Tag Archives: Nomad Wine Importers

There’s an Alp for That…

As I began to write this piece on wines from the Alps it struck me that, rather neatly, the topography of the region was as good an analogy as any for the wines it produces.

The Alps are difficult to get to. They’re not easily accessible, a little inconvenient you might say, and a visit there is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not cheap either. But for many, the effort is so worth it. Once you taste the Alpine air you can never go back; once you experience the headiness of the snow-capped vistas then many other landscapes pale in comparison.

Likewise, wines from the Alps – be they French, Swiss, Italian or otherwise – share similar characteristics. They’re hard to find, made from varieties you’ve likely never heard of, and often taste like nothing you’ve had before. Whether that’s a good thing or not is – of course – down to personal preference. But to those with a keen curiosity and open mind, they’re a revelation.

I was lucky to be allowed to dip my toe into the world of Alpine wine thanks to a small informal tasting in Ely Wine bar recently, hosted by two fantastic wine importers, Nomad and Tyrrels, who plied their Alpine wares from France and Switzerland respectively.


SWITZERLAND: DOUZE POINTS

You may not have come across Swiss wines here in Ireland before, and likely for good reason. Wines imported into Switzerland were subject to stringent tariffs until the 1990s and finally abolished in 2006; that means that until 10 years ago it was easier and cheaper for the Swiss to buy their own wine rather than Chilean or Australian imports, leaving little left over for the rest of us to enjoy. There simply wasn’t really a need to export.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

Other factors conspire against Swiss wine. For one the ownership structure is highly fragmented: the Valais region for example, from where our wines below are sourced, counts 5,137 hectares of vines owned by 22,000 people in 80,000 parcels or plots. That sort of set-up requires a lot of time and effort to pull together commercially-viable quantities of wine, let alone enough to make exporting worthwhile.

Then there’s the geography: the slopes are so steep in places that elaborate monorail systems are needed to transport equipment and grapes. Sometimes they need helicopters. The gradient means that grape picking usually needs to be by hand. And to top it all off the Swiss authorities limit how many grapes each vine can yield. Cheap and easy it ‘aint.

But, like all good things in life, the effort is always worth it. Swiss wines – or at least the ones I tasted that day in Ely – can be electric, exciting and intriguing, not to mention cerebrally stimulating given their history, provenance and hyper-locality.

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The Alps

FRANCE: SAVVY SAVOIE

Comparatively, Alpine France – in particular the Savoie region – has an easier time of it than Switzerland. Yes, their vineyards can be similarly steep and awkward to access, but the gentler run-in from the French side is somewhat easier to manage than the almost persistently elevated nature of the Swiss wine regions.

But oddly, wines were rarely exported from Savoie until recently, a situation similar to Switzerland, but for a very different reason: the dramatic countryside is such a popular, year-round attraction that the constant flow of tourists usually drink the stocks dry.

Savoie has an admirable roll call of local grape varieties rarely found elsewhere, which many attribute to the fact the region only actually became part of France in 1860. For whites they’ve the likes of Jacquère, Altesse, Malvoisie and Mondeuse Blanche; while for reds they’ve Persan and Mondeuse Noire. Nope, I hadn’t heard of any of them before either.

Given the slightly off-piste location and abundance of local varieties, Savoie is riddled with small, passionate, boutique wine producers with many practicing organic or biodynamic principals and old-school winemaking. Many may call them ‘artisan’ or even ‘hipster’ winemakers – in truth they’re just passionate and returning to a more honest and lo-fi way of making wine. Either way, the results are rarely uninteresting.

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THE EU CONVENTION AT ELY

That day in Ely, Irishman Simon Tyrrell held court behind four wines – two white and two red – from Domaine René Favre et Fils of Chamoson in the Valais region of Switzerland, nestled between the borders of France and Italy, run by brothers John & Mike Favre.

To his right was Frenchman Charles Derain of Nomad Wine Importers and in front of him were six wines from Domaine Des Ardoisières, a winery that sources its grapes entirely from only two single vineyard sites in the Vin des Allobroges designation of Savoie: Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy.

