In Germany, pursuing organic wine, day 1


I’m in Germany. On a press trip focusing on organic German wines. As of 2013, the most recent figures I have, Germany has 7800 hectares of certified organically farmed vineyards, which represents 7.6% of its total vineyard area (figures from Helga Willer’s 2015 report titled Organic Viticulture Worldwide). And the trend has pretty closely tracked global growth in organics (back in 2004, for example, Germany had around 2300 hectares organically farmed).

Over the next few days we’ll be visiting organic growers in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Rheingau, as well as focusing a bit on Sekt and attending the VdP tastings. So it’s a varied program, and complements my earlier visit to Germany this summer pretty well.

Andreas, Stefan and Simone Rings enjoying being papped by the group

Andreas, Stefan and Simone Rings enjoying being papped by the group

Yesterday began with a visit to Weingut Rings in Freinsheim. This is a relatively new producer from a village not previously associated with quality wine. Sister and brothers Simone, Andreas and Steffan Rings run things here, and make some really impressive dry Rieslings.


They also have a love for Pinot Noir, and the results are distinctive. The Pinots are harvested early with high acidity (pH 3 resulting in wines around pH 3.2 after malolactic), which emphasises the bright fruit. This is so they can safely use a low sulphur dioxide regime in the winery. I found the Pinots difficult to love, although I admired their purity and focus. But I really liked the Rieslings, especially the Steinacker 2015 and Weilberg 2014.


Then we went to lunch at Bistro 1718 with Bassermann-Jordan, a historic producer in Deidesheim, which is a very pretty town in the Pfalz. They have 50 hectares farmed organically. Two Rieslings impressed particularly here (it’s their main focus by far).

bassermann jordan

The 2015 Hoheberg Erste Lage was lively, precise and pure with an almost saline quality, and the 2012 Hohenmorgen Grosses Gewaches was all spicy, nutty, waxy intensity along with ripe citrus fruit, and had the richness to match even red meats.

Volker Raumland, Sekt star

Volker Raumland, Sekt star

The afternoon began with a focus on Sekt, Germany’s sparkling wine. A lot of Sekt is made, and most of it isn’t great. Just a small proportion is of the more ambitious traditional method style, and we looked at wines from Sekthaus Raumland, Schloss Vaux and Wilhelmshof, in a detailed, well organized tasting at Wilhelmshof. There were a variety of styles, but I found a lot to like. Pictured above is Volker Raumland, whose wines I liked a great deal.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc

We had a stroll through some vineyards after the tasting. The 2016 vintage has been very difficult for mildew in the Pfalz, and many organic growers have struggled containing it. Some have lost a good portion of their crop to downy mildew.

Riesling that's been hammered by downy mildew: very few grapes made it

Riesling that’s been hammered by downy mildew: very few grapes made it

This is the side of organics little discussed: the very real risk of losing money in a tricky year because of the limited disease control options.


The evening was spent at Benzinger, in Kirchheim. Over a lovely dinner we tasted through their range, including three very distinctive orange wines, made from Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, and a blend of the two. These are made without any added sulphites, and they are quite distinctive. They’ve proved very popular with customers, and are currently only made in tiny quantities. Surprisingly food compatible, it’s good to see wines like this emerging.

Grower Champagne Focus: Léclapart, Charlot-Tanneux, Emmanuel Brochet, Chevreaux-Bournazel


I had these lovely grower Champagnes in a wine bar in Reims (the excellent Au Bon Manger, 7 Rue Courmeaux). Anyone who thinks of Champagne merely in terms of the Grand Marques needs to think again. Anyone who doesn’t think Champagne is a terroir wine needs to think again. I need to go back, soon.

Champagne Emmanuel Brochet Le Mont Benoit NV France
40% Pinot Meunier, 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir. Salty, tangy and intense with lovely citrus and herb notes. Finesse here with a lovely lemony finish. 93/100

Champagne Charlot-Tanneux Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Elia NV France
From Mardeuil, this is 12.7% alcohol and has 7 g/l dosage. It’s based on the 2006 harvest ad is from a premier cru vineyard, selection massale vines, fermented with wild yeast in small oak, no malolactic. 1900 bottles made, disgorged January 2015. Very pure and fine with some sweetness to the citrus fruit, with depth. Quite linear, though. Fine acidity and a lovely mellow crystalline core. Slightly honeyed, but quite mineral too. 93/100


Champagne David Léclapart l’Amateur 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Pas Dosé NV France
Very fine, fresh, textured and mineral with fine pear and citrus fruit. So pure and linear with notes of anise and a nice savoury edge. Focused and poised. 94/100

Champagne Augustin Cuvée CCC1 Element Feu Cuvée 301 1er Cru NV France
Disgorged 17/05/15. 8.6 g/l dosage, 12% alcohol. Bold, rich and toasty. Very smooth and intense with lovely richness. Great depth here with sweet toasty notes dominating. Rich pear and peach fruit. Powerful and appealing. 90/100


Champagne Chevreux-Bournazel La Parcelle NV France
This spends 11 months in oak, 11.7% alcohol. This has an interesting story. A couple used to work in a steeply sloped vineyard and the owner decided to sell it. He asked them if they wanted to buy it but they had no money. They went to Vincent Charlot-Tanneaux, and he helped them. They now make 650 bottles from this plot. It’s very tight and fresh, linear and mineral, with fresh citrus and pear fruit, lovely lemony acidity and nice spiciness. 92/100

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The Bee-Side Grenache from Domaine of the Bee

domaine of the bee bee-side

Justin Howard-Sneyd’s Domaine of the Bee is based on three small plots of old bush vines in Cathar country, deep in the south of France near the village of Maury. Normally, the wines are made in a rich, bold, opulent style, but with this new release, a Grenache, they’ve opted to aim for a more elegant style, because that’s what the vintage was giving them naturally. I really like it, and I love the label.

Grenache is the Pinot Noir of the south, and I think it works best made in a less extracted style like this.

Domaine of the Bee The Bee-Side Grenache 2014 IGP Côtes Catalans, France
14% alcohol. From the Coume de Roy and Bac de Genievres vineyards. Beautifully aromatic sweet black cherry and raspberry fruit nose. The palate is silky and quite elegant with fruit sweetness but also a stony, mineral core. Ripe, with good concentration, but also restraint. A lovely example of Grenache. 91/100 (£18 direct sales from; £14.40 for wine club members)

In the Alentejo, Portugal, for just a day


I’m just on the way home from Lisbon. I’ve spent today consulting for a major Alentejo winery that changed hands a while back. The new owner is smart enough to seek outside opinions before making changes, and through his new winemaker made an approach to me.


So I visited, looked around the vineyards, had a look at the winery, and spent some time tasting through the existing range of wines. What did I think of the style of the wines? What about the composition of the range? How’s the packaging? In the vineyard, is the varietal mix right? Irrigated or dry grown? What about picking decisions? We considered these sorts of questions.

The owner spent some time talking through their own thoughts on how to move things forwards. I shared my views.

Alicante Bouschet, a teinturier (red fleshed) variety that's popular in the Alentejo

Alicante Bouschet, a teinturier (red fleshed) variety that’s popular in the Alentejo

I know it isn’t normal for journalists to act as consultants to wineries. It also creates some ethical issues if the relationship is any more than just a one-off session: for example, if there were an ongoing gig this would have to be declared at every mention of the winery, and it wouldn’t be possible to review the wines in the normal journalistic fashion.

But I’ve begun to realize that after several years of travelling the wine world, visiting wine regions and wineries, and asking lots of questions – coupled with a good grounding in technical aspects of winegrowing – that I have quite a bit of valuable experience. Pair this with good judgement, and an understanding of the various segments of the marketplace, and it makes sense to do some consulting from time to time. It’s also work that I enjoy a lot.


