Grapevine Archive for France
My Corsican trip is always a bit of an adventure and giving it time is always a bit tricky. It comes at a busy time for any buyer of northern hemisphere wines.
How soon can a buyer taste a new vintage? Of course there is no real answer. After all during the vintage, there is a certain satisfaction from tasting grape juice, or even the grapes themselves. Young wine on the other hand goes through stages when it doesn’t taste that well. That’s often when it’s just been racked or moved around, or indeed when it is still full of solid matter. Early smells and tastes can be misleading; young wines need time to settle a little and become more like the finished article.
So I asked my good friend Etienne: how about early December? Fine came the answer and so it was.
I haven’t fully explored all the travel options yet though I’ve tried a few. There are direct flights in the summer but out of season one has to change, at least once. For the time being my favourite option is to start from Saint Pancras which is conveniently close to home. And yes, it allows me to fantasise about some of the great trains of the past: the Mistral and Blue Train.
There’s an early train to Paris and a quick jaunt on the metro and a fast train to Marseille. The journey itself was relatively uneventful. No murders or vanishing ladies. Vanishing power maybe, as the train came to a halt outside Ashford and remained there for half an hour.
I like Marseille station (I quite like Marseille as well). It’s a station that looks different, definitely imbued with a feel of the orient. There are trees within the station, making it look like a rather large orangery. There’s a friendly intimacy about it and people seem remarkably unrushed. There’s a good place for a coffee and a croissant where people have time to talk.
The two women behind the counter may be busy, drawing one coffee after the other but still have time to exchange smiles and small talk with customers. There’s a tramp seated not far away with his coffee and a sandwich. A heavily armed Gendarme greets a passenger with a kiss. This is all such a contrast with Paris which, by comparison seems cold, fearful and furtive.
Marseille airport is like any other airport and in common with all airports, there are building works and road works; yet it too seems a little laid back. People have time for each other. Even at the security gates, there is an air of friendliness. Not that any of this affected security, which was as tight as anywhere.
Corsica has four airports which is good going for an island with a population of around 350,000.
But Corsica is more than just an island. It is a sort of mini continent with lots of quite different bits and these are separated by mountains making communication on the island slow and difficult.
Politics play a big part here too. City mayors are powerful beasts whose reach has to extend to Paris. Corsica punches well above its weight in most matters. And so there are four airports.
I still have only explored a tiny bit of the island. There is vineyard everywhere, but it is probably true that some of the top and most forward thinking growers are in the north. And so that stretch that separates the towns of Calvi and Bastia, has become Wine Society territory!
Calvi is where Lord Nelson lost an eye in 1794. It amuses people much that Corsica might have ended up a British possession. Indeed for a couple of years George III was king of an Anglo-Corsican kingdom.
Back to wine!
Clos Culombu is not far from Calvi airport, barely 15 minutes’ drive away. It was dark when I got there. The samples of rosé from the new vintage were all lined up on the counter.
Etienne Suzzoni was there, all six-and-a-half feet of him (or more!), and his son Paul-Antoine who as it turned was largely responsible for making the 2016 vintage. Father Etienne is these preoccupied with other ventures; he is after all Mayor of his local town, Lumio.
2016 is a good vintage here. It was explained that it was hot and dry but that crucially that it had rained just enough so that drought was never really a problem. We tasted from a round 20 different tanks, all representing specific parts of the vineyard and different grape varieties, and different ages of vine too. Some of the samples were already blends with two varieties present. For instance, the first tank was of sciaccarrellu with a little syrah, and very good it was too.
Before continuing maybe a few words are needed about varieties. Corsica has a rich and varied ampelography taking in influences from France, Genoa, Tuscany and even Catalonia. Many varieties were lost during the phylloxera epidemic though some have since been rediscovered, growing wild.
