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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Tag Archives: wine

Bodega Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal

Spain (Utiel-Requena)


Hearts come to lie among the branches of our dogberry tree.

Surprisingly little known, bobal is in fact the third most planted grape by area in Spain. For years it has been looked upon as something of a black sheep, directed to blending with other varietals. (It is especially welcomed for its colour intensity.) But in recent years several independent producers have brought the grape to the forefront, with some very promising results.

Bobal is native to the province of Valencia, where it accounts for roughly 80% of the vines under the DO Utiel-Requena. Its sloping vineyards (with dark, limestone soils) lie between the Mediterranean and the high inland plateau of Central Spain. Summers are hot and dry, winters (by Spanish standards) cold. Late frosts in April and May are not unusual. Its climate is one of the most extreme in Spain, and requires a tough grape.

Bobal is just that, a tough-skinned, bull-headed grape. (Its name is derived from the resemblance of a cluster to the head of a bull.) The wine produced is high in both tannin and acidity. The vines are generally low, stand-alone bushes, cultivated without supports, and are broadly spaced within the vineyard.  They endure extremes of weather much better than most varietals.

Bodega Sierra Norte holds 60 hectares of vineyards and has been bottling a variety of whites and reds, under various labels, since 1998. It is one of the only organic bodegas in the region. Bobal has always played an important role in its bottlings, but only recently has the production of a 100% bobal wine been undertaken. The vines used for Pasión de Bobal are 25-60 years old and cultivated at 600 metres above sea level. A later maturing grape, the bobal harvest for 2011 will have taken place over the past couple of weeks. Maceration will be long and procede at low temperatures. Fermentation will start at similarly low temperatures, then gradually rise. The wine will spend 6-8 months in French oak.

The result – a much undervalued varietal given a new market presence. I was thrilled to find it at a recent wine show, imported to my Island home by Pesantez and Segovia, an importer who can always be counted on to bring something special to the table.

Bodega Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2009

A racy, deeply fruited nose arising from the dark ruby red surface. This wine has energy and history. A raw, red fruit spiciness and hint of smoke deliver notes of rustic charm. It sets the drinker back in time, to when native varietals were the mainstay, when wines had an affable robustness, and hearts seemed to grow on vines.  $


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Domaine Ilarria Irouleguy

France (Irouléguy)

tannat (70%), cabernet franc (20%), cabernet sauvignon (10%)

[no website]

The bottle finds itself in a place called Conche, on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. For many centuries fishermen came from France to fish for cod. They had to have been rugged individuals. I’m reminded of the winemakers of the French Basque region of Irouléguy.

Domaine Ilarria Irouleguy 2006

These words come to mind — strong, of the earth, independent. A nose of black fruit, black licorice, yet not at all severe. The tannins make their presence known, a stiff, smiling handshake. Though medium in body, there is a full measure of dark fruit. Above all, there is alluring mystery here. Terrific value.  $

Irouléguy is one of the smallest and least appreciated appellations of France. It lies just six miles from the Spanish border, at the foot of the Pyrénées. Winemaking can be traced back to 3rd century Roman times, and on into the 11th century when monks of the Abbey of Roncesvalles cultivated large vineyards. In the century just past winemaking declined steadily, until the last couple of decades, which has seen something of a revitalization. Still, there are only 250 hectares under vine, and about three-quarters of the wine produced comes from one co-operative. Domaine Ilarria is one of only nine independent producers, and at 10 hectares one of the largest. Tannat is the leading red varietal here, as it is in Madrian, another region of southwest France I particularly enjoy.

Just 10% of the region’s wine is exported and I feel very lucky to have acquired a bottle. It’s the kind of wine I embrace — full of character and made by rugged individuals in appellations out of the mainstream. Peio Espil is just such an individual. His ancestors have make wine here for centuries.

The vineyards are on steep, terraced slopes (up to 60% gradient, and between 100-400 metres above sea-level), with most work done by hand. The reddish soil is a complex combination of sand, clay, schist and iron. Summers are hot and dry. Espil favours small yields and in the cellar makes use of indigenous yeasts only, yeasts which he feels lead to more complete fermentation. His domaine is certified organic.

“It’s the soil, the sun and the mountains,” he has said, “that make the wines the way they are. I work closely with nature and am happy with what I get in return. I don’t want accolades. I just want to make the best Irouléuy I can.”

He certainly does just that, and the wine, dollar for dollar, has to be among the best in France.

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Domaine Singla Passe Temps

France (Roussillon)

grenache noir (80%), syrah

While staying at La Bellevue in the Loire Valley, some weeks ago now, I encountered this and other cases of Domaine Singla wines, newly shipped from Roussillon.

And here’s a bottle from that case passing through Paris.

On its way across the Atlantic, where it was given a few weeks to recover before being poured.

Was it worth the wait? Absolutely!

Domaine Singla Passe Temps 2009

Dark, near black red, it sits solidly and invitingly in the glass. A rich basket of vibrant berry-fruit, laced with tobacco and leather. An earthy, lively expression of grenache. Entirely approachable. Rich medium body. Spiced, fresh fruit, acidity nicely balanced. The fruit of the terroir coming into its own in the heat of the south of France, obviously in very capable hands. $

I had heard great things about the wines of Domaine Singla, and on the recent stay in France several found their way into my glass, all because of the generosity of Gérald Beaumont at La Bellevue, a friend of the vigneron since Gérald’s days operating a wine bar in Paris. Each wine was impressive, each it its own way. I was taken by them all, from the younger-drinking Passe Temps to some other, very age-worthy cuvées.

From a portion of his 45 hectares in the Opoul/Salses-le-Château region of Roussillon, near the Corbières hills, Laurent de Besombes produces a range of 13 terroir-led wines under the Singla label. Still only in his mid-30s, de Besombes is one of the most-watched young vignerons in France.

There was a time when wine-making was something de Besombes would shrink away from rather than embrace. He admits that in his youth he was even reluctant to admit to friends what his father did for a living – labouring in vineyards of several hundred hectares, selling wine to merchants and never seeing the finished product. Then came what Laurent calls a ‘thunderbolt’ moment (in the midst of studying for another career) when he felt an intense draw back to the land. To the life of an independent vigneron, focussing on a section of the family holdings, listening to what the terroir had to offer. The path towards biodynamics followed, although he is quick to point out, ‘I seek to make good wine above all. Bio is a means, not an end.’

The argilo-limestone, stoney soil comes with its challenges, as does mid-summer’s intense heat. Yet the vineyards can produce remarkable wines, even if as a wine region isolated Roussillon is sometimes forgotten. (Although apparently not by the sommelier to the French President, who made room for an earlier vintage of Passe Temps in the Palace cellar.) Whole, selected fruit, foot treading, no added yeast, no fining, no filtering. It all seems…well…rather natural. Something to get entirely passionate about, whether you’re the vigneron, or a wine drinker on either side of the Atlantic.

Or a customer at Gérald and Sarah-Jane Beaumont’s new wine bar, Bistrot Les Tontons, in Saumur, due to open this month. Wish I could be there.

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Domaine de Trévallon Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône

France (Provence)

cabernet sauvignan, syrah

I have to start with the label.

It is the art of René Dürrbach, father of the domaine’s owner, Eloi Dürrbach. He was a painter, sculptor, designer of stained glass, including the exquisite panels at la basilique Notre-Dame d’Espérance in the northern French town of Charleville-Mézières. The senior Dürrbach was a friend and contemporary of Léger, Delaunay, and Picasso. He died in the year 2000, at age 89.

He rarely painted toward the end of his life, but took on the challenge of working on designs for the Trévallon labels. As his son tells it, ‘I gave him 50 posters and he began drawing on them, following his inspiration, using coloured crayons. Each year we choose one of his label designs that relates in some way to the characteristics of that year’s wine.’

What wonderful provenance in a label. The piece chosen for the 2001 vintage, Eloi Eürrbach says, ‘is exuberant like the wine.’

Domaine de Trévallon Vin de Pays Des Bouches du Rhône 2001

There hasn’t been a bottle that I have uncorked with greater anticipation. And what pours gives only pleasure. The aromas are richly untamed, seemingly laced with garrigue, that scrubland of softleaved bushes and herbs — wild lavender, thyme — often found near the Mediterranean. (Wet animal fur has brushed lightly against the bushes.) In the mouth the cassis of the cabernet sauvignan mixes with the smoke of syrah, the two warmly balanced. Intense and brooding with fruit, polished without foregoing its earthiness. It is honest art of the terroir.  $$$

Domaine de Trévallon is the heart and soul of ELOI DÜRRBACH. An architecture graduate, he returned to family land in Provence, 25 km south of Avignon, on the edge of Les Alpilles. He literally blasted apart the limestone and worked it through the soil in preparation for planting. He experimented first with traditional grape varieties on these north-facing slopes, without much success. For his reds he settled on the two varietals that have come to define his domaine, planting them in equal proportions. His initial vintage was in 1977.  In 1993 the rules for the appellation were changed, restricting the proportion of cabernet sauvignon to 20%. The domaine lost its AOC designation. The defiant Dürrbach continued on as before, his wines’ international reputation carrying the day.

As Dürrbach says, in his 17 hectares of vines and in his cellars he strives to ‘follow Nature’s lead.’ No pesticides, no insecticides. Only sheep manure to enrich the soil. Close pruning and late harvest. There is no destemming, no added yeast, no temperature control during the fermentation. The red is aged in both barrels and large oak foudres for two years. For the 2001 vintage there was only one racking. The wines are bottled non-filtered.


Domaine de Trévallon’s reputation has been built on Dürrbach’s strict criteria of quality over economics. He decided no wine would be forthcoming from the cold, rainy season of 2002, and very little from the extreme heat of 2003. If the wine carries the artful Trévallon label it does so with absolute pride in what will be eventually poured into the glass.



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Domaine de la Prose Grand Cuvée blanc

France (Languedoc)

grenache blanc, roussanne, vermentino

During the past two weeks I have crossed my Island home to attend two literary festivals, one in Eastport, Bonavista Bay, the other in Woody Point, Bonne Bay. Both are adjacent to National Parks and nearby are stunning, uncrowded beaches. The water is more chilled than the wine, but hey, it’s the North Atlantic.

Can there be a more label-appropriate wine to bring to a literary festival than Domaine de la Prose? (Not unless it’s Mas de l’Ecriture, but that’s another story.)

This wine was purchased in Aux Grands Vins de France wineshop in the southern French city of Montpellier. Domaine de la Prose is just 10 kilometres west of the city, within the much-prized Saint Georges d’Orques subregion of the appellation Coteaux du Languedoc. From the gentle hills of its 17 hectares can be seen the 13th century L’Abbaye du Vignogoul, and in the distance Montpellier and the Mediterranean. Wildflowers and other wild vegetation abound, some of which find a home between the vines.

The domaine was founded in 1990 by Alexander and Patricia de Mortillet, descendants of Henri Marès (friend of Louis Pasteur), the man who discovered the treatment of sulphur for powdery mildew on vines. One of the first projects of the new owners was the design and construction of an impressive new chais, set into the hills of Pignan. It allowed for winemaking and storage under cooler conditions, and marked a move away from selling grapes to the local cooperative.

Since 1995 the domaine has been operated by son BERTRAND de MORTILLET. Bertrand studied viticulture in Bordeaux, and then spent time on wine estates in Burgundy and Corsica, as well as South Africa. He is young and very much his own man, eager to experiment, to produce well-made wines with character. The choice of the white varietal vermentino (more common in Italy and Corsica) could be seen as an indication of this. Bertrand’s approach is somewhere between organic and biodynamic, and is very much terroir-driven. He is viewed as a name to keep an eye on, someone whose reputation will only grow stronger.







Domaine de la Prose Grand Cuvée blanc 2006

This wine makes an impression from the moment it takes to the glass. Its burnt apricot colour would seem to speak volumes. The expectation is of something new and different. The aromas are surprisingly of honey and subtle liqueur, a bit tamer than anticipated. It is in the mouth that it fills the page — lively and multi-layered, not at all sweet as the nose might suggest. Herbs aged in citrus until the two are blended into a rich compote, then gently infused into the fruit, teasing the mouth with its subtle complexity. The finish is long, textured and earthy. A promise fulfilled. $




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