One of the main things that travelling extensively through the wine world has taught me is that there is no recipe. Steps that lead to success in one region or country, or one segment of the marketplace, might be a mistake in others. It’s not an exact science, and you have to spend time considering the specific needs of any one project before you give suggestions. And there’s another thing: good consultants empower their clients, while bad ones keep them in dependency.

Cabernet Sauvignon can do pretty well in the region

Cabernet Sauvignon can do pretty well in the region

It was lovely to be in the vineyards today, in the Alentejo – a region I have a lot of time for. It was hot, close to 40 C, but it’s a dry heat. The vintage here is starting in a few days for the whites, while the reds will begin coming in in a couple of weeks. Cabernet Sauvignon was looking very good, Aragonez a little less so, and Alicante Bouschet, the red fleshed teinturier, was looking pretty smart. It’s always nice to be in the vineyard right before harvest, seeing the grapes on the vines. Soon they will be transformed by the action of microbes into wine. It’s an exciting time of year.

Wines with Winerackd: Meinklang Konkret and Thörle Hölle

meinklang konkret

Popped over to spend a very pleasant evening with Daniel Primack, who among other things established Zalto in the UK, to the eternal debt of serious wine lovers across the nation. We had a few lovely wines, including this pair. The Meinklang is a beautiful wine: not perfect, but with immense charm and an astonishing texture. And the Thörle was drinking at its peak. We had it with very good fish and chips, and watched music videos.

Meinklang Konkret Rot 2012 Burgenland, Austria
13% alcohol. This is a varietal Saint Laurent, fermented and aged in 900 litre concrete eggs for 12 months. It’s aromatic and floral with lifted raspberry and cranberry fruit. So floral and focused, with a little bit of sweetness from the subtly elevated volatile acidity. The palate has amazing texture and concentration of smooth, sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Concentrated and quite profound, with purity and texture, and a grainy, mineral, slightly chalky edge. 95/100


Thörle Saulheimer Hölle Riesling Trocken 2011 Rheinhessen, Germany
13.5% alcohol. I’ve tasted this single-vineyard Riesling before and loved it. This time, it didn’t disappoint. Rich, powerful, spicy and delicious with some marmalade, melon, lemon and tangerine notes. Powerful and complex with a touch of apricot on the finish, as well as some crystalline fruits. Nice acidity. 94/100

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Domaine Clavel Le Mas: excellent value from the Languedoc


Not to be confused with the Côtes du Rhône domaine of the same name, Domaine Clavel has vineyards in four different Languedoc terroirs: Pic St Loup, Grès de Montpellier, La Méjanelle and Saint Christol, with 33 hectares in all. The farming is organic.

This, their entry level red, is really smart. It’s from Grès de Montpellier, and comes from sandstone pebbles over a clay/limestone base. It’s remarkable value for money. A blend of Carignan/Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache fermented and aged in concrete tanks with no oak.

Domaine Clavel Le Mas 2015 Coteaux du Languedoc, France
13.5% alcohol. This organic southern red has a lovely floral black cherry nose with some peppery hints, and some wet stones. The palate is juicy and bright but has lovely depth of cherry fruit with a touch of meatiness and some gravelly grip. Satisfying and delicious. 91/100 (£9.50 Tanners)

Holus Bolus Blanc Roussanne 2014 Santa Maria Valley, California

holus bolus roussanne

This is a lovely Roussanne from California’s Santa Maria Valley.

It’s made by Peter Hunken and Amy Christine, the duo behind Black Sheep Finds, based in Lompoc’s famous wine ghetto. Peter was previously with Stolpman Vineyards, working with winemaker Sashi Moorman. Along with Sashi, he started Piedrasassi and Holus Bolus, in 2003. In 2008 Sashi and Peter parted company, and Peter took Holus Bolus and Sashi Piedrasassi. In the meantime, Peter had started Black Sheep Finds with Amy in 2005, and so Holus Bolus was incorporated into that winery project.

The couple now have a 30 year lease on five acres of the Hayes Ranch in the Santa Rita Hills, so soon they will be part estate/part negociant. Peter is now full time on this project, while Amy, who in 2013 became and MW, still works for Kermit Lynch, and also does a bit of sommelier work.

This is their fourth vintage of the Roussanne, and this time the grapes were sourced from the Bien Nacido vineyard. The wine is made from a small block, just under an acre, that’s biodynamically farmed, and it’s fermented and matured in seasoned 300 litre barrels, with partial malolactic.

Black Sheep Finds Holus Bolus Blanc Roussanne 2014 Santa Maria Valley, California
13.5% alcohol. Lively and bright but with some richness. Slightly pithy and lemony with white peach fruit and some fine almond and spice notes. This has some white Rhône-like richness and texture but it is beautifully balanced with a spicy, lively, citrussy finish. Depth allied to freshness, this is a restrained, detailed New World take on Roussanne. 92/100

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On running and wine


A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with my twin sister, Anne. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but the conversation came on to the subject of being healthy at our advanced age.

‘Well, at least I’m not fat,’ I said.

There was a pause. Quite a long pause. This wasn’t good.

‘But you have a belly,’ she responded eventually. I was gutted. It was true!

You see, these things don’t just happen. You don’t go to bed one night and wake up in the morning with a fat belly. You get fat in increments so small that you hardly notice it. And you deny it whenever you see yourself in the mirror. I lost quite a bit of weight a few years back, dropped down a waist size, and have hovered around the same weight since, until fairly recently, it seems.

Travel has done it. When you travel in my job you eat more and exercise less. Also: I love food. I love wine. I hate the thought of dieting. So exercise is important. I ran the Marathon du Medoc in 2013 and 2014. But since then, without the focus of training for a long run, I have been exercising less. So the dreadful realisation of my belly has prompted me to decided that I need to get back to running properly. Maybe I need to do another long run?

Back in 2013, I really loved the whole experience of taking up running, with a goal in mind. And although I have done sporadic runs of late, I’ve not been running long enough distances. So it’s like starting again. At first it seems too hard: the body isn’t used to being punished this way. But it gets better. The big difference about coming back to running is that I know I can do long distances. And running is very psychological. It’s about deciding to keep going even if it would be far nicer to walk.

Even when I was running marathons, though, I was a little lazy. I ran the second marathon a bit overweight and a bit under-trained. I took it really easy. I would love to get to the stage where I’m running at a good pace, like my buddy Greg Sherwood. We’ve run together quite a bit, but he’s just that much faster than me. It probably helps that he runs most days, something I’ve not been able to commit to.

It made a big difference to me to run the first marathon. It showed me that I could be self-disciplined enough to train, and brave and strong enough to get round the 42 km course only 14 weeks after starting running. It showed me I had the potential to do better than I’d have imagined at something I’d always believed myself to be poor at (at school, I used to loath cross country runs, and would be one of the stragglers at the back of the pack).

In my job, at my age, it takes quite a lot of discipline not to become fat. I guess it’s biology. I’m grateful, though, to my sister for her honesty. Having a belly is a big risk factor for blokes my age, and I have lots of plans, there’s lot’s to see and explore, and I want to be around for a while. So I shall be running regularly.

If you are thinking about running, I’d recommend either downloading a running app to your phone (I use Runkeeper, and a shift to the iPhone SE which is smaller has helped make strapping the phone to my arm easier), or buying a GPS running watch (I had a Garmin that was pretty good). Keeping track of your distance and pace is a good motivator.

And if you see me packing on the pounds, help me out of my denial by pointing it out. But do it gently, please.




Folium: interesting dry-grown wines from New Zealand's Marlborough region

folium pinot noir

Takaki Okada came to New Zealand’s Marlborough region in 2003, and began working with Clos Henri. In 2010, he bought an 8.5 hectare vineyard that had been established by Fromm in the Brancott Valley. He began making his own wines.

Marlborough is quite dry (growing season averages around 340 ml of rain, with 640 ml the long term average for the full year) , and irrigation is normal. But Takaki did something brave: believing that the soils in this part of Marlborough have good water-holding capacity, he switched off the irrigation in 2011. Since then, he has dry-grown all his vines, except for the young ones, and also reserving the right to water in very dry seasons. For example, he did 8 h or irrigation in 2016, which had a very dry start to the year.


The picture above shows the difference between the vines at harvest time in 2011 (first year of dry growing) and in 2016 (the sixth year). The vineyard looks completely different. Growing season rainfall was 358 ml in 2011 and 256 ml in 2016 (plus the tiny bit of irrigation earlier in the season).

‘The Sauvignon Blanc is from riverbed Soil,’ says Takaki. ‘There is a small creek which dries up in the summer time, which is located at the bottom terrace of our vineyard. The Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is from clay-based soil which is located on the top terrace.’

Both blocks have not been receiving irrigation since 2011. ‘We have tested Leaf water potential just before the harvest this year,’ he explains. ‘Vines on the clay area suffer from water stress, and is not doing photosynthesis anymore. However, the vines on the stony soil are still active. I believe these vines are now reaching to the water table.’ He also points out that the vineyard has a high density of 4200 vines/ha, and he controls yields so as not to exceed 60 hl/ha, which is about 2.2kg of fruit per plant. ‘By having these conditions we could manage to operate dry farming.’

These are really interesting wines, and show that Marlborough isn’t just a one-trick pony as a wine region.

Folium Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Concentrated and dense with lovely textured quince and citrus fruit. There’s some grassy greenness in the background, but this is a ripe, concentrated style with richness and texture. Very bold and intense. Mineral, pure and linear, showing real finesse and purity. 92/100

Folium Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol, sealed with DIAM. Smoky, spicy, mineral edge to the citrus and pear fruit nose. Intense, concentrated, mineral and textural with ripe citrus and pear fruit. There’s a lovely lemony spiciness here and good acidity, with a hint of tangerine. 93/100

Here’s a video of me tasting the Pinot Reserve 2013:


Folium Pinot Noir Reserve 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
Cork-sealed. Really elegant stuff with a brooding black cherry nose and hints of spice and herbs. This is beautifully floral and opens out with time in the glass. The palate is elegant with black cherries, plums and fine grained structure. There’s a subtle hint of meatiness here. Really expressive with lots of potential for future development. 94/100

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Sylvain Pataille, master of Marsannay

sylvain bataille marsannay

Over the last 15 years Sylvain Pataille has built up his domaine from scratch. He first made wine in 1999, while he was still employed in an enology laboratory in Beaune, but he released his debut vintage in 2001. His domaine is now 15 hectares, all located within Marsannay, which is at the top of the Côte d’Or, near Dijon. He farms using biodynamics (certified organic), and works naturally in the winery. I was really impressed with these wines.

Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2014 Burgundy, France
Very fine, full flavoured toast, grapefruit pith and pear fruit. Lovely core of bright fruit with texture and nuttiness: not terribly Aligoté. Real finesse. 91/100

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Blanc 2014 Burgundy, France
Aromatic with toast, spice and pear fruit. Pristine, concentrated fruit here, showing herb-tinged pear and white peach fruit. Lovely. 93/100

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Rouge 2014 Burgundy, France
Lovely expressive bright red cherries and herbs on the nose. Juicy and bright on the palate with herbs, cherries and plums. Lovely precision. 92/100

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Rouge Clos du Roy 2014 Burgundy, France
Expressive and fresh with lovely complex herbs, spice and minerals alongside the lovely fruit. Detailed and expressive with lovely purity, and very minerally. 93/100

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