Grapevine Archive for February, 2015

It’s a Friday night in The Wine Society’s Stevenage HQ. A number of Marketing Team members are at a private tasting after work. Among them are such seasoned tasters as The Society’s fine wine manager, Shaun Kiernan, our WSET-Diploma-graduate wordsmith Paul Trelford and current Diploma student Hugo Fountain.

Glasses of fine cabernet are being swirled studiously.

‘I think the first wine has lost some of its elegance with this one – but the fruit is definitely more full-bodied.’
‘I agree, but the second wine is responding better for me – it’s lost some of the minty notes we smelled earlier but it’s got such lovely fullness to it now.’

So they continue to converse and analyse how the wines are changing…

…on account of the riff to Metallica’s 1991 heavy-metal classic ‘Enter Sandman’, which happens to be emanating loudly from a boombox in the corner of the dining room.

What madness led us here? Was this really a profitable way for us to spend a Friday? As Sam from our canteen staff said when she found out about the tasting, is it just time we got lives? She has a point…

And yet all seemed to find it an eye-opening experience – as indeed I had when I was first introduced to the idea of music and wine matching.

So, can music really affect the taste of wine?
Let’s get the basic hypothesis out of the way first: yes, it certainly can.

I was as sceptical as anyone: with intuitive cynicism firing on all cylinders and an eye being kept perennially out for potential parlour tricks, I attended a workshop on the subject by California vintner, inventor and Renaissance man Clark Smith a couple of years ago at a conference in Rioja.

After he made two glasses of chardonnay taste markedly different with a mere flick of an iPod button, without even the merest power of suggestion, I was agog; but then why shouldn’t this be the case?

I realised that I had been guilty of thinking about wine and music – two of my favourite things in this world – in a rather uptight way.

‘I felt differently thanks to a piece of music’ is by no means a controversial statement to make. Music’s oft-profound effect on our brain means it is studied and used in therapy and education, and in so-called psychological ‘nudging’; marketing agencies identifying the ‘right’ ambient music for restaurants, hotels and so forth are big business these days.

With this in mind, the statement ‘A wine tasted differently with a certain piece of music’ should not necessarily be a controversial one either.

Having hosted a couple of wine and music tastings now – one for comparative novices and one for experienced palates – it is apparent that music can affect the way wine tastes in ways that are comparable to temperature and glassware. Sometimes the variation is nil and sometimes it is slight, but on other occasions it is markedly noticeable.

The tasting
As such, I was confident enough to guarantee three things were in store for my Society guinea pigs at the start of the tasting; firstly that we would taste some great wines (and our line-up on the night did not disappoint thanks to the generosity of those present), listen to some great music (an array of genres had been queued up for the evening’s exercise) and finally that we would leave having realised that we are not quite the infallible tasters we like to think we are!

Music and wine tasting

The wines were poured in pairs and each was tasted in silence at first. Thoughts and impressions were invited. The music was then put on for bursts long enough for tasters to get their heads around what was happening. Sure enough, about 10 seconds into the first piece of music, glances began to be exchanged and even a gasp could be heard over the strains of ‘California Girls’ as the tasters began to realise that the wines were indeed changing.

By the second pair of wines, everyone was talking calmly about the changes as if this was the most natural of Friday dinner-party chinwags.

Can I try?
Of course! If you would like to try these pairings or similar ones yourself – without having our notes on the results we experienced influence you – then please find the wine and music pairings from the night below:

The principles for sourcing these pairings are laid out in Clark Smith’s own methodology on his website, which includes how-tos and recommendations for hosting your own tasting.

FLIGHT ONE: Chardonnay and Oak: Good Vibrations?
Wines: Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2011; Greywacke Marlborough Chardonnay 2011
Music: The Beach Boys – California Girls; Ella Fitzgerald – St. Louis Blues; Chet Baker/Gerry Milligan – Jeru; John Lee Hooker – Sugar Mama Blues

FLIGHT TWO: Sauvignon Blanc & Rosé vs Johann, John & Jimi
Wines: Pouilly-Fumé, Château de Tracy 2012; Corse-Calvi Rosé, Domaine Alzipratu 2013
Music: Johann Sebastian Bach – Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645, ‘Sleepers, Awake’; John Denver – Sunshine on My Shoulders; Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze

FLIGHT THREE: Cabernet Sauvignon – Mozart vs Metallica
Wines: Château Batailley, Pauillac 2002; Gandolini Las Tres Marias Vineyards Maipo Andes Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; Metallica – Enter Sandman

FLIGHT FOUR: Syrah or Shiraz; Reggae or Pop?
Wines: Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2005; Peter Lehmann Stonewell Barossa Shiraz 2004
Music: The Maytals – Pressure Drop; Sally Shapiro – He Keeps Me Alive

The wines

The wines

For the curious, here’s what we found on the night:

FLIGHT ONE: Chardonnay and oak: good vibrations?
‘California Girls’ had a remarkable effect on the unoaked chardonnay from Chablis, making its fruit seem more generous and expressive. The oaked Greywacke, on the other hand, became muted and out of sorts. ‘St Louis Blues’ had an inverse effect, dumbing the Chablis and bringing out more toasty nuttiness in the Greywacke. Chet Baker and Gerry Milligan’s frantic jazz rhythms did not suit either, whilst John Lee Hooker had a similar effect to ‘St Louis Blues’ on the oaked wine.

