Sunday, July 31, 2011

Foillard's Fleurie

A truly lovely Fleurie from Jean Foillard last night, the essence of what you - or at least I - want from Beaujolais. As well it might be. I bought it in a fit of extravagance from The Sampler in London when I was ordering some Dard et Ribo's (also painfully expensive) and now see it was £29. Still, what I tell myself in these moments of self-flagellation is that if I'd seen it on a wine list at £29 I'd have jumped at it. So that's fine then, isn't it?

It was also one of the rare wines that lives up to its name. It was floral (particularly violetty) but not merely pretty. There was a lovely suppleness and purity about it - the kind of wine where every sip is a thrill. Food (although we had some excellent pork belly with it) seemed an irrelevance.

Foillard of course is the other big name in Beaujolais, the other being the late, great Marcel Lapierre who apparently inspired him as he did so many young vignerons. There's a detailed account of how he works on Bert Celce's excellent Wine Terroirs blog here. His wines are made with a minimum of sulphur and with no fining or filtration.

They also, I discover, have a B & B. Now that is tempting.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Drappier champagne Brut Nature

We had a really interesting bottle of champagne at the weekend - a magnum of Drappier's Brut Nature, a 100% Pinot Noir which is made without any dosage or sulphur additions. Actually I say interesting but it was curiously disappointing on the first couple of sips, tasting lean and slightly short. Then as air got to the wine it opened up magnificently becoming rich, toasty and almost fruity (quince mainly, I thought, though their tasting notes say pêche de vigne). It went really well with some mushroom crostini.

I remember visiting Drappier about 6 or 7 years ago in the village of Urville down in the Aube and being really impressed by how forward-thinking they were. At the time Michel Drappier had just designed a decanter for champagne which seemed very radical - I suspect the Brut Nature would have benefited from decanting, on reflection.

Now he's one of a handful of producers that are making their champagnes with zero dosage and very low doses of sulphur. We visited a couple of others a month ago en route to Alsace - Bérèche and Larmandier-Bernier who I must get round to writing up.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Waterkloof: serious South African Sauvignon

I'm conscious I haven't done much on new world wines here so was pleased to discover Waterkloof, thanks to Louis Boutinot who had picked up on the blog and suggested I might like to see what he and his family were doing in South Africa.

The estate follows biodynamic practices and 'minimal intervention'in the winery though it isn't certified (certainly no harm in that. I've a lot of sympathy with producers who don't want to go through the paperwork or even limit their market by marketing their wine a certain way. And it appears that some of the vineyards from which they draw fruit are still conventionally farmed.)

Interestingly the Sauvignon Blanc is their flagship wine - and it is a fine one without the aggressive herbaceous character that marks some South African sauvignons. It's rich, textured and long in the mouth with crisp citrus and passionfruit flavours. I suspect it would age well, hence, perhaps, the cork with which it's sealed rather than the screwcaps they use for the rest of the range. (Hopefully they'll comment on that) Very moreish, anyway. I found myself going back to it more than once when I was tasting through the range for an extra sip. I'd serve it slightly warmer than you would typically drink a Sauvignon Blanc with some classy seafood - maybe scallops or crab.

I also liked their Circle of Life Red - a gutsy blend of Merlot, Shiraz, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot which we drank with an equally punchy dish of chicken and patatas bravas. It's dark and savoury, almost smokey - I thought for a minute there must be mourvèdre in there. And plummy but not in a Merlot-ish way - more like Chinese plum sauce.

I'm not quite sure why they don't put the grape varieties on the label or even on their website. Maybe because it's an unconventional blend or because they want to change it from vintage to vintage, including grapes that may not be grown organically or biodynamically though they say that they are moving the whole estate that way.

Their 2010 Circumstance Cape Coral Rosé however is mourvèdre and very like its counterparts from Bandol: pale, dry and delicately fruity - stronger than a typical Provençal rosé. Good summer drinking - if only we were having one ...

I was less keen on the Circle of Life White which showed rather too much oak influence for my taste though perhaps I should have decanted it as they recommended. Again they don't reveal the grape varieties online but I gather they're Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Semillon.

Although the wines taste relatively mainstream (I'd give them all a 'green light' under this traffic lights system I'm still trying to get off the ground) what's interesting about the estate is the seriousness with which they take the natural winemaking agenda. For example they use Percheron horses to plough the vineyards and have a goal of getting rid of their tractors by 2013. They also keep chicken, sheep and Dexter cattle on the farm to graze the vineyards and provide manure. The wines are made with wild yeasts and are not acidified (relatively unusual in South Africa).

The estate is owned by importer Paul Boutinot so the wines are in pretty wide distribution in the UK (look them up on

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Should natural winemakers use cork?

I’ve just come back from a cork trip to Portugal which has got me thinking (as it was obviously intended to do). I’ll be writing it up for the Guardian’s magazine Guardian Green but the question that really exercised me in relation to this blog is what you should do if you call yourself a natural winemaker? Should you use cork?

It is after all a more natural material than plastic or aluminium from which screwcaps are made. No tree has to be cut down to supply it - in fact it preserves vast acres of forests that might otherwise be grubbed up for building development.

The cork producers, including the giant Amorim whose plants and processes dominated our visit, have obviously done a great deal to improve the quality of cork over the last few years and claim that it’s much more reliable. I’ve yet to check out the end users’ views on this but my own impression is that I come across fewer corked bottles than I did 5 years ago. Yet many producers, particularly of aromatic white wines have switched to screwcaps in that period.

I would say the majority of natural wines I open do have cork for a closure, despite low levels or no added sulphur. The Amorim research team were suggesting that wines that were low in SO2 would keep less well under synthetic corks but I don't have enough of a scientific background to know if that's likely to be the case. Or whether it applies to screwcaps. They also seemed to be suggesting that cork could release beneficial polyphenols into the wine. (But as a layman I ask myself if they can release polyphenols, why not TCA?)

So over to you. What do you use and why? Do you have faith in cork or mainly use it because it’s ‘green’? Or do you think it’s too high a risk?

Incidentally one thing I was really impressed by - effective or not - was how stunning the cork bark looks at various stages of processing. Take a look at my Flickr stream here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Riffault's Raudonas

It's always good to have friends over who are into natural wine as you can open bottles that might freak others out. Nevertheless I confess we opened Sébastian Riffault's 2008 Raudonas Sancerre last night with some trepidation. As I've mentioned before before some of his wines teeter on the edge of undrinkability but his reds clearly less so than his whites.

This was just amazing. A sensuous silky-textured pinot noir that you'd be ecstatic to come across in Burgundy. Every mouthful was a thrill. We drank it with a delicate dish of chicken in white wine with summer vegetables - carrots, turnips, broad beans and peas - with a swirl of cream stirred in at the end (into the casserole, not the wine, obviously ... )

Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrène says in one of his newsletters that Raudonas is Lithuanian for ruddy which sounds wildly improbable but who am I to naysay him? Only Doug could dig that kind of stuff out. About 20-22€ in France so about £25 here I'd guess. I'll confirm once I've got Caves to confirm the price.

* Actually it's £22.44 - still not exactly cheap but worth every penny.