Les 5 du Vin

5 journalistes parlent du vin

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Valpolicella 2/2

Last week I attempted to present the complexity of the various denominations that exist within this fine wine region of the Veneto, in North-Eastern Italy. Here I will talk about a few of the producers there, following my recent visits and tastings.

This poorly framed and hastily taken shot of a relief map of the Valpolicella region explains quite a lot about the importance of site selection in this region. I always think that « site » is a much more suitable term than the very vague and tendentious term « terroir ». As you can see, it was taken at the Guerrieri Rizzardi estate, which has an interesting garden but whose wines did not impress me and so are not commented in this article. The section of hills to the left, just by the Lake of Garda, is devoted to the denomination Bardolino, which you can see is separated from that of Valpolicella by the river Adige that flows down from the Alps. Although made mainly from the same grapes, the styles of Bardolino is curiously different, lighter and slightly peppery according the the few that I tasted.

The 4 Castagnedi brothers who run this fine estate. Paolo, who did the honours so well on our visit, and who is in charge of the winemaking, is on the left. 

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio

I first encountered the wines of this producer a few years ago when I was part of a press trip to taste the Anteprima sessions of the Amarone wines in Verona. I remember especially liking this producer’s wine and later visited their premises, situated on a hilltop with spectacular views all around. You have to mean business to get there, but it is well worth the winding road uphill. This year I returned, taking a group of 3O with me. This winery belongs to a family called Castagnedi, of which four brothers currently managed all aspects. They produce a wide range of wines exclusively from their own vineyards which are divided amongst two neighbouring appellations: Valpolicella and Soave.

White wines (so NOT Valpolicella)

Scaia 2017 : made with the local variety Garganega, together with some Chardonnay, this is light, crisp and fresh, finely perfumed, quite delicious and retails for just 8,5 euros a bottle at the winery.

Soave 2017 : mainly Garganega with some Chardonnay. Just 4 grams of residual sugar, this is more rounded but just as fine. 8 euros.

Telos 2016 (no added sulfites) : a proof that one can make excellent wine without adding sulfites of one is very careful, technically speaking, at all stages. This is also a Garganega/Chardonnay blend. Rounded and nicely perfumed with a silky texture. Good intensity. 10 euros

Soave Superiore Monte Ceriani: 100% Garganega. This has more substance, as well as showing that touch of bitterness on the finish that one finds in so many italian wines, both white and red. It also has more complexity and greater length that the other Soave, so it justifies its title of « Superiore ». Not much more expensive either at 9 euros.

Red wines

See my article of last week for details of the intricacy of the various techniques used in Valpolicella and the appellations that correspond to these. One should also of course remember that within these technical and administrative boundaries, the individual style decided by each wine maker and the vineyard characteristics combine to create an infinite set of nuances that at times seem to cross these boundaries.

Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Monte Garbi

Lovely flavours of bitter cherries combine with with lots of delicacy in the wine’s texture. Very good length. At 12 euros, this is an excellent buy and a very good introduction to the Ripasso style.

Telos Rossa 2014

As mentioned in the white wine section, the Telos range is made without any added sulfites. The technical mastery of the Castagnedi brothers ensure that this is achieved without any deviation. The nose is especially lively, intense and with a slightly peppery edge. It makes me wonder whether this sharpness of focus is partly the result of the lack of added sulfites….to be investigated at some point). It also brings up the bitterness in the wine, perhaps to a point that makes it less agreeable to many. The tannins seemed a bit harsh also. I preferred the previous wines. Bring back the sulfites please! 11 euros

Valpolicella Superiore La Bandina 2013

This wine spent 24 months in large barrels (500 litre hogsheads), and at least another 12 months in bottles before being first put on the market. The nose is magnificent and the texture is fine. Good intensity and excellent length. 16 euros

Telos Amarone 2011

This « no added sulfites » range seems to be sold outside the Soave or the Valpolicalla designations: at least the wines are labelled and listed as such. The wine is clearly powerful in its aromas and flavours, with a fabulous quality of fruit. Full-bodied and refined at the same time Excellent length, but for me the balance tips just a shade on the alcohol side. It certainly has lasted perfectly without the protective cladding of sulfites. 25 euros

Amarone di Valpolicella, Selezione Antonio Castagnedi

The first impressions on the nose reminded my instantly of bitter chocolate and made me want to combine these two substances. Firmly structured, powerful and warm, with that unique (to Amarone) combination between rich fruit flavours and bitterness. I think that I preferred this wine to the one with no sulfites. 25 euros

Amarone di Valpolicella, Campo dei Gigli 2012

A single vineyard wine. Quite lovely, full of energy, intense and refined and showing the best overall balance of the Amarones tasted here to date. This is not to be missed by amateurs of the genre and is still well worth the higher price tag of 47 euros.

Amarone di Valpolicella Riserva Lilium Est 2007

This wine, which is only produced in the very best vintages, is aged in various containers for at least ten years before release. This is therefore the latest vintage available. It shows a slight whiff of volatile acidity on pouring, but who wouldn’t after ten years waiting in the sidelines? Nothing over the top, just enough to add a bit of lift and edge to the aromas. Huge richness and complexity. It has enormous length and its tannins are still surprisingly powerful. There is probably some of the Osoleta grape in the blend, which could explain this. I would keep this for another 5 or ten years before drinking it. One for collectors perhaps. 85 euros.

Recioto della Valpolicella, Argille Bianche 2011

Here, with the sweet but unfortified type of wine from the region, the nose is just packed with aromas of black chocolate and dark cherries. On the palate there is a magnificent and quite unique association between bitterness and sweetness. Splendid balance and, naturally, considerable length. 24 euros (half bottle).

