José Vouillamoz on grape varieties, at MUST 2017

jose vouillamoz

It was great to hear José Vouillamoz present at MUST. He’s a plant scientist with a special interest in grape varieties, and this was the subject of his talk. He began with the news that soon there will be a new edition of Wine Grapes, the reference book he authored together with Julia Harding and Jancis Robinson. This is because since the publication of the first edition, so much more knowledge has come to light.

José posed the important question: what is a grape variety? Each variety starts with a single grape pip that grows into a plant. In the past, when vineyards were planted en foule (not in tidy rows, but each vine individually staked in a random, close-planted arrangement) then it was possible for grape seeds to produce the occasional new vine. First, the seed would need to be eaten by a bird (a passage through a bird’s gut enhances its chance of germinating), then it would need to fall somewhere in the vineyard, and it would have to be allowed to grow and not be cleared out. The wine grower then has to notice the new variety and propagate it through cuttings or layering (both methods are 3-4000 years old).

This propogation is called cloning. The vines are genetically identice. But each time the plant grows you have cell division and the process of multiplication can cause mutations. Most of these are accidents in the DNA and have no visual effect, but some might have spectacular effects such as changing cluster size or colour. These mutations don’t result in new varieties (a new variety can only come from a seed), but new clones. The definition of ‘clone’ is subjective: it’s just when a wine grower decides that a particular vine has desirable features and chooses to clone from it. The more ancient a variety, the more diverse it is in clones. So the fact that there are lots of Pinot Noir clones doesn’t mean that Pinot is genetically unstable, just that it is an old variety.

To have a new variety, you need a father and a mother: every grape variety has parents. It seems simple but it isn’t always. Pinot Noir, Gris and Blanc are all the same variety that has undergone colour mutations. Pinot Noir is the original, and has mutated to become Gris and Blanc. For example, you sometimes see Pinot Noir clusters on one branch and Pinot Blanc clusters on another branch of the same vine. Savagnin, also known as Traminer, is  very similar in this regard. There’s Traminer Blanc, Traminer Rot (Savagnin Rose) and Gewürztraminer (Savagnin Rose Aromatique).

Not everyone agrees with this. ‘I’m struggling with colleagues to show them that I am right and they are wrong,’ jokes José, but his definition is the sensible one, although it’s hard for us not to think of the three Pinots as different varieties. He showed that you get similar mutations in Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, and presumably other red grapes,

José is frustrated by some Italian professors who talk about ‘polyclonal’ varieties, such as Sangiovese. ‘You can’t have one variety coming from different seeds. There are no polyclonal varieties. If you multiply any grape by seeds you get a different variety. Most of the time this is the result of self-fertilization, and it produces a different variety,’ he explains. In Italy in some vineyards they have Sangiovese grown from seed and call it Sangiovese. It’s not: it’s a different variety.

José has done lots of work with DNA analysis to construct family trees of related varieties. He’s found that contrary to what was expected, there are relatively few origins of many of the varieties we know. He came up the concept of founder varieties such as Gouais Blanc, Savagnin and Pinot, each of which gave rise to many different varieties, and has identified 13 of these founders in western Europe. He’s also found them in Georgia and Greece.

Kym Andersen has compiled a list of the world’s Top 35 varieties, and the top 10 come from just 3 countries: Spain, France and Italy. José thinks it is odd that the world is relying on the ampelographic heritage of three countries.

One of his interests is in identifying the missing links: obscure varieties that have almost been forgotten. In the 19th century the diseases powdery and downy mildew, plus phylloxera created a viticultural bottleneck. While there is no evidence that varieties were lost, lots of varieties were forgotten as widescale replanting with grafted vines took place. Many times, people would just choose the easiest varieties,

He then went on to describe some of the obscure varieties that actually played important roles in the viticultural family tree. Chardonnay is a natural crossing of Pinot and Gouais blanc. Gouais Blanc is an important founder variety that was actually banned a number of times (it has very high acidity), yet it is the parent of Chardonnay.

Merlot is a cross between Cabernet Franc and a rare variety called Magdaleine Noire des Charentes. There are just five old vines of Magdaleine left in France. For a long time its role as a parent of Merlot was unknown.

What about Sangiovese? Its parentage was a mystery for a long time. People thought it was either a child of Ciliegiolo or a parent of Ciliegiolo. José found that Ciliegiolo was actually one of its parents, and then went looking for the other one. It turns out to be Calabrese de Montenuova, an obscure variety that was rescued in the gulf of Naples from the bank of Lago d’Averno. So for the Tuscans, it was a big shock to find out that their beloved Sangiovese was half Calabrian.

Tribidrag, also known as Zinfandel, was introduced to California in the 1820s. It is not American in origin, and its real identity was revealed through work by Carole Meredith and coleagues, who carried out what has been dubbed the ‘Zinquest’. They knew that Primitivo was the same variety, but that its origins weren’t Italian. Eventually they found out that its origin is in Croatia. In 2001 they found a grape called Crljenak Kastelanski, which was identical to Tribidrag.

