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!

2017 week 6 – Domaine des Cavarodes, Franche-Comté rouge 2014

IMG_0884For years the Jura remained a blind spot on my wine radar. About ten years ago I followed your very basic wine course which was more about drinking than actually learning anything. I was ticked off that I had to miss the one class on regions that I knew nothing about, Jura and Savoie, but quickly forgot about it. A couple of years later, when I was getting more and more into wine, I came across an invitation for a Jura wine tasting in Antwerp, organized by Terrovin. It turned out to not only be my first real introduction to the wines of the Jura, but also to the world of natural wine. I have visited a lot of tastings over the years, but this is one that stayed with me, because the wines were so different from what I had drunk up until that point. My tasting notes can be summarized by ‘subdued, coolness, crunch, length, stinky, pure, shifting in the glass, and geuze, geuze, geuze’.

Since then however, my interest in the Jura was properly piqued, and even though I have had the opportunity to discover many more wines since then, I still am nowhere near a proper grasp on the region. Scarcity plays a role, although I think that there are a couple of importers who can be considered groundbreaking in this regard, but there is something more. Every time I get the idea in my head that I can relax and assume that I got it, I pass by the Jura winemakers at Dive Bouteille and slap myself for overconfidence. One of these winemakers who regularly manages to surprise me is actually one of the first I met; Etienne Thiebaud, owner of Domaine des Cavarodes. He was present at the Antwerp tasting, but to call our conversation brief would be an overstatement, as the man seems to have a very limited quota of words he can disperse in a day. Nonetheless, contact over the years has been better at la Dive, and a taste of his latest vintage is always one of my first stops.

Five grapes are currently allowed in the Jura, but these are only part of the story. Near the end of the 19th century, there were over 40 varieties commonly associated with the region, but alas, phylloxera as well as the drafting of the AOC rules has condemned the vast majority to the annals of vinous history. Nonetheless, there are still parcels lying around here and there, and these are simply treasure troves; centenarian vines, often neglected for decades so untreated, and affordable for those crazy enough to want to work with them.

Today’s wine, a Vin de Pays de Franche-Comté 2014 is the result of one of these efforts. 1/3 of pinot noir, 1/3 of trousseau and the remaining third consisting of Poulsard, Gamay, Pinot Meunier, Argant, Portugais Bleu, Enfariné and Mézy, the latter being varieties that I assume are not your everyday drink for most readers! Semi-carbonic fermentation gives it freshness, little red berries with ample crunch, yet there is also a tannic structure that needs some time to unwind. It is a perfect wine to drink with these early spring days, refreshing without lacking depth, and surprisingly low in alcohol at only 9.5%, what more do you need for a nice, sunny evening?

Other Jura wines talked about: 

Food & Wine – Moroccan chicken pastilla

IMG_4812This week I will be joining the Winophiles, a group of bloggers united in their love for French wine who commit to an article on a shared topic. This month: Cross-cultural food pairings with French wine! This is really something that I love, as it forces you to think outside of the box; to put aside wine conventions that are mostly based on regional cuisines and that have been developed and semi-set in stone.

Saying life in Brussels for a foodie has its perks is an understatement. Plenty of restaurants, an it-scene when it comes to new cuisines being offered and basically all ingredients imaginable within reach almost qualifies for a Walhalla. The usual ride from work takes me by the Chatelain market; the place to be for an aperitif in spring/summer, and otherwise a favorite stop for your everyday market vegetables as well as something a bit more international. Afterwards I cannot help but walk by my local wine merchant, and everything for an extra special weekday meal is practically ready.

First stop: buying a pastilla. I first discovered this when we spent a couple of weeks traveling through Morocco in 2015. The country’s cuisine is amazing; incredibly diverse, which is not something you would assume based on what I generally find in Belgium, and just so savoury and intense in flavor. Be forewarned, there will be a lot more food pairings to discuss in the future, and I think that a pastilla, being a complex presentation of so many different aspects of Moroccan cuisine is a good starting point. It combines delicate pastry with slowly cooked poultry, massively spiced but not without losing flavor balance. The Moroccan vendor at Chatelaine market uses cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cumin, a healthy dose of saffron and just a tiny hint of dried chilly. Everyone can make his or her own version, this one was with chicken but I have eaten it with pigeon as well, and the spice mix is also up to your own liking.

Second stop: fresh veg from whatever vendor’s shouting catches my ear. I had a bit of time to spare in the kitchen, so I made a simple carrot salad with cumin, parsley and garlic that I discovered thanks to a French chef in Essaouira, as well as Ottolenghi’s charred broccoli with a tahini dressing. Add some Persian flatbread with homemade hummus, and for little money you are set for a semi-decadent meal.

Third stop: the wine. It is not the easiest cuisine to find an ideal pairing. You are dealing with intense yet delicate flavors, so getting complementarity just right is challenging. Wine and food matching theory will tell you to go more and more south as you add more spices, which I get, but find a bit boring. The meal is in essence quite pure without becoming simple, so I opted for two wines that show depth without becoming heavy or too dominating. To spice things up, two completely different regions: the Loire and the Rousillon.

I talked about Domaine Porte Saint Jean a while back, and a bottle of Saumur-Champigny, Les Beaugrands 2011 seemed to be a daring but most interesting match. The wine itself is fresh in character, but with aromas of middle eastern spices and a headiness that even overcame the scents coming off the pastilla, so it worked actually quite well! It helps that the pastilla was filled with chicken meat, and that the pastry was wafer-thin and light; with pigeon for instance I think that the flavors would be too overwhelming. With the vegetables, the wine met its match, especially texture-wise, as the broccoli tahini dressing proved to be too rich.

IMG_0887Now, the safer and classic match was Roc des Anges’ Reliefs Cotes de Rousillon 2013. I have to admit that the South of France has been a blind spot on my wine radar for too long, and every year, when I encounter one of those fantastic wines that show that the Rousillon is so much more than a cheap swill factory, I tell myself that I need to pay far more attention to it. For now, it is but a note on my never-ending list of wine-related to-do’s.

 Roc des Anges, however, is one of those estates that you can always find in my cellar, both in white and red. It is a classic Rousillon, with a hefty dose of Carignan next to Grenache and Syrah. Very juicy in impression, black ripe fruit, quite peppery as well, even a bit inky, something I somehow always associate with Carignan, but soft on the palate, tannins are very present, it is only 2013, but overall it is very complete, very harmonious in all its elements.

The match with the food is good, it does go a lot better with the vegetables, in particular the sesame seeds on the broccoli. I get why this type of wine is the standard match for intensely flavoured dishes. It does have a bit of heat that may become too much after a couple of glasses, but overall it is something that is not overwhelmed by the spiciness in the dish, so wine and food matching theory does have a point.

Be sure to check out the pairings concocted by the other winophiles!

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog pairs Bordeaux with Cajun and Italian Classics

Michelle from Rockin’ Red Blog asks “Do Empanadas Bordeaux?”

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla will match a Vin de Pays d’Oc Chardonnay and an Edible Mollusc from Monterey

Gwendolyn of Wine Predator highlights Taco Tuesday: Chicken Mole Strawberry Salad with 3 French Wines

Jane from Always Ravenous takes us to the islands with Chicken Colombo: A Blend of Caribbean Flavors from the French West Indies

Lynn from Savor the Harvest informs us that Tortilla Española Crosses Wine Borders

Jill of L’occasion describes A World of Flavors in Marseille

Jeff from FoodWineClick! reports as Loire Valley Wines Take the Spicy Thai Challenge

At The Swirling Dervish, Lauren covered A Feast for the Senses: Viognier and Indian Spices

2017 Week 5 – Suertes del Marques, Vidonia 2014

IMG_5192The other day I organized an introductory tasting on the wines of the Canary Islands. In the past, I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with the wines of what are arguably the islands’ most well-known producers, Vinatiego and Suertes del Marques. Given that they are not commonly found or well-known, even by winegeek standards, I thought they warranted a closer look.

Surprisingly, the Canary Islands are home to 10 different appellations with close to 10,000ha planted. The wines produced were in the past guzzled up mostly by the tourists visiting the islands, but in recent years there has been renewed interest among winelovers for a number of reasons. First up, terroir. The Canary Islands are relatively young, with El Hierro being ‘only’ 1 million years old. Volcanic activity governs the islands’ soil composition and continues to play a role. Tenerife’s biggest volcano, El Teide, last erupted in 1909, but is still carefully monitored as future eruptions are all but unlikely. This terroir alone would not suffice to build the Islands’ reputation, which brings me to my second point: the grape varieties.

There are about 10 varieties which are said to be indigenous. About half of those can be considered truly local; the others have their origin in either Spain or Portugal. Nonetheless, aside from the two varieties shared with Madeira (Gual and Negramoll), they do all derive a unique character from being planted on volcanic soils. This has been a major selling point in recent years; tired of international varieties being used all around the world, winelovers increasingly realize that Spain can be a real treasure trove when it comes to originality. Compounded with the fact that there are quite a few ungrafted vines around as phylloxera never got a hold on the island, it is no surprise that it piques the interest of your everyday winegeek.

Suertes del Marques was founded in 2006 and has played a pivotal role in developing the reputation of Tenerife on the world wine scene. They are based in Valle de la Orotova, home to the oldest vines on the island. The volcanic soils here are relatively recent following past eruptions, which means that wines here may also be the most outspoken ‘volcanic’ in character. The estate currently manages about 9ha over a multiple of different parcels, focusing exclusively on old vines.

Today we take a look at the estate’s Vidonia 2014. A blend of three different parcels, all planted with centenarian ungrafted Listan. This grape variety is the same as Palomino Fino, the staple variety used for Sherry.  Relatively high in yield and a bit neutral in character at best, it does not have the greatest of reputations when it comes to dry wines in mainland Spain. Here however, controlled yields (less than one sixth of what you would get in Jerez), the age and the volcanic soils work together to create a truly interesting wine.

It is not for the faint of hearted, as the palate in particular borders on the austere. The intensity of flavors however, as well as the evolution that the wine shows in the glass are just great. Flintiness, almonds, a bit of honey, freshly plucked apricots and a floral purity follow each other in rapid succession, carried by a razor-sharp acidity. There is a sense of linearity, a tanginess that makes it remarkable. It has something of an almost naked Burgundy, tight, one-track-minded but offering intensity and character all the way. It may not be to everyone’s liking at first, but give it time, or a hearty dish with it (for someone reason it screams veg instead of meat to me) and it will be a memorable experience.

Loire Tripping 2017 – The Salon & La Levée

Finally, my impressions from a day at the Salon des Vins de Loire. Contrary to last year, I only attended on Tuesday, due to the Salon changing its calendar and starting a day earlier, thus overlapping the numerous off-events. I don’t really know why this was done, nor did I get a straight answer from basically anyone, but I do think that it is to the detriment of the Salon. Visitors were few, perhaps also because it was the final day, but compounded with the fact that there was an entire tasting area gone in comparison to last year, this is not a good sign. I get that you want to be the biggest and the best, but look at Millésime Bio and Vinisud facing off just a week before the Loire events; no one really wins. Continue reading

Loire tripping 2017 – Dive Bouteille

img_4974Dive is the type of chaos with a flair that only the French know how to do right. Get annoyed at the lack of navettes between the Saumur station and the Ackerman cellars where la Dive takes place or walk. Get pissed off at the crowds of backpack-carrying groupies who just hang out with their revered winemaker of choice, or simply mingle with them. Finally, get paralyzed by the fear of swallowing due to the lack of spittoons, or carry around your own in a trolley, trumping backpacks in annoyance, like a certain couple of Dutch wine merchants (although you never know with the Dutch, they may as well have been creating their own very special blend of salvia-textured wine vinegar).

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2017 week 3 – Domaine Dupasquier, Roussette de Marestel 2012

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Continuing with regions in France that I do not remember too fondly from gazing at them while studying, the Savoie! It was basically the Sud-Ouest all over again, albeit on a much smaller scale (about 2000ha). On the surface, it looks deceptively simple: three major appellations: Vins de Savoie, Rousette de Savoie and Seyssel. So far so good, but than you get to the crus, all with their own set of rules: 16 for Vins de Savoie and 4 for Rousette de Savoie. You may wonder what the big deal is, isn’t the appellation structure in Burgundy for instance far more complex? Yes, but at least there you are only talking about two world-renowned grape varieties whereas in the Savoie, only pinot noir and gamay will ring a bell with your average wine consumer. The other twenty-one permitted varieties are only trackable in various degrees of obscurity, both in the bottle and the vineyard.

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The Beaujolais Nouveau Bar Crawl

A few announcements to kick of today’s post!

One of my previous articles, on mistaking marketing ploys for wine, has been shortlisted for a Born Digital Wine Award in the category Best Editorial/Opinion Wine Writing. Obviously I am absolutely thrilled by this. Competition however is steep, but here’s hoping for a place in the top three. In the meantime, check out some of the other articles that are up for nomination, there is some great stuff to read. You can find them HERE.

As of last Saturday, I can officially call myself sommelier-conseil, having gotten the diploma and fancy pin to prove it! Together with passing WSET level 3 a couple of months ago this is a highlight, and looking back on the past three years and an excellent week in France over the summer, I can say that it was a great ride. Wine is something that brings people together. Fellow students have become dear friends, and the foundation has been laid for future tastings and nights of debauchery.

untitledIn a first example of a night out on the town had with a fellow sommelier-conseil, the celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau 2016! Continue reading

London Food (III) – Taberna do Mercado

Finding a restaurant in London on a Sunday evening proved quite the challenge. I had a (short) wishlist, but almost none of them were open bar for a Sunday roast. Luckily Taberna do Mercado is open 7/7, and just a stone’s throw away from the Truman Brewery where RAW 2016 took place. I was led here via Jamie Goode’s wine blog, and ever since the tasting of Portuguese wines that I organized last year, I was curious to discover more about Portugal’s wining and dining.

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London Food (II) – Ottolenghi Spitalfields

Do I still need to introduce Yotam Ottolenghi? The man’s books can be found everywhere, but in all fairness, rightly so. I think that I have made almost everything that can be found in Plenty, bar a couple of desserts, and while Nopi proves to be a bit more challenging, it has done its part in many successful dinner parties. Procrastination meant that only the deli in Spitalfields still had a table for two on a Saturday evening and the place was packed. Service ran smooth though, and we were given ample time to go through the menu and wine list.

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Week 37 – Guiberteau, Saumur Rouge 2014

IMG_3688When is a wine faulty? There are plenty of times when this is clear from the start; a messed up colour, raging volatile acidity, vinegar,…. Other times it is not always clear. For a long time, I did not like Cabernet Franc as there is often something unpleasant in the nose at first, especially in the case of young wines. You get aromas of degraded fruit, barnyard or just plain shit. This most often happens with wines that have been created in an oxygen-depraved environment, like I mentioned already when talking about Hanami about a year ago, but the trick is finding out if the smell stays, which makes it a fault, or if it dissipates and adds character in combination with other aromas and flavours.

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Week 36 – Roccafiore, Montefalco Sagrantino 2010

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Grape variety comeback stories are something I usually associate with Italy, maybe because the country has so many authentic grape varieties that have fallen victim to globalization and the rise of market-dictated varieties. It is however not uncommon for some crazy/ambitious winemaker to rediscover something previously neglected. Some of these wines are fantastic. Recall one of the earlier wines I presented here: Teroldego Rotaliano, firmly repositioned as a quality variety thanks to Elisabetta Foradori. Are they however memorable enough to build a reputation?

Sagrantino is a variety cultivated in Umbria, Central Italy, which seemed destined to go extinct or to end up in sweet red wines at the very best. It is a dark variety, tannic and in need of time so it was not exactly popular until Marco Caprai came along and showed that it could be done differently, becoming instrumental in the revitalization of the Montefalco Sagrantino appellation. Today, roughly 700ha are planted, of which 90 belong to Caprai, making him by far the largest producer. Unfortunately, his wines do not come cheap but luckily there are a lot of producers following in his footsteps and making wines that can frankly be labelled as more exciting.

Tannic concentration means that Sagrantino demands time. Ageing in oak is mandatory for at least 12 months, and the wines can only be brought on the market after 37 months in total. Even then, patience can do no harm. Roccafiore is a modern winery with about 15ha planted. In most guides you can find opinions and scores in their Sangiovese or Grechetto wines, but their Montefalco Sagrantino 2010 should not be ignored. It is a young wine with an almost biting tannic structure at first, so decanting and giving it time to breathe serve it well. The overruling aroma is black cherry and structurally speaking it has something of a Syrah from the Northern Rhone as it has the same cool, tannic backbone yet more full-bodied and on the fruitier side. Definitely one to put in the cellar, but in a carafe accompanying a nice côte à l’os,

RAW, the Artisan Wine Fair 2016

IMG_3625The 2016 RAW fair took place in London this weekend, and just like last year, it was an intense but terrific experience. An increasing number of winemakers seems to realize that it is a unique opportunity to showcase their wines to both old fans and people who are a lot more open-minded than the ones attending Prowein or Vinexpo. Of course, estates come and go but the showing does remain impressive. Those with long-established reputations stand side by side with those who are only just stepping into the world of wine, often presenting their first vintage to the public, nervous about the impression that they’ll make or the feedback they will receive. Continue reading

Dinner at De Jong in Rotterdam

Note: A love for wine is inextricably linked with a love for food but in the vast majority of restaurant reviews it is woefully ignored. I suspect that this is either because the writer erroneously thinks that there is insufficient interest with a mainstream public, or that the writer himself does not care or does not know enough about wine to form an opinion on it.

For a winelover this can really be a source of frustration. I recall a 400-word review of a hyped wine bar in Antwerp that mentioned the word wine four times, and even then basically said nothing (1 – she loves wine so she starts a restaurant, 2 – there are 200 wines on the list, 3 – there are 15 wines by the glass, 4 – the wine is good). I am not a chef nor do I have anything resembling a culinary training so this is definitely not the place for intricate opinions on the kind of wood use to smoke a salmon or the best phase of the moon to dig up potatoes, but an honest reflection on memorable dining experiences where everything clicked; food, wine and and atmosphere. Past and future posts can now be found under Wine & Dine, added in the menu bar. 

jongbinnenThe culinary reputation the Netherlands has with its southern neighbours is sketchy at best. A first day in Rotterdam sadly confirmed this view when we were served what was supposedly Basque cuisine in a restaurant on which the less is said the better (the only two Basque wines on the menu where even sold out!). Being friends with wine merchants on Facebook does have its benefits, and so on a sunny Sunday evening we ended up in Restaurant De Jong.

The concept is simple. Two menus to choose from, a meat/fish set and a vegetable set. The website will leave you clueless as everything is decided in the morning when the kitchen staff takes stock of what the supplier has available and what they can build a menu around. Simplicity in construction but not in execution is the result. The same refreshing lack of fumbling complexity can be found in the wine list, which was a concise but inspired selection of natural wines. You cannot get around incrowd names like Ganevat, Julien Guillot or Craig Hawkins, but I was pleasantly surprised by several other names offered at reasonable prices.

Aymeric Beaufort hails from a reputed winemaking family in Ambonnay but set up shop near Nimes with Domaine l’Ocre Rouge. La Perle Noire, 100% Pinot Noir true to his roots, is the perfect accompaniment for the starters on both menus, Cod with radish and mushroom ravioli on the one side and a delicious combination of green asparagus, candied lemon and sunflower seed puree on the other.

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The second course, which was the same for both menus, was the first highlight of the evening; lightly grilled asparagus with foam of Comté cheese. Asparagus is one of those things that needs to be sourced locally and not grown in a greenhouse if you want that unique earthy flavour. Just a week earlier we had our first taste in a hyped Brussels restaurant and it just was not right, weak and lacking in taste. This time it was different though, as the crunchy asparagus flavour was a great match to the texture of the Comté foam.

We had moved on to red at this point with Philippe Bornard’s Poulsard Point Barre 2013. Bornard may have become famous thanks to “L’amour est dans le Pré”, which is basically dating for farmers on national television, but he is first and foremost an excellent winemaker. I met him at the last two editions of Dive Bouteille but had until now only been able to try his white wines (which you should definitely seek out!), so I was curious to see what he did in red. Red berries in the nose, a bit reductive at first but showing nicely with a bit of time. Very direct in the mouth with good acidity but more towards juiciness instead of astringency. Earthy and mineral in the finish.

IMG_3471 (1)The main courses were terrific on their own, but whereas one was intensified by my wine choice, the other one was more enjoyable on its own (the slight disadvantage of not knowing what you will get beforehand). The match was spot on with the Baamburgs Big, which Google tells me is a unique species of pig cultivated near Utrecht, and different preparations of beetroot. The earthiness of the wine and the juiciness of the meat worked terrific together. The other main course, potato gnocchi with smoked peas served with crunchy potato skins was a bit more difficult. On itself the dish was delicious, but the peas did not work well with the wine.

What really blew our minds was the dessert, which was an unconventional but immensely interesting and tasteful combo of rhubarb, buckwheat ice cream, hangop (Dutch goat yogurt) and flakes of beer yeast. This is without a doubt the strangest combination I have encountered up until now but to my surprise it worked. The sourness of the hangop, the tartness of the rhubarb together with the texture of the beer yeast flakes and the freshness of the ice cream just seemed to click. A daring bet but definitely one that stayed with me!

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We had a great evening. Service ran smooth and the atmosphere was nice given that we could still have an enjoyable conversation in a fully booked restaurant. What really stayed with me (aside from the terrific dessert which I could not shut up about) was the creativity and drive in the kitchen. Constructing a different menu every day is challenging. Keeping up the originality and coming up with new and surprising creations is definitely an accomplishment which convinces me to visit again on a next trip to Rotterdam!

Week 35 – Loxarel, Garnatxa Blanca 2015

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A couple of months ago, I attended a tasting with some friends from an online wine forum. Good wines, interesting conversations and a lot of fun. The only drawback was that my success rate in guessing the origin of the wines was at the very least disappointing. This kept me occupied for a good couple of days. I drink about 2 bottles of wine a week and taste maybe 10 to 15 more. Why do I still suck at this? I went through the list of wines in the tasting and compared it to the other wines that I drank and it suddenly hit me. My own preferences for real cool climate wines like Riesling, Chenin Blanc or Pinot Noir had led me to neglect a significant part of the rest of the wineworld. I can’t remember the last time I drank a wine from Toro, Veneto or the Sud Ouest. It should not have been so surprising then that I was unable to recognize these. What even makes this more embarrassing is that I predicted this last year! In this post I mentioned that a taster’s personal preferences will always influence his or her experiences with a wine, a trap that every winelover, including myself, calls in from time to time.

So it’s time to get out of my comfort zone and to rediscover what else is out there. This week’s wine is a good start: the Garnatxa Blanca 2015 by Loxarel, an organic winery located in Penedes that may be more known for their cava, but offers a great range overall. I discovered the estate a couple of years ago at the Real Wine Fair and was pleased to snap up a couple of wines in Belgium last week.

Going through my cellar I have 0 bottles of Grenache blanc or any other southern white variety for that matter. I often find that these wines are pleasing at first, very open and powerful but that they become a bit too much when you try to finish an entire bottle. The high altitude of the vineyards this wine comes from does however help to keep a certain freshness that prevents it from becoming too fat. Absolutely lovely in the nose, blossom, spring flowers and just a hint of ripe fruit. Powerful on the palate, you are still dealing with 13.5% in alcohol but a freshness that counters it and gives it a nice kick in the finish. Greate with food, something with grilled chicken, a herby salad and perfect with feta cheese in fact.

Getting around to reliving Dive Bouteille

Note: sommelier studies and papers to write have led me to neglect The Wine Analyst yet again. From now on though, things will be different and posts will actually be published, even on a more or less regular basis!

To start with a bit of hipster news, beards are out, moustaches are the new thing (in all likelihood in solidarity with those struggling to grow a full beard)! Dive Bouteille has developed quite the rapport with the wine hipster community and continues to enjoy increasing international attention, not in the least thanks to Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier.

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Week 33 – Vini Viti Vinci, Grôle Tête 2014

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Last week’s Jura region may not be widely known among the general public, today’s region has in all likelihood not popped up on the radar of your average winelover. Not even Jancis Robinson has a tasting note on this region in her database! To be fair, Coulanges la Vineuse is a tiny appellation that has the misfortune of specializing in pinot noir (as you would you expect in Burgundy) but in a region not remotely associated with red wines: Auxerre. ClV is so small that even on their own website the appellation first mentions the vineyards of Auxerre at 1300ha, before hiding the fact that they only cover 135ha of this themselves.

Nicolas Vauthier ran a renowned winebar specializing in natural wines until he decided to pack up his bags to start a new life as négociant Vini Viti Vinci in the north of Burgundy, focusing on little known appelations. He does not own all vineyards himself but sources grapes from those who work organically or biodynamical, taking full control at harvest. He has only really been making wine for a couple of years with patchy results (according to the merchant where I bought the bottle) as he tries to work as natural as possible with little to no sulphur added.

All his wines have cartoon labels, some more appropriate for the general public than others! Grôle Tête 2014 is one of a few wines produced under the ClV appelation, even though some vintages are sold as Vin de France. The immediate impression you get when popping the cork, is Kriek Lambic. If I had not opened the bottle myself, I would have easily confused it for beer! The colour is not what you would expect of pinot noir, non-filtered but light, almost pinkish red. On the palate it is surprisingly structured though, a lovely acidity with a hint of tannins towards the finish. There is a tiny element of greenness at the end but overall this is the perfect example of a vin de soif, the type of bottle that is empty before you even realize it. I have to admit that it is difficult to judge. It is no way pinot noir, not even wine if you judge it purely on the nose, but it is delicious. Is it not that what counts?

Other Burgundy wines talked about: 

Week 32 – Domaine de Saint Pierre, Les Gaudrettes 2014

IMG_3008When talking about pinot noir in France, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who links it to another region besides Burgundy. Granted, it is nigh unbeatable reputation-wise, as the recent auction at Hospice de Beaune proved with a whopping 39% price increase versus last year. Nonetheless, other regions are perfectly capable of producing unique pinot noir. For instance, Jura wines may not be the easiest, are from time to time hijacked by hipsters and enjoy sudden bursts of popularity on the sommelier scene, but on plenty of occasions they are utterly delicious.

The Jura is only a stone’s throw away from the heart of Burgundy so comparisons are unavoidable. Winemakers used to be quite self-conscious, preferring to use pinot noir as a blending component and operating under the assumption that they could not compete with the Cote d’Or. They are increasingly confident in the region’s own sense of an identity however, and monovarietal wines are on the rise.

The Jura has become popular in recent years in part because the region is a hotbed of natural winemaking. Big names like Ganevat or Overnoy only seem to exist on social media these days but they have laid the path for plenty of winemakers held in high esteem. One of these is Domaine de Saint Pierre, taken over by Fabrice Dodane, the estate’s winemaker for 20+ years, following the death of its founder in 2011. Fabrice was the driving force behind the estate’s expansion to six hectares, as well as the conversion to organic winemaking in 2008.

Les Gaudrettes 2014 is a young wine and is intended to be drunk as such. It is made with carbonic fermentation, in which unpressed grapes are put in a sealed tank filled with carbon dioxide. Without oxygen present, the fermentation process will start inside the grape, and the result is a fruit-driven wine, showing redcurrants and a hint of raspberry (on day 2) in the nose. Juicy and crisp in the mouth, almost too one-sidedly fruity until you get a tangy, mineral streak in the finish. It is a thirst-quencher, charming in its forwardness offering easy drinking pleasure. Open it a couple of hours earlier, serve it a bit cooler than usual and in a large Burgundy glass for maximum enjoyment!

Week 29 – Claire Naudin, Orchis Mascula 2009

IMG_2783When the topic of Burgundy pops up in a conversation, focus will more often than not be on the villages of the Côte d’Or and their lieu-dits, premiers crus and grand crus. Nonetheless, excellent value can be found on other appellation levels as well, sometimes even moreso than in overly hyped crus. Don’t forget, grand and premier crus only make up about a tenth of the entire Burgundy wine production and it is really the regional appellation level that is most important to overall output. For instance, the Hautes Côtes surrounding the Côte d’Or are in my opinion not always given the credit that they deserve. Altitude is the most important differentiating factor as the name implies; full ripening, and thus the harvest, generally takes place later than in the Côte d’Or, even though global warming has made this less of an issue in recent years.

During our Burgundian trip in April we had lunch at Claire Naudin’s place. Unfortunately our strict schedule only left us with enough time for a bite to eat and a quick but interesting tasting of some of the wines that she had on offer, so I did not really get a chance at a proper introduction. I tracked down the Belgian importer a while back and was able to procure a couple of her wines from older vintages to enjoy. Claire tries to work as natural as possible focusing on sustainable viticulture, while intervention in the vinification process is kept to a minimum but not refused by default. For instance, she does not add any sulfur to the wine until the bottling stage, allowing a vibrant retention of the color in her red wines while ensuring stability, not unimportant if you want to ship your wine across the world!

Orchis Mascula 2009 is a blend of three different high quality parcels in the Côtes de Beaune. Like I often find with natural wines, aeration is key to lure the wine out of hiding. After some time in the glass a heady floral perfume arises with little red berries, raspberries and rose buds in the background. A medium intense start, but a deep and intense sensation on the palate with tannins present but well integrated, slightly dominated by the juicy acidity that takes over towards the end. It is a subtle, elegant wine that takes a bit of time to show what it is capable of, but the depth and intensity of its flavours, especially in the finish are magnificent!

Other Burgundy wines talked about: 

Dinner at Souvenir in Ieper

One of the most agonizing tasks for a winelover, aside from racking your brain for all kinds of exotic aromas that you can supposedly find in a wine, is coming up with a food pairing that elevates both wine and food. All too often people are enjoying a meal in a restaurant, absentmindedly sipping from their glasses whilst only discussing the food. A good food-wine match is however a conversation driver and almost demands to be noticed, to be placed in the spotlight. Continue reading

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

Week 6 – Elisabetta Foradori, Teroldego Rotaliano 2010

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So in class we started talking about Italian wines a couple of weeks ago. It it is not the easiest country to figure out, aside from the well-renowned regions like Piemonte or Tuscany, especially when it comes to grape varieties. Of course there are the big names, but every time I attend a tasting of Italian wines I make loads of new discoveries, varieties from appellations I have never heard of. Continue reading

Biodynamic conversion in practice – Francis Boulard

Biodynamic or natural viticulture is a challenge in the Champagne. In my first post on the topic I mentioned that the focus with most growers lies on securing yield, ensuring that nothing happens endangers the amount of grapes you get at harvest. As most growers are dependent on either the grands marques or the cooperatives, you can imagine the impact of the loss of a crop on their finances. Continue reading

Natural winemaking in the Champagne

Fair warning – This may be a bit too much on the technical side for some readers, but stick around and learn something! Biodynamics and natural winemaking are hot topics in the wineworld. You may have noticed a commonality in most of the domains discussed since I started this blog and I have to admit that, though I may not be completely convinced by the gospel preached by the natural wine movement, I do have a great interest in what they are saying. Continue reading