Finding value wines in region where the word no longer exists

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

For many years, I never took a trip to France without first emailing a bloke who sold car parts for advice on where to eat. Jeremy Holmes is probably the only bloke in the auto industry who hears “Michelin” and thinks food, not tyres.

These days the pre-departure email is redundant because I’ve become an avid reader of a magazine called Repast, a publication produced by Holmes and his wife, Heidi, born in response to the constant barrage of wine industry friends sending the exact same email as mine.

A catalogue of consumption, a paean to the pleasures that can be found in great restaurants and dark cellars, an idiosyncratic travelogue, Repast is the best example of self-publishing in the food and wine space in the country.

The magazine is a companion piece to the sybaritic couple’s direct-to-consumer retail business D’Or to Door, and its content comes mainly from regular trips to Europe in search of wines to offer a steadily building client base who have come to learn that the Holmes have an unusual ability to find value in parts of the winemaking world where most just conceded the idea was long forgotten.

That keen eye for affordability is especially tested in Burgundy, where price tags regularly comprise four digits and the risk of expensive disappointment is a constant companion.

Thankfully, Holmes possesses one of the finest Burgundy palates and an obsession for the place bordering on the unnatural. If asked to choose between his family, the wines of Burgundy or the music of Nick Cave, Holmes would pause then ask, “Can I pick two of the three?”

He and Heidi import the wines of several small Burgundian domaines, and one small negociant, all sharing a common capacity for over-delivering on quality for the price. They should appeal to anyone beginning on the deliciously ruinous road to full-blown Burgundy addiction as well as anyone already bitten by the bug but not quite yet mad enough to blow a week’s wages on a bottle of wine.

The d’Or to Door portfolio is also strong in northern Italian wine, fortuitous for those who love the wines of Tuscany and Piedmont and for the importer himself, a man whose capacity to carbo-load makes De Niro’s efforts to bulk up for Raging Bull look like a hunger strike.

Jeremy and Heidi maintain a deep and diverse personal cellar, so understand well the beauty of great old wines. It’s this love of mature wines that has seen them establish relationships with a couple of trusted brokers in Europe trading in the contents of the cellars of private collectors and restaurants.

As a result, they’ve been offering a range of well-cellared bottles from many of the key regions of Europe, especially the incredibly long-lived wines of Barolo, stretching back to the 1920s. A couple of these bottles, a 1974 Barolo and 1962 Volnay, rounded out a tasting of the current range of Holmes imports earlier this month.

A few highlights from the tasting are listed here … the old bottles were drunk after I took myself off the clock.

Champagne Marc Chauvet 2012, $79

Oyster shell and flint, a core of nougat richness. Combines complexity with enervating freshness, finishes long, poised and with talcy freshness.

Ellena Giuseppe Nascetta, Langhe, Italy 2016, $35

Nascetta is a variety indigenous to Piedmont, forgotten for decades and just starting to see a resurgence in planting and popularity. It smells of melon skin, citrus rind and botanical elements that leads Jeremy Holmes to call it a “G&T made from grapes”. It’s bright, alert and utterly intriguing.

Domaine Thomas Morey Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru 2016, $149

The much-publicised frosts decimating the Burgundy harvest in 2016 cruelled yields in three Premier Cru Chassagne Montrachet vineyards — Macherelles, Clos St Jean and Chenevottes — so the decision was made to blend all three into one wine. That decision has paid off. It smells a little of the mould on under-ripe brie, some delicate white florals, nougat and candied lemon rind, too. Beautiful line, tightens up through a crystalline finish.

Villa de Geggiano Chianti Classico 2015, $35

Fragrant licorice and dry cherry aromas, fruit richness and roundness through the palate before classic chianti tannins and acid wash kick in. A beautifully savoury, eminently food-friendly finish.