Loire adventure: Nicolas and Virginie Joly, Coulée de Serrant, Savennières

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La Coulée de Serrant (Chateau de la Roche aux Moines) is a domaine with a narrow focus. It’s just whites. Just Chenin Blanc. Just dry wines. But it is this narrow focus that has contributed to its fame. These are distinctive wines from a distinctive terroir, and they are not without controversy. Some regard this as one of the top domaines in the Loire; others think that in some cases the winemaking obscures the terroir.

We’re in Savennières, here, a small appellation of just 150 hectares, but a famous one. We’re out of range of the limestone that is a common theme in many parts of the Loire, and are entering the territory of schist, granite, sandstone and even sand. The soils can be quite complex.

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Proprietor Nicolas Joly has become famous as much for his advocacy of biodynamics, as he has for his wines. He did the first trial hectare with biodynamics in 1980, then converted the whole estate in 1981, and then certified with Demeter in 1984. Soils here are mainly slate, and the Coulée has very thin topsoils of just 10-15 cm, while it’s a bit deeper in Roche aux Moines at 60-70 cm and for the Savennières vineyards it’s a metre and a half, with a mix of sand and clay.

‘When my father took over the estate there had only been a couple of years of pesticides or weedkillers,’ says Virginie Joly, who now pretty much runs things,  acknowledging that her father had actually bought them. ‘The soil was still there and had some strength. Now, after 20 years of chemical industry, it would be much harder to convert.’

Some signs of frost damage here in the April 2017 frosts

Some signs of frost damage here in the April 2017 frosts

There’s not much winemaking here, says Virginie Joly, daughter of Nicolas and the current winemaker. She harvests different parcels at different times, and then presses the grapes. Depending on whether or not there is botrytis she might or might not add a bit of sulfur dioxide at this stage. There are two pneumatic presses so that this isn’t a bottleneck in the process, and the juice goes straight from the press into barrel, which are 500 litres in size. These are bought new, but renewed very slowly, and the last time Coulee de Serrant bought a barrel was in 2001. Fermentation takes place, and then there is one racking just before filtration.

It’s at this point that Nicolas Joly comes in and takes over from his daughter. ‘The idea is not to do anything in the cellar if you are able to do deep farming. From spring to fall you mover from a tiny bud to several tons of matter per hectare, every year. If you take the water away, it is dry matter. 94% of that is photosynthesis. When you start to understand that in depth you realise that the earth doesn’t possess life. We receive life because we are a member of the solar system. If we were isolated from this, everything would die. There is a system that converts buds into grapes. How can we use this system?’

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He continues, ‘this is called biodynamie. It is a mobile phone: you can talk to someone 10 km away through a wavelength. The information of life: cosmic wavelengths are reaching all the earth. We connect to what we need. By filling the solar system with all these wavelengths – there are billions of wavelengths – we are weakening the system that provides life on earth. This is a forbidden topic because there are huge economic interests.’ Joly maintains that communication satellites are disrupting the organization of the atmosphere.

‘People my generation started biodynamic for the truthfulness of the taste,’ says Joly. ‘Now it is the safety of the taste: you don’t want to poison yourself.’ He referred to a €450 Pomerol that was found to contain 22 dangerous molecules in it.

‘If you are in decent biodynamie and you don’t shoot for huge yields, you should have nothing to do in your cellar,’ he says. ‘The idea of controlling your cellar is absurd.’

Joly has quite a bit to say about natural wine, and the use of sulfur dioxide. He’s actually a fan of the right sort of sulfur dioxide, but he thinks the source makes a big difference. He likes to use natural, volcanic sulfur dioxide and he prepares it by burning sulfur. ‘You need to convert it by a process of fire: sulfur is fire.’ It should never be added as a liquid. ‘For me SO2 is by far the best protection when you ship a wine far away.’ But he adds, ‘it is best if you use it directly from a flame.’

‘Who made an enemy of sulfur and copper?’ he asks. ‘It is the chemical industry. Copper is not an enemy of the soil up to 2 kg/hectare/year. We need it in the soil.’

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‘For natural wine, you can do what you want,’ says Joly. ‘There is no legal commitment. The consumer once more is fooled. The greatest creation we have in the wine business is the notion of appellation contrôlée. You have the climate taken by the leaves, the soil taken by the roots. How much of this creation is valid today? Nothing. You have herbicides that within 3-5 years totally destroy the microorganisms in the soils. Without microorganisms, a root cannot feed itself on the soil. This is the work of Claude Bourguignon. If you have to feed the vines, you have lost 50% of the appellation. People even try chemical fertilizer on the leaves. Take a teaspoon of salt and swallow it. You will be more thirsty, so you drink.’

‘In our society disease is presented as an enemy you should fight. How do you fight disease? People invented synthetic molecules that didn’t go inside the sap, and most cooks would wash vegetables. Then they created systemics: the dangerous molecules that go inside the sap. You poison the sap which is the system that catches the climate.’

‘Then there is technology in the cellar. If you took it away two thirds of the wine world would go bust. It leads to perfect, boring taste without charm. 85-90% of the wine world sees this as a reference, but this is changing. Many people on the appellation contrôlée committees see technological wine as a reference, which devalues the appellation.’

clos de la coulee de serrant

THE WINES 

Le Vieux Clos 2015 Savennières, Loire, France
Appley and oxidative with some citrus and pear. Very rounded and quite oxidative, but with lovely balance and openness. 91/100

Clos de la Bergerie 2015 Savennières Roche Aux Moines, Loire, France
There’s a tight citrus mineral core to this wine with lovely pear, spice and subtle honey and toast. Nice linear style with good concentration. Fine, dry and expressive. 93/100

Clos de Coulée de Serrant 2015 Savennières-Coulée de Serrant, Loire, France
Lively and fresh with tight citrus fruit and some pear richness. Very mineral with lovely precision. Detailed and mineral and precise with fine spiciness. Has richness but also focus. Very expressive. 94/100

Clos de Coulée de Serrant 2007 Savennières-Coulée de Serrant, Loire, France
Mineral, honeyed nose with some spice, pear and melon. The palate is linear and rounded at the same time with honey and spice notes. Broad and fine with apple, yellow plum and spicy notes. Such a textural wine. 95/100

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Some thoughts on Prosecco

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Prosecco is one of the wine world’s success stories. I’m drinking one now. It’s the Bella Covina Prosecco from Tesco, which is as cheap as Prosecco gets at £5.85.

Is it bad? No.

Is it good quality? Well, quality is judged by fitness for purpose, and for most people drinking Prosecco, including the company I’m with, it is fit for purpose. It’s fruity, has bubbles, and it’s quite tasty. I don’t have anything to say about it, really.

It isn’t complex or memorable, but it doesn’t need to be. If I try to assess this the way I would a fine wine, then I’m missing the point.

Prosecco has got the brand proposition right. It sells well, it is in demand, it is consistent, and everyone seems to like it.

What Prosecco has to avoid is confusing this wonderfully clear brand proposition by trying to be what most people don’t think Prosecco is: a fine wine. The idea of making single-vineyard Prosecco, or icon Prosecco, or Prosecco that comes from top quality, low yielding vineyards with interesting soils is quite bonkers. BY all means aspire to make interesting, characterful wine with a sense of place, but then you are making it for a different segment of the market, and to call it Prosecco would be confusing things.

One argument for a high-end Prosecco is that it could have a star-dust effect, changing peoples’ image of Prosecco and raising the price of all Prosecco as it becomes aspirational. But this would also be problematic. Prosecco works at the price point it inhabits: it is affordable enough that people can drink it every day, but it’s expensive enough that producers make some money out of it. It is sustainable. Make it more expensive, and you have to find a new consumer segment. That’s tricky.

The challenge for Prosecco is the same for all wines in this segment. Don’t get caught up in the race to the bottom. Supermarkets are driving prices ever lower and then producers have to cut corners and the product quality is hit. Then brands become devalued and everyone loses.

A remarkable Albariño from Eulogio Pomares

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This, I reckon, is the best example of the Albariño grape I’ve encountered.

Eulogio Pomares Parcelarios (I) Carralcoba Albariño 2015 Rias Baixas, Spain
12.5% alcohol. This beautifully packaged wine was fermented and aged in chestnut foudres of 1200 litres, and it’s quite thrilling. The grapes come from seventy year old vines in Castrelo-Cambados. This is brilliantly complex with some apple, lemon and pear notes on the nose, and a really taut, lemony palate with lovely texture as well as well integrated, bracing acidity, and a crystalline quality to the fruit. It flirts with oxidative characters, but manages them beautifully, and it’s just so long and mineral in the mouth. A profound example of Albariño. Stunning. 96/100 (UK agent Indigo Wines)

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Quinta do Vale D Maria, one of the Douro's best Quintas, is sold by Cristiano van Zeller

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Sad to learn that Quinta do Vale D Maria, one of the Douro’s top quintas, has been sold by Cristiano van Zeller to the Guedes family of Aveleda Vinhos, one of the leading producers in Vinho Verde. Fortunately, Cristiano already has a good relationship with the Guedes (they have family ties) and he and his daughter Francisca will stay on: there’s every reason to believe that the Quinta will carry on making excellent wines. But the sale was forced by financial reasons.

This is the second recent Douro acquisition by Aveleda, who bought Seis Quintas in the Douro Superior last year. With the 45 hectares of vines from Vale D Maria and the 42 hectares of Seis Quintas, Avelada will now have a significant presence in the Douro. They already have a 21 hectare estate in Bairrada (Quinta d’Agueira), in addition to their 300 hectares in Vinho Verde, where their key brand is the ubiquitous Casal Garcia. They plan to expand further to 650 hectares in Vinho Verde by 2020, which is more than double their existing holdings.

Cristiano van Zeller

Cristiano van Zeller

From 1973 to 1996 Vale D Maria was leased to port producer Graham’s. Cristiano acquired the estate from his wife’s family in 1996 after the sale of his family property Quinta do Noval to AXA. The debut vintage, 1996, was released in very small quantities (some made it to Oddbins in the UK, which is where I first came across it), and gradually the vineyards were restored and expanded, and production increased. Currently Cristiano makes a wide range of wines: Rufo, VVV Valleys, Quinta Vale D. Maria, Vinha da Francisca, Vinha do Rio, Vinha do Moinho and CV, as well as a range of Ports.

 

Neil Ellis Op Sy Moer 2016, a distinctive white bottled with fine lees

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Warren Ellis, son of Neil, showed me this wine on a recent trip to South Africa. It’s a blend of Palomino from Piekeneerskloof (450 m, Table Mountain sandstone soils), with a touch of Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc. All old vines. The interesting thing about this wine is the lees contact: it’s even bottled with some fine lees, to help keep freshness and add some character.

15% of the grapes were fermented on skins for four months before pressing, while the rest were pressed to barrel directly and fermented. No cultured yeasts were used, and there were no additives at all, even sulfur dioxide. The wine was racked from its gross lees, but bottled with fine lees. (Op Sy Moer translates as “sur lie” or “on the lees”.)

Neil Ellis Op Sy Moer 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
Complex and sweetly fruited with some spiciness. Notes of herbs, lemons and yeasts. Tangy with good acidity. Initially tastes a little sweet, but this is bone dry on the finish with some grip. Lemony, tangy and spicy with nice intensity, and notes of orange peel, mandarins and sipe apples. Such a delicious, innovative and unusual wine. 93/100

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Video: the 2017 i4C in Niagara, Canada, celebrating Chardonnay in style

A short film from this year’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, in Niagara, Canada. See www.coolchardonnay.org.


Lagar de Cervera 2016, a classic Albariño

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Lagar de Cervera is owned by La Rioja Alta. Back in the 1980s they realized that their white Riojas weren’t the best ever wines, and began searching for a companion white wine winery in Rias Baixas. In 1988 they acquired the Fernández Cervera Hermanos winery, changing the name to Lagar de Fornelos. But they kept the existing brand name of Lagar de Cervera. The vineyards were expanded to 65 hectares (the largest Albariño vineyard in Spain, and probably the world), and a new winery was built. The result is a very impressive wine with purity and balance, and which captures the qualities of Albariño really well.

Lagar de Cervera Albariño 2016 Rías Baixas, Spain
12.5% alcohol. This is so pure, pretty and bright. It has a lively citrus core (lemons and tangerines) with a hint of tropical fruit (passionfruit and pineapple), but never so much that it intrudes on the freshness. The acidity is quite lively, and it combines on the finish with a mouthwatering saline character. This is pure and very treble heavy, with lots of vitality yet no lack of flavour. Benchmark Albariño. 90/100 (£14.45 Tanners, Armit)

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Prophet's Rock Pinot Noir Cuvée Aux Antipodes 2015, a brilliant New Zealand/Burgundy collaboration

Francois Millet and Paul Pujol

Francois Millet and Paul Pujol

Back in February, I had a chance to try this collaboration between Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock and François Millet of Comte de Vogüé in Burgundy when I was sitting next to Francois at the Mornington Peninsula Pinot Celebration. I didn’t get to take a note, so I was glad to be able to try it at lunch at the first day of the International Pinot Noir Celebraton in Oregon. When they decided that they’d make a Central Otago wine together, Paul went shopping and bought the same equipment from Burgundy that Francois has in his cellar. ‘It was important that he should get to make the wine with his stuff,’ says Paul. François made one ferment, which results in 300 cases of this debut wine. He likes to rack old-school style from the head of the barrel, transferring the wine from case to case with a hand pump. This allows him to transfer just the fine lees.

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Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir Cuvée Aux Antipodes 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
This beautiful wine is a collaboration between Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock and François Millet of Comte de Vogue in Burgundy. Finely aromatic with lovely sappy, vital, fresh cherry fruit. There’s more red fruit than black, and also a nice touch of green. Finely spiced and structured on the palate with good acidity. Juicy, linear and pure with amazing precision and focus. There’s beauty and precision to this wine with lovely green hints. Ethereal. 96/100

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Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Les Princes Abbés 2009 Alsace

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Schlumberger are a major producer based in Guebwiller in the south of the Alsace wine region. They have a sizeable vineyard holding: Guebwiller is the only village in Alsace with four Grands Crus, and of their 140 hectares of vines, half are Grand Cru.

This wine, the 2009 vintage of Prince Abbés, has aged really well. It’s not their most expensive wine, but it delivers, and offers good value for money. It is amazing how well this wine has developed, considering that 2009 was a very ripe, forward vintage.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Les Princes Abbés 2009 Alsace
13.5% alcohol. This is off-dry (24 g/l residual sugar), with ripe, sweet lychee, pear and grape characters, but it has also aged beautifully and is still quite pure. Richly textured with some spicy phenolic underpinnings keeping the sweet lush fruit honest. It’s a really interesting, bold, broad, textural wine. Great balance. 91/100 (Current vintage is £15 at Majestic)

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza 2008

la rioja alta vina ardanza

I was impressed by this classically styled Rioja from La Rioja Alta. In a good vintage, like 2008, Viña Ardanza is a bit of a steal. It’s available from The Wine Society and Majestic for £22, which for this quality is really good value. You can cellar this and enjoy it any time over the next couple of decades, with its combination of tannin, acid and fruit that has been mellowed with three years in barrel.

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva 2008 Rioja, Spain
13.5% alcohol. It’s 75 years since this wine was first made (1942 was the debut vintage), and the 2008 is a very nice wine in a traditional style, and along with the amazing 2001 promises to be one of the great vintages of this wine. It has a substantial dollop (20%) of Garnacha, which this year, for the first time, comes from the company’s own vineyards. There’s a lovely mix of raspberry, plum and red cherry fruit together with savoury notes of cedar, spice and tar. The palate is delicately weighted, with good acidity and appropriate concentration, with all the elements working in harmony. There’s some structure that suggests that this will age effortlessly over the next couple of decades, but it’s already delivering quite a bit of complexity and pleasure. 94/100

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