Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Uncommon tastes

This is not going to be one of those musings people go in for while in their cups. Nor hopefully what is entitled 'Disjointed Ramblings' in a local magazine down our way (it literally consists of disjointed ramblings).

No, we would like to draw some strings together of themes which have appeared in this blog. We would actually like to plead for diversity specifically in wine lists in the UK, whether in restaurants, supermarkets or wine merchants here.

In our researches into unusual grape varieties we have become ever more aware that the wine available in this country lies mostly within a certain band of taste. We're not trying to talk down the British wine trade (one of the most eclectic and openminded in the world) nor the taste in wine here. Not having any wines of our own until recently, we are familiar with a whole range of wine tastes from across the world you wouldn't find in most other places. Try looking for Pinotage in France or Italy.

The situation is the same in other places to some extent.

shouldn't have drunk that Pineau D'Aunis

There are some grape varieties which are similar to others and others so different that they challenge your definition of what wine should be. A case in point occurred a couple of years ago when we gave a bottle of Pineau D'Aunis (a good one from the Loir) to an important French client who was a connoisseur of wine and everything good in life. He opened it with friends and was so appalled with the unfamiliar taste (and Pineau D'Aunis is certainly unfamiliar if you have never tried it) that they all spat it out and send a message to the effect that it was not wine at all in their opinion. We had asked the client to give us his honest reaction so were happy to have this particular tasting note.

On another occasion we gave a bottle of Poulsard to an equally bon-vivant and experienced client and his reaction was along the lines of  'I didn't think much of the Rosé'. Poulsard has an uncommonly light colour but it is most definitely a red wine, not a rosé, at least in the bottle in question.

There are many other grape varieties which challenge perceptions of what wine should be. We'll come to those in a moment but meanwhile, there are also categorical limits in the Band of Taste referred to above.

We seem more or less across the board to be obsessed with extraction, warmth, hedonism, fruitiness, ripeness, full-flavouredness, opulence. Where are the qualities of lightness, food-friendliness, aromatics, etheriality, refreshment, re-invigoration?
Everyone knows how alcohol levels have been creeping up to the level where 15% is becoming quite common. This may be due to the Parker effect, global warming or we would suggest the drink-drive laws and health advice whereby people make do with one glass of wine of an evening. In that case, might the wine not be better if it is concentrated so as to inhibit taking more than a sip at a time? Just a thought.

Also we have to admit that the further North you go (or South in the southern hemisphere) the more warming you might require your wine to be. Winter-warmers and summer-slurpers are familiar from merchants wine lists but even so, we maintain wine styles are nowhere near representative of what is out there.

Here are some descriptions of wines in summer cases offered by Laithwaites. Laithwaites is the most successful wine-merchant in one of the world's most diverse and dynamic wine importing countries: the United Kingdom. These descriptions come from the most popular mixed cases from that most successful wine-merchant in that most diverse and dynamic country:

"Dense and spicy"
"Beautifully rich and smooth"
"Concentrated, ripe..."
"Intense full flavoured"
"Velvety fruit-rich"

and those are the summer selection. The winter selection is not much different ("Supple, luscious," "Seriously fruity and bold" etc.). Admittedly these are the reds but the whites are in similar vein: "Rounded and creamy," "Opulent."

This is obviously what people want. There's nothing wrong in any of this apart from the fact there is so much more to be had in the world of wine.

When we started our researches into wine, the typical audience seemed to be well upholstered middle-aged gentlemen whose horizons included Bordeaux and Burgundy but not very much else. In the last 10 years it has been heartening to watch the rise of the Somms, milleniums and younger people in general. They are predictably much less conservative but even so, restaurants, supermarkets and even merchants have been slow to react.

Here are two winelists from Italian restaurants we have visited recently;

Restaurant 1.


Prosecco Valdobbiadene
Spumante Rose extra dry (origin not stated).


Pinot Grigio
Sauvignon Blanc
Vermentino di Gallura


Pinot Grigio rose


Cabernet Suvignon, Veneto
Merlot, Veneto
Nero D'Avola, Sicily
Madego, Veneto (a Bordeaux blend)
Shiraz, Sicily
Rubro Sangiovese (Sangiovese from Umbria)
Barbera d'Asti
Cannonau di Sardegna
Valpolicella Ripasso
Chianti Classico
Campo Buri La Cappuccina, Veneto (Carmenere, Osoleta)
Amarone Classico

Dessert wines

Moscato, Sicily
Carmenos Rosso, Veneto (a sweet version of Campo Buri above - Carmenere and Osoleta).

Restaurant 2


Prosecco (unspecified)
Moet et Chandon NV
Veuve Clicquot NV


Trebbiano d'Abruzzo
Frascati Superiore
Fiano Mandarossa
Sauvignon Blanc
Picpoul de Pinet
Pinot Grigio
Gavi di Gavi


Rosato Veronese


Biferno, Molise
Montepulciano D'Abruzzo
Chianti Classico
Merlot (Chile)
Malbec (Argentina)
Biferno Rosso
Corvina Verona

Restaurant 1 was rather reliant on one supplier and Restaurant 2 was not only Italian but there were considerable overlaps with - for Italy- rather a lot of international varieties but our point is that with the possible exception of the Carnmenere/Osoleta blends, there was really nothing out of the ordinary here and that 'ordinary' really didn't stray beyond certain narrow parameters of taste. Some of these wines weren't cheap either although the establishments were let's say 'local' ones.

Now to our list of what might have been. We could imagine a sprinkling of one or two of the following might ginger up tired lists such as these. We are sticking to Italy in this (there is plenty of choice there after all).



and a Lambrusco (why not?).


Locorotondo (Verdeca, Bianco D'Alessano and other local varieties)
Manzoni Bianco
Petite Arvine
Ribolla Gialla
Trebbiano Spoletino




Maculan Torcolato (Vespaiola)
Felluga Picolit

Some of these may be difficult to obtain but we suspect the fact you don't see them very often has more to do with worries about unfamiliarity.

And now to the real challenge implicit in this post: the wines that to some might not taste like anything they might have experienced before and might at first not taste like wine at all. We thoroughly recommend seeking them out nevertheless. We have already mentioned Pineau D'Aunis and Poulsard which should really hold no terrors anymore but the following might push the envelope rather and that is for us, a good thing:


Bianco D'Alessano
Petit Meslier
Szeremi Zold


Baco Noir
Caino Tinto
Folle Noir (aka Jurancon Noir, Fuella Nera)
Prieto Picudo
Vinhao (aka Sousao)

Dore - unknown to 'Wine Grapes'

Rojal, not to be confused with Royal

Royal, not to be confused with Rojal

Turan, the least like any wine you ever tasted

Szeremi Zold. Bags of character.

The monster of NW1

Seen at an open day in a Primrose Hill garden

along the wall,

over to the ground floor window

up to the 1st floor balcony.
What is it? Wouldn't you know, Triomphe D'Alsace. So keen to please but such disappointing wine.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

In praise of Goldriesling

Radebeul has its own Opera Theatre (Landesbuehnen Sachsen)

If you found yourself in Dresden as happened to us recently you can take a 30 minute tram ride out of the city to Radebeul where there are vineyards and sometimes wine. We say sometimes wine because n a recent visit we had to try several places before we found one that served the wine from literally just up the road.

The lighter green speck on the centre right of the hill is a vineyard.
At last on a hot day in May we went to take a look and soon found ourselves in dire need of refreshment. Now we have never subscribed to the idea that wine can be drunk to quench the thirst although this suggestion is often found. Best for us at least to quench the thirst and then have a glass of wine.

But on this occasion this glass of well-chilled Radebeul Goldriesling really did hit the spot. It was made by Weingut Drei Herren whom we had encountered not long previously at ProWein, Duesseldorf.

And who was serving it? The spookily named Gasthaus Schwarze Seele who couldn't have been nicer.

Our previous encounter with Goldriesling had been with that of Schloss Proschwitz, Meissen. Following this we even planted 25 Goldriesling vines ourselves. Last year they showed a weakness towars Powdert Mildew so we are spraying them this year. Apart from that, we think it is a very suitable grape for the UK and recommend it as an alternative to Bacchus.

Since you ask, it was already listed on the Slotovino Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Shock Horror, Promiscuity on a Greek island!

On the island of Paros in the Cyclades there is a shocking level of promiscuity. This is no tittle-tattle. It has been going on for years and is officially sanctioned. How could this be?

 Well, the typical grapes are Monemvassia (white) and Mandilaria (red). It was decided in the mists of time that since the Mandilaria of Paros is so deeply coloured and tannic it may be blended promiscuously* with as much as 80% Monemvassia to make red wine!

We've heard of a dash of Viognier in Rhone blends but this is surely unprecedented.  Does it taste like red wine? Is it any good? The answer is a resounding 'yes,' especially when made by Moraitis, the best known producer on the island.

Monemvassia itself is a fascinating variety. At first, we assumed this was just another Malvasia which name is supposed to be a corruption of the name of the Greek port of Monemvasia from where Malvasia is supposed to have come. Monemvassia may also have come from Monemvasia but this Monemvassia is actually a separate historic variety not related to any Malvasia. It is mostly found on Paros with some plantings in the Peloponnese.

Moraitis make a monovarital Monemvassia as well as a range of other wines. We bought one of these and their Sillogi red.

Sillogi is Greek for Blend and it is this one that is apparently 66% Monemvassia and the rest Mandilaria.

 The Moraitis Winery is situated near the seaside town of Naousa. This is confusing because there is a much more familiar Naousa (or Naoussa) in Macedonia on the eastern slopes of Mount Vermion, 92km west of Thessaloniki where Boutariand others make celebrated wine mainly from Xinomavro.

The vineyards of Paros, like so much else to do with Paros wine are individual with the vines grown so close to the ground as to look more like rootstocks.

Moraitis has a very handsome cellar and tasting room.

We're not sure why the bottles have to be kept under lock and key but visitors are given the freedom to roam around the spacious lower floor

where barrels slumber under the watchful eye of a Mrs Moraitis of old.

The winery is justly celebrated with numerous awards and well established distribution to the major world markets.

 Pretty good for a vineous knocking shop!

*Promiscuity in wine has been defined as 'The act of blending multiple, mutually attractive grape varieties in an assortment of unorthodox combinations. Implies a wanton disregard for convention.'

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The INRA/Vassal collection: 7,800 items in one morning.

A Slotovino visit to the world's greatest Grape Collection was always required and the kind INRA* people at Domaine Vassal, Marseillan-Plage near Sete and Montpellier, France allowed us a private view although normally visits are for groups only. We were particularly grateful because incredibly, the 7,800 accessions including multiple samples of 2,700 Vitis grapes, 1,100 interspecific hybrids, 400 rootstocks, 350 wild varieties and 60 species of Vitaceae will be moved to the Pech Rouge Experimental Unit (Gruissan, near Narbonne, Aude) over the next few years because the owners of Domaine Vassal have decided they would like to use it for something else.

The collection has been built up since 1876 by the Montpellier Agricultural School (now Montpellier SupAgro) and has been at Vassal since 1949. The sandy site is inhospitable to Phylloxera and the Xiphinema Index Nematode. the collection has been built up from exchanges with other collections all over the world, private gifts, discoveries by their own researchers, viticulturalists, vine nurseries and hobbyists.

Getting to Domaine Vassal involved a potentially hilarious detour thanks to a confusion between the terms Naturaliste and Naturiste on the map and a brush with the Gendarmerie for driving past the property and stopping on a beach to try to get our bearings.

Nevertheless, the patient Cécile Marchal and Sandrine Dédet-Lalet were waiting to recieve us very cordially.

Sandrine, a Technicienne of the institute, had personally made the 10 bunches of cuttings for us back in March and Cécile was to show us round. Cécile is from St. Remy de Provence and is a highly qualified Agronomist. She is 'Responsable du CRB Vigne (Centre de Ressources Biologiques de la Vigne).

First stop was the nursery for new plants.

They are planted in surprisingly small pots filled with a kind of volcanic grit. they receive water and nutrients via a watering system. The method seems to work 100%.

different species of vine
with knobbly cane
Here we soon understood the collections range with not only grapevines but ornamental vines and plants of all kinds, some of which looked more like ivy which is not suprising as ivy and vines arefrom the same family of species.

After 2 years, these plants are planted outside in 500 metre long stretches separated by bamboo curtains.

Bamboo curtain
Cécile told how the site had originally consisted of dunes that had to be levelled. The protecting bamboo helps to stabilise the sand as well as providing a windbreak but amazingly, with all the other work they have to do, the sand still has to be managed every year as it still tends to drift.

There are only 8 full-time staff with 5 administrative personnel including the director. The domaine extends over many hectares. As well as all the work of catalogueing and raising the plants, there is an ongoing programme of creating new varieties.

Hybrid collection
Famous successes in the past have included Marselan, Caladoc, Chenancon and Chasan. They also breed table grapes of all kinds. For safety, duplicates of all accessions are sent to the INRA station at Colmar!


A Japanese vine
Yes, it's a vine.

Our tour took in vineyards dedicated uniquely to Rootstocks, Hybrids, Ornamental varieties and the different species.

A 20 year old vine from Russia
Each type has 5 examples. When a single plant arrives, cuttings are made to provide copies. If plants are virussed, they are replaced with clean examples when possible.

All these plants need to be labelled, fed and watered. They also need to be pruned and most of that has to be done by hand. Even experimental micro-vinifications are made although none was on offer. This must be difficult given the fact that no variety has many examples and they all ripen at different times.

In the offices, records are kept of every variety including dried leaves, photos, descriptions, records and notes of the most painstaking and accurate kind. As service for identification is offered free of charge unless DNA profiling is required in which case the charge is around 80 Euros.

Hernàn Ojeda, Director
It's all pretty incredible. Our visit left us wondering if so much had ever been achieved by so few. Amazing that they agreed to give us a private tour for which we are eternally thankful.

*Institut National pour la Recherche Agriculturelle

Marseillan Plage