Dry January? Well maybe in terms of the weather in North East England. Unseasonable warm temperatures and lack of rain have brought out insects, flowers and, no doubt, animals when they should still be dormant. The decline in birds in the garden has been alarming, only a visit to Durham Wildlife Trust’s Low Barns scratched my twitching itch.
If there was a month not to drink wine it would not be January, it is a long, generally dreary month. I am, though, very mindful of the health effects of wine. We may choose to believe a litle wine is beneficial for our health but the science would suggest it is far more likely to be damaging. For the last few years, I have opted not to drink alcohol on Mondays and Tuesdays to give my system time to recover and rest. If, there’s a special occasion I on those days I compensate on two other consecutive days. However, I see no need to take out a whole month especially as my wife Pat celebrates her birthday in January, of which more later.
Indeed, I have opened some exceptionally good bottles this month, to brighten it up. We started the New Year with one of my favourite champagnes, Drappier’s Brut Nature which is full of life and flavour, as well as a clean, characteristic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 20, a perky, natural 2017 Brouilly and, the now traditional La Vigne Haute, this time the 2017. It remains my favourite wine. I also opened two new wines from Jeff Coutelou. Quoi qu’il en Goutte is a blend of Syrah and Carignan from 2019 assembled with more Syrah from the 2020 vintage. The name means ‘No Matter What’, and no matter what Jeff makes it is worth trying to get a bottle. Leon Stolarski describes this wine beautifully on his website (he is the UK importer) as having sweet and sour notes and how it develops with time. I liked it a lot though might keep my other bottles a few months. Even better, to my taste, and also needing more time was Matubu. This was basically made by assembling the wines that were left over after Jeff had put together the 2020 bottlings. Leon offers more detail on how the Syrah, Carignan and Grenache were pressed etc. It is delicious, still highly coloured withbright fruit aromas and flavours but a good tannic spine which will make it age well. As a wine born out of chance rather than planning it is is exceptional, far better than the quaffing wine it was essentially made to be.
Other highlights included a beautiful Fino sherry from Equipos Navazas, exceptional quality and deserving of more space than I am giving it. Westwell Wines, from Kent in England, have provided me with some lovely bottles and their Ortega Skin Contact 18 was another exceptional wine, the skin contact adding texture to the deep yellow fruit flavours. Other good wines are shown below including an interesting first red wine from a favourite Jurancon producer Montesquiou, very promising.
Pat’s birthday brought a weekend of fine bottles, with our favourite winemaker featuring prominently. Another lovely Fino sherry, the Una Palma bottling from Tio Pepe, deserves a mention. Montesquiou’s Amistat 2017 was a delicious Jurancon, unmistakable in aroma and flavour, such a balance of sweetness and freshness. From Jeff we had Bibonade, his refreshing PetNat, Sauvé De La Citerne 19, light and drinkable, Classe 17 with its bright cherry flavours and drinkability. There was also a bottle of Petits Grains, a rare barrel aged Muscat which is so fine, the dry, Muscat flavours tamed by the old barrel but still typical, very long in the mouth. A Jura Pinot Noir 18 from Marnes Blanches was one of the highlights, a lovely example of why Pinot Noir is so special with its depth and rich flavours. Better than most Burgundy? Finally, one of the bottles I made from 2015 grapes, Amicis, the N on the label showing it was aged in new barrel and the oxygenation has aged it beautifully, I am very proud of it.
So, definitely not a dry January.
One point which did occur to me through the month repeatedly from these bottles and others which we opened but I have not described. I had, for example, a couple of Australian wines, organic, very well made and enjoyable wih good fruit and depth. However, those and other conventional wines I tasted in January, really didn’t change or develop much after the bottle was opened. By contrast, some of the natural wines were very different from one glass to another and more interesting as a result. Now, that is not always a good thing. The Beaujolais above developed a trace of the mosuiness I can’t stand, fortunately not enough to ruin the wine in this case. Others in recent months have become tired very quickly. Most though develop much finer fruit or more tertiary notes of age or barrel influence. I am not claiming by any means that conventional wines don’t develop, many do but the ones I have had recently have been good for the first glass then, well, just a little dull.
I recall Jeff telling me back in 2014 that spending so much time with him would change my taste in wine. I didn’t really believe him but it was true. The paragraph above proves how right he was.
January is also the month where my friend and I exchange lists of our favourite songs from the previous year. Janus, god of the doorway, looks forward and backward. Music plays a big part in my life and I was listening to a playlist from an English TV programme which included a performance of Debussy’s Clair De Lune. As it played I was struck again how perfect it is, how it builds naturally on the melody as it develops moods and emphases. My favourite wines travel through that same process, the Vigne Haute, Westwell Skin Contact, Equipo Navazos Bota de Florpower, Marnes Blanches Pinot Noir move from glass to glass bringing new flavours, balances and provoking thought and mood. (The sherry showing that more conventional winemaking can achieve this.)
I had other musings too but I shall leave subjects such as glassware, wine pairing etc to another time. Thank you for reading and may 2022 bring us health, joy and good wine.