Sunday 7 June 2015

LWF. Extracting raisins from the currant bread.

When Stockhausen was asked his opinion of the music of Luciano Berio he said in what must be one of the greatest put-downs in the history of Classical Music "when I was a boy, my grandmother used to smack my hand when I tried to pick the raisins out of the currant bread".

No grandma was there to smack our hands at the 35th London Wine Fair at Olympia in May this year so it was for the raisins that we went.

Here are a few we extracted in a short space of time;

Hunter Valley Semillons

 Two lovely Hunter Valley Semillons from Audrey Wilkinson. Audrey Wilkinson (a fellah) founded his vineyard in the 19th century. His wines would be a great addition to diversity in the UK off trade.

There were other less well known Hunter Valley Semillons too. We hope they get imported too. Hunter Valley Semillon ('Australia's gift to the world' - Jancis Robinson) could be better represented  in the UK given the fact it is such a marvellous wine style. Tesco's Denman Vineyard and recently McWilliam's Elizabeth available on an ongoing basis, Tyrrells too of course, McGuigan, Margan at Laithwaites, Tamerlaine from Hard to Find Wines and Hungerford Hill from Slurp but Glenguin and Hart and Hunter have only spotty availability and McGuigan's award winning top of the range Bin 9000 are only intermittently available. Brokenwood can be had at the higher end of the price spectrum from Selfridges. When will someone import Andrew Thomas's Braemore though?

A great idea was to devote a large stand to 'Wine Grapes'. This was beautifully done as you can see with the flat surfaces covered with the same fabric as the book. There were also row upon row of bottles but why devote them only to two relatively common grape varieties; Syrah and Gruener Veltliner.Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz had given a Masterclass on these two grapes, 'their origins, relatives and flavours' including the first-ever public tasting of Dureza, a parent of Syrah.

Presentation is slicker than at the RAW Wine Fair for some reason. We liked this poster for the Limestone Coast.

LWF has a kind of Souk in the Gallery upstairs where a lot of the most interesting wines are to be found. We particularly liked this company with this rarity:

made from 25% each of Brancellao, Ferron, Souson and Mencia.

Here was a raisin indeed - almost literally so. A naturally sweet wine from the Azores. You can just see the Abv. on this beauty is 20%, probably a record. The wine is made on the island of Pico and features an indigenous grape, Terrantes do Pico as well as Verdelho and Arinto do Acores which is the most disease-resistant variety and hence makes up the majority in the blend..

Fortunato Garcia and his wife were our charming guides to their unusual wine. they told us the story of how the wines of the Azores were exported to Northern Europe and Russia from the 18th century on since the islands are on the trade route back from North America and would stop there for replenishing on the return journey. During the October Revolution of 1917 'Verdelho do Pico' was found in the Tsar's cellars and no doubt drunk by the revolutionaries, hence the name 'Czar'.

Not surprisingly, interest was piqued when the Garcias showed the wine at a Moscow fair and it was not surprisingly awarded a medal, shown here with a dish of chocolate in the background, thoughtfully provided to show how Czar goes with it. 

Vines used to be grown on all 9 islands of the Azores but now only on Pico and as you can see only with great difficulty even there as there is no soil to speak of and it seems that the vines have to be sheltered by stone walls. This reminded us of Colares where Ramisco is grown in similar enclosures although planted in clay deep under a layer of sand with the vine canes and leaves resting on the surface there.

The London Wine Fair seemed more buoyant this year. The move back to Olympia has been a success. Again we resolved to do more preparation next time and spend longer there, maybe taking in some of the interesting talks on offer.

RAW again but only just

Our RAW 2015 was decidedly a disaster but even so we found some treasures. Far fewer than if we had allotted the whole day instead of 2 hours and if we had done a bit of preparation. To cap it all our mobile decided to play Silly Buggers and conked out near the start only to relent and start up again just as we were leaving.

the range of Ambiz wines in fuzzy bottles
So for the purposes of this blog we need to crave indulgence for the even worse standard of photography than usual and reliance on more post-production stuff than we would have preferred. Apologies too to the RAW Fair which produced an even better show than ever.

