December 15, 2012

Champagne Special Club

They are well made. They represent the best from each producer. And they are just delicious.
Among this autumn’s all bubbly wines, Special Club has got a special place in our hearts. Just think of it. We can buy prestige champagne from the best vintages, made of small, very quality focussed growers and, in addition, to very reasonable prices.

Club Trésors de Champagne is the name of the association, including 26 growers, promoting the brand Special Club. The association was founded in 1971. Then with the name ”Club de Viticulteurs Champenois”.  All Special Club are bottled in a specially designed, somewhat old fashioned type of bottle, developed by the organisation in 1988. Also labels and boxes have a common design. The benefit of the cooperation is of course the possibility to market the brand in a way that would be much harder for each of the small growers to manage individually.
The idea was already from the start to offer the best from each grower. Consequently is Special Club Champagne only made of grapes from the grower’s top locations and only from the best vintages. Special Club is thus a prestige and a vintage champagne. All steps in the production process must be made by the grower on the estate. This implies that all members of the association have the status ”récoltant manipulants” (R.M.).

As consumers we shall be able to trust that the Champagne is of high quality. Each wine must therefore be tested and approved twice by a jury consisting of producers and oenologists. The first test is made of the still wine, before bottling and the second fermentation. The second tasting is made after at least three years bottle maturation.
A Special Club Champagne shall emphasise the specific character of each grower's Champagnes. We liked all the Special Club we tasted, but two of them had qualities we fell in love with. 

Fresnet-Juillet is located in Verzy. The 2000 we tasted was made of 40% Pinot noir and 60% Chardonnay from Premier Cru-vineyards. 9 gram sugar/litre. Already the finely tuned, complex nose captured us. The palate was tight, with fine concentration, complexity, fresh acidity and nice mousse. Good length with nice intensity.  
Henri Goutorbe impressed  us with the 2002. The grapes come from Grand Cru vineyards in Aÿ and in this wine the composition is the opposite with 60% Pinot noir och 40% Chardonnay. 8 gr sugar/litre. A divine complex nose with coffee, nougat, peach and ripe apples. The larger share of Pinot noir is noticed by the darker fruit and a body a bit over medium. The palate is concentrated, complex with hints of citrus and mineral. Good acidity and nice mousse. A deliciously rich Champagne with nice maturity.  

Richard Juhlin gives the advice to buy all the Special Clubs that you come across and mature them for another five years or more. Personally we like to drink these two Champagnes directly. The purchase advice, yes we agree totally.

November 25, 2012

Viña Gravonia – a classic white from Rioja

Alice is right. It is a delicious wine, from an exceptional producer. It is white, it is made of Viura and the name is Viña R. Lopéz de Heredia.
Alice is of course Alice Feiring, who nurtures tradition and wine making without unnecessary human interference. In the book “The battle for Wine and Love; or how I saved the world from Parkerization” she describes, in a wonderfully vivid and personal style, the meeting with the charismatic Maria José López de Heredia. Their lunch in Haro was accompanied by a Viña Gravonia. We are told that the wine, of vintage 1997, is “the star of the show”.
I tasted the 2002 vintage and was overwhelmed by the character and intensity of the wine. In fact, it was some time since I enjoyed a classic white Rioja. The experience made me realise how much I have missed this style. Of course it is nice to have easy-to-drink, fresh, fruity white wines. But variation is needed and then I prefer an eloquent personality.
R. López de Heredia has a long history. Founded in 1877 as the first bodega in Haro and one of the first three in Rioja. This was at the time when French merchants came to Rioja to find alternatives to the French wines after the attacks of phylloxera in their home country.  The young Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, who then studied winemaking, followed in their footsteps and fell in love with Rioja. Soon the bodega was established. It is still owned and run by the family who cherishes the old traditions.
The grapes to Viña Gravonia come from the vineyard Viña Zaconia, located just next to the bodega. A stony and poor 45 ha large piece of land with 45 year old Viura vines.
The vine is made in the old-fashioned traditional way. After the crushing of the grapes, with immediate removal of the skins, the must is fermented on large, 60 hl wooden vats. Only the grapes’ indigenous yeast is used. The wine is matured at least four years on 225 litres barriques of America oak, with racking twice a year.
It is fined with egg whites, bottled unfiltered and receive an additional four years of maturation on bottle before it is released to consumers. The alcohol is pleasantly low 12,5%. A detail I appreciate.
Viña Gravonia 2002 has a beautiful hue of deep dark gold. The nose is voluminous and permeated of slightly sweet wood. Full-bodied with good acidity, rich almost tannic. Concentrated developed palate with loads of oak and nuts. Delicious finish with very good length.
Try it!

November 17, 2012

Champagne - a style study

Champagne, just taste the word and think of the enjoy of life that comes to your mind. Luxury and flair. Corks fly into the air. Party time!

But which kind of Champagne do you prefer in your glass? Have you ever thought about the different styles of Champagne and which one is your favourite? This was the theme of an interesting tasting including only noble bubbles.

The fresh style was represented by Guy Charlemagne's Blanc de Blancs. Thus 100% Chardonnay. Often a Chardonnay-dominated style. It is fresh, light and youthful. Lemon flavours and austere acidity. Wonderful to shell fish and the favourite of oyster lovers. Another of my real favourites in this style is the very likeable Rudolphe Peter's Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reserve. Pierre Peters, located almost next door to Guy Charlemagne in the little grand cru-village Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in Côte de Blancs.

The "widely appealing" style has more body, is softer, fruity with a tiny sweetness. Rosé Champagne is found in this style. We tasted Veuve Cliquots Vintage Brut Rosé 2004 which showed good balance, nice fruit, red berries and enjoyable acidity. Delicious just on its own, but why not to a lighter dish of meat?

The full-bodied style often gets many supporters among the Champagne beginners. That is my experience. Pour a glass of Pinot Noir-dominated Champagne and watch the effect. Not unusual to get a comment like "I have not been that found of Champagne, but this is great". When we not serve it as apéritif it is well suited to both foie gras and a bit heavier meat dishes. Swedish Jessica Perrion provided her family's Thierry Perrion Tradition Grand Cru to our tasting. Full bodied, heavier, dark fruit, a bit thicker on the palate. Really yummy.

Finally the mature style. Well, just listen to the name of the style. These are wines of some age that have developed mature notes, complexity and roundness in the acidity. Flavours of ripe apples, spices, chocolat and coffee are usual. The intensity of the bubbles might have calmed down a bit, but for the lover of mature wines this will be a real treat. Just enjoy it on its own. We tasted a Special Club Champagne from Grongnet, vintage 1999.

My favourite among these styles? Well, I prefer three of them: the fresh, the full-bodied and the mature. So it will more depend on occasion and producer. In this tasting Perrion and Grongnet got my highest scores.

November 05, 2012

Pelorus – nice bubbles from the misty bay

Last week’s most interesting tasting was a sparkling event. On the agenda, the New World. One of the wines turned out to be a real challenge for our reference champagne and it was outstanding compared to the other sparkling wines. Perhaps not that surprising, as one of the big Champagne houses is the owner of the winery. 

The wine we liked so strongly was Cloudy Bay Pelorus Blanc de Blancs. Thus 100% Chardonnay. Made by the traditional method, it is stated on the back label. The Swedish wine magazine Livets Goda tells us that the Pelorus Blanc de Blancs was made especially for the 25th anniversary of Cloudy Bay in 2010 and that Sweden is the only European country where it is launched. A superb sparkling wine and incredible value for just 119 SEK (~17 USD) at Systembolaget.
Large fresh, very nice multifaceted nose, which grows and develops in the glass. Notes of butterscotch, spices, flowers, lemon and bread. Medium bodied, fresh with pleasant fruit . Mineral, nuts, lemon. Long, complex taste with characteristic Chardonnay bitterness. Very delicious!
Cloudy Bay is best known as the creator of the pioneering New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh fruit, clean, aromatic with the distinct nose and palate including black current leaves, gooseberries and nettles.
We do not need to travel back in time more than 30 years to find the roots of Cloudy Bay. The year was 1983 when the Australian David Hohnen tasted his first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Hohnen was then the successful winemaker of Cape Mentelle in Margret River, Australia. He got completely overwhelmed by the wine and soon plans for New Zealand winemaking started to grow. On a reconnaissance trip to New Zealand one year later he found the right spot, Blenheim in Marlborough on the northern tip of the South Island. He also met Kevin Judd, who was to become the wine maker of Cloudy Bay during 25 vintages up to 2009.
1985 was the first year of Cloudy Bay Vineyards and the construction of the winery started. At the beginning, purchased grapes were used to make the wine. The first vintage was in fact made at Corban’s winery far up in Gisborne at the North Island. George Taber describes in his book Judgment of Paris how Kevin Judd, who not could attend to the wine making personally, made the first vintage on distance by instructions to the Corban staff over the phone. Interesting is also that some Semillon was included in the first vintage, just below 15 percent, i.e. beneath the limit to be stated on the label.
Back home in Hohnen’s Australia, the wine was an immediate and hearty success. And that was only the beginning of the success story. Cloudy Bay became the role model for the clear-cut New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine, the consumers love it and every vintage is sold out in no time.
The French LVMH, owner of several highly renowned wine producers including Veuve Clicquot and Möet & Chandon Champagne, was an early partner in both Cloudy Bay and Cape Mentelle. 2001 they became sole owner, when David Hohnen sold his remaining share.  The production of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has increased steadily and is today said to exceed 100 000 cases, i.e. 1,2 million bottles, per year.

There are critics who consider Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc not to be worth its premium price any more. The latest vintage, 2011, is available at the Swedish Systembolaget for 239 SEK (~34 USD). When I tasted the same vintage this spring it fulfilled all my expectations and had then a more pleasant price tag of 199 SEK (~28 USD). At the new higher price level it is unfortunately hardly best value.

The Pelorus Blanc de Blancs is on the other hand an extreme bargain. Just to run to the store!

