Joe Gilmour Thoughts

‘The thing about Zaltos’, I pompously opined, ‘is that they look delicate but they’re actually surprisingly strong’. He looked at me bemusedly. Look, I said, ‘Look how they can actually flex if you squeeze them slightly’.

The glass shattered in my hands. “Ben – I’m so sorry – I’ll buy you a replacement”

These beautiful but fragile glasses that you could almost balance on your little finger are bound up  with the new movement of acidity dominant wines and traditional winemaking styles.

At times they are almost too precise and uncharitable on a wine that make drinking for pleasure a bit difficult. They put the balance of a wine pretty mercilessly under the spotlight.

In the UK they were so popular there was quite a waiting list to order them as every restaurant looked at the other Jones’ and wanted the same glass.

To my mind everything about wine, including the glasses we drink it from reflects a cultural moment, a soft indication of a system of belief of the consumer and the producer. Certain Napa trophy wines seem to me to be mostly made and consumed by a certain ‘bigger is better’ wealthy, ‘Republican’ mindset. Wines like statues devoted to their needy owners. Riedel was the glassware of choice, endorsed by Bob Parker. Indeed – when I poured a full-bodied Shiraz into the Zalto, it didn’t quite work – was it all in my head?

In Robert Parkers Wine Guide he writes in his breezily confident fashion: “The finest glasses for both hedonistic and technical purposes are those made by the Riedel Company of Austria” – Georges’ mission he says, “Is to provide the ‘finest tools’ enabling the taster to capture the dull potential of a particular varietal”. And this was the stall he set out in the 1990s – to provide a different glass for each different wine.  That was a lot of glasses – in both his expensive hand-blown Sommelier series and the cheaper Vinum range, there was everything from the Grand Cru Pinot Noir glass to (cringe) the Coca Cola and Prosecco glass.

Where are we now? Going back to weedy ‘Democrat’ wines, sipped from these wafer-thin glasses, in rooms of bare brick and distressed wood. Wines with high acidity and traditional leanings. Men in tortoiseshell glasses, French worker shirts and soft hands from experiencing no harder labour then tapping on their laptops all day.

We did have a Riedel sales rep into our shop back in the day to lead a tasting with different glasses and different wines – and I don’t know, some people found it worthwhile. For me, and I imagine most others, they just brought the Chianti / Riesling glasses and drank everything out of them. They were good glasses, made by the Spiegelau factory under license from Riedel.

Indeed – It was this fact that led us to purchase 400 of them to run our tasting program with. Before then, we were using the miserly ISO glasses, that resemble tiny sherry copitas and are used for the WSET Wine Education program in the UK. It makes me cringe to look back and remember we were using them to serve such wines as 1942 Vega Sicila and Henri Jayer Echezeaux. Oh my days! Xavier Ausus, the winemaker from VS took us to one side after the tasting and suggested maybe we upgrade.  

Joe GilmourGlasses

Julien Sunier – Energy for days

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

Seeing the 2019s from Julien Sunier coming onto the list reminded me how vital is the life-force of this man and his wines. It’s hard to convey how intense is the energy of this guy, like staring at the sun. It seems to be in inverse proportion to his proximity to his winery in leafy, rural Avenas. When I’ve met him in London he seems a shadow of his true self at home, vibrating with passion as he talks about one of the x different projects he’s working on. If you ever want to feel anxiety about your own industry, spend some time with him.

Before starting the Domaine in the mid 2000s be worked with Mommessin, one of the biggest negociants in the region, and with Christophe Roumier in Chambolle (where he gets his barrels), where he was in serious consideration to take over the winemaking at the Domaine. But there is something about Gamay and the resurrection of the reputation of Beaujolais that appealed – doing something off your own back I guess. And I think there is something of the careful caretaker in making wine from the most elite terroirs on earth that could be rather off-putting. Don’t fuck it up basically.

His wines since 2009 have built more and more delicacy and style into them every vintage as he learns more and more about his terroirs and the vinifications – he’s standing on the shoulders of giants, Marcel Lapierre was a real friend and inspiration as well as the rest of the gang. It was their influence that also was critical in sourcing his vineyards in Fleurie, Morgon and Regnie that had not been ravaged by industrial viticulture for the last thirty years. To me the wines recall something of the silky, airy florality of Chambolle-Musigny.

One of my most profound memories is at his dinner table with his wife, the daughter of Gerard Potel. She inherited a pretty decent collection of wines, and before dinner at a local joint in Morgon, he pulled out a bottle for a blind tasting,. We ummed and erred around Gevrey from a ripe vintage. Bottle unveiled… 1990 Chambertin Clos de Beze Rousseau… wowzer! Julian just looked at his watch and said merde, we’re late for dinner – so we left the half bottle of Chambertin as he said, “right, let’s go and drink some real fucking wine’

Joe GilmourJulien Sunier – Energy for days

Chablis is not all a waste of time

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

Up to about ten years ago I had literally no means to buy any expensive wine. Which was why it was it would be difficult to describe the sense of anticipation when a friend who worked in a central London bar in the late 1990s gave me a 6 pack of 1990 Chablis Grand Cru (Blanchots I think) by Etienne Defaix. It had been wrongly delivered by his supplier. He knew I loved wine but couldn’t really afford to buy anything decent. Sadly, as I tried to extract something to like from each brown, lifeless bottle, I hatched the belief that Chablis was over-rated, couldn’t age and was a waste of money. And as I carried this mistaken belief down the road, there were plenty of other bottles that could be characterized in this way. It was either a simple yet overpriced wine of anodyne character, or it tasted old, past-its-best and was a generally flakey proposition.

Of course I only had a partial picture, I was drinking a small sample of the wrong wines at the wrong age – and have enjoyed many great bottles of Raveneau, Dauvissat since. The towering giants of the appellation. Luckily there are actually more than two good producers in Chablis, and the standard of winemaking has really been on the up-swing for the last decade. Largely due to better viticulture and less worked wines in the cellar. The young (and not so young) terriers like Thomas Pico, Vocoret, de Moor and Droin are snapping at the trouser legs of D & R. What many of them only lack is the same canvas of crus to work with. As good as many terroirs are in Chablis, when you look at a map you can see why the Grand Crus are so significant here. A Boucheron is never gonna be a Les Clos however conscientious Eleni and Edouard Vocoret are for example.

Undeniably impressive, Raveneau is so marked by the vinification that it has less of the weightlessness of great Dauvissat, the beacon of the appellation and the (tart) apple to my eye. Power without weight is the dream, and the wines of Dauvissat float around the room they are so weightless.

Which is why I like the wines of Tribut so much – they are really similar to Dauvissat, who is clearly the spiritual mentor of his nephew, at a fraction of the price. I had a bottle of the 2018 1er Beauroy last night and thought it was great – just searingly taut and chalky and needing time in the cellar – So that’s where the other 5 will stay for a few years. Until of course, I get drunk and start pulling them out.

Joe GilmourChablis is not all a waste of time

Have you no morals man!?

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

He came in about seven-thirty. A regular customer, 60ish maybe, with the vibe of a geography teacher and a shy, gruffish character.

Fino sherry was his thing, a few half botles a week.

This evening was different though, he’d clearly been drinking heavily and swimming deep in what could have been a Mike Leigh film or a night reading about all the sorrow and inequality in the world. He was eyeing up our expensive wines, of which we had a lot in our Kensington shop. He was angry, very angry indeed.  “How can you sell a wine for £1,000?” he said, “you must be ashamed of yourselves”.

Not particularly I said, but as I mentioned it was late and I didn’t particularly want to be pulled into a conversation about the morality of expensive wine when there are people dying of hunger etc. He took an interesting tack and one I wasn’t expecting. I want to buy one he said. Go-on then, sell me one…I want this one!

I thought there was a roughly equal chance he would smash the bottle on the floor once I gave it to him, or smash it over my head.

