Sunday, 11 June 2017

Domaine de l'Octavin, Commendatore 2015

This is summer time blended then bottled. Flip flops flopping-flipping, blender-blitzed lemonade sipping ice cubes clinking shaded under straw hat or wind waving breezy tree. It’s raspberry picking backs bending searching through the prickly green and berry fatness-feeling and eating overloaded slice of peach pie thick crust with your hands paper plate, peaches dropping. Dripping ice pops, watermelon, tomatoes sticky down your chin and summer evening crickets cricketing fields rippling, corn — then marshmallows — grilling.


Domaine de l'Octavin, Commendatore 2015
Arbois, Jura

Buy from Clavelin.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Arbois Pupillin 2014

The parties were last week, they told us. You should have been here. ‘Here,’ then, was Arbois; a village in the Jura but as I’d never heard of the Jura, more importantly the place in France where they make comté. We had no idea that it was a ‘thing’ in the wine world, much less a thing in the natural wine world; and only time we’d heard about either was in the context of, ‘Try this. It’s a Ploussard from Arbois and it’s natural,’ in other words, no context, just a string of words we didn’t know the meaning of. But it was tried and it was w o w and this causally herbaceous, vivacious, pink like punch, rose-on-the-nose, perfectly chilled Ploussard was, in a word: redefining. Was in six more words: 

drink — ever

But at the time it was still really about us having a holiday.

The idea was to set up our tent, walk, cook outside and drink wine during the day and maybe do a few tastings because I think we vaguely knew you could. So when we saw the signs hanging pretty much everywhere that said you can, welcome to the home of the Ploussard (also Poulsard) we thought great! and that we’d start with this Bruyère guy because it was his Ploussard (a 2013) we’d drunk that night (merci Pieter Smits). And that’s when we heard about the parties or rather, that we were late.

No one could believe that we were here to taste wine maintenant a week after the rest of the world and didn’t you know about the harvest? The old wine had been drunk, the new stuff was in tanks and by now everyone had things to do; the mood, sober. Evidently we were the only souls in the world who didn’t know that the non-stop degustation had, in fact, this week, stopped; that they’d just left out the signs. And we didn’t know. So we went ahead knock-knock knocking on barn doors, open doors, front doors and cellar doors, meeting many a winemaker, their mothers / wives / dogs in the process before retiring to Bistro des Claquettes each night to read our books because it had wine and light and our tent didn’t. The next day we’d start in Bruyere’s cellar.

He was making bread or maybe his wife Adeline was, and there was a roll of those happy little crescent moons lying on top of the microwave and a kid in a highchair. We’d dropped in unannounced, hey there, were told to come back later. We killed time on a bench. It’s later: we’re led down under the house to the cellar to go through the wine thief hullabaloo drop-drop, swish-swish, smell, taste, repeat-thing because that’s what the Danish guy who'd made it very clear that he knew EVERYTHING was doing.

Him and his wife were just making the wine they liked to drink, Renaud said, the only way they knew how. He used to work for Overnoy. Afterwards, Tissot. He works with the moon calendar, hand picks, works certified organic. They have Ploussard, Chardonnay and Savagin vines on different parcels but altogether less than 5ha. Semi carbonic maceration for the Ploussard, told us about wines developing under flor. They don’t filter, no sulphites and no particular philosophy it seemed, either — they just don’t like wines made that way. We climbed the ladder to look into the tanks and he told us about the guy who blacked out from the CO2, fell in and died. How you should always do it in twos. Big impressions. I remember being surprised when he told us he made only a thousand odd bottles of the Ploussard a year, that we could only buy six — both figures sounded incredibly little. And obviously we’d thought ‘harvest’ meant something different to ‘call in family and friends’ because we couldn’t believe it when he said that’s what he does. But what did we know? We’d never been in a wine cellar before. Anyway, the indigenous yeasts sounded cute and we left and we didn’t even know he was a big deal.

Three years later and we have three bottles left though, strictly, at the time of writing, only two. On Sunday we invited Jan to come drink to the Jura with us. He brought some bottles for the cause and we ate leftover potato salad and listened to Nirvana with the doors open.


Smells like barn (Jan says reduction) with fluoro pinky / peach glossy tears streaming down the sides of your glass. Delicate while prickly, rose-floral patterns on your dress, funky. Fresh hay but also vegetal. Morning grapefruit juice. Spicy. Still a helluva lot of energy: racy, incredibly fresh and snappy. Ethereal, and I’ve already said energy. Candy. Fast moving lights, pale like a rosé but structured like a Burgundy. Fermenting strawberries, punchy and I can’t believe I’ve not yet said juicy so, juicy, juicy, juicy.


Renaud Bruyere, Adeline Houillion, Arbois Pupillin 2014
Arbois, Jura

October 2015

We bought this tent (incl. boat) for 100 euros off a pin board add in a supermarket 

Killing time the bench with a natural, BOXED Ploussard

No light here...

Lots of light here

                                          By day                                                                  Postcards by night

Wine life (grandfather of Crinquand)

Outdoor life

Market life

The life


Friday, 2 June 2017

The marshrutka ride from hell and some pictures from Georgia

Initially when we saw the trucks we thought we were lucky. We were on the Georgian Military Highway headed north to Kazbegi, just south of the Russian border. We were going to hike. I wanted to see some wild, no wine. 

We'd been banging around in the back of the marshrutka (Georgian public transport) for three hours when we hit the whiteout. Actually, first we hit the windowless, un-lit, pot-holed, two-way soviet tunnel — then we hit the whiteout.

And then we saw the trucks. Miles of them lined up, parked along the side of road going to Russia. We thought thank god it's Sunday. Thank god they're not driving.

Turns out higher up it wasn't snowing so we could hike.

Turns out there were also trucks parked on the other side. Going to Georgia.

That they started driving. 

Did I mention we were by this time up a bombing like a crazed bat outta hell down a mountain? How our driver was bent for no particular reason on passing each and every one against counter (truck) traffic in corkscrew bends on roads with no railings at speed in a minivan who knows how old the only certainty being it's never had its brakes checked — ever — stuffed to over-capacity with men with no seat sitting in the aisle and us stuffed in at the back between life-weathered Georgians taking desperate slugs of lukewarm beer with our eyes shut honest to god thinking we were gonna die and him checking, overtaking, swerving, speeding, braking, radio all the while blasting we're in heavennn.

And then the cows walked into the road.

A courtyard in Tblisi

Mother Georgia

Before the off-roading monks in robes bombed past in their 4x4

John dropped us off in Tblisi and we took a nap in the botanical garden. 
Then we took sulphur baths and went to a party

                                                   Like how they do in Amsterdam

Shepherds everywhere; houses, shade or water nowhere

David Gareja cave complex and monastery, 6th c. — still active 

A very soviet lunch. The woman apologised for the bread not being fresh though. The tub is full of monk honey

Almost Azerbaijan 

Chapel door, David Gareja monastery 

No ice cream but warm beer and ancient fish

Roads and salt flats

Inside Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtskheta, old Georgian capital

The most beautiful J-C

Mt. Kazbegi

The most surreal place I've been: Rooms Hotel, Kazbegi

The rest of Kazbegi looks like this:

She was pregnant. We called her Waffsko and fed her chips

Hiking with Waffsko

Gergeti Trinity Church, 12th c, 2170m. Complete with monk and gas stove

Dress code


Saints for sale

The locals


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Pheasant's Tears

It was on day four that I first started suspecting they wanted us dead. We were in Georgia and I’d yet to brush my teeth for passing out each night, the only difference being that on day three I’d passed out not in Tbilisi but in Signagi, city of love but probably better known as ‘where Pheasant’s Tears is’. We’d spent the night having taken a taxi out for lunch and were on our way back for David’s leaving party; David, our lighthouse or destroyer, depending how you looked at it, John (similar story) driving, me contemplating the likelihood of death by kindness by alcohol having already moved from the back seat up front car sick, sick of drinking, all around us sheep, goats, skinny dogs and shepherds following, sitting, walking, John talking. 

John’s a good talker. He pulled up a chair and joined us after lunch; a long, slow, no-plan-how-to-get-back event that turned suddenly into a race down the hill against the dark to get to the vines, cellar and cha cha fires before dinner, all the while talking stories laughing talking. His eyes burn like those fires when telling those stories, the details of which I don’t remember so much as I do as the breadth of the topics we touched (art, music, monks, monasteries, Thierry Puzelat), and his earnestness. This is (thereabouts) the one we heard on the ride back about how Pheasant’s Tears started.


John is painting when a man on a tractor starts yelling, tractor still running. 

John: Why don’t you turn off your tractor off so we can hear you? 
Gela: I cannot, otherwise it won’t start. You don’t know me but I know who you are and what you’ve done for Georgia. My name is Gela Patalishvili and I would like to invite you to my home. We have much to discuss. Go to the village and ask for my name.

John doesn’t. Some time later Gela turns up.

Gela: I have a gift for you, I’m giving you some vines. The spirit of Georgian wine is sick, you must help bring it back to health like you helped Georgian singing. 
John: I don’t want any more vines.
Gela: I have already given them to you — I am a man of honour, they’re yours, I can’t take them back. 

It’s around harvest time. John is on holiday. Gela calls. 

Gela: We need a place to vinify. I need some money to build a place for the grapes.
John: What?!
Gela: Your grapes, from the vines I gave you. They’re almost ready. We need a place to make the wine.
John: They’re not my grapes.

John returns from holiday.

Gela: I’ve harvested your grapes, I’m bringing them to you now.

Gela arrives with plastic buckets full of grapes and puts them in John’s home. John’s wife Keto is not happy.

Gela: We need to make the wine.

They make the wine.

Gela: Now you must go out sell the wine. Spread the word: let people experience what Georgian wine is really about. Let them taste wine that speaks Georgian!


