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The Zero Dosage Dilemma – A Visit to Hambledon Winery Hampshire

Zero Dosage champagne is a dilemma for purists. On the one hand, it shows us an expression of the wine without the mask of added sugar before bottling. On the other, it can sound a bit similar to other marketing re-mixes such as Coke Zero, or perfume houses that put out so-called limited-release versions just before Christmas. Whether the finish of a sparkling wine with a sugar dose – and it is only a pipette – masks or enhances is a matter for debate. 

“You either love it or hate it,” our guide at Hambledon Winery in Hampshire, Joe Wadsack explains, “It does take a while to get used to it, like jumping into a cold sea, but that shock is also what you want.”  

Experimental zero dosage version of Hambledon – is it up there?

Most people like to think they like “sugar-free” but would they if they were handed a glass at a party? To understand how dosage adds to, or takes away, from a wine, we tasted four different levels of dosage and the differences were quite apparent: 

  1. Zero dosage (Brut Nature = No added sugar to under 3 grams/litre residual sugar)
  2. 4 g/l (Extra Brut = between 0 and 6 g/litre)
  3. 6 g/l (Extra Brut to Brut – less than 12 g/l) 
  4. 10 g/l – (Brut – less than 12 g/l)

The high acidity found in grapes from Hampshire – cooler for 30 average degree days less than in the Champagne region – are balanced by the right dosage. Dosage is not the same as adding sugar during fermentation (which increases alcohol). Adding a tiny amount of sugar after fermentation is complete, just before bottling, is more like a final finishing touch. The Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV normally has 8 g/l residual sugar, while the Premiere Cuvée is 6 g/l.  Out of the four samples, the 6 g/l had the most balance while the sample with the 4 g/l was almost out of kilter, a topsy turvy feeling that was not pleasant. But what about the Zero Dosage? 

 At the end of the tasting, we could choose our favourite to bottle ourselves. Hambledon Winery does not currently produce a Zero Dosage sparkling wine, so I wanted to make one. Or “not make one”, as there is nothing to add – losing the dosage step, the bottle is straight to the corking and labelling. 

Making our own bottle

Making our own bottle

I have to be honest, one reason I chose the Zero Dosage is because I did not want to wait around to drink the wine; it takes a few months for the dosage to integrate with the wine. A Zero Dosage sparkling can be drunk straight away and will develop like a wine in the bottle. 

Apart from my greedy thirst, without the dosage, it is possible to taste what is happening in the vineyards rather than in the winery. If there is one thing everyone knows about English sparkling is the famous chalk soils. Without added sugar, you can almost taste every individual pebble on the ground. 

The chalk soils in Hampshire (highlighted in black)

The chalk soils in Hampshire (highlighted in black)

As Joe Wadsack said, “a Zero Dosage is like driving in a Porsche, you can feel the crenulation of the road under the wheel.” It’s thrilling, but not for everyone – people with very sensitive palates will find the acidity too razor-like. For less-experimental drinking, for me, the Première Cuvée at 6 g/l residual sugar is the perfect balance.

A sparkling wine is always about the blend; a good wine is a blend of components that come together like a finely tuned machine. It will be very interesting to take one of England’s best Sparkling wines at zero dosage for a spin over the next couple of months and see how it develops. 

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Thanks to Hambledon Winery for The Première Cuvée Experience. I was invited as a guest and all views are my own. 
 
You may like to make your own sparkling wine, too. The Première Cuvée Experience is an educational ‘how wine is made’ experience hosted by Joe Wadsack and Ian Kellett at a cost of £200 per head, including disgorging your own bottle to take home. It’s a beautiful part of the world and a short train trip from London Waterloo station.
 

Loire Moments at the London Edition Hotel for London Wine Week 2017

Heeding a call for “Loire Moments” during London Wine Week, I left my ordinary world of peak-hour crush on the Underground, horizontal rain and broken umbrella to find myself in the foyer of the London EDITION hotel, 10 Berners Street, with a glass of sparkling Monmousseau Touraine Brut in my hand. 

Our exquisite hosts, Douglas Blyde and Lindsay Oram, had created a menu matched with six wines from along the Loire River, with four-courses cooked by Chef Phil Carmichael from Jason Atherton’s upstairs Berners Tavern.

Even saying the word, Monmousseau, puts my mouth into a kissy kiss pout and silly voice that I find happens to me when I’m around the super cute. A baby swaddled in a blanket disguised as a burrito or watching a labrador puppy try to go down a staircase for the first time.

That’s about all I can watch nowadays, by the way, after recent horrific events – in fact, my year can be summed up by the bleak New Yorker cartoon, “my desire to be well-informed is at odds with my desire to remain sane”. Thanks to the Monmousseau Brut, I began to leave the outside world behind for the evening and have some fun. It was soon time to leave our glasses and move downstairs to the main event.

Green neon light!

Crossing the threshold of everyday reality into a dark room, we found ourselves somewhere between a disco and an aristocrat’s cave, complete with gold-framed portraits of eccentric relatives.

Once seated, the room was flooded with green neon light. “Loire Moments is to be a full sensory experience,” Douglas Blyde announced. The green light – and gentle nature sounds of birds twittering – signified the mouth of the Loire River, in the Nantais, where our dinner’s journey would begin. 

The Loire River is not a gentle river. Shallow with strong currents, it has a mind of its own. From half way along, the river flows north, changing direction with a curve that flows toward the Atlantic Ocean. The last time I was in the Loire, for the Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny, the winemakers took us on a traditional flat-bottom boat adapted over the centuries to navigate the moody tides. I saw first-hand how difficult it was to go from one side to the other.

The ‘Loire Moments’ dinner in London was a gentler affair, despite the sudden change in lighting. I found it amusing but some of the photographers demanded a change back to neutral light. Judging by my photos, perhaps they had a point. But I was quite prepared to go with the flow of the evening. It was a journey down a river, after all.

We had a good time over the last drops of red wine and an extremely good espresso before hitting the reality of the last tube home, then bus, then bus, then bed and then do the daily commute all again in the morning, waking with a lovely memory of a technicolour dream of a river.

Menu

GREEN LIGHT with sounds of the Grandlieu nature reserve

Muscadet ​​Côtes de Grandlieu, Clos de la Sénaigerie, Domaine des Herbauges​ 2015​

with Dressed Colchester crab, brown crab mayo, apple, coriander

Muscadet ​​Côtes de Grandlieu, Clos de la Sénaigerie, Domaine des Herbauges​ 2015​ with Dressed Colchester crab, brown crab mayo, apple, coriander

Muscadet ​​Côtes de Grandlieu, Clos de la Sénaigerie, Domaine des Herbauges​ 2015​ with Dressed Colchester crab, brown crab mayo, apple, coriander

AQUA BLUE LIGHTING with the bells of Saint Maurice, Angers

Savennières, Thibault Boudignon, Clos de la Hutte 2015

with Pan-fried rainbow trout, chargrilled courgette, cucumber, wasabi butter sauce, caviar

Savennières, Thibault Boudignon, Clos de la Hutte 2015 with Pan-fried rainbow trout, chargrilled courgette, cucumber, wasabi butter sauce, caviar

Savennières, Thibault Boudignon, Clos de la Hutte 2015 with Pan-fried rainbow trout, chargrilled courgette, cucumber, wasabi butter sauce, caviar

WARM RED LIGHTING with the champions of red wine, The New Pornographers (Bill Bruisers)

Chinon Rouge Joguet, Clos de la Dioterie 2009

And Saumur Champigny, Château du Hureau, Lisagathe 2014

with BBQ Dingley Dell pork chop, roasted calçots onions, apple, tomato and sage sauce

Douglas Blyde introducing the main course

 

HARVEST GOLD LIGHTING  with ‘Cheese’, Tim Minchin (Tim Minchin and the Heritage Orchestra)

Anjou Blanc, Clos de l’Elu Berners Tavern 2015, Chenin

And Anjou Rouge​,​ Clos de l’Elu Berners Tavern 2014,

with England versus France Cheese

England versus France Cheese

England versus France Cheese

DARK CHOCOLATE LIGHTING

Difference Coffee Co. Jamaica Blue Mountain

With Prévu, Pas Prévu, Milk Coffee & Sugar

I was invited as a guest and all views are my own.

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To read more posts about the Loire

To Douglas Blyde’s column in The Evening Standard

A post on dinner with Difference Coffee Co.

 

A Judgement of Our Times – Trump Wines

If logic applied, the Trump wines (i.e. a project with enough built-in cynicism owned by teetotal reality-TV-star-turned US President Donald Trump) should be reliably terrible. But these are extraordinary times, as Adam Curtis explains in his political documentary HyperNormalisation; and in 2017, we prefer to retreat into a simpler world rather than face the huge complexities of politics today. And, he argues, this trend began 40 years ago.

That’s about the same time as the Judgement of Paris tasting of 1976, where Californian wines were pitted against the French greats and won. After the “A Judgment of Our Times” blind tasting, for a brief moment, I felt outrage similar to Odette Khan after the original tasting.

Organised by Evening Standard drinks writer Douglas Blyde, and James Hocking, wine director at The Vineyard Cellars and The Vineyard Hotel, we arrived with no idea of what to expect. We then entered the dining room where a large canvas shows the original participants of The Judgement of Paris in a heated debate.

America First

We tasted two wines at a time, completely blind. One of the wines in each pairing had to be Californian – the hotel restaurant is one of the most important importers of Californian fine wine in the country. But what was the other wine? Clearly, the other was not French.

Maybe it was the whiff of bourbon on Wine 6 that gave a clue: NV Trump Winery “CRU” Fortified Chardonnay, Charlottesville, VA. Without knowing what it was, it was still a real struggle to taste. A high alcohol, medium-sweet Chardonnay (fortified to 18%) – funnily enough, my notes read: I’m sure that a wine that smells of bourbon could be quite popular with some people.

For the sake of full disclosure, I did vote for one of Trump’s wines in the pairings: 2015 Trump Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – lighter in style, surprisingly fresh (speaking of the cool climate in Virginia, quite different than the full-bodied Californian style), and it was more to my taste with food.

The final score for the panel? California won all seven rounds; Trump: zero, nul point.

The Trump Winery, managed by Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, is the largest vineyard area in Virginia. Of course: bigly. The wines are not available in the UK or Europe, and even if they were – apart from the novelty factor of seeing the hyperreal bling labels – there are better value wines for your money, even compared to the top-tier Californian wines we tasted against the Trump wines. 

But it’s not just about wine, anymore. The wine is hyper-normal. It is a simple symbol with complex politics behind it – what does the Trump Winery say about immigration policy, climate change, tax affairs? Ride up in the gold lift, see the Trump name everywhere, but this (what is now) a political wine left me feeling quite queasy on the way down. 

 

The wines tasted

 

A Judgement of Our Times at The Vineyard

Thursday 6th April 

Menu

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Aperitif

2010 Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blancs, Charlottesville, VA
RSP: £39.60

2013 Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA
RSP:£28.24

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Mushroom risotto, parmesan and wild garlic

2014 Donelan Family Wines “Venus”, Sonoma County, CA
RSP: £44.80

2015 Trump Viognier, Charlottesville, VA
RSP: £28.05

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Foie gras parfait, rhubarb, pistachio and brioche

2013 Benovia Winery La Pommeraie Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, CA
RSP: £41.07

NV Trump Winery “CRU” Fortified Chardonnay, Charlottesville, VA
RSP: £39.60

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Pigs fillet, pickled white cabbage, roasted onion

2015 Trump Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Charlottesville, VA:
RSP £28.05

2013 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA
RSP: £25.03

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Seasonal farmhouse cheese platter, fennel bread

2013 Peter Michael Winery L’Esprit des Pavots, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, CA
RSP: £69.60

2014 Trump Winery New World Reserve, Charlottesville, VA
RSP: £67.65

Result: California 7 – 0 Trump

Tasting panel: Douglas Blyde (Evening Standard), Paul Michael (The Vineyard Hotel and Peter Michael Winery,) Richard Siddle (editor of the Buyer,) Juel Mahoney (Wine Woman and Song,) Alastair Viner (head buyer at Hedonism,) Romain Bourger (head sommelier at The Vinyeard Hotel) and Mike Meyeres (head sommelier at Lucknam Park.)

Douglas Blyde’s column in The Evening Standard – This is what the wine tastes like from Donald Trump’s vineyard 

IYour Sommelier Wine Club review. Image: Henri Matisse 1951

Spin Around Three Times: Your Sommelier wine club review

Shall we stand here after work in a busy supermarket and choose the one with the Chateau on the front or the one with the Chateau on the front? We could always spin around three times, put our hand out blindly and just reach for something under £15 per bottle? Or I might just ditch this whole supermarket-stressy-idea and go home. Perhaps this is the point where Your Sommelier wine club hopes to help. 

Around 8,500 Chateaux produce wine in Bordeaux (despite the repetition of releases from the en primeur campaign currently raging in my inbox). Bordeaux is a lot more than just the Grands Crus Classés and is one of the biggest wine-producing regions in the world.

You can find yourself plenty of decent wine in Bordeaux, and even more of what WSET may call “medium” – i.e. medium alcohol, medium body, medium intensity.

Good place for coffee in Bordeaux city (and for skateboard mending)

Workshop – a good place for coffee in Bordeaux city (and for skateboard mending)

Nothing wrong with a medium wine. I have plenty of friends who are medium wines! It’s more than acceptable during the week and I love sitting in a bistro in Bordeaux city over a glass of AOC Bordeaux red and watch the skateboarders flip out. But, when there’s just so much of medium Bordeaux out there, where do you start? The fact is, there is a lot of awful stuff, too. I’d rather someone just tell me what they’ve had, that’s good. 

Three Bordeaux Bottles Standing On the Wall

That’s what I was singing to myself when I received a sample box from Your Sommelier Ltd. Their wine club sends a selection of three bottles per month and so here we go…. My first box delivered: three bottles of Bordeaux.

First of all, all the wines featured a Chateau on the label, so there is no way I would have chosen these wines from the shelf other than completely randomly and, perhaps, the district (Castillon Côte de Bordeaux is always worth a look).

In this genre, it is helpful to have someone else choose three quality wines. As well as having the information cards included inside the box about the region as well as the wine. Diploma students may find this useful, too – you only have to get up from studying to answer the door bell when they deliver.

The fairly objective, fact-driven notes are good for the student or that special group of wine drinker who are suspicious of the whispery, elusive and adventerous nature of the senses – every wine is given a context and is completely understandable. In fact, Your Sommelier wine club would be a good way to learn about a region or a theme every month from around France.

 

Your Sommelier wine club: The Wines

Château Relais de la Poste 2012

Bordeaux Côtes de Bourg

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot

 

Château Lamartine 2011

Castillon Côte de Bordeaux

85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc

AOC Bordeaux

70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillon

Three wines per month cost £36 delivered from Your Sommelier Ltd 

Back from the Edge: Cinsault in Lebanon

It’s nearly three years since I’ve been to Lebanon. While social media has become heavier and more political, the new wine from Domaine des Tourelles is fresher and even more joyous. 

The new 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes was launched in London after a sell-out season in New York. Not long ago, Cinsault in Lebanon would have been pulled out in favour of more popular French varieties. Not noble enough; a workhorse grape; not enough money in it. Yet much like Carignan in the Languedoc, some old vines of Cinsault had been spared the vine pull. In retrospect, thankfully so.

Cinsault in Lebanon Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes

Cinsault in Lebanon – release of 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes

Cinsault in Lebanon was originally brought to the country by the Jesuits of Ksara from Algeria and today around 40% of grapes planted in Lebanon are Cinsault. But it is the recent success of South African wineries with Cinsault that have helped Cinsault reach new audiences. Far from the big, bold South African reds, the pretty aromatics and drinkability of South African Cinsault – such as ones from Flotsam & Jetsom and Waterkloof – are a welcome change, and work well with food. 

Some of the prestige wines could settle with a drag of Marlboro Red rather than a food match. Old-vine Cinsault in Lebanon is not only abundant and easy-drinking, but also, importantly for this part of the world, drought-resistant.

The 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes has a mouth-watering umami character, liquorice and deep red fruit. It has freshness from grapes grown at 1000m altitude (the Cinsault grape has relatively low acidity), but it also has great intensity and richness from the 70-year-old vines and plenty of sunlight.

Cinsault in Lebanon is back from the edge and centre stage. For those who like wines to pour and drink and enjoy, Cinsault from Lebanon is another reason why we need boozy long lunches more than ever. 