Cevins is perhaps the more notable of the two sites, if not because of its history. The domaine encompasses a steep hill rising above the town which was planted with vines during Roman times, before passing through the hands of Tamié monks and eventually into private ownership. But the infamous phylloxera louse that devastated much of Europe’s vineyards in the mid nineteenth century took its toll here too, and shortly afterwards the two World Wars the country had to contend with spelled the end of winemaking on this awkwardly steep hill.

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But in 1998 a group of enthusiasts began clearing the site and reinstated the old Roman terraces that helped put structured order on the slope. It was a huge effort to unite no less than 400 landowners for an area of less than 10 hectares, an unusual display of selflessness for a common good. They planted mostly the local grape varieties mentioned earlier and farmed using only biodynamic principals, with the first vintage harvested in 2003.

St. Pierre de Soucy, meanwhile, is 50 kms down the valley and a little lower in altitude. This area is farmed organically instead of biodynamically but still provides the clay (or “argile”) soil that so intrigues Domaine Des Ardoisières winemaker Brice Omont.

With the humour and generosity typical of both Charles and Simon, we got to taste through some amazing examples of the region from two fantastic producers; here are a few of my picks…


THREE TO TRY FROM THE SWISS ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine
€28.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Jancis Robinson calls this grape variety “the finest of the indigenous grape specialities of the Valais in Switzerland.” I haven’t tasted any other indigenous white varieties from Switzerland but I do have to say this was damn good. It has a beautiful texture that was almost creamy, despite being tank fermented (maybe some contact with the lees?), followed by a razor sharp, precise acidity and minerality.

A delicious wine and a fantastic experience.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Petite Arvine ‘Grande Année St. Pierre’
€42.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

And if the Petite Arvine wasn’t good enough, along came its ‘big brother’. Fermented and aged in oak, this was beautiful and Burgundian in style.

Think crisp green apple coated in butter. It was textural, fresh, rich and long, all at once. Transcendental.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine René Favre et Fils, Humagne Rouge
€29.95 from Searsons Wine Merchants Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

Humagne Rouge is a relatively rare variety from Valais which I found to be wild and rustic with its slight vegetal notes (think green pepper) diffusing into smoke and black pepper.

The palate was surprisingly soft and smooth and juicy with nice acidity at the end. Again another fantastic experience if you’re keen to try obscure grape varieties.

 

THREE TO TRY FROM THE FRENCH ALPS

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Blanc
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Chardonnay & 30% Mondeuse Blanche.

This is beautifully crisp and clean and pure, though for me there was also an interesting, slightly funky, earthy undertone – call it terroir if you will.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, Cevins, “Schiste” Blanc
€50 from select off-licences

A blend of 40% Jacquère, 30% Roussanne & 30% Malvasia. A wilder wine with fennel, yellow apple and artichoke aromas. Again a feral note but much more noticeable this time.

Fresh and lively, its acidity is razor-sharp but it all softens to a slightly buttery finish from its time in barrel. A remarkable wine.

 

The Hills are Alive With the Taste of Wines from The AlpsDomaine des Ardoisières, St Pierre de Soucy, “Argile” Rouge
€30 from Mitchell & Son, Blackrock Cellar, 64Wine and Jus de Vine

A blend of 80% Gamay (Beaujolais is just 50kms away after all) and 20% of the local Persan grape. A very characterful wine, light but complex, bursting with juicy fruit and a very distinct twist of black pepper.

Black forest fruit and black cherry abound, and it has a slightly bitter, dry twist at the end. Wonderful.

 

This article originally appeared on TheTaste.ie.

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A Busy Week for Wine in Ireland

The coming week (and a bit) is proving to be something of a purple patch for lovers of wine in Ireland.

Tonight (Thursday 29th October) is the inaugural edition of SPIT, a day-long event that showcases five of Ireland’s best small wine importers: WineMason, Vinostito, Tyrrells, GrapeCircus, and Nomad.

It’ll be held in the gorgeous Smock Alley Theatre, with the public session starting at 18.30 and tickets a mere €25pp – for the quality, breadth and range of wines on offer, that’s actually a bargain. For more see here.

Yours truly will be at the Bloggers’ Table with Paddy of The Vine Inspiration,  where we’ll have some of our picks from the evening on tasting. Trust me: it was an incredible difficult decision to choose just a few wines from the hundreds of gorgeous bottles on show at the event.

Click here to read more about SPIT, or better yet pop down to Smock Alley tonight and just go.

 

Then next week we have a fantastic double-whammy in the form of Rhône Wine Week Ireland and International Sherry Week Dublin. Spoiled for choice doesn’t even cover it: both event are run by those most passionate about the subjects and I’m sure that every event will be really excellent. Below is a quick run-down of what’s on where:

 

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2015

Always a fantastic week of wine, immaculately organised by Tyrrells, who themselves are the undisputed experts of the Rhône in Ireland.

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November, 17.30
The ever-popular Big Rhône Quiz takes place once again – more info here

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November, 18.30
Domaine de Mourchon will have a wine tasting at the IFI before a screening of Jacques Audiard’s Read My Lips.  €25pp. More info here.

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November
L’Gueuleton will host a dinner with Etienne Defosse from Delas. €35pp. For more information contact l’Gueuleton on 01 6753708.

CORK: Tuesday 3rd November
L’Atitude 51 in Cork city will host an evening with Jean Louis from Famille Quoit. To book please call 021 239 0219 or email info@latitude51.ie.

DUBLIN: Wednesday 4th November, 18.00
*Highly Recommended* – if there’s only one event you can make this week, make it ely‘s excellent Big Rhône Tasting. €15pp. For more click here.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November
Hatch & Sons host wine heavyweights John Wilson and Mary Dowey as they join winemakers Denis Deschamps of Les Vignerons d’Estezargues and Thomas Schmittel of Domaine Graillot for a 3 course meal including wines. €35pp. for more info and to book please email hatchandsons1@gmail.com or call 01 661 0075.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November, 19.30
Mitchell & Son will be at the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club with Christophe Jaume of Domaine Grand Veneur for a four course wine dinner. €65pp. For more click here.

LIMERICK: Friday 6th November, 17.00
There’ll be an open tasting of Rhône wines at The Wine Room in Limerick’s boutique One Pery Square.

 

International Sherry Week Dublin 2015

DUBLIN: Tuesday 3rd November, 18.30
Stanley’s Wine Director Morgan VanderKamer and Sherry Educator Paddy Murphy host a “Four Sherries, One Vineyard” tasting. More info here.

CORK: Wednesday 4th November, 15:30
Sherry talk and tasting at the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School. More here.

DUBLIN: Wednesday 4th November, 18.30
Stanley’s Restaurant is the epicentre of sherry once again, and on Wednesday they’ll hold a tasting of Fernando de Castilla’s Antique range. More here.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November, 17.00
Taste through the many styles from Bodegas Tradicion in Stanley’s. More here.

DUBLIN: Friday 6th November, 17.00
After all the sherry talks and tastings during the week, it’s time to flaunt your own: Stanley’s will host an innovative ‘Bring Your Own’ evening where all bottles brought on the night will be available for sampling. More here.

 

A Murder of Crozes

I had intended this to be a sort of addendum to my last post about the Ely Big Rhône Tasting, but figured it would be long enough for its own post. Also I really needed to finish the last one in a hurry.

One of the tables at the event belonged to Nomad Wine Importers, Burgundian wine distributor of note, run by Frenchman Charles Derain. But don’t go Googling just yet, for Nomad dodoesn’t’t have a website, it’s not on Facebook, nor does it dabble in Twitter – nada – so the only contact seems to be via direct email to Charles. A pretty old-school way of doing things in the 21st century.

One of the few pictures available online of Charles Derain!

I first briefly met Charles at the Ely Big Tasting back in October where, apart from a few delicious wines, I was taken by his very Gallic, effusive nature. His passion was undoubtable, as it should be, but he had a refreshingly cheeky chappy demeanour laced with pithy, often audacious throwaway comments, all punctuated with that nonchalant shrug that seems to be the birthright of every Frenchman. He was great craic.

Charles was Head Sommelier in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud for over 6 years and produces the critically-acclaimed Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône with wine polymath extraordinaire Simon Tyrrell, so to say he knows what he’s doing is an understatement. You can read a really good Q&A with Charles and Simon on Julie Dupouy’s new blog.

Anyway. What was most notable about the Nomad table, apart from Charles’s vivacious energy, was that he was holding a mini vertical and horizontal tasting combined (a vertical is when different vintages of the same wine are tasted, a horizontal is when different producers’ wines from the same vintage are tasted).

So what we had on the night was two vintages each of two wines, both Crozes-Hermitage: Domaine Maxime Graillot’s ‘Domaine des Lises’, and Domaine Alain Graillot’s regular Crozes-Hermitage. The eagle-eyed will have spotted the similarity of the names, and they’d be right, for Maxime Graillot is son of Alain Graillot, the latter being a big deal in Crozes-Hermitage since he set up shop there in 1985.

Maxime and Alaine Graillot (Photo: vigneronsdexception.com)

 

Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage 2012
€28.00 in good wine shops

The 2012 vintage of this wine was the first in our glass, and wow was it good. Beautifully perfumed, intense but elegant, savoury gilled meat and graphite, a subtle and reserved, quite dry palate with really lovely tannin at the end. What a fantastic start – I was salivating at the thought of how the tasting would progress from here.

 

Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2012
€29.50 from Mitchell & Son, Terroirs and Vanilla Grape

This was quite … characterful. I have three adjectives related to its acidity written on my notes: the first is “very vivid”, later it’s “electric”, before finally relenting to “aggressive”. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a bad or unbalanced wine in the slightest, but it certainly had plenty of … well, character, for want of a better word.

Charles looked on intently and seemed pleased that my expression matched his expectations. “Yes, it’s ‘very French’” he said, smiling, before going on to acknowledge that it’s quite the challenge. The nose was feral, earthy. But it’s a delight to taste something from the same region and same vintage as the previous glass, but in such a significantly different style. The joys of wine, eh?! I just wouldn’t be rushing to drink this particular bottle just yet.

 

Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage 2009

I was looking forward to this. After the stellar performance of the 2012 I couldn’t but wait to see what a few years would do to it, especially from a noteworthy vintage. But what’s this? The amazing fruit of the 2012 had faded far beyond its three years; sure enough that earthiness was now coming through, but accompanied by somewhat off-balance acidity and tannin. This wasn’t going down well at all – admittedly, it was a disappointment . A wine to drink young then it seems (but then what a wine in its youth!). A little confused, I moved on to the 2009 Alain Graillot, though with some trepidation after the almost literally shocking experience of the 2012.

 

Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2009

And what’s this? The jarring, aggressive punk-rock characteristic of the 2012 was gone, and in its place was a softer, smoother, more supple drop. True enough its acidity was still significant but it had relaxed to give way to some actual noticeable fruit now, though more in the blackberry and plum region than savoury meatiness. It would be great to taste this in a  couple of years again; definitely the winner of the 2009s.

 

 End Result

I was quite relieved to discover that my thoughts were in line with Charles’s – it’s always flattering to know you’re on the same  page as a former 2 Michelin star sommelier! It was a fantastic experience that showed how you can take two quite different approaches to much the same grape juice from the same area: a more youthful, fruit-forward style that’s excellent when young but doesn’t age well, versus the old guard approach where the wines can often be undrinkable young but grow old gracefully. With some panache Charles not only managed to succinctly highlight this in a few glasses, but worked in a father and son angle too. Chapeau!

 


 

Postscript

This is the first of a new section I’m going to establish for posts like these. One of the great things about doing this blog is the research behind wines I come across that I like, and comparing and contrasting my experiences with certain wines against others out there on the internet. So this will be a piecemeal section where I’ll link to other articles on the topic for further reading, recommend select reviews on a wine I’ve reviewed and other related bric-a-brac I think would be of interest.

  • Here’s a great write-up by New York sommelier Victoria James on her visit to the Graillot winery. In it she mentions that the Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage in general, “in its youth, the wine is abrasive but very appealing, though the finished product holds such longevity it can seem a shame to drink it young.” Yep, abrasive is another word for it! More specifically, she said of the 2012 that “while [it] held less intensity [than the 2013] its aggressive structure transmitted power and a robust energy.”
  • I’m finding it difficult to find a retailer for the Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage online, though Terroirs and Vanilla Grape do have the next bottle down called “Equinoxe”. I recall having it in The Cellar Restaurant under The Merrion a couple of years back and really quite liking it, so I’ll have to pick up a bottle again soon.
  • John Wilson of the Irish Times didn’t seem to find the acidity of Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage too much, not that he could say in the handful of words he’s permitted at least (2011 vintage notwithstanding).