Saturday 21 April 2018

What to drink with Aparagus

It's the Aparagus season again and as always, a major headache for wine drinkers. 'Grass'* has even been called No.1 enemy of wine.' Here's Slotovino's suggestion for this year.

Paul Reder's 2014 'Sauvagine' - a Grenache Blanc (75%) and Rolle (Vermentino) natural wine from the Languedoc.

 Sauvagine is on the dark side as far as colour is concerned and very savoury. It stands up to 'Sparrows' Grass'* very nicely. Get it from Paul Reder directly at Hautes Terres de Comberousse,

*apologies for English grocers' slang.

Monday 16 April 2018

Schiava/Vernatsch/Trollinger/Black Hamburgh and 123 more.

                                                      Alto Adige/Sud Tyrol
Schiava is one of the most interesting grapes you could hope to meet and yet it is not a single grape but a family of grapes. This family of grapes is not really a family at all because the members are not related and yet they exhibit similar characteristics.

Things get even more interesting. The Schiavas are exceedingly old and may well stretch back to Roman times because the name Schiava (slave) refers to the fact that the vines were tied to posts instead of growing up and between trees. So probably any vine trained on posts and lines was a Schiava. The Romans must have noticed that such vines gave better wine than the ones grown in the shade of trees.

References to Schiava stretch back to the 14th century but curiosly they refer to white wine until much later on. There is no known white colour mutation of Schiava but all Schiavas have lightness of colour and flavours in common, so maybe the white Schiavas were the red or 'grey' (Schiava Grigia) vinificato in bianco? We will probably never know. D'Agata tells us 'the Schiavas are undoubtedly the most frequently mentioned family of grapes in the middle ages, both in agricultural treatises and official documents.'

Schiava has been very commonly grown in Lombardia, Trentino/Alto Adige and Germany where it is known as Trollinger (from the Tyrol). Mysteriously, Black Hamburg or Hamburgh is the name under which it has become known in Britain. The great vine at Hampton Court is Black Hamburg.

In modern times Schiava has undergone a sort of eclipse  possibly for the same reason as other wines such as Bardolino, Riesling and even Chianti had their fall from grace at a certain moment. In Alto Adige/Suedtirol where you could say the Schiavas have their home, it accounted for 70% of the vineyard in 1970 but now occupies only 16%. Even so it is still the most planted grape in the region.

Walch is a prominent producer of Schiava

Remember the yellow carton of Elena Walch at Enoteca Conte in our recent Thinking of Napoli post?
Again of interest is the fact that Schiava as a monovarietal is relatively hard to find even in the zone of production. It is more commonly found in Sankt Magdalena, a DOC which allows up to 15% Lagrein but masks the not so assertive character of Schiava turning the wine into something else altogether. It is also used in various other blends.

Even without the addition of Lagrein there seems to be a move to make this preternaturally light wine heavier and darker than its nature has suggested up to now. It may be global warming but more likely a tendency to make it more mainstream and conventional as we have seen in many regions where lighter wines are made - Grignolino and Bardolino come to mind.

As mentioned there are several unrelated types of grape called Schiava;

Schiava Grossa (Edelvernatsch)

Schiava Grigia (Grauvernatsch)

Schiava Gentile (Rothervernatsch)

Schiava Nera

Schiava Grossa is the most commonly used these days but most Schiavas are blends of the first three. Schiava Nera is rare and is the Lombardy branch of the family.

A supermarket Edelvernatsch (Schiava Grossa). Inexpensive and delicious.
Going back to Schiava's skeleton in the cupboard, as recently as 2006 the Oxford Companion to Wine's entry on Schiava was peppered with phrases such as 'extremely productive but not associated with wines of any real character or concentration.' '...the lighter style of wine produced by Schiava, once highly prized by the Swiss market, has lost favour.' 'Schiava based wines in general are definitely less fashionable than a generation ago...' ' vineyards in Trentino-Alto Adige are being replanted, it is frequently being replaced by international varieties.'

The Kaltersee or Lake Caldaro is in the centre of  Schiava/Vernatsch production

These comments were no doubt the case at the time but since then we would suggest there has been a reaction to planting the international varieties and native vines are making a comeback everywhere. Also tastes are finally receding from Parker-esque weight and concentration and lighter wines may have their day again. One producer, Baron de Pauli has it thus;

Unterschätzt, vernachlässigt, dem Verfall preisgegeben wie der Kalkbrennofen im Weinberg, von dem er seinen Namen hat. Der autochthone Vernatsch wurde lange Zeit als hässliches Entlein verspottet und belächelt. Doch nun erhebt er sich wie ein Phönix aus der Asche und offenbart in diesem Kalterersee seine burgundische Eleganz. Ganz und gar kein Alltagswein, auch wenn man ihn wegen seiner fast unbeschränkten Anpassungsfähigkeit jeden Tag trinken könnte.

Phoenix from the ashes

Undervalued, neglected, given over to extinction like the limekiln in the vineyard from where it gets its name. The native Schiava has been mocked and ridiculed as an ugly duckling for a long time. Yet it rises like a phoenix from the ashes in this Lake Caldaro and reveals its Burgundian elegance. By no means an everyday wine even if you could drink it every day thanks to its boundless adapt ability.

On our trip to the Alto Adige earlier this year, we found a few interesting bottles in the shops and the following list in a restaurant. Alcohol levels and retail prices (in Euros) are included;

CA----L, Pranzegg Martin Gojer Vernatsch.               12%     19.50 

Campill, Fuori Serie MMXI, Pranzegg Vernatsch.     12%      20.00

Keil, ORG, Manincor Vernatsch.                                  12.5%   15.05

D'Agata praises old vine Schiava
Geschleier Alte Reben, Gierlan Vernatsch.                 13.5%   16.10

Puntay, Erste + Neue Vernatsch.                                 13.5%    10.00

Passion Riserva, St Pauls Vernatsch.                          12.5%    18.00

Kalkofen, Baron di Pauli Vernatsch..                         13.00%   12.50

Weingut Dona has won prizes.

Vernatsch.Dona, Weingut Dona.                                 12.5%             10.50

Schiava/Vernatch wines can also be Bio

Amadeus ORG, Lieselhof.                                          12.5        15.70

Greifenberg, Kellerei Kaltern                                      13.00%  25.07

Nusserhof's  price shows confidence that this is a product of value.

Elda, Nusserhof, Heinrich Mayr                                  12.00%  31.50

An interesting range of Abv figures and prices.

Restaurant wine lists tended to have far more Lagreins and Sankt Magdalenas than straight Schiavas but as mentioned things seem to be swinging back to Schiava. We certainly hope so in the name of diversity.

So what does Schiava taste like? The following adjectives used by D'Agata (Native Wine Grapes of Italy) through his survey of the Schiava Group give a good idea of the flavours common to the various members of the family;

Pale red to dark pink
Bright Pink
Fresh red fruit (fresh redcurrant, sour red cherry, strawberry)
Floral (buttercup, violet) aromas and flavours.
Perfumed, light-bodied and high acid.
Pomegranite and marzipan delivering a slightly salty-sour tang on the usually bright finish.

That should get your taste-buds going. We do hope you will rush out and buy a bottle if you can find one.


PS. Schiava/Vernatsch has the dubious honour of having one of the most exensive lists of synonyms. To whit:

Admiral, Aegypter, Ägyptische, Ägyptischer, Aleksandriskii chernyi, Baccaria, Bacheracher, Bammerer, Barth der Alten, Bilsenroth, Black Gibraltar, Black Hambourg, Black Hamburg, Black Hamburgh, Black Prince, Black Tripoli, Blauer Trollinger, Blauwälsche, Bocksauge, Bocksaugen, Bocksbeutel, Bockshoden, Bockstraube, Braddick’s Seedling, Bruxelloise, Chasselas bleu de Windsor, Chasselas de Jérusalem, Chasselas de Windsor, Dachtraube, Dachtrauben, Dutch Hamburgh, Edel Vernatsch, Edelvernatsch, Fleischtraube, Frankentaler, Frankenthal, Frankenthal noir, Frankenthaler, Garston Black Hamburgh, Gelbholziger schwarzblauer Trollinger, Gelbholziger Trollinger, Gros bleu, Gros noir, Gros plant grand noir, Gross Italiener, Gross Vernatsch, Grosse race, Grosser Burgunder, Grossroth, Grossschwarzer, Grossvernatsch, Hammelshoden, Hammelsschelle, Hammelssohlen, Hampton Court Vine, Hudler, Huttler, Imperator, Khei-Khan, Knevet’s Black Hamburgh, Kölner Blau, Kreuzertraube, Lambert, Lamper, Languedoc, Lombard, Lugiana near, Maltheser Roth, Malvasier, Malvoisier, Maroquin d’Espagne, Meraner Kurtraube, Ministra, Modri Tirolan, Mohrendutte, Mohrentutte, Morrokin Barbaron, Nougaret grosse race, Pfundtraube, Plant de Paris, Pommerer, Pope Hamburgh, Prince Albert, Purple Hamburgh, Queen Victoria, Raisin bleu, Raisin bleu de Frankental, Raisin de Languedoc, Red Hamburgh, Rheinwein blau, Richmond Villa Hamburgh, Rothelbner, Salisbury violette, Schiavone, Schiavone di Merano nero, Schliege, Schwarzblauer, Schwarzblauer Trollinger, Schwarzer, Schwarzer Wälscher, Schwarzwälscher, Spanisch Blau, Straihntraube, Südtiroler Kurtrauben, Teplichnyi chernyi, Tirolan crni, Tirolinger, Trolinger, Troller, Trollinger blau, Trollinger gelbholzig, Trollinger weissholzig, Trollingi kék, Tschaggele, Uva Cenerente, Uva meranese, Uva near d’Amburgo, Valentines, Victoria, Victoria Hamburgh, Wälscher, Warner’s Hamburgh, Weissholziger Trollinger, Welke Burgundske, Welko modre, Zottelwälscher and Zottler.

Saturday 14 April 2018

Thinking Napoli

Thinking Napoli duty free shop at Naples airport.
Napoli's Capodichino airport has always been a bright spot among airport duty free shops.

The world's only duty free Mozzarella shop.
The dedicated Mozzaerlla outlet is still there. they must turn over huge quantities to ensure their stock is always fresh.

Years ago, you might have spent all your time choosing wine at the upstairs Duty Free only to realise as you ran downstairs for your gate that there was a much more interesting shop specialising in local wine on the lower level.

Local wines. Rest of Italy and international wines are to the right of the pillar.
Now both are amalgameted upstairs and there is a wall of wine from Campania and nearby regions alongside a reasonable selection from the rest of Italy and the rest of the world.

This Gragnano caught our eye immediately. We have enthused about this sparkling red from Aglianico and Piedirosso previously. This one purports to come from Herculaneum which is covered by the Penisola Sorentino DOC. A worthy competitor to Lambrusco.

Piedirosso is another undervalued variety from Campania so we bought this example too. A Coda di Volpe was also tempting as well as a number of Lacrima Christis. Lacrima is  just Piedirosso under a rather off-putting name. Don't be discouraged, it's often excellent stuff.

 In Napoli itself we didn't find the equivalent of some of the great wine shops to be found in Roma (Costantini, Trimani) or even Palermo (Piccone). There are nonetheless some nice ones. Fred Plotkin (The Gourmet Traveler's Guide to Italy') recommends Enoteca Belledonne (Vico delle Belledonne)

Enoteca Conte has mainly wine inside.

and we rather liked Enoteca Conte (dal 1960) in the Piazzetta Santa Anna di Palazzo. Note the yellow carton on the pavement to the left; it is from Elena Walch, Alto Adige producer of Schiava and co. on which we'll be posting soon.

Surprising was a large new or newly refurbished upmarket Conad in the Via Alarbardieri in the Chiaia quarter.

This included a nice bar ('Gourmeet'). On our Saturday afternoon visit there was a football match on the huge flat screen you can see on the far wall, and a crowd enjoying their Aperol Spritzes, espressos and whatnot while nibbling the free (free with your drink) cichetti or whatever the Neapolitan word is for 'bits' (pizzettini?).

The wine cellar was rather conventional (no 'autochtoni') but luxuriously appointed.

The selection in the supermarket proper was terrific. We bought some Patate di Bologna (beautifully yellow and waxy inside) and some dried Bottarga.

View from the Palco at the Teatro San Carlo, Napoli
If as we did, you have a date at the Teatro San Carlo, what you have to do to get a drink at the interval is to get your ticket before the performance because if you amble along to the bar in the interval and have to join the queue to pay before joining the other queue to get served you may not make it before the programme recommences and they shut the doors. There are no refunds.

The royal box where our 15 Euro programme was pinched on one occasion
Oh, and if you need to pick up your ticket from the box office this can easily take 20 minutes. Solution? Let the Conad people take over the opera house?

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Good riddance to Triomphe

1 vine out, 130 to go.
The decision to grub up our 131 twenty-five year old Triomphe d'Alsace vines made itself after the 2017 (non) vintage.

job done
There had been neither the time nor frankly the inclination to do any summer pruning or eventually to pick until it was too late. The day we decided to harvest, we discovered the pheasants had got there first and stripped the vines to the last grape. Already doubtful of making anything useful other than grape juice (strangely not bad) or vinegar (good) it just became clear that ripping these beasts out was the thing to do.

not an actual representation but along the right lines
Our pheasant population had burgeoned but what is the point of growing grapes to feed them especially as we had no opportunity or wish to bag them for our own consumption.

Valentin Blattner
Also, we had an idea of what we might like to plant in their place following our visit to Valentin Blattner, private grape breeder of Soyhieres, Switzerland in March 2017.

Paul and Sam
Thanks to the invaluable advice of Paul Troop and Sam Doncaster we had found Blattner's Cabernet Noir via Annett Rosenberger of Rebschule Freytag in Germany.

Blattner Cabernet Noir
Originally we had thought of Cabernet Jura (also from Blattner) but Cab. Noir ripens much earlier (around the same time as Rondo in the UK - that is in mid-September) and a tasting of Cabernet Noir from the  Domaine de la Colombette in the Languedoc and Blattner's own Cabernet Jura ('Les Mergats') persuaded us that Cabernet Noir was no less good.

Cabernet Noir from the Languedoc
Image result for les mergats cabernet jura
Blattner's own Cabernet Jura

You read about grubbing up vines quite frequently but believe us, it is not a simple business if you don't have expensive dedicated equipment. Also, very few people in the UK have experience of grubbing up vines due to the youth of modern vinegrowing in this country.

our Kubota for the day
a change of tyres
In the end we found that the cheapest wasy of doing it was to hire a Kubota 21hp tractor with chevron tyres one winter's day and pull the vines up with a rope of kinds. This is what is called 'arrachage' (tearing out) in France. The alternative would have been to use a digger but our skills stopped well short of that.

£20,000 of stump grinding equipment hopefully does the job.
Pulling up the Triomphe vines left rather a lot of roots behind so in the end we had to call in profesional stump grinders whose Stakhanovite activity zapped the roots in the 131 holes where the vines had been. No amount of grinding will remove all the roots of course. For that we would have had to remove the trellising and deep plough the whole site but we are too poor and lazy to do that.

Holes have been dug mainly between the spots the old vines occupied.

Our advice from Derek Pritchard of Dunkery Vineyard, Wooton Courtnay (who supplies us with vines and equipment) was 'I would replant this year, a year of one's life is a long time !'

Cabaret Noir? Someone having a laugh perhaps?
So 144 Cabernet Noir vines duly arrived from Rebschule Freytag and are now tucked up, hopefully safely in our small patch. Whether they will thrive (Derek says new vines don't like decaying vine roots and there are certainly still some present) is another matter but the main thing is we are now a Triomphe-free zone.

                                                            ready for planting

7.50pm. Cabernet Noir safely tucked up.
Note: We've put our 141 Bacchus vines on notice this year, such is our enthusiasm for change. Bacchus is high maintenance (involving too many chemicals) and when we make it, the wine is nothing special. The search is on for a better, resistant variety. Meanwhile, we have been filling some holes with more Solaris, an obliging variety which makes good wine in the UK as its propensity to produce what Jancis Robinson MW calls 'tooth-rottingly high sugar levels' is mitigated in our climate.