I wrote an article today on autumnal wines. It was 30 degrees and sweltering outside. Yesterday, I saw a photo of Phillip Schofield on Instagram or Twitter, I forget which, sitting, wearing a Christmas jumper, in front of a full Christmas spread, crackers and all. Let’s just say, my job of ‘getting in the mood’ was probably a little easier than Phil’s.
So while I wrote about enjoying a game pie alongside a big, earthy red, all that was really on my mind, and has been most sunny days this summer, is a big cold glass of deliciously refreshing Muscadet. Yep, that’s right folks, good old Muscadet – it’s all the rage, don’t you know and coming back with a vengeance.
To be honest, I don’t really get why it went out of style in the first place. It doesn’t have an offensive bone in its (light) body. It’s crisp, dry, unoaked with a delightful crunch of lemon sherbert fizz. Classically paired with Oysters and seafood, it’s inexpensive and up there with the Picpoul de Pinets and Albarinos of the wine world.
So this summer, I have mainly been drinking, Domaine de la Noe Muscadet Sevre et Maine ‘Sur Lie’ and at under £9, it’s an absolute wine of value. I suppose there in answers the question as to why Muscadet lost its edge. That there isn’t a very snappy, nor sexy title, and I guess once the new world started slapping grape varieties on the labels, the mystery of Muscadet became a bit too much and it disappeared into the vat of complicated French wine labels as we all began to drink overoaked Chardonnay.
I will therefore enlighten you about all you need to know about Muscadet and why it should never have been sidelined. First off, it’s from the Loire Valley in France, right out on the western seaboard nearby to Nantes. It’s made from the grape ‘Melon de Bourgogne’, if you’ve ever heard of it, it’s relatively low in alcohol and the better examples, such as this one, state the ‘sur lie’ on the label. This means that the wine has been left to develop for a while on the sediment (dead yeast cells known as ‘lees’ or ‘lie’) that are part of the fallout of fermentation (the other bit being the alcohol), thus giving the wine a little more body and depth, with a creamier, nuttier flavour. Also, importantly, Muscadet is dry, as dry as a bone, and doesn’t have anything to do with the grape variety Muscat, which is synonymous with sweet wine. Lastly, Muscadet is an absolute bargain, so give it a go!
If you’ve ever been to one of my pop-up wine stalls, you will be familiar with just how blue a person’s lips can turn. For some reason, the weather is generally against me and I stand bearing the freezing cold, gales (no snow so far) and rain, purely for the love of wine.
If you’ve never been to one of my pop-up wine stalls and you live local to Maidenhead, love wine or just fancy coming to poke fun at the nutter in the earmuffs selling wine outdoors, please do come and find me. The usual format is me talking a lot about wine, a boot load of wine boxes and several wines open to taste, all under the protective cover of my pop-up stall (or as one kindly customer sneered “Pop-up? It’s a tent!”).
My last outing was at Fernygrove Farm in Hawthorn Hill, between Maidenhead and Bracknell back on a particularly freezing cold April Saturday (yes, Perfect Friday Wine can be drunk on a Saturday, or any day of the week). This was a new wine pop-up location for Perfect Friday Wine with a cafe, florist, farm shop and butcher to boot and I saw many of my lovely, loyal customers up there as well as meeting new ones! I had a whole raft of wine open to taste and buy and had a great day – where there is other brilliant food, there is the desire for fabulous wine. Here’s a reminder of those on taste, all handpicked with springtime in mind. Casa Silva Pinot Noir Reserva: One of the best value Pinot Noirs I’ve come across, the Casa Silva Reserva from Chile is a delight of cherry fruits, delicious and a lighter for the spring. I hadn’t tasted this vintage (2014) since February myself and I was reminded as to just how fantastic a Pinot this is. I enjoyed the leftovers very much once I’d warmed up on the following Tuesday, when it was still drinking superbly.
Villa Blanche Grenache Rosè: Springtime sunshine marks rosè time! The delicate and delicious Villa Blanche Grenache is Languedoc in origin, Provençal in style, dry, pretty, peachy and great value. From the genius of Calmel and Joseph, this is just as good as their Villa Blanche Picpoul de Pinet and Syrah and went down a storm (likely because it was kept so blimin’ chilled) – definitely the WINE OF THE DAY.
Bluebell Vineyard Estates Blanc de Blancs 2011: It’s Bluebell season, so this award winning Sussex fizz seemed fitting to open. Interestingly, this has been in the press twice since, firstly on Olly Smith’s recommendation on The Daily Mail Online and then ‘Food Matcher’ Fiona Beckett stating what ‘good value’ it is on theguardian.com. As I continue my championing of English Wine, it’s good to see it, the sparkling in particular, getting a louder ‘voice’. This is a class or 5 above the cheap Prosecco that’s enjoyed so heartily in the UK – it’s Champagne method, Champagne grapes and excitingly, from our own fair shores – just don’t call it Champagne (Wine fact: did you know that Taittinger have bought land in Kent to begin planting vines? Even the French are on it).
Calmel and Joseph ‘Les Cuvèes Rare’ La Ruffe 2013: New to PFW this spring and lush, this saw its first outing back in March where I chilled myself (and the wine) to the bone at my Emmett’s Farm Pop-Up in Little Marlow. I must find a way to keep my reds warm enough so that by 2pm they’re not fridge cold. In the words of wine critic Tamlyn Currin, who rated La Ruffe a very high 17+ out of 20: “50% Carignan, 40% Syrah, 10% Cinsault. They didn’t want to pump the wine, so they had to carry it down with a pick-up truck. No filtration. Dark chocolate, peppermint, green herbs. Lots of black chocolate, lots of power, massive structure. Thick velvet-and-portcullis tannins with opulent fruit firmly behind bars at the moment, but it’s definitely there. Tightly bound. Very imposing. A sleeping dragon. Needs five to 10 years. Drink 2019-2026” Although I think it’s rather nice right now (agreed that it will only get better)! Full article on jancisrobinson.com.
So, there we have it. April’s Wine Pop-Up summarised. Where can you find me next? After a while away, I’ll be bringing wine back to Maidenhead High Street on Sunday 8th May, joining the new street food market Eat on the High Street alongside a whole gang of other local food producers. Keep posted on my events page or better still, sign up sign up to the Perfect Friday Wine Newsletter to keep up to date with my whereabouts over summer 2016 and beyond.
Part 1 and part 2 of this blog were written back in 2013 and its not until now, with anticipation much like the wait for Star Wars VII, that I write part 3.
So, to bring you up to speed, a few years ago I bought some wine in an auction. Not like a proper wine auction, just the local auction in Bourne End. Had I read to the bottom of the listings, I might have seen the lot for the Chateauneuf du Pape Chateau de Beaucastel and Bordeaux’s left bank Chateau Lagrange, but I got stuck higher up with Rioja from my birth year. Not so good, as you can read here, but it’s true, as I can confirm on this Easter Sunday, that you do indeed win some.
The last lot (that I won) sucked. As it happens, my husband was a little less hasty and read to the end of the lots and we have now have 2 bottles of 2001 Lagrange tucked away, plus this 1996 Chateau de Beaucastel, and all for the bargain price of about £30.
Since it’s Easter Sunday, the shoulder of lamb has been slow roasting since 11am and I’ve been given the green light to open something from the wine fridge, so here it is, open and drinking well.
What’s it like? It’s blackcurranty with an amazing acidity still, tannins are soft and there’s still body, although the fruit is light. Delicious and well balanced, definitely one to drink now and enjoy. Lucky me! Oh, and it’s fabulous with the lamb.
It’s happening. It’s taken a while, but more and more wine lovers are beginning to have heard of Languedoc-Roussillon’s Picpoul de Pinet. For every Pinot Grigio lover out there that I have introduced to Picpoul de Pinet, I cheer. I have reached my goal. One more wine drinker trying and loving something new. Each time someone says to me, ooh, I love Picpoul de Pinet, I am delighted that they have more than Prosecco or Marlborough Sauvignon in their wine repertoire. Fist pumps and High Fives all round.
Picpoul de Pinet is a curious name for a wine, non? It’s easy really – Picpoul’s the grape, Pinet is one of the Herault towns by which the vines grow. Flanked by the A9 main road between Montpellier and Beziers, and the Etang du Thau lagoon, the vineyards are situated on the flat, salty plains in close proximity to the French Mediterranean coast.
Picpoul in all its gloriousness, is a wine of simplicity. As often is the case, the wine was made to drink with the local food. Unsurprisingly, there is no lack of seafood and shellfish fresh from the local shores and lagoon itself in this part of the world – visitors to the region might be familiar with the picturesque port of Sete. Oysters and mussels this fresh need little preparation and anything more than a fresh, clean and simple white wine, such as the Picpoul de Pinet drunk alongside, would easily trample all over such delicate, natural and delicious flavours.
As I glance out of the window , I’m greeted by a damp and grey Spring afternoon in suburban Berkshire, a far cry from when I first tasted Picpoul de Pinet, sitting on the Grau de Roi quayside, basking in the evening sunlight with a chilled glass and a fresh-out-the-sea platter, although I don’t have a photo to insert <here>, I’ll keep that memory close in my thoughts until I can relive that moment even better, when I open that bottle of Picpoul de Pinet waiting for me in the fridge.
Now I’ve set the Saint-Chinian scene and explained a bit about the wines in my previous post, I’ll go on to tell you more about the beautiful and very tranquil region of Saint-Chinian and the fabulous Languedoc wine hotel we were so lucky to stay in.
Bearing in mind that the school summer holidays were 2 whole months long and I’ve only just started to recover, to say the view from our first night’s accommodation, the Chateau les Carrasses, brought a smile to my face, is a massive understatement. A little gem of a hotel, hidden away in the Saint-Chinian countryside, only 35km from Beziers Airport, I’m tempted to pop over every weekend. The Chateau les Carrasses is adult and child friendly, has a gorgeous pool with some jawdropping views. There is also an onsite restaurant and terrace and even bikes for all the family to borrow.
Being surrounded by vineyards, Chateau Les Carrasses also makes its own wine, a refreshingly chilled glass of which was gratefully received on the terrace on our arrival. Although those workers amongst us had a jam-packed itinery filled with wine tastings, visits to tasting rooms and sites touristiques du Saint-Chinian, regular guests who fancy being taken out into wine country beyond the adjacent vines, can get a feel for the locality on a Les Carrasses’ Wine Activity Day.
If you prefer to make your own way around, but aren’t sure where to start, there’s the Office du Tourisme du Canal Midi in local village Capestang, a short cycle ride away (although it’s uphill home). The office du tourisme is named after the ancient canal that runs right through the village, stretching to Toulouse in the west, straight across to the Mediterranean near Sete. The tourist office have a summer long schedule running regular wine tastings alongside the Canal du Midi, buddying up with local winemakers who are more than keen to share their wines with willing tasters.
You could also do as we did and grab a hire boat on the Canal du Midi, pick up some wine from the Office du Tourisme, and take a (self-driven) tasting actually ON the Canal itself. This was undoubtedly the most peaceful wine tasting that I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience – I think I may have actually gone into a trance-like state as we pootled along the canal on a little boat, in the warm evening sun, tasting delicious local wine and produce from the surrounding Saint-Chinian area, to the sound of the breeze in the plane trees.
As mesmerised as I was, I did manage to stay awake and took lots of tasting notes before we headed back to the Chateau les Carrasses for dinner. Although most of the best wines in Saint-Chinian are red, the best of the whites can be very tasty indeed. Perhaps the most notable of the wines tasted being this Cuvee Bois Joli from Chateau Coujon, a Grenache Blanc and Rolle (better known as Vermentino) blend which had seen 6-8 months on oak. A crisp and citrussy white with pineapple flavours and a hint of dried coconut went particularly well alongside the tiny local olives known as ‘Lucques’.
After all that hard work, there was only one thing for it, to head back to the Chateau les Carrasses for a slap up dinner in their restaurant and of course, more wine tasting..
I started writing this post during the solar eclipse back in March. I’m one of those people that gets a bit excited by natural phenonomens like this. I think that the weirdness that the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, yet 400 times further away (of something like that) and therefore the moon is the exact right size to cover up the sun is pretty special. However, it was irrelevant as it of course, it was cloudy here in Maidenhead.
I had visions of biodynamic viticulturists literally hopping about filling those cow horns with whatever they put in them to be buried right on the cusp of the solar eclipse but from my very mild research, it appears, for obvious reasons that in fact a solar eclipse is a big boo boo for all things agricultural if you’re cosmic like that.
I’ll fill you in a bit more on biodynamic wines when I have time to explain the nitty gritty but essentially, Biodynamic wine making considers the charts of the moon and its influence on the vines, amongst other peculiar activities. Organic or Natural wines are a bit different in that they don’t worry about that sort of stuff, but have been made with ecological considerations in mind from vine to bottle, using organic grapes grown without (or with limited) pesticides and fungicides as well as using organic wine making practices in the winery. Confusingly, what constitutes a Certified Organic Wine differ from country to country. For instance, the US restricts the addition of sulphur dioxide to 100mg/l (non-organic 200mg/l) whereas in the EU, sulfite limits differ according to red (100mg/l organic to 150mg/l non-organic) and white wines (150mg/l organic compared to 200mg/l** non-organic).*
More on sulfites* below, but the thing is, wine need sulfites to a certain degree to protect the grapes from prematurely oxidising and without additional sulfites (which occur naturally in wine anyway), can result in a pretty funky tasting wine. I’d go as far as saying that a few years ago, I would’ve struggled to find many natural wines that were lacking that ‘funk’. However, as wine production methods are constantly developing and as producers get cleverer, for instance, picking grapes in the cool of night, the need to add nasties to preserve freshness is reduced and I would say, from my latest experience pertaining to natural wine, the taste of these wines, which is what we all (I) really care about, is actually pretty good.
In January, I was fortunate enough to attend the world’s largest natural wine trade fair, Millesime Bio, in Montpellier, bang smack in the middle of my favourite French wine region, Languedoc-Roussillon. If the size of the event or the enthusiasm around following ethical and more ecological methods to produce wine, were anything to go by, I can only imagine that we’re going to see more and more natural wine being made, particularly in those regions where a nice hot and dry climate keeps mini-beasts and rot to the minimum. Moreover, I think we’re going to start seeing more and more organic wines cropping up in our day to day wine offerings, particularly from those regions like Languedoc-Roussillon where winemaking is innovative and forward thinking, not because it’s specifically organic but because it tastes so good – the vast majority of the wines I tasted, tasted like ‘normal’ wines – not a hint of organic funk.
I’m not one to choose a wine just because it has a certain tick in a box, so, so far, I’m yet to stock any Certified Organic wines, but I don’t think it’ll be far away judging by those fabulous wines I came across in Montpellier. I have however recently chosen a new wine that has, incidentally, been made using biodynamic methods, chosen purely because it tastes so flippin’ good, the Laderas de Montejurra Emilio Valerio 2012. A spanish blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha, made with grapes grown in the cool foothills of Navarra’s Montejurra, about half way between Rioja’s Logrono and Pamplona, famed for its Running of the Bulls Fiesta. This is a powerful but elegant wine aged in old oak for 13 months, so expect some chewy tannins well weighted against lots of ripe blackberrys and eucalyptus. I love it, and at £12.25 (price correct Apr 2015), it represents marvellous value, biodynamic, organic or not.
*I get asked about Sulfites a lot. If you are concerned about sulfite levels in wine, stick to the red as less SO2 is needed due to the naturally high occurring anti-oxidants in the red fruit (beware other food types that have high sulphur levels too such as some fruit juices and dried fruit). In order to be classed as ‘sulfite free’, a wine must contain 10mg/l or less SO2, anymore than that, the label must state that it contains sulfites. Even a wine with no added sulfites will likely contain some naturally occurring S02. Although organic wines are likely to contain lower levels (and certainly fewer of the other additives), this isn’t always the case as not only can Sulphur be sprayed on the vines to combat mildew, interestingly, the EU organic limits of sulfites are not so restrictive when put into context. e.g. The white non-organic Rioja on the PFW list at the moment, Las Orcas Decenio Blanco, contains 120mg/l of SO2, significantly less than the EU organic limit of 150mg/l. Even Australia’s cheap as chips Yellow Tail claims on its website that its white wines contain around 140mg/l of SO2 which is still less than the EU Organic limit (its red wines are around 70mg/l).
** Some sources state 200mg/l others 210mg/l.
Further Info and references:
My extended festive break was very much welcome after the hectic lead up to Christmas. Forward wind past much cooking, eating and enjoying time with friends and family, to the moment that the New Year celebrations were over; down came the Christmas tree and off we sped to the French Alps for a spot of skiing.
Now, although I improve each time I go, I am far from a good skiier. To be honest, I’m more of an apres skiier and although I love being in the mountains and the exercise, my main motivation to ski is to get to the bar. With two under-5’s in tow, this time, apres ski was a little thin on the ground, but that isn’t to say that I didn’t seek out a wine or few. Continue reading “What to drink in the alps? PFW goes on the Piste…”
Please do come and visit Perfect Friday Wine this Saturday 5th April (not March as I’d previously stated in an email communication!) on Maidenhead High Street. The first Saturday of the month is always bustling with most of the usual traders down there, so come and support your local market! Bring a copy of my latest article in local freebie magazine, ‘Life Etc’, to receive 5% off any purchase. The article can also be viewed on pg38 here if you’ve already ‘filed’ yours in the recycling bin, I will be testing you to check that you’ve read it. 🙂
If you can’t get down, I am currently taking orders for delivery on Friday 4th April – don’t forget FREE local delivery to Maidenhead. Please note that as of Sunday, 4 of the wines* will be increasing in price, so get your orders to me by Saturday to take advantage of today’s prices. To soften the blow, any order of 6 or more bottles (was 12) will now attract a 5% discount.
So you can try before you buy, I will have the following 3 wines open for tasting this coming Saturday;
Calmel and Joseph ‘Les Terroirs’ Faugeres 2012 *NEW AND IN STOCK* £10.50 I have decided to not stock the Corbieres (2 bottles are still up for grabs) over summer, but in its place steps the structured and almost minty, Faugeres, also from Languedoc in France. A similar blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan to the versatile St.Chinian but TOTALLY different reflecting the difference in where the vines are grown (the terroir). This one is wilder and more rigid with some fabulous meaty tannins and a big punch of ripe plums. If you’ve ever seen the term ‘garrigue’ mentioned in a tasting note, this has that exact sentiment of lavender, rosemary and a hint of eucalyptus. Great with barbecued minted lamb chops or my favourite Spag Bol.
Villa Blanche Grenache Gris Rosé (Languedoc, France) Dry, delicate with raspberry fruit, welcome acidity and a lingering finish. *NOW IN STOCK* £8.50 (rising to £9 on 6th April, as will the other Villa Blanche wines). Another chance to try my much anticipated Rosé now it’s actually here.
Calmel and Joseph Languedoc White *NOT YET AVAILABLE, FEEDBACK REQUESTED* I’ve been looking for a Marsanne/ Rousanne blend for a while and then as if to read my mind, my trusty Calmel and Joseph release the very same! I am very excited to taste this typical white Rhone blend and would love to hear my customer’s thoughts before I add it to the wine list (£10-10.50). If it’s no good (which I doubt), I’ll be opening my new Comenge Verdejo 2012 instead.
Since Bank Holiday season, will shortly be upon us, I have added some new Spring wines by the case, one ‘Summer’s Coming 6’ (£61.75) inspired by my husband’s recent order (yup, that’s right, I make him pay 🙂 ), the other ‘Spring Forward 6’ (£62.70) by my most popular wines sold in March, so if you need inspiration for a case, these are designed to help.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support of a new and local independent business. I put a lot of thought into reviewing the wine list and finding interesting and exciting, well-priced wines to add to the portfolio and continue to aim to introduce you to wines that make a change to the usual Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc and Aussie Shiraz. I welcome your feedback too, so drop me a line and tell me what you’d like to see next. Do please get involved on Facebook too, I love to hear what you’ve been drinking!
*Although I’ve kept the Villa Blanche and Pierre Paillard wines priced lower than the RRP for as long as I can, Mr Osborne’s latest duty increase has tipped me over the point of no return and price increases will be in place as of Sunday 6th April. Villa Blanche wines will be increased to the RRP of £9, the champagne will increase to £28. I have been searching high and low for a new sub £9 range but am yet to find one worthy of PFW. Orders taken before Sunday and delivered by 12th April will take advantage of today’s prices.
The sun is out again! At a balmy 11 degrees celcius, it’s considerably warm enough to have the roof down on the car and I even paused to soak up some rays for a few seconds earlier. I realise that it’s not the done thing for wine trades-folk to be delivering wine in such a frivolous vehicle, so the car will be being exchanged for something a little more grown up and practical in the very near future.
The sunshine nicely ties in to the imminent arrival of the first Perfect Friday Wine still rosé. Last year I did a good job looking for the perfect summer rosé and as long as I can find some that meets my high standards, I intend to stock more than one throughout the warmer months. So to start us off, my trusty Languedoc wine producers, Calmel and Joseph have recently released their Villa Blanche Grenache Gris, which I had the pleasure of trying last week and managed to get my mitts on a sample.
In true PFW style, I ran the rosé past my tasting public on Saturday and got some fabulous feedback. It was kept suitably cool all day thanks to the single digit temperature as one can only expect on the first day of March and many were disappointed because they couldn’t take a bottle away on the day. I can safely say that I have an order in for some of the very first bottles imported into the UK, so expect me to be fully stocked within the next fortnight or so. Pre-orders welcome, just contact me.
Villa Blanche Grenache Gris, IGP Pays d’Oc, Languedoc, France £8.50 Perfect Friday Wine. Grenache Gris is a paler, close relation of the black grape variety Grenache that you find in many red wines from Languedoc, the Southern Rhone valley and Spain, under the name Garnacha. Grenache ‘noir’ is also used extensively in rosé across southern France and beyond. The gris has a lighter pinky-grey skin, which is reflected here in the beautifully pink colour of the wine.
The Villa Blanche has a really light and fresh raspberry nose, immediately conjuring up warm days and long summers evenings. The palate is dry and delicate with more raspberry fruit with some welcome acidity and a lingering finish. To follow on in the footsteps of the Villa Blanche Picpoul and Syrah, this wine does not disappoint. Great with a bowl of cashew nuts or, needless to say, summer barbecues. All we need now is some heat with this sunshine and the delivery to arrive!
I may be being over optimistic, but is that Spring that I sense in the air? The sun, yes, that’s right folks, the sun is shining – well, it was 5 minutes ago. What is more, there isn’t a gale force wind blowing, threatening to snap my shooting daffodils off before they’ve even bloomed. This could all change before the weekend of course as I’ll be back on my stall on Maidenhead Produce Market, so expect snow or a mini-typhoon on Saturday, just to keep me on my toes.
Although the budding trees suggest that we’re moving out of red wine season into white, and dare I mention it in February, rosé, I’ve had a reoccurring question asked of me of late by white wine drinkers who would like to dabble in a bit of red but aren’t sure where to start. To ease you in gently, my recommendation would be to find something young and fruity with low tannin* and little to no oak; tackling a Gran Reserva Rioja or Australian Barossa at this stage would be ill advised.
The obvious suggestion would be to try a light and fruity Gamay from one of the Beaujolais Villages such as Fleurie or Brouilly, or a Pinot Noir, but let me introduce those of you that are new to red, and anyone else looking for an easy-going red, to Languedoc’s very own soft and supple Carignan. Continue reading “Red wine for those who prefer white.”