Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Favourite wines of the Colli Eugenie

On bright summer's days (June 9th/10th, 2012) looking across to the silhouettes of Padovan towers amid the volcanic Eugenie hills, as Petrarch would have done, I felt I was in Paradise. The wines I tasted those days were heavenly, too. Here are five favourites:

 Colli Eugenie,Fiore d'Arancio,Borin, 2010 - Orange Muscat, native to Eugenie but beautifully dry. An adaptable wine of real class for the simple natural food of the region - pasta, vegetables, herbs of high quality for the genuine bon vivant *** 16.5

Rosso Fernice San Basilico 2008 -made only in great years, an intriguuing mix of Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot, historically introduced here by noble Venetian families, plus a smidgin of Barbera. A lusty great red of structure and presence, strong but with a knitting harmony and fineness. Will keep well for a further 10 -15 years in magnum.For Piedmont beef. ****18

"Serre" Il Montolo, 2008. In many ways, my favourite of all - for its originality of splendidly taut, fresh and herbaceous expression of tempering Cabernet Franc + Merlot as an antidote to the heat of the Padovan plain. 'Blackberries' shape a very refreshing mouthfeel. Lovely ***** 18.5

Colli Eugenie DOCG Sette Chiesette, Borin Vini & Vigne passito - an exceptional dessert Muscat from a great producer: elegant Welsh gold, glorious scents of honeycombs and flowers; intense but racy and energetic, with perfect integrated acidity. An aristocrat and vino de contemplazione. Bravissimo! ***** 19

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Volcanoes & Fine Wine - the link?

Last June I was pleased to be invited to seminars in the Veneto, first in internationally renowned Soave 20 miles east of Verona; then onto the lesser known Colli Eugenie, south of Vicenza and close to the fine cathedral city of Padova. Historically a transitional land between the Alpine north and the continental plain which eventually leads 60 kms south down to Bologna, the hills of Eugenie are like little pimples on the landscape, formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity beneath what was then a calcareous sea.

And there's  the rub: for the purpose of the consortia's presentations was to assert that the volcanic soils present in both regions was the crucial component  in the quality and distinction of DOCG wines in Soave and Eugenie. Well up to a point, for the soils are more complex than that  - very good wines are made on limestone as well as the classic Basalt volcanic rock of the Veronese; and  the Colli Eugenie has more than 60 different types of soil. In Soave, a tasting of 18 wines from wine producing countries around the world with a strong or  tenuous link to volcanoes produced mixed results. In the end, this seemed like a perfectly legitimate marketing exercise to increase understanding and appreciation  of wines from Soave Superiore, but as an analytical, intellectual investigation, it seemed less satisfying. As Richard Baudoins, the best of the keynote speakers,  sensibly stressed, "in underlining the intrinsic value of wine, of course it's worth trying to find a link with the soil and what is in your glasss..... but we need  also to broaden it and take in more emotional feelings. Personally I'm more doubtful of specific links between volcanic soil and the quality of fine wine, as a general thesis." There speaks the voice of British Philosophical empiricism!I do agree. The influence of volcanic soils was strongly evident in some exceptional wines, for instance, the Etna bianco 2010 Feudo Cavaliere made in Sicly from the Cataratto grape, and the superb Soave Classico " Monte Carbonare" 2006 Suavia. Others like the mildly flavoured, sparkling Souki  of Japan, had a remote flaovur link with volcanoes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Jacquart's new winemaker and streamlined range

Last thursday, against a freezing wind, I left Liverpool Street Station by the Broadgate West tunnel up into the brave new world of the EC2 restaurant scene.Quite by chance, following my nose, I fell upon Snowden Street and Chrysal, the latest Japanese alternative in the Hakhassan Oriental stable. I had come for a tasting lunch with Floriane Eznack, the new winemaker (barely 30) at Champagne Jacquart. I remember her well as the bright assistant to my friend, the great Philippe Thierry of Veuve Clicquot; together they were making red wine for the peerless Grande Dame Rose. Her new job at Jacquart is to streamline the rather confusing number of cuvees and to concentrate on what this fine former cooperative has always done best: to draw on the fine crus of its members' parcels on the Cote des Blancs to fashion a string of vintage blanc de  blancs in a generous style at once richly gourmand  yet elegantly fresh to give immediate comfort to the impatient gastronome with a busy schedule . The main target is the fine restaurant trade.

Before tasting a quartet of  chardonnay vintages 2005 back to 1999, we had a sneak preview of the new vins clairs from the 2012 harvest.At first, this looked like one of the most difficult of recent vintages, teetering on the edge of disaster -hot march, no sunlight for four months, a prolonged failure of flowering, attended by wind, fierce hail, heavy rain, disease. But then the sun came out in a hot August and a fine calm September that chased away oidium, mildew and botrytis - at least in the best kept vineyards, while others languished with rotten grapes. Selection is everything, more than ever before. Yet Jacquart have done a fine job in salvaging a reduced crop- half its normal volume - of excellent wines: Meunier Villedomange, fruit, structure ,depth and ongoing pleasure;  Pinot Noir Mailly, flavours of blackcurrants energized by acidity; and Chouilly. a lovely expansive wine with a core of cool controlled intensity of Chardonnay flavours not seen since the potentially great 2008 harvest. Judgment is reserved until we taste a broader range of the raw material in glacial January & February.

Jacquart Blanc de Blancs Vertical 6.xii.2012

2005 - ripe-looking, gold with green lights, reflecting hot, maybe too hot conditions at harvest time. Opulent to the point of unctuousness, very much a 'continental' rather than a 'maritime' vintage. its richness gives it crowd appeal and it was appreciated by the other tasters. not my cup of tea - lack athletic energy, poise and class. it doesn't refresh. * (*) 14

2004 - more subtle hue of intertwining yellows and greens. a bit reductive for the moment but this should pass to reveal a smoky, flinty character in a classic style. A good 04 *** 16

2002 - an interesting mix of Chouilly, Vertus and Sezanne. gives immense pleasure now with scented
 flavours of warm brioche and honey - gorgeous mouthfeel, creamy, subtly mineral. perfectly balanced, complex, more to give to 2015. Grand Vin ***** 18.5

1999 - much better than average for this low-acid year. Golden fruits, fresh and dried, spicy .perfect mature aperitif for watching the cricket. **** 17

Saturday, 3 November 2012




Saturday, 15 September 2012

Terra Viva - SoaveCru, the new face of Soave

Soave is one of the best known white wines of Italy, the staple of trattorias from Catford to Cricklewood. There's no point though in denying that the great quantities of wine produced on the flatlands of the denomination 30 kilometres east of Verona have done little for its reputation. In truth,  bog-standard Soave has been the  'Grocer's Muscadet' of Italy - often thin, metallic and characterless - and like its French counterpart only capable of interest and real distinction  when it is hand-made in the artisanal way from superior sights that allows the fine lees to shape its mineral, savoury flavours. The good news this June  was the launch of SoaveCru, an association of 16 small producers who believe implictly in the historic inheritance of their volcanic soils in the hillier slopes of the Soave Classico and Colli Scaligeri subzones - their aim the crafting of a new image for the disciplinare. The area is lucky to have the elegant, small-scale town of Soave at its heart nestling beneath the Classico hills.

Renaissance street of Soave near the Castello

SoaveCru's  supreme aim is to interpret the great wine that these classic hillsides can nurture - an area recognized 70 years as one of Italy's first fine wine zones, a little later confirmed by Royal Decree. Yet as Sandro Gini, the President of the Association stresses, " it's not intended to be a elitist group, but rather a way of operating that is open to all who are happy to devote themselves to it." A strong synergy is being forged  by these vignerons, united in a love for their area. " we wish to communicate the passion we put into our work," says Sandro, " so giving added value and significance to the denomination, passing onto our childen vineyards that are  environmentally-friendly." The key interpreter of this special wineland is the Garganega grape, which has the chance to realize its full potential nowhere better than in this volcanic heartland of white wine in the Veronese. Particular focus is aimed onto individual vineyards in the best sub-zones, where respect for the land is rigorous.

