Alternative Bordeaux (6) Dubourdieu: white wines, dry and sweet

Noble rot: ripe grapes infected with Botrytis cinarea

So far, in looking at alternative Bordeaux, I’ve explored organics and biodynamics, taken a tour around some of the less well known appellations, and also considered natural approaches to winemaking. But there’s another side to Bordeaux that needs exploring, and which is often neglected: the white wines. These include dry wines, which can be ageworthy and very fine, and of course the famous sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

Denis Dubourdieu was one of the most important figures in developing the white wines of Bordeaux, both sweet and dry. I caught up with him in 2014 to interview him: he was then 65, and sadly died in July 2016 far too young at the age of 67. Two years later, I visited again, this time to spend time with his son Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu, who is now running Domaines Denis Dubourdieu.

Denis Dubourdieu

Denis was primarily a research scientist, and spent half of his time working for Bordeaux University (where he was president of the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin), and half consulting and working on his own project, Domaines Denis Dubourdieu, which consists of five estates. We met at Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac, where he was born. He lived in another of the estates, Château Reynon.

Before noble rot has hit

His consultancy business was significant and involved 70 clients, a third of whom were in Bordeaux, and as well as Denis, the team included Valérie Lavigne and Christophe Ollivier. ‘I have three lives,’ he told me, ‘but they are not so far away from each other: I teach what I do, I do what I teach.’ It is his contribution to what we know about the flavour of white wines, both dry and sweet, which will probably have the biggest legacy.

Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu

Denis’ father was the first to make a dry white wine in Sauternes in the 1950s at Doisy-Daëne, many years before Yquem began making their Y. He thought that the limestone had a lot of potential for dry whites. But there were still very few dry wines from the area before Denis began working on them. ‘At the beginning of the 1980s only a few estates made a distinctive wine at this time,’ he recalled. He became involved in the production from his family estate, and together with his wife Florence actually established a new white wine estate in the Graves, Clos Floridène, in 1982.

Limestone soils, Doisy-Daëne

‘It was crazy at the time to create an estate in the Graves areas,’ says his son Jean-Jacques. ‘It is in the same geological area, still on limestone, which keeps going to Pujol-Sur-Cerons. Clos Floridène began with some old plots of Semillon. Now it is a sizeable estate of 39 hectares, and makes red as well as white wines.

Achieving success with his own Bordeaux whites meant that Denis was in demand for his advice, which he ended up giving to most of the classified white wine estates. ‘My consultant activity started with Fieuzal in 1995, then added Malartic-Lagraviere, Pavillion Blanc of Margaux, and Carbonnieux,’ he said. From 2003 he consulted at Yquem and his colleague Christophe Ollivier worked for De Malle for 20 years. Others include Lafaurie-Peyragey and Rayne-Vigneau.

Young vines

Famously, working together with Takatoshi Tominaga, Dubourdieu discovered the role of a group of sulfur-containing compounds, the polyfunctional thiols, in the aroma of white wines. ‘It was the discovery of my life,’ he told me. ‘No one could believe that thiols could be involved in the aroma of grape varieties, and that S-cysteinylated compounds were the precursors.’ He discovered many things, including the influence of the yeast turning these precursors into thiols during fermentation.

 

These thiols, particularly 3MH, 3MHA and 4MMP give the distinctive passionfruit, grapefruit and boxwood aromas that are typical of Sauvignon Blanc and botrytised wines, but which also occur in other grape varieties. This research has been followed up elsewhere, particularly in New Zealand, where Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough show particularly high levels of 3MH and 3MHA.

Denis also worked on oxidation, and demonstrated the role of reduced glutathione in protecting the wine against oxidation. This work also had a lot of relevance to the problem of premature oxidation (premox) in white Burgundy. ‘Oxidation reactions are catalysed by phenolics,’ said Denis. ‘Good white wine everywhere in the world should have low phenolics in the skins and high levels of glutathione. In pressing, polyphenols are oxidized to quinones, and if there’s too much quinone, you lose the reductive power of glutathione. It is important to understand this phenomenon for Sauvignon, which is more sensitive to oxidation.’

Denis thought that this insight was important for white Burgundy, where there have been premox problems. ‘I worked with Jadot,’ he said, ‘and there are no more problems there. Premox is like an aircraft crash: there is never just one reason, always two or three wrong things done. Independently of the composition of the grape, sluggish fermentations are one of the worst things for white wines in terms of oxidation.’

Fermenting!

Denis liked limestone for white wines. ‘I like limestone soils because drought never exists on limestone,’ he said. ‘Phenolics are a reaction to drought and nitrogen deficiency. Phenolics give bitterness and astringency. With no anthocyanins in whites to combine with tannins the tannins are bitter and astringent.’

How do you get good levels of these nice thiols in white wines? ‘The level of the precursor is important, and the phenolic content.’ Press juice has high levels of both, and the wines are often disappointing because the precursors end up being oxidised. A good level of nitrogen in the juice is helpful (200 mg/l FAN). So the ideal juice would have low pH, high precursors and low phenolics.

Pressing is important. Denis approach was to destem, crush and press at low temperature (10 C). ‘We protect the first part of pressing against oxygen, and the second part we don’t protect.’ Normally there is no addition of SO2, unless the juice is clarified. The idea is to protect the part of the juice richest in glutathione and oxidise the phenolics for the latter part of pressing.

 

When it comes to botrytis, it’s important that the fungus acts on healthy, ripe, metabolizing grapes. They need to respond actively to the infection by the fungus, and there shouldn’t be too much time between ripeness and infection. ‘Infection is not only about concentration,’ he said. ‘It is stimulation of the production of aroma precursors by the pulp. When the grapes are becoming an old guy it is difficult to be excited by the fungus.’ More mature grapes simply concentrate their flavours, with honey and citrus, when they are infected. When grapes that are metabolically active get infected, then you get the polyfunctional thiols, with flavours of apricot, mango and grapefruit. ‘You want fast ripening and fast invasion.’

‘Purity is my obsession,’ said Denis. ‘Wines should be pure, like the music: you can’t have pleasure with off notes,’

Farming across the Dubourdieu domaines is more-or-less organic. ‘We haven’t used herbicides in 35 years,’ says Jean-Jacques. ‘We plough the soils.’ Harvest of the 400 plots takes two months. They make their own compost, too. ‘We don’t want bio certification.’ He says, ‘but we want to show that we make significant effort. Everything is relative, but we are bigger than average and want to show a significant sign and message of sustainability. We plough the soil. We are not crazy about letting grass on the soil because we want high acidity.’

Limestone

‘Here in Barsac this is important because we force the roots to go into the limestone,’ he says. ‘Ploughing the soil in Barsac is tough because there are rocks everywhere. It is not a simple process. On gravel soils it is a dream. Even in completely clay soils it is easier, but there when it is wet it is slippery. We work the soil exactly like my grandfather. My father was very attached with the ploughing, especially with dry white and sweet wines to keep the acidity high.’

Sauternes isn’t all that fashionable these days, but the Dubourdieus have a strong market for their wines. ’35-40% of the market for Sauternes is France,’ says Jean-Jacques, ‘with the UK 2nd. Japan is doing well and China little by little. Production is small and market is small. In our family range, it is not the most difficult to sell. If we follow the style of freshness and great expression, there is a market for that. We sell out every year.’ Since 2009 they have sold all their Sauternes under the name of Barsac.

For Sauternes, the ‘better’ vintages in Bordeaux are not always the best. ‘In the bigger vintages with more concentration you get more VA, approaching 1 g/litre, and the wines don’t always age as well,’ says Jean-Jacques.

Science has been well applied across the Dubourdieu domaines. These are wines of precision, elegance, purity and lovely aromatic detail. It is no wonder that Denis was in such demand as a consultant, and his legacy has been a leap forward in quality for Bordeaux whites. Now the world needs to discover their qualities.

Château Doisy-Daëne Blanc 2015 Bordeaux, France
100% Sauvignon Blanc. Make 30-40 000 bottles of this each year. Normally dry whites in Bordeaux are from gravel, but this is limestone, and it gives a distinctive character to the wine. Very fine and expressive with lovely acidity underpinning the citrus and fennel fruit, with a hint of lanolin and quince. Linear with a lovely fine acid core. Lovely finesse here. 93/100

Clos Floridène Blanc 2015 Graves, France
50% Semillon from old vines and 50% Sauvignon. Semillon in barrel, 30% new, older oak for the Sauvignon. Linear and pure with lovely fresh citrus note: grapefruits and lemon peel. Hints of fennel and keen acidity with nice precision and purity. Has lovely bright acidity with nice taut complexity, and it will age well. 93/100

Clos Floridène Rouge 2012 Graves, France
The Merlot is on limestone and Cabernet (70%) is on gravel. Had an incredible mildew attack and lost 50% of the production. Very fresh and stony with lovely bright cherry and plum fruit. Such pure fruit here with nice precision and structure. Such an approachable with but has some mineral, stony notes. 91/100

Château Doisy-Daëne 2012 Barsac, Bordeaux, France
One third new oak, aged for a year in barrel. A difficult year when Yquem didn’t make any sweet wine, but this is really good. ‘I really believe in the ageing potential of 2012,’ says Jean-Jacques. Half of normal production. Fresh, pure and linear with nice bright, balanced sweet peach and passionfruit notes, with some citrus fruits. Midweight with nice balance between the sweetness and the acidity, with a lovely smooth texture. Fine spicy notes and a hint of vanilla. Very fresh lemony finish. Superb. 94/100

Château Doisy-Daëne 2013 Barsac, Bordeaux, France
A difficult vintage for reds, but for sweet it was easy. Rain all summer and then lovely September and October. Lively and bright with lovely concentrated sweet lemon and pear fruit with some peachy richness. Melon and herb notes, too, with a linear finish. Not overly complex but with nice weight and focus and potential for development, with good acidity. 92/100

Château Doisy-Daëne 1975 Barsac, Bordeaux, France
Golden/brown colour. Fresh and lemony with a hint of spice and treacle (very faint), with nice grapefruit and nut characters. Some lanolin and quince jelly characters as well as traces of coffee and tea. Still tastes quite sweet but with a delicate savouriness. Lovely complexity here. Beautiful. Elegant and driking very well now. 94/100

Château Doisy-Daëne 1991 Barsac, Bordeaux, France
Marmalade and spice nose with some apricot and toast. Vivid and intense. There’s a minty edge to the palate which shows pear and peach, with good acidity and nice spiciness. Very distinctive with a savoury edge. Lovely pure spicy citrus fruits drive this with a rich toasty quality. Has some distance to go. Sweet but fresh with nice spicy detail, and a minty edge. 93/100

Château Doisy-Daëne 1990 Barsac, Bordeaux, France
One of the iconic vintages. Heavily botrytised. Gold/bronze colour. Malt, apricot and peach with toast and toffee notes. Very rich and harmonious with lovely texture and depth. Combines sweet grape, toffee and apricot flavours with a savoury, slightly earthy edge, and some pastry characters. Has immense concentration and richness with real harmony. 96/100

L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne 2006 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Grandfather started this cuvée in 1990. The idea is to make something more concentrated, but without feeling more concentrated – still fresh. Based mainly on Sauvignon Blanc, with 100% new oak. Complex, lemony and powerful on the nose with some grapefruit and spice. Very pure. The palate is very concentrated and rich with sweet, intense pear and melon fruit, as well as nice acidity. So linear and pure, showing great focus and power, as well as harmony. 95/100

L’Extravagant de Doisy-Daëne 2013 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillon. Since 2015 this is close to 100% Sauvignon. Lively, intense and aromatic with subtle herbal notes alongside the intense pear, grape and peach fruit. Melony and exotic, showing great concentration, but still fresh. Intense with lovely freshness on the finish. Nice power and weight here with a lovely pure, exotic fruity quality. 96/100

Alternative Bordeaux

 

Mas de Daumas Gassac 2011 - a Languedoc legend

Mas de Daumas Gassac has an important place in the history of French wine. Back in the 1970s they showed the world that serious wine could be made in the Languedoc, which at that time was fully given to plonk production. Lots of plonk is still made in this enormous region, but in the wake of Daumas Gassac a sizeable band of quality producers have emerged.

The 40 hectare vineyard is based on a historic ‘terroir’ that was rediscovered in the 1970s by Henry Enjalbert, a professor of geography. Visiting the property, he was amazed by the potential of its limestone-based soils and moderate climate, and that encouraged owners Aimé and Véronique Guibert to plant a vineyard. The upper Gassac valley enjoys a cool microclimate, and vines have been planted in 50 small plots amidst the surrounding garrigue. Viticulture is organic.

The red is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder a fascinating melange of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Tannat, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Tempranillo, Voskehat (Armenia), Kontorni (Armenia), Salte (Syris) and some Georgian varieties. First vintage was 1978, made with the help of famous Bordeaux consultant winemaker Emile Peynaud.

Mas de Daumas Gassac 2011 IGP Saint Saint-Guilhem-Le-Desert, Languedoc, France
13.5% alcohol. This is just so good. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% other varieties, this is sleek and beautifully balance, and less ripe than many modern Bordeaux, even though it’s from the Languedoc. There’s a core of sweet blackcurrant fruit, as well as subtle hints of tar, spice and gravel. It’s sleek and enticing, but there is also an elegance and freshness, and at age 7 and a bit it has real harmony. Showing the first signs of development, there’s a long future ahead for this wine. 94/100

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

Sauvignon Blanc: comparing good examples from the Loire and New Zealand

 

Awareness days. There are just so many of them. Sauvignon Blanc Day is 3rd of May. Whatever you think about these awareness days for grape varieties, this was an excuse to hold – somewhat in advance – a unique tasting that brought together two big players in the Sauvignon game: New Zealand and the Loire. With a really cool crowd including some of the leading UK wine journalists, we tasted 12 wines blind. These are my notes, although as one of the presenters, I wasn’t tasting blind.

This was the first time that New Zealand and the two Loire trade bodies (the Centre Loire has a separate one) have collaborated like this and it made for a really good event. More than once New Zealand and the Loire were confused by the tasters. The wines were presented in pairs around a theme.

Great Value

Villa Maria Private Bin 2018 Marlborough, New Zealand
Light, pure, balanced and expressive with subtle elderflower, hints of passionfruit and a keen lemony core. Bright and quite typical, in a lean, precise mould. Not a shouty wine, but delivers lovely Sauvignon character from a tricky year, with good acidity. 89/100

Patricia and Bruno Denis Domaine de La Renaudie Touraine Sauvignon 2018 Loire, France
This is quite fruity and expressive with pear and peach notes as well as bright citrus fruit. Generous and very fruity with more depth than you might expect. A really delicious fruit forward style, with a soft texture. 89/100

Award winning

Cause and Effect Barrique Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This comes from the Wairau Bar. Tight, citrussy, bright and linear, with keen acidity and nice precision. Grapefruit and lemon with some nice spicy hints. Expressive finish with a lovely lemony finish. There’s a bit of smoky oak lurking in the background but it integrates well, and there’s amazing brightness to this wine, although it’s a bit angular and reductive right now. 90/100

Domaine Delobel Potentielle Sauvignon Blanc Cuvee Exceptional Touraine 2017 Loire, France
Lovely exotic grapefruit and passionfruit notes here: this has sweet fruit and nice intensity: a bold, quite exotic wine with nice green hints and a fine mineral core. Powerful flavours. 92/100

