Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Dunell’s Tasting 09.02.11 - Vins de Terroir - "Every Wine has a Story"

Tim Wildman MW

Last Wednesday night the team at Dunell's opened the doors of their newly refurbished store to a group of forty plus wine lovers for a tasting that had been billed as ‘Vin de Terroir - Every Wine has a Story”.

I had been invited to show a selection of wines from the UK importer I work for “Les Caves de Pyrene”. We have a reputation for sourcing wines that are off the beaten track, but very true to their terroir (or sense of place) and Neil and Jane wanted something a bit special to mark the launch of their new-look store. When I arrived that morning and walked into the shop I have to confess my jaw nearly hit the floor. I couldn’t believe what a transformation had taken place, and how spectacular it looked. In the course of my work I’ve visited hundreds of wine stores around the UK, and have to say that I’ve never seen anything like the “Wall of Wine” that Dunell's now have running down the right hand side of their shop. Like the Great Wall of China, it can be probably seen from space, and should certainly be listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

As the guests started arriving we greeted them with Txacoli di Getaria Rubentis Rosado 2009 from Bodegas Ametzoi. We served this in the traditional Basque fashion by pouring a small measure into glasses from a height using specially designed Txacoli pourers, thereby “smacking” the wine (as they say in Spanish) and making the naturally petillant wine foam up in the glass. In the bars of San Sebastian, Bilbao and Vittoria you drink your 100ml serving of Txacoli, nibble on a tapas served on the bar counter, and then move on to the next bar. This can be repeated ad infinitum until the small hours! Txacoli is a rare wine from the Basque Country, where the vines cling perilously to the cliffs and are assaulted by the Atlantic sea. In white Txacoli you can taste the sea salt, and one writer once commented that it it the perfect accompaniment to wild rabbit because it is the only wine wherein the acidity can dissolve lead shot. The rose version that we enjoyed (even rarer) is a softer affair, all cranberries and red-currents, and at a mere 10.5% alcohol, is a beautiful summers day aperitif or picnic wine. As I told people on the night, for me it is a “two-people-ten-minute” kind of wine.

The rest of the wines for the evening tasting had been arranged around the new counter tops in the centre of the store and our guests were free to taste the wines in any order they preferred, making it a very informal event, which had quite a party feel to it. Every fifteen minutes or so I interrupted the good natured chatter to share some stories or anecdotes about the wines in question. The wines that we tasted are as follows:

Albarino “O Rosal” 2009, Bodegas Terras Gauda, Galicia, Spain
Albarino is an indigenous grape from Galicia, “Green Spain” as they call it. The locals drink it with the national dish of pulpo (octopus) plus the multitude of seafood that makes up the local diet; lobster, razor clams, crab etc. It makes a brilliant match for seafood, being unoaked, crisp, gently flavoured with apricot and peach, and is a great alternative to sauvignon blanc or dry riesling. This particular Albarino has achieved something of a cult status in Spain, thanks to the added ingredient of a grape called Caino Branco. This was an ancient grape in the region that became almost extinct, before Bodegas Terras Gauda re-introduced it to their vineyards. It lends the Albarino extra weight, texture and a further dimension of flavour, and proved to be a big hit on the tasting night.

“Petramarina” Etna Cru, Benati 2008, Mount Etna, Sicily
From 80 year old Carricante vines grown 600m up on the side of Mount Etna, this is a unique and very special wine. The sandy volcanic soil lends a powerful minerality to the wine, giving it an almost Chabliesque brine-and-oyster-shell flavour. The plate is subtle, no new oak here, and almost light bodied, but with a deceptive intensity and length. This really surprised people, who said they had never tasted anything quite like it. The local dishes on Sicily comprise seafood (mussels, clams) with pasta, tomato sauces and lots of capers. This wine would be a great match to similar dishes.

Soave Superiore 2009 “Le Bine de Costiolo”, Tamellini, Veneto, Italy
Soave is a fascinating wine, being unique in that it can be made from two completely different grape varieties, yet still carry the name Soave. The oceans of cheap Soave that washed over our shores in the 70s were made from a grape called Trebbiano, which is a pretty unexciting variety, producing thin wines with little character. There is a band of small producers making Soave the traditional way, using a grape called Garganega, which is a whole lot more interesting, and this is what we had on show for the tasting. The Tamellini “Le Bine” is a single vineyard wine coming from vines that are 40 to 50 years old. It has complex flavours that weave in-between fruit (green plum), spice (clove) and nuts (almond).

Saumur Blanc “Insolite” 2009, Domaine de Roches Neuves, Loire Valley, France
From one of the leading biodynamic producers in France, this powerful Chenin Blanc divided opinion on the night. Some loved its weighty apple and pear fruit and honeyed texture, while others were put off by its thundering authority of acid, that rises up on the finish and rattles the teeth in your head. Not the easiest wine to taste without food, but match this with a roast goose or slab of pork belly, giving some fat for that acidity to carve through, and it would be a different story altogether.

Frappato 2009, COS, Sicily
One of the most popular wines of the night - I know because of number of bottles we had to open. This is made by another biodynamic producer this time on South Eastern Sicily. COS ferment and age their wines in terra-cotta amphora, which they believe gives then the purest transmission of terroir and fruit purity. This is made from the local Frappato grape. Frappato is a bit like Gamay on acid - all juicy fruit, light bodied,with fresh acidity and spice - think Beaujolais, but with a bit more character. Great wines do not have to be powerful and complex, and I believe that as wine becomes part and parcel of our lives, people will seek out more of these “vin de soif” (quaffing wines).

“Segna de Cor” 2009, Domaine Roc des Anges, Cotes de Roussillon, France
One of Neil's favourite wines of the moment, this is a rich and warming blend of Grenache (which gives the fruit and juiciness) and old vine Carignan (which provides structure and an earthy complexity). The winemaker is a young lady called Marjorie Galet, who by raising money from her friends and family managed to buy twenty parcels of old vines that were derelict and abandoned. Marjorie’s wines are hand-crafted, using natural yeasts and with the minimum of intervention, allowing them to transmit the flavours of the wild Mediterranean landscape they grow in, of herbs, stone and sun.

Saperavi 2007, Orevela, Georgia
Georgia (in the former Russian Caucuses) is recognized as being the ‘cradle of wine”, grape growing artifacts have been discovered dating back seven thousand years. Saperavi is the local red grape variety, and ‘Orevela” is recognized as being Georgia’s greatest red wine. Medium bodied, with layers of black fruit and spice, there is an underlying minerality and seductive aromas of violets and plum. Something completely different, and a welcome discovery for palates jaded with the usual suspect grape varieties.

Teroldego “Grenato” 2006, Foradori, Trentino, Italy
Teroldego is the grape variety, and Elisabetta Foradori the leading producer and “doyen” of the region. Elisabeta was the first ever woman to be awarded ‘Wine Maker of the Year” in Italy, a recognition not only for the quality of her wines but for her work over twenty years in reintroducing the original clones of Teroldego. Clonal selection in the 1970s led to the homogenisation of the Teroldego grape variety and hence to its genetic impoverishment: very few clones aimed exclusively at increasing the yield were developed. The limited area cultivated with Teroldego grapes (about 400 ha in Campo Rotaliano) was soon covered completely with the clonal material. The result is that today almost all of the vineyards are cultivated with only this variety of Teroldego. In 1985 Elisabetta Foradori started her work to recover the variety’s diversity. After identifying the estate’s oldest vineyard, she started with the careful selection and multiplication of the plant specimens that had the required quality features. Their monitoring over the years led to a further selection and it was followed by others reaching up to this day. Foradori has selected 15 Teroldego biotypes that she uses for replanting. They are the qualitative “backbone” of her wines. ‘Granato’ is Elisabeta top wine, a selection of her best three vineyards. It is a wine of great strength, harmony, depth and nobility. Deep, almost shy on the first nose, it reveals itself as the aromas come into focus: wild berries and candied fruit make way for roasted hazelnuts, baked bread, leather, eucalyptus and pomegranate, then the full robust palate shows plenty of temptingly chewy flesh. This won over many people on the night, and would give many a top Bordeaux a run for its money.

Banyuls Rimage 2008, Clos de Paulilles, Roussillon, France
Banyuls is a French VDN (Vin Doux Naturel) which is a style of fortified wine similar to Port. At 16% alcohol Banyuls is lighter than Port (20%) and has a smoother texture with less spirity burn. Banyuls is also known as one of the few wines that is a true match with chocolate, which we put to the test on the night, with blocks of dark chocolate provided for people to test the match for themselves. Banyuls is made from Grenache grown on steep tarraced vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean only a few miles from the Spanish border in the Catalan speaking corner of Roussillon. One of the curious stories about Banyuls is that Appellation laws dictate that the vineyards must only be worked using donkeys not tractors. This is logical due to the steep, inaccessible terraces. More controversially is the law that stipulates that all the donkeys must be born within the Appellations region. As there is now only one farmer who breeds donkeys, local grape growers are up in arms as the price of local donkeys is kept high by this monopoly situation (or as the team as Dunell's joked, more of a “donkopoly”). With its rich flavours of summer pudding and mocha, not to mention dried herbs, prune and caramel, it made a delicious end to the tasting, and gave people a warm glow as they headed out into the dark Jersey night.

It was a real pleasure to share these wines and their unique stories with the team at Dunell's and their guests and I look forward to coming back soon, when I’m told there will be some exciting new additions to the tasting area, so watch this space!

Tim Wildman MW

No comments: