Friday, 24 February 2012

Vinisud 2012

This week Robert and I spent two days at the biennial Vinisud trade fair in Montpellier, visiting our established producers, and hoping to chance upon some new finds. Vinisud shows wines from the whole Mediterranean basin, though we were really there to look at Southern France.

Vinisud is vast, bigger even that its closest neighbour, the Montpellier International Airport. There’s no point in wandering in and taking pot luck. If the visit confirmed one thing for me, it was that there is a hell of a lot of mediocre wine out there, with the rare anomaly of something so brilliant it beggars belief (I finally got to taste the otherworldly Domaine Tempier from Bandol). Pit stops with our handful of producers, mercifully, bucked the trend of mediocrity. Preignes le Neuf got us off to a good start, showing that entry level wines can have decent character and structure (particularly good was the 2011 Preignes le Neuf Chardonnay, Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Libron).
Next, Magali at Saint André de Figuѐre took us through her impressive range of Provençal wines.  Particular stand outs were the Valérie Blanc 2011, which is a peachy, concentrated blend of Vermentino, Ugni Blanc and Semillon, and the top selection range, ‘Confidentielle’, AOC La Londe, with vines grown on the isolated patch of schist in the Provence region.
The second day saw us focus on the Rhône, starting with Domaine Belle of Crozes Hermitage. Robert was introduced to Philippe Belle by Yves Gras of Domaine Santa Duc in Gigondas, with whom he has worked for many years. Belle’s balanced, deep syrahs have always appealed, but I think the tasting at Vinisud rather astonished Robert in its level. For me it was my first chance to taste through the whole range and get to grips with the viticulture and winemaking with Philippe.
With the winery in Larnage, Crozes Hermintage, the Domaine has vines in Crozes, St Joseph and the much lauded Hermitage. The La Roche Blanche 2010, made from old vine Marsanne grown on kaolin (white chalk) was brilliantly perfumed and had delicious concentration in the mouth. Tasting the 2009 and 2010 Hermitage Blancs next to one another it was interesting to see the stark elevation of the 2010’s complexity. This theme continued with the reds.... the 2009s were all well balanced, well made, with lovely fruit character and supple length, but the 2010s just had something more, some other dimension I don’t even know how to describe. It really was a revelation tasting thought the three Crozes Hermitage blends (Les Pierreles, Cuvée Louis Belle, Roche Pierre), the St Joseph Les Rivoires, as well as the Hermitage.
An exploration through the Chateauneuf-du-Pape stand turned up disappointment after disappointment, which I have to say I wasn’t expecting. The praise from the press for the Southern Rhône 2010s has been effusive, and if Belle’s Northern Rhônes were anything to go by I thought we’d find some knockouts in Chateauneuf. We tried boring wines, dirty wines, and some downright weird wines until finally we did stumble across a bit of a gem. I’ll mention no names at this point, but this Chateauneuf producer might be finding its way onto the RR lists soon. They make the most unusual, but completely delightful and more-ish Côtes du Rhône Blanc made from a ancient native variety (the effect was uncannily like a top class Vouvray Sec) , and the 2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape that had Rob hopping with excitement.
We’ll be getting together a 2010 offer for Domaine Belle et al. soon, so get in touch if you’d like to be contacted with prices. Please email me at

Monday, 13 February 2012

Gonet Champagne

Chantal's map of the family vineyards:

Siblings Chantal and Pierre Gonet are 7th generation family growers in the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil. Winemaker Pierre combines modern winemaking methods and traditional techniques to bring out the best of the minerality and structure of their 19 hectare estate on the Mesnil terroir. This is single vineyard blanc de blancs Champagne at its best, a rare gem in the world of big brand Champagne houses, and is now beginning to sideline many of these famous names in the upper echelons of London restaurants.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Domaine Zinck

Philippe Zinck from Alsace was in town this week to show his wines to some London restaurants. The Riesling 2010 looks set for a bright future (5g/l r.s., soaring acidity, lime zest freshness). Both the Muscat and Gewurz 2009s were showing fantastic complexity and sustained mid-palate concentration. It is not a coincidence that both these wines come from vines over 50 years old.

The 2009 vintage was a hot one, and the wines are rounder with slightly lower acidity than the average year. But let us not forget what acidity levels in Alsace are: these wines still have great balance and freshness, with a textured weight (and great acidity in comparison to any other region!). The 2010 is back to a much more classic Alsace style with high, tight acidity, and spiced perfume. Definitely one to watch.

As of the 2011 vendanges Domaine Zinck is 100% organically farmed. All the whites are handpicked and whole bunch pressed to retain the naturally pure aromatics and focused minerality of the palates.

Since Philippe took over from father Paul Zinck this domaine has gone from strength to strength. It is fast rising in international repute as a producer of classically styled but modern Alsace wines of outstanding quality and finesse.

Philippe was impressed with the attitude of the London restaurant scene, where waiters and bar staff are encouraged to taste alongside wine buyers and sommeliers with visiting growers, meaning they really understand the wines on their lists.