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Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Wines of 2018

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I described my wine related highlights of 2018 in the last article. Not surprisingly some of my favourite wines of the year are related to those highlights, orange wine and Australian wine.

Let me start with orange wine, the focus of the excellent ‘Amber Revolution’ by Simon J Woolf. I could include Jeff Coutelou’s OW 2016 which we drank regularly through the vendanges. However, I have limited myself to just one of Jeff’s wines as part of this case. That is made from Muscat and my favourite orange wine which I drank in 2018 was made from Viognier, not often my favourite grape. It does reinforce a theory that some of the best orange wines are made from aromatic, characterful grapes which add to the sensation of texture created by skin contact. So, the first bottle into my case is by Australian producer Kalleske, Plenarius Viognier 2017. I described it in Brisbane where I came across it as having “aromas of, well, oranges. Lavender too. It was delicious with tangy zesty fruit and lovely texture”. Seven days skin contact only for the biodynamically grown grapes, enough to add tannins without overpowering the fruit. Lovely.

Red wines next.

I drank Patrick Rols’ Les Anciens 2016 late in the year and it jumped straight into this case. I loved the iron filings like aroma and deep red fruit flavours of this wine made from Merlot and the Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc. To make wine that good from some of my least favourite grapes, real talent and healthy grapes!

That lunch!

My Coutelou wine comes next. There were so many highlights, including 1998 Cabernet and Syrah still brimming with life. However, everyone knows my favourite wine, the one I would choose above any other is La Vigne Haute 2010. The 2017 is a beauty and the 2018 promises to be special too. However, Jeff opened the 2010 one July day over lunch with our friend Steeve. The years add a complexity and depth to the fruit and acidity to make a dream wine. Just stunning.

In New Zealand I was a little disappointed with some of the vaunted Pinot Noirs of Otago but some of the Syrahs were excellent, often from Gimblett Gravels on the North Island. However my favourites were from Hans Herzog in Marlborough, another biodynamic producer next to the Wairau River. I liked everything I tasted there whites and reds such as the Pinot Noir, Tempranillo but my favourite was the outstanding Herzog Nebbiolo 2013. Concentrated fruit flavours including peach and apricot surprisingly, light and fresh. Memorable. (shown in the photos above where Petra poured it)

My final red is Little Things, Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend 2017. This was one of the wines in made by James Madden in his first vintage, unbelievable that it could be so good so soon. I described it like this when I was there, “The vineyard is next to the sea at Fleurieu Peninsula and most of the grapes are technically white, eg Pinot Gris, Savagnin, Chardonnay, but they are picked with the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet from the same vineyard, pressed together and left on skins for more than a week. This is heady wine; bright, light and mighty good. Fresh and zesty from the whites, fruity and spicy from the reds.” I am going to choose this as my wine of the year, the single wine I enjoyed most of all.

Another field blend, another Basket Range wine. Basket Range Vineyard Blend 2016 is made by the Broderick brothers Sholto and Louis. Made from Petit Verdot, Merlot and the Georgian grape Saperavi, fermented and made together. Bright fruits, spice and appealing tannins this was a wine of pleasure but with added complexity too.

White wines provided most of my 2018 highlights, here are the final picks.

Little Things again, no apologies. I am sure some will accuse me of bias but these are genuine picks based on quality. Little Things Sweet Child Of Mine 2017 which I described as “Chardonnay is from 28 year old vines, whole bunch pressed, tank fermented and then aged in old barrels. It is a delight. There is a creamy note but a clean acidity runs through with lemon and spice notes.” Basket Range Chardonnay was a true highlight of my trip Down Under, other fine examples came from James Erskine of Jauma and Alex Schulkin of The Other Right. Interestingly their wines were from the same vineyard as another of my picks.

Gentle Folk Scary White 2017. Named after the vineyard Scary Gulley this blends the Chardonnay with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc with lovely acidity, a creamy fruit profile and a sense of the area – friendly and classy. Gareth Belton is a very talented producer, excellent Pinot Noir too. One of a very talented bunch of winemakers in Basket Range.

Yet another Australian Chardonnay makes the list. Luke Lambert Chardonnay 2016 is made in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne where I drank it. There is a lovely apple and pear fruit, a touch of citrus and great length. Not Burgundy but similar in profile yet clearly Australian in its ripeness. All class.

Talking of Burgundy. Domaine Valette Macon Chaintré Vieilles Vignes 2016. I drank this from magnum at lunch during vendanges and again in single bottle from the excellent Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. It may not be the most celebrated Burgundy but this relatively humble area produces a pure, creamy but citrus, hazelnut and white fruit flavoured delight. A producer I hope to find out more about.

Four Chardonnays and a Merlot/Cabernet blend so far. What is the world coming to? Well, let’s add some exoticism. Bacchus, Ortega, Huxulrebbe and Segerebbe to be exact. From England. French readers think I have gone mad! Davenport Limney Horsmonden 2016 is the work of a very talented producer in East Sussex whose PetNat is another favourite. This wine has a distinct floral note to the aroma profile, fresh and fruity. English wines are really on the move.

No sparkling wines to add this year, I had some nice ones but nothing which made me go wow. Only eleven wines though. Well to make the case I am adding another bottle of the Little Things Field Blend as my favourite of the year. Or maybe the 2010 La Vigne Haute.

Please would someone bring in some of the Australian wines to the UK market. I am missing them already.

 

 

 

 


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2018 wine favourites

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With James and Flo at Little Things winery

 

As the new year began (and I wish you all a very happy and healthy one) I spent some time thinking back over wine related pleasures of 2018 as well as my favourite wines of the year.

TL – Barossa, BL – Nelson, NZ, R- Cloudy Bay

The trip to Australia and New Zealand was the highlight, visiting wine regions and wineries that had long interested me, indeed even got me interested in the wine, the Barossa and Marlborough for example. Wineries such as Cloudy Bay were part of my formative wine learning so it was a pleasure to actually be there in person.

The true highlight, however, was the days we spent in the Adelaide Hills with James Madden and his family. James was part of the 2016 team for the vendanges with Jeff Coutelou and now has his own winery in the Basket Range which I wrote about at the time. The immediate success he has made there with his excellent SO2 free wines and the community of winemakers he is part of there were inspirational. More about them in my wine choices.

                        James with James Erskine of Jauma, TR – barrels at Gentle Folk,                                                   BR – Basket Range vines

Vendanges was also a highlight of course, as ever. It was short this year because of the damage wreaked by mildew but the experience was enjoyable as always.

I read a few wine books through the year. I enjoyed ‘The Dirty Guide To Wine’ by Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier (who I was delighted to hear had been chosen as best sommelier in France this year, she visited Mas Coutelou a few years ago). I am very much looking forward to ‘Flawless’ by Jamie Goode which looks at wine flaws and faults, something which interests me greatly. However, my favourite book was The Amber Revolution by Simon J. Woolf. I must declare an interest as I helped to crowdfund the book but, bias apart, this is an excellent read. Simon examines the history of orange wine, the tradition of it in Georgia and Slovenia in particular and its recent renaissance led by producers such as Radikon and Gravner. The Amber Revolution is well written, flowing with stories and history and enriched by excellent photographs. Highly recommended.

I have tried all sorts of wine objects over the years. Ironically the one which I use and like the most is a simple decanter. Increasingly I find that a few minutes in the decanter opens up wines. Some natural wines in particular, and they are the major part of what I drink these days, just need a little air to blow off reductive aromas as some are made by minimising oxygen contact because they do not have SO2 to protect them as an antioxidant. White and orange wines as well as red seem to benefit from time in the decanter. It became common to decry this very traditional wine object as being simply for show. I am now a convinced decanter fan.

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My decanters

Funniest wine moment. A photo that Veronique Attard of Mas Coris posted on Facebook. It shows a wine described as vegan but look at the recommendation for food to accompany it.

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Wines? Well that is for next time.

 


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A Tour Down Under, conclusions

It was always going to be the trip of a lifetime but, my word, it lived up to that billing. There are so many positives to Australia and New Zealand. I couldn’t help thinking that these young nations are energetic, vibrant and forward thinking in comparison to so much of Europe. Links with Pacific and Asian countries are to the fore and that will be their future though they retain a tremendous affection for their European links. The many people who were more than keen to talk with us were rightly proud of their countries, eager to find out about our trip and delighted to hear our enthusiasm. Positivity abounds.

The people themselves were such a highlight, as I have said before, they are helpful, polite and know how to enjoy themselves. The climate is obviously helpful in encouraging outdoor lifestyles, admittedly we were very lucky with the weather on our trip.

The wildlife was a constant joy, seeing kangaroos, koalas and kiwis in real life was just marvellous. Birds, fish and shark were stunning. Please look after them.

Above all though it was the joy of their natural landscapes which will live longest in the memory. These are jaw droppingly beautiful countries with such variety from coastlines, mountains, equatorial forest to the wonders of the Barrier Reef. Add on man made wonders such as Sydney Harbour’s Bridge and Opera House, I find myself smiling just thinking about them all.

Regarding wine. To be honest overall I was a trifle disappointed with so many wines and wine lists. The safe, conventional and commercial are everywhere. Perfectly drinkable wines but lacking excitement. However, dig a little and quality emerges. From Kalleske in the Barossa to Hans Herzog in Marlborough and Domaine Road in Otago I found conventional wines that were very good to drink. The highlights though were from the emergence of a natural wine scene in both countries. Kindeli, Cambridge Road and The Hermitage Ram in New Zealand were certainly highlights. Shobbrook, Sullivan, Tausend are names to look up in Australia.

In a way though I was spoiled early on. The Adelaide Hills was the source of so many of my favourite wines of the trip. There is a lively community of producers, supporting each other, who are making exciting, vibrant clean wines. Gentle Folk, Jauma, Manon, Basket Range, The Other Right are just some of the names to seek out. Add to that list the excellent bottles of my friend James Madden of Little Things wines. I am biased but his wines were amongst the best I tasted during this trip. The brilliant Chardonnay, refreshing PetNat, complex Field Blend were all in my top wines.

Australia and New Zealand have young winemakers looking to break with traditional methods. Behind the wave of producers in Europe perhaps but starting to create an impression and proving to my mind that there will be some wonderful wines to savour in coming years. It is no coincidence that most of these producers have worked in Europe, for example James at Jeff Coutelou’s. They will use that learning, adapt it to their local conditions to make their interpretation of Australian and New Zealand wines. I buy into their vision wholeheartedly.

Thanks to everyone we met for making the trip so special. Above all thanks to James, Sam, Flo and Pat for sharing their home with us and being so generous. And to Howard, a great chef, host and friend.

 


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A Tour Down Under, Little Things Mean A Lot

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During our holiday in the Adelaide Hills we stayed with James Madden, Sam Bateman and their beautiful year old daughter Flo together with James’ mother Pat. James and Sam travelled in France a couple of years ago and visited Jeff Coutelou which led to James returning to Puimisson a year later to play a  major role in the vendanges of 2016, which is how I got to know him. He became a valued friend in that time and when I told him that we were heading to Australia he invited us to stay with them.

A lot had happened in that 18 months, the birth of Flo, the loss of his father and the establishment of his own winery, Little Things. With all those emotional pulls it would have been easy for his first vintage to be a learning curve, instead James smashed it. The wines he produced from 2017 are extremely good by any standard, extraordinary for a first year. I would understand if you thought me biased, (I am of course), but honestly these are terrific wines.

James’ background is in catering, working in a number of restaurants in Australia, for example Movida in Melbourne. He became fascinated by wine and started to work harvests in 2011 in the Adelaide Hills often with James Erskine of Jauma wines as well as in the Mornington Peninsula and, as I said, with Jeff in the Langeudoc. That experience has instilled in him a desire to make wine with minimal intervention, he is one of the very few in Australia who resists the safety net of SO2. As we recalled over a glass, Jeff used to tell him to believe in his grapes and let them express themselves. When Sam encouraged James to give it a go on his own he took the plunge and from Little Things big things will surely follow.

James sources grapes from trusted organic growers over quite a large area. Vineyard management is done by the growers though in consultation with James and in 2018 he has taken over the running of a couple of vineyards. Ideally the couple want to buy somewhere with their own vines but in the interim, as is the norm here, James buys in the grapes, harvesting them himself.

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The Shed

When James poured me the wines from 2017 I expected to have to be polite and encouraging. Not that I underestimated him, just that it is hard to get things right first time around. There was no need for politeness. I was struck by the purity of the wines, the fruit is clear, pure and typical of the variety, it is not hard to identify Grenache, Shiraz or Chardonnay. Yet there is complexity, seriousness and everything you would want in your glass. As I said, he smashed it.

The wines are made in a shed he shares with Alex Schulkin (The Other Right). Pressing in small batches, maceration in small plastic containers and then the wine goes into old barrels. I recall that James was a master of cleanliness at Jeff’s and this is apparent in the way he works in his own winery. He has listened to advice, observed the right ways to work and made his own path with his own wines. He is still learning, playing around with fermentation techniques etc, and it will be fascinating to watch his, and the wines’, development. I only hope that we in Europe can get hold of some, importers take note.

The Sauvignon Blanc Pet Nat, Flo’s Fizz and the Chardonnay, Sweet Child Of Mine (there’s a theme here!) sold out quickly and it was not hard to understand why. The PetNat is just fresh fruit fun, goes down way too easily but at under 11% not too much danger. The Chardonnay is from 28 year old vines, whole bunch pressed, tank fermented and then aged in old barrels. It is a delight. There is a creamy note but a clean acidity runs through with lemon and spice notes. Seriously good wine.

Purple Patch Shiraz is dry grown Shiraz from Clarendon in the McLaren Vale, nice and light (just 11% abv) and very drinkable. I remember lots of good wines from this area when I first got into Australian reds and this would be a good example. More Shiraz, this time blended with Grenache (75/25%) in Sum Of Many, the fruity Shiraz being spiced up by the hit of Grenache. That Grenache was to cause a few problems for James as he discovered just before the 2018 harvest that there had been a spray on the vineyard and that it was, consequently, not organic. James decided to be open and honest about this and shared his disappointment with buyers. He decided the 2018 could not be used by him because of it not being organic, however he did find another winemaker who would welcome the grapes. In this way the grower, who had made an honest mistake, did not lose out and James will be able to use the vineyard’s grapes in future. I think that was an honest, commendable decision. The Grenache wine Comes A Time was inadvertently made from the vineyard in 2017, I found it a little more subdued than the others even before I found out about its history.

My favourite red though has to be Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend. The vineyard is next to the sea at Fleurieu Peninsula and most of the grapes are technically white, eg Pinot Gris, Savagnin, Chardonnay, but they are picked with the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet from the same vineyard, pressed together and left on skins for more than a week. This is heady wine; bright, light and mighty good. Fresh and zesty from the whites, fruity and spicy from the reds. I love field blends and this just works.

I am really excited for James and Sam that their venture is taking off. The bottles are selling well. Whilst in Adelaide and Melbourne we were in bars and restaurants with Little Things on the list (alongside Mas Coutelou in some places!). James can hold his head high whilst he mixes with James Erskine, Tom Shobbrook and Gareth Belton, his wines stand comparison and promise great things for the future. Proud of you mate!

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