Carmenere from Bordeaux was confused with Merlot in Chile until 1994. When this was discovered, the Chileans decided to keep it, and are now proud to be the country where this grape has survived. It turns out that it’s the same variety as the Chinese Cabernet Gernischt.

There were just 27 hectares left in France but there are 7000 ha in chile and more than 1000 in China.

Cot is a grape from Cahors, known also as Noir de Pressac or Malbeck (which was the name of doctor who propagated it). It was introduced into argentina in 1868 and they forgot the ‘k’, making it Malbec. There are 1000 hectares in France, but 26 000 in Argentina.

José finished by making his guess as to which varieties will be the new stars of the future, but which are currently obscure. He says that this is largely wishful thinking.

Italy has 377 varieties commercially to make wine.

  • Timorasso 20 ha currently – Piemonte white variety very aromatic, not easy to grow but many producers replanting this. The new star.
  • Mammolo 147 ha – Tuscany – grown in Corsica too. Much fruit, soft tannins
  • Nieddera 60 ha – Sardinia – has structure and nice body and has been rescued by Contini
  • Teroldego 839 ha – Trentino – lots of colour and fruit, very alpine. Fresh with bitterness. Grows pergola or gobelet. See Foradori for good examples.


  • Douce Noir 2 ha – Savoie. Used to be the most widespread variety in the region. In Argentina they have more than 18 600 ha of this, which they call Bonarda.
  • Counoise 443 ha – South of France, and one of the permitted varieties in Chateauneuf – brings spices – soft and aromatic
  • Tibouren 445 ha- Provence, mostly rose wines but excellent reds, such as Clos Sibon. Wines with personality, structure and fruity aromas.


  • Graciano 1468 ha – ‘I’d like to see more of this,’ says José. ‘I love these wines in Sardinia.’ Tinta Miuda in Portugal
  • Garro 2 ha – part of the Torres rescue program in Catalonia. Very promising.
  • Gorgollasa  4 ha Majorca


  • Alvarelhao 67 ha – from the Minho
  • Rabigato 2452 ha –  Douro
  • Alfrocheiro 1492 – Dão, Lisboa
  • Jampal 106 ha – Lisboa


  • Limniona 10 ha
  • Chidiriotiko 60 ha – the pinot of Greece from lesbos
  • Kydonista 10 ha

Switzerland has 39 varieties and 15 000 hectares

  • Arvine 173 ha
  • Rouge du Pays/Cornalin 135 ha


  • Lasina 10 ha – light red with soft tannins
  • Svrdlovina Crna 1 ha just one producer, everyone amazed by this wine at a recent conference


  • Ezerjo (1665 ha)
  • Fekete Jardovany (2 ha)

Claims to have 525 varieties but José says they aren’t all different

  • Kisi  – 50 ha
  • Shavkapito – 10 ha


  • Emir 92 ha – light-bodied white
  • Bogazkere


  • Sankt Laurent 795 ha – a child of Pinot
  • Zierfandlen


  • Voskeat – white
  • Areni  – ‘for me one of the best varieties of the world, Armenia’s Nebbiolo’


Felicity Carter on the importance of wine tourism, at MUST

Felicity Carter Wine Tourism

Continuing with the MUST fermenting ideas summit, I was impressed by Felicity Carter’s talk on the importance of wine tourism.

‘Journalists love catastrophes of all kinds,’ began Felicity, before outlining why she thinks the wine industry could be facing catastrophe if it doesn’t embrace wine tourism.

‘I’m going to start off with the worst wine tour in the world,’ she continued. ‘I took myself off on a tour of Australia. I can’t drive so my friends had to drive me.’ But by the time Felicity got to Tasmania she’d run out of friends, and so she looked up the internet and arranged a bus tour of the wineries with a guy called Mike and a handful of other people. ‘We visited the Tamar Valley. Tasmania is one of Australia’s coolest climate regions, and makes some of Australia’s best Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines so I was excited.’

She says that Mike chose six wineries very well, with good mix of large and small, they got a nice lunch and all this was just A$100. She thought it had been a great success. ‘I ended up staying in a hotel in Launceston, and everyone I was with in the tour was in the same hotel.’ Over dinner they discussed the tour and she was surprised to find that no one else had liked it at all. ‘They hated it so much they will never drink Tasmanian wine again!’

Why did they hate it? It was because everyone was being treated like a wine geek. It was the equivalent of going to an art gallery and being shown lots of pantone colours. ‘For most people without training it’s extremely difficult,’ she says. Also, we are taught from childhood that spitting is disgusting, so no one had the social comfort to spit and they were uncomfortable drinking so much. The cellar door staff had been trying to sell them wine, too. The result of all this is that everyone ended up hostile to wine tours, the region and the wines.

This is wine tourism done badly, then. But Felicity thinks that good wine tourism is going to grow in importance. ‘It is so important,’ she says. ‘It is integral to the future health of the wine industry.’

