A light hearted insight into wine with no agenda other than to sniff out wine stories which capture the imagination… follow The Nose…

01/09/2019

The cool face of Soave

The Dal Cero Family

If you dismiss Soave as a simple white wine with little personality, I challenge you to revise your opinion. Times change. Many estates which previously sold fruit are now bottling at home. Pride in the Veneto region is high and a new generation of winemakers is stepping up. 

The quality of the Garganega grape is being harnessed (it can easily over crop) and there are plenty of styles from which to choose, from bright and floral to full and richly textured, as the winemakers experiment with different techniques – un-oaked perfumed wine, nutty lees ageing, elevage in barrique, late picked wines and skin contact- not that the latter is actually allowed, but we’re in Italy! 

The delimitations of land and potential quality are a bit confusing. Soave Classico defines the historical centre of quality, centred around the medieval village of Soave, but there are fabulous wines from beyond this boundary, notably the volcanic hills which are duly recognised by their DOCG classification. Here the viticultural conditions are more difficult and potentially these poorer slopes with lower yielding vines can make finer wines. Soave Superiore was coined in the 1990s to soak up the trend for late picked wines which have a tad more alcohol and longer ageing requirements making wines which are richer in texture and spicy. 

However, most interesting is the sense of terroir which shines through the wines. Garganega does have a personality of its own, but carefully managed it is translucent to the terroir and there is terroir to be appreciated here – from the higher volcanic slopes at 400m, around Ronca for example, which produce richer quite powerful wine, to the lighter and mineral wines of the limestone sites. Lower down near to the sea, the soils seem to mingle around the village in the Classico area.

It’s really the quality of the wine from slopes of black basalt that have been turning heads and the raising profile of Soave wine. However the volcanos which gave the Veneto its hills to the west of the region also brought marine deposits to the surface and vines that are planted on the chalky slopes in the East have a very different character. If you’re a limestone lover – read to the end for the wines of Vicentini.

It’s a treat to taste wines from single vineyards. The mapping of single vineyard sites began in Napoleonic times, it’s just taken a while for the estates to properly exploit their potential.

Back to the grape and the native variety Garganega is parent to many an Italian variety. At the fresher end of the spectrum it has a floral aromas with note of mandarin, lime zest and just cut green apple. Riper fruit takes on more spice and a richer, thicker texture. Thirty percent of Trebbiano de Soave is also allowed in the blend, and it can bring welcome freshness.  

It’s a tough task to convince the public that Soave is capable of producing wines of distinction, so three years ago, twenty or so small producers grouped together for more presence. And recently, with the help of fellow MW Sarah Abbott, they brought their wines to London to a tasting hosted by Sarah, an eloquent ambassador for the region and expert in Italian wine.

Sarah Abbott MW displaying her wares

So here’s a romp through some of the wines which appealed to me. Let’s start with some estates on the craggy black soils of Ronca. 

Corte Moschina

The family have been viticulturalists here on Ronca for generations. It’s a rugged region, no doubt requiring a certain toughness to farm here and I like the firm intension in these wines.

Corte Moschina, Soave Superiore DOCG ‘I Tarai” 2016

This has slately minerality. It has savoury bite. Quite spicy too, but with no lack of tension. This is the family tasting (below).

Dal Cero

Augusto Dal Cero was a pioneer in the wild volcanic sites of Ronca in the ’30s.

Dal Cero, Soave Superiore DOCG “Vigneto Runcata” 2017

This is dense, layered and powerful and quite spicy. Fresh though with lifted orange zest liveliness. I like the vigorous finish. This has punch. 

Canoso

Canoso, Soave DOC Superiore Classico Verso 2015

Orange flower aroma. Juicy and rounded, silky textured and lightly succulent.   

Cantina del Castello

13 hectares with a tasting room in a C13th palace. Unoaked. Winemaker Arturo Stocchett started off as an interior designer. 

Cantina del Castello, Soave DOC Classico Castello 2017

Breezy marine aroma. Elegant and charming; pure and floral.

Cantina del Castello, Soave DOC Classico Pressoni 2017

An elegant juicy wine underscored with nutty savoury, sappily.   

