NOT SO PETIT!

PETIT CHABLIS IS SO MUCH BIGGER.

 

Puzzling to find a wine partner for a cracking salmon rillettes recipe with a top chef recently the winner of my matching taste-off was a Petit Chablis 2014 from William Fevre. The choice confirmed my thoughts gathered on a recent trip to Chablis, “the Chablisienne should try and find another name for Petit Chablis”.

I often hear wine enthusiasts say it’s “Chablis that didn’t make the grade”, “from young vines” or “from poor vineyards”. Sadly, it’s not surprising as the name does suggest an inferior wine but after tasting in Chablis for 2 days, believe me, from a good producer Petit Chablis deserves a far better name. William Fevres’ crisp, citrus ‘PC’  belies its handle and took the salmon rillettes to another level.

The Chablis vineyards surround the quiet stone walled town of Chablis in central France and are part of Burgundy, even though they’re over an hour’s drive north of Beaune, the region’s spiritual capital. But, in true Burgundian style, the vineyards are the key to Chablis quality. The French have a name for all the stuff that makes a vineyard good, bad or amazing be it soil, aspect, drainage, microclimate, protection, slope etc, etc. That word’s ‘terroir’. It’s a strange ‘mot’ but it comes in handy sometimes.

The Petit Chablis vineyards are generally located on the exposed plateaux above the hillside vineyards and whilst the vines don’t grow on the superior Kimmeridgian limestone slopes, like their wines, their Portland stone soils are under-rated.

Nonetheless, Petit Chablis is the entry category of the four Chablis appellations, the others being Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. Because of their superior ‘terroir’, Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards produce better grapes which in turn, produce better wines, “you get a bit more of everything with a Grand Cru”, smiles Elaine Defaix of Domaine Benard Defaix. There is a downside of course. Petit Chablis and Chablis rock in at about £12 and £16 respectively, Premier Cru will set you back about £25 and, deep breaths, Grand Cru can carry a £50 tag. The upside is that there’s a Chablis for all pockets.

Being Burgundy, the Chardonnay grape is king and the very best vineyard plots, the seven Grand Cru’s of Blanchots, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudesir, lie on the steep, protected, south-west facing Kimmeridgian slopes that overlook the River Serein and the town. There are 40 Premier Cru vineyard plots and two, Montee de Tonnerre and Fourchaume, flank the Grand Crus on these treasured ‘Right Bank’ slopes.

More Premier Cru vineyards, including Cote de Lechet, Vaillons and Montmains, lie behind the town on south-east facing ‘Left Bank’ slopes but, that said, it’s difficult to define exact slope directions within Chablis’ complex contours, as the ever rolling indulations create critical protection and sun exposure in ever changing measure.

The A.C. (Appellation Controllee) Chablis vineyards still lie on the respected Kimmeridgian soils but their sites are less beneficial than the Premier and Grand Cru sites, again showing the vital importance of ‘terroir’, especially aspect, slope and microclimate, in a chilly northerly region where praying for sunshine and fighting for ripeness is an annual event.

I was in a restaurant recently when the next table ordered a 2014 Grand Cru Chablis. I checked the wine list. £120! Ouch! My recent trip confirmed my thoughts as I watched the wine being reverently poured; for me, Grand Cru’s needs 5–10 years to reach their full potential so he’d have been better off ordering a Premier Cru. And, it would have saved him a fortune t’boot!

The producers that produced my widest smile on my recent trip? Jean-Marc Brocard, Christian Moreau, Samuel Billaud, Seguinot- Bordet, William Fevre, Bernard Defaix and Domaine Raveneau. Pull the cork on any of their wines, be it Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier or Grand Cru …. happy days!

DON’T POOH-POOH BEAUJOLAIS.

BEAUJOLAIS’ BACK!

 

Some Burgundy winemakers pull their noses up at Beaujolais but, like it or not, these hilly picturesque vineyards just up the road from Macon, are an integral part of the illustrious Burgundy region of central France. I recently matched a cracking Beaujolais with a delicious truffled brie in brioche recipe … the response was instant and positive  .. wow!

Why do they pooh-pooh their neighbour? It has a lot to do with grape varieties; Burgundy’s red is the classic Pinot Noir whilst Beaujolais’ red grape is Gamay. Many see Gamay as the poor relation but as investment pours into Beaujolais, this lesser known variety is producing some super wines. The clever wine buyer has already realised that good Beaujolais represents good value. After just one sip, the clever food matcher realised that the Chateau des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent 2012 I recommended with its crisp, bright cherry and red berry fruit and friendly tannins took the truffled brie dish to even greater heights.

Beaujolais’ image has taken a hammering in the past thanks to Beaujolais Nouveau. This once heavily marketed but all too often disappointing wine that was picked in September, made soon after, released in November and had the winemaker’s bank accounts bulging by Christmas, has a lot to answer for. Many readers will remember the ‘third Thursday in November’ when the ‘Beaujolais Est Arrive’ signs appeared outside local restaurants. Amazingly, at its peak in 1992, Beaujolais Nouveau accounted for more than half of all Beaujolais wine sold.

The consumer eventually saw through Nouveau’s lack of quality and sales dropped dramatically. Happily, out of the embers, the wines of Beaujolais are now fighting back to gain the respect they deserve. The ‘cru’ Beaujolais wines are leading the charge.

The top ‘cru’ wines come from the granite schist vineyards of Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Moulin-a-Vent, Chenas, St. Armour and Regnie, all ten wines being named after their ‘cru’ villages. Although the “Top Ten” are generally drunk young, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent from a good winemaker, generally have a little more oouumpph and will reward a few years in the cellar. Fleurie and Julienas are probably the best known labels and therefore carry a premium, especially in restaurants. So, be adventurous and try one of the other cru’s and save a few bob at the same time!

If the Beaujolais cru’s are the top wines of Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages are next in the pecking order, these vineyards covering 39 designated schist-granite ‘village’ plots in the northerly Haut Beaujolais. They stand between the 10 crus and straight Beaujolais and account for about 6000 hectares of vineyard amongst the total Beaujolais vineyard area of 22,000 hectares. As most of these villages are little known, (Langtigne and Lancie for example), the wines are generally sold under the ‘Beaujolais-Villages’ label.

Go on, go back to Beaujolais. There’s one for every pocket; the Louis Jadot’s Chateau des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent 2012 carries a £15.99 price tag but if that’s a bit steep, Jadot’s Chapelle aux Loups, Beaujolais-Villages at £8.99 also fights above its weight.

 

WAITING FOR GODELLO.

A chef recently asked, “match for crayfish salad John?”

I’d never heard of Godello until a few years ago but now this Spanish grape variety is on most of our wine shelves. Godello is here to stay; it’s easy to pronounce, the wines taste good and, it makes a cracking partner for crayfish salad.

Godello comes from north-west Spain where the vineyard areas of Bierzo, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra and Monterrei have taken this ‘new kid on the block’ to heart. Godello thrives in Bierzo amongst the mountains, castles and pine forests of this beautiful vineyard region.

Bierzo is a small, remote ancient region in the north-western corner of the Castilla y León province close to the border with Galicia, (north of the Portuguese border) and is one of Spain’s rising stars. If you want to spend a few days in the vineyards the nearest airport is Vigo on the coast but if fancy walking, the market town of Cacabelos is a well known resting point along the world famous Camino de Santiago. When the pilgrims arrive in Bierzo with blistered feet ‘the end is in sight’ for Santiago de Compostella is just up the road.

Bierzo gained its D.O. (Denominacion de Origin) in 1989 and comprises two zones, Bierzo Alto (high Bierzo), where terraced plots cling to steep slopes and Bierzo Bajo (low Bierzo), the plain below. The vineyards lie between 450 and 1000 metres above sea level their soils varying from the alluvial plain to the prestigious high level slate. The region’s cool climate is a result of the influence of the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Although summer temperatures can be in the mid to high twenty degrees centigrade, winter temperatures as low as four degrees make it no surprise that the clever pilgrim takes to the well trodden path under the springtime sunshine.

The dry, zesty, crisp citrus, apricot and peach flavours of Godella lift the crayfish wonderfully and, somewhat surprisingly, also fight their corner with a citrus dressing.

With more people pooh-poohing many food and wine matches, (I can see where they’re coming from), I think it’s also worth pouring a glass of Bierzo red, made from the little known Mencia grape. I prefer the Godello with the crayfish but let me know what you think. For all my anorak readers; for years it was rumoured that Mencia was related to Cabernet Franc, the red grape of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux but recent DNA tests show that the nearest link is Portugal’s Jaen variety. Don’t worry, I’d never heard of Jaen either!

Bierzo’s reds of old were simple rustic affairs but things have changed as a new generation of winemakers have realised Mencia’s potential to produce bright, black fruit, plum wines.

You may see ‘Crianza’ on the labels of Bierzo reds; this means that the wine must by law be aged for a minimum of 6 months in oak barrels and a minimum of 18 months in bottle before hitting our shelves. ‘Reserva’ means that it must spend at least 12 months in oak and 24 months in the bottle before release.

So, look out for Bierzo, you’ll be well rewarded, especially if you crack open the Godello with the crayfish salad ……. ‘no more waiting for Godello!

 

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WHISTLE STOP TOUR OF SPAIN.

Grandes Pagos de Espana.

 

As the world’s winemakers look to single vineyard wines to mark them out from the crowd, a trip through southern Spain with the Grandes Pagos de Espana took one-up-manship to a different level. Grab your passport and join me on this whistlestop tour.

The Grandes Pagos de Espana are an association of top Spanish single wine estates, “equivalent to the Grand Crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy”, according to President Carlos Falco. There are 30 member estates spread throughout Spain from Rioja in the north to Jerez in the south; you can check them all out at www.grandespagos.com. Look out for the black square logo on the back label. That said, I think the logo’s too small and should include “Single Estates of Spain” below “Grandes Pagos de Espana” to better explain the concept to the global consumer.

We flew into Madrid and then took a smooth 3 hour plus train journey south to Jerez – the train is a great way of seeing Spain by the way. We were welcomed by the Sherry Bodega of Valdespino and under the 30 degree sun walked the legendary white chalk (Albariza) Macharnudo vineyards before exploring their cathedral-like cellars, tasting wines that ranged from Fino (bone dry and nutty) to sweet, honeyed Moscatel. Crack open a bottle of Valdespino Don Gonzalo Dry Olorosso as an aperitif when your guests arrive this weekend.

A short drive from Jerez found us at Finca Moncloa where winemaker Jose Manuel Pinedo is passionate about blending classic varieties with traditional Tempranillo. Finca Moncloa is an attractive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Tempranillo.

From Jerez we drove east across the mountains to Ronda, the incredible white walled town that straddles its famous deep rock gorge; the wines from the region surprised me bigtime. After a barrel tasting in Los Aguilares’ cool winery we enjoyed their refreshing crushed strawberry (Tempranillo and Petit Verdot) Rosado 2014 in the vineyards under a 300 year old oak. At lunch we opened Aguilares’ acclaimed Tadeo 2012 (100% Petit Verdot) and Pago El Espino (Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Merlot). Aguilares’ Pinot Noir surprised me – how is it possible to make such a balanced wine from this most flirtatious of grapes in such a hot climate? Crisp and controlled, this red fruit beauty was an eye opener.

Then it was back to Madrid for a night on the town before an early start and the high speed train heading south-east to Albacete; we were there by 11.00 to be whisked off to Finca (Estate) Elez near El Bonillo, a small, deserted village in La Mancha. In the heart of Spain and the middle of nowhere at over 1000 metres above sea level, the daytime summer temperatures climb to 40 degrees plus; evidently no worries to the Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay vines. ‘MM’ Escana barrel-aged Syrah 2007 showed well, the Escana Syrah 2013 even better. In case you’re wondering, ‘MM’ is the owner of the estate, the famous Spanish actor Manuel Manzaneque.

A drive across the dry plains of La Mancha saw us in Bobal (grape) territory. At Finca Sandoval, a Bobal, Syrah and Monistrell (aka Mouvedre) blend grown on limestone soils in the cool 2013 vintage produced a crisp, tannin edged blackberry red of note.

An hour’s drive east saw us at Bodega Mustiguillo near Utiel, just 90 kilometres from Valencia where Bobal is still king. Some of their vines date back to 1919; these knurled vines, each yielding just three bunches produce dense, tannic wines. Tannin plays a big part in Bobal wines, so they’re excellent with food … Mustiguillo’s Quincha Corrall 2012 caught the eye – that’s if you can stretch to an £50 price tag. If £18 sounds better, pull the cork on Mustiguillo’s Finca Calvestra.

At Mustiguillo I discovered a new white grape variety called Merseguera. I don’t think Chardonnay will be losing too much sleep but it’s well worth a try.

A 300 kilometre car dash back to Madrid, the ‘plane to London Gatwick and home to 13 degrees; how to lose 20 degrees in just 2 hours! Happily I didn’t lose the memories of an amazing country and some wonderful wines all linked by the Grandes Pagos de Espana label.

BUBBLES ALL THE WAY FOR 2017.

CHEERS! TO A SPARKLING NEW YEAR.

 

With New Year just around the corner, pop the cork on a sparkling wine and it’s jingle bells all the way. The days when Champagne had it all its own way are long gone for our wine shelves are now groaning with bubbles from all over the world. And there’s more good news; as our credit cards take a festive pounding you can now find a sparkler to please most palettes and pockets.

 

Champagne is still the King of Sparklers and Taittinger Brut Reserve N.V. (Non Vintage, £30) is a great sip from the chilly vineyards of north-east France. Champagne is generally a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes and is made by a second fermentation in the bottle where a little more sugar and yeast is added to a still dry wine to produce a little more alcohol and a little more carbon dioxide – the fizz. The time the wine spends on ‘the lees’, (the dead yeast cells) in the bottle following the second fermentation is an important quality and taste factor for any sparkler. Taittinger N.V. spends 3 years on the lees in their cool Reims cellars to give the crisp citrus peach flavours attractive nutty yeast overtones. ‘A great partner for your smoked salmon nibbles by the way.

 

Cava will also help your celebrations go with a swing. This Spanish sparkler is made in the same way as Champagne but from different grape varieties; Xarello (gives acidity), Macabeo (soft, floral) and Parallada (richness) give a completely different taste sensation. You can pour a cracking Cava for ten pounds; Anna de Codorniu Brut Nature N.V. Cava really hits the spot. If you’re feeling rich try Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva “Terrers 2008” from Recaredo (£30). For Cava, the minimum time any wine can spend “on the lees” is 9 months, Anna had 12 months. The Terrers 2008 spent nearly 6 years on the lees! The result is a nutty, crisp, citrus beauty that makes a classy aperitif as your guests arrive.  

 

You could really sparkle and ‘go Italian’ on New Years Eve with a bottle of Franciacorta. From the Lombardia region of northern Italy towards the Swiss-Austrian border, Chardonnay is the major player but Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc can also join the blend. It’s not cheap but it’s a wonderful alternative to Champagne and often has a price tag £10 lower than the King of Sparklers. Ricci Curbastro Brut, for example, tips the scales at £20. The Franciacorta winemakers are proud that 14 million bottles of Franciacorta stay on the lees for 18 months, “that’s 3 million more than Champagne”, they boast.

 

Chile has been producing sparkling wines for decades and they’re improving year on year. Montes have recently released their ‘Sparkling Angel’ (£15), a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from their ocean-cooled Zapallar vineyards in the Aconcagua Valley about 80 kilometres north of Santiago. The back label proudly announces that the ‘bottle fermented wine has been aged ‘on its lees’ for 3 years.

 

The famous Champagne House of Moet et Chandon use all their winemaking expertise in Argentina to make the Chardonnay-Pinot Noir Chandon Rose N.V. (£15). It’s well worth a pour as 18 months on the lees gives the rich vibrant strawberry fruit an attractive yeasty edge.

 

New Year would not be the same without a bottle of English Sparkling, the wine that’s taking the world by storm and giving Champagne a run for its money in international competition. I couldn’t think of a better festive afternoon than one spent with a bottle of ‘ESW’, a group of friends and a slice or two of Christmas cake. Some of my favourites? Hambledon Classic Cuve, Exton Park Rose, Nyetimber and Ridgeview, all of which carry a price tag of about £30. As the World’s  no. 1 fan, I raise a glass of English Sparkling Wine with my best wishes for a Vintage New Year.

 

CORPORATE BORDEAUX!

‘BORDEAUX’D ON THE FANTASTIC.

 

I’m on a mission; to make wine work for you.

In this case, a construction company and their clients.

 

I’ve just returned from accompanying twelve CEO’s on a corporate ‘jolly’, sorry ‘educational visit’ to the vineyards of Bordeaux. It was fantastic. The Bordelais have a reputation for not being visitor friendly but that was completely busted as they opened their doors and their bottles with a broad smile.

We were on the early bird 6.45 B.A. flight (oouchh) but it was worth it as we were on the magnificent lawns of Chateau Palmer near the ‘left bank’ village of Margaux by 10.30 (and we lost the hour!) Our private visit of the cellars ended with a super tasting; second label Alter Ego 2011 (£56) was followed by Chateau Palmer 2006 and 2007. The 2006, made from Cabernet Sauvignon (66%) and Merlot (34%) with its dense blackberry, friendly fine grained tannins and lingering finish was my favourite; that’s if you have a spare £175 in your back pocket.

“Left Bank?”, I hear you say. For once Wine Trade lingo is useful;  guess what, the Left Bank vineyards are on your left hand side as you sail up river towards the Atlantic.

We then drove north to the village of Pauillac through rolling gravel-soil vineyards, before sweeping into the impressive, towered chateau that is Pichon Baron, (pictured above). We were greeted by Christian Seely, Managing Director of AXA Millésimes (the chateau owners) who lead us into the ‘Hollywood’ cellars for a comprehensive, nay privileged, tasting which included 2012 and 2011 (cooler years) and 2010 and 2009 (sunny years and two of the best Bordeaux vintages). My best wine? The 2010 with its ripe fruit balanced with a lovely crisp tannic edge but again, at £100 plus you need deep pockets.

After a brilliant private lunch at Pichon (more amazing wine!) we didn’t really need a slap up dinner but as dusk fell we entered one of Rick Stein’s favourite restaurants, La Tupina, overlooking the River Garonne in the heart of Bordeaux. The wine list was reasonably priced and a few bottles of Chateau La Garde (£30) from the Pessac-Leognan vineyards south of the city were well received with Tupina’s signature meat dishes.

The next morning saw us on Bordeaux’s ‘Right Bank’, an easy 45 minute drive from our luxurious city centre hotel. We arrived early to stroll around Petrus, hallowed ground indeed as these blue clay vineyards in the heart of the Pomerol plateau produce bottles with £1000 price tags!

Spot on time (great coach driver, luxury coach!) we walked up the gravel drive of Pomerol’s Vieux Chateau Certan, another highlight for the excited group. The lofty barrel filled cellar was the venue for an exceptional tasting with the winemaker. The first glass, a barrel sample of 2015 brought applause all round, (my notes were ripe, silky, balanced, long), even though it probably had another 12 months to sleep in the barrels. The team had picked up the softer ‘Right Bank’ style, thanks to the higher proportion of Merlot (80%) in the blend. The other grapes in the 2015 were Cabernet Franc (19%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (1%) by the way. Other vintages tasted meant VCC, little known before, is now gracing a few more south of England cellars.

We then drove the short distance to Pomerol’s world famous Le Pin vineyard; at over Euro500 a bottle at the cellar (but not for sale!) the accountants in the team were quickly sharpening their pencils to calculate the annual balance sheets before realising that the production was exceptional but tiny.

Lunch beckoned but first one more private visit and tasting at St. Emilion’s Premier Grand Cru Classe Chateau Troplong-Mondot. Our lunch at Troplong-Mondot was superb which was no surprise as the restaurant boasts one Michelin Star. As we’d been drinking  Bordeaux for two days we rang the changes with lunch; Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy’s famous white (100% Chardonnay) was followed by Hermitage, the famous Syrah (100%) wine from the northern Rhone.

A relaxing beer in the afternoon sunshine that bathed St. Emilion’s famous square went down a treat before we left for the airport and our flight home. You guessed it, before we boarded we did share a top bottle of Bordeaux as our final toast to two, wonderfully vinous days spent amongst friends.

THREE DAYS IN CHABLIS.

NOT SO PETIT.

 

‘Just back from Chablis with a few thoughts. The first is that the Chablisienne should try and find another name for Petit Chablis. I often hear wine enthusiasts say it’s “Chablis that didn’t make the grade”, “from young vines or poor vineyards”. Sadly, this is not surprising as the name does suggest an inferior wine but after two days of tasting, Petit Chablis from a good producer deserves a far ‘bigger’ name. William Fevre, Samuel Billaud, Jean-Marc Brocard, Seguinot- Bordet and Francois Raveneau’s crisp, citrus Petit Chablis’ all belie their title. Ideas for a new name on a postcard please.

The Chablis vineyards surround the quiet stone walled town of Chablis in central France and are part of Burgundy, even though they’re over an hour’s drive north of Beaune, the region’s spiritual capital. But, in true Burgundian style, the vineyards are the key to Chablis quality. The French have a name for all the stuff that makes a vineyard good, bad or amazing be it soil, aspect, drainage, climate, microclimate, protection, slope etc, etc. That word’s ‘terroir’. It’s a strange ‘mot’ but it comes in handy sometimes.

The Petit Chablis vineyards are generally located on the plateaux above the hillside vineyards and whilst the vines don’t grow on the superior Kimmeridgian limestone slopes, like their wines, their Portland limestone soils are under-rated.

Nonetheless, Petit Chablis is the entry category of the four Chablis appellations, the others being Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. Because of their superior ‘terroir’, Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards produce better grapes which in turn, produce better wines, “you get a bit more of everything with a Grand Cru”, smiles Elaine Defaix of Domaine Bernard Defaix. There is a downside of course. Petit Chablis and Chablis rock in at about £12 ($15) and £16 ($20) respectively, Premier Cru will set you back about £25 ($30) and, deep breaths, Grand Cru can carry a £50 ($60) tag. The upside is that there’s a Chablis for all pockets.

Mother Nature has a lot to say in this mean northerly climate. Many producers’ harvests were 50-70% down in 2016 because of frost, hail and mildew and that was on top of a low yielding 2015 vintage which was for some 50% down due to hail just 2 days before picking … ouch! So, expect higher price tags coming to a wine shop near you.

The Chablis vineyards cover about 5500 hectares (ha.) in total, made up of a 100 ha. of Grand Cru, 800 ha. of Premier Cru, 3600 ha. of Chablis and 1000 ha. of Petit Chablis. Organic and biodynamic viticulture is popular across the Chablis vineyards although even the most dedicated devotees were sorely tested during the 2016 vintage. One organically certified winemaker told me that the vintage was so damaging they decided to spray, a decision not taken lightly as it cost them their organic certification, a status that will take three years to recover. That had me thinking, was that why some domaines are totally organic but did not want to be officially certified?

Talking of vintages, the 2014 vintage with its pure line of acidity balancing crisp, arrowed citrus fruit was my star. The fruiter 2015 has less ‘tension’ (good Chablis tasting note!) but, looking on the cellar-side, the vintage does give us all something to enjoy whilst we wait for the 2014’s to hit their peak.

Seeing ‘vielles vignes’ (old vines) on several Chablis labels reminded me to ignore this impressive announcement. The expression has no legal description and so can be used by any winemaker to denote their oldest vines… even though they may only be say 15 years old …. that’s hardly old vines folks! Annoyingly, this use of ‘vielles vignes’ detracts from domaines that take real pride in making complex wines from their old knurled vines; Seguinot- Bordet’s Chablis ‘Vielles Vignes’ is made from 78 year old vines whilst Bernard Defaix’s Cote de Lechet 2014 Reserve is produced from 60 year old vines. The importance of knowing if the wine really is ‘Veilles Vignes’ is highlighted by Julien Brocard, “our vielles vignes wines age as well, if not better than our Grand Crus over a 30 year period”.

Being Burgundy, the Chardonnay grape is king and the very best vineyard plots, the seven Grand Cru’s of Blanchots, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudesir, lie on the steep, protected, south-west facing Kimmeridgian slopes that overlook the River Serein and the town. There are 40 Premier Cru vineyard plots and two, Montee de Tonnerre and Fourchaume, flank the Grand Crus on these treasured ‘Right Bank’ slopes.

More Premier Cru vineyards, including Cote de Lechet, Vaillons and Montmains, lie behind the town on south-east facing ‘Left Bank’ slopes but that said, it’s difficult to define exact slope directions within Chablis’ complex contours, as the ever rolling indulations create critical protection and sun exposure in ever changing measure.

The A.C. (Appellation Controllee) Chablis vineyards lie on the respected Kimmeridgian soils but their sites are less beneficial than the Premier and Grand Cru sites, again showing the vital importance of ‘terroir’, especially aspect, slope and microclimate elements, in a chilly northerly region where praying for sunshine and fighting for ripeness is an annual event. “The location of the slope is more important than the angle of the slope” explains Chablis expert Eric Szablowski.

As a general rule, Petit Chablis and A.C. Chablis are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel vats with little use of oak ageing whilst Premier and Grand Cru wines are often part fermented in old French oak barrels, “we barrel ferment 50% of our Premier and Grand Cru’s in old oak barrels; we only use 2% new oak”, confirms Christian Moreau. Francois Raveneau on the other hand ferment their wines in stainless steel before ageing in old French oak barriques, “we age for about 10 months depending on the vintage; because of its fruitiness our 2015 had less barrel ageing”, explained Isabelle Raveneau.

I was in a restaurant recently when the next table ordered a 2014 Grand Cru Chablis. I checked the wine list. £120! ($150!) Ouch!! My tastings in Chablis brought back memories of that candle-lit night. IMHO., Grand Cru’s needs 5–10 years to reach their full potential so they’d have been better off ordering a bottle of Premier Cru. And, it would have saved them a fortune t’boot!

The best producers from my recent trip? Jean-Marc Brocard, Christian Moreau, Samuel Billaud, Seguinot- Bordet, William Fevre, Bernard Defaix, Philippe Charlopin and Francois  Raveneau. Pull the cork on any of their wines, be it Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier or Grand Cru … you’ll taste the dedication.

 

 

A SPARKLING CORPORATE EVENT……….

WITH ESW ….. AND, IT’S JUST DOWN THE ROAD.

 

English Sparkling Wine is taking our shelves, newspaper columns and wine enthusiasts by storm. So much so that this summer I’ve accompanied two of my corporate clients into our beautiful Surrey and Hampshire vineyards; in previous years they’d insisted on a visit to Champagne. It’s not difficult to see why ‘ESW’ is so popular, for a start it’s regularly beating Champagne at international tasting competitions, much to the annoyance of the Champenois!

Champagne may still be the bubble to beat but England is similar to the king of sparklers in so many ways. England’s chilly, northerly climate is similar to the Champagne region in north-east France and, what’s more, Champagne’s famous chalk soils slide under Paris, dip under the Channel and emerge in the south of England …… the white cliffs of Dover and all that?

It doesn’t stop there. The grape varieties are the same. The ‘Champagne’ grapes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier now account for over fifty per cent (and growing) of all English vineyard plantings and, as English bubbly is made in exactly the same way as Champagne, you can see why for me, English Sparkling Wine is the ultimate Champagne lookalike.

To get the best out of a day’s event in the English vineyards you need to get an early start. We started with a hearty breakfast at the Anchor Inn in Lower Froyle after which my “Become a Wine Expert in 30 minutes” chat prepared  the group for all the ‘wine lingo’ the day would present. It always amazes me how we wine types spout on about acidity, balance, tannins, finish, oak etc. without any explanation. ‘Just crazy.

We then popped around the corner to Jenkyn Place vineyard; a few sparklers under a blue sky in their tasting gazebo (Rose NV, £35) was a great start to the day. Back on the luxury coach, we set off for Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire; the countryside through the Meon Valley en route was stunning. Hambledon’s owner, an ex. City man, has invested millions into the vineyard and the shiny new winery; the tasting went down a storm. Their Classic Cuvee (£30, www.waitrosecellar) is one of my favourites.

The group were by now very excited about ESW and were about to bubble over at the impressive 55 acre Exton Park Estate where we were greeted by winemaker Corinne Seely and vineyard manager Fred Langdale. The weather was hot and sunny so they organised the tasting amongst the vines. What a success, the guy’s are still talking about it! My favourite? Blanc de Blancs 2011 (£37.50 at www.butlers-winecellar.co.uk); the clue’s in the name – it’s made with 100% Chardonnay.

Corinne explained that Champagne and English Sparkling are made in the same way with a second fermentation in the bottle. Here a pinch of sugar and a touch of yeast is added to a dry, still white wine before the bottle is sealed. The yeast reacts with the sugar to give a little more alcohol and carbon dioxide gas – the fizz.  This gas builds up in the sealed bottle and as it can’t escape becomes an integral part of the wine. Hey presto – we have English Sparkling!

After an exhilarating, sun and wine-filled morning (and early afternoon) we were now ready for a late lunch. A short drive into the ancient town of Winchester saw us in the private ‘Ruinart’ dining room at Hotel du Vin. A Champagne reception, followed by a selection of wines from around the world with each delicious course made for a brilliant, relaxing afternoon with client and guests as one by 4.30.

Many in the Wine Trade are convinced that English Sparkling will overtake Champagne in the future. With Champagne Taittinger buying a large slice of Kent and Pommery collaborating with Hattingley vineyard (near Alresford) there’s definitely something in the air. Where do I stand? I’m the world’s no. 1 fan.

 

 

DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER!

 

300 QUID … YOU’RE ‘AVING A LAUGH. 

 

A friend of mine’s wife gets really annoyed if I recommend wines over £10 in any of my wine columns, not to mention my mates in the pub, so I’m expecting a lot of flack this week. The wine in question? It’s Champagne Dom Perignon P2. 1996. ‘Case you’re wondering, no, I’m not having a laugh, it really is £300. Oh, that’s £300 a bottle, not £300 a case folks!

There’s Champagne and there’s Champagne. The bottle you and I pick off the shelf from time to time as we part with our 25 quid or so will probably be ‘Non Vintage’; that means that it’s a blend of several years’ grape harvests. If we push the boat out and splash £50 it’ll probably be Vintage Champagne, a wine made from grapes from a single, exceptional year’s harvest. As you’ll see, the message is the better the fruit, the better the wine, the higher the price. So, for 300 quid you’ll be expecting amazing fruit and a phenomenal wine! The wine is very special but £300? Mmmmmmmmm.

All of the top Champagne Houses have a flagship vintage brand; Veuve Clicquot has La Grande Dame, Louis Roederer has Cristal, Taittinger has Comtes de Champagne and Moet et Chandon has Dom Perignon. These carry price tags between £100-150 …. so how come this Dom Perignon P2 1996 is £300 I hear you say. Good question! The answer stirs heated argument but Moet et Chandon winemaker Richard Geoffroy was confident about his wines and his prices as he presented the first ever ‘vertical P2 Tasting’ in London …. I felt honoured to be amongst a small band of the good and the glorious of the British Wine Trade invited on that sunny spring London SW1 morning. I wouldn’t pay £300 for any bottle of wine but that said, such wines are the Rolls Royces and Bentleys of the Wine World and it’s no surprise that people who enjoy cruising in expensive motor cars may also revel in popping the cork of these vintage sparklers with a few chums.

The ‘P’ stands for Plenitude, “the state of being full or complete” and when Moet apply it to their ‘DP’ it’s linked to the age of the wine and how long it’s been lying on it’s ‘lees’, that is, on the dead yeast cells that lie on the bottom of the cellared bottle after the completion of the second fermentation. Richard Geoffroy explained that in Moet-speak, P1 covers the younger DP vintages of say 2004, 2005 or 2006 whereas P2 is Dom Perignon that’s been ‘on the lees’ for between 15 and 20 years; we tasted 1998, 1996, 1995 and 1993. The 1996 was my favourite; toasty citrus flavours with a tight line of mouthwatering acidity and a long, complex, creamy yet edgey finish. P3 wines by the way will be between 30 and 40 years old; that’s a lot of long term cash tied up in the cellars which of course, pushes up the price.

The P Plan is new to me but although the price tags scare me, I can understand the concept of letting a top Champagne develop to its full capacity; a P1 will have the depth, balance and harmony to be Dom Perignon but if kept on its lees will have the platform to produce P2’s and hopefully P3’s. Geoffroy explained that the lees are an excellent anti-oxidant for the wine, hence the freshness of all the P2’s on show. That said, 20 years is about the maximum lees contact period, “after 20 years there’s nothing more to gain”, Geoffroy explained.

Interestingly, the wines were poured in normal wine glasses and not flutes; a growing trend in Champagne and one that gets my vote, and has done for years. I was also pleased to see that Richard wasn’t decanting the Champagnes, “too harsh and more to loose than gain”, he thought.

‘Just off to buy a tin hat!

 

MARSALISCOUS.

CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THIS SICILIAN BEAUTY.

Marsala. Garibaldi Dolce. Pelligrino. (£10.00, Sainsbury’s).

Delia Smith boosted sales of Marsala years ago when she poured the amber liquid into one of her famous dessert recipes. Sadly, since then you rarely hear of this under-rated sweetie. That is, until now; you’ll be pleased you’ve caught a glimpse of this Sicilian Beauty.

Marsala is a fortified wine that, like Port, was strengthened with alcohol to help it survive the long sea journey to England way back in the eighteenth century. Marsala, named after the picturesque Sicilian coastal town, was a star on the shelves back then.

Like many Italian grapes, the varieties for Marsala are difficult to pronounce but if you follow the Italians and use your hands, Grillo, Cataratto and Inzolia just slide off the tongue! The DOC Wine Laws (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) for Marsala were revised in 1984 to control yields and allow additional grape varieties, namely Pignatello, Nerello Mascalese, Damaschino and Nero D’Avola. Now you see how important it is to use your hands!

Making Marsala is a complex business. The grapes are left on the vines in the near-African sun past the normal harvest date to produce higher sugar levels. The fermentation is stopped by the addition of high strength grape spirit which stops the fermentation stone dead, thus retaining the natural sugars and boosting the alcohol to a heavyweight 17–19% by volume. The fortification procedure depends on the desired level of residual sugar in the finished wine.

Then comes the unusual bit as two sweetening agents can be curiously added.

The first is called ‘mistella’ which is a blend of semi dried shrivelled grapes and wine alcohol. The second is called ‘cotto’ which is a strange concoction of cooked grapes … the smell of these grapes cooking in copper caldrons on the island is fantastic. How much of these sweetening agents is added again depends on the degree of sweetness of the final wine style. There are three sweet and two dry styles. ‘Told you that is was a complex business.

The first sweet style which goes under the confusing title of ‘fine’ is the ‘basic’ Marsala which has to have a minimum alcohol content of 17% and a minimum ageing period in wooden barrels of one year. The next is Marsala Superiore, (18% and 2 years ageing), whilst the next level up is Superiore Reserva that requires 4 years barrel ageing.

Image result for pellegrino marsala vineyard photos free

If you want to be different you could serve one of the dry Marsalas as an aperitif; look out for Vergine Soleras and Soleras Reserva. They’re ‘dry’ as none of the ‘gloopy goodies’ are added, only high strength spirit – the former requires 5 years ageing whilst the Soleras Reserva requires 10 years in the barrel to carry the prestigious label.

You have to be careful when choosing your preferred Marsala style. For example, Secco or dry, can carry up 40 grams per litre of residual sugar so is not actually ‘dry’, Semisecco, (semi-sweet) has 40 – 100 grams per litre, whilst Dolce has a tooth rattling 100 plus grams per litre of sugar. In these difficult times I can’t help but think that a simplification of Marsala styles would boost sales enormously but hey, nobody listens to me.

Matured in large oak casks for two years, Pellegrino’s Garibaldi Dolce (sweet) is rich, dark, and smooth and boasts 18% alcohol by volume. Marsala is not the flavour of the month so you may get some odd looks as you sneak the bottle off the shelf but it’ll all be worth it as you sit back, relax, sip and enjoy a glass of this luscious Sicilian beauty.

 

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