October 31, 2012

Phylloxera free in Champagne

The other day I watched an interesting web-TV show by the Swedish blog ”Uppkorkat”, where Magnus Ericsson from the newspaper Helsingborgs Dagblad visits the Champagne grower Tarlant. Magnus throws himself down on the ground between the vines and digs in the soil. It is dusty. The soil flows between his fingers. There is sand, a lot of sand in the soil.
This little piece of Champagne is subsequently called Les Sables (the sand) and is located in proximity to the village Oeuilly west of Épernay in the Marne valley. Its uniqueness is the absence of the vine louse. No phylloxera vastatrix enjoys this corner of the earth. “It can’t move in the sand,” explains Magnus.
Chardonnay is the grape cultivated in Les Sables, planted in the 1950:ies. And it is ungrafted vitis vinifera vines. The grapes end up in a really dry, Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs with the name “La Vigne d’Antan”.
When the phylloxera had settled in the south of France, where it first was spotted in 1863, it spread like a plague across the country. 1888 it had reached Champagne and it only took some years before the louse had feasted on vine roots all over the region. However, the growers of Champagne had one advantage. The solution was at that time already known; grafting on American rootstocks.
A more famous louse free setting in Champagne is found with the house Bollinger in Aÿ, just north of Épernay. Right beside the stately main building we find two small grand cru vineyards, le Clos Saint-Jacques och les Chaudes Terres. Of some inscrutable reason, the phylloxera has never found its way to these plots. A substantial amount of sand in the soil can be an explanation. Also a third vineyard, la Croix Rouge in Bouzy, was louse free until it suddenly some years ago was hit by the plague. No one knows why. The ungrafted  vines had to be pulled up in 2004.
At Bollinger it is Pinot Noir which is grown in the louse free soils. The vines are propagated by offshoots and have definitively not established themselves in any straight lines. The result is as exclusive as the vineyards. Some thousand bottles of a Blanc de Noirs, with the telling name Vielles Vignes Françaises.
What a dream tasting it would be. Two stories, two styles, two houses – one common denominator. A breath of past times.

October 15, 2012

Phylloxera free

I guess most of us wine lovers know that there are just a few locations around the world not yet invaded by the wine louse. That is the phylloxera vastatrix, the little destroyer who loves to feast on the vine's roots. When a vitis vinifera is the victim, it is sentenced to a cruel death.

I think of Chile, where the whole country is free from phylloxera. What a lucky coincidence, that the decision to bring vines from France came before France was infected. 

In 1851 a Chilean entrepreneur, Sylvestre Ochagavia, in co-operation with the public agricultural school Quinta Normal, imported cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cot, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from France.

Among the Merlot cuttings where also some Carménère. But that was not discovered until almost 150 years later, in 1994 when a professor from Montpellier scrutinised the plants. Carménère is really not that found of the colder climat of Bordeaux where it has its roots, sensitive of coulure, giving low yields. But in Chile, it is happy, and has become something like the "grape of Chile". On its on rootstock, just as its vinifera relatives.

The vines of Chile are thus grown on their own roots. No grafting on American rootstocks. So, do we feel any difference? On the nose, the flavour?

I can, at least sometimes, spot a juicy character that I associate with Chile. Especially in the Cabernet Sauvignons. But I guess that is more a result of the terroir and the vinification, than the nature of the vines.

Well, my point is not really to make this a tasting challenge. Rather to reflect about the specific nature of the Chilean grapes and the wine made from them.

One of my favourite producers are Montes. Why not pour a glass of Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon, or any other of their lovely varietal wines? Enjoy it and consider the uniqueness of its origin. Grown in a phylloxera free soil.

September 23, 2012

Symposium - to drink together

Have you ever participated in a symposium? It is usually some kind of conference, with presentations and discussions to share new knowledge and experiences. Often used in the academic world, but also in relation to business and organisational events.

Do you think about wine when you hear the word symposium? Not so? Although perhaps not that strange, as we nowadays seem to have forgotten the original meaning of a symposium.

We will have to travel back to the ancient Greek world, to the time of Plato around 400 BC, to find the explanation. Symposium, it means to "drink together". And what the old Greeks drank, that was wine. A lot of wine.

The host, or should we call him the Master of ceremonies, decided the rules of drinking. The Greeks mixed their wine with water, and how much water, that was the decision of Mr. Master of ceremonies. The dinner was already completed before the symposium, so I guess there was not much of food. On the other hand, there was plenty of wine. So much wine that, even if it was weak and blended, the guests after a night's symposium were helplessly drunk.
So the stories tell us.

One of the duties of Mr Master of ceremonies was to keep the conversation going. Plato thought that the particpants alternately should talk and listen and thus entertain themselves. However, the participation of entertaining girls, dancing and playing flute, seems to have been just as usual. The symposium, in ancient Greece, was a gathering for the men.

One of the most delightful pleasures for us wine lovers is to gather and taste the wine together.  To discuss and listen to the talk about the wine and around the wine. To share memories and plans and anything else. So why do we not call our gatherings for symposium? Is it for the use in the academic world or have we just forgotten the original meaning?

Isn't it time to reclaim the word symposium to the world of wine? To summon a symposium when we want to have some lovely grapes in our glasses. When we want to taste and discuss and learn about wine together. The best of pleasures.

September 10, 2012

The wines of history - 1976

I am really fascinated by wine and history. It may be thousands of years back or just some decades, it does not matter. History gives perspectives. Histories bring the wine to life. History is histories about wine and the characters of wine.

On top of the pile of wine books right now is George Taber's "Judgment of Paris; California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine". It is the second time I read the book and it is just as interesting now as it was the first time, perhaps even more. So much information and historical details, so many small stories within the history. So captivating. It is hard to stop reading.

Taber was the only journalist present at the historical blind tasting in Paris, where the Californian wines beat the French. This is his story about the tasting, but also the story about the people behind the wines. Taber puts The Paris Judgment in an historical perspective by letting us follow him on a time journey before and after the tasting.

We get to follow Steven Spurrier who arranged the tasting together with his collegue Patricia Gallagher. We get the details of how the wines were chosen, about the tasting and the effects of it. (And the story was not as in the movie Bottle shock. The movie may be a light entertainment, but it is not an historical document. Read the book!)