FLIGHT TWO: Sauvignon Blanc & Rosé vs Johann, John & Jimi
Bach was no friend to either of these wines, though some who found the Pouilly-Fumé a little too exuberant for them expressed a preference for the acidity-dimming effect the piece had on this wine. John Denver’s ‘Sunshine On My Shoulders’ revived our Corsican pink dramatically, making it taste more delicate, more fruity and generally far more pleasant. Alas Mr Hendrix then toppled both, making each taste comparatively unfocused and dull.

FLIGHT THREE: Cabernet Sauvignon – Mozart vs Metallica
The remarkably elegant 2002 Batailley was notably more subtle and complex with Mozart, but the robustness we had smelled and tasted before the play button was hit seemed frustratingly lacking. The fuller-bodied Gandolini Cabernet was not so enamoured with ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ and seemed to retreat into its shell. Metallica had an inverse effect, with the dark fruit of both wines soaring, albeit perhaps at the expense of some finesse. I then went back to ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix, which seemed to have a happy-medium effect, allowing body and complexity to sit alongside each other quite comfortably.

FLIGHT FOUR: Syrah or Shiraz; Reggae or Pop?
Although neither the Crozes-Hermitage nor the Barossa particularly enjoyed Sally Shapiro’s electro-pop, the reggae number ‘Pressure Drop’ had a pleasing effect on the Crozes, smoothing over some of the more farmyard-like smells and thus making it more appealing to non-Rhôneophiles present.

Music and wine principles
As some may have inferred from the above, some principles can be grabbed at here, primarily in terms of personifying the wines in musical form. Fresh unoaked chardonnay is lifted by the summery rhythms of The Beach Boys whilst heavier, oakier versions are enlivened by huskier bluesy ones. Big, dark, brooding reds baulk at Mozart but enjoy Metallica.

And rosé loves John Denver…

Much more erudite people than I have written far better about all this, but I find much of the joy in the concept to be due to its flexibility. Music and wine are both subjects that straddle the objective and subjective in fascinating ways, and finding pairings that work well based on one’s personal taste is great fun.

Anyone wishing to find out more should head over to

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Thu 26 Feb 2015

Viognier: It’s All Peachy

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With plantings under 50ha at one point (the vast majority in the Rhône), extinction seemed on the horizon for the viognier grape, with the tiny Condrieu appellation apparently destined to be its only real representation.

Viognier’s vulnerability in the vineyard to both disease and pests coupled with its low-yielding nature, specific soil-type preference and the necessity for a great deal of warmth to achieve adequate ripeness all had a part to play in this dwindling quantity of vines.

Viognier growing in South Africa

Viognier growing in South Africa

However, Viognier has since seen a resurgence and now is planted the world over from Australia to California, Chile to Languedoc-Roussillon, where its challenging nature has yielded a plethora of styles to enjoy. Take for example the luscious McManis Viognier 2012 (USA, £10.95 per bottle), the fresh and crisp-finishing Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes Viognier 2013 (Australia, £9.95), the opulent barrel-fermented Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Viognier 2013 (Chile, £8.50) and the more classically styled Viognier, Domaine du Bòsc 2013 (south of France, £7.25).

With aromas that allude to apricots and peaches, taking in honeysuckle and violets backed up with subtle spice and offering body and texture, viognier, even in small proportions, can also bring so much to a blend.

Its addition in small quantities to the red wine Côte-Rôtie is well known. For a winter warmer, The Wolftrap, Western Cape 2013 (South Africa, £7.25) matches the brooding red syrah and mouvèdre varieties with viognier, which adds glorious lift and interest.

White blends benefit from not only this fragrance addition but also the weight it brings to the wine. Take for example two members’ favourites from France, Les Pierres Bordes Marsanne-Viognier 2013 (£5.95) and Duo Des Deux Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin De France 2014 (£6.25) where the complementary nature of viognier not only fattens the wine but brings its unique bouquet to the mix too. The same can be said of South Africa’s Piekeniers White, Piekenierskloof 2013 (£7.75).

