jamie goode's wine blog

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Awesome natural Fiano at the gastronomy seminar

Just back from the second of the London Gastronomy seminars. It was a cracking event, although as one of the speakers it isn't really my job to say that. Amazing people attending - I chatted to quite a few afterwards - there's such a concentration of serious people interested in flavour in London, I suspect these events will keep going - it might be interesting to have a Question Time style panel for one of them, where issues of flavour, provenance, authenticity and so on are answered by a group representing different flavour disciplines, including academics, merchants, wholesalers and the like.

James Hoffmann's presentation tonight on coffee was fantastic. He's younger and smarter than me, and you can follow him at www.jimseven.com.

The wine I chose to serve was something a bit off the wall. It's a natural wine from southern Italy, and it's brilliant, life-enhancing, challenging and simply mind-blowing. But not for everyone, I admit.

Don Chisciotte Campania Fiano IGT 2007 Italy
From a vineyard at 850 metres, this is a varietal Fiano, tank matured with no sulphur dioxide additions (even at bottling) and skin maceration. A slightly cloudy orange/gold colour, it has amazing aromatics of nuts, spice, tangerine, cox apple and herbs. The palate is fresh and tangy with spicy citrus notes as well as a bit of tannic grip, with beautiful balance. Despite its wildness, it's not at all clumsy or rustic. A brilliant food companion, this is a tremendous advert for natural winemaking. You could imaging drinking something very similar to this 1000 years ago. It is not oxidised or sherried at all. A wine that demands the attention and expands the imagination. 94/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene, retail c. £16, but not much made)


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Awesome natural southern Italian: Monte di Grazia

I love this wine, which I've been drinking for the last couple of nights. It's one of my wines of the year, I reckon. I opened it to celebrate the first game under the charge of Roberto Mancini.

It's from Tramonti, high above the town of Amalfi in Campania, some 45 km from Naples. The wine comes from 2.7 hectares of vines spread over five plots, with tendone trellising (a sort of pergola system with the vines trellised high, the leaves shading the grapes from the hot sun). These vines are old, ranging from 50 years to over 100, and are ungrafted.

The principle grape is a teinturier (red fleshed) called Tintori di Tramonti, with 10% Piedirosso. It's aged in large barrels, and no sulfur dioxide is used. It reminds me a bit of the Southwest of France, but then also a bit of red Vino Verde, and there's definitely an Italian accent in the mix, too.

Monte di Grazia Rosso 2007 IGT Campania
Deep coloured. This has a wonderfully meaty, bloody, iodine, mineral nose with plum and cherry fruit. It has lots of fruit, but it is predominantly savoury. The palate continues this savoury theme, with a lovely minerally, gravelly, spicy edge to the rich dark fruits. It's quite robust and complex with high acidity and lots of freshness, as well as real mineralic intensity. There's a purity to it, as well - it avoids being rustic. Thrilling wine. 93/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene, retail c. £11)

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Get thee down to Whole Foods Market: very good wine list and excellent wine bar

I had lunch today at the wine bar in the Whole Foods Market store on High Street Kensington, with their wine buyer Pete Hogarth and PR person Alex Tunney, who'd invited me to come and see what they are up to.

The wine range at Whole Foods is simply brilliant. It's a mix of conventional and natural wines, and is full of interest. In particular, the Italian and regional French ranges are superb, with strength in depth and an array of natural wines that is simply unparalleled in London.

The wines aren't overpriced, although they are not the cheapest, either (some seemed a bit on the expensive side, such as JM Stephan’s Côte Rôtie at £75, but is probably a function of what the wines were purchased for).

Browsing the shelves I found perhaps two dozen wines that I'd have bought on the spot if I'd been shopping. This is unusually good.

The best bit is that the wine bar allows customers to take a wine off the shelf, pay for it at the till, and then drink it at the bar with no extra corkage at all. That is seriously cool. The food options at the bar aren't too extensive, but what there is is very good. We had one each of the tartines (these are open sandwiches with a range of charcuterie and cheese toppings), raclette, a large plate of Italian charcuterie and some generous-sized slabs of Montgomerie Cheddar and cave-aged Gruyere.

These were washed down with three very interesting wines.

Angiolino Maule I Masieri 2008 Garganega del Veneto IGT
12% alcohol. 60% Garganega, 40% Trebbiano, made with some skin contact and with low sulfur dioxide (50 mg/litre). Yellow colour. Lovely bright, minerally, appley fruit here with some gently spicy notes. Quite complex with real personality. After a while in the glass it begins to pick up more complexity, with grapefruit pith and mandarin notes, as well as subtle matchstick complexity. A lovely natural wine. 91/100 (£11.99 Whole Foods Market)

Roagna Langhe Rosso 2001 Piedmont, Italy
13% alcohol. Long skin maceration, aged for years in large Slavonian oak casks, with just a touch of sulfur dioxide at bottling. This wine comes from Barbaresco: it's Roagna's younger vines and those at the bottom of the slope. But it's better than most Barolos or Barbarescos. Wonderfully savoury and elegant with subtly earthy cherry fruit, together with some spicy notes. There's a nice texture: while this is fairly tannic, there's a smoothness and elegance to the palate, with refined, complex spicy, earthy notes under the fruit. Very Burgundian style of Nebbiolo, and drinking beautifully now. 93/100 (£24.99 Whole Foods Market)

Veramar Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2007 Virginia, USA
13.4% alcohol. This is my first Virginian wine, and I'm just so impressed. It's got lovely purity of fruit, and real old world elegance. Clean red berry and cherry fruit nose with some sweetness and no greenness, and just a subtle chalky minerality hinting at the varietal origin. The palate shows lovely focused midweight berry fruits with great purity and balance. It reminds me a little of a Central Otago Pinot Noir, with its lovely stylish, focused fruit. Really delicious and quite serious. 90/100 (£16.99 Whole Foods Market)

Disclosure: I didn't pay for my lunch.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A brilliant natural wine from the Rhône

I wanted something decent to drink tonight, so I opted for a delicious natural wine from the Rhône. It's made by a dude in Tavel by the name of Eric Pfifferling, who you can read more about here. No sulfur dioxide is added during the vinification, although there's an outside chance that a small amount is added at bottling (the label says, 'contains sulfites', but this might just be precautionary - yeasts can make SO2). Like many natural wines, it is elegant, bright, complex and utterly drinkable. There's an amazing purity to it: with some wines you feel as though you are tasting through a veil; here, all the flavours are uncovered and laser-sharp. And I hate scoring wines like these: it just seems wrong.

L’Anglore Cuvée de la Pierre Chaude NV Vin de Table de France
This is a lovely natural wine from the Rhône, made by Eric Pfifferling from 85% Grenache and 15% Clairette, and although this is officially NV because it’s a VdT, it’s from the 2008 vintage. A bright cherry red colour, it has a vibrant, subtly peppery cherry and red berry fruit nose with just a hint of green herbiness, and some alluring sweet earthy notes. The palate is beautifully bright and fresh with red fruits, herbs, some grippy peppery tannins and a lovely, subtly bitter savoury quality that balances the fruitiness quite beautifully. This is a light, expressive, elegant wine that you’d be hard to place in a blind tasting. It’s quite Burgundian, has a touch of Beaujolais about it, but also shows a bit of Rhône character. I really like it, and it’s amazingly easy to drink. 92/100 (UK availability: Les Caves de Pyrene)

It's wines like this that make me want to hot foot it over to Paris, which has an amazing array of cavistes who specialize in vins naturels (see Bertrand's article here for inspiration). Natural wines shouldn't work, but they do!

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A crazy natural white from the Loire - Chenin on acid

How could you not like this wine? Quite easily, I suppose, if you are uncomfortable leaving familiar territory. It's a crazy wine made by a biodynamic grower from the Menu Pineau grape variety and aged in large barrels. I really like it.

Julien Courtois L'Originel Vin de Table Francois NV
This is actually from the 2006 vintage (indicated by 'L6' at the bottom of the front label. Importer Doug Wregg describes it as Chenin on acid - cheese and cider in one glass. It has a complex herby, appley, waxy nose. The palate is open, appley and wonderfully complex with a long minerally, acid finish. Weird but lovely. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene - retail is around £16)

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

An amazing natural Beaujolais

Beaujolais should be a fun, good-time wine, but it's mostly depressing and either a bit spoofy of simply joyless. Fortunately, there are some natural winemakers who are producing incredibly elegant, complex expressions of Gamay from Beaujolais' distinctive terroirs. They're the ones that I like to drink. And they're also the sorts of wines that I always feel like drinking, too. Here's a good one.

Yvon Metras Moulin-a-Vent 2007 Beaujolais
Pale cherry red colour. Wonderful tension between the sweet, light cherry fruit and the more savoury, earthy, minerally dimension. This is subtle, complex and beautiful with pure sweet fruit complemented by a touch of more evolved character, adding complexity and elegance. Almost perfect balance with a hint of sappiness and lovely purity: this has the same sort of elegance as a good Grand Cru red Burgundy. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Victoria Moore on Terroirs

There's a wonderful piece by Victoria Moore on Terroirs, the natural wine bar that's shaking the London dining scene, on the Caves de Pyrene website. This originally appeared in the ES Magazine, but it deserves a wider readership, which is why I'm plugging it here.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some incredible wines today

Two rather different tastings today, both of which were really impressive.

First the Waitrose (UK supermarket) press tasting. Their range - a large chunk of which was on show - is unparalleled among supermarkets. Some really good wines, with solid buying across the board. They keep freshening it up with new wines: four that caught my eye were Remelluri Rioja 2004 (brilliant stuff with amazing minerality and intensity), Mac Forbes Coldstream Pinot Noir 2006 Yarra (amazingly elegant), Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2007 (pure, burly, meaty, fresh) and the Penfolds Bin 311 Tumburumba Chardonnay 2006 (really fresh, lively and exciting). But wine nuts need to wait a few months for the next development, which will be Waitrose Wine Online's new website, on a new platform with added functionality. Headed up by Alex Murray, who was at BBR.com before his recent two year stint with game.com, it looks set to become a really exciting wine destination.

Then the Les Caves de Pyrene REAL WINE 2009 tasting. My, there were some fantastic wines here. I could really have done with another day tasting these, but I have to go to Edinburgh tomorrow so I can't do the second day. It seems silly to pick out highlights, but I must - Frederic Cossard's Burgundies are stunning, as are Philippe Pacalet's 2007s. Zidarich makes some fantastic wines, as do La Stoppa (including a wonderful lightly sparkling Barbera, Guturnio Vivace). Camilo Donati's sparkling Trebbiano is really special, and I loved the Foulards Rouges range from the Roussillon, which were so, so pure. Pictured above is Jean Foillard, a famous natural wine maker from Morgon, Beaujolais.

Early flight to Edinburgh tomorrow. On reflection, it's probably not the greatest time to be hanging around Heathrow, what with the emergent swine flu pandemic and all.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Natural wine bar in London: Artisan and Vine

It's a bit soon to be calling it a 'movement', but London currently has two natural wine* bars. Last year it had none. Paris is chock full of them, and they're just brilliant places to drink delicious natural wines, usually accompanied by simple, honest food.

I've blogged here about one of the new natural wine bars, Terroirs, but it wasn't until Monday that I finally got to visit the second, Artisan & Vine. And the good news is that it's really great!

Just a short walk up the hill from Clapham Junction Station, until last year this was a Cuban-themed cocktail joint. Now, new owner Kathryn O'Mara has transformed it into an attractive wine bar with a really interesting list of wines. I met up with her to see how she was getting on.

Born and raised in Sydney, Kathryn (above) has a business background. She was a successful management consultant with Price Waterhouse, with an Audi TT convertible as a company car. But she wasn't excited by the work. 'I decided that if I wasn't excited by this job, then I wouldn't be excited by any corporate job', she recalls. Kathryn had been cultivating an interest in wine, and after positive experiences visiting English vineyards she decided she'd like to run a wine bar where 'everyone could try things'.

So she did a WSET intermediate certificate, but at the time had no thoughts about specializing in natural wine. It was a tasting of biodynamic wines at Green & Blue that sparked her interest in all things natural, and led her in the direction of what she's now doing at Artisan & Vine, which she opened in July 2008.

The wine list is really interesting, combining natural wines from a range of different suppliers with a selection of English wines. At any one time there are four reds and five whites for sale by the glass, and also any odd bottles that happen to be open. Kathryn has some very attractibe small carafes that take a single glass - these are popular with customers who might want to tackle a small tasting flight together. There are also regular wine tastings, which start at £12 a head for five wines.

Kathryn recently switched to a cash mark-up from a percentage mark-up for bottles over £26. 'It was pretty obvious that wines over this price sold rarely', she reports. You can also buy any of the wines at retail prices to take home. With only a small kitchen area, food is largely cheese and meat plates, with a small selection of mains, most of which are under £10.

We tried one of the wines, a Provencal red.

Clos Milan 'Duo' 2000 Les Baux de Provence, France
Made without any added SO2, a Grenache-dominated blend. Really aromatic with sweet plum and cherry fruit, as well as a delicious earthy spiciness. Smooth, pure, earthy and sweet on the palate, showing lovely complexity and some earthy notes. Utterly delicious: a beguiling, warm red wine. 92/100 (£42 from the bar)

Kathryn says that on Friday and Saturday nights Artisan & Vine is a bar that could be 'like any nice bar'. But I think it's just great that people are being given the chance to try such an interesting bunch of wines, even if that's not why they're drinking here. I also find it really encouraging that wine (and particularly natural wine) has enough intrinsic interest to encourage people like Kathryn to lay aside successful, lucrative careers to pursue their dreams.

*I realise that I haven't defined the term 'natural wine' here. It's a complex sort of definition, but in short these are wines made in a traditional way, with the only permitted additive being sulfur dioxide, and usually this is only added at bottling in small amounts. The growers work sustainably in the vineyards: many are organic or biodynamic.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Crazy sparkling red, again

I don't know why, but I seem to have been drawn towards sparkling red wines of late. There's the Afros Vinho Verde Espumante, the M&S Lambrusco, and now this - a sparkling red from the Loire.

Domaine de Montrieux Petillant Naturel Boisson Rouge, Vin de Table NV
Emile Hérédia is the dude behind this remarkable wine - a Gamay from the Loire, made naturally (without the addition of sulfur dioxide), with the fermentation finished in bottle. Sealed with a crown cap, this is a sparkling cherry red-coloured wine that's just a little off dry. It's deliciously more-ish, with flavours of ripe cherries backed up by some subtle spicy, earthy notes, giving it a savoury feel despite the sweetness. It gains complexity with time in the glass - while this is a fun wine, it also repays contemplation, and I really like it. It's the sort of wine you just want (or need) another glass of. Serve chilled. 90/100 (£13.75 Les Caves de Pyrene, Green and Blue)

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dangerously drinkable natural wine

Currently finishing off the remains of a bottle of a dangerously drinkable natural wine. It's beautifully packaged in a minimalist/modern style, and finished with a bright red synthetic cork that I'm not 100% keen on (although I respect the attitude shown here by the producer).

Les Foulards Rouges 'La Soif du Mal' Vin de Table de France (NV)
No vintage declared (although the code 'L06' on the label indicates one), this light coloured red is utterly delicious and very drinkable. It has aromas of sweet cherry fruit with a sappy edge and lively purity, countered by an earthy, spicy note. The palate is bright and supple with a spicy, herby character that I often get in natural wines, as well as fresh, rather savoury cherry fruit. Think somewhere between new Zealand Pinot Noir and a deliciously fresh Gamay from the Beaujolais, and you've got something of the character of this wine. It's light, fragrant and aromatic. 13.5% alcohol, but it tastes lighter than this. This is remarkable, considering that this wine is a 70/30 Syrah/Grenache blend from the Roussillon. 'Soif du Mal' translates, I guess, as a wicked thirst, and this is the sort of wine that will certainly satisfy a thirst. 91/100 (UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

No-sulfur added Cabernet Sauvignon, mini-vertical

Regular readers will know that I take a keen interest in 'natural' wines: those with as little added as possible. Normally these are niche wines, available only from speciality retailers. But in February Sainsbury listed a commercial no-sulfur-dioxide-added wine (see my report here), and it was really good. Here, I retaste that wine to see how it has shaped up, as well as the latest release, the 2008. Both are tasting really good, and represent brilliant value for money at around a fiver.

Sainsbury’s So Organic South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Made without any added sulfur dioxide by Stellar Winery; sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. Vibrant, aromatic, juicy and ripe, with sweet blackcurrant and berry fruit. This is fresh and vibrant with lovely purity. An utterly delicious inexpensive, fruit-forward red with a bit of spicy bite on the finish. Considering no sulfur dioxide has been used, it’s incredible that it’s holding up so well. Dudley the winemaker knows what he’s doing. 88/100

Sainsbury’s So Organic South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Western Capw, South Africa
14% alcohol. Made without any added sulfur dioxide by Stellar Winery; sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. A really vivid, vibrant forward wine that tastes like a barrel sample. It’s that fresh! It’s bold, blackcurranty and intense with lovely density and the sweet, forward, aromatic fruit balanced by lovely crunchy, spicy tannic structure. It’s just delicious with a grippy, crunchy mouthfeel that works really well with the sweet blackcurrant fruit. I’m really impressed. 89/100

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beaujolais Nouveau arrives, but it's not the Beaujolais I drink tonight

I quite like young wines. The idea behind Beaujolais Nouveau is a great one, but the problem is the wine. If they could get a vibrant, youthful, natural-tasting wine that tastes like a barrel sample to market soon after the vintage, I'd buy it and drink it in quantity. But most nouveau tastes confected and fake. There's no joy in that. Bottle me some still fermenting wine from a cask if you must! This is a wine of the moment. As Kermit Lynch puts it, the 'one night stand of wines'.

In recognition of the fact that today is Nouveau Day 2008, tonight I'm drinking two cru Beaujolais from the 2007 vintage. One is nice and fruity, but a little confected. The other is fantastically elegant and pure.

Henry Fessy Cuvee 'Georges Fessy' 2007 Brouilly, Beaujolais
This is sweet, seductive and fruity, with a smooth red cherry fruit character, as well as a hint of bubblegum aromatics. It's very polished and fruity, but a little bit too smooth and confected for me. It's nice enough, but there are lots of wines offering simple fruit these days, and I'm left wanting a little bit more. 86/100 (£10.99 Handford, Amps, Planet of the Grapes)

Yvon Metras Fleurie 2007 Beaujolais, France
This is fantastic. It has a complex, forward nose of bright cherries, spice and earth, with an underlying sweetness and some subtly tarry notes. The palate is smooth, seamless and really elegant with a delicious earthy, minerally core to the fruit holding everything in lovely tension. There's some sweetness and richness here that you don't really expect from Beaujolais, but there's also lovely elegance. This is what Gamay can do so well. 91/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I visit terroirs wine bar

Went last night to Terroirs, a new wine bar in London focusing on 'natural' wines, located just a few yards from Charing Cross station.

There's already a thriving natural wine bar scene in Paris, and it's about time it came to London, because these wines are authentic, interesting and affordable. Terroirs manages to do the difficult job of combining a nice ambience, good food and a stunning, fairly priced wine list – and I thoroughly recommend it.

What exactly are 'natural' wines? They're wines that honestly express their sense of place ('terroir'), which usually means that they are made by committed wine growers who add as little as possible to their wines and allow their vineyards (usually managed without reliance on synthetic chemicals) to express themselves to the full. Typically, this will mean fermentation without the addition of cultured yeasts, no new oak, no added acidity or tannin, and no added sulfur dioxide until bottling, if at all.

I met with Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene who are partners in Terroirs and who supply around 90% of the wines. We ate at the bar, and enjoyed a number of wines with our food. The food was fantastic. The chacuterie plate had two excellent terrines, plus an awesome, melt-in-the-mouth jambon iberico, as well as a smooth, delicate salami.

We then shared potted shrimp on toast, bone marrow and truffle on toast, grilled eel, and belly pork with beans. All were superb.

What about the wines? I let Doug choose, and he chose well.

Domaine des Foulards Rouge Cuvee Octobre [2008] Vin de Table
A young wine from the Roussillon, this is amazingly fresh and bright, with sweet, pure, sappy cherry and berry fruit. Vibrant and joyful this is superbly drinkable with lovely purity and freshness. 89/100 (£6 glass; £23.50 bottle)

Philippe Valette Macon-Chaintre 2005 Burgundy, France
Lovely concentration and intensity here, with beautiful balance between the rich bold fruit and smoky, spicy minerality/ A tiny hint of oxidation adds richness. Complex rich, toasty and intense with lovely boldness and intensity. 92/100 (£8.50 glass/£33.75 bottle)

Massia Vecchia Bianco 2006 Maremma, Toscano, Italy
65% Vermentino, with some skin maceration. Orange coloured, this has lovely aromatics: fresh, lifted floral notes with lemons, herby notes and a hint of sweetness. The palate has some lovely spiciness with herb and mineral notes. Quite beautiful, and almost like a red wine in terms of its structure. 94/100 (£48 bottle)

Carso Zidarich ‘Teran’ 2005 Friuli, Italy
This is a varietal Teran/Terrano (a special sort of Refosco). It’s powerful, minerally and super-fresh with notes of gravel and citrus. Lovely fruit purity, with black cherry, plum and raspberry. Vivid, intense and delicious. A sappy, grippy character keeps it fresh. 91/100 (£38.50 bottle)

Clos Lapeyre Jurançon ‘Magendia’ 2005
100% Petit Manseng, late harvested. Savoury, herby and pithy with intense citrussy fruit and lovely complexity. Richly textured and quite pure, with nice acidity. 92/100 (£6.50 glass)

We then finished off with some weird stuff.

Massa Vecchia ‘Aliatico’ is a red Muscat variant, and its wild, sweet and volatile with musky, herby, grapey fruit and a blast of vinegar. Sounds weird but it’s lovely. And three from Maison Laurent Cazottes:

First, an Aperitif aux Noix Verts. This is weird: it’s spicy, earthy and nutty with notes of cinnamon and curry spice, as well as sweetness on the palate. It’s actually walnuts seeped in wine. Second, an eaux de vie made of Poire William, which is pure and delicious. Third, an eaux de vie made from greengages (Reine Claude Doree), which is weird and delicious.

