Tasting Notes

Pinot Noir Perfection

15 April 2019 by Richard

The Sideways effect:

“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.  I am not drinking any f*****g Merlot“,  Miles pronounces in the film Sideways.  If like me, you recall watching it on a DVD player back in 2005, you may remember its main characters eulogise the Pinot Noir grape.  Overnight demand went through the canopy, especially in the United States, and became known as the ‘Sideways effect’.  15 years later, the phenomenon is alive and kicking as plantings of the grape multiply across the world.  However, the capacity for great wines to be produced is limited, as the grape only produces really interesting wines when conditions are cool and the growing season is long.  It is seen by winemakers the world over as the ultimate test, so, luckily for wine drinkers, attempts to create seriously good, multi-layered wines continue.  The result is a plethora of extraordinary wines from all corners of the winegrowing world.  To paraphrase Maya from Sideways ‘they all taste so f*****g good’.

Miles and Jack Sideways

A brief history before Hollywood let the cat out of the bag:

Pinot Noir is a 2,000 year old variety that has given birth to 21 varieties through spontaneous crosses, including Chardonnay and Gamay.  It is a great grandparent to Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon and a likely grandparent to Syrah.

During this time it has had plenty of chances to mutate: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir Prècoce all have the same genetic fingerprint.  Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are simply colour mutations.

Where it is thriving nowadays:

France has the most Pinot Noir planted with 29,576 ha, but it still only the 7th most planted variety in the country.  Its presumed birthplace is Burgundy but just 6,579 ha are planted here.  Whilst my focus is on still wines here, most of recent growth has been in Champagne; 12,900 ha represent 39% of all the area.

The United States takes a silver medal with 15,091ha in California.  The Sideways movie put one Pinot Noir in particular on the vinous map and that was Hitching Post. The ‘Hometown ‘ Pinot Noir, from Santa Barbara, has juicy flavours of ripe cherry, an earthiness, seductive spice and falls just the right side of brightness for me.   The famous restaurant of the same name was the scene for a part of the movie and a major tourist attraction now.

Pinot Bunch

My own fair hands grasping a bunch of Pinot Noir grapes!

A surprise for many is that Germany takes third spot.  It now has 11,800 ha thanks to climate change, young talented winemakers, world class wines, and increasing demand.  One producer I have been following for almost 20 years is Ziereisen. The Tschuppen Pinot Noir is blackberry-spiked, has a mineral note as well as a deep, savoury edge and is a delight.

New Zealand’s success is more apparent in the UK market but Argentina is just emerging as a contender.  Take the Verum Pinot Noir which is from Rio Negro in Patagonia, as far south as grapes successfully ripen.  Raspberries and a touch of earth combine to deliver quite a bit of complexity for its price.

To learn a little more about where else Pinot Noir is successful, how its wines are made and taste 7 examples from around the globe, book a Pinot Noir Perfection Masterclasss, on Thursday 16 May in Chiswick, now. (Kew’s tasting has already sold out!).

Motta Matters – Bolgheri’s Star in the Making

22 March 2019 by Richard

 

Motta Face

In 2009 the talented, energetic Fabio Motta acquired 4 hectares of vines in a prime location within the Bolgheri DOC, home of Sassicaia, Ornellaia and other cult wines besides.  The location of the vines is idyllic: overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and benefitting from the cooling on-shore breezes in summer, at the foot of the beautiful rolling hills of Bolgheri with its deep soils of clay, silt and river stones and a brilliant luminosity and south-western exposure to sunlight.  The vines were planted 12 years earlier, in 1997, not just to the traditional Sangiovese, but to the ‘Super Tuscan’ varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and some very promising Syrah too.

Motta VineyardLike his vines, Fabio Motta is deeply rooted in Bolgheri: for many years he worked for the celebrated Michele Satta, who is now, in addition to being both his friend and mentor, also his father-in-law!

Always hugely respectful of the terroir and the environment, and with the aim of producing transparent and sincere wine, Fabio farms organically, but began converting his vineyards to biodynamics in 2015.

Unsurprisingly, his authentic, low-intervention philosophy is carried into his cellar: he works with native yeasts only, never filters, and handcrafts wines that stand out as elegant and complex, rather than too powerful and concentrated.

In 2012 Fabio bought a tiny clay-rich, stony vineyard called ‘Le Gonnare’ and hit his straps with the 2013 vintage.  In its first year of production, it received overwhelming critical acclaim:  Gambero Rosso awarded it 3 bicchieri and the Wine Advocate rated it 96 points.

Gonnare BottleThe current vintage, 2015, is 85% Merlot and 15% Syrah and after a natural fermentation is finished in oak barriques, one third of which are new, for 18 months.  It is large scaled and structured, with abundant red and black fruits, toasty oak, dark chocolate and granitic earthiness, alongside sculpted aromas of Mediterranean flowers and herbs.  Quantities of this, his flagship wine, are tiny (about 300 cases per annum) and allocations are tightening, as it gets the deserved recognition in other fast growing international markets. Just about to land, the 2016 vintage shows every sign of being even better

His ‘Pievi’ is a blend of Merlot (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese (25% each) and shows primary fresh fruit notes alongside balsamic notes and is rich in pliant, ripe tannins, a fuzzy texture and great persistence. The three varieties are native fermented separately in wooden barrels of 33hl in size, punched down by hand twice daily and in the first days of fermentation aerated frequently with pump-overs.  After blending, the wine is passed into 2 and 3 year old barriques, where it integrates for 12 months, before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

‘Lo Scudiere’, the most recent arrival on our shelves, also comes from the from the Pieve vineyard. Contrastingly, it is 100% Sangiovese with 25% of the fruit whole bunch fermented, skins are pumped-over daily for a month into 30hl conical oak and it is aged in neutral, used oak barriques for 1 year. It has aromas of forest floor, hedgerow fruits and is faintly funky with a chewy frame, a juicy damson fruit centre and sensational sapidity, all of which meant I wanted to drink another glass of it.

I admit my bias here as I adore his wines, so here is a recent independent press review courtesy of the Wine Advocate: “Fabio Motta presents a very impressive set of new releases… These fantastic wines will cement the reputation of this young and up-and-coming winemaker from Bolgheri, and will lift his profile… Fabio Motta is crafting his own biodynamic winemaking signature that shows both elegance and power.”

So, forget the other famous, arguably overpriced, ‘Super Tuscan’ wines of Bolgheri – what matters is the Motta label – it is the label to watch.

Motta Logo

Benromach Whisky – Classic Speyside Character

22 March 2019 by Alex

Benromach CasksRegular visitors to The Good Wine Shop may well have already come across the whiskies of the Benromach distillery, they have been a staple of our lovingly curated range of lesser-known but fantastic quality malts for quite some time now.

A venerable site founded in 1898, Speyside distillery Benromach was closed for a time before being resurrected in 1993 by the Urquhart family of Elgin. At this time it was completely refitted, but in a fashion that rejects high technology and harks back to a simpler time.

Everything at Benromach is an art, not a science – there are no computers or even pressure gauges to monitor the process – the distillers make all the decisions using their experience and their senses to taste the product. Although we now think of the Speyside style as being unpeated, it was very common in the region back in the 19th Century to use some peat to stoke the fires that malted the barley. Hence the Benromach style has a light touch of peat smoke to create a wonderfully well-rounded single malt.

Benromach 10The classic Benromach 10 year old is the quintessential malt from this distillery, matured in 80% Bourbon barrels and 20% Sherry hogsheads, with the final year in first-fill Oloroso casks, but for a twist try the Benromach Contrasts finished for 25 months in barrels from Bordeaux estate Chateau Cissac. Also, look out for the Organic, 15 year old, and brand new Peat Smoke Sherry Cask malts arriving soon.

