Saturday, 3 December 2016

Salon des vins des vignerons independants, Paris 2016

We had never been to this well-established fixture in the French wine calendar before (this was the 38th 'edition'). Actually we had never been to any French wine fair. As we found elsewhere (VinItaly, Vinnatur, RAW, LIWF, Oenorama etc.) each wine fair has its own character. 
 This one was rather like the largest Cash and Carry you could ever imagine. People were shopping for wine as if at the Christmas sales and quite a few wines were sold out by our visit on the afternoon of the 5th and final day. 

It is not news that France has a wonderfully diverse wine scene. Some even say "Wine is by definition French" although we at Slotovino would dispute that vigorously. Faced with hundreds of producers seemingly from every apellation we narrowed our stops down to those who might deal in the lesser known grape varieties.

M. Tissot himself

Here we met M. Tissot - an iconic producer from the Jura and stopped by a producer of Tursan whose cuvee including the rarity Baroque was quite heavenly.

Chateau de Perchade, Tursan

Chateau de Perchade's lovely Cuvee including the Baroque grape variety.

Did you know that Baroque was saved from extinction by none other than the chef Michel Guerard, owner of 'Les Pres d'Eugenie'?

On these criteria it was going to take us another 5 days to get through the more than 1,000 desks arranged it seemed randomly in 11 long rows.

just one of eleven aisles
We had to apply a much stricter criterion so we decided just for fun to specialize in Alsace Pinot Noir, one of our favourite wine styles and gain something concrete from the fair,

What became evident was that practically everyone among the producers in Alsace makes Pinot Noir in addition to Riesling, Pinots Blanc and Gris (still known as 'Tocai' here and there), Muscat, Gewurztraminer etc. not to mention Cremants (usually Pinot Blanc) and even Eau de Vie. Their Pinot Noirs sometimes looked like an afterthought with a few producers having to search around for a bottle when requested.

In fact we can read in the 3rd edition (2006) of Jancis Robinson's 'Oxford Companion to Wine' that plantings of Pinot Noir were on the increase at 9% of the total vineyard at that time. It was noted then that "Alsace Pinot Noir was always light, fresh quaffing wine, with raspberry fruit flavours, but increasingly it has suffered an identity crisis with many growers experimenting with oak ageing. Good oak matured wines are increasingly the result of warmer vintages."

Bernard Humbrecht's two Alsace Pinot Noirs. The lighter version is in the transparent bottle of course.

We soon noticed that many make Pinot Noir in two versions, often named on the one hand 'Tradition' and on the other, 'Reserve' or 'Cuvee'. 'Tradition' is the lighter wine made without wood. 'Reserve' might be a tad higher in alcohol and sometimes from 'Vieilles Vignes' or a lieue dit. Other  monikers for the oaked, heavier style might include 'Hommage a Gerard', 'Cuvee Prestige', Futs de Chene' and even 'Ancestrale' although we would have thought 'Tradition' was more Ancestrale. These more substantial wines seem to want to be compared to Bourgogne or Spaetburgunder from across the border in the Ahr valley.



Still on the light side (although we did come across a few 14% and even a 14.5% example, these wines seem to us to lose their identity and could have come from many places outside Alsace whereas the 'Tradition' wines by and large are something unique.

We tasted 34 Alsace Pinot Noirs, a footling number if you are a professional wine writer but quite enough for us. Towards the end we had to narrow our choice to wines under 13% just to get out of the fair in good time.

Charming Oriel people

Vin bio

For our taste the biological wines at 12% or 12.5% were our favourites. They seemed to preserve the character which we like best.

Of these we chose a bottle from 'Domaine de l'Oriel'. The people were as charming as any of the producers we met (and they were all charming to a degree). The wine was bio, the alcohol was 12.5% and we loved the wine for its individual personality within the recognizable 'Tradition' tradition. We could have chosen several other bottles just as easily but there could be only one given transport constraints.

A great fair. Vaut bien le voyage.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Just fancy that!

Henri Galinié (left) at 'Rencontres des Cepages Modestes,' St. Come d'Olt, 2015

Jeanne Galinié, patronne 'Vins Versants' in the Marché des Enfants Rouges,' Paris.

Two of our wine heroes mentioned individually in this blog and in different contexts are actually related! Lovely people and tireless activists for everything that is good and interesting in wine.

Henri pulls a cork at the 2015 'Rencontres'

Jeanne makes wine every year under her own label, sometimes Pineau d'Aunis, sometimes Gamay...

Henri, organizer and lecturer 'Rencontres des Cepages Modestes'

Jeanne at 'Vins Versants,' Marché aux Enfants Rouges, Paris. Home of Vin Naturel

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Our first Japanese Red

With thanks to F1 Ted (our man in the pits) Kravitz yet again.

The label says Merlot (52%), Petit Verdot (23%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Cabernet franc (5%) grapes grown in Tomiko Hills Winery from garden grape 100% (Japan wine). Interesting.

Our 2016 (part 2)

Triomphe before

and after.
We have put

Wide-top fermenter

whole-bunches of Sangiovese in this wide-top fermenter as an experiment in carbonic maceration. It failed miserably. The grapes didn't ferment at all. They just became ever more stale. We called Ancre Hill winery in Wales who had made the highly successful Triomphe by carbonic maceration and the helpful person on the other end of the line told us we needed to have an ambient temperature of 27 degrees or thereabouts otherwise fermentation was impossible. We ditched the results without regret but learned a lesson.

The micro-vinification of Sangiovese, now a deep red colour. The muddy Trebbiano can be seen behind to the right.


The Sangiovese grapes was put through our 'fouloir-egrappoire' macerated for 3 days, pressed filtered  and placed in 5 litre jars for three or four weeks. We never saw a single bubble of fermentation but fermentation there was. We have now bottled these wines - without much hope. The one at the back is Trebbiano which is quite sweet and promising. There was not quite enough for the 5 litre jar so we topped it up with Sangiovese. Well, Chianti used to be made with Sangiovese topped up with Trebbiano. This may be a first (Talk about passetousgrains!). We've bottled that too (5 bottles only).

The 2 Speidel fermenters with the orange lids were filed with whole-bunch Triomphe under carbon dioxide
2 Speidel 60 litre fermenters full of whole bunch Triomphe grapes under CO2 for carbonic maceration and placed in a centrally heated room for 3 weeks. The grapes collapsed into half the original volume still under CO2 we think.

What free run juice there was after our Triomphe carbonic maceration dribbles into our wide-top fermenter.
The contents of the 2 fermenters smelled and tasted strange. We'll give it a go nonetheless without much more confidence than what happened to the unsuccessful carbonically macerated Sangiovese.

 'On ne sait jamais avec ces choses' though. This useful quote is from the gnarled old Maitre des Chaix at Chateau Lascombes who announced that they could declare a vintage of the 1963 harvest. A year when a majority of Bordelais didn't.

one 22 litre fermenter with free-run and pressed Triomphe juice, later transferred to our French Oak barrel (aged 1 year). It tastes very much like last year's; mean and lacking in fruit. Hopefully there will be still enough oak flavour to make the wine palatable to an extent.

compare the light colour of freshly broken Sangiovese grapes with that of the teinturier Triomphe

freshly-rodden Triomphe
It will be interesting to see if any of the results is an improvement on some of the vile wine we have made in the past.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Funny money

The card says 'Cote du Jura Rouge Bourdy 1942 Jura 75cl £671.00'
yours for only 226.00 Euros.

It does you good to have a laugh occasionally.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Our 2016 (part 1).

Cheeky mushrooms all over the place
Not a good year. Like 2015 but worse. Warm then wet. Humid a lot of the time. The first year in our experience when the grass didn't stop growing. Perfect for fungal diseases. What a time to decide on a cockamamie natural regime to control it! We had used Systhane in previous years but on reading that it had been withdrawn (due to fears of it being carcinogenic?) we decided to spray our vines with milk. Yes, whole-milk! It just goes to show you can't believe everything you read on the internet. Apparently before the discovery of modern fungicides, milk spraying had just begun to be used with some success.

On advice from Roger White from Yearlstone Vineyard, who told us you could mix different sprays in your own preparation, we sometimes mixed sulphur, copper sulphate and liquid seaweed together with the milk to make foul smelling, sometimes cheesy liquid which we were sure must do something.

Mildewed Bacchus. Note the milk residue on the leaves.

Alas no. Either our spraying technique was to blame (you are supposed to spray the underside of the leaves but that was too much of a fag) or as we said, the whole think was cockamamie. Next year - chemicals.

It had all started so positively. The pruning was not too demanding as we decided that the summer pruning of the Triomphe should serve and we would see what happened if we left those vines alone (about one-third of the total). This turned out not to make much difference apart from the fact that we had to carry out drastic summer pruning again later on.

Bacchus before

and after
There was nonetheless some tricky work removing the rabbit guards from vines that had grown big enough, pruning all the growth from their stems. We also decided to spread some manure as well as fertilizer this year.

note mild hailstorm.

Manure? Yes, surely that is where we had been going wrong all these years. We read about how you have to feed the vines and how the French spread tons of the stuff all over the vineyard. You are supposed to dig it in or plow it of course but again, we weekenders don't have the time for those sorts of refinements. No wonder it seemed to make no difference apart from encouraging the weeds.

All those weeds required some strimming later on. More backbreaking stuff, enlivened by the discovery of various eggs under a couple of vines. Probably from pheasants who knows when.

In the hopeful stage before the mildew had set in, there was even for the very first time a flowering on our wierdest vine in the vineyard. This is obviously some kind of scientifically berserk crossing with some triffid-like germplasm. Every year we cast a baleful eye on this plant and take care to keep its ridiculously vigorous tentacles off its neighbours. It has never born fruit. The only positive thing you can say about it is that it is impervious to mildew or any other illness. Sadly, this fruit was not to develop and later was nowhere to be seen. Never mind. It would probably have been sour.

As has been mentioned in this blog already from time to time, we actually grew some vines from bare wood cuttings in 2016. They were less of a success than we anticipated at one stage. Nonetheless we were able to plant

4 x Baco Noir
4 x Saperavi Severny
1 x Abouriou
1 x Acadie Blanc
1 x Rauschling
1 x Elbling

Of these, only the Elbling didn't survive the planting out. Indeed the Baco Noir, Saperavi Severny and Acadie Blanc turned out to be quite vigorous customers.

During the season we also bought 4 x Pinot Blanc at a knockdown price online from a Dutch nursery (3 survived), a Black Hamburgh (Schiava Grossa) from the local garden centre which was very vigorous indeed until some animal denuded it of all its leaves above the rabbit guard and a half-price Muscat d'Alexandrie which we were told should probably be grown indoors. Well, we do call it an experimental vineyard.

By September, our Bacchus was looking very sorry for itself and our Goldriesling which had never been affected by mildew previously succumbed big-time. There were even a few rotten bunches of Triomphe. they do say Triomphe is very slightly sensitive to mildew but we had never seen it before. Nevertheless, 99% of this most obliging variety was healthy if a little backward in the ripeness stakes. Our Johanniter, Solaris and GM8107-3 held up well.

The baby red grapes in our more recent plantings (Rondo, Regent, Dornfelder, Pinot Noir, Wrotham Pinot (Pinot Meunier) and Fruehburgunder were a mixed bag. In general the vigour of these vines is poor where we have planted them.

Some predator (wasps? Birds?) always go for our Rondo first.

So our hope are pinned once again on the 'mal-aimé' Triomphe. This time we are thinking of making it by the Carbonic Maceration method having been inspired by the Ancre Hill Triomphe we had tasted at the Real Wine Fair earlier in the year.

As anyone with any knowledge of Viticulture and Winemaking reading this post will have determined from the start, we are not exactly gifted at either discipline and have close to zero aptitude. Nonetheless, we are game so one rainy Friday morning we paid a call to Eskimo Ice at Nine Elms Market in London next to New Covent Garden to buy some food grade dry ice.

From there to Hatfield to buy some grapes. The idea was to make an experimental run at this Carbonic Maceration mularky before subjecting our own crop to it. Basically you put whole bunches of grapes in an airtight container, fill it with Carbon Dioxide and seal it with an airlock. In three weeks, the grapes are supposed to ferment from the inside out.

Winegrapes Chris

Chris has a tremendous operation in Hatfield. he sells grapes from Italy (Puglia) and Spain (Valencia) to the various communities throughout the UK. The communities then make the wine at home like in the old country. We have met practitioners as far away as Edinburgh. The varieties on offer included

as well as a newcomer, Macabeo. We decided to buy Sangiovese and Trebbiano.

Back at the ranch we had a bit of difficulty with the dry ice. It will only release its CO2 when in contact with water. We didn't think water in the bottom of the fermenter would be a good thing so we layered some dry ice pellets in with the bunches of Sangiovese.

Some of the grapes had burst and thiis provided the liquid for the dry ice to release the gas. Unfortunately we had probably put far too much in because the action was over-dramatic. Since then - nothing, although the three weeks aren't yet up at the time of writing.

With the rest of the grapes we hurriedly made red and white micro-vinifications. Try this at home!

Trebbiano plug

Sangiovese must

We'll be sure to report on how all this turns out.