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Whirly wine tour of Macon and Southern Rhone, 16-17th April 2014

On collecting my little Fiat 500 at Lyon airport I whizzed north to Macon and west ten kilometres to “ La Roche Vineuse” a little village just north of Pouilly and Fuisse ( these are separate villages, contrary to most thinking). As I searched for Alain and Sylvain Normand’s property I spotted a man on a little tractor and was about to ask for directions. It turns out to be Alain, with a big smile on his face we say “Bonjour “ and we meet back at the house.

Its bottling time and Alain is hands on with everything in the vineyard so he hands me over to his wife Sylvain. She happens to speak little English and I little French so what ensued was quite a comical yet successful little tour of the vineyards around the village that Alain owns and all in a little Peugeot 106 that covers the rocky terrain like a range rover and at a 20th of the price! What a wonderful vehicle: then again in Nigeria in the Eighties most of the taxis were battered Peugeot 504’s and they went on and on.

Alain has 33 hectares of vineyards altogether, divided between here, Pouilly Fuisse, Macon Village ( Salutre and Chaintre) and St Veran. Since 2009 he has been semi organic: farmed under the practices of “ Le Trei Lutte Raisonnee) and Terras Vitis, sustainable and common sense farming of the land with total control and hands on attention by Alain. Here in Macconias they are unique in being allowed to grow two grapes for their red wines; Gamay and Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir grapes are the first vines I lay my eyes on with Sylvain and there is much grass evident in between the vines here; Alain wants to limit the amount of grapes so he keeps this grass growing during the whole summer. This increases the quality of the grapes too. Its a wonderful sight seeing the first sprouting leaves and some very tiny grapes appearing on the vines: the wonder of the green springing forth amidst a country of rocks, chalk and clay. Its quite the sight.

The Chardonnay grapes are pruned using the “ baguette” method, with a twisted semi circle and down onto the same piece of wire. The majority of grapes here in Macconais are Chardonnay. There is a lot of “Calcaire” dotted amongst the vines, big pieces of rock surround the edges too. It has not rained here at all in 2014, so this is a little worrying. The clay plays a big part in retaining the water when it falls so the vines can survive the hard months of the summer. The younger Pinot Noir vines that we come across later had the grass ploughed so that the energy is not take away from the infant plants. From the top of the hills here there was a fabulous view south to Beaujolais.

The top vineyard is called “ La Croix de Mortceau”. In the tasting room a few minutes later and after seeing Alain busy in the cellar getting the wines ready for bottling the next day ( Alain is totally hands on and in control of all parts of the winemaking clearly) we sat down and tasted some wines. First up was the Pouilly Fuisse 2011 in steel and very serious it was too; lean, clean, subtle fruit and long mineral tones with some real freshness too. My kind of wine. My kind of Chardonnay. The wine is from a new vineyard to Alain, in 2010 he acquired from Sylvain’s parents. Old vines though. So new but old, which is great.

We also tasted his 2010 Pouilly Fuisse in oak Barique. Sensational. It was during this conversation and tasting that Alain explained to me that history of the Premier Cru status. It started during the occupation of France by Germany during the 2nd world war. They occupied burgundy but only as far south as Chalon: they requisitioned wines from the french winemakers, except for their “First Growths”, which they were allowed to keep. Hence the Premier Cru status started but not as fas south as Macon since the occupation of France had not come that far south. Alain explained to me that St Veran and Pouilly Fuisse were soon hoping to get their Premier Cru status.

Lastly we tasted Alain’s Gamay from La Roche Vineuse, to me his signature wine in many ways: Gamay from Macon is unique, and its also, as we were to find out, a little more austere and richer than its counterparts a little further south. Twenty years ago, Alain explained to me this wine was simply called “ Macon”. These vines are his original vines, his pride and joy. Now they are vines from his own appellation, the only winemaker in “La Roche Vineuse”. The wine is a joy to drink. Trust me, its what Gamay should be. From here Mr Whirly booted south to Carpentras to visit Campagne Bacchus, a small “Organic’” winery owned by Richard and Diane Bacchus.

