La Vigne du Perron – KATAPNHA 2009

Standard

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.

Advertisements

A Happy Find – Clos du Tue-Boeuf’s La Guerrerie 2009

Standard

I should start this post by explaining that my wine collection is not vast. As you would expect if you have even the slightest idea of who I am and what I do, the provenance of these wines is mainly French and Italian. Curiously, as a whole, it is weighted more towards red wines than to whites or sparkling. I have about 30 bottles laid out on a wine rack and the others are still in their boxes. Despite all my best attempts to catalogue the bottles, every so often, I find something unexpected.

Gallo’s 2006 Merlot is one of them. Thierry Puzelat’s 2009 La Guerrerie is another.


Clos du Tue-Boeuf (Touraine AOC, Loire) La Guerrerie 2009 66% Côt, 33% Gamay (12.5%

If you are in any way familiar with the natural wine scene, Thierry Puzelat should need no introduction.

However, you may be unfamiliar with the grape variety Côt; it is essentially another name for Malbec. In France, Malbec is most notably found in the Cahors region in the south-west, where it can go by the name “Auxerrois,” and in Bordeaux where it is minor variety, predominantly used for blending. It has also made a name for itself in Argentina where it seems perfectly at home at high-altitudes of Mendoza. 

Anyway, to get back to the point of this post, we need to look more closely at the Loire Valley.

Whilst Côt has a couple of more famous neighbours, it has its own, distinctly original form of expression.

Unlike Cabernet Franc, it does not have the black pepper, green capiscum and cassis aromatics that you find in Chinon and Bourgueil.

Unlike Grolleau, it’s a heavyweight wine, which is sturdy and sure of itself.

It’s obviously not Pinot Noir (that you find in Sancerre and a little further in Burgundy.)

It is instead spicy and warming. It has a heavily tinted, deep, mulberry colour and a very pleasing aromatic profile. 

Upon first opening, the initial impression is the unmistakable sign of its vinification in wooden barrels. However, for a 2009, it still smells remarkably youthful. There is no sign of oxidation.

Now almost 8 years old, this wine is at its peak. It harmoniously blends fruit (ripe red fruit – think raspberries, sloe berries and redcurrant jelly) with spice (hearty, cajun spice. Incidentally, it made a wonderful accompaniment to our BBQ-ed jerk chicken.) There’s still enough acidity to keep it lively and enough mellow tannins to be pleasing on the palate. A great find!


Tasted: 23rd August 2017

Price: unknown

Rating: ****


Clos de Tue-Boeuf website

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

Standard

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

Jura – still so much to be discovered

Standard

I was in the Jura region last month on a quick getaway with my boyfriend and the dog. It was not my first time in the region, but it was my first stay long enough to develop a decent understanding of the land, its people and their wine.

The Jura is in a small pocket of land, between Burgundy and Switzerland. At first, it seems remote and cut-off, but when you realise, whilst standing on a rocky hill planted with chardonnay, that you are looking over towards the hills of Macon and Dijon, it all fits into place.

For everything that Burgundy has, Jura has it too but in a more primitive stage.

Idyllic villages, check.

Rolling hills, check.

Strong culinary identity, check.

From Bistrot de la Tournelle, Arbois

However, whereas Burgundy has the A6 motorway (the main axe linking Paris to the south of France), Jura has the far inferior A39. Burgundy has several major cities (Lyon, Dijon, Beaune, Macon) whilst Jura has, errr, Lons-le-Saulnier.

Whilst of course Burgundy is quaint, picturesque and far from lacking in delicious wines, I often feel that I’m just one small individual, following in the footsteps of many others. Jura, however, retains a wild, undiscovered air. Even though wine folk have been claiming ‘Jura is the next big thing’ for five or ten years, it doesn’t feel like it.

Rue des Sans Culottes, Château-Chalon

Its people, traditionally, were subsistance farmers. They had small farm-holdings, with vegetables, vineyards and fields for grazing cows… for the all-important Comté cheese.

In many cases, ask a winemaker to talk to you about the previous generation of his/her family, and you will hear of this polyculture which – until very recently – was everywhere.

It’s a beautiful region; it alternates between vast open pastoral land and dense forest, with jagged waterfalls dotted throughout. All of which are in different shades of green because Jura has a relatively high level of rainfall.*

(*All over France and Italy, 2017 has been worryingly dry. Jura is no exception.)

Cascade des Tufs, Baume-les-Messieurs

There are two principal grape varieties for white wines: chardonnay and savignan (n.b. there are different versions of savignan: green, yellow and pink.) For red wines, there are three: pinot noir, poulsard and trousseau.

n.b. White wines can either be sous voile (oxydised, maintaining a veil of yeast, in a method similar to that of sherry) or ouillé (meaning topped-up.)

Their most prestigious wine is, without a doubt, the vin jaune – an oxydised Savignan, aged in a barrel, sous voile, for at least 6 years and 3 months.

You also find:

  • crémant du Jura – traditional method sparkling wines, often made from chardonnay grapes.
  • vin de paille – a sweet wine for which the grapes are left on straw for the sugars to become more concentrated.
  • Macvin du Jura – a mixture of sweet grape juice and distilled marc / grappa. An acquired taste.

More coming soon…


Further Reading: Wink Lorch is by far and away the most knowledgeable source of information – Jura Wine

Marc Sibard GUILTY of sexual assaults and harassment!

Standard

Marc Sibard, manager of the reputed Caves Augé shop in Paris, has been found guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault and sexual harassment and psychological harassment.

Always at the top of any list of ‘influential people in the wine industry,’ Marc Sibard has been one of the most powerful advocates for natural wine in France.

He has been at the head of the inimitable Caves Augé for over 30 years* and, in that time, has inspired, shaped and influenced a whole generation of consumers, sommeliers, winemakers but also, his employees.


* Edited to add: On Monday 10th July, I heard whispers through the grapevine that Marc Sibard may no longer be employed at the Caves Augé… but these are not (yet) confirmed.

* Finally: 31st August – it’s official. Marc Sibard has been fired.


An article on Marc Sibard in la Revue du Vin de France last month. The headline photo also comes from that same RVF article.

Enough was enough for several of those employees who went to the police and made accusations against him.

After close to five years of investigations, the case was heard at the High Court in Paris (Tribunal de Grande Instance) on 9th June 2017.

I was one of the plaintiffs. I worked at the Caves Augé and for the Lavinia group in 2011-12.

In my case, the charges were for two counts of sexual assault and for sexual harassment.

There are other two former employees, who also filed as “partie civile” and for them: further counts of sexual assault, sexual harassment and psychological harassment.

Four other female employees had told, during the investigations, of similar problems they had had with him – which either had been settled out of court or brushed under the carpet.


Today, July 6 2017, we found out that Marc Sibard has been found guilty on all counts; guilty of sexual assault, guilty of sexual harassment and guilty of psychological harassment.

He now has a suspended prison sentence, has to stay off booze for two years and will have a criminal record… but do you know what, right now, the details haven’t sunken in. All my brain can process is that he has been found guilty, that the case is finally over and, thank God, it went in our favour.


If you missed it, this was my (rather cryptic) blog post last month, musing about justice – here.

How Do You Get Justice

Standard

I’ve been very quiet on the blog because it’s been a hard couple of months for me.

I was back in Paris a week ago to testify in court against a very well-known figure in the wine industry. Because the verdict will not be pronounced until early July, I cannot make any of the details around the case public.

One of the hardest things about last Friday’s hearing and of the five year procedure as a whole is the gut-wrenching, all-consuming desire for justice to be done.

The hurt you endure when victim of a crime – the tears, the breakdowns, the hopelessness – while no longer raw, is carried around like a shadow that you cannot shift until you have the verdict.

The endless statements at the police station, the questionings. “We’re counting on you to be strong,” an officer said to the teary-eyed, curly-haired ball, crouched on the Haussmannian street, hugging her knees outside the commissariat, during a pause in the confrontation in 2013.

Now that the pain is no longer so acute, the main agony is actually due to the act of putting your faith in an unknown entity. You hope that he will be found guilty and therefore be made to suffer even just a fraction of what you went through. The anguish comes from it being completely out of your control; you don’t know who the judges will be and if they will be in any way understanding to your cause. Has the district attorney (procureur, in French) done enough? At the hearing, you just have a couple of hours to show who you are, convince them as best you can, and then wait to see what the result will be. Everything lies in the balance.

“But what does your boyfriend think about it?” an Italian friend recently asked. “If it were me, mine would have already flown to Paris and bashed the guy’s head in!”

Despite there being as many lawyers in Milano as in the whole of France, the system here seems different. Lawyers trade firmly worded letters as frequently as little yellow balls pass over the net at Wimbledon. Issues are more often solved out of court than in the presence of a judge.

Within the viticultural sector in Italy, the stakes are even higher. The levels of jealousy, revenge and cruelty have shocked me in their ugliness. For having crossed someone, maybe having cut down a tree on a territorial boundary, sold wine to the wrong person or at the wrong price, matters will be taken into their own hands.

In December 2016, a producer in Oltrepo Pavese’s property was broken into and the burglars opened the taps in the cellar, meaning that the equivalent of 400,000 bottles was poured down the gutter.

It’s not just a one off, in 2012, a producer in Montalcino suffered an even larger loss – 60,000 litres of Brunello di Montalcino, which had an estimated worth of 13 million euros.

I’ve spoken to a producer in Alto-Adige who was in the middle of harvest. He left his harvested grapes in a trailer in one side of the field while he went to pick the grapes on the other side… and during that small window of time, another person came up and poured petrol into the trailer-load of freshly picked grapes!

It’s not unheard of for another farmer to come with a chainsaw in the middle of the night and destroy part of your vineyard, just over a small debate. Valuable cars have gone missing in Valipolicella in what the police believe is an inside job.

Now, I know that militant groups in the south of France have done similar acts… but in the years I lived in France, I didn’t ever hear of it being so widespread as the stories I’m hearing now I’m in Italy, or if it were, it was for commercial gain rather than pure malevolence.

Is Italy alone in this or are there other countries and wine-making regions in which this is an issue?


P.S. This piece is no way intended to be an incitement to violence – I hope that is clear and will not be used against me in any future legal proceedings. It is just a reflection on contemporary society and cultural differences.

“Vintage 2017 Report” Or “How To Protect Against Frost”

Standard

It’s becoming an all-too-familiar scenario: a beautiful springtime with plenty of warm sunshine but followed by a sudden dip and freezing temperatures.

A cold winter does marvels for the vineyard but once bud-burst has taken place, a cold snap can have catastrophic results.

You may remember that I wrote about this already in 2016.

Vintage 2016: Awful news for winemakers in Burgundy and the Loire

Vintage 2016: Disaster strikes again in Burgundy

In the Loire Valley, “at least 50%” of the 2016 production was lost due to frost. (info-tours.fr)

Unfortunately, 2017 has already hit hard. Loire, Burgundy, Champagne, Beaujolais… areas which are already fragile after successive poor harvests have been struck again.

Nicolas Reau (Anjou) reported this morning (on Facebook) that last night’s frost has caused him to lose 80% of his crop.

Benoit Tarlant (Champagne), similarly, has lost all of his chardonnay in the area around in village of Oeuilly.

They are far from being the only ones affected.  Continue reading