Faouzi Issa, winemaker at Domaine des Tourelles

 

Looking back at Chateau Sociando-Mallet

The Chateau Sociando-Mallet house style is the equivalent to those modern interiors you see in French design magazines that I like to browse at the newsagent waiting for the Eurostar back to London. Clean lines and sparse interiors with a simple piece of design in just the right place. Modern, not excessive in style; and, it never seems to mess up.

Meanwhile, there’s baroque elephants up the road at Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estephe and further south in Pauillac, the route des Chateaux of super-second Chateaux that can rival Kensington Palace Gardens for real estate bling. Stuck in the middle with you, as the song goes, is Sociando-Mallet, where the focus is simply on the essentials to make good wine: aspect, the soil, the fruit and the vintage.

A vineyard with a view

The view of the Gironde from Sociando-Mallet has to be one of my favourites in Bordeaux, especially at sunrise. As the road along the Gironde in Pauillac swings up a small hill to Saint Estephe, you will find Sociando-Mallet and a view of the river looking wild and wide. The vineyard is slightly elevated on a gravelly mound. Sometimes you can taste the sea in the humid air.

The outlook here confirms the old Bordeaux adage, the best estates can view the river from their vineyards. But it begs the question, why did it take so long for anyone to plant here? When Jean Gautreau bought his 5 ha in 1969, at age 42, it was more shack than Chateau.

Think back to the wine market over 40 years ago, and it was a crazy time to buy a Bordeaux vineyard. Even more so when you consider the early 1970s during the oil crisis and the plummeting fine wine market. Yet, it must have heartened Jean Gautreau to be congratulated on his purchase by the cellar master of Château Latour, Jean-Paul Gardère, as well as by Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch Bages.

He knew he was doing something right. Quite an achievement for someone who had never made wine before. And it’s this sense of good instinct and self-assurance that can be found in the wines. It also explains why he does not show his wines in the usual big tastings. You have to come to him if you want to taste the wines during en primeur.

Chateau Sociando-Mallet Jean Gautreau 8 April 2013

My (blurry) photo of Jean Gautreau in the Chateau Sociando-Mallet barrel room, En Primeurs 2013

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to taste the wines in London at a dinner held by Richard Bampfield MW at 67 Pall Mall a couple of weeks ago.

The vintages

I have added the technical details below, because this is a wine that truly reflects the vintage: as you can see, the blend is always the same for the Grand Vin.

What is significant to note are the differences in harvest dates for each vintage. This shows the perfect time to pick the grapes varied, and compared to modern Bordeaux standards, Sociando-Mallet is one of the first to pick grapes in the area.

Personally, I loved each vintage as I would love each of my different children equally.  That’s not an opt out but reflects my opinion that Sociando-Mallet is a fantastic expression of vintage variation.

That is why the strongest vintages in the vertical tasting tended to be the stronger vintages in Bordeaux, in general: 2010, 2009, 2005. The 2005 Chateau Sociando-Mallet with the lamb was a classic wine and food match.

I hold a lot of affection for the 2011 with its lighter, fresher flavours bearing out like a Chinese fan (“it’s chic,” said Douglas Blyde at the dinner – or did he actually mean “CHIC? Maybe.).

The 2001 vintage had a lovely old-school claret feel; the 2014 had a very expressive perfume, smooth and velvety with plenty of promise. If I had to say anything, the 2008 was going through an awkward phase: quite stalky, it’s a bit lower in alcohol, and right now on the verge of taking on tertiary characters. I hate to use the word ‘sexy’ with respect to wine, but the 2009 was very flattering, but we will have to see how those 2009 Bordeaux will work out in the long run.

Technical details

2012 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 28 September – 15 October
Yield: 54 hl/ha
Producing area: 61 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

2011 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 7 September – 27 September
Yield: 53 ha/hl
Producing area: 81 ha
Blend 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

2010 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 24 September – 15 October
Yield: 53 ha/hl
Producing area: 59 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13.5%

2009 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 18 September – 5 October
Yield: 58 ha/hl
Producing area 62 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13.5%

2008 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 29 September – 11 October
Yield: 45 hl/ha
Producing area: 90 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13%

2006 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 18 September – 4 October
Yield: 54 hl/ha
Producing area: 79 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 12.5%

2005 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 19 September – 6 October
Yield: 59 hl/ha
Producing area: 69 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Alcohol: 13%

2001 Chateau Sociando-Mallet
Harvest: 26 September – 12 October
Yield: 61 hl/ha
Producing area: 58 ha
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc

Tasting and Dinner at 67 Pall Mall, Friday November 11, 2016 with Pascale Thiel, Sybil Marquet and Richard Bampfield MW

Prices for Sociando-Mallet (US)

 

2014 Mouton Rothschild label by David Hockney

The 2014 Mouton Rothschild label shows the friendship between the late Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and British artist David Hockney.

2014 Mouton Rothschild label

2014 Mouton Rothschild label

‘In tribute to Philippine’

Most of all, it is a fitting tribute to the Baroness, who died in late August of the same year as the wine. Although it was her father who began the tradition in 1945 to commission artists, it was Madame de Rothschild who brought her own vibrancy and verve to the Chateau. The label shows the energy in the vibrating lines.

The story in her obituary in the New York Times recounts when she approached Francis Bacon for the 1990 Mouton Rothschild label. She asked, “if she could use his painting of a nude that her father rejected, Mr Bacon asked what had changed.

“I’m not my father,” she answered.”

David Hockney is well-known for his smoking, but after his heart attack, he no longer drinks. Chateau Mouton Rothschild pays artists with five cases of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine from the current vintage and five cases from other vintages.  Let’s hope that he has a drop and shares it with his many friends.

Holding history

This first growth may seem like one of the ultimate “investment wines” but it is better to open and enjoy wine with friends rather than lock it away forever. That’s what I think this label says, too.

Even if the opportunity to open the wine takes 87 years.

I have been very lucky recently to share the 1929 Mouton Rothschild with friends (read more in “In the hours between coffee and wine”). From the same year of the Great Depression, the 1929 vintage did not have an artist-commissioned work we have now come to expect.

mouton-rothschild-1929

1929 Mouton Rothschild – in the period before Mouton Rothschild commissioned artists for the labels – at Harry’s Bar, London, October 2016

The Baroness’ father purchased Chateau Mouton Rothschild in 1922 – where they commissioned only one label by artist, Jean Carlu in 1924. But was not until 1945 that an artist’s work featured on the labels. The first one in 1945 commemorated the Allied Victory of World War Two. The back catalogue of labels are a who’s who of twentieth century artists, including Picasso (1973) and Miro (1969) and more recently, the “Luxury and Humour” of Jeff Koons (2010).

Here’s to blue skies and good wine. 

Two wines for Christmas Day

At this time of year, I’m asked for my Christmas wine recommendations. There are two ways to approach choosing wine for Christmas day.

Stick to the tried and traditional, or else, do your own riff from the standard hymn sheet.

My favourite Christmas is when we tear up the hymn sheet altogether.

One year, we drank mostly old vintages of German Riesling and had a great time searching for old bottles around town. (If you are in the UK, you can read it in this year’s Waitrose’s Food and Drink Christmas catalogue).

This rather nerdy level of drinking is easy when there are only two of you. But if you have a big gathering with varying degrees of wine-geek-tolerance then you want a case of something that everyone will “get”. Not too precious, then again, it must have enough sense of occasion.

With this in mind, and painfully aware of my tendency to go a bit over-the-top, when Wine Trust asked if I would like to pick my Christmas wine recommendations from their website, I chose a classic Oregon Pinot Noir and a sweet Italian sparkling.

The 2013 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Willamette Valley could work for nearly everyone around the table. It is a classic Pinot Noir made by Domaine Drouhin, a Burgundian family, who realised Oregon’s potential back in 1960s and who became one of the pioneers of the style. It has good structure, good depth of red fruit but not too demanding, either. It is Burgundian in style but it doesn’t have the high highs of Burgundy, but neither does it have the low lows – in taste and cost. That’s a good thing for a big group. 

The other wine is not a traditional Christmas wine, but it should be: 2015 G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti. It’s a gentle frizzante style of sweet wine with low alcohol (5.5% alc). Rose petals, stone fruits and icing sugar lightness. It’s not as woozy as Champagne and the sweetness makes it feel like a bit of a treat. In its home in Piedmont, it is traditionally served with fresh fruit but it could also be great with Christmas biscuits, gingerbread or, to continue the Italian theme, with a slice of panetonne. 

As far as what I will do this year, I haven’t yet decided. But half the fun is in the choosing. And then, finally, to put the feet up and relax.

 

Christmas wine recommendations from Wine Trust 100

 

2013 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
Variety: Pinot Noir
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Year: 2013
Price: £24
Retailer: Wine Trust

2015 G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti
Variety: Moscato
Region: Piedmont, Italy
Year: 2015
Price: £12.95
Retailer: Wine Trust

 

Image Kolomon Moser

The hours between coffee and wine

I love coffee, I need coffee, I want coffee – as the greeting-card saying goes, “life is what happens in the hours between coffee and wine.” It is disappointing to end a good meal with muddy dishwater rather than a properly-made espresso.

Thanks to Amir Gehl from Difference Coffee Co., who lured us to Harry’s Bar with both excellent coffee and a very good wine, indeed: 1929 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Intact and alive in the 21st century. After dinner, we then tasted the First Growth of coffee: Jamaican Blue Mountain, a Hawaiian Kona, and the infamous Kopi Luwak.

The civet cat coffee

Even if you have never tasted Kopi Luwak, you may know about the civet cat. Kopi Luwak is a coffee made from the Sumatran civet cat’s half-digested coffee cherries, which in the process of digestion, partially ferments the beans.

As you can imagine, making coffee from the beans excreted by civet cats in Sumatra is not cheap. Although for coffee connoisseurs, much like people crazy about wine, 550 euros is a small price to pay for one kilogram of these rare, labour-intensive beans.

Coffee and wine

As a result, Difference Coffee Co. has created coffee pods to make the gold-standard in coffee accessible to Nespresso machines; the pods keep the coffee fresh and in optimal condition for use, especially in restaurants. If you drink the finest wines known to humanity – and the 1929 Chateau Mouton Rothschild is in the pantheon – then it makes sense to end the meal with the the best quality of coffee. 

My impression of the coffee? There is clearly a difference between these terroir-led coffees and the usual coffee served in restaurants. It reminded me of drinking the very best wine: it has a clarity and almost sobering quality. The after-taste of the coffee is extremely clean and up-lifting.

The 1929 Mouton Rothschild? Here are my first thoughts after the lunch on instagram

Holding history. 1929 Chateau Mouton Rothschild at lunch. The first thing to consider on drinking very old wines is that they could have fallen over already. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to think the star may be too out-of-condition to sing. Think of how much this wine has gone through since 1929. But it was not only fine but it was on fire. Compote wild strawberries, mocha in background, fresh acidity even an hour later. Served with veal simply done and roasted artichoke…

 

Menu for Difference Coffee Co. at Harry’s Bar, 6 October 2016

Panama Geisha coffee ‘tea’, brewed for seven minutes
NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois

 

Seared blue-fin tuna, crunchy vegetables and Sicilian orange dressing
2002 Kistler Vineyards ‘Kistler’ Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley
2012 Rotem & Mounir Saouma Chateauneuf-du-Pape ‘Magis’ Blanc

 

Pumpkin and pickled fruit mustard ravioli from Cremona, with butter and sage
Castello di Vicarello ‘Castello di Vicarello’ Toscana IGT 2011
Stellenrust Quota Cuvée 2012

 

Roast t-bone of Limousin veal, sautéed porcini mushrooms and Albenga artichokes
1929 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild

 

Difference Coffee Co. tiramisu layered in a coupe and selection of Harry’s Bar desserts
Hawaii Kona from Buddha’s Cup Estate- Grade “Extra Fancy” 
Jamaica Blue Mountain from Gold Cup Estate – Grade 1 
Wild Kopi Luwak Grand Reserve 

 

Finished with an espresso martini made with Beluga Gold Line, Wild Kopi Luwak, St. George’s Nola Liqueur.

 

Thank you for the lunch, wines and good company, Douglas Blyde, Neal Martin and Amir Gehl, and the wonderful staff at Harry’s Bar, London W1K 2PD.

3 Wine Movies Reviewed: Sour Grapes, The Way of Wine & The Duel of Wine

Recently, three wine movies have explored the question: what is real (and fake) in the wine world?

There is something quite unreal about the circus around fine wine. Especially over the past two decades, it has become a game for the supra-mangerial that has no relation to the humble product from the vineyard. Step back from three recently released films and it is easy to see why the question of authenticity, and what is real in wine, has become so important in the 2010s.

Sour Grapes is the true story of the young emperor of fine wine, Rudy Kurniawan, who dazzled the fine wine auction scene in the early 2000s and went on to flood the fine wine market with counterfeit wine. Embarrassingly, a lot of wine experts went along for the ride.

Jay McKierney writes that “The night before the auction I personally consumed, by my best estimate, over $20,000 worth of his wine – including the 1945 Mouton and the 1947 Cheval Blanc – and I was one of fourteen drinkers.” One of those drinkers being Rudy Kurniawan.

Were they only enjoying Chateau Ribena – or did Jay drink the good stuff, after all? It’s a fascinating snapshot of a time when the economy had more money, and in turn, had more of the proverbial old fools. For many younger wine professionals – and, I would argue the wine industry has seen a lot more professionalisation since then – they may wonder if this type of regular extravagance was a myth. Did it even happen at all? Yes, it did. And it was all real. In some sense, we are still cleaning up the mess. 

The Way of Wine (2010) is a prelude to the recently released film, The Duel of Wine. 

We begin The Way of Wine with the whirlwind lifestyle of Miami sommelier, Charlie Arturaola. There’s the glamour of travelling the world on a wine bottle, as he says. His whole life depends on his palate. Even his wife, Pandora, is his manager and books him to host tastings.

When he loses his palate, his world falls apart. He needs to recover it. And fast. In search of a solution, he approaches major people in the wine world. He asks Michel Rolland, who suggests he “washes his palate with the finest wines of the world.” This leads him on a journey far away from his hectic party lifestyle and into the vineyards of Argentina.

The story continues in his second film, The Duel of Wine.  In this film, Charlie is working as a taxi driver in Miami while he recovers his palate. His wife, Pandora, is approached by a young sommelier, Luca to manage him all the way to the world championships of Sommeliers. This leads Charlie to go to the championships: to regain his crown and his marriage. 

The Way of Wine and The Duel of Wine are fun films with larger-than-life Charlie Arturaola providing plenty of laughs and madcap silliness amongst the serious side of wine. Sour Grapes is anything but funny for those who work in wine, although, it is good to know (spoiler alert!) the pied piper gets a taste of cold, hard reality in the end. 

Rioja Alavesa trip #2 – a photo diary

Here are some of my favourite moments from the trip to Rioja Alavesa on instagram.

I was thrilled to catch up with the Vinisud team again.For more instagrams from beautiful Rioja Alavesa, check out: charliewines (Charlie Arturoala), rockinredblog (Michelle Williams) and thewinesleuth (Denise Medrano).

A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on

🔑 #RiojaAlavesa 

A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on

Local tomatoes, fresh bread, wine and sunshine 

A photo posted by Juel Mahoney (@winewomansong) on

 

See also Rioja Alavesa trip #1 – Will Rioja Alavesa break away from Rioja?

Follow me on instagram @winewomansong

Rioja Alavesa trip #1 – Will Basque Rioja break away from Rioja?

My introduction to Rioja Alavesa went a little something like this:

“We are going to visit Basque wine country!” wrote Charlie Arturaola, “We are going to Rioja.”

“Are we going to Basque country or are we going to Rioja?” I tapped back.

“Both!”

When you think of Basque country, you may be forgiven for thinking of tingly white Txacoli poured from great heights in the bars of San Sebastian. 

But there is a part of Rioja, near the Cantabrian mountains, that is also part of the Basque country. What did the Level 3 WSET book have to say about the Basque part of Rioja?

“Rioja Alavesa is situated to the west of Logroño, on the north bank of the Ebro. Vineyards are planted up to 800 metres into the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains. The soil is very chalky and the wines are perhaps the lightest of Rioja, but have the most finesse” (Wines and Spirits, Understanding Quality, WSET, 2012).

And that’s it… Nothing about Vasco Pais, Euskadi, Basque Country. And about half as much information than for Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. 

Basque Country

Vasco Pais, Euskadi, Basque Country in Spain. On the coastline is Bilbao and Donostia (San Sebastian), inland is Rioja Alavesa

And yet, you may know the wines from here: Ostatu, Remelluri, Artadi, and Vega Sicilia vineyards. You can find them in the wine shop under the big sign: RIOJA. I just did not know they were from the Basque part of Rioja.

