So, I’m on holiday with my extended family in the Charente, attending a family wedding tomorrow. It’s not wine country, really – although a few wines are made here, the extensive vineyards around where we are staying pretty much all go into Cognac. Colombard and Ugni Blanc are the grape varieties, although small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown to make the red version of Pineau des Charentes (a sweet fortified wine, made by adding Cognac eau de vie to partially fermented grape must).
The Cognac producer we chose to visit was a small local one, Les Grands Pateurs, which is run by Didier Charrassier. It’s located in Gemozac, and the family have 18 hectares of vines, and make both Cognac and Pineau.
We arrived as a fairly large group (three brothers in law, the older three children, and the owners of the gites we are all staying in). Didier was busy elsewhere, so initially we were hosted by his father and mother. His father, the 81-year-old Bernard, was fabulous. He explained the production process, and showed us some 90-year-old vines planted by his father, as well as conducting a tasting.
It really was a lovely visit. France does these small family businesses so well. The Cognacs were really lovely, especially the 25 year old XO, which we all bought (a very reasonable 40 Euros a bottle). Here are my notes of the tasting, but bear in mind that I don’t claim to be a Cognac expert.
Les Grands Pateurs Cognac VS (5 years old)
Yellow coloured. Fresh, bright and lively with citrus notes, a bit of grip, and a warming finish. Nice density. 7/10 (18 Euros)
Les Grands Pateurs Cognac VSOP (8 years old)
Yellow/orange colour. Some spice, citrus and a nice orange peel complexity. Some aniseed, too. Warm and rounded but with freshness at the same time. 7.5/10 (25 Euros)
Les Grands Pateurs Cognac XO (25 years old)
Mahogany colour. Very rich, rounded and bold with raisin, cedar and spice aromas and a lovely texture in the mouth. Rich and unctuous with intense, concentrated flavours. Delicious. 9/10
One of the most exciting wines of my Oregon trip was also one of the last. It was at Antica Terra with the fabulous Maggie Harrison, on a day in wine country nicely captured in pictures with my travelling companion Elaine Brown here.
When it came to tasting Maggie’s wines, I was a little apprehensive. She was very charming and smart, but she trained with Manfred at Sine Qua Non – wines that are not made in a style that I really enjoy. Fortunately, Maggie’s wines reflect more her size than Manfred’s, and are really compelling. This Pinot was especially beguiling.
Antica Terra Antikythera Pinot Noir 2011 Oregon
12.5% alcohol. Very pure, fresh, supple and bright with red cherry and raspberry fruit. Quite pure and precise; juicy and focused with a lovely pure streak of cherry fruit. Lovely precision. Maggie says that it has a non-fruit intensity, a gravelly complexity about it, and I agree. It certainly has plenty of fruit, but it isn’t about the fruit. 95/100
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One of the star wines at this year’s IPNC was actually a dry Riesling. Erni Loosen popped by the table I was at with a remarkable dry Riesling, aged for two years in large barrels on the lees.
It was the 2011 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Reserve Trocken, and it was remarkably complex, textured and detailed. It’s made from 100 year old ungrafted vines, fermented with indigenous yeasts, and matured for 24 months on the full lees old 1000 liter Fuders.
‘My Dad always told me that my great grandfather produced only dry wines until 1953, when my Dad took over,’says Erni. ‘He told me that my great grandfather always fermented the wines on indigenous yeast and kept the wines minimum 24 to 36 months on the full yeast in the Fuder cask! I always wondered myself, how this could work, because we always had been under the impression, that such a long cask aging would be too oxidative.’
‘Years ago, I started to mature all my dry wines for 12 months on the full yeast in the old Fuder cask, what already made the wines more complex. With learning by doing, we found out that the 24 month aging on the full yeast in cask, made the wines even more elegant, than the ones which been 12 months on the yeast! Just the opposite you would think! At least there is something right, what they did 100 years ago and without turning the wines to “vin orange” or “vin Naturelle”!’
Tried these rather lovely wines from the Okanagan Valley in Canada, and thought they deserved a write-up, even though they might be hard to find. You heard it here folks: Canada deserves to be taken seriously for both Riesling and Syrah.
Le Vieux Pin Tramonto Syrah 2010 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A private label from the Okanagan, just 49 cases made. Vivid black cherry and plum fruit with pepper, spice, cloves and olives. Fresh and pure with real intensity, very much in a northern Rhône style. 92/100
Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Lovely balance here: lemons, minerals and lovely precision. A really stylish dry Riesling of great appeal. 92/100
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Fred Savart’s Champagnes are the real deal. His elevage is in a mixture of oak and now concrete, and the production here consists of small volume, terroir focused wines. I’ve reviewed one of these wines before, and this time round, I gave it an equally high rating. UK agent is Indigo Wine.
Champagne Savart L’Accomplie 1er Cru NV
80 Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, base vintage is 2010. Taut, complex citrus fruit with amazing precision and finesse. Just beautiful in a really pure style. 95/100
Champagne Savart Calliope Extra Brut NV
From the 2007 vintage. Taut, dense and toasty with powerful flavours of citrus and herbs. Nice density here: a structured wine with good focus. 93/100
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So enjoyed this wine. It’s a Piedmont Barbera aged for four months in large botti, from limestone soils at 420-460 m.
Bochis Francesco Langhe Barbera Dogliano 2012 Piedmont, Italy
13% alcohol. Lovely black cherry and plum fruit: sleek, pure and fresh. Fine and elegant with some grippy structure and a bit of damson to complement the raspberry and black cherry fruit. A lovely wine of great purity and finesse. 93/100 (£12.50 Haynes, Hanson & Clark)
Could fruit flies be responsible for the nice smell of most wines? This is a really interesting idea suggested by a research paper just published in scientific journal Ecology Letters. It’s by a New Zealand group, led by Dr Mat Goddard, who have already published some really interesting research on yeast ecology, showing that the wild yeasts completing fermentations in a number of New Zealand regions are local to the vineyard sites, and not escaped commercial strains resident in the winery. The lead author on the paper is Dr Claudia Buser, a postdoctoral researcher in Goddard’s lab.
The authors are looking at the broader ecological idea that niche construction can initiate the evolution of mutualistic interactions, but this work has relevance for wine. What is niche construction? Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the wine yeast, helps to construct an environment that suits it. It likes ripe fruit as a food source, but so do many other organisms. So S. cerevisiae uses alcoholic fermentation, which is a really inefficient way of using the sugar up, but which creates heat and alcohol that makes it a much less inviting environment for others. In particular, bacteria don’t tolerate alcohol the way that this yeast is able to.
But ripe fruits are quite seasonal, and spread far apart, and yeasts have a problem: how do they get to them, considering they are not mobile? The strategy they have evolved is to hitch a ride on insects, and in particular, fruit flies. These flies are attracted to fermenting fruit where yeasts are growing, and they lay their eggs there.
And this study shows that yeasts are actively producing aromatic compounds to lure the flies.
This has answered a question that previously had confused scientists. Why do yeasts go to the bother of producing all these aromatic compounds that we find in wine, when there is an energetic cost involved to them, and seemingly no benefit? It seems that the yeasts benefit because the aromas bring in their ride.
And the flies? They benefit too, because fermenting fruit is a fertile environment for them to lay their eggs in. It seems that the eggs laid in fruit with S. cerevisiae present do better. The most attractive smelling yeasts lure more fruit flies, and both dispersal and egg fertility are both enhanced. This is known in biology as a mutualistic symbiosis.
In the experiments Goddard’s lab undertook, flies were released into a glass tube maze where they could choose among different types of yeast, and these results were replicated in the field, which demonstrated that S. cerevisiae was being carried by 100 times more flies than you’d expect if the flies were randomly recruiting fungi from the environment.