Seen at the Serego Alighieri Estate, which still belongs to the descendants of Dante but which is managed by Masi: these beautiful 5OO litre hogsheads made of cherry wood. They finish their top wines in these after 18 months spent in oak barrels of the same size. They cost even more than the oak equivalent as the trees have not been grown with this usage in mind, so there is far more wastage on account of knots and so on. They add roundness and a certain perfume to the wines they hold, in particular Amarones.


This is certainly the best-known producer of the region, at least on export markets where it has pioneered the various types of local wines, especially in markets like Canada, the USA and Japan, and several others as well. Masi has conducted a lot of research into the drying process and used long, bamboo-slatted trays that are placed on racks and rotated in their air-conditioned drying chambers to ensure that there is not difference between the levels. It was interesting here to taste dried grapes from several of the local varieties they used, and to note that the Osoleta variety, which cannot exceed 10% in the blends, is almost totally dry and raisined at the end of the process. Its impact in terms of tannins is thus considerable and it seems to be used rather like salt and pepper to adjust this tannic aspect of the wines.

a rack of the grape drying trays at Masi’s cellars. The slats are made of bamboo, which is rounded so as not to break the skins, hard on the outside and very resistant to liquids.

Rosso Veneto, Campo Fiorin 2014 (50th anniversary)

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, and which seem to have much to do with marketing considerations, Masi has taken some of its wines, including this one, out of the Valpolicella designation. The acidity is quite pronounced the tannins are of average intensity but the bitterness shows that this has used the ripasso technique. Very dry finish. Decent wine, but a touch austere for my palate on that day.

Amarone du Valpolicella Classico, Costasera 2012

Moderately powerful in the impact of its alcohol, but extremely refined in both flavours and texture. It has excellent structure from fine, sinewy tannins. A very refined example of Amarone.


Bacchus lives! one of several in fact, sculpted in the wonderfully strange Villa della Torre which has been bought and gradually restored without destroying the spirit of the place by Allegrini. This is well worth a visit, and so are the wines. 

Allegrini is another well-known producer on export markets, but who uses, when compared to Masi, a slightly different approach to the technique for drying grapes for those types of the Valpolicella range that use them. This involves shallow plastic crates with just one layer of healthy bunches. As always, no grey rot at all is permitted as this would rapidly spread and spoil the process and the flavours. They do not air-condition their drying rooms, preferring strong ventilation which is helped by large built-in fans.

White wine (just one tasted)

Soave 2016. 80% Garganaga, 20% Chardonnay. Perhaps the best of the Soaves tasted on this trip, with a possible exception or two among those tried in wine bars but not noted (Pra, Pieropan, for example). Manages to combine good liveliness with a certain form of smoothness (the signification of the word « Soave » could be « suave »). Fine and relatively lingering on the palate. This is vibrant and clearly defined.

Red wines

Valpolicella Classico. 70% Corvina, 30% Rondinella. Complex spicy and smoky hints on the nose that mingle with bitter cherries and something more earthy. Very good, simply delicious, with lively fruit flavours and excellent length. This is certainly the best of the « basic » Valpolicellas that I tried during this trip.

IGT Veronese, Palazzo della Torre. 40% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 25% Rondinella, 5% Sangiovese. This unconventional blend removes it from the Valpolicella denomination, but it does use the Ripasso technique, « re-invented » as they say at Allegrini. In this instance, 70% of the wine is fermented directly after the harvest, and the remainder comes from bunches that are dried for 4 months before being pressed and the resulting juice blended into the base wine, thus restarting a fermentation. The difference being that skins are not used in this second « ripasso » process. The wine has plenty of intensity, but the tannins are far lighter than with the traditional Ripasso technique. Fine, juicy and long. Very good.

Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2014. The nose is magnificent ! Intense aromas of cherries and something a little yeast-like. Its very smooth and voluptuous texture wraps all this richness, like Sophia Loren dressed in satin. A lovely example of an Amarone. Gave this 17/20.

Other wines tasted in restaurants and wine bars

Quite a few were tried but I find it almost impossible to take notes when concentrating on other things like conversation, ordering the wines and ensuring that things run smoothly for the group that I was conducting in this case.

I did mention last week the fabulous Valpolicella Superiore from Dal Forno Romano. Despite the fact that this producer is not within the Classico part of Valpolicella, this wine was clearly at a level above the others, both in its intensity and sheer quality, and also in its probable ageing capacity. The fact that it sells from about four times the prices of the others is also a consideration of course. Cult wines are usually « cult » for a reason, and in this case it is clearly one of quality. But one must be able to pay the prices asked to be able to enjoy them.

Map of Verona, through which flows the Adige, very full of water last week. Great place for a morning run along the banks

Go there and taste the wines! The landscapes and the buildings are often very spectacular and Verona is a beautiful city full of good wine bars and just so close to the vineyards. And now you know that there is much more to Valpolicella than the indifferent stuff from the big cooperatives and so on that fill the wine lists of pizza and pasta places around the world.

David Cobbold

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Miscellaneous, or a mixed bag

I did one of these a while ago on this site: a mixed bag of various topics. Not having any major (all things are relative!) subject to fill these pages, I have settled this week on various subjects that merit a comment or two but do not fully explore any of the topics concerned. Do we ever anyway?

Wine Press: a sad state of affairs, at least in France 

First up is a comment on the sorry state of the wine-related press in France today. If one is talking about those magazines sold in kiosks (and not merely by subscription), there are just a couple of these devoted to wine, and several others that purport to deal at least partially with the subject. And none of these are truly international either. When I say partially, I should say that wine is occasionally mentioned in them, and only rarely in an interesting manner. An example that illustrates this is a magazine called Cuisine & Vins de France, which comes from the same press group as La Revue de Vin de France. Its title mentions wine alongside cuisine and in identical typography (see cover above) but when I leaf through the latest edition that has just come through my letter-box, I can only say that they should definitely change the title if they were honest. This magazine, which says it is a special springtime edition, does not contain a single article on wine. It consists of an endless collection of recipes, some of which have one line at the end suggesting a wine to go with the recipe in question. Some of these recommendations make sense, but not all, so I also question the competence of those who write these things.

For instance, suggesting that a Côtes-de-Provence Rosé would be a suitable match for a Carrot Cake containing 180 grams of sugar, plus another 100 grams of icing sugar, is surely not the best idea for a pairing. Sugar with sugar is the rule, otherwise the wine will just appear thin and acidic. Ok, so it is only a Côtes-de-Provence Rosé so no big loss there, except for your palate! There are also factual mistakes, such as saying that the appellation Côte-Roannaise is situated in the Rhône region whereas it is in fact in the Loire (both the département and and the wine region).  There is no mandatory wine training as a requisite for those who write about the subject, and I’m afraid this shows here!

Remarkable small Champagne producers, some fashionable some less so

It is striking to see, and not only in France, the constant rise of the small independent Champagne producer on restaurant and retail-store wine lists. Not in supermarkets, since the volumes required usually do not make this possible and also many such producers do not want to be associated with the image of modern distribution outlets and their price-slashing policies. I was in Champagne for a couple of days last week visiting a couple of these producers and they both told me how sommeliers, restaurateurs and some wine shops are increasingly interested in their wines for their intrinsic qualities, and not just for their lower prices than those of the big brands. Now of course the good major brands are still, on the whole, producing excellent Champagnes, and is is they who have created the market for Champagne in the first place. This should not be forgotten and indeed is fully recognized by the independent producers themselves. But there are, alongside, growing numbers of smaller producers whose wines are truly remarkable and, in some cases, have the added virtue of their singularity and traceablity. Being able to produce small quantity cuvées can give one an advantage in terms of precision as well as in creativity. Yann Alexandre, for example, from his base in the tiny and obscure village of Courmas just to the west of Reims, produces no less that 8 different cuvées from his 6 hectares, whose plots are spread out across a wide range of villages, in one case 80 kilometers from his base. This is largely the result of the very penalizing French inheritance laws which make parents divide their goods in equal shares amongst their children, and so render the maintaining of a viable production unit extremely expensive, and often practically inaccessible when land prices are high, as in Champagne or Burgundy. I had promised to visit Yann one day after discovering his wines in a collective tasting a while ago and I was not disappointed. All are good to very good and I especially liked his entry-level wine, called Brut Noir (curiously, as it actually contains some Chardonnay). I do feel that one should judge a producer first and foremost by his most accessible and widely sold product. His brochure as also exemplary in its clarity and simplicity. No windy waffling about the « nobility of terroir », but just a straightforward statement of what he does in his vineyards and simple, line by line mentions of the salient technical points of his wines. The prices are in what I would say is the mid-range for good small producers, between 25 and 35 euros for most bottles. This is still very reasonable given the quality of the wines and the fact (rare for a small producer) that he ages his wines for between 5 and 10 years before selling them.

Another good producer of the same ilk and also close to Reims is Pierre Trichet, in the village of Trois Puits, also with plots around and about. He has recently released a rare 100% Pinot Blanc, which is very good. Also a fine still wine, under the Côteaux Champenois appellation. Once again, I have a special weakness for his entry level wines, the two non-vintage cuvées, l’Authentique, a blend, and l’Heritage which is a pure Chardonnay. I recently drank the last bottle of a case that I bought a couple of years ago and these wines keep beautifully. Prices are even more accessible here, starting at just below 17 euros a bottle.

On another recent trip to Champagne for a book-signing evening, I was also able to taste again (it had been some years) some of the very fine wines of Erik de Sousa, whose vines are mainly in the Côte-des-Blancs region, around his base in Avize. He has become a bit of a star amongst independent producers,  and I expect that his prices have followed the ascending curve of his reputation, but the quality is truly remarkable, with incredible length and finesse in the three cuvées that I tried. He also knows the satisfaction of seeing his three children following in his footsteps, each with a role in the family business. An exemplary success story here.

Passion and wine

No, this is not going to be a torrid sexploitation passage, however much fun that might be. It was the theme given to the recent annual two day get-together of France’s Vignerons Independants association for which I have, for several years now, had the honour and pleasure of acting as moderator on two successive mornings of conferences and round tables. This year’s edition was held in the beautiful region of Beaujolais (and if you don’t believe me, just take a trip there, it is just north of Lyon and holds many treasures and a lot of fine wines).

A lot of people bandy the word « passion » about in connection with wine both on the consumer’s side of the fence and on the producer’s. Does it actually mean anything though? These two mornings certainly helped to enlighten us on the subject. Passion is probably essential in the production of fine wine, but it should not blind one to the realities of what is really a difficult business. It should rather be taken as a fueling system. It cannot be a substitute for knowledge, or for application and hard work. On my side of the fence, as a writer and teacher, I would say the same. It keeps one going and is, I think, a powerful source of energy in the transmission of messages and to capture an audience. But it should not make one blind to realities.

Is Austria going too far with their DAC system?

I have regularly praised the quality of Austrian wines here and elsewhere, but I feel that, administratively speaking, they are now following too closely in the footsteps of both France and Italy in multiplying too many separate sub-regional, some of which are very small, appellations under their DAC system. The latest DAC in date is called Rosalia. Situated in northern Burgenland, It used to have the status of Grosslage, which is a large but shared single designated vineyard. Just under 300 hectares in size, it had now become a DAC in its own right. There were already four separate DAC’s in Burgenland. What is the point of having yet another one, aside from making the not-so-simple even more complicated for the consumer? Why not just leave it as a Grosslage and have it mentioned under Burgenland or whatever on labels? And there will now also be three different wines authorized from this DAC. More and more layers, regulations and separate names do not facilitate understanding from far away, and maybe even for most Austrians. Keep it simple, stupid!

David Cobbold

PS. At the end of next week I will be in the Veneto region of North-East Italy, taking a group from a Paris wine club on some visits. I hope to tell you about some of the wineries visited and things seen, heard and tasted in this, Italy’s biggest region for appellation wines.

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Domaine Chiroulet, how to make Gascony great (and good)

The church of Heux, in Tanarèze, next to Domaine Chiroulet. Looks like a house with a bell-tower, welcoming you.

With my apologies both to Philippe Fezas and to the current US President for using and abusing a slogan of the latter’s campaign. Fezas is (thankfully) in no way comparable to Donald Trump, so do not get this allusion wrong! What he has achieved, however (and not just said that he would achieve) is to show the small world of wine just how good the wines from the Armagnac region of Gascony, both white and, more unusually, red, can be. He has done this by a combination of vision, competence, thought and hard work, to which one must naturally add the potential of his specific territory. And he has done this without the aid of any spectacular financial means: just his and his family’s hard-earned pennies and loans from the bank.

Philippe Fezas in front of some of his vessels

So where and what is this small pearl called Domaine Chiroulet? About 10 kilometers west of the ancient and sedate town of Condom, south nd a little inland from Bordeaux, and which is capital of the part of the Armagnac region know as Ténarèze, on rolling hills where vineyards are intersperced with pastures and fields of cereal crops, and the hilltops and crannies are covered with woods. The house and winery lie in a tiny hamlet called Heux (you pronounce the final consonant in Gascony), whose magnificent small charch that dates back to the 13th century is another local treasure. And Philippe Fezas’s top dry white wine comes from this hillside and goes by the name of « La Côte d’Heux ».

How it all started at Chiroulet, back in the late 19th century. Now tractors rule

The Chiroulet vineyards cover about 20 hectares, which is a surface that has been multiplied by four since Philippe’s father took over the estate that used to be a mixed farm and whose wines were mostly distilled to produce Armagnac. Armagnac is still produced here, but Philippe saw the possibility of also producing good wines, having started his professional career, having obtaned his enology diploma in Toulouse, at Tariquet, one of the the pioneers and current leaders of the local Côtes de Gascogne designation. The first step was to gradually reshape the vineyard by planting lower-yielding and more suitable varieties and clonal selections. Sauvignon Blanc, Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng have partially taken the place of Ugni Blanc for the whites, whilst Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Tannat have been planted to produce the red wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, also trialed here, has a hard job ripening here and has almost been abandoned after some years. The name Chiroulet comes from the Chiroula, a local cold wind that flows northwards from the Pyrennes to the south and probably just drops the temperature below the range needed for fully ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. Local climate explains a lot of things.

My tasting

The white wine range of Chirolet includes two dry and two sweet wines.

Terres Blanches 2014

Gros Manseng, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc (retail cellar-door price : 7,20 euros)

Quite firm and its natural acidity is still well in place. Clean and well made with fruit flavour still fresh, if a little simple, and a pleasant hint of bitterness on the finish (13/20)

Terres Blanches 2016

Slightly fuller in body, softer and rounder with lots of charm and good complexity. I also found the flavours more precise and the length superior to the 2014. A good wine at this price. (14,5/20)

Terres Blanches 2017 (recently bottled)

Still very pale in colour and with some CO2 lurking inside. The texture has not yet smoothed out and it seems dominated by that slightly grassy Sauvignon character. Not quite in place yet for me.

La Côte d’Heux 2016

100% Gros Manseng (retail cellar-door price 9,50 euros)

A different style of dry white wine here with fuller body and a rich feeling of tropical fruit flavours on the palate that totally avoids any heaviness thanks to its crisp freshness. Lovely balance and good finish (15/20)

La Côte d’Heux 2012

Just to show the fine ageing capacity of this wine! Point well made here with glorious richness and intensity of flavours. Deliciouly fresh and long. Excellent (16/20)

Soleil d’Automne 2016 (semi-sweet white)

Gros & Petit Manseng (retail cellar-door price : 8,70 euros)

The flavours are intense and complex in a fine balancing act that shows fruit and roundness to the fore, then lingering freshness to lift the finish. Good and easy to dring (15,5)

Vent d’Hiver 2014 (sweet wine)

100% Petit Manseng (retail cellar-door price : 15,50 euros)

Another delicoups wine, with even more intensity in both the fruit flavours and the freshness. As long as it is lively. (16/20)

A Rosé

Le Temps des Fleurs 2017

Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tannat (retail cellar-door : 6,25 euros)

Fne texture for this delicously crisp rosé that combines floral and fruity flavours with excellent precision. Good persistance. As with so many contemporary rosés, I would love to see a bit more colour here, and this would also bring more flavour elements. But fashion seems to rule the rosé market, sadly! A very good buy. (14/20)

Red wines (range of 3 wines)

Terroir Gascon 2016

Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tannat (retail cellar door price : 7,70 euros)

Fermentation, maceration and mturing in a mixture of concerete and wooden vats plus some used wood barrels.

Quite an intense ruby red colour. Flavours of plums and prunes. Slightly rustic texture but very precise and fine fruit quality. Good value (14/20)

Grande Réserve 2015

Merlot, Tannat (retail cellar door price : 13,50 euros)

Intense ruby to purple colour. The nose still shows some influence from the barrel ageing, but the textural effect of this is most beneficial, making the sensation on the palate smooth without destroying the impression of freshness. Careful extraction has not impeded excellent length and the fresh silky finish signs a very fine wine et this price level. (15,5/20)

Grande Réserve 2014

The colour does not seem any older than the 2015. The wood ageing is still very noticeable with its added flavours of spices. Rich and suave on the palate, very juicy and flavoursome (15/20)

Terra Nostra 2009

Tannat, Merlot (retail cellar-door price : 23,50 euros)

I cannot do this even more ambitious wine proper justice as I tasted it during a meal. I found the oak once again a bit too invasive. The acidity is also still lively and this wine seems amazingly young for a nine-year old. Quite chunky still. (no mark, to be fair)

Philippe Fezas has not finished surprising us with the quality of his Gascony wines. A trip around his vineyard showed me how carefully and thoughtfully they are farmed. His modern winery, inaugurated in 2010, and totally self-sufficient in energy, uses the best of technology in a sensible way in order to make the most of his grapes. He has more ideas than I can list here, moving forward, and I am keen to see how things will evolve in the future, with his forestry plans amongst other things. For the moment, here we have a very fine range of wines from Gascony with, in all probability, even greater things to come.

David Cobbold

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2018 Loire Millésime approaches + recently tasted

Surplus to

A leg brace that is now thankfully surplus to requirements

Loch G2

Loch Gynack above Kingussie

when the weather is fine there are compensations
to convalescing in the Scottish Highlands

After spending all of 2018 to date in Newtonmore recovering from my slip on the ice on 2nd January as well as looking after my late mother-in-law, I looking forward to getting back to London this Friday. Then on Sunday I will be meeting up with some of my distinguished colleagues in Blois, including our grand fromage – Hervé –  for the second edition of Loire Millésime.

Last year’s Loire Millésime was held at the Abbaye de Fontevraud. Unfortunately this first edition coincided with some of the successive nights of frost that significantly reduced the 2017 crop for many Loire producers as well as in other parts of France like Bordeaux. Happily the long range forecast up to 30th April predicts that night-time temperatures will be well above freezing, so vignerons should be able to sleep peacefully in their beds.

During my time in Newtonmore I have been tasting some Loire wines, which producers have kindly sent me to ensure that I have not been totally unemployed. These have come from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages – all of which produced some very attractive wines. It has been particularly good to taste some 2017s I was unable to make my customary visit to the Salon des Vins de Loire and its associated tastings. This has confirmed the good impressions that I formed from visits during the harvest.

Here are some recent notes on wines:

2016 Le Petit Clos, Vouvray sec, Bernard Fouquet – Domaine des Aubuisières

This 2016 Vouvray Sec Le Petit Clos from Bernard Fouquet has terrific balance – a lovely blend of ripe fruit with vibrant acidity giving a typical austere Vouvray finish. This comes from a single vineyard with the vines planted on clay limestone. 

The 2016 is drinking well now but clearly has the potential to mature and develop over many years. Demonstration that Bernard Fouquet is among the best producers in Vouvray.   

2015 Jubilation, Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Le Pallet, Les Vignerons du Pallet

2015 Jubilation, Le Pallet, Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Le Pallet

Les Vignerons du Pallet

Le Pallet is one of the three Muscadet Cru Communaux that have been officially ratified (2011), although there are another four waiting to be officially ratified. Jubilation is made by the co-operative Les Vignerons du Pallet. Jubilation was the first of the cru communaux to be awarded a Gold medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

This ripe and rich 2015 Jubilation is far from a typical Muscadet Sèvre & Maine that one would typically match with shellfish. The 2015 Jubilation calls for a grilled or sauced fish dish or a chicken dish – either plain or pot roasted.

Still young it will be interesting to see how this 2015 cru develops. Will it gain additional complexity?  


2017 Anjou Rouge Domaine Ogereau – very drinkable


A delightfully drinkable, soft 2017 Anjou Rouge (100% Cabernet Franc) from Domaine Ogereau – one to enjoy now with its fresh, youthful black fruits rather than keep to see how it develops. Better to age the 2017 Anjou Villages, when it is released and which on this evidence should be very promising. 
If I were the Ogereaus I would bottle this in a screwcap as it is ideal to take on a picnic, so that there is no problem if you forget the corkscrew.









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Laissons nos a priori au vestiaire !

Oui, les préjugés en matière de vin ont la vie dure, et beaucoup d’entre nous, moi la première, y succombons.

Ainsi, reconnaissons-le, nous sommes enclins à penser que les petites productions émanant de domaines de petite taille sont forcément meilleures que les gros volumes. David le souligne souvent et il a raison. Il est de bon ton d’ignorer ou de railler les grandes maisons de vins, les négociants ou coopératives. En Espagne, des marques comme Freixenet, Codorniu ou encore Torres subissent le même sort. C’est très souvent injuste. De grands vins sortent de ces maisons. Il y a quelques jours, j’ai eu l’occasion d’ouvrir avec des amis deux bouteilles de chez Torres, absolument magnifiques: Torres Reserva Real 1998 Penedes et Grans Muralles 1998, Conca de Barbera

A priori, le premier, le Reserva Real 1998, n’a rien pour plaire, c’est un Torres, hors de prix (dans les 200 €) et de style bordelais puisque élaboré à partir de Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot et Cabernet franc. Les inconditionnels de cépages autochtones n’y goûteront pas! Et c’est tant pis pour eux. Soyons plus simples, plus libres, arrêtons de nous offusquer bêtement et goûtons tout sans a priori. 1998, c’est le premier millésime de ce vin sorti sur le marché.

Le second, le Torres Grans Muralles 1998 (dans les 120€) est issu de cépages locaux: Garró, Samso, Mazuelo, Garnacha Tinta, Monastrell. J’avais oublié ces 2 bouteilles à la cave et, je les ai ressorties avec beaucoup de curiosité. Bien sûr, j’aurais dû les décanter, mais dans le feu des conversations, j’ai oublié et personne n’a osé me le faire remarquer.

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Vous imaginez bien que je n’ai pas pris de note, entre la cuisine et  les invités, IMPOSSIBLE….simplement,  une première remarque, le temps qui passe convient parfaitement à certaines bouteilles ; je me souviens les avoir trouvées très boisées dans les années 2003/5,  élevées en fûts de chêne français de Nevers neufs, elles étaient forcément marquées dans leur jeunesse. A ce jour, le boisé est complètement intégré, il ne fait pas vraiment bordelais, il avait un caractère plutôt oriental. Quand au palais, les deux  vins, dans des styles différents offraient une trame sérieuse, élégante, de densité modérée mais très persistante. De la rondeur, un grain aimable, des tanins fins et voluptueux  aux épices nobles tracaient une bouche persistante. Un bel équilibre, de l’harmonie, que du bonheur! Deuxième remarque, évidemment ici, on ne peut pas parler d’une affirmation identitaire catalane, ni pour le premier ni pour le second d’ailleurs, qui pourtant lui était issu de cépages autochtones: avec le temps, l’évolution du bouquet a gommé un peu le terroir. Je pense qu’il était temps de boire le Grans Muralles. Ici, la signature Torres, attachée à une philosophie qualitative pour ses millions de bouteilles produites, et encore plus pour son haut de gamme, s’impose.

Les grands murs de Grans Muralles

Vous allez me dire que ces vins sont très chers, je rétorque que si nous les comparons à certains des grands crus de Bordeaux de 1998, qui valent plus du double, ils arrivent largement devant. Certes, il s’agit des grandes cuvées de la Maison Torres et je ne crains pas de dire que se sont de GRANDS VINS, racés,  que je n’ai pas honte de les mettre à ma table y compris quand je reçois de grands amateurs de vins !

Oublions nos préjugés, abattons les murailles, petites ou grandes, de nos esprits; soyons libres, moins « snobs »; pour cela, je conseille aux jeunes qui ont tendance à se tourner uniquement vers les vins dits nature de ne pas s’enfermer, d’apprendre les bases, de goûter les classiques, de tous les terroirs, de déguster les vins de coopératives, de négoce…. Il est nécessaire de former son palais pour mieux juger et sans a priori.

Hasta pronto,

Marie-Louise Banyols

7 Commentaires

« Natural » wines: time to stop posing and ripping off customers?

A few years ago, my excellent and esteemed colleague Hervé Lalau wrote on this site an article in which he claimed that one should be tolerant with those who use terms such as « natural » wine (the inverted commas are intentional!), but that the legislator should step in with some form of qualification of this strange and ill-defined expression. Although I  concur with some of his points here (article in French), I do beg to differ with others and in particular with his conclusion. In addition, I do not think that any official definition of this, in my opinion, unwarranted term as applied to wine will ever be forthcoming.

Whichever way one turns this question, the problem of a clear definition arises. Does « natural wine » or « vin nature » mean wines with no added sulphur, little added sulphur (and how much is little?) no added substances at all during the wine-making process or only certain added substances (and which ones and why?), not to mention what agronomic practices are allowed and why. This alone means that I cannot see everyone concerned ever agreeing on what the expression should clearly designate, or even in what sense the wines thus designated differ from what is already covered by many other designations (and there are too many of these).

According to what I have recently heard (and one must beware of hearsay, I know) the INAO (the French body that governs all geographically designated wines in France) has refused to attempt an official definition of « vin nature ». I think that they are very wise in this instance. When one looks at the nebulous group composed by those who frequently use this term, one is reminded of numerous political parties who, as soon as they have been constituted, immediately begin to sub-divide themselves into splinter groups and fight amongst themselves. They are born to disagree, with anyone and everyone.

The photo above shows the colour of one so-called « natural » wine that was supposedly young, red and still. It was, in appearance, smell and flavours, none of these!

There is however another, perhaps more fundamental and philosophical issue that underlies this question. Is nature actually « good »? I feel that the answer must be that such a notion is meaningless. How and why should one attempt to apply moral values to an area which is not linked to such an exclusively human approach. Nature is, for sure, in its immense complexity, but it is definitely amoral. Now I fully realise that a lot of the motivation behind those wine producers who seek to make wines with little or no added substances involved in the process is totally honorable and linked to ecologically sound reasoning and, perhaps also, to some concerns about the health of consumers. On the latter point I find that they are often mistaken, but I will return to this in a while with a couple of examples. There is also, in many cases, the will to show the true character of their specific combination of particular grapes and a sense of place derived from where the grapes are grown (terroir, if you prefer). Even here, things can go seriously astray when deviations in the constitution of the wine, through undesirable yeast strains, bacteria, volatile acidity, re-fermentation or premature oxidation sets in. In such cases it becomes very hard to tell the grape variety or even the origin of the wine, since the defects simply dominate all the rest.

Of course we can all agree that everything possible must be done to improve the health and vitality of soils, water tables, plants, animals and human beings by thinking carefully about what we do, how we do it and the substances that we use in agriculture. But I am not convinced that some form of laissez faire is necessarily the way to go.

Take the case of wines with no added sulphur (which, by the way, is a « natural » product as part of the earth’s crust). There are some very good ones and even some that can stand the test of time, as I was able to note again recently when tasting two wines from the Gamay grape and the Loire’s Touraine region. Here, the producer Henry Marionnet has been making a wine called Premières Vendanges with no added sulphur for 25 years and I recently had the opportunity to taste both the latest vintage (2017) and the first one. The young wine was deliciously bright and clear-cut in its fruit, light yet ripe and full of energy. The older wine was still alive, mellowed by age and with the fruit transformed into something harder to define, but still very drinkable. So it can be done, probably thanks to impeccable hygiene both in the vineyard and the winery, and maybe some other techniques, but I am not into this producer’s secrets which belong to him.