What did it matter that the wines were from Basque country or not?

A fork in the road

On the journey of wine, this is the point where some wine lovers part ways. Either you are happy with the broad brushstrokes of ‘Rioja’, or you want to know more about where it comes from.

Rioja Alavesa is not only is a different style of wine, a different place. And after visiting there, I’d also say, it is a state of mind.

There is a tension between Rioja Alavesa and the rest of Rioja, overstated by the sub-editor in The Telegraph, “Rioja war as Basque vintners launch bid for independence”.

Much as there is a tension, I would not go so far as to use the word, “war”. It’s not unusual for wineries to want to delineate their sub-regions.

Aside from the stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap world of wine, the customer demands to know more about where a wine comes from: what makes the particular area unique? Especially, if they are paying more for a bottle.

For customers, Rioja has a fundamental problem: no consistency of style – despite the strict regulations on the amount of time in barrel on the winery side (joven, crianza, reserva, gran reserva etc). People know the over-oaked, vanilla bomb that tastes like baked plums. In fact, Rioja has a natural higher acidity from the Tempranillo grape.

In the glass, compared to the customer’s memory, they are different wines.

Rocking the Rioja boat

Despite this, Rioja is one of the most recognisable wine brands in the UK. It’s right up there with Argentinian Malbec or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This amount of recognition is an advantage for any wine region.

Yet, Rioja Alavesa is not always the “Rioja” customers are asking for. What is Rioja? Is it the blocky Gran Reservas, the old oxidative styles of Vina Tondonia, or the gold-net styles found on the top shelf at the local shop?

Wines from Rioja Alavesa have a clear sense of place. The ground here is calcareous clay; across the Ebro, it is iron based. The ridge of Cantabrian mountains stop the Atlantic winds and rain from the coast. The wet weather in Bilbao stops when crossing the mountains, and the land is dry and hot. People here work on a small scale and press the grapes near the vineyards – there is a return to the ways of their grandparents. The oldest winery has been found in the main town, Laguardia, working since before Roman times. 

A hop, skip and jump from Rioja Alavesa – in Bilbao – we stood at a bar before the flight home. Dazzled by colourful Pinxtos and good wine, what is clear is this part of the world knows the art of drinking and eating. The wines of Rioja Alavesa are perfect for the way we like to eat now.

Does Alavesa need to break away from Rioja to get the recognition they deserve?

Without echoing too much of the Brexit Remain argument, if some small changes can get through the bureaucracy of the Rioja wine board, arguably, it could make a big difference – more recognition of the sub-region on the label, for example.

However, it seems that big regional Boards across the world have a problem reconciling the demands of smaller producers. And Rioja Alavesa is mostly small producers. (I have only seen it work when the Board has recognised the importance of regionality, for example, Wine Australia and its recent Regional Roadshow.)

Anything is possible. A lesson learned from Brexit? Hear, listen.

Next post: Rioja Alavesa #2 – a photo diary

* I was in Rioja Alavesa to give a speech on the UK market and social media at a conference in Rioja Alavesa: “Challenges of winemaking: Survival and Evolution.” 8 July 2016, organised by Gerente de la Asociación de Bodegas de Rioja Alavesa (ABRA).

Corse you can: wines from Yves Leccia, Patrimonio, Corsica

Look up Corsica in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book and right at the end of the entry, like an afterthought or a throwaway line, he writes: “Original wines that rarely travel.” 

This is how the obsession starts. Thanks Hugh (again).

In the small entry, HJ then recommends the wines of Yves Leccia. As luck would have it, the opportunity came up to meet Yves Leccia at Vinisud in Montpellier, and he sent me some wines to taste at home.

It’s easy to like a wine – in fact, to like most things – when the sun is shining in the South of France, but how will they taste on a cold (as the Scots say) dreich day in London?

Yves Leccia Patrimony Rouge (Neilluccio and Grenache) and Patrimony White (Vermentinu)

Yves Leccia Patrimonio Rouge (Neilluccio and Grenache) and Patrimonio White (Vermentinu)

Yves Leccia Domaine d’E Croce Patrimonio blanc
Varieties: Vermentinu
Region: Patrimonio, Corsica
Year: 2013
Price: Approximately 27 €
Retailer: Kermit Lynch (US), no UK supplier

What struck me the most are the unique herbal flavours, much like the garrigue aromas found in the south of France. In Corsica, they call it fleur de maquis – the thickets of underbrush, rosemary and thyme.

The Vermentinu is finer than the Vermentino found in Sardinia or Liguria. You will find the typical Vermintino bitterness of breakfast grapefruit and the floral aromatics of dandelion and black tea. It has depth and texture with good body, loads of spritely energetic sunny grapefruit tangy flavours with a delicious herbal mineral background. It tastes of Mediterranean sunshine. I was dreaming of a big plate of fritto misto after a long walk along the beach.

Yves Leccia Domaine d’E Croce Patrimonio rouge
Varieties: 90% Neilluccio, 10% Grenache 
Region: Patrimonio, Corsica
Year: 2014
Price: Approximately 24 €
Retailer: Kermit Lynch (US), no UK supplier

This is  red could easily have been a jam fest but Corsica is similar to Japan in that it comes straight out of the sea and up. This altitude cools the grapes to give it freshness. The baking heat in July and August concentrates and intensifies the flavours, not only of the grapes, but also all the fruit and vegetables from Corsica. It is very ripe, creme de mure, black cherry, raspberries and wild herb with a long finish.

Patrimonio is situated in the north of the island and is the only area on the island where limestone soils can be found. Neilluccio is a native Sangiovese that was reportedly introduced by Genoese traders in the 18th century. It has developed its own identity, quite distinct from a Tuscan Sangiovese, it is darker in colour and with more body than what you would find in downtown Colli Senesi.

The Whole of the Moon

Yes, Hugh, absolutely right (again): these are original wines that don’t travel much. There could be a few reasons for that. One of them is that Leccia only produces 5000 bottles per year.

It is a good reminder that there is a whole world of wine out there. And I think of the lyrics to the song that comes up now and again on the radio by The Waterboys, The Whole of the Moon (1985):

I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw the plan
I wandered out in the world for years
While you just stayed in your room
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon

These wines are transportive. Stuck at home on a cold London night, I wandered out into the world of sun-drenched flavours, the fleur de maquis and tasted the mountains and sea. A restless wanderlust feeling that started from reading five small words in a pocket guide. I’ve seen the crescent with these excellent wines from Yves Leccia and now there is a whole other planet of flavour yet to be explored.

 

 

In Montpellier for Vinisud 2016

Last week I was at Vinisud 2016 in Montpellier for the Mediterranean wine trade fair. It was my first time at this event, and as far as locations go, you could not do better than tasting wines on the sunny coast of France in February.

Catching some sun between appointments with a glass of Provence Rosé

Catching some sun between appointments with a glass of Provence Rosé

I was there as a Vinisud Ambassador, along with Charlie Arturaola (producer of the film, “The Ways of Wine” and other wine films), Denise Medrano (The Wine Sleuth), and Michelle Williams (Rocking Red Blog).

The Ambassador team was a social media powerhouse, becoming a sounding board for the producers and presentations. In a single day, the TweetReach broke new records via the official #VINISUD2016 hashtag with nearly 1,500 twitter posts recorded. According to Sylvain Dadé of specialist agency SOWINE, which hosted the Vinisud Digital Hub, over the last two days of the show, 533,000 accounts were reached with 4.8 million prints.

On Tuesday, we found #Vinisud2016 was trending on twitter alongside that other little event going on at the time, The Grammys (!).  Charlie, Denise and Michelle are true social media professionals at the top of their game; each of their presentations at the Digital Hub gave valuable insight and practical tips on how to use social media and digital.

Fellow ambassadors: Charlie Arturaola, Denise Medrano and Michelle Williams at the Digital Hub, Vinisud 2016

Charlie Arturaola, Denise Medrano and Michelle Williams at the Digital Hub, Vinisud 2016

"J'adore Vinisud" sunglasses - with Charlie Arturaola

“J’adore Vinisud” sunglasses – with Charlie Arturaola

On Wednesday, my presentation – London Calling: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Market – explained some of the new trends coming through in central London across the wine trade for Mediterranean wine producers. The workshop explored how social media is used by the next generation of wine lovers.

Cbaskl7W8AIoXON.jpg-large

Thank you to Chateau Léoube from Provence for your support during my presentation. They ticked nearly all the boxes for how to reach the London market.

Romain Ott of Chateau Léoube, Provence

Romain Ott of Chateau Léoube, Provence

Chateau Léoube’s winemaker, Romain Ott, is a legend of Provence Rosé. A refreshingly humble and quiet winemaker, he is the antithesis of all the bling on the Côte d’Azur. Of course, the rosé wines are more than refreshing, too.

Could it be the soothing colour of pink everywhere? I found myself spending a lot of time at the displays of Provence Rosé at Vinisud 2016.

Provence all stars at Vinisud 2016

Provence all stars at Vinisud 2016 – each wine is presented with useful technical information

The colours of Provence rosé in detail

The colours of Provence rosé in detail

I will be posting some more in-depth posts from the event but I will leave you with some photos of the exhibitors. It is a large event that is well spaced out – no sharpening of elbows, needed – but it is a lot to do in three days. The Mediterranean accounts for nearly 1 in every 2 bottles sold around the world and covers the entire region from Portugal to Lebanon.

Pays d'Oc IGP

Truckin’ with Pays d’Oc IGP

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Wine Mosaic – celebrating rare, almost-extinct varieties from the Mediterranean. Incredible to think this variety used to cover Bordeaux.

At Wine Mosaic stand I found a 100% Obeidy from Chateau St Thomas - the indigenous white grape of Lebanon

At Wine Mosaic stand I found a 100% Obeidy from Chateau St Thomas – the indigenous white grape of Lebanon

Sparkling Zone

Languedoc-Roussillon - a big topic that I will follow up with another post. Stay tuned.

Languedoc-Roussillon – a big topic that I will follow up with another post.

Excellent guide to volcanic soils published by Soave producers. Also some Citrate de Betraïne (one of these before bed is the key to eating so much rich food on wine trade trips! Only found in French pharmacies.)

An excellent guide to volcanic soils published by Soave producers. Also some Citrate de Betraïne (one of these before bed is the key to eating so much rich food on wine trade trips! Only found in French pharmacies.)

Ambassador lunch amongst the flamingo :-)

Ambassador lunch amongst the flamingo (on the back wall) – Charlie Arturaola and Denise Medrano

2016-02-15 10.37.01

For more images from Vinisud 2016, join me on  INSTAGRAM

The Key to Burgundy 2014 en primeur

What’s the key to Burgundy 2014 en primeur?

White wines, white wines all the way baby.

How can you tell before they have been bottled?

Nearly ten years experience of tasting wines at this stage, you can get an idea of the vintage. It’s all about the vibes.

What does that even mean, VIBES??!! That will get you in a lot of trouble on twitter.

Who cares. I’m in it for the Burgundy. The vibes…. As Michael Jackson would say about the white wine vintage, “I’m in ec-sta-sy!” You can tell from the hair standing up on the back of your neck. The zing. Ecstasy. Joy. It’s like this:

 

michael jackson ecstasy

Michael Jackson on the white 2014 Burgundy en primeur vintage

 

Which producers did you see at Burgundy En Primeur week?

I went to Berry Bros & Rudd and Corney & Barrow 2014 en primeur tasting. Also, the Grand Cru Chablis 2014 tasting. 

What do you think the trade will make of it this year?

No one in the trade loves “a good white wine vintage in Burgundy”. There’s not the same money in it as a good red vintage, which I have been told, could be next year in 2015. 

How do you plan when faced with a huge array of wines during Burgundy en primeur?

Go with a producer you know and love and follow them over the years. Treat your Burgundy like children. Not all of them grow up to be surly teenagers. 

So, what about the reds – is it a lost cause this year?

No. Not at all. You will no doubt see a lot of 2014 in restaurants because it has a lovely freshness, pretty fruit and won’t need to cellar for long. Some of the entry level 2014 wines are already on the shelves (Petit Chablis, Côteaux Bourguignon) and are superior to 2013.

What if you want to cellar the 2014 Burgundy vintage?

Go with the best producers. Get good advice. Not many people want to spend £500 on a case and want a fresh and easy drinking wine. They’ll want a bit more fruit. Perhaps they think the more fruit packed in by the 75cl is better value? I’m only joking, somewhat. But that’s where the white wines come in…. 

Powerful whites, is that even a thing?

Yes. Grand Cru Chablis is the key to better living through Burgundy.

Which Grand Cru Chablis stood out?

The UK’s favourite Grand Cru is Les Clos with Vaudesir and Valmur coming up from not far behind. Les Clos has a big structure so is made for cellaring. They also have a big price tag. I have selected a few at the end of the post. 

Did you see meet any of the producers?

I wanted to speak to someone who would be emblematic of the whole 2014 Burgundy vintage so I spoke to – the one and only – Vincent Dampt from Chablis. He always tells it like it is.

Vincent Dampt Chablis at Corney & Barrow

Vincent Dampt Chablis at Corney & Barrow Burgundy 2014 en primeur tasting

What did Vincent Dampt say about the 2014 vintage in Chablis?

Vincent Dampt: “For me, 2014 is back to the classical where each terroir is well defined. The big challenge was the summer because it was not so good. But it cooled down in August. That helped the acidity and concentration. This vintage is the mark of the winemaker, and you can feel the tension between the vintage and winemaking. Whereas 2012 is all perfect acidity with excellent balance. 2013 is atypical for Chablis. 2012 is my favourite vintage. 2014 reminds me of 2005.”

Why do you need to know so much about vintage in Burgundy, in particular Chablis?

Have you ever gone into a shop and accidentally bought the same Chablis but with the next vintage? It can be a disappointing experience if you expect one thing and get another. One reason for the vintage variation is because Chablis is a very northerly, marginal climate for growing ripe grapes.

What are some of the wines you would personally buy at en primeur? Put your money where your mouth is.

Fair enough. This is what gave me a shiver up the spine with their stunning vibrancy, energy and fruit (and reasonable price tag):

 

Vincent Dampt Chablis 1er Cru, Côte de Léchet 2014 – £182.90 in bond (12 bottles)

 

Domaine Hubert Lamy, St-Aubin, La Princée 2014 £156.00 in bond (12 bottles)

Domaine Hubert Lamy, St-Aubin, Les Frionnes 1 er Cru 2014 £102.00 in bond (12 bottles)

Santenay, Clos des Graviéres Blanc 1er Cru 2014 £108 in bond (12 bottles)

 

  • Grand Cru Chablis 

Domaine de Château Grenouilles, Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 2014

Domaine Collet, Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2014

Domaine William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru “Cote Bouguerots” 2014

Domaine Louis Moreau, Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2014

 

I hope that helps. If you have any questions, or would like more detailed advice, I’m more than happy to help so please get in touch. 

 

Image: Ed Clark: Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell resting on the set of “Gentlemen prefer blondes”, 1953

 

 

 

 

Vogue’s 5 Favourite Wine Instagram Follows

I had my very own Carrie moment – well, I felt a little tipsy, at least – when I saw my name in Vogue UK magazine’s Top 5 Wine Instagram follows in UK Vogue, December 2015, alongside some of my favourite wine people: @leviopenswine @jordansalcito @noblerotmag and @honeyandvine

If you were a young woman and an aspiring writer in the early 2000s, it was all about Carrie Bradshaw in S&TC. Who didn’t want to be writing her own column in New York City while looking out the window of her rent-controlled apartment with that walk-in wardrobe full of fabulous shoes? As Carrie would write in her column, I couldn’t help but wonder….

Then there’s the episode where she gets drunk in the Vogue editor’s office.

“Martinis in the morning. Is this allowed? Is it “Vogue”?”

 

sex-and-the-city-Carrie-gets-sloshed-at-the-Vogue-offices

 

I love instagram, it’s great fun. Thank you, British Vogue.

Now, in true Carrie fashion, it’s time to spill a cocktail (or nine) to celebrate.

Find me on instagram @winewomansong

 

Wines from Lebanon: Why we need boozy long lunches more than ever

It’s been one year since my trip to Lebanon.

Last week’s tasting of Lebanese wines in London’s Borough market had been planned weeks before hand, but it happened to coincide with the same week as the attacks in Beirut, and on the next day, in Paris.

Can we ever understand the horrific events of the past week? The time calls out for civilisation. I agree with the message from the Charlie Hebdo illustrator, Joann Sfar, after the Paris attacks: “Our faith goes to music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and joy!

For me, that means eating together, friends and a glass of wine. That is why a long lunch of mezze and Lebanese wine was the perfect tonic for the time.

