Out with the alt, in with the nieuw

Selektion Burgenland - Photo courtesy http://www.alleliebeneisenstadt.at/

Photo courtesy http://www.alleliebeneisenstadt.at/

A few days before the end of 2013, I said goodbye to Eisenstadt, the tiny Austrian town that has been my home for most of the year. New adventures in Amsterdam are calling – but this blog isn’t supposed to be autobiographical, so let’s get back to the wine.

Eisenstadt may be small, but it’s culturally important for two reasons. First, the Esterhazy palace housed Joseph Haydn for much of his professional life. Second, it’s the capital of Austria’s most important red wine region, Burgenland. Reason the first means there’s no end to the Haydn-themed outlets here – there’s the Joseph Haydn Music Conservatoire, Haydn Brauerei, at least one Haydn cafe, and – who knows – possibly even a Haydn laundrette and a Haydn kebab shop if you look hard enough.

Reason the second inspired the opening of Selektion Burgenland two years ago. I can’t imagine Eisenstadt without this excellent, friendly and inviting wine bar and shop, regally situated opposite the Esterhazy palace. The wine list is superb, with around 20 regularly changing wines available by the glass, plus an Aladdin’s cave of current and back vintages from pretty much every important Burgenland producer you’ve ever heard of. The staff are charismatic and knowledgeable, and if you linger long enough, you will inevitably end up sharing the room with one if not several local winemakers.

What better place for a send off?

Eisenstadt's Christmas market. Yup, it's rockin'

I’ve grown to love Austrian wines from across the country, but especially the super-elegant reds from Burgenland’s Leithaberg DAC sub-region – which conveniently surrounds Eisenstadt. Bläufrankisch is undoubtedly king, although St. Laurent and Pinot Noir are capable of greatness too.

White wines can also be superb here. Burgenland doesn’t have the best terroir for Austria’s ubiquitous Grüner Veltliner, but Chardonnay and Weißburgunder can yield really standout results – and again, the Leithaberg DAC region is deserving of its superior status.

We drank many, many fine bottles over the course of the evening, mostly selected by Tinhof’s young yet hugely knowledgeable winemaker Lukas Plöckinger, and very ably consumed by good friends who I’ll miss dearly.

I didn’t take tasting notes, as I was far too busy enjoying myself. But here are some of the highlights in pictorial form. I will just say one thing. Despite my Blaufränkisch obsession (which is fairly transparent from the selection below) it was the Kollwentz Steinmühle Sauvignon Blanc in this line up that really stole the show.

Schiefer Blaukfrankisch Eisenberg 2005 nittnaus-leithaberg-blaufrankisch-2006 kollwentz-steinmuhle-Methusalemreben-2011 marcus-altenburger-gritschenberg-blaufrankisch-2008 loadsa-bottles

Very special thanks to Peter Wetzer, Gerald Lautner and all the other staff at Selektion, who kept me entertained (and avoided any risk that I would die of thirst) on numerous occasions during 2013. 

Austria’s Weinviertel: Districtus Austriae Confusius?

Kellergasse in the Weinviertel

Kellergasse in the Weinviertel

Ask most Austrian winemakers about their country’s “Appellation Controlée”-like DAC regulations and you’ll be lucky if you get so much as a luke-warm response. Few are comfortable with the fragmentation, label confusion and lack of consumer recognition that the nine regional DACs have as their current legacy.

Austrian wine marketing board head honcho Willi Klinger is adamant that Austria needs to get beyond the restrictions of varietal labelling – and he recounts a useful anecdote about the seemingly impressive Austrian section in a Kentucky winebar, where he found a Grüner Veltliner that on closer examination of the back label turned out to be Hungarian.

Whatever the potential pitfalls, single varietal wines still form the core of most Austrian wine brands. Even the large North Easterly Weinviertel region, home to the first DAC created in 2002, seems to struggle with the adaption to Romanic or origin-lead labelling – versus so called “Germanic” labelling, which prefers to list variety, sugar levels and so forth. This is certainly not due to a lack of defining character or quality, as I discovered during a recent visit.

Norbert Bauer

the old cellar at Weingut Norbert Bauer

Weingut Norbert Bauer’s winemaker Markus, with old vintages in the cellar

Norbert Bauer is a man unafraid of conundrums – he produces modern, accessible wines, at an attractive price point, yet likes the “determination and focus” of using a wilfully old-fashioned cellar, situated on one of the Weinviertel’s numerous “Kellergasse”  (Cellar streets) which line the roads by vineyards. These often minute wineries were positioned to be as close as possible to their owner’s vineyards, however the modern era has seen their decline, with most now being used as bijou holiday homes rather than their original purpose.

Norbert’s winemaker Markus is philosophical about the challenges. We talk about the white wines, and taste some beautiful barrel samples of Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay – fresh, taut and mineral. I wonder whether Markus likes to let any of the whites go through their secondary (malolactic) fermentation. He replies that it is not entirely his choice. In an old and relatively cramped cellar, if the appropriate yeasts and bacteria are swilling around in the air, some vats will go through malolactic – and Marcus seems quite comfortable with this laissez-faire thread to an otherwise very controlled approach.

We’re also treated to a fascinating mini-masterclass on yeast selection. Markus shows three barrel samples of St. Laurent, Austria’s rather Pinot Noir-esque velvety red grape, each identical but for a different selected yeast – the same grapes, from the vineyard plot, picked at the same time. The results are extraordinary, with not just the flavour profile but also the structure of the wine being markedly different in each case – an Epernay yeast producing a soft, fruity wine, whilst the other yeasts accentuate the tannins and completely change the fruit character. Regular readers of this blog know I am not particularly comfortable with such an interventionist approach, but at the same time it is pretty fascinating to grasp the significance of yeast to the end-product.

The one topic we don’t cover chez Bauer is Grüner Veltliner – By far the Weinviertel’s most planted grape, and arguably Austria’s most famous vinous export. Markus reckons, quite rightly, that by the end of the day we’ll have tasted enough “Gru Vees” to last a lifetime.

Ambassadors

Producers like Norbert Bauer have worked hard to reposition the Weinviertel as a quality region, in contrast to its old image as the home of cheap, everyday wines. Bauer and four other wineries from the Western Weinviertel have combined forces to promote themselves as the “Weinviertel Ambassadors”, a smart move given that none are individually large enough to comfortably deal direct with supermarkets or other large retailers.

Back to “Gru Vee”…. It’s said that Grüner from the Weinviertel can be the most peppery and intense from anywhere in Austria. I was also hoping I might find good examples of wines displaying the variety’s attractive vegetal character.

Pepper

Schloss Maissau Juliusberg GrünerSchloss Maissau Juliusberg Grüner

Schloss Maissau Juliusberg Grüner

Schloss Maissau is somewhat unique in Austria for having planted its entire 12 hectares with only Grüner Veltliner. Of particular note is the Juliusberg plot, in the foothills of the Bohemian Massif. The wines display intense wet stone and mineral characteristics, significant vintage variation (I mention this as a positive, by the way) and impressive length. The 2007 and 2009 are my favourites for drinking now.

