Thursday, 8 March 2018

Swiss wine on tour. The London Walkaround 2018

Small but select

As tastings go the London Walkaround Swiss Wine Tasting at 69 Pall Mall was small but select compared to some of the bunfights at other tastings. Over 50 wines came mainly from French speaking Switzerland which is not uncommon. Zurich and Ticino wines were present in far smaller quantities.

This was the third such event organised by We have often hailed Switzerland as a diversity hotspot with countless native grape varieties. Portugal and Hungary are similar small-ish countries with surprisingly varied palettes. Not content with the naturally occurring varieties, there are many hybrids and crosses obtained in Switzerland. Indeed, the slogan of Swiss wine is 'Dare to be different.'

There are other idiosyncracies associated with Swiss wine: odd-sized bottles are occasionally sold to the unwary (70cl, 50cl) and prices are steep. Labels don't seem to be governed by usual regulations and sometimes lack information. Nonetheless Swiss wine is to be treasured and investigated and this event was precious in that regard.

After re-acquainting ourselves with a Petite Arvine (always good) we tried an Amigne. For us, this is not a grape to inspire an immediate infatuation but in this case it gave a strong hint that it was a taste we might one day acquire.

Then our first discovery - a Humagne Blanche. This rare grape is made only by Domaine des Muses and very few others and Robert Taramarcaz was on hand to give us all the information anyone could wish for. That is the value of these events.

Robert Taramarcaz

Our next discovery was a relatively new cross.

Galotta was completely new to us. It was obtained in 1981 at the Agroscope Research Centre in Pully from Gamay and Ancelotta, two of our favourite grapes. The taste spoke of its two parents and so is a good success. We hope it catches on.

Speaking of Gamay, here was a beautiful light one from Clos du Boux, Lavaux

translucent red colour

and here was the winemaker, Gregory Massy.

Just to underline the originality of Planet Swiss Wine, we next came upon an imaginative blend.

Rouge D'Enfer by Provins unites Diolinoir with the two Cabernets and Merlot. Can we say we have tasted Diolinoir yet? Probably not but it was there nonetheless in this rather flavouful wine.

German-speaking Switzerland was represented by Valentin Schiess of Vinigma. Basel, Graubunden and the Valais.

Vinigma wines are made pricipally from Gamaret with Pinot Noir as partner. Humagne Blanche, Petite Arvine, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are also involved in different cuvees. The reds are made sometimes by soaking Pinot Noir juice on Gamaret pomace. sometimes by drying the grapes in different ways. Gamaret off the vine for quite lengthy periods, Pinot Noir on the vine for a shorter time.

With the Merlots from Ticino and Chasselas everywhere, you can see how many different winemaking techniques and varities the Swiss have. In a range of 50 bottles, we couldn't imagine such diversity anywhere else.

The producers were uniformly charming, multi-lingual, informative and serious. Swiss wine, we salute you.

Monday, 22 January 2018

In praise of FHV

FHV? Sounds like LVMH or something? In fact it couldn't be more different from the luxury French fashion brand.

Forty Hall Community Vineyard is London's only commercial vineyard and the largest since the middle ages. It is situated in Enfield in North London just inside the M25 ring road. It is the initiative of Enfield Council and the local Capel Manor College and is run by volunteers on a non-profit basis.The aim is to bring wine production to the heart of the local community and to champion quality, sustainability, health and wellbeing particularly for isolated and vulnerable people. It follows organic and biodynamic principles.

Grapes grown there include Chardonnay, Pint Noir and Pinot Meunier for the Brut Sparkling wine and Ortega for the still white wine. There are 10 acres of vines and the wines are made by Will Davenport in Sussex - an excellent address.

 Forty Hall is managed by an entity called Enfield Presents, an offshoot of Enfield Council. This arrangement seems to be very enlightened. Perhaps other councils could note?

 As well as the vineyard there is a farm, and an orchard both run on an organic basis.

Capel Manor College is the only further education college in London that specialises in learning about the environment.

Forty Hall Brut Sparkling
The estate shop sells farm produce as well as the two wines from the estate. They were sold out of the still white, the Ortega - when we visited but it was available online.

Although charging the same as for s decent Champagne, the sparkling wine was worth the price and proved a hit when served to friends. The back story was a help of course.

Ortega is a variety we have had admired in the past (Biddenden makes a very good example). It is a crossing of Mueller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe bred by Hans Breider at Wuerzburg in 1948 and is surprisingly aromatic. Forty Hall's version is elegant as well as spicy. We're not sure why Mr. Breider chose to call his grape after the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. Perhaps because Ortega "asks us to build a new idea of being (that is, of life). Life is not an object, does not have a settled nature nor is a substance." ? This might apply to any newly bred grape variety.

Forty Hall makes a good excursion for Londoners and its wines deserve iconic status in our view. Are re you listening, Paris and Berlin?

Weddings too!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Bottled. Our 2017 vintage.

Left to right, Trebbiano (Puglia), Gemischter Satz (Thames Valley), Moscato (Puglia)
 The ancients thought there was something miraculous about wine. After all you just needed to queeze grapes and collect the juice in an amphora and after a while, it turns to wine. That is more or less what we did in 2017 with two grapes sourced from Puglia through Chris Lisney-Smith's company 'Wine Grapes' of Hatfield and our own assortment of white grapes (and a red one, Rondo of which more later). These whites consisted mainly of Bacchus with some Solaris, Johanniter, Goldriesling, Souvignier Gris and GM 8107-3.

Moscato being racked prior to bottling

We reckon there is no more miraculous a stage of the process than the clarification of the fermented juice. Fermentation tends to take place sooner or later. Having said that we needed to give our Moscato a kick-start this year - it just didn't seem to want to ferment.

It is the clarification that appears never to happen. Week after week, the juice was dark and cloudy. We started to wonder if we shouldn't have added egg-white at fermentation (not really an option for white wine), Bentonite during or Isinglas (made from fish bladders) at the end. 

And then as if by magic, our Trebbiano and Moscato started to look clear.

Trebbiano dregs

So we bottled these two from Puglian grapes without any further delay. There would be subsequent aging in bottle. A satisfying amount of sludge was left in both carboys.

Moscato bottles

Trebbiano bottles

the micro Rondo harvest

Gemischter Satz topped up with Rondo. Note unattractive colour.

The Gemischter Satz had been picked and pressed 4 weeks after the Italian grapes so we had to wait at least another 4 weeks before we could expect clarification there.

Our quantities were enough to fill a 23 litre carboy and one 5 litre jar plus almost another 5 litre jar. What could we use to top that up? We had a desultory amount of juice rom 2 little rows of the red Rondo the birds had left us so taking our cue from the promiscuous Greek wines we had encountered: Paros Red which is 80% (white) Monemvasia with 20% of the local Mandilaria red and Glinavos's 'Paliokairisio' which is a blend of the white Debina with red Vlahiko.

That Gemischter Satz with the Rondo is on theleft.
Amazingly, the jar with the Rondo clarified to almost the same color as the all-white one and didn't taste very different. A miracle indeed

Gemischter Satz in bottle.

Taste? Ah yes, the Trebbiano and Moscato were judged a success. The Gemischter Satz was problematic from the start. The raw grape juice wasn't pleasant. We worried that there were too many chemical residues in it. The Bacchus and Goldriesling had been sprayed 8 times with varying products in the vain attempt to stave off mildew. In addition some of the varieties were overripe (Solaris for example) and the GM 8107-3 underripe.

Worse, the juice had developed a strong smell of Sulphur after fermentation so we treated it with Camden tablets (Sulphite) which we had never used before. This removed the bad egg smell. Apparently it might have gone away of its own accord but we wanted to try the tablets out as the majority of winemakers use sulphites in greater or lesser quantities.

Tasting the Gemischter Satz at different times, it seemed at first rank peculiar and although this unpleasant weirdness started to wear off we didn't have much hope for it.

Indeed, we even wondered if putting the wine in our 3 year old 20-litre French oak barrel might help but we were advised against that at this stage of the proceedings.

So we have bottled this beverage and hope that with aging it might mature into something drinkable.

Who knows, miracles can happen.


Friday, 12 January 2018

Not the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Independants, Paris, 2017.....

Checking the exhibitors of the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Independants in advance for once we realised that we weren't going to have the opportunity of buying any Abouriou. This variety has been haunting us ever since we came across it at Wein Plus in March 2017.

We had also bought a bottle at a market in a town in Provence some time back but hadn't realised what a wonderful grape this is until much later. The producer of that bottle was Gaec du Haut Planty near Nantes and our contact Alain Couillaud, co-owner of the domaine was kind enough to leave a bottle with Jeanne Galinie, formerly of Versant Vins at the Marche aux enfants rouges in Paris for us to collect when we were there to visit the Salon.

Alain made us promise to take this bottle as well; a natural de-classified Muscadet called Gwin Evan which Alain told us is Breton for white wine.

Yes, we've been here before too. L'Indigene is an extreme white wine made from some varieties guaranteed to frighten horses never mind winelovers: Petit Meslier, Menu Pineau, Bacco (sic) and Gaillard. We had bought this from Jeanne Galinie who for a few good years ran a natural little wine bar come restaurant come wine shop in the Marche aux Enfants Rouge in Paris where we received our education in natural wine. She is moving to Bretagne to open a restaurant there. Should vaut le voyage.

Jeanne would only allow us to have this wine on the condition we didn't open it for 6 months. We obeyed and Hey Presto! Jeanne couldn't sell us any more of this extraordinary wine so she gave us 2 bottles from her collection.

Back in London we saw L'Indigene on the shelves of a new natural wine shop in London, One A wines, 1a Kempsford Road, SW11. Good news travels fast.

This is the Abouriou we had encountered at Wein Plus. It is from the Marmande this time which is more usual than Nantes for this grape. We ordered this over the internet and had it delivered to a kind friend in Paris also for collection on our visit. We realized that it would not have been available from the Salon since it is made by a co-operative.

We thought we were on a roll with these wines managing to be in the right place at the right time so our happiness was complete by a serendipidous discovery of a Tai Rosso at Le Repere de Bacchus, Rue de Bretagne.

Like Abouriou, Tai Rosso (formerly Tocai Rosso) is something Slotovino tends to bang on about but we hadn't heard from young Tai for a long time despite looking for it in vain whenever we were in Venice. Tai/Tocai Rosso is from the Colli Berici near Vicenza but doesn't roam even to Venezia so to find it here in a French chain was 'surreal' as the common parlance has it.

We used to peddle the idea that Tai was a separate variety but no one believes that now. The most interesting thing you could say about it is that it is a Grenache that has been so long in its adopted terroir that it has developed a character of its own.

We have claimed previously that Grenache in Italy always goes by another name* but a close reading of D'Agata's 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy' (highly recommended) informs us that some wines are labeled Granaccia or Guarnaccia in Ligura.

* Alicante, Cannonau, Cornetta, Gamay Perugino, Vernaccia di Cannara, Vernaccia Nera.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

O, not so little star of Sedlescombe

Jose Vouillamoz is one of the most extraordinary people one can hope to meet. His fields of interest are legion. Winelovers will know him as one of the co-authors of 'Wine Grapes' with those other two extraordinary people Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding. Acknowledged as the one of, if not the world's  leading authority on the origin and parentage of grape varieties through DNA profiling.

Jose bestrides plant genetics in general. He written or contributed to countless papers with titles such as

'The new Thymus vulgaris L. Hybrid Cultivar "Varico 3" compared to five cultivars from Germany, France and Switzerland,'

'Saxifraga rotundifola L. : determination du stade de recolte en fonction de la phenologie et de la phytochimie,' 

and the catchy

'Salbei (Salvia officinalis): Einfluss des Rueckschnitts der Stoppeln im Fruehjahr auf Bluetenbildung, Ertrag und Qualitaet.'

So when Jose says something it is worth listening.

Recently we were nonetheless troubled by his following comment on grape hybrids. Troubled because we had to acknowledge there might be truth in it;

"I have almost never tasted a hybrid-based wine that was close to interesting, barring some rare exceptions (such as Didier Joris's Divico that I tasted recently). That said, I'd be happy to change my mind. But for the moment I think we should make a different category of PiWis and not call it wine."

We would like to propose this magnificent 2004 Regent from the Demeter acredited Sedlescombe vineyard in East Sussex, England for his consideration.

It was the not so little star of our holiday celebrations in December 2017. We think Jose will add it to his very short list of interesting hybrid wines although it will be difficult and expensive to obtain a bottle.

We were certainly convinced of it as the best English red we have ever tasted and a fine wine in its own right.




Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Salon des Vins des Vignerons Independents, Paris 2017

We so enjoyed the 2016 Salon that we decidied to go again in 2017.

This event differs from the other wine fairs we have attended in that it is for the public rather than the trade and you can buy wine from any of the exhibitors. The atmosphere is therefore something between a gigantic supermarket and a great day out for winelovers to taste and meet the producers.

Last year we came on the final (Monday) afternoon so had no idea of the massive influx experienced on the Saturday we attended this year (it opens on the Friday).

