New Wine of the Week – a lovely and great value red Burgundy

Life is a funny old thing. We do change in small ways over time and our tastes develop too. During my early years in wine – 32 years ago now – the industry was much more prone to platitudes than it is now and wine knowledge was much more about generalisations and announcements from on high. Well, one of the things that the great and the good would say was that people develop a taste for red Burgundy and Pinot Noir as they get older. And wouldn’t you know that has happened to me.

In all honesty it has been coming for a long time. For many years I have liked and appreciated Pinot Noir without loving it, while at some point over the last eight years I seem to have almost developed a passion for it.

Unfortunately I do not have a Burgundy income, so I am always keen to find better value examples. Wines that offer real Burgundy character, but at  good price are relatively few and far between, so they must be cherished and recently I tasted a very good example and I was so pleased with it that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

At least I know where I took the photo.

At least I know where I took the photo.

Mercurey surrounded by vines. The Premier Cru sites are on the higher land

Mercurey surrounded by vines. En Sazenay is just above the village on the far left on and forms the slope between the 2 groups of trees – if I remember correctly!

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

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

Mercurey-1-Cru-127x4402011 Mercurey 1er Cru En Sazenay
PDO / AOC Mercurey 1er Cru
Domaine Jean-Michel et Laurent Pillot
Côte Chalonnaise
Bourgogne / Burgundy

Mercurey is one of the most famous wine villages of the Côte Chalonnaise, indeed the whole place is sometimes informally known as the Region de Mercuey and Mercurey is one of the most famous wines – I always like to remark that it is very user friendly as it is the only wine that if you spill it, you can pick it up with your fingers.

The Côte Chalonnaise is sort of a continuation of the Côte de Beaune, in that it is mainly the same limestone soil. However, the En Sazenay vineyard – which is just to the south of the village – has heavier clay soils that produce a slightly richer style of wine. A bit like Santenay in the Côte de Beaune, you would swear you could smell the clay. The vineyard is at 250-280 metres above sea level, a little higher than the village and faces south-east – which helps with ripening of course.

The domaine is run by Jean-Michel and his brother Laurent Pillot out of  several small beautiful vaulted 13th and 17th century cellars. Their family have been making wine for generations and their expertise shows. As for winemaking they are very traditional, only using indigenous yeasts for the fermentation and ageing the wine for 18 months in oak barrels, only 25% of which are new as they want good integration of oak with the delicate characters of the Pinot.

The nose is wonderfully redolent of undergrowth and fruits of the forest with a light touch of spice and coffee too.

The palate is concentrated, although the wine is delicate with a lithe, fresh vitality to it. The fruit is an interesting combination of deep fresh raspberry and the intense sweetness of dried raspberry – although of course the wine is dry. There is also the richer character of cherry, a little spice and a lovely kiss of rich texture to the palate. That Pinot mushroomy savouriness is there too, underscoring the fruit and giving more complexity. The tannins are there, but they are very supple, ripe and nicely integrated with the fruit, as is the oak indeed. This is a delicious bottle of Burgundy with enough fruit to charm anybody and enough complexity to please the most diehard Burgundy obsessive – 90/100 points

Utterly delicious with such Burgundian specialities as boeuf bourguignon and Coq au vin, but I enjoyed it with a rather fabulous steak and kidney pie.

Available in the UK at £14.68 per bottle from 3D Wines – other buying options are available from 3D which make the wine even better value.

For Us stockists, click here.

New Wine of the Week – a delicious and very drinkable southern French white

When thinking of wines from France’s deep south – I am talking Languedoc-Roussillion here – most people automatically think of the reds. Picpoul de Pinet  is really the only white wine from the region that has managed to carve out a niche for itself.

Which is understandable as the reds are often very fine indeed and frequently underrated. However, many of the whites from these regions are really excellent and deserve to be more widely known. I tasted a wine recently which is a case in point. It is a white wine from Corbières, which is a PDO / AOC in the Aude department, which in turn forms part of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. It’s a big and important part too, producing just under half of all the PDO wine of the region.

I have always liked Corbières wines as they frequently offer great value and often very high quality too – see my article about Château Haut-Gléon here. I have yet to visit the region, which I intend to put right soon as it appears to be very beautiful. What’s more, excitingly it is Cathar country and is littered with the ruins of castles destroyed during the crusades against this obscure Christian sect. The local speciality dessert wine – actually more correctly called a mistelle  – is called Cathagène to honour the Cathars, so readers of the The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code should make sure they keep a bottle handy.

Anyway, this white Corbières impressed me so much that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

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

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

The winery of Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure.

The winery of Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure.

Blanc Paysan
2014 Blanc Paysan
PDO / AOC Corbières
SCV Castelmaure / Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure
Embres & Castelmaure

Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure is a co-operative that was founded in 1921 and serves two hamlets that have been joined together to form one village. Embrès et Castelmaure is a about 25 km north of Perpignan and sits roughly on the border between Languedoc and Roussillon. As a consequence their website offers both the Catalan (as spoken in Roussillon) and Occitan languages, as well as French itself. The website also plays some very Spanish sounding flamenco music to you which then morphs into some very French jazz. It’s an interesting combination, give it a listen by clicking here.

They farm some 400 hectares and although clearly forward thinking and ambitious, they cling to old ways. They still use the concrete vats installed in the winery in 1921, as they regulate the fermentation temperatures very well. They also have very cannily used all the old perceptions of their problems to their advantage. The region is hot, wild and rugged, so gives low yields, while the slopes are inaccessible by machine and tractors, these things held them back in the past when the only game in the Languedoc was the production of bulk wine. Today the wines have to be good, concentrated, terroir wines and so all that works to their advantage. They farm sustainably and harvest by hand.

