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, 12 December 2017

Jane Anson: Wine Revolution – thw World's Best Organic, Biodynamic & Natural Wines

Jane Anson: Wine Revolution: The World's Best Organic, Biodynamic & Natural Wines, jacqui small, £25, US$35, Can $47.99

Jane Anson opens her book by citing the food revolution ushered in by the opening of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California in 1971. 

'The idea of buying locally, cooking with seasonal ingredients, supporting responsible farming has become so accepted as to barely raise an eyebrow. And yet when it comes to wine, it is still considered geeky and kind of pointless to care about the same thing. After all, aren't all grapes organically grown in a field somwhere?

Well, the short answer to that is no. Just like much of the food we eat, plenty of wine is produced for a mass audience, with shortcuts taken along the way to ensure that they taste good without costing a fortune to make.

So shouldn't we start celebrating the wine makers who buck this trend, and instead apply the Chez Panisse philosophy to their vineyards? The ones who treat their workers fairly, reduce their carbon emissions, farm without pesticides? Or those who plant hedgerows to encourage biodiversity, use grapes that are indigenous to their regions and add as little as possible during the winemaking process?

There are plenty of them out there. Aubert de Villaine, Elisabetta Foradori, Pepe Raventós, Jean-Laurent Vacheron, Olivier Humbrecht, Eloi Durrbach, Christine Vernay, Nicolas Joly, David Paxton...these are winemakers who should be talked about in the same breath as chefs like Waters, Barber and the rest. 

That's is what this book is about – a celebration of those committed, dedicated producers. If their wines are here, it is because they taste brilliant, will enhance what you are eating and provide a moment of shared happiness with whoever you are drinking them with. But they also come with a story, from people who care about authenticity, and want to preserve the land that nourishes their grapes.'

Jane dismisses the simple idea that it is just a question of small versus big. 'What's important is that each winemaker supports an idea of farming that is respectful of the future, and looks to capture a snapshot of time, place and culture in a glass of wine.

The majority of the book covers wines and producers that meet Jane's criteria. It includes organic, biodynamic, natural, orange and low intervention wines. 

The recommended wines are arranged by style: sparkling & fresh, crisp whites; wine cocktails; rich and round whites; light & sculpted reds; full and warming reds; and finally digestifs. 

The long list of photo credits include: ziolaKim Lightbody, Harry Annoni, Eric Zeziola, John Carey, Marçal Font, Rocco Ceselin and and Claude Cruells.

This is a book to help you explore and discover interesting and sometimes challenging wines.    

Monday, 11 December 2017

Vinho Verde: a greta value trio from Pingo Doce

Branco, Loureiro and Alvarinho

Here are three bargain Vinho Verde own label wines from the Pingo Doce supermarket.

Let's start with the Branco at just 1.59€ made by Carlos Teixeira. Cleanly made the Branco has 10% of alcohol with the spritz in the finish that is typical of a certain popular style of Vinho Verde. Perfectly OK without being exciting but at the price.....

The Loureiro is also made by Teixeira. This is more full-bodied than the Branco and costs just 1.99€ a bottle. Amazing value. 

Finally a a firm favourite – the Alvarinho made by Anselmo Mendes for just 3.98€. OK it is not as fine or exciting as some of Anselmo's other Vinho Verdes but this is a very decent example with some concentration. Having tried this, it is well worth exploring the rest of Anselmo's remarkable range of wines both from the Vinho Verde but also from other parts of Portugal.         

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Rabo do Pêxe: another fine dinner

2016 Dory Lisbon Regional Wine 

Last Thursday we went back to Rabo do Pêxe. We did our usual thing of choosing a few starters and then having some Sashimi and Sushi. Fortunately we had booked as Rabo continuous to be very popular.

We started with a bottle of the 2016 Dory from AdegaMãe. This is a blend of Viosinho, Alvarinho, Arinto and Viognier making a quite rich and concentrated white, while at the same time with an attractive freshness probably provided by the Arinto. It is made by Anselmo Mendes and Diogo Lopes.  

Almond coated prawns – a signature dish

Ceviche of scallops with ginger

Duck ham with pear 

Selection of Sashimi

Selection of Sushi

Having dispatched the Dory we decided to take a look at the 2014 Riesling from the same wine-making team. The 2014 Riesling is quite lean and crisp, so I couldn't decide whether I had chosen our two wines in the right order. The Riesling would have worked with the prawns and scallops but not with the duck. while the Dory could have gone with the sashimi and the sushi, although the Riesling happily paired with the raw fish. Will have to go back!     

2014 Riesling
(above and below)

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Portugal still a treasure trove of old wines

1992 Encostas da Nave
Vinho Tinto 

It is good to see that Portuguese wines are now getting the attention they deserve. Doubtless this is, in part, due to the huge popularity of Lisbon and Porto as tourist destinations. 

Much of the Portuguese wines drunk, both within Portugal and outside, are recent vintages. However, Portugal remains a treasure trove of old vintages. It is, of course, well known that Port, Madeira and other of this country's fortified wines age for decades and more. Less well known is the capacity of their white and red table wines to age brilliantly. Fortunately it is still possible to find old fine bottles at a very reasonable price if you know where to look.

Take this 1992 Encostas da Nave from the Távora Co-operative in Moimenta da Beira bought from a traditional grocery shop in a northern suburb of Lisbon for just 12 euros. Still quite youthful, although the colour shows some signs of age – not surprising after 25 years. It has lovely, softly textured fruit. Drunk without food the acidity in the finish shows but this disappeared with our duck dish.  A delight!  

Friday, 8 December 2017

Ackerman Group rebrands with orchids

(Licence: creative commons)

Bernard Jacob, 
managing director of the Ackerman Group

Yesterday (7th December 2017) the Ackerman Group, the largest Loire owned négociant company, announced a rebranding exercise. The rebranding is designed to highlight their top of the range wines under the banner – Orchidées Maisons

Wines in the Orchidées Maison range:
Château de Sancerre (Sancerre – AC Sancerre)
Château de la Varière (Brissac-Quincé – various Anjou appellations including Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru and Bonnezeaux)
Domaine de la Perruche (Montsoreau – AC Saumur-Champigny) 
Domaine des Hardières (Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay – range of Anjou appellations.
Monmousseau (Montrichard – sparkling wines – Crémant de Loire & AC Touraine). A new cuvée – Prestige 1886 – is being created to fit into the new Orchidées Maison range.

Esprit de Loire: 
This will be a second range and will include the following brands:
Maison Ackerman sparkling wines (Saumur)
Drouet Frères (La Chapelle Heulin, Pays Nantais – Muscadet etc.)
Marquis de la Tour (sparkling wines)
Rémy Pannier – Loire still wines 
Monmousseau (Montrichard – sparkling wines: Touraine and Crémant de Loire apart from their Prestige 1886 which is in the top range above)
Donatien Bahuaud (in particular Le Master) 

Read Vitisphere article on Ackerman rebranding here.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Filipa Pato and William Wouters – a fascinating visit

William, Christina and Filipa

The Pato family are never ones to duck out of their name 

Duck hooks in the WC

Sign for the winery 

Winery and home  

It was well worth Le Voyage!

It was well worth a group of us on Monday 4th December making a 470-kilometre round day trip to see Filipa Pato and William Wouters at their home and winery in the small town of Óis do Bairro, some 35 kms to the north of Coimbra. 

I first met Filipa when she was just starting to make her own wine when she was working with her father – Luis Pato. I forget the date but it must have been around the end of 2002 or possibly some time in 2003. 

 Blurred selfie outside the winery

 Filipa in the vineyard 
(above and below)

 Stones in the vineyard 

Vineyards in the valley

Filipa amongst a parcel of old vines in the valley

We started our visit with a look at the vineyards in the valley close to the winery. These vineyards, which are planted with white varieties, are on very stony limestone.   

Filipa and William now have 15 hectares of vines in 24 parcels. There are eight or nine hectares of white varieties with around five of red. They have been gradually purchasing vineyard plots, especially parcels of old vines. They have four hectares of very old vines including a parcel with vines that are 130 years old – planted just after phylloxera. They also have some ungrafted vines from which they make a special cuvée. 

In 2014 when William, who is Belgian and a sommelier and chef, moved to Portugal full-time, they started to convert their vineyards to biodynamics in 2014. Previously the demands of commuting between Portugal and Belgium had made it impossible to take such a time consuming step. They decided to move straight to biodynamics rather than moving to organic viticulture first. Filipa and William started converting the parcels closest to their winery first. 

Harmony underpins their philosophy. For instance, for their biodynamic infusion treatments they use local plants as far as possible. Initially they used camomile but this isn't a local plant, so, for instance, they use aloe vera, fennel and some nettles. Also they use willow ties for holding up the old vines to their supporting stakes. Cuttings from the old vines are used to propagate new plants.

In one of their oldest vineyards, some 15 kilometres from the winery, there are some olive trees. "The olives and the vines interact," explains Filipa. "The flowering is around the same time and the olive harvest comes just after we finish picking the grapes." 

A parcel of old vines 
(above and below)

   AC/DC Back in Black

The theme of harmony continues in the winery where they choose to use larger size barrels – 500-litre and 12-hl wooden vats to reduce wood influence. They are also using amphores, which again provides harmony as there is clay with the limestone in their vineyards. 

 André Cid and Filipa inside the winery

Filipa and André Ribeirinho

Looking at the array of empty bottles lined up just below the ceiling André Ribeirinho comments that you can see that this is a winery that lives, breathes and loves wine. 

 1964 Quinta Ribeirinho 
Back in 1964 Filipa's grandfather was the first 
local producer to bottle his wine

Following our quick visit to the winery under Filipa and William's house we head upstairs for a brilliant lunch, which William has prepared. "We don't do tastings without food," Filipa explains. 

Our group @lunch
Filipa's grandmother, at the far end, joined us for the meal 

3B Blanc de Blancs
Blend of Bical, Cerical, Maria Gomes

We start lunch with the crisp 3B Blanc de Blancs, which is a field blend of Bical, Cercial and Maria Gomes. 

I asked Filipa about Cercial. "Is it the same as Sercial in Madeira but just spelt differently?" "It could be," she replied. "Certainly it not the same as the Cercial found in Dão. Someone bought some Cercial vines from Dão and planted them here are they were clearly different to the ones that you find here in Bairrada. Ours in Bairrada appear to be closer to those in Madeira." 

At the start of the lunch Filipa explained that: "It was very important to help animate the village's life by choosing to remain in the village and not build a winery outside. We have already lost the village school." 

1st course: Panna Cota with herb jelly 

Paired with 2016 Nossa Calcario Branco 
Made using wild yeasts 12% fermented in barrel 
Attractive texture shouldn't be served too cold

2016 Post-Quer...s Baga

After the Panna Cotta William served a delicious mushroom and tarragon risotto, which was paired with their very interesting 2016 Post-Quer..s Baga. This 100% Baga sees no wood and is soft and ready to drink now and although the typical rustic Baga tannins are present they have been tamed. The Post-Quer..s name reflects both that no wood has been used and that a Spanish producerobjected to the original Post-Quercus name, as he had a wine of a similar name and alleged that their use of it infringed his copyright, so they took out some of the letters but leaving Qu, which is the Portuguese for arse.

The main course was a beef casserole made using Bairrada wine. This was served with the lovely soft opulent 2011 Tinto Calcario Nossa with its notes of spice and cedar wood. Tannins are present but well integrated in the wine's long finish.

2011 Tinto Nossa Calcario

Cheese from Serra da Estrella followed served with the precise 2011 Calcario Branco Nossa with its attractive citric nose, good concentration with some beeswax character. 

A fine lunch-time line-up...

There was a small pot of a Marquise of dark chocolate with three perfect raspberries to finish our great lunch. With had this with the 2013 Espirito de Baga – a reminder that Port isn't this country's only fortified wine. Full of black cherries Filipa and William first made this in 2010 with the help of Dirk Niepoort. They use 25% of brandy that is double distilled to 73%. Keeping to the theme of harmony the Espirito is closed with a beeswax seal to reflect the wine's sweetness.

On our way back to Lisbon we visited with Filipa a couple of the parcels of old vine Baja that they have been acquiring some 15 kms to the south of Óis do Bairro. 

My grateful thanks to Filipa, William and their staff for a fascinating and great visit. It is great to see the promise that I saw on my first visit being so well fulfilled. 

 The old vine Baga 
(above and below)

Filipa and André in the gathering dusk



Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Great visit to Filipa Pato and William Wouters

 William, Christina and Filipa

On Monday we had a great visit to Filipa Pato and William Wouters at their winery and home in Bairrada. A full report will follow but here are a few photos to capture the moment.

My grateful thanks to Filipa, William and their team for a wonderful day.   

 Old vines of around 90 years old

 Filipa's AC/DC Black in Black knee

 Filipa's jacket – 'Save The Duck'