This was in 2005 and twelve years, a whole lotta back, blood, sweat, fairs and no doubt many supras later, the world is drinking Georgian wines that not only sing, but sing in their own distinctive Georgian tongue.  

And to each to their own tune, too. It would be convenient for me to forget to mention how, before our trip, my experience with Georgian wine was 1) singular and, 2) ‘horse blanket'. Three hours on landing and a flying head start wine-wise at Azarphesha later (yo David) and it was also 3) totally wrong. It's true that in Georgia I found a different breed of beast in my glass than the familiar animality of, say, France; but this, my friends, is where we must bury the blanket. So much finesse! So many layers! Endless themes and variations but then — she says — how could there not be? Not when you have over 500 ingenious grape varieties and if not quite a million, than many, many different micro climates, climate-climates and terroirs and a winemaking culture that not only stretches over 8000 years but includes literally everyone you meet. From your taxi driver to your waiter to the guy who sold you the incense and beeswax candles in the church shop on the corner: everyone will have put their own stamp on some wine at some point. Talk about polyphony.

And so of course we’d come to Pheasant’s Tears for lunch but, also, for the wines. And there were a lot of wines: 14 to 'taste', two pet nats for fun, another something cold down at the vineyard after the kettle-warm cha cha (Georgian Grappa), the bottles we dusted off for dinner (Puzelat!) and then, finally, those orange toasts out of plastic jugs to a golden Georgia with our hosts. But first, lunch (Ketevan: wow):

‘We’re going to start with a 2015 Chinuri, a grape from the Karteli region (central Georgia, to the east of Tblisi); a perfect example of the sort of wine people seem not to expect when they come here: a white with no skin maceration’. And so it was: a “white wine”-white wine: light bodied, green to clear with notes of bright, not-quite-ripe conference pear and nettle tea; it’s 'not what you'd expect-ness', I suspect, making it the kind of thing Georgians might drink for those special occasions that call for something a little different to the ambers sold road side from 10 litre plastic jugs. This really happens.

Next up, a 2015 Mtzvane Kakhuri: 75 year old vines, juice of half a honeydew melon, Japanese blossom mania, smokey honey comb plus a glob of milky though metaphorical ricotta with 10 days of maceration and two ‘!!’ in my notes though I’ve never really figured out a scale or system. We're told that the Mtzvane — thought to be one of the oldest varieties in Georgia (5th century) — is slowly making a comeback after being ripped out by the yield conscious soviets (growing ancient, forgotten grapes is, wonderfully, something we heard a lot of from a lot of the winemakers we spoke to). It belongs to the Kakhetian family, Kakheti being the region (south-east, sub-tropical) we were in, home to over 60% of Georgia's vineyards and home, also, to the next grape and frequent blending partner: a 2010 Rkatsiteli (meaning ‘red cane’ with traces back 5000 years and one of the most commonly planted white grapes), macerated on skin and stems for four months, pressed then softened with the addition of more skins (skins add tannins and then MAGIC at one point start to retract them and MORE MAGIC is it possible they can also work to remove mouse?). A beautiful fossil-to-the-light, food-friendly amber. Smelled like a lady’s kid leather driving glove: her tobacco, perfume and dried spice of old wood

They kept coming. Another 2015 Mtzvane Kakhuri (younger vines, smelled like salt caramel, notes of dusty sherry); a 2012 Kisi (also Kakhetian, no sulphites added: white flowers, apricot-mango juice); a 2015 Kisi with 2 mg/l sulphite, the dosage used since 2012 to cushion the export ride (pears! And the 2012 tasted remarkably younger); a 2015 Tsolikouri (a grape from the Imeretian region to the west where skin contact doesn't come standard: bigger body, custard cream cookies), a 2015 Tsitska (also Imeretian, this one high acidity, spicylemon squeezy zesty. More melon. Apples) and then John pulls out a rosé Rkatsiteli that tasted like Valentines Day (roseschocolateliquorice).

With our lamb arrived the reds.

A 2013 Tavkveri with a leathery earthiness I associate with French wines and more roses but this time deeper, darker like a left-too-long (rosehip) teabag. (Note! The Tavkveri grape is female and must be planted close to Chinuri to produce fruit).

A 2015 Chitisvala (No notes, no memory).

A 2010 Shavkapito meaning ‘black cane’, the wine of Georgia’s old kings and queens. A Kartlian variety: inky blueberry jam spread warm, slinky velvet draped across, gosh I don’t know, an old marble statue in a summer palace? Rubies, power tannins. The French, we’re told, love this one. Also very good with walnuts.

A 2015 Chkhaveri (rubies, rosesfrom the semi-tropical Guria to the west where historically they grow vines up trees or at least pergolas HOW COOL.

2014 Saperavi (the grape that's grown everywhere): wet earthiron and red berries

And then, finally, a 2008 Saperavi that reminded me of the time we tried to preserve a sheep’s skin but only got as far as putting it in a plastic box on the balcony under salt for months before I dared to open the lid to check and it was FINE, though then I threw it away. In a good way.

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