The part of the book I appreciate mostly, is the one telling the background of the Californian winning wines. It is the stories about the different winemakers and the winery owners. But it is also the story about the pioneering spirit of Napa Valley, about helping hands between wineries and about the desire to experiment, renew and improve the winemaking methods. "What is good for Napa and California, that is also good for my wine and my success." That was the attitude during a time when people not regarded the Californian wines very highly, not even in the US, and when consumers were led to the French shelves in the wine stores.

The 24 of May in 1976, a beautiful sunny day in Paris, history was written. California brings home the victory for the white Chardonnay wines, as well as for the red ones made of Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting confirmed what few knew, something that almost had been a secret reserved for the most knowledegable. The fact that California could make great wines. That knowledge was from this date spread over the world.

This day also became a milestone in the development of the New World. If California can, we can. That was the conclusion. And France was shaken. Those who embraced the result, travelled to California to experience and learn from their winemakers.

Quite recently I had the opportunity to taste the winning white wine from Chateau Montelena. Then it was the 1973 vintage. Now 2009. 

It was a winner today, just as it was back in 1976. Elegant, austere, fresh fruitiness with notes of lemon. On the palate almost fullbodied, a lovely buttery character with fruit, exotic notes and lemon. Very well balanced and concentrated. Lingering in the mouth for a very long time. Delightful, lovely, wonderfully tasty.

In 1973 it was Jim Barrett who, together with his winemaker Mike Grgich (now Grgich Hills Estate) were the men behind the winning wine. Today it is Jim's son Bo Barrett who is main responsible for the winemaking.

If you get the chance to taste a Montelena; take it, enjoy it and feel the history of wine.

Addition March 2013: The news has reached us that Jim Barrett died on March 14, aged 86. Chateau Montelena will remain in ownership of the Barrett family, now with Bo Barrett as CEO.

September 09, 2012

Wine at University

Autumn is here and as usual a lot of activities. To my great joy, it seems that the calendar will be crowded with wine related events. 

A wine class at University, that was not what I thought would be included just ten days ago. I had applied in spring, but got a negative reply in July. Then, suddenly an e-mail which offered me to join the class. Several excuses apparently. And I was happy.

So now I will approach wine from a new perspective, the academic. The history of wine is appears first on the syllabus. A subject which really interests me. Hugh Johnson’s great book about the story of wine has previously been my major source. Now new books/articles will get me deeper into the subject. Great!

The first day was fun and busy. I never thought I would be tasting and making wine in a Swedish University. But now I have done it! Wine from already prepared grape must, but still wine. In January we will know the outcome – will it be drinkable?

July 23, 2012

Spicy dish + Gewurztraminer = Perfect

Summer holiday is lovely. Long days and bright evenings spent just relaxing. Much easy cooking at home accompanied by wines in the lighter style.

The other day, we enjoyed a dinner out and were reminded about how well a Gewurztraminer matches spicy dishes. A salad including fresh root vegetables and apples was served with a well-balanced curry mayonnaise. The 2011 Neethlingshof Gewurztraminer was a perfect match. The nose filled of litchi, roses and sweet summer flowers. A round spicy palate with just a hint of fruit sweetness, an agreeable fresh finish and good length.

In wine classes, people often like the perfumed soft Gewurztraminer. The wine’s role as aperitif is unquestioned. But then the same question each time. “What can we serve to this wine? Is there really anything that can match?”

The answer, of course; “Try it to a spicy dish, instead of the routinely selected beer. You will most probably like it.” Most often they look at me in disbelief, but come back some weeks later with a new experience. Now convinced.

My list of Gewurztraminer favourites is heavily dominated by Alsace and producers such as Gustave Lorentz, Hugel, Trimbach, Marcel Deiss and Comtes d’Isenbourg. Lately I have enjoyed Jean-Baptiste Adams organic Gewurztraminer Les Nature 2010 with great pleasure. The Neethlingshof will be the new entry on the list.

July 02, 2012

Mindful wine tasting

Now, in the middle of the summer, the number of regular wine tastings decreases significantly. There are on the other hand abundantly many occasions to just enjoy a glass of wine, as it is or paired with a summer meal. I love both, but if it is too long between the tastings, I really miss them.

I like to have many of my tastings blind or half-blind. The reason is that I concentrate so much better then. I have to be structured and register all the nuances to give the wine a fair review and to make an educated guess.  

I love the moment when everyone in the group has full focus on the wines. No one is speaking, the silence is total. Being here and now with the wines. All other thoughts excluded. It is a sort of exercise in mindfulness.

The routine is well rehearsed and needs no thinking. The focus is on the senses and the brainwork. Colour. Note. Sniff. Note. Swirl and sniff again. Note. Taste. The palate, the feeling in the mouth and the length. Note. Analysis. Guess! Pleasure!

My friends will be sitting around me. All behave the same. Concentration. Sniffing, swirling, noting. Smiling! Some knowing glances and nods across the table. It usually lasts for about half an hour. Then the silence is broken and converted into elated chatter.  A real joy!

Many people are doing different relaxation exercises.  Perhaps meditate, practice yoga or mindfulness. Different ways to slow down from the hectic life outside and inside the mind.

For me, the full focused wine tasting is an effective way to achieve something similar. A mindful wine tasting where the brain cannot be occupied with anything else than an enjoyable sensory training.  

My rules for mindful wine tasting:
1) Taste in silence.
2) Use 5-7 minutes per wine.
3) Taste half blind or blind.
4) Follow the routine and make notes.
5) Focus.

Isn’t it one the best ways to present, here and now? Anyone else who feels the same?

June 24, 2012

Chianti Classico - new classification for whom?

The best wine of the holiday was a Chianti Classico from Marchese Antinori. I choose it as I thought it should be a great companion to the dinner. It was. But it also made me reflect about the news Decanter reported on some days ago; the proclamation of a new classification in Chianti Classico.

The Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico has together with the producers decided to launch a category for the very top wines. But is there a need for the new category? Apparently, the majority think so. However, the interviewed Paolo De Marchi from the Isola e Olena winery was not convinced.
Well, do we need another Chianti classification? I guess that depends on who you wants to approach. The ordinary consumer does not mind. These are not wines in the price range demanded. The knowledgeable wine connoisseur will probably neither benefit from the added information. The connoisseur already knows the producers and the wines to look for. Quality goes before classification. Or should I express it as brand is more important than classification?
When the super tuscans were created the brand became more important. The wines were classified as “simple” Vino da tavola. The quality was excellent. It was just that they did not comply with the wine laws. The knowledgeable wine lovers loved the wines. Super tuscans became Super brands.
So, the new classification must be directed to the group of wine buyers in between. The people that are interested in wine, want to have good wines and perhaps even show off with them. By adding a new classification they will know what to look for. The new classification in itself would be a superior brand to the ordinary Chianti Classico. It could thus relieve the individual producers a part of an expensive marketing to become and sustain their individual brands.
Indisputable is that one more classification needs to be explained to the consumers. And the need for educating the wine buyers increases constantly. Chianti classic is not alone. The innovativeness among the world’s wine producing regions to promote their wines is high. There are more and more to learn. So I see a bright future for all those involved with informing and training the wine consumers. Wine organisations, wine classes, magazines, blog writers, etc.
End of reflection. Back to the best wine of the holiday. A good Chianti Classico should not be drunk too young. Marchese Antinori’s Chianti Classico Riserva 2004 was a great example of this statement. A bit into maturity it had developed so much lovely flavours. It was spicy (nutmeg notes) together with dark berries, integrated oak and a very nice hint of barn. Balanced, concentrated, with very good length. Just wonderful!

June 17, 2012

Fairview's innovative Pinotage

We had an interesting wine from Fairview in Paarl, South Africa, to dinner. No, not just interesting, but a very good one. Perfect to the grilled lamb with its spicy side dishes. The interesting was the mix of Pinotage and Viognier, where the latter brought a gentle but delicious floral aroma to the wine.

The practice of adding the white Viognier to a red wine originates from northern Rhône. In Côte-Rôtie it is allowed to add up to 20 percent of Viogner to the Syrah. The usual practice is much lower, about 2 – 5 percent. When Viogner and Syrah co-ferments, the wine gets a nice aroma and the colour is stabilised.

I already knew Fairview’s beautiful pure Viognier. Round but surprisingly fresh, with lovely floral aromas. Fairview was back in 1997 the first producer in South Africa to make a Viognier. The grapes get a long period to get the right ripeness and the yield is very low. Fermented in a combination of French oak and stainless steel and left on the lees for ten months. A wonderful wine, and to the delight of us consumers, very reasonable priced. Also a good choice for spicy food.

The innovative Fairview has once again come up with something new in the Pinotage Viognier blend. And once again they have succeeded. Just as in Rhône, the winemaker Anthony de Jager has made a co-fermentation. Now the black Pinotage grapes together with a small percentage of Viogner. Then nine months in old French and American oak barrels. The result, a softer Pinotage with marked fruit.

My tasting notes says; Soft aroma with dark berries and some floral hints. Medium bodied, marked but soft tannins, nice medium acidity. Dark fruit with morello cherries, beautiful floral hints. Just a very tiny sweetness and subtle oak. Good length. New world wine in old world style. A truly good wine, easy to drink and great to food.

Fairview is well-known not only by the wines labelled Fairview, but, perhaps even more, for the Goats do Roam selection of wines. Also a range of really good wines, humorously branded with allusions to the goats lodged at Fairview’s estate; Goat-Roti, Goats do Roam in Villages, Bored Doe, etc. And the goat cheese, just wonderful!

June 10, 2012

How do you like your Riesling?

Max and I attended a seminar recently. The theme was how different soils affect the wine. Very interesting. Chablis was one of the examples, where the Kimmeridge clay of the best vineyards give wines that distinctively differs to the ones made from soils based on Portlandian soil. Both calcareous, but so different.

We compared a Petit Chablis with a Première Cru, both from the cooperative La Chablisienne. The first was nice, but rather one dimensional in its citrus freshness.  The latter with more body and pronounced notes of butter scotch in addition to the citrus and yellow apples. Fresh, but with so much more complexity and a rich buttery texture. Concentrated and very long.

Riesling is another grape that clearly reflects the type of soil. To our great delight this was illustrated on the tasting by some Alsatian wines. As profound fans of this lovely French region, we always enjoy to have some of its exquisite liquid in our glasses.

As the geology of Alsace is so varied, there are quite different soils found among the 51 Grand Cru vineyards. Marl and limestone is rather frequent, e.g. the Furstentum, Altenberg de Bergheim and Mambourg, while granite is found in Brand and Schlossberg.

There is in fact even one Grand Cru with shale, the Kastelberg in Andlau. These Rieslings are said to have a bit of musk aroma, even though we not have had the opportunity to try by ourselves. Would have been interesting to taste and see if there is any truth behind that suggestion.

Back to the main question. What can the soil do to the Riesling? Well, Max and I learnt that when it is grown on granite it will be fruitier. Limestone and marl will give less fruity wines, but the calcareous ground is on the other hand said to bring out more power.

Josmeyer's Grand Cru from Hengst is an example of the limestone based Riesling. Rich, full bodied and with more power than the one made of grapes from their granite Brand vineyard.

Paul Blanck gives us another interesting example. The Furstentum, calcareuous, to be compared with the Schlossberg, granite. The latter has however in the 2008 a rather restrained fruitiness. There is an elegant minerality, not found in the Furstentum, which has a more floral appearance.

The conclusion; Alsace Riesling Grand Cru can differ considerably from each other, but the renowned producers never make us disappointed.

June 03, 2012

From asparagus to the outstanding Josmeyer wines

Asparagus was on the menu. What wine should I choose? Some say it is hard to find a suitable wine, as the asparagus’ oxalic acid, umami and bitter substances are problematic for wine. But it all depends on cooking method and what they are served together with. Salt, butter or olive oil and some flakes of parmesan will make it a straightforward and delicious dish. And at the same time wine friendly. As for the wine, Pinot Blanc from Alsace will be a safe bet.

So what has this to do with Domaine Josmeyer? Well, the asparagus made me think about when I visited the domain in Wintzenheim some years ago. Among their many fabulous wines was one that particularly was highlighted as the best companion to asparagus; Les Lutins Pinot Blanc.

As is usual in Alsace the Pinot Blanc is blended with some Auxerrois. To Les Lutins the grapes are hand picked, gently pressed and fermented with its natural yeast and then just a light filtering. The result, a lovely wine, lightly perfumed with minerality, nice acidity and good length.

Domaine Josmeyer is really one of the top producers in Alsace. Terroir-driven wines made with minimal intervention. The winemaker, a woman of the Meyer family.

The domain dates back to 1854 when it was started by Jean Meyer’s great grandfather. Jean Meyer, who brought the domain's development a great step forward when he decided to convert it to organic culture in 2000.

Today it is the daughters of Jean Meyer who is in charge of the winery, together with Christophe Ehrhart as responsible for the bio-dynamically treated vineyards. Céline Meyer is the Managing Director and responsible for the public relations and administration. Isabelle Meyer, trained in viticulture and oenology, is in charge of the vinification.

Isabelle, Céline and Christophe, that is a trio brings out the best of Alsace in Josmeyer's wines.  I guess that considerably more well-known than the Pinot Blanc I mentioned, are their great Rieslings from the grand crus Hengst and Brand.

All wines are made to express their birthplace, the terroir of each vineyard. Great grapes are the starting point. Then only indigenous yeast, no chaptalisation, no enzymes. The initial phase of the fermentation takes place in tanks with temperature control. Then the must is transferred to 100 year old, very large (1000-6000 litres) wooden casks to complete the fermentation and, after a racking, be kept there on the lees till the time for bottling comes.

An interesting, and for Alsace unusual practice, is the artistic labels for some of their wines. Jean Meyer started this tradition in 1987. A selected artist, always connected to Alsace, visualises the impression of the wine on the label. Since the start, eleven artists have contributed with their art work to the Josmeyer labels. 

Céline, who has studied both art and literature, continues this tradition and has created the new wine range “The Great Travellers” inspired by the colourful art work by Daniel Viene. Aero planes are one of Daniel’s motifs and Céline associates these to Josmeyer's wines. They too have wings. Wings that lift the wines to higher and higher altitudes, to the pleasure and delight of all wine lovers. 

PS. Noticed Jancis Robinson's award to Domaine Josmeyer as being one of the “Natural Heroes” at London’s natural fairs a couple of weeks ago. A well-deserved honour.

May 27, 2012

Why not choose a wine of quality?

Quality in wine, what is that? For me it would be a nose that gives a range of fragrances. A nose that evolves and give new scents as time goes. More nuances to explore. The taste should be well balanced; acidity, tannins, fruitiness and alcohol. And, very important, there should be a good length.

A wine of quality lasts longer in the glass. Consequently more is left in the bottle when the meal is over. And the second half of the bottle can be enjoyed the next day (after a night in the refrigerator). If the wine still is under development, it probably tastes even better day two thanks to the accelerated maturation when exposed to oxygen.

Quality, for example the lovely Moulin Touchais.
At tastings and wine classes, almost everyone seems to agree. There is a clear difference between a simple wine and a quality wine. And then I do not mean the most expensive wines, but quality wines affordable for the general public. The better wine would typically be double the price compared to the cheap one.

So I should be happy with that. My aim of spreading the message of quality seems to be achieved. The better wines are really appreciated and enjoyed.
But sadly I have now realised that so many revert to old habits. When they visit the store and choose the wines to have at home, their quality experience seems to have vanished.
”Yes, I know. You showed us so many great wines. But at home we’ve always bought these box-wines and it is so convenient.” Not an unusual reply to my question “Have you had any great wines lately/during the summer/during the holiday/etc?”
Of course, the choice to have a simple, soft, perhaps even a sweetish fruit bomb, with short length (where you quickly have to take another sip to know what it really tastes like – and of course drink too much) should be respected. It is not for me to judge what people like to buy. But it makes me feel so sad.
Quality is important to me. There are so many industrially manufactured wines of lower quality. Why buy them, when you instead can find so many dedicated wine makers out there? People who put their soul into the wine to give us an extraordinary quality experience. And you can often get that treat for just a very moderate price addition.
Can you understand? I can’t. Why drink non-quality wine, when there are so many great ones? Life is too short for simple wine.

May 19, 2012

Natural wine fair back home

Sunday May 20 is a great day for wine lovers who are in London. Two wine fairs focused on “natural wine” at the same time; RAW and The Real Wine fair. Unfortunately, I am not among the lucky ones.

So, what to do? No reason to be depressed for that. Make something positive about having to stay at home. I have an idea. Why not organise a little wine fair on my own? Select some of my favourite organic or biodynamic producers. Perhaps season with some new acquaintances.

Of course, Alsace must be represented. Domaine Marcel Deiss will be my Alsatian choice. From Burgundy Domaine de la Vougeraie.  And from Beaujolais my new darling Jean-Paul Brun.

The charming Johan Reyneke from Stellenbosch in South Africa would be the first pick from the New World. The Reyneke biodynamic wines are so beautiful. And the ones from New Zealand’s Millton Vineyards & Winery as well. They will be the next entry.
From Georgia I will invite Pheasant’s Tears for their wonderful qvevri-wines.

I have not yet met the wines from Foradori in Italy, so that will be the first of the new acquaintances. Elisabetta Foradori, who uses clay amphoras in her winemaking. The Eyrie Vineyards from Oregon, USA, will be the second. Would be interesting to taste their Pinot Noir together with the ones from Domaine de la Vougeraie.

That was the wines. But a good fair also needs some seminars. We are many who always want to learn something new.

I like Alice Feiring and Jamie Goode. They will however both be in London to speak. Of course, there is a solution to this little problem too. Their books are here. I can choose some good parts to be read aloud. That will be a good enough seminar substitute.

The first one: Grape ripeness and alcohol. A very interesting topic, which Goode and Sam Harrop knowledgeable discuss in “Authentic Wine; toward natural and sustainable winemaking”. Too ripe grapes imply a loss of authenticity and grape characteristic and terroir are lost.

The second one I choose from Feirings “The Battle for wine and love”. As I am big fan of the Syrah from northern Rhône, a piece from that chapter will be an entertaining finish on the seminar part.

Now I am looking forward to Sunday. Just have to call my wine loving friends to join me.

May 14, 2012

Seduced by Brun’s Beaujolais

Up till quite recently, Beaujolais was not on my shortlist for great wine experiences. Then Monsieur Brun passed by and I fell head over heels.

The first sniff was wild strawberries, next a little white pepper and some sweets. And then, when the fragrant flowery summer meadows opened in front of me, the Fleurie was really up to its name. Fruity, intense, nice tannins and structure. And it lasted for an eternity. So elegant, so lovely.  

Jean-Paul Brun, owner of Domaine des Terres Dorées, is the man behind this wonderful Fleurie 2010. If I had not known it was a Beaujolais, I would have guessed Pinot Noir from somewhere in the more northern part of Burgundy. Not Gamay.
I belong to those who have associated Beaujolais with banana. Was taught so many years ago; “Easy to identify a Beaujolais. The bananas, you can never miss it.” And consequently I have not been very fond of the wine. Even avoided it. The last few years, I have however noted that the bananas have not been as obvious as before. And now, in this wine, they had totally disappeared. Monsieur Brun had repented me. I add a new favourite to my wine list.
But what about those bananas? How can a wine have an odour like that? Maceration carbonique used to be an answer. Now there seems to be another explanation.

Recently I enjoyed reading Alice Feiring’s personal and very entertaining book*. There I became enlightened. The smell was the result of 71B! This cryptic code is the name of a yeast strain that came into use in Beaujolais during the 1980s. So instead of using the indigenous yeast, the aromatic 71B was added and the banana flavour created. 

Domaine des Terres Dorées use nothing but the indigenous yest. The vinification of the reds are in Burgundy-style with destemming and four to six weeks fermentation with punch down. The Fleurie gets eight months maturation in concrete vats. Then it is bottled, after just lightly filtered, with a minimum of sulphur.

The Domaine is located in the small village of Charnay in the south of Beaujolais. In addition to its Charnay vineyards, 15 ha are found scattered in Côte de Brouilly, Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin à Vent. Thus there is more from Monsieur Brun to explore.

*) Alice Feiring,” The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization” (2009)

May 03, 2012

The fascination of wine

What is it that makes wine so fascinating? All this great interest, commitment and enthusiasm? Wine is just another beverage. Isn’t it?
Jamie Goode mentioned the phenomena on his wine blog some days ago; “The siren call of wine”. He concluded that wine has a magnetic appeal, which affects people deeply. Sometimes wine even makes people change their lives.
I have also seen the phenomena and wondered what it is that makes wine so exciting. Once you are into wine, you cannot get loose of its spell. Well, I have a theory.
The world of wine has some unique features that tickle the first interest and then contribute to keep us spellbound. Wine is like a magic potion brewed of three ingredients.
First. Wine talks to all your senses. It is a rewarding feeling for your nose and palate to taste a wine. To see the beautiful colour, to find the aromas, to feel the texture. It is a sensory experience, which gives so much pleasure.
Second. Wine stimulates your intellect. There is so much to learn about it. History, biology, geology, chemistry, geography, etc. And not to forget, there is so much to find out about specific wines and the people dedicated to making the wine. You want to get to know these people, by meeting them or reading about them, learn their stories and their philosophy. And as the world of wine is constantly changing, there is always more to learn.
Last, but not least important. Wine is a social experience. Wine is something you share with your friends. And wine gives you new friends and memorable moments together with other wine lovers.
No wonder that the community of wine lovers are growing. Wine is magic!  

