Wildflower J Lohr Monterey Valdiguié 2011

lohrIt’s not often that I devote a whole blog post to a single wine, but I thought that this one was unusual, interesting and good enough to make an exception for.

The grape variety is Valdiguié, and the wine is from Monterey California.  It is made by J Lohr, who gave it the name Wildflower and describe it on an informative page on their website. In the UK you can get it from various merchants from £11 to £15.  I first tried a glass at a Turton Wines’ stand at a wine tasting, bought a bottle from them at £13.00, and then recently bought almost a case from The Daily Drinker for the sale price of £5.63 per bottle.  That is the ideal way to discover and buy a wine that is new to you 🙂

Valdiguié used to be widely planted in Southern France, for its virtues of high yields and resistance to powdery mildew rather than the quality of its wine.  Little remains.  A similar story applies in California, where the grape was known as Napa Gamay.  The tannins are slightly astringent, which some Californian producers counter by using carbonic maceration.  This particular wine and vintage is 26% carbonic, which presumably gives rise to the boiled sweet flavours and Beaujolais comparisons mentioned below.

In appearance, this wine is slightly on the pale side of medium, and tinged with violet.  The nose is refreshing, soft and delicate, with boiled sweet fruit flavours.  Maybe a little cheesy on the nose too, but not unpleasantly so and it does not seem to translate to the palate.  The light delicate fruit flavours were very much in evidence on the palate, soft and gentle.  So far I could be describing a decent quality Beaujolais Villages, but this wine has more structure, and it is this aspect that adds interest for me.  Considering the structural aspect, perhaps a better comparison is a Freisa from Piemonte.  I do not agree with Lohr who suggest similarities to better cru Beaujolais.  This wine has good acidity, and an astringency that is noticeable though nevertheless quite low.  These elements make the wine refreshing, a little edgy and good with food.  There is a some residual sugar on the palate, but it not excessive and nicely balanced by the acidity.  This wine has an excellent length – my mouth has a pleasant aftertaste of raspberry 10 minutes and more after a few sips.  It is recommended that you drink it chilled.  It is good chilled, but also works well for me at normal red wine temperature.  At warmer temperature, the fruit really increases a couple of notches in volume, and the acidity also becomes more marked.  This is one of those rare wines that is both be a crowd-pleaser and holds interest for more serious wine-lovers.  Is it good value for money?  I think the normal price is about fair, and at £5.63 it is a bargain ****

Beaujolais and the benefits of a good map

There is a myth abroad that the less prestigious straight Beaujolais, as opposed to Beaujolais-Villages and the Beaujolais Crus, originates in the sandy alluvial plains of the South and East of the region.  In fact I have heard this said so often that I thought it appeared in many introductions to the wines of the region, but when preparing to write this blog post I could only find one textbook, albeit a rather influential one, making the claim in such an extreme way.  The culprit is the WSET Advanced Certificate textbook.  Maybe it has been rewritten now – the most recent version I have is from 2004 – but the damage has already been done.

When I visited Beaujolais, also in 2004, in our hotel and at several producers I noticed a raised-relief map of the region showing the geology and the limits of the various appellations, and after quite a search I managed to buy one – from De La Vigne au Verre, a gift shop in the centre of Fleurie.  There is a picture of it above to show you roughly what I am talking about (be sure to note the invaluable reminder of why there is an “s” at the end of Beaujolais).  The salmon pink areas are for straight Beaujolais, turquoise is used for Beaujolais-Villages, and the other colours for the Crus.  I understand contour lines on maps pretty well, but I must say a raised-relief map makes it so much easier for me to appreciate the landscape.  A quick glance at this map immediately casts doubt on the idea of sandy alluvial plains of the South and East of the region; it is pretty obvious even in the image above.

The alluvial plains lie by the river as you might expect, to the East of the region only, and there is little or no viticulture of any sort on them.  The largest areas vineyards on low lying hills are actually to the river side of the Beaujolais-Villages area; not in the South.  Most of them are classified as straight Beaujolais, but from the geology and relief alone the reason for the location of the border between Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages is not immediately obvious to me.

Southern Beaujolais is actually quite hilly – not noticeably less so than the North.  Some is calcareous, and thus not so good for Gamay, but around 50% of the area is schist and granite.  One can only assume that the main reason the granitic parts are deemed only to be worthy of the lowest appellation is the orientation of the the slopes.  But even then some slopes do not seem to be much less auspicious than many in the Beaujolais-Villages area.  I suspect there are quite a lot of decent wines produced here being sold for not very much money at all.  A few years ago I enjoyed several bottles of a straight Beaujolais called La Doyenne, Domaine des Pierres Dorées **-***. The domaine is based in Le Breuil, which is in this promising-looking area of Southern Beaujolais, and according to Nick Dobson the grapes were from old vines grown on sunny slopes of granitic outcrops.  I see he does not stock it now, so presumably it was a hard sell.

Having dealt with low-end Beaujolais, let’s turn our attention to the Crus, which are exclusively in granitic and schistous areas. Côte de Brouilly stands out on my map literally and figuratively.  The Cru limits are basically defined by the all the slopes of an extinct volcano – even those that are facing North.  And Brouilly is the area around the volcano, some quite hilly and some flat. These two Crus lie to the South of all the others, and are largely separated from them by a river. The Crus of Saint-Amour, Juliénas and Chénas seem a bit detached to the North.  They have as their focus another river valley, and also have slopes facing in all directions.  Most of the Crus however, including the most prestigious ones of Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent, basically lie on one gentle slope that is largely South-Easterly facing.  Looking at the relief map it is easy to jump to the, possibly false, conclusion that it is the angle and direction of the slope that are the key factors in being a top Beaujolais Cru.  That and the granitic soil of course.  Or perhaps there is something more specifically special about the soil and rock on that particular slope.  But if not, it has to be said that other bits of Beaujolais-Villages look hard done by.

While I am in the mood for criticism, I’d like to point out in that WSET textbook from 2004, the map of Beaujolais also leaves a lot to be desired.  The Crus are strung out as a series of dots from North to South like villages on the Côte d’Or.  But they are areas, not villages.  Some don’t even have an obviously associated village, so dots are not particularly helpful.  And even if you can get past that, the dots are not nearly in the correct relative positions, e.g. Fleurie and Chiroubles seem to be inverted.  I am a great believer in the use of maps to illustrate any subject with a geographical element, and that certainly includes any book on wine.  They do not have to be perfect, but should be accurate to extent implied by the map’s scale and level of detail, and to be fair many of the WSET maps are precisely that.  So there we have a good and bad examples of wine maps.  Good ones can be very informative, but beware being mislead by poor ones.