Corte Mainente

The Mainente family

Davide Mainente is a young chap with  a 12 hectare estate stated by his grandfather in the ‘30s.

Corte Mainente, Soave Classico Tovo al Pigno 2018

Such a pretty, floral, wine. Light footed and lively with a slight spice on the finish.

Corte Mainente, Recioto di Soave Luna Nova 2017

How delicious is this honeyed wine. I love the balance of spicy raisined fruit and freshness.

Bolla

Bolla Soave Classico DOC ‘Il Gambero”

A very lifted distinctive and intense aroma of fresh apple peel, elderflower and lime. The palate is also wonderfully perfumed and has a softly satin texture. 

Inama

Inama Soave DOC Classico “Vigneti di Carbonare” 2016.

This has an attractive dry sappy minerality married with floral elegance. 

Suavia

I liked these wines from four sisters whose family – Tessaris – settled in the village of Suavia 200 years ago. The village is long gone and the family worked vines and olives until the sisters’s parents set up a winery in the 80s.

Suavia Monte Caronare 2017.

So fresh and floral. Straight and pure. Clean, precise and well edged and energetic.  Mineral finish.  

Suavia Classico 2018.

This is intense, savoury and dense. A good food wine. 

Tenuta Grimani

Vines were cultivated on this site in the Ronca fields  at the foot of the volcanic Lessini mountains by the illustrious Grimani family. The vineyard was bought by the Cavaggioni family in the early part of the C20th.

Tenuta Grimani, Soave DOC Farinaldo 2018.

An impressive wine. Intense, powerful, it has both richness and density. A firm core and a long and juicy finish. 

Vicentini

Now I have saved one of the best ‘till last, as I really liked the wines of this estate.  Agostino Vicentini’s vines are on limestone slopes. 

Vicentini Soave DOC “Terre Lunghe” 2018.

This is light and bright and floral. A high toned wine with attractive vibrancy.

Vicentini, Soave Superiore DOCG “Il Casale” 2017.

This elegant, energetic wine is more intense than the Terre Lunghe with a pure line and focus. 

Websites

Inama

Vincentini

Suavia

Cantina de Castello

Corte Mainente

Dal Cero

09/07/2019

Exporting a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’

Prophet’s Rock, Cuvée Aux Antipodes

In the late Eighties and Nineties a generation of Antipodean winemakers, who cut their teeth on squeaky clean wines made in super sanitary wineries, flew over to the Old World, bringing their revolutionary techniques to flush out the murky corners and clean up the ‘traditional’ approach in many a French cuverie. 

By the Naughties winemakers from classic regions of France – Champagne, Bordeaux and even Burgundy, were travelling in the opposite direction exporting a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ along with their understanding of terroir. No surprise that Burgundians  chose to work with Pinot Noir or asked to consult on this most capricious of varieties, crossing the pond to Oregon and Sonoma, and heading to Oz and of course to New Zealand.   

One of the more recent to spread his wings is François Millet. François has been modestly and meticulously making wine from some of the greatest terroir in the Côte de Nuit, putting in a lifetime’s work for Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé in Chambolle. 

I have turned up for the past 14 vintages to taste with François who presents a reserved profile – a man of few words, until he describes de Vogüé. wine, at which point he transforms to one of the most articulate imaginative of tasters, albeit it in a retrained and quiet way. 

He is a precise winemaker, focused on the details, something appreciated by Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock Vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand. François’s son Julien went New Zealand to gain experience working at Prophet’s Rock in 2013 and François and his wife Michelle went over to visit him a couple of times. The two families – from Chambolle and Central Otago – struck up a friendship. 

“So when Paul asked me if I would be interested in making a cuvée at Prophet’s Rock,’ remarks François, I said – “why not?And now I go twice a year to make Cuvée Aux Antipodes.”  While François is typically reserved as he describes the story, he’s clearly emotionally involved in this project and excited to be showing me the wine. 

And of course the tantalising ‘hook’ which enticed François from Chambolle to other side of the world was the chance to interpret a totally different and fascinating  terroir. 

So what about that terroir?

Over to François, “Bendigo lies above a lake. The location has glacial terraces and this vineyard is on the highest terrace at 300-400m with a North exposure. Frost is an issue, but less so at this altitude. We are surrounded by two mountains. Here we are just beginning to get into the New Zealand Alps which reach 1500m, while on the other side of the river the Pisa Mountains climb to 1900m. The Pisa Mountains offer protection from the rainfall. This puts the area in a rain shadow,  with rainfall of only 300mm. It is much wetter between the Alps and the Tasman Sea.”

“We have a schist soil degraded to clay and limestone, but not a maritime limestone as in Burgundy. Under 40cm of top soil, which is a mix of schist, clay and humus, there is 70-80cm layer of this degraded chalk or more accurately ‘pedogenic lime’. The vineyard was planted in 2000 with Pinot Noir clone 777 grafted on 3309 rootstock. The vineyard is now (in 2019) certified as organic.”

There are many different blocks within the estate and François was invited to chose a parcel. Together with Paul they tasted wine from all the blocks and François says he chose the most elegant, fresh and balanced. This would usually become part of a blend. 

So how does this very Burgundian of winemakers handle his Kiwi Pinot? “My approach is empathy,” remarks François, “following the wine and not to think I know it all.” 

The use of SO2 is very low. “I feel the more you add, the further you get away from the land and the more you emphasise the variety character. I do not want that.”

“There is a cool pre-fermentation at the temperature of picking. The fruit is quite cool for it is picked in the morning at 10-15 degrees. It is all de-stemmed. I wait for fermentation – just ‘watering’ the top, waiting for the native yeast to start. When it’s fermenting I do just one punch down, just to observe what happens. I make the punch down at at a density of 1010 – not too late as there is more extraction when there is too much alcohol. For the second vintage (2016) I did just one punch down as well. Just one punch down is a big step up in terms of extraction. I knew the wines of the area, so I thought it was good to have one, but then I knew it was enough. Watering for the rest of the fermentation and one splashing (to introduce some air). The time I leave it after fermentation and before pressing is a matter of taste. Not more than one week before pressing it. 20-25 days or so.”

François uses one third new oak, Allier from Rémond. The MLF is postponed to  the spring. “It gets cool at the end of the season so it’s not a problem. The first racking is cask to cask with a little SO2. We take the fine lees and there is much more clarity and purity after the first racking. Today people seem frightened of racking, but if you rack this way, barrel to barrel, the wines are really happy and there is no stress. The wines do not age more quickly and thanks to the fine lees we keep, the wines are more complex.”

“Then to prepare for bottling we remove the lees and maybe do a fining. Only if it’s a necessity. It may be necessary in order to to create a harmony between the wood and the fruit. These elements can be opposed and this is a challenge you cannot control, like child taking its own path. So then we would do an egg white fining… using the powder, (not the traditional real egg whites), as it’s much more specific and targeted to each barrel. Each cask is a different decision. We use 5g per 228l – there is no point below 3g, but not above 5g. It’s not about ‘fixing’ something, but to give  the wine a harmony… to enhance the quality.”

“It spends about 18 months in barrel as we feel the ageing really begins after the MLF. The true evolution happens then. The cold is ‘feeding’ the wines… this is just my feeling. The process involves more than colour and stability – the mineral spine, something much more subtle. It makes a difference if the MLF is before or after the winter. The wine which does the MLF in the spring always has more definition.”

“Precision in the job is so important.”

The first vintage was 2015. These are elegant, fine textured wines. I find an engaging vibrancy the common thread in the three vintages of Cuvée Aux Antipodes. It is the exuberance, which is most striking.

*Cuvée Aux Antipodes 2017

Elegant, fruity and expressive. It has zesty acidity and tight edge with a fine and long line onto the finish. I like the floral and spice high tones and the vibrancy. This is my favourite. 

“The character of blood orange,’ says Francois. “You do not get this if you over extract.”

The vintage conditions were quite mixed. François’s recollections of the vintage conditions are below. 

