Now this is as controversial a subject as you can find in the wine world. You either love it or hate it, despise it or live by it. This is a topic that I am really fascinated by and I have no idea what started the fire or caused the curiosity, but i am almost obsessed with the subject of natural wine, much to the dislike of my fellow wine geeks, sorry Tim and Graeme…
So what is natural wine you may ask? Basically it is wine making with minimal-to-no intervention; taking nothing away from the wine and adding nothing to the wine. Wine in its simplest and purist form. No filtering, fining or additions to the wine which alters the way the wine looks, tastes and even matures. Only natural yeast that lives in the vineyard among the vines and on the berries, or in the cellar is allowed and it is left to take its natural course, meaning fermentation can be a lengthy process taking anything from 3 weeks to 10 months to complete. A lot of skin contact is also used for white wines similar to that in making red wine. This enables the juice to extract as much flavour, tannin and colour from the skins which in turn also helps to stabilise the wine without any additions.
Now many of us will say, But intervention is needed to produce a consistent product that will age in a predictive and controlled manner and reach the consumer exactly as planned. Wines that taste the same from one vintage to the next… I do not know about you guys, but to me that does not sound like something I am interested in. The allure of wine to me is the purity, the vintage variations, the bottle difference and the unpredictable nature of wine, opening a bottle of wine among friends or peers and waiting in anticipation to see how this one’s gonna turn out. To me that is what wine is all about; not a manufactured product that gets pumped out at a million litres a day and reaches me tasting exactly like it should. It is just not exciting.
Which brings me to a very interesting wine evening myself, Tim Butler, Graeme Broom and Christina(our fellow wine geek from Luvians) had when I celebrated my birthday a few months ago. Needless to say there was some stunning wines on the evening, with an ’85 Dom Perignon nearly stealing the show. The theme of the evening was South African wines and we had some gems on display. Among them was Eben Sadie’s Palladius, Sequillo white and red, Donavan Rall’s Wondering Beeste and then came 2 very special wines from Lammershoek winery The Cellar Foot Mourvedre and The Cellar Foot Underwater, our wines of the evening. Both are made with minimal intervention and using natural wine making techniques. This was surely something different. The palate was alive and fresh and the wines had an edge to them which none of us could explain. The Cellar Foot Mourvedre was the most discussed and at the end of the night got the award for wine of the night, not based on absolute quality, complexity, lengthy finish or purity, but based on interest and being unpredictable. Is this not what excites us as wine drinkers and geeks? It surely excites me.
Any wine writers website you go to nowadays, you are sure to find an article about natural wine and the very different opinions it stirs. I would go as far as saying heated discussions and arguments among peers and sommeliers all over the world. Why does this subject ruffle so many feathers and get even the most seasoned of wine drinkers and connoisseurs hot under the collar??? I surely do not know the answer. All I know is that it is the ‘in thing’ at the moment on the wine scene and definitely a favourite subject of sommeliers across the UK and Europe. I am awaiting a delivery of natural wines from Craig Hawkins from The Swartland in South Africa, where he produces wines under his Testalonga el Bandito label. These wines are receiving rave reviews from the likes of Tim Atkin MW and Jamie Goode and I have not been this excited about a certain wine, since I went to my first Penfolds tasting a year ago.
Watch this space for a review of these wines and I’ll try and share my experience the best I can with our readers. First I have the ominous task of convincing Tim Butler and Graeme Broom that natural wines are not as scary as they think ;-). And then maybe get some of them on our list at the restaurant!
To read and find out more about natural wine follow Isabelle Legeron on twitter or have a look at her website www.rawfair.com, or get her latest book called Natural Wine. I am currently busy reading it and can not put it down.
Till next time.
Your sommelier @pieterpinotage
So after my recent pit-stop in Chablis visiting the Domaine Fevre winery, my colleagues and I had planned 3 days tasting in Beaune. The wineries we had lined up were Bouchard Père & fils, Domaine de Bellene and Olivier Leflaive.
