Angelo Gaja Supports GMO Vines

Dear all,

It’s been too long since I posted last. My daytime job has claimed almost all of my time, research for the updated version of the book on Italian wine that I co-author has tken the rest. That will change as of now. Expect infrequent posts, but at least some, going forward.

I came across this article just now:

Gaja was always at the forefront, and you have to salute his relentless search for improvement and progress.

I predict that the use of very precise techniques of transferring disease-resistant genes to fragile-but-qualitatively-important varieties will be a complete fact in 50 years, and will ensure a sane, rational, non-polluting and disease-free viticulture that is also economically sustainable for the producers.

The resistance will be overcome slowly at first, but thanks to the visionary support of the likes of Gaja, we’ll get there.

Think about it: We need viticulture to be economically sustainable, or the growers will stop growing vines.

Yours truly

Posted in Italy, Opinion, Piemonte, Various, Wine, Wine producers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stefano d’Onghia new restaurant

I wrote glowingly about Osteria A’ Cr’janz in this post in 2012: Great place, great evening, fantastic food.

The chef (and co-owner) at A’ Cr’janz was Stefano d’Onghia, who has since become a friend. This year Stefano left A’ Cr’janz to start on his own with his wife. It has taken him a while to get started, but he has finally done it. The new place is called Botteghe Antiche, and is to be found at Piazza Plebiscito 8, Putignano, tel. +39 334 791 5705. There is no web site yet (we should probably be grateful that they have concentrated on getting the place up and running and the food just right), but there is a Facebook page:!/pages/Botteghe-Antiche/264209213758654?fref=nf.

Stefano is a great chef, so probably no need to wish him and his wife good luck, but I’ll do it anyway: In bocca al lupo, Stefano!

Count on the food being great, probably even greater than before due to less limiting kitchen circumstances, and on the atmosphere being warm, friendly and accommodating. The whole world should flock to this place. I know I will be there.

Yours truly

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Does Biodynamics need to explain itself?

Read this blog post:

According to Woolf, there is no such need. Biodynamics, like homoeopathy and the placebo effect – or indeed like religion – should be free from having to explain itself.

I have to say I heartily disagree with Woolf here. We actually don’t know if biodynamics “works” except on the personal experience level, which as any reasonable person will admit is fallible at best. There can be little doubt, if you ask me, that biodynamics does not “work” for the reasons given by biodynamicists. Just read Nicolas Joly’s completely garbled, utterly nonsensical book on the subject if you need convincing.

If indeed biodynamics does “work”, there must be other reasons why it works than those given by biodynamicists. Examples could include increased care for the vineyard, the focus on returning nutrients to the soil, and – for me an important point given what we know about how vine roots cannot extract nutrients from the soil without the help of bacteria (and funghi) – the focus on healthy bacterial populations in the soil.

However, if we do not study what it actually is that “works”, it is all of little use in terms of improving viticulture everywhere and will remain a niche occupation for nutters and kooks (and in consumption terms merely a big-city preoccupation on the part of hipsters). Now, if biodynamics is such a boon, would we not want for it to become much more widespread, and for us to actually understand what goes on (if anything)?

I am here ignoring the global discussion on the sustainability of organic and biodynamic practices in terms of reduced yields etc., and whether we can then feed our growing population. An important discussion, but not in terms of wine quality.

Yours truly

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The Good Life

The week-end of 12 to 15 September 2014 was one to remember, with tremendous impact on all senses.

My family and I began it by attending the Pharrell Williams concert at Forum in Copenhagen on Friday night. Great concert, starting with a bang and ending on a high note, with little let-up in between. Visceral impact from the speaker system, music to seriously get the rhythm sense going and PW in finest form, happy (!), inspirational, full-on funky yet elegant, balanced, delicate. In fact, much like great wine. We left elated. The rare class of artist that PW belongs to has shamanic powers, a knack for bringing people together and making them swing to the same rhythm, the same message, the same elusive glimpse of a better world for all.

The next day featured one of the recurring wine dinners I have with old wino friends, this time at my own house. More on that below. And, as if just to extend the week-end’s positive vibe, I attended a lovely, interesting tasting of Croatian wines on the Monday, care of my friend Marie von Ahm; more on that in a later post.

The menu for the wine dinner on the Saturday, care of yours truly:

– ”Dirty eggs” my way – soft-boiled quail’s eggs, crispy potato crumbs, saffron mayo, trout roe, tarragon and chervil
– Beetroot crisps, fresh goat’s cheese, black pepper, chives
– Tuna tartare, angelica liqueur, spruce oil, ginger

First courses
– Caramelized cauliflower, mussel ragout, emulsion of Skyr (low-fat acidified milk) and buttermilk, dill oil
– Panfried cod loin, zucchini alla poverella, fried fava beans, cheese emulsion, mint
– Chicken liver mousse, aubergine two ways (moutabbal/baba ghanouj and fried in batter), coriander oil
– Mushroom rye-otto, pan-fried veal sweetbread, braised endive, fried sage

Main course
– Pork cheeks, puffed pork rind, Jerusalem artichoke puree, braised beetroot with dog rose vinegar, beer/stock cooking jus reduced with noble rot solaris vinegar, chervil

– Tykmælk (acidified “thick” milk) panna cotta, blackberry/port/liquorice compote

I was happy to record two personal firsts with this menu: 1) The volume was sufficiently small to allow all to actually complete the full menu, and 2) all dishes actually came in as planned, without major mishaps. From subsequent reactions I gather that the guys were rather pleased with the menu, which pleases me no end. Difficult customers, high demands. Ego polished.

As usual, we had brought some of our best bottles. And as usual, they were all tasted blind. The following are tasting notes in chronological order, omitting colour notes, as usual, but with aspect for the bubblies.

White sparkling wine. Very fine, persistent bubbles. Nose of fresh citrus peel, crispy aromatic apple, hint of autolysis. Slim to medium weight, soft, rounded, dry. Long, repeating the nose, with a deeper, darker hint of sourdough rye. A lovely aperitif sparkler. The wine: Esterlin Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs NV.

White sparkling wine. Very fine, extremely persistent bubbles. Deep, rather dark nose of bruised apple, chalky minerals, umami/Maillard reaction, hints of dried ceps and rancio; extremely complex and interesting. Medium weight, dry, very elegantly balanced between considerable dry matter, taut fruit and ripe but abundant acidity. Very long, repeating the nose, emphasis on the mushroomy, rancio aromatics. Great wine, hugely complex. The wine: R&L Legras Champagne Brut Cuvée St. Vincent 1996. Legras is probably my favourite Champagne producer right now. Great range, and all of it not only complex, balanced and accomplished, but also affordable.

White still wine. Lovely, energetic nose with apricots, ripe citrus peel, toasted oak, hint of oysters. Medium weight, lovely plump fruit, good acidity, dry, with a hint of oak tannins. Good length, repeating apricots and citrus from nose, with added soft resinous herbal notes. The wine: Olivier Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1’er Cru Les Réferts 2010.

White still wine. Dryish nose with apricot, bruised apple, hint of oxidation (in the form of furniture polish), hazelnut. Powerful, round wine, dry, with hint of aged acidity. Very long, with hints of leather, apple leather, Fino Sherry and hazelnuts. Somewhat oxidized and past its best, but no mistaking the intensity and class. The wine: Domaine Amiot-Bonfils Le Montrachet Grand Cru 1991.

White still wine. Somewhat closed on the nose, tight, with peach, citrus peel, green herbs and flint dust. Medium weight, quite fat and soft, very smooth mouthfeel, dry. Good length, repeats aromatics from the nose, remaining somewhat closed and young, with a final hint of bitter orange. Too young yet, but great promise. The wine: Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault 1’er Cru Goutte d’Or 2002.

White still wine. Tight, intense, really energetic nose with boiled herbs, quince and cloves. Medium weight, dry, great acidity, firm and intense. Very long, very much repeating aromatics from the nose, but widened and detailed, with great intensity. Super! Wow! The wine: Dauvissat Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2004.

White still wine. Somewhat aged/premox nose, bruised apple, granite minerality, caramel/toffee, butter. Powerful, intense, dry, with lots of dry matter and a hint of bitterness. Very-very long and intense, but compromised by premox. The wine: Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault 1’er Cru Charmes 1995.

Red still wine. Tight, berryish, juicy nose with cranberries, gunpowder, anise and hint of autumn leaves. Light to medium weight, tight/juicy, mild tannins, finely balanced acidity, very pleasant mouthfeel. Fine length, recalls aromatics from nose, emphasizing autumn leaves and with a hint of dried ceps. Lovely, hugely drinkable wine. The wine: Domaine Pierre Amiot Clos de la Roche Grand Cru 1997.

Red still wine. Initially a hint of dank cellar, but that dissipated, leaving a complex, finely fruited wine with redcurrants, cherries, cranberries, a tight/intense note of anise, sweet liquorice, then autumn leaves, funghi, leather. Medium weight, firm and tight, but smooth and fine, intense, lovely mouthfeel. Very long, again initially with a dank cellar hint, but that faded, leaving long, fading notes of anise, fennel and liquorice. Lovely wine once given some air. The wine: Domaine Armand Rousseau Le Chambertin Grand Cru 1994.

Red still wine. Delicious, dark nose of graphite, cigar box, green lobster shell extract (!), mulberries, cranberries and a hint of sweet wood tar. Medium weight, lithe, elegant, mild, with fine-grained tannins. Very long and lovely, repeating the nose, fading slowly away on notes of beautiful red fruits. Great wine, mature Bordeaux from before they went astray. The wine: Château Mouton Rothschild 1978.

Red still wine. Initially, chlorine cellar nose, almost reminiscent of TCA, but with time in the glass developed into a glorious, mature Bordeaux nose with notes of graphite, cigar box, anise. Medium weight, very fine-grained tannins, dry and soft. Very long, lovely complexity of dark ripe mulberries, graphite, cigar box, spices. The wine: Château Montrose 1982. Apparently, the deceptive initial chlorine nose is a hallmark of this particular wine.

Red still wine. Dark, tight nose with dried ceps/umami, extract of blackcurrants, bark, liquorice, rosemary and anise; very interesting. Medium weight verging on big, handsome tannins, lovely acidity, lots of dry matter. Long, with tight red berries and otherwise as per nose, fading away with a hint of anise. The wine: Domaine Chevrot Santenay 1’er Cru Clos Rousseau 2008.

Red still wine. Deep, dark nose of perfumed dark berries, hints of bark and cigar box, moss. Medium weight, juicy, soft, round, with lots of very soft tannins, almost sweet in its fruitiness. Long and perfumed, warm and soft, with bark, liquorice, blackcurrants, anise. Just on the soft, sweet side for me. The wine: Château Figeac 1995.

Red still wine. Juicy, delicious nose with pomegranate, smoked greenness, vanilla and touches of acidified milk and tar. Medium weight verging on big, dry/big/grainy tannins, somewhat low acidity. OK length, weakly reminiscent of the nose. Did not quite follow up on very interesting nose. The wine: Château Phèlan-Segur 2008.

Red still wine. Intense, spicy nose with dark and red berries, iron, graphite and a touch of anise. Medium weight, intense and powerful, yet light on its feet and balanced, with finely-grained soft tannins and lovely balancing acidity; a commanding, handsome presence. Very long, austere, aromatics as per the nose, fading slowly away with anise and bark. Super, seamless perfection. The wine: Domaine Meaume Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru 1996.

Red still wine. Lifted, light-red-fruity nose with leather, tar, truffles and dried rose; a deeply classical, intense nose. Medium weight, tight-juicy, beautiful acidity, lots of soft and finely-grained tannins. Very long, with red berries, anise, leather, liquorice and a touch of shaly hydrocarbons. Beautifully balanced, classical wine. The wine: Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia 1997.

Red still fortified wine. Tight, muscular nose, spicy with both green herbs and oriental spices, liquorice, cranberries and a balsamic hint; super nose, complex and handsome. Medium weight, tight, good young tannins, the dryness of tannins and considerable dry matter contrasting beautifully with the sweetness. Very long, red-fruited, fading away with anise and liquorice, juicy and fresh, despite the complexity of evident age. Great wine, decades still ahead of it. The wine: Gould-Campbell Vintage Port 1970.

That wine concluded the evening in a resounding manner, both in terms of its taste impact and in terms of the sheer alcoholic strength, the coup de grâce, as it were, to a long and gruelling session.

Looking back over the list, this was an extremely francophone line-up, even worse than normal. I was in fact the only one to have presented non-French wines. But then, the French do make great wine once in a while, and perhaps the somewhat experimental character of the menu, which was announced in advance for people to be able to bring along matching wines, had prompted the guys to make relatively safe bets in wine terms.

Luckily, we’ll all be meeting again shortly, for an out-of-number 60th birthday celebration with a game theme. We have been instructed not to bring any wine ourselves, so can probably expect an impressive line-up of things someone has been collecting for quite a while.

I can’t wait.

Yours truly

Posted in Barolo, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Douro, Food, Fortified Wine, France, Italy, Piemonte, Port, Portugal, Red wine, White wine, Wine, Wine producers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Griffiths on “liquid fashion”

In the Swan Valley near Perth, Western Australia, reigns Faber Vineyard, for me far and away the best producer in the area. Faber is owned by husband-and-wife team John Griffiths and Jane Micallef. John is no Mr. Nobody, having worked as a winemaker for large producers in eastern Australia, as well as 6 years for Houghton, storied and large producer of Western Australian wines. He is a great winemaker, thoughtful yet wonderfully direct, with an approach to winemaking that emphasises the craft aspect of winemaking, as opposed to arty-farty claims to artistic greatness or “naturalness”. Hence the name Faber, which is Latin for artisan or craftsman. At Faber he produces some fantastic wines, among which I want to highlight the Swan Verdelho, the Reserve Shiraz and the Liqueur Muscat.

Like so many other wine producers, Faber sends out a newsletter from time to time. However, in contrast to most newsletters, which tend to merely provide commercial updates, Faber’s newsletter sometimes provides insight into the inner workings of a small wine producing entity, as well as focused opinion on the wine world. In the most recent newsletter, Faber writes the following (verbatim):

“Liquid Fashion

One of the great things about wine is it comes in so many shapes, sizes and colours. There are so many wine regions and varieties. There are numerous types – red or white, sweet or dry, still or fizzy, fortified or not. There are traditional old world styles, modern new world styles. No one approach to winemaking is more correct or more virtuous than any other. It’s just wine! It’s not how it is made that is important, it’s how it tastes!

Most wine lovers are simply interested in finding flavoursome drinkable wine that they can choose with confidence. But there are those for whom selecting a wine is a fashion statement. Rather than wanting wine to be simple they make it more complicated. Unfortunately you can’t taste fashion. Too often they are attracted to wines that are “heavy on novelty, light on the things that make wine’s culture so rich, such as tradition, quality and history” to quote a Melbourne reviewer.

Right now one fashion holding sway around the world is for so called “natural” wines. This fashion holds that modern wine is unnatural because the winemaker influences how it tastes rather than it being a “natural” expression of the grapes and vineyard from where they come. It’s a very romantic notion but completely ridicuous.

The first wine John made was as a winemaking student at Roseworthy in the early eigthies. He foot trod the grapes in the bath tub and let the must ferment in a garbage bin. He plunged the skins down each morning and evening. The must gave off a variety of aromas – pungent, sweet, earthy, chemical. After about a week he squeezed the bright scarlet wine out with tea towels and put the cloudy wine into some flagons he had cleaned up. The wine slowly settled and after a month or two he syphoned the clear wine off the lees. The colour was attractive but it tasted somewhere between balsamic vinegar, nail polish remover and wine! A lot of fun but not much drinking!

The act of planting a vineyard is not natural – it is a highly unnatural landform creating a monoculture with vines that have been selected and breed to the point where they no longer resemble their native ancestors. The addition of selected yeasts (similarly breed and selected like the grape varieties) and tartaric acid (actually produced as a byproduct from grapeskins after the juice is squeezed out) , traditional fining agents such as egg whites or fish collagen (isinglass) and filtration are practices that have allowed winemakers to improve the quality and consistency of wines over the last hundred years or so. In fact depending on the source of these finings and additives, and the grapes themselves, the wine may still be considered organic!

The “natural” claim and the inference “normal” wines are not natural is ridiculous – particularly when the standard is applied to the winemaking but not the grapes!. Sure some wine is made in large wineries resembling oil refineries – it’s generally cheap and ordinary – but most winemakers are crafting beautiful wines in small wineries using traditional techniques and benefiting from modern practices. It’s fine if a winemaker chooses to reject normal modern winemaking practices – viva la difference! – but whether more than a very small minority of committed adherents really enjoy these rustic “wild” wines remains to be seen.”

I could not agree more. I enjoy “natural” wines when they are well-made and reasonably free from defects, but to confer upon them some sort of metaphysical goodness merely because the winemaker was thinking good, wholesome thoughts while (not) making them is folly.

I recommend Faber Vineyard to anyone interested in great wine. These are not “natural” wines, but extremely well-made, concentrated, balanced and highly drinkable. Check them out on

Yours truly

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Vignobles Ducourt plants “disease-resistant vineyard”

Read this Decanter article:

This is an important piece of news. As we struggle all over the world with the need for increased agricultural production, we are also facing a determined onslaught by unscientific and ahistoric “back-to-the-past” fundamentalists who wish to ban all pesticides etc. while at the same time banning genetically modified organisms. I am certain this is an untenable position in the long run, but in the short to medium term their influence is great, and has already set the world back decades in the development of sustainable methods for nourishing the world in a clean and safe manner.

The vine is a notoriously heavily-sprayed crop, whether the sprays are “conventional”, organic or biodynamic. Vitis vinifera, such as we use it in the vineyards of the world today, is to a large extent (and with large variations among varieties) a highly manipulated and very fragile being. It is of course a fallacy to say that just because a spraying agent is organic or biodynamic, it is intrinsically “natural” and therefore not harmful to the environment or people’s health. There certainly is a tendency for less spraying in organic and biodynamic and other “natural” practice, but a complete avoidance is extremely rare, and I would contend that some of the sprays used in biodynamic practice in particular are poorly understood in terms of their long-term effect on health and the environment.

If there is a need for avoiding or minimising spraying in vineyards – and I think there is – we need to grow intrinsically healthy, disease-resistant vine varieties. There is much research being done to achieve this, and this has brought about some very resistant and healthy varieties, many of them so-called inter-specific varieties. However, the issue is that these are new varieties. There are several problems with new varieities, chief among them that they do not taste like the varieties that are already known and loved. This gives problems with commercialisation, and also potentially with the perceived terroir expression of any given area in the longer term.

While I welcome Ducourt’s will to address several serious issues, as professed in the Decanter article, I have to deplore the fact that they feel the need to repeatedly stress that the varieties planted are conventional crossings bred specifically for health. While the new varieties may be excellent varieties, we have come to associate the great wines of Bordeaux with very specific varieties and their expression in that area. What if suddenly Bordeaux came to be made from very different varieties with a completely different expression, only in the name of vine health?

Surely, the proper way to go about this – not just in terms of health and environment sustainability, but also in terms of climate change robustness – would be to genetically modify existing varities to be much more robust, while maintaining their well-known and much-loved characteristics? This may be much easier said than done, but surely it is worth the effort. I am not so much a fool that I think that an area’s vinous expression, or the varieties grown in that area, remain immutable over time; that is demonstrably not the case. But to potentially resort to wholesale replacement of varieties that have been demonstrated to produce some of the best wines in the world would be commercial and cultural folly, and all that because caveman ignorance makes it politically impossible to use the best and safest method at arriving at solutions that would not entail such potentially devastating changes.

And no, we cannot in the longer run sustain the world – or, indeed, that small fraction of it that produces wine – with organic and biodynamic farming practices. Not in the face of the future onslaught by climate change and the inevitably much-stricter demands that will be placed on environmental factors and food safety as a result of an ever-increasing world populace.

Yours truly

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Natural Wines and Sexism? – Punch Drink Article

Interesting article by Rémy Charest in Punch Drink here:

Thoughtful stuff. I generally like the article, particularly that it does not set out to judge the trend. Read the article first, then read the below, if you wish.

There are a couple of things I would have liked to see discussed in the article:

Firstly, in Western Europe, at least, after decades of sexual liberation from the late 1960’ies through, perhaps, the 1990’ies, we are now going through a phase of great sexual conservatism in the public space. Beaches in my own Denmark used to be full of stark-naked people, with no-one frowning at that, and nakedness was accepted as natural and generally harmless in advertisement etc. That is no longer the case. Nudity at beaches seems drastically reduced and apparently requires you to be a dedicated nudist, practicing your predilection at specific beaches or specific sections of beaches. Nudity in advertisement is generally frowned upon. Now, I am not arguing that everyone should run around naked and that all advertisment should feature unclad people, but I worry that the public frowning-upon of nudity and sexuality generates some very negative images in people in terms of their own bodies and sexuality, the acceptability if their bodies and sexuality, and the general fact of them having bodies and/or sexuality at all. Are we raising an entire generation to be acutely negatively body-conscious? Could the natural wine crowd – habitually counter-current and iconoclastic – also (knowingly or unwittingly) be reacting to the new (or, rather, old) prudishness? If so, I think that aspect should be welcomed.

Secondly, inebriation, lack of inhibition and sexuality are inextricably linked. Entire religions have been founded upon the combination, with Dionysus/Bacchus leading the way. The natural wine crowd generally sees itself as less inhibited, less mainstream than people at large, and also generally praises the drinkability and non-hangover-inducing aspects of their wines, even if there is probably little evidence for these aspects other than personal perception, heavily tinged by confirmation bias. There is a celebration of the sensuous aspects of life in the natural wine ethos, a typically big-city dream of connection with the soil and the primordial aspects of life (it is my contention that natural wine is chiefly a big-city phenomenon). The natural wine ethos certainly has some remarkably metaphysical sides to it, and a celebration of nudity and sexuality, for me at least, rhymes well with the historical metaphysical aspects of wine.

I personally think most of the labels mentioned are crass and rather sophomoric in their humour, but I cannot be offended or think there is something intrinsically wrong with them. Indeed, I welcome some of the aspects that these labels conjure up. Yes, by all means, do also feature naked men on labels, or even erotic content. We don’t need more inhibited people, we need more uninhibited people.

And remember, wine was invented so that ugly men would also have a chance:-)

Yours truly

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