SEARCH FOR A WINE

MY 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

ARTICLE INDEX

Diary of a Wine Critic

 

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

Friday
Feb222013

RIDGEVIEW ESTATE, SUSSEX

When we arrived at Ridgeview, they had been up all night on “frost watch”, lighting fires, or bougies, in the vineyards. So effective is this ancient method of frost prevention, that as soon as all of the bougies are lit, they have to go around and put them out! By doing this, they can get the temperatures up by 2-4 degrees quite quickly and this is all they need. Ridgeview have their own weather reporter. The later in May there are frost alerts, the worse, because after then, any bad frosts means that it is very unlikely to have more bud bursts.

Mike Roberts, the charismatic and strongly-opinioned owner, along with his wife, Chris, takes a “bare earth” philosophy to wine-making: irrigation is cheating … compacted ground is a good protection from frost … grass is a natural radiator. He takes the European view that winemakers should not overly intervene or manipulate the wines - except when in bad years when they have to intervene and rescue it. He says that he is slightly skeptical of “terroir”, yet insists that aspect is crucial – cannot “fix” that. As with everything; location, location, location.

This is not a maritime climate, he explains. It is not wet and horrible and damp here. It is semi-Continental, and with its cool nights, resembles that of the Champagne region. It is difficult to change this preconceived and inaccurate image people have of Sussex, and England in general. Ridgeview is sheltered by the Sussex Downs and slopes southwards towards them. Yes, there is mildew and disease problems, but the high hills help keep things dry. The soils are limestone ridge and sandstone at four and five meters, and chalk, providing great acidity and backbone to these award-wining wines. Ridgeview only grows the Champagne grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and only produces sparkling wines. The delight is the fact that each one of these wines is distinct, personable and vastly enjoyable. Equally delightful, as well as intriguing, is the fact that they prefer to keep their technical details an industry secret, even to journalists … which makes me want to know which wine-making practices go on behind those doors that are so vastly unique that they need to be guarded!

Mike Roberts, Ridgeview Estate

2009 GROSVENOR Blanc de blancs

100% Chardonnay. Nose is lovely… clean, elegant, honeyed. On the palate we meet a well-structured and lively body with tropical fruit, notes of toasted almonds and a touch of sweetness but not too much.  The finish is short but clean, no bitterness. 

2009 KNIGHTSBRIDGE Blanc de Noirs
Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This is really nice: toasty nose, full palate, light and lively body with fruity flavours as opposed to savoury and a solid, persistent finish.


2009 CAVENDISH 
Predominantly Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with some Chardonnay. Really refreshing and seductively appealing: You want to go back to it again and again.

2009 FITZROVIA Rosé

Their rose, which is uniquely, Chardonnay dominant, makes for a fresh and elegant wine. Nice nose, nice palate... bubbles are creamy.


2009 RIDGEVIEW VICTORIA rosé 
This was my least favourite wine. For me, it lacked interest and extracts/weight. But I still enjoyed it!


2009 PIMLICO
Sparkling red made from Pinots – it changes every year. I love this. It has so much personality and vivacity. The oak works, the fruit works … it is tightly structured, balanced and restrained, but very perfumed with hints of peppery spices.

 

Ridgeview Estate Winery

Fragbarrow Lane

Ditching Common

Sussex BN68TP

Tel: 0845 345 7292

www.ridgeview.co.uk

 

Friday
Feb222013

BOLNEY WINE ESTATE, SUSSEX

 


I visited this winery in May of 2012 with my colleagues from the British Circle of Wine Writers. We were met and guided by Samantha Linter (owner and winemaker) and Stuart Barford (Sales). They were in the middle of building a new café and visiting/tasting centre which I now know to be completed. This is a modest, family-run operation that has a great mind-set. They are doing everything right: tours, tastings, tea room, café, gift shop, events and more.

Bolney is a 40-acre estate near Cowfold, Sussex. It is 150m above sea level with south-facing, sandstone slopes and surrounded by ancient woodland. The estate is located on a hill that was part of the Butting Hill One Hundred, listed in the Doomsday Book and they have two special parcels called Foxhole Vineyards that are reserved for Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Pinot Grigio – these are the varieties they are focusing on for their high-end wines. And this makes sense: they are not situated on the chalky Kimmeridgian Ridge that stretches from Burgundy, through Champagne and to the Downs. They are situated on another ridge, composed primarily of sandstone, the main soil type in Kitterlé, Alsace, home to steely Rieslings, fragrant Pinot Noirs and crisp Pinot Gris -  so the potential is there, if the climate cooperates …

Bolney began in 1972 as Bookers Vineyards with 3 acres. Today it has 39 acres and grows 11 grape varieties, specialising in red wines – which is forward-thinking … Sam points out that if climate change moves or halts the Gulf Stream, then the English wine trade is finished. But if not, then the future will feature reds. I agree completely – she’s getting ahead of the curve.

They produce 4 still and 4 sparkling wines with both traditional and non-traditional grapes. Below are the wines they showed us that day – and I shall be returning to fill up the boot.

2011 Lychgate White

Reichensteiner, Schönburger and Wurzer grapes. The nose is yeasty and clean with a crisp, refreshing palate that takes you for a stroll in a fragrant English orchard …. all apples and pears with a touch of the tropical lychee. And it is only 11%, which is what it should be – wines of 13,5˚ and more, don’t taste of anything. It’s the New World climates that have forced the trend for baked wines upon us.

2011 Pinot Grigio

Clean, crisp, appealingly tart – a slight lack of body/texture, but a refreshing and original “English” version of this variety.

2010 Bolney rose

50/50 Rondo and Dornfelder. A lovely savoury nose followed by a palate of stewed rhubarb. Rondo was introduced to England in 1983 and is a very early ripening variety with skins that can be a bit odd-tasting, which is why it is preferred to be used in rosés than reds (less skin contact on the jus) and in blends.

2011 Bolney rosé

A year younger …and still too young. A nose of redcurrants, but it was overall lacking structure and extracts. Would like to go back to this and taste it again in a few months.

2009 Lychgate red

80% Rondo and 20% Dornfelder. This has a lovely fresh, stony and herby nose. 12.5% - refreshing and pleasant to drink. Yields are 2.5-3 tons to the acre and the planting density is really low (as opposed to the higher the better). The plants are really spread out because of the humidity – this protects vines from disease. But it will also encourage the roots to remain on the surface and not be forced to dig down into the soil, where the nutrients and varietal character are found.

2011 Pinot Noir

Aged in ¾ French and ¼ American oak. 13% alcohol.  Served a bit too cold so was not showing at its best that day: a bit diluted and unfocused. More of a light Alsatian version of Pinot Noir and I’d expect a more Alto Adige weight.

2007 Blanc de Blancs

100% Chardonnay. Nicely made – original varietal expression. Crisp, clean and biscuity. Very enjoyable.

2008 Cuvée rosé

100% Pinot Noir. 18 months sur lees. Nice nose and refreshing, clean body with tight structure and lively bubbles. Great.

2009 Cuvee Noir

100% Dornfelder. Nicely perfumed … strawberries. Pleasing texture. Well-made.

2009 Bolney Bubbly

Muller-Thurgau and Chardonnay blend. The nose is really nicely crisp and dances you straight into a complex and textured body, finishing off with a clean, solid finish.

 

Café open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturdays from 8-4pm

Call or visit web-site to book tastings or a tour.

Foxhole Lane, BOlney, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH17 5NB, 01444 881 575

 

www.bolneywineesate.co.uk

 

 

Monday
Feb112013

Tasting in Meursault (rouges) March 1994

1991 Premier Cru Genévriers, Patriarche – good, évolue, fruity and fresh

 

1991 Premier Cru Genévrières, Charles Jobard – pleasant but lacking structure

 

1992 Charmes, Pierre Millot – nice

 

1992 Charmes, Philippe Bouzereau – tannins fondus, souple, longue en bouche

 

1991 Perrières, Guy Roulot – lovely,  tannins serrés, fruité

 

1991 Ballot Millot – gras et mœlleux, longue en bouche et finale

 

1991 Perrieres, Chouet Clivet – did not find this well-made

 

1990 Charmes, Michelot **** – great stuff

 

1990 Clos de Mazeray, Jacques Prieur – yes, well-made

 

1990 Coche, Bizouard – no

 

1988 Bouzerau Gruere, Cotes de Beaune – no, all horse manure

 

Friday
Feb082013

Tasting in Pouilly Vinzelles et Pouilly Loche, March 1994

POUILLY VINZELLES

 

1992 Domaine MARTIN

Nail polish, acetone, poorly vinified, really disappointing.

 

1992 Maison BOUCHARD

Nez un peu mieux, bouche est fruité.

 

1992 Domaine PERRATON

Again, very light, not much content, extracts diluted.

 

1992 Domaine VALETTE

Bien fait, honnete, equilibre, un peu diluted.

 

1991 Cave de CHAINTRE

Nez de noissette, vanille, miel, bouche petillant, vif

 

1991 Cave des GRANDS CRUS

Les Quarts – minerale, disagreable

 

1989 Château de VINZELLES, Maison Loren

Vernis d’ongle au nez, bouche est pas mal. Equilibre, fruite, jolie acidity.

 

POUILLY LOCHE

 

1992 Domaine DAILLY

Dominated by grapefruit – whose been adding selected yeasts then ?

 

1991 Cave des GRANDS CRUS Les Mures – non trop intéressant

 

Wednesday
Feb062013

Blind Tasting in Vosne-Romanée - March 1994

MONGEARD MUGNERET

92 Grands Echezeaux

91 Grands Echezeaux

90 Grands Echezeaux * soyeuse, veloute, parfait

90 Richebourg** – a very dark beast indeed.

One of my favourite producers. These wines are majestic, powerful, stunningly well-made and full of personality and charm and depth of character. Seductive and sensual. Perfect expression of this terroir.

 

DOMAINE FRANCOIS GERBET

92 Premier Cru Les Petits Monts*

91 Premier Cru Les Petits Monts

92 Aux Réas villages

92 Echezeaux – perfection ***

Encore, rien à dire. Ces vins sont plus « vifs » et ludiques… moins « sérieux » mais aussi puissant.

 

ROBERT ARNOUX

92 Premier Cru Les Chaumes

91 Premier Cru Les Chaumes – preferred to 91, good oak, mature fruit and a good acid and tannin balance.

91 Les Hautes Maizières villages - ok

92 Echezeaux *** superbe

 

JACQUES et PATRICE CACHEUX

92 Vosne Romanee villages – good for a villages

91 Vosne Romanee

92 Premier Cru Les Suchots* - fleuri, féminin, gras et solide

92 Premier Cru La Croix Rameau - ok

92 Echezeaux*** - fumé, sensuel, mystérieux, séduisant.

 

FRANCOIS CONFURON

91 Premier Cru Les Chaumes – caramel and candied apples. Piquant …

 

RION

92 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

91 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

90 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

89 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

93 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

A really interesting evolution, These are direct, straight-forward wines. Well-made but a bit boring – they do not move me as the others have done.

 

 

MUGNERET-GIBOURG

 

92 Echezeaux** enormous potential

85 Echezeaux **** parfaitement évolué.

 

DOMAINE FOREY

92 Vosne Romanée villages – métallique, médiocre

92 Premier Cru Les Gaudichots

92 Echezeaux** - very powerful, but also very aggressive

91 Vosne Romanée villages – un goût de technique, plastique

 

GERARD MUGNERET

83 Premier Cru Les Suchots

85 Premier Cru Les Suchots

92 Premier Cru Les Suchots

Very well-made with stunning potential. Gorgeous fresh acidity and strong extracts. The 83 is still going strong.

Wednesday
Feb062013

Blind Tasting in Vosne-Romanée - March 1994

MONGEARD MUGNERET

92 Grands Echezeaux

91 Grands Echezeaux

90 Grands Echezeaux * soyeuse, veloute, parfait

90 Richebourg** – a very dark beast indeed.

One of my favourite producers. These wines are majestic, powerful, stunningly well-made and full of personality and charm and depth of character. Seductive and sensual. Perfect expression of this terroir.

 

DOMAINE FRANCOIS GERBET

92 Premier Cru Les Petits Monts*

91 Premier Cru Les Petits Monts

92 Aux Réas villages

92 Echezeaux – perfection ***

Encore, rien à dire. Ces vins sont plus « vifs » et ludiques… moins « sérieux » mais aussi puissant.

 

ROBERT ARNOUX

92 Premier Cru Les Chaumes

91 Premier Cru Les Chaumes – preferred to 91, good oak, mature fruit and a good acid and tannin balance.

91 Les Hautes Maizières villages - ok

92 Echezeaux *** superbe

 

JACQUES et PATRICE CACHEUX

92 Vosne Romanee villages – good for a villages

91 Vosne Romanee

92 Premier Cru Les Suchots* - fleuri, féminin, gras et solide

92 Premier Cru La Croix Rameau - ok

92 Echezeaux*** - fumé, sensuel, mystérieux, séduisant.

 

FRANCOIS CONFURON

91 Premier Cru Les Chaumes – caramel and candied apples. Piquant …

 

RION

92 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

91 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

90 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

89 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

93 Premiers Cru Les Chaumes

A really interesting evolution, These are direct, straight-forward wines. Well-made but a bit boring – they do not move me as the others have done.

 

 

MUGNERET-GIBOURG

 

92 Echezeaux** enormous potential

85 Echezeaux **** parfaitement évolué.

 

DOMAINE FOREY

92 Vosne Romanée villages – métallique, médiocre

92 Premier Cru Les Gaudichots

92 Echezeaux** - very powerful, but also very aggressive

91 Vosne Romanée villages – un goût de technique, plastique

 

GERARD MUGNERET

83 Premier Cru Les Suchots

85 Premier Cru Les Suchots

92 Premier Cru Les Suchots

Very well-made with stunning potential. Gorgeous fresh acidity and strong extracts. The 83 is still going strong.

Wednesday
Feb062013

My Top Wines from VINITALY 1996

Luciano Sandrone's 1992 Barolo

Ruffino's 1990 Riserva Ducale

Enoteca's 1995 Bianco di Custoza, Vigna la Rugola

Villa Matilde's 1993 Falerno del Massico

Masi's 1991 Campofiorin

Carpineto's 1990 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Michele Chiarlo's 1993 Rabaja Barbaresco

Wednesday
Feb062013

Vertical Tasting in Chambolle en Musigny, March 1994

GHISLAINE BARTHOD

93 Chambolle Musigny

Delicate and precious. Style not to my taste, but very well-made. Will age well.

93 Premier Cru « Beaux Bruns »

Fresh, fruity nose ... a bit weedy and herbaceaous on the palate with an aftertaste on the retro-olfactif. A petullent, arrogant wine.

 

AMIOT SERVELLE

92 Premier Cru « Amoureuses »

93 Premier Cru « Amoureuses »

91 Premier Cru « Charmes » - woody, elegant

93 Premier Cru « Charmes » - excellent race

An orgy. All are delicious, artfuly structured and full of elegant power. Tannins are done well and the wines are balanced. Enormous potential here.

 

JOSEPH DROUHIN

91 Amoureuses – very closed today, tight, still so young

93 Amoureuses – very special. Lots of body. Confiture de fruits rouges. Coffee. So charming.

 

DOMAINE COMTE DE VOGUE

91 Musigny

85 Musigny

The 91 is the lesser wine, but is tasting better today than the 85 with its better structure and power. Two very different wines. Both delicious.

 

JACQUES-FREDERIC MUGNIER

93 Chambolle – all over the place and unfocused, sloppy. Too sweet, too confectioned. But nothing too terminal, so it may sort itself out.

93 Les Fuées – nose is fresh and clean but tannins biting. Will be fine.

93 Musigny Grand Cru – weird nose, but eventually get to the black pepper and violets. A fat and very concentrated wine. Will do well.

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