Pure Dead Cramant

I recently attended a lunch event with Hervé Jestin of Champagne Leclerc Briant.

We tasted four of their wines, and he spoke at length about how they are made, and about biodynamic viticulture, and about Champagne. One of the ideas raised, which I didn't really understand, was the notion that the dosage for a champagne should speak to the wine, otherwise it won't benefit the finished product. He demonstrated this by sitting a glass of champagne on its side on a metal plinth which was connected by a wire to a pair of antennae which he then held over some sugar - there was no reaction or reading on the scale attached to the antennae, because the sugar had nothing to say to the wine. I didn't understand, but it surely was interesting.

The point of this was, I believe, to explain why Leclerc Briant is moving towards zero dosage wine making, and indeed to zero sulphur winemaking. On of the things that M. Jestin said was, "I want to train the wine to discuss with oxygen". And of course, until the relatively recent past, all wine making was done without the "benefit" of sulphur, so in a sense, M. Jestin merely wants to go back to the old ways. As I say, I don't really get biodynamic viticulture, but I do know that pretty much without exception I enjoy the end product, so I'm very happy to see more such wines.

The wines we tasted were the Brut Réserve, Extra Brut Premier Cru, Abyss, and Pure Cramant. They were all of very high quality, albeit very pricey. The Abyss didn't speak to me, but I thought the other three wines were complex, and I particularly enjoyed the fine mousse they all exhibited.

I want to single out the Pure Cramant in particular, as being a wine at the very edge of champagne-making: 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from Cramant, fermented in used oak, unfined, unfiltered, five years sur lattes and then bottled with zero dosage and zero sulphur. And the result? A big, rounded, lush, ripe wine, as pure an expression of white and yellow stone fruit as you could wish for. My tasting notes also mention cranberries and 'something balsamic'. Wonderful wine. But, paradoxically, my enduring taste memory of it is of a warm, pink, lively, ripeness. Pink fruit, not white or yellow. It has somehow evolved in my memory into something approaching the Platonic ideal of rosé champagne.

Can one attribute that complexity, that evolving taste memory, to the biodynamic viticulture? I've no idea, but it surely was lovely.

More on Pure Cramant here.


A Negative Tasting Note

My main interest in writing about booze is trying to capture flavours in words. This is, of course, a doomed enterprise, but it has the merit of being entertaining (and offers the side benefit of occasionally getting me sloshed).

Over the years I have tinkered with many different structures or schemas or layouts for tasting notes, from many different sources, which aim to help one record various aspects of a drink's flavours, but I don't think I've ever come across anybody advocating the negative tasting note - recording everything that a drink isn't.

(I should say that I'm not sure that it's all that helpful in itself, but I certainly find it useful as part of a larger descriptive effort. Absences can define a presence, to an extent)

So, here it is, a negative tasting note for

That Boutique-y Whisky Company Millstone 6 Year Old, 48.9%

Not smoky.
Not estery.
Not malty.
Not dry.
Not dirty.
Not faint.
Not feinty.
Not soft.
Not stony.
Not grassy.
Not purple.
Not green.
Not yellow.
Not floral.

Not light.
Not dry.
Not soft.
Not malty.
Not spicy.
Not fruity.
Not raw.
Not green.
Not yellow.
Not sour.
Not bitter.
Not oily.
Not coffee.
Not sherry.
Not vanilla.
Not bacon.
Not diesel.

Frustrating, isn't it? And yet accurate.


Knightor Trevannion 2016

I tasted this as part of a "West Coast Wines" themed evening for Sweet Wine Wednesday. I dithered for quite a while between this wine and a Camel Valley Bacchus. I know, I know, I should have gone for the other, seeing as it's located that bit closer to the Atlantic, but on the few occasions I've had Bacchus I've not been particularly impressed.

Knightor are a small outfit located close to the Eden Project and St Austells. The current farm dates to the mid 19th century, but their website says that there are references to the property dating to 1305. (Not particularly relevant if your vines were only planted in 2006, but on the other hand probably quite appealing in a wedding venue.) They say they have 17000 vines, but I can't tell from the tone of their website if this is a way of saying they're really getting big, or that they're really boutique.

Trevannion is a blend of Siegerrebe and Schonberger, two pink skinned varietals. Siegerrebe is a 1929 cross of Madelaine Angevine and Savagnin Rose. It's favoured for cool climates - there's even some grown in Denmark, according to the big book of grapes. Schonberger is another cross, of Pinot Noir and Pirovano I, and in turn Pirovano I is a cross of Chasselas Rose and Muscat of Hamburg. (Is this too much grape breeding information?)

We're told that both varieties were picked when very ripe. They were cool fermented separately in stainless steel, then left on the lees for eight months before blending and bottling.

My initial impression is a very strong aroma memory of some rather rustic vin gris from the middle Loire - a wine which I remember being rather rustic but extremely gluggable.

The nose is fresh and fairly aromatic, with rose petals (or tinned lychees if you prefer), which evolves into a fairly elegant perfume, perhaps something like soap

The palate is strongly aromatic and off dry, with a subtle Muscat or Gewurz-like spiciness. The finish is long and warming, if a little simple.

Over time the wine becomes more floral, but this is probably just me over-chilling it.

Just like that Loire vin gris, this stuff is stupendously gluggable. And well worth the £19 I paid for it. If you see this one, I urge you to buy it. And don't over-chill it.

Wine Trivia!
That vin gris which the Trevannion called to mind was from the valley of Le Loir, a river which flows into La Sarthe, which in turn joins La Loire. The appellation is the (mostly deservedly) obscure Coteaux-du-vendômois. But very gluggable.


Beavertown Sapling IPA

On the one hand: oh dear, another Beavertown special. If only I still used ratebeer I could look it up and see what it is. Nice graphics tho.

 And on the other: 65 IBUs? Yep, I'll take one ta! And hey, it's Beavertown - gotta be good, right?

Cracking open the can I can smell the smell that means lots of bitter hops - but what is it? Resinous? Green? Dank? (However nebulous a descriptor that last one is)

So. It's not particularly fruity. Perhaps some yellow citrus notes. Not too tart. There's a fresh white wood thing. A peeled stick maybe? Or is that just me channelling the cool label?

There is a smell I can only describe as bitter. Clearly, this ain't a smell according to the current model of human olfaction, so I must be smelling some hard to verbalise aroma which I generally associated with bittering hops.

Pouring out the last of the can I'm sooking (or "huffing", if you like) the very final dregs trapped behind the lip of the opening. As always, this creates a fine aerosol or mist of what is—at least in this sort of beer—the very essence of the bitterness.

If you haven't done this before you really should (but go and get a properly hoppy can to do it with). It highlights a particular aspect of the beer in a way you don't otherwise experience. As when rubbing heavily peated malt whisky onto your hands to find the cereal behind the peat, or misting your tongue with brandy from an atomiser spray, it's good to explore flavour from odd angles occasionally.

In the particular case of Sapling, the huff reveals a powerfully bitter dry earthy sandiness behind which there is sweet yellow fruit juice, although not orange. Perhaps it's one of those odd mixtures of banana, apple, and a token gesture's worth of pineapple. I think I mean 'smoothie'.

I'm still not getting very close to what the bitter-associated smell is. Let's just leave it at "bitter" and ask the smell scientists to revamp their model to fit.

The taste is satisfyingly dry. There is a juiciness and a persistent bitter hoppiness which dries things out nicely.

A lemonade note. Metallic hops. Ripe yellow fruit - perhaps tropical.

This is a very, very fine beer, and especially in its 65 IBUs - the best kind of bitter.

I have but two complaints. The first is that 330ml is not quite enough, even at a strength of 7.1%. 500ml would perhaps be excessive, but 440 is a pleasant number. The second is that the ABV is entirely deceptive. Only in the thick texture is there any indication that the alcohol is higher than normal.

In conclusion, well done to Beavertown, good work. And, by way of a post script, it occurred to me some time after I'd written my notes on this beer that maybe the name is quite apt, since it reminds me of peeled green sticks. Or perhaps not.


Little Pomona C'est Si Bon-Bonne

My first thought is that the tannins are beautiful. Present, prominent, yet in no way abrasive. They curl round your tongue and in behind your teeth like a cat settling on your shoulders; it's lovely but if it it weren't lovely the cat wouldn't care and would still do it. Purring, rounded, but irresistible.

Then there's a metallic, earthy note, which isn't quite iron. Is this bottling perhaps slightly less clean than other Little Pomonas? After all, relinquishing control of the maturation of a cider to an oak barrel, however carefully sourced, however thoroughly the bunghole has been sniffed, is always something of a risk.

Peach pits. And a rather pleasant acidity.

They're definitely mineralic, these tannins. Almost blue steel (as when one has made steel tough by heating it, perhaps by drilling it at too high a speed or without lubricants).

It seems to me tonight that of all the Little Pomonas this is the one where tannic structure is most important.

From memory I think I can dismiss The Rainbow and The Unicorn as flighty creatures of fruit.

The Old Man and the Bee had a ripe richness which dominated other aspects of its character. Feat of Clay was brighter and sunnier - youthful choirboys beautifully chanting psalms rather than the Mongolian throat songs of Bonbonne.

If this were wine I'd call these tannins chalky. Can I do that with cider?

Blue steel.

It's too full bodied to compare with Chablis, and there are these compelling tannins. But the blue steel.

It stays with you. The tannins don't want to leave. Like Secret Service agents, inexorably polite, Ma'am-ing to left and right and not moving no matter what you say.

Behind all that tannic action, there's something which might be fruit cake or dried apricots.

Here, tonight, this is the best cider I've yet tasted from Little Pomona, and I think it's a strong contender for my cider of the year. You should seek it out and try it.

(Now, quite clearly I'm not in any way impartial. The owners and makers of Little Pomona are very dear friends of mine, and I've helped out at every harvest since 2014. But that aside, I do think this is an exceptional bottle of cider)

Boring technical stuff: C'est Si Bon-Bonne is a dry, still cider from Herefordshire. It's made mainly from Dabinett, along with Harry Masters Jersey, Ellis Bitter, and Foxwhelp (I helped pick and press these last two). It was a wild ferment in an ex bourbon barrel, left for six months then racked into glass bonbonnes and aged without oxygen for a year.

You can read more about Little Pomona here.


Pilton Ice

Is it just me, or does everybody think of the Piltdown Man when they see a bottle of Pilton? Just me? Right. Fair enough.

This empty bottle held a most rare, and most tasty, liquid. Britain doesn't have the right climate to permit cider makers to make ice cider al fresco, so there's a good deal of faffing about with chest freezers, not to mention the difficulty of pressing frozen apples, or, as has happened in this case, the freezing and slow careful thawing of already pressed juice. The result is delightful.

(I should say, by the way, that this tasting note was written at a point when the bottle had been open a few days)

Colour is a vivid red amber. Not quite copper. Vivid and beautiful.

The nose is very earthy. It seems tannic  - so I guess it's making me think of apple skins. Mossy sticks. Spices and apple skins. Herbal? Aye, herbal, green-grey, lichen on stones . It's a fascinating herbiness. Grey-green, but not as sweet as sage.

The taste is tangy sweet, but with drying tannins. Earthy again. Vivid fruit acidity. Red fruits. Dark. Not yellow. Perhaps some green gooseberry acid. The tannins are very gentle. There's some bitterness in the finish, but it serves to balance the intense sweet attack. A delicious, complex drink.

I'd class it as Outstanding. Can I have some more please?


Tannins of Wood and Skin

I've thought about it every time I opened the cupboard and saw the can looking at me (and it's been in there for a solid month and a half). I can't escape the feeling that I'm missing some sort of cultural reference or in joke or something. I've googled 'BAE' and think I have a handle on that, but then, a badly formed search term can throw one off the scent forever.

Despite all that, I'm reasonably confident that I can still assess this beer fairly. If not, well, oh dear, how sad, never mind.

So, what I'm drinking is a Sour Ale with Pinot Noir grapes, aged in French Oak. I don't know anything about Stillwater Artisanal except that they're American (and that only because of the label).

This is a beer not heavily carbonated - although the style doesn't seem to lend itself to a good head. (Note to self: Investigate relationship between pH, acidity, brewing adjuncts, and head formation / retention) It has an attractive red-amber colour with an interesting (and, to me at least, unusual) gold rim.

The nose starts off with the sort of grubby, earthy sweetness that French oak so often gives to beer or whisky (something to do with malt perhaps?). Then there's the flat sweet note of sour beer, and something a bit straw-like - akin to a cider, but not as sweet.

The palate has a sherbet-y acidity. Perhaps it's a combination of oak sweetness with kettle souring but it seems more sweetie-like than many sours.

(NB! I'm assuming this is a kettle sour, purely on the basis that it lacks the depth of a koelschip/lambic style beer)

There's less tannin than I'd expect given the Pinot Noir grapes and French oak, although now that I've mentioned Pinot, I can indeed taste red fruit. And perhaps the tannins of wood and skin are coming through in the bitter finish this beer has. Or perhaps not.

The red fruit notes are really quite generic - there's not a specific fruit I can pick out.

I would rate this beer as Good. It's more interesting than most kettle sours, but then they have thrown Pinot grapes and French oak at it, so one would expect some complexity.

I'm still not sure what to think about the name. I suppose brewers produce so many different brews that after a while it must be difficult to think of new names. Certainly, it's no sillier than, say, Disco Forklift Truck. I suspect it comes back to my original point -  I feel that I'm not in on the joke.