Our first major discovery were the wines of Fabio Bartolomei who has created Vinos Ambiz in Sierra de Gredos west of Madrid. Fabio is a humorous Italian Glaswegian living in Madrid; a translator by profession. He acquired an abandoned vineyard after the owners had gone bankrupt and produces only a fraction of its capacity seeming by himself. Yet that fraction includes some seriously interesting grape varieties hitherto unknown to Slotovino and made in the most natural of natural ways.

Fabio Bartolomei (centre)

Indeed the wines are so natural as to preserve completely their essential character or funkiness in some cases. Funky wines are not for everyone but we like them. Increasingly an old grape variety is re-discovered only for producers to dumb down its individuality. Take Ortrugo for example, a highly individual grape making marvellously different wines. We have met some Ortrugos lately though that are masquerading as Prosecco. Peccato!



Who has heard of Dore and Malvar? Certainly not us. These wines offered amazing taste sensations like nothing you have ever experienced. Fabio also produces monovarial wins from Airen, Albillo, Chelva (aka. Montuo/Montua), Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo and Garnacha. He is a real original. He writes a fantastic Blog too. Check it out!

We were delighted to see the California classic Natural Wine producer Ambyth next door. We had never seen these wines in Europe and hope they and other 7 - percenters such as Forlorn Hope will soon be widely available here as they deserve to be. Dirty and Rowdy have led the way so there is hope. Ambyth means 'Forever' in Welsh as you knew.

Wines on show included

Revera (Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise)

Venustas (Sangiovese, Tempranillo - aka. Malvasia Nera)

Priscus Aphora (Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, Rousanne).

Marsanne Amphora

So plenty of diversity here. Hand up who knew that Tempranillo was Malvasia Nera! We didn't but now we do.

At about this point our Blackberry crashed so until it decided to come back to life at an appropriate moment near the end of our visit, we were reduced to going round without the essential photographic aide-memoire.

Great to find Cullen, Shobrook, Sedella Mountain Wines, Oszkar Maurer (as part of a collective set up by That Mad Frenchwoman, founder and director of RAW - respect!), wineries from the Czeh Republic (Moravia), Slovakia, Poland, Foradori, Cinque Campi (where we tasted theit Malbo Gentile as we had last year - still lovely),

It was pretty astonishing to find not one but two producers from the Garfagnana. We know of only four producers in all from this area. The Garfagnana, previously an independent state, now part of Tuscany is known as 'un niente' as far as wine is concerned but there are totally unknown grapes there including Balsoina, Verdolino, Farinella and Pighetta. That is more varieties than are native to some continents.

At the Azienda Agricola Macea stand we met Cipriano Barsanti, the non-flute playing brother of this family enterprise near Borgo a Mozzano in the province of Lucca. We have previously remarked on the incredible pyramid hill in this property where unusual varieties include Bracciola, Montanina and something called Tanne or Tannet which Cipriano assured us was not Tannat. The wine was quite interesting in a dry and tannic kind of way.

The other Garfagnana producer at the RAW fair was Podere Concori. Their Melograno is mostly Syrah with 'una piccola percentuale di vecchi vitigni.' We'd love to know what those are but meanwhile on first tasting, they didn't give the wine particular individuality, pleasant though it was.

One of the highlights of our visit was to find Arianna from Podere Scurtarola there with the Lorieri Vermentino Nero on show. Adrianna had been kind enough not only to give us a thorough tour of Scurtarola between Massa and Carrara last March but to pick us up at Macdonalds and take us back there again.