Pioneer

Brancott Estate The Chosen Rows 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand
Powerful and expressive with grapefruit and quince notes, and lovely acidity. Intensely flavoured with some bold, rich fruit character and a coiled up mineral dimension under the fruit. Developing beautifully, this is an exciting wine. It’s ripe but fresh, and has effortless power. 94/100

Denis Jamain Les Fossiles Reuilly 2018 Loire, France
Pure, linear, stony and mineral with keen acidity and bright citrus fruit. Refined and quite pure with grapefruit and a bit of pithiness. Very stylish showing an elegant, linear expression of this variety. 92/100

Terroir

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Intense and expressive with bright, ripe citrus and pear fruit. Subtle grassy notes and nice expressive grapefruit brightness, with a nice acid core. Lovely texture here: this wine has a bright future ahead of it. Refined and quite mineral, and with more than a hint of Loire about it, rather than the Marlborough exotics. 93/100

Henri Bourgeois Cote des Monts Damnés Sancerre 2017 Loire, France
Mineral and expressive with nice citrus and pear fruit, with lovely aromatics. Just a trace of green with some fruit concentration: there’s a fine mineral streak with good acidity. So linear and refined with lovely acidity and precision. 94/100

Innovation

Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Powerful, complex and expressive with a very subtle creamy undercurrent to the bold pear and green apple fruit, with a nice citrus flourish on the finish. Rounded and textural with some exotic fruit characters as well as a mineral core. Lovely wine with a long, tapering finish. 93/100

Domaine Joel Delauney Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Compact with lovely expressive passionfruit, citrus and pear fruit. This has lovely purity and balance with real precision to the flavour. Lovely balance to this wine, which demonstrates the light, aromatic, pretty side of Sauvignon. 92/100

Off the beaten track

Domaine Pre Baron Touraine Sauvignon Blanc L’Elegante Vieilles Vignes 2017 Loire, France
There’s some richness here with pear and melon, as well as some dried citrus fruit notes. Has a hint of honey and nuts with a lovely mineral core. Such lovely weight and concentration. 93/100

Te Mata Estate Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Linear and refined with lovely pear and citrus, as well as some grapefruit and well integrated oak. A serious, textural Sauvignon with lovely weight and power, finishing bright with good acidity. So refined. 93/100

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Seven Syrahs

A few days ago I wrote about a blind tasting of South African Syrah. These are the other Syrahs we tasted blind, alongside the South Africans. There was no logic to the choices: it’s just what we brought along. I was really impressed by all these wines: when Syrah is good, it’s such an interesting variety.

Sami Odi V7 NV Barossa, Australia
This is a solera-style wine from the Barossa blending together four vintages. Old vines, low yielding, early picked. This is sweet and ripe with sweet black cherry fruit with a hint of menthol and some structural elements meshing seamlessly with the sweet fruit. 92/100

Domaine des Miquettes Saint-Joseph 2017 Northern Rhône, France
This is whole bunch fermentation (3 week maceration) and then ageing in Spanish amphorae (tinajas). Intense, vivid black cherry fruit with lovely freshness. Has good structure with supple fruit. Such lovely structure here. 95/100

Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2004 Beechworth, Victoria, Australia
Meaty and dense with spice and iodine notes as well as layered black fruits. Some fine cherry notes, too. Salty and multidimensional with ripeness but also purity. A lovely wine. 95/100

Rouchier Saint-Joseph ‘La Chave’ 2016 Northern Rhône, France
No added sulfites. Bright, vivid and peppery with sweet cherries and plums. Taut and quite restrained with raspberry and cherry fruit but also a savoury, peppery structure and some tight, reduced notes. Such an interesting wine. 93/100

Chapoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne 2007 Northern Rhône, France
Savoury and a bit earthy, showing a bit of age. Quite classic with some black pepper and supple cherry fruit. Medium bodied, showing ripeness but also balance. Sleek, with nice savouriness. 93/100

Piedrasassi Syrah 2009 Santa Barbara County, California
Meaty, spicy and earthy with dense structure under the sleek black fruits. Has developed in interesting ways with nice sweet fruit. 93/100

Luke Lambert Reserve Syrah 2007 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is Luke’s first vintage, from a smoke-affected year, apparently, although this wine doesn’t seem to show it. Sweet, pure and with nice green hints to the concentrated, fresh, raspberry, cherry and plum fruit. Supple with lovely black fruit character. 94/100

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Why are most wine lists so bad? Can anything be done?

Most restaurant wine lists aren’t fit for purpose. They drive me to despair.

Look, I’m a wine professional. I know a bit. But in most restaurants, faced with their list I’m just guessing when I choose a wine. So imagine how it is for normal people? Inspecting the wine list becomes an insane ritual. Choosing wine becomes a guessing game that alienates rather than includes. What should be a fun, relaxing occasion can end up becoming stressful.

The only wine lists that work for me are in high-end places where they focus on natural/authentic wines that I know pretty well, or where there is a good sommelier who can read the table well and make good suggestions. That’s a very small proportion of the restaurants out there. Not many of them have staff who know the list, and who know how to read the table.

Too often, wine lists fall into two camps.

The first, is a high-end establishment with a book-like list of many hundreds of wines, where it’s simply a list showing the name of the wine and the price. Without a good sommelier, this sort of list is not at all user-friendly. Some places think that the bigger their wine list is, the better it is. At the extreme end is the over-long list where the sommelier doesn’t want to sell the last bottle of each wine, in order to keep the breadth of coverage.

The second is the sort of wine list you find all over the place, usually in more non-wine-focused establishments, which is an off-the-peg list from one supplier. These are usually inexpensive wines that are marked up highly. To cover the mark ups, the wines are given made-up names.

Look: restaurants have to make money, and we expect them to mark up their wines significantly – no one reasonable thinks they can drink in a restaurant at retail prices. This is one reason why consumers should be suspicious of private label or soft brands, or retailers who insist on exclusivity. It’s almost always to hide margin.

My big problem with these sort of lists, though, is that they tend to be spectacularly bad at helping customers choose the wine they want. Normally, they have tasting notes written in fluent wine-trade talk – these notes are essentially unintelligible babble to non-wine people. In these cases, it might be better to simply treat the wine as a commodity, and provide a list with simply the colour of the wine, or only the grape variety.

Could wine lists be done better? I think so.

They have to be written with their broad customer base in mind. In many establishments, most customers know nothing about wine and will find wine speak alienating. There must be a way to communicate about wine better than using wine speak. Wholesalers aren’t usually very good copy writers. Where is the creative spark?

Cash margin rather than gross profit could be a way to help us get out of this mess. High gross profit requirements restrict the sorts of wines that many restaurants can sell. Only very cheap wines will ever shift if the accountants insist solely on 70% GP. By relaxing GP requirements and paying a bit more for wine, there could very well be at least as good cash margin returns because customers will end up ordering more wine, or going higher up the list, because the wines are more interesting (or simply, they taste better). While many customers know very little about wine, I think a good proportion of them know whether what they are tasting is good or not. Sell rubbish wine, and people realise it in the end.

And simple wine lists can be great when the wines are well chosen. I went to a seafood restaurant in Aix-en-Provence where the list was simply ‘Chablis’ and ‘Muscadet’. I ordered both and they turned out to be excellent wines from good producers. That’s a restaurant I can trust.

And I’m all for wine on tap, when the wine is good. For simpler restaurants, do we need bottled wines (especially when these are often UK-bottled from bulk-shipped wine) with their fake names? Why not think of wine as we do of the ingredients: the restaurant should take pride in sourcing their wine well at a particular price, and serving it on tap. Why should wine be different to food, in being part of the brand promise of a restaurant chain?

But there are some reasons why it will always be a challenge to produce a good wine list. The first is the gap between perception and words. It is very difficult to translate flavours into verbal descriptions. Writing about the taste of wine is an abstract thing to do, and it’s hard to communicate flavour verbally.

I think that iPad or tablet lists, while they sound innovative, are a bad idea. Yes: they can communicate a lot of information. But this information, even if it is in the form of stories, will be too arcane for most customers. And unless you are dining alone, who is going to have time to navigate this information-rich resource? You need a way of leading people to a wine fairly quickly.

There’s the hybrid solution, of course. One short list, mostly with by-the-glass options, and short explanations about each wine. Then there’s a longer list for the more involved. This is a step forward.

The most important thing is to put yourself in the shoes of the different customers who will be reading the list. How effectively does it steer them? Is it creative? Is it fun? Is it useful? There’s no easy solution, but we have to try.

 

 

 

Dinner at Neolokal, Istanbul

Neolokal is a stunning restaurant. Last night I dined there and had a great experience. It considers itself to be a ‘bridge between the past and the future’, modernising traditions in order to preserve them – ‘presenting dishes from the past in a way that will be accepted in the future.’ This, of course, is hardly a unique approach, but it’s a great path to take, especially when your cooking combines precision and imagination.

Chef Maskut Aşkar (pictured above) has developed a menu where he thinks that people will still find the tastes of their childhood, but with a modern veneer. They also champion local wines, and each table has a guide to Anatolian grapes on it.

The menu is multicourse, sharing style.

Houmus and Anatolian landscapes. The idea here is to express how rich and colourful the spice road is as it passes through Mesopotamia with the visual appearance of the dish.

Sikonta. A pumkin dish with its roots in Crete, cooked with onions and garlic, and served with yogurt and walnuts.

Cauliflower four ways. Braised in olive oil, fried and marinated, pickled, and boiled into a puree. The weak leaves are turned into a powder, and the stems are pickled and served raw. A zero waste dish.

Su boregi. A baked, filled pastry made from a flaky dough (phyllo). Shrimp with this on either side, and the top side is made from the shrimp skins.

Raw bonito, mixed with tarragon, chives and salt, served with lakerda (salt cured bonito). There are some edible flowers too, and walnuts, leeks and onions.

Levrek marin. Marinated seabass with mayonnaise made with mustard and parsley-infused olive oil.

Içli köfte dumplings. Dough of bulgar wheat and raw meat, stuffed with minced meat, walnuts and pine nuts.

Lamb heart kokoreç. Normally this is lamb or goat intestines wrapped around offal. This is a lamb heart take on kokoreç, using the traditional spices.

Eriste with octopus. A home-made pasta with fish and vegetable stock with sundried tomato pesto and octopus.

Oxtail and begendi. This is slow cooked for 6 hours on the bone.

Seabass and seafood sausage, accompanied by black lemon (preserved in the caves of Cappadocia).

Lamb and freekah. Lamb saddles marinated with a kebab mix, served with freekah and vermicelli cooked in beef stock.

These were the wines:

Pasaeli Sidalan 2017 Izmir, Turkey
Sidalan is the grape variety. Lovely precision here with bright citrus fruit. Textural, showing some richness on the midpalate and a bit of table grape. Limey, mineral and pure. 91/100

Suvla Kinali Yapincak 2016 Gallipoli, Turkey
This white grape has red flecks in the skin. This is slightly nutty with some oxidative appley hints. Rounded with some dried herb notes. Pleasant, but a tiny bit flat. 87/100

Selendi Narince 2018 Manissa, Turkey
Narince is a grape from north Anatolia, and is referred to as the Turkish Chardonnay. This is grown at a high altitude (600 m) in a warm climate in the Aegean side of the country. It’s midweight and fresh, with bright citrus fruit, some aniseen, and a hint of mint. Lovely fruit intensity. 89/100

Likya Acikara 2018 Taurus Mountains, Turkey
This is a newly rediscovered old grape variety, and it has a sweet floral aromatic cherry fruit nose. In the mouth it is pure, intense, richly fruited and a bit salty. Powerful and a bit meaty, this has vivid black cherry fruit. 93/100

Urla Boğazkere 2017 Aegean, Turkey
Originally from South East Turkey, Boğazkere translates as throat scratcher, but I like it as a grape variety. This is supple, ripe, fresh and berryish with sweet cherries and plums. Rounded and fruit-driven with some gravelly, spicy depth. 91/100

Why wine is a bit like cricket, and both are fabulous

For the last two weeks I have been judging wine at the Oval. It’s one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world, and was home to the first test match between Australia and England on English soil, in 1880. [We won.]

I’m a big fan of cricket. I fell in love with it aged about 11. It’s a sport that, when it grips you, it really grips you. From the age of 13 I went to see a lot of cricket, mainly at Lords, another famous London ground. And whenever we had a tennis ball, a bat of some sort, and a reasonably flat patch of ground, we played for hours, making up informal rules depending on the location (hit a fence on the full and you are out caught, for example).

There are many similarities between cricket and wine. If you listen to the discussions among cricket enthusiasts, they are similar to the internal discussions that take place in the wine trade.

I love the way that cricket decided on a set of rules, after a period of experimentation, and then stuck with the winning formula. For example, despite all advances in technology, cricket is all about the grass. Great care is taken in preparing the narrow strip of grass in the middle of the pitch on which the game is played. The grass is grown, cut short, subjected to heavy rolling, dries out, and then plays a vital role in how the game progresses. The properties of this patch of grass determine how the ball bounces, which massively affects the progress of the game. Fast bowlers want a particular sort of pitch, spin bowlers another kind, and batsmen another kind. Some pitches, badly prepared, make both bowling and batting difficult. It’s not possible to produce an artificial pitch that satisfies top players.

The cricket ball is also a link to tradition. It is still made from a core of cork, surrounded in string, and with a four-piece leather cases that is sewn together. The seam is a vital part of the ball, because it sticks out slightly. And a new ball is shiny and hard: as the game progresses the bowling side tries to keep one side shiny while allowing the other to scuff, which helps bowlers who like to swing the ball in the air. The age of the ball and its properties are also a vital part of the game. The ball is hard, and sometimes it hurts to stop it or catch it, and you can be badly injured by it. This isn’t ideal, but it is part of the game.

Wine, like cricket, has its own traditions. At a certain stage, the rules of what makes wine wine were determined, and this winning formula has persisted. When people fall in love with wine it really grabs them. There is a strong link with tradition. Those who would like to see the rules relaxed point to Roman times when wine was commonly adulterated and blended with other things (to a small extent this still exists with Retsina, and the use of oak can add flavour, too, but these traditional adulterations are accepted), but for a long time the rules around wine production have been set. It’s fermented grape juice, with some defined processing aids and corrections and preservatives allowed.

The cricket crowd are worried about attracting younger fans. The traditional gold standard for a cricket match is the Test Match. This is an international match with two innings per team, with unlimited overs, and five days are allotted to each game (it’s possible for the game not to reach a conclusion in this time frame). This is beautifully old fashioned, and it’s also tremendously compelling when the game goes well, but not everyone agrees.

So the cricket authorities introduced new formats of the game, beginning in the 1960s when ‘limited overs’ cricket was introduced. Limited? Instead of games taking three, four or five days, each team is only allowed to bat for a certain time, and the game is over in a single day. Then, in the 1980s, they began using a white ball for limited overs games, as opposed to the traditional red ball, and teams were allowed to wear coloured clothing (rather than whites). Then they shortened the games further, with the introduction of 20:20, a game of 20 overs per side that takes three hours to compete, rather than a day, and where there’s much more intense action. The latest innovation is the planned introduction of a new format that’s even shorter, called The Hundred – a move that is mired in controversy. So the game now has very different formats, each with its own advocates.

Wine has also been thinking about attracting the next generation. The immediate focus has been to get millennials drinking wine rather than spirits and beer. This is a noble goal, and many have suggested that this can be achieved by various innovative strategies. Of course, like cricket, wine has very strong traditions and a link with history, and can be seen to be outmoded in the modern world.

So we have these conversations around innovation. People don’t like wine, we think. So let’s make wine less like wine, and more like things they do like. We sweeten wine up, we discuss adding fruit flavourings to it, we mess around with packaging. It’s a very similar conversation to what happens around cricket.

But by doing this we risk losing the specialness of both. After all, cricket is a very singular game, and it has a set of rules that work. These have been modified only slightly over the years, in ways that have improved the game without actually changing its nature.

Innovation is important, but changing the rules of something singular and compelling has to be done with caution. Perhaps wine, like cricket, will never have universal appeal. How much change should we encourage, and how much should we resist? The key thing is to decide on what the essential core of wine or cricket is, and then to preserve this, while embracing innovation that stays within appropriate boundaries. Same for wine. Everything changes, and evolution is inevitable. But it pays to be wise, and once something precious is lost, it is usually lost forever.

Interesting wines tasted blind

Did some blind tasting with friends last night, followed by drinking. Some interesting bottles.

Angiolino Maule Masieri 2017 Veneto, Italy
This is Garganega from volcanic soil, wild fermented. Very low sulfites (15 mg/l). There’s a faint hint of reduction on the nose, but past this there is lovely citrus and pear fruit, with a bit of mineral character and hints of baked apple. Finishes fresh. A really expressive, drinkable natural white. 91/100

COS Frappato 2016 Vittoria, Sicily, Italy
Bush vines at 230 m with limestone-laced deep red soils, fermented on skins in concrete. Fresh, supple and bright with lovely raspberry and black cherry fruit. Very expressive with some green hints. Lovely sour cherry hints with good acidity. Some slight meaty notes. Juicy, linear and bright. 93/100

Nicosia Etna Rosso 2017 Italy
13% alcohol. This is a blend of Nerello Mascalese with Nerello Cappuchio. Supple and bright with nice juicy cherry and plum fruit. Quite aromatic with some wild strawberry with some firm tannins. Very expressive and still quite primary. Finishes firm with nice acidity. 92/100 (from Marks & Spencer)

Lock & Worth Semillon Semillon 2016 Okanagan Valley, Canada
12% alcohol. Planted 1993, unfined, unfiltered, raised in neutral French oak. Complex citrus fruit with some pear and fennel notes, and a bit of grip. Nice density with a sweet fruit edge to the textured palate. Has a bit of pith. Such an interesting wine. 92/100

JC Garnier Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon Les Tailles 2017 Vin de France
12.5% alcohol. From the Loire Valley. This has a core of ripe, sweet berry and black fruits with some ashy, gravelly notes, and hints of chalk. Lush chalkiness here with some grainy tannins. Has a fabulous lushness and also some structure. Delicious and immediate. 91/100

Commando G Mataborricos 2016 Sierra de Gredos, Spain
Cloudy with a savoury, spicy edge to the supple cherry and berry fruits. A bit faded with some grippy structure and some bitterness. Maybe a bad bottle. Not fun.

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Communicating climate change: the role of the wine industry in changing people's minds

Facts don’t change people’s minds. It’s really annoying, but it’s true. We like to think that if we marshal enough evidence, that eventually the weight of evidence will prove irresistible to people. Sadly, this isn’t the case.

Facts don’t change people’s minds, but stories do. Narratives are how we understand our place in the world. Throughout history, different cultures have accumulated a collection of myths and stories that help them organize their thinking and understanding, and many of the themes are in common across different cultures. There are certain story archetypes that we seem drawn to. This is something we need to embrace in communicating ideas such as climate change. Simply presenting the facts is surprisingly ineffective.

This brings me round to the concept of change. Is change gradual or punctuated? Does it occur in small increments, or does it occur in bursts followed by periods of stasis? When I was a second year biology student I remember learning about conflicting evolutionary theories. The existing one was the gradualist position, where small changes accumulated. But there was a competing idea, the new theory, proposed by Gould and Eldredge – Punctuated Equilibria. It’s an idea that has been transferred from evolutionary theory to societal change more generally. Things stay more-or-less the same, then there is a sudden change.

An example of this sudden change is the way in the last couple of years there has been a massive societal backlash against plastics. What caused it? I think there was a general sentiment simmering below the surface that the way we were using plastics, which take centuries to degrade, was irresponsible. But the catalyst came with an episose of the BBC series Blue Planet II, where the powerful imagery showing the toll plastics were taking on marine life acted as the tipping point.

Another example would be societal attitudes towards smoking. Evidence about the harm of smoking accumulated over many decades, but still people used to smoke in restaurants, bars, workplaces and even on planes. Suddenly, this public smoking in enclosed spaces became unacceptable, and legislation was swiftly adopted in many countries.

One of the problems we face in communication is that we live in the age of the filter bubble, a term coined as recently as 2011. Our consumption of media has changed. In the past, we had a very limited number of media outlets – in the UK, three television channels, then four, then five – and this was fairly recently. Just a few radio stations, and a few national newspapers. We consumed more-or-less the same media, and it was push rather than pull. Now there are many, many media outlets, and we choose what we want to consume. It’s pull not push. And the algorithms on social media give us what we want. They feed us content in line with our self-expressed preferences.

The result is that our worldview is confined by existing beliefs. Our confirmation bias has been set free to rule us.

As a result, we have to find new routes to reach people. Our messages just aren’t getting through to the people who need to hear them. We are preaching to the converted.

It’s also worth thinking about who is the best person to communicate a message like that of climate change. I’d argue that the activists aren’t always the best advocates. The strongest believers can end up putting people off. For non-believers, activists are easy to filter out.
Even powerful messages can become noise. These days people have turned denial and confirmation bias into an art form.

What about language? I know that climate ‘chaos’ refers to the sort of disastrous destabilization of climate that could occur if we don’t keep the rise in average temperature below a certain level, but might climate ‘destabilization’ or ‘chaos’ be better terms to use than just change? It communicates that this is a problem, and also that the problem isn’t just the average rise. If we were dealing with, say, a 2 C rise, this could be planned for. But the evidence seems to be that while the distribution of temperatures has moved, the distribution has also broadened: we are seeing heightened variation, as well as a rise.

Wine highly susceptible to climate, and so this is a particular problem for wine. Climate an average – the vine sees the weather of the year. Gradual change would be easier to plan for, with normal vintage tolerances. But we are seeing more chaotic weather patterns, and it is very hard to adapt to climate chaos. The consequence is that viticulturists must hedge their bets, resulting in increasing production costs, which means more expensive wine, thus reducing market size.

I think we all have a lot to than Al Gore for with his film An Inconvenient Truth. This had a big impact on the way people saw climate change, although in the USA it might have been better if a Republican rather than a Democrat had made the film (the fact that it was Gore made it easy for Republicans to reject the message). Could powerful, big-splash messages like this be vital, and more important than many smaller, less impactful communications?

One recent positive has been than educating the next generation seems to be working. In the UK we have seen school strikes about climate change. This is a powerful statement to all.

Not being carbon neutral has to become socially unacceptable, for individuals, and for businesses. Large companies behaving badly need to be called out: they often hide behind seemingly good intentions, to distract journalists from probing too far.

When it comes to leading the conversation about climate change, the wine trade is in an ideal place to take a role. Wine is fun, and its consumption is joyous. People like wine. Rich folk buy wineries. Because of this, the stories around wine can be powerful, and can get through the confirmation bias defences of climate change deniers.

Perhaps more significantly, wine is – to use Richard Smart’s metaphor – the canary in the coalmine of agriculture. The sensitivity of wine grapes to even small changes in climate mean that it’s an early indicator of significant changes.

We are in an ideal place to bring stories that can effect change. Stories change behavior.
Let’s choose the right stories to tell, and concentrate less on presenting facts, more on giving examples. The rules of a good narrative – engrained deep in human consciousness – are worth following as we start to share.

See also: an article on wine and climate change I wrote for Nature

South African Syrah: blind tasting nine of the best

Chris Groenewald was in town, bringing nine South African Syrahs with him. So a crowd of us gathered over lunch at The Drapers Arms to taste and drink. These are my notes, mostly written blind. It was a great set of wines.

Scions of Sinai Syrah 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fresh, with just 12.5% alcohol, but I would have expected a bit more from this. This is ripe, meaty and spicy with some raspberry and cherry notes. There’s a hint of blood and iodine, too. Angular and savoury with a slightly sour finish. 90/100

Craven Firs Vineyard Syrah 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
A lovely restrained Syrah with 12.5% alcohol. This has some sweet meaty, spicy notes on the nose. Fresh with firm tannins and nice grippy structure, with some savoury notes. Compact and restrained with lovely cherry and plum notes. Vibrant, grippy and focused. 93/100

Terracura 2016 Swartland, South Africa
You can taste the drought year here: this is meatier and richer than I was expecting. Meaty, smoky, spicy black fruits nose. Fresh palate with sweet cherry and berry fruits with a nice mid palate richness. Savoury, meaty and spicy with firm structure. Very tannic with some peppery notes. Lovely weight. 93/100

Sons of Sugarland Syrah SH99 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This was fermented and aged in concrete, no oak. Meaty and peppery, with a blackberry and blackcurrant nose. Has lovely intensity with a hint of olive. Meaty, peppery palate. Direct and sweetly fruited with lovely structure. Floral and delicious. 96/100

Von Loggerenberg Syrah Graft 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This comes from the same vineyard as the Sons of Sugarland in the Polkadraai Hills, but it’s made differently. It’s fresh and savoury with restrained, taut red cherry and raspberry fruit. Has lovely tight structure and freshness. Juicy and bright with good structure. Serious: there’s a new Stockinger barrel in play here but the oak is very subtle. 94/100

Savage The Girl Next Door Syrah 2017 South Africa
Rich and dense with sweet fruit. Concentrated yet restrained with sweet black cherries and nice peppery notes. Generous, dense and rich but with good structure and gravelly undertones. Serious effort. 95/100

Porseleinberg 2016 Swartland, South Africa
Concentrated and dense with expressive black cherry and blackberry fruit. Great concentration of sweet, lush fruit with richness and some inky depth. Concentrated and very ripe – I suspect this is about the drought year of 2016, rather than a style choice. 94/100

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016 Swartland, South Africa
This is compact with sweet black and red cherry notes, as well as some raspberry brightness. This has generosity and richness, but also nice structure. Fine grained with lovely fruit intensity. 93/100

Boschkloof Epilogue 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Lovely floral nose with black cherries and black pepper. The palate is ripe and salty with fresh fruit and nice richness. Amazing precision despite the ripeness, with perfume and texture. Compact finish. 95/100

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