Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for January, 2011

Organic musings (2)

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Well, well, the Egyptian wine was really rather good – at least some of it. ‘Jardin du Nil’, grown on ancient terraces of sandy soil is a mixed bag if ever there was one: a surprisingly fresh, citrus white (Vermentino/Chardonnay) – picked on the 15 July (!) and a 2008 red that is better forgotten – though not the 09: they are learning, possibly because Denis Dubordieu’s team in giving advice. Tolerated rather than accepted by the locals, they provide a steady stream of easy drinking wine to tourists. Their rosé is terrific. ‘Take a little wine for the sake of your tummy’, as St Paul said. Look out for it on your next package tour.

Many wines here prove beyond doubt that organic is light years from the still popular perception of ‘good for you but horrible’, even if some producers are happy to be barbed about the things they don’t do: ‘Natural Wine? Half way between horrible and incomprehensible!’ For example.

Thierry Daulhiac at Chateau le Payral in Bergerac has crafted some beauties including ‘natural’ unsulphited reds, but his more conventional Sauvignon Gris/Sauvignon Blanc ‘Petite Fugue’ hit my spot big time : an explosion of fresh green plum flavours with a hint of honey and quince. Monty’s Tuscan Red 2009 is very good too, a more hands-off effort than the stuff he made in Roussillon (i.e. he seems to have turned consultant rather than winemaker – the rewards of success). Adnams will have it, and the guy who actually made it told me it ought not be too expensive.

Best of all is Montirius. Eric and Christine Saurel are not only very nice people, they make superlative wine – certainly as good as anyone in Vacqueras and Gigondas. Their reds are fabulous, but I was knocked almost sideways (and I’d been listening to speeches rather than tasting) by their Vacqueras Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and around 50% Bourboulenc. I tasted five vintages from 06 to 10 and was struck how delicious the young wine is and then how it re-emerged like the greatest of white Chateauneuf du Pape to show an unexpected richness and depth. I could have sworn that the 06 contained Viognier. I’ll publish full notes very soon.

Millesime Bio grows on you. The friendliest of big fairs, with small tables – all the same – and lots of happy encounters. I now know why so many folk keep coming back. Thierry Daulhiac put his finger on it. To paraphrase: ‘it’s basically a lot of fun.’

Organic reflections – day 1

Monday, January 24th, 2011

I’m in Montpellier for Millesime Bio, the world’s biggest organic wine fair. There are about 500 producers, mostly French, but South Africa, Argentina and California get a look along with Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Switzerland, Poland and even Egypt. I aim to visit the stalls of the last two tomorrow.

It’s huge and frankly daunting – so much bigger than when I first came five years ago. Organic is now mainstream – but not, it seems, in the UK. Our big supermarkets aren’t bothered much (except, perhaps, Waitrose). Germany is the big market – over five time bigger than the UK. We bump along with Holland, Denmark, Belgium and Japan, all also behind the US.

A shame methinks. Organic isn’t just big now (now 6% of the French vineyard) but respectable. There aren’t many shaggy beards and sandals in the two huge halls of the Parc des Expos. The best wines are stunning – especially those from Alsace, with a superb purity of fruit flavours. OK there are wacky wines: Richard Doughty, for example, makes unashamedly oxidised dry Semillon with zero SO2 in Bergerac – but it does taste rather, strangely good.

Another update tomorrow – when I’ve slept on what I’ve tasted and probably come to no more serious conclusions.

Felton Road – the best Southern Hemisphere Pinot?

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

For me there were two highlights at the recent New Zealand Wine Trade tastings: a first taste of Yealands Estate (impressive, clean flavours – vibrant fruit. I’ve written up an interview with winemaker Tamra Washington for The Journal, to be published on 28 January) and the opportunity to sample the latest vintages from Felton Road. Felton Road at Bannockburn, Central Otago, uses only estate grown fruit, grown according to biodynamic principles. I love the wines and this year they seem better than ever. (The Bannockburn wines are blended from the three main blocks on the estate.)

My brief notes:

Bannockburn Chardonnay 2009 (ambient yeast, full malo in the barrel) rrp £19

Ripe toasty bouquet, but underlying very fresh fruit; rich soft and mineral in the mouth.

Block 2 Chardonnay 2009 £22

More perfumed, maybe honeysuckle, certainly spicy, but with a lovely intergration of fruit and oak. Ripe lemon flavours, crisp and finally mineral – an almost perfect balance.

Dry Riesling 2010 (9 g/l residual sugar) £15

Ripe apple fruit, with a hint of lemon, then soft, mineral and surprisingly full in the mouth.

Bannockburn Riesling 2010 (56g/l sugar) £15

Utterly delicous: the pick of the Rieslings, with the smell of confit lemon and a delciously balanced, elegant flavour – far too easy to drink.  Not massively complex – just very pure, ripe fruit.

Block 1 Riesling 2010 (65g/l sugar) £18

Much more complex and spicy, lovely fresh and tangy, but somehow, not as  moorish as the simpler Bannockburn.

Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2009 £23

Perfumed, elegant fruit – a little short but very pure.

Calvert Road Pinot Noir, 2009 £27

Deeper, more perfumed, with spicy wild cherry – seductively silky texture.

Cornish Point Pinot Noir, 2009 £27

Again, deep, spicy, wild cherry fruit – even spicier in the mouth and longer than the Calvert Road.

Block 3 Pinot Noir, 2009 £34

Deep, powerful, but a bit closed with a powerful, rich, savoury palate and a distinctly mineral finish.

Block 5 Pinot Noir, 2009 £34

Powerful but focused with rich cherry and even chocolate fruit. Long, fine tannins.

Vin Gris 2008 (Pinot Noir) £15

As delicate a rosé as one could imagine – a true gris. Big, spicy nose: mineral and savoury, which continues into the palate – big, ripe and spicy.

For more information and suppliers see www.cornishpoint.com and www.feltonroad.com

When wine tasted best in 2010

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

I bought ‘When Wine Tastes Best: A biodynamic calendar for wine drinkers (2010)’, intrigued to see if this guide based on Maria Thun’s biodynamic would tie in with my experience – or not. I wanted to be as open minded as possible, so I decide to review the guide only in retrospect.

What did I discover? Here are a few highlights:

Christmas Day 2009 – three champagnes tasted wonderful. A leaf day.

January 14 – Burgundy tasting at Lord’s. Although I discovered the wonderful wines of Romain- Taupenot I was disappointed. I didn’t ‘click’ – and I love Burgundy. A fruit day.

January 31 – Portugal, lunch and tasting  with Vasco Croft – biodynamic wines excited me hugely. Taste buds on fire.  A fruit day, hallelujah!

May 19 – I held a Cahors tasting and thought it went particularly well. Fruit again!

June 1 – visited Roger Saumaize with a group of wine-lovers. Biodynamic producer. Fab wines – everyone hugely impressed. Root day – I suppose it had to be.  Oh dear!

June 22 – visited  Romain Taupenot and am again bowled over by the beauty of his wines. Flower Day.

August 9 – visited Catharine Wallace (in Saint Chinian). Biodynamic producer. Greatly taken by her wine (again). Leaf Day. Is that why, despite my enthusiasm I muddled Syrah and Grenache when tasting barrel samples, or is it that Catharine’s  wines express their terroir so well that varietal differences seem less accentuated?

September 8 – Wines of Chile tasting. And I’m frankly disappointed. I don’t seem to click again. The day’s not even rated – so maybe it wasn’t just me?

October 19 – very well-received tasting of Rasteau, though  the VDN fails to shine.  Flower Day. Why did the VDN not show well – I had one the other day and it was great?

November 9 – another visit to Romain Taupenot. I’m feeling stressed and out of sorts, but the wines are still stunning. A fruit day!

December 1 – my most successful tasting in the Vine Visit year. Sherry. A knockout. Everyone seemed to be thrilled by the wines . And a root day …

So what can we conclude? Nothing much. I can’t detect a pattern or any meaningful correspondence.

I suspect that how I felt had far more effect than whether it as a fruit or flower day (best) or a leaf and root day (avoid). Odd, isn’t it, that there’s nothing in the middle? There was the day, for example, when I tried to lead s seminar on Burgundy wine, with so thick a cold that I couldn’t tell the difference between wine and Dettol.

Will I buy the 2011 edition? Maybe – but for life of me I can’t think why.