A Bouquet of Tibouren Rosés

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Tibouren is regarded by many in Provence as the traditional variety for making rosé, unique to the area. Tibouren is a pale-skinned grape, suited to making rosé, as it allows for fuller fruity character to be developed without extracting lots of colour. An early ripening variety, it seems to do best in sunnier sites, usually the hotter coastal regions which also benefit from damper maritime winds. Plantings have never been extensive (currently around 450ha), as it is regarded as slightly temperamental, with susceptibility to coulure (poor fruit-set after flowering), and irregular yields. Most Tibouren is from old vines. DNA analysis suggests a close connection with the equally rare Rossese which makes red wine in Dolceacqua, just over the border from Nice in western Liguria, Italy. Continue reading

10 Exciting White Wines at Vinisud 2016

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Last week I was at Vinisud 2016 – the three day exhibition in Montpellier focusing on wines of the Mediterranean.

This is a vast fair, making it impossible to taste all the wines I wanted. Many gems I wanted to taste and never reached – but here are 10 whites which stood out. In some cases, a producer had different white wines or appellations which were also excellent – but I have restricted the choice to one from each domaine and from each appellation.

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Vinisud 2016 – The Mediterranean Wine Trade Fair

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From 15-17 February 2016, the city of Montpellier hosted the 12th bi-annual trade fair Vinisud, dedicated to wines of the Mediterranean. The hashtag #Vinisud2016 was successfully used on Twitter to generate comment and business.

I will be writing more about the exhibition and wines in a future post, but for now, here is my review of the event published in Harpers.

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A second article on the Vinisud fair is now available in Harpers, but for subscribers only.

Harpers 2nd article

Rediscovering Forgotten Grapes

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At the recent Wine Mosaic conference, one of the facts that shocked participants most of all was the fact that the majority of wine is made with only a small percentage of the grape varieties available to us. 70% of French wine production comes from only 30% of the varieties grown, and this pattern is repeated globally.

6th century AD grape vine mosaic with Armenian inspcription in chapel of St. Polyeuctos, Jerusalem

6th century AD grape vine mosaic with Armenian inscription in chapel of St. Polyeuctos, Jerusalem

Less-used and lost varieties are important for several reasons. They enlarge the biodiversity of plants available, have been established for centuries and have adapted to different climates and regions and therefore have a unique taste of the terroir, and this combination of plant variation and different terroir enriches the range of wine tastes and styles available and reflects the different cultural tastes as well as maybe giving us a glimpse of tastes from the past. Continue reading

The Six Vineyards of St Antonin du Var

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st antonin postcardWine writers and wine buyers so often only see a region briefly when visiting a specific vineyard, two or three vineyards in a region, sometimes a local restaurant. Invariably we see small snapshots of an area, out of context of its history, people and dynamics.

For thirty years I have toured the vineyards of the Var. In the beginning there was a greater sense of adventure as vineyards were often reached down windy country lanes, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In other places the little villages we drove through tempted us with cafés and village bistros. The roads have slowly been straightened and widened, avoiding many of the villages with by-passes. Provence has speeded up.

Sometimes serendipity plays an important role. Last week, at short notice, I planned a weekend in the central Var. Everywhere was full, but I managed to find a cancellation for the weekend in the small village of St Antonin du Var. Continue reading

What’s New at Château de Bellet

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New vineyards at Château de Bellet

New vineyards at Château de Bellet

At the beginning of June I happened to go to Château de Bellet to collect some wine for a tasting I was giving in Monaco.

This was the first time I had been to the new cellar, driving through an impressive new gateway and past rows of newly planted vines.

Amidst fears that the appellation of Bellet would slowly disappear under the threat of new suburban villas, seeing new vineyards is very encouraging. How many hectares, and which varieties (possibly Rolle) has not yet been announced. Château de Bellet’s premium wine La Chapelle sells out quickly, so more wines from this estate is always good.

Changing coloured lights around the display stands  in the Chapel de Bellet

Changing coloured lights around the display stands in the Chapel de Bellet

The scene was a hive of activity – with only two days to go before the opening of the new cellar and tasting room there were carpenters, painters and electricians tying up loose ends.

To be honest, I am not sure I really liked the ultra-modern displays in the very beautiful 19th century gothic chapel, but its location, in the middle of the vineyards with a spectacular view of the city of Nice and the Mediterranean, will hopefully encourage more people to visit the Château de Bellet as well as the other large domaines of Bellet, Chateau de Crémat and Domaine Toasc to taste and buy the wine of this very small appellation. Other smaller domaines are open for tasting by appointment. See here for contact details.

Sadly I was unable to go to the opening event as it clashed with my giving a tasting of Bellet wines, but Chrissie McClatchie, of Riviera Grapevine, did go and wrote about the opening ceremony, which you can read about on my Bellet website.

Rosé Wines from Central Europe

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This June I drove from home (near Nice) to Hungary to take part in the VinAgora Wine Competition.

With only a few days free before the start of the competition, I drove across northern Italy, to Slovenia, staying for a couple of days outside Ljubljana, before driving east, taking a very short short-cut across northern Croatia into Hungary and up to Budapest.

After the VinAgora competition, I drove from Budapest, north west, briefly across Slovakia to stay a few days in Moravia in the Czech Republic, then south west to Vienna, south through Styria to north east Italy and back home.

During the trip I had a few opportunities to taste local rosé wines, appreciating the diversity of this growing wine style. As there have been no organised tastings of rosé wines from these countries, this summary is based on the few I have tasted and is by no means exhaustive. Despite the popularity of rosé, few rosé wines featured on wine lists in bars and restaurants, so I sometimes had to ask if rosé was available.

The rosés tended to be darker than those of the almost white-shell-pink Provence. Blaufränkisch/Kékfrankos was the most commonly used grape, featuring in twelve out of thirty wines. Zweigelt, which is included in five of the following rosés, is a cross, created at Klosterneuburg (see Austria below) between St Laurent x Blaufränkisch. Most of the rosés were fruity (generally red fruits) and with high acidity. Many also had a delicate tannic presence which, combined with the acidity, appears to give these rosés a degree of longevity; note the vintage dates of those tasted – the oldest being 2012. The majority of rosés tasted were 12% alcohol or under. Continue reading

Rosé Wines from Liguria

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Cantine Bregante vineyards up in the hills overlooking the sea

Cantine Bregante vineyards up in the hills overlooking the sea

The wine region of Liguria is beautiful, with rocky hillside vineyards, overlooking the sea as well as higher up in the valleys.

What makes it so attractive to the casual visitor, does make it more difficult to explore – and interesting – for the wine lover. Small narrow roads meander up amongst the vineyards, the length of the region from the French border to Tuscany, discouraging access for the faint-hearted.

The large number of grape varieties unique to Liguria can be confusing, but research, visiting and tasting in such a picturesque region is worthwhile.

IMG_5134At Ligurian food & wine festival Mare&Mosto in Sestri Levante, I was able to try a large number of wines and talk to producers, and discover more about the growing number of rosé wines (rosati) produced in response to growing popularity.

Many of the rosati are more akin to a light red wine, with a touch of dry tannins on the structure and finish, making them more suitable to accompany a meal than for light easy drinking. The best examples had good ripe fruit which balanced this slightly tannic finish.

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Premium Rosé Tasting #poshpinks15

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For the 3rd year running, Richard Bampfield MW and  Jean Christophe Mau of Chateau Brown from Bordeaux, have held a tasting of premium rosés (£15 and over)  in London. My tasting results of my top 18 will appear in the September 2015 edition of Decanter’s Expert Choice (out 5 August 2015).

Most tastings have a national or regional focus and it is rare to have the chance to see how a wine style compares to the international competition.These tastings have caught the UK wine trade’s imagination with a growing number of journalists covering the event. The UK trade magazine Drinks Business published their own tasting results for the  2013 and 2014  tastings.

IMG_4976This year, the tasting was held at The Atlas pub in Fulham, there was a line up of 36 premium rosés from around the world ranging £12 to £100 per bottle.  The growing importance of this tasting was maybe reflected by those who came (by invitation only). While I was there the other MWs were: Jancis Robinson MW, Mark Bingley MW, Nancy Gilchrist MW, Rosemary George MW and Matthew Stubbs MW. Journalists included Victoria Moore (The Telegraph), Joanna SimonJoe Wadsack and Will Lyons. There were also a large number of MW students desperately keen to understand something about rosé.

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The 2014 rosés of Coteaux Varois-en-Provence

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The tasting table for 2014 rosés

The tasting table for Coteaux Varois 2014 rosés

At the annual Coteaux Varois tasting (13 April 2015), set in the beautiful gardens of a former monastery, at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the Abbaye de la Celle in Brignoles, and next door to the Maison des Vins de Coteaux Varois, 45 local domaines had their stands set out showing their wines.

The 2014 rosés were presented at a central table, showing the importance of rosé wine to the Coteaux Varois-en-Provence (to give the appellation its official title).

This is one of the most beautiful, and enjoyable tastings that I attend during the year – Coteaux Varois excel in presenting their wines in style, often with a coloured theme. In past years there has been a floral colour theme of pink, purple and green used in the ice bags and for their 20th anniversary it was white, silver grey and golden yellow. This year it was all white and looked very pretty in the bright sunshine with fresh late spring greenery.

Sunhats and parasols in the afternoon sun

Sunhats and parasols in the afternoon sun

This very elegant style gives a garden party atmosphere, further emphasised by the delicious canapés from the Ducasse restaurant. This year a more substantial lunch was also served on the terrace, away from the tasting area which prevented too big a distraction.

Most importantly of all, despite the fact that Coteaux Varois often appears to be in the shadow of the larger Cotes de Provence, it includes a very good range of wines and some interesting surprises.

I tasted 53 rosé wines, from 45 domaines (in some cases several rosés from one estate). As the appellation includes 75 private domains and 10 cooperatives, this tasting included around half of all Coteaux Varois rosés.

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