I arrived just as the sun was hiding opposite Mount Ventoux and a special sight it was too. The little green buds dotted the brown vines and landscape of the Cote de Ventoux land. The wind was pretty fierce yet there is a calm about this place that is serene and beautiful. Diane cooked a simple yet lovely pasta and tomato dish and we tasted their wines. Their Matines 2011 made from 75 % Grenache and 25 % Cinsault, lovely strawberry nose like a Pinot Noir, harvested early and a very long maceration of eight weeks called a Souple where they have the malo and alc fermentation together. A wonderful trip indeed followed by a little cafe in the square of Beaume de Venise the next morning.


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Mr Whirly in Galicia, March 2014

Mrs and Mrs Whirly take Galicia

Mr and Mrs Whirly’s second tour together, where my wife kept on saying how good she was in Spanish with the words

“ Huevos Fritos con Jamon! “

From Porto we drove north to the Spanish border and onto the centre of Riax Baixas country, Cambados in the region of Val do Salnes. This is the region where all wines are made from 100% Albarino, one of the most exciting new grapes to come into the wine world.

As we discovered the wines are best young although some of the wine can be aged a few years with a little oak. At “ A Dispensa de Ribera” we tasted some lovely Albarino from “ La liebre lyla Tortuga” ( with a hare and a tortoise on the label!) so I am presuming this is what Liebre and Tortuga mean as well as Alberto Nanclares, much less vibrant and a 2011 vintage, possibly oaken and with an “ organic” certification so with minimum sulphites. It did grow on me I must admit.

The next day we visited the family owned vineyard, ‘ Tanuda de Castro”  and we met Elizabeth the owners daughter. We had been recommended to visit the vineyard by Jose at the Vinoteca in Cambados, so off we sped in our little Fiat Punto, a few miles across country to the little village of Ribadumia. Once again we witnessed the very old style of vines being grown in a “ Pergola” formation, high up and along a canopy with one vine in each of the four corners. I had previously witnessed this way of vine system in Vinho verde in Portugal.

We tasted the new 2013 Albarino out of tank which was vibrant and clean. It compared well to some very good wines from the night before. The 2012 from the bottle, was their present vintage and it was drinking really well with some lovely vibrant fresh fruit and once again was wonderfully clean and fresh. Clearly the wine business in Spain is having a tough time with many problems in payment from what was once their core market; restaurants and bars in their local towns and cities. So they are now looking to gain an export market more and I think this wine would go down very well this summer in the UK, so I am hoping to export this wine soon. Albarino is a great wine to go with fish and shellfish. Its pretty serious too in terms of its makeup and mouth feel. Its one of those grapes that oozes class. the romantic stories of it arriving here with pilgrims from Germany on their way to Santiago de Compestel might not be true and but there is no doubt the grape has similar qualities to Riesling and Pinot Gris. I also visited the Organic vineyard of Nanclares but he was away in Barcelona at an Organic wine meeting.

After Jamon and Cafe con Lecce with Murcia at cafe Murcia next to the fish market in Cambados we headed across the mountains to Ourense and Ribeiro to meet Brais and Jose Manual Blanco Perez at Val de Souto ( see picture above) in the DO Ribeiro. It was great to meet these two people at last and it emphasised to me the importance of the small vineyard and control of the vineyard space. the vines here are located high up on the steep hills that rise up from the River Mino to the east of the river. In the village of Souto there are 14 families that live and have lived here for many years. They  own all the land up here and the vineyards are therefore confusingly arrange with one small plot belonging to Jose Manuel then another next door belongs to someone else. They are very small little plots of land too and Jose vineyard is called a Colleiteiro, which means that they do not buy in any grapes at all. A Bodega can buy in grapes if they wish.  The best way of seeing where Jose’s small plots finish is that one piece of vineyard is covered with grass and Jose’s has been recently ploughed. Down on the flat level are grapes like the Triexudura and the red grapes, Mencia and Brancellao and up on the hills, the vines are much closer together so some have to be picked by hand; here are Godello grapes. The younger vines have been planted further apart form each other that give great grape quality and flavour as well as being passable in between by a small John Deere tractor. With the help of Brais translating and a large plate of Octopus with Paprika we discussed the present market in Spain and the fact that Jose Manuel had to look to export his wines too, in order to survive. He makes clean, fresh wines from 3 grapes: Godello, Treixudura and Lourieria. The ethos behind my business is highlighted through this small family wines business. hard work and total control of the vineyard; Jose manuel will work the land 365 days of the year, he cannot leave this little valley of Souto and nor does he want to. His life is here and he is very happy to have the fortune to do this I feel, inheriting the land from his father, grandfather. great grandfather.

He cannot afford to be Organic and certified here. He does not have the money for that. But he sprays very rarely and only when he needs to, if after a great deal of rain then he will spray a little Sulphur. Some wineries with out control he explains will spray Sulphur every week. This they feel will give them more grapes! Yet sulphur will harm the grapes and the wine: its why commercial wines made without control will give you a headache since they are full of Sulphur and it perfectly highlights the need for control of this. Val de Souto offer me wines that are vibrant and full of energy and they are a pure delight. They are not organic but they don’t need to be: they are very good and made with the care and attention that wines from small hands on vineyards with the owner winemaker at the helm will always produce.  With a smile on his lovely face Jose Manuel realised that we understood him and his philosophy so well.

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Mr Whirly in Washington state

Washington wine tour, June 3rd-7th 2013

On the first day, on Monday this week we took a bus from the peaceful and quiet city of Seattle on Route 90 heading east to the largest producer of Reisling in the world, Chateau St Michelle in Woodinville. I was actually shocked and surprised by the quality of the wines on a tasting of five of their Reisling’s which were:

2012 Dry Riesling Columbia Valley

2012 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley

2012 Riesling, Columbia Valley

2012 Dry Creek Riesling, Columbia Valley

2006 Eroica Ice wine Riesling, Columbia Valley

Different price points and yet the same wonderful quality shone through, so for me this showed me that larger wine companies can still produce great wines, albeit I must add, occasionally.

We then drove up and over the Cascade Mountains and the dramatic change in temperature, landscape, tree coverage and colour was very apparent. The eastern side of Washington state is practically a desert with 8-10 inches of rainfall in a year. All the vines over here are irrigated otherwise they would not survive. Over three hours later we arrive near the Wahluke slopes at Prosser and Milbrandt Vineyards.

We had a tasting here of some amazing single vineyard Syrah from this Slope:

2012 Clifton Vineyard, 2012 Clifton Hill Vineyard, 2012 Katherine Leone Vineyard and 2012 Northridge.

All were different from each other, full of fruit and yet had some lovely complexities too. That evening, on our way to our hotel we visited Canyon Ranch Vineyard and tasted wines from their Waterbrook, Canoe Ridge, Pendulum, Browne Family and Willow Crest range.

Tuesday 4th June

Riesling comparative tasting in the morning

Kung Fu girl Riesling 2012, Charles Smith, Columbia Valley ( loved this wine, potentially my favourite white wine all week)

Poets Leap Riesling 2011, Columbia Valley

Pacific rim Riesling, “ Wallula Vineyard- Biodynamic” 2010, Columbia Valley

Blind tasting

No 4  Trimbach, Alsace,  2010 ( I thought it was from Washington)

No 5  Jim Barry, Clare Valley, 2012. Wrong again

No 6  JJ Prum, 2011, Mosel. Yes I guessed right at last!

Another interesting tasting which showed that Washington can make very good Riesling but they lack the depth of Mosel and Alsace at the moment, probably due to the age of the vines and maybe the climate ( I thinks its a very hot climate that does not have much variation)

Wednesday June 5th

This was one of the days I was really looking forward to. We headed toward Walla Walla, home of great big reds and by that I mean powerful big reds. They are not shy at all.

We had a comparative tasting of Cabernets Sauvignon’s:

2009 Tamarack Cellars, Columbia Valley

2010 Dunham Cellars, Columbia Valley

2010 Seven Hills Vineyard, Columbia Valley

Then a blind tasting on three wines, which were:

N0 4 : Chappelet Signature, Napa Cab (I thought it was from Washington)

N0 5: Chateau  Haut-Bages Liberal, Pauillac ( bombed)

N0 6: Gramercy Cellar Pepperidge Vineyard Cabernet 2010 from Walla Walla ( I thought it was a Bordeaux!)

For lunch we headed to Charles Smith’s very trendy restaurant and bar and on the way I met Anna from “Amaurice”, a lovely little vineyard in Walla Walla, who was again another contact from my last trip here in 2006, who make some great Viognier as well as Syrah and Grenache blended and Malbec too.

In the afternoon we spent a few hours at Spring Valley winery, which I found of interest more because the drive to it, through fields and fields of dry land wheat and pea shoots. This vineyard is due west of Walla Walla in the flowing hills heading back towards the mountains, but even this small distance made a big difference in rainfall with another 6-8 inches falling here, allowing for crops to survive without irrigation. At the vineyard we did meet the families oldest member Dean Derby (they have sold up to Chateau St  Michelle recently) but he still very much works the land at 78 and the lasting memory will be watching him blissfully collect the hay in his old John Deere tractor, as  he waves to us as we drove off. A man more happy in his presence and where he was, I could not hope to witness.

Later on that day at a tasting of wines from the area at Woodward Canyon on the outskirts of Walla Walla in Lowden, the wines from Dunham Cellars shone through for me as well as Gramercy.

We tasted the following wines:

2011 Lewis Vineyard Riesling

2011 Shirley Mays Chardonnay

2010 Trutina Red Blend

2010 Syrah

2008 Lewis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Also good were wines from Gramercy cellars, (who I  also met in 2006 when I took a road trip to Walla Walla from Oregon and had the most amazing drive along the Columbia river from just north of the Oregon border) and later at dinner at L’ecole 41 we tasted a 2005 Seven Hills vineyard Estate “Perigee” that was by far the best red tasted so far. Why? Simple. It had some bottle age for a wine area that makes big reds, it’s pretty evident to me that’s an essential part of tasting these big fruit bomb wines (as long as they are from the cooler climate regions of this area like Red Mountain and the Rattlesnake Hills, great name!).

Thursday 6th June

The last day in our wine tour of Eastern Washington state. I missed the bus and was given a lift to Desert wind winery by Steve Werner who turns out to be a past employee of the special forces over there. Any honest

“ positive criticism “ of the tour and the focus on the commercial wines of Chateau St Michelle was quickly shelved in favour of divine pleasure of the week’s events! What followed was also a wee bit of a shock to the senses: a Syrah Seminar and comparative tasting at 9.15am!

We tasted the following wines:

2010 Willow Crest Syrah, Yakima valley

2009 Gordon Brothers Winery Syrah, Columbia Valley

2010 Milbrandt Vineyards “ The Estates” Syrah, Clifton Vineyard

Blind tasting:

No 4 : “ The Bishop” 2010, Glaetzer, Barossa Valley. I bombed on this one!

No 5 :  Terra Blanca Arch Terrace Syrah, Red Mountain, WA. Bombed again, thought this was from the Rhone.

No 6 E. Guigal, Rhone 2009 Crozes Hermitage. Bombed again!

No 7  Ramey Syrah, Sanoma, California. I thought this was from Washington so bombed!

I was surprised in a good way to see that the wine from Red Mountain, a lovely little hill perched on the side of route 82 heading west was something that I had mixed up with a Rhone Shiraz. Yes, I agree this is not very impressive of me but to be honest I was not the only one to make this mistake and this is a good mark to put down for the future: this region although hot and dry and sunburnt can make mineral and acidic Syrah that has those typical Rhone like herbal , thyme and sage overtones. Head for the hills of the Red and Rattlesnakes! On way back from Gordon’s vineyard after a lovely dinner outside overlooking the Snake River, we pass once again the circular fields of vegetables that are irrigated with a long arm on wheels that pivots in the middle of the field. All around is brown. The next morning, I boarded our twin-prop plane back to Seattle and the circles of green make such a picture as they spread out below me across this desert like country. Its certainly country that excites and enthrals here.

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Sicily and the Loire, Summer 2012

Sicily June 2012

Sourced on my “ Lunar de Miele” near Alcamo which is a 40 minute drive south from Palermo, on this tough and brutal island, we discover  Bosco Falconeria one of the first “ organic” vineyards here.

The drive is fun. Very good fun. Windy hot roads take us up into the hills near Alcamo and then from there we head along a red dirt track into olive groves and rough and dry farmland that is simply hot! Really hot! Its over 40 degrees outside.