Summary? Terroirs is a great addition to the London gastronomic scene, and is a must visit for open-minded wine lovers.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

'Terroirs': Fiona Sims reviews London's first natural wine bar

There's a new natural wine bar in London. It's called, rather appropriately, 'Terroirs', and it is reviewed here in tomorrow's (the wonder of the internet) Times by Fiona Sims. I'll try to check it out next time I'm in town. The centrepiece of her article focuses on whether natural wines give you a hangover - the issue for me is whether they taste interesting.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Addicted to Pinot: Philippe Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin

I'm pretty much addicted to Pinot Noir these days. I can't refuse its charms. When it calls me, I am powerless to resist. I dream of Pinot, and when I awake, I can't wait until it's 6 pm and time to open another. [I exagerrate, a little. But I do really, really like good Pinot.]

Pinot Noir from its home territory, Burgundy, frequently disappoints. You can spend a lot of money on a bottle of red Burgundy and end up with something filthsome and mean. Cheap Burgundy is almost always pointless. It's the region of the great wine swindle.

Tonight's wine, though, is the real deal. A naturally made red Burgundy from Philippe Pacalet, who I first met at the International Pinot Noir Celebration this summer in Oregon (see my blog post). He's a really interesting person with well thought-out views on wine.

You can read more about him here at Bertrand Celce's wonderful wine blog.

Philippe Pacalet Gevrey-Chambertin 2006 Burgundy, France
Quite pale in colour, this has a lovely aromatic, slightly sappy nose of sweet cherry fruit, with some subtle notes of fresh-turned earth. The palate is pure and elegant, showing smooth, precise cherry fruit with some firm, spicy, grippy tannic structure taking hold of the finish. A really light, pure, elegant style, but showing good concentration and enough structure to make me think this might reward mid-term cellaring. But it's hard not to drink it now. It's not perfect, but this is a benchmark example of elegant, natural red Burgundy. 92/100 (UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene. £36.99 Zelas Wines)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remarkable natural Burgundy

Tonight I'm drinking a wine that is bringing me great joy. It's alive. It's complex. It's elegant. It's wild. But it's just a humble Bourgogne.

Domaine de Chassorney Bourgogne Pinot Noir 'Bedeau' 2005 Burgundy, France
Frederic Cossard is a natural wines sort of guy who works with very little sulfur dioxide, and this is a beautifully expressive, pure, alive expression of Pinot Noir that belies its humble appellation. The nose is lively and bright, with enthralling spicy, almost meaty complexity under the fresh, vivid bright cherry fruit. It is slightly lifted, but not at all dirty or muddy. The palate has lovely freshness, with good acidity and spicy, peppery, sappy notes countering the sweet cherry fruit beautifully. Elegance, freshness and definition are the hallmarks here: there's a hint of rusticity, but it's not detracting at all from the appeal of this lovely wine. I think this is utterly beautiful, and I could drink a lot of it. 93/100

'Natural wines – are they different or are we making an artificial case for qualitative superiority?' says Doug Wregg of Les Caves, who are the UK agents of this wine. 'Tasting Cossard’s Bourgogne Rouge, Herve Souhaut’s northern Rhone Syrah [reviewed here] and the Pineau d’Aunis from Domaine Le Briseau, to name but three, you are aware that all the wines possess energy. They do not suffer “palate drag” whereby excessive fatness, sweetness, extraction, bitterness, alcohol or wood seem to hold back the very essence of the wine or cause our tongues to negotiate superimposed textures and flavours.'

I couldn't agree more.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

A beautiful Coteaux du Loir

Tonight's wine is a beautiful, natural Loire red from the Coteaux du Loir appellation. It is made by Christian and Nathalie Chaussard from the Pineau d'Aunis grape variety, with no sulfur dioxide added during the winemaking process save for a little at bottling.

You just have to love any winegrower who can label their capsule with the slogan 'vigneron non-conforme'.

Nathalie et Christian Chaussard Les Longues Vignes 2005 Coteaux du Loir
Slightly chilled, this is a beautifully aromatic red wine with a peppery, spicy edge to the pure, sweet cherry fruit on the nose. The palate is smooth and pure but with a distinctly savoury, earthy, spicy finish. Complex and alive, with lovely freshness. A hauntingly beautiful light red wine. 92/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Philippe Pacalet - wonderful natural Burgundy

One of the winemakers present at the IPNC this year is Philippe Pacalet, from Beaune. He is an interesting guy whose Pommard 1er Cru 2006 was beautifully expressive and elegant, with amazing aromatic purity.

He's the nephew of Marcel Lapierre, and was mentored by Jules Chauvet, among others. So it will come as no surprise that Philippe uses no sulfur during his winemaking, save for a bit at bottling. He doesn't own vineyards himself, but rents plots with interesting terroir. He also had some interesting theories about why it is that grapevines are so susceptible to disease (they have been vegetatively propogated for so long it makes them weak) and what he would do about it (GM vines, but only with the motivation of doing away with any spraying). It's very interesting to meet a natural winemaker who isn't bound by dogma (although I wouldn't want to suggest that most are).
He's a producer whose wines I'll look out for in the future.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two beautiful natural wines from the Rhone

Two wines from Hervé Souhaut at Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet in the northern Rhône. He has about 5 hectares of vines over the river from the Hermitage hill, so the wines are classified as Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, but they are utterly beautiful, elegant creations, made from old vines with very little sulphur dioxide added. Elegantly packaged with their minimalist labels and black synthetic corks, these are wines of the moment – not designed to be cellared. Best served a little cooler than room temperature, too. [Unsurprisingly, in the UK these are available from Les Caves de Pyrene. No commercial connection, etc.]

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet ‘La Souteronne’ Gamay 2007 Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, France
Fresh, slightly sappy, herb-tinged nose. The palate has a lovely smooth texture and shows pure red cherry and cranberry fruit, with freshness, elegance and just a little spicy grip on the finish, making this a delightful, food-compatible wine of great purity. 91/100

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Syrah 2007 Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, France
This is simply beautiful. There’s a distinctive cool-climate Syrah peppery kick on the nose, which is otherwise really pure and focused, with a gentle leafy character underneath the red fruits. The palate is beautifully supple, slightly sappy, and fantastically elegant, with real purity to the smoothly textured fruit. I guess the granite soils may have something to do with this: it’s light, but aromatic. Just 11.7% alcohol. 93/100

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Consolation in natural wine

Had a bit of a rubbish day yesterday. Supposed to be fathers' day, but the kids were appalling (most specifically older son) and it was all a bit depressing. So I turned to wine, and specifically a rather remarkable natural wine. Suddenly, everything seemed a lot better.

Le Clos de Tu-Boeuf La Guerrerie Vin de Table Français
This is actually from the 2006 vintage, and it’s a wine made by Thierry Puzelat in the Loire, from a blend of Cot (aka Malbec, 70%) and Gamay (30%), with the grapes grown in the Cheverny appellation. Following Doug Wregg’s advice (he’s the dude from Les Caves de Pyrene who import this into the UK), I chilled it down and decanted it before drinking. It’s fantastic, life-affirmining, ‘alive’ wine. It’s aromatic with some earthy, spicy depth to the dark fruits. In the mouth it’s refreshing and bright with a lovely dense, grippy, spicy earthy quality under the focused bright fruit. It finishes quite grippy, but the defining feature is the brightness. It’s a natural tasting sort of wine that’s just so easy to drink. It’s kind of like Pinot Noir, but with some edges. 91/100 (£11.75 Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Natural wine tasting

Remarkable tasting today at the Whole Foods market on Kensington High Street, with a focus on natural wines. I hadn't intended to stay the whole day (this is London Trade Fair Week) but it was so compelling that I just couldn't leave, and even though I meant to depart by a certain time to head elsewhere, I ended up staying beyond this.

The tasting was organized by two importers specializing in natural wine: David Harvey's Sous l'Nez and Videvin (Isaure de Pontbriand and Florian Perate's new venture). In addition, a dozen or so growers were there presenting their wines. It's late and I haven't got time to mention any specifics, but I came away really impressed and enthused.

Of course, there are lots of questions, such as, 'what is natural wine anyway'? And some of these wines were so out of the ordinary it was hard to assess them in the normal way. But most tasted as if they were 'living', and there were very few wines that I'd pick out as being faulty, because even where they weren't totally spotlessly clean, they worked.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

In Paris, with French wines

I’m currently in Paris, doing some tasting with Sopexa looking at the Cabernet Franc project wines. It’s an exciting initiative that has been going for a couple of years, with a view to helping growers make red Loire wines that appeal to the UK market while still possessing a sense of place.

The tasters? Sam Harrop MW, who is providing technical/winemaking help with this project, Sam Caporn, Jim Budd and myself. Today we looked at around 160 wines between us, trying to identify those that could be used as ‘ambassadors’ of Cabernet Franc. There were some really attractive wines, typically showing focused bright dark fruit and just a bit of grippy tannin.

We finished tasting just after 4 pm, and there was time for some wandering. I walked down to Caves Auge on Boulevard Haussmann, which is a remarkable wine shop specializing in natural wines. It’s cluttered and old fashioned, but has a mouthwatering array of things that are hard to find in the UK. I controlled myself and just bought three bottles: Thierry Puzelat’s In Côt We Trust 2005 Touraine, Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2006 and Alain & Julien Guillot’s Mâcon Cruzille Clos des Vignes du Maynes 2006.

This evening we dined at a lovely restaurant, Maison de Campagne (rue Pierre Demours). Decor was a bit chintzy, but the food was fantastic, and best of all they had a lovely, well priced wine list, that reinforced the fact that France makes the world’s most interesting wines, in a diverse array of styles. Here are my notes (all these wines were well under 30 Euros):

Domaine Vincent Carênne Vouvray ‘Le Peu Morier’ 2005 Loire, France
A fantastic Vouvray that is just off-dry. Lovely mineralic nose with some fruit richness. The palate is richly textured with lovely herb and citrus fruit notes, and just a bit of Chenin funk. Finishes really mineralic. 92/100

Stéphane Tissot ‘Les Bruyères’ Chardonnay 2004 Arbois, Jura, France
The proprietor asked whether we knew this wine when we selected it – it was a warning that it isn’t the sort of thing to everyone’s taste. But I think it’s fantastic. Remarkable nose with smoky, minerally, flinty notes as well as the toastiness and richness you might expect from ripe Chardonnay. The palate is rich but bone dry, with more of those reductive notes and lovely minerality. Fantastic stuff. 93/100

Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2006 Côtes de Rhône Villages, France
A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Deep coloured, with a dark, spicy, meaty nose that is intense and quite savoury. The palate is dense with bold sweet fruit countered by spicy, earthy savouriness. A powerful, intense win of real appeal. 92/100

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Crazy French wines at Lords

France Under One Roof is the title of a large annual tasting held here in the UK, the 2008 installment of which I attended today. Held at the Nursery Pavillon, Lords, it's an event that brings together all manner of French wines, from cheap branded bottles to some smart high-end stuff.

Aside from being mistaken by Tina Coady for Jack Hibberd, I found today's tasting quite reassuring. At the bottom end - the more commercial wines, where France has traditionally struggled to compete - I tasted quite a few wines that would give similarly priced new world competitors a real run for their money. In fact, it's getting to the stage where I'm beginning to be confident that a £6 French wine will outperform a £6 Californian or Australian bottle.

But it's France's diversity at higher price points that is so exciting. I spend a good deal of time tasting with Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene. They have some utterly fantastic, and in some cases crazy, wines.

The craziest of all, and one of the lovliest (in a funky sort of way) was a 'natural' wine from the Loire, which Doug described as being like 'Chenin on acid'. He was right.

Domaine Julien Courtois 'l'Originel' Vin de Table, France
This is a 100% Menu Pineau, an old Loire variety, grown biodynamically. It's a crazy, but lovely wine, reeking of cheese and cider. Herby, waxy, appley and pretty complex on the nose. The palate is appley and wonderfully complex with a long, minerally, acid finish. Fantastic stuff: weird but lovely. 93/100 (£15.99 Les Caves)

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Sainsbury's stock a £4.99 'no added sulphites' wine

I've just had a news piece published on the Decanter.com website about a really interesting wine that's hitting the shelves at UK supermarket Sainsbury next month. Priced at £4.99, it's an organic Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa, made by Stellar Organics. You can read all about it in the Decanter article, but I thought I'd add some comments here, and a brief tasting note.

First, it's really difficult to make wine without adding sulphur dioxide at all. Few winemakers try, because the risks are so great. And those that do tend to be 'natural winemakers' who make niche wines in relatively small quantities. It's truly remarkable to see a £4.99 wine on supermarket shelves made without any sulphite additions.

Second, what is the benefit? It's unlikely that even asthmatics will have problems with the relatively low levels of sulphur dioxide added to today's wines, so I don't think we can talk about any real health benefits. So could there be a flavour/aroma benefit? Are wines without sulphur dioxide additions somehow purer and more elegant? Perhaps. I've had some that are; I've had others that are bretty or just plain weird.

This wine is really good, though. It's dark and intense with lovely purity of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. There's a real aromatic precision here, and an openness to the flavours - is this due to the absence of added sulphur dioxide? It's hard to say. At this price point, £4.99, it's a wine that's punching well above its weight. I think it's quite delicious. I don't think you'd want to cellar it for too long, but for current consumption, it's lovely. As well as being organic, it's also a Fairtrade wine.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

South African star with no added sulphur

I'm very excited by this wine. It's an inexpensive South African Cabernet Sauvignon but it is made without any added sulfur dioxide (the 'f' as opposed to the 'ph' spelling is the one now officially used by scientists worldwide, as per IUPAC guidelines - sorry about this boring aside). As you probably know, sulfur dioxide is the chemical almost universally added to wine to prevent the effects of oxidation and to deter unwanted microbrial growth.

Very few producers attempt to make wines without any added sulfur dioxide at all. There are a slightly larger group who don't use any during the winemaking process but add some at bottling. But, given the utility of sulfur dioxide, what is the motivation for doing without it? First, some people have a desire to make wine with no additions whatsoever, because they are committed to their vision of natural wines. Second, some people think that wines with no sulfur added have an aromatic purity and elegance that is worth taking a huge risk for.

I've had mixed experiences with no-sulfur added wines, but enough good ones that keep me pursuing this topic with interest. Yes, I know it's madness to try to make commercial wines without sulfur additions, but I admire people who try. And in this case, the wine is utterly fantastic - much, much more interesting and arguably better than any South African wine at this price point that I've so far tasted.

Stellar Organics Cabernet Sauvignon No Added Sulphur 2006 Western Cape
Made from organically grown grapes, with no added sulfur dioxide. A fantastic deep red/black colour, this looks like a barrel sample. It has a wonderfully perfumed, seductive nose of pure sweet blackcurrant fruit with an earthy edge and some gravelly minerally notes in the background. The palate is concentrated and quite lush, but underneath the sweet dark fruit lies a complex earthy core with a very subtle spicy green herby note adding an extra dimension. Despite the fact that this is quite a big wine, there's a lovely elegance here, and a delicious textural richness. I reckon you need to drink this gorgeously forward wine in the first flush of its youth: I suspect it will taste a bit tired and go all earthy by this time next year. 90/100 (£6.50 Vintage Roots, on offer a £5.95 until 11 January 2008)

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Spoofulated versus artisanal: a new article by Clark Smith

A brief post to direct readers to a really good article by Clark Smith on Spoofulated versus artisanal wines (here). I interviewed Clark last year - I think he has some important things to say. He also writes well, and is interesting.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Natural Gruner, a revision and a better comparison

A few days ago I reported on the Sepp Moser 'Minimal' Gruner Veltliner (here), which is made without any sulfur dioxide additions. I compared this 2005 with the regular 2006 from the same vineyard. Well now I have my hands on a 2005 to do a better comparison with, and I also have some of the 2005 Minimal left in the fridge.

On retasting the Minimal, some three nights after it was first opened, I'm going to revise my judgement. I think this is a fantastic wine. It is profound, even. I'm getting complex notes of orange, vanilla, lemon, herb, butterscotch and toast. The palate is concentrated with a lovely bitter citrus freshness to the warm nutty, toasty flavours. It's unusual but lovely. 94/100

So, now to the Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Schnabel 2005 Kremstal, Austria. A yellow gold colour, it has a beguiling, complex aroma of nuts, herbs, pepper and toast. The palate has a lively presence of fresh, herby, peppery fruit together with some nutty depth. As is typical of Gruner, there's an interesting texture: it's not fat, but there's some broadness, although the overall effect is one of dryness. Quite serious and food friendly. 91/100

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Doug of Les Caves has sent me a couple of pictures of the amphorae used for the fermentation and elevage of Cos' Pithos wine (a red wine from Sicily that I blogged on a couple of weeks ago). I thought I'd share them here.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Gruner with and without added sulfur dioxide

Even 'natural' winemakers have to add stuff to wine - almost always. While wine pretty much makes itself without much in the way of additions, one chemical - sulfur dioxide - is pretty hard to do away with. It's almost universal use in wine is because it has the useful dual action of inhibiting the growth of unwanted microbes and preventing oxidation. There's quite a bit more to it than this, but the long and short of it is that if you try to make wine without sulfur dioxide additions, you run the risk of it being spoiled.

The two wines I'm drinking tonight are therefore of real interest. They're both Gruner Veltliners from the same producer and the same vineyard, but one was made conventionally, with normal sulfur dioxide addition, and the second without any. It's not a totally straight comparison because the vintages are different, but still it's interesting to see how the wines differ. I intend to ask Nikolaus Moser why he's trying to make wine without sulfur dioxide, and what he's hoping to gain from this approach, but first I wanted to try the wines. My verdict? They're both great wines, but completely different in style.

Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Schnabel 2006 Kremstal, Austria
A classic Gruner, this has a lovely peppery freshness with richer textural elements to the fruit. There's some bright minerality and fresh acidity on the palate, keeping this from being fat, and combined with the smooth, rich texture it makes for quite a compelling wine that should age nicely in bottle. Pure, refined and expressive. 91/100

Sepp Moser Gruner Veltliner Schnabel 'Minimal' 2005 Kremstal, Austria
This wine, made without any added sulfur dioxide, is pretty wild stuff. There's a hint of cloudiness to the yellow/golden colour. On the nose, spicy, slightly peppery fresh notes are combined with richer, toasty, vanilla, bready elements to create a warm, complex whole. The palate has really nice tangy, minerally acidity under the warm toasty, bready notes. There's also some tannic structure here, which is unusual in whites. Extremely food friendly and quite complex, with a pleasant sort of reductive character. Who knows how this will develop, but it's quite serious and thought provoking now. 92/100

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

A biodynamic Sicilian amphora wine

Here's a wine that you might not 'get' of you just gave it a quick sniff and slurp in the middle of a large tasting. But once you give it a bit of time, and learn the story behind it, suddenly it all clicks, and it turns out to be almost profound. The importance of context...

Azienda Agricola Cos 'Pithos' 2006 Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Sicily
The story: two grape varieties - Nero d'Avola and Frappato - grown biodynamically and fermented in terracotta amphorae. No sulfur dioxide is used until bottling, so this wine is pretty 'natural'. Bottled in a beautiful squat, wide bottle. The nose has a haunting perfume, combining red fruits of great purity with fine minerally, spicy, earthy notes that frame the fruit quite precisely. Think of the aromatic profile of a great red Burgundy, warmed up a notch or two by the sun. It's the sort of nose you can keep returning to, and each time you attend you get something different. The palate is medium bodied and savoury, with an elegant earthiness. It has a spicy, subtly meaty complexion that makes me think of brettanomyces, but I feel stupid suggesting this, because it is hinting at a wine fault, when this wine is most certainly not faulty - it all pulls together to produce a profound result. But, at the same time, this is a relatively understated sort of wine that whispers, rather than shouts. The finish is long and dry. I think it's fantastic stuff, and I reckon this will develop nicely over the next 15 years or so, although it is drinking now. Strange to think, but that with its traditional elevage, this is a wine that could have been made 1000 or even 2000 years ago. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

More from wineterroirs

One blog I really enjoy reading is Bertand Celce's wineterroirs. For those of you who haven't visited, this report on a visit to Domaine Mosse is a good example of the sort of thing Bertrand writes. He has a good eye, writes sympathetically but still dispassionately, and has an interest in 'authentic' wines.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Eric Asimov salutes internet wine geeks

Really nice piece by NY Times wine writer Eric Asimov on the influence of internet wine geeks in celebrating diverse wines. He even uses the term 'spoofulated'.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

No added sulphur

Went shopping to Kingston with Fiona this morning, who was of the opinion that I needed an image makeover. I'm not terribly good at clothes shopping: I tend to find things I'm comfortable in, which I then wear until they disintegrate. Today we spent quite a bit of time and money, and I'm really happy with the new me. I guess I just need to lose about a stone in weight and 10 years of age.

Afterwards, on the way back through Bentalls I had a quick browse through their wine selection. It's an impoverished relic of their range of several years ago, when it had its own dedicated space - this is where I first discovered Portuguese wines. Now the Bentall's wine range is relagated to a few shelf units, with lots of the usual suspects. But I did find one wine that caught my eye: the Stellar Organics No Added Sulphur Merlot 2005 from South Africa.

I was recently involved in a tasting of wines made without sulphur dioxide, which I wrote up here. Among the selection, one of the stars of the show was the 2006 version of the Stellar Merlot, which I was very impressed by. The worry with these wines is that without the protection of sulphur dioxide, they won't live long, and sure enough the 2005 vintage is at the stage where it needs drinking up. It's interesting 'n complex 'n all, but it's taken on a prematurely evolved character.

This Merlot has a distinctive rich fruit nose with a freshly turned earth character. The palate has bold blackcurrant fruit with a nice spicy savouriness and more of that savoury earthiness. It's almost like an old Port, with earthy ripe fruit and high alcohol. Kudos for the Stellar crew for trying to make this 'natural' wine, but retailers buying this need to make sure it turns over quickly, and should keep it at low temperatures. UK availability of this wine, apart from Bentalls, is www.vintageroots.co.uk.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Real wine the Italian way

So I returned to Cave des Pyrene's real wine tasting for the second day. After concentrating on France yesterday, today I devoted myself to Italy. I was pleasantly surprised: I've always had a slight suspicion that Italy is a perennial underachiever, failing to make the most of its diverse terroirs and grape varieties. However, the wines on show today were exciting, diverse, sometimes a bit funky, but almost universally interesting.

I'll be writing them up in detail, of course, but for now some quick highlights. Elisabetta Foradori's (pictured) Teroldegos from Trentino were dark and pure with real ageing potential. COS from Sicilia is making some characterful, rather rustic reds, plus a fantastically pure, smooth Pithos that is fermented and aged in amphoras. Also from Sicily, Marco de Bortoli fashions thrilling Marsalas as well as smart table wines. Podere Le Boncie Chianti Classico Le Trame tastes like Chianti should taste: expressive, elegant, spicy. Edoardo Valentini's Trebbianos are remarkable. Sottimano's Barbarescos are profound. Paolo Bea's Umbrian wines thrill. The La Stoppa wines are remarkable, too, including the Ageno white that spends 30 days on its skins. I'd continue, but I risk being boring.

Two wines tonight: both bottles are from cases of 12 that I bought from a recent Bordeaux Index stock clearance. I know the winemakers responsible from my various trips to the Barossa (here) and so I trusted my own reviews and took a punt. I often regret buying 12 of the same wine - with so many to try, I just seem never to get to the end of the case. Will I regret these purchases?

Torzi Matthews Frost Dodger Riesling 2005 Eden Valley is a crisp, mineralic Riesling with some citrus pith character and a bit of spice, together with some richer, more complex textural elements. Still quite tightwound. Finishes dry. With a long drinking window, we'll get through this case happily. Rieslings like this are versatile food wines. Glad I bought it.

Massena The Moonlight Run 2003 Barossa is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Cinsault that weighs in at a heady 15% alcohol. It has a ripe, sweet liqueur-like nose of pure red and black fruits with a spicy edge that's rather exotic. The palate is sweet and ripe with a distinctive spicy presence. Quite pure, pretty alcoholic, but with some supporting minerality that makes me think of a really good amarone, or a supercharged Chateauneuf. The fruit drives this. I'm not sure how it will evolve, and I guess this is the key factor in whether I've made a good buy or not. If it develops well into a rich, spicy, earthy, sweetly fruited sort of wine, then I'll be very happy. If it falls apart into a mush, I'll be disappointed. I reckon the former is more likely, partly because the wine seems to be developing in the glass. Or is it just that the 15% alcohol is beginning to have an effect on my perception? I'm never quite sure about reports of wines really opening out with time because of this rather obvious confounding effect!

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Real wine tasting

A thrilling tasting today, held by Les Caves de Pyrene at the Delfina Gallery near Bermondsey Street. The theme of the tasting was 'real wine', and these are the sorts of wines that make you realise what it was that made you excited about wine in the first place. No, not absurd Californian Cabernets with 99900 points and a price tag to make you weep, containg long-hang-time dead, saggy fruit tricked up by new oak, and delivered in a heavy bottle with a big punt. These were wines with a sense of place, honestly made and sensibly priced, presented by people with calluses on their hands.

Pictured is Olivier Pithon from the eponymously named Roussillon domaine, which he began in 2001. Other standouts include the fantastic wines of Domaine Gramenon, Domaine des Roches Neuves from Samur, Emanuelle Houillon's Arbois wines, Domaine Ganevat from the Jura, Arrtxea's Irouleguys, Clos du Gravillas from the Languedoc, and this still leaves a load more I have to go back for tomorrow.

The wines were all showing pretty well today. Is that because of the atmospheric conditions? Or because it's a root day (no, I mean in the biodynamic sense, not the Australian one...)? Doug Wregg told me that all the supermarkets hold their tastings on root days (or shoot days...I may have got this mixed up) because although hardly any of them would contemplate stocking a biodynamic wine, they recognize that wines taste better on these days.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Underwater world

For the last few days we've been in Exmouth, 1300 km north of Perth. It's pretty remote up here: basically, it's where the outback meets the sea. The town is tiny and functional; the weather mid-30s centigrade, cloudless blue skies and relentless sun. The big attraction here is underwater - the Ningaloo reef, part of the Cape Range National Park.

So we get up, have a quick breakfast and drive for half an hour around the cape to Turquoise Bay, one of the many pristine beaches here. Despite the fact that it's a peak time, there aren't many people around. Just a few metres off the beach the reef begins. Easy snorkelling even for the kids. The underwater world that is revealed is simply stunning. Fish of all shapes, sizes and colours; rays; starfish; sea slugs; octopus. We'll be doing the same again today. Pictured are a mummy emu and five babys walking next to the road.

Food and drink: not much to report on. Margaret River SBS (Sauvignon Blanc Semillon) is perfect with freshly caught local fish. I also had an interesting pair of reds from Hardys: NPA, which stands for no preservatives added. Who'd have thought it? A big Aussie wine company making vins sans soufre. I need to find out more about this.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rewind and natural wines

Rewind: it's nice to catch up with old friends, visiting old haunts - but there's something about going back that stirs up emotions a little. We had a lovely time today visiting some friends who we knew very well when we were first married and living in Wallington, Surrey, but who we've lost touch with a bit since. But despite the fact that it was a nice time, I came away with a little sadness from visiting the old haunts. I don't know why.

I'm drinking Yann Chave's Crozes Hermitage 2004 tonight (Laithwaites, Majestic £9.99). You really don't want to have the name Chave and be making wines in the northern Rhone, unless you are JL Chave, of course. It's a bit like having studied at Oxford Brookes University here in the UK (which I am sure is an excellent educational establishment; it just isn't simply Oxford University). A deep coloured wine, it has a lot of flavour, with lots of green herb and black olive character. It's intensely savoury and meaty, but that northern Rhone olive and herb character is taken to an extreme here at the expense of the fruit. It's turning out to be a rather extreme and funky bottle, and it's a bit much even for me - and I like this northern Rhone style of Syrah.

I'm in the process of writing up an interesting tasting last week of natural wines with no added sulfur dioxide. As you might expect, these were a mixed bag, but there were a few gems.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Comparing notes

How consistent is your palate from day to day? And how much bottle variation exists? If you use scores, what sort of error margin is built in to them? In the light of such questions, it's nice to be able to compare notes made on separate occasions. It's best when you don't remember having tasted a wine previously, because then there's no temptation to score the same the second time round.

I was planning to write up the last of the natural wines I purchased in Paris last month on this blog, but then leafing through past notes I realised that I'd reviewed this producers wines last May - the write-up went live this week (here). I'm adding here my notes from drinking the wine the other night, which are as written. You can compare them and see how close the perceptions were, even though they were separated by several months, and made in different environments. Always a healthy comparison to make.

Domaine Rosse Anjou 2004 France
Very deep colour. Dark, savoury, gravelly, minerally nose with some cured meat and black fruits notes. The palate is very savoury and tannic - verging on the austere - with vibrant black fruits, gravelly, earthy undertones and a hint of black olives. This is extreme and wonderful: a real delight for fans of wines with personality. Very good/excellent 91/100

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Foillard's Pi Morgon

Continuing on the theme of natural wine - I do hope I'm not boring you - I'm currently sipping a Morgon from Jean Foillard. It's not the Côte du Py 2004 which I raved about elsewhere, but another cuvee labelled intriguingly 3.14, with a futuristic label depicting the pi symbol. This is a low/no sulfur wine, but it doesn't suffer from the brett problems that bedeviled the last Morgon I blogged on.

Jean Foillard Morgon Cuvee 3,14 2004 Beaujolais, France
Slightly muted cherry fruits nose leads to a savoury palate with some spiciness and smooth, elegant cherryish fruit, together with a turned earth, dark savoury edge. On one level this is a fresh, refreshing easy drinking sort of wine, but on another it has a more serious, brooding side to its personality. The second night it is little changed. Enjoyable but not as alluring as the Cote du Py cuvee he also makes. Very good+ 89/100 (From Caves Auge in Paris)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bertrand Celce's blog

Just a plug for Bertrand Celce's blog 'wine terroirs', and an article on Paris wine shops that he's recently posted. I enjoy browsing through his entries - in fact, they make me a little jealous of Parisians who are so well supplied with fantastic artisanal French wines at remarkably affordable prices. It makes the world of Californian cult Cabs and mailing lists look all the more absurd in juxtaposition. What do you prefer? Wine as conspicuous consumption, or wine with a soul?

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Elian da Ros cheapie

If, like me, you are an irredeemable wine nut, you'll probably have a tendency to buy more wine than you can drink. This is something I've battled with for a while: it's a problem that's compounded if you are thinking in terms of building a cellar. You can always justify another purchase as one for the future. My problem is that I get tempted by offers and end up buying stuff for near to mid-term drinking that I just can't get through. Particularly when I have a pile of samples to wade through.

One such wine was Elian da Ros' Vignoble de Cocumont 1999 Vin de Pays de l'Agenais. I recently found an untouched case which I'd bought a few years back from La Vigneronne (now Grand Cru Wines) for about £3 a bottle, which, it must be said, was a remarkable price for this half decent wines. Elian's wines have plenty of gutsy stuffing, tasting like a half-way house between serious Claret and a beefy Madiran. This, his entry wine, has evolved nicely - now it's showing minerally, chalky blackcurrant fruit (quite Claret-like) with some serious spicy tannins and good acidity. It's turning a bit earthy with bottle age, and overall, I reckon this wine is now peaking in a rather chunky, rustic sort of way. I'm enjoying it a good deal, but then I don't mind robust, tannic reds. One thing that has surprised me with his 1998s and 1999s is the amount of wine travel on the corks, which I've illustrated in the picture. There's something odd about the corks he's used, and I don't know what it is.

The other wine I sampled this evening is the bretty Thevenet Morgon I blogged on a few days back. Aromatically, this is interesting, but the phenol-like metallic brett on the palate is too much. I'm convinced that brett really only works in sweeter, more southern wines where there's something to counter that distinctive bretty signature.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bretty Beaujolais

Time to crack another of my 'natural' wines, which I purchased on a recent Paris trip. Now, although I'm a wine technology sort of guy, I'm not a wine faults policeman. The initial response of those who have learned to spot what are known as wine faults is to then police wines they taste for the faintest whiff of brettanomyces, or volatile acidity, or reduction. I prefer to treat each wine on its own merits, and judge more holistically. I can forgive a 'fault' if it works in the context of the wine. This bottle has left me struggling a little: I don't think brettanomyces works terribly well in the context of a Cru Beaujolais. Of course, I don't have a lab test to prove the presence of brett, but this is about a bretty a wine (to my perception) that I have met. It's a shame: I wanted to love it.

Jean-Paul Thevenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2005 Beaujolais, France
Hmmm, bretty Beaujolais. Quite fresh, brightly fruited nose with a spicy, medicinal, smoky sort of character. The palate has a meaty, spicy, phenolic character imprinted on the otherwise pure red fruits. Quite enjoyable in a very savoury, spicy, funky sort of way, but it's verging on flawed for me, and I don't really mind brettanomyces too much in the right sort of context. Very good+ 85/100

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

cheese and natural wine

Sbrinz, a Swiss cheese, is new to me. Finding out that I was exploring the world of cheese, Bill Nanson (www.burgundy-report.com) kindly brought some over on his recent visit for the DRC tasting.

It's a hard cow's milk cheese that's similar to Grana Padano or Parmesan in texture. This one is 36 months old, and it probably has a bit of a fuitier, tangier flavour than its Italian counterparts, and is a little less salty. It's great on its own. I reckon it's quite wine friendly, too. It's also a cheese with its own official website.

Tonight's accompaniment is one of the natural wines I bought on my Paris trip.

Guy Breton Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2004 Beaujolais
With a front label that looks like a back label, this is an unusual, interesting, but less than fully convincing wine. There's some lovely, smooth, pure elegant red fruits, which are complemented by some spicy, minerality, a slightly out-of-place richer fudge and tar edge, and at the end of the palate a bit of earthy, herbal character. Overall, this is a delicious, fresh, easy drinking style of Beaujolais with a real transparency and honesty to it, but all the components don't quite sit together in harmony. I hope that doesn't sound too negative, because this is a very enjoyable wine. Very good+ 88/100 (Les Caves Auge, Paris)

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What I did in Paris

On Monday I was speaking at Wine Evolution, but on Tuesday I had a choice: attend the conference sessions, or do some exploring. Tough one. Not. Much as I love the wine business, wine itself, and one of Europe's great capitals has a bigger pull on me. I was late getting up (we'd been out till 0215 the previous night), but this still gave me time to visit a few wine destinations. In particular, I was interested in Cavistes specializing in vins natural, which is a bit of a fad in France.

First stope was Caves Augé (116, Boulevard Hausmann), which is a fantastic old wine shop, crammed full of wines - the majority of which are 'natural' in one form or another. Customer service isn't perhaps their strong point, and the way the wines are arranged makes it hard to browse efficiently. But this can be forgiven for the wonderful stuff they sell. I purchased three bottles only (I could have purchased two cases) - Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2005 Jean-Paul Thevenet, Morgon 2004 Cuvee 3,14 Jean Foillard and Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2004 Guy Breton.

Next I visited La Cremerie/Caves Miard (9, rue des Quatre-Vents - pictured), a charming wine bar and shop located in a tiny old dairy. Here I bought Anjou 2004 Agnes et Remi Mosse, Cheville de Fer 2005 VdP du Loir et Cher O Lemasson and Les Marrons Villages Vin de Table Lot 04 05 Gilles et Catherine Verge.

Then it was off to lunch with philosopher Ophelia Deroy, who specializes in the philosophy of science and has contributed to the forthcoming wine and philosophy volume 'Questions of Taste', which is being edited by her partner Dr Barry Smith (I'm also contributing a paper to this book). We met at Caves Legrand, which is a wonderful caviste and small wine bar. I came away with a solitary bottle, Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2005, but this was only because I was already carrying six, and I was cutting it fine for catching the Eurostar.

There's a lot of fun to be had for wine nuts in Paris; I only scratched the surface. I will be back, I hope, fairly soon.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Paris, France

I'm off to Paris, France (as the Americans like to call it) on Sunday, for the [expensive] Wine Evolution conference. I was originally going to be moderating the closures session, but lo and behold they put me down for the logistics session as well, presumably on the back of a piece I did for the 2005 Harpers Logistics Supplement. Since I found this out I've been swotting up on logistics, which I will soon be a world expert on! I'm more confident about the closures presentation, because I had a run-through of essentially the same one at last week's Wine+ event.

Talking of logistics, I've been following with interest reports in the press about stricken container ship Napoli, which is currently lying a mile off the Devon coast. It has been amusing to see the press talk about wine being looted as people walk off carrying barrels...do they know how much a barrel of wine weighs? And that it has been a long time since wine is shipped in barrel. The barrels in question are actually new ones from Tonnellerie Boutes, destined for South Africa. Bit of a shame to turn £425 barrels into flower tubs. Maybe they could be used to spoof up some English wines.
While in Paris, I've got the best part of a day to explore. I plan to spend it visiting wine shops and wine bars, particularly those with an interest in 'natural wines', of which there are a few.

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