Gramenon’s “L’élémentaire” 2016

Standard

I was in Nice a couple of months ago and, because I had the car with me, I stopped by La Part des Anges, a well-known wine shop filled-to-bursting with natural wines, to stock up.

Whilst I love the diversity of wine made in Italy, that same diversity means that it is particularly hard to import wine here because there are so few gaps in the market. Besides Champagne and some of the usual big names, there are many French wines that I can’t find anymore and that I miss. Continue reading

Advertisements

“Maresa” 2016 from Masseria Starnali. Orange or Not?

Standard

I’ve spent the last few days with Simon Woolf, a personable and knowledgable wine writer with a particular passion for orange wines.

Now, we all know that orange wines can be rather divisive and you won’t be disappointed to know that there were plenty of in-depth discussions but also lots of friendly jibes on the subject.

Knowing that many drinkers don’t find massively tannic, powerful macerated wines to be their cup of tea, some winemakers have started maintaining “but I don’t make orange wine” even though their grapes are kept on the skins for at least part of the alcoholic fermentation.

We’ve ended up in a situation – at least here in Italy – where there’s an ‘is it or isn’t it?’ grey area and where ultimately whatever is said is based on an arbitrary decision rather than widely recognised consensus or actual facts.

As with so many other things however, time has proven itself to be a great healer because as the category becomes more established, an expert will emerge and a particular definition will prevail.

Simon’s definition (and I’m hope I’m not revealing too many secrets from his upcoming book Amber Revolution) is that you should think of an orange wine as another technique in a winemaker’s armoury.

Rather than widely accepted three, we should think of four categories.

Red wines are the result of red-skinned grapes with lengthy skin-contact maceration. Rosé wines are red-skinned grapes with barely any time on the skins. Whites are white grapes but the grapes’ skin never comes into play. Orange wines are made with white grapes and their skins were used (for an indeterminate length of time) during winemaking. Each of these different “colours” can lead to different styles of wine – some oxydised, others clean.


As it happens, I have a ton of open bottles of wine underneath my computer table this evening. (It’s one of the unavoidable consequences of organising a tasting of 215 wines!)

I was thumbing through the bottles, much as most people flick through a recipe book wondering what to make tonight, when I came across “Maresa”, a wine from Masseria Starnali in Campania.

It’s 100% Falanghina – a local white wine grape – aged only in stainless steel tanks and bottled with very few added sulfites.

img_20180618_182058098.jpg

Enter a caption

The colour, well, I would describe it as golden. It’s not a shade of amber which would scare off the uninitiated but the hue is just deep enough to raise suspicions.

Because I’ve drunk this wine with Maria Teresa and her son Luigi several times, I know that this wine has been made with a couple of days of skin-contact maceration.

Let it be said, this is a superbly elegant wine. There’s fruit – ripe bergamot, citron, and plums; and there’s salt and sapidity – surely coming from the volcanic soils and the proximity to the sea. But there’s another layer too: the maceration, albeit brief, gives structure and soul to what could have been just another crisp, mineral Italian white wine. The maceration gives a chewiness and a fullness to the mouthfeel which coats your taste buds and leaves you begging for more.

It’s also a perfect example of how a technique which doesn’t originate from that region (at least, I hope that’s not the twist in the tail of Simon’s book!) can be implemented succesfully in a place without the history.

If this is orange wine, I’m 100% on board!

Feudo d’Ugni’s “D’Ugni” 2007

Standard

In my line of work, I get to taste a lot of different wines. I’m not going to even try to deny that it’s one of the perks. That said, most of the wines tend to fall in the middle of the spectrum: a handful are banal, most are decent, many are good and a few are very good. Just a very small number of the wines I drink are showstopping.

I was at a dinner last night. The first wine was an Italian natural wine so extreme that drinking straight vinegar would almost have been preferable. Next, there was a soulless wine from a leading conventional producer in France. The third wine was a little bit like Goldilocks: there was no off-putting SO2, and it was balanced and pleasant to drink. The fourth wine, though, blew the others out of the water.

It was a magnum of Cristiana Galasso’s top wine “D’Ugni.” I tasted her range at a Vini Veri tasting about three years ago, on the advice of Helena from Colombaia. Sage advice, as always.

Last night, just a splash of this wine was poured into my glass, without me paying any particular attention to the label. It was a casual dinner with friends and winemaker colleagues but bottle exhibitionism wasn’t the focus of the evening. It could go any way. As it happened, I brought the glass up to my nose and inhaled. Time stopped.

There’s an animality to this wine which blows your senses away. No, it’s not reduction, nor any kind of brettanomyces. It’s a noble animality. Meaty, spicy, and pure. I remarked to whoever was listening that red wines from the Veneto just don’t reach this level of aroma intensity. It had to be Montepulciano.

To be honest, you can detect the alcohol content (14.5%) which was probably better masked ten years ago when the wine was made. But I’m nitpicking.

There’s absolutely no question in my mind: this is a perfectly mature wine, which shows delicious tertiary characters without losing its grape variety or its terroir.

The tannins are amazing integrated. There’s no indication of any heavy handed cellar work (either oak barrels, sulphur or chemical trickery.) The wine is simply earnest and genuine.

After that intense animality, you get the full range of savoury Mediterranean flavours: mainly rosemary and black olives, with prunes and cooked berries. Any generous plush fruit has passed on, leaving behind a very graceful, precise wine which is absolutely, utterly, lip-smackingly delicious.

Price: not cheap for sure, but worth it…

Rating: *****


Tasted on 29th and 30th April 2018


If you’re based in the UK, you can buy this wine via the Buon Vino website.

Favourite French Wines Within The Louis Dressner Selection

Standard

I’m waiting at the airport in Austin, Texas having spent the last week and a half in the USA. For the sake of transparency, it should be said that I was there showing the wines of a producer for whom I work, but who does not feature in any way in this list.

It’s been an intense but fun trip. Louis Dressner Selections imports some of the most interesting natural wines into the USA (clearly they’re not the only ones…) and so it’s been highly amusing frolicking with the likes of Thierry Puzelat and Arianna Occhipinti for a week.

It’s also been fun tasting wines that I don’t get to try too often. Here’s a selection of my favourite discoveries:

DAMIEN COQUELET (Beaujolais) Morgon Côte du Py 2015 Gamay – vieilles vignes

Côte du Py is the most emblematic appellation in Beaujolais, largely because of Foillard and Lapierre. I’ve even had so many good experiences with that particular cru that I get rather excited when I come across it again.

Damien Coquelet is a young (just turned 30 years old) winemaker who, having legendary Georges Descombes for a step-father, has spent his entire life living and breathing Beaujolais.

This is a light-bodied but poignant wine with good length and depth, having been aged for 8 months in Burgundy barrels. It is a far more serious wine than his other expressions; I also tasted the Beaujolais Villages and the Chiroubles, both of which are only aged in stainless steel and lack the body of this Morgon.

In my glass, I have a wine bursting with red cherry and strawberry aromas, all whilst being underlined by the terroir’s characteristic ferrous base note. The mouthfeel is austere and profound; rooty and rustic. Typical Côte du Py, in my opinion.

It’s easy to say that gamay wines made through carbonic maceration are simple, juicy “fruit bombs” but, with this wine, there’s more than meets the eye. It’s like a child who’s pretending or possibly aspiring to be a grown up. There’s a structure and austerity to this wine which makes it old beyond its years. Just 3000 bottles were made.

KEWIN DESCOMBES (Beaujolais) Morgon 2016 Gamay

I remain in Morgon for the next wine but shift over to talk about another producer and a different vintage. Kewin, or Kéké as he is more commonly known, is Damien Coquelet’s younger half-brother. Both Damien and Kéké have the lion’s share of their vineyards in the cru of Morgon, but despite the same origins they produce such different wines.

Now, admittedly it’s not an entirely fair comparison because 2015 was a hot and sunny year and 2016 was far more difficult in Beaujolais, which received several lashings of hail during the growing season.

That said, there’s no denying that Kéké’s Morgon is exuberant, magnanimous wine, with lavish black fruit, raspberries and prunes. Whereas Damien’s was austere and somewhat introverted, this is a completely different style: it’s outgoing and bold. The tannins here are plush and velvety and the result is remarkably enjoyable. It’s a country mile away from what I think of as traditional Morgon but is this the new emerging style of Beaujolais?

DOMAINE FILLIATREAU (Loire) Saumur Champigny 2015 Cabernet Franc

Listening to Fredrik’s description of his winery to the various clients who approached his table, I mentioned that out of all of us winemakers on the tour, he’s working the hardest. Those clients were treated to an enthusiastic and passionate spiel about his father, about the uniquely shaped vineyards, even the troglodyte tunnels and habitations that gives Saumur its unique features. “Yes, but I need to. Nobody wants Saumur-Champigny these days.”

He’s not wrong. It would seem that these days Loire reds – if it’s not Gamay or Pinot d’Aunis – are not seen as particularly sexy.

These old vineyards were planted by Fredrik’s father and grandfather. The local limestone “tuffeau” soils are key: firstly they continue to release water to the vines even during dry summers and this, in turn, gives a superb elegance to the wine.

Such an attractive nose; all the spice of Cabernet Franc with none of the barnyardiness. 30 days of maceration means that it’s a substantial medium-bodied wine, but it’s wonderfully soft with perfectly ripe tannins. It finishes a little short but it’s a pleasure to take another sip. 

COMBEL LA SERRE (Cahors) Château Combel La Serre 2015 Auxerrois / Malbec 

Cahors is another appellation that has seen a sharp fall from grace… because until recently drinking many of those black wines was like taking a suckerpunch to the face. For that reason, it’s refreshing to find a Cahors wine with the perfect amount of weight.

Julien Ilbert, another young, dynamic French winemaker, only grows Auxerrois (a synonym of Malbec) for his Cahors wines; but he uses a mix of cement, stainless steel and some fibreglass for the vinification and some old wood barrels for the ageing. As a result, you get beautiful fruit characters (black fruit, berries, herbs and garrigue) and just the right balance of tannins and acidity.

It strides down the middle path between traditional, rustic, tannic Cahors and a carbo juice which has lost all sense of territory, resulting in a wine which is thirst-quenching but not frivolous. A sure bet.

DOMAINE DE LA PEPIERE (Loire) Monnières-Saint Fiacre 2015 Melon de Bourgogne

Domaine de la Pepière is situated in Muscadet. How could an appellation as dull as Muscadet slip into my six favourite discoveries? Well, as well as the classic Muscadet expressions, they make a handful of more interesting, individual single crus. My favourite of which (after trying each of them a couple of times at least over the course of the week – pity me!) was this: Monnières-Saint Fiace.

Unlike the other single vineyard cuvées which are on granite, volcanic basalt or clay soils, the Monnières-Saint Fiacre vineyard is planted on a very particular type of schist soil, called gneiss. It gives a slight bitterness to the finish of the wine which, in my opinion, gives it the edge over the others.

Relatively long ageing (2 years) in stainless steel gives complexity without adding adornment.

Holding up the glass to the light and you don’t need to The colour is one of those ‘barely there’ nude tones – Melon de Bourgogne was never the Picasso of the grape world. All the wines have great minerality and tension. This particular cuvée has a particularly high citrus feel – lime and lemon peel – which would lend itself superbly to shellfish and sea food – and let’s face it: that’s what Muscadet does best.

JULIEN PINON (Loire) Vouvray Pétillant Brut Non Dosé 2011 Chenin Blanc

Last but certainly not least, another surprising wine from one of the more traditional French wine regions. 100% Chenin Blanc, harvested a little later than normal, left for 5 years sur latte (i.e. on its side, with all the yeasts of the secondary fermentation) before the dégorgement. 

I really liked this wine. It had such an distinctive nose with so many savoury, umami notes: peanuts, soy sauce, lemongrass…. That the grapes are a little riper than normal means more aromas, more originality and more personality. Don’t get me wrong – it’s dry, salty and there’s a frank earnestness to it that I find in other zero dosage wines too.

I would happily sip this while sitting outside on a warm summer evening, or kick off a meal with this as a substitute for Champagne.

“Would You Like To Try My 2014?”

Standard

I was chatting to Daniele Portinari in Paris last summer. He explained how many Italians reply “oh no, no, no” to the question “would you like to try my 2014?” It was a notoriously wet and cold year in northern Italy with sporadic hail for the especially unfortunate. Many locals would rather forget this annus horribilis.

Daniele was enjoying being amongst Parisians who either didn’t know or didn’t care. They simply heard “Would you like to try my wine?” and the instant reply was “Yes, sure!”

screenshot_20180222-1940141194195922.png


On Wednesday, I had a whole spread of 40 or 50 wines to taste – it was a good day! – but the Guiry 2014 (100%  Sangiovese) from Tenuta Mara in Emilia-Romagna particularly stood out.  Leonardo Pironi, their winemaker, explains that because it had been a wet and difficult year, they didn’t make their high-end wine “MaraMia” and instead those old-vine, usually superior grapes went into this one, the Guiry. They selected only the very healthiest grapes, which meant that yields were exceptionally low, and they did a relatively short skin contact maceration but the result is a wonderfully drinkable wine.

img_20180221_142740941_hdr1696203574.jpg


In this day and age, a good winemaker is able to make a good wine regardless of how bad a year it was. A less talented winemaker, or maybe one who likes experimenting too much, will end up with a faulty wine regardless of what the elements threw at him or her.

Obviously some years are less stressful for the vineyard team and easier in the cellar than others. It’s also completely normal for one vintage to taste different from the next. You might prefer the balance in 2013 or heat of 2015 but don’t write off 2014 because everyone said it was a bad year.

Side note: if you’re looking for important wines to lay down (Barolo, Brunello, Amarone etc) you would, 99% of the time, be better off going for a different vintage. But, if it’s an everyday drinking wine that you’re after, chances are you might end up with something better than you expect.


TENUTA TERRAVIVA (Abruzzo) “Lui” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2014 Montepulciano (13.5%) 

Highly aromatic wine with tons of black fruit, morello cherries and spice. It’s meaty, earthy and almost smoky. Medium-bodied and continues with lashings of fruit – particularly blueberry and fresh blackcurrants – and super soft tannins. A crowd pleaser.

Incidentally, I also tried their 2015 which was just as exuberant – with just as much fruit – but at this particular time, it had a slight reduction and was a little more flabby.

IL GELSO MORO (Marche) Marche Rosso IGT 2014 Montepulciano 60%, Sangiovese 30%, Lacrima 10% (14.5%)

What style! From the dark-as-night colouring and the relatively high alcohol content, I was expecting a full bodied wine with potentially obtrusive tannins but I am stunned by its elegance. Fruit takes the leading role, with pepper and spice playing the supporting actor. Beautifully balanced and supremely elegant.

ROCCA RONDINARIA (Piedmont) “Spessiari” Dolcetto di Ovada DOC 2014 Dolcetto (12%)

I really like the wines from Rocca Rondinaria. They’re a small winery in this stupendous rocky cliff in Rocca Grimalda, in Monferrato, just north of Ovada and very near Gavi.

“Spessiari” means “pharmacist” in the local dialect and, incidentally, a pharmacist was exactly what I needed when I realised that my boyfriend had decided to pour this wine into my vinegar barrel “because there are too many bottles on your desk.”

I’d had a few sips before the bottle met its untimely end, but I prefer sitting with the wine in my glass for about 15-20 minutes before writing about it. In this case, I didn’t get that possibility.* What I remember is that this wine was more austere and a little more concentrated than its other vintages. This is surely the impact of this cold, wet vintage has had on the native characteristics of Dolcetto but it’s in no way a lesser wine.


* but I will get my own back in other ways….

 

Terre di Pietra’s “Stelar” Valpolicella Classico 2017

Standard

Last week was a busy week in Verona because the who’s who in the wine world came to Romeo and Juliet’s historic city for the Anteprima Amarone.

As you may have deduced, Anteprima is a sneak peak at the just-released vintage, which this year for Amarone is 2014. But…. and this is a big but…. 2014 was a disasterous year in this part of the world and many quality producers chose not to make an Amarone.

The brave souls who came from all four corners of the world were secretly asked “but you’re not really going to drink and actually rate that, are you?” by the local wine trade.

Despite there being a bad year here or there, Amarone doesn’t need any help to be sold. Exports to Germany (its biggest market) are up 30%, + 15% to China and Japan, + 10% to the USA. Nomisma Wine Monitor reckons that the total value of Amarone sales in 2017 was an eyewatering 355 million euros (as reported in the local newspaper, link here.) Today, I wanted to stay in the Valpolicella region but to talk about something a little different: the most recent vintage from Terre di Pietra.


This might be a rather strange thing to say out loud but I prefer tasting entry level wines. A winery’s entry level gives me a better idea of the personality and the spirit of its other wines. High-end wines tend to be rather monotonous – mostly fruit forward, barrel aged, full bodied – but a base wine is more revealing and more telling. Also, if you are capable of making a good base wine, now we’re talking!


TERRE DE PIETRA “Stelar” Valpolicella Classico barrel sample 2017 (Corvina 40%, Corvinone 30%, Rondinella 20%, Molinara 10%)

Terre di Pietra is a relatively recent winery, based in the eastern section of the Valpolicella region. It started off in 2005 when a talented, passionate woman, Laura Albertini, just 25 years old, was given a bit of garage space at her father-in-law’s house in which she could make wine. Her own father had pushed her into a degree in chartered accounting and wanted her to lead a ‘conventional’ life. She, however, had her own mind.

It took 5 years to convince her father but finally, in 2010, construction started on a fully equipped winery. The first vintage at this new magnificent winery in Marcellise was in 2011. She was widely touted as one of Valpolicella’s upcoming winemakers to watch.

This story has a tragic twist because Laura died suddenly in March 2017. In the past year, her widow, Cristiano Saletti, has had to wrangle with the loss of his wife whilst also making important decisions about the future of the winery.

img_20180207_134236940_hdr2130300766.jpg

I managed to get my hand on a couple of barrel samples from 2017. This, therefore, is the first vintage of Cristiano calling all the shots. but it should be said that he was given a helping hand by reputed oenologue, Franco Giacosa. I wanted to get a taste of the direction that the winery was heading.

Initially, the most striking thing is its colour: a beautiful dark pink, reminiscent of wild raspberries or the ideal tint for a trusty, go-to lipstick. Aromas are vinous, spicy and inviting. Lots of morello cherry.

One sip becomes two and two sips become three. I catch myself reaching for the bottle and refilling my glass. Of the barrel samples that I tried (and there were several) this is my favourite. There’s nothing pretentious or out of place about it: very light, bone dry, easy-drinking, and despite having been such a hot, parshed year, it retains an amazing amount of freshness and minerality.

It is so light that it would probably be overwhelmed by most food pairings but it will excel on a hot day on its own or with a a slice of salami or a bit of cheese (like the local cheese Monte Veronese.)

Based on the previous vintages, I get the feeling that Cristiano will be continuing along the natural path that Laura started and maybe taking it even further. Time will tell.

I imagine the wine will be released for sale in the springtime. It’s wonderfully juicy and definitely up there on the drinkability level with the Poulsard that I wrote about last week.  Served slightly chilled, it would make for perfect summertime drinking. Retails for around 10-14 euros.

Tasted 7th February 2018.

Terre di Pietra official website and Facebook

Two Wines from Domaine de la Renardière (Jura, France)

Standard

I’ve written about it already (here) but the Jura is a region which continues to entice me. It has its own very distinct culinary traditions (vin jaune, comté cheese and poulet de Bresse), some of the friendliest people and it makes damn great wine.

Last week, at home, I tasted a couple of bottles from Domaine de la Renardière. The winery is located in Pupillin, towards the northern end of the Jurassic stretch, in the highly reputed Arbois appellation. The bottles had already been open for four days before I started writing these tasting notes.


DOMAINE DE LA RENARDIÈRE (Arbois Pupillin) “Jurassique” 2016 Chardonnay (13%) 

At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about this wine: it’s clear (most likely filtered) with a pale gold colour. Despite the fact that these bottles had been open for a few days, there were no tell-tale signs to suggest that they had in any way suffered. The nose is discreet but enticing – white flowers, honey and medicinal plants. No oxydation.

But stop just there. The mouth is off the charts! There’s lots of fresh juicy fruit (apricots and mango) but the beauty of this wine lies in its minerality. It has such zip and zing and that’s why my love affair with the Jura has endured so well. I hope you haven’t been led down the wrong path by my talk of honey and apricots because it’s bone dry, with a mouth-smacking acidity and a tablespoon of salt!

Minerality is one of those terms that’s very hard to define and I hesitate every time I need to use it. Angiolino Maule and I have had many conversations recently on what it is, how to tease it out, why some wines do and some just don’t. We still haven’t reached a consensus but I like to think of it in the following way: similarly to how oranges have Vitamin C, grapes have certain metallic compounds and minerals which come from the soil. These don’t have a particular flavour but they do generate a sensation in the wine – that desirable, highly addictive mouthfeel.

I really enjoyed this wine. There’s nothing that would offend those used to conventional wines, but there’s low enough sulphur and more than enough character to appeal to natural wine buffs too.

Tasted: 19th January 2018

Price: unknown

Rating: ****


I have to confess that I didn’t know much about this winery. It was not one that I had time to fit in during my trip in June 2017 but, as chance would have it, I got to meet and chat with Jean-Michel Petit, the owner and winemaker, at the VinNatur wine tasting in Genova last weekend.

IMG_20180122_124941513_HDR

Jean-Michel Petit at VinNatur Genova 2018

DOMAINE DE LA RENARDIÈRE (Arbois Pupillin) Ploussard 2016 Poulsard (12.5%)

In a tussle between light-bodied red grape varieties, Poulsard beats Gamay hands down every time, in my opinion. Actually, it is definitely up there with the final contenders for being my favourite grape variety. Lightly-coloured, its tendency to go into reduction gives it a rather bad boy character.

Poulsard, or Ploussard as it is also known locally, is so delicately light that it certainly won’t stand a chance against any New World full-bodied reds. It’s also a style of wine that should be proffered with a certain amount of caution at the dinner table – food pairings are not its strong point. Instead, think of it as an alternative for rosé: a wine for long, sunny afternoons with folk who rejected uptight Côtes de Provence long ago. If L’Anglore’s Tavel isn’t anywhere to be had, reach for this instead.

Love it or hate it, semicarbonic maceration accounts for the first part of this Ploussard’s vinification. In the glass, there are lashings of red fruit characters – particularly raspberry, and morello cherry. It’s just juice. The tannins are grippy and refreshing even if they are few. This wine has the same exquisite drinkability as the Jurassique Chardonnay. Glou glou glou!

Tasted: 19th January 2018

Price: unknown

Rating: **** (but only in the right company)


Domaine de la Renardière doesn’t have a website but there is no better resource for wines from the Jura than Wink Lorch. This is her blog entry.