Wine tourism is a subset of experiential tourism. Most people aren’t wine geeks and they embed the wine in a larger context, which is usually gastronomy tourism, which is growing. ‘They don’t want to be treated like future wine geeks,’ says Felicity.

Experiential tourism has been boosted by cheap air fares and AirBnB, and research says that people are happier spending money on experiences rather than buying things. There’s been a rise in food culture, a quest for authenticity and the ‘TED-ification of tourism’ – people wanting to learn from their travel.

Tourism is important because according to Felicity there are some freight trucks headed for the wine industry. They are ‘very troubling trends.’

First, demographics are a worry. Consumption fallen off a cliff in traditional wine producing countries and people are producing wine they are not drinking. The result is that there’s been an emphasis on exporting to major markets such as the USA, Germany, UK, The Netherlands and China.

‘Everyone is relying on millennials to pick up the slack,’ she says. At the moment babyboomers are driving things. ‘Anyone who bought flat or house in major cities in 1970s or 1980s is now a millionaire,’ states Felicity. ‘The millennials don’t have that. Boomers have better pensions and assets.’ Millennials are much more frugal, and according to Rob McMillan, once the babyboomers are gone there will be a big dip in wine consumption.

Another freight truck is private or own label wine. ‘Private label is a terrible threat to wine,’ Felicity says, citing UK-supermarket Sainsbury’s Villetta brand which seems to mimic the label design of Villa Maria. She also cites Ogio, which is a Tesco-owned soft brand.

‘Retailers are addicted to private label because they can make so much money,’ she says. Estimates are that 20-40% of the US market is private label. From the producer’s perspective this is disastrous because if your wine is going into private label you have turned it into a commodity and you can’t build brand equity.

As a consequence, producers are targeting the on trade, which is why sommeliers are hot property. But the on trade deals in small quantities and it can be difficult to get payment.

The advantage of wine tourism is that it leads wineries directly to consumer, which is a far more profitable route to market. There are three different models of wine tourism.

1 A wine business that uses wine tourism as an add-on and a way to sell wine

2 A joint wine and tourism business

3 A tourism business where wine is the current focus but which could be switched to something else, such as craft beer

Wine tourism really started in the late 1970s with Robert Mondavi. These days, Mondavi do their tastings tutored, sitting down: it’s an experience you have to pay for. This raises the question: should you charge for tastings? Robin Back has researched this, and his conclusions are that you should. If people are interested in wine they will pay the money, and there’s evidence that when people get wine for free they are more difficult customers, and they complain more. Felicity recalls a positive encounter with wine tourism at Conn Creek in Napa. She did the blending experience tasting, where the teach people how to blend wine, and then take away their own personal blend. It costs US$125 per person and around 7000 people a year do it.

Then there’s the approach of the large Austrian cooperative Winzer Krems. They use virtual reality headsets. A tourism expert designed a 3D visual experience for them with ghosts popping up in the cellar. At the end of the tour there’s a nature documentary of the year in the vineyard and they spray different scents to the full 4D experience. Here in Portugal Sogevinus are soon to open a sensory experience with a ‘smellathon’.

There’s something to be said about becoming a tourism destination, and integrating wine into that. Abadia Retuerta in Spain decided to make themselves a destination because they are a difficult place to get to. They had a good restaurant, a hotel, a wine shop, and also a spa sommelier with special essential oils based on wine. They have a vineyard tour with special nature ‘wow’ moments created around the property. Then, at the end, there is a wine tasting.

Abrau-Durso in the Black Sea Coast region of Russia is now one of the most visited wineries in the world. It’s pretty isolated – two hours to either Krasnodar or Novorossiysk, the two large towns nearby – and so chose to become a destination. Originally built as a Champagne house of the Tsar in 1870, it fell apart in the 1980s. Putin asked his buddy Boris Titov to do something with it, and Titov spend millions renovating the property, which is based on the shores of a lake. It has 267 000 visitors a year, and as well as making 300 million bottles of Russian Champagne, it has luxury accommodation, spas, yoga and even treasure hunts in the extensive cellars.

Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley has reinvented itself as a destination through collaboration. It was run down and people would visit it out of pity. Then a few years back Warren Randall took it over, and invited other business to come and join in, including a famous restaurant and craft shops. It has been a fantastic success.

Felicity then looked at regional strategies, with the example of Bordeaux. Here’s a region where the conversation has been dominated by classified growths, ignoring the majority of the region’s producers. Typically, Bordeaux has been hostile to tourism, but it has realized that gastronomy tourism has taken off worldwide, and wanted to join in. The region came up with a marketing kit and produced a charter, created wine roads. They researched the people running wine tours and they began working with with cruise ships. They realized that Bordeaux could be a complicated wine offering, so set up a wine bar in the centre of town. This opened in 2006, offering some 25 wines at 2-8 € a glass, rotating the wines fortnightly. They get 76 000 visitors annually and they have franchised it to Shanghai. And there’s also the Cité du Vin, a remarkable wine museum that’s fully interactive.

Australia recently developed a much needed national strategy. They had some problems with the high Australian dollar, plus geographical isolation, plus the wine industry going through a difficult time because of chasing Parker points and the Yellowtail effect. But Australia has an exciting food and coffee culture, and the tourism authority came up with a seven pillar strategy that brought food and wine together.

Is there a downside to wine tourism? Felicity thinks that there isn’t, but in some cities tourism is becoming a form of urban blight. In some, AirBnB has driven locals out of inner cities. The local shops end up becoming tourist shops destroying the very thing people are going to see: an authentic city.

But Felicity ended with a strong message: ‘Wine tourism will be the salvation of the wine trade if they can get it right.’

Alice Feiring on Natural Wine at Must 2017, Cascais, Portugal

alice feiring natural wine

I’m in Estoril (next to Cascais, on the coast, near Lisbon), Portugal, for the inaugural MUST fermenting ideas wine summit. Things kicked off yesterday with a talk by Alice Feiring, on Natural Wine. It was a good place to start.

‘I’m much more comfortable in front of a computer than an audience,’ began Alice, as she then proceeded to give a tight and engaging talk on natural wine. Feiring is the author of four books, including one that’s coming out next week, called The Dirty Guide to Wine. She began by telling the story of how she discovered the world of natural wine. ‘In 2000 I got a commission from Food and Wine magazine for a wine guide. I got carpal tunnel from opening so many bottles,’ she recalls. This wasn’t a good experience for her. ‘It was the height of wine internationalization. I started on the path of figuring out what had changed in my wine.’

Initially, she thought the problem was one of the new found obsession with new oak. But it was meeting Joe Dressner, a New York importer of natural wine, that led to her discovery that the problem of internationalization was more than new barrels. ‘It was enzymes, flavoured yeasts, tannins, microoxygenation, mega purple, any of the 100 or so approved additives.’

She quotes Baldo Cappellano, a Barolo producer: ‘the more there is fake the more the world needs real.’

‘Wine adulteration is nothing new,’ says Feiring. ‘There has always been adulteration in wine to make money from it.’ She mentioned John Penroe, who was punished for selling adulterated wine by being forced to drink it. Then came phylloxera. ‘These were the golden years of wine manipulation: there weren’t any grapes.’ Someone even published a book in France listing recipes for making wine without grapes.

Feiring mentioned a film made in Soviet Georgia by Otar Losseliani, called Falling Leaves. A young guy gets a job in a wine factory in Tblisi, and has to confront his conscience when he’s ordered to make chemical manipulations.

So where did the natural wine movement come from? After World War II, mechanization in the vineyard and winery started in earnest, with dire consequences. In 1978, Marcel Lapierre, in Morgon, Beaujolais, is making wine he can’t stand, and tries to figure out why. He goes to Jules Chauvet, a scientist and winemaker in the same village, who is trying to research how to make a sound wine without sulphites. One of the major problems at the time was the lack of life in the vineyard. ‘The two tits of Beaujolais were sugar and sulfur,’ jokes Feiring. Everyone loved Marcel’s new natural wines. Jean Foillard, his friend, took notice, and soon there was a core group of natural wine producers in Beaujolais.

In 1980, the first natural wine bar opened in Paris. By 2000 there were 40 of them. Then natural wine tastings started happening, such as Dive Bouteille. The whole movement grew incredibly.

Why were people so excited? Feiring suggests that natural wines are more expressive of place, more lively, and more healthful. She also suggests that their popularity may in part be because you can (allegedly) drink more without hangovers.

Specifically in New York, in 2000 there was only one natural wine importer; by 2017 there were more than 15, plus major importers who have started a natural wine component. In 2016, the USA had one natural wine fair; last year saw 10 of these events. ‘Bruce Sanderson of the Wine Spectator said that natural wine would die,’ says Feiring, ‘but he’s wrong.’

How do you define it? ‘You must start with organic or some form of natural farming,’ says Feiring. ‘It has the philosophy of nothing added or nothing taken away.’ She’s not against use of sulfur dioxide, suggesting that 20 ppm or so of added SO2 is OK. ‘It’s no big deal. There will always be some extremists.’ She finds it useful to separate the natural wine world into two categories: hardcore natural and natural enough.

‘The impact of the natural wine world has been huge,’ she says. ‘It has challenged it and redefined it. Major wineries are now experimenting with natural and many are rethinking sulphite additions.’ There has also been an increase in native yeast ferments, and more organic and biodynamic farming. ‘Skin contact is out of control: it has got to the point of being a fad.’ There have even been new wine styles: orange, vin de soif, pet’ nat, and glou glou wines that are so easy to drink.

Alice has spent quite a bit of time in Georgia, and touched on the use of clay in fermentations as alternatives to oak. She showed a picture of a Georgian Qvevri maker, who was practicing a craft on the brink of extinction. Now he and his two sons have a 2 year waiting list. These qvevri live underground. ‘The Georgian way of making wine seems sane for a way of making a minimalist natural wine,’ says Feiring. ‘It gives instant temperature control, important for making a sound wine.’

