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Fac et Spera: M. Chapoutier

I love Maison M. Chapoutier, to give the company its full and proper title, though I’ll admit that it was the aura around the company itself and not its wines that attracted me first, in particular its colourful figurehead Michel Chapoutier; you may remember him from my first Wine Wisdom posts in fact.

Michel Chapoutier

Though I’ve never had the chance to meet him, Chapoutier seems to me to be a fantastically idiosyncratic and colourful character: opinionated, deliberately and consciously contrarian, proud, stubborn, revolutionary, arrogant, bombastic, narcissistic, and so much more. He seems to be a person that some love to hate, and others hate to love. He’s ruthless and cold on one hand then generous and emotive on the other, noted for his hyperbole and grand pronouncements, and talking effusively at length about minutiae others often overlook, whether for better or worse. Love him or hate him, you can’t but be captivated by this man and, by extension for me at least, his wines too.

I originally began this post as a review of one of his excellent wines, but ended up spending a couple of happy hours picking over the details of this fascinating man and his company. Here’s a little review of it all – enjoy!

Chapoutier: The Company and the Man

The story of how the M. Chapoutier business as we know it today came about is like something out of House of Cards.

Michel Chapoutier’s grandfather, Marc, handed over the reins to the family winery to Michel’s father and brother in 1977, though only nominally. In what may be seen as a foreshadowing of his grandson’s own ambitions, Marc still maintained control over vinification – i.e. growing the grapes and making the wine itself – leaving his son and grandson the relatively demoted tasks of bottling, ageing and distribution.

In 1987 a 23-year-old Michel returned from a few years working in other wine regions to join his grandfather in the vineyard,  and immediately set about impressing his own stamp on the Chapoutier brand. But as his brother and father were responsible for the finishing of the wines then they were never going to be “his” wines in their entirety, a troubling situation for the obsessive Michel.

Taking his grievances directly to his grandfather, he was offered the chance of assuming the head role of the family business ahead of his own father, an opportunity that itself should have been conceited enough to keep him happy. But still this wasn’t enough for the driven young Michel, who didn’t fancy sharing the spoils of his hard work with what he saw as his lazy and therefore undeserving family members.

So, in 1990, at only 26 years old, Michel Chapoutier bought the company outright from his grandfather, firing all family members involved in the firm soon after. In my mind this plays out like the final scene of The Godfather, where the heads of all the rival families are toppled in one fell swoop. Ruthless doesn’t quite cover it.

The Wines

Unusually, unlike Burgundy and Bordeaux, the Rhône doesn’t have an official cru (vineyard) classification system, despite the region’s wine being some of the most renowned and diverse in the world.

There are, however, lieux-dits, “named places” or place names that denote vineyard sites and plots within each appellation which have been recognised – either historically or via more recent investigation – as producing wines of a distinct quality or character.  Chapoutier has been voracious in his appetite for snapping up these lieux-dits and now is one of the largest holders of some of the most rare and exclusive plots of land in the Rhône, including most notably a large swathe of the fabled Hermitage hill.

Chapoutier is also famous for his production methods. Most of his wines are certified organic, with the top wines going one step further by being produced biodynamically. Biodynamic winemaking is like organic farming on speed: not only are synthetic sprays banned in their entirety, but soil treatments such as natural sprays and manure are treated with certain ‘preparations’ such as “flower heads of yarrow fermented in a stag’s bladder” and “oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal.”

Not only that but certain key vineyard jobs such as pruning, picking and the aforementioned spraying are performed according to the phases of the moon. I kid you not. There are more winemakers than you’d think around the world practicing biodynamics at the moment, with many transitioning to the practice. I won’t try and cover this weird and wonderful way of making wine in this blog, but Jamie Goode (again) has an excellent and comprehensive explainer here should you wish to know more.

M. Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage ‘Les Varonniers’ 2003

So, on to the wine. This one comes from Crozes-Hermitage in the northern Rhône, which is the largest appellation in the region and can produce some nice if ordinary wines.

But this is a Chapoutier wine, and not only that but Les Varonniers is from his ‘Sélections Parcellaires‘ top tier of wines, so you can fully expect it be anything but ‘ordinary.’

The wine is sourced from a lieux-dit known as Varognes; originally it was blended with wine produced from another Crozes-Hermitage lieux-dit called Les Meysonniers, with the resulting contraction of the two names giving “Varonniers.” Now, however, it is completely sourced from the Varognes plot alone, which boasts vines with an average age of 65 years and an esteemed placement at the fringe of Hermitage hill.

Chapoutier Les Varonniers 2003The wine was very reductive and funky on initial opening and needed a bit of air to blow this off before some gamey, barnyard aromas revealed themselves before moving on to very savoury, meaty notes. Eventually some dried fruits such as redcurrants and raisins were evident, overlaid with some typical spice. And I may be crazy, but I thought I detected some lavendar – but that’s sure a more South of France thing?

Anyway, that gamey characteristic appeared again on the palate again, with layers of leather and a little liquorice too. It had lovely acidity and tannin – enough to warrant good food, but not so much not to be able to enjoy on its own. A gentle long finish completed this delightful wine.

M. Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage ‘Les Varonniers’ 2003
Approximately €40 from Millesima and specialist off-licences
100% Syrah

(Thanks to Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak site for providing much of the detail for this post)

Nyhavn Copenhagen

Danish Wine … Yes, Really

There seems to be a perception by the public in general that wine is only made in in warm climates – basically, the Mediterranean, South America, South Africa and Australia. I’d be the first to raise my hand and say that, despite massive progress in recent years, wine is still a relatively complicated subject for the common punter to grasp, but I’m still taken aback by how many people still don’t realise that wine is made in places like Germany, let alone the fact that they produce some of the world’s finest.

Or if they do, a wry look overcomes their eyes followed with the words “ah, yeah … Blue Nun,” followed by a wistful (or pained) gaze into the middle distance as sickly sweet-fuelled exploits of a few decades past are recalled. In other words, countries like Germany, Greece, Lebanon and Slovenia, for example, are usually associated by the masses not for their fine (or rapidly improving) wine scene, but instead for beer, corruption, war or being mistaken for Slovakia, respectively.

Even then, despite knowing that wine can theoretically be produced anywhere between the 30th and 50th parallels north and south of the equator – which encompasses a ginormous area of the world and quite a few countries you definitely wouldn’t think of – I’m sometimes surprised to hear of wines being made in areas I never would have thought of. Just last week, for example, I heard on the radio that wine is produced in all 50 of the United States of America, including Hawaii and Alaska – again, not theoretically impossible but something I would never have thought feasible at least.


So I was surprised to discover, on a recent trip to Copenhagen, a Danish wine called Degnemosegaard. I shouldn’t really have been that surprised – I recall reading this article in Decanter a few years ago about a new German wine region being established on Sylt, an island that straddles the border of Germany and Denmark (click here to see where it is). So it wouldn’t take a great leap of imagination to assume that they could make wine in Denmark proper.

But to come across a bottle in Copenhagen, ready and willing and commercially available, brought this odd reality to life. It was picked up in the incredible new addition to Copenhagen called Torvehallerne, a market involving over 60 permanent stalls under two separate roofed sections covering everything from the usual butchers, bakers, and cheesemongers to a paleo café, a Cava bar, an organic spice seller, a Francophile deli and one shop that sells nothing but lakrids, that God-awful liquorice they love so much over there. It’s what CHQ in Dublin could and should be, but isn’t and probably never will.

So, back to the wine; ready to get tongue-tied? Degnemosegaard Vinlaug is based nea the town of Skibby, located on the large Danish island called Sjælland on which Copenhagen is located, itself only 60km down the road . Founded in 2002 with the first harvest in 2005, they produce two reds and a white. The reds are made using grapes I’ve never heard of – Rondo, Regent and Leon Millot – and come either as a “Red Cuvée” or, in a decision that is achingly stereotypical of the region, a “Light Red Cuvée.”

While the Mediterraneans name their cuvées – or ‘blends’ – after lovers, poems, goddesses,  legends, historical landmarks and any other host of romantic things; where the New World wineries choose locally unique flora and fauna, geological oddities, discoverers or abstract notions; you can depend on the Scandinavians to go Route One and call it straight. Red Cuvée or Light Red Cuvée it is, then.

But it was the white we had in Copenhagen, their “Hvidvin,” which means, er, ‘white wine’. It was made from Solaris, another grape I never heard of. In fact when I picked up the bottle first I mused about their naming of the wine as ‘Solaris’, pondering whether it had something to do with the Northern Lights visible not too far north of the country, or perhaps the little daylight the country receives in the depths of winter and the resultant astral array, or maybe some esoteric anecdote relating to the winery. That was until someone standing next to me Googled it and discovered that Solaris is a grape, created – created! – “in 1975 at the grape breeding institute in Freiburg, Germany by Norbert Becker” (Wikipedia). How fun.

So despite all romanticisms dispelled – a very Danish situation I’d have to say – we were nevertheless intrigued enough to buy a bottle between us. Three of us chipped in because it cost 150 kroner, or just over €20, for a 500ml bottle, meaning the equivalent of around €30 for a regular bottle. Not cheap for a curiosity.

Degnemosegaard FullSo, how did it taste?

I suppose we got off to an inauspicious start when the girl wrapping up the bottle said, smiling and with some pride, that it was “a very Danish wine, very Danish … it’s very sour.” Glancing sidelong at my friends with an eyebrow raised, I assumed that there was something lost in translation; perhaps she meant acidic, or tart?

Nope. Sour it was, and how very so. The initial bang of vinegar softened out – once my tastebuds were suitably numbed – to a sort of unripe green apple flavour and its associated violent acidity. There wasn’t much more beyond that I’m afraid. I desperately desired some seafood to perhaps soften out the acidity or at least put it to work, but sitting as we were in an IKEA-clad apartment in the centre of Copenhagen, fresh shellfish weren’t exactly at hand. The bottle wasn’t finished.

So an interesting, if cautionary, tale, but it was fun to have Danish wine in Denmark. Believe it or not we actually make our own wine here too: Lusca, based in Lusk, just outside of Dublin, and not too long ago Longueville House in Mallow, Co. Cork made their own wine too, before scrubbing up the lot in favour of more palatable – and commercially sensible – apple trees from which they now make their lauded cider.

In fact, in the spirit of things I might grab a bottle of Lusk wine soon and report back. A ‘Weird Wines from Weird Places’ series, anyone?


Degnemosegaard Solaris Hvidvin 2010
Kr150, approximately €20, from Omegn, Torvehallern, Copenhagen
100% Solaris

A Chat with José Luis Mugurio of Marqués de Riscal

In May this year Señor José Luis Muguiro of famous Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal visited Ireland after a hiatus of a number of years. His official title is General Sales Director, but as always with historic, family-run wineries his duties are multifarious: he does indeed oversee Marqués de Riscal’s sales in the over 105 countries their wines are sold, but he is also Brand Ambassador, Business Development Manager, Spokesman, Figurehead, Historian, and much more besides.

Marqués de Riscal Logo

From the winery’s foundation in 1858 to 1945, Marqués de Riscal was owned by founder Hurtado de Amezaga’s family, with the Muguiro family joining the firm 1945 when the winery became a public limited company at the end of the Second World War.

So though on paper the company is a PLC and responsibilities are shared amongst a handful of separate interests, Marqués de Riscal still maintains that idiosyncratic family-run feel and its associated values, such as a deference to the past (and not just for PR purposes), an almost zealous dedication to quality and process, impressive humility given their size and stature, and – my favourite – a far-sightedness beyond the quarterly results reports to shareholders, the downfall of many large wineries.

Food & Wine Magazine were interested in doing a piece on him for their ‘My Foodie World’ section and I volunteered to put the questions to him before he held a comprehensive tasting of their portfolio of wines available here in Ireland via Findlater Wine & Spirit Group.

I was fortunate to also attend that tasting and will write up my notes from it next week, but for now I’ve written up an extended version of the interview with this interesting character:


José Luis Outside The Merrion in Dublin
José Luis Outside The Merrion in Dublin

The Motley Cru: What’s your earliest foodie memory?

José Luis Mugurio: My earliest food memory was in a restaurant in Madrid called Goizeko Kabi where I had fried egg with baby eels, which is a delicacy in Spain that they call “Spanish Caviar.” They’re fished during the winter time and are a real delicacy in Spain.


MC: Are they like little silverfish…?

JLM: They’re known as … [consults] … ‘elver’ eels in English


MC: When I visited my friend in Madrid a few years ago we had these little silverfish that I thought might be…

JLM: Well then your friend must be very wealthy as they’re very expensive!


MC: Oh really? OK, maybe not!

JLM: The name of these in Spanish is Angulas, and normally you eat them on the last day of the year, the 31st December, and the prices nowadays are huge as the Japanese have discovered them. You enjoy them simply with some garlic; they’re fantastic.


MC: What wine would you enjoy with them?

JLM: You actually have two wines: the [Marqués de Riscal Rioja] Reserva would go really well, and if people would prefer white it would do with the [Marqués de Riscal] Sauvignon Blanc.


MC: Where is your favourite place to eat?

JLM: There is a restaurant in San Sebastián called Arzak which has three stars, and I’ve known the family for many years. I like the traditional cuisine from the area, especially the calamari and other fantastic seafood like their turbot.


MC: And the best wine you ever drank?

JLM: I’ve been able to drink many wines from many different parts of the world, but by far the best wine I’ve tasted is the 1945 Marqués de Riscal Rioja Reserva that I’ve been lucky enough to taste three times. It received 99 points by both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker and is one of the very few wines in the world to achieve that score in both publications.


MC: You say you’ve tasted it three times…?

JLM: Yes I’ve tasted it three times in my lifetime. Once was with Robert Parker at a big tasting in Logroño, the second time was with friends from Laurent Perrier and the third time was with a writer from Wine Spectator.


MC: What is your favourite wine region?

JLM: Rioja, of course. No, really, people don’t realise that Rioja is one of the few regions in the world with a vast library of old vintages [back to 1858]; for example we have had our consultant winemaker Paul Pontallier from Margaux in Bordeaux taste through our library to see how winemaking has changed over the last century as France had most of their own old vintages taken from them during World War Two. The region is really the place that has the best old wines, and this is why I like Rioja.


Marques de Riscal Frank Gehry Selection copyMC: Who would you most like to have around for dinner and a glass of wine?

JLM: The person is going to be a man, and it’s going to be Frank Gehry, our architect, because he is so emotional about the Riscal winery, and so I would like to have a glass of his wine – the Frank Gehry Selection Gran Reserva 2001 – with him.


MC: If you were ‘king of the wine world’ what would you do?

JLM: I would really like to have the opportunity to have a lot of very old vintages from Rioja to sell all over the world, but to have much more than we already have because they’re absolutely amazing and most people don’t have the possibility to taste what is available, so I would love to have the ability to offer many people these amazing wines from the old days of Rioja.


MC: What’s the oldest wine you’ve had from Rioja?

JLM: We have wines back to 1858, since our foundation. Over the years we have carried out vertical tastings and also held auctions; in fact we are the only winery to have held an auction in Beijing containing over 120 vintages, which no-one else has been able to due as many lost their old vintages during the Second World War. We are the only ones – I believe, I guess – that have wines since our foundation – every single year.


MC: Wow. Have you tasted them all?

JLM: I haven’t tasted 1858 but I’ve tasted the 1900, which was absolutely amazing and was awarded 98 or 99 points by Parker too, but other members of the family have tasted every single vintage. Others I’ve tasted were 1922, 1938, 1945, 1964 and 1952, which were all the good ones. And 1958.


MC: And they’re still…?

JLM: They’re still very drinkable, and some still had the original cork!


Watch this space for a report on all of Marqués de Riscal’s wines available in Ireland!

Some Fantastically Funny Wine Tasting Spoofs

The wine industry is ripe for lampooning, and for good reason: the vocabulary, the affectations adopted when tasting, the obsession with the arcane … the list goes on, and there is so much rich material to mine.

As funny as the clips are below, those involved in the trade cannot but cringe (as I did, too often!) at the worrying familiarity of the sketches. We’ve all been there, from the grand pronouncements and smug assertions to the cripplingly embarrassing faux pas, these clips

Richard E Grant of Withnail & I fame starts us off with this short but sweet clip in which he delivers a fantastic performance dripping with braggadocio overlaid with pretentious classic music and wishy-washy soft focus, a great dig at many vacuous “Beginner’s Guide to Wine” series out there (as well as at some wine personalities you can encounter unfortunately!)