In the north, niellucciu is the main red grape variety and is in fact identical to the Tuscan sangiovese. It produces full-flavoured, full-bodied and often tannic wines. Sciaccarellu is a native Corsican variety, grown nowhere else. It tends to make wines that are fragrant, fruity with plenty of grip and is the majority variety further south such as in Ajaccio. Local wisdom says that it is the choice variety for making rosé. Grenache is also indigenous and probably came from Aragon or Sardinia. Syrah and cinsault are more recent imports. Last year, the blend for our Corsican Rosé was mostly niellucciu with a little sciaccarellu and grenache.
Silence tends to reign during these tastings, considerable levels of concentration being required. Each sample is tasted, one after the other. Each could have something to say in a blend. One sample might have low pH which could be a good thing while another might have high pH, less desirable. Likewise excessive alcohol might not be a great idea. And so I write down a comment or two beside each wine, by the time the last wine has been tasted I have an idea which samples to retain for the blend.
And then starts the fun with test tubes and calculators at the ready. The sciaccarellu wines are all very good and yet, on its own, something is missing.
There are several false leads until finally a blend sticks. Jean Dépagneux, for many years in charge of a business in Beaujolais and Mâcon, always used to tell me that three elements in a blend are better than two.
And then I found it. There was a tank of pure cinsault which didn’t seem much and was easily overlooked. Just 10% was enough to bring the niellucciu and sciaccarellu together. And so the 2016 vintage was born.
The following day the three elements, 60% niellucciu, 30% sciaccarellu and 10% cinsault, were blended together.
What happens now?
The wine now rests; it will remain untouched over the winter and will be bottled after a filtration in the spring.
The first shipment to Stevenage will be in April and I for one am looking forward to trying it!
Corsica is a big place and 36 hours doesn’t allow for much exploration. After Calvi, my route took me east to the other fortress town of Nelsonian fame, Bastia. A high point was the entering the forbidding-sounding Désert des Agriates. North of the main road, there is just a startlingly beautiful emptiness.
I had to meet Marie-Brigitte Paoli who picked me up in her incredibly large land cruiser. The next four or five miles were not easy driving on a deeply rutted track but eventually we arrived at her estate. Hers is called Clos Teddi while her husband’s, next door is Clos Alivu. One cellar serves both and there is one winemaker, a Parisian who came to Corsica as a student to do a vintage and never left!
There are lovely wines here in all three colours and complemented to perfection the lunch which was brought out on a windswept terrace. There was charcuterie, figatellu sausage, spare ribs, an eyewateringly strong cheese, Fiadone cheese cake and garden-picked clementines, a sole guardian of sensible eating!
The wines of Corsica are fascinating and though I’ve spent much of the time on rosé, the whites and reds are also worth exploring. More Italianate then Gallic, they are at their best at the heart of a meal.
If you enjoy finding out what goes on behind the scenes on our wine buyers’ visits to our winemakers, visit the Travels in Wine™ pages on our website.
I had to pinch myself a few times throughout 2016. Since landing my dream job as trainee buyer (and subsequently taking on buying duties for England, beers and accessories), I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people, visit some beautiful places and experience some remarkable things.
One thing that will stick with me though is some of the fantastic people that I have been lucky enough to meet who, whilst all have stories of their own, always share one thing in common with me: a love of wine.
Putting together a list of just three bottles that really meant something to me from 2016 was not easy, as there were so many more that I wanted to select. However, I settled on three very special wines from three very special producers, in three completely different wine-producing regions of the world.
You can buy a convenient three-bottle mixed case of these reds for £38 – with UK delivery included – via thewinesociety.com.
1. Château Monconseil Gazin, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2013 (£9.50 per bottle)
My very first trip accompanying one of the buyers was in January 2016 when I went to Bordeaux with Head of Buying Tim Sykes. The main goal of the trip was to blend the new vintage of The Society’s Claret but while there we managed to fit in visits with a few other producers. Our last visit of the trip was to a small, humble producer in Blaye on the right bank of the Gironde.
After a few days of suits and ties and smart sales folk, it was lovely to meet a proper winemaking family. We weren’t talking to a sales representative or a marketing person but the owner and winemaker of a small and excellent-quality winery. Jean-Michel and Françoise Baudet are the couple in charge here, at one of the oldest wineries in Blaye. They love nothing more than driving visitors around their vineyards and talking them through the subtle nuances that each vineyard has on their wines. After the tour it was time for a bit of cake before going to the airport.
This was the first time that I felt like I got to the heart of Bordeaux; despite all the money in the region and all the marketing, it is people like these who live for the wine and who make good wines at very affordable prices.
This 2013 vintage of Chateau Monconseil Gazin was one which I remember for its soft tannins, fresh acidity and feeling of being complete, by which I mean everything was in harmony and as it should be. Fresh fruit is there, but it is soft and relatively gentle, with an appealing, simple charm. For me, this wine spoke of its place very well, from the freshness in the fruit on the highest vineyards, kept cool in the wind, to the ripeness of the fruit that bit closer to the river, where the temperature is moderated thanks to the influence of the Gironde.
2. Chianti Rufina Riserva, Villa di Vetrice 2011 (£10.95 per bottle)
When I joined The Wine Society’s Buying Team, I was lacking in the foreign language department, other than a miniscule amount of Italian. In order to fit in to such a linguistically talented team of buyers, I had to brush up on it! After a number of Italian lessons, Sebastian Payne MW, our buyer for Italy, said: ‘If you really want to learn the language, you need to get out there!’ So I did.
I spent a couple of weeks working at wineries in Italy; firstly with the lovely folks at Vallone in Puglia but I spent the second week with the truly lovely, and truly Italian, Grati family in the Rufina Valley of Chianti.
I’ve never had a week where I felt so looked after and learned so much. The warm and incredibly intelligent Gualberto Grati and his sister Christi are now at the helm of their family winery, having taken over from their parents who live at Villa di Vetrice itself. I managed to experience all sorts of jobs which surround the harvest on my visit, from the picking of the grapes, to hanging up bunches in the vinsantaia (see above), to carrying out a whole experimental micro-vinification of the very rare grape variety sanforte.
Sitting around the family table for dinner at Vetrice on the first night of my visit, not being even nearly competent with my Italian, was a strange mixture of lovely and terrifying. However when, on the last night of my trip, Gualberto and I were invited for dinner with Christi, her husband Luca and their two daughters, I found I was able to have a conversation in Italian, the feeling of pride was really quite memorable. It was all thanks to the kindness and patience of this Tuscan winemaking family.
Their wine is really rather delicious too! This one combines the rusticity and ‘hands-off’ approach to winemaking found in the most authentic of Tuscan wines with such obviously excellent fruit, from a region that really seems born to produce wines. Silky smooth yet still fresh, thanks to the signature acidity of the Rufina valley. A charming, approachable and thoroughly enjoyable wine, whilst still smart and proper, much like the family who make it!
3. Hedges CMS Washington State 2015 (£13.50 per bottle)
I’d never been to the USA before being lucky enough to get a place on a trip arranged by the Washington State Wine Commission. The bulk of the trip involved a small group of us visiting a number of wineries spread over five days. I wasn’t able to fly out to Seattle until the day after the rest of the group, which meant that I would be there a couple of days after they had all gone home again at the end of the trip. With that in mind, I had made plans to go and visit a couple of producers who we already worked with at The Wine Society, one of which was Hedges Estate.
I’d heard that Christophe Hedges was a pretty cool guy and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. He lives with his wife Maggie and their two young sons, in a beautiful white-stone house which is down the end of a dirt track, in the middle of the vineyards of Red Mountain. I drove down the track and pulled up outside the house, which was clearly still undergoing some construction work. I walked around the side and knocked on the door but there was no answer.
Eventually, this tall, muscular wine god of a man came around the corner. This was Christophe, who it turns out is not only a great winemaker but also a seriously good stonemason. So good in fact, that he built the house himself!
The Hedges family were like something out of a film – painfully good looking with perfect smiles and a sense of coolness and calm about them which makes you feel like they just love living life. When I went to visit them, I had just left the rest of the group who had flown home and as I got into my hire-car I distinctly remember a sudden sense of real loneliness, now finding myself in a small town in a country I had never been to before, almost 5,000 miles away from home. When I got to the Hedges’ home, it was like seeing old friends.
I tasted a lot of good wines with Christophe, many of which could have been featured here; but for me, this was perhaps the most approachable now. It encapsulates the terroir of Red Mountain, with a hint of earthiness and bright, fresh acidity. The complexity of fruit here is impressive, thanks to the clever blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, making a wine which is juicy and bright, while maintaining a peppery touch and a firm backbone.
Buy the three-bottle mixed case for £38 – with UK delivery included.
A few of us from around The Wine Society sat down with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams the other day to plan the forthcoming en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône vintage. The wines will be available to order in late January.
The picture Marcel painted for us was of an excellent vintage, and our message to members is to start getting excited.
Weather patterns were complex and it’s a difficult vintage to generalise. Annoying for those of us who enjoy the simplicity of summaries, but stimulating stuff for those of us who enjoy exploring the numerous fascinating differences between wine regions. Being both of those things myself, I was unsure how to feel about it… until the wines were poured.
Each one of them was a joy. Tasting and talking with Marcel, it seems that the principal uniting factors in the 2015s are to do with generosity and pleasure. Even given the Rhône’s impressive run of form over the last few vintages, this is the sort of vintage that will delight aficionados, and would make a great first en primeur buy if you’ve yet to take the plunge. Most will be delicious throughout their drinking windows, with younger wines being gorgeously approachable but complex and fine too.
The northern Rhône’s reds performed superbly overall, with Côte-Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage looking especially successful. In the south, where the majority of wine is made, the picture is inevitably more complicated, but the successes are quite magnificent, and there are some very special wines indeed. The more mountainous areas tended to perform best: lovers of Vinsobres and Gigondas, for example, are in for a particular treat.
The white wines are rich, powerful yet balanced and rather wonderful. There will be fewer on offer than in 2014, but they will be worth looking out for.
Another exciting announcement is that Marcel has decided to feature some new faces in the forthcoming offer – more news on that very soon. Keep an eye on your letterboxes, inboxes and thewinesociety.com for the end of January!
Digital Content & Comms Editor
Some of us are better at preparing for Christmas than others.
For our colleague Dave Collins, October is the time when the culinary pre-work begins; and this glorious sweet wine from the south of France plays a pivotal role.
The ritual starts in October with a call to visit the in-laws to help stir the Christmas pudding mix and, of course, make a wish. I may be in my fifties but sometimes I have to just do my duty (and anyway, who hasn’t got the odd unfulfilled wish they would like to remind the gods about?).
The next time I see the concoction is just after a seafood Christmas lunch as it is removed from a pot of boiling water where it has just spent the last six hours or so. As this happens our glasses are charged with generous servings of Monbazilliac and our Christmas ritual, which we have followed for more than 20 years, is almost complete.
The observant visitor may notice that the bottle was already open as the first third was consumed with the pâté starter, but to my mind this strongly aromatic sweet wine works so well with Christmas pudding that I cannot imagine Christmas without it.
£12.95 – Bottle
£155 – Case of 12
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I am part of a group, originally formed by Clive Coates, now retired, that meets twice a year to taste Burgundy blind from bottle.
The group comprises journalists Neal Martin (e-Robert Parker) and Neil Beckett (World of Fine Wine), and wine merchants Roy Richards (formerly Richards Walford), Jasper Morris (BBR), Zubair Mohamed (Raeburn Fine Wines), Lindsay Hamilton (ex Farr Vintners), Giles Burke-Gaffney (J&B), Julie Richards (own company), Jason Haynes (Flint Wines), Christopher Moestue (own company in Norway) and Adam Bruntlett (BBR).
The process, its challenges and rewards:
We last met in September to taste 244 red premiers and grands crus Burgundies from the 2013 vintage, arranged in 38 flights, where the identity of flight is known, perhaps Pommard Rugiens, but not the producer.
It is probably the most useful, informative and challenging tasting of the year. It is very difficult to line up a comprehensive selection of Burgundy because the wines are so rare and in such demand they disappear into wine lovers’ cellars as soon as they are sold. We mark out of 20 and then discuss the wines before revealing who made them. Everyone shares their knowledge and views and I learn much from my peers during this tasting.
