Friday, 7 December 2018

Serine grape variety

Serine sounded like a wonderfully obscure French grape just waiting to be discovered - until we readthe back label on this amusing bottle:

"Serine (Syrah en patois)."

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

2018, our last vintage before Brexit

equipment laid out ready for cleaning
Our 2018 winemaking efforts have been mixed to say the least. For the first time we have had to pour whole fermentations down the sink even before bottling. More of that later.

operating table ready to go
This year we went to town because it could be the last when grapes from the EU are affordable or even available.

We attempted 11 different cuvees;

Macabeo and Malvasia
10 x Bombino boxes ready to go


Bacchus Orange wine
Bombino Bianco white wine
Field Blend Orange wine
Macabeo Orange wine
Malvasia Orange wine
Solaris and Malvasia Amphora ferment
White 2017 Field Blend macerated on 2018 White Field Blend pomace

Uva di Troia


Red Field Blend
White 2017 Field Blend macerated on 2018 Uva di Troia pomace
Uva di Troia

This needs explaining. First of all, most of these grapes were imported.

Chris with his Puglian supplier Giuseppe Tedone. An EU cooperation from 1978 on
Once again we went to Chris at Hatfield who has been importing grapes since 1978 from Italy (Puglia and Sicilia) and Spain (Valencia) for the Italian and Spanish communities here in the UK and assorted maniacs such as ourselves. 

This year we bought from Chris (in order of arrival)

Garnacha (Valencia)
Bombino Bianco (Puglia)
Macabeu (Valencia)
Malvasia (Puglia)
Uva di Troia (Puglia)

The refrigerated lorry arrives in Hatfield hot from Puglia

deliveries are keenly anticipated

Grapes are stored under refrigerated conditions

It had been a great year and quality was very good.

rows of Bacchus after summer pruning
The other grapes we grew ourselves in our little experimental vineyard in the Thames Valley. The white ones included mainly Bacchus with the addtion of tiny amounts of

GM 8107-3
GF 93-22-6
Souvignier Gris

and the red, mainly Regent with equally small amounts of

Pinot Meunier
Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir Precoce

Apart from Bacchus (141 vines), none of these  amounted to enough to make a separate vinification - even a microscopic one so we hit on the idea of making Field Blends, combining all the grapes together.

We even pressed a vine growing up a wall into service.

This particular plant has an interesting history. It was given up for dead two years ago but someone told us to stick it in the ground and indeed it came back the next year. We planted it against the wall and it shot up producing 7 nice if small bunches of red grapes. We had thought it was a white variety, Phoenix. 

 But it was Regent. Crushed with a potato masher, it produced this thimble full of juice which we added to out red field blend. What you call a microscopic vinification.

Earlier in the year as we reported we grubbed up our main red variety for 25 years, Triomphe d'Alsace (131 vines) and planted the Blattner variety Cabernet Noir. That explains why we made hardly any red wine from our own grapes this year.

vines stripped bare by birds
Had it not been for the birds (also reported in this blog) we would have had a bumper crop of great quality Bacchus but only after 10 backbreaking spray treatments.

As it is we made just over 20 litres of Bacchus with what the birds left us.

white grape pomace

red pomace
Now about the 2017 Field Blends macerated on 2018 pomaces, we got this idea from two producers - Segal in Israel who makes an Argaman macerated on Merlot skins and wines from the Swiss Vinigma estate who soak some of their reds on Gamaret skins. The Argaman is improved no doubt by its brush with Merlot and the result is one of the most interesting wines produced in Israel.

2018 Field Blend grapes
Our 2017 'Gemischter Satz' Field Blend was not a success. Some bottles were used for cooking, others drunk with the kind of concern whereby the next sip is taken in an attempt to find some pleasure missing from the previous one. Left with 15 bottles of this 2017 wine we thought we might experiment with pouring the wine over the pomaces of the 2018 Field Blend from the exact same grapes and one red (Uva di Troia).

Uva di troia macerating in Speideldum and Speideldee
It has to be said the results were an improvement as our 2018 white fruit had been better in any case and the Uva di Troia was beautiful. We gave the white 4 days - probably too much but the red only 24 hours after which we bottled it.

bottle of 2017 white field blend poured over 2018 Uva di Troia pomace after explosion
What we didn't realise was that the Uva di Troia pomace provoked a quite dramatic fermentation proving that wine is a living thing. Out of only 4 bottles produced, one exploded when our backs were turned, showering the small room where it was laid down with purple rain and a second one blew its top soon after we had stood it upright on finding the remains of the first.

2018 Red Field Blend fermenting
The actual beverage obtained from this concoction was rather pleasant; Ribena in character. Although made predominantly with white grapes it looks red and tastes red so we call it red. We toyed with calling it 'ripasso' but the ripasso process is not one of simply pouring one wine over the pomace of another and leaving it for an unspecified period. We're keeping surviving bottles in the fridge well wrapped up.

2017 white field blend after 4 days' maceration on 2018 field blend pomace, returned to original bottles
The white Field Blend 2017 on the 2018 white field blend pomace seems not to be similarly explosive but we'll take care when opening. The jury is out as to whether the 10 bottles we have of this will be improved to the degree where actually drinking the wine is pleasurable. We could always bung it over a pomace of something else next year!

our 2018 white field blend looks great and tastes promising as an orange wine
We decided to live dangerously with most of the other white grapes this year. With the exception of the Bombino Bianco which we pressed as soon as it had been through the masher and foot trodden,

Long maceration - left, white field blend, centre and right Bacchus
all the other whites were subject to a 'lungo macerazione' of up to 17 days. We had been aiming for 3 weeks as practiced in Friuli and Slovenia not to mention Georgia but the mash seemed to be losing freshness after 2 weeks so we called a halt and pressed the grapes.

a champion bunch of Maccabeu
What we learned was that different grape varieties react differently to long macerations. We had been warned that Macabeu didn't like expsure to oxygen and so it proved. More surprising was that Malvasia was also not too keen on oxygenation so out these went with one exception which we'll come to shortly.

A friend who is a professional potter and ceramicist making handsome art works as well as useful vessels for flowers and other purposes made us an exquisite terracotta amphora with 10 litres capacity. We were very much looking forward to making wine in this amphora in the ancient way or perhaps a la Georgian Qvevri. Reading up on the subject, it seems you can go two ways concerning the preparation of the amphora: to seal or not to seal.

after coating inside with beeswax
Food grade beeswax is the seal of choice so obtaining this online we went about trying to cover the inside. We thought this went well but we were mistaken.

patches occur where beeswax coating is insufficient
In the event the amphora leeches liquid in parts so we had either the best or worst of both worlds. Nil desperandum.

Solaris stalks

Solaris berries
We had de-stalked our Solaris crop - a sweet dessert grape variety - and filled the amphora up to the brim. This was very satisfying as we had exactly the right amount. We then put the lid on and sealed that with more food grade beeswax. We put a one-way valve in the hole our friend had provided and stood back for a fermantation to begin. Weeks went by and nothing happened. We went back to Google and realised we had probably made a mistake by not crushing the grapes to start with. We had heard about whole berry fermentation and even tried Carbonic Maceration before (a failure). We thought fermantation would just happen.

After about 3 weeks we decided to take a look at what was going on. The contents had shrunk to about half and now presented a less than attractive sight, somewhat grey in color smelling of vinegar and smelly feet. We had a bit of Malvasia sitting around so we threw that in up to the brim and re-sealed the amphora. We also injected some Lalvin yeast. After a day or two we fancied seeing the valve bubbling up in a desultory fashion. Not encouraging.

The Geogian recipe for Qvevri wine is to fill the Qvevri at harvest, seal it and re-open it in the spring. That's what we shall do, but with no great expectations.

As well as the amphora we had intended to age 20 litres of wine in our 3 year old French oak barrel. Maintainig barrels is a science of its own - clearly we have much to learn. We had made the cardinal mistake of leaving the barrel empty for many months and then filling it with water on discovering gaps had opened up between some of the staves.

our patent method of suspending a sulphur candle in the barrel
We failed to put a chemical called Detersol into the water or to change it regularly

patent method of suspending whisk with sulphur candle

boiling water treatment was also in vain
so eventually no amount of flushing with the power hose, filling with boiling water, igniting sulphur candles or radical treatment with a strong chemical called Sanaton made it clean again.

We have come to the sad conclusion that this is an ex-barrel. As they say, it is time to put flowers in it. We have until March to import a new one under EU freedom of movement of goods rules. Sobering.

6 boxes of Garnacha grapes from Castello de Rugat, south of Valencia
Back to our grape imports. Our Grenache is from Valencia so we call it Garnacha.

Since the grape comes from Spain originally that is appropriate. We have always liked Garnacha. It is in fact a fabulous variety to work with. We are delighted with the result so far. The beginning of a love affair?

16 boxes of Giuseppe's Uva di troia from Ruvo, west of Bari, Puglia

Uva di Troia had been promised last year but failed to materialise. This year, we had been away when it arrived and somehow our allocation also didn't materialize but a week later we were rewarded with a lovely batch. Determined to fill one of our Speidel 60 litre fermenters and age the wine there, we bought 16 boxes of Uva di Troia grapes (each box weighing 8kg) and found ourselves with more like 70 litres.

Uva di troia is also known as Nero di Troia. It can be a bit soft and flabby but thanks to advice from Giuseppe's papa, we macerated it for a short 48 hours only and it has come up deliciously fresh so far. We think this variety is every bit as good as Primitivo and preferable to Negroamaro and Susumaniello to name the other Puglian red grapes.

After a few weeks in the Speidel and after fermentation, we racked the wine off the gross lees and topped up the fermenter with an excellent organic Uva di Troia called Maree d'Ione for some reason

obligingly on sale at £6.99 a bottle at Waitrose what luck! To our astonishment the level dropped considerably over a short space of time. The angels certainly had been taking their share. We topped the fermenter up again and realised a secondary fermentation was in progress. Could this be the famous Malolactic fermentation? So exciting!

equipment for sale at Wine Grapes Club, Hatfield

Chris in Hatfield also sells wine equipment including Demijohns or Damigiani since they come from Italy. Having seen microvinifications ageing in damigiani at the Vivai Cooperativo di Rauscedo we decided to buy some of different sizes, 34 l. and 15 l. mainly. We also bought a 10 l. one online. Even when new these damigiani need a good deal of cleaning before they can be used but we rather like working with them as they are easy to pick up even when full thanks to the handles on their plastic jackets. We haven't dropped one yeat but we have had a couple of close calls.

bottled: 2018 Red field blend (gold capsules) and Red and White field blends 2017/8
We have started bottling wine from some of the smaller vessels lying around and also drinking some of the wine from these bottles. So far so good but experience tells us that the wines will be totally different a year on.

At the mention of next year, Chris says 'Don't ask.' He has been importing grapes for nearly 30 years. We don't know of anyone else who does. Of course it would be nice if we could grow all the grapes here but that would mean no Bombino, no Garnacha, no Uva di troia etc. We'll report on the situation next September.

all gone

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Mega, Brussels - Vive la Vinolution

'Vive la Vinolution. At last, new ways of discovering, choosing and tasting wine.'
Let's face it Belgium is not the first place where you might look for wine discoveries. As to a revelation about wine - even less so.

Nonetheless revelation is what we experienced on our visit to Megavino Brussels.

Stepping backfor a moment, we've been reading a book called 'Inventing Wine' by Paul Lukacs. Lukacs's  thesis is that what we understand as wine today is a recent phenomenon. He traces wine back from antiquity as far as that's possible right up to the present bringing sharply into focus just how different things are now compared even to 30, 40, 50 years ago.

In short, you can forget wine before the introduction of Appellation d'Origine Controlee systems less than 100 yeas ago - it was not what it said on the bottle and consumers were easily hoodwinked. 100 years is also the measure of a continuous wine disaster comprising the twin plagues of mildew and phylloxera, prohibition, two world wars and economic depression.

In what we're happy to call the Vinolution, we have gone from attitudes including "Riesling has no place on any self-respecting winelist" which Jancis Robinson remembers hearing from a crusty British winemerchant early in her career to our sighting of Moravian wines at a corner shop in Swiss Cottage a week ago.

seen in a Swiss Cottage offie recently - wines from Moravia
In other words, decent and honest wines are now produced all over the world (we recently enjoyed a magnificent Japanese Cabernet Sauvignon and a satisying Chinese Aglianico). People have hardly had a chance to wake up to this but it is so.

not something you see every day.
We are or were as guilty as many before going to Megavino. Our purpose was to taste Belgian wines which are tantalisingly elusive outside that country. Thanks to Napoleon Belgian vineyards were destroyed and taaed out of existance in order to remove any competition. They don't seem to have got over this until recently - the last 20 years in fact. The vast majority of Belgian wine is white. At 185 ha. it is the smallest wine producer in the world. We have written admiringly of Dutch wines and the wines of Luxembourg are not just good but actually available in the UK and elsewhere, so why nor Belgian wine?

A list of grape varieties shows some similarity to UK plantings but a few differences attest to the slightly warmer climate and also to a more eclectic and imaginative range of choice.

Cabernet Blanc
Cabernet Jura
Leon Millot
Madeleine Angevin
Muscat Bleu
Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris
Pinot Meunier
Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir Precoce

and twelve others.

The inclusion of Gamay, Merlot and Riesling single Belgium out as different from the UK. In addition the Blattner varieties Pinotin and Cabernet Jura as well as the Hungarian Bianca show Belgian producers to be perhaps more eclectic than we are. Old hybrids such as Leon Millot are evident to be sure but we didn't come across any Schoenburger or Reichensteiner - so beloved of UK producers of a certain age.

Muscat Bleu is a dessert grape originating in Switzerland.
Vin de liqueur, 14.5% recommended 'on the rocks.'
The skills of Belgian winemakers on this showing seem to be considerable. Our first wine was a Muscat Bleu from Domaine Chenoy. We were on the lookout for this having heard Muscat Bleu is grown in Belgium but the Chenoy people told us they were in fact the only producer making wine from this variety.

You can buy wine at Megavino so this was our first purchase. The Muscat Bleu is of course a sweet wine.

Sparkling wine is as much a Belgian speciality as in the UK and some produced from unlikely blends were surprisingly good.

Perle de Wallonie is made from Johanniter, Bronner, Merzling and Helios for example.

The addition of the outdated and not always lovely Leon Millot to Waes's Rood 2016 Rondo and Regent didn't hurt at all.

The obscure Hungarian hybrid Bianca lent a rather original but not unpleasant taste to their Wit 2017 otherwise made from Solaris.

Entre Deux Monts' Kerner was not as good as the Astley 'Veritas' we have so much admired but Kerner is a difficult grape and this was good in its way.

Auxerrois is Luxembourg's signature grape and so it was not surprising to find it in sparkling blends or as still mono-variety wine as in this very pleasant example by La Mazelle.

Chateau Bon Baron sign

Bon Baron is one of the largest producers with a whole range of sparkling wine and this delicious Acolon. A 1971 cross between Lemberger and Dornfelder it has not always had a good press but our experience with an Acolon from Moravia has been excellent and Bon Baron's example was no less engaging.

some of the Bon Baron range
The Belgian Wine enclave was a real eye-opener as far as it went. In fact it went further than we could see because a number of wines were to be offered on alternate days due to lack of space and people to present them.

That was a pity because it would have been interesting to taste Vin de Liege's 100% Johanniter and blends including Souvignier Gris and Muscaris. Their reds include Cabernet Cortis and Pinotin..Also Genoels Elderen might have been of interest if only because it is one of the oldest (1991) and largest estates. It specialises in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Aldeneyck produce sparklers from Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir.

Wilfied Schorpion, maker of Sparkling Wine, Beer and Spirits.
Megavino is a fair for beer and sprits as well as wine and we found another producer outside the Belgian wine enclave because he is also a brewer. A serious gentleman called Wilfried Schorpion who makes a very commendable sparkler from Chardonnay Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. There are barely 2 ha. This kind of enterprise seems to typify plucky Belgian winemaking.

Muharrem Cobo presiding

As if the discovery of Belgian wine was not enough to support our thesis a big revelation awaited us at the Cobo Albanian stand. We never doubted that wine was produced in Albania but even we had been guilty of making jokes at their expense (see our post on the grape variety Pules i Bylyshit).

No more. The wines on show at this stand were world class. Our host, Muharrem Cobo is a charming lawyer from a winemaking family - urbane, multi lingual and cosmopolitan.

the Cobo place

The family winery in Berat was not allowed to operate as such under comunism and the Cobos left the country, returning after the fall of Enver Hoxa. Winemaking traditions had been passed down from his grandfather who founded the winery in the beginning of the 20th century so it is not by accident that world class wines - mercifully from indiginous as well as international grapes - are produced.

Vlosh grape variety 100%

Kuqja e Beratit  means Berat Red

A magnificent red costing 48 Euros and weighing in at 15% was the flagship wine made from Vlosh. Cobo is the only commercial producer of Vlosh in the whole world.

We also tasted Shesh and the aforementioned Pules. Mr. Cobo was kind enough to sell us a bottle of his E bardha e Beratit Shesh white (13%) despite limited supplies. NB. the two most common Albanian grapes are both called Shesh: Shesh bardhe is the white and Shesh i zi, the red.

and gave us a handsome box with a magnetic closure to keep it in.

Cobo also produce sparkling wine which we didn't taste, such was our enchantment with the still wines. You can bet they are good though. Here is a complete list of Cobo wines and their grapes;

Sparkling White

Shendevere {Joyous) - Puls (aka. Pules)


E bardha e Beratit - Puls
Shesh i bardhe - White Shesh


E kuqja e Beratit (Red of Berat) - Vlosh
Kashmer - Cabernet, Red Shesh and Merlot
Reserve 2012 - Shesh i zi  (Red Shesh), Merlot, Cabernet
Shesh i zi - Red Shesh

They also produce a Raki of course.

Two other pleasant surprises awaited us at Megavino, predictable perhaps but ones that re-inforced our impression that there is outstanding wine to be found everywhere.

Tamianka, aka. Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains.

At the Bulgarian stand we made the acquaintance of what we thought was a new white grape, Tamianka but turns out to be a Bulgarian synonym for Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains. The second so-called Bulgarian grape variety on the poster, Misket is just their name for Muscat. Nice wines though.

Shilda labels feature paintings by David Kakabadze
Khikhvi from Khikhvi
and at the Georgian stand not unexpectedly two delicious whites from Tsinandali and Khikhvi. Tsinandali is a region where Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane are grown and Khikhvi is not only another region but a rare grape as well.

The Charming couple from the Shilda Winery actually gave us a bottle of the Khikhvi, such was their happiness in sharing their excellent wine.

Shilda is a beautifully designed modern winery with what they call a productline of 17 wines. These include the following lesser known grape varieties apart from Khikhvi;




Otskhanuri Sapere

We're particularly looking forward to tasting Usakhelouri one day. It's known for producing semi-sweet rose-scented wines and less often, dry ones too.

no takers at the Mateus Rose stand for the moment.
We also took in several points of interest on the way. Remembering actually enjoying Mateus Rose some decades ago we asked the lonely chap at the rather jolly Mateus stand what grapes in fact went in to the wine. The answer, Baga, Rufete, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca - estimable grapes all. Maybe we should give it another try?

Speaking of Portugal, we dropped by the Quinta dos Termos stand where two nice gentlemen showed us a wine containing a grape we had never heard of, Fonte Cal. 

They had a bottle of a blend of Siria, Fonte Cal and Arinto. 100% Fonte Cal bottlings are extremely rare. There are 134 ha. planted in Beira, Lisbon and Setubal. The wines are said to be aromatic and promising. We'll put them on the wish list.

By this time it had dawned on us that there were no so called New World wineries represented. Not a single American, Australian South American or South African that we could see. Strange.

the charming Morando couple Tiziana and Silvio
From the old world, two producers stood out for us; La Locanda degli Ultimi of Morando Silvio in Monferrato, Piemonte and Kthima Mitoulis of the Mygdonia Valley, Northern Greece (near Thessaloniki}.

Silvio Morandi's Grignolinos were exemplary. Refusing to jack up the alcohol and producing this difficult variety to the best of its potential resulted in two heavenly examples. They also grow Bonarda we discovered after we had left.

The Mitroulis Family Winery is all about Limnio. It's an amazing story. Mitroulis pere used to pinch grapes as a kid from a local vineyard and remembered how sweet they were. He made his living as a shepherd before going to live in Germany and working in the fashion business. Returning to Greece he bought the vineyard and now makes Limnio 100%.
Mitroulis, the only exhibitor ever to bring a bust of Aristotle to a wine fair.

Limnio is not unknown but Mitroulis Limnio is a benchmark as they say. We especially enjoyed the 2006 and bought a bottle on the spot. Mitroulis fils is responsible for sales. He works out of Hamburg. 

Niko and Konstantinos Mitroulis
Father and son are a delightful pair and their wines are outstanding. Aristotle is supposed to have been a great proponent of Limnio. Who knows, maybe he was?

The wine is called Philosophia. The 2006 vintage is lovely and soft. 

Just time for a last grape; Bianchello. It comes from Le Marche between Urbino and Pesaro and is also called Biancame. Not as interesting as Biancolella but another one to add to our list.

Mega Vino Brussels - maybe not Mega as Vinitaly but Mega in good surprises.
Even if Megavino isn't mega, there was so much of interest.