This is from BBC comedy Posh Nosh, which, despite the antiquated quality of the clip, is from 2003 and not the mid nineties as I thought originally:


There seems to be no subject left untouched by Steve Coogan’s excellent Alan Partidge, and here wine gets a look-in as the eponymous Radio DJ tries his hand at some live on-air wine tasting.

I love the interplay between the two: Partridge who is brash, arrogant, but clueless, and the woman next to him who fawningly tries to guide him in the right direction. Both characters are seen with worrying regularity at consumer wine events:


Speaking of blind tasting, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie excellently satirise the process in this vox pop wine sampling from their brilliant eighties series A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

The last clip, of the wine merchant getting caught out, is far too close to the bone for my liking, having once proclaimed (under duress!) that a sparkling wine was Cava when it was, in fact, Veuve Clicquot. It was served warm at a party, OK?! Hardly ideal tasting conditions!


Finally, the best in my opinion. Frasier is one of my favourite TV comedies, and the Crane brothers’ prissiness, pretension and overwrought exactitude is brought to bear on wine, resulting in a hilariously perfect storm.

Niles is the best of the two here I think – few actors can have an audience in uproar simply by saying “jammy, plummy, dense and chewy” with a straight face. Enjoy!


Thanks to The Drinks Business for bringing these to my attention.

Fransola Banner

The Atypical Spanish White

Well, the stretch of summer we were enjoying over the last few weeks seems to have come to an end, meaning that this post is somewhat ill-timed.

During the warmer weather I craved a decent bottle of white, and extracted from the fridge a wine I had been meaning to get around to for a while now: the Torres Fransola Sauvignon Blanc.

But those who know me know I don’t like Sauvignon Blanc generally (and yes, of course there are exceptions), so why did I choose this one?

FransolaWell, it’s Sauvignon Blanc, but not as we know it. Firstly, it’s from Spain, a country you’d struggle to associate with Sauvignon Blanc. It is, on the other hand produced by the Torres dynasty, who can’t help but produce decent, and often excellent, wines at all price points.

Secondly – and here’s the rub – it’s partially barrel aged and fermented. “So what?” I hear you say. “Aren’t all wines put in a barrel at some point?”

Well, no, they’re not. Most reds are, yes, but most whites aren’t. This is especially true of the light and fresh ones we love so much here in Ireland – Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and their ilk – which are usually completely vinified in stainless steel vats and bottled as soon as they’re ready so as to keep their freshness.

But with Fransola half the wine is fermented and aged for 8 months in a mix of new American and French oak. It’s an unusual decision – oak use in white wines is more common with Chardonnay, especially those from Burgundy, where the grape’s body and structure welcomes any oak thrown at it.

But Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t apparently take well to oak, with its fresh fruit flavours being washed away leaving thin and insipid juice. That is, though, unless you add a little of something else to provide a backbone to stop this from happening.

In Bordeaux, the historical home of Sauvignon Blanc, they add the fleshy Sémillon that lends some body and helps it withstand a bit of time in the barrel. But Torres, in an innovative and patriotic move, adds about 5% – only a dash – of a local Catalan grape called Parellada.

So Fransola is an interesting oddity in that it’s a popular grape from an atypical location, produced in an atypical fashion in an atypical blend by a world-famous producer. (Yes, I could have Googled some synonyms for ‘atypical’)

150ppp_PNG_Fransola_SASo, what’s my opinion on it?

Unfortunately its age is clouding my judgement – this 2007 vintage was bottled in April 2008, making it a little over 6 years old. The ideal drinking window, say Torres, is 3-5 years. Worryingly, Jay Miller in Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate says it should only last 2-3 years. Yikes!

In other words I missed the boat on it somewhat and this bottle was past its peak, meaning I didn’t catch it shining at its brightest. That said its quality and characteristics were still evident to some extent.

It was something like the bastard offspring from an affair between Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc: initially the herbaceous, aged Sauvignon Blanc characteristics of fig and asparagus made a brief appearance before the oaky, creamy, buttery oaked half washes over it.

In truth the creamy oakiness was a bit much and dampened much of the fruitiness, but this was surely due to the age of the wine, with time in the bottle exacerbating these characteristics. It did however finish pleasantly clean with some nice lifted lime acidity.

A testament to its quality is that it lasted four days in the fridge without a drop in its drinkability, with the lanolin creaminess softening out a little and becoming more complex, offering something slightly new every day.

Damn, I wish I drank this earlier! I’ll need to grab a newer, fresher bottle soon and report back. Watch this space.

Torres Fransola 2007
€26.99 from O’Brien’s,, Redmond’s of Ranelagh and Terroirs of Donnybrook
95% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Parellada

Back to Business: The Motley Cru


Has it been five months since my last post? How time flies. And, even then, updates were few and far between in the months preceding The Gold of Naples (and Puglia) - had The Motley Cru reached its sell-by date?

Far from it. I have a good excuse you see, or, rather, quite a few: moving house, getting married, and going on a month’s honeymoon – all wrapped around Christmas and the New Year – has meant that the last 8-10 months have been pretty eventful to say the least.

As a result writing even the most basic blog posts were relegated to the bottom of the To Do pile where wedding lists, holiday bookings and DIY jobs were given precedence. Hence the de facto sabbatical for The Motley Cru in the last while.

But fear not! Christmas, weddings, honeymoons and housewarmings are ripe occasions for wine exposure, so I’ve bucketloads of things to write about. And now that I’ve (a little) more time on my hands I intend to write about them.

So from this weekend it (should be) back to business. I’ve even updated my ‘About’ page too – have a look.

I’ve never asked for feedback before, so now’s a good time to start – what do you like, not like, or more importantly what would you rather see? Are the blogs too long, too short, too irrelevant? Too wordy, too basic, too technical? Let me know, warts and all.

It’s good to be back…


The Gold of Naples (and Puglia)

Sometimes, you come across an article so energetically and passionately written it completely consumes you and you instantly want to eat that food, drink that drink or travel to that place in order to share in the experience that the author so emphatically puts across.

I had bookmarked – and only now re-discovered – an article from the website of US food magazine Saveur called The Gold of Naples in which Keith Pandolfi revisits the home of his “beloved but long gone great-grandfather” to discover the true origins of pizza.

Ostensibly it’s not a terrifically exciting subject, I agree, but you can’t but be carried along by the enthusiasm and zeal with which it is written; the hallmark of excellent writing, in other words. I dare you to read it and not crave a pizza afterwards.

In fact, over the weekend I did indeed cobble together my own attempt at Naple’s most famous export, using Pizza da Piero‘s guiltily excellent pizza bases. To match I had a bottle of Tormaresca Torcicoda 2010, a Primitivo from Salento in Puglia, the ‘heel’ of the Italian ‘boot’, so to speak.

Primitivo is Puglia’s native grape, and in my (admittedly limited) experience tends to be overly hot, spicy, and uninteresting (often due to the aforementioned hot spiciness). Fans of Californian Zinfandel will, without realising it, be very familiar with this grape since they are one and the same: clippings brought to America by a Puglian emigrant were unwittingly believed to be a new variety, and so christened Zinfandel, though no-one knows where that name originated.

Back to  South Italian Primitivo though. Tormaresca is the Puglian sub-brand of the Antinori Family’s Tuscan-based empire, and I was confident in approaching this bottle since you can be sure that anything produced by this famous dynasty isn’t done half-heartedly.

Bright ruby in the glass, it was surprisingly more rounded in the mouth than I expected, compared to the number of harsh and angular Primitivos I’ve had in the past. The palate is quite New World Cabernet-like: deep dark fruit with blackberry dominant, with some anise after it opened out and some slight tannic bitterness at the end which called out for food. Ideal for my pizza, then.

In all a plush, glossy wine and highly recommended, though at 14% meant that I had to be careful of just how much I imbibed. But this, alas, was a sample bottle from the winery that I had hanging around and isn’t currently available in Ireland (as far as I’m aware). You can get it in the UK, though. Sorry about that.

Tormaresca Torcicoda 2010
Approx €12-€15, from these outlets in the UK, Italy and Germany
100% Primitivo