Touring yesterday with Swedes from Stockholm- lots of late vendange action and a fabulous haul of wine bought by my guests that nearly grounded the van! Visits to Chateau Vaudieu ( wonderful new “tulip” concrete fermentation cuves); Mourchon ( as ever with Kate on great form); with Fred Chastan at Jaufrette where stocks of the wonderful 2009 Gigondas are still going strong : and finally with Marilou Vacheron at Clos du Caillou- always a great pleasure.
Touring all week with guests from Virginia, Texas, Florida and DC….last night wines on Jude’s birthday: Drappier champagne to start, Solitude white CDP, Alary white Cairanne, Solitude Barberini in magnum format, Grand Tinel CDP rouge 2012 and just to ring the changes a NR Syrah - Alain Graillot’s Crozes Hermitage.
Touring with returnees from Toronto this week - many delights - a fabulous fish lunch at Clos du Caveau with Henri Bungener; great tastings at Chteauneuf du Pape estates Grand Tinel , Solitude and Fortia ; always a great pleasure to catch up with the affable Daniel Stehelin at Mont Thabor - he left me in charge of the barrel tastings ( see pic) whilst he went to supervise the picking team; plus a visit to Domaine Alary at Cairanne - a remarkable line up of wines demonstrating just why this appellation so deserved its elevation to Cru status; final night dinner included a Versino CDP “Felix” 2012 - memorable!
Yes I mean the very LAST….last in my cellar and the last obtainable as the new Guigal regime ( they purchased Nalys two years ago) have decided not to run with Eicelenci in future. A shame!…always one of my favourite white CDPs from an estate that took their whites just as seriously as their reds. Enjoyed this last bottle last night with friends, along side a Chicken & apricot tagine and a selection of goat’s cheeses and figs from the garden.
Touring this week and talking to many vignerons its clear that the extreme high temperatures we experienced in this area back in July - not far away in the Gard a record high temperature of C44 was recorded - coupled with the pitiful amount of rain that has fallen has resulted in many vines failing to produce as many grapes and are smaller with less juice than normal. Estimates of lost production vary according to the terroir, micro-climate and degree of drainage/water supply from the soil but many are reporting up to 30% loss. Nothing wrong with the quality though!
Thanks to the stupendous generosity ( and deep pockets I can only assume) of our loyal guest yesterday I got to taste two spectacular ( legendary) wines on one day - the late Henri Bonneau’s 1998 CDP and a 2006 Rayas CDP - for most Rhone fans thats like waking up in heaven - both wines did not disappoint - the Bonneau dense and smoky and incredibly youthful for a wine 20+ years old, the Rayas wonderfully silky and complex with stunning length, feeling very privileged!
Touring this week with returnees from Alabama Ray and Mary-Lou and Paul and Dinah from Bristol: many highlights - lunch with Henri at Clos du Caveau, tasting old “Minéral” white with Christine Saurel at Montirius, Lunch at Verger des Papes on a perfect day; as always a great pleasure to be with jean-Paul at Bois de Boursan ( hope that knee gets better soon) and finally a fabulous tasting of the CDP Clos du Caillou range with daughter of the family Marilou Vacheron ( thats her beside the Tuscan amphora).
Thanks to the very generous Anton at CDP estate Chateau La Nerthe we were treated to a tasting of an intriguing new cuvée this week - “Les Clavelles” - tiny production single plot ( beteween La Crau and Font de Loup) - 100% pure Grenache made in a batch of just 1500 bottles. This the 2015 vintage. Light colour, pale strawberry , super aromatic nose distinctly pinot style, terrific balance of power and finesse on the palette. I think the most impressive wine I have ever tasted here. Bit beyond my usual budget alas at €150 per bottle - i’m sure Anton ( thats him seen through the glass) isn’t supposed to open it up for us - what a nice lad!
Delighted to see that Domaine de la Solitude is maintaining production ( albeit in micro quantities) of their heritage cuvée “Vin de la Solitude” - a tribute to Solitude ancestor Paul Martin who was making wine at the domaine in the. 18th century. The “recipe” is as close to the original as Florent can tell from the available evidence: an eclectic blend of Counouise ( 30%) , Grenache ( 25%), Syrah and Mourvedre ( 15% each) and 10% of white grapes - Clairette, Roussanne, white Grenache. The varieties are co-fermented , entire bunch and the maceration time is long - 78 days. The wine is attactively packaged in a flask shaped bottle with a wax top. Less than 1000 bottles produced and only 100 magnums ( of which I own one!). Bravo Florent!
A good friend of mine has gifted us a prize bottle from his cellar : a white CDP from Domaine Pegau, the 1999 vintage. This presents something of a quandary- our prior guests will know ( because i’m fond of explaining it) how white CDP plays a clever trick of descending into an abyss of total oxidation when most owners would chuck them out in despair that they didn’t drink them earlier, only to return with a cheeky smile on their face “Hey… fooled you! we are alive after all and we taste good!” - albeit all nuts and honey no longer fresh fruit. Even the colour reverts to something straw like from the oloroso sherry phase- weird chemistry that! So open or not? The colour looks to be frankly completely unpromising - close to a pale whisky! Might just keep it as a curiosity.
Four days on the road this week, with delightful clients from NYC , Connecticut and the UK. Lots of treats - Tasting with Mirielle Cartier at Goubert, gourmet Lunch at the now Michelin starred l’Oustalet, Jude’s roast Pintade dinner served with some mature Solitude CDP, but perhaps the real high point was watching Sandra Rochel, Chef du Chai ( chief winemaker) at Chateau Fortia demonstrate how to slide into an old foudre ( 3500l cask) to get it cleaned - unbelievable contortions , but basically as she showed us, if you can wriggle your shoulders in, the rest of your body should fit. But imagine the claustrophobic reaction once you stand up in these barrels - absolutely not for me!
Vacqueyras producer Clos des Cazaux make great Cru level reds and white wine - I’ve been a fan for a long time - but this wine is new to me: their “Les Grains de Novembre”; made in tiny quantities , each year just a single barrel of 600 bottles produced , its surely a unique wine in the region being made from late picked grapes affected by noble rot ( botrytis) - so a Sauternes style wine made from 100% white Grenache. It’s simply delicious - more than twice the price of my favourite Beaumes de Venise dessert wine ( and for just 50cl) but for the occasional after dinner treat well worth the money.
So pleased to announce we will be taking guests to visit this Chateauneuf du Pape estate on our tours this yea. Fortia is one of the really important historic estates of the appellation: wine was made here going back to the 14th century but the estate really came to prominence in the 18th century. In the 1920’s the estate was owned by Baron Pierre le Roy , a lawyer and decorated 1st world war pilot. Le Roy is locally famous for being the architect of the AOC system in France - Chateauneuf du Pape under his guidance becoming the very first AOC in 1936. Today the estate is run by descendents of the Baron and is producing some very fine wines based on may tastings there this morning- three red cuvées, Tradition, “Cuvée de Baron” and the top red “Reserve” - this a super Syrah/Mourvedre cuvée without wood ageing to preserve the character of the fruit and the terroir - delicious when young but definitely a keeper. A white CDP with increasing Roussanne content is also produced. Looking forward to those visits.
The Times, May 3 2019, 5:00pm
Michel Roux Jr is not in agreement with the two sommeliers at the table. They’re all perching on a humongous leather sofa in a photo studio in northwest London. Each has before them two glasses. One – they don’t know which – contains a splash of 2017 Far Niente, a highly regarded chardonnay from California’s Napa Valley that retails for £85 a bottle.
The other glass contains what you might call a homage or, less charitably, a knock-off – a pirate wine created by a team of renegade vintners who have analysed the molecular composition of the Far Niente and used their laboratory breakdown to create what they hope is a high-quality, low-cost copy.
The facsimile wine, called Retrofit, sells for $20 (£15) in the States, but is not available in Europe. Its makers argue that consumers pay too much for decent plonk, that a handful of producers effectively have a stranglehold on the market and that the veil needs to be lifted on how the wine industry really operates.
Our blind tasting soon suggests that they have a point. Roux, who runs the two-star Le Gavroche in Mayfair, thinks that glass No 2 contains the Far Niente – but he’d rather drink a glass of No 1.
Alexandra Badoi, sommelier at Meraki, an upmarket Greek restaurant in Fitzrovia, disagrees. No 1 is the better wine, she says, with more body and biscuityness – so surely it’s the original?
Monica Galetti, the MasterChef judge, and her sommelier husband, David, run the high-end restaurant Mere in Bloomsbury.
With its creaminess and its pineapple and its superior complexity, structure and density, No 1 is the original, says David.
“They’re very close,” Monica murmurs as she sips each in turn and then chooses No 2.
She’s not sure that she approves of the ethics of the people who make Retrofit. Exploiting somebody else’s hard work is bad form, she says. “But I think they’re going to have a great time confusing the public.”
They certainly foxed our sommeliers: both thought the copy was the real Far Niente.
Four thousand miles away, in Denver, Colorado, I imagine Ari Walker chuckling to himself. Walker is the man behind Replica Wines, the outfit that produces Retrofit and a stable of other copycats. He’ll insist that he gains no satisfaction out of embarrassing professional wine tasters, something that he achieves on a fairly frequent basis. “But we do deliver the flavours that consumers already love, at a fraction of the price.”
Ari WalkerMORGAN RACHEL LEVY
His company is part of a nascent trend in what you might call “molecular” wine and spirits manufacturing. It’s based on the notion that a convincing replica of any beverage can be concocted from scratch.
The San Francisco company Endless West makes a “molecular whiskey” called Glyph. It’s a blend of alcohol and additives, synthesised entirely in a lab and designed to taste (in order to appeal to a wide market) like inoffensive, middle-of-the-road whiskey.
The idea came after one of the company’s founders, Mardonn Chua, took a tour of Napa Valley wineries and saw a bottle of 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay on display.
In 1976 this had been the vintage that had won the famous “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting – a shootout between US and French wines that put the Americans, for the first time, at the top of the world rankings.
There are only a few bottles left and they fetch astronomical prices. It was a shame, Chua thought as he gazed at one of them locked away in a plexiglass case, that nobody would get to taste it.
On the bus ride home, he decided that perhaps they could. He could make any wine, he reasoned, down to the last molecule, without grapes. Alec Lee, Endless West’s CEO, sketches out the rationale for me. “If you take away the history and the marketing and all that, it’s a collection of molecules, mostly water and alcohols and sugars and acids,” he says.
“I have a lab. If I can figure out what each of these molecules is, I should be able to quantify them,” he continues. “If I can source each one of them independently, I should be able to mix them back together again, like the pixels of a photograph.”
The process, he argues, has the potential to be more efficient, by orders of magnitude, than traditional distilling and winemaking. Years of cellaring could be sidestepped. Carbon dioxide emissions and the use of land, water and pesticides might be slashed.
Ari Walker is less of a molecular fundamentalist. He doesn’t argue that a wine can be duplicated with perfect accuracy. Instead, he is in the business of “improving” cheap base wine in the science lab. “We’re not trying to hit a bullet with a bullet,” he says. But he’s betting that if he can get 90 per cent of the way to a famous label and sell the result for, say, 30 per cent of the price, then customers will snap it up.
Walker stumbled into the wine industry. He took a job at a wholesaler when he left college at 22 (he’s now 46), because his wife was pregnant and he needed an income. He soon became beguiled; wine-and-food pairings started to infiltrate his dreams.
In 2001 he started his own import and distribution business with Kevin Hicks, an internet entrepreneur. Their first attempt to create their own affordable wines fell flat – too many competitors. It wasn’t until 2012 that Walker had his epiphany, via baby food.
Technician Joanna Jarosz in Walker’s labMORGAN RACHEL LEVY
Hicks, who was on the cusp of fatherhood, had begun to ask what, precisely, was in the organic purees that he and his wife were planning to feed their newborn. He sent samples to a laboratory to be analysed. The bills quickly mounted – $1,500 per analysis – so he decided to build his own lab.
