“Would You Like To Try My 2014?”


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!”


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.


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….



In The Vineyards With: Franco & Giulia Masiero (Veneto)


When I think of the wine-producing regions in the Veneto, my mind goes to immediately to Valpolicella, Soave, Prosecco. After a short pause, I go to the Colli Berici (south of Vicenza, where there’s young, promising producer Sauro Maule) and the Colli Euganei (home to the eccentric Marco Buratti) but the truth is that there’s actually so much more.

I myself am now based in one of the smaller winemaking towns which was summarily  described by Nicolas Belfrage in “Barolo to Valpolicella” (1999) under the title “other garganegas of the Veneto.” We’re effectively satellites of Soave and that comes as a cutting blow because there is so much talent that deserves to be uncovered. Discovering and sharing these other areas in the Veneto is going to be my focus of the next year or so.


Franco Masiero

Let me introduce you, therefore, to Franco Masiero. His eponymous winery, Masiero, is based in the Lessini hills in what is essentially a viticultural no-man’s-land.

8 different wines are made from a gamut of grape varieties: garganega, chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot, tai rosso, cabernet franc, pinot nero. In fact, there are so many micro-cuvées that many of them never get released onto the market but remain as treats for guests and friends.

These wines originate from just 4 and a half hectares of vineyards, which are split over two sites: in volcanic Selva di Trissino and limestone-and-fossil-heavy Sant’Urbano. The vineyards are farmed according to biodynamic principles and the cellar sees next to no sulphur, only natural winemaking. Speaking of winemaking, you’ll find all kind of receptacles: cement tanks, stainless steel, large old wooden barrels and even a doll-sized marble vat.


This is where Giulia comes in.

To construct a winery was Franco’s dream but it falls on his elder daughter Giulia’s shoulders to take it forward. Her first vintage was 2015 and whereas you might have expected her to be something of a puppet, in the shadows of her charismatic father, she’s actually shown herself to be highly competent. One of her first moves (implemented just in time for the 2016 vintage) was to install large, untreated cement tanks. A risky decision but it has paid off. She works in the fields, tending each vine manually – day in day out. Multi-lingual, poised, and she’s only a mere 24 years old!


Giulia Masiero

Winemaking is not something that’s been in the Masiero blood for generations so I wondered how this initial dream of Franco’s came about.

Apparently Franco’s best childhood memories are of him, with his father, going up into the hills for a week in November, hunting small game and drinking locally-made grappa. This precious week in the hills was essentially a moment of bonding between father, son and their guests. As I see it, Franco wanted to create an environment in which those same back-to-the-roots, simple pleasures were present in the modern day…. and what better way to spark conviviality than with a bottle of wine.

“Most people spend their disposable income on fast cars or fancy holidays. I could have bought a couple of Ferraris but instead I built a winery.”

I inquire as to the extent of his implication in the winery but whilst he maintains a strong interest, he has new dreams that he wants to see through. What I’m therefore looking forward to following closely is how Giulia will make her mark. They’ve had some difficult years recently – the elements have not been kind and the yields have been low – but this is a winery with huge promise.

Il Verdugo cresce, le annate cambiano, ma le emozioni restano. 💣💣💣 #Repost @perrikinobevevino with @insta.save.repost • • • Good people make good wines. I still remember when I tried this Merlot with @mathiasskovmand for the first time… we were immediately blown away. Without thinking to much, we both decided we had to bring some bottles back to Denmark! They told us we could buy as many as we wanted, but up 48bottles! The production of Verdugo still is so limited, but I eventually managed to increase the volume of my allocation year by year (now is 60bottles). A wine made by the most genuine family I know, where you breathe nothing but joy, and when you drink their wines you get it all. Yesterday I had the 2015 at Bæst: BOMBA!

A post shared by Giulia Masiero (@giuliamasiero) on

Visit: 11 January 2018

Official Website / Facebook

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


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.


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.

Wine Writers: The Formidable Pamela Vandyke Price


A friend of my parents recently downsized into a new house. Her husband was deceased and, as you might expect, she wanted away with many old possessions that were no longer relevant and didn’t belong in the new place. I therefore became the willing custodian of her vast selection of wine books.

Some of them were duplicates or previous editions of the current contents of my bookshelf – and in the case of Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine, I believe it’s the fourth of its kind! Many of them, however, were titles and tomes of which I had never heard and was looking forward to discovering. There was one book – a small and discreet hardback – which particularly stood out. Lest you take me for someone who could be swayed by a cover, no no, it was because of the musty smell that overwhelmed my nostrils. Even from a distance, the smell was strong to the point of being garish. Unable to ignore it any longer, I pick it up and look closer: “Dictionary of Wines and Spirits, 2280 Alphabetical Entries” by Pamela Vandyke Price.

If you’re not familiar with the name, Pamela Vandyke Price was an English wine writer, who was born in 1923 and died in 2014. Jancis Robinson has described her as “the first woman to write seriously about wine in Britain and who did more than most to popularise wines after World War Two.”

I really knew very little about this lady before finding this book and searching around on Google. She was at her peak before I was born. Her first book was published in 1966 and being, by all accounts, an utterly formidable woman, she went on to publish thirty more. I am delighted to have this most odorous of books in my collection, because just when I was starting to question what it means to be a woman in the wine industry, what future it could hold, and tracing the paths taken by women before me, these musty pages have fallen in my lap and reached out across the generational divide.

I’ll be sharing some of her writing on here in the hope that it entertains, interests and inspires the online wine community in this day and age. Until then, I love the closing lines of her obituary in the Guardian:

“Vandyke Price will be remembered by many as a difficult, prickly character, whose put-downs were deadly and who raged more than was needful at the mutability of circumstance in a writer’s life. By way of contrast, she was fiercely loyal in her friendships and she really loved her subject. Her nose and her palate – though always better on reds than on whites – were impressive to the end.

“Ah, the ladies have come! Now we shall not be able to taste anything – all your scents and smells,” remarked an old buffer in Bordeaux as Pamela swung into the tasting room at Sichel on the Quai de Bacalan. “I can smell the preparation you use on your hair,” she rejoined, “the cleaning fluid that has been used on your suit, your boot polish – and you have a pipe in your pocket.” What’s more, she could, and he did.”

A Self-Imposed Time Out


You may have noticed that I’ve taken a bit of a break from the blog. I’ve actually taken a break from most social media platforms because I’ve needed to turn off and disconnect in order to avoid being triggered by certain people, places or labels.

It’s been more than 6 months since the judges found Marc Sibard guilty of harassment and sexual assault and more than five years since I handed in my resignation but I still have nightmares and recurring dreams. Just last night I found myself justifying to some imaginary character why I moved away from France. 

It’s not only inanimate objects that trigger my subconscious; even real people in real life will call me a storyteller or a money-hungry witch to my face.

“Why did you make it all up?” they ask.
Continue reading

Beaujolais Nouveau Release Day


The third Thursday in November means the release of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau vintage. Another year and still the craze persists. Italians have Novello wine too… but, like with most things, the French are better organised and therefore more commercially successful. 

Well, commercially successful is a relative term. 

Photo (c) Paco Mora / owner of La Cave d’Ivry (the photo was obviously not taken in his shop!)

That supermarkets are plugging the new wine at 1,99€ a bottle devalues the work of the vineyard labourers, the winemaker and his equipment, and the price of the land and of the grapes.

Beaujolais is hugely successful in generating interest and increasing consumption for a couple of days, yes, but in a year like 2017 with unprecedentedly low yields across the board, shouldn’t we be making consumers pay a little more? 

I was reading a piece (in Italian) by my friend Angelo Peretti this morning in which he talks about his incomprehension of the unwavering support that people give to their favourite football team. He likens it to his bafflement at how the different sides in the wine world (conventional vs natural) also jeer, shout and mock the other. Whilst I most definitely fall on the natural end of the spectrum, I hope I succeed in keeping an open mind. I wholeheartedly agree with Angelo’s conclusion: if a wine is made well, I’ll drink it. (I mean, remember that I am English after all!)