On a visit to Soave in early June, I was intrigued by one estate MonteTondo, which is actually situated close to the autostrada down from the hills, some of its wines based on limestone, not the Volcanic basalt. But this is a dynamic forward-looking enterprise of 25 hectares founded in 1980 and one that also makes a Soave charmat- method sparkler.We were hosted by the daughter of the house, the diminutive ball of energy that is Marthe Magnabosca.

Her entry-level 2009 Soave Classico is 100% Garganega on calcaire, cold-soaked for 24 hours then into tanks till February.  Pale, green-straw, quite exotic fruits nose, easy and direct on the palate, a delicious straightforward wine, no pretensions.xx

 2009 single vineyard Foscarin Savinus Soave Classico Superiore DOCG  is made in a mix of tanks and barrels. The soil is volcanic and the yields reasonable (6,500/7,000 kg/ha). The tastes are the story of a very warm year, the dominant impression  ripe honeycombs and almost surmature
grapes. I don't think the wine has QUITE enough elegance and subtle complexity to satisfy a purist, like my good journalist friend Franco Ziliani, but I rate the wine and thought of all the good things I'd  want eat with it - sauced lobster, soft-shell crab and mountain gorgonzola. xxx

2006 single v'yd Foscarin Savinus Soave Classico Superiore DOCG - now we're talking, Foscarin Savinus from a much greater vintage -fascinating nose melding memories of more delicate  sauternes-like opulence, with the basalt minerals and bite of Volcania Soave. Superb balance of evolved fruit, benign oak scents and a developing vinosity, all the time fresh and vigorous with fine acidity. Vino di contemplazione. Remarkable, and all the more so for being from an up and coming estate. xxxx 
Classico vineyards high above Soave

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Wrapped in a forgotten corner of France

bowl of vyds below chateau-chalon home to vin jaune
On the last day of my fabulous holiday I drove up from the rocky outcrops of the Jura onto the bucolic plateau of the Hauts Doubs, 800 metres above sea-level. Less dramatic than the wooded craggy magnificence of Vin Jaune country, the plateau is a natural place for the Gentian bitter herb, one of the ingredients in vermouth and, notoriously, absinth: the exact length of Gentian's stem is said to foretell how harsh the next winter will be. On this glorious morning, the benign landscape was dotted with the red-spotted Montbeliard cows, whose milk makes fine Morbier and great Comte cheese. It's also a good place for horse riding and, come January, cross-country skiing. And if you like things simple, a gentle art de vivre thrives in a land of wine, aperitifs and Morteau sausage.
Pont de l'Ain en route for Pontarlier

Passing through a quiet village called (I kid you not) Pisseenvache, hunger pains made me look at my watch: 1.15pm and time for lunch! Five minutes later, I fell on my feet in a neat little resto with a board advertising menu du jour 13 euros. It turned out to be exceptional value for honest food of true flavours: a super tranche of tete de cochon made by the butcher/livestock farmer & father of the young patron; paupiette de porc with spaghetti: a great wedge of Comte, a demi-pichet of vin de pays de Vaucluse; apricot tart &coffee, all in. Vive la Vieille France ! And to add a modern twist, the pretty blonde patronne and a subtle voice for her husband looked as if she would feel as much as home in Paris's rue du Cherche Midi as in the Doubs.

Engagingly, she confessed she much preferred Burgundy to Jura wines: if one was forced to make the choice, who wouldn't! Jeune Madame also told me that the nearby town Pontarlier was a rich place, as many of the inhabitants worked across the border in Switzerland, where they could earn four times what they would in France. I drove on to Pontarlier, sizzling in 34 C degree heat, slaked my thirst with a cold beer, then more comfortably crossed the border into a heavenly green fir valley and descended to the Lake of Neufchatel & Swiss Pinot country. Another story for another day.

