A (bad) day in the life of a wine writer

I’m currently in Canada. I’ve just spent four wonderful days in the Okanagan Valley, but when it came time to leave, things didn’t go so well. Maybe I should have just stayed there?

The day began with an alarm set for 0450.

  • 0510: get into my hire car and head to Penticton Airport, for my 0625 Westjet flight to Toronto via Calgary.
  • 0525: arrive at the airport. Penticton is a tiny airport. One of the smallest I’ve flown through, and this is important for later in the story. It has no facilities: just two vending machines and a further two airside. There’s a seating area either side of security. That’s it.
  • 0530: drop the car keys into the National after-hours return box (they don’t open until late).
  • 0535: go through security, where I realize that I don’t have my passport. Panic! I remember putting it into my pocket. I travel so often and so I always put things into the same pockets. I have dropped it somewhere.
  • 0536: retrace all my steps, which doesn’t take long in a tiny airport. No sign.
  • 0537: retrace my steps again. Same result. Peer into the now locked rental car to see if I can see it (keys now out of reach in the return box).
  • 0540: realize with a sinking feeling that I’m going to miss my flight. Call taxi to go back to the Lakeside hotel to see if I dropped it in the car park, or my room.
  • 0600: arrive at Lakeside and do a thorough search. Realise with a sinking feeling in my stomach that I could be in a logistical hell of my own making. Sit in reception and google ‘lost passport.’ Realise that an emergency passport is not going to work with my coming itinerary (Toronto-New York State-Toronto-Victoria-Portland-McMinville-Victoria-London). And how do I get to a consulate without a passport? Will a driving licence work on domestic flights?
  • 0625: leave a message with the National office at Penticton. Could the passport be in the car still? Would they have a look?
  • 0700: I get a call. They looked, and they found it!! Disaster averted, slightly. Now to the airport again. But how am I going to get to Toronto? Penticton has hardly any flights. But I find that there is an Air Canada flight via Vancouver at 0815. It could be problem solved.
  • 0715: Get to the airport, and buy a new ticket. CA$712. Ouch. But at least I’ll get to Toronto more-or-less on time. Big wave of relief.
  • 0800: On board flight. Engines start and run for 10 minutes (turbo prop: this is a Bombardier 400). Then switch off. Repeat. Mechanical problem.
  • 0830: Deplane. Head to the departure lounge again.
  • 0900: Realize I’ve missed my connection. Air Canada book me onto another flight.
  • 1000: My app tells me the new departure time is 2030. That’s not going to work. Would be stranded overnight in Vancouver.
  • 1030: We have to leave airside. Queue up and get a new flight out, leaving 1245. I’m beginning to feel tired. Also a bit hungry. Don’t have coins for vending machines, and my cards don’t work in them, so no chance of anything to eat.
  • 1315: After another delay we actually leave from Penticton for the 45 minute flight to Vancouver. I’m now on board the Toronto flight which left late from Vancouver.

I think I have been guilty of being a bit arrogant about how well travelled I am, and how good I am at travel. Today has been a self-inflicted, but also partly airline-inflicted hell. It’s a good humbling experience, and it’s also a good lesson in patience, and being accepting of things that you have no control over.

I’ll go to bed (when I finally get there) grateful that I didn’t actually lose my passport, because that would have led to astonishingly difficult situations, and would have probably ended this trip early. And I’ll also go to bed a bit humbler, which has to be a good thing, eh?

[Postscript: I got to White Oaks in Niagara at 0008. My chums were still up drinking so I joined them. A nice end to the day.]

Okanagan (2) Time Winery

Time is an urban winery located in downtown Penticton, and it opened its doors in summer 2018. Previously, was located in Oliver in the south of the Okanagan, where it had 60 acres of vines in a beautiful setting. This setting appealed to the well-heeled Richter Bai when he was deciding where to put his new high-end winery Phantom Creek, so he purchased the vineyard from owner Harry McWatters. 

McWatters, who has been working for more than 50 years in the Okanagan, has legendary status here. Selling to Phantom Creek left him (I’m guessing) with a full wallet but no home, and it’s great that Time has relocated to downtown Picton, in an old theatre. It’s a beautiful, large space that accommodates both a fully functioning winery and also a tasting room/restaurant.

We walked in on a Saturday morning after wandering around the farmers’ market, and were surprised to find McWatters himself putting out the opening sign. We tasted through the wines and then had a light lunch: the food here is really good, and it’s a great addition to Penticton’s food scene. These are my brief phone notes on the wines.

Time Winery White Meritage 2018
From O
liver and Osoyoos. Focused with nice pear and citrus fruit. Good balance. 89/100

Time Winery Viognier 2017
Really typical with nice weight and balance to the apricot and pear fruit. Nice balance. 90/100

McWatters Signature Chardonnay 2017
Mealy, spicy and nutty with nice peachy fruit. Strong barrel imprint. 90/100

Time Winery Riesling 2018
Lovely weight here. Lime green apple with a touch of sweetness. Stylish. 89/100

Time Winery Rosé 2018
Syrah. Deep colour. Lovely sweet aromatics. Touch of sweetness to the fresh strawberry and plum fruit. Pretty. 87/100

Time Winery Syrah 2014
Spice, mint, sweet berry fruits, hint of pepper and tar, some evolution. 87/100

Time Winery Meritage 2016
Lush, sweet and textured with nice bold black fruits. Smooth with fine grained tannins. 91/100