 

A very brief history of food and wine in a complex region

The story of wine is the story of civilisation.

It was the ancient sea-faring Phoenicians that introduced, encouraged and propagated viticulture in the ancient world when vitis vinifera was still only a weed in many areas across the Mediterranean. Around the same time they also developed and spread the use of an alphabet.

In more recent times, the Lebanese are famously great emigrants and the Christian Lebanese have emigrated abroad since the late nineteenth century.

Old French school map of the Middle East

Old French school map of the Middle East

 

Claudia Roden explains the impact of Lebanese restaurant culture in her mouth-wateringly good cookbook, Arabesque:

“Today Lebanese restaurants with their typical menus have come to represent Arab food around the world. So big is their reputation that when a Syrian restaurant opens in London, it calls itself ‘Lebanese,’ and when hotels in Egypt put on a special Egyptian buffet, the dishes are Lebanese. How did that come about? One reason is that the Lebanese are famously bons viveurs who know how to make the best of their culinary heritage. They are also great entrepreneurs and they were the first in the Middle East to develop a restaurant trade. That trade spread to Europe and else where then the civil war forced many to seek their fortunes abroad in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Where there is a strong restaurant culture, wine can be found. Modern wine developed in Lebanon before the League of Nations awarded France the mandate for Syria and Mount Lebanon in 1920; Château Ksara was established by Jesuit priests in 1857. Wine was never banned in Lebanon, and the drinking of arak (distilled grapes with aniseed) was important in refining Lebanese food, especially the mezze tradition, which some say was born in the Bekaa Valley.

What is Mezze?

Mezze is not just about the small plates but the art of living and socialising. It can include, but is not limited to, a plate of olives or pistachio, pickled turnips and cucumbers, labneh, feta and haloumi, very large thin breads called marouk, omelettes, thin pizzas, and kibbeh made of lamb and bulgar wheat.

Pumpkin kibbeh with saffron labneh yoghurt at Arabica Bar and Kitchen

Pumpkin kibbeh with saffron labneh yoghurt at Arabica Bar and Kitchen

 

The mezze is followed by the main dishes, which Claudia Roden explains, are influenced by the “old Greek Orthodox and Sunni grande bourgeoisie of Beirut and the Maronite grand seigneurs, combined with simple rural dishes and festive dishes associated with festive holidays”.

Other cuisines that share the same “bass note” spices in their cooking – think the earthy and warm flavours of cinnamon, cumin and allspice – will also unlock the potential of the wines.

 

3 Lebanese Wine Styles and What It Tastes Like

This is not a definitive list of the styles of wine available from the 39 wineries in Lebanon. What matters is to get a feel for the lay of the land so you find the wine for your tastes. These are the three styles worth looking out for.

 

Exotic Whites

Look for blends. They have great texture and good weight, combined with spicy exotic floral notes – thanks to the Muscat and other aromatic varieties – and make an exciting match with foods featuring brown spices, such as cumin and nutmeg.

Throw away the rule book – try these white wines these with lamb dishes such as Moussaka or Baingain Bharta (Indian aubergine curry). Or simply enjoy a glass with a handful of pistachio or olives.

  • Karam Winery Cloud 9 (Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Semillon, 13% alc)
  • Domaine Wardy Clos Blanc (Obeideh, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat, 13% alc)
  • Domaine des Tourelles White (Viognier, Chardonnay, Muscat, 13% alc)

 

Gentle savoury reds

The grape with the most history in Lebanon is Cinsault, which benefits from blending with other grapes. It is a difficult grape to tame with oak and needs to be treated delicately in the winery. The Jesuits brought Cinsault, along with Carignan, into the country from Algeria and then distributed the grapes to the locals. Touriga Nacional in the blend, such as seen in the excellent St Jean 2007 red blend from Karam Winery, and sometimes Tempranillo, are worth seeking out for their interesting textures. These are great food friendly wines, not overly fruity and with reasonable alcohol levels for midweek drinking.

  • Château St Thomas Les Gourmets 2012 (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% alc)
  • Karam Winery St Jean 2007 (Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, 13% alc)
  • Domaine Wardy Château Les Cedres 2011 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, 13% alc)

 

Wild Wines

In the spirit of Château Musar, here are the wines that dance to the beat of their own tune. Some bottles of the Château Sanctus may have been slightly volatile but this unfiltered and cloudy 2005 was an exciting full bodied wine that won’t leave you feeling indifferent. If you enjoy big wines with big flavours, then you will enjoy the liquorice, bourbon, rye and orange peel characters.

  • Château Sanctus 2005 (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, 13%)
  • Château Sanctus 2009 (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, 13%)
  • Coteaux de Botrys Syrah 2007 (Syrah, 13.5%)

 

 

Now is the time to eat, drink and be merry.

 

Many thanks to Union Vinicole du Liban and the wineries: Adyar, Château Heritage, Château Ka, Château Kefraya, Château Ksara, Château Nakad, Château Oumsiyat, Château St Thomas, Château Sanctus, Coteaux de Botrys, Domaine des Tourelles, Domaine Wardy, IXSIR, Karam Winery.

Lunch at Arabica (3 Rochester Walk, London SE1 9AF)

The view from Paris: natural wine and the vegetable whisperer

This is my view. We are staying with a young sommelier friend. He moved to Paris from Copenhagen and now works at one of the grand dames of the natural wine bistro scene, Chateaubriand. 

On the wall of his apartment in Oberkampf is an old chalkboard he was given by the guys at Verre Volé (67 Rue de Lancry, 75010 Paris) – one of the places where many wine people hung out a few years ago.

Verre Volé also made an impact on me back in the early part of this decade: I remember turning up after they were closed so they gave me a few glasses and a bottle of Métras to sit by the Canal Saint-Martin while we waited for them to open again.

An old Verre Volé chalkboard at a sommelier friends apartment

An old Verre Volé chalkboard at a sommelier friend’s apartment.

“Natural wine only” lists are not a new phenomena. But what is happening in the new bistro scene in Paris (described as “bistronomie”) is not just about natural wine, but also about “natural food” and maybe, in the longer term, we may look back and see that it was even more than that – a coming together of a greater philosophy about the environment and what Paris is about today.

One clue to this innovation in the new bistro scene is a man called Alain Passard. Enthusiastic staff from each restaurant we visited referred to him as the “Vegetable Whisperer”.

The Vegetable Whisperer

Alain Passard caused a sensation when he stopped cooking meat in his restaurant, L’Arpege, in 2001. Now he is all about farming his own vegetables and how it is grown, how it fits with other vegetables, and to show how beautiful they can be. He grows the vegetables for his restaurant outside of Paris on his dedicated farm using permaculture farming. This is a type of farming which makes biodynamic and organic viticulture look like child’s play. There are no shortcuts: the vegetables arrive fresh before lunch and are never refrigerated.

Move over Heston Blumenthal. And not before time, too. I’m sure I am not the only person who was depressed by foam on a piece of rectangular slate. Sadly endemic in regional France; strangely, as they are even closer to the source of food and wine than Paris. The Alain Passard philosophy is in direct contrast to the science lab glasses and white coat fashion.

If you ever have a chance to visit Septime (80 Rue de Charonne, 75011 Paris), then you will be in for a shock at how far this style of restaurant is from the clinical style that has been lingering on for far too long. The difference could not be more stark. There is nothing bling and, dare I say it with Blumenthal et al, of the media slut.

In contrast, Alain Passard, and his acolytes with their own restaurants, are elevating the humble vegetable to Grand Cru status. Much like a precious grape from one of the great vineyards in Burgundy, passed from vineyard to winery with the light touch of kid gloves, vegetables are given first-class treatment from the moment they arrive from the farm before lunch service, and to the gentle light touch on the plate.

Sometimes, there is a nod to the Nordic – from the foraging idea (marigold leaves, below) to the natural boards, white-washed feel of the decor and plates, such as at Septime and, their oyster bar next door, Clamato. It is also what is growing together in season, which provides some unusual combinations such as fig and red tuna with bone marrow at Clamato.

This dish had me hearing reindeers crunching on the snow…

Clamato

At Clamato, I can hear reindeers. Grey Dorade, marigold leaf, raspberries … Fresh bracing cool fish with mad resinous pine and wild raspberries came together like a windy Siberian tundra. And clearly the wine was good! (La Deuse, Mondeuse).

At Le Servan (32 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011 Paris) two women in their 20s have transformed an old neighbourhood café into something so simply good that it is near genius. Not surprisingly Tatiana’s mentors have been Alain Passard and Pascal Barbot (L’Astrance). The flavours, presentation and natural wine list are superb and such good value that I feel the same way as one reviewer when he said, “I feel like I am ripping them off.”

Pét Nat Gaz de Schistes, Les Roches

At Le Servan – Veal ravioli (fried wonton) with fennel and a glass of Pét Nat Gaz de Schistes, Les Roches

When we arrived at Vivant (43, rue des Petites Ecuries, 75010 Paris), a little early to slip in without a reservation, we found chef Atsumi Sota (ex-Troisgros, Robuchon, Stella Maris & Toyo) outside on the pavement seats scribbling down the day’s menu. With the emphasis on vegetables, fine cutting, lightness and a gentle touch, it is not surprising to often find a Japanese chef when you peer into the tiny kitchens. This is not fusion French-Japanese but classic French bistro seen in a fresh way.

The Régnié from Guy Bréton, one of natural wine’s “Gang of Four” in Beaujolais, with veal cheeks and clams will be seared into the memory of all time great meals. The delicacy of the wine, along with the oyster shell notes, meant the acidity cut through the fatty veal cheeks and chimed with the sea-salty clams.

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Vivant

It makes sense to have only natural wines at restaurants that are working with the “naturalness” of the ingredients. Whether it is because the wines are closer to the source – much like Alain Passard’s vegetables for his restaurant – natural wines taste better, and are often in better condition, than what we find in London. Travelling and shipping can have an impact on these delicate wines.

All the restaurants were similar in having lighter styles of wine on the menu. Although Loire and Beaujolais have always dominated bistro menus in Paris, the lists heavily feature wines from the regions that lead the natural wine movement. There is a predominance of Loire, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Languedoc but also, Italy and Greece.

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At Clown Bar (114, Rue Amelot, 75011 Paris)

Unsurprisingly, this is no place for Bordeaux. Not once, on any list. I think this is for a number of reasons, and as a young person, why would you? In the same way as most young people are locked out of buying real estate to live, for many Bordeaux is now more about money than drinking. This is where natural wine becomes political.

The sommeliers were interested in “working with their small producers,” as one person told me in a fascinating conversation, rather than “ideas of what is the best, the most fashionable”or judging the wines as if they are sacks of potatoes.

What is most exciting about the Paris neo-bistro scene is how it reflects what Paris is all about at this moment. It’s more than just “fusion”, but the direct experience of living in a diverse city where the smells from Vietnamese, Lebanese, Japanese and French bakeries, to name but a few, curl together and express something new but distinctly French. It is for the raw ingredients rather than the abstract molecule. It is about the energy of the people in the restaurant. Where quality natural wine from small producers takes a starring role.

And the next day feels good, too.

On Berry Bros & Rudd blog: Marco de Bartoli’s Vecchio Samperi Ventenniale

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Marco de Bartoli winery in Marsala, Western Sicily. This is where I tasted one of Italy’s great wines: Vecchio Samperi Ventennale.

When Berry Bros & Rudd asked if I could write about one of their Italian wines, I could not go past Marco de Bartoli’s famous Marsala. This is a story of one man (and wine) against the odds.

Read the full story on Berry Bros & Rudd blog, “One man’s perpetual drive for quality” here > 

Marco de Bartoli cantina in Marsala

Marco de Bartoli cantina in Marsala

The late Marco de Bartoli's son, Renato, and the next generation.

The late Marco de Bartoli’s son, Renato, and the next generation

Renato de Bartoli

Renato de Bartoli in the cellar

 

How does classic white Bordeaux fit with my not-so-classic life? A week in photos

The case of Bordeaux blanc from the Bordeaux Council sat in the corner of my tiny London flat like an elaborate piece of 17th century furniture. The idea of drinking Bordeaux blanc everyday is very grand, but how does this classic style of wine fit in with my not-so-classic, real life?

Instead of opening all the bottles at once, we opened up a bottle or two every night with dinner to see how it worked with food. Which it does. Spectacularly. But not with everything.

Don’t believe the label if it ever says aperitif – you will be wasting half the experience. Most Bordeaux blanc is better with food. There are better aperitif wines out there but there are not as many complex food wines out there as Bordeaux blanc.

I photographed my week of meals at home (and one special occasion meal on the weekend) pairing white Bordeaux with food. Here are the results. But first, some tips on buying white Bordeaux under £20.

 

What to look for in Bordeaux Blanc under £20

The last bottle of Bordeaux blanc I had was a bottle of 2011 Smith Haut-Lafitte – not an everyday wine at £60-£70 per bottle (it was from my time working in fine wine). There is a lot more to Bordeaux than the cru classé wines. But while there are some good wines under £20 per bottle, there are also quite a few variations of style at this price, too.

The confusion begins when:

  • What comes under the umbrella of Bordeaux blanc is Entre-Deux-Mers, Pessac-Leognan, or Graves.
  • The percentage of grape varieties vary and can be a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and, in this case, Muscadelle (or Sauvignon Gris, which is worth seeking out)
  • Some labels are old school and don’t give much of an indication of the taste of Bordeaux blanc. Not everyone will understand that a wine with Muscadelle will be aromatic and fruity, for example.

 

What you need to know is that Bordeaux Blanc sits on a spectrum between bright and fruity (gooseberries, pineapple, tropical fruit, etc) to creamy and rich (cold white french butter, waxy candles) and everything in between.

The blend of white grapes found in Bordeaux makes it a versatile choice with food. Some bottles evolve over the night between the two extremes of fruity and fresh and creamy and rich. My advice is to go for bottles around £25. Under £20 per bottle, unless you get good advice, it is difficult to tell what the style will be like from the label alone. Behind the generic Chateau on the label, there can be a wine that is anything but generic.

There were a few surprise food and wine matches over the week. Let’s start with Friday night.

 

The Wines 

FRIDAY

Chateau Lestrille 2014 Entre-Deux-Mers

with Friday night rotisserie chicken with tabbouleh and za’atar on pita

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It’s the end of the week. Not feeling very glamorous. Thank god, it’s Friday night take out.

This fruity style of Bordeaux blanc goes well with fresh green herbs such as parsley in tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley salad), broad beans and it loved the garlic sauce (toum).

Fresh and clean aromas of cut grass, elderflower, asparagus. The palate is plumped with melon and has the warmth of Bordeaux – there is more weight on the palate than expected from the first fresh characters found on the nose. You don’t get more aromatic than Sauvignon Blanc but the even more intense aromas of Muscadelle is a good balance.

Verdict: Roast chicken is a classic match with Bordeaux blanc, but the fresh green herbs in the tabbouleh is the revelation here. As parsley is in so many sauces and salads, this makes it a surprisingly versatile wine. Just because it is fruity and fun at first, don’t write it off too quickly. Seriously good fun.

Chateau Lestrille
Region: Entre-Deux-Mers
Year: 2014
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc 86%, Muscadelle 14%
Price: £10.99
Retailer: Thames Food & Wine

 

SATURDAY

Chateau Baret 2011 Pessac-Leognan

with white fish (plaice) in beurre noisette with capers and samphire

IMG_1866

On the first taste, it is a simple, fresh Sauvignon Blanc. Enter the food: with the fish and butter sauce, the wine becomes big, buttery and opulent. The palate is classic full and rich, almost a Chardonnay in weight. The aromas are exotic: tinned lychee, rose petal, melon, even mango. The samphire is particularly good – perhaps because they are both from an estuary, we joked (but maybe!).  Talented winemaking consultant and professor, Denis Durboudieu, advises the Ballande family small vineyard of 4 hectares of white in Pessac-Leognan. A lot of wine here for £20 – it is a shapeshifter.

Verdict: White fish and butter is another classic pairing with Bordeaux blanc. The green samphire (in season) brings out the full character of the wine.

Chateau Baret
Region: Pessac Leognan
Year: 2011
Grapes: 75 % Sauvignon Blanc, 25 % Semillon
Price: £19.99
Retailer: Averys

 

TUESDAY

Chateau du Druc 2012 Graves and Clos Floridene Graves

with veal chop in creamy sauce (Pedro Ximenez, cream, mustard) and sautéed potatoes with thyme

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Chateau du Druc 2012

This is my favourite wine. Hand in glove, as Morrissey would sing, with the veal chop and creamy sauce. It tastes as refined as cold white French butter. Incredible smoothness and elegant fruit. Again, the BB picked up the herbs in the sauce. Very fair price.

