Monty's Dry White – £8.99 Adnams
Find the Allende Blanco 2003 – from €11.16, $17.99 and £15.49
This week's wine combines two of my (relatively few, I hope, though probably fruitlessly) hobby horses. How marvellous is that? Actually three, if you count its packaging in a non-heavyweight bottle. The first hobby horse is the Agly Valley in Roussillon, of which close readers of this website must by now be thoroughly sick. I'll say no more about its ancient bushvines and interesting soils other than to add an Agly tag at the bottom of this article so that you can wallow in dozens more articles with an Agly connection. (I have only just created the tag because this valley inland from Perpignan has been known by so many names in the short time I have taken special notice of it.)
This time last year I was enthusiastic about the debut vintage, 2007, of my fellow wine writer Monty Waldin, who commutes between Tuscany and Agly and who was the star of a Channel 4 tv series, Château Monty, about his attempts to establish an organic-leaning-towards-biodynamic vineyard. With the 2008s he introduced a white and, not surprisingly in view of my enthusiasm for Agly whites, I prefer it to the 2008 red, which I found a bit leaner than the 2007 red and, at £8.99, rather overpriced.
Monty's Dry French White 2008 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, on the other hand, seems underpriced at £8.99. When I tasted it I gave it 17 points out of 20 (as opposed to a measly 15 for the red) and wrote: '100% certified organic barrel-fermented Macabeu. Toasty, appleskin notes – very interesting and a bit funky. No obvious oak, very interesting and deep-flavoured. Not for aperitif drinking (too substantial for that) – for food. Long. Serious – much more serious than the price suggests. Layers of flavour – smoky with a bit of juicy greengage fruit [I've just seen that greengages, aka reines claudes, are also cited by the team at UK importers Adnams so this must be true]. Bone dry and chewy. I'd wait a little while for more aromatic complexity to develop and start to drink it only towards the end of 2009 though it should last a couple of years. A really complex wine for less than £9 a bottle, and only 13.2% alcohol. It was made from vines leased from the excellent Eric Laguerre and yields were just 27 hl/ha, apparently. For Monty's own notes on this wine, see * below.
This 2007 2005 vintage wine of the week (still tasting really very lively indeed to judge from a bottle opened yesterday) was another barrel-fermented Agly Macabeu/Maccabéo, and the current vintage Dom Gayda, Figure Libre Maccabéo 2007 Vin de Pays d'Oc Blanc, as detailed in Languedoc Roussillon tasting notes, is also very good, and available in the UK from Cambridge Wine Merchants, Wimbledon Wine Cellars and The Vine King.
Over the Pyrenees, the fruit of 100-year-old Macabeo (the Spanish spelling as opposed to the French or Occitan one) vines near Huesca just west of Somontano was barrel fermented to produce Reino de los Mallos 2002 Vino de la Tierra Aragón, which tickled my fancy when I tasted it five years ago. I have not tasted subsequent vintages but I see that it is still made and the 2007 is available from www.vinosonline.es for a relatively modest price.
What is most interesting about this prospect of serious Macabeu/Maccabéo/Macabeo is to remember that the variety is known as Viura in the vast Rioja region, where more white-wine vines were planted than red as recently as 1974. Carefully grown, with limited yields, these grapes from old vines could produce really very serious white wine such as Allende's delicious, full-bodied, ageworthy dry white Riojas. I shall write more on this intriguing subject.
For the moment, I would urge those who buy in Britain to seize stocks from the second shipment of Monty's 2008 white from Adnams while they may. And those elsewhere are strongly recommended to investigate this stunning Spanish white made, in pitifully small quantities, alas, mainly from Maccabéo:
Allende Blanco 2003 Rioja 18 Drink 2007-12
80% Viura, 20% Malvasia. Cheesy rich nose with real fat and body on the palate. Not too leesy. Long. Vibrant. Rich but not fat with a streak of citrus. Seems quite acid enough – thanks to Viura itself, which retains acidity.
It's available in Spain at €11.16, in the US at $17.99 and in the UK at £15.49. Berry Bros used to stock this wine but seem to have run out of it so the sole UK stockist I could find is www.morenowinedirect.com.
By any measure, all these are all fine, intellectually interesting and sensually stimulating alternatives to white burgundy.
* Monty Waldin on his 2008s:
All three wines come from:
- sandy granite (volcanic) soils covered by limestone scree (from sea sediments), which is a nice combination
- vineyards facing south, south-east, overlooking the Pyrenees
- vineyards lying at 400-550 metres in the communes of St-Martin-de-Fenouillet and the adjacent Le Vivier (both in the Pyrénées-Orientales département), 40 km west of the Mediterranean
- vineyards yielding less than 30 hl/ha with vine densities of 4,000 vines/ha (so around one bottle per vine)
- vineyards certified organic by Ecocert France. Hence the label shows France's green AB = 'Agriculture Biologique' logo
NB the vineyards are going into Demeter biodynamic certification in 2009, but were not farmed biodynamically in 2008. I know that may disappoint some people but the reasons are:
- logisitics Either you do biodynamics properly or don't do it at all – and that essentially means getting all nine biodynamic preparations on the vineyards regularly (three as sprays on the vines, six in the compost which goes on the soil). There is a lot of 'biodynamic' talk from winegrowers right now, but in my experience this is not always justified by what is actually happening in the vineyards. Anyway, with my expansion from 2.5 hectares in 2007 to around 8 hectares in 2008 proper biodynamics was not going to be possible without significant investment in terms of man-hours and machinery. I'd rather be cautious and get it right economically (meaning going BD is worth the money), environmentally (meaning BD works because you are doing it properly) and socially (making sure both staff and punters buy in to biodynamics for the right reason which boils down to better quality wine from healthier soils and happier farmers).
- paperwork Eric Laguerre's vineyards are certified organic but he was renting some of his vines to another wine producer who never bothered to get their rented portion certified. When Eric took these vines back he put them into organic certification which takes three years. Eric and I decided that we would seek Demeter certification only when all of his estate was certified organic which makes paperwork/labelling much easier and more importantly makes farming easier too. Demeter biodynamic certification takes five years to obtain – but only three for vineyards which are already fully certified organic.
I am pleased to say that Eric is now having his spare land grazed by a local herd of organic cows, their manure being key to future biodynamic composting plans. Getting animals on vineyards is the hardest but most necessary part of being biodynamic. It is very rare to find cows grazing Mediterranean vineyards. Hence 'if you are going to be biodynamic, do it properly'. Eric's vineyards have been very well farmed (and by that I mean they have not been overfarmed with chemicals) but additions of well-made biodynamic compost (main ingredient: cow manure) will help get more out of the vineyards: bigger yields of better quality. Yes, you really did read that right.
The 2008 vintage
Winter was dry for the third year running. Spring was cool. The sortie was good. Some coulure in Syrah and Grenache. Summer was normal. The run up to harvest was hot. Weather during harvest varied between warm and cool, allowing extended ripening.
Monty's French Dry White 2008
This comes from a Macabeu [he spells it Maccabeu – JR] vineyard planted in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Eric Laguerre acquired the vineyard from an old grower who was retiring and didn't want it grubbed up. It lies near the ruined (14th-century) Taïchac castle (currently being renovated into an arts centre for artisans – sculpture, painting, pottery, photograhpy) which is on your right hand side as you enter St-Martin-de-Fenouillet from Perpignan. Taïchac is a plateau lying at around 450 metres elevation, south facing towards the Pyrenees. The vines are spur pruned to echalas, which is an extended form of gobelet. The grapes were hand picked in the third week in September 2008, pressed as whole bunches (Bucher pneumatic press) and the juice run by gravity to second-hand (four to five years old) Burgundy barrels (228-litre, 300-litre, Vosges, Allier) for alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. No lees stirring. The wine was bottled in May 2009 unfined (so suitable for vegans) but lightly filtered. The wine is very distinctive – creamy but crisp, yeasty but saline, medium-bodied but lean, which makes it mouth-filling but gulpable. A classy quaffer but a quaffer nonetheless with no pretensions to greatness. 13.2% alcohol. Drink now to 2011. 8,000 bottles.