That said, when I’m at home choosing which wine to open, I have very simple criteria: it must be made well, taste good and suit the occasion. There’s so much choice of wine out there today that I don’t understand why we still feel obliged to drink something we don’t enjoy. As some famous person once said: “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” 

Now I know the standard of Beaujolais Nouveau has vastly increased when you think back to the banana years but most of them are not my cup of tea. 

I like the Gamay grape; it has unique qualities that remain largely under-appreciated. Beaujolais was also the first French region for which I learnt all the appellations (Burgundy is impossibly complicated for a beginner, Alsace unpronouncable, but the 13 crus of Beaujolais, perfect!)

The problem lies in the fact that I am not a huge fan of carbonic maceration. I know that light and fruity red wines appeal to a certain sector of the market but there’s no getting over my predeliction for wines where you taste the soil, the roots, the minerals. 

It’s not that Beaujolais Nouveau wines are bad, it’s just that there are better alternatives. If you don’t mind, I’ll be drinking this Beaujolais today at lunch.

Naturae et Purae Conference – The Future of Viticulture


I had a change of scenery yesterday, spending the day in the stunning Castel Trauttmansdorff in South Tyrol, at the Naturae et Purae conference, discussing the future of natural wine and the potential place for biotechnology and genetically modified vines.

It’s not the first conference of this kind that I’ve attended this year but it is the most interesting. This piece may run on a little but I do encourage you to take a couple of minutes to read it.

The speakers: (L-R) Attilio Scienza, Werner Morandell, Giorgio Grai, Luca D’Attoma, Helmuth Koecher, Carlo Nesler, Angiolino Maule, Hayo Loacker, Angelo Carillo.

After the welcoming speeches from Angelo Carillo and then Helmuth Koecher, owner of the best eyebrows in the business and organiser of the Merano Wine Festival, we get underway!

We start on a pessimistic note with a speech from Giorgio Grai, a respected oenologue now well into his 80s. He sets out the current situation of our environment: the state of our air pollution and the prevalence of fine particles, that  64% of the world’s water is polluted and we have unprecedented levels of heavy metals in our alimentary channels. “How can you have an organic vineyard situated right next to a motorway with all the exhaust fumes?” he asks. The effort needed to clean up our environment is huge. We’re not starting at 0, we’re currently at -100. 

Next up is Luca d’Attoma, an oenologue in his 50s, who explains his belief that “organics is a form of respect between man and his environment.” He quotes some statistics about the rise of organic agriculture in Italy: an increase of 24% between 2015-2016 of certified organic vineyards and a 51% increase in the mass retail sector between 2015-16 in sales of organic produce. Unlike Giorgio before him, he beliefs that organic and biodynamic wines are “more original, authentic and therefore richer” than wines made from conventionally farmed grapes. That said, he acknowledges that the restrictions on organic vinification are too light. For example, 150mg/l of SO2 is allowed in conventional red wines and 100mg/l for organic red wines. He highlights problems with the controllers who certify if a farmer or winemaker is working to organic principles. There are too few controls and far too much disparity in the quality of these controls between the north and south of Italy.

Following is Hayo Loacker. The Loacker family own three wineries but the flagship is the Tenuta Schwarhof in Alto Adige. They were the pioneers in the area for organic then biodynamic agriculture (starting in 1978) and in the 90s and 00s the inspiration for many other local wineries (e.g. Lageder) to convert. What is interesting is that despite their homeopathic approach to viticulture, they have planted hybrid grape varieties as well as the traditional and autochthonous varieties; essentially incorporating modernity with the past teachings of Steiner.

After that came Angiolino Maule, guns blazing. Whilst it’s a positive step that the big players are now working their vineyards organically (Angelo Gaja, Bellavista, Ca del Bosco), how does a small guy survive? Increased knowledge and transparency is the answer. He talks about how VinNatur is carrying out scientific experiments to take natural viticulture forward. Essentially, they are conducting detailed research of determined microbial indices in the vineyard and using sophisticated algorithms to create mathematical models of what ideal soil fertility looks like. (Won’t go further as I’m stepping into work territory but email me if you would like more information on this.)

Angiolino puts forward a little-known nutritional argument for natural wines quoting a study by Dr Laura Di Renzo (Univ. of Tor Vergata) in which it was found that conventional wines only had negative side effects on the human body (pesticides, alcohol, sulfites.) Organic wine had some anti-oxidants which compensated the alcohol but was pretty nutritional-neutral. Unfiltered, low-sulphur natural wine, however, had so many positive benefits that it far outweighed the alcohol on balance. Responding to Luca D’Attoma’s comment, Angiolino tells the room how VinNatur’s own members have told the controllers how to conduct the tests and what to look for.

Werner Morandell

Next up is Werner Morandell from the organic Lieselehof Winery. His detailed speech explains what are called PIWI grape varieties (vines with new genotypes, resulting from the crossbreeding of fungi-resistant vine varieties.) Some of the newly-created varieties quoted (Bronner, Souvignier Gris and Merlot Khorus) are resistant to powdery and downy mildew, and the cold, allowing him to plant at high altitudes and bring the plant to full maturity whilst only doing 1 treatment even in bad years.

Attilio Scienza is next to take the stage. He’s an animated speaker and he comes alive during his presentation, which admittedly would have more suited to a university philosophy lecture. He puts forward the case for genetically modified foods and particularly cis-genetic vines, fortunately without going far into the scientific nitty-gritty.

Knowing that there was resistance to GMO in the audience, he starts by breaking down our preconceptions. Picking up on Giorgio’s gloomy state of affairs (the first speech), it’s natural that we want to save ourselves from the end of the world, he argues rather arrogantly, and understandable that we ignorant Muggles are clinging to organics and biodynamics as the solution. Why are we against genetics? It’s just science and we shouldn’t be afraid of science. It’s progress, the future.

Society is increasingly opposed to science, he continues, mentioning the increasingly common opposition to vaccines and the frequency that experts are being poopoo-ed in the media. After dipping into Greek mythology for a few choice quotes and metaphors, he gets to the point: we should accept that GM foods are already here. Strawberries, apples and tomatoes are all crossbreeds. Grains have been genetically engineered and improved. Nature does this itself, he argues, bringing up the complicated genetic lineage, with all the mutations, of the traminer variety. 

The moment, though, that a member of the audience asks a question – about repercussions and secondary effects – the response is that anyone who doesn’t believe in GM is ignorant and backward.

Last but not least, Carlo Nesler, talking about fermentation. He’s admits being specialised in food rather than wine but his insight comes at a particularly poignant moment after Attilio Scienza. He recounts how primitive human-beings and even primates knew how to ferment food and wittingly or unwittingly, it would have been an important part of their diet.

And yet, despite at least 3000 years of history, microbiotics (bifidus digestivum, kombucha and the like) have only recently been “discovered” by scientists as being essential elements for our well-being. We should always work with nature, is his conclusion, not against it.

My question was the last of the day. A simple yes-no in response to: is there a place in the future of natural/organic wine for genetically modified vines?

I didn’t really need to have asked the question. The most telling thing about the day’s conference was how it finished.

On one side of the room is Angiolino Maule, Luca D’Attoma and Carlo Nesler, closely huddled together. In the middle, distanced from the ‘Naturalists’ but seated diplomatically in his assigned spot is Werner Morandell. Loacker has already retreated to the back of the audience, which leaves us with futurist Attilio Scienza, arms-folded, seated as far apart as possible on the other side of the room.

It was startlingly obvious that we had just heard from two different worlds which seem to be mutually incompatible. That chasm was the elephant in the room.

It’s time to wrap up but Angiolino has the final say: terroir.

A picture is worth a thousand words