Sunday, 17 October 2021

A great new place in London

Toklas is a new restaurant in London. We were invited to a soft opening and it was good. There is a nascent wine list already showing some imagination with a nice Catarratto and an Alsace Pinot Noir.

Let's hope it might sport a Hunter Valley Semillon, a Begleri, a Croatina, a Grignolino, or a Trepat. That would separate it from the crowd.

toklas.co.uk


Friday, 10 September 2021

Extensive grape trials at RHS Wisley



 The Royal Horticultural Society has produced wine from plantings of Orion and Phoenix grapes vinified by Plumpton College.

The sign on the post says 'Orion'
 

At their small vineyard at Wisley there are a few rows of 63 mixed varieties and a further 30-odd are apprently grown under glass. These trials are presumably to test which varieties suffer most from fungal diseases here in the UK. 

 


Walking the vineyard on September 9th this year there was plenty of evidence of fungal diseases despite RHS staff de--leafing the vines. Predictably, some varieties were fairing better than others. We are keen to hear what the official results will be.

Here are extract from a report by the RHS person involved in these trials. His name, appropriately is Gerard Clover:

The Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley has a collection of approximately 100 grapevine (mainly Vitis vinifera) cultivars. These cultivars have been collected since the 1970s and include table and wine grapes grown in the field and under glass. In August 2014, the viral status of the collection was assessed by taking samples of leaves and petioles from eight cultivars selected at random. ... Amplicons of the expected size were obtained using samples from cultivars Nero, Theresa, Queen of Esther and Seyval Blanc.... further samples were obtained from amongst the 39 grapevine (V. labrusca and V. vinifera) cultivars which were planted in 1992 as part of the National Fruit Collection in Faversham, Kent. Samples of leaves and petioles were collected in August 2014 from eight cultivars selected at random and were tested as described previously. Amplicons of the expected size were obtained using samples from V. vinifera cvs. Dunkelfelder, Faberrebe, Madeleine Angevine, Regner and Siegerrebe.....

All riveting stuff.


The vines at Wisley are surrounded by a low electric fence to keep the badgers and others out. By good fortune one of the RHS staff who was de-leafing allowed us to step over this fence (which was not switched on) and check out the 63 varieties planted in the last 4 rows. These were both wine and table grapes. Quite a few unlikely ones were bearing fruit. Whether these grapes might ripen in a decent year is no doubt part of the trials.

It would be interesting to know more about how the RHS obtained all these vines. Some are truly obscure. Here is the list;

 



Adelheidtraube (not listed in Galet)

Arnsburger 

Aurora

Auxerrois

Chasselas Dore 1921

Ciotat (= Chasseles Ciotat)

Elbling

Muscat de Saumur

Melon de Bourgogne

Madeleine Silvaner

Madeleine Royale

Lakemont

Jubilaumsrebe

Interlaken

Huxelrebe

Himrod

Gruener Veltliner

Goldriesling


 

GM 6414-36 (Ehrenbreitsteiner)

Gewuertztraminer

Gelber Muskateller

Irsai Oliver

Perle de Czaba

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Gris

Pizzutella (aka. Melon de Bougogne)

Precoce de Malingre

Reine O...(?)

Rauschling

Sauvignon Blanc

Schoenburger


 

Theresa (Teresa Pirovano?)

Triompherebe (aka Triomphe d'Alsace)

Wuerzburger Perle (?)

Theklatraube (not listed in Galet)

Fragola

Siegerrebe

Dornfelder

Miller's Burgundy (Pinot Meunier)

Chambourcin

Zweigeltrebe

Slade Blue (not listed in Galet)

Seibel 13053 (= Cascade)

Rondo

Regent


 

Queen of Esther (not listed in Galet)

Portugieser

Plantet

Pinot Noir

Noir Hatif de Marseille

Marechal Foch

Leon Millot

Landot 3217 (Galet has Landot 4511 and 244 but not 3217)

Gamay Hatif

Gagarin Bleu

Cot Precoce de Tours

Bacchus

Boskoop Glory

 

Black Cluster (could be Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Black July, Jaquez or Perrum Tinto)

Baco 1

Acolon



 

 


Thursday, 1 July 2021

What to drink in the meantime?

 


We've been collecting bottles of wine made from rare grape varieties. No shock-horror there surely? This blog is devoted to diversity so it is inevitable we should have as mixed a collection as possible.

Some of these bottles have been difficult to come by. We have had to cajole exhibitors at wine fairs to sell us one of their samples, seek out exclusive wine shops and merchants, go to cellar doors, trawl the internet and so on. 

The bottles acquired have lain in our cupboards, stored at less than optimum conditions, awaiting the opportunity to be sampled. This we could do any day of course but Mrs. Slotovino drinks white wine almost exclusively and that preferably under 12% Abv so there is no one to share most of the wine we have been hoarding. No, we need to hold tastings where friends and professionals can come and be out 'focus group' and we can sample 30 bottles at a time.

We have held such events quite a few times pre-covid. They have been written up in these pages. Now that such events have been on pause for well over a year, stocks have built up awaiting the day they can be tasted.

So what to drink in the meantime?

We recognise that our criteria for selecting wine have changed the more we have searched out bottles containing rare grape varieties. The concept of pleasure has taken a back seat. Even the consideration of whether a wine is well made or not is less important than getting a sense of what the grape variety's profile might be. We sometimes think of what Mr. Mountchesney said in Disraeli's novel 'Sybil' (1845);

'I rather like bad wine...one gets so bored with good wine.'

Covid restrictions have led us into considering again what wines give us most pleasure to drink rather than to collect. 

In our post 'En Saga' you will read about our efforts to import some of our favourite wines for daily drinking. We have chosen almost exclusively monovarietal wines so far but we should not have anything against blends, should we? 

We made a list of our favourites and then looked for examples we could buy from UK winemerchants. It was strange that so few of our choices were available. Of the wines that could be found in the home market it was also strange how few were affordable or even any good.

Here's what we were looking for:

White

English whites

Hunter Valley Semillon

Cotes de Gascogne blends

Penedes monovarietals and blends

 

Rose Sparkling

 

Red

Bardolino

Croatina

Grignolino

Pineau D'Aunis

Portugieser

Poulsard

Raboso

Schiava/Vernatsch

Trepat 


These represent our taste in lighter wines: less high in alcohol than the average. Those criteria seem suitable for everyday wines. They also happen to chime with our taste in general. Here we'd just like to deal with that horrible term 'Easy Drinking'. We always wonder what might be the alternative. 'Difficult Drinking'? Also, we're not too keen on adjectives such as 'gluggable.' If a wine is so delicious as to make you want to drink more and more of it, that's good isn't it? Gluggable has such a pejorative feel to it. Admittedly there is a place for the so-called 'Vino da meditazione' but not as an everyday wine.

These are just our personal opinions and will certainly not be for everyone. Slotovino is a 'Plea for diversity in wine' after all so everyone is welcome to their own preferances. 

Taking the above list one by one, we made some interesting discoveries:

 

 Whites

 

English whites

 


 

Our favourites include Furleigh's White Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir vinified white) 

 


 



and Simpson's Chardonnay and 'On the QT' which is Pinot Meunier vinified white. The Chardonnay was available from Waitrose at a discount. 

 


 


 

Their Roman Road Chardonnay is very much worth seeking out but more expensive.

 

Hunter Valley Semillon. This has been our staple for years and years. 

 


 

 

Waitrose sell Brokenwood's H.V. Semillon at £9.99 which must be one of the bargains of the century. 

 


The Wine Society's H.V. Semillon is also very good. In fact it's made by Brokenwood too and costs £9.50.



We also stumbled across Mount Pleasant 'Elizabeth' with bottle age (2013) at a mere £12.74 from The Wine Press, Somerset - even better than Brokenwood.


Cotes de Gascogne  blends



 

These are made from grapes such as Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc. Wines are typically crisp and low in alcohol. We like Domaine de Menard's Cuvee Blanc (Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng) from Noble Green (£9,50). 

 


 

 

We also love Pujalet's Cotes de Gascoigne (Colombard, Ugni Blanc) which we bought from Waitrose as a cooking wine at £5.99. So good we saved it from the kitchen cupboard.



Penedes and other Catalan monovarietals and blends

 

A year ago during the first lockdown we spalshed out on 3 mixed cases of the lighter white wines of Panedes and Catalunya. A lot of these were fine for a once-only experience but not the kind of thing tou would rush to buy by the case. 



 

Outstanding were El Xitxarel-lo (Xarel-Lo) and Vinyes Singulares Garnatxa Blanca. Be careful with the Xitxarel-lo - alcohol can vary between 12% and 14% depending on vintage. the 2020 (12%) is available from Decantalo for £11.48.

 


 



Watch out too for varying alcohol in the Vinyes Singulars Garnatxa Blanca and be sure you like a natural style of wine before buying this. Decantalo have the 2018 vintage (only 11.5%) for £16.68. Well worth it


 

.


Already for some time before the pandemic we had been bringing back Oller del Mas's Picapoll from the Grau wine superstore in Palafrugell, near Girona. NB. Picapoll is not Picpoul. Much more interesting in our opinion.

Dependable producers of white blends include Gramona, Can Sumoi, Juve & Camps and Torello.

