How Do You Get Justice

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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”

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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

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

Backstage at the Soavino Wine Tasting

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Earlier this week, Soavino held their annual tasting at the Villa Gritti, near Soave. Not having a restaurant, wine bar or off-licence, I shouldn’t really have been allowed in but I am a regular client of their enoteca (also near Soave) and I also happen to be friends with several of the exhibiting winemakers who put me on the guest list.

In the wine world, we sometimes get so caught up in tasting notes and comparing vintages that we forget about what is happening backstage, on a human level….

mel_danielaChampagne’s most recent power couple!

You may remember that I spent the afternoon with Melanie Tarlant at their winery near Épernay last year. Well, there’s news, hot off the press:

She met Daniel Romano quite by chance, while she was presenting her family’s Champagnes at the Villa Favorita tasting in Italy in April 2016. Daniel, an accomplished sommelier specialised in natural wines, stopped by the stand to taste… and Cupid shot them both with his arrow! Daniel moved to France at the end of 2016 in order to be closer to Melanie. Best of luck to both of them!


Going back to basics with Olivier Varichon

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The quality of the cork closure is fundamentally important for a winemaker. A bad cork can ruin a year’s worth of work in an instant.

We commonly talk about TCA (cork taint) affecting a wine, by making it “corked”, but a bad cork can actually spoil a wine in other ways… turning it bitter, flat or dusty.

When winemakers get together, one of the questions that I hear the most is: where do you get your corks? Amongst old world winemakers, the most highly respected regions are Portugual and Sardinia.

At the Soavino tasting, I got chatting to Olivier from Domaine Vinci, in the Roussillon (south-west France.) He explains that his corks are from the French part of the Basque country and are completely untreated. A cork manufacturer may add wax to fill in the holes and give a more appetising tan colour to the final product. Olivier’s, on the other hand, are distinctly knobbly and have a bleached white colour.


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The talented Axelle Machard de Gramont whose 2014 Nuits-Saint-Georges are showing beautifully.


In case you were wondering what the featured photo was in the header of this blog post…. it was taken during a brief pause on the André Beaufort stand. The Italians love Champagne and André Beaufort’s are one of the biggest sellers at the Soavino shop. Unsurprisingly, they got through a ton of bottles at this tasting.

Many of the Beaufort Brut Champagnes have a fairly high level of added sugar (dosage, in French.) The exact level ranges between 5 and 10 grams/litre.

Having a little extra sugar helps in markets like the USA, Canada and other “newbie” consumers for whom completely bone-dry Champagnes tend to be too sharp.

Réol (pictured below) is the 6th of the eight Beaufort children. He explains that this style of Champagne is very much to his father’s liking, especially because he has found that dosage helps with the ageing process of the wines.

He comes over to talk with us later and reveals that his personal style is rather more towards having a lower dosage, maybe around 2g/l. Obviously, having such a large family – most of whom are in some way involved in the family business – you can’t always get what you want… but, once again, the passing from one generation to the next is not easy.

Réol Beaufort

Six Great Red Wines from the “Vin Passion” Tasting 2017

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While the entirety of my Facebook community was in the Loire Valley this past weekend for the annual circuit of Greniers Saint Jean, Pénitentes, Anonymes, La Levée and La Dive, I was at home, nursing my luckless puppy back to four paws.

I was, however, fortunate enough to hit up a small natural wine tasting called Vin Passion (formerly “Les Amis de la Cugnette”) near Lyon the week before.


Here are my six favourite red wines from the tasting:

TENUTA GRILLO (Piedmont) “Pecoranera” Monferrato DOC 2004 Freisa (75%) with Dolcetto, Barbera & Merlot (14.5%)

Freisa is one of the most underrated grapes from Piedmont. Tenuta Migliavacca make a delicious version which I’m familiar with, but to taste Tenuta Grillo’s Freisa from 2004 was very interesting. The aromas were obviously more evolved and but still showed plenty of delicious red fruit. On the palate, it’s a little rustic, but it’s very typical of this area. Lots of liquorice spice and jammy cassis fruit. The tannins from the dolcetto bring a persistent mouthfeel but it tastes remarkably fresh for its age. Would make a delicious pairing with mushroom risottos or lamb with wild herbs.

PITHON-PAILLÉ (Loire) “Dessus Narçay” Chinon 2015 Cabernet Franc

Vibrant, old-vine Cabernet Franc at its best. This wine balances effortlessly upon a tightrope of spice (cloves, mace), fruit (jammy and cooked) and savoury characters (game and bell pepper.) The delicious finish bears testimony to 2015 being such a good vintage in this part of the Loire.

2016, in contrast, was a disaster in Chinon. Jo’s vines suffered first a bout of ice and then drought. Sadly no Chinon will be produced.

WALTER MASSA (Piedmont) “Monleale” Colli Tortonesi DOC 2010 Barbera (14%) 

Walter is known for his white wines (made with the little-known grape “Timorasso”) but his reds are also noteworthy. This Barbera (bearing the same name as Walter’s village) maintains an incredible freshness. It has huge vivacity in the mouth with lively acidity – typical for Barbera. This only accentuates the red fruit characters (raspberry, red cherry) which dominate the palate. Complex.

FRANCK PEILLOT (Savoie) Bugey AOC 2015 Mondeuse

A surprisingly elegant and supple wine. An inviting violet colour, leads to dense fruit characters (black cherry and garrigue) and a mildly smoky nose. The palate is open and expressive. Medium-bodied. Smooth finish, rounded out by very delicate and integrated tannins.

CHRISTOPHE ABBET (Valais, Switzerland) Syrah 2014

Christophe Abbet’s juice was, for me, one of the most interesting discoveries at the Vin Passion wine fair. All beautifully-balanced, elegant wines, I chose to write about the syrah because it was so totally different from the wine I’d sipped the night before (see below!) This had a deep, dark colour; a midnight blue. The nose was medicinal (eucalyptus), fruity (cassis) and floral (violet) and totally surprising. Such an aromatic start turned into a delicate mouthfeel (think, blueberry yoghurt and crème de cassis.) Utterly delicious.

NOËL VERSET (Rhone) Cornas 1999 Syrah

It is wines like this that remind you why you work in the wine industry in the first place. This is one of the most aromatic wines I’ve had the chance to drink in a long time and it’s a textbook example of a perfectly mature syrah: tobacco box, leather, vanilla, tart blueberries… Despite 18 years of ageing, this Cornas still tasted amazingly fresh. The silky tannins melt away and are replaced by an acidity which deserves its own Ode to Joy. It’s my wildcard because, obviously it wasn’t one of the wines in the exhibition. (Noël Verset retired in 2000 and died in 2015.) I tasted it at the winemaker dinner on Saturday night. Thank you to Eric Texier for bringing his treasured bottle over to me!

Anna & André Durrmann Grand Cru Wiebelsberg 2012

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It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to enjoy a Snow Day. If you’re not familiar with the term, a Snow Day is when you’re able to call your boss and say “Can’t come into work today – I’m snowed in.”

The thing is, having been self-employed for just short of three years now, there is no boss to call and justify my absence.

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Walking through the snowy Soave vineyards with the puppy.

With this wintery weather, however, the road to Castelcerino was under considerable snow, making the decision to stay by the warm fire at The Boy’s house a very easy one.

While he went off to work (he, woe betide, couldn’t use the same excuse) and because his supply of teabags was already at a dangerously low level, I decided to do the responsible thing and open a bottle of wine instead!

It just so happened to be a wine from Alsace, in eastern France, and more specifically a Riesling from the Durrmann family’s Grand Cru Wiebelsberg.  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