On hope, for wine businesses, for people

It’s amazing how much bravery a little hope can inspire. But take away hope – make someone feel trapped and hopeless – and they then become cautious and fearful. Many people live their lives from a position of fear because of this lack of hope. Their best efforts are directed at minimizing damage and suffering the least. That isn’t really living. We can cope with a lot of trouble if we have an underlying sense of purpose in our lives; it is this purpose that gives rise to vision, which in turn yields a sufficient supply of hope.

The wine world is interesting in this regard. Making wine is a capital intensive business, and for many, cash flow is a big issue. When people are under financial pressure, they often make bad decisions, and this has a compounding effect, putting them in an even worse place than before, and under subsequent greater financial pressure. The first response to this pressure is typically to enter maintenance mode (keep things going, but bleed as little capital as possible), but more often than not this soon becomes panic mode (without investment things usually get worse). A lot of cheap wine on supermarket shelves is distressed stock bought from wineries in panic mode.

Momentum is everything in a business, or a relationship. We need to feel we are heading somewhere. There needs to be some goal, far enough away that it’s not easily achievable, so that we can work to bit by bit. The small victories of the day as we head towards this distant marker are what leave us with a sense of fulfilment. They are the water that helps the seedlings of hope grow daily a little bigger. Seedlings are fragile, but before long they become larger plants, and hopefully –after a long time – trees!

If you are on a journey to somewhere, you work a lot harder and it’s much more fun. On the road, you tolerate the sort of hardships that would have been unacceptable if you had stayed at home. Pyschologically, we are built to journey. The destination is something outside of ourselves, bigger than ourselves, that gives meaning to our lives. We each need to spend time with the destination in mind, working out what it is, and how we are positioned in relationship to it.

Also, It’s much easier to make a decision while you are still moving. I remember this from sailing. On a relatively calm day, if you aren’t sure of where the wind is, just start moving – take any wind that’s on offer. And then when you feel it, you can begin to sail, and head where you want to go.

So how does this relate to a wine business? You need to know where you are going. And you need to start on that journey, somehow. There’s no point agonising about where to start – sometimes it’s the starting that’s the crucial aspect: you can always turn to the left or the right, or even back on your original tracks. You just need to start. But you do need to have a vision of where you want to go, otherwise it is going to be impossible to make decisions. It is having a sense of the destination that turns the process of doing business into a journey, and it is embarking on the journey that gives hope. And if there are real problems with the business, it’s better to stop and start again – or at least do some radical surgery – than letting the business die slowly. That’s painful for everyone. If you act in time though, this usually isn’t necessary.

The wines of Envinate, one of Spain's most exciting producers

Alfonso Torrente and Roberto Santana

Envinate is a really exciting project from Spain, focusing on making terroir-transparent wines from mainly Atlantic-influenced regions. It began in 2008 with four friends who’d studied enology together in Alicante: Laura Ramos, José Martinez, Roberto Santana and Alfonso Torrente. Laura and José work in Almansa and Extremadura, but the main the thrust of Envinate is two regions: Roberto in Tenerife, with the Táganan wines, and Alfonso in Ribeira Sacra with Lousas. Overall, 140 000 bottles are produced annually, with Tenerife accounting for just over half of these.

I met with Roberto and Alfonso to try these wines, which are imported into the UK by Indigo.

Envinate Taganan Blanco 2016 Taganana, Tenerfie, Spain
This is from a range of grape varieties that were first planted in Tenerife by the Portuguese in the 16th Century. It’s from coastal vineyards. Salty and savoury with lively, taut citrus fruits. Transparent and mineral, this is structural and well built and has an expressive personality. 94/100

Envinate Benje Blanco 2016 Santiago del Teide 2016 Tenerife, Spain
This is Listan Blanco (Palomino) from 1000 m. Complex nutty pear and citrus nose with some waxy hints. Lively and nutty and textural on the palate with lemons, herbs and fine spices. Tangy and complex. 94/100

Envinate Palo Blanco 2016 Valle de la Orotova, Tenerfie, Spain
Listan Blanco. Very fresh, delicate and fine with tangy lemony fruit and notes of pith and minerals. Such a lovely fine citrussy core with lovely focus. A bit salty, too. 95/100

Envinate Albahra Tinto 2016 Almansa, Spain
70% Garnacha Tintorea (Alicante Bouschet, in concrete) and 30% Moravia Agria (which is low alcohol and high acid, in barrel). Generous but focused with vivid, grippy cherry, plum and raspberry fruit. Tight wound and grippy with with nice acid and structure. Such pure fruit. 93/100

Envinate Lousas Vino Aldea 2016 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
90% Mencia, 10% others. 100% whole cluster. Lifted cherry and spice aromatics. Supple and slight meaty with some herby hints. Tangy, saline, grippy and fresh with lovely pretty floral fruit. Nice definition. 94/100

Envinate Taganan Tinto 2016 Taganana, Tenerife, Spain
From black basalt soils near the coast. Mainly Listan Negro and Neramore. Supple, juicy, fine and expressive with nice cherries, plums and spice. Lighter and more elegant with great definition. 93/100

Envinate Benje Tinto 2016 Santiago del Teide, Tenerife, Spain
From 1000 m. 12% alcohol. Mission/Pais planted by the Spanish, which is high acid, low alcohol and low colour. Very fresh, sappy and elegant with red cherries, minerals and spice. So delicate with real presence. Grippy, high acid finish. Lovely. 95/100

Envinate Migan 2016 Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Spain
From two vineyards at 400 and 600 m. Juicy and supple with raspberries and red cherries. Lovely purity and high acidity with some grip on the finish. Has an attractive sappy green edge. 94/100

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Clos Cibonne: geeky, iconic Provence rosé from the Tibouren grape

Clos Cibonne is alternative Provence. Now I’m a big fan of Provence Rosé, which is one of the wine world’s great success stories. But it’s not really a geek wine, is it? Clos Cibonne is, with its fabulous labels dating back to the 1930s and its distinctive, complex wines.

The claim to fame and significance of this estate is its championing of the obscure Tibouren grape variety. I met with Claude Deforge and his son Olivier to taste the wines. Claude’s wife, Bridget, is the granddaughter of André Roux, who’s largely responsible for the domain in its current form.

Tibouren is a grape that originated in Mesopotamia. It was imported to Italy by the Greeks, and it is named after the Tiber river. Caesar brought it with him to France and it became established in Provence. Then, with phylloxera, there was a bottleneck effect: not all varieties were grafted and so some were lost, or nearly lost. Tibouren, which was difficult because of its uneven yields, its uneven ripeness, its disease susceptibility and the fact that it requires a lot more work in the vineyard, was one of these varieties.

But Claude’s great grandfather grafted it and replanted it in Clos Cibonne. The 16 hectare vineyard is close to the sea, near Toulon, and the sea breezes reduce disease pressure, swinging things in favour of this variety.

Winemaking is relatively traditional. The grapes are all destemmed, pressed and settled, without worrying too much about keeping oxygen away. Fermentation is in stainless steel with wild yeasts, and then most of the wines are aged in old 5000 litre foudres. These aren’t filled up completely, so a flor layer develops on the top. There is no malolactic fermentation.

Clos Cibonne Tentations Rosé 2017 Côtes de Provence, France
This is the negociant wine that comes principally from three neighbouring growers, and Clos Cibonne have been making it since 2007. It’s 40% Cinsault, 40% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Tibouren. Very pale in colour, this shows delicate tangerine, lemon and cherry notes with a fine, delicate texture. Lovely wine and incredibly drinkable. 90/100

Clos Cibonne Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2016 Côtes de Provence, France
This is the house flagship, made from 90% Tibouren and 10% Grenache. 60 000 bottles made. This is mainly younger vines. The Grenache is just there to comply with AOP rules, or else this would be 100% Tibouren. It has some colour, and a subtle nose with a hint of redcurrant. The palate is brisk and detailed with a sappy edge, a hint of cream, and notes of strawberries, cherries and redcurrants. 92/100

Clos Cibonne Cuvée des Vignettes Rosé 2016 Côtes de Provence, France
Older vines, 90% Tibouren, 10% Grenache. Very fine and delicate with tangerine, spices and fine herbs, as well as a faint hint of cream alongside the delicate red cherry and cranberry fruit. There’s a bit of grip and fine acidity. Such delicacy and purity. 93/100

Clos Cibonne Cuvée Caroline Rosé 2016 Côtes de Provence, France
This is aged in 300 litre barrels. Lovely weight and nice depth here with cherry, raspberry and redcurrant fruit. There’s a nice nutty, spicy complexity, as well as potential for further development. 92/100

Clos Cibonne Tentations Rouge 2014 Côtes de Provence, France
One third each of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. This is a surprise: it’s supple and fresh with fine-grained structure and black cherry and berry fruit. Nice balance and elegance. Half goes through barrel for a year. 91/100

Clos Cibonne Cuvée Tradition Tibouren 2017 Côtes de Provence, France
The only producer to make a red Tibouren, although this does have 10% Syrah in the mix to comply with appellation rules. Very juicy, fresh and sappy with floral, green-tinged berry fruits. Rounded, supple and berryish with elegance and freshness. Reminds me a bit of Pinot but also a bit of Gamay. No oak. 92/100

Clos Cibonne Cuvée Olivier 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
60% Syrah, 20% Tibouren and 20% Grenache, given the full barrel treatment (one-third new). Complex, dense and structured with lovely peppery, black cherry and blackberry fruit, Modern and dense with a grippy, cedary edge to the dense black fruits. Sophisticated and structured. 92/100

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UK agent: Red Squirrel Wine

Time for a new passport

I’ve just applied for a new passport. I’m going to miss the old one: it has been a constant companion on my travels, but even though it has plenty of space (I got a big one last time!) and five more years’ validity, it has started playing up at electronic passport gates.

And that’s a deal breaker, because electronic passport gates are a big deal for me. They save months of queueing. Even entering the USA and New Zealand is now much quicker because of these gates, just as it is coming back into the UK through Heathrow. The problem is that the UK passport has a very flimsy photo page, and with so much use, mine is now worn to the point that it’s only working about one in four times. I’m very jealous of my New Zealand friends: their passports have a thick plastic photo page that’s virtually indestructible.

Replacing a passport used to be a pain. You’d have to go to the post office, fill in a form, take some photographs in a booth, and then send your old passport away along with the carefully completed form. This just isn’t feasible for me because I never have long gaps between travel. Last time I renewed my passport I used the one-day service, where you book and appointment and then get a new passport on the same day (you still have to collect and fill in a form, and get pictures taken). It was good, but a little more expensive.

To my great joy, I have discovered that there is an online service (it’s still at Beta stage) where you can apply online, take your own digital photo, and then go and collect your new passport at a specified time (my appointment is Friday). This is brilliant. Well worth the small premium over a regular passport (my passport will cost £177, as opposed to £85 through the normal route – I went for the regular size on this time because with electronic gates, I’m picking up fewer stamps).

I shall be very careful with the new passport, and hopefully it will last the next 10 years. I must remember to get new ETAs for Canada and the USA, and change my details on the two frequent flier alliances I’m with. Other than that, it will be a joy to sail through the electronic gates again. And as an added bonus, I’ll have a European passport as a fond reminder of the pre-Brexit-nonsense days.

As an aside, for now the UK passport is one of the most powerful in the world, allowing visa-free access to 174 countries. Kind of useful for me…

 

Some new English sparkling wines: Jenkyn Place, Ashling Park, Leckford, Westwell and South Ridge

Some notes on five very good English sparkling wines recently tasted.

Jenkyn Place Classic Cuvée Brut 2013 Hampshire, England
Jenkyn Place is a 12 acre vineyard on the south facing slope of the North Downs in Hampshire. It produces just sparkling wines from the classic Champagne varieties, and the first vines were planted 13 years ago, so they are now showing some maturity. 12% alcohol, 10.6 g/l TA, pH 3.04, dosage 7 g/litre. From greensand over chalk/clay soils, this is a blend of 62% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir and 14% Pinot Meunier, aged on the lees for three years, and it’s lovely: it’s precise but balanced with bright citrus fruit, a subtle toastiness and sweet pear and apple richness. Really nicely proportioned, with harmony and tension, showing good acidity that integrates well with the other flavours. Has a hint of sweetness on the finish. Everything works together here. 92/100

Ashling Park Estate Cuvée Brut NV England
From the three main Champagne varieties, grown on the South Downs (in West Sussex), and made by Dermot Sugrue. I was served this blind and I thought it was a very good grower Champagne. It’s fruity and lively and fine with a lovely rounded lemon and cherry fruit character. Refined, taut, fruit-driven and pure, with some subtle toasty notes in the background.  Very fine. 92/100

Leckford Estate Brut 2013 Hampshire, England
12% alcohol. Grown in Waitrose’s Leckford Estate with immaculately managed vineyard on chalky soils. The wine is made at Ridgeview. This is a lovely, bright expression of sparkling wine with citrus, apple and pear fruit to the fore. There’s lively acidity, lovely purity, and a bit of sweetness on the finish. Very pretty and balanced with lovely focused fruit. But there’s some substance here, too: it’s not just English Prosecco. So delicious! 91/100

Westwell Wines Special Cuvée Brut 2014 Engalnd
From Kent’s North Downs, this is a blend of the three classic Champagne varieties, with some reserve wines in the blend (even though this is a vintage wine). It’s very fresh, linear and lemony with high acidity, and some hints of cherry and apple. Very fresh and linear with purity and focus. Youthful and tight, with the acidity a little assertive at the moment, but there’s lots of potential here. 89/100

South Ridge Blanc de Blancs 2013 Sussex, England
12% alcohol. Made by Ridgeview for Laithwaites. There’s a subtle honey and cream edge to the nose here, with a twist of brioche. The palate is bright and focused with some citrus and pear fruit, a hint of baked apple, and lovely acidity. There’s certainly some richness here, but it is balanced nicely with some spicy citrus bite. 90/100

Daterra Viticultores, stunning wines from Laura Lorenzo in Ribeira Sacra

Laura Lorenzo, Daterra Viticultores

One of my discoveries of the 2018 edition of Simplesmente Vinho was the wines of Laura Lorenzo. Previously working with Dominio de Bibei, in 2014 she set out on her own to form Daterra Viticultores. She’s based in Manzaneda in the Bibei Valley, in Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra. While Ribeira Sacra isn’t a large region, it does have quite distinct terroirs, and part of her goal is to showcase these differences in her wines.

She works with 25 vineyard plots, and in total there are 5 hectares of vines, so this is precision parcellation. Winemaking is simple and quite natural. The reds are usually destemmed (athough maybe 10% whole bunch is employed in some cuvees in warmer years), and there’s a short, usually one-week, maceration. The wine then goes to barrel (chestnut or oak), or foudres.

Production is around 18 000 bottles per year.

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Daterra Viticultores Casas de Enriba 2016 Valdeorras, Spain
This is a Mencia from a south-facing vineyard at 550 m altitude, with granitic clay/loam soils. Aged in used 500 litre oak and 1000 litre chestnut barrels. It’s beautifully aromatic with perfumed red cherries. Fine and bright with enticing aroma. The palate is nicely textural with silky red cherries and fine spices. So beautiful. 94/100

Daterra Viticultores Portela do Vento 2016 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
90% Mencia, with the balance a mix of Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera), Merenzao, Mouraton and Gran Negro. From two vineyards in Chanteiro and Terras de Trives at 350-700 m and on granitic sandy/loam soils. 11 days maceration with some stems, aged in a 4000 litre foudre and used small oak. 12.5% alcohol. Very fine and expressive with red cherries and fine herbs. Really floral. The palate has a sappy twist to the sweet fruit with some structure under the fine spices, raspberries and cherries. 95/100

Daterra Viticultores Azos da Vila 2016 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
This comes from vineyard plots in Manzaneda (Val do Bibei), granitic soils, 400-750 m. 20 day maceration on skins, aged in 225 and 500 litre oak. This is a blend of Mouraton, Gran Negro, Mencia, Garnacha Tintorera, Merenzao, Dona Blanca, Colgadeira and Godello. Old vines. So fine, linear and expressive with fresh sappy rasoberry and cherry fruit. Lovely acidity and great balance to the fruit. So elegant with real finesse and brightness. 95/100

Daterra Viticultores Azos do Pobo 2016 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
This is from Soutipedre, and single plots on this mountainside with schist and slate soils. The varieties are Mouraton, Gran Negro, Mencia, Garnacha Tintorera and Merenzao, and this is aged in small oak. Brooding black cherry and raspberry aromatics. Vivid and expressive with lovely supple, grippy, elegant red and black fruits with some structure. Picked on the cusp with lots of ageing potential: a beautiful wine. 96/100

Daterra Viticultores Gavela da Vila 2016 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
This is Palomino macerated on the skins for seven days. Very textural and fine with a bit of spicy bite. Supple with pear and citrus fruit, and a hint of mineral. Stony and grippy on the finish. 92/100

Daterra Viticultores Erea de Vila 2015 Ribeira Sacra, Spain
A blend of Godello and Dona Blanca. Because of mildew, this wasn’t made in 2016 and the grapes went into the reds. It’s nutty, intense and mineral on the nose. Lovely weight on the palate with almonds, pears, spice and citrus. There’s a lovely texture with some oxidative hints. Fine spiciness on the finish. Quite profound. 94/100

UK agent Carte Blanche

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Terroir: when soils trump climate

I’ve been embroiled in endless discussions about terroir in the past. And I mean endless. They quickly become unfocused, ideological and circular, with people talking at cross purposes. But it’s still such an interesting concept. And an important one: it lies at the heart of fine wine.

Here I just want to make one point. When it comes to fine wine, soils trump climate. Let me explain.

Terroir deniers (and there are many of them; they tend to hunt in packs; and Australia and California harbor the largest populations of them) suggest that the biggest factor in wine quality is climate. And, given the right climate and variety combination, then a skilled viticulturist combined with good winemaking can fashion great wines.

This spawned a lot of work looking at ‘homoclimes’. For example, if you want to make great Pinot Noir, then find the climatic areas that most closely resemble areas where the world’s greatest Pinots are made. That would probably be the Côte d’Or of Burgundy then. When I was getting into wine back in the mid-1990s this was how people were thinking. Some still do think like this.

Limestone soils, Bairrada

But while climate clearly is important, it isn’t sufficient in of itself to create great wines. Although this offends my egalitarian principles, I must acknowledge that not all vineyard sites are created equal. And it’s what lies under the surface of the vineyard that acts as the ceiling to wine grape, and thus wine, quality.

To the terroir sceptic, trained in the self-confident wine schools of new world countries, the parcellation and vineyard hierarchies in Burgundy are absurd. Their explanation for this? They are all about marketing and microclimate. But there are two problems with this view.

First, microclimate: while there are going to be differences from one vineyard to the next, these climate differences don’t track the boundaries of climats (separately identified vineyard parcels: there are 1247 of them in Burgundy), and they are modest. A vine doesn’t see climate: it sees the weather of the growing season. This will differ from year to year more than the small microclimatic differences among the climats. The thing that stays the same is the soil (and the aspect, of course). There has been climate change with a warming trend over the last 50 years but there’s no clamour to change vineyard boundaries here.

And the marketing argument doesn’t stack up. Don’t you think, given the huge economic incentives, owners of village level vineyards would be taking much more care and attention, if by better viticulture they could achieve Grand Cru level wines? Of course, there are some over-performers with village level plots (think JP Fichet in Meursault as a good example), and some under-performers with Grand Crus (and some Grand Crus, such as bits of Clos du Vougeot and Echezeaux that aren’t necessarily all that grand), but in general the vineyard hierarchy is intact. This is because it is the soils that act as the ceiling for quality. Good growers run into this ceiling. I’m not negating the importance of skilled viticulture and winemaking; I’m just saying that this can only take you so far.

If you don’t have great soils, you can’t make great wine. You can make very good wine, and very enjoyable wine, but there will be a ceiling to quality no matter how skilful your viticulture and winemaking is. For this reason, for fine wines, soil trumps climate. The climate can get you most of the way there, but to cross the finishing line, you need some help from the soils.

You can make some very nice wines indeed from grapevines planted in OK soils with the right climate. But there’s a difference between good and great. Not everyone gets this difference, but it is there, and as a community of judgement we recognize and reward it. And to make great wines, you need to have a great soil. How to define a great soil? That’s a great topic for another day, but water relations, composition and chemistry all matter. Microbes, too, probably. Across the wine world, people are beginning to realize this.

Wine writer buys wine! Shock! But which ones?

I had a case of wine delivered today. One that I paid for! Yes, occasionally we wine writers buy wine. Well, at least I do. Apart from anything else, a diet of samples (even good ones) isn’t healthy. How can you connect with readers who buy wine if you, as a writer, are never in their shoes? When you spend your own money on a bottle you have a different relationship with it.

I spend quite a bit of money on wine in restaurants (these days, I’m more often dining out than in it seems), but I also buy wine from retailers. And I reckon it’s useful for readers to see what the writers they follow buy. This time it was some Spanish whites, and they are pictured above. There were 3 bottles each of the Feifinanes Albariño, which I really like, and the classic Tondonia Reserva Branco 2004. Then a couple of bottles of the Rosal (another lovely Albariño). And the last bottle of Eulogio Pomares’ amazing Carralcoba wine. Finally, two singletons from Jerez: the Equipo Navazos and the Niepoort Navazos. There’s some good drinking here, and the wines were also very reasonably priced.

Video: the Nagano wine region, Japan

Here’s a brief video of my trip round the Nagano wine region:


Albariño series (2) Granbazán Etiqueta Ámbar 2016 Rías Baixas, Spain

The second wine in this series on Albariño, that wonderful grape from northwest Spain and Portugal, is another from Rias Baixas. This one is a bit of a surprise: I picked it up from Oddbins tonight on the way home, and it’s packed in a very old-fashioned way. But it delivers lovely flavours.

Granbazán Etiqueta Ámbar 2016 Rías Baixas, Spain
13% alcohol. With very old-school packaging in a tall bottle, the appearance of this wine is a bit deceptive, because it’s actually modern and thrilling. It has a lovely refined spicy quality under the fresh, delicate pear, apple and peach fruit. Made from free-run juicy only, this has a refined personality, and offers beautifully poised fruit, freshness and a mineral, spicy finish. Despite the delicacy, there is plenty of flavour here, and it has a long, tapered finish. Lovely stuff. 93/100 (£15.50 Oddbins)

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ALBARIÑO

  1. Eulogio Pomares Parcelarios (I) Carralcoba Albariño 2015 Rias Baixas, Spain
  2. Granbazán Etiqueta Ámbar 2016 Rías Baixas, Spain
  3. Terras Gauda O Rosal 2017 Rías Baixas, Spain