Frapin – fine artisanal Cognac from a single estate

Château Fontpinot – photo courtesy of Cognac Frapin.

Touring Frapin’s Château Fontpinot is an incredible experience. The Château is a very beautiful place, while the cellars are a veritable warren with floor after floor of Cognac peacefully ageing in ancient barrels.

The very oldest Cognacs are kept in glass demijohns with the most venerable being the 1870 – harvested when Napoleon III was still on the throne of France!

Today Frapin are rightly regarded as one of the outstanding Cognac producers, famous for creating high quality artisan spirits with a beguiling complexity. This reputation builds on their heritage as the Frapin family have been growing grapes and making wine and Cognac on this site for hundreds of years. Originally from south-west France, they arrived here in 1270, settled near Segonzac – now the heart of the Cognac AOP – and became grape growers and winemakers, only becoming distillers in the Seventeenth Century. Today the company is led by the charming Jean-Pierre Cointreau, a direct descendent and the 21st generation of the Frapin family to work here. There have been many extraordinary ancestors along the way, but the most famous must be François Rabelais, the Renaissance satirist, whose mother was a Frapin.

Cognac Frapin’s vineyards on the rolling chalk hills at Fontpinot – photo by Quentin Sadler.

I had been invited to Cognac to experience what Frapin do and to hear their unique story. They have some charming nineteenth century offices and cellars in Segonzac, but the centrepiece of the operation is the beautiful Château Fontpinot. This was originally a defensive homestead in a troubled landscape. The area had been  ruled by the English as part of the Angevin Empire from 1145-1214 and was where wars between France and England raged for centuries. 

Château Fontpinot amongst the vines and the chalk slopes of the terrain – photo by Quentin Sadler.

The Château as we see it today, complete with its three Second Empire style towers, was finally completed in the 1870s and sits in 300 hectares of land, 240 of which are planted with vines. Almost all of the plantings are the Ugni Blanc grape variety, known as Trebbiano in Italy. It’s a neutral, high acid grape which makes the perfect base for Cognac, whose character comes mainly from the ageing process.

Cru Cognacs must contain at least 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche or Colombard. The other 10% can be made up of a raft of grapes that are considered less good for Cognac; Jurançon Blanc, Meslier St-François, Sélect, Montils, Sémillon or Folignan – a new cross of Ugni Blanc and Folle Blanche. As well as the Ugni Blanc, Frapin grows some 5 hectares of Folignan. The grape regulations are less restrictive for Cognacs that have no Cru name on the label.

It is easy to forget about the relationship that wine has with Brandy, but of course they have to make wine first – Vin de Charente – before they can turn it into Cognac. I was especially struck by something that, Frapin’s export director, Bertrand Verduzier said. ‘In Cognac, it’s very important to realise that with each harvest you are preparing for the next 15 to 20 years when the wine will be sold,’ this is because it is largely the ageing process that develops the character and complexity of the final product.

Of course ageing is not the only way to get difference in Cognac, location and terroir matter too – which is why there are different Crus. The Crus are the sub-zones that make up the Cognac AOP region and as the soils vary in each one, so the Cognacs are different too.

Map of the Cognac Region showing the Crus and the location of Château Fontpinot – map by Quentin Sadler, click for a larger view.

A map of the Cognac region always reminds me of an archery target and indeed the most highly regarded zone is Grande Champagne, right in the centre – the bull’s eye if you will. This hilly zone grows its grapes in the lightest, most chalky limestone soils and as a consequence produces the most sought after Cognacs. Chalk is really well draining, but at the same time retains good moisture for the grapes to access in the summer ripening season. Chalk also retains a high acid level in the grapes. This high acid and the base wine’s neutral character gives a perfect canvass for the ageing process that comes later – just as it does for sparkling wine in Champagne.

Petite Champagne is the next most prestigious zone, but with more compact limestone soils. Cognacs made from a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne can be labelled as Fine Champagne.

Borderies is the smallest zone and has flintier soils, while Fin Bois and Bons Bois have more mixed soils that include limestone as well as clay and sand. That all important limestone has all but disappeared once we get to the outer ring of Bois Ordinaries and been replaced by sand, which results in heavier and fruitier eaux-de-vie.

Frapin’s estates are the largest single domaine in the Grande Champagne area and one of the things that sets them apart is that they only use grapes from their own, immaculate, vineyards. Cognac making is an expensive and long drawn out process and Frapin do everything on site, grape growing, vinification, distillation and ageing, as they believe that is the way to achieve the highest quality. They like fruit character in their base wines that shows in the finished Cognacs, so they harvest a week or so later than is normal – to achieve more ripeness – ensuring their base wines have slightly more alcohol than normal, 10-12% as opposed to the more normal 8-10%.

One of six copper Alembic Charentais stills at Frapin. The gentleman is Philippe Antony the Export Manager – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Distillation is carried out before the warm weather sets in as heat is thought to be damaging to the young spirit. The law requires all distillation to be complete by the end of March following harvest, but Frapin prefer to get it all finished by February. Distilling takes place in their traditional Alembic Charentais stills. This is a type of pot still, so a batch process, rather than continuous, meaning the resulting spirit is not as pure as vodka and instead has lots of flavour and a fruity character. In fact, in order to achieve the desired 70% it has to be distilled twice. The whole process massively reduces the amount of liquid that they are dealing with – two and a half million litres of wine gives them just 250,000 litres of eaux-de-vie. Interestingly Frapin distills the base wine on its lees – yeast sediment – to give a richer, more complex texture to the Cognac.

A new oak barrel at Frapin filled with Eau-de-vie – photo by Quentin Sadler.

After the distillation is complete, you have colourless eaux-de-vie. It cannot yet be called Cognac until it has been aged in oak casks for at leat two years. This will give it colour, more aroma and make it more complex. I sniffed a new, medium-toast, oak barrel that had been filled with eaux-de-vie for a year and already it had wonderfully enticing aromas of vanilla, coconut, figs, caramel and spices. Frapin prefer to use Limousin oak casks as it has a more open grain and so delivers richer aromas and flavours.

How the eau-de-vie develops as it ages in barrel. From left to right, the new, clear eau-de-vie is clear, then after 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and after 12 months – photo by Quentin Sadler.

The ageing regimes for the different grades of Cognac are:

VS (Very Special) – at least two years ageing in oak. 

VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) – at least four years ageing in oak. XO (Extra Old) – at least ten years ageing in oak.

Cellar Master Patrice Piveteau leading a Cognac tasting over dinner at Château Fontpinot – photo by Quentin Sadler.

It is the ageing that really sets Frapin apart. All their Cognacs come from their own vineyards, so the points of difference between their styles comes largely from that ageing process. The Cellar Master is Patrice Piveteau, who has 27 years experience at Frapin and seems to have developed an intuitive feel for how the Cognacs respond to ageing in different cellars and for different lengths of time. He likes to age the eaux-de-vie in new casks for the first few months before transferring them to older barrels which impart less overt oak aromas and flavours.

One of the humid cellars at Frapin – photo by Quentin Sadler.

To create great complexity they use two types of cellars, humid cellars on the ground floor and the dry cellars high up under the eaves. The humid cellar is the classic cellar of the region, as there is a damp maritime climate here. Ageing in a humid cellar gives a Cognac more roundness and suppleness.

One of the dry cellars at Frapin – photo by Quentin Sadler.

New oak barrels filled with Eau-de-vie early on in the ageing process – photo by Quentin Sadler.

The dry cellar is upstairs under the roof where it is hot, so more of the Cognac evaporates. This concentrates the aromas and Frapin believe it makes a finer product. This dry cellar is where Patrice likes to age the vintage Cognacs. 

On tasting it seemed to me that the dry cellars create Cognacs with lighter, more pure and citrus characters, while those aged in the humid cellars are richer with more toffee, caramel and softness.

During ageing the Cognac evaporates at the rate of about 3% per year, losing water and alcohol. This is called la part des anges, or ‘the angels’ share’. By the time it comes to bottling the Cognac has decreased in strength to around 45% and is usually further reduced to 40% by the addition of distilled water prior to bottling.

Frapin hold the biggest stock in the whole of Grande Champagne. In fact at any given time they are sitting on about 16 years worth of stock –  some 12 million litres – ageing in twenty cellars spread over four locations around the estate. As you might imagine, as there is a lot of dry wood around and very flammable alcohol, they are rightly frightened of fires, and this system spreads that risk.

The gates to Frapin’s Paradis Cellar – photo courtesy of Cognac Frapin.

The oldest stocks still being aged are kept in their Paradis cellar, which is thick with mould because it is very humid here which allows a long slow ageing to develop complexity. It also allows a slow evaporation to concentrate the aromas and flavours.

Very old barrels ageing in Frapin’s Paradis Cellar – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Their very oldest Cognacs – like the 1870 vintage – are kept in glass demijohns because that way it does not evaporate, develop, or age any more. Unlike wine, Cognac always stays the age it was when bottled.

The 1870 vintage Frapin stored in glass demijohns – when the grapes that this was made from were harvested, Napoleon III was still on the throne of France! – photo by Quentin Sadler.

I cannot emphasis enough what an experience it is to visit these cellars. They would appear to have never been dusted and the spiders webs cover everything. Every now and again we would stumble across seemingly forgotten corners with antiquated bottling machinery, all manner of cellar equipment from a bygone age and dusty desks strewn with paperwork and fascinating promotional material from the nineteenth century. It really is like a living museum.

An old desk in a hidden corner of Frapin’s cellar. There is still paperwork on it from the nineteenth century and the pigeonholes are stuffed with old publicity material and memorabilia – photo by Quentin Sadler.

A beautiful carved wooden exhibition stand created for a trade fair in 1889. Today it just sits in the cellars and is all of fascinating old bottles of Frapin Cognac – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Of course the final element in the production process might be the most important of all – the choosing and blending of casks. Patrice has to select the different barrels and blend them to create distinctive Cognacs that convey the Frapin style and their sense of terroir. 

Because everything is done on site it always feels like an artisanal business, and indeed it is. The volumes they make might seem large to you and me but they are nothing compared to the big four of Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Martell and Courvoisier who between them produce around 80% of all Cognac. The sense of commitment and continuity is clear in everything they all say and do, as is the pride taken in the quality of the products they create. It has had to be that way I suppose to survive as a family business in this time of big brands, takeovers and multinational ownership. Frapin has taken the long view and it really shows when you taste their Cognacs. It was a great privilege to see and to taste what they do, so here are my thoughts on the Frapin range:

Rancio by the way is originally an Iberian term most famously used to describe the characteristics of maturing Tawny Port. Rancio Charentais is used to describe Cognac as it ages, especially after around 10 years of ageing.

Frapin 1270

The house cuvée, named in honour of the year the Frapin story began, is a great introduction to the Frapin style.

It is floral and vinous with nice freshness balanced by touches of caramel, toast, nuts and vanilla.

Frapin VSOP

The extra ageing for this category introduces richer layers of orange, apricot, richer caramel and even some chocolate notes as well as the spice and the creamier vanilla which delivers a slight touch of fudge. There are also still real nuances of the wine beneath, with lavender notes, pastry and cracked black pepper.

The long finish is dominated by dark, bitter chocolate and playful floral flourishes.

 

Frapin XO VIP

The extra ageing in the humid cellars really does show here with an enticing burnt orange colour a richly elegant bouquet of dried orange, dried fig, cinder toffee, salted caramel and coffee. The palate gives more power and roundness, with cinnamon, clove and ginger, as well as dried orange peel, pear, dark chocolate and walnuts. The power on the palate does not obscure the freshness though and the length is incredible and the rancio flavours are beginning to show.

 

Frapin Extra

This hugely complex cuvée is made from Cognacs that are at least 40 years old and it shows. The colour is a deeper, almost mahogany, with swirls of toffee through it. The nose is lifted and aromatic, while the palate is fuller, more rounded and spicier, saltier and more umami before a wonderful mix of smoky toffee, caramelised orange and spices return to dominate the beguiling finish.

The rancio characters that develop with long ageing are quite apparent here.

Plume Frapin

Named in honour of François Rabelais, who was a writer, hence Plume, this is another extraordinary cuvée. This time the Cognacs in the blend are at least 60 years old and are all aged in the humid cellars, which means that Plume is a richer style. There is more dried fig here, rich orange, dried apricot, molasses too, while the palate is full flavoured and seductive with rancio characters of vanilla, cloves, Tawny Port, cedar wood and tobacco.