Chateau du Druc is situated on classic gravel soils overlooking the vineyards of Sauternes and facing the Garonne; one of the best positions in the region. This shows why 2012 is hailed as a great vintage for white Bordeaux.

Verdict: A real find – but I would never have chosen it at a shop on the label alone. It was also good with the fish curry later on in the week.

Chateau du Druc
Region: Graves
Year: 2012
Grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle
Price: £13.99
Retailer: Averys

 

Clos Floridene 2012 Graves

Grassy nose, fresh herbs, so fresh! Mouthwatering, long fruity finish. White peach orchard fruit, grapefruit notes. Very fruity, zingy – maybe better with a fish dish rather than veal. A little bit young and vigorous. It would benefit from a bit more time but huge kinetic energy.

Wine nerds may know Clos Floridene is Denis and Florence Dubourdieu’s wine. They also own the more famous Sauternes Château Doisy-Daene (and he is a wine consultant for other wines, such as Chateau Baret, above, and Chateau Tour Leognan, below).

Verdict: On the fruitier side of the spectrum at the moment, it is one to watch over the next few years, especially in the excellent 2012 vintage.

Clos Floridene
Region: Graves
Year: 2012
Grapes: 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 47% Semillon and 3% Muscadelle
Price: £19
Retailer: Wine Society/The Co-Op

 

WEDNESDAY

Ch Tour Leognan 2012 Pessac-Leognan and Chateau des Perligues 2014 Graves 

with tomato fish curry (tomato, garlic, ginger, kashmiri chilli, a couple of fresh green chilli, onion, tomato, tamarind water, ground coriander and turmeric) and wild rice with clove, cardomon and cumin.

IMG_1874

To be fair, this would be a challenge for many wines. Sometimes it is not as simple as “white meat with white wine”. Again, it is all about the sauce.

Chateau Tour Leognan

The poor thing had trouble dealing with the complex spices in the curry*. The sourness of the tamarind made the wine more like a basic Sauvignon Blanc, giving the wine a simple lime flavour.

This is a wine from the supermarket Waitrose that is trying to please everyone but not really pleasing anyone, especially in context of the other Bordeaux blanc wines. It is good but not as good value as some of the other wines tasted that may take a little more effort to find. It was even more disappointing as Chateau Tour Leognan vines are from Chateau Carbonnieux where the wine consultant is the superb Denis Durboudieu.

Verdict: Don’t have Bordeaux blanc with curry! Otherwise, a good introduction to the style, especially if there is a price reduction at Waitrose.

Chateau Tour Leognan
Region: Pessac Leognan
Year: 2011
Grapes: 50% Sauvignon, 50% Semillon
Price: £14.99
Retailer: Waitrose

 

Chateau des Perligues Graves 2014

Very bitter with the curry.* Stopped drinking it with the curry and left it for another time. Without food it was grassy and fresh, with a hollow middle, and a slightly bitter note on the finish (but not unpleasant). A bit young and nippy – it is the youngest of all the wines tasted.

Verdict: Too young. Try it again next year (and definitely not with a curry).

Chateau des Perligues Graves
Region: Graves
Year: 2014
Grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc
Price: £12.99
Retailer: Averys

 

* we also tasted the leftover Chateau du Druc and the Clos Floridene with the curry, and they both stood up well to the complex spices.

 

Overall verdict

This is the most classic of French wines but it is also surprisingly easy to match with food if you remember the parsley, butter and garlic trinity (and French wine loves a bit of sauce). 

 

Image: Marie Antoinette film (2006)

Thanks to Bordeaux Wine Council CIVB for sending the wines. These were my choices to taste from a group of 20 or so samples. And thanks to my boyfriend for the meals, I’m blessed he is such a great cook! x

3 terroirs in Saumur-Champigny you need to know

As the boat drifted away from the town of Saumur on a summer night, and I was drifting away in my thoughts at the end of the day (and, perhaps, from one too many glasses of red), I thought about the knotty notion of terroir. When does wine become more than just about thirst?

The Loire is a vast collection of different terroirs following the Loire River from the centre of France to the Atlantic. We were in Saumur-Champigny AOC, in the centre of the Loire region. South-east of Angers, on the left bank of the river, and east of Coteaux du Layon and Anjou.

The boat drifted to the point in the river where the Saumur region ended and where Touraine began. A winemaker pointed to the old stone stairs on the river bank.

The stairs were divided down the middle. Although they joked about it, saying one side was for the people in Saumur and one was for Touraine – there were clearly still some healthy rivalries between the neighbours. The line where one region started and another ended was clear in the minds of the winemakers.

The concept of terroir is an old and contentious topic. To the Ancient Romans, to understand the origin and typicity of a wine could help against fraud. Perhaps a deceptively simple question to help define terroir is to ask, would a wine with exactly the same characteristics be produced in a different locality?

This is not as straight-forward as it seems. I was told by winemakers on the boat, the impact of climate change is making the wines riper and changing the style – will the boundaries shift as climate changes? And, for a different reason, there has been a re-drawing and re-negotiation of appellation boundaries over the years (I’m thinking here of the short-lived Chaume AOC in the 2000s). Terroir can be malleable, even political, and the local notions of terroir/terrority is always highly contested.

 

The History of an Idea

A recently published book throws more light on the terroir subject, and refers to the Loire often. Tasting French Terroir – The History of an Idea by Thomas Parker explains how culture became part of the notion of terroir. How the French eat and drink today is derived from how a specifically French brand of culinary aesthetics and regional identity developed during the Renaissance.

The book shows how French school children, during the Renaissance, when learning about a region such as the Loire, were encouraged to taste the “personality” of the region through the food and wine. This helped to create a national identity as the quality was associated with the place.

The cultural, or social, definition of terroir can be traced back to the writer of bawdy songs and Renaisannce scholar, Rabelais. He divided wine into two categories: 

  1. “vins de soif, or “wines for thirst” (The wine producers Catherine and Pierre Breton offer a wine called “Cuvée Trinch,” a direct reference, the label explains, to Rabelais, where “the focus for the Trinch wine is on social communion rather than connoisseurship”); or
  2. “terroir wines” deserving contemplation and made by independent winemakers

These are also the two characters in Saumur-Champigny wine. There is the good-time, light, glugging style – the vins de soif – that seems to endlessly supply the bistros of Paris. Or even the Cuvée des 100 Vignerons made especially for Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny. 

Then there are the serious, independent wineries that make wines made to be held onto longer – they are able to demonstrate depth and often elegant expressions of the rich and deep soils of tuffeau, limestone clay and sand clay in the Saumur-Champigny area. We were here to explore the second style.

 

Three Terroirs in Saumur-Champigny

The Romans identified Saumur-Champigny and the name derives from its original Latin name: Campus Ignis (‘Field of Fire’). Standing out in the vineyards to taste the wines, the sun was almost blinding. The early afternoon was meltingly hot.

The AOC appellation of Saumur Champigny permits only Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Pineau d’Aunis grapes to be used in its red-only wines, although the serious contender of the region is Cabernet Franc.

Nine communes make up the appellation of Saumur Champigny. We visited three specific terroirs, each with their own unique character: St Cyr en Bourg, Les Poyeux and Sauzay-Parnay. The wines were tasted blind, in situ, and we were given the names of the producers at the end of the day.

 

1. St Cyr en Bourg

The first stop was the Butte de St Cyr opposite the cooperative cave, Robert and Marcel (changing its name in 2013 from Caves des Vignerons de Saumur). At an altitude of 65 metres, the vineyards are south/south-west facing vines, maximising sun exposure.  The soil is shallow sand and chalky tuffeau, which moderates the temperature and supply of water to the vine.

I’m glad we were tasting the red wines under the shade of the tree. There was a slight breeze from the river (about ten minutes drive away).

image

Standouts:

The wines from here are light and lively with lots of fresh raspberries and fantastic mineral characters. These wines had an extra depth of fruit and mouth-watering minerality. The 2014 vintage was significantly better balanced than the 2013 vintage.

 

2. Les Poyeaux

Arguably one of the best wines from this region is Clos Rouegeard’s Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeaux. It is their oldest parcel of land – cultivated here since 1664 – so I was pleased to see the infamous vineyard first hand. The Wine Opus describes their Les Poyeaux as a “Ferrari” of wines. Tasting other wines from here, clearly shows why this area has been singled out over the centuries.

Even though it is a little higher in altitude than St Cyr en Bourg, there is little breeze here in the afternoon. The chalky soils trap the heat and keep the vines warm during the night.

Saumur Champigny Les Poyeux - bottles

Les Poyeaux Butte des Moulins at 78 metres altitude

Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeaux

pointing to Les Poyeaux on the map

The dominant characters here from around the Les Poyeaux vineyards: depth of fruit and silkiness. There is a lovely roundness on the palate.

Standouts:

  • 2011 Domaine La Bonneliere “Cuvée Les Poyeaux”
  • 2014 Domaine de la Cune “Les 3 Jean” Cabernet Franc
  • 2010 Legrand Clotilde et René-Noël “La Chaintrée” 
  • 2014 Les Clos Maurice “Le Clos de Midi”

The fruit can only be described as exuberant in the 2014 vintage. But the earlier vintages showed how wine from this area becomes silkier and finer with even just a few years age.

 

3. Sauzay-Parnay 

For the final stop, we found ourselves next to a very unusual vineyard called Clos d’Entre Les Murs. I have never seen anything quite like it – a unique walled vineyard on the Chateau de Parnay estate. The vines are planted on the north side of the wall to keep the roots in the shade. The vine is put through the wall and the rest of the plant are on the south side benefit from the sun.

Clos d'Entre Les Murs

Clos d’Entre Les Murs – Chenin Blanc

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Overlooking the village of Parnay

The best Cabernet Franc wines from here here had greater body, richness and a velvety texture.

Standouts:

2014 Domaine de Rocheville "Page" on the river Loire

2014 Domaine de Rocheville “Page” on the river Loire

Conclusion 

Drifting along the Loire river on a boat with a glass of Saumur-Champigny and seafood, Cabernet Franc from Saumur-Champigny is the taste of summer. The wines have a pretty red raspberry fruit character in St Cyr en Bourg, a beautiful silkiness in Les Poyeaux and real depth and richness from near Parnay. It also provides incredible value, especially the 2014 vintage, which is one of the best since 2009.

 

 

Thank you to the winemakers and Interloire for the visit. It was great to be there for the local festival,  Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny.

Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny 2015

Right now I am in Saumur for a two-day festival called Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny.

Last time I was in Saumur, the constant rain kiboshed our plans to ride bicycles through the vineyards. That was the dream, anyway: a little exercise to go with the wine drinking. We did try. But the rain put a stop it – worst luck – and we ended up staying inside the local restaurants instead, drinking the 2014 vintage and tasting the local cheeses.

Now I developed a serious taste for this refreshing red that is – pound for pound – one of the most versatile red wines out there, I am happy to be back in Saumur again to finally meet the winemakers and see the vineyards. The 2014 vintage is an exciting moment for Cabernet Franc in Saumur-Champigny. It’s worth celebrating, especially if it is pouring all night long.

Les Grands Tablées Saumur Champigny 2015

This year the event had a British theme (there were a lot of “British” bowler hats, which only made me look like droog A Clockwork Orange. Or maybe Mel and Kim). Was it just a gimmick? There is a deep connection with Britain in the area – this is where Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England and France in the 12th Century was buried, next to King Henri II, in Fontevraud Abbey.

On a less serious note, after having talked to the locals and hearing the fun they had with other cuisines in previous years – last year’s theme was Belgian – it seems to me, more important for them to have fun with the local ingredients.

The event is run by local volunteers: this year, they made an impressive 6000 fruit crumbles and 6000 mushroom pies for 10,000 ticket holders.

Les Grands Tablées de Saumur Champigny

Perhaps because it is a small town, the whole event was incredibly well organised but also relaxed. We had lunch with the volunteers beforehand. This is where each volunteer is assigned their role for the two days:

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Then the local volunteers have lunch before the main event begins:

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Fifteen years ago, Les Grands Tablées started as a simple party after the winemakers put on a tasting for the town. Today it is not only a showcase for the local food and wine, but also for the town to have a big party before the August holidays.

Having spent the last couple of days with the volunteers and the winemakers, it is the sense of community in Saumur that shines through. Whatever the cuisine is next year, it’s worth a visit to this local festival – the wines of the Loire are made for summer drinking.

The wine for the event, the Cuvée des 100 Vignerons, is made by 100 local growers contributing 15 kilograms of Saumur-Champigny each. Happily, the 2014 vintage is very good.

This morning, I found Jim Budd, Christine Austin from The Yorkshire Post and myself on the front page of the local newspaper toasting a glass of the Cuvée des 100 Vignerons to Saumur.

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It was a great summer night. Many thanks to the winemakers of Saumur-Champigny for the hospitality, InterLoire and Sopexa. For more details:  Les Grands Tablées du Saumur-Champigny. And for more excellent photography of the Les Grands Tablées festival, see Jim’s Loire blog.

The next post: 3 terroirs from Saumur-Champigny you need to know.

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5 Best Wine Tastings in London in August

Stuck in the city in August? Here are the best wine tastings in London you can’t miss this month. This is a pick of only five. And if you want to get out of town, I’ve added a couple of wine and wine-ish festivals at the end of the post.

For the hardcore wine lover, it may feel like a stay-cation to switch to beer – maybe time to check out the craft beer festival? And of course the month ends with the Notting Hill Carnival and a few Red Stripes…

Please check beforehand with the venue as spaces are limited and bookings are essential.

 

1. If you want some Italian glamour but can’t get away to the islands

“EnoClub Rebooted – The Islands” @ Polpo (Ape & Bird) – 5 August

Cruise through Sicily and Sardinia without leaving Soho. The unique wines from the Italian islands are almost born just to refresh you, especially good on a muggy night in August. You won’t go hungry either with food matched by Polpo at the Ape & Bird.

Where: Upstairs at Polpo Ape & Bird, 142 Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, London WC2H 8HJ

Date: 5th Aug 2015, 6:45pm-9:00pm – £50

 

2. If you want to kick back at a party with some pet nat

Tutto Wines and Behind the Wall present – A Summer Party – 6 August

Let’s break down the goodness. There’s going to be a barbecue, large format wines from Tutto Wines’ eclectic portfolio, Italian inspired cocktails, a DJ spinning tunes. The clincher? Watching the sun go down over Regent’s Canal and Hackney’s iconic gas towers.

Where: Ovalspace, 29-35 The Oval, E2 9DT

Date: Thursday 6th of August, 5pm til late. No booking required.

 

3. If you want to delve into Grower Champagne 

Champagne and Cheese Tasting @ Champagne + Fromage Convent Garden – 6 & 20 August

Grower champagnes only feel risky when you don’t know them. Once you do, you may never go back to the big brands again. Let these guys walk you through little known names – with perfectly matched cheeses along the way.

Where: 22 Wellington, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7DD

Date: Thursday 6 August 2015 and 20 August 2015, 7.30-9pm – £55

 

4. If you want to pick the top new recruits to the Academy

Cadet Branch: Classic Grapes in Unusual Places @ Theatre of Wine – 13 August

Explore the new wave of wines, based on classic grapes such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Consider this the graduation speech for young wineries emulating the best in the world – will the student surpass the teacher?

Where: Theatre of Wine, Tufnell Park and Greenwich

Date: Thursday, 13 August (Tufnell Park and Greenwich), 7.30pm – £28

 

5. If you want to hack the Burgundy code

Bluffer’s Guide to Burgundy @ Vagabond Fulham – 26 August

This is a smart idea – Burgundy is a complex region to understand yet is also an expensive regions to make a mistake. Learn the passwords that get you inside this most fascinating (and for wine lovers, often heartbreaking) region.

Where: Vagabond Wine 18-22 Vanston Place, Fulham SW6 1AX

Date: August 26, 7pm – 9pm – £40

 

Plus… a summer bonus! 

FestivalsLondon Craft Beer Festival (13 August, £38.50), Oxford Wine Festival (August 21-22) and Wilderness (August 6-9)

 

The events have been chosen simply because I think they are worth taking a trek across town (or, in case of the festivals, across country). I do not receive any kickbacks for sharing these events. Do you think your customer tasting should be mentioned? Feel free to leave details in the comment below or get in touch on twitter.

 

7 Best Things About Fine Beaujolais Now 

One of my favourite Raymond Chandler stories is called, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. It is largely dialogue between couples talking about love around a bottle of gin as the sun goes down. Every one is sure of their own idea of what they mean when they talk about love, but the more they talk, the more confused they become.

The title of the short story comes to mind when we talk about Beaujolais. What are we talking about when we talk about Beaujolais?

Funnily enough, if you see Beaujolais featured on the front label, then this is not what I am talking about here. These are either Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages. Nor is it the wines you see during Beaujolais Nouveau on the third week of November. What I am talking about is Cru Beaujolais – labelled with the name of the cru rather than the word “Beaujolais”. The ten cru are: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Regnié or St-Amour.

Last month I tasted the 2014 vintage of Cru Beaujolais in London and met Jean Bourjade, Managing Director of Inter-Beaujolais, where he talked about some of the upcoming changes and current challenges for Beaujolais. Here is what I think are the 7 best things about fine Beaujolais today:

 

1. The 2014 Vintage

You can throw a dart at the 2009 and 2011 vintage and find great wines. But the 2014 vintage is not one of those vintages. As a very general rule, it does not have masses of juicy fruit, but instead, is highly aromatic with silky tannins and a fine structure.

The difference in the 2014 vintage comes down to the cooler weather in Summer and the slow ripening in September. Jean Bourjade, managing director of Inter-Beaujolais, explained the 2014 vintage started hot and sunny in Spring with flowering taking place at perfect temperatures in June. In August, the ripening slowed down again because of rain and lower than normal temperatures but ended with an Indian Summer. The long sunny days and cool nights allowed a steady and slow maturation of the grapes with vintage starting on the 8th of September and lasting three weeks.

One way of putting it: if you prefer your Cru Beaujolais closer to Burgundy than Rhône in style, then the 2014 vintage is for you.

 

2. Return to Elegance

Less emphasis on the juicy fruit in the 2014 vintage is not such a bad thing for appellations such as Brouilly, Morgon and Moulin à Vent. In 2014, the bigger styles of Cru Beaujolais show remarkable finesse and will age well.

 

3. Focus on Quality Vineyards

There is a move by the producers towards “single plot wines” as Jean Bourjade says. This is a step towards quality for Cru Beaujolais that is also echoed in other fine wine regions, such as Barolo and Champagne. The distinguished ambassador of the single vineyard style of wine in the Cru Beaujolais is the Cote du Py in Morgon.

 

4. Slightly More Availability 

A couple of years ago, I would take the Eurostar to Paris to get my Cru Beaujolais fix. Most of the natural wine bars in Paris featured the top Beaujolais winemakers as if they were rock stars. They are now more well known here but it is still hard to find much quantity. Now I think most of it is snapped in France – the top winemakers, including the Gang of Four (or five if you include Métras – in the photo above), only produce in tiny quantities. Some of the independent shops have started stocking them but never in huge quantities.

Related post: Story of the Stolen Glass

 

5. Burgundy Calling

The two regions are very close, especially for the young winemakers in the Macon who often hang out together at the same natural wine fetes. But it is not only in the Macon where the impact of Beaujolais is felt. The young generation coming through are experimenting with carbonic maceration and whole bunch fermentation, including traditional producers such as Arnoux-Lachaux. Can the original distrust be traced back to the Duke of Burgundy in 1395 banishing the “disobedient” gamay to south of the border? The next generation, who have worked outside Burgundy and educated around the world, are breaking down the walls between the two regions.

Related post: Burgundy Young Guns

 

6. Sparkling White Beaujolais

While Cru Beaujolais in the North is gaining more recognition, the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages growers are stuck with the tag of Beaujolais Nouveau, a cheap and cheerful wine for a booze up (but also a huge part of their revenues). There are some moves by the Beaujolais body to apply for sparkling wine recognition in the South. Hopefully the new income from sparkling wine will reduce the reliance on cheap bubblegum wine and help the whole region focus on their tremendous qualities.

 

7. Real Prices

While it is exciting to see some of the younger Burgundy winemakers experimenting with the Beaujolais style of winemaking, I hope that we don’t see another influence the other way: the inexorable rise in prices for Cru Beaujolais. Right now, the best ones are one-third less than their comparable Burgundy counterparts. But they share a similar problem: it is hard to find much of the great stuff. In the 2014 vintage, the total volumes increased 10% across the whole region, although this will not mean much for the great producers. It is still small scale.

I think what saves the region, even for the best producers in the Cru Beaujolais, is that they make wines to be enjoyed and opened (even though it is possible to cellar for up to 40 years). They have not become part of the wanky fine wine worship system yet. Drink up. Enjoy. It is wine at its best. That’s what we are talking about when we are talking about Beaujolais. Love.

 

Essential Beaujolais Facts (2014)

Surface of the Beaujolais wine growing region: 160,000 hectares

Surface planted with vines: the 12 AOC of Beaujolais, in 96 communes, cover 16, 572 hectares

Proportions of grape varieties: 
Gamay Beaujolais: 16 322 hectares (30 000 hectares planted in total in the world), representing 98% production. Chardonnay Beaujolais: 250 hectares, around 2 % of the production.

Average annual Production: 800,000 hectolitres

Split between caves cooperatives and independents: 3 000 producers, 12 cooperatives, 169 negociants (Beaujolais, Mâconnais, Bourgogne).

Average Vineyard Size: 9,8 hectares.

Number of appellations: 12 (10 Crus: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à- Vent, Régnié, Saint-Amour; Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages : these last two are produced in three colours and as a primeur).

Export figures and principal countries in 2013

• Export represents over 40% of sales overall.
• Japan : 63 827 hectolitres / approx. 8 500 000 bottles
• United States : 48 676 hectolitres / approx. 6 490 000 bottles.
• United Kingdom : 36 507 hectolitres / approx. 6 500 000 bottles.
•Canada : 28 428 hectolitres / approx. 3 781 000 bottles.
•Belgium : 12 978 hectolitres / approx. 1 730 000 bottles.

Beaujolais Sales in the UK

Regional AOP’s remain strong the UK with 46% share:

  • Beaujolais Villages AOP: 22% share
  • Beaujolais AOP: 24% share
  • Sales of Cru Beaujolais account for 42% of exported volumes
  • Sales of Nouveaux went up by 62% in 2014 and account for 11% of exported volume
  • Rosé remains niche and represents 1% of the sales

4 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino 2013 (and where to eat in Montalcino)

Even though it had been raining when we left Siena only thirty minutes ago, the strong heat in Montalcino burned away all the water until very quickly there was steam rising from the road. The grapes had a good drenching and now had a moment to ripen under the intense sun. I took my coat off and walked over to the other side of town, which was mostly in shadow. Like most of this renaissance landscape, for the vineyards on the hillside it is about light and shade. The vineyards follow down from the top of the hill from all sides, each face the sun from sunrise to sunset in their own way.

Just from the change in weather from drenched to heat, it is easy to see how the grapes love this weather.

When there is an exceptional vintage pronounced by the Consorzio it is worth taking notice. The recent release of the 2010 vintage is one of these exceptional vintages where perfect conditions were met across most of the vineyards – north, south, east and west. But how was the 2013 vintage? The Consorzio awards stars for each vintage and considers 2013 as a 4-star vintage for Brunello di Montalcino.

2013 Rosso di Montalcino

The 2013 Brunello di Montalcino has yet to be released, but to get an idea of the vintage it is possible to taste the 2013 Rosso di Montalcino that were released last year. The basic rationale behind the Rosso di Montalcino is to have something to drink while the Brunello is still in the barrel. Some may even be described as a small taste of the vintage of the upcoming Brunello.

It was not always this way (and sometimes it still isn’t). Over the past seven years, there has been a marked improvement in the Rosso made with the same requirement of the 100% Sangiovese as Brunello di Montalcino. The Rosso seems to have been given more attention in its own right rather than as an after-thought to the Brunello.

There are lots of discussions in town (and drama) behind this regarding appellation laws but it can be said that the rise of quality in Rosso di Montalcino has happened to coincide with the post-2008 global recession and the drop-off in bling buyers for expensive Brunello. Some winemaker’s have wizened up to the demand for this “baby Brunello”. Not that I like this term. With its own DOC, it can be seen as its own wine.

We stocked up at the local wine shop on as many 2013 Rosso di Montalcino as we could carry. These four wines, below, are some of the better ones from what we tried (if you would like to see more of the wines we tasted in Tuscany, go to my Delectable page).

In particular, the 2013 Sesti Rosso di Montalcino:

Rosso di Montalcino 2013T

Tasting Notes

Sesti (Castello di Argiano) Rosso di Montalcino 2013

This is a journey, don’t rush it. Transparent dusty rose colour, delicate flavours, fine structure, perfect balance of luxury and quiet Tuscan simplicity – excellent length of a few minutes. Doesn’t get much better for a 2013 Rosso di Montalcino (9.4/10)

Poggio San Polo Rosso di Montalcino 2013

Edgy wine, a punk at the church. Orange skin studded with cloves. For those who live peeling plums then eat the skin. It settles down after an hour and integrates to become a pleasant drink – not too much acidity, not too much rich fruit. (8.8/10)

Azienda Agraria Lisini Rosso di Montalcino 2013

Loads of approachable sweet red berry fruit, stewed summer strawberries and a hint of dried spice (and later, almonds and blood orange). Great example of Rosso di Montalcino. Good fun. (8.8/10)

Agostina Pieri Rosso di Montalcino 2013

This is about as decadent as an easy-drinking can get – think modern smooth edges. This could be the result of the vintage. Ripe sweet and rich fruit with very fine tannins. Not hugely complex but satisfying, nevertheless. (8.9/10)

 

Where to eat in Montalcino

If you are visiting Montalcino to taste Brunello di Montalcino and try local dishes, go to Osteria Porta Al Cassero on the edge of town. Park in the car park, pass the fort and it is in front of a small park. Whenever I am in Montalcino I have at least one dinner here at this small place, and on the weekends is reassuringly filled with Italian families taking out their grandmothers (and an Italian grandmother is not easy to please when it comes to food). They have typical hearty Tuscan dishes that feature beans, wild boar or ragu but they also have the local pasta called pinci (or pici in Siena) – hand-rolled, uneven-shaped pasta made without eggs. The wine list featuring wines from Montalcino is always interesting and well priced – we had the Pieri Agostina Brunello di Montalcino 2010 at a lower price in the restaurant than the retail price in the UK. They also have a good selection of wines by the glass featuring some of the more well-known names such as Banfi Brunello di Montalcino as well as smaller wineries not seen as much.

 

 

Continued from: Part 1: After the Rain: Time out in Tuscany

photos @winewomansong 

After the rain: time out in Tuscany, part 1

Where next?  That’s the big question when you are on the road. Before I could answer, I had to go back to where I feel truly nourished on all levels.

Earlier this year I left my job. Then I had a severe flu. Time for a change of scenery. We booked the cheapest ticket – to Bologna – and hired a silver Fiat Panda at the airport.

This was not just some Under the Tuscan Sun schtick. All my life and work has been about taste and smell. When I don’t feel good, everything tastes bland – I seem to need flavour like a photographer needs light. On the road to Tuscany, avoiding the main roads, we stopped off at a worker’s bar for lunch and a carafe of wine. On the first day, the taste of the simple pasta with tomato sauce had tears well up in my eyes. It was then I realised how much I needed to be here.

Driving along the autostrade with the windows down after an oversized lunch – pasta and ragu, a meat dish and then one course too many – the question doesn’t rattle around the brain so much. Just drive onwards and you can never be lost in Tuscany. Eventually there will be a sign back to the main autostrade.

We arrived at sunset to the stone shack in the mountains of Mugello. Thirty minutes’ drive north from Florence, it is a wild and natural place with rushing streams and unpaved roads. And the roads do twist through the countryside: driving upwards at a tilt where you can’t see around the bend of the road one metre ahead of you because of the tall grass.

Mugello

When we arrived, the family who owned the place gave us a bottle of fizzy white local wine and a slab of pecorino.

Driving south from the Mugello, past Florence, past the hills of Chianti, down to the area where you find the textbook Tuscany row of black-green cypress against the pale velvet green hills.  Even through the windscreen wipers swiping away the big drops of rain, it is drier here in the southern parts of Tuscany. We were on our way to Montalcino.

What next?

After eating my weight in pasta in Tuscany, I am starting to feel myself again for the first time in years. I have some cool projects I am working on but it is still under wraps – you can’t imagine how much I want to tell you! – so stay tuned on my twitter page for more.

 

Next in Part 2: Four great bottles of Rosso di Montalicino (and where to eat in Montalcino)

 

photos @winewomansong 

Anything but Assyrtiko: Greek wine reviews

I do not drink enough Greek wine to say Anything but Assyrtiko just quite yet – there is still so much to love about Santorini – but after this selection from the Daily Drinker for my Greek wine reviews I can see past the horizon beyond Santorini.

Under the blaring midday sun on the beach, imagine a very cold white wine called Roditis by Tetramythos as the high thrilling squeal of children chased by waves, with the Malagousia, Domaine Gerovassiliou creating a general hubbub of civilised conversation of adults on the towel nearby. As the sun goes down, these voices become more distinct and clear – the Kidonitsa, Monemvasia Winery draws near and whispers idle romantic thoughts with rich fruit that lingers beyond midday, yet as fresh and essential, as a cool shower at the hotel before dinner in the local restaurant.

The Robola, Gentilini is a complex, balanced wine that continues the holiday as the true souvenir of the summer in Kefalonia. A timeless Greek wine, it could be the best white wine from anywhere, yet as specific to its time and place, this summer in fact, with notes of spicy pears but with an ionic column of acidity and a true memory of the summer holidays as the sound of boats against the jetty.

A full holiday in four bottles, the Daily Drinker Wine Club is a brilliant idea of two bottles a month from places that you would not normally find. It’s a wine club for those who want an adventure to accompany their wines.

Daily Drinker

 

Related post: Greek Assyrtiko: between thyme and the deep blue sea

 

Reposted and updated from September 30 2013 – my thoughts are with the Greek people.

Image: Godard’s Le Mepris

 

My top wines for summer

Like most things in Summer, less is more. I have been living on lighter wines that can get me through the bursts of heat that make London so fun in the summer. But if I am buying a case of wine to get me through this time of year, I want consistency. Something for a session on a long summer day. Not too much pondering over the glass.

I’m having a little pale rosé backlash these days. It kind of snuck up on me: at this stage, and with drunk crowds spilling out onto the pavement, I could do without the rosé rage. Can flavour be stupid? Banal, perhaps. It is the flavour of spun sugar and the soft texture of marshmallow. But it can end up being as bland as if you followed Kate Moss’ attitude to eating: “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” If you are not really tasting, the pink slips down way too easily. You can see it in the tears of girls staggering after a day of drinking at about 11.30 pm like clockwork.

The aim of all the rosé – whether they are from South Africa, China, or Provence – is to look as pale and as pink as a white tourist on his first day visiting Saint Tropez. The universal pale pink colour is more important than the flavour, which has been rinsed out and cleaned up to the inch of its soulless life. It reminds me of that other famous pink drink – the Cosmopolitan – and where is that now? No bartender will touch it. The only place you will find it is on late night cable re-runs of S&TC.

Unless you actually have been in Provence and are just trying to recreate your holiday at any cost (with a few Domaine Ott amphorae before heading back to the City?) carrying around a half-finished bottle of rosé is as naff as a broken heel stuck in the wet grass at the racecourse car park. Even if it is a magnum. 

I’ve been drawn to sleeker, lighter alcohol wines with a bit of spritzy bubble. The slight tingle around the edges can be shivery and not as heavy as sparkling wine. Wines such as Vinho Verde or Txacoli. They can have a slightly sweet and sour taste like a grapefruit sorbet and just as refreshing. They are also the right price and what the majority of pale rosé should be priced today. At £6-8 per bottle, you won’t feel bad if you add a few ice cubes to a Vinho Verde when the temperature is nudging 40 celsius. (Yes, you can). 

Grecanico from Caruso & Minini in Western Sicily is another excellent summer session wine. When I found out that Grecanico is related to the same grape as Garganega grape of Soave, it did not surprise me. And I am very grateful. Of course I would like to drink more Soave, much as I wold like to drink more Champagne with every meal. Pieropan, Anselmi or Suavia are brilliant but their premium prices make you pause to consider opening a bottle. But more importantly, there is too much going on in the glass. Summer is not the time to think so much. 

What about reds? Some people might feel that is too hot to drink red wine in the summer. But red wines can keep their structure more than white wines when it gets hot. (I always put my red wines in the fridge once it hits a certain temperature.) 

Last month I was in Bologna – it gets seriously hot there away from the coast – and had a glass of frothy purple Lambrusco with some Parma ham at a bar near the university. It’s strange to think of sparkling red as refreshing, but that’s exactly what it was – especially cold. 

