with the caveat that it was beginning to fade on my second small pour. But in the moment, sublime. It was clearly a classic wine, more structured than any which preceded it, and also clearly a wine of considerable class.
Watervale Nero d’Avola 2013, Mount Horrocks, Clare Valley Our resident Italian expert, Mark Priestley, threw us a curved ball here, an Australian Nero d’Avola. Australian producers are realising that climate change is making some Italian varieties more of a sensible option, as it gets warmer and drier throughout the country. Yet I didn’t know Stephanie Toole made a version of this Sicilian grape variety, albeit in tiny quantities (around 200 cases). There’s a lovely refreshing quality to this wine, with lifted strawberry fruit on the nose and cherry fruit on the palate – more in tune with, say, a Cerasuolo than the more jammy Nero d’Avolas you can find on the island. A wine to drink cellar cool. James Halliday gave this 95 points, and although you know I don’t like scoring wine, that was well deserved.
Passopisciaro 2006, Sicilia IGT A magnum, no less, of a very fine example of why Sicily’s Etna region deserves to be rated alongside Italy’s other top DOCGs – although this majestic Nerello Mascalese is an IGT, not DOC. This is one of the first Etna estates I got to know, along with Terre Nere. I’ve had both the 2005 and 2008 recently, and along with this 2006, all three showed signs they would age well (the bottle of 2008 I took to a previous Oddities was perhaps the most forward of them all). Like great Burgundy, this is crying out for game, or Goose even. This was magnificent. Not one of our official wines for the lunch, but opened afterwards in an act of great generosity, I’ve not included it in the wines of the day below, but it got my Coup de Coeur.
In Olympics mode, the medals are as follows:
Gold – Terroir al Limit’s Blanco. This producer makes great reds, although they are sometimes too alcoholic for me to drink with abandon, and too often. This white really won the day, for me.
Silver – Goes to the Tempier Bandol. As I said above, it did start to fade, but in the moment it showed another French AOC which is too often overlooked when seeking greatness. Few can match Tempier.
Bronze – Pretty apt for an orange wine to get this, considering its colour. Costador’s Sumoll “1954” is, sadly, a wine I can’t just go and buy in London. If I could, I would. I’d love to enjoy a whole bottle.
Man of the Day – (well, there were no ladies present this time) must be Mark Priestley. Having brought two wines anyway, he generously pulled the cork on that expensive magnum of Passopisciaro, which really turned out to be the perfect end to yet another enjoyable Oddities lunch. Thanks, Mark.