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