HER BOOKS ON AMAZON
  • Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
    Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
    by L. J. Johnson-Bell
  • Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines
    Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Home Cellar Guide Hb
    Home Cellar Guide Hb
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Quel vin pour quel plat ?
    Quel vin pour quel plat ?
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Great Wine Tours of the World
    Great Wine Tours of the World
    Barnes and Noble Books
  • The Wine Collector's Handbook
    The Wine Collector's Handbook
    by Linda Johnson
  • De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
    De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
    by Johnson-Bell Linda

  • Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match
    Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match
    by LINDA JOHNSON-BELL

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TASTING NOTES: Diary of a Wine Critic


Tuesday
Feb042014

The European Planting Rights Debate: Freedom at last? 

The Europeans are missing quite a few legislative tricks when it comes to plantation laws. They are fighting all of the wrong fights, becoming their own worst enemy. Grape growers all over Europe are opposing a move by the European Parliament to relax planting limits in 2016. Currently there is a protective tool in place that limits vine plantings and it is due to expire then. This is a good thing. Right? But those who have vineyards in protected appellations, do not want to see them expanded. They want to “protect” their product and feel that ending planting restrictions would “further weaken a sector that is already battling cheap imports, overproduction and declining demand.” Translation: “But if there are more wines produced in my village, I will not be able to continue charging my exorbitant prices.” This is incredibly short-sighted.

After a three-year battle, the European Commission renounced their decision to get rid of planting rights regulations and retain them until 2024, but  French wine producers are calling for the European system of planting rights to be preserved until 2030. Proponents of the plan point out that wine is the only sector in European agriculture that is subject to planting restrictions, and that the European wine regions are the only restricted ones in the world. Countries within the EU will be allowed to increase their vineyard planting by up to 1% each year until 2030, when the system will be reviewed once more. Wahoo. The new scheme is so mired in legislative red-tape, that frankly, it is ineffectual. It is obsessed with controlling production limits (i.e. prices / market control) – which it does not even achieve, and ignores the need to plant new varieties for either climate change adaptation, or simply, for the pure joy of experimentation, progress or creative novelty. Think European: Change is bad!!!

How does one tell them that they are risking all to protect a commodity that will no longer exist in 2030, that by hanging onto these pseudo-protectionist policies, they are actually placing themselves in a far more vulnerable position. And who are the wine producers pushing for stagnation? When I am out in the field, the producers I meet want freedom to grow, change and adapt. Do the two sides never convene? Apparently the act was pushed through by Member States that are non-producing wine countries who wanted wine to be treated as any other agricultural crop.

But still, it is inconceivable that the European wine producers would try to restrict their flexibility when at the same time, they are part of the international wine trade – the first industry sectors worldwide to agree to a consistent system to calculate carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, as devised by the International Organisation of Vine and WINE (OIV). Called the “Greenhouse Gas Accounting Protocol”, the system is set up to help companies assess the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their activities and also to offer guidance on the emissions associated with the vine and wine products. The UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association backs it So, whilst they are clearly up-to-speed on climate change (which is indeed what I am getting from my travels in the vineyards), some still have not connected the dots between climate change and the need for flexible replanting rights. Are they placing too much faith in the resilience of the vitis vinifera? True, she is a feisty beast who has been adapting for hundreds of years to changing climates, and the hottest years in the classic European fine wine regions have often produced great vintages. They also have great faith in their own vineyard practices, experience and savoir-faire, and rightly so. As Muriel Barthes, the technical director at the CIVB (Conseil interprofessional des vins de Bordeaux) points out: “in the past 30 years we have evidenced a marked rise in temperatures, but in the scale of 100 years, we know nothing, except for the know projection models.” Perhaps their plan is to wait it out, hoping that the projections are not true and that another mini-cycle of cooling will hit and save their vineyards for another few generations?

If it is commonly accepted that “dans cinquante ans, le Bordelais et d'autres régions viticoles auront des encépagements et des porte-greffes très différents” (in 50 years, Bordeaux and other regions will have very different root-stocks and grape varieties), then how do they suppose that they will get there if they fight any liberalised planting schemes? Serge Delrot, the Director and a professor of the l’ISVV, continues to affirm that “if the droughts continue, it will be necessary to plant new, late-ripening grape varieties instead of those known to us today. » He is far from alone; a fellow professor at Enita insists that there will be a time when wines have a different taste and typicity. And Gregory Jones asks “If that ground is the best in the world for Pinot Noir, will it be the best for something else? If Burgundy warms to the point where Pinot Noir and Chablis are not longer the best grapes for that region, will people buy a new product? … At some point a grower in a region that has become too warm has to make a decision. It’s like if you’re selling widgets, and widgets don’t sell anymore, what do you do? You have to come up with widgets 2.0.”

The biggest problem with replanting, and one that some may find insurmountable, is that it is best for those regions that are starting new plantings or have the space for new plantings. If you are already established, if every parcel is planted, the lifecycle of the vine makes this a very difficult process. Once you plant a plant, it is in the ground for 50 years. And it takes at least 10 years to figure out it if you got it right – and by that time, the climate conditions for which you planted it, will most likely have changed again.

The Germans are all up-in-arms. Like everyone else, they are petrified of the possibility of over-production if planting laws are loosened or lifted. Steffen Schindler, marketing director for the German Wine Institute, said: “At last we are in a situation with no over-production but this would threaten that position.”  He also expressed concern that the decision could undermine Germany’s recent success in raising its prices. With total exports in 2012 worth €321 million, the country’s average price rose by 8.4% to reach €2.46 per litre. Again, they are thinking too short-term. They have hindered their own success in the global marketplace, not protected it.

In Spain, recent changes in appellation laws in Rioja has meant that we now have a  “new” white Rioja made with newly approved grape varieties (as opposed to Viura). So, it is finally happening. In 2007, the Rioja Regulatory Council approved six new white varietals: the local varieties of tempranillo blanco,maturana blanca and turruntés, and the international chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and Rueda’s verdejo.  The Council agreed that while the local whites could stand alone, the international varietals could be no more than 49% of a white blend, with 51% reserved for local varieties. There has been a push to revive and revere the lost indigenous varieties of Rioja, especially the reds, like maturana tinta. Again reviving the argument that indigenous is best: the maturana tinta, with its late budburst, early ripening, high acidity and medium alcohol content, is far better suited to the warming climate.

 

But again, the push for these changes may not be for the reasons you might think. The main reason is Rioja’s desire to produce more individual and terroir-driven wines and to move away from the international obsession with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Winemakers in Rioja do not see the point in trying to compete with the rest of the world to make the same wine, when they have such individual and unique varieties at their feet. This is to be applauded. Apparently, Rioja winemakers have also been frustrated with the mediocre results of the Viura for years, partly because Rioja whites are made the same way as their reds – oaked and heavy. They are also frustrated that whites from other Spanish regions, Rías Baixas and Rueda are having a greater commercial success than theirs. But, having spoken to Viura producers, they all told me that the heat means that the Viura wines are becoming increasingly insipid, especially in Rioja Baja, the southern-most and warmest of the La Rioja sub-regions, where the climate is more Mediterranean than Continental and the red wines can reach 18% alcohol.

Although, this is not the reason being given for the stylistic shift. Again, several producers told me that people are either still not connecting the dots between rising temperatures and their increasingly boring wines, or, if they have, it is not a subject they wish to highlight, for fear of alarming the consumer and upsetting the market. There is also the same fear that the relaxed laws will be exploited by some producers who intend to make more international wines and in great quantities. The new planting laws can be used to pursue two different market strategies/goals. But this has always been the case, everywhere in the world (and in all industries). Those who wish to produce mass-market wines will never be restrained by legislative tools; they will always find a way around them. Whilst those whose intention is to produce indigenous, traditional wines must not have their efforts confined nor stunted by these same tools.

Not surprisingly, England is one of the few nations that supports the EU’s “liberal” planting move. “We should have the freedom to plant where we want," says Julia Trustram-Eve, of English Wine Producers. "Planting restrictions have held Europe back, allowing some areas to continue to produce poor-quality wine and falsely inflate the value of land." Perhaps the change is simply too frightening to face. Even the most forward-thinking of producers have moments of reserve. Lamberto Frescobaldi of Tuscany was quoted as saying that “old traditions should not be allowed to hinder winemakers from adapting to climate change – even if it means permitting new grapes in their wines.” But he doubts that Tuscans will let go of their Sangiovese very easily, if at all.

The restriction in surface area to a rise of  1 % each year (if you are in a certain area, if you promise to grub up an equivalent amount of vines first, if you only plant varieties that were already authorized, if you belong to a Member State that applied before 2007, or if you name your first born either Adelbert or Anique and promise to serve them frites at every meal), is a frantic and futile attempt to avoid over-production. Smart – limit production some more when your yields have already been decreased between 20-40% due to recent harrowingly disastrous harvests. An EU representative complained that “the wines of Bordeaux and Cognac endured a terrible crisis due to a large increase in the number of vineyards during the 2000s.” He further argues that sales of Australian wines were booming in the 1990s and became “the international model of success in the winemaking world, and particularly in exports.”  The positive reaction to this export success led to a slew of new vineyards in the absence of any laws limiting quantities. Australia, he says, now faces “uprooting, bankruptcy, non-harvesting, sequestration, a rapid drop in land values, the purchase of assets by foreign investors.” Yes, but not due entirely to over-production, but to the costs over-heads needed to force wine production in a hostile environment and the over-salination of the soils. Even if they had stemmed their production, these problems would not have gone away.

If I were a European wine producer, I would be furious and start looking for loop-holes. In the EU’s working document of April 2012, “Rule 1” under planting rights granted from a Reserve, states that “the location, the varieties and the cultivation techniques used guarantee that the subsequent production is adapted to market demand.” It explains that these qualitative criteria are not determined which gives a Member State room for interpretation on a regional level. These criteria also allow “taking into account territorial considerations. For example, it may be decided that no planting rights are granted to certain regions of a Member State, to certain types of soil-climate conditions or for the establishment of vineyards which so not respect certain technical specifications, as long as this is justified with - lack of adaptation to market demand”. So, if my Meursault was so flabby and sweet that it no longer fit the classic model of “Meursault” and I could not sell it as such, does that not mean that my product no longer is able to adapt to “market demand”? And doesn’t that mean that I should be able to grow a grape in my “soil-climate conditions” that would adapt to market demand? Perhaps this how they are secretly hoping that these instruments will be applied. They like a good haggle and a bit of jumping through hoops. And what about the good old “force majeure” card? I’d petition the INAO for a demande d’autorisation de plantation de vignes based on a few “intempéries graves” (severe weather conditions). Or, use the rule where you are allowed “experimental” plantings as certain Bordeaux châteaux are doing, such as Château Cheval-Blanc or Larose-Trintodon in the Médoc.

 

MUTINY IS THE ANSWER

 

Another fight that seems to be being waged for the wrong reasons is the one waging in Sancerre. When the INAO (l’Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité) announced that it was closing its office in Sancerre and centralizing it in Tours, 210 kilometers away, the producers, represented as the Union Viticole Sancerroise (UVS) angered at the fact that they would still be paying their fees to the INAO, but receiving a reduced service. They are now considering leaving the INAO and creating a “Sancerre” trademark and are seeking legal advice. Critics of the move take a conservative stance and suggest that such a move would destabilize the entire appellation system. But again, so what? It is being destabilized as we speak, anyway.

I think that the producers should take back their brand and do with it what they like. They all seem to be so protective and over-worried about production levels, but in the grand scheme of things, Sancerre is miniscule and its sheer physical restrictions should serve as sufficient protection. Leaving the INAO is technically possible and if done properly, would not endanger the cachet of its AOC value. It does not need to be called “AOC”, it needs to be called “Sancerre” and it needs to be good. Whether that mean it is “Sauvignon blanc” from Sancerre or one day, perhaps a warmer-climate varietal such as “Viognier” from Sancerre. The market forces that created Sancerre, will sustain Sancerre. Further, there is so much diluted, flabby and overly-worked Sancerres being produced anyway. The use of heavily-flavored selected yeasts is so marked: Sancerre à la fraiseà l’ananas or à la banane, anyone?  So while they are all frightened of leaving the false safely umbrella of the INAO, and of loosening their grip on their monopoly of mediocrity, they are risking giving up a chance at future freedom.

Another point: the planting restrictions only apply to those who wish to comply to the system of controlled designation of origin (AOC). So, in theory, you could boycott the planting rules but lose your appellation and become a vin de table. But then you risk not selling your wines at the same price anymore. Unless, everyone followed suite and looked to Italy’s Super Tuscans for inspiration. They broke away from the sloppy and illogical varietal Chianti laws and created their own version, treated it like a brand, and were able to charge three times more than the regulated appellation wines.

Sunday
Feb022014

Wine Myths: Wine and Cheese

Conventional thinking says white wine goes with fish and red wine with meat.

Not true. The beauty of wine and food pairing is not knowing the rules, but knowing how to break them. And if you know the true secret to matching, then creating magic is easy.

Here it is: what matters most is not whether the dish is meat or fish, but the dominant flavour of the dish. For example, a firm tuna steak with a Provençal sauce of olives, garlic, capers, tomatoes, etc, can easily take a lightly tannic red, such as a Pinot Noir, young Chianti (Sangiovese) or Merlot.

Conversely, a rib-eye steak smothered in a blue cheese, mushroom and cream sauce would go a treat with an oaked, mature white Burgundy or New World Chardonnay. But if ever in doubt, Champagne goes with everything!

Linda Johnson-Bell is the author of Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines. For more information, visit her website: www.thewinelady.com

Originally published in the October-November 2013 issue of France Today

 

Friday
Jan172014

The 2013 Bordeaux EN PRIMEUR Campaign: A Diminishing Commodity

 

CANCEL THE 2013 BORDEAUX EN PRIMEUR CAMPAIGN?

 

HARPERS.co.uk recently asked the wine trade if we thought there should  be an en primeur campaign for 2013 Bordeaux? 

Yes and no, depending on why they are considering not having it. If the reason is because they are hesitant to proceed without Robert Parker's scores, then that is not a sufficient reason. Proceed without him. He should not be allowed to hold the market to ransom. Further, nor should his penchant for re-scoring vintages ten years later be encouraged or supported. This gives him, and his interested parties, another bite at the apple. Quite dodgy. He is not only moving the goal posts, he is ADDING new ones. 

Should the system continue, in general? No. The en primeur system has seen its day. Climate will destroy the market it created. Since harvest reports are the key instruments upon which all projections concerning a particular wine's longevity are based, they are also then, the key instrument used to guide any investment in that projected longevity: the backbone of  fine wine investment; that ironic game that has warped the industry, and the wines, so unrecognisably. The traditional investment model is inane. Even Thomas Jefferson thought as much, for his own reasons, when he wrote that buying wine directly from the château was the only way to buy it, stating that “it is from them alone that genuine wine is to be got and not from any wine merchant whatever.” And climate change will be the final nail in its coffin. Future investment has to be focused on the future of the new energy technologies that will fuel our future wine regions, not on buying wine futures via the en primeur system. 

The en primeur system was meant to give the wine trade, or chateau, a two-year period during which the wines await retail release at higher prices (hopefully – this is what did not happened in 1970/71).  A sort of game of Cabernet-curtain twitching between neighbouring chateaux, and "keeping up with the Latourses". If one feels inclined to don some rose-coloured glasses, then yes, the en primeur system could be looked upon as originally having been for the good of the wine and of the producer – a benevolent sort of investment. It is not at all certain that two years after harvest the wine will sell rapidly at the best price. The system counteracts this risk and provides a bit of insurance. But if the original intent was altruistic, it was quickly replaced by opportunism.

