Thursday, 2 April 2020

Grosse Mérille - a story with a happy end.


Our detective story began with a thumbnail review in Decanter's South America 2020 guide by Alistair Cooper MW. The mention of Grosse Mérille was the first we had ever heard of this variety and a great surprise in the context of wines from Chile.

Maybe it shouldn't have been such a surprise. After all it was only a short time ago that we had been writing about Casa Silva's 'Romano' which is said to be none other than the César variety from Bourgogne.

Nevertheless we got 'Wine Grapes' down from the shelf as we always do and looked up Grosse Mérille. there is an entry on 'Mérille' and Petite Mérille is mentioned as a variety commonly mistaken for Mérille but no mention of Grosse Mérille.

Pierre Galet's 'Dictionnaire Encyclopedique des Cepages' was as ever out next stop. Again there is no entry under Grosse Mérille but under Mérille we learn that there is a Mérille grosse. Worryingly there is also an indication that Mérille is a synonym for Cinsaut. Cinsaut is widely planted in Chile.

Next stop, Google. Here we found an article on the W.I.P. (Wine Independent Press) site which was both illuminating and convincing.

First of all, Grosse Mérille was more commonly known as Gros Verdot previously. Back to 'Wine Grapes.' Gros Verdot' we learn is not only no relation to Petit Verdot but has been banned from planting in the Gironde since 1946 even though it was an important variety in the 19th century.

It is said to have been an important ingredient in a  Bordeaux wine named Comte de Queyries after the Queyries quay along the Gironde in Bordeaux and has all but disappeared now.

As with César and of course Carmenere, Bordeaux loss has been Chile's gain. In Chile it has become known as Verdot Chileno or just Verdot. Gros Verdot/Grosse Mérille/Verdot Chileno/Verdot survives there having been brought with other varieties in the 19th century. It was also taken to California where it tends to be confused with Cabernet Pfeffer. We hope the latter apercu will not keep Slotovino readers awake at night.

Philippo Pszczolkowski, left and Francisco Korta.
Back to W.I.P, the story of how Francisco Korta of the Korta winery enlisted the collaboration of Philippo Pszczolkowski (Ps-chol-kovski) a distiguished faculty member of the department of Fruit Culture and Enology of the Pontificia Universidad de Chile. Pszczolkowski had recommended Verdot Chileno to Konta having carried out rigorous researches on it to prove its integrity as a stand-alone variety (unrelated to Mérille) and having also traced its lineage as an import from its home in France by molecular studies by INIA (Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, Chile) together with INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Vassal Collection, Marseillan France).

Philippo was very conscious of the limited number of vinifera varieties planted in Chile and saw the decline of Verdot Chileno as something to be combatted. Francisco took on the challenge and planted 2.5 ha. After various trials and errors he found a method of vinification which best suited the variety and chose to call it Grosse Mérille rather than Verdot Chileno, Verdot or Gros Verdot in order to avoid any misunderstanding with Petit Verdot. A sound decision.

Sadly, Korta Seleccion Especial Grosse Mérille, appellation Sagrada Familia, Curico 2017 is only available in Chile. We have plenty of time to plot how to get our hands on a bottle while continuing to self-isolate.

PS. Not to be outdone, our friends from Casa Silva - the makers of Romano/César - have made their own Grosse Mérille, also N/A UK.

Monday, 23 March 2020


One good thing about self-isolating from Coronavirus is the opportunity to taste, no - drink - some of the bottles piling up on our shelves.

Here's one that brightened our day. A fabulous Brancellao from Ribeira Sacra.

Brancellao is known as Alvarelhao in nearby Portugal. It is a grape with an amazing potential as we discovered with Forlorn Hope's 'Suspiro del Moro' Alvarelhao from the Silvaspoons vineyard, Lodi California a few years ago.

That triggered an investigation into the entire Vinho Verde/Galicia/Ribeiro/ Ribeiro Sacra region of North West Iberian Peninsula.

Nothing we discovered then compares with this beauty.

We obtained it from Decantalo, one of those new-ish operations importing (exporting actually) a huge selection of Spanish wines in the Vinissimus mode. Their prices are not exorbitant (£21.80 for this) and they are efficient and good to deal with. Recommended.

Pruning 2020

This season's pruning was a mixture of hope and despair. Hope, thanks to the advice of Sam Doncaster as to how to prune 1 and 2 year old vines. We had never understood that even at this tender age you have to cut them back to 2 or 3 buds. It seems like infanticide but we are hoping that will be the answer to the feeble growth that characterises our vines.


We cut back everything else with similar mercilessness.

The bad news was that of the 500 Soreli vines planted last year, only a few showed any sign of life. We may be wrong. Miracles have occurred in the past with seemingly moribund plants coming back to life but we fear the worst.

We'll see.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Try this: excellent Savagnin from Australia

Normally we don't pay a lot of attention to messages from wine merchants. Many feel obliged to circulate round robins far too frequently. Some have quite annoying content as well as frequency.

The most extreme opposite is Chambers Street Wines of New York. To read their emails is an education. Even when we are not interested in the category of wine they might be writing about, we can always find something of interest in what they say.

Of most others, a quick scan is all they get before deletion so it is rare for us to pay enough attention to consider actually buying a wine.

An Australian Savagnan from Swig caught our beady eyes though. Savagnan is a funny one. It's home in the Jura produces wines that can be so dry as to be unaproachable or so sweet as to be only for dessert or aperitif purposes.

The famous story of the mis-naming of Albarino in Australia is well known. In the early years of this century, Australian producers took an interest in Albarino and imported a large number of vines. We'd be interested to know from whom because these vines were not Albarino at all bur Savignin. There is an even more famous story about Merlot in Chile. That turned out to be Carmenere as everyone knows. The Chileans stuck with their Carmenere and now you could say that has become Chile's signature wine.

Australia was a bit less philsophical and more growers rectified matters by replanting with Albarino proper. Understandable as Albarino was getting market recognition whereas Savagnin has tended to be confused with Sauvignon. Some Australian growers even felt the need to invent new names such as Saverro and Savinno but quite a few stuck with Savagnin including BK Wines who have made a speciality ot of it.

Always ready to give a grape an even break, we bought BK Wines' Savagnin 2017 skin contact white ('Please decant me') at 11.5% from Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills as it ticked so many boxes.

We were not disappointed. This is one of the most beautiful and original wines we have ever tasted. It's not cheap but if you take the offer on a 6 pack you will be paying £19.95 instead of a whopping £27.50 for a single bottle. It's very much worth it and you too can become a Swigger.

BK Wines was established in 2007 by two New Zealanders Brendan and Kirtsyn in the Adelaide Hills. They make an interesting range of wines focussing on 'Quality and Creativity, not Conformity' including wines matured in concrete eggs, wild yeasts, a beer-bottle closure for the Pet Nats, a Ramato, a Gruener Veltliner and even a Saignee Savagnin - surely a first? There is also a Savignin Flor with a 'light, Manzanilla sherry-style oxidative characte.'

For further information on this and all the most interesing wines of Australia, consult Darby Higgs's Vinodiversity site.,

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Mega surprises at reduced SITT

SITT was smaller this February at Lynley Hall, off Vincent Square, London but that didn't mean it was any less interesting.

The big news was Verdese di Como, a grape rescued practically from extinction by Cantine Angelinetta, Lago di Como.

A young couple, Emanuele and Eleonora Angelinetta have made what seems to be the only 100% Verdese wine currently in existance. Mentioned neither in 'Wine Grapes' nor in 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy' Verdese di Como is a rarity indeed.

Fortunately Galet has an entry:

Syn. : Verdesa, Verdese (Como), Verdetto a San Colombano, Verdona (Abbiate Guazzone), Verdamm dans le Milanais (Molon), Bianca Maggiore (Marzotto).
Cepage de cuve blanc italien, signale par Molon et decrit recemment par Calo.
Bourgeonnement cottoneux vert jaunatre.
Feuille  moyenne, plane, un peu bullee, entiere ou trilobee a sinus superieures peu profonds, ouverts, sinus petiolaire en U ouvert: dents courtes, ogivales; dessous du limbe duveteux avec les nervures principales pubescentes. Grappe courte, conique, compacte; baie grosse, ovoide, a peau verdatre, meme a maturite, saveur simple. Maturite 3e epoque.

We reproduce this in full as a tribute to the great man who died on the last or penultimate day of last year. We must get a handle on the Ampelographical terms one day although we suspect our relationship to ampelography will be what Isaiah Berlin described as that of a football hooligan to Philosophy. How Pierre Galet was able to write entries such as this for thousands of other grape varieties in his monumental 'Dictionnaire Encyclopedique des cepages et de leurs synonymes' is unimaginable.

Giovanni Brumana seen here with Sra Brumana is the Director of Orsa Major Ltd, importers of Italian wines.

Orsa Major embodies what we like most about SITT.

Company Profile
What do we know about wine? First of all we drink it, we love it and we want to share it. Our aim is to let people know that behind a simple bottle of wine there are interesting stories, passion and hard work. We decided to present small local traditional productions like the ones we host here today. A kind of a rarity because they are entirely produced, bottled and consumed locally. We chose Lombardy wines because we know the region well as we are ourselves from there.

Galet's entry mentions 'saveur simple' and one can't argue with that. However the wine is pleasant and refreshing. Verdese di Como is certainly worth saving from extinction.

Orsa Major also fielded four Franciacortas, and four wines from Cantina Bergamasca including a Moscato di Scanzo which we had first encounered at BING, Barolo and an Incrocio Manzoni. Cantina Bergamasca also produces a wine made from Incrozio Terzi, a Barbera/Cabernet Sauvignon crossing (not present at this tasting).

Verdese di Como wasn't the only grape brought back from extinction. At the Sonvino table we found a wine called Vinolus Kalecik Karasi.

Yusuf Sabit Agaoglu, saviour od Kalecik Karasi
Kalecik is a Turkish variety rescued by Professor Dr. Yusuf Sabit Agaoglu of Ankara University. The following is a google translation of a Turkish description of Prof. Sabit Agaoglu's work with Kalecik (Karasi means 'red');

He is a professor who retired from Ankara University Faculty of Agriculture, where he worked for many years, and produces small amounts of great wines in his boutique winery located in the budcukbağ, which he founded in Kalecik. Following the trace of the Kalecik Karası grape, which was about to disappear, he made his subject to his doctoral thesis and saved him from extinction. ie if one of the current Kalecik black grape is known thanks to his turkey (sic).

It produces the wines that it sells under the trajan brand with completely spontaneous fermentation and does not use the keg because it thinks it is incompatible with the spirit of the goalkeeper land. wines are generally medium tanned and stand out with their fruitiness on the palate.

It has encouraged people to do proper viticulture in a small town like Kalecik for years, but unfortunately this vision has not been found in the public. On top of that, when regulations and state policies overlapped, Kalecik remained a closed small town that could not produce added value.

He blended the wines he produced in 2014-2015 and 2016 for his beloved wife, whom he lost a few years ago, and bottled in his memory with the label "Gülcihanlı years". I recommend people who are interested in wine to meet him

The helpful and informed Serhat Narsap, DipWSET
Although specialising in Turkey and Bulgaria, Sonvino also had an interesting Spanish wine from the Cayetana Blanca variety. Cayetana is another of Spain's secrets. It has many synonyms including Baladi which is a name given also to a native grape of the Holy Land making wines as we have seen in Israel and the West Bank - unrelated to Cayetana. In Portugal it is Mourisco Branco. In Australia it is known as Doradillo not to be confused with  Doradilla which is a native grape of Malaga. Interesting if potentially confusing.

At Panda Fine Wine, we found another rarity, a Chinese grape called Beichun. Described as a winter-hardy hybrid, Beichun has Muscat of Hamburg and a Chinese wild species called Ruprecht (Vitis Amurensis). It makes a lovely wine: a very pleasant surprise.

Michael Sun was representing Panda Fine Wines and we remembered him from previous shows.

He had introduced us to this wine from the Longyan native Chinese grape variety. Wine Grapes describes Longyan as an old Chinese variety of unknown origin. Strangely, Longyan is a vinifera grape so it must have been brought to China at some stage long ago. It is quite widely planted in China.

Another surprise was a Chinese Rkatsiteli. Amazing to find this grape in China at all (although its cold-hardiness makes this understandable) but extra-surprising to find that this version from the same winery as the Beichun, the Puchang vineyard (Xingjiang) was absolutely marvellous, perhaps the best Rkatsiteli we have ever tasted. Puchang also work with Saperavi and Riesling Italico among others.

As if all this wasn't enough excitement for one afternoon, Alpine wines had a Swiss crossing of Chasselas and Chardonnay called Doral. The name rang a bell but here it was in reality. Marvellous.

Originally Nick Dobson Wines, it is heartening to see how the company has expanded and florished as Alpine Wines under Joelle Nebbe-Morno.It's 'institutional memory' is very much alive. How often can you say that?

But what was this? The very same Romano for which we once trekked to Wimbledon to acquire. Romano is the name given to this Chilean wine purporting to come from the minor Burgundian grape Cesar. Check our previous posts on this subject.

Jackson Nugent Vintners are the enterprising importers of this fascinating and once you have allowed it to breathe, delicious wine.

Johnny Bingham heads Agency Sales for JNV. There can be no more affable person in the wine world. He was clearly delighted that we had discovered their Casa Silva Romano. Indeed he had another rarity from the same Chilean producer: Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris.

We had come across Sauvignon Gris before under its synonym Fie Gris. It is a colour mutation of Sauvignon Blanc.

Johnny had something else we had never seen before, a Pinot Blanc from Muscadet. 

To round off this productive visit, a Posip from Korkula, one of the larger islands off the Croatian coast. 

We had last tasted Posip in 2010 and hadn't exactly been bowled over but this one was outstanding: Deliciously aromatic. Individual too.

A great way to leave this small but eye-opening tasting.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Have you tried this: Furleigh Estate White Pinot Noir?

On a recent trip to Dorset we were checking out the vineyards as one does. One of these conveniently nearby to our base camp at Lyme Regis was Furleigh Vineyards. It is no doubt shameful that Furleigh didn't ring any bells because it is an operation which has won top awards from the start and whose wine, especially the sparkling ones are widely available.

Before deciding to visit Furleigh we bought a couple of their wines at the Seriously Good Wine Company in Lyme, a Chardonnay and this White Pinot Noir.

We had higher expectations from the former but it was actually the white Pinot Noir that really excited us. Our experience with white wine from Pinot Noir had been interesting in the past but nothing - not even the white PNs of Ticino (where they are a speciality) prepared us for this beauty.

 So a trip to Furleigh Estate was essential.

The Cellar Door at Furleigh is excellently presented. This is obviously a well organised very professional operation which makes its back story all the more surprising:

Ian Edwards and Rebecca Hansford are both former actuaries who spent a major portion of their professional careers working in the pensions industry.  When their firm merged with a competitor in 2002 they decided it was an opportunity to look at alternative careers and lifestyles.  This eventually led them to purchasing the Furleigh Estate in West Dorset in 2004, which at one point had been owned and operated by Rebecca's father as a dairy farm.  The new owners took the view that some of the land would be suitable for grape-growing so established a winemaking venture.  Funding for the Furleigh Estate wine project has come in part from the EU Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.  Currently Ian (by now a Plumpton graduate) is the winemaker while Rebecca runs the office administration.
The vineyard was planted in 2005/2006 with 22,000 vines on an area covering ca. 7 ha.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier make up ca. 70% of the plantings and are used to make sparkling wines.  Bacchus and Rondo make up the remainder of the vineyard and these grapes are used for still wines.
The winery was constructed in 2007 and is fitted out with a pneumatic press, stainless steel tanks, riddling equipment and oak barrels.
Furleigh Estate wines have been regularly successful at competitions.  Their most notable success to date has been winning the English Wine Trophy at the 2013 International Wine Challenge for their 2009 Classic Cuvée.
Furleigh Estate winemaking facilities are also being used to produce wines from nearby Bride Valley Vineyard.

English Wine Info. 

Surprising because we have been pedalling the idea that the best English and Welsh winemakers are thos who have come to the UK with winemaking experience abroad and without ties to any specific place. Here we have great wine being made by people who are just the opposite, proving that it is possible to do things the other way.

Ian Edwards must have an immense natural talent. He was awarded UK Winemaker of the year in 2012/13 among many other awards and makes the wines of Bride Valley, Stephen Spurrier's estate also in Dorset.

One of these is labelled 'Dorset Cremant' - it is actually the first Cremant to be made in England. We have seen Cremant described as the name for wine made by the Methode Champagnoise outside Champagne but it is more specific than that with certain strict wine-making rules imposed including whole bunch pressing, a maximum yield of 100 litres per 150 kg of grapes, a maximum sulphur dioxide content of 150 ml per litre and a minimum of 9 months tirage on the lees plus a compulsory tasting control (thanks to Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine for this definition).

the tasting room was manned by a charming gentleman who introduced himself as Nick. We later found out he was head of Sales but his enthusiasm was completely sincere and genuine.

 Nick was kind enough to pour us samples of Furleigh's two Bacchus wines - a Bacchus Fume which has some exposure to wood

and a Bacchus Dry. Despite the suggestion that Bacchus has a taste of English hedgerows, we found both wines quite unlike any other Bacchus we had ever tasted and not at all hedgerow-y or English which in this case was rather to their advantage.

Nick also poured us a drop of the Rose from Pinot Noir and Rondo but as you have gathered the real star of the show for us at least was the White Pinot Noir.

Furleigh Estate White Pinot Noir

Furleigh's website provides the following notes from a local wine expert and consultant Rebecca Mitchell DipWSET;

An unusual dry white wine with a sophisticated edge. Star-bright, medium intensity rose-gold with copper flashes. Highly aromatic with orange blossom and tangerine peel plus attractive stone fruits including apricot and yellow nectarine. The palate is distinctly fruit-driven with vibrant flavours of greengage, quetsch and yellow plum, as well as top notes of kumquat and ruby grapefruit. Uplifting freshness and juicy acidity combine to give a succulent mouth-watering wine with no trace of oak. Bursting with flavour, it combines rarity with food friendly versatility.

Serve chilled with mackerel escabeche or pickled herrings. Enjoy it with sea-trout served on a bed of fennel and ruby grapefruit. Delicious with sea bass drizzled with sauce vierge. Excellent with guinea-fowl and kumquat dressing, or turkey and cranberry sauce. Also pairs well with pork stuffed with apricots.