Saturday 25 April 2020

Not on the same page.

Slotovino - A plea for Diversity in Wine. That's the slogan. That's our mission. For ten years we have been taking delight in finding, tasting and suggesting rare and rarer grape varieties in order to make a contribution to diversity in wine. What was wrong in that? We thought things were going in that direction. Indeed with the publication of so many great books including 'Wine Grapes' by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, 'Native Wine Grapes of Italy' by Ian D'Agata, 'Jura Wine' and 'Wines of the French Alps, Savoie Bugey and beyond' by Wink Lorch, 'Natural Wine' (Isabelle Legeron), Amber Revolution (Simon J. Woolf) and really a lot of others, we thought things were going our way.

An article by James Lawrence in today's 'Winesearcher - 'The week in wine' gives an insight into the real world to which we had been blind all this time.

No safety in numbers for wine grapes.

Diversity is everything in wine, according to the intelligentsia, but it doesn't pay wineries' bills.

Conventional wisdom tells us never to put all our eggs in one basket. The wine industry suggests otherwise.

...diversity in wine terms is a bad idea. At best, it is an indulgence of the trade, at worst it may lead to commercial suicide. It is also patronizing. Do consumers really need to be told that they should be expanding their palates? What justifies the imperative to continually proselytize the esoteric? (our emphasis)

...there is  a lucrative opportunity in giving consumers more of what they want, particularly at higher price points. With the premiumization narrative going into overdrive, there is surely more sense in marketing expensive versions of Malbec and Sauvignon, rather than pushing Bonarda or Marlborough Verdelho.  

...However, let's step outside the bubble of funky grape varieties and hipster-friendly wine lists for one second. The vast majority of the industries' key employers – responsible for maintaining the livelihoods of many millions of families – rely on mass retail. They're operating in a fiercely competitive arena...Now is not the time to be embracing the esoteric, hoping consumers will take a punt on the obscure. 

The trade won't survive and prosper by pushing the weird and wonderful; it will stay in business by delivering familiar tropes – hopefully at higher price points.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens

As Mark Twain reportedly said: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket is all wrong. I tell you: put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket."

Lawrence also writes

'According to The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), Cabernet Sauvignon - excluding table grapes – is still the world's most popular variety. Merlot occupies the second spot, followed by Tempranillo. The 13 most popular grapes are planted on a third of the vine area of the world, according to OIV.'

Ian D'Agata wrote previously;

'Statistics are for losers.'

and on investigating a particularly obscure variety,

'I cannot begin to say how happy I am to have contributed to clearing the cobwebs of time from Roussin de Morgex. In fact, I consider this to be one of the highest points reached in my life devoted to wine....'

D'Agata's passion on the subject is the result of an entirely different outlook on wine not to say attitude to life. We have always been struck by the conservatism of the wine world. We have had to accept that most people see wine only as generic - almost a condiment. They have no interest to know anything about it other than if it is white or red (and probably how much it costs).

The so-called wine -lover is likely to be much more excercised by the country of origin (we've even heard it said that 'wine is by definition French'), in the narrowest terms the region (probably Bordeaux or Burgundy), how many points it has and again how much it costs.

It is still a mystery to us why the vast majority of the market falls into these two categories. It seems as though they have given up on the sheer complexity of wine and grab a the most convenient life-raft and cling to it for evermore. We even have a friend who having discovered a wine he likes, wants to drink only that wine for evermore.

Things are improving, no doubt about it but Lawrence is still able to refer to less familiar grape varieties as commercial suicide.

We're obviously not on the same page.

PS. Mark Twain/Samuel Langhorne Clemens also wrote 

There are no standards of taste in wine... Each man's own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard.

Very much on our page.


Sunday 12 April 2020

£5.99 Chambourcin 1998 Reserve, Cassegrain, Hastings River, NSW

 T. Wright Fine Wine and Spirit Merchant of Horwich, Bolton (just twenty minutes outside Manchester), has been established as a fine wine merchant since 1896. How do we know that? Well, it is thanks to Coronavirus.

Plans to visit New York at the end of March had of coure to be cancelled and with them, a project to visit a vineyard or two in New Jersey. New Jersey? Why not? There are now vineyards in every US state and naturally enough, some have their own peculiarity. For us, the salient characteristic of New Jersey wine was the unusual number of vineyards growing Chambourcin. 'Wine Grapes' tells us that Chambourcin is a complex hybrid obtained after 1945 by Joannes Seyve by crossing Seyve-Villard 12-417 with Chancellor... It was named after the Lieu-dit Chambourcin in the village of Bouge-Chambalud in Isere where Seyve owned an experimental vineyard. It was first commercialised in 1963 and was used to breed Regent.

'Wine Grapes' heads the entry on Chambourcin 'French humidity-tolerant hybrid popular in the US and Australia but on the decline in its homeland.'

Indeed we had enjoyed some Australian Chambourcins previously. The version by Tamburlaine comes to mind. We were very much looking forward to visiting a Chambourcin-growing vineyard in New Jersey and coming home with a bottle or two. There are Chambourcin producers in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania too. Like New South Wales, humid areas on or not far from coasts.

Following the inevitable cancellation of the trip we set about looking for a bottle in the UK and that is precisely what we found at T. Wright Fine Wine and Spirit of Horwich. Their website had this New South Wales Chambourcin 1998 for sale at £5.99. Winesearcher had no other entry for a non-sparkling red (as opposed to Rose) Chambourcin in the UK.

We immediately bagged this bottle. What could we lose? We opened it soon after its arrival and were absolutely delighted. Chambourcin has a very marked character which we love. It is no less individual that Pinotage for example. This bottle had lasted since 1998 with no ill effects. For the price it must have been the bargain of the century.

Attempts to buy another bottle (just one) failed. Clearly this really had been the last one left not only in the cellars of T. Wright but probably in the whole country.*

The fact it was a 22-year old vintage and was being sold off for what was probably its original price says something about people's fear of the unknown or at least lack of curiosity. In this case that is a great pity even if we were the winners.

The back label said;

The entire production of the 1998 Reserve Chambourcin was selected from 100% Bio-Dynamically grown and hand-picked grapes sourced from Le Clos Francois vineyard in the Hastings River region of New South Wales. The 1998 Chambourcin is a wine we are proud to give the 'Reserve' status. This wine is deep in crimson colour. with the bouquet showing intense dark cherry and plum characters, on a rich oak background.

The palate has an intense berry fruit and an impressive depth of ripe fruit falvours. The Tannins are fine and soft, providing the structure to allow the wine to age for many years.

This wine has excellent cellaring potential, 5 - 7 years. A perfect accompaniment with lamb, beef or venison.

Enjoy this wine in moderation.

From the House of Cassegrain.

Certified Demeter Bio-Dynamic. Resrach Institute Powelltown 3797.

Darby Higgs in his essential Blog 'Vinodiversity' writes;

Chambourcin is perhaps the most successful of the French Hybrids and is certainly the most widely used in Australia.
The area planted to Chambourcin is declining in France, but it is widely grown in Eastern United States and Canada.

Chambourcin wines are deeply coloured and fruity, but tend to finish short. The 'foxy' flavour common to American Vitis varieties and hybrids can be detected in some, but not all, Australian Chambourcin wines.
Although its major use is for red wines, some producers use the variety for sparkling reds and rose wines. It is also used successfully for port style wines.

There follows a list of 47 Australian wineries who make Chambourcin. 

John Cassegrain, pioneer of Chambourcin with his sons.

Our bottle comes from Cassegrain Wines.
Could this be the Chambourcin vineyard at Cassegrain?

John Cassegrain was the first to grow and produce Chambourcin wine commercially in Australia. The Cassegrain website has it;

'Located in the Hastings River region, Cassegrain Wines enjoys a temperate maritime climate and is widely renowned as the first winery to grow and produce Chambourcin commercially in Australia.
The original vineyard was planted in 1980, and with a keen interest in new and emerging regions, Cassegrain have since evolved to operate as a multi-regional producer. Fruit is now sourced from across NSW including Orange, Rylstone, Tumbarumba, New England, Cowra and the Hunter Valley.'

In New Jersey, we had planned to visit a Chambourcin producer such as Belleview, Tomasello, Four JG, Silver Decoy or Heritage Station most of which were not too far from New York City. Others include:

Chaddsford Winery
Coda Rosso Winery (Chambourcin Rose)
Hopewell Valley Vineyards
Laurita Winery
Ventimiglia Vineyard
Weingarten Vineyards
Turdo ('the only vineyard and winery in the state of NJ to be run 100% on solar energy!')

* On re-visiting Winesearcher Pro, we noticed that in amongst the D'Arenberg Peppermint Paddock Sparkling Chambourcin (obviously a good seller) and the Strickerhof Chambourcin Rose (Trentino/Alto Adige) - quite popular) there is one entry from for Strickerhof's Chambourcin Red. At £18.70 we'll wait 'till T. Wright imports more Cassegrain at £5.99.

Cassegrain Chambourcin Reserve

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Marvel of marvels - hot from Chile.

Hot from Chile, bottles of Korta Wines' Grosse Merille

The world is truly connected even in the midst of a pandemic. As reported in our post of a few days ago, April 2nd we made the discovery of a grape called Grosse Mérille from a report in 'Decanter.' With little else to do during the Coronavirus lockdown we went to work with the idea of somehow finding a bottle. At that stage we were just along for the ride not believing for a moment that we could land a sample of this wine from our laptop in London. There appeared to be no winemerchants stocking it outside Chile and Chile was a long way away.

Our first idea was to contact the producer, Korta Wines of the comune of Sagrada Familia in Maule of which it is written:

Among the different Chilean valleys, Sagrada Familia Valley (part of Curicó Valley), located in the parallel 35° South and approximately 200 kilometers south of the capital of Chile, Santiago, has a mild Mediterranean climate, with very defined seasons, with hot Summers, mildly cold Winters and the transitional seasons of Spring and Autumn.

Rains concentrate in Winter time, with an average rainfall of 600mm per year and a daily thermical oscillation of 15° Celcius. The valley has good ventilation conditions, with preeminence of cold winds coming from the Pacific Ocean that cool the Spring and Summer evenings.

It is one of the five places in the world, where these perfect conditions are found, allowing the optimal phenological maturity of the grapes.

We didn't expect a reply because the harvest just took place last month so this is the busiest time of year. Also we sent our query as to where we could locate this Grosse Mérille to an info address on the Korta website and we are used to such communications going 'in die Hosen' as the Germans so aptly put it.

The kindly and efficient Francisco Korta
Imagine our surprise as they say when we received an answer from Francisco Korta himself by return. Francisco immediately indicated his willingness not only to send us some Grosse Mérille but also to help edit our post for which we were very grateful.

We were dubious about buying a bottle or two and having them shipped all the way to London. The costs would almost certainly be prohibitive and we really didn't want to put our new friend to any trouble. Nonetheless he was quite insistant and asked for our address. We supplied this hoping to get an estimate for the shipping but a couple of days passed without any news.

We thought that would be the end of the matter and then there was an 08.00 ring at the doorbell and there was a box containing the two bottles.

Marvel of marvels indeed. Gratefully we sent Francisco a message telling him of the safe arrival of the wine and asking again for an invoice.

By return, Francisco wrote  'Don´t worry, this wine is like a son... It´s a gift for you. You must drink it like a whites wines, low temperature.

Alistair Cooper MW's review of Korta's Grosse Merille in Decanter.

As soon as we can try this wine which we expect to be as good as the revue in 'Decanter' we will include it in our next tasting - whenever that will be. It may not be a great time to do anything but we have proved that the world is still interconnected and in the midst of catastrophic disturbance wonders can still happen. They are so much more to be treasured than ever.

Thursday 2 April 2020

Grosse Mérille - a story with a happy end.


Our detective story began with a thumbnail review in Decanter's South America 2020 guide by Alistair Cooper MW. The mention of Grosse Mérille was the first we had ever heard of this variety and a great surprise in the context of wines from Chile.

Maybe it shouldn't have been such a surprise. After all it was only a short time ago that we had been writing about Casa Silva's 'Romano' which is said to be none other than the César variety from Bourgogne.

Nevertheless we got 'Wine Grapes' down from the shelf as we always do and looked up Grosse Mérille. there is an entry on 'Mérille' and Petite Mérille is mentioned as a variety commonly mistaken for Mérille but no mention of Grosse Mérille.

Pierre Galet's 'Dictionnaire Encyclopedique des Cepages' was as ever out next stop. Again there is no entry under Grosse Mérille but under Mérille we learn that there is a Mérille grosse. Worryingly there is also an indication that Mérille is a synonym for Cinsaut. Cinsaut is widely planted in Chile.

Next stop, Google. Here we found an article on the W.I.P. (Wine Independent Press) site which was both illuminating and convincing.

First of all, Grosse Mérille was more commonly known as Gros Verdot previously. Back to 'Wine Grapes.' Gros Verdot' we learn is not only no relation to Petit Verdot but has been banned from planting in the Gironde since 1946 even though it was an important variety in the 19th century.

It is said to have been an important ingredient in a  Bordeaux wine named Comte de Queyries after the Queyries quay along the Gironde in Bordeaux and has all but disappeared now.

As with César and of course Carmenere, Bordeaux loss has been Chile's gain. In Chile it has become known as Verdot Chileno or just Verdot. Gros Verdot/Grosse Mérille/Verdot Chileno/Verdot survives there having been brought with other varieties in the 19th century. It was also taken to California where it tends to be confused with Cabernet Pfeffer. We hope the latter apercu will not keep Slotovino readers awake at night.

Philippo Pszczolkowski, left and Francisco Korta.
Back to W.I.P, the story of how Francisco Korta of the Korta winery enlisted the collaboration of Philippo Pszczolkowski (Ps-chol-kovski) a distiguished faculty member of the department of Fruit Culture and Enology of the Pontificia Universidad de Chile. Pszczolkowski had recommended Verdot Chileno to Konta having carried out rigorous researches on it to prove its integrity as a stand-alone variety (unrelated to Mérille) and having also traced its lineage as an import from its home in France by molecular studies by INIA (Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, Chile) together with INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Vassal Collection, Marseillan France).

Philippo was very conscious of the limited number of vinifera varieties planted in Chile and saw the decline of Verdot Chileno as something to be combatted. Francisco took on the challenge and planted 2.5 ha. After various trials and errors he found a method of vinification which best suited the variety and chose to call it Grosse Mérille rather than Verdot Chileno, Verdot or Gros Verdot in order to avoid any misunderstanding with Petit Verdot. A sound decision.

Sadly, Korta Seleccion Especial Grosse Mérille, appellation Sagrada Familia, Curico 2017 is only available in Chile. We have plenty of time to plot how to get our hands on a bottle while continuing to self-isolate.

PS. Not to be outdone, our friends from Casa Silva - the makers of Romano/César - have made their own Grosse Mérille, also N/A UK.