Category Archives: Wine

Lugana – Ready for recognition

I was fortunate enough to visit Lugana, one the great white wine producing areas of Italy, earlier this year. The wines are produced just South of Lake Garda from a single grape variety called Turbiana. At their best, they are nothing short of stunning.

IMG_8259This article comes at a crucial time for Lugana, since the region is threatened to lose 20% of its vineyards to a hi-speed train the government wants to build where the vines now thrive. In the end of this post you’ll find a link to a petition. If you feel like it, please fill your name and email and join the cause. Prime minister of Italy will receive the petition and will hopefully decide not to build the train track on terrain that costs 200.000 euros per hectare and happens to produce some of the very best white wines Italy has to offer to the world.

Anyway, back to deliciousness business. After couple of days of tasting from morning till late night, I am quite sure about my Lugana preferences. The perfect Lugana has some weight but comes with an enchanting purity on the palate that reminds me of freshly squeezed lime juice. Though not the lightest style of white, the flavours are carried by vibrant acidity that is in perfect balance with the width and weight of the wine. To put it shortly, Lugana can fill up your mouth but doesn’t fail to cleanse the palate while going down.

Some examples I tasted had floral character that I do not include in my perfect expression of Turbiana. Neither am I too keen on herbal notes that can, with the florality, take Turbiana towards aromatic acidic varietals such as Sauvignon blanc, most probably because of yeast used in the cellar. Though produced mostly without any oak, in my opinion Lugana can benefit from a touch of oak, as is the case with riservas. The impact of oak is most of the time more about tactile sensation than oaky flavours, which suits my preferences well. As an oxidative variety Turbiana may loose some of its fresh lime character, but it is worth it because of the structure gained. Especially if you have the patience to wait for five years from the vintage before corking the bottle.

Many of the wineries produce also a sparkling Lugana, that is very palatable, reliable and of high quality. It is a tough thing to sell, when most of the world is drinking tutti frutti proseccos. If you see a bottle, I suggest you grab it. The chances you’d be disappointed are in my experience slim, since Lugana basically produces only quality wines. No co-operatives, no big wineries, just traditional small players that take very much pride in what they do. That is Lugana in a nutshell.

Click this to Support the petition, save the jewel of Northern Italy from the hi-speed train

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Sorry about the quality of the picture, but Marangona was to me one of the very best producers. Other highly recommended ones are Ca Dei Frati, Pasini, Perla de Garda, Ca Maiol, Ca Lojera, Olivini and Tenuta Roveglia.

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One eats very well in Northern Italy. Lake Garda is not only beautiful, it is also very tasty if you’re able to avoid touristic places.

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One of the great producers. Fifteen years makes Lugana very interesting, though not all of the wines age gracefully that long.

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What can I say, there’s obviously more food missing in the middle. The hole was filled a minute after this photo with some local delicacies. Have I ever mentioned that people in the wine business eat horribly well?

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Garda lake is also famous for its olive oil. Pretty ladies are not such a bad thing either.

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Olivini makes brilliant wines and wins the title for the coolest retro labels.

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The -76 was older than me. Even Luiz was less bearded back then.

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Imagine a train going through this scenario? I don’t want to either.

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Busocaldo by Pasini was a nice take on Turbiana with some skin contact. A well recommended bottle if you’re able to find one.

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Can it get any more idyllic than this? It might, but then the glass should have more wine.

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Lugana is smart, is one way to put it. It has been able to export half of its products making it resilient towards turbulence in the local economy.


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Tavel – A rosé to be taken seriously

The etheric oils of wild herbs are filling my senses and the warm Autumn breeze of Rhône is taking care that it doesn’t feel like late October. Looking down I see limestones bigger than my fist. Better watch my step not to sprain an ankle here. As far as eye can see, grumpy looking old vines are sticking out, looking even more tormented than vines growing on extremely poor soils usually do. The leaves have started to change colour from lively green to decaying brown which is nature’s way of saying the Winter will eventually reach the region too. I’m visiting Tavel, the infamous rosé wine region in South-Rhône and find myself thinking: how do they manage the soils as brutal as these? I’m also falling in love with the wines.

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Moon like rocky soils of Tavel can be divided into three types. The limestones seen here, the sandy soils and the “rolling stones”, that the neighbouring Châteauneuf-du-Pape has made famous with its red wines.

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The scrub-bush meets dry oily herbs kind of combination readily seen in Southern Rhône. Garrigue, as it is called in the local dialect, is said to be the secret of many terroirs responsible for some of the greatest wines around.

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The mighty Rhône river originating in the Swiss Alps used to be 30 km wide. These extremely hard ‘galets roules’ are pretty much all that remains of the ancient river bed.

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Monsieur Guillaume Demoulin of the brilliant Trinquevedel owns 32 hectares of the total 960 to be found in Tavel. To put the number in perspective, Provence is producing rosé with some 20.000 hectares.

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Domaine de la Mordorée was responsible for the best wine I had during the short visit. 2008 was youthful and complex. Most people don’t know but Tavel ages gracefully and is not at its best within the first year after the vintage. The producers seemed to agree that one year of patience is more than recommendable for the wine to show its true colours. A Tavel can age up to 40 years, they claim.

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A magnum almost taller than me. I had to buy one to take to the bring your own party at the DWCC conference held this year in Montreux, Switzerland. And yes, the wine went well with pizza.

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Tavel is a great bet because today there’s basically no low quality producers to be found. All of the circa 35 producers are very much quality orientated. Even the Co-op, Les Vignerons de Tavel, responsible for 45% of the total output, is doing a good job.

As is the case with many of the small appelations with lots of history, I feel that Tavel has, to a certain degree, missed the changes the wine world has gone through the past decade. The producers do not seem to be big in communicating what they have to offer and have probably too much trust in the wine lovers to keep remembering Tavel’s existence. This is understandable, since a winery must concentrate first and foremost to make the best quality wine possible and Tavel is able to sell its production without problems, but at the same time unfortunate since it is possible the younger wine drinkers are being alienated from the region. I do feel we should hear more noise about the darker toned yet palate cleansing rosés of Tavel, because the wines are convincing and probably better than they’ve ever been.

I will continue to drink these wines also back in Helsinki, which gives an opportunity to ask for a favour from you. If you know a nice online shop selling Tavel and shipping it to Nordic countries, please let me know.

Disclaimer: I participated an expenses paid press trip as the prelude for the DWCC

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Esporão – Between new and old

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I just returned from a trip to Esporão, located in the extremely beautiful Alentejo in Southern Portugal, close to the Spanish boarder. As the days passed, a thought kept bugging me. Since I by now know there’s no other way to deal with it, I’ll share it with you. To me it seems that Esporão is existing in between new and old in a quite fascinating way. Let me explain my perception with three examples.

First, lead by the Australian chief wine maker David Baverstock, the style of Esporão seems to bridge the old world to the new world. This is evident for example in the ripe and rather big house style that is often supported by a dose of American oak with some French oak playing a supportive role.

The full bodied reserve wines surprised me in their capability to age gracefully for 15 years and more. In fact, the way the wines seem to age would be the second argument why Esporão can be seen both new and old world at the same time. When young, the red reserve can be oaky to the point of smelling like milk chocolate, which puts it in my mind firmly in the sphere of “the blockbusting new world”. But when the wine ages around 5 years, it seems to go through a transformation, a sort of a leap if you will, that connects it with the more European tradition of expressing origin more clearly.

Thanks to varieties such as Trincadeiro, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional and Aragones (more commonly known to #winelovers as Tempranillo), the wines do end up being Alentejo more than spicy American oak. If you’re into full bodied and bold style of reds, these bottles offer nice bang for your buck. If you are able to forget them on the lower shelf of your wine stash for a few years, that is. If one asks me, as is the case since this is my blog and I’m entitled to both ask questions and reply to them like the pompous person I am, it might be in the best interest of the estate to launch the red reserves a year or even two later that they do, but of course such capacity and capability does not exist and it is therefore up to consumer to practice patience. A contemporary problem not limited to Alentejo, no doubt.

The white reserves were hitting the spot for me by being rich and full bodied but balanced, palatable and even somewhat palate cleansing. The ripe yet not too primary style of the whites reminds me a bit of the great whites of Northern Rhône that seem to be more refreshing and structured than their technical data sheets would suggest. It’s not always about acidity level or PH, some white wines can feel vibrant on the palate though not exactly high in acidity. To me Esporão reserve is like that. It should age with ease from 10 to 15 years.

But to get back to the original argument, a third reason why Esporão can be seen as between old and new can be found in the cellar. While visiting their brand new winery constructed for the top wines, one can take a picture that includes traditional lagares used for pressing grapes with feet (made of white marble since we’re in Alentejo), some amphoras and in the back a row of stainless steel tanks. What makes the setting interesting is that the newest additions represent at the same time the most traditional take on winemaking, since the steel tanks were there first and the more ancient utilities have been put in place only recently.

As an ending note: Alentejo seems like an aspiring place to visit as an enotourist. True, there’s not yet a comprehensive system in place for wine tourism, but Esporão is up for the task and there’s no fear of the over commercial take on wine tourism. Besides, that means the region is still open for discovery. The pictures below taken at the nearby fortified village of Monsaraz speak volumes. Catching these both, Esporão and Monsaraz during the visit, is highly recommended.

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Disclaimer: The winery took care of the expenses during the 2 day visit.

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The greatness of Austria – Erste Lage 2013

After just spending two days in Austria and tasting some 200 wines, I’m happy to say that Erste Lage vintage 2013 is for me a hit. It’s a cool vintage that comes with piercing acidity and rare kind of purity, so if you prefer your Grüners bold, tropical and heavy with viscosity, it might not be your cup of tea. For me, it was a little slice of paradise.

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Let’s start with the necessary facts. Erste Lage consists of the best vineyard plots from Kamptal, Kremstal, Wagram and Traisental. The concept was invented in 1992, implemented the first time in 2010 and consists of 62 best sites. It is a self regulatory body and not, at least yet, part of the Austrian wine legislation. To give you an idea of the concept, you can think of the Cru classification of Burgundy. The difference to the classification of, let’s say Bordeaux, is that the status of the cru is given to a vineyard site with usually many vintners, not an estate. Erste Lage status is given to circa 15% of the vineyard and reserved for wines made with the local superstar Grüner veltliner and the international grand-slammer Riesling.

So should Erste lage be treated as a Grand cru classification? Good that I asked the stupid question, because it gets interesting. To put it short, Erste Lage is like premier cru, but not equivalent of Grand cru. Some of current Erste Lages will later get ”Grand cru” status. The only thing is, that no one yet actually knows exactly which plots might be worthy to be the pinnacle of the classification.

Let’s hear what Michael Moosbrugger of the iconic Schloss Gobelsburg and the primus motor of the Erste Lage has to say about it.
- Erste Lage is reserved for 15% of vineyard, but the Grand cru level would mean something like 2-5%, but we’ve yet to select the sites worthy of the status. The whole classification got up and running only 2010 so it will take some time before we see the work done.

It remains unclear whether we’re talking about ten years or thirty, but I’m quite sure that time will tell. But let’s get into the vintage 2013. It was, after all, my reason to travel to Austria. It has a character quite different from 2012. It was definitely a cool vintage and not the easiest one. When we’re talking about a cool vintage of a region considered cool to begin with but we also know that Grüner has a notorious tendency to become oily and flabby when very ripe, things get interesting. Acidity is definitely there in the 2013’s, so if you are an acidity freak like me, you just might find yourself falling in love with the 2013 Erste Lage Grüner veltliners.

Grüner veltliner is a late ripening variety and at the end of the ripening season, the acidity levels fall significantly. That means that especially on warmer vintages the wines are full of ripe peach and at some cases tropical notes, oily in their viscosity, high in alcohol, spicy to the point of resembling coconut milk and slightly floral. Part of the issue is too late harvesting time, since some of the producers still seem to think that grapes going for top of the line wines should carry more sugar than the ones used for lesser wines. Thankfully this is no longer the norm.

To me personally a perfect Grüner would be something like this. It has some aromas of melon, but citric notes dominate the palate, not exremely ripe stonefruits, not to even mention liche of papaya. There are some herbal notes typical for the variety, but they are hanging in the back, not stealing the limelight. White pepper typical for cheaper examples of the variety is not really present, at least that is my impression after tasting 200 wines from the past 25 years. Florality is accepted in subtle way, like as orange peel, but perfumic white flowers are better left to Gewurztraminers and Muscats. Freshly squeezed lime juice backed up with riper notes, a gentle layer of spiciness embracing the package, a fruity yet muscular without being too heavy. That would be a perfect Grüner for my personal taste. The list continues, bare with me.

Fruit and structure are equally significant and they have to be in balance for a Grüner to work. No sensation of sweetness should be present, if you ask me, and that has something to do with the level of alcohol too. To me even 14% seems to be a tad too much from time to time. Then again, the perfect Grüner must not have a dry style of fruitiness, nor should it be neutral in character, so it’s easy to understand that making a great Grüner takes both perfect weather conditions and extereme skill. The perfect Grüner cleanses the palate while going down but is not tight or too nervous. Acidity is present but in an integrated form, the Coca-Cola kind of acidity one sometimes bumbs into in cheaper Grüners is not desirable. I love the kitschy combination of Wiener Schnitzel and Grüner, but it’s obvious that one doesn’t need another oily layer in mouth after the grease of schnitzel. That’s why the acidity must be present and able to cut through the fat. 

That would be my idea of a Grüner so tasty, you’ll dream about it later on. To me the 2013 is offering many examples of this almost uncanny perfection. The best thing about it is that they’re very enjoyable and palatable already, no need to wait for 15 years (though these bombs will most probably age gracefully even longer).

I had a chat about the vintage character with the talented Fred Loimer and he shared my vision about 2013 being a great year for Grüners. With Riesling I was feeling more ambivalent, because the cool vintage character articulates itself in Rieslings some times as amplified acidity, tightness and thin fruit. Then again one must notice that the best Rieslings of 2013 are probably the greatest examples of Austrian Riesling, since on riper expression local Riesling tends to carry notes of ripe pear, be too herbal for my taste and somewhat floral. Age will most probably do good for the Erste Lage Rieslings of 2013, but age will not affect the issue of thin fruit, if it is present. Rieslings from producers such as Birgit Eichinger and Franz Proidl were very impressive, powerfull and pure.

Here’s my list of producers I was the most fond of. The differences between the greatest producers and ”the second tier” is extremely small to me. Most of the producers part of Erste Lage are above average in quality, if you compare with other quality wine making regions. It is most of all about personal preferences. Since I tend to go for the lighter and brighter style, the list represents this tendency. Balance is of course the key.

The best Erste Lage producers vintage 2013

Bernard Ott
Johann Topf
Franz Proidl
Bründlmeyer
Jurtschitsch
Sepp Moser
Mantlerhof
Birgit Eichinger
Rainer Wess 

Disclaimer: I was invited by Traditionsweingüter and they paid for the flight tickets and the upkeep during the stay.

 

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Chile – Gaining new ground

“Those? They are just hills”, Susana, my expert guide for the trip says and points her finger towards the two kilometre high mountains bordering the million city of Santiago, while simultaneously changing lanes on the motorway without looking too much at the mirrors. 

Things are relative, traffic cultures, mountains and seasons. I feel dizzy. Too much coffee and too poor sleep. A day ago, I was enjoying the summer in Finland, but now I’m in the middle of Chilean winter. It seems vague, almost impossible. I slept on the plane like a dog across the Atlantic, only momentarily waking up because of the turbulence, which reminded me of the fate of the notorious Air France flight. I tried not to think about it and tried to find a position that would not kill the back of my neck. 

I feel hungry cause I didn’t eat in the plane. I did open the foil of my dinner but felt my courage leave as I saw the contents. Instead of eating I found myself poking a meatball around with a disposable fork. Eating must wait a bit longer, because I didn’t come this far for nothing. I came to taste wine.

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This is the way my first trip to Chile started. It is today coming to an end, and contrary to my prior assumptions, I found myself inspired by Chilean wine industry multiple times. It made my mind move restlessly, which is why I ended up using the week to understand the details of Chilean wine but also trying to understand my own reaction. Now, sitting at the Santiago airport, my thoughts about Chile are surprisingly lucid.

Am I after the experience a sworn advocate for Chilean wines? I’m not, at least not yet. I’ll give you some examples. The Chile’s most revered wine style, Maipo Valley’s full bodied and minty Cabernet sauvignon still leaves me lukewarm. And I still do not find Carmenere variety very interesting, although it is at its best mouth-filling and luscious (and reasonably often free of bell pepper pyrazines, if harvested in May).

Many producers make very commercial style wines and sometimes unnecessarily so. This means that they don’t manufacture the best possible wines from the grape material, but rather that they manufacture wines, which do not irritate even the consumer with a crappy taste. Because you can’t please everybody, the winelovers end up feeling lukewarm in front of the soft, round and even sweet style (points to Vina Maipo for the fact that even their affordable red wines are dry). At worst, this means ruining good raw material in the cellar. A tank sample can be a reasonable bright and palatable, but the end product modest.

In order to step up its game, Chile should be able to first break away from the gravity of its own image. In the end this will be decided by the consumers in their willingness to upgrade, since wine sector is a similar hostage to the markets as any commodity producing industry.

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On the other hand it is important to ask whether I still feel the same way about Chilean wines than I did a week ago while packing winter clothes for Santiago. The answer is no. During the days, I realised that, in spite of the Chilean wine history reaching all the way to the conquistadors, the wine industry is infact very very young.

The most significant steps in the wine industry are barely 20 years old. It is a short period of time compared to many other wine-producing countries and this makes Chile special. Adolescence means uncertainty and incompleteness, if anything, but offers a great possibility for potential yet actualised, if even found.

Following anecdotes tell the story. When the producing of icon wines became more common at the end of the 1990s, some producers didn’t save any bottles in their own libraries, as is generally customary. The thought hadn’t even appeared to them, since they were happy the people were willing to buy all their bottles, with a nice price tag. This led to an absurd situation. Valdivieso, known for its quality sparkling, reds and whites, had to buy some bottles of their solera style made Caballo loco back from dealers at the market rate. First they produced the wine and sold it for a good profit. Then they end up wasting the profits by buying some bottles back on higher price they got from it in the first place.

Another example I heard from the talented Matia Rios, who’s a winemaker at the organic powerhouse Cono sur. He told that before the year 1999 when Cono Sur started a quality revolution in Pinot everybody were making Pinot noir like it was Cabernet sauvignon. The delicate nature of the variety was not understood and producers were pushing for maximum extraction, colour and weight on the palate. The results some times tasted like onion jam. Tasting the 20 Barrel Pinot noir or their iconic Ocio, this seems like far away past. Ocio does come with body, but it’s at the same time ethereal, focused wine that floats through the palate leaving behind only a tingle of fine tannins as a bitter reminder of the fact, that the delicious wine was, but already went.

It should be noted that although some continue to manufacture the jammy over ripe style, properly produced Pinot has become something of a phenomenon. As a token of the speed of transformation, it is quite telling that they used to produce 1999 Pinot like Cabernet, but 2014 they vinify Syrah like Pinot, in an open top tanks.

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The lighter and more pure trend can be seen in for example in the Pinots of Castillo de Molina which come with bright red fruit and nice drinkability. More interesting than the wines coming from the somewhat warm Curico, are however wines of Maycas del Limari. Maycas, though on paper an operation of the giant Concha y Tori, is a quality focused boutique winery producing annually only 20.000 cases.

I was able to locate four trends that are shaping the Chilean industry at the moment in interesting ways. Since they all seem to be embodied in Maycas del Limari, I’ll present them through their operation in the Limari region.

1. Earlier harvesting time

According to the wine maker Marcelo Papa, the style of Limari has evolved and become recognisable the past few years. This seems indeed to be the case. In the first vintage, 2007, the wines of Maycas represented more ripe style, but it has changed tremendously and for the better, if I may add. The Chardonnay used to be harvested on the first week of March but is now picked already mid-February. So this means three weeks, no less, earlier than just a couple of years ago. This has radical implications in the wine. It means freshness on the palate, piercing acidity and brightness of the fruit. Citric notes instead of tutti frutti tropical mix. In other words, the structure has been enhanced in detriment of the fruit, which has lead, in the case of relatively warm Chile, in to wines with better balance. It’s pretty telling that their Sumaq Chardonnay 2013 is on the palate closer to freshly squeezed lime than papaya, but still dexterous, rich and focused.

Maycas del Limari’s Sumaq Pinot noir 2013 is on its own level in the quality per price charts. In my experience, such quality is hard to find in Pinot noirs from other parts of the wine world. French Pinots from Burgundy, Alsace or Loire are more expensive. Californian Pinot tends to be soupy on my palate on the affordable price range and Pinots from New Zealand sometimes have this tense grape fruit character that puts me a bit off and makes them seem like German Spätburgunders on steroids, which by the way, rarely if ever come in the same price range as Sumaq.

2. Less oak

I remember tasting Maycas del Limari couple of years earlier and though I recognised the quality, I had problem with the amount of oak that seemed to cover the purity of the fruit with a layer of coconut. The situation has obviously changed, because new oak flavours are no longer considered something necessary for a wine to flourish. In their top of range wines, oak is still somewhat too present for my taste, but the direction they are going is nothing short of exciting.

3. Planting varieties where they fit best

Not so long ago Chilean vines were mostly planted to answer to the demand of the market: If consumers were thirsty for Pinot noir, the vines were planted. Sometimes in places where there was only one moment ago Merlot. The end results are not so hard to guess. Limari, cooled down by the ocean and with its limestone soils and morning cloudiness, cannot ripen Merlot. Maycas grows only Chardonnay, Pinot and Syrah (out of which the latter is less interesting than the previous ones). The direction is clear: from market driven to site specific matches to ensure the best possible quality.

4. Finding new wine regions

The Chilean producers have certainly noticed a long time ago that easy growing conditions don’t necessarily translate to refined quality, which is why they are looking for cooler regions. In Chile this means often going closer to the ocean or higher in altitude, mostly on the slopes of the Andes. Montes has an interesting line called Outer Limits, which explores these possibilities. Their Sauvignon blanc from a new wine region near the Pacific is outstanding. Where as Leyda Sauvignon blanc tends to be mostly about the primary characteristics of the variety in a New Zealand Marlborough style, Zapallar version is chalky, elegant, piercing and long in a style more reminiscent of Sancerre, France.

One must also mention Vik, a megalomanic venture started by a Norwegian tycoon in Millahau. They’ve planted close to 400 hectares of vineyard and have a modest goal of producing the best wine in the world. They make only one wine, an expensive red blend nodding in style to the direction of the big boys in Bordeaux. Though a young project, the results are quite impressive and I’m looking forward to hearing what the king making wine journalists in the States will say when Vik is launched to them according to the strategy of the estate.

Movi, the collaborative entity of independent Chilean wine makers is something one cannot bypass in the year 2014. Forget about large crops, high volumes, drip irrigation or consumer friendly expressions. Movi is equivalent of only 0,05% of Chile’s wine exports but works as a peeking hole to the otherness of Chilean wine. In my opinion Movi is something the brand Chile needs to step up its game also on commercial level. Weeds in the garden are sometimes for the benefit of the perfectly trimmed trees.

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These four trends are changing the landscape of Chile as we speak, but they are of course not a magic wand. You can harvest earlier, use oak in more refined manner, understand your soils better and find totally new regions, but if the soil your vines are growing on, isn’t suitable for quality wine, there’s not much you can do.

One has to ask whether Chile of the future has to produce in such volume as in today? Maybe fifteen years from now the wine experts raving about new quality regions of Chile have already started to forget that Chile used to be known for volume more than quality? I should certainly hope so. The potential definitely is there. The wine industry is not yet mature, but that can also be seen as a great thing, since an era of discovery means also rapid progress.

One thing is clear: the Chilean winemakers have no intention to be remembered by the history as mostly mass producers. They are too talented, have too much passion and the perfect natural setting for that. For this reason alone there’s no reason to under line with permanent ink the fact that Chile is in between quantity and quality. Chile is still offering uncharted terroirs and untapped potential many more established wine countries can only dream about. If present is the best estimate for the future, Chile’s tomorrow seems bright indeed.

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Disclaimer: the trip was done in collaboration with Chilean producers.

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The Faces of Bojo

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Julie Balagny

Yvon Metras

Yvon Metras

Louis-Clement David-Beaupere

Louis-Clement David-Beaupere

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Nathalie Fauvin of Domaine Brureaux

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Jean-Paul Brun

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Jean-Louis Dutraive of Domaine de la Grand’Cour

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Fabien Chasselay of La Chapelle des Bois

Louis-Clement David-Beaupere
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Cédric Chignard

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Jean Foillard

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The Thirst for Natural Beaujolais

- Back in the day farmers used to spray their fields with toxic chemicals and when their plastic containers became empty, they burned them at the site, tells Christophe Pacalet, shaking his head and laughing.
As an aspiring producer of natural wine, Christophe Pacalet embodies the undiluted version of the Beaujolais region – the one that everybody is currently talking about. The Beaujolais that is about respecting the environment and the local traditions alike. The results are nothing short of stunning, as I’m just about to find out.

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Monsieur Pacalet pouring his 2012 Fleurie from the barrel

Though Christophe Pacalet carries himself with notable modesty and doesn’t make too much noise about himself, he is not an ordinary farmer guy. Well he is, but at the same time he isn’t. He is the nephew of the late Marcel Lapierre who was considered the pioneer of the natural wine movement which has received a lot of worldwide attention in the past few years. Though originally a chef, when Christophe decided to become a vigneron, he learned the ropes from the best.

The last vintage of Beaujolais, the 2012, was a difficult one with almost all possible problems, from frost to hail and to mildew. A catastrophe from the viewpoint of volume. Some producers, like Domaine de la Grand’Cour, got only 15% percent of the yield they usually get. Jean-Louis Dutraive was able to produce tasty wines, but economically speaking situation is obviously dire. The fact that it was raining cats and dogs most of my time in Beaujolais makes one hope that the 2012 doesn’t repeat itself.

But let’s get back to the cellar of Christopher Pacalet. He pours me a glass of his 2012 from the small cru of Chiroubles, located at a higher altitude than other nine Beaujolais crus. It is a tightly knit and vibrant wine, the kind of firm but succulent interpretation of Gamay that cleans your palate without drying your mouth and is at the same time able to appeal to you in a more thoughtful way. Rare quality in the world of wine, though pleasingly often available with high quality Cru Beaujolais.

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- I want to make the same kind of wines my grandfather used to. That means hands off approach. Well almost like my grandfather. Sometimes his wines turned into vinegar, which hasn’t happened to me, he laughs.

- Back then people didn’t understand the fermentation process thoroughly. Working with the vines was more difficult too. For example, mildew was a huge problem. That’s why they built the chapel on top of Fleurie, next to the famous vineyards of La Madone. They used to pray in the chapel so that mildew would stay away, Christophe explains.

That fact tells you something quite essential about the region in itself but especially about the relation of its people to wine. The chapel on top of Fleurie was built to gain divine protection for the vines, not for the people. I kind of like the idea.

Marcel Lapierre, or uncle, as Christophe calls him, was one of the unpretentious pioneers who were able to change the image of Beaujolais with their own example. Lapierre was among first to travel vastly abroad. It was no coincidence that it lead to a revolution of quality.

- When he came back he was full of new ideas. This was in the late seventies, Christophe says.
As paradoxical as it may sound, the ones who wanted to go back to the traditional methods were the ones who’d been around the world most.

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Rusty indicator at Domaine de la Grand’Cour

The quiet revolution that was ignited by Lapierre has made Beaujolais one of the most interesting wine regions of France at the moment. Thanks to him and people like Foillard, Metras, Balagny, Brun, Dutrieve and Pacalet, the story in the wine media is no longer one of declining sales of Beaujolais nouveau but of the new Beaujolais, that has gone natural.

- The generation before me didn’t choose. They didn’t decide to become vignerons. They were born into families making wine and become vignerons because of that. That’s the big difference with today. If someone makes wine now, he or she has chosen it independently. It’s not the easiest way to make money, so many of the people who do it today, do it properly, Christopher tells.

Indeed, passion seems to have come back to Beaujolais. The region is full of aspiring producers making interesting wines, like Sunier, Jambon, David-Beaupère and Thillardon.

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The young guys of Beaujolais

But now that nouveau was mentioned, let’s talk about that for a minute here. Nouveau seems to be the blessed curse of the region. It has made some people rich but at the same time destroyed the quality image of the whole region. I see Beaujolais Nouveau as a typical short term gain, long term loss –situation leading towards all kinds of trouble, but the locals seem to be more forgiving towards it.

- Well it did make the region famous worldwide, says the great Jean-Paul Brun before continuing that it however might be one of the reasons why a Moulin-à-Vent goes for one tenth of the price of a Vougeot from neighboring Burgundy, though they used to be at same price level a hundred years ago. Yes, that might have something to do with it.

Cédric Chignard, the wine maker of the brilliant Fleurie company Chignard making wines with piercing purity and long aging potential puts it the other way around.

- The problem is not in my opinion the nouveau. The problem is the crus. They’ve been badly marketed, Cédric says.

The man does have a point there. The majority of Bordeaux is cheap low quality wine, but no-one thinks that would affect the image of Pauillac crus.

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Foillard is one of the very best in the region. Here having a lunch with the family

Christopher Pacalet seems to agree with Cédric Chignard, since Christophe too makes nouveau. In fact 50% of his production is nouveua and especially the Japanese are crazy about it. But one shouldn’t confuse his nouveau with the thermovinificated industrial stuff the big houses push out. We are talking here natural nouveau. If it sounds crazy, listen to this:

- I’d want to put my wine into a bag-in-a-box. Why not? Natural nouveau in a box, imagine that, he says.

I try to, but the whole concept sounds almost too out of the box, pun intended. After chewing on the idea for a while, I start to like it. Especially the idea of drinking Pacalet’s nouveau. Maybe this could be my ticket back to world I’ve actively avoided for many years?

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Yvon Metras is a living legend and a true character. His car on the other hand, is an environment crime on wheels

The low quality industrial nouveau is mostly to blame for the situation many Beaujolais producers are currently facing. Since nouveua isn’t selling anymore like it used to, producers that have grown dependent on it are struggling.

- The markets for giants like Duboeuf are shrinking. Some smaller wineries have two vintages of wine in their tanks, but they are stuck with it because Duboef doesn’t buy it. It’s of course not Duboeuf’s fault. The market just doesn’t need that kind of Gamay in that quantity. The Beaujolais has to concentrate on quality, Christopher says.

The man has a significant point here. The Beaujolais cannot compete on low level markets with international players that have almost infinite access to cheap land and labour. France cannot win that match.

- In my mind the future of Beaujolais is firmly in terroir wines. Authentic wines that are connected to the soil they come from. The region is already making 50% less wine than just 25 years ago, he says.

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Mathieu Lapierre checking his vineyard in the rain

Mathieu Lapierre, the owner and winemaker of legendary Lapierre seems to agree here.

- You know I did my first vintage 2004 with my father, but before that I worked in different places. In Chile and South-Africa for example. Based on that experience it was obvious to me that Beaujolais can’t compete with them with price. France is expensive. Nevertheless, I’d say 95% of the wine produced in Beaujolais has even today gone through industrial thermovinification. One has to remember that wineries like Lapierre are in the minority, though I do hope more winemakers will start making wines with traditional methods. The problem is that it takes a lot more work and skill and produces less wine to sell, he says.

Among the natural wine enthusiasts Beaujolais is a hotspot offering personal wines and bang for a buck. It is much more than industrial wine consumed once a year. To me two things became clear during my three days stay at the region: first, I think Beaujolais has never been more interesting. And the second thing? I love Beaujolais.

Disclaimer: The trip was partially supported by Beaujolais

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There it is!

A contract for my next book, all signed and looking fresh. And yes, it will be in Finnish like the one before. But not to worry, the time for English book will come later, I’m sure. Have a good Friday and enjoy a nice glass of wine!
Photo 3.5.2013 14.36.49

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The third member of the trinity

With this piece I continue to cover the Murcia region which I’ve written about in the previous posts. Now it’s time for Yecla, the third player of the Monastrell-kingdom of Murcia region. It’s a smaller DO than its next door big brother Jumilla but also a younger one. Only 8 producers in total. The few seem to play together well, sitting all around one table and sharing bread; not necessarily a common thing to happen on any European wine region. 

Out of the three Murcia areas I visited, Yecla seemed to be the most savvy when it comes to the business side of the wine. This makes sense when you think about the modern history of Yecla. The region has had winemaking going on of course for milleniums but it was mostly small scale production for local consumption. Farmers making wine on the side. 50 years ago the region was more known for thriving furniture business (in serious trouble at the times of the current crisis).

When producers like Castaño started getting serious about wine, two things happened. First, because Jumilla was already a well known player and Yecla was challenging its reign by producing similar Monastrells, the region needed to push the envelope further to gain recognition and not be left in the shadow of the big neighbour. Enter contemporary label designs, progressive marketing thinking and stylish bodegas with restaurants serving fine dining.

“Out of the three Murcia areas I visited, Yecla seemed to be the most savvy when it comes to the business side of the wine”

Secondly, because of the furniture tradition, Yecla had people who were involved in the international trade. They could use that know how. And unlike Jumilla, Yecla didn’t have extensive bulk wine culture in need of a make over before they could get serious. So jump start for Yecla when Jumilla had to gather its speed more slowly.

All of this means basically one thing: Yecla produces tasty wine brought to you in chic looking bottles.

But time to get honest here folks. How do the wines of Yecla actually differ on one’s palate from wines of Jumilla and Bullas? Beats me, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. My five cents for the three regions would be: collaborate more.

It’s a big planet catering 7 billion people. When you try to get your fifteen seconds of fame (some inflation here), size matters. Small regions lying next to each other but concentrating on their own messages may in fact cannibalise the common objective: the goal of raising awareness and thus selling more Monastrell with better prices.

“It’s a big planet catering 7 billion people. When you try to get your fifteen seconds of fame, size matters”

Since all three regions produce (on my palate) rather similar bold and juicy Monastrell wines and since the notorious generic consumer has probably never heard about any of the regions, why not create one ceiling DO to represent all of the regions? ‘Monastrell from Murcia’ wouldn’t sound too bad to my ears.

From what I talked with the producers, collaboration between the three Monastrell regions is unlikely to happen, since though the producers of one region may get along well, same cannot unfortunately be said about the three regions. It seems the regions live like lone satellites in space concentrated on their own orbits. Jumilla might see Yecla as a cocky new comer and Bullas Jumilla as an old fashioned bulk area and so forth and when they attend international wine events, it’s three different stands selling similar stories with different DO’s. The one getting confused might be the consumer.

“People tend to craft their micro cosmos based on smallest differences instead of biggest similarities”

It has a lot to do with the history of course, since the producers of all three region are very friendly and hospitable people. Murcia used to be an underdeveloped piece of land with little connections to outside world (just like many other regions, mind you). On conditions like this people tend to craft their micro cosmos based on smallest differences instead of biggest similarities. That’s the way humanity seems to work. Therefore if you live on the arid plains of Yecla, you might think you have barely nothing in common with a person living next to the sea in Cartagena though you share the genes, the cuisine, the dialect, the history and the traditions.

Embedded in the local culture, the situation is probably difficult to change. That is unfortunate because the world around has already changed dramatically. It’s a big globe with a lot of competition from powerful brands. The regions are close siblings, so why concentrate on the differences? Especially while trying to challenge the more well known brands.

“The one getting confused might be the consumer”

I do recognise the issue might be a bit of tabu, something one shouldn’t really talk about like this, but I want to make perfectly clear that by no means do I look to hurt anyone’s feelings or piss someone off. But I want to do my job properly. Sometimes it means articulating things that would normally be left intact. Consider about collaborating more folks.

At Yecla, my coverage from Monastrell region unfortunately ends. If you ask from me, the story of Monastrell and Murcia is a winning one. The style of tinto the region produces has lots of potential among eco-friendly European consumers looking for juicy reds produced organically closer to home base than Chile, Argentina or Australia. Murcia, located in the South-East of Spain, is definitely an area to keep a close eye on.

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Thinking inside the box in rural Spain

At first sight there’s nothing special. Just a guy filling a bag in a box. But if you think about it in the context I’ve been trying to set up the past two posts it hopefully starts to make more sense. Two worlds clashing at one coop in the rural Spain. The old and the new. The way the guy is filling it by hand (which probably doesn’t really happen at Devil’s rock, you know) with inexhaustible patience is a symbol of the old way. The package format obviously represents the new. Foil would have justifiably meant space technology for the grandparents, nothing less.

I really like this clip. The old and the new collide without violence.

Please click the picture to see the video at Youtube

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 11.12.09 PM

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