Terra Lemnia, a lovely pair of Greek wines from Limnos

terra lemnia

Terra Limnia is a new producer making impressive wines from local varieties grown on the island of Limnos. They’re made by Vicky Samaras (ex-pat Greek) and Jonas Newman of Hinterland in Canada’s Prince Edward County, in collaboration with a Greek partner (Nikos Vakirtzis).

The white is made from Muscat of Alexandria, which is a traditional variety here and produces really interesting wines. The red is made from the ancient Limnio variety, from volcanic soils on the east of the island. They both have a lot of personality.

Terra Lemnia Muscat 2012 Limnos, Greece
12.5% alcohol. First vintage. Very pretty, but with some substance: notes of citrus, grapes, fennel and some subtle pine and mint. Very pure but with an attractive texture. A really sophisticated dry Muscat with great food compatibility, and notes of minerals, herbs and scented Mediterranean evenings. 91/100

Terra Lemnia Limnio 2011 Limnos Greece
12.5% alcohol. Cherry red in colour with a slightly bricking rim. Nose of spice, herbs, earth and a hint of mint and pine as well as red cherry fruit. The palate is fresh, light and savoury with some grip. Good acidity and spicy cherry and plum fruit. A food-friendly style with grippy tannins – it reminds me a bit of Nebbiolo, in that there’s fruit but also grippy tannic structure and good acidity. 89/100

No UK agent yet.

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Domaine Saparale 'Le Saparale' 2012, a lovely Corsican red

domaine saparale

I’ve had a few really impressive Corsican reds of late. This is a lovely wine, a blend of 80% Sciacarello and 20% Nieulluccio, which spends 6 months in oak.

Domaine Saparale ‘Le Saparale’ 2012 Corse Sartene, Corsica
14.5% alcohol. Beguiling with hints of cherries, herbs and spice, as well as almonds, tea leaves and cedar. This leads to a textured, ripe, finely grained palate with supple cherry and plum fruit and a very fine structure. Warm, balanced, harmonious and quite beautiful. 93/100 (£14.95 Yapp)

Some thoughts on GM technology

York Station

York Station

So yesterday I took part in a careers session for the brightest and best undergraduates in plant sciences at the Gatsby summer school. Held at the lovely Hawkhills centre near York, the idea is to enthuse these students about a potential career in plant sciences, and area which is vitally important but which has trouble attracting the best talent. It is tutored by the UK’s top plant scientists, and our session was an add-on, with six people who started out in plant scientists sharing with students about their own particular career path, showing that there are lots of different ways to use a plant science degree or PhD.

The session was followed by a barbecue, and I had a nice chance to chat with some of the scientists. One of them was Johnathan Napier, a researcher from Rothamsted, who has spent the last couple of decades working on developing trangenic (i.e. GM) crops that produce omega 3 fish oils. We had a good discussion about the role of GM in plant science, and the way that this is perceived by the public.

Why would you want to produce fish oils from plants? Principally, food security. Living in a society with surplus food, it’s often easy to ignore the grave threat that global food security faces. The world population is increasing, yet the area suitable for agriculture isn’t. In particular, water for agriculture is under threat, with the depletion and contamination of water supplies. This is going to become a huge issue, particularly in Asia. Whatever our sensitivities to GM technology, this is a powerful tool for plant scientists to use to increase food production efficiency. Currently, fish farming, for all its attendant environmental impact, is by far the most efficient way of producing animal protein. Yet much of the feed for these fish farms comes from fishing itself. A cheap, alternative plant-based source of fish oil would be really useful.

Most of the really interesting work in plant science revolves around transgenics. Yet there are big obstacles to commercializing this work. One is the societal attitudes towards GM. The opposition can be understood when it comes to the worst uses of GM: engineering herbicide resistance into crop plants so that you can then nuke fields with that herbicide and kill everything apart from the crop plant, for example. But there are elegant, beneficial uses of GM, such as golden rice, which is a beautiful bit of technology that could have had huge health benefits, and which was given as a gift by its developers, but which has been strongly opposed.

The other obstacle is intellectual property issues. Many of the techniques used to produce transgenic crops are themselves patented, and if you are going to produce a GM plant and commercialize it, then you enter an IP nightmare where you need to licence a lot of the techniques you have used in producing your GM plant. This can be a real problem, particularly if the people you are dealing with have an unrealistic view of the value of their step in the process.

What of GM vines? Vines need a lot of spraying. Agrochemical use in vineyards is really high, and there’s no way to avoid it. Even organics relies on spraying sulfur and copper to combat powdery and downy mildew. American vines are resistant to these mildews, but they make bad wine. This resistance has a fairly simple genetic basis, and it would be possible to produce GM versions of vinifera grape varieties that didn’t need spraying just by engineering in a few genes.

At the moment, any attempt to field-trial these vines would be hugely controversial, and they’d likely be ripped up by protestors who feel very strongly about this. It’s frustrating for researchers, who have this elegant technology and who could use it for clear societal benefit. I have no doubts that such GM vines would be safe, and not present a threat to the environment.

My only misgivings are the unintended consequences of such a development. One could be a loss of diversity in terms of grape varieties. People would rush to produce GM versions of famous varieties, and these would prove commercially irresistible because of the reduced cost of managing them without spraying. But what about less fashionable varieties? The cost of producing GM versions of more obscure varieties would be prohibitive. Thus GM could produce a vine variety bottleneck with undesirable consequences.

Careers advice, from me?

As I write I am on a train heading to York, where I will be taking part in a careers session for a group of 80 high acheiveing graduate plant scientists who are attending the Gatsby Plant Science Summer School.

They want careers advice from me? Are they sure?

When I was doing my PhD, my dream would have been to have become a research scientist, with my own lab. The pay is terrible, you have to deal with awful departmental politics, and you spend a lot of time and energy applying for grants so you can keep doing research. And there’ll probably be a flash colleague in the lab next door who’s just landed another multimillion pound grant who has three times more postdocs than you, and whose lectures are packed. But it’s the dream for most of those who start out doing a PhD.

As my PhD drew to a close I realized fast that my prospects as a researcher would depend on getting a post-doc in a top lab, preferably abroad. And this didn’t turn out to be an option: my supervisors weren’t well connected enough, and my PhD topic a little too niche. So I applied for a job as a science editor, got it, and stayed in the same organization for 15 years. This wasn’t planned: it’s just that it was a good enough job with a nice working environment and it was just well enough paid that any potential move would have been sideways. So I was stuck in a career dead end.

This is where wine came in. About half way through my employment, I began a wine website. I just did it because this is what people were doing at the time. The Internet was new, and lots of people put up hobby sites. It was initially a Geocities site, and it became wineanorak in about 1997/8 after a girl at a tasting I was hosting in Portsmouth described me as one. In November 1999 I registered the domain name wineanorak.com and took out my own hosting. And I was really active on the various wine bulletin boards, where I got to know like-minded folk.

This is not career planning. I was just having some fun. But in 2000 I started getting advertisers on the site, and later that year got my first paid writing work, producing a glossary and some copy for Virgin Wines, who had just started up. In 2001 I started blogging. In 2002 I got my first commission from a print magazine: Harpers. In 2004, I began discussions with Hilary Lumsden at Mitchell-Beazley about writing a book: she suggested one on wine science, and in 2005 this was published. In 2005 also, I was approached by The Sunday Express with a view to writing a wine column for them.

So a hobby was morphing into a way of earning money. But I didn’t have the guts to kick the day job. Without kicking the day job, I wouldn’t be able to spare the time to make a proper go of wine writing. It was almost too hard a decision to make. I was the sole income at the time in my family, and we’d recently adopted two boys, so our expenses were high. What would a careers adviser say to me?

In the end, the decision was sort of made for me. The organization I worked for lost its funding and we were all out on the street, albeit with a decent redundancy cheque. This was the time to see whether or not I could make a proper living as a freelancer.

Looking back it seems a no-brainer. I could have jumped earlier, but the buffer of the redundancy money was a real help in smoothing the transition. And because I was earning money from my website, I had some control, and wasn’t just in the hands of commissioning editors.

So what careers advice would I offer, based on my experience?

    First of all, be brave. Fear keeps people in jobs that they don’t enjoy, or from moving on at the right time. Most safety in terms of employment is illusory these days.

    Get a job where you’ll continually be networking and meeting potential future employers. This is the best way to find your next job.

    Learn to see things from the perspective of others. That includes you. Ask trusted friends to give you (kind) feedback. What would your CV look like to an outsider.

    On the subject of CVs, let yours tell a story. Don’t let this story get lost in the details.

    Choose your compromises. Life is full of compromises, but it’s best if you decide in advance which trade-offs you are going to make.

    You spend a lot of time at work. So it’s vital, as far as you have the power to, to make sure that you are spending it with nice colleagues in a supportive environment where you feel valued and empowered.

    Nothing is wasted. This is the only way to make sense of the past. Even wrong turns and dead ends can be of great use.

    Be careful lest you achieve your dreams.

    Beware workplace psychopaths. Avoid them. They are often plausible and successful, but their lack of empathy and ability to use and abuse their collegues is very destructive. Make sure you don’t end up reporting to one.

    You can’t have everything. [Why would you want everything anyway?]

    Don’t be a slave to ambition. Rather, let it work for you. Dream big, reach for the sky, but learn contentment, too.

Ganevat Les Chamois du Paradis 2011, an amazing Jura Chardonnay

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Jura wines are becoming increasingly popular, and when you taste bottles like these, it’s not hard to see why. Jean Francois Ganevat is perhaps the most highly regarded producer in the region, and he works naturally: biodynamic in the vineyard and with very little SO2 added in the winery, and – of course – indigenous ferments.

He also courts controversy with the label for his J’en Veux cuvee (‘I want some’), which I have a picture of but won’t post here. This wine is uncontroversial, though. Just a brilliant expression of Chardonnay, with edges and depth. I’ve made the bottle last two days, and it’s just as delightful on day 2.

Jean Francois Ganevat Les Chamois du Paradis Chardonnay 2011 Cotes du Jura, France
Full yellow/gold colour. Lovely nose of stone fruits, citrus, apple pie and spice with a hint of toast. Rich but detailed. The palate is dense, broad and intense, with some almond and toast notes as well as spicy peach and pear fruit, with a mineral core. A brilliant wine that’s broad but balanced with a hint of wildness. 94/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Si Vintners Chinchecle Semillon 2011, a wonderful wine from Margaret River

si vintners semillon chinchecle

Si vintners consists of Iwo Jakimowicz and Sarah Morris, and they have 20 acres of mature vines in Margaret River. They work naturally in both the vineyard and winery, with organics/biodynamics in the former and an additive-free approach in the latter – with just a little sulfur dioxide added at bottling. This Semillon comes from 34 year old vines and is fermented in concrete eggs, where it remains for two years under a natural flor. It’s remarkable!

Si Vintners Chinchechle Semillon 2011 Margaret River, Australia
Full yellow/gold colour. Amazing nose of matchstick, minerals and lime oil. Really vivid and lively. The palate is tangy, mineral and bright with some rich grape and melon notes under the zippy lime characters. High acidity keeps things very fresh. Pure, complex and detailed, this is essence of Semillon. It’s sensationally good. 94/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Churchill's Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2011

churchills quinta da gricha

OK folks, a real-time tasting note. I’m off early in the morning, but for some inexplicable reason I thought it would be a good idea to open a bottle of a really good Vintage Port (a sample half-bottle, to be precise), before going to bed. I’ll have to drink it all.

It’s Churchill’s Quinta da Gricha 2011. On opening it has a slightly creamy, dairy edge to the lush, sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit, with some spicy notes. We shouldn’t be overly concerned by the nose of a cask sample, however: it’s the palate that matters. And this wine really delivers once it is in the mouth. I’m getting sweet black cherry, some over-ripe blackberry, a bit of spice, a hint of black olive, and lovely integrated yet firm tannic structure. There’s some tar and cedar, too. It’s concentrated, tannic, dense, and ripe yet fresh. A really impressive wine that will be good for the next two decades, and possibly longer. 93-95/100

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Eight stunning grower Champagnes

These are all brilliant.

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Champagne Agrapart Cuvée Minerale Grand Cru Avize 2007
Lovely depth and finesse here, with toast and apple, pear and citrus. Lovely complexity. Dry, structured, pure and profound. 95/100

Champagne Michel Loriot Monodie en Meunier Vieilles Vignes Les Virtuoses 2007
Varietal Pinot Meunier. Rich but focused with notes of toast, ripe apple and spice. Lovely depth with some creamy richness and a complex finish, with some lemony freshness. Lovely breadth of flavour here, a distinctive richer style. 94/100

Champagne Moussé Special Club 2008
100% Pinot Meunier. Lovely toasty richness with ripe apple and citrus. Very pure but with lovely fruit richness. Powerful, brooding and balanced in a brilliantly fruity style. 95/100
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Champagne Charlot-Tanneaux Grand Cru 2006
From a single vineyard of 5 ares in Ay, aged on lees under cork, just 480 bottles made. Open appley nose shows fresh citrus fruit. The palate has lovely finesse and elegance with rich, ripe pear and apple fruit. Notes of peach and toast add richness, and there’s a lovely soft texture. Remarkable: generous yet complex. 96/100

Champagne René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée Blanc de Rosé NV
This is remarkable. The first 10 boxes of grapes are fermented with the stems. Lovely peppery, bright fresh red cherry fruit. Amazingly open and elegant with lovely purity and focus. Great precision and purity here. Distinctive and beautiful. 94/100

Champagne Francis Boulard Les Rachais Brut Nature 2007
This blanc de blancs is fresh and lively with lemons and apples. Lovely purity. Lean and intriguing. 92/100
Champagne Bérêche et fils Le Cran Ludes Premier Cru Montagne de Reims 2006
100% Pinot Noir. Very fine, fresh and expressive with bright citrus, apple and pear fruit. Focused and complex with lovely taut finesse. 94/100

Champagne Eric Rodez Blanc de Noirs NV Ambonnay
100% Pinot Noir. Taut, lemony and bright with lovely complexity. Focused flavours of lemon and grapefruit. A serious wine with amazing precision. 94/100

Champagne Pascal Doquet Premier Cru Vertus 2004
Chardonnay. Subtle and sophisticated with nice toast and citrus notes. Complex with nice texture and depth. Balanced. 94/100

Some great wines with Professor Scholefield

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For my first three days in British Columbia, Canada, I was being shown around by David Scholefield (aka ‘The Prof’, pictured above). He’s a total dude and we shared some nice bottles together, which I thought I would write up.
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Sea Star Siegerrebe 2013 Pender Island, British Columbia, Canada
Not the greatest wine in the world, but of interest because of where it comes from. Very fresh, mineral and spicy with some sweet grapey notes, citrus, and a hint of pear. Nice focus and balance to this crisp wine, which smells a bit sweet but tastes very dry and mineral. 89/100
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Bartier Bros Semillon Cequeira Vineyard 2012 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Very fine, fresh, pure and bright with lemony fruit and a smoky, herbal twist. Lovely freshness and precision, with real varietal character. 91/100
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Clos des Fous is a collaboration between Pedro Parra (celebrated terroir expert), François Massoc and Paco Leyton (the winemakers), and Albert Cussen. The goal is to focus on interesting Chilean terroirs, and then make wines that express them. Pedro has been working with David Scholefield at Haywire, which is why David brought the wines along.

Clos des Fous Cauquenina 2011 Maule, Chile
This is a blend of 36% Carignano/Carignan, 18% Malbec, 15% Syrah/Shiraz and 15% Pais, fermented in cement. 13.5% alcohol. Fresh, supple and elegant with sweet cherry and plum fruit, with a hint of pastille-like character that made me spot it as Chilean when I was served it blind. There’s real finesse here, with supple, sweet raspberry and cherry fruit. Juicy and focused. 91/100
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Clos des Fous Grillos Cantores Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Cachapoal, Chile
Sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit with a smooth texture. There’s a hint of green sappiness, and even some green pepper. Quite Chilean, but with some real elegance. 90/100

Clos Des Fous Locura Chardonnay 2012 Alto Cachapoal, Chile
A taut Chardonnay with notes of pear, spice, herbs and minerals. Ripe, pithy and lively with nice precision. 90/100
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Vincent Delaporte Sancerre Rouge 2011 Loire, France
Lovely texture: ripe and sappy with lovely warmth and a distinct mineral quality. Nice grainy structure under the black cherries and plums. Really lovely weight to this wine. 93/100
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Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Derrière la Grange 2010 Burgundy, France
Cherries, herbs and ripe fruit, with a warm texture. Minerally and smooth with nice graininess under the ripe fruit. There are hints of chalk and mint in the background. Just so easy to drink. 93/100
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Ridge Lytton Springs 2005 California
77% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah and 6% Carignan. 14.4% alcohol. I was served this blind, and was really impressed. It tasted like a ripe, high end, aged Bordeaux, with real complexity. It turned out to be a Zinfandel, but from Ridge! Warm, sweet, spicy blackberry and black cherry fruit with lovely chalky, minerally texture. Delicious, warm and really complex. 94/100

Terres Dorées L’Ancien 2012 Beaujolais, France
Very fresh and supple with some lively, sappy cherry fruit as well as peppery hints and a sweet, silky texture. Delicious and fine with a lovely texture. 92/100

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2011 Okanagan, Canada
Very lively with apples, citrus and pear fruit, as well as some herbal overtones. Precise palate with keen acidity and good concentration, showing herbs and minerals. Dry, with real intensity. 92/100

Thinking out loud about Canadian wine

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Now that I’ve visited both of Canada’s main winegrowing areas, Ontario and British Columbia – and after having tasted through lots of wines at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, I thought I’d share some of my impressions.

Niagara and the Okanagan are completely different. They are physically a very long way apart – it costs a lot of money to fly from Toronto to Vancouver, and there’s a three hour time difference – and they have very different climates. So this makes it tricky to generalize about Canadian wine.
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Let’s focus on the Okanagan, where I have been for the last week. It’s visually very pretty, arranged around two interconnecting lakes (Okanagan, the main one, and Skaha), with hills rising on each side. The vineyards aren’t wall to wall, and it doesn’t particularly seem like a wine region. Except for in the south of the appellation, the vineyards tend to be dotted around in pockets on either side of the lakes, which makes for quite a range of microclimates.
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Also, Lake Okanagan is long. The climate at the north end of the lake is totally different from that of the south. Add in the difference between the east and west banks of the lake (one gets afternoon sun, the other morning), plus the soil differences, and it soon becomes difficult to generalize even about the Okanagan as a wine region. You can grow a lot of varieties here successfully, depending on where you are.

As with Ontario’s regions, the Okanagan is a young region, in that Vitis vinifera varieties haven’t been grown here all that long. It has a cool climate, if you look at the heat summation data, but in reality it’s a cool-ish climate with a compressed growing season, hemmed in at either end by frosts. Good natural acidity is a feature of the wines here.

This is a dry region, with around 250 mm rain a year. It’s not enough to grow wine grapes, so irrigation is essential, with the exception of just a few spots where the ground water reserves can take a vine all the way through the season.
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So, back to the broad picture. What varieties does Canada have a talent for? First of all, Cabernet Franc. This can be really good across all regions. It makes lovely wines here. Second, Riesling – another star performer in both Ontario and BC. Third, Gamay. This may surprise some people, but Canada makes some superb Gamays. Niagara is the leader for Gamay, but I tried some lovely BC Gamays also. I wish more was planted, because it can be brilliant, with a bit more intensity than it gets in Beaujolais.

I had some brilliant Syrahs this week. These were mostly from BC, and when Syrah is made with a light hand, in a fresh, more elegant style, it’s just fabulous, combining ripeness and peppery freshness. I’m going to investigate further. I’ve had some good Cabernets, Merlots and Bordeaux blends, too, but I think these haven’t been quite as exciting.
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Pinot Noir isn’t the easiest grape to grow in Niagara (Ontario’s main region), and it needs cooler sites in the Okanagan to show its best. But it is showing great potential, and I experienced some impressive Pinot Noirs this week. One to watch: it could be commercially very significant in the Okanagan over the next few years. If they aren’t already, I reckon Pinot Noir and Syrah could become the lead reds in the Okanagan.

For the Okanagan, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc can make some interesting wines from the right sites. I think these are also worth watching out for. I also need to mention Chardonnay. It’s a variety that I have been a bit underwhelmed with in Canada generally. Some really good Chardonnays are being made, but overall, the Okanagan Chardonnays sometimes have a pithy, subtly bitter reductive edge, and the Ontario Chardonnays often lack presence, with a slightly hollow mid-palate. Chardonnay will always have a place, but I don’t think Canada should lead with Chardonnay in export markets.
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Canadians are great people. At least the ones I have met are. I have had such fun this week, with lots of late nights, singing on the pier at Penticton and never-ending room parties. Plus an judges’ football game, running (three times in six days), swimming and a yoga session (my first ever). Summer in the Okanagan is pretty epic, with very comfortable sunny weather, great views, and a laid back feel to it.

Fellow judge Bill Zacharkiw

Fellow judge Bill Zacharkiw

Canada is lucky in that it has some great wine writers and judges. The WineAlign judges are highly competent and well travelled, and it was painless judging with them. The organization of these wine awards, which involved opening over 4000 bottles, pouring flights for each judge, and then collating the results in real time, was superb. Which means that judges can get on with the process of judging wine. The process was thorough, and every wine was given respect and time to show its best. I’m really looking forward to seeing the results.

Now I have a plane to catch. Goodbye Canada: once again, it has been fun.