2017 week 7 – Pithon-Paillé, Bonnes Blanches 2013

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In honor of Drink Chenin Day, back to the place where it all began: Anjou! The region produces some of the greatest white wines in the world, but is woefully under-appreciated. This is in large part the result of an overly complicated appellation structure. The first thing to understand is that in the Loire valley, appellations are stacked on each other. It is perfectly possible to go to a vineyard located in the village of Bonnezeaux and produce one of the following appellations: Bonnezeaux (sweet), Anjou (white or red), Cabernet d’Anjou (red), Rosé d’Anjou (rosé), or Coteaux du Layon (sweet). One possible consequence is that if I can command a higher price for a Coteaux du Layon label than for an Anjou, I will direct my attention towards the CdL. Everything that is not good enough or does not meet the criteria will then get bumped to a ‘lower’ tier.

Anjou was actually the first appellation created in the region in 1936. It wasn’t until the 50’s that, following a better understanding of terroir and a hefty dose of lobbying that other appellations were drawn up. This is a process that it still ongoing, as we can see with the relatively recent recognition of Roche aux Moines and Coulée de Serrant as appellations in 2011, as well as in the debate regarding Chaume. So gradually, the territory of Anjou is supplanted by other ‘higher’ tier appellations.

For winelovers this represents a fantastic opportunity, as you can snap-up world-class wines at interesting price points. The winemaker who actually jumpstarted my love for chenin blanc is Jo Pithon, the man at times more known for his impressive mouton chops than his wines (google, or the excellent book Vignerons d’Anjou). Even though he has been in the world of wine for decades, he only started working under the current label in 2008. The own vineyards coer about 13ha, worked biodynamically or in the process of converting towards, and there is a négoce business as well.

Today I cracked my final bottle of Bonnes Blanches 2013, a wonderful wine sourced from a vineyard near St. Lambert de Lattay. 2013 was not the easiest of years and a lot of producers struggled with ripeness and an overbearing acidity. Ageing this wine in used oak for 14 months looks to have been the right choice, as it is soft yet vivid in its acidity. From the colour I was a bit worried about oxidation, but the nose was reassuring. Bruised apples yes, but a distinctive, almost dominating herbaceous edge with fennel and a minty freshness. On the palate it is vivid, succulent even, with a thirst-quenching quality yet not without focus and length. Really the type of wine where you say that you’ll drink just one glass, only to finish the bottle!

Other Loire wines talked about: 

 

Food & Wine – Asparagus galore

We are nearing the end of the growing season of one of my favorite vegetables: white asparagus. I grew up in a town that has in recent years styled itself as Belgium’s hub, and rightly so. Kinrooi is one of the biggest producer of white asparagus, and unlike the big, fat stems that are more about volume, here they are properly treated as a foodie’s treasure. Even though I have lived in Brussels for the past couple of years, I would never dream of buying my asparagus anywhere else, and it is always a great way to welcome Spring. What better way to now end the season than with two Belgian classics?

Winewise, the literature is not a fan. Too herbaceous is an often-heard argument, but more importantly is the impact that it has on your palate, as the asparagusic acid it contains can make a wine taste lean and metallic. Overly fruity wines or sweet wines are therefore considered a no-go, but there are of course loads of wines that do prove to be up to the challenge. My go-to country would be Germany, where asparagus is also a true classic on the menu, but today we broaden our horizons.

Let’s start with a dish that my mom used to make to inaugurate the new season: asparagus à la flamande. Deceptively simple but simply delicious with only a couple of extra ingredients: parsley, eggs, a bit of nutmeg and high-quality butter. How did the following wines fare?

IMG_5263First up, the German selection may be familiar with those who have been following my writing since the beginning: Am Stein’s Innere Leiste Silvaner 2012. It just goes to show that I don’t just write about the wines I like, I actually tuck them away in my cellar as well! Silvaner seems to be a good match with asparagus as it also has an herby, spicier side. It is more pungent on the nose than I remember, but on the palate, it has a nice, mineral intensity to it. It has clearly benefited from a bit of bottle time, and I think that it can still develop wonderfully for the next couple of years. The combination shines in its completeness; preserving an herbaceous balance against the parsley and asparagus, yet retaining a sense of gras to match the butter. A great wine in its own right, lifted to a higher level when paired with the right dish.

Staying within the minerality theme, a South African chenin blanc: Mullineux’s Kloof Street chenin blanc 2015. I had not tasted the bottle before and bought it solely based on the producer’s reputation. It comes across a bit austere with a flinty, reduced nose on the first day. There is a bit more fruit afterwards but overall it is rather muted. Soft on the palate, and nothing that really stands out. Unfortunately, it did not stand a chance against the eggs and butter; the slight astringency that was already present as an afterthought was suddenly much more noticeable, so let’s just chalk it up as a learning experience!

Finally, the most surprising match: Giovanni Almondo’s Roero Arneis ‘Bricco delle Ciliegi’ 2013. The bottle was chosen completely at random from the cellar, as I remember it being quite tight and mineral in flavor, so I was hoping it would work. It wasn’t until basically just now that I found out that the terroir of Roero is also ideally suited for asparagus! Perhaps the most subtle wine when it comes to the aroma, but very nice. Mostly on spring flowers, a bit leafy and a freshness that also dominates the palate. The tightness is still there, but there is a lovely tension that actually goes really well with the dish, a great discovery.

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While asparagus a la flamande is in essence an easy dish that can uplift an average weekday, the next meal is something that requires a bit more work: Slip soles with fresh North Sea shrimps and asparagus with a white beer mousseline sauce. Granted, shrimps are hideously expensive these days, but combined with a couple of perfect slip soles as well as a velvety mousseline, they are just irresistible. It is a richer dish, so we would need a wine that can handle a bit of pressure.

I looked for something that could match the mousseline first, so something with a bit of structure, perhaps a hint of butter, yet something mineral as well, as the delicate flavours of the shrimps could easily be overwhelmed otherwise. Finally, there are the asparagus, which would only pick a fight if a wine had the audacity to show fruit. So round yet minerality and a more muted yet intense character led me to the Jura, to what it perhaps my best Chardonnay discovery of the year: Domaine Pignier’s A La Percenette 2014.

I haphazardly discovered this estate when I was served a deceptively basic Cremant de Jura in a restaurant a couple of years ago. I was stunned by what I found in my glass, a wine with a complexity that surpasses like half the offer of Champagne at this price point. I jotted down the estate’s name, but of course I lost the note and forgot about it. When I encountered the winemaker at la Renaissance two years ago, I had the opportunity to taste a couple of other wines, which were so convincing that I bought a selection of their wines to taste at home.

Pignier is one of the oldest estates in the Jura, with the seventh generation currently at the helm. The wines are the epitome of slowness; taking the time to allow the wines to find their own natural balance, giving them the opportunity to literally prepare for the ages, as the estate confidently states that their wines can easily go for 10 to 20 years. A la Percenette is a wine of crystalline precision; not something that you notice at first but that sneaks up to you and captivates your attention. It is a lively, yet calm wine, with a depth that goes fantastic with the mousseline sauce, and a freshness that really complements the herbiness of the asparagus and the salinity of the shrimp. A match made in heaven.

 

An impression of the Real Wine Fair (II)

Moving on to the other side of the world, South Africa. Three estates were present: Mother Rock, mentioned here and here in the past; Jurgen Gouws, whose wines could qualify as my gateway drug to South Africa after having tasted them at RAW two years ago; and Testalonga, the solo-project of Craig and Carla Hawkins. I have tasted quite a few of their wines at separate occasions, so this was a great opportunity to go through the full lineup. All in all, the wines are exemplary expressions of their variety, yet characterized by a freshness and purity that really shows the signature of the winemaker. Continue reading

An impression of the Real Wine Fair (I)

The 2014 edition of the Real Wine Fair was my first proper wine event. Two intense days packed with tasting, attending presentations given by experts, plunging into the completely unknown with Georgian wines and still remembering great wines made by the likes of Olivier Pithon, Elisabetta Foradori and Anton Van Klopper (just a few months back, I cracked my last, wonderful bottle of his 2010 Lucy Margaux pinot noir). The last couple of years I had to chose to either attend the RWF or RAW, given that London is not exactly cheap and winewriting doesn’t generate anything worthy of the term revenue. This year however, thanks to the combination of cheap Eurostar tickets and suitable dates, I had the luck of attending both fairs. Continue reading

Food & Wine – Easter lamb and ratatouille

IMG_5259Given that I wrote about pairing a non-French dish with French wines last week, why not turn it around and pair a French classic with something a bit more international?

Food-wise, Easter is perhaps the most traditional holiday. I can’t recall ever having eaten anything else but lamb, in various preparations of course, but the gist of it remains the same. So for the family, what else to make but a nice, slow-roasted lamb shoulder glazed with mustard seeds and honey, accompanied by a truly French classic dish: ratatouille?

What would the French prefer to drink with it? Wen researching different suggestions or argumentations, I discovered an interesting split: lamb is associated with Médoc, and not the cheapest ones (Jancis Robinson simply notes: red Bordeaux – as grand as possible); whereas ratatouille is almost an afterthought, maybe because of its comparably humble origins in the Provence, and therefore cornered in an unfortunate association with the ubiquitous rosé that the region produces.

Let’s start with the lamb. The choice for Médoc stems from the relatively strong character of the lamb so aromatically speaking we have a match. More important is structural complementarity, as the tannins will make the meat taste juicier and more tender. The longer you roast the lamb, the more robust it will be in flavor. In this case, young and overly fruity wines will not be the best of matches, which is why a wine with a bit of age would do nicely.

As for ratatouille and rosé, this simply does not work, as the almost inherent neutrality of Provençal rosé will be obliterated by the intense flavors of the ratatouille. Bandol Rosé or something like Chateau Simone may be a match, but for most people these wines are not all that representative of the archetypical pale type of rosé, or in the price class associated with it. Depending on the herbs you used (rosemary is basically all you need), you would be much better off with the red wines of the Provence, all too often ignored and with much less visibility outside of France.

Ratatouille is a delight to eat and to prepare. It takes a lot of time to cut up all the vegetables, especially if you want to avoid big chunks, but it is a lot of fun and your kitchen will simply smell amazing. Most people tend to chuck everything into one pot, but I prefer to prepare my tomatoes separately, with vast amounts of onion, and a generous sprinkle of sherry vinegar to give it a fresh drive.

Now we get to the wine. On the one hand I am looking for something medium-bodied, not to overbearing in tannins to match the lamb. On the other hand, I have a very fresh yet savoury ratatouille, so my wine also needs the acidity to match. Going through the cellar, I came across two wines that would do well: Mas d’En Gil’s Coma Vella 2007, and Mount Abora’s Abyssinian 2012.

In the spirit of something tannic yet fresh with powerful but evolved aromas, the Coma Vella seemed like a good choice. I drink far too little Priorat to be honest, yet whenever I think back to the best Spanish wines I have drunk, it always ranks at the top. There is a brilliant intensity, a shiftiness in aromas and layers that is very difficult to replicate elsewhere in the world, making irresistible wines. Mas d’En Gil is always a go to wine when I taste at the Belgian importer. They are not cheap, but as this wine proves, worth cellaring and savoring. Almost pungent in the nose, garrigue, Mediterranean herbs, dried fruit and a bit of roasted coffee beans keep fighting for attention. Deep on the palate, broad in structure but with an acidity, a drive that gives it energy. 15% in alcohol which is present (duh) but balanced. The best match for the lamb, especially with the glaze, not so good with the ratatouille as it is too overwhelming in intensity. Saddening that this is my final bottle!

Johan Meyer is by far my favorite South African winemaker. I have not come across one wine that I did not like or love, be it what he does with his own estate, Mount Abora, or Mother Rock, the cooperation with Indigo Wines’ Ben Henshaw which I briefly addressed when talking about RAW last year. His wines are driven, elegant and bright, pop-and-pour as well as able to improve over a couple of days. The Abyssinian 2012 is a blend of Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Syrah. On itself it is just fantastic; give it a bit of time to open up and you will have a joyful bottle of wine, juicy, crunchy fruitiness immediately put in place by a spicy, punchy edge delivered by the Mourvèdre. Very bright, made in a lighter, more playful style than you would expect based on the blend, but great with the lamb and especially the ratatouille, a perfect counterweight to the savouriness in both dishes. As an added bonus in comparison to the Priorat, lower in alcohol!

On mistaking marketing ploys for wine (2)

Schermafbeelding 2017-04-09 om 18.55.25So, how have our blue wine-producing friends fared since their marketing-heavy launch last year? Admittedly, they dropped off my radar quite quickly after I published this article. At the time, I had contacted them to see if their wine would be available in Belgium, as it was perennially sold out on their Dutch website. I didn’t get a reply until just a while ago, when they were thrilled to announce that they were back in production and that I would be able to order as much as I would need, or required to slip me into a sugar-induced coma (well, non-caloric sweeteners technically). It was casually mentioned that past issues were resolved, which is basically click bait for a google search to what said issues may be! Continue reading

Food & wine – butternut squash risotto

Something new! As mentioned in my previous post, there are a couple of changes upcoming, one of them being more attention being paid to matching food with wine. Those sommelier studies have to count for something, right? First up, risotto vs. Chardonnay!

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Spring is upon us, which means that it is time to say goodbye to my favorite squash, the butternut pumpkin. Nutty in flavor with a dash of sweetness and a smooth, wintery structure, I find it irresistible when looking for comfort food. It is the perfect base for a fantastic risotto; hearty, heavy enough to make you regret the last bite yet not so heavy as to make you feel too guilty about it.

In all honesty, I only discovered the joy of a good pumpkin risotto a couple of years ago thanks to one of the pioneers on Belgium’s wine blog scene, Chateau Sans Pretention. The amount of articles written by Erik is astonishing and even though he no longer writes, I still check back from time to time for tips and pointers on what there is to discover in the world of wine. The blog however, pales in comparison to the Vinopedia, which is a simply monumental database that could give the likes of Larousse a run for their money. Anyway, it was this article on matching pumpkin risotto with wine that inspired me to try it myself. I made just a few changes: no mascarpone and crunchy speck to add a bit of textural fun. The core of the dish, spicy, oven-roasted squash, stays the same.

The classic, conservative match is (young) oaked chardonnay. The aromas derived from the barrel ageing blend in nicely with the spices used, but more importantly, the creamy texture of oaked chardonnay is perfectly complementary with the richness of a risotto. You do not want to go turbo-oaked, nothing that has been vinified in 100% new oak or that has been in the hands of a batonnage-addict (the process of stirring the lees, the dead yeasts that have settled on the bottom of the barrel, to give the wine more structure). As always, freshness and elegance will prove to be key for a good match.

IMG_4791To spice things up, I looked for two similar but different wines. First up, Maison Verget’s Terroir de Vergisson de la Roche 2012. I am a big fan of what Jean-Marie Guffens can do with the great terroirs of the Maconnais, balancing an energetic minerality without losing the depth and structure that Burgundy can do so well. Fermentation in oak, 15% new, and regular batonnage over the course of six months. Wine two is Calera’s Central Coast Chardonnay 2013. Interesting American wines are still a rare find in Belgium sadly enough, so the best option is to fall back on the classics. What Josh Jensen produces is fantastic, decidedly New World climate in exuberance, yet so completely in balance thanks to a crazy attention to details. Fermentation in oak as well, 10% new, very little batonnage over the course of ten months.

So, same variety, similar in vinification but completely different wines of course. Calera proved to be the best match. Juicy fruit and a quite distinctive toastiness. This was definitely no cool climate wine, yet the palate had freshness, the barrel ageing playing more on aromas rather than texture. Verget was maybe more complex on its own, more nuanced in the nose and focus, linearity on the palate. It was a bit too muted to counter the richness of the risotto, and I think it would have been more suited for a lighter dish.

Of course, this is a pairing that I thought about throughout the day, juggling different options for the risotto and the wine pairing (it keeps you hungry throughout work, but the day goes by just a little faster). If I had used different herbs, sage for instance, I wouldn’t have matched it with the chardonnay as the herbalness would have clashed with what was in the glass. Surprisingly, I have been able to match the sage-version quite well with a randomly picked bottle of Julien Sunier’s Fleurie in the past, as you get a pungency that does go well with the intensity of the dish. It just goes to show that there is always a fair deal of luck involved in a wine match!

A charity auction for SOS Kinderdorpen!

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The wine world can be quite self-absorbed and will at its worst seem to cater to the 1%. Luckily there is also room for trying to do something good (aside from supporting wine makers), and over the years there have been a great any initiatives taken for just causes. Charity dinners and auctions, Wine in Moderation’s continuous awareness raising for the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, or the #winelover against cancer campaign are just of a couple of examples (incidentally, be sure to check out the latest one as October is breast cancer awareness month!).

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On the (un)-importance of vintages

The Bordeaux en primeur campaign has come and gone as it does every year, resulting in the usual commentaries, analyses and articles being spawned. What always strikes me is the emphasis placed on the vintage assessment, more so here than in any other part of the world it sometimes seems. In fact, the general public tends to extrapolate the verdict of the 2014 Bordeaux vintage to France, or even the whole world. Continue reading

The historical value (or lack thereof) of wine

For a recent column in Decanter Jane Anson interviewed Michel-Jack Chasseuil, one of the greatest wine collectors in the world. I had come across his name before, namely while browsing through his book  ‘100 vintage treasure from the world’s finest wine cellar’. Chasseuil is an obsessive collector and the proud owner of some of the rarest and supposedly greatest wines in the world. Continue reading

Wine for the ages

There are dozens of misunderstandings amongst the general public when it comes to wine. It is too expensive, it all tastes the same, I don’t know anything about it so I have to look like a deer caught in the headlights when presented with the wine list in a restaurant, anyone who knows the name of a grape variety that is not chardonnay or merlot is a snob,… . Continue reading

An opinion on tasting notes (3)

Now we get to the difficult part, how do you actually come up with a tasting note? Sommelier courses nearly always start explaining students how to taste using a structured approach that can serve as a template for virtually every wine they would encounter in the future. Yet, when browsing professional tasting notes, there is little structure or uniformity to be found. Continue reading

An opinion on tasting notes (1)

One of the most boring things to read in an article on wine is the list of tasting notes. This may seem contradictory as the essence of a wine is always, always found in the tasting. An estate may have a long history, it may be owned by celebrities or a bottle may even have been dug out of a sunken submarine, if the content does not excite or lacks a sense of identity than it is all for naught. Continue reading

A Definition of Minerality

Judging from the wine blogosphere, you would be quite correct in assuming that German white wine is the next big thing, up for a well-deserved revival after the world had been flooded with cheap, low-quality liebfraumilch for decades. I myself only discovered the new wave in German wine a couple of years ago when I was introduced to Dönnhoff (Nahe) and Horst Sauer (Franken). Continue reading