Painted Wolf seen in Toon

Jeremy Borg of Painted Wolf Wines was in town this week catching up with old friends and giving a tasting of his wares at Carruthers and Kent in Gosforth. It’s not the first time Jeremy have been at Claire and Mo’s; he was one of the first producer tastings they had soon after opening their store on Elmfield Road back in 2011/2, but after a parting of the ways with his old UK Distributor his bottles disappeared from their shelves. Until now that is, thanks to a new arrangement with North South Wines, ably represented by Newcastle-based Greig Wilson – who I was happy to see at the tasting (both as a fellow NEWT and for his excellent pouring and bottle-handling skills!).
In fact with 3 other NEWTS at the tasting it felt like a gathering of friends more than a formal tasting event!

Head to the end of this post to see what I thought of the wines, but first some history of Jeremy, Painted Wolf Wines and their namesake, a.k.a African Wild Dogs (who make great T-shirt motifs!)

Jeremy comes from a conservation background; the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Tusk motifs on the back label of his bottles confirms his dedication to wildlife.
Educated in Zimbabwe, he spent 16 years out of Africa in the UK and California, but in 1994 he returned to visit family in South Africa and, through his sister, ended up working as a Chef in a bush camp in Botswana working for Emma. 2 years later she became his wife and they then moved to Paarl, but the time spent in close proximity to the wild animals left its mark and, after seeing a magazine article on African Wild Dogs or “Painted Wolves”, he registered the trademark that would allow him to establish Painted Wolf Wine company in 2007.

For his wine experience, Jeremy started work under Charles Back of Fairview (famous for Goats do Roam and Spice Route) and put himself through a wine business course with Adelaide University. It was only after more than 7 years with Back that a “bust up over something” saw him leave, and it was at this time when he had a chance to buy some quality Shiraz grapes for a knock-down price to make some wine under his own name. That wine was put into storage over the Christmas period and when he came to collect it to sell he discovered it gone – apparently a guard at the storage facility had managed to  bypass the security systems and he, his family and friends had a great holiday season! It wasn’t all bad news for though, as a fast-paying insurance policy meant Borg now had cash to put towards next years grapes and, with investment from a group of backers, from these shaky beginnings a wine-business was created.
The first vintage was in 2007 and first export to the UK in 2008, with the TUSK and EWT relationships in the following 2 years cementing the conservation associations that last to this day.
The evocative wine label designs are from artists Jenny Metelerkamp (who knew the Borgs from the Botswana Camp days), the late Keith Joubert, Lori Bently and Lin Barrie.

Painted Wolf doesn’t own any vineyards of its own, buying in grapes, unfermented must and some finished wine to make their labels using cellar space in Nederburg, courtesy of Willie Dreyer of Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards.
Jeremy also told of using and experimenting with different winemaking techniques; oak staves for seasoning, tartaric acid adjustment, powdered tannins for texture, re-using part-pressed white grapes with red ferments – all common techniques used globally but often not referenced by winemakers wanting to appear “natural” or “traditional” – Jeremy’s openness was refreshing for those in the know!
However, he did give one word of caution, “don’t do open ferments without sulphur…that’s a mistake!”

And finally (before the wine) the African Wild Dogs, Lycaon pictus (Painted wolf). Unlike other canines they have only four toes per foot (no dewclaws) and live in permanent packs, possible the most social of all canines with an alpha female and dominant breeding pair hierarchy.
Jeremy was passionate describing these extremely intelligent, misunderstood and persecuted animals. He recounted a somewhat gruesome story of witnessing a pack hunt down a Kudu (a helical-horned antelope), the final take-down interrupted when a pack-member was on the receiving end of a nasty back-kick from the prey and almost all the others gathered round to see if it had survived (it did, just). Most interesting was the pack’s almost total ignoring of nearby humans as they went about the hunt, including jogging past adults and kids on their way (considering their only predators are almost exclusively humans and the occasional lion they should probably be more avoiding of our species).
For more on African Wild Dogs see A celebration of Painted Wolves on Facebook and African Wildlife Foundation links.

And so to the wine, and we were in for a treat with 12 bottles to try over the 2 (and a bit) hours!
The Den wines are the entry level range showcasing single varietals, with mid-range single labels such as the Penny (named for Penny Hughes, the late wife of grower and investor Billy Hughes), Old-vine Chenin, Guillermo (named for Billy Hughes himself) and Madach (“Mad/dirty Dog”, slang for Wild Dog) plus the numbered Pictus special blend (named for Lycaon pictus).

  • The Den 2017 Chenin Blanc, Swartland, 12.5%: Seasoned with Radoux oak staves and some lees aging, this had a gentle floral nose with a little sweet green apple. The approach was light with lime acidity and a gentle, warm finish. A pleasant drinker with refreshing acidity, it lacked strong flavours, but had a touch of character.
  • The Den 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Coastal, 13%: A small amount of the wine spent time in used oak barrels. The nose was delicate and creamy developing a gentle sweet grassy aspect. The approach was light with a thin, buttery aspect and a subtle tangerine finish. Overall this felt too simple without obvious Sauvignon characteristics.
  • Penny 2014 Viognier, Swartland, 13.5%: A rich, sweet nose with some pineapple, this was had a creamy palate with a touch of white peach and a long finish, although the flavour profile was linear throughout, only building slowly and lacking edges or peaks that would have improved it.
  • 2015 Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Paarl, 13%: 5400 bottle from grapes from a 1986 vineyard, this was a “dirty and slow ferment” according to Borg, natural wild-yeasts with a touch of spontaneous malo-lactic giving a low-acid, high-tannin wine. It was initially closed on the nose but opened up slowly with a little honey and apple, subtle yet promising. On the palate it was deceptively light at the start but developed a textured mouthfeel with a honeyed finish.
    This was a well balanced, rounded wine with plenty of character, my favourite white in the line-up.
  • Pictus V (2016), Coastal, 13%: The first white Pictus blend; 5440 bottles of Grenache Blanc from the Meerlust Estate, Chenin Blanc and Rousanne. A full creamy-floral nose with a honeyed backdrop this showed good complexity on the palate with a herbal/honey finish. It was a very well made wine but could have done with one of the grapes to stand out a bit more in the flavour profile and act as a focus.
  • The Den 2018 Pinotage Rose, Paarl, 13%: The youngest wine I’ve drank this year this had a nod to Provence with a pale, almost onion skin colour. Red berry and peach on the nose this was smooth on the palate with candy fruit flavour, developing a surprising tannic dryness on the finish, which made it interesting and very quaffable.
  • The Den 2017 Pinotage, Coastal 14%: Pinotage as many expect it…sadly for me! A youthful fruit nose with a rubbery edge (not quite burnt) but still a struggle to enjoy. A lean, slightly graphite palate, mineral and short, warm although doesn’t feel like 14%.
  • The Den 2015 Shiraz, Swartland, 14%: Warm, sweet fruit on the nose with a dark edge and a touch of violet, the approach is equally dark and sweet with a youthful feel but a mineral edge, plenty of grip and texture. Quite a forward wine, floral with a hard edge, good.
  • Madach 2014 Cape Hunting Red, Coastal, 13.5%: A blend of organic Shiraz, Pinotage, Mourvedre, Grenache (and Merlot, although not according to the bottle), 14 months in French and American oak. The nose was subtle but interesting, floral, smoky and spicy. On the palate a minty component surrounded a clean, well structured, medium-bodied wine with fine, dry tannins and the long finish showing a light-berry aspect. The Wine Society do a version of this called The Peloton.
  • Guillermo 2014 Pinotage, Swartland 14%: Organically certified grapes were sourced from the Kasteelsig vineyard, owned by Billy (Guillermo) Hughes. Tartaric acid adjusted before fermentation, this had a warm, sweet nose with some coffee and a touch of menthol/eucalyptus going into the palate. Very dry tannins show the wines youth, even at 4 years of age, and coffee and mocha come through on the finish – a cool, fresh wine needing a few more years, but good with it.
  • 2013 Syrah, Swartland 14%: Dry farmed organic grapes matured in small French oak barrels. Quite dark in colour this had a firm, edgy nose with some floral, warm fruit aspects. On the palate violets and liquorice bark, very elegant, integrated tannin and great balance. Also too young there was some warmth at the end, another couple of years should mellow that, very enjoyable.
  • Pictus IV (2012), Coastal, 13.5%: Although most of the grapes were from the organic Kasteelsig vineyard a paperwork miscalculation meant 5-10% of Stellenbosch fruit ended up in the mix, hence the Coastal W.O. category (South Africa aren’t as forgiving on percentages compared to others). A GSM blend (OK SGM with 40% Syrah, 38% Grenache and Murvedre bringing up the rear at 22%), 2720 bottles made. Aged for 18 months in mostly French oak barrels (20-40% new) this had a delightful funky, sour-savoury nose with some cherry marzipan. The approach was smooth and full with cherry, spice and sweet toasted oak, still feeling fresh and young at 6 years, one for the long-haul and probably the best red on show today, for my palate at least.