Schloss Maissau’s winemaker Ewald Gruber is also masterminding production for Stift Altenburg, an extremely impressive medieval abbey which has owned vineyards since 1755. I talked with the abbey’s priest, Father Michael, and loved his philosophy that a good bottle of wine could subtly communicate something positive about God, and the monk’s lives. And the Stift Altenburg Hohenstein-Limberg Grüner Veltliners certainly rate as “good” – being fairly full bodied, with attractive honeyed characters and the typical green pepper (capsicum) note that is so talked about, yet so seldom achieved.

Maturity

Herbert Studeny's slick tasting room

Herbert Studeny’s slick tasting room, with winemaker and taster

Austrian wine consumers have an obsession with wanting the youngest possible vintage of a white wine, something which I suspect drives Herbert Studeny mad, as his wines show their best with considerable ageing. He presents a quiet and almost shy exterior as we sit in his impressively chic and modern tasting room, in Obermarkersdorf. Studeny’s Grüners are perhaps the most complex in the Weinviertel Ambassadors group – specifically those from the Atschbach vineyard, with a microclimate created by its position at the foot of the Manhartsberg. The 2011 is already showing fascinating hints of angelica, herbs and benedictine liqueur, but it’s when I taste the 2006 that I really begin to appreciate that this is a vin de garde – still impressively fresh, yet with more gravitas, weight and the appealing vegetal quality that I love in this grape. Even the calm Studeny becomes noticeably animate as we enthuse over this more mature bottle.

The obsession with “DYA” (Drink youngest available) doesn’t extend quite so much to red wines, and Anton Schöfmann’s varietal wines and cuvees are also best enjoyed with a few years on the clock. Schöfmann is not afraid to produce seriously structured reds (Something which is relatively rare, as the Austrian market tends to prefer feather-light tannins and a fruit focus), with wines like the Hutberg or Zweigelt Reserves being prime examples. Deft handling of oak (some of it local, most of it old) creates balanced but hefty wines which still retain fruit and good acidity.

Unclassification

father-michael-in-the-snow

Stift Altenburg’s Father Michael, outside the abbey

As I looked back over my tasting notes from the five “ambassadors”, something struck me: Only a small proportion of the wines were using either the Weinviertel Classic or Reserve DACs. Many of the best, most interesting or “premium” wines were unclassified. The Weinviertel DAC (which only covers Grüner Veltliner) attempts to define stylistic characteristics, and when I queried Herbert Studeny about why a wine like the Atschbach was not classified, he replied that he felt it did not fit the prescribed profile. It baffles me, if classifications that are supposed to celebrate regional characteristics over identikit wines are this restrictive.

Ultimately whether a Weinviertel Grüner Veltliner boasts the DAC “badge of honour” seems far less important than the skill, care and ambitions of the producer. And whilst I would have liked to see a little more pushing of boundaries, I was left in no doubt that the Weinviertel Ambassadors possess generous amounts of all three.

 

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Many thanks to the Weinviertel Ambassadors for their time and Elisabeth Gstarz for organising the visits and tastings.

 

 

 

 

Oh Balls! (Or how customer service saved the day)

That Gruner won't bite, Pete!

That Gruner won’t bite, Pete!

Picture the scene – four old friends, and we’ve just passed a convivial evening in a restaurant. It’s Thursday night, 9.30pm, no-one’s ready to go home but at the same time a change of scenery is called for. Oh yes, and we’d like good wine please.

The trouble is, we’re in Victoria. A quick look on Google maps reveals only two viable choices: The Ebury  wine bar or a branch of Balls Brothers. The Ebury is ruled out – too far from mainline transport options (yes, we have out-of-towners with us) – so Balls Brothers it is. I’d never visited any of this small chain’s bars before, but had an image in my head that they were well established and reputable with a solid wine list and comfortable surroundings.

Seemingly not. We arrived to find a half-deserted bar, with deafening music and disinterested staff. A cursory glance at the wine list revealed a typical selection – typical of about 25 years ago, that is. Half a dozen clarets, Burgundy, Rioja – tick, Chianti – tick, token new world offerings – tick. Interest, excitement, adventure – fail.

Never mind, I’m very partial to good claret, so Chateau Peyrabon 2004 (A Medoc Cru Bourgeois from a small producer) sounded good – but it was out of stock. Alternative recommendations weren’t forthcoming, so we hastily decided on the good value sounding Cahors Chateau de Caillou 2010.  Sadly it felt like a dumbed down version of what should be a gutsy, herbal drink – bland, with simple fruit and little interest.

Following protocol for any self-respecting 21st century social mediatiste, I fired off a gnarly tweet on the bus home:

“Disappointed with the experience at  @ballsbrothers victoria.
Surly staff, indifferent wines.”

A few days later, Balls Brother’s PR operation kicked into action, contacted me and asked if they could try to convince me they were better than this. Impressed, I provided further detailed feedback, and we agreed a date when I could come and taste more wines from the list and give them another chance.

Simon Alderton opens up some bottles

Simon Alderton opens up some bottles

Balls Brothers Victoria put in a much stronger showing on the return visit, particularly from a customer care point of view. I hadn’t realised that by sitting at the high table nearest the door, we’d totally bypassed the attentive table service – and following closer examination, there were potential pockets of interest  on the wine list.

Reds were more successful than whites – Of the whites, I loved the lively, unpretentious La Cote Flamenc Picpoul de Pinet 2011, but little else. Pete, my tasting companion for the evening, enjoyed the Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011, although I found it a bit blowsy.

The highlight for us both was the Medoc Cru Bourgeois we’d tried to order on our first visit, Chateau Peybarnon 2004 - fully mature, supple and sexy. Honourable mentions went to the easy-going yet multifaceted Castillo de Clavijo Rioja Crianza 2008, a leathery but restrained D’Arenberg Shiraz (“The Love Grass” 2009) and a perfumed, smoky Mendoza Malbec (Argento Malbec Seleccion 2011).

These wines were genuinely enjoyable, but the evening confirmed my feeling that there’s a slight mismatch between the clientele of this branch (which is leading the charge away from fusty cellars, to a more modern wine bar experience) and the list. Balls Brothers is part of a portfolio that also includes six Lewis and Clark bars, with the latter having more adventurous and varied wine selections (I haven’t been, but I’d be honing in on the Torrontes, some of the Rhone offerings or the Rieslings).

The Balls Brothers city bars have longer but more traditional lists. Victoria seems to be the poor relation, with neither the range nor the variety. Bizarrely, it does however offer Louis Roderer Cristal 2002 at £225 a pop!

BB Victoria’s manager Simon Alderton is disarmingly honest and  understands his customer-base – mostly well-heeled after-work commuters, with the occasional high rollers who will flash a few hundred pounds on wine over lunch. It’s a largely youthful crowd, and was buzzing on this visit, so Simon’s mission to update the bar’s image seems to be working – so why the old-fashioned wine list?

London’s new-breed of wine-orientated bars and restaurants (Vinoteca, Terroirs, 28:50, Brawn, Soif, Bar Battu, Green and Blue) and the painfully hip Duck Soup have shown that younger consumers will happily venture into uncharted pastures if they are encouraged by enthusiastic staff and given a “story” that supports the choice of wines.

I’m not expecting that Balls Brothers is suddenly going to rebrand itself as a natural wine bar – although I think Simon might quite like the challenge (He told me he would dearly love to wean customers off Pinot Grigio). But surely there is room for some innovation, which might get customers drinking more adventurously – and spending more into the bargain (this doesn’t strike me as a price-conscious establishment).

In that spirit, here are three accessible yet lesser known wines/styles that I think would add variety and interest to Balls Brother’s list:

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1. An aromatic Northern Spanish or Portuguese white (Albarino/Alvarinho or Verdejo) – like the wonderfully mineral Auratus 2011, Quinta Do Feital (Les Caves de Pyrene, Roberson, various retailers), 0r perhaps Cuatro Rayas Verdejo Vinedos Centenarios Rueda 2011 (Bibendum)

2. Smoky, characterful Negroamaro from Puglia, Italy – like the amazing value I Satiri, Salice Salentino Riserva 2007 Candido (Majestic) or La Casada, Negroamaro del Salento 2010 (also from Les Caves)

3. Medium bodied, fruity yet serious, age-worthy gamay from Morgon (or another Beaujolais Cru), ideally from Jean Foillard (Roberson, Slurp, Bancroft), but failing that maybe Morgon Les Griottes Mommessin 2009 (Bibendum)

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For the completists, here is the full list of wines we tasted (favourites are asterisked):

Laurenz V Friendly Gruner-Veltliner 2011 (Austria)

Elegant, but rather neutral for a Gruner (lacking the attractive green pepper pungency that I associate with good examples).

* La Cote Flamanc Picpoul de Pinet 2011 (Languedoc, France)

Very perky, with an attractive grassy aroma, and pineapple fruit flavours. A wine that puts a smile on your face (especially as it’s one of the cheaper offerings on the list @£23.50 a bottle)

Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Marlborough, New Zealand)

If you like Marlborough Sauv Blanc, this is a benchmark example – complete with a whiff of cats pee/ammonia. I find it a bit too eager to please, the ripe gooseberry and stone fruit is in your face and there’s something slightly monothematic about the whole thing.

Riva Leone Gavi 2011 (Piemonte, Italy)

Rather sweaty, vegetal aroma – but leads to a fresh, mineral palate – wet stone on the finish. Not the world’s best Gavi but refreshing and well balanced.

Balls Brothers House Claret (Chateau L’Eglise 2011, Bordeaux)

I felt a bit like Jimmy Saville, drinking this. It says “eleve en futs de chene” on the label – can’t have been bottled for more than a month or two then! The youthful, fruity aroma was pleasant. A bit hollow in the middle, but still  a refreshing drink.

* Chateau Lugagnac Bordeaux Superiore 2009

This is only £5 a bottle more than the house claret, but felt like a considerable upgrade. Elegant blueberry and blackcurrant fruit, soft texture and a hint of oak, with enough structure to hold it together. Ever so slightly unbalanced/rustic on the finish.

** Chateau Peyrabon Cru Bourgeois 2004, Haut Medoc

For a moment it seemed as if we were doomed never to enjoy the wine that had been M.I.A. on our first visit. Balls Brothers serve this by the glass, and should have ditched the first bottle that we were poured days ago (it was heavily oxidised). Luckily, once we had a fresh bottle, the wine revealed itself to be a beauty. A mature, supple and rather sexy claret, with enticing cigarbox, spice and coffee overtones. Further proof that the Medoc’s cool years often provide the most typical and satisfying wines. Great value for the quality (£36.50 a bottle)

* La Croix Bonis de Chateau Phelan Segur 2006, St Estephe

Rather closed and reticent to begin with, quite austere blackcurrant fruit. Very elegant, once it got into its stride, but doesn’t have the generosity of the Peyrabon ’04. Perhaps we should have tried the 2008 (the 2006 is now out of stock). Seems poor value compared to Ch. Peyrabon.

* Castillo de Clavijo Rioja Crianza 2008 (Rioja, Spain)

Juicy strawberry fruit, with complex coffee and christmas cake hints, well rounded and very satisfying.

* d’Arenberg Love Grass Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, Australia)

I was prepared to hate this. Aussie Shiraz is rarely my thing, but this shows restraint and the all important acidity/freshesss to balance its rich, leathery fruit.

Valdivieso Reserva Merlot 2009 (Valle Central, Chile)

Unpleasant “hot” character (high alchohol), which seemed very out of balance with the spiced plum fruit. Clumsy, international style. The sort of wine that could come from anywhere.

* Argento Malbec Seleccion 2011 (Mendoza, Argentina)

Perfumed, spicy fruit (cooked plums), a smoky hint and attractive lemon freshness on the finish. Enjoyable.

Loredona Pinot Noir 2010 (Monterey, U.S.A.)

This is Simon Alderton’s favourite wine on the list. Pete liked the generous spicy red fruit, I found it slightly confected and even syrupy. The oak is well integrated though. “Chacun a son gout” I guess?

 

Disclosure: I was the guest of Balls Brothers Victoria, who supplied all the wines and very generous cheese and charcuterie platters. Many thanks to Pete, and to Simon A. for being a generous host.

Fulvio Bressan – Taking the long-term view

Fulvio Bressan

“Better that you have wine in your heart and soul, or you change business.”  Fulvio Bressan, June 2012

Winemaking has developed significantly in the last few decades. Winemakers now routinely draw on a vast canon of research, learning and technology to help ensure that they produce consistent wines and harvest fruit in prime condition, year in, year out. Vintage variation, of the sort that wrote off most early 90’s Bordeaux, is almost a thing of the past.

Modern viticulture (growing the grapes) tends to focus on getting a good return-on-investment, a defined yield (which could be high or low depending on the ambitions of the winemaker), and physiological ripeness – in other words, the point where every component of the grape, from tannins, to pips, skins and flesh, is ripe and not green or bitter tasting.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing though – our supermarkets and wine merchants have shelves lined with fault-free wines, but there is ever-increasing homogenity, with “correct” but bland wines dominating sales. What if the winemaker wants to attain uniqueness, excitement and daring in their products? Perhaps there’s a need to look back to more traditional practices.

Fulvio Bressan is a ninth-generation winemaker from Friuli Isonzo who does precisely that. Not that he has any lack of up-to-date winemaking knowledge. Trained in Bordeaux, Bressan has been making wine at his family’s property since the mid-1990s. But his approach is rather different to accepted practice.

Farming methods

Fulvio is passionate about nurturing the land that his family have inhabited for centuries. That means organic or biodynamic farming methods (Bressan was certified organic until 2001, but in the face of almost wholly absent inspectors could not see any value in renewing his certification). No fertilisers or synthetic products are used, with copper being reserved as a last resort.