Cuvée Aux Antipodes 2016

Lighter elegant and crunchy. Pure, high toned. Red fruit. Peppercorn. Fresh and zesty. Straight, snappy tannins, crispness and crunch. Grassier note on the finish. A cooler vintage is evident in this lighter, slimmer wine which is coming forward more quickly, but is none-the-less delicious.  

Cuvée Aux Antipodes 2015

This is rich and well structured with a velvet texture and good depth. Juicy dark, black fruit. Seductive and fuller bodied. The finish is richer, but streamed with a freshness and vigour.

François remarks on the vintages:

“For each vintage 2015, 2016 and 2017 there was a spring frost. Even a summer frost in 2017 (!) but hopefully not at Prophet’s Rock vineyards.”

“2015 was very dry and hot at the end of the season. That explains the dark fruits and spices of the wine.”

“2016 was much cooler and we see that with the red fruits, raspberries and fresh violets mineral vintage. The flow of a river.”

“2017 was even cooler but the skin ripeness was built slowly but surely. This reminds me the vintage 1993 in Burgundy where we had the same phenomenon.” 

09/06/2019

A passport to Canada

On a hot day in May the English Nose presented her passport at Canada House on Trafalgar Square for a tasting of “some of the very best that Canada’s wine producers have to offer.” 

I quote from The Canadian High Commissioner Janice Charette who drew attention to the Cabernet Franc feature table in her foreword to the tasting and signed off with a delightfully informal, 

“Cheers!”

I have to be honest the Cabernet Franc table didn’t really hit the mark for me. However this caught my eye.

Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Terroir Caché, Red Meritage 2015 

This was gamey, grippy with fresh green tomato notes. It had a somewhat animal appeal. 

Entering the main room, the first side was devoted to Ontario and it looped around Nova Scotia and came back through British Columbia. The wineries listed below were among my favourites.

Ontario

Ontario is a cool viticultural region and the vineyards benefit from the proximity to three of the five Great Lakes of North America. 

I started in the Niagara Peninsula is a sprawling viticultural region in Ontario with a plethora of sub-regions, microclimates and soils in which clay and limestone seem to feature prominently so I was expecting good varietal Pinot and Chardonnay, but hoping for more ‘terroir’ driven wines and I was not disappointed.

Bachelder

Bachelder have vineyards in the Niagara Peninsula

Bachelder ‘Les Villages’ Niagara Reserva Blend Pinot Noir 2016

Pure, light and silky. It is possibly more varietal led… very pinot.. but undeniably delish.

Thomas Bachelder

Wismer West Chardonnay 2016

From sub region of Twenty Mile Bench. This is 800m from the lake on limestone. Peachy and ripe, but also quite compact. Definitely feeling the cooler climate and the limestone here. 

Leaning Post

Also from Twenty Mile Bench comes a pretty Riesling from Leaning Post. Leaning Post is a winery in Winona run by husband and wife team Ilya and Nadia Senchuk who make a basket of grape varieties. I didn’t try them all, but liked the Riesling, Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir. Ilya was a professional winemaker and continues to work as a consultant winemaker while pursuing his dream with his wife and young family.

Wismer Vineyard Riesling 2017

This is picked later into October. It has a little residual sugar, but not too sweet.. really just off dry. It is fragrant, floral and delicate with a lovely balanced freshness.  

Senchuk Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016

This was by far the most interesting of their two pinots. It has floral notes, peonies. Juicy on the attack. Lovely silky texture. It is light, elegant and has good intensity. Plentiful crispness. 

Ilya explains it is from their ‘home’ vineyard which lies 800m from the lake and has a more ‘marine’ micro-climate. The influence of the lake is evidence in the later harvest date – about two weeks. The soil has clay with limestone about 1 meter beneath.  

Megalomaniac

I do like a maverick and Sebastien Jacquey with his winery Megalomaniac seems to fit the bill nicely. His edgy Pinot is planted on quite exposed limestone and is not for the faint hearted, but I do like a bit of limestone so it appealed to me.  

Reserve Pinot Noir 2017

This is also from Twenty Mile Bench. It’s quite a heady 14%, but you don’t notice… The soil is just 6-8 inches thick and then onto the limestone. He does a cold soak and 35 day total batting – yes 35 days – quite long. It has the strict tannins you expect from limestone. It like the tension and vitality. It has edge and needs time. 

Narcissist Riesling 2018

A chalky, lively, fresh wine… more on the savoury mineral side.   

His sparking wine Bubblehead was pretty good too. 

Closson Chase Vineyards

Closson Chase Vineyards is in Prince Edward County the smallest viticultural region in Ontario with just 800 acres and 30 wineries. Nick Bertrand (above) was among the pioneers here setting up in an old dairy barn. I particularly liked his Chardonnay and Pinot Gris

Closson Chase K.J. Watson Pinot Gris 2018

This has 45 days on the lees in stainless steel and is good and dry. It’s floral and has notes of lychee. Light, pure, energetic with some bite. The lees give it texture. This is not a complex wine, but it’s very nice.

Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay 2017

Rich, rocky, layering. Strong minerality. It’s a firm and powerful wine. A quality performance.

Tawse Winery

Quarry Road Chardonnay

Quite a rich wine with good mineral layering and quite an intense finish.

Nova Scotia

By the far end the room the Nose found herself in the chilly outpost of Nova Scotia and was in search of buoyancy in the form of  fizz. This is the place for it. This is frontier territory… here the settlers planted vines as early as the C17th. Conditions are challenging. It has a windswept maritime climate and it took tough hybrids to survive. Today braver folk plant trad Champenois varieties to good effect.  There are only about 800 acres under vines with 20 wineries and a quarter of those make sparking wine.

The nose quivered appreciatively over the wines of Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.

Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards.

The winery is named after the family – ‘Lightfoot’ & the seemingly pretty rare Wolfville soil. I’m told  it makes up only 3% of the region’s soil spectrum. The top soil is glacial till with coarse sandy loam, below this is clay which holds the water well. The farming is certified organic and run on biodynamic lines. They are using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and I was taken with their wines. I wish I had the capacity to try the full range. 

Lightfoot & Wolfville Valley

Blanc de Blanc Brut Nature 2012

Fine boned, energetic fresh and citrus with light leesy notes.

Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut Late Disgorged 2013

This had been disgorged in 2018. Buttery, toasty and inviting aroma with a silky smooth palate of macadamia nut richness with nicely balanced freshness. So alluring and generous on the finish.   

Benjamin Bridge

The hang time is phenomenal in Nova Scotia, where the grapes reach the same sugar levels in November that vines in Sonoma reach in July…while retaining the high acidity. Pretty cool.

Method Classique Brut Reserve 2012

A sophisticated nose and a firm and well structured palate with yeasty notes, light toast, a fine mousse and a pointed finish. Accomplished. 

While I had every intention of working my way through British Columbia I found myself faltering. Tasting through Ontario I had missed lunch and had no reserves to bolster me through the well proportioned reds.. I did try some… I was not going to make it through.  

Just before leaving I made a pit stop at Pentage Winery to taste one ice wine.

REBEL PI

REBEL Pi (private Label) 2016

I stopped as it’s the only ice wine made from Roussanne anywhere.. apparently. Moreover it’s made by new comer to the wine trade Jackie Fast.. as someone also embarking on her own winemaking career, after years as a wine writer I know how difficult it can be to create a niche, so I was happy to take a look.

It was aromatic, floral with a lightish bodied – it’s just 11 percent. A restrained lightly topical lychee palate and sweet of course, but nicely balanced.. delicately delicious. 

And now it was time to brave the crowds on Trafalgar Square once again… and to go back to The High Commissioner’s preface to the tasting book. She concluded “we look forward to hearing your feedback.” 

Well this is mine Janice. Hope it passes muster. 

Cheers!   

www.hiddenbench.com 

www.thomasbachelder.com are imported into the UK by Liberty Wines

www.clossonchase.com

www.tawsewinery.co imported by Folly Wines

www.leaningpostwines.com

www.megalomaniacwines.com

www. benjaminbridge.com imported into the UK by Friarwood 

www.lightfootandwolf.com

www.REBELPI.com

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