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

Getting Ready for Vinitaly and the Natural Wine Tastings 2017

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Sometime in early April every year, the city of Verona and the surrounding areas come alive for one week.

You see, it’s our annual appointment with Vinitaly, the largest wine exhibition in the world… and exclusively dedicated to Italian wines.

As I sit here, in my rural ‘office’, a helicopter has just flown by heading towards the city of Romeo and Juilet and reminded me of the frentic energy that always accompanies this event. (9 – 12th April, 9.30am – 6pm.)

Photo: Paola Giagulli

Photo: Paola Giagulli (April 2016)

If you are in the wine industry and looking for the classic trade show experience, you can amuse yourself for at least a couple of days amongst the dozen pavillons and the countless stands. You’ll find all the regions of Italy represented from Alto-Adige and Basilicata to Umbria and the Veneto.

As evening entertainment, you have various events organised under the umbrella of “Vinitaly and the City“.

 

To be honest though, I have only once managed to get into central Verona and participate in the Vinitaly and the City events.

My days look more like this:
– 7.30am: I hit the road. Parking around the Expo is always a nightmare and traffic is often at a standstill. If I leave early enough, I will miss the worst of it.
– 9am: The fair is not yet open, but there is a café by the entrance where I’ll have a cappuccino with a fellow sommelier.
– For the best part of the day, I’ll be juggling between giving a helping hand to the winemakers with whom I work whilst also tasting wines for my own pleasure. You may remember from previous years (2015 (1 and 2) and 2016 (1 and 2)) that I have enjoyed the Young To Young tastings.
– I try to leave the Fair before the main rush so normally I’ll get to the restaurant for dinner with a few minutes to spare. There’s nothing like a cold beer after a whole day of wine tastings!
– I’ll have dinner just outside Verona with one of my winemakers and his importers… until about 10.30pm, when it’s time for me to gate-crash another dinner with another winemaker!
– Needless to say, by 1am, I’m ready for my bed!

If, like me, you’re into organic, low-intervention wine, you should not miss out on the unofficial parallel tastings.

The VinNatur Association are hosting 170 natural wine producers from 9 countries in a stunning location (see featured photo) closer to Vicenza called “Villa Favorita.” (8, 9, 10th April 2017, 10am – 6pm.)

A little further south of Verona, in the town of Cerea, Vini Veri hold a smaller tasting – of approximately 100 producers. (7, 8, 9th April, 10am – 6pm.)

In 2016, a third parallel tasting popped up, organised by Meteri. They cleverly decided to shake up the programme by scheduling their event in the late afternoon and evening. 40 winemakers at “Notturno.” (9, 10th April, 4pm – 1am.)

By now, you’ll probably understand why I described the “Vinitaly week” as frenetic! Repeat my schedule for a full five days and you’ll understand why they call this work!

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.


axellea

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

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 Cellar With: Alessandro Maule (Veneto)

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The name “Maule” is one of the most evocative for natural wine in the Veneto, north-east Italy.

angiolino maule pico label

The story starts in the late 1980s when Angiolino Maule and his wife buy a small farm-holding of six hectares and start making little-to-no-intervention wines. This small farm-holding, near Gambellara (just east of Soave), included the house La Biancara which subsequently lent its name to the winery.

Famiglia #vinnatur @alice.feiring @filippisoave #angiolinomaule #wine2wine @paolagiagulli @burntcream_hq

A post shared by Paola Giagulli (@paolagiagulli) on

 

Even from the very beginning, Angiolino had a clear idea of how he wanted to make wine (putting nature first and not pumping it full of commerical yeasts, enzymes and the like) but found that his vision was leaps and bounds ahead of the market. Continue reading