All posts by Jim Wilson

Shakespeare nut, blues fan, horse racing fanatic (Frankel, Sea The Stars, Denman and the late, great Moscow Flyer), falling off large Scottish hills etc. Oh, and eating chocolate: lots of it. Not good...

The purest juice

So artisanal is the inaptly named Château Grand Pré that we cannot find it! Twenty minutes ago Bev and I left Fleurie’s Place de l’Église on the D68, driving past the Auberge du Cep, heading for the border with Chiroubles. But in spite of Bev jumping out and knocking on various houses, we cannot find it. Eventually she phones our host, Romain Zordan, who laughs and tells us he will pick us up. About thirty seconds later he arrives, we turn the car round and minutes later arrive at an old farmhouse that we have already driven past twice. Duh!

 

Natural wines are the subject of some debate. For some they represent winemaking at its most pure; for some critics the wines are simply undrinkable, some of them, they swear, tasting like cider and smelling of old socks. The choice of not adding sulphur (or to add it only in minute quantities) is what causes a lot of the fuss. Sulphur acts as an oxidant and without it, the critics say, the wine simply turns yellow. Certainly you get a lot of curious flavours in natural wine.

But equally, they can be some of the most exciting wines you will taste, with a purity of fruit that is unrecognisable in more commercial offerings.

There is no question which side Romain is on. He shows us vines which are 80, 90, 100 years old. He prunes by hand. No herbicides are used. He ploughs round the vines throughout the year to limit weed growth, encouraging the vines to dig deep, to reach down to the granite. Yields are low: about 25 hl to 35 hl depending on the vintage. Wild yeasts.

He explains all this with the loud and slightly manic passion of a visionary while the two of us shiver. In twenty years of visiting Burgundy I have never known it so cold, and much as I love the Beaujolais countryside, I am dead glad when he takes us into a renovated cellar where he has laid on a lunch of bread, Munster cheese and saucisson. I normally eschew food during tasting, but I am famished and this just looks so French that I tuck in. As does the Master of Wine.

The Fleurie 2017 has a huge, ripe, sweet fruit nose, with really intense flavours in the mouth. Liquid jelly. They didn’t do carbonic maceration because hail destroyed half the vineyard and they weren’t able to fill the tanks. Half full bunch and half destemmed (although Romain pronounces it “steamed” and for a second I think he’s invented some amazing winemaking technique.) Soft, flowing tannins. A magical bottle of wine.

The Morgan 2017 has a much funkier nose. Lots happening in here, the merest hint of reductiveness on the nose. But in the mouth all traces disappear and you have a rich chocolatey mouthful. Simply gorgeous.

The Cotes de Brouilly 2017 underwent full carbonic maceration and is the chunkier of the three wines, imbued with the flavours of the famous blue granite, which gives it a vibrant violet character. But, unbelievably, it has a “lifted” quality, as if the wine is floating above the ground. I cannot do the quality of this wine justice.

Better still, the vibrant acidity of the wine cuts through the salami and cheese perfectly. We are in picnic heaven.

We then brave the cold again as Romain takes out round the back of his cellar to an old warehouse where he keeps his canary-coloured tanks. And then it is back outside where he opens up an old shipping container in which he keeps a few barrels of white. The sample shows this wine to be good but not in the same class as his reds.

Incongruously, this container is parked on the edge of a house in which Franck Duboeuf and his family live. No-one has done more to promote the wines of this glorious region than Franck’s father, Georges Duboeuf. I know: I used to work for him. And while the differences between Duboeuf’s and Grand Pré’s wines couldn’t be greater, both offer excellence in their own way.

But I have never felt such excitement in Beaujolais as that which feel now, sitting munching my cheese and salami in Romain’s little cellar. These wines are brilliant. They are uncompromisingly brilliant. The purest juice I have tasted on the entire trip.

Shabby Chic

We first came across this producer when we tasted the Domaine Gouffier Aligoté a couple of years ago. It knocked us for six. It was about as far removed from your customary tart and bitter aligoté as was possible.

So how good to finally visit Frédéric (Fred) Gueugneau and Benoît Pagot at their farmhouse on Fontaine’s Grand Rue, southwest of Rully. Set behind a gravel courtyard, their 19th century farmhouse is filled with a beguiling collection of peeling French farmhouse furnishings, quirky wallpaper, crumbling pargetting, and odd-looking objets d’art, its faded glory complemented by modern low-slung couches, a widescreen TV and a monstrous sound system complete with mixer. You’d pay some fancy interior designer a fortune to come up with such shabby chic. The farmhouse acts as a base for the pickers during harvest, and you get the impression that for the joyeux vendangeurs, it must be one long acid house.

With 5.5-hectares spread across eight appellations, the domaine was in need of a fresh start following the passing of Jerome Gouffier in 2012, and, as we set up the tasting in the kitchen, Fred, who worked at La Chablisienne for eight years, explains what they are looking for. “To reinvigorate the vines, to bring organic practice, to have the wines less in barrel, more in tank.”

The Aligoté En Rateaux which excited us has now moved on to the 2017. While not having the knockout punch of its older brother, it has a vivacious flower and citrus feel to it and simply fills the mouth with flavours and piercing acidity.

The Bouzeron Les Corcelles 2017 reminded me of some our Greek wines, with its volcanic feel and saline quality. A huge mouthful.

The Rully Premier Cru Rabource 2017 has an inviting and open nose of elderflower and apricot. An amazing wine.

We finish with the red Mercurey La Charmée 2017 which lives up to its name with real purity of fruit – blackcurrants, this time – and beautifully integrated oak.

The tasting has been one stunner after another.

Fred and Benoit, now in hoodies and trainers, take us outside to the rustic winery and proudly show off a barrel room housed in a stone-domed cellar which served as a bunker for Napoleon’s army.

Once more, as with so many of our new producers, what we have here is a mixture of reverence for what they have inherited along with a determination to make their own mark on Burgundy’s history. This place is in good hands.

The Power of Quiet

You can spot it from half a mile away, rising eerily out of the mist. Château de Chamilly is the painter, photographer and filmmaker’s dream. It looks as if it belongs on top of a ginormous chocolate cake.

It is just off the D109 between Chassey-le-Camp and Aluze and the hamlet of Chamilly is 200 metres away, but, really, you could be on a different plant. The silence is deafening as you stand back and gawp. It is a wonder, but also slightly spooky.

The other-worldliness is broken by an extravagant welcome from a beaming Arnaud Desfontaine, jogging towards us in modish anorak and trainers. His family has been making wine here for twelve generations. Arnaud’s mother lives in an apartment on the ground floor, but the other two floors are still to be renovated. God, it must be lonely in winter.