130 year old Schioppettino vines

130 year old Schioppettino vines

Fulvio and his wife Jelena (herself an inexhaustible font of knowledge on the family’s winemaking methods) tend their vines (20ha spread across Friuli Isonzo and Collio), with a view to future generations – not just the next decade. For the Bressans, it is important to limit the vigour of their vines not just to keep yields low (and they are very low, at around 3.5 tons per hectare), but also so that the plants are not worn out after 30 years. Fulvio wants his vines to be capable of producing for a century or more. As living proof, they have a prized plot of 130-year-old Schioppettino in Corona, which contributes much of the complexity and depth to the Bressan Schioppettino blend.

Interestingly, the Bressans do not green harvest. Fulvio’s view is that mature vines are self-regulating, at least if they are tended with respect. Green harvesting as a modern practice has become so synonymous with quality, that it is now required under the Friuli DOC laws. Fulvio’s solution is simply to bottle his wines under the broader, supposedly less prestigious Friuli-Venezia-Gorizia IGT category.

Fulvio staunchly believes that grapes should not be grown in locations where irrigation is required – he never irrigates, instead ensuring that his vines send down deep roots to search for water themselves. He does not grow grass between the rows, as this would provide too much competition for the vines, and potentially require weedkiller – instead the stony soil is left bare.

Local varieties

Dark skinned Schioppettino, also known as Ribolla Nera, is one of three treasured indigenous varieties (Pignol and Verduzzo Friulano are the others) which are pretty much the Bressan raison d’etre.  Although the family has historical plots of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot and Pinot Grigio, it is likely that these varieties will be grubbed up as they reach the end of their useful lives.

Most revered of all is Pignol or “Pignolo” in the local dialect. “Look at the power of these vines”, Fulvio commented as we strode down the rows of these rather angular, commanding plants. This is not an easy variety to cultivate – yields are notoriously unreliable, and inconsistent, even from one bunch of grapes to another on the same vine. It’s worth the effort though, as the Pignol wine is extraordinary in its power, longevity and complexity.

Winemaking

Fulvio’s strongly held views on the use of cultured yeast to ferment wine are famous – “It is the same thing as getting your wife to sleep with another man, to have your son. Then that is not your son”.  The subject cropped up several times in our conversation, and Fulvio reminded me “If you bring cultured yeasts to my winery, you (will) not arrive back at the home – except in a wheelbarrow.”

During my visit, the winery was being totally overhauled with a new floor and wooden roof. We talked about the traditional lime mortar, and the mixture of 25 different herbs used to seal the wood, to ensure that viable wild yeast cultures could develop easily in the winery.

A combination of stainless steel and concrete vats are used, together with 2000 litre Slovenian “botti”, and old barriques for the Pignol. No new oak or anything else which might unduly flavour the wines is used. A limited amount of temperature control is practised. The aim is to let the grape varieties, and the “terroir” speak for themselves. For Fulvio though, it is also important that the wine communicates something about him, his family, his philosophy – he talks of emotion in wine.

The wines

Jelena opening the Cabernet

Jelena opening the Cabernet

Fulvio’s wines are not for the faint of heart. They are bold and uncompromising, like the man himself. They grab hold of you, and shake you up and down, before you get the measure of their considerable panache. The reds in particular can be incredibly concentrated – that makes sense when you consider the very low yields, and dry-farming in a sub-Mediterranean climate. The Bressan vines have to work hard to produce their precious crop.

Concentration is not a synonym for overripe, jammy or overbearing. Interestingly, alcohol levels chez Bressan are much more restrained than many of their Friulian neighbours. It’s depressingly easy to find Malvasias from Friuli Collio with 14.5% alcohol and above. Yet Fulvio’s wines are typically around 13 – 13.5%. This is due to a combination of the restraint exercised in the vineyards, and the natural yeast strains, which do not maximise alcohol levels as readily as cultured yeasts. It is an important factor in ensuring balance and freshness.

The Bressan wines buck the current trend for easy-drinking young wine. Typically released when they are 5-6 years old, these wines need time to show their best. This point was really hammered home to me, when I tasted some older vintages at a nearby Osteria (see below).

Seek these wines out wherever you can find them – they are rare treasures (the estate makes only around 50,000 bottles a year), created by a winemaking family that care deeply about the integrity of their output, and the long term future of their estate. This passion is very ably transmitted in their wines.

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Tasted over lunch

Pinot Nero vines near the house

Pinot Nero vines near the house

Carat 2006

Just bottled, and very much an orange wine – a traditional blend of Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia and Friulano, with creamy fruit, and aromas of red onion marmalade. Quite seriously tannic (not surprising as the wine stayed on the skins for four weeks), and I have to admit I would want to leave this for a year before cracking open another bottle. Terrific length, driving acidity and a bright future.

Ego 2003

A 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Schioppettino, with the latter contributing that utterly distinctive green pepper nose, and the former providing freshness. Elegant and poised.

Pinot Nero 2006

A super-concentrated, spicy Pinot which is starting to calm down and show its more elegant side as it matures (Now noticeably more well-mannered than it was in October 2011). This should be quite special given another few years on the clock – and will effortlessly survive for a further decade.

Schioppettino 2006

I have a love-hate relationship with the 2006 Schioppettino. Sometimes it seems to have an almost green (unripe) note, however there is plenty of brambley, leathery fruit, and a lemon-fresh finish.

 

Schioppettino to the left, Pignol to the right

Schioppettino to the left, Pignol to the right

Tasted in the winery

Verduzzo Friulano 2007

Late harvested, dry but with a wonderful honeyed character, complex palate and beautiful amber colour. Very long, this also has to be one of Fulvio’s most accessible wines.

Pinot Grigio 2006 (Tank sample)

Fulvio describes this as “a silly wine”. He has every intention of grubbing up his Pinot Grigio, once the vines reach an age where he can justify it. I think he’s being harsh – it may lack a little acidity, but there’s an attractive bitter orange note, and full, fat texture.

Cabernet Crown Domains 2003

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, I found the exaggerated herbaceous nose got in the way with this wine. There is terrific structure and staying power, but less individual character than many of the other Bressan wines.

No. 3 2003

Definitely more than the sum of its parts – those parts being Schioppettino, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Nero. A distinctive peppery nose gives way to a silky pinot texture, with red fruits and an attractive saline quality. Elegant, complex and exciting (Or as Fulvio would say – just like him!)

Pignol 1997 (Barrel sample)

Taking a barrel sample of the Pignol '97

Taking a barrel sample of the Pignol ’97

Surely this is Fulvio’s personal favourite. He excitedly told me several times “Now this is wine, Simon”. And I would have to agree. Further proof that the Bressan wines need serious amounts of time to show their best. Aromas of leather and mushrooms give way to sweet blackberry, prune and dried apricot fruit, and a lively lemon candy freshness. Although there’s only 3gr of residual sugar, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was more. Fulvio told me it’s actually the tannins providing all the sweetness. And what structured, refined tannins they are.

This wine could surely live for decades – I guessed it was rather unapproachable in its youth. “If you taste this at one year old, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week” was Fulvio’s response. After 15 years mellowing in old barriques, it still has vitality and freshness, yet so much more besides. Asked when they might finally bottle this giant of a wine, Fulvio shrugged “Maybe next year”.

Tasted at Osteria L’alchimista, Gorizia.

Schioppettino 2005

The only wine the Bressans made in a terrible vintage. And luckily Stefano, the proprietor at the Bressan’s favourite local Enoteca, had a bottle he was willing to open. I really liked the freshness of this wine, the “high definition” raspberry fruit and the slightly lighter texture. It developed wonderfully after nearly two hours of being open, with the nose becoming more integrated and less overtly peppery.

Carat 2003

Compared to the slightly unapproachable 2006, what a treat to try this more mature sibling. Still structured, dry and complex with flavours spanning green tea, herbs, butterscotch, plum and dried apricot. And all underpinned by a supple “come hither” texture.

 

 

Nereo Bressan - winemaker, butcher, prosciutto maker

Nereo Bressan – winemaker, butcher, prosciutto maker

Fulvio and Jelena, standing in front of Schioppettino vines

Fulvio and Jelena, standing in front of Schioppettino vines

Romance in the vineyards

Romance in the vineyards – Bressan style

Fulvio and artist Pablo Figar, with new work for the winery

Fulvio and artist Pablo Figar, with new work for the winery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot thank Fulvio, Jelena, Nereo and Paolina enough for their boundless hospitality and generosity during my visit. A debt of gratitude also to Stefano Mestroni at Osteria L’alchimista, for sharing some older vintages with us. And for ensuring that I did not get to bed at an even remotely sensible hour.

Finally many thanks to Pierpaolo Penco, director of the Friuli Isonzo Consorzio, for the lift – and healthy discourse along the way!

 

Bressan wines are distributed in the UK and Italy by Les Caves de Pyrene. Terroirs is a good place to sample them in London.

 

 

Julie’s Jurassic Jaunt (or “how to buy wine for 40 people”)

Bubbles in the rather handy wine chiller cabinet

So, I have a friend, we’ll call her Julie. Julie says to me, please can you buy the wine for my upcoming 40th birthday celebration – a weekend house party on the Jurassic coast (near Lyme Regis), with 40 guests (including the Morning Claret, off duty of course). I ask for guidance, and luckily it’s very broad: A preference for Prosecco over Champagne, a love of Riesling, and for “good wine over cheap wine”.  Armed with a generous budget of £33 per boozing adult (£1,000 total),  off I go like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop.

Where to buy such a haul, ensuring I can get it delivered to our Dorset location inside of a week, and giving me enough choice to ensure I satisfy all the guests? Majestic Wines seems to be the obvious answer – a good if fairly mainstream range, great deals when buying in quantity, and the all important free delivery. So after two hours of deliberation, I’ve got my order in. Two sparklers, five reds, four whites and a Sunday morning hangover cure (of which more later). Bring on the weekend . . .

The bubbles

Obeying orders, I dialled up a decent Prosecco, the La Marca Treviso Extra dry – fair value at £9.99, crisp with the merest hint of sweetness. Also on hand was the Perle de Vigne Cremant de Bourgogne – a bone-dry, elegant sparkler (also £9.99 on multi-buy) made from a blend of all four permitted Burgundian grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and Aligoté. I liked the slightly toasty edge and the richness from the Chardonnay.

The whites

Salice Salento, Fronton and 1989 Rioja Gran Reserva

Reds from Italy, France and Spain

We needed a good glugging white, especially with the copious quantities of fresh fish and seafood to be had in the locality, and this slot was ably filled by the Marqués de Riscal Rueda Blanco 2010 – a floral, peach-flavoured wine showing off North-Western Spain’s Verdejo grape to good effect. At the offer price of £7.19, this was good value. I’m less sure at the current list price of £8.99.

For the Saturday “dinner” white, we ramped up to the ever reliable Gavi di Gavi La Toledana 2011. Forget bland, uninteresting Gavi, this has lovely minerality, ripe fruit and just a little more weight than your average G di G, due to the late harvesting regime. Was it just me though, or is the 2011 a bit less rich than other recent vintages?

I had the idea to do a mini Riesling masterclass, comparing Trimbach’s entry level Riesling 2009Schlumberger’s ‘Les Princes Abbés’ 2009 and throwing in the special treat of a Trimbach ‘Cuvée Frédéric Emile’ 2006 – but that will have to wait, since the weekend was so packed with merriment that the birthday girl could not be secured for a spare hour. I’m sure it will make an appearance on this blog in the weeks to come.

The reds

Here’s where things got interesting. I’d saved a couple of more premium choices for the Saturday night dinner, and happily bored anyone who would listen with the story of these wines. So some people had expectations (or started giving me a wide berth), others just saw bottles on the table, poured and made their own decisions.

Our easy drinking red (for Friday night ice-breaking) was a South-West France offering, Château Jouaninel Fronton 2009 – a soft, supple blend of Cabernet Franc and the more aniseed character of Negrette. Very attractive, especially at the £6.99 multibuy price.

Friday’s big win was however I Satiri’s “Candido” Salice Salentino Riserva 2006 - very definitely a hot climate wine, with Negroamaro’s trademark smoky bramble fruit, yet considerably softer (due to age?) and better balanced than many mid-price Salice Salentinos. I could nit-pick with the rather sweet finish, however it was far less offensive than the alcoholic burn that many Negroamaros suffer from. I’ll be buying this again (and I won’t be the only one) – even at the list price (£9.49).

Petalos Bierzo 2009

"Man of the match" Petalos

And to Saturday. Great that Majestic now stock the wonderful Pétalos Bierzo Descendientes de J. Palacios 2009 – and I wondered what a “non-specialist” audience would make of it. This is a quintessential example of Northern Spain’s Mencia grape – fresh, herbaceous, almost green fruit, a hint of bitter chocolate, and relatively high alcohol ensuring that the crunchy tannins don’t get in the way at all. It’s also worth noting that this was the only properly “natural” wine on the table (Majestic have some work to do in that area). Alvaro Palacios farms biodynamically and uses no filtration or fining.

Some found the acidity overbearing – I had put an extremely soft, if woody Tempranillo Gran Reserva 2001 on the table for comparison purposes – but overall the reaction was extremely positive, with many selecting it as their wine of the weekend. I was delighted – this is a cracking wine, with real individuality and sense of place.

Finally, we enjoyed the Viña Muriel Rioja Gran Reserva 1989 with some cheese. Not perhaps the most complex or subtle example of an aged Rioja (I would have preferred something from Urbina), but certainly still alive and kicking, with notes of coffee, caramel, leather and prunes.

