Sunday 24 March 2013


Last month we were able to taste an eclectic rat-bag of 36 wines grouped together under the banner "North". These consisted of whites and reds from Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Italy/Trentino-Alto Adige-Friuli, Austria, Hungary and England as well as New York (Brooklyn!) and France/Savoie.

There were some interesting grape varieties on show including several hybrids conceived  for cold climates (Andre, Cabernet Dorsa, Cabernet Mitos, Garanoir, Kerner, Rebo, Baco Noir, Regent), some obscure to very obscure naturally occurring varieties (Blauer Wildbacher, Cassetta, Cordenossa, Cornalin, Eyholzer Roter, Gringet, Resi, Negrara, Persan, Zierfandler as well as some unloved varietis such as Portugieser (from Germany, Italy and Hungary) and Vernatsch/Schiava. There were also a couple of maistream varieties; Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier), Samtrot - a clone of or maybe just a synonym for Pinot Meunier and Savignin going under that name and "Heida" in Switzerland. 

Lastly there were a couple of oddities including an Orange wine from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc produced with New York grapes in Brooklyn apparently and a pair of Uhudlers (a white and a red) from Austria.

The result of this tasting was for us a big number of surprises, both good and bad. It has to be said that quite a lot of bottles didn't seem to shine as much as they might have due to having been kept a year or two too long, probably in less than ideal conditions. There were also a number of wines which improved on having been left open for a day or more following the tasting. So we have arranged the wines into four categories;

Positive surprises

Negative Surprises

Wines we had enjoyed in the past and which disappointed on this occasion

Wines which improved with being left open for a further day or more

For us and for many others the Chanton Visp Resi was one of the most positive surprises. The very essence of a pure Alpine wine. Coming from a grape which has been rescued from extinction by the wonderful people of Chanton Visp who have also brought us several other such revivals, Resi stands for everything we applaud.

Next, we have to mention two real surprises in the sense of us having been ready to put money on the opposite outcome;

So flavousome and powerful, surprise and frankly disbelief greeted this wine from the Ahr valley; how was it possible in this are renouned for its light pinot noirs? Obviously a successful hybrid. It's cousin, Cabernet Dorsa did not reach these heights.

For us the Canadian Baco Noir Reserve from Henry of Pelham was a rich red we kept on coming back to. H of P seem to have avoided the sheer wierdness of Baco Noir - not entirely unpleasant but strange nonetheless and come up with a thoroughly enjoyable wine perhaps for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any time really. So meaty you could almost dispense with the food altogether.


Regent was one grape we had regretted planting in our small experimantal vineyard in the Thames Valley.  English growers had subsequently warned us it was only good in a blend and then only in small quantities to give colour. Our only experience of a 100% Regent bore this out entirely so we were amazed at this bottle which despite having had the poor treatment which did for some less robust wines in this tasting was posively bursting with health and ripe fruit.

We has struggled with the Savignin  of Jura. All the raves about its nuttiness and rancio flavours had left us thinking there must be something wrong with us. Here were two very approachable Savignins - Heida being a Swiss synonym for the grape. We hope to learn to love the Jura Savignin one day as we love so many other wines from that reagion but meanwhile these will do with the Canadian version, despite the gimmicky label being a worthy contender.

The Negative surprises just about balanced the positive ones;

The most positive thing anyone had to say about Emilio Bulfon's Cordenossa was that it had a nice label. Strange because Bulfon is another of our heroes having brought back numerous Friulian varieties from the brink, all of which we have enjoyed so far. This was difficult to drink but none of the experts suggested there might be anything wrong with the bottle.

The next negative surprise was Chanton Visp's Eyholzer Roter. This time we suspect it might have had something to do with the individual bottle because Julia Harding MW (no less) had singled this wine out from the list (she couldn't attend the tasting) as being a lovely wine. We will reserve final judgement for when we have another opportunity to taste Eyholzer Roter.

We have to include both Uhudlersunder this heading; difficult to describe which was more unpleasant. Perhaps that is a compliment of sorts to the different winemakers.

The story behind Uhudler is interesting. When phylloxera struck it seemed for a moment that European varieties were finished and wine would have to be made with American varieties in the future. This was presumably a short time before the idea of grafting onto American rootstocks made the planting of Concord, Elvira, Noah and Ripatella and the like unnecessary. A few vestiges of the unsuccessful solution have remained, one of them being Uhudler. An Austrian friend tells us there was a vogue for this as a cheap party wine for young people until the government banned it in the wake of the Anti-freeze scandal. The wine was innocent but the measure was effective. Today, despite an cheerful website listing a surprisingly large number of producers still active, the wines ramain a local phenomenon and on this showing, understandably so, gaining - unanimously - the booby prize of all tasters. Nevertheless there was something poignant about these bottles, struggling on in the face of adversity. They might have been the norm if no other solution to the phylloxera disaster had been found.

Under the heading of wines we knew and had enjoyed in the past were the following which unaccountably disappointed on this occasion

Let's be clear, Pravis's Negrara is a totally delectable wine and Negrara is a thoroughly delicious grape deserving of much greater appreciation.

Rebo is also better than happened to be the case on this occasion.

Wines which disappointed initially but were unaccountably tranformed by an inordinate amount of air contact included this Samtrot. Some say Samtrot is a clone of Pinot Meunier, some that it is just the word they use for this variety in Baden Wuerttemberg. Grafen Neipperg who also own Chateau La Gaffeliere in Saint Emilion and many other important properties have made this excellent if unwilling example.

Cassetta had been a major discovery for us but this very bottling 2 years on just wasn't the same. The Blauer Wildbacher, German  Dornfelder, the two Garanoirs the Gringet, the Persan and the Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier) also failed to shine. We thought the English Dornfelder stood out against its German cousin though. Again, it may have been the age difference that told, the former being 2009, the Gribble Bridge being NV and most probably younger.

The only Orange Wine seemed on the day of the tasting of no redeeming social value to quote Robert Parker (in another context). Yet returning to this cute bottle a day or two later we found social value aplenty which certainly redeeemed the impression on day 1.

For the rest, we can say that whatever advantages  the  Czech Lemberger/St. Laurent crossing Andre gives the grower, it is unlikely to become a favourite withpublic, pleasant enough though it is. Our Cornalin was OK but not as good as some in our experience and the Humagne Rouge which is a synonym for Cornalin in any case was decidedly inferior. The two Kerners, Eisackertal in the Alto Adige and the other from Worcestershire, England showed the range this grape is capable of.

We have been promised another tasting in June. This time the theme is "South". Among the mostly Meditteanean wines will be such rarities as Bouquet (from Bulgaria), Chenanson, Corinto Nero, Moravia Agria, Negoska, Nibio, Palagrello Bianco, Rome Blanco, Rossara, Rossese, Sauvignon Rosso, Subirat Parent, Tinta Romeand others.


List of tasting 1.2.13 "North"

1. Winzervereinigung Freyburg-Unstrut, ANDRE 2009, Saale Unstrut, Germany. 12%

2. Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve, 2010, VQA Ontario, Canada.13.5%

3. Strohmeyer, BLAUER WILDBACHER 2002, Neuberg, Weststeiermark,Austria. 13%

4. Weingut Hirschhof, CABERNET DORSA, 2009, Rheinhessen,Germany. 13%

5. Schlosshof, Dernauer CABERNET MITOS, 2006 Ahr, Germany. 13.5%

6. La Cadalora, Majere CASETTA 2005, Rosso Vallagerina, San Margherita di Ala, Trento, Italy. 13%

7. Fam. Pfeiffer Uhudler CONCORD, RIPATELLA, Eltendorf, Austria. 12.5%

8. E. Bulfon CORDENOSSA, Valeriano, Friuli, Italy. 13.5%

9. H. Badoux, CORNALIN 2009, Aigle, Valais, Switzerland. 13.5%

10. Juliusspital Iphoefer, DOMINA, 2007 Franken, Germany. 12.5% (corked - withdrawn)

11. Biddenden Gribble Bridge DORNFELDER, Kent, England. 12%

12. Kollmann-Lex, DORNFELDER 2009, Mosel, Germany. 12.5%

13. Chanton Visp EYHOLZER ROTER 2006, Vispertal, Valais, Switzerland. 11.4%

14. Domaine du Paradis GARANOIR 2007, Satigny, Switzerland. 13%

15. H. Badoux, GARANOIR 2009, Chablais, Aigle, Valais, Switzerland. 13%

16. Dominique Belluard, Les Alpes, Cepage GRINGET 2010, Savoie, France. 12%

17. Oriou Curare HUMAGNE ROUGE Chamoson, Valais, Switzerland. 12.5%

18. Suedtirol Eisacktaler KERNER 2011, Klausen Italy. 14%

19. Astley Veritas Domain J, KERNER, Worcestershire. 2009. England. 12%

20. Pravis NEGRARA, 2008, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Trento, Italy. 12.5%

21. Domaine St. Germain PERSAN, 2009, Savoie, France. 12%

22. Deutzerhof ‘Alfred C’ PORTUGIESER, Ahr, Germany. 12%

23. Casata PORTOGHESE, Montfort, Trento, Italy. 11.5%

24. Hummel PORTUGIESER, 2010, Villany, Hungary. 12%

25. Pravis REBO RIGOTTI 2007, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Trento, Italy. 13%

26. Weingut Hirschhof REGENT 2009, Rheinhessen, Germany. 13%

27. Weingut Schlosshof REGENT, 2009 Ahr, Germany. 12.5%

28. Chanton Visp, RESI 2006, Vispertal, Valais, Switzerland. 12.5%

29. Oliveira Vineyard ‘Megalomaniac’ Eccentric SAVIGNIN, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. 12.9%

30. Giroud HEIDA (Savignin), 2009 Chamoson, Valais, Switzerland. 13.2%

31. Grafen Neipperg SAMTROT Barrique, 2007, Wuerttemberg, Germany. 14%

32. Cleebronn & Gueglingen SCHWARZRIESLING 2009, Wuerttemberg, Germany. 13%

33. Fam. Johann Holler Uhudler ELVIRA, NOAH Eltendorf, Austria. 11%

34. Untermoserhof St, Magdalena VERNATSCH (SCHIAVA), 2011, Bolzano, Sudtirol, Italy. 13%

35. Freigut Thallern ZIERFANDLER 2005 Messwein, Gumpoldskirchen, Austria. 14%

36. Red Hook Winery ‘Vipolze’ 2010 Orange Wine, CHARDONNAY & SAUVIGNON BLANC, North Fork Long Island ‘Product of Brooklyn, NY, USA. 12.4%

Tuesday 19 March 2013

In praise of Bedell Vineyards

For BHO's second inaugural, there was Korbel's Californian Sparkling Brut Naturel and two wines from New York State, a Finger Lakes Riesling and Bedell's Musee Merlot from the North Fork of Long Island.

We happened to be in the US at the time and sampled the Korbel and various Bedell wines, the Riesling being available only from the two wineries which had collaborated in its production (not something you hear about very often!).

We also tried Korbel's Extra Dry and preferred it to the Naturel because the latter was rather neutral and the Extra Dry, although less dry had more character.

On a previous trip to America we had done a crawl of the North Fork vineyards of Long Island but had not tasted Bedell's wines as we were driving and had already tasted most everyone elses. We had no idea that here was perhaps the best Red wine produced in the state of New York. It appears that it has been going for 30 years, the last 13 of which have been under the ownership of Michael Lynne, a prominent film producer (Lord of the Rings).

The winemaker is Rich Olsen-Harbich who is known as a Merlot expert in the business. Bedell's website has it thus;

Bedell's Winemaker, 30-year veteran Rich Olsen-Harbich, wrote the North Fork of Long Island appellation into existence in 1986, and is the only Winemaker in Eastern North America to use entirely indigenous yeasts as part of a holistic natural winemaking program. Complementing this 30-year tradition with a critically acclaimed Artist Series, dynamic management team, and some of the oldest grapevines in the region, Bedell exists at the forefront of creativity and excellence in the modern American wine industry.

So far so good but even this didn't prepare us for the excellence of their wines.

Encouraged by this excellent wine we sought out two othe Bedell versions of Merlot. The first was called "First Crush". At modest alcohol and early release this was the epitome of lightness and freshness, so rare in American wines. It reminded us of something called "Merlesco" produced by Joseph Grillo in South Australia. If anything this was better.

For a version of the inauguration dinner back in London we served the 2008 Bedell Merlot - something between the First Crush and the Musee. This was perhaps the least sensational of the three but still really good.

When will someone succeed in importing these wines in Europe - or anywhere?

Friday 15 March 2013

Christian Chaussard 1954 - 2012

One of our very favourite winemakers and one of the best. We had the honour to meet him at last year's Real Wine Fair. His natural wines from Pineau d'Aunis have been described as 'transformative'. It is very sad but his good work will live on.

Saturday 9 March 2013

What's happening to Bardolino?

This blog is mainly to do with individual grape varieties so blends don't get much of a look-in. However we have always had a soft spot for Bardolino. It just appeals as a light drinkable food wine. Its ups and downs have also tugged at our heart strings so we suffered with its reputation during the times when it got a bad name for over-production and general lowering of standards.

We looked on helplessly while its sister Valpollicella seemed to go from strength to strength, for a while almost to the exclusion of Bardolino. Then Bardolino made a come-back by getting rid of the worst kind of cheap and not so cheerful products and generally cleaning up its act. Nevertheless, it is Valpolicella that is more expensive and better regarded with Bardolino treated in a patroniising way if at all. Here is a particularly delicious econium from the Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia;

Bardolino DOC produces dry, sometimes frizzante, red and rose (chiaretto) wines from the southeast shores of Lake Garda. The reds, made from Corvina, Molinara and Negrara (sic) could be very interesting , but unfortunately most producers tend to make rather bland, lightweight wines.

Why should this be? We have various theories; Valpolicella is the base wine for others of considerable interest including Ripasso, Recioto and of course Amarone which has a claim as one of Italy's great wine styles. Or could it be that Valpolicella is in general more substantial than Bardolino with a greater percentage of Corvinone permitted - up to 50% as opposed to 10% for Bardolino. We think this might be significant because otherwise the constituents, Corvina, Rondinella and sometimes Molinara with small amounts (no more than 10% of any one and 20% of any combination) of Rossignola, Barbera, Sangiovese, Marzemino, Negrara Veronese, Cabernet Sauvignon are the same. As a footnote, Molinara is no longer obligatory for Valpolicella and has been dropped in the main.

Now Corvinone is a different grape from Corvina. Harding Robinson and Vouillermoz say it may be from the same family but it is indeed different. In our limited experience it is a bit of a brute of a grape. Could it be that the significantly higher percentage of Corvinone in Valpolicella makes the difference? We wish someone would tell us because we think there must be something more than terroir to explain the vivid distinction between Bardolino and Valpolicella.

So we always like to have a bottle of Bardolino on hand and we enjoy trying different makers. Old favourites include Recchia, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Monte del Fra, Bolla, Masi etc.

We even  "discovered" Bardolino Chiaretto - for some time it was the only mildly interesting wine at British airports. Now even that has disappeared from their shelves.

Recently however we have stumbled across some distinctly unattractive Bardolinos. They have one thing in common. They are all heavier, more alcoholic and concentrated. Maybe their producers have been reading the Wine Encyclopedia and have taken things too far the other way from bland. This doesn't suit the style at all. It results in a homogenised wine which could have come from anywhere. Guerrieri Rizzardi made a version with if we remember correctly had 10% Cabernet Sauvignon but it was done skilfully and didn't throw the baby out with the bath water.

It would be too sad if this is the future for Bardolino. More than that, it's a trend over several other wine styles including Valpolicella actually. We prefer also the lighter kind of Frappato and Rossese for example.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Some nice wine shops in Spain, Italy and Poland

No posts in February? We have been too busy bottle-fondling across Europe.

We have visited some lovely shops and met some charming and erudite people in them. Our favourite was Julio Carrasco, the main man at Vinoteca La Cartuja in Malaga. We had been there years ago but Julio has changed it out of all recognition.

 It is now lavishly appointed with all kinds of amenities including Enomatic machines, a temperature-controlled inner sanctum for the top bottles, a tasting table and an area at the back with a table for dining, lectures etc.

Julio is the kind of person who knows all his many bottles intimately. In answer to our question about rare grape varieties he zeroed in immediately on all kinds of treasures, only a few of which we could take with us, air travel being what it is. These included a Subirat Parent  (a what? we hear you cry)

and a Zalema. The latter we bought by way of giving it an even break, having condemned our first bottle more or less out of hand. Vamos a ver!

Julio entered into the spirit of things so completely that he produced his very last bottle of Malvasia Rosada Dulce - rare grape variety from the Canary Islands with a flourish and threw it in to our basket as a gift!

That's the kind of enthusiastic person he is. He deserves to prosper.

In Sevilla, we re-visited another nice shop called La Carta de Vinos where rather less had changed.

The same rather reserved girl held sway but this time in answer to a question about the percentage of certain varieties in a particularly interesting blend she took ages consulting various books and websites to satisfy our curiosity. At the end of perhaps 20 minutes of this she would have been in her rights to throw the bottle at us but she drew the enquiry to a close by saying that in any event the local varieties would not constitute more than 10%. We were grateful for this information and for her efforts particularly as she could have told us that at the very beginning and saved herself a lot of trouble.

Moving on to Rome we returned to our old haunt, Enoteca Costantini but there the uniformed staff seemed too overstretched stacking shelves to give us very much time.

They knew their stuff though. Having perused the Puglia section for a Sususmaniello and not finding it, one of their number climbed down his ladder and zeroed in on two bottles we had somehow contrived to miss.

They also had a kind of insider's knowledge. We asked them about some other obscure varieties in purezza and they explained that depending on the vintage, it was difficult to know what various growers put into their wines. One forgets that.

Determined to broaden our Roman horizons we made a pilgimage to Enoteca Lucantoni in the Northern part of the city.

 This shop is not as historic or imposing as Costantini but we found some interesting things there including a Catalanesca,

 a Pallagrello Bianco

and some Malvasia Puntinata in purezza. This is a constituent of Frascati and in particular the wines of Marino - the village near Rome where Hans Werner Henze lived and had recently died. We didn't buy the Lucantoni version of Malvasia Puntinata as it was rather alcoholic for a white wine but we found this bottle at an Enoteca in the Via Ferrara in the centre of town.


Polish Wine? We had heard of its existance but on a visit to Gdansk, there was none to be found. The Baltic coast of Poland is not a desert as far as wine is concerned though. In particular there is a certain entrepreneur who has opened a number of excellent wine shops called Festus

 as well as a restaurant called La La La

and a so-called Art Hotel in Sopot,

the seaside resord 30km from Gdansk. We didn't meet this gentleman but his presence was tangible. His staff at Festus/Gdansk told us he liked to travel all over the world searching for good wines to sell in his establishments.


She herself was able to fill us in a little on the wines of Poland. She was not especially enthusiastic about these, mentioning a watery Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris which hadn't exactly bowled her over.

It's a real pleasure to encounter such shops in different places. They provide experiences and products you could never get in a supermarket.