Monday 29 June 2009

Vin Naturel update

Despite our wide network we can't be ubiquitous so it was with an element of innocence that we thought we had 'discovered' Vin Naturel in January 2009 and amazement that there was a wine merchant in Archway Road specialising in Vin Naturel and as good as any to be found in Paris; 'Wine of Course' (Zelas).

What ingenues we are! We suddenly discover the UK is practically seething with such places:

Terroirs; a wine bar and restaurant which opened in the autumn of 2008 in the West End of London modelled on "Parisian Natural Wine bars with their emphasis on superb, rarely-seen wines, informal yet informed service, and excellent, hearty food." This is getting a lot of media attention including a favourable piece by Jancis Robinson. There is a link with Les Caves de Pyrene (see below) who own the lease. Presumably a lot if not all the wine comes from them.

Les Caves de Pyrene; have probably been doing it for years. A recent visit to their HQ near Guildford showed us to what extent. The Caves de Pyrene wine list which seems to incorporate the concept 'idiosyncratic' contains even more but there is so much else going on in that literary and scientific publication that whether a wine is 'naturel' doesn't stand out as it might otherwise. There are no prices in the wine list by the way. Our realisation that Les Caves de Pyrene is a major stockist of Vin Naturel came just in time to award them joint 'UK Wine Merchant of the Year' together with 'Wine of Course'.

Artisan and Vine; opened in 2008 in Clapham. You can also eat there, the food echoing the 'natural' policy. I notice among their extensive list they list the 'Rosso del Contadino' also sold by Caves de Pyrene. This is a field blend from Mt. Etna including both white and red grapes such as Carricante, Inzolia, Catarratto, Nerello Mascalese, Alicante,... what they call 'promiscuous'. We have a bottle scheduled for tasting around mid-July. Can't wait.
In addition to Vin Naturel they specialise in Englsh wine selling wines grown within two hours' drive from Battersea.

And last but not least, Berties of Bourne End aka Bertrand and Nicholas of Furlong Road, Bourne End, Bucks. This is an amazing Tardis of a shop with not only an interesting selection of wines but also a Traiteur department, coffee shop and more besides. Bertrand Prevost has lived in the UK for 20 years but lost none of his gallic ("call me Bertie") bonhommie. He is the exclusive importer of most of his wines and even the food he sells. Bertie is an enthusiast and hopes to communicate his enthusiasm. He had several wines on tasting and made all kinds of generous offers on them. " This one I'll give you 10% off, this one 15%. This one I'll let you have half-price because I love it and I think you will too" Now where have we heard that before? No wonder he has a day job in addition to running the shop. We bought 7 wines for an average of £10 a bottle which is a good deal less than usual in this field. A Cot (Malbec) from the Lot called 'Fruite' proudly dispalyed a sticker saying it had won 2nd prize in some French competition. It was indeed fruity and only 12.5%.
Bertie makes a speciality out of (mainly French) Malbec He says the English like it and reminds us it was the English wine before Claret. He is also one of the very few UK stockists of the wines of 'St Pourcain', an undeservedly obscure appellation south of the Loire producing a deliciously light Pinot Noir and Gamay blend appreciated by Samuel Beckett.

There may be more Natural Wine merchants or wine bars out thare. We'd love to hear from you.

Friday 26 June 2009

Slotovino awards 2008/9

We celebrate our first year with the following awards and prizes. Congratulations to the winners!

Best Red Wine discovery: ‘Santa Ne’ (Palari), Etna, Sicily. Runner up, Pianetta di Cagnore, Vernaccia Nera 2003, Terreno Ottavi, San Severino, (Macerata), Marche.

Best White Wine discovery: Xerolithia (100% Vilana), Creta Olympias, Peza, Crete. Runner up Quintas de Melgaco QM Vinho Verde, (Alvarinho) Portugal.

Best Rose discovery: Vitkin ‘Israeli Journey’ dry Rose (Syrah, Carignan, Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc blend)

Best UK wine retailer: Joint 1st prize - Les Caves de Pyrene and Wine of Course (Zelas)

Best retailer (rest of world); Astor Wines of New York. Runner up Per Bacco, Milan

Best Consortium outlet Vini Portugal, Lisbon and Porto. Runner up Kiraly Borhaz, Budapest

Most encouraging wine trend; Vin Naturel

Most promising grape: Pugnitello. Runner up Nerello Capuccio

Best airport duty free: Schwechat, Vienna. Runner up: Marco Polo, Venice. (Most disappointing airport duty free: Tegel, Berlin)

Best restaurant wine list: Gramercy Tavern, New York.

Best Sommelier: The Waterside Inn, Bray.

Best wine writer: Carla Capalbo (‘Collio. Fine Wines and Foods from Italy’s North East’ – Pallas Athene).

Best wine newspaper column: Jancis Robinson and Andrew Jefford, Financial Times

Vigneron of the year: Francisco Figueiredo, Colares

Best supermarket: No prize awarded this year.

Best supermarket website:

Booby prize of the year: Pub wines

Most depressing marketing name: ‘Berrys’ Good Ordinary Claret’

Best kept wine secret: New York State Wines

Prediction for 2009/10: The tide will turn in favour of lower alcohol levels

Best English wines: White - Fawley Vineyard Bacchus. Red - Chapel Down Pinot Noir. Sparkling - Ridgeview Cuvee Merret,

Monday 8 June 2009

Web links

Wine Links
Website of Vini Portugal (branches in Lisbon and Porto)
The amazing eleveur/marchand de vin in Besancon, famous throughout France
The site for this excellent outlet for Spain's most eclectic region
Order vin naturel online in the UK at our most interesting winemerchant 'Wine of course'
For vino sfuso and much else of interest.
Excellent ‘Weinlexikon’ with notes on hundreds of grape varieties.
On of my favourite wine writers Ditto
Website of Daniel Rogov, authority on Israeli wine
A winemerchant adapting to change with the same flair as when they set up.
Very good online Austrian supplier. Note their ‘Landesweine’ (country wine) selection.
The site for Swiss wine in the UK.
Some interesting items here including Henri Marionnet’s ‘Vinifera’ Cot (Malbec) Touraine A great site for mainly Italian varieties.
Website including details of agencies of the great Sicilian producer of Santa Ne and other marvels
Distributor of Palari wines in the UK
Charming and efficient Frenchman offering amazing bin end bargains from time to time.
Equally charming and efficient specialists in Macedonian wine
One of my favourite Australian wineries. Their whole range should be available in the UK but is not.
Another of my favourite Australian wineries. Any of their wines should be available in the UK but are almost not
The Vitkin Winery is one of the most interesting in Israel. Their wines should be more easily available worldwide.
In Portuguese but the photos tell the story of Ramisco grapes grown in Colares
Ideal website telling the story of grape varieties in Australia: every wine country should have one
No longer as good as it was but still one of the best wine shops in the world

Friday 5 June 2009

Porto, Oporto

As wine tourism goes, this was as good as it gets. Thanks to Andrew Bennett, manager of the Orquestra Nacional do Porto. He cut short his afternoon in the office for the first time in 6 years in order to give us a tour of the city and visit to the Sala Ogival of the estimable institution Vini Portugal in the former Porto Stock Exchange (Palacio da Bolsa). Their tasing rooms are beautifully fitted, clean and modern. Only the piped music was not appropriate to the seriousness and quality of the undertaking but we are realising that is a common lapse in the wine world

Andrew is primarily an administrator and manager of genius; the Orquestra Nacional do Porto is now probably the best in the country and the programme at the iconic Rem Koolhaas Casa da Musica is as imaginative and eclectic as you could find anywhere. This was his first visit to Vini Portugal although he is a veteran of many appearances at the famous Port houses on the opposite side of the Douro where he takes visiting artists.

Vini Portugal runs tastings from different regions every 3 weeks so our wines were Vinhos Verdes, Algarve and Barraida/Beiras. Tânia Branco Oliveira was our exceptionally knowledgeable guide. We learned that Vinho Verde was named after the green region (Minho) where it comes from and not anything to do with the youth or colour of the wine. We had not realised as well as Vinho Verde which is made from Alvarinho, Avesso, Loureiro, Pederna (Arinto) and Trajadura, White wine from the Minho may also be made from 100% Chardonnay, in which case it is named Vinho Regional Minho. Having found in the past Vinho Verde inclining to the sugary and flabby it was a delight to find at least one which could be claimed as a discovery: QM Alvarinho 2008 from Quintas de Melgaco (12.5%), a model of freshness and balance.

There was also a pink Vinho Verde which Andrew had hoped might be the holy grail of roses but which did not make that grade and then on to the Algarve and Barraida and Beiras reds. Here the variety of indiginous Portuguese grapes was in glorious evidence. Tânia told us there are 341 such varieties of which 200 are to be found only in Portugal, meaning that 141 have nonetheless been grown abroad. Some of the wines we sampled consisted of familiar varieties such as Tinta Barroca and Touriga Nacional but we had never got to grips with Baga before this tasting and our second revelation came from Caves Primavera whose Barraida Tinto Special Selection 2003 (Baga with a touch of Touriga Nacional) 13% was definitely outstanding.

In the tiny offshoot of El Corte Ingles thougtfully attached to the Palacio da Bolsa, we were able to buy the Alvarinho QM and a E.24 Dao from Alvaro Castro: "Pape" bought as a present for a certain great Bass singer then present in London whose subsequent report was very encouraging. Pape is an interesting project: a wine made as a joint venture between Alvaro’s Pellada (the ‘pe’) and rented vineyards from Casa de Passarela (the ‘Pa’). There are two wines under this label differing in the amount of Alfrocheiro (a Dao variety) used and the sort of oak. We didn't find the Primavera Baga/Cab any of the wine shops we visited after Vini Portugal.

One of these, "Vinoteca" (Largo S. Domingos 67, just behind the Palacio da Bolsa), was particularly attractive. On Andrew's advice we bought a bottle of 'E.A.', Vasco Maria Eugenio de Almeida, (Conde de Villalva who founded the Adega in 1963).
This and other E.A. wines were also much in evidence at the airport the folowing day. The Colheita Seleccionada Vinho Regional Alentejano 2007 (13.5%, E.7.30) is made from Aragonez (aka Tempranillo), Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Alfrocheiro.

Also the airport were quite good selections at the Duty Free and El Corte Ingles outlets. At the former we bought an entry-level (E.16) Chryseia Douro whose graphics Andrew had quite rightly praised (P+S). This 14% effort is by Bruno Prats and Symington which should be a winning combination. Symington are building a large hotel among the Port warehouses on the front at Vila Nova de Gaia which seems like Porto's left bank but is in fact another town altogether. All the great Port names are there. Rumour has it that some of the English families involved for 300 years in the Port trade still do not speak Portuguese very well and Andrew advises that the cellar tours get better the further from the iron bridge you go.

That evening we had to go to Santa Maria da Feira for a concert at the Europarque. We found an excellent modern restaurant, 'O Conde do Castelo' (Rua Dr. Roberto Alves 15) where we chose a white Douro - CARM (Casa Agricola Roboredo Madeira) branco reserva 2007 which Andrew tells us merits 17 points in the key Portuguese annual wine guide. The grapes for the 2005 vintage were Verdelho, Siria, Rabigato and other Portuguese traditional varieties from vineyards older than 60 years so the 2007 might not be very different. Douro white was previously an unknown quantity. This was a real eye-opener.

At the airport we also bought another Douro Branco, a very pleasurable Follies Loureiro/Trajadura Quinta da Aveleda under 10 Euros.

A welcome feature of most of the wines we tasted and bought was the unassuming alcohol levels. Douro reds and roses may be gravitating towards higher levels but only one of the above wines exceeds 13.5% and of course the Vinho Verdes go as low as 10%.

Douro is the world's oldest DOC but it seems still has many secrets to yield. Wines from the rest of Portugal even more so.

ViniPortugal - Sala Ogival Porto
Palácio da Bolsa, Rua Ferreira Borges 4050-253 Porto Portugal
tel: +351 223 323 072 fax: +351 223 323 074 móvel: +351 916 614 835
e-mail: site: