WanderCurtis Wine

Wine tastings, corporate events, reviews and recommendations


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The Many Faces of Zweigelt

Full disclosure, I have a very soft spot for Austrian wine.  It is undoubtably through my partner, who is Austrian, that I have grown to love the many and varied delights that the country and its people have to offer. It’s fair to say that family Curtis pulls its weight when it comes to consumption of Schnitzels, quaffing of Greuner Veltliner and bashing of mogul pistes. Oh, and it goes without question that Semmel are the best bread rolls ever and nobody makes better ryebread.

Anyway, we’ve written at length about Austria’s fabulous white wines: Greuners and Rieslings from the Wachau, Kamptal and increasingly from Traisental along with the characterful Sauvignon Blancs from SudSteirmark, but not enough about the country’s excellent red wines.   My suspicion is that a lot of Austrian red wine just doesn’t make it out of the country because demand at home is so healthy. So, I was delighted be invited to a lunch spotlighting Zweigelt and the grape’s many faces organised Neusiedlersee DAC.

Zweigelt is the most planted red grape variety in Austria, second only to Gruener Veltliner in terms of vineyard area. It is a cross between Austria’s other two main red grapes, Blaufraenkisch and St. Laurent, the former, late ripening with high acidity and firm tannins and the later early ripening with delicate fruit and moderate tannins.  The result, it is argued, is a wine that displays the best of both and is fruit forward, with gentle acidity and soft tannin. It can be made in a forward fruity style at a great price point or through selection and sometimes aging in barrique as a more structured reserve wine capable of many years bottle age.

Neusiedlersee DAC (designated area of origin) is located to the east of the Neusiedlersee a large lake on the boarder between Austria and Hungary.  The designation is only for the production of Zweigelt and sweet wines although most of the winemakers in the area also produce a variety of other wines too.

Some nice Burgenlaendlisch drinking slang!

To demonstrate this the aperitif served before lunch was a Welschriesling Voll Freude 2021 by Georg Preisinger.  Fresh with citrus and apple served gespritzt.  The perfect refresher: half wine and half sparkling mineral water.

Next a young 2021 Zweiglet by Preiner Wein, served with an autumnal mushroom risotto. 

Very fruit forward with accessible berries and a whiff of spice on the nose. A nice midweight body, soft tannins and good freshness. Well balanced and a collaborative partner to the delicate risotto flavours. Tasty!

The main course of grilled sweetbread was served with single vineyard Zweigelt by Gebrueder Nittnaus, Zweigelt Golser Ried Luckenwald 2004.

The wine demonstrated how well the variety can develop in the bottle in the right hands.

On the nose cut strawberries, damp forest floor, a touch of vanilla from the Barriques. It retained a lovely juiciness on the palate with complex tertiary notes of mulch and mushroom.  Great length. Excellent and it held its own against the richness of the sweetbread.

Finally with a desert of baked apple and vanilla cream a TBA Welschriesling Siddartha 2018 by Johannes Muenzenrieder.  Wow a delicious nose of peach, roasted nut and honey, more of the same in the mouth, lovely balance and length. Sweet wines from near the Neusiedlersee benefit from the morning mist and afternoon sun and somehow retain great freshness.

The line up of Zweigelts on the free pour table displayed a spectrum of wines most of which were juicy and tasty from the off with some cellared samples that had developed lovely complexity. There were nice examples by Artisan Wines, Weingut Kummer, Keringer, Preiner Wein, Hannes Reeh, Salzl Seewinkelhof and Allacher.

Hopefully we’ll start seeing some of these lovely Zweigelts appearing in shelves in the UK soon!


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Domaine Foivos, Cephalonia

Assos sunset

The late afternoon breeze begins to dissipate the heat of the day, the sun gently sinks over the sea, islands in the distance emerge in silhouette as the sky shades pink and purple. Evening time on the Greek islands.  Hard to improve on that I hear you murmur? 

Well actually there is a way to dial up the experience: make sure you are enjoying a glass of chilled Robola on the island of Cephalonia!

In Captain Corelli’s Mandolin the bottles of Robola that the drunken priest downs while hiding from his flock would bear, I imagine, little relation to the excellent wines the island currently produces.  However, the storey does serve to illustrate the very long tradition of wine making on the island which stretches back over centuries of Venetian influence.

Wine is produced on several of the Ionian islands but Cephalonia is known as the home of one of the best Greek white wines Robola. Perhaps not as famous as Santorini’s Assyrtiko but definitely worth searching out particularly if you enjoy fresh, crisp and minerally wines with elegance and structure. The best are grown in poor limestone soils high up on mount Ainos.

Grapes drying at Sclavos Wines

Robola is not the only show in town though indeed there is a bewildering array of grape varieties grown on the island. The other main grape varieties are Mavrodaphne and Muscat Blanc.  Mavrodaphne is a red grape traditionally used to produce a sweet red wine, thanks to the Venetians love of the Passito method of sun drying their grapes, but now also made into a delicious dry reds too.

Local wines are widely available in all the tavernas, many stocking the excellent entry level Robola produced by the Cephalonia Cooperative which arrives in a cloth sack. Also, sometimes some more premium higher altitude and even single vineyard Robolas by the Cooperative and wineries such as Gentilini. Do try the various alarmingly coloured rose wines (think Aperol Spritz) that are made on the island too!

Sadly, I only managed to visit Sclavos Wines and Domaine Foivos whilst on the island and as Adam has recently reviewed Sclavos Winery here I will focus on Domaine Foivos.

Domaine Foivos

Domaine Foivos was formed when Theodore Orkopoulos bought the Matzavino family winery which is one of the oldest wineries in Greece. In fact, Theodore believes that Homer mentions the wines in the Iliad!

The estates vineyards are located in different parts of the island and contain a large range of very old indigenous grape varieties many of which are pre-phylloxera.  Since the phylloxera louse killed off most native European vines by attacking their roots nearly all modern vines have been grafted onto American vine roots which are resistant so it is unusual to find old ungrafted vines that have survived.

It became evident during our three hour long tasting that Theodore possesses just the sort of boundless enthusiasm and a relentlessly enquiring mind needed to fully grasp the wine making opportunities that this precious library of vines presents.

Theodore Orkopoulos winemaker at Domaine Foivos

We started with a master class on Robola show casing different wine making techniques applied to grapes from the vineyards on mount Ainos.

Black Label Cephalonian Robola, 2021.

The vines are fully pressed and allowed a bit of skin contact.

The nose is a little floral with a touch of pink grapefruit. On the palate nice fruit, good balance and freshness and a pleasant prickle from the skin contact. A very nice wine that has tension and character.

Blue Label Cephalonian Robola, 2021.

This wine is also made with a full press but without any skin contact.

A refined nose of peach and wet stone. In the mouth a slimmer body and softer acidity with good length.  This wine is available in the UK.  It would work well as an aperitif to go with the sunset followed by the black label with dinner at the local Taverna.

Barcarola Cephalonian Robola, 2021.

This version of Robola is made with only the first free run juice of a selection of the grapes.

It has quite a different nose, much more perfumed, floral with delicate citrus notes.  Theodore describes it as more pure expression of the grape. Again, a lighter body, very nicely balanced with a long lingering finish. This is a more premium wine.

Orange Robola 2021

This wine is made with 5 days skin contact which is relatively restrained by natural wine making standards so it is not very ‘orange’ in appearance. Possibly why I liked it so much! Ripe fruit on the nose, white peach, rounder on the palate with more ripe fruits and a nice prickly sensation. Very tasty.

Amphora Robola, 2021

This wine is made in small clay amphora.

On the nose more herbal notes over the top of peach, wet stony notes and something floral like lilac. Also complex in the mouth with a very nice texture and length.

East – West Robola + Assyrtiko, 2020

This wine is a 50:50 mix of Robola from Domaine Foivos and Assyrtiko from Zanthi.

It has a rich nose of peach and other tropical fruits and on the palate a lovely a mix of peach fruit and salty citric notes from the Assyrtiko.

Asteris Robola Rose, 2020

A bit of mavrodaphne is added to give a splash of juicy fruit to layer on top of the peach and citrus profile of the Robola. This is not one of the alarming coloured roses mentioned in the introduction, looks very respectable.

Lemona Sun dried Robola, 2012

Grapes are dried in the sun for up to 20 days. Then pressed to make this amazing sweet wine.  Around 10kg of grapes are needed for each half bottle!

On the nose sweet fruit, caramel. In the mouth complex flavours of lemon, nuts and honey. Very long, great balance with real lift and length.

Appropriately named after Lemona goddess of the environment.

Foivos is one of the few wineries offering so many versions of Robola and it’s a result of Theodoros’ continuing search to discover all aspects of the grape.

The masterclass of Robola over, Theodore explained what had prompted him to start to experiment with using amphora. It’s understood that the ancient Greeks heavily watered their wine down and Theodore wanted to find out why.  He set about making wine using clay amphora in the way that the ancients did, which included adding wooden staves and found that the results were good. However, Theodore realised that storage of the wine in clay amphorae over weeks and months would cause the wine to oxidise badly.  So, the theory is that by the time the important religious festivals came around in the new year the wine from the last harvest would have needed to be heavily diluted to make it drinkable.

Theodore also believes that the ancient Greeks stored wines under water possibly to try and prevent it spoiling through oxidation and this has also led Foivos to carry out some very interesting experiments in aging wine under the sea.

Nautilus White, 2021

Made from blend of Tsaousi, Vostilidi, Muscatel and Muscat grapes this wine is bottle aged for 6 months in the winery aquarium which creates and environment of total darkness, constant temperature and lack of oxygen. On the nose lemon pith, lemon peel, fresh green herbs and a floral note. In the mouth round, medium acidity, more pith and citrus notes with a pleasant slight bitter bite at the end. Very vibrant and long. Available in the UK.

Nautilus Rose, 2021.

Mavrodaphne, Muscatel, Muscat, Tsaousi and Vostilidi grapes. Also bottle aged in the winery tank.  Very aromatic, wild flowers and wet stones.  On the palate soft red fruits, super dry with a fresh lift and a dry salty finish. Very nice in deed.  Exported to British Columbia amoungst other places.

47 and 47 Undersea

47, 2017

The wine is a remarkable blend of 47 varieties: 41 whites and 6 reds to make a rose. This is where the field ‘library’ of indigenous grape varieties comes in.

Mineral, stony notes on the nose with fresh cut soft red fruit. On the palate strawberries, raspberries then baked lemon, very fresh.  Complex with waves of flavours, long.

47 Undersea, 2017

As if 47 wasn’t extraordinary enough the same 47 varieties have also been bottle aged for 18 months under sea. The wine is stored in cages at depth of 22 m. As with the Nautilus wines this ensures, darkness, constant temperature and lack of oxygen but in addition higher than atmospheric pressure and a saline environment.

This wine has a different nose to the straight 47, with less obvious fruit, the fruit more integrated with the mineral notes. In the mouth tangy fruit salad flavours, complex with a stony and salty edge.  Amazing to see the difference to the non-sea aged version

Red varieties.

Myesis, 2017 (initiation)

Made of 3 grapes mostly Mavrodaphne but with Cephalonian varieties: Theiako and Araklino.

A nice whiff of marzipan oh the nose with a bit of spice. A good medium body with soft rounded fruit and subtle barrel notes. 

Daphne Daphne, 2016

This is a dry wine made from 100% Mavrodaphne. On the nose, plums, farmyard, smoke. In the mouth medium body, a bit of lift, dark fruits and savoury notes, medium soft tannins.  Very tasty.

Amphora Red, 2021.

Another dry red mostly Mavrodaphne with 15% Vostilidi. The clay amphora gives the wine an overdose if oxygen for about 2 weeks while it ferments. Also, the amphora mean that the fermentation temperature is uncontrolled.

Nice balance, medium acidity, soft but mouth coating tannins. Lovely.

42, 2016

Another remarkable blend this time of 42 red varieties from heritage vineyards. Theodore says the grapes compete in the glass to come out on top, a continuing battle with new winners presenting themselves at each stage of the wine’s development. A rich nose of dark and red fruit and smoke. Medium body, a kaleidoscope of fruits, toasty notes, complex. Delicious!

Methyse, 2004.

Named after a follower of Dionysus the god of winemaking.

This is the traditional sweet wine of Mavrodaphne.

Super dark in colour, nose of chocolate, Kirsch, dried oranges and Christmas spices. Sweet but with enough freshness to lift it, complex and very long. A real treat!

Tasting the Foivos range of wines with Theodore at his cellar was a fascinating experience! It is wonderful that way he takes inspiration from the past, cherishes local heritage and yet continues to explore and experiment with new ways of expressing the wines. Do seek out the wines and try them.


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Travel to Bolgheri

The Bolgheri wine region.

Bolgheri DOC lies within the Maremma, once a sizzling mosquito infested area of swamp lying between low hills and the sea, it features as part of the inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Thankfully the marsh land has long since been drained and the area is now a welcoming patchwork of farmland, vineyards & olive groves accentuated here & there by picturesque rows of cypress trees.

Bolgheri wine region runs north south bounded by hills to the east and a line parallel to the coast (largely defined by the motorway) to the west. There are four small towns in the region. To the north-east is the village of Bolgheri itself at the foot of the wooded hills. To the north west is Marina di Bibbona a coastal resort & further down the coast, is Marina di Castagneto Carducci.  Finally, the ancient hill town of Castagneto Carducci itself makes up the quartet.

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Accommodation:

Accommodation is available in all four of these towns but if you want to be in the heart of the wine action as we did there are a number of wineries that offer accommodation and a few agritourismo too.  We stayed at: Relais Felciaino which has three or four family /twin rooms opening onto the garden and does a nice al fresco breakfast under a canopy with views of the Tenuta San Guido’s castle on the hill.

http://www.relaisfelciaino.com/indexen.html

The location is right on the wine route ‘La Strada del Vino’ as it passes through Bolgheri

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http://www.lastradadelvino.com/en/default.aspx

Tenuta Ornellaia & Chiappini, are next door, Le Machiolle is opposite & Tenuta Guado a short way down the road & the fabulous restaurant Osteria Magna is also within walking distance.

