Saturday, 2 May 2015

Wine storage at The Breakers, Palm Beach

 West Palm Beach boasts the 'first and only grand piano fully covered in genuine alligator skin'.

 Not to mention dedicated pooch buggies.

But these weren't the only singularites to be found.

award winning

Blue Chip

At the famous Breakers Hotel, in full view, a series of enormous wine storage and display cases. Before judging these to be unnecessarily fetishising, you have to remember this is South Florida - not the easiest place to store wine and keep it fresh. The Caribbean is only a hop away and the chances of finding a well-stored bottle there are slimmer than most places. No wonder The Breakers has won the Wine Spectator Grand Award.

There is a fun bar with tropical fish under the counter. Quite possibly the first and only one in West Palm Beach?


nice place

Monday, 27 April 2015


Image result for beethoven father grandfather
Ludwig Van Beethoven

The Beethoven family were musicians with connections to the wine trade. The composer's Great Great Grandfather Guillaume Van Beethoven had been a wine merchant in Antwerp. Ludwig's grandfather, Ludwig the Kapellmeister had also dealt in wine.

Image result for beethoven father grandfather
Johann Van Beethoven

and his father, Johann the Court Singer had also tried his hand in dealing in wine but is better remembered as an alcoholic. Beethoven himself was only a consumer but frequently used wine imagery in his letters and conversations.

'Wine is both necessary and good for me' Ludwig van Beethoven                

No mean imbiber but by the standards of the day, he was not held to be an excessive drinker. One source pointed out that he drank only one bottle of wine with his meal and when he tried to out-drink his guest from England, Sir George Smart he came off the worse.

Thayer, Beethoven's first serious biographer had the following to say about the unreliable memoir by Schindler which preceded it:

"his (Schindler's) earlier assumption, that in order to exhibit his influence to the public, Holz (Schindler's successor as Beethoven's assistant) led Beethoven into company and practices which he would otherwise have avoided, among them to the frequenting of taverns and to excessive wine-bibbing., were subsequently developed into an accusation that Holz had spread a report that the composer had contracted Dropsy from vinous indulgence. Beethoven was accustomed to drink wine from his youth up, and also in companionship  which he found at the inns and coffe houses of Vienna which are not to be confounded with the groggeries with which straight-laced Americans and Englishmen are prone to associate with the words. It was moreover undoubtedly a charitable act to drag him out of his isolation into cheerful company. We know that his physician found it difficult to make him obey their prohibition of wine...when he was ill., but that he was more given to wine-drinking in 1826 and 1826 than at any other period we learn only from Schindler, whose credibility as a witness on this point is impeached by the fact that, as he himself confesses, he seldom saw Beethoven between March 1825 and August 1826."

He was to some extent a discriminating drinker. Tokay was brought out for guests. When Stumpff, a German living in London visited him he reported

"Beethoven now produced the small bottle. It contained the precious wine of Tokay with which he filled the two glasses to the brim." 

On the other hand, Treitscke called on him when he had forgotten to turn up for a rehearsal and reported "beside him stood a goblet of wine with a biscuit in it".

He always held the wines of his native Rhineland in highest regard and thought little of the wine that was available in Vienna. This was mostly from the surrounding districts such as Voslau and Gumpoldskirchen (which he usually referred to as Krumpholz-Kirchen). He often complained that it was adulterated and indeed it may have been. Lead was commonly added to remove bitterness from wine and large quantities have been found in Beethoven's remains.

During his last illness he wrote to one of his publishers, Schott Soehne of Mainz, asking them to send some good Rhine wine which they did.

"I am allowed to drink Champagne...At first (Dr.) Malfatti wanted only Mosel but he assered there was none genuine to be obtained here; he therefore himself gave me several bottles of Krumpholz-Kirchen and claims that it is the best for my health, since no Mosel is to be had. Pardon me for being a burden, and ascribe it to my helpless condition.

They seem to have sent Champagne since he then wrote; "How shall I thank you enough for the Champagne? How greatly it refreshed me and will continue to do so!"

In his very last letter he wrote "concerning the wine, they consider the Grinzinger beneficial but prefer old Krumpholz-Kirchen over all others." In conversations thereafter and closer to his death there was reportedly 'considerable talk about wine'. If it was judged to be bad for him no one wanted to deprive him of what pleasure it gave considering the inevitability of his end.

Schott sent 12 bottles of Ruedesheimer Berg in March 1827.  They arrived on the 24th. His very last words (on learning of the wine's arrival) had been 'Pity, pity, too late.' In the autopsy performed after his death on March 26th, it was found that he had Cirrhosis of the Liver so drinking had hardly been good for him.

Nonetheless, water may have been even worse. Water was used for washing and cooking but was not safe to drink. Indeed cirrhosis can be caused by hepatitis due to impure water. Wine and beer was drunk by everyone instead; man, women and child. The daily consumption of wine in Mozart's Vienna had been a litre per inhabitant per day.

Beethoven frequently used wine imagery in his letters and conversation. The best known is this:

Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy, it is the wine of a new procreation, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for men and makes them drunk with the spirit.  

and again;

"When I open my eyes I must sigh, for what I see is contrary to my religion, and I must despise the world which does not know that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy, the wine which inspires one to new generative processes and I am the Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken."

Wine was also a social lubricant for Beethoven. He would set out a bottle of wine for himself and two for a guest when entertaining. On one occasion he drank Champagne to excess in company and was unable to compose the following day but this was an exception.
For most of his life, he took his meals in inns and other eating establishments. People knew where he was to be found and frequently joined him. Because of his deafness he would hold court on these occasions delivering a monologue rather than engage in the difficult process of conversation. This entailed a lot of shouting into his ear, sometimes screaming or else writing in his conversation books. The alternative was to dine alone which seems to have been the rule. At those times he was seen to have been lost in thought. He also was an avid reader of newspapers which were and still are provided in Viennese eating establishments. The temptation to drink must have been present even if water has been an option.
Here is a famous note to his friend Zmeskall.  
Let us meet at seven this evening at the Schwann and drink more of their disgusting red wine.
There is a great deal that is poignant in Beethoven's life but there is some truth in Stockhausen's assessment of him as 'a miserable human being.' One of his last words was 'My day's work is done.' A touching understatement. Would he have lived longer had he been a teetotaler? In the end both his deafness and his death have been ascribed to Syphillis.


Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Mr. Vermentino Nero: Pierpaolo Lorieri of Podere Scurtarola

While in the region of the Alpi Apuani Colli di Candia and that of the Colli Luni in the Lunigiana, we determined to seek out the distinguished Viticulturalist, Ampelologist and winemaker Pierpaolo Lorieri. 

We had tried to find his property, Azienda Agricola Podere Scurtarola last year in order to buy his wine and take a look at the terroir but asking for 'Scurtarola' instead of 'Lorieri' drew a blank, probably because Scurtarola means short-cut in the local dialect.

Indeed the vineyard is midway between Massa and Carrara along a vertiginous route which is indeed a short-cut between the twin towns. We were first alerted to this property and its guiding spirit by Fred Plotkin in 'Italy for the Gourmet Traveller' who pays fulsome tribute to Lorieri's hospitality (Scurtarola is also an Agriturismo) and learning:

Rosanna and Pierpaolo have an innate understanding of the meaning of hospitality, which is, after all, an art. But like all great artists, they make their work seem effortless. PierPaolo says he hopes people who arrive as strangers will depart as friends.

We corresponded about our visit and it was indeed Sr. Lorieri who kindly conducted the correspondence even up to recommending nearby hotels and finally leaving us in the capable hands of his assistant Arianna who arranged to meet us at Macdonalds on the Carrara-Massa road (where else?) and drive us up to Scurtarola.

It turned out we were not to meet the great man himself on this occasion as he had been invited to give a lecture at the Wine Fair in Tampa, Florida but we had the good fortune to meet Sra. Rosanna Lorieri, his wife. He is internationally known for his long  researches into grape varieties, often together with the University of Arezzo. He is also Presidente dell'Associazione Strada del Vino “Colli di Candia e Lunigiana".

This is how he tells the story about how he came to revive Vermentino Nero:

The Vermentino Nero grape, exclusive grape from the Apuan area, was abandoned by the makeshift wine makers of the post-war-period, but always remembered by their fathers and grandfathers. My father told me about it, and I did not listen. In 1987 my friend Fucigna asked me to produce the Vermentino Nero in purezza. But I, skeptical, became curious and due to the promise I really did produced it in 1989.

This is how Vermentino Nero was born. I started traveling to find possible synonymous that do not exist; I started studying about making of red wines in the soil of whites, about long-living wines in area of fast wines. And the continued contradiction of a culture which wants to mix together the grape in the vineyard and in the winecellar. Avant-guard of new ideas.

Today, after having selected some biotypes in the farm, I start to harvest the fruits in the vineyard. The wine making of Vermentino is easy: perfect grape, low yield per hectar, maximum of concentration, long maceration with the skins, long aging in kegs, continued control of taste, bottling, refinement in bottle. Nearly academic. But that's the way it is.

A simple method, precisely for a long-living product, almost 13 years (in September 2003 I opened a bottle from 1990) with a bouquet of undergrowth, colour... black, warm taste, full, smooth. In short: a wine makes you eat and drink with the same glass.

Arianna told me that Sr. Lorieri has made a study of countless other little-known and forgotten grape varieties and makes trials with them with the goal of reviving another Vermentino Nero one day. 

He also works with companies to mechanize the work in the extreme vineyards of the area. They have produced a special miniature tractor for work on the terraces. 

Apparently, one man could carry two baskets full of grapes from the bottom of the hill in the old days whereas now it takes two to carry one.

On our drive up the Via dell'Uva to Podere Scurtarola, Arianna kept such statistics coming fast and furious. There are 4 hectares belonging to Scurtarola out of 400 hectares cultivated between Massa and Carrara, some of which are at an incline of 80%. Pierpaolo Lorieri has a collection of 51 different vine varieties of which 36 are from the area and 4 are completely unknown. There are 1,000 growers in this zone. For the last 4 years, landslides (frane) have bedeviled the area and hectares have been lost.

Scurtarola make 6 different wines, 

'Gocce di Pietra' a blend of Vermentino (75%), Albarola (10%), Trebbiano (10%) and Malvasia (5%) 

'Luci del Tramonto', a sweet version of Gocce di Pietra with the same blend

Vermentino Bianco

Scurtarola Rosso, Sangiovese (40%), Massaretta (20%), Cilegiolo (20%) and Buonamico (20%)

Vernero (Vermentino Nero 100%) 

Federico I, a Passito made with Vermentino, Albarola, Trebbiano, Malvasia and Bosco.

There is also a sparkling wine and a Grappa. 

Arianna, our well informed guide

Arianna also showed us the meeting and dining room at the house. One can imagine the evenings described by Plotkin at which Pierpaolo Lorieri dispenses his famous hospitality while enlightening his listeners with information about his researches and discoveries.

We were not able to secure a bottle of Scurtarola Rosso but we did manage to get one of the Vermentino Nero. The Gocce di Pietra sounds interesting as do the others for another time.

Pierpaolo Lorieri is a primary candidate for the Slotovino Wine Personality of the Year award and that is without even having met him!

There is much more to this fascinating region. Missing from our survey of the area this time were the wines of Cima, a young and energetic producer with a good reputation.

 and the wines of Tenuta Palatina whose very enjoyable Negreto was our introduction to the area.

We should also mention Testaroli, the pasta of Pontremoli. Its idiosyncratic form allows Pesto Genovese to stick to it nicely. Plotkin pays homage to Rosanna Lorieri's oven baked testaroli: 'crepes of a sort that is cut then tossed with oil and cheese or pesto.'

In her book 'Treading grapes. Walking through the vineyards of Tuscany' Rosemary George MW refers to Candia dei Colli Apuani, Colli di Luni and the Val di Magra as a lost corner of Tuscany. Together with the Garfagnana it seems to us to play the same role as the trans-frontier region of Vinho Verde, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro of Portugal and Spain: unique varieties bearing no relation to the usual and so little known as to be unfamiliar at times even in their own regions. Isn't that amazing?

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Freiburg, Dangolsheim and Geilweilerhof

One of our most interesting experiences in the field of Viticulture had been our visit to Geisenheim a couple of years ago and so when the opportunity presented itself, we decided to pay a call on the other two famous German institutes at Freiburg-im-Breisgau (Staatliches Weinbauinstitut) and Siebeldingen (the Julius Kuehn Institut at Geilweilerhof). This was not unconnected with the time of year in our little experimental vineyard in the Thames Valley. Always on the lookout for the latest advances in PIWI varieties for planting, we hoped to find out what the latest research had produced.

Our UK source Derek Pritchard of Dunkery Vineyards in Somerset had recommended Souvignier Gris as something to plant. We noticed that it was the Staatliches Weinbauinstitut Freiburg that had developed this variety - a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronner.

We can't recommend a visit to these research institutes highly enough. One is received by appointment by the most senior staff available who are only too happy to spend their valuable time sharing their discoveries with small-fry hobbyists such as ourselves and opening bottles for tasting from their micro-vinifications from the many grapes they are breeding. This is hugely informative and exciting because it represents the future for many growers in marginal or difficult climates whether in the North or in the Tropics and increasingly in traditional wine-growing areas where sprays against weeds, insects, diseases and so forth are on the point of being outlawed,

We have seen in this blog that this is the case in Italy where copper will be banned from 2017 and growers are rushing to plant Solaris and other No-Spray varieties to beat the ban. Solaris was developed in Freiburg.

Indeed, some of the most successful resistant Hybrids have been produced there and from the other two famous institutes. The best known among these are


Cabernet Cortis





Immense progress has been made since the early hybrids such as Triomphe d'Alsace, Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, Madeleine Angevin, Seyval Blanc, Seyve-Villard etc. Now 'foxy' flavours are a thing of the past and some varieties have been granted Vinifera status even though their ancestry is far from 100% Vinifera. Even these institutes are beginning to withdraw varieties only a few years old because they have better ones to replace them. At Geilweilerhof for example we were told that Sirius and Orion had now been replaced by Calardis Blanc and Felicia.

Our first appointment was in Freiburg, a city well known to us from the German studies of our youth. In those days (early 60s), the wines of Baden were not as highly considered as they are now, so together with the Weinbauinstitut, progress is in the air.

We were received by Ernst Weinmann, Referatsleiter Weinbau, Versuchswesen and his associate, both immensely knowledgeable and helpful. They immediately gave us fact sheets on most of their current varieties which we sorted out into different piles once it was clear that we already had Johanniter, Helios and Solaris but were interested in other resistant vines demanding the least attention but which grew vigorously in an upright direction (some tend to grow quite a lot sideways which entails a lot of pruning).

Here immediately was the one we had come to learn about; Souvignier Gris

Cabernet Cortis and Prior may not be suitable for the UK

Bronner (White) and Monarch (Red)
two reds

Muscaris white

We tasted the Souvignier Gris first. Rumours as to its similarity to Sauvignon Blanc were well founded and we decided then and there that this was a variety for us.

The Muscaris didn't persuade us to alter our decision to go with Souvignier Gris.

This Cabernet Cortis was made by an Austrian gentleman well into his 80s. It was in a Halbtrocken style which didn't obliterate the Cabernet Cortis from the Ahr we had enjoyed a few years back.

The great thing about Freiburg im Breisgau is that in minutes you can be in Switzerland or France, or rather Alsace. We had decided to visit a Pepiniere or plant nursery in a place enjoying the name Dangolsheim. The reason was that they had some Knipperle vines. Knipperle is an offspring of Gouais Blanc as so many grapes are. It used to be found all over Alsace in the 19th century but gradually lost ground being relegated to Zwicker blends (NB. not even Edelzwicker) due to its tendency towards neutrality and finally relegation to the dustbin by the powers that be who limited permitted grapes in Alsace to just a handful from the dozens which were to be found there previously. Knipperle is also a parent of our Sorgenkind, Triomphe d'Alsace.

Vincent Zerr is the owner of Pepiniere des Boarmies. You can get an idea of what he is about from the welcome on his website;

Pépinièriste viticole et collectionneur depuis 1987
Producteur de plants de vigne pour
Les amateurs et les passionnés
Variétés anciennes et nouvelles
Pour les raisins de table
Pour la décoration
Pour la collection

His wife and son run the bakery where grape juice from unspecified varieties were on offer. 

M. Zerr took us down the hill to his tunnels. He explained that he has 470 varieties of vine in his collection. That is Fourhundredandseventyvinevarieties only! They are mostly dessert grapes. If some vine grapes are present it is purely down to the conservation of historic varieties of Alsace-Lorraine. For legal reasons these cannot be used to make wine or anything else. That is why it is impossible to taste wine made from Knipperle anymore.

Knipperle vine en route tits final destination


finally in place complete with passport

How he was able to pluck out a Knipperle we can't imagine. Like most of the others it's not even on his website. 

We were also attracted to something called 'Raisin de la Terre Promise'.

Raisins de la Terre Promise held up for scale by the young Zerr fils
  Looking it up, it is so named due to its huge grapes, fabled to be the ones brought to Moses by his men sent to spy out the land of Canaan.  

Image result for raisin de la terre promise
as the bible would have it
Kora Shonneol

Kelim Bormok, Kelim al Bormok or Kelim al Barmak

Similar varieties, Kora Shonneol and Kelim Bormok come from Uzbekistan and are among the most exotic of M. Zerr's collection. Strangely enough, Raisin de la Terre Promise is found in modern day Israel where it is known as Neheleshol. It also occurs in South Africa where it is called Palestine, Palestinian or Grape of Palestine and Romania where it makes unremarkable wines. Perhaps not surprising for a dessert grape.

Raisin de la Terre Promise has now found a home in Spain, our next stop

On the website other obscure varieties included

Baco Noir (sold out!)
Muscat Bleu
Precoce de Malingre


M. Zerr's experimental vineyard beyond two of his 50 Apricot trees.

Not content with his 470 grape varieties, M. Zerr is also into Apricot Trees (50 varieties) and wheat. He offered to show us his wheat varieties but we declined.

In conversation we learned that there is an Alsacian association of like-minded people devoted to maintaining their heritage of bio-diversity. The association is called Kerna un sohma - Pips and nuts in Alsacian dialect. M. Zerr was convinced the EU was hypocritical in banning all but a few varieties of vine, wheat, apricots etc. always making out it was for sanitary reasons whereas in practice this gave opportunities to commercial interests selling seed etc. He hinted that there might be  growers below the radar who persisted with the old ways.

M. Zerr is not an eccentric or a hobbyist; he is consulted in many countries (he has even been to the Republic of Congo to advise on the creation of a vineyard) and has a client list all over the world.We were fortunate indeed to meet him and hear about his important work and grateful to take away two vines in plastic pots; a first for Slotovino.

Next, Geilweilerhof, near Landau, north of Karlsruhe.

The approach takes one up a so-called Rebenlehrpfad dotted with notices explaining matters for the uninitiated.

We had see photos of Geilweilerhof and its tower and other features had given it a slightly sinister atmosphere but apparently this has nothing to do with the Julius Kuhn Institute having been built by the previous owners.

The Institute itself is housed in this more modern building

Indeed the Director, Dr. Reinhard Toepfer (left) and his colleague Rudolf Eibach in charge of Zuechtung (breeding) couldn't have been more charming and welcoming.

Our conversation followed a similar course as that in Freiburg and similar tech sheets were produced;

GF.92-22-6 and Felicia

Calandro and Reberger

Gf.Ga - 52 - 42 and Villaris

We had already put in a few minutes research in the tasting room and Felicia had already made an excellent impression. Dr. Toepfer and Herr Eibach recommended Calandro and Reberger in particular.

We later tasted these in the tasting room and bought a bottle of Felicia which we drank with pleasure a couple of nights later.

On enquiring if there was a good 'Rebschule' neaby, they referred us to Rebschule Wolf in Umstein, a suburb of Bad Duerkheim. 

So bidding Geilweilerhof Auf Wiedersehen, we trundled off to Umstein which is positively heaving with Rebschule, one actually called Krapp.

But here was Wolfs Brunnen, Winzer. Weinprobe, Verkauf (Wolf's Spring, Producer, Wine-tasting, Sales)

Frau Wolf, left and colleague preparing vines for planting

Entering with some trepidation we were asked by Frau Wolf what our visit was about and when we mentioned vines she asked which ones we wanted. We asked her which ones she had. That is a question which has caused consternation before at other Rebschule. Stocktaking at the end of a no doubt busy season must be well nigh impossible. We were actually after Souvignier Gris. Frau Wolf conducted us into the presence of her husband in an inner sanctum. Herr Wolf turned out to be a very jovial character delighted to help.

He decided that what we wanted was GF.93-22-6, a crossing of GF.GA-47-42 (Bacchus x Seyval) x Seyve Villard 39-639.

It became clear we were not going to leave without 25 Stueck of this variety. Even the obligatory agreement with Geilweilerhof could be sent for our signature. Meanwhile a bundle of vines in a brown plastic bag was loaded onto us.

We didn't object as we had taken a shine to the Wolfs and reckoned they knew what they were talking about. We also have a faiblesse for varieties so obscure they don't have a name yet. We might put  GF.93-22-6 next to our GM8107-3.

Herr Wolf then conducted us to the tasting room where he urged a sample of something called Aromera on us.  It came from a colleague; a Rebschule in Austria.

the Wolf's gemuetlich tasting room

He also urged us to return in July when up to 1,000 people descend on his property to taste up to 36 wines he makes in micro-vinification so buyers of his vines may know what to expect.

Later we learned that Freiburg had located 25 1 metre long vines of Souvignier Gris for us. How kind everyone is in the world of Rebschule and wine research institutes.