Hi, Welcome to the Wine Woman Song blog. My name is Juel. I’ve been in the wine industry since 2001. This blog is to provide you with fine wine advice, 100ml travel-sized debates as well as share my personal favourites.
The smoothness of the driving experience has changed. Now when you sit in a new car you can’t feel anything mechanical beneath you. You glide. The machine has disappeared from the experience. What is working to get you on the road has been computerised. Except for at the other end, say, when inside a Lamborghini. That’s when you are so close to the ground you can feel every pebble of tar on the road.
The reduction of dosage in sparkling wine reminds me of this: when you take away sugar from sparkling, part of the process of making sparkling wine, you lose the glide. Every crenulation of the road can be felt. Is zero dosage giving us the Lamborghini-effect for sparkling wines?
Or is it more like a bumpy Model T Ford with hard metal seats?
At a recent tasting of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG in London, we compared the wines, starting at zero dosage, increasing in Residual Sugar as the tasting progressed.
The zero dosage wines are mostly sold in Italy (about 65% of production). The UK likes a little sugar in their Prosecco, but then, the market is two-thirds of the lower-priced Prosecco DOC (not the Prosecco Superiore DOCG). It’s a drink for a quick quaff with friends and often without food.
And yet, as the beautiful afternoon tea at the Hari Hotel in Mayfair showed, savoury food works well with the zero dosage styles of Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Whether this eventually appeals to the same people who like to have a casual Prosecco with friends will depend. Can the interest in “zero-sugar” Prosecco, alongside other bubble-based beverages with zero calories, turn people on to the drier style? Even if the normal, higher levels of sugar work well with cakes and sweeter treats.
What I enjoyed most was the Frizzante made in a Col Fondo style. Called Malibràn, from Credamora, meaning “trouble maker” – zero dosage, cloudy and fermented more like a pet nat with its softer bubbles. This had more depth of flavour from being unfiltered, which put it into a niche group of wines. This shows the diversity happening in the region.
Even though Prosecco is one of the most successful sparkling regions, and causing a noticeable dent in lower-priced, own-brand Champagne sales in the last two years, the Prosecco Superiore DOCG knows it needs to drive very fast to keep ahead of this fast-paced, bubbly game. And keep going.
Consorzio of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG #SuperioreAfternoon launched for the press at The Hari Hotel, Mayfair on Monday 25th March, including 42 producers of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG hosted by Sarah Abbott MW.
Picpoul de Pinet has made me a lot of friends. It’s been essential chat fuel in London pubs since 2009. Here are seven facts you may not know about Picpoul de Pinet. It may even help with your next pub quiz. There’s a lot more to this easy white wine from Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France than you may expect.
1. One third of all Picpoul de Pinet production is sold in the U.K.
1.57 million bottles were drunk in 2017/2018 compared to 1.08 million in 2016/2017 – an increase of 46%. That’s a lot of after-work drinks.
2. The Picpoul de Pinet bottle is called a Neptune
Since 1995, Picpoul de Pinet must be in a sleek green bottle. Up close, you will find it has three symbols on the glass: the waves of the sea around the neck of the bottle, the cross of it’s home region of the Languedoc-Roussillon, and columns along the base of the bottle as a nod to Roman Doric columns. It must have all three to be a real Picpoul de Pinet.
3. The “Picquepoul” was originally a black grape
Piquepoul is the white grape of Picpoul de Pinet. Pinet is the town. Stay with me. Picpoul de Pinet may be a white grape today, but records in the 1300s suggest it has changed its identity over the centuries by genetic mutation.
4. Picpoul vs the zombie apocalypse
The vine louse called phylloxera nearly wiped out the world’s vines in the late 18th century. Thankfully, the Piquepoul grape survived because it thrives on sandy soils, which are fatal to the vine pest.
5. Picpoul de Pinet plus Oysters equals happy ever after
In 1971, a local mayor in the South of France held an event to celebrate “the marriage” of Picpoul de Pinet and Bouzigues oysters. Since then, it has become a classic food and wine partnering. The lemony flavours of Picpoul de Pinet means it’s happy ever after.
6. Only white Piquepoul grapes are allowed to be grown around Pinet
Piquepoul is the only approved variety in the Pinet region. This had a positive effect when introduced as a law in 1985 – doubling Picpoul de Pinet sales over the next decade.
7. Picpoul means “lip-stinger”
An easy one to remember after a few glasses of wine with friends – if you don’t remember anything, remember this fact: Picpoul means “lip stinger” in local dialect. You may never know when you might need it.
What is a pub in London without a Picpoul de Pinet wine? It is fresh, salty, lip- stinging, eye-opening effervescence. Since 2009, it’s been London’s biggest chat fuel in pubs. Coming up at the same time as Prosecco, it’s also kind to the wallet, but Picpoul de Pinet stands apart for it’s small production volume. It’s a London thing – people want it like the latest sneakers: because it’s rare and popular.
Touching down at the Millésime Bio organic wine fair in Montpellier. Sunshine. Organic wine. It did not take much cajoling by SudVinBio to accept the invitation; over 1,200 organic wine exhibitors from 22 different countries under the mild Mediterranean sun.
This is the 26th year of the event, which is a significant year for me. Calculating back, Millésime Bio started a year after the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, a major United Nations conference on the Environment and Development in 1992.
Around the same time, the global gathering in Rio inspired me to study law and environmental science and it was only a sudden illness that stopped my studies. The weight of the planet’s problems became too much on top of my own. Life went in another direction. Or in a circle. Today, by choosing to drink organic wine, I can do my small bit to support health of essential vineyard workers and soften the impact on our lonely blue planet.
Millésime Bio in 2019
In 2019, Millésime Bio comes of age. Today it is a smooth modern event. Happily, however, there were still some tell-tale signs that it has stuck to its 1990s roots. Back in a time when organic wine was seen as more fringe than it is seen today.
The layout itself is quite egalitarian. Each winemaker’s table was presented simply with a white table cloth, which featured one or two producers. This was repeated for all the winemakers over four huge halls. I even saw one winemaker with just one bottle of wine to show.
Not much marketing, no massive winery stands, no sign posts showing regions.
Millesime Bio 2019
At first, the four large halls felt overwhelming (how are we going to find the wines from this or that region?); after a few hours, it felt refreshingly democratic. To navigate around the event I downloaded the app to find different regions and producers (rather than the brick of a guide, which was a waste of paper if you are using the app. Go digital, people!).
Who knows what wine you will discover? A majority of the winemakers were family-run, small producers. This flat structure of the event gave each producer an equal platform to be heard.
Millésime Bio: Evolution of organic wine vineyard areas in the world
Millésime Bio in 2045
In 2045, will a wine fair for organic wine even be necessary? Or, will the majority of wine be organic wine anyway in twenty-six years time? If trends continue, there could be over 1 million hectares of organic vineyards worldwide based on IWSR projections to 2022.
Will wines even be physical, can they become replicated in a virtual space? In 2045, you can have a convincing smell of cassis and oak by shining light pulses at different wavelengths. Or perhaps at the other extreme, wines will it become even more unfiltered and organic. The thrill for wine drinkers of 2045 is its un-virtual reality, much like how inner-city children, who have never stepped foot in a farm, feel like at a travelling baby animal show.
In 1993, a young winemaker who wanted to practice organic winemaking often had to argue with his parents and grandparents to change their ways to their organic and “riskier” form of agriculture. The post-World War Two generation saw petro-chemicals as the gift of consistency, cash flow and food on the family table.
Back to the future, in 2045, the earth is full of residual chemicals that it just can not take any more even you could buy them.
Will our Earth exist in 2045? What will happen to traditional viticulture and agriculture? Let’s drink well today and go lightly forward, towards a more hopeful future.
Organic wine is only a start. There’s a lot more to do.
What is Organic Wine? The Short Story from Millésime Bio:
Before I travel to Montpellier for Millésime Bio Organic Wine fair next week, I searched Google for “organic wine”. The oracle answered back with a riddle, like an old Zen master answering a question with a question, “What does organic wine mean?”
A sensible question to ask before an international organic wine fair. Although, in asking it at all, it reminded me of the days after the Brexit referendum, when we learned the most searched for question in Britain was, “What is the EU?”
“Argh, the B word”, as you splurt out your wine over your metropolitan-elite, wine-drinking ecru walls, “why do we have to involve Brexit in everything?”
Because it is involved with everything, especially wine. Brexit is a “mad riddle,” as Danny Dyer brilliantly put it, and organic wine is one of the most regulated wine styles in Europe. It’s worth stepping back and look at the larger picture when there is a pyromaniacal desire by some in government for a bonfire of regulations.
What does Organic wine mean today?
So here we are. Only 9 weeks to go before the Brexit leaving date, with no plan by the government, and I’m off to an organic wine fair in Europe. A style of wine that is one of the most regulated labels.
EU Organic Wine symbol: What does organic wine mean?
If organic wine in France is anything, it is about the rules and regulations. In other words, as Brexiteers would say, organic wine means “red tape.” Is this such a bad thing?
I’m thankful for the strict regulations surrounding organic wine. Seeing the green-leaf EU standard on a bottle of wine is a reassurance of quality. At least I know there has been some thought put into what happens in the vineyard, winery and, hopefully, both.
The late- A.A. Gill in his one of his last posts, described the Brexit argument against the EU and its “red tape” in his own inimitable way:
If you’re really worried about red tape, by the way, it’s not just a European problem. We’re perfectly capable of coming up with our own rules and regulations and we have no shortage of jobsworths. Red tape may be annoying, but it is also there to protect your and my family from being lied to, poisoned and cheated.
The Sunday Times Magazine, “Brexit: AA Gill argues for ‘In’” 12 June 2016
Here are the actual words of the regulations to prevent people who buy organic wine from being “lied to, poisoned and cheated”. For those who find Brexit boring by now – and this complex and immense subject is going around and around in circles – here is the (unapologetically boring) facts on organic wine.
Organic Viticulture: the European Union Regulations
Organic production is regulated throughout the European Union, since 1991, under regulation (EC) 834/2007, “Principles for organic production and labelling”, which defines rules for production, processing, distribution, importation, control, certification and labelling of organic products. This is further completed by regulation (EC) 889/2008, “Applicable rules for organic production”.
Organic agriculture is defined as “a system of agricultural management and food production, combining best environmental practices, a high level of diversity, the preservation of natural resources, the application of high standards of animal well-being and a production method based on natural methods and substances.” (Recital 1 of regulation (EC) 834/2007).
In France, Organic Agriculture (AB) is a sign of quality. The INAO (National Institute of Origin and Quality) is in charge of applying organic regulations.
Definition of Organic Viticulture
The principle of organic vineyard management is based on a global approach to vine/soil/environment, and on maintaining this balance.
• Organic production prohibits use of synthetic chemicals and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). The implementation of prophylactics (preventives) to reduce the sensitivity of crops to pest attacks is compulsory prior to using natural products for plant protection or biological control. In addition, management of adventitious matter* is mechanical (tillage, mulching, hand weeding, etc.).
• Organic production maintains and improves soil fertility, favour biodiversity and preserve water quality. Organic production implies the use of natural fertilisers only, such as green manure or compost.
Thus, the fact that organic viticulture uses no chemical products systematically entails an increase in labour resources: observation time in vineyard to anticipate intervention, mechanical rather than chemical management of adventitious matter, etc… This generally leads to an increase in production costs (variable, depending on environmental conditions).
Definition of Organic Vinification
Organic Vinification Wine production is subject firstly to European legislation: “Common Market Organisation for Wine” (CMO wine: regulation (EC) 479/2008) and procedural requirements for oenological practices (regulation (EC) 606/2009). Since the 8th February 2012, rules for organic vinification have been added to the European organic regulation (EC) 834/2007, enabling certification of winemaking, and no longer just for grapes.
The rules for organic vinification came into effect on the 1st August, 2012. Requirements are same for all European countries. They are based on 4 key points from the CMO for wine: • 100% of all agricultural ingredients used must be certi ed as organic: grapes, sugar, alcohol, rectified concentrated must (RCM). • Restrictions or interdictions on use of certain physical procedures (e.g.: dealcoholisation, electrodialysis, filtration using a media with pores of < 0.2 μm, are all forbidden practices).
• Respect of a restricted list of additives and oenological auxilia- ries (organic origin favoured for some). • Restrictions on total SO2 level in wine sold.
There we have it. At least for the consumer, it’s difficult to disagree with the need for red tape in organic wine to ensure the integrity of the label. I’m hugely looking forward to visiting the Millésime Bio wine fair next week to taste more.
Much like slicing poisonous fugu fish to make sushi, knife-edge climate conditions in Japan create a tension in the red wines from Japan that thrill. Of course, the wines won’t kill you the way a misjudged slice of fugu can; but, for Japanese grapes, the climate can be life and death – it’s certainly not easy to ripen on an archipelago afflicted by monsoons and typhoons. When the grapes do ripen, the best Japanese wines show a unique freshness, delicacy and intensity.
If Japanese wine is exported – and it is an if as most Japanese wine is consumed domestically – then it most likely be a light white wine from the grape called Koshu. Fine and soft in texture, most Koshu are very pale, almost akin to water, in appearance. Similarly, the red wines are also light in style, but are developing more fruit ripeness due to better site selection and more European varieties planted. How do the vines fare in Japan under these knife-edge conditions?
Red Wines of Japan: Map of Japanese Wine Regions courtesy of Wine Regions of the World
3 Red Japanese Wines
Here are three red Japanese wines that are all from the same vintage but from three very different regions: Hokkaido, Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures.
