Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Beware of pity

Rulanske Modre variety
On a recent trip to Prague we naturally took the opportunity to look at Czech wines. In preparation we had researched the varieties grown in the Czech Republic (mostly in Moravia) and found that there is a surprising number of locally produced hybrids. Quite why this should be so is not clear as vinifera varieties such as those grown in Austria seem also to grow in the Czech Republic but resistance to frost and fungus diseases seems to be desirable;

For the record, the list is as follows;

Agni ( Andre x Irsai Oliver)
Andre was nothing to write home about in our 'North' tasting

Andre (Blaufraenkisch x St. Laurent)
Ariana (Riesling x St. Laurent) x Zweigelt
Aurelius (Neuburger x Riesling)

Cabernet Moravia (Cabernet Franc x Zweigelt)
Devin (Gewurtztraminer x Roter Veltiner)
Lena (Lipovina x Irsai Oliver)
Laurot (Merlot x Seibel 13666) x (Blaufränkisch x St. Laurent)
Malverina (Rakisch x Merlan)

Moravian Muscat (Ottonel x Splendor)
Neronet (St Laurent x Blauer Portugieser) x (Alicante Bouschet x Cabernet Sauvignon)

Palava is considered locally as one of the best hybrids

Palava (Gewurztraminer x Muller-Thurgau)
Revolta (Malingre x Chrupka Bila) x (Corinth Cabanská x Perla Rosa)
Rubinet (Revolta x Alibernet) x André)
Veritas (Red Riesling x Bouvier)
Vrboska (Red Traminer x Cabanská Perla (Pearl of Csaba)

Not all of these are originally Czech and some have only reached the experimental stage but you can see there is plenty of activity in the creation of hybrids. In fact such is the enthusiasm for hybrids in general, you could call the Czech republic a hybrid hotspot. Amazingly we found these too:

our old friend Solaris, now ubiquitous it seems
a hybrid from Geisenheim
Old friend Kerner, quite low in alcohol here (12.5%)
Another Geisenheim variety now more frequent in the Czech Republic than in Germany
A Hungarian hybrid, unknown to 'Wine Grapes'
Not to be outdone by their neighbour, here is a list of Slovak hybrids;



Looking around shops in Prague, mainly at a large shop called My Narodni Obchodni domy Tesco, we soon came to work out the main vinifera varieties;

Frankovka = Blaufraenkisch

Modry Portugal = Blauer Portugieser
Neuburske = Neuburger
Rulandske Sede = Pinot Gris
Ryzlink Rynsky = Rhine Riesling
Ryzlink Vlassky = Weslschriesling
Sylvanske Zelene = Silvaner

Svatovavrinecke = St. Laurent (a bit more difficult this one but data roaming came to the rescue)

Tramin Cerveny = Gewurztraminer
Veltlínské červené rané = Fruehroter Veltliner
Veltlinske Zelene = Gruener Veltliner

Relatively simple really, but then there was something rather intriguing called Rulandske Modry. Thanks to Portugal Modry we had worked out that Modry means Blue but what could Rulandske Modry be? Pinot Gris is often called Rulander in Germany due to a historical person called Johann Seger Ruland who discovered Pinot Gris vines in a garden in Speyer in the mid - 18th century and popularised them. We fancied this must be a new variety what with all the crosses and hybrids going on; Blue Pinot Gris! We knew that Pinot Gris could have a variety of berry colours so why not?

Due to various circumstances we were not able to buy any wine on this trip so it was with great satisfaction that a cafe near our hotel was selling Rulandske Modry by the glass. One sip sparked joy as they say. Here was a discovery indeed. Reminiscent of something quite familiar we thought, but what? Our palate memory is poor to non-existant as we have said but Rulanske Modry was something new and exceptional. How exciting to make such a discovery! That's what we at Slotovino are all about; digging up hidden gems, supporting the under-dog.

Beware of pity: Rulandske Modry = Pinot Noir! 

What's more, Rulandske bile = Pinot Blanc.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Slotovino competition 2014/15

In our post of October 2nd we promised a new competition with the customary cash prize. Since then, nothing, for which apologies to anyone left on tenterhooks.

So while preparing for our next expedition to the Lunigiana and thinking about our recent one to the Minho and Galicia, we suddenly recalled our challenge to find the most imaginative blend.

Slotovino rarely deals in blends but we are making progress and those of Portuguese and Spanish North West including Brancellao/Alvarinho, Vinhao/Souson, Borracal/Caino Tinto, Ferron/Manseng Noir and others.

We are about to encounter similarly esoteric varieties for blends in the Colli di Candia, Val di Magra and Colli Luni. These include Massaretta/Barsaglina, Pollera, Vermentino Nero, Bracciola, Foscara, Marinella, Morone and Rossara among others.

