About two hours north-west of Frankfurt lies arguably Germany’s most picturesque wine region along the Mosel river, lined with postcard-perfect villages and famous rows of vines clinging precariously on its steep banks.
As a massive fanboy of the Granite Belt, I’m absolutely ashamed to admit that I’ve never tried one of the first wines that really put the region on the map decades ago – the Ballandean Estate Sylvaner.
A truly delightful afternoon (where did the light go?!) with Mark Ravenscroft of Ravens Croft Wines chewing the cud over vintage, winemaking, gossiping about the industry and going through his barrel samples, all with the rather alien sound of rain pattering down on the winery roof. Sadly no picturesque vistas this time due to the rain and fading light!
Despite a month in the southern hemisphere, it’s still very much #SummerVibes for me, with mid-20s and clear blue skies here in Brisbane, despite the locals insisting it being called “winter”. So I’m cracking open this new release 2021 Vermentino from Golden Grove Estate – because it’s still warmer here than the British summer.
The sea of green you see in front of you is arguably some of the most prestigious patches of vines in the world, right in the heart of Burgundy.
From left to right:
- La Rominée (far left, near, 0.84ha) and Les Richebourgs (far left, far, 8ha)
- La Rominée-Conti (left-center, near, 1.8ha) and Romanée Saint-Vivant (left-center, far, 9.5ha)
- La Grand Rue (center, near, 1.4ha) and Les Gaudichots and La Tâche (center, far, 6 ha)
- Village of Vosne-Romanée in the background
- Aux Malconsorts (right, near; 1er Cru) and neighbouring Nuits-Saint-Georges (far right)
As you can see, these tiny parcels are all very close together! Also, Nuits-Saint-Georges is but a stone’s throw away and it’ss actually quite hard to spot the border. Though wineries are acutely aware of this and are lightning quick to point out, the Appellations of Les Damodes, Aux Boudots and Au Bas de Combe in Nuits-Saint-Georges border on Vosne-Romanee and offer great Premier Cru wines at a tiny fraction of their rockstar neighbour.
So keep an eye out for these, and pick some up slightly smug in the knowledge that you paid about about 1/5000th of the price of a wine from a few yards away.
Tucked away behind the rustic buildings of Vosne-Romanée lies the most valuable 1.8 hectares of vines in the world. With nothing to give it away apart from a small stone plaque and pristine, bonzai-manacured rows of Pinot Noir vines, Romaneé-Conti is the grandest of Grand Crus in the commune, and produces arguably the finest and most expensive wine in the world.
For us mere mortals who can’t afford the average US$20,000 price tag (at a recent auction, a 1945 sold for over $550,000!), this place has become a bit of a Mecca for wine lovers, with travellers around the world converging on this remarkably unassuming (understandably so), sacred patch of land.
Owned exclusively by Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti, only around 5,600 bottles are made a year, thanks to low yields due to the old vines and aggressive pruning. No chemicals or machinery here, everything is done by hand and horses, to minimise the impact of the precious soil.
Famous children’s author Roald Dahl described it as (appropriately) “an orgasm at once in the mouth and in the nose.” Sadly, I am not worthy enough to have tried the wine, instead having to sip as I write my lowly Nuits-Saint-Georges made just a stone’s throw up the road (literally!), so will humbly take pictures and dream that like these vines, one day I will realise my potential.
PS: The economics of a Romanée-Conti wine
While we’re talking about Romaneé-Conti, the economics of the world’s most expensive wine are mind boggling. Doing some rough maths, with an average price of US$20,000 a bottle, means that this single bunch of grapes ripening nicely at the vineyard in this picture is worth around $2,000. That’s around $33 per grape!
Hello my dear friends, it’s been a while. 2020 was a tough year for us all, and definitely testing for me. But have I given up on wine? Definitely not – far from it!
One silver lining of 2020 was that it turned out to be a great vintage, with a relatively mild spring and a moderate summer which allowed the grapes to ripen slowly and fully, developing beautiful floral and fruit aromas while keeping enough acidity to create a crisp sparkling.
I’ll be honest, a Barossa old vine Grenache was never going to be a tough sell for me. So it when it came to this one made with 130 year-old vines by a Barossa legend, it was a no-brainer.
Another special wine smuggled all the way back to the UK from the Granite Belt is the Ravens Croft 2019 Pinotage. With only 8 out of about 6,000 vineyards growing Pinotage in Australia, this has to be one of the rarer Strangebirds (alternative varieties) seen in the Granite Belt.
We may be familiar with white or rosé sparkling Pinot Noir, but how often do you see a red sparkling Pinot Noir? This Traditional method red Sekt from Scloss Vaux is made from Pinot Noir in the well respected (albeit somewhat unfortunately named) VDP village in the Rheingau and aged on lees for 3.5 years.
We all know how a cork comes out of your favourite bottle of bubbles, but did you know how it got in there? Me neither until recently. There are several ways that sparkling wine is bottled (another article soon!), but one of the most interesting is the Traditional Method, used to make Champagne and of course English Sparkling.
Here, the wine goes through a second fermentation after the initial wine is made to produce the creamy bubbles that we enjoy. Once this is done (which could take months or several years!), the dead yeast is expelled and the bottle topped with a corked, thorugh a process known as “Disgorging” or dégorgement. Let’s look at how this is done.
Corks look completely different before they are bottled. They take take their recognisable shape by being tightly squeezed and pressed into the bottle, to hold the immense pressure behind it in the bottle.
Traditional method (Champagne) bottles arrive in large palettes upside down after their second fermentation.
Being upside down allows the yeast lees to settle at the neck of the bottle, allowing it to be removed. Note the crown cap!
The cap is popped out, and a little wine along with the yeast is expelled (explosively!). Many choose to freeze the neck of the bottle to slow this process down, but we like to do things the hard way!
The “dosage” (or liqueur d’expédition) containing sugar, wine and sulphites (preservative) is added. This also gives the final sweetness of the wine.
Bottles are then topped up with the same wine to make it back to 750ml. Note that on standard Champagne bottles this is 72mm from the top of the bottle.
A cork is placed in a press which squeezes it to the width of the neck of the bottle, so it can be inserted.
This is the bottle after the press has squeezed the cork into it. As tight as it looks, it won’t stay for very long due to to the immense pressure in the bottle. It needs to be held in place!
The wire cage (or muselet) is pressed on and twisted tight around the neck…
…like so. And we’re done!
The bottle is then foiled and labelled at a later stage before going out the door.
Of course this rather laborious process is largely automated nowadays with high tech doodads and whizbangs but the principles and actions are still the same. However, this is still done by hand by a number of smaller producers!