First stop, Domaine de L'Oriel - last year's winner in our hunt for Alsace Pinot Noir (you have to limit yourself or you would never get round). We hoped to stock up on their wine which we had so enjoyed at the 2016 Salon.

 Like so many producers these days they have two versions. one a bit more concentrated with a touch of oak, sometimes but not invariably higher in alcohol (called 'Hommage a Gerard' in this case) and the other ('Evolution') simpler and a bit 'straighter'. That was the one we wanted as it showed the particular character of Alsace Pinot Noir more than the other - paradoxically more evolved version which could easily have been from Bourgogne or another area. Sadly they were sold out of the Evolution. You have to get in early at the Salon des Vignerons Independents!

We did find some lovely new examples though. This one from Marie Claire and Pierre Bores was particulraly fresh and enticing (12.5%)

The Ancel team
Equally delicious and even lower in alcohol (11.5%) was Andre Ancel's version. The label proclaims 'Vieilli en futs de chene' but no oak was apparent to this customer.

 The Domaine du Moulin de Duesenbach was another winner.

 While on Alsace Pinot Noir we were once again conscious of the wide range of styles in this category including those up to 14.5% alcohol for those that like that kind of thing.

The Salon is really a great  day out. You can meet the producers, taste the wines and buy them too. You can also learn a great deal. For example, the name Ottrott looked intriguing so we asked about it and discovered that Ottrott is a minuscule 35 hectare commune within Alsace. Since 2011only the wines made in this designated area have the right to be named after their respective commune. This is unique in Alsace it seems.

 Yet another feature of the Salon des Vignerons Independants is that the exhibitors are allocated stands in a random way ensuring that different regions are not ghetto-ised and even if you were only interested in Bordeaux you are obliged to walk past producers from all kinds of other areas on your way from one Chateau to another.

Mme Gigou

That is how we came upon Mme. Gigou of Jasnieres, Coteaux du Loir with whom we had had very cordial dealings including the provision of several cases of Domaine Gigou Pineau d'Aunis for a family wedding. An unexpected pleasure for us at least.

Domaine Noir Freres, Cotes du Jura

Macvin and Vin de Paille
There were several interesting producers from the Jura to be sure and we were finally able to taste some unfamiliar wines including Vin de Paille and Vin Jaune and our first Macvin. Domaine Noir Freres seemed to produce the whole gamut including a Cremant du Jura and a Poulsard.

Domaine Noir Freres was a new name for us but Domaine de la Pinte was one already familiar. Unfamiliar though was something called 'Melon a queue Rouge.'

The lady from Domaine La Pinte assured us that there were only three producers making wine with this grape and obligingly held up three digits to stress the point. The wine was off-dry and delicious so we bought a bottle immediately. A surprise awaited us when we were re-united with our copy of 'Wine Grapes' which is pretty definite in stating that Melon a queue rouge is variously 'a mutation of Chardonnay that has a red stem' and 'just a type of Chardonnay' although it is gradually gaining in popularity' while acknowledging that it is 'scarcely cultivated any more.'

The other two pruducers are Caveau de Bacchus and none other than Jacques Puffeney.

The Salon is not comprehensive (how could it be?) and we missed producers from Marmande and Bellet for example. Jurancon and Cahors were not as well represented as one might think (6 and 15 representatives respectively). Jurancon is particularly interesting for us as we have come to appreciate the Mansengs (Gros, Petit and even Noir) as well as Jurancon Noir. The latter is very rare indeed, so much so that only one of the Jurancon producers - Domaine du Cinquau - had even heard of it. We even tried out the synonyms Folle Noir and Fluella Nera but they didn't help. One producer thought Jurancon might be cultivated in Cahors which sent us on a round of questioning of the poor producers from that apellation.

The exception was this gentleman, Pierre Saubot from Domaine Cinquau who said he had planted a plot with Jurancon Noir and would eventually be making wine experimentally from it.

He gave us a fascinating potted history of this Domaine which had been in the Saubot family for precisely 400 years . You certainly meet the most interesting people at the Salon.

A punter in an Accademia Musicale Chigiana T-shirt even!

While asking Cahors producers about Jurancon Noir we came across a bottle including a variety called SĂ©galin which is actually a Jurancon Noir x Blauer Portugieser cross obtained at Montpellier in 1957. That is as close we came to Jurancon Noir  sadly but there had been plenty of other discoveries along the way.

By the time we left mid-afternoon, hoards were being kept back to prevent overcrowding, such is the popularity of the Salon. We might even go again next year!