11 October 2013

Domaine de Terrebrune



French house numbers jump around along a road. Up and down they go, seemingly at random, rooted not in any physical reality, nor indeed in relation to each other. Charming in a laissez-faire French-y kind of way, but anathema to the art of navigation.

Miraculously ‘though, once we had found Domaine de Terrebrune, we were only 30 minutes late. Little matter, especially as, according to them, we were in fact a full 21 days late. Which I suppose makes the charm, ease and generosity we then encountered all the more impressive.

Bonjour from Domaine Terrebrune

The Domaine Terrbrune was bought originally in 1963 and planted mostly to Mourvedre. Allegedly when the founder Georeges Delille was told by Lucien Peyraud of Domaine Tempier “You have gold under your feet.”

And indeed the Terroir here is striking. The soils from which the Domaine takes it’s name are a dark, dusty reddish-brown. The vineyards are elevated behind the town of Bandol, but in the hills and woodland that block the view of the sea there is a gap, a perfect channel for cooling sea breezes straight to the vines.

Those brown soils

It gives the wines a mineralic structure, not common in this very hot area of France. They’re not big, but they’re bony, with fine acidity that gives the legs for extended ageing.

Georges’ son Reynald now runs the estate with the with a quietly understated passion. In the vineyards (we were there during harvest) he is constantly checking the vines and tasting the fruit whilst talking to us. In the winery his enthusiasm, particularly for the ageability of the wines, needs no encouraging. Whilst the Rose and White are fermented in steel and then released young, the red spends a further 18 months in foudres, and two years in bottle before release. ‘Though that’s not to say the rose can’t age too- in their cave they have bottles of it going back to the 1980s.

2012 Rouge in barrel

The range of wines Reynald opened for us is emblematic of the spirited generosity, and pride, that is so easy to encounter amongst French winemakers. My notes:

2012 Bandol Blanc – Striking herbaceousness. Green fruit. Acidity and lemons on the palate, but grassy. Not 100% convinced by this.

2009 Bandol Rouge – Lovely nose, gorgeous, rich pure dark fruit. The palate brims with a spiky, sour-blackberry acid streak and a long minerality. Absolutely love it. Will go decades.

2008 Bandol Rouge – Duskier, red earth, leather a little spice. Feels balanced now and a great expression of Bandol. The fruit is in check. This is stonier, a real expression of the domaine’s Terroir. Long life ahead.

2007 Bandol Rouge – Like the previous, but with the elements turned down just a touch. Nice balance though.

2003 Bandol Rouge – Like 2009 another hot year. There’s much more ripe fruit on the nose sweet raspberries. It still has backbone, but is more generous. Drinking gorgeously now.

1991 Bandol Rouge – This is becoming more Bordeaux like. Some funk and earth on the nose, but still lush, generous fruit on the palate. The acidity has faded into the wine, and the tannins barely whisper. Needs food and not for everyone, but a class act.

2012 Bandol Rose – Rose tasted after the reds. My French not good enough to understand the explication on this one, but it doesn’t detract. The nose is so pure. Slate-y, buckets of minerality. Really fine light citrus and strawberry fruit. Beautiful balance. Beautiful.

1997 Bandol Rose – Golden orange. Apples. Oxidation? Peynald says ‘evolution’. Whatever, it’s not there on the palate. Sumptuous weight. Honey, quince. Stones. More like white Burgundy. Difficult to understand at first, but glorious at the last.

2012 Bandol Rouge - From barrel, another six months elevage then two years in bottle before release. This is good. Sappy, fresh red fruit. Pure and mineral. Gives the impression it’s going to be a real winner.

The charming Reynald, with my equally charming mother

We currently stock 2012 Rose and 2008 Rouge. £21 and £25 respectively. 2009 on the way.

13 September 2013

Love


I hate Australian wines. Big, boisterous, bollixed around with, sweet, soupy and indistinct. Shiraz bowdlerising the Rhone. Chardonnay mocking Chassange-Montrachet. What a joke.

Well that was 12 months ago anyway. Since then some of the best, brightest and most interesting wines I’ve come across have been from down under.

Of course we kinda hit the ground running here at Dvine. Greg’s been honing his palate for years, and visited scores of winemakers to fine-tune the selection we have on the shelves. They’re amongst the finest quality-led producers that Oz has to offer, well-known (to those in the know), and well respected.

But it seems too that every new tasting I attend, every new producer I discover, there’s new gold. Down south in Victoria is the epicentre of a shift away from new oak and over-ripe, over-alcoholic wines. Chardonnay with precision and minerality. Pinot’s with a purity of fruit not seen outside France. Lush and fruity Grenache tempered by a stalky savoury edge. Yes the exchange rate has hit Aussie wine exports hard, but in more expensive wines this is exceeded many times over by the increase in quality.

A recent tasting with relatively new winemakers really brought home what I already knew:

Jamsheed Pepe Le Pinot
Really pure red fruit. Fresh and oh so drinkable, lovely pinot notes with just a hint of mushroom on the end. Superbly classy. Silly value. £18

Jamsheed La Syrah
Less green than the previous vintage, beautiful Syrah pepperiness and generous, brambly, dark blackcurrant fruit. Like this a lot. £18

Ochota Barrells The Green Room
What a nose! Beautiful minerality and lovely ripe strawberry fruit. Really generous and so juicy. Just a little beautifully green stalky tannin on the end. £25


I love Australian wines.

19 August 2013

Beaujolais

Here in the Beaujolais one sees that the nightmare can happen. A recipe, a formula, can take over an entire region. When old-timers like Chaudet and Chauvet are gone, even the memory of the old-style Beaujolais will have vanished.

This comes toward the end of the despairing, elegiac chapter on Beaujolais in Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route. Lynch profiles a single old man; Jules Chauvet, dying of cancer, and yet still raging against modernity and the dessication of traditional Beaujolais.

Little did he know that when he wrote, in the mid 1980s, he wrote on the eve of revolution.

Learning from Chauvet at the time, practising his methods and understanding his pratices, were a group of young vignerons; Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton and Jean-Paul Thevenet who would go on to revolutionise winemaking not just in the Beaujolais, but in every significant grape-growing country in the world. This was the nascent ‘Natural Wine’ movement.

Today their wines, along with scores of others, put Beaujolais amongst the most interesting and best-value quality wine regions in the world. They range sappy limpid vins de soif to structured mineral reds that resemble, with age, the fine Burgundies to the north.

Wines from the ten Crus (villages whose vineyards are recognised as producing the highest quality wines) are inimitable, and some border on sheer perfection:



Jean Foillard Morgon Cote du Py 2011

'Il Morgonne' They say. The verb created to describe the way in which this particular Cru Beaujolais ages gracefully into something resembling red Burgundy over 5-10 years ('Pinoter' is another one.) Brilliant purple. Cherries, burnt leaves, unreal focus. Palate is sappy, living, sexy. Darker fruit. Ghosted tannins. Fuck. Absolutely complete. A light wine but with gravity in its flawlessness.

£24

09 August 2013

Rioja

By rights Rioja should be rubbish. A warm climate, ripe, high alcohol grapes and shed loads of new oak are anathema to the production of elegant, complex age-worthy wines. It should stand as testament to all I consider floored, cack-handed and just plain wrong about modern winemaking. It should be spoofy, confected, cynical, soupy and one-dimensional. I should hate it.

And yet (of course) it’s not, and I don’t.

Rioja, even when aged in American oak, can be a glorious, smooth and sensually textured wine. Comparisons to Burgundy are not misplaced. In the best examples the quality of the fruit shines through toasty, vanilla notes. And the snap of acidity at the end melts into the wine with time and gives it the bones for serious ageing. I genuinely believe it is about the best value fine wine in the world.
Two recent examples:

Urbina Gran Reserva 1996
Gorgeous elegant dried flowers. Violets. Mushrooms. Sweet red fruit, but a gravelly seriousness underneath. Dark plums on the palate, succulent blackberries. Luxurious and long. Beautiful integration. Very serious kit but still a baby.



Montecillo Vina Monty Gran Reserva 1986
Undergrowth, flowers, mushrooms, decaying rose petals, compost, mouldy raspberries. Cheese, vanilla. Flashy acidity. Strawberries, tea and dried herbs. Earth. Dust. Ethereal. This wine is exactly the same age as me, but I'd reckon it is at least 7 times better.



Whilst I would say the former is the better quality wine overall, the decade between these two wines underlines the wondeful way in which Rioja ages. Fading gracefully, relaxing into itself and becoming more tertiary, subtler, at once more pronounced, but more elusive. More intense, but more ineffable.


The first is available from us at £24, the second was bought in Spain for €17.

03 June 2013

Vinicola 4 Kilos, Mallorca



We were somewhere around Felanitx on the edge of the Pla when despair began to take hold.

Felanitx is a town full of narrow one way streets and shamelessly contradictory signposts. We had driven around it twice and asked for directions to Vinicola 4 Kilos maybe ten times in our broken Mallorquin. And met each time with the same response; its existence acknowledged, its whereabouts unknown.

Finally, on a dirt track outside town we found a man on a boat in a field whose vague directions led us through the countryside to an unmarked and unpeopled set of farm outbuildings. This it transpired was 4 Kilos’ winery, we were a good hour late for our appointment, but no matter- it was perfectly clear that they weren’t expecting us.

In a yard out back we found a hippyish young winemaker called Eloi playing with some biodynamic nettle preparations. And to cut an already long story short he said: A.) That he recognized me from my bandana which was the same Spanish flag I had worn at RAW wine fair in London the previous week. B.) I shouldn’t wear it in a Catalan area. And C.) Though he wasn’t involved with 4Kilos, he was working there at the moment and would happily show me round and taste through some wines.

We may have broken some rules

4Kilos is named for the amount (4 million pesetas) that the winery was originally bought for in 2006 by Sergio Caballero, a musician, and Francesc Grimalt, a winemaker. Grimalt had previously founded what is still perhaps Mallorca’s most famous winery: Bodegas Anima Negra. He was amongst the first to pull his wines out of the island’s two denominacions to allow more freedom in both vineyard sites and grape varieties, and also to recognize the potential of one of Mallorca’s indigenous red grape varieties: Callet. Most of the wines at 4 Kilos are still Vi de la Terra and predominantly Callet.

The vineyard sites are scattered throughout the island, but we jumped in Eloi’s van to one five minutes away. It was young vines, roughly half Syrah, half Callet, the Callet always planted at the top of sloping vineyards, because of the lower water content in the soils after rain. It is a difficult variety to grow in less good sites apparently, prone to uneven ripening meaning that as much as 20% of the grapes can be lost at the sorting table. A labour of love.

Eloi with the young vine Callet

4 Kilos take the unusual step of vinifying and ageing every plot they have (and there are many) separately. Fermentation is in steel, ageing mostly in 225L new French oak. It’s still almost impossible in Mallorca to find reds without lashings of vanilla-y oak, though 4 Kilos are cutting down apparently.

Tasting the (unblended) 2012s from barrel, before their ageing, it’s clear that Callet is a pretty, aromatic grape, with pepperiness, florality and a balanced acidity. It reminds me of a cross between Syrah and Gamay. And with a little more colour and lighter alcohol than Mallorca’s other famous red grape Mantonegro. No bad thing in anyone’s book. We tasted maybe ten barrels, all from different sites, all subtly different, and all recognizably similar.

Each barrel from a different site

But here’s the rub: one wine which we particularly enjoyed for its freshness and the sappy red fruit was a single barrel of carbonic maceration Mantonegro. ‘What wine will this become?’ I asked. Eloi smiled, ‘Ah no.’ He said. ‘This one is for us at the harvest.’ A telling testament to the disconnect between what winemakers or those who work in the industry enjoy, and what they perceive the public want.

Lastly we tasted some of Eloi’s own wines, which he had been showing the previous week in London under the name Sistema Vinari. Stand out was a carbonic maceration blend of mostly Callet, which was fresh and clean, with a load of generous red fruit. Last year he made an orange wine, and experimented with fermenting in clay, none of the wines have been sulphured. This vintage may never see export because of the volatile acidity levels, but he’s worked with some of the big names in natural wine, and is certainly someone to watch.

This is the future of Mallorquin winemaking: a move away from new oak and Cabernet, and toward indigenous grape varieties that speak of themselves and their vineyard. Made with passion and expertise in a shed in the middle of nowhere. 
Vinicola 4 Kilos

16 May 2013

Bodegas Los Frailes

Fortunately this visit to the Valencia region I was a little more organised and prearranged a visit to  Bodegas los Frailes who have 130 ha of organic vines.  The vineyard is in the process of converting to Biodynamic viticulture because of the belief that it yields better soil health, better fruit and better wine.


even mimba the dog was happy


They do not use any fruit outside of their own and produce 300 000 bottles.  The valley is relatively moist and green due to the breeze from the sea which enables a fresher style of wine.  The valley is lush in comparison to the arid landscape in Yecla and Jumilla.




The current family have run the property since 1771 and prior to that it was fully functioning monastery for a hell of a long time who engaged in a little viticulture to justify 12 amphora and channeling.  As these were found behind a sealed wall their age hasn't been verified.  Though with the lack of pipe work and use of channels to distribute wines to amphora it could be a roman vintage.



That was then and this is now... where wines are either fermented in barrel or the less romantic but very effective stainless steel tanks. 


So a little white to refresh the palate.   The 333,  which is a blend of Muscat(25%), Verdil (25%) and Sauvignon Blanc (50%).   Veridl in case you are wondering is an indigenous grape of spain and is dwindling in production and mainly used in blends such as this.  Just as well too, it keeps the acidity levels up and makes this a fresh blend of floral and green stone fruit.  A great summer drinking white for those who want a dry fresh wine.  Would be about £10.   Foodwise, it goes really well with salt cod croquettes, or most pan fried white fish especially if they are served with capers.  The fruit flavours and acidity of the wine balance out the salt and any butter.  
As it's was Rose weather, it would have been a little rude to ignore the darker coloured monastrell rose which tasted of all peaches and cream.  Any sweetness was counteracted by some a acidity and a hint of white pepper.  This was an unexpected star.


The unoaked effe Monastrell delivers pure red fruit flavour with any oak or jam.  There is a little tannin  and green leaf but at £10 this is a bargain and nice change from a big Monastrell that generally comes from Yecla, Valencia or Jumilla.  

This is definitely a wine to have with some food as I tried it with a little chorizo and it just sang.

It's bigger brother the Bilogica is a blend of syrah and monastrell is still fresh but delivers some more weight due to the barrell aging in Hungarian oak.  

The Trilogica is made up of Monastrell, Tempranillo and garnacha is a little more meaty with some darker fruits coming to the fore. That would be the garnacha and tempranillo then.  Some BBQ lamb chops wouldn't go a miss with this baby.

oh Moma  is a blend of Monastrell and an introduction to a variety I have not had before, Marselan that is a cross between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.   The blackcurrant and red fruits appear with the same acidic streak seen previously.  The big difference is the caramel notes and pepper spice that also appear.

1771 uses the prime crop of monastrell.  It is in fact one of the few I have had that gets close to Hewitson's Old Garden Mouvedre.  Possibly due to the 80 year old vines that exhibit phenomenal character and depth.  Light in colour, fresh fruits of dark damson,  caramelised onion, salted caramels..... and the list goes on and on.  This hasn't even been bottled yet, but we look forward to it when it does hit the street.
and for dessert, after 3, whiich is also a monastrell with a forest of darker red fruit, mint leaf and caramel.  Really intoxicating and perfect for chocalate driven deserts.

The most surprising thing abut all of these wines is the freshness.  They still have acidity which for wines in the area is quite rare.  The quality of fruit shines through in each wine, even the very cheapest still demonstrates this.

Thanks to Maria and her fine hospitality at Bodegas los Frailes.  Currently only the F Monastrell is available in the Uk but D Vine Cellars are working to change that.


























22 November 2012

What is it about the sheep.....



We don’t sell much of this wine, barely any in fact. It’s not inexpensive, Alsatian, comes in one of their funny elongated bottles that people associate with crap Riesling, is made from a high yielding poor quality grape that nobody’s heard of, and it’s got a pretty naff label with a sheep on it.*



Andre Ostertag is our kind of winemaker. His domain has been biodynamic since 1998, and he consistently turns out some of the purest, most focused expressions of Alsatian varieties going. Sylvaner is Alsace’s also-ran. Originating in Germany, it has acid but not much else which means it usually finds its way into blends and is rarely varietally bottled.

This is a bit of a game-changer, especially in the 2010 vintage. There’s huge concentration of spiced pears and quinces on the nose, and a honeyed generosity in the mouth followed by zippy acidity on the tail.

It is, quietly, one of the best balanced and most lovely whites on our shelves.....

*On a separate note- why is it that all of the big four Sunday roast animals (cow, chicken, pig, sheep) have negative connotations when applied to humans? It’s anthropomorphism gone mad. 

Oliver North



You have probably noticed it's not me....... so In an effort to update the blog more frequently, I have asked Oliver North who is part of the founding team at D Vine Cellars to contribute.  I hope you enjoy his work.  Greg