A tasting at Terroir. The ultimate antidote to a very bad day. By Kate
Freaky Friday. Trying to concentrate on a splendid tasting at one of my favourite places in London (Terroir), while simultaneously dealing with the final vestiges of a dreadful cold and worse, juggling a most unpleasant situation with the business via constant phone calls and emails.
How is it that before last October when I became an i-phone owner, I could not begin to imagine why a person would need to receive emails on a phone. Now I cannot begin to imagine how things get done without this facility. Depressing how soon we adapt to further ways to complicate our lives.
Anyhoo, the tasting was fabulous; a really life and wine affirming event which was timely, as we certainly needed this. Hosted by two of our most favourite wine people ever - Doug and Florian - it was a very timely reminder of why we do what we do. These are the vinous highlights, as many as possible of which will be appearing in our spring/summer range .
2009 Elgin 282 Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa
Just in time for our World Cup/South Africa promotion!
This is the first vintage of this wine, made at the Iona winery with the involvement of Neils Verburg who makes our ever popular Luddite Shiraz. This brand new project is owned by an English person who moved out to South Africa and bought a house with a few vines in the Elgin Valley, at 282 metres above sea-level (hence the name of the wine).
Everything is small scale and organically farmed with, apparently, flocks of happy ducks bustling through the vineyard.
Elgin is increasingly being hailed as one of the top regions for both Sauvignon and Pinot in South Africa. The cool mountain air gives fruit which is obviously crisper and more restrained and this wine shows that in abundance with a lovely clean spice on the nose and hints of smoky gooseberry, green pepper and again, a lean, clean minerality on the palate.
2008 Domaine Berhoumieu Pacherenc Vielles Vignes, Madiran, France
The region of Madiran is best known for producing structured, powerful reds with plenty of tannic grip and the tiny amount of white wine, although not obviously tannic, has – in its own much fresher, gentler way - a similar racy acidity and power. The Petit Manseng gives a very faintly aromatic edge, the Gros a lovely balancing fatness and the Courbu the aforementioned bracing acidity, all from vines which are up to 50 years old. This acidity is more to the fore in 2008 than usual as it was a particularly cool vintage.
This is no bad thing. The vinosity may be less than it often is but the edge is thrilling and very conducive to encouraging a second sip.Half of the wine is fermented in tank for freshness, and half in oak for added weight and spice and it then spends 8 months on the lees which gives lovely creamy flavours which underpin the crystalised grapefruit. Very clever wine which manages to be both crisp and rich.
2007 San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore, Marche, Italy
San Lorenzo is a biodynamic estate in the Marche where they do things differently. Not only are the grapes grown much more carefully, but in the winery, extensive lees aging is practiced – all wines spend at least a year on the dead yeast which is busily decomposing, releasing proteins and enzymes into the wine, giving it texture, bulk and flavours of fresh bread and single cream.
The real jewels in their crown are a collection of wines which are aged for up to 20 years, with extraordinary and delicious results.This is a single vineyard example, with a vinous smoky lemon character which developes into a milky coffee,/chocolate richness towards the back of the palate (that will be the lees ageing). Several steps above more workaday Verdicchio, this is something really special and given the complexity and the time and effort that went into it, a relative bargain.
2008 Rene Mosse Anjou Blanc, Loire, France
Rene Mosse is one of the Loire wine makers who is part of the Renaissance movement. This is a relatively loose collection of young and young-ish growers who are doing things differently, working as naturally as possible in the vineyard and winery. Amazingly, given the tricksy climate, the Loire is now the heartland of the natural wine movement in France and is certainly one of our all time favourite places.
Which is why, having tasted this, we feel that we have to have not one, but two whites from Anjou on the list. Rene Mosse has been making wine since 2000, having first studied under Puzelet (see his wines in our red section) and Breton (ditto) – both maestros of natural wine. He is making an extraordinarily pure and delicate Chenin from this commune perhaps most famous for rather muscular versions. Having said that, the Richard Leroy we stock is also the last word in cool, sophisticated elegance but then he works very naturally too.
This has bruised red apple and very delicately spiced honey flavours with just a hint of fresh nuts. There is something very slightly cidery about it but overall, the impression is one of incredible delicacy.
This is one I go back to again and again over the course of the tasting and while we have some food. It is brilliant every time.
Moristel is a Pyranean grape which is almost always blended, mainly for its naturally high acidity which gives lift and elegance to some of the more rough and ready varieties from here. Bodegas Pirineos make an extensive range of wines and are particularly devoted to highlighting regionality (hurrah!) hence their championing of this little known variety.
2005 Bodegas Pirineos Moristel, Somado, Spain
This is a real slurper. Not the most chic description, but then it is clearly not a wine to get too precious about. Lovely, fresh aromatics – hay, pencil lead, juicy red fruit and a delicate spice mutate into a cranberry and coffee finish.
All of this at under £10 a bottle on the shelf. We are terribly happy with that.
2008 Lard des Choix Rouge, Les Champes Libres Ardeche, France
We immediately love this wine the moment we see the bottle. The label is a riot of brightly coloured pink pigs flying about and the name (which means ‘lard of choice’) is a play on words, supposed to sound like ‘Ardeche’. I spent a few minutes trying to grasp that, my already cold befuddled head not really getting how they are similar but no matter. Any completely biodynamic wine from an already favourite grower which has been named ‘lard of choice’ (and yet does not have the long term health implications associated with that) is ok by me.
Northern Ardeche , where this hails from, is just next door and climatically almost identical to Hermitage etc. This wine is the result of a collaboration between “two guys who love each other very much” says Florian solemnly.
We don’t think he means that they are actually in a romantic relationship as Herve Souhaut who makes the sensational ‘Souteronne’ in our lighter section is married. To a woman.
This, a blend of 80% Gamay and 10% Syrah, is delicious. That raw purity of fruit that characterizes truly natural wines. There are flavours of crisp, sweet red apples but also red berries and savoury spice. A complete pleasure to drink and so we do, sipping it at compulsively when the food arrives.
Added bonus – only 11.8% alcohol! God bless you, Herve Souhaut; and your beloved friend!
2008 Domaine Le Briseau Patapon, Loire, France
Another wine from a Loire producer we are huge fans of. Domaine Le Briseau is owned and worked by Christian Chaussard and Nathalie Gaubisher. He used to teach viticulture and wine making; she was an actress and sommelier in her native Switzerland and they came to Jasniere in 2002, starting their estate with 4 hectares of vines.
This has now grown to 11 and everything is done completely naturally – biodynamic methods are followed in the vineyard and in the winery where everything is gentle and natural. After fermentation, the wine is left to rest in wood but there is no fining or filtration and only the merest pinch of sulphur is added just before bottling. Apparently, they used to make 12 – 14 cuvees, but have reduced that number to just 5 or 6.
This is their blend of 90% : Pineau D’Aunis (HOW is it possible that more people don’t know about this incredibly delicious variety?) and 10% Cot.
The flavours are gently herbal and box fresh. Unusually (strange, but true), I taste ripe grapes flavoured with peppered, slightly aromatic honey and a finish of red fruit and fresh straw. This wine is extraordinarily, beautifully limpid.
Despite a trying phone call which comes just before it, I can’t feel tense for too long with this in the glass.
That is an idea – tiny vials of natural wine as a cure for corporate stress.
2006 Clos Fantine, Faugueres, France
A new domaine to us, run by two sisters and one brother who are, apparently, very wild.
I think this is a reference to the farm and not to them personally but you never know. They make honey as well as wines and thanks to their sterling biodynamic efforts, indigenous wild flowers, absent for decades, are starting to return to the farm.
Their incredibly good value for money wine is the last word in pure concentration with a wonderfully brisk rusticity. Delicious juicy, intense, meaty fruis are balanced by hints of bloody spice and a rich chocolate finish.
2007 Monte de Grazia Rosso, Campania, Italy
Incredibly interesting winery but then, at a tasting with these two, I would not expect anything less.
Monte de Grazia work their very old, ungrafted vineyards completely organically. These are still planted in the tendone shape, on pergolas. A very traditional method, this has largely been abandoned by most forward thinking producers as being old fashioned and not as good for the vine.
The fact that some of their vineyards survived phylloxera would tend to utterly discredit that argument!
Dr Alfonso Arpino, the owner, farms a mere 2.7 hectares and makes only 3 wines.
This is his blend of Tintore di Tramonte and Pedirosso, the former from 125 year old vines. These are two very local varieties mainly used in blends. The Tintore is one of those rare red grapes that actually has coloured juice (instead of all the colour being in the skin), but despite this, its popularity is declining. It is believed that the Campania region used to have over 400 grape varieties but that they are now down to a mere 40.
This is not a good situation and so for reasons of conservation, we urge you to support the good doctor. Gladly, this won’t be a totally selfless act as the wine is completely delicious as well. Sappy, bright fruit that is a strange mixture of white peach, raisons and aromatic blossom. It has that thing that so many of the wines I love from southern Italy have; that unique blend of something of the sun in a body which is all about invigorating, gossamer elegance.
I still often xpect these southerners to have a rough and ready, rich rusticity but in all my favourites, nothing could be further from the truth.
Fabulous wine. We can’t wait to stock it.
2008 Panevino Tankadeddu Rosso, Sardinia, Italy
And just when I thought, despite colds and drama, it couldn’t get any better, Doug had saved the best for last.
This extraordinary wine is made by a baker who is apparently very inspired by both Bob Dylan and Jesus and is constantly quoting one or other of them. He bought a bakery (he was already a baker – this wasn’t some mad, hippy whim) that had some very old vines attached to it and before he knew it, was making both bread and wine.
How very biblical.
He has always been passionate about baking and felt that this same passion for transforming yeast and flour into bread translated seamlessly into making grapes into wine. He is also a passionate naturalist, with an apparently deep aversion to any artificial chemicals, being very allergic to S02.
This then is as natural as they come- unfined and unfiltered it splashes thickly into the glasses where the colour is a dusky garnet.
The life affirming properties of this leap out and even my sickly senses can’t fail to pick up the intense perfume. Sweet red fruit, orange blossom and zest, cardamom and cloves. It vibrates with vitality and this intensity on the nose is there on the palate as well, soft and plump with a bracing edge.
Apparently, he believes that bread and wine is life. I would tend to completely agree, particularly when the wine is this good. Truly, a drink to banish care and colds and so far, my wine of the year.
Tasting over, plate after plate of extraordinary food starts to appear. Lardo di Colonnata from Tuscany (paper thin slices of, well Lard. Jude looks at it longingly but acknowledges that if he touches any, I will probably die of a heart attack); Fromage de Tête with Sauce Gribishe, Duck Rillettes and for me, Smoked Cods Roe with pickled cucumber and soft boiled egg (SUCH a good combination) and dressed Dorset crab on toast.
Isn’t it a beautiful thing, how a table laden with great food and wine can make even the most depressing events seem eminently manageable? I have to leave before dessert but not before I get a chance to taste a fabulous Greek dessert wine that also instantly makes it onto our spring/summer list. Watch this space.