La Vigne du Perron – KATAPNHA 2009

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Once upon a time, for a fortunately very brief moment, the wine world that I was surrounded by was full of English men in red trousers (tendentially) boasting about the old vintages that they’d recently (or not so recently) tasted.

The conversation would go something like:

> “Oh, don’t you remember how wonderful the Chateau So-and-So 1986 was…”

> “No, no, old boy, the 1982 vintage was far superior…”

It was a side of the wine industry that I didn’t like – firstly because I hadn’t even been born when these wines were bottled and by the time I knew how to work a corkscrew, they had become as rare as a pink unicorn.

The atmosphere was so ridiculously pompous and self-absorbed that I wanted none of it.

The thing is, in many markets, wine is seen as a luxury product. It is a status symbol and thereby, a subject about which many people aspire to be seen as knowledgeable.

Nowadays, the sector of the wine industry that I have chosen to immerse myself in (natural wine) seems to focus less on back vintages and more on figureheads. Instead of showing off which historic vintages you’ve tried, it’s a roll call of producers who have succeeded in developing a cult-like following.

I remember a card game called Top Trumps that my little sister liked to play in the playground at school. The behaviour of natural wine fans is remarkably similar: when you share a photo online (Instagram or Facebook are the main playing fields) you get 20 points for a Puzelat label, 50 points for Ganevat and Sélosse… but Overnoy trumps anything else that’s been played before.

I rejected the self-important bluster of nineteen hundred and something and I also reject this unfounded frenzy around certain names. I prefer to take my own way, discovering new producers, little-known regions and under-valued grape varieties.


LA VIGNE DU PERRON (Vin de France – situated in Villebois 01150) Katapnha / Katarina 2009 Chardonnay (13.5%) 

That said, there is something very special about old vintages. The way wine evolves over time is one of the main aspects that fascinates me.

On the odd occasion that I have something remarkable, I save it for a special occasion – birthday or anniversary – and only in deserving company.

However, today, Sunday lunch, for no particular reason, the boy pulls out a bottle from 2009. It’s written Katapnha but I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Katarina. With no other information, we pop the cork and pour a glass. Just from the nose alone, it is quite evidently chardonnay.

Chardonnay has this fantastic quality – oxidation. Young, it is like going for a walk along a Scottish beach in January. Bracing winds, with your coat zipped up as far as your ears.

But by the time the wine has evolved (8-10 years will do the trick) it is as enveloping and intoxicating as dusk on a summer’s day. Aromatic, leafy, as you bask in the last of the sun’s rays. Rich, generous, bordering on opulent. There’s that tell-tale acidity but it is cooling, refreshing, and indulgantly pleasant. It is, quite simply, stupendous.

And on that note, I must away. Grapes need to be picked.

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In The Vineyards With: Géraud Fromont (Domaine des Marnes Blanches, Jura)

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They started with 4 hectares but now Géraud and Pauline Fromont work 10 hectares of vineyards in three different villages (Cesancey, Vincelles and Ste-Agnès) all in the southern part of Jura, in what’s known as the Sud Revermont.

The Sud Revermont doesn’t have any of the dramatic hills (i.e. Chateau-Chalon) that the north of the Jura (around Arbois) boasts but the Sud Revermont does have the highest concentration of lesser-known (but still very interesting) winemakers.

“Are you taking another photo of me…?”

Marne blanche means white marl and it is the dominant soil type in their first vineyard – just outside Cesancey. That’s not to say it’s the only soil type there – the Jura is known for its rich diversity – in their other vineyards, you find more red marl and fossilized limestone. (In the title photo, you’ll see the distinct red colour of the Vincelles vineyard.)

Since the very beginning, they sought and then obtained organic certification. Coming from farming backgrounds, the decision to work organically was never up for debate. However, nowadays, despite the presence of a handful of sheep, the farming aspect has been put to one side in order to focus on the vineyards and wine-making.

Standing guard.

Speaking of wine…. Domaine des Marnes Blanche’s wines were some of the most expressive and wholesome that I tasted during the visit to the Jura. (And we covered a lot of ground, I can tell you!)

Looking into the ‘voile’

Because Géraud has such little stock left, most of what we tried were tank samples, settling for a week or so before bottling – therefore, I don’t remember the particular names unfortunately. What I do remember are the sensations.

Savignan is not normally known as being an evocative variety but, my goodness, here they take on a life of their own. One of them – the 8th wine we tasted – had such intense aromas of pepper and spice. Another – from a variety of Savignan Rose (a relative of Muscat and Traminer) smelt of rose, elderflower and lychee.

I also particularly liked a Chardonnay, aged in large wooden barrels (foudre) which I found rich, enticing and, I quote directly from my notes, “super bon!” Géraud treated us to another Chardonnay ouillé (topped up) but this time from the 2015 vintage which was showing its complexity wonderfully.

I was lucky to come away from the visit with 2 cases of wine to put in the car. There are such small quantities of wine available that every bottle is precious… but had we arrived after the bottling had taken place, I would have happily emptied the cellar… 😉

The ‘cave seche’ where the oxidised wines are made

Domaine des Marnes Blanches website / Facebook

Visit: 23rd June 2017

The Exceptional English Wine Company and a Whole Host of English Still Wines

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The rise of English wine in recent years is something that I’ve been following with interest. As you would have seen if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’ve loved my visits to two very small wineries in the South Downs: Upperton and Jenkyn Place.

The South Downs are a stretch of chalky hills running along the south coast of England, from Hampshire and Surrey in the west to Kent in the east, and they have been touted as the new “Champagne” because of the similarity of the terroir and the savoir-faire of those making the wines.

Yet, for me, the most exciting recent development is the increase of still wine production in the UK. Previously, English wine producers concentrated on sparkling wine – understandable given that it is far more forgiving than still wine. Instead of being woo-ed by bubbles (which, let’s face it, do have instant appeal), the consumer looks for things such as tannins, acidity, minerality etc and these things can’t be masked by an extra dose of sugar.

The best place to go in order to get to grips with the English wine movement is, without a doubt, the Exceptional English Wine Comany just outside Midhurst, in West Sussex. It is run by two very passionate English wine converts: Iain and James.

They have a fabulous selection of wines from all over the country but what is fantastic is that they always have a few bottles open on the “Tasting Bar.” I popped by last week and was delighted to make the following discoveries:


STANLAKE PARK (Berkshire) “King’s Fumé” 2011 blend of Ortega, Regner, Scheurebe and Bacchus (11.5%)

Given to me blind, I would have guessed white Burgundy. With its buttery, oak-aged Chardonnay characters and a rich, fresh acidity on the finish, this wine screams of France. Learning, however, that there was not as much as even one bunch of Chardonnay grapes in this bottle came as a huge surprise to me! The wine is very classic in style; clean and crisp with a marked wood presence. Almost certainly aged on the lees. It’s strange because it is a wine which ticks all the right boxes… but which smacks me rather as a cheat who has copied someone else’s answers. I’m almost upset that those indigenous grapes couldn’t make something more original.

SMITH & EVANS (Somerset) “Higher Plot” 2014 Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Bacchus

It is composed of the classic Champagne trio and 10% Bacchus but this wine was way more exciting than I was expecting. I had been lulled in with the familiar pale salmon colour of a rosé from Provence, yet this had startlingly more body. Incredibly Pinot heavy, the word I want to use to sum up this word is vineux: meaning it had great grip, tension and acidity. A long, strong finish too; I would love to be drinking this wine while on a summery picnic.

ALBOURNE ESTATE (West Sussex) Bacchus 2014 Bacchus (12%)

The Albourne Estate has burst onto the scene in the past year with a flurry of IWSC and UKVA trophies for their single varietal wines. It was with much anticipation therefore that we tried the 2014 Bacchus. As it was poured, it is impossible not to notice the very clear colour of this wine – in fact, it’s practically colourless. Bacchus is a low acid, high fruit variety and is popular in the UK because of its ressemblance (in flavour, at least ) to Sauvignon Blanc. This wine was no different. Stylistically, it had all the aromas of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: elderflower, stone fruit, citrus… and the estate harvested relatively early in 2014 to conserve the freshness. Very hard to believe that 2014 was only their second vintage. I’m sure this winery will go places!

STOPHAM ESTATE (West Sussex) Pinot Blanc 2013 Pinot Blanc and 3% Auxerrois (11.5%)

This was a new discovery for me and my favourite of the afternoon. Apparently the owner was once a Formula 1 engineer who now has just 10 acres near Pulborough. Pinot Blanc can often be such a disappointment (especially when compared to its over-achieving siblings Noir and Gris) but I very much liked this expression. I picked up on aromas of savoury musk, salinity and umami, as well as the traditional Pinot Blanc fruit notes. The mouthfeel was smooth, rich and generous. Undoubtedly, it is a very much more conventional wine than what I choose to drink when I’m in Paris (Stefano Bellotti’s cortese, for example, is a staple in my flat) but this is a winery that I would like to watch.

By this point in the afternoon, it had become obvious that we were in for the long-haul!

Suddenly, a new bottle of something that was not 750ml appeared in front of us.

It was “Atilla’s Bite” –  an eau-de-vie made from Seyval Blanc grapes at the Albury Organic Vineyard in Surrey.

ALBURY ORGANIC VINEYARD (Surrey) “Attila’s Bite” (50cl, 40%) 

Quite a few wineries seem to be diversifying their offering to other products. Chapel Down, for example, make a couple of beers called Curious Brew. Albury also experimented in 2014 with a sparkling wine now known as “Monty’s Pet Nat.”
The liquid has a smooth, clean, floral nose. It is really very attractive. On the mouth, there’s lots of burnt toffee and chocolate characters. Unfortunately, right at the end upon swallowing, there’s a whack of hot alcohol making this much better suited to a wintery evening digestif than a mid-afternoon tipple.

Finally, we finished with an English Pinot Noir. It was something rather special given that only 6-7% of the total English wine production is for still, red wine.

HUSH HEATH ESTATE (Kent) Pinot Noir 2013. 100% Pinot Noir (12%)

I love the Hush Heath winery – especially for their Balfour Brut Rosé – but this Pinot Noir was more Beaujolais than Burgundy. The nose was surprisingly floral (violet and rose, as well as red cherry) but the wine had a soft tannic structure. The mouthfeel was very light, thin, reminiscent of a Gamay and also to be drunk slightly chilled.

Iain’s final recommendation was to seek out and try Bolney Estate‘s Pinot Noir for a more classic (aka, French) expression of the varietial. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out!

Exclusive Vintage 2004

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We all agree that wine-tasting is highly subjective. That one’s state of mind, the company one is with, the time of day, what has been drunk before… and after, for that matter. The chances that all these variables can be 100% replicated is nigh on impossible. Why, in that case, do we persist in reading other people’s tasting notes?

In this particular case, the circumstances around the bottle of wine in question were pretty darn exceptional. Before I start with the tasting note, let me set the scene :

New Year’s Eve 2013. I was invited to spend a few days with a friend and her family on the Loire-Atlantic coast. One of the advantages of having a beautiful château as your country house is that it’s easy to host a dozen family members and friends during the festivities. I had been before, exactly ten years ago to the day. It is rather strange staying with someone else’s family, getting to know all the nuances of who’s who. If you’ve ever seen François Ozon’s film “Huit Femmes” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Just substitute the snow for torrential rain. 

However, because all the bedrooms in the main house were taken, I had drawn the short straw: I would be sleeping alone in the haunted “Duck House.” I was put in the top bedroom, in which there was a patio door, giving onto a rusty balcony and a large tree-branch which would sway in the wind and occasionnally bat against the window. The lights in the Duck House would flicker, the floorboards would creak, and somewhere, sometime door-hinges would squeak with a draught. During that first night, at 4.54am, I could swear I heard somebody walking up those stairs.

1388506881594 Fast forward to New Year’s Eve itself. We’d spent the past three days eating and drinking. In between the heavy rain, we would nip out to the surrounding forest and marshland to give the dogs some exercise and unwittingly stumble upon a wild boar or family of deer.

Inevitably, every mealtime the conversation at some point or another would turn to other people’s paranormal experiences of staying in the Duck House. I’m not easily spooked, but needless to say, with all this talk of rapists, ghosts and rattling chains, by the 31st, my nerves were pretty frayed.

“Exclusive Vintage” 2004 Grand Cru, Brut Zero, Blanc de Blancs. Unlike the big labels whose whopping marketing budgets mean for worldwide recognition but often a mediocre quality, Exclusive Vintage is a selection of great years from small anonymous growers based in Avize (Côte des Blancs). I’d brought this bottle as our aperitif before the big blow-out meal.

The bubbles are delicate. The limestone soil is instantly apparent. There’s plenty of reassuring fruit characters – of green and yellow stone and citrus fruit. There are sweet floral notes. A little honey. Honeysuckle, actually. The mouth carries through on all those initial promises, and also offers a sharp minerality and a certain amount of toasted-butter-brioche, but it’s not over done.

Overall it’s a fine drink, well-balanced and refreshing. Best of all though, it steeled my nerves for the rest of the stay and gave me the courage to go back to the ghost house for one more night. I would definitely recommend it, but I hereby challenge you to find a haunted château in which to drink it!

Price: €

Rating: ***