So how about it? Back in October we suggested entries along the lines of L'En de l'oeil and Koshu to make a beautifully fragrant white for example or a red from maybe Groppello and Corvina. What would you blend? Please limit yourselves to grapes mentioned in 'Wine Grapes'.

Slotovino will be the final judge as before. 500 Malagasy Francs are the prize!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Seven, they are Seven

An experiment as far as we are concerned; propagating vines from bare wood cuttings!

Black-fingered Slotovino has purchased £12 of cuttings from the vine mostly found in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario -  'L'Acadie blanc'. This is a Canadian hybrid from Cascade and Seyve Villard 14-287.Amazingly, this obscure vine is listed at Sunnybank Vine Nurseries of Herefordshire and they were kind enough to send us 7 cuttings for the price of 6. We reckon that if L'Acadie can grow in Nova Scotia it could also grow in the UK, eventually at our experimental vineyard in the Thames Valley.

So instructions in hand we dipped the 7 cuttings into some rooting gel and buried them in soil up to the 2nd bud, hopefully the right side up. We have put polythene bags over them and stuck them in a spot on the terrace away from direct sunlight. We have to keep them well watered and they are supposed to grow roots and then flourish, bearing leaves and eventually grapes.

We know plenty of people do this kind of thing but we never thought of ourselves as belonging to them and so no one will be more surprised than us if even one cutting takes. What next? Grafting?.

We'll be sure to keep Slotovino readers informed. Exciting isn't it?

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014. We make wine ourselves for the first time.

'Never again', so said Vince in 2011 on delivery of our Rose from Triomphe d'Alsace. Quite understandable as Vince is a busy man at harvest time making award winning wines for  Stanlake Park and a myriad serious professional vineyards in the Thames Valley in quantities many times what we had to offer and from much better grapes.

a bit of summer pruning
Three years passed in which we made lovely grape juice but no wine. In one year at least we didn't bother even to do that such was the washout on the weather front. Nevertheless we turned our attention to the Cinderella of our hobby vineyard, the white grapes - Bacchus and planted all sorts of others as an experiment (GM1807-3, Solaris, Goldriesling, Johanniter, Rondo, Regent, Dornfelder, Pinot Noir, Wrotham Pinot and Fruehburgunder. We killed the vegetation between the vines with Round Up and fed the vines with fertiliser for the first time. We also started to spray against Powdery and Downy Mildew and did some radical spur pruning.

clean and healthy Bacchus

Our Bacchus seemed to like all this attention and produced grapes - some of them healthy - for the first time in 2013. This year, they produced grapes - most of them healthy - in profusion so we went back to Vince in case he had had a change of mind. He hadn't but being a positive kind of chap he asked 'Why don't you make it yourself?'

Bacchus with some botrytised berries

As the time approached we thought it might be worth making an experiment and trying to produce a 'vin naturel'. After all, you didn't really have to do anything. The less you did, the better. If it all went horribly wrong, too bad! We would be no worse off than before.

So in September we hurriedly got a few items from homebrew shops and started watching 'How to' clips on You-Tube and reading up on how to make natural wine. This was confusing to say the least as every recipe was different. Being entirely clueless we had to decide which elements to adopt and which to ignore.

We had actually made a false start in 2013 by crushing our Triomphe and then trying to ferment it as a white wine. It didn't work. This time we had gleaned that there is no danger of oxydisation while the grapes are fermenting. All you have to do is crush them and then leave them for a week or so to ferment by themselves. 

We also learned not to press the grapes too officiously as the press wine was less good anyway and we could spare ourselves the considerable effort by using a potato masher in the basket rather than the screw.

We also decided to make two versions each of the Red and the White, one with manipulation including added yeast, fining agents such as Bentonite and Isinglass and SO2 and the other completely without any of these things.

We bought a nice big 60 litre Fermenter with a tap at the bottom which we thought would be handy in racking off the wine from the lees. 

When the great day came to harvest the Bacchus we were helped by two itinerant workers and passed through the vineyard taking more or less all the healthy grapes. This was 1 week later than our neighbours at Oaken Grove Vineyard and we thought we detected the odd bit of botrytis on our grapes which hopefully would prevent them from producing undrinkably acidic wine. We put the best grapes through the crusher and put the juice into a fermenter. We then put the solid matter into the basket press and squeezed out more juice with the potato masher. 

We had left the less-impressive grapes to do separately. We gave them the same treatment and left them in a separate fermenter.

A wiik later we picked some of the red 'Triomphe' grapes. This time we were without the help of the itinerant workers so it was just us. 

Our Triomphe d'Alsace harvest. 1 man 1 morning. Treading and putting in fermenters in the afternoon.

Triomphe grapes from a single vine
The grapes were still in good condition; sweeter than ever before but not having yet been attacked by wasps or birds. The grapes looked blacker than ever and the juice was darker.

Triomphe trodden by foot.
This time, not least because no one was looking and inspired by Alice Fering, we decided to tread the grapes instead of putting them through the crusher. We expected the sensation to be both painful and unpleasant but quite the contrary! We then just left the crushed grapes in fermenters. 

At the same time we tasted the white wine and decided that fermentation might be underway so we combined the two bins and poured the contents through a fine filter into the big 60 litre fermenter to keep the juice airtight from now on. There was quite a lot of juice left over wich we put into little 5 litre demijohns. At this stage the juice was still a pretty disgusting grey-green colour.

Rather more than a week later we anxiously checked our babies, punching down the caps of the red. There was evidence of fermentation but not of the turbulent kind as so frequently described. On tasting it seemed that things were progressing so we decided to leave things a bit longer. Another week passed and this time the decision was literally to press on and remove the juice from the fermentation bins and potato-mash the solids in the basket press producing enough juice to fill a 25 litre carboy and half another of the same size. 

Triomphe Rose 2010 looks better than it is.

Then we had an inspiration and opened almost all the remaining bottles of Slotovino Rose 2010 and poured them into the 2014 fermenting juice - same grape, same provenance, just a different year. We could call it our 'NV'.

At this point we made a concerted effort to use the hydrometer we had bought to measure the alcohol level. This is important because you don't know if the fermentation has stopped until the alcohol has reached at least 9 degrees or so. This can only be measured if you have taken readings from the start and can then calculate what progress has been made.

As in all our actions, we were really swimming in the dark. Taste was the best indicator and what we tasted was encouraging - to us at least. Just for an experiment we added the yeast and Bentonite to the 'control' batch of white. 

Mango juice?
And so it went on with a bit of racking of the white and even at one stage the use of a special yeast for stopped fermentations just in case. When things seemed to have slowed down and the white had cleared to an extent we bought some bottles and corks together with a corker and started bottling. We were sure we were doing this too early and the corks would pop and make a mess all over the place but we were keen to make the wines as 'nouveau' as possible. 

The whites had the character of 'Federweisse' or 'Sturm' as the new wine is called in Germany and Austria respectively and we wanted the Triomphe to come out with as light a touch as possible as every attempt to make a beast of this beastly grape had seemed doomed as far as previous efforts were concerned. 

a beast even as a baby
In fact we have never liked any wine made from Triomphe even as lesser part of a blend. Why were we growing it? This would be its last chance.

So what about the results? Opinion had swayed back and forth as to which of our wines might succeed. In the end, only the absolutely natural white was drinkable and not in everyone's opinion. Perhaps we should have given the wines more time in the fermenters? Perhaps we should have put them in oak barrels for a number of years? The red reverted to type after a brief moment of not tasting like Triomphe. It was surprisingly good as Sangria and Gluehwein though. The 'manipulated' white is more acidic then the natural one surprisingly. It went quite well with Thai food (seriously). 

The natural white has acquired an amazingly orange colour. It's acidity it also rather overpowering but there is a sweetness there at the same time. The two haven't got together to make a whole but perhaps they will marry up in time?

Alvarelhao/Brancellao - the sequel

Our onward journey from Porto involved an early flight to Madrid and a connection by one of those marvelous Spanish fast trains that seem to have sprung up while we in the UK have just been dreaming of such things. This left us free to take a look at some important wine shops in the capital and we were not disappointed.

Madrid has Lavinia of course. Smaller than the one in Paris but in the same style. Lavinia is fine but it shows the signs of having pulled in its horns and re-trenched since the heady days of stocking wines from as many types and origins as possible. There is a bold sign for Hungarian wines for example but none on show.

Of Spanish wines, all the regions may be represented but the choice from Galicia for example only seemed to prove that you had to go there to find anything out of the ordinary.

Burdeos, not such a new region.
From the rest of the world, the selection seemed similar to what may be found in the Boulevard de la Madeleine but for a moment we thought we had found a new region altogether called 'Burdeos',

Our weird grape detector did pick up one extreme rarity however. Mando. Never heard of it? Perhaps in its alternative form - Mandon? No? Spain has the ability to surprise but as we always say, it is kept well under wraps. This rarity of rarities originally comes from guess where: North West Spain, Bierzo in fact. Its origins are still shrouded in mystery despite DNA testing. Graciano seems to be one of its parents and the finger is pointing at Heben, an almost extinct Andalucian variety as the other. 'Wine Grapes' helpfully informs us that this would make Mando/Mandon a half-sibling of Gorgollasa from Mallorca and Macabeo from Catalunya.

In 2008 statistics showed only 1 hectare in Castilla la Mancha but amazingly there have been new plantings in an attempt to halt its disappearance. This example from Valencia by Costera del Alta seems to be the only one using Mando other than in a blend. Their back label refers to it as 'relic of our ancestors'. Hats off to everyone concerned especially the unnamed persons responsible for the new plantings just so as to halt Mando's disappearance.

Enoteca Barolo, Calle del Principe de Vergara 211, Madrid
Looking a bit like Daniel Barenboim, Angel is the maestro of Enoteca Barolo. He has a large repertoire and knows each bottle thoroughly. He is also an enthusiastic evangelist for everything he thinks might interest you.



His stock is as varied as it is wide-ranging. Why 'Barolo'? Only because his colleague who founded the shop is a Barolo enthusiast. Just goes to show there are people in Spain with tastes in wine beyond Rioja.

An hour with Angel was indeed like a term at wine school. If it wasn't for the fact we were already weighed down with bottles from the Minho and Galicia we could have found a dozen equally interesting and rare wines to take with us. Enoteca Barolo alone would be worth anyone's trip to Madrid.

As it was we did fall for a couple of bottles including this Rufete from La tierra de Castilla y Leon. Rufete is in fact a Portuguese variety from the central eastern part of the country.'Wine Grapes' points out Rufete's connections with Touriga Nacional from the neighbouring Dao region and a grape called Puesto Mayor from Rueda and Prieto Picudo from Tierra de Leon in Spain. Whereas we assumed that such far-flung ancestry or relationships would be due to deliberate breeding by human hand. 'Wine Grapes' says 'These geographically distant relatives suggest that Rufete is a very old variety that spread out from Central Portugal to Spain a long time ago.' Perhaps this goes for Mando too?

Rufete is not as rare as some grapes (there are over 2,700 hectares in Portugal alone) but it is not often to be found. Winesearcher suggests it is about as frequently available as Vinhao for example.

and another fantastic blend of uber-obscure varieties. This time Brancellao, Ferrol (aka. Ferron), Caino Longo and Caino Redondo.
We also bought this blend from Ribeiro. Now at the risk of overly exciting some and rendering others catatonic, we have to say that one of the constituents, Caino Redondo is none other than Camaraou Noir. Camaraou Noir we hear you exclaim. yes, nothing else but the red variety originally from the Basses Pyrenees, (like Manseng Noir above). 'Wine Grapes' (what a marvelous book that is) adds that Camaraou Noir is not a mutation of Camaraou Blanc just in case you were wondering. It's something else altogether.

Jose Vouillamoz, the walking Swiss encyclopedia, is able to tell us further that 'Quite unexpectedly, comparison of the DNA profiles of Caino Redondo and Espadeiro in Galicia, Spain (distinct from the true Espadeiro in Portugal), shows they are identical to Camaraou Noir. Not being scientists, we ask if that means we can say this Caino Redondo is Spanish Espadeiro?

As a PS, we should add that it is quite common for people in one area to claim that their version of whatever variety is different from that in another region. We thought this was just a bit of chauvinism but maybe not.

Of Caino Longo, there is no mention in 'Wine Grapes'.

Enoteca Barolo also has an excellent website. Go see!

Vinoteca La Tintoreria, Calle Gurtubay 4, Madrid.
There was time to take in one more Bodega. La Tintoreria seemed interesting and so it was. Unknown to us it is something of a specialist in Galicia.

This section was devoted to North West Spain and was full of fascinating stuff. Again, we could have walked or rather stumbled out with a case without too much trouble in the selection.

this one looked familiar
La Titoreria has a representative selection from elsewhere in Spain and abroad despite having a much smaller stock (237 wines) than Enoteca Barolo (1789) or Lavinia (2055). Nonetheless, size isn't everything and La Tintoreria is to be commended on having the interest and diversity of a much larger shop. It is a relatively new venture set up by young people with noble intentions to source genuine wines from small producers, sustain the environment and do well by doing good. We wish them well and will return here next time without doubt.

We can't leave La Tintoreria without mentioning that there was a bottle of 100% Merenzao there. Merenzao was nominated as one of the Cepas Galegos on the poster in the Vitivinicola Ribeiro we visited at Rivadavia (see previous post) but is none other than Trousseau, aka. Bastardo. For that matter, Mouraton is Juan Garcia. We just thought you might need to know that one day because some of the wines we had been collecting on our quest for Alvarelhao/Brancellao were not cheap and some of the bottles of the 'naughty' kind to quote Jancis Robinson (i.e. heavy) so a mistake could be costly as well as weighty.

And so we concluded our enquiries into the vinous  hot-spot of the Minho/Galicia for the moment. No doubt it could repay a lifetime's study. Where to next? The rest of Portugal offers limitless possibilities. As for Spain, Catalunya might be our next area for investigation but as mentioned gems are lurking beneath the surface in so many areas, just waiting for Slotovino to uncover them. You have been warned.