On that occasion we met Sra. Lorieri but not the great man himself. Here at RAW we finally had that great pleasure - only for a moment as he is a busy world-figure in the wine world. Nonetheless, his charming twinkling expression radiated from him and his thanks for mentioning him in our inconsequential Blog was completely sincere. We look forward to catching up with him on another occasion as we are sure we will. Just a pity we couldn't record the moment on our blasted mobile.

Then Cornelissen, Gauby, something called Collectif Anonyme whose name we liked, Georgians in strength, Astrians, Swiss, Slovenes but no Germans this year.

Passing by one of the Italian stands (this one devoted to a Lazio property) our glance was intercepted by a person we later learned to be Marco Marrocco. Marco asked us if we might be interested to taste his wines. We asked what 'uvaggio' they consisted of and when he said several, we thought to call his bluff and asked if any might be Uva Buona di Cori - a Lazio grape we had thoroughly enjoyed in the past but were unable to find since.

Marco didn't quite understand what we meant but proceeded to name the grapes from which his wines were made:

Capolongo, Maturano and Pampanaro for the whites

Lecinaro, Maturano Nero and Olivella (aka. Sciascinoso) for the reds.

Immediately our rare-grape radar started buzzing. The buzz was so strong that our mobile suddenly burst into life and obliged us with photos of Marco and his wines and others left for us to discover in the short time left. This was incredible. Totally unknown grapes from Lazio; an area normally dismissed as boasting only Cesanese and some more or less interesting Malvasias, together with the Uva Buona di Cori if you are a clever-socks like us.

Ever suspicious we assumed that some (most?) of these were probably synonyms for well known grapes such as Aglianico or Sangiovese but not at all; they are bona fide natives. The wine was lovely and soft with savory vinous tastes. Alcohol levels are low - 12% and 12.5% for the reds and 12% and 13% for the whites.

Marco took over Palazzo Tronconi only a few years ago. The story is a lovely one worth reproducing from Marco's excellent website if he doesn't mind;

This is the story of a vineyard, owned by generations of a family, sold on by the grandfather, Salvatore, only to be bought back years later by the grandson. Six years ago Marco Marrocco set out to buy back two and a half hectares of land. Land that was once carpeted in vines, where his childhood was spent and where his heart remained.

At 37 and already a fully qualified engineer, Marco returned to the University of Tuscia and gained an AIS Diploma (The Association for Sommeliers in Italy), followed by a degree in Oenology. His years of study took him into the region of Bordeaux where he worked alongside the great Daniel Mouty, fourth generation vineyard owner of Chateau du Barry, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru, Chateau Grand and Beauséjour Pomerol.

With the guidance of Gaetano Ciolfi, Professor of Enology and Simone Noro, son of horticulturist Carlo Noro, leading expert on biodynamics in Europe, Marco set to work to replant a new vineyard. The soul of the vineyard was reborn and with it a new chapter involving the principles of biodynamic agriculture.

Marco re-discovered abandoned, ancient vines that were historically grown in Arce. Red grape – Lecinaro; white grape -Capolongo, Pampanaro and white Maturano. Also the red grape Maturano, still the subject of research at the centre of Enology along with the red grape Olivella.

There is more; go to the website!

These wines will take the world by storm Slotovino predicts.

Flush with success, we made it over to the English producers where there were other wonderful surprises.

The first was a new one on us: Charlie Herring. This is an operation producing wine in very small quantities. Why? Because they are planted in a walled garden. This makes it possible to grow Sauvugnon Blanc and ripen it convincingly.

Chardonnay is also grown and there is an interesting Partnership deal in which you can own a small portion of the vineyard and receive a few bottles every year. On this showing, the wine is worth it.

Next we met Will Davenport himself of Davenport Vineyards (Limney and Horsmonden). Will is one of the giants of the UK wine scene, producing miraculously good organic wines from the unpromising Seyval Blanc grape for a start. He was thoroughly amiable and seemed genuinely surprised to hear his Sparkling Wine is available in Budgen's (Thorntons).

Organic producers in the UK are few and far between so it was a further pleasure to discover Albury Organic Vineyards from the evocatively-named Surrey Hills (a district of Sydney). His vines look lovely and healthy in their publicity photo.

Next year we promise;

1. Get a new mobile phone and take a camera as well in case of a breakdown
2. Spend an entire day instead of half an afternoon.
3. Get the catalogue well in advance and prepare thoroughly

We can never know how many interesting wines and vignerons we have missed.

Saturday 6 June 2015

Negreto R.I.P.

Sad to report that Tenuta Palatina that used to produce one of the most delicious of the obscure-issimo wines of Montignoso, Massa (Toscana) is no more. We hope they will continue to cultivate their vines and that their grapes including obscure varieties such as Barsaglino/Massaretta and/or Vermentino Nero may end up in wines from other producers in the zone.

Ecco come va il mondo.

Britain's largest vineyard

What is to be Britain's largest vineyard is already under way in Pishill, Oxfordshire. Planted already to the classic Champagne varieties, it stretches along the road in this typically long drawn-out village.

The owners spent a long time searching for this property and have gone at it very professionally with the best of advice along the way.

Pishill would be a great name but perhaps not if your ambition is to produce Britain's best sparkling wine. In any case it is pronounced PISH-ULL. The wines will be known as Centenary Hill or Century Hill or something as that is the name of the actual place where they are grown.

Having already seen many places come and go we wish Centurion whatever all the best. Perhaps it will help to bring the Thames Valley up as a wine producing area now Kent and Sussex seem to have gained the lead.

In praise of Menoire

There is often a gap between buying and opening. In the case of this Hungarian rarity, about a year. 

Menoir is how Medoc Noir is known now for bureaucratic reasons no doubt. There are all sorts of theories about its origin but it has now been established that Menoire is a separate indigenous Hungarian variety and as such, all the more interesting. There is a Muscat component in its background. This is rare but not unknown in a red wine. We had not tasted any of these. Muscat Bleu is quite interesting to growers in the UK, being successful in Belgium but being also a dessert grape which is not a great point in its favour if you want to make wine from it.

We need not have worried. Lajos Gal's Egri Menoire is simply scrumptious. Conservatives will balk at it but those with an open mind will welcome something new, different and delicious. It's a pity it is so hard to find.

There has been no mention of the Slotovino Hall of Fame for a long time. We will update this shortly. Meanwhile, Menoire joins the list with ease.

Hard to graft

They said it couldn't be done and indeed this may be so but while agonising as to what to do with our Triomphe d'Alsace vines in our experimental vineyard we though that one solution might be to graft another variety onto Triomphe stems.

We have been told this doesn't work well in the UK and in any event not if the vines are over 4 years old. Our Triomphe vines are 20 years old. Nothing daunted we took a bud from one of our vigorous Solaris vines and with the help of You Tube, have done our best to make a graft. The wrapping is grafting tape from China (via Amazon). We may be wrong but we fancy seeing a little growth already. Wishful thinking no doubt.

Elsewhere in the vineyard there is a mystery vine. It came in the original batch of Bacchus vines about 20 years ago as well as the Triomphe, but it is not Bacchus and we have no idea what it is. It is by far the most vigorous vine in the vineyard (and now we are counting more than 20 (experimental) varieties). It has never produced a single grape but grows madly threatening to engulf its neighbours. We hack it back mercilessly but it seems to like this treatment.

So we have devised a use for this brute. Earlier this year we received a batch of 7 Acadie Blanc cuttings which we have been trying - unsuccessfully - to grow in plantpots. So far they have manifested no sign of life whatsoever but opinion is divided as to whether they are dead or not. Some of the buts are dried up and hard but others are still soft. We took one of these soft buds and have tried to graft it onto the Brute. If the insane vigour of The Brute doesn't bring it to life nothing will.

Watch this space.