Dear readers, I hope you don’t tire of my hyperbolic descriptors. ‘Remarkable’, ‘Sensational’, ‘Incredible’. I’m beginning to sound like a Daily Mail wine critic. After all, one route to success as a wine writer is to lavish everything you taste in effusive praise. The recipients of this praise, who usually don’t bother to check all other reviews by the praiseful reviewer, are flattered and very happy, and go on to promote the writer’s work. But it doesn’t serve the reader very well.
I try my best to save my praise for really good wines. And because only a fraction of the wines I taste make it onto this blog, I realize that it might appear as if I like everything a little too much. I don’t, it’s just I’d rather not bore you with mediocre wines. [Besides, I find it hard to say much about them.]
Here is a truly incredible wine. A wine with an amazing sense of place. It won’t be for everyone, but I was blown away by it. It’s from a vineyard in the Marsala region of Sicily just a couple of hundred feet from the seashore, made from vines planted in the dunes. 2012 was the first vintage. What’s remarkable is that this wine tastes of the sea, and I wrote my note before I’d done any research on it, so this wasn’t just the power of suggestion. There’s a nice report on a visit to this vineyard here.
Barraco Vignammare 2013 Sicily, Italy
The packaging looks cheap, but what is in the bottle is truly lovely. This is a wine made from a vineyard on the seashore, with Grillo vines planted in dunes, and no sulfur dioxide has been added. A pale yellow colour, this has a tangy, mineral, smoky, almost saline nose with a hint of iodine. The palate is fresh and textured with a lovely lemony core, some ripe apple and pear, and a really persistent salty, mineral quality anchoring all the flavours. It flirts with funkiness, but stays pure in the end with real complexity and layers of flavour. Profound. 95/100 (UK agent Tutto Wines)
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John Lambie, who was the manager of Scottish football club Partick Thistle, is credited with one of the most well known sporting quotes. On being informed by his medical team that the Thistle striker was concussed to the extent he couldn’t remember his own name, Lambie replied, ‘Tell him he’s Pele and get him back on.’ [For the benefit of readers who know nothing about football, Pele is the most famous player of all time.] It raises an interesting point: to what degree does our sense of identity, and how we see ourselves in relation to the world, affect our thinking, behaviour and performance?
Significantly, I think, because we understand the world around us in terms of stories.
We have an internal narrative – a set of stories about how the world around us works – and it is through the lens of this narrative that we interpret reality. This filtering of experience, and the process of fitting it into our own internal story framework, gives each of us a unique perspective on the world. To some degree we share our worldview with our friends and family, but many aspects of it are personal to us.
Of course, most of the time we don’t realize this. We consider our perspective to be indistinguishable from reality, and we are surprised when others see things quite differently. This is frequently the source of conflict in relationships. We interpret the motivation and actions of others through our own narrative. We also use confirmation bias to back up our own perspective. Very few people are good at stepping back from a situation and trying to see it from a perspective other than their own. And few realise quite how distorted their thinking is by their own narrative theme.
This is shown clearly when it comes to political discourse. In the UK, we’ll soon be in the run up to a general election, and the various parties will be outlining their policies and telling potential voters how badly wrong the other parties have got it. To those who have strong political allegiances, the discourse of their own party will usually make complete sense, and they will wonder how on earth anyone could fail to see that this is the way forward. There’s a self-consistent narrative that supporters of a party have bought into and have grown up with, and from that perspective it is very hard to understand the perspective of other parties. Each new fact and each new event is understood in terms of this narrative, and is slotted into place according to the underlying story of how the world works. Confirmation bias solidifies this worldview. This is why it is so hard to have a political discussion: all you get is a clash of narratives.
Religion is, of course, all about narratives. Interestingly, the notion of religious conversion illustrates the importance of stories. It’s possible to explain conversion as the change in perspective that comes from the retelling of stories. Someone who changes their way decides that their existing narrative isn’t working, or is unhelpful, and they swap it for another. Interestingly, the teachings of Jesus were often in the form of stories. It we are presented with facts, they present no danger to our internal narratives, because we are quite used to taking in facts after having fitted them into our own perspective. Stories, however, are more dangerous: as we listen to them, we are drawn in and we begin to see things from the perspective of others. Good stories have the power to change our narrative. It is through the taking in of stories that we are able to retell our own story from a fresh perspective, and suddenly change is possible. This is why the arts are so important. Information and facts don’t change people. Stories, and the arts more generally, do.
How does this relate to wine? We interpret and understand wine in light of our own narratives. The appreciation of wine isn’t just about what tastes good. What does it take to make a wine a ‘great’ wine or a ‘fine’ wine? The judgement of wine quality can only exist within the framework of an aesthetic system – a narrative that has built up recognizing certain features of the wine as desirable, and which also has things to say about where the wine came from and how it was produced.
So we find different narratives in the world of wine, which overlap to some extent, but which also differ significantly. And when these narratives clash, we have controversies. There’s the classic fine wine narrative, where great wines are produced in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Then we have the Robert Parker narrative: the English fine wine establishment were complacent and British writers were in bed with the trade, so along comes the consumer advocate with his easy to understand points system and fierce independence. He develops a strong following and with his taste for ripe, generous, big wines that resonates with his readers, suddenly we have a new fine wine narrative that clashes to a degree with the existing one. Then we have the constellation of biodynamic/authentic/natural wine narratives, where power is eschewed in favour of elegance, and where a strong part of the story surrounds how the wine is grown and made, with an emphasis on vineyard health and non-manipulation in the winery. In particular, the natural/authentic wine narrative has clashed significantly with the Robert Parker/US new fine wine narrative.
What all this reinforces is that we come to wine from our own perspective, and so the notion of rating or judging wine has to be seen with this taken into account. A rating cannot be a global, universal score that is a property of that wine. If you follow a critic, you need to chose one whose own narrative of wine is largely overlapping with yours. If we are to interpret wines, it is helpful for us to be aware that we are doing so in light of our own wine narrative. This is why stories are so important for the appreciation of wine. Wine needs words, said Hugh Johnson, and he was right. But even more than that, wine needs stories. It is these narratives that help us to understand wine, help us to fall in love with it, and help us progress in our journey through this most engaging and life-enhancing grape-derived alcoholic beverage.
These were very smart indeed. Jamie Kutch has a good story, and I reckon his 2013s are his best wines yet. My feeling is that they’re a bit more elegant and pure than previous releases (even though previous releases were pretty smart wines). I don’t know whether this is because of a stylistic evolution, or is a feature of the vintage – and, of course, it’s my own impression, which may be wrong. But I really enjoyed them. California is such an exciting place for Pinot Noir these days. UK availability: some of these will be in Roberson Wine.
Kutch Pinot Noir Sans Soufre 2013 Sonoma Coast, California
12.1% alcohol. An experimental wine without any added sulfites. Beautiful aromatics here: sweet red cherry fruit with some liqueur-like richness, and fine herby, spice savouriness in the background. Lovely texture on the palate with warm, sweet, pure red cherry fruit and a hint of strawberry. There are faint earthy hints and there’s a liveliness to the finish. This has an incredible texture and drinkability. 94/100
Kutch Pinot Noir 2013 Sonoma Coast, California
12.3% alcohol. Lovely black cherry aromatics. Fresh and quite taut with sweet berry notes and a bit of spiciness. The palate is supple, smooth and quite elegant with ripe black cherry and plum fruit, together with some grippy structure under the fruit. Sweet and alluring with nice freshness and elegance. Lovely. 94/100
Kutch McDougal Ranch Pinot Noir 2013 Sonoma Coast, California
12.3% alcohol. Power and finesse here. Fresh black cherry nose with some spicy undertones. The palate is supple and focused with sweet black cherry and plum fruit and lovely structure. Nice density. This has the stuffing to age well. 94/100
Kutch Bohan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 Sonoma Coast, California
12.3% alcohol. Very sweet, enticint, textured creamy red cherry and berry fruits nose with some distinct green notes. Fresh and slightly sappy. Really distinctive with creamy sweet red cherry fruit dominant and some subtle green notes that are trying hard to integrate. On day 2, however, it’s a different story, with lovely floral notes emerging, and the wine showing a more delicate personality. Very pretty. 94/100
Kutch Falstaff Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 Sonoma Coast, California
12.1% alcohol. Fresh, juicy and bright with lovely texture to the raspberry and cherry fruit. Real freshness evident. Ripe, with sweet fruit, but showing lovely poise and balance. Really stylish and balanced with incredible focus, good acidity, but no hint of harshness. An elegant, focused style of Pinot Noir showing lovely floral aromatics and fine grained, expressive red cherry fruit. 95/100
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Bordeaux is the world’s most famous wine region.
But it’s one that is losing the hearts of many of the new generation of wine nuts. They’re alienated by the prices, by the pretension (big-ass Chateaux and winemakers wearing suits working in impossibly grand cellars with spotless barrels), and by the somewhat old-fashioned image. But we shouldn’t give up on Bordeaux, because it is capable of greatness. It has some amazing terroirs.
In my view, it’s such a shame that so many of these great terroirs aren’t being used to their potential, but that’s true in all wine regions worldwide. Bordeaux has got so many things right – perhaps most importantly the simplicity of its offer to consumers, with one Grand Vin per Chateaux, and producing this wine in sufficient quantities that normal people can get hold of it – that I remain a Bordeaux fan. It’s a region that has given me a lot of great wine experiences, even though it does drive me to despair sometimes.
Enough preamble. Time for notes on two wines recently consumed, one perhaps a little to ripe and modern, and the other from an estate that’s making very fine wines without perhaps getting all the recognition it deserves.
Chateaux Latour-Martillac 2010 Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
14% alcohol. Very ripe, sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Slightly baked. Sweet, rich, textured palate with smooth, lush fruit and some cakey, baked notes. Attractive and smooth but with a bit of over-ripeness, and ever so slightly oxidative. It’s OK, but I’d drink this now. 87/100 (£30 Tesco, BBR)
Chateau Petit-Village 2012 Pomerol, Bordeaux
13.5% alcohol. Lovely freshness here to the berry and red cherry fruit with some gravelly grip and a hint of tar. Fresh and elegant but also youthful and structured, hinting at a promising future, with a taut, primary character. Needs time to open out, but it’s a lovely Burgundian-styled Bordeaux of real potential. 92/100
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McCulloch Wines is the venture of Englishman Don McCulloch and his Serbian-born wife Seka Nikolic. McCulloch was previously a special protection police officer for the Royal Family (he retired after completing 30 years’ service in 2009), while Nikolic has a natural-health practice in Hampstead, London (she describes herself as a ‘bio-health practitioner with exceptional healing powers’). They decided to plant 3.5 hectares, purchased in small parcels, in the Fruška Gora region, which is just north of Belgrade. This region has a history of winegrowing dating back to 296 AD. These vines are tended biodynamically and this 2011 Coupage is the debut vintage of the flagship McC wine.
It’s a Bordeaux-style blend made from two separate co-ferments of Merlot and Malbec, and Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon that’s aged in Serbian oak barriques for 12 months. I was really impressed. Other wines are made, too: in addition to the Bordeaux red varieties, McCulloch has also planted Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
Coupage is available for sale directly from the website for £20 a bottle. It’s very encouraging to see such an interesting wine emerge from Serbia, a country that has lots of viticultural potential.
McC Vino Coupage 2011 Serbia
13.5% alcohol. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s a leathery, herby, spicy edge to the berry fruits nose, with some savoury cedar notes. The palate is spicy and grippy with a leathery character under the sweet cherry and berry fruits, as well as a fine spiciness. Lovely balance and texture here, combining sweet fruit and savoury spiciness really well. Subtle reductive notes but also lovely fruit. 90/100
He’s the total star of Sancerre. François Cotat (note, there’s a relation, cousin Pascal Cotat, and the wines of the two shouldn’t be confused) is one of the Loire’s most revered producers. Based in Chavignol, he has just three hectares, of which 0.5 ha is Pinot Noir. The Sauvignon is picked quite late, and then barrel fermented in old demi muids with natural yeasts. The wines need time to show their best, and can age beautifully. I tried these two wines, including the rare Cuvée Paul, at The Sampler (South Kensington). Quite stunning.
If you want some more colour on Cotat, then here’s a great blog post by Aaron Ayscough on a visit he made.
François Cotat Cuvée Paul 2007 Sancerre, France
Lovely nose: grapefruit with a hint of green pepper and elderflower. Really fresh and vivid. Bright, pure, fresh palate with some green notes but also some chalky texture and ripe, rich passionfruit notes. A distinctive, remarkable Sauvignon of real beauty. 95/100
François Cotat Les Montes Damnés 2012 Sancerre, France
Textured and broad. Slightly nutty with smooth, ripe pear and citrus fruit. Lively despite the breadth, with some chalky, mineral notes alongside the supple fruit. Beautiful, harmonious and elegant, finishing fresh. 93/100
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Pinot Noir? From Portugal?
With so many of its own grape varieties to focus on, you’d think Portugal has little to gain from trying to make Pinot Noir. But why not? If the climate and soils are there for making serious Pinot, it’s worth a go. Pinot rocks, after all. It’s especially worth a go if you are from the Lisboa region, which doesn’t have the cachet of some of the other regions, and consequently makes it difficult for producers to get noticed, even if they have great terroirs.
I have written about the previous vintage of this wine here. The 2011 is even better.
Quinta de Sant’Ana Pinot Noir 2011 Portugal
14% alcohol. 4900 bottles made. Lifted nose with aromatic herbs, spices and black cherries, as well as a hint of cedar and some tobacco notes. The palate is supple and elegant with ripe black cherries, herbs, tobacco and spice. The warm herbal spiciness works very well with the supple black cherry fruit. Just a little volatile acidity, but it adds nicely to the overall impression. An autumnal Pinot that works so well. 92/100
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This is one of the UK’s best sparkling wines yet, I reckon. It’s a newly released vintage bottling from Coates & Seely, and is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir/40% Pinot Meunier grown on Hampshire chalk. This vintage wine was subsequently aged for four years sur latte before disgorgement in March 2014. Christian Seely has this to say about it:
Although most of the Coates and Seely wines are blends from several years, with significant stocks of wine being laid down each year as reserve wines for future blends, we decided that from time to time we would set aside small amounts of exceptional wine to be bottled as Vintage Coates and Seely, to age sur latte for a minimum of three years, or more if we felt that the wine demanded it. In this case the exceptional character of the wine seemed to merit four years ageing sur latte.
Following disgorgement earlier this year, we believe that La Perfide is now ready for release. We in fact chose the name of this cuvee back in 2009 when we made the wine, and have been longing to use it ever since then. It is of course inspired by the traditional French perception of England as “La Perfide Albion”. Although the notion of our perfidy does have certain negative connotations and is clearly based on a misapprehension, we have decided to embrace this idea in a positive way, on the basis that the mutual mudslinging between French and English is always mingled with a certain amount of respect and affection, and a term that might have been intended as an insult can quite easily be considered to be in fact a backhanded compliment and a sign of respect.
Coates & Seely Britagne Rosé La Perfide 2009 Hampshire, England
12% alcohol. Salmon pink colour. Lovely perfumed nose with a sappy cherry quality, subtle herbiness and appealing fruit, as well as some faint toast. The palate fresh, rounded and generous with toast, spice and leafy cherry notes. Real finesse here. 93/100
Laurent Calmel and Jérôme Joseph are negociants working in the Languedoc-Roussillon. They work with 20 different producer partners and make around 450 000 bottles each year, the vast majority of which are destined for export markets. The company as it is now was formed when oenologist Calmel joined Joseph, who had up to this point been selling the wines from private domains in the region, back in 2007.
But unlike many negociants, who search for, blend and buy finished wines, Calmel & Joseph get involved in the vineyard, and then do their own vinifications in the partner cellars. They like to work with sustainably or organically managed vineyards and take a low intervention approach in the cellar.
Their aim is to make wines that are representative of the best Languedoc-Roussillon terroirs, and they are particularly interested in cooler microclimates in this large, mainly warm region. They make a rather confusing five tiers of wines: les Terroirs, les Crus, les Cuvées Rares, Villa Blanche and les Languedoc.
I tried three of their wines. They were pretty good, made in quite a modern, sleek style. They’re available in the UK from Daniel Lambert Wines, and should be priced at around £10 each.
Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche Pinot Noir 2013 IGP Pays d’Oc, France
13% alcohol. Fresh, bright and juicy with red cherries, herbs and a light body. Seems to have some carbonic maceration character. Pure and supple in a Beaujolais style. 87/100
Calmel & Joseph Corbières Les Terroirs 2011 Languedoc, France
14% alcohol. Syrah, Grenache and a hint of Cinsault. Peppery, slightly reductive cherry and berry fruits nose, with some herbs and spice. The palate is juicy and bright with vivid black fruits. Ripe and dense with some reductive characters, smoky notes, herbs and leather. 88/100
Calmel & Joseph Vieux Carignan Les Terroirs 2011 Vin de Pays Côtes de Brian, France
14.5% alcohol. 100 year old Carignan. Ripe, sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit nose with some herby liqueur-like notes. Hints of smoke and rubber. Sweet, pure, textured palate with ripe black fruits. Ripe, smooth and sweet, but has some definition. 89/100
Jane Eyre is an Australian winemaker who first did vintage in Burgundy back in 1998 as a bit of work experience.
It’s an interesting story. She was working as a hairdresser, and one of her clients was the wife of Aussie wine critic Jeremy Oliver, which opened the door for her to go to work in Burgundy. When she got back she met wine merchant Philip Rich and got a job at his Prince Wine Store. She started doing vintages at various wineries in Australia, New Zealand and Burgundy. Eventually she decided to move to Burgundy, which she did in 2004, and where she now works as a winemaker at Domaine Newman, as well as running her own micro-negociant operation (since 2011, she shares a winery with Dominique Lafon).
These are two of her Burgundy wines, and they’re impressive.
Jane Eyre Gevrey Chambertin 2012 Burgundy, France
Fresh black cherries and spice with savoury hints of herbs and tar. Sweet and herbal with some savouriness. Quite tight and youthful with a hint of cola, some tannic grip and a touch of rhubarb, as well as cherries, plums and cinnamon. Very savoury but it has some elegance and opens up nicely after a few hours. 92/100
Jane Eyre Sauvigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru 2012 Burgundy, France
Fresh red cherries and spice with some herbiness. Quite tight with a savoury, mineral, herby edge and nice grippy structure. Closed and taut on opening, but after a while subtle red fruits emerge along with tea, spice and minerals. Balanced and complex with a strong savoury streak. Attractive, elegant and distinctive. 92/100
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