Other options include apartments in the vineyards of Azienda Agricola Giovanni Chiappini, & several other agritourismo in the area.

Eating out:

IMG_2732If you like meat, then look no further than Osteria Magona. Chef Omar Barsacchi serves a selection of beef by Dario Cecchini , Panzano’s famous butcher.  On the T bone or a cheek, the meet is amazing.

The wine list is comprehensive and, although most of it will require re-mortgaging, there are actually some delicious gems such as Le Macchiole Bolgheri Rosso 2015 and, one of the waiter’s recommendations, Sondraia Bolgheri Superiore 2013 by Poggio al Tesoro.IMG_2733

http://www.osteriamagona.com/

IMG_2866The find of the trip though was Enoteca Tognoni in the village of Bolgheri itself.  Imagine crossing your favourite wine merchant with a brilliant trattoria and you get Enoteca Tognoni.  Walls to the left and right are lined with shelves of Tuscan wines to browse and between customers sit at long tables.  Choose your bottle, scan the menu and settle in.

IMG_2876The wines are priced very fairly and you pay the same when you sit down for lunch as you would to take out.   Fancy tasting through some of the local icons with your meal then check out the enomatic wine machines on the bar at the back serving both tasting portions and drinking measures.

So good we come back for lunch two days running!IMG_2869

http://www.enotecatognoni.it/

 

 

For sea food we visited Restaurant La Pineta right on the beach where chef Luciano Zazzeri serves Michelin-starred seafood. The wine list is a ridiculous tome that is so big an heavy it comes to you on its own side table but we did find some bottles of Grattamacco Bolgheri Vermentino 2015 which were vibrant and delicious and a couple of bottles of Ca Marcanda Magari.  The food was very good but not all the dishes were outstanding & we found the service a little un-attentive.

http://www.lapinetadizazzeri.it/LaPineta/Home.html

Beach.

The resorts on the coast feel quite separate to the wine country but are so close that an evening dip looking out towards Corsica can easily be worked into your program.

Bike hire:

 

 

Travel:

Lots of flights to Pisa which is less than an hour’s drive away.

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Chateau Haut Condissas – punching well above its weight!

It’s really not that hard to find great wines: go for a prestigious region, select one of the big names, just check that it has a good score from an international critic or two and bingo! As long as of course you don’t mind paying through the nose……  And in Bordeaux the wines have steadily been extracting larger and larger amounts through said nasal passage to the point at which they are now truly eye watering.

Which is why I have been a fan of ChateIMG_9919au Rollan de By for many years, it is a reliably delicious Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc, worthy of aging for a few years and sold at a very fair price.  So I was intrigued to hear that proprietor Jean Guyon (who also owns Chateau Greysac & a few others) also makes a more ambitious wine at Chateau Haut Condissas with the aim of rivalling the classified growths.

Arriving at a recent vertical tasting of the wines the very air in the room was scented with plums, cigar box and coco powder, a very promising start and the wines did not disappoint.

IMG_9922Wine maker Olivier Dauga (who used to work at Sociando de Mallet another of my favourite Medoc producers) explained that his goal is to achieve fine tannins by avoiding too much extraction, the fruit should be in the fore with the wood in a supporting role & not the other way around. His philosophy is that good grapes make good wine very good grapes make very good wines. The vineyards of Haut Condissas are to the very north of the Medoc near the Atlantic on the plateau de By close to the river bar.

These are rich merlot driven wines but have an unusually high proportion of around 20 % Petit Verdot.  This gives the wines colour & spice and extra freshness but they have to be careful as PV can give green tannins. Made without aeration or filtration in a very pure way with 100% new oak of which 10% American. The chateaux believe that affordability is important for high quality wines in the Medoc.

Haut Condissas 1999. Nice cigar box nose with red fruit berries. In the mouth medium body, fresh, light red fruit, more cedar, soft slightly powdery tannins & medium length. At its peak I would have thought but still full of life. Lifted & Refined. Very good. Returning later vegetal notes had developed.

Haut Condissas 2009. A hot year. Ripe plums, red fruit, faint cloves and smoke on the nose. Full body, medium + acid, more plums, cooked red fruit, some more cloves, coco powder, toasty, ripe soft tannin, and a long finish. 14% alcohol so a big wine but finely balanced. Excellent.

Haut Condissas 2010. Beautiful scented nose of red fruit, cedar and smoke, clove. On the palate: lovely & cool balanced, medium body, good fruit, lifted, tasty lashings of toast and spice. Very long. Excellent.  Returning later ground coffee & forest fruit compote.

Haut Condissas 2013. A Kosher wine – This is made in a different way observing the Sabbath & according to Judaism’s dietary laws.

There was a lot of rain in 2013 the wine is light in colour and intensity. More fruit driven nose with black plum & coco. Lighter body fruit, some toast and vanilla, slightly more angular tannin. Very drinkable. Very good.

Haut Condissas 2014. On the nose red fruit, some black berries, spice, smoke. In the mouth great balance, lifted and fresh, full fruit, nice spice, ripe tannin. Long a Lovely wine. Excellent.

Haut Condissas 2005.60% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot,10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. On the nose rich ripe fruit, smoky, coco & vanilla, forest floor an intense & complex nose. On the palate: lovely texture, medium plus body, more opulent than others, developed with mature flavours, leather, loam etc. with a lovely fruit core, holt chocolate. Very complex & vibrant. Great length and good freshness.  Gorgeous! An outstanding wine.

The chateau bottled a small quantity of single varietal wines from each of the grape varieties in the 2005 blend and in a brilliant twist to the normal wine tasting invited us to produce our own blend.IMG_9921

2005 100% Merlot. Dusty coco and plum nose, not particularly intense. Gorgeous fruit pie and chocolate shake, full body, powdery coating tannins. Medium acid.

2005 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Clove, indistinct fruit on nose. Cool, refined great structure, high acid, full body, long.

2005 100% Cabernet Franc. More delicate fruit raspberries etc. Bit of smoke. Beautiful fruit, fresh, refined, long & lifted wow! Light tannin and light structure.

2005 100% Petit Verdot. Spicy slightly funky with dark and stewed intense fruit, clove & lots of tannin.

My blend: 25% Merlot 25% CS, 40% CF, 10% PV. Slightly less open than actual blend, showing the austerity of CS and lighter fruit & high notes of CF.

It was fascinating to taste each varietal in its mature state and experiment with how each component adds to the blend.  Interestingly the only wine which really stood on its own two was the Cabernet Franc & the 2005 blend was far and away greater than the sum of its parts.

The 2005 and 2010 are still available at around £30- £35 per bottle by the case which for back vintages of an outstanding wine is great value!


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Champage Gosset dinner. It’s not about the bubbles, but they help!

Ahead of our Champagne Gosset wine dinner in the club room at Fredericks Odilon de Varine chief wine maker & deputy MD talked to Kiran about his wine making approach.

There followed another memorable wine diner with each course of the menu designed to complement the wines.

Adam Wander menu.crtr

Highlights included the way the toasty & nutty notes of the Grande Reserve were complimented by the pan fried herb gnocchi with Pecorino sauce and the way the Bream, mushrooms and cream worked with the superbly refined and complex & yet fresh Celebris 2004. Matches made in Heaven!

gosset1


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Achtung Blaufränkisch!

Alert! Austria’s other great grape Blaufränkisch turns out, like its sister Grüner Veltliner, to be an amazing food wine.

This was beautifully demonstrated at a recent lunch hosted by Leithaberg DAC paired a selection of the region’s top wines with HKK Hakkasan’s equally top Chinese tasting menu.

Where, you may be wondering is Leithaberg (pronounced Light-a-bear -gh)…… in Austria of course as I’m sure our well healed readers know only too well.  The appellation (DAC) is at the far eastern end of the country close to lake Neusiedler & the Hungarian border. Not to be confused with Neusiedlersee DAC which is on the other side of the lake and also boarders Hungary.  The Neusiedlersee is of course the lake that provides the perfect conditions for noble rot allowing wine makers Alois Kracher and Feiler Artinger to produce amazing sweet wines of international repute.   However don’t be confused as these don’t fall into either DAC region and are normally just labelled from Burgenland.

Link to map of wine region

Anyway now that that is all clear the important thing to remember is that the wines of Leithaberg are delicious and astonishingly good with Asian cuisine.  Austria’s wunderkind Gruener Veltliner now regularly appears on restaurant wine lists in the capital because it is so versatile with food, but look beyond this grape and you will find that Weissburgunder (pinot blanc) and Blaufränkisch (one of Austria’s indigenous reds) are equally great food wines.   This was amply demonstrated at the lunch hosted by Leithaberg DAC at HKK Hakkasan’s restaurant in the City.img_7943

Leithaberg DAC produces Chardonnay, Greuner Veltliner, Neuburger, Weissburgunder & Blaufränkisch but the wines that shone for me were the last two grape varieties.

Weissburgunder is made in a range of styles from simple unoaked, dry full bodied wine with citrus, mineral & sometimes slightly salty character to more complex, textured, spicy and flinty offerings from old vines that may have seen the inside of large old oak barrels.  The range of wines on offer at this tasting all had a good twist of acidity and wet stone character no doubt thanks to the schist & shelly lime stone hills and cool nights thanks to the lake.

Blaufränkisch comes in many styles and is often blended with other grapes but I was delighted to find that the majority of the wines on show were 100% Blaufränkisch and only subtly oaked if at all.  For me this pure style shows the grape’s delicious rounded fruit & savoury spice character lifted by freshness at its best.  I love the entry level blended wines which are so approachable and reliably tasty but the grape also produces great single vineyard wines with more structure and plenty of layers of fruit, spice, wet stones and sometimes blood.  These wines age well too as the wines at lunch showed.

The lunch:

img_7940Michelin-starred Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee and his kitchen at HKK put on a great menu to showcase their super refined Chinese cuisine.

Dongji Wagyu beef mushroom, shiitake mushrooms with pickled vegetables, onion, mooli .

Chardonnay Leithaberg DAC 2015, Weingut Esterhazy.

A concentrated citrus chardonnay that stood up to the pickled vegetables.

Gruener Veltliner Himmelreich 2013, Weingut Sommer.

Fresh but with some body and great structure, nice mineral wet stone and grapefruit pith. This wine worked as a brilliant foil to the doughy fake mushroom filled with beef and the real fungi.

Zhang Dim sum Trilogy. Prawn and seaweed dumpling, king crab and dry scallop dumpling, label Rouge chicken and pickled Chinese leaves puff.

Weissburgunder Golden Erd 2012, Weingut Tinhof.

Floral medium body, with a bit of spice which resonated with the Asian spices in the dumplings.

Weissburgunder Leithaberg 2010, Weingut Heinrich.

A lovely structured wine with great tension and lift but the body to cope with the delicious seafood flavours of the Dim sum.  This outstanding combination was over far too quickly & is now firmly lodged in the memory.  This is obviously why Pinot Blanc exists!

Signature Cherry Wood Peking Duck. Chef Tong’s speciality served in three parts, smoked crispy skin, outer meat with hoi sin sauce & rich inner meat.

Blaufränkisch Altenberg 2012, Weingut Hans & Christine Nittnaus.

Floral, ripe plum, great balance and a savoury, spicy finish. Wow these wines are the perfect pair to hoi sin duck!  The savoury & plumb flavours in both the wine & dish complement each other but the wine has enough structure &  lift to cope with the fatty meat.

Blaufränkisch Leithaberg 2010, Weingut Nehrer.

Mushrooms, white pepper, red and black fruits on the nose, good body and more fruit and spice in the mouth, complex & delicious the just resonates with the smoky crispy duck skin.

Served on their own

img_7936Blaufränkisch Goldberg 2005, Weingut Prieler

Nice development, cherry, baked fruit, good balance, soft tannins, engaging & long. Shows how well these approachable and friendly wines mature & develop in complexity.

Blaufränkisch Leithaberg 2006, Weingut Anita & Hans Nittnaus.

Characteristic ripe plum and cake spice, enjoyable but not sure if 2006 was a particularly strong year?

Lamb cannon with water chestnut, salted egg yolk and lotus root.

Blaufränkisch Gritschenberg, Weingut 2008 Altenberger

Mature, spicy a wide spectrum of fruit, freshness and rounded tannins, the age & tertiary notes work well with the subtle flavours of the lamb dish.

Blaufränkisch Leithaberg 2010, Weingut Wagentristl

Mature, cloves, stewed rhubarb, stewed plum, spices.  Again the aged notes work well with the dish.

What a great demonstration of how well wine can be paired with Chinese food.  No more beer or jasmine tea for me!


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Champagne where the bubbles are beside the point! (part 2)

Champagne Ayala

Champagne Ayala established its reputation for a dry style of wine when it became popular in the second half of the 19th century amongst the English aristocracy thanks to Edmond Ayala’s younger brother who had settled in London. Mind you at that time residual sugar of 19g per litre was considered dry, a far cry from the zero dosage wines which have between 0 and 3 g/l that are increasingly popular today!

ayala-01The house was bought by family Bollinger in 2005 and they have since rejuvenated the winery and put in place a young and dynamic team to take it forward as a house with its own distinct character. With an annual production of around 700000 bottles this remains a small hands on winery in the heart of Ay. Caroline Latrive is the chef de cave responsible for maintaining the fresh and elegant character of these chardonnay focused wines.

Brut Majeur NV.  A blend of 40% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir and 20% muenier. Aged for a minimum of two years before disgorgement and with a low dosage of 7g. A nice ring of persistent bubbles with a great tactile & invigorating mouthfeel. A reticent nose of lemon and zest.  In the mouth more subtle citrus, biscuit notes and very fresh. A great aperitif to lift the spirits.

Rose Majeur NV A blend of 50% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir (of which 6% is added red wine) and 10% pinot muenier. Aged for a minimum of three years before disgorgement and with a low dosage of 7g. Presented in a box festooned with pink flowers. Copper salmon in colour. On the nose pink grapefruit a touch of peach. In the mouth fresh and dry some gooseberry & citrus fruit then a slightly salty finish.  This would be great with a meal of sea food.

ayala-03Brut Nature NV. The same blend as the Majeur but with no dosage and about four years aging on the lees. The nose is similar to majeur but with some spice and lovely autolytic notes of fresh bread. In the mouth great freshness hits one with a wash of sea spray then lime. Wow this has a great finish of minerals, bread, lemon peel and is very very long. Fantastic an excellent food wine.

Blanc de Blancs 2008.  A blend of chardonnay from the Cote de Blancs 60% Chouilly (known for its creamy character) & 40% Mesnil sur Oger (known for displaying more exotic fruit notes). It spends 5around 6 years on lees and has only 6g dosage. Served in an extravagant clear glass bottle this wine has a rich & complex nose of baked lemon, scents of roasted nuts, pastry: crème Anglais. In the mouth pineapple, caramel, ripe stone fruit but still delicate with great freshness and persistence. Long finish.

Perle D’Ayala 2005. The blend is 80% chardonnay from Cote de Blancs and 20% pinot noir from Ay which cooled by breezes along the Marne is known for its delicacy. The wine spends 8 years aging on the lees and has 6g dosage. Fine but less pronounced mouse, looks more like a wine. A rich nose of dried hay, pot-pourri and baked lemon, nice tertiary nutty notes. In the mouth spicy notes, baked pastries, lemon, vanilla & chalk, all in a restrained and nicely balanced way. Very complex and long.

None of these wines feel the need to pose or pout for one’s attention but nevertheless they achieve a level of balance, lift and complexity that confidently commands it. Champagne Ayala

 

Dom Pérignon

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Standing high up in the gardens of the Abbaye Hautvillers one looks down on the meeting point of the three most important regions in champagne: the eastern end of the Valley de Marne, the northern tip of the Cotes de Blanc and the final sweep of the Montagne de Reims. Behind are the remains of the monastery where Dom Pérignon himself, the Benedictine monk credited with transforming wine making practices in the region, was cellarer.  One can’t help feel somehow near the epicentre of Champagne.

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The tasting room over the cloisters

Chef de cave Richard Geoffroy’s choice of tasting room; a spectacular thirty metre long hall sitting over the last remaining wing of the monastery’s four sided cloisters, also seems to emphasise the historical significance of the place. However as we tasted & discussed the wines it became clear that far from looking backwards Richard is a forward thinker constantly striving to make new & singular wines. Richard asserts that his wine making is not about style but is all about making the best vintage wines, and yet it is clear to us that they are all undoubtedly Dom Perignon.

 

Not every year is good enough to produce a vintage but in an unprecedented run Dom Perignon produced consecutive vintages of P1 from 2002 to 2006 and it was fascinating to taste these side by side.  The vintage character is discernible but somehow seen through a ‘Dom Perignon filter’ like a pair of tinted sun glasses that make the sunset richer and more vibrant than it might otherwise be. In some years certain characteristics are more pronounced and in others they recede into the background but they are all always present coming together to make up the whole.

Richard doesn’t believe in artificial scarcity, if there is a good wine to make he will make it, this has meant taking calculated risks in certain vintages and thankfully they have paid off. Otherwise we would be so much poorer without superb wines like the 2003 and 2005.  These really are the epitome of champagnes where bubbles are beside the point.

Prestige cuvees of champagne tend to be expensive and Dom Perignon is reassuringly so.  However if have the opportunity to drink these wines you can be reassured of an extraordinarily special experience.

Also see Dom Perignon P2 ‘does exactly what is says on the tin’ for more details of the three Plenitudes that Richard makes and the thinking behind them.

Our contributing editor Stuart Grostern’s detailed tasting notes follow:

All of the wines had the same pure colour, with very little in visible bubbles served in Spiegelau white burgundy glasses.

Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2002. Sweet and slightly oxidised nose, green apples, smoke, caramel and a little mango, almost burgundy-like. In the mouth, sweet lemon rind, rich, white burgundy mouthfeel. Very concentrated, sweet, very long. Exquisite.

Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2003. From the earliest harvest to date, August 20th. A hot summer where the vines stopped producing sugars due to water stress while continuing to produce phenolics. Many champenois did not produce a vintage wine, but Richard inspected the ingredients and thought ‘of course!’. Smokey bready autolytic nose, a bit spirity with a hint of windscreen washer in a good and interesting way. Sweet, delicate, a bit of salinity, with a little hint of dessert wine botrytis. Beautiful balance, took me by surprise with its completeness even if it lacked the penetration of other vintages. Wonderful.

 

Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2004. Sprightly apple, smoke, spice nose. A zip when the wine hits the palate, followed by sweet baked apple, spices, a concentrated lemon and apple fizz, followed by a lovely saline lingering finish. This is a more linear wine, with such balance, and persistence and a long, long lingering sweet and salty finish. My favourites of the P1 vintages. Sublime.

 

Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2005. A warm and wet vintage in which the Pinot noir suffered from botrytis. On the nose, a lemon lime and iodine character. In the mouth, sweet attack in width of limes and spices with a linear concentration and salty character. The flavours narrow and concentrate onto a single point at the front of your tongue, with a hint of bitterness lingering alongside the lemon, lime and saline flavours. Sweet and savoury, so interesting. A great wine.

 

Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2006. Appley, smokey, iodine nose with something else (something savoury and beguiling), and a hint of red fruit. Good acidic attack of linear lime, slightly baked apples and bready slightly hot finish. Huge concentration that just sits showing the ripe deep fruit, with a never ending length. Amazing wine.

 

Dom Perignon Brut millesime Rose 2005. Served in a red burgundy glass. Copper pink hue. Some tar, more typical Cote de Beaune Pinot Noir with a hint of cola and liquorice. Fascinating nose. Sweet light red fruit followed by limes with a slightly tannic and dry palate, followed by more lime and peach. Wonderful length with lingering red berries, amazing persistence and balance. So beautiful, but I didn’t spend quite enough time to really get intimate with this wine.

dp-p2Dom Perignon Brut millesime P2 1998. Disgorged in 2008/9.

 

Tasting session: Leesy, smokey, iodine and lemon skin nose. Rich red fruit at the start followed by lemons, limes with real concentration. Slightly drying and sweet Chardonnay lingering finish, with a hint of sherbet. Wonderful and so interesting.

 

Lunch: matched with papaya, scallops and caviar. Blended seamlessly and matched the flavours of the food perfectly, though its character was masked. With roast Turbot with olive oil and saffron risotto, this wine really came alive again, bringing out the sweetness of the fish, acidity cutting the flavours and enhancing the dishes just so well. An amazing and inspired match.

 

Dom Perignon Brut millesime P2 1996. Smokey iodine and lemon candy aromas. As it opened, some oxidative and bruised apple emerges. Brilliant acidity, with lemon and lime attack, laser like acidity on the tongue followed by a savoury and sweet pastry gush. A bit of red fruit of cherry with savoury moreish after taste. So very, very long, an incredible wine!

 

Dom Perignon Brut millesime P3 1973. While all of the other wines had almost exactly the same colour, this had a light gold shimmering hue.

Bready and shy, smokey with sweet mango nose. A sweet light mouth, delicate, precise, with savoury finish. The perfect balance of acidity, fruit, body and flavour, with a fine body. An ethereal wine of great character, paired perfectly at lunch with the yellow plum and osmentus ice cream dessert. A phenomenal finish to a magical day.

 

As I write this review I realise that I forgot to ask Richard perhaps the most important question of the moment: when is the 2008 P1 going to be released?  I can’t wait! Dom Perignon

 

Champagne Andre Robert

 

When I made a surprise request for a video interview in the vineyards Claire Robert and her husband Jean-Baptiste were at first charmingly nervous but by the time I had fluffed the introduction on the first take and run out of battery part way through the second, they were their open and  engaging selves again.  clare-jean-baptisteClaire is the 5th generation of wine makers at Champagne Andre Robert taking over from her grandfather Andre who started making his own wines in the 1960s alongside supplying grapes to one of the big name houses.  There was something slightly reverential in the way that Claire and Jean-Baptiste showed us around the family vineyards situated just outside Le Mesnil sur Oger and clearly they realise just what a special in the Cote de Blancs place it is. At the sometime they are obviously excited at possibilities that their new winery, just outside the village, open up for the future.  Claire and Jean-Baptiste have plenty of new ideas too such as commissioning new oak barrels made from the local woods to make Les Mesnil in Le Mesnil barrels. They also plan to start producing a late disgorgement vintage champagne to add to the range.

 

Reserve Grand Cru  A blend of 2010 & 2009, 100% chardonnay from a selection of plots near the village, 30% made in oak barrels. Then 3 years in bottle on the lees. This wine will soon be renamed Le Gardin de Mesnil.  On the nose lovely lemon,  pineapple & grapefruit. In the mouth great balance, linear crisp & dry with a very long finish.  The wine develops in the glass showing mineral and toasty notes. It has minimal bubbles another real wine. Pure and elegant.

Mesnil Grand Cru vintage 2009. 100% chardonnay raised 100% in oak barrels for 7 months, lees stirring and then 6 years in the bottle before disgorgement. A wider creamy nose with butter, nuts, toast & some brioche, complex and accessible. Nice concentrated flavours precise and defined great freshness & balance. Long.

 

Mesnil Grand Cru vintage 2008. Lovely has an extra intensity to 2009 some floral notes, more patisserie, cake spices, buttery. On palate rich, hedonistic, but with a saline buzz & citrus zing, then the palate moves on to oak influences: toast, sweet nutty flavours. Great balance and a very long finish.  Potential to age a long time. Superb!

 

Seduction 2008 Still chardonnay lead but with 45% pinot noir from an old parcel of vines dating from 1974. 7g dosage. On the nose ripe apple, some peach and a touch of spice even light pepper. In the mouth chalky mineral notes a hint of cumin, ripe red apple very long.

 

The wines here are superb and under Claire and Jean-Baptiste’s care the winery and the wines are destined to go from strength to strength. Seek them out and try them. Champagne Andre Robert

Available from Scala Wine


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Champagne where the bubbles are beside the point! (part 1)

Travelling by train from Paris you notice the vineyards lining the Vallee de la Marne long before you arrive at the surprisingly brutalist railway station in Epernay, an early intimation of just how big and diverse the Champagne appellation is.

With three different grape varieties, a vast arrange of vineyards too choose and the ability to add reserve wine from past vintages into the blend the Champenois enjoy more flexibility than almost anywhere else to produce a palatable tipple.  Oh and don’t forget the bubbles, just as carbon dioxide demonstrably improves the flavour of fizzy drinks so does it enhance the taste of most Champagnes.

Synonymous with celebration & the lubricant of a good party it is easy to enjoy & consume Champagne without particularly focusing directly on the wine itself.  Large quantities of Champagne are made for just this purpose but more and more there are Champagne makers whose aim is to produce first and foremost wines which just happen to have a few bubbles.

Champagne where the bubbles are almost beside the point! These are the wines that we have concentrated upon in this series of tasting notes.

 Champagne Geoffroy

Bristling with excitement and tension at the imminent harvest Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, owner and winemaker at Champagne Geoffroy, arrived in dusty boots straight in from the vineyards.  As he showed us around the winery and introduced us to his wines, it was impossible not to be caught up in his enthusiasm and it was clear that Jean-Baptiste is someone who absolutely loves what he does.

img_7581Although located in Ay almost all vineyards are in Cummieres at the eastern end of the Vallee de Marne and are pinot noir & Pinot Meunier. The plots are all owned by family having been divided up over the generations.

In 2006 Jean Baptiste bought the winery in Ay from a cooperative because an access road at the rear allows grapes at harvest time to be delivered straight into the top floor and then the whole wine making process can be carried out by gravity down through 3 floors and eventually into deep cellars cut into the chalk below.  Jean-Baptiste uses the traditional ‘coquart’ vertical wooden wine press unique to champagne. Each press takes 4 hrs and he operates 2 in rotation he feels maintaining the tradition is important and it works for his wines even if it’s more labour intensive.

Champagne Geoffroy believes that some oxidation is beneficial to the wines and so age approximately 35% for their non-vintage and 100% of the vintage wines in used oak barrels.  They use a large range of barrel sizes including some large Foudre de chene from Austria along with second hand burgundy barriques. They also use old fashioned enamel vats because Jean-Baptiste finds their use results in less reduction than in stainless steel barrels.

Cuvée Expression Brut NV

A blend of 2 vintages 2011 and 2010 (35%), some oak in the reserve wine and 90% black grapes. It spends a minimum of 3 years in bottle on the lees. Very fruity, bruised red apple, soft red fruit, bread, chalk dust,  nice mouthfeel understated fine bubbles, great lift at end nice minerally chalky finish.  Dry, complex and engaging, fresh but welcoming with great balance. This champagne really punches well above its weight.

Cuvée Pureté Brut nature NV

Same blend as the Expression but older vintages 09 & 10 and with zero dosage. Lovely, more savoury flavours, a bit fresher but not sharp or austere at all. Just super dry. One for food.

Cuvée Empreinte Brut 2009

Pinot noir driven blend. Made in 80% oak using a mix of large and small barrels. On the nose red fruit, strawberries and ripe red apple, creamy notes and a lingering aroma of rising bread dough. In the mouth red berries, baked apples with spice, minerals, nuttiness and a long finish ending with a minty note.  Even more complex. Excellent.

Cuvée Volupté Brut 2007

A blend of 80% chardonnay and 10% PN & PM.  Half raised in oak and low dosage that would qualify as an extra brut.

A lovely nose of brioche, a touch of after eight chocolate and lemon zest. In the mouth an interesting chalky character, dry, pastry, some coco powder & more ripe citrus notes with a long finish. A very satisfying wine that remains fresh. img_7578

Cuvée Rosé de Saignée

Deep pink colour. This wine is 100% pinot noir from a single year.  The colour bleeds from the grape skins rather than coming from an added wine which Jean Baptiste feels does not result in a harmonious and integrated wine. A rather subdued subtle nose, hints of soft red fruit. In the mouth red fruit: cherries, strawberries, fruit salad, and a nice chalky slightly sweeter finish. A touch of red wine body with really great balance overall.

Cuvée Blanc de Rose Extra brut 2011.

Gold pink colour. This rose is also made by allowing the colour to bleed from the Pinot noir grapes but is 50:50 Chardonnay and Pinot noir.  The blend is made by mixing the grapes together and then macerating and fermenting them together. Floral on the nose, rose and chalk. In the mouth lemon peel, pink grapefruit, dry with good body and freshness, dried red fruit. Sophisticated.  Really unique, would be great with a ceviche fish starter.

Cuvée Millesime Extra Brut 2005.

This is a blend of about half Chardonnay, 30% PN and the rest pinot meunier. Made in 100% oak and left for a minimum of 8 years on the lees. Jean-Baptiste recommends to decant older vintages as this allows any initial closed oxidative character to blow off. He also says that this wine which is only made in great vintages is better to taste a day or two after opening.

First bottle which had been opened two days previously. Slightly smokey nose, delicate. A silky mouth feel with minimal bubbles. Delicate citrus, cream, slightly saline, very Burgundian, nice nuttiness and subtle oak notes. A long mineral finish.

Second freshly opened bottle. Bit more edge, more freshness, less of the subtlety of the opened version but made up for with greater vitality and intensity. Very long. Really really good!

Jean Baptiste suggests that this wine can be cellared easily for 10 + years and is beginning to keep back 500 bottles of each vintage to age further on the lees before disgorgement.  The first to be released will be the 1999.

Champagne Geoffroy

 Champagne Gosset

The oldest wine house in Champagne founded by Pierre Gosset in 1584 in the days when the wines were still.  The wine is sourced from around 200 growers from 70 villages mostly in the Montagne de Reims and the Cote de Blancs. The freshly pressed juice of each grape type from each village is vinified separately and even the non-vintage champagnes are left to develop in the lees for a minimum of three years.  Finally all the wines are bottled in the distinctive shaped bottle that champagne used to use in the 18th century.

img_7585In 1994 Gosset was bought by the Renaud-Cointreau group and under new management the annual production has doubled to around one million bottles a year. This may sound like a large production operation but isn’t when compared to many of the larger Champagne houses.  The focus here is on making high quality chardonnay led wines and the recent investment has clearly achieved this. With new wine making premises and cellars in Epernay bought in 2009 the house has capacity for further expansion and as we discovered when we tasted the wines this can only be very good news!

Blanc de Blanc Brut. NV.

Chardonnay sourced 2/3 from the Cote de Blanc and 1/3 from the south east corner of le Montagne de Reims. Dosage 9g. A lovely peanut brittle nose with chalky notes. Vigorous mouse. Nice ripe lemon peels some flinty notes, and tasty leesy notes.

Grand Rose NV

Gosset’s biggest seller at 12% of the production. A 50:50 blend of Pinot Noir and chardonnay with 8% Pimg_7598N red wine. Salmon pink, peach colour with tiny bubbles. Chalkiness on nose, a bit reticent with a touch of soft red fruit & lemon zest.Similar flavours on the palate, chalky with soft red fruit a hint of cumin.  This would be a great pair with Asian food.

Grande Reserve Brut NV

Aged 4 years on lees and with about 20% reserve wines often from 3 different vintages in the blend. The wine is Pinot dominant with 40% Pinot Noir, 20% pinot meunier & 40% chardonnay all from premier cru villages. Rich bright gold colour.  A tight nose of honey, smoke, nuts. Concentrated, rich & intense, on the palette with cooked lemon, pastry, and a great structure. Very long. Put this one in the cellar for a year or two and it will uncoil beautifully.

Grand Milleseme Brut 2006.

The blend is 55%PN & 45% chardonnay with a dosage of 6g. Richer darker gold colour. On the nose fragrant Manuka honey, roasted nuts, biscuit then crystallised orange & lemon a touch of dark chocolate, really complex. Lovely ripe grapefruit, nuts, biscuit a compelling luscious sweet zesty finish. Very long.

Celebris Vintage 2002 Extra Brut.

The blend 52% chardonnay & 48% Pinot noir. Aged 10 years on the lees before disgorgement. A struck match nose over ripe mango, roasted nuts, and with floral notes. Very sophisticated delicate palate of exotic fruits, mango, lemon and cheesecake, really elegant long & complex a superb wine!

15 Ans de Cave a Minima’ Brut

A limited edition late disgorgement release originally cellared in 1999 60:40 chardonnay pinot noir with 7g dosage. Even more golden in colour tiny bubbles. On the nose honey, biscuit, dried fruits a nice touch of oxidation and maturity. On the palate lemon tart, honey, baked fruit, spice fuller body, complex and very long. A wine for those that enjoy maturity & sophistication.

 Champagne Leclerc Briant

For someone in charge of the complete the rebirth of Champagne house Leclerc Briant Frédéric Zeimett looks pretty calm and collected.  In fact he is clearly enjoying the opportunity of creating something new and unique.

Three years ago when he bought the biodynamic winery with American investors Frédéric embarked upon an ambitious program to rebuild the winery which is now nearing completion.  With a keen eye for aesthetics the new winery brings stylimg_0176e and function together with state of the art equipment. Rows of double stacked stainless steel tanks flank each side of the chapel like fermentation room with tall slot windows at each end adding to the effect.

Along with the modern Coquart press we noticed interesting egg shaped terracotta casks and Frédéric explained that he has brought in leading biodynamic wine consultant & ‘wine whisperer’ Hervé Jestin with an open brief to explore and push the boundaries of biodynamic winemaking.  Hervé is experimenting with different the energy that different materials such and terracotta, wood and even glass give to the wine.

This is where the intriguing mix of sophisticated style and esoteric biodynamic ideas that Frédéric calls Bio-chic starts to become evident.

Frédéric elaborates upon his concept of Bio-Chic.

Leclerc Briant. Brut Reserve.

All from 2013, 40% pinot noir 40% pinot meunier and 20% chardonnay with 4g dosage.Served in burgundy glasses at 11 to 13 degrees. Only bottled in June/ July 2014, 30% of the wine having been raised in barrels then disgorged 2 years later. The wine is only bottled so late because it is a biodynamic principle to wait until the next years flowers arrive on vine. Minimal bubbles. On the nose fruity & chalky with a slightly dusty spicy cumin note. In the mouth very dry, lime with pink grapefruit a fresh saline thread lingers in mouth. Lovely!

Blanc de Meuniers Chamery 1er cru

Served blind a sample bottle of a 100% pinot meunier champagne harvested 2013. 100% raised in wooden barrels for 9 months with zero dosage. Unfortunately we failed to identify this as 100% pinot meunier from Vale de Marne! On the nose leesy with a touch of spice nice cumin. In the mouth dry, fresh lime, grapefruit, chalky and a bit spicy.  Frédéric mused whether the final wine would benefit from the addition of some dosage or remain zero?  Interesting as it was and not austere but my feeling was that more fruit might manifest itself with a lift in sweetness.

