“Would You Like To Try My 2014?”

Standard

I was chatting to Daniele Portinari in Paris last summer. He explained how many Italians reply “oh no, no, no” to the question “would you like to try my 2014?” It was a notoriously wet and cold year in northern Italy with sporadic hail for the especially unfortunate. Many locals would rather forget this annus horribilis.

Daniele was enjoying being amongst Parisians who either didn’t know or didn’t care. They simply heard “Would you like to try my wine?” and the instant reply was “Yes, sure!”

screenshot_20180222-1940141194195922.png


On Wednesday, I had a whole spread of 40 or 50 wines to taste – it was a good day! – but the Guiry 2014 (100%  Sangiovese) from Tenuta Mara in Emilia-Romagna particularly stood out.  Leonardo Pironi, their winemaker, explains that because it had been a wet and difficult year, they didn’t make their high-end wine “MaraMia” and instead those old-vine, usually superior grapes went into this one, the Guiry. They selected only the very healthiest grapes, which meant that yields were exceptionally low, and they did a relatively short skin contact maceration but the result is a wonderfully drinkable wine.

img_20180221_142740941_hdr1696203574.jpg


In this day and age, a good winemaker is able to make a good wine regardless of how bad a year it was. A less talented winemaker, or maybe one who likes experimenting too much, will end up with a faulty wine regardless of what the elements threw at him or her.

Obviously some years are less stressful for the vineyard team and easier in the cellar than others. It’s also completely normal for one vintage to taste different from the next. You might prefer the balance in 2013 or heat of 2015 but don’t write off 2014 because everyone said it was a bad year.

Side note: if you’re looking for important wines to lay down (Barolo, Brunello, Amarone etc) you would, 99% of the time, be better off going for a different vintage. But, if it’s an everyday drinking wine that you’re after, chances are you might end up with something better than you expect.


TENUTA TERRAVIVA (Abruzzo) “Lui” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2014 Montepulciano (13.5%) 

Highly aromatic wine with tons of black fruit, morello cherries and spice. It’s meaty, earthy and almost smoky. Medium-bodied and continues with lashings of fruit – particularly blueberry and fresh blackcurrants – and super soft tannins. A crowd pleaser.

Incidentally, I also tried their 2015 which was just as exuberant – with just as much fruit – but at this particular time, it had a slight reduction and was a little more flabby.

IL GELSO MORO (Marche) Marche Rosso IGT 2014 Montepulciano 60%, Sangiovese 30%, Lacrima 10% (14.5%)

What style! From the dark-as-night colouring and the relatively high alcohol content, I was expecting a full bodied wine with potentially obtrusive tannins but I am stunned by its elegance. Fruit takes the leading role, with pepper and spice playing the supporting actor. Beautifully balanced and supremely elegant.

ROCCA RONDINARIA (Piedmont) “Spessiari” Dolcetto di Ovada DOC 2014 Dolcetto (12%)

I really like the wines from Rocca Rondinaria. They’re a small winery in this stupendous rocky cliff in Rocca Grimalda, in Monferrato, just north of Ovada and very near Gavi.

“Spessiari” means “pharmacist” in the local dialect and, incidentally, a pharmacist was exactly what I needed when I realised that my boyfriend had decided to pour this wine into my vinegar barrel “because there are too many bottles on your desk.”

I’d had a few sips before the bottle met its untimely end, but I prefer sitting with the wine in my glass for about 15-20 minutes before writing about it. In this case, I didn’t get that possibility.* What I remember is that this wine was more austere and a little more concentrated than its other vintages. This is surely the impact of this cold, wet vintage has had on the native characteristics of Dolcetto but it’s in no way a lesser wine.


* but I will get my own back in other ways….

 

Advertisements

Two Wines from Domaine de la Renardière (Jura, France)

Standard

I’ve written about it already (here) but the Jura is a region which continues to entice me. It has its own very distinct culinary traditions (vin jaune, comté cheese and poulet de Bresse), some of the friendliest people and it makes damn great wine.

Last week, at home, I tasted a couple of bottles from Domaine de la Renardière. The winery is located in Pupillin, towards the northern end of the Jurassic stretch, in the highly reputed Arbois appellation. The bottles had already been open for four days before I started writing these tasting notes.


DOMAINE DE LA RENARDIÈRE (Arbois Pupillin) “Jurassique” 2016 Chardonnay (13%) 

At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about this wine: it’s clear (most likely filtered) with a pale gold colour. Despite the fact that these bottles had been open for a few days, there were no tell-tale signs to suggest that they had in any way suffered. The nose is discreet but enticing – white flowers, honey and medicinal plants. No oxydation.

But stop just there. The mouth is off the charts! There’s lots of fresh juicy fruit (apricots and mango) but the beauty of this wine lies in its minerality. It has such zip and zing and that’s why my love affair with the Jura has endured so well. I hope you haven’t been led down the wrong path by my talk of honey and apricots because it’s bone dry, with a mouth-smacking acidity and a tablespoon of salt!

Minerality is one of those terms that’s very hard to define and I hesitate every time I need to use it. Angiolino Maule and I have had many conversations recently on what it is, how to tease it out, why some wines do and some just don’t. We still haven’t reached a consensus but I like to think of it in the following way: similarly to how oranges have Vitamin C, grapes have certain metallic compounds and minerals which come from the soil. These don’t have a particular flavour but they do generate a sensation in the wine – that desirable, highly addictive mouthfeel.

I really enjoyed this wine. There’s nothing that would offend those used to conventional wines, but there’s low enough sulphur and more than enough character to appeal to natural wine buffs too.

Tasted: 19th January 2018

Price: unknown

Rating: ****


I have to confess that I didn’t know much about this winery. It was not one that I had time to fit in during my trip in June 2017 but, as chance would have it, I got to meet and chat with Jean-Michel Petit, the owner and winemaker, at the VinNatur wine tasting in Genova last weekend.

IMG_20180122_124941513_HDR

Jean-Michel Petit at VinNatur Genova 2018

DOMAINE DE LA RENARDIÈRE (Arbois Pupillin) Ploussard 2016 Poulsard (12.5%)

In a tussle between light-bodied red grape varieties, Poulsard beats Gamay hands down every time, in my opinion. Actually, it is definitely up there with the final contenders for being my favourite grape variety. Lightly-coloured, its tendency to go into reduction gives it a rather bad boy character.

Poulsard, or Ploussard as it is also known locally, is so delicately light that it certainly won’t stand a chance against any New World full-bodied reds. It’s also a style of wine that should be proffered with a certain amount of caution at the dinner table – food pairings are not its strong point. Instead, think of it as an alternative for rosé: a wine for long, sunny afternoons with folk who rejected uptight Côtes de Provence long ago. If L’Anglore’s Tavel isn’t anywhere to be had, reach for this instead.

Love it or hate it, semicarbonic maceration accounts for the first part of this Ploussard’s vinification. In the glass, there are lashings of red fruit characters – particularly raspberry, and morello cherry. It’s just juice. The tannins are grippy and refreshing even if they are few. This wine has the same exquisite drinkability as the Jurassique Chardonnay. Glou glou glou!

Tasted: 19th January 2018

Price: unknown

Rating: **** (but only in the right company)


Domaine de la Renardière doesn’t have a website but there is no better resource for wines from the Jura than Wink Lorch. This is her blog entry.

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.

A Rebuttal of “Pink” Rosé Wine

Standard

Watch the video above. Admittedly, it’s two minutes and four seconds of your life you’ll never get back… but it’s a sneak-peak into an aspect of the wine business that I don’t experience very often.

As a winemaker now, people tend to look to me to taste for the table, which used to be an incredibly intimidating process. But one way that you can always look professional… is SST: swirl, smell, taste,” explains actress-and-winemaker Drew Barrymore.

We’re off to a pretty good start. The awkwardness of ordering wine in a restaurant is a situation that nearly every one of us has been in at some point. (Yes, even wine industry folk occasionally find themselves outside their comfort zone.) (P.S. Wait until you get to the end of this post for some real straight-talking.) 

Her “SST” method (especially when you watch the video) doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence (doesn’t she know that you really ought to stick your nose into the glass…?) but it’s good advice. It is essentially another way of describing the WSET’s Systematic Approach to Tasting.

Rosé is when you peel the skin off the grape earlier. It’s a cold fermentation.

Oh dear. I really dislike when women don’t know what they’re talking about. It perpetuates the common expectation that we’re just the pretty face accompanying a man who knows everything. However, in this case, it seems to be true.

The other half of this winemaking team is Kris Kato and he eloquently explains: “For our Rosé we pick the grapes a little early, using a soft press process and separate the juice from the skins. It’s much like making the white wine. It’s really about minimizing the color, which is why we get beautiful hue. Cold slow fermentation all in stainless steel to preserve the aromatics and the freshness.” (source)

Moving on…

If it’s too dark, I know it’s gonna be, just not my style.

Now that’s fair enough. Each to their own. Also, the more insipid Cotes de Provence you drink, the more of the good stuff there’ll be left for me!! I like dark-hued rosé wines because they tend to have personality, they’re more versatile and food-friendly and, most importantly, they don’t make you feel that someone might have swapped your grape juice for paint stripper.

I think a rose should have that inherently Pavlovian to women, peachy-pink quality, that just draws us in. Somehow, I don’t know what it is about us girls, but we love pink.

I’m torn. Seriously torn. Do I address the horribly stereotypical and out-dated idea that all girls must love pink or do I admit that I have no clue what she means by “inherently Pavlovian quality”……

I do like a light, easy-drinking wine. Also wines which feel very clean, um, and actually make your whole body feel good, after numerous glasses, is a really tell-tale sign for me, and the absence of that coined sugar and sweetness, really contributes to that really beautiful clean ability to enjoy it without feeling heavy.

In contrast, I’m going to be short and simple. I want my grapes to be pressed, not peeled. I don’t want a wine that has been stripped of all its character. If I wanted something so healthy and virtuous, I would pour myself a glass of water or almond milk or whatever it is Californians are drinking these days. 

Am I alone in wanting my wine to taste of grapes?

On a serious note, I feel that what Drew Barrymore is actually trying to convey is her opinion that somehow pale rosé is healthier, tastier and better for you.

Maybe in the US market, this is true. In Europe, it’s certainly not.

I don’t want – and won’t drink – a wine which has been forced to within an inch of its life and then been resuscitated with sulphur and tartaric acid.


This brings me onto the type of rosé that I want to drink.

Cantina Margò (winemaker Carlo Tabarrini)’s Fiero Rosato 2015.

Having been open in my fridge for a couple of days already, it’s lost some of the more subtle aromatics that it had at the beginning. Nevertheless, it has the colour of a blood orange. The nose is an explosion of redcurrants and wild strawberries. Beautifully soft and integrated acidity, it finishes on a slightly salty note which makes it wonderful for pairing with food. It’s a natural wine. It’s vibrant and has tons of character, not a gram of “coined sugar” and gosh, I would happily drink this every day.

Price: €€

Rating: ****


I promised you something good at the end of this blog post. Here is Michael McIntyre explaining some real home truths about ordering wine at a restaurant.

Backstage at the Soavino Wine Tasting

Standard

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

olivier_varichona

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

Standard

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

Standard

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.

vineyards in the snow

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