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

01/03/2019

Disenchanted with mass market Prosecco? Rekindle the flame with Il Follo.

The global economic downturn has resulted in an upward lift in the sales of Prosecco adding a notable sparkle to this market. In the UK, where we unashamedly lapped up Champagne, now we quaff increasing volumes of Prosecco. 

I recall a time when Prosecco was slightly sniffed at, but when times are uncertain, it has become an acceptable alternative to Champagne. Indeed Champagne might be deemed somewhat ostentatious in times of some austerity. 

Prosecco is largely seen as a ‘bung in the trolley’ sort of wine together with the groceries, but frankly there’s little pleasure in some of these vapid wines at £8 or less. When the DOC Prosecco area was expanded a decade ago, it incorporated the flat lands, formerly cornfields, and this area churns out the nondescript mass market fizz. 

The better area became DOCG Prosecco Superiore. This stunningly beautiful hilly region is called Conegliano Valdobbiadene and either or both names may be used on the label and the wine comes in Brut, Extra Dry or Dry versions.

 

Btw Prosecco is made from Glena, a highly productive variety with large bunches. The DOCG has a maximum permitted yield of 13.5 tonnes per hectare, lower than on the plain and the wineries tend to blend from various micro-zones of the area for more complexity. 

 

Better quality Prosecco is certainly cheaper than Champagne, but is it good value? in my local supermarket, the better Prosecco brands are now closing on £14. Hang on, this is fizz made made by the Charmat method, in other words large volumes which go through a second fermentation in tank and are swiftly bottled. It’s a damn sight cheaper and quicker to make wines this way, than the traditional, bottle fermented fashion. In other words £14 seems rather expensive for an  industrially made product. You could argue it’s better value to stockpile some Champagne when it’s on offer. Look along the shelf at the same supermarket and – on occasion – you can snaffle Bollinger for £32. Maybe drink fewer and better bottles? 

But let’s not be too hasty…. or hypocritical, as I love a ‘good’ Prosecco. However I would advise against a lazy supermarket approach and focus rather on your local wine merchant. 

A wine merchant worth their salt will have ferreted out something interesting and well worth the money. Ideally selecting a family estate that has been quietly making quality stuff since long before the Prosecco bonanza. 

 

 

Follador is one such family. ‘Follare l’uva’ is local dialect for ‘to press grapes and make wine’ which this family have been doing for generations. When I tasted the wine from this estate, I felt I had to write about them for those equally disenchanted by their supermarket offering of prosecco.

The Follador’s estate is called Il Follo after a small village in the prime DOCG region of Valdobbiadene, where the family have both their winery and their finest vineyard Villa Luiga. At the helm are Luca, Maria and Marta.  

 

 

Il Follo Prosecco Treviso Spumante Brut

This DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wine is fresh, fruity and really rather spicy with crisp apple notes. It’s charming and has personality. The grapes come from Treviso just 30 miles from Venice and is actually a declassified DOCG.

Il Follo Prosecco Superiore Villa Luigia Brut 2016

Here we move up to DOCG (e Garantita). The Luigia vineyard is 12 hectares and the yields are restricted to 70hl/ha. Now this is rather good. Elegant Prosecco with good intensity. The nose is rather floral. The body nicely rounded with a fluffy mousse. It is both fresh and perfumed. Again this is a Prosecco with character. It wants to be noticed.

Il Follo Cuvée rose Spumante Rosado Brut

This has 15% Cabernet Sauvignon for some structure, which means it cannot be called Prosecco. A pure and intense rose with a hint of strawberries on the aroma, a light creamy palate and a slight peppery tannic bite. I particularly like this one. 

So sniff around and in the flood of Prosecco to our shores you will be rewarded by a decent bottle. In other words something light with green apple freshness – not a ‘serious’ wine, but seriously enjoyable with more a modicum of structure and which does not fall of a cliff on the finish. 

 

Stockists

My local wine merchant – Lea and Sandeman 

Il Follo Prosecco Treviso Spumante Brut £12.95 (Price per bottle as a case £11.95)

Il Follo Prosecco Superiore Villa Luigia Brut 2016 14.95 (Price per bottle as a case £13.95)

Il Follo Cuvée Rosé Spumante Rosado Brut 12.95 (Price per bottle as a case £11.95)

 

05/02/2019

(R) Evolutionaries?

Chad Stock

Chad Stock a man who likes to push the boundaries

So what’s afoot in Oregon? Clearly The Oregon Wine Board considers there is something new to taste and talk about – a story to tell of evolution, even of revolution, of a young wine producing region which is in the process of exploring a complex terroir, experimenting with new techniques, planting new grape varieties – of people keen to exploit the opportunities where only a small fraction the land suited to vines is planted and the restrictions are few. It’s attracting people who want to make their mark by ‘doing it different.’

In short the pitch was to publicise the ongoing pioneering spirit of Oregon. This was going to be illustrated by a flight of 11 wines.

In a blog last year I covered the three different soils types, Sedimentary, loess and volcanic… scroll down the blogs to check this out.

Life beyond Pinot

67% of Oregon is planted with Pinot Noir, more in the Williamette Valley where it has found its natural home and accounts for 74% of vineyards, but there is growing interest in other varieties. Of course there is Pinot’s natural partner – Chardonnay. In the 1960s – post prohibition – the pioneers at the time planted pretty much equal quantities of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

Riesling bellyflopped – it was just not taken seriously having too much residual sugar and Chardonnay faltered, but has found its feet. A while back I wrote about the new ‘identity’ Chardonnay is forging in Oregon, so I was more interested in the spicy trio on show – Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris and Gerwürztramminer.

Evolutionary varieties

Minimus, Johan Vineyard, Grüner Veltliner 2015

This wine, made from Chad Stock (above), has an alluring aroma of honey-suckle and a hint of honey and wild flowers. There is richness to the texture and some weight, but also good acidity. It has structure and density. There is savoury spice and bite on the palate. I like this Grüner. It has plenty of personality.

It’s made with skin contact – two days maceration of the whole bunches in tank and after fermentation it goes through a full malolactic. That skin contract gives it good structure and the malo extra textural richness.

The grapes come from Applegate Valley. This emerging AVA is in the warmer more southerly part of the Williamette Valley, where higher sites are now being planted with cooler exposures. The Johan Vineyard lies on a north east facing slope and is kept cool by the sea air through the coastal mountain range.

It neatly illustrates evolution in terms of variety, technique and site all in one go – tick, tick, tick… not bad. Also in this more southerly part of Williamette, from the Illinois Valley on alluvial clay, we tasted this spicy wine.

Ovum Gerber Vineyard, Gerwuztraminer 2016

This was harvested late and it’s on a heavy clay and so frankly I was expecting it to be a bit flabby, but actually its had sufficient tension to create a good balance. The aromatics were undoubtedly florid and it’s a very exotic wine. Depends if you are a Gerwüzt fan. Some love it. A little goes a long way for my taste.

It was aged in 500l barrels, rather than the barriques traditionally favoured in Oregon. This is touted as an evolution. I’m all for less new wood, so I’m happy to publicise any move to moderation and the use of older, larger barrels.

Riesling was trotted out next. I was hoping for something steely and crisp and dry.

ARA Brooks Riesling 2016

This came from a number of sources in the Williamette valley but specifically from marine sedimentary and volcanic soils. It had a touch of minerality –  nice, but quite a bit of residual sugar. If the objective was to illustrate evolution – it didn’t.

Given the mild disappointment of the Riesling, let’s revert to Chardonnay

oregon trip part 1 099

Brickhouse Cascadia Chardonnay 2014

2014 was a very warm vintage in Oregon so to find a Chardonnay with some tension is testament to a cooler vineyard site or perhaps to a more Chablis style of winemaking. Now this was from Ribbon Ridge AVA within Williamette, a ridge that rises from the Chehalem Valley floor which is not cooled by a breeze, so it’s a warmer part of cool… and this tension must be due to the winemaking or the sedimentary soil.

Rich and fruity. Quite an obvious wine, but I was impressed to find some backbone. This in part may be due to the sedimentary soil. In the Oregon last year  we finished with a Chardonnay from the marine sedimentary soil which showed a lovely salty quality. It seems to make for more elegant, lighter-bodied, leaner wines with a savoury/dry minerality.

Moving to red…

Oregon was the first region to plant Gamay in the US and we were told ..“These pioneers continue to evolve the Gamay landscape through importation of new clonal material and blending with other varieties commonly found in the Williamette Valley.”

So here goes..and actually here goes really rather well. These are easy uncomplicated wines, but none the worse for that.

IMG_1319

Brickhouse Gamay 2015

No carbonic fermentation here – this is made like a cru Beaujolais. It is spicy, smooth and quite deep. Gorgeous fruit. Soft and yet not flat. Yummy yummy fruit. This producer has just planted new clones – which I suppose qualifies them as innovative or at least progressive.

 And so to some blends

Division Wine Co. Villages Breton

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Gamay and 10% Cot. This is a cross Oregon blend – presumably Gamay has been planted on pockets of granite, the soil type in Beaujolais.
Floral, high toned blue fruit aroma. Easy, fruity and accessible palate with soft tannins. A wine to glug and enjoy.

Bow and Arrow Rhinestones (60% Pinot Noir and 40% Gamay)

This is labelled Williamette, but it seems the Gamay grapes are from Johan, known for its granite and loam soils. This is apparently ground zero for the revolutionaries. It is made to respect the individual varieties so the Pinot Noir is destemmed, fermented separately and aged in older oak while the Gamay is treated to semi carbonic maceration and concrete. This is juicy and energetic wine. Fresh and sappy. I do like the fruity accessibility.

Scott Frank

Scott Frank Bow and Arrow

Evolutionary Techniques

We were shown three wine made from Pinot Noir to illustrate evolution in winemaking approach. First up was Stoller Family Estate Pinot Noir 2015 to illustrate classic benchmark, by which a more Burgundian approach was meant. This came from the volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills and had been 100% de-stemmed, two days cold soak and mix of pigeage and remontage. It had good structure and depth. Firm tannins and good freshness.

Evolutionary?

It’s stretching a point for Kelley Fox, Mirabai 2015 to qualify as evolutionary simply because Kelly uses 100% whole bunch. But maybe this is evolutionary for Oregon.

We were told that Kelley (above) is not interested in Pinot Noir, but in giving a voice to the terroir – um not sounding very evolutionary either! However the wine is very good – it’s ripe, but delicate. Very pure with silky tannins and a gentle fluidity to the palate with a slight herbal note – rather nice and maybe from the whole bunch.

Pushing the boundaries a bit further

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A.D Beckham Creta Pinot Noir 2015

Beckham is a potter. He taught pottery, made wine in the school holidays and wanted to bring the skills together so he began fermenting in his own amphora. He was influence by Elizabetta Foradori in Trentino. This has about 30% whole bunch and fermented naturally with no temperature control… so a cool ferment at 20-22 degrees. This amphora is not put into the ground as are some. The result is a pure fruit wine with a slightly iron note. Light tannins. It is both slightly dusty and very transparent on the palate. I like it.

Beckham might just revolutionise the market for amphora with his template design by which amphora may be produced in quantity. There is great demand for amphora for winemaking, but supply is limited and prices high given the hand making process. This template design would them more accessible. We may see more wines made in amphora in years to come, thanks to this potter from Oregon.

All good… I was buying into the the evolution theme until I inhaled the next wine – a bizarre Sav blanc.

Minimus SM1 Sauvignon Blanc

Another wine from Chad Stock (first photo). This is from the more southerly Applegate Valley It was cloudy, thick, sort of spicy and creamy. Consulting my notes, I did not like it. Now Chad is a producer clearly pushing boundaries. He used skin contact for 90 days in amphora and a full malolactic fermentation. His experiments are wide ranging for example he makes a brett wine and an oxidised wine. He plays with no less than 27 varieties. Interesting? Certainly. Nice? Well that’s questionable. That said his Grüner-Veltiner really hit the spot and I wold certainly like to try more of his wines.

I enjoyed this tasting. There is plenty afoot in Oregon. It’s clearly a dynamic place and the ‘evolution’ is exciting. However I am not sure I can say the same for the ‘revolution’. Wine making has a pretty long history and I wonder if there is anything truly both new and good that has not been done before. After all amphora fermentation is not truly revolutionary… just a blast from the past. It may seem revolutionary to experiment with an oxidised wine, but have we not age old examples of these already? Is this not full loop back to a ‘classic’ style. And take this last wine – various things have been trialled on Sauvignon Blanc and discarded with good reason. While evolution tends to be a positive thing, history tells us that revolution may not.

14/01/2019

Modern Wines in an Ancient setting

Maffini

Across the bay from the honey pot of Positano you will find the vineyards of Luigi Maffini near the Greek ruins at Paestum.

We are on the coast of Cilento DOC. The breezy coastal vineyards are very different from warmer inland sites in Campania, where the volcanic soil is also richer and more fertile. Luigi’s father established the vineyard using the local grapes – lightly spicy and floral white Fiano and the burly red Aglianico.

Luigi and his wife Raffaella went to Naples university to study agricultural science and now they manage their vineyards organically. There are two sites – Catellabate and Giungano – hence some wines fall into the DOC of Cilento and others into DOC Paestum, named after the ancient Greek site which has in turn inspired the classic Greek names of their wines.

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And so what of these two local varieties?

Fiano is an ancient variety, grown in Campania for hundreds of years, first mentioned in the C13th. These days it’s become  rather fashionable. It has a light nutty character with a touch of fennel. It is medium bodied with decent acidity and light spicy and floral notes. However it could be easily missed in a crowd. Italian whites can often seem self effacing. Their primary role is to accompany food and they get on with it with no fuss. Fiano is restrained, but quite special and is a sommelier’s best friend. You’ll find a Fiano on any self-respecting wine list these days.

Aglianico is a macho red variety. A burly grape of the hot south. Lots of robust tannin and dark, rich chocolatey fruit. Plentiful acidity. The temperament of this powerful wine is quite the the opposite of Fiano and when it’s made in an old school more extractive style, it can be bullish and take a while to settle down and mature. As the tannins soften it develops more tertiary characters of leather, coffee with bresaola and earthy undertones.

In their coastal vineyards Luigi and Raffaella are seeking to elevate Fiano to become a bit more showy, while they are down playing Aglianico – on the premise that less is more with Aglianico

And the two sites? One is on a hill at 380 meters with a western exposure and clay limestone soils and the vines are very low yielding, while the second is more fertile. The first was planted in 1997. It’s nearer to the the sea, there is less clay and it contains some sand and stones.

Let’s get tasting

Luigi-Maffini-Kratos-NV

Kratos

This fiano is fermented in stainless steel. The grapes are from both sites and are kept separately, beginning fermenting in stainless steel before being blended to finish together.

2016 Maffini Kratos

A light and slightly spicy white wine with just nicely balanced acidity. It has a hint of just ripe apricot and a somewhat savoury fennel character on the finish.

2013 Maffini Kratos

This illustrates that Fiano becomes more interesting with a few years in bottle as this shows slight Riesling aromas with kerosene notes and has a light bite of salt at the end.

Pietraincatenata

This Fiano is a selection from Luigi’s best vineyard. After starting fermentation in steel tanks, the blend is transferred to French oak to finish fermentation. It does not stay there too long. Just 3 months for the oak could easily dominate. It may seem a tad extravagant to use expensive new barrels for just a few months, but they are used in following years for the reds. Pietraincatenata gets quite a lot of bâtonnage.  Luigi said he stirs it three times a month.

2016 Maffini Pietraincatenata

This is quite full and has rich spiciness. The enthusiastic bâtonnage has certainly given the wine a thick texture and exacerbates the naturally nutty notes of the grape with leesy notes. The acidity is well balanced and the finish firm.

2014 Maffini Pietraincatenata

2014 was wet during the summer and rained before harvest, diluting the grapes, making this a lighter vintage. It has an engaging savoury character combining notes of hay and fennel and the finish is rather elegant with a touch of vibrancy at the end.

Clearly Fiano is a grape that can be enjoyed young & lovely with seafood. However it’s worth giving it three or four years to realise the more interesting mature notes. The 2011, a rich vintage, was good, but dropped off a bit on the finish, so don’t leave them too long.

Now to the reds and these are not shy.

2011-Luigi-Maffini---Kleos

You may be familiar with the rather robust wines from the red grape Aglianico. It’s well sited to the warm climate in Campania and Basilicata and is quite a bruiser. Its thick skins typically give a lot of tannin. It can seem a bit aggressive as those tannins are accentuated by its naturally high acidity and traditional made wines can take an age to come around.

However Luigi seeks a different profile from his coastal vineyard. He admits he cannot change the character of the grape, but he seeks to civilise it and highlight the fruit and he has certainly made a more accessible style.

Luigi is very selective with his berries. There are two triage tables – one to de-select the unwanted bunches and a second vibrating table for the less than perfect berries – only the best will do.

Kleos

His first wine is focused on fruit. It is all de-stemmed and has a pretty short maceration – barely flying past its skins so as not to extract too much tannin. After 5 days it’s pressed off and goes to stainless steel to do MLF before 9 months ageing in older oak.

2015 Maffini Kleos

This is very accessible – a delicious, fruity style, medium bodied, very juicy, with a hint of bitter cherry and soft easy tannins. I could sit in the shade and drink this all day.

Cenito

In the best vintages Luigi makes his special cuvée of Aglianico. This is a selection of his oldest vines, which were planted in the 1970s and located 2-3 km from the sea. With this fruit he pushes extraction to ten days using some remontage and a couple of rack and returns.

2011 Maffini Cenito

This is rich with ripe blueberries and blackberries. It is full bodied, but not heavy. The tannins are substantial, but soft. There is an comforting chunkiness to the texture. It is slightly spicy showing a touch of coriander and cinnamon and the lovely rich, bitterness of dark chocolate. This is a young wine. You could drink it now, as the tannins are mellow and the fruit so inviting, but it is still on the fruity side and will become more complex with age. Give it a few years and savour the rewards.

2014 Maffii Cenito

2014 had quite a lot of rain and was not as hot as sunny 2011. The wine is lighter, less dense, but more elegant. The tannins are smooth, the texture slimmer, but make no mistake this is still a burly wine from the South. There is the dark richness and a nice freshness; a light bitter bite, a dusting of cocoa – it’s less spicy and more salty.

The English Nose enjoyed this sorte to Campania to sniff out two excellent grape varieties. Steeped in Greek history, this is a region with a long history of winemaking, but also an innovative and lively present. There is a place for the old style and the new. Luigi and Raffaella are part of a modern wave who have successfully elevated their Fiano and tamed their Aglianico. Hurrah.

Stockist

Lea and Sandeman (Chelsea, Kensington, Barnes and Chiswick)

2016 Kratos £18.95 (price per bottle case equivalent £16.95)
2016 Pientraincatenata £27.50 (price per bottle case equivalent £24.75)
2015 Kleos £19.95 (price per bottle case equivalent £17.95)
2011 Cenito £37.50 (price per bottle case equivalent £33.75)

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