Inspiring Wines from South West France!

MAISON VENTENAC

Well, after 23 years writing mostly about Spanish wine, I have to admit that it was a total, though most welcome surprise to be acknowledged by the French, by having a wine named after me! Merci beaucoup, mes amis!

L’idiot, is a red wine from near Narbonne, South West France, made with Merlot, despite the comment of one of the main protagonists of the film, Sideways (referred to on the labels with appropriately placed asterisks!). In fact, the name of the wine actually refers to the character who makes the, less than pleasant, comment, about Merlot, one of the great grape varieties of France, and not about me at all! Not sure if this is a let down or a comfort!

There’s a hint of rebellion about the naming of the wine, as well as its making too. Maison Ventenac (http://maisonventenac.fr/en) goes further though, the whole range of several of their wines are known collectively as Les Dissidents, and this makes them all the more attractive for me! The gloves are off, along with the blinkers – these wines don’t conform to the norms of the area, or to those of much of France in general. Most of us love a rascal. I know that when I was teaching I usually got on best with the likeable rogues. I’d like to meet this rebellious team one day, Stéphanie and Olivier Ramé – in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy their wines!

This really tasty, almost succulent wine is fermented in concrete tanks, using natural wild yeasts growing in the vineyard without the addition of sulphites. The cap that forms at the top of the tank, made from the Merlot skins is punched down in the first few days and the juice/wine underneath is pumped over the skins to ensure good extraction of colour, tannins and flavour in the finished product.

After fermentation there is a further maceration with the skins for ten days, followed by malolactic fermentation and three months ageing in concrete. When ready, the wine is then bottled with a light filtration.

A juicy, fruity wine with a little eucalyptus on the nose joining the blackberry and light plum fruit. Its slight ageing gives it some presence on the palate – if drinking this wine without any knowledge of it, it would pause conversation a moment or two as you reflect on it, wondering what it is and where from, rather like a song or a piece of music can stop you in your tracks.

When tasting three of Le Dissident range, I actually started with their Chardonnay, Carole. Again, I liked the seemingly self-critical, risqué opener on the label – ‘Another Chardonnay! Yes, but this one is different.’ I liked the wine as well, for exactly that reason.

The vineyards aren’t far from the Mediterranean and there’s a faint, and pleasant salinity to this fresh, citrus fruit wine, which also has a slight reference to some more exotic fruit, though understated, with a little minerality too. I really liked it – way different from the wonderful Burgundy whites, made of course, with the same variety.

And again, on the label, these likeable rogues have pointed out that some have asked why add some Gros Manseng grapes to the Chardonnay – their answer, simply – ‘Why not?’

Both varieties were harvested at night and then fermented in large, 300 hectolitres, stainless steel tanks, using carbonic maceration for a super-fruit finish. Good wine!

Finally, Le Paria 2019 is made with Grenache, in years gone by the workhorse of both French and Spanish vineyards but these days, being elevated to far higher things, simply by having some respect for a much abused variety. It’s a little lighter in colour, but don’t let that make you think it’s an inconsequential wine – it’s not!

And it’s certainly not the social outcast that the name suggests – this is no pariah, it deserves a place in your cellar for sure! It’s made in a similar way to L’idiot above and comes out as a lovely dark red fruit flavoured wine with presence too.

Really good winemaking at Maison Ventenac, resulting in super wines! I’m definitely in the market to taste their other offerings too!

PS My next radio programme is on Saturday 4th April 12:00 – 13:00 hrs (Spanish Time) – great music, wine chat and some surprises too!

www.valleyfm.es Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harknesswww.colinharknessonwine.comcolin@colinharknessonwine.com

Paso Primero

A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME!

A wren, as a matter of fact! The rather cute emblem of Bodegas Paso-Primero which features on their labels giving a visual clue as to how the name was derived, as well as a sizable hint as the laudable philosophy of this new winery DO Somontano, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Let’s deal with the name first. Paso Primero translates to First Step, indeed the label of their first wines makes this clear as our friend the wren is on the bottom rung of a ladder, looking upwards. Why? Read on!

For me it’s refreshing to hear a British twist on a Spanish winemaking story that I’ve mentioned several times in Cork Talk. I’m not alone in saying that the Spanish wine scene is one of the most dynamic in the  world – Sara Jane Evans MW writes the same thing in her book, ‘The Wines of Northern Spain’, my review archived here (https://www.colinharknessonwine.com/?s=sarah+jane+evans).

There are many young Spanish winemakers, who, with one foot in the traditional winemaking of generations of their family, have stepped with the other, firstly though the doors of higher education at dedicated wine making colleges and/or have taken university degrees in Oenology; and thence into the winemaking of other countries, sometimes including journeying to the southern hemisphere too.

The result is a really comprehensive knowledge of how wine is made, from so many different perspectives, including that of their father, and, in true Monty Python style, that of their Father’s Fathers and so on! Well, our British winemakers, Tom and Emma Holt, once co-workers in Tanners famous wine merchants in Shrewsbury, UK, have, sort of, done the same! Their passion for wine started whilst in the retail trade, took them to Plumpton College, the UK seat of higher wine education which is developing an enviable reputation in the wine world, and then on their travels to New Zealand and Canada to make wine, of course.

Keen on making wine in what was once invariably referred to as ‘the Old World’, in wine terms at least, they finally settled on the idea of making wine here in Spain. To be specific in DO Somontano, where they joined forces in a collaborative project with *Batan de Salas. Paso-Primero was born (www.paso-primero.com). It’s good to hear of such Spanish/British entente cordial (the more so in these difficult times!) – each winery, working within the same buildings, using the same vineyards and equipment, has its own identity, yet each ‘partner’ contributes to the other’s winemaking.   

Their artistically labelled (www.lynevansdesigns.co.uk), Paso-Prima Chardonnay, the first of three wines sent for me to taste on behalf of Cork Talk readers, gives us a heads-up re the philosophy of Paso-Primero. 25% of the profit from the sale of this wine will be donated to the British Trust for Ornithology (www.bto.org), which is wholly compatible with Tom and Emma’s insistence on their project being sustainable, Responsible winemaking, and some!

I spent time thinking about the title of this week’s column – toying with, ‘It’s Chardonnay, Jim, but not as we know it!’ inspired, claro, by my impressions of this, the first wine of the triumvirate, and hoping to add some Trekkies to my weekly readers!

I’m not sure I would have picked this out as a Chardonnay at a blind tasting, and that’s a compliment, not the reverse! I guess a lot of one’s perception of Chardonnay depends upon which generation one belongs to? Baby Boomers like myself (yes, I know, I look a lot younger!) may remember, with splinters, the over oaked, well, disasters, of the 80s, floating on a log raft from Australia and California. Generation X may remember some occasionally too austere examples, made in an effort to redress the balance. And Millennials will hopefully remember Chardonnays where the majority of winemakers got it right!

Perhaps Tom and Emma’s Spanish Chardonnay will be quoted as exemplary by the current Generation Z (who invents this stuff?) in future such discussions? Too high a praise? Well, probably, but it’s certainly a lovely wine, with some fresh citrus notes, a combination of browning and already brown Autumn leaves on the nose and subtle tropical fruit, mango for me, on the palate.

30ºC temperatures are not conducive to tasting red wines with a 15% and 15·5% abv, respectively! However if you chill down Paso-Primero 2018 and its older sister, Paso-Prima 2017 during such hot weather you’ll be surprised how effective it can be! I really enjoyed them both!

Made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo, this wine reflects the best that was possible for the 2018 vintage – again wholly in line with the bodega’s philosophy. Their website explains all – ‘ . . . each vintage being a completely unique snapshot of history. Wine should be a wonderful combination of a sense of place and sense of time . .’ They don’t promise that the following vintage will have the same blend, there won’t be a constant style for this wine, it will depend on the grapes harvested following the year’s growing conditions, which is just right in my book!

A touch of vanilla on the nose, combines with good fruit, though difficult to determine exactly which are the dark berries that come through, plus a pleasing autumnal aroma of browning leaves and already fallen leaves. On the palate the fruit finishes nicely with a little liquorice at the end. UK price under 9 pounds, Spain under 10€ – very good value!  

The Paso-Prima 2017 Vino Artístico is made with Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon and has an aroma of well done wholemeal toast with a touch of black pepper, blending perfectly with brambly blackberry fruit (I’ve just tasted a large juicy blackberry then the wine!). It’s a 6€ or so step up in price, though certainly worth it. Ripe sweet tannins and some acidity will ensure a few more years of fine drinking.

*www.batandesalas.com – watch this space!

colin@colinharknessonwine.com  https://youtu.be/8qyhmj4hnqu

Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness www.colinharknessonwine.com

JAMMY GIT!

If you knew my brother you’d guess this was going to be about him! He’s led a charmed life, has ‘our Al’, but no, this is actually about a lucky find, here in the south of England, where, as I write, we are still enjoying our time in delightful Dorset!

The wines of Bordeaux, using a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc became very popular in England when Henry Plantagenet married Eleanor d’Aquitaine in the 12th Century. Apart from the lengthy setback of the 100 Years War (which lasted from 1337 – 1453[?], you do the maths!) between France and England, the British have enjoyed a long, tasty and lucrative association with probably the world’s most famous wine region.

Centuries later, you can imagine the delight on the faces of the BinTwo Team (www.bintwo.com), of Padstow, Cornwall, who, whilst visiting nearby Knightor Winery (www.knightor.com), stumbled upon some wines at different stages of development, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, here in the UK!

BinTwo is an independent wine merchant and coffee shop, overlooking Padstow harbour, and somehow I have to engineer an opportunity to pay them a visit – it looks fantastic!

As you’ve seen from the photo atop this article, the name of the wine made in Cornwall, but from grapes grown in huge greenhouses in Gloucestershire, is eponymous and, when you’ve tasted the wine, perhaps apt as well! I was of course very pleased to receive a sample bottle which we tasted in the sunshine, not for the first time commenting on climate change and how there were at least some benefits to the rather worrying global warming scenario.

BinTwo stocks well chosen, famous wines as well as their own label wines – Jammy Git – they’ll vary in aroma and taste profiles, of course, but they all have one thing in common, they are chosen for their quality as perceived by the Team. In fact this wine is Jammy Git II, the first Jammy Git, was a Bordeaux blend made in Bordeaux, with adjustments from the Team.

Jammy Git 1 sold out and when they came across a Bordeaux type blend in their home county, well, they couldn’t resist the opportunity to make another, with a British twist.

The wine is actually made from three different vintages. It’s an unusual idea these days, though regular Cork Talk readers will know of one or two wineries in Spain who are doing similarly. Plus, of course, such alchemy is used to rather good effect in Champagne!

In this case it’s a quite complex operation – there’s not only the blending of the different vintages to be considered, but also the actual grape variety blend. After several sessions the winning formula was: 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, coming from 42% of the 2018 vintage, which had a good fruit delivery, though lacking body; 40% of the 2017 which had the structure but was a touch thin; and finally just 18% of the 2016 vintage which had spent some time in French oak, therefore adding depth and complexity to the finished product.

Jammy Git II is a lightly coloured red wine, looking at first a little like a Pinot Noir. The colour is a pointer to the style too – it’s a light to medium bodied red, quite fresh on the palate, despite its barrel ageing. I couldn’t resist it when it arrived so tried it first only a few hours after its journey.

Whilst I agree that it does sound a bit precious, wines are best left a while, 24 hours really, before they are consumed if they’ve travelled a distance. This even applies after the trip home from the wine shop, though in that instance just a few hours will suffice. (NB there’s currently some debate about this ‘travel shock’ notion, in fact initiated by Mike of Bin Two – shows how on the ball the are! I usually let the wine rest, no matter what the scientists say, to be on the safe side.)

That first tasting revealed a shy wine, not really deserving of being called jammy, in the sense of an obvious ripe fruit presence. However, the day after, when the bottle had been retrieved from the cellar, it had opened up quite nicely. Apart from a pleasant, slight menthol, wood and wine aroma it was still reluctant to give much on the nose, but it was on the palate where the wine started to shine.

Brambly fruit, a little earthiness with ongoing minty notes – I wonder how Jammy Git II would have compared with those lightly coloured clarets that Henry II and his Queen of Aquitaine so enjoyed.

www.colinharknessonwine.com  Facebook Colin Harkness

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New Wave Rioja!

MEETING MERLOT

In August 2011, whilst serving on my first Spanish Wine Judging Panel (Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas Cata/Concurso), I was fortunate to meet and chat with one of the legends in this country’s winemaking fraternity, Antonio Palacios, no less, and his daughter Bárbera, herself a bourgeoning winemaker.

A few days later, I also met Merlot!

My article, following this meeting, archived here (https://www.colinharknessonwine.com/first-published-in-costa-news-sl-september-2011/) may make useful reading as background to today’s missive. You see, in a manner of speaking, Merlot has spawned a Puppi!

When I met her nearly eight years ago, Bárbara Palacios Lopez-Montenegro, had just made her first, personal, commercial wine. As you’ll read above (go on, it’s one of my favourite articles!) that wine, still being crafted today, is called Barbarot – a combination of Bárbera’s name and that of her gorgeous Golden Retriever, Merlot.

Barbarot, then as now, goes under the auspices of DOCa Rioja. Termed simply, a Cosecha wine, Bárbara wasn’t keen on following the Rioja recipe and making a Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva wine, where minimum lengths of time in oak are prescribed according to the style required. Eschewing the use of such handcuffs, Bárbara’s illustrious, yet charming and down to earth father, Antonio, described her wine as being a Vino d’Autor. In other words a wine, made according to how the enologo (winemaker), wants to make it.

Recently my esteemed colleague, Tim Atkin MW, visited Rioja to make an assessment of the famous area’s wines as they are right now. He made sure that he spent some time with Bárbara and, as can be seen on her Facebook page, she’s delighted with Tim’s marks and comments – for both her established wine Barbarot, and for Puppi Barbarot, the new puppy on the block!

In 1994 Bárbara’s famous father applied to the Rioja Consejo Regulador for permission to plant some experimental Merlot – a variety not normally permitted in DOCa Rioja. They’d hardly turn down a request from such a famous family, so Merlot was indeed planted. The site of the planting was crucial. Antonio Palacio had studied the soils of two vineyards that he owned and on analysis had determined that they were similar to those in Bordeaux – home, of course, to Merlot.

In an interesting French/Spanish alliance he determined to produce a wine made from one of France’s most famous varieties, and one of  Spain’s, Tempranillo. Meanwhile, his daughter, Bárbara, was learning the trade. Working the harvests and making wine in Bordeaux, Italy, California, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina Bárbara was honing her skills whilst developing her passion for making high quality wine.

On her return she was given the reigns of the new vineyards, now maturing nicely. The result, was the introduction of Barbarot, the latest vintage of which, Tim has just been given a whopping 95 points!

Recently, the vineyard has been extended, with new plantings and Bárbara has decided to therefore extend her portfolio, to two wines – not a huge number, but when the wines are this good, you don’t need more!

A bottle of Puppi Barbarot 2016 recently arrived at my door and after a resting period I had the pleasure of tasting the newcomer (wine needs a rest after travelling, it’s a little like ‘bottle shock’ where the wine which is perfectly good in barrel or tank, takes a slight step backwards on bottling, and needs a little rest before returning to its best).

Made again with Tempranillo and Merlot it’s enjoyed six months in two years old French oak. Such a time in oak would enable the wine to be described as a ‘roble’ wine, or semi-crianza (it couldn’t officially be a crianza in Rioja as, although the legal minimum time in Spain is indeed six months, Rioja insists on 12 months). However, sticking to her Vino d’Autor game plan, the wine has Cosecho only on the back label.

Here you’ll also see a description from Bábara telling consumers that this wine is inspired by her loyal dog and companion and represents the youth and joy of a puppy! And if that’s not enough charm, take a look at the front label, where you’ll see a ‘Merlot’ puppy running amongst the vines – it’s lovely!

So is the wine! The used oak adds depth without contributing greatly to the overall flavour – it’s a fruit first wine, as it’s meant to be. Some damson on the nose with a little ripe strawberry and a trug-full of red currant too, with some added herby notes for good measure!

Fresh, lively, vivacious – rather like a puppy! Oh, and Tim’s score – a very impressive 91 points! (http://www.barbarot-wines.com/eng/)

Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness www.colinharknessonwine.com  colin@colinharknessonwine.com