Friday, 24 June 2011

2009 Southern Rhone wines just arrived

For some reason it has taken much longer than usual to organise the various collections but, except for Domaines Grand Veneur and Coteaux des Travers, the 2009s are now in stock (and a handful of 2010s). The big question is what to crack open first! Tonight I am out to a barbecue so I will take a bottle or two from my own stocks to celebrate: perhaps Cristia's Cotes du Rhone "Garrigues" and Stef Usseglio's Cotes du Rhone.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Serradenari Barbera 2006

I have been wanting to try this again for a while but the bottle I had got out of stock was obscured underneath something else with a lot of wrapping so I had forgotten about it until last night when I needed something to go with spaghetti (a typical Monday evening meal in these parts).

Absolutely what I was expecting from this. Nice, deep, plummy fruit and almost searing (but not quite) acidity that sliced through the tomato better than any of the knives in our kitchen. Good depth to it, enough to match the rich sauce. I did import a different Barbera a couple of years ago which was quite oaky and very drinkable on its own but less so with food. I had forgotten how much the Serradenari one sells for; it's a good value wine.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Marco Maci "Duca d'Antene" 2001

A chap in Norwich bought some of this recently and seems to have enjoyed it - see here.

Apologies to anyone else who read my blog last October and has been waiting for me to report on this wine! I did taste it (and enjoy it) but completely forgot to post.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Last night in Lakenheath

The wine tasting group that meets at the Brewer's Tap in Lakenheath asked me to conduct an impromptu tasting last night so a quick round up of some of the less expensive Rhone wines seemed in order. The Domaine des Anges rose was appropriate for the warm summer evening but, for me, the wines of the night were Domaine de la Charite's 2009 Cotes du Rhone, fresh and sweet-fruited with an easy structure that offers much in the way of versatility. The other stand-out wine for me was Domaine Grand Veneur's 2007 CDR Villages "Champauvins" which, for the first time, really did come across as a mini-Chateauneuf rather than a top CDR with potential. Perhaps it was tasting it alongside the various other wines but I was very impressed with this one.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Funny goings on at Domaine des Anges

Some irreverent answers given by Domaine des Anges' owner, Gay McGuinness to questions asked by a South African  publication:

(A) Your full address ?
postal address: Domaine des Anges, 84570 Mormoiron, France; physical address: Domaine des Anges, Quartier ND des Anges, 84570 Mormoiron, France 
(B) History of the winery.
Domaine des Anges is a beautiful, small, hillside estate in the Ventoux in the Southern Rhone region of France. It looks out across a large valley towards Mont Ventoux – the Giant of Provence – with spectacular views on all sides.
The estate covers 40 hectares and is overlooked by the chapel of Notre Dame des Anges and a 12th century Moorish tower, living together happily in the sunshine of timeless, historic, rural France. The total area of the vineyard is 18 ha.
There have been vineyards here since Roman times. We do not know the name of the original owner, but it is believed that he was stabbed to death by a group of Roman politicians jealous of the quality of his Domaine des Anges wines and the beauty of his Egyptian girlfriend. All this was recorded by an English reporter named Shakespeare, so it must be true.
Since that time, Domaine des Anges has seen many owners. It is now in the care of Gay McGuinness from Kilkenny, Ireland who fell in love with the estate in 1989. However, he did not throw caution to the wind: he went to Rome to make sure that the original owner had not passed on the deeds of the land to Silvio Berlusconi, a man who knows all about love.
McGuinness and Dublin man Ciaran Rooney, a Stellenbosch trained winemaker, found each other and probably deserved each other. Together, or more often, separately, they began replanting and rebuilding the vineyard and its reputation, without much caring about their own, as they fought over terroir, labels, tannins, rugby matches and anything else that would encourage a thirst.
Despite all this, the vineyard staggered towards a type of prosperity and its wines have won an international reputation for quality. McGuinness claims that this is because fun and profit should mix. Rooney’s view is prosaic: he thinks winemakers are witch doctors who can work wonders when owners and Masters of Wine (MWs) leave them alone. Despite, or perhaps because of, the insults they hurl at each other, Domaine des Anges is now one of the top producers of quality red, white and rose wines in the Southern Rhone. Given the two involved this is, well, a miracle.
We fully realize how all this may seem to you, even if you are getting Beckett on the nose and Joyce on the palate. Like our fellow Irishmen, we don’t much care. We live for our art and hope you will pay for it. If you want to know more about Domaine des Anges you are going to have to buy the wine and/or visit the vineyard. Make sure it’s a day when both principals are at their charming best. Slainte.

(C) Current owner and information about reason for purchasing, family history...
The owner is a recluse, who only communicates with his winemaker in Urdu or something equally unintelligible, the replies are in Afrikaans with an Irish accent, which makes for interesting conversation. He didn’t purchase the vineyard, he got the deeds when he lost a tipsy poker game. He keeps it, because he can’t find a poker player worse than himself to lose it to.

He really doesn’t want to talk about his family, who spend a great deal of time not talking to him. He is afraid that if they get to know where he is they will kidnap him and force him to finish his treatment.

In person, since you asked the question, he is unkempt, opinionated and spends a great deal of time cataloguing South African ducks which, since they don’t lose very often, gives him time for his other great passion: hula-hoops. He is a graduate of the KGB Charm School and has a tendency to throw hula-hoops at visiting MWs with colourful instructions about what they can do with them.

The winemaker sniggers when McGuinness explains his love of wine and his investment to the odd visitor brave enough to climb the hill. Winemakers are like that: they know everything, run down Parker behind his back and could have done a better job than God in making the world, except for the fact that they are too busy making wine that the world often does not appreciate.

The facts are that McGuinness, being Irish, grasped the opportunity you offered to talk about himself and just couldn’t finish the book in time. It was left to us to provide you with a few carefully chosen words.

(D) Current winemaker, education, philosophy and style. Cellar, vinification...
The current winemaker, Ciaran Rooney, and we stress current, is a contrary, abrasive, vertically challenged individual who hates owners and Masters of Wine, not necessarily in that order.

Although Irish, he grew up in South Africa, but not much. Maybe it was because he was living in the shade of all the big people down there. He graduated from Stellenbosch and his current employer came across him at an auction of winemakers. He looked quite harmless – the leg irons were not immediately obvious. He makes great wine, but his language, he swears in Afrikaans, is appalling, we think. He has never got over being mistaken for the ball in a muddy rugby match in South Africa – it wasn’t pleasant in that scrum. And the put-in was crooked.

He doesn’t have a philosophy. He has attitude. His style is confrontational – the vines shed their leaves when he approaches. The reason he became a winemaker is because he could stand on top of large tanks talking down to big people, spouting nonsense about the importance of terroir, the need for balance, elegance, depth and bottom, whatever that is, in wine and castigating anyone foolish enough to disagree with him. It is a complete mystery to those who know him that he makes great wine that does not have even a hint of venom.

(E) General technical details : Terroir, Soil, Grape varities...
Do we have to get technical? It bores people. Terroir, that great vague French word which embraces atmosphere, weather, soil and munificent nature doesn’t quite capture a flat tractor tyre on a wet day, a back-breaking crawl through the vines or sunburn. But it does seem profound and philosophical. It’ll have to do. It is a lovely word. And it is us, because we were raised on Blarney.

Our soil is principally chalk (no, not “and cheese”). In some places, it’s less chalky with ferrous clays splashed with lots of rocks, which the winemaker and owner throw at each other. We are thinking of making a wine called “Wait Until I Get my Hands on You”.

Each year we pray that our Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc will grow and prosper through divine intervention. It never happens. We have to work. We do that reluctantly, but we take great care, respecting nature and tradition, which seldom respects us, when we prune and later tie the vines, cover their feet in sheep droppings, using specially trained sheep, and strip them of cover when the sun is at its hottest. Revenge is sweet.

Bottom line? 80% of winemaking happens in the vineyards. If you don’t look after your vines, your bank manager will quickly disperse the seductive fog called terroir and cut straight to the chase. Of you.

The cellar is the preserve of the Contrary One, who reminds everyone that there is magic in his hands, which is a great relief, as nobody is sure about what’s in his head.

Peering through the veil of mystery and suspicion created by the genius (which we are encouraged to believe lurks behind the Contrary One’s grim exterior) is not easy. But we will try.

After sundry fowl have been offered in sacrifice, if an MW can’t be found, the fruit, hand-picked, luscious and panting for tender loving care, is rammed through a de-stemmer and, if it is the reds, brutally beaten to subjugation in the tank, by the Contrary One while he mutters incantations learned at Stellenbosch. It is horrifying on first sight, but it seems to work.

In the tanks, the grapes are never allowed a moment’s peace, with regular pump-overs to extract gently their luscious tannins and deep colour. But their torture is not over. Finally, they are squeezed, kicking and screaming, through the press before, at last, finding refuge in either tanks or French oak barrels where they can quietly lie, temperature controlled for 12 months, before bottling and, finally they are released to screams of approval from our hordes of supporters throughout the world.

The whites, the ladies, are treated as gently as the Contrary One can manage, going straight into the press before the blessed relief of clarification – more than you are getting here - and cold fermentation in stainless steel at 12 degrees, or in barrel. After fermentation they are left on the lees until filtration. Bottling takes place in spring and shortly afterwards the wine begins crossing the palates of our adoring fans: the winemaker’s father and mother.

(F) Where are you situated. Surroundings. Tourist attractions...
We are at the centre of our world! Provence and the south of France, which is itself one large tourist attraction, lies at our unstable feet. Domaine des Anges sits on the side of a hill with spectacular views in all directions. It is about an hour’s drive from Avignon, Gordes and the Abbaye de Senanque, and a universe away from reality. The road up to the vineyard is usually crowded with wine buyers.

No one is permitted to look at the views or leave the vineyards before they buy, we give them glasses made of bottle ends. We are currently holding two Americans, an irate Australian, a Tibetan monk with a llama, a Mongolian wrestler, who doesn’t want to leave and we aren’t going to force him, four very annoyed MWs and ten lost Munster rugby fans demanding Guinness. Come and join them.

(G) Size of the estate
We can’t really tell you that. If we go public, everyone will know we have 18 ha of vines and we will no longer be able to tell our clients that we only produce 15 cases of each variety and they can have two.

(H) Details of harvest
Each year, the Contrary One crushes 100 tonnes of grapes with relish, intoning the names of all those that ever played rugby against him, and with him for that matter, mainly huge South Africans. Fortunately, they are thousands of miles away. It is mayhem in there – we can’t believe there isn't a law against it. 

(I) Biodynamic/Organic ?
Biodynamic/organic? We have trouble with this question. We are dynamic but we do only the bio we think necessary maybe two tubs of yogurt a day. However, if we catch the wild boar that regularly eats our grapes we will bury him and his horns, with or without a full moon. 

Our big problem is that during full moons, one has to watch out for the owner, who turns into a Yeti, which is a considerable improvement. As for organic: we’ve only got a piano at the moment, but we play it as we move through the vineyard. We are green, but we are not pure. Sometime dear Lord, but not just yet, because we want to see just what purity gives and takes away from our competitors, may their grapes go square and rot at the corners. We didn’t mean that, ha, ha.

(J) Icon Wines and quantities
Archange and Seraphin. We wanted to call it Lucifer after the winemaker, but the owner, Gabriel, got stroppy about the competition. You could say it was a dispute made in heaven.
We produce 150 cases of glorious white: 90% Roussanne and 800 cases of oaked Syrah/Grenache under the Archange label. In exceptional years we make a great pure Grenache called Seraphin (“the N” is French – don’t argue). A seraphin is a better class of angel, because we were getting tired of all the regular archangels flying around us. Actually, these wines do fly out of the winery, which is what really counts.

(K) Best restaurant stocking your wine, worldwide ?
We never reveal this information for fear that it will stop its current two bottles a year. Actually, we don’t like to boast.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

More wines from Piemonte - Fabrizio Battaglino

I seem to be drinking (sorry, make that "tasting") a lot of Italian wines these days but it's not my fault. When the pallet arrived with Enrico Giuseppe's wines (a 2006 Barbaresco Riserva was quickly removed and consumed), an extra case was discovered from one of Enrico's friends, Fabrizio Battaglino.

Fabrizio is a winemaker in the Roero district, north of the Langhe region where Barolo and Barbaresco hail from. Nebbiolo is still the main grape here and Fabrizio concentrates on this for most of his reds. Last night, we treated ourselves to a tasting of the three reds he had sent.

First, a 2009 Nebbiolo d'Alba which is aged in stainless steel for 12 months. Young fruits dominate the nose – sweet, red, summer fruits (strawberry and cranberry) which follow through to the palate which has some spice, good concentration and mouthfeel (medium bodied) and  soft tannins which are slightly dry at present (it’s a young wine) and mute the wine a little at this stage. It will be better in another year or two and over the following four or five years but there’s plenty to enjoy now. 

Next up, the 2008 Nebbiolo d'Alba "Colla".  This wine is aged in 225 litre barrels for 12 months and is destined for the longer term. Quite restrained on the nose but wafts of purple fruits including raspberries and blackberries. A little closed at present but there is clearly much to look forward to: the palate is richer than the basic Nebbiolo and has deeper, darker fruit. More structure here so leave it for five (?) years when it will have begun to evolve into its secondary phase with more meat. For drinking 2015-2020+.

Finally, the 2008 Roero, also aged for 12 months in 225 litre barrels. More expressive than the Nebbiolo Colla 2008 with an enticing perfume of stewed red fruit which comes through on the rich palate alongside such bittersweet flavours as chocolate and coffee. Well wrapped and rounded and surprisingly accessible but I suspect it will close down to re-emerge in a few years as something quite spectacular. 2015-2020++.

Fabrizio also makes a white from the local Arneis grape, which we tried at the weekend. Quite citrusy - fresh - this is a sophisticated, balanced wine with a lovely long finish.

The other wine we tasted is the unusual, but exotic, late harvest Arneis (probably unique in that sense) which Fabrizio thinks of as his answer to Sauternes. I find it quite different, offering an uncanny reminder of the tinned peaches I loved as a child (OK, I don't like them so much now but this is grown up tinned peaches). Obviously there is a lot more going on here than just that though. 

So, time to start saving up for yet more wines from Piemonte!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Nada Giuseppe wines now in the UK

A Danish importer who specialises in wines from Piemonte caused a whirlwind of interest in Enrico Nada's wines when he presented them at a dinner in London in March (I think). There was so much interest but no-one to bring them in so I offered to help. As soon as I did so, Enrico sent me some samples which were duly tasted.

First was the Langhe Bianco, a delightfully fresh wine, enjoyed with Ciaran Rooney from Domaine des Anges on a baking hot day in the Vaucluse shortly before Easter. We were impressed enough to move on to the 2006 Barbaresco Riserva. Quite simply, this is a stunning wine: the texture is so silky and the fruit has so much there. It is quite possibly one of the best Nebbiolo wines I have tasted. That rather clinched things for me: from that moment, Nada Giuseppe had a UK importer.

A couple of days later, other wines were tried: I liked the other (non-Riserva) Barbarescos but, for my palate, the Riserva was so superior for very little extra. I especially enjoyed the Dolcetto (unusual for me!) and found the Barbera Superiore, Langhe Nebbiolo and Barolo all very good too. No prizes for guessing which wines have found their way onto the list then.