Bouchard are one of the grand statesmen of Burgundy, having been founded in 1731 in Volnay and moving into the very impressive Chateau de Beaune at the start of the 19th century. They are both negocients and a domaine winery, which means they buy grapes as well as grow their own on their ‘domaine’, before vinifying them. I generally prefer wine-makers to grow their own grapes and not buy them, as my simple belief is that wine is made in the vineyard, and even-though most negocients stress that they have long-standing contracts with growers which allows them to have overseeing control in the vineyards, I still think I can perceive a difference. So I was interested to get to grips with Bouchard and see what their wines delivered. They differentiate on the labels which wines are ‘domaine’ and which are ‘negocient’ (or rather the absence of the word ‘domaine’ means that it is a ‘negocient’ wine.)
Having the same parents as William Fevre in Chablis, being the Henriot family from Champagne, our tasting started with the whites and the Domaine Chablis 2011, which as the previous day’s tasting, showed beautifully. As for negocient wines, we tried the Pouilly-Fuisse 2011 and Puligny-Montrachet Les Champs-Gain 2010. The domaine wines that were opened were their Meursault 2011, Beaune du Chateau 1er Cru Blanc 2010 and the Corton-Charlemagne 2009. Their domaine wines definitely stood out compared to the negocient wines with the whites being tighter, richer, punchier, creamier; just generally better in every department. I came away feeling the negocient wines were a bit flat and uninspiring; not bad, just nothing to get excited about. The highlights were the Beaune du Chateau, which had marvellous complexity, and the Corton-Charlemagne which opened with a very attractive nose of butterscotch and popcorn, and a creamy palate with a zingy grapefruit lift.
The reds were a Fleurie ‘La Reserve’ 2011 Villa Ponciago, Cote de Beaune-Villages 2011 and a Gevrey-Chambertin 2011 from the negocient side. As for the domaine wines, we sampled their Beaune du Chateau 1er Cru Rouge 2009, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Cailles 2010 and the Beaune Greves Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus 2009. Likewise, the domaine reds were deeper, silkier, rounder, more complex and showed better fruit than their counterparts. The Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Cailles is a 1er cru but our host elegantly put it that it was in fact an ‘informal’ grand cru, being one of the finest vineyard sites in Nuits-Saint-Georges; sweet fruits and game on the nose, a delicious round palate, good acidity and a slightly hot finish. Their Beaune Greves is a 1er Cru exclusive to Bouchard and has legendary status; it is an intense, perfumed wine, complex and delicate, with a beautifully velvet texture.
The cellar tour was interesting as the old castle walls were unbelievably thick, which stabilises the cellar temperature throughout the year, but also the cellars run under the east quartier of Beaune and lay siege to some amazing old vintages of fine wine. A visit to Bouchard is well worth the effort, the history and grandeur are impressive. The produce an awful lot of wine, running from Chablis inthe north down to Beaujolais and the Macon in the south. But despite their size and dominance, their domaine wines have grace, poise and elegance.
Every year, us restaurateurs are asked by several guide books to fill in application forms, stating opening times, checking our address details and copying menus and wine lists. It is pretty dreary, and I don’t know why these forms do not come pre-filled in for us to check and sign. Anyway, there is always one question they ask which I do enjoy taking the time to think through and answer.
Q. What do you think will be the up-and-coming areas in wine production this year?
As a restaurant that invests a lot of time and resources into our wines, it is important for us to consider this. In the 10 years we have been open in St Andrews, the trends have shifted. The trade talked about the sleeping giant of Alsace wines for years, but they never awoke and conquered the world. I hardly ever hear people talk about them any more, which is a shame as the noble Riesling is one of the world’s greatest grape varieties, as well as idiosyncratic wines such as Gewurztraminer and Alsatian Pinot Gris.
We then had the Kiwi phenomenon. It seems that even to this day, there are dozens of new Sav Blancs appearing, and they have become much of a sameness. Their ‘in-your-face’ aromas are now too much and lack the elegance that people want. Aussie wine is in the doldrums due to over-production, and vines are getting ripped up and replaced with courgettes!
I flirted with Portuguese wines more recently, but our sales of their wines never amounted to much. In their place, Spain is now producing such crisp and aromatic whites, as well as better defined reds, that their star has risen more than their neighbours’. Across the Catalan border, we have seen the largest wine region in France, the Languedoc break new ground for us but that was predominantly due to the fact that we have been a lot more closely involved with certain winemakers; me being best man and one of our ex-sommelier’s assisting in the vinification to the winemaker.
Italian wines have been on the marche (get it!) as they seem to tick all the right boxes at the moment. Light and elegant whites with great acidity and freshness, and balanced reds with pleasant amounts of alcohol which pair with food. Is it any wonder that we are choosing wines that have grown up with the food that we are cooking in our kitchens right across the UK. Gordon’s meatballs and spaghetti with a cheeky wee Chianti, or Jamie’s Linguine alle Vongole with a fiano. It sounds like with the current financial crisis, we have travelled back to the days of Al Capone.
Despite my many visits to the heart of Burgundy and the Côte d”Or, I had never been to the region nor the town of Chablis to taste their wines. Since the early days of The Seafood Restaurant, I have sold bucket-loads of Chablis, and my lack of respect to one of my greatest selling appelations was remiss of me. My absence over the years has been due mainly by the attraction of other regions which offered more variety, not only in their vinous offerings but also in their atmosphere and nightlife. Although the time of year meant that the night-time temperature sank below zero, it also gave me a greater appreciation to the winemakers and vineyard managers; a lesson on how to produce such great wines on the extreme edge of sustainable viticulture.
Chablis is part of Burgundy but has a soul of its own due principally to its different soil types. The area almost exclusively produces Chardonnay, with 7 Grand Crus, 40 Premier Crus, the generic Chablis AC and the more recent Petit Chablis. Petit Chablis does not represent a lesser quality Chablis but certainly suggests it. The main difference is that the AOCs Chablis, 1er Cru and Grand Cru vineyards are all found on, and their character defined by, the Kimmeridgian soils, formed out of ancient seabeds, which gives Chablis its “unique” mineral quality. I emphasise unique as our host quickly pointed out that the only other place in the world with similar soils is to be found in Margaret River, in Western Australia, which explains some of their success in producing crisp, mineral wines. Petit Chablis vineyards are to be found on the richer clay-limestone soils, called Portlandian, and Es kann als universeller Joker des online casino spiele s andere Symbole ersetzen. the locals do not consider them to be true Chablis. I am not convinced that Petit Chablis is 100% Chardonnay either, but will stand corrected.
After a tour of the winery and cellars, which do not differ much from other areas, we settled into the tasting room where several bottles were open. We were a mix of wine writer, sales rep, restaurateur and novice, but our host quickly went off to find a few more gems for us to try. We started with the meek Petit Chablis, negociant Chablis, domaine Chablis, various “prem” crus and ended up at Grand Cru level. What I enjoy about tasting this way is that I can get a grasp on the “house” style, and with William Fevre Domaine, there were tasting descriptives that kept on popping up; waxy, fruit notes such as grapefruit, physalis, star fruit, a touch of smoke here and there. Fevre”s wines are pure, clean and show a great respect to the different terroirs of the vineyards. Of course they vinify vineyards seperately, as most winemakers do, but Fevre allows these subtle differences of terroir, vineyard exposition, micro-climate to show in their wines. I left Chablis with great admiration and respect for William Fevre Domaine. I have never sold their Chablis, although having always been aware of them. I assumed that their wines were generic and uncharacterful. I was wrong. You may see some on my wine list rather soon.
Rather bizarrely, we popped into the local Corkscrew museum to kill 5 minutes…We ended up spending 30 minutes in there tittering and smirking at hundreds of louche and debauched designs. Here are a few mild examples:
We then headed off down some winding roads to Beaune, the heart of Burgundy, where we came upon a perfect photo opportunity… What is it with the French?
We in St Andrews have been blessed for many years with extensive range of wines, beers and spirits available at Luvians Bottleshop and the knowledge of their staff. They have built up a fantastic reputation over the years and I have spent far too many hours scouring their shelves for rare gems to try. Well one of Luvians’ previous shop managers has opened up his own wine and spirits store on Bell Street. The St Andrews Wine Company may not have the huge range of Luvians, nor the wine cases cascading over the floors or the 30 million different types of beers for sale, but what it does do, and very well too, is to offer a great boutique range of fabulous wines, personally chosen by the lovely Peter Wood, whose pride in his selection is evident and infectious. The St Andrews Wine Company promises us a very personal service, regular emails with the latest offerings, a wine club (potentially working with us on this one) and a less is more mentality which will sell you a wine which will go down a treat, whether you plan to drink by itself or paired with your dinner. The only downside I can see is that instead of one shop in which I can lose track of time, there are now two.
Have a look at their Facebook page here St Andrews Wine Company
Master of Wine, Tim Atkin has a fantastic web site, on which he lists the UK”s Top Wine Merchants, Top Wine Bars and the recently posted Top Restaurant Wine Lists. It is fair to say that we were proud to be seen amongst such a revered peer group as Gidleigh Park, La Trompette and La Gavroche, but also by the fact that there were only 5 Scottish restaurants on the list. As well as us, there were 63 Tay Street in Perth, The Cross in Kingussie, The Bon Vivant and Divino Enotiea both in Edinburg.
As you can see by the frequent photos of me and my staff tasting wines, we take this job very seriously and are massively passionate about wine. We have started to support En als je een ronde weinig wint win je in elk geval nog iets in plaats van dat je zonder resultaat weer opnieuw moet draaien!Dat kan natuurlijk! Je kunt bijvoorbeeld eens proberen om roulette of blackjack uit te proberen, of een andere gratis gokkast. and train the University of St Andrews Wine team, and in our first full year we overturned a decade of narrow losses to Edinburgh University and beat them in March in the annual Pol Roger challenge between the two unis. Some of the team competed at Bollinger in Champagne and down in London for the Bordeaux challenge against the best teams in Europe.
Some of my staff have participated in wine harvests and have built up an in-depth knowledge of the wine making process, another ex-sommelier has written a book, called Salt & Old Vines, on wine-making in the Roussillon, which is waiting for crowd-funding for it to be published. Here is a link if you want to pre-order a copy.
We spend a lot of time reading, researching and trying wines, so much so that our list is frequently changing, reflecting seasons, fads and trends. What we most enjoy about wine is sharing our passion with others, so the next time you come in, don”t hide in the list, don”t sweat about making the wrong choice, don”t feel awkward about asking questions; we know our list, our wines, how they are tasting, what dishes they pair with. Jump onto the crazy wine train that we are riding and you”ll discover a vast wine lake of fun.
I excitedly accepted an invitation to visit Rioja and Ribera del Duero, as, despite having visited quite a few wineries in France and New Zealand, I had never seen the Spaniards in action. I have always thought that some of the best value-for-money wines money can buy are from Spain, and they have strict maturation laws which suit the British palate of drinking wine with a bit of age on them. As well as the fact that the weather in St Andrews in October had turned pretty miserable, I skipped onto the plane in Edinburgh even though it was 6.00am on a Monday morning.
Edinburgh, Stansted, Bilbao; hire car; we were in Rioja by early afternoon, having stopped for a quick cerveza on the way. Luis Canas was set up in 1928 in Rioja Alavesa, one of the 3 Riojan sub-regions but arguably the best. It was only in recent decades that this winery has surged forward at an impressive pace, adding to it another range of Rioja wines called Bodegas Amaren, although they are made from the same winery. They have also just moved into the Ribera del Duero region to the south of Rioja with the creation of both Dominio de Cair and Lu&Be; and yes they have been told that this unfortunately resembles the word “lube” in English.
Rioja is known for its use of Tempranillo, principally, but also dabbles with Graciano and Garnacha (Grenache noir). There are also some quantities of Cab Sauv and other play things for the winemakers. For the whites, the main grape is Viura, but there also exists Malvasia. In Ribera to the south, they are almost exclusively a red wine region, and I have never seen any of their white, if it even exists. As I online casinos mentioned before, there is also a lot of oak, both the tighter and leaner French, but also the sweeter and rounder American oak, whose vanilla notes complement the jammy berry flavours of Tempranillo beautifully. Although there is extensive use of oak, it is used in such a delicate and deliberate way which marries and integrates the wines, combines the minerality and the fruit flavours and brings to a close the wine with a peppery finish, like an orchestra”s final chord of the concerto: Ta-da!
What I didn”t bargain on experiencing was the passion and the commitment to quality that I saw at Luis Canas. With Rioja, I had assumed that the volumes of wine produced, the price of the wines on the shelves, the discounts you see in the supermarkets, that all these were the result of mass-produced wines, with no feeling or care. Well, Luis Canas completely turned that idea on its head. The investment in winery equipment which helps their grape selection process would match Nasa”s budget. In Burgundy, and this is the reason I love it so much, you basically have a bunch of farmers, Gallic farmers at that, hand-harvesting the grapes and chucking the bunches in whole, with the stalks, some leaves, some unlucky insects still clinging to their ecosystem, press the juice out, ferment, age and voila. In Rioja, there was an OCD attitude of de-stemming the bunches, i.e. removing each grape from the bunch, putting it through a very strict quality control selection process, then into the ferment stage. This avoids the more resin-y, stalky flavours that are found in many French wines, and focusses on the bright fruit juice in the grape itself.
The next morning we woke and headed south for an hour into Ribera del Duero to visit Luis Canas” new winery, Dominio de Cair. We all know Spanish do architecture pretty well; well, this winery was unbelievably quirky, beautiful, cool…I could go on. Tempranillo is, again, the mainstay but with a greater depth, more backbone and structure and an ability to age too. The most expensive Spanish wine, Vega Sicilia, comes from this region and is traded on the market for mega-bucks.
After several tastings and looking at different expressions of Rioja and Ribera wines, what is mind-blowingly obvious is that for a few quid more, instead of your discounted supermarket Crianza for £5.99, you could treat yourself to a seriously well-made wine, but also very approachable and so more-ish. The top bodegas of these regions are making wines with passion, modernity, being amazingly selective and proud in their end product.
These wines are available through Alliance Wines.
If you are lucky enough to go on a trip to Champagne to see one of the Champagne producers, this blog will give you an idea of what to expect. I was invited by Joseph Perrier to visit at the end of September, an unusual time to visit as it was the end of harvest which is traditionally the busiest and most frantic time of year; and this year in particular late rains were threatening to ruin what had been a difficult growing period over the summer months, followed by 3 glorious weeks in early September. A late rain can have devastating effects on the harvest, playing havoc with sugar and acidity levels in the grapes.
Vintage 2012 started in June with a flowering which lasted 3 weeks. This means that some grapes will reach maturity 21 days before others. When a grape reaches maturity, it has to be harvested immediately to achieve the desired balance between sugar and acidity. On one vine, not only can bunches of grapes ripen unevenly, but even grapes in one bunch. With the two Pinot varieties ripening earlier than Chardonnay, we caught the end of the Chardonnay picking on 26th and 27th September. This photo to the left shows an unripe and still very green bunch of Pinot Noir grapes has been left on the vine and has missed the cut for this year.
Once each plot or vineyard has been harvested, the bunches, kept whole, are rushed off to the press-house, where they are crushed in pneumatic crushers 4,000kg at a time. Off the first pressing of the grapes, 2,050 litres are taken, followed by a second which produces a mere 500 lt. This second juice is kept seperate, and fermented apart, only being used to top up or adjust the main volume of wine, depending on the sugar and acidity levels. The second pressing is of a lesser quality and contains a lot more stalky, resinous online casino australia flavours from the skins, stalks, pips and some leaves. The grape juice will ferment in big stainless steel tanks, or cuves, with possible ageing in oak barrels for some Champagne houses, such as Bollinger. Joseph Perrier prefer the fresher style that stainless steel gives and oak none of their champagnes in oak. Once the first fermentation is complete, the champagne, which at this point is still a still wine, is blended according to the House style, with some favouring a more elegant Chardonnay based blend, others for more fruity style from the Pinots. Then some “liqueur de tirage” is added, which is a mixture of yeast and sugars to begin the secondary fermentation. The wine is then bottled and capped with a crown cap, similar to a beer bottle top. The bottles are finally stacked and racked down in the cellars where they will age for a minimum of 3 years.
