Friday 28 June 2019

Amazing surprises at LWF 2019

It's not RAW, it's not RWF (Artisan Wine Fair and Real Wine Fair in case you are coming to this world of London wine fairs for the first time) - it's the more ordinary commercial LWF (no prizes for decifering).

Yet there are discoveries and surprises to be had here too, if you look for them.

Nikos Asteriadis of Oinoi Adam in his London debut
First, an old friend from Oenorama, Athens 2014: Nikos Asteriadis himself. The charming US educated ex-chemical engineer making outstandingly delicious Refosco.

photo we took at Oenorama in Athens 2014.

The 2011 vintage came in at 14.5. The 2013 on show here is 15% but still showing the character of this great grape. This was surprise No. 1. Amazing.

Surprise No. 2 came from another Greek producer, Nerantzi whom we had not come across before.

Nerantzi makes a beautiful and individual wine from what they call an ancient Greek grape variety. It's called Koniaros. We are endebted to Markus Stolz for the following information:

Fact File Koniaros
Area grown: Serres, Macedonia, in the far north of Greece, close to the Bulgarian border. Currently Domaine Nerantzi is the only producer of a varietal Koniaros.
History: Koniaros is an ancient variety that had been left behind due to low yields. Nerantzi Mitropoulos came across vines in 1998. He had them DNA tested, registered Koniaros with the authorities, preserved and cultivates it.
Grapes: Large, thick skinned berries. Koniaros is a late ripening variety; harvest typically takes place in the last week of September.

Truly an amazing discovery. Nerantzi's Koniaros is already available in the USA from Flatiron and Astor among others. We can't imagine how we missed it on our many visits to those shops. It just shows that wine is such a vast topic that discoveries can be made almost everywhere.

Nerantzi had another surprise, maybe almost as dramatic: an Asprouda of Serres or Asprouda Serron. Asprouda means 'whitish' according to Wine Grapes so the many Asproudas need to be followed by a placeneme to distinguish them. For example

Asprouda Ariloghi
Asprouda of Chalkis
Asprouda Dopia
Asprouda Halkidos
Asprouda of Kynthos
Asprouda of Messenie
Asprouda Moureli
Asprouda Mykinon
Asproda Patron
Asprouda Santorinis
Asprouda of Spetses
Asprouda Zakyntho
Asprouda of Zanthe

All these grapes are different and make a whole range of wines from dry to sweet with different taste profiles. As Wine Grapes so aptly says 'DNA analysis is long overdue.'

Surprise #4, a whole booth devoted to a Ningxia winery.

Almost as recherche, Clwstwr Diodydd Cymru - Drinks Cluster, Wales. As well as Welsh Whisky etc. there were two wineries we had been unaware of: Montgomery and White Castle.

Montgomery Signature Wines of Wales make Solaris and a Solaris/Bacchus blend as well as Rondo.

This Rondo by Montgomery was simply the best Rondo we had ever tasted. It proved that you can make a really outstanding wine from this grape - sometimes regarded as only good for blending. What next? Rondo from the Rhonnda?

As if that wasn't suprise enough from Wales. next door was a rare example of a Siegerrebe in purezza. We had never tasted Siegerrebe before. We don't disagree with the description on the back label:

An aromatic elegant white wine with honey blonde and light straw hues . Layered sweet aromas of peach, orange blossom & nectarine, with ripe lychee on the palate and a long soft spicy finish.

Wine Grapes is not a fan ('Overpoweringly Muscat-scented, low acid...continues to decline, thankfully...can be overwhelming...) but perhaps they haven't tasted White Castle's Siegerrebe?

An emerging theme from recent posts on our blog has been the surprising re-emergence of some of our old 'mal aime' English and Welsh plantings from the early years. We had to admire a Cornish Schoenburger from Knightor Vineyard despite unpromising previous experience of this grape and it was a surprise to see the cool Ben Walgrave of Tillinghurst using Madeleine Angevine with obvious enthusiasm. The Rondo from Montgomery (above) can also be included.

And now, what was this? A concerted effort to promote Bacchus as our true national grape! Again we have had signs of this recently  but here was a slew of examples from 9 producers.

Presiding with exemplary impartiality and enthusiasm was Ben Witchell, winemaker of Flint Vineyard. We had heard rumours that Flint was something special so we took a sip.

Could this have been yet another re-evaluation of a not so thrilling UK grape? Indeed. Flint Bacchus almost made us regret having torn up our own Bacchus this year - until we remembered the 10 backbreaking spray treatments we needed to give this susceptable variety last year (hardly a big mildew one). We mentioned this to Ben who gave us a wry smile. Ben has spent time in Beaujolais learning his craft. He has emerged in record time as one of the new generation of expert vignerons who are raising the bar for English and Welsh wine. He is the first to make a sparkling wine from the Charmat method - the one used for Prosecco. His vineyard is in Norfolk - sunny and dry. Berry Bros. and Rudd no less stock his wines.

Upstairs at 'Wines Unearthed' we found perhaps the biggest surprise of all.

On the face of it a Friulano from Friuli was not particularly extraordinary. The separation of  'Wines Unearthed' from those downstairs - some of which like the Koniaros were the epitome of unearthed - was random.

Since replacing our Bacchus with 'Soreli' this year, we have taken a renewed interest in Tocai Friulano or Friulano because Soreli is derived from that grape. It is one of Vivai Cooperativo Rauscedo's new resistant varieties.

Ever on the lookout for an actual wine from Soreli, we asked the gent at Zorzettig if he had heard of this new variety and if so wherther he knew anyone who had planted it.

Alan Gaddi of Zorzettig
The gent looked thunderstruck. Not only had he heard of Soreli but they were planting it themselves! The name of our new friend was Alan Gaddi. He told us 'We planted the 1st ha this year, so the first vintage will be 2023, released in 2024.'

We are going to keep in touch. We doubt if our Soreli will come on stream as early as 2023/4 but you never know.

Now that was a surprise because Dr. Stefano Battistella, export manager of VCR was only able to name 2 nearby vineyards who had planted Soreli. One of these, Obiz in the province of Udine will bottle their first vintage this year.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

That particular avenue of pleasure has been closed off.

We read in the newspaper today that Eurostar is to stop people carrying more than one bottle of wine in their suitcases.

It is not clear if they are doing this for fear that people will get themselves rat-arsed on the journey, for security reasons or for proctectionism lest they don't buy drinks at the bar/buffet.

Apparently they will allow more than one bottle provided you send your case with their luggage service (£30). Maybe for the sake of a new revenue stream?

Basil: That particular avenue of pleasure has been closed off.
Whatever the reason, Basil Fawlty's words come to mind especially for people like us who have taken great pleasure transporting esoteric French and Belgian wines back to the UK in the past.

Will we have to take the plane in the future (not ecological)?



a view across the Camel Valley
Cornwall has the mildest and sunniest climate in the United Kingdom. It is the southernmost area
(call it Duchy or County) not counting the Scilly Isles or the Channel Islands so you would expect a greater concentration of vineyards than actually exist there.

We were only able to find mention of the following, maybe half of which seem to be only hobby vineyards or even extinct:

Aaron's Vineyard
Barras Moor Vineyard
Bosue Vineyard
Camel Valley Vineyard
Cobland Mill Estate
Knightor Vineyard
Lambourne Vineyard
Looe Valley Vineyard
Pale Park Vineyard
Penberth Vineyard
Polgoon Vineyard
Polmassick Vineyard
Pollaughan Vineyard
Ruses Mill Vineyard
Struddicks Farm Vineyard
Titchen Farm Vineyard
Trevibban Mill

Camel Valley is the oldest, best established and most widely known of all the Cornish vineyards producing sparkling wine which wins quite a dizzying amount of awards and is the first English producer to acquire a royal warrant. It also is the first British vineyard to be given a PDO (Protected Designation Origin) by the EU for its Darnibole vineyard where the grape is 100% Bacchus.

Seyval Blanc is also grown but the main grapes for their celebrated Sparkling wine are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

bottling plant
The whole operation is very professional with the latest equipment and facilities.

Camel Valley tasting room
Camel Valley's wines are quite widely available which is not something you can say even of the most prominent among the other Cornish producers. Sales from these are mainly from cellar doors. It is even difficult to buy them through local shops specialising in Cornish produce which is a pity because some of them are really rather good.

Having made our pilgrimage to this rather obvious destination we struck out to one which featured something altogether unexpected.

When we arrived at Knightor Winery there was a wedding being celebrated and a notice on the door asking visitors not to enter. That wasn't the unexpected thing by the way; many vineyards not only in the UK offer their facilities for weddings and other events as supplementary income streams.

Happily a Japenese couple who clearly had an appointment (which we had not) appeared out of nowhere and were ushered into the shop by a representative who had been expecting them. We sheepishly tagged along trying to look like a wedding guest, or Japanese or otherwise inconspicuous.

The young couple seemed intent of buying a bottle of everything Knightor produces. This includes three Vermouths, Dry, White and Rose as well as sparkling and still wines of different colours.

Astonishingly one of Knightor's red wines is a Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon blend. This is not from imported grapes but ones grown in polytunnels right there in Cornwall (Knightor's grapes are grown in two vineyards on the coast, Portscatho and Seaton as well as at other English vineyards but not at the winery itself).

There was an actual polytunnel behind the shop but that was used for experimental purposes. So many vines were being trialled, no one could tell us what varieties were involved.

Growing vines in polytunnels is not unknown in the UK. We have even seen it on Angelsey and heard about it in the Hebrides. Beenleigh in Devon has produced a similar wine in polytunnels. We tasted it many years ago. No doubt it has improved since then. You can buy it from Peter Osborne Fine Wines for £25.99.

Regent Pinot Noir Rondo blend
After this surprise, the other Knightor wines seemed more what one would have expected. Grape varieties include Bacchus, Chardonnay, Dornfelder, Huxelrebe, Kerner, Madeleine Angevine, Muller Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir Précoce, Pinot Meunier, Riesling (presumably also grown in polytunnels?), Reichensteiner, Seyval Blanc, Schönberger and Siegerrebe.

These grapes sound like a litany of what has been planted in the UK since the modern revival of viticulture. We have to confess harbouring prejudices against some of the old hybrids such as  Schönberger but we let ourselves be persuaded to try Knightor's Schönberger despite previous encounters with this grape having been of the neutral and watery kind.

Knightor's Mena Hweg (Schönberger)
At between 7.5% - 9% depending on vintage, Knightor's Mena Hweg - Cornish translation of Schöner Berg) is an off-dry wine which allows the latent aromatics of Schönberger to come through. This was a revelation of sorts. Actually very good indeed. Who would have thought it?

 We had planned to visit Bosue Vineyard next. Their grapes are the next generation on from some of the Knightor varieties:


They also produce their own Brandy.

It all looked very nicely kept but we had failed again to make an appointment and nobody was home.

We had heard about an Orange wine made by Trevibban Mill Vineyard so that was our next stop.

The birds must sre like Trevibban grapes. This was the first time we had seen such extensive netting in an English vineyard.

Trevibban's tasting room and cellar door is downstairs from their restaurant and wedding venue. All rather impressive - you could be in Australia.

The tasting room seemed to be a magnet for local people to drop in for tea or coffee. Interesting.

The Orange wine mentioned earlier is from Orion, a grape we like.

Other grapes used by Trevibban include the traditional Champagne grapes as well as a mixture of old and newer hybrids similar to Knightor;

Madeleine Angevine
Pinot Noir
Seyval Blanc

As at Camel Valley and Knightor, Trevibban's gear is modern and sparkling.

Penzance is the last major town before Land;s end and so its own winery Polgoon seems to be the most Westerly in the British Isles.

Polgoon seems to be quite a large operation making the following wines;

Seyval Blanc Sparkling
Pinot Noir Sparkling Rose
Bacchus white
Madeleine Angevine white
Seyval Blanc and Ortega white
Sauvignon Blanc white
Rondo and Pinot Noir Rose
Rondo and Seyval Blanc Rose
Rondo red

In addition they make a large variety of Ciders (Apple, Elderflower, Pear and Scrunpy), Apple juice, Elderflower presse, Lemonade and other non-alcoholic drinks.

Sauvignon Blanc was a surprise on their list but we enjoyed their Seyval Blanc/Ortega blend os much we bought a bottle and consumed it that very evening. We also liked their Rondo in tasting. Perhaps the best example of this grape we had found up to then. Rondo is sometimes denigrated not only because it was found not to have been derived from Saperavi as was first thought but also because some consider it only good for adding colour to blends including Pinot Noir for example.

Pale Park is a new vineyard specialising in Rondo. As with the Knightor Schoenburger and Polgoon Seyval Blanc/Ortega maybe there is mileage in the older hybrids when made as well as Cornish winemakers seem to be able to do.

So can one say there is a particular Cornish wine character? Perhaps not but the wineries we visited were characterised by the selection of grape varieties now becoming obsolescent and yet producing some good wines. As producers become better at handling these grapes the grapes themselves become perhaps better as they are more mature. The continued use of Seyval Blanc is a case in point. It was never a bad grape like Triomphe but it seems now to produce better wines than ever before. Camel Valley, the largest and best known Cornish vineyard uses it as a 35% constituent of one of their sparklers and 100% of another. Camel Valley's Raymond Blanc Blanc de Noir is from Dornfelder by the way.

Madeline Angevine is also alive and well and Bacchus is is pretty ubiquitous in Cornwall as it is elsewhere in England and Wales. It could be on the verge of becoming our national grape. We rather hope not because it requires so many treatments against mildew: 10 - 13 in a season. Better to grow something more resistant we think.

Rondo is a feature in several wineries and one can see why because at least it ripens which Pinot Noir struggles to do even in this southerly region. We haven't yet tasted the Knightor Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon from polytunnels but we would be surprised if that was the way to go in the future. Regent, Solaris, Ortega and Orion are doing well. Maybe someone will try some of the later PIWI varieties such as Souvignier Blanc, Muscaris, the Blattner varieties and we would suggest the new ones coming out of the VCR - Vivai Cooperativo di Rauscedo?