Modest use of oak can enhance viognier further, adding a new dimension – as can be seen in The Liberator ‘Butch & The Sunrise Kid’, Western Cape 2013 (£9.95) as well as the Bulgarian The Guardians MRV, Borovitza 2011 (£14.95).

Condrieu - viognier's heartland

Condrieu – viognier’s heartland

In its Rhône heartland, Grignan Les Adhémar Blanc Cuvée Gourmandise, Domaine de Montine 2013 (£7.95) shows how even in a group of varieties the characteristics of viognier shine through and produces a great food-friendly wine. Indeed, viognier’s perfume and body suits many foods, especially the sweet meat of shellfish and it also displays an affinity for spicier Asian foods and curries.

I have not even touched on some of the southern French and Rhône examples of this grape that reveal its fine wines and aging credentials, but I think the above displays that for this most finicky fruit, the outlook is peachy!

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Wed 25 Feb 2015

One foot in the Graves

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Little did I know how spoiled we would be when I jumped at the chance to attend a tasting of Graves wines in London just before Christmas tutored by The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin.

Neal chose two fine vintages as the focus for this tasting: 2007 whites and 1998 reds, cleverly bringing in themes as varied as vintage variability across Bordeaux’s different communes (1998 was excellent in the Graves, not as good in reputation-determining Médoc) and wine styles (2007 much less good for reds than for dry & sweet whites), the cellaring potential of Bordeaux’s great dry whites, premature oxidation, consultants Dubourdieu vs. Rolland, and many more.

If you are a real enthusiast, attend a Neal Martin tasting some time if you can.

Graves tasting with Neal Martin

The Graves is an historic region though its properties were classified a century after the Médoc. Perhaps the unromantic name of the appellation, ‘Graves’, has not helped in English-speaking markets, and the more premium Pessac-Léognan, introduced later, is something of a tongue-twister.

Yet quality has come on in leaps and bounds even at more modest levels and it does include some of Bordeaux’s greatest estates, not least Château Haut-Brion whose still vigorous 1998 served as the climax of a fine tasting. Eric Perrin, joint owner of Château Carbonnieux and head of the appellation for the last three years commented on Haut-Brion ‘can we talk about perfection?’.

Other highlights for me were Château Bouscaut Blanc 2007 (a rich yet fresh classic), Domaine de Chevalier rouge 1998 (proving it is not just the superlative whites from this vineyard which rank among the very best of Bordeaux), and my personal favourite on the day Château Haut-Bailly 1998: a very lovely wine, complex & very fine, more cerebral than generous, yet beautifully textured and still with life ahead.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Fri 20 Feb 2015

New Discoveries: The Wines Of Crete

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One reason for the success of Syriza in the recent Greek elections will have been support from younger voters. They feel that they are not responsible for their country’s woes, and 50 percent, we are told, cannot find paid work.

Several young, dynamic and successful wine producers like Apostolos Thymiopoulos in Naoussa and the Spanos brothers at Tetramythos in the Peloponnese, buck this trend.

My recent visit to seven independent wineries in Crete introduced me to several more.

Nikos Karavitakis The Wine Society

Nikos Karavitakis and his father

Crete has no fewer than 11 indigenous varieties. Only four of these are red; two make dry red and two are better for sweet wine. Two varieties that used to dominate Cretan vineyards were frankly rather dull: red romeiko, which oxidises easily with high alcohol, was once 80 per cent of the vines near Chania, to the west of the island. White vilana, still 80 per cent of the main Cretan vineyard area round Heraklim, is, at best, no more than fresh, light and floral.

An astonishing 3,000-year-old olive tree near Kolymbari

An astonishing 3,000-year-old olive tree near Kolymbari.

Phylloxera, the terminal vine disease of ungrafted vines, reached Crete as late as 1980, and was a catalyst that made many replace their vines with olive trees, which have always thrived here. A remarkable tree, over 3,000 years old near Kolymbari, still survives to prove the point.

A silver lining to the phylloxera cloud was the rediscovery of better-quality native varieties that had fallen from favour.

Nikos Karavitakis is one of the younger generation to champion the white, apricot-scented vidiano, which his chemist father helped rediscover near Rethymno. We list his 2014 wine, Vidiano Klima, Karavitakis at £8.95 per bottle. His 2012 ‘The Little Prince’ Cretan Red, made with the kotsifali and mandilaria varieties, is also available for the same price.

The Karavitakis family have owned land and vineyard at Kolymbari near Chania for four generations and have been bottling their own wines for 20 years. They are part of a movement called Wines of Crete, including many other young independent growers, which has challenged the arrogant older-generation view that the old oxidative wines were best. We are likely to hear more of them.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Categories : Other Europe
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Thu 19 Feb 2015

Know Your Rhône Quiz: The Answers

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Southern Rhone vineyardMany thanks to the hardy members who undertook the challenge of our recent Rhône quiz.

Of the 93 who braved their way through this fiendish set of questions, 44 managed to get a perfect score of 10 out of 10!

For those who didn’t, or for the curious, we include the questions and multiple-choice answers below, with the correct answers in bold.

There can, however, only be one winner, and our warmest congratulations go to Mr Adam Nicholson, whose bottle of 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape A la Gloire de mon Grand-Père from Domaine Bosquet des Papes will be on its way shortly with our compliments.

We will be running more quizzes soon, and whilst our Rhône opening offer has now closed, those interested in buying en primeur from The Society may enjoy browsing our current opening offer of the 2013 Burgundy vintage, which closes on Tuesday 10th March.

Thanks again for playing!

THE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS (Correct answers marked in bold):

1. Which of the following is NOT a major grape variety in the Rhône?
Cabernet sauvignon

2. Which is the largest appellation in the northern Rhône?

3. Which of the following circumstances do NOT apply to the 2013 Rhône growing season?
Late ripening
Poor flowering
Widespread hailstorms
An Indian summer

4. Which Hermitage producer’s wines are NOT featured in The Society’s opening offer, as they are released later?
Paul Jaboulet Aîné
Jean-Louis Chave
Michel Chapoutier
Domaine du Colombier

5. Cornas is
A Languedoc region whose wines were poor in 2013
A northern Rhône region whose wines excelled in 2013
A southern Rhône region whose wines excelled in 2013
A Côtes-du-Rhône village whose wines were good but unexceptional in 2013

6. In the southern Rhône, 2013 was a particular success for

7. Of which grape was there a shortage in some of the southern Rhône in 2013?
Cabernet Sauvignon

8. The wines of Lirac, Saint-Gervais and Laudun are most often compared to which grander Rhône region?

9. We feature some reds from Beaumes de Venise in our opening offer, which we highly recommend; but which style of wine is the region better known for?
Dry marsanne
Sweet muscat
Fortified grenache
Sweet semillon

10. Which of the following is NOT a white wine-producing region in The Society’s opening offer?

Categories : France, Rhône
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Fri 13 Feb 2015

Remembering Colette Faller

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It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Colette Faller. And the tragedy is all the more so that it is less than a year now that we mourned the death of her beautiful and talented daughter Laurence.

Collete Faller, pictured with daughters Cathy and Laurence

Collete Faller, pictured with daughters Cathy and Laurence

Colette was undoubtedly one of the great ladies in the wine business and through her vision and indomitable spirit, Alsace has become one of the top regions for white wine and Domaine Weinbach one of its greatest exponents. Indeed, Domaine Weinbach has become one of the greatest producers of fine white wine anywhere.

The journey was started by her husband Théo, who, with Johnny Hugel and Léon Beyer to name but two, were among the founders of Alsace’s rebirth following the granting of appellation status in 1961. Following Théo’s too early death in 1979, Colette took over, undaunted by the task and with two daughters to look after as well.

The original vineyard at Domaine Weinbach was the walled Clos des Capucins. Today the estate also includes holdings in other vineyards, many of them grands crus, such as the Schlossberg, Furstentum and more recently, Mambourg. Colette invested wisely and was greatly aided in time by both of her daughters, Laurence in the vines and cellar, and Cathy, veritable head of the Weinbach mission across the globe.

Over the years, wine style had changed with riesling becoming noticeably drier, yet Colette always insisted on wines with diamond-like precision and purity. All grape varieties were treated with the same attention to detail. A mere sylvaner was never less than a treat to savour, preferably with a choucroute maison, while a riesling could be an ethereal delight. Late-harvest wines became something of a speciality at Domaine Weinbach and Colette was always willing to share these precious nectars with visitors.

Domaine Weinbach

Domaine Weinbach

Receiving visitors at the estate was an operation in itself, masterminded by Colette and of course aided by her daughters. A succession of front rooms provided the stage for what could be a whirlwind of bottles and glasses. These wood-panelled rooms all have interconnecting doors as well as doors leading to the atrium-like space that is the great farmhouse kitchen and so allowing for simultaneous tastings. The third act of Der Rosenkavalier comes to mind with its secret doors and people popping in and out. The three Faller ladies took it in turn, appearing each time with a brace of bottles, sometimes the same ones!

Colette had a sound business sense, choosing partners and customers with care; The Wine Society was very fortunate to be among her favourite customers. Gastronomy was always close to her heart so, not surprisingly, Domaine Weinbach featured on the wine lists of the very best restaurants. Anyone fortunate enough to be served mousseline de grenouilles at l’Auberge de l’ill, might well have been served her riesling from the Schlossberg.

And while on the subject of food, Colette never accepted anything less than perfect. One multi-starred chef was given a dressing down for a dish and asked to do it again, which was done with grace and a smile. On the other hand she did not take kindly to Johnny Hugel’s comments of her muscat, not Johnny’s favourite grape variety as one recalls! Both those indomitable souls are now surely enjoying a laugh somewhere among Elysian vines. May they both rest in peace.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer for Alsace

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In water ones sees one’s own face; but in wine one holds the heart of another. – French Proverb

Far be it from me to hinder one’s hydration but the day for love approaches. Wine considerations feature highly on this day: my partner and I decided many moons ago not to venture out on Valentine’s to subject ourselves to the set menus but to instead stay home and try and create our own feast using the money saved to add to a food fund and also a wine reserve allowing us to choose and purchase four bottles of wine…

…half bottles that is.

Half bottles from The Wine SocietyI mentioned some time ago that these perfect proportions allow you to be more indulgent and match your wine to a particular course should you wish to, without feeling guilty or feeling you are hampering your health.

Commencing with something sparkling is a prerequisite for us. The Society’s Champagne Brut NV (£14.95 per half) will do nicely and would suit most canapés you could throw at it – even, I am told, hand-cooked crisps.

Our starter more often than not is seafood based and our halves selection offers everything from mussels-friendly The Society’s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie (£4.50 per half) or Riesling, Trimbach 2012 (£6.25), which is glorious with dover sole. If fish is not your thing the affinity Pouilly-Fume, Domaine Seguin 2013 (£7.50) has with goat’s cheese sets off a tart or salad starter brilliantly; or maybe mushroom risotto with Soave, Pieropan 2013 (£6.50).

For the mains, French trimmed lamb chops and the Bordeaux-esque spice of South Africa’s Rustenberg John X Merriman, Stellenbosch 2009 (£7.25), or maybe pan-fried duck breast with the full-flavoured Pinot Gris Tradition, Hugel 2012 (£6.95). A rich roasted vegetable ratatouille and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2011 (£9.50) also have a mutual attraction in my experience.

For dessert, whether it is cheese or something sweet, Samos Anthemis 2007 (£6.95) lends itself to both and permits a pleasurable ending to the evening.

Whether or not you celebrate Valentine’s day I hope this supplies food for thought.

Remember the bottle is not half empty, but half full!

Conrad Braganza
Cellar Showroom

Getting to the root of the resurgence of interest in some of the wine world’s lesser-known grapes

Harvesting grapes at Vinkara vineyard, Turkey

Harvesting grapes at Vinkara vineyard, Turkey

The number of, and knowledge about, different grapes that are consciously made into wine has increased immeasurably in the last decade (thanks in the main to technological improvements such as DNA profiling). There are about 10,000 different varieties, members of half a dozen species; a mere(?!) 1,368 are involved in making wine of any commercial importance (according to Jancis Robinson MW who has co-written the most definitive guide to grapes in existence, Wine Grapes).

When we start to learn about wine it is often initially based around getting to know the characteristics of different grape varieties – what one tastes like compared to another and then what the same grape tastes like when produced in a different region or climate or when different vinification techniques are employed.

The grapes that start us out on our love of wine are inevitably the classic, or ‘noble’, varieties whose reputation was thus acquired because they are capable of making great wines and, usually, of being transported to other wine-producing regions from their home to make equally good wines worthy of international renown.

GrapesBut this approach to wine is relatively recent. When I first started out in the wine trade, there seemed to be far greater interest in property or domaine name and vintage, for example. I was always quite surprised that wine lovers who had been collecting claret for years had little knowledge or interest even in the grapes of their favourite wines. In fact the French regarded ‘vin de cépage’ as being rather inferior and they even legislated against putting the name of the grape variety/ies on labels.

New world wines put a change to this, and from the 1990s onwards varietal labelling became much more the norm. The French realised that they were missing out on potential customers so we started to see chardonnay and pinot noir on cheaper Burgundies and even basic Bordeaux sold as cabernet-merlot.

As a result there was both more interest in varieties by consumers and growers and then a degree of boredom struck… the so-called ABC effect (wine drinkers wanting ‘Anything But Chardonnay’!).

Winemakers started to look around them and show more interest in older vines. In Italy, for example, where they have always kept things local, there are about 380 varieties making wine in commercial quantities. And the more growers valued what was growing in their own back yard, the greater the realisation that some long-forgotten varieties of old were under threat of dying out, so there was a strong desire to resurrect old vineyards and keep old indigenous varieties for posterity. There has been a real passion for ‘heritage’ varieties and also a realisation that blending different varieties might be what gets the best out of your piece of soil rather than relying on one or two to interpret your terroir.

