London Food (IV) – Ottolenghi’s Nopi

So, having enjoyed last year’s experience at Ottolenghi’s Spitalfields location, we took our precautions and booked a table at Nopi well in advance. Rightly so, seeing as the place was packed! I am an enormous fan of the Plenty books, mainly as the recipes remain so accessible. Sure, you need a couple of ingredients that may be relatively obscure to what you would normally put to use in everyday cooking, but overall, I am always surprised by the ease and speed of actually preparing the food. The food presented in Nopi is from a different level though, and whereas the explanations still make it sound doable and easy, from my experience, there are a couple of recipes that you would need to put through a test-run before presenting them at a dinner party.

There is an interview with Heidi Nam Knudsen, the wine buyer for the Ottolenghi restaurants, posted on the Real Wine Fair’s website which gives a good indication of the role wine plays in the whole concept. The goal is to go natural, but from what I gathered from the list: not too dogmatic. You are presented with a limited and thus eclectic selection, but you can sense the enthusiasm and love for these wines. It is however a bit of a hipster’s choice; if you are not familiar with what is going on the wine world these days, the selection going from Georgia over Slovenia to Pantellaria can be baffling. There is a ‘classic’ offer for the less adventurous, but there is a price to be paid in the sense of accepting quite the markup.

IMG_5340

Now, a cuisine with an emphasis on vegetables and a rather outspoken punchy flavour profile is not the easiest to pair with wine. I remember a visit to the Barbary a couple of months ago where we had a fantastic evening, yet the Mother Rock White chosen matched with nothing really, as the intensity of the food completely crushed what the wine had to offer. As if this isn’t challenging enough, being offered sharing plates that can go in all sensory directions make it nigh impossible to find the one to match them all.  Acceptance is the first step, and after that it gets easier. Either go for a ‘neutral’ option, which is always a compromise I personally am not willing to make, a vin de soif chosen for its thirst-quenching quality and not its complexity, or for a great plunge into the unknown.

IMG_5337While the girlfriend enjoyed some of the cocktails, which were actually more to her liking as to what she tasted last year, I went for my third choice: into the unknown with Palestinian wines. The Cremisan Winery has actually been around since the 19th century, but it has only been quite recent that the Salesian Monks in charge have been working on expanding their commercial efforts on a global scale. They attracted an Italian oenologist and set up a collaboration with an international NGO to direct any profits towards education programs in the region.

The white 2015 is a blend of two grapes that have gained some notoriety for not being featured in Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz’ Wine Grapes, Hamdani and Jandali. Apparently, these varieties are indigenous to the region of Bethlehem, which is more than enough to pique a winegeek’s interest. On the nose, it reminded me of a sunny Sémillon, zesty, ripe fruit, which did not present itself so rich on the palate, being balanced out with a bit of freshness. It is not very outspoken, more subdued and something that is destined to always take second place, which made it the perfect accompaniment for the food actually!

For our starters, we looked for a mix between the restaurant’s self-proclaimed classics and a couple of lesser known dishes. Our absolute favorite was Burrata with blood orange and coriander seeds, a combination that does not work on paper but that manages to create such a dazzling impact in your mouth that you wonder why you never tried it before. The second dish, being the Valdeon cheesecake with pickled beetroot gets the prize for being the best match with the wine as the richness acts as a natural complement. The pumpkin with yoghurt dressing and charred cherry tomatoes was very fine in its own right, yet lost out against the wine.

IMG_5345Now, the first Nopi recipe that I attempted at home was the twice cooked baby chicken with chili sauce and lemon myrtle salt. Being one of the trickier recipes, I was surprised that it actually turned out good, though I sensed that it was not exactly what it should be. Having tasted the real thing now, I realize that I still have a long way to go! After spending so much time in the Asian stock, the meat is ever so tender and soft, meltingly good, especially when given a kick with the chili and the extra bit of flavouring provided by the salt. A great example of a dish elevating all its individual components, making it a worthy signature dish.

Our second flight of vegetables was a bit of a mixed selection. The beans with green salsa were fine but a bit uninspired, the heirloom tomatoes and wasabi mascarpone were fine, yet the kohlrabi felt out of place. It is with a bit of pride that I can say that my grilled broccoli with tahin was way better than what we were served here, which just seemed to be tossed on a plate. Luckily, the pastilla saved the day, so packed full of heady spiciness that it could only really be enjoyed on its own, utterly delicious.

Passing on to red for this final flight, I was pleased with the Baladi of the same estate. Juicy, very much on the fruit yet soft on the palate, kind of reminding me of a Grenache that has seen carbonic maceration, made in a vin de soif style, with a nice freshness to it. The type of bottle that you can drink at ease without realizing it. Unobtrusive at its worst, a great thirst quencher at its best. It worked well with the pastille, which surprised me with all the spices, but the chili sauce kind of nipped its potential in the bud.

Whereas I considered last year’s visit to Ottolenghi Spitalfield just okay, Nopi took it up a notch, and seemed to deliver more bang for the buck. It is a bit of the shame that not all dishes delivered the same kind of high, but as last year, a fanboy’s expectations may have come into play again. In short, I would visit again, if only for the newly discovered classics, but also to see if that innovative spark that I see on Ottolenghi’s Instagram actually stays alight in the restaurant’s kitchen!

Advertisements

2017 week 7 – Pithon-Paillé, Bonnes Blanches 2013

IMG_5507

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.

IMG_0897

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.

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!

IMG_4705

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!

2017 week 4 – Domaine Huet, Clos de Bourg demi-sec 2001

IMG_5090

Looking back at my short but intense stay in the Loire region, I realized that I haven’t talked enough about Chenin Blanc, despite my love for it. Only one wine was put into the spotlight, 2009 Les Choisilles by Francois Chidaine (of which I incidentally drank my last bottle just a week ago, still fantastic). There are some changes coming up on The Wine Analyst, but given my adherence to self-imposed deadlines in the past, I’ll refrain from making big declarations. For now, I can only say that there will be more attention paid to Chenin Blanc in the future, starting with Domaine Huet’s Clos de Bourg Demi-Sec 2001!

Very blunt but true, people are idiots if they think that residual sugar should be dismissed in assessing a wine’s quality. I get the point if you were presented with a glass of something that is basically a very expensive syrup, but as I mentioned when I talked about Germany’s Pradikat wine, the wines that get it right, the wire walkers between acidity and sweetness are among the best you can encounter. Like Riesling, Chenin Blanc is one of the rare grapes with this capability. Vibrant, shining fruit and an energizing acidity that is ever so rightly countered by a hint of opulence added by the residual sugar are all you need for a thrilling wine.

Off all the Loire subregions, Vouvray most likely has the highest reputation when it comes to producing wines with residual sugar. Domaine Huet has played a pivotal role in establishing the region’s fame. It is a benchmark of what chenin blanc can be, proving its versatility and longevity. A combination of obsessive, meticulous attention to details, a focus on top-vineyards and an early adoption of biodynamic viticulture have guided its ascent to the top and despite a change of ownership in recent years, continues to do so. Clos de Bourg is one of the most acclaimed vineyard sites in Vouvray, with the vines having the most direct access to the tuffeau bedrock (soft type of limestone) thanks to a relatively thin topsoil, which is credited for the deeper, more complex character of the wines in comparison to the other sites.

It is a tricky wine, in the sense that at first it does not really stand out or shine. Clear evolution in the nose, honeycomb, waxy notes and a toasty, fresh-marmelade-and-bread type of fruitiness. Initially the palate does not deliver what the nose promises, moderate in weight but no real presence. I was initially a bit disappointed, so I finished my glass, stoppered the bottle and forgot about it for a couple of days. Retasting it later on was simply joy. The wine was much more fleshed out, really more savoury now without even giving a lot of sweetness at first. It was only in the finish that the influence of the residual sugar kicked in, not in sweetness, but in length and intensity while remaining oh so delicate. A stunning wine for it’s 16 years of age, and something to cherish.

Other Loire wines talked about: 

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).

Continue reading

2017 week 2 -Domaine Plageoles, Vin de Voile 2000

img_4787

A return to winegeek territory!

During my studies, the Sud-Ouest was without a doubt the most frustrating region to get a grip on. The diversity in appellations and varieties as well as the relative scarcity of these wines in Belgium made it very difficult to retain a lot for the long run. It is a shame really, as there is so much to discover. I have great memories of a 1998 Chateau Montus (Madiran), continue to be charmed by everything that comes out of Jurancon, and, after a terrific tasting organized by a fellow sommelier-conseil just before Christmas, have set myself a quota of Cahors to discover this year.

Today’s focus will be on Gaillac, which is the third biggest subregion following Bergerac and Cahors. Honestly, it is a clusterfuck of appellations and permitted styles: white dry, white sweet (traditional), white sweet (vendange tardive), vin blanc perlé, sparkling méthode ancestrale, rosé, red, red primeur and vin de voile! 9 different type of wines entitled for a Gaillac AOP. Given that there are also a couple of grape varieties that you will find nowhere else, you can hopefully understand that it is a bitch to learn if you’ve never actually been there.

In all fairness, this diversity should be applauded, as it is an indicator of a long history. In fact, it is one of the oldest winegrowing regions in France. Like other subregions in the Sud-Ouest however, it’s still struggling to recover from the devastating blow dealt by phylloxera in the 19th century. What I think will be its saving grace is the pride of several growers, determined to protect their indigenous varieties and techniques.

Domaine Plageoles has been around for two centuries and is a veritable treasure trove of ‘lost’ varieties. Ondenc, Verdanel and Loin de l’Oeil are some of the varieties that you can still find here. I have tasted a couple of the estate’s wines, and am particularly charmed by what it can do with Mauzac, the go-to variety for white Gaillac wines. Even so, Plageoles has seven different types of Mauzac planted in their vineyards. One of them, the Mauzac roux is used for an oxidative wine, today’s Vin de Voile 2000. The wine is left in the barrels without topping these up for the part of the wine that evaporates over time. A ‘voile’, a layer of yeast cells appears on top, resulting in a controlled oxidation. Attentive readers will recall that I have talked about such a wine in the past: The Tokaji Szamorodni 2003.

This type of oxidative wines is often characterized by an enormous aromatic complexity, and an intense, dry mouthfeel. This Vin de Voile sure delivers with hints of spicy honey, a lot less nutty than I would have expected, and very very floral notes. On the palate the best description I can come up with is savoury, mouthwatering dry but not as lean and focused as I am used to with Jurassic Vin Jaune. It is quite rich in style actually, but clean and fresh in the finish.

img_4859As a bonus, Domaine Plageoles’ Prunelard 2013! Prunelard is ancient and actually an ancestor to Cot (malbec) which is the key grape in nearby Cahors. There is very little of it left, about 30ha I’d guess, and it is only permitted in IGP Cotes du Tarn, probably as there is so very little of it. The wine itself is a bit muted as first, prunes and a bit rustic on the palate on the first day, yet drinking along nicely at the same time. Very different on the second day with liquorice and spiciness, especially on the nose. Aromatically it is a wintery wine, warming yet low in alcohol, the tannic structure and density on the palate would make it the perfect match for a big, juicy cut of boar!

 

2017 week 1 – HM Borges’ 20 year old Verdelho

img_4811A wine blogger’s end-of-year post has a certain predictability to it: either it looks back on the best bottles drunk in the year that has come to pass (often with a skew towards expensive, rare or cult bottles), or it looks onwards to trends spotted in the wine world (cue classics like the end of Bordeaux en Primeur or the inevitable crushing of Champagne by insert sparkling wine appellation here). I wasn’t planning to write about either of them, but on the precipice of 2017, I came across the most fabulous, almost year-defining wine: HM Borges’ 20 year old Verdelho Medium Dry.

Continue reading

A charity auction for SOS Kinderdorpen!

img_0906

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!).

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

A different kind of pink

There are a couple of tropes that you can count on in wine writing. Champagne is reviewed to bits around the holidays. March-April is all about Bordeaux with both supporters and critics of the primeur system basically repeating the exact same argument that they have had for the past five years. Summer is about rosé, which, based on what you read, is always better than the year before, higher quality, vintage-impact non-existent and seemingly the only wine you can chug when you pass 25°C, only to be completely forgotten and ignored come September. The rosé hype of the past couple of years remains on the up and up. Given that marketeers figure out something new to keep the buzz going every year (brosé,  rosé-infused gummy bears, or this year’s frosé), I doubt that we will see an end to it soon.

Continue reading

London Food (I) – Noble Rot

Visiting RAW a month ago was a perfect opportunity to check out a couple of restaurants that had been on my watch list for some time. In all honesty, it was quite the decadent weekend and I’m afraid that I am still packing a couple of pounds extra as a semi-permanent souvenir, but it was worth it. Three restaurants plus a copious English breakfast (twice!) could not be gotten rid of with a week of fasting I’m afraid! Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Week 36 – Roccafiore, Montefalco Sagrantino 2010

image

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.

IMG_3464

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!

IMG_3477

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

image

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.

image Continue reading

An overdue reflection on the Salon des Vins de Loire

If you are a serious winelover, France is definitely the place to be in the beginning of the new year as large events are organized throughout the country. Millésime Bio gives the kick-off in the final week of January, leading directly into the Salon des Vins de Loire (with its numerous off-events) and ending with Vinisud. Unfortunately, some winelovers have completed unrelated day jobs, meaning that choices have to be made. Last year I visited La Dive Bouteille, basically the first off-salon event, and this year I combined it with a visit to the actual Salon (yes, people still go there) as well as Renaissance (formerly Renaissance des Appelations). Even when spending four days in Angers, this still meant that I had to skip Pénitents (Thierry Puzelat and René Mosse inviting friends) and Les Anonymes.

Continue reading

Wine investments, a opinion on superficial media reporting

Media and wine are not good friends in Belgium. Superficial and incorrect information is moribund, and no one ever takes the time to correct it as items usually get the ‘light’ treatment, snuck in as filler. On the 23rd of December the VRT news contained an item on wine investments. The way it was announced in the newsreader’s almost playful style did not bode well. My fears were confirmed and it was yet another casual report that would do more harm than good to the image of wine. In exceptional circumstances, as the original video is in Dutch, my commentary is also provided in Dutch. Happy reading and more importantly, happy holidays! Continue reading

An introduction to German Sweet (III) – The adolescents

To my own surprise, mirroring my previous article and naming this one ‘the old ones’ would not have done justice to the wines. Despite a couple of them nearing twenty years of age, the freshness and the life found in the bottles was stunning, and I can’t help but believe that these wines still have a long future ahead of them.

samenvatting

First, the selection. Wines came from all over Germany with the Mosel, being the international reference for sweet wines, well-represented. Vintages ranged from 2001 to 1995. Prädikats were limited to spätlese and auslese as everything beyond that did become quite expensive. Seeing as we had about 12 wines to go through, budget limitations also came into play. The most expensive wine in the selection was 55 euros and the cheapest one a mere 22.

Like with the young wines, we were struck most by the diversity offered across the various regions and winemakers. What was even more interesting however, was the diverging evolution across styles. Whereas alcohol percentages in combination with the prädikat could give one an indication of what level of sweetness to expect in younger wines, no such luck here. Three of the twelve wines did not really come across as sweet as you would have guessed based on Prädikat and alcohol percentage. There is a rather lengthy but immensely interesting discussion to be had on a wine’s actual sweetness and one’s perception. I could never introduce it like Jamie Goode did a couple of months ago, but suffice to say, German sweet wines would form an excellent case study.

schaeferTake the first wine, Willi Schaefer’s Graacher Domprobst Spätlese 1999. In no way does this come across as sweet. 8% in alcohol would make you guess at the presence of residual sugar, so this discordance was surprising. One of the only two wines in the selection that started off with petrol on the nose. Flinty, smoky aromas, even a bit herby (currant leafs) with the only hint of sugar really being present in the structure, perfectly blended in with an almost racy, lime-like acidity jittering across the wine. Energetic, savoury and full of life, in my opinion a joy to pair up with food, really versatile in its complexity.

Moving on to Auslese, the wines start to match our assumption, i.e. containing actual sweetness! A rare treat is the comparison of two of the most famous producers in the Mosel, Gelt-Zilliken, whom I mentioned here before, and Reinhold Haart. Both own vineyards in two of the most famous Grosse Lagen in the Mosel Valley, the Saarburger Rausch for Zilliken, characterized by a mix of Devonian slate and volcanic rock, and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen for Haart. The latter is a Grosse Lage surrounding the village of Piesport as a natural amphitheater and as luck would have it, Haart’s vineyards are located right in the middle, benefiting from exposure to the south while receiving shelter from the slopes in east and west.

moselBoth wines hail from 1999, and show remarkable differences in style. The aromas found in Saarburger Raush 1999 are fresh and astonishingly youthful. Creamy, almost voluptuous in the mouth, honeyed lemon and a dash of minerality that seems almost endless in the finish. Piesporten Goldtröpfchen 1999 on the other hand is much riper on the nose, yellow fruit, passion fruit, containing much more overtly present aromatic sweetness which disappears on the palate. Luscious but with a clear choice to define the wine by its freshness, really coming together in the end.

crusiusAs I expected, the Nahe delivers with Dr. Crusius’ Schlossbockelheim Felsenberg 1995 (a producer mentioned here before). Absolutely delicious ripe fruit on the nose, apricots, mandarins, lemon zest. Lively but creamy on the palate, quite dense at first actually (a lot of sweetness for a wine at 11% alcohol) but with  refreshing acidity kicking in towards the end. All the pieces are there and to really allow the wine to find its ultimate balance, I would give this at least another five years to a decade. Regardless, this is already sheer deliciousness.

Ending not with a bang but a whisper, one of my favorites comes from the Mittelrhein, Ratzenberger’s Bacharacher Wolfshöhle Auslese Goldkapsel 2001. Years away from its prime but already showing tons of potential. Ever so delicate, apple, pear and white peach showing so fragile but balanced against an almost saline minerality, all lifted by a refreshing but grounding acidity that nullifies any stickiness you would get from the residual sugar. This is the ethereal lightness of German Riesling at its best!

I think that Ratzenberger’s Auslese is one of the best examples of what exactly an aged German Riesling can be. In their youth these wines are too often defined by overtly fruity aromas, clear from the get-go but masking what lies beneath. You see it often enough in professional reviews, sweet wines tasted in their youth will receive stellar scores, even if the tasting notes nearly always boil down to the same concise description, defined by nothing but fruit. Age however, is not so kind, and will reveal if there actually is substance behind the curtain instead of remnants of the fruit that used to be. What our tasting showed is that the best sweet wines display all kinds of qualities; savouriness, minerality, freshness, vibrancy and elegance among those most pleasing. It is a completely different, exciting world and I for one, being well aware that we only scratched the surface, would do my utmost best to convince anyone who says otherwise!

Week 34 – Goisot, La Ronce 2012

goisot

Today’s a first for The Wine Analyst, as I return to a producer who will be familiar to those who keep track of my weekly reviews. The goal of these articles is to present different wines, not too often with a link or common element, but nearly always to show how diverse wine can be. It speaks to the credit of this week’s winemaker that, even taking into consideration the fact that it is a small estate, the range of wines is astonishing and packed with different identities. Guilhem and Jean-Hugues Goisot playea defining role in putting the lesser known appelations of Auxerre on the map. I already introduced their Saint-Bris earlier this year; today I turn the spotlight on what they offer in red.

Moving up in the appelations that may ring a bell with a general public, Côtes d’Auxerre is located on the right bank of the Yonne, whereas Coulanges la Vineuse was on the left bank, more to the south. It is slightly larger, covering about 200ha but when it comes down to red, vineyards are planted on pretty much the same area as ClV. Wines from Côtes d’Auxerre are capable of a more elegant, different kind of complexity as soils here are a mix of marl and Portlandian, which contains less chalk and fossils than the famous Kimmeridgian terroir of Chablis.

Goisot currently owns about 30 hectares across various appelations, and certain parcels get the single vineyard treatment. One of them is today’s La Ronce 2012. From the get-go there is an astonishing difference in colour, brilliant and not as hazy as last week’s Vini Viti Vinci. There is a reductive touch on the nose that only really disappears on day two in favor of cherries, wild flowers and a rather distinct toasty touch. If I had not known what I had in my glass, I would have been tempted to place it in Germany as this is often something that comes back in young Spätburgunder. Floral aromas on the palate nicely complement the fruit and while tannins present can benefit from aging, the wine as a whole comes across incredibly balanced. There is lovely depth in the finish that you would be hard pressed to find in some of the more famous and at the very least more expensive Burgundian appelations!

Other Burgundy wines talked about: 

Week 33 – Vini Viti Vinci, Grôle Tête 2014

IMG_3016

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!

An introduction to German Sweet (II) – The Young Ones

Quick service announcement – Follow my blog with Bloglovin

There are several arguments often used against sweet wines. ‘They all taste the same’ or ‘after a while you lose all sense of taste because of the sweetness’. To a certain extent these all make sense. When actually put to the test however, they don’t hold up. Even with a single grape variety, grown in a single country or region and vinified in the same way, the differences can be huge. Sweetness can cripple a palate, but a quality wine is a balanced wine. The interaction between acidity and sweetness should not lead to palate fatigue.

Over the last couple of weeks I tasted German sweet wines on several occasions, including a memorable evening in which we took a closer look at older vintages. This was an astonishing exercise. Riesling already has my winelover’s heart, but tasting such different wines all coming from the same variety was terrific. Today I will focus on the younger wines, whereas the spotlight will shift to Riesling from the past century next week.

IMG_2642Tim Fröhlich is one of those rare winemakers who hit the ground running in such a way that they cannot avoid changing the German wine scene. He is the pretender to the Nahe throne alternately occupied by Dönnhoff and Emrich-Schönleber, and while his style can be divisive, he is unanimously respected. He is a major proponent of spontaneous fermentation (the use of wild instead of cultured yeasts) and late harvesting, often taking risks that other winemakers would shun, but somehow pulling it off. Felseneck Spätlese 2013 shows an almost unattainable elegance, with mere hints of aromas at first. Herbal notes, white Japanese peaches, lemon zest and even a bit of honey. Surprisingly little sweetness on the tongue given the 80g/l of residual sugar, but a mouthwatering, almost saline acidity. This oozes class but comes across quite tight, definitely not ready to show what it is capable of. To tuck away for 15 to 20 years!

IMG_2936Many consider the Mosel to be the benchmark for German sweet. Oddly enough, it’s not the sweetness but the acidity that makes these wines unique. Sweetness and residual sugar levels can be controlled up to a certain point. Acidity and the structure it brings to a wine, are inherently linked to the grape variety, soil and climate. The Mosel is one of the coldest regions in Germany, home to the steepest slopes of slate that are a match made in heaven with Riesling. The Trittenheimer Apotheke 2011 Spätlese from Eva Clüsserath fell a bit short in our tasting but changed into a completely different wine on the second day. Pure, flinty minerality on the nose, clear signs of spontaneous fermentation. Acidity-driven on the palate with ripe apples, zestiness and just a touch of sweetness. Still young but already extremely enjoyable, it is a righteous display of the ethereal lightness that you can only achieve in the Mosel.

IMG_3004We are staying in the region, but now we move one of the Mosel’s tributaries, the Ruwer. The first village you encounter when following the river upstream is Eitelsbach, home to Karthäuserhof. The estate’s peculiarity is that all their wines are sourced from only one vineyard, the Karthäuserhofberg, which is fully owned by Karthäuserhof, making it one of the largest ’monopole’ vineyards in Germany. The Riesling Auslese 2010 has 8.5% alcohol, slightly higher than Schafer-Frohlich’s Spätlese at 7.5% which actually results in a lower level of residual sugar at 70g/l despite the fact that the wine has a different Prädikat. Surprisingly, it comes across a lot sweeter, owning up to its classification with apricots, pineapples and almost exotic fruit scents. It is quite heady, a hint of smokiness that is nowhere to be found on the palate. It comes across very clean but the acidity is markedly lower than expected. This is one for cellaring in the hopes that it will lose the overt sweet tones, or one to combine now with a spicy Indian curry.

IMG_2632Thanks to the Belgian importer, I had the opportunity to taste Am Stein’s Stettener Stein Eiswein 2012. People who have been following this blog from the beginning will be familiar with this estate so I’ll cut right to the chase and state that this is just fabulous. As stated last week, 2012 was the last year in which Eiswein was possible all throughout Germany, with harvest at Am Stein taking place on the 10th of December at -12° C. Half a hectare (little over an acre) resulted in a mere 500 liter wine! An astonishing 170° Oechsle (215g/l) means that you’re in for the sugar high of a lifetime but luckily you do not need a lot for instant gratification. An exotically perfumed nose, mango, papaya, passion fruit, everything just coming straight at you. The palate is luscious, on the verge of syrupy but just at the right time you hit a wall of thrilling acidity that restores balance, ending on a fresh, long-lingering note of pure fruit. Getting your grapes unaffected by noble rot to December is quite a feat, and Am Stein has pulled it off with this one. Taking into account all the work that goes in it, the risk that the winemaker has to take and the absolutely stunning wine that you get, this would be the first wine at 60 euros that I would call a bargain!

Sweet Riesling in its youth is often accused of being nothing but exotic fruit, but the four wines presented here show that it can be so much more. All kinds of fruit, different interactions with acidity and minerality, changing aromas and impressions, there is such a wide range of styles that saying its just exotic fruitiness is blatantly superficial. All these wines are already enjoyable but show so much more potential to the future, let’s put some of their companions to the test next week!

Week 31 – Neudorf Vineyards, Tom’s Block 2012

new zealand

Distance-wise, you would not expect anything from New Zealand to find its way to Belgium and the fact that there is quite a range of wines available should tell you something about their quality. Why else would you bother shipping them across the world? It is all the more remarkable when you realize that there is only about 35,000 ha of wine planted, paling in comparison with 792,000ha in France and a whopping 1.02 million in Spain. The majority of this is Sauvignon Blanc, accounting for 60% of the total planted surface in 2015 (up from 40% only ten years ago), but the most important red variety is Pinot Noir at a steady 15%*.

I love New Zealand pinot noir because of its openness. Only rarely do I get austerity, which can be an issue in Burgundy in thin years and they are really characterized by an elegant, ever so slightly sweet fruitiness balanced with a bright sense of identity. In general I would say that they are ready to drink earlier in their lifecycle, whereas this may not always be the case with French or German pinot noir.

One of the regions that has seen increased plantings in recent years is Nelson, at 1123ha just last year, of which roughly a fifth is pinot noir. Vineyards are located in a valley in the middle of the Northern tip of the South Island protected by mountains on three sides. While the climate is sunny, it retains a sense of coolness thanks to the Northern exposure to the Tasman Bay, creating perfect circumstances for grape growing.

Tim and Judy Finn can rightly be considered pioneers in the region as they started their wine adventure in 1978 with Neudorf Vineyards. The estate is quite large at 33ha, and the conversion to full organic production is still ongoing even as sustainable viticulture has been a choice from the start. Tom’s Block 2012 is a blend from different vineyards, fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak. The first word that comes to mind, even when pouring the wine, is savoury. Aroma’s jump out of the glass, redcurrant, cherries and a little bit of spice, all very vivid and attention-grabbing from the start. The crisp fruitiness returns on the palate, even with a streak of refreshing minerality that lingers on in the end. It’s a very open, honest wine that oozes charm and a welcome introduction to the beauty you can find in New Zealand Pinot Noir!

*statistics provided by http://www.nzwine.com/info-centre/statistics/

An introduction to German sweet (I)

Wine is the result of a winemaker’s decisions with regards to viticulture and vinification. At the very least, he or she would need to ensure that grapes contain enough sugar for a successful alcoholic fermentation. Sugar alone however does not create quality wine. Grapes balancing all flavor components sought in a good wine are the starting point. Getting these is more difficult than it sounds, as overripeness can occur in days or even hours. Each grape variety also has its own tipping point, heavily influenced by the climate in which it is cultivated, adding to the constraints a winemaker faces.

There are numerous ways to make a sweet wine, but for today we’ll limit ourselves to those most commonly employed in Germany. The cheapest way is adding süssreserve (sterilized unfermented grape must) after the fermentation has run its course. I briefly mentioned the term when discussing Champagne, and I remain skeptical on its added value to quality wine. It is a drastic intervention in the wine that risks not adding anything but blandness, as we have learned from liebfraumilch.

Quality sweet wines are created through intervention in the alcoholic fermentation before all sugars have been converted into alcohol (thus the term residual sugar). The tricky part here is keeping a careful eye on three factors that will be key to a satisfactory result; alcohol, residual sugar and acidity. Monitoring for each of these during the process is not the issue, but keeping them in check, let alone divining how they influence each other as well as what the wine will end up tasting like is more easily said than done.

Acidity is really the one element that can make or break your wine. Too low, and you might as well be making syrup, too high and you end up with Fanta, sweet but too tart to taste it. When done right, though, you will have luscious, accentuated fruit shining through without leaving a hint of sugar on your tongue, just a long, lingering sensation. This, of course, requires that you use grapes with naturally high acidity, which is where the greats like Riesling or Chenin Blanc come into play.

I won’t send everyone running to the hills by attempting to explain German wine law and viticulture, but when it comes to sweet wines it can be handy to at least have a notion of what it all entails. Broadly speaking, Prädikat classifications are based on ‘degrees Oeschle’ an indicator of the ripeness of the grapes based on the must weight, which increases as sugars accumulate within the grape.

Schermafbeelding 2015-11-15 om 20.09.47Over time these classification terms have become associated with sweet wines, but it is important to keep in mind that °Oeschle conveys info on the sugars present in the grape, not in the wine! With grapes that fall into Kabinett, Spätlese or in less frequent cases Auslese, a winemaker can simply decide to let the alcoholic fermentation run its course, ending up with 12 to 13% of alcohol. For instance, the VDP Pyramid (see Burgundian Riesling at Von Winning) requires Spätlese-level grapes for Grosses Gewachs wines, which are always dry.

The actual sweetness is up to the winemaker to decide. He or she can decide to halt the fermentation by adding sulfur dioxide or by lowering the temperature to a point where yeasts stop functioning (although in this case he would likely have to sterilize his wine in order to avoid refermentation in the bottle, which is a drastic move). The complication is that, unlike the Prädikat classifications, mentioning if a wine is trocken (dry), halbtrocken or feinherb (off-dry) is not legally required on the label, so sometimes you have no idea if the wine in front of you is sweet or not! The trick is to check the alcohol percentage. If this is in general higher than 11% in the case of spätlese and 13% for auslese, chances are you are in halbtrocken or trocken territory (dependent on where you are in the Oechsle range, but you get the general idea).

Starting from Auslese though, you will rarely encounter completely dry wines. Auslese grape picking commences in a stage of overripeness, comparable to the ‘vendange tardive’ as we know it in the Alsace. Beerenauslese goes even further, and whereas signs of noble rot can already be present in Auslese grapes, here we are already more on the level of ‘Sélection de Grains Nobles’ in the Alsace. Another apt comparison would be Coteaux de Layon versus Chaume and Quarts de Chaume in the Loire region where concentration and residual sugar potential are also considered as determinants of quality.

The Beerenauslese level will also see a steep increase in price. The stems become too weak to support the grape brunch, so yields plummet. Trockenbeerenauslese is even more exclusive, as only grapes fully infected with botrytis come in scope. It can be painstakingly difficult to make the selection in the vineyard as the right grapes have to be picked out one by one. These wines can be virtually indestructible, capable of aging for decades while retaining their thrilling balance between acidity and sweetness. I myself haven’t had a lot of occasions to taste them, and while I do recognize their quality they can be a bit too much on the syrupy side in their youth, especially if you are not used to drinking sweet wine.

pixelio_eisweintrauben_2000x3008pxFinally we get to Eiswein, a sweet wine that can really only be made in cold climates as you need frozen grapes. When temperatures hit -8°C, the water in the grape bunch will freeze, concentrating other components such as sugar and acids. Pressing must occur when the grapes are still frozen, so harvest is in general an all-nighter, resulting in a very pure, intensely sweet wine. The concentration of acids will preserve balance though and when done right, the wine can be extraordinary. °Oechsle would be in the same category as beerenauslese, but the key difference is that the best ice wines contain not a single trace of botrytis.

It is a risky business as a winemaker forgoes a part of the harvest in order to get a shot at making Eiswein, hoping for a decent winter. For instance, 2012 was the most recent year in which it was possible to produce Eiswein in large parts of Germany, but winter has not been strong enough in recent years, barring a few select locations. Yields are low at the harvest already and wild animals can ravage a vineyard still containing fruit. Winemakers may resort to using plastic coverage, although the downside is that it increases humidity, and thus the risk of botrytis.

As has hopefully become clear, there is a logic to the system, albeit a complicated one. We will take a look at a couple of young and old sweet wines over the next couple of weeks to show off the incredibly diversity riesling can offer with a bit more sugar!

photo credit – Peter Jakob Kuhn

Week 30 – Geil, Geyersberg Frühburgunder 2012

dAs clarified a couple of weeks ago when talking about Tschuppen 2007, Pinot Noir is never just Pinot Noir. Clonal variety can lead to differences in flavour and aromas, as we see with Spätburgunder. Nonetheless, the wines are still distinctly Pinot Noir in fragrance and structure. It becomes a bit trickier when we start looking into mutations or crossings.

Frühburgunder is one of those mutations that leads a quiet but successful life on its own. Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz use Pinot Précoce as header in Wine Grapes, but in all likelihood it originated in Germany. The distinguishing factor is that it ripens about two weeks earlier than Pinot Noir, and seeing as the German climate was harsher than Burgundy a couple of centuries ago, it may very well be possible that the mutation therefore occurred in a Northern region. The hotbed for Frühburgunder these days is without a doubt the Ahr, which will be discussed in greater detail in the future, but it can also be found in Franken (Klingenberg) and Rheinhessen. Overall though, there is very little to be found with only around 400 ha in all of Germany.

In comparison with Spätburgunder, Frühburgunder wines are a bit more intense, aromas go more into darker fruit instead of the delicate red berries that are so characteristic of Spätburgunder. Oak ageing suits it, giving it a lot of structure in the mouth as well as increasing longevity. Johannes Geil’s Frühburgunder Geyersberg Goldkapsel 2012 is a terrific example. It may be a bit too young perhaps to drink right now, but I couldn’t resist. The immediate impression on the nose is dark chocolate, the kind you find so often in South America, raw but pure. Raspberries and blackberries counter it with some juicy fruitiness, helped by the fleshed-out acidity in the mouth. Long in the finish, acidity-driven but never losing the weighty sensation. This is only just coming around, but already showing so much potential. I will tuck away my other bottles for at least another couple of years!

Other Rheinhessen wines talked about: 

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: 

Week 28 – Ziereisen, Tschuppen 2007

IMG_2780So, summer is over in and it is the perfect time to place the spotlight on wines more in tune with the weather. Autumn calls for two of my favourite varieties, Gamay and Pinot Noir. Gamay for its honest, joyful fruitiness that serves as a reminder of the sunny days we enjoyed up until recently and pinot noir, because it can be so perfectly in sync with the rhythm of nature slowing down, transitioning from lively, exuberant flavours to earthy and more delicate impressions. Continue reading

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

Week 27 – Cos, Pithos Rosso 2009

IMG_2777Summer is over judging from the weather, so our extended focus on Riesling comes to a momentary end. Rieslingfans should not fear, as it is a love I will not be able to shut up about, but for the Wine of the Week I will venture into new territories for the time being. I have talked about the natural wine movement before, just take a look at my reports on Champagne or RAW, but my interest was actually piqued during a vacation in Sicily four years ago. Continue reading

Week 26 – Rebholz, Vom Buntsandstein 2013

IMG_2751I have talked about Riesling wines from the Pfalz before, mainly in the context of the Von Winning tasting I participated in a couple of months ago. Stephan Attmann, the winemaker at Von Winning is a proponent of creating opulent, majestic Riesling wines through the use of oak barrels, the Burgundian pièces. There is a certain complementarity to be found, as the warm climate we find in the Pfalz leads to more ripeness and sunniness in the grapes. It is like doubling down on a wine’s characteristic without going overboard while still opting for something bordering on radical.

Others will try to keep the wine in check through focusing on old vines and controlling yield, attempting to strike a balance between the subtlety and fruitiness that Riesling can offer so brilliantly. One of the most accomplished growers in the Pfalz, Hansjorg Rebholz uses this delicate interplay as a signature touch to all the wines his family produces. He wants the wines to be an honest reflection of their point of origin, the terroir and the vintage. To this end he works biologically and refuses interventions such as deacidification or chaptilization.

Vom Buntsandstein Trocken 2013 grows on red sandstone, a soil we encountered before at Furst in Franken. A harsh soil that does not retain a lot of water is perfect for keeping vine growth in check while still holding on to enough heat to ensure ripe grapes in the end. Smoky, even a little bit flinty on the nose, something zesty and ripe in the background. It starts of almost water-like in the mouth, which is deceiving as it gradually wins in depth, juicy in the middle with ripe sunny peach, only to end on a spicy, almost cinnamon-like minerality that keeps on lingering. In style it resembles Eva Fricke’s Kiedricher actually, focused on subtlety while not losing sight of keeping it in balance with sufficient complexity and depth. This is a really nice example of the delicacy that Riesling is capable of, even in a warm climate.

Other Pfalz wines talked about: 

A discovery of sweet wines

Berry Brothers wine list, credit to German fine winesYou cannot get a full picture of German Riesling without talking about the country’s tradition in sweet wines. At one point in time they ranked amongst the most expensive wines in the world, even beating a couple of Médoc First Growths. Unfortunately, they took a turn for the worse in the eighties. ‘liebfraumilch’ is largely to blame for the image of sweet German wines that still persists in many parts of the world. Continue reading

Week 24 – Eva Fricke, Kiedricher 2012

IMG_2689

The Rheingau has historically been considered one of Germany’s premium wine regions. The presence of the Cistercian religious order, of course better known for their work in the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, probably has a lot to do with this. It may be surprising that the Rheingau was initially a Spätburgunder-growing region, based on Pinot Noir vines taken from Vougeot. Near the end of the 19th century however, when German wine was booming worldwide, prices commended for Rheingau Rieslings frequently rivaled those of the famous wines of Mosel and Saar.  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