Thursday, 2 October 2014

Wink Lorch's Jura

Our love of Jura wine increases slowly but inexorably. At first, it seemed rather repellant but as we always say what you may hate has the potential to become something you love; only indifference is likely to endure.

Jura certainly has a claim to be one of the world's most interesting wine-producing areas. It is small, relatively remote and has tremendously characterful indigenous grape varieties including Savagnin, Melon a queue rouge (a local variant of Chardonnay), Poulsard and Trousseau . There are others however about which growers keep quiet: Argant, Gueuche Noir, Mezy, Enfarine, Petit and Gros Beclan (aka Peloursin), Reze, Sacy Blanc, Peurion and Corbeau are also grown even if they are not indiginous.

Jura has also not been industrialized or even commercialized to any degree.Its wines are not widely available. They need to be sought-out. The people of the region also seem to be characterful, unspoilt and interesting. Besancon was the scene of a terrible massacre after the revolution. The town remained royalist and suffered so badly for it that it has never really recovered. Great Jurassiens have included Pierre-Joseph Prudhon, Victor Hugo, Gustave Courbet, Louis Pasteur (rather important for wine the world over) the Lumiere brothers and in our day, Raymond Blanc who writes a warm forward to this new - ish book by the eminent wine writer Wink Lorch.

The Jura received excellent coverage in Andrew Jefford's 'The New France' but this is the first entire book we know of in English given over to the region and excellent it is too. We have mentioned it already in this blog but were side-tracked by the fact we were to spend the summer in Italy and so have needed to give our attention to Ian D'Agata's no less welcome 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy'. Now we are able to return to 'Jura Wine' and give it our full attention and appreciation.

It is a tremendous achievement of years of research and study. One cannot imagine any stone that has been unturned but Wink Lorch knows one or two and apologizes in the very few instances where her knowledge is not completely authoritative. In short, everything down to the occupations of the Jura winemakers' siblings is included so as to make the book what one imagines is the last word on the subject - at least for the time being. Of course the world of wine is moving very fast these days and we hope that Wink Lorch will have the opportunity to keep this marvelous treasure chest of information up to date in further editions.

We hope so but getting the first edition onto the market was difficult. It was self-published via a Kickstarter campaign to which we were proud to have contributed. It was Chambers Wines of New York in the person of Sophie Barrett who invited those on their mailing list to participate. It has been well worth it from everybody's perspective.

We hope the book will encourage wider appreciation of Jura wine and also others to publish works on wine-growing areas in need of closer attention.This is a model example of how to do it!

Slotovino cash prize competition, 2014.

We were so chuffed with our blend of Solaris and Mueller Thurgau being also found in a respected and serious vineyard such as Sedlescombe (see the two posts below) that we wondered what other home blends might work.

Should we hold another Slotovino competition? The last one in 2012 was for the first person to find out what grapes went into the S. Korean red wine 'Happy Day'.

An American gentleman from Rockville, MD was actually able to tell us that one of the grapes was Campbell Early and we sent him the cash prize of 100 Korean Won. This time we could have entrants suggest hitherto untried blends and choose the most resonant one. Perhaps L'En de l'oeil and Koshu to make a beautifully fragrant white for example or a red from maybe Groppello and Corvina. You see, it doesn't have to be exotic, and now we mention it why hasn't someone blended Groppello with Corvina already?

Look out for the announcement of this 2014 edition; once again there will be a munificent cash prize.

No-spray vines - post scriptum

Can you make out the print on the label, dear Slotovino reader? It is the back label of Sedlescombe's white wine from 2013. What does it say under 'Varieties'? Can you see 'Solaris and Rivaner'?

If you have read our last post (the one just below this one) you might remember in Trento this summer we found lots of Solaris and it was not to our taste being rather too sweet for what was not intended as a dessert wine. We cut it with some disappointingly acidic Mueller Thurgau to make something - to our surprise - quite drinkable. We even recommended this as a  home blend in case by some extreme coincidence anyone found themselves with two opened bottles at the same time: one of Solaris and one of Mueller-Thurgau.

Well, if you haven't already guessed, Rivaner is just another name for Mueller Thurgau. Coincidence of was it great minds thinking alike? What are the chances of that?

Sedlescombe is one of the tiny handful of English Organic wine producers (Demeter certified, no less). We have admired their Regent in the past. Sedlescombe is near Hastings in Sussex.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Something new: No-spray vines.

We have been aware of the variety Solaris (first launched in Freiburg in 1975) for a while now: we even planted a few Solaris vines ourselves and have seen the first small sweet berries this year. It is a very obliging variety - basically you just have to prune it and it produces vigorous cane and leaf growth in the most unpromising sites. It is even grown in Denmark, Sweden and even Norway .The wine has the reputation of being rather sweet. It's forebears are complicated indeed. Some of them are hybrid (Seyve Villard, Zarya Severna) but plenty are not (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat Ottonel) so it has crept into the Vinifera classifiction under the wire so to speak, despite a couple of skeletons in the cupboard and was legalized in Italy in 2011.

An English Solaris seen at the 2014 London Wine Fair

We are not on hand to tend our vines at all times so varieties that need spraying against typical diseases such as Powdery and Downy Mildew are a problem, especially in a place like England where if truth be told, a very great deal of chemical assistance is necessary for any but the most resistant varieties.

Solaris is only one of these. Others include Sirius, Helios, Orion, Phoenix and Johanniter for the whites and Regent and Rondo for the reds - and that is just in our little experimental vineyard.

So it was with some surprise this summer to discover several Italian wines from the Trentino made from Solaris in purezza. As if the Italians don't have enough grape varieties of their own! Well, the reason seems to be a new attempt to combine the purity of organic farming with producing a dependable crop. The hardworking organic/biological/bio-dynamic producers still have to spray (they use natural tisanes and suchlike) and are quite used to losing sizable portions of their production to diseases.

Here they seem to cottoned on to the idea that they can have it all with minimum effort and market the results positively as 'No-spray' wines.

At Enoteca Valsugana near Trento there were  two Solaris wines, one by the well known local producer Pojer e Sandri called Zero Infinito. Here is how Pojer e Sandri trailed this wine before launching their first vintage last year (could that scentence beginning "ZERO "DERIVA" be an attempt to allay possible fears about Solaris being a GM crop?);

Quindi ZERO fungicidi e ZERO insetticidi contro la tignola dell’uva. ZERO “DERIVA” in quanto il vigneto è inserito e protetto da un bosco di 50 ettari in montagna a 800 – 900 m s.l. mare, un “salvagente” che fa da barriera ad eventuali trattamenti fatti dai confinanti. La stessa vinificazione non prevede alcun intervento chimico esterno: ZERO solforosa, ZERO lieviti commerciali liofilizzati, ZERO chiarificanti, ZERO filtrazioni, ZERO antiossidanti (il lievito indigeno diventa l’antiossidante naturale del vino). Una tecnica ancestrale per arrivare ad un vino bianco frizzante, naturale, col fondo, a ZERO impatto chimico. 

The other was by Santa Colomba who advertise this as

Solaris SANTACOLOMBA "Più forte della Magia" Varietà resistente alle malattie della vite

This was starting to look like the Philosopher's Stone of wine, so when we came across yet another example, this time by Pravis (Slotovino's Vigneron of the year 2010/11) we bough the bottle. Strangely enough, Pravis's website doesn't mention this wine yet but a merchant who carries it continues with the general tenor of praise for the miracle Solaris grape;

Il solaris è una varietà nuova, ancora non molto diffusa in Italia, che si caratterizza per la naturale resistenza ad alcune delle più diffuse malattie della vite. Si tratta infatti di una pianta creata in laboratorio capace di resistere a peronospera e oidio, che permette così all’uomo di eliminare del tutto qualsiasi tipo di intervento chimico, in vigna. Quello che ne deriva è un vino bianco fresco e piacevole, di gran beva.

The proof of the pudding? It didn't appeal to the discriminating Mrs Slotovino, nor to friends who might have erred on the side of politeness. By chance at the same meal we had opened a bottle of rather mean Trentino Mueller Thurgau (which can be good by the way) and so by putting both disappointments together, produced something quite acceptable. Home blending doesn't often work but this time it did (try 50/50 if you ever find yourself in the same predicament).

The English Solaris was better than the Italian one for the obvious reason that it had more acidity but the question remained as to why the Italians have alighted on this particular disease-resistant variety to the exclusion of so many other more promising ones. We even heard from our friend Giuseppe Ferrua of Fabbrica San Martino in the Colli Lucchese that someone had suggested Solaris to him as a Demeter accredited producer. Perhaps when the Italian Government add some of the other new No-spray varieties to their list of permitted grapes the scene will change? There are so many more promising varieties than Solaris in our view.

This year Italy and the UK swapped summer weather with Italy with us basking in veritable Mediterranean sunshine while Italy has suffered such a miserable season that production is down 30% with places such as Puglia and Sicilia especially hard hit. Those who have planted Solaris will be thanking their lucky stars.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Trento, Trient, Trent

Most people know that both German and Italian are spoken in the provinces of Trentino and Alto Adige but in Trentino alone there are at least 3 distinctive dialects as well. They are Ladin, Mocheno and Cimbrian. Nones is also spoken but is close to Ladin so is not generally regarded as a separate language. Don't confuse Ladin with Ladino by the way; Ladino Spanish as spoken by Sefardi Jews.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, where there is linguistic diversity one shouldn't be surprised to find all kinds of other diversity including diversity of grape varieties which makes the connection between the survival and continued use of different grapes as much cultural as agricultural.

A little preparatory research before our trip to the Trentino this summer revealed the following local grape varieties, mostly thanks - again - to D'Agata ('Native Wine Grapes of Italy');

Fruhroter Veltliner
Nero di Baisi

We had already come across Enantio, Nosiola, Peverella and Rossara but were very interested to track down the rest. Research also uncovered Wanderbara which we erroneously said doesn't get mentioned in D'Agata but in fact it does! It just doesn't make it into the index although it appears under Verdealbara together with something called Maor as a lesser cultivar.

Our mission was to find the rarissimo Wanderbara. We discovered it was a constituent of a white wine called 'Blanc de Sers' (evidently French is yet another language of the region!). This wine is a blend of Veltliner Rosato, Nosiola, Vernaza and Wanderbara. All we had to go on was that it came from Serso, near Pergine Valsugana not far from Trento. We ambled around Pergine past signs to Pomarol and Isere before realizing we were on the wrong side of the Autostrada. 

After many a false turn and having to return to HQ and start again the following day we finally found ourselves at the church vineyard in Serso. 

Could this be the mysterious Wanderbara? Our ampelogical knowledge is non-existent so we trudged up the hill where we found what looked like a paesano and his mum. They were taking a break in a shack so we took care not to startle them by harrumphing at several yards distance but surprised they were when we asked them which grapes might be Wanderbara. 

They had also not heard of Veltliner Rosato even though a sign in a vineyard just before Serso proudly proclaimed the growth of that variety. Vernaza rang a bell so probably that is what was growing here. We suppose Vernaza = Vernaccia by the way but will be happy to be corrected on this as on everything else in this blog.

We can't say how assiduously we tried to find the Wanderbara vineyards. We even asked at a local bar and the barista was kind enough to say he knew the person who made the wine and that this person was out of town. He could introduce us to his mother if we liked! With Slotovino reticence we declined to disturb the 'anziana'. Finally we understood the vineyards were a bit further on in the Valley of the Mocheni. 

All we knew is that the vineyards were "on a slope, is well ventilated and are exposed to sunlight all day long."

We found the actual wine Blanc de Sers from Casata Monfort of Lavis at the Enoteca Valsugana's branch in Pergine. The wine is very passable as they say but not particularly distinctive or impressive. Not everything that is rare is good and not everything good is rare...

The Enoteca Valsugana has a branch in Borgo Valsugana about 30 minutes from  Pergine where they had the most serious delivery system for Vino Sfuso we had ever seen;

Between the two branches of Enoteca Valsugana and other shops in the area we noticed in particular the following bottles;

Yes, another Enantio (see previous posts). If there are only 3/4 producers this means we have sampled half of them at least. Sadly this version still didn't convince us of this grape, pleasant enough though it was.

Having become rather keen on Schiava, we couldn't wait to try this. We were disappointed on two counts; it tasted strange in a negative way and on consulting D'Agata, we read; 'It hardly helps when a well-known, excellent producer such as Gino Pedrotti (his Trentino Vino Santo made with Nosiola is one of Italy's greatest wines) labels a wine "Schiava Nera" when it is in fact made with Schiava Grossa.' Oh dear.

Continuing with the Schiava theme, we discovered a Schiava (aka Trollinger) / Weisser Riesling crossing from Geisenheim (Dr. Heinrich Birk, 1928) called Rotberger (or Rotbergher as the label would have it) made as a Rose locally by Pojer e Sandri. There are only 16 - 18 ha. of Rotberger in Germany and 3 ha. in British Columbia. This is the only reported planting apart from those, so rare indeed. This Vin dei molini went down well with the troops.

Other more usual (red) Schiavas found at a variety of places included the following;

 In Trento itself, we found a really lovely Enoteca called Grado where the abiding spirit was very helpful and understanding (he is just visible behind the counter).
 We asked him for a really good Marzemino and this is what he suggested; Vignetti, Marzemino d'Isera.

So finally we have broached Marzemino which together with Teroldego is the signature grape of Trentino at least for reds. White wine from Trentino is synonymous with Nosiola. Here our experience had been disappointing but we needn't have worried. All the Nosiola we tasted was delicious including this modestly priced one from the distinguished producer Gaierhof as found at the supermarket.

As we have remarked Italian supermarkets tend to be rather eclectic, no doubt to cater for anyone who is out of their comfort zone. There was a surprising amount of Groppello to be found which is a good thing in our book. In fact Groppello is grown around Lake Garda and Trentino has a small border with the lake, right at the north.

As ever, we only scratched the surface. The Trentino is somewhere to return to without any doubt. We will head for the Mozart town of Rovereto, the villages of Faedo, Sorni, Lavis and others.

Until then, Ber sechen ens indeed!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Discovery of the summer: Colli di Candia Alpi Apuani

Looking for a wine shop in Massa, we drove past this little place on the road from Carrara. It looked unpromising with its sign for 'Bier' (sic) e Vino but perhaps they knew where the real Enoteca was? On entering our impression was not altered. There were sparse offerings of stuff in jars, demijohns (vino sfuso), beer and wine. The chap behind the counter took his time to tune in to our wavelength when posed with our opening gambit about rare grape varieties.

He answered with Vermentino but when we asked about something rarer, he indicated two bottles with interesting blends including the very local Massaretto (i.e. 'little Massa'). We had been reading about this in Ian D'Agata's 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy', our holiday companion.

Ever dubious of blends where some grape of interest was submersed in unverifiable proportions with others of less interest, we nonetheless took advice to buy Terramarina's Toscana Rosso which consists of 25% each of Cilegiolo, Massaretto, Sangiovese and Vermentino Nero.

Terramarina Rosso

We also bought Azienda Biologica Nardi Paolo Armando Rosso Liguria di Levante. Vino Biologico. 13.5%. So not Colli di Candia but 5 km from there according to Sr. Nardi whom we telephoned for a bit more information. His answer to the 'uvaggio' was charming; Massaretto (50%) plus others including Merlot. Others? Vines in his vineyard which are unidentified. Fascinating.

Damage to label commensurate with pleasure of drinking

We asked Paolo (for it was he) if he could direct us to Podere Scurtarola who we recalled also used Massaretto (together with Buonamico, Cilegiolo and Sangiovese). He was a bit vague as to how to get there and in fact we didn't find the place on this occasion. We also didn't find a larger wine shop in Massa bur Bier Vino was becoming more and more interesting and if later attempts to buy the wine of Colli di Candia Alpi Apuani were anything to go by, they may well not have stocked it. Certainly no one in Lucca did.

All this was beginning to remind us of our trip to Barga in the Garfagnana the previous year. There we had discovered a marvellous white ('Riana') made from fascinating grapes, Balsoina and Verdolino (the former is unknown to 'Wine Grapes') and a slightly less enjoyable red called Fopola which also contains funky varieties: Pighetta and Farinella, similarly unknown to
'Wine Grapes'. Italy is just so rich in these amazing types of wine they don't know what to do with them. Colli Candia Alpi Apuani only obtained their DOC in 1981. Presumably they have been making their distinctive wines for centuries before that.

'Bier & Vino'  were committed to organic wines. Paolo had only recently opened the shop. He writes a blog and is set for the long haul. We wish him 'Auguri'. Certainly our introduction to the wines of the area was a big discovery. No more can anyone relegate Toscana to a province dedicated only to the better-known varieties.