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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


– 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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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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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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The hyberpole of journalism

If we agree that mean value means the average value of a set of numbers, around 50 percent of values should be below average just like 50 percent has to be above average. This is plain mathematics. In this classic and revered Parker chart more than 90% of the scores put a given vintage ‘Above average or excellent’. What’s up? You tell me. A decade of a century?

Dr. Vino was on the topic of score inflation few weeks ago. Check out the post and the conversation.

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The Hades of Parker

“A tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole, serious and of a certain magnitude. It has a beginning and middle and end. “ – Aristotle

If you are like me and find it interesting to follow the twists and turns of the so-called Murciagate I can assure you, we’re not alone. What I find most interesting, even above the essential question whether the abuse of status has been systematic or just a wrongdoing of a single person (or the evidence shown at Jim’s Loire a forgery) is not what most makes me tick. The incidents are not the most important thing for me, neither the people involved. For some reason it’s the story itself. The way it unfolds. While sipping my coffee this morning I realized that the very moment Parker released this statement Murciagate became not only a scandal but a Greek tragedy in its purest form.

The story of Murciagate has some archaic appeal to it, no doubt. As people we are drawn to stories and myths with such vigor. They work within the structures of culture interwoven in the texture so seamless that we don’t know whether we act in these structures or these structures more in us.

Let’s see what the good old Aristotle has to say about tragedy and read these real life events as a text. A tragedy obviously needs a plot but who’s the protagonist of this story? One might easily be inclined to think it was Mr. Pancho Campo, because he is undeniably in the core of events now unfolding. That, how ever, would be a mistake. Although Mr. Campo’s agency has been most vital for the plot to build up he’s not the protagonist of the story. In fact, the role of the villain falls on Mr. Campo.

Mr. Jay Miller isn’t the character either though it’s claimed Mr. Campo did the accused deeds in his name. In fact in this text, he’s only a vessel for the villain used to for many purposes. At the same time Mr. Miller might be seen as the false hero according to Vladimir Propp and a catalyst for a tragedy potentially of epic-scale.

The protagonist of the story is in fact Robert Parker himself. He was pulled in reluctant without a choice, drawn in from a distant location, just the way the protagonist should be. This is not the only thing that makes Parker a great main character, because as Aristotle put it:

The protagonist should be renowned and prosperous, so his change of fortune can be from good to bad.”

The protagonist’s has to conduct a hamartia, a tragic error of epic scale; a wrong doing which he carries out either by ignorance or mistake. If the protagonist is malign, sinister or evil, the play isn’t a true tragedy like this one. This part of the tragedy becomes self evident when you read Parker’s latest response on the evidence provided at Jim’s Loire.

“The change should come about as the result, not of vice, but of some great error or frailty in a character. That is hamartia.”

needs to be a mistake. Here it’s Parker’s dismissive and evasive attitude towards the evidence that has been laid out for the whole world to be weighted and measured. The unfortunate consequence of the chosen approach (that seems to be some kind of a version of the hedgehog defense) is that all the sudden without a warning the Wine Advocate empire and the honor of Mr. Parker is on the line, no more, no less. A whole legacy. All thanks to the deeds of others. Never the less, the stone has been cast and it has already broken the surface tension of the pond. The splashing sound’s been heard over long distances. By denying the very existence of the rock, you see the Greek tragedy growing to it’s full potential.

According to Aristotle, a tragedy must have a beginning, middle and an end, in order for the play to be complete. “The beginning, called the incentive moment, must start the cause-and-effect chain but not be dependent on anything outside the compass of the play. The middle, or climax, must be caused by earlier incidents and itself cause the incidents that follow it.”

We’ve now witnessed the first two acts of the play. The middle part’s climax was the exhibition of the evidence showing that more than one person has lied during the procedure and is now caught pretty much red handed (if the evidence isn’t fabricated). Like the bow of Artemis ready to go off, we are entering the third and final act. In this part the energy trapped in the climax has to be discharged, in a disastrous way for many characters of the play.

The play displayed in front of our eyes is staying true to Sophocles whom Aristotle had in mind when he wrote Poetics more than two thousand years ago. The story is the same but this time the implementation is done with ubiquitous technology in real time without a rehearsal. It’s something quite likely never seen before in the history of play.

“The end of the tragedy is a catharsis of the tragic emotions of pity and fear. Spectators are purged of their own emotions of pity and fear through their vicarious participation in the drama.”

We, as the audience, go on looking for the catharsis without knowing how the story will end and what will happen to the involuntary protagonist. We know that the divine intervention, the deus ex machina, the enemy of a Greek tragedy, won’t likely happen, and at the same time we understand that tragedy isn’t a tragedy if it ends like a comedy. We need to see how it ends.

We need the catharsis because the plot has tied our emotions as the audience in to the play and the knot has to be opened. And it will be.

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