 

Frapin Château Fontpinot XO

A paler and more subtle XO that dances across the palate showing freshness and richness by turn.

The texture is wonderful, silky and mouth filling and there are complex and beguiling rancio flavours, spices, vanilla, candied orange peel, cinder toffee, glimpses of chocolate, coffee and caramel.

I liked all the Cognacs, but found this extremely moreish.

Frapin Cigar Blend

Unusually for Frapin this cuvée spends 12 months in new oak at the beginning of its ageing regime, rather than the normal 6 months. It is then aged for at least a further 19 years before and the difference shows with a deeper colour and a more autumnal feel with dried fruit, walnuts, toffee and vanilla aromas and flavours as well as smoke, cigar-boxes and sandal-wood.

Strangely this has some of the flavours of a good Tawny Port or even a fine Amontillado Sherry at times.

 

Frapin 15 Years Old

This could hardly be more different from the Cigar Blend. It is bottled at cask strength, 45.5% alcohol and is paler, but very aromatic and suave, with honey, vanilla, spice, black tea, seaweed, umami, caramel and dried fig notes, together with a long and complex aftertaste. Again the rancio character is really beginning to develop here and again there are plenty of glimpses of the original wine.

 

Frapin Multimillésime 7

This is their seventh multi-vinatge release and is a blend of the 1989, 1991 and 1993 vintages. They were aged for 30, 28 and 26 years respectively in the dry cellars. The colour is slightly paler and the nose is floral, aromatic and spicy. The palate is lighter too, lithe somehow with real depth and captivating complexity, but a lightness of touch with vibrant citrus notes, nuts and salty caramel on the long finish.

Frapin also release tiny quantities of sublime vintage Cognacs. 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 are all available and they have just released 3000 bottles of the 1992.

We all need cheering what with the nights closing inn and winter creeping up on us and the travails thrown at us all in 2020. I reckon a drop of Frapin after dinner could be just the thing to bring a smile back to our lips. They are complex and fine Cognacs, worthy of contemplation, but above all they are delicious and give huge amounts of pleasure.

Frapin Cognacs are distributed in the UK by Louis Latour Agencies.

Empire Sate of Wine – New York’s Finger Lakes Region

Sunrise over Keuka Lake – photo courtesy of Dr Frank.

Understandably most UK wine drinkers think that American wine is pretty much all from California. Certainly California is the most important of the wine producing states, but there are some superb wines made elsewhere in the US too.

Some consumers are aware of wines from Oregon and possibly Washington State, but usually my students are astonished when I tell them about wines from Virginia, Texas, Utah or New York state.

Wine is actually made from freshly gathered grapes in all 50 states – yes even Hawaii and Alaska.

The United States is currently the fourth largest wine producing country in the world, after Italy, France and Spain, and California accounts for around 85% of it. Washington State, in the Pacific North West, is next at just over 5%, while New York comes in third by making about 3.5% of American wine.

And it is the wines of New York that are the subject of my article this month. In particular a region called the Finger Lakes.

Lake Erie has around 20,000 acres of vineyard is by far the biggest producing wine region in New York, but about 95% of that is Concord grapes destined for use in Welch’s Purple Grape Juice.

So the Finger Lakes, with around 10,000 acres (4,500 hectares) and some 120 wineries – Lake Erie can boast a mere 19 producers, is actually the most important wine region in New York state.

The Finger Lakes is a beautiful part of the world and I was totally captivated by it when I visited. I think what makes it especially magical is that we all have a mental picture of New York in our heads and this area is picturesque and very rural, so completely different. 

Wine has been made here since the early nineteenth century, but in the past it was almost solely vitis labrusca, the indigenous type of North American vine, rather than vitis vinfera, the European strain of vine used for wine.

Wine map of New York State – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Dr Konstantin Frank

It was not until 1958 that Dr Konstantin Frank showed that vitis vinfera grapes could successfully be grown here as long as a hardy American root stock was used. Frank was a Ukranian immigrant with a PhD in viticulture and had a great deal of experience growing grapes in his cold homeland.

Dr Konstantin Frank – photo courtesy of Dr Frank.

Ever since Europeans arrived in North America they had been trying to grow European vitis vinfera vines. This is because the abundant indigenous grapes produce wines with a distinctive ‘foxy’ smell that can be musky and off-putting. From my limited experience of wines made from these grapes – especially Concord – the only way round this is to make the wines sweet enough to mask the foxy qualities. However, phylloxera lives on the Eastern seaboard of North America and these aphids feast on the leaves and roots of grape vines and ultimately destroy the plant, so settlers in America found it impossible to grow European vines. American vines are hardier and immune to the ravages of phyloxerra.

Vitis Vinifera left, American grape variety right – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Even after the solution of grafting the vitis vinfera vine onto an American vine root was discovered, no one had found a way to make it work in upstate New York. Most growers were convinced that it was the extreme cold of the winters killing the vines, but Dr Franc was convinced that it was because they were not using suitable rootstocks for the particular vines. Initially he worked at the Cornell University’s Experiment Station in Geneva, at the top of Seneca Lake, before finding an ally in Charles Fournier. Charles ran Gold Seal Vineyards making sparkling wine from French-American hybrid grapes – which are crossings of vitis vinfera and American grape varieties. However, he was anxious to find a way of growing vitis vinfera as he knew that would improve the quality of his wines. Dr Frank worked here throughout the 1950s and the breakthrough came when he imported Native American Rootstock from Quebec, which proved both phylloxera resistant and capable of surviving the harsh Finger Lake winters. Dr Frank set up the first modern winery in the region, Dr Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Cellars, in 1962.

Dr Frank’s vineyards – photo courtesy of Dr Frank.

The Finger Lakes AVA

Cayuga Lake Aerial View – photo courtesy of New York Wines.

Today the Finger Lakes is a fully fledged AVA or American Viticultural Area, which is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States. The AVA rules guarantee where the grapes are grown, they do not stipulate or restrict grape variety, yield or wine making techniques and so are more akin to PGI (Vin de Pays) regulations than European PDOs (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlé).

As you might imagine from their name, the Finger Lakes are long and narrow. Cayuga is the biggest at 40 miles long and just 3.5 miles wide. Seneca is 38 miles long and 3 miles wide, Canandaigua 16 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.

Traditionally grape growing and wine making in the Finger Lakes is centred around the four main lakes of Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. The last two lakes, Seneca and Cayuga, are especially deep which creates different climatic conditions, allowing for a longer growing season, so these lakes have their own AVAs.

Keuka Lake Aerial View – photo courtesy of New York Wines.

There are actually eleven lakes in total, some very small, and all of them, except Hemlock, have Native American names. 

Canandaigua means ‘The Chosen Spot’, Keuka ‘Canoe Landing’, Seneca ‘Place of the Stone’ and Cayuga ‘Boat Landing’.

In effect it is the presence of the lakes that makes viticulture possible here. The region actually sits just above 42˚ latitude, the same as Rias Baixas in Galicia, but upstate New York enjoys a climate of extremes with hot summers and very cold snowy winters – so much so that nearby Lake Placid has twice hosted the Winter Olympics.

However the lakes temper the extreme continental climate and keep it mild compared to the surrounding conditions. The Lakes are deep, Seneca just shy of 200 metres, Cayuga over 130 metres, Canandaigua 80 metres and Keuka just under 60 metres. These deep bodies of water keep the air that little bit warmer during the winter, so preventing frost, and cooler during the summer, so lengthening the ripening season. The lakes also give better sun exposure, as the vineyards are mainly south facing and slope down towards the lakes.

The Cauyga Effect

I visited Sheldrake Point Vineyard early on in my trip to the region and it taught me a great deal about the Finger Lakes. 

Sheldrake Point Vineyards, Cayuga Lake – photo courtesy of Sheldrake Point.

Sheldrake Point is a relatively new winery, founded in 1997 by Chuck Tauck. Like the region’s pioneers, Dr Frank and Hermann Wiemer, he chose a sheltered site on the western shore of one of the Finger Lakes – Cayuga Lake in this instance.

Cayuga vies with Senaca for being the largest of the Finger Lakes, both are around 40 miles long. Although Cayuga is not as deep as Seneca, it is still a large body of water that helps to temper the climate and keep the conditions that little bit warmer than the surrounding countryside, so allowing the delicate vitis vinfera grapes to survive the harsh winter conditions.

Sheldrake Point comprises a single block of vines that slopes down to the lake and they have only ever wanted to grow vinifera grapes and they stick to that – that is one reason they chose this site.

Sheldrake Point Vineyards, Cayuga Lake – photo courtesy of Sheldrake Point.

Time and time again in the Finger Lakes region I was told that if vitis vinfera are to survive, let alone thrive, then they must be grown within sight of the water. Sheldrake Point is an actual point or peninsula sticking out into the lake which puts the shore of the estate – and so its vines – right at the lake’s deepest spot. That means that this mass of water, which cools and heats more slowly than the land, protects the vines over winter and gives a longer growing season in the summer as well. In addition the east facing site gives them a little bit more sunshine each day in the spring than their colleagues on the eastern shore of the lakes – this helps to prevent frost and diseases, which are both serious problems in the region.

The slope is not dramatic – the top is 176 metres above sea level with the bottom at 140 metres above sea level, which is 6 metres above the level of Cayuga Lake – but it is vital, allowing excellent air drainage. 

The cold air flows down to the lake where it displaces hotter air that then flows up – this gives them a degree or so higher temperatures than inland. It’s not much but in a marginal climate like this it can make a big difference to ripeness, complexity and the grape varieties that you can grow. The warmest conditions are at the shoreline, so that is where the more demanding vines are grown, those that need more sun and ripeness, in particular Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. They call all this the Cauyga Effect, but there is a similar lake effect for every vineyard in the region.

Jetty on Cayuga Lake at Sheldrake Point Vineyards – photo courtesy of Sheldrake Point.

Making wine in a region like this is not easy. It is a marginal climate with vintage variation and sometimes very unkind weather, so estates often grow a wide range of grape varieties just to ensure that they actually get a crop despite the weather. Before the vitis vinfera revolution vitis labrusca and hybrids were grown successfully. If you ever travel around the Finger Lakes, do try the local red wines made from Concord grapes and some of the intriguing blends such as Lakewood Vineyard’s Long Stem Red which is made from 40% De Chaunac, 25% Vincent 13% Frontenac, 12% Leon Millot and 10% Baco Noir!

It is undeniable that vitis vinfera varieties seem to the best and most complex results in the Finger Lakes, especially Riesling for the whites.  Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris can all do well here too though, as can Rkatsiteli, which is originally from Georgia (Joseph Stalin Georgia, not Jimmy Carter Georgia). Chardonnay can produce good results on particular sites as well.

As for black grapes, Pinot Noir is the great success story here, but you also find lovely examples of Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Blaufrankisch – often called Lemberger around here – as well as some Cabernet, Merlot and blends of them in especially favoured sites. Georgia’s Saperavi also seems to be doing some good things. 

Recommended wineries:

Dr Konstantin Frank, Keuka Lake

Fred Frank Demonstrating the Traditional Method – photo by Quentin Sadler.

The original Finger Lakes estate that focussed solely on vitis vinifera and very much the big producer here. That being said they are still family owned and being run by third generation Fred Frank and his daughter Meaghan. Because they have been growing vinifera grapes here longer than anyone else, with some parcels dating back to 1958, they have some of the oldest vines in the Eastern United States.

They also lead the way in hand riddled and very fine traditional method sparkling wines, which are not exported. Their Old Vine Pinot Noir is not exported to the UK either, which is a shame as it is excellent and one of the best value American Pinots there is.

Try: Dr Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling, a very fresh style with lime acidity, green apple crispness and a softness from five months lees ageing – a great introduction to the region and what they do.

Also try: Dr Konstantin Frank Cabernet Franc, a light red for sure but with lovely violet notes, juicy plums and crunchy red fruit as well as a little savoury earthiness and spice from gentle ageing in French oak.

Dr Konstantin Frank’s wines are distributed in the UK by Matthew Clark.

Hermann J Wiemer, Seneca Lake

Hermann J Wiemer Vineyards and Winery in Winter – photo courtesy of Hermann J Wiemer.

Hermann Wiemer was from Germany’s Mosel region. His father was in charge of the Agricultural Experiment Station in Bernkastel where he was responsible for restoring vineyards after World War II and it was this connection that led him to work at the research station at Cornell University and so to New York’s Finger Lakes. Here he soon realised that he had stumbled across a region capable of producing great cool climate wines.

Wiemer was drawn to Seneca lake and in 1973 he purchased 140 acres on the lake’s west shore. Unusually for the region in the 1970s Hermann decided only to grow vinifera grapes. He planted many different grape varieties but Riesling was and remains the focus of the winery.

Fred Merwarth and Oskar Bynke – photo by Quentin Sadler.

The estate is now owned and run by winemaker Fred Merwarth and agronomist Oskar Bynke, both of whom trained and worked with Hermann before he retired. They farm sustainably and are moving towards biodynamic status. The wines all have a lovely texture because of spontaneous fermentations and long lees ageing.

I find it strange that these wines are not available in the UK as when I went to the region and every time I attend a Finger Lakes tasting, Wiemer really shines out – come on someone bring these wines in, please.

Try: Hermann J Wiemer HJW Vineyard Riesling, a selection from the oldest blocks that Wiemer planted in the mid 1970s. It is a very complex and delicious style that shows a purity and minerality on the finish.

Also try: Hermann J Wiemer Riesling, as great as the HJW Riesling is, this wine is their calling card and is much cheaper, but still very fine.

They recently also bought Standing Stone Vineyards, which was originally planted by Charles Fournier in the 1970s. Standing Stone makes a gorgeously suave and juicy Saperavi.

Hermann J Wiemer’s wines are not currently exported to the UK.

Forge Cellars, Seneca Lake 

Forge Cellars, Seneca Lake – photo courtesy of Forge Cellars.

A new artisan cellar created by three friends  – Frenchman Louis Barruol (whose family have owned Château de Saint Cosme in Gigondas for generations), Rick Rainey and Justin Boyette – who all love terroir wines, share a passion for the Finger Lakes and believe it to be a world class wine region.   

They farm their vineyards sustainably and practice biodiversity, with plants, fruit trees and farm animals around the vines. They also help other grape growers, whose grapes they use, to manage their vineyards to achieve the very best results that they can – such professional help is very useful and beneficial to the region as a whole, given that many local grape growers are not as experienced.

As is normal in the Finger Lakes, the aim here is purity, to express the terroir of the place rather than a winemaking footprint.

Vineyards on Seneca Lake – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Try: Forge Cellar Classique Riesling, an extraordinary wine, bright and pure with pithy lime and dense, stony minerality. The silky texture is backed up by a kiss of oak.

Also try: Forge Cellar Classique Pinot Noir, one of my favourite Finger Lakes Pinots, it is scented and has palate has vivid red fruit and delicate, smoky, savoury, herbal flavours and a suave, refined texture.

Forge Cellars’s wines are distributed in the UK by Bibendum.

Nathan K, Seneca Lake 

Nathan Kendall – photo courtesy of Nathan K.

I was fortunate enough to bump into Nathan Kendall at an event, just before lockdown. He was charming and fascinating. He comes from upstate New York and always wanted to make wine in Seneca Lake, but he chose to travel the world and make wine in other regions first, including Sonoma, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia and, perhaps most tellingly, the Mosel. All these places specialise in cool climate varieties, because the plan was always to go back to Seneca. He eventually returned home and now focuses just on Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as some sparkling wine.

Like the other wineries here he is excited by low interventionist winemaking, minerality and texture as well as the purity that a cool climate can produce in these grapes. Long spontaneous fermentations, used French oak and long lees ageing helps to give complexity and mouthfeel, even to his Rieslings.

Seneca Lake panorama – photo courtesy of Red Newt.

Try: Nathan K Dry Riesling, a pure, vivd, lime-drenched and mandarin-scented wine that leaps out of the glass at you.

Also try: Nathan K Pinot Noir, a pale Pinot with plenty of flavour. Fruit forward with enticing raspberry and cherry notes and savoury complexity from oak ageing.

Nathan K wines are distributed in the UK by Top Selection.

Red Newt Cellars, Seneca Lake

By Finger Lake standards Red Newt was a pioneer as it was set up in 1998 as the brainchild and passion of David and Debra Whiting. The region is in their blood with David having been the winemaker at Chateau Lafayette Reneau (who make superb Riesling), Swedish Hill Vineyards (who make the best Concord I have ever tasted, and Standing Stone Vineyards, now owned by Wiemer. 

Glacier Ridge Vineyard, Seneca Lake – photo courtesy of Red Newt.

David’s wife, Debra, was a fine chef and opened the Red Newt Bistro at the winery in 1999. I was fortunate enough to meet her and to eat a memorable meal with her not that long before her untimely death. Her influence in this region that has very few restaurants cannot be denied. More wineries now have restaurants and that is in no small way because of her.

David has now taken over the restaurant and passed on the winemaking to Kelby Russell who is utterly charming, knows the region inside out and is another winemaker who has worked around the world in cool climate regions.

Red Newt panorama – photo courtesy of Red Newt.

Try: Red Newt Cellars The Knoll Lahoma Vineyards Riesling, complex and generous Riesling, with a smoky, leesy quality and an explosion of lime and grapefruit. 

Also try: Red Newt Cellars Glacier Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir, Fermented with wild yeast and given 10 months ageing in older barriques, then bottled without fining or filtering. A glorious Pinot with bright cherry, savoury earth and refined tannins.

Red Newts’s wines are not currently exported to the UK.

Sheldrake Point Vineyards, Cayuga Lake 

Sheldrake Point Vineyards, Cayuga Lake – photo courtesy of Sheldrake Point.

Sheldrake Point is not a large estate, currently they have around 60 acres of vines – 25 hectares – although they own another 30 that can be brought into production. From this they make some 8,500 cases of wines and in keeping with the general trend of the region over 70% of this is sold on site, through their shop and restaurant – they have a beautiful winery shop and gift shop full of tempting things as well as the Simply Red Lakeside Bistro where I enjoyed one of the best meals of my trip.

Try: Sheldrake Point Gamay, a delicious take on the Beaujolais grape. French oak gives texture and spice, while the fresh, bright red fruit is immediately appealing.

Also try: Sheldrake Point Gewürztraminer, a nicely balanced, aromatic example with plenty of spice and a hint of sweetness, but there is some nice fresh acidity too.

Sheldrake Point’s wines are not currently exported to the UK.

Ravine’s Wine Cellars, Keuka Lake 

Morten and Lisa Hallgren of Ravines Vineyards – photo courtesy of Skurnik Wines.

Ravine’s Wine Cellars is the creation of Morten and Lisa Hallgren. Morton is originally from Copenhagen where he lived right by the Carlsberg Brewery, but at the age of 14 his family moved to the Vars region of France where his parents owned and operated Domaine de Castel Roubine. He trained in winemaking at Montpellier University, worked at Cos d’Estournel with Bruno Pratts and eventually ended up in the Finger Lakes where he worked as the wine maker at Dr Frank’s.

Morton sustainably farms 130 acres of his own vineyards on Seneca and Keuka lakes. In addition he buys fruit from vineyards that he deems to be especially good. When I visited Morton’s wines really stood out and other commentators have confirmed to me that they still are among the very best wines in the Finger Lakes region.

Try: Ravine’s Argetsinger Dry Riesling, made from a single parcel on Keuka Lake, it has purity and energy and remains amongst the best Rieslings that I have ever tasted.

Also try: Ravine’s Maximilien (Bordeaux Blend), for me this is the best Cabernet-Merlot blend – or indeed any red made from grapes other than Pinot Noir – from the Finger Lakes that I have tasted.

Ravine’s wines are not currently exported to the UK.

Wines Worth Discovering

The Finger Lakes has a marginal climate and therefore never produces big blockbuster wines. They tend to be fresher, lighter and lower in alcohol. However the winemakers really understand their land and what it can do. So by concentrating on delicate varieties like Riesling and Pinot Noir, other than in certain special sites, they are producing some really exciting wines that show a very different side to American viticulture. There are plenty of really delicious and interesting wines made here that can offer us something different, exciting and a little challenging.

The region is also well worth a visit as it is very beautiful. More information is available at these websites:

https://www.fingerlakestravelny.com

https://www.visitfingerlakes.com

https://www.fingerlakeswinecountry.com

https://www.fingerlakes.com

https://www.iloveny.com/places-to-go/finger-lakes/

https://www.fingerlakes.org

 

A Virtual Return to Montefalco

The hilltop town of Montefalco – photo courtesy of Tabarrini.

In 2019 I visited Montefalco in Umbria in order to learn about the wonderful wines produced there. You can read about my visit by clicking HERE.

Map of Umbria’s wine areas – click for a larger view.

It is a delightful part of the world. Rural and tranquil with beautiful medieval hillside towns, like Assisi and Montefalco itself and they produce a wide array of wine styles. Without a shadow of a doubt though the premier wine from this region is the Montefalco Sangrantino DOCG and it is this which is fast becoming one of Italy’s star red wines.

In order to keep appreciating wine in these difficult times, the Conzorzio – the governing body of the wine region – together with the Mayor of Montefalco and the President of the Umbrian Government are holding a virtual toast on Sunday 22 March at 19:30 (Italian time, so 18:30 UK time).

Filippo Antonelli, the charming and amusing owner of Antonelli President of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco – photo by Quentin Sadler.

It is hard to keep convivial in these troubled times and as Filippo Antonelli, the delightful and generous President of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco says, “Conviviality, union, meetings, are the words which better characterise the real strength of our wine”.

So tomorrow evening grab bottle of Montefalco Sagrantino, click on this LINK and enjoy a convivial taste of a great wine style with some friends that you have yet to meet.

Again, as Filippo Antonelli says it will be like enjoying a glass of wine with friends in the Piazza in the centre of Montefalco.

If you do not have a bottle of Montefalco Sagrantino, that can be solved as the following examples are easily available:

2014 Antonelli Montefalco Sagrantino from the Whisky Exchange.

2011 Baiocchi Montefalco Sagrantino from Waitrose.

The magnificent range from Tabarrini is imported by Raeburn Fine Wines in Leith and stocked by Uncorked Wine Merchants in London and The Good Wine Shop in Chiswick, Kew, Richmond Hill and Teddington.

So, see you there?

 

Wine of the Week – a delicious Riesling

A Happy New Year to you all.

My first piece of 2020 is a Wine of the Week. It is also a bin end bargain, so grab it quick!

Clare Valley vineyards in South Australia.

As many of you will know, I – and most people in the wine trade – love Riesling. I think it is the combination of delicate, hinted flavours, purity, minerality and acidity that draws me back to Riesling time after time. It also partners the sort of Asiatic and Mediterranean flavours that I like to eat. If that sounds counterintuitive, try a dry Riesling with Spaghetti Vongoli, it is a great combination.

The other day I tasted a really delicious Riesling that I think may of you would enjoy. I showed it in a tasting class and was very impressed. When I saw the price I was amazed and then I saw that it was reduced even further!

Map of South Eastern Australia, Clare Vally is north of Adelaide in South Australia – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

2017 Baily & Baily Folio Riesling
Clare Valley
South Australia

I know very little about Baily & Baily, except their Folio range is a brand that aims to produce a complete portfolio of Australian wines by concentrating on the most important grape variety from each region. To that end they produce a Barossa Valley Shiraz, Margaret River Chardonnay and this Clare Valley Riesling.

Clare is a fascinating place that creates some wonderful wines but is quite hard to get to grips with. Because its most famous speciality is Riesling it is often thought to be a cool place, but then it can also ripen Merlot and even Cabernet Sauvignon, so the truth is more nuanced – like most things.

What I do know is that big diurnal variation – temperature drops at night of almost 40˚C in the growing season are not uncommon – slows down the growing season and preserve acidity in the grapes. Afternoon maritime breezes have a similar effect and are especially good for the Rieslings. 

Clare Valley Vines at Taylors Wine. Photo courtesy of Taylors Wines.

This is a very friendly, happy and accessible wine. It is dry and the acidity is high and refreshing, but it is not astringent. The fruit is ripe giving touches of mango richness that is balanced and kept bright by the powerful lime-like flavours. An easygoing, but delicious Riesling that is just beginning to show that classic oily texture – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK at £6.99 per bottle from Waitrose Cellar – just £5.99 if you get your order in today

Happy Christmas to you all

2019 draws to a close and a new future for the United kingdom beckons, one that I feel no optimism for at all. We are promised ‘sunny uplands’ and a ‘new golden age’ outside of the EU. I do not believe these promises as they have no basis in logic and ignore the reasons why we joined in the first place, but desperately hope that I am wrong. It all makes me terribly sad for my country and fearful for the future.

In the meantime I will take solace in wine. In some ways 2019 has been a good year, Quentin Sadler’s Wine Page was voted Wine Blog of the Year and I managed to visit some fascinating places, meet many wonderful people and try some really good wines. There is a lot of good wine on the market, but sadly it isn’t always easy to buy the good stuff. You often have to wade through a sea of mediocrity to find it, which I suppose is my job!

Here are a few ideas for wines to enjoy over the holiday period and beyond, I hope that you like them:

Sparkling wines:

Arthur Metz’s vineyards in Alsace – photo courtesy of the winery.

2017 Crémant d’Alsace
Alsace
France

Non Champagne sparkling wine is so underrated in the UK – unless it’s Prosecco – which is very sad as there are some terrific fizzes made using the traditional method, the same process used to make Champagne sparkling. Some of them are really good value too, so they can be enjoyed everyday and not just saved for celebrations. Most wine regions in France produce good quality sparkling and call it Crémant. If you see that word on the label you know that it is made using the traditional method and, more importantly, aged on the lees, for at least 9 months, to develop complexity. We call this ageing ‘yeast autolysis’ and the biscuit, brioche, flaky pastry characters that it produces ‘autolytic’.

Wine Map of France – click for a larger view.

This wine, made by Arthur Metz (part of Grand Chais de France) is a blend of 63% Auxerrois (grown in Alsace and Luxembourg this is a similar grape to Pinot Blanc but has lower acid – they are often blended together and marketed as Pinot Blanc), 25% Pinot Gris, 8% Pinot Blanc and 4% Riesling. It is bright, fresh and fruity with some peach, apricot, apple and citrus notes and flavours as well as some almonds, spice and toasty characters. A softness, ripeness and creamy richness balances the freshness and makes it hugely enjoyable  – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK at £8.29 per bottle from Aldi.

Kleine Zalze Méthode Cap Classique Chardonnay-Pinot Noir Brut
Stellenbosch
South Africa

South Africa, specifically the Western cape, has a long tradition of making high quality sparkling wine. So much so that they have their own term for the traditional method, they call it the Méthode Cap Classique – or MCC for short. It is a blend of 60% Chardonnay grown in cool areas of Robertson and 40% Pinot Noir grown near the False Bay coast in Stellenbosch and aged for ten months on the lees.

Wine map South Africa’s Western Cape – click for a larger view.

There is a real sense of tension and elegance in this wine. There is lovely fruit, stone fruit, baked apple, crisp apple and even a little strawberry and raspberry peaking through. All this is enhanced by some biscuit and pastry notes a dollop of cream and balanced by refreshing, zingy acidity and a brisk mousse  – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £16.00 per bottle from Cheers Wine Merchants, Amps Wine Merchants and Ministry of Drinks.

White wines:

Wine map of Slovenia – click for a larger view.

2018 Tilia Estate Pinot Gris
Vipava Valley
Slovenia

Almost anyone who knows me would say that I really do not like Pinot Gris. I find most Pinot Grigio to be on the bland side and the great majority of Alsace Pinot Gris to be lacking in freshness, so by and large avoid the grape. This version though is made by my good friend Matjaž Lemut in the beautiful Vipava Valley in western Slovenia and I love it.

Matjaž Lemut in his vineyards in the Vipava Valley – photo by Quentin Sadler © Quentin Sadler 2019

 

Matjaž is a great winemaker, a great character and a real force of nature and this wine could be considered his calling card. Lees ageing and stirring for four months gives the wine a creamy richness and complexity that can be surprising. The wine has lovely brightness and freshness too and so the overall effect is to be really well balanced and very, very drinkable indeed  –  91/100 points.

A delicious, mid weight, versatile wine that is lovely on its own and very good with a wide array of food, even creamy dishes.

Available in the UK at £10.50 per bottle from Solaris Wines.

Matjaž is really a Pinot Noir specialist, one of the very best in Slovenia, and Solaris Wines carry the whole range. They are quite a muscular style with rich fruit, but really good wines.

2018 La Penombre Blanc
IGP/Vin de Pays d’Oc
France

I love the whites from the Languedoc-Roussillon-Roussillon region, but they often get overlooked in favour of the reds. Good as the reds from here are, I think the whites deserve far more attention and respect – after all they are often made from some very exciting grape varieties. This blend is no exception and consists of 40% Grenache Blanc with some Terret, Bourett, Vermintino, Rousanne and Marsanne. It is picked in the early evening, hence the name La Penombre, which means twilight, and is unoaked.

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, click for a larger view.

The wine is very fresh, with a sense of purity about it – it is actually made in Pinet, just not from Picpoul – there are pine, herb and lemon scents with a dry, savoury, herbal (rosemary) salty and gently apricot flavours on the palate together with a silky texture and a touch of salinity and minerality as well as a slight bitter nutty quality on the finish  – 90/100 points.

A perfect aperitif and equally good with seafood and lighter fish dishes – I enjoyed it with smoked salmon and potted .

Available in the UK at £11.99 per bottle from Virgin Wines.

Vineyards in Valais showing the amazing dry stone walls, some of the highest in the world.

2012 Petite Arvine
Domaine Jean Rene Germanier
Valais, Switzerland

A family estate since 1896 and now managed by the third and fourth generation – Jean-René Germanier and his nephew, Gilles Besse. Gilles was originally a jazz saxophonist, but is also a trained wine maker. Germanier farm sustainably and produce a range of beautifully made, elegant wines. Petite Arvine is one of my favourite white grapes and it is only grown in south west Switzerland and a little bit over the border in Italy’s Valle d’Aosta region.

Wine map of Switzerland – click for a larger view. Do not use without permission.

I love the way the brightness and richness mingle on the palate. The way the stone fruit and the citrus fruit balance each other, how the salty minerality keeps the richness in check and the way the silky texture flows across the palate. This wine is superb and totally beguiling in its beauty – 94/100 points.

This is wonderful with poultry, salmon and of course cheese, whether raw or served in a fondue.

Available in the UK at £35.00 per bottle from Alpine Wines.

Red wines:

The wonderful walled city of Carcassonne – rescued form oblivion and restored on orders of Napoleon III – photo by Quentin Sadler © Quentin Sadler 2019.

2018 Carcassonne
IGP/Vin de Pays Cité de Carcassonne
France

I know almost nothing about this wine except that it comes from France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region from vineyards just to the south of the glorious medieval walled city of Carcassonne. The wines from this inland part of the Languedoc-Roussillon often get overlooked, Cabardés is near by and is a source of seriously good reds but we hardly ever see the wines in the UK – there is one here, but on this showing they really shouldn’t be. Apparently it is made from Carignan grapes and seems unoaked to me.

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, click for a larger view.

This wine triumphs in two way, firstly it is astonishingly smooth, suave even and the palate is so fruity that it delivers a huge amount of pleasure making it incredibly easy to drink. It’s fresh and fleshy and medium-bodies with lots of red fruit and supple texture with very little tannin.  There’s a touch of spice too and it is far, far finer than its modest price tag would lead you to expect. All in all it makes a splendid every day wine  – 87/100 points.

Available in the UK at £4.49 per bottle from Aldi.

Here’s one that I have written about before, but is is such a beautiful wine that would go so well with all sorts of food at Christmas that it deserves another airing!

Map of Chile – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

2017 Casa Silva Romano Viñedo Original 
DO  Valle de Colchagua
Viña Casa Silva
Chile

Casa Silva is one of the great wine estates of the Colchagua Valley. They were originally a French family of grape growers who came to Chile in 1892 and have been growing grapes there ever since. However the family vineyards became divided up with multiple owners and it was not until the 1970s that Mario Silva pieced the estate together again and they have been bottling and labelling their own wines since 1997. They are based in Angostura where their beautiful original homestead is now a hotel and well worth a visit. The land around the house is their initial plantings with vineyards going back to 1912. This is where they have some fabulous speciality grapes including old vine Carmenère, Sauvignon Gris and this Romano. All of these are ungrafted, so grow on their own roots. This helps the vines to live longer and old vines produce smaller crops and smaller berries that have more concentrated flavours. Old vines also ripen with less sugar, so produce wines with lower alcohol, which makes for better balance and more elegance.

This is made from an obscure grape called Romano, more usually called César. There isn’t much César left in the world and most of that grows northwest of Dijon in Burgundy, where it is principally used to make up to 10% of the blend, together with Pinot Noir, in the wines of Irancy.

Vines at Casa Silva.

The harvest was done by hand with a further manual selection of grapes at the sorting table before the grapes were de-stemmed – stalks can give harsh tannins. There is a pre-fermentation cold soak, a cold fermentation in stainless steel followed by a further maceration on the skins. Half the wine was aged in stainless steel and half in second use French oak barrels. This older oak means that the wine is not overly oaky in taste, but has the softening that ageing in barrels gives as the oxygen gets to the wine through the wood, making it rounder and richer.

The wine looks very appealing with a deep and bright ruby colour. The nose is full of rich red fruits like strawberry, cherry, a hint of raspberry, black pepper and a delicate mushroomy/earthy savoury note. The palate is smooth, round and mouth filling with rich ripe red fruit, smooth, supple tannins and some lovely freshness too. There is plenty of beautiful, concentrated fruit, but good structure and that attractive earthy, savoury quality. This will appeal to Pinot Noir drinkers – and Syrah and Grenache drinkers too – in my opinion, as well as anyone who wants a really flavourful, suave and supple red wine that is full-flavoured and medium bodied. It really is a gorgeous wine – 93/100 points

This is a very versatile wine too. It is mellow enough to be enjoyable without food, has enough freshness to go with pizzas and pastas, has enough elegance and structure to partner haute cuisine and enough richness to go with cheese and enough pizzazz to go with burgers, chilli con carne or shepherd’s pie and to keep everyone happy. Great with turkey, either hot or cold, and lovely with a pork or game pie too.

Available in the UK at around £15.00 per bottle from Duncan Murray Fine Wines – Market Harborough, Staintons – Lake District, Guildford Wine CoBottle Shops – Cardiff, Penarth, Field & Fawcett – York, Naked Grape – Alresford, Hants, Palmers Wine Store – Dorset, The Vineking – Reigate, East Molesey, Weybridge and the Oxford Wine Company.

2016 Caliterra Edición Limitada ‘B’
DO Valle de Colchagua
Caliterra
Chile

Under the leadership of chief winemaker Rodrigo Zamorano, Caliterra has developed into one of the most exciting wineries in Colchagua – if not Chile. They produce excellent, actually downright delicious, and great value examples of all the famous varietals, but Rodrigo loves to play around with the grapes that he grows and is producing an ever evolving range of premium wines that have something new and exciting to say. At the heart of this range is the three Edición Limitada wines – ‘A’ is for Andean and is a blend of Malbec and Carmenère, ‘M’ is for Mediterranean and the wine is a blend of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Marsanne, while ‘B’ is for Bordeaux, so this wine is a blend of 41% Petit Verdot, 38% Cabernet Franc and 21% Cabernet Sauvignon. 62% was fermented in stainless steel tanks and 38% in third use barrels. The wine was aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels – 48% new.

Rodrigo Zamorano in the vineyards at Caliterra – photo courtesy of the winery.

This is a beautiful and very different wine from the Casa Silva Romano. This is powerful and weighty with great concentration of vibrant, lifted fruit. It’s very aromatic and very restrained and elegant, despite the richness. There are herbal and tobacco aromas as well as some black pepper and cassis, blueberry and cherry fruit. Headily delicious now this will age very well over the next decade. This will appeal to Claret lovers, but also has more fruit than most wines from Bordeaux – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £16.00 per bottle from Drink Finder, Edencroft Fine Wines and The Dorset Wine Company.

So there you are, a few recommendations to seek out and try, I think you will enjoy them.

Whatever you are drinking this Christmas, try and keep it interesting and celebrate the great diversity of wine.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Gosset – perfect Champagne for Christmas

Some of the vineyards near Aÿ that supply Gosset with grapes – photo by Quentin Sadler.

 

At this time of year my thoughts turn to festive fare, especially wine and the stuff that I like to drink at Christmas above all else, because it goes with everything and nothing, is Champagne.

Well as it happens I visited one of the greatest Champagne houses of all the other week and thought that I would share some thoughts about them with you.

The Champagne house is Gosset, which is famous for producing a relatively small amount of Champagne, but of impeccably high quality. They were founded in the beautiful Village of Aÿ in 1584 and claim to be the oldest wine house in the Champagne region. Ruinart actually started making Champagne before they did, but Gosset are older.

Jean-Pierre Cointreau, President and CEO of Champagne Gosset – photo courtesy of Louis Latour Agencies.

 

I have loved what Gosset do for decades, so was delighted to visit and see it all for myself. I have to say that I was not disappointed by anything. The house remained pretty small and still owned by the Gosset family right up until 1993 when they sold it to the Renaud-Cointreau family who own the enormously respected Frapin Cognac house – of which more another day. The new owners were only too aware of what they were buying so wanted to expand production but also retain the ethos, quality and style that had made Gosset’s wines so sought after.

Gosset’s lovely new headquarters building in Epernay – photo courtesy of Louis Latour Agencies.

 

To ensure the expansion worked well they needed more cellar space and so, in 2009, bought a winery and cellars in Epernay, while retaining the original – actually nineteenth century – cellars in nearby Aÿ. This purchase has more than doubled their cellar capacity, which is very important when you consider that every bottle that you sell needs to be replaced by five other bottles. This is because of the long time the wine has to be aged in the bottle. So you can see that expansion is an expensive and space consuming business.

Of course all great wine, whatever style it ends up, is born in the vineyard. Gosset only own a tiny amount of vineyards, but – as is normal in the region – they have long term relationships with many growers whose vineyards they favour. Many of these relationships go back many generations and allow the Gosset winemaking and viticultural teams to control what goes on in the vineyards.

Something that I admire about Gosset is their creative inconsistency. Most Champagne houses construct a range and stick to that vintage after vintage. Gosset seem quite happy to create an astonishing wine, like their Blanc de Noirs made from Pinot Noir, and then only release it once. It means their range is more like the playlist of a great band than a static list. The absolute classics are there but there might well be some real surprises from time to time too.

Odilon de Varine is the head of winemaking at Gosset and as such is the keeper of the style for the house. He is a passionate winemaker who is both creative and has reverence for the wines that came before him – photo by Quentin Sadler © Quentin Sadler 2019

 

Their range is varied, but something, some character, some feel seems to hold them together. This essence, or Gosset-ness, is a sense of purity with minerality and salinity. The Chef de Cave and winemaker, Odilon de Varine, is a charming, amusing and modest man who seems to have Champagne running through his veins, indeed he worked at Deutz for many years and his father was Veuve Cliquot’s vineyard manager. Odilon’s words seemed to echo his Champagnes perfectly as he told me that he likes to capture the minerality in his wines and kept talking about the salinity that is there in all his cuvées. They do no malolactic fermentation (or malolactic conversion as I see we are now supposed to call it) and keep to a low dosage of 8 grams per litre for their Brut wines. All this helps to preserve that bracing, pure acidity, minerality and salinity in the wines. Don’t misunderstand me though, these are not austere wines. That bracing quality is balanced with a generosity in mouthfeel, fruit and structure.

Map of Champagne – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

 

I have loved all the Gosset Champagnes that I have tasted, but here is a selection that particularly excited me on my recent trip:

Gosset Grande Réserve Brut
AC/PDO Champagne

This is the signature non-vintage cuvée from Gosset, but that is the only standard thing about it. It is a very carefully built blend, Odilon kept saying how he ‘built’ a blend, that has great depth, enticing richness, but also that purity that keeps it light as air. This by the way is all at the same time, so there is real tension here. The blend is 45% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Meunier (sometimes just called Meunier) and 10% Pinot Noir.

The colour is a lovely pale gold that shows its 36 months ageing on the lees. The nose is lifted with some honey, green apple, lemon peel and jasmine, while the palate is by turns delicately creamy, bracingly crisp and subtly autolytic with subtle pastry, nut and biscuit flavours from the lees ageing. All the while there is a tinge of fruit compote including apple, peach, plum and even some cherry. All that tension really informs the palate, with all the flavours and sensations contradicting each other, but coming together to make a whole wine.

This might be their basic cuvée, but it’s a great wine and a wonderful Christmas treat that makes a sumptuous aperitif or will go with many dishes including a classic Christmas dinner – 93/100 points.

An impeccable all round Champagne – a stylish aperitif that can partner anything, even Chinese and Thai food.

Widely available in the UK at around £50.00 per bottle including from Hennings, The Whisky Exchange, Fortunum & Mason, Amazon, Lea & Sandeman and many more.

Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut
AC/PDO Champagne

Pure Chardonnay from some great vineyard sites, including the Crus of Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Villers-Marmery and Trépail. A lower dosage of just 6 grams per litre helps keep the purity of the style. For Odilon a Blanc de Blancs is the quintessence of Champagne minerality and should deliver a chalky, mineral and playful wine.

A paler creamier magnolia colour with a more austere character of crisp lemon, green apple and taut white peach notes together with a dash of oyster shell and a niggle of toast. The palate offers lots of nectarine and apricot fruit balanced by a nervy, chalky minerality and some salinity as well as a light touch of shortbread and even some lemon drizzle cake and a smoky, mineral feel to the long finish.

A very elegant, refined and beguiling Bland de Blancs – 94/100 points.

Light and elegant, this is perfect with seafood like oysters, prawns and scallops as well as delicate fish like sea bass.

Widely available in the UK at around £60.00 per bottle including from Fortunum & Mason, The Whisky Exchange, Champagne Direct, Berry Bros, Mr Wheeler and many more.

More of Gosset’s vineyards – photo by Quentin Sadler.

 

Gosset Grande Rosé Brut
AC/PDO Champagne

Odilon likes to make his rosés by blending, because he reckons that you cannot build the blend and the complexity the same way if the colour comes from skin contact. Therefore this is made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, but of that Pinot component, 8% was still red wine from the best named wine village in the world, Bouzy in the Montagne de Reims.

A lovely coral or salmon colour, the nose is fresh and vibrant with lively, lifted strawberry notes, some red cherry and the merest hint of biscuit. The palate has beautiful strawberry fruit, fresh and dried too, there is some creaminess, some cinnamon and some ripe stone fruit like peaches and nectarines. The acidity is bright and the wine is held together by that hall-mark minerality and salinity.

A beautifully hedonistic wine that is also very elegant – 93/100 points.

Rosé Champagne is brilliant as an aperitif and with lighter and spicy dishes as well as smoked salmon and other seafood.

Widely available in the UK at around £50.00 per bottle including from Hennings, Berry Bros, Davy’s, Averys and many more.

 

Gosset 2012 Grand Millésime Brut
AC/PDO Champagne

Youthful by Gosset standards as the previous vintage release was 2006 but this is non the worse for being relatively fresh. The fruit is all from the exceptional 2012 harvest and the wine is a blend of 67% Chardonnay and 33% Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay comes from the Crus (villages) of Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Trépail and Ambonnay, while the Pinot Noir comes from Verzy, Mailly, Ambonnay and Aÿ, Gosset’s traditional home. The wine is aged for 5 years on the lees and the dosage is 8 grams per litre.

From a generous vintage and with long ageing, this wine has more richness and more concentration. This shows in the nose as apples and pears and peach with wafts of spice, curds, acacia, honey and brioche. The palate is luxurious with peach and lemon coulis, taste au citron, pastry, gingerbread, some creaminess, that brisk acidity and a nibbling salinity that balances all the richness – 94/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £60.00 per bottle including from Hedonism, Millesima, Vinatis, and many more.

A richer style like this partners all sorts of dishes really well, white meat as well as fish and is lovely with cheese.

You can still find the richer 2006 around – click here -. It has more Pinot Noir and even longer lees ageing and is a very different style, but magnificent and beautifully balanced.

Gosset Celebris 2007 Extra Brut
AC/PDO Champagne

Celebris is the Gosset Cuvée de Prestige, created in 1993 to show the purity of their style. They don’t make much and they don’t make it often but it is always one of the greatest Champagne Cuvées. The blend is 57% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs Crus of Vertus, Avize, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Verzy and Trépail in the Montagne des Reims. 43% is Pinot Noirs from the Montagne des Reims Crus of Aÿ, Bouzy and Ambonnay and from Cumières, Avenay in the Vallée de la Marne. The wine has a dosage of just 3 grams per litre and is aged on the lees for 10 years before release.

Incredibly concentrated aromas of toasted almonds, pithy lemon, green apple, yeasty, flaky pastry notes and even a touch of spice. The palate delivers preserved lemon, freshly baked bread, almonds, coconut – almost Peshwari naan flavours – jasmine, green tea, pithy lemon, grapefruit, softer peach and pure, taut minerality a touch of salinity and toasted Panettone. This is a beguiling wine with so much going on, so many exciting contradictions. It is so complex, so finely drawn but yes so delicious to drink too – 96/100 points.

Perfect with slightly richer food from grilled Dover Sole to fish pie to lighter meat dishes – great with a cheeseboard too.

Available in the UK at around £120.00 per bottle including from Winebuyers.com, The Whisky Exchange, Millesima, Vinatis, Cru World Wine, Amazon, Hedonism and many more.

If you are looking for something extra special to help Christmas go with a bang then you need not look any further than Gosset. Their wines are always impressive, alway fascinating, complex and detailed, but are always full of joy and give high amounts of pleasure too. Actually they are downright delicious and everyone should try these superb Champagnes at least once if they can.

By the way, please don’t just regard Champagne as something to drink for a celebration. Champagne is a very versatile wine style. It makes the perfect aperitif, or drink at any time, and goes with all sorts of foods

Some beautiful olive oils

Recently I was sent some olive oils to taste and I must say that I found the experience really interesting. I do not know a huge amount about olive oil, but it is a fascinating subject and has much in common with wine – and chocolate, coffee, tea and I expect many other things that make life better.

The similarities of course are that olive oil, like wine, is an agricultural product. Therefore where the olives grow has an effect on the finished oil. The type of olives used do too, just like different grape varieties, cocoa beans or coffee beans. Apparently there are more than a thousand olive varieties, all of which have something interesting to offer and their own unique flavour. Of course, just as with wine, how the oil is made will also have an influence on the finished result, whether it is small batch or made on an industrial scale for instance.

The oils that I was sent were made by a big Italian olive oil producer called Basso Fedele e Figli. They are based in Campania, San Michele di Serino just outside Avellino – so very much wine country, and have been making oil since 1904. Originally it was small scale production from olive trees in the local area, but nowadays they source olives from across southern Italy.

Much like wine producers often seek to produce small parcels of something more interesting, this led them to get more ambitious, so they put together a small range of premium quality Extra Virgin Olive Oils from different places or sometimes specific olive varieties. The range is named after the owner of the company Sabino Basso and is beautifully packaged in a Kolio style bottle.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the highest grade of olive oil and is made by simply crushing olives, no solvents or high temperatures are allowed. It is supposed to be bright, fresh and vivacious and for me Extra Virgin Olive Oil seems very healthy, light and appetising.

Map of Italy showing the major wine regions, regional boundaries and the areas where the olives were grown for these oils – Click for a magnified view. All rights reserved.

Olives growing near Bari in Puglia.

 

Sabino Basso Extra Virgin Olive Oil Terra di Bari
DOP/PDO Terra di Bari, Puglia

This was the most intense of the oils and made a statement as soon as I poured it. It looked rich, with an almost egg-yolk yellow colour and gave off aromas of white pepper, ginger and clove together with truffle and mushroom notes.

The palate was spicy and vibrant with all those aromas following through, especially the truffle and ginger, but also grassy, vegetal flavours – in my mind it reminded me of artichoke leaves – and bitter almonds too.

This oil come from the area around Bari in Puglia and is made from Coratina olives, which are famous for their spicy flavours and for being particularly high in antioxidants.

Olive trees and vines on the Donnafugata Estate at Contessa Entellina near Sciacca – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Sabino Basso Extra Virgin Olive Oil Sicilia
IGP Sicilia, Sicily

Made from a blend of Biancolilla olives, grown in southwestern Sicily, and Cerasuola olives grown near Sciacca, near Donnafugata, on Sicily’s south coast. Cerasuola is a term that I come across quite a lot in wine. It means cherry red and is often used to describe a rosé wine in Italy – like Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, or sometimes even a red wine like Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the only DOCG wine on Sicily.

The colour was very light and lemony and the oil smelt fresh, floral and grassy with some peppery notes, vegetal aromas and even some of that lovely, slightly spicy, aromatic tomato and tomato stem smell. The texture was delicately creamy with a flavour of artichoke hearts and tomato stems as well as a nice peppery flavour that wasn’t too powerful. It was lovely drizzled on burrata and bresaola.

