Wine Blog

What I’ll be drinking in 2017

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.

 

2017…

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!

Christina Rasmussen

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
10 cloves
1 orange 

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

#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.

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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.

With the Thillardon brothers, May 2016

With the Thillardon brothers, May 2016

Camille Lapierre, May 2016

Camille Lapierre, May 2016

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…

The Bojo Nouveau wines from LAPIERRE and from REMI DUFAITRE will be available to taste at Soif, Terroirs and Toasted.

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 LOEBwho 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.

WHY WE SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT ROLLE

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

 

TASTING NOTES:

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.

SMILEY NV from SILWERVIS

Available from Gudfish and Philglas and Swiggot

I have a love affair with Chenin Blanc, particularly hailing from South Africa, and I just love this. Wonderfully crafted, seriously impressive wine. With a wine label like this one, I half expected something pretty funky – perhaps on the orange scale/very tannic, or unfiltered and mega cloudy. Not to say I don’t like these wines – I’m one of their biggest advocates – but this wine isn’t about that. It’s extremely complex, and a serious wine, which arguably has something old school about its style. Saying that, it is extremely creative/new wave in its winemaking – I can’t say I’ve ever come across a wine made in this way before.

TASTING NOTES:

Gorgeous, soft orange peel on the nose, with apricot, peach and almond/hazelnut notes appearing on the palate with a little nutmeg present too. It’s deliciously rich, but balanced: weighty, but not overly heavy. It has a lovely saline minerality on the finish – I would guess from the flor. Although very ripe, it has lovely fresh acidity running through which leads me to think this will definitely cellar well.

About the wine

The Smiley refers to the African slang word for the leftover meat on a sheep’s head, which is a local delicacy (the wines I write about at the moment seem to have a meat theme going on – referring to my previous HAGGIS)

It is a wholebunch wine, pressed in a basket press. From Chenin Blanc, it’s aged 30% in a Nomblot egg and 70% tank fermented. Indigenous yeasts, with just a tiny amount of sulphur.

A non-vintage blend (meaning it doesn’t come from one particular year), this wine has been selected over four vintages from 2013-16. Part is aged under flor, and some is madeirised ‘sun wine’. It’s a complex little beast.

About Silwervis

A Swartland producer, made by Ryan Mostert and partner Samantha Suddons. Yet another one that shows just how good this region combined with innovation can be. They produce Chenin & Cinsault, naturally fermented in 670l Nomblot concrete eggs. Smiley NVs: Chenin & Red Blend. Minimal intervention wines to optimally express a sense of terroir.

HAGGIS by Patrick Sullivan

PATRICK SULLIVAN: HAGGIS,£21.95 at Vin Cognito

Available to the trade through Les Caves de Pyrene.

Say goodbye to any sort of preconception you might have had about ordering a rosé…

Nomadic young winemaker, Patrick Sullivan, makes Aussie wine inspired by “emotion, a moment in time and a sense of place.” And he’s pretty good at doing it.

This is seriously creative winemaking, and it works.

Mega natural (and not to everyone’s taste – but definitely to mine). It’s really juicy, rather like alcoholic nectar.

About the wine…

Unfiltered so very cloudy; in fact it looks a little like an apple/rhubarb juice in appearance too.

Low sulphur with skin contact.

From a blend of Moscato, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Malbec (wow). It’s a blend of wines that weren’t needed in other cuvées.

All of this would mean you might expect it to be a bit tough, or tannic, or simply a one-glass type of a wine. BUT NO. Alas, it’s actually very easy to drink and very moreish.

Strawberries, blackcurrants and blossom notes. Very fresh and rich on the palate, with great mouthfeel and texture. A real gluggable wine.

I enjoyed it at SOIF, which is an epic natural wine and French food restaurant in Battersea. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone – it’s one of my favourite places in London to eat.

COS PITHOS BIANCO 2013; ORANGE SICILIAN AMPHORA WINE

COS Pithos Bianco 2013

PHILGLAS & SWIGGOT, £25

Available to the trade through Caves de Pyrene.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of orange wine (the good stuff tho).

This is a brilliantly made one. The tannins are very well integrated, and aromas are delicate. It’s vinified in amphorae, as with many other orange wines, and this particular wine really is very reminiscent of sunny Sicily.

NB: why is it orange? Orange wine is orange due to its prolonged time spent with the grape skins (in this case – a while seven months in amphora with its skins). In a way, it is white wine produced in the style of making red wine. 

Herby, spiced, orange-peel nose with delicate floral aromas. Textured and supple, the palate is fresh, spicy and slightly saline on the finish. 

About the wine:

Grape: 100% Greciano (NB: this is DNA identical to Garganega according to Jancis.)

Biodynamic.

Seven months ageing in amphorae (large terracotta pots, that mean the wine avoids oak flavour and can breathe more). 

Amphorae, photo credit bkwine.com

About COS, the winery:

Azienda Agricola COS was founded by Giambattista (Titta) Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino (Rino) Strano – hence the acronym COS. Three friends who wanted to recreate the work of their ancestors.

They became the younest winemakers in Italy in 1980 when they bought the winery. Their first harvest comprised of just 1470 bottles. Rino went into medicine and so sold his shares to his sister, Giuseppina. They bought further vineyards.

Today, it is just Titta and Giusto.

The estate became biodynamic, to express terroir, and the true craft of winemaking.

PITHOS was born  in 2000, when the duo began working with the amphorae.

GIESEN’S CLAYVIN CHARDONNAY: THE FUDER

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This is something special and really merits its own blog post. I got into the world of wine almost four years ago, through working in Burgundy, lucky enough to taste a lot of GC Chardonnay. I haven’t been in the industry that long, but it is rare that I come across a Chardonnay that in my opinion can really stand up to “The Greats.”

That’s not at all to say I don’t love Chardonnay from elsewhere – it’s one of my absolute favourite varietals. Personally, I’m a huge fan of small, independent producers who create interesting and terroir expressive wine. In particular I adore the Deux Terres from Paulatim (natural Chard from the Ardeche) and A Moment of Silence from BlankBottle (Chardonnay blend with Chenin Blanc and Viognier). These are different wines though – they’re gorgeous expressions of the grape, but they’re wines to be viewed in terms of their own unique styles and terroirs.

When it comes to a real “holy cow” wine – one that can rival a Montrachet, and one that can lie down for many many years, this is one of the first outside of Burgundy that’s really blown my socks off.

Theo, Alex and Marcel Giesen began the winery back in the 80s, after leaving their native Germany. It’s one of the big producers of Sauvignon as we know it today. This isn’t what I’m going to talk about here.

They have recently begun to make their single vineyard series. I tasted The Fuder Chardonnay in The New Zealand Wine Cellar.

(BTW – if you haven’t been – go. It has a fantastic selection of NZ wines, in all sorts of styles. Plus its surrounded by all sorts of other fun bars and foodie places in POP Brixton.)

ABOUT THE VINEYARD

It’s labelled a “Clayvin”. This is its vineyard. I like this. I’m all about terroir and earth and soil, and to see them put this on their label makes me happy. It’s  direct, clear message to the consumer that the reason that this wine is so good is because of its soil.

The Clayvin vineyard is a high density, low yielding site that lies on the foothills of the Southern Valleys in Marlborough. Silt loam with clay. The vines are 19 years old, and organically farmed.

“The Fuder” – the range of whites are so-labelled because of a return to Germany by Marcel Giesen to visit a friend’s winery, where he rediscovered the 1000 litre barrels. Originally, they were used in the Mosel – large size reduces surface to wine area – this gives the wines structure, but expresses minimal oak and instead lets the terroir speak.

ABOUT THE WINEMAKING

Hand harvested, whole bunch pressed, settles and transferred to new 1000L Fuder German Oak barrels.

Wild yeast starter creating a warm natural ferment, rested on yeast lees for 11 months prior to racking, wine underwent 100% malolatic fermentation.

I debate with myself sometimes that malo can hide the terroir, however, I feel it’s fantastic here. To have a Chardonnay with such superb terroir, and such superb fruit, the malo turns it into a real gem, and this definitely is that.

Giesen says its ageing potential is four years, but I think it’s going to be a lot more than that.

WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?

Texturally, it’s soft and gentle on the palate, however in terms of fruit it’s really a bit of a rockstar. Big peach and pear aromas with wonderful almond and hazelnut aromas. The oak gives it that lovely nuttiness – but by no means is it harsh. The 1000L barrel creates something special here – a gentle, moreish, fat (but not too fat) Chardonnay in a style that isn’t “in your face”. It’s wonderful.

 

QUIET WINES OF PLACE: INTRODUCING OVUM

Yesterday, I gathered my notebook, pen and nose and headed down to the Tobacco Dock in Wapping to the Real Wine Fair.

The Real Wine Fair is a celebration of all things organic, biodynamic and natural, within the world of wine. Suffice to say I wasn’t quite prepared for what was ahead. Two huge rooms of some of the most interesting producers and wines I’ve ever encountered. Two hours was nowhere near enough. One wine was a combination of 417 grape varieties, something I’ll probably never get to try again.

Organic, natural and biodynamic wines are no longer a niche thing, or the reserve of hipsters. They’re (finally) garnering more attention and so they should. Yes, some of them might be on the weird and wacky side, but isn’t that what wine is about too? While we may all retain love for classic Bordeaux, it’s incredible to taste wines from farflung places made in unique and sometimes ancient methods, or on the other hand, innovative and new methods that haven’t been tried before.

I’ll be looking in-depth into more of the producers too, but for now I’m going to concentrate on Ovum Wines, all the way from Oregon.

OVUM

“We’re not trying to make the “best” wine, just an honest reflection of when, and where it came from.”

Ovum stays true to the tradition of old world wine production, focusing on the neutral barrel (or Nomblot cement eggs) In this sense Ovum is “an homage to the past”.

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One of Ovum’s winemaking eggs

Their niche is discovering the terroir of the Pacific Northwest, uncovering unique terroirs and the resulting expression of place through the medium of wine.

Their wines all aim to show a wild aspect, whether from the native ferments used in winemaking, or discinct characteristics that come from the remote forests on the California-Oregon border. Their labels seek to give an indication of what’s inside the bottle.

John House, winemaker, states,

“If the soil could speak to us, think of the root taking a signal from the soil, then transmits through the vine and into the grape, and we have the opportunity to make that signal audible. Drinking an Ovum wine should be like listening to AM Radio, in Stereo.”

I had the chance to really experience this with the comparison of two Gewurztraminer wines from the same vineyard both named with Nina Simone lyrics, but one from alluvial clay, called “Do I Move You?” and the other from serpentine clay, called “Into the Dark”, which John explained to me is a very unique gold/green clay that comes from the oceanic crust. The terroir used to be a gold mine in the 1800s so its rich in magnesium.

The first was a smooth gentle delicious Gewurtz with green apple and floral “joyful” notes, as I would describe. The one from serpentine clay showed a deeper more serious side of earthiness, an entirely different palate to what the first showed. This can only come from the terroir, so to any wine critics out there harping anti-terroir theories, try these and say that this isn’t to do with the soil and I’ll eat my hat.

THE WINES

Do I Move You? Gewurztraminer 2013

Wonderfully gentle, soft palate of green apples and blossom flowers.

Into the Dark Gewurztraminer 2014

Serious palate with earthy, forest notes unusual for a Gewurz, still with the blossom but a slightly riper side to it.

Riesling Deep Water 2014

Grown in Basalt. Lovely ripeness and zingy texture with a low pH of under 3. Sea breeze notes with fresh white flower notes, combined with a honeyed finish.

Off the Grid 2014

Bright acid with a natural sweet side. Green apples combined with ripe peach notes, again with slightly savoury notes. Neverending finish.

Memorista 2014

Bright freshness: I could drink this day in day out. Lime combined with minerality, and such a vitality. The classic white blossom shines through here, but with that wet mineral rock characteristic so unique here.

Thanks for making these John!!

SAGER + WILDE, HOXTON, 10.03.15 WITH WELLS GUTHRIE FROM COPAIN WINES, SONOMA COUNTY

The problem with living and working in London is that there is a never-ending list of things I want to do, but hardly any time to do them. The perfect example of this is Sager + Wilde, a wine bar I’ve been dying to go to since before I even moved up to London (In September…)

However, better late than never…! As it turned out, I picked the perfect evening to head there as Wells Guthrie, winemaker of Copain Wines in Sonoma County, California, would be present. The bar itself is small, cosy, dimly lit and fitting to East London with its bare wood and stripped walls.

Sager + Wilde works in a very unique way with a sole purpose to please the wine enthusiast. In a dog eat dog world, it is increasingly rare nowadays to find somewhere that specifically caters (and cares) for the consumer. A flat mark up rate of £20 per bottle is amazing to find in London, and made me extremely thankful. When it’s payday, I’m coming back to try some of the finer wines that I no doubt would not be able to taste for those prices elsewhere. It is clear this is a bar born from love and passion, evident in the owners’ exuberance.

Their wine list changes daily, with a large selection of wines available by the glass (yay). We chose the Syrah ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012  and the Pinot Noir “Tous Ensemble” 2012, both from Mendocino County.

Tasting notes:

Syrah ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012: Blackberries and black cherry aromas with pepper, with underlying hints of spice. In the mouth, the tannins are already developing well, with a slight meaty presence. 

Pinot Noir ‘Tous Ensemble’ 2012: Wonderfully earthy nose with hints of moss , with cherry and some ripe raspberry in there too. In the mouth, round , supple and moreish.

Wells Guthrie came and spoke to us personally, first introducing himself, explaining his career thus far in winemaking. He originally started his love affair with wine with Syrah, and moved to the Northern Rhone working with Chapoutier. he has also spent time in Burgundy with Frédéric Mugnier (this revelation left me painfully jealous – there’s really no better way to learn about Pinot). This French background shines strongly through in his wines, and I must admit in a blind tasting, the Pinot Noir could have fooled me for a Burgundy (perhaps a Beaune? They had similar qualities).

Wells emphasised that he admires the European style, and shies strongly away from the often very bold Californian new oak style. He stressed that he does not use new oak, indeed French barrels of approximately ten years old instead. This really allows the varietals to shine through and leaves them without the overly present and often overpowering Californian oak style.

The Syrah is  15% whole bunch, a good percentage, adding the right amount of tannin. The Pinot Noir is 100% only grapes, no stems, which Wells said was important to him as he is a Pinot purist. I strongly agreed! Both wines demonstrate an impeccable balance, and I would be very excited to try them again in a few years’ time. The Syrah is produced in large 600l barrels, whereas the Pinot is in standard, which again demonstrated to me exactly why the wine is the way it is. The Syrah needs this larger barrel to develop as well as it has, and this shone through evidently in the wine in front of us. The small production and low yields of both are vital in recognising just how excellent the quality is.

He certainly impressed me, as did the wines, and I’ll be looking out for them…

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IF YOU’RE CELEBRATING VALENTINE’S DAY, SAY IT WITH SAINT-AMOUR

To celebrate or not. One one hand, it’s a commercially invented day created pretty much with the sole purpose for corporations to sell love-infused merchandise to the reluctant male population, (half of whom will desperately try and fail to conceal their balloons, roses and teddies in bags from the other commuters), and doe-eyed teenagers, buying chocolate enscribed in pink glitter with “I love you Fred, Always Yours xox.”

On the other hand, be what it may, it’s a great reason to celebrate love and serves as a reminder to take some special time together and celebrate a relationship. For me and I’m sure the majority of the population, that involves food and wine.

And what better than a wine that’s called Saint-Amour, literally St. Love?

It comes from Beaujolais, a wine region in France that is famous for its grape varietal Gamay. The region is formed of the Beaujolais AOC appellation, Beaujolais-Villages AOC, and ten “Crus” – wines made from villages that have certified “Cru” status. There are ten of these. Beaujolais is one of the only rench regions left to still provide an excellent quality/price ratio.

These cru wines will reflect clearly the terroir that they come from, for example the shallow granite soils of Chiroubles tends to produce lighter, fruit-forward wines, whereas the schist, slate, iron oxide and manganese “blue stone soils” of Morgon Côte de Py tends to produce bolder and punchier wines that tend to be darker in colour. I could drone on about these in great depth but for now that’s what you need to know.

Saint-Amour. The romantic Cru. It is the most Northerly Cru of the ten, bordering the Mâcon region of Burgundy. It produces lively, particularly refined and balanced wines.

It is particularly famous for showing lively red fruit. For example it will show aromas of kirsch and spices. The soils are siliceous-clay.

I have chosen one wine in particular that I love. Aside from this one, you can get Saint-Amour from Virgin Wines + Kwoff + Tanners + Alpine Wines.

Joseph Burrier Côte de Besset Saint-Amour 2013

The Wine Society, £14.50

Terroir

In 2007, Domaine Joseph Burrier acquired the one hectare vineyard of the ‘Côte de Besset’ climat. The plot faces east on a granitic scree slope next to the village of Saint Véran, on the wide, steep slope of Mount Besset (the first steep hill of the Beaujolais region). Light, crumbly lava soils combined with compact, hard granite and quartz stones. The soils are generally silty, sandy and shallow, naturally limiting the yields.

Viticulture

The vines have an average age of 40 years old and are managed in an environmentally friendly manner to promote microbial life in the soils. They are 100% hand harvested and yield control is strict.

Winemaking

Following hand harvest the grapes are hand sorted at the Beauregard winery. Vinification is traditional and aimed at expressing terroir. After partial destemming the grapes are macerated for six to nine days with punch-downs and pump-overs. The end of the fermentation process and the ageing is carried out in “pièces” (228l oak barrels) for seven to ten months. The wine will evolve for at least three to eight years.

Velvety, light and with strawberry notes, slight cinnamon and particular eathy notes.

VINTELOPER: SMALL BATCH WINE. LIFE IS BEST LIVED IN THE TENSION BETWEEN MADNESS & GENIUS

“Fundamentally art is perception. No matter the form, art is a celebration of individuality. Art can represent reality, but further it can enhance, transcend or even distort it.” – VINTELOPER

The Vinteloper Shiraz label

Here’s another piece on “craft wine”…

This time across the pond from Australia. I had the pleasure of meeting David Bowley from VINTELOPER at the ADT (Australia Day tasting) on Tuesday.

I was blown away. I always make a beeline for the guys at Red Squirrel when I have the chance, and I wasn’t disappointed. To say I wasn’t disappointed is a huge understatement.

I have, for a while now, been seeking “artisan” wines. Wines of small production, where care, love and innovation goes into every bottle. These artisanal wines are the future of wine and its development. Wine to me has always been ethereal, something non-temporal. They’re exciting, different, and in many cases exceptional. I know my favourite classic wines: so instead of revisiting them time and time again, why not explore, and discover?

I’ll never forget the first time I had Montrachet, but for me wine is about sensory exploration and trying new things.

It seems I’ve found someone that agreed with me. In a similar stance to mine, Vinteloper says:

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David Bowley, winemaker, trained in both Australia and France (more specifically, in my beloved Burgundy – in Nuits St Georges).  In 2008 he took the helm of Vinteloper.

Aromatics and precision has become his signature style.

Where in Australia?

The home vineyard is 25 years old at Norton Summit in the Adelaide Hills. I haven’t managed to make it to Australia yet, but if I could this would be one of the first stops. It is, in Vinteloper’s words, a region:

“brimming with creative energy and growing great produce.”

Now… Onto the important bit…

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The Wines

 

Vinteloper R/14 Riesling 2014, Clare Valley

Riesling is my “obsession du jour,” as I’m sure my colleagues know as I’m harping on about it. This is a fresh, elegant style with lovely fresh blossom, pollen and citrus notes. It’s tight in a good way – really zingy minerality.

The wine facts:

Single vineyard. Elevation 440m. E/W orientation. Planted 2000. Production: 446 dozen

Long [8 week], cool, controlled fermentation. Temperature held at 11-14C. 100% stainless steel.

 

Vinteloper OR/13 ‘ODEON’ Riseling 2013, Clare Valley

Yay. Another Riesling. This time – wow. This is different. Still the blossom, but where the other one seems cool, this seems warm. It has honey, nutmeg, spices. That little bit of warming delicious petrol that a bit of age brings.

The wine facts:

Single Vineyard. Elevation: 440m.

Some label this as a natural wine. What this means is that the grapes are processed without modern mechanical input. No additions. Wild yeast fermented in old french oak barrels. No temperature control applied. Post fermentation French barrels are filled & sealed. Yeast lees are stirred occasionally (battonage). The wine spends 12 months sitting on these lees in barrel.

About these two Rieslings. Vinteloper has a Riesling Science vs. Nature Debate. The 1st is science, the 2nd is nature. Vinteloper doesn’t proclaim one is superior to the other. They say “Beauty is that which causes delight through sensation, emotion & conception.”

 

 

Vinteloper PN/14 Pinot Noir 2014, Adelaide Hills

Pinot Noir. My favourite red grape. This does it justice. Fine and delicate and everything a New World Pinot should be but with the addition of those wonderful Old World notes such as undergrowth and woodiness. Red berries, plums and delicate spices.

The wine facts:

Single vineyard. Planted 1990. NNE facing. N/S orientation. Clone D5V12. Elevation 440m.

Pigeage (that’s stomping) by hand & foot (!) Wild yeast. 33% whole bunches. 11/12 in French oak. 33% new. Unfined and unfilterred.

 

Vinteloper A/3 ‘ADELO’ Touriga Nacional, Shiraz 2013, Langhorne Creek

NB: ADELO (Latin) – Obscure, secretive, unknown.

Touriga! From Aus? Portugal’s finest grape hops over into a blend. A really aromatic red. Earthy, violet, almost lavender-like notes. I wouldn’t have been able to guess what this was!

The wine facts: 

All vinified separately, to allow for the best expression of varietals to create this unique blend. This wine isn’t about the varietals – it’s about the creation that they make.

“The varietals can distract you. Focus on the style & art of this creation.”

100% wild yeast fermentation. 60% french oak, 40% american oak for 11 months. 89% field blend.

(but if you want to know what they are, it’s made from Touriga Nacional 61.9%, Shiraz 27.1%, Grenache 5.5%, Pinot Noir 5.5%).

Inspiration for this wine: “We should not be bound by convention. Life is best lived in the tension between madness & genius.”

 

 

Vinteloper TN/12 Touriga Nacional 2013, Langhourne Creek 2013

Aromatics on aromatics on aromatics. Violets, cinammon, persimmon, cocoa. So fresh.

The wine facts:

Single Vineyard. 20 year old vines. Highly saline clay soil.

Wild yeast. 21 days on skins. 50% French Oak. 50% American Oak.

 

 

Vinteloper SH/13 Shiraz 2013, McLaren Vale

Meaty, gamey nose with dark juicy fruit. A real peppery bomb, just the way Aussie Shiraz should be – all the correct elements.

The wine facts:

18 month oak maturation period followed by a further 6 months in bottle prior to release.

Single Vineyard. Wild Yeast. Post fermentation maceration. 100% French Oak. 15% New.

 

 

OPN/12 ‘ODEON’ Pinot Noir 2012, Adelaide Hills

This is really special. To put it into perspective, this wine comes from only 8 rows of plants (60 plants).

That’s 618 bottles.

Leave the best till last, they say. Some wines please the soul. I don’t care if you think that sounds stupid – this one does.

Gorgeous, ethereal velvety earthy Pinot colour. Woodsmoke, undergrowth, mossy cherry flavours that develop on the palate to express further bright fruit flavours of raspberries and even some kind of recurrant expression. I wish I could see this in 10 years’ time.

The wine facts:

Single Vineyard. Lenswood, Adelaide Hills. Planted 1986, Steep east facing slope. E/W row orientation. Clone D5V12. 550m elevation.

Pigeage by hand & foot. Wild Yeast. Whole bunches. French Oak. 50% new.

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Go get them from Red Squirrel. 

Check out the label artists at @shazhong @fauxnonfaux

THE WORD “CRAFT” AND HOW WE SHOULD USE IT…

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“Craft” is an overused term. It’s been popping up everywhere for the last 2 or 3 years, and half the time it’s really just being used as a buzzword. A lot of people won’t do their research: if somebody uses craft to describe a product, they assume it is. But it’s not like there’s a law for the word, hence its rapid spread…

However, that’s not to say that it shouldn’t be used. I’m in favour of the word’s usage but it’s just important that everyone remember what it actually means.

  • The Oxford Dictionary defines craft as “an activity involving skill in making things by hand.”
  • When referring to drinks producers, it states “denoting or relating to food or drink made in a traditional or non-mechanized way by an individual or a small company.”

So, the two combined, my perception of craft is a product that is made independently, by a small company, with traditional or innovative  thought with as little mechanical intervention as possible.

Small, indie producers are appearing more and more, and hoorah for that. It’s great to know that you’re consuming something that is the direct product of nurture and care. For these companies, their product is their pride and joy.

This isn’t to say that big companies don’t care; of course they do, however they have the funds behind them to take part in huge experiments and have ultra high-tech wineries, which the little indie producers don’t. You can’t put the two in the same category.

When a little independent company really gets something right, it’s so impressive.

Here’s a perfect example:

Birds & Bats / Wines of Momentary Destination

I discovered Birds and Bats  company in Philglas & Swiggott, arguably my favourite independent wine merchant. It’s the brainchild of Leah de Felice Renton & Nick Jones.

The company makes Wines of Momentary Destination. It is a pop-up winemaking collective, making one wine, in one place for one year only.  Everything from the grape to final production is managed by their team.

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So far, WMD have made three wines: FUSE 2012 (from I.G.P. Côtes Catalanes in France), THE SPECTRE 2013 (from Krov + Kinheim, Mosel, Germany) and THE WILL TO LIVE 2014 (from Istria, Croatia).

You can get The Will to Live 2014 from various little independents around London: in Market Row Wines in the Brixton Market, Hop, Burns + Black in Dulwich, Jones of Brockley and Bean & Hop in Earlsfield. You can drink it by the glass at The Manor in Clapham.

I haven’t had the chance to try the WMD wines yet, but I did try the wine that is a collaboration between Birds & Bats & Ariousios. It’s a wine that’s bought, blended and labelled under Birds & Bats Wine Productions, but made by Ariousios.

Three Years Down – 2011

If this isn’t craft, then I don’t know what is. And it’s seriously good.

Available in Philglas & Swiggott.

It is a blend of three puncheon barrels from the Ariousios winery, IGP Chios, Chios Island, Greece.

It is made from the island’s own indigenous red grape varieties Chiotiko Krassero and Ayanittis (don’t worry I had never heard of them either) that have been around since the days of Homer (!!!)

The Ariousios winery is a modern winery that is determined to restore the world renowned wine trade the island once had in ancient times.

Bottles produced: Only a tiny 1140 standard | 476 Magnums

(Alcohol: 13.46% | Residual sugar: 0.56 g/L | Total acidity: 5.25 g/L)

About the viticulture (vineyard):
Hand harvested on the 25th and 30th of September from organically treated vineyard sites in Aglosia and Ambelitis (NW Chios).  Average vine age of 10 years.

About the winemaking:
Crushed and destemmed followed by a cold maceration.  The wine was fermented with pure culture Saccharomyces cerevisae and pumped over twice daily.  At dryness the wine was drained (not pressed) into French oak barrels.  The wine was left to mature in wood for three years down in the cellar. 

Tasting note: Incredibly rich with black fruits notes of blackcurrants, cherries and nutmeg. Slight floral and herbaceous qualities. Savoury and moreish, showing woody forest-floor notes in the mouth.

GAME CHANGER: CHILEAN CAB SAV CHANGES FOR THE BETTER

Founded in 1883, Viña Concha y Toro is Latin America’s leading producer, producing wine from 8,800 hectares. They produce a multitude of grape varieties from Chile and Argentina.

It’s really likely that you’ve drunk one of their wines at some point: probably most notably their Casillero del Diablo, (see below). You can find these wines everywhere, and they’re of impeccable quality-price ratio.

Matthew Jukes, wine critic, states that the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2013 is one of the the world’s finest value Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s pretty much impossible to disagree; it’s an outstanding quality for only £8.

Marcelo Papa is the genius behind it all, and the wine I want to focus on isn’t Casillero, but from the Marques de Casa Concha range.

NEW VINTAGE: Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Sainsbury’s – £12

The new vintage of Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet 2013 is now in Sainsbury’s.  Marcelo Papa, winemaker, has been experimenting with larger oak casks and earlier picking over the past few years and this is the first vintage released that is testament to these experiments.

His wines are moving away from the “blockbuster” style of the 90s and returning to an elegant style with lower alcohol that demonstrates the terroir of Puente Alto. Marcelo said he wanted to drink a wine that he himself would always choose to drink, and hence with these changes, we see a fresh and expressive wine. The little bit of extra money really goes a long way.

In short, the way I would describe this – this means we have a fresh wine that has notes more focused on blackcurrants and fresh blackberries like the ones you can pick right off the bush, instead of the ones that have been sitting in a supermarket box and a bit squished. This is done through picking dates (see below).

Here’s a visual that makes it all a bit clearer to understand: (from left – earlier picking – to right, later picking) The earlier the grape is picked, the fresher flavours it retains.

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How has Marcelo done this?

There’s been big change for the first time between vintages.  I’ve put them in a graph below to make things simpler…

What does it mean?

  • Using different varietals is up to the winemaker and what he feels will make that specific vintage stand out. Different varietals give the wine specific characteristics: for example here the addition of Petit Verdot adds tannin, colour and a boost of flavour. It’s a great blending grape.
  • The region/vineyard is up to the winemaker; which region has succeeded best during that vintage and hence stays true to the wine.
  • Picking dates! = Marcelo is creating a whole wave of difference in winemaking. Later picking means more opulent fruit, but less acidity. Earlier picking gives you fruit forward notes but with a much fresher style.
  • Barrels and casks used = in 2011, Marcelo got new 5000l casks from Italy. Chile naturally has a warmer climate than Bordeaux, so already gets sweetness from the climate, without the need for using lots of toasty oak. Hence, the use of these big botti mean that the resulting wine really demonstrates terroir with a much less oak-heavy presence.

Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, Sainsbury’s, £12

Vintage20122013

Alcohol14.6%14.2%

Varietal blend98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Syrah93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot

Region85% Puente Alto, 14% Marchigue, 1% Pirque85% Puente Alto, 15% Pirque

Picking dates & maturity100% mature fruit, first – third week of April (slightly earlier than previous vintages due to hot temperatures)50% fresh fruit (picked March 20th – March 31st) , 50% mature fruit (picked 15thApril – 25th April)

Barrels/casks used

2012:

35% new French barrels (225l)

65% max second fill barrels (225l)

2013:

20% new French barrels

60% max second fill barrels

20% large cask Botti (5000l)

The final resulting wine? Delicious, and – (again) – fresh.

Food pairing? A good steak, or a winter stew. Also goes well with strong game flavours or as your red for a cheeseboard.

Cherry, cedar and blackberry notes with a smoky edge with a tar presence. Tight and focused with a deep concentration of flavours framed by firm tannins.

WEINGUT ANDREAS TSCHEPPE - CHARDONNAY

In December, I came across a wine that is still on my mind at The Three Wine Men.

Austria: In a nutshell

Austria is a country that has only recently come onto the UK’s radar when it comes to wine. You may have heard of its wine glass brand, Riedel – one of the best in the world, but it’s probably not a country that you would immediately choose your bottle from. However, it is producing more and more wines of a very high quality. The only problem is, they have fairly difficult names. So take a pause, and give the pronunciation your all with a bit of gusto…

White: In terms of grapes, Grüner Veltliner is the dominant varietal for white wines: a little bit like a slightly spicier/exotic Sauvignon. It also produces Welschriesling, which produces quality wines in the South, and as it is susceptible to botrytis, also excellent dessert wines.

To make things complicated, Austria also produces some Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, but under the local names of Ruländer and Weißburgunder (yes – why can things never be easy…) It also makes a lot of high quality Riesling, and as we will come onto, Chardonnay.

Red: The country also produces lots of lesser known varietals of its own such as Zweigelt (deep, soft tannins and bramble fruit aromas), Blaufränkisch Blauberger (hybrid of Portugieser and Blaufränkisch – intense colour, berry fruit), Blauer Portugieser (soft and easy drinking) and St Laurent (similar to Pinot Noir).

Onto this wine in particular…

WEINGUT ANDREAS TSCHEPPE, Steirerland – Biodynamic

SALAMANDER: £28.20, Caves de Pyrene

 

 

I’m obsessed. So much so, that (I still haven’t had time to) I’m insisting on going to Les Caves de Pyrene in Guildford to get some.

It’s from the Southern region of Steirerland, also known as Styria (which used to be also known as Steiermark – again, huh?)

What you need to know about it:

  • it’s biodynamic! – (what does this mean?) – Biodynamic wines are made using the principles of biodynamic viticulture. In essence, its a more “spiritual” version of organic farming. It takes into account for example, the lunar system (and even astrological influence), the vineyard as a specific ecosystem. Also, the wine isn’t manipulated – e.g. acidity isn’t adjusted.
  • It’s a Chardonnay. I don’t discriminate between grapes, but it’s one of my favourite grape varieties. And this is an outstanding example.
  • It ferments with indigenous yeasts (the yeasts that naturally sit on the berry)
  • It’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

About the producer:

Andreas is one of a group of five winemakers who work in the same spirit, the others being Franz Strohmeier, his brother Ewald, Sepp Muster & Roland Tauss. Together they form “Schmecke das Leb.”

Andreas has beautiful vineyards bursting with life – I haven’t personally been but he says you can feel the energy with the riot of plants, herbs and flowers growing amongst the vines. The vines are trained up and down slopes, but also unusually for this region, on terraces across the slopes.

MY TASTING NOTES:

The reason I love this wine so much is that it has a highly unusual quality that I have never before come across. It has a sense of “garrigue”. This normally refers to the lavender/rosemary plants of the South of France which transfer to red wine, but in this case, also shows itself in this Chardonnay.

A gold shimmering colour. Gentle yet bold flavours on the nose of orange citrus fruit, blossom and wheat and rich toasted almost honey-ed brioche. In the mouth it is full, buttery and creamy with an exceptionally long finish.

SAUVIGNON BLANC: GRAPEFACT

A while ago, I went to New Zealand house for a tasting of a wide range of New Zealand Sauvignons to celebrate NZ Sauvignon Blanc Day. I was looking forward to seeing the full capacity of the grape because aside from one (the Spy Valley Envoy which I love), at the time I had only tried sub £15 sauvignons, easy drinking everyday wines that have seen such popularity lately.   It’s a grape whose winemaking is seeing some exciting experimentation, and I think the future will hold an interesting development for it.

The tasting view was incredible, 17 floors up overlooking the big smoke with a glass in hand made for a pretty great Friday afternoon. I tried some outstanding wines, and it showed the potential for the varietal, which caused me to reflect…

…Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the UK’s most popular grape. But what exactly is it?

It’s a green skinned grape that originates from the South of France, and in more recent years has hopped overseas to Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and California. You may have heard of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé – the South of France home to Sauvignon, a region that is famous for its excellent dry white wines. It also has its heart in Bordeaux, where it produces good white table wines that are pretty great value.

It’s also important to remember its role in many of the finest dessert wines; for example Chateau d’Yquem, the world’s most famous one, which is produced of a blend of Semillon/Sauvignon blanc. In this form, the wines can fetch enormous prices. In a sense, it’s the pride and joy for the capacity of the grape. In 2011, a bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem became the most expensive bottle of white wine ever sold, with the hammer going down at auction at £75,000. You could buy a house with that.

In its white wine form, the grape produces very fruit forward, green and ready-to-drink wines that have particularly high acidity. Its unique characteristics are the grass-forward, gooseberry and green vegetable aromas, which interestingly also reflects in the wine’s often green-shimmery appearance. It was one of the first grapes to be vinified using screw tops, for immediate drinking. (Generally) speaking, the wine does not particularly suit ageing, however in recent years some producers have been vinifying some interesting wines that show the potential for age. It’s a grape that really suits cool climates, hence its success in New Zealand and Chile.

In terms of aromas, when tasting sauvignon you can come across a lot of different hints and notes. New world unoaked sauvignons will demonstrate very fruity flavours of lime, kiwi, passionfruit and tropical fruits, with a heady, powerful edge. Meanwhile, French sauvignons will tend to focus more on the flinty, zesty, citrus-sy notes.

Tasting notes are a great opportunity to gauge whether the Sauvignon in question will be your style. It’s also a good idea to buy two very different ones, so you can taste and compare (preferably with some friends so you don’t end up finishing both on your own….)

Here are my two tasting notes of different styles:

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc, (New Zealand)  – £10.99 in Waitrose
Zesty, with intense green grass notes on the nose. In the mouth, aromas of lime fruit, gooseberries and pineapple develop, with lingering herbaceous character.

Domaine Naudet Sancerre (France) – £12.99 in Waitrose
Flinty, mineral attack with citrus and hints of fresh grass. On the palate, vegetal aromas develop including bell pepper and asparagus notes.

“THE CONNOISSEUR’S DREAM”: MASTERCLASS 28.02.15 AT ROBERT PARKER’S A MATTER OF TASTE

Any viti-minded person would have been in wine heaven at this event; a showcase of some of the best wines in the world and a multitude of masterclasses. Dad and I had decided to go a long time ago, and we had tickets to the Premum Familiae Vini masterclass too. Needless to say, despite the early hour (and hence the oh-crap running-late taxi) I couldn’t wait.

We got our wristbands at the Saatchi Gallery and were shown to the room in which our class was to be held. The Saatchi Gallery was an excellent venue for a tasting of this calibre. Open, white spaces really intensified the tasting experience for me; maybe to do with the idea that my senses weren’t distracted. In addition, there were some really outstanding modern art pieces on display which ameliorated the whole thing too; sometimes a break from tasting is really needed and these pieces were excellent.

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Sitting contemplating the 11 glasses in front of me, I couldn’t decide which of the wines I was most looking forward to. The Primum Familiae Vini is an international association of some of the world’s finest wine producing families. The PFV was created in 1992 and promote and continue traditions, ideals and values within family owned wineries. Hence, it’s safe to say I’ve never had 11 glasses like that in front of me.

Each winery had a speaker and presented one wine. This was a fantastic way to gain insight into the complex and longstanding traditions and history of such prestigious wineries.

 

1) CHAMPAGNE POL ROGER – speaker: Hubert de Billy.  Champagne: Churchill 2002
Hubert is  of the 5th generation of the Maison’s family; Pol Roger was his great great grandfather. Pol Roger first produced champagne for himself, and then for other negociants, creating the brand in 1849. The first ever bottle sold was sold in London. It is no secret that Pol Roger was the great favourite of Sir Winston Churchill. He adored champagne, being renowned for stating, “remember gentlemen, it is not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” as well as “in success, you deserve it, and in defeat, you need it.” Hence, after his death, the cuvee Winston Churchill was born, with the aim to create a champagne with all the qualities he so enjoyed.