This white wine is an unoaked blend of Grenache Blanc with some Grenache Gris, Vermentino (aka Rolle) and Macabeu (aka Macabeo and Viura).

I love the label as it shows a Renault 4 climbing a near perpendicular slope. It seems that the Renault 4, while never the icon that the 2CV was, was actually the main car of French farmers in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and many more of them were made than the more famous and more loved Citroën. The label made me smile as I have memories of being driven up similar slopes in the back of a beige (who else remembers beige cars?) Renault 4 by a Spanish builder in the early 1970s.

The wine is crystal clear and lemony to look at, while the nose offers wild flowers, herbs, pithy grapefruit and a slight, attractively waxy note. The palate is a lovely mix of rich and fresh, with wild herb flavours mingling with citrus and more succulent stone fruits. There is plenty of acidity – from the Vermentino and Macabeu I assume, while the Grenache gives that richness and herbal quality that are so delicious and evocative. A lovely wine with lots of tension between the zestiness and the richness and loads of flavour too. Delicious, refreshing and very easy to drink, this could help wean addicts off Pinot Grigio I think. What’s more it is an utter bargain – 87/100 points.

Try as I might I cannot think of anything that this would not be good with. It is delicious on its own, with fish, chicken, charcuterie, spicy food, cheese – you name it. I loved it with baked camembert.

Available in the UK at £6.50 per bottle from The Wine Society.


New Wine of the Week – Prince Ştirbey Negru de Drăgășani, a fine Romanian red

Typical traffic in rural Romania - snapped through the coach window.

Typical traffic in rural Romania – snapped through the coach window.

My visit to Romania last year impressed me very much – and you can read all about it here. I had no idea what to expect at all, not from the country, its culture, food or wines. What I found though was very exciting indeed. The countryside was fantastic, Bucharest a beautiful city and all the wineries that I visited were really passionate people with amazing drive and commitment. What’s more I did not taste a single wine that wasn’t decent and most were much better than that.

My only gripe with Romanian wine – and it is aimed at the UK wine trade, not the producers – is that it is very hard to buy the good ones here in the UK. Most stockists carry an affordable range of wines from Romania, you will see that many of the cheapest varietal wines are actually from Romania if you study the label closely. At the top end though it is very hard to find them, so I am really delighted to share this wine with you. I showed it in a tasting of Romanian wines that I tutored for Dulwich Wine Society the other week and it was one of the favourites on the night. It was a wonderful tasting, although I say so myself, what’s more it was 23 years to the day since I had first appeared at Dulwich – that can make you feel old you know. Just as on my trip to Romania, all the wines found favour, indeed they all went down very well with the tasters and I will mention more of them over the coming weeks.

In a tight field though, this lovely wine stood out just a little, as not only was it delicious, but it is also available to buy, which many of the others were not. I loved it so much that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Sketch wine map of Romania – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Sketch wine map of Romania – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Baroness Ileana Kripp of Prince Ştirbey.

Baroness Ileana Kripp of Prince Ştirbey.

Vines at Ştirbey.

Vines at Ştirbey.

prince_stirbey_negru_de_dragasani2011 Prince Ştirbey Negru de Drăgășani
IGP Dealurile Olteniei
Domeniile Ştirbey

The Ştirbey estate is in the south of the country – about 130 km West of Bucharest – on a narrow ridge overlooking the River Olt. The estate has a long history that goes back over 300 years and their wines were considered to be some of the country’s finest in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. They were even available in the dining car of the Orient Express during that golden age and they still have some fascinating advertising material from the 1910s and 1920s.

The estate was nationalised by the post-war Communist government, but in 1999 Baroness Ileana Kripp, the great-granddaughter of Prince Barbu Ştirbey, together with her Austrian lawyer husband, Baron Jakob Kripp, set about reclaiming her family’s long lost property. They were successful and by 2001 were producing wine, with the help of Oliver Bauer a modest and jovial winemaker from Württemberg in Germany. Today they farm 25 hectares and produce around 100,000 bottles.

I like their wines – they make a particularly fine traditional method sparkling wine from the indigenous Crâmpoşie Selecționată grape. It is called Prince Ştirbey Vin Spumant Extrabrut and is available from company in Germany – click here.

My Wine of the Week though is their fine Negru de Drăgășani. As its name might imply, this grape comes from this region of Romania and is a crossing of  Negru Vartos, indigenous to southern Romania, and the Saperavi from Georgia. The grapes were handpicked, carefully selected and then de-stemmed before being fermented in stainless steel tanks. It was then aged for 12 month in 300 litre Romanian oak barrels.

The colour is gorgeous, like freshly crushed blueberries, while the nose is aromatic and intensely fruity with a soft spice and gentle smoke. The palate is rich and concentrated, bursting with ripe blackberry, cherry and blueberry fruit. There is spice here too, black pepper and something softer and exotic like clove. There is some nice freshness that makes the wine feel very balanced, while the tannins are really velvety and smooth, which gives the wine an almost creamy feel. In many ways this reminds me of a very fine and ambitious Barbera and gives us a relatively rare chance to try a top-end Romanian wind – 91/100 points.

Try this with charcuterie – Romanians eat a lot of things like that – and with rich warming casseroles, even spicy chilli con carne would work.

Available in the UK at £14.50 per bottle from Oddbins.