Grapevine Archive for September, 2017

Fri 08 Sep 2017

How Green is Your (Loire) Valley?

Posted by: | Comments (5)

One of the big surprises for me, when I visited the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers with buyer Jo Locke MW earlier in the year, was just how many organic and biodynamic producers were there. There was even a separate exhibition alongside the main wine fair purely for producers who farm in this way.

I wrote about our trip in our Travels in Wine feature on the website, if you’ like to read more about that.

Joanna Locke MW with producer Denis Jamain

 

Some of the producers we follow were in the Levée de la Loire – the organic/biodynamic hall, even though they don’t particularly make a big song and dance about their farming methods. Others chose to be in the main Salon, despite having organic or sometimes biodynamic certification. So I was interested in finding out why this might be, as well as in exploring the prominence of organics.

That 20% of the 250-odd exhibitors in the main hall were certified as organic and that the Levée had a total of 150 organic Loire producers and 70 biodynamic producers, came as a surprise to me, though I can’t think why. After all, the Loire has spawned some of France’s most vociferous advocates of biodynamics – Didier Dagueneau in Pouilly-Fumé and Nicolas Joly in the tiny Savennières appellation, for example. And then there’s star of Vouvray, Domaine Huet, who quietly went about converting to biodynamic viticulture, way before it could have been called trendy!

I had just assumed that grape-growing in this relatively northerly region and comparatively damp climate might present challenges to growers. So, I thought that it wouldn’t be possible to take the risk of farming organically or biodynamically and possibly lose one’s crop to the caprices of Mother Nature.

Chatting to winemakers, wine experts and importers during the fair, I tried to find out what the thinking is these days about organic/biodynamic production in the Loire. It’s fair to say that I heard quite a few different theories during our visit here, which I thought might be of interest to members.

One rather cynical school of thought attributes the popularity of ‘organics’ to the region’s proximity to Paris. ‘It’s partly down to the pressure from French journalists who can easily get here!.

A more generous explanation I heard was that, compared to other parts of France, land here is relatively cheap and therefore within the reach of young winemakers just starting out. They are far more likely to be predisposed to embrace organic and biodynamic principles from the start.

This was from a young French horticultural engineer who happened to be seated alongside us at one of our tastings. Interestingly, he also told me that the Loire Valley is a prime site for the cultivation of plants for seed production. The mild climate is ideal, apparently, and the germination rate of the seeds that come from here is higher than anywhere else in France. Perhaps that’s another reason the Loire Valley also goes by the name of ‘the Garden of France’.

Denis Jamain of Domaine de Reuilly, who produces a number of cuvées (including biodynamically), and who chose to exhibit in the main exhibition hall rather than the one specifically for organic/biodynamic producers, had a more prosaic explanation: ‘There’s more and more demand for organic and biodynamic wines from importers in North America and Scandinavia, particularly where there are state-controlled monopolies on buying wine – they’re much more interested in ethical concerns I have noticed.’ That’s not to diminish his own commitment – he is far from being the type to jump onto any kind of band-wagon for marketing purposes, I can assure you!

And, talking of commitment, this is something that Evelyne de Pontbriand of Savennières estate Domaine du Closel, highlighted to us in a talk about her wines and converting from sustainable farming to biodynamics. She wishes her neighbours in Savennières would do the same too: ‘Around 60-70% of growers are organic and we would love the whole appellation to convert. It is not that people are against it as such, it’s more a question of economics. Farming this way is bound to reduce your yields; some say your vineyards suffer more disease and it’s harder on a bigger scale. Organic farming doesn’t make you rich!’

Importer and Loire expert, Chris Hardy spends a great deal of time in the region. I was interested in his thoughts on the subject:

‘Yes, as we are more northerly, vineyard management methods need to be adapted to keep the grapes healthy as they ripen, though with coherent management, rot isn’t a major problem.’ He told me.

He went on to tell me about the growers he works with, most of whom work sustainably, many certified under the Terra Vitis organisation, ‘but most just using their brains – treating their vineyards as little as possible and preferably only in a preventative way. When needed they will spray, but will use the least damaging and most eco-friendly preparations – some non-organic sprays are more friendly than organic ones!’

Chris sees what work goes into bringing in a healthy crop, and I think that’s the crux of it. Whether you chose to follow organic or biodynamic principles or prefer to go the sustainable route, there just is no substitute for hard and intelligent work – these are the people we at The Society champion too.

Here, Chris gives some idea of what’s involved:

Basic steps, from the ground up:

  1. Grass through the vineyards: that means a little more competition for the grapes, potentially lowering yields, but it’s easier to ripen smaller crops. It also means that when it rains, the water first goes to the grass and not into the vines and grapes, which would then swell, burst and rot. If you go into the vineyards pre-harvest you can see that this a no-brainer: where there’s grass, it is long and vibrantly green and the grapes are healthy. Where there’s no grass, the grapes swell and start to burst, causing rot.

 

  1. Pruning: ideally starting with at la taille which begins around November and pruning long and then de-budding, rubbing out alternate buds so as to space the bunches, keeping them apart. Short pruning short packs the bunches close together, so if one starts to rot, they all do.
  2. Green harvest: if the grower didn’t prune that way, they can catch up later with either a green harvest (the earlier the better so as not to waste energy going to grapes that will be thrown away), reducing the yield and separating the bunches.
  3. De-leafing/leaf plucking around the bunches: this can be done by machine (fans sucking leaves away or with gas burners) or by hand. The idea is to clear the leaves from around the bunches, allowing better access to sun and wind. You can do this on one side or both. The risk in really hot summers it that you can lose some of your crop because the grapes shrivel without any shade.

The sun helps thicken the grapes’ skins, making them more resistant to disease and rot (and giving potentially more flavour) and the wind helps dry off any mist/rain from the grapes, again helping keep them free of rot. Leaf plucking early enough can give the grapes an extra week to ten days on the vines before picking. At a weekly gain of around 1° and a fall of around 1g acidity, that can make a BIG difference to the maturity of the harvest.

In a year when you can expect rain before harvest, to me, again, that’s a no-brainer.

  1. Raise leaf height (especially if you’ve de-leafed as you need to compensate for the grapes you have removed): leaves = photosynthesis = ripeness. Young leaves photosynthesise better than old leaves, so taking, say, 20cm of leaf away at the bottom of the vine and encouraging, say, 40cm at the top will really boost the ripeness of the grapes.

This really increases the chance of reaching phenolic maturity (ripe tannins), essential in the Loire as red wines by law are dry with a max 2 g/l residual sugar, so any under-ripeness can come across as bitterness.

You can see the ripeness arrive with the reds – the stalks start to turn red and the pips start to go from green (and bitter) to brown (and nutty).

We often get rain end September and in October, so the more work done early, the better. It’s not rocket science, but it is hard work and takes vigilance and strength of mind at times!’

It’s quite humbling to hear about just how much work goes into producing your glass of wine and spare a thought for those that didn’t produce any in 2016 because of frosts, which don’t discriminate between organic or non-organic vines.

 

So, while I’m not sure that I found out the real reason for the high numbers of organic and biodynamic Loire producers represented at the trade fair in Angers, I did learn an awful lot more about vineyard husbandry. It makes me appreciate the wine all the more.

>Enjoy buyer Joanna Locke MW’s pick of the 2016 vintage in our current offer

>Read more about our trip to the region in Travels in Wine

Comments (5)
Wed 06 Sep 2017

The Society’s List: A Look Back To 1967

Posted by: | Comments (1)

The Wine Society’s Lists of 50 years ago reflect a wine world narrower than it is today.

Bordeaux and Burgundy totally dominated. Port and sherry and sherry look-alikes from Montilla, South Africa and Australia were important and most members would have stocked them. Moselle and Hock were given a good airing though there were no German dry wines. The Italian (five wines) and Spanish (six wines) selections were rudimentary. There were four Portuguese table wines including the hugely popular, now forgotten, Periquita. East Europe was represented by Tokay and ‘Yugoslavia’. ‘Renski Rizling and Rumeni Muscat bottles in Maribor have exceptionally good character.’

The Australian entry was minimalist: malbec and ‘hock style’ Barossa riesling. North America did not feature and South America had only Chilean cabernet, which was bought from the Nitrate Corporation, shipped in bulk and usually delayed in Liverpool docks where it softened in to a very palatable red.

A slip of paper advertising hogsheads at £2.50 each is a clue to one big difference from today. Nearly all the Burgundies and many of the clarets were shipped in cask and bottled in Stevenage. On my first visit to the Society’s cellars a few years later I was amazed to see the whole of one wall filled with racks with dozens of barrels filled with The Society’s White Burgundy, then and now one of the most popular wines on the List.

The bottling hall at Stevenage

The Society was skilled at bottling. Vintage Port pipes were rolled round the cellar to rouse the sediment before bottling. Our bottlings of wines like Fonseca 63 and 66 were legendary and better, in my experience, than those bottled at source. Good use was made of sherry casks, which were sent up to Scotland when empty to house our whisky fillings for The Society’s Highland Blue Whisky. Dry amontillado produces the finest results.

The 1967 range of claret looks mouthwatering with twenty-four 1961 clarets (Lynch Bages 22/6 a bottle, Montrose 25/9) and forty-three 1959s (Lafite 54/-, Palmer 23/-). Christopher Tatham, the gifted wine buyer, chose wonderful red and white Burgundies which stood the test of time for decades. His wine-buying travels were mostly in France. He had begun to develop the Loire list by 1967 but he had not yet explored the potential of the south of France, as Marcel Orford-Williams does successfully today.

The economic climate was not easy. The year ended 31st January 1968 saw a very small surplus after two years of losses following The Society’s move out of London. The previous year there had been a 10% increase in duties, a credit squeeze and a price freeze and Resale Price Maintenance had been abolished. Previously The Society was not bound by this and had been able to sell its whisky and gin at prices below the rest of the market. The Society, however, where reputation for sourcing genuine and authentic wines was well known probably benefitted from the wine trade scandal that had revealed that many wines offered for sale elsewhere were mislabelled and not what they proclaimed to be. In fact as The Society became settled in its new cellars, 1967 was probably a turning point in its history when it took on its new lease of life.

Early days in Stevenage

An apology in the List reminds us never to be complacent:

‘A large consignment of Australian Barossa Flor Fino Sherry was caught in the Suez Canal during the Middle East War and is still on the Bitter Lake. However, fresh consignments were dispatched around the Cape and no doubt will be improved by the extra and at one time traditional sea voyage’.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Take a look through an archive of Society List covers from 1880 to the present day.

Comments (1)

These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the latest selections of our just-revamped Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind.

Friendly, flexible and commitment-free, Wine Without Fuss is now better than ever, with a wider range of options than ever before. If you have trouble selecting from our huge range of amazing wines, this service makes the decision easy, with five plans to suit every taste and budget. And you can cancel, change or skip an order at any time. What’s not to love?!

Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

I rail at the Met Office’s statistical announcement that autumn’s arrival is at the beginning of September. I just cannot to let summer go so easily and I will only give up my dreams of a last burst or glorious sunshine when the trees are throwing off their leaves, the scent of many bonfires fills the chilly air and my fragrant other half is pointing me towards the shed and the rake therein.

As such, I have still been looking at recipes that will satisfy with a lightness of touch without sacrificing generosity of flavour when the leaves turn and fall, those bonfires stink up the washing and the central heating gets switched on.

Cobnuts is not a watered down exclamation of disappointment at the disappearance of summer but rather a suggestion that you try the humble nut of the same name, aka the filbert, a cultivated form of the hazelnut that come into season around August and go on giving until October, though a well stored nut can last beyond Christmas.

They can be eaten young and deliciously creamy straight from the tree while still in their green papery husk, or later when the shell hardens and the depth of flavour is nuttier they are just as delicious. A light roasting out of the shells will deepen that nuttiness even further. However you serve them they are a homegrown treat.

Two and a half million squirrels can’t be wrong!

Steve Farrow

Recipe 1:
Endive, Bacon, Apple and Cobnut Salad with a Blue Cheese Vinaigrette.

I use cobnuts in a recipe that amalgamates their qualities with the deep bass notes of a good blue cheese and the harvest of an orchard in the form of apples or pears. It is a staple of ours at home because it always satisfies and I’ve been asked for the recipe by friends many times.

If you are not a fan of cobnuts/hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts are lovely in this recipe too!

(Serves four as with crusty bread, as a starter. Double the quantities for a main course serving).

• 4 endives (though 4 gem luttuces will do at a pinch)
• 8 rashers of streaky bacon, smoked or not is up to you.
• 1 large eating apple or a pear, peeled and diced
• 100g shelled, roasted cobnuts (or hazelnuts), chopped but not finely
• 100g good quality blue cheese (Roquefort or Stilton are both terrific) cut into chunks
• 4 tablespoons rapeseed or vegetable oil
• 3 tablespoons cider (or white wine) vinegar
• 1 tablespoon chopped chives
• salt and pepper

Cut the rashers of bacon into lardons and fry until coloured them remove from the pan, retaining the fat. Drain the lardons on kitchen paper. Strip the leaves of the endives from the root, leaving the leaves whole, and put into a bowl. Add the chopped apple or pear, chopped nuts, bacon and seasoning, and toss.

In a small saucepan warm the oil and vinegar together. Add the bacon fat left over from frying the lardons. Add the blue cheese chunks and cook very gently until the cheese has melted. Give the mixture a whisk and pour over the endive in the bowl. Add the chopped chives. Toss everything thoroughly to coat with the vinaigrette and serve with crusty bread.

Wine matches: Try this partnered with generosity and freshness of the Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Saint-Cosme 2014 (French Classics), fragrant, lightly spicy but fresh wines like Villiera Estate Jasmine Fragrant White, Stellenbosch 2017 (Discovery) and Seméli Mantinia Nassiakos 2016 (Lighter Wines, or available online for £9.95).

Other delicious options include fruity little numbers like the Vermentino Sicilia, Mandrarossa 2016 (Wine Rack Essentials or £6.50), Viña Istria Malvazija 2016 (Discovery or £7.50), Edelzwicker Special Cuvée, Jacques Cattin 2016 (Lighter Wines or £8.50), or classic Marlborough sauvignon tropicality with cut of the Three Terraces Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Worldwide Wonders or £9.25).

Recipe 2: Gravadlax
Another lovely dish that is equally good at any time of the year is home-made cured salmon, rather like the Scandinavian gravadlax that is so easily bought in the supermarkets now. Historically made to preserve fish through the winter it is easily and deliciously accomplished at home, without any need to bury it as the Norse did as a preservation method. I certainly don’t inter ours in a section of the lawn.

• 2 sides of carefully pin-boned salmon (your fishmonger will do this for you), about 1 kilo each, skin on. You can use smaller cuts of salmon and adjust the cure mixture that follows accordingly.
• 150g sea salt
• 150g caster sugar
• 75ml vodka (or for a hint of juniper use gin)
• 200g fresh dill, finely chopped (150g for the cure, 50g for a garnish)

First, make the cure by mixing the salt, sugar and peppercorns. Stir in the vodka or gin and the chopped dill and mix well to evenly distribute. Lay out a double layer of cling film, enough to double wrap the sides of salmon, and lay one of the fillets on the film skin-side down.

Spread the salt, sugar, dill and vodka/gin mixture evenly over the salmon you have laid on the cling film. Top with the other fillet, flesh-side down, so that they form a sandwich with the mixture as the filling. Wrap everything tightly in the cling film and put it into ceramic or glass dish only just large that the fish makes a snug fit. Put a flat board, a chopping board is ideal, on top of the cling-film parcel and add some weights like cans of food or kitchen weights.

Put the dish into the fridge for at least 24 hours, though longer (up to 48 hours) will give a deeper, firmer cure. Remember to turn the fish parcel every 12 hours or so and make sure to drain off any liquid that pools the dish.

When you are ready, unwrap the fish, brush off the cure and give the sides a rinse under cold running water to remove the last of it. Pat them dry with kitchen paper. Finely chop the extra dill and sprinkle evenly over the salmon.

If you can resist it, the fish will keep in a fridge for up to a week if wrapped in more cling film. Eat it very thinly sliced with brown bread (rye bread is best) and butter and plenty of lemon juice and some ground black pepper. Mustard and dill sauce is also traditional and can be bought or made for it. I like a horseradish and crème fraiche mix myself but it isn’t everyones cup of tea. Some raosted beetroot too is a favourite of mine but is a Marmite ingredient, I know, so ignore that as you wish.

Wine matches: the salmon is wonderful partnered with Château Martinon, Entre-Deux-Mers 2016 (Lighter Wines) or the zest of Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Famille Bougrier 2016 (Wine Rack Essentials or available online for £6.50), or Rompeolas Godello, Galicia 2016 (Wine Rack Essentials or £8.50).

The vibrancy of the Madfish Great Southern Riesling 2016 (Discovery or £8.95) and the classic The Society’s Exhibition Alsace Riesling 2015 (French Classics or £13.50) will stand shoulder to shoulder with the dish too; as will the classic seafood accompanying facets of Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie, Comte Leloup du Château de Chasseloir, Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires 2013 (Worldwide Wonders or £9.50) to cut the fattiness of the fish.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (2)

There’d be some real, actual blood as well, but what I’m trying to say is that I really like riesling.

Characterful, versatile and downright delicious, it’s the grape that everyone says they don’t like before they actually try it, and this gorgeous example – recommended to me by fellow copywriter compadre Martin Brown – has converted plenty of naysayers recently.

Louis Guntrum Dry Riesling 2016

Bursting with mouthwatering lime, pear and gooseberry flavours, it manages to achieve bracing freshness, while not subjecting the roof of your mouth to that mouthpuckering post-peardrop tenderness that other particularly acidic wines can. A lean, mean mineral seam conjures the breeziness of the Rhein which, incidentally runs through the heart of the Guntrum’s beautiful vineyards.

Back in February, we were lucky enough to be joined for a guest tasting by owner Konstantin Guntrum, whose infectious enthusiasm and obvious passion was as vibrant and life-affirming as the wines themselves.

More interesting than sauvignon blanc, less divisive than chardonnay, this is the perfect bottle to enjoy with friends as summer draws to a close.

Rosie Allen
Content Creator & Editor

£8.95 bottle
£53.50 case of six
View wine details

Find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
Comments (2)