Tasting note: Amazing complexity with a nose of almond and biscotti. In the mouth, toasted brioche becomes apparent and slight jasmine notes appear too. Power, yet with light minerality.

2) JOSEPH DROUHIN – speaker: Veronique Drouhin.  Wine: Beaune Clos des Mouches blanc 2010
Aaaa – this is perhaps the wine I was anticipating the most. Burgundy Chardonnay will forever be (well – probably, I’m indecisive) my favourite wine. More specifically, Beaune wines really catch my interest. Having worked with Latour, Beaune aux Cras has always been one of my favs. In addition, the Clos de Mouches from Drouhin is renowned for its outstanding quality. Veronique began by explaining a bit about the family history. The Maison was founded in 1921, and Joseph loved Clos de Mouches, which at the time only produced pinot noir. Hence, he decided to also plant Chardonnay and the wine was born. Originally, Maximes in Paris was the only place you could buy it! This gives the wine such an unbeatable old school Parisian glamour.

Tasting note: Incredibly rich and plush nose of white flowers, peach and that signature woody scent. In the mouth, stone fruits develop, with the appearance of apricot. Incredibly round and moreish.

3) TORRES – speaker: Miguel Torres Maczasek. Wine: Mas La Plana 2007
Of the fifth generation.  Miguel focused on the difficulties the winery has had to experience. In the Spanish civil war, the winery was bombed, but his grandfather persisted and started making wine again. In 1956 he planted Cabernet Sauvignon on very deep clay calcareous soils.

Tasting note: First of noteworthiness are the incredibly thick legs of the wine. On the nose, tobacco and smoky notes are prominent. Bold on  the nose but with a certain subtly in the mouth, with slightly sweet, rich chocolate hints.

4) TENUTA SAN GUIDO – speaker: Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta. Wine: Sassicaia 2006
The Super Tuscan. This wine was born from experimentation with Cabernet Sauvignon in Italy. Her grandfather loved Bordeaux and desired to create a wine he could make for himself and enjoy at home  in this style. It is a world-renowned wine that has been dubbed a “fairy tale” by Luigi Veronelli.

Tasting note: Suble, deep, spicy nose with very ripe cherry notes. Pleasant hints of leather, smoke and menthol and incredibly soft tannins.

5) ANTINORI – speaker: Alessia Antinori. Wine: Solaia 2004
An incredibly old wine company that can trace its steps back to 1385. Their innovations also played a huge part in the 70s Super Tuscans. Blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Franc. They wanted to aim for high quality and hence had to face declassification because of high percentage used of Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was seen as one of the wines of the Renaissance of Italian wines.

Tasting note: Delicious dark fruits with earthy, undergrowth, mossy notes. Round, precise, silky tannins that will only continue to evolve.

6) Chateau Mouton Rothschild – speaker: Julien Beaumarchais de Rothschild. Wine: Mouton Rothschild 2003
Eek. My dad was pretty much cross eyed with excitement – a Bordeaux man through and through. Julien, of the 6th generation, highlighted that Mouton is the wedding of art and wine.  A blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 8% Cabernet France and 2% Petit Verdot.

Tasting note: Warm, leathery and plump nose with undertones of blackcurrant and spice. Delicious, round and supple tannins – lives up to its reputation (and more) in every way.

7) Vega Sicilia – speaker: Pablo Alvarez. Wine:  Unico 1994
This was one of the wines I was most excited to try. One of most renowned wines to come from Spain, of a Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon blend – normally the wines from Ribera del Duero are solely Tempranillo based. They only produce Unico every 2 out of 3 years. This Gran Reserva wine is taken from some of the oldest vines in Ribera del Duero, approximately 8)% Tempranillo and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tasting note: Tobaccoey and rich fruit nose, really coming into its own and demonstrating black cherry and liquorice on the nose. Textured and velvety tannins. Exceptional.

8) Famille Perrin – speaker: Marc Perrin. Wine: Hommage Jacques Perrin 2007
Made from majority of very old Mouvedre vines. From one of the leading estates in Châteauneuf du Pape, and a wine that is renowned wording as one of Rhone’s stars.

Tasting note: Possibly the meatiest nose I have ever experienced on a wine: fleshy, undergrowth tones, that in the mouth turned into sweet black fruits. Softest and most pleasant tannins out of any of the wines in my opinion.

9) Egon Muller Scharzhof – speaker: Egon Muller. Wine: Wiltinger braune Kupp Auslese 1993
A vineyard that used to belong to a monastery, which was bought by his great great grandfather from the French Republic. He was a monk, and when he died the estate was divided between 7 children.

Tasting note: Delicious almond and vanilla nose, with chlorine, sweet undertones. A mature Riesling, this was a very unusual wine and wonderfully rich. A certain smokiness on the finish and a real treat.

10) Hugel & Fils – speaker: Jean Frederic Hugel. Wine: Pinot Gris SGN 2007 *S*
Wow. I’ve never tried anything like this before. Jean was also a wonderful speaker and highlighted how as a 16 year old nobody really dreams of going into wine, until they gradually become smitten and it becomes a passion. This is definitely the case for me, and he emphasised this is what the Primum Familiae Vini aim to do; instill this passion from generation to generation. He described people who are into wine as open minded, friendly people – the best kind.

Tasting note:  Such a beautiful dark golden hue – literally liquid gold. It tasted like liquid gold too. Figgy candied fruits on the nose, followed by such a roundness with orange and acacia. Possibly my favourite wine of the day, although it is so hard to decide!

11) Symington – speaker: Paul Symington. Wine: Graham’s 2011 vintage
Vintage port… Something I would love to learn more about, and this was a great place to start! His great, great grandfather left Scotland and moved to Portugal and the rest is history. It is arguable that perhaps 2011 will be the best vintage ever in port (we will have to wait and see). It is the first time since 1963 that they returned to 100% lagares. If laid down, this wine will work its magic and age exceptionally.

Tasting note: Exceptional depth, and wow this wine will age amazingly. Such power on the nose with dark chocolate and cherry shining through. Plums and violets appear in the mouth and this wine would just make the best pudding ever, whether alone or with a dish.

GOLD PIZZAS AND GLAMBURGERS… THE WORLD DESCENDS INTO MADNESS…

Pizza GoGo launches a £500 gold pizza

Apparently it arrives via red carpet delivery, with a butler.

Seeing this earlier today really irked me.

PR stunt or no PR stunt on their part, it’s moronic. This crazy gold food trend has to stop.

A couple of years ago, it was the glamburger from Honky Tonk in Chelsea. £1,100 for a burger. Yes, it included lobster, Kobe beef and black truffle, but how can anybody justify that sort of expenditure? Ironically, since then the restaurant has shut.

The Pizza Gogo irritates me even more. In the crazy world of pizza where the profit can be close to 900%, isn’t that ripping off the consumer enough already? I’d pay for the lobster, beluga caviar and the prawns as ingredients (I wonder how much is even on there), but what justifies the remaining approximate £450? I can assure you it isn’t the gold leaf… You can buy 25 lovely sheets on Amazon for just £4.85.

…That would probably decorate 25 pizzas.If you’re going to ask me to pay £500 for a pizza, it should at least come with gold earrings.

I’m not against spending money on good food or, obviously if you know me, good wine. However, it’s about spending money where there’s direct correlation to quality.

Gold Wine

For the about 2/3 of the price that £500 that Pizza Gogo is charging for its idiotic pizza, you could buy a whole bottle of the world’s finest dessert wineChateau d’Yquem (in this case the excellent 1990 vintage). It costs £387 via Gourmet Hunters, £493 via Uvinum and £500 via Fortnum & Mason.

Yes, it’s still a serious amount of money, but here you are paying for very rare liquid gold that has been lying down in perfect conditions for16 years.

Why is it special?

Chateau d’Yquem is known worldwide for being one of the finest wines. The vineyard is located in Bordeaux, on the highest hill in Sauternes, with the best growing conditions in the region. It’s planted with 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc.

How’s it made?

The grapes are attacked by something we call Noble Rot (aka “botrytis”) which is a natural fungus. In this case, Sauternes provides the fungus with the perfect conditions for this to happen: mist famously consistently settles in the morning which promotes the spread of the fungus. By midday, the sun will have dissipated the mist and dried the grapes, getting rid of unwanted rot. Botrytis is very rare and has to occur naturally. It’s not something we can control.

The fungus makes tiny holes in the grape skins, through which water evaporates, thus concentrating both the acid and the sugars in the grape.

With Yquem, only fully botrytized fruit is picked by the 150 highly skilled pickers and yields are so low that each vine produces only one glass of wine (!!!)

The wine is then fermented in new oak barrels and left to mature for 36 months.

The wine will last for well over fifty years.

So, if you’re going to make me part with £500, I can guarantee it won’t be on a £500 Piza Gogo.

At least the burger had truffle.

ARE HEAVY CHILEAN WINES A THING OF THE PAST? – MARCELO PAPA TALKS MARQUES DE CASA CONCHA AT THE STRAND DINING ROOMS 2014

MARCELO PAPA, CHIEF WINEMAKER, CONCHA Y TORO, CAME TO LONDON TO EXPLAIN TO US HOW CHILEAN WINE IS PROGRESSING ALONG A SLOPE THAT WILL CONCENTRATE MORE ON TERROIR AND SELF-EXPRESSION OF THE CABERNET SAUVIGNON GRAPE VARIETY. HE SHOWED US HIS EXPERIMENTATION WITH OAK AGEING AND BARREL STYLES AND IN ADDITION, WE WERE INTRODUCED TO THE PAIS GRAPE, AN EXCITING PROSPECT FOR THE FUTURE OF CHILE.

The wines of Chile have always been full of character, however Marcelo explained to us that perhaps the maturity of the grapes has been pushed too far over recent years. Now, the fantastic Chilean winemaker is moving away from the “blockbuster wines” and instead concentrating on the importance of revealing the wines’ true characters. This brings us back to the notion of terroir; to create an exceptional wine, the winemaking process must bring out the best of the soil type in which the vines grow.

Marcelo revealed that he had become tired of the heady wines of the late 2000s with huge alcohol percentages, and began experimenting with his wines in 2010. He stated, “I began to ask myself why the wines I hadn’t been drinking my own wines at home” – and this was a revelation to himself. He realised that he did not agree with the idea that Chilean wines focus on richness, resulting in high alcohol percentages meaning that the wines have to some extent lost sense of where they come from. He argued that it was easy to be swept along with the fashion of wine – and for the past 10-15 years it has indeed been fashionable to have these bolder wines, however he feels it is now time to change this and allow Chilean wines to flourish in their own right.

First, we were introduced to a 2014 Chardonnay that had not yet been bottled. I always find it really intriguing trying young Chardonnays as they are still so far from the finished product with so many lees present; however although it had a strong nose of fruit, it was already evident that there was a good acidity and higher minerality than previous years. Marcelo’s main focus for the change in his wines is earlier picking in order to reduce the high sugar levels. This means that acidity and minerality is more prominent in this Chardonnay, creating a fresher, cleaner wine that in my opinion, better reflects the limestone soils of the region of Limari and its cooler climate. Furthermore, Marcelo has been experimenting with using less new oak; for this wine it was 30% new oak, 30% one year old oak, and 30% 2 year old oak, which means that the wine’s minerality is able to shine through. Finally, the alcohol percentage of this Chardonnay is 13.7% as opposed to its usual 14% – a big step forward to achieving a wine where acidity is more prominent.

We tried a really interesting tasting involving 3 wines – all the same early harvested Cabernet Sauvignon of 2013 but one having been aged in classic oak barrels of 1 year usage, one having been aged oak in casks of  5000l, and the final being a blend of the two. Marcelo emphasised that it is possible to pick Cabernet earlier and get a good acidity while avoiding greenness. Furthermore, he stressed that this Cabernet grows on sandy soils and hence benefits from earlier picking; inherently it is not meant to be as bold as it has previously been produced. On tasting, the first cabernet aged in the standard oak barrels appeared almost ready to be bottled; portraying roundness and fruit flavours with which Marcelo agreed, whereas the second cabernet aged in the large casks was incredibly interesting; a much greater minerality, freshness and more complex aromas were present. We all agreed that it would definitely need longer before bottling but that it would give a wine with a greater depth of flavours than the wine aged in the normal barrels. Marcelo explained that this was due to the lack of contact with air; the wine in the large casks are exposed to less air and hence are able to develop more complex flavours. He believes that this innovative method may be the way forward for Chilean wines; the normal barrels are toasted and hence give the sweet, heady oaky flavours to the wine whereas using the large casks would give him the chance to move away from this stereotype and return to the wine’s origin. He emphasised that people have always followed trends – but that just because Cabernet Sauvignon has typically always been produced in oak barrels does not mean that it should be! The final blend was a lovely combination of 10% casks, 90% barrels, 50% early harvest, 50% normal harvest that will ease Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon fans towards the new direction of the wine; mocha and vanilla flavours were still present but these were combined with a lovely freshness. This blend was 14.2% ABV; a whole 0.6% less than 4 years ago! This is a number that is only going to decrease; Marcelo hinted that the 2014 harvest was almost all early picking and hence alcohol levels will be around 13.6%.

Next we tried two Cabernet Sauvignons from Puente Alto – one standard 2010 harvest and one early harvest from 2011. Marcelo admitted himself that perhaps he had pushed the one from 2011 a little too far – it was harvested 25 days earlier than the wine from 2010 Hence, it had very high acidity, however it also showed promise; it was light and very fresh and demonstrated that a Cabernet Sauvignon can be vinifed in a way that does not produce such a heavy wine.

Finally, after tasting the Chardonnay we tasted a new wine from 2014 made from the Pais grape (but I wanted to wait to write about it until after the others as it is such a different and exciting concept). This is a grape variety that has been largely forgotten about over the recent years as it wrongly gained a reputation as inferior to the other varieties of Chile. Marcelo highlighted that this means we have lost an amazing part of Chilean history and viticulture; some of the Pais vines are up to 120 years old! He emphasised that it is a matter of repositioning the grape; by recreating the grape using carbonic maceration we can achieve a wonderful, fresh, summer wine almost comparable to some of the wines of Beaujolais generic appellation. We tried the wine chilled (it is 85% Pais and 15% Cinsault) and it revealed a lovely delicate fresh and fruity nose, a result of its vinification in stainless steel – it is a grape that does not need the addition of oak, instead flourishing from carbonic maceration hence resulting in a less tannic wine. Although very different in style to the other wines of Marques de Casa Concha, it is a lovely 12.5% ABV delicate and refreshing wine that is perfect for summer and one that I am sure will have a big market in the future.

All in all, it was a really interesting tasting – particularly for me as I have not known about Chilean wines for long and it was very eye opening and informing. Thanks to Marcelo Papa and I will be keeping my eyes open for the future wines of Marques de Casa Concha!

A TRIP TO THE LANGUEDOC

In October 2014 I was fortunate enough to have the chance to head down to the Languedoc region in France. Having interned in Burgundy for half a year, I had been spoilt for choice amongst the finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world but I had never before had the chance to travel further down South to the vast vineyards of the Languedoc (NB: the Languedoc region is situated on the Mediterranean coastline). The Languedoc-Roussillon region has approximately 700,000 acres under vine (that’s 2,800km2) and thus is the largest wine producing region of the world.

I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to taste something still very new to me; in particular the Grenache, Syrah,  Carignan, Mourvedre, Vermentino and  Roussanne varietals.  It still continues to fascinate me that it is possible to have such a stretch of varietals growing within one country, and my interest in wine continues to grow and grow – there is so much to learn and so much subjective opinion. Furthermore, it is equally incredible that essentially one type of fruit can exist in so many subspecies, and that those subspecies thrive with such different soil compositions and climates.

After having met with the other members of our group, we set off from Toulouse airport towards our destination for the 3 nights – Narbonne. Narbonne is a beautiful town that somehow weirdly reminded me of Beaune – both are towns with a rich wine history, a peripherique and striking, historic streets.

Our hotel was paradoxically modern and minimalist, however I found this to be the perfect match; its subtle appearance complimented its surroundings and flowers and plants were left to roam free throughout. On our first night we ate at Le Petit Comptoir where I had arguably my best meal of the holiday; chestnut and pumpkin puree for an amuse bouche, followed by a butternut squash soup, followed by beef cheek and chocolate melt for dessert (yes I was around 10 stone heavier when I got home). Exhausted, we all headed to bed after in preparation for the first day of tasting.

DAY ONE
Our first day was spent tasting AOC Languedoc wines at Mas de Saporta. Here, I tasted a variety of wines, both red, white and rose. I came across blends that I have never tried before and many vineyards practicing organic vinification. It was very interesting to see percentages of new oak used; the majority ranged between 20-30% new oak which meant that the varietals were very much free to express themselves. Two wines that particularly stood out to me were the red from Domaine Virgile Joly; an easy to drink red wine of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Carignan and 10% Cinsault, resulting in a full bodied wine with a good acidity but with the perfumed, fruity additions from the Grenache and Syrah. For me, this red was the ideal everyday wine that could suit a range of dishes, and I’m extremely envious of the people of Languedoc for having this wine at such convenience (and such low prices in comparison to back in the UK!).

After the morning’s tasting we headed to lunch at the Ferme Marine à Marseillan, which sits on the  Étang de Thau, a string of lagoons that runs through the South of France. The setting was so picturesque and the food was amazing, still dreaming about those prawns…

 

The photo you see in the middle of the collage above was the setting for our afternoon tasting; AOC Languedoc wines at the Abbaye de Valmagne. Again, we saw eight vignerons who each showed around 4 wines. Each vigneron was so passionate about their wines and would discuss in depth various aspects of winemaking. This really set in stone the notion of wine as art; this is something I strongly believe will never go away, despite some winemakers around the world mass-producing, the small, family-red winemakers of France will continue to gently and carefully vinify their wines with pride to produce something that is complex and full of promise.

One producer in particular really stood out to me – the Domaine le Conte des Floris. The first was “Arès Blanc 2012” – a blend of 60% Marsanne and 40% Carignan Blanc (a particularly rare grape that is difficult to come across – there are only 411 hectares of it). The wine was a nutty, full bodied, buttery white yet had a great acidity running through it with citrus notes on the finish. It baffled me when I first tasted it because it was so different to the grenache and vermentinos that the Languedoc is well known for, but it intrigued me and its oaky, buttery notes drew me to it. It only has an annual production of 5000 bottles and it isn’t distributed in the UK – if only! The winemaker studied in Burgundy and hence his wines have this Burgundian touch to them – indeed the Carignan reminded me a little of a Meursault in style. His red “Homo Habilis 2011” was a blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre and 25% Grenache. This wine ages in older barrels from the Clos de Tart which he gets from his old professor. He emphasised to me the importance that these barrels are not new – he wants the grape varietals to speak for themselves and dislikes extraction and over-dominance of oak. A wine with blackcurrant and clove notes, its tannins were still quite firm, but this is a wine made to keep and I would be very excited to try it again in a few years’ time.

Another wine that has several doodled hearts next to it in my tasting booklet was a Grenache blanc/Vermentino (fairly atypical!) blend from the Chateau de Fourques, called the “Vigne de Madame 2011”. Also vilified in oak, this had a surprisingly high freshness with extremely aromatic notes. I’ve never tried a white like it before and I doubt I will! The perfumed aromas were intense and striking and it’s a wine I won’t forget. With only a production of 1500 bottles/year, I’m jealous of those that will get to enjoy it.

One final wine from this tasting that was also extremely interesting was the Meli Melo from Domaine de Roquemale, produced on 100% Alicante Bouschet (yep, Alicante!). A big wine of a super dark red colour (almost purple) with leathery, blackberry notes that would be the perfect match with the boudins of France.

After a quick beer (after a day of probably around 100 wines, a beer is the perfect choice!) we headed back to the hotel and had a lovely dinner at the hotel’s restaurant and a very good night’s sleep.

DAY TWO   
We got up to a large array of croissants and juices and then we were off to taste again – this time the Saint Chinians of Roquebrun.

I particularly enjoyed the wines of the Chateau Coujan (not only are their labels so pretty – but their wines were great too!)

Their Cuvee Bois Joli Blanc 2013 is a blend of Grenache, Rolle and Roussanne with  a pineappley, pear-y nose. Fresh with vanilla notes, it is a wine that can be drunk alone or ideal with a variety of fish or squid dishes. They also had a super red on Syrah and Mourvedre called the “Cuvee Gabrielle de Spinola 2013” expressing intense dark fruits with hints of tobacco.

Next, we drove to St Chinian Berlou, an adorable tiny-teeny town at the bottom of the vineyard valleys. It was baking hot and all of us were praying to make the most of the weather and eat outside – our wish was granted with a dreamy balcony style outside seating area on the banks of an old riverbed. Lunch was delicious and washed down with a slightly chilled Languedoc red. After, we had a tour of the terroir – beautiful stretching vineyards with pine forests running alongside. You can see sharp flinty stones everywhere – known as schists, which give the wines of Saint Chinian their quality. We even found a wild strawberry tree!

After our stroll we headed back to Narbonne for a tasting of IGP Sud de France wines. The wine of this tasting for me was a white from Chateau d’Angles; a blend of 50% Bourboulenc, 30% Grenache, 10% Roussanne and 10% Marsanne. From La Clape, this is the only appellation that is based on Bourboulenc. The wine was of a pale lemon yellow colour with an elegant citrus nose with mineral, flinty notes. The other varietals help bear more fruit and give the wine a roundness and complexity. It has definitely made me want to seek out other Bourboulenc based wines.

After a quick turnaround at the hotel we headed to the Table du Chateau for dinner with the winemaker from the Abbaye de Fontfroide and some fantastic wines, among which was a delicious Muscat sec. The food was also amazing – butternut squash soup followed by beef cheeks and some of the best chocolate truffles I’ve ever had with our coffee. After, we went out for some beers in Narbonne and ended up at a bizarre “nightclub” which made for a hilarious night.

DAY THREE

After another super breakfast (yep, confirmed, at this point I was definitely sure I was turning obese) we headed to our final tasting of Corbieres wines at the Chateau de Luc in Luc sur Orbieu. The Chateau is just wow – I would do anything to live there! The tasting was held in their living room with ancestral pictures looking down at us – definitely one of the most striking settings for a tasting imaginable.

The wines were all unique and very interesting; the Corbieres region is famous for its “garrigue” – low growing vegetation that is present throughout this area; plants such as thyme, juniper, lavender and rosemary that thrive on limestone soils with a hot climate. These notes are surprisingly present in the wines and give them a heady, intense presence.

The wines of the Famille Fabre (the family of the Chateau de Luc) were among my favourite; their red “Cuvee de Jumelles 2012” was a blend of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre where the garrigue notion was clearly evident. The daughters of the winemaker are twins, hence the name of the wine “jumelles”. (If only a wine was named after me!) Their white was based on grenache blanc and marsanne, and had a lovely freshness yet was soft and not too acidic; the perfect summer wine.

In comparison to this, I also enjoyed the white from Chateau Beauregard Mirouze – “Lauzina 2012”; roussanne and marsanne. This was interesting as it was more on the aromatic side (from the roussanne), with butter and spices from its time in oak. Two completely different styles of white, but both equally pleasing and both demonstrating good length in mouth.

The Chateau had barrels in the courtyard with various types of herb growing in them to demonstrate the scents of the garrigue. It was so interesting and definitely made me pick up the aromas on the nose!