Showing posts with label natural. Show all posts
Showing posts with label natural. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pheasant's Tears Wines. Flavours From Generations Past

Pheasant's Tears Wines
Flavours From Georgia's Past And Present.
By Levan Gokadze from Tbilisi, Georgia -, CC BY-SA 2.0,; Qvevri buried in the winery.

John Wurdeman, ex Virginia (US), and Gela Patalashvili are the men behind Pheasant’s Tears, a natural winery and vineyards in the far east of Georgia (where Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are among the neighbours). They could have taken the oak route, even the chemical route but, with guidance from the local bishop, they stuck with the local tradition, a vine and wine tradition that goes back hundreds, maybe thousands, of years.

Vegetables and herbs grow among the Georgian vines. In the wineries, many of them very basic, skin contact is employed extensively, but what makes Georgian winemaking different is their use of the qvevri, huge earthenware vats sunk into the ground and used for fermentation and storage. They are made from the local terracotta clay, survive in the ground for generations and have been awarded a place on the UN Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Other winemakers, even in Italy and France, are beginning to use them.
By Levan Totosashvili -, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Qvevri above ground.

At the start of her book (below), Alice Feiring wonders about the future of the Georgian approach to wine production. Remarkable that is has survived “vicious invasions” and the “assault of Soviet industrialisation”.  But…“Could Georgians resist the onslaught of wine consultants….? Could they resist chemical salesmen….?”  

They have been stubborn in holding on to their methods in the past. Fingers crossed that they’ll be just as stubborn in the present and future as the get-rich flag is flown in their faces.

  • Info on Georgian wines is not all that easy to come by but I was helped by reading For Love of Wine by Alice Feiring, also the Le Caveau catalogue, and by listening to relevant podcasts on BBC Radio Four Food. 
  • A Youtube video on Georgian wine, one of a few.

Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi Kakheti (Georgia) 2015, 14%, €27.40 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau.

This must-try wine is made in the historical province of Kakheti from Saperavi, the “hero” grape of Georgia. Hero because it survived decades (beginning in 1920) of Soviet centralisation, ironically under the Georgia born Stalin (who liked his wine!), a policy that aimed to eliminate most of the region’s hundreds of varieties, aiming to leave only a handful of the most productive ones.

But the Saperavi survived and eventually thrived again. Indeed, it has been planted in 25 Australian vineyards and the reports are good. By the way, be careful you don't spill this juice on your best white top. Unlike most red grapes, the pulp here is also red and so more liable to stain than normal.

The ancient grape has provided wine for many generations. Even during the worst of the Soviet times, householders kept growing it in the gardens, without chemicals, to make wine for the house. And nothing is wasted. The leftovers (the pomace) from the initial wine-making are distilled to make the Georgian Chacha, their fiery equivalent of Italy's Grappa.

Colour of our Saperavi is a deep purple. The aromas are of cherry, savoury notes too. On the palate it is fresh, full of vitality, cheerful blackcurrant flavours feature, tannins are pretty firm. While there is some little sweetness on the palate, the long finish is dry. Check your lips! It is a most satisfying wine, eminently drinkable and digestible and Very Highly Recommended. One can see why the Georgians allow three litres per guest at weddings and other excuses (readily found, apparently) for feasting! It is said that Georgians rarely eat; they feast.

This is quite magnificent with lamb, either roasted or stewed, Georgian-style, with aubergine.

Pheasant’s Tears Shavkapito Kartli (Georgia) 2014, 13%, €27.25 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau

The fruit for this one comes from Mukhrani in Kartli. The Shavkapito grape is a rare Georgian variety, praised for its refreshing tones of violets and forest earth. If you were lucky enough to have been part of the Georgian royal circle in ancient times you would have seen the king reach out for a glass of Shavkapito on a regular basis.

Colour is a dark ruby and the legs are surprisingly slow to clear and you’ll note dark fruit among the aromas. A juicy fruity palate (plum, cherry) also features persistent grainy tannins and there is a velvety spicy finalé. Oak comes to mind but the wine has seen no wood only the inside of the qvevri. A natural with game and with lamb. Highly Recommended, perhaps Very Highly Recommended in a few years time when the tannins have calmed down a bit!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Going Natural – New Trends in Wine

Going Natural – New Trends
A talk and tasting with Mary Dowey and Pascal Rossignol
Topics include Natural Wines, Old Vines, Sulphur and Biodynamic Wine

Philippe Chaume. The Vinsobres estate organic since 1997 and certified biodynamic since 2009.
Picture courtesy of
The Carrigaun Room (in the Grainstore) was full as Mary Dowey and Pascal Rossignol began their talk and tasting with a look at Biodynamic wines as part of last weekend’s marvellous Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine.

Mary thought the move to organic and biodynamic was one of “the most positive sides to the wine world” over the past two decades or so. She described biodynamics as “organics with knobs on" and "some very big names have adopted it”.

Our first wine, to illustrate biodynamic, was the Monte Dall-Ora Valpolicella Classico Saseti (Veneto). Pascal told us this came from a 7-9 hectare vineyard, a recent venture, bought as an almost organic vineyard and then they went bio. “It is all care and attention, hand harvested, all small scale so as not to damage the fruit. Almost a labour of love!” 

Pascal Rossignol
The next topic was natural wines. This is “a new level again”...”kind of controversial”...”up in the air”. But it means as naturally as possible. Practitioners try and recreate the natural balance in and around the vineyards. The timing of the harvest is vital as no additives will be used. “These wines have a vibrancy and a natural balance.”

There are no written rules, no classification, but there are some must follow steps and guidelines:
-          Manual harvest
-          Minimum use of sulphites
-          Quick to winery
-          Sulphites reduced as healthy fruit more able to fight oxidization
-          Babysit the process
Mary Dowey
-          Natural yeasts only to be used.

Pascal: “These wines are alive, really agree with you, more magic in the wine and are noted for their digestibility as much as for their drinkability.”

And certainly that seemed to be the case with our second wine, the Breton Vouvray La Dilettante (Loire 2011). Really liked this Chenin Blanc. Breton are very influential in the natural wine making world and I look forward to tasting more of it on its home ground later in the summer.

Now we were on to sulphites*. These occur naturally in wine but it is the use of them during the process at different stages (including the bottling) that add up and give a problem for some people who may be allergic to them. In the world of organic and natural wines, the purists don’t use sulphites but some others might use just a fraction of what is allowed (by the appellation). 

Our chemical free wine was the Alfredo Maestro Tejoro,Vina Almate Tempranillo (2012). It weighed in with a 14.5% abv “but that was the year that was in it”. The producers felt they had enough rules and regulations to follow in making the wine without also complying with the Ribera del Duero classification system so the words Ribera del Duero do not appear on the bottle.

Old Vines. What's the deal?
“The subject of old vines has been gathering momentum in recent years. But what’s the deal?” asked Mary as we reached that subject. What is old? She reckoned it had to be forty years at least and cautioned that not all varieties benefit from older vines. It doesn’t do anything for Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot but Grenache is well suited.

The main benefit is an “intensity of flavour, really concentrated”. And she had the perfect example, the Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres (Rhone 2010). Vinsobres is a higher level on the Rhone ladder in any event but this wine, biodynamic and from old vines, is a gem, well balanced, with lovely acidity, harmony and soft tannins. Gorgeous.

Pascal’s wine shop in  Kilkenny specialises in these types of wine and you may check it out here

Mary spends much of her time in Provence and, as I know from first hand experience, has a terrific website on the area with great tips on restaurants and food producers. Click here.

* Wine is not the only thing that sulphites turn up in. In the US, the FDA has published this list.