The system is a dinosaur and seems to be unwilling to acknowledge the changes unfolding before it. In the real world, the world in the vineyards, everyone talks about climate change. They have to - we are standing there looking at the shriveled rows of vines. But in the virtual world, the world of London investment firms and in most wine industry trade journals, there is never a whisper. They are desperate to keep a lid on what may explode their game. Since 1988, when reliable data first became available, the fine wine investment market has generated an annualised return of 12.1%. Why mess with that? Fine wine consistently out-performs shares, bonds and other asset classes, delivering annual double-digit growth. Fine wine investment is less volatile than other assets such as equities, gold and oil whilst the correlation between financial and fine wine markets is relatively low, providing greater resilience to recessionary conditions. Fine wine investment is a tangible asset (if the buyer ever bothers to visit it in its storage facility); it is a finite and reducing supply as vintages are consumed versus increasing demand; it provides the ability to off-set currency influences; and is tax efficient with its potential exemption from Capital Gains Tax. And, you can brag about it over dinner!

A recent wine reporter I read, wrote, in his analysis of the poor 2013 Bordeaux “investment environment”: “As it struggles to find direction, reports of the Bordeaux 2013 harvest do not provide much cheer. But does it spell further trouble for Bordeaux? Maybe not. (Yes, of course it does, I say.) The market lives and dies on both demand and supply. Traditional collectors have not bought en primeur since 2009 (And, have you asked yourself why that is?). If they are still drinking, then their stocks are down. The small and mediocre 2013 vintage will be of little help. This might just be the bad news event that piques the market’s interest – and subsequently leads to restocking.” This analysis is so far off the mark, and irrelevant, that it beggars belief.

So what has climate change got to do with this? The system got further mired in the ambiguous “point” systems of American wine critics. Suddenly, their opinions were having a greater influence on the prices than the guidance of the négotiants. All fingers pointed at Robert Parker, whose American palate had been trained with warm-climate wines and who prefers the big, oaky, ultra-ripe wines. If he liked a wine, and gave it prizes and high scores, it sold. If he did not, it didn’t. The Bordelaise started emulating this New World wine-style, adopting the methods to achieve ultra-ripe grapes with the high extraction, high alcoholic, sweet style that got the attention of the New World critics. What they did not realise is that Mother Nature was creeping behind them and planning to do this for them anyway. Higher temperatures cause more sugar, more sugar means higher alcohol, and more alcohol, more imbalance, and imbalance means a compromised longevity. And longevity is what all the en primeur bets are based upon.

These Bordeaux that are now unbalanced by alcohol; first by man’s desire to please the critics, and now by climate change, have had their aging potential compromised and thus, their value as a commodity lessened.Jean Claude Berrouet, formerly at Petrus and now winemaking director for various estates in Pomerol, said that in his 40-year career he has seen alcohol rise between 2 and 2.5 degrees in Bordeaux. 

This commodity is losing its uniqueness and its reliability: the two basic tenants of investment. If these wines do not cellar as long as they used to, will this mean that investors will get a smaller return, but a faster one? Should the system remain in place but merely in abbreviated form? And will the investor/consumer accept the new Bordeaux profile? How sweet does it have to get before people say “no more”?  If Médoc grows Carignan or Carmenere (again), how will that change the Bordeaux brand, and how will that go down? The classic Bordeaux model is already non-existent ...so, in what is there to invest? Adaptation and Mitigation, I say. Invest in the future of WINE - in the land, the people and the improvement of the technologies that we have today to make them more affordable, and, to invest in the technologies that are going to be needed in the future. And, face the fact that adaptation techniques and mitigation techniques are hurtling towards each other- and will eventually eradicate each other: irrigation is the number one Adaptation technique, but it lessens wine quality and salinates the soils. More importantly, there won' t be enough water to irrigate. And conversly, irrigation is the Mitigation campaign’s number one enemy. It's Margarita time. 

 

 

 

Monday
Sep232013

Chablis as it ought to be, and Rivetti's La Spinetta

The DOMAINE OUDIN’S 2010 Chablis Les Serres is a joy. It is Chablis as it ought to be: crisp, mineral, subtly perfumed and refreshingly personable. It is NOT, a blousy, insipid, over-oaked New World wanna-be.

Domaine Oudin, Chablis

Nathalie Oudin is a master of elegance and balance. It helps that, thanks to her parents, she possesses first-class raw materials. Their 8 hectares of vines are in clay and limestone soils and situated on the south and south-west facing hilltops surrounding the village of Chichée. Les Serres is issued from vines between 30-70 years of age from 1ier cru parcels (with a bit from the Grand Cru parcels of Vaucousins and Vaugiraut). They do everything right here: from hand-harvesting, gentle pressing, the use of only natural/indigenous yeasts (as opposed to selected yeasts), and temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with a minimal addition of sulphites.

The pedigree is evident right from the start, with a stony, mineral nose followed by a crisp, lively and decidedly feminine palate with restrained citrus notes. It is tightly structured without being austere. It is elegant and focused.

This wine was perfection when paired with a divine truffle risotto at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

 

Do you love Barolo and cannot afford its price tag? Then try Nebbiolo from its satellite appellations such as Langhe. The talented Rivetti family has a range of Nebbiolos from their vast vineyards and the other night we enjoyed Giorgio’s 2007 La Spinette from Langhe DOC. It is issued from much younger vines (5-7 years), but it is treated to the same care and attention as its older brothers and allows you to enjoy its evident potential. The elegance and race was there, as were the dried roses, the minerality and the intoxicatingly dark, sulky red fruit. This one already knows how to flirt!

GIORGIO RIVETTI

Le Manoir keeps its cellars at 14-15˚ C, and as I like my Nebbiolo, especially a young one like this, at no more than 16-17˚ C, it was served perfectly, as it gains a degree or two when poured. It was perfect with our Aberdeen Angus and Grouse …

 

LJ Johnson-Bell

Monday
Sep232013

Ban Perfume from Restaurants 

We used to have non-smoking sections  - so why not "no-perfume" sections? You laugh. I jest not. This is a serious rant for me. The other night we went to Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons for dinner ... that's a big deal for us. We were sitting in the intimate, original dining room. I was in a state of rapture, eating my risotto with truffles, sipping a stunning Chablis from the Domaine Oudin, when in walks a couple who then sits at the table next to us

 

the perfect truffle risotto

As she wafted past me, it was an assault on my senses. I literally felt a wave of nausea that hit my knees and my head started to pound. I waited until she sat down and settled herself, hoping that when she stopped moving, she’d stop wafting. But no… the odour remained. Even husband noticed. My tongue was covered in her perfume and I could no longer taste the truffles, my nose was blocked and the steely Chardonnay lost in a cloud of sickly sweet roses. I had to ask the waiter if we could move into the conservatory – very embarrassing. The sommelier came over to see if I was alright and I explained, in French, so as to not offend my offensive neighbour (who clearly had not yet mastered her mother tongue of English). He said that the entire room smelled of it. And he reminded me that his wine training forbade any scent of even after-shave at a tasting. 

 

Aberdeen Angus - cut with a fork

We were installed in the large, airy conservatory and continued with our meal… stunning grouse and Angus beef with a sultry Nebbiolo from Langhe (La Spinetta). All was going well, we were about to place our pudding orders, when a young couple was brought in and placed next to us. Again, same song and dance, but not as bad. We nursed the last of our wine and decided to have pudding at home (and at £24 per pudding, this was a good decision).

Why do women think that it is appropriate to force their scent upon us, unsolicited? Don’t they know what a PERSONAL HYGEINE PRODUCT is? That is the origin of perfume …it was PERSONAL … intimate… to cover a lack of bathing… but it was only meant to be smelled by someone standing very close to you – not by everyone within 20 feet or more.

And what happened to clean, soap-smelling skin? I love skin. I prefer to smell a slightly feral body odour than a concoction of chemicals. We rely on our sense of smell more than we know – at least I do. And we can tell so much about a person by their smell – all subliminally. When I am confronted by a person covered in scent, it is as though they are wearing a mask – concealing themselves from me.

Women today use perfume as a fashion accessory. They want everyone to know how much they spent on scent. When I tell a woman that she has too much scent and that it is making me ill (yes, I tend to do this in cinemas, on planes …in any confined public space, in fact), usually, her immediate response is “but it is so-and-so, it cost a fortune – it is really good”. They are missing the point. I don’t care how expensive it is, too much of even “good” perfume is too much. Period. Further, even the most expensive scents are full of chemical and synthetic irritants. When I was living in Paris, one of my jobs found me in the Chanel labs, where I quickly learned that they were making make-up and scent for dozens of other clients – that it is all the same stuff. There are NOT 50 different ways to make a lipstick.

Anyway. Ladies, please, stop harassing me with your obnoxious, ignorant over-use of perfume and ruining my meals, my films, my travel …and the older you get, and the weaker your sense of smell, the more you seem to put on. Restrain yourselves.

 

LJ JOhnson-Bell

Monday
Mar042013

TOP FIVE Sicilian Nero d’Avola

 

With the winter weather upon us the natural acidity, clean minerality and earthy fruit of this native grape makes it a perfectly robust partner for all of our festive feasts ...

 

Mille e Una Notte Contessa Entellina Doc 2006, Donnafugata

Stunning. Balsamic notes: woody, dried herbs with a dash of spice. Elegant and complex. Refined without being uptight. The finish is complete, fresh and clean. www.Libertywine.co.uk

 

Alire Igt 2009, Fatascia

(50% Syrah). Modern in its use of new oak, its use of Syrah and its forward, fruity approach. But it works. The nose is fresh with a clean acidity and very focused. Gorgeous palate of chocolate and a nice finish.

www.wine-searcher.com

 

Aynat Sicilia Igt 2008, Viticultori Associati Soc. Coop

A lot of oak - very much in the modern style. But it has good acidity and superb extracts which can take it.

www.viticultoriassociati.it

 

Lu Patri Nero d’Avola Sicilia Igt 2008, Baglio del Cristo di Campobello

Another of the international style… oak is very evident but well-done. The wine is round, fresh and appealing.

www.venditavinoitaliano.it

 

Alhambra Rosso Sicilia Igp 2009, Spadafora dei Principi di Spadafora

Unoaked. Nose is fruity and fresh, the acidity is crisp and perfect. A clean, edgy wine.

www.wine-searcher.com

Monday
Mar042013

Arneis: Piedmont's great white

Deep in the Piedmont region, where red grapes are the tradition, the Arneis grape is a difficult rebel, growing where it shouldn’t and tasting like no other white… 

In fact, in the local dialect, “Arneis” means rascal, due to its unreliability. Yet, it somehow has stubbornly dug its roots into the unsuitable sandy soils in Roero, between the towns of Bra and Alba, and produces one of the most original and singular taste sensations. There are several styles being produced, but a well-made Arneis will share the common denominators of a well-structured and complex yet mysteriously uncomplicated body, refreshing acidity, and a long, solid finish. Always drunk very young, its an aromatic rainbow of white blossoms, camomile, apricots, pears, the pulpy white flesh of a green apple, ripe damson, dried herbs, warm hay, an unidentifiable touch of savoury, and its very distinctive perfume of almonds. It does wonders for many cheeses, pasta dishes and, believe it or not, is the absolute perfect match for asparagus.

The Piedmont producers are a bit divided in opinion about Arneis. It suffers from the hangover of a previous bad reputation…from, as usual the 1970’s and the days of sweet bulk wines. Then, the grape was not taken very seriously and was nearly abandoned, until some of the producers figured out that they would need some good whites to counterbalance their predominant red production. Don’t forget, Piedmont is the land of Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto: the Italian red icons. A white wine from here has to be rather special to hold its own. Arneis certainly manages this beautifully. 

 

TWO TO TRY


Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2009, Fine and Rare Wines, www.frw.co.uk

Signore Giocosa is the premier producer of Arneis. Unmissable. His Arneis is always delicious, distinctive and unique.

 

Malvirà Roero Arneis 2008, Waitrose Wine Direct, www.waitrosewine.com

Arneis in the classic style, by the Damonte brothers: meadow flowers, hay, fruit, almonds, all presented on a crisp, minerally palate.

 

Andy Muscat at New Generation Wines also has a good one ... call him.

Monday
Mar042013

The Nero di Troia from Apulia

 

 

The Nero di Troia grape has escaped a tragic end thanks to its rescue by Puglia’s heroic vignerons. It's an epic tale ... ! If we are to believe the legend, the Nero di Troia grape was brought to the hills of Puglia by Diomedes, the Greek hero who destroyed Troy. An auspicious beginning indeed, but one which was muddled in obscurity, as the variety has traditionally only been used in local blends. In an Italy where grapes and wine were “foodstuffs”, the low-yielding variety just couldn’t hold its own. But now, in a region still dominated by Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes, and to a certain extent the ubiquitous “international” varieties, its organoleptic features are exactly what the modern wine-makers want. Francesco Liantonio of Torrevento in Corato, near Bari, was the first to champion Nero di Troia, “in purezza”  (single-varietal). Many of his neighbours have now followed suite and the results are admirable. The Nero di Troia is generally a medium-bodied, moderately acidic, alcoholic and deeply coloured, tannic wine marked by a salty minerality, and notes of spices, violets and red berries. It is a late-harvesting grape (early October) and this long, slow hang-time translates into fresher, more complex wines capable of ageing. When it has been nurtured to its full expression, it is able to appease the most demanding of Gods. Imagine:  Ripe mulberries, cherries and plums. Smoky balsamic vinegar aged in juniper barrels. A mossy carpet of undergrowth under a canopy of dewy ferns. Chalky sand beaches and salty sea sprays…

 

TWO TO TRY

 

Torrevento Torre del Falco Nero di Troia IGT 2007 

 Stunning (but then so are all of the reds from Torrevento - especially the un-oaked reds). A ruby robe and a fresh nose of blueberries, and chocolate-covered cherries. The palate was well-structured, with lively acidity. Waitrose sells this - go get some.

www.Torrevento.it

 

Alberto Longo Le Cruste Nero di Troia della Puglia IGT 2006

 This brew is rich and intensely structured, with notes of violet, tobacco, a complex palate with mature tannins and a good finish. Available from www.Everywine.co.uk.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday
Mar042013

I bacari ... Venice's wine bars  

 

At my local, Al Bacon di Vino, in Campo Santa Margherita, the local market-stall owners have their first coffee at 8am, read the paper, glance at their stall ... wander away...then, wander back at about 10am for their first ombre, or glass of red wine. Then, at 12pm, they fight the hoards to get their hands on the steaming warm mozzarella in carrozza (sp?!), cod balls or sandwhiches with some more wine. This goes on all day until 5pm, when the hoards return again for their spritz and the stall-holders mingle with the students and the those walking past on their way home from work.



Here are a few more local secrets - I will keep adding to this. I have just returned from making the rounds!

Pantagruelica - Dorsoduro 2844, Campo San Banarba

This is a wonderful little deli across from the church with the Leonardo da Vinci museum. It is filled with the necessary luxuries and a small but perfect selection of wines.

Cantinone Schiavi (now known as Al Bottegon) Fondamente Nani) - Dorsoduro 992

Located on the canal facing the only gondola factory still remaining. This is both a great wine bar with snacks as well as an Italian wine shop. It is a favourite after-work hang-out for that daily Spritz.


 

Mille Vini - San Marco 5362

This is a serious wine shop offering wines from all over the world that transforms into a hub of evening social activity. It can get a bit touristy at night, so do your wine shopping during the day and then return later if you want to join in the fray.

Billa - several locations

This is one of Venice’s supermarket chains selling really inexpensive Italian wines, with an emphasis on local Veneto wines. The Zattere shop has a limited but satisfactory selection, but the one on the Lido’s main street is the best.   

Vinaria Nave de Oro - Dorsoduro 3664, Campo Santa Margherita (and many other campos)

These are fantastic little holes in the wall where the locals queu up with their empty plastic litre bottles and get them re-filled with local bulk wines stored in demi-johns in straw baskets .. for a couple of euros, if that. These local bulk wines all seem to taste the same - I cannot taste the difference between the Refosco and the Pinot Nero and the Cabernet Sauvignon - they are all a bit sweet -  but very quaffably so…

 

 

Vino Vino - San Marco 2007a, Calle del Cafetier

A great selection of Intalian, international and local wines .... many by the glass, and a great snack bar - usually better than their restaurant. 

 

Monday
Mar042013

How to visit Alsace ... 

(Taken from my chapter in Alsace contributed to : Great Wine Tours of the World, New Holland.

 

A land of idyllic medieval villages nestled cosily in voluptuous, fertile hillsides peppered with majestic church steeples, castle ruins, riotous flower displays and pastel-coloured timbered cottages – we are in Alsace. As if the vines were breathing life into the villages, the air is an intoxicating contradiction of spicy fruitiness and mineral freshness. With its magic trilogy of history, culture and gastronomy set against the vividly colourful backdrop of viticulture, Alsace makes a perfect picture.

Alsace is one of France’s oldest wine-producing regions. There were over 160 wine-growing districts by the end of the first millennium. During the Middle Ages, the wines were reputed to be among the best that Europe had to offer. Alsace has been passed back and forth between Germany and France for much of its existence. Despite this continual upheaval and the constant interruptions and destruction caused by war, the wine trade struggled on, and many of the most reputable names are long-established: Dopff (1574), Trimbach (1626), Hugel (1637).

Today, Alsace’s 119 wine-growing towns and villages produce more than 160 million bottles, of which 25 per cent are exported. Alsace produces 18 per cent of the total French still-white-wine output. Ninety-two per cent of Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru wines are dry, aromatic whites. Alsace’s appellations are unique in France because the wines are labelled according to grape variety as opposed to the vineyard. The vineyard or village is not mentioned unless the wine is a Grand Cru.

There are seven major grape varieties in Alsace: the Pinot Noir, and the Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Tokay Pinot Gris, Riesling and Muscat. The wines are then organised by quality levels and either belong to the AC Alsace appellation or to the AC Grand Cru appellation. The Crémant d’Alsace appellation is for sparkling wine produced in the same way as Champagne and mainly from Pinot Blanc. Then there are levels of ripeness; either Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) or Sélection de Grains Nobles (selection of noble grains). VT wines are made using very ripe grapes picked later than normal, usually in October. SGN wines have been made from individually selected botrytised grapes.

The subtly majestic Vosges mountain range protects the region from the ocean, creating a unique microclimate. Alsace is one of the driest parts of France and enjoys a semi-continental climate, which means lots of sun, heat and dryness – perfect for the slow, extended hang-time (ripening period) needed by the grapes. Even more importantly, Alsace’s white grape varieties do so well here because of the patchwork of granite, limestone, gneiss, schist and sandstone soils which impart acidity and structure to the wine. The vineyards are also planted on slopes rather than valleys, which provide good drainage and require them to grow deep roots. This also allows the vines to receive the right amount of sunshine at the right time of the day. 

While Alsace may appear traditional, it is one of the most forward-thinking regions in Europe. The 170 kilometre-long Route du Vin, at the base of the Vosges and alongside the banks of the Rhine River, is tourist-orientated without being kitsch or gaudy. The Alsatians are a neat, organised and orderly lot and every village has a tourist office, while the region itself has several award-winning websites and CD ROMs to guide visitors. The wineries are located in the villages themselves and are accessible by foot (most towns centres prohibit cars anyway). They are open to the public and offer tastings.

The spring months are a flurry of carnival parades, fancy-dress balls, classical and jazz concerts, flea markets and more. From April to August, every village has its own wine fair with dancing and copious consumption of the local wines and gastronomic specialities. In September, October and November, the Harvest Wine Festivals are held. Then from the 24th of November to the 7th of December, when the picture postcard villages are covered in a light blanket of snow, Alsace is transformed into a fairy-tale kingdom. More than fifty outdoor markets from Colmar to Strasbourg light up with illuminated decorations. Bakeries make mennele (little bread men), carollers stroll and sing. St Nicolas distributes goodies. There is nothing more enthralling than strolling down a cobbled lane sipping a grog, dodging snowflakes, and admiring the hand-made traditional toys and tree decorations for sale, to the sound of an outdoor classical concert.

 

Not to be missed in Alsace are the many regional specialities that so perfectly marry the wines. The fresh and fruity Sylvaner is ideal with the local salade Vosgienne (mushrooms, red potatoes, Munster cheese, cumin, smoked lardons, croutons and poached eggs) or with flammenküeche (a thin flat bread dough rectangle filled with lightly fried onions, cream and smoked bacon). Riesling, the pride of Alsace with its delicate fruit and subtle bouquet, is the perfect mate for choucroute (a dish of boiled meats, sauerkraut and potatoes) or with a savoury kougelhopf (a brioche filled with perhaps salmon and pike). The full-bodied aromatic Gewürztraminer is ideal with spicy exotic dishes, strong cheeses or the famous tarte aux pommes à l’alsacienne. The easy going and fresh Pinot Blanc goes with most anything, but is best with fish. The Tokay Pinot Gris falls somewhere between the steely crispness of a Riesling and the sweeter opulence of a Gewürztraminer. It’s a perfect match for the baeckaoffa (a slow-cooked marinated meat stew with onions, potatoes and seasonings). Alsatian Pinot Noir is not like the red Burgundies we know, it is lighter and fruitier, almost a rosé. It is especially good with the presskopf (a terrine of fresh wild salmon, lobster and oysters in a creamy sauce of caviar, parsley, tarragon and chives). The Crémant d’Alsace is light, refreshing and crisp. Like Champagne, it can take an entire meal from hors d’oeuvres to dessert.

If you have a week available, then start your tour in Strasbourg and head to Marlenheim – the northern gateway to the Route du Vin and work your way down to Thann, the southernmost gateway of the route. Both towns have information points that provide maps, guides and explanations of Alsace’s wine history, grapes and terroirs. If you have only a few days, then make Colmar your base and visit its surrounding villages. The best time to visit is between April and December.

Let’s start at Colmar, the capital of the Route du Vin. Must visit: the Foire Régionale in August, Bartholdi’s birthplace (built the Statue of Liberty in New York – 1866); the Bibliothèque (Library) housed in the Dominicans Convent; Underlinden Museum, the ‘Maison des Têtes’, Maison Pfister, Petit Venise Canal and Saint-Mattieu’s Temple. Must taste: Domaine Schoffit.

Next to Bergheim (20 km north of Colmar) home to the famous Gewürztraminer Grand Cru l’Altenberg de Bergheim. Must visit: the 14th-century Gothic church, vineyard trail, 14th-century upper gateway, Gewürztraminer feast in August. Must taste: Marcel Deiss, Gustave Lorentz, Spielmann.

 

Head down the road towards Colmar and  you arrive in Ribeauvillé, home to the Grands Crus vineyards of Geisberg and Osterberg.  Must visit: parish church of Saint Gregory the Great (13 to 15th century), Town Hall with its jewellery museum, old towers with stork nests, remains of the ‘Three castles’ of Ribeaupierre (12 to 13th century), Renaissance Fountain. Must taste: Henri Fuchs, F.E. Trimbach, Caves de Ribeauvillé, André Kientzler.

 

Next stop is Riquewihr (15 km north of Colmar), the best preserved medieval and Renaissance village and home to the Grands Crus Sporen and Schoenenbourg. Must visit: Grands Crus vineyard trail, 16th-century fortifications and outer defences, 13th-century Reichenstein castle ruins, Thieve’s Tower Museum with torture chambers. Must taste: Hugel et Fils, Dopff au Moulin, Engel, Mittnacht Klack.

 

Kaysersberg is next (8 km northwest from Colmar) on the tour. Famous for its medieval architecture and being the birthplace of Dr Albert Schweitzer (Nobel Peace Prize 1952). Must visit: Renaissance well, castle ruins, fortified bridge, and famous Christmas market. Must taste: Domaine Weinbach’s Riesling, Cave Kientzheim-Kayserberg, Roger Baradel’s smoked meats.

 

One of the best wine villages in Alsace is Ammerschwihr (8 kms north of Colmar). It has one Grand Cru,Wineck-Schlossberg which, with Kaefferkopf, produces superior Rieslings, Muscats and Gewürztraminers.  Must visit: vine garden, Vinogast celebration on 2nd weekend of December, April Wine Fair, Saint-Martin’s church. Must taste: Martin Schaetzel.

 

Continuing down the Route du Vin, past Colmar, you arrive at Turkheim (7 kms south from Colmar). Considered to produce the best Pinot Noir in Alsace, it is home to the Grand Cru Brand, which is planted with Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Must visit: Stork’s park, Sainte-Anne’s church with 1190 belfry porch, Renaissance Town Hall and Hôtel des Deux Clefs, the town crier at 10pm on summer evenings. Must taste: Cave de Turckheim, Zind-Humbrecht, Meyer.

 

Wintzenheim  (4 km west of Colmar) has one of the most famous terroirs in all of Alsace: Grand CruHengst, and is dominated by the Hohlandsbourg and Pflixbourg castles. Must visit: flower market on the first Saturday of May, Autumn Festival first weekend of October, Christmas market, scenic route of the Five Castles and remains of the Gallo-Roman villa (1st to 4th century) on the Hengst slope. Must taste: Josmeyer, Krick, Schoepfer.

 

At the foot of the Trois Châteaux (‘three castles’) you stumble upon Eguisheim (5 km south of Colmar), a medieval city built in three concentric circles around its castle. It is the birthplace of Pope Saint Leo IX in 1002. It is also home to the famous Grand Cru vineyards of Eichberg and Pfersigberg, both producing fantastic Gewürztraminers. Must visit: vineyard trail with guided visits and tastings from the tourism office, church with Roman tympanum, historic half-timbered houses, tithe manors, remains of octagonal Roman castle, wine growers’ festival on the fourth weekend of August. Must taste: Léon Beyer, Bruno Sorg.

 

Finally, Guebwiller (30 km south of Colmar) is the only Alsace commune with four Grands Crus: Kessler, Kitterlé, Saering and Spiegel. Must visit: 14th-century church and former convent, now a musical centre, 12th-century Saint-Léger’s church, wine Fair on Ascension Day. Must taste: Schlumberger.

 

THE CHIEF GRAPES

Gewürztraminer

Muscat d’Alsace

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Noir

Riesling

Sylvaner

Tokay Pinot Gris

 

LEADING WINES (APPELLATIONS)

AC. Alsace

AC. Alsace Grand Cru

Crémant d’Alsace

 

MAIN PRODUCERS

Cave Vinicole de Ribeauvillé, Ribeauvillé

Andre Kientzler, Ribeauvillé

Domaine du Clos Saint-Landelin, Rouffach

Kuentz Bas, Husseren-les-Châteaux

Léon Beyer, Enguisheim

Lucien Albrecht, Orschwihr

Marcel Deiss, Bergheim

Ostertag, Epfig

Paul Blanck, Kientzheim

Schlumberger, Guebwiller

Schoffit, Colmar

Weinbach-Colette Faller et ses fils, Kayserberg

Zind-Humbrecht, Turckheim

Dopff au Moulin, Riquewihr

Hugel & Fils, Riquewihr

Trimbach, Ribeauvillé

 

MAIN TOWNS

Strasbourg

Molsheim

Barr

Sélestat

Ribeauvillé

Colmar

Guebwiller

Thann

Mulhouse

 

AIRPORTS (connections from Paris)

Strasbourg–Entzheim Airport (15 km from Strasbourg) 

Colmar Airport (mostly private) 

Mulhouse–Bâle (Basel) Airport (25 km from Mulhouse) 

Train: Strasbourg, Colmar and Mulhouse

 

 

 

SUMMARY OF TOUR – Route du Vin

Bas-Rhin (Northern Alsace)

Merlenheim – Dahlenheim – Bergbieten – Wolxheim – Molsheim – Heiligenstein – Barr – Mittelbergheim – Andlau – Nothalten – Dambach-la-Ville

 

Haut-Rhin (Southern Alsace)

St-Hippolyte – Rodern – Bergheim – Ribeauvillé – Hunawihr – Riquewihr – Bennwihr - Mittelwihr – Kientzheim – Sigolsheim – Ammerschwihr – Ingersheim – Colmar - Turckheim – Wintzenheim – Wettolsheim – Eguisheim – Gueberschwihr – Pfaffenheim – Soultzmatt – Rouffach – Westhelten – Orschwihr – Guebwiller – Thann

 

Contact info:

Email: civa@civa.fr

www.vinsalsace.com

www.alsace-info.com

 

RESTAURANTS

Au Crocodile, Strasbourg (Tel: 33.03.88.32.13.02, E-mail: crocodile@relaischateaux.fr)

Restaurant Buerehiesel, Strasbourg (Tel: 33.03.88.45.56.65, E-mail: buerehiesel@relaischateaux.fr

Meistermann, Colmar (Tel: 33.3.89.41.65.64), www.meistermann.com

L’Auberge au Zannacher, Ribeauvillé (Tel.: 33.03.89.73.60.77)

L’Auberge de l’Ill, Illhausern (tel.: 33.03.89.71.89.00

 

HOTEL/RESTAURANTS

La Cheneaudière, Colroy-La –Roche (Tel: 33.03.88.97.61.64, Email: cheneaudiere@relaischateaux.fr

Abbaye La Pommeraie, Selestat (Tel: 33.03.88.92.07.84, Email:  pommeraie@relaischateaux.fr

Le Marechal, Colmar (Tel.: 03.89.41.43.07)

Château de Barembach, Colmar (Tel.: 03.88.97.97.50)

 

Monday
Mar042013

Amarone ... my favourite wine

Amarone is not the name of a place. Nor is it the name of a grape. Amarone is a wine-making method, a style of wine.  Amarone, once tasted, is forever inscribed on one’s palate, and the memory of it …variations on a theme of spiced cherries, smoky plums, chalky mineral, and moist, dark earth … forever haunts the mind like an unobtainable lover: impenetrable and indecipherable… yet intoxicating.

Amarone is a style of the dry red wine from Veneto’s Valpolicella. Amarone, Recioto and Ripasso are all styles of Valpolicella, and are all issued from the same grapes: Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. The variable is the degree to which the grapes are allowed to dry before being pressed: so, its sweetness. Unadulterated Valpolicella is the driest style, the starting point, and is light-bodied, zesty with a fresh grape flavour and is meant to be drunk young.  But when the same grapes undergo the air-drying method or appassimento, usually on straw mats for several months, until they are nearly shrivelled to raisins, we are rewarded with Amarone, a highly alcoholic, heavy, complex, black, almost bitter, velvety concoction. It needs years to fully mature, so buy the newer vintages now for cellaring. The great appeal of Amarone is its double personality. It toys between the dry and the sweet, the masculine and the feminine, the powerful and the elegant… always enticing us back for more.

TWO TO TRY

Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Doc “Punta di Villa”, Roberto Mazzi, 2004

This is a traditional, elegant interpretation with a restrained approach – no flashy fruit. It builds up slowly and explodes on the palate and is not dominated by oak.www.grossiwines.co.uk £31 approx

 

Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Doc Il Bosco¸ Cesari¸2005

Also in a classic style, with a very grown-up and sophisticated veneer which belies its decadent opulence. www.fiandaca.co.uk  £28 approx

 LJ Johnson-Bell

Monday
Mar042013

Alto Adige: Who needs France?

 

 Crisp, personal, solid Pinot Blancs… Chardonnays with the muscle and salty earthiness of a top Meursault… aromatic Gewürztraminers that toy between the sharp and the sensual… and Sauvignons that are explosively fruity and complex …  You would forgive me for thinking that I was in France. But no, I am in Alto Adige.  And there is another surprise to come: the Pinot Neros (Pinot Noir). They are divine, and devoid of that medicinal, metallic retro-olfactive with which so many basic red Burgundies can be marked.  These are fresh, elegant, and ooze a velvety smoothness of plums and warm earth.

 

 

Alto Adige, or Südtirol, is one of Italy’s smallest regions (only providing .7% of Italy’s total production) and can boast the fact that 98% of its wines are of the DOC quality category. There is archaeological evidence of viticulture here that pre-dates the Romans and today there are 12,500 acres of vineyards. Almost 75% of these are owned by cooperatives, in which, typically, each of the hundreds of members might cultivate a plot of less than 2.5 acres. Cooperatives often have a negative connotation in the wine world, but not here. Here, the concept works as it is meant to and produces high quality, terroir-driven wines.

 

Nestled in the slopes of the snow-covered Southern Alps, Alto Adige has been home to the noble Bordeaux and Burgundy grapes for over a hundred years. The diverse soils and altitudes welcomed them a place alongside their already established Sylvaner, Müller-Thurgau, Veltliner, Riesling and their famously gorgeous native red grape, Lagrein. Protected by the Dolomites, the vineyards’ altitudes range from 750 – 3250 ft above sea level and the rich soils are a geographical rainbow of dolomitic rock, fluvial deposits, porphyry, moraine debris, volcanic deposits and slate-primitive rock.

 

Couple this unique climate and exposition with the quality wine-making techniques these producers embrace, and we are presented with consistent and powerfully elegant, grown-up wines that rival the French greats at half the price. And as Burgundy is being hit by hotter growing seasons and we are seeing more and more boiled Pinot (heat erases any varietal cahracter and terroir influence), the cool, refreshing Alpine climate produces a more expressive Pinot Noir.  I, for one, shall be stocking my cellars with some Pinot Nero. Unlike Burgundy, where quality can be a bit hit-and-miss for even the “experts” and quality seems to only be assured by paying exorbitant prices, the Pinot Nero seems to have found the opportunity to express the best facets of  its unique and elegant personality, here in the Alto Adige.  As one of the charming producers quipped to me as I swooned over his Sauvignon: “Who needs France?”

 

Some favourites:

 

1. Pinot Bianco 2009, Cantina Andriano

From Astrum Wine Cellars, www.astrumwinecellars.com

Cantino Andriano was founded in 1893 and is the oldest wine producing cooperative in the region. Situated in one of the cooler areas of Alto Adige, yet protected to the West by Mount Gantkofel, they produce elegant, well-built wines made for cellaring. The Pinot Bianco is unoaked, with an approachable, fruity nose. The mouth is well-balanced with solid extracts and a fresh and lively acidity, leading to a persistent and elegant finish. Beautifully made.

 

2. Terlano Sauvignon Quartz 2008, Cantina Terlano

From Astrum (see above)

Cantina Terlano has been producing wines since 1893 and their wines owe their distinction to the high mineral content of the soils: the vineyards lie on a red porphyry base of volcanic rock with large mineral crystal deposits. This Sauvignon is true to its name (quartz!). It has a steely, mineral freshness carrying a lush, fleshy body of apricots. It is not a ubiquitous caricature of the sauvignon grape: there is no fake vegetal edge or superficial herbiness to it, screaming, “I am Sauvignon” as do some of the New World models. There is just straightforward, solid fruit and structure: Sauvignon as it is meant to be. Their Lagrein Riserva Porphyr 2007 is also unmissable.

 

3. Gewürtztraminer 2009, Erste + Neue

From New Generation Wines Ltd., www.newgenerationwines.comA long-running cooperative with a tradition of single-vineyard expertise, this Gewürztraminer is an elegant and original expression of this grape: a good balance between crisp minerality and unctuous floral and spicy elegance. It has all of the hallmarks of the traditional Alsatian version of the grape, yet at the same time imparts another dimension to the model – a distinctly Alto Adige-dimension – quite cheeky and personable.

 

4. Pinot Nero Mezzan 2008, Erste + Neue

From New Generation Wines Ltd (as above)

The Pinot Noir from this cooperative was a real find. It is approachable without being sweet or boring: there is definite power and structure here, but very fluidly and elegantly expressed. A violet nose takes you into velvety textured body and a good finish. The tannins are well integrated and the overall effect is that one is drinking a very expensive red Burgundy – a Volnay …

 

5. Pinot Nero Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano 2007, Tenuta J. Hofstätter

From FortyFive 10°

masi@fortyfive10.eu

 This family-owned estate was founded in 1907. The family is quick to point out that the nearest town is Bolzano, which lies on the same line of latitude as Mâcon in Burgundy and that they have made Pinot Nero their specialty. They have two Pinot Neros, their Pinot Nero Meczan, whose 2009 was round, peppery and powerful, and the Barthenau, which was simply stunning. The nose was so perfumed and yet the mouth was restrained, direct, fresh and tightly made… saving itself for the even better times to come… to cellar.

 

6. Pinot Nero Ludwig 2007, Elena Walch from Bancroft Wine Ltd., www.bancroftwines.com

 Elena Walch, an ex-architect, married into a prominent wine-producing family in Tramin/Termeno and turned to wine-making in 1985. Her wines have earned several of the coveted Three Glassses awards from the Gambero Rosso. Her Pinot Nero Ludwig is gorgeously well-made.  Aged for 14 months in half new oak and half old oak, its power is discreetly brought to the surface by subtle tannins and lively acidity. Perfumed, complex, elegant, it is drinkable now, but worth cellaring.

 

7. Pinot Nero Precios 2007, Josef Niedermayr Estate

From Passione Vino, www.passionevino.co.uk

 Stunning. It opens with an earthy mineral-ness evoking the vineyard’s chalky soils. The nose is intense with dark berries, spice and violets. The body is textured and complex and the finish is fresh and long. Everything is here, from start to finish. This is a cooperative situated near Girlan, which is has been a family business since 1852: they manage their own vineyards as well as monitor and work with other winegrowers.

 

LJ Johnson-Bell

Saturday
Feb232013

Gusbourne Estate, Kent

 

The Gusbourne Estate was first mentioned in 1410, when John de Gosborne’s will was filed. Today, Andrew Weeber, a retired South African oral surgeon, now living in Geneva and Kent, is the proud owner. His Vineyard Manager is Jon Pollard, who studied oenology at Plumpton College. This is a very new estate. In fact, the word “new” applies to everything within our sight as well as the philosophy behind the wines. Mr. Weeber is 100% modern and has every winery, macinery gadget that you can buy, and like a boy with his new toys, he proudly displays them. They started the plantings in 2001 and their wines were launched in 2010, to much acclaim. For the moment, the wines are being elaborated at Ridgeview, as there is as yet, no winery. But I saw the plans for the upcoming winery and visitors’ centre, and we are in for a treat.