great local hostelry, Bevier, Lake Neufchatel

Monday, 20 August 2012

Delicate Burgundies of the Maranges

Last Friday I drove over from Arbois to the little hamlet of St Gilles on Burgundy's Canal du Centre. On the other bank of the canal high above Santenay are the Maranges, the last southerly villages of the Cote de Beaune, even if the post code is Saone et Loire. I had come to stay with my friend Amanda Regan and her companion Remi, who provided the most blissfully simple & delicious food of pate en croute, jambon persille, escargots and the freshest cheeses and salads. That first afternoon we went to visit the Domaine Jean-Louis Bachelet in Dezize les Maranges. Jean-Louis and his son Bertrand's wines may not have quite the fashionable pull of their cousins' domaine of  Bachelet-Monnot just down the street, but they showed a varied range of burgundies that would give a lot of pleasure for early drinking, reflecting this pere et fils' sunny natures. I liked particularly their straight Chassagne villages and a delightful, less extracted Pommard  especially in 2010, from the Volnay side of the village.
Jean-Louis & Bertrand Bachelet

Back in St Gilles,  I was very struck by the supple flavours and delicacy of  the very different wines we drank at supper - fresh aligote in an aromatic minor key, supple Hautes Cote de Beaune of little red fruits, more mineral & elegant flavours in Maranges Ier Cru La Fussiere - all three 2010s- then genuine class in a gently maturing Santenay Clos Rousseau 2008, the sort of wine that says wait a bit and I will show you everything in my own good time. Tho' I had determined to hang up my tasting glass on holiday, curiosity got the better of me: Amanda, bless her, got me an appointment with the creators of these delicate natural beauties - none with much more than 12.5% alcohol - at the Domaine Fernand Chevron in Cheilly les Maranges. I quickly checked the Hanson bible and Anthony in  his inimitably discreet but telling way seemed pretty keen on the wines of Fernand & his sons.

I wasn't  to be disappointed. On saturday afternoon, sharp at 3 pm, under a fierce August sun (35 celsius) a fit older man,  trim with iron-grey moustache, in a crisp white shirt gently approached my car and looked in a kindly quizzical way at my Swiss number plates, until I assured him that I was the Anglais, ami  of Amanda. I instantly warmed to Fernand, for tho' I'm sure he would have rather been sitting in the cool of his stone manor house, he never showed it and gave me plenty of time at very short notice to taste in his cellar. Now officially retired, Fernand's modesty and honesty shone through. " I'm now taking a back seat, giving my boys their head; and to be frank, the wines have improved a lot since 2007 when Vincent & Pablo bought une table de trie and the grapes now drop by gravity into the fermenting cuves. The wines are more supple, the tannins plus fin." They sure are, but a little more credit should be given to Fernand for his foresight in going organic some years ago, and since 2007 in converting to biodynamie (certified in 2010). The domaine has 17 hectares, six of their own, the rest worked en fermage. Winemaking is an intelligent mix of tradition & modernity, cuves used for some whites like the lovely fragrant 2011 Aligote. The stars in the cellar are the precise and beautifully defined Maranges 1er Cru la Fussiere (rouge) 2010 and the dramatically fine Santenay Clos Rousseau 2011, quietly evolving en fut, and a step up I reckon from the already excellent 2008. A little of the domaine's wines have been imported to London by Top Selection, agent among others for Henri Giraud of Ay & of course Egon Muller.
Fernand Chevron

Domaine Chevrot et fils, 19 route de Couches, 71150 Cheilly les Maranges e contact@chevrot.fr www.chevrot.fr

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

English producers aping Champagne (?)....come off it!

The media -savvy Sam Lindo of Camel Valley made a big splash recently with his dig that  " English producers should stop aping Champagne". A minute's thought should convince any lover of great fizz that Sam's argument needs probing. For when top English sparkling producers (Ridgeview, Nye Timber, Coates & Seely, Herbert Hall) stick to the three classic champagne grapes, they are just acknowledging that, with 300 years experience, the Champenois still know best which sparkling grapes work best in a marginal maritime-influenced climate  - one which Southern England and the Marne share, most of the time.

enjoying great pinot at les artisans de champagne (april)

It is certainly hard to argue with Nick Hall's measured reply. " We want an 'Englishness' in our wine and I think that comes through terroir -but in our climate the building blocks have to be the three classic varieties, if we are to make really good wine. Top restaurants want to be able to distinguish English from Champagne so they have something different to offer - but they also want finesse and real quality." Could Dornfelder & Reichensteiner deliver the same sparkling dash and elegance as Chardonnay & the Pinots? I don't think so, much as I like German wine.

Monday, 25 June 2012

In the pink - Herbert Hall at the Summer Solstice

tucking the leaves of the vine at Herbert Hall June2012

Summer so far in Southen England has seen remorseless rainstorms - the darker face of Climate Change. Champagne, too, has been soggy & damp, then hot & sticky, mildew afflicting the vines in mid-flowering. If that was not enough, hail has devastated  the Barsuraubois sector of  the Aube - Michel Drappier reporting the loss of 75 percent of his Pinot crop in a 15 minute devastation. So, it is fitting that last monday the 19th the weather was sunny & kind for Nick Hall, a great talent and charmer, who deserves some luck as the maker of, for me, the best, silkiest sparkling wine in Southern England. A troop of his best customers that included Paxton & Whitfield and the Caprice restaurant group caught the 9 40 along the old Hop route to Marden in the heart of the North Weald. I felt as if I was coming home, my mother's family were Kentish apple farmers.

Nick Hall explains his winemaking
We walked from the station the half mile to Nick's top vineyard, on a fine south- facing slope that sits on a bed of gravel that lends focus and elegance to his wines. The view, too, is rather special, open elegant country with mature oaks on rolling hillocks - one might have been in Burgundy in the pretty byways of Bouzeron, Rully and Mercurey. The lower vineyard has more clay and gives a substantial boost to the cuvees. Nobody can pretend that 2010 was an easy vintage in England - the acidity levels were scarily high - and as Nick's Plumpton guru, the good Peter Morgan, honestly admitted, a sizeable dosage of 13 g/l was needed to make the wine palatable: natural methods can only do so much when nature is cruel.

Against the odds, Nick has made a fine  champagne in 2010 with more chardonnay in the mix to give long-life and structure. But his rose is the ace, just pressed a little longer to give a subtle tint of colour and aromatic little red fruits,the work of a man with real feeling for his passion. I had a great talk, too, with Nick's son, Alexander, now at Charterhouse, a bright hope and maybe an assured successor one day.

Damn the weather, press on!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Tastes of the Langhe Hills chez Vajra

The Langhe Hills

Aldo and his daughter

I thought I knew all about acidity in young wines, as someone hardened in the school of Champagne vins clairs tasted each February in glacial Marnais cellars. But I wasn't quite prepared for the dense impenetrable acids and tannins of 2008 Grand Barolos and Barbarescos  at this month's Nebbiolo Prima in Alba. It was, nevertheless,  a fascinating new learning curve;  five days and 300 wines + later, an impression formed in my mind of the different tastes of the Albese, village by village,  parcel by parcel, every 500 metres. I began to feel at home- this was the same wine ethos as the Cote d'Or.

There is though a problem of perception for these potentially great wines: sadly, fewer and fewer wine consumers have the patience or the inclination to wait 10 to 12 years for an uncompromising classic Barolo to shed  its sinewy character and reach its prime. Fortunately, Piedmont in general and the Albese in particular has one of  the most varied wine cultures in Italy. So I made my way to a benchmark domaine, where as elegant and distinguished a Barolo as anyone's is made by the gentlemanly Aldo Vajra - in manner and gentle courtesy, he reminds me of Aubert de Villaine of the Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Like Aubert, Aldo is a thinking man with the same broadness of vision to know that his homeland has so much more to offer than one great wine from one great grape in a priviledged Grand Cru site." here we don't makes wines for competitions but to be drunk with the greatest pleasure at the right moment in their lives," says Aldo.

This year will be Aldo's fortieth harvest since he returned from university to the family vineyards, centered on the hamlet of Vergne, on higher slopes above the commune of Barolo in the lee of the Alps. The great strengths of these privileged sites are the deep roots of soils, formed a million years ago as a mosaic of white calcareous marls called Sant'Agata . "They bind our family to this land." comments Aldo, with quiet conviction. The decision of which vines to plant where absorbs him as keenly now as when he started in 1972. Barolo, Barbera, Dolcetto,and the ancient cepage Langa Freisa - all have their natural nursery and home in ideally chosen  plots.

After the robust tannins of the morning's prima tastings in Alba, it was an invigorating delight to taste Vajra's Rhine Riesling ("so much better than its Italico cousin") from a small vineyard that is a tribute and commitment to the great German grape: all peaches and apricots  shaped by the Albese soils, which also give the wine an added touch of minerality. I was also taken by the very classy Barbera d'Alba Superiore from Aldo's top vineyard,  Bricco della Viole  ( 'the hill of violets') in 2008. with its exceptional soft gentleness and a texture like cashmere. If you want a taste of junior Barolo that is friendly on the purse and palate try Vajra's Langhe Nebbiolo from young vines in the communes of Sino and Barolo itself; and for the real thing at a realistic price, Barolo Albese from a blend of La Volta, Fossati and Coste de Vergne vineyards gives exemplary balance and early drinking pleasure for a plate of homemade taglionini with mushrooms. These last two wines are also 2008s, but such is the light touch in the winemaking that they are absolutely ready. Vajra's top vineyard wine, the 2007 Barolo Bricco delle Viole needed that extra time to show its  paces but will develop further complexities over the next decade, in a filigreed finely textured style that is inimitably "Aldo Vajra." Bravo!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Pinot Noir for Brunch at the Finborough Wine Cafe

When I lived in the Finborough Road hinterland in the early seventies, I never thought this rat run between Chelsea and Kangaroo Valley could ever be the right spot for a peaceful wine tasting:  It's taken me forty years to realise how deliciously wrong I've been, for early this month I fell upon the Finborough Wine Cafe, jutting like a proud ship's bow above the racing traffic. Amazingly peaceful inside, it has a lovely ambience and the sight of good grilled bread and hams set me up for a long session. We were here to appreciate the breadth of the Awin Barratt Siegel (ABS)'s Portfolio of Pinot Noirs, with special emphasis on Germany.The blurb quoted Raymond Blanc who lauded the young staff for really knowing their stuff..... "I have discovered so many new wines through them," trilled the jolly professional Frenchman and culinary maestro of BBC 2. Great Raymond wasn't wrong. This was a riveting tasting, a journey across the world with fine things on at least three continents.

ground hog engrossed
    The centrepiece for me was the Burgstadt Franconian estate of Paul Furst and his son Sebastian, the golden boy of Spaetburgunder who presented the wines in London, also in Badneuenahr -Ahrweillwer the week before. Sebastian studied in Beaune and the Cote d'Or is clearly his lodestar;  even if the flavours of Burgstadt are sensibly different from Burgundy, the Franconian emanating from sandstone and weathered loam soils, rather than the argylo-calcaire of the Cote. Sebastian's two finest wines, Grosses Gewaechs  Pinots Noir Centgrafenberg and Hunsruck in the sensuous 2009 vintage are fine grands crus by any standard - the Centgrafenberg of poised, layered fruit and spice, the Hunsruck -over red sandstone - stronger, of great depth and gravitas. The prices though are stiff, neither giving much change from £80 a bottle RRP. Named German Red Wine Collection in 2011, this accolade has magnified the fame of the estate, the downside of which is the pricing policy.
Sebastian Furst

Don't despair,  also shown was the Pinot Noir Tradition 2010 of Jean Stodden of  Rech in the Ahr, a respected leader in the valley but a new entrant to the ABS portfolio. Fully worth £21, of clear shimmering ruby, a class act of freshness, energy and burgeoning vinosity, this intellectual wine showed that you can make very fine Pinot over slate. And, finally,the bargain of the Tasting was the Chamonix 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve (£16.99) - redolent of delicate woodland red fruits touched by the mineral deposits from the great  peaks above Franschhoek in South Africa's Cape. Surely one of the most beautiful places on earth? Enjoy.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Spaetburgunder and sauerkraut soup - Ist German Symposium of International Pinot Noirs

Sauerkraut soup at Carpe Diem Cafe -recommended

Ludwig Van B & friend in Bonn's central Platz

Badneuenahr's Lutheran Church

The Ahr on a bright Feb.day

Badneuenahr -Ahrweiler 24/26 Feburary

A couple of weeks ago, so vivid it could have been yesterday, I spent a delightful long weekend north west of Bonn (birthplace of Beethoven) in the Ahr valley for the first-ever German symposium of International Pinot Noir. Badneuenahr is a charming spa town, solidly bourgeois, of Lutheran rectitude, and so seems a natural home to some of Germany's most cerebral Pinots. Definitely wines for those who prefer pure, tense sensations to powerful fruit bombs. Yet these racy crus of the Ahr belong in the same cradle as fine Volnay and Chambolle with the haunting draw of great Pinot, wines you feel rather than analyse or classify, to borrow Victoria Moore's unbeatable analogy. Nonetheless, in this northern clime, Pinot grown over slate does have as strong appeal to the intellect as to the soul.

Arriving late on friday night, I slept in late at the Dorint Park Hotel, as the symposium did not start till a civilized 11am. As we gathered for coffee in the conference hall, I was glad to see two  familiar faces - my dear friend Charlotte Van Zummeren proprietor of the fine Dutch website www.winebusiness.nl and Anne Krebiehl, a daughter of Baden who enlivens London's wine journalism with her sharp mind, bubbling humour and fine turn of phrase.

The saturday all-day session  brought all-embracing tasting presentations from producers from every Pinot Noir region in Germany, as well as the US and New Zealand in all their diversity. My first impressions, later confirmed, were that of the northern territories, the Ahr Pinots definitely stole a march over their counteparts from the Mosel and more surprisingly the south-facing slopes of the Rheingau (pace the great August Kesseler whose Pinots weren't present). Yet in the warmer south of the Palatinate, Franconia and especially Baden, the ripe richness and intensity of  expression was beautifully balanced by finesse and elegance - so much better than the quaffable (no more) PNs of Alsace, westwards across the Rhine, where the enormous yields jeopardize any chance of making fine wine from the minx that is Pinot.

The quality of the speeches was inevitably variable. The palm should go to John Belsham, of Foxes Island Wine, Blenheim NZ for his admirably clear and compelling narrative of the different conditions that shape Pinot growing across New Zealand from Gladstone and Waipara through Marlborough onto Canterbury and Otago. Other speakers did not respect their alloted span.One German journalist went, uncontrolled, way over time to give an surfeit of numbing technical detail, which reminded me of his great nation's one little fault - Wagnerian long-windedness. As the acerbic English novelist Evelyn Waugh sat under the Stuka dive bombers in the Luftwaffe's assault on Crete in 1941, he remarked,  "too loud and too long!" In fairness to grand German musical culture, Waugh for all his genius had a tin ear and could not possibly appreciate the glories of Mozart, Brahms, Richard Strauss and Mahler.

We digress. Saturday's highlight was a gala dinner, where most people dressed  nicely but not too formally. Unlike many of these wine dinners (I remember grisly food once at the Clos Vougeot) the cuisine of master chef Hans Stefan Steinheuser was exquisite, the outstanding dish roe deer cooked in spaetburgunder, with rouennaise sauce that had more than a passing acquaintance with duck's liver. The next morning we had plenty of time to taste at numerous tables. My standouts from the Ahr were Meyer-Nakel in Dernau and Weingut Nelles in Heimersheim; from Franconia the lovely subtle Pinots Of Rudolf Furst; and thanks to the marking of my card by Gert Crum, the Champagne & Burgundy authority, Franz Keller in Kaiserstuhl and Knipser in Johannishof ( Palatinate). Rosy-cheeked, I then ambled across the river for a sustaining and deliciious sauerkraut soup at the Carpe Diem cafe in town. The best comfort after a red wine tasting.

More details in the next post.

the girls at Meyer -Nackel
Sebastian Furst

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Tasting vins clairs with Raphael Bereche in mid winter

tasting- reception room  Bereche et fils
Ludes, January 2012

Winter at last returned to Champagne on the 30th Jan as surely as it had done at the weekend in London, when I bought a wool-lined shooter's gilet to stave off the cold. Comic, really, as I'm not a chasseur but never have I made a better move, as the temperature was later to fall to minus 15 C in the Aube by February 3rd. First off, on  Monday (30/1) after a trencherman lunch at Le Theatre with Thibaut Le Mailloux, I set off to Ludes to visit the one grower I most regret not including in my last Champagne book - Raphael Bereche. I had tasted his wines in London several times, was captivated and saw him again with Christophe Constant and Amanda Regan during the 2011 harvest. Surely one of the most bizarre and topsy turvy weather sequences I can remember. For Raphael's honest admissions of the challenges of 2011, see my Sept. post in archive.

Now on my return to Ludes, I was anxious to know if the little magician had cast his spell on some very variable fruit. My first impressions were reassuring - the family is obviously investing heavily for the future: a big extension to the downstairs storage cellar, pride of place given to a new parked tool, the now famous PAI (presse automatique incline) the Rolls Royce of modern champagne presses; also I spied some fine larger barrels. I will let my tasting notes of the vins clairs and the currently evolving  Bereche champagnes do the talking. I think scoring very young wines with points is a mug's game - on my blog at least, I am going to rely  on star ratings, which are broader and more useful. Just as well, as I never could add up.

Vins Clairs Bereche et fils -2011
vinified and lodged in 350 litre oak foudres, first used in the 2007 harvest

Pinot Meunier - from the Marne valley, left bank west after Tarlant & Oeuilly .Vines planted in 1969, aspect north west. 9.6 % alcohol by volume (abv). Yellow/gold sheen, delicate, flowery fruit - a very light strengthening by the oak. Winemaking of feeling and flair in difficult circumstances. **(*)

Pinot Noir - from Ormes, Northern Petite Montagne - grip and substance but also upright, aromatic and elegantly ripe (10.2% abv) reflecting the sandstone soils. Perfect for the rose non-vintage - lovely crushed yellow stone-fruits (peach?) f and crunchy texture. Excellent. Bravo! ****

Chardonnay - from Mareuil le Port, classic Mid Marne valley. A rich wine of substance but the balance needs to work itself out - because of the clay a little difficult, the wood evident and cloaking the brooding fruit at the moment. Re-taste in April **  for now

Chardonnay - Le Clos de Beauregard Ludes, Montagne de Reims Ier Cru. True calcareous limestone. Much more pointu, energie (Raphael). Fine acidity and considerable richness in balance. Excellent maturity. 11.2% abv. A real success. ****

current champagne blends in the making

Assemblage 2010 - made and blended in 258 litre demi-muid casks. 30 % reserve wines from 09, 08, 07. The aerating effects of the cask is nicely realised with a gentle note of wood - but the blend is not upstaged; it's fresh, clean and pure, the reserve wines making up for the frailties of the 2010 harvest. A skilled effort in very trying conditions. ** (*)

Bereche Brut NV - the current blend. Base wine 2009 - majority Chardonnay/Meunier + 30% Pinot Noir. Dosage 8g/l. beautifully ripe but with athletic dash and vigour. The excellence of the base wine comes through. Good length. Highly recommended. ***(*)

Bereche Les Beauregards 2008 Brut - made from two thirds Ludes and one third Mareuil le Port grapes, cultivated by Selection Massal. Fine, classic, quite complex (already) aromatics; splendid creamy mousse thanks to being aged for the first time sous liege (under a clamped cork); lovely long multi- toned flavours; perfect texture,  at once caressing yet firm (excellent acidity). Potentially a great champagne from tthe best vintage since 2002. The first exceptional 08 I've tasted - will be terrific value when available from June 2012 - but if you've room, worth keeping in a cool dark place for another year or two. ****(*)