April 30, 2012

To all of you dedicated winemakers

Thank you for the great wines, the ones we’re drinking
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing

ABBA’s Bjoern Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson said thank you for the music. I can’t resist using the same phrases to praise the great wines. 

The great wines are the ones that speak to our innermost being and give us so much pleasure. And besides the sensational experiences that tickle nose and palate, we get wonderful moments together with friends who share the same fascination. And who should we thank? 

Well, I want to thank all the dedicated people behind the great wines. The people who invest their heart and soul into the art of making beautiful wines. Those who have an idea and work hard to fulfil it. And it is we, wine lovers all around the world, who can enjoy the fruits of their hard work. 

For someone new to the world of wine, it can be hard to realise how much effort that lies behind every bottle of great wine. The many hours of meticulous, often manual, work put into the vineyard. Caring for each vine, guarding it from every kind of threat and keeping the yield down by sacrificing some of the grapes to the earth. All with the goal to get healthy grapes, full of flavour, which in the winemaking process will give wines of concentration and complexity. Wines that reflect their birthplace, the terroir. 

This weekend gave an opportunity to taste some of these treasures. Not the most expensive ones, oh no. But affordable great wines that after some years in the cellar gives us a real treat. I am so grateful to all you dedicated winemakers who made this possible. 

So thank you Jean-Michel Deiss, for the Domaine Marcel Deiss Engelgarten 2003. For advocating terroir and making a perfect Alsatian blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Beurot, Muscat and Pinot Noir. And thanks to Deiss’ neighbour in Bergheim, Georges Lorentz, for the wonderful Gustave Lorentz Altenberg de Bergheim Gewurztraminer 1999. The subtle notes of roses and the developed complexity, just magnificent. Great Gewurztraminer can be kept for many years. And a thank you to the Faller family, Colette and her daughters Laurence and Catherine, for the Domaine Weinbach Clos des Capucins Muscat 2006. A great wine and a great grape, which sadly too seldom visits the cellar of this house. 

When the winemaking tradition in Alsace goes centuries back, with domains that often can be proud of an unbroken chain of generations of winemakers, the ancient Spanish wine region Priorat fell in a beauty sleep after the devastating phylloxera attack. It was not until the eighties the awakening took off, thanks to a small group of dedicated growers who saw the potential of the land. 

My last thanks for today thus goes to Carles Pastrana and Mariona Jarque at the Costers del Siurana. In 1987 they became two of the pioneers that lifted Priorat up to the great heights of wine. Your Clos de l’Obac 1998 was just breath-taking.

April 22, 2012

Rosé reviews give hope for freezing souls

The rain pours down outside. To find something positive, I can conclude that there is no wind and the sea is smooth as glass. The pale shade of green in trees and bushes tells about a spring that ought to be here soon. April has been so chilly. Despite all the warm sweaters, I have been freezing constantly. The remedy has been full bodied wines with power. A few single malts have also passed by to bring some heat. 

It seems much too early for the reviews of this year’s rosé wines. However, the calendar says it is time and consequently we have been able to read many in recent weeks. It gives hope. The sun and the warm days have to lurk somewhere around the corner. 

Rosé has become so trendy. There has been a lot of “pink talk” the last few years. Of course it has influenced the consumers who are buying, drinking and chatting about them, usually in spring and summer time. It is nice that a previously undervalued type of wine has come into vogue outside of France. 

I have always liked a good rosé. Fortunately, the wave of rosés has brought with it a greater selection of quality. I favour the elegant ones with body, character and good length. Fruitiness, freshness and multifaceted appearance in nose and palate are also included on the wish list. Often I find the ones I prefer to be made of the grapes from southern France. 

Tavel in southern Rhône is the classical origin. An AOC where rosé is the only permitted type of wine. Tavel gives us wines that respond well to the requirements. Structure and body are there, freshness and fruitiness as well. The grapes are Grenache and Cinsault, together with, among others, Syrah and Mourvèdre. 

A new favorite of mine is found in Costière de Nîmes, located only a short distance south of Tavel. This region received its AOC-status in 1986 and got its current name in 1989. As recent as 2004 the AOC changed main region, as it was moved from the Languedoc to Rhône at the request of the growers. 

In Costière de Nîmes we find the small family-owned estate Château Mourgues du Grès. Franҫois and Anne Collard make whites, reds and also some beautiful rosés. Two of them are found on top of my list thanks to their freshness, concentration and body. 

“Le Galets Rosés” has exactly the right appeal to my palate. Made mainly of Syrah, with a little Grenache to season the blend. While this wine only has seen stainless steel, the “Capitelles des Mourgues” has been fermented and then aged a few months in large oak barrels. In this wine, the leading role is played by Mourvèdre with Syrah and Grenache as important supporting actors. 

I conclude with a contender from the New World. Morgenster in Stellenbosch makes a superb rosé from an unusual guest in the South African vineyards. This rosé is namely made of 100% Sangiovese and has a name which alludes to its Italian roots; Caruso.