She thinks that natural wine has made wine more fun, and has revitalised wine fairs. ‘Young people are having fun and there is curiosity,’ she says. It has encouraged traditional methods and has revitalized hard cider. It has revitalized ailing regions such as Ribera Sacra. It has opened up the debate on wine flaws. Is cloudy wine a flaw? What about brettanomyces of heightened volatility?

Natural wine has the power of emotional resonance; it has the power of grassroots; and it has the power of story – people want to write about it.

‘It has vitality and authenticity, that little thing you can’t buy,’ says Feiring. ‘Overall, it tastes good.’

‘The trend is not going away, it is here. Wines made with minimal intervention and will continue to spread outside of the big cities. I believe that big companies will establish a natural wine segment.’

She concludes by saying, ‘natural wine will redefine the parameter for fine wine.’

Roulot: how Jean-Marc makes some of the most compelling white Burgundies of all


I had the pleasure of meeting Jean-Marc Roulot yesterday. Roulot has established himself as one of the superstars of white Burgundy – the new Coche, if you will. The wines are beautiful, and now quite hard to get hold of as their fame has spread. I first became aware of them from Raj Parr, who told me about the Roulot method, so I quizzed Jean-Marc about how he makes wine.

His vineyards – 15 hectares, which produce 17 different wines – have been farmed organically since 2000, and have been certified since 2013. He does a bit of biodynamics, but he’s not a huge fan.

The Chardonnay grapes are hand harvested and whole-bunch pressed, but they are lightly crushed first, which is an unusual move. ‘We get most of the juice out at low pressure,’ he says, first of all pressing at 0.2 bar, then rising to 0.6. This gives 90% of the juice. He then goes up to 1.6 bar, but it’s just for a small proportion of the juice.


This allows him to have good pH and purity. ‘It contributes a lot to the style,’ says Jean-Marc. He then decants overnight, but likes to keep a lot of the lees. After the decanting vat there is another vat, so that he can mix up the lees and have the same turbidity in each barrel. This takes place right above the cellar. ‘So if a plot is harvested on Monday, by Tuesday morning it is in barrel,’ says Jean-Marc. If the must is higher than 20 C, then he’ll cool it down, otherwise he’ll do nothing. The barrel room is very cool, and that’s where fermentation takes place.

Most of his barrels are regular size, but he has three 1200 litre Stockinger foudres, which he likes a lot. His favoured cooper is Damy (based in Meursault). The proportion of new oak varies from 5-10% for the Bourgogne Blanc, to 15% for village, and maximum one-third for premier cru.

The wines spend a full year in barrel with light battonage once every two to three weeks until the end of malolactic. The first racking is postponed as long as possible until the new vintage is near, so that the barrels are only empty a short time.

Then the wine is racked to stainless steel, taking the lees with it, for an extra six months. This is a vital step. ‘We get microoxygenation in the wood, then reduction in stainless steel,’ says Jean-Marc. ‘It gives the wine vertical tension. It is a shame so many people come to Burgundy in November to taste the vintage. The difference between then and January to March, is huge.’

Eight out of 10 times he’ll do a light fining with casein and bentonite at the end of this six months. This is done after blind tasting with and without fining. And then before bottling there’s a light filtration with a 5 micron pore filter. ‘Sometimes people are very reactive about filtering but there are hundreds of ways to filter,’ says Jean-Marc.

[An aside: Jean-Marc is also an actor. The Internets tell me that he's a youthful-looking 61 years old, and provides a list of his acting gigs.]

We tasted three wines.

Roulot Bourgogne Blanc 2015 Burgundy, France
Beautifully aromatic, fresh and detailed with lemons, pears and a bit of spicy mineral character. Juicy, linear and fresh with lovely citrus brightness and stylish focus. Has a lingering, mineral finish. Not heavy but delicate and pure. 93/100

Roulot Meursault Vireuils 2015 Burgundy, France
Taut, mineral and fine with lovely texture and delicacy. Fine and expressive with a touch of matchstick integrated into the fine citrus fruit. So beautifully pure with real finesse. 95/100

Roulot Meursault Porousot 1er Cru 2015 Burgundy, France
Tight and complex with lovely mineral, matchstick notes. So fine grained and detailed. Fine citrus fruit with a complex, linear personality. The reductive notes are perfectly integrated into the pure fruit. Very fine. 96/100

Find these wines with

Binary thinking and bubble creation


It’s getting worse, I reckon. The world is being polarised. It upsets me when otherwise smart friends fall into the trap of seeing the world in binary terms. Good versus evil. Black versus white.

The problem is the way we access information on the internet. It’s pull rather than push: we choose what to read, watch or listen to. This self-selection process makes it very easy for us to live in a bubble.

In our bubbles, we create a self-consistent world around a narrative that we have selected, and which we reinforce by confirmation bias, marshalling evidence that supports our view and rejected anything contradictory. There are some bubbles that are better than others: for example, I’d rather live in a liberal bubble than a selfish, dogmatic, intolerant one. But bubbles are bubbles, whatever their colour, and they obstruct right thinking.

This bubble of confirmation bias has always been the case, to a degree. Consider religions, cults and political parties. By surrounding ourselves by people who think the same way, we distort our view of the world.

We begin to separate people we meet: are they with us or against us? We find it incredible that anyone rational could think differently. It’s the bubble effect.

The Internet has made the creation of bubbles that much easier, and the skins of these bubbles rather thicker. The result is that we can no longer have any meaningful discourse, and we have an impoverished, simplified view of reality, filtered through very thick and highly tinted lenses.

In the wine world, we see this with natural wine. On the one hand, people suggesting that conventional wines are full of additives, dangerous to our health, and chemical. On the other, people maintain that natural wines are all flawed and feral, and that this movement is just a fad.

We need to grow up. We need to stop seeing the world in binary terms. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Once in a while, it’s good to change our media diet. Rather than be quick to judge the attitudes and beliefs of others, let’s try to understand why others think differently. Had we been subject to their culture, peer group and media diet, might we think differently?

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be politically active or vocal in support of causes of merit. It’s just that we shouldn’t just do this from a binary position. People are rarely all good or all bad. Political parties are rarely all good or all bad. The same is true of religions, and styles of wines. This sounds a trivial thing to say, but being able to accept a world where everything is mixed, and achieving a nuanced understanding of complex issues, takes maturity and wisdom. It’s something we’d do well to acquire.

In Amsterdam, wine nice folks and wine


How impossibly beautiful is Amsterdam? I’ve only visited once, back in 1997, when the organisation I worked for as a science editor held a meeting there. Coming back, on a beautiful May evening, I was overwhelmed by the feel of the place. All those canals! All the bicycles!


I love the fact that so many people cycle in the Netherlands. There are amazing numbers of bicycles here, and there are even large parking lots for them. The only other place where I’ve seen so many bikes is in Beijing. Interestingly, though, none of the cyclists wear helmets. Maybe the cars are much more used to cyclists, and so it’s safer here.


The Keizerschragt

The Keizersgracht


I was staying in an amazing Airbnb apartment on Keizersgracht. It’s just an idyllic location. We dined around the corner, at the Cafe de Klepel. This is a lovely wine bar. Here, we ate simply and well, and drank great wine. These were my dining companions.


Frank Jacobs, the Dutch Wijnacadamie


Lars Daniels, the Dutch Wijnacademie


Klazien Vermeer, the Dutch Wijnacademie

Job Seuren, sommelier at Klapen

Job Seuren, sommelier at Cafe de Klepel


Udo Goebel, wine importer

Champagne Marguet Shannan 12 Grand Cru NV France
Marguet is a grower based in Ambonnay, and this is a blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay, bottled in July 2013 and disgorged in March 2016. No sulphites were added and dosage is 2.4 g/litre. Rich but tight with nice tension. Citrussy and bright with a spicy herby twist. Some pear and crisp apple. This has ripeness but the low dosage keeps things tight. Lovely. 94/100

Scali Blanc 2007 Voor Paardeberg, South Africa
Some raisin and baked apple on the nose. Has marmalade and a bit of spice. Grippy and detailed with an oxidative character, but after a while in the glass this seems much more alive with lovely crystalline fruits. 92/100


Heymann Lowenstein Winningen Uhlen ‘L’ Riesling 2012 Mosel, Germany
13% alcohol. This dry Mosel Riesling comes from dramatic, terraced vineyards near Koblenz at the end of the Mosel region. This has amazing aromatics with tangerine, lemons and spice. Really floral and expressive. It shows sweet, textural citrus fruit on the palate with some grip. 93/100


Louis Desvignes Les Impénitentes Morgon Javennieres 2014 Beaujolais, France
Structured, juicy and bright with lovely sweet raspberry and red cherry fruit. Nice sweet fruit with some grainy grip, and an appealing stonineness. Stylish. 92/100


Château Sociando Mallet Haut Medoc 1990 Bordeaux, France
12.5% alcohol. Fresh but with lovely evolution. So expressive with a leafy, slightly gravelley edge to the sweet cherries and herbs. There’s a silky texture here. Pristine showing some evolution, but at a perfect point to drink while it still has lots of fruit. Really over-delivers. 95/100

Mullineux Schist Syrah 2013 Swartland, South Africa
Fresh and detailed with supple berry and cherry fruit. Stony and mineral with nice weight and freshness. Some raspberry brightness and good acidity and grip here. Lovely wine. 94/100

Yves Duport Bugey Blanc ‘Les Cotes’ 2016 Savoie, France
Sweetly fruited with tangerine and apricot as well as some lemon notes. Textured, smooth and sweet. Rounded. Bold and pure with nice focus. 91/100

Wine bar crawling: Sager & Wilde, The Laughing Heart, Brilliant Corners

Michael Sager

Michael Sager

There is so much fun to be had in London these days. It has become a great wine city. On Friday night I joined up with PR person and emerging wine writer Christina Rasmussen. We did a tour of three of east London’s wine bars, two of which were new to me. I’m a wine writer, based in London, and I haven’t been to all the really good wine bars yet. It’s shameful, but my excuse is that I’m travelling more than I am at home these days.


The Tahona


Bergamot Negroni




We started off at Sager & Wilde Paradise Row, where we caught up with Michael Sager. Here we delved into the world of cocktails, with some incredibly bold but intelligently assembled flavours, courtesy of drink maker Marcus Dzelzainis. We had a beautifully complex bergamot negroni, and then a pine negroni made from distilled infusion of pine. Then a bijou, made with chartreuse and gin, and a pretty pink aperol sgroppini. And also a Tahona, which was mescal, roasted pineapple shrub, lemon and agave caramel. Such good flavours.


Then it was a short walk to The Laughing Heart, which is a wine bar, wine shop and restaurant, and which stays open very late (always good to know somewhere late when an evening has momentum and you don’t want to call it quits too soon). It was bustling and cheery, and Charlie Mellor found us some space downstairs, where we drank an excellent bottle of Jura Savagnin.

Les Dolomies ‘Les Gradvaux’ Savagnin 2015 Côtes du Jura, France
Intense and mineral with a lovely saline edge. Textured and fine with sweet citrus and pear skin fruity notes, but also amazing saline, mineral complexity. This is quite profound. 95/100




The final stop of the evening was a 20 minute walk away. Brilliant Corners is a natural wine bar, a Japanese small plates restaurant and a music venue, all in one, depending on the time. It was heaving when we arrived just after 10 pm, but we still managed to find some room, and ordered a bottle of Pet Nat. It was delicious on a hot evening. It was the Jean-Pierre Robinot L’Opera des Vins L’As des Années Folies, Vin de France, a blend of Chenin Blanc and Pineau d’Aunis. Pink, precise and delicious with lovely weight and focus.


Loire adventure: Bernard Baudry, Chinon

Matthieu Baudry

Matthieu Baudry

Next stop on the Loire adventure was Chinon, with Matthieu Baudry of Domaine Bernard Baudry. The domaine was created by Bernard, father of Matthieu, back in 1975, and Matthieu joined in 2000. His dad is technically retired but is still involved. This is mostly a red wine domaine, and is devoted to Cabernet Franc, with just a bit of Chenin Blanc.


Matthieu is terroir focused, and Chinon has some quite distinct terroirs. Some of his vines are on the alluvial part of the appellation, near the river. Then there are some on the slopes, and some on the plateau. All three producer different expressions of Chinon.

Even within each of the three main areas, the soils differ. The alluvial portion has well drained sandy soils, some gravelly soils, and even bits with more clay. On the slopes, there are two kinds of limestone: white and yellow. Matthieu tells us to think of the plateau as the Hautes Cotes of Burgundy. Here there are rocky sands over limestone.


Winemaking involves various forms of elevage, from cement to oak, with no new oak (225/8 litre barrels for reds and demi muids of 500 litres for the whites). ‘The winemaking has to be as natural as possible,’ says Matthieu. ‘If you add things like yeast or nutrients or enzymes you interfere.’ He doesn’t filter or fine except for the young wine, Les Granges, which sometimes needs to be released early.




In the vineyard, the soils have been ploughed since the domain was established. ‘We have never used herbicides,’ says Matthieu. ‘We plough the soils and work organically. Herbicides are, for me, the enemy of terroir expression,’ he says. ‘It takes 10 years for a vine to get a deep root system. If you use herbicides you don’t help the vine to get nutrition.’

He’s a big fan of wines from limestone. ‘You get it just after the fruit and it makes you salivate. Limestone makes you thirsty. It makes you want to live; it makes you want to eat.’

In 2016 he lost about half of production, mostly from the alluvial soils, because of frost. This year he reckons the April frosts will cost him 10% of the vineyard. ‘It has been a tough year.’


Domaine Bernard Baudry Les Granges 2016 Chinon, Loire, France
(from tank) This is the entry level wine from alluvial soils, matured in cement tanks. Fresh, vivid and concentrated with bright, balanced raspberry and cherry fruit. Lively with lovely fresh fruit. Will be bottled in September. 91-93/100 

Domaine Bernard Baudry Cuvée Domaine 2015 Chinon, Loire, France
This is 80% plateau (sand and limestone) and a portion is young vines. 15 months in cement tanks. Aromatic chalky/gravelly nose with tight raspberry fruit. Fresh, vivid and juicy on the palate with nice weight. Fresh and delicious with good acidity and a fresh, saline edge. 93/100

Domaine Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux 2015 Chinon, Loire, France
‘The Gravels': this is more rocks and pebbles with sand and clay. Gravelly, spicy and dense with nice grip under the raspberry and cherry fruit. So expressive and taut with grainy tannins. Chunky and dense but fine. 92/100

