Sunday 24 October 2010

Yet another fine mess

At the Garden shop at Wisley (Surrey), we just read that Palomino = Golden Chasselas. Fortunately it turns out that Chasselas and Golden Chasselas (aka Chasselas Doré) are not the same thing.

However, fearing another extinction by synonym (such as we have suffered before) we turned as ever to The Oxford Companion to Wine. Here the waters if not muddy are not quite clear.

Under Chasselas, we read that 'In France it [Chasselas] is rather despised, not least because as Chasselas Doré or Golden Chasselas, it is France's most common table grape.' The entry goes on to say 'Total French plantings in 2000 were more than 3,000 ha/7,500 acres.', not quite removing the idea that Chasselas is not the same thing as Golden Chasselas.

But others are clearer that Chasselas and Golden Chasselas are not the same; states; 'It (Chasselas) is not related to the American grape Golden Chasselas which is thought to be the Sherry grape Palomino.' (How an American grape became the variety for the base wine of Sherry is not explained, or are we missing something here?)

Now to the relationship or non-relationship between Golden Chasselas and Palomino.
Under Palomino the same Oxford Companion to wine puts things thus 'California's acreage of the variety [Palomino], once wrongly identified as Golden Chasselas...'

Oz Clarke however is not quite so categorical; 'the Grape grown in California as Golden Chasselas is most likely to be Palomino.', adding elsewhere the seemingly contradictory 'Palomino used to be known as Golden Chasselas.' (and stating by the way that Palomino is 'one of the dullest grapes in the world').

Others still assert that Palomino = Golden Chasselas;

'Golden Chasselas

Known in the Napa Valley and adjacent districts as the Golden Chasselas and elsewhere in the state under its proper name, the grape is not a variety of Chasselas, but none other than the Palomino, celebrated for the production of Sherry in the Jerez district of Spain and elsewhere.'

If we're not out of the woods with Golden Chasselas yet, it is comforting to know that Chasselas is not Palomino. Chasselas is after all a grape we have appreciated in the wines known as Fendant in Switzerland, but also in the Loire, Alsace and thanks to Eric Pfifferling, Tavel.

Our bottle of Niepoort Palomino will no doubt settle the matter of whether Oz Clarke is right or not but is that Palomino Fino or Palomino Basto? That doesn't matter so long as neither is Chasselas, we reckon.

Friday 22 October 2010

The Easternmost Vineyard in England

Mersea Vineyard is the easternmost vineyard in England or Britain for that matter.

The Eastern vineyards are the driest too. Mersea Island is an interesting place - rather Dickensian - which is cut off by the tide once a day. Islanders are a tight knit community and different from other Essex people.

On Long Island New York we learned about salinity in the soil and how this affected some grapes more than others. We visited Mersea Island Vineyards at harvest time and tasted some of their wines. The standout was a Rose made by an interesting method;

"Made from a blend of our white grapes which has then been fermented on the skins of our Pinot Meunier grapes to produce this delightful wine. "

This is remeniscent of the way Dov Segal's magnificent Argamon is made by fermenting the Argamon grapes on Merlot lees. We wonder what other wines are made by this method. It seems to be capable of great things.

The advisor is John Worontschak, an Austalian late of Thames Valley Vineyards and consultant to many others.

Grapes grown include Muller Thurgau, Ortega, Reichensteiner, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

Thames Valley report, harvest time 2010

Having started so promisingly, the grape harvest in the Thames Valley has not turned out well according to insiders. Our Bacchus crop withered on the vine (powdery mildew). We regretted not having sprayed it so were relieved when we were told that the result would have been the same even if we had.

Our Triomphe d'Alsace however was as hale and hearty as ever (such an obliging grape). We have discovered that it makes wonderful grape juice so we juiced a small fraction of the reasonably large crop. It would have been larger had we picked a week earlier but the birds know a thing or two about ripeness and had helped themselves to about 20% of the crop.

Despite its resistance to weather and disease we are losing faith in Triomphe which is being described ever more frequently as going out of favour. Tasting even commercial examples we have to agree it really doesn't make very appealing wines. This year we have decided to try something completely different and have asked our winemaker to attempt to produce a 'blanc de noirs' or white wine from our red grapes. Our thinking is that to do so the juice has to be forced through a carbon filter which removes a lot of flavour. Now you're taking!

This winter we are going to do some work on the soil, plant as many new varieties as we can obtain from our esoteric list and see over the next few years which produce viable fruit. We may then make a 'field blend' while replacing the failures with the successful varieties. We promise to spray the Bacchus and if our 'blanc de noirs' doesn't work out, keep the Triomphe for juice which is popular with certain members of the family.

Another report will be posted in the new year when we get to taste our 'white' wine.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Frieze Art Fair copies Slotovino

How's this for Art imitating Life?

Slotovino, August 2010

Frieze Art Fair, October 2010

It is true the Frieze effort has wheels but ours has two yellow straps which sorry to say are definitely more secure and also brown tape all over for added safety. The price of the Frieze effort was £1,800. Ours of course much more.

Torino: chocolate and wine

Sitting in the very epicentre of Italy's greatest wine area, Torino appears more interested in chocolate than their famous local wines.

Indeed we even saw an invitation to a chocolate-tasting

at a certain venerable establishment in this city of Pasticcerias and sweet shops;

birthplace of the chocolate bar.

As for their Barolos, Barbarescos, Barberas, Dolcettos and Nebbiolos of Alba and the Langhe it would seem that producing such marvels just happens effortlessly. How wrong can one be?

We entered Torino determined to find good cheap Barolo or at least one under €20. Why should it always be so expensive? Firmly believing that the price of wine has more to do with the lifestyle and aspirations of the vigneron than intrinsic worth or cost of production we were sure of finding Barolo at half the price for local consumption.

Wrong. There was the same explanation wherever we went. Barolo is difficult to produce. It requires certain sites. It only ripens properly if the conditions are right. It must be aged for 2 or 3 years in cask and then further in bottle. You may find Barolo for under €20 but it will not give the experience of proper Barolo. This information came from establishments such as the great Gastronomia Paissa

and the Casa del Barolo,

an appropriately plutocratic establishment with entry only in response to a buzzer.

Research had thrown up two Vino Sfuso outlets in Torino so why not go from the pillar of expensive Barolo to the post of wine on draft? First we visited Scaringella Vini e Bevande which was quite different from any of the other Vino Sfuso shops we had seen in Venezia.

It was more like something we had once found in Napoli with large tanks of wine in bulk where customers could fill a demijohn (minimum 5 litres) with a small selection of wines; Dolcetto, Barbera and one or two others.

The shop also sold other wines and spirits in bottle. Over the yard they had yet more tanks and a bottling plant.

So as well as filling your demijohn, you could buy the wine in bottle. What Scaringella wouldn't do was to fill your empty mineral water bottle or other container (unles it had 5 litres or more capacity presumably). We bought a bottle of Dolcetto and one of Barbera at around €3 each. The Barbera was better but neither was better than ordinaire.

From there we went to 'L'angolo del vino' in another part of town.

This was rather extraordinary - a Venetian establishment transposed to Torino complete with Veneto varieties 'delle Marche Trevigiane' (Treviso), selected from a company called 'l'Azienda vitivinicola La Costa di Vò coming from barrels with taps.

We found the following varieties (there are 21 on offer);

Ancelotta (YES Ancelotta, despite dire warnings we had heard from Venezia to Edinburgh that the Ancelotta crop had failed)
Barbera (OK there had to be one or two local varieties - provided by Rolfo Pietro, producers in Govone and San Bartolomeo)
Blends of various reds
Cabernets S. and F.
Pinot Grigio
Raboso (rose and red)

These were just as good as could be found in Venezia which seems to be a model for Vino Sfuso shops outside Venezia itself. We bought a litre of Ancelotta which was every bit as good as the first Ancelotta in purezza we ever tried and which convinced us of the high merit of this grape.

Like all the best Vino Sfuso shops, l'angolo del vino is something of a meeting place. We had to wait our turn while several others were served. We had to be patient to get these shots without embarassing anyone by including them in them

In ordinary restaurants we concentrated on the 'lesser' Barberas, Dolcettos etc. Pleasant and attractive though these were we still didn't fall head over heals for them. The only consolation was a continuing pleasure in drinking Grignolino.

Torino is a delight, preferable to Milano in our opinion. The Teatro Regio is well run and they produce better opera than most Italian houses. There is a convenient Ryanair flight from London, so no excuse for Brits not to visit. It was also the site of the 2006 Winter olympics so is in a way a Ski resort as well as everything else. We hope to return one day and crack the Barolo problem once and for all.

At Torino/Caselle airport there is a good selection of Subalpino (Piemonte) wines. The girls in the Duty Free shop answered our questions by saying 'look, all the wines here are from the best producers in Piemonte so anything you buy we can promise you will be OK.' Hmmmmmmm.

In fact we came away with a couple of rarities; a sparkling Bonarda and a still, dry Freisa which boasted quite the most bizarre label we have ever seen.

No doubt a marketing department's bright idea of how to sell such an interesting wine.

Taking up position near our gate there was a welcoming wine bar where various wines were on tasting. Asking the guy with the apron if he had a Grignolino on tasting, rather than open a bottle he said 'Grignolino e un vino da ragazza' or words to that effect.

We would have been pleased to have been ragazzi in this case.

Enoteca Costantini, Roma

Passing through Roma, we had to make a pilgrimage again to Enoteca Costantini whose Aladdin's cave held such promise and where we had first encountered our beloved Vernaccia Nera. Again we were not disappointed, despite a false start in the form of a retainer with only fitful understanding or interest in what we were after.

As in Parma, both he and the more collaborative colleague we subsequently buttonholed pointed us to a Piemontese blend which they swore was an indiginous grape variety. A misunderstanding which was clarified by reading the minute print on the back label.

Nevertheless, we exited like Max Bialystock coming out of the bushes waving an old lady's check with the following two treasures:

1. A Nero Buono from Lazio. The only known facts about Nero Buono seem to be that it is rarely found, that it comes from the area around a place called Cori and that it is "used as a blending-component in the red Cori DOC. The grape is said to add good colour, concentration and tannins to the blend. With this grape added the wines ability to age increases." The London merchant Slurp has a version from Poggio le Volpi. Their website says "The Poggio le Volpi estate was established in the 1990s by Felice Mergé. The vineyards are situated in Frascati (Lazio). This is an elegant and velvety wine with a lingering finish showing aromas of berries, chocolate, liquorice and coffee in the background." £21.60. Our version was considerably cheaper quite understandably. It seems a pattern is emerging in our discoveries of worthwhile new grapes. So many have been used to add colour or body to blends. We only have to think of Alicante Bouschet, Persan, Ancelotta etc. We have similar hopes for Nero Buono.

2. Cagnulari - a grape from Sardegna.

Here's another fine mess. According to Wikipedia, this is both Graciano and Morrastel (which we thought was Mouvedre) from Spain - understandable considering Sardegna's centuries under Spanish rule. However, Wikipedia warns us severely that Morrastel (with one 'l') is not Mourvedre: Il ne faut surtout pas le confondre avec le morastell ou monastrell (with 2 'l's) des pays catalans qui est en réalité le mourvèdre, il est vrai que ce dernier ressemble de beaucoup au Morrastel.

On another ampelographic website, synonyms also include Bastardo Nero which we thought we had heard in connection with Trousseau but all the lists of synonyms equate Bastardo (without the Nero) with Trousseau Noir (i.e. with the Nero). Could Bastardo be different from Bastardo Nero? That would really be too much to swallow (joke). NB also our friend Tintilla making an appearance here;

Bastardo Nero, Bois Dur, Bordelais, Cagliunari, Cagnonale, Cagnovali Nero, Cagnulari, Cagnulari Bastardo, Cagnulari Sardo, Cagnulatu, Caldareddu, Caldarello, Cargo Muol, Courouillade, Courouillade, Couthurier, Drug, Graciana, Graciano Tinto, Grosse Negrette, Jerusano, Karis, Marastel, Matarou, Minostello, Minustello, Monastel, Monestaou, Morastel, Morestel, Morrastel, Mourastel, Perpignan, Perpignanou Bois Dur, Plant De Ledenon, Tinta Do Padre Antonio, Tinta Miuda, Tintilla, Uva Cagnelata, Xeres, Xerez, Zinzillosa, Cendrón, Juan Ibáñez, Tanat Gris, Tintilla de Rota.

the ever informative and eclectic Caves de Pyrene has its own list of synonyms for Cagnulari;

(a.ka. Cagnorali nero, also a.k.a. Cagnonale)also a.k.a. cagliunari in Alghero, also a.k.a. cagnulari Sardo, also a.k.a. Tinta Miuda also a.k.a. caldareddu( in Gallura) recommended in the provinces of Cagliari, Oristano and Sassari.

They go on to say;

It is said to have come from France( in the second half of the 19th century) under the incorrect name of Mourvedre, but it is in fact very different from Mourvedre, and it is also said to come from Spain( during the Aragonese occupation of the island between 1322 and 1713. It is in particular found in the province of Sassari. it is very rarely vinified alone. there are 250 ha of Cagnulari planted in Sardinia.

Whatever. We love Graciano so an Italian version promises a great deal. We are looking forward to tasting this bottle, again thanks to Enoteca Costantini.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

In praise of Parma

What a place! The site of the first theatre in the world where scenery could be flown (Teatro Farnese).

City of Verdi and Toscanini. Parma ham,


There are even Musei del Cibo:

a Museo del Parmigiano and even more improbably a Museo del Pomodoro.

Countless Gastronomie grace the shopping streets.

Verdi is everywhere. We were there for the Verdi Festival at the Teatro Regio where, for Italy the performance was a rarity: really rather good.

It was booed by the infamous loggionisti who think they are experts and sing along with the performance to show it but are just chauvinists who like to boo any foreign artists when in fact the only glaringly awful performance was home grown.

The festival is a model of what such events should be. It was impossible not to be aware of it with banners hanging from every lampost

How many times have we arrived at a Festival city to be greeted with not a scintilla of evidence that anything at all was going on? There have even been times when the festival brochure was nowhere to be seen and taxi drivers had no idea where the venue was. Not so Parma.

And it is here that we found what appeared to be one of the best wine merchants in all of Italy, Enoteca Maurizio Cavalli

We stumbled on this in the Via Verdi (where else?) on our way from the railway station to the Theatre. Cavalli is a diffident man with what we thought was a French accent but this turned out to be the Parmitano accent with the 'r' produced at the back of the throat a la francaise (perhaps a relic from the French republic of Parma).

By asking Sr. Cavalli and members of his knowledgeable staff we left the shop with no les than 4 bottles:

1. A Rossese which we had been trying to find all over the place - even in New York (subsequently we saw quite a few examples on our travels)

2. A Ruche (pronounced 'Roo-Kay') (ditto)

3. A bottle of Benanti's Nerello Capuccio in purezza (rarissimo!).

4. A bottle of something we had never heard of - Pantera (by Luretta) which we were assured was a grape but turned out to be a blend of Bonarda, Barbera and Cabernet S.

We forgave them for the sake of the Nerello Capuccio which in Slotovino's estimation is the mark of an exceptional wine merchant. There is also a large selection of French and other wines.

Further along we stopped for a glass of Gutturnio which we had heard about together with Ortruga as being a Parma speciality. This turns out like the Pantera not to be a grape but another blend including Bonarda, here going under its synonym Croatina. We are great fans of Bonarda/Croatina so it iwas gratifying to find that both Gutturnio and Luretta's Pantera were excellent as well as inexpensive.

Ortruga on the other hand really is a separate grape variety and we later found a wine bar happy to open a bottle for us and sell us a glass. This version was sparkling and although very idiosyncratic a little reminiscent of a medium-dry Verduzzo. We wish we had bought a bottle there and then but the performance was about to begin so duty called. Back at the ranch we looked almost in vain for Ortruga on Winesearcher. This really was an instance where you had to go to the place of origin to find a wine. Italy is so rich in these local specialities: one is rarely disappointed.

A footnote: at the really wonderful banquet after the performance, all the wines were Spanish.