Ah, memories of those dear dead schooldays! My earliest lessons in science come flooding back in the first of my wine choices for November: the curve between acidity and alkalinity faithfully revealed by a little scrap of litmus paper. So what have we here? A wine from Litmus, revealing Element 20 in the periodic table – Calcium! Yes, I’m sure you already knew that the gentle alkalinity of chalky soil underpins not only the vines grown in Champagne and other notably fashionable fine wine areas, and also, by extension, that chalk is the bedrock of some important vine-growing territory in southern England ….. in which case the label ‘Element 20’ from Litmus Wines rather explains itself.
This rather elegant English wine might possibly be said to have a French accent having been crafted by the Loire’s Matthieu Elzinga in association with award winning winemaker John Worontschak at Denbies Wine Estate at Dorking in Surrey. This state-of-the art winery allows itself to be what Saville Row is to tailoring, and Litmus can call itself a ‘bespoke’ wine, no less, ‘made to measure’ from classic materials.
Winemaker Matthieu Elzinga had started in wine at the tender age of fifteen as a hands-on apprentice at his family’s estate in the Loire Valley. Later, having studied in Champagne and having done duty winemaking both in Margaux and in Piemonte, he became his family’s chief winemaker back home in the Muscadet region. Currently, Matthieu heads up the day to day winery operations for Litmus Wines on the Denbies Estate.
The ingredients of Element 20 are from low-yielding hand-harvested vines: a blend of both the early ripening Bacchus grapes and Chardonnay, (48% of each), with 4% Pinot Gris to make up the balance.
Star-bright in the glass once the myriad microscopic bubbles created by the pouring disappear, the wine exhibits a dazzlingly clear light lemon colour with fleeting greenish reflections. Given the wine’s cépage, the expected aromatics on the nose are quite restrained, but the feel in the mouth is very fresh, with a subtle and elegant grassy palate showing a good balance of crisp acidity. There is substance, too, perhaps derived from the Chardonnay in the blend. The wine also finishes well, making it seem altogether very complete.
Although perfect as a delicious aperitif wine, my scribbled tasting note suggests ‘shellfish’ as the wine’s ideal partner at table. I dare say ‘Element 20’ would do equally sterling service alongside top-of-the-line white fish too, say, Dover sole or even a spot of cold chicken.
Country of Origin: England (Surrey)
Name of Wine: ‘Element 20’ 2012
Style: Medium weight dry white wine
Producer: Litmus Wines at Denbies Wine Estate
Alcohol: 12% Vol.
Retailer: Waitrose Cellar
John Ducker – Member of the Circle of Wine Writers
I had originally wanted to show you an autumn ‘warmer’ as the colder days of winter threaten to advance, and to that end I had ordered ‘sight unseen’ from one of my favourite wine merchants a fine red wine from the Rhône Valley. Sadly, to my own palate, that wine’s sheer size and weight of alcohol made it a real challenge to drink, even alongside food where it rightly belonged. It had to go back. Instead, may I recommend a classic alternative, a red wine that well demonstrates the virtues of the ‘cool’ Loire Valley style.
Bourgeuil, ‘Les Racines’ from Domaine Frédéric Mabileau.
The vineyards of the Bourgeuil appellation like those of neighbouring Chinon across the river are rather unusual in the Loire context as producing principally red wines, classically from 100% Cabernet Franc (a vine locally called ‘Breton’ – though the name is not to be confused with Brittany). Frédéric Mabileau, whose properties encompass a range of local Loire appellations is a younger vigneron, whose winery is based at Chouzé-sur-Loire in the heart of Bourgeuil’s St. Nicolas terrace.
Here then is his ripe but ‘cool tempered’ Bourgeuil, a wine crafted from the ‘Breton’ vines planted by his grandfather forty-one years ago. The grapes hailing from vineyards nearer the river, the ultimate style of ‘Les Racines’ – (‘the roots’) – is governed by a soil of type the French call ‘argilo-siliceux’, i.e. siliceous clay – in contrast to the embedded ‘tuffeau’, or tufa-based soils common to many vineyards in the Loire hinterlands, further from the river margins. Local opinion suggests that Cabernet Franc wines produced within sight of the river exhibit a berry fruitiness coupled with a firm dry finish with hints of licorice behind the top-line flavours as a result.
My own opinion? In terms of tasting, I’d suggest approaching this wine at ‘cellar temperature’ in order to maximize its fresh edge of fruit. Fairly dark hued in the glass, the wine’s nose reveals primary aromas with attractive berry characteristics plus a gentle warm touch of spirit. The alcohol is well-controlled, unsurprising perhaps in this cooler northern part of France. The back label of the bottle spells out the traditional treatment the wine has received across the entire process from harvest to wine, so there are no fireworks, merely the assurance that it has been made purely according to time-honoured local practices. Given the combination of the factors thus indicated the wine seems, and tastes, reflective of its ‘roots’ and its terroir. Dry, yet smooth-textured and well-fruited, with an attractive balance. If I suggest that this is ‘a wine-drinker’s wine’ it is simply to point out that any of the more pushy crowd-pleasing virtues displayed by the ‘show-stopper’ I mentioned earlier are happily absent.
I consider it a real winner alongside patés, terrines, or charcuterie. It would be the perfect partner, too, for a little rack of French-trimmed lamb cooked a bit ‘pink’ and served up mounted on some celeriac purée, with some buttered haricots verts ‘riding shotgun’. Santé!
Country of Origin: France (Loire Valley)
Name of Wine: Bourgueil, ‘Les Racines’, 2012
Producer: Frédéric Mabileau
Alcohol: 12.5% Vol.
Retailer: The Wine Society