The revival of heritage varieties has also come about because today’s winemakers have realised that some older varieties fell out of fashion because they were low-yielding – those that survived were often planted in fertile soil so didn’t necessarily show the grape off in a good light. Today, where the emphasis is much more on quality rather than quantity, people are now realising the potential of yesterday’s forgotten grapes.

Grape Picking

In some ways we also have the Aussies to thank for the renewed interest in forgotten varieties. Newer wine-producing regions are not bound by laws or tradition to grow specific varieties; there’s still a drive to find the best grapes for your particular plot of land.

Today a younger generation of winemakers are much more wedded to the idea that wines are made in the vineyard not the winery. They tend to travel more widely too, giving greater opportunities to seek out unusual varieties and question what is grown where.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but it has revived the wine industry!

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Find out more about some of the lesser-known indigenous varieties to be found on our List.

Categories : Australia
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Mon 09 Feb 2015

Corsica, Île de Beauté – Part Three

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Read part one here.
Read part two here.

Domaine AlzipratuThe sun was setting as we arrived 90 minutes late (see part two) for our penultimate stop of the day to visit Pierre Acquaviva at Domaine Alzipratu in the Corse-Calvi appellation. Pierre’s state-of-the-art winery contains wines not only in stainless steel vat and barrel, but also in amphorae and concrete eggs as he experiments with different styles of wine. Those of you into Corsican wines will already be acquainted with Pierre’s classically made Pumonte and cuvée Fiumeseccu wines. (Currently in stock are Calvi Rouge Cuvée Fiumeseccu, Domaine Alzipratu 2013, Corse-Calvi Fiumeseccu Blanc, Domaine d’Alzipratu 2012 and Corse-Calvi Pumonte Blanc, Domaine d’Alzipratu 2011.)

Domaine AlzipratuWe first tried tank samples of Fiumeseccu Blanc 2014 (long, with lemon & grapefruit to the fore, and an attractive citrus pithiness) and Pumonte Blanc 2014 (tighter, with tropical fruit and a delicate herbal layer). The rosé versions, each a blend of sciaccarello with some grenache, were long, fresh and fruity. The Fiumeseccu Rouge 2014 had been taken from the individual vats and hand blended to give an idea of what it may taste like (easy to drink, smooth and velvety with plum and liquorice character), while the Pumonte 2013 has already spent a year in oak vats. It was still hard to work out at this early stage, with its tight tannic structure, but there is plenty of freshly scented light red fruit to come to the fore in time.

We then moved on to some of the more experimental wines. Alticielo 2013 is a micro cuvée of a field blend of 60-year-old vines. They are not yet quite sure what all the grape varieties are, but having been fermented and aged in concrete eggs (no corners, so the natural flow of the wine inside the vessel is smooth and continuous), the resulting wine is round with rich, savoury and fresh red fruit flavours and a silky texture. Inizeu 2013 is 100% nielluccio from a single 3,000 m2 plot of vines, also in concrete egg. It’s very smooth indeed with raspberry flavours and a firm yet soft tannic structure. It tastes like it has been in wood and yet it hasn’t seen any at all. At 15.6% abv, it’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is a lot of fun in a glass.

Vincent and Pierre taking wine from an amphora

Vincent and Pierre taking wine from an amphora

Eggs. vats and barrels

Eggs, vats and barrels

Lume 2013 is a vermentino blended from vat-aged and oak-aged wine. The result is a coconut-laden nose leading to a tight vanilla coated palate of grapefruit zest. Wonderfully different and refreshing. We tried Lume 2014 (yet to be blended) from vat, amphora and barrel. While the amphora version on its own was very rich and almost oily in texture, and wasn’t a good drink on its own, as an element of the blend it will add body, texture and much interest to the resulting wine.

A brief, but very informative and exciting tasting from a very dynamic grower who is going places. Pierre, with his young new winemaker Vincent, is definitely one to watch.

Clos Culombu's Etienne Suzzoni

Clos Culombu’s Etienne Suzzoni

Our final appointment was also in the Calvi appellation with Etienne Suzzoni at Clos Culombu. London members may have met Etienne at one of our Wine Fair tastings back in 2009.The main purpose of this visit was to blend The Society’s Corsican Rosé 2014, but there were also plenty of other wines to taste. We warmed up for the rosé blending with five whites – all vermentino, one of which was barrel-fermented. They all showed exquisite balance, as did the three rosés we tasted. (We currently stock the excellent Corse Calvi Clos Culombu Rosé 2013.)

It was then time to blend. Etienne and his winemakers had selected four vats, each full of wine from a different vineyard which they believed held the elements key to making a blend that would suit members’ palates. Etienne told us the quantities available from each vat, which would clearly have an impact on quite how much of each wine we could put into the blend (although as it happened, we didn’t have to go beyond what Etienne had made available in order to make the amount we need).

Winemaker Renaud blending the rosé

Winemaker Renaud blending the rosé

We proceeded to taste the wine from each vat in turn, noting its character and how it may assist in the final blend: vat 3 (fatness and a broad fruit-filled finish); vat 13 (perfumed nose, structure, up-front fruit hit and great length); vat 27 (freshness and minerality); vat 46 (red fruit flavour and richness).

The first blend was 40% vat 3, and 30% each of vats 13 and 27. [see pic] We then tried dropping vat 13 for vat 46, but the blend lost its perfume and structure and went over the top in flavour and richness. We then split 13 and 46 with 15% each, but the wine lacked a little freshness. So an extra dollop (5%) of vat 27 was added, and 5% taken away from vat 46 – hey presto! The wine was blended at only the fourth pass (is that a record?), to unanimous approval of the six there present.

(I for one can’t wait to get my taste buds round the finished article. Just before leaving for Corsica, and purely for research purposes, you understand, my wife and I drank a bottle of the 2013 between us over two nights at home. The wine was fresh and still firm, and went extremely well as an aperitif, and then with our mildly spiced fruit and couscous stuffed baked chicken. Bring on 2014!)

Artwork at Clos Culombu

Artwork at Clos Culombu

Sculpture made from Ribbe Rosso clay

Sculpture made from Ribbe Rosso clay

After having agreed on the blend, we discussed closures. As last time, Marcel requested Diam, which was fine by Etienne. We did say that in an ideal world we would prefer screwcap. Etienne countered that as 80% of his production stays on the island, and the Corsicans demand traditional closures, he wouldn’t be investing in the necessary machinery but that his son, who is soon to join the business, would doubtless have different ideas – proof of Eric Poli’s earlier prediction of the changes coming with the younger generation.

Etienne’s brother Paul piped up with his reason for cork being his closure of choice. Three years ago a conference and dinner had been held at the winery. The guest of honour was the then French employment minister Xavier Bertrand, He was making a pre-dinner speech that was going on and on and on… the listeners were beginning to nod off, the food was ready and near to spoiling. Paul opened a bottle with a corkscrew, very loudly. The minister turned, said ‘Ah, it must be time for me to sit down’ and promptly did. ‘With a screwcap bottle we’d have still been here!’ says Paul.

We finished our tasting with a vertical of Etienne’s top red wines, named Ribbe Rosso, which means ‘red clay’ in the local dialect, although the clay is more ochre in colour].

2014: sciaccarello element of the blend – a flinty aroma but a firm red fruit structure balanced with the alcohol and a dusting of white pepper flavours.
2014: nielluccio element – sweet and ripe and beautiful, a very pretty baby.
2013: from barrel, great freshness, bright red fruits
2012: polished oak, bright red fruits, long finish and a solid complex structure. One for the long term.
2011: Chewy with forward red fruits. Delicious.
2010: Fresh, tasted younger than the 2011.
2009: Richer and rounder, made in concrete tank. Warming dark fruits, a little spice and liquorice.
2008: Looked a little past it, smelled sweet but tasted dry.
2006: More Rhône-like than Italianate. It’s drying out a little now, and comes from the old cellar where conditions were warmer, and so the wines aged a little more quickly.
2005: there were widespread fires in the maquis that year – the smoke taint in the wine is very pronounced, increasingly so as the fruit dries out leaving other flavour elements to the fore.
2004: The first vintage. We didn’t taste it. None left!

It was late – we’d been either on the road or tasting (104 wines) for 12 hours, and it was time to go to dinner with Pierre from Alzipratu and Etienne and his team in the port of Calvi. It was 6 hours after that Corsica feast of a lunch with Eric, and we still weren’t very hungry, but we talked some more and learned a lot more about Corsica and the wines from this jewel of an island.

I would thoroughly recommend that you visit the Île de Beauté, a name that it fully lives up to. Both Clos Columbu and Domaine Alzipratu are particularly well set up to welcome people to their estates with their brand new wineries and tasting facilities, so what are you waiting for?

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

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Fri 06 Feb 2015

Corsica, Île de Beauté – Part Two

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Read part one here.

En route to PatrimonioSecond stop, via a tortuous route up and over the Col de Teghime in the centre of Cap Corse to the village of Patrimonio, which gives its name to the appellation, was at the winery of Antoine Arena.

60-year-old Antoine and his wife Marie own four vineyards – Carco, Hauts de Carco (a new vineyard created in 2005), Grotte di Sole (Sunny Grotto, so named because the shadows cast in and around the cave acted as a sundial to the local shepherds) and Morta Maio. They are in the process of organising their own retirement, having split the vineyards between their two sons Jean-Baptiste and Antoine-Marie. ‘Two separate companies will avoid intra-family disputes in the running of the business,’ says Antoine. (Personally I can’t see him ever fully leaving them alone nor keeping his counsel, whether the sons want him to or not! He is one of the real characters in the wine industry).

Arena in CorsicaFor sale very soon will be their Bianco Gentile 2012, Muscat du Cap Corse 2012 and Morta Maio Rouge 2011. For info, my almost indecipherable (even to me!) hastily scribbled tasting note on the latter reads ‘Depth, warmth, balance, structure, concentrated plum and cherry fruit – grand vin with a future!‘ The roundness and structure was a common thread in through the 2014, 2013 and 2012 tasted, as well as in this 2011.

On the day we tasted 27 Arena wines. Antoine led us a merry dance from vat to vat, making sense out of what appeared to be a rather chaotic layout in the cellar, and even he seemed to lose his way on occasion! Dodgy cellar navigation apart, it was a fascinating odyssey that took us through some very good wines indeed. Tasting the 2014s in vat and barrel, and comparing to 2011 and 2012 in bottle enabled us to ascertain how the new wines should develop.

Antoine Arena

Antoine Arena

Antoine was instrumental in the resurrection of bianco gentile as a variety, and the wines we tasted were delightfully fresh and lifted in a citrus style (including the one mentioned above soon to be listed). While made to be drunk young, they age well too, as we discovered when tasting a 2007 which had taken on weight and richness with a quince character.

We could have stayed all day talking and tasting, and indeed Antoine was most disappointed that we couldn’t stay for lunch, as it had already been organised at our next appointment. Given his generosity and loquaciousness I dread to think how we would have ended up at the lunch table. As it was we left 45 minutes later than planned because of his insistence that we tasted some of the wines derrière les fagots (behind the woodpile), that is to say those wines he will never sell but which he keeps for personal consumption. These included:

Tasting at ArenaA 2003 late-harvest vermentino picked with a potential alcohol of 23%, then left in a barrel outdoors for a year before being brought in to the cellar – rich, sweet and absolutely delicious – Madeira-like, even though unfortified.

An old-vine version of the above from 83-year-old vines (which have since been grubbed up) blended with younger grapes from the Carco vineyard, vinified in a large barrel then placed in small barrels right at the back of the cellar. There is only one barrel left of this luscious, deep brown, sweet oloroso-like wine which has lovely lifted acidity. Antoine only dips into it very occasionally when serving it to ‘honoured guests’.

A muscat, again from 2003, picked in November at 35% potential alcohol. Although unfortified, it is very similar in taste to a Rutherglen muscat from Victoria in Australia (a wine that Antoine, interestingly, had never heard of!).

Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams and Clos Alivu's Eric Poli

Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams and Clos Alivu’s Eric Poli

After this visit, which left us rushing off and Antoine wishing we didn’t have to, we moved on to the halfway point of the tour, arriving in the picturesque port of Saint-Florent on the west side of the Cap Corse. Waiting in his wine shop to greet us was Eric Poli of Clos Alivu and his wife Marie-Brigitte. We have been listing his Patrimonio wines for a while now, and currently list the Patrimonio Blanc, Clos Alivu 2012. We tasted the 2014 versions of the white from tank (vermentino – very easy-going and attractive, rich in style with a fresh mineral edge and a very long finish of crisp green apple and pear and rosé) and the rosé (90% nielluccio, c. 5% sciaccarello, c.5% vermentino – well integrated, light in character, displaying lively red fruit and already very moreish).

The red was the 2013 vintage made from 100% nielluccio. It was still tight and tannic, but with a lovely savoury edge to the lightly sour raspberry and plum flavours. Nielluccio needs a year or two to start showing its true colours. While not generally built for great longevity, Eric told us of a 1985 he recently drank at home which was still on excellent form.

We also tried some of his single variety IGP Île de Beauté wines. I particularly enjoyed the crunchy and savoury red fruit of the sciaccarello, as well as the peach- and pear-laced bianco gentile which he classifies as a simple Vin de France. He says that ‘with not so many rules and regulations around for this, I can play with it more in the vineyard and the winery.’

Rush hour in northern Corsica...

Rush hour in northern Corsica…

A brief stroll to the marina and it was time for a rather hefty and long but quite delicious lunch of typical Corsican fare (majoring on charcuterie, ewe’s cheese and chestnuts), with a vermentino and nielluccio from the Ajaccio appellation (which were ok, but not a patch on the wines we were tasting during the day). We had a spectacular drive south through the mountains and the maquis and along the dramatic north-western coastline which included an interesting traffic jam before once more heading for the hills.

Read part three here.

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

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