So, I declined to sell him anything, or get out anything from the locked case, and said I thought he’d been drinking and not thinking clearly – if he wanted something, to come back tomorrow and I would gladly sell him something. He grumbled, swore a bit and shuffled out.

This was brought to mind by an article I read the other week about the ethics of consuming expensive wine from the surprising source of Wine Searcher.

It meanders all over the place and ends up with floppy conclusion:

“So is it immoral to charge more than £20 for a bottle of wine? Morality’s too loose a phenomenon to evoke, I think, but certainly anything over £50 is, I think, hard to justify. No-one buys CDs anymore but it was almost as if there was a maximum price on them. It’s not an identical issue but I think we can do the same with wine. Furthermore, I think it’s imperative to do it if we argue wine has some cultural value.”

So, let me get this right – a max price for wine of £50? Hmm.

Another story. About 10 years ago, Mark Andrew and I were in Banyuls visiting a producer called Vinyer de la Ruca, with a loose thought to importing the wines. We sat down with this inspirational / crazy young producer who told us his philosophy. No plastic anywhere in contact with the wine, no machinery. Only a horse in the vineyards. Stienerism turned up to 11. He even told us how he was planning to distribute his wine to Paris by travelling up on horse and cart. It all sounded totally incredible until Mark started doing the maths. Hang on mate, he started in his direct Mancunan style… you’re making 800 bottles a year selling them at 40 euros a bottle but your costs are enormous, the hand-blown glass and the rest – how do you survive? He said he made about 20,000 euros a year and had to live in if not poverty, a very simple and threadbare material existence. He was happy and proud to do so – and you’d be hard-headed and hearted to deny the beauty of his quest.

Vinyer de la Ruca | Tutto Wines

This is the sort of wine that my first guy wanted to smash up for being immoral as it would be a pretty penny by the time it ended up on shelves.

My feeling has always been that there has never been more great wine in the world then now, if someone wants to spend big bucks on a bottle of Petrus, good luck to them. I hope they enjoy it. A more meaningful conversation on inequality might start with the structural reasons why so much wealth can be accrued by so few, rather than focussing on the end product. After all, the people the wine industry supports, like Manuel (above) in Banyuls, are by and large, not very wealthy and their stories are usually lost as they are rather more complex then rich bankers chugging overpriced Pomerol.

Joe GilmourHave you no morals man!?

Schueller Slyvaner

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

This pandemic has felt at times like running the latter stages of a marathon. In particular the feeling when someone says “not far to go now!” and you run on for another 5 miles and then some other perky guy says exactly the same thing. You want to stop, catch your breath and say – someone said that five fucking miles earlier!

Thankfully, wine has been a constant source of solace through some of the bleaker evenings of the past year.

A nice American emailed a while back suggesting that drinking a bottle of Schueller was a thrill-ride.  

In my opinion, it’s more like a joy-ride where he’s eyeballing you, about to pour petrol onto the rear-seats as he screams he needs to go faster. Something known as ‘Hot-Seating’ when I was growing up. He gives, in the words of a young person, zero-fucks.

It’s not that the wines can’t reach peaks of excellence, they really can – but they are so unpredictable. I blush now to recall recommending his 2016 Slyvaner to a customer who wanted an easy drinking natural wine for a party. Sheesh, it was such hard-work, bitter, herby, nervy – with so little padding that I forgot all about my last few bottles until a few weeks ago when I popped one open just for some excitement and got something really much improved. Still a wine that speaks more of Schueller then of Slyvaner, but none the worse for it.

Bruno is an interesting cat. He has views and is quite dismissive of much of what is held up as the pinnacle of Alsaction winemaking – don’t bring a bottle of Clos St Hune round to his house unless you want to start an argument. I think a sense of injustice is perhaps engendered by the perception that the Trimbach’s farm in a relatively industrial way, yet enjoy an outsize reputation – which when you’re slogging your guts out as a one-man artisanal band like Bruno, can put ones nose a bit out of joint. IDK, there are some great Trimbach wines, but plenty of stinkers as well, and wines old way before their time.

As a side note, when I was cycling through Alsace with a mate, we thought we’d check out the Clos St Hune vineyard in the Grand Cru Rosacker. We found the church, we found the Rue St Hune, did we see any clos? No we did not, a sign would be nice guys. Sort it out please Jean Trimbach!

A wine that was very much in contrast with the Sylvaner was a bottle of Weinbachs’s 2018 Gewurztraminer drunk the next week, which was so much more civilised, which ticked every box of competence, but I don’t know – left one missing some of the excitement served up by the ilk of Schueller, Frick and their contemporaries, who you do rather end up rooting for despite, or perhaps because of, some of the mis-steps and quirks.

Joe GilmourSchueller Slyvaner

Recent Drinking

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

2018 Rozas 1er, Commado G

Having slept in a vineyard myself when my bike broke down in Southern France, I enjoyed reading about how the two founders of Commando G, Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia would sleep in their camper van in the Rayas vineyards. When they finally plucked up the courage to ask for a tour and various geographical features were pointed out, they must have looked between themselves and thought ‘yeah, we pissed against that tree’.

Whether sleeping in a vineyard achieves the same feat of psychogeographical osmosis as listening to self-help cassettes in your sleep, I don’t know. But I do know what they mean when they talk about Rayas evoking a ‘special feeling’ when you drink it. It was that special feeling that led them to make their campervan pilgrimage.

There’s another special feeling you might experience having spent £500 to buy a bottle – but if you’re lucky, you get a sort of unique flavour / emotional balance that is so brilliant, yet so specific to Rayas it has been the highest reference for anyone making a Grenache based wine. There has been some shameless referencing from wines that bear nothing in common, and I don’t think Commando G are trying to do that – just to show their deep reverence for a wine style that they adore. This cuvee is the middle wine in the range, beautifully light in colour, but with very pure flavours – more of an alpine sort of style then a CNDP – It lacks the notes of garrigue and is a bit more cerebral then the emotional overload that is Rayas – but it is very nice indeed, and does make me want to try the Rumbe al Norte – which I’m told from those I trust, is an exceptionally lovely wine.

2017 Cotes de Rhone, Sierra du Sud, Gramenon

Gramenon are perhaps my favourite CDR producer – and this wine has a really beautifully opulent mid-palate, with just enough acidity to keep it the right side of gulpable – in fact, strange though it might sound, it is not so dissimilar to some ripe vintages of Foillard Cote de Py that clock in at 14.5%

2017 Bourgogne Rouge, Cuvee Pressonnier, Joseph Roty

When I was at the Roty’s a couple of years, I was surprised at how many wines were in their line-up – it was something like 24 or something. I may be wrong, and I digress – just surprised me how many wines they make.

They are one of my favourite Gevrey producers – and I love the muscular style of the wines – this is quite oaky for a wine at this level – with a sort of smoky character – might be better in a few years, but delivers great value. Everyone bangs on about how expensive the top wines of Burgundy are getting, and they’re right, but a wine like this at about 14 quid or so works pretty well for me.

2016 El Jaleo, Edmunds-St-John

A beautiful label featuring a picture by Whistler, this blend is in such a good place right now – I do think Steve’s wines need a year of two to show their best. It is such a European sort of style, so unforced and natural, with notes of dried spice and cherry.

That these wines, produced in such tiny quantities, (270 cases in this instance) at such high quality levels, are available at such low prices is a wonder of the modern world.  For how long, who knows. There are probably not that many vintages left in Steve. “Even as far back as 2003, when I had Syrah in the press from Bassetti Vineyard on the Central Coast, and I was tasting the wine I realized for the first time that the wine wouldn’t be ready until after I am dead,” he said recently to Alder Yarros of Vinography.

Alder asks: “Are you going to just take down the shingle one day?”

Edmunds laughs and says, “We’ll put the shingle in a museum when we’re done.”

Joe GilmourRecent Drinking