On the other hand, last week I tasted two so-called « natural » wines that I show above and below (Marionnet does not use this term by the way). They were both totally undrinkable and could even represent some minor inconveniences to one’s health if one were to consume what might be considered as « reasonable » quantities. They were purchased in a Paris wine shop that specializes in these so-called « natural » wines and my colleague Sébastien bought them to illustrate for a class the differences between a well-made wine that tasted good and other wines, at similar price points and of the same region/grape combination, that presented clear defects that made the tasting experience unpleasant.

Both these wines were so seriously deviant that I would defy anyone who is not a total masochist to like them, or even finish a glass! And yet they are on sale, and at prices which set them well above the average prices paid for wines of their region or category. There is a problem here, and it is one that should also be linked to health considerations. I do not think that these bottles have been in any way controlled by fraud or health inspectors. If a retail shop was to sell a foodstuff with such flagrant defects, I am sure that they would be prosecuted. Why is it that some wine shops feel free to sell any old rubbish?

Which brings me to my final point. Not all, but quite a lot of these wines are clearly intended as a form of « political » statement. They are saying, or rather shouting, « we are different, we are rebels: we look different, we taste different, we don’t care about any rules and we are therefore free ». Well they are not that free, they are just posing, and they should have a bit more consideration for their customers upon whom they depend for a living.

David Cobbold






11 Commentaires

The beauty of Sauvignon in Styria (2/2)

This is the second part of an article that started last Monday from the fine Austrian town of Graz (admire the shopfront above in the old town). I should also refer those interested to a series of 3 articles that I wrote (in French) on this same region and its wines from Sauvignon Blanc on this site back in 2015.

First I owe an apology for not checking a fact in my article last Monday. I wrote that Sauvignon Blanc « probably originated in France’s Loire valley and appears to be the result of a spontaneous crossing of Traminer with Chenin Blanc. » This is what the official  documents of  Austrian Wines say, but it is clearly disputed by José Vouillamoz in the admirable collective book Wine Grapes, co-authored by Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding. Vouillamoz is an ampelographer and specialist in DNA analysis, and I would tend to trust his autority on this matter. He says that Traminer is effectively one of the parents of Sauvignon Blanc, but that the other is currently unknown. The relationship between Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc is that of a sibling, with Traminer being the shared parent.

I think we all can agree that describing a wine by simply naming its variety is just as inadequate as using a region or appellation to provide some form of « identikit » portrait of a wine. Bringing the two together may get us a bit nearer to the truth, although I still shun the term « typicality », which is  one of the three « t » words that I try to avoid whenever possible in connection with wine as their significations are, at best, variable, and, at worst, meaningless (tradition and terroir anyone?)

photo BK Wine

Sauvignon Blanc is a very popular grape variety with consumers in major wine markets, even if it hardly casts a shadow on Chardonnay. Yet it suffers from a somewhat ambiguous reputation with some wine professionals (are you reading this Marco?) who say that they dislike it on the whole. Naturally personal preferences play an essential role in all our esthetic choices, but I do think that one should be careful about making sweeping statements of this kind. I must admit to having fallen into a similar trap on occasion, such as in the case of the variety from Savoie called Jacquère, which I have been known to call « quite un-interesting ». I am sure that there are some good wines of Jacquère and I hope to taste them someday soon! But Sauvignon Blanc is far more widely planted on different sites and in different climates that Jacquère, not to mention the greater number of techniques used in the production of these wines. Hence its diversity is much greater, and saying that one dislikes Sauvignon Blanc is rather like saying that one dislikes the total population of any one country: an unacceptable and simplistic generalization based on limited experience.

Part of the Lackner Tinnacher vineyard near Gamlitz under snow last week

Now, to get back to the particular case of Sauvignon Blanc in Austrian Styria (Steiermark to give it its real name), the style of the good examples of these wines strikes me as being somewhere in between the often highly aromatic one of wines from Marlborough in New Zealand and the very lean and restrained style of the Central Loire wines, of which Sancerre is the best known appellation. Once again, this remark falls fully into the generalization trap, but it is an attempt to provide the reader with some idea as a start and an encouragement to explore these wines. Styrian Sauvignons have plenty of freshness from their altitude-affected cool climate, and yet manage to attain decent to excellent ripeness levels from the combination between good site choice and careful vineyard management. This means that they totally avoid any herbal or grassy character, as much in terms of aromas as textures, and are less severe and sharp in their perceived acidity as many a young Sancerre, as well as being more expressively aromatic. The textural factor is a key element in my personal judgment of a wine and the best Sauvignons from Steiermark excel in this respect since they manage to feel suave without any loss of freshness. Pleasant and stimulating aromas, good mouth-watering freshness and fine, lingering textures are to me three characteristic « signatures » of these wines.

I wrote some comments last week on some of the Styrian Sauvignon Blanc wines that I tasted when I was in Graz and, if you read them, you will see that there were good and less good wines in that set, so I am definitely NOT saying that all Styrian Sauvignon Blancs are good. That would be a form of « fake news ».  In this preceding article, I commented the wines without giving each of them a note as I usually do, and so, following a discussion last week about an article by my colleague Hervé Lalau, I will do so now. To get a fuller picture, you will have to put the two parts together.

Harkamp Sauvignon Blanc extra brut (sparking, méthode traditionnelle): 13,5/20

Maitz, Steirische Klassik Sauvignon Blanc 2017: 15,5/20

Strauss Classic Sauvignon Blanc 2017: 11/20

Riegelnegg Olwitschhof, Sauvignon Blanc Sernauberg Roland 8° 2016: 9/20

Erwin Sabathi Sauvignon Blanc Ried Pössnitzberger Kapelle 2015: 17/20

Gross Sauvignon Blanc Ried Nussberg 2015: the bottle was corked !

Polz, Sauvignon Blanc Therese 2015: 16/20

Frauwaller Sauvignon Blanc Ried Buch 2013: 13/20

Potzinger Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Sulz Joseph 2013: 14,5/20

Muster Sauvignon Blanc Grubthal 2013: 16,5/20

Neumeister, Sauvignon Blanc Stradener Alte Reben 2011: 17/20

Tement, Sauvignon Blanc Zieregg 2011: 15/20

Sattlerhof Sauvignon Blanc Kranachberg Trockenbeerenauslese 2013: 19/20

This last part of this article will concern a single estate that we, as judges at the Concours Mondial de Sauvignon Blanc, were taken to visit. Lackner Tinnacher is a family estate currently managed by Katherina Tinnacher (above) and her father. Situated in hills near the village of Gamlitz, in the Südsteiermark sub-region, its history goes back to 1770 and all the wines produced come from the family-owned vineyards on six different sites. Katherina converted the vineyard to organic farming in 2013. Suavignon Blanc is not the sole variety planted here as Morrillon (Chardonnay) is also important and there are some other varieties.

Just one of the many tasting areas at this beautifully designed and hospitable winery whose wines are as good as the looks

I had visited this estate previously on my last trip to Styria back in 2015, so this was also an opportunity to measure the progress made in many aspects here. And at least one aspect of this progress this was very clear from the outset, with work now finished on the (mainly) internal modernization of the buildings, with the traditional dwelling house now totally and intelligently renovated and dedicated to reception of customers, with ample tasting rooms and a perfect connection to the winery via a cellar to ensure a smooth transition for visitors at any time of the year. Katherina’s sister is an architect and she is responsible for this remarkable work of conversion that shows, as so often in Austria, that all-too-rare combination of respect for traditional architectural forms and materials and successful use of modern design. All of this integrates superbly and the use of wood in furniture and decor, some of which apparently comes from the estate’s own forestry, is particularly remarkable.

My tasting of the Lackner Tinnacher wines (prices given are consumer retail in Austria)

This tasting, that followed a brief visit, was so impeccably organized that I would cite this as an excellent example of how to handle a tasting for a fairly large group (we were around 40 tasters from several countries). Katherina was clear in her discourse, without any undue emphasis but passing the messages about her approach to wine on this estate. We were all seated, the rooms and tables were well appointed and perfectly adapted. The glassware was impeccable and there was a list of the wines printed for every taster with some factual information on each. Plus the wines were served at the right temperature and at the right speed. This combination is sufficiently rare to be underlined.

If you cannot be bothered to read all the tasting notes below, just consider that this producer is highly recommended.

Südsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (price around 15 euros)

A blend from younger vines made in stainless steel. Quite firm and fresh. Very good definition with a nice balance between fruit and acidity (15/20).

All the remaining wines, apart from the last one, are from single vineyard plots, which is the approach favoured by Katherina. It is not necessarily the one that I would personally adopt, but it is their wine after all! I did make an improvised blend of two of their 2015 single vineyard wines and found it better than each part. So, it is fashionable to subdivide and speak a lot about « terroir » and « authenticity ». But this does not necessarily make the wines any better.

Ried Steinbach Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (price around 25 euros)

Various soils types and meso-climates cohabit in this vineyard. Intense, almost exotic aromas from this warm vintage. Firmly structured and quite tactile, with excellent balance, it will need a year or two to give its maximum. Very subtle use of oak in the process (16,5/20)

Ried Steinbach Sauvignon Blanc 2001

Interesting to see the ageing capacity of these wines. The nose is rich and tropical in style. Perhaps a bit too much oak, but a good wine with a softer profile than its younger version. Pleasant now and has lasted well but I think that the younger wine will go further (15/20).

Ried Flamberg Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (price around 25 euros)

Limestone soils for this vineyard. This seemed sharper and crisper on the palate that the Steinbach vineyards from the same vintage. Good length and precision. I found that blending the two 2015s in roughly equal proportions was a good compromise and produced a better balance. (16/20 for the original, 17/20 for my blend).

Ried Flamberg Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Apparently a more difficult year on account of rain. Thinner, with edgy acidity and less length. (14,5/20)

Ried Welles Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (price around 40 euros)

Stony subsoil with sand and gravel on top. The highest vineyard of the estate, at 510 meters. Still quite closed on the nose and tight on the palate. It has had 18 months in barrels but will need more time in the bottle. A biggish wine with firm structure. Not sure that it is worth the extra money though (16,5/20)

Ried Welles Sauvignon Blanc 2013

The vintage was also a good one here. Far more expressive and juicy, at least on the nose, thanks to the extra time in the bottle. But on the palate this is still tight and almost tannic. Power wins over finesse here (15/20)

Ried Welles Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Lots of rich tropical fruit aromas here for a wine now fully evolved with lovely satin-like texture and just a hint of bitterness on the finish to give it grip and lift. Lovely wine (17/20)

Ried Welles Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Still very dynamic and has also rounded out with time but it is less expressive and smooth than the 2009

Sabotage (no idea of the price, but the label is the centre one on the photo)

This is a wine made in tiny quantities using skin maceration for 50% of the wine. It is also an association between Katherina and her boyfriend, Christoph Neumeister (another excellent producer from a bit further east), in which each contributes a barrel or so of their wine to produce this cuvée. No sulphur is added. I found the nose rather flat and inexpressive, more vegetal (onions and garlic) than fruity. It has plenty of power and character but I found it rather weird and verging on the unpleasant with a tad too much alcohol as well. Not recommended but there is so little made that you will probabbly not find it anyway.

David Cobbold