Sunday, April 6, 2014

Plateau: a great natural wine bar in Brighton

“I look every week at your blog to see if it has been updated” said Thierry Pluquet mournfully. “It never is. ”

How could I not respond to such a heartfelt rebuke? You always reckon it doesn’t matter that much if you let a blog slip so it’s a bit chastening when you find that readers actually mind. Well, one of them anyway ....

Anyway Thierry’s restaurant, Plateau which he runs with his business partner Vincent LeBon* is a good enough reason to update it.

It’s a fair size place in Brighton’s Lanes - slightly more than a wine bar, not quite a restaurant with the most incredible wine list.

I was there, in fact, not as a customer but giving a talk about the Discover the Origin campaign which promotes wines from Burgundy and the Douro, port, parma ham and parmesan cheese but as soon as I saw the list I knew I’d have to dip in.

My first glass was a wine I’d tried before - Le Blanc qui Tente (literally - the white which tempts) a cloudy, unfiltered sémillon from Stephanie Roussel of Chateau Lasolle in the Côtes du Marmandais which sells as a Vin de France.

It wasn’t a typical semillon by any means with far more white peach and apple than pineapple fruit but absolutely luscious. They were slightly apprehensive about pouring it for me but needn’t have been. Much more an amber than a red (see my classification, right)

The menu looked pretty tempting too so we decided to stay for supper mainly so I could order the canon of lamb with wild garlic purée, asparagus and feta a combination I thought would work really well with a light bright red.

It did with the Opi d’Aqui Les Fainéants - a blend of mourvèdre and grenache  made by carbonic maceration. just outside Clermont L’Herault. A great find.

So there you are Thierry. It was worth complaining. The question is can I keep it up?

Plateau is at 1, Batholemews, Brighton BN1 1HG. Tel:01273 733085. They’re also on Facebook

*Both nominated as Imbibe Restaurant Personality of the Year.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Two natural wines from Fattoria La Vialla

It's been interesting to watch the progression in winemaking at Fattoria La Vialla, an organic Tuscan estate I visited four years ago.

I went to cover the olive oil harvest but found they produced a wide range of products including pasta, pasta sauces and wine which even then was produced from biodynamically-run vineyards.

They've kept in touch and recently sent me two of their wines from the 2012 vintage which are very much in the natural wine mould. An intriguing unfiltered white called Barriccato Bianco - quite strong at 14% - which tastes of apples, pears and quince (AMBER) and a dark sparkling rosé called La Brumosa made from pinot nero which looks sweet but although fruity (it tastes rather deliciously of strawberries) is surprisingly dry. (GREEN) The white is more challenging - though I like it - but I'm sure most people would enjoy the rosé which would make an excellent party fizz or aperitif.

I like the Fattoria La Vialla set-up which is family-run. They don't sell through any intermediaries and produce hard-to-resist handwritten catalogues full of artisanal products. It's well worth getting on their mailing list to order the new season's olive oil as soon as it's released - and their delicious fresh vino novo if they're selling it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Olivier Cousin must wait till March to learn his fate

Photo by Jim Budd
Those who follow this blog probably already know this news but the decision on Olivier Cousin's high profile case has been put back until March 5th next year.

If you remember Cousin was taken to court by the authorities for using the letters AOC - Anjou Olivier Cousin - on his labels, a gesture against the AOC (Appelation d'Origine Controlée) system.

It's amazing how anyone has the time and energy to pursue this matter - and the lack of judgement. As a figurehead for small artisanal winemakers Olivier has attracted a lot of support both inside and outside France.

To see in more detail what's been happening read Jim Budd's Jim's Loire - always doggedly on the case, Betrand Celce's excellent post on Wine Terroirs which has great pictures of the picnic which took place outside the courtroom and this reflective post from American natural wine importers Jenny & François.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our last bottle of Stephane Cossais Le Volagré

Trevor pays tribute to one of his favourite winemakers.

"We said goodbye to an old friend last night. We drank our last bottle of the stellar chenin "Le Volagré" 2006. We had friends over  for supper including Chris Wicks, late of Bell's Diner in Bristol (in my opinion the finest chef in Britain never to be awarded a Michelin star) and his wife Marti.

We started with a very good organic chenin (from Johan Reyneke) then went on to the Volagré, which I didn't introduce or big up in any way. It was just  "another chenin, from the Loire this time".  Chris, who as well as being a fine chef is one of the few who really gets wine, sipped and raised his eyebrows quizzically as if saying "my God what is this?"

I told them all what it was, and how poor Stéphane died of a heart attack in july 2009. A heart attack that many believe was brought on by the stress of relentless and unending persecution by the authorities throughout his oh-so-brief five vintages. He made "natural" wines you see!! Shock, horror . . .

Chris said simply that he found the wine in his glass to be the equal of the finest burgundies of Puligny or Chassagne and that at the first sip he was convinced he was drinking something from Annie Leflaive.

Apart from this being chenin and not chardonnay, he was also amazed to hear that this wine wasn't aged in a barrique, but only vinified in Stephane's beloved 400 litre foudres.

It's always satisfying when someone whose taste you respect and who has sampled so much good wine in their day agrees with your own long-held opinions. I first drank Le Volagré in 2006, and have ever since held it to be one of the very finest wines I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.

I defy all the natural wine-haters and the carping mean-spirited and closed-minded antis of this world to drink that wine blind and find it anything but exquisite.

Thank you Stephane. Thank you very, very much for your brief but utterly meteoric blaze across the natural wine sphere."