McWatters Collection Meritage 2016
Lovely gravelly nose – textured blackberry and black currant fruit with a lush mid palate. Lovely depth. 92/100

Time Winery Chronos 2013
Seven variety blend. Gravelly, ripe, smooth and polished with richness and smoothness. Mellow and refined in a ripe style. Harmonious. 92/100

Time Winery Equity 2013
Seven variety blend. Gravelly, dark and a little developed with good tannins and a bit of ashiness. Nice depth here, with some structure. 91/100

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OKANAGAN

Nagano Region, Japan (16) a tasting of top Nagano wines

On the last day of my Nagano trip I was in Nagano city for an overview tasting. This invlolved some of the top Nagano wines. Most of the winemakers were present, and I was asked to taste the wines then share my opinions with everyone. This puts you on the spot a bit! Some nice bottles here.

Presentir Beppin Saaya Chardonnay 2017 Kurakake Tomi, Nagano, Japan
This is fresh and lively with some rounded appley notes as well as delicate lemon and pear fruit. Light in style with a stony edge to the bright fruit. Has some personality and character, as well as a bit of carbon dioxide enhancing the fresh impression. 88/100

Presentir Beppin Rio Pinot Noir 2017 Kurakake Tomi, Nagano, Japan
Light in colour with lovely fresh, delicate red cherry fruit with some slight herbal notes. Fresh with a twist of undergrowth. Subtle, fragrant, light and understated, this is really elegant and fine. 90/100

Kusonoki Winery Riesling 2017 Suzaka, Chikuma River, Nagano, Japan
Fresh and bright showing nice citrus fruit core with a nice lemony drive. Good acidity here. Light style but with nice mineral presence. Has a delicate mineral and lemon aftertaste. Lovely integrated flavours all work together. 90/100

Shinshu Takayama Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Takayama, Chikuma River, Nagano, Japan
Delicate grassy, elderflower nose is quite elegant. Light, textured palate with good acidity and some nettle, elderflower flavours. Subtle and understated, and very effective. 89/100

Terre de Ciel Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Komoro, Chikuma River, Nagano
Leafy, grassy nose. Lively palate with some green herbal hints, bright gooseberry notes and keen acidity. Very fruity with high acidity. 87/100

Northern Alps Vineyards Lab Pinot Gris 2016 Omachi, Japan Alps, Nagano
Lovely tangerine and table grape fruit with some smokiness and a hint of savouriness. Bright and dry with high acidity and lovely varietal character. Some baked apple on the finish. Very stylish. 90/100

Yamabe Winery Pinot Gris 2015 Matsumoto, Japan Alps, Nagano
Nice brightness here allied with some richness. Grapey and quite bold with some pear, grape and tangerine fruit. Has a bit of weight on the palate with nice detail. Dry and nicely balanced. 90/100

Hayashi Noen Estate Kazikawa Chardonnay 2017 Shiojiri, Kikyogahara, Nagano
Attractive citrus, pear and apple fruit core with nice focus on the fruit. Very balanced with some richness. Subtle bready, toasty notes and a hint of sweetness alongside the keen acidity, creating a rounded feel in the mouth. Stylish wine. 91/100

Château Mercian Yokoyama Farm Azumino Chardonnay 2016 Azumino, Japan Alps, Nagano
Not a powerful style, but rather it’s quite delicate, with some fine toasty notes complemented by lemon, mandarin and white peach fruit. Refined and well made with great balance. 91/100

Presentir Beppin Field Blend Rosé Haru 2018 Nagano, Japan
Rounded and smooth with lovely pure cherry and strawberry fruit. Nice smooth texture in the mouth with some pear fruit and a bit of grapey richness. Easy to drink. 88/100

 

Gio Hills Winery Nakadana Pinot Noir 2017 Komoro, Nagano, Japan
Brilliantly pure with sweet red cherry fruit and a lovely smooth texture. Silky, light and elegant with lovely fruit presence. Such poise here: subtle and refined with incredible elegance and lightness. 92/100

Kido Private Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 Sjiojiri, Kikyogahara, Nagano, Japan
Has a sappy, leafy, herbal edge to the cherry fruit nose, with a little lift. The palate is fresh and quite elegant with some juicy cherry fruit and some sweet bite from the acid. Stylish but with a bit of sourness on the finish. Would be better with less volatility. 88/100

Villa d’Est Winery Pinot Noir 2017 Tomi, Chikuma River, Nagano, Japan
Light and supple with lovely purity to the red cherry and plum fruit. Very fine-grained with some nice structure. Understated style, but with lovely fruit presence. Fine and elegant, and not trying too hard. I like it. 91/100

Funky Château Cabernet Franc 2016 Aoki, Chikuma River, Nagano, Japan
Lovely structure and texture here: this has ripeness, smoothness and freshness, with some attractive oak playing a supporting role. It’s harmonious and elegant showing red cherry and raspberry fruit, with some silkiness and a touch of vanilla spice on the finish. Harmony is the key. 93/100

St Cousair Rouge NV Iitsuna, Chikuma River, Nagano
Blend of 2014 and 2015, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Fresh and lively with some juicy fruit. Nicely expressive with good acidity and raspberry and red cherry notes. Has a bit of grip, but overall it’s pretty elegant and refined. Nice weight. 90/100

Manns Wine Komoro Winery Solaris Higashiyama Merlot 2015 Ueda, Chikima River, Nagano
A very stylish, ripe but balanced expression of Merlot. Smooth and textured with fleshy cherry fruit and some nice grippy structure. Has freshness and balance, with a savoury undercurrent and some bite on the finish. 92/100

Suntory Shiojiri Winery Iwadahara Merlot 2015 Shiojiri, Kikyogahara, Nagano
Floral, aromatic nose of sweet cherries. The palate is supple, fresh and shows pure red fruits with nice texture and a bit of grainy tannin. But the emphasis here is on lovely pure fleshy fruit. Really expressive and pure. 92/100

Shinano Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Shiojiri, Kikyogahara, Nagano
Quite mature with some earth and herb notes, alongside midweight cherry and plum fruit. A little faded and developed with hints of coconut and herb. Mellow and smooth, but quite a faded, old fashioned style. 87/100

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Nagano Wine Region (2019)

Nagano Wine Region (2018)

 

 

Scout Wines, a new Marlborough-based producer

Scout Wines is a bi-locational virtual winery that began life in Australia, but is currently based in New Zealand. It’s a collaboration between partners in life and wine, Sarah Adamson (above) and Greg Lane, and it all began in 2017 in the Adelaide Hills when Sarah was working at Deviation Road and Greg at Shaw & Smith.

Their favourite variety is Chardonnay, and they got hold of two parcels in the Hills: one was six rows of Bernard clones high up in Piccadilly. Kate Laurie of Deviation Road was taking fruit from here and there was some spare, and they also got some Clone 95 from Lobethal.

They made eight barrels in all, one of which was new, and they did a portion of skin ferment with the Lobethal fruit. This batch went to barrel very stinky and took three months to resolve from eggy to matchstick. The wine saw 50% malolactic fermentation.

The following vintage they did some New Zealand wine (they are both working in Marlborough now). They got some Pinot Gris from Nelson from 2018, and this fruit came from the Wainui plains, near Hope. The fruit was from gravelly soils (an old riverbed) and was organically farmed. These grapes was picked early (20.5 Brix) and one barrel was whole bunch pressed and another had some skin ferment with whole bunches, while the rest was all stainless steel. And they also got some Pinot Noir from Marlborough, which they fermented together with some of the Nelson Pinot Gris.

For 2019, they have some Central Otago and Waipara Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir from Central Otago, Marlborough and Waipara. The wines are being made at Mahi in Marlborough.

It’s exciting to see a new producer like this, taking an innovative approach to winemaking. New Zealand needs more Scouts.

THE WINES

Scout Chardonnay 2017 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Delicate and quite taut with a lovely mineral edge to the pear and citrus fruit. Has a touch of pineapple richness with a subtle matchstick edge. Very refined and pure with hints of ginger and spice. Very fine. 93/100

Scout Pinot Gris 2018 Nelson, New Zealand
Fresh with a slightly minty nose. Very supple and pure with delicate, fine citrus and some canteloup melon flavour. Restrained. Supple, fresh and delicious but also has some spicy bite that adds interest. Lovely, especially considering the vintage. 91/100

Scout Pinot x Pinot 2018 South Island, New Zealand
75% Pinot Noir from the southern clays in Marlborough (clones 777 and 115) fermented with 25% Pinot Gris from Nelson, all whole bunch. Unfined and unfiltered, and has only had 30 ppm sulphites added in its life. The whole bunches were lefty untouched for 3 weeks and were then stomped a bit, and then after 3 days the wine was pressed to old barrels. Very supple, light and drinkable with sappy, fine red cherry fruit. Such a delicate, pure wine with a silky mid-palate and freshness and smashability. 93/100

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Canada's Okanagan Valley hits London

High-end London department store Selfridges has just listed a bunch of wines from Canada’s Okanagan Valley. Chief buyer, Terry Threlfall, hails from British Columbia, so it’s nice to see him supporting his own crew. As someone who has spent a lot of time getting to know Canada’s wine regions, I think this is an exciting initiative, and these are my notes on four of the wines in the offer.

Cedar Creek Platinum Block 2 Pinot Noir 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13% alcohol. This is from a northwest-facing block in East Kelowna (a cooler part of the Okanagan) that’s at 390 m elevation with clay, sandy loam and stone soils. 3 tons/acre yields, clone 115. It’s a sleek, luxurious example of Okanagan Pinot with floral black cherry fruit, some plums and spice, and hints of tar. There’s some nice savoury complexity here complementing the ripe fruit, with nice precision. There’s a hint of cedary oak, too, in the background. Drinking perfectly now, I wouldn’t age it any further, but there’s no hurry to drink it up. 93/100 (£36.99 Selfridges)

CheckMate Little Pawn Chardonnay 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.3% alcohol. One of a series of high-end Chardonnay bottlings from this Mission Hill-owned winery in the south of the Okanagan, this comes from The Barn vineyard in Black Sage Bench. It’s clones Dijon 76 and Dekleva, and it was hand harvested at night. Half wild ferment, 16 months in French oak, half new. This is a bold but focused captivating wine with a nose of hazelnut, spice, cedar and a touch of cinnamon and clove. The palate shows complex, fine grained structure with some stylish new oak meshing well with the rich pear and white peach fruit. It is a ripe, rich wine, but there’s real interest and focus with layers of flavour. 94/100 (£59.99 Selfridges)

Haywire Chardonnay Secrest Mountain Vineyard 2017 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13% alcohol. This is from Haywire’s vineyard in Oliver, in the south of the Okanagan, but at a higher altitude. It’s whole bunch pressed and fermented in concrete eggs. This is textural and broad, with nice structure under the sweet pear, apple and peach fruit. There’s a subtle nuttiness and a broad, smooth mid palate, but there’s also nice tension, too. Very expressive and detailed, and quite harmonious. 93/100 (£19.99 Selfridges)

Mission Hill Oculus 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14.5% alcohol. 50% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, from Osooyos and Oliver in the south of the Okanagan. This is a rich wine with lots of flavour: dense, sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, underpinned by spicy oak. Mellow and broad with lots of polish, made in a new world style, but with some old world sensibilities, tasting of luxury. Hints of mint and tar with some grip on the finish. It’s not my favourite style, but it is really well done. 92/100 (£90 Selfridges)

Chablis (13) La Chablisienne

La Chablisienne is the only cooperative in the region, but it’s an important player here. Regions are well served if they have a good cooperative, because these are often the first wines that the average consumer meets. If the coop is doing good work, this protects equity in the regional brand.

Despite a recent bout of food poisoning, I was on time for my morning appointment here with the cheery Hervé Tucki.

Hervé Tucki

He began with a bit of chat on the soil, explaining that Chablis has two distinct sorts of limestone. There’s the Kimmeridgian, which is the basis for the Chablis wines, and then the  Portlandian, which has a new name –  Tithonien – and which is where Petit Chablis is grown. The valley of Chablis used to be a sea bed, and it was formed by erosion, after the Portlandian era when the sea left Chablis. As well as the limestone content, the clay is critical in terms of the character of the soils, as it regulates the water availability.

La Chablisienne has been a Chablis wine producer since 1923. ‘Since then, the region has changed a lot and the wine world has changed a lot,’ says Hervé. ‘Today we are the largest producer of Chablis wine, representing 25% of the total area, with 250 producers. The most beautiful collections of terroir are present in La Chablisienne.’

The coop’s policy is to work every day with the producers. ‘We don’t just wait until harvest time,’ he says. ‘We consult and give advice and help the producers.’

‘Once the grapes are in 80% of the work is done; we don’t think winemakers are magicians. They can make good grapes into good wines.’

Hervé makes clear that La Chablisienne is not a negociant, and never buys wines. ‘We work only with the grapes of the Chablisienne producers.’ If you belong to the coop, it is all or nothing. Members can’t make their own wines.

Interestingly, the coop doesn’t receive the grapes. Instead, the members press their grapes and the coop receives the must. If the coop received grapes there would be 3 km of tractors queuing up at vintage time, says Hervé, and with the big presses they’d need, the coop would have have to mix all the plots from the same vineyard. Also, it is easier to measure the quality of must than it is with grapes at reception time.

‘We don’t speak quantity,’ he says, ‘we do contract by hectare, and there’s a 10 year contract then a rolling 5 year contract.’

The growers don’t know what they are going to be paid immediately; this depends on the market for the wines. ‘We love to take time, it’s not the same as in Burgundy and Champagne where people know the price, here it is an image of the market.’

Each member has one vote. ‘If you have half a hectare you get one vote; if you have 50 hectares you get one vote. But for the winemaking the team, decisions are not democratic: we don’t vote on how to vinify.’

‘I don’t like the Chablis made in a Chardonnay style,’ Hervé explains. ‘This is our vision. We don’t like to vinify at low temperature, and we love long ageing on fine lees. We also like the oak contact.’

No presses in this winery, but lots of tanks

La Chablisienne are a believer in extended élevage for the top wines. ‘We don’t bottle to order, we bottle when it is the right moment,’ he says. ‘Many wines are bottled between one and two years – for example, we are just finishing bottling the 2017 vintage. Long ageing for white wines in Chablis is a real secret.’

In addition, they don’t make special cuvées. ‘One climat is one vision,’ says Hervé. Everything, even private label, is bottled here.

Of recent vintages, he says that 2017 is a ‘very beautiful year, very Chablis, very dynamic, but I think 2018 has more of a potential for me.’ In 2016 they were down half in volume, and in 2017 they lost 30%. ‘You often see a beautiful harvest after two short years. I remember some discussions in the summertime – it is so warm and dry – but finally with a beautiful season it was perfect. For the quantity of grapes naturally produced, we had physiological maturity. 2018 looked like 1982 in Chablis. I tasted some Grand Cru 1982 and if the quality of the 2018 is anything like that then it’s exciting. 1982 was not a small year and it wasn’t so acid – it had perfect physiological maturity.’

Hervé has worked here since 1985. ‘Two things I have learned,’ he says. ‘A great vintage is not only a matter of acidity. It is when you get three maturities in a good window: aromatic, sugar and physiological maturity. When you have these three elements you have a natural balance. The second thing is that Chablis needs long ageing. You will never make a good Chablis in six months.’

The cooperative makes three Petit Chablis, five Chablis, 12 Premier Crus, and 6 of the 7 Grand Crus (not Valmur). These are very good wines, and I can’t think of a coop doing a better job than this.

THE WINES

La Chablisienne Petit Chablis ‘Pas Si Petit’ 2017
‘We vinify this like Chablis: this is not a primeur wine.’ This has nice presence with bold pear and citrus fruit, a hint of dairy and some fine spicy notes. Lovely presence with plenty of flavour and a nice acidity. 89/100

La Chablisienne Petit Chablis ‘Pas Si Petit’ 2018
First bottling. Fruity and bright with nice freshness and some grapefruit hints as well as some fresh lemon notes. Very linear and bright. This is an early bottling for volume reasons, but the next will be a bit more complex. 88/100

La Chablisienne Chablis Dame Nature 2017 (tank sample)
Just in tank. Organic. Has a linear character with some matchstick reduction. Very linear and bold with lovely intensity and focus. Tight, lemony finish. This has lovely acidity and detail. 90-91/100

From here onwards there is some oak used for all the wines. 85% of the wines from La Chablisienne have some oak contact.

La Chablisienne Chablis ‘Le Vénérable’ 2017 (tank sample)
Selection of old vines, not the same parcel every year. Alcoholic and malolactic in tank and part aged in oak. Fresh, tight and linear but with some nice creamy, pear and peach depth. Has a smooth mouthfeel with some oak influence. Lovely fruit intensity here with some harmony. 90-91/100

La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Lechet 2017
This vineyard is the limestone style of Kimmeridgian. This has lovely richness and intensity, with melon and mandarin notes. Quite exotic but also very fresh with a tapering lemony finish. Fabulous minerality under the exotic fruit, suggesting this will develop in interesting ways. 93/100

La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017
This is 95% Butteaux. This is the clay side of Kimmeridge. Foret and Montmain are more lime and stone; Butteaux is more clay. This is focused, linear and intense with keen lemony acidity and nice brightness. Mineral and fine with lovely intensity. Fine grained with a hint of pepper. Such a lovely electric wine. 94/100

La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Les Lys 2017
This is in Vaillons, and is one of the two wines they make from this 1er Cru. Pure Kimmeridgian marl, facing north east, which is unusual for a 1er Cru. Taut and fresh with bright pear and lemon fruit. Quite pure with a smooth mid palate and no sticking out bits. Dense, smooth, quite cool-tasting. 91/100

La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2017
This is a bright, linear wine with keen acidity, and harmonious pear and peach fruit with some citrus fruits. This is a very warm site with good soils, and you can taste the warmth. Compact with great acidity, and very subtle creamy notes. Very expressive. 92/100

La Chablisienne Grand Cru Blanchot 2017
The only grand cru that is south east exposure (the others are south west), so it gets the morning sun. This is concentrated and quite restrained, showing rich, fine pear and peach fruit, with white flower notes. Has a nice stony minerality and a little toasty note on the finish. Very expressive and pretty, but also a wine for keeping. 93/100

La Chablisienne Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 2017
9.4 hectares with seven owners, La Chablisienne have 7.2 hectares directly owned. Old vines, 12 parcels. Just 12 hl/ha in this vintage because of frost, so this is quite a rare wine. Such concentration and refinement with a lovely mineral core to the dense citrus and white peach fruit. The concentration and maturity are perfect with a lovely acid line. Such potential here: a really fine wine showing great precision. 95/100

La Chablisienne Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses 2003
In 2003 they added a little tartaric acid to the must and not a crazy amount. Most of it precipitated out. Very dry, warm year, with small yields. Lots of drought stress this year. Began harvesting at 4 am and stopped working late morning. No malic acid in the grapes. Lovely aromatics with nice toast and herb, and some ripe peachy fruit. The palate is powerful and toasty with wax and peach, some tinned pear, and lovely freshness. Baked bread and some mineral. It is not the acid that has preserved this wine, but the structure and mineral character. Such a distinctive wine, and a real surprise. 94/100

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Chablis (12) Domaine Oudin

Nathalie Oudin

Thirty-five years ago, Jean-Claude and Christiane Oudin returned to their roots in Chablis. They had good jobs in Paris, but they were stressful, and the thought of building up a domaine and being winegrowers was very appealing. Christiane’s father had a couple of hectares in the small village of Chichée, just south of Chablis. They built the domaine up to its current size of 10 hectares, and it’s now run by their daughter Nathalie, with help from her sister Isabelle. ’35 years ago you could create a domaine,’ says Nathalie, ‘but that’s not possible now.’

Nathalie had left France to study biology at Leeds in the UK. ‘Then I tasted some wine, fell in love with it and came back,’ she recalls, going on to study enology before returning to Chablis in 2007.

Her parents wanted to do viticulture their own way, so they decided to stop using chemicals and ploughed the soil, something that Nathalie has continued. But she doesn’t farm organically. ‘For me it is not good for the environment to do organics here because of the copper,’ she says. ‘If we go every three days to spray copper that is not good.’ She uses no herbicides and uses composts (based on animal manure).

‘I work with my sister,’ she says, ‘who came to help 6 years ago.’ Nathalie had found that running the domain while bringing up two small children was difficult without some help. ‘We spend over 90% of our time in the vineyards. We have one third massale selection, over 70 years old. And my parents planted quality clones. Now we are going back to the massale selection again.’

They prune short, because they are not after high yields. ‘The maximum-allowed yield is 60 hl/ha but since I arrived, 2018 is the first year we reached that,’ she says. ‘The average is 45 hl/ha.’

We had a chat about viticulture. The normal planting density in Chablis 6500 plants/ha. They are pruning some of their vines with the Guyot poussard technique, which respects the sap flow the vine and helps alleviate trunk diseases. ‘It’s something people forgot,’ she says. ‘They were doing this over 40years ago but people just forgot about it.’

Chichée is 3 km south of Chablis, and Nathalie says that there are lots of stones in the soils, and not too much marl (clay). It’s the last layer of the Kimmeridgean. North of Chablis there are more sandy soils and it’s a bit hotter in the summer.

She went to enology school. ‘I learned a lot of things there, but I’m not doing them at the domain,’ she says. ‘I wanted to make reds, and wherever I travelled I had to do the whites.’ That’s what happens when people know you come from Chablis.

All the grapes are machine harvested, which Nathalie says is good for Chardonnay, but would be terrible for Pinot Noir. The machine results in nice round berries going into the press. The other thing that’s good about machine harvesting is timing. ‘With a machine you can wait; you can’t do this with hand pickers.’

Winemaking is standard. There’s natural settling, without protecting the juice too much, for 12 -24 h. ‘I want juice you can’t see through if you put it in a glass,’ she says. ‘We need all this texture.’ Then she fills the tanks, and allows fermentation to start. It can take two months to finish, and all the ageing is done in stainless steel. ‘My father tried working with barrels but even with old ones there was some aroma of the wood. The lees are really good, and help keep the freshness, and in cold years add some roundness.’

Some years they do fining, but not all years. ‘Chardonnay is pretty rich with protein so some years we have to,’ says Nathalie. ‘We do natural cold stabilization in the cellar, with simple, light filtration before bottling.’ Some SO2 is added at bottling, and the other times they add it are after second fermentation, and some years at the press stage if the fruit isn’t ideal.

Domaine Oudin Chablis 2017
From 15 different parcels. This has lovely fresh acidity with great precision to the lemony fruit, as well as a bit of passionfruit exoticism. Very nice tension here with purity and an attractive stony minerality. Nice weight. 91/100

Domaine Oudin Chablis ‘Les Serres’ 2017 (tank sample, will be bottled in August)
Very poor soils. This is a single parcel that makes amazing fruit, so it is kept separate. Complex, intense and textural with some hints of jasmine and toast, as well as lovely grainy structure. Has taut, crystalline citrus fruits with a bit of peachiness and nice spice notes. Complex and distinctive. 93-94/100

Domaine Oudin Chablis 1er Cru Vaugiraut 2017
Part of Vosgros, in Chichée. Two parcels, 40 and 70 years old. Vivid and fresh with nice lemony notes and some green tea detail. Lovely ripe fruit here with a supple mouthfeel and some herbal notes. Pretty, floral and expressive. Lovely flourish on the finish with good acidity and a nice lemon, grainy end. 93/100

Domaine Oudin Chablis 1er Cru Vaucoupins 2017
One old parcel planted in 1950. Facing south in a hot part, and with very stony soils. Massale selection. Linear and focused with good concentration to the citrus and pear fruit. Has some pretty pineapple notes and good acidity. Needs lots of time to develop. Lovely brightness on the finish: good acidity, but well integrated and not at all harsh. 94/100

Domaine Oudin Chablis ‘Les Serres’ 2014
Complex, a bit waxy, taut and with some nutty hints to the lively, driven citrus and pear fruit. Has some green apple, too, and a bit of pith. Dense and quite austere with firm acidity and hints of cabbage and herbs. Lots of interest and detail here. This has a lot of potential. 93/100

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The £6 Orange Natural Wine

Cramele Recas is a large winery in Romania well known for its astutely made commercial wines. Last year they began making an affordable orange wine, and this, the second vintage, is on the shelf at £6 in Asda (a UK supermarket). It spends 20 days on skins, and has no added sulfites.

I’m impressed by it, and it’s a remarkable deal at this price. Is it going to win over existing natural wine fans? Probably not: they won’t particularly like the fact that this is just one wine coming from a large, commercial cellar, rather than being the philosophy of the whole winery. But it might open up the eyes of regular consumers to these two categories of wines: orange and natural (the two often go together, but they aren’t the same, of course).

Orange Natural Wine 2018 Timisului, Romania
12.5% alcohol. A blend of Chardonnay, Feteasca Alba, Sauvignon Blanc and Tamioasa Romaneasca from sustainably farmed vineyards. This is made with native yeasts and no added sugar or sulfur dioxide. A yellow gold in the glass, it has rich pear and peach aromas, with some citrus brightness. The palate is lively with zesty citrus fruit, some table grapes, a twist of apple, some creamy hints and some peachy richness. There is a bit of structure here, but the tannins add to the perception of brightness. It’s a really lovely wine with lots of flavour but also freshness. 89/100 (£6 Asda)

Okanagan (1) Sage Hills and Keenan

Sage Hills is a relatively new Okanagan winery. The vineyard, beautifully situated on a lake-facing hill in Summerland, was purchased by Vancouver property developer Rick Thrussell in 2006. At the time, it was a rather run-down apricot farm that had been abandoned for a decade, and Rick planted 7 acres of vines on the site, plus another 3 on a neighbouring property.

Keenan Thrussell

His son Keenan is now the winemaker here, and he’s taking the wines in a very interesting direction. Keenan moved to the Okanagan from Vancouver in 2015 and began by farming the vineyard and also helping in the cellar. He also got experience working for Pascal Madevon at Culmina. Pascal – who consults widely – gave him experience in a number of his clients’ cellars. And Keenan also did vintage with Two Hands in Australia. Armed with this experience, he took over winemaking duties at Sage Hills with the 2017 vintage.

The vineyard has been organic from the outset. Initially, weeds were controlled using a bush wacker, but this caused some damage to the trunks of the vines, and so Keenan now takes a different approach: he just lets the weeds grow. Alternate rows are mowed to give some semblance of order, but he doesn’t do anything in the vine row.  He’s interested in seeing what grows naturally, and in this arid climate the weeds don’t grow up into the canopy, and the vines don’t seem to be suffering from any loss of vigour. ‘I wanted to see what grows,’ he says, ‘and since I’ve taken over I’ve been using native yeasts.’ He thinks the weeds are part of this.

There’s a step up from the 2016 wines to those from 2017, and there’s also a jump to the wines from 2018. Experiments involving doing less in the winery, and not sulphuring after malolactic fermentation involved just a few barrels in 2017, and then in 2018 he rolled the low intervention approach across the whole range. He says that sulphuring a barrel ‘kills the immune system of the wine and shuts it down.’

Picking here is by acid levels, and so the result is wines that are bright and drinkable, with low alcohol levels. Keenan also makes small quantities of wines under his name – a ton of Cabernet Franc in 2017 and a ton of Sauvignon Blanc in 2018. These see no sulphites at all.

This is a really exciting project, and it’s good to see young people with vision and aesthetic sensibilities making wines in the Okanagan like this.

Sage Hills Brut Sauvage 2016 Okanagan, Canada
This is traditional method Pinot Gris with no dosage. Smoky and a bit mineral with nice grapey notes. Lovely texture here with fine spicies. Lovely stuff. 90/100

Sage Hills Pinot Gris 2017 Okanagan, Canada
This is from purchased organic fruit from the Ghost Pines vineyard high up in Peachland. Harvested late on October 28. Tight and mineral with a bit of reduction, showing some matchstick notes. Lovely freshness with a stony texture. Nice precision here with a good acid line. 91/100

Sage Hills Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2018 Okanagan, Canada
From Covert Farms in Oliver, this is 65% Sauvignon and 35% Semillon. The Semillon is picked very ripe and the Sauvignon is cofermented with it to provide natual acid balance, with the harvest in tranches and juice added successively to already fermenting wine. Lovely texture here: very fine and linear with nice weight and purity, showing rounded pear, spice and white peach. 93/100

Sage Hills Gewurztraminer 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Half was picked with 9 g/l acid, then some at 7 g/l and the final pick was 4 g/l. Fresh and floral with a lemony edge to the nose and some Turkish delight character. Supple and textured on the palate with nice freshness and some pithy notes. 89/100

Sage Hills Syrah Rosé 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Fruit from Covert Farms. Supple and textured with nice strawberry and cherry fruit, some nice richness and a bit of spiciness. Textural and appealing. 90/100

Sage Hills Rhymes With Orange Pinot Gris 2017 Okanagan, Canada
This is quite smoky, but when it goes through malolactic in barrel the smokiness disappears, which makes Keenan think it’s not smoke taint. Half of this went through barrel and wasn’t smoly, but the tank component was. Smoky, medicinal and herb tinged on the nose. The palate has lovely texture with a hint of mint and some earthiness. Structured with some tropical highlights. 88/100

Sage Hills Merlot 2017 Okanagan, Canada
From Kaleden Organic Vineyards. This is fresh and supple with nice cherry and plum fruit, showing nice brightness and purity. Very supple and elegant. 92/100

Sage Hills Pinot Noir 2017 Okanagan, Canada
Estate fruit, 30% whole cluster. Supple, fresh, mellow and elegant with textured red cherry fruit and some nice herby hints. Very textured and fine with a silky mouthfeel. Lovely wine. 93/100

Sage Hills Syrah 2016 Okanagan, Canada
This comes from Covert Farms in Oliver. Fresh and textured with nice ripeness and good balance. There’s a bit of pepper here with some oak in the mix, too. 91/100

Tank/cask samples of 2018:

Sage Hills Rhymes with Orange Pinot Gris 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Lovely spicy texture here with nice savoury notes. Some liquorice, a bit of spicy framing and a twist of medicine. 90-92/100

Sage Hills Pinot Gris 2018 Okanagan, Canada
This is the whole-cluster component, which will be a quarter of the blend (this is 50% whole cluster). Lovely detail with notes of marmalade and spice and tangerine. Nice weight, with some tannin. 91-93/100

Sage Hills Pinot Noir 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Wild ferment, no cold soak, 10% whole cluster. Fresh and textured with spices and a hint of reduction. Fine-grained tannins with some savoury spice and a silky texture. Lovely cherry fruit. 92-94/100

Sage Hills Syrah 2018 Okanagan, Canada
Wild ferment. This has an amazingly peppery nose with lovely vivid floral black cherry fruit. Shows precision on the palate. Bright and vivid with focus and purity. A remarkable wine. 94-96/100

Each year Keenan does a ton of grapes as his own experiment. In 2017 it was Cabernet Franc, in 2018 a skin-contact Sauvignon Blanc. These are made with no added sulphites, after he had good results with an unsulfured barrel.

Keenan Sauvignon Blanc Skin Contact 2018 Okanagan, Canada
This is whole berries with a month on skins, punched down and then pressed with an old basket press. This then went into barrels for 8 months with so sulphites. Lovely floral nose with orange blossom and citrus peel. The palate has structure and texture. Very refined with nice length, with a twist of mint and fine herbs. There’s balance, precision and freshness. 93/100

Keenan Cabernet Franc 2017 Okkanagan, Canada
This comes from Kaleden, near Penticton. No added sulphites. Supple and fine grained with nice freshness, a touch of pepper and some earthy hints under the grainy cherry and plum fruit. Has good structure with some finesse. 93/100

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OKANAGAN

 

Hawke's Bay, New Zealand (10) Te Awanga Estate

Rod McDonald

I visited Rod McDonald in his beautifully situated winery in Te Awanga. This is a cool, coastal part of Hawke’s Bay that’s getting quite a reputation for its Chardonnay. Rod started his own wine company, Rod McDonald wines, back in 2006, and in 2016 he changed the name of the project to Te Awanga Estate when he moved into his current place. ‘Now we have somewhere to be it makes sense to move it to that,’ he explained.

He has several tiers to his range. The top level consists of the Trademark Chardonnay (150 cases) and Trademark Syrah (200-300 cases). Then there’s the Quarter Acre range, which is a growers series. These come from small vineyards around Hawke’s Bay.

Rod himself owns or leases 75 hectares, and the leases they have are long-term (usually 20 years). 45% of this area is Biogro certified organic. The rest is going into conversion. ‘It’s never going to be a point of promotion for us,’ he says. And they have enough tools in their armoury to deal with disease. ‘In NZ limit on copper is 3 kg/hectare,’ he says, ‘and generally we don’t bump our head on that.’

Te Awanga, Hawke’s Bay

Then there is the Te Awanga Estate range, either from the home block, or the further 45 hectares that are leased and farmed (11 ha in Bridge Pa and 35 ha Mangatahi, which is inland), and this includes a new reserve series from old vines (Chardonnay) and new vines (Syrah).

‘Chardonnay and Syrah are the two varieties that the region should lead with,’ he says. ‘Most of what we have in the ground is Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Gris. Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris does well, and Delegats are planting 800 hectares in the Woodthorpe.’

But the region has seen a bit of contraction, too. ‘Contract growers have been removing old vines – mostly because of old vineyards that weren’t planted in the right place,’ says Rod. ‘If it’s a good place to grow apples then it’s not ideal for grapes.’ The exception to this contraction is the new plantings of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris by the big companies.

Te Awanga One Off Albarińo 2017 Hawke’s Bay
First crop from these vines in the Bridge Pa triangle. Lively and citrussy with bright with crisp fruit and a hint of pithiness. Nice brisk, linear style with some flavour, and a hint of saline lemon curd. 88/100

Te Awanga One Off Double Happy 2018 Hawke’s Bay
Chardonnay and Viognier, barrel fermented. Very fruity and delicious with some mineral notes as well as supple, fleshy pear and melon fruit. Easy and very drinkable. Tastes of Viognier. 89/100

Te Awanga Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017
25 year old vines. Fresh, chalky and limey with lovely taut citrus fruit. Crisp and quite mineral with good acidity. Has some tangerine and a hint of pith. Lovely precision here. None dry. 90/100

Te Awanga Estate Chardonnay 2017
Young vine clone 15, with some barrel and tank ferment. There’s a really long hang time for Chardonnay here. It’s picked three weeks later here than the inland blocks, even though flowering is at the same time. Nice peach and pear depth with some nuts and spice. Fleshy and delicious with nice peachy fruit. 90/100

Te Awanga The Loom Reserve Chardonnay 2017
From the oldest Mendoza clones here, hand picked and run to barrel, 11 months in oak, 30% new. This is linear and quite saline with nice spiciness under the pear, lemon and apple fruit. Has some apricot detail on the finish. Supple and fine with a salty edge. 93/100

Te Awanga Quarter Acre Chardonnay 2015
25 year old Mendoza clone, 7 tons off two hectares. Hand picked and whole bunch pressed. Long time on lees, wild ferment. Lovely cabbagey, matchstick reduction on the nose, with some supple fruit. Very mineral and expressive with lovely detail. This is so expressive. 94/100

Te Awanga Trademark Chardonnay 2015
Inland vineyards, planted in 2005, clone 15 and clone 95. Redmetals, 150 000 year old terrace, cold nights. This is rich but well defined with complex peach and pear, with some toasty notes. Has nice depth and weight, combining richness, texture and also some freshness. Finishes with notes of bread and toast. 94/100

Te Awanga Estate Merlot Cabernet Franc 2015
Sweet, rounded and supple with a peppery edge to the rounded sweet cherry and blackberry fruit. Shows dried herbs, mint and thyme in the background. Nice grippy structure allied to a lovely rounded, sweetly fruited palate. This is really attractive. 91/100

Te Awanga Quarter Acre Syrah 2014
Peppery and bright, but also supple with some menthol and mint hints as well as bright, supple berry fruits. Has some blackberry and black cherry. Generous with nice texture to the fruit. 93/100

Te Awanga One Off The Banger 2016
Named after the old Holden V8. It’s a blend of Cabernet (off the Gimblett Gravels) and Syrah (Bridge Pa). This shows sweet blackcurrant and cherry fruit on the nose: it’s quite enticing. The palate is fresh with a peppery undercurrent to the blackcurrant fruit. Has a long, savoury finish with intriguing pepper hints. Lovely. 93/100

Te Awanga Trademark Syrah 2013
This is ripe and stylish with a bit of maturity, showing lush black fruits with some peppery hints. Saline with some herbs and warm savoury notes. Good concentration here with some richness on the mid-palate. Ripe and expressive. 93/100

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HAWKES BAY