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Buon Vino Natural Wine Blog

  • Alain Castex, The Quiet Genius of The Roussillon

    Unassuming but magnificent wines

    Background

    Alain Castex and his partner Ghislaine were two of the original ‘Garagistas’, small vigneron/wine makers whose limited means forced them to make wine literally ‘in the Garage’, in their case, an old Citroen car garage borrowed from a friend.  The original vineyard purchased in the early 90s and the one which made them famous is called Le Casot de Mailloles and is based on the steep schistous slopes above the Mediterranean in Banyuls.  In 2015 Alain sold Le Casot (an old Occitan word meaning Shelter) and being in his 60s moved into semi-retirement but still retains a tiny vineyard where he indulges his lifelong passion for farming and wine production. This region is renowned for its sweet Vin Doux Natural (Port like red wine) but Alain and Ghislaine make table wines from the local grapes, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Syrah, Carignan and others.  The single hectare of vineyard situated on the sandy, clay soils of Trouillas follows the same natural and biodynamic principles which Alain used at ‘Le Casot’.  The production is tiny, with just a few thousand bottles of four different wines produced each year.

    Alain Castex is a rare find in the wine world, a man who has never compromised his belief that natural production is the only way to capture the essence of his grapes and terroir.  Even in the early days when natural wine was rejected as poor quality and faulty and when appellations refused to accept the authenticity of these noble bottles, (Alain was refused the local appellation twice and then gave up and simply labelled his wine, ‘Vin de Table’), Alain stuck to his guns.  His dedication and commitment to his vision have over the years earned him the respect he deserves and today, his rare bottles have a passionate following.

    1. Tir a Blanc Les White 2017 - Grenache Blanc/Macabeu
    2. Canta Manana Rose 2017 - Carignan/Grenache Noir/Mourvedre
    3. Ezo  2017 - Carignan/Grenache
    4. La Poudre d'Escampette 2017 - Merlot/Syrah

    Have a look at Alain's wines on our website HERE.

  • The A-Z of wine: C - Chardonnay

    Chardonnay, or as I like to call it affectionately, ‘Cardonnay’*. Perhaps wine’s most misunderstood grape. I have lost count of the number of times people have said ‘I hate Chardonnay’, and then proceeded to buy a Chablis – 100% Chardonnay without the word on the label.

    Chardonnay initially found fame in France, particularly in Champagne, Burgundy and its satellites. Due to its extremely versatile nature it does well in a variety of climates, though can tend to make flabby wines with low acid in warm climates if not tended to properly. Most Champagnes are made from one or a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and the white wines of Chablis and Burgundy are made exclusively from it. Even within this relatively small area of France, the styles differ hugely. The toasty, lean palate of Champagne is worlds away from the richer, oaked styles of the Maconnais, and the stoney, mineral wines grown on the limestone soils of Chablis are in a world (and a class) of their own. My favourite bottle of Chardonnay is from the Jura, where it’s given the regional treatment of ageing in half filled barrels with a layer of flor yeast, lending a subtle, yet distinctive nutty, saline quality which was amazing with some Comte cheese.

    Will such success in France, Chardonnay, along with Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and so many other French varieties, was soon exported around the world, and by the turn of the century, had become synonymous (not necessarily for the right reasons) with buttery, heavily oaked Australian wine. This ripe, full bodied and creamy version of the wine wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly made its mark on the wine world! I have to say I have rather a soft spot for this style (in moderation), but thankfully since then, winemakers in the New World have learned to reign the style in a bit, for wines of more finesse. There are now excellent Chardonnays coming out of South Africa, New Zealand, California and elsewhere.

    So if you’re one of those people that claims not to like Chardonnay, perhaps as a hangover from the 90s style I referred to earlier, I urge you to try and explore this versatile grape variety again. I think it may surprise you!

    *According to my favourite Aussie comedy sitcom Kath and Kim the word is French, therefore the h should be silent

  • The A-Z of wine: B - Bacchus

    B for BacchusFor the second in our A-Z series, I’ve chosen to talk about Bacchus, a lesser known grape variety that has played a big role in the success of English wines of late.

    Bacchus is a variety made by crossing the Sylvaner X Riesling hybrid with Muller-Thurgau, which was first developed in the Pfalz region of Germany in the 1930s. It’s a pretty hardy grape variety which tends towards high sugar and early ripening, which is perfect for Britain’s marginal climate, and as a result is now the 4th most planted grape in England. Grown elsewhere and its lack of acid can lead to flabby wines, but here, the cooler temperatures and shorter ripening season ensures that the fresh acidity is retained, producing wines which have been likened to Sancerre and other crisp Sauvignons.

    It's still mostly found in blends, and is one of the varieties that makes up the extremely popular Davenport Horsmonden dry white, but there are some vineyards which produce single variety wines from the grape, with Chapel Down even experimenting with a skin contact.

    England is increasingly being recognised, not just for its excellent sparkling (with Tattinger and other well known Champagne houses buying up land over here), but also for its still whites and reds, with over 3 million bottles now produced every year. So if you haven’t yet dabbled in some of our home grown, I’d recommend you give it a go!

  • The A-Z of Wine: A- Aglianico

    In this mini-series, we’ll be working our way through the alphabet, looking at some famous grapes, wines, and other associated terms. For our first foray into the world of wine, we’ve gone with Aglianico – a grape sometimes referred to as the Barolo of the South.

    Traditionally found in the deep South of Italy, such as Campania and Puglia, Aglianico is a variety which ripens very late, and produces structured, high tannin wines with an intense minerality, whilst still managing to preserve fruitiness. The most famous wine made with this grape variety is Taurasi, which has long ageing potential and real class.

    As climate change rolls on, more regions are looking to late-ripening varieties that previously would have struggled to ripen properly in cooler climates, and so Aglianico is beginning to spread, and can now be found further North in Italy, and indeed some New World producers are experimenting with it.

    Although not particularly well known in the UK compared to its northern counterparts, it is a grape we are sure to see more of in years to come, and one that is well worth a try for lovers of hearty, Mediterranean reds.

  • Yeast in wine

    In day to day life, the only yeasts we tend to come across are ‘dried active bread yeast’ or the sort that you need a cream for (and the less said about those, the better). However, hundreds of strains of yeast occur naturally all around us. In vineyards, certain strains will cling to the grapes and the cellars, so crush grapes in a barrel and the yeasts will set to work converting sugar into alcohol. Without this step, the wine is just grape juice (and probably not very nice at that!)

    But how does a yeast affect a wine? Well, in terms of the alcoholic fermentation itself, some yeasts struggle to survive in higher alcohol conditions, so may die off before the fermentation is complete. This is what’s known as a ‘stop fermentation’ and its partly thanks to this phenomenon that White Zinfandel was gifted to the world. Certain yeasts can also trigger a malolactic fermentation, which turns the malic acid (which tends to have sharp, citrus fruit flavours) into lactic acid, which is softer and can give hints of butter and cream. Going further, each yeast strain will react with different compounds within the grape to unlock certain flavours. For example, strains Zymaflore VL3 and X5 are used for Sauvignon Blanc to enhance exotic fruit characteristics.
    Winemakers can use these inoculated yeasts to enhance the natural characters of their wine, but natural winemakers will tend to champion the ‘indigenous’ yeasts that cause that spontaneous fermentation. This is because they believe those yeasts are an intrinsic part of the terroir, and therefore character of the wine. In Jerez for example, sherry producers will go to great lengths to ensure their flor yeast is maintained in the environment year after year.

    There is nothing wrong with either approach, but in a world that is questioning what goes into a bottle more and more, the difference is becoming more important, and the use of wild yeast is being indicated on the bottles of winemakers who are proud to be using the yeasts nature provides, rather than working to a ‘recipe’.  Either way, the differences can be huge – there’s no trifling with yeasts!

    As a natural wine company we would tend towards the school of thought where natural yeast is best (not that wines made with natural yeasts can’t be bad too), as we believe that wine shouldn’t be made to a recipe, but should be a true reflection of its time and place.

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