Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Max Allen: The future makers – Australian wines for the 21st century

My review copy of Max's new book arrived just before I headed off to Tuscany, so I have only just started to read it. However rushing to judgment on the first 30 pages I think it is Max's best work so far. Its publication is timely as Australia suffers from a lethal blend of drought, over-confidence and mistakes by the large companies that dominate the Australian wine industry.

Max starts by looking at the effects of climate change in Australia and asks how can the industry best adapt.

'I visited Yalumba's huge, 265-hectare Oxford Landing vineyard an hour or so\s drive from Tony Barich's place, at the height of the vintage. It looked like most other large-scale Riverland vineyards: machine harvesters rumbled down vine rows that seemed to stretch away to the horizon. But Oxford Landing's young vineyard manager, Fred Strachan, showed me how he's changing the way he grows his grapes: using much less water, fewer chemicals, chasing lower crops of more intensely flavoured grapes.

The he drove through the fence into the neighbouring property, a big bare, red-sandy paddock. The plan, he said, is to put a new vineyard in here, plant obscure new alternative grapes and start from stratch using no chemical herbicide or fertiliser. Just organic methods. Maybe even biodynamics. And you could see the excitement in his eyes, hear it in his voice. The excitement that a Big Australian Wine Company like Yalumba should be investing in all this hippy shit. Who would have thought?

Let me drag this back into perspective. The Australian wine industry is not, en masse, embracing organics, ripping out its chardonnay to plant drought-tolerant alternative grape varieties or searching for a unique taste of place in its wild yeast-fermented pinot noir. There are plenty head-in-sand winemakers, still plenty of corporate wine business accountants, still plenty of profit-driven grape growers all clinging desperately to business as usual.

But as climate change bites, and as the effects of the financial meltdown continue to ripple through both domestic and export markets, an increasing number of growers and winemakers have realised that business as usual simply isn't going to cut it any more. More and more people – including, crucially, people in the largest wine companies as well as the smallest – are thinking very deeply about true sustainability; thinking about adapting to and hopefully mitigating the effects of climate change; thinking about growing grape varieties and making wine that better express their unique patch of country. There are people trying to find a way out of the fine mess that the Australian wine industry has got itself over the last 15 years. These are the people building a new sense of pride in Australian wine.'

Max Allen: the future makers – Australian wines for the 21st century, hardie grant books, £30, 439 pages, hbk

Forest Hill, London SE23: more snow pics

A tree in Little Brownings

It is always noticeable that a slight difference in height can make quite a considerable difference to the amount of snow that falls. As CRM headed off to Reading this morning, the snow virtually disappeared by Peckham and there was none on the other side of the Thames. Equally nothing in Reading. Once again the north Kent coast, this time extending into south London, shows that this area is prone to snow.

Going out this afternoon after the snow eased it was clear that more had fallen around the top of Sydenham Rise and Kirkdale than a little lower down in Forest Hill.

A warning of bad weather to come in the coach Sunday from Suvereto to Pisa

Across London: Dawson Heights towards Stratford etc.
Towards the Hornimans Museum and beyond
Trees in Little Brownings

Forest Hill: snow 30th November 2010

SE26: Snow covered tree

Little Brownings' tree

As forecast, after a light dusting of snow overnight, steady snow here from just before 8am.

Wide-angle views: flowers and London

Towards east and north east London around 4pm Monday 29th November 2010

Unlike Scotland and parts of the north of England, no snow here yet in London, although some quite heavy showers are forecast over the next 24 hours.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Haut-Poitou VDQS becomes an AC

On 16th November the INAO announced that the wine commission (actually Le Comité national des appellations d’origine relatives aux vins et aux boissons alcoolisées et des eaux-de-vie de l’INAO – should you need to know) had agreed to promote Haut-Poitou from VDQS to full appellation contrôlée status. They also agreed to the promotion of Côtes d'Auvergne. Both decisions need to be ratified by the French Minister for Agriculture. This is somewhat of a formality, although the process can take up to around six months.

By my reckoning this leaves three remaining VDQSs in the Loire – Fiefs Vendéens, Coteaux d'Ancenis and Gros Plant. My guess is that the first two are very likely to be promoted to AC status, whereas it is much less sure for Gros Plant, whose producers originally opted for vin de pays. The VDQSs are due to disappear next year.

'Wines of Haut Poitou granted AOC status
17 November 2010

The wines of Haut Poitou have been granted Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) status, after decades of effort by the regions vineyards to meet the stringent criteria required.

Haut Poitou is an area of some 800 hectares situated to the north of Poitiers, covering some 40 communes (38 in the Vienne and 2 in Deux Sevres), where winemaking can be traced back to Roman times.

After WWII, wines from the region were marketed under the name Neuville du Poitou by the cooperative of wine growers, and in 1970 the product achieved the Appellation d'Origine Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure status, in recognition of quality of wines from the region.  Since 1989 the wines have been marketed under the brand ‘Vin du Haut-Poitou.’

White wines from the area can be made with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Blanc grape varieties.   Red and Rosé wines can be made with Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Merlot Rouge, Cot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay de Chaudeney and Grolleau (according to the official Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) criteria).'

Wine Rack: a couple of Loires – 2009 Sancerre + 2008 red Haut-Poitou

2009 Sancerre Domaine Gérard Millet

This is a typically rich example of a 2009 Sancerre from the sector that was badly affected by hail with overall yields often well below 30 hl/ha. Gérard Millet's domaine is in Bué and this Sancerre is distributed through Rémy Pannier, part of the Saumur based Ackerman group. The Millet 2009 is lightly aromatic with grassy aromas, mouthfllling yellow plum fruit but it still has some freshness in the finish. Although Loire classicists are likely to prefer the lean 2007s and 2008s, this Sancerre will please those who like some roundness in their Sancerres. My guess is that the 2010 Millet will again be leaner and more minerally.

The 2009 Domaine Millet, Sancerre is £11.49@Wine Rack.

2008 Haut Poitou – Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc

This is a typically easy-drinking red from the Western Loire's most southerly vineyard with its bright red fruit flavours and acidity – typical of the 2008 vintage. It ought to keep two or three years and the acidity is likely to soften, although I think this is best drunk young to enjoy the bright fruit. Produced by the Cave du Haut-Poitou in Neuville-de-Poitou.

Haut-Poitou was promoted by the INAO along with the Côtes d'Auvergne from VDQS to appellation contrôlée status on 16th November. Both decisions await ratification by the French government.
The 2008 Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Haut Poitou is £6.99@Wine Rack.

Rubbia al Colle: why spend 7m€ on the winery and not employ a decent translator?

Rubbia al Colle

I'm often amazed at how poor the English translations provided by wineries can be. This is understandable if it is a small winery run by one or two people but completely crazy when it is a big fancy winery where money appears to be not a concern.

My favourite mis-translation is 'defecate' when they really meant let the juice settle following pressing. This rather bizarre error appears to come from a mis-translation of 'decantation' and it is one that I have come across more than once.

Of course it is easy to poke fun at mistakes but ridicule undermines a company's image and makes them look unprofessional. It is a completely false economy not to pay for a good translation.

On Saturday afternoon the FIJEV group visted Rubbia al Colle, which is one of the four wine states that makes up the Archipelago Muratori.

The explanatory sheets handed out for the tasting come from their website. I was very taken by the notion of sane and, presumably, insane vines and assume that any insane would benefit from a careful cure. To be fair cure may just be a typo that hasn't been picked up. Overall the English on the site is quite clunky and doesn't seem to have been done by a native English speaker.

 Money spent on mongrammed corporate logos but presumably not on translation

'Their presence is essential for the sanity of the vines and for the production of grapes that are the purest possibile expression of the land. Such careful cure of the quality of the grapes allows yeasts and lactic bacteria to be controlled without the use of chemical products in complete respect of the wine's naturalness.'

AC Châteaumeillant now official

Pinot Noir in Châteaumeillant

The relevant French minister has now found his pen and has signed the décret that promotes Châteaumeillant to appellation controlée status. Châteaumeillant was a VDQS but they disappear next year, so it was either promotion to AC or becoming a vin de pays. Unfortunately there appears to be a rule that no new Loire AC can make pure Pinot. Instead they have to put up with a blend of Gamay and Pinot – a truly ungainly mongrel. The fact that some of the most interesting wines from this 80 ha appellation used to be Pinot Noir, is entirely beside the point. Doubtless the Domaine Romanée Conti will soon see the error of their ways and plant Gamay, so that they too can have this miraculous blend – perhaps starting with La Tache with the experimental wine to be called une tache de Gamay. Of course in Limoux you can concoct a wine in the Pinot style from whatever grapes you happen to have to hand.
Wines from the 2010 vintage will be entitled to the AOC.

Here is the press release that gives details of the new appellation and the history of Châteaumeillant:

AOC Châteaumeillant

C’est en effet par décret du 22 novembre 2010 que ce vignoble de plus de 80 hectares a accédé à l’Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (Décret paru au Journal Officiel du 25 novembre 2010).

La nouvelle a été accueillie avec soulagement par les professionnels du vignoble le plus central de France, professionnels qui ont attendu le décret près de 6 mois après le vote du Comité National de l’INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine).

« Nous savons que nous sommes une très petite appellation qui se situe dans une toute petite niche. Cette reconnaissance va déjà nous permettre de ne plus avoir à expliquer pourquoi nous ne sommes pas en AOC » déclare Pierre PICOT, président heureux du syndicat.

« Cela va nous permettre, avec les autres vignobles du Centre-Loire, de travailler sur un autre registre de communication » poursuit-il avant de conclure « Cette AOC va enfin susciter des vocations et amener de jeunes vignerons sur le vignoble et lui donner un nouveau souffle ».

Rendez-vous est déjà pris au Salon des Vins de Loire 2011 pour déguster les premiers Châteaumeillant AOC de l’histoire des vignobles du Centre-Loire.

Contact Presse : Benoît Roumet
Pierre PICOT – Président du syndicat
Tel : 06 08 27 61 11

Châteaumeillant: Un peu d’histoire…
L’origine du vignoble se situe au Ve siècle. Châteaumeillant fut le Meylan des Bituriges avec la vigne biturica, le Mediolanum de Peutinger, nœud routier gallo-romain, véritable entrepôt d’amphores.
Grégoire de Tours mentionne le vignoble dès 582.
De 1220 à 1275, des chartes de franchises réglementent le bon vin, les corvées et le ban des vendanges. Ce dernier existe toujours.
A la fin du XVIIIe siècle, on importe le plant lyonnais, en 1830 le gamay beaujolais s’installe de façon durable.
La réputation de Châteaumeillant s’est établie grâce à son célèbre « gris », vin issu du pressurage immédiat des raisins de gamay.
Les qualités de ces vins seront reconnues en 1965 par un arrêté qui consacrera le vignoble VDQS : vin délimité de qualité supérieure.
Le 22 novembre 2010, le vignoble obtient l’Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée.

Le vignoble
Le vignoble de Châteaumeillant, qui compte 82 hectares, est situé sur les communes de :
- Châteaumeillant, Saint Maur et Vesdun dans le Cher
- Champillet, Feusilles, Néret et Urciers dans l’Indre

Les Sols
Le vignoble de Châteaumeillant est planté sur des terres siliceuses à dominante sableuses et sablo-argileuses. Les sous-sols sont constitués d’une assise métamorphisée comportant principalement des grès, des micaschistes et des gneiss.

Cépages :
Gamay majoritaire (60% minimum pour les rouges et les rosés
Pinot noir (40% maximum pour les rouges et les rosés)
Pinot gris (15% maximum pour les rosés)

Filière : 24 déclarants dont
- 7 Vignerons
- 1 Cave coopérative regroupant 17 adhérents

Production annuelle moyenne : 4 000 hl (530 000 bouteilles) dont 63% de rouges

Ventes sur 12 mois en moyenne : 500 000 bouteilles dont 10 % à l’export
Châteaumeillant en AOC

C’est officiel depuis le 22 novembre 2010

Gamay@Châteaumeillant August 2009

Sunday, 28 November 2010

FIJEV trip to Tuscany

Castellare di Castellina: Grapes hanging to dry for Vin Santo

Now back in London – unfortunately somewhat later than hoped due to my QueasyJet flight leaving Pisa nearly two hours late, although they may have had a reasonable excuse due to the bad weather that shut some Scottish airports – certainly Inverness – on Saturday.

Have added more pictures and some new text to the various reports on this Tuscan trip and expect to continue to do so over the next few days.

Castellare di Castellina: grapes hanging inside to dry for Vin Santo

FIJEV Tuscan trip: day 4: final dinner 27th November

Group of Val di Cornia producers who presented their wines

Last night the trip finished with dinner at the Osteria di Suverto da I'Ciocio with a group of local producers presenting their wines to the group.

The chef (Giorgio Nocciolini) and Filippo Magnani, who organised our trip

Staphano Bonaguidi: one of the producers

Another with impressive hat (again name to be added)

Photos uploaded at Pisa Airport, text to add when I get home.

FIJEV Tuscan trip: San Gimingnano + other photos

Mist over the San Gimignano countryside: Saturday 27th November

A tower and battlements: San Gimignano

Streets: San Gimignano (above and below)

On to Bolgheri:

View from the Grattamacco winery (above and below)

A couple of onlookers@lunch ... a Mexican boar

... and a cycling bore.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

FIJEV trip: more photos of the group

Marc Vanhellemont: Belgian wine journalist and member of Les 5 du Vin

Marc as a child

Hervé Lalau invites...

Sagi Cooper

René van Hoof

Zuzanna Foffova: always taking notes

Evelyne Malnic

Eleonora Scholes

FIJEV in Tuscany day 3 – interesting visits in Bolgheri and Val di Cornia

Early morning centre of San Gimignano and the moon

Sunshine and mist

Today we enjoyed a magnificent drive from San Jimignano to the Ligurian sea through sunny Tuscan country made even more interesting by some thin shrouds of mist and white smoke rising vertically towards the sky. San Gimignano was particularly beautiful in the clear early morning light.

Our first visit was to Grattamarco, which was apparently the third of the new wave of wineries to be established in the Bolgheri region. It was founded in 1985 by Giorgio Meletti Cavallari who sold the business in 2007 and is now involved in a winery on Elba.

Unfortunately the recent wines that we tasted were not impressive, particularly bearing in mind the high prices charged. The 2008 Vermentino, 50% vinified in stainless steel was priced at 19€ and the reds went up to 45€. My preferred red was the 2008 Bolgheri – 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Sangiovese – an easy drinking red but not at 15-16€ when it is really worth no more than 7€. The top wine, Grattamarco (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20-25% Merlot depending on the vintage with the rest made up by Sangiovese) costs a remarkable 45€!

Lunch@l'Ristorante l'Orizzonte
We had a simple but excellent lunch at L’Orrizonte where a number of small producers in Bolgheri presented their wines and in one case, Fornacelle, lovely new pressed olive oil. Indeed visiting Tuscany in late November I’m reminded how delicious newly pressed olive oil can be – needing only tasty fresh or toasted bread for a real treat. Unfortunately as far as I know it is difficult to get freshly pressed olive oil in the UK.

(more to add)

The group of producers with the owner of the restaurant (l'Orizzonte)

Ristorante l'Orizzonte Osteria toscana tra Bolgheri e Castagneto Carducci

località Crocino - collina di Segalari - 57022 Castagneto Carducci (Livorno) - Toscana - Italia
tel. 0565 763796

Rubbia al Colle
Our last visit of the day was to one of the new wine cathedrals – Rubbia al Colle, on the outskirts of Suvereto.

This is another ambitious investment in the Val di Cornia and from the mound that covers the underground winery you can see Petra, another in the ambitious winery genre. In contrast to the Petra winery, which can be seen for many miles, Rubbia is well hidden. A hill was removed, the winery built and then covered with a metre of earth, so it is only apparent is you are close to it.

Rubbia is an investment by a cotton magnate from Milan - an interesting diversification that began in 1999 with the setting up of Archipelago Muratori. There now four estates:Villa Crespia, Francicorta in Lombardy, Oppida Aminea in Sannio Beneventano in Campania, Giardini Arimei in Isola d'Ischia as well as Rubbia.   

The winery alone cost some 7 million euros before it was equipped and then there is the planting of some 100 hectares of vines. I guess not much change, if any, out of some 25 million euros. I find it difficult not to be cynical when faced with a modern day wine cathedral whether it is Rubbia or Petra here in the Val di Cornia, new palatial bodegas in Rioja or any that worship the god of wine.

At the entrance to the Rubbia winery there are two mats – one outside and one inside – to wipe your feet. This is a spotless showpiece and there is an ecclesiastical feel as you enter the vast barrel and fermentation area. Organised religion in Western Europe may be in decline but wine worship grows ever stronger.

Given the current economic outlook and the world glut of wine it will surely be difficult for Rubbia to break even let alone start to repay the original investment.

Terracotta barrel at Rubbia al Colle (above and below)
Front of terracotta barrel
The sign for Archipelago Muratori

The entrance to the winery church

This new cathedral is already attracting wine pilgrims from over Europe....

(to be continued)

FIJEV Tuscany trip: day two – Chiantishire and San Jimignano (photos – 2nd post)

Chianti view – Castellare

Princess Natalia Strozzi pouring her spumante (Guicciardini Strozzi)
Helmut Knall: il papa del vino!

Check out or cheque in?: Jan Stavek, Bohumil Vurm and Zuzana Foffova

John Gottfried: at home in baronial splendour

Drying grapes for Vin Santo

Winemaker of Panizzi: best Vernaccia