Wednesday 26 July 2017

Shock Horror, Promiscuity on a Greek island!

On the island of Paros in the Cyclades there is a shocking level of promiscuity. This is no tittle-tattle. It has been going on for years and is officially sanctioned. How could this be?

 Well, the typical grapes are Monemvassia (white) and Mandilaria (red). It was decided in the mists of time that since the Mandilaria of Paros is so deeply coloured and tannic it may be blended promiscuously* with as much as 80% Monemvassia to make red wine!

We've heard of a dash of Viognier in Rhone blends but this is surely unprecedented.  Does it taste like red wine? Is it any good? The answer is a resounding 'yes,' especially when made by Moraitis, the best known producer on the island.

Monemvassia itself is a fascinating variety. At first, we assumed this was just another Malvasia which name is supposed to be a corruption of the name of the Greek port of Monemvasia from where Malvasia is supposed to have come. Monemvassia may also have come from Monemvasia but this Monemvassia is actually a separate historic variety not related to any Malvasia. It is mostly found on Paros with some plantings in the Peloponnese.

Moraitis make a monovarital Monemvassia as well as a range of other wines. We bought one of these and their Sillogi red.

Sillogi is Greek for Blend and it is this one that is apparently 66% Monemvassia and the rest Mandilaria.

 The Moraitis Winery is situated near the seaside town of Naousa. This is confusing because there is a much more familiar Naousa (or Naoussa) in Macedonia on the eastern slopes of Mount Vermion, 92km west of Thessaloniki where Boutariand others make celebrated wine mainly from Xinomavro.

The vineyards of Paros, like so much else to do with Paros wine are individual with the vines grown so close to the ground as to look more like rootstocks.

Moraitis has a very handsome cellar and tasting room.

We're not sure why the bottles have to be kept under lock and key but visitors are given the freedom to roam around the spacious lower floor

where barrels slumber under the watchful eye of a Mrs Moraitis of old.

The winery is justly celebrated with numerous awards and well established distribution to the major world markets.

 Pretty good for a vineous knocking shop!

*Promiscuity in wine has been defined as 'The act of blending multiple, mutually attractive grape varieties in an assortment of unorthodox combinations. Implies a wanton disregard for convention.'

Tuesday 18 July 2017

The INRA/Vassal collection: 7,800 items in one morning.

A Slotovino visit to the world's greatest Grape Collection was always required and the kind INRA* people at Domaine Vassal, Marseillan-Plage near Sete and Montpellier, France allowed us a private view although normally visits are for groups only. We were particularly grateful because incredibly, the 7,800 accessions including multiple samples of 2,700 Vitis grapes, 1,100 interspecific hybrids, 400 rootstocks, 350 wild varieties and 60 species of Vitaceae will be moved to the Pech Rouge Experimental Unit (Gruissan, near Narbonne, Aude) over the next few years because the owners of Domaine Vassal have decided they would like to use it for something else.

The collection has been built up since 1876 by the Montpellier Agricultural School (now Montpellier SupAgro) and has been at Vassal since 1949. The sandy site is inhospitable to Phylloxera and the Xiphinema Index Nematode. the collection has been built up from exchanges with other collections all over the world, private gifts, discoveries by their own researchers, viticulturalists, vine nurseries and hobbyists.

Getting to Domaine Vassal involved a potentially hilarious detour thanks to a confusion between the terms Naturaliste and Naturiste on the map and a brush with the Gendarmerie for driving past the property and stopping on a beach to try to get our bearings.

Nevertheless, the patient Cécile Marchal and Sandrine Dédet-Lalet were waiting to recieve us very cordially.

Sandrine, a Technicienne of the institute, had personally made the 10 bunches of cuttings for us back in March and Cécile was to show us round. Cécile is from St. Remy de Provence and is a highly qualified Agronomist. She is 'Responsable du CRB Vigne (Centre de Ressources Biologiques de la Vigne).

First stop was the nursery for new plants.

They are planted in surprisingly small pots filled with a kind of volcanic grit. they receive water and nutrients via a watering system. The method seems to work 100%.

different species of vine
with knobbly cane
Here we soon understood the collections range with not only grapevines but ornamental vines and plants of all kinds, some of which looked more like ivy which is not suprising as ivy and vines arefrom the same family of species.

After 2 years, these plants are planted outside in 500 metre long stretches separated by bamboo curtains.

Bamboo curtain
Cécile told how the site had originally consisted of dunes that had to be levelled. The protecting bamboo helps to stabilise the sand as well as providing a windbreak but amazingly, with all the other work they have to do, the sand still has to be managed every year as it still tends to drift.

There are only 8 full-time staff with 5 administrative personnel including the director. The domaine extends over many hectares. As well as all the work of catalogueing and raising the plants, there is an ongoing programme of creating new varieties.

Hybrid collection
Famous successes in the past have included Marselan, Caladoc, Chenancon and Chasan. They also breed table grapes of all kinds. For safety, duplicates of all accessions are sent to the INRA station at Colmar!


A Japanese vine
Yes, it's a vine.

Our tour took in vineyards dedicated uniquely to Rootstocks, Hybrids, Ornamental varieties and the different species.

A 20 year old vine from Russia
Each type has 5 examples. When a single plant arrives, cuttings are made to provide copies. If plants are virussed, they are replaced with clean examples when possible.

All these plants need to be labelled, fed and watered. They also need to be pruned and most of that has to be done by hand. Even experimental micro-vinifications are made although none was on offer. This must be difficult given the fact that no variety has many examples and they all ripen at different times.

In the offices, records are kept of every variety including dried leaves, photos, descriptions, records and notes of the most painstaking and accurate kind. As service for identification is offered free of charge unless DNA profiling is required in which case the charge is around 80 Euros.

Hernàn Ojeda, Director
It's all pretty incredible. Our visit left us wondering if so much had ever been achieved by so few. Amazing that they agreed to give us a private tour for which we are eternally thankful.

*Institut National pour la Recherche Agriculturelle

Marseillan Plage

Monday 17 July 2017

Hail Cesar

Many years ago before Blogs were invented, we had enjoyed a bottle of the obscure Burgundian grape, Cesar. Ever since we had tried to find another example, so great was our disappointment when having finally tracked one down the result was nothing like what we expected and not in a good way.

Always ready to have our opinions re-enforced or overturned we snapped up this bottle from Whole Foods of all places. We had stumbled on it unawares. No one could have neen more surprised although our visit to this former winner of Slotovino Supermarket of the year (0910) had proven just how good they still are.

Well, this Cesar was just a great combination of freshness and individuality. A glorious personality was shining through such as may have been the case on the first occasion now to distant to remember exactly but not on the second.

Cesar can now definitely take its place in the Slotovino Hall of Fame. Buy a bottle while stocks last and tell us we're wrong!

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Reder of the lost grapes

Only 17km from Montpellier is a wonderfully empty area with hardly a building, person or even a vehicle to be seen. Green oaks and a twisty road are practically all that may be found between Cournonterral and Gigean although signs hint at unseen estates on either side. One had almost given up trying to find such a wild area in France. Along this road is a sign to Comberousse, the estate where Paul Reder farms 11ha of vines including the rarissimi Aramon Gris and Chasan.

We loved his rose from Aramon Gris which we found at Chapire 20 in Paris so a pilgrimage was in order when in striking distance this summer.

Paul is a Geologist by training and worked in the Petrochemical business in the US for many years. Returning to France he took over the estate which his family has founded on returning from Algeria. The reders were originally from Alsace where so many winemakers have come from.

When we first encountered Grigri, le Gris we saw it as more like an orange wine somehow.

When we suggested this to Paul he wasn't against the idea but said that in fact Grigri (meaning 'Talisman') is actually a true rosé and the others are false with their 'saignée' dodges and whatnot.

The other rare grape viriety Paul uses is Chasan, a University of Montpellier cross between Chardonnay and what is locally known as Listan but more generally known as Palomino Fino.

Paul makes only this and 5 whites. They are all immensely characterful and taste totally individual, full of character. Probably best enjoyed with food, they are all natural with minimum sulphur added.

The vineyards are hidden in the Garrigue. Paul works them alone for the most part, A huge amount of work especially for a father of 4. Mildew is combatted by sulphur and other organic sprays.

Everything on the estate is simple and functional.

As well as the following wines, Paul makes a Rousanne/Rolle Cuvee in special years called Rocalhan. The last edition was in 2011. Paul said there may be a small chance of making it again from the 2016 vintage. This was absolutely outstanding; the kind of wine that seems to have just the right touch of oak but has actually never seen oak. Hunter Vally Semillon is sometimes like that.

Pauls wines are highly praised and well thought of in France. They merit a much greater exposure.

For our purposes, Paul Reder should be celebrated for the propagation of the rare Aramon Gris and Chasan to such effect. Here are his own notes from the website of Hautes Terres Comberousse.

A rosé… or, rather, “gray” table wine
This cuvée originates from a single plot. The vines were planted in 2000 and made into wine for the first time in 2006. The evolution seen in the first several vintages should be rather noticeable. The aramon gris grape variety, similar to terret gris, is an old regional variety that almost completely disappeared during the uprooting campaigns of the 1970’s. It was used to produce a rosé wine, with a strong local reputation. The vine stock originates from a vineyard that was uprooted and is the product of visual selection of the most robust plants. The vines began with relatively small yields (15 hl/ha) and have gradually begun to increase towards an ideal yield of 30 hl/ha.
Table wine, blending Chasan, Chardonnay, and Clairette
This cuvée is produced using three grape varieties in proportions that vary from year to year:
  • Chasan: this variety is the product of the hybridization of Chardonnay and Listan (an old local variety) in 1958, which was authorized to be planted in 1973. It is extremely drought-resistant and develops aromas similar to that of Chardonnay.
  • Chardonnay: a variety having traveled far from its original terroirs.
  • Clairette: a southern variety with a subtle, mineral flavor.
AOC Coteaux du Languedoc White
This cuvée is a blend of two typically Mediterranean grape varieties:
  • 75% White Grenache, which yields approximately 40 hl/ha – on this plot, the bedrock is dolomitic and is significantly visible on the surface, which greatly limits soil thickness. The yields are limited and consistent; 0.80 ha; planted in the early 1980’s;
  • 25% Rolle (also called Vermentino), which has an approximate yield of 30 hl/ha – harvested from a plot just uphill from the previously mentioned one, which has slightly thicker soil, allowing for the planting of this variety; 0.50 ha; planted in the early 1980’s.
Its name is the word used to refer to small “garrigue” felines who help regulate the population of rabbits who are quite partial to young vines. Sauvagine designates the whole of these different small felines. This cuvée complements Roucaillat, because it has a more conventional organoleptic profile, with fresh flower, citrus, and very light spice aromas. It is produced from the first picking of Rolle that come in just before the one-time harvest of all of the Grenache.
AOC Coteaux du Languedoc White
This cuvée is a blend of three grape varieties:
  • 1/6 White Grenache, with a yield of 40 hl/ha on a dolomitic substrate (same plot as that used for Sauvagine);
  • 2/6 Rolle (also called Vermentino), with an approximate yield of 30 hl/ha. – harvested from a plot just uphill from the previously mentioned one, whose slightly thicker soil allowed for the planting of this variety.
  • 3/6 Roussane. Here, Roussane provides yields around 25 hl/ha, spontaneously (without the use of corrective measures). It expresses a lovely mineral quality, accompanied by smoky aromas. It occupies the highest-altitude plot on the property (170 m).
Roucaillat is the flagship of our terroir. Approximately 14000 bottles are produced, yearly. A long maturation in the vat, as well as in the bottle give this wine a harmony that is able to express itself for numerous years. A “typically Mediterranean” white wine, its complex aromas and its structure make it the ideal complement to the unlikeliest of dishes. Several vintages are available.
 AOC Coteaux du Languedoc White
The two grape varieties that combine to make this cuvée seem to be the best suited to this purpose, because, with the passage of time, a natural balance has been struck between yield (25-hl/ha) and vigor:
  • Roussane: 2/3. Harvesting the plot in successive passes allows us to select grapes based on their maturity. Thus, the Roussane designated for this cuvée is harvested from the driest, highest part of the terroir. Its expression, therefore, depends greatly on the vintage, and certain years, the yield is to small to allow for the production of an individual cuvée.
  • Rolle : 1/3. The grapes used here are also those harvested from the highest plot of that grape variety.
This is a very distinctive and concentrated wine, which pairs perfectly with a meal.

In the cool store

Farm building