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Wine finds week 21/03/2011

Neil Sowerby gets flinty for fish

Written by . Published on March 21st 2011.

Wine finds week 21/03/2011

HIGH noon on Cooper Street and something was amiss. I was outside the Oddbins branch there, clutching a copy of Odyssey, the chain’s quarterly free magazine. The foreword was by Simon Baile.

Vibrant, upfront fruit is not always viewed as Chablis’s priority. Purists delight in its fabled austerity. So I was quite stunned by the approachable elegance of Chablis Premier Cru Fourcvhaume, Vigonoble de Vaulorent, Domaine William Fèvre, 2007.

The mag’s evocative prose, albeit designed to shift bottles, seemed to reclaim the ethos of his dad Nick, who made it the coolest, best-stocked high street chain in the Seventies.

The business passed from family hands in 1984 and when Simon bought it back in 2008 I was among those rejoicing. It had become dull, especially through its link with French wine-retailing giant Nicolas. The Deansgate Oddbins became a Nicolas. With similar stock it’s now called something else and, yes, it’s dull-sounding.

I was outside Fountain Street, ironically enough in search of a French white to accompany some fish. Bizarre, though. The sun was past the noon yardarm and yet the shop was shuttered. So my hopes were sunk of snapping up a Picpoul de Pinet Chateau La Mirande 2008, a mix of lean tropical fruit and balancing fresh acidity from the Languedoc for £8.95.

In its stead I ended up buying a peachily serviceable 100 per cent Marsanne from a Rhone valley co-op, called Le Marsanne (£5.95), at the Dull Sounding Shop Formerly Known as Oddbins. I still hadn’t twigged what was happening. Until next day when The Sun website, of all sources, told me Oddbins had been forced to close a THIRD of its branches. Their Altrincham shop also fell on its corkscrew. Supermarket and internet competition blamed, as usual. Sad. I pray Oddbins survives, but I pray more for all our local independents bucking the trend. Click here as for our feature on this.

MANY species of fish are also endangered and so I get twinges of Sustainability Angst at the amount I put away. In the past fortnight, at home or eating out – fresh tuna, swordfish, hake, mackerel, monkfish, crab, prawns. These have necessitated equally large amounts of white wine as accompaniment. Much of it has come from France, most of it quite delicious with minerality and terroir to the fore.

Back to Picpoul de Pinet, where we started. It’s one of those rare things in France, a varietally-labelled wine, instantly recognisable from its own special, slender bottle, with an embossed Languedoc cross.

The fruity and concentrated Duc de Morny Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux du Languedoc, L’Ormarine 2009 shows all the best attributes of this white-wine only Coteaux du Languedoc cru. Lots of fresh green apple and herbiness. Not a million miles from one of the fruitier Muscadets. The 2010 is slightly steelier, saltier (though that may be by association; definitely an oyster wine). Ormarine, from the Co-op of that name, is available at £6.69 from The Bottle Stop in Cheadle.

The Wine Society’s Domaine Felines-Jourdain Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux du Languedoc, 2009 (£7.50) is more delicate with a delightful blossomy nose.

The Stevenage-based mail order club (www.thewinesociety.com) have another uncommon but enticing seafood white on their list.

Cassis, Clos Val Bruyère, Château Barbanau, 2008 (£11.50) sticks in my mind as the perfect bouillabaisse wine. Perhaps the saffron fish broth doesn’t really transport from the Med coast around Marseilles, but moules marinieres can substitute. Spectacular clifftop vineyards around the cramped little port of Cassis provide the clairette, marsanne and ugni blanc grapes that go into this austere wine, given freshness here by a splash of sauvignon blanc. Unlike the Picpoul it will gain complexity with three or four years in bottle.

Cassis’s growers number scarcely into double figures. My favourite exampled I recently re-tasted at a Bridgewater Hall tasting – Clos Sainte Magdelaine 2008. Grapefruit and pine aromas, peach and herbs for the palate make it worth the hefty £17.50 tag from Rhone, Loire and southern France specialists Yapp Bros (www.yapp.co.uk).

Wiltshire-based Yapps stocked Condrieu whites from the Rhone when they were the only wines made from the now ubiquitous viognier grape, responsible for some aromatic but rather tiring bottles across the globe.

The premium you pay for Condrieu is justified by the more complex viognier experience they give. The most approachable of Yapps’ examples is the Condrieu Terroirs 2009 (£29.95), elegant, midweight, mineral-rich rounded off with subtler oak.

Cheadle-based wine merchants Boutinot import an equally impressive if pricier Condrieu, available at £299 for a case from everywine.co.uk. Domaine du Monteillet, Condrieu Les Grandes Chaillées 2008 has exotic turkish delight and honeysuckle aromas followed by oodles of lingering soft, creamy peachy fruit on the palate.

Sancerre, Muscadet and Chablis, a holy trinity of dry French whites that playing-it-safe diners pick off a wine list. Sancerre, from the eastern Loire, has been sidelined somewhat by the public craving the more upfront gooseberry attack of Kiwi sauvignon, but they rarely replicate the flinty yet fruity allure of top Sancerre.

Domaine Michel Girard, Sancerre 2009 (Reserve, West Didsbury, £7.99 a half bottle) is fragrant with grapefruit and citrus but with pungent mineral hints. These carry through in the mouth along with a distinctive nuttiness.

Silex is another word for flint and Philippe Girard Sancerre Silex 2008 exhibits what I can only describe as a stoniness. I was told to expect gunsmoke on the nose, too but detected it on the palate. Uncompromising, fabulous wine.

Traditional Muscadet producer Domaine les Grands Presbytères is based in St Fiâcre far west at Loire’s mouth and again there’s flint in the terroir and an intensity from vines close to 50 years old, a rarity in this area.

Domaine Les Grands Presbytères Tradition Muscadet Sevre & Maine Sur Lie 2009(Bottlestop, £6.79, Reserve, £7.75) has lime scents but follows with loads of fresh apple and pear flavours.

The oldest vines go into Domaine Les Grands Presbytères Vieilles Vignes Muscadet Sevre & Maine Sur Lie 2009 (Reserve, £7.89) and it shows. The lime is more intense integrated with a minerality in a very smooth textured white. Gorgeous shellfish partner again.

Yet that bottle is topped by the Domaine Les Grands Presbytères Wild Yeast Muscadet Sevre & Maine Sur Lie 2009 (Bottlestop, £10.50). It’s made in a limited amount using only ‘wild yeasts’ which occur naturally on the skins of the freshly picked grapes and the purity of fruit is evident. Elderflower-scented, maybe some breadiness and more lingering fruit than you might expect from a standard sur lie Muscadet.

Vibrant, upfront fruit is not always viewed as Chablis’s priority. Purists delight in its fabled austerity. So I was quite stunned by the approachable elegance of Chablis Premier Cru Fourcvhaume, Vigonoble de Vaulorent, Domaine William Fèvre, 2007 from the premier cru vineyard closest in style and geography to the grands crus of Chablis. Light green, almost yellow in hue, its flavours sang of terroir, a lemoniness, a chalkiness, a powerful concentration. It costs £29 a bottle from the Wine Society but is a revelation.

VISITORS to this weekend’s Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival (March 26-27) should check out one of the region’s most enterprising and well-stocked wine shops, The Vineyard in Square Street. Owner Stuart Rothwell runs a monthly series of tastings, usually at Ramsbottom Civic Hall with a two course supper included in the £30 a head charge.

Pick of the forthcoming events is A Dinner with Alain Brumont on Wednesday, April 6. Winemaker Brumont is the driving force behind the rise of the Madiran region in south west France. For more details on Vineyard tastings, visit thevineyardwineshop.

In my last column I celebrated Fairtrade Fortnight and The Co-operative's key role in promoting this worldwide ethical trading set-up. As a reward for her efforts, wine buyer Maria Elener has just picked up the prestigious Fairhills Ethical Person of the Year accolade at the annual Drinks Business Green Awards.

Maria, responsible for buying all the retailer’s Fairtrade wines, was saluted for her dedication in sourcing Fairtrade wines from developing countries, while having an active role in setting up projects that benefit the growers and winemakers.

The Manchester-based business has the most extensive and market-leading range of Fairtrade wines in the UK. Among many other projects, sales from the Argentine wines have helped fund a water pump for the village of Tilimuqui as well as a secondary school, which opened last May.

In February when the Group launched its groundbreaking Ethical Plan, which includes a radical Fairtrade conversion programme over the next three years.

NEXT column: Some glorious French reds, to maintain the entente cordiale.

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RayMarch 22nd 2011.

Neil, noce article as ever, and as ever, there's little to no response which saddens me. You are absolutely right to champion the independents - who reguarly give better value than the supermarkets (at least you'll remember what a wine tastes like from an independent) and who treat the supply chain fairly.

Re Chablis - I struggle with Fevre's wines; they are too green for me. I much prefer Dauvissat although I recognise that these are rather more expensive. Still, a good chablis is one of life's treats, and the region appears not to have suffered the same price hikes as Puligny etc.

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