We’re excited to be hosting a fantastic tasting with Benromach at the Kew shop on the 3rd of April from 7pm where guests will taste their way through the Benromach 10 year old, Sassicaia Cask finish, Organic, 15 year old, and brand new Peat Smoke Sherry Cask malts. A selection of nibbles to match the whiskies will be served on the night. Click here to get your tickets.

Marcus Huber – The Talented Traisental Trailblazer

12 February 2019 by Richard
Acacia

Marcus explaining that this Austrian Acacia barrel was made for his father’s 40th birthday and is still in use today.

Back in the 1990’s, the ninth generation of the Huber family ran a small family restaurant, which, as is traditional, would produce all the food themselves, rear pigs and make wine – all from 4 hectares of land.  To supplement the farm produce, deer and wild boar would be hunted in the woods above the vineyard terraces.  This idyllic Traisental lifestyle appears so laid-back and amiable, and such a contrast to London, that it would not have been surprising if the coming generations of the Huber family continued with this traditional family business.

This is where the ambitious son, Marcus, enters the arena.  At the tender age of 21, he took over in the farm to focus on a new wine venture. In less than half a generation, he has rapidly grown the holdings to a total of 50 hectares, 25 of which he owns and the rest are on long-term contracts.

Slopes PlotThe Traisental region is west of Vienna, near to and south of the Danube, and has the smallest area under vine in Austria, with less than 800 hectares.  However, Marcus has no master plan to conquer Traisental. He does have an eye on acquiring a few more prize sites but prefers to limit further growth now to keep the business manageable and within the family, as currently, he has just his brother to share the increasing responsibilities.

Shrewdly, over the last 18 years he has been busy buying up plots on the highest parts of the slopes (350-380m) of the north-south oriented terraces.  Mind-bogglingly, he now has almost 200 sites, averaging only just over ¼ of a hectare in size!  I ask if this is a logistic viticultural nightmare but he says it is not too bad as they pragmatically work through the plots from north to south when pruning or harvesting.

Whilst Gruner Vetliner is ruler in the Traisental, with 63% of plantings, Riesling does exceptionally well in the south, especially on the higher terraces of calcareous conglomerate subsoil, with occasional marl, that face a fraction closer to the south than the east.

Calcerous Conglomerate

A piece of calcareous conglomerate, which looks and feels like stony concrete.

The continental climate here gives warm, dry summers and harvest time, with 30 days of temperatures in excess of 30 degrees usually.  Whilst Marcus has managed to practise organic farming for many years, he has recently decided to jump through some red-taped hoops and apply for certification, which after a 3 year qualifying period, is due in 2020.

10 years back Marcus built a new winery into the hillside of some of the original farm land and he has, recently, further extended it.  With two levels in the winery he can gravity feed the wines, and all the cellars look tidier than a show home that Mrs Hinch has repeatedly cleaned!  Apart from a few small old barrels of the tight-grained but neutral Acacia oak, for wines from his best sites, there are lots of shiny stainless-steel tanks.

The squeaky clean stainless steel tanks in the latest addition to the winery.

The squeaky clean stainless steel tanks in the latest addition to the winery.

Whilst bygone images of shooting wild boar to feed the family and village inhabitants might intrude on the sensibilities of vegans, his wines are now clarified using pea protein only and, as such, are super vegan-friendly.

It seems to me that Marcus still has the drive and energy of a 21 year old, whilst benefiting from the experience he has gained growing grapes and making wine here for two decades.  Consequently, he can channel his considerable charisma and business acumen in nurturing his clients in both the domestic and international markets.

I ask if he has a succession plan – to go to an eleventh generation – but his three daughters are far too young.  Rather sweetly, he does mark the corner rows of his plots with a pink sprayed stake, to signal his affection for them from the vineyard terraces.

Settled into the tasting room at the winery we work through a tasting of 23 wines.  Like Marcus, I would summarise his wines as toned, precise, handsome and charming.

The tasting room was a welcome respite from the chilly winter weather

The tasting room was a welcome respite from the chilly winter weather

The Riesling ‘Engelsberg’, which translates to Angel’s Hill, awakens and heightens my senses with its squeaky dryness, green apple crunch, juicy yellow plum, waxy texture and hint of sea spray.

A really refreshing pale rosé grabs my attention too.  Made from early harvested Zweigelt grapes, it transports me away from the cold, snowy Austrian winter momentarily to a Mediterranean summer.  This dry, bright pink wine reminds me of freshly picked, home-grown tomatoes, summer herbs and green olives and, put simply, is joyous.  A sommelier in our group suggests it would be perfect with a cherry tomato, basil and goats cheese salad: I agree, we drink to that and say, “Prost!”

Wine Bottles

Burns Night Tipples

17 January 2019 by Richard

Robert BurnsJust a few weeks ago I was seeing in the New Year with friends holding hands, cross-armed and trying to join in with the singing of Auld Lang Syne! Thankfully, the fireworks in the background disguised the mumbo-jumbo emanating from my mouth. I think I got away with it – for another year at least.

Dubbed the song “everyone knows, but nobody knows the words to”, Auld Lang Syne was of course written by Robert Burns, the Scottish poet’s whose works and life are celebrated the world over with Burns Night suppers on the 25th of January. In planning my first ever supper this year, I was disturbed to hear, that after the haggis, neaps, tatties and toasts, Auld Lang Syne is sung. No, I can’t really fake it again, can I?

I quickly formulate a “cunning plan” in my mind: Firstly, I will sing it using the more comprehensible words from the English translation rather than the original version. Secondly, I will have a wee nip of a special Scotch or two to wet my whistle.

Peat MonsterSo which dram of whisky? Is it a myth that a smoky, peaty whisky works best? Not according to the whisky critics out there, but it does need to go with the haggis itself, the meaty gravy, earthy buttery turnips and sweet, flowery swede.

Compass Box’s Peat Monster combines potent peat with subtle spice and fruit.  The sweet maltiness and hints of fruit offset the gaminess of the haggis and 10 to 16 year old smoky and peaty single malts (from the island of Islay, the Isle of Mull and Speyside) add another dimension to the overall supper.  Afterwards, relax in your favourite pairs of slippers, head for an armchair in front of roaring, mesmerising log fire.

Glendronach 21Alternatively, if peat does not get on with you, a big sherried whisky, such as those from Glendronach, will work wonders. Maturation in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks give fruit-laden flavours, sweet spice and a nuttiness that provides a great contrast to the meaty and peppery character of the dish.

Splash-out on the Glendronach ‘Parliament’, a 21 year old that has the features above in profusion with further notes of plum pudding and spiced oatmeal biscuits. If, like me, the thought of stewed summer fruits, all-spice and toasted walnut bread send you into an olfactory frenzy, try the 18 year old Glendronach ‘Alardice’. If you would rather these flavours were dialled down a notch, having spent just 12 years in these sherry butts, embrace the Glendronach ‘Original’.

However, if you like the taste of haggis and prefer it enhanced by whisky rather than overpowered by it then go for the easy-to-drink, elegant and very lightly peated James Eadie, with its fascinating human back-story. James Eadie established his signature blend of whisky in 1854, and although renowned at the time, the brand didn’t survive far into the 20th century. James Eadie1Luckily for us, Eadie’s great-great grandson Rupert Patrick has resurrected the brand using the meticulous records of whisky purchases made by James himself. Only whiskies that James Eadie purchased during his lifetime make it into the blend, which contains whiskies from every whisky making region in Scotland.

Having tasted samples of all the above whiskies and my confidence growing, I am heading off for some choir practice now. Wish me luck.

