Thursday, June 23, 2022

Hungary decanted: a walkaround tasting

A most interesting tasting hosted at the Hungarian Embassy in London. In their own words: walk around tasting will showcase Decanter World Wine Awards “Best in Show”, Platinum and Gold medallist Hungarian wines, including Best in Show wines Juliet Victor Tokaji Szamorodni 2017 (Best in Show 2020) and St Andrea Nagy-Eged Bikavér, Eger (Best in Show in 2021).

Over 30 DWWA award winning sparkling, dry and sweet wines from around 20 producers will be available to taste from all over Hungary. Producers include: Balassa Bor, Grof Degenfeld Wine Estate, Maul Winery, Kreinbacher, Zelna Boraszat, Szent Andrea Winery, Vesztergombi.

Prevalence of white wines and especially sweet ones. Just by way of reminders, Hungary uses the unit of "puttonyos" to indicate the degree of sweetness of its wines. Here are my favorite takeaways:

Grand Tokaj - Tokaj

From the largest winery in the historic Tokaj region, the company owns 67 hectares of land and purchases grapes from 1000+ farmers in the area.

Aszú 6 puttonyos 2014, furmint
Perfect balance, 10% abv, Score 96

Aszú 5 puttonyos 2014, furmint
Too fresh, needs a bit time, abv 9.5%, Score 90

Esszencia 2013, blend of 6 grapes
abv 2.5%!, very syrupy, I can hardly call this a wine, 450g of residual sugar, but it will please those with a very sweet tooth.


Aszú selection 6 puttonyos 2017, blend of furmint and other grapes
Ripe apricots, plump consistency. Perfect balance, very long. abv 10.5%.Score 96

Aszú 5 puttonyos 2016, Hárslevelü and furmint
A balanced and mod long wine. abv 10%. Score 92

Aszú 6 puttonyos 2017, Hárslevelü and furmint
A majestic wine, perfectly balanced, plump, long and complex. Exudes harmony and promises enjoyment for many years. abv 11%. Score 98

Harsányi - Tokaj

Kútpatka single vineyard 2017, furmint
Ripe apricots, a smooth elegant dry wine with a touch of freshness. abv 11.5%. Score 95

Aszú 6 puttonyos 2016, furmint
Excellent balance, a long and complex wine. abv 9.2%, Score 97.


Monday, June 13, 2022

Meet the producer: Vignobles Chatonnet, Bordeaux, France

A new discovery for us this producer from the right bank in Bordeaux. The homeland of merlot, one of my favorite grapes, mellow yet powerful, velvety and structured. A touch of elegance in many Bordeaux wines from either bank, but a protagonist in Lalande de Pomerol, where the vignobles Chatonnet is based. 

Today we met with Andrea Giraud who is in charge of the international market at Paul Chatonnet. We asked about the peculiarities of this vineyard. Let's hear it directly from her.

 

Tasting notes:

A typical expression of this noble variety. Opulent, elegant, complex and long. A masterpiece merlot, at the pinnacle of rive droite interpretation of this grape.
Result of "lutte raisonnée", aiming at minimizing human intervention as much as possible but without ideological strictures.
Score 97

An original composition with the unique addition of malbec instead of the more familiar cab franc which is the normal third party of the Bordeaux trinity. The result is a balanced and moderately complex wine that is ready now but could wait a little longer.
Score 95

Away from the camera we also tasted:

Haut Chaigneau 2016, merlot 90%, cab franc 10%
Dark Ruby red, intense nose of red fruits
Fresh for a 2016, could use a few more years to round its edges but already balanced enough to be highly enjoyable with structured food. I had it with lasagne.
Score 89








   

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Amphora wines master class at the London Wine Fair 2022

Captivating master class organized by Enotria&Coe at the London Wine Fair 2022 on amphora wines. Our speaker was Peter Wallbridge, Enotria&Coe buyer for Spain and Latin America and a published author on the American Journal of Enology. These are my main takeaways from this session.

This is a recurring trend, every so many decades amphora becomes fashionable again. Of course the method itself goes back thousands of years, to the origin of the very first wines, before producers knew how to use wood, cement or even glass to hold their wines during fermentation and aging. But of course clay was used pretty much everywhere in the wider Mediterranean and Mesopotamia region, all the way to Georgia, to hold oil as well as dry cargo such as grains.

In recent times amphora has gained popularity again and the more scientifically oriented specialists focus on its oxygen transmission rate (OTR), pointing out how it is a linear progression, as opposed to wood's OTR which starts high and peters out. So what? Well there is lots of anecdotal evidence for the effects this has on wine, though not enough scientific data.

