Whilst the weather may not be quite as nice this weekend, it was perfect barbecue weather last week- and that called for a celebration! In the heart of the Côtes du Frontonnais commune in France, Domaine Le Roc are busy making natural wines using the local, lesser known Negrette grape. One such is Roc’ AmBulle, a sparkling wine with an unusual twist – it’s red!
Roc’ Ambulle is made using an ancient, rural method of natural winemaking; grapes are gently pressed, and then left to ferment naturally in tanks without any additional sulphites (ideal for those keen on low-sulphites wines) and then filtered slightly. Bottles are closed with plastic-stoppered metal bottle caps, which is something I’ve never encountered before, either. All in all, a fascinating wine to receive from my friend Alex, the founder of Organic Wine Club– a wine merchant specialising in natural, organic, biodynamic and low-sulphites wines.
This, along with the sprightly Sedlescombe- an award-winning sparkling wine from England’s oldest organic vineyard- were a gifts, not sponsored items, so both have received my honest reviews.
Fronton’s Star Grape
A dark-skinned red grape, Negrette might not be well-know to many wine drinkers outside of France, but it’s the principal grape of the Frontonnais region in South West France, and the local grape of Toulouse. Unusually, it’s deeply coloured but quite thin-skinned, meaning that it can make wines that look bold, but are actually quite delicate in flavour. Jean Luc and Frédéric Ribes, the brothers in charge of the family-owned Domaine Le Roc, have dedicated themselves to making wines from a blend of Negrette, Syrah and Cabernet Franc in sustainable, organic ways, and proving that this modest little grape deserves Britain’s attention. Their wines tend to be hugely aromatic and perfumed, with scents of liquorice, violets, pear drops, and summer fruit. Even knowing this beforehand did not prepare me for how unforgettable this wine smelled!
At the moment, breaking into the UK market with Negrette-dominant wines is proving difficult, and they are quite rare to find. As a result, if you do encounter them, it’s like that they will feature the phrase “Vin de Pays” or “Vin de Table de France” on the label, rather than AOC. Without getting too far down the rabbit hole just yet (I’ll write some posts about the minefield that is wine labelling very soon), the first two phrases translate into something like, “table wine”. For the wine-loving continentals, this basically means everyday wine; wine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, to be consumed young and quickly, rather than kept for special occasions. Think of them as reliable, everyday wines that are likely to please everybody, which can pair with everything.
Tasting Roc’ AmBulle:
On the nose, this wine explodes with strawberries and raspberries. So strongly, in fact, it reminded me of Mixed Fruit Koppaberg, the fruity cider! Alongside this, there’s hints of violet (a staple of the Negrette grape) and pear drop sweets. Despite this heavily perfumed nose, however, it’s remarkably dry on the palate; what I first took to be sour cherry progressed into grapefruit, papaya, more strawberry and raspberry, and tart red currants.
On Alex’s recommendation, I took advantage on the Sunday sunshine and drank it with a barbecue. Whilst my housemates enjoyed the traditional burgers and sausages, I opted for marinated tempeh and roast vegetable skewers. Turns out, this was a decent combo!
For the tempeh, I tried two different marinades: basil, lemon and sweet chilli (a little unconventional, but I was improvising- and it worked out rather nicely, as it happens) and an old favourite; teriyaki. Alongside this were yellow pepper, red onion, and garlic, cooked until sweet and tender, and chinese leaf and chestnut mushrooms with caraway seeds. This final parcel was a particular hit; caraway seeds are an incredible way to season leafy greens and cabbage- if you haven’t tried it, do it!
As the pairing went, the slightly sweet, red-fruited nature of the wine complemented the sweet and savoury, garlic-laden teriyaki really nicely. The basil lemon chilli was a bit hit-and-miss; chilli spice, even sweet chilli, can sometimes make wines bitter, which did happen, but the more lemon-heavy bites brought out the citrus edge. Combining a spicy lemon marinated tempeh square with a mouthful of parsley couscous worked a treat, and was also just a nice shout for an awesome food combination. The high acidity in the wine also cut through the richness of a handful of sweet potato fries I pilfered from a housemate, so that’s one to note too!
Here’s hoping your weekend was just as sun-soaked and wine-filled!