Counting Sheep – or Wine?

Counting sheep

There’s a theory that counting sheep may help you fall asleep – the idea being, I assume, that the boredom of the whole process gradually lulls you. My wife, Hilary, recently suggested an alternative that might appeal to wine lovers: naming the Crus of Beaujolais! These are the 10 best villages that are allowed to use their own names on the wine label, rather than the generic ‘Beaujolais’. Their status ranks above both ordinary Beaujolais (which includes Beaujolais Nouveau) and Beaujolais-Villages, which, confusingly, relates to wine produced in a group of villages outside the top 10 rather than in these particular villages.

Despite all red Beaujolais being made from the same grape variety, Gamay, the landscape of the region is quite diverse so, as a result, the wines from each of the named villages have their own identity.

Starting in the south, Brouilly is the largest of the Crus and its land entirely surrounds the extinct volcano, Mont Brouilly on whose slopes are found another Cru, Côte de Brouilly which produces more concentrated wines. Régnié, the newest of the Crus to be promoted, has mainly sandy soils leading to soft, early-drinking wines.

To the east, Morgon is very different: many wines from here will age quite well and develop almost Burgundy-like flavours and aromas. Chiroubles has the highest vineyards in the region and produces light, delicate wines while neighbouring Fleurie, probably the best known of the Crus, lives up to its name with floral, charming wines.

Moulin-a-Vent is another village producing more robust, longer-lived styles, while the vineyard area of Chénas, already the smallest of the Crus, is gradually shrinking and I wonder how long it will retain its independence. Juliénas produces stylish wines of real character and then there’s the most northerly Cru of all, Saint-Amour: light wines which, because of their name, have a particular appeal on romantic occasions!

All can be delicious and are rarely expensive but would trying to remember the names help you fall asleep? Or would they, perhaps, encourage you to wake your partner to share a bottle?

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Wine and Sharing

May I begin by wishing all my readers a Happy and Peaceful New Year and, in this, my first Bristol Wine Blog of 2019, I’d like to share with you a brief summary of some of the delicious wines my wife and I enjoyed over the holiday period. 

Greek pair 

Many were old favourites including 2 Greek wines I’ve mentioned before in this Blog: Domaine Sigalas’ Assyrtiko/Athiri blend from Santorini (£20.40) is wonderfully rich and mouth-filling yet still crisp and citrusy and with a clean, long, long finish – undoubtedly one of our favourite whites – while the lovely fresh and elegant, black-fruited Alpha Estate ‘Turtles’ Syrah from the northern, Florina, region (£16.70) fills a similar place for us among the reds.  Both are available on-line from Greek Specialist, Maltby & Greek.

Pieropan Calvarino

I’ve also praised Pieropan’s range of Soaves previously but this was the first time I’d tasted their single vineyard, Calvarino, bottling (Wine Society, £18).  Less full-bodied than their superb ‘La Rocca’, this is still light years away from any standard Soave.  Quite restrained but with an attractive herbiness and, again, a seriously long finish.

Borthwick PG 

A new name to me is the New Zealand producer, Paddy Borthwick.  His Pinot Gris (Grape and Grind, £14.50) is just off-dry and with attractive tropical fruit flavours; definitely a grower to look out for.

Moulin a Vent

And finally, for lovers of reds, a stand-out Beaujolais: not in the light and quaffable style but much deeper and more intense.  Louis Boillot’s Moulin-a-Vent (Wine Society, £15.50) could easily be mistaken for a good village Burgundy – quite savoury and with earthy black fruit flavours; very much a food wine and one to be savoured.

So, in welcoming the New Year, I’d like to think that wine and sharing might help the world become a calmer and more tolerant place in 2019 than it seems to have been of late.

Breaking the Rules

When buying a bottle of French wine, the first thing many of us look for are the words ‘Appellation Contrôlée’ (AC) on the label.  And with good reason.  The AC tells us which part of France the wine comes from and, frequently, what sort of wine to expect when the bottle is opened.  However, contrary to the commonly held view, it doesn’t guarantee quality – only that the wine is typical of the AC claimed. 

But, perhaps surprisingly, less than half of all French wine falls into the AC category.  Another quarter is classified Indication Géographique Protegée (IGP), the new name for Vin de Pays (Country wines) – a source of many attractive, well-priced, easy-drinking bottles.  Of the rest, some is distilled into brandies (or industrial alcohol!) leaving just 10% in the category which used to be known as Vin de Table (Table wine), which, since 2010, has been renamed Vin de France.

Under the Vins de Table label, you used to find nothing but the cheapest, most basic wines and discerning wine lovers sensibly avoided them.   But, it seems, it’s not just the name that has changed with Vin de France.  Looking through the catalogue of the highly respected Bristol-based wine merchant, Vine Trail, you’ll find a number of Vins de France – and at some lofty prices.  So, what is going on? 

There’s a small band of dedicated independent-minded producers who don’t choose to play by the rules.  They are making high quality wines but prefer to experiment with styles that are rejected for the AC as they aren’t recognised as ‘typical’ by the vetting panel.  But, these people are confident in their own ability and are happy that their wines are sold as Vins de France instead.

We opened one recently:

Balmet 1Jerome Balmet has his vineyard in Beaujolais and grows Gamay, the Beaujolais grape.  But his wine is nothing like any Beaujolais I’ve ever tasted.  Initially full of vibrant bitter cherry flavours, it develops fig and prune flavours in the glass and, by the end of the evening, had taken on a savoury, meaty character.  Really distinctive and very enjoyable (Vine Trail, £16.36). 

And, although you still need to treat some bottles in the Vin de France category with caution, wines such as this are a great recommendation and a fascinating way to try something different.

Wine For Summer

The temperature touched 30˚C (86˚F) in Bristol last week – a reminder that summer is here – something that’s often quite easy to forget in our climate!  And, for my wife and me, summer means a different style of eating: salads, yes, but also lighter, fresher dishes that are easier to digest.  And, of course, the wines to match.

I’ve often said in this Blog that food and wine should be equal partners with neither dominating the other.  So, with lighter dishes, I look for lighter wines.  Not necessarily lighter in colour (although whites and rosés do often go better with summer dishes than reds), but lighter in body.  Chunkier styles – and that usually means higher alcohol bottles – stay on the shelf in favour of more delicate wines, those with plenty of fruit and good acidity.

Many whites fall into this lighter category – the main exception being those which are strongly oaked – as do almost all rosés; if you’re not usually a rosé fan, try one gently chilled on a warm summer’s day, especially something from a good producer in the south of France – I’d be surprised if you’re not convinced.

Reds can be a bit more of a problem; many are quite high in alcohol these days and, when you add in oak ageing and significant tannins (both features of many of the best reds), they’re not that well-suited to warm weather.  But choose carefully – look for something refreshing, a wine that can be chilled lightly without ruining it – and the picture looks very different.  Try a Loire red, or one from Germany or Austria, a Valpolicella (avoiding the ultra-cheap examples) or, perhaps most reliable of all, a Beaujolais from one of the 10 named villages or Crus*.

From this last group, we found that Henry Fessy’s Brouilly (Waitrose, £12.99) fitted the bill nicely. 

BrouillyDelicious, clean, refreshing cherry fruit with attractive hints of bitterness, quite light in the mouth (12.5%) and really lively and welcoming after a half hour in the fridge.  Just perfect for a warm summer day – but that was last week; what a shame it’s back to sweater weather today!

*(The 10 Beaujolais Crus are: Brouilly, Côtes de Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour).