Wine articles

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

My new favourite word to describe wine is ‘evocative,’ it’s just so. . . evocative. It’s all very well describing wines in terms of animals, vegetables or minerals but these never convey emotion. Evocative is so much better. I had a couple of contrasting Burgundies that evoked wildly different comparisons: Chambolle-Musigny (a 1er Cru ‘Feuselottes’ 2006 from Georges Mugneret) that was like the most beautiful melody heard almost out of earshot, something light but not fluffy, Mozart perhaps, & then afterwards a deep, dark Volnay (a 1er Cru ‘Clos des Chenes’ 1998 from Lafarge) that was Wagner. Volnay was the earth, the Chambolle was the sky.

Evocative was a word that I used again and again in my tasting notes from both ‘natural wine‘ fairs. On a couple of occasions, I had wines that transported me to where they were made. It wasn’t a case of sniff and I think I can smell cherries but actually imagine myself in Sicily or Croatia. Uncanny, and why I love wine so much. The ability to taste a patch of land in a glass.

SP 68 Bianco, Ariana Occhipinti, 2011

This one reminded me of falling in love on a hot day with the scents of a Sicilian summer in my nostrils. There’s a passage in The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa where the Prince goes out into the garden of his villa outside Palermo and is almost overwhelmed by the fecund scents of the flower. This is a bit like that only a little less opulent. After such a symphony of smells the restrained, dry, spicy taste with a touch of tannin is a welcome surprise.

Sveti Kakov, Giorgio Clai, Krasica 2010, Croatia

All the wines from the producer were superb. This particular white that evokes summer, but a more distant one. Perhaps a half-rememebeed sunny day from my childhood. A literary comparison would be from Coming Up For Air where Orwell evokes the endless summers of his hero’s boyhood:

‘It always seems to be summer when I look back. I can feel the grass round me as tall as myself, and the heat coming out of the earth. And the dust in the lane, and the warm greeny light coming through the hazel boughs.’

Kurucver 2007, Badacsony, Csobanci Bormanufaktura

This red is early autumn at my grandmother’s house near Aberdeen. There are brambles in the hedgerows, perhaps the odd wild raspberry and the damp smell of the woods. This wine is from Hungary and my grandmother was born in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire and is now Slovenia. Despite living most of her life in Scotland, she always spoke English with a thick German accent. It’s delicious, robust yet refreshing, with great depth of flavour. If I had a restaurant, I would want this as my house wine.*

I have no idea how much these wines cost, what grape varieties they were made from or how they were made. I don’t think the Hungarian one is even available in Britain. Sometimes wine doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as giving into your senses and see where they take you.

I do realise that this article appears to contradict my earlier post where I said that the ‘natural wine’ fairs were really about France reasserting control over the wine world as none of the wines above are French. 

* Since I wrote this article I have decided to import a few cases of this wine so this is no longer a disinterested review. I wrote it before I contacted the producer but who’s to say that my words were not influenced by a subconscious intention.

Wine articles

And the winner is. . .

Thank you everyone who entered the competition to win a bottle of Cantina Florio Terre Arse 2000. There were entries from poets, novelists, academics, radio producers, wine merchants and sofa salesman. Special mentions should go to Lynn Roberts for rhyming marsala with umbrella, Gareth Williams for ignoring the rules and submitting one about sambuca, and Ewan Murray for using the word Valhalla, a reference, of course, to Roger II, 12th century Norman ruler of Sicily. I’d like to say that it was hard to pick a winner but actually it was easy. Not only does the winning entry still make me chuckle, but it scans and has the internal logic required by a good limerick. It was from Michael Willis of St. Albans:

The world famous ‘Singing Koala’
When taking the stage at La Scala
Made sure that his voice
The organ of choice
Was functioning well with Marsala

Thank you Mr Willis. I’ll send you the bottle out this week by recorded delivery. My friends at the Marsala Marketing Board are delighted with it too. They keep saying the words ‘koala che canto’ and crying with laughter.

Wine articles

Can I be Franc with you?

Cabernet Franc has had a chequered romantic life. There was a fling with Sauvignon Blanc that led to the birth of a child, Cabernet Sauvignon. Later a drunken one night stand with a grape whose name is now forgotten resulted in Merlot. As the Greeks have taught us, children have a tendency to usurp their parents. And lo, these two brash upstarts eclipsed poor toothless Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux, and then went off to conquer the world leaving Daddy only a small principality in the Loire (there was a final son, Carménere, who in the manner of youngest sons throughout history was sent to the Americas to find his fortune.)  Happily for this most elegant of grapes, fashion in wine has started to swing away from big bold alcoholic wines towards something a little more drinkable. The key word these days is freshness something that old Cabernet Franc has in spades. In the past, it had rather too much freshness and not enough fruit. The reds of the Loire, Chinon, Bourgeuil, Saumur and Anjou, could be green and ungenerous in light vintages. Today the wines are considerably riper, a consequence perhaps of global warming or just better work in the vineyard and the cellar. Thanks to the interest in ‘natural’ wines, the Loire is about the coolest (in both senses of the word) place on the planet to make wines. The Franc is back and showing the upstart grapes who’s the daddy.

Saumur ‘Les Nivieres’, Cave de Saumur, 2010 – £7.99 (Waitrose on offer for £5.99 until 8 May)

Ripe modern Loire Cabernet Franc at a good price. For me the hallmark of Loire Cab Franc is a mouth drying fresh taste that reminds me of licking slate. As I’ve never licked slate I don’t know why this is what springs to mind but try it and I think you’ll know what I mean. Whereas in the past this slateyness was all you might get from the Loire this one also with a friendly dark fruitiness (blackcurrants perhaps.) Very nice if served chilled.

Hilltop Premium Cabernet Franc, Eger Region, Hungary 2009  – £9.50 (The Wine Society)

This is what happens when the variety goes on holiday somewhere hot. On the nose it’s very perfumed, very aromatic, very Cabernet Franc with some toastiness from oak aging. In the mouth the extra sunshine shines through. It’s positively voluptuous with hints of caramel and honey but all balanced by trademark Cabernet Franc freshness.

Chinon ‘Les Roche’, Alain & Jerome Lenoir 2004 – £14 (259 Hackney Road)

This is not the sort of wine that welcomes you into his home, kisses you on the cheek and then offers you a drink. Instead it lurks menacingly in the dark and dares you to take a sip. I took a sniff and got a hint of strawberries before a powerful stench of dungeons came in and overwhelmed my nose. Another sniff, strawberries and perhaps oranges and then cold dank dungeons again. It’s a bit like that in mouth, hints of ripe fruit menaced away by black tannin. With pheasant stew the menace retreated and the wine became drinkable and ultimately rewarding. There’s so much going on here. It’s a hugely complex and uncompromising wine that needs food and ideally decanting a day in advance.

*I’m not just being metaphorical here, Cabernet Sauvignon really is a cross between Cab Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot is a cross between Cab Franc and Magdelaine Noire, and Carmenére’s other parent is Gros Cabernet. (source Wine Myths and Realities Benjamin Lewin MW 2010)