He ploughed millions into equipment for the venture, which he called Ellipse Analytics. It was soon providing breakdowns of products – everything from sunscreens to bodybuilder diet supplements – for industrial clients. Walker quickly spotted the potential for wine.
Today, it’s likely that Walker possesses the largest library of molecular reports on individual vintages. The scientists at Ellipse have broken down the composition of thousands from around the world.
The people who trade in fine vintages often land on descriptions that are calculated to amplify their mystique. Michael Broadbent, the distinguished former head of Christie’s wine department, was a master. The author Benjamin Wallace described his way with words in the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar. A 1979 Pétrus once reminded Broadbent of Sophia Loren: “You can admire them, but you don’t want to go to bed with them.” A double magnum of 1947 Cantenac-Brown evoked chocolate and “schoolgirls’ uniforms”.
Walker has less time for poetry. Instead, he can tell you precisely which acids and sugars are responsible for producing the taste, aroma and “mouthfeel” of your favourite pinot. He knows which esters make your sauvignon blanc smell like grapefruit and gooseberry, which sulphites have been used to inhibit the growth of rogue wild yeasts. He can say which tannins are reacting with the proteins in your saliva to produce the tactile astringency of your go-to house red.
He also sees which additives have been used to bolster mainstream favourites – the brands, for instance, that go heavy on “Mega Purple”, a concentrated grape-juice gloop used to deepen colour.
‘I wouldn’t buy a knock-off watch, so why a facsimile wine?’ says Roux Jr
In 2015, Walker and Hicks started Replica. They would use their data to reverse-engineer some of America’s most celebrated wines. They also pledged to cut out pesticide residues and other unwelcome elements. They would not resort to using Mega Purple. Before long, it became apparent that professional tasters often could not distinguish their copies from the real thing.
Last year, Walker let Wired magazine view the process behind an effort to clone a 2015 Far Niente. It began with a taster going through more than 70 lots of chardonnay – cheap vats of surplus wine, essentially – that were being offered by a broker based in the Napa Valley. Two were chosen as potential fits.
One was from a tiny boutique vintner, the other from a massive producer that makes millions of bottles of wine each year. The first was an excellent match for the Far Niente, but only a little was available; the second was less suitable, but there was more of it.
Walker’s team were guided by an analysis of the aromatic compounds present in the most popular California chardonnays. Far Niente, it emerged, was something of an outlier: it had more citrus and no coconut.
It also had a far higher level of malic acid, found in lime juice. This was not a surprise: it had not undergone the secondary fermentation that transforms malic acid into lactic acid – a process by which the taste of green apple is transformed into something more creamy or buttery, and which Walker’s team felt had lent a “flinty” note to the Far Niente.
Walker was unconcerned about the malic acid – he could add the chemical into his blend. Replicating the cloves and raw wood notes present in the Far Niente would be trickier. They were a product of the precise type of oak barrel in which the wine had been fermented. His team would have to try to mimic them by adding a wood extract.
Unsurprisingly, not everybody has warmed to the Replica sales pitch. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, a newspaper in Sonoma County, California, regarded as speaking for the state’s wine industry, has denounced the company’s offerings as “Frankenstein wines”.
“While Replica wine doesn’t begin in a petri dish,” it said, “it is created, to a large degree, in a lab.”
Just blitzed the NR with clients/friends from Stockholm : many highlights including Alain Voge’s top Cornas “Fontaines” ; a tasting lunch at Chapoutier: tastings of mature Cornas at Jean Luc Colombo; A fabulous dinner on the riverside at the Hotel /Restaurant “Beau Rivage”; Hermitage “Bessards” at Delas Freres; some “to die for” Condrieu at Christophe Pichon and Rémy Niero; discovering the top Seyssuel ( the forgotten vineyards of Vienne) cuvées from Vins de Vienne; discovering that Crozes Hermitage IS capable of excellence ( Domaine des Colombier and Domaine des Lises) and not forgetting the stellar line up of Cote Rotie/Condrieu at Jean Michel Gerin; Exhausted on my return but very satisfied ..and many gems stored away in the cellar.
Reviewed by GFchef
24 Apr 2019
We joined our gracious hosts Jude and Philip for a three night, two day wine adventure at their impeccably restored property in Malaucene. My husband and I had our own comfortable suite with access to a large sitting/dining area with a wood burning fireplace as well as the use of a private roof top deck. Jude's food was excellent and the wine choices were superb. Philip arranged tastings in some small, out-of-the-way wineries that are inaccessible to the average tourist. It is obvious that the winemakers have an excellent relationship with Philip as we were consistently welcomed with open arms. We learned much about Southern Rhone wines and had the opportunity to purchase some favorite bottles that will be shipped to us by Philip. We enjoyed our shared time with the Reddaways, both of whom are charming conversationalists. By the end of our short stay I felt that we had made two wonderful friends. I very much look forward to another visit.
Lovely lazy Sunday lunch with Jude, Fiona and Chris. Champagne to start to toast Fiona’s birthday , then Christophe Pichon’s Condrieu ( stunningly good) to accompany the asparagus with a herb and anchovy butter sauce, then Solitude’s “Cornelia Constanza” 2010 CDP ( 100% Grenache) to accompany the Guinea Fowl and” ratte” potatoes with ceps - then a Villeneuve CDP 2013 to go with the cheese board- as near to a Burgundy as a CDP Grenache gets. Good day , siesta well deserved.
Great day at the bi-annual “Decouvertes” tastings at the Palais du Pape - two masterclasses , the first run by wine journalist/blogger Matt Walls on the appellation of Seguret (really interesting session defining the style) - Mourchon’s Family Reserve Grenache was featured as one of the top reds -and the second a double act between Louis Barroul of Saint-Cosme and Andrew Jefford the wine journalist ( an gifted speaker). The theme of the latter - “Freshness” - Gigondas being positioned as the Northern wines of the Southern Rhone due to their climate, altitude, unique terroir and in many cases whole cluster fermentation. Learnt new things as ever- for example the reason why i’ve found La Bouissiere Gigondas so austere is all down to its altitude and super cool north facing slopes! Louis told a great anecdote about being a kid and watching the Faravel family bring down their grapes from the high slopes at harvest time in October with a dusting of snow, incredible!. Ran into many old friends and met a new contact Christophe Ay the young wine maker at venerable estate Raspail Ay - nice guy and absolutely loved the style of his 2016 Gigondas…must take guests to taste at some point this yearF
We enjoyed tasting Pablo Hocht’s first ever white wine vintage (2018) at the bio-dynamic tiny estate he runs just behind the village of Seguret - Domaine Creve-Coeur. Before he struck out on his own Pablo was employed by Louis Barruol at Saint-Cosme as his “Chef du Chai”- and there is more than a little inspiration I know from the Saint-Cosme white Cotes du Rhone/IGP that I like so much - in particular the magic ingredient of Picpoul. Pablo’s white is made at Cotes du Rhone Vilages Seguret level and was intended to be a Viognier/Marsanne/Picpoul blend but as a result of the pour yield of Marsanne last year it has ended up being a highly unusual ( possibly unique?) Viognier/Picpoul blend ( with just a dollop of Marsanne) - so a great combo of aromatics and fat from the Viognier with citrus zesty notes on the finish from the Picpoul. Felicitation Pablo…we like it!
They say over 5000 wine fans are attracted to this salon/dégustation event at Chateauneuf du Pape held over 6/7th April - more than 80 vignerons showing their latest vintages including many 2017’s. It was a great opportunity for me to catch up with old friends ( Florent from Solitude/Fred from Jaufrette/Daniel and daughter Fanny from Mont Thabor) as well as make some new contacts - had some productive chats with both Chateau Fortia and Clos Saint Jean - would not be surprised if some tour visits weren’t on the cards for later this year. The catering arrangements this year were a real plus - enjoyed a delicious “assiette grillard” ( with grilled duck) in the marquee following my tastings. Nice day out.