Wine Tastings & Tours

For a tutored wine tasting or an expert guided tour of a wine region contact me via my Facebook page

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Black Sea Gold - Varna Winery

In September the Wine Anarchist and his wife and trusty beagle visited some friends near the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria and he took the opportunity to visit the Varna Winery, which is located some 8km east of the city of Varna in spitting distance of the sea.  He is now a little confused as the official website of the winery appears to have been taken over by some Japanese blog.  Also some internet sources talk of a hotel and tourist complex attached to the winery, which the Wine Anarchist saw no sign of.  However the winery does exist and produces wine as the WA can testify himself.  Maybe one of his Bulgarian friends can explain the mystery of the disappeared website and tourist complex.

Anyway, a friend of Tisho, who in turn is a friend of the Wine Anarchist, arranged for a guided tour as he works as a general runaround for the winery.  On the day of his visit the first Traminer grapes were being processed, so the winery manager had just limited time for a tour of the premises and a tasting of some of the highlights.

To give a background, Varna Winery was established in 2008 in what is known as the 'bread basket' of Bulgaria due to its rich soils producing much of the countries grains and sunflower seeds.  For wine the region is mostly known for its white wines, the influence of the Black Sea having a moderating influence on the climate, which is hot and dry during the summer, but gets very cold in the winter.  This is on the northern part of the Black Sea coast with no major mountains protecting the area from the plains of Siberia.

The winery owns some 55ha of white grapes in the area, planted with Chardonnay,  Misket Varnenski, the local clone of the native Bulgarian Misket, Rhine Riesling and even small quantities of Gruner Veltliner of Austrian fame.  Red grapes are bought in from contract growers in the Thracian Valley.  Varieties here include Syrah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The soils of the region have a high mineral content, some closer to the sea are somewhat sandy, whilst a bit further inland they are the rich black soils typical for the area.  They are some of the most fertile soils in the country.

The winery uses gravity for the transfer of any must, which is gentle on the delicate aromatic qualities of the whites in particular.  Production at this stage is around 120,000 litres per annum, so this is a relatively small output.  The wine making facilities are modern and up to date, except for this barrel, which may just be a bit leaky...

There is quite a large range of wine styles produced, however, due to the small volume of some of them, many were already sold out.  The most intriguing to the WA, the Gruner Veltliner, is apparently down to 4 bottles, which are firmly locked away by the owner...  This is what the WA and friends got to taste though on the day:

  • Chardonnay 2012 Barrel Fermented:  This elegant offering was only fermented not aged in oak and it was 4th passage French barrique, so the oak influence was not too overpowering.  In appearance it displayed a pale straw colour; the nose revealed delicate apricot fruit, followed on the palate by a soft, silky texture and well balanced fruit and acidity, finishing long with just a hint of oak.  Very nice and indeed.
  • Riesling Varnenski Misket 2012: Very pale in colour, the nose was met by exuberant floral aromas, including rose petals; the palate showed more of the same floral notes, some delicate green apple fruit and some juicy acidity, with a decent slightly tart finish.  Really pleasant wine and an interesting blend.
  • Rosé 2012: This is made mainly from Sangiovese plus 15% of Cabernet Franc.  The colour is a delicate salmon; the nose displayed some delicate fruit aromas such as raspberries and cream; the palate was dry and pleasant, but perhaps a bit one-dimensional.  Would still make a nice summer time drink
  • SMS 2012: SMS refers to the grape varieties used in more or less equal quantity: Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese, matured in barrel for 6 months.  The colour was medium ruby with a purple fringe; The nose revealed nice fresh fruit aromas, blackberries and fruit of the forest; the palate had some nice Sangiovese tartness with hints of cold tea, which was balanced by some lively berry fruit and a touch of chocolate on a long finish
  • Sublima Red 2011: Made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc matured in barrel for a year.  Deep ruby in colour with a purple edge, the nose showed some intense herby notes of eucalyptus and rosemary, complimented by complex notes of coffee and elderberry.  It was medium bodied, with a firm tannic structure,still young with more coffee notes and rich underlying fruit and a long complex finish.  One to watch for the future.
  • Sublima Dessert 2008:  As a final bonus the Wine Anarchist was treated to this little gem.  Only 600 bottles were produced as an experiment during the first year of the winery's existence.  It is made from the same grapes as the Varnenski Misket / Riesling, but fermentation was stopped through the addition of grape spirit to retain 120g per litre residual sugar, bringing it up to 16% AbV.  The wine underwent 5 years of barrel ageing, where it took on an oxidative quality reminiscent of sherry.  This resulted in a wine of medium golden colour, a rich nose of walnuts, figs and honey, with more of the same following through on the palate, balanced by some great acidity and a never-ending finish.  This would stand up even to some Christmas pudding, with which the Wine Anarchist will try and pair his treasured bottle he took away from the place.
All in all a very nice visit and some promising wines coming from yet another young winery.  If only the mystery of the apparent disappearance of the net presence was explained...  Anyone can shed any light on this?

Friday, 4 October 2013

Appeal for Support for a Young Brewer

There isn't enough good beer in this world, so the Wine Anarchist is always happy to support new, young and enthusiastic people to join the trade to make REAL beer.  This post is just a small appeal to help a young chap achieve just that.  The Wine Anarchist hasn't actually physically met Dan Frye, but has been in virtual contact with him and his wife Brianna for some time.  Both are very much into organic and biodynamic farming practices and Dan does not only ferment the barley, but anything from kimchi and Sauerkraut to wines from wild ingredients.  He recently completed an apprenticeship at a brewery in France and is now looking to study to become a brewmaster in Berlin.  This costs money though, so the Wine Anarchist agreed to make a bit of publicity for him in order to help him achieve his goal.  the world of beer will the richer for it.  He does promise various perks for any donators, such as courses on home brewing (personally the Wine Anarchist would like a life-time supply of hand-crafted organic beer...).  Have a look at his website and watch the video below.  Oh, and if you would like to know a little more about Dan and his wife and get some recipes on, for example how to make kimchi, check out Brianna's blog.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Girl Power - Claudia Papayanni

Ok, she's not exactly a girl, but a fully grown lady, and a very elegant and attractive one at that, but as Claudia Papayanni frequently refers to herself as the little girl Claudia in a Greek wine scene dominated by men, she'll forgive the Wine Anarchist for talking about 'Girl Power'. 

In early August the WA was on a brief sojourn to Greece visiting a friend in the Chalkidiki region of north-eastern Greece.  The region is mostly known for the beaches of the 3 finger-like peninsulas and the reclusive monks of Mount Athos.  The Wine Anarchist asked his friend and Master of Wine, Konstantinos Lazarakis MW, if he knew of any wineries worth visiting whilst in the area, which how the WA came to arrange a visit to this very new winery, Domaine Claudia Papayanni, situated in the town of Arnea on the inland part of the Chalkidiki region, away from the beaches and up in the hills.

Claudia is proud of the fact that she is the only self-made female wine producer in Greece, having started up the vineyards and winery from scratch without the direct help of her family, not coming from a wine-making family.  The few other women in Greece in charge of wineries either inherited their places from a father or got involved through a husband.  Claudia on the other hand was bored with life in the hotel business, her husband being an ambassador, she clearly didn't have to work at all and instead could have concentrated on a cosy domestic life with her 2 young children.  But instead she decided to return back to what she calls her roots, the land around Arnea, where her father had hailed from.

In 2003 she set out with an ambitious project, to plant 20 hectares of vines on what was previously agricultural land planted with grains such as wheat and corn and build a 3,300 m2 high tech winery.  "So you mean, there weren't any vineyards at all before you started?  What on earth possessed you to start such a risky business on untried territory?" the Wine Anarchist asked incredulously.  "Well," she answered, "there has been historical evidence of wine produced in the village before and we had the soil tested extensively to make sure it was suitable for growing quality grapes.  Also," she added: "I had a vision and bags of enthusiasm!"  Well, who can argue with that?

Not knowing anything about making wine, she surrounded herself by people who did and asked advice left right and centre.  What followed was years of literally blood, sweat and especially tears.  But her vision and her... you could probably call it stubbornness carried her through.  Her vision was to make the best possible wine from the territory available, make it organically and present it to the world, so that people actually want to buy it.  And the last point is her particular strong side, from presenting herself to the public to opening the winery to the public and making it an attractive place to visit and the modern and sleek labeling of the wines themselves.

The cellars for example are made to look like an old cave, but bear in mind this place is only 10 years old!  So what looks like an old mould covered wall on arched pillows, is actually concrete with spray over foam.  Claudia is frank about it, "it's only for show", but it does give the place a certain ambience.

Currently there are some 110 barriques, 80% of them French from 10 different coopers, to test which brings the best results, and 20% American oak of a medium toast.

But it's not all just on the surface.  Her attention to detail shows throughout, from the state of the art bottling line to fermentation vessels specially designed to ferment the indigenous Greek grape variety of Xinomavro.  The conic shape of this tank allows for the separation of the grape pips from the rest of the mash to avoid green tannins to taint the finished wine.

Currently 130,000 bottles per year are produced, but the winery has a capacity for up to 1 million bottles a year.  The actual first vintage was in 2007.

The vineyards are on 2 different plots: one just outside the winery in Arnea at an altitude of 650m asl and one at a lower altitude (250m asl) in Malthousa.  The soils are rich and contain a fair portion of clay.  Below are the vineyards in Arnea:

Finally it was time to taste some wines.  There are 10 different labels produced, 4 white, 4 red and 2 rosé in 4 different ranges.  There is the entry level 'Ex-Arnon' range, the 'CP' range, 2 wines named after her children Alexandra and Nikolas and at the top the 'Domaine' range. 

Here are the Wine Anarchists notes:

Ex-Arnon White 2012:  Made from Assyrtiko and Sauvignon Blanc (80/20), this is a fresh, lively and aromatic offering with aromas of fresh hay and some delicate yellow fruit; the palate is nicely balanced with well integrated acidity and nice fruit.  This would do nicely on a hot summer's afternoon on it's own or with some shellfish.

CP Viognier Assyrtiko 2012: The nose on this classy wine was distinctly minerally interlaced with some delicate peach fruit; on the palate a racy acidity was in evidence as well as a big mouth-feel.  The intense minerality was carrying through to a long finish.  Great wine!

Alexandra Malagousia 2012: The Malagousia grape variety was on the brink of extinction before Domaine Carras revived it.  Now Claudia Papayanni has taken up the banner and is producing something rather special with it.  On the nose there are some delicate apricot and mango notes; the palate is quite full with good balancing acidity and a juicy long finish with some slightly spicy notes.  It would have been a great loss to the world had this variety not been revived and it will be a source of great pride for young Alexandra to have this wine named after her.  The Wine Anarchist is seeing a classic being born here.

Domaine White 2011: 50% Chardonnay, 25% Assyrtiko, 25% Malagousia, the Chardonnay part being fermented and aged for 4 months in barrique.  This was possibly the WA's least favourite wine with the Chardonnay and soft, creamy and butterscotch characters from the oak dominating both nose and palate, however it managed to retain a certain elegance and finished long.

Domaine Rosé 2011: A blend of Grenache and Syrah (80/20), this wine displayed a medium salmon colour and some signs of CO2 and a nose of creamy wild strawberries; on the palate a medium body was supported by oodles of fresh fruit and a lively acidity.  The finish was long, dry and warm with hints of rose petals. 

Ex-Arnon Rosé 2012: A blend of Xinomavro and Grenache (80/20), this made in a medium dry style.  The colour is a glorious rose-petal pink; the nose displays strawberry and cherry fruit; on the palate the slight sweetness is perfectly balanced by some refined acidity.  The WA was pleasantly surprised as he at first declined to taste a sweet rosé.  Another great summer wine for on the terrace with a bowl of summer fruit.

Ex-Arnon Red 2009: A blend of Xinomavro and Syrah (80/20), this is quite a light and easy-drinking red with pleasant redcurrant and raspberry fruit.  Not hugely complex, but very pleasant indeed.

CP Red 2008: A blend of Xinomavro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (50/30/20), this is quite a full-bodied wine with aromas of blackberries, water paint and chocolate; the palate had a good structure and backbone with juicy herbal notes and some blackcurrant fruit.  It may just start to dry out a little and should probably be drunk fairly soon, but still a good wine

Nikolas Merlot 2009: This wine has matured 8 months in barrique.  The nose was rich with lots of fresh plum fruit; whilst the palate is soft and rounded with a touch of spice and plenty of easy fruit, finishing long.  Very pleasant indeed.

Domaine Red 2008: A blend of Syrah, Merlot and Xinomavro (40/40/20), this is a serious red.  The nose displays a complex balsamic bouquet of eucalyptus, black pepper, redcurrants and blackberries; the palate is backed by a tight tannic structure balanced by rich and full spicy fruit flavours, finishing long with some more herbal notes.  This wine still has some future development ahead.

So in conclusion, the Wine Anarchist was very impressed by the quality of the wines from so young a winery and as the vines get older, future offerings should get even better.  So thank you Claudia for taking us on a tour and all the tears and struggles were well worth it.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Wine, Art & Health - Todoroff Winery

The Wine Anarchist has made Bulgaria his base this summer, so here comes another post on another winery he had the pleasure to visit  Todoroff Winery with his friend Vasko of BuyVinaR.  This winery is located in the village of Brezovitsa in the Thracian Plain just on the northern foothills of the Rhodopi Mountains about 20km southeast of Plovdiv in Central Bulgaria.  Bresovitsa used to be quite a famous wine village with a good dozen wineries, however it has declined somewhat with only a handful of those still in existence today, amongst them Todoroff.

The winery itself was founded shortly after WWII and soon went into state ownership with the advent of Communism.  In 1990 under the land reform it was returned to the family of it's former owners, then bought by Ivan Todoroff in 2001.  It became known as Bulgaria's first 'Boutique winery', as Mr. Todoroff worked hard to improve standards, making small parcels of high quality wines under the stewardship of one of the best winemakers of the country from their own 70 ha of vineyards near the village.

Ivan Todoroff himself has come from a musical / arty background, having studied classical music and playing the flute, so he is still keen to combine wine with arts.  Apart from many pieces of art hanging around the premises, the winery regularly sponsors an art competition of young Bulgarian artists, the winners entry featuring on the labels of their 'Gallery' range of wines.

August is generally not the best month to visit a winery, as it is one of the few quiet months in the winemaking calendar and most people are on holiday, so the Wine Anarchist didn't get to meet either the owner nor the winemaker, despite making an appointment in advance, however as the place also doubles up as a hotel and spa resort, there was some staff on hand to take him around.

The old part of the winery contains the library of back vintages as well as their stock of Bulgarian and American which is used for the wines in the Galley series, which spends between 4-6 months in those barrels.  No wines are barrel fermented, just aged in oak for relatively brief periods so as to not mask the terroir characters of thos wines.

The new winery, which was built after Mr. Todoroff took over the winery, contains mostly French oak barriques, which is used to age the wines of the top range called 'Teres'.  These wines are aged for 9-11 months.  Between the 2 cellars is the modern part of the winery full of gleaming stainless steel.

The vineyards are on the flat or north facing gentle slopes, mostly to the east of the village.

The Wine Anarchist and his friends didn't have time to taste the wines on the premises, but they took away some samples to taste later in a restaurant in Plovdiv, while partaking in a good meal and watching some Balkan dancing (more of the latter below).

  • Gallery Muskat 2012: Pale straw, greenish tinges; good aromatic Muskat nose intermingle with typical lemon sherbet; the palate was medium dry, quite full with warm fruit and a touch of spice.  It had a decent length and quite low acidity.  At 13.5% AbV this was definitely a food wine, which would work well with Oriental food, Thai in particular, or Chinese Duck Orange
  • Gallery Sauvignion Blanc 2012: Pale straw in colour; the nose showed overripe gooseberries and ripe apples (Golden Delicious); the palate was a bit confused displaying tropical fruit flavours and bubblegum, the acidity was low and it kind of lacked definition, which the WA would have been hard-pressed to identify as a Sauvignon in a blind tasting.
  • Boutique Mavrud 2012: Mavrud is the speciality of the region, so the WA had high expectations on the 3 that were on offer at this tasting.  The Boutique was medium ruby in colour with a pale rim; the nose displayed blackberry fruit, a pleasant spicy touch combined with eucalyptus;  the palate was warm and rich with dark fruit and warm spice flavours.  Medium in body, the finish was reasonably long and left an overall positive impression.
  • Gallery Mavrud 2012: the next one up the scale was a lot more youthful with a deep ruby colour and purple hues; the nose showed intense ripe blachcurrant fruit, which carried through on the palate, where a touch of oak was also evident and some supportive backbone from the oak.  Long finish and very good indeed.
  • Teres Mavrud Special Selection 2009:  The colour was ruby with a garnet edge, showing first signs of maturity; also maturiy was evident on the nose with notes of leather, violets, sweet herbs, raspeberries and redcurrants; the palate was warm with mature, spicy fruit and eathy notes on a medium finish.  A pleasant wine, which may possibly be just over its peak.
  • Gallery cabernet Sauvignon 2012: Ruby with purple rim; the nose was slightly ethereal, even spirity with hints of water paint and some sudued blackcurrant; the palate displayed some more defined fruit but somewhat separate from the quite aggressive tannins.  It's not terribly well balanced at this moment in time, but might come together with time as evidenced by the 2007 the Wine Anarchist tasted recently and was very elegant and classy indeed.
  • Teres C abernet Sauvignon 2009:  Unfortunately this sample was maderized and almost undrinkable.  Must re-taste it on a different occasion.
As I mentioned the winery also functions as a health spa, where you can bath in grape skins to prevent you getting.  Personally the Wine Anarchist prefers imbibing the stuff, but if this your thing click on the link above.  For availability in the UK contact BuyVinaR.  

And finally as promised some Balkan dancing

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Oh and a nice little quote by Omar Khayam, which hung at Todoroff Winery:

Monday, 19 August 2013

Liguria da Bere / Liguria to Drink

Every year at the end of June La Spezia hosts the Liguria da Bere, 'Liguria to Drink', event on it's streets.  This year the Wine Anarchist participated once again, as he happened to be on a brief stay at home during his travels (home being 20km from La Spezia).  At this event Liguria showcases the wines it has to offer, as well as some producers who muscled their way in from neighbouring regions of Lunigiana in Northern Tuscany as well as some intruders from other nearby places.

Liguria is the banana-shaped coastal region of Italy in the north-west of the country bordering France.  It's long and narrow and dominated by coastal mountains.  The region is roughly divided in two, with the port city of Genoa separating the two parts.  In wine terms Vermentino is the unifying factor, with this white grape grown on both sides of the divide.  To the west though, another grape variety, related to Vermentino makes interesting whites called Pigato.  Red wines are also made here from local varieties Ormeasco and Rossese.  The eastern part on the other hand is influenced by nearby Tuscany and makes pre-dominantly whites from Vermentino, often blended with Albarola and Bosco as well as some Sangiovese based reds.  The most famous DOC of eastern Liguria is the Cinque Terre, which is also a popular tourist destination.

We started our tasting with one of the much under-represented western Ligurians with the wines of the Azienda Gualtieri.  Unfortunately they didn't have a card with their details on them, nor do they seem to have an internet presence.  However their wines were very pleasant indeed, especially their reds from Ormeasco.  Here are the notes:
  • Pigato 2012: medium straw colour; nice sweet herbal aromas , floral and fresh; the palate had a pleasant tingling sensation with typical notes of white pepper; a little short on the finish perhaps.
  • Vermentino 2012: pale straw, aromas of yeast and fresh bread; softer on the palate with minerally, elegant, racy notes, which seemed almost Riesling-like.  Very good indeed.
  • Ormeasco di Pornassio 'Sciac-Tra' 2012: a rosé made like a white wine from free-run juice; the colour was an almost obscene pink; the nose was not overly aromatic, but showed some dark cherry fruit; the palate was dry with a marked acidity, nicely understated but with a long quite full finish.  This is definitely more of a food wine than a sipping rosé.
  • Ormeasco di Pornassio 2011: Medium purple in colour, paling at the rim; the nose displayed plums, farmyard and leather notes; the palate was warm, spicy and rich with a good tannic backbone, finishing long.  Very good
  • Ormeasco di Pornassio Superiore 2011: Deep ruby colour with a pale rim; The nose showed intense aromas of eukalyptus, farmyard, dark chocolate, liquorice and mulberry; the palate was warm and rich with plenty of spice and almost espresso coffee-like characters.  The finish was huge.  This wine is still young, but its complexity is promising a serious wine years to come
For the eastern part the Wine Anarchist started with a Cinque Terre winery he hadn't previously come across the Societá Semplice Agricola Begasti based in the Cinque Terre village of MonterossoThe DOC of Cinque Terre only allows for white wines made from Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino, which can be either fermented dry or made from semi-dried grapes to produce a sweet Sciaccetrá.  As the latter is rather expensive and produced in very small quantities, it is not normally freely available to taste, however the Wine Anarchist got to taste the dry white as well as a red, which can only be classed as a Vino da Tavola though.
  • Cinque Terre DOC 2012: This white displayed earthy characters combined with delicate honey notes and some minerally notes; the palate had a touch of spice with warm fruit flavours of peach and almond and a warm, long, mouth-filling finish.
  • Rosso Vino da Tavola: This is made from 50% Merlot, 30% Syrah and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The colour is medium ruby with a pale rim; the nose displays an open fruit reminiscent of elderberries and cherries as well as hints of vanilla; the palate was soft and spicy, with some pleasant and elegant fruit flavours.  
 Inland from the Cinque Terre in the Val di Vara is the village of Sesta Godano which is home to the Azienda Agricola Cornice.  This is not a traditional wine growing region, but this winery has made interesting wine since 2000, as well as olive oil and picking chestnuts and mushrooms.

 They use a mixture of local and international grapes to produce wines of real character:
  • I Piani Liguria di Levante IGT Bianco 2012:  Made from Albarola and Sauvignon Blanc, the colour is medium straw; there are delicate aromas of gooseberry and hawthorn blossoms; on the palate there is more delicate gooseberry fruit combined with some herbal characters. The acidity is a little angular though.
  • Pein 2011 Liguria di Levante IGT Rosso: A blend of 60% Merlot, 35% Syrah and 5% Ciliegiolo, the colour is a deep ruby; the nose displays dark cherries cobined with forest-like damp leave characters; the palate is rich and spicy with some lovely spice and a touch of spice and herbal notes on the finish.  A lovely and rich wine.
  • The Imara 2011 is grown on a higher altitude near the village of Zignago at 500m asl on clay soils.  The blend consists of mostly Merlot with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and the local Pollerá.  The colour is deep ruby to almost opaque, the nose was big rich and spicy with underlying dense fruit; the palate was deep, rich and long with hints of chocolate.  This is not your typical soft Merlot, but a real hunk of a wine.  Great wine of real character!
 The 'home DOC' of the Wine Anarchist is the Colli di Luni, which comes in Vermentino, straight Bianco (Vermentino plus other grapes) and Rosso (Sangiovese plus other grapes).  As The WA already knows this area well and should write a separate blog post sometime, he did come across a winery he hadn't known before, the Casa del Frate.  Whilst their speciality is olive oil and renting out holiday apartments on the the pretty island of Palmaria at the entrance to the Gulf of La Spezia, they also produce a little wine at their vineyards in Masignano di Arcola, just around the corner to where the Wine Anarchist himself owns some land.  Their big and full Vermentino Frascoforte 2012 (14% ABV!) displayed a pale greeny gold colour; the nose was big, rich and spicy with notes of gooseberry, whilst the palate was warm and rich, with plenty of acidity to balance the alcohol, finishing very long.  A big wine that could stand up to some serious food.

From the same village the winery of Mésuéto (Via Masignano, 61, 19021 Arcola, tel: 0187 987418) also produced a Vermentino Colli di Luni 2012.  This offering was pale gold in colour; the nose was rich and honeyed with a touch of clove-like spice; the palate carried on in the same vein with some nice apricot fruit and a soft finish.

Of course the Wine Anarchist said hello to his friends at Federici as well, but on this occasion only stopped for a quick glass and chat, as he already knew the wines well and there was so much more to taste.

There were quite a few representative of wineries from the Tuscan side of the Lunigiana, and as they always surprise with their characterful wines made from local varieties.  One of the Wine Anarchist's all-time favourite wineries of that region is the Fattoria Ruschi Noceti (Piazza della Republica, 1 54027 Pontremoli, tel: 0187 830153, e-mail:  Here they produce seriously traditional wines from some weird and wonderful grape varieties of the region such as Pollerá, Duralla and Luagda.  Their approach is stubbornly anti-modern, making wines in old barrels designed for ageing and to be paired with the rustic local dishes.
  • Marchesa Caterina Rosé IGT Val di Magra 2012: this deep salmon coloured rosé is made from 70% Pollerá plus a hotchpotch of other local varieties, which may or may not have names.  The nose is of water paints and strawberry and cream; the palate displays more of the same with some interesting herbal notes, a great balancing acidity and some good length.
  • Otto Ottobre Bianco IGT Val di Magra 2011: This blend of the local Durella and Luadga grapes is so named, because it traditionally gets picked around the 8th of October, as both are very late ripening varieties.  The alcohol level usually ends up at around 15% and for a white it is capable to age really well.  The colour of ths offering was medium gold, whilst the palate was rich and honeyed with notes of spice and ripe autumn apples, balanced by some lively acidity; on the palate some residual sugar was evident, but all in all it was very well balanced displaying more of the characteristics of the aromas.  The finish was long.  A beautiful wine, that in the experience of the Wine Anarchist will age gracefully.  In fact he could not resist buying a magnum of the 2007, which he may open for a special occasion.  Watch this space! :)
  • Pollera 2009 IGT Val di Magra: Made from 100% of what is arguably the most exciting grape variety of the region.  The colour was medium ruby, showing some garnet tinge on the edge; the nose and palate consistently are rich in warm herbal characters with notes of liquorice and elderberries; the palate has a big backbone and finishes rich and long.  A great wine, which does not easily fit into any category, but works really well with some wild boar for instance.
  • Bigoncio 2011 IGT Val di Magra.  This is exactly the same wine as the Otto Ottobre, except the fermentation was finished early by fine filtration to result in a medium sweet wine with only 11.5% alcohol (with a further potential alcohol level of 3.5%).  This wine shows far more honeyed characters and some rich marzipan in addition to the flavour profile of the dry version..
Their neighbours in the town of Pontremoli, the Cantine Belmesseri (Via C.S. , Vignola di Pontremoli, tel: 335 7752116), have a more modern approach with a combination of local and international grape varieties on their just 1.6ha of vineyard.  They produce 3 different wines, all very nice.
  • Caras Delicias Bianco IGT Toscana 2012:  This is a blend of 40% Vermentino, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Durella and 20% Albirola, the colour is medium straw; the nose revealed fresh gooseberry notes as well as herbs such as nrosemary; the palate was fresh, yet rich with some nice yellow plum fruit with a long spicy finish.  A nice quite full wine, which do nicely with a creamy sauce.
  • Belmesseri Rosso Toscana IGT 2010: A blend of 40% Merlot, 30% a mixture of unnamed local varieties, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, this offering had a deep ruby colour; on the nose there was some rich redcurrant fruit, a touch of spice and hints of milk chocolate; The rich fruit carried through on the palate, also incorporating some herbal notes.  A very attractive, lively, modern wine.
  • Tafuri Rosso Toscana IGT 2010:  This blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Merlot, and 10% Pollerá has been aged for 8 months in French barrique.   This is a serious wine deeply coloured; the nose reveals intense herb and spice notes combined with liquorice and elderberry fruit; the palate is dominated by a big tannic backbone, supported by more of the rich fruit and a long chocolatey finish.  Great wine, but still needs a few years in bottle to come around and soften out a bit.
 From the town of Licciana Nardi in the Lunigiana hails Azienda Agricola La Vigna di Manolo Luchini (Loc. La Vigna, Licciana Nardi, tel: 0187 471187, e-mail:, a small organic producer.  The Wine Anarchist came across them a few years back, but they have gone up a step since then, even if the names of their wines are a little over-elaborate:
  • Amore e Psyche Val di Magra IGT 2012: A blend of 40% Merlot, 60% local grape varieties, including Pollerá, the name does not need translating...  The colour was deep purple; the nose displayed some lovely ripe blackcurrant fruit; the palate was very clean and well defined with some more of that nice fruit balanced by some spice.  A well balanced, long and attractive wine.
  • Diversamente dal Solito IGT Val di Magra 2012.  This translates as 'different from the usual', it is a blend of Syrah, Merlot and local grape varieties (the exact percentages were either not known, or the Wine Anarchist was too drunk, this being the last stand he stopped at).  Unfortunately it seems he was even too drunk to make notes either, but the wine is worth the inclusion for its name alone ;)
 The next edition of Liguria da Bere should be at the end of next June in the centre of La Spezia, if you happen to find yourself in the area and are curious about what Liguria has to offer.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Wine Village of Sasbachwalden

The Wine Anarchist has traveled the length and breadth of Europe recently and is struggling to keep up with his posts, being constantly on the road.  On his travels he visited his parents in the south-west of Germany and took the opportunity to visit the 'Wine and Flower' village of Sasbachwalden on the north-western edge of the Black Forest as it opens up towards the Rhine Valley with sweeping views across the French border and the Vosge Mountains beyond in the German wine region of Baden.

Ever since the WA's parents moved to that part of the world it became kind of a family tradition to go to Sasbachwalden every now and then, not for the wine. but... for the most amazing Black Forest Gateaux at the Gasthof Hohenrode:

14 layers of chocolate and cream doused in kirsch eau de vie, served lying down on a dinner plate, should get anyone knowing what's good for them driving 100km across the mountains!!!

Anyway, always on the lookout for his news hungry readers, the Wine Anarchist also investigated the vineyards and wineries of this most picturesque of wine villages.  Apart from wine (and Black Forest Gateaux) the village is also famous for it's half-timbered houses decorated with an abundance of flowers.