BLANK bottle – Good Wine, Real People, Great Stories

10 December 2018 by Richard

Pieter Walser is the brains behind the BLANK bottle concept. He reminds me of the most popular boy at school who effortlessly excels at everything he does. He shines as a cult winemaker, an artist, a marketer, a surfer, an actor, a negociant, a designer, an entrepreneur, a family man, a visionary, a raconteur, a party animal, a leader, a rebel, a genius, a magician… you get my drift. Whilst Pieter comfortably wears all these hats with great aplomb, he says he prefers not to wear a hat at all, not knowing how to label himself. Speaking of labels, it is really hard not judge his wines by their inimitable, ingenious labels, especially as Pieter draws every one himself and they all have an engaging and absorbing story.

New Wines

Some of the newly landed, limited edition wines – from left-to-right Epileptic Inspiration, Jaa-Bru & PhD.

Pieter’s very first, virtually self-taught effort at making wine was in his last year at Uni using a friend’s garage. Clearly he had a golden touch as he quickly sold on all he made, using his tenacity and radiating charm. His impecunious student status must have informed his decision to plough back every rand into buying more barrels and finding more extraordinary vineyards to source grapes.

In 2004, when Pieter was just beginning to bottle his own wines, one of his first customers proclaimed “I don’t do Shiraz”. So, Pieter poured her a glass of straight Shiraz, without telling her what is was. “I love it” she immediately bellowed! It was at that time that Pieter decided not to varietally label his wines, with the idea of breaking down all preconceived ideas about what you find yourself drinking.

Still to this day, Pieter has no land to his name and buys in grapes and rents vineyards, often on short-term contracts. Usually the wine’s provenance is shown as Western Cape, as the grapes that go in to the blends come from different districts. Some wines are repeated year after year, while others are one-off releases. The limitations are what excite him and there are always new parcels and opportunities arising.

In a nutshell, BLANK bottle is a series of limited edition wines, each with its own individual story, made from specially selected parcels of grapes from around the Cape. In terms of winemaking, this is about as boutique as it gets. Pieter’s scale-small winemaking is hands-off with old barrels being used so that the wine expresses a sense of place. They fit perfectly into our GOOD WINE, REAL PEOPLE, GREAT STORIES philosophy.

Pieter and Friends

Pieter, 3rd right, with his ‘party animal’ hat on, at one of our annual tasting events at The Good Wine Shop.

Having built up such a good rapport with Pieter over the last couple of years, we recently asked if he would make a wine exclusively for us. He duly barrel-fermented and blended one barrel of Macabeo with a barrel of Fernão Pires, making just 670 bottles and drew a fetching label featuring members of The Good Wine Shop team. I get a hipster makeover with some dark glasses! It has an alluring stone fruit and tropical fruit nose – peach, guava and pineapple – delicate floral tones and a richly textured palate with bright acidity and a saline mineral finish. It is a perfect match with pan-fried scallops with parsnip purée & pancetta crumbs.

The Good Wine Shop blend by BLANK bottle (yes, Pieter drew us upside down!)

The Good Wine Shop blend by BLANK bottle (yes, Pieter drew us upside down!)

What I’ll be Drinking this Christmas

1 December 2018 by Richard

The festive spirit only really comes alive in our house in mid-December, the day after my wife’s birthday… but I think I may have snaffled a record this year by consuming my first mince pies as early as September. Does that seem wrong? Listen up: my daughter’s year-round breakfast consists of a HOT CROSS BUN – now that does seem wrong to me. Surely, you should have them for high tea?! But at least you can only buy mince pies for 5 months of the year, not all year round! Like seasonal fruit and vegetables, they are so much tastier and I feel a little bit smug. I am sure I am not alone in thinking Christmas should be like the first unforced asparagus of the season. It should be a special season of indulgence, a once-a-year banquet with exceptional wine in the company of your nearest and dearest, right?
RisleusAt home, we start with some celebratory Champagne, toast our health and happiness and attempt to sing happy birthday to Jesus. This year, we will pop the Hubert Paulet Risleus 1er Cru 2002 – the flavours of ripe baked pears and apples, freshly-baked bread, buttery croissants and crushed sea-shells are super expressive and a joy to sip. All this is topped off with the London Philharmonic playing Handel’s Messiah in the background – Hosanna in the highest.
Sat down, cross-armed, we will all pull crackers, don the hats and read the jokes. Why did the turkey cross the road twice? To prove he wasn’t a chicken! Urggh, the old ones are best, aren’t they?
Speaking of the turkey, it is a misconception that I just grab a number of random bottles when locking-up the shop on Christmas Eve. No, no, my festive wines have been in the planning stage much longer than that. So, about 5 minutes before close, I will line up some options. I pick two for the turkey. What shall I have? Doah, the red Burgundy of course. Pinot Noir works wonderfully with turkey (or goose) and Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux’s Vosne-Romanee Les Chaumes Premier Cru 2008 has dark berry fruit and striking truffle and undergrowth notes. Or, should I really splurge on Roberto Voerzio’s Cerequio Barolo 2009, which is a stunner, having captivating me previously with its generous, inviting fruit and seductive personality. With the hands of the Christmas Eve wine o’clock tick-tocking down, I decide to take both.Vosne
Heading for the door, I remember the fromage wine – Stilton is a must on our cheese board and demands a sweet wine so, without hesitation, I grab Paul Meunier’s Maury with both hands. This lightly fortified, sweet yet fuzzy, port-like wine is made from old Grenache vines organically grown on a remote and windswept vineyard on rocky black schist in the Roussillon. It is a mesmerizing match.
Relieved that I have survived another Christmas in wine retail, I lob the shop keys into the foot well of my car and make a mental note to look out my Zalto Mystique decanter and Zalto Burgundy glasses so that the wines rock, along with Christmas itself.
Maury SmallBy the late afternoon of Christmas Day, replete but with my stomach now bigger than my eyes were, I get to gorge on a luxury, 12-month matured Christmas pudding. I will sneak a glass of ‘Antique’ Pedro Ximenez, aka PX, by Fernando de Castilla and (don’t tell anyone) another, later, with a mince pie. This Sherry is 20 years old and its luscious sweetness is tempered by an amazing array of complex flavours – coffee, fig, liquorice, tea and raisins. I am in heaven as all my Christmas sugar hits have landed in one stupendous smash.
Merry Christmas everyone.

Domaine Paul Meunier – a New Star is Born

29 October 2018 by Alex

P Meunier Vineyard

I first visited Paul Meunier just after his maiden vintage in 2014 after a tip-off that a bright, young, talented winemaker was breathing life back into former co-operative winery in a village called Centernach, just south of Maury in the Agly Valley in the southern Roussillon region. Such was the excitement during the visit that The Good Wine Shop decided to be the first and sole importer of these wines into the UK.

Over the preceding years Paul had been buying a few small prize plots of ancient vineyards in the hills surrounding Centernach and has been energetically nurturing the vines so that they can produce, fresh, refined, savoury, terroir-driven wines again. Powerful, sun-kissed darkly fruited and spicy, oaky wines are what you might expect from this district but Paul’s wines are light, pure and thrilling – the polar opposite.

IMG_2887

In part, this could be explained by Paul’s upbringing; the son of a Burgundian vintner, so wine must be in his blood. He gained immensely valuable experience making wine across the globe for 5 years, rapidly accelerated by working vintages each year in both northern and southern hemispheres. Having completed his apprenticeship Paul fell in love with the beautiful, wild vineyard landscape in this area, the towering Pyrenes as a backdrop. He also had the freedom and energy, which sometimes only a young, highly-ambitious vigneron has, to expertly express this place in his wines.

Official recordings of vineyard plantings only commenced in 1950, so many of Paul’s vineyards are at least 78 years old and some exceed 100 years. His highest site is 350 meters and whilst the soil types vary, schists, of varying colours, dominate. Very low yields of organically grown and hand harvested Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Macabeu and Grenache Gris are naturally fermented in small, inert concrete vats, concrete eggs and ceramic amphora, all with the purpose of letting the wine & terroir express themselves.

My favourites wine is the 2015 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc made from Macabeu and Grenache Gris planted in, or before, 1950 from a 269 meter high, rugged, black schist site near the neighbouring village of St Paul de Fenouillet. It is bright with generous stone fruit flavours, a stony salinity and perfect poise and presence.

The debut 2014 vintage of the red Cotes du Roussillon Villages is carefully assembled from vineyards in the villages of St-Arnac, Lesquerde, St-Paul and Maury. Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Lladoner Pelut (aka ‘the hairy Grenache’), Macabeu come from 10 to 100 years old vines grown at elevations from 130 to 300 meters. It is delightfully low in alcohol, especially for this part of the world and it has great elegance, refined red fruits, crunchy acidity and a note of schist. Comparisons have been made with Premier Cru Cotes de Nuits Burgundy – high praise indeed.Paul Meunier Grapes

From a single vineyard of 100% Grenache Noir planted in 1981 at 200 meters on a 0.58 hectare plot of windswept black schist is Paul’s Maury, a Vin Doux Naturel, that has a sweet, yet grippy port-like quality with a generous level of alcohol, aided by a light fortification. I believe he is doffing his hat to the vintage port houses as I established that part of it is made like port, part like a traditional Maury. It is my choice as an alternative to port this Christmas and is a more moderate, in terms of both alcohol and price.

Rave reviews from Jancis Robinson have followed but there are absolutely no signs of the dreaded DSAS – ‘difficult second album syndrome’. The opposite in fact as the current releases seem to point to stardom.

Intrigued? Click here to browse the range of wines from this great estate.

As an interesting post script, Napoleon disapproved of the Occitan language, which was widely used then, and renamed Centernach, ‘Saint Arnac’. Amusingly, Paul points out that there is no such Saint and that when spoken in French the word arnaque means a swindle! Paul understandably prefers to use the original spelling…

Bel Air-Marquis d’Aligre

6 October 2018 by Richard

As you probably know if you’re reading this, we’re always on the look out for Good Wine, Real People, and Great Stories to bring to our shelves. Some regions are always easier than others in this regard, and while no wine lover would deny the fact that some of the finest wines in the world hail from Bordeaux, many of these mainly tell a story of huge swathes of vineyard all blended and homogenised into an – often delicious – anonymised whole.

Bel Air-Marquis d’Aligre is different.

Bel Air Marquis

This is a chateau you may not have heard of before, but it could be the most important discovery you will ever make in Bordeaux.  From a bygone era, the owner, Monsieur Boyer’s energy belies his 85 years.  Remarkably, he is currently embarking on his 69th vintage at this property and his methods have remained essentially unchanged over this whole period.

He owns 50 hectares in Margaux which implies he is a large scale producer.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  One parcel remains fallow, as he pulled the vines after the 1956 frost and never got round to replanting them! In fact, he farms less than 15 hectares, highly unusual in a region obsessed with squeezing every last drop of wine out of the vineyards. Other parcels are full of ancient gnarly vines that are over 100 years old – and some may be much older.  These must be some of the oldest vines, not just in Bordeaux, but in the whole country. Unusually too, they grow on their own roots. Yields from these centenarians must be extraordinarily low, no doubt contributing to the wonderful complexity of the wines made at this property.  There is a refreshing aesthetic to these vineyards and they are ill-fitting, surrounded by the neatly manicured rows of vines more commonly found in the Bordeaux establishment.

Put politely, the winery is showing its age; lots of large cement vats, a few very old wooden barrels and some bats, who may well have made their home here for as long as the proprietor!  He treats the current state of Bordeaux with disdain and chooses not to enter the en-primeur market, instead opting to store the wine in his cellar until they are ready to drink.  Those who like their claret with bold oaky flavours should steer clear.  His wines are profound, unadulterated (no oak is used for maturation these days), remarkably pure and sappy in style, which urge you to take another sip.  It is an incredible back story and it all sounds like a massive time warp to me but one I have happily contorted myself into.

Luckily, we have a small allocation of the 2000, a vintage which produced ripe flavours and lush, velvety wines.  Whilst the Bel Air Marquis d’Aligre reflects the warm vintage conditions with good concentration and polish it also retains a beautiful purity, freshness and a gentle grip.  All these gradually open up into something with a timeless class that shares more in common with an elegant Burgundy than most Bordeaux.

New Arrivals for Summer

27 July 2018 by Alex

Lots of great new bottles have hit the shelves in the last few weeks, so we thought we’d share a selection of our favourites to inspire you during this warm weather!

Huber, Riesling Engelsberg, Traisental, Austria, 2017

Huber Riesling

 

 

 

Our favourite new dry Riesling comes from Traisental in Austria. Showing intense but cool peach and lemon fruit on the nose, the palate has the typical Austrian combination of dense texture and lively acidity. Vinified in stainless steel with 4 hours skin contact and 4 months on the lees.

Ventisei Bianco, Tuscany, Italy, 2017

26bianco

 

 

 

Part of a trio of wines from the Ventisei (Italian for twenty-six) brand that have just hit the shelves. The wines are made by Eline Saverys, the daughter of the winemaker at renowned Tuscan estate Avignonesi, who started her own wine bar in Antwerp at the age of 26 – hence the name! Experimenting with her own blends of organic grapes with the aim of creating something vibrant and super-drinkable led Eline to create the Ventisei brand, and we think she has been very successful! The Ventisei bianco is a blend 40.5% Trebbiano, 40.5% Malvasisa Bianca, and 19% Sangiovese, brimming with peachy fruit and white flowers and just generally incredibly summery and moreish!

Bodega Goiania, Txakoli Uno, Spain, 2015

txakoli-uno (1)

 

 

 

If you’ve ever been to San Sebastian, you may be familiar with Txakoli: incredibly refreshing in the sun, high in acidity, sometimes slightly fizzy, and free-flowing in every Pintxos bar in town. This Txakoli retains this freshness and thirst-quenching quality but the benefit of 5 months ageing on lees has transformed it into an entirely different animal. Mineral, citrussy, and tense with a rounded texture, this has more than a little in common with a good premier cru Chablis but for a much more friendly price tag!

Huber, Zweigelt Rosé, Traisental, Austria, 2017

huber rose

 

 

 

Although perhaps from a leftfield source, this dry rosé has been one of our favourites this summer. Jam-packed with strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry fruit, some of the Zweigelt vines used for this cuvée are 50 years old giving an extra depth of flavour. Impressive for its creamy texture sitting alongside a very modest 11.5% alcohol, we highly recommend taking a detour from Provence next time you’re thinking pink!

Ventisei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy, 2015

26nobile

 

 

 

Eline Saverys’s red wine from the prestigious Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG is a structured and serious wine from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot. Each plot of Sangiovese grapes is aged separately in various sizes of oak barrels before being assembled into the final blend. Fragrant, with brooding dark fruits, and sweet cinnamon spice.

La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Rouge, Sierra Foothills, California, 2015

Jambalia

 

 

 

Delicious unfiltered red made from a field blend of Mourvedre, Marsanne, Grenache and Syrah. It’s all about the juice, pale red with lovely freshness, herbs and minerals. A full-flavoured red that’s lighter in body than one would expect. Serving this chilled in the sunshine really enhances the juiciness of the fruit and the general vibrancy of this wine.

First Drop, ‘2%’ Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia, 2015

FD 2p

 

 

 

The Shiraz grapes for this wine come from the Seppeltsfield, Greenock and Ebenezer areas of the Barossa. Aged in a mixture of new and old French hogsheads and American barriques for 20-24 months, giving a dark-fruited, earthy style with notes of tobacco and cocoa. So far so delicious, yet relatively conventional, so First Drop decided to add 2% of the fragrant white Moscatel for ‘a splash of funk!’.