Saturday, February 26, 2011

Perrin Nature but how natural is it?

I was going to flag up what struck me as a bit of a bargain in the Co-op at the moment which is selling the Perrin Nature Côtes du Rhône for £6.99. That not only makes it £2 cheaper than their normal retail price of £8.99 but a full £4.50 cheaper than it costs in Oddbins (Unless you buy six bottles in which case you get a 20% discount but even then it's more expensive than the Co-op.) Given that it's organic and comes from the 2009 vintage you'd think you were onto a winner.

Hmmmm - I'm not so sure. It's curious. A big generous wine, certainly (14.5%), but oddly one dimensional. A bit flat and lacking in acidity. I thought it might be because it's 95% grenache which could make it a little unbalanced but I suspect the answer lies in the 'intriguing wine making process' to which the Oddbins website refers here.

Apparently the Perrins flash heat the grapes to 80°C for 30 seconds then cool them down to 20°C to 'extract maximum colour and aroma compounds'. It also apparently destroys bacteria and early oxidation. Sounds to me remarkably like pasteurisation which would account for its blandness.

Interestingly the back label suggests you should serve the wine at 15°C, presumably to zip it up a bit.

It confirms a nagging feeling I've had for a while that organic on a label is not enough. OK the process doesn't involve chemicals but it's not really in the spirit of organic winemaking is it? I just don't think you can regard this as a natural wine.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Would you use GM wine yeast?

A question for the winemakers who follow this blog. Would you use a GM wine yeast?

There's a report today on that the Canadian authorities have approved the use of a yeast called ML101 that is said to prevent headaches by producing fewer bioamines

It also enables the malolactic fermentation to take place at the same time as the alcoholic fermentation which is said to reduce the risk of wine spoilage*

Apparently the yeast has already been approved for use in the US and South Africa since 2006 so it's not new so I wonder how many other genetically modified yeasts there are around?

And surely winemakers could help to prevent headaches by reducing the amount of sulphur they use?

Just askin'.

* and somewhat alarmingly, according to this longer piece in The Vancouver Sun, the risk of 'toxic chemicals' forming as a result of adding malolactic bacteria. Is that genuinely a risk?

** and while on the subject of additives Jamie Goode has just uploaded this very interesting post on grape concentrate and Mega Purple

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tour de Belfort 2009, Vin de Pays du Lot

The only downside to having a national newspaper column is that you get a lot of wine sent to you. Now most of you might think that would be a huge plus and I can obviously see the advantage. But they do take over your life (our hall looks like a warehouse) and it is sometimes hard to keep up with the tasting and plantive emails from producers who ask if you've tried their wine yet.

Anyway I've finally got round (after several emails) to tasting this Tour de Belfort from a Quercy-based estate which sells direct and very enjoyable it is too. Or at least the red - a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Merlot - is. The white - a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Semillon is nothing like as good.

The estate is in conversion - this is what they say on their site:

"We have practiced organic methods since the beginning to produce a wine that is as natural as possible. We do not use any herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers. We started the Ecocert certification program in 2009 which will give us the organic certification after 3 years of survey, so in a year we will be able to add the certified organic logo on our labels." They also say they don't use any chemical additives in the winery and have low sulphite levels.

The vineyard is also part of a Natura 2000 European (EEC) protected territory "a program designed to protect habitats, species and biodiversity across Europe"

Anyway it's a delicious, soft, fruity, highly drinkable red that anyone would like to have in their cellar. My only quibble is that at £10 a bottle it's a pound or so too pricey. I know that includes the cost of transport from France but they are selling it direct. I'd be happier if it was £8-£9, if you bought a case of 12 at any rate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What’s orange wine?

Ever since I discovered that Claude Bosi of Hibiscus had an orange wine list I’ve been dying to dip into it - and yesterday I got the chance at lunch with Isabelle Legeron the restaurant's wine consultant (a feast you can read about here)

Somewhat embarrassingly I discover that it’s been all the rage in the states for a couple of years as this unusually succinct and well-informed entry and footnotes in Wikipedia indicate.

Top US wine writers Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle and Eric Asimov of the New York Times have both written great pieces on it which I’d urge you to read if you want to understand it better but to put it in a nutshell orange wine is a white wine made with long skin maceration which leaches out the colour of the grape skins and results in a salmon- or orange-coloured wine. It’s nothing new. The Georgians have been making orange wine for centuries.

The one I tried was Josko Gravner’s Ribolla 2002 (top right) from Venezia Giula. The Italians seem to be particularly into orange wine and Gravner who originally comes from neighbouring Slovenia is one of their high priests.

To tell the truth although I found it interesting I wasn’t totally blown away - it was attractive with some appealing quince fruit and an intriguing touch of nuttiness but paled in comparison with the amazing Les Jardins d’Esmeraldins, Genèse 2001 (top left) a simply stunning dry Chenin which the producer apparently keeps in oak for 5-6 years. 2001 is the current release!

Confusingly it is also orange which goes to show there’s orange and orange . . .

. . . and orange if you want to create your own with the clever iPhone app Colorsplash (taken at Brawn).

* It makes me feel slightly better that the great Jancis Robinson hasn’t currently got orange wine in her Oxford Companion. Not just me then.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Come d'Incanto 2009, Cantine Carpentiere

I'm taking a bit of a punt including this in the blog as I don't know if it's natural. The winelist at the Opera Tavern, a new wine bar where I tasted it the other day, said it was 'organic' and 'natural style' but it doesn't yet have its wine list up and I can't find any reference to how it's made on the producer's website or elsewhere on the net.

It tasted natural though. I can imagine some of you reading this saying 'huh - what does she mean by that?' Well it had a really distinctive quince fruit flavour - quite rich, spicy and earthy, no obvious commercial yeasts I'd have said or artificial-tasting acidity.

It's made down in Puglia from a dark-skinned grape called Uva di Troia so the wine has that slight pink-tinged colour you sometimes get in a blanc de noirs.

It also has the zany sort of label that natural winemakers like to put on their bottles.

Anyway I enjoyed it and it went very well with a selection of tapas including some Gorgonzola and date croquetas.

If you know more about it do tell me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Claude Bosi launches natural wine list

It's amazing how hot under the collar people get about the subject of natural wine. My post in the Guardian today has attracted a huge number of comments as has my tweet flagging it up on Twitter.

What prompted it was the fact that two Michelin-starred chef Claude Bosi of Hibiscus had launched a wine list this week about 90% of which is composed of wines that could be referred to as natural. A significant step for a chef of that standing.

The list was put together by Isabelle Legeron a French Master of Wine, a firm believer in natural wines for personal reasons. Her father, a vigneron in the Cognac region died 10 years ago from lung cancer. He didn't smoke and Legeron attributes his death to the extensive spraying of vineyards in the area. A number of his fellow vignerons have died prematurely as did Yannick Chenet in the report I highlighted here.

This is an emotive subject. Winegrowers who take care with their crops but who are not organic or biodynamic feel understandably aggrieved that their wines could be regarded as 'unnatural'. Biodynamics to be honest does sound like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. If you come across a wine described as natural that tastes more like cider you may feel inclined to dismiss them in general. There are good and bad winemakers in the natural wine world just as there are in conventional winemaking.

But surely it can only be a good thing to raise the bar? For all producers to use fewer chemicals and less sulphur? If the natural wine movement means that more people respond to this demand all to the good.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Domaine de Vougeraie Fête de Famille 2002

In return for our Genesis syrah our friends cracked open a bottle of Domaine de Vougeraie's Fête de Famille 2002 an exceptional crémant de Bourgogne (at an eyewatering price - £51.05 a bottle)

It was really interesting - much richer, fuller and more savoury than champagne. More of a food wine - I could have imagined it with veal or even a roast chicken.

The estate is registered organic and in conversion to biodynamic viticulture.

There was a sneaky little Dom Perignon-style shield on the label which I suppose should encourage you to feel it's a bit of a bargain but I don't think it's really worth that kind of money. Cheaper than their basic Burgundy though if that's any consolation . . .

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Castagna Genesis Syrah 2004 - a thrilling Australian red

I've been waiting for the right occasion to try this wine, which is part of the prestigious Langton's classification and last night we found it: we took it with us to dinner with a couple of friends who are really into natural wine*.

We weren't disappointed. It was simply sensational taking me back to the early days when I first tasted Aussie Shiraz and was just blown away by the intensity of flavour.

It's not called shiraz, mind you, but syrah by winemaker Julian Castagna of Beechworth in Victoria who farms his estate biodynamically. It apparently contains a proportion of viognier which suggests a desire to pay homage to Côte Rôtie.

It certainly has some of Côte Rôtie's exotic character - wild red fruits and violets - but then there were some unmistakably Australian notes in the liquorice, pepper and even a touch of tar. The freshness and acidity were surprising though and it wore its 14% alcohol very lightly. I would describe it as juicy if that hadn't become so debased as a tasting term. The fruit just went on and on.

It went very well with a braised leg of mutton but would have been great with pretty well any red meat.

The downside? It isn't cheap: £40 a bottle from The Wine Society. But if you think you could pay that on a wine of half the quality in a restaurant it doesn't seem quite so stiff.

Castagna btw is one of four Australian producers who are taking part in the Return to Terroir tasting at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival next month.

* Out of interest the wine was drunk on a Flower Day.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Big increase in French organic viticulture

I'm still flat out on the current book project but thought I'd post this link to a report in The Drinks Business on the latest figures on the extent of organic viticulture in France which now accounts for nearly 6% of total wine production.

More interesting is the rate at which the rate of conversion is speeding up. According to Elizabeth Mercier of France Agence Bio at Millésime Bio in Montpellier last week Languedoc-Roussillon’s organic vineyard coverage increased by 51.9% from 2008 to 2009 (the last date for which statistics are available), Rhône-Alpes by 50.8%, Aquitaine by 45.2%, Burgundy by 43.2% and Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur by 34.6%.

The report points out that growth was slower in the Loire and Alsace (7.1% and 13.5% respectively over the same period) but doesn't take account of the fact that those regions already have a significant number of organic and biodynamic producers.

There are also current figures for Italy and Spain.

Whilst on the subject of France I've found a new site, Club du Vin Authentique which has a very interesting - and alarming - feature on the level of pesticides in conventionally produced wine. (In French, I'm afraid)