We were recently treated to a staff tasting and talk from California’s ‘Wild Boy of Wine’, Jim Clendenen, owner and winemaker at Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara.
With his flowing locks, fast-pace talking, random asides and funny anecdotes, Jim does still cut something of the ‘Wild Boy’ image, but this all belies his 40 years’ winemaking experience and steadfast commitment to making classic, restrained, ageworthy wines. Jim speaks fluent French, has made wine in Australian and Burgundy, and knows his craft. If you were still in any doubt, just one taste of his wines would dispel this.The Au Bon Climat wines have been described as ‘Burgundian in sensibility but with Californian style’ and it’s the Au Bon Climat chardonnay and pinot noir that have made its name. Why Burgundy? These are the wines that Jim likes to drink himself – wines that won him over as a young student in France; wines with moderate alcohol, refreshing acidity, that can be drunk with food and that are capable of ageing.
Jim was studying for a law degree but a student trip to France introduced him to its wines and culture and he was hooked. He completed his law degree but decided to get into the wine trade rather than continue with law – he didn’t think at first that he could be a winemaker. ‘I turned 21 in Bordeaux, looking around I thought that you had to own a big château in order to make wine, but in Burgundy I saw that even if you just had a couple of rows of vines and a garage to make the wine in you could be successful.’
Returning to France, Jim spent time in Champagne and Burgundy travelling around and talking to winemakers. ‘I spent a lot of time in 1981 with the late Gérard Potel, a brilliant, very technical winemaker. I learned a lot from him.’ He also went to Australia to make wine for Tyrrell’s and McGuigan Wines in the Hunter Valley and ‘Australia’s second only barrel-fermented chardonnay’ in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria. ‘These were great days,’ Jim told us. ‘Everyone had an open attitude and we shared knowledge and experience.’
This kind of openness continues to this day – Jim still spends time in France and speaks to the friends he made on the phone regularly, exchanging ideas and advice. ‘There are lots of Burgundian kids coming to California to learn about winemaking from a different perspective,’ Jim tells us. Climate change is seeing an increasing amount of information and advice flowing back from the West Coast to the Burgundian Côtes. But Jim is quick to point out that they both learn from each other. He tells us that he has worked closely with Dominique Lafon on research into premature oxidation.
It was during one of his visits to Burgundy that Clendenen came up with the idea for one of his pet projects. Waiting at Dijon tasting for a delayed train he bought a copy of the magazine Bourgogne Aujourd’hui and was shocked to read that the famous Corton-Charlemagne vineyard was originally planted with pinot beurot (a clone of pinot gris), pinot blanc and aligoté. The story goes that it was Charlemagne’s young wife Hildegard who insisted on these grapes being planted around 800AD. Interestingly, when the wines of the region were widely acclaimed in the 8th century, it was probably field blends of the above grapes that were behind the wines, not chardonnay, the only permitted variety today. What caught Jim’s eye was the fact that the house of Louis Latour didn’t grub up their vines until 1836, some 70 years or so after the official edict. ‘They clearly thought this blend of grapes, which generally ripen earlier than chardonnay, worked well here; I was intrigued so decided to recreate the wine in California.’
We tried the 2010 ‘Hildegard’ White Table Wine; on the nose there were hints of maple syrup and almonds with deceptively complex texture and palate. You certainly wouldn’t have thought it was made in California.
In fact you would be hard pushed to put any of the Au Bon Climat wines in California – they couldn’t be further in style from the high-octane, full-throttle, sweetly fruited wines that one might associate with the region. So how does Jim get that old-world restraint and finesse into his wines?
Jim’s connection with Burgundy’s top winemakers we have covered. But Clendenen points out that the geography of his chosen region is very important. Au Bon Climat is based in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, three and a half hours south of San Francisco and a good deal south of the more famous Napa and Sonoma Valleys. ‘Napa is NOT a cool climate,’ Jim thunders. ‘They practice a lot of cool-climate techniques there but the grapes then end up lacking in phenolic maturity.’
In Napa there are two mountain ranges between you and the coast. This means that the climate ends up being quite continental and the summers are really hot. In Santa Barbara there are three parallel valleys running east to west. They filter in the fog and sea mist that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean, helping to keep temperatures down, extending the growing season and keeping a freshness in the wines. Clendenen says that he is often the last to pick. Adding acid back into the wines is common practice amongst Californian producers; in fact Jim says that they used to do this too until 2001 when a change to more organic farming methods meant this was no longer necessary.
Towards the end of the eighties the Au Bon Climat wines were scoring high with such influential tasters as Robert Parker and he was also shortlisted as one of the best wineries in the world. But when tastes changed generally (and Parker’s specifically), his same wines were no longer the gout du jour. Jim didn’t change what he was doing to follow fashion but continued to make the wines that he likes to drink. Today, a new generation of Californian winemakers are pursuing the cool-climate style of winemaking – often picking the grapes too early, Jim says, but then he does have considerable experience at this game and a hotline to his mates back in Beaune.
Our opening offer of 2013 white Burgundies, the wines that first turned Jim’s head can be found here
Ten members of Society staff from around the business were there to see The Wine Society awarded
• Wine Club of the Year for the fourth consecutive year
• Specialist Merchant Award for Chile for the eighth time in nine years
• Specialist Merchant Award for Alsace for the seventh consecutive year
In addition, The Society was shortlisted for Direct Merchant of the Year and Specialist Merchant for Portugal.The judges called it ‘a testament to The Society’s extensive range of wines and events, as well as excellent customer service.’
A number of individual Society wines also received awards earlier in the year.
Such recognition is always a pleasure and we would like to thank the IWC. Above all, however, we would like to thank our members for their continued loyalty and support for their Society. We exist purely for members’ benefit and look forward to further enhancing our services in the coming year while continuing to provide the best of the world’s vineyards at the best possible prices.
The rain in Spain does not stay mainly in the plain. It lashes the north coast too with impressive ferocity. Coming from leafy West Wales, where the greenness of my valley depends on regular stair-rods, I know precipitation. But even I was impressed by the quality of the stuff in Getaria, on Spain’s Cantabrian coast.
You don’t just visit this small, but delicious Atlantic town for the weather, though. Among its delights are a striking, if slightly lopsided gothic church bestriding a twisting alley and, in stark contrast, the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, a bold, wavy, trapezoidal glass palace designed by a Cuban architect to honour one of the town’s most famous sons. There are good restaurants too, one with a particularly fine line in freshly landed turbot, and a legendary list of venerable Rioja.
Then there’s the Getaria antxoa or anchovy, a thing of beauty and unbelievable concentration, either salted, and lovingly layered in large tubs to gather deep, saline momentum (salazón) or preserved in vinegar (boquerón). They are the snack of choice with the official purpose of my visit, the uniquely Basque white wine Txakoli (or Chacolí depending on your ethnicity). This is traditionally served from a great height by dashing barmen, the better to aerate the bouquet and deliver explosive but momentary flavour, which you must knock back immediately to get the point. The science is unclear to me, but it’s all part of the ritual, and does distract slightly from the fact that most Txakoli is unsettlingly and screechingly sharp.
A better way to get the point of Txakoli is to taste the real thing. An enormous amount of it is made in this part of northern Spain, where there are currently three separate Txakoli DOs, with more in the pipeline. The motherlode, though, is DO Getaria (Getariako Txakolina to you), closest to the ocean, where the ubiquitous white hondaribbi zuri grape, sometimes supported by the red hondarribi beltza naturally achieve a relatively modest and deliciously fragrant 11% ish alcohol by volume. Plantings further inland, which are blended with other varieties, tend to suffer creeping alcohol syndrome, so Lesson One, easily remembered, is ‘get it from Getaria!’
Even here plantings have increased more than fourfold in a quarter of a century, so Lesson Two is to choose your producer with care. Two solid names to memorise, both of which members may recognise are Txomín, and, more recently, Rezabal. We are delighted that the latter has just been selected by Jane MacQuitty of The Times as one of her Top 100 Wines for Summer.
Rezabal has a commanding view of the Atlantic, grey and choppy today, but dramatic nonetheless. The vines are trained on pergolas, as in Galicia to the west, to allow plenty of space for drying breezes to circulate in the wet, mildew-prone climate, where the roses that provide a vital early-warning system for rot are called chivatos (police informers). Ander Rezabal, a drummer in a previous life, and former vocalist Mireya Osinaga are among the ‘mad people’ reviving the fortunes of Txakoli. Wildly popular in the 18th century, he says, it was all but eradicated by the large-scale industrialisation of northern Spain and the departure of a generation of potential vignerons for more lucrative jobs in factories and quarries.
The classic Rezabal cuvée is 100% hondarribi zuri, fermented only using the yeast naturally occurring on the grapes, and lapping up flavour from its lees while in tank. Irresistibly perfumed, light, mildly effervescent and a world away from the battery acid poured in urban pintxo bars, it hits the spot with pinpoint accuracy. After a display of raised armery in the cellar, to confirm Ander’s Txakolista credentials, normal height was resumed in the tasting-room where the anticipated anchovies awaited, along with chunky portions of battered merluza (hake), served cold but packing more flavour than I’ve encountered in any fish and chippie. Another wondrous match was the heroic Basque cheese Idiazabal, on the time-honoured principle of matching acidities.
Rather than proposing something preserved or fermented for my regular Flavour of the Month column, I’m planning a Basque-inspired summer picnic of good salted anchovies and a decent Pyrenean sheep’s milk cheese which should be easy enough to round up, even outside the catchment of the UK’s specialist Spanish food importers. Finding the right bottle will be easy (see below).
So, those of you who are unable to get away to Getaria this summer – raise your hands!
Janet Wynne Evans
We currently list the 2013 vintage of Txakoli Rezabal at £9.95 a bottle.
Earlier this month I was privileged to attend a special Pol Roger event held in Epernay. The tasting showcased the new release ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ (Pol’s prestige cuvée, launched in 1975), from the excellent 2002 vintage, which will be available to Society members in August.
Pol Roger’s top wines age superbly, and to illustrate the point in some style, our generous hosts opened a few old – some may even say ancient – bottles for our group to taste. Our hosts, Christian Pol-Roger and Hubert de Billy, had carefully chosen vintages from years that represented some truly era-defining moments in the history of Champagne (and the world):
1921 Pol Roger
The 1920s were tough times for the Champagne trade: the Russian revolution caused the closure of the lucrative Russian market and the declaration of prohibition in the US closed off this important market for the Champenois (though unofficial records show that 40 million bottles made it to the US during this time nonetheless!). The area under vine was just a third (10,000 hectares) of what it is today.
The exquisite 1921, disgorged in the 1950s and undisturbed since then, was a bright pale lemon gold. Nutty, fresh, with an exotic fruit quality, light mousse, wonderful texture, and just off dry.
1914 Pol Roger
In 1914 second generation Maurice Pol Roger was mayor of Epernay and acted admirably when, on the 4th September, the Germans invaded Epernay, which culminated in the Battle of the Marne and resulted in an Allied victory eight days later (just in time for harvest…).
Although the mousse had all but disappeared, the flavours and structure of the wine literally took my breath away. Salty, sherry-like flavours combined with honey and burnt sugar, flowing beautifully thanks to its fine line of acidity and unctuous, intense palate. Off dry.
1892 Pol Roger
The 1880s and 1890s were boom time for Champagne: it had made its mark and was embedding itself into popular culture. It was the vintages of the 1890s (as well as the 1904 and 1911) that Sir Winston Churchill started buying Pol Roger ‘in quantities’!
1892 was a remarkable vintage in Champagne: spring frosts reduced yield by 25%, concentrating flavours. Our bottle was still very well preserved. Distinctly sweet (consistent with the fashion for higher dosage n the 19th century), delicate and fine. In many ways it reminded me of a fine Loire dessert wine. Liquid gold.
Society Buyer for Champagne
Happy 4th of July everyone!
This week in the buying department we had a comprehensive sparkling wine range review.Crémant de Limoux Cuvée Saint-Laurent, Antech 2011 and Blanquette de Limoux Brut Nature, Antech) showing wonderful drinkability, with fresh citrus and peach flavours, while the sweet Ancestral really hit the spot mid tasting.
However one of the standout wines for class, complexity and balance was Louis Roederer’s Quartet from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, California.
The wine had a wonderful lemon and brioche nose very reminiscent of Champagne, but with a little more ripeness and generosity to it. The mousse was fine yet firm, and the flavours really developed on the palate, encouraging a second sip. The wine had great length for a sparkling wine, and we all agreed really stood out as a one of the stars of the line-up.
I will be taking a bottle of this home tonight to have with American friends at their 4th of July party, however I hope you might try it over the summer too and have a little toast to our cousins across the pond!
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the Summer 2014 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?
Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.First it was five and now it’s seven, though ideally our continued well-being needs nearer 10-12 portions of fruit and veg a day – quite a challenge for most omnivores especially on those days when only a big plate of chips will convince us that life can’t be all bad. However, on a recent holiday in Istanbul, I found a secret weapon in the struggle to eat responsibly. It’s called meze.
This dazzling array of little starter dishes is merely the appetiser for a traditional Turkish meal, but they are so moreish, and provoke such indecision, that the main course is often abandoned. Aubergines, chickpeas, olives and tomatoes are always in evidence, as are grated fennel and carrot and stuffed cabbage. A bit of minced lamb might figure, or deep-fried calamari with tarator, the unctuous Levantine dip of soaked white bread and pounded walnuts, pine nuts or tahini. But the main thrust of a meze moment is fresh vegetables, simply prepared sometimes with gentle, but intriguing spices like sumac, sometimes just a little seasoning. A few of these instead of the usual meat and two veg will easily satisfy both the inner man and the health police.
Like some of my favourite recipes, the one that follows fell quite unexpectedly into my collection. Promotional literature in hotel rooms is usually best left undisturbed but the pile of predictable corporate guff in mine contained a wondrous publication called Cornucopia: Istanbul Unwrapped, which greatly enhanced my stay, from tips on unearthing treasures in the bewildering Grand Bazaar to seasonal eats. It took all my restraint not to half-inch the whole magazine, but I could not resist scribbling down this simple but terrific recipe from its publisher, the food writer and photographer Berrin Torolsan.
The ingredients are few and straightforward and the dish can be left to chunter away while you see to other pressing matters (like rubbing a bit of lamb with a few of those Grand Bazaar spices, ready for the barbecue). Turkish wines have never been better, as I hope members have discovered for themselves in our Lists, but the point about meze is that they marry happily with many other regions, styles and colours.
In moderation, of course. If a glass of vinified grapes counted as a seven-a-day portion, we’d all be model citizens!
Wine Matches from The Society’s Summer Wine Without Fuss Selections
The only remotely tricky ingredient here is the unripe northern-European tomato. The added sugar and purée do much to neutralise acidity, but it always pays with tomatoes to think fruit rather than vegetable and to look for plenty in the glass, avoiding anything very dry. There’s plenty of inspiration here, from southern France and Italy: try Vermentino Sicilia Mandrarossa in the Buyers’ Everyday White Selection and Corbières Le Blanc Paysan, Castelmaure (Premium Whites), ever-dependable Bricco Rosso Suagnà, Langhe Rosso 2009.
Spain scores with Vinlara Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero 2012 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) as does the Cape, with the chenin-driven Curator white (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) and the luscious red berries of Boschendal 1685 Merlot Coastal 2012 (Premium Reds). Grignan les Adhémar Rouge Secret de Terroir, Domaine de Montine 2012 (Premium Reds) and the aristocratic Montpeyroux La Pimpanela, Domaine La Jasse-Castel 2011 (Buyers’ French Classic Reds – the 2011 is still available on our website) are a treat, especially with that soukh-spiced lamb option, and Pinot Blanc, Domaine Ginglinger 2012 (Buyers’ French Classic Whites) is the surprise match.
Fresh green beans (fasulye) are a seasonal Turkish summer staple. Strictly speaking, AySe Kadin are string or Kenya beans but I prefer to use home-grown stick or runner beans in season which are all the better for a good, leisurely simmering. As a nation, we’ve become used to preferring our veggies al dente, but it’s precisely the softness and sweetness of the beans that makes this so delicious, so don’t be tempted to rush them.
• 500g fresh green beans
• 4 tbs olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
• A pinch of sugar
• 1 tablespoon double-concentrate tomato paste (see below*)
• Top and tail the beans: slice runner beans into thin strips, not lozenges
• Rinse and drain them well.
• Heat the oil and fry the onion until translucent.
• Add the tomato, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently
• Add the beans and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
• Season with the sugar and salt and add half a glass of cold water (about 150ml) into which you have stirred the tomato paste.
• Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced and the beans are very tender**.
• Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.
* Borrowed from another of Berrin Torolsan’s recipes, and a sure-fire way of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear of a Benelux tomato.
** Depending on the freshness of the beans this can take the best part of an hour at a slow simmer. Imported Kenya beans take longer. Check from time to time to make sure nothing is sticking or burning, and add a little water if needed.
Janet Wynne Evans
We have noticed for some time that several members are using Twitter and Facebook to swap their thoughts on wines purchased from The Society, so it seemed a nice idea to open this up to others.
For the very first time, therefore, we will be holding an online guided tasting of three wines, all from New Zealand, on Thursday 3rd July from 7.30pm to 8.30pm UK time, hosted by Society buyer Sarah Knowles.
Those who make use of Facebook and/or Twitter, are cordially invited to crack open any or all of these wines (all of which are currently featured in our New Zealand offer) and taste along with Sarah, resident tweeter Ewan Murray and yours truly on Facebook.
This tasting is an opportunity to add your comments about the wines as we all taste together online from the comfort of our own sofas!
To take part, simply…
1) Order the wines
The wines we will be tasting (in order) are as follows:
Should you wish to stock up whilst placing your order (and benefit from free UK delivery), all of the wines are available, along with nine others, in the New Zealand Mixed Dozen Case for £129 (a saving of £8.25). Alternatively you can pick your own selection from the current New Zealand offer.
To ensure delivery before we taste, please order by 12 noon on Tuesday 1st July.
2) Log in, crack open the wines and enjoy!
Simply log in to Twitter and/or Facebook from 7.30pm on the 3rd July and look up twitter.com/thewinesociety or facebook.com/thewinesociety, or search via the hashtag #twsTaste on either service.
During the tasting feel free to add your thoughts and comments, and do let us know if you’re enjoying a particular dish with the wines too – food and wine matching tips are always welcome!
All that remains is to remind anyone interested to make sure the whites are nicely chilled!
We look forward to talking to you on 3rd July.
What a coincidence! The day the 2012 Alsace offer got underway, there I was, on cherished ground in Alsace for a huge trade tasting with nearly 100 growers in attendance.This was the second such event and, like the first, the idea was to showcase Alsace riesling in all its various styles and their multiplicity of flavours. About half the wines were riesling and the rest was everything else. Young wines were on show but many brought older wines too, in order to prove the longevity of this extraordinary grape. (Regretfully I missed out on a chance to taste a 1945 riesling from Schlumberger. Too busy trying to sample at least one wine from each table!).
Last year, The Wine Society was fortunate to be rewarded as best Alsace Wine merchant by the IWC (International Wine Challenge) so this was a good opportunity to taste from a large number of producers with a view to deepen the range still further. I wasn’t disappointed and I was able to identify several producers that will warrant a second visit. This year we introduced a grand cru sylvaner; next year there may be a rare klevener de Heiligenstein, a cousin of gewurztraminer found only in the village of Heiligenstein and making a delicately perfumed and spicy white wine.Most of the wines on show came from the 2012 vintage which is not surprising as that is very much the current vintage for most producers. I had already tasted a fair few back in February when making the selection for The Society’s current offer. This week I added to my knowledge of this vintage with the best part of 200 more wines. And what a delight they are.
Alsace vintages tend to come in three vintage styles. There are the weighty vintages like 2011, 2009 and 2007, marked by heat and high levels of ripeness that make full-flavoured, generous wines. Rarer are vintages like 2010, 2008 and 2001 that are the result of a very long growing season; these wines are steely, marked by both high levels of ripeness and also acidity, a perfect combination for long keeping. The third group, typified by 2012 and 2004, produces wines that are relatively light with charm and an abundance of fruit.
On a day like last Tuesday, what better way to spend lunch than with a knuckle of pork and a glass of 2012 riesling, generously poured by our friend Jean Trimbach? The restaurant, by the way, for anyone with an idea of visiting this fairytale countryside, was the ‘Pfifferhus’ in Ribeauvillé, on the main street, which I think makes an especially good choucroute that has a little sharpness and clean, refreshing flavours.
In the course of a day I probably tasted a little short of 300 wines from nearly 100 producers. Standards were high, surprisingly so, and of course helped by the excellence of the 2012 vintage.
And the 2013s are looking similarly good. Isabelle and Céline Meyer of Josmeyer, knowing that I was coming, brought a sample of 2013 Exhibition Riesling (pictured right).This is going to be something quite special, though we will have to wait till the autumn to try it. Josmeyer were among the standout producers at the tasting, able to demonstrate depth in their range and also the longevity of their wines. I loved 2000 Riesling Pflanzerreben from Rolly-Gassmann and was bowled over by a 1976 Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg from Domaine Louis Sipp. And there were equally exceptional wines from Leon Beyer, Trimbach , Schlumberger, Weinbach and Zind Humbrecht among others.
Alsace is an extraordinarily polyglot region of France and there was as much English spoken at the fair as French, with visitors from all over the world. Of note was the contingent of Japanese, no doubt on the quest for the most precise and pure examples of riesling to match their exquisite cooking!
Society Buyer for Alsace
It has been two weeks since we revealed the results of our 2014 Wine Champions tastings: an annual exercise undertaken to whittle down hundreds of bottles to the best of the best for drinking now, all under strict blind-tasting conditions. We hope Society members are enjoying the victors!
A number of photographs were taken throughout the tastings for the purposes of this offer, and we include a few choice shots in the gallery below, hopefully to give a little more of a flavour of what this remarkably interesting but admittedly also rather gruelling exercise entails!
Once upon a time, there were no appellations, let alone the hierarchy of labelling possibilities that exist today, and these have been changing subtly over the years.The term appellation controlée is very gradually being superseded by appellation d’origine protégée or AOP for short. The now obsolete term VDQS has all but disappeared and wines like Saint-Bris, Moselle and Saint-Mont have all been elevated to full appellation status.
At one time, anything not of appellation contrôlée level was merely labelled vin de table, then as a way of improving quality and encouraging innovation a new vin de pays category was created. This allowed for an indication of provenance and at the same time offered producers more flexibility in the grape varieties that could be used and size of yields which were less restrictive than for appellation-level wines.
Vin de pays has been incredibly successful and the model has been copied elsewhere, in Italy and Spain. The same Europe-wide legislation that meant a change of name for AOC wines applies to vin de pays too and from the 2010 vintage this category is officially called IGP, or indication géographique protégée (though the term vin de pays is still permitted and often used on labels).
At the more prosaic level, the term vin de table was never very satisfactory; it gave producers little scope to individualise these wines and carried rather negative connotations for consumers. Now that has changed with the creation of vin de France which with one fell swoop replaces vin de table.
So what is the difference?
Vin de France still cannot give any idea of provenance other than being French but it opens up the potential for some creative cross-border blending and inventive use of unusual varieties. Now grape variety can appear on the label or even grape varieties if more than one is used, and the choice of varieties are now more or less without limit.
Another recently listed wine which takes advantage of this new category and which has already proved popular with members is the Duo Des Deux Mers Sauvignon-Viognier (£6.25). The two seas in question here are the Atlantic and Mediterranean, combining as it does fruity fresh sauvignon from Gascony with ripe soft Languedoc viognier.
Most vin de France wines are priced at entry level, but by no means all. A fine if eccentric example is the so called historical 19th century blend from Château Palmer – 85% Margaux merlot and cabernet and 15% syrah from the Rhône Valley. Though I doubt the grands crus will be rushing to take advantage of the new vin de France category, the possibilities for everyday drinking wines are endless!