We listen to the silence, before pony-tailed Arnaud kicks into action, leading us a merry dance through the winery which lies scattered higgledy-piggledy around the château in various stables and barns. “We bought this from our neighbour last year and we will put in tanks here. This we have already converted. Next we will make a reception area over here…”

With his soft and broken English, and looking forever like he should be wielding a Fender Strat in some sybaritic band, he is a compelling host, blending an antiquarian’s love of tradition with a geek’s desire to experiment. “Here, we could be certified organic if we want to, but I choose not to. I prefer not to be put in – what do you call it? – a straitjacket. The rules of this winery? There are none.”

But for sure, less is more – less stems, less lees stirring, less interventions in the winery (natural yeast, no filtration). “All we give the wines we get them here is quiet.”

In the tasting room we start with the whites, the highlight of which is a stunning Montagny les Reculerons 2017. This is a delicious mouthful of flint and fruit. “People sometimes say, “what barrel do you age this in?” But it is aged in tank. What they are tasting is terroir.” He is right: this is so minerally you can taste the rocks.

But good as the whites are, Arnaud’s heart’s quest is to capture the purity of Pinot Noir. He dismisses richly-coloured Pinot. “That was what we had in the 1970s, the 1980s. I am not looking to make a Syrah. This is not the Rhone.”

And when you come to the Mercurey Premier Cru les Puillets you know exactly what he means. This has a piercing pristine pellucid coolness like it was born on the edge of an iceberg. It is packed full of juicy raspberry and cherry fruit. We all nod approvingly. “You see,” says Arnaud. “If you have ripe grapes, you have balance.”

This is a composer at heart, and we leave him dancing through the vats and tanks to his beautiful melodies.

To Morot!

And so to Domaine Albert Morot, on Beaune’s ring road, and a tasting challenge between two of the Beaune Premier Crus heavyweights that Hallgarten ships. It’s Les Bressandes v Les Teurons from vintages 2014 – 2017, Winner Takes All.

2014 vintage…

Domaine Morot, Beaune 1er Cru Les Bressandes


The Bressandes has a lovely soft mushroom feel to it, but with a succulent freshness. This is a Farmers’ Market wine; lovely and soft and clean.  Meanwhile, the Teurons is oxtail soup gamier and bigger, more assertive, with very firm, though not harsh, tannins. This is the masculine to the Bressandes’ feminine.

 

2015 vintage…
The Bressandes nose here is quite closed, but there is a herbal feel to it, with cherry Tunes furtively hanging around in the background. The tannins are languid and seductive. Easy to fall in love with this Mistress. The Teurons has an unusual nose. Where are we here? In the Rhône? This has a touch of the liquorice and anise flavour of the south. This is a real fruit bomb.

Beaune 1er Cru Les Teurons

 

2016 vintage…
But just when you feel everything is going to plan, the 2016 kicks in. Because, while we have a heavenly soft sweet mouthful of Bressandes, with touches of oak, touches of vanilla and touches of crunchy forest fruits, the Teurons decides to go all shy on us. For sure, it is a silky little number, but its parents would be shocked at how it has conceded bragging rights to the usually feminine Bressandes. A real eye-opener, this vintage.

 

2017 vintage…
Intrigued, we move on to the 2017 – a real vintage! The Bressandes cavorts forward and teases us. It has beautiful soft forest fruits lying under the forest floor, a touch of smoke from the covering of soft branches. But – Ta Da! – the Terurons reverts to type, coating itself with a swirling Black Forest Gateaux cape. But, liked any caped magician, it has finesse, a softness. It has learned its lesson. It pays respect to Bresssandes before strutting its funky stuff. Move over, darling!

But hold on – what’s this?

 

They’ve just brought in another wine. Ah, this is the Les Marconnets, another Premier Cru situated on the far right of the commune. An interloper – how exciting. I taste the wine. I pause. I think. Remember when Cameron Diaz walked into the room and Jim Carrey’s jaw hit the floor? Well…

It has got the femininity of the Bressandes, the structure of the Teurons. But it also has something else: a wonderful minerality running through the centre, a saline feel to complement its roundness and structure. Jasper Morris describes it as “probably the best of the northern vineyards” – and recommends Morot as a producer.

Events like this are so good for a buyer. The smack between the eyes. I cannot remember why we have not listed this before. Lack of availability. But that will soon change and we leave the tasting with the thought enticing us: We must list this.

THE first Gevrey-Chambertin winemaker to not use sulphur…

“I will be the first winemaker in Gevrey-Chambertin to make wine without sulphur. I am going to make crazy wines.”

 

We have been working with Pierre Naigeon for a dozen years, but you still feel you’re with a ‘Duracell Bunny’ as he whizzes round the winery with frantic, chopping steps, his arms pumping away like pistons. During the harvest he walks fifteen kilometres every day but you get the impressions his battery never seems to wear out. Bev and I are struggling to keep up.

 

He chatters to you over his shoulder as he jumps from one barrel to the next, flourishing his pipette like an épée. “I aim to be organic by 2019, and then we will look at being biodynamic in the longer term. Meanwhile, we will look to make sixty or seventy percent of our wine sans sulfur. Here, try this, it is from Maladières,” he says, pouring us a ravishing Pinot Noir – all raspberry and red berries – from the vineyard at the base of Chambolle-Musigny.

 

“I don’t like all the concepts behind biodynamics but I do agree with the basic stuff in terms of fertiliser and the movements of the moon, you know. Here, what about this…” as he pours another Pinot, this time from En Champs in Gevrey-Chambertin. This one is a touch heavier, more serious.

 

“Being organic in Burgundy is tricky; don’t forget we are at the extremes of winemaking. Come, come. Where did I put that Fixin? Must be here somewhere.”

 

He dashes from one warehouse to another like an Olympic Racewalker. The last time I visited he was still in his tight, cramped – though romantic – cellar in Gevrey-Chambertin. Now he has moved to a utilitarian complex on the edge of town. He needed to; he had outgrown his former premises. You cannot keep a man like this in a confined space. He needs to grow, to experiment, to be wild.

“Listen to me. What we are doing with sulphur wines is amazing. The wines are so so fresh, very savoury. I am not looking to make wines that smell of shit and look brown. They are disgusting wines. No, we will make amazing wines. This means changing all of our habits. Bottling will be earlier, much less racking, less time in bottle before release, no fining, no filtration” (though his wines have been unfiltered and unfined for years.) His is the passion of a zealot.

 

We pass by one of the numerous tanks on which is written: “Don’t forget, beer is made by men, wine is made by Gods.” Glancing at it, Pierre looks triumphant!

 

He shows Bev and I his new bottling line, unwrapping it like a kid on Christmas morning. But before we can pause to admire it, he rushes us across to his three ceramic – not concrete – vats which are not trendily egg-shaped but round and squat. “Cost seven times the cost of a barrel – but they will last forever!”

 

But before we can admire those, he has dashed back in amongst his tanks, impatient to show off his wares. We start by tasting all of the 2017s in tank, then move on the 2018s in barrel. The 17s are more typical of Burgundy; the 18s are atypical and he is still not sure how they will turn out.

 

The 2017s culminate is a stunning tasting of two specific-site Gevrey-Chambertins. First up: Creux Brouillard. This has dark, tannic notes, sweet violets, forest fruits, great structure, smooth tannins. Pierre thinks this is a perfect example of Gevrey-Chambertin. We contrast this with a Les Crais, which has a riper style, with more minerality cutting through a sweet confiture. It has a lightness of touch. He thinks this is an example of a more mineral style against the more traditional style of the Braillarol. “Comes from the alluvial soil.”

My wine-splashed notes contain superlative after superlative. We go on to Les Corvees (from very high up the slope, so it needs to be kept), Les Marchais (an iconic Gevrey-Chambertin, according to Pierre), Sylvie, from just under the castle of Gevrey-Chambertin (one of the biggest, with spicy oak, liquorice and game), and Meix-Bas, from right at the top of the slope, so not a Premier Cru (and which is almost Rhone-type in its boldness.)

 

We move on to the Mazis-Chambertin (the most mineral of the great Chambertin vineyards), with an incredible herbal nose.

 

The Charmes-Chambertin is powerful and complex, with a hint of vanilla matching the dark intense fruits. The Master of Wine standing to my left does not spit this. It is long long long.

 

His 2018 barrels are mostly marked No Sulphur or Low Sulphur. Any use of sulphur is limited to a very small dose between vineyard and winery. Once in the winery they see no sulphur. Even those wines which see a small amount of sulphur will have this explained on the back label.

 

Tasting the 2018s, I am struggling to describe an amazing Gevrey-Chambertin Creux Brouillard (no sulphur). It has incredible fruit juice but also a wonderful saline flavour. “Iodine,” says Pierre, watching the look of puzzlement on my face. “Ah,” I reply. “This is the Laphroaig of this wine tasting.”

We try a Sylvie from two year old barrel, and then from ceramic. The barrel sample has masses of black fruit and a roundness. The ceramic is completely different, being more forward, with more purity of fruit, more one dimensional – but what a dimension: an arrow straight to the heart.

 

By now – with eighteen pages of tasting notes in the bag, Bev and I are groaning. Pierre senses this and takes pity on us and we trudge wearily back to his small office where he cracks open a bottle of 2017 Creux Brouillard (no sulphur). Again, it has this wonderful lifted, elevated, feel to it.

 

“In Burgundy you have six or seven consultant oenologists who dominate,” says Pierre. “What style they suggest is the one that gets recognised. But you have to find your own style. Who need a consultant? If you are in good health you don’t need a doctor.”

 

We sink back in our chairs and nurse our bodies. It is not the vines who need medical help – it is us!

“I adhere to organic rules, but I don’t want to be certified”

Driving along the A6, my mind is filled with last night’s pictures from Paris showing the burning and rioting in the capital as France’s gilets jaunes try their best to reinvent 1968. Paris is on fire, Macron is on the run. But as we exit the motorway and swing into Beaune, the only evidence of unrest is a bunch of apologetic-looking yellow vests who half-heartedly ask us to stop and then, as I open the window and shout: “Anglais,” wave us through with a shrug.

 

Over by their encampment a heap of broken pallets is now burning fiercely and heating up the freezing air. A queue forms behind us, klaxons blaring, as the yellow vests wave down the traffic and, among the artics and four wheels, I see a fire engine and wonder if that has come to put out the bonfire.

 

It seems the “movement” is not so violent in genteel Burgundy; Beaune is not for burning. But you have to admire the French. When they protest, they seriously protest. In the UK we’d probably last half a day before heading down the pub.

Bev and I had stopped off in Chablis for a good tasting at Domaine Grand Roche, which included an excellent 2018 Sauvignon St Bris (an under-rated wine), followed by another with the affable Philippe Goulley (pictured above) at Domaine Jean Goulley. His Montmains and Fourchaume are looking as good as ever, but the surprise was a quite brilliant Mont de Milieu, which has a beautiful salinity running through its limey richness, and which definitely deserves to be considered for a listing. “A good year, but not an easy year,” is Philippe’s verdict on the 2018.

 

Here in Santenay, Antoine Olivier agrees. “Very interesting year quality-wise, very good in parts, but not the easiest for reds in particular.” Antoine is in fine form, dashing from one tank to another to provide us with a massive tasting of wines from four vintages, while giving us his view on his approach. “My father is a Christian, my mother is Jewish, so I cannot stand dogma. I adhere to organic rules but I don’t want to be certified. If I have mildew I want the ability to protect my vines.”

Of the whites, Antoine prefers the 2015s (complex) to the 2016s (ready to drink) and says that the 2017 was an “odd” vintage. Standouts are the 2017 Rully St Jacques (intense and citrus-dominated mouthful), the 2017 Santenay Sous La Roche (full, rich, creamy nose) and the 2015 Sous La Roche (classic nose of lime, cream and hazelnuts.)

 

Of the reds, an unlabelled but just bottled 2017 Bourgogne Pinot Noir has us singing, with its young, heady and vibrant fruit. The two Santenay Beaurepaire wines are showing beautifully (the 2016 has a wonderful depth of plummy flavour while the 2017 has a rasping raspberry palate.) The award-winning Les Charmes has beautiful soft plummy tannins.

 

Antoine is now in expansive mood. “I have been accused of being a lazy winemaker because I prefer to do as little as possible with my grapes. I stand guilty!”

 

And at that point a bunch of the local anti-drug squad Gendarmeries stroll in wearing full metal jacket and we watch incredulously as they sample a selection of wines, nodding approvingly, their fingers hooked into their bullet-proof vests, before making their purchases and walking off with a case of red. Maybe off to have a tasting with the gilets jaunes?

Greece’s Tuscan Future

On the road north out of Athens you pass some astounding Homeric monuments, so illusory they could be a series of Hollywood sound stages. These are juxtaposed with a display of graffiti of appropriately Olympian standard, on a par with anything the guerrilla precincts of Amsterdam and Berlin have to offer. Startling.

We are driving to the Gaia winery in Nemea on the Peloponnese, home of the Agiorgitiko. Yiannis Paraskevopoulosis, the co-owner of Gaia, is at the wheel. He is a tall, well built, square-jawed, handsome Athenian of very strong opinions, not afraid to air them, yet often doing so in a surprisingly soft voice. Each statement is phrased almost as a question, a prelude to polite debate, you might think; but he is not to be messed with. When we reach the subject of Natural Wines, he raises his eyebrows: “If you ask me: what is a natural wine, I ask: well, what is an unnatural wine?”

It takes about 90 minutes before the northern suburbs give way to the Gulf of Corinth and you get your first glimpse of the turquoise and latte Aegean out of which seem to grow the distant, spectral hills, oddly familiar somehow, and you think: ah, Greece!

When we reach the Gaia winery, perched at 500 metres above sea level in Koutsi, we gaze down at the valley floor spread alluringly before us like a quilt, then up towards Mount Kyllini, its peak covered in snow, and – my God – the wind is screaming. And it is here that Yiannis discourses on his love of Tuscany, Agiorgitiko’s resemblance to Sangiovese – and why he believes the best – oh yes! – is yet to come for his beloved Nemea.

You politely listen while he states his case.

“We have wasted forty years by planting the wrong clones. Forty years!”

According to Yannis, in ancient times the land was planted with 10,000 vines per hectare, which meant the grapes had to fight to survive. A couple of generations ago the farmers were encouraged to replant, this time at 3,000 vines per hectare. The results were weak grapes, and wines high in acidity and astringency.

“When I arrived here in 1997 the wines were a pinkish red.” He shrugs his shoulders expansively. “The other issue is that Agiorgitiko is a very flexible grape. If you increase the yield dramatically you will still get a palatable wine, and if you are paid by the kilo – which is how the growers were paid then – then that is what you will produce – a palatable wine.”

He gazes round the vineyard. “Now, we have replanted. We have seven hectares, six of which are planted with Agiorgitiko, one of which with Syrah. We also work with a very small number of growers, about fifteen, with whom we have long-term agreements. The key thing here is that we pay by the hectare, not by the kilo, so it makes no sense for any growers to simply produce a ton of low-class grapes.

“But the biggest problem for the area – and this is what separates us from Tuscany – is clonal selection. We were planting the wrong clones. Or, rather, an unidentified blend of clones, good & bad! They were always virus infected. And these viruses will mean that you lose polyphenols and therefore grape sugars. What we need is to create a Nemea that is virus-free which is largely what they have in Tuscany. We have a unique plant – there is no other Agiorgitiko in Greece apart from some experimental plantings in Drama in the north.”

But things are looking up – and Yannis explains the reason for his optimism. “We have worked with a scientist called Kostas Bakasietas, who has collaborated with the Entav Inra nursery in France. Only he was capable of doing it. Our research institutions proved incapable. He has identified five different Agiorgitiko clones which are the Olympic champions of the variety. Just five. And only one of those clones is currently in operation. And there is only one hectare planted with this clone. And guess where that is. Here! In the whole of the 3,000 hectares of Nemea, the largest appellation in Greece, there is one hectare. Right out there!”

He pauses. “But. It took me this long to work that out! What was I doing for all that time, you might ask. Well, I spent all of that time trying to make the current vines better. I looked after the water stress management; I raised the canopy by two feet; I started early leaf removing to expose the flowers. So I made lots of adjustments. But the key will be the new clones. Kostas is the engine and we are the first on to the train.”

As we make our way down to the winery, Yiannis continues. “You know, what has also held us back is the cost of land, and the difficulty of getting permission to plant vines. The Government thinks us wine producers are rich and so they prefer to give the farming rights to “poor” farmers.”

Yiannis lets out a meaty laugh. “I have enemies. Nothing but enemies!”

As we begin tasting in a stylishly-designed barrel room, Yannis talks of his love affair with Sangiovese and Tuscany. “I have always been inspired by Tuscany,” he said. “And Agiorgitiko is stylistically very similar to Sangiovese. Neither of them are blockbuster wines. Both are supple and have very round tannins. If you were to blend a Merlot into a Sangiovese you would have an Agiorgitiko. I look to Tuscany for inspiration. For instance, I decided to plant Syrah. Why? Well, partly because I love Syrah, but also because I wanted to do what they did with Super Tuscans. To step outside the legal boundaries, do something different. And Syrah performs brilliantly down here.”

And it does! After a beautifully balanced 2017 Assyrtiko – fresh, lemony and lively – and a lovely 2017 Moschofilero – rose petals, amazingly fresh – we crack on with the reds, investigating first the 2017 Notios, an 85% Agiorgitiko/15% Syrah blend, showing rasping fruit and lovely soft tannins. The 2016 Gaia S, a 70/30 blend of the same grapes, has masses of sweet, dark unctuous fruit. Finally, the 2015 Gaia Estate, 100% Agiorgitiko from 40 year old vines, is a stunner, sweet vivacious fruit, raspberry coulis, grippy tannins, amazing length.

Over a lunch of grouper at a beachside taverna that looks like something out of Mamma Mia! Yiannis’ passion is infectious. “We need to move fast. We need different classifications to show the higher quality of hilly Nemea to valley Nemea. I want a different PDO for anything grown above five hundred metres but “they” won’t let me. We need to go higher to find the cooler nights. I am looking for longer ripening periods. Even at 15% alcohol you can end up with wines which are too jammy. But…” he leaves the sentence unfinished, a testament to his “enemies.”

Yiannis concedes that Greece’s reputation is built on whites. “But you can make great whites without taking great risks. With reds, you need to work harder. And even with our new good clones it is still a risk. We can learn from other peoples’ experience to get the learning period down from forty years to twenty years. But there is still a risk.”

He laughs. “But if we can get it right, then we can take on Tuscany. Yes, we have lost forty years. But I am positive. If you think that the wines of Gaia Estate are good today, then the Gaia wines of the future will blow your mind!”

Viñátigo, Volcanic Wines & The Black Dribbler

The first exhilarating thing you see as the plane approaches Tenerife is a snow-capped Mount Teide rising out of the mist. Considering the island’s reputation as a sunseeker’s paradise, this mirage-like sight – a Kilimanjaro of the Canaries – comes as a jolt.

Exiting the airport, the hoardes of holidaymakers turn left and dash to the fleshpots of Playa de las Américas and Los Cristianos; Steve and I turn right and make our way up the A1 autoroute through an unpreposessing industrial coastline until we turn inland and hit the beautiful town of San Cristobal de la Laguna.

“Welcome to the north, the real Tenerife,” says a genial Juan Jesús Méndez Siverio, the owner of Viñátigo and a man who is about to become a winemaking hero to me.

Steve and I listed the Viñátigo wines late in 2017, following tastings in London. We know the wines are extraordinary – but now we are about to find out just how extraordinary.

First things first, we say, as Juan cranks up his four wheel drive. Pronunciation? “Ah,” says Juan. It is vin-YA-t’go.”

Crossing the island, we become aware of the change in scenery and vegetation. “The south is hot and flat and arid, only good for average grape-growing,” says Juan in broken English. “But here in the north…” It doesn’t need more explanation. Here the vegetation is lush and green, the land heavily sloped, dotted with smallholdings, the moody clouds rolling in quickly off Mount Teide.

Juan takes us to the Valle el Palmar in the foothills of the mountain, climbing from sea level to 1,000 metres in less than five minutes through twisting hairpin dirt paths. It is so steep I’m convinced we are going to topple over backwards, and by the time we clamber out it is misty and damp and we appear to be standing in the clouds.

This is the organically-farmed Finca Los Pedregales vineyard, home of the mighty Tintilla.

“Is very small, two hectares, 33 terraces, very difficult to harvest, hard work,” jokes Juan. He holds up a bottle with the familiar ladder motif on the label and Steve and I both sigh “Ah!” as we now know where the ladder = terrace logo originates.

“Everything comes from the mountain,” Juan explains. “You have to pay it respect. It is the highest mountain in Spain. But for us, is importance because it is a volcano. The soil, you see. The soil.”

 

He bends down and hands us dense pieces of the phosphorous-rich rock, crumbling and black. The weight of it comes as a shock. But you can smell the minerals. I strand back and hold it – and  then the rain comes.

Not your average rain, but great wind-driven stair rods spearing into your face.

We leg it back to the car.

Minutes later, back at sea level at the pretty port of Garachico, all is warm and sunny and you might be in a different world. We sit on a harbour wall, buffeted by Atlantic waves, and sipp Juan’s Malvasia Aromática Classica, while we gaze up at Mount Teide, now framed against a beautiful azure sky. “In the eighteenth century the last great eruption destroyed this port. You can see where the lava ran.” Juan points to the valley which runs from the base of the mountain to where we stand.

Peculiar place, I think: one minute you could be in Malaysia; the next, Dorset.

The Malvasia has incredible acidity which masks the 60 grams of sugar. This is the type of wine which made Tenerife famous in the 16th century, when it was one of the most prized wines in Europe. Juan reminds us of two quotes in Shakespeare: in Twelfth Night Sir Toby Belch tells Sir Andrew Aguecheek: “O knight, thou lack’st a cup of canary. When did I see thee so put down?” and in Henry IV Part 2 we have Hostess Quickly admonishing Doll Tearsheet: “But, you have drunk too much canaries, and that’s a marvellous searching wine.”

A marvellous searching wine!

The island lived off wine from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. When the American Independence was signed they celebrated with Canary wine.  And then the grapes were supplanted by bananas and then tourism.

“One of my ambitions is to hold a wine tasting at Canary Wharf,” says Juan.

“I think we can arrange that!” says Steve.

During the drive to the winery in his home village of La Guancha, Juan fills in the gaps. He is a fourth generation winegrower, but the first in his family to study on the mainland. He owns 16 hectares, and works closely with 40 growers, who own another 21 hectares. His total production is 12,000 cases. Such limited production means he has to augment his earnings by teaching as a professor of viticulture and oenology at the Ciclo Superior de Vitivinicultura.

“We started off by trying to improve our production of the traditional grapes of Listán Blanco and Listán Negro. But when I began to research the wines for my classes in the late 90s, I became more and more interested in our winemaking history. The Canary Isles is one of the few areas in the world where phylloxera has never occurred and this means that we have an incredible amount of indigenous varietals. But most had become unfashionable, and were almost extinct. A lot of them only existed on the tiny island of El Hierro, the Jurassic park of vines.

“So I began to work with Fernando Zamora at the Rovira i Virgili university in Tarragona. First, we tried to identify these varieties. We found more than 80.”

Listán Blanco is Palomino, Gual is Madeira’s Bual, Listán Negro is the Mission grape. Tintilla and Marmajuelo are unknowns but probably originated on the Spanish mainland, where they were wiped out by phylloxera.

“Then, we transported many of them from El Pinar to Tenerife and began to propagate them.”

As a result of the work, he has become a seminal figure on the island.

His promotion of these near-extinct varieties explains why many of Viñátigo’s bottlings are small-runs and hand-numbered.

That he has done all of this without trumpeting his achievements and with minimal fuss immediately elevates him to winemaking hero to me.

At the stunning small winery we are joined by Juan’s winemaker wife, Elena Batista, who shows us round. It’s a beautifully designed winery, built into a hillside, with a Batcave feel to it. Small batch fermentation and vinification in 40 separate stainless steel tanks is key. Everything is gravity fed and the winery is cunningly designed to allow for natural ventilation. “Everything is designed to completely eliminate any chance of oxidation,” explaines Elena. Every piece of machinery is mobile. “The idea is that the machinery is designed around the grapes, not the grapes around the machinery.”

It is pristine clean. Viticulture is sustainably-focused. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermented using indigenous yeasts. Grapes go through two triages, first in the fields and then again in the winery. Minimal sulphur is used in the winery and no synthetic materials are used in the winemaking.

After asking Juan to pose with a bottle of his 1697 Malvasia, we get down to a tasting.

 

  • The Listán Blanco 2017 has only just been bottled and has a saline, mineral feel to it. I’m struggling to find a more descriptive word, but Elena tells me: fennel. Ah! Tom Cannavan, writing about the 2016 vintage, mused that this “was the perfect white wine: fruity and with a herbal tang, medium-bodied yet not without palate weight and texture, and shimmering with soft but ever-present acidity to the last drop. Ultimately a fairly simple wine, but utterly delicious.”

 

  • The Marmajuelo 2017 is a massive step up. It still has a magnificent saline character, but now has nuances of tropical fruits – pineapple – to give it roundness and a richness. Cannavan, again, on the 2016: “This is a lovely, limpid white wine, described to me as being ‘A bit like Chablis’ by the sommelier in a restaurant, and whilst it does have a limpid clarity and freshness, it is just overflowing aromatically with passion fruit and guava, in a much more vivacious style. It is easy drinking, despite very good acidity, but with a smooth weight of fruit and a hint of minerality too. Terrific and different.”

 

  • The Gual 2017 has a darker, heavier feel to it. This bottle is from 50% grapes fermented in stainless steel and 50% fermented in concrete eggs. Juan then brings out a 100% concrete egg wine, which has an incredible yeastiness and body, due to the suspension of the yeast. A wonderful example of what the eggs can lay.

 

  • The Vijariego Blanco 2017 has just been bottled and is difficult to nose, but has a pear and stone fruit nose and reminds us all of Greek’s Assyrtiko.

 

  • The Negromoll (2017) is a fascinating wine; my favourite Viñátigo. It certainly has a touch of Pinot Noir about it, but without the surliness you sometimes get with that grape. This grape seems genuine, seems to want to please. It has beautiful cherry fruit and a surprising gutsiness to it. Brilliant stuff. We must bring this to a bigger audience, Steve and I agree.

 

  • The Ensamblaje Blanco 2016 is a blend of Gual, Marmamjuelo, Vijariego Blanco and Malvasia Aromática, has massive acidity and lots of stone fruit and more than a touch of the northern Rhone about it. The ’17 is more saline. Juan says that saline is a characteristic he looks for in all his white wines.

 

  • The Listán Negro 2017 is a beautiful everyday glass of wine, with a touch of rosehip and black pepper. Incredible value-for-money.

 

  • The Tintilla 2016 is a much bigger wine; there is masses going on: dark chocolate, tobacco, cranberry. A powerful, serious wine.

 

  • The Baboso Negro 2012 is a big beast, with a massive perfume of violets and a heavy and structured palate with oozing black plums coating the mouth. Very intense. Juan tells us that they nickname this grape the Black Dribbler because it has very thin skin and when it gets close to ripeness it can split and dribble. This is almost too much for Steve and I to take in. The Black Dribbler!

 

  • The Ensamblaje Tinto 2014 is a blend of Baboso Negro, Tintilla and Vijariego Negro with ten months average oak-ageing. This is a big wine, with toffee, caramel and cedar box on the fore-palate, then cassis and dark chocolate.

 

  • Then after tasting two editions of the Elaboraciones Ancestrales, we are given an Orange wine, a Gual, made in the same way as the first Gual we tasted, but left to macerate for much longer. Unlike a lot of orange wines, this is beautiful with lots of mandarins on the nose, well-balanced and very clean, with a hint of quince.

At dinner that evening, while eating through different types of potato (your humble potato is elevated to gourmet status in Tenerife, a result of the island importing many different types from Peru centuries ago), we discuss the concept of volcanic wines. John Szabo, the Canadian Sommelier, had visited Juan and Elena during the writing of his book, Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, and the Tenerife wine industry makes great play on the volcanic nature of their wines.

“But how do you define a volcanic wine?” I ask.

“Minerality,” says Juan.

John Szabo, in his book, prefers “umami” which is something Steve, Bev and I have sometimes picked up in our tasting room, but we thought it was just Luton!

“It’s a smokiness in the wine,” says Elena.

Steve, with decades of knowledge of Greece behind him, says all volcanic wines have “tension.”

Darren Smith, writing recently in Imbibe, noted that there may be no such thing as a “volcanic” wine; because each volcano had its own wine suite, hinging on its particular chemistry (basic or acidic/alkaline), its own soil texture (loose pumice or scoria, sandy, clay-rich, or bedrock lava), its own micro-climate and its own cultivars, we would be better off referring to such wines in the plural: volcanic wines rather than volcanic wine.

Saltiness is also a common thread for Szabo, as Smith points out. In his book Szabo refers to a ‘weightless gravity’, a subtle power, concentration and longevity, and very much more of a savoury aspect to the wines than a fruity one.

“I agree with that,” says Juan. “ That is present in some of our wines. It may be from some of our plots we have right down by the sea’s edge. Salt must influence the wines, a little like the sea does for malt whisky on Islay.”

As for minerality, that, too, is a difficult concept to pin down. Steve and I use it a lot in our wine descriptions, but as Jamie Goode writes in Wine Science, minerality means different things to different people. Goode recounts  Stephen Spurrier telling him that “minerality did not exist as a wine-tasting term until the mid-1980s. During most of my time in Paris I don’t think I ever used the word.” Spurrier does use the word now. “I probably associate minerality with stoniness, but then stones are hard and minerality is generally “lifted.” No wonder we are all confused.”

Goode goes on to say that Jancis Robinson told him: “I am very wary of using minerality in my tasting notes because I know how sloppily it has been applied.”

“This is what makes wine so beautiful,” says Juan, as we prepare to leave.

While we were eating, a tropical storm had developed. The 100-metre race to the car park became an assault course as we dodged the flying branches of palm trees, one of which attempted to beat Steve to death. We ended up thoroughly drenched.

So much for sun-kissed island, I thought as I reached my room. But, fortified by another glass of a magnificent Baboso Negro (The Black Dribbler), I realised this had been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I used to have a Shakespeare blog, so I was familiar with his references, but Juan and Elena had also brought to my attention a quote from another of my heroes, John Keats:

“Souls of Poets dead and gone,
What Elysium have ye known,
Happy fields or mossy cavern,
Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?
Have ye tippled drink more fine
Than mine host’s Canary wine…”

Once more, the Cockney poet nails it.

The perils of travelling with the Portfolio Director

We arrived late at Michele Chiarlo. Gen and I had touched down at Milan airport at dusk and picked up the hire car. “No need for the satnav, Gen,” I stated. “I know a shortcut.”

So obviously we got lost.

By the time we arrived in Piemonte it was pitch black. Picture this. The small village of Barolo is in the middle of nowhere. It is surrounded by very steep hills. It is freezing cold in the winter, and tonight it has snowed heavily. The hapless Geordie driver peers through the windscreen, his demure brand manager in the passenger seat (wondering what she has done to deserve this.)

“I think it’s down here,” I say.

“Are you sure, Jeem? That road doesn’t look safe.”

“Trust me, Gen. I’m an old hand at this. I’m sure these are Chiarlo vineyards and those lights at the top of the hill – that’s the Chiarlo guest house.”

I edge the car forward down a steep hill – and then the fun starts.

After 50 yards we hit black ice. Car skids. Dirt road. Pitch black. Can’t control the car. Heart in my mouth. “Brace yourself!”

I career down the ice. There’s a solid brick wall on one side. A vineyard on the other. I try to steer the car into the vineyard: softer landing.

It is at this point that Gen shows her class.

“Oh no, Jeem! Not there – that’s Cerequio!”

Five yards later we hit a dry patch and the car skids to a halt. And we breathe again.

Thankfully, the rest of the trip is much less eventful and a lot more fun. After somehow managing to get the car out of the vineyard, we eventually find the Chiarlo guest house and meet up with Stefano and Erica for a bite to eat and a catch-up.

Alberto joins us for the business meeting, and then conducts a brilliant tasting. A couple of highlights for me:

Cipressi 2015 (the second vintage to be made under the new Nizza DOCG) – looks spectacular. On the nose you get hugely perfumed blackberries, massive and profound. On the palate: lovely, grippy, sappy tannins. Mouth filling, a touch of savoury now begins to assert. Huge finish which goes on forever.
Cerequio 2013 – refined and elegant nose, loganberries, cranberries, exotic fruit. A touch of boot polish. Tannins are firm but not harsh, coating rather than dominating. A touch of bacon sandwich on the finish, but very soft and smooth and classy. Needs at least another two years.

The following morning we drive to the winery, gorgeous snowy vistas every side of us. At the winery a sprightly Michele welcomes us, proudly showing us through the fermentation and barrel rooms, before making Gen’s day by posing with her for photographs. The 82 year-old, who still works at the winery every day, tells us the ’17 vintage will be short on volume but good in terms of quality – especially for Barolo. I cross my fingers and hope Gen doesn’t volunteer that I almost wiped out a row of those precious Cerequio vines!

Brilliantly Bordeaux

No matter how often you visit this place, it still beguiles you. The transition from the dreary detritus and strip malls of the Bordeaux conurbation to the wealth and imperious Proustian splendour of the Medoc is almost seamless.

From each side of the D2 the vines stand tall, straight and proud, in immaculate rows, lining the gravelly earth like bearskin-clad grenadiers parading for some local dignitary, or, more elegiacally, like the massed white headstones of a battlefield cemetery.

For the anoraks, it is one legendary châteaux after another.. “Oh, look, there’s Latour, don’t see that every day, do you… oh, hang on, there’s Pichon Longueville on the right… and there on the left is Lafite Rothschild…” It’s as if a sports fan was able to travel down one road with all the world’s famous stadia on either side. Oh, look, there’s San Siro, oh, and over there is Yankee Stadium, oh wait, there’s the MCG…

Chateau Preuillac, Medoc

Our first destination is Château Preuillac, a Cru Bourgeois estate in the Médoc, near the village of Lesparre. Our host is Ken Lee, a Bordeaux-based Singaporean consultant whose schoolboy looks mask a hard business edge, and who spends the entire journey on his mobile phone, chatting away in a mixture of Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese and Malay, but who – touchingly – ends every conversation with a “bye bye, bye bye!”

Preuillac is an imposing château. Built in 1869, and formerly in the hands of the Mau family, it has been refurbished and renovated by Ken’s new owners and is ripe for re-assessment. Standing in the 30-hectare vineyard (split roughly between cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a smattering of cabernet franc), winemaker Nathalie Billard explains that the estate lost 10% to April’s devastating frost, but considers they were lucky.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Preuillac

Then we move on to Nathalie’s pride and joy: three new 160 hectolitre foudres, newly commissioned by her, which have joined the existing decades-old foudres and which will act alongside the oak barrels to fashion the wine. Here, they are looking for classic claret, and a brief tasting of the 2015s and 2016s shows they are on the right path; the ’16 in particular is a really, really elegant wine: dark berries, beautiful young fruit, broad, rich, complex, obviously young, oaky. With a bit of luck, it will be spectacular.

Foudres, Chateau Preuillac

But, sadly, this is a whistle-stop tour, and we have to jump in the car, where Ken’s colleague, Dimitri, drives us through the Bordeaux rush hour to our base, Château Senailhac, a drop dead gorgeous, all-singing, all-dancing, bells and whistles, full monty of a château, complete with personal assistant, and ours – and ours only – for the

Beverly Tabbron MW & the author, Jim Wilson, adjoining Cheval Blanc

full week. Sinking into a 19th century chaise-longue, I tell Bev that I feel like James Bond. “So that means you must be Pussy Galore.” The website promises an “Unforgettable Stay.” Blimey!

Moving on…

Next morning we head out east to the right bank. You are struck (as ever) by the difference between this hillier landscape and the flatter Medoc we visited yesterday. Here, it looks as if everything has been thrown together in an artisanal, higgledy-piggledy way, a bit louche and in need of a haircut, more rambling than the formal stand-to-attention correctness of the Medoc. It wears its wealth lightly. Mind you, it also has more surprises: Cheval Blanc looks like a spaceship which has landed in a fold in the hills and is now floating on a sea of vines.

Our first appointment is at Château Mayne Blanc in Lussac Saint-Emilion. Chatting with chief winemaker Jean de Cournuaud, we hear more about the frost – but this time the news is much more devastating. They lost 90% of the crop. “All of our vineyards north of Libourne were lost.” He pauses. “But, life goes on.” In the winery he proudly shows us his fermenting eggs – the first in Bordeaux. “The main advantage is that they allow for a very soft pigeage.”

Chateau Mayne Blanc, Lussac St Emilion

We taste a selection of 2015 and 2016s (these to be mostly blended out of tank in January) We purr with contentment, and the Cuvée St Vincent in particular has a fabulously rich nose, with serious dark and broody tannins. Firm, not harsh. Long, long finish.

We approach Libourne from the “wrong side” – the east – rather than the more usual approach across the bridge, and this throws me completely, until the Dordogne and the familiar quaint quayside come into view. Thirty minutes away in Fronsac, Château Puy Guilhem is a 14-hectare vineyard with a spectacular view of the spire of the Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church.

Merlot vines, Chateau Puy Guilhem

Winemaker Pierre Sallaud discourses on the difference between Fronsac and Canon Fronsac, both of which are made at the property. “Well, actually, there actually isn’t a great deal of difference. The Canon Fronsacs should have dense tannins and be slightly bigger, whereas the Fronsacs might be slightly softer and lighter.”

We taste the ’09 Fronsac – there is really generous fruit, still young, tannins beautifully integrated. Superb claret. This, and the ’10, is ready to drink now, but the later vintages we taste – the ’14s, ’15s and ’16s – are even better. I compare the ’14s: the Fronsac has very sweet fruit, rich and already drinkable, medium weight, very good balance. Good gutsy wine. The Canon seems younger in its development, more spritzy, with tannins that are still harsh. Apparently, I’m not the only one who prefers the Fronsac to Canon Fronsac: Pierre tells me that James Suckling does, too.

Stems & pips, Chateau Puy Guilhem

The following day we taste at Château Plain Point, undergoing renovation and set to be spectacular. The more recent wines are much better than the older

Bev and Ludovic Laberrere, winemaker at Chateau Plaisance

vintages. Back in the Entre-deux-Mers, then, and to Château Plaisance, where we are entertained by an affable winemaker, Ludovic Labarrere, who shows us some wonderfully forward 2016 Bordeaux and Cotes de Bordeaux wines.

The 2015 Bordeaux is beautifully ripe, kicking way above its weight. I prefer this to the Cotes du Bordeaux, which seems a little tougher, less obvious and less chatty. Meanwhile, the 2016 Bordeaux is a bit of a wild teenager, vivacious young fruit not yet set. I get raspberry syrup, vermilion. And, from somewhere in the near distance, quince.

We’re on a mission to source good value wine from lesser-known appellations, so next morning we drive up to Blaye and I get lost.

The last time I was here was about 15 years ago. Château Solidaires used to be famous for white wines, and the tank sample of Montfollet le Valentin (60% Sauvignon/40% Semillon) has a gorgeous melon and spice nose and lovely minerality. We’re after more of this, so we amble over to winemaker Jacques Chardat’s chic and modish house on the edge of his vineyard, where he and his wife Sabrina put on a marathon tasting and then roll out a stupendous four-course lunch.

Bev and Dominique Raymond, wine maker Chateau Solidaire, Cotes de Blaye

This epic repas floors me, but just as I’m wussily starting to flag, I spot Jacques’ collection of vinyl stacked next to what looks like some very expensive hi-fi kit. Jacques, who is obviously a bit of an ex-hippie, spots my interest – “Formidable!” – jumps up and puts on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy at full blast. This is the first time I’ve been accompanied by Robert Plant at a tasting – and, God, it’s loud.

Suddenly its Knebworth 1975 all over again, as Jacques launches into some kind of jerky, staccato dark Parisian blues jive and belts out “Let me take you to the movies, Can I take you to the show….”, while I do my frenzied air guitar bit à la Jimmy Page. Meanwhile, MW Bev is trying to ask extremely serious and relevant questions above the racket: volatile acidity, yields? while rolling her eyes at our antics. What on earth possessed her to invite me along?

Bev tasting at house of Jacques Chardat, winemaker, Cotes de Blaye

“Every time I went into the vineyards I felt physically sick. I just kept staring at row after row of ruined vines. I felt like weeping.”