La Croisette from the single vineyard range.

100% chardonnay all from the 2013 vintage and all vinified and aged in old Sauternes barrels, zero dosage. A spicy nose, lemon peel and a little hint of marmalade perhaps from the barrels.On palate more citrus, spicy notes minimal bubbles and a nice subtle toastiness. Long.

Champagne Leclerc Briant

Champagne Corbon

Agnes Corbon almost single headedly runs this gem of a winery in the heart of Avize on the Cote de Blancs.  Lovingly producing just 10,000 bottles a year Agnes believes in long aging on the lees and minimal intervention. Since Claude Corbon started the tradition 40 years ago the house has always made a vintage wine every year.   Agnes explains her wine making approach in the video below.

Absolument Brut.

Approximately 50% chardonnay and 25% PN & 25% PM zero dosage. Base wine 2010 bottled in 2011 disgorged after about 4 years on the lees in June 2015. Minimal bubbles. Red berries on the nose, lemon rind, white flowers, chalky nuts & a hint of cumin. Dry but not austere, complex buttery, nutty and long.

img_7647Brut d’autrefois

Solera style perpetual blend with 50% new wine added each vintage into a large 30 hectolitre oak foudre. Bottled in 2008. The blend is 80 to 85% chardonnay and about 15% pinot noir although moving towards 100%. The blend was started by Agnes’ father in about 1982. Quite mind boggling but resulting in a wine of lovely complexity with ripe fruit: apples, & lemon, dried fruit, spices & toasted nuts.  In the mouth, honey & hazel nuts with a nice sweetness. Very long. Again minimal bubbles. An extraordinary wine!

Champagne Chardonnay vintage 2005.

100% chardonnay aged 10 years on the lees with 6g dosage. To keep the wine fresh no malolactic fermentation is allowed and the wine is made in 100% stainless steel barrels. On the nose a whiff of smoke, candy fruit & pear drop. In the mouth intense baked lemon a touch of honey& some slightly resinous notes great balance and lift.

These wines somehow reflect the both the location and the winemakers patient approach quirky yet captivating!  Well worth seeking out.

Champagne Corbon


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Austria’s best kept wine secret: The Südsteiermark

The Südsteiermark (Southern Styria)is a stunning region in south-east Austria. Here picturesque hills and valleys are carpeted in vineyards punctuated only by the occasional field of pumpkins and shady patch of woodland.

sudstier vineyardsThe region is perhaps Austria’s best kept wine secret with the vast majority of its wine is consumed on home turf & only a handful of pioneering producers exporting overseas. Südsteiermark’s premium wines are much appreciated by Viennese restaurants & wine collectors but I’m pretty sure that the majority of these tasty wines are consumed on site in the numerous wineries themselves that occupy prime hill top locations whilst enjoying picture postcard views and tucking into local culinary treats.

The region’s beauty really gives Tuscany a run for its money and offers a similarly seductive synthesis of food and wine and scenery. Whilst many serious wines are produced here wine is very much part of a wider offering.

 

Wineries have always been open to visitors serving their own wines in outdoor gardens overlooking the vineyards.  Traditionally these Buschenschank (taverns) were only allowed to pour their own wines and serve food grown and made on the premises. However since I first visited the region 25 years ago Brettljause, a simple platter of cold meats, cheeses & pickled vegetables with rye bread, was pretty much the staple fayre.  However menu’s in even the most basic Buschenschank have now been expanded to include such delights as fresh salads dressed with local pumpkin seed oil & the local speciality Stierische Backhendl (fried breaded chicken made from ‘happy’ local hens).  Look out too for a range of super dishes made with Eierschwammerl (chanterelle mushrooms). Many of the wineries also let rooms on a bed and breakfast basis so that you can stay right in the heart of the action and there are an increasing number of boutique hotels with gourmet restaurants perched on prime spots for those seeking a bit more luxury.skoffThe Südsteiermark is best known wines for white wines and in particular Sauvignon Blanc which seems to sit in a satisfying spot somewhere between the steel & mineral of the Loire and the greater florality & fruitiness of New Zealand.  Traditional whites include the fragrant & fresh early drinking Gelber Muskateller, a perfect aperitif especially when made into a sparkler, Welschriesling, another fresh food friendly white, Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) with more body but good acidity and the perfect fit for Backhendl and of course a bit of Gruener Veltliner.  Chardonnay seems to do well and often comes with a bit of oak too. There are also tasty reds too often blends of indigenous grapes like Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot.unnamed (1)

The vineyards go up to about 400m above sea level and although continental enjoy a long ripening season thanks to an increasingly pronounced range between daytime and night time temperatures reaching up to 18 degrees towards harvest.

 

With so many Buschenschank and Weingut to visit each offering so much good eating and drinking the Styrian tourist board have helpfully joined the dots on the map up with a series of picturesque wine trails.  The main Weinstraßefarmhouse runs from Leutschach to Gamlitz & Ehrenhausen. Running largely along a ridge it connects many of the best winemakers and the loveliest locations.  Instead of driving the route far nicer choice is to ramble along one of the many walking routes also mapped out which allow one to pass right through the vineyards & by quaint farmhouses complete clucking chickens & vintage tractors.

ebikeHowever to cover a wider sweep of the area there is no better form of transport than the e-bike.  Modern electric bikes flatten out the many steep hill climbs but take nothing away from the pleasure of rolling through this fabulous country side following part of the Weinstrassen Tour for bikes.  Maps of all three types of trail are widely available and extremely well sign posted on the ground making it super user friendly.

Accommodation.

We’ve stayed in three places over the years and enjoyed them all:

Weingut & Buschenschank Tinnauer picturesquely situated on the bike route near Gamlitz. http://www.weingut-tinnauer.at/

Skoff Original, the home of Sauvignon Blanc and right on the spectacular Weinstraße. Stunning panoramic views & great food. http://skofforiginal.com/?lang=en

bird scarerHotel Gut Pössnitzberg.  A stylish hotel with heated outdoor pool & cool glass box dining room overlooking the vineyards. The hotel is owned by the Polz Winery and there is a tasting of their wines, including some great traditional method fizz, for guests at 5.00pm each day.  E bikes available. http://www.poessnitzberg.at/

Winzerhotel Wurzenberg is a modern hotel in a spectacular location but we haven’t visited it yet!

Places to eat:

All the above serve great food.  However a visit to the Südsteiermark should definitely include a traditional spit and sawdust buschenschank.

There are many to choose from and it’s worth asking for a local recommendation. We enjoyed Eory Buschenschank. Great location, traditional fayre and friendly landlord.

buschenschank01

For more information visit:

Tourist information:  http://www.steiermark.com/en/styria/regions/southern-western-styria

For accommodation, restaurants & wineries: http://www.suedsteirischeweinstrasse.at/

 

On the wine region: http://www.austrianwine.com/our-wine/wine-growing-regions/steiermark-styria/unnamed (16)

Getting there:

It’s about a 2 ½ hour drive from Vienna

Or 45 minutes from Graz international airport.

ENJOY!