A couple of Bobal blends from Aldi

In the past I have sensed that some people assume I only write reviews of wines I would unconditionally recommend. But that is not the case, so please read on – it’s not a long blog post.

I recently noticed a few recommendations for Toro Loco wines at Aldi, and as my local store had a couple of their shelves, I thought it would be interesting to compare them side-by-side. Both were initially tasted, and drunk with food, at a middle-eastern BYO restaurant. Here are my tasting notes…

Superior 12.5% 2018 £4.00
(Tempranillo and Bobal)

Medium ruby. Thin, austere fruit. Cherry. Medium acid. Medium low tannin. Drink now **

Orgánico 12.5% 2018 £5.00
(70% Bobal, 20% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Medium ruby. Tad more purple. Dark fruit. More full and soft. Cherry again. Medium acid. Medium tannin. Drink now. A good solid ***

Firstly – kudos to Aldi for stocking wines from the little known Utiel-Requena region near Valencia, and with the little known Bobal grape as a major component. Bobal has a reputation for being a rustic variety but, as is so often the case, if it respected with careful winemaking it can deliver characterful and high quality wines.

To be frank, I would question the quality of the first of these wines, and neither would be my first choice if I wanted a crowd-pleasing fruity red wine, but with food their character made them a pleasant alternative to those crowd-pleasers. The Orgánico was a much better wine all-round when viewed critically, and well worth a fiver, but for quaffing with food the so-called Superior worked too. Feint praise perhaps, but I think I am being fair.

If you are tempted to try Bobal at a more serious level, I would suggest Aranleón Sólo (£9 at The Wine Society), or Cien y Pico En Vaso (available at a few places for a similar price). Some might find these wines a little challenging – dark, heavy and tannic – but if you occasionally like that sort of thing they will not disappoint.

Gotsa Family Wines back home in Blighty

You may remember I have already posted about our visit to Gotsa Family Wines, and I mentioned in that post we were able to bring four bottles back with us. It is often the case that wines taste so much better in their place of origin (see image below), so how well did those four perform in a Manchester winter? Not so bad, it turned out.

Tsitska, 2016, 11.3% (tasted 20/11/18)
Medium pale amber. Intense. Slightly phenolic on the nose. Smokey, and some apricot I think. Medium high acidity. Dry. Saline perhaps. Gives a bracing impression. A serious wine. On initial tasting scored it higher, but for some reason it did not keep my interest when drinking with food so ****

Chinuri, 2016, 12.0% (tasted 12/01/19)
Medium amber gold. Delicate. Fresh. Dried apricots. Phenolic. High acidity. Bone dry. Intense on the palate. Medium-low astringency. Excellent length. Mouth-filling finish. Drink now. My favourite of these four wines, and it was my favourite of the three we drank at the producer’s in Georgia *****

Saperavi, 2015, 13.2% (tasted 12/01/19)
Tasted 12/01/19. Opaque purple. Intense, smoke, leather. Brett. High acidity. Medium high tannin. Intense, sharp blackberry and blackcurrant. Acidity and fruit largely obscures any brett on the palate. Good now, but could well improve. Just about ****

Rkatsiteli Mtsvane, 2016, 14.0% (tasted 15/01/19)
Copper hues. This is described as an amber wine on the label, unlike the Tsitska and Chinuri, which were called white. Intense, phenolic and bracing on the nose, with dried apricot and nut. Medium high acid. High, rasping, astringency – not at all a bad thing as far as I am concerned. As nose. excellent length. Good now, but would doubtless keep a few years at least ****

Sadly, as far as I know the wines are not available in the UK, but they would probably retail at a little over £20.

Tsigani Gogo, a Georgian wine by Laura Siebel & Niki Antadze

For several reasons I found this wine both interesting and distinctive. Delicious too.

