Sunday 27 March 2016

Amazing Aramon Gris

Aramon is perhaps the most productive grape of all time or so they say. It comes in three colours, Noir, Blanc and Gris although Noir (red) is the basic and most common one. Wine made from this grape is commonly held to be 'ordinaire'. That is a euphemism. Pierre Cros even made a blend of grape he called 'Les mal aimes': Picpoul noir, Alicante Bouchet, Carignan and - you guessed it, Aramon. Of these Aramon is considered the worst as far as quality is concerned

Grigri's orange colour shows even through green glass
How astonishing then to find an outstanding Orange wine made from Aramon's 'Gris' mutation: Le Grigri by Paul Reder of Hautes Terres de Comberousse, a 30 ha. property 45 minutes West of Montpellier in the Herault, Langedoc. Reder and his family do not make red wines. Their other cepages are Chasan, Chardonnay, Clairette, Grenache blanc, Roussanne and Rolle (Vermentino).

Orange wines can disappoint. This one does not. We place it alongside La Stoppa from Ageno (Malvasia di Candia Aromatica 60%, Ortrugo and Trebbiano 40%) and Forlorn Hope's Pinot Gris 'Kirschenmann'.
Forlorn Hope's Pinot Gris Orange Wine from the Kirschenmann vineyard, Lodi, California

Congratulations to Paul Reder. He seems to be a clever guy, giving up a no doubt lucrative career as an oil executive in Texas to take over the family vineyard. Thanks also to the Paris caveiste Chapitre 20 whose praises we have sung in this blog before.

A brush with Mexican wine

Mexico is the oldest wine producing country in America counting 450 years of sporadic production. However, the Mexicans consume the lowest proportion of wine of almost any country (average two glasses of wine a year per head) exporting 80% of their production we are led to believe. This is strange because one doesn't encounter Mexican wine that often and when one does it tends to be from L.A. Cetto of Baja California. They are certainly a good ambassador for Mexico; we have enjoyed their wines from time to time.

As in almost every part of the world, the situation has changed out of all recognition in recent times and now there are quite a few fine Mexican producers making some very lovely wines.

As yet they lack a USP. Their varieties are eclectic. They include


Sauvignon Blanc


Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Petit Verdot
Petite Sirah
Pinot Noir
Ruby Cabernet

Wines are made as monovarietals or in blends of almost any and every combination of the above. There are plenty of Bordeaux copies including those named 'Meritage', some Rhone rangers even with a dash of Viognier, but some really original combinations too (Nebbiolo/Tempranillo). Alcohol levels tend to be robust as one would expect. 

a lot of Mexico looks like this

We were fortunate enough to eat at one of Mexico City's best restaurants, Rosetta. It seems you can eat as well as anywhere in the world in this megalopolis (population 26 million).

Rosetta outside by night

Rosetta is an Italian restaurant. We queued for perhaps an hour before being offered a table outside on a quite cold March night. We took it and had a couple of glasses of Mexican wine (a Sauvignon and a Cabernet) which did the trick although we didn't find out who the producers were. Suffice it to say that at such a restaurant you could trust the selection. In that spirit here are some of the Mexican producers represented on the Rosetta winelist;

Baron Balche
Casa de Piedra
Casa Madero
Dona Dolores
L.A. Cetto
Mogor Badan
Monte Xanic
San Tomas
Santa Elena 
Vinos y Terrenos S.A. de C.V.

Returning to the point about a lack of USP in Mexican wine, please note the inclusion of 'Mision' among both white and red varieties in the list above. We are not sure what white wine made from Mision ('Mission' aka Criolla, Pais) may be. Mision is a red grape as far as we know so this may be that grape vinified in bianco - unless there is a white mutation of that variety. 

Álvaro Ptacnik of Shimul makes this Mision with Petite Syrah and Dolcetto in attendance in the belief that this is how Mexican wine can achieve its profile.
Attempts are being made to establish Mision as Mexico's national grape arguing that it was to Mexico that the first plantings would have been taken and it was from there that they were distributed in South America.

On a similar wavelength is a charming story about a vineyard in Chihuahua in the Sierra Madre;

16th century Jesuits set up missions in the remote regions of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. They taught the indigenous Tarahumara Indians to raise livestock and introduced Old World plants to the region including grapevines for wine production.  
The King of Spain a century later expelled the Jesuits from Mexico replacing them with missionaries of the Franciscan order. In what could be described as a form of NAFTA in reverse - Mexico was ordered to cease wine production in order to protect the Spanish wine industry. As a result, Mexico never fully developed its wine industry potential despite it having excellent soil and climate for grape production. 

The Copper Canyon mountain village of Ceracahui (sero-kah-wee) enjoys a micro-climate that approximates Spring-like weather conditions year-round ensuring perfect grape harvests year after year. Or, one could say, century after century.

When the Jesuits left Cerocahui, the vineyards were destroyed - except for some cuttings secretly replanted behind Jose Maria Sanchez’s Casa. Jose Maria’s family preserved the vines, caring for, protecting and enjoying them for many generations up until 25 years ago when the last Sanchez passed on without heirs. 

The Old World Heirloom species of red grape was in danger of being lost forever but was saved when Sanchez’s gardener, working with the Mision Hotel in Cerocahui, decided to restore the vine by planting cuttings on unused land adjacent to the Tarahumara built stone Cathedral and Indian girls orphanage. The Mision vineyard located on a gentle rise in the middle of the village has been producing delicious wine ever since.

The original varieties mentioned in this story are not specified. Enquiries are being made. The red wine produced for the hotel by Vino de Cerocahui, a nearby winery is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and the white from Chardonnay so no clues there as to the mysterious original plantings. Slotovino promises to bring you news on these as soon as we get it.

There was not much opportunity to buy wine but we came away with this Tempranillo/ Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Duty Free.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Good and bad news from DRS Duty Free

The bad news is that the Schloss Proschwitz selection has contracted. For the first time, their lovely Elbling was not available. Bedauernswert!

Over the corridor though at a shop selling souvenirs, a range of what looked like rip-off wines at inflated prices from a certain Schloss Wackerbarth around the E.20 mark.

Back home, these wines were a very pleasant surprise indeed. Worth the price. You never know.

Warming to Schloss Wackerbarth, we looked at the website and discovered some fascinating things about the property. It is sited in the town of Radebeul which is practically a suburb of Dresden albeit one with its own Opera House!. Its history goes back to August the Strong in the 18th century. The owner then August Christoph, Graf von Wackerbarth was also the builder of the Fauenkirche in Dresden. Wackerbarth had an adoptive son called Joseph Anton Gabaleon von Wackerbarth-Salmour. On his death and according to his adoptive father's will the estate was auctioned and the proceeds given to the poor.

It then went through all manner of incarnations before becoming a state enterprise last century. It underwent a big refurbishment in 2000 and re-opened in 2002 at the first European  'Erlebnisweingut' which might be translated at 'Vineyard Experience'.

The vineyard is 104 hectares large and employs 120 people. Varieties grown include


Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris)
Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)



Fruehburgunder (Pinot Noir Precoce)
Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir)

Resultado de imagen de schloss wackerbarth

Plastic bottle

before chilling
after chilling

Friday 25 March 2016

What a Palava

The last time we visited the Czech Republic we were very pleasantly surprised by the quality and diversity of Moravian wine, so on a trip to Dresden one Sunday this winter we thought it might be a good wheeze to fly to Prague and take the train (only a couple of hours) instead of flying to Leipzig where services are only just more frequent than to Dresden or Berlin.

Doing our research we identified a couple of likely-looking wine merchants not too far from the Prague main station but failed to notice that they would not be open during our window of opportunity. Walking disconsolately around the rather vast shopping mall with a railway station attached which is Praha hlavní nádraží, we browsed a couple of supermarkets which had a selection of sorts but not what we were looking for especially. That was Pálava .We found Pálava on our last trip but were not able to buy or try any. It is a crossing of Gewurtztraminer and Mueller-Thurgau.That might sound rather unexciting but claims have been made for Pálava which encouraged us to bag a bottle.

Asking if there were any other places selling wine near the station a member of staff directed us to an actual wine shop right there specialising in Czech wine called Akce Vinoteka.

This was amazing. Even in London with numerous gigantic termini the only wineshop had lasted a mere few months; the plucky Wine Pantry at St. Pancras specialising in English wine.

Moravian Wine Wall

Here we were able to buy rarities even for Moravian wine including an Alibernet, a Neronet and indeed a Pálava.

We had tried Alibernet before and found it promising but the example by Stepan Manak we took home from this trip was quite marvelously soft and luscious. Festooned with awards as it was one could imagine they were fairly acquired.

Alibernet is a rather clunky conflation of the grape's two parents, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon made originally in Ukraine. This is none other than Odessky Chernyi or Black Grape of Odessa which we fleetingly encountered once at Vinitaly.

The same producer had made the Neronet obtained from Svatovavřinecké x Modrý Portugal x Alibernet: that is St. Laurent x Blauer Portugieser x Alibernet to you. Our last bottle of Neronet had also been very promising.

 There was also a bottle of Andre and one or two others but sadly no Veltlínske červené skoré which we suddenly remembered having seen on the last trip and had not been able to buy either. Veltlínske červené skoré is Fruehroter Veltliner. Roter Veltliner is a grape we adore. No relation to Gruener Veltliner. An Austrian example by Leth had suggested that this might be one of the least known and appreciated great grape varieties. This Fruhroter Veltliner is a red skinned, spontaneous cross between Roter Veltliner and Silvaner.

Well there must always be an excuse to return to Prague one day.

And Palava? Our bottle turned out to be a success back home. The Czechs are on to something and we need to know about it.

There was even a small bottle to be had on the train to Dresden. How about that National Rail companies?

St. Jeannet and Bellet re-visited

The micro-appellations of Bellet and particularly St. Jeannet near Nice on the Cote d'Azur hold tremendous fascination for their eccentric varieties and vinification methods.

St. Jeannet it a true oddity ageing some of their wines in Bonbonniers. Both St. Jeannet and Bellet have Braquet, a grape variety not found elsewhere. Some maintain that Braquet is Brachetto but this is not so,

Saint Jeannet has a few other odd idiosyncrasies. It has only one producer, Domaine des Hautes Collines de la Cote d'Azur owned by the Rasse family. 4 hectares are farmed by Rene Rasse and his two sons. This is not unprecedented in France. The famous AOC Chateau Grillet in Condrieu has only one producer and occupies 3,8 ha. As well as St. Jeannet and Bellet, other small appellations in Provence include Bandol, Cassis, Palette and the less familiar La Londe, Cotaux de Pierrevert, Pierrefeu and Villars-sur-Var, so this corner of Provence could be called a diversity hot-spot.

St. Jeannet used to have its own grape variety as has been mentioned in this Blog but having died out in its place of origin it can only be found now in Argentina where it is blended 50/50 with Chardonnay by Bodega Benegas of Mendoza. We once tracked down a bottle of this in New York but it was 'off' by the time we opened it.

probably Rolle (Vermentino), Chardonnay and possibly Ugni Blanc

By co-incidence the only bottle of St. Jeannet white we bought on a recent trip to Nice was also corked.

permitted varieties include Braquet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre and Syrah

The St. Jeannet red however was a real hit. We bought this at a shop called 'Caves de la Tour' where there seemed to be the best selection of both St. Jeannet and Bellet wines in Nice.

The knowledgeable lady helping us offered a choice of reds matured in Bonbonniers or not matured in Bonbonniers. Naturally we chose the former which she said had a 'gout partculier'. When pressed on this she simply said 'plus fruite. In the drinking the red was indeed fruity but one couldn't say that Bonbonniers add a unique unmistakable quality to the wine.

NB 90% Folle Noir with 10% Grenache. No Braquet at all.

Domaine de Toasc is sometimes available from Nice Airport Duty Free

NB the Rose has a majority of Braquet but it only goes to 'complete' the red which is based on Folle Noir.

  • The red wines of Chateau de Cremat are made up of Folle Noire 60%, Grenache 20% and Cinsault 20%.
  • The rosé is made up of 60% Braquet, 20% Grenache, 20% Cinsault.
  • The white is made of 80% Rolle and 20% Chardonnay.

Was it our imagination or did the wines of Bellet previously contain more Braquet than nowadays? There were a few red Bellets with no Braquet at all. None had more than a minority of the grape whereas practically all had Folle Noir, aka Fuella Nera at their major constituent. Red Bellet is distinctive. The scent of petals is often evoked in descriptions. So to sum up, both St. Jeannet red and red Bellet are well worth seeking out but Bellet is the more distinctive in taste even if St. Jeannet is more distinctive in its production.

Fabulous Argon. At last, the answer to wine preservation

Forget about all other systems, Argon inert gas is the best way to keep wine. All you do is give a second's spray from the dispenser and put something over the neck of the bottle to stop dust or flies getting in and you have preserved the contents for almost as long as you like. It works equally with decanters and any other receptacle. You can use it for Olive Oil or any other liquid. It should even work in barrels.

Argon is inert, odourless and heavier than air. You need only a small amount sitting on the surface of your wine to seal it in. For us the results have been vastly superior to any vacuum system. Coravin works on the same principal but is a lot more expensive.

We found the best and most reasonable source of Argon was with 'Private Preserve'. The graphics could be better but never mind, this is the one for us!

Problem solved