Monday 31 May 2010

In praise of…Alpha Zeta Wines

Alpha Zeta Wines show just what can be achieved by outsiders taking a fresh look at an area, in this case Veneto (especially around Verona). Canadian Master of wine David Gleave and a New Zealand flying winemaker, Matt Thomson together with co-operative manager Gaetano Tobin have produced (with the aid of some cute graphics and good marketing) an excellent range of reasonably priced wines including

Amarone (Corvina, Rondinella Cabernet Sauvugnon) (A)

Chardonnay (C)

Corvina (C)

Garganega (G)

Lugana (Trebbiano di Lugana) (L)

Pinot Grigio (P)

Rosato (Corvina)

Soave (Garganega, Trebbiano) (S)

Valpolicella (V)

Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso (R)

We found the G for Garganega at the Ashmolean Museum Restaurant in Oxford. It was so good we have to re-evaluate this grape and will be removing it from our ‘pet hates’ list immediately.

Can we look forward to any of the following, all from the Veneto?

C Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Corvinone
D Dindarello, Durello
G Gropello
I Incrocio Manzoni
M Malbech/Malbeck, Molinara
N Negrara
P Picolit, Picolit Nero, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, Prosecco, Prosecco Spento
R Ramandolo, Rondinella
T Tai Rosso, Turbiana
U Ucelut

Just a thought.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Slotovino Hall of Fame (update)

To bring the Slotovino Hall of Fame list of Great discoveries among little-known grape varieties up to date, here is a new and improved roll-call of our finds.


Antao Vaz
Bombino (Trebbiano d'Abruzzo)
Loin de l'Oieul
Welschriesling (Riesling Italico)


Blauer Wildbacher
Folle noire
Nerello Capuccio
Perricone (aka. Pignatello)
Pineau d'Aunis
Plavac Mali
Prieto Picudo
Tinto Cão
Vernaccia nera

Tinto Cão yet another addition to the Slotovino Hall of Fame

We have great pleasure in adding TINTO CÃO to the Slotovino Hall of Fame collection of great, little known grape varieties. This Portuguese beauty is usually part of Port blends but Quinta Vale da Raposa (Douro) have made a 100% Tinto Cão and the 2004 vintage (13.5%) is available in the UK at £20.99 from Wine Rack which has opened up on some old Threshers sites.

We rarely recommend wine at this price but can say in this case it is worth it.

Comments on this grape from the Internet include:

This grape grows in small clusters of medium sized berries with thick skins. It is a poorer producer in terms of overall crop size than the other key 'Port' grapes except for Touriga Nacional. It produces wines that are lower in alcohol and have less structure than the other 'Port' grapes. It is used as a blending agent to add floral characteristics to the nose and fruitiness to the taste. It is the least planted of the key 'Port' varieties but is increasing in its popularity.

Tinta Cão Red Grape Variety, one of the oldest native Portuguese grape varieties, almost became extinct because of its low yields; however, because it is considered one of the highest quality port wine varieties, it is increasing once again in popularity. The wine produced from Tinta Cão has low alcohol levels. Its vines are strong and hardy and its leaves are large and dark green. The berries are small, and they grow in small clusters. However, the berries have thick skins and are resistant to disease. The grape is sweet.
Traditionally, Tinta Cão has been planted in the Douro region of northern Portugal since the 16th century; with the increase in demand for its wine, the plantings have increased. Recently, it has also been planted in the Dão region of Portugal. It has also made its way to the United States and is being planted in Madera County in California.

Colonial Gifts

Tinta Cão, red Prtgs wine varty from Douro circ 1600. Despite hi quality of wine, vines' low yields nearly lead 2 var extinction.
mbdeliciouslife (Twitter)

Tinta Cão is a very tough skin grape that has a tendency to not ripen in hot climates. It adds dark fruit and spice box when blending.
Boozing it.

Tinta Cão translates as "red dog" in Portuguese. It is used in table wines and Ports in Portugal but is very rare on the U.S. In Portugal it is hardly every bottled as a single varietal so there aren't a lot of opportunities to try this grape variety by itself. As you can see when you try this one, Tinta Cão contributes the treble notes to wine blends. It is very delicately fruity and floral and has complexity and subtlety even when quite young.

The wine is an intriguing and complex mix of flowers and berries. It is very floral with aromas of wisteria and lavender. The fruit flavors are quite exotic and unlike those of any other red wine, but one can find hints of blueberries, strawberries, may even show a bith of pomegranate. We have no idea how this wine will age but it drinks great now, especially if allowed to breathe in a decanter before serving. It can go well with summer foods and lighter to medium fare because of its complex fruit and nice tartness. Our best guess at the moment is to suggest drinking it from now through 2010.
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard.

Tinta Cão is a famous Portuguese red grape variety that is found mainly in Douro region. These grapes are medium sized and have thick skins.

You will have noticed everyone says 'Tinta Cão' but we say Tinto Cão, because that is what is on the label of our winning sample: Qta.Vale da Raposa.

Monday 17 May 2010

Diversity in Germany

It’s not a good idea to schedule appointments on the Friday after a Thursday Bank Holiday: too many people decide the weekend strts there. So given an unscheduled amount of liberty in Hamburg recently, we decided that music’s loss would be Slotovino’s gain.

After the usual faffing, we managed to find our way to Hanseaten Select, Oberhafenstrasse 1, 20097 Hamburg where we asked our usual question about ‘ungewöhnliche Rebsorten’ (unusual grape varieties) and were met with the characteristic rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights look. It seems that the Germans are every bit as terroir-oriented as the French in these matters with the only difference being that they are able eventually to cotton on and enter into the process of solving the problem with enthusiasm.

Thus it was that Heiko Dornberger, otherwise our human SatNav in numerous telephone calls attempting to find Oberhafenstrasse was able to give us a grand tour of his stock producing a Schneider (Pfalz) Cuvee “Ursprung” (14%)

of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Potugieser, the first two of which are only recent additions to varieties grown in Germany and a bottle of our old friend Goldriesling from Schloss Proschwitz of Meissen (Germany’s most northerly vineyard)
which we have decided no cellar should be without.

However it was for Chinese wine that we had made our tedious way to Hanseaten Select since they seem to have pioneered its importation to Germany or practically anywhere else. Mr. Dornberger chided us for not having called ahead to check if he had what we were looking for in stock. This is becoming a bad habit of ours but we can excuse ourselves by pleading blind enthusiasm when we make a find such as Cabernet Gernischt online.

This last strangely-named and obscure grape was in the 19th century a permitted local grape variety in Bordeaux and the story has it that cuttings were sent to China in 1892 - the very early days of Western plantings there. The variety then disappeared in Bordeaux post Phylloxera leaving the Chinese plantings as the only ones in existence, a bit like Carmenère in Chile, although that grape never disappeared so thoroughly as Cabernet Gernischt did from Bordeaux it seems. The Gernischt seems to be a misspelling for Gemischt although how a Bordeaux grape came by a German name is unclear. Cabernet Gemischt or Gernischt seems to be similar to Cabernet Franc, it is generally agreed. It also seemed that the bottle of Chateau Changyu-Castel Cabernet Gernischt (Shandong) was at another address in Hansastadt Hamburg and would not be available until the following morning by which time we would have departed. Mr. Dornberger kindly offered to mail the bottle to us and discovering that we could have three bottles for the same price as one, we also bought a Chinese Tasya Cabernet Franc
and a Chairman’s Reserve

both from Grace Vineyards in Shanxi to be posted too. We are awaiting their arrival as we write.

An added bonus was the fact that Mr. Dornberger deducted 50% from the price, explaining that they didn’t do Chinese wine any more and he was trying to ditch his existing stock. His expression in saying this spoke of ‘difficulties’ in importing Chinese wines. He didn’t exactly laugh as we left the shop but he did help us exit our rather tight parking space. He was in fact an expert in South African wine and was remarkably charming and helpful in view of the fact he had been stranded for a week in South Africa by the dust cloud without any help at all from British Airways.

Next we thought we would give Castel Cosimo, a joint with customer parking around the corner a quick looking-over on our way to Lübeck. This turned out to be an unexpected treasure trove. Specialising in Italian wine, they at first seemed to have inordinate trouble in getting their minds around our usual question but once they had grasped the concept, the information came tumbling out and we discovered

Tai Rosso
Vernaccia Nera
A Forastera/Biancolella blend from Ischia
and an amazing Raboso del Piave (14%) with sugar at 44.3 which is apparently mega.
We have to compliment Castel Cosimo for giving the following information on their wines on their website: unprecedented in our experience. The following refers to the Raboso just mentioned:

Anbauregion: Veneto/Venetien, Provinz Treviso
Jahrgang: 2005
Erzeuger: Weingut Cà di Rajo, San Polo di Piave
Ausbau: großes Holz, neue Barriques (30%) - 36 Monate
Weinart: Rot
Geschmack: trocken, sehr kräftig, würzig
Traubensorten: Raboso (30% angetrocknet)
Hektarertrag (in kg): 10.000
Hektarertrag (in kg): 5.000 kg
Boden: lehmhaltige Sand- und Schotterböden
Haltbarkeit (in Jahren): 15
Trinktemperatur (in °C): 20
Restzucker (in g/l): 5.8
Alkohol (in %): 14,0
Extrakt (in g/l): 44,3
SO 2 frei (in mg/l): 24
SO 2 gesamt (in mg/l): 72
Säure gesamt (Weinsäure) (in g/l): 7,6
ph-Wert: 3,46
Passend zu: dunkl. Fleisch/Wild, gereift. Käse, Genußwein

Unlike the back label we saw in the Landside supermarket at Hannover Airport, most of this information is interesting and indeed necessary. It should be mandatory.

We later discovered they also stocked a white wine from Passerina grapes which are unknown to us. Next time.

In Lübeck our research took us to Carl Tesdorpf (founded by Peter Hinrich Tesdorpf

in 1678) in the Mengstrasse where Thomas Mann set the family house of the Buddenbrooks. This is the Berry Brothers and Rudd of Lübeck. The shop is in a beautiful Hanseatic Merchant’s Stadtpalais-cum- warehouse such as one finds in Amsterdam and Venice.

We quickly found our Elbling from Schloss Prozchwitz (see above),

a rarity even to the Germans. We had bought this before but drank it in ignorance of the grape’s antiquity and without too much memory of its character other than a generally aimeable nature.

Now the word ‘Rarität’ to the Germans means only rare vintages mostly from Bordeaux of course – rare by virtue of being old and mostly drunk-up. For Slotovino a rarity is something more: a type of wine which not many have come across, and here in Lübeck we discovered a local favourite called ‘Rotspon’. This appeared to be the biggest-selling red wine in the city. What could it be? Our disappointment began on reading ‘Vin de Pays d’Oc’ on the label. What was going on?

Every wine should have a story but this one was on a level with ‘Good Ordinary Claret’ only with knobs on. It seems the Lübeckers quite early on found that bottling French wine and storing it in the mild sea air of the town resulted in a better, softer wine than that which travelled in flagons, bottles or whatever. There is even a story about when Napoleon passed through, he was so delighted with this ‘Rotspon’ (Plattdeutsch for Red Barrel – red because the red wine had stained the wood) that he asked how it happened that this wine was better than what he could find in France. The Burgermeister is supposed to have sent him a case and he is said to have sent a nice thank-you note but no payment. Given the plethora of stories about Napoleon commending this wine or that on his conquests it he must have been more interested in wine than empire (Chambertin reportedly accompanied him on all campaigns, he was said to have liked St. Peray, Dolce Aqua Rossese, the dessert wine of Klein Constantia, any Champagne - Josephine is reported to have had a cellar of 13,000 bottles chiefly notable for having a biase towards Bordeaux as opposed to Burgundy which had held sway in such circles up to then. There was even a game of naming Napoleaon's favourite wine played by English gentlemen as the port was passed around. The legend goes on to claim that specifically the Tesdorpf Rotspon was the wine enjoyed by Voltaire and Frederick the Great in their conversations together and later on by Thomas Mann himself, although it didn't seem to put him in a particularly sunny mood

We don’t buy it and we didn’t buy it. Wasn’t ‘Spon’ a Goon Show catchword? Anyway, later we saw a Hamburgische Spon… Obviously a great marketing dodge for a pretty unexceptional wine (a blend of Merlot 45%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%, Mourvedre 15%, Syrah 5%, Colorino 5% in case you are interested) even if it does taste nice.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Parigi, O cara

A chance to dig deeper in Paris took us to some new Cavistes where we discovered new treasures.

The first was the winemerchant Versant Vins, formerly known as Aromes et Cepages in the Marche des Enfants Rouges in the Rue de Bretagne/Rue Charlot, 3ieme. This had a small but really interesting selection of mainly Biodynamic, Organic and Natural wines with some pretty funky varieties including a new one on us, Gascon which is yet another variety from the Loire.

On this trip we were to come face to face with a second bottle of Gascon, so having never heard of it, suddenly here were two examples, of which more later.

We also bagged a Mauzac Vert. The difference between this and plain Mauzac is still unclear but there appear to be 7 different kinds of Mauzac in Gaillac and the producers Robert & Bernard Plageoles have dedicated themselves to producing 'des vins oublies ou perdu depuis plusieurs siecles.' What nobler calling could there be in the world of wine?

We were plainly on a roll. The Gascon here was from an interesting producer called Pascal Simonutti who seems to have invented the concept of idiosyncracy single-handed. One of his labels screams "Drinking Kills". He produces organic Vin Naturel from 6 hectares in the Loire from Pineau d'Aunis, and Gamay as well as the said Gascon. His wines are Vin de Table because they do not conform to local rules.

The third bottle from this market stall was another Vin de Table this time from the Rousillon producer Matin Calme: a vin naturel Grenache Blanc called Chamboultou. It was cloudiest white wine we have ever seen - looking more like apple juice but tasted delcious. Finally we just had to have Simonutti's version of Pineau d'Aunis.

We then paid a visit to Galleries Lafayette where we had a rare but truly Parisian experience. Having asked aour usual question whether they had any little-known grape varieties we were brushed off with the information that no, they didn't have anything of the sort and that we had to go to the wine-producing areas to find such things. Funny, because with just a quick check of their shelves we found an example of Gringet from Savoie which had been near the top of our list when in the area last February and not to be found anywhere there. This turned out to be excellent and joins the Slotovino Hall of Fame by unanimous decision. Carefully selecting another 'helper' we had a more positive tutorial concerning two Champagnes which were blends of some of the more uncommon varieties permitted in that area such as Pinot Blanc, Arbanne, Petit Meslier and others, but the bottles were too expensive for us so we passed on.

At the Vin en Tete, 30 Rue Batignolles, 17ieme, we found an intriguing bottle from the Jura purporting to be 'Savignin Rouge'. Mercifully we learned that that is how Pinot Noir is known locally before buying.

Due to a bank holiday a number of Cavistes were closed. We look forward on other visits to calling on Les Ultra Vins, 16 Rue Lacuee, 12ieme, Crus et Decouvertes, 7 Rue Paul Bert, 11ieme, Auge - a temple of wine at 116 Boulevard Haussmann in the 8ieme and others.

Meanwhile, our second lucky strike was the discovery of Les Caves de Papilles, (35 Rue Dauguerre, 14ieme) where the very knowledgeable gentleman sold us our second bottle of Gascon, 'Rouge Gascon' also from the Loire produced by Les Cailloux du Paradis of a place called Soings en Sologne between Orleans and Tours. He also came up with something called Fie Gris from the Touraine produced by another maverick, Jacky Preys from a vineyard calles 'Pierre a Fusil' or Gun Stone from the fact that gun flints came from the land there. Fie Gris (aka Sauvignon Gris) turns out to be a parent of Sauvignon Blanc and Preys seems to be with Eric Chevalier one of the last exponents of this grape when all around have replaced it. Some of his centenarian vines are said to predate the Phylloxera epidemic.

Also picked up on this trip was a Domaine Navarre OEillade (une variété de cinsault aux grains plus allongés) at 11.5% (Languedoc/Roussillon) and Pierre Overnoy's remarkable Jura Chardonnay (yes, dear reader - the C word) both of which we has enjoyed previously.

A pilgrimage to Lavinia failed to turn up anything novelties but it seems we have only scratched the surface in Paris and the Vin Naturel movement appears to be thriving. And no, you don't have to go to the regions to find little known grape varieties.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Wines of Israel tasting, 6.5.10

On election day, noch a rare tasting of wines from 16 Israeli producers, large and small at the Landmark Hotel, London. There we renewed our acquaintance with luminaries such as Yair Margalit of the Margalit Winery whom we had met in 1996 and Sharona Belogorovsky of the Vitkin winery who had shown us around and given us a wonderful tasting in 2008. We also met Shmuel Boxer who heads Binyamina and some of the Tishbe clan as well as others. All these personalities are hugely knowledgeable, sophisticated and charming.

Despite a good turnout, it was not clear if much in the way of commercial progress would arise from this serious and well organised initiative. As we found on our visits to Israel, the price of Israeli wine is high due to the exchange rate and the lack of economies of scale.

Nonetheless, producers would like their wines to be represented abroad if only to increase awareness of what they are achieving. The wines themselves vary from mediocre to very good indeed but none is any better than 1st class Californian which they resemble perhaps only too closely. We very much hope deserving producers find agents and distributors here and elsewhere. We should have the choice of drinking Israeli wine for diversity’s sake.

We didn’t have the time to taste all the wines but the following made as good an impression as ever, showing consistency as well as excellence;

Binyamina Dovev Argaman

Margalit Cabernet Franc

Vitkin Carignan,

Petite Sirah

and Riesling

Doron Belogorovsky told us although one of the smallest wineries in Israel Vitkin use the greatest number of grape varieties (over 20). We asked him if any Rothschild plantings from the 19th century were still in existence but he said that there were hardly any vines over 20 years old in Israel because as soon as vines begin to yield less they are grubbed up and the vineyard replanted anew such is the pressure on agricultural land.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Back labels again.

At Hannover Airport (Land-side) we saw two bottles so ashamed of their grape varieties that they failed to mention them anywhere on the bottle. In one case, it seems the (red) blend was predominately Pinot Noir (tremble) and the other Blauer Portuguieser (shudder).

In the case of the latter, the back label gave more information than we have ever seen – anything but the grape variety:

Zucker unvergoren 4.4 Gramm
Als Invertzucker Bet.
davon Glukose 1.9 Gramm
Fruktose 2.5 Gramm
Broteinheiten 0.4 Gramm
Alkohol Brennwert 2814 Kilojoule
672 Kilokalorien
Gesamt Brennwert 2955 Kilojoulen
705 Kilokalorien
Die Analyse erfolgte im Auftrag der DLG Testservice GmbH, Otto=Lilienthal-Strasse 4, 55232 Alzey.

We’re all in favour of the contents being declared but this?

For what it is worth, this riveting information was in respect of a €2.99 bottle of Dirmsteiner Schwarzerde Rotwein (Pfalz) and the recalcitrant Pinot Noir was from Kosovo, bottled in Germany (abgefüllt in Mainz) – Amselfelder Lieblich trocken, also at €2.99. Amselfeld was incidentally the site of several battles from the 14th to the 20th century between Turks and Serbs. A rather bloodthirsty name for a wine, hardly good marketing on either side one would have thought.

Grape updates

Information is reaching us at all times through our many members of staff throughout the world who report on the ticker-tape day and night.

There is some breaking news about Persan, Peloursin and Petite Sirah already mentioned in recent entries to this Blog. Be careful though, it is a torrid tale.

First of all, Persan and Peloursin are not at all the same thing although both are obscure red varieties from Savoie. Peloursin has travelled the globe in various forms for the following reasons:

1). The vine is very vigorous.
2). It is upright.
3). It has a spreading habit of growth.

It is not regarded as good on its own and in Savoie was always blended with Persan.

Persan is not known ever to have been exported or indeed planted anywhere else than Savoie.

On its travels, Peloursin has met and had an affair with Syrah to produce Durif, sometimes mistaken for Petite Sirah in America. That is OK - these grape varieties get around a bit. However, there is a skeleton in Peloursin's cupboard and this consists of an incestuous crossing or what has been euphemistically called 'Field Blend' of Peloursin with Durif, making no doubt a slightly different Petite Sirah.

Poor Petite Sirah. As well as having this dubious background it has often been in reality Syrah and not Petite Sirah at all.

So, dear Slotovino reader, when you are presented with Petite Sirah from California, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Israel and no doubt other places, spare a thought for the 'related group of black grape varieties' and don't be too doctrinaire about what you are drinking.

Oh, and just in, Ruländer/Grauburgunder may sometimes suggest to the Germans a fuller (sweeter) wine than Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. This could have something to do with the fact that each country has its predominant clone (Germany FR 49-207, France 52, Italy, H-1).

On Amazon we just discovered there is an entire book devoted to 'The History and Mystery of Zinfandel' by David Darlington (1991 - 304 pages!).