The first impression is the striking label, presumably depicting a tsigani gogo (gypsy girl), and the unusual blue bottle with a red wax seal. Now blue is not a bottle colour I associate with good quality wines – quite the reverse in fact – but I must admit the overall effect is rather classy. Then you might notice that the wine is the result of a collaboration between Laura Siebel, of Domaine de la Pinte in the Jura, and Niki Atadze and his winery in the Georgian region of Kakheti. Turn the bottle round, and you will see that the combination of grapes varieties used in this wine is as unlikely as the winemaker partnership. It is in fact a blend of the red variety Saperavi, and the white Mtsvane. Well, I say Saperavi is red, but it is a teinturier variety and often gives wines that are so dark as to be nearly opaque.

I do not know the percentage of Mtsvane used, but judging by the wine’s medium-pale red and its aromatics I would guess it is substantial – a lot closer to 50% than the 5 to 10% of Viognier that is typically added to Syrah for example. Neither do I know the degree of skin contact this wine had, but if either Saperavi or Mtsvane is made in the traditional Kakheti style, with the must fermenting and ageing on all the stalks and skins, you can get an extremely astringent wine. While Tsigani Gogo did have fair degree of astringency, it was not extremely high, so I would guess the stalks were discarded after crushing, perhaps along with some of the skins. What I do know about the production from the UK importer Caves de Pyrene: “Fermentation, vinification and ageing in qvevri. No punchdown, no press wine, all wild and ambient. No filtration and no sulphur”. The absence of punching-down is another departure from traditional Kakheti practice, and that too would reduce the wine’s astringency. Caves de Pyrene also say that the Antadze Winery has organic vineyards, so I guess all together that means this is a natural wine – should you care about that sort of thing. Tasting note follows…

Tsgani Gogo, Laura Siebel & Niki Antadze, Pomegranate-color wine from Saperavi and Mtsvane, 12.5%
It is apparently from the 2016 vintage, but not stated on the label. I paid £28.44 from Caves de Pyrene, including a 10% discount. Medium pale ruby. Intense, fresh, and aromatic. The nose reminds me a lot more of Mtsvane than Saperavi. Medium high acidity. Maybe slightly sweet? Tingly on tongue, from both acidity and I think dissolved CO2. Lazy bubbles on the side of the glass also indicated a high CO2 content. Medium astringency. Very bracing from the acidity, and astringency. Fresh red berry aromatics, and sharp apricot perhaps from the Mtsvane. Drink now. Instantly likeable for me, and what I think is called glou glou. This is not a wine for serious and respectful sipping, but its structure makes it nevertheless feel quite grown-up *****

Nero Oro – Nero d’Avola appassimento from Sicily

Nero Oro, Appassimento, Nero d’Avola, Sicilia DOC, The Wine People, 2017, 14.0%.

This is available from Majestic for around £9 if you “mix six”, otherwise £10. Oh, and it really is a Sicilia DOC wine as stated above, rather than the IGP designation shown in the image. The Wine People market it as part of their range, but the wine is actually made by Santa Tresa, an estate in South East Sicily near Vittoria.

Appassimento means that before winemaking the grapes are partially dried, which concentrates their sugar, acidity and flavour. In this case the enhanced sugar content of the grapes ferments to give a wine with a highish alcohol content, and with some sugar left over after the fermentation to give a slightly sweet wine. Together with low astringency, this gives a smooth easy drinking wine with some classy fruit, and the wine’s sweetness is moderated by balancing acidity.

This will doubtless have broad appeal, and it is well made for what it is, even if it is not a style I would usually drink myself. I suggest drinking it slightly chilled – maybe at around 17-18ºC. And remember it will warm up quickly if left out of the fridge in the hot weather we have been having recently, so probably best to bring it out a bit cooler than that. See here for advice on adjusting the temperature of wine bottles. I reckon it would work well with pork and duck, and pretty much any barbequed meat. Also with cheeses like Cheddar and Stilton, as a lighter alternative to Port.

Medium pale ruby. Intense fresh fruit – cherry and damson. A delicate fragrance, and aromas that somehow reminds me of Aussie Shiraz. Medium high acidity. Off dry. Low astringency, but there is some present. You can feel the alcohol on the palate, but it is not hot. The sweetness and acidity are nicely balanced, and the wine finishes sharp. A pretty and straightforward wine. Drink now ***

(Unlike the vast majority of wines I mention on my blog, I did not pay for this wine. It was offered to me as a sample, which I accepted because I thought the wine sounded interestingly different to a lot of wines on the market.)

Oda Family Winery and Vino Martville

As another stop on our tour of South and West Georgia, we visited Oda, the family home of Keto Ninidze. Beneath the living-quarters of the house is the family winery managed by Keto, and there is also a restaurant business there. The restaurant is where we had lunch, except we were the only guests at the time, and Keto stayed with us at the table after showing us around her cellar and vineyards. So where does Vino Martville come into the picture? Well, Keto is married to Zaza Gagua who is a partner in that winery. (It is sometimes styled as M’artville with the “art” bit in another font and/or colour, I shall stick with Martville!) Vino Martville is currently better established than Oda Family Winery, so you are more likely to have heard of it, and the wines drank with lunch were Vino Martville.

Oda Family Winery lies in the village of Martvili, in the region of Samegrelo. Not only is Oda the name of this house and winery, but the word also describes this style of traditional Megrelian house, with pillars to keep out the damp and a shady veranda. Zaza and Keto moved here from Tbilisi, but the house belonged to Zaza’s great-grandfather, who built it around 100 years ago.

As is sometimes the case with oda houses, part of the ground floor has been walled-off to create a cellar space, and here the cellar contains qvevri and other winemaking equipment. I didn’t notice it when we were visiting, but that wooden thing to the left under the house, looks like a trough for treading grapes. Inside the cellar there is one small 50 li and few 500 li qvevri, along with a small basket press and stainless steel tank, and a storage room for bottled wine. Keto is shown here with one of her qvevri. Close to the house is a vineyard recently planted with the Ojalashi and Chviriluri varieties, but it is still too young to produce grapes for wine, so the first couple of vintages of Oda were made from grapes brought in.

In front of the house across the grass is a separate building for the kitchen, which I think is a traditional arrangement in Samegrelo but this was over-sized to cater for the restaurant, and a wooden canopy to shelter the restaurant tables.

The food was amazing – quite possibly the best we have had in Georgia, though some of that enthusiasm may be due to my love of spice, which is one of the defining features of Megrelian food. We started with pickled jonjoli flowers in a corn bread tart-casing, which was a great combination. Also show below, looking like a tomato-free pizza, is Megrelian khachapuri. Unlike the perhaps more common Imeretian style of khachapuri, here the bread is not only filled with cheese but is also covered with toasted cheese. Mmmm, cheese – if I wanted to invest in a street food business in the UK, it would specialise in khachapuri. Also shown are pieces of chicken with a light brown walnut(?) sauce and, just visible bottom right, two types of adjika, which is a paste of chili and other spices.

I believe the rolls shown below are gebjalia, which is also mainly cheese, the structural bit being heated cheese and milk rolled out when it has acquired the correct elastic texture, with a herby filling, and a soft cheese on the side and in the sauce. Cheese too is an important ingredient in the elarji, another Megrelian speciality, being pulled out of the pot to demonstrate that it has the right consistency. The basis is ghomi, which is a sort of porridge very similar to a soft polenta, and can be eaten as it is as the carbohydrate part of a meal. But if you stir in a type of cheese, and keep stirring and stir some more, you get a delicious cheesy stodge, which was served with an equally delicious and spicy stew. I think the meat was veal, and it was in a thick and slightly grainy sauce that I suspect got its consistency from nuts. Whatever it was it was good, and worked well with the elarji.

Was there something else? Ah, yes, the wines. Sorry, but again I have very brief descriptions and very enthusiastic ratings. I am not sure if the paucity of description is just a weakness on my part, or if there is something about these wines that discourages verbiage – as in many ways the appeal of these wines lies in their immediacy and simplicity. It may be some sort of vinous heresy, but in my opinion complexity is overrated. Philosophy aside, here are my tasting notes:

Vino Martville, Krakhuna, 2017
Medium greenish gold. Slightly cloudy. Intense, fresh, orange aromas. High acid. Medium high tannin. Mouthwatering. As nose. Drink now ******

Vino Martville, Aladasturi, 2017
Medium purple. Intense, sweet, dark berry fruit on the nose. Medium high acid. Medium low tannin. Drink now *****

Finally, a few words about Keto. She was a philologist in Tbilisi and, in addition to making wine and looking after her family, intends to continue writing – about wine, and life at Oda. Judging by our conversations I am sure she will write from a thoughtful and interesting perspective, and I look forward to reading anything that might appear in English.

Gotsa Family Wines

Like all the producers we visited on this trip, the location of Gotsa Family Wines  is rural and idyllic. Unlike the other locations however, it is readily accessible from Tbilisi by car – under an hour’s drive to the south, in the Asureti Valley. On arrival, we met the winemaker Beka Gotsadze and took a tour of his cellars, but first let’s take a look at the three wines we drank with lunch. Here they are with pre-lunch nibbles.All three were 2016 wines from Asureti Valley vineyards. Below I have identified all the wines by their grapes, but I think the one with five grapes might just be called Asureti White or something similar. My ratings may seem very high, but no claim of objectivity is made, and that is what you get when drinking outside in the shade with a great lunch and in a beautiful environment. Nevertheless, the Chinuri was my clear favourite, even if tasting note could have been more eloquent, and I was more than happy to fill the final 4 remaining bottle-shaped holes in our suitcases with wines purchased from Beka.

Chinuri
Medium gold. Intense, fresh, apricot. Phenolic. Medium high acid. Medium low tannin. As nose. Drink now ******

Mtsvane, Khikhvi, Kisi, Mtsviani, Chitisvala Bodburi
Darker brownish amber. Intense, fig, raisins. Probably a little oxidised. Medium acid. High tannin. Refreshing, despite all the dried fruit flavours. Drink now *****

Tavkveri
This is labelled as a rosé wine, but I would rather describe it as a lightish red wine, like a less-serious red Beaujolais for example. Medium pale purple. Intense, soft strawberry aromas. Medium acid. Off-dry effect, but that could be from ripe fruit aromas. Low but noticeable tannin. Drink now ****
Beka was fun company, over lunch and during the tour. He was opinionated, but didn’t seem to take himself too seriously, and was willing to listen to other ideas too. He is definitely in the natural camp of winemakers, with certified-organic vineyards and low-intervention winemaking, and he is traditional to the extent that he uses qvevri and Georgian grape varieties. However, that is really where tradition ends and his desire to tinker and innovate kicks in.

Rather than using wood or stone to seal the neck of the qvevri, Beka prefers stainless steel. That is now quite a common thing in Georgia, but he has also devised a large insulating cap for the qvevri that hold maturing wine, to help keep the temperature constant. He also dangles electric heating elements in his qvevri to sterilise them before use. The insulating cap and sterilisation device are illustrated above. The long baskety thing, also illustrated, is a coarse filter that you drop into the qvevri to remove the heaviest crud from the wine you take out from within the basket.

But perhaps the most impressive innovation is that the fermentation qvevri have tubing coiled around them underground, enabling Beka to cool or heat the wine in the qvevri by pumping water through the tubing. The alcoholic fermentation produces heat, so to keep the temperature lower Beka pumps through cold spring water, and the resulting warm water goes into his swimming pool. And to encourage malolactic fermentation by warming the wine, the direction of flow is reversed, taking warm water from the pool. Beka shows us the controls for this temperature control system in the above image. Before becoming a winemaker, Beka used to be an architect, and his company designed heating systems for buildings – presumably this was the inspiration for his qvevri temperature-control ideas. The usual story you get in Georgia is that the qvevri is an ideal winemaking vessel perfected over millennia, and that the earth around the qvevri works perfectly to moderate its temperature.  So I am sure Beka’s ideas are not without controversy, but how do you know how perfect the basic qvevri is until you explore alternatives?

Another practice frowned on in some Georgian circles is that Beka matures his red wines in flavour-neutral old oak barrels to allow small amounts of oxygen into the wine. The frowns are because traditionally, i.e. before the 19th century, wood was not used to hold wine in Georgia winemaking, everything being in qvevri. Regardless of the vessel used, it is noteworthy that Beka sees fit to age his wine for up to two years before release, as he thinks is important for the wines to stabilise, especially if they are to be exported and experience less-than-ideal conditions in transit.

Overall, a great visit – certainly something to consider if you are a wine-lover staying in Tbilisi for a while.

Saperavi made in qvevri – examples of contrasting styles

A couple of months ago I organised a tasting of Georgian qvevri wines, and published the tasting notes here. I then reordered multiple bottles of some of my favourites from that tasting, so I could drink more substantial pours over the course of an evening, and write more-detailed tasting notes. The two Saperavi wines I reordered were very different, and made an interesting comparison.

Pheasant’s Tears, Saperavi, Kakheti, 2016, 14.0%, £20.35  from Les Caves de Pyrene
This has an almost opaque purple ruby colour, and an intense nose of dark fruit. The smell also reminds me of ink – the stuff I used in fountain pens at school. Already the fruit seems to have a hint of maturity. High acidity and medium-high astringency on the palate, and all aromatic elements noticed on the nose are still present. Excellent length. Good to drink now. I have no experience of how this wine might age, but if I had to decide I wouldn’t keep it for more than a few years further. However it might be fun to try. *****

I see this as a wine made in the tannic style typical of the Kakheti region, which is the main wine-producing region of Georgia, and in the East of the country. However you look at it, it is a big wine, with colour and tannins resulting from prolonged skin contact. It certainly makes its presence felt, and I think its vigour is what I like so much about the wine.

Zurab Topuridze, Saperavi, 2015, 13.0%, £23.55  from Les Caves de Pyrene
Pale ruby garnet in colour. On the nose, intense and fresh, with sharp red berry fruit. Cranberry and raspberry I think. Also some complex high-toned notes. My mouth waters just from the smell. High acidity, and low but detectable astringency in the mouth. Intense aromatically. Aromas on palate as on nose. Maybe a touch of Band-Aid brettiness as it warms slightly but, as with the high-toned notes, it is not obtrusive and adds to the complexity. There is sweetness from the fruit, giving a subtle underlying caramel nature. Excellent and delicious length. Drink now I think, but I would like to know how it ages. This wine is too sharp to be called balanced, but I don’t worry about that too much as I think balance is over-rated – drink with food. ******

Unlike the vast majority of red grape varieties, with Saperavi, not only is the skin coloured, but also its flesh. Following the French, we normally say these are teinturier varieties, and teinturier is practically a direct translation of the Georgian word saperavi – in English, the word is dye. So this Saperavi wine may have seen no skin contact at all, as it only had a pale red colour, and very little astringency. Both those factors are in marked contrast to the Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi. Note also that this wine comes from Guria in Western Georgia, where a lot of skin contact is less typical than it is in Kakheti. It is a lot more of a crowd-pleaser than the austere Kakhetian one with its hair-shirt manliness. On the whole, I too prefer it, for its delicate nature and its complexity. Yes, I know I also said I liked the vigour of the Pheasant’s Tears wine – it is possible to appreciate both styles.

So… two excellent wines, and an interesting comparison. Nevertheless, for me a there was a clear favourite. But you might feel differently, and I would encourage you to try both.

Some wines from Vinnaturo

They first caught my eye at love + labour’s natural wine tasting at Salut Wines the other week. There were several nondescript pouches of wines sitting on one small table, and it was largely that low-key presentation that piqued my interest. As you might perhaps expect from an importer called Vinnaturo, all these wines are natural – at least organic, and using “low intervention” winemaking. They are all packaged by the company in bag-in-box, bag without box, or keg, with the intention of reducing CO₂ emissions from transportation and keeping costs down. Bag alone is currently how they sell most wines.

I shall leave it to others to consider how appropriate it is for natural wines to be packaged in plastic, but it is fine by me. I do however wonder if the presentation could benefit from being more standardised. The three wines I bought after the tasting had slightly different bags, different labels (click to enlarge the picture and read them), and different label positions. I like the idea of simple design, but this was close to just looking like no one cared. The same applied to the way they were delivered. They came in three separate boxes padded out with mountains of plastic chips and bubblewrap. Any one of the boxes would probably have been large enough to hold all three pouches, and the largest of the three boxes certainly would. The smaller boxes were very flimsy, one with a side torn open, and the tape holding the lid of the larger box was coming off. Doubtless most of the packing was reused, so not contributing further to landfill, and the pouches actually arrived in good condition, but it nevertheless did not give a great impression. For natural wines at least, I believe the presentation of the wines in bag is a USP, and I suppose all I am really saying is that a lot more could be made of it. Perhaps the on-trade is their biggest customer, and they do not care about such things?

While in whinge mode, could I also say I would appreciate vintage information on their website? This does exist on some of the labels, and I would appreciate knowing the vintage, if only so that if I reorder I know I am getting the same wine. I was also looking in vain for best-before dates and advice on how long the bags last after opening. Unless things have improved vastly in the last few years, I know deterioration over a period of months can be an issue with this technology.

Anyway, let’s now get down to the important business – the wines themselves.

At the tasting, I tried all five of the Vinnaturo wines on show. Afterwards bought two of the ones I liked best, and additionally their skin-contact Trebbiano as I thought that sounded interesting. The prices given below are for the 1.5 litre bags I bought. Unless I say otherwise, assume they were tasted after pouring from my wine fridge at 12ºC. Also a quick reminder that my star ratings are for enjoyment at the time of tasting or drinking. Reassuringly, I scored the red wines the same in both locations: the love + labour tasting, and drinking at home. It does not always work out that way!

Vinnaturo, #6, Trebbiano, Skin Contact, IGT Toscana Bianco, Biodynamic, Cosimo Maria Masini, San Miniato (Pisa) Italy, 2016, 12.5%, £22.00
The Vinnaturo website says “straw, earth, floral, apricot, delicate.” My tasting note begs to differ. Medium pale orangey caramel colour. Intense tangy smell of sherry-like oxidation. Possibly an walnut nuttiness. Highish acidty. Bone dry. Low but detectable astringecy. Aromatics as nose. Good but mono-dimensional length. Drink now. Not too unpleasant if you want a simple low-alcohol sherry-like experience. Amontillado I think. Little of the phenolic character and astringency that I woud normally associate with skin-contact wines. I tried later straight out of a normal fridge – it had a very subdued nose, and seemed a little more astringent and refreshing. If it were sold as a “normal” wine I would return it as faulty, but given the usual slack accorded to natural wines I would more politely say it is too dominated by the oxidation **

Vinnaturo, #9, Trepat, Catalonia, Spain, NV, 11.0%, £20.00
This one is supposed to be “wild, without being too crazy” according to the website, and the description is pretty spot on.  Medium pale crimson, with violet edge. Intense and fresh on the nose, and bretty in a band-aid sort of way. Blackberry fruit. Highish acidity, and low but detectable astringency. Intense aromatics very much as nose, but with the sharp blackberry fruit being a lot more dominant. refreshing to the last.  Sharp and bitter finish. An excellent food wine that is difficult to tire of. For me this is the epitome of natural wine. Traditionalist still would not like it, but I could drink a lot *****

Vinnaturo, #4, Tempranillo, Fermented and aged in amphora, Dionysus Agricultura Biologica, Castilla La Mancha, Spain, 2016, 13.5%, £20.00
Spicy and dark but still juice on the website for this one. I’m not sure what still juice means, but yes it is spicy and dark.  Medium ruby colour.  On the nose, medium intense dark fruit with a slightly sweet effect, a fresh slightly vegetal quality, and a touch of spice.  Medium acidity. Medium high astringency, and a tannic bitterness with the dark spicy fruit still showing through. And the fruit comes out more as the wine warms. Bitter finish.  This is altogether a much more serious wine, and if it were in bottle I would say it needed another 5 years or so to show its best. You don’t have to be into natural wine to like this one ****

So, a couple of wines I liked, including one I liked a lot, and one I didn’t like, which could easily be the outcome for a selection of three wines from any merchant. But Vinnaturo is very different in terms of image, and in the way it packages its wines. And despite my niggles, I still have a good feeling about their general approach, and I wish them luck, and hope to see them grow and succeed. Will I buy from them again? I think so – I would really love more of that Trepat.

A trip to Alsace

Just a week after returning from Santorini, I was waking up to a very different view from the bedroom window – green, misty and with a touch of frost on the ground, the Vosges mountain range in the background rising over an Alsace village, Villé to be precise. Another beautiful European wine region, but so, so, different.villeIn fact the Alsace vineyards could hardly be more different, with neat rows of lush vines in fertile soil, just starting to take on autumnal colours. When you see how different the regions are, it seems almost incomprehensible that both Alsace and Santorini are capable of producing good wine. But they are, and do.alsace-vinesAs in my last post on Santorini, I am not going to attempt anything too systematic here. In Alsace I tasted over 120 wines and visited nine producers, but I am just going to mention two of the most memorable visits – the one that stood out at the time when I experienced them.

Domaine Xavier Wymann, Ribeauvillé

wymann

We were welcomed warmly, and treated to a tasting by Madame Schaeringer. She is the wife of Jean-Luc (both pictured here), who took over the company from his uncle in 1996.

The wines that impressed me most were a couple of Rieslings, Steinacker de Ribeauvillé 2014 and A mon grand-père 2013, and the Equilibre Pinot Gris 2014. What I liked about all the wines, and these in particular, was the understated elegance and complexity, the Rieslings already seeming to show hints of maturity. And very reasonable prices, each of my favourite three wines coming in under €10.

We said hello to Jean-Luc as he packed our order, and had a quick look round the winemaking room where fermentation was in full swing in most of the tanks. Incidentally we had already had a discussion with Madame (I really must learn to be a better journalist and get names), who was keen to improve her already excellent English and amongst other things learn the correct terms for the various winemaking vessels. We reached an uncertain consensus that rectangular stainless steel ones were probably best called tanks. I was also interested to see a bucket – if that is the right term, as I think this was rectangular too – of warm liquid yeast culture, ready to be used in the next batch of must.  Didn’t realise it was done like that.

Oh, and along with our order we were slipped an additional bottle, which was drunk with our evening meal. I also enjoyed that one a lot. On the label was Minori, Rizling, Ribo’bulles. Make of that what you will. I think it was a pét-nat. In other words, a wine with a slight sparkle created by bottling before the fermentation had completely stopped. No sulphur and, as evidenced by the cloudiness, no filtration,. It reminded me of apple pie, complete with cinnamon, pastry and cream. Different, interesting, and good.

Domaine Ernest Burn, Gueberschwihr

I had never encountered Xavier Wymann wines before, and as far as I know they are not available in the UK . Ernest Burn was a little more familiar, but until I visited I did not know what strength in breadth they had.

Here was a very different tasting experience. No intimate tasting room, nor chatting about tanks and Brexit. There was a large area with several tables, surrounded by foudres, and no one representing Ernest Burn at our table as our host was mainly occupied with other people. But we had a very generous tasting, where bottles were just brought to the table with minimum introduction, and we were trusted to pour for ourselves. It is nice to hear what a producer has to say, but there are also advantages to being left to your own devices, as it is easier to concentrate on what is in the glass.

The number of different wines produced was a lot larger than Wymann, so we focussed more – on the cuvées from Clos Saint-Imer, in the Grand Cru of Goldert. They all looked enticingly golden in their clear glass bottles. Was it a deliberate marketing decision to play on the golden colour of the wine and the name of the Grand Cru?

burnSo many of these wines were of excellent quality, and together they made for a wonderful tasting. VTs and SGNs apart, all the Clos Saint-Imer wines were €18, which I thought represented good value. I don’t want to mention them all, but for me the Pinot Gris 2007 particularly stood out. In fact, if I were to nominate a Wine of the Trip that would probably be it. Intense, mature, spicy. Off dry but with high balancing acidity, so overall it left the mouth with a refreshing tingly feeling. Wonderful stuff.

Minerality in wine update

The discussion, or debate as many would like to see it, about minerality has moved on tahconsiderably since my post on the subject back in 2012, as evidenced by the Institute of Masters of Wine seminar about a month ago, which has been particularly well reported by Emma Symmington. The term is still abused, often in marketing, and there are still those who will gleefully rant against those abuses, but there seems to be more of a consensus developing amongst those who have given the term serious thought. If I may presume to represent that more serious thinking for a moment, let me attempt to summarise the consensus.

santorini-mineralityThere are at least two scientific meanings for the word mineral, which often get conflated and confused. As far as the geologist is concerned a mineral is a naturally occurring chemical compound, and rocks are agglomerations of different minerals. However, in plant biology, minerals (shorthand for mineral nutrients) are ions that are taken up from soil by the roots, e.g. nitrates and magnesium ions. The naïve interpretation of minerality in wine is that compounds from the rocks underneath the vineyard get taken up by the roots of vines, and finish up in the grapes, where they contribute directly to the flavour of the wine. Thus vines on chalky soils result in chalky wines. This is wrong for a number of reasons… Firstly, the vast majority of rocky minerals do not taste of anything. Secondly, the ion minerals in the soil do not principally originate from the chemical compounds in the rocks. Thirdly, plants tend to take in what they need of each mineral and then stop, so high soil mineral contents are not reflected in the vines and grapes. Finally, in the concentrations found in grapes, the minerals are below our taste detection thresholds. Rocks and minerals might have indirect influences on wine flavour, by affecting vineyard drainage for example, but it would stretch my credulity to breaking point if someone suggested that those influences lead to wines that taste of the rocks in the soil.

mineralsI hope there is nothing too controversial in the above, because I would now like to set it aside and move along to say that even if minerality in wine has little physical or chemical basis, it can still be used as a metaphor. That, I think, is the broad consensus view on minerality, and an excellent basis to take the discussion forward.

Metaphors can be beautiful, evocative and poetic, and if that is what you want in a tasting note who am I to argue? But tasting notes are also used to communicate. Person A experiences a wine and tries to describe those experiences in a tasting note. Person B reads that note, and imagines what the wine must taste like, perhaps to help with a buying decision. How good are metaphors in general  for this sort of communication?

When we say a wine has pear drop notes, we of course don’t mean it contains pear drops – it just tastes like pear drops, which is arguably a very straightforward simile rather than a metaphor. If we don’t understand what it means, we can suck on a pear drop. What is more, even if the wine does not contain pear drops, it probably does contains isoamyl acetate and ethyl acetate, which also contribute to the flavour of pear drops.  This is similar to how quite a number of wine descriptors function, and in those cases it seems to me that the chances of good communications are relatively good.

But when we say that a wine has good minerality, how does that work in communication? To communicate in the way I described above, the writer and the reader must have a common understating of the term. Many wine geeks say they understand exactly what it means, but the problem is that there are many different understandings, and very diverse ones at that. From comments in various wine forums, I note that for some it is an aroma, for others a taste or a texture sensed in the mouth. Clark Smith in his book Postmodern Winemaking is a bit left field in describing it as “an energetic buzz in the wine’s finish, almost like an electrical current running through the throat.” Personally, I use it for a positive aspects of a wine that are neither vegetal nor animal – often for a certain something that is very closely related to acidity and sulphur. This lack of common understanding was also commented on by the participants at the minerality seminar mentioned above, and nicely illustrated by the graph in Emma’s report. As she writes, “So if a group of MWs can’t agree on what minerality is, means, or tastes like – what hope do consumers have?”

I conclude simply by suggesting that the term minerality does not work well in communicating what wines taste like. I would hate to dictate what descriptors may and may not be used in tasting notes, as communication according to my definition is not everything. But isn’t it an important factor? You decide.