We ended up staying for about six hours and after a lovely vineyard and farm tour we sat down for a feast prepared by Mary, the founder of the farm and vineyard together with Toni and their

It was truly one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had on Mr Whirly’s vineyard tours. We ate the most lovely lunch: fresh ricotta cheese, Mary’s own take on the famous Sicilian dish, Caponata,

We tasted some lovely wines during the lunch, most joyous of all was their Cattarato 2009, which I found very complex, full of layers and different mineral tones and a pure delight to drink.

( opposite is the house at Bosco, the delightful donkey  and the lovely little tractor!)

Winemakers notes on the Cattarato grape:

“ The Catarratto grape from our farm used to be taken in casks by cart to the little port town of Balestrate, where it was sold to make Martini, Carpano to be made into vermouth. It was usually about 17-19% alcohol. The production of lighter wines for table wine through a change in pruning and harvesting only became really important in Sicily in the last 50 years. Tonino took over the management of the farm in 1966, but none of the vines that were here then are still in production. Most of our present vineyards have been planted within the last 20 years. The usual productive life span of vineyards in Sicily is about 25 years, and they are replanted only after an interval of about 5 years.

The grapes are the Catarratto comune and the Catarratto extra-lucido. Training the vines on canes is a traditional practise in this area, known as “all’alcamese”.

the Loire….to follow shortly!




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Fruili wine adventure, February 2012

Mr Whirly discovers the joys of Collio in the barren and stark hills of Fruili in the most North Eastern point of Italy.

Its Friday 17th February and “ Little Miss” and I are whirling through the naked hills of this fascinating wine region, in our rather speedy Renault Clio, looking for a little Trattoria, recommended to us a few minutes earlier by Marzia, the very hospitable wife of the owner at Buzzinelli vineyards, just outside Cormons, in the heart of this undiscovered and unique wine region. When in Italy drive like the Italians I say, as we whisk around the country corners in search of “ Trattoria Dal Mic” in a little town called Mossa. What a fabulous restaurant this turned out to be by the way: amazing  Pumpkin Gnocchi, beef and the Malvasia from a local winemaker was sublime: at the end we joined a large table of 10 or more Triestian gentleman, in their 70‘s and 80‘s, and laughed the afternoon away. Old people are so fascinating! Little Miss ordered Grappa. It was a scary journey back to our Picech vineyard, where we were staying.

Go back about Eighteen hours and we had just entered Cormons after a day fun in Venice, Mr Whirly’s first visit. A lovely little jaunt, though too many people for me to be honest, since its the festival of the mask there. I did enjoy a lovely delicacy, Frissente Venetian I think it was called: a pure delight of naughtiness, candied fruit inside a little doughnut of Panettone, quite the most sublime thing I have ever tasted. In Cormons, we headed straight to the Enoteca de Cormons in the main Piazza. Here, all the local winemakers are represented by this wonderfully friendly establishment and we were able to taste the following wines;

Ribella Gialla ( varietal from this region)

Buzzinelli, Collio, 2010

Kurtin, Collio 2010

The two wines above were outstanding, especially the Buzzinelli wine


Renzo Scubia, 2010

Picech, Collio, 2010

Friulano ( another varietal from this region)

Magnas, 2010

Brunko, 2010

The following morning “ Little Miss “ and I visited the vineyard of Buzzinelli. It took us about two hours to find the vineyard since in Italy I find none of the numbers of the road make any sense in terms of being in any sort of sensical order, but finally we made it to the small holding and were looked after by Marzia, the wife of the owner. It so happened that we arrived on the day of  the

“Festival of the Pig”

so the local farmers were in the process of killing a pig and making Salami as well as Prosciutto. That night they were going to to cook the very large liver with onions for their celebratory dinner. Buzzinelli are a third generation vineyard, started in 1937, originally the family were from France.

We were only able to taste one wine in the cellar here since sadly all the wines were sold out. The Traminer, same as with Gewurtz on the front, was beautifully made. They also make, to taste at some point in the future, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Ribella Gialla wine steals the show; a grape that dates back to the 13th century, cut in the fields of Slovenia where they call it “ Gold Ribella” since the fields turn to gold. They also make a Picolot wine, made in small production, hence the name since not all the flowers turn to berries. More on this when I get to taste it. Its apparently rivals a great Sauterne.

The next day we drove to Trieste and then turned left into Slovenia to see what we could find there.










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J Vineyards, Sanoma County

Sanoma reaches from the Roche vineyard in the south of Sanoma Valley all the way up to the Dry Creek valley just south of Cloverdale on route 101. That’s a journey time of around 2 hours along small country roads and generally low valley floors, with the emphasis on heat. I’ve had some wonderful drives long these lovely little roads in my old Saab 900 Turbo Convertible, that I keep in San Francisco but the roof is always down and I wish one could go a little faster to keep the oppressive heat from draining all your energy. This is premier wine country; expensive wines. Names like De Loach, Flowers, Marcassin all spring to mind with their funky and ambitious winemaking skills. The Sanoma Mountain wine area offer some of the best wines available in the whole of California with an emphasis on Cabernet and Zinfandel. Further north in the famous Russian river region, even though the  vineyards are lower down on the valley floor, this is one of the coolest regions of Sanoma due to the fog and cloud cover that results from the closeness of this valley to the entrance of the river at Peaked Hill on the Pacific coast.

J vineyards is located here in the Russian river valley and its emphasis is on Pinot noir that ages consistently well over a 4-8 years.

Please look at the link below for me more detailed information on this vineyards location, topography and varietal focus.

SOLD OUT: I am hoping to re-visit Sanoma in the Spring of 2014 and look at some more of J Vineyards wines. I shall keep you updated as to my success with this.

Alc 15.0% vol

Mr Whirly says:

“ Now almost 6 years old this wine is holding up well. Some lovely Autumnal fruit of blackberries and Damson show through a tobacco and smoky haze.”

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Graziano Petite Sirah 2004

Mr whirly says:

“ I waited three years before I started to sell this wine since I thought it was too young and bold when I first imported it. It is now ready to go: still big but not as bold and the fruit has had time to relax a little. Give it a whirl, make sure you whirl hard and long!”

Greg says

“Mendocino is the largest producer of Petite Sirah on the north coast of California. Our Petite Sirah comes from several old vine vineyards and some new high tech vineyards scattered throughout the bench lands and hillsides of Mendocino County. The wine was aged in a combination of Eastern European and American oak barrels for twenty months that soften the tannins and add complexity to the wine. This wine offers deep aromas and delicious flavours of ripe blackberries, chocolate and spice. Typical of Petite Sirah, this wine displays rich, round tannins that lead to long, lingering finish.”

Alcohol: 15.5%

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Graziano Zinfandel 2006

Mr Whirly says:

“ From the furthest northern wine region in California high up amongst the Redwood’s, Greg Graziano has been making outstanding and affordable wines here for over thirty years. Soft and with a Bakewell tart middle palate, this wine defies its 15 % alcohol level since it is so well balanced and elegant. Mendocino is an up and coming wine region. Similar to the 2005 vintage with textured layers of Almond and sweet black cherry fruit, soft tannins and a generous mouth feel. Cool climate Zinfandel means that the wine is in no way “hot but cool and approachable.”

Greg says:

“ Our Zinfandel comes from eighteen different Zinfandel vineyards scattered throughout the bench lands and hillsides of Mendocino County. Many of these vineyards are still farmed by third and  fourth generation Italian-Americans. This vintage displays a rich dark purple garnet colour and deep aromas of black cherry, boysenberry, plum, spicy sandalwood with hints of toasty oak. Uplifting flavours of plum and earth combine to give this full-bodied Zinfandel a generous mouth-feel. Rich full tannins and balanced acidity lead into a long, lingering finish. “

Past vintages of this wine have been incredibly popular and I can assure you this 2006 vintage is the best yet.

Alcohol: 14.5%

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Graziano Chenin Blanc 2011

New 2011 vintage arrives end Of 2013: 2006 vintage now sold out

Mr Whirly says:

“ Whirly wines first venture with this varietal, famous in the Loire regions of Saumur, Savannieres  and Vouvray. Vibrant rich pear and apples with touches of Vanilla on the nose and palate. Aged Sur lie for 5 months in neutral French Oak Burgundy Barrels. “

Price: sold out

Alcohol: 13.0%