Burgundy is very challenging to assess. Marks may vary considerably between scorers as Burgundy is one of the most diverse wines in terms of style. Partly because the owner is usually winemaker and viticulturist, rather than a hired hand as is more usual in, say, Bordeaux, you get risk-taking owners each with their own view about how to make wine. This is why we recommend you choose producer before appellation.
As a taster you are confronted with a wide range of styles and you have to judge a wine’s quality, how it will develop and its character (ie. whether the wine is typical of its appellation).
How do you mark a rich, dark, oaky and powerful wine in an appellation like Chambolle, which one expects elegance and grace? It often comes down to a philosophical view of what one expects from a particular appellation and a judgement of how it measures up.
Just looking at the colours in a single flight they can range from black, usually a sign of over-extraction of colour and tannin, or oxidation, to very pale and light, often a sign the wine was made with whole bunches. Wines made with whole bunches absorb the colour in the stems, hence the pale colour, and are usually softer and less acid as potassium in the stems precipitates some of the acidity. But if done badly with underripe stems one can get a load of green, harsh tannins on the palate. Whole-bunch wines may smell a little vegetal in youth, but can develop a remarkable aromatic complexity with age.
One can see how an enormous variation in opinion can develop if one considers just the aspect of wines made with whole bunches compared to destemmed wines. There are those who like wines with whole bunches as they believe they are capable of a type of aromatic complexity with bottle age that destemmed wines are not. Others are not so keen, and see any green, herbaceous aroma as detrimental. A very light wine can be divisive as some admire the purity and delicacy while others may judge it as a good wine now yet perhaps without the ability to mature and develop further complexity.
Conversely, a dark wine, perhaps with significant presence of new oak can split the group, some looking to the future and betting it will come round while others decide the contrary. In one’s mind ‘demons’ can encourage second guessing! Is this one of those superb producers whose wines show their ugly side in their youth, but develop into graceful swans later, or is it just badly made?
Whilst the marking is of interest, the great benefit of tasting as a group are the discussions we have about these wines after marking and before we reveal who made them. The group contains some brilliant Burgundy experts who generously share their knowledge and experience. Listening to how members of the group judge and reason can be very instructive and revealing. It is a wonderful learning environment.
Seen by some as the best way to taste, blind tasting has its advantages and disadvantages. It is at is most useful where one is comparing like with like, which is how our tasting is arranged with wines from the same vintage and cru or a small mix of similar crus. However, even with 6-9 wines, the usual size of the flights, one must beware of how the order of the wines can influence your tasting. If you taste a big and powerful wine followed by a lighter wine, unless you have ‘perfect pitch’ (ie the ability to re-gauge your palate after tasting each wine), you may perceive the light wine as much lighter than it in in reality as you may be making a ‘relative’ rather than ‘absolute’ judgement by comparing it to an unusually powerful wine.
The French call the big wine that succeeds in blind tastings la bête du concours, the beast of the tasting competition. Particularly during a long tasting, when one may become a little tired, and tannin build-up can affect one’s tasting where red wines are involved, one is less well able to judge the more delicate and elegant wines. I have been to celebratory competition dinners where the prize winners are served and while one sip can be impressive, occasionally one doesn’t want to have a second glass of the crowned champion! Sometimes less is more and too much is too much! I usually taste in one order, and then again in a different one. Finally, after marking them, I go through the flight again in ascending order of points awarded.
The results: what came out well?
2013 was a cool year with significant hail in the Côte de Beaune, so generally is was the richer, fuller appellations that did best. Nuits-St-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée stood out. Global warming has really benefited Nuits-St-Georges, especially the southern premiers crus which are more tannic. The extra heat is softening and sweetening the tannins. Vosne-Romanée was very successful, both at premier and grand cru level. As a group Echezeaux, not always our favourite appellation, showed very well.
The top 20 red Burgundy 2013s as marked by the group were as follows, in descending order:
• La Romanée, Comte Liger Belair
• Romanée St Vivant, Follin Arbelet
• Richebourg, Domaine Jean Grivot
• La Grande Rue, Domaine François Lamarche
• Musigny, Domaine JF Mugnier
• Richebourg, A-F Gros
• Chambertin, Domaine Armand Rousseau
• Chambertin, Camille Giroud
• Echezeaux, Domaine Jean Grivot
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Robert Groffier
• Musigny, Domaine de la Vougeraie
• Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques, Domaine Armand Rousseau
• Latricières-Chambertin, Domaine Duroché
• Grands Echezeaux, Domaine du Clos Frantin, Bichot
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Domaine JF Mugnier
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Domaine Georges Roumier
• Chambertin, Domaine du Clos Frantin, Bichot
• Echezeaux, Comte Liger Belair
• Mazis-Chambertin, Domaine Maume-Tawse
• Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Fourrier
• Visit our website for a selection of red Burgundy for drinking now, selected from a tasting conducted by Toby and spanning vintages between 1995–2012.
• For more information on the region, we highly recommend Toby’s comprehensive How To Buy Burgundy Guide.
One of the Loire regions hardest hit by frost this spring (the worst since 1991, with some growers cropping as little as 5-10 hl/ha, a fraction of an increasingly rare ‘normal’ crop) the Nantais concluded its harvest in fine conditions after a growing season full of challenges to stretch every grower.
A wet spring and extended cold, damp flowering period compounded the in-some-cases gloomy start to the season. Heat and drought ensued in a summer that even challenged holiday makers with more than one period of exceptionally high temperatures. The only good news in this, other than sun tans all round, was that earlier disease pressure in the vineyards was stopped in its tracks, and there will not be much need to chaptalise this year either.
A fine late season, with a little rain at just the right time to revive the vines and restart maturation, and dry, sunny, often windy days and chilly nights allowed growers to bring in a healthy, if often cruelly small crop.
On my recent visit at the tail end of the harvest I saw – and tasted – healthy fruit, talked with sanguine (mighty relieved) growers and heard some pretty tragic stories that may see more Muscadet vignerons throwing in the towel.
And the wines? There will not be a consistent picture (it was a particularly tricky year for organic producers for example), but the best results will produce a richer style of Muscadet, perhaps somewhere between 2015 and 2003 in style.
Jo Locke MW
As the mercury lowers and the nights draw in, October’s Staff Choice is naturally… a rosé.
Hats off to Cellar Showroom manager Lisa Fletcher for reminding us, quite rightly, that drinking pink needn’t be confined to the summer months; and this well-priced off-dry wine from the exceptionally reliable Bougrier family is as versatile with weather as it is with food. Take a look at Lisa’s recommendation below…
I enjoy this delicious wine all year round. Light, refreshing and only 11% alcohol, it has bags of character for the price with delicious sweet (but never sickly) fruit flavours. Its off-dry palate and lovely delicate flavour makes it all-too-easy to enjoy on its own, but it’s also a surprisingly versatile food wine.
Recently it proved a big hit with salmon and some cold cuts; it goes brilliantly with chicken and even a mild Saturday night curry.
Another reason I always keep some of this in my wine rack is because it’s my ‘mother-in-law wine’: she enjoys off-dry rosés, and this always hits the spot!
£6.50 – Bottle
£78 – Case of 12
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Earlier this year I was contacted by an old friend in the trade who buys for one of the top wine shops in London.
He had been trawling through a cellar in the bowels of a castle in Scotland and had come across a few old bottles of Wine Society labelled red Burgundy. He wondered whether we would be interested to acquire the bottles.
Seeing that they were 1961s I tried not to appear too excited and managed, after a bit of horse-trading, to purchase the wines. So we now have 2 bottles each of 1961 Pommard Premier Cru and 1961 Chambolle-Musigny.
The wines are now lying securely in our cellars in Stevenage, and will probably be used in future tastings. As you can see from the photograph, the levels of the wine are quite good, so there is a reasonable chance that they will still be drinkable.
Within five minutes of me showing the bottles to my colleague Tom Wain, who has been working for The Society for over 40 years, he presented me with the original ledger which indicates that in June 1964 we shipped 12 hogsheads of the 1961 Chambolle-Musigny and six hogsheads of the 1961 Pommard Premier Cru.
A hogshead would have contained the equivalent of around 400 bottles. Tom reckons that the wine would have been bottled by The Society in Hills Place, behind the London Palladium. The wines were made for us by the négociant Remoissenet, who had very good contacts with domaines across the Côte d’Or. He used to buy up and blend wines from top estates before Domaine bottling was commonplace
This discovery of old bottles made me wonder what else is out there in members’ cellars with Wine Society labels…
Head of Buying
They say that every dog has its day.
Well, a quick browse of the web will quickly reveal that not just every dog but pretty much everything else has its day also!
For instance, did you know that September alone plays host to International One-Hit Wonder Day, Teddy Bear Day, Love Note Day (aww) and – my personal favourite – International Red Panda day (it’s the 21st for those who were wondering)?
So why should we even bat an eyelid at International Grenache Day?
International Grenache Day, or IGD, is on the third Friday in September (presumably it lost out on the first and second Friday slots to International Bring Your Manners To Work Day and those troublesome teddy bears I mentioned earlier). Why should we care?
Well, here’s what the team behind IGD have to say:
Why should you care about grenache, one of the most widely planted and least known red grapes in the world? Because you love wine; because you are bored with merlots and pinot noirs; because you are fascinated with pairing just the right wine with your foods; because you have an insatiable curiosity for the finer things in life; because your mother always said you should learn something new every day.
Maybe they have a point! It does offer the opportunity (or should that be excuse?) to try a whole load of different wines made from grenache. This is certainly something not to be sniffed at – if you’ll excuse the pun: given that grenache is so widely planted it’s still relatively low key compared to the cabernets and pinots of the wine world.
Pretty much all the major wine regions produce some decent single-varietal or grenache-blended wines. If trying to stick a pin in its spiritual home, most would aim for France’s southern Rhône valley, where it plays a big part in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Spain would likely be another popular choice: here garnacha, as it is known here, can produce exceptional everyday wines and provide an important ingredient in Rioja wines.
But there’s plenty of choice globally when looking for grenache. Its popularity with winemakers looks set to grow, mainly due to global warming, as it has an ability to thrive in dry, hot climates and is fairly drought resistant.
Its ability to work well in blends is simultaneously its strong suite and its Achilles heel, sometimes suffering from sharing the limelight with better-known varieties.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some cracking single-varietal wines available (check out this beauty made from old vines by specialist Domaines Lupier in Spain, for instance); but grenache’s ability to contribute to a blend is where, for many, its true genius lies.
So what does grenache add to a blend? I asked our Buying Team for their thoughts and the recurring themes were juiciness and generosity of fruit, strawberry and raspberry flavours, and a sweet, ripe character. On its own, grenache can deliver quite high levels of alcohol, so blending it with other lower-alcohol varieties can be useful in providing balance in a wine. As Rhône buyer Marcel Orford-Williams put it:
‘At its simplest grenache makes round, heartwarming wines. At its best it has real majesty.’
Whether in a blend or pure and unadulterated, we therefore feel that grenache is a grape worth exploring. So if you’re not in the mood for International Teddy Bear Day, do consider raising a glass of grenache on Friday!
We guarantee it will provide more pleasure than International One Hit Wonder Day!
Marketing Campaign Manager
Ideas for celebrating International Grenache Day:
• Indulge in some vinotherapy by covering yourself in crushed grenache grapes and honey. Very good for the skin apparently.
• The International Grenache Case features six delicious under-£10 grenache wines selected by our buyers, and is available for £48 (including UK delivery).
• Go to The Society’s Cellar Showroom in Stevenage where all the wines featured in this case will be available to taste free of charge on Friday 16th September.
• Join in the conversation on social media: use the #GrenacheDay hashtag to share any grenache highlights and see what others are enjoying.
• Enjoy some delicious grenache wines!
This busman’s holiday (on a bike…) all started on a tactically late lunch break last year to catch the end of the Tour De France climb up Alpe d’Huez.
French rider Thibaut Pinot had taken the stage win, and the crowds, which had swollen to just allow the bikes to pass, were full of a party atmosphere.
I looked at my colleague and fellow cyclist Freddy Bulmer, and said, ‘we’ve got to go.’ And that was that.
This year, the big climb was Mont Ventoux, so with the thought of a pretty long drive through some of the most famous wine-producing areas of the world, it was somewhat impossible for a couple of oenophiles not to stop off on the way down.
The break in the journey up came in Epernay, Champagne, and who better to visit than one of our oldest suppliers, Alfred Gratien?
After a quick cycle through the vineyards and a walk down the Avenue de Champagne, we had the opportunity to sample the forthcoming 2004 Vintage Brut with Gratien’s head winemaker Nicolas Jaeger. It really is something special!
Society members are regular visitors to the Gratien cellars, and Nicolas is extremely proud of the winery. He was especially keen to show us the innovative stacking system for the barrels: The Society’s Champagne is fermented in old Burgundian barrels to give the wine depth, and these can now be easily moved, drained and racked via a roller system, instead of backbreaking lifting.
Next up was Champagne Boizel, where we met with Florent Roques-Boizel. The cellars are cut out of the limestone, and there is plenty of evidence of riddling the bottles by hand still going on to this day. The soil above is very porous, and after a downpour of rain the puddles can get quite deep!
It was an absolute pleasure to taste back through some of the range currently in bottle. The Boizel non-vintage is a personal favourite of mine – a hidden gem in our List – and the back vintages are developing beautifully. The real treat was looking into the vintage room, where bottles date back to 1893, but unlike some other houses these bottles were stacked up against the walls, as if ready for drinking, as opposed to being hidden away as museum pieces.
Driving through the Rhône, and back up through Burgundy on the way home, is quite an experience in itself, with the steep valleys home to some of the world’s finest examples of syrah down through Rhône. Although we did not have time to stop off, the signs for Jaboulet and Chapoutier stood out from the hillside, enticing a future trip and earning a cross on the map for reference as we drove past.
Arriving in Bedoin, at the foot of Ventoux, the sun was out, the spectators had plenty of local wine inside of them, and two days of cycling had arrived. Along with a few thousand others, Freddy and I ground our way up the mountain on the first day. Even more were camped up in the prime spots for the following day, to watch the professionals pass through, and were in high spirits cheering each amateur as they passed by, pushing themselves to the limit.
We both made it, completely wind-battered and with jelly legs, but proud of the achievement. Nothing could have prepared us for it, but watching the tour riders shoot up a lightning speed the following day left us with a new found respect, both for them and the crowds which had amassed up the entire climb.
A trip to Burgundy’s Château de Beauregard was the icing on the cake. Welcomed by Bertrand, the export manager, as Frédéric Burrier was on his yearly trip walking through the Alps with friends, we were blown away by the location. A beautiful refreshing breeze cooled the sun-drenched vineyard positioned in the middle of Pouilly and Fuissé, and just out of eye shot of the Beaujolais vineyards.
A tour of the cellars, and tasting of the 2015 vintage (available en primeur now) and others confirmed that not only are Beauregard’s wines beautiful in bottle, this quality is also showing through into the future, both in barrel and in the pristine vineyards. The Saint-Véran La Roche 2015 is beautifully ripe and rich, but also balanced with grip and freshness. A real treat to look out for is the Grand Beauregard, which is an assemblage of the best barrels, parcels and crus, blended when Frédéric has tasted every one of them. Possibly the best wine I’ve ever tasted from the region.
All in all, it was a trip I’m sure neither of us will forget in a hurry, and we’d like to extend our thanks to all the producers who welcomed us, and were so generous with their time. There’s no better experience than visiting a producer or the sport you love, and to see the dedication to their passion.
All I can say is Allez Allez, Va Va Froome, and we’ll be back next year!