A visit to the cellars in Champagne is always fascinating. Some cellars run for miles, others harbour stories of being bricked up during the Great War and World War II, with bottles lying untouched for decades, hidden from Nazi eyes, even in some cases forgotten about until by chance the cache is rediscovered revealing historic vintages of Champagne. As for the Champagne, this is where it will age gracefully until the day comes for it to be disgorged, the crown cap replaced with a champagne cork, labelled and boxed, ready for our enjoyment. If you ever get the chance of a visit to one of the great Champagne houses, jump at the chance.
There has been a surge in interest in Growers Champagnes. This surge is probably due to the fact that most Champagne houses have been increasing their prices year on year with inflation busting rises, which borders on sheer greed, thus forcing the consumer to look elsewhere. Growers Champagnes are essentially wines from farmers who may have been contracted into providing their grapes to the larger Champagne houses but have had a change of heart and fancy bottling their own goods. What you get as the consumer is a champagne from a far smaller area, potentially single vineyard expressions, much more terroir and wines which are not priced to include massive international marketing budgets. These often visually-understated, humble champagnes will not mean basement price fizz, but they will mean great value for money and a wine that has been carefully and lovingly made by a very proud winemaker.
During a recent tasting, it was unfortunate for our wine rep to start with a NV Blanc de Blancs from bhrclayton.com href=”http://http://www.diebolt-vallois.com” target=”_blank”>Diebolt-Vallois. This blew our socks off and the rest of the tasting was a write-off as Nicolas and I kept on coming back to the champagne for further mouthfuls while ignoring all the other wines our rep had brought us. The Diebolt-Vallois is the first to be added to our new Growers Champagne section in our wine list, and we will soon add 2 or 3 more. We will keep these in minimal stock, maybe 3 bottles of each so that we can regularly change them when something newer and shinier comes along. I thoroughly recommend you try these when you next come in.
On a blustery April Tuesday afternoon, we were treated to a 5 course tasting menu chosen by Executive Chef, Craig Millar, to accompany the outstanding Maison Krug portfolio. Krug winemaker Julie Cavil doggedly made her way from Rheims to St Andrews by train and automobile, but sadly no plane due to the extraordinary occurance of volcanic ash clouds blocking the skies and grounding European flights. Krug is one of my favourite Champagne houses, and I sincerely suggest you make it one of yours too, as the sheer elegance, delicacy, structure and purity of flavours will knock your socks off.
Several weeks back, Kirsty Duncanson of LVMH lead Craig through the portfolio, so that he could create a properly balanced and complementary menu to marry with the individual wines we would be tasting. What he came up with was tasteful cooking at its best; neither too showy nor too shy. The menu was as follows:
A potato velouté, fish beignet and mini onion rings served with Krug Grand Cuvée
Uig Lodge smoked salmon, cucumber jelly, horseradish and caviar served with Krug Rosé
Stone bass, fennel and liquorice served with Krug Vintage 1996
Finn cheese with truffled honey served with Krug Collection 1982
Apple crumble served with Krug Grand Cuvée.
Suffice to say that the food and champagne matching were outstanding, the highlights were how Krug Grand Cuvée was able to match both the savoury amuse of potato velouté and the acidic sweetness of apple crumble, all be it a ‘take’ on your traditional apple crumble. The Krug Rosé hit the cucumber jelly spot on with the richness of the salmon and caviar balacing the slightly oilier palate of the Rosé. We were definitely priviledged to be drinking the Vintage ’96 as there is very little left to be had anywhere, with Julie calling this particular 90’s vintage as being the ‘wild horse’ in the Krug family due to its power. Krug only released 4 vintages in the 90’s; being the 1990, 1995, 1996 and 1998.
Finn cheese is an unpasturised cows’ milk cheese made by the Charlie Westhead of Neal’s Yard Creamery. The hint of mushroom was superbly balanced by the truffled honey; an outstanding course of simplicity which shone with the Collection 1982. Julie said her thank you’s, and we said ours, and with a whoosh of wind she was gone, being driven down to Edinburgh to the next tasting and then dinner in the recently starred restaurant 2-1-2-1-2. Krug is, and has been, a legend in its own lunchtime, granting me another memory for my latter years.