Because of all of this “newness” and the fact that the wine is made elsewhere (albeit, placed in the vey able hands of Ridgeview!), I was not expecting very much, but these wines were a fabulous surprise and I very much look forward to visiting Gusbourne again to better stock my cellar. Mr. Weeber is a highly entertaining, ambitious and passionate man and his drive is clearly expressed in all that he does. The wines are well-made and mirror his multi-faceted and explosive personality.

 

Gusbourne makes 3 sparkling wines only, using the Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier: the Brut Reserve, the Blanc de Blanc and the Sparkling Rose. The estate is sited on the low, south-facing slopes of the escarpment at Appledore.

 

2007 Blancs de Blanc

Nose is clean, acidic and fresh. Body is lively yet corpulent – good finish, very nice.

I kept going back to this one – my favourite. It just really opened up and revealed a yeasty toastiness – very refined, flavourful and well-balanced.

 

Sparkling Rose

Ok – nose is good, notes of spice and summer berries. Palate is well-structured with good acidity. Finish a bit short.

 

2007 Brut Reserve

A fabulously grown-up nose of summer blossoms and fruit stone-pits…leading to a firm but fleshy and fruity body and a clean, persistent finish. Lovely.

 

2010 Pinot Noir

This is not an available wine, but as I am on the hunt for still Pinot Noir, he showed us one he has made. I am so glad that he did. The nose is lovely. Not at all a typical Pinot Noir, but it is really interesting - has a peppery finish.

 

Gusbourne Estate
Appledore
Kent, TN26 2BE
England

+44 12 33 758 666

 

For general enquiries:

www.gusbourne.com  

 

Saturday
Feb232013

Hush Heath, Kent

HUSH HEATH ...


If you are ever in doubt as to why Kent is called “The Garden of England”, visit Hush Heath. We were transported into one of those picture-perfect images on a biscuit tin. Our magical tour was led by the winemakers Owen Elias and Victoria Ash, Rupert Taylor, the Sales Manager, as well as the owner, Richard Balfour-Lynn.

 

 

The estate is absolutely stunning: apple tree orchards, manicured Italian gardens, vineyards, oast houses … all wrapped up in a violently lush landscape of wisteria and roses. Balfour-Lynn is clear that his sole objective is to produce an English Pink Sparkling Wine to rival the finest Champagne, and this he does. It is a small and private production: No winery visits, no gift shops or tea rooms: just his wine … Balfour.

He rightly repeats the fact that Kent is a fruit-growing region, and adds that the New World cannot make sparkling wines properly: it is too hot. Whereas, our climate provides the crucial acidity. But, he feels that Champagne has done a lot to tarnish their image and wishes to distinguish the English sparkling wines: our acidity is different to that of France’s. His award-winning sparkling wine is thus a non-malolactic wine, left sur lies for 18 months and it is all about the acidity. His wines are young and fresh as he combines the best of the Old World with the New. He revels in the climatic diversity served up by Mother Nature, as he wishes to avoid homogenous, “reliable” wines.

 

2010 Nannette’s Chardonnay
I know that he said that he only does the Balfour, and when I visited, this was the case. He allowed us to taste this Chardonnay, which at the time was not commercialised, as he wishes to keep production restrained. But I have seen that it is now available to buy on the web-site, so you must do so.

The wine has a lovely nose. You can smell the extracts: unfiltered, rustic, meaty extracts that give this wine a complex structure yet at the same time, a refined expression. Chardonnay, so often bastardised around the globe, takes on an elegantly individual hue, here, in this garden of Kent.


2010 Balfour Brut Rosé

75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. Lovely nose, perfumes of rosemary and spices, leading to a fruity, rose petal palate with firm, persistent mousse and a clean, acidic and fresh finish. Delicious.

Richard Balfour-Lynn

Hush Heath

Five Oak Lane

Junction of Snoad Lane

Marden, Kent

TN12 0HX

Tel: 01622 832 794

winery@hushheath.com

 

 

 

 

Saturday
Feb232013

Chapel Down, Kent

Chapel Down holds the place as the “darling” of English wine, and deservedly so.  It is still the largest producer of English wines, sourcing their grapes from their own vineyards both on and off-site from around the Southeast of England and East Anglia. They may be big, with even bigger plans, but the mindset of the Australian winemaker, Andrew Parley, is about making wines the traditional way (hand-harvesting, indigenous yeasts, low alcohol) – and finding an “English” style in an Old World context. There is a fantastic wine shop and bistro where you can taste their wines with the local produce they also sell. They are doing everything right. They use the white grapes Bacchus, Chardonnay, Huxelrebe, Schönburger, Reichensteiner, Seigerrebe and Pinot Blanc and the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

 

Andrew says that he is not seeing a huge difference in “terroir” yet, and that frankly, he is more worried about exposition: catching the sun and avoiding the elements. They have a problem with getting their desired yields (as does the rest of England) and sometime struggle to get 1 ton an acre. This is fascinating. When I was in Italy for the last harvests, yields were down there, too, but for the opposite reason: it was too hot. In Emilia-Romagna, Abruzzo, Le Marche … they were all losing 20-30% of the grape yield. Here, they struggle to get them to mature. He adds that eventually, we’ll have an oversupply in the UK. 2010 was already a huge year and most wineries are lagging in production capacity – that will change as they catch up. Contract processing is slowing and more and more people are setting up shop and making their own wines. This is great news. 

Notes on the TANK SAMPLES:

 

1) the sparkling base wine:

60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier

This base wine is from 5 different parcels, varying from clay and chalk from Essex. It has gone through malolactic fermentation. The pH is about 3, and the alcohol will be about 11+. He aims for 12.5˚, not more. He does not need to chaptalise. He can get a phenolic maturation at 11˚. Sugars went up this year because the berries were so small. Fungal diseases can be a problem, but this year has been great.

 

2) 2011 Chardonnay

Unoaked style from chalky parcels. Underwent a full malolactic. It is unchaptalised, and will still be at 13˚. No new oak – that would kill it, he said. He mixed clones, mixed parcels from different soils, chalk and clay. He is really experimenting - wants Chablis

2010 will need chaptalising. This is really nice.  Fresh and clean with a good finish. I don’t know if it is important to “copy” the Chablis model, but he seems to have captured the acidity and steeliness of it without forgetting the expression of the English fruit – it works beautifully.

 

3) 2011 Pinot Bianco

Used indigenous yeasts. This will develop nicely. Good.

 

Notes from Tasting Room:


1. English Rose Sparkling NV

Pinot Noir. NV but mostly 2008. Nose is stunning: great fruit with acidity and freshness. Nice palate, nice texture. Finish has a touch of bitterness, but altogether a pleasure.


2. Vintage Reserve Brut

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Lovely: fine and elegant.  Nose is yeasty with a crisp palate of ripe apples and peaches. Recently disgorged. Sur lies for four years and some, so that is good.  


3. Pinot Reserve 2005
Nice. A yeasty, tight nose. Palate is clean with a fruity complexity. A fresh, lively and elegant wine

4. Bacchus 2010
Melon, peaches and freshly cut hay … this is such an interesting grape and everyone seems to be interpreting it their own way. This is certainly a good example of what it can really do: a well-structured and balanced wine.


5. Reserve Chardonnay 2010
This is really good. Underwent a full malolactic and the oak does dominate the fruit too much: preferred the unoaked version. Still, well-made and a very English expression of this French varietal – exciting stuff.


6. Pinot Noir 2011 tank sample
I am hoping that Pinot Noir becomes a real specialty in England. I am tasting a variety of attempts – I wish more people were giving it a go … This one is sort of northern Italian in style but with a slightly medicinal finish. Bearing in mind that it is a tank sample, I will eagerly return to this wine once bottled: the potential is there.

 

The Chapel Down Winery

Tenterden Vineyard

Small Hythe, Tenerden

Kent TN30 7NG

Tel: 01580 753033

www.chapeldown.com 

sales@chapeldown.com