Category: Europe

#HOTGV: On Francois Lurton wines with the man himself

For this episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I met with Francois Lurton, a French winemaker with vineyards in France, Spain, Argentina and Chile.

Francois Lurton

Francois represents the fifth generation of the Lurton family, who are well known in the world of Bordeaux wines. But as a bit of a maverick, Francois has ventured out to establish his own brand and his own wine identity after more than a decade of working for the family business.

We recently met at a tasting at Lima Floral Restaurant in London to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his estate in Argentina, Bodegas Piedra Negra in the Uco Valley. There, I tried a selection of his wines from Chile and Argentina.

Francois Lurton vineyard

Reading back on my notes almost two months later, I realised just how diverse the selection of 15 or so wines were.

Some were young and robust while others were gentle and fruity. There were even notes mentioning dark and moody alongside smoke and spice. I was surprised by how remarkably well they coped with the very challenging flavours of Peruvian food. Granted, the selection matched with the punchy dishes had a bit more age to them.

Although we tasted a sizeable collection of wines, it’s less than a quarter of the labels in Francois’ portfolio across the two continents.

Well, I’ll let Francois tell his own story in this little taster:

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Photos c/o Francois Lurton Wines.

#HOTGV: On Château Angélus with Stephanie de Bouard

About a year and half ago, I went to Bordeaux for the first time. On a sunny afternoon in June we cycled through Saint Emillion and stopped at this really grand, palatial building to catch our breath.
That was Château Angélus.

Chateau Angelus, photo by Deepix

I can’t remember what time it was but the bells rang, reverberating through the air and over the lush green vines. With the sun just so over its sandy coloured walls, it was sort of magical.

Anyway, long story short, I tasted a small selection of their wines for the first time last month over lunch at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught – the Carillon d’Angelus 2012, Château Angelus 2008 and Château Angelus 2006.

Chateau Angelus wines

Basically, they were stunning. But then you wouldn’t expect anything less for more than £100 a bottle (well except for the Carillon, which is currently retailing at about £50).

My favourite was the 2008 – soft tannins, fruity and a bit of development already. Essentially, because it’s ready to drink right now and it’s stunning.

As well as enjoying some of their wines, the estate also launched their new book. Written by Jane Anson, the photo-heavy book traces the history and the family behind the estate.

Later, I sat down with Stephanie de Bouard for the eleventh episode of Heard on the Grape Vine.

Stephanie de Bouard, photo by Deepix

Stephanie is the eighth generation of the family to run the Premier Cru Classé estate and hasn’t been shy about making changes.

Join us now as we explore a little of what Château Angélus is all about.

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Additional photos and videos c/o Château Angélus and Deepix.

#HOTGV: On Bordeaux and the Chinese wine market with Suzanne Mustacich

For the ninth episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I met with journalist and author Suzanne Mustacich at The Goring Hotel in London.Andre Simon 2015 drink book winner Suzanne Mustacich with Acting Chairman Nicholas Lander

Thirsty Dragon by Suzanne MustacichMustacich, who’s based in Bordeaux, writes regularly for Wine Spectator magazine on the region.

She had just won the prestigious Andre Simon Award in the drink category for her first book, Thirsty Dragon, which was presented at the hotel.

The book, published in November 2015 by Henry Holt, traces the ups and downs of China’s love for Bordeaux wines.

It covers Bordeaux’s increasing exports to China, particularly in the fine wine section, up to 2014, when the relationship between the buyers and sellers started changing. The stories of a few key characters are followed through the storyline to reveal the realities of the wine business in China.

During this epside of the podcast, we explore some of the themes covered in it, including Bordeaux export market, China’s ‘left-over women’ and the book’s heroes and villains.

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Four of the best Loire Stars at D&D Wine

Last month I attended a tasting at D&D London’s New Street Wine Shop, the theme of which was Loire Stars – the hidden gems and unsung heroes from the Loire Valley.

My previous encounter with the Loire was centred around Chenin Blanc, which was showcased in dry white and sweet wines. I liked it, a lot. But the Loire also produces fascinating wines from a number of other well-known grape varieties like Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Melon de Bourgogne; all of which I am comparatively less familiar with.

I tasted 13 wines altogether, ranging from sparkling to sweet (I skipped the rosé). The diversity between the wines is immense. But then for a region so widespread, you wouldn’t expect anything else. And just as equally, you wouldn’t expect to like everything.

Out of those 13, there were in fact only four that I really enjoyed. They’re all available at New Street Wine Shop but I will also bracket other places where you can buy them.

Philippe Foreau Clos Naudin Vouvray NV Although there were alternative in the sparkling line up, with a younger, fresher feel, the sparkling Philippe Foreau Clos Naudin Vouvray NV was the first to catch my eye. It was rich in flavour with a blended flavour of toast and apple that was bolstered with incredible acidity. It also had smooth bubbles and was nicely balanced. I felt it was very comparable to Champagne, which is made in the same method. £19.65 Also available from Gauntleys.
Domaine des Roches Neuves Terre Chaudes Saumur Champigny 2013 The whites flew by and the first red to get my attention was Domaine des Roches Neuves Terre Chaudes Saumur Champigny 2013. Having been to the estate before, I felt like I had a vested interest in liking the wine. But I didn’t. At least not at first. As I tasted the wine though, I got more and more notes out of it and, well, I had to say it was pretty good. It starts with a sort of concrete hardness that melts into gentle tanning and a dark, brooding herbaceousness. It had great food potential as it is but then the long finish of residual fruit, red currant and black pepper really brought it together. £19.80 Also available at Excel Wines.
Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 2013 In startling contrast to the Saumur Champigny, Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 2013 was extremely open and friendly. It was rich and fruit-forward as well as being rounded and vibrant. It was simple and easy drinking – and you can’t fault it for that. £11.50 Also available at Haynes Hanson & Clark.
Philippe Delesvaux Selection de Grains Nobles Coteaux du Layon 2011 As a lover of sweet wines, I was of course pleased to find a good one in the Philippe Delesvaux Selection de Grains Nobles Coteaux du Layon 2011. It’s perhaps on the young side but its lush, fragrant nose is very appealing right now. The rich and complex blend of apricots finds a nice back bone in the balance of the sugar and acidity. Not too intense but thoroughly enjoyable. £18.60 (half-bottle) Also available at Fine + Rare Wines

Incidentally there’s still a few more days of the D&D Loire Stars Festival, which concludes later this month. There’s a few expert led tastings, some matched with food. You’ll be able to find more details here: www.danddwine.com/campaigns-and-partnerships/loirestars/


Amateur Wine was a guest of Loire Valley Wines and D&D London. For more information on what that means, see our Editorial Policy.

#HOTGV: On Vins Colombo with Laure Colombo

Last month, I met a young winemaker called Laure Colombo over dinner at 28:50 in London. She makes wines at the family vineyard, Vins Colombo, with her father Jean Luc Colombo. It’s a little domaine in Cornas, Northern Rhone, started by her parents in the 80s.

Jean Luc Colombo maison

It was just before the RAW Fair came to London and, knowing that I was going to make a podcast at RAW, I wanted to get her thoughts on natural wine. Unusually for someone so young (it didn’t seem polite to ask but I guessed at no more than 30), Laure had the confidence to speak about her wine as an extension of herself. The wine that she was making was about the way she feels and not about following trends or trying to conform to a certain cache. So she talked about that instead.

Laure Colombo in the vineyard

As a second generation winemaker, Colombo’s approach to wine is extremely food-centric and refreshingly non-commercial. She had an old world belief about wine as part of life and not as a commodity. Case in point, she has recently acquired her own domaine and, like that of her parents’, she’s keeping the “farm” busy with everything from chickens to fruit trees.

Anyway, I think you’ll get an idea of what she is like in this fifth episode of Heard on the Grape Vine where we talk about everything from making wine for food to living in a vineyard. And if you are interested in trying her wines, you can find some of these at Waitrose.

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Taylor’s, Vila Nova de Gaia

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Nestled among the dense collection of port houses on Vila Nova de Gaia is Taylor’s lodge in Oporto. It’s almost hidden except that through the inconspicuous entrance is a grand cellar, restaurant and garden. And a pair of peacocks. Not to forget of course that Taylor’s, as part of the Fladgate Partnership, also owns the luxurious hotel next door, The Yeatman, as well as Croft and Fonseca.

 

It’s no small port house but it is still family owned.

Taylor’s began as port shippers, establishing their lodge in 1692, before acquiring their first vineyard. Today, 30% of the grapes comes from their own vineyards in the Douro Valley, where they are fermented and spend the winter at the winery before being transported to the lodge for ageing. At Vila Nova de Gaia, they spend a year in barrels during which time the quality of the wine is assessed and they are funnelled into a category of port.

Barrel corridor, Taylor's, Oporto

My visit to the lodge coincided with the London Wine Fair, where Taylor’s launched their 1863 Single Harvest tawny. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to taste that historical wine but I did try seven of their more widely available ports and one rarer variety.

Ports, Taylor's, Oporto

The first in line was the Chip Dry, a white port created to counter the sherry shortage during the Spanish civil war. It was a creamy port with a lightly floral nose. Although it’s considerably less sweet than the next seven ports, you’ll still be able to taste some residual sugar.

Next in line was the Late Bottled Vintage 2009, which was aged five years in large barrels before release. As a reference for size, the largest of these barrels for Taylor’s is 110KL. With little air contact, the LBV is holding on to much of its ripe berry fruit notes and showing some violet, blackberry and black cherry. It goes extremely well with dark chocolate.

The LBV was followed by a flight of four tawny ports. The 10 Year Old Tawny, Taylor’s best seller, was a nutty blend of white chocolate and raisin. The 20 Year Old Tawny, made for every day drinking, also showed nuts and raisins and, strangely perhaps, a little rawness of youth. Or maybe it was just a yearning for more complexity – there was certainly potential. When it came to the 30 Year Old Tawny, it was a little closed but there was a greater intensity of chocolate with a very rich palate and less nuttiness. The last tawny, the slightly smoky 40 Year Old Tawny, had a lot less dried fruits notes with more wood showing. It also somehow felt a little confected.

I tasted two vintage ports. The first was the Taylor’s 2011 vintage port which was sort of reminiscent of a Brunello di Montalcino in its intensity. For this, think Maraschino cherries, cedar and violet.

The second vintage port, and the final wine I tried, was the Quinta de Vargellas Single Quinta 2001. Despite more than a decade in the making, it’s still remarkably youthful, perhaps even too young as demonstrated by the slight roughness of the alcohol on the palate. In flavour, it showed raisins, a slight hint of vanilla and a long, complex and very sweet finish.

www.taylor.pt

#HOTGV: On Sciacchetrà with Terra di Bargòn

For the third episode of Heard on the Grape Vine podcast, I travelled to Liguria, in northern Italy, to learn more about Sciacchetrà, a passito wine unique to the Cinque Terre.

View out to sea from Terra di Bargòn, Cinque Terre

You’ve probably seen the word passito on bottles of sweet wine from all around Italy so let me begin by explaining what that is. Passito is the Italian name for a type of sweet wine made from the juice of grapes that have been allowed to dry before being pressed. The drying process concentrates the sugar in the grapes so that sweet wines can be produced. The residual sugar, left at the end of the fermentation process, is what you can taste on your palate.

In the Cinque Terre, a special type of passito is produced and it goes by the name of Sciacchetrà. It is made by fermenting the juice of the raisined grapes with the must (grape skin, pips and all) to produce a concentrated, tannic sweet wine.

In Riomaggiore, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre, I met Roberto Bonfiglio and Alessandra De Cugis. They are the husband and wife team behind Terra di Bargòn, a cantina which produces only Sciacchetrà. Alessandra and Roberto welcomed me to their home somewhere half way up the Ligurian hills. Surrounding it were gnarly vines of some 25 years, trained in a high pergola. There, looking out over the Cinque Terre, they talked about their Sciacchetrà.

Roberto Bonfiglio and Alessandra de Cugis at Terra di Bargòn, Cinque Terre

For me, it was incredibly awe-inspiring to learn that the couple, now in their 60s, are producing this passito wine which the younger generation has abandoned because they deemed it too hard. But I’ll let them explain their own wine.

The wine we tasted was the Terra di Bargòn Reserva 2009, a concentrated wine with notes of bruised apple, prune, dried apricots and a nutty tang. It’s far from the lusciousness typical of passito so if you’re not a big fan of sugar, this could be the sweet wine for you.

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Ramos Pinto, Vila Nova de Gaia

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Ramos Pinto was one of the last port houses to be established in Vila Nova de Gaia. The original owner, Adriano Ramos Pinto, was clearly a visionary from the beginning.

Entrance, Ramos Pinto, Oporto

While most of the port houses at the time shipped to England, Pinto targeted Brazil from the start. With this liberal market came the romanticised, almost cinematic, posters and, at times, slightly racy advertising campaigns, which did wonders to promote the Ramos Pinto brand. It became an instant success. These days, the port house’s colourful history can be garnered from the lively museum and cellars on Vila Nova de Gaia.

In terms of wines and ports, Ramos Pinto produces a sizeable selection. For ports, mixing into cocktails seem to be highly encouraged though we didn’t try any. Instead, we tasted a selection of their wines and ports unadultered.

Tasting bench, Ramos Pinto, Oporto

Duas Quintas Reserva Branco 2011, a foot-tread white wine, was very savoury with lots of citrus and a little smokiness. The Duas Quintas Reserva Especial Tinto 2007 had a truffled tinge to its leafy tannins and fruit.

Moving on to the port, we started with a white port, the Adriano White Reserva, which was fairly heavy though simple in its style. It would have been great on top a rum and raisin ice cream.

On the vintage front, the RP Late Bottled Vintage 2009, an unfiltered port, was woody with violet and prune notes. The Quinta de Ervamoira Porto Vintage 2007, a single Quinta port, was rich in its chocolate notes though still youthful.

We also tried three tawny ports. The 10 year old RP10 Quinta de Ervamoira had rich caramel and raisin notes but lacked a little acidity. The 20 year old RP20 Quinta do Bom Retiro is slightly more floral with a long, nutty finish. The 30 year old RP30, made with wines from a blend of estates, had an oloroso sherry character in its nuttiness alongside caramel and dried fruit notes.

Inside the Ramos Pinto museum at Vila Nova de Gaia

www.ramospinto.pt

Quinta do Seixo, Cima-Corgo

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Ports, Quinta do Seixo, Douro Valley

Quinta do Seixo (pronounced Saycho) is perhaps more readily recognisable as the winery where Sandeman port is produced. It’s owned by Sogrape Vinhas, the same parent company which owns Mateus. Knowing this, I think, contributed towards the corporate feel of the Quinta.

Incredibly well organised and decorated, it’s very much geared to receiving a large number of visitors. Case in point, three or four coaches, filled with Douro cruise visitors, made their way up the winding road, through the vineyards, to the Quinta while we were there. Then, like us, they would have received a video introduction followed by the Sandeman tour with a guide who’s dressed as the Don.

This is just the visitor centre in the Douro Valley. There’s another one at the Lodge on Vila Nova de Gaia.

Our tasting was more extended than an average consumer tasting but it began with a round of cocktails. Some intriguing and interesting combinations, which, while occasionally on the sweet side, was actually really rather good.

The first port we had was the Sandeman Apitiv White, a brownish amber off-dry port that’s slightly oxidised, though not quite nutty, with notes of dried prunes. This, with an icy lemon sorbet, was dessert in a glass. The Sandeman Founder’s Reserve, a reserve ruby style port, was an easy, fruity wine with a very dry finish. Refreshing though, in a citrusy wine cocktail.

On to the more serious ports, we had a Late Bottled Vintage 2009, a fruity and youthful wine with notes of blackberry and raisin. The Sandeman Vau Vintage 2000, with two years in the bottle, was much more fruity and complex, with orange peel and citric bittterness. And finally, the Sandeman Vintage 2011, a seriously intense wine with mouth puckering acidity and laden with smooth tannins, showed highlights of prune and raisin.

www.sograpevinhos.com

Côtes du Rhône Google Hangout: When wine goes high tech

For a drink that’s been much the same for thousands of years, wine, or at least how it’s consumed, has become increasingly high tech in the last few years.

For instance, this website lives entirely in the digital age. As well as numerous images, the recently launched Heard on the Grape Vine podcast makes sure that there’s a good multimedia mix. Amateur Wine is plugged into social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. And then there’s apps like Vivino

All of this digital talk can feel a bit lonesome (and no one wants to drink on their own), until a couple of weeks ago when I took part in my first Google Hangout with Côtes du Rhône wines.

The Hangout was hosted by Dr Jamie Goode, wine blogger turned wine journalist and fellow IWC wine judge, and as well as Amateur Wine, there were also eight other wine enthusiasts. Over the course of an hour and half, we tasted six red wines from the Côtes du Rhône appellation.

It was intended to be a mix of educational and fun, although we were relying on all our internet connections so there were times when it cut out and times when it was slow (You can watch an edited version of the video here.), but as a way of bringing wines to an audience, it was a very innovative approach. We had some great wines of course.

More than anything though, it showed that wine, as a sensory object, can be shared from just about anywhere. Which, in a round about way, leads me to think about vlogs. In the world of beauty and fashion, vlogs are incredibly popular so why not for wine?

Well, watch this space.

The Côtes du Rhône wines

Here’s the wines we tasted, in order, for the Côtes du Rhône Google Hangout (the tasting notes are mine from the night):

 Gabriel Meffre La Châsse Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2013 Gabriel Meffre La Châsse Reserve Côtes du Rhône 2013. A grenache dominant blend. Light and fruity. Strawberry forward with gentle oak. Simple but effective. RRP£6 available from Sainsbury’s.
 Delas Frères Sainte-Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2012 Delas Frères Sainte-Esprit Côtes du Rhône 2012. A little hot on the palate. A touch of funkiness with a sourness on the finish. Possible fault. Not very attractivec. RRP£9.99 available from Majestic.
 Domaine Chaume Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012 Domaine Chaume Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012. Biodynamic. Lots of fruit, very fruit forward and expressive. Wine to drink with after-dinner conversation. RRP£12.25 available from Berry Brothers & Rudd.
 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône 2012 Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône 2012. Noticeably more alcoholic though balanced considering high ABV. Dark fruits much more prominent. RRP£16.75 available from H2Vin.
 Domaine Georges Vernay Sainte-Agathe Côtes du Rhône 2012 Domaine Georges Vernay Sainte-Agathe Côtes du Rhône 2012. From Northern Rhône, a cooler climate wine. Rubber and maybe thyme notes. Almost minty with a touch of black pepper. Light cherry. Elegant. RRP£19.95 available from Berry Brothers & Rudd.
 Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet Red 2012 Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet Red 2012. A lot of sweetness and fruit coming through. A hint of development with gentle tannins. Needs time to open up. RRP£16.63 available from The Little Big Wine company.
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