Saturday, 20 July 2019

Orto and other Venice vineyards.

The vineyard of Mazzorbo where Dorona is planted.
Venice has at least three vineyards, possibly more as we shall see. There is the one at Mazzorbo where they have opened a Michelin starred restaurant called Venissa and revived the grape called Dorona. Next the monastery vineyard at San Francesco della Vigna in Castello and now the Orto estate on the island of Sant'Erasmo, some way off from the islands of Murano and Vignole. Vignole must have had vineyards in the past. It was known also as the Isola delle sette vigne but nothing remains of these.

We have covered Dorona/Mazzorbo in this blog although we have still not tasted Dorona. At E.90 for 50cl it seemed an unneccesary extravagance especially as there were those who muttered that Dorona was just some kind of Garganega. D'Agata says 'In fact Dorona is distinct from Garganega though closely related to it.'

In addition we had seen this bottle in supermarkets in Venice and wrongly thought this must also be Dorona because it claimed to be the wine of the Doges as did Dorona.

In fact it comes from another island, Sant'Erasmo which served as the market garden of Venice in former times. Sant Erasmo is accessible by vaporetto so off we went to check out the wine called Orto.

Having made an appointment we got there early to have a look around and entered a different world. Flat, sparsely inhabited with only one hotel, Sant'Erasmo still has a few cultivated fields growing we knew not what but the general impression was one of remoteness although you could see the spires of Venice from there.

Mercifully near the vaporetto stop was the estate of Orto.

Michel Thoulouze, owner and founder of Orto.
A Frenchman called Michel Thoulouze bought the property and planted the vineyard relatively recently. He tells the story as follows on the website;

In the 16th Century the island was covered in vineyards. Michel Thoulouze and his family decided to relaunch wine production on the island using the traditional methods of the local farmers and the expertise of Lydia and Claude Bourguignon ('Doctors of the Earth' [Agronomists?]) and Alain Graillot whose Crozes Hermitage wines have a worldwide reputation. The resulting wine, ORTO, has all the character of this special island and it is the only wine cultivated within the territorial boundaries of Venice.

Pamela of Orto

We were received by an extremely knowledgeable and kind person called Pamela.

Tasting room and shop
Pamela told the story of how the winery had been set up where none existed before and why the grape varieties Malvasia d'Istria and Vementino had been selected.

Modern air-conditioned chaix

Malvasia Istriana vines
The island is divided in two by the main road. One side is exposed to the sea with more salt in the soil. This was judged to be appropriate for the cultivation of Vermentino which traditionally is grown on the coast of Liguria or in Sardegna. On the other side, the soils are good for growing Malvasia Istriana, a more common variety in the Veneto and of course, Istria. D'Agata's 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy' is generally a pleasure to read but the entry on Malvasia Istriana gets rather technical for non-scientists and so we were not able to follow it so easily. It discusses this Malvasia in the context of other Malvasias and states that the wines are either aromatic or non-aromatic, never both. It is a hardy grape and has good resistance to many diseases apart from Oidium.

Pamela told us there is no use of chemicals or artificial fertilisers in the vineyard and agricultural machinery is not used as it may compact the soil - something she was very keen not to do. She related how breezes from the Adriatic kept the vineyards free from diseases. The vines have been planted ungrafted. This is considered to give a better taste.

We had let slip we did a bit of vine-growing ourselves in the UK and Pamela was full of valuable suggestions. These included watering new vines every day! We had watered our 550 new vines only once since planting and indeed when we got back, about 15% had been lost. She also mentioned that the vines should be planted on a Berm. At first we were surprised she knew this term but it is the same in Italian and English.

Our berms in England (Thames Valley).
By a fluke we have indeed made some berms after grubbing up our old vines and so we seemed to have got this right.

We had read that there were other varieties planted at Orto in addition to Malvasia Istriana and Vermentino but Pamela flatly ruled this out. Strange because in their own website is written that the vineyard has

'an assembly of antique Italian grape varieties with a dominance of the Istrien Malvoisie.'

Also curious is the mention of other grapes in Andy Paynter's review in Chambers St. Wines newsletter (our underlinings);

The 2014 Sant’Erasmo Bianco is a striking wine grown on the island of San Erasmo within the lagoon of Venice.  Premised on Malvasia Istriana but comprised of a number of other local cultivars all planted on its own root stock, the wine is deeply colored in the glass, with a nose reminiscent of ripe golden apples and honeysuckle undercut by a salty tone. The palate is bold, with an initial attack of juicy orchard fruit and rich texture, followed by a honeyed note giving way to a long savory finish. More than anything else, the Orto shows a stern backbone of minerality bracing its mellow acidity and weight on the palate.

Despite claims to being the only vineyard within the territorial boundaries of Venice, we knew otherwise and indeed were all the more determined to visit the third vineyard, this one very much inside Venice.

San Francesco in Vigna with vineyard top left.
The church and monastery of San Francesco in Vigna is an extensive complex. A large vineyard belonging to the Ziani family already existed here in the 13th century but the land was left to the church on the death of Marco Ziani and the church was built on and around the vineyard. 

The vineyard at San Francesco della vigna
The modern vineyard dates from 2012 when abandoned vines were cleared and new ones planted on 800 square metres of ground. These were primarily Teroldego with Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso and a small amount of Merlot. 

These choices may appear random but the advisors including Gianmarco Vinco and Carlo Santi considered them suitable for the soil and believed in their resistant qualities. 

The first vintage (250 bottles) 'Harmonia Mundi' was made in 2015

Manuel with some wine he kindly let us have delivered to his shop.
Our friend Manuel Casagrande at Al Canton del Vin, our favourite Vino Sfuso shop in Venice told us the way to visit the vineyard at San Francesco della Vigna was to ask for 'Antonio'. We hung about what looked like the entrance to the monastery for a while until a brother came out. He explained that he was in a hurry otherwise he would have shown us the vineyard himself but suggested we returned later.

Cloister of San Francesco in Vigna.
This we did and in the absence of anyone to be seen we walked around a cloister until we came to a door. There was a bell with an entryphone so we rang it. A voice presently answered and we explained what we wanted. The voice asked it we didn't mean Padre Antoine. We agreed this might be the person we needed, so after another rather longer wait, the first cleric we has bumped into earlier (the one in a hurry) came out. Clearly he was Padre Antoine. This time he didn't offer to show us the vineyard but explained that we needed Fratello Antonio. Another long wait. In the end a disembodied voice told us to come back another day because Fratello Antonio had 'gone out in the boat.' We thought this worthy of 'Father Ted' until we remembered we were in Venice after all.

The Giardino mistico (with vines) of the Carmelitani Scalzi, Venice.
By the way, we have also read that vineyards may exist at other churches in Venice including San Michele in Isola (church of Venice's main cemetary), the Monastero Suore Clarisse on Giudecca and the Carmelitane Scalze in Cannaregio. 

Seen on Sant'Erasmo.

Friday, 19 July 2019

Cowabunga! - Waitrose 'W' series.

Some of the new Waitrose W series wines
Waitrose is not the most cutting edge of supermarkets as far as wine goes. There is always a good amount of bottles that would hit the spot and they frequently have generous deals such as the current 25% off all wines. They are also faithful to old favourites so if you feel like buying a bottle of something you once bought years ago you might well still find it on the shelves.

Their online operation, Waitrose Cellar is something else offering a much broader and more interesting selection. On the other hand Waitrose is sensitive to local needs and often stock local English wines in relevant stores. One example is the wine of Oaken Grove, Buckinghamshire which is available at the Henley branch but not for example at Marble Arch in London.

So the new 'W' series is a fantastic bolt from the blue. Suddenly Waitrose is right up there with the likes of Elbling, Marselan, Petit Manseng, Arinto, Pais and a sparkling Pecorino. 

Waitrose Elbling - delish!

Not really anything to do with Riesling as far as taste is concerned.
At betweem £6.99 and £9.99. We have onlt tasted the Elbling so far but on the strength of that, these must be the bargain of the century.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Try this: Simpson's Pinot Meunier

Charles and Ruth Simpson know what they are doing. There can't be many (any?) who have a flourishing Domaine in France (Sainte Rose at Servian near Beziers in the Languedoc) who have gone on to put together a prime English estate for the production of still and sparkling wine.

The site for the Simpson wine estate has been chosen meticulously and an amazing winery has been constructed with all imaginable facilities. The vineyards and winery are in North Kent near Barham which incidentally is where Sir Reginald Goodall, one of our greatest conductors lived.

We came across this Pinot Meunier as a Blanc de Noirs at Harvey Nichols and were very glad we did.

Our highest praise for English wine used to be that it didn't taste like English wine. Things have mercifully moved on from then and we can say of this wine that it is simply one of the best white Pinot Meuniers we have ever tasted and could well be in the top three of the best ever English (or Welsh) white wines it has ever been our pleasure to drink.

Things really are looking up if we can make a wine like this in this country and with a cost around £20 one can say that the price/quality ratio is in balance for once.

Monday, 8 July 2019

The mysterious case of César in Chile

The César grape is a funny one. You know how the memory can play tricks? We think we once had a delicious bottle of César but no record was made of what that bottle was and a subsequent encounter with the grape was underwhelming to say the least.

Turning to 'Wine Grapes' we learn that César is very site-specific, namely the village of Coulange-la-Vineuse in the Yonne Departement.

People fancy that this is the oldest French variety because it was introduced by Julius Ceasar but DNA analysis shows it to be a natural cross between Pinot Noir and Gänsfüsser which puts paid to that. Nonetheless, the fiction persists and the Germans call it Roemer. However, Roemer is slightly different from César so it might have originated somewhere between the Pfalz where Roemer is found and the Yonne.

The principal characteristics of César are red fruit flavours and tannins. It is hardly ever made as a monovarietal and when used at all is added to Pinot Noir in order to beef it up in Irancy and around the Chablis communes of Chitry and Épineuil. It is not authorised for Bourgogne produced in departments other than the Yonne.

Mention of César at Lorenz and Janssen, the Amsterdam temple of Bourgogne, produced gales of laughter. so we were feeling altogether pretty sorry for Cesar.

Then, we don't remember how or when, the name leaped out of a London merchant's winelist. Jackson Nugent of Wimbledon are the agency for Casa Silva and a bottle of César was available from them if we were willing to pay them a call. We're glad we acted promptly because this wine no longer appears on Casa Silva's website and may no longer be produced.

The handsome Silva family, producers of Romano in Chile.
Not surprisingly Casa Silva is not a Burgundian estate. It is in the Colchagua valley, Chile. 'Wine Grapes' mentions that the grape was planted in Isla de Maipo under the name Romano. Little of it remains because it has excessive yields and ripens poorly.

'Wine Grapes' hints that 'it is uncertain if this [Romano] is the same variety [as César].

More work needs to be done, we say, beginning with opening that bottle.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

In praise of Le P'tit Bio, Maubec.

In the titchy village of Maubec near Oppede le Vieux in the Luberon there is a tiny grocery called 'Le P'tit bio.'





It's one of those places where it looks as if they have not much but in fact they have everything. Mangos? Sure - fresh or dried?

Of course everthing is Bio as the name suggests.


There is an adorable couple, Julie and Vincent who own and run the place. Their excellent English they say was learned by watching 'The Crown' to which they became addicted. If you think we're suffering from holiday-euphoria, take a look at some of the rave reviews satified customers have posted on Facebook;

Très accueillant, de très bons produits mais aussi la livraison qui est très pratique.... Merci Julie et Vincent pour vos conseils...

Super accueil et très sympathique, des fruits et légumes de très bonne qualité, quel bonheur de pouvoir manger des produits sains et délicieux!!!
Je recommande fortement

Qualité des produits très bonne et accueil exceptionnel

Super accueil, supers produits, excellents conseils et bonnes découvertes !

D’excellents produits bio à des prix très raisonnables et cerise sur le gâteau des conseils avisés des deux propriétaires passionnés sympathiques et souriants. Je recommence absolument et je fréquente assidûment. J’ai trouvé mon magasin 

Très contente d’avoir ce petit producteur bio sur la commune : très accueillants et pleins de conseils, des beaux produits, j’ai hâte d’essayer les jus avec les feuilles de patates douces riches en vitamines...

There are any number of similar testimonials but none of them mentions the wine that can be found at Le P'Tit Bio. Strange because the choice is exceptional if you like your wine bio.

We were particularly intrigued by natural wines made locally by Domaine Val de Combrès. Vincent told us this really was a local operation. He actually takes part in the vendange and winemaking. We are guests of dear friends in the area on an annual basis and have watched the wines from the Luberon go from obscurity to a supermarket near you but we had never heard of Domaine Val de Combrès. 

We immediately bought 'Ghost in ze bottle' because it is made from the Gros Vert grape. This is indeed a rarity in wine because Gros Vert is actually a dessert grape. There is a grey area between dessert grapes and wine grapes. Basically there aren't many wine grapes worth eating and not many dessert grapes worth making wine with but wine is made from those in the middle. This example was so delicious that we went back to Le P'tit Bio and bought another bottle plus

a bottle of red called Ivresse des Profondeurs from 45% Grenache, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Syrah and the remaining 15% unspecified. 

The third wine was called 'La tempete Eparpouille', a blanc de noirs (100% Grenache noir). Delicious.

The Domaine Val de Combrès is characterised as follows;

Artisanal winemaker, production of organic, natural, sulfite-free wines in native yeasts. Established in 2013 on 4 hectares, the cultivation is organic and biodynamic in animal traction. Artisanal production (about 10000 bottles/year) of natural wines without sulphites, with only the yeast of the grapes. All 3 colors are produced.

Amazing to have them as your local winemakers and for sale at your local 'Le P'tit Bio.'

Les Affranchis, Paris, 2019

 On the same day as the Concours Amphore in Paris, there was a show called 'Les Affranchis.' Also devoted to Natural Wine. This fair has been going already for some years and attracts a young and 'branché' crowd.

The name Affranchi  refers to the fact that the wines have been made in the main free of any rules or regulations.

Zipping round we discovered Nicolas Camarans having a spot of lunch.

We had come across his wines at L'Etiquette and were intrigued that he was growing Chenin in the Aveyron, not far from St. Come D'Olt where the Rencontres de Cepages Modestes takes place. Other cepages include Fer Servadou, Negret de Banhars, and Cabernet Franc.

Nicolas was owned and ran a bar in Paris but decided to go back to the family's native village where his forbears had been vignerons. The vineyards ahd been abandoned after the terrible frost of 1956 and Camarens nursed them back to life and now produces famous wines under the name 'Mauvais Temps' (the name of his house there) which can be found at Chambers St. Wines and Flatiron in New York, The Smiling Grape company in the UK, as well as in Australia, Switzerland and of course in many places in France.

It is a great pleasure and privilege to meet such producers who merit a pilgrimage themselves rather than hauling their wines to these events, sometimes on the other side of the world.

Another Chambers Street wine was Puzelat, the prominent Loire producer. We know the wines of Thierry Puzelat under the name of Clos du Tue Boeuf. Unusual grapes include Fie Gris, Menu Pinot and Romorantin. The Puzelat website claims nicely 'For the Puzelats, making wine entails positioning as an intermediary between the soil and the glass of wine.'

We were unaware that the family are also involved as agents for some of the other big names in Natural Wine.

Arianna Occhipinti
Cascina Tavijn
Dario Princic
Pheasants Tears
Vinos Ambiz

and many other prominent natural wine and even Sake producers.

During our quick tour (we had a train to catch), we almost ignored the sole representative of Chile but there was something atypical about their labels so we paused for a moment. In this way we were introduced to the wines of Antoine and Dorothee Luyt. Luyt is another house imported by Puzelat and stocked by Chambers Street Wines by the way.

The story of how Louis-Antoire Luyt from Bourgogne found himself making natural wine in a remote part Maule in Chile is picaresque to say the least. It involved a move to Chile following discontent with Europe, disillusionmment with Chilean wine, a spell washing dishes in a restaurant, setting up a winery, a catastrophic earthquake and the rebuilding of his operation.

Today his Clos Ouvert wines are celebrated internationally. He farms Pais vines - some up to 300 years old - as well as growing and/or buying in Carignan, Carmenere, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Muscat of Alexandria for the whites.

We think this might be a pipeño behind the bottle but images are hard to come by.
A feature of Luyt's wines is the use of Pipeños in the Chilean peasant tradition. He describes them as more about the grape varieties than terroir. Now that's right iconoclastic for a Frenchman.

The wines themselves are completely different from anything you might associate with Chile. They are totally delightful and adorable. We made enquiries immediately as to how we could lay our hands on those not already available in the UK at Buon Vino, Yorkshire. They may be imported from Zoe Puzelat at Tue Boeuf or Chabrol wines in Amsterdam.

A day spent at the Concours Amphore and Les Affranchis was certainly packed with interest. Recommended.