Saturday, April 30, 2011

El Xadic del Mar: a gem of a natural wine bar

On the face of it the back streets of the small town of Banyuls-sur-Mer seems an unlikely location for a natural wine bar but given that Roussillon has more than its fair share of natural winemakers, one of the most renowned of which, Casot des Mailloles, is just up the road, it’s not so surprising.

El Xadic del Mar was opened a year ago by Emmanuel aka ‘Manu’ Desclaux who used to run Le Verre Volé in Paris and has an exemplary selection of local wines and natural wines from further afield.

We stopped by for lunch before our visit to Casot des Mailloles (of which more later) and had a couple of interesting whites - Domaine Yoyo’s Restaké 2010 and Bruno Duchêne’s Val Pompo, both Grenache Gris . . .

. . . and some inventive plates of tapas including calcots and anchovies (of course, in this part of the world) and marinated mackerel with asparagus.

Desclaux’ view is that the Parisien wine bar scene has lost touch with its roots - that places that started as bars have become fully fledged restaurants. Well this is thoroughly unpretentious and a great place to drink natural wine.

El Xadic del Mar is at 11, av. du Puig-del-Mas, Banyuls Sur Mer (66650)
TÉL : + 33 4 68 88 89 20

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rouge Soif, Vin de Pays de Caux

I like the idea of a vin de soif though in truth many more wines ought to be thirstquenching than are currently.

We ordered this at the wine bar and shop at the Taverne du Port in Marseillan which sadly seems to have cut down on the number of natural wines it sells since we were there a month or so ago.

It comes from Domaine Clos Louis in Nizas and is classified as a Vin de Pays de Caux. It's surprisingly bright and fruity for a 2005 vintage - and lively for 100% Carignan which I generally think works better in a blend.

Again, it's not expensive (7€ at the Taverne, 6€ online from a Pezenas wine shop Le Nez dans le Verre) and at only 12.5% not too high in alcohol. The label says it contains sulphur but I wouldn't think much.

Le Nez dans le Verre recommends it with rabbit with prunes which I reckon would be a great pairing although the producer reckons it goes with everything from fish to foie gras (as they do).

Not certified organic or classified as natural but it tastes it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Two new (to me) Faugères

There's a small organic food shop down the road from where we're staying in Agde which has a few wines including thse two from Domaine Valambelle in Laurens.

The red, L'Angolet, is a relatively conventional-tasting red Faugères - a sensuously ripe blend of Syrah (35%), Grenache (30%), Carignan (25%) and Mourvedre (10%).

The white is much more ambitious - quite an earthy blend of roussanne et grenache blanc that is made in the style of an orange wine. It's called Fleur de Campanette and sells as a vin de table.

I'd be inclined to describe it as a natural wine but not the red. It's slightly odd that the domaine, which has been in conversion and will be certified from the 2010 vintage, makes two cuvées in such different styles. Maybe the Faugères is their bread and butter and the white a bit of an experiment. Or perhaps it's a one-off they haven't repeated. It's not currently shown on the site.

Either way at 5€ 70* (£5.02 at the current rate of exchange) I'm not complaining . . .

* though £11.25 I discover in the UK.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Two natural Spanish wines and a few issues

I was sent a couple of natural Spanish reds today by Indigo Wine, an enterprising importer which brings in a number of organic and biodynamic wines. Both were good but interestingly, in the case of the first, the newly released Clos Lojen 2010 from Bodegas Ponce, not immediately appealing.

When we opened it it was really quite hot and rubbery (it's 13.5%) and didn't improve that much on decanting. But once it had been open half an hour or so it began to resemble the fresh, Beaujolais-ish style that the Indigo tasting notes had identified. I just wonder if it had been bottled a shade too early - or simply that I hadn't given it enough time to recover from its journey.

The second - Les Paradetes 2006 from Escoda-Sanahuja in Conca de Barbera was an instant hit with us both. A blend of grenache, carinena and sumoli it was full of generous, ripe fruit - and is apparently listed by El Bulli. It also has the sulphur content - 14mg per litre total - on the label which is great (and if they can do it why can't everyone else?)

But the most curious thing was what a huge variation there was in the retail price: £16.44 at an outfit called Vinissimus, £19.95 at Vagabond and a hefty £22 at a shop called Bottle Apostle. How can there be such a discrepancy? Shows it's well worthwhile Googling a wine before you order it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Two lovely Loire reds

We all have our own preferences as wine writers and one of mine - particularly at this time of year - is Loire reds. I just love the way that you can drink Cabernet Franc with almost anything from asparagus to (grilled) tuna and salads to roasts. Not to mention charcuterie and goats’ cheese . . .

Here are two I tried on Friday - both from Les Caves de Pyrène. The fascinating thing is that you can tell quite a lot about the style they’re made in from the labels.

Clos Roche Blanche Cuvée Pif 2010, C Roussel, D. Barrouillet, Touraine
12% £9.48
This, as the label, suggests, is the more classic of the two - although fruity it’s very lean, pure, mineral and even slightly stony. It’s a blend of Cab Franc and Cot but tastes slightly Gamayish. Most people, even non-natural wine drinkers, would feel comfortable with this. What does Pif mean? It’s named after the owners’ dog . . .

Anjou Pur Breton 2009, Olivier Cousin, Vin de Table Francais 13% £12.90
Biodynamic (approved by Demeter)
This is much funkier with vivid, ripe brambly, hedgerow fruit. Cousin apparently uses a horse to plough his vineyards, uses only indigenous yeasts and no chemical additions or sulphur. (There’s a very nice piece about him on the jenny & Francois blog here.

I found it a shade overripe on its own (my husband disagreed) but it was oddly good with a plate of garlicky seafood pasta. Needs carafing - I liked it much better once it had been decanted.

And here's another of the Clos Roche Blanche pets who followed us, dog-like, through the vineyards on our visit last October!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dard & Ribo Crozes-Hermitage 2009

So I finally got to taste the much-hyped Dard & Ribo last night - one of four bottles I bought from The Sampler. (If four sounds a bit miserly let me tell you they're not cheap in the UK. The Crozes-Hermitage - which is what we were drinking - is £27.)

But it was absolutely worth it for the best Crozes I've ever tasted. Pure, live syrah, every sip was thrilling. It could have been young Côte Rôtie and absolutely vindicates the natural wine approach. A snap judgement but it struck me that Dard et Ribo are to Crozes what Lapierre was to Morgon - someone who makes you completely rethink your view of an appellation.

You can read all about them on the excellent Wine Terroirs blog here and on US importer Louis Dressner's site here.

Oh, and just for the record it was a fruit day . . .

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A glimpse of Le Chapeau Melon

We've had two trips planned to Paris in the last six months which we've had to abort - one on grounds of the heavy snow just before Christmas, the second last month for a family funeral. On both we planned to check out Paris's well developed natural wine bar scene so I have a twinge of envy when I come across posts like this from a blog called Paris Kitchen about Le Chapeau Melon which is run by Olivier Camus, one of the founders of the famous (and apparently famously rude) Le Baratin.

So that's it really. Looks great. Thought you'd like to read it . . .

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Just because a wine is natural doesn't mean it's good

I've noticed that some people get quite aggressive when you say you like natural wine. What they tend to do is to think of the most bizarre example they've come across - if indeed they've tasted any - and conclude that you have no taste. But of course there are good and bad natural wines - or at least wines that appeal more or less to one's personal palate - just as there are with conventionally made wines.

So here, for the record, is one that didn't do it for me: Le P’tit Scarabée 2009
from Isabelle Frère, in Sorède down in the Roussillon.

I wouldn't say it was bad, just unbalanced. It's a curious colour for a start - almost as pale as a Poulsard (though it's made from old Carignan, Grenache Gris and Syrah) and oddly sweet - a bit like drinking blackberry juice. It's not typical of other Roussillon wines I've tasted (which I tend to like) so it doesn't strike me as particularly expressive of the Roussillon terroir either.

I bought it from my local wine shop for about a tenner but it sells for more than that on where it's £99 for six bottles. So while not expensive, it doesn't strike me as particularly good value for money.

Could be that it hadn't been transported or stored in ideal conditions but I wasn't impressed. My husband on the other hand quite liked it so there you go . . .

Friday, April 8, 2011

Is milk the natural answer to mildew?

There's an interesting post on the Australian website ABC rural about a biodynamic winemaker Chris Carpenter of Lark Hill who is using milk and chamomile tea to ward off mildew.

Apparently the season has been so wet that many growers haven't been picking at all but Carpenter says his vines have been relatively unaffected

"There's a protein in milk that feeds good fungi on the vine leaves, and it produces an environment that isn't very hospitable to downy mildew" he's quoted as saying.

I discovered from a quick search on Google the treatment isn't new. It was discovered by a Brazilian scientist Wagner Bettiol who published a paper on it back in 1999. There are more detailed explanations of how to use it here and here on a site called Vine Views.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

And if you want to listen to that Food Programme broadcast . . .

It's still available on iPlayer here.

Natural wine events at Artisan & Vine

At the risk of becoming a natural wine noticeboard rather than a blog here's news of a couple more events you might want to go to as part of a new 'Natural Heroes: meet the winemaker" series of dinners being put on by the south London natural wine bar artisan & vine

The first, on May 11th is with one of the natural wine world's most iconic figures Frank Cornelissen who makes wine in the Etna region of Sicily. (I've already signed up for this one!)

And the second, on the 18th May, is with Monty Waldin, star of Channel 4′s TV Series “Chateau Monty” and author of the Biodynamic Wine Guide which I keep meaning to review. I'd have probably gone to that one too if I wasn't off to find out all about Comté cheese that day. And cheese sometimes takes priority over even natural wine . . .

(Tickets for the dinners are available from the artisan & vine website, price £39 for four courses and five wines which is a really good deal.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A natural wine dinner at Bar Battu

A busy, busy week - not much time for drinking wine - natural or otherwise. However I did finally get to go to Bar Battu, one of London's new natural wine bars. Oddly it's in the heart of the City which makes it more like a conventional wine bar than a hip hangout like Terroirs or Brawn, despite the Parisian-looking window.

The Caves de Pyrène crowd were out in force (I wish there were more natural wine importers so that I didn't have to keep writing about them all the time. Much as I love them.)

And we drank:

* a sparkling dark pink and very delicious Malvasia Rosa 2009 from Camillo Donati

* a 2009 Cuvée Marine Côtes de Gascogne from Domaine de Menard (not mad on this. Tasted like it was made with conventional yeasts)

* a 2008 Rosso di Montalcino, Pian dell'Orino. An attractively supple Tuscan red, well matched with duck, stuffed cabbage confit and a cherry and sage jus

* and a Braeburn apple tatin with calvados crème fraîche with an Eric Bordelet, poire granit which stole the show I thought.

I was dining with my son - a restaurateur - who isn't particularly into natural wine and can't see the point of it. Which is where I was roughly eighteen months ago. It'll be interesting to see if he comes round . . .