Tsurunuma Zweigelt 2015, Hokkaido Wine Company, Hokkaido Prefecture Japan
The island sitting apart from the rest of Japan, Hokkaido is not only cooler, but it is also cool – a lot of younger winemakers are attracted to the area for it’s relative affordability and lack of typhoon season.
Established in 1974, the Hokkaido winery first had German winemaking influence in its initial stages. The soft juicy Austrian red grape variety (a cross between St Laurent and Blaufrankisch) is well suited to the wetter weather in Japan with it’s late bud break and early ripening. The wine shows fresh and delicate plums and red cherries with a clean, spicy finish.
Merlot ‘Cuvée Masako’ 2015, Kusunoki Winery, Nagano Prefecture Japan
In 2002, the Nagano Appellation Control (NAC) was founded. In 2004, the Japanese government relaxed laws to make it easier for boutique wineries to set up. One of the outcomes was a 5 hectare estate set up by Shigeyuki Kusunoki in 2004.
Nagano is the largest producer of Merlot in Japan, although this is closer to Pinot Noir in style than the Merlot talked about in the Sideways film. A fragile pale ruby colour with good intensity on the palate – this is low sulfur, minimal intervention from this small vineyard.
Cabernet Franc 2015, Grace Wine, Yamanashi Prefecture Japan
Grace Wine is one of the most successfully exported Japanese wineries from Yamanashi, the largest wine region in Japan. Although I had tasted their Koshu a few times in the past, I was excited to taste their red wine to see if it matched the quality I knew from the Koshu. Koshu has been grown in Yamanashi for thousands of years, while the Cabernet Franc is a more recent blow in from Europe.
More Saumur in structure than Bordeaux, although even more delicate, the Grace Wine Cabernet Franc has a good intensity of fruit ripeness with soft tannins from the delicate extraction in the winery. The delicate touches of oak – spice, tobacco, vanillin characters – with no sign of unripe green character combined with the delicate berry fruit.
This post was made possible thanks to Wines of Japan UK and a masterclass with Sarah Abbott MW at 67 Pall Mall, London on Tuesday 23rd October 2018
There’s plenty of exciting Georgian grapes yet to be explored. Considered the birthplace of wine, there are 525 recognised Georgian grapes with over 425 regularly grown – and that’s not including the wild grapes that are yet to be named.
There are five main wine regions in Georgia, with 18 Protected Designations of Origin recognised by the international wine community, and below, you’ll find four main wine regions visited this year, which are unique to each other in terms of climate, soils, grapes and history.
Let’s take a look at what there is to know about the major Georgian grapes in four major regions of The Republic of Georgia.
Georgian Wine Appellations – courtesy of Wines of Georgia
Georgian Grapes and WinesIMERETI region
On the eastern part of western Georgia, Imereti is one of the most diverse regions for Georgian grapes, ranging from humid sub-tropical in the Lower Imereti and ending up at 2850m high on alpine meadows. Seventy percent of the Imereti region is mountainous. The Black Sea provides a warm, moderating influence in the winter.
Traditional winemaking with qvevri is used here, which are called churi in Imereti. Here, after fermentation, the wine is left in churi for about 2 months, after the pulp is removed it is transferred to the barrels. The wines here have higher acidity than in Khahketi, which benefits the quality of white wines from here. There is one Imereti PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) called Sviri PDO, which can be a blend of Tsitska and Tsolikouri, although sometimes it has Krakhuna added. The result is a moderate alcohol wine with creamy fresh fruit and a perfumed finish.
Georgian grapes – Tstiska-Tsolikouri from Vartishke Cellar in Imereti
Tsitska white grape
Grown in the cooler Upper Imereti, and often seen blended with Tsolikouri as Tsitska-Tsolikouri. The Tsitska offers high acidity, with fresh lemon, honey and melon characters. As mentioned above, it is one of the grapes in the Sviri PDO blend.
Tsolikouri white grape
In the 19th century, Tsolikouri was the defining white grape of Georgia and the second-most planted grape after Rkatsiteli. It is considered one of the longest-ageing white wines in Georgia. More full-bodied than high-acidity Tsitska, which it is often blended successfully, it can shows character of citrus fruit, white plum, yellow fruit and floral notes.
Krakhuna white grape
One of my favourite white wines in Georgia is indigenous to Imereti; a full-bodied white wine reminiscent of an unoaked white Rhone variety. It can be made in the traditional or international style successfully, although I enjoyed it the most with less than 100% time in churi. As a grape variety, it has moderate to high yields and can accumulate sugar easily while also retaining acidity. Higher alcohol, a fuller-body with smooth glycerol feel when made in stainless steel, it shows tropical fruits, apricot and honey notes.