The last 4 reds were all a step up from the Den Shiraz, which itself  was the best of “The Dens” tasted by far.

After the tasting we met up with Jeremy again as he had a swift pint with Greig in Gosforth before heading on to the friends I alluded to at the beginning of the post – none other that Ruth and Kelvyn from Guest Wines, who spent time with the Borgs in South Africa back in 2013 (as recounted on their blog post “Leader of the pack” from last year. See that great T-shirt on show with Ruth on their twitter feed!)

See also;

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Plastovo wine, Vina Sladić, Croatia

The final full day of the AdVintage 2016 wine tour saw us heading northwest from Trogir to the village of Plastovo, near the town of Skradin and the tourist magnet of the Krka National Park (which we visited immediately after the tasting).

Krka Falls

Krka Falls

Plastovo is on the boundary of Northern Dalmatia (Sjeverna Dalmacija) and the Dalmatian Interior (Dalmatinska Zagora), and the area was heavily damaged in the Croatian war of Independence that started in 1991, being within the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) that existed until 1995.

For wine it is more famous for the BIBICh winery, which has been exporting to the US for a few years. However, we were going to another family business also making wine for several generations at Vina Sladić, where brothers Juraj and Ante have taken over from their father Marinko.sladic-winerysladic-corks

Ante Sladić

Ante Sladić

It was Ante Sladić who presented the wines and spoke to us about them and the area, while we enjoyed the usual delicious snacks of local hard cheese, pršut wrapped around grissini and fresh tomato, before finishing with dark chocolate cake and some potent liqueur.

Sladić grows 15,000 vines of indigenous grapes Debit, Maraština, Plavina, and Lasina at 250-300m altitude. The vineyards are moderated by sea breezes and the nearby river Krka,  giving cool nights which maintain acidity in the grapes.

Red grapes Plavina and Lasina are truly local, only grown in a 50km area; the white Debit used to be regarded as only fit for bulk plonk, but is now making some interesting wines when treated carefully. The story goes that the grape got its name when the Croatians used it to pay their tax deb(i)t to Napoleon during the region’s short inclusion in the first French Empire (1806-1812).sladic-tricolour

The wines (all unfiltered);

2013 Debit, 12% abv. This had a sweet floral nose with a hint of almond. On the palate it had a lovely dry approach, dry edges with a long smooth finish; very easy drinking and perfectly matched with the cheese (drizzled with olive oil and rosemary).

2015 Maraština, 14% abv. 24 hours skin maceration has given a ripe, textured and and full flavoured wine. There was a touch or pear-drop on the nose, a bit of grip on the palate and it carried the alcohol well.

2014 Cuveé, 12.5% abv. A blend of Plavina and Lasina matured for 12 months in barrique. The nose was lightly smoky with mint and tobacco. Served lightly chilled, this had good balance and was very refreshing; one of the best value wines of the trip for its 69 Kuna (about £8 with the reduced post-Brexit exchange rate).

2014 Lasina, 13% abv. Only 900 bottles of this are made each year from old-vines. There was a ripe, almost floral-sweet nose. and red fruit was dominant on the palate. This was a medium bodied wine with good balance of fruit and texture behind strong acidity, which should hold together well for another couple of years.

Sladić top wines

Sladić top wines

The beautiful sunshine and relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the tasting in the family courtyard was a perfect end to our formal wine-tasting tour – I felt as calm as the family cat, Messi!



Ante was another of the young generation of winemakers with the enthusiasm I saw in Milan Grabovac and Anton Kovač earlier in the week – the future of Dalmatian wine is in good hands!


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Imotski wine, Šimunović & Grabovac, Croatia

Day 2 of the AdVintage 2016 wine tour saw us in Imotski, a small town east from Split, only a couple of kilometers from the border with Bosnia & Herzegovina.
As a tourist destination it is famous for its Blue and Red Lakes (Modro & Crveno jezero) which we briefly stopped to look at….

Blue Lake

Blue Lake

Red Lake

Red Lake






…but we were here for the wine, and 2 wineries were lined up for the day.

Imostski is part of the Dalmatian Interior (Dalmatinska Zagora) wine region, sandwiched between the Adriatic and the Dinaric Alps. The town and some of its vineyards are on slopes, with an expansive and very flat valley floor below where more vineyards grow. It’s local varieties include Kujunđuša, Zlatarica, Medna and Maraština but the region is also planted with more recognisable international varieties which we were to taste.

The area gets a high diurnal temperature variation in the growing season, 15C at night to 32C during the day.

guitar-seranadeFirst was Podrumi Šimunović, where the group was welcomed with shots of flavoured Grappa and a guitar-wielding singer who turned out to be the life-long friend of the owner and winemaker.  The wines were presented by the lovely Ela who told that the winery has been running approximately 50 years and now produces 30,000 bottles a year using a mix of Croatian and international varieties, all blends.
They have been running tourist tastings for the last 2 years and we were in their new tasting room, providing cool relief from the intense heat outside (>30C).

The first wine tried was the 2015 Kujundžuša White, 12%.
Kujundžuša is a high-yielding variety that used to make up 80% of all plantings in the Imotski valley.
simunovic-whitesThis example gave a creamy, herbal nose and was clean and fresh on the palate with good weight and delicate floral flavours.
A creamy yet mineral wine with a dry finish, very pleasant.

Next up was the 2015 “Bili Vuk”, a Chardonnay & Žilavka blend at 12.5%.
Žilavka is a grape planted primarily in the Mostar region of southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There was pronounced tropical/Passion fruit on the nose, maybe a touch of mango. Ripe fruit on the approach moved into bracing acidity for the mid-palate, and a touch of bitterness on the dry finish. It was a full, ripe wine with a light sweetness – balanced and pleasant.

Then there was the very international Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé at 12.5%. It had a light nose of strawberry jam with a lean, simunovic-redsalmost bitter palate and a spicy finish.
The fruit came across as a touch unripe and more of a drink to have with food than on its own.

Finally to the red, with the 2014 “Crni Simon” also at 12.5% alcohol. This was a blend of Vranac and Trnjak with a little Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Trnjak is another Imotski/Bosnian grape, thick skinned and late-ripening, while Vranac (Vranec) is closely related to Crljenak (Zinfandel), native to Montenegro and Macedonia but widespread across the Balkans.
The wine had spent 6-12 months in oak and showed some leather and violets on the nose with a touch of sweet liquorice. It had a smooth, fruity approach going into a very dry finish, but was a bit too lean and green; tart acidity behind the tannins but little primary fruit, suggesting the grapes may have been picked too early.
In summary, the nose was to die for, but the taste disappointed.

grabovac-externalWe then re-boarded the coach and made the short hop along the valley to the Grabovac winery where we had lunch to accompany the tasting.

The Grabovac family consists of father Ante, brothers Nikola and Milan, and cousin Mislav Marsic. It was Milan who showed us around the winery and presented the wines during the tasting. He said his brother had trained in Bordeaux and Giesenheim (Germany) with work experience in New Zealand

The modern commercial winery was established in 1994, but Grabovac family winemaking dates back to approx 1812. It was the first Dalmatian winery to produce a traditonal method sparkling wine and the first to plant Pinot Gris.
They have 15 hectares (ha) of vinetards, 8ha on the stony slopes up to 450m and 7ha on the more fertile valley floor.
These are planted to local varieties including Kujundžuša, Pošip, Žilavka, Trnjak and Vranac,  and international varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvingon, with Pinot Gris used only in sparkling production.
There is no vineyard irrigation (by choice) and Milan compared the valley soils to Bordeaux’s Pomerol, especially good for Merlot.

As well as a delicious lunch we had a quick cellar visit down a spiral staircase into a tank and barrel room plus dozens of sparkling bottles ready for disgorgement. 90% of their barrels are from Slavonia (northern Croatia) the rest American. 1/3 new oak in total across the range.

grabovac-barrel-room   grabovac-barrels

The wines;

Pošip Žilavka 2015 white. Pošip is an aromatic variety known for its refreshing acidity and citrus aspects, it is also one of the the main grapes used for drying to make the local prošek dessert wine (which we tried elsewhere…delicious!!).
The wine was a 50/50 blend at 12% and had a grassy nose, slightly reductive with a touch of mint. The approach was light with a citrus tang then dry from the mid-palate, but just a little too thin and simple to really excite.

Then to the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc at 12.5%. This was a blend of valley and hillside fruit where a New Zealand influence could be tasted. It had Sauvignon typicity; grassy, herbal, ripe and pungent. Also a light approach but with very strong citrus sharp acidity on the palate, tart and lemony. Nice if you like Sauvignon leaning towards New Zealand in style.


Grabovac Whites

The 2014 Chardonnay “Sur Lie” was something different, a bigger wine at 13.5%, made from hillside grapes, barrel fermented and aged 12 months on the lees in 50% new oak.
It was ripe with tropical fruit on the nose (dried banana) and some caramel/fudge. On the palate there was tingling citric acidity with a firm structure and caramel on the long finish. This was a superb wine, the oak is a touch prominent at the moment so could handle 1-2 years further bottle age.

The first red was the 2014 Trjnak, 13%, 15-16 months barrel aged in 1/3 new oak. There’s only 200ha of this grape in Croatia or Bosnia and before today I’d never heard of it, yet here I was on my second example in as many hours!
It had a youthful colour and showed dark berries with sour cherry on the nose, with some smoke and tar. There was a spicy approach, sharp acidity with some smoky oak on the mid-palate and a warm finish. Another good wine where 2-3 years seems about right.

grabovac-modro-jezeroThe last red was the Modro Jezero (blue lake) 2012 Grand Reserve: Trjnak, Vranac, Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5%, aged for 24-30 months in barrel. It was very dark in colour with a volatile aroma of dark berries and a touch of vanilla & smoke. Spicy acidity on the approach, settling into a strong structured mid-palate and a long, oaky finish. This was very good indeed, also with a few years life ahead of it.

We finished with sparkling; first the Rosé (Trnjak, Vranac, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) which had a dark berry aspect with a tonic water/quinine aspect that was rather refreshing; then – for those who made a beeline for Milan at the tasting counter – their White sparkler made from Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. This had a yeasty nose and a dry, citrus and green apple taste, also delicious!


Grabovac shop

Imotski is definitely a region to be aware of when looking at Croatian wines and Grabovac was the star of the day, helped along by Milan’s infectious enthusiasm. It probably was the star of the week, equal with Putalj on the first day’s trip for the quality of the wines and the similar personalities of Anton vs Milan, but edging ahead due to the lovely lunch, a couple of extra wines on tasting and being able to see the barrel room as well!


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Kaštela wine, Putalj & Bedalov, Croatia

Day 1 of the AdVintage 2016 wine tour saw us in Kaštela, the administrative name for seven small towns east of Trogir and northwest of Split. This area has been growing grapes back to the Romans, Greeks and Illyrians ,with records of the first village vineyard from 852 AD (pre-dating the first Croatian Kingdom).

Original Zin

Original Zin

However, it was the search for the origins of the Zinfandel/Primitivo grape that led to the discovery of 9 vines of Crljenak Kaštelanski (Tser-leeay-nak Kash-tel-anskee…the “red grape of Kaštela”) on the slopes of the Mali Kozjak mountain, which were shown to be the likely genetic source of “California’s Grape” (another Dalmatian grape “Tribidrag” also claims this).

The story of this search can be seen on a (subtitled) YouTube Video (click link).
Cuttings of these vines were used to create nursing stock to replant the variety in the area, which was previously dominant to Plavac Mali (a genetic descendant of Crljenak and hardier to disease).

Our first stop was to the Putalji Winery in Kaštel Sućurac, the “first” of the 7 Kaštelas (Forts), where owner and winemaker Anton Kovač welcomed us to his newly-built tasting veranda in the vineyards.
Putalj tasting veranda

Anton’s family have been growing grapes in the area for over a millenium and were granted the land ownership around 500 years ago, seeing both the Venetian Republic and Austro-Hungarian Empire come and go (and almost seeing the Ottomans as well, as the ridge overlooking Split was as close as they got to this area of Dalmatian coastline).

Anton replanted Plavac Mali and Crljenak vineyards in 2007/08 when he founded the new winery, and now makes 15-20,000 bottles of rosé and red each year. He has 6 vineyard plots 400m high, taking advantage of the slope’s southerly aspect and cooling wind from the Adriatic Sea below.

Anton named his wine “Putalj”, the name of small church on the slopes of mountain dedicated to St. George. He told us the label design has a triple meaning; the water source feeding the vine; a wine glass; and the profile of the hillside with the St. George Church (with a St. George slaying a dragon motif underneath).Putalj Label

We were tasting the day before the harvest, and Anton and his wife Carmen also served us cheese and olive oil to help the wine go down.

First was the 2015 Rosé, chilled and showing a light red-fruit nose with a touch of spice. On the palate it was fresh with strawberry fruit and a gentle texture, perfect as a patio drink.

Then the 2 reds from the 2014 vintage, which Anton said was a tough year due to summer rain causing disease and reduced yield (but not quality). Both were aged in Slavonian oak.

The 2014 Plavac Mali had a lightly smoky, spicy nose. It was medium bodied, slightly spicy on the palate (“nippy”) with dark fruit. This was a smoky, savoury wine with a bitter, dark edge, and ended up as our de-facto “house red” for several evenings (it never failed to please!). A good wine.

Then the 2014 Zinfandel/Kaštelanski Crjlenak. Although 14.5% alcohol, it carried it very well, showing a spicy, dark nose with a bit of graphite and tar. It had an initially lean approach, good acidity, graphite again in the middle, and strong, ripe fruit (but not stewed) with a bitter undertone. This was an instant hit and was also tasted at the dinner table over the week – but more importantly 2 bottles were allocated for my return baggage!

Anton and Carmen were kind hosts and the wine was a joy to drink (as it turned out this vied with the Grabovac tasting in Imotski as the best of the week).

Anton and Carmen

Anton and Carmen

Our second visit of the day was to Vinarija Bedalov in Kaštel Kambelovac. This was for lunch at their waterside restaurant where Jakša Bedalov and his family served us local grilled vegetables, cheese and Croatian prosciutto (pršut).
Bedalov frontage Bedalov lunch










Jakša is something of a local wine legend; a 400 year-old plus family winemaking tradition; organically grown indigenous grapes; and all the vegetables on the menu are grown and cooked by him! He even was pouring the wines for us, starting with his 2015 Maraština white.

Jaška Bedalov

Jakša Bedalov

Maraština is closely related to the Italian variety Malvasia del Chianti and produces high acidity wines. The Bedalov had an “Italian” white nose; herbal, rich and creamy. On the palate there was a refreshing minerality  which went well with the pršut.

Next was the 2015 Tribus Rosé, made from Plavac Mali, Crjlenak Kaštelanski and Dobričić. The latter grape is a parent of Plavac along with Crljenak, so this was a real family affair! It showed red berries and cream on the nose, a bit too acidic and the alcohol came through as overly warming, but was pleasant enough with the grilled vegetables.

Then a pair of reds, with a Crljenak Kaštelanski followed by the Tribus Cuveé.Bedalov Reds

The Crljenak had some volatility on the nose, a little bit Bretty, although structure and complexity were suggested. It was served (too) chilled and had a lean approach with spicy edges but with a tinny/metallic aspect down the middle. There didn’t seem to be enough fruit to carry it through, although it did improve in the glass as it warmed up (not sure if it may improve with a year or two bottle-age…or just being served warmer).

The Tribus Cuveé – a blend of Plavac Mali, Dobričić and Crljenak – was more interesting but also served way too cold. It had a complex nose, balanced flavours with some Mocha (Cacao) and spice, medium body & texture and a dry finish. It would definitely improve with another year or so in bottle.

As we left to return to the hotel we had a great view out towards Split ….

Split View

Split View

…. for our first day on holiday this was a superb introduction to Croatian wine and food, plus the glorious weather and Adriatic views we became used to.



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Split Decision; AdVintage Wine Holiday 2016

Summer has come and gone, at least as far as I’m concerned now that my yearly wine holiday with AdVintage Wine is over.

For 2016 it was Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline as the destination, with a hotel base in Seget Donji (just east of Trogir and Split). Of course we had the usual free days where we were normal tourists, but for the sake of this site it is all about the wine!

Croatia (Hrvatska) has a long wine history dating back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and is the ancestral home of Zinfandel, plus a host of barely pronounceable local varieties. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to get hold of its wines in the Northeast, apart from occasional bottles on the shelves of Marks & Spencer or via online retailers such as Pacta Connect and Croatian Fine Wines (Carruthers and Kent have been known to stock some as well, although not right now).

As such it’s been over 5 years since I had a bottle of Croatian wine at home, so it was with no real knowledge or expectations that I tasted my way through the wines poured for us during the  organised tastings and winery visits that covered 4 local areas within this central part of the Primorska Hrvatska (coastal Croatia) wine region.

1. Kaštela (expanded post here).

The slopes at the bottom of the Mali Kozjak mountainside are the ancestral home of Crljenak Kaštelanski – aka Zinfandel/Primitivo – and both producers we visited are known for their work in resurrecting the grape more often associated with the U.S. and Italy.

Putalj Tasting

Putalj tasting

A morning visit was to Putalji in Kaštel Sućurac, with winemaker Anton Kovač in his newly built vineyard tasting area. Under glorious sunshine, accompanied by cheese and olive oil, we tasted rosé and reds under glorious sunshine overlooking Split and the Adriatic below.

The 2014 Plavac Mali was good enough to become the dinner table red on several nights over the week, while the 2014 Crljenak Kaštelanski was even better (so it came home with me!).

Bedalov Tasting

Bedalov Lunch

Then to Vina Bedalov in Kaštel Kambelovac, where winemaker Jakša Bedalov  and his family served us lunch and presented some of their wines. Local grilled vegetables, cheese and Croatian prosciutto (pršut) went perfectly with white,  rosé and reds all from local varieties.

Grapes tasted:
White: Maraština.
Red: Crljenak Kaštelanski (Zinfandel), Plavac Mali, Dobričić.

2. Imotski (expanded post here).

The Imotski area is inland close to the border with Bosnia Herzegovina and we first visted Podrumi Šimunović,  where we were proffered morning Grappa (flavoured rocket-fuel by another name) whilst being serenaded by a guitar-wielding singer, before having the delightful Ella give us a description of the several wines we we tasting, comprising both local and international varieties.

Then to lunch at Vina Grabovac and their new tasting room in the valley, which – for me at least – was the visit of the week, with Milan Grabovac showing us around the winemaking facilities and enthusiastically answering our questions on the winery, grapes and wines. Good wines helped a delicious meal go down, and some great wines resulted in me splitting a case to be shipped back to the UK!

Grabovac Vineyards

Grabovac Vineyards

Grapes tasted:
White: Kujundžuša, Chardonnay, Žilavka, Pošip, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Sivi (Gris).
Red: Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vranac, Trnjak

3. Primošten

The coastal town of Primošten was built on an island now connected to the mainland by a causeway.

Primosten town

Primosten town

Part of the Sjeverna Dalmacija (Northen Dalmatia) wine region, it’s Bucavac Veliki vineyards are a designated Unesco World Heritage site planted with the red Babić variety.

Due to harvest time and logistical issues we had lunch and a mixed tasting inside the town at Konobo Joso, an old winery now converted into a bar and restaurant.
Here we tried wines from several grapes and areas:
– Lemony Krauthaker 2015 Graševina (Welschriesling) from Slavonia
– Rustic family made Babić from Primošten Hill; somewhat aggressive acidity and a touch of Brett
Gracin 2008 Babić; mushroom and balsamic flavours
Gracin 2010 Babić; volatile and a touch Bretty, but quite pleasant in a rustic Rhone style
Kontra, a blend of Babić (from Gracin, Primošten) & Dingač (Plavac Mali from Kiridžija, Pelješac); Dark, spicy and volatile with roasted flavours.
Gracin 2010 Prošek, the famous Croatian sweet wine made from dried grapes (this one including red grapes) giving flavours of boozy raisin, alcohol infused cherries  and caramelised Tart Tatin.

Bucavac Veliki vineyards

Bucavac Veliki vineyards

Gracin Babic

Gracin Babic











Grapes tasted:
White: Graševina.
Red: Babić, Plavac Mali

4. Plastovo, Skradin (expanded post here).

Skradin is inland close to the hills, lakes and rivers of the Krka National Park which gives it a different microclimate to the coastal vineyards. The small village of Plastovo is home to the Sladić winery, and Ante Sladić presented 2 whites and 2 reds from local varieties along with cheese, pršut and other snacks before finishing with some potent liqueurs.

Sitting outside under the shade eating and drinking (sorry…tasting) made this feel the most intimate of the visits all week, but whether that was Ante and his hospitality or the fact that it was the last full day among friends is difficult to say.

Sladic tasting

Sladic tasting

Grapes tasted:
White: Debit, Maraština.
Red: Plavina, Lasina

As always the time passed far too quickly, but I have the memories (aided by multiple notes and pictures!) of fantastic weather and good wines – several bottles of which made it home with me (not including the Grabovac air-drop expected soon)!

Croatian bottle recovery!

Croatian bottle recovery!

I also had the rather enjoyable company of the other holidaymakers on the AdVintage tour group; friends old and new who I hope to see again soon with a glass of wine in hand.

Special thanks go to Lee & Ian for sharing the wine buying/drinking, Lee again for our tourist expeditions; Lorraine, Linda and Janet for dinner conversations and, of course, Suzanne and Bill for organising yet another wonderful holiday.

Slainte, or as they say in Croatia, Živjeli!!

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The Wizard of Oz, with Guests

I’ve been to a few events recently where I find myself apologising for not keeping up with the Wine Blog, so what better reason can there be to dust off the writing cobwebs than a rare visit to the North East by a bona-fide wine celebrity?

Oz and Guests

My muse in this instance is Oz Clarke; Thespian, writer and T.V. presenter who was in town thanks to Ruth and Kelvyn of Guest Wines, who had organised a Friday evening wine dinner and Saturday afternoon Masterclass at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle.

Oz is well known outside the wine world thanks to his almost 20 years as wine expert on the original BBC Food and Drink programme (alongside the eccentrically lyrical Jilly Goolden) and more recently after his multiple adventures with James May and Hugh Dennis on the BBC.

Whilst I will go out of my way to avoid the cult of celebrity that has grown up around reality T.V. participants, I am not averse to meeting famous people who actually have an obvious passion and knowledge of their subject, especially when that subject is my own personal obsession. I also like a good feed, so the evening dinner was much more my scene.

Arriving late due to horrendous traffic in the Toon (Go North East, my choice of public transport, did not live up to their name) I was met at the door by Ruth (proffering a welcome glass of Nyetimber Classic Cuvée) and Oz deep in a conversation he was trying (unsuccessfully) to extricate himself from to go to the loo!

Oz, Ruth & Greig

Joining the other diners in the room I was pleased to recognise a few friendly faces with fellow NEWT Greig Wilson, manager of Majestic Wines Gosforth branch (one of the sponsors) and Suzanne Locke and Bill Oswald of AdVintage Wine.

I was seated at the same table as Suzanne and Bill which made for a comfortable and familiar evening, as Id last seen them as hosts of my recent wine holiday to Ronda in Andalucia and at the very least will meet up with them next year in Croatia. Also at our table were 4 others and between us I’d like to think we had a lovely evening of food, drink and sensible conversation!


The meal came in 5 parts which, along with the Nyetimber, were accompanied by a wine selected to tie-in with Oz’s themed talks focussed around his new book “The History of Wine in 100 Bottles” (of which I now have a signed copy).

  • Nyetimber 2010 Classic Cuvée, provided by Nyetimber. Retail £27-£36.
    Oz used this to discuss the changing wine world, with global warming threatening to make Champagne too warm for its classic style yet turning England’s south coast into the new promised land.
  • Brancott Estate 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, provided by Majestic. Retail £7 – £10.50.
    The wine (as Montana) that started New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc revolution.
  • Yering Station 2013 The Elms Chardonnay, provided by Majestic. Retail £9 – £12.
    Used as an example of how Australia kick-started varietal labelling and providing what the consumer wanted to drink, such as “sunshine in a bottle”.
  • Marqués de Riscal 2011 Rioja Reserva, provided by Majestic. Retail £10 – £15.
    Rioja was the example used on making wines people enjoyed drinking, linked to the use of American oak and reactions to phylloxera hitting France in the 1860s and 70s.
  • Penfolds 2013 Bin28 Kalimna Shiraz, provided by Treasury Wine Estates. Retail £22 – £25.
    Oz talked about Penfolds wines in the mid-80s giving us reliable, rich, ripe fruit with side-stories on the spread of the Shiraz/Syrah and the settling of German Lutherians in South Australia in the mid 1800s (it was that type of evening!).
  • Waitrose (Symington) Reserve Tawny Port, provided by Waitrose. Retail £13.
    Oz talked of The Treaty of Windsor, Phoenician traders, weird and wonderful grape varieties (including little red Bastard) and a drunken Abbott accidentally fortifying partially fermented wine and creating Port as we know and love it!

Bottle spread
The Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc was a struggle, far too pungent and acidic for my palate, but loved by others on the table that prefer that style.

More to my taste was the Yering Station Chardonnay with its caramel-sweet oak mid-palate and smooth texture (although disliked as too oaky by others).

  Chardonnay Rioja Shiraz

The Marqués de Riscal was a vanilla-oak infused delight; smooth and spicy with a dry core of red-fruit and relatively young tannins.
Although drinking well now it will last several years in bottle.

The Bin28 was the polar opposite; youthful, ripe fruit on the nose with a touch of spice and menthol, smooth tannins, sweet fruit and a touch of heat on the finish. A very popular wine.

The Waitrose Reserve Tawny was delicious, still a hint of youthful colour (I’d have guessed a 10 year old –  the back label says 7 years average age) with warming, sweet alcohol and the start of those nutty flavours coming through.

The food from The Assembly Rooms was all good apart from a red wine risotto that, while flavoursome, was too crunchingly al-dente. Most enjoyable was the main course of lamb-shank which was a good foil for the fruity exuberance of the Penfolds Shiraz.

Oz’s short soliloquies in-between the courses were insightful and personal tales of how wines have changed over the years and why – along with a few ideas of his own on where this is leading us. Oz is a well-known New World fan, but with a delicious Rioja Reserva and warming Tawny Port on the table – not to mention the crisp, complex Nyetimber as an aperitif – there was a great contrast in wines and styles for everyone to enjoy.

Wizard Fizz with Julian

The Wizard and the Magaician

Also in the room were local Magician Chris Cross, whose slight-of hand tricks had me easily fooled (I’m not a fan of magicians as I hate not to know how these things are done!); Matt Scouler of Beyond the Wall Vin-Garden (growing grapes in Northumberland); and, representing Nyetimber, Julian Kirk.
It was good to chat to Julian about how there’s still a struggle getting the public to realise that English sparkling is the equal to, and in many cases better than, most Champagne.

Wizard & I

Before and after the meal Oz played perfect host, mingling and talking with those who expressed interest. Unsurprisingly I tried to monopolise his time, learning a little bit more about the man and obtaining a photo to add to the one I have with Tim Atkin, one of his partners in the Three Wine Men venture which I hope will one day come to Newcastle – only Olly Smith to get now!

Thanks to Oz, Ruth and Kelvyn for putting on a great night; a wonderful way to start the weekend!

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Lees, Sur Lie and Bâtonnage

Bâtonnage; a delightful word you may have seen on the back label of some French wines. More likely you’ve come across Lees (stirring) or Sur Lie (aging), as these are the techniques used on white wines from just about anywhere to impart extra flavour and texture into a wine that may otherwise be overtly crisp, light or fruit forward.

Being somewhat OCD when it comes to my interests it was only a matter of time before I delved deeper into what actually goes on with these techniques and the theory behind them – should you be of a similar mind then read on (otherwise just skip to the videos at the end for a visual demonstration of Bâtonnage).
The spur for today’s piece of obsessive activity came from an innocuous paragraph in Matt Kramer’s “Why words matter” piece on Wine Spectator (which is worth reading in itself to understand the concept of texture and mouthfeel), when he describes heavy-toast oak and lees-stirring as maquillage, or “makeup”! Layers of lees

First to the lees itself. This is the general term used for all the particles that exist in the wine after the main fermentation process which, if left in there, would result in a cloudy (and probably spoiled) wine.
Gravity causes these to deposit naturally at the bottom of the tank or barrel, but they can be easily stirred up again so the process of clarification includes racking (transferring the liquid above the sediment to another container) and, later on, fining or filtration to end up with the clear liquid most of us expect to find in the bottle.
(For more details on fining have a look at the fun article “Something Fishy” from Australian blogger Rhiannon Stevens).

There are 2 types of lees referred to post-fermentation; Gross and Fine.

  • The Gross (Fr. Large) Lees is the heavy sediment in a tank or barrel which is composed of primarily of larger grape particles such as seeds, skin, stems and pulp, plus tartrates and dead yeast cells. These settle out in a few days or weeks.
  • Fine Lees are mostly dead yeast cells that take longer to settle down, up to several months.

Most wines are quickly separated (racked off) from the gross lees as they can rapidly result in the creation of sulphur compounds which can lead to spoilage. However, white wine-making techniques typically result in less of the “bad” gross lees components after fermentation.
If managed carefully leaving the wine in contact with the lees can add to the flavour and texture of the finished wine as the yeast cells undergo autolysis (effectively cell “self-digestion”).

Yeast autolysis is at the core of fine sparkling wine production, such as Champagne (where lees contact can be anything from 18 months to several years) but for most white wines the Sur Lie (Fr. on the lees) process is considerably shorter.
During this time the cell decomposition release enzymes and chemical compounds into the wine; sugars, amino acids, fatty acids and mannoproteins which all add mouth-coating textures, toasty aromas and nutty flavour complexity to the wine if managed correctly. It can also be used to take the edge off harsh tannins or acidity, improve resistance to oxidation and assist malo-lactic fermentation.

However, if handled poorly the lees sediment can lead to the production of sulphur compounds such as hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg aromas) and thiols such as mercaptan (the smell added to natural gas so we know when its leaking).
To prevent this the lees must be regularly stirred to ensure smooth and controlled autolysis and this is where bâtonnage comes in, named for the French word for stick it is the term used for the mechanical technique of mixing the lees (typically in barrel).

Along with spoilage risks the Sur Lie technique is not without its style compromises, as the wine tends to lose some of its primary fruit aromas and flavours. Therefore use of the technique depends on the grape variety, the post-fermentation characteristics and the final style intended.
It is common in filling out the light, acidic wines of Muscadet from the Loire; in Burgundy (and around the world) for preparing Chardonnay for its (hopefully) long, developed life; but also for other white varieties where barrel fermentation and ageing is used, including South African Chenin Blanc and some Sauvignon Blanc (not the typical New Zealand style though).

I also came across several videos which explain and demonstrate the bâtonnage techniques.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words;

  • Jordan Vineyards (Sonoma, CA, USA).
    Good explanation of the Sur Lie technique and the practicalities of using it.

  • Goosecross Cellars (Napa, CA, USA).
    Demonstration of classic technique using a perspex barrel-top to see the action.

  • River Road Family Vineyards (Sonoma, CA, USA).
    Also a perspex barrel-top, but using barrel rolling to mix the lees rather than the classic stick technique.

So next time you see the term Sur Lie on a bottle, or hear the word Lees used, you’ll have a better idea why and how it all fits into getting the wine into your glass – and if you’re feeling ambitious try sneaking bâtonnage into a conversation (good luck with that!)


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Producteurs Plaimont with Xavier Didelon

Last month I was invited by local wine educator Helen Savage for a tasting of wines from Producteurs Plaimont, a co-operative in the South West of France.

Xavier-HelenPresenting the wines was Xavier Didelon, an Alsace native who has worked for Plaimont for the last 2 years. He’d just flown in from ProWein in Dusseldorf and the North East welcomed him with plenty of rain!

Helen had gathered a busy room of local wine enthusiasts, both amateur and professional; including local retailers Michael Jobling and Carruthers & Kent, plus Suzanne Lock from AdVintage. Along with 10 wines from “one of the most dynamic cooperative group of producers in the world” there was a delicious supper of Charcuterie and cheese laid on in the impressive surroundings of the Northern Counties Club, my first time at this venue.

Producteurs Plaimont lies in Gascony, in the foothills of the Pyrenees between between Toulouse & Bordeaux and covering the Côtes de Gascogne, Saint Mont, Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh wine regions.
It was founded in 1979 as a small co-operative of 3 villages; Plaisance, Aignan & Saint Mont and has since been joined by producers in Crouseilles and Condom. It now has over 1000 growers, 200 employees and covers 5300ha of vineyard, bottling 80-90% of its own wine.Plaimont Terroir

Plaimont is atypical for most co-operatives in that it has a dynamic, international view and is at the forefront of research into winemaking and viticulture; focussing on the local grape varieties Gros Manseng, Petit Corbou, Colombard and Tannat.
While its main market is France (~45%) it exports to China (for 15 years!) Netherlands, the U.K. and Germany, with a view to expand to other countries such as Japan & Russia. They effectively “force” their growers to visit clients in other markets and this exposure obviously works – see this South Korean TV presentation on Plaimont on YouTube, demonstrating a fondness for the Gascon Beret!

The appellation of Saint Mont in particular has a lot of sandy soils and includes some pre-Phylloxera, ungrafted vines from the 1880s. Plaimont make approx. 100 bottles a year from such Heritage vines; unknown grapes with the vineyard named for the late owner Rene Pebernard (who’s great grandmother told him the vineyard was “old” in her day). Although such vines are historically significant the wines are less so, with Xavier searching for the appropriate translation to describe the taste before coming up with ….”disgusting!”.
Still, rare varieties such as Arrufiac and Pinenc (Fer Servadou) are included in several of the Plaimont wines for character, while the proximity of the Pyrenees means that in summer the day-night temperatures can vary by 20 degrees, which helps flavour complexity in the grapes.

Xavier pouringBefore concentrating on the wines Xavier finished talking about the remaining history and current activities of Plaimont in the local community, including the organisation of a regular summer jazz festival.

And so the first wine was poured…

Colombelle 2013, IGP Gascogne.
11% abv. 80% Colombard, 20% Ugni Blanc.
Tank fermentation, reductive winemaking and no malo-lactic fermentation.

2013 was a hard year for the region, losing 30-40% production due to adverse weather.
The wine itself had a fresh, fruity nose with some grassy/herby tones and a touch of melon. There was sharp acidity at the front but with a rich mid-palate, and a mineral/metallic aspect. “Dry with a background of sweetness” – very pleasant for an entry-level wine.

Les Vignes Retrouvees 2012 Saint Mont.
13.5% abv. 60% Gros Manseng, 35% Petit Courbu, 5% Arrufiac.
Night harvest, 6-8 hours skin contact for the Gros Manseng. No malolactic.

There was discussion on the peppery edge of the wine, a characteristic shared with Shiraz and Grüner Veltliner. The wine itself is named “the rediscovered vines” in tribute to the ancient local grapes varieties such as Arrufiac, which has a long history being blended with Petit Courbu in Gascon wines. It was Plaimont’s founder, Andrė Dubosc, that helped resurrect interest in this and other local grapes.
The wine was aromatic with a creamy component, very light on the palate to begin with developing a herbal/nettle bitterness and a spicy warmth. Peppery and dry, a good, characterful wine.

Le Faîte 2011 Saint Mont Blanc.
13.5% abv. 70% Gros Manseng, 20% Petit Manseng, 10% Petit Courbu.
Several hours skin contact, the Petit Manseng (which brings a sweetness to the wine) is barrel fermented with lees stirring. The remaining blend gets 6 months lees ageing with no malolactic.

This last white is at the top-end for Plaimont, a special blending from the best areas of the cooperative. They invite wine experts to become “Godfathers” to the wine, including in recent years Gerrard Basset, Tim Atkin and Anthony Rose.
It had a sweet nose suggesting a glycerol richness. It was dry on the palate, oak was evident with a herbal bitterness and a long finish. A good, complex wine.

Rosé d’Enfer 2013 Saint Mont.
12% abv. 55% Tannat, 35% Pinenc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The winemaking technique for this rosé was expanded on, somewhere in between the direct pressing typical for Provence and the Saignée (bleeding) method more common in Bordeaux. The night-harvested grapes were maceration and given 1 hour skin contact before pressing, giving a darker colour that direct pressing but less extraction than typical using the Saignée technique.

It had a salmon pink colour with a subtle nose of red berry fruit, not too bold. There was good texture to the mouthfeel but a bitterness on the palate and it comes across as a little too dry. Not my favourite.

So to the reds…

Béret Noir 2011 Saint Mont.
13.5% abv. 70% Tannat, 20% Pinenc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sandy & silty clay soils. 24 hours cold soak. Fermentation and 1 year ageing in tank. No oak.

Named with a nod to the black beret of Gascony this wine led to a discussion on Tannat needing to attain full ripeness, otherwise it will be very bitter and tannic. Plaimont help with this by plenty of leaf pruning and increasing the height of the canopy (which is a balancing act not to shade neighbouring rows) to allow the sun through to ripen the grapes.
The wine had a lovely nose of rich, syrupy fruit with some caramel. Young tannins kick in from the mid-palate, firm but in balance with the creamy fruit and some light garrigue undertones. Although a little short on the finish it was a good wine.

SupperIt was about now that the accompanying food was placed on the tables, delicious meats and cheeses to go with the wines. Unfortunately no-one knew what the different types were, but there was a certain blue cheese with a strong, salty flavour that went so well with all the reds on the evening – Helen confirmed that salt, not fat, is what makes food work so well with tannic wines.

Le Faîte 2010 Saint Mont Rouge.
14.5% abv. 70% Tannat, 20% Pinenc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.
From deep yellow, sandy soil. 20-25 day fermentation & extraction with 10-12 month ageing on 1/3 new barrels.

Same blend as the previous one but a step-up in quality. As with the white Le Faîte the grapes are from selected plots of vines. This had a graphite (pencil) nose with an understated strength. Powerful on the palate, dry throughout with dark, sweet fruit and graphite again. Finishes a little quick compared to the structure and complexity, but delicious nonetheless.

Monastère de Saint Mont 2012 Saint Mont.
14% abv. 70% Tannat, 20% Pinenc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mixed soil (Clay, Sand & clay-limestone) for complexity. 48hr cold-soak, 25 days extraction (different techniques). 12 months in 1/3 new oak.

The monastery vineyard, on the slopes of the hillside village of Saint Mont, dates back to the Benedictine monks in the 11th Century. It is currently owned by French media celebrity Françoise Laborde who apparently lives up to the aloof, nouveau-riche celebrity stereotype (based on a first-hand story from Helen).

The third of this blend composition – an excellent comparison of the 3 grapes at work –  the wine had a (nice) touch of farmyard on the nose with cool menthol and graphite. An elegant, integrated wine; rich, very balanced with great depth and layers of complexity yet remaining smooth. A lovely wine.

It was at this point that I realised my camera wasn’t taking pictures, even though I thought I’d snapped a good dozen or so – I later realised a memory card is an essential component, so it was of little use sitting next to my computer back home!
(Thanks to Kelvyn Guest for agreeing to me using some of his pictures).

Maestria 2012 Madiran.
14% abv. 80% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Clay with a layer of pebbles and gravel. 48hr cold soak and <20 day extraction (punching down only). Unoaked.

Madiran wine is expected to show more complexity than Saint Mont, although historically they were over-extracted with no charm; “like leather when young and like mushrooms when old”. Xavier said there is a generational change in Madiran where wines are being made for drinking young, fitting in with market preferences.
This wine led to a discussion on the political correctness of saying whether a wine is masculine or feminine, and also into the use of micro-oxygenation to “polymerise the tannin” and emphasize the fruit”.
It had a perfumed, feminine (!) nose with a graphite edge to the dark fruit. Cool on the palate, the fruit is young and the tannins skirt around the sides – quite fine and firm, not aggressive. Decent balance with more of that graphite component, another good wine, and definitely a different style to the few Madiran’s I’ve tried previously.

Plenitude 2010 Madiran.
14.5% abv. 80% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Clay soil. 20-30 day maceration with punching down. Micro-oxygenation in tank, malo-lactic fermentation in barrel. 8-12 months in oak.

Xavier confirmed the final red as one of their top-end offerings and that it was ”still a baby”. It had a savoury nose with a little touch of farmyard and was a precise, well-made wine; peppery at the front, firm tannins on the mid-palate, dry with a warming finish. This is a serious wine, it just needs time to settle down.

We finished the evening with a sweet wine from Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, the white only appellation which is co-localized with Madiran. The name is believed to be derived from the Gascon (Bearnaise) paisheradas”, stakes to support the growing vines (from the old country, “Vic-Bilh”). There were lots of Pacherenc novices in the room yet to try these late harvest Moelleux wines (I had previously only tried the dry Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec from Château Montus).

Saint Albert 2012 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.
12.5% abv. 50% Petit Manseng, 30% Gros Manseng, 10% Petit Courbu, 10% Arrufiac.
Named for the feast of St. Albert on November 15th, around when the grapes are picked. Aged 8-10 months in 50% new oak with lees stirring.

Apparently “Manseng is a bugger to grow” and is naturally high in acidity, giving great balance to sweet wines made from it. This had a refreshingly light nose with a touch of spritz on first sip. Gently sweet with a touch of pineapple, the fresh acidity makes this a delicious cheese wine, working well with all the different types and styles on the table – a fitting end to the evening.

Michael JoblingHelen and Xavier had put together an excellent tasting and it was great to chat to Suzanne, Claire and Mo and see Michael Jobling looking so well.

Xavier was the perfect ambassador for Plaimont; relaxed, informative, friendly and helpful as we tasted our way through the wines and learned about the south west of France.
I will definitely look out for more wines from this area in the future.


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De Muller, by Papal approval

The AdVintage September 2013 wine tour of Tarragona continued with a visit to the De Muller winery in Mas de Valls, just outside of the town of Reus.
DoorwaysFounded in 1851 by Don Auguste de Muller and Ruinart de Brimont, the company is famous for its sweet Sacramental (Altar) wines which it supplied to the Vatican under Papal license between 1903 and 1963 and which it still exports to the Catholic Church and its missions worldwide.

De Muller was bought in 1995 by the Martorell family and expanded in 1999 by the purchase of the Cochs Vermouth company, known locally for their “Vermut Iris”.
The estate currently has 240ha of vineyards; 200 ha around the main winery in Tarragona and 40ha in El Molar, in the southwestern of Priorat.

55k BarrelOur first impressions were of the size of the place, several large “hangars” and side-buildings. First we went through to the sweet wine warehouse which had a very intoxicating sherry and caramel smell, passing by three ancient, enormous barrels, each holding 55,000 liters. These are supposed to be the largest barrels in Catalonia; 100 year old, slow-oxidation Soleras (Asoleado) giving a hint at the scale of wine-making we were about to encounter.

Then the winemaker, Jordi Benito Prades, appeared to take over tour-guide duties. We felt quite privileged having him show us round, although at first he appeared rushed (probably understandable, considering we were right in the middle of the harvest).

We were ushered through to one of the main winery buildings along with talks on sweet grapes, sweet wines and an overview of the company. Jordi said that they used to supply a cool fermented Sauvignon Blanc to the U.K. through Morrisons, but no longer export to our shores (supermarket pricing didn’t seem a popular topic!). In total De Muller produces 500,000 hl of Sacremental wine for export around the world, along with 200,000hl of sweet wines and 45 other different types of wine, mainly still but including some Cava – we are talking a truly industrial scale of winemaking, the exact polar opposite of what we encountered as Mas Vicenç.

We passed by a bottling line where the end result were 1.5l plastic bottles packed into cardboard cases of 6. There were strange looks exchanged until Jordi said this was the Vermouth (Vermut Iris), a popular product to many restaurants which use it as a welcome drink – this was truly bulk recipe wine-making, taking only one month to make and including addition of sugar & caramel for flavouring/colour. Next door we spied dozens of blue plastic tubs containing gallons of Sacramental wines destined for export to, amongst other places, Ghana and Vietnam – to the relief of thirsty missionaries around the world!Missionary wineWhat remainsThen we went down into the cellars – past dozens of barrels of different sizes – into the pressing and pumping room. In one corner were a pile of stalks which were the sorry remnants of a whole trailer full of grapes we’d just seen offloaded into the vats upstairs. The pump/press itself looked like a massive jet-engine and towards the back of the room were several rows of new barriques where the barrel-fermenting Chardonnay was resting.

Back through to a different room, again stacked high with dozens of barrels from Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, France etc. By this time Jordi had slowed down and told us of the experimentation they carry out with the different oak, each one chosen for the different flavour components they impart; coffee, chocolate, vanilla etc. His enthusiasm was now showing through and he told of his winemaking family background and spending a year studying in the U.S. This was in stark contrast to the mechanical, industrial operation we’d seen upstairs; down here, amongst the walls of oak, his creative side was apparent.Barrels again

Conversation briefly turned to the 2013 harvest and Jordi admitted he hasn’t got high hopes  – the grapes were ripening on average 20 days slower than usual following the cool Spring.

On the way to the tasting room we walked past the Cava enclave, sadly locked (with no sign of the key!) containing hundreds of bottles on their sides.

The wines;

  • 2012 Muscat. D.O Tarragona. 11.5%, €4.50.
    Very dry with that grapey, fresh Muscat nose. The grapes were early picked (mid-September, compared to mid-October for the sweet wines). Some light melon aromas but a quick finish.
  • 2012 Chardonnay. D.O. Tarragona. 13%, €6.
    Barrel fermented in new American, German, French, Slovakian, Hungarian & Russian oak (!). 80,000 bottles of the Chardonnay are made and it sells out within the year, with 25% heading to Japan!
    This wine impressed with a beautiful nose of baked apple and fresh fruit – peach and pineapple. Creamy/buttery on the palate but dry at the edges with coconut on the mid-palate and through to the long finish.
  • 2012 Syrah. D.O. Tarragona. 13.5%, €5.50.
    Young fruit aged for a short time in Navarran and Bulgarian oak.
    This had young, dark flavours, was medium-bodied with chocolate and some savoury spice/pepper. Smooth and easy drinking it was a little harsh at the edges and dried up towards the end, but again good for the price.
  • 2009 Les Pusses. D.O.Q. Priorat. 13.5%, €13.
    An equal Merlot-Shiraz blend aged for 12 months in new Hungarian oak. The label is a map of the vineyard and winery.This had a smoky nose, some coffee with a slightly metallic, green vegetal aspect. Green tannins at the front suggesting an overly youthful wine needing more time. There’s a dry, chocolatey component and a metallic tang on the finish.Priorat
  • Then to the sweets and the famous Sacremental wine Vino de Misa, Dulce Superior, Vino de Licor. 15%  (Maccabeo & Grenache Blanc).
    Sweet toffee and a simple grape-fruit component. Pleasing in a salacious way, no complexity but no complaints (I can understand the Papal approval!). A bargain at €4 for a 750ml bottle.
  • Moscatel Añejo, Vino de Licor. 15%. Muscat of Alexandria aged in French oak.
    Even more of a bargain at €5 since this had some character as well. Lots of Raisins, luscious sweet and long. Several bottles of this were bought by the group and consumed over the rest of the week after the hotel dinners in the evening!

We strolled back outside under the late-afternoon Catalonian sun, more than satisfied at a thoroughly enjoyable tour. Again it was hard not to compare and contrast to Mas Vicenç; one artisan, the other industrial, both sides of making wine in Tarragona.


De Muller 1851De Muller S.A. Camí pedra estela n34, 43205 Reus, (D.O. Tarragona).

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Mas Vicenç, D.O. Tarragona

The first visit of the AdVintage September 2013 wine tour of Tarragona was to a small family producer in the Alt Camp area of Catalonia, on the edge of Conca de Barberà.

Family wineOriginally a small agricultural holding bought by Vicenç Ferré in 1953, 4 generations worked the land until 2005, when the 2 young Ferré Morató brothers, Vicenç and Xavier (Xavi), decided to break tradition and concentrate on viticulture. From 4000 bottles then the vineyards now cover 42ha and produce 50,000 bottles a year.

Our guide for the morning was Xavi, a sommelier who studied business and hospitality in Liverpool. Vicenç, who trained as a winemaker in the Rhône and Priorat, was on hand to say hello and help his brother during the group tasting at the end of the tour.

The vineyards are in the highest part of the region just south of the town of Cabra del Camp, with spectacular views of the nearby mountains topped by wind-turbines. On the dry terrain and without irrigation the vines work hard to find water, a typical indicator of quality if the grapes are handled right. The fruit used represents the best 25% of the vineyard production, with the remainder sold to the local cooperative.

Mas Vincens

2 wines (from a range of 5) define Mas Vicenç; the light, fruity and sweet El Vi del Vent (Wine of the Wind) and the rich and structured red, Rombes d’Arelqui (Harlequin Diamonds).

El Vi del Vent was first made in 2008 for the October Fira del Vent (Fair of the Wind) in nearby El Pla de Santa Maria. Organisers wanted a new wine for the festival – one from this year’s harvest – to accompany the sweet cakes also being made. Mas Vicenç accepted the challenge and harvested Muscat (Petit Grains) in early September before bottling in less than a month (around the 14th October) – it continued each year afterwards and is now a tradition (ironically the cakes never appeared as the local bakers couldn’t get them ready in time!).

L’Arelqui is the prestige wine of Mas Vicenç, equal amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo (known by the Catalan name of Ull de Llebre – “Eye of the Hare”) and barrel aged for 12 months in French Oak. Each year the production of this wine undergoes some small change, whether in the barrels used or grape proportion, to try and further improve it.

The winery is compact, showing its gradual conversion from a farm, allowing Xavi to easily show us around the facility as he explained the different wines and techniques used. Near the store and presentation area fermentation tanks and new barrels stood next to a small press, while underneath is the cellar with barrels of Nit de Lluna, their easy drinking Tempranillo/Syrah blend. Low-volume bottle-filling, corking and labeling machines lead onto another barrel-room (a converted swimming pool) for d’Arelqui.

CourtyardA picturesque courtyard and patio made for a perfect tasting area, where 5 of the wines were poured along with the delicious Olive Oil they also make on-site.

The wines;

  • Teras 2012. Macabeo (80%) & Moscatel (20%). 11% abv. €5.
    This had the grape aromas of Muscat coming through. White fruit on the palate, fresh with a gentle dryness and light, crunchy acidity. Very pleasant with a warming finish, “A wine for enjoying on the terrace”..
  • Dent de Lleó (Dandelion) 2012. 100% Chardonnay, barrel fermented for 6 months. 13.5%, 2,000 bottles made. (The 2013 Chardonnay was harvested 2 days before our visit, on 15th September and they had 7 new barrels waiting at €700 a piece).
    A deeper colour but still bright. Not overtly oaked with some pear aroma. Good texture on the palate; light spicy oak, toasty/creamy flavours with just enough fruit to balance the wood. Good character and body.
  • Escot 2011. 100% Tempranillo (unoaked). 14%, €5.5.
    Youthful fruit nose, red berries. Smooth palate, simple attack with pleasant tannins, a little dry on the finish but not bitter. An easy drinking wine.
  • Nit de Lluna (not tasted). 70% Tempranillo, 30% Shiraz aged for 12 months in used oak. 18,000 bottles made.The main wine of the estate, aged in 3-5yr barrels.
  • Rombes d’Arlequi 2010. 50% Tempranillo, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14%, €11.
    Deep colour with soft blackcurrant and lightly toasted oak on the nose. Ripe, concentrated fruit, well integrated with chocolate. A lingering finish with a little vanilla and caramel. A good, if not excellent, quality wine with a few years of life ahead.
  • El Vi del Vent. Muscat de Petit Grains, harvest to bottle in 1 month – a “Muscat Nouveau”. 13.5%. €7.
    Fresh, fruity nose. Sweet melon on the palate, light and delicate sweetness.

XaviOur group of 30 had a great time, enjoying the brilliant sunshine, warm temperatures and even warmer hospitality of Xavi and Vicenç. The enthusiasm of these 2 young brothers and the quality of their wines was delightful to experience and left a lasting impression on everyone, even after our subsequent visits to bigger and more famous producers later in the week.


YouTube Video of the visit (.mp4)

Celler Mas Vicenç, Cabra del Camp (D.O. Tarragona) (twitter @Masvicens)

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