Experiments in Italy and Spain (where he thinks the best clay comes from) have shown that amphora does not yield good results the first year wine is poured into its vessels. But then tartaric acid deposits create a layer that is ideal for the best micro-oxygenation.

The long road to the re-discovery of amphora wine is going to be a long one.

Tasting notes:

Airen Las Tinadas Organic, Bodegas Verum, La Mancha, Spain 2020
Tinadas Airen 100%, RRP £19
This unusual grape is similar to pinot grigio and gave us a balanced wine with notes of almonds and mod length. Manual harvesting with selection of only the best bunches from each plant. Old vines planted as far back as 1950. A serious Summer wine.
Score 85

Las Tinadas Cencibel, Bodegas Verum, La Mancha, Spain, 2016
This grape is close to tempranillo and comes from vines planted in 1956 on rocky soil, and have to make do with no irrigation. They produced a fruity wine with a medium body, complex and with a quirky but pleasant bitterness aftertaste.
Score 93

Viejas Tinajas Cinsault, De Martino, Itata Valley, Chile, 2020
Easy does it, this is Chile's answer to Beaujolais.
Score 84

Viejas Tinajas Muscat, De Martino, Itata Valley, Chile, 2020
An incredibly strong nose, with exuberant notes of fresh citrus and nuts. This is an "orange" wine in that there is extended skin contact. A unique product that will make you want to taste more.
Score 90

Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC Anfora Organic, F. Cirelli, 2019
Trebbiano 100% Certified organic now moving to biodynamic. Manual harvest.
Fermentation in natural yeasts in terracotta then aged 12 months in amphora.
They only use new amphora, do not want tartaric acid layers and the result is a wine that retains an amphora feel, a certain roughness.
Score 88

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC Anfora Organic, F. Cirelli, 2020
Montepulciano 100% A fruity and mod balanced wine, some rough edges but an intriguing clay feel that makes you want to taste future vintages to see how this producer will evolve after its recent conversion to organic and biodynamic.
Score 83

Meet the producer: Thelema Mountain Vineyards of Stellenbosch, South Africa

Thomas Webb
Another interesting master class at the London Wine Fair 2022, this time with Enotria&Coe presenting the products of Thelema Mountain Vineyards of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Our speaker today was Thomas Webb, Director of Thelema

The family now owns 180 hectares of land and does not plan to increase its size, rather they want to focus on quality. He explained how the origin of their name comes from François Rabelais a monk, doctor and writer in sixteenth-century France who imagined a utopian abbey on the banks of the Loire. In stark contrast to the religious orders of his day, this community admitted both men and women and encouraged them to live together in great luxury. This was the Abbey of Thélème, which ultimately lent its name to our vineyard on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain: Thelema. (from their website)

I asked about how the various ethnicities of South Africa are getting involved in the wine industry, but the answer is more than in earlier times but not much. Wine was not part of the traditional culture of the Ndebele, Xosa, Zulu...

They use thermal imaging of the vineyard to monitor maturity and decide when to pick at the exactly perfect moment. Which means picking at different places on different days.


thermal imaging of Thelema vineyards

They use screw caps, they believe it will allow for more homogeneous aging in the bottle.

Here is my notes from their best wines tasted today:

Thelema Chardonnay 2011
Pressed in steel tanks and fermented in French oak barrels.
A mature wine, round and complex, with a perfect balance.
Score 93.

Thelema Chardonnay 2018
Still quite fresh and fruity, moderate length.  Definitely needs more time in the bottle.
Score 87.

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
De-stalked, manual sorting of berries, crushed in steel then pressed and left for 20 months in French barrels, 50-50 new and old. Incredible fresh for a 21-year-old wine.
Ready now, but can benefit for a longer period in the bottle to round the tannins a bit further.
Score 90

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Incredibly, this is smoother than 2001, ready now.
Score 93.

Thelema Rabelais 2015
Cab sauvignon 80%, petit verdot 15%, merlot 5%.
Perfect marriage of fruit and structure. Excellent balance, length and complexity. Ready now.
Score 95

Thelema Rabelais 2019
Same grapes as 2015 but no merlot. A tad disappointing after tasting the wonderful 2015.
Score 87




Meet the producer: Ixsir of Lebanon


Unique master class at London Wine Fair 2022 organized by Enotria&Coe on Lebanese mountain wine produced by Ixsir. The name comes from "elixir", an arabic (Al-iksir) word meaning the purest of all substances, a secret potion that will give eternal youth and love.

Our speaker today was a Spanish man, Gabriel Rivero, a co-founder and te4chnical director. He was educated in oenology in Madrid and then grew professionally in Bordeaux and then worked in Lebanon before founding Ixsir in 2008.

Most wine lovers know Lebanese wines from the Bekaa valley, but this producer focuses on wines from the mountains of the country. Cool climate allows for better acidity and there is plenty of water, no need for irrigation.

Today Ixsir owns 6 vineyards all over the country and in addition 85 families work in communities and provide Ixsir with their grapes. These are all international varieties, there are precious few local ones and they are mostly used for distilled products.

Lebanon has been making wine for over two and a half millennia, but the Ottoman period almost completely wiped out all enological traditions. The wars in the second half of the XX century only made things worse. Now there are about 70 vineyards or so that are seriously back in business and each tries to mark his or her own personality, and avoid just copying other Mediterranean styles.

Uniquely, Lebanon does not have any system of controlled denomination (like AOC in France or DOC in Italy) so producers are free to experiment to their heart's content! What France did leave was a lot of grape varieties and know-how but the industry was in a shambles when the French left. Only after the end of the civil war in the 1990s did it really begin to flourish.

Today Ixsir produces close to 500,000 bottles per year, and do not want to grow bigger. Focus on improving quality instead.

Below some tasting notes from this masterclass.

Grande Reserve White 2019
Viognier 60%, Sauvignon blanc 25%, Chardonnay 15%
Biodynamic wine even if certification has not yet arrived. Perfect balance between acidity and smoothness, vanilla, good length and complexity. Trade price GBP 20.
Score 90

Grande Reserve Rosé 2019
Mourvedre 40%, Cinsault 40%, Syrah 20%
Sourced from three vineyards located at 450 to 1400 meters above sea level, steel only.
Elegant, smooth, easy Summer wine. Trade price GBP 18.
Score 86

Grande Reserve Red 2015
Syrah 50%, Cab sauvignon 39%, Arinarnoa 11% (a tannat/cab sauvignon cross made in France)
Sourced from different sites between 950 and 1150 meters above sea level.
Matured in French oak for 12 months, one third each new, second and third use.
Smooth elegance but still good fruit and structure make for a perfect balance. A complex wine to drink now. Trade price GBP 23.
Score 89

Grande Reserve Red 2012
Syrah 50%, Cab sauvignon 39%, Arinarnoa 11%
A bit rough, will need time to hopefully smoothen out. Trade price GBP 23.
Score 85

El Ixsir Red 2015
Syrah 45%, Cab sauvignon 45%, merlot 10%
Sourced from vineyards at various altitudes including one at 1800, possibly among the highest in the world. French oak barrels for 24 months, half new and half second use.
Balanced, and mod complex and long, ready now. Trade price GBP 42
Score 93

El Ixsir Red 2012
same grapes and vineyards as previous wine.
Spiciness of syrah prevails, backbone is provided by cab sauvignon, elegance by merlot. a good interpretation of the Bordeaux blend. Trade price 45 GBP
Score 92



Meet the Producer: La Spinetta, Piedmont, Italy

Wonderful master class organized by Enotria&Coe at the London Wine Fair 2022 to illustrate the wines of La Spinetta, on of the best producers in their portfolio.

La Spinetta started out producing moscato and it became so famous people would ask for a "spinetta" when ordering the famous piedmontese wine.

In 1995 they began using the "Gallina" vineyard to produce nebbiolo

Now all production is organic, back to tradition. Still uses horses to plow some of the fields like the family's grandfather used to do when he worked in Argentina in the 1950s.

Use green harvesting (prune up to 75% of bunches) to keep quality high

In 1980s most producers sold grapes to large companies, only a few began their own productions. In this they learned from the lessons of Burgundy.

Low yield of 4-6k bottles per hectare. 3k? Check

Giorgio Rivetti, featured in the Barolo Boys film, together with others, like Scavino, Sandrone, tried to make Barolo more likable, pleasant to more people and sooner, rather than the difficult wine requiring long aging of earlier times.

The iconic rhino on the label comes from a creation of German artist Dürer, who drew it without ever having seen a real rhino. For Giorgio Rivetti this was a symbol of how imagination can lead to results beyond expectations. It is in this vein that he started making Timorasso, a unique white variety in Piedmont.


Dürer: Rhinoceros

The lion which is present on other labels is a symbol of royalty, as Barolo is considered "the king of wines and the wine of kings" after its early association with Vittorio Emanuele II, the founder of the modern Italian unitary state.


Tasting notes

Timorasso Colli Tortonesi 2020, timorasso 100%
Made from grapes picked from 25-year-old vines.
De-stemming and soft pressing, then fermentation in steel and rest on lees for eight months. Fresh and citrusy with lots of minerality, exalted by the absence of any oak. Mod length. The vineyard is in Tortona, hence the name. Spinetta suggests this wine can age a lot, up to 15 years, because of its acidity. Low yield, no more than 3,000 bottles per hectare (max allowed is 8,000).
Score 90

Barolo Campè 2018, nebbiolo 100%
Made from grapes picked from 70-year-old vines!
Maceration and fermentation in vats for 10 days, then malolactic in French oak, 20% new. Finally 24 months of aging before a further nine months in bottle. Intense aromas welcome the start of the tasting, and compex red fruit flavors make for a structured,  complex and long wine. Perfect balance, everything is in its right place, a harmonious wine.
Score 94

Barbaresco Bordini 2019, nebbiolo 100%
Old vines, average age 40 years.
Maceration and fermentation in vats for 14 days, malo in French oak then 16 months of aging.
An intense and powerful wine with prominent tannins, could use more time in the bottle.
Score 88

Barbaresco Valeirano 2017, nebbiolo 100%
Made from grapes picked from 55-year-old vines.
Complexity and power, yet a velvety elegance are the features of this wine. Still young, it will be perfect in 15 years, or longer. Small yield, less than one bottle per plant of vine.
Score 92

Barbaresco Valeirano 2007, nebbiolo 100%
Made from grapes picked from 55-year-old vines.
Back ten years from the previous wine and we have a perfectly mature vintage. Yeet it could wait a bit longer but it is marvelously ready now.
Score 96

Barolo Campè 2008
Made from grapes picked from 70-year-old vines!
An old master with nothing to prove, but past its prime, it would have been better to drink this a few years back.
Score 90


Giorgio Rivetti


Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Meet the producer: Fratelli, from Italy to India

At work with the seven brothers
Exciting master class at the London Wine Fair 2022 on Indian wines. Fratelli (it means "brothers") is now the largest and fastest growing wine producer in India. It started in 2007 in Maharashstra and its first vintage is from 2010. 

Seven brothers from three families (Sekhri, Secci and Mohite-Patil) and two countries (Italy and India) came together with a common goal: to produce quality wine in India. 

A country where wine, especially high quality wine, is not traditionally poured at the dining table but where the growing middle class has learned to appreciate it and can afford it.

The tradition in India at that time, and still now in many places, was mostly for producers to buy wines under contract from many farmers, while Fratelli began by planting its own vineyards with rootstock imported from France. The brothers looked for good soil that would allow them to control yields and keep quality high.

Fratelli now caters mostly to the growing domestic Indian market, though exports have begun to pick up toward Singapore and the US, where expat Indian communities are attracted to wines Made in India.

Steven Spurrier worked with Fratelli for seven years to help the brothers find the best blends for their products. The result is wines to drink soon after bottling, for now the production is not yet at the stage where a long aging in bottle is recommended. Tannins are ready when the bottles leave the cellar. One reason is that Fratelli tried to make wines to match Indian food, so smooth wines to pair with spicy masalas.

Here are some of my best takeaways from the tasting.

Gran Cuvée Brut
chenin blanc 80%, muller thurgau 15%, gewurztraminer 5%
Uses chenin blanc in this traditional method because it is appreciated by the large Indian community in South Africa, with which Fratelly wants to consolidate a long standing relationship. Fresh and zesty, mod balance. A structured wine. Abv 12%. Score 85.
Green highlights around the characteristic straw yellow. Almonds and some bitter notes at the end. Abv 12.5%. Score 83.

Another fresh wine, but more balanced than the chenin blanc. Abv 12.5%. Score 87.

Sangiovese 60%, cab sauvignon 40%
This blend is clearly inspired by the supertuscans, and it is not produced every year. A plump wine with considerable elegance and structure. Good balance, tendence of smoothness to prevail, and enjoyable length. It is ready now with limited potential for aging in the bottle. By far the best product of the house, it retails for about 25 dollars in the US: Money well spent.
Score 89







Sette Fratelli


Meet the producer: Fontanafredda, Piedmont, Italy

Fontanafredda was originally owned by Italy's first king, Vittorio Emanuele II, no less, and it was founded in 1858, three years before Italy was unified under his leadership. One reason why Barolo is often referred to as "the wine of kings" as well as "the king of wines". Much has changed since then, Italy is a republic, but the name stuck.

Today the new owner is Oscar Farinetti, the famous founder of Eataly, and Fontanafredda is more than a vineyard, it is a community. At one point over 300 families shared their lives there, and had their school, their church. A large enterprise, that in 2018 became the largest organic producer in Piedmont.

It is open to the public 365 days a year, book your tasting session in advance!

Today's speaker at a masterclass organized by Enotria&Coe at the London Wine Fair 2022, is Roberto Bruno. Originally from Piedmont, he joined Fontanafredda in 1991 and is now Managing Director. Here is a selection of my tasting notes.


Gavi DOCG del Comune di Gavi (organic) 2021
Cortese 100%
Soft pressing and no skin contact. Low temperature fermentation (18°C, 85% in steel and 15% in barrique). A very fresh wine, to be drunk chilled during a warm Summer evening with simple and delicate food.
Score 84

Langhe DOC Nebbiolo Grappolo Intero 2020
Nebbiolo 100%
Obtained by fermenting part pressed must and part whole grape bunches, as harvested from the vine.
Fermentation in steel at 28°C for 10-12 days.
A fairly hard wine that may find its balance with further aging in the bottle.
Score 82

Barolo DOCG Serralunga d'Alba 2018
Nebbiolo 100%
Traditional fermentation, 15 days of skin contact.
Also a hard wine, definitely too young now.
Score 84

The name of Vittorio Emanuele II's mistress, Rosa, denotes a top of the range wine at Fontanafredda. We were lucky to have a chance for a vertical tasting.

Barolo DOCG Fontanafredda Vigna La Rosa 2016
Nebbiolo 100%
Grapes are delivered to the cella destemmed but not crushed and fermentation begins with indigenous yeasts at 28 to 30 °C.
Fruit and tannins are well amalgamated. A balanced, structured wine that is ready now but can easily evolve a few more years.
Score 92

Barolo DOCG Fontanafredda Vigna La Rosa 2011
Nebbiolo 100%
Ready now.
Score 92

Barolo DOCG Fontanafredda Vigna La Rosa 1998
Nebbiolo 100%
Fantastic wine, with all the elements of balance, complexity and length to deserve to be called harmonious.
Mature now, don't wait any longer, in fact it was probably at its peak a few years ago.
Score 94.


Meet the producer: Brancaia, Tuscany, Italy

Andrea D'Alessio

Interesting master class organized by Enotria&Coe at the London Wine Fair 2022 on the Brancaia vineyards. Keynote speaker was Andrea D'Alessio. Born in Alba, in the heart of the Langhe, in Piedmont, he grew up surrounded by Barolo and Nebbiolo wine. Since 2017 he is global sales director at Brancaia.

Brancaia is the result of a unique marriage between a Swiss family, Bruno and Brigitte Widmers, and Tuscany, which they visited over forty years ago for the first time and then made their home.

Today the daughter of the two founders, Barbara Andrea Widmer, who initially trained as an architect, continues the family tradition as winemaker.

They aim at max quality. No irrigation, even when allowed, to force the roots deep into the ground. They also run a restaurant and a B&B.


Brancaia Rosé 2021
100% merlot
Andrea Widmer was not happy with their red wine merlot, so she decided to make a rosé. The result is a citrussy, fresh wine, with light pale orange color obtained by avoiding almost all skin contact. They aim at max 30 minutes from picking in the vineyard to pressing in the cellar. Style imitates the rosé de Provence. Three months on lees.
Score 87

Brancaia Tre 2020
sangiovese 80%, merlot 10%, cab sauvignon 10%
Entry level product, their main wine, 80% of all production.
They use grapes that are not used for their premium line wines.
Very fresh, sight bitter end.
Score 80

Brancaia Chianti classico 2020
sangiovese 100%
Sourced from south-facing own vineyards at 230 and 400 meters above sea level. Steel and concrete, their entry level chianti
Recommend serving slightly chilled!
Long, clean finish, good balance.
Score 89

Brancaia Chianti classico riserva 2018
sangiovese 80%, merlot 20%
A structured and smooth wine, perfect balance.
A great chianti.
Score 92

Brancaia Ilatraia 2018
cab sauvignon 40%, petit verdot 40%, cab franc 20%
Vineyards at 75 to 175 meters of altitude, 25 day sof skin contact.
Full body, smooth, perfect balance and very long.
Grapes are vinified separately, all in French barriques, 50% new and 50% old, then blended.
Score 93

Brancaia Ilatraia 2008
Cab sauvignon 60%, sangiovese 30% petit verdot 10%
Plump fruity wine despite its age, good balance and length.
Mature now (2022) do not wait any longer, it was probably at its best a few years back.
Score 91


Brancaia lineup