The dramatic vineyards of Marisa Cuomo on the Sorrento Peninsula. These same terraces also grow lemons and olives – photo courtesy of Marisa Cuomo.

Sabino Basso Extra Virgin Olive Oil Penisola Sorrentina
DOP/PDO Penisola Sorrentina, Campania

I loved all these oils, but perhaps this was my favourite and I think I can work out why. I know the wines from the Sorrento Peninsula in Campania and they are some of my favourite wines in Italy – the whites in particular are incredible. I presume that same dramatically terraced landscape that cascades down the hillsides to the sea and produces superb grapes and lemons, for limoncello, also produces perfect olives.

The variety for this oil is Minucciola and it is an altogether more restrained style than the Bari oil. The colour is bright and lemony and it smells creamy with light black pepper, hay, grass and delicate fresh cheese. The flavour is intriguing with some fresh cheese, basil, rosemary and thyme flavours as well as Sichuan pepper.

So if you fancy experimenting with new flavours and combinations, try some different olive oils. There are so many different styles, they can be really surprising, great fun and above all delicious. You don’t have to use it in the cooking either, olive oil makes a great condiment. A little drizzle of olive oil can make an astonishing amount of difference to a dish.

Lebanon – an ancient land, modern wines

Vineyards in the Bekaa Valley – photo courtesy of Château Kefraya.

Lebanon caught my imagination as a wine country a long time ago. We tend to think of it as a new wine producer, but the Phoenicians – the ancient people of Lebanon – were among the world’s first maritime traders and exported wines from Tyre and Sidon all over the Mediterranean world and so helped to spread wine and viticulture to western Europe.

Château Musar is of course world famous and it’s wines widely available, so you could be forgiven for thinking that it is the only Lebanese wine producer. That is not the case though and Musar isn’t even the oldest wine estate in Lebanon either. However good Musar’s wines are – and they are – there is a lot more on offer from this fascinating country

The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque in downtown Beirut.

I know that technically Lebanon is in Asia, but when you are there it doesn’t feel so very different from the European countries of the southern Mediterranean. In fact apart from the Arabic script on the signs, Lebanon often reminded me of Spain, Greece or Sicily. Beirut and the other towns I saw seemed chaotic and boisterous in much the same way as Seville or Catania. The landscape too was very similar to these places and of course the food has a lot in common with Greek cuisine and I even noticed some similarities to Sicilian cooking as well.

The main road through Chatura in the Bekaa Valley – photo by Quentin Sadler.

I suspect this European feel is partly because Lebanon has a mixed population of Muslims and Christians and enjoys a complex system of power sharing to ensure that no single part of the community dominates the other. As a consequence the place seems very free and easy to the casual observer with alcohol being readily available. Lively restaurants and street life with attractive bars are everywhere. In order to preserve this balance no official census has been taken since 1932, in case they discover there is a higher proportion of Muslims or Christians than they had thought.

I found it very interesting that despite France only governing the country for a little over 20 years, 1920 – 1943, French is widely spoken and the French influence lives on in almost every aspect of life. One of the most obvious examples is the wine names. All the wine producers are Domaine this or Château that and the wine styles often have a very French feel to them too.

Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990, so the country has enjoyed almost 30 years of relative stability punctuated by sporadic turmoil caused by their neighbours. I was told many times that Lebanon is fortunate in everything, except its neighbours. As Lebanon borders Syria and Israel, you can see their point.

Map of Lebanon showing the wine regions and the major wineries. Click for a magnified view.

This stability has been enough for wine making to really start to flourish and for the longer established producers to consolidate the markets for their wines. If Lebanese wines were a novelty thirty years ago, they are much more normal today. Indeed the number of wineries has grown from just five in 1990 to over 50 today.

The oldest wine producer in the country is Château Ksara which was founded in 1857 by Jesuit monks who quickly recognised that the Bekaa Valley was a suitable place to grow grapes and brought in a trained viticulturist monk to create and tend their vineyards. His plantings of Cinsault, together with those at the nearby Domaine des Tourelles in 1868, started the Lebanese wine revival which is still with us to this day.

Everything changed in Lebanon after the First World War. The Ottoman Empire was broken up and Lebanon was awarded to the French as a League of Nations Mandate. French soldiers and administrators came to the country and brought their thirst with them. The country’s two wine producers just weren’t enough to cope with demand and so other wineries – together with breweries and distilleries – were created throughout the 1920s and thirties.

Temple of Bacchus, Baalbek, Bekaa Valley.

All the early vineyards were planted in the Bekaa Valley in the east of the country and although there are now some other regions, it remains the major centre of production. This was partly because it was already established as the principal agricultural area of Lebanon and also because it’s so suitable. It is an exciting place to visit. The road winds steeply upwards out of Beirut and you quickly realise just how mountainous Lebanon is. The whole country is pretty small and within 20 kilometres you are already approaching 1000 metres above sea level. It is that height which makes fine winemaking possible as the air gets cooler the higher you go. There is of course plenty of sun and heat – Beirut lies at 34˚ north, as do Los Angeles and Santa Barbara in California and Rabat in Morocco – so grapes can ripen no problem, in fact you can sometimes detect an over-ripe, raisiny character in the more rustic wines. The Bekaa Valley has no coastal influence to temper the heat and give elegance, as it sits between the Mount Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges, instead it has altitude.

The Bekaa Valley is very fertile and every where you look you can see produce being grown – wine of course suits the rockier, less vigorous and better drained soils. The region enjoys a Mediterranean climate with cold winters and hot dry summers. That heat is tempered by cool breezes because of the valley’s altitude and big temperature drops between day and night, often around 20 degrees, also help to retain freshness and elegance in the wines.

In recent years some new wine regions have begun producing wines and most of these are even higher than the Bekaa Valley.

Lebanon’s French influence is very apparent in the varieties they grow. Grapes from the French Mediterranean dominate the country’s vineyards, with most traditional reds being blends that include Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache, together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and increasingly some Syrah too. In recent years Tempranillo has become a popular grape as well, but almost always in blends.

The white wines, sadly overlooked, but very impressive, are often blends including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette and Viognier, but I also came across some astonishingly good wines made from Obeidi and Merwah. These are indigenous white grapes that were traditionally used for Arak in the past.

Quite a few Lebanese wineries now export their wines to the UK. Here is a selection that are worth seeking out:

Château Ksara

An aerial view of Château Ksara – photo courtesy of Château Ksara.

Founded in 1857 by Jesuit monks, this is the oldest and biggest winery in the country. In 1898 they discovered a two kilometre Roman cave system beneath the winery that ever since has been used as the estate’s cellar. It remains at a constant 11˚C and houses thousands of bottles, many going back to the nineteenth century.

The ancient cave system below Château Ksara – photo courtesy of Château Ksara.

The Wines

Ksara makes a wide range including a fine Chardonnay, two white blends, Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay, Sauvignon & Sémillon) and Blanc de L’Observatotre (Obadei, Sauvignon, Muscat & Clairette). My favourite though is their new pure Merwah made from 80 year old, dry farmed Merwah vines. It’s a lovely herbal dry white with a rich, pithy citrus zestiness.

Wine maturing in barrels in the ancient cave system below Château Ksara – photo courtesy of Château Ksara.

The heart of their range though is their red wines. They have two everyday drinking reds, Le Prieuré – a fresh, juicy and lightly spicy Mediterranean style blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre – and Réserve du Couvent, a soft, brambley and bright blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with ripe, supple tannins and generous fruit.

Their most famous wine is Château Ksara itself, which is a complex and cedary, Médoc inspired blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, barrel aged for 12 months. The wine has supple tannins and that classic dry, but ripe fruit and leafy character that will delight claret lovers. The wine ages very well and mature vintages are available.

Château Ksara wines are distributed in the UK by Hallgarten.

Château Kefraya 

A panoramic view of the beautiful vineyards at Château Kefraya – photo courtesy of Château Kefraya.

Kefraya has been owned by the de Bustros family for generations, but the vineyard was not planted until 1946. At first they sold their grapes to other Bekaa Valley producers before eventually releasing their first vintage in 1979.

The 430 hectares of vines are interspersed with rocky outcrops that contain an ancient cave system that was used for tombs in biblical times. Outside the tombs seats were carved into the rock to allow mourners to sit and weep in comfort. They still turn up Roman finds while tending the fields and have a small museum of coins and artefacts in the Château. The current wine maker, Fabrice Guiberteau, is one of the most engaging and inspiring I have ever met and he’s brimming over with energy and enthusiasm for this place and the wines he makes here.

Fabrice sitting on the mourner’s seat carved into the rock of the ancient tomb.

The Wines 

Château Kefraya Blanc de Blancs is a beautifully textured and deliciously creamy dry white with good acidity. It’s made from an unlikely blend of Viognier, Clairette, Muscat, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdejo.

Château Kafraya Rouge is an oak aged blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. It’s a lovely wine with spice notes as well as rich black fruit and some earthiness too. The drying tannins give some nice structure to the sweet, ripe fruit.

The ‘flagship’ wine here is Comte de M, an intense, concentrated and fine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah that spend 18 months in new French oak barrels.

The traditional Lebanese Amphorae used to mature some wines at Château Kefraya – photo courtesy of Château Kefraya.

In recent years Fabrice has turned his attention to using clay amphorae for maturing wines. Such vessels have long been used in Lebanon for ageing Arak and the project has resulted in two top cuvées that aim to capture the terroir of the country. The red, simply called Chateau Kefraya Amphora is an aromatic and floral blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Tempranillo. Lots of red fruit, herbs and spice vie with each other round the palate, while there is a lively freshness, enticing minerality and suave tannins. 

The white partner, Chateau Kefraya Adéenne (French for DNA), is an extraordinary blend of Merwah, Obeidi and Mekssessé, Lebanon’s indigenous white grapes. Fermented and aged in three year old barrels, the wine is intensely herbal and mineral, with soft stone fruit and rich, pithy bergamot citrus. The palate is salty, nutty, delicately creamy and silky by turn and is deliciously savoury and complex.

Domaine des Tourelles

Domaine des Tourelles – photo by Quentin Sadler.

This beautiful estate is the oldest secular wine producer in Lebanon, having been created by Jura-born Frenchman François-Eugène Brun in 1868. Nowadays it is run by the delightful Faouzi Issa who crafts a very fine range of wines and believes in non-interventionist winemaking using spontaneous fermentations in the winery’s nineteenth century concrete fermenting vats. In fact all the equipment is original here, nothing is new. By keeping to traditional methods and using the old equipment from the nineteenth century Faouzi creates wines that are completely in step with the natural wine movement.

Faouzi Issa, the head winemaker at Domaine des Tourelles – photo courtesy of Domaine des Tourelles.

The Wines

His dry Domaine des Tourelles White is an enticing, aromatic blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, Obeidi and Muscat, while his Chardonnay is delicately exotic and creamy. The Domaine des Tourelles Rosé is a beautifully textured, full-flavoured blend of Cinsault, Tempranillo and Syrah that is perfect with the flavours of the Mediterranean.

The Domaine des Tourelles Red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cinsault giving it that very Bekaa Valley combination of the Rhône and Bordeaux making it structured and spicy. It has rich, dark cherry fruit, smooth tannins and wild Mediterranean herbs.

Faouzi also makes a pure Cinsault made from 60 year old vines. It is beautifully bright and spicy with red cherry and plums as well as a touch of dried spices, dried fruit and an earthy, savoury quality. Above all it has a real purity to it that keeps you coming back for more.

Their Marquis des Beys is a stylish, dark brooding and spicy blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It delivers plenty of concentrated blackcurrant, deep, mocha-like flavours from 18 months in oak, fine tannins and balancing freshness.

All of these are excellent, but the pinnacle of the range is their Syrah du Liban. 100% Syrah, it’s powerful yet balanced, fragrant, floral and spicy with dark fruit vying with fresher raspberry and red cherry on the palate, together with cracked black pepper and those wild Mediterranean herbs.

Domaine des Tourelles wines are distributed in the UK by Boutinot Wines.

Château Musar

An aerial view of some of Musar’s vineyards in the Bekaa Valley – photo courtesy of Château Musar.

The producer that springs to mind for most people when Lebanese wine is mentioned. Musar was founded in 1930 in the cellars of the 18th century Mzar Castle in Ghazir, a village on the coast some 30 kilometres north of Beirut. Mzar means ‘place of beauty’ and was adapted as the name of the wine itself. The French focus became strengthened by a close friendship developing between founder Gaston Hochar and Ronald Barton (of Château Langoa-Barton in Saint-Julien) who was stationed in Lebanon during WWII.

Gaston’s son Serge took over the winemaking in 1959 and set about perfecting the blend and style. It took him nearly twenty years, with the 1977 red – the first vintage I ever tasted – being the vintage that brought Musar international renown as a fine wine.

Some of Musar’s vineyards in the Bekaa Valley, two and a half hours drive from their winery – photo by Quentin Sadler.

In recognition of all this as well as his perseverance and dedication during Lebanon’s civil war in keeping the winery going without losing a single vintage, Serge was chosen as Decanter Magazine’s first ‘Man of the Year’ in 1984.

Today the winery is run by Serge’s son Gaston. It has been officially organic since 2006 makes wines in a non-interventionist, natural way.

The Wines

Musar’s fabulous eighteenth century cellars beneath the Mzar Castle in Ghazir – photo courtesy of Château Musar.

The red Château Musar itself is the grand vin of the estate and is always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Cinsault and Carignan. It is fermented and aged in concrete tanks before spending a further year in French oak barrels and another four maturing in bottle. It is always rich, spicy, leathery and earthy and has a sort of beguiling sense of mystery about it which sets it apart.

Château Musar White is a blend of barrel fermented and long aged Obeidi and Merwah. It’s an extraordinary wine reminiscent of an aged white Graves from Bordeaux. An acquired taste perhaps, but one worth acquiring.

Bottles maturing in Château Musar’s cellars – photo courtesy of Château Musar.

Their Hochar Père et Fils red is an approachable blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, from a single vineyard. It is fermented in concrete tanks, and then aged in barrel and bottle before being released four years after harvest.

The estate’s easiest drinking wines are the Musar Jeune range. There is a red, a white and a rosé and they are fresh and approachable while still having much of the Musar savoury style.

Chateau Musar wines are distributed in the UK by Chateau Musar UK.

Clos St Thomas

This exciting winery is the brainchild of Saïd Touma whose family have been making Arak in the Bekaa Valley for over 130 years. Inspired by that experience and the wineries that came before him he created this estate in 1990 and now farms some sixty five hectares that sits in the Bekaa at 1000 metres above sea level. His son, Joe-Assaad, is now in charge after training as a winemaker in Montpelier and gaining a great deal of experience in Bordeaux – that French link is still alive and well it seems. It is still very much a family concern with the entire family working in the business. Joe-Assaad grows all the normal Bekaa grapes, but like others is also now seeking more of a Lebanese identity. To that end he too has started using the indigenous Obeidi – or Obeidy as he calls it – in their white blends and, since 2012, as a single varietal.

The Wines

Château St Thomas Chardonnay is a nice combination of ripe, tropical fruit, nutty, creamy vanilla and a balancing freshness, while the Clos St Thomas Les Gourmets Blanc is an altogether zestier style made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and the local Obeidy. The Château St Thomas Les Emirs Rouge is a richly fruity blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with spicy Grenache and Syrah, while the star must be their Pinot Noir. Grown in a single plot at 1200 metres this is a vibrant, juicy Pinot with big fruit, smooth tannins and lovely smoky, savoury and truffle-like aromas. To make Pinot this good in place this hot is a real triumph.

Clos St Thomas wines are distributed in the UK by Lebanese Fine Wines.

Ixsir

Ixsir’s stunning high altitude vineyards in Batroun – photo courtesy of Ixsir.

Ixsir – named for Al-Iksir or Elixir, a secret potion that grants eternal youth and love – is an exciting winery created in 2008 by a group of successful businessmen together with Gabriel Rivero, the Spanish-born former winemaker of Kefraya. It’s based in a beautiful and brilliantly renovated seventeenth century Ottoman farmhouse in the hills above Batroun. During Byzantine times Batroun was called Botrus, which is Greek for grape and it was an important port for grape and wine exporting.

They have vineyards around the winery, but also source grapes from the Bekaa Valley and Jezzine in the south where the vineyards are planted 1350 metres above sea level and show the vital cooling effect of the altitude.

The beautiful barrel cellar at Ixsir – photo courtesy of Ixsir.

Their entry level wines are the Altitudes Ixsir range. Available in all three colours, the wines are very drinkable. The red is a sappy, lightly oaked, fruit forward blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec) and Tempranillo, while the white is a bright, aromatic, unoaked blend of Obeideh, Muscat, Viognier. 

Their Ixsir Grande Reserve wines are more ambitious, complex and fine. The red is a rich, smoky and spicy barrel aged blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Arinarnoa (a cross between Merlot and Petit Verdot. The white is a succulent, judiciously oaked blend of Viognier, Sauvignon and Chardonnay that balances succulence and freshness really well.

The top of the range is their El Ixsir wines. The red, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, once again combines Bordeaux structure with the fleshier, spicier characteristics of Southern France. It is dense, concentrated and richly fruity with minty, herbal flavours, black pepper and loads of black fruit – perfect with lamb.

Ixsir wines are distributed in the UK by Enotria & Coe.

I would add that all of these producers also make excellent rosés. When I was in Lebanon I enjoyed them very much, as being that much lighter than the reds I found them perfect with the  lovely Mediterranean mezze

Of course in world terms Lebanon is a tiny producer, just 0.06% of total world production in 2010, but the average quality seems very high. Not even the biggest producers in Lebanon count as bulk producers though, so it is a land of boutique winemakers, people who feel driven to make wine, who strive for quality and do not cut corners. What’s more the wines are incredibly food friendly. So a Lebanese offering would enhance any restaurant wine list as they go superbly with all sorts of food, from haute cuisine to relaxed Mediterranean fare, and offer a wonderful combination of classic French style and vibrant Mediterranean flavours that can be really exciting.

Switzerland – a beautiful country with wonderful wine

Vineyards in Valais, overlooking the Rhône Valley – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Switzerland is famous for many things; banks, mountains, lakes, cheese, chocolate and, erroneously – courtesy of Orson Wells – cuckoo clocks. Not many people, in Britain anyway, seem to associate this Alpine country with wine.

Swiss wine is a bit of a mystery because almost none of it is exported. The Swiss are a thirsty lot and they drink 98% of their own wine and still import two thirds of what they consume. So it is hardly surprising that so little Swiss wine leaves the country. Astonishingly Switzerland has a mere 0.2% of the world’s wine growing area. With just 15,000 hectares of vines in the whole country, it’s half the size of France’s Burgundy region – itself far from being a large producer.

Despite this lack of an international reputation, Swiss wines are really exciting and deserve our attention. It is a beautiful country with some of the most stunning scenery in Europe. Swiss food is hearty and delicious and in its simplicity and honesty shows how agrarian Switzerland has always been. The cheeses, such as Emmental and Gruyère are far finer than the versions that we generally buy in our supermarkets and seem to genuinely reflect their origins. Of course a meal of fondue or raclette takes eating cheese to another, more exciting level. The peasant roots of Swiss cuisine also show in that other famous and satisfying dish, rösti. Not all Swiss food is heavy though, around Lac Léman perch fillets from the lake are a delicious speciality and are perfect with a glass or two of the local wine. 

Perch fillets from Lac Léman, a popular local speciality – photo by Quentin Sadler.

When in Switzerland I am always struck by the high quality of all the produce, including the wine, of which the country produces a plethora of styles. White wine is dominant, as you might imagine from the cool climate, but the reds can be astonishingly good too. Chasselas is the most famous and important white grape within Switzerland – and yet few non Swiss wine drinkers would ever give it a moment’s thought. Of course there is also plenty of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer as well as the indigenous white grapes of Petite Arvine, Humagne Blanc, Heida and Réze. Pinot Noir and Gamay are the most widely encountered black grapes, while Merlot and Syrah are also highly prized. Indigenous black grapes include Humagne Rouge, Cornalin, Gamaret, Diolinoir and Garanoir. 

Strangely the principal grape variety of Ticino – the Italian speaking part of Switzerland – is Merlot, where unusually it is used to make both red and white wines.

I have travelled extensively in the French speaking areas in recent years and thought I would share some of these exciting wines with you as they are very versatile with food and would be really exciting to see on restaurant wine lists.

Wine map of Switzerland – click for a larger view. Do not use without permission.

The Regions – Vaud

La Suisse paddle steamer, one of the small fleet of pre First World War steamers that criss-cross Lac Léman – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Vaud is probably Switzerland’s most famous wine region. This is where you find Lausanne and Montreux and one of the most iconic landscapes in Europe. At its heart is the steeply terraced vineyards of Lavaux on the north shore of Lac Léman – Lake Geneva to us Brits.

The key grape here is Chasselas, which is taken very seriously in Switzerland despite being little-loved anywhere else. It seems to be common practice to put the better wines through Malolactic Conversion, which softens the acidity and gives a pleasing creamy quality and mouthfeel that makes them a perfect partner to cheese. Lucky that, as in one form or another they eat a great deal of cheese in Switzerland.

The dominant black grape is Pinot Noir, which is used to great effect in Chablais and around Lake Neuchâtel to make very fruity reds, finer, more structured reds and some excellent rosés, labelled as Oeil-de-Perdrix.

Vaud: Lavaux 

Vineyards of Dézaley and Epesses with Lac Léman – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Lavaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with stunning vineyards cascading down the slopes and terraces to the shore of Lac Léman. There are six appellations, or ‘Crus’: Lutry, Villette, Epesses, Saint-Saphorin, Chardonne and Montreux-Vevey. In addition Dézaley and Calamin are both classified as Grand Cru, which means the grapes must contain higher sugar than normal at harvest. This ensures the wines will be richer and rounder.

Dézaley vineyard sign from Lac Léman – photo by Quentin Sadler.

The chalky limestone soils should suit Chardonnay perfectly, but around here the speciality is Chasselas. In fact it accounts for 80% of production and if no other grape is mentioned on the label of a Lavaux white, then it’s made from 100% Chasselas.

The vineyards are steep, so everything must be done by hand and it’s backbreaking work. Marcel Dubois, who makes wine near Epesses, famously said: ‘We are condemned to make expensive wine so we might as well make it good wine’. And it seems to me that the Swiss have taken that concept of quality to heart.

Lavaux from the deck of La Suisse paddle steamer, one of the small fleet of pre First World War steamers that criss-cross the lake – photo by Quentin Sadler.

The wines made here benefit from what the locals call the ‘three suns’, there is direct sunshine, reflected sunshine from the surface of the lake and the light and heat reflected off the stone walls that define the vineyards. All of this makes the Chasselas from here richer, more structured and more intense than other areas.

Recommended producers:

Domaine Louis Bovard

Domaine Louis Bovard and Lac Léman – photo courtesy of Domaine Louis Bovard.

Louis-Philippe Bovard is the 10th generation of the family to farm their 18-hectare estate in Cully near Epesses. He grows many different grapes, but Chasselas is his main focus.

His Médinette Dézaley Grand Cru has a very delicate weight, but a solid core of concentrated fruit and a long, stony mineral finish.

Luc Massy

Luc Massy’s vineyards above Lac Léman – photo courtesy of Luc Massy.

Luc is one of the region’s famous producers and farms breathtakingly beautiful vineyards in Epesses, Clos du Boux, Saint-Saphorin, Dézaley-Marsens and Dézaley – all the greatest sites of Lavaux.

The real speciality here is the legendary Dézaley Chemin de Fer. Late in the nineteenth century, the railway line was put through and some of the land in Dézaley had to be sacrificed to make way for progress. Little parcels of land were left at the bottom of the slope around the railway lines and Luc’s grandfather acquired the rights to plant on them. The wine is a magnificent, mineral and complex white wine with that touch of creaminess and generosity that sets Swiss Chasselas apart.

Vaud: La Côte

The magical Château de Vufflens just up the slope from Morges on La Côte – photo by Quentin Sadler.

This Vaud sub-region curves around the north western shore of Lac Léman from the outskirts of Lausanne to the edge of Geneva. The vineyards slope – La Côte means slope – down towards the lake shore on the foothills of the Jura Mountains. It’s a big, productive area that makes some terrifically drinkable wines.

Chasselas from here tends to be lighter, fresher and more quaffable than their counterparts in Lavaux, although the Grand Cru sites of Féchy, Morges and Mont-sur-Rolle produce more concentrated and fine examples. Pinot Noir and Gamay are used to make similarly attractive, fruity red wines.

Recommended producers:

Domaine de Maison Blanche

Domaine de Maison Blanche on La Côte – photo courtesy of Domaine de Maison Blanche.

This fabulous 10 hectare estate looks down on the lake from Mont-sur-Rolle, just to the north of Rolle itself. The Maison Blanche dates from the thirteenth century and has belonged to current owners the de Mestral family since 1528.

I have always enjoyed their Chasselas, especially their Mont-sur-Rolle Grand Cru, which is a fine, creamy, floral scented delight. They also make some delicious traditional method sparkling Chasselas.

Vaud: Chablais

The Château d’Aigle – photo courtesy of Mondial du Chasselas.

The southernmost part of Vaud, with vineyards concentrated between the River Rhône and the Alps, the best being on the slopes to the east. The landscape might not be as dramatic as its neighbours to the north and south, but the area can claim to be home to some very fine wines. Of the five Chablais ‘Crus’, Yvorne and Aigle are perhaps the most well known – especially for the whites made from Chasselas. Aigle is dear to my heart as most years I spend a few days at the beautiful Château d’Aigle judging Chasselas wines in the Mondial du Chasselas competition.

Recommended producers:

Orbrist

Clos du Rocher is one of the great estates of Chablais – photo by Quentin Sadler.

This large company owns some amazing vineyards and produces a large range of very well made wine. The pinnacle of what they do is probably the Clos du Rocher Grand Cru Chasselas in Yvonne, a wine I love.

I have been fortunate enough to taste every vintage of Clos du Rocher back to the 1982. All were still fresh and lively, although the older examples had developed a more golden colour, dried fruit and mushroom character. What’s more every vintage since 1990 was sealed with screwcap.

Bernard Cavé Vins, Aigle

The concrete egg shaped fermentation tanks at Bernard Cavé Vins, he calls them amphoras – photo by Quentin Sadler.

All the wines are superb, notably the exquisite Clos du Crosex Grillé Cuvée des Immortels Reserve Aigle Grand Cru. Fermented in concrete eggs, this is textured, round and silky too. In the unlikely event that you tire of his Chasselas, his Marsanne – called Ermitage locally –  is stunningly rich and downright delicious.

Badoux Vins, Aigle

View of Aigle and its vineyards from the ramparts of the Château d’Aigle – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Founded in 1908, Badoux produces a wide range of thoroughly reliable wines. Their most emblematic label is their Aigle Les Murailles, named after the stone walls that support the incredibly steep vineyards of Aigle. The excellent white is a pure and mineral Chasselas with a touch of richness, while the red is a bright, fruity Pinot Noir that has been aged on the lees from Gamaret, a local speciality grape that is a cross of Gamay and Reichensteiner.

The Regions – Neuchâtel

The beautiful lakeside village of Auvernier in Neuchâtel – photo by Quentin Sadler.

This small region sits on a south-east facing slope between the Jura Mountains and the shores of Lakes Neuchâtel and Bienne. It acts like a sun trap and has very poor soils, so can produce beautifully ripe wines.

Recommended producers:

Château d’Auvernier

Château d’Auvernier has been the main winery here since 1603 – photo by Quentin Sadler.

This winery has been in the pretty lakeside village of Auvernier since 1603 and makes a range of really good wines. My favourites would be their elegant and concentrated Neuchâtel Blanc, made from Chasselas, the Pinot Noir and their Oeil-de-Perdrix Pinot Rosé.

The Regions – Valais

The beautiful vineyards of Valais, near Sierre – photo by Quentin Sadler.

The Canton of Valais  is south and east of Lac Léman. The River Rhône flows through here before emptying into Lac Léman and the best vineyards, Grand Crus like Fully, Vétroz, Sion and Sierre, line the bank of the river on incredibly steep slopes that are kept workable by dry stone walls. To get to those owned by Robert Gilliard at Sion, for instance, I was driven up into the mountains to the entrance of a short, narrow tunnel. At the other end of this I found myself on one of the terraces, or ‘tablars’, formed by the stone walls that I had looked up to on the way. Some of them are 20 metres high and I was told they are the highest dry stone walls in the world. 

The views to the south were breathtaking and I could not get enough of them. In the past the grapes had to be taken to the winery through the tunnel, then in the twentieth century a cable car system was adopted. Nowadays a lot of the work is done by helicopter, which gets the grapes to the winery while they are still in perfect condition. These dramatic south facing slopes are warm and dry in the growing season, but always tempered by the fresh, Alpine air – Switzerland’s highest peaks are in the Valais with some of the vineyards near Visp being well over 1000 metres above sea level.

Chasselas is still an important grape in these parts, but locally they call it Fendant – pronounced Fon-dohn – from the French ‘fendre’ meaning to split – as the grape skin easily splits when ripe.

Another important white grape here, perhaps the real speciality, is Petite Arvine. It isn’t grown in many other places, even in Switzerland, except Italy’s tiny Valle d’Aosta region which borders Valais to the south. At its best Petite Arvine has something of the freshness and vivaciousness of Grüner Veltliner and Albariño about it, but often with more salinity, so giving tension, and fruit (especially grapefruit), moderate acidity and a silky quality to the texture.

Valais is also home to the most famous Swiss wine of all – Dôle. This is always a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay and can also include some other black grapes to add complexity. Usually red, Dôle Blanche is an intriguing and very high quality rosé made from the same blend.

Recommended producers:

Provins, Sion

Provins are Switzerland’s largest producer and everything I have tasted from them has been superbly made. My favourite though is their subtly oaked Petite Arvine Maître de Chais – it’s classy, with lots of citrus fruit, a fleshy, creamy texture and a feeling of purity about it, like a mountain stream.

Cave Philippe & Véronyc Mettaz, Fully 

This small estate farms just 8 hectares but makes a wide range from the many grape varieties of Valais. Theirs was the first Petite Arvine that I ever tasted and I was hooked.

Robert Gilliard, Sion

Robert Gilliard’s dramatic Clos de la Cochetta vineyard contains some of the highest dry stone walls in the world – photo courtesy of Robert Gilliard.

This estate boasts some of the most beautiful and dramatic vineyards that I have ever seen. They truly take your breathe away clinging as they do to almost perpendicular slopes kept in place by terrifyingly high stone walls of up to 20 metres.

Their Clos de Cochetta Fendant is vibrant, lightly textured, elegant and classy, as is their focussed and pure Clos de Cochetta Petite Arvine.

Just along the terraces is the neighbouring vineyard of Clos de Mont from which they craft a fine, unoaked example of Diolinoir which is a cross between Robin Noir (aka Rouge de Diolly) and Pinot Noir.

The stunning view from Robert Gilliard’s Clos de la Cochetta – photo by Quentin Sadler.

Domaine Jean-René Germanier, Vétroz

A family estate since 1896 and now managed by the third and fourth generation – Jean-René Germanier and his nephew, Gilles Besse. Gilles was originally a jazz saxophonist, but is also a trained wine maker.

Germanier farm sustainably and produce a range of beautifully made, elegant wines, amongst which is their Cayas Syrah. This spicy, yet precise and mineral wine is possibly the best Syrah in the country and made within sight of the Rhône river.

Their Grand Cru Petite Arvine and Fendant Balavaud Grand Cru are equally exciting and impressive, while their Dôle Balavaud is one of the classics of its type.

Every time I have visited Switzerland I have come away with a very positive view of the wine. The dedication, heroism even, needed to tend and harvest the vines in this mountainous landscape is incredible to see. The passion the winemakers show in crafting these raw materials into beautifully made wines that are full of character and interest is always an education. I believe these wines deserve wider recognition and think it would be very exciting to see Swiss wines on restaurant wine lists.

Many of the wines mentioned here are available in the UK from Alpine Wines – www.alpinewines.co.uk. 

Owned and run by Swiss born Joelle Nebbe-Mornod, Alpine Wines are the leading Swiss wine importers and distributors in the UK.

Wine of the Week – a surprise from Chile

Vines at Casa Silva.

Readers of these pages will know that I revel in finding something new. For me loving wine is all about seeking out the unexpected, the different and the surprising.

Whether it is a region that I have never heard of, a grape variety, or a whole new wine producing country, that is what excites me most about wine.

So, in truth the wine I want to share with you today doesn’t fall into any of those categories, but it does come close.

It’s from Chile, which is not unusual, but it is made from an obscure grape called Romano, more usually called César. There isn’t much César left in the world and most of that grows northwest of Dijon in Burgundy, where it is principally used to make up to 10% of the blend, together with Pinot Noir, in the wines of Irancy.

The names come from the long held belief that the grape was introduced into the region by the invading Roman Legions who were led by Julius Ceasar. With DNA testing we now know that is not true, but it was believed for centuries.

Huasos, Chilean cowboys in Colchagua – photo courtesy of Enoturismo, Chile.

Strangely enough the only other pure César that I have tasted is also from Chile, made by Morandé from a vineyard that no longer exits. The destruction of Morande’s vineyard may well have led to the rumours that this grape variety had actually become extinct, but that was always unlikely given its traditional use in Irancy.

To me it seems to have been an odd choice to plant this grape in Chile’s Colchagua region, given that it has a Mediterranean climate. All that sunshine and warmth together with pretty much no rain during the growing season means that the grapes can have plenty of hang time and get fully ripe. This is the exact opposite of what happens in Irancy, which is very near Chablis, so has a Continental climate with a short growing season meaning the red wines of Irancy are usually light and acidic.

Map of Chile – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Whatever their rationale for planting César/Romano was, I am glad they did though because it has produced a style of wine in Chile that is totally unlike the examples of this grape that we get from France. In fact it has produced a wonderful wine that I really enjoyed and I think others will too.

The old Casa Silva winery and its grounds – photo courtesy of the winery.

2017 Romano Viñedo Original 
DO  Valle de Colchagua
Viña Casa Silva
Chile

Casa Silva is one of the great wine estates of the Colchagua Valley. They were originally a French family of grape growers who came to Chile in 1892 and have been growing grapes there ever since. However the family vineyards became divided up with multiple owners and it was not until the 1970s that Mario Silva pieced the estate together again and they have been bottling and labelling their own wines since 1997. They are based in Angostura where their beautiful original homestead is now a hotel and well worth a visit. The land around the house is their initial plantings with vineyards going back to 1912. This is where they have some fabulous speciality grapes including old vine Carmenère, Sauvignon Gris and this Romano. All of these are ungrafted, so grow on their own roots. This helps the vines to live longer and old vines produce smaller crops and smaller berries that have more concentrated flavours. Old vines also ripen with less sugar, so produce wines with lower alcohol, which makes for better balance and more elegance.

The harvest was done by hand with a further manual selection of grapes at the sorting table before the grapes were de-stemmed – stalks can give harsh tannins. There is a pre-fermentation cold soak, a cold fermentation in stainless steel followed by a further maceration on the skins. Half the wine was aged in stainless steel and half in second use French oak barrels. This older oak means that the wine is not overly oaky in taste, but has the softening that ageing in barrels gives as the oxygen gets to the wine through the wood, making it rounder and richer.

The barrel ageing room at Casa Silva – photo courtesy of the winery.

The wine looks very appealing with a deep and bright ruby colour. The nose is full of rich red fruits like strawberry, cherry, a hint of raspberry, black pepper and a delicate mushroomy/earthy savoury note. The palate is smooth, round and mouth filling with rich ripe red fruit, smooth, supple tannins and some lovely freshness too. There is plenty of beautiful, concentrated fruit, but good structure and that attractive earthy, savoury quality. This will appeal to Pinot Noir drinkers – and Syrah and Grenache drinkers too – in my opinion, as well as anyone who wants a really flavourful, suave and supple red wine that is full-flavoured and medium bodied. It really is a gorgeous wine – 93/100 points

This is a very versatile wine too. It is mellow enough to be enjoyable without food, has enough freshness to go with pizzas and pastas, has enough elegance and structure to partner haute cuisine and enough richness to go with cheese and enough pizzazz to go with burgers, chilli con carne or shepherd’s pie and to keep everyone happy.

Available in the UK at around £15.00 per bottle from Duncan Murray Fine Wines – Market Harborough, Staintons – Lake District, Guildford Wine CoBottle Shops – Cardiff, Penarth, Field & Fawcett – York, Naked Grape – Alresford, Hants, Palmers Wine Store – Dorset, The Vineking – Reigate, East Molesey, Weybridge and the Oxford Wine Company.

More information is available from Casa Silva’s UK distributor, Jackson Nugent Vintners.