So this raises the strong possibility that we have flies to thank for many of the pleasing aromas of the wines we drink.
Always good to see a new English sparkling wine that’s of top quality. I was really impressed by this. It’s the first crop from a vineyard in Somerset, planted in 2008 by Guy and Laura (the Smith & Evans behind the wine) and you can find out more about it on the Smith & Evans website. This was disgorged in March.
Smith & Evans Higher Plot Pinot Chardonnay Brut 2010 Somerset, England
From limestone soils, this is a blend of Chardonnay and the two Pinots, aged on lees for 2.5 years, 11.5% alcohol, 4 g/litre dosage. Lovely ripe, nicely poised nose of ripe pear and citrus fruit with subtle toastiness. Taut palate with ripe apples and pears, keen lemony acidity and hints of toast. Elegant and refined with lovely purity of fruit. Quite dry but not at all austere, with great potential for development. 91/100
Just been away for a weekend with family, staying in a lovely house in Puddletown, Dorset. It wasn’t a wine geeky sort of weekend, so I brought along some good solid wines that delivered a lot of pleasure, without being at all wine nerdy.
Marks & Spencer Macon-Villages Uchizy 2013 Burgundy, France
From Raphael Sallet, 13% alcohol. This is a really impressive Macon, with lovely tangerine, lemon and grapefruit. Lovely texture here with purity and focus, and a really delicious almost saline mineral quality. 90/100 (£10.99 Marks & Spencer)
Domaine Fillatreau Chateau Fouquet Saumur 2012 Loire, France
This comes from a domaine with 6.5 hectares of organic vineyards and another 4 ha in conversion, and in 2012 because of the short harvest everything went into this wine. 12.5% alcohol. It’s really fresh and varietally (Cabernet Franc) true, with sappy raspberry and cherry fruit, together with some nice mineral, gravelly characters. It’s fresh and quite grippy, and rather tasty. There’s no doubting where this wine is from. 89/100 (£12.50 Yapp)
Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir 2012 IGP Var, France
Louis Latour’s venture in the South of France has yielding this fairly convincing Pinot. It has cherries, plums, spice and some grip. It’s ripe with a savoury, spicy edge, and has a delicious plummy personality. 89/100 (£10.99 Majestic)
Stratum Pinot Noir 2012 Waipara, New Zealand
Made by Sherwood Estate for Virgin Wines. Silky and fresh with lovely cherries and plums. Juicy but supple with sweet fruit and a hint of warmth. So drinkable and delicious with some fine spicy notes. 90/100 (£12.99 Virgin Wines)
Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale Chardonnay 2011 Walker Bay, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. Full yellow colour. Rich notes of butterscotch, popcorn and toast. The palate is bold and tangy with lemons and grapefruit notes, as well as some orange peel. Rich, developed and intense with bold flavour. 91/100
Aubert Vouvray Sec 2012 Loire, France
12.5% alcohol. Taut and really stony with bright green apple and citrus fruit. Very pure and linear with keen acidity and real finesse. The dominant theme here is the distinctive stony quality this wine possesses. 90/100 (£12.25 Yapp)
These were two wines I enjoyed at the IPNC Grand Dinner, sandwiched between Pascaline Lepeltier and Rajat Parr. Totally brilliant examples of Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Quite different in style, but beautiful. In particular, watch out for the wines of Thibaud Boudignon, a new star of Savennieres.
Thibaud Boudignon Savennieres 2012 Loire, France
His first vintage. Lively, linear and pure with fresh lemon and herb notes as well as bright acidity. Lively and fine with real precision: a remarkable wine. 94/100
Le Vignes Herbel La Pointe Chenin Blanc 2009 Loire, France
I love this wine. It takes a moment to get past the initial oxidative notes on the nose, but if you do you are rewarded with herbs, lemons, ripe apples and citrus. Amazing acidity with lovely precision, and a sense of alive-ness on the palate. This is a remarkable, textured, mineral wine. 94/100