I am so happy to see Lambrusco more on menus in London, because it works well with the small plates menus around town. I wish more people would eat with their wine, even if it is a few slivers on ham or even crisps, just as they give spontaneously in Italy or Spain when you order a drink. It doesn’t have to be a whole meal, especially when its hot, but at least something. Just as Lambrusco once had a bad reputation, it may even attract me back to the pale pink stuff. 

Greek Assyrtiko: between thyme and the deep blue sea

What is the Greek wine Assyrtiko? Grown on the volcanic soil of Santorini, it is a white wine that when good, is a summer wind by the sea made into taste and smell.

Last night I had the Hatzidakis Assyrtiko with hot salmon, fresh herbs and dijon mustard on ciabatta and, although it is not a traditional Greek dish, it is an excellent match for this wine: as clear as white houses against blue sky.

For those who had too much cheap retsina on a package holiday once: this wine will rock your preconceptions about Greek wine. Let in the fresh air. There is no reason why Santorini AOC should not be more well-known: minerally, fresh and from a major Greek Island. The technology is there to create fresh white wines, hopefully Hatzidakis will pave the way for more wines from this region.

Tasting with a handful of vine-ripened tomatoes before dinner lifted the wine to another level, and my friend suggested it was the methoxypyrazines that are working together in tomato and the Assyrtiko (the green tastes in wine, in this case: dried herbs). Whatever the science behind it, it was a fabulous tasting moment and overall, the clean taste with a light breath of thyme, is as complete as a walk home on a quiet track after an afternoon at the beach.

 

Hatzidakis Assyrtiko

Waitrose

 

Related post: Anything but Assyrtiko

 

Repost with updates October 17, 2010 – my thoughts are with Greece today. And Assyrtiko is a perfect white wine for heatwave weather.

 

Image: Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt 1963

5 Best Wine Tastings in London in July

London is another country in summer. The sun is out. Everyone’s in a good mood. The parks are full of half-naked people having picnics. There’s also Independence Day and Bastille Day – a good enough excuse as any to open a few bottles from California and France. This month, it’s not all about the tennis – here are the five best wine tastings in London this July.

Please check beforehand with the venue as spaces are limited and bookings are essential.

 

 

1. If you know all the words from Pulp Fiction 

Terroirs presents Wine & Music 

On Wednesday 1 July, Wine + Vinyl launches the first night of its monthly Wine and Music series at Terroirs. Playing soundtracks from cult films with wine moments in film projected on the walls. Hosted by comedian James Dowdeswell, the wine list will showcase five reds and whites from their 200-strong list. Only £3 entry.

Where: Terroirs 5 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DW

Date: Wednesday 1 July, 7pm – £3 entry 

 

 

2. If you dream about Californian wine

California Dreaming: American Wine Masterclass, 4th July 

As 2Pac may have been saying about California wines, “California know how to party. In the citaaaay…”  Vinopolis will open wines from wineries in the infamous ‘Judgement of Paris’ wine tasting in 1976 – when American wines toppled Bordeaux in a blind tasting, giving credence to California’s fine wine reputation.

Where: Vinopolis, 1 Bank End, London SE1 9BU

Date: Saturday 4 July 2015, 1pm – £35 per person

 

 

3. If you want to taste wine for a good cause

Blind Tasting Evening (in association with the Royal London Society for Blind People)

“A relaxed and informal evening of drinking great wines and challenging your preconceptions. None of the stuffy, old-school ideas or scary challenges, just a brilliant way to taste wine and really use your senses to the full.” 

Where: Upstairs at Vinoteca Soho,  53-55 Beak St, Soho, London W1F

Date: Tuesday 7th July, 7pm

“Tickets are £27.50 per person, which includes blind tasting of eight wines, some mixed meze, and a £2.50 donation to the Royal London Society for the Blind.”

 

 

4. If you love Cheese (mais, oui!)

Bastille Day Wine and Cheese Tasting

A simple wine can become a moulin rouge dancer with the right cheese. But with nearly 1000 cheeses in France alone, it’s worth putting yourself in the hands of the cheese experts, La Cave Fromage. Joyeux Quatorze Juillet!

Where: La Cave Fromage, 24-25 Cromwell Place, South Kensington SW7 2LD

Date: Thursday 16 July, 7.15pm sharp – £35

 

 

5. If you want to cool down with the coolest wine on the planet

Deutschland, Deutschland: Riesling Triumphs

The more you know about German Riesling, the more your summer will improve. Fact. The class will delve into the different regions in Germany, showing all the different styles of Riesling possible. And I don’t need to tell you, the wines are not all sweet. Not even close.

Where: Theatre of Wine, Tufnell Park and Greenwich

Date: Thursday, 23 July (Tufnell Park and Greenwich), 7.30pm – £32

 

 

Do you think your customer tasting should be mentioned? Feel free to leave details in the comment below or get in touch. 

5 favourites from Armit Wines Annual Tasting 2015

Armit Wines is fortunate to have some big agencies on their books – Ornellaia, Gaja, Rioja Alta, Giacosa, Huet, the list goes on – but here are the 5 wines which stood out for me at the Armit Wines Annual Tasting 2015 for no other reason than pure crazy fabulousness:

 

1. Domaine Huet

Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Demi Sec 2009 (Loire)

Masterful. As you would expect from one of the last vintages by Noël Pinguet – legendary winemaker and son-in-law of Gaston Huet. This is a wine where taste moves faster than the speed of thought. Pure and light, sweet and savoury, weightless and gravity. And it all just comes together so effortlessly. I saw a friend who is an expert on the Loire do a beeline for it when he entered the room. It’s pretty much like that. Everything else disappears.

RRP £17.oo duty paid ex vat

2. Domaine Gourt de Mautens

Rosé 2010 (Rhone)

On a buzz feed listicle, 24 Bizarre Japanese Ice-Cream Flavours, you’ll find ice-cream comes in whitebait, shark fin and cactus flavours. This Rosé is not exactly your classic strawberry pink, either. Think pomegranate, seaweed and fermented ginger. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the animators from Adventure Time had it while drawing Jake’s Perfect Sandwich. Much more exciting than the usual rinsed-out, filtered-to-inch-of-its-life pale pink everywhere. Then again, you won’t find this everywhere.

RRP £15.00 duty paid ex vat

3. Domaine de Montbourgeau

L’Etoile Savagnin 2009 (Jura)

If you don’t know Jura very well, Armit carry a safer version called Domaine du Pélican – a new wine from Marquis d’Angerville in Volnay. This one is as grumpy as Bukowski and probably smells the same – medicinal, super-oxidative, orange peel liquer, extreme french cheeses. Yet it speaks the truth. It’s what haunts me.

RRP £24.40 duty paid ex vat

4. Pietradolce

Etna Rosso 2014 (Sicily)

On a completely different note than the old-school Jura above, this is pure summer holiday. I liked Pietradolce’s whole range, all the way up to the £35 Barbagalli. But it is the £9 pale red – almost shivering for lack of colour after growing in the high altitudes of a volcano – that is so perfect for now. Why drink Rosé when you can have this all the way through from apero to dessert? It’s got more tannic structure than Rosé. Save yourself the energy in summer and stick to this.

RRP £9.25 duty paid ex vat

5. Giacosa

Giacosa Barbaresco Asili, Bruno Giacosa 2009 (Piedmont)

The flavours are always so precise: it’s never just “rose” with Giacosa, it has to be “rose hip”. And so it goes, I won’t list out the flavour ingredients. Not only is the list long, but that would be too prosaic for such an incredible wine. The layers are as diaphanous as a tulle skirt on a prima ballerina. Hold on to it for another 20 years or more.

RRP £72.05 duty paid ex vat

 

Wines tasted at Armit Wines 2015 Annual Tasting at Music Rooms, Mayfair on Tuesday 23rd June 2015.

Image: label from Pietradolce Barbagalli 2011

David Hockney A Bigger Splash

The Perfect Splash: Champagne Nathalie Falmet Le Val Cornet NV

Once in a while I taste a Grower Champagne* that could break through the noise of big brand Champagne marketing. Brilliant examples of grower Champagnes that have done this are Jacquesson and Pierre Gimmonet, producers who are not affected by anxieties about the done thing in the tightly-regulated region, producers who have singularity of vision and style.

Focus for a Grower Champagne is like concentration in diving and what allows them to constantly change, somersault and twist so the end result of all this experimenting with names, blends and single vineyards – for those in the high seats cheering them on – is one perfect, delicate splash.

Onto Nathalie Falmet Le Val Cornet NV. My first impression of this single vineyard Champagne is delicacy but this was quickly overcome by the bright flavours of summer: layers of freshly-cut nectarines, red apples and strawberries. All of this feels gentle and joyous, like a walk to the park for a picnic on a sunny day, until you realise the deeper notes of honey, caramel and liquorice suddenly have you in the path of a parade complete with brass band and a million waving flags.

The reason why this interesting depth happens is, as always, because of the winemaker and the terroir. Nathalie Falmet works in the Aube, the deep south of Champagne, but on the far eastern edge. Yet the delicacy shown in her Champagnes is not what you would expect this far south.

It shows the skill of the winemaker: Nathalie Fermet is a highly qualified oenologist (with her own laboratory consultancy business) as well as vigneronne who works on her family’s 3.2 hectares. She runs everything from label creation to vine cultivation. The concentration and focus of Nathalie Falmet is found here in this single vineyard Champagne, Le Val Cornet NV.

The whole domaine only produces an average of 33,000 bottle. For a breakthrough Champagne, it’s never going to be huge, but for Grower Champagne, that is the whole point.

 

Champagne Nathalie Falmet Le Val Cornet NV

Rouvres-les-Vignes, Côtes-des-Bar

Champagne

£41.00 per bottle RRP

50% Pinot Noir, 50% Pinot Meunier, Blanc de Noirs. Base 2010 vintage. Disgorgement date: May 2014. Extra Brut – dosage: 6g per L.

Available in USA and in Paris at Peirre Gagnaire, Jean-Francois Piège and Trianon Palace.

Available in UK with Scala Wine (also, other Nathalie Falmet wines).

 

Thank you to Tim Hall at Scala Wine for the excellent and comprehensive Single Estate Champagne Tasting.

* Growers Champagne used in this post means RM (recoltant-manipulant) much like domaine wines in Burgundy where the person making the wine also owns the grapes.

Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV at Hook Camden

Whenever I hear of the Champagne Ayala, I instinctively move the Y-sound and think of the French fashion designer, Azzedine Alaïa. This is the designer loved by 1990s supermodels: all black, super tight, super sexy clothes. To my mind, this Champagne is not dissimilar in style: elegant, sensual yet precise.

Ayala is not just a miserable step-child of Bollinger. When Bollinger acquired Ayala in 2005 it put money where it was needed and then left it alone.  It’s remained a Grand Marque in its own right. One of the original “drier styles” of Champagnes developed in the 1860s. Both Bollinger and Ayala are neighbours situated in Aÿ, an area known for its Pinot Noir, but this is where the similarities between Bollinger and Ayala style end.

What is the difference between Bollinger and Ayala? To keep the 1990s fashion theme going, Bollinger is to Ayala as Georgio Armani is to Azzedine Alaïa. And Ayala (and Alaia) is less mainstream and well-known. For me, I love Bollinger but sometimes it has to be Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV for its slightly drier and lighter style.

Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV with lemon and fennel panko-crumbed sea bass and an oyster and sorrel sauce

Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV with lemon and fennel panko-crumbed sea bass and an oyster and sorrel sauce

At Hook Camden, the lovely Dublin lads created special fish dishes to match Champagne as chosen by Wine Trust. For the Ayala Brut Majeur NV it was lemon and fennel panko-crumbed sea bass with an oyster and sorrel sauce.

The crunchy and light breadcrumb of dehydrated lemon and fennel seeds ground to a powder was deliciously spicy on this sea bass – move over KFC for the crunch -and the 40% Pinot Noir component of the Ayala Brut Majeur NV could handle the big flavours easily.

When you have rich flavours, that’s the moment to reach for this style of Champagne. Don’t forget the flavours in the sauce, too. Ayala Brut Majeur NV danced all night like Naomi with the saline buzz of the Oyster and Sorrel sauce.

Hook Restaurant Camden

About  Hook Camden:

This is a place I’ve been wanting to try since it opened on busy Parkway in Camden – I’d heard about their first pop up in Dublin pushing mackerel and then their following huge success in Belgium. This is what Camden needs, especially after a few post-gig drinks, a place where you can have excellent fish and Scottish potato chips with sherry vinegar (applied with precision atomisers). Although I suggest not to go window shopping for Azzedine Alaïa afterwards.

Warning: If you plan to go – and I highly recommend you do – don’t be deceived by the beach-shack-look, this is not your average fish and chip joint. If you go to Hook Camden looking for classic cod and chips, you won’t find it. Not that you would be disappointed with what you’d find.

About Wine Trust:

Sitting next to Nick Adams MW from Wine Trust, previously Armit Wines, I learned how this online wine company chose the wine for the night. All of the wines were chosen blind and then correlated back to the price. They want to present wines that showed typicity of style but also good value for the quality. This is advice is gold when we live in a murky world of Champagne pricing with its false discounting and powerful brands. .

Conclusion:

Unless you have fish that is very simply and naturally done – such as at this seafood restaurant in Sydney – then don’t forget to think about the batter and sauce. If you want classic fish and chips with a Champagne? To be brutally honest, the best match is a cup of strong Yorkshire tea. But if you genuinely want to taste exciting flavour combinations, go to Hook Camden for an amazing array of fish, batters, and sauces. This will definitely go with a glass or two of Champagne (preferably Pinot Noir based).

Details:

Hook Camden –  63-65 Parkway, Camden Town, London NW1 7PP

 

Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV 

Champagne

£29 per bottle 

Wine Trust

 

It's good for you! Inside Hook Camden

It’s good for you! Inside Hook Camden

Champagne tempura of mackerel with Avruga caviar matched with Charles Heidseick Brut Réserve NV and 2010 Nyetimber Classic Cuvée

Champagne tempura of mackerel with Avruga caviar matched with Charles Heidseick Brut Réserve NV and 2010 Nyetimber Classic Cuvée at Hook Camden

File 17-06-2015 16 16 03

Ink and tarragon tempura of plaice with pickled beetroot with Chales Heidseick Brut Rosé Reserve NV (right) and 2009 Nyetimber Rosé Brut (left) with those brilliant scottish potato chips

Pride and Prejudice: Hyde de Villaine Belle Cousine Napa Valley

When my friend Will Hargrove from Corney & Barrow said to try this, I said YES OF COURSE THANK YOU. But really I had been around the whole room and purposely skipped Hyde de Villaine Belle Cousine because it was from Napa. Why so perverse? (I get asked this a lot). It’s a £50 bottle of wine!

I don’t know. There’s just too much talk about Californian wines, sorry. I’ve tuned out. It’s like at school when it was popular to see Dirty Dancing, and everyone pretended to do the sexy dance with Patrick Swayze, and I would not see it on principle. Then I saw it about twenty years later, and I really liked it. Up there with some of the best 80s films: Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller and Ghostbusters.

My teenage self says, I don’t want to pay for a heavy bottle or a brand name and I don’t understand their system of allocation based on being on a mailing list that hikes up prices. If I want a drink to have with a cigar then I’ll have a dark rum. Too much, already. Whatevs.

Recently Californian wines are becoming more balanced. Sommelier-turned-winemaker Rajat Parr calls it “In Pursuit of Balance” and it is all over the wine chat on the internet. And I agree, focus on the vineyard you have in front of you rather than chase points (obviously? maybe not by the sound of it). But apart from a few exceptions, and there are a few, if I want a big fat Chardonnay then I will go to California. It’s not very often, and I am sure it will change: fashion is a constant cycle of love and disgust.

Now I know better not to wait 20 years before seeing a film or tasting a wine.

You don’t get into wine, and travel a lot, because you want to be a closed-minded idiot. So, what was the wine like? Before Will could say anything, or I had a chance to look at the label, I gave it a taste.

It’s a good wine when you start feeling poetic from the get-go.

Polished plums with bloody butcher’s block and an acidity that is like perfectly executed guitar distortion. You know how Sonic Youth tuned each guitar in it’s own way to get the right edgy sound? It’s a wall of distortion that makes this wine edgy and dark under the Californian sun.

The song that came into my head was “Soon” by My Bloody Valentine. For once, the comments underneath the video on youtube actually make a lot of sense, the sound is

“a mermaid falling into a black hole” 

Amazing. Who made this wine?

We are at Corney & Barrow, the exclusive importers into the UK of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti so there’s the connection. It is a joint effort where Burgundy meets Carneros: Hydes of Hyde Vineyard (Carneros, Napa), their cousin Pamela (née Fairbanks), and her husband, Aubert de Villaine, co-director of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (Burgundy).

They also showed the A et P de Villaine Bouzeron, one of my favourite wines when I am in Burgundy after a day tasting – the acidity is very refreshing and I feel human again. Now the pieces of the puzzle started to fall in place. This is the same exciting zig-zag acidity but with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Reader, it was good. I took it home, drank it all and listened to the whole album.

It pays to have an open mind.

Special mention to the excellent arancini at Mission E2 in Bethnal Green London

Special mention to the excellent arancini at Mission E2 in Bethnal Green London

Hyde de Villaine Belle Cousine Hyde Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Napa Valley

£49.95 per bottle

Corney & Barrow

A video posted by Juel (@winewomansong) on

Last of the True Romantics: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC

Often my friend from Rome, perhaps while we are walking down the street to the supermarket on a grey Saturday morning, will abruptly stop, hold his hand over his heart, grab my elbow to jolt me back and say with eyes wide open in shock, “Did you see THAT? That’s IT! I AM IN LOVE!”

 

Meanwhile, of course, the “love of his life” walks by completely unaware of the near cardiac arrest just caused. To be honest, I often never see what all the fuss is about, but for a moment, at least, the day seems just a little brighter for it.

 

I have to be careful when we are tasting wine together. He is often in raptures. That’s why, to tone down his enthusiasm about the good wine we tried from the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC in Campania, I started to talk about rocks and soil types in vineyards.

 

In particular, the soil type of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio – near the volcano Mount Vesuvius – which can often be found in most houses on the shelf next to the bathtub: pumice.

 

As much as I love wines from volcanic regions, the pumice in the bathroom is the closest everyday experience of a volcano. To understand the pumice soil of Lacryma Christi is to understand the taste of the wine. Like pumice, the wine has a porous, light quality to it. Whereas some non-volcanic wines from hotter climates can have slightly syrupy or baked characters (with the sun creating ripe fruit with high alcohol) which becomes too much after one glass, especially with a heavy pasta. It could be said it’s the difference in weight between an Aero bar and a plain bar of milk chocolate.

 

The ornate name, Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ) del Vesuvio leads you to expect tears of hot, lava flowing with an opening blast of heat, followed by slow and heavy molten lava fruit. And that’s what you don’t get. To be fair, the lightness is not worse for it. Not at all. It is light as the feeling of joy is light.

 

This is a wine that would be more than perfect in a little Italian restaurant with red and white checked tablecloths. It is highly romantic and yet modest, and it does what most good Italian wines do – it leaves space for food and a good story. It doesn’t quite pass by unnoticed and it is not quite as simple as a – ciao bello! SMACK! – but certainly makes the evening a little brighter for it.

 

 

Image:Sofia Loren, Life Magazine

 

 

1975 vintage Bordeaux: Claret Guide, Decanter 1976

If you are having a 40th birthday this year (& happy birthday, Angelina Jolie!), here is a vintage assessment of the 1975 Bordeaux vintage from Decanter in September 1976. Finally, it was a vintage to write home about:

It is certainly cheering and reassuring for all who love Bordeaux to know that at long last there is a really good vintage safely in the cellars once more. At the same time this does not mean, unfortunately, that all Bordeaux’s problems have disappeared and indeed many of the economic problems seem to be as persistent and deep-seated as ever.

This was a difficult economy for many industries including wine. The 1973 oil crisis could still be felt. Then there were a series of bad vintages in Bordeaux in the early 1970s and, without the technology we have today, there were consecutive years that could not be sold because they were simply undrinkable.

The 1975 vintage was initially quite tannic but it has mellowed out over the past ten years, and the fruit has petered out in the lesser wines.

Decanter 1976

1970s wine and spirits photography – a knife, a rose, a kilt

Glad to see there was no hype around the vintage back in the day… oh wait:

Firstly, one can say unequivocally that this is the best vintage since 1970 and that while there is a certain amount of unevenness, particularly in the lower quality level, it would be quite wrong to give any impression other than that this is a really good year.

At least “a really good year” is not as bombastic as “vintage of the century”. But could it be a vintage of the decade?

The general characteristics of the year are a really excellent colour, certainly comparable with 1970 and 1966, and a good deal of tannin in the wines, more than has been seen at this stage for some years. Certainly more tannic than the 1970s ever were. The very individuality of the wines and the difficulty in pinpointing a useful comparison within the last decade at least indicates in general terms the quality of the vintage.

What was brilliant about this era was the casual drinking of first growths. Much like property bought in the 1970s, these wines will set you back if you bought them today, even if “buying from the cask”. This was pre-Robert Parker’s inaugural 1982 vintage. Latour is worth a punt, and “surprisingly” Ausone was outstanding:

At this stage it is always difficult to single out individual growths but I was particularly impressed by the Latour which stood right out in a blind tasting of Médoc first growths and surprisingly in St. Emilion the Ausone was absolutely outstanding and must certainly be one of the very best wines  made in this Château since the war, a very definite rival this year to Cheval Blanc, while in Graves both Haut Brion and La Mission promise to be excellent.

When you don’t want to drink Latour during the week, how about some cheeky second growths:

Amongst second growths of the Médoc, the ones which impressed most favourable at this stage were Leoville Lascases, Leoville Barton, Lynch Bages, La Lagune and Brane Cantenac, from which it can be seen that very successful wines were made right through the region.

Overall, the 1975 vintage wine was a huge relief for everyone in the wine industry – except for a large number of firms. There was too much 1974 stock in the cellar. And 1975 was a good  time to buy a Chateaux by the number of “for sale” signs:

The undisguised and justified joy in the birth of such a robust and promising infant as the 1975 vintage unfortunately cannot dispel or conceal the basically unhealthy state of the Bordeaux market. A large number of firms have been, or are, in trouble.

The vintage assessment does not have the same swagger as writing today. For better or worse. Then again, this really was the golden era for copywriting:

wine advertising 1976

Mad men

The more things change, the more things stay the same. What to drink if you are born in 1975 (other than Bordeaux)?

  • Tuscany (especially Brunello di Montalcino)
  • German Riesling
  • Champagne (perfect for a birthday party!)

Have you tasted any wines from 1975 recently? Please leave a comment, to let us know how they are faring.

Article by David Peppercorn MW, Decanter magazine September 1976

Chablis food pairing at The Chancery London

Mineral is a loaded word in wine circles. Someone will always ask reproachfully, “Have you actually tasted a mineral, or are you really talking about acidity; if you are talking about stones, how do you even know what a stone tastes like??” Well, yes – yes I have. I know the taste of pulverised oyster shells fossilised in rock. Last Wednesday at The Chancery for a Chablis dinner, I gave this Kimmeridgien stone a good lick while nearly mistaking it for the bread.

kimmeridgien

We are at The Chancery for a three-course dinner devised by chef Graham Long, and where I had a very nice chap sitting next to me.

“WHY O WHY do you want pain in your wine?” the nice chap asked as we sat down at our places. I think he was talking about acidity. Apart from my jaded palate needing a good jolt now and again, the good vintages of Chablis have excellent acidity, which means it can deftly handle any food thrown at it and then throw some interesting flavour shapes back. Combined with texture and weight, it is why good Chablis is, as our host Douglas Blyde says, the supreme food collaborator. 

Reservations

Well, let’s see – I had my reservations. A whole night drinking Chardonnay is not my idea of fun. And Chablis can be a little bit hit and miss.

Either the vintage is wrong, and instead of a finely-etched poem on the back of hard precious metal that you will treasure forever, it is flabby and forgettable. Or the producer is lazy. It’s one of those names that sells itself and so, rather than bowing down and kissing the unique gift of geology that Chablis producers are blessed to have inherited, it can be abused and over-produced.

From the very first crab beignet and wine thrust into my hand, I knew this evening was not going to be about the latter. Although the Chablis region has been shaken recently: very few white Burgundy producers have had enough volume over the past few vintages even if they wanted to produce a cynical excuse for booze.

2012 Vintage

The best recent vintage in Chablis is the 2010 vintage. There is very little of this around now. The 2011 vintage is an early drinking style. Moving on: the 2012 vintage has the power, perhaps not the same finesse, and is fuller bodied. The richness is even apparent in the Grand Cru wines that are surprisingly drinking well now.

Most of the Chablis pain in 2012 was for the growers. Most of the vines were wiped out by Mother Nature in this vintage, along with the rest of Burgundy (knowing the vintages in Burgundy does not always help with understanding Chablis: this may be a Burgundy but it sits detached from the Côte d’Or – about an hour and half drive north from Dijon. It seems more reasonable to look at vintage conditions in Champagne to get an idea of the style). Volumes are small. In wine speak, that’s your cue to stock up where you can.

For the wine lover, the best Chablis is a delicious type of pain, as a Chablis fanatic will say to you with a twinkle in the eye. Not to get too 50 Shades of Grey, but the fondness for acidity in some circles can get a little masochistic. The best have a taste that is austere, there’s a lack of fruit, and you will experience a whiplash of mineral.

Terroir is Everything?

Let’s go back to the first wine of the evening. The Petit Chablis Dauvissat-Camus 2012 is a premier cru killer.

Dauvissat-Camus Petit Chablis 2012

Normally Petit Chablis can be a shallow little thing, an after-thought in a vintage, and too often its role is filling the gap in sales from a small vintage. Petit Chablis comes from outside town, away from the famous Kimmeridgien soils, but in the hands of Dauvissat this one was a triumph. For a winemaker that insists on “terroir is everything,” he is surely underselling himself with this Petit Chablis. His winemaking may have a little to do with its depth and song.

The Dauvissat was a tough gig to follow. The wines ascended in appellation as the evening progressed from humble Chablis AOC to Premier Cru to Grand Cru status. Then a pair of wines from each Cru-level was matched with a course.

This was not the classic Chablis food pairing of oysters or rabbit in mustard sauce. The flavours presented by the Chef, Graham Long, were modern, complex and intricate. But will we taste the purity of the wines over the myriad of flavours?

Salmon Tartare at The Chancery

Tartare of trout, poached apple, nettle puree, macadamia nuts and trout eggs

The Jean Marc Brocard, Montee de Tonnerre 1er Cru 2011 didn’t quite have enough breath (or breadth) to reach the heights of the 2012 vintages showing on the night – this is an early-drinking style of vintage without the strong acidity that is needed for a dish like this. Whereas the cool and mineral Val de Mercy, Beauregards 1er Cru 2012 navigated the competing flavours easily.

For the Grand Cru Chablis flight we had two famous vineyards – William Fevre, Les Clos Grand Cru 2012 and Samuel Billaud, Les Preuses Grand Cru 2013.

Roasted quail, cannelloni of the leg and foie gras, sweetcorn, hazelnuts, pickled mushrooms and garlic

Roasted quail, cannelloni of the leg and foie gras, sweetcorn, hazelnuts, pickled mushrooms and garlic

If elegance is refusal, as Coco Chanel once said, then the best Chablis shows it can knock back most. No unnecessary flavours in this wine, no flouncy fruits or masking oak, this is drinking in the minimalist fashion.

Grand Cru Chablis can get to the state of purity where there is almost no fruit flavour other than stone, oyster shell, pure mineral spring with an added long and creamy finish. As you would expect, the Grand Cru wines had no problem handling this complex dish.

Lesser wines could have buckled under the pressure of so many competing flavours, but these wines even managed to show off their own personality, as if to say, “thank god I have a proper challenge instead of being seen as just another aperitif wine.”

Yes, Chablis is the classic aperitif wine. Something to drink after work or with friends. But it can also be so much more. What food pairs well with Chablis? There is no one answer for such a versatile style of wine. This dinner shows it depends on the vintage, the age of the wine, and the producer.

 

Menu

Aperitif

2012 Dauvissat-Camus Petit Chablis

Truffle arancini and crab beignet

Chablis Course

2012 Garnier & fils, Grains Dorés

2014 Louis Moreau

Marinated raw hand dived scallops, cucumber jelly, avocado cream, sesame fill and shiso dressing

Chablis 1er Cru

2011 Jean-Marc Brocard, Montée de Tonnere

2012 Val de Mercy, Beauregards

Tartare of trout, poached apple, nettle puree, macadamia nuts and trout eggs

Chablis Grand Cru

2012 William Fevre, Les Clos

2013 Samuel Billaud, Les Preuses

Roasted quail, cannelloni of the leg and foie gras, sweetcorn, hazelnuts, pickled mushrooms and wild garlic

Mature Chablis

2003 Domaine Pinson, Chablis Premier Cru Fôrets

Selection of British cheese, Neal’s Yard Dairy

Thank you to Douglas Blyde for hosting a great evening at The Chancery Restaurant.

5 Best Wine Tastings in London – June 2015

Make the most of what London wine shops have to offer in June – taste with visiting winemakers, cruise to new regions and experience aged-wine flights of fantasy.

Do check beforehand, spaces are limited and bookings are essential.

 

1. For a holiday in the Med without leaving town

Theatre of Wine – Adriatic Cruise: Croatia

Croatia is a diverse and complex wine country, but you would be missing out if you did not try some of the powerful whites and smoky, umami flavours in the reds. This is an expert tour from a shop that knows their wines from this region.

Date: Thursday, 4 June (Tufnell Park and Greenwich), 7.30pm – £32

 

2. If you want to be in on the next big thing in wine

Kensington Wine Rooms – An Introduction to Austria

Recently I have noticed my friends in New York banging on about Austrian wines on their instagram and twitter accounts. Discover what all the fuss is about at this relaxed event.

Date: Saturday, 6 June, Kensington, 5pm – £25

 

3. If you are obsessed with Nebbiolo 

Vagabond Wines – Single Grape Focus: Nebbiolo

Some may say that Nebbiolo is a lifetime project. This grape can provide some of the world’s most exciting (and expensive) wines that are worth the patience. Smart then, to find out as much as you can. This tasting is a good place to start.

Date: Wednesday, 10 June, Fulham, 7-9pm – £40

 

4. If you want to meet one of Australia’s loveliest winemakers

Bottle Apostle – Mac Forbes visits Bottle Apostle

All the way from the Yarra Valley in Victoria, Mac Forbes is one of Australia’s most exciting new winemakers with influences from his many travels. Definitely worth popping in and tasting the excellent Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay.

Date: Friday, 12 June, Victoria Park Village shop, 5pm – free

 

5. If aged Rioja makes you happy (and hungry)

The Sampler – Mature Legends of Rioja with Rose Veal Hot Dogs

The Sampler has a series of tastings with hot dogs. The tasting will “include La Rioja Alta 890 1955, La Rioja Alta 904 1964, CVNE Vina Real 1959, Paternina 1959, Monte Real 1952, Monte Real 1964, Glorioso 1978, Tondonia 1980, Solar de Samaniego 1970 plus more”. These guys know their aged wines, it should be a fun night.

Date: Wednesday, 17 June, South Kensington shop, 7pm – £110

How to spot a fake wine

“Of all the old wine bottles that show up on my social media feed, how many of these are fake wine?” asked a wine buyer friend at a long Saturday lunch, “someone should have Maureen Downey take a look.”

Call Maureen Downey, the Sherlock Holmes of wine, with her tool box of magnifying glasses, blue lights, razor blades. In this fascinating video for Bloomberg, the top wine fraud investigator explains how she judges whether a wine is a fake wine or an authentic bottle. And how she breaks the bad news to her clients.

What’s not to love about 2014 Loire wines


Wines from the Loire are not for everybody. Except for the super-refreshing sparkling wine, made in the same way as Champagne, that starts every meal we had on the long weekend staying in Saumur. Or the bright pink Pinot d’Aunis rosé everybody in town seemed to be drinking, from flat-capped pensioner to gangly teenagers, in the local pub off the busy Saturday morning market. Not everyone would think of a Saumur-Champigny red with a sirloin steak like they did at the local Argentine restaurant – it’s an elegant crisp red rather than the usual full-blown Malbec. That’s a shame because the wines are packed full of fruit, especially the reds. Loire wines seem to be polarised between the natural wine crowd who love to fetishise grapes (fair enough) and the rest who have to wade through a lot of bottles, but when finding the bottle, re-confirms its classic status. There is a lot to love about the 2014 vintage.

The constant rain over the long weekend meant our original plan to cycle along the Loire river had to be cancelled. Instead, we visited an excellent local shop in Saumur and bought some under 20 euro bottles to get a feel for the latest vintage. The 2014 red vintage reminds me of 2009, a bit of flesh on the bones and as an aside, the 2009 Saumur-Champigny is delicious if you can still find it.

Le Dilettante Vouvray and Cheese