In the Okanagan, BC, Canada: Meyer Family Vineyards, Culmina and CheckMate

Jak Meyer and Chris Carson

Jak Meyer and Chris Carson

Jak and Janice Meyer bought a small vineyard in the Naramata Bench back in 2006. Originally, this was just a hobby vineyard, but in 2008 when Jak started selling the grapes he realized that selling 600 cases was quite a bit of work and that he’d never make money doing it. So in 2008 he made a commitment to expand. Then the opportunity came up in 2008 to buy a property in the Okanagan Falls, and so the current Meyer Family Vineyards was born. The philosophy was to focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and now five of each are made, plus a brand new sparkling wine. We met with Jak and his winemaker Chris Carson, and tasted a range of the wines, dipping back in vintages, too. They’re some of the best examples being made of these varieties in the valley.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was particularly impressed by the 2014 McLean Creek Road ‘Old Block’ Pinot Noir (from the oldest block on the home property), and the Tribute Series Art & Viv Meyer Chardonnay 2014 which comes from the Naramata Bench.

Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon

Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon

Donald Triggs is a well known figure in the Canadian wine scene. When Jackson Triggs/Vincor was taken over by Constellation in 2005, he tried to retire, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. He asked each of his three daughters whether or not he should start another wine business, but only the youngest, Sarah, said she thought it would be interesting. So he started the search for the perfect site for making wines from the red Bordeaux varieties. He took the advice of Alain Sutre, who he had worked with before. ‘Is there another level for the Okanagan, or is what has already been achieved all that there is?’ Sutre replied that he thought that, yes, there was another level, but it would require a lot of patience and a lot of attention to detail. Triggs’ criteria for a site were that it should ripen Bordeaux reds, it should be farmable organically, and it should lead to a sustainable business.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Golden Mile Bench

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Culmina

Triggs saw five properties before he selected a really nicely situated vineyard site on the Golden Mile Bench, which is now Culmina. There was an existing vineyard block, but this was replanted along with the rest of the property. In order to take into account the variations in the soils over the vineyard, the irrigation system has 108 controllable valves, which can be altered remotely. This is a precision approach to viticulture. As well as the main vineyard site, there’s a second site on top of the hill that is used for whites (Chardonnay, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner), where it is a bit cooler.

With consultancy from Pascal Madevon, the wines are pretty stylish, in a modern mould. The Unicus (Grüner Veltliner) is successful in the warm 2015 vintage and offers rounded pear and spice fruit with some pithy notes and just a touch of white pepper. Decora (Riesling) has also fared well in 2015, while the Dilemma (Chardonnay) in 2014 is a bit closed and reductive, in need of more time to develop. The main action here, though, is Hypothesis, a Bordeaux-style blend with lots of polish and some good structure. I had a slight preference for 2013 over the two preceding vintages. These wines should age well. ‘It’s the beginning of the story, not the end,’ says Sarah Triggs. ‘A new region and a new terroir.’ Hence the name hypothesis.

James and Philip, CheckMate

James and Philip, CheckMate

CheckMate is a high-profile new Chardonnay-only winery that is part of the Mission Hill stable. We visited with winemaker Phil Mcgahan and viticulturist James Cooper to try these newly released wines. The debut 2013 vintage release consists of five wines from three different Chardonnay vineyards. There’s the Heritage Vineyard in the Golden Mile Bench, which has what may be the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, planted in the early 1970s. We had a look at some of these old vines, which would certainly have been among the first plantings of Vitis vinifera in the Okanagan. They are knarly and pretty old, and from an unknown clone imported from Washington State, known as the Declaver or Heritage clone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then there’s the Barn Vineyard in Black Sage Bench, and the Border Vista Vineyard near the American Border in Osoyoos East Bench. These are three quite warm sites, but the Checkmate Chardonnays are remarkably detailed and elegant, albeit in a richer new world style. I really liked them, especially the Little Pawn Chardonnay. These wines are extremely expensive, but they are very good indeed, and prove what can be achieved in the Okanagan given care and attention, and skilled winemaking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unintended and unexpected consequences

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was at a dinner last night when I heard the news.

I really wasn’t expecting the British people to vote to leave the European Union. I was shocked.

So, now: we will begin to see the unintended and unexpected consequences of leaving, which will be a difficult and perilous process.

With every big change there are unintended and unexpected consequences. Whether it is changing jobs, moving home, ending a relationship, having a child, or creating legislation in parliament. Decisions might be made for particular reasons and there will be some predictable consequences. But there’s usually a whole set of things that happen that take us by surprise.

We should be cautious when we wish for change, of whatever sort. There will be consequences that we never predicted. That’s just the way it is.

What will Brexit mean for the UK wine trade? What will it mean for the flourishing English wine producers, who are just starting to make waves with their sparkling wines? We won’t know for some time.

For now, we will probably experience a lot of instability. People will make strange decisions, motivated by fear and fuelled by uncertainty. The EU will be scared of other countries following suit: they may try to punish the UK as a disincentive to others who would follow in our steps. It’s all a bit of a mess. It will be probably fine in the long run, but I do worry about those unexpected and unintended consequences.

I’m still shocked.

In the Okanagan, BC, Canada: Summerhill Pyramid, Liquidity and Painted Rock

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Summerhill Pyramid Winery is one of the Okanagan’s most distinctive. We visited with Ezra Cipes, CEO and son of the founder Stephen Cipes. Stephen brought his family here back in 1986 from New York, and began Summerhill Pyramid winery in collaboration with winemaker Eric von Krosigk.

Eric and Ezra

Eric and Ezra

Back in the late 1980s, when the Okanagan was deciding on its future direction – the switch from hybrid to Vitis vinifera vines was well underway – Jack Davies from Schramsberg came to visit as a consultant. He inspired the Cipes to focus on sparkling wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The vineyard was certified organic in 1995, and four years ago achieved biodynamic certification with Demeter. ‘Biodynamics has been amazing,’ says Ezra. ‘It has brought the vineyard into a much more harmonious place.’ All the preparations are made on site by Ezra’s brother Gabe. ‘Farming is mining,’ says Ezra. ‘You are mining the soils. You are driving tractors on the soils. It’s hard on the vineyard. Biodynamics is about giving back to the soils, making them healthy, and making sure there is biodiversity.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eric adds an interesting perspective. ‘The soil is its own ocean. Everything is down there. There is incredible interaction and interconnectivity.’ All this going on underground, and we don’t see it, nor are we aware of it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But it’s hard to get past the pyramid. Stephen Cipes took us in there. It’s a one-eighth scale replica of the great pyramid, and they were preparing for a guided meditation inside as we entered – this was the summer solstice. All the wines, at some stage, pass through the pyramid. ‘Liquids are changed and transformed in the sacred geometry chamber,’ says Stephen. His view is that the energy here makes a good wine better, but also a bad wine worse. If people enter in a good mood they will leave brighter, but if they enter in a bad one, it will get worse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Cipes Brut NV, a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, is fresh, pure, affordable and delicious. The Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blanc (no ‘s’) are both lovely withs with admirable purity and precision. Then we get to the more intense, distinctive cuvées: the Ariel 1998 is bold, toasty and intense, and comes in a very distinctive bottle (a third broke during the second fermentation). And the 1996 Cuvée Tradition is really distinctive: bold, toasty and with some apricot, bacon and sage notes. I like them, but they are an acquired taste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A range of still wines are also made, and these are very good. The Gruner Veltliner 2015 is the inaugural release, and it may well be the best I have tried outside Austria. It’s floral, aromatic, peppery and rich with a detailed spiciness. There’s a fine, textured off-dry Riesling (2014), and a really appealing Pinot Noir (2012). But the highlight was the Pyramid Aged 2007 Pinot Noir, which showed vitality, concentration, texture and finesse.

Liquidity, Okanagan Falls

Liquidity, Okanagan Falls

Liquidity is a new winery and bistro in the Okanagan Falls area. We met with owner Ian MacDonald and winemaker Alison Moyes to have a look at their range of wines. This is an 8000 case winery with 15 hectares of vines, and first vintage was 2012. Alison has been here since 2015.

Alison Moyes, winemaker, Liquidity

Alison Moyes, winemaker, Liquidity

The wines are all pretty solid, but I was most impressed by the Chardonnay (2014), which is made in a fresh New World style with some spicy oak complementing the clean fruit, and the Pinot Noir (2014), with its lovely floral cherry fruit nose. The Merlot and Bordeaux-style blend Dividend are also pretty good (both from 2014 too).

Painted Rock

Painted Rock

Painted Rock is another property that I’ve visited before, and I’ve also run into the wines in London a few times. The dynamic, detail-oriented John Skinner founded this property after an extensive search for the perfect vineyard site in the Okanagan, and carefully planted it with a mix of Bordeaux varieties and also Chardonnay and Syrah.

Lauren Skinner and Gabriel Reis

Lauren Skinner and Gabriel Reis

We visited with John’s daughter Lauren Skinner, and also assistant winemaker Gabriel Reis. It’s a lovely spot, and the winery has a really stunning visitor centre. The wines are very well made in a modern style that borrows from both old and new world traditions. They are incredibly polished, and have been well received by critics.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Syrah 2013 is rich, bold and ripe with a little bit of exotic, spicy American oak in the mix. There’s also a bit of cool climate pepperiness here. The Merlot is impressive, with its sweet texture and fine-grained, chalky texture under the generous black fruits. But it was the 2014 Red Icon that I fell for. It’s a five-way Bordeaux style blend, but as well as showcasing ripe fruit, it also has an expressive personality, shows a bit of restraint, and has attractive floral aromatics.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the Okanagan, BC, Canada: Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, Gray Monk and Tantalus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The second day of this trip was spent immersed in the beauty of the northern and central Okanagan. As a wine region, the Okanagan is simply too diverse to make all that much sense of. The lake is very long, and climate shifts quite a bit from the cooler north to the pretty warm south. Add on the differences between being on the east side and the west side. Then factor in the changing soil types, and you have a matrix that logically results in about 15 sub-appellations, which are sorely needed as the wine scene here matures. As long as conjunctive labelling is adopted (whereby the sub-appellation name can only be used on a label along with Okanagan), and I can’t see a problem, because these sub-appellations aren’t just vanity projects or ego trips – they are based on terroir. But there are a few big wineries in the valley who are resisting because of vested interests.

mission hill

Mission Hill

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We rolled up to the imposing gates of Mission Hill winery, to be greeted by two security guards who checked us over thoroughly but in a friendly way. The gates pull back and we enter a remarkable world. It’s one of the planet’s grandest wineries, and it’s here in the Okanagan. Mission Hill may not be to everyone’s taste, with its immaculate, manicured grandeur, but it is a real asset to the valley, because it satisfies the needs of a lot of tourists every year. It also provides a massive validation to the Okanagan as a globally important wine region, not just a regional curiousity: that someone should build something like this, here, is a bold statement of belief.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were hosted by Ingo Grady and winemaker Darryl Brooker. Darryl is an Aussie who was previously in charge of Cedar Creek, a boutique winery on the opposite shore of the lake that joined the Mission Hill portfolio a couple of years ago. Proprietor Anthony von Mandl now has four properties in the valley, each with a particular talent. There’s Mission Hill, a Bordeaux blend specialist, Cedar Creek (aromatic whites and Pinot Noir), Martin’s Lane (a new Pinot Noir specialist, wines not yet released, located next to Cedar Creek) and Checkmate (Chardonnay). ‘We’re starting to mature as a company,’ says Darryl.

Ancient drinking vessels, Mission Hill

Ancient drinking vessels, Mission Hill

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We tasted a range of Cedar Creek and Mission Hill wines. I particularly liked two of the wines. The Cedar Creek Platinum Riesling Block 3 2014 was aromatic, lively and assertive with just enough sugar to balance the sky high but well integrated acidity. And the Cedar Creek Platinum Pinot Noir Block 2 2014 was beautifully floral and textured with nice detail and freshness. I asked Darryl about Pinot in the region. ‘I think it’s really exciting,’ he replied. His view is that it only works north of Okanagan Falls, but from here up, it really shows the terroir well and is the variety that could be used to base the appellations on. ‘The potential is still relatively untapped. One of the main reasons for me moving here is Pinot Noir.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We also tried the Cedar Creek Desert Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. This was made by placing whole berries in and amphora, sealing it, and coming back 8 months later. It was pressed and then bottled with no additions. It’s close to 15% alcohol, but the wine is really interesting, and not at all funky. There’s an interesting texture here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
From Mission we headed over to Gray Monk, where we were hosted by the incredibly jovial Trudy and George Heiss (above). They were pioneers here, in Lake Country, at the north end of the appellation, and were responsible for importing Pinot Gris, Auxerrois and Gewurztraminer into Canada back in 1976. There was hardly any vinifera here then, and Trudy’s father managed to get some from the research station in Colmar, Alsace. It was late in the season and there was very little material left, but they got budwood and rootstock and had to do the grafting themselves. All the Pinot Gris in the valley (it’s the most widely planted variety) comes from their imports.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
They farm 75 acres with their three sons, and also have 250 acres under contract. The wines are cleanly made and pleasant, and they’re also affordable. Along with Pinot Gris and Blanc, there’s Ehrenfelser, Siegerrebe, Auxerrois and Gewurztraminer. They are all pretty wines with crisp acidity, helped with a little sugar. The reds are solid but less successful.

David Paterson

David Paterson

The third visit was at Tantalus, which has a reputation as a Riesling specialist, with winemaker David Paterson. He’s doing a great job here, and all the wines are worth taking a good look at. We scooted round the vineyards in an ATV (all terrain vehicle) and had a peep at the 1978 Clone 21B Riesling plantings that were established here by Dr Helmut Becker as part of his famous experimental trials. Becker, then the head of Germany’s famous Geisenheim research institute, visited the valley in 1976. He was blown away by the potential of the Okanagan, particularly for white wine production. Yet at the time it was all hybrid vines. In what became known as the ‘Becker Project’, he oversaw the importation and planting of some 27 different vinifera varieties, including this Riesling clone, which has done very well.

1978 plantings of Clone 21B Riesling

1978 plantings of Clone 21B Riesling

As well as making excellent still and sparkling Riesling, Tantalus also do really well with Pinot Noir. ‘North of the Okanagan Falls, it’s the only red grape variety that should be grown,’ says Paterson.

tantalus old vine riesling

In the Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada, day 1: Quails' Gate

okanagan

It’s never much fun when you have a tight connecting flight and then get delayed. Yesterday I arrived in Vancouver after a nice flight (6000 words written, a sleep and a Woody Allen movie), only for technical problems to keep us at the gate for 50 minutes before getting off. It’s a horrible feeling as you sit there with your hopes of making your connection slowly fade minute by minute. In the end, I ran, got through immigration quickly, suffered an intensely frustrating delay at security to get airside again, and then managed to get to my gate just in time to fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was worth the hassle, though, because the Okanagan Valley is truly beautiful. On a run this morning through a national park, I stopped and sat by the side of the lake. And I stared, and I thought of all the joys, frustrations, sadnesses, anxieties and highlights of the last nine months. It has been the most complicated, difficult and turbulent nine months I have experienced. But there have also been many beautiful moments. Natural beauty has a way of encouraging contemplation, and the sorts of thoughts that nature elicits always seem to be hopeful, bright and integrating. I need to do a bit of integrating.

For the next few days I will be travelling the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys as a guest of the BC Wine Institute, with fellow wine journalist Elaine Brown as my travelling companion. Elaine and I will then join the WineAlign crowd in Penticton to serve as overseas judges for the National Wine Awards of Canada. It is quite an exciting prospect.

Tom and Nikki

Tom and Nikki

Yesterday afternoon and evening was spent with Quails’ Gate winery in West Kelowna. This is quite a substantial venture owned by the Stewart family, who first started farming here in the 1950s. The Quails’ Gate winery started in 1989, and now draws on around 100 hectares of estate vineyards. Tony Stewart, who hosted us along with winemaker Nikki Callaway, explained that because of the exacting nature of viticulture in the Okanagan with its cool climate, he prefers not to have to rely on growers. Most of their vineyard is in the central Okanagan, with a big chunk of it around the winery. But they also have some vines down south in Oliver.

Tony has decided that their focus as a winery should be on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and I was really impressed by both. The Pinots, as evidenced by tasting the Stewart Family Reserve from 2005, 2006 and 2009, age very well. The Chardonnay used to be quite big and new worldy, but Nikki, who arrived here in 2012, has brought more refinement and a less obvious oak regime to the wines. There’s a similar story with the excellent Syrah: the new vintages are better than the old, and 2014 really impressed.

IMG_20160620_084333

We also tried a new wine: a Bordeaux-style blend called the Connemara, from the 2014 vintage. This is a superb wine with real elegance and style, and a hint of nice greenness that many new world winemakers are a bit scared of, but which here works so well.

IMG_20160620_084246

With dinner at the excellent Old Vine restaurant next to the winery, we went through the whites, looking at 2010 and 2015 vintages of each. The Riesling, at $16, is a complete steal. It’s fresh, dry, and delicious, and is ageworthy. Chenin Blanc is interesting. This is quite a cool region for Chenin, and the result is an acid-driven wine of precision and focus. 2015 was really nice, but the 2010 was showing a bit of reduction (it is screwcapped), which I hope it will recover from. Look out, also, for their white blend, which combines Chasselas with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. It’s not complex, but it’s fresh and delicious and great value for money.

Dinner with Dirk: Chave 1988, De Vogüé Bonnes Mares 1969 and Taylors Vargellas 1976

chave de vogue

Dirk Niepoort is one of my favourite people on the planet. Last night we dined at Noble Rot, and shared some very special bottles.

Chave Hermitage 1988 Northern Rhöne, France
This bottle was pretty much perfect. In beautiful condition and still a deep, primary colour. Lovely detailed black cherries, spice, tar, pepper and meat notes, as well as some tea leaves and citrus peel. It is fresh and light, but rich at the same time. Complex, and drinking so well now, but no need to rush to drink up. 97/100

De Vogüé Bonnes Mares 1969 Burgundy, France
This is spectacular. Decanted, and chilled down a little, this is a Wine Society bottling, but it was bottled at France, so I’m assuming it was domaine bottled. It’s fresh and bright, with a hint of malty richness on the nose but a pristine, silky palate. The texture is amazing: it’s rich and seamless with elegance meeting power, and the softest structure. Sweet black cherries and plums underpinned by smooth, fine-grained tannins. Ethereal, and 1969 isn’t supposed to be a great year. 97/100

taylors vargellas

Taylors Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port 1976 Douro, Portugal
Elegant, fresh and supple, this reminds me a bit of 1970. It’s lighter than you’d expect from a Vintage Port, but it has such finesse and elegance. Burgundian! Sweet, fine redcurrant, red cherries and a bit of pepper spice, with a hint of raisin and nice sweetness. Pure and lovely. 95/100

 

 

In Beaujolais: Château du Moulin-à-Vent, Dominique Piron and Thillardon

moulin-a-vent

The famous windmill of Moulin-à-Vent sits at the heart of this 620 hectare Cru in Beaujolais, in the village of Romanèche Thorins. And just below it is the impressive Château du Moulin-à-Vent, which has been renovated extensively since it was acquired by Jean-Jacques Parinet in 2009. Parinet originally came from Beaujolais but then made his money in the IT business, and for the last three years he’s been assisted by Brice Laffond, who oversees both the winery and the 30 hectares of vines the domaine owns.

Bryce Laffond and Jean-Jacques Parinet

Bryce Laffond and Jean-Jacques Parinet

There are 130 parcels of vines here, and gradually they are being trellised, although it’s not possible to use cane pruning in the crus – the vines must be head trained. In the winery, the degree of destemming depends on the grapes and the vintage, but typically just 30% whole bunch is used.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Parinet says that his first surprise was to find that there was a real identity in the wines corresponding to specific areas in the appellation, and overall he thinks it’s important for the region to focus on the specificities of the crus. His approach is one of aiming for high quality. These are ambitious wines, quite polished, but they’re also really good. I wasn’t expecting to like them as much as I did. The regular Château du Moulin-à-Vent 2014 is very fine with quite a bit of power to the expressive, mineral fruit. Croix de Vérillats 2014 is even better, with a haunting perfume of floral black cherry fruit and fine spicy notes. Champ de Cour 2014 and La Rochelle 2014 are also very fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1976!

1976!

We also sampled two older wines. The first, a 1991, was beginning to show the first signs of decay, but also had some mature elegance, and the second, a 1976, was beautifully elegant and pure with brightness and focus – this had aged beautifully.

Dominique Piron

Dominique Piron

Dominique Piron is based in Villié Morgon, where he runs his family domain. His family have had vineyards in the region since 1590, and now he works with close to 90 hectares, one third of which is in the Morgon cru. ‘It is a difficult vineyard,’ he says, referring to the Beaujolais vineyard area, ‘with a high density of vines and a lot of slopes. How do we manage the soil?’ He would, like many, prefer to be organic, but the cost is very high. ‘Two neighbours were doing organics, but they stopped,’ he says. ‘Because they went bankrupt.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But he values the soil highly. ‘The richness of Beaujolais is the that Gamay, when it is well done, is a real photocopier of the soils. We only have one variety, but when it is done well we have very different wines.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

His wines are quite lovely. The 2015 Saint-Amour is complex and pretty, and the 2015 Morgon has power and density. The 2014s are consistently good, with the real stars being the Chenas Quartz and the Morgon Côte du Py. As a real treat, we also tried the 1990 Morgon, which is elegant and pure and has aged beautifully.

1990 Morgon

1990 Morgon

On Beaujolais: ‘It is a region in a transition point. It is an interesting moment. It is very difficult for a few people, for sure. For 30 years the winegrowers have been below Duboeuf, who was the buyer. Now they are free, and it is difficult to be free.’ He thinks that it’s an error for Beaujolais to be close to Burgundy. ‘I can sell my wines as Burgundy wines, but it is an image that misses Beaujolais.’

Paul Henri and Charles Thillardon

Paul Henri and Charles Thillardon

The final visit of the trip was one of the best. Thillardon. Paul-Henri Thillardon started this domaine in Chénas back in 2008, and has built it up piece by piece. They are based in Chessignol and have 4 hectares here, with very old vineyards behind the domaine (80-100 year old vines). This was the first of their vineyards he took to biodynamics, which he started with when he acquired it in 2012. In 2014 Paul-Henri was joined full time by his brother Charles, and now all their vines are farmed this way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Their father is a winemaker in a cooperative in the south of Beaujolais. Winemaking here is quite different, though. They cool the grapes down in a reefer and then use whole bunches with no added sulphites. During the maceration, they look at the yeasts under the microscope to check they are good ones. There are no punch downs or pumping overs. Sometimes a little bit of SO2 is added. ‘We like natural wine,’ says Paul-Henri, ‘but we like clean natural wine.’ 20 mg/ml of SO2 is added before bottling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The wines are fabulous. My favourite was the remarkable Chénas Chassignol 2014, which is the block behind the property. But other bottlings of Chénas: Blémonts, Boccards and Les Carrières, are also very fine, supple and elegant.

Alsace Riesling, some more highlights

trimbach cfe

A few days ago I picked out some of my Riesling highlights from Millesimes Alsace. Here are some more.

Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 2009 Alsace
Taut and focused showing lovely citrus pith and mineral notes. Very linear, combining fresh lemons with candied fruit and some lime zest. Has lovely acidity and drive, with great focus. Surprisingly fresh for such a warm year. 94/100

zind humbrecht

Zind Humbecht Riesling Clos St Urbain Grand Cru Rangen de Thann 2014 Alsace, France
Really focused lemony nose. Bright and mineral with real precision and focus, showing pure citrus fruits with well integrated acidity. Quite thrilling. 95/100

albert boxler

Albert Boxler Riesling Sommerberg Grand Cru ‘E’ 2014 Alsace
From a special parcel in the Sommerberg, which is cooler and more stony. Very lively, pure and mineralwith focused citrus and pear fruit, and a bit of white peach richness. Lively and pure with many dimensions. 95/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Albert Mann Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2014 Alsace
Granite soils. Very pure, direct and bright with lovely crisp citrus fruit and nice purity. Mineral and focused showing purity of fruit and lovely minerality. 94/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hugel Riesling Schoelhammer 2007 Alsace
This is from a 0.26 hectare parcel at the heart of the Schoenenberg grand cru vineyard. It has a complex, limey, pithy nose with subtle wax notes. Powerful and lively with generous texture and fine spiciness. Great concentration here with a mineral edge: it’s a rich Riesling typical of marly terroirs, showing a rounded, rich personality hemmed in by lovely acidity and focus. 95/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sipp Mack Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2008 Alsace
Some pithy, citrus notes on the nose. Lively, pure, mineral and taut with pure lemon, pear and ripe apple fruit. Focused, complex palate with some crystallined fruits and nice mineral, spicy characters. Dense, and ageing so nicely. 94/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Sous Eguisons 2014

souseguisons

Caroline Lestimé, winemaker at Jean-Noël Gagnard, decided to plant Chardonnay vines on this plot of the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, back in 2007. It’s in Rochepot, opposite Saint Aubin, and it is a relatively protected site for the Côtes, with limestone soils. Organic farming since 2011. Winemaking is the same as with the other Gagnard wines, with a third new oak, and the wine is bottled under screwcap. It’s pure, pristine and quite delicious – a real find.

Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard Caroline Lestimé Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Sous Eguisons 2014 Burgundy, France
This is a lovely, focused, fresh white Burgundy with amazing precision. The matchstick mineral nose shows pure lemony fruit with a hint of florality. The palate is linear and precise with taut lemony fruit and a fine tangy, stony mineral quality. There’s just the faintest hint of spicy, toasty oak, but the real theme here is pure, vital lemon fruit with great precision and lovely integrated acidity. This is just such a lovely wine, with more than a hint of Chablis to it. With its screwcap, this should age beautifully. 93/100 (£24 Berry Bross & Rudd)

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

Sylvaner, Alsace's unsung hero

ostertag sylvaner

Last week, in Germany, I tasted a couple of Sylvaners. And there was something distinctive about them, to the point that yesterday when I was poured one blind, I recognised it immediately. Last night, Andre Ostertag brought along his Sylvaner, and it was lovely. So I quizzed him about this grape variety, which he says 20 years ago formed a quarter of Alsace’s vineyard area, but since then has shrunk to just 8%.

‘I love Sylvaner,’ says Ostertag. ‘For me, it is a very important grape. It is one of the keys of Alsatian cuisine, which is a pure white wine cuisine.The first wine I tasted in my life was a Sylvaner. It was on my parents’ table. It has the same freshness as a Riesling, it has an aromatic profile, and it has the ability to age well if it is made well.’ He points out that most people don’t take care of it and allow it to over-crop, but things are looking up. ‘There is a real renaissance of Sylvaner in the last five years. I would not be surprised if it makes a comeback in the next couple of years.’ In terms of sites, he reckons it needs nutrients and a fairly fertile soil, such as at the foot of a hill.

hugel sylvaner

Jean Frédéric Hugel suggests that one of the reasons people are interested in Sylvaner is because of vine age. ‘No one has planted Sylvaner for the last 50 years. So that’s why there’s maybe a revival. There are very old vines. It is still a high-yielding grape variety, and I’m not sure if we planted it now the wines will be as interesting,’

Here are some notes on Sylvaner wines that I’ve tried over the last few days. This is an interesting variety, making wines that taste less of fruit and more of wet rocks and stones.

Ostertag Sylvaner 2014 Alsace
Lively, pure and fresh with lovely purity and precision. Notes of grapefruits and lemons, and also a core of minerals and stones with some interesting herby notes. Love;y. 93/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Zinck Sylvaner Terroir 2013 Alsace
Stony, mineral, fresh and direct. Lemony and precise with lovely purity and direct apply, lemony fruit. Very stony, with lovely precision. 93/100

Hugel Sylvaner Classic 2014 Alsace
Lively, stony and pure with focused lemony fruit with lovely precision and freshness. Pure, stony and long. 90/100

Pierre Frick Sylvaner Bergweingarten 2013 AlsaceFrom limestone soils. Very lively and stony with pithy, nutty citrus fruits and some herby intensity. Complex and a little cheesy with lovely detail. 91/100

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sipp Mack Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes 2014 Alsace
Very lively, stony and bright. Lemony and focused with nice freshness and some pithiness. Really linear. 89/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com