The next day we are with Estelle Roumage of Château Lestrille, standing in one of her vineyards in the Entre-deux-Mers, while she recalls the night of 26-27 April when the frost took away virtually her entire crop. In our job you sometimes forget just how fine a line winemakers have to tread, even in traditionally rich areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Vineyard, Chateau Lestrille

Estelle provides the backbone of our Bordeaux range and is exactly the type of producer we love to work with in other parts of the wine world but which are hard to find in Bordeaux. She has the quaintest of operations. She shows us round her vineyards in her battered and much loved 2CV, then drives the short

Estelle Roumage’s Citroen 2CV

distance back to her house and winery, which stands to one side of the D20 route de Creon, with her boutique wine shop on the opposite side of the road. This is where we taste.

The Lestrille 2010 has a lovely spicy nose, excellent dark fruit flavours and chunky weight. The Capmartin 2010 is lovely and soft, fleshy, plump, almost sybaritic; a Botticelli of a wine.

Chateau Lestrille, Capmartin 2010

The next day we drive around the rocade to Pessac Leognan and our final call at Château de Rouillac. As we get out of the car we stare in wonderment. It is not quite Versailles, but it’s not far off.

One of the first owners was Baron Haussmann, who acquired it in 1864; the luminous facades, the square courtyard with its appointments, the stables, are all his. In 2009  businessman Laurent Cisneros fell under Rouillac’s spell and set about bringing the estate back to life, showing the same determination as he did when playing professional football for Cannes alongside Zinedine Zidane, before turning his father’s small heating company into a thriving multi-million euro business.

Laurent has spared no expense in lavishing attention on the property and delights in showing you round the distinguished house, the state-of-the-art winery and the stables. And it is here that we meet the real star of the show: Titan, the mighty dray horse who ploughs the land (Laurent believes in sustainable farming.) Bev, taking one look at him, looks like a schoolgirl at her first pony show. And now it is my turn to adopt a dignified mien. Yup.

Titan at Chateau de Rouillac

Back at the winery, the wines are looking beautiful and I predict greatness in the near future. A 2015 white shows soft nuances of toast, butter, lemon, and on the palate its class is obvious. The 15 red shows a classic nose, with a touch of vanilla, plum and cigar. Very stylish. The whole place is.

2016 Greek & Italian – potentially a great vintage…

The buying team has recently spent some time tasting the new 2016 vintages of many of our Greek and Italian wines. Wow – this looks like it has been a brilliant vintage (especially for whites). I cannot remember the last time I got so excited about Italy – and Steve has gone into raptures when looking at both countries.

“I am thrilled to say that 2016 ranks as one of the greatest white wine vintages I have seen,” Steve Daniel says.

In order to whet your appetites, here are some tasting notes from the team:

Steve Daniel, tasting Greece:

“Greek wines get better every year I taste them as the winemakers continue to improve and further understand their vineyards, but without doubt the 2016 vintage is something truly special. The year was a cool one by Greek standards and the white wines are amazing. Both Yiannis at Gaia Wines and Vangelis at Ktima Gerovassiliou state the whites from 2016 are the greatest wines they have made to date. All producers report the same quality.

“The wines combine power, perfume and finesse. I expect to see a flurry of awards  and high marks from Parker etc.  in the coming months.”

 

Steve Daniel, tasting Italy:

Colomba Bianca was launched last year on the 2015 vintage and the acceptance of the wines was universal and the wines have been great. In the 2016 vintage the wines have taken a quantum leap in quality. The wines are rich and aromatic at the same time, and have incredible length and complexity for the price points.

Ca’Rugate has been winning Tre Bicchieri awards for their Soaves for years and are one of the top estates in the region. The 2015s were excellent examples but once again the 2016 whites are at another level.”

San Silvestro, Cortese del Piemonte DOC ‘Adelasia’  2016
“I was completely blown away by the quality of this wine. This year the wine has amazing fruit and intensity and it really is a Gavi buster. The best vintage I have seen of this wine. As a fantastic alternative to Chablis, there has never been a better time to drink this kind of intense, mineral-driven wines.”

 

Jim Wilson, tasting Italy:

Colomba Bianca, Grillo ‘Vitese’ 2016 
“Lovely clean rich and spicy nose – a wine which begs you to taste! White peaches and black pepper on the palate. Looks good and tastes great!”

San Marzano, Verdeca Puglia IGP ‘Talo’ 2016 
“Beautiful fresh flowery nose, intense, touches of lemon zest, perfumed and unusually full. Wonderful balance of acidity and flavour. Very long on the finish. A real eye opener.”

San Silvestro, Cortese del Piemonte DOC ‘Adelasia’  2016
“Like Steve, I found this wine stunning. I have to admit I’ve never really been a fan, but this was drinking quite beautifully. Huge depth of fruit, hay and flowers on the palate, wonderful balance on the finish. Better by far than a number of Gavis’.”

Ca Rugate, Soave Classico DOC San Michele 2016 
“Gorgeous nose, soft appley fruit overladen with hazelnut and a hint of cream. Amazing intensity and depth. Long finish. Everything a really good Soave should be.”

Get in touch with your Account Manager to try these wines and if any knock your socks off, let us know!

Ca’Rugate at the tre bicchieri tasting

Today we are part of the great and the good in the plush surroundings of the Church House Conference Centre at Dean’s Yard in Westminster – which is an interesting place to be during a General Election campaign.

We’re here for the annual Gambero Rosso tre bicchieri tasting and I’m showing off the award-winners from our wonderful Ca’Rugate winery. Based in Brognoligo di Monteforte in the heart of the Soave Classico region, Ca’Rugate is one of my all-time favourite producers. We started working with them about four years ago (we couldn’t believe our luck!) and since then it has been a real thrill to introduce their wines to our customers. They made their name with their amazing selection of Soave wines (check out their history of tre bicchieri awards), but in recent times they have won just as many awards for their Valpolicella wines.

Today I am showing the Monte Fiorentine Soave Classico 2015, the Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2015 and the Punta Tolotti Black Label Amarone 2012.

Award-winners to the left of me, award-winners to the right of me, but punters are queueing up at my table – and it’s definitely not because of my good looks. Word has got out and everyone wants to taste the Soave. It lives up to its reputation, caressing and undressing the palate with a seductive allure of hazelnuts and cream, cut through with a water-on-pebbles minerality. My job is sooo easy when the wine is as good as this.

But just as gratifying is the reaction to the reds. One particular wine “counsellor” becomes my best pal by bringing over client after client to taste the ravishing and voluptuous Amarone, surrendering themselves to the heady concoction of blueberries, blackberries, cherries and spicy oak. The tasters look at me in awe. Nothing to do with me, I tell them; it’s all the work of Michele Tessari and his team.

The Ripasso is equally well received. It is the subtle touch of sweetness on the finish which lingers on the palate which causes everyone to pause, stop, gaze into a faraway space and reflect on the beauty of what is in their mouth. The senses surrender.  It is the way the taster looks at you as if to say; “Thank you” which brings the smile to your face.

It was at the beginning of the 20th century that Amedeo Tessari, Michele’s great grandfather, first sensed the quality of the land and began making wine. Amedeo, a modest man,  would probably have felt out of place among the finery of Dean’s Yard. But his legacy lives on.

The wines continue to beguile.