Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Short on Sparkle...? Nah...

Wine fashionistas have been panicked recently by rumours working back from Italy that there is going to be a shortage of Prosecco. The Sunday papers suggested that droves of Ladies Who Lunch would be trawling the nation’s shelves with sharp elbows and flailing handbags, prepared to defend their hard won stash to the death. One commentator, social rather than equipped with any degree of actual wine knowledge, struck a rather tearful tone in her piece, clearly in a funk of melancholy at the merest whisper of the possibility.

Prosecco has become fashionable. It’s been around for ages and many of you have quietly enjoyed the odd bottle from time to time over the years, but only now that the herd instinct has randomly tuned into Prosecco as The Thing To Drink has it become a widespread fad. In some quarters, being seen to be drinking it is more important than actually enjoying what you are drinking. It’s the same thing as wearing a particular clothing brand because “Paris says…” or sporting a variant of bling because Hollywood’s current favourite does - not because you like it yourself. 

It does look good doesn't it...!

The way the market reacts to such spikes depends to an extent on the product in question. If you are manufacturing an item of clothing that suddenly goes ballistic you gear up your factories and churn out more. If you are producing what is basically an agricultural line you are dependent on the seasons’ turn: last year’s harvest is over, the wine is finished or in the process of being made and there is no more until the next. Furthermore, a vine is a fruit tree - you can’t just sow a seed like wheat and watch your crop pop up - it takes years to come to its best.

This means that, human nature being as it is, there will always be the temptation for less scrupulous producers to cut corners and produce poor wine. You are their target. Look what happened to some Chardonnays when that was all the rage; learn from what happened to Pinot Grigio more recently - it’s still flying high, but some is plain awful.

John Ruskin’s commercial view was this,

“It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money - that's all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.” That this is still so relevant today suggests that consumers have learnt little in over 150 years.

If stocks of Prosecco really are stretched, rest assured that Wines of Interest will not be compromising on quality, nor should you: the bandwagon being ridden by the multiples will see that there is ample heartburn material around for the, um, less fussy. At the moment we have had no notification of any impending shortages from any UK importers and it’s business as usual.  In any case, the word is that the better DOCG vineyards escaped the bad weather that affected the 2014 harvest.  The more recently planted DOC areas on the flatlands (younger vines planted in response to the recent spike in Prosecco popularity, and producing less flavoursome fruit as a result) is where the wet weather did most damage.

There are alternatives too. The bright light of Prosecco should not blind us to some seriously good non-Champagne sparklers from elsewhere and if you drink sparkling wine because you like sparkling wine, please tune in to this pair of belters. 

Paola of Cantine Beato Bartolomeo, our favourite Prosecco producer.

If Prosecco risks shooting itself in the proverbial foot by lowering the bar to fill demand quickly, think what Cava has already done. All that low grade, cheap fizz for the holiday crowds in Spain from the sixties onwards has done permanent damage to the reputation of the good producers too. While consumers need to bear in mind that not all Prosecco is good, they must also remember that not all Cava is bad. We carry a Cava called
Mas Macia which is a single estate wine produced in an idyllic spot about an hour out of Barcelona and it is excellent. Made in the méthode traditionelle with its secondary fermentation in the bottle, the wine is rested on its lees for upwards of 24 months and develops flavours more reminiscent of a much more senior sparkler. At £11.25 Mas Macia costs less than our top Prosecco and delivers more complexity.

The cellars at Bohigas, where Mas Macia Cava is matured.

We have a new fizzy in from France from a single domaine in the Jura called
Domaine Désiré Petit which hits that halfway price between the other sparklers and Champagne. It is a wine of tremendous vivacity and considerable style made from Chardonnay, also bottle fermented and showing the gentle bready, creamy notes of correct maturity. Designated as Crémant de Jura it will appeal to those who love Blanc de Blancs Champagne but not its £30-ish price tag. This super Crémant is on the shelf at £16.95 - not a day-to-day bottle perhaps but cracking value nonetheless. 

The Desire Petit vineyards in the Jura

In the immortal words of Corporal Jones, DON’T PANIC! No shortages here at present, just more choice for lovers of good fizz. 
Click here to see what we currently have available.


Monday, 18 May 2015

Time to look beyond Chateauneuf…?

At the southern end of the Rhone Valley, just to the south of the village of Vaison-la-Romaine, the Dentelles de Montmirail dominate the skyline.  The Dentelles are a small chain of mountains which are effectively the foothills of the highest peak in Provence, Mont Ventoux, situated just to the east.  They have something of an impressive and imposing nature being the result of layers of Jurassic limestone, folded on end to sit vertically and subsequently eroded into jagged and menacing forms as if standing sentry over the precious patchwork of vineyards beneath.

The Dentelles de Montmirail

The Dentelles guard some illustrious names, most notably Chateauneuf du Pape though over the course of the last few decades or so many of the surrounding vineyards have raised their winemaking to such levels that villages such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Rasteau and others now enjoy the prestige of their own village appellations and in many cases rival the wines of all but the very best Chateauneuf producers.  In many cases the lesser-known names represent much better value for money.
Chateauneuf du Pape
We have always offered a range of wines from the southern Rhone from a few well-chosen individual producers but the recent sale of Domaine de Cassan and the decision of the new owner to sell off their Gigondas vineyards mean that we will be keeping our eyes (and mouths) open for a new addition or two in due course.

If you’ve enjoyed the wines of Domaine de Cassan in the past and wish to grab a few bottles while we still have stock left of their 2009 Gigondas or 2010 Ventoux ‘Les Esclausels’ then now is your time!  Possibly more intriguing is their 2010 Beaumes de Venise Rouge – another of the villages with its own appellation, widely known for its sweet Muscat desert wine, though here is a fine example of red Beaumes de Venise (80% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 2% Mourvedre aged in cuve).  Again stocks are limited.

Domaine de Cassan

We have also bought the last of the stock from the UK agent of the 2009 Vacqueyras from Domaine Saint Pierre.  This wine is no longer available in the UK and we have a couple of cases left.  It’s 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with production at only 35hectolitres per hectare it’s a wine of rich concentration, power and depth.  The grapes are destemmed and cold-macerated, then blended and macerated for about 3 weeks under temperature control, with daily punching down of the fermentation cap, and aged for 6 - 12 months in large oak foudres, before assemblage and bottling.  It can be drunk now, but if you lost a few bottles under the stairs of a few years it wouldn’t matter!

The vineyards of Vacqueyras

Fascinating and powerful reds are very much the order of the day in the southern Rhone.  They’re usually Grenache or Syrah-dominated blends and frequently contain smaller proportions of other local grapes  to add to the blend.  With a sprinkling of deliciously fragrant whites and mouthwatering roses as well, the southern Rhone is well worth exploring and if the only name you are familiar with from this part of the world is “Chateauneuf” do have a look at our website or pop into the shop and we’d be pleased to suggest some clever alternatives to the most famous of names.  Equally, if only Chateauneuf will do, we have plenty to choose from.

Our Other Southern Rhone Wines:

2009 Lirac Rouge ‘La Dame Rousse’ (last few bottles, 2010 to follow)
2006 Lirac Rouge ‘Cuvee de la Reine des Bois’ (last few bottles, 2007 to follow)
2012 Tavel Rose ‘La Dame Rousse’ (2013 currently being shipped)
2013 Cotes du Rhone Rose currently being shipped

Other follow-on vintages of Domaine de la Mordoree wines available on request.

We also have several vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape ‘Cuveede la Reine des Bois’ available from Domaine de la Mordoree.  Please visit our website for full details.


What's The Point Of Paying More...?

“So, when I pay £10 or £15 for a bottle, what do I get for my money?  What is it in that bottle that justifies the extra cost?” 

This was a perfectly reasonable question posed at a talk I had been asked to present to a group of local businessmen and women.  There are a few obvious answers of a more nebulous nature; market forces, quality of the vintage - general sort of background information.  Then there is what goes on that we don’t see and therefore perhaps do not appreciate both in terms of physical effort and, less easy to define, philosophy, if that doesn’t sound too poncy.  The best way I can illustrate that is to reproduce a modest chunk of a newsletter that arrived in the middle of December summarising the challenges of 2014 in one vineyard.
“At the end of August, I met a fellow winemaker at a supplier we both use.  He was all tanned: his face looked calm, he was clearly in good shape.  He said, “Hi Christophe, how are you?  Did you see the vines?  Not ripe and plenty of rot; I just got back from 3 weeks’ vacation and it’s a disaster, it’s sickening.”  I replied “Me?  No vacation, we worked all summer like crazy: pruning bunches, reducing leaf cover and everything is ripe and healthy.”   In his eyes there was a blank stare and I could see him getting mad; he replied, “The cemetery is full of people like you.”  He turned and walked away. 

It is certainly hard to accept for others, but I cannot bear not doing everything possible to obtain the best wines.  In my case it’s more a state of mind, it is a philosophy of life and it is called a job well done.  Never give up, care for every detail, even when they have no immediate effect, constantly question what you are doing and always believe there is a better way, without losing sight of the core values of our winery, based on truly sustainable agriculture.  This implies never forgiving oneself for mistakes and making every effort to correct them.  Of course this is a little strange in these times when people say we have to take it easy, but one can never change!  My motivation in life is the quest for excellence.”

Illustrate this with 2011 when the climate threw many obstacles at him.  Forward growth in spring, rain when not required, not enough warmth here then excessive heat there, grey rot - contained - then “sour” rot - also beaten off - uneven ripening, forensic selection of individual grapes at the press house… you name it, Christophe dealt with it all.  The result?  “This was a superb vintage for whites and rosés and a very good one for reds.  Of course, because of all the sorting the harvest was small, but this is the price of quality.”  We opened a bottle of his “simple” 2011 Côtes du Rhône a couple of weeks ago (purely in the interests of research and quality control, you understand) and were amazed at its depth and style.  I wonder how well his indolent neighbour performed….

That, my friends, is why some wines can and should command higher prices than others.  Now, who is this driven man who seldom rests and whose perfectionism sends his neighbours bonkers?  It is Christophe Délorme of the Domaine de la Mordorée with holdings in Lirac, Tavel and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhône, whose wines, as our regulars will know, we have been banging on about for years.  Christophe’s reputation is very highly regarded worldwide and his wines, even his least expensive are all on allocation, but we have been able to amass an extensive collection of current and past vintages, particularly reds, for you to tap into.

These are hardly day-to-day, budget hoovering - they are much too special for that - but now you know why.  Nor, however, are they crazy prices if you look at what you pay for even modest Claret or Burgundy, so if you want something for the weekend, sir, a birthday bottle, or you’ve had a shitty week, worked like stink and damn it, you deserve a treat, Domaine de la Mordorée will see you right and put a great, big smile right across your face.

Domaine de la Mordoree - Available Wines

2013 Cotes du Rhone Rouge - please enquire
2012 Cotes du Rhone Rouge - please enquire
2012 Lirac Rouge "La Dame Rousse" - please enquire
2011 Lirac Rouge "La Dame Rousse" - please enquire

2012 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2011 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2009 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2012 Chateauneuf du Pape "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire