Tag Archives: Burgundy

A Year in Wine

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As this is my last Bristol Wine Blog of 2016,  I thought I’d like to share some highlights of a very busy year with you.

Back in the spring, on a trip to Burgundy, I got first-hand experience of what biodynamic winemaking really means:

18 Ch de Monthelie manure extraction
Here, a group from the local village are retrieving manure from cow horns. The manure is packed into the horns in the autumn and buried all winter. It is then recovered in the spring, mixed with water and spread in the vineyard to promote growth. Surprisingly, the manure smelt quite sweet – not at all what I was expecting.

Then, in the height of summer, a wonderful visit to the Rhine and Mosel. As often as I had read of the exceptional steepness of the vineyards there, it isn’t until you see them first hand that you really realise what is meant by hillside vineyards:

DSCN1357But this visit was also memorable for the extraordinary warmth shown to us by the locals the day after the result of the British vote to leave the European Union was announced.

A September visit to Lugano in Switzerland just happened to coincide with the local wine fair! I really didn’t know this in advance – honestly!!

2016-09-10-18-14-32But I took advantage of the opportunity to taste a few bottles that I’ve never seen in Britain.  I’m not convinced that White Merlot – one of the local specialities – has much of a future beyond the region!

Perhaps the best wines I tasted during the year were at the dinner organised by Great Western Wine at Bath’s Allium Restaurant to mark the 40th Anniversary of the so-called ‘Judgement of Paris’.  This was the blind tasting held in 1976 at which a group of French wine experts preferred a  selection of top Californian wines to those from Burgundy and Bordeaux.

judgement-dinnerSadly, despite this result and even 40 years on, there are still some who think that only France can make top quality wines.

And then, as the leaves fell to mark autumn, a superb overnight stay at Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire. A delightful walk up through the vines from our room followed by breakfast looking out over this view. Could anything be more perfect?

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So now, as 2016 comes to an end, all that remains is to thank you for your continuing support and wish you a very happy and peaceful New Year.

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Wine from cows’ horns?

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In my previous Bristol Wine Blog, I reviewed a marvellous trip to the vineyards of Burgundy organised by Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours and hosted by Steven Spurrier. I mentioned that all the properties we visited had something in common and I asked for suggestions about what it was. The picture I posted at the foot of the Blog teased you with a clue:

18 Ch de Monthelie manure extraction

It didn’t take long for a regular reader, ‘d d b’ of Wellington, New Zealand, to reply correctly: Biodynamics. Congratulations! And to anyone else who knew but didn’t reply.

Biodynamics is a specialist form of organic growing in which the farm (it’s not just vineyards that work biodynamically) should be self-sustaining, it should use only natural or plant-based preparations on the soil with a view to strengthening the crop’s own defences against disease or adverse weather and finally that planting, pruning, ploughing and harvesting should all be done with regard to the lunar cycle.

So, what was going in the picture? One of the preparations used involves filling cow horns with manure each autumn and burying them until the spring when they are dug up and the manure extracted ready for use. We just happened to turn up at Château de Monthelie just in time to witness this group of people knocking the manure out of the horns. It was then mixed with water and stirred ready to be sprayed onto the vineyard.

If you think all this sounds rather ‘wacky’, I’m not surprised! Yet, in many tastings over a number of years, I’ve found that the wines I’ve given top marks have often been produced in this way. For some reason, biodynamic wines seem to have more character – and in different ways, too; sometimes they are more intense or fruitier, at other times they have purer, cleaner flavours. Whatever the difference, it is remarkable how often they seem to stand out from other wines – even those grown organically but without the ‘extras’.

Whether this is due to the cow-horn manure or working with the phases of the moon – or whether it’s simply the grower working more with nature and getting to know their own vines better, I can’t say. It’s just that for me, the proof is in the glass. Why not try for yourself?

Love Chablis, Hate Chardonnay!

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Chablis“Love Chablis; hate Chardonnay”. How many times have I heard that said – or, indeed, the reverse? It’s a comment that needs to be answered carefully because, as many Bristol Wine Blog readers will know, all wines from the Burgundy district of Chablis and claiming that designation must be made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. But it’s clear from the statement that many people buying wine don’t know that.

And, in a way, their comment is understandable. Chablis is a very particular expression of Chardonnay, a grape which makes wines that vary enormously in flavour depending on where it’s grown and what happens to it in the winery.

So, in a coolish climate, Chardonnay produces wines such as the Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis which we enjoyed with a friend recently – clean, fresh and minerally with attractive green apple flavours – whereas in the hottest parts of California or Australia, the much riper grapes give much fuller, richer, more alcoholic wines tasting of tropical fruits, pineapple and the like.

And winemakers love working with Chardonnay as it is a good base on which they can impose their individual style and preferences, especially when it comes to using – or not using – oak. Fermenting or maturing wine in oak barrels, particularly if the barrels are new, adds a completely different dimension to the wine with spicy, nutty flavours either overlaying or replacing the natural flavours of the fruit.

As a result, someone liking the delightfully refreshing 12% alcohol Chablis mentioned above might not appreciate a wine like the rich, creamy Saintsbury Chardonnay from Carneros in California (Majestic, £13.99 if you buy 2 bottles) with its subtle toasty oak character and the full flavour and weight that comes from a warmer climate and 13.5% alcohol. For me, both are good, yet, there is nothing that obviously says that they both come from the same grape variety.

Given that, I can understand why some people can say they love Chablis, but hate Chardonnay – but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with as a Wine Educator when faced with the comment!