Grapevine Archive for June, 2010

Tue 29 Jun 2010

A Real Départemental Mix-Up

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In the Loire valleyUnquestionably a date in your diary must be Monday July 12th in London and the following evening in Manchester when we will be showing wines from the Loire and Beaujolais. A perfect summer treat that will include wines from the amazing 2009 vintage.

Central to the tasting will be wines from Domaine Sérol in the little-known yet outstanding Côte Roannaise. Why central? I hear you ask. It is simply because this Cinderella appellation actually produces excellent reds made from the gamay grape, in other words the same grape as in Beaujolais. Not only that, but the terroir is much the same with the same decomposed grey granite that one finds in Brouilly. Côte Roannaise is a small appellation with only about 20 growers. It is an isolated spot which allows growers to farm with minimal intervention and in some difficult vintages like 2004, Domaine Sérol’s wines are better than practically anything in Beaujolais.

So, where is the Côte Roannaise? Now that is an excellent question and the answer brings to light a perfect administrative conundrum that was created by the French Revolution.

The vines are set on granite slopes a few miles out from the centre of Roanne, a town once noted for textiles and armaments, especially tanks. The town’s existence is due to the Loire River as it is from here that this mighty river was historically navigable. The town’s importance was later confirmed by the coming of the railway, the station café eventually becoming one of the greatest restaurants in France. Today Troisgros is one of the better Michelin rated three star restaurants and which works extremely well. The Troisgros brothers have always been keen to promote local produce, including of course wine. A very special link was forged with the Sérol family and indeed Troisgros and Robert Sérol not only became very close friends but also business partners. They own one small vineyard together which they farm organically. Most of the wine is sold to the restaurant but we’ve secured a few cases which we will show in London and Manchester.

In wine terms, Côte Roannaise belongs to the Loire even though it has precious little in common with the rest of the Loire. Sancerre, the nearest major Loire appellation is nearly three hours drive away and Nantes with its ocean of Muscadet, over an hour away by plane. Beaujeu on the other hand, historic capital of Beaujolais is just under an hour away by car on the other side of the mountain.

Now for the Departemental bit
Roanne is in the Loire Département (number 42, for those of you who like me follow French number plates), 50 miles away from Saint Etienne, the county town and 50 miles away from Lyon, the regional capital. Indeed Roanne on the Loire is part of the region called Rhône-Alpes, which in wine terms includes most of Beaujolais and all of the Rhône up to Vinsobres. The absurdity of France’s administrative divisions is felt even more acutely in the Loire Département itself which reaches out to the Rhône and includes a part of both Saint-Joseph and Condrieu. This delightful quirk has not been lost on the Sérol family who are keen to play on their proximity to the Rhône and to Condrieu and have planted a vineyard of viognier. 2009 is the first vintage and we will show it next month at the Loire and Beaujolais tastings in London and Manchester. Do come and taste.

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The Times’ Jane MacQuitty has listed her 50 best summer whites, and these include the following Society wines:

McHenry Hohnen Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2009 £8.50 (cf Tanners £10.05)

David Hohnen and his winemaker daughter Freya reckon that this is their best sem-sauv vintage yet, and so do I. From a cool, fruit-concentrating year and made from almost equal parts of each grape but grown in different areas of Margaret River for added complexity, it makes for this stylish juicy summer aperitif. Harvesting at night and fermenting cool in stainless steel enhances this white’s tangy, tingly, herby, green pepper-stacked fruit.

Stella Bella Chardonnay 2008 £12.50

Stella Bella is one of the shining lights of Western Australia, though you’d never know from the quirky labels. It is made from hand-picked, separately vinified chardonnay grapes collected from eight different vineyards in the southern Margaret River area, in order to capture complexity. This ’08 barrel-fermented and aged Aussie chardonnay truly does stand comparison with white Burgundy. I loved its elegant smoky, toasty, hazelnutty fruit and so will you.

Soave La Rocca, Pieropan, 2007 £22 (cf £25 at Majestic)

Soave from the Veneto region in northeast Italy is awash with watery, faintly lemony whites that are just not worth the money. The Pieropans have long bucked the trend with full-bodiedm flavoursome SOaves made from the traditional garganega grape grown on their 30ha of superior, lower yielding vineyards. The family’s single vineyard offerings, such as La Rocca from vineyards high on the Monte Rocchetta hill just below its medieval castle, are their greatest Soaves. These are picked late, often at the end of October. La Rocca’s fine, waxy, floral, apple and pear fruit is a real summer treat.

Samos Anthemis 2003 £11.50

A 15% fortified Greek vin doux, or vin de liqueur, as this Samos sticky proudlu bills itself, is a post-prandial bottle that most Top 100 drinkers would pass by either here or in Greece. What a pity. Within lies a gorgeous, fat, smoky, raisiny pudding wine, spiked with aniseed and made from the oldest and noblest member of the muscat family, the muscat blanc à petit grains. Fortified immediately after pressing and matured for five years in French oak casks, this spicy muscat has an ancient pedigree that makes it probably the world’s oldest-known grape variety. Served cool, Anthemis is perfect with bold summer desserts such as a fruit crème brulée or praline and honeycomb ice cream.

Las Medallas de Argüeso Manzanilla £6.95

My editor thinks this is one of the worst sherry labels ever and, alas, he has a point. But it would be a tragedy if you ignored this gilded, bemedalled bottle because within lies oneof the best manzanillas: a magnificent, yeasty, tangy, floral and iodine-charged, five year old explosion of flavour from one of the best Sanlùcar Sherry bodegas of all, Herederos de Argüeso, founded in 1822. Manzanilla comes from the seaside town of Sanlùcar de Barrameda; the spongy layer of flor yeast that gives the drier sherry styles of fino and manzanilla its flavour grows more vigorously here. Hence this magnificent fortified wine.

Fri 18 Jun 2010

Gastro d’Oc

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It used to be said that Languedoc was a gastronomic desert. The truth of course is quite different. Ingredients here are second to none like beef from the Aubrac, lamb from the Larzac, cheese from Roquefort and elsewhere, oysters from Bouzigues, not to mention olives, fruit and vegetables. Influences come from far and wide, from the centre of France, from Spain, especially Catalonia, from Italy too and of course North Africa. There are a growing number of fine restaurants, including a newly promoted Michelin three star lost in the Corbières, to bring these flavours together.

David and Bridget Pugh

David and Bridget Pugh

Stars are not everything though and what has arguably been the most enjoyable restaurant to eat in has no stars at all. It is called “Le Mimosa” and it is owned and is run by David and Bridget Pugh.

David is in charge of the wine and has made his list one of the greatest showcases for everything that is good about Languedoc wine with several vintages of many top estates like Daumas-Gassac, Granges des Peres and Aupilhac. And there is more with fine offerings from around France: Trimbach Riesling, Bandol from Tempier, Sancerre from Cotat and a host of lovely Burgundies going back a dozen or so years.

Le Mimosa

Le Mimosa

Bridget Pugh cooks and draws her inspiration in part from Morocco where the Pughs have a house. Dishes are beautifully prepared and perfectly match the wines. A highlight included quail cooked with a hint of spice and the fragrance of preserved lemon. The cheeseboard is exceptional while puddings included rhubarb crumble and a marvellous Pavlova. The setting too is idyllic from the courtyard with its miniature pool generous proportions of its tables, and friendly, unmannered service.

This is a place where I like to be and so it is a little sad that the Pughs have announced their retirement from the end of October. Everybody who loves good food should find an excuse and go there one last time.

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Fri 18 Jun 2010

Italian Road Trip

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Sebastian Payne and I spent a busy couple of days last week in Tuscany – we have an upcoming Italian offer and we had one day in Chianti Classico and one in Montalcino which both use predominately the sangiovese grape to make their wines.

Before enjoying the rustic charm of Tuscany though, we had to get there, managing to get through our Ryanair flight without buying their duty free, scratchcards, telephone cards and even the smokeless cigarettes they were announcing every few minutes on the admittedly smooth flight over.

We based ourselves at Felsina in Castelnuovo Berardegna in the South of the Chianti Classico region where they gave us a great welcome. It’s a mixed used estate with 70 hectares of olive trees and about the same of vines, primarily sangiovese. The rest of the estate is given over to a few cereals and forest. Our first tasting of the day was actually 4 single-varietal olive oils (see photo below) – Giuseppe is re-introducing single varietal oils, with the trees harvested at different times per variety just like grapes.

Felsina Single-Varietal Olive Oils

Felsina Single-Varietal Olive Oils

The estate was put together from 11 small-holdings, or subsistence farmers, and Felsina respect this heritage by making a wine from the original 11 vineyard parcels, one per small-holding. They started working with 100% sangiovese in 1983 before it was actually allowed within the Chianti Classico appellation.

After tasting the wines and olive oils at Felsina we visited Fontodi in the Concha d’Oro (golden shell) at Panzano. Our host, Giovanni Manetti, had to leave us to our own devices for a while he dealt with a surprise visit from the organic regulation inspectors – “funny how they come as soon as it is sunny” he says, reflecting on the recent rainy spell! Giovanni had no problem with the inspectors as he’s been running organic for some years and has persuaded most of his neighbouring growers to do the same. Fontodi are in the middle of major works as they build a new barrel store, and we did discuss with them whether there was a market in the UK for their old barrels as flowerpots for our members.

One food tip from rural Tuscany – beware the Bistecca a la Florentina in the Trattoria del Berardegna in the village unless you are really carnivorous. Over an inch thick, only lightly seared and brought by the kilo! Giovanni’s Chianti Classico was a perfect match though.

The next morning I took this picture near Felsina – it could be part of a bigger estate but it looked to me like a smallholding with a few vines and olive trees. One bottle of wine per vine would give a year’s supply for the guy living in the building at the bottom I think – a simple life but a good one?

Felsina Smallholding

Felsina Smallholding

Then on to Montalcino to visit prospective new producers, finishing the day at Laura Brunelli’s (she supplies our ‘Gianni Brunelli Brunello de Montalcino‘). The wines, including the Riserva 2004 and the younger Vino Rosso, were great, and the view from her terrace was to die for. She invited us to stay longer with typical Tuscan warmth but my family – and the World Cup – proved stronger…..but before that ….Ryanair and the smokeless cigarettes!

Categories : Italy
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Tue 15 Jun 2010

Celebrating the Beautiful Game

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Wines of South AfricaWines of South Africa (WoSA) is the very well run generic body responsible for the promotion of South African wines worldwide. Their website is a vibrant celebration of the Cape’s wines and winelands. Packed with useful information for wine enthusiasts and tourists alike, it includes background on the support, encouragement and management provided to wine producers across wide ranging social responsibility and staff training programmes.

Honouring South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup, WoSA recently released this short promotional video which you may find entertaining:

Categories : Rest of the World
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Mon 07 Jun 2010

Central Otago 2010 Vintage

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Harvesting the 2010 vintage at Prophet's Rock

Harvesting the 2010 vintage at Prophet's Rock

Here is an excerpt of an email sent to me today from Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock, one of New Zealand’s outstanding pinot noir winemakers, on the 2010 harvest in Central Otago. We will be tasting the whites later in the year and the reds when they have completed their maturation in barrel (sometime next year).

“Another vintage is officially in the bag – after finally harvesting a small block of Pinot Gris on Tuesday up at the Bendigo vineyard. The early signs are that this will be a strong vintage from Central Otago. Early in the season it seemed this would be a cooler and later picked vintage but as the season progressed harvest predictions kept coming forward, ultimately we picked in mid-April – very much a ‘normal’ picking time. Weather over harvest was perfect and the fruit was in excellent condition.”

Categories : New Zealand
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Fri 04 Jun 2010

Wines for Salad Days

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Salad Days… or should that be ‘giorni di insalata‘?

Having just returned from a delightfully lazy few days in the Wye Valley, eating outside for most of the time, I simply must share my four top Italian tipples for the current season.

Fizz: Prosecco Treviso Frizzante from La Riva dei Frati. Don’t let the name change, or the screw cap distract you. Recent DOC machinations have meant a different nomenclature, but this is the same Prosecco we have always listed – fresh, dry, bubbly, a superb palate cleanser or party starter straight from the fridge with enough flavour to go with any light nibbles you may wish to crunch while basking in the sunshine.

White: Orvieto Classico Secco 2009 from the Barberani boys Nicolo and Bernardo. Based on the local grechetto grape, this Umbrian wine oozes class. It is unpretentious, with a whiff of citrus and fresh hay, while on the palate it is weighty enough to match roast chicken. Its lightness of touch means that, as long as there is not too much vinegar in the salad dressing (a wine killer if ever there was one), it is the perfect white for a summer meal.

Pink: Cerasuolo Vigna Corvino Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2009 from our old friend Rocco Pasetti at Contesa. Tomatoes are usually the curse of any wine, as they are so difficult to match. Hey presto! This is the solution.

Red: Barbera d’Alba Poderi Colla, 2007. Tino and Federica Colla make this beautifully fragrant, wonderfully fruity, superbly complex wine which is just the ticket for any meat your care to lob on to the barbie!

Of course, you may beg to differ. What are your summer favourites?

Categories : Italy
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Tue 01 Jun 2010

Delicious English Wine (and that’s no bluff)

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Call My BluffRecently I was involved in a PTA fundraising and social event at my daughter’s school loosely based on the old TV panel game Call My Bluff. Wines are tasted blind in turn and the three panel members each give a different description, only one of which is true, and the answers – true or bluff – are  revealed after teams place their vote. The Society’s tastings team has held such events in the past which have gone down a storm and more are planned for 2011, in case you’d like to come along and see how it’s done.

It is a fun way to taste and learn a bit about wine and raise valuable funds in the process, and I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone involved in their own school committee. You don’t need a Master of Wine or wine buyer to make this happen either, just a willing panel of parents and/or teachers. Stars of our recent evening were our Deputy Head, who settled in very comfortably to the role of raconteur and all round good sport, and Midsummer Hill 2009, an English white made for The Society by Three Choirs in Gloucester.

The Midsummer Hill was delicious and couldn’t have been better on such a balmy evening. It opened many eyes to English wine and just how far it’s come in such a short time. With English Wine Week upon us, why not drop in to one of the many events happening throughout the country, including at our own Showroom in Stevenage where bottles of English wine will be open to taste every day. Let’s hope we get more balmy weekends to celebrate with our own domestic product!

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