 

Rose


Sparkling Rose

 



 We just had to include this perfectly delicious sparkling rose from the Furleigh Estate, Dorset. People like bubbles and people like pink. This bottle is not expensive (£23.50 from Waitrose when they have their periodic 25% discounts on all wines) and may be used for all occasions or as a gift.


Reds

Bardolino

We've always had a fascination for what makes Bardolino diferent from Valpolicella - and it is different although made just to the north of Valpolicella and from the same grape varieties, Corvina, Rondinella and less often Molinara. A surprisingly large number of other varieties are permitted as long as they make up no more than 10% of the blend: Corvinone, Rossignola, Barbera, Sangiovese, Marzemino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, perish the thought.

 D'Agata is a particular fan of Molinara. He writes in 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy' (2014):

"...Molinara is being increasingly phased out in Valpolicella and especially Amarone wines, for its rosy, light colour wine strikes fear in the hearts of producers looking to make the biggest, blackest wines possible. Nowadays it plays a much more important role in Bardolino where it can make up even 40 percent of the blend., providing Bardolino wines with lovely freshness, lightness, and a strong saline note."

They say Bardolino has suffered from not being the base wine for an Amarone as is Valpolicella. Hence there has not been the level of investment in Bardolino. Also, there's a skeleton in the cupboard: floods of cheap and not very good Bardolino some years ago left the UK public at least with a less than favourable image although it remains appreciated in Germany where they know a good thing when they taste it.

It seems to us that Bardolino had lost its way since D'agata was writing in or before 2014 . As in Valpollicella, there have been too many attempts to mould it into something it shouldn't be such as over-alcoholic dark and broody monsters. On the other hand, there has been a sudden interest in Bardolino Chiaretto - something we have appreciated for yonks.


 


So the choice of Bardolinos on the UK market which are typical and low in alcohol is not great. Waitrose's Recchia Bardolino was the best and at only £8.79 or £6.60 or under Waitrose's periodic 25% -off sales is a bargain indeed. It is made up from 40% Corvina, 40% Rondinella, 10% Molinara and 10% other varieties.


Having said that, we came across Gorgo's Rosso Bardolino from Quality Wines of Somerset at £11.30 which is a heavenly wine, not that it might be recognised as a Bardolino. It is made from 40% each of Corvina and Rondinella with 20% Molinara and comes in at 12.5%. In this case the whole is perhaps greater than the sum of the parts so that we are less concerned that it is not typical. Perhaps the solution is to buy the Recchia as well as the Gorgo.

 

Croatina (aka Bonarda)

 


Another neglected grape, goodness knows why, is Croatina, also known as Bonarda. The UK market has none that we like: available wines tend to be too alcoholic or just not 'fleshy and creamy sweet' as D'Agata describes it. In 2019 we went on a Croatina hunt to Rovescala, the epicentre of Croatina dell'Oltrepo Pavese and there at the Festa del Bonarda, we discovered Ferruccio Dellafiore's Croatina from the Zucarello vineyard, perhaps the best in the area. No other Croatina has approached this one on our view and it costs only €.3 a bottle!

We bought 2 cases thanks to Ferruccio's son Mauro who is very helpful and efficient to deal with. This batch was a little different than previous ones. Corks have been replaced by composite closures and was the wine more frizzante than before? No matter, the bubbles soon dissipate in the glass leaving just a pleasant prickle. 

This is one wine we can urge everyone to buy from the producer even if it involves paying for the packaging and sending a shipper to collect the wine. Duty will also be charged but the price per bottle will still be a reasonable £11.87


Grignolino 

We can't think of Grignolino without remembering what an Italian Somm cried disparagingly when asked if he had any: 'Grignolino e un vino da ragazza!' We couldn't agree less but having said that there are a lot of insipid Grignolinos out there and an equal amount trying to be muscle men. In both cases you don't really get the Grignolino taste. 

Our bench mark Grignolino was the one by Trinchero but at nearer £40 a bottle than £30 it is simply too expensive for regular drinking.


 


 

We tried as many Grignolinos on the UK market as possible which is not a great number. Not finding anything interesting here or even any tempting ones in Italy, were about to give up when we tasted one by Migliavacca. Just a sip and we were convinced. That was it. The only problem was it is a bit on the pricy side but we requested a 10% discount from the nice people at Vinissimus and got a case at £16.48 a bottle including delivery. It is worth it, especially after such a dispiriting search.


Pineau D'Aunis

Another favourite and incidentally neglected grape is Pineau D'Aunis. We have written all we would like to say about this grape elsewhere in this blog so suffice it to say that the UK. Pineau D'Aunis's situation is not much better than that of Grignolino.




Never mind, we knew where to go for a great Pineau D'Aunis having bought several cases for a family wedding 11 years ago. It should be added that the bride and her fiance picked out Gigou's Pineau D'Aunis in a blind tasting. We had put it there among far more conventional wines as a wild card. How unlike the reaction of the French conductor and connoisseur friend of ours who spat it out, poured the rest of the bottle down the sink and stated that it shouldn't be sold as wine.

It was good to know that Domaine Gigou was still flourishing and their Pineau D'Aunis still up there although rather different from the one we remembered. Different but no less good. Mme Gigou is also one of the very few who are prepared to ship to the UK and has the experience to do that for a reasonable price. Everyone else please note!

 

Portugieser 

At the risk of being thought of as a refuge for neglected (unloved?) grapes, we hereby profess love and admiration for the Austrian grape called Portugieser for some reason, being unknown in Portugal. This is another one that varies a lot and also one that is hardly represented at all on the UK market.



 

We remembered a fantastic Hungarian example from Frittmann so as it was so inexpensive (HUF 1,190 or £2,90 or €.3.38 a bottle) we ordered 10 bottles of that via a friend in Hungary. He pointed out it said 'Semi-sweet' on the label but we went ahead anyway. It is definitely sweeter than how we remembered it from a few years ago but very pleasant and has its uses.

Poulsard

Poulsard has the reputation of being a tricky grape to grow. Maybe that's why it's so difficult to find a good inexpensive one. Like Grignolino there are those that are watery and those that have been put on steroids. Those available in the UK are on the expensive side.



 

 

So we went to Wink Lorch's book 'Jura Wine' and by process of elimination, came up with Domaine Philippe Vandelle. The description of M. Vandelle and his operation was encouraging and his Poulsard was only €.7.80 which was reasonable indeed. Nonetheless we bought a single bottle as a sample to begin with. 

The wine is on the light side even for a Poulsard but not watery. Poulsard has been described as the whitest of red wines and the reddest of white wines. Served with baked salmon fillets and beetroot, it earned general acclaim. We are happy with our choice.

Raboso

Raboso is actually not one of our favourite varieties although whenever we have been in Venice we have tried to love it. This is because until recently it was the favourite red wine of Venetians buying their wines at Vino Sfuso shops. Verduzzo was their white of preferance by the way. These have been overtaken by Pinot Grigio and Cabernet. Is a little knowledge a dangerous thing for local grapes?

There was one memorable Raboso however and we remembered its maker: Italo Cescon.




So when thinking about other everyday reds we decided to bring in some Cescon 'Tralcetto.' 

 

 

This is the bottle with the intricate arrangement consisting of a ribbon around the label holding a little cutting no doubt from a Raboso vine. 

The Cescon people couldn't have been more helpful and so it was not long before the first of two 6-bottle boxes arrived. DHL had manage to hold the second box up and it was a while before we were united with that but that's not Cescon's fault.

It is well known that wine varies according to vintage and the wine we bought (2014) was very pleasant if not as great as the one we had drunk previously. The price was right at €.8.90 though.

 

Schiava/Vernatsch

Yet again a variety that unaccountably doesn't seem to have impinged on the UK wine buying public's consciousness. Here we must promise that we don't choose these less well known varieties because they are less well known. Schiava comes in two other guises: Trollinger and Black Hamburgh. 

We like our Schiava neat and not blended with Lagrein as in Sankt Maddalener and not all Schiavas are as good as others. We found Schiava Nera disappointing for example. Schiava Grossa and Schiava Grigia are good ones. there is also Schiava Gentile but we haven't tasted that one yet.




At the beginning of the year we imported one of our favourite Schiavas, Kellerei Kurtatsch's 'Sonntaler'. This was advertised at 11.5% Abv but when it arrived was 13% which was annoying. We ordered a selection of Schiavas of 12.5% or under with the injunction not to send anyhing that was higher. The merchant sent us these bottles with only 1 out of 12 having the same Abv as advertsised and the vast majority 13% or over. After much gnashing of teeth, we tasted most of them and are sure that the higher alcohol was supressing the typicity of the variety.




There was only one that stood out - the Lago di Caldara scelto (2019) Vine Cellar St. Pauls. 12.5% €.9.55. 

We'll stick with Sonntaler. Even at 13% it is acceptable.


Trepat 

If Trepat is known at all in the UK it is as a constituent of Cava or maybe some rose wines of Catalunya.

However, since drinking Josep Foraster's Trepat some years ago we have been a great fan of this grape - it could be the next big discovery here with the right trigger.

If so it will be a race against the tendancy yet again to produce souped-up versions. Even Foraster's Trepat has gone up in alcohol and now you would be hard pressed to say what it is never mind identifying it as Trepat.



Fortunately there is one truly magnificent example available: El petit Carlania Trepat from Celler Carlania. More good news: you can get this from Decantalo in the UK for £11.29. Mmmmmm.