Thursday, 1 September 2011

oops...its been a while

Many apologies for the long overdue entry in to the blog- I can't blame anyone but myself and sheer tardiness ( well I could blame it on the birth of my first child, the gorgeous Bibi but it's not really her fault more a case of me being a Dad for the first time aged 47 !)
Any way I have made a mid year resolution and promise full run downs of all new wines tasted, not to be missed gatherings and all other winey things.
Anyone wondering about Barley's missing musings may not know that she has moved on from oeno and is back in her beloved Bristol working for a rival wine company! She will be greatly missed for all her wine knowledge,recipes and above all unbridaled enthusiasm for life and wine.
As always we will be tasting great and interesting wines in the Cirencester shop every Friday and Saturday so come in and say hello

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Venice and the One Straw Revolution!

People who know me and the one or two followers of this blog will know that I rarely get excited about anything and prefer to mantain the steely calm of the distinguished English traveller abroad. Admitidly the pulses do race occaisonally, maybe at the sight of Chelsea's Didier Drogba baring down on some poor hapless goalkeeper or the sound of a cork being loosened from one of Denis Bachelets Charme Chambertins but as a rule the wine business rarely throws up any real surprises.
It started out as a fairly innocuous evening with me and three other of my collegues from the importers tasting having a quiet dinner at the Enoteca San Marco. Fine wines were drunk and conversation was flowing when it was suggested we move on to a small restaurant further up to try some "interesting" wines. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of the place but it was pretty normal looking and not chintzy in the slightest, in fact you would walk right past it without giving it a second glance. A corner table was found for us and Luca, the chap in charge sat down and joined us as soon as we ordered the first bottle. Massa Vecchia Bianco
Crikey! what incredible wine.One of the most striking and original wines I have ever tasted.Winemaker Fabrizio Niccolaini subscribes to the most purist form of winemaking and has just a handful of hectares. Here he grows Vermintino,Ansonica, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano and Malvasia di Candia as well as red grapes Merlot, Cabernet, Aleatico,Sangiovese, Alicante and Malvasia Nera, all of which are over 35 years old.
Fabrizio suscribes to the simple sustainable agricultural theories laid down by Japanese Farmer/Philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka in his 1975 book "The One Straw Revolution"
Trained as a scientist Fukuoka rejected both modern agribusiness and centuries of agricultural practice, deciding instead that the best forms of cultivation mirror natures own laws. Over the next three decades he perfected his "do nothing" technique with no ploughing, weeding,external compost pruning or chemicals and this reduced labour by up to a fifth but greatly increased yields.
"If we throw mother nature out of the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork"

The vineyards when ploughed at all are done so using white long-horned oxen and the grapes are crushed by foot before the wine spends three weeks on the skins. The resulting wine is rich copper in colour and was constantly evolving in the glass with aromas of almond, marmalade, flowers, cinnamon,herbs and a whiff of briney seaside. I have never tasted anything quite like it and couldn't wait to try another of these "natural wines"

I shouldn't have worried as our host Luca was warming to his task and was becoming more animated by the glass.

Next up was a wine from the legendary Josko Gravner

Now if I thought the last wine was kooky......

Gravner is a hero to wine lovers all over Italy. He turned his back on modern winemaking and went back to making wine as it was made thousands of years ago.He makes the wines in large clay Amphora, lined with beeswax and buried in the earth.

Only wild yeasts are used and no sulphur and there is no temperature control used in the making of the wines.
The wines will surely divide people as the style is completely uncompromising. Again copper in colour but with so many different flavours it is hard to describe.Again the wine evolved completely in the glass with amazing flavours of dried fruits and toasted almonds
Check out this link if you want to see the man in action

Anyway the evening progressed as these evenings tend to and soon the table was heaving with these crazy wines. Our young host was in his element and at one point annouced that the aromas of the Massa Vecchia red reminded him of his Grandmother's farts. This led to round of toasting fragrant Grandmothers alive and deceased across the world. We consumed Black-eyed Venetian rabbit casserole and some very fine organic Amarone from Cort Sant'Alba... there was philosophical debate....some singing....some dancing... and a wobbly walk back across the bridge of sighs.
All I can say is that the evening helped a cynical old fool like me realise that he was one of the best jobs in the world and the unbridaled enthusiasm of a young chap like Luca, who lives and breathes wine is very intoxicating indeed!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Venice, football and the Black Magic Woman

I am in venice as a guest of WINETT, an Italian organisation set up to put winemakers in touch with International importers.

As usual my efforts to be the sophisticated business traveller ( see George Clooney "Up in the air" ref) are scuppered right from the start as I can't even find the long stay carpark at 6.00am at Heathrow airport. When I finally get to Venice I can't find my hotel even though it is on the Grand Canal and has 500 rooms, they don't call me "pathfinder" for nothing. Anyhow the net result is I am late for lunch and without any guide books I am left to rely on my finely honed senes to sniff out a good meal. I find a nice family restaurant, not too pricey, and settle down with a plate of pasta with duck ragu and a glass of Amarone. Feeling very pleased, I congratulate myself for finding an "authentic" Venetian restaurant. This illusion is instantly shattered when the chef walks out and he is Chinese, followed by the owner who sticks on the "ELO's greatest hits" and proceeds to sing along to Mr Blue Sky-Very Italian!

Next day is the main event and is based in the hotel. 20 different winemakers are coming to show their wines and talk about what they do.

The day resembles a sort of wine " speed dating"

I am sat at a table and a bell is struck whereby a winemaker comes to join you and has 20 minutes to taste as many wines as he can fit in and explain probably a hundred years of family winemaking history. When the 20 minutes is up the bell is struck again and another winemaker comes to the table and the whole process starts again. This happens from 9.00am till 7.00pm ( we break for coffee, this is Italy after all)In all over 120 wines are tasted and everyone is exhausted. The arrangement works well for the winemakers as they have a captive audience and I can only catch a glimpse of sunlight dancing over the waves of the Grand Canal through the window.

7.00 pm means a break for freedom and the quest for a suitable venue to watch the all important Chelsea v Inter Champions League game.I have assembled a motley crue to watch the game with me and we are Yoshi, an impoter from Tokyo, Ned from Sydney and Dan from New York and we decamp in a small bar just over the bridge at Accademia. Roberto the owner is soon regailing us with tales of his times spent in London in the 60's and proudly recalls seeing Jimi Hendrix drunk in a pub on the Kings Road and also of an eccounter with Carlos Santana who plays him " Black magic Woman" and asks him if he thinks it would make a good single! the rest is history as they say. We drink chilled Refosco and eat pizza and although they put up a good fight, Chelsea are beaten 2-1. Before Roberto gets the chance to tell us how he discovered the Beatles we decide to head for the nearest Enoteca and sample some more fine wines of the Veneto.

The next morning sees an assortment of nationalities heading off to the mountains of Valdobbiadene to visit Valdo a producer of Prosecco. We marvel at their state of the art winery and Willy Wonkaesque bottling plant and then head for the legendary Cartizze vineyards and some of the finest vineyard views in Northern Italy. Luch is a llong drawn out affair with plenty of spumante and delicious food and talk of the two most important things in life -Wine & Football!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Lost in the Super Marche (part 2)

Its been a week or two since I got back back from the Marche but I'm still bowled over by the beauty of the region. OK it doesn't have the history of Rome, the beauty of Venice or the super star winemakers of Tuscany but it is also fairly unspoilt, good value and you will avoid all the camera wielding tourists and MP's on their summer holidays.
What you have are friendly people, great food and more to the point some very interesting wines. Much as I love to think of myself as a great travel writer, I am in reality hard pushed to string more than four words together without having to use spell check so I will drop in a link here to my fellow Brit on the trip, Anthony Rose ( a proper writer for the independent)

I will however highlight a couple of the winemakers who stood out not only for their wine making skills but also for their passion and intelligence.
At around 500 metres above sea level Bonci have the highest vineyards in the Castelli di Jesi DOCG and produce some truly stunning Verdicchio, with the San Michele scooping two to three glasses in Gambero Rosso every year.

We were very lucky to have winemaker Dominic Wurth on hand to talk us through the wines. Verdicchio has fantastic aging potential and this was well illustrated as we tasted the current 2007 vintage of San Michele followed by 2003 and 1999. The wines had aged beautifully and taken on all the characteristics of a fine Pouilly Fuisse. They do not keep back large quantities of these older wines and in fact only had 50 bottles left of the 1999. Verdicchio is a surprisingly versatile grape with the minerality and structure to stand up to anything from simple seafood and fish dishes to lightly spiced Asian cooking.

Piantate Lunghe
A collaboration between brothers Guido and Roberto Mazzoni and friend Amadeo Giustini who are united in their love of the Montepulciano grape. Roberto looks after the vines and is happy to let his enthusiastic, business driven brother Guido do all the talking. There is nothing grand about the winemaking here, in fact it all takes place in a large shed with an old fashioned press, one steel tank and maybe thirty new barriques, but wow what fantastic wines! Their flagship wine is the "Rossini" and this won them the coveted three glasses in Gambero Rosso last year.

We will hopefully be bringing this wine in later this year and it will be available on a first come first serve basis (if you have a cellar
or a gloomy garage, in fact anywhere to store your wine buy a six pack or two and you will be thanking me in years to come)

What I loved about these wines were their lack of pretension. There is no media mogul behind the scenes putting up the money in fact Roberto had to sell his own house to buy the vines to make the Rossini. There is just a lot of hard work and love and belief in what they are trying to achieve.

Friday, 11 September 2009

All lost in the Super Marche

Sorry for the terrible pun and unless you are in possesion of the greatest British album ever made ( thats "London Calling" by the Clash in case you didn't know) you will hve no idea what I'm talking about and if you have never heard it, go out and buy it now. Anyway I am nearly at the end of my wonderful trip to the marche and what an international affair it has been! representing the UK is yours truly and Anthony Rose, Decanter judge and columnist for the Independent, two people from China, two young guys from Brazil, two from Hong Kong and two ladies from Russia. Communication troubles apart we all seem to get on very well and our mutual love of wine is the common language.
There have been many highlights and some truly stunning wines from some very interesting people all of which I will profile over the next week, so keep logging on.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

I am wine tasting in Italy in the Marche region famous for its white wines of Verdichio and reds from the Montepulciaino grape.
Getting here should have been simple but my train ride from Bath to London was thrown a curve ball by someone throwing themselves in front of the train ahead of us resulting in all trains into London being cancelled. My plans to be the sophisticated european business traveller, sipping espresso waiting for his flight turned out to be me stuck on a coach crawling through Reading then running like an idiot through Heathrow with minutes to spare.
I finally get on the plane to find I am the only adult sat amoungst 40 Italian schoolchildren returning home from a trip to london...eeeggghhh
Any followers of my trips abroad will know by now that I travel to gastronomic centres of the world and end up getting horrible food and tonight we sat down in a lovely trattoria and the genial host served us with guess what?........Salt Fish!!! where are the lovely pastas, salamis, lasagne, no all I get is dried salted fish everywhere I go.
Any way watch this space for more Italian updates and recipes for salted fish dishes

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Just back from a weekend with the in-laws in Birmingham and have feasted on many dead roasted meats and taken full advantage of the old mans well stocked eurocave. The definate highlight was a truly stunning bottle of Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru Clos St Jacques ( arguably well overdue for Grand Cru Promotion) 1998 which we gave him last year as a 70th birthday present. On opening the wine just gave off the most incredible aromas of perfumed sweet red fruits and things just got better in the glass as it opened out with delicious plump, ripe cherry fruit with a soft long leathery finish.These wines are expensive but I have to say worth every penny.
Cold left over roast beef on Sunday was matched with a 2004 Domaine de Mourchon Grande Reserve and I have to say it was spot on, the old vine grenache really coming in to play and the three years of cellaring was definately worth it, as any rough edges were rounded off and the whole thing a harmonious joy! We have sold out of the 2006 vintage but are planning a road trip in October to fetch some more from the Domaine. I suggest you do what my Father in Law did and buy a 6 pack and stick away for 3-5 years and you will be well rewarded.
My next blogs hopefully will be brought to you from Italy where I will be wine tasting in the Marche region, I know its a dirty job..............