THE WINES OF SCYTHIA
I have experienced several momentous vinous moments in my five-year-long career. If I sat down with all my tattered notebooks and bundles of tasting sheets, I could count over fifty wines that have been wines of a decisive, consequential or even life-changing and opinion forming nature.
There are the wines that have made tears threaten to cascade down my cheeks; the age defiant, deeply honest and utterly unpretentious 1989 Guy Breton Morgon wines of the world. There are the wines that have tapped at my mind’s door, startling me and begging me to consider entirely new and unexpected realms of possibilities; the Jean Pierre Frick sans souffre vs 10mg/L Steinert Grand Cru Riesling 2012 duos of the world; a set of what could be defined as vinous fraternal twins. They remain deeply embedded in my mind. There are the winemakers whose work and whose wines are so vitally entwined with the viticulture of their region that you just want to grab them and thank them for simply existing and for advancing the modern-day world of wine in ways nobody could imagine possible. These are the Rod Berglunds of the world.
It would be an impossible task for me to single out one of them; I would be committing infidelity to the others. There is, however, one recent tasting that makes my thoughts whirl, and indeed a new categorisation for wines that I have adopted, while not always on paper, at least in mind.
I will rewind to the beginning of July. I find myself sitting in a room bathed in red; not just any red, but a rumbling, reverberating red that fills the room with a deep hum of energy. I’m in London’s Mandrake Hotel. I am about to sit down and Drink Like a Scythian with Rajat Parr and Abe Schoener.
The tasting that is about to unfurl will be one that fulfils Todorov’s definition of the fantastic. Did it really happen? Yes, these wines are in existence, but are their personalities, or was this a figment of my imagination? Can wines have personalities? Can wines be Scythian; Scythians may no longer exist in their original historical context, but is there a wave of Scythians under the guise of winemakers tapping at the gates to a modern vinous Scythia?
This somewhat strange tale has its roots in last January, in a cold and wet New York, in the dark, alluring and grungy wine bar that is The Ten Bells. Raj, who had just been listening to the Dan Carlin podcasts, headed in through the doors only to stumble upon friend and fellow winemaker, Abe Schoener. The ancient Scythians wrestled their way into a wine-fuelled conversation between the two, and that was that. The path of Scythian wines had been forged.
On this hot, red night in early July, Raj explains that we will look at the concept of a different world, era and people, and attach this to wine; these are nomadic wines, not wines of promotion.
Abe nods, “we will follow their conceptual development, we will interact with these wines on a Scythian scale.”
The Scythians were famously nomadic, never settling and never adhering to laws of any city. Abe inhales, “in a way, it’s the opposite of an attachment to terroir, or an appellation system.”
The wines are served blind.
I do not give the wines tasting notes; Scythian wines do not adhere to traditional tasting notes. They do not adhere to format. They (the wines) made this very clear to me; thus instead I give unto each of them an individual Scythian personality.
2016 The May I, Hiyu Wine Farm, Oregon, U.S.
Here, we have a wine that’s one of the secretive Scythians; a little one with an angelic face and a saintly smile, but one that is hiding something. Why? It is somewhat of a paradox; on paper, you might expect this wine to be somewhat feral. It comes from a four vintage (2013 – 2016) solera of 90-120 day macerated Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the original 2.5 acre parcel of the Hood River Valley farm. In reality, it is breathtakingly pure and there is no funk to speak of. It demonstrates the capacity of Columbia Gorge to be bold, daring and decisive. It takes the notion of terroir and bastardises it in the most courageous and seductive manner.
We sit in silence. Raj smiles and nods. “This wine is the epitome of what it is to live a Scythian lifestyle.”
2016 Spitzer Graben, Martin Muthenthaler, Wachau, Austria
Here we have a truly Scythian wine; a bold one that rings clearly with intent. It’s a leader-of-the-battle type of Scythian. It defies laws. It’s also a wine that mirrors its maker; Martin Muthenthaler. It does not speak of appellation; there is no terminology such as Federspiel or Smaragd. The wine simply stands on its own two feet and speaks of where it is from: extreme conditions, naked stone and the coolest climate: the last vineyard before viticulture becomes agriculture.
2001 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Valentini, Abruzzo, Italy, Abruzzo, Italy
Edoardo Valentini was known locally as the Lord of the Vines, and well, this wine is Lord of the Wines. Here we have the Scythian that is wearing the crown: The King. It is deeply unique and once again from extreme viticulture: mountains. Trebbiano (aka Ugni Blanc, one of the basic wines used to produce Cognac and Armagnac) is also the most planted in Italy, and - let’s face it - can produce dull, characterless wine. Here, however, it produces some of the finest white wine of the world. This wine embodies what it means to be profound. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It is a true Scythian and fiercely comfortable in its own skin.
Abe, “It mesmerized all of us. The instance of completely shattering the typicity of the region, and establishing a towering classicism at once.”
2015 Summum, Evening Land, Oregon, US
This wine is not Scythian on paper: it is pure, mineral driven Chardonnay from Oregon. I feel it is one of the most successful restrained, Burgundian-style fine wines of the new world. However, its raison d’êtreis undeniably Scythian; it is made by sommelier-trained Rajat Parr, together with Sashi Moorman, born out of a joint vision to create terroir-driven minimal intervention wines that do not adhere to the big, ripe wines that the West Coast is renowned for. From 1984 plantings, this comes from volcanic soils using biodynamic practices and aged in 500L Stockingers. It is fiercely precise and true to its roots. It is the adventurous Scythian; the Scythian that takes dares to go against the grain and to embark upon different life paths. Rajat Parr, sommelier-turned-winemaker is one of our true living Scythians.
2014 Njord, Pinot Noir Précoce, Zealand, Denmark
This was my contribution, and it was a true beacon of light. A hard-to-track-down Scythian escapee wine, this is made in such small quantities that it is quite impossible to find. I read about it online and after speaking on the phone to wine merchants and sommeliers in Copenhagen, I managed to find it at Palægade, and thanks to co-proprietor Simon Olesen I was able to bring this one bottle back to London as a #SuitcaseImport. It comes from young Frühburgunder vines planted on Zealand from a real pioneer, Sune Albertsen (whom I have not yet met, but I am sure he is also a Scythian). This particular cuvée comes from what he deems to be his best vines, planted on the highest part of his vineyard. We pour it, and it reveals its robes; a subtle, shimmering, translucent copper colour that I have never seen before. It is so unusual in colour that it shocks me and even manages to incite worry: could it be faulty? It presents itself somewhat as a ghost of Pinot. The palate is captivating and giving; extremely complex with layers upon layers of dried flowers; lilacs and roses blended with dry earth, rosehips and heathland. It is extremely elegant and dances on the palate, a true ballerina of a wine. It is a Black Swan.
Abe remarks, “What is the system that defines a beautiful wine as opposed to a failure?” It’s true; the colour of this wine is utterly unconventional but that does not mean that it is not deeply and intrinsically beautiful. Once the wine is revealed, he breathed, “I am shocked. I expected this wine to be a nice effort that we would patronize kindly, but it is utterly substantial, dense and complex. What a Scythian Revenge.”
NV Facsimile, Jérôme Prevost, Montagne de Reims
A carefree Scythian! This is a Champagne that is not afraid. Two hectares only, old vine massal selection, indigenous yeasts, no dosage, vinous and powerful, from 100% Pinot Meunier and proud of it, this cuvée is everything that corporate Champagne is not. It is intrinsically wonderful. It is regal, defiant, fiercely proud of itself and focussed. It is a wine that has all of its dials set to the “max” setting.
1999 Le Champ du Clos, Pinot Blanc, Yves Dufour, Aube, France
Having stopped in Champagne before making the pilgrimage to London, Abe tasted with Yves’ son, Charles Dufour. After having explained the notion behind this tasting, Charles’ eyes sparkled and he disappeared for a few moments, resurfacing with this bottle. It is a rare breed Scythian: 100% Pinot Blanc with 15 years on the lees and zero dosage. It is astonishingly intense and vibrant; a vinous ball of energy. I thought this was some form of experimental Champagne, perhaps under flor, but had no idea it was this old nor that it was Pinot Blanc. A greatly intellectual wine and deeply satisying.
2016 Trousseau Singulier, Stéphane Tissot, Jura, France
The Jester Scythian. It teases you: it is a wine that toys with toys with volatility and greenness on precisely the right side of the line; resulting in a deeply complex, ethereal wine, in fact one that is rather hypnotic. A very difficult wine to encapsulate on paper, and it knows it. Cheeky little Scythian.
2014 Cornas, Philippe Pacalet, Rhone, France
The rebel Scythian. The nephew of Lapierre, Pacalet’s delicate yet racy and sometimes piercing, Burgundies are exemplary wines of low/no-sulphur vinification in the region. Alas, here we have a négoce Cornas, because… well why not? It is a gossamer of a Cornas; a free spirited wine born from the desire of exploration.
2014 La Severità di Bruto Farina, Scholium Project, Sonoma Mountain, U.S.
A beautiful, mythical beast. This would be a Scythian of legends; one with superpowers and a beautiful golden plait to the floor. There is so much power here that it is almost unsettling and overbearing, yet it is power of such beauty that the entire room is spellbound. It is a deeply romantic wine. It is the Scythian that captures everybody’s hearts. It is brought to fruition by our other Scythian: Abe Schoener. Philosopher-turned-winemaker, his approach to winemaking is best described as Academic X Scythian.
2009 Jakot, Radikon, Friuli, Italy
The Leader: The Director of the Scythians. Working closely together with the King (Valentini), this Scythian would set guidelines for the other vinous Scythians. It is a wine that is entirely unafraid of being different; a wine that spearheads individualism and tells all the other Scythian wines to not be afraid. It raises its eyebrows; “You want to ban the word Tokaj? Fine!” It booms with laughter, picking up the word by its forefingers and flipping it around, ergo Jakot.
As Abe summarised, this was a tasting to “discuss the subtle relations between the savage nomadism of the ancient Scythians and the wines we love.”
It was a seminal tasting. All of the wines were seminal in their own way. They stirred emotion in us. It was a tasting without judgement, a tasting where we drank, not spat. The wines raised questions, and they gave answers. They surpassed reality and delved into the realm of the mystical.
There's a grape rattling the door handle to enter the world of fine wine, and guess what? It's a hybrid.
La Crescent was developed by the University of Minnesota and released in 2002. According to wine-searcher, its ancestry involves vinifera, riparia, rupestris, labrusca and aestivalis.
Its direct parentage is St. Pepin (derived from Seyval Blanc) and the vinifera Muscat Hamburg (offspring of Muscat of Alexandria). It is particularly suited to (really) cold climates, such as Vermont.
I first tasted this grape variety via Vinu Jancu, a wine from Deirdre Heekin's biodynamic La Garagista project, which I listed at Grapes By Girls: The Orange Edition, an event I did in collaboration with Ben's Canteen highlighting skin contact wines made by women. Its deeply intense aromatics were unlike anything I had tried before and it is a taste that has mentally stayed with me.
The next time I came into contact with it was with at the release of the Chëpìka, Nathan Kendall and Pascaline Lepeltier's daring Delaware and Catawba hybrid petnat project. There, I met Ethan Joseph, winegrower for Shelburne Vineyard and his own label, Iapetus.
IAPETUS TECTONIC 2017, Champlain Valley, Vermont
From McCabe's Brook vineyard (planted 2008) and Mt Philo vineyard (planted 2010). Vines are trained to a hi-wire system. Both sites have a slightly western aspect and north-south row orientation for max. sunlight exposure. Soils are deep: (get ready for it) - well drained, sandy/stony loams, glacial till derived from limestone, calcareous shale, schist, and quartzite and on sandy deltas, beaches and terraces that are underlain by medium-textured lacustrine deposits. YES! Hybrids on special terroir. This is exciting. What's more - Iapetus is named after the ancient sea which was once covering the ancient bedrock on which these vines grow.
Destemmed and crushed, stainless steel fermented with indigenous yeasts. Fifty days on the skins. Three-quarters of the wine aged in neutral oak on the lees with weekly battonage for three and a half months, the other quarter was aged in stainless steel. Unfined and unfiltered.
It's thrilling, and so complex. A lively yellow peach and apricot, sea air nose. On the palate, there is some herbal notes of rosemary oil and thyme that meet yellow grapefruit pith. There is a distinct golden berry aroma, with tangerine pith and a subtle tamarind spice finish. What a wine.
Around a year ago, I first tasted Jean-Pierre Rietsch's Pas à Pas Savagnin rose at Frenchie in Covent Garden, London. It's a wine that stuck with me so much so that I chased it all the way to New York City. JK not really, but it was a wine that left its mark on me; one of those enigma wines that leaves an imprint. When I found it again on the list at Ten Bells, we ordered a bottle and it took my palate straight back to that enigmatic state.
It started when I was studying Frenchie's by-the-glass list. It's a really great place to drink BTG as the list is extensive and full of really interesting wines thanks to a great wine team, an open-minded train of thought, and that ingenious device, the Coravin.
I came across a wine from Jean-Pierre Rietsch, who I had read extensively about but whose wines I had never tried as there's not much (if any) in the UK. I ordered it, and alas the girl behind the bar checked with me what kind of wine I like, as this was a solera wine and thus I might find it slightly out of the ordinary. Great - it's important in the restaurant world that the team knows how to approach the consumer with wine; this isn't exactly your straight-down-the-line Alsatian Riesling or Pinot Gris. Savagnin Rose is, according to Wine Grapes, the non-aromatic version of Gewürztraminer and produces "wines that are closer in style to Savagnin Blanc than Gewürz."
Thanks to Bertrand Celce, I found out that vinous thing of magic began somewhat as an experiment, due to a stuck ferment (indigenous yeasts, cold winters) back in 2011. Rietsch waited for the 15g/L residual sugar to recommence for a couple of years, but it never did, so he added some 2013 juice to restart the ferment. He then added 2015 whole cluster wine a couple of years later, where it finished its fermentation. Alas, a sort-of solera system began, and according to Celce, Rietsch plans to continue replacing the volume that is bottled with juice from new vintages to continue the solera.
The wine? It's fantastic. Heady dried rose petal and white flower notes; potpourri-like scents, meet almond skin, laced with crunchy rock salt. Thrilling and demanding; crunchy and powerful as hell but beautifully in balance. It's a real thought provoker.
Perhaps this wine may not be what we're used to from Alsace, indeed perhaps you may throw in the word "atypical." This does, however demand the question of: what do we deem as typical? What is typicity, and has typicity in wine become a model of what is deemed "correct," repeatable and invariable? I'm all for winemakers making wines like this, and let's hope that their voices carry. If you haven't yet reached for Jean-Pierre Frick's book, du vin, du l'air, do so...
In the summer of 2017, I met with Fabien Duperray of Jules Desjourneys in Beaujolais. To say I was bowled over by his wines would be an understatement, so when he insisted that I go to meet his friend Jean-Yves Bizot in Burgundy, my nose ended up in Vosne-Romanée.
I met with Thomas Berry, Bizot's assistant winemaker, who led me down to a small cellar, that was barely half full. Berry explained that the chaos of the weather of 2016 meant that yields were down by 55%, to only 9hl/ha. For Bizot, yields tend to sit at a maximum of 25hl/ha. This is also low, and is down to specific pruning techniques. In the vineyard, vines are pruned very short, to just one spur with two buds and one cane with three buds (like Guyot, but shorter and not bent). In addition, he never trims the apex, so vines are free to keep growing. Not cutting them is crucial, explained Berry, as this means that the energy can continue to store its energy over winter.
Jean-Yves began working at the domaine in 1995, which had previously been rented out by his parents. His father was a doctor and didn't have time to tend to the vines, thus they had been rented out to other growers. Jean-Yves, who had trained as a geologist, took a degree in Oenology and turned his hand to winemaking.
The domaine originally consisted of 2.5ha when Jean-Yves began, and has since added parcels in the late 2000s in the suburbs of Dijon - Le Chapitre and Marsannay, Clos du Roy, bringing the size of the domaine to 3.5ha.
After his oenology degree, it was in the cellar where everything he thought he had learnt went out of the window. He spoke to his father about how his grandfather tended the vines and vinified the wines, and as a result stopped using herbicides. He also began to look into reducing sulphur and using zero sulphur in 1998. By 2001, the domaine was working entirely organically.
Discussing sulphur, the domaine uses none throughout vinification, only adding a tiny amount a couple of weeks before bottling. Berry explained that SO2 extracts tannin, so if you add SO2 to a wine that sits in oak, this will extract the oak tannin and thus hide aromas.
Vinification is very gentle. Extreme sorting takes place in the vineyard (taking up to a couple of minutes to check each bunch), in order to avoid any further manipulation in the cellar. Whole bunches are crushed by foot in wooden vats, after which indigenous fermentation is launched. Maceration only lasts around a week, after which the wine is crushed and fermentation rapidly occurs. The wine is pressed five days later direct to barrel, transported by gravity through a hole in the floor to the cellar, straight into all-new Rousseau barrels (meaning there has been no previous sulphur and no need for sulphur). Here the wine remains for 16 - 18 months, after which the team bottles everything by hand. Three men sit from barrel to barrel, one marking the level, one filling the bottle and the other corking. The whole process takes about a month.
We tasted through some wines in bottle.
Vosne Romanée 2015
From Les Saules, Les Communes and Les Colombières.
Crushed rock and bright raspberry skin nose with underlying incense and violet notes and a distinct saline edge. On the palate it is brilliantly tense with bold energy and a spicy, minty finish.
Marsannay Clos du Roy 2015 (0.3ha)
The parcel is located right by Chenôve, just before Dijon. The nose is more fruit forward, with bramble notes and an almost broody ashy nose. On the palate it is very lively, also tense and more muscular than the Vosne, showing some savoury pine kernel notes and some undergrowth.
Vosne Romanée Les Jachées 2015 (0.7ha)
Bright blood orange nose with some subtle Christmas spices, with orange peel and lemon peel and some white pepper. A very pretty delicate body with some more incense coming through with air. A very elegant body with silky, very soft tannins.
This comes from Les Orveaux and Les Treux. Les Treux is occasionally also declassified to create a Vosne Romanée Premier Cru.
There is heady, opulent black fruit here; black cherries and bramble, as well as some red cherry flesh. Very pure and dense, with more structure, you could say less "gourmand" than the others. It is spicy, with a lean, direct approach. Very much still a baby, with an incredible lingering finish of fresh cherries and perfumed rose hip notes.
Bourgogne Le Chapitre 2014
Historically a very important wine, which punches high above its Bourgogne classification. The nose is driven by raspberry flesh and cherries. Tannins are a little more rustic with an intense bite and a zippy fresh fruit finish.
Vosne Romanée 2014
Pretty, perfumed nose with distinct violets and peonies. On the palate, a direct, quite tight structure, showing cherry stones and raspberry skin with a delicious, savoury finish showing fresh bark.
Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits Blanc 2014 (0.2ha)
Wow. Gorgeous bright apricot notes, super energetic with bright, pithy yet rich citrus and citrus oil notes. There are some savoury cashew, chewy, almond skin notes on the palate, joined by fresh pineapple and fresh acacia honey notes on the finish. Absolutely delicious.
Suffice to say, since I visited and tasted these wines I am smitten.
Imported by Wimbledon Wine Cellars.
I wrote here that I thought (and hoped) that we'd see more of the Savoie this year. True to my words, I can't get enough of Mondeuse, nor Jacquère and Altesse (aka Roussette).
I was introduced to the region back in 2016, when I was in Gascony for the journées ampélographiques initative founded by Plaimont Producteurs, whose press and trade activity I handle in the UK.
Plaimont has been working tirelessly for decades now to reintroduce the long-lost grape varieties of South West France post-phylloxera, to save plant heritage and reintroduce varieties that could have been lost for the wrong reasons. A startling statistic tells us that the 20 most prominent grape varieties in France accounted for 91% of vineyard area in 2012, compared with 53% in 1958. WHAT. ARGH. This shocks me to the core.
The aforementioned ampelographic days were introduced to take place every four years both as a form of research get-together but also as a very important means of battling the erosion of vine genetics that has been occurring over the past fifty years (for many sad reasons - phylloxera, lower yields, the globalisation of taste and "safety" in international grape varieties, difficulties with foreign pronunciation and so on).
In 2016, Plaimont welcomed the Savoie and Charentes to take part for the first time. Regarding the Savoie, representatives from the Pierre Galet, the Alpine ampelographic centre, spoke about their indigenous grape varieties. Similarly to Plaimont, the centre is carrying out important work to bring back lesser-known Savoyard grape varieties. They have, like Plaimont, also created vine conservation vineyards and are carrying out microvinifications. They have a particular success story with Persan, which represented 500 planted hectares in the 1950s, but which almost disappeared in the 1980s. Today, it represents circa 20 hectares, and with its lifted aromatics, acidity and potential for ageing this figure is growing. Yay.
At the tasting part of the journées, we tasted all sorts of lesser-known grape varieties of the Savoie such as Verdesse, Mondeuse Grise (mutation thought to have disappeared but reintroduced to Vassal collection by Pierre Galet in 1950*), Mondeuse Blanche, Persan, Dureza (from the Arras-sur-Rhône representing just one hectare of plantings), and of course, our slightly more well-known, Mondeuse. Back vintages of Domaine Prieuré Saint Christophe were available to taste (1997 was in particular, truly incredible). As such, my love for this grape variety was born.
Mondeuse, as written in Wine Grapes, is an old grape variety, first documented under its current name in the Dauphiné, but likely dates back as far as 1731 in the Jura under the name Maldoux (see the book for further details). It is possible it is much older than this. According to José Vouillamoz, DNA parentage analysis has shown that Mondeuse is either a progeny or parent of Mondeuse Blanche, which means that the grape is either a half-sibling or grandparent of Syrah*. Wow.
The grape variety also saw a sharp decline in the 1970s. In 2009, there was approx. 300 hectares* and the number is now steadily increasing. There are also small plantings in Switzerland, and in California, with Carole Meredith having led the way. I have yet to taste hers, but I was fortunate enough to taste Jaimee Motley's example from barrel last year in Sebastopol. Jaimee is assistant winemaker at Wind Gap wines, both for Pax Mahle and Scott Schultz's own label, Jolie Laide, and has recently begun her own label under Jaimee Motley Wines, seeking out Mondeuse, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Also according to Wine Grapes, there are plantings of Mondeuse in Australia, with Buller and Brown Brothers, but this is cofermented with at brown Brothers with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
So, to continue to one of my many obsessions du jour...
MONDEUSE 2014, DOMAINE BELLUARD (Les Caves de Pyrene, purchased at Soif) - Vin de Savoie, Terroir du Mont-Blanc
I first drank this in the park on a not-so-balmy summer's day (we hoped, the weather was fickle) with Doug and some of the Les Caves team last year and it has stuck in my mind since, hence the spontaneous trip on my lunch break to pick up a bottle. Belluard is a biodynamic producer on the Mont Blanc terroir, and is particularly well-known for its whites and work with Gringet. Dominique Belluard also has 0.5ha of Mondeuse on glacial soils with moraines and layered limestone.
The 2014 vintage was the last time he has made it in amphora, after which he switched to concrete eggs. Zero sulphur is added.
The wine has a lifted inky nose of white pepper, fresh moss and blackcurrants. Beautifully silky and so fresh, with an almost cooling effect in the mouth.
In addition to La Deuse of Gilles Berlioz (Dynamic Vines), this is a truly pure and intricate expression of the grape variety.
MONDEUSE 1991, GENOUX ALEXIS, ARBIN (Brought back from Cafe Brunet in Annecy by Rajat Parr who has just been travelling in the region, - Raj, eternally grateful for this. Thank you.)
... A wine that seems to have defied time. This was one of those wines that in a rare whirlwind moment entirely surpasses anything you could have ever imagined it to be. Special times like these still take me entirely by surprise, take my breath away for a minute, and leave me pondering for many days. I just wish I had more. One day I shall return to it; I am determined to rediscover its wonders.
The future of Mondeuse
José Vouillamoz, co-author with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding of Wine Grapes, together with Frank Merloz has founded the International Trophy of Mondeuse. It took place in Geneva in 2014 and in Chambéry in 2016. The next edition will be announced soon. A huge thank you to them for shining the light on this grape variety, and let's hope we see continued success with plantings not just in France, but worldwide. See French notes on the 2014 edition here.
* Wine Grapes
I was in the midst of drafting a piece on the importance of self-love and introspection when my friend Jamie Goode posted this. Coincidence has its funny ways, so here are my own thoughts on the not-so-often discussed matter.
Isn’t it bizarre that this is a question we repeatedly ask one another, in the morning, the middle of the day, in a meeting, on coming home, on the phone...? How are you? This is such an odd form of mumbling politeness; one that is so often only meant half heartedly. So we go on in our day, answering “yeah, good thanks,” but perhaps never really stopping to ask ourselves the question. How am I? Am I doing ok?
So are you? Are you really doing ok? Are you happy? And what does happiness truly mean to you?
I heard once, that in life, we need the triangle sequence of friendship/family/romance, work life, and living situation to be in balance, in order to be happy. We can continue without one, if we lose two we fall into disarray.
I don’t particularly believe in this. A change in circumstances at the beginning of 2017 saw me pedal at full speed through my intense career, working as hard as possible. This was, and is, a natural path for me as writer still in a full time job, a writer who has seen her life become utterly devoted to wine and thus to travel, but it was also a way to distract myself and to avoid dealing with emotion, because we don't want to examine our raw human emotions. Society's how are you conditions us to shy away from them when we shouldn't.
Dissecting this triangle has made me contemplate: as someone utterly in love with my job, having my nose in a glass of wine brings me deep joy. However, for myself and others, publishing an article, writing a wine list or hosting a tasting may make you happy, but does it give you a feeling of intrinsic peace? Probably not. A living situation, no matter how good it is, also won’t give you this. Nor does friendship and family alone; yes, good friends and family are crucial: they cast a happy love net, good feelings and a support network, but do they result in deep, innate happiness?
So what does? I had had enough of feeling almost-happy last year, and nothing I did would seem to result in true happiness. I was so focussed on bringing happiness to others but frustratingly I wasn’t quite there. I barely felt like writing anymore, I was exhausted. I took myself to do some yoga for the first time in years and everything changed. The little segment of time devoted to me during my practice gives my brain and my body time to be by itself, to rest and to heal. It has taught me to look after myself. If we don’t look after ourselves, what do we have? We see many people, particularly in hospitality, who are burnt out, tired and perhaps unhappy. Instead of the aforementioned triangle, happiness first and foremost comes from self-love. Leading a busy life means it becomes easy to forget yourself. I never used to give myself any time. Yoga has taught me that. Be kind to your body, don’t abuse it. Allow yourself to feel the raw human emotions I discussed earlier, and allow yourself to deal with them, no matter how painful they may be. We must be happy within ourselves in order to bring happiness to others, and it is crucial that we are comfortable within ourselves before entering relationships, in order to bring out the best in our partners.
In addition to giving yourself self-love, surround yourself with people who love you, and take time to figure out who these people are: probably still the people who ask you the awkward British, how are yous, but ones that truly mean their words. The ones who will pause and listen if you shrug and say, hey, not actually that great. And who understand that it's ok to feel that way.
...and those that don’t? Well, there are plenty of those people out there. There are people who will mock you, there are people who will talk about you behind your back. There are people who won't be happy for you. Smile at them, hold your head high, and keep going. Give zero ****s about them. Many people in life will attempt to project their own insecurities on you. Let them try, because, do you know what? They can’t get to you. Don’t let them. Life is too short.
... and if you make a mistake? Move on. It happens to all of us. We are human.
All of the above realisations mean that, for the first time in a while, hey - I'm really happy.
However you want to, whether through yoga, meditation, or even just ten minutes in the dark alone with your thoughts, taking a deep breath and unite your body with your thoughts, and remember that we are grounded. Take time to feel the connection between the ground and your feet. We are here on Earth, with nature and all the wonderful things that exist on our planet, which for me very importantly includes our vines and the people devoted to them. Remind yourself of what’s important in your life and be thankful for it, and be thankful for one very important thing: we're alive.
In fitting with my resolution to write more, I've decided to write up every wine we taste on Friday afternoon here at Westbury (we do blind tastings every Friday). Our office is in Clapham Junction, so Philglas + Swiggot and Soif are regular haunts for interesting bottles - both have exceptional lists and we are really spoilt to have them here (thanks guys).
Today's choice is Palmiet, by Johan Meyer, from Elgin, South Africa. I picked it for two reasons:
1) my close friend Immi Taylor is leaving me next week (sob) to do harvest there, which is bloody exciting and I am so jealous. I will be visiting her in March
2) I think it is one of the best value Chardonnays available, and actually, I challenge you to find a better one for this price.
The wine is from Elgin, one of the coolest vinegrowing areas of South Africa. It has a high altitude of 5-700m with more cloud cover and rainfall than other regions. The vineyard is farmed organically and the wine, in Meyer style, is made with minimal intervention.
Only free run juice is used and fermentation is natural. Old 500L French oak barrels are used and 1/3 of the grapes are whole bunch fermented for eight days and pressed into fourth fill 500L barrels. Ageing takes place for ten months. Oxidation occurs in some barrels to add to complexity.
NOTES: Fresh raw cashew nose with a distinct but subtle herbal oil character with yellow grapefruit pith. On the palate it is immensely saline with a dense, crunchy texture. Nice lime-y palate with intense minerality. Very similar in style to some top Burgundies with that struck match nose, but perhaps a little harsher, a little wilder in spirit. It is so, so good. An absolutely delicious wine and I challenge you to find me a better Chardonnay at this price.
A proper terroir wine, from properly tended vineyards, treated properly. It's wines and guys like these that make wine the most exciting tangible product of our Earth. Thanks Johan for making this!
1 - More Gamay, and fizzy Gamay. We've already had a huge increase in Gamay in 2016 and 2017, but I think it will continue. More and more of the grape variety is being planted around the world, and I think we'll start to see an increase of international examples too. This leads me to Sparkling Gamay. I don't know why this isn't more of a "thing" yet. It should be. Importers take note! Some excellent examples are being made both in Beaujolais and further afield, both as petnat and as traditional method. Hopefully some more will land on UK shores.
2 - The Return of the Rich White. Yes, we all love lean and mineral styles that taste like sucking a salt encrusted piece of flint, but I think there's a growing place for richer whites (not necessarily oaky, but in body) from Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier for example. The best examples are like drinking a liquid hug, and who doesn't want that?
3 - The darker rosé. There's very much still a place on wine lists for pristine pale pink rose petal hued wines that taste like drinking the beach, but there are also some deeply moving darker rosés with soul and depth. I think, and hope, that we will see more of them. Look to Ad Vinum (Tutto) and Les Arabesques (Kiffe my Wines) for excellent examples.
4 - Greece. Slowly but surely taking up more wine list space in London restaurants, I think we'll see more airtime for Greek wine in 2018; not just for Assyrtiko but from the country's wealth of highly interesting and qualitative grape varieties.
5 - English still wine. While British sparkling wine will definitely continue to boom, I think we'll also see more still examples with promise. Ortega is tapping at the door and may well create something unique for the UK.
6 - The Savoie. Underrated and often forgotten about, the Savoie produces truly stunning wine. 2017 has seen a surge in interest for Mondeuse, which will definitely continue into 2018. I think we'll also see more of an interest in Persan and the highly unique Roussette which is unlike any other wine on Earth.
7 - Armagnac. This is more one for myself. I really love Armagnac and hope we'll see a bit more of it. I wonder whether the artisan whisk(e)y crowd may turn to Armagnac, which I see as Cognac's more rustic, less shiny and less branded cousin. We'll see...
"Grower Champagne" will continue to boom. I think we'll also continue to see more Aligoté, and Spain and Tenerife will continue to fascinate us all. "New Wave" South African, Californian and Canadian wines will only continue to gain momentum, as people realise that the soils of the New World are able to create extremely compelling wines in the right hands.
For me? My "resolutions" are to write more spontaneously (and more in general), and to worry less about perfection. Also to do more yoga, take more time to myself, and to remember to be grateful and thankful. 2017 was intense to say the least and rather a "hamster in a wheel" year, with some hugely difficult occurrences to overcome in my personal life, so while I hope to achieve even more this year, I must also take time to pause, and reflect, be happy, and just simply be.
Happy New Year!
Richard Hemming wrote this great summary of the state of wine writing in 2017.
I lead a somewhat contradictory life as a PR person and as a wine writer. Although seemingly opposite jobs, my day-to-day life working in wine PR teaches me greatly about writing and, I hope, makes me a better writer myself. As I am writing this on my lunch break, my desk looks like a newspaper spontaneously combusted on it. I have cuttings of wine columns and wine mentions appearing from every orifice. I have 31 tabs open on Firefox, the majority of which lead to wine articles and Twitter feeds. When I’m working, and when I’m not working, I’m reading wine articles. I am obsessed. I have post-it notes all over my desk with wine writers’ names on them as reminders to scan/send samples/read articles/send articles/suggest wines, repeat. The cycle goes on.
I am lucky to work for incredible clients, all of whom create wines I really believe in. Part of my job is to create engaging content and material about their wines and vineyards, and to communicate this to wine writers. If wine writers as a result like the wines and write about them, then my job is done and I’m happy. I will have helped to achieve recognition for a winemaker somewhere in the world, whether that be for a £6 wine or a £50 wine, from a tiny pocket in Gascony or a majestic vineyard in Chile. I also will have opened somebody’s eyes to an aspect of wine and given that person a nugget of information or a memory of taste to store in their brain, which also makes me happy. It is incredibly fulfilling.
This Twitter feed features @thesommelieruk. @Thesommelieruk seemingly would like to write. He or she said there should be more columns at the bottom end, stating, “Would love to (write) but....magazines want names and reputations and then those folk already preach to the converted. I will not get a notice as who the hell am I? Do wineshow presenters look like adsa £3.50 drinkers? Or even £4.99ers? On offer!”
Sigh. There are a few things wrong here.
Wine presenters looking like Asda £3.50 drinkers
"Wineshow presenters" aren't Asda £3.50 drinkers, although I'm not really sure what you mean here by looking like one. Anyway, back to the £3.50. If you are an Asda £3.50 drinker (which at the moment will buy you this on offer priced at £3.50 down from £4.48, which I personally think is a huge insult to wine, “Aromatized Wine-Product Cocktail,” what the f*** even is that – please don’t put wine in my aromatized cocktail, and please don’t aromatize my cocktail in the first place), I really don’t think you’re going to care that much about the contents, or want to. Unless that Aromatized Wine-Product Cocktail is so gross that it persuades you to spend a little bit more on your wine next time, we are really unlikely to convert the £3.50ers anyway. If you really care about wine, you would buy something else with £3.50. Maybe a beer.
Check out the Vinonomics by Bibendum below. If £5 only gives you 37p for the actual wine and thus for the grower, £3.50 will give you barely anything. Those vineyards are highly unlikely to be well tended and the wine will not give you a profound experience, let alone a positive experience in the first place.
I do see your point that we need to provide wine recommendations for those with less money to spend. If you have less to spend on wine, and you wish to spend between £5 and £10, our national wine writers are doing a fantastic job already. Jamie and Matthew’s columns, for example, cite great GV bottles for under £10 every week. I wouldn't say they "preach to the converted" - anybody is able to pick up the Sunday Express to read Jamie's recommendations. This consumer isn't necessarily already a convert.
Magazines want names and reputations
Yes, of course they do, and they should! Wine writers have spent yearsandyearsandyearsandyearandyears learning about wine and writing about wine. Some are completely and utterly dedicated to it. Jamie Goode spent the majority of this year travelling in order to communicate as much as possible about wine. Richard wrote this song entirely dedicated to grape varieties in 2010. Neal Martin has written 204,959 words on Burgundy. It’s comparable to a sports company hiring a famous athlete for an advertisement. Adidas hired Nastia Liukin for this advert. Would they have hired someone who isn’t entirely dedicated to gymnastics? Don’t think so. Wine writers have reputations because they are dedicated.
So, wine writers, thank you for being dedicated. Thank you for another great year working with you all and for inspiring me. I look forward to another year with you all.
A rather inherently linked chain of occurrences have happened to me over the past couple of weeks that have led me to contemplate scoring.
I met once more with a South African winemaker who created a wine that I feel very deeply about (piece to be published soon), I read Terry Theise's wonderful and powerful Reading Between the Wines, and yesterday I listened to BBC Radio 4's Five Green Bottles episode, entitled The Parker Effect, narrated by the brilliant Jancis Robinson OBE, ComMA, MW.
I will begin with Reading Between the Wines. It is beautifully written. It evokes true feeling and emotion and manages to convey what I would hope is the sentiment for people serious or passionate about wine: wine is emotional.
There was one excerpt that particularly affected me. "I didn't know this was coming. How do you get higher than the summit? Stand on tiptoes? Now comes the saltiness to the shimmy into the sweetness and glide in an itchy gorgeousness over the palate [here it is, the precise moment I lost it and let myself be carried away]... profound and magnificent yet without opacity, rather delineated to the last molecule of detail." I tasted it again and again as if to break the spell, but the wine was bigger than I was, and I vanished through the membrane. "It tastes this way for the same reason blossoms open - for the bees to be useful, for the plant to live and make new plants, for a few human passersby to pause, sniff, delight and feel a strange longing, not quite sad, wanting to touch another warm skin, oddly happy and alone in the odd lonely world."
It made me inhale and pause, just for a minute. It reminded me very much of why I am here in the first place, and why I love wine. Great wine has the ability to speak to you, and to move you.
There is another part of the book that evokes how wine can trigger intense imagination and memory. Not all wine, of course, or we would be walking around in a rather stupified haze all the time. Just some very special wine.
Too many of us, in life and in the wine trade, get caught up in busy lives, busily tasting, busily writing notes, busily writing articles, and busily scoring.
I have never scored a wine yet. I've thought about it. I have ranked wines in a judging panel, but I have never scored. I read scores with interest, but I find viticulture, technical details and the stories behind the wine and the people behind the wine, as well as tasting notes, of far greater interest. For me, there is something inherently strange in writing a score for a fine wine, for one that has moved me. Wine score inflation is also becoming an enormous issue.
I entirely understand why scores exist. I understand why people score: it is a useful benchmarking process, and also may help us assess what we deem qualitative in wine. It in turn gives people an indication of quality, and consumers find them useful.
This also links to why panels exist and why opinions matter. Jamie Goode recently wrote this rather excellent piece about why the opinions of wine critics matter. To quote him, he says, "we have an aesthetic system for fine wine, in which certain wines are serious and other are not."
I hope to myself one day be able to sit around more panels and discuss in which direction a certain region should be moving, or whether a stylistic shift has become too great. Topics such as hybrids, picking dates and reduction and oxidation come to mind, and I often find myself wondering what the topics of the future will be. I also strongly believe that we should speak up when we disagree, or even when we feel that a wine is simply not good. These discussions are learning exercises and are meant for guidance.
Back to scoring. Many wine writers and critics score. Hugh Johnson doesn't. In The Parker Effect, he finishes on a rather poignant note, something that really resonated with me. He compared scoring wine with scoring music, or art, with the example of Titian's Venus.
This is something I was thinking about yesterday, thus even more solidifying the bizarreness of these events occurring so soon after one another. I have a lot of articles on the go at the moment, and so for inspiration I had just begun listening to Ludwig van Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 "Moonlight" in C-Sharp Minor, which was followed on my playlist by "Lux Aeterna" by Clint Mansell, the leitmotif of Requiem for a Dream, which I consider to be one of the most powerful pieces of music written in our time. This, in turn was followed by Burial's Come Down to Us, a hugely gifted electronic musician whose music I am somewhat obsessed with and have been since I first heard it circa five years ago.
I was thinking about my trip to Beaujolais earlier this year and the wines of Fabien Duperray of Jules Desjourneys, while simultaneously thinking about Terry Theise's book. I was musing on how strongly I feel about his wines, and indeed about Beaujolais, and how I didn't feel like my tasting notes would ever quite convey those feelings, or indeed the energy in the wine.
Furthermore, if I felt this way, then how would I be able to score the wine? I could give it 100, of course, but that wouldn't really be the point, just like it wouldn't be the point to listen to Burial and score that track 100.
As Terry wrote of a 1990 Nikolaihof Im Weingebirge Smaragd, "wines like these don't seek to be included in the world, or even in your world, because they already are. They didn't ask your premission, any more than the rain does or the leaves do. When you drink them they include you."
As Hugh Johnson said, "wine is a friend to me, and I'm not going to treat it that way."
Why should I sit in front of a wine that is speaking to me and connecting with me on an emotional level, and tell it, "hey you, you're a 98. But you're not quite a 99."
Just like Terry did at the beginning of his career, I will continue to write my tasting notes, and I will continue to buy the same identical black notebooks and fill pages upon pages with notes from back to front, including the covers when I run out of space, and try desperately to grasp the essence of the wines on those pages, even if just for the reason that I may etch them onto my memory and convey them to others as best I can.
I write about wine and love doing so. I will write about wine energetically, descriptively, excitedly and who knows, perhaps even angrily.
But scoring wine? That's not for me. It doesn't make sense in my head, and it doesn't have to. Not yet, and perhaps never.
My mouse taint. Unintentionally looks drunk.
I recently read this fascinating article by wine writer Simon J Woolf on mouse taint which Richard Hemming MW recommended to me. It's left me rather mindblown. I urge everyone to read it. It's worth noting here that Simon is a brilliant writer on natural wine, specialising in orange wine. He is writing a book that will come out next year which I am excited to read.
"Mousiness is defined as a taint caused by lactic bacteria or possibly by Dekkera (AKA Brettanomyces)."
I'm going to be honest - prior to reading this, I had no idea that mouse taint is not Brettanomyces. I had of course noticed that it arises only on the finish, but I had just assumed that it was a different type of Brett.
It got me thinking. I use my own mental mouse scale:
1. Acceptable very subtle mousiness = one mouse e.g. Simon mentions that Radikon can show mouse in its youth, but this goes away with time. Radikon is one of my all-time favourite producers (top 5), so this little mouse is very welcome.
2. Unacceptable prominent mousiness = two mice
3. Undrinkable and totally spoiled = three mice
It's difficult to quantify, especially given how some people are unable to detect it. The mind boggles. It's like I've only just learnt that some people are colourblind. Or that some people taste coriander differently to others.
So what do I think?
I love natural wine. I find it fascinating, alive and wonderful, and think it's the only way you can make 100% purely terroir-driven wine. Of course non-natural winemakers also create beautiful wines, but I feel it can never reach 100% of its terroir-capacity. Definition-wise, what is natural wine? Can it include new oak? I think it can... That's another debate.
What do I think about the mice? I think if they're very subtle and not too squeaky, they are allowed a very small part in the play. Perhaps a distant cousin of the main act. When evident, or lingering, the mice should be booted off the stage.
After all, natural winemaking is all about terroir. Not about mice. Natural winemaking is about striving to create the best that the soil can be, through a wine. Soil and mice aren't related. I understand it can be hard to make the wine without the mouse, but if there's two mice one year, maybe it will be one mouse the next, and then perhaps one day, no mice.
As I sit on the plane, on the first leg of the journey back from Canada where I have just spent five fascinating days exploring the wine region of British Columbia, I find myself reminiscing on my four-year anniversary with the wine industry, and my three-year anniversary (1105 days to be precise) with the UK wine trade.
It’s been a brilliant and life-altering few years and, to start by quoting Andrew Jefford, “What a joy it is to possess a palate: to be able to smell and to taste the world. This is akin to the joy of having legs: to be able to walk and run through the world. In other words, it’s a gift the young take for granted – but both palate and legs need wise use and training to stay in shape, and to restrict the use of both prematurely, via excess or neglect, is a tragedy."
I feel very fortunate to have advanced into a career that I not simply enjoy, but which consumes my thoughts consistently on a daily basis until I go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. Looking back on August 2014, when a 23-year-old version of myself sat down at her first London desk to learn about the world of wine through newspapers and magazines, straight out of university, seems a lifetime ago.
Reading magazine and newspaper columns and feature pieces through wine PR every day, has taught me what I know today; and I thank the wine journalists out there for that; you are all brilliant. Spending time with those involved in the London on-trade has sparked my obsession with wine lists; which has in turn taught me endlessly about other wines and portfolios; I thank all the trade representatives and sommeliers for that; you are equally fantastic. I am lucky to be able to surround myself daily with people of such vast knowledge and enthusiasm.
A conversation in May last year saw me extend my career from PR and writing on my own website, to contributing to the UK on-trade magazine, www.the-buyer.net, which has since become a home for many of my vinous musings. I remember clearly being anxious about my first piece; suddenly there was a platform for my thoughts; previously my writings had been predominantly for myself.
This leads me to the first thing I love about the wine trade. Everybody I have come across has time for me. Why? Perhaps because our world of vinous activity is so subjective: we enjoy being challenged and faced with other thought processes and stances, no matter of what age group or background. No matter our age or experience, the palate has a voice of its own, which deserves the ears of others. We are our own teachers; the more wines of diverse styles we approach, the more we learn and develop and the more conversations we spark.
I learn from a group of, for lack of a better phrase, “wine people,” who have become my close friends. Some of them have spent decades in the trade, and all of them treat me with respect and consider my thoughts with an open mind. I’ll always remember to grasp onto this mutual help as I grow, and to equally welcome others that are new to the trade. I have met wonderful people around the world, most recently in Sonoma and British Columbia, and I look forward to building more friendships over the years.
The “wine people” and I often engage in blind tastings. I LOVE them. There is nothing more thrilling than sitting down to assess a glass without knowing what’s in there. Mimi, Fifi and Glouglou, by Michel Tolmer, fabulously translated by Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene, is your nail-on-the-head accurate light-hearted cartoon guide to the joys and frustrations of blind tasting. I've lost count of the amount of times I have laughed with the cartoon characters.
There are challenges. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s the dream job, and from the insider’s perspective, yes, it is still the dream job. There are tough sides: tasting all day with the ensuing toothache from acid-driven whites or sparkling wines, having a frustrating off-day when your palate does not want to have a conservation with your brain, running around frantically with boxes of wine and spittoons (trying not to spill them) whilst forgetting to eat breakfast or lunch, travelling multiple times in a month sometimes, often with weird routes, and going out a lot, sometimes many evenings on the trot. Timings, particularly for sommeliers, the late nights, the debates over multiple bottles until the early hours, all pose their own issues. We must be mindful, watchful and look after one another and ensure addiction does not develop, as Forbes wine writer Cathy Huyghe discusses in her article here.
The aforementioned challenges have taught me to look after myself through exercise, and have taught me the wondrous simplicity of the simple basics: sleep, healthy eating, water and taking a few breaks. All of these were rather neglected at university, but have become staple basics to my adult routine.
The hectic schedule has also taught me that no matter how much I want to, I cannot do everything. A friend recently asked me, “How do you do it all? The 9-6 job and all the writing?” I replied, “I love it so I will always find time for it. But even though it may seem as though I do, I can’t do it all. There will always be more to do, there will always be another article I want to write.” It propels me forward.
I am becoming better at travelling; travelling lightly and uncomplicating my life is of utmost importance. Travelling lightly is equally of importance so I can stuff my suitcase with wine. Once again, water, sleep and a run if possible are necessities. As Jamie Goode wrote on Facebook, “Just boarding for Toronto. These days a 7 h flight feels like short haul - 5 h time difference is jetlag for cowards” Haha. I think you get used to it. I’m getting there. In your face, jet lag.
So to finish this train of thought, wine is not a career for the faint hearted, or for the half interested. To succeed, you must be smitten. If you love the industry, it will love you back.
Three years is a comparatively short amount of time. I’m excited for what the future holds. My diploma starts in a few weeks, and I’ve made the decision to go down the MW route one day.
I’ll report back in three years’ time, on our six-year anniversary. Hopefully I’ll be halfway (?) to MW by then.
I headed to Noble Rot recently and was very kindly presented with this epic wine.
Anybody who knows me knows my obsession with Gamay, and this wine deserves a post all of its own. Standing for Roberts, Parr, Myers (Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers of Arnot Roberts, and Rajat Parr of Sandhi Wines and Domaine de la Côte), the wine was conceived in 2010, with its first vintage in 2011. The idea was to create a world class Gamay from California’s granitic soils, which are similar in composition to the soils of Gamay’s home: Beaujolais.
With the help of Steve Edmunds, this group of brilliantly talented winemakers were able to source the only two vineyards in California planted with Gamay Noir (which previously has been confused with Valdigue (which was exported as “Gamay” but is not the same whatsoever).
Both vineyards are in California’s El Dorado, in the Sierra Foothills. The soils from Barsotti Vineyard are granitic, and Witter’s Vineyard is on decomposing granite and volcanic clay-loam.
The result: they’ve nailed it.
NOTES: Lovely lifted nose – crunchy bright cherry stones and a strong minerality. On the palate, there’s a lot of frozen raspberries and a lovely slightly chewy texture. A pretty and soft finish. I think this will also age beautifully – it would be interesting to try this in ten years’ time (if you can avoid drinking it now….)
The same grape. Three main names. Three names that couldn’t be much more different from one another.
Aside from these three names, it has approximately 50 other synonyms. Sigh. Such is vinous life.
It’s a very interesting old varietal. As written in Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding MW and Jose Vouillamoz’s Wine Grapes, “The name Fer derives from the Latin ferus, meaning wild or savage, which is consistent with the common belief that Fer was domesticated from local wild grapevines (Lavignac 2001).”
For the ampelographers out there, it is the grandparent to Carmenere.
Aside from the problematic naming, I’ve rather fallen in love with this little-known variety.
WITH PLAIMONT PRODUCTEURS (Gers, Saint Mont, Madiran):
I work with Plaimont Producteurs, who vinify Pinenc and use it in many of their brilliant SW blends. They have a phenomenal pre-phylloxera vineyard where they have some examples of pre-phy Pinenc vines. I was lucky enough to try some of their experimental microvinifications of the grape last year. The grape is lifted and fresh, showing red fruit and floral characteristics and works excellently blended with its fellow Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
It is used as part of the blend in their striking and memorable top cuvee, Le Faîte, together with Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend changes every year, and is a unique blending of the best expressions of Saint Mont terroir. There is an iconic blending day for it, which welcomes well-known journalists and sommeliers; this year being Olly Smith and Serge Dubs (of l’Auberge de l’Ill) to all come together and decide which blend shall become the final wine.
It’s very special, small-production, and due to being lesser-known it’s incredibly affordable too.
NOTES ON 2012: Lovely intense red berry nose of black raspberries, blackcurrants and blackberries, with a little cocoa nib. It is intensely fresh, and will age for decades. Lifted hints of spice and liquorice on the finish.
The UK agent for the trade is Corney and Barrow. Consumers can buy it through Portland for £21.95. The white cuvee is available through Adnams – a blend of Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng.
When hailing from Marcillac, the grape is known as Mansois.
This one comes from Domaine Laurens, and the vineyard is very steep and terraced. Deep eroded sandstone, rich in iron oxide.
NOTES: What a wine. So juicy. Fresh figs, blackberries, blueberries and a little bramble on the finish. Lean, stony, mineral core with a little grip and tons of freshness. It’s crunchy. A wine with energy.
TASTED AT BRILLIANT CORNERS, DOMAINE DU CROS CUVEE LO SANG DEL PAIS 2015.
Here we are with Domaine du Cros, again on steep vineyards with eroded limestone, with the signature “rougier”/iron oxide soils.
NOTES: Bright, lively red fruit: ripe redcurrants, frozen raspberries and some wild strawberry. Some liquorice on the finish and a distinct freshness and a certain graphite quality from its rougiers soil.
Aside from these, I haven’t many other examples of the grape, so please reach out to me if you do…!
BK WINES Skin n’ Bones Pinot Noir 2015
“CREATIVITY, NOT CONFORMITY.”
There is so much Pinot out there, and there is an awful lot of an average quality: good, but nothing special. Not this one. This one is pretty epic.
The wine gets its name from a long period of skin contact (100 days!), and a bone-dry finish.
It is Pinot Noir from the Gower vineyard in Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, Australia. The soils are loam made up of stirling sandstone over deep clay.
Unfiltered and unfined, aged in 10% new and 90% neutral French oak. The fruit is 100% destemmed and sorted. Barrels filled roughly ¾ to allow space for CO2 to blanket the ferment. Only 500 cases made.
For the wine geeks, clones used are Dijon 114, Dijon 115, MV6, Dijon 777.
Unlike any other Pinot I’ve had. On the nose, there are red fruits, particularly frozen fruit – frozen crunchy raspberries and cherries, with some undergrowth, as well as a little pepper. Very juicy and with a bigger body than normal for a Pinot, this has mouth-filling fruit and that animal-like bacon fat side. It has lovely structure and smooth, well-built tannins, with a long finish. Despite the skin contact and structured tannins, it is really quaffable.
BK Wines was founded in 2007 by Brendon and Kirstyn Keys. Their goal is “to create fabulous art. Beautiful, unique, sensuous, deceptively minimalist, envelope-pushing art.” And with this wine, they’ve definitely succeeded.
After learning from winemakers in NZ, Argentina and California, they decided to settle in the Adelaide Hills. The winery is surrounded by bush land and vines. As a winemaker, Brendon seeks artistic expression and high quality fruit. He uses a minimalist approach in his winemaking.
Enjoyed at the wonderful wine bar UNWINED, in Tooting.
2016 was a great year for wine, if not the best for politics.
You can read my short round-up and top six picks (really tough task) of the year here on The Buyer.
Highlights of the year included exceptional tastings (in particular AoA, Barullo, the Beaujolais celebrations on Nouveau day at Noble Rot – with winemakers Andrew Nielsen of Le Grappin, Jean-Louis Dutraive and Julien and Antoine Sunier), and meeting brilliant winemakers such as Bryan MacRobert and Albert Ahrens with Red Squirrel, and the ’76 Paris rematch and meeting Elena Pantaleoni at Sager + Wilde).
(Meeting Bryan MacRobert and tasting the Laventura wines)
Abroad, highlights included a trip to Beaujolais, where I was fortunate enough to taste some fascinating old vintages from various producers (including a stunning ’76 from Château du Moulin-à-Vent). This cemented Gamay’s real capacity for ageing in my mind. I also visited small artisan producers such as Lapalu, the Suniers, JP Brun, F. Vergers, A. Kuhnel, the Thillardons and more, all producing epic Gamay. It’s been the YEAR FOR GAMAY, for me.
With Plaimont Producteurs, tasting microvinifications of reintroduced (from a pre-phylloxera plot) ancient and forgotten varietals in Saint Mont was another highlight. A trip to Masi, in Valpolicella, saw me learn about drying lofts (appassimento) and pergola vines.
New year, new wines to taste. I have my eye on…
1 – More Gamay: Of course from Beaujolais, but from further afield as well. I want to get to grips with Gamay’s expression in the Loire. I’ll be looking forward to tasting more Canadian examples too.
2 – Italy. All over: The country has a wealth of indigenous varietals of huge interest to me. I think we’ll see more Lambrusco too, as well as other red sparkling examples. Franciacorta and Trento will enjoy some more noise I think. Tannico stock brilliant examples of all of these.
3 – Croatia: Again – fascinating indigenous varietals to explore, and wonderful styles. Lots of amphora and skin contact too. Borgonja is very interesting. Check out Croatian Fine Wines for some of these.
4 – Greece: again – all about the indigenous varietals. I love the saline quality that Assyrtiko can take on. A recent tasting with Southern Wine Roads was fascinating, – I will be writing it up soon for The Buyer.
5 – Aligoté: A varietal I should have tasted more of. With wines like Love and Pif out there, there is a lot to be explored.
6 – Kazakhstan: I saw some impressive wines from Kazakhstan at the London Wine Fair last year. Hoping to see more of these this year.
7 – Garnacha!: In lighter, unoaked styles. Possibly also more minimal intervention Rioja? I’d like to see that.
8 – Vermentino, and Rolle: (the same, French tho). In 2 styles – the more reductive and very fresh style, as well as the richer, round style. The Rolle from Le Grand Cros falls into the latter and is really stunning.
9 – English reds: I absolutely love Chapel Down’s Union Red and think we have a huge potential in this country for light, elegant reds.
10 – ….. More small production Nouveau within the trade? I’d like to see some Nouveau from other regions (and even countries?) because they’re very interesting wines, that give some insight into the vintage.
We shall wait and see.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
DANSK HVID JULE GLØGG (THE DANISH VERSION OF MULLED WINE, IN THIS CASE WITHOUT THE WINE, JUST THE AKVAVIT)
As most of you will know, I’m from Denmark, and like the rest of Scandinavia we have a million amazing old fashioned Christmas traditions. One of these is gløgg; a hot drink traditionally made from red wine often with the addition of brandy, vodka or akvavit (clearly we have a high alcohol tolerance...?) My dad always says that back in the 80s in Copenhagen at Christmas time the gløgg would have so much akvavit that you'd be rolling to the next bar after the second.
This Christmas, my sister decided to make hvid gløgg (the white version). Fairly simple to make and with a large vat you can serve up to 20 people or more.
The recipe is: (for 4 people, so adjust accordingly)
2 bottles of apple juice
4 shot glasses of akvavit
40-80grams of sugar (to taste)
1 tablespoon of cardamom pods
1 tablespoon of allspice pods
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 cinnamon sticks
1) Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat it.
2) When hot, switch the heat off and let it infuse for 30 minutes and gently reheat it for serving.
#BOJONUVO : The revival… PART 1
I’ll try to keep this as brief as I can, difficult because there’s a lot to be said. Something good is stirring for the tradition…
Beaujolais Nouveau: A tradition that’s been going since the 70s, where people would race with the “baby wine” of Beaujolais to Paris, and then to London, and in later years to Asia, America, and so on. It happens on the third Thursday of November, with chants around the world of Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!!!
The wine is a vin de primeur. It was originally created to assess how the vintage is going, as a way of winemakers to communicate with one another and have a first glimpse of the latest (in this case 2016) vintage. Personally, I think it’s fascinating, not just for Gamay/Beaujolais, but for other regions too. I once tried a baby Mâcon, which was wonderful – young and crazy and tasting of Haribo eggs, but nonetheless a solid, good baby wine-in-the-making.
Unfortunately, it resulted in a lot of poorly produced, weak, off-balance Beaujolais Nouveau that was produced to keep up with the marketing. This led to the Beaujolais name becoming somewhat tainted. It also led to consumers thinking that this was Beaujolais: this half, weak, baby wine. They thought the toddler was in fact the adult. This is frustrating, and a huge shame, because Beaujolais is capable of creating really fine wine, that can compete against the Pinots of the world (Gamay is after all, the genetic child of Pinot Noir). The crus have impeccable capacity for ageing, and the wines produce a very delicate, earthy, wild-strawberry-like wine with age. They are, in my opinion, some of the best wines for mirroring their terroir: Gamay is a delicate, ethereal varietal whose aromas really reflect where it comes from.
Furthermore, Beaujolais has the most fascinating array of terroirs. SIGALES have recently carried out a study of the soils of Beaujolais, using drill trenches and infra-red. This has resulted in the amazing characterisation of soils. And really – these have an evident effect on the wines: wines from granite have a very different taste profile from those from alluvial soils, schist, or manganese-heavy soils. How this happens, we don’t know, but I am adamant that it does.
Over the past few years, there has been incredible advances in Beaujolais. We have of course always had the fabulous Gang Of Four (Lapierre, Foillard, Breton and Thévenet), but in recent years, small young artisan producers are popping out left right and centre, for example Damien Coquelet, Mee Godard, Fréderic Berne from Château des Vergers, Brice Laffond and Jean-Jacques Parinet of Château du Moulin-à-Vent, the Thillardon brothers, Mathieu Melinand, the Sunier brothers are just some that spring to mind, there are many many more. These are highly talented producers, making very expressive wines from specific plots, that truly express a sense of origin. There’s a focus on natural production: indigenous yeasts, no fining/filtering etc, that means you pretty much get the precise expression of the vineyard into your glass.
What does this mean for Beaujolais Nouveau?
All of the above means that some of these young producers are also making Beaujolais Nouveau, normally for the local market, and definitely to assess their own vintages and make sure everything is running smoothly, and to gain an idea for what their vintage will look like. However, they beginning to arrive over here too…
NB; In additon, these restaurants will be serving a Muscadet Nouveau from Landeron, and “Octobre”, a nouveau from Roussillon (domaine Foulards Rouges). Say whaaaat? I’ll obv be trying these too.
Furthermore, the wonderfully talented Andrew Nielsen from LE GRAPPIN has created a single vineyard plot of #BOJONUVO.
This will be available in Ben’s House, Bistro Union, Brunswick House, Clipstone, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, Galvin Hop, Grain Store, Noble Rot (Fête du Beaujolais, with Pierre Koffman overseeing the menu and Andrew Nielsen in attendance along with Jean-Louis Dutraive and Julien Sunier), the Winemakers Club, 161 Food+Drink, and Ruby’s for their Genuwine dance party.
Made from (declassified) old vine Côte-de-Brouilly grapes and placed into an IBC (International Beverage Container – a 1000L drum) under cover of CO2 for sixteen days untouched under pressure of its own CO2 produced naturally by fermentation. On the 16th day of cuvaison, the top was cut open, and the grapes were crushed by foot. The juice was run off to be fermented separately from the pressings. Unfined, unfiltered, no added yeasts or any additions of any kind. No SO2. Kegged by gravity. Inspired both by old-school closed top carbonic fermentations from the Beaujolais and Vino Di Anna’s Palmento made from the free run of foot crushed grapes.
The wine comes direct from the keg via the on-tap project started last year by OW LOEB – who now works with over 30 top London restaurants delivering quality wine by the glass fresh from the winery. This is in order to protect freshness, and be environmentally-freindly. It arrives in London TODAY, fresh from the cuve in the keg! Nielsen is well-renowned for his passion for the environment – for example he doesn’t use capsules on his fine wines, and he creates “bagnums” and kegs for his vins de soif.
Rolle. AKA Vermentino, but grown in the South of France. It’s one of my current grape crushes and writing this has made me decide to go out and seek some more. In white wines, one of the main things I look for is a balanced acidity, and in particular, mouthfeel. Mouthfeel is something that I think lacks in a lot of white wines, and equally finding a white without a piercing acidity can be tricky. (Saying this, I am biased as my taste tends to lean towards wines with a lower acidity.) In this case we have a wine that naturally has a high acidity and this wine has extraordinary balance.
Le Grand Cros, Esprit de Provence Blanc 2015 – £15.95 Pall Mall Fine Wines
Also available to buy by the case at Asset Wines
Prominant honeysuckle and lemon on the nose, with a lovely soft palate of white peach and apricot. Fantastically long finish with slight almond notes – lingering on the palate.
Julian Faulkner, winemaker at Le Grand Cros, feels strongly that there is a place for Rolle in Provence, and I agree. A market that is dominated by rosé also produces this lovely varietal that I feel is often forgotten about. It is commonly used in rosé blends, but now we are seeing a few producers making it as 100% whites. I just hope we will start to see more.
Rolle has a unique flavour spectrum in the climate of Provence. While producing its signature citrus and floral, fresh aromatics it also produces stone fruit flavours such as peach and apricot, and in some cases some exotic notes.
What really draws me to this wine in particular is its soft palate and lovely mouthfeel – it fills the mouth and has a fantastically long finish. Perhaps one of the longest finishes I’ve ever experienced from an unoaked white.
I would describe this mouthfeel as a lighter, more lifted style of Viognier, while maintaining a slight “zing” you get from other SW varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and Roussanne.
How is it made?
Each parcel is vinified separately; short skin contact at 15°C; grapes were pressed with early separation of pressed must; tight cold static must settling; temperature control of fermentation at 16-17°C; racking and blockage of malolactic fermentation.