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…spontaneously fermenting

A tasting note: 2006 Le Mazel Cuvée Raoul

Ok, you can’t make a wine without the addition of sulfite’s right? I hear this over and over again.  If this comment came from your average everyday wine drinker, then okay, at least this person would probably be open to my opinion on this, and would very likely listen with interest. Unfortunately, this comment most often comes from “knowledgeable” wine persons. Wine persons who the minute you say that you can make wine without the addition of sulfur, get in your face and say that it “is impossible!”.  At this point they’re smirking and looking the other way and don’t even want to humor the discussion

The second comment I hear often is, wines made without the addition of sulfur cannot be stored and must be drunk up right away. Hmmmm. These two reasons are exactly why I have my blog. So that I can express myself about things I not only believe in, but have some experience with.  My more than 7 years experience working and selling wine.  My more than 4 years experience working and selling wines made without the addition of sulfur. Actually, without the addition of anything. Like I always say, nothing added, nothing taken.  So there…

The Cuvée Raoul is a wine I have tasted many many many times. In fact, about two years ago when i first started to sell this wine at Jacob’s, we sold lots of it.  And I mean lots of it.  100’s of bottles. Why?  Because it was good and we liked it.  In fact, our guests liked it and these are the reasons  we could not keep the wine on the shelves…

Cuvée Raoul is one of the most consistent and stable “natural” wine’s I have sold (Bressan being another). There was hardly any bottle variation and once opened, stayed drinkable (in fact improved) for up 18 days.   I once had a bottle opened for 21 days before I noticed any fade in the fruit. Of course I must disclose that the 21 days was deliberate. We drank a few glasses, put the cork back in and placed it in the wine cooler…..and waited..

Gérald & Jocelyne Oustric’s Domaine Le Mazel is located just south of Ardeche in the Southern Rhône (in France, of course).  They have been making wine without the addition of sulfur since 1998. This might explain why their Cuvée Raoul was so stable, so alive.  They don’t add anything to their grapes after hand-harvesting the grapes. No yeast. No enzymes. No acid. No sugar. Nada

The 2006 Cuvée Raoul is made up of about 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah grapes from soil dominated by calcarious clay (vineyards are in Valvigneres). Spontaneously fermented in steel where it stayed on the skins (maceration) for 40-60 days before being pressed and transferred into cement where it matured before being bottled without fining or filtering.

Date tasted:  Saturday May 28th, 2011  17:45

(I will preface this by saying I hadn’t tasted the wine since my birthday over a year ago and wasn’t sure what to expect when i opened the cork)

color: still a perfect medium bluish-red, no real development showing. Medium intense and clean. No visible sediment.

Nose: Very intense and very, very aromatic. Floral – Violets.  Sweet cherries and “amarena” cherries. Hints of farm and cough syrup-like notes. Some gorgeous volatile aromas to help carry those aromas out of the glass and into my nose without being sour or vinegary.  Cherry cough drops. No development noted and no oxidized aromas. Very fresh.

Palate: Fine focused fruit showing no development on the palate either. Very sweet fruit. Very, very slight hints of cured meats (think prosciutto here), which I remember also being there the last time I drank the wine. Medium high acidity with medium, sexy (fruit) tannins that gripped nicely. Very long finish. Alcohol is hardly noticeable at all at 12.5%, only helping give this wine some weight.

We were pleasantly surprised at how well this wine was drinking going on 5 years and the only ingredient besides passion and love was healthy, ripe grapes.  Listen up…. not only was this wine made without the addition of sulfite’s, I was lucky enough to have not drunk it up “right away”.  These two facts brought us a half hour of great pleasure a few days ago..



Category: 1 WINE, 3 TASTING NOTES, Ardeche, France, natural wine (100% living wine), Southern Rhône


A tasting note: 2004 Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard Sans Soufre

A local boy who didn’t have the fortune of being born into a wine making family, nor did he inherit any vineyards, Thierry’s interest was self-inflicted. He was a young,  “angry teenager” when he created his first vineyard in 1982, a tiny 0,26HA (0,16HA of this were vines planted in 1961), next to Auguste Clape (La Côte), slowly thereafter adding two more tiny, well-located plots, Chaillot & Tézier. For the most part the vines were young, but to these babies he added some vineyards dated 1905-1908 and shortly thereafter, the addition of some Reynards that dated back to 1934. He now has a total of 4,15HA.

Today, Thierry produces three wines. Chaillot (approx 6000 bottles) from vines of less than 40 years of age, the older vine Reynard (approx 6000 bottles), and his sulfur-free version of Reynard (simply called “Cornas”, approx 2000 bottles), the wine discussed here.

Thierry has always worked on his own without an agricultural diploma, and without paying attention to what his neighbors were doing.   He does his own rootstock grafting and pruning of the vineyards to get his yields down to about 25-30 HL/HA.  He typically harvests later than his neighbors taking on more risk, yet allowing him to avoid chapatilization (the adding of sugar to unfermented grape must to increase alcohol).

