A WORLD OF WINE

by CloudWines

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Grenache (we are talking about the « noir » or « tinta » variant to be thorough since there are also white and grey varieties in this family) is a cultivar originally from Spain where it is called, amongst other names, Garnacha. It also happens to be the world’s third most planted red grape variety after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

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I am totally fed up with wine stoppers made from solid cork and, as a by-product, all those who defend them as a decent way of closing bottles of wine, whether by ignorance or vested interest. Corks are one of the least effective closure systems for wine. And things get even worse when one is talking about aged wines, which are also usually rarer and more expensive than their younger counterparts. Old wines, and to a lesser extent young wines also are regularly spoilt or diminished by a small piece of the bark of a tree.

 

Photo: Vincent Pousson

Photo: Vincent Pousson

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View of the Maury vineyard in the Roussillon (which joins the Languedoc to the south)

View of the Maury vineyard in the Roussillon (which joins the Languedoc to the south)

Anybody returning to this major wine-growing region of southern France who has not been there since the 1980’s would find it quite hard to recognize: the vines have mostly left the plains and reclaimed the hillsides. Oceans of high-yielding varieties such as Aramon have been ripped out and replaced, elsewhere, by Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Many cooperative wineries have disappeared and new independent wineries have taken their place. Changing landscapes, new faces and a renewed image combine to provide a different vision of Languedoc wine. And all this is constantly evolving.

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All you have to do is take a sniff of wines made with grapes such as poulsard, trousseau or savagnin (the latter in Vin Jaune mode or not) to realise that you have entered another world in wine terms, and not only made a close encounter with some rather obscure varieties.

 

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Perched quite high up between Burgundy and Switzerland, with its vineyards at around 400 metres above sea-level, this small vineyard region (2,000 hectares) has firmly stood by its own traditions and grape varieties. Sure there are increasing areas devoted to pinot noir and chardonnay that have crept in from neighbouring Burgundy, but even the chardonnays here can take on a strong local accent. Jura red wines (usually dark pink in fact) made with poulsard or trousseau are anything but fashionable: pale in colour, low on fruit flavours, with high acidity and firm tannins, they often also have animal-like or leathery aromas. One may love them or hate them but they certainly have plenty of character. This strong character can be even more noticeable with the white wines.

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Can you imagine a wine that is at the same time deep in colour, reasonably tannic, fresh-tasting with ripe fruit, weighing in at below 12° alcohol and coming from a cool-climate region (the Loire Valley) and a generally disastrous vintage (2013)? Sounds like an improbable combination? Yet, on February 26th 2015, we tasted just such a wine in order to wash down a delicious Montbeliard sausage (or the other way round).

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I simply cannot think of another region in France specialized in white wine production that is able to offer such remarkable value-for-money as Muscadet. These wines come from the Atlantic extremity of the Loire valley near the city of Nantes, from an area where the light has that elusive silvery tinge that is so often reflected in its wines. If you like your whites to be always rich and buttery, better try somewhere else! On the other hand, if you feel like a more delicate touch with a silky texture that surrounds that crisp freshness that reminds one of an ocean breeze, then yes, the best Muscadets are really worth seeking out.

 

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It is not because something is « natural » that you want it in your glass!

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In its issue no: 49, the excellent Swiss magazine Vinifera, produced by Jacques Perrin, devoted a 12 page dossier to a topic that was entitled « The dream of natural wine« . As part of his investigation of this modish subject, Perrin went to the trouble to ask opinions of a number of wine professionals: wine writers, producers and university teachers. He asked them 2 questions:

 

1). « Terms such as « natural » wine, « real » wine, or « sulphur-free » wine are used quite a lot these days. Often the ensuing debate turns into a verbal boxing match that sometimes involves personal insults. Why in your opinion is this such a loaded subject and can you set out briefly your thoughts on it ? »

 

2). « As from February 2012, European legislation has adopted a biological/organic wine certification that includes wine making as well as grape growing. What do you think of this evolution and will consumers or wine producers benefit from it? »

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Sauvignon Blanc is, after Chardonnay, the best known white grape variety in the world. It probably originated in the Loire Valley where it has been identified since the 16th century and where it was initially known as « fier » or « fié ». It came to Bordeaux in the 18th century and from there travelled around the world. The Loire Valley and the Bordeaux region are thus the main producing areas for this variety in France, but it can be found in many other parts of Europe, particularly in regions with temperate climates such as Friuli in North-East Italy, Slovenia and Southern Austria (Styria), and quite a few others. In the New World, this variety has been particularly successful in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Chili, but it is New Zealand, and particularly the region of Marlborough, that has provided the modern benchmark for Sauvignon Blanc. Here the aromas can be very spectacular without the wine losing its natural freshness, and this profile has become a reference for the variety in many countries. Excessive heat is detrimental to the character of this grape and so the areas suitable for its production are determined by this constraint.

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My origins are in England and my vision of French wines now covers more than 60 years. This period has not been continuous as I have not always worked in the wine trade, but it has been full-time for the past 31 years during which I have worked in various aspects of the wine business. Appreciation of wine was handed down to me by my father who worked all his professional life for one of London’s traditional wine merchants. As an adolescent, my wine horizons were not limited to France since, although three quarters of my father’s cellar was composed of French wines, my first vinous emotions were kindled by German wines, particularly Riesling from the Mosel and Rheingau. Then came ports and sherries. Later on I learnt to appreciate French wines that had the lion’s share of what was served at the family table, although their origins were limited to three regions: Champagne, Burgundy (white and red) and Bordeaux (white and red).

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