Domaine Bernard Baudry Le Clos Guillot 2014 Chinon, Loire, France
From the slopes: clay and yellow limestone. Dense and vivid with focused black cherries and blackcurrants. Nice acidity with some grip on the tannins. Has freshness with tight tannic structure. 93/100

Domaine Bernard Baudry La Croix Boisée Rouge 2014 Chinon, Loire, France
This vineyard has 2 hectares of Cabernet Franc and 0.9 hectares of Chenin Blanc. It’s sand and clay over white limestone. Complex and dense with good structure, and powerful blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Good acidity and firm tannins. Grippy and focused with lovely purity and a fine, chalky finish. 94/100

Domaine Bernard Baudry La Croix Boisée Blanc 2016 Chinon, Loire, France
From barrel: almost finished fermenting. Slightly salty and with some sweetness and a ice spicy edge to the pear and white peach fruit. Will be lovely.

Domaine Bernard Baudry La Croix Boisée Rouge 1999 Chinon, Loire, France
Lovely finesse here: bright with smooth red cherries and a hint of earth. Fresh acidity and nice texture. Has a harmonious with a chalky edge. Lovely finesse here with some grip on the finish. 93/100

Domaine Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux 1990 Chinon, Loire, France
Supple and very fresh with fine, sweet cherries, raspberries and some spice. Harmonious and elegant with fine tannins and a hint of earth. Smooth ripe and textured, and really beautiful. 95/100

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Grower Champagne focus: Marguet Shaman 12

champagne marguet

Champagne Marguet is run by fifth generation Benoit Marguet, and is a small house/grower based in Ambonnay. They farm their vineyards biodynamically, and have 8 hectares altogether, 7.3 in Ambonnay (Les Saints Remys, Les Beurys, Les Crayères, La Grande Ruelle, Les Bermonts, Le Parc) and 0.7 hectares in Bouzy (Les Loges, Les Hannepés). In addition to their own grapes, they also buy from like-minded growers in other nice parts of Champagne, such as Verzy, Mareuil sur Ay, Cumières and Rilly la Montagne. So I shouldn’t really be including this wine in the grower Champagne series, but Marguet feels more like a grower than a Champagne house. This wine is excellent and not expensive (in the UK The Wine Society have it for £30).

Champagne Marguet ‘Shaman’ 12 Grand Cru NV France
Marguet is a small house/grower based in Ambonnay, and this is a blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay, bottled in July 2013 and disgorged in March 2016. No sulphites were added and dosage is 2.4 g/litre. Based on the 2012 vintage. Rich but tight with nice tension. Citrussy and bright with a spicy herby twist. Some pear and crisp apple. This has ripeness but the low dosage keeps things tight. Lovely. 94/100

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Are we potentially much better at smelling than we realise? The curious case of androstenone


Androstenone is a smelly steroidal compound produced by pigs that is described as sweaty, urinous, and musky by those who can smell it. Depending on the version of the OR7D4 gene that you will have, you’ll experience androsterone as unpleasant, or sweet, or you might not smell it at all.

Kara Hoover and colleagues have looked at sequences for OR7D4 in 2,200 people globally, and have found that this gene has been subject to evolutionary selection. In African populations, there’s more sensitivity to androsterone, but in northern populations where pork is important in the diet, there is less. The idea is that when people began domesticating pigs, there’d be a selective advantage in finding pork palatable.

Interestingly, the insensitivity to androstenone changes though adolescence in most people. And even more interestingly, the ability to smell it can be induced by exposure. So people who can’t smell it at all, can in some cases begin to smell it after being exposed to it. This is surprising for a trait that has a strong genetic component.

How do we begin to explain this?

First of all, we are not measuring devices. There’s a lot of hidden processing that goes on in the brain before we are consciously aware of a smell or taste.

The dimensionality of the olfactory receptor space is not the same as that of the perceptual space. The receptor space consists of a set of some 400 different receptor types, the binding sites of those receptors, and the downstream signalling. This information is quite different from the perceptual space, which is influenced by evolutionary constraints: what our sense of smell needs to do for us to succeed in the world.

We don’t have conscious access to the receptor space, although it feels like we do. Think about it: why is that some molecules smell and others don’t? Is it simply because of the specific olfactory receptors that we have? Or is there a lot of information available at the receptor space that is ignored in later processing, as our brain examines the various patterns of receptor activation and extracts the useful information out of them?

Could it be that if we somehow gained access to all this receptor space, that our smell world would be very different? What if a cocktail of drugs could open up this different world for us?

In his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks told the story of a young medical student (it was actually Sacks himself it turns out) who  spent a night taking speed, cocaine and PCP, and awoke to find he had a vastly heightened sense of smell. It’s a bizarre and remarkable tale, and this only lasted for a limited time, but it shows that potentially our receptor space is much bigger than our perceptual space. There’s an awful lot of smell information that our brain simply edits out, it seems. Wouldn’t it be amazing for a wine taster to have temporary access to this world?