In the cellar, he has practiced very low sulfur dosages in his vats since 1992. In 1996 & 1997, he used no sulfur. He has been making his Sans Soufre “Cornas” (from the Reynards vineyard) since 1998. He is known to use some other unorthodox techniques in Cornas like Macération Carbonique (carbonic maceration) for some of his grapes to extract fruit and to secure finesse. The Syrah grape is a grape that often requires aeration to eliminate the threat of reduction. Thierry’s answer this is simple: “I don’t add sulfur. Then you can leave the wine alone”, he goes on to say.

Date tasted:  June 2, 2010 23:30

Appearance: Very deep red with little or no visible development. I must disclose, however, that the room was very dimly lit and it was very difficult to gage any visible development.

Nose: Young & tight, extremely balanced nose of dark fruit with a bright fruit background. Super young black olives with fresh pepper. Very focused indeed.  A very expressive Syrah and a very typical Allemand.

Palate: Dark berries with sour red fruit to balance out the wine. Gripping acids and elegant tannins and a finish that “sticks around” for seemingly forever. A very sexy wine that can remind of a top Burgundy in its youth. Very elegant, tight and fresh. Very focused, tight, balanced and sexy! The alcohol is barely perceptible.  A statement in elegance, finesse and freshness.


Still an amazing and open wine, but very, very slight oxidation was showing at this point.. Then the wine disappeared into our bellies 

I have had the extreme fortune of tasting Allemand’s wines on numerous occasions and although my palate has evolved, his wines never cease to impress me.  I’ll raise a glass in his honor any time.

(Thank you to John Livingstone-Learmonth and  “The Wines of the Northern Rhône” for the useful Thierry Allemand information)


Category: 3 TASTING NOTES, Cornas, France, natural wine (100% living wine), Northern Rhône


A tasting note: 2008 St. Andrea Pinot Noir Ferenchegy

We are in Hungary now.  Not the famous Tokaj region centered around the small town of Mad, known for its glorious sweet Aszú wines.  Rather we are a bit further south and west. Perhaps the second most well-known wine region in this (perhaps under appreciated) wine producing country. We are in Eger.  Home of the “Bulls Blood”,  or locally “Egri Bikavér”.  Although ecological conditions favor white wine production, the fame of the region lies in its reds.

St. Andrea follows a simple philosophy, one that is not so seldom heard these days:  “The quality of the wine is decided in the vineyard”. Not a new way of thinking, but a more and more common way of thinking. A philosophy that for the most part I agree with. You certainly cannot make a great wine without great grapes. But one cannot ignore the wine maker.  This is where a wine maker who listens carefully to his grapes can mean the difference between an average, every day bottle of wine and a great bottle of wine.  Dr. György Lőrincz (owner/oenologist) says “If an oenologist reaches this level of quality and can maintain it continuously with undiminished energy for decades, his vineyard can become deservedly prestigious, and establish iconic wines that can motivate other enthusiastic oenologists.”

I heard rumors that many consider St. Andrea as the best Pinot Noir producer in the area.   2,834 bottles produced

Date tasted:  May 17th, 2011 19:07

Appearance: very light in color, almost rosé like.  One of the lightest Pinot’s I have seen in a while. Medium intense reflexes. Young.

Nose: Wood, forest floor. Oak not abusive to the fruit. Ripe raspberries with smoky hints. Quite open already. Alcohol stings the nose a bit.

Palate: good attack and good structure. Medium plus acidity, nice fruit,  oak sits around the whole wine, gently coating the tongue and mouth. Surprising freshness. Alcohol is quite fresh and doesn’t dominate the wine.  For my palate, the oak is too much a piece of the puzzle. Perhaps the producer intended that this wine be stored a few years, but I’m not sure this is a wine that will improve for the next 5 years in the cellar. Judicious use of oak none the less, but it loses a bit of it’s drinkablity for me because of the oak, unfortunately. Drink now or enjoy over the next 3-5 years.


Category: 1 WINE, 3 TASTING NOTES, Eger, Hungary


A tasting note: 2005 Franco Terpin Ribolla Gialla

Azienda Agricola Franco Terpin
Loc. Valerisce n°6/a
34170 – San Floriano del collio – Go
Tel +39 0481 884215
If you haven’t yet tasted the wines from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia area of Italy, then perhaps you should.  Sitting in the furthermost North East Corner of Italy bordering Slovenia, this wine region has been getting a lot of attention lately. Is this because the majority of Italian skin-macerated whites (aka orange wines) hail from this region? Is it because the  region produces age-worthy, mineral wines that make you sit back and say “huh…what grape was this again?”?  Is it because this is the home of many natural wines, which also gets a lot of attention these days?  I would place a check-mark next to “all of the above” because these wines are serious.  And many are seriously good!

Most  of the producers (and grapes) in this area of Italy have names that the rest of Italy cannot pronounce. Take Vodopivec for example and the only grape they vinify, the Vitovoska. Even the wines made in this corner of Italy stray from the every-day wines that the average Italian recognizes and consumes. Yet, these are very much wines. These are living wines, often made only with grapes. Nothing added, nothing taken.

The wine for this tasting note was produced by Franco Terpin. A little easier to pronounce, yet far from typical.  Franco farms in a natural fashion without the  use of industrial fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.  “The vine listens. The vine understands”, says Franco.  Franco says that the Ribolla Gialla (called Rebula in this area) is difficult to grow and he only vinifies it in exceptional vintages. Harvest is done by hand, fermentation  (initially in steel) is spontaneous thanks to the extended skin contact.  The wine is then transferred to oak where it spends about one year on the lees. It  is then transferred to stainless steel where it spends another year. Then it’s bottled without fining or filtering and is left to rest for yet another year before going for sale.  Approximately 2500 bottles produced.  This wine is not available in Norway or Poland.

Date tasted: Tuesday May 17th – Norwegian Independence day – 1845

Appearance: a slightly cloudy, orange-hued wine with a high intensity reflection. I just love the look of orange wines!

Nose: Oak  jumps out of the glass at first, with hints of reduction. Not a lot of fruit showing at this time. Mineral.  Some orange peel emerging, but the wine is still closed and not showing well yet. Some very slight, slight balsamic hints.

Palate: mineral, dry and surprisingly, the oak is less evident on the palate. The wine is quite intense on the palate and ends (many seconds after first entering the mouth) with a slight bitterness.  Medium-high acidity. Alcohol seems high, yet is well-integrated. The wood dries out the mouth very slightly, but not offensively . Very focused finish. Reminds of the peach iced-tea I just drank.  Super food wine i would imagine.

Wine is decanted………

Same night at  20:25:

Appearance hasn’t changed

Nose: More fruit has emerged. No sign of oak anymore. More herbs.

Palate: Still quite mineral. Oily. Orange peel. Pork fat, bacon. Alcohol is the only disturbance here, but the wine has been sitting in a decanter for almost two hours at room temp. Sits a long time on the palate. again, serious food wine. Fatty, oily. Texture is nice.

as we finished the last sips about an hour later, the wine had developed the sort of texture that helped the wine  just slip easily down the throat


Category: 1 WINE, 3 TASTING NOTES, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy, natural wine (just about), orange wine


Still breathing, still smiling, still drinking natural wine

It has been almost a month since my last post, here is what has been keeping me so busy:

Working a lot at Jacob’s…

Preparing for my wedding….

Traveling to Italy…….

Visiting Carussin in Piemonte to taste the 2010 vintage, which by the way is still slowly fermenting and showing itself to possibly be their greatest vintage.  Absolutely alive in every way.. “All of these years of biodynamic farming are starting to really show us rewards”, says Bruna Ferro.

Thus far, none of their wines have been shown even a pinch of sulfur dioxide.   These were the healthiest of grapes. Bruna even presented me with two bottles to taste. Both made with the exact same healthy barbera grapes, grown biodynamically.  One bottle was produced in the same way Carussin make all of their wines (without the addition of anything, not even selected yeasts). This wine was still happily finishing its fermentation. The second bottle was produced by sending their grapes to a laboratory. Everything was added to this bottle from selected yeasts, to enzymes and sulfur. This bottle was of course “ready for market”.  The difference between these two bottles was astounding. Astounding. Everybody should have the opportunity to experience such a tasting.  This shows that although healthy grapes are extremely important,  care after harvest is also extremely important.

Of course a quick trip over to Igino and Irma was a must, and as usual, an extreme pleasure. Tasting the wines of Igino again was just amazing. From his skin macerated Favorita, to his non-sparkling, dry fermented Brachetto. Too bad he only makes a few bottles of each and are only produced for his enjoyment (and of course mine)

Igino pouring me (my favorite), his skin-macerated Favorita.

Gabrio & Genevieve Bini

On this quick trip to Italy, I also had the incredible fortune to meet Gabrio Bini (and his wonderful wife Genevieve), wine maker for Azienda Agricola Serragghia on the island of Panteleria. All of his wines are vinified with long skin contact in amphora without any additions..I will write more on this wine maker and his wines in a future post.. promise.

Gabrio and Genevieve were kind enough to meet me at La Fastuchera Osteria Wine Bar, one of the only places to drink natural wines in Bologna.  With a Sicilian kitchen and an interesting selection of wines, they are worth a visit!

Oh, and of course lot’s of packing going on as I write this piece in my half-empty apartment as I prepare for my transition to a new home in a new country.  I look forward to the many changes. Many will be easy, some more challenging. Until my next post (which will be more often), continue to appreciate what you have and keep tasting.



Category: 1 WINE, 9 WINE THOUGHTS, natural wine (100% living wine), Still breathing, still drinking natural wine, still smiling