In The Vineyards With: Isabelle & Jean-Yves Vantey (Les Rouges Queues, Maranges, Burgundy)

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It was on one distinctly grey and damp afternoon in late January that our car wound its way through the vineyards of Burgundy, up towards the small area of Maranges, just south of Beaune.

I was with two of the Maule brothers (producers of natural wine in the Veneto) accompanying them as a translator and willing drinking companion on a short road trip through France.

Maranges is one of the lesser known appellations in Burgundy. Strictly speaking, it’s a Village Appellation in the southernmost point of the Côte de Beaune, and within it are 7 Premier Crus. (These 7 climats are: Clos de la Boutière, Clos de la Fussière, La Fussière, Le Clos des Loyères, Le Clos des Rois, Le Croix Moines, Les Clos Roussots.) Continue reading

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Castagna Sparkling Genesis Shiraz 2008

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Like a pink glittery unicorn, it’s not supposed to exist.

When we think of sparkling wine, we tend to think of Champagne, Prosecco or Cava. If you’re hooked on the natural wine movement, you may well start fantasising about a pétillant naturel (pét nat, if you want to be down with the kids) or a metodo ancestrale.

For the most part, these wines tend to be white… even if they’re made from red-skinned grapes.

(Remember that “Blanc de Noirs” in French literally means “White from Blacks” and refers to a white Champagne made from the red-skinned Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.)

In Europe, we are quite used to seeing sparkling rosé wines too. In the UK at least, they are targeted towards the female demographic for 364 days of the year and towards porters of Y chromosomes specifically on Valentine’s Day.

This brings me to the elephant in the room: a sparkling red wine.

I’m not talking a deep pink colours, as you might get from a Gamay Teinturier grape in France or the Salamino grape used for Lambrusco in Italy; no, I mean as red as robin red breast or a papal gown. Continue reading

In The Vineyards With: Emmanuel Pageot (Domaine Turner-Pageot, Languedoc)

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I could give you the key facts: 10 hectares of vineyards scattered in small plots near Gabian, just south of Faugères. I could tell you about the 7 different grape varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne, Picpoul, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah) and 7 distinct soils (amongst which there is limestone, schist and volcanic basalt…) that Emmanuel has in his arsenal of weapons… but that would not do due justice to Emmanuel, nor his wines, nor to my visit on a moody day in mid-August.

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In my time visiting winemakers, and in the three years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had all kinds of different experiences. From Walter Massa (Colli Tortonesi, Italy) who particularly stands out because of his unique blend of originality and downright craziness to Massandra (in Crimea, when that was still Ukraine) for the lab coats and chocolate cake. Going to visit a winery gives an added insight that is simply not possible to obtain by popping a cork or exchanging pleasantries at wine fairs.

My visit with Manu was so distinctive that I have the feeling that I will continue to mull it over for the coming days and weeks.  Continue reading

Domaine Milan’s MGO 3

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The Domaine Henri Milan comprises 16 hectares (40 acres) of biodynamic vineyards located due south of Avignon, in the idyllic Provence region of southern France.

In an area more commonly known for its insipid salmon-pink rosé, it’s a delight to find wines with character.

The MGO – standing for Milan Grand Ordinaire – is a blend of six different vintages and cuvées: Papillon Rouge 2014, Le Vallon 2009 / 2010 / 2011, Clos Milan 2006 and the MGO2. Continue reading

Five New French Winemakers

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One of the most poignant things that I remarked upon during my recent trip down to the Loire Valley (March 2016) is how many growers there are approaching retirement age. In the next five years, the landscape will have changed dramatically.

I was also surprised to see how many fresh and youthful faces there were at the Rue 89 tasting in Paris back in May. Here are five of my favourite discoveries.


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Old Vine Romorantin “Francois 1er” from the Domaine des Huards

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When you think of the wines from the Loire Valley, you probably think of Sauvignon Blanc. Well-established and highly prestigious appellations such as Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, Quincy, Reuilly and Menetou-Salon may well come to mind.

Next, you’d probably think of crisp Muscadet wines, made along the Atlantic coast from the Melon de Bourgogne variety.

The third major white grape variety that you find in the Loire Valley is Chenin Blanc. Wines labelled “Anjou” or Vouvray tend to have a wonderful floral and honeyed character. I was down in this area just last week, visiting Savennières, the Coulée de Serrant, catching up with René Mosse (click here to read about last summer’s visit chez René) and attending a sequence of professional wine tastings.

Anyway, to go back to the point of this blog post, we have to head east. To Cheverny, to be precise. The name refers to the village, and the surrounding area, just south of Blois, within the area known as Touraine. It’s Sauvignon Blanc territory.

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We actually go to Cour-Cheverny, an even smaller area situated within Cheverny. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Cour-Cheverny before… there are only 58 hectares of vines within this AOC. Here, they grow the very rare grape Romorantin.

The story goes that King François 1er (1515-1547) introduced the Romorantin grape variety to the region in 1519. It was his royal decision to move vine stocks from Burgundy to his mother’s castle in the town of Romorantin. After being planted in several different wine-growing areas, the Romorantin grape thrived most notably around the village of Cour-Cheverny. It was actually so successful that now it is completely extinct in Burgundy but has become the exclusive grape variety for this appellation.

As you can imagine, it’s very hard to find the Romorantin grape outside France. Especially nowadays. In the past, it was more widely planted. Now it’s only in this handful of hectares that you find it. Romorantin shows some of the mineral elegance of Sauvignon Blanc, but without any of the elderflower or tropical fruit notes.

In my glass this evening, I have a wine from the Domaine des Huards. The estate was founded in the mid-1800s and nowadays, the 35 ha of vineyards are farmed according to biodynamic practices. They are part of Renaissance des Appellations and I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandre Gendrier, the 8th generation of the family, at the Greniers Saint Jean tasting in Angers.


DOMAINE DES HUARDS (Cour-Cheverny, Loire Valley) “Francois 1er Vielles Vignes” 2010 Romorantin (12.5%)

The aromas are not overly exuberant but it’s very pleasantly fresh, grassy and a little citrusy.

(Sidenote: I understand why winemakers make the most of the the winter and thus the downtime from the vineyards to do tastings but my very congested nose would be far more effective if we could just wait until spring…)

It’s on the palate that this wine wins me over. It is simply fantastic! I detect  notes of peaches in syrup, apricots and stewed apple. It boasts a wonderful creamy texture and a length that defies belief… It is totally idiosyncratic. En plus, it is absolutely bone dry and there is an acidity which pierces the sides of my tongue and has me salivating as if I’ve just bitten into a lemon. I love that balance.

It’s a very powerful wine and surprisingly fresh for a 2010. These 75 year old vines, clearly make a wine with wonderful potential for ageing. I’d think about pairing a scallop carpaccio or some other fresh shellfish with this wine. Romorantin is definitely an under-appreciated grape variety… try and get your hands on some!

Price: 

Rating: ****

In The Vineyards With: Anna Martens (Vino di Anna, Sicily)

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It becomes a natural impulse when you reach the end of a year to take a nostalgic look back over the previous twelve months. In 2015, some moments jump out more vividly than others and this visit to the Vino di Anna vineyards and the palmento is definitely a highlight.

I met Anna Martens, an Australian married to a Frenchman and living in London, last year and we exchanged contact details.

When I visited Mount Etna in April as part of a Wine Mosaic trip with Jean-Luc Etievent, visiting Anna was high up on my to-do list.

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Those concave circles are the vineyard equivalent of scrawling “Salvo Foti woz here.”

It just so happened that our dates coincided and Anna was available to show us around. In fact, she had only just arrived back on the island that morning and suggested that we all go to check out her vineyards.

She and her husband Eric have a handful of plots on the north face of Mount Etna – mainly planted with the highly sought after Nerello Mascalese grape variety as albarello (bush vines), and often ranging between 60 and 100 years old.

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To see her excitement while surveying the vines and noticing some which had already reached bud break was fantastic.

Bud break is one of the most exhilarating moments in the year because it signifies the start of a new growth cycle. After the long winter dormancy period, seeing new life emerge from what is essentially an old shrivelled piece of wood is quite miraculous.

Winter 2014-2015 had been a long and difficult one – plenty of snow amidst bitingly cold temperatures.

As well as Nerello Mascalese, there are small amounts of Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante, which are blended with the Nerello Mascalese, and Grecanico, Minella and Carricante for the white.

The vineyards range from between 750m and 900m in altitude, are terraced and are farmed organically. When Anna and Eric are not there, the vineyards are managed by the i Vigneri team (headed up by Salvo Foti – more about him to come later) and a local boy, Valerio, who graduated in agronomy.

As you would expect from this volcanic terroir, most of the soils are black, but there is this one (in the pictures) near Linguaglossa, where the soil is full of iron and therefore bright red.

Anna makes her wine in an old palmento located in the village of Solicchiata (also on north face of the volcano, but slightly more inland.) Like nearly all the wines I talk about on this blog, they are made with minimal intervention, only natural yeasts, and little-to-no SO2. Some wines (the Etna Rosso) are aged in wood barrels, others in Georgian qvevri and others still accordingly to the traditional method of open-fermentation in a palmento then crushed by feet.

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Anna and Eric only started making wine here in 2010. It may seem like they are jumping on the bandwagon of modern trends (namely Etna’s terroir and Georgian qvevri) but you can’t deny that the wines are original. This is surely a winery to watch in 2016!

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