 

Sunday morning

Who could not love a wine which is low in alcohol, lightly sparkling, and deliciously semi-sweet? Stand up, Asti (or Asti Spumante as it used to be known). Unfortunately Majestic don’t currently carry an Asti – but they did have the equally delectable Viña Tendida Moscato 2010, from far South in the Valencia region, an Asti dead ringer with its perfumed, grapey nose and elderflower fruit. And at a mere 5% alcohol, and multibuy price of £3.99, no serious danger to the liver or the wallet.

I always enjoy the slightly panicked look on people’s faces when you bring out some champagne glasses and a bottle of wine at 11am – but one sip of the Moscato and not only is everyone hooked, they’re running to the fridge to see how many bottles are left.

Stonebarrow Manor - our home for the weekend

Stonebarrow Manor - our home for the weekend

Bluebells in the garden at Stonebarrow

Bluebells in the garden at Stonebarrow

Moody skies as Brian sets up for a group shot

Moody skies as Brian sets up for a group shot

tendida moscato

You actually brought a special breakfast wine?!

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All the wines were supplied by Majestic (delivered from the Yeovil branch). I have no affiliation with them, and I was not paid to write this review. The high incidence of Spanish wines was partly due to that being Majestic’s special offer region for the month – hence I was able to get more value out of the budget.

I spent the total budget of £1,000 on the wines listed above, plus a fair amount of craft ales and lagers, also supplied by Majestic.

Super Istrian meets Southern Plavac

Super Istrian in a super heavy bottle . . .

Super Istrian in a super heavy bottle . . .

The Morning Claret is delighted to be going on a brief sojourn to Istria later this week. Having travelled a couple of times in the Southern part of Croatia, I’m fascinated to see what the North of the country has to offer. By way of preparation, I cracked open two wines on Saturday night – arguably neither was typical, but at the same time the idea was to learn something about the key differences between North and South, in terms of wine making.

In the Istrian corner, we had Mladen Roxanich’s “Super Istrian” 2006, a nice play on the “Super Tuscan” tag first coined in the 1970s, when Tuscan wine makers started playing fast and loose with the archaic DOC regulations. Just like the Super Tuscan concept, this is a blend of local and international grape varieties: 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Istrian Borgonja.

The wine greets you with an upfront, yet wholly refreshing aroma of spiced blueberries. It’s enticing, and in no sense predictable. There is a whiff of oak (chocolate?), but interestingly the 2006 seems less evolved than the 2007 vintage. I loved the herbacious, yet full-bodied palate. There’s structure aplenty here, but nothing grainy or butch about the tannins. Overall, “elegance” was a word I kept coming back to.

Heading south, our offering was Korta Katarina‘s 2006 Plavac Mali, a polished remix of this sometimes very rustic grape from the Dalmatian heartlands – and specifically in this case, the Pelješac peninsula. The very ripe, dark fruit character and smokey flavours had us clearly in a much hotter climate than the Super Istrian – yet this is also a wine of considerable elegance and balance.

Korta Katarina PLavac

Korta Katarina Plavac

Just as with my first encounter with KK’s Plavac, I again found that despite an hour in the decanter, this wine still needed more time in the glass to really start singing. Gradually, those wonderful aromas and flavours of herbs, mocha, toast and spices started to unfurl. The genius of this wine is how much is hidden from view when you first uncork the bottle. The patient, however, are rewarded.

I’m not sure that any generalisations about the North or South can be made with these wines – on the one hand, the Roxanich is a blend of international and indigenous varieties, vinified in an ultra-natural fashion (no cultured yeasts, no filtration or fining, no barriques), whilst on the other, the Korta Katarina is a local grape variety, vinified in a more international style, using new oak and temperature control. Both wines are utterly successful in what they set out to achieve, and what stands out is the consistently high standard- their balance, elegance and complexity.

 

 

 

 

—–

Roxanish wines are available in the UK from Pacta Connect

Korta Katarina wines are distributed in the US, but not yet in the UK – stay tuned!

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Smoke on the water – Hungarian Wine House tasting

Colourful labels on the Hagymasi Pinceszet stand

Colourful labels on the Hagymási Pincészet stand

Any bon-viveur worth their salt will be familiar with Hungary’s most famous vinuous export – Tokaji Aszu. This luscious yet refreshing nectar has assured Hungary’s place on the international wine map for the last 400 years. Additionally, those of a certain age may remember when Eger Bikavér (AKA “Bull’s Blood”) was king. Sadly this deep-hued, spicy red wine became devalued during the 1980s and 1990s, and has all but vanished from the shelves in the UK. But, as I learned at a tasting organised by the Hungarian Wine House last week, there’s considerably more to Hungarian wine than just Tokaji and Bull’s Blood.

Five producers were showcasing their wines, ranging from smaller family wineries to a large Tokaji producer, and covering almost every corner of the country where quality wines are made. It was heartening to see one organically certified producer amongst the five, and also to try several of the many indigenous varieties still cultivated.

Hagymási Pincészet are located in the Eger region – home of Bull’s Blood, and indeed they produce a pretty sterling example (We tried the 2007) with tangy red fruit, crunchy tannins and good acidity. I also enjoyed the 2010 Egri Csillag, a white blend of Olaszrizling (AKA welschriesling), Leányka, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. The winery makes a number of red single varietals, most of which I found too heavy on the oak, for their relatively light bodies. More interesting was the 2007 Merilyn, produced from Menoir, a red variety with a beguiling scent of thyme, mint and candied cherries. Two red blends, the 2007 Föld és Lélek (“Earth and Soul”, Cab. Franc, Syrah and Kadarka) and 2003 Egri Bormester (Cab. Sauv, Pinor Noir and Menoir) also impressed – certainly the addition of some Cabernet or Syrah helps bolster up the rather more delicate indigenous varieties.

birgit pfneisl

Birgit Pfneisl

Birgit Pfneisl is now the head winemaker at her family’s Pfneiszl vineyards, in Sopron to the far west of Hungary. Following conversion to organic farming methods in 2004, the 2009 and 2010 vintages are the first to be organically certified. Birgit told me that in almost all cases, they use only indigenous/wild yeasts. The Pfneiszl basic range are well made wines for everyday drinking. I found them likable but think they may be a hard-sell in the UK, considering their price points (£10-£13 a bottle). Stepping up to the premium range, the 2007 Kékfrankos (“kettö007″)  hails from a difficult year, but has a fresh, herbaceous character, with hints of black olives and coffee. I did wonder whether more of the Kékfrankos character would have come across with less oak (the wine sees 22 months in a combination of new and old barrels). That theme continued through to the 2008 Impression Rouge “Smoke on the lake” (Dare I say the colour of this wine was Deep Purple?), a Merlot/Cab. Sauv./Kékfrankos blend which had an attractive rounded texture, and similar herb and mocha character but just too much wood obscuring everything. As it had only been bottled a few weeks before this event, it would be worth trying again – who knows, maybe the overt oak will settle down.

robert mayer portugesier label

Róbert Mayer's Portugesier

Birgit also produces a special Cuvée “Wide World (Távoli világ) 2009″, which is described as her CV in a bottle. The field-blend of Shiraz, Carmenere, Malbec, Zinfandel and Sangiovese (!) comes from experimental plantings of varietals Birgit encountered on her travels, whilst studying and gaining experience around the world. It’s a lovely idea, and the wine is accomplished, fruit-laden and fairly full-bodied – but perhaps inevitably, not quite the sum of its parts. Apparently the Malbec is also under threat, as the local deer population have taken a shine to it. Perhaps they know it’s a good combination with a venison steak?

Moving from the far West to the far South, I loved Róbert Mayer‘s 2009 Portugieser, with its quite fascinating savoury spice (cloves?) aroma, ripe red fruits and fresh, vegetal palate. His Szt. Bertalan had an intriguingly “funky” nose, but the palate was rather hollow. The 2008 Cabernet Franc had attractive sweet spiced fruit, but – again – overly heavy oak treatment.

Jozsef Ludányi’s dry white  Cserszegi Fűszeres 2009 (Cserszeg Spice) had appealing aromatics, crisp melon fruit and a refined mineral finish. However, I question his decision to christen a range of wines “excellent”. Yes, there’s “Excellent Red”, “Excellent White” and “Excellent Rose”. Unless they really are (I’ll leave you to guess), this naming scheme is doomed to derision.

And so to the Tokaji – Pannon Tokaj is a relatively large-scale producer (They knock out 250,000 bottles a year) who have been in operation since 2000. You can really taste the influence of the region’s volcanic soils in their 2006 dry Furmint, which had taken on an aged-Riesling character, with a hint of burnt rubber and spiced apple. Pannon’s sweet wines provide a good comparison of both traditional and modern Tokaji styles. Traditionally, these wines were frequently made in a semi-oxidised style, with fermentation and maturation in oak barrels which were often not filled to the brim, thus allowing the ingress of air.

Laszlo Nyari from Pannon Tokaj

László Nyári from Pannon Tokaj

The 2003 Tokaji Aszú 3 puttonyos harks back to that style, with almost savoury, briney notes on the nose, leading to dried apricot and citrus fruit. The 2005 Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos has a more overt marmalade character and better acidity. I didn’t love either of these wines – the trade-off in fruit purity against the slight oxidative notes just doesn’t work for me. Much more exciting was the 2006 late harvest Cuvée, matured only six months in oak, rather than the three years demanded by the aszu regulations, and equivalent to a 4 puttonyos sweetness level. The explosion of fresh citrus, apricot and peach, tempered with nervy acidity was quite delicious – and at only £15, some bargain.

The 2004 Dominium Aszú 6 puttunyos has particularly pure melon and grapefruit-coulis flavours, notably different to the preceding wines. László Nyári, Pannon’s CEO, told me this character is due to the vastly lower yields for the Dominium vineyards. Finally, the 2005 Tokaji Aszúeszencia has the luscious marmalade character which I associate with the region, and is complex and very long in the mouth.

It’s probably apparent from my notes that this tasting was a mixed bag. There was lots to like – the often herbaceous and mineral characters from these largely cool-climate wines, with refreshingly low alchohol levels (11.5-12.5% in many cases), and some truly distinctive blends and grapes (I’d love to try more Menoir and Cserszegi Fűszeres). But – given how light-bodied most of the indigenous varieties are, why smother them in so much oak?

 

~~~
Many of the wines reviewed above are available in the UK from Hungarian Wine House, who organised this tasting. A big thanks to Bálint Takács for the invite, also to Adrienn Tóth, a mine of useful information on the Hungarian wine industry in general.

Dalmatia Part 3: Korta Katarina

Fermentation vessels for the Posip

Fermentation vessels for Plavac Mali

In my previous post I wrote about a family wine-producing micro-enterprise. The Bura winery produces only around 2,000 bottles each of their key wines, Bura Dingač and Mare Postup. I visited Boris Mrgdić and the Bura family in the morning. That afternoon, by way of contrast, I spent a few hours at Korta Katarina, an impressive new winery just outside Orebic town centre which produces around 80,000 bottles a year.

Korta Katarina (roughly translated as  “Katherine’s garden”) was the brainchild of American industrial magnate Lee Anderson. No expense has been spared in building a spacious HQ and creating what is Pelješac’s, if not the whole of Dalmatia’s most leading-edge and well equipped winery. Winemaker Nika Silić made the first vintage of Korta Katarina’s Plavac Mali in 2006, and since then this bold venture has been making a name for itself both locally and internationally. The estate’s white wine, produced from Korcula’s Pošip grape, has won a string of commendations including multiple Decanter awards.

After a fascinating tour of the modern winery and cellars, we sat down with Korta Katarina’s knowledgable and charming Ivo Cibilić for a detailed tasting of the wines. In true KK style, this  was conducted in the large air-conditioned tasting room, with chic furniture, exemplary glassware (Riedel, of course) and a selection of delicious olives and cheeses selected to complement the wines.

Pošip grapes passing through selection

Pošip grapes on the selection table, before passing through a heat exchanger

We began with two vintages of the estate’s Pošip, having just seen the 2011 harvest roll off a truck and onto the triage table. The Pošip 2010 is a blend of stainless-steel and barrique-fermented wines. The oak influence is carefully judged, just to provide extra depth and weight, with only about 25% of the final blend coming from Barrique. The nose has the typically grassy, herbaceous aromas, plus some white pepper. The texture is creamy, with the oak contributing bready flavours to complement the tangy green fruit and florality. We then compared this with the 2008, which shows how much more integrated the two components of this wine become after some time in bottle. This allows the citrus and angelica notes to come through, leaving less overt oak influence and greater length.

The cellars at Korta Katarina

The cellars at Korta Katarina

Next up was the Rosé, a blend of Plavac Mali and one of its better known parents, Zinfandel. At 13.9% alchohol you would expect this to be robust, yet there is plenty of freshness in the appealing raspberry and strawberry fruit character. More uniquely,a wonderful savoury quality sets this quite apart from the more frivolous territory that Rosés so often seem to inhabit.

Finally we moved on to the 2006 Plavac Mali, perhaps the signature wine of the estate. Although KK has vineyards within the Dingac region, a conscious decision was made to make a blend from the best grapes in both the Postup and Dingac “appellations”. The result cannot of course be labelled as either “Postup” or “Dingač”, and therefore Korta Katarina arguably becomes the “premium” name on the bottle. On the one hand this is clever marketing (providing that the wine is good), but also I think it is a smart decision in terms of wine-making. Ivo had carefully decanted the wine in advance of our arrival, and it was showing beautifully. The full range of Plavac’s herbal, dried fruit, sage and earthy aromas introduced an astounding array of tar, prunes, smoke, blackberries and chocolate on the palate.

The blend of Plavac from the lower (Postup) and upper (Dingač) slopes of Pelješac manages to achieve elegance, complexity and poise that I think would be difficult to find in a more delimited area. As you might expect, this wine sees quite a bit of French oak (a proportion is aged in new and old barriques for one year) during its three years of maturation (the 2006 was released for sale in 2009), but the final blend is expertly done and I felt I was tasting the grape and not the winemaking. This is also one of those wines that keeps developing as it breathes and opens out – every sip reveals another nuance.

It will be extremely interesting to see how this estate shapes up over the next few years – with such brilliant results already behind them, Korta Katarina should have a bright future. We should not however forget the wine-making tradition that goes before them – both Nika and Ivo come from local winemaking families. Unsurprisingly, not everyone on the peninsula is impressed by this new rich-kid on the block. However, sometimes it takes a newcomer to shake things up a bit – and Korta Katarina is showing not only how excellent the results from this sunbaked territory can be, but also how state-of-the-art equipment and rigorous attention to detail can produce wines that hold their own on the world-stage.

Zucca and Brazan

Brazan "i Clivi" 2005

A very fine wine, a not so fine picture (thanks HTC!)

Mrs. Claret and I have developed a cunning modus operandi for eating out at fine restaurants – rock up to the hottest ticket in town, without a booking, but at a slightly non-standard time (perhaps 6.30pm, or 9pm). Accept any seat, even if it is at the counter (which is frequently the case). Think you can’t get a table at Bocca di Lupo for love nor money? Think again!

Last night, we “dropped in” to Zucca, in Bermondsey, and got ringside seats with not only a good view of the open kitchen but also the opportunity to salivate over multiple vintages of Sassicaia and Ornellaia, stored just above the counter.

This Italian yearling has shot from nowhere to receiving almost unanimous rave reviews, for its very high quality Italian cooking and an all-Italian wine list of herculean proportions, but lilliputian pricing. We weren’t disappointed with our starters of fresh (and uncooked) peas with mint and pecorino, and the most wonderful lupini clams with parsley and lemon. In need of something fresh and zesty to wash them down, we went for Somellier Gianfranco’s recommendation of an Alto Adige Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Gris  blend and a Grechetto from Marche (Central Italy). The Terlaner Classico (Alto Adige) particularly impressed , with body and weight from the chardonnay but terrific freshness and a hint of minerality.

With our mains on the table – Wild Scottish Salmon, cooked to perfection with some pinkness in the middle and beautiful crisp skin, we needed something slightly more serious, and Gianfranco was again on hand to recommend a favourite wine, the Brazan “I Clivi” 2005. Brazan is a vineyard in the Fruili region of North-East Italy, and this wine is 100% Tocai Friulano. At first sniff, you could almost be in Côte de Beaune territory – there is something excotic and spicy (perhaps cinnamon, or allspice) that suggests this wine has seen some oak. That is not the case however – old vines and 6 years bottle aging have created the most wonderful richness, body and complexity. This was a wine that you couldn’t pin down. What started out as ripe apple and green fruits (with that slightly spiced note), became honeyed and luscious on the finish, but with also some wet stone/mineral hints. Needless to say, the length was long, and the overall impression quite outstanding – a glass to be pondered as well as drunk.

Moving onto a plate of Italian cheeses, we were able to compare two very different expressions of Nebbiolo – first, a ten year old Barolo with an almost oxidative nose (raisins, prunes and a medicinal edge), transparent tannins and a lighter than air finish, the second, an utterly charming, perfumed example from Carema (a Northerly output of Piedmont). The 2006 Produttori di Carema had excellent acidity, bags of red berry fruit and the wonderful floral finish which is so often missing from lesser examples of this grape.

I cannot wrap this review up without mentioning the moreish Affogato (vanilla ice-cream with a shot of expresso poured over it), and the boundless hospitality we received. This is a restaurant with real heart to back up its considerable ambitions, and we will be back – especially as Gianfranco mentioned that there is the possibility of Ornellaia by the glass in the near future!

 

 

Birthday vinucopia

Green and Blue exterior

Green and Blue exterior, Photo by Ewan Munro

I have to write a brief post about my very enjoyable birthday celebration, last week. What better place than Green and Blue (of which I have spoken before) – good atmosphere, brilliant wines, and enough high quality nutrition to keep everyone from falling under the table.

As we ended up being a party of 14, many, many bottles of wine were dispatched over the course of a long evening. I have to admit my memory of the more advanced portions of the night is a bit sketchy, but here is a rundown of the wines I do remember:

2009 Giles Berlioz Chignin, Savoie, France

Green and Blue’s proprietor, Kate Thal, was kind enough to recommend this alpine wine, as an alternative to a Santorian white that I’d had my eye on, but which was alas out of stock. Made from an indigenous grape variety I’d not come across (Jaquere), this was beautifully pure, crisp and mineral. A great way to start the evening and excite the palate.

Vino di Anna, Sicily, Italy

A wonderful discovery, this recommendation from the helpful and knowledgeable bar manager (whose name I don’t know) is made from a “field blend” of six or more more almost unheard of grape varieties, and hails from the slopes of Mount Etna. The wine had a beguilingly light, almost brick red colour, and an explosion of baked red fruits, spices and lovely minerality, backed up with fine but sturdy tannins. All this whilst maintaining an attractive delicate finish. I might add that Vino di Anna is a perfect example of a “natural wine”. This is a fashionable term that’s come to mean wines made with minimum intervention – that means no filtration, possibly no fining, and either low or no suphur dioxide. This example did indeed have a slightly cloudly appearance, but also presented such a unique and characterful flavour palate that it could be entirely forgiven for not having the text-book “star bright” sheen.

2008 Clos Fantine, Faugeres, Languedoc, France

We decided to step up a gear with something more sturdy from Faugeres. There is so much excellent winemaking going on in this Southern French region right now, and the Clos Fantine didn’t disappoint. For such a young wine, this was rich and complex, with leathery, dark spiced fruit flavours and a smoky tinge. Non-filtered wines seem particularly popular in this part of the world, and you can really taste the full, fruit-driven punch of the grapes (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Cinsault) without filtration getting in the way.

2006 Vega Sicilia Pintia, Toro, Spain

I have blogged about this excellent effort from Vega Sicilia here. It was, as usual, single-minded, hefty and delicious. I hate to say it, but it is also now out of stock of Green and Blue (we got the last bottle).

2006 Domain Jean Foillard, Morgon, Beaujolais, France

I am a big fan of the Beaujolais Crus, and Morgon can often be relied upon for some of the most structured and serious wines from the region. This was Graeme‘s recommendation – he has been raving about it ever since it cropped up at a Green and Blue tasting last year. It was certainly very fine – focused, with pure fruit character, considerable backbone and complexity. I fear I may have appreciated the subtleties more if I wasn’t still wiping the tannins from the Pintia off my chin!

Huge thanks to everyone who came,  since I  wasn’t asked to pay a penny at the end of the evening. Somehow things ended up spilling over to a nearby friend’s flat, with a serious session of didgeridoo, guitar and bongo abuse (god the neighbours must have loved us). I can’t quite remember how that took us through to 3am, but the following morning I had only the merest trace of a hangover – a sure sign that only well produced wines, with very modest doses of SO2 had been consumed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2008 Clos Fantine Faugeres