And it is surrounded by vineyards, most famously the location 'Alde Gott', Old God in the local dialect.  If you think of Germany as mostly a white wine country, you'd be surprised that you would find more red wine in this region, which is one of the warmest spots in Germany and Pinot Noir or
Spätburgunder as it is known in Germany, leading the way.

Walking around the small town you can't fail to realise that wine plays a major role.  We strolled through the vineyards.  In the town we learned that the local wine queen also went on to become the national wine queen.

Sasbachwalden is also twinned with the Beaujolais village of Morgon, to which this little monument is dedicated to:

This old large wine press is displayed outside the council offices:

Anyway, it was time to taste some wine.  The Wine Anarchist had previously tasted some wines from the local cooperative and found both Rieslings and Pinot Noir most excellent.  So following his nose he decided to check out one of the smaller producers.  He happened to find the Weingut Richard Vierthaler, a small (7ha) 2nd generation family run operation.  

A very cheerful Richard Vierthaler welcomed us to his premises and a few wines were tasted.  85% of the vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir and it was clearly the strong point of this winery.  However we started with whites, as you do.  

The Rivaner Trocken 2008 had obviously been open for a couple of days and was loosing a little of its typical grapefruit and floral aromas.  The WA declined an offer to have a fresh bottle opened, so it shouldn't be judged to harshly.

Next came the Alde Gott Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2011.  It was quite an elegant dry wine, but with earthy undertones and fairly full-bodied.  

The Alde Gott Badisch Rotgold Kabinett 2011 was a deep-coloured rosé made from Pinot Noir.  The nose displayed pleasant wild strawberry and raspberry nose, but the slightly excessive residual sugar in this wine threw it a little out of balance.

The Alde Gott Spätburgunder Kabinett 2009 Jubilaeumswein was without a shadow of a doubt the star of the tasting.  It was bottled for the 50th anniversary of the company.  Medium bodied with good concentration and great Pinot fruit, starting to show some nice maturity.  It finished long and satisfying and is a great example what Germany can do with this grape variety.  

Noticing that the estate also produced some spirits or 'wasser' as they innocently call them around here, the WA had to taste the 'Topanimbur', a clear spirit distilled from the roots of the Jerusalem artichoke.  It had all the flavours of this divine vegetable, so he was ready to part with some cash to buy a bottle from his new friend Richard.  It turned out that the tasting bottle was the last one in stock, so the WA bought a bottle of Mirabellenwasser instead, an eau de vie made from the mirabelle plum, which was rather good too, full of lively fruit flavours.

Whilst the Wine Anarchist is of the opinion that the wines from the local coop are actually better, this winery and the whole village are definitely worth a visit, if for no other reason than to taste the most fantastic Black Forest Gateaux anywhere (did I mention it before...?).

Should you be planning to visit the area, there is a guided tour of the vineyards organised every first Saturday of the month between May and October at 1pm starting from the Alde Gott Winzer eg in the centre of town.  If you happen to pass this year, there is a big Wine festival or Winzerfest from the 3-6 October 2013.

Finally if you stuck for somewhere to stay, why not sleep in an 8000 litre wine barrel (minus the wine of course) like old Dyonisus. There is a farm above the town offering this unique experience with all mod-cons.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Going (Double) Dutch

Let's face it, when we think of the Netherlands we think of the above: windmills.  Maybe wooden clogs, hallucinogenic drugs sold in coffee shops, cheese... but wine?  Yet the Wine Anarchist recently had some family business to attend to and never one to miss an opportunity to get his taste buds around something different he discovered the wines of his own homeland.  Not only that, he found a village just 15km from where he was staying and where he scattered the ashes of his recently deceased Conspiracy Cousin, that proudly declared itself a wine village.  So naturally he had to investigate further and a casual Sunday afternoon drive took him to the gates of the Colonjes vineyard in the town of Groesbeek, just south of Nijmegen within spitting distance of the German border (unfortunately their website is in Dutch only).

Back in 2000 or so Freek Verhoeven was retiring from his job as head nurse of a hospital and was looking for a hobby.  He bought himself a plot of land and planted vines, as you do.  He was also an amateur athlete and very competitive.  When his first wine managed to get a bronze medal, his competitive nature really came to the fore and he decided to try harder until he got at least a gold medal.  He expanded the vineyard holding to 13.5 ha, installed a modern winery and drafted in the help of his brother Cees.  The results are impressive and gold medals have meanwhile been awarded including at various international competitions.

As Freek (incidentally it's pronounced Frake rather than Freak) is thinking of retiring for a second time he is slowly putting young enologist Adam Dijkstra in charge to continue the project, the latter took out some time to chat to the Wine Anarchist and his family about the vineyards and give them a small tasting.

In total there are 3 plots under vine around the village of Groesbeek, all farmed organically, one directly adjacent to the winery, De Colonjes, which is on slight south slope (yes there are some slopes even in the Netherlands!) on Loess soil,

and the other ones the Knapheide Weg and 't Hof respectively.  The grape varieties are all hybrid varieties and amazingly reds are a bit of specialty of this winery, but they do also produce some excellent rosé, both still and sparkling and some very respectable whites.

On talking with Adam, the Wine Anarchist found a lot in common with him.  They both share an interest not only in organic production methods but also in permaculture and Adam lamented the fact that vine growing is by definition more or less only possible in mono-cultures.  However to counteract this somewhat at Colonjes they interplant the rows of vines with a mixture of some 25 different wild plants including edible ones and ones that fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil and accumulate nutrients from subsoil levels.  The fact that they use many disease resistant hybrid varieties also eliminates the need for harmful chemicals used in the vineyard.

Tasting the wines the WA was very impressed.  He took a whole sample case with him to re-taste some in the comfort of his or someone else's home during his travels.  He had previously tasted English wines extensively and found that many of them stood out for their aromatic qualities, but this winery's choice of grape varieties was leaning more towards crisp fresh wines.  Here are some of his tasting notes:

Cabernet Blanc 2012: Unfortunately this wine was sold out, except for a few bottles for tasting purposes, as this was definitely the best of the whites.  Pale coloured, the nose displayed some floral, peach blossom notes with hints of freshly mown hay.  The palate had distinct minerally notes, the acidity was well balanced and had some lovely fresh, clean fruit notes.  Very pleasant if a little on the short side.  The Cabernet Blanc grape is a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon, plus some other hybrid that according to some may have some Riesling parentage in there somewhere, and indeed it is quite Riesling-like.

Knapse Witte 2012: This is a blend of Helios (a hybrid with Muller Thurgau in its parentage) and Riesel (which also has some Riesling in its ancestry).  The armas display a distinct minerality as well as lemony and herbal characters, such as lemon balm and mint.  The acidity is very marked on this wine and the lemon and mineral notes continue on the palate on a medium finish  The high acidity make this really a food wine, paired with some Dover sole for example.

Johanniter 2011: The Johanniter grape is a hybrid of Riesling combined with some Pinot Gris and Gutedel in its veins.  A noble wine with greenish tinges still on the colour.  The extra year in bottle suits this wine well as it shows some delicate aromas of grapefruit and nice minerally notes.  The palate is flinty with juicy lime fruit and hints of fresh bread.  An elegant wine.

Cabernet Cortis 2009: Cabernet Cortis is crossed between Cabenet Sauvignon and Solaris, which in turn has Riesling and Pinot Gris in its ancestry.  This wine is surprisingly big not showing any signs of ageing yet.  A youthful deep ruby colour with purple fringes promise things to come.  An intense youthful aroma of tobacco, elderberries, blackberries and black pepper is followed by a rich, full palate with quite high acidity and a big tannic backbone with flavours of dark berries such as blackcurrants and vanilla oak notes on a long finish.  Interestingly the wine was aged for 18 months in new 450 litre German oak barrels, which are less invasive in taste compared to French oak.  An impressive wine, which will continue to evolve for at least 5 years in the opinion of the Wine Anarchist.

Regent 2011: This grape variety is a cross of Muller Thurgau, Silvaner and Chambourcin.  The Wine Anarchist forgot to take notes when tasting this wine, but from memory, this was a light coloured wine, light in body, with lovely cherry, raspberry and redcurrant characters combined with some vanilla oak notes and white pepper spice from 8 months ageing in French barriques.  Very pleasant indeed.

Recortis 2011:  A blend of Regent and Cabernet Cortis which was aged for 8 months in French and German oak, 30% of it new.  Again quite a serious red with intense spicy blackberry notes combining with herbal characters.  Medium bodied, the palate displays sweet, ripe fruit with an intense oaky spice and a mouthwatering juicy long finish balanced by a good tannic backbone.

Cuvée Colonjes: a blend of Regent, their very own Cabernet Colonjes and Cabernet Cortis.  This wine has a medium ruby colour with a pale rim.  The nose displays sweet herbal notes, as well as hints of smoky bacon and dark berries.  The palate is quite light with a touch of spice, blackberries and notes of oak,  It's a tad on the short side and a bit one-dimesnsional, however it makes for pleasant easy drinking.

Cuvée Fréderique Rosé 2012: This delightful rosé made from Regent and Cabernet Cortis grapes recently was awarded a gold medal at the Internationale Bioweinpreis in Germany.  The colour is a pale salmon, whilst the nose reveals delicate aromas of rose petals, raspberry and cream.  The palate is dry with a lively acidity yet a creamy texture with slightly flinty notes and some understated, delicate fruit.  Very elegant and good.

Belle de Colonjes NV: The Wine Anarchist was celebrating a happy event at the time so was not making notes again.  This Champagne method pink fizz is produced from the Pinotin grape, which presumably has some Pinot parentage.  It's light and fresh with lovely berry fruits and a good persistent mousse and a long finish.

The wines are priced between 10 and 20 Euros (the latter for the sparkling wine) and are available directly from the winery as well as number of shops across the Netherlands.  The winery is open to visitors at any time, although they are thinking of possibly introducing opening times.  English is spoken.  Tours for groups can be arranged in advance.  There are also a number of events making a visit worth it such as Open Days or the Groesbeek Wine Festival from the 28th-30th September this year.

Contact details are:

2de Colonjes 4
6562 DM Groesbeek
Tel: +31 (0)24-3973754