PS If any of you know where we can buy some more Le Volagré, I'm sure Trevor would be ecstatic! FB. And an update. We have now managed to get our hands on a case of the 2008!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bordeaux top for pesticide use in Que Choisir survey

Photo © lightpoet -
In case you missed it there was an interesting - and rather alarming - report last week from the French consumer group Que Choisir. It tested 92 bottles of wine and found traces of pesticides in every one, including the organic wines though levels were lower in the latter.

It didn't seem to make any difference how much the wines, which ranged from 1.63€ to €15 in price, cost. The highest pesticide count was found in a 2010 Bordeaux costing 10.44€, in which 14 different chemicals were detected, followed by a 3.75€ 2012 Bordeaux which contained traces of 13 products, according to the report.

It also claims that wine producers in France account for 3.7 percent of farmland but 20 percent of the country’s pesticide use (T reckons the figure is higher than that). France is the highest user of pesticides in the EU according to Que Choisir using 62,700 tonnes in 2011. Some of the chemicals identified were illegal, according to this extended report from Wine Spectator though none were present in dangerous concentrations.

For more detail on the report see Bloomberg's report here and, for French speakers, a report in Le Figaro here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Terroir wine bar, San Francisco

Read any list of the world’s best natural wine bars and Terroir in San Francisco is sure to be included so I was determined to take it in on my 2 day visit to the city the week before last.

To anyone used to natural wine bars in Paris it’s comfortingly familiar - unsurprisingly as it’s run by a Frenchman Luc Ertoran together with his Italian business partner Dagan Ministero - hence the scattering of Italian wines, mainly from Sicily, among the largely French list.  There’s even a sandfilled trough outside to stub out your Gauloise.

Rather over-optimistically I was hoping to see what California had to offer by way of natural wines. There were only two open that day - an Enfield Syrah from Hayes Vineyard in the Napa Valley - fresh, stalky and about as un-Napa a wine as you could imagine (GREEN TO AMBER) and the Trowbridge ‘Four Horsemen’ from Lake County, a somewhat tarry blend of Portuguese varieties that was less to my taste (the same rating)

It was at this point things went pear-shaped. The girl on my left, clearly unaccustomed to natural wine was saying “I keep tasting something that reminds me a bit of vinegar‘ so I pitched in without thinking, concerned that she thought her tastebuds in some way defective and said it was the wine not her and that natural wine took a bit of getting used to.

Unwise. From that moment on Luc clearly decided I needed to be taken down a peg and proceeded to pick an argument about everything from natural wine aficionados who suggested that this was somehow a better way to make wine to whether natural wines fell apart on opening. (They did he insisted, pouring me one to prove his point)

The fact that I detected redcurrant flavours in a Domaine de la Tournelle Uva Arbosiana provoked an even more forceful explosion about how ridiculous tasting terms were. "If you want to analyse do something worthwhile like be a philosopher" he snorted.

I asked if he treated all his customers that way. Not, if they were there to learn, it appeared. It was clearly my presumption in pronouncing on the subject that got his goat.

Eventually he calmed down and we got on OK. He poured a Julien Sunier Fleurie (delicious though Luc said I must simply say I liked it and not pass judgment on it) and a beautifully fragrant Domaine des Sanzay 2008 Les Poyeux from the same vineyard as Clos Rougeard. I presumably knew about Clos Rougeard? No I didn’t. Much eye-rolling and ‘call yourself an expert’ expressions.

Maybe relenting (or deciding I was in need of further education) he said he thought I might be interested in a book called Terroir et L’Humanisme (another one to add to Trevor’s reading list) and refused to take any money for the wines he’d poured. I left $20 anyway.

So - a great place to drink natural wines kept in top condition. Just go in the evening when they’re busy and Luc doesn’t have time on his hands to pick a fight. Oh and if you know anything about natural wine don’t let on. And for goodness sake don’t mention redcurrants*.

* Or - worse still - that a wine reminds you of candied violets in a salad as one customer had been rash enough to do. “I mean, come onnnnn, when have you ever tasted candied violets in a salad. . . . “ See what I mean? Just watch it.

For a fuller report on Terroir read this recent post from Bertrand Celce of Wine Terroirs who obviously got off more lightly than I did.

Terroir is at 1116 Folsom St, San Francisco (on 7th) +1 415-558-9946

Friday, September 13, 2013

Le Rouge et Le Blanc natural wine magazine

One from Trevor*: "If you haven't come across it before the quarterly wine magazine "Le Rouge et le Blanc" is an invaluable resource. (Unfortunately only published in French!).

It's been going for 30 years now and for all that time without advertising income of any sort.

Unusually for the French it recognises the existence of wine other than that produced in France - for example issue 108 had an in-depth piece on South Australia. The same issue had a typical wide range of material which ranged from a piece on the stellar Côtes Rôties of René Rostaing to a peasant winemaker in the Valais with one and a half hectares. Including full tasting notes on what he produces!

Of course its all about "natural wine" (whatever that means) and for Le Rouge et le Blanc that is a very broad church indeed. In their 100 plus issues they've covered just about everyone who's anyone in the natural wine world and made a fair few discoveries on the way.

The magazine is sold by subscription but is also often available at the classic natural wine bars dotted around France. If you subscribe (which costs 58€ in Europe or 70€ in the rest of the world) they'll send you a list of all the back numbers that are still available - which is most of them - and they also list the contents of each edition.

They're based in Paris - where else? - and they have a website

Try them - they are a mine of dispassionate non-commercially-influenced information.

* For those new to this blog Trevor (Vibert) is my husband, immensely knowledgeable about natural wine and will be posting whenever I can persuade him to!