Otskhanuri Sapere red grape
Another gem from Imereti. A beautiful ruby colour, medium weight, the tannins can be rough but older versions have a rich and deep elegance.
Aladastouri red grape
Another red grape from Imereti that has tremendous potential. As a dry qvevri wine, there are crunchy raspberry and black cherry characters much like a young Piedmontese red. Despite its thick skins, the wine has a light colour.
Georgian Grapes – Aladastouri at Agricultural Reserach Centre at Saguramo, Georgia
You can smell the dry heat of continental Turkey down here on the southern border of Georgia. Considered one of the ancient winemaking sites, vineyards are traditionally grown in the valleys of the Mtkavari River. Although 900m is the lowest altitude at which vineyards are planted, so it is still very high altitude viticulture with long hours of sunshine. This is one of the driest regions of Georgia, with harsh winters and frost.
According to Georgian researchers, many Georgian grapes could have originated here, such as Saperavi. Natenadzes’ wine cellar – who considers himself a cultural historian rather than winemaker – is one of the only ones to produce wine on the terraces here.
Meskhuri Mtsvane white grape
Mtsvane means “green”; and so, this is the green wine from Meskheti. (See Mtsvane Kakhuri).
Natenadze’s Cellar and Vardzia Terraces
Across the Mtkvari River
Kartli surrounds the capital of Tbilisi, which derives from the old Georgian word meaning “warm town”. Continental in climate with hot summers and cold winters. Vineyards are grown at 750-800m above sea level. The PDO is Atenuri PDO, which was already known in the Middle Ages for quality wines, in particular, sparkling wines from Chinuri. Wines are made both in traditional qvevri and international styles.
Chinuri white grape
Outside of Georgia, the white grape Chinuri reputation rests on the wines of Iago Bitarishvili, who makes qvevri amber wines from this high acidity grape. Since 1998, his wines are responsible for introducing many wine professionals in Western Europe to amber wines made in qvevri. Traditionally, the late ripening Chinuri’s high acidity has been used to make a natural sparkling wine where the must taken to Ateni Gorg to a high and cold location for a long cool ferment. The PDO permits the Georgian grapes, Chinuri, Gori Mtsvane and the French, Aligoté.
Tavkevri red grape
This was once all over eastern Georgia, but is now found mostly in its home of Kartli. As a young, dry wine it has fresh flavours of red fruit (raspberries, strawberries), floral (rose) notes.
Iago Bitarishvili with qvevri of chinuri grapes
Kakheti has about 65-70% of Georgia’s vineyards and produces 80% of its wine. Bordering Russia and Azerbaijan, the Caucasus Mountain range provides cool breezes that flow south over the vines. The main growing area is in the Alazani Valley. It is home to 14 of the 18 PDOs, including Tsinandali PDO (on the right bank of the Alazani River, it is a white blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane Kakhuri), Kindzmarauli PDO (a naturally semi-sweet red), and Mukuzani PDO (a full-bodied, dark-coloured Saperavi red from the micro-zone on the right bank of the Alazani River).
Traditional Wine Making in Kakheti
Kakheti has its own historically distinct winemaking process that is unique in the world of wine. The grapes are first pressed in a Satsnakheli (wine press) and then, grape must is poured into the qvevri for ten days with stirring four times per day. The stirring provides an even fermentation that can last between 25 to 40 days. The skins, stalks and pips then sink to the bottom. After malolactic fermentation, the qvevri are covered and sealed.
At one of the great and few Qvevri makers in Georgia – Zaza Kbilashvilli
Saperavi red grape
Saperavi is the ambassador for Georgian redwine around the world. It can be found across Georgia, but it’s home is in the Kakheti region. High quality reds with potential for ageing, they are one of only a few grapes with pink flesh (most grapes have clear flesh). The wines are high in tannin, colour and acidity and they need time to develop in the bottle. Masses of potential, but not convinced by the heavy Mukuzani PDO – yet. Hugh Johnson recommends Saperavi as a good alternative to Medoc reds.
In 2013, when I visited the Biesina experimental vineyard in Marsala, Sicily they were cross-breeding Sicilian grapes with Saperavi to study the DNA for future climate change. Then there’s the Saperavi clones in Australia, which are also good in drought conditions. There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the future of Saperavi.
Rkatsiteli white grape
Where Saperavi is the ambassador for the reds, Rkatsiteli is for Georgian white wines. Often see as a traditional qvevri amber wine, and also made in an international style.
Mstvane Kakhuri white grape
One of Georgia’s ancient grape varieties, which in the scheme of grape history, could make it one of the world’s oldest varieties. Often blended with Rkatsiteli, it provides aroma and delicacy in the blend. It is increasing in popularity as a qvevri style wine. Aromas of stone fruit, orchard flowers with good minerality.
Khikhvi white grape
This white grape works well made in an international or qvevri winemaking, and as a sweet wine. Originally described in the third to fourth century, the vines are naturally low yielding but produce grapes that ripen with good levels of sugar.
Kisi white grape
One of my favourite Georgian grapes for amber wine, which some consider to be a hybrid between Mstvane and Rkatsiteli. When made in a traditional Georgian qvevri, the wine becomes by complex aromas of pear, honey, tobacco and walnut, and of course, incredible textural tannins.
Ruispiri biodynamic vineyards in Tsinandali, Kakheti Georgia
Lukasi Kisi with Ketevan Gersamia at Anona Restaurant in Tbilisi
If a journey is a search in disguise, then a trip to Georgian wine country is a pilgrimage. But what was I searching for? Since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, the wine world has split into two camps: on one side, wine as a luxury good, and on the other side, towards the organic, and at the most, natural wine. Georgian wine surfaced again at the right time. The story of the country’s re-emergence as an independent country, with wine at the core of its identity, and especially amber wine, coincided at the same time as the natural wine movement started to take off here.
Georgia is the birthplace of wine, with the oldest evidence of winemaking discovered at an 8000-year old village near Tbilisi. As you are reminded everywhere you go in Georgia, there is a deep connection to wine; it is a country with “8000 vintages”. It’s signature wine is the orange wines made in amphora, which in Georgia is described as amber wine made in terracotta qvevri (pictured). Ancient Georgian winemaking was the inspiration for Italian orange wine producers.
Was I actually looking for the soul of wine?
Soul is not a word that I would normally use about wine. It’s something I’d say about James Brown or Aretha Franklin. Not wine. On the first night in Georgia, driving through the pot-holed streets of Kutaisi after midnight, our Georgian guide told the first of her stories inside the green fluorescent of the minibus.
Maka sits at the front of the bus with a microphone, and as the trip goes on, the stories become more grisly and without pause. The casual banality catches your attention: “and then the dog and the children of the village were killed. Glance to your left and you will see…” etc. On our first hour, as we pass the police station, she suddenly becomes animated and explains the new police station buildings.
Since 2003, the police station buildings in Georgia have been made of glass. As part of the crackdown on police corruption, the entire police force was disbanded and they started again with new recruits with a spotless reputation. Not only can the public see through the glass to the offices, people working within the offices can see each other through the glass. There is no place to hide for a bribe.
In the same way, amber wine made in qvevri has no place to hide. The extended skin contact means the tannins can be harsh and poky if they are anything but perfectly ripe. What goes into the qvevri is the true state of the vintage – there is no manipulation, no adding of anything, it is usually not filtered. If the grapes and stems are ripe or unripe, so be it – in it goes for 6 months. The result is uncompromising. As Andrew Jefford says, it can be a “kind of punk”.
Also, like punk, there is a lot of DIY. Visiting some places, it reminded me of the early days of home brewing in the late 1970s. Everyone seems to make wine. Georgia is a country that has almost been under continuous occupation. Their wine-making tradition has been carefully passed down within the family and across the villages. The people gather indoors for dinner and toast, Gaumarzos, meaning literally ‘to your victory’. Freedom of speech has been with family and friends around the table with their own wine.
Like truth, what comes out of the Qvevri is not always comfortable. On the contrary, it would be too easy to visit the ex-Soviet bulk wineries inherited by Georgia and condemn them to wines that represent “non-truth” – large scale and ambitious. But that would be simplistic. What was “Production Unit No. 2” is now a large piece of winery infrastructure for Georgian wine. Apart from the small producers, I found these large producers gave their own fascinating snapshot of the region and how they negotiate their Soviet legacy and make it work for them in the future.
The embargo by Russia from 2006 to 2013 forced Georgia to cut ties with their traditional market, Russian, which took quantity over quality. No longer could they be complacent about quality when attempting to access new markets across Europe and Asia. The large wineries also provide many jobs for local people who have so much inherent wine knowledge, and traditions of picking grapes, and making and drinking wine.
Yet, it’s the small qvevri producer that is the star of Georgian wine. After sitting through a meet and greet with Georgian wine producers and tasting up to 100 wines, this is an old and new country. It is the winemakers who are experimenting with the qvevri – much like using oak, and often too much in a domestic market – who are really moving their country’s winemaking forward.
Most of Georgia’s reputations rests on the qvevri, and in fact, after a while I wanted there to be more focus on the quality of the vineyard. There came a point – with so many unfinished and fizzy wines – where I put down my pen and just listened to the winemaker (or son or daughter of the winemaker) talk. How is Georgian wine going to be in the next 8000 vintages?
If it was a wine pilgrimage, then every step along the way in Georgia had meaning – even when challenges emerged. There is no place to hide when it comes to amber wine, and it is a spiritual challenge that the Georgian people are more than equipped to handle. It genuinely is one of the most intriguing countries I have been lucky enough to visit and it will stay with me for a long time. Thank you, Wines of Georgia.
After the Russian embargo, and to gain access to markets in the European Union, Georgia delineated their Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) into regions and local styles. This was a big step towards developing the inherent quality found in Georgia. Find out more about the wine producing regions of Georgia and Georgian wine grapes in my next post…
How is a top Chateau on Bordeaux’s Right Bank preparing for climate change? The big news for Chateau Angelus in St Emilion is they received their organic certification this year (2018) and have put in place new approaches for clonal selection.
Over lunch at 67 Pall Mall with the de Bouard family, the younger generation, Stephaine and Thierry, are clearly enthusiastic about their move to organic viticulture. The older generation present, Hubert de Bouard, was more sanguine. He believed the move to organic was tough, but “it’s a big wave we have to follow, but you can say, you have to do the job.”
It was difficult timing, when 2018 on the right bank is characterised by a battle with mildew. Stephanie told us, while “nature has the last word, we fought very hard.” While some of their fellow right bank Chateaux gave up their organic certification process, because they felt they were “going backwards”, Chateau Angelus stuck it through despite everything and say they were happy with the results.
Monsieur de Bouard and Chateau Angelus 2015, 2012, 2011 and 2005
When Pontet Canet pushed forward with biodynamic viticulture, some questioned whether it was possible due to the damp humidity of Bordeaux. Mildew damage is one of the more difficult problems for organic vitiuculture and in 2018 this was a problem on the right bank. In the end, you have to spray with copper (only on the surface). Four to five tractors spray the 42 hectares over one day – but with the clay soil in St Emilion, which is not easy to get the tractor through after the rain.
At Bordeaux university under Emile Puynard, Monsieur de Bouard recalled the great enologist saying, “a great wine is great from beginning in the barrel to the end.” Although he didn’t believe that you could necessarily tell a wine was organic from the profile in the glass. Much like tomatoes there can be non-organic tomatoes that are good, but that is where the analogy ends – intensive production can push through anything, “Wine is made in the vineyard, not on a computer, but with boots.”
Next year, Hubert de Bouard and family will start a new massale selection of the Cabernet Franc.
In 2019, they will be looking for Cabernet Franc that needs time on the vine, and gives less alcohol and more acidity. In short, better phenolic ripeness. A response to changes in climate over the years. Compare the difference to what he was looking for 30 years ago, where he was looking for Cabernet Franc with the most sugar to gain faster maturity and to gain more power.
Chateau Angelus has always had a reputation for dynamic thinking, and their next stage in organic viticulture – in which the origins can be traced back to the 2012 vintage – they are planning ahead for a world where climate change and global warming is a reality. They can change the farming, and with Cabernet Franc on clay soils (which are like a tank of water under the vines in drought conditions), they are in a position to confront the climate changes.
There is change in Bordeaux. A response to future climate change challenges. The bells on top of the Chateau may be ringing out: for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee (and for all of us).
Let’s be upfront, there have been a few Sassicaia wannabes when it comes to Bolgheri DOC: ambitious wines made with high extraction, high alcohol and a high use of new oak – and lashings of Merlot. Although, only established in 1999, Podere Sapaio could not be mistaken as just another one of these wines.
Attending a dinner hosted by Walter Speller, and tasting through a vertical of Podere Sapaio’s past vintages, I tasted a winery that has been allowed to develop and experiment rather than be another cookie-cutter super Tuscan.
Before we turn to their main wines – Volpolo and Sapaio – here is a wild card wine to give you an insight of the owner’s open philosophy. Not many wineries in this area are experimenting with orange wines made of Ansonica (Inzolia) and aged in amphora.
But back to the main story – the reds.
Bolgheri DOC is a relatively new region, coming to prominence in the 1990s on the back of a string of excellent Sassacaia releases, and wineries piled into the area to take advantage of the huge potential of the sandy soils, warm climate and cool coastal breezes. The natural advantage of the place is particularly evident in the latest vintages from Podere Sapaio, the 2015 Sapaio and 2016 Volpolo.
As can be expected from a winery finding it’s feet, there comes a point where the style comes into its own. In the latest vintages, the style is fresher, yet more structured, with predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon but also an overall emphasis on freshness and reduction of oak. For me, the Merlot in the earlier vintages lacked the freshness of the tannins, although it was full-bodied and powerful. The focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than Merlot, gives the wine more transparency and structure.
It is this light touch that bodes well and is evident by the number of experiments that he encourages, as well as his environmental philosophy. Whether it is Petit Verdot in amphora, the conversion to organic viticulture, or his orange wine in homage to his wife, Rabbit’s Paradise (very unfortunately, not available to buy). But particularly, his rethink of his use of Merlot. The current vintages are showing a real edge towards quality and longevity.
Even at this early stage, their Bordeaux blend has changed over a relatively short space of time and has become less “Bordeaux” and more Maremma, in style. As Walter Speller argued, to be original is about origin. And it is: it is a red wine of clarity, freshness and hope that agrees with sliding glass doors opening onto a sea view.
Via del Passo di Bocca di Valle, 1, 57022 Donoratico LI (Livorno), Italy map
Located in the Bolgheri zone of the Maremma region.
Before the creation of the Bolgheri DOC in 1994, wines from this region were called Vino da Tavola or IGT Toscana and referred to as “Super Tuscans” for their use of international varieties. The DOC states wines can be Cabernet Sauvignon (10 to 80%), Merlot (up to 80%) and other local red varieties (up to 30%). Red wines must be aged for 24 months.
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot
16 months in barriques and tonneau followed by 4 months in bottle refinement
Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2016
Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2015
Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2014
Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2013
Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2011
Volpolo Bolgheri DOC 2008
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 20% Petit Verdot
16-17 months in barriques followed by 6-8 months in bottle refinement
Sapaio Toscana IGT 2015
Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2013
Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2012
Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2008
Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2006
Sapaio Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2005
And… Paradiso dei Conigli Ansonica (not for sale)
Thank you Walter Speller and Podere Sapaio for the invite and the team at 67 Pall Mall.
One of the joys of reviewing Californian sparkling wine is that I very rarely taste them and so have zero expectations. Only small quantities of the top Californian sparkling wines are sent to London and can be found at select restaurants such as The Vineyard, which recently hosted a dinner at 67 Pall Mall with vintner Hugh Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards, Napa Valley.
Schramsberg Vineyards is a part of the history of Californian sparkling wine. Robert Louis Stevenson first mentioned Schramsberg in his 1883 novel, the Silverado Squatters. In fact, he visited Jacob Schram at the Schramsberg winery in Calistoga on his honeymoon. A strange kind of honeymoon; to get there, he had to spend his time hacking through the thick undergrowth on the lower slopes of Diamond Mountain. About this time, in a moment of inspiration, he penned the romantic line, that “wine is bottled poetry”.
On the plane over to London this time, vintner Hugh Davies said, he thought about the Schramsberg Vineyards featured on the wine list at the exclusive London’s Carlton Club in the 1880s. This was long before his family took over the winery in 1965. It would be a full eight years later, in the 1970s, before French Champagne houses came to California to prospect for vineyard gold. Perhaps, they were there after the sensation of President Nixon’s 1972 “Toast to Peace” on his visit to China that featured the Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blancs. After this visit, the wine has been featured at every president’s inauguration since then, even President Trump, despite Trump being teetotal and not drinking it.
Sad. He missed out on some delicious sparkles. What makes great sparkling wine for me, is the brightness of acidity. The acidity of Californian sparkling is a bit of a paradox. How do they get this right in such a warm climate?
When a grape is picked at 10% potential in Champagne, it is ready to go; when it is picked at 10% in California it is physiologically unripe (the seeds are bitter). It is a difficult challenge to get this right as it can make or break a wine and it seems to be overcome here by blending and choosing cooler areas. The winery may be based in Calistoga – the top part of the Napa Valley – but most of the fruit is sourced from cooler regions such as Carneros and Anderson Valley, areas that were not explored in the 1960s.
Before I arrived, I expected sparkling wines from the sunny uplands of the Napa Valley – compared to the grey skies of Champagne – as a sparkling version of a big Napa Valley Chardonnay, rich and very fruit-driven. The ripe fruit does not disappoint and is beautifully balanced by the acidity: this is a richer style of sparkling wine that speaks of California. We also had older vintages to see how they develop in the cellar, and they become complex and elegant over time.
If you are someone such as myself, who wants to taste an elegant, balanced sparkling wine, you may care to think outside of the box. Go on a journey, travel somewhere new, for as Robert Louis Stevenson said, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”