Recent Wines, Summer ’17, Pt 2

A forlorn attempt to catch up with recent wines before I take a summer break. What to leave out is so difficult, but after a bit of reluctant pruning, here are the most exciting and interesting wines I’ve drunk at home over the last six or seven weeks. It’s a mixed summer case I’d love to repeat all over again, were it not for all the new and different wines I’ve got lined up for when I return to the keyboard, hopefully before summer finally disappears.

Grüner Veltliner Brut NV Austrian Sekt, Martin Diwald – Martin makes a range of exciting wines at Großriedenthal, in Wagram. This is one of the fizzes I’ve been drinking this summer and every bottle has been pale and frothy, with a gentle mousse and bead. Quite floral, not complicated, just deliciously refreshing. Neither is it expensive. Solent Cellar had this, via Red Squirrel.


Morillon “Vom Opok” 2013, Werlitsch, Steiermark – Staying in Austria, we are in South Styria, a land of rolling countryside and Ewald and Brigitte Tscheppe, working in harmony with that beautiful land. Ewald makes mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, Morillon being the old Austrian name for the latter. This pale wine is not for oak lovers, but although only 12.5% there is a touch of richness too. Delicious. You will usually find some Werlitsch wines at Newcomer in Dalston.


Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine “Terre de Gneiss”, Guibert/Caille – One of the best Muscadets I’ve had for a while, and I’ve had some good Muscadets. Christelle Guibert, Decanter’s Tasting Director, has got together with Vincent Caille, and made this wine in a concrete egg. What makes it stand out? The lees give texture, there is more fruit than many Muscadets, and there’s a mineral intensity, as you’d expect from the name. Less than 2,000 bottles were made, although this has been available in quite a few UK retailers this summer.


A Demûa 2014, Stefano Bellotti/Cascina degli Ulivi – Stefano will hate me calling him a Piemontese viticultural aristocrat, but he makes some of the finest artisanal bottles in the east of the region. The Filagnotti vineyard near Gavi is planted with 100-year old vines, a blend here of Riesling, Timorassa, Verdea and Moscatella (the latter is not a Muscat variant, but an old variety of Chasselas). Pale orange, soft, and gently thought provoking. Pure biodynamic loveliness. Les Caves de Pyrène sold me this.


Morgon Côte du Py Réserve 2010, Jean-Marc Burgaud – Quite dark and mellow now, with intense cherry fruit but without losing that Morgon “Py” structure. Majestic and impressive. Perhaps this producer should be given a bit more attention. On the few bottles I’ve had, I’d say these wines are at the more concentrated end of the Beaujolais Cru spectrum, but without losing a really nice freshness. I bought this bottle in Paris, but I think Berry Bros import Jean-Marc into the UK.


Weissburgunder 2015, Rennersistas, Burgenland – These two sisters, Susanne and Stefanie, have only been making wine (in Göls, on the northeastern side of the Neusiedlersee) since the 2015 vintage. Their wines are a work in progress, but their infectious enthusiasm, and those we all tasted at Raw this year, make me certain they are a name to follow. Most impressive, for me, are their wines made from Pinot Noir, yet this Pinot Blanc breaks the mould of this grape variety. For starters, it’s cloudy. The colour is a greeny yellow. But when you taste it, the lively fruit (apples) is really alive. Definitely a natural wine, not at all conventional, but exhilerating, absolutely. Newcomer wines get small stocks of these wines from time to time.


Himmel auf Erden 2014, Christian Tschida, Illmitz – I’m sorry, more Austrian wine, more Neusiedlersee wine. I didn’t realise when I began writing this! Christian Tschida’s “Himmel auf Erden” (Heaven on Earth) wines sit at the lower end of his range, in terms of price, but the quality is very high. The white blends Scheurebe and Pinot Blanc and has a straw colour. There are solids in this unfiltered bottling. The fruit is peachy on the nose and a little nutty on the palate. It’s a fresh summer wine, but it develops a lot as it warms in the glass. Very long. Newcomer Wines are again your best bet.


Bourgogne Aligoté 2014, Goisot, Saint-Bris – The Goisots in Saint-Bris are long time champions of the Auxerrois, in northern Burgundy. They are perhaps better known for their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from white grapes, but their Aligoté always ranks in my favourite half dozen in Burgundy (without paying silly money). This 2014 proves the grape benefits from a bit of age. The grape variety’s natural acidity has toned down, and you might be surprised at the little bit of richness which has replaced it. Jean-Hughes and Guilhem have, like most vignerons in the wider region, been devastated by hail and frost in recent vintages. A friend phoned them and was told they have nothing to sell at present. Please support them. Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton had just a few bottles left.


“Les Dix Bulles” Pétillant Naturel, Domaine de la Touraize/A-J Morin, Arbois – André-Jean Morin started out in 2010 after leaving the Arbois co-operative. This remarkably fresh pink pét-nat is quite light, frivolous even. Redcurrant Ploussard fruit has a hint of raspberry too. The mousse is frothy and it has lots of CO2 to keep it fizzing away. I drank this in the garden the day after a plethora of smart Champagnes, and in those circumstances it was no less enjoying in its simplicity. From the domaine, brought back by friends.


Melting Potes 2016, Le Vendangeur Masque – A bit of an enigma, this, so let me explain. Back to Northern Burgundy, this time the village of Courgis (Chablis) and Alice and Olivier De Moor. Like the Goisots, they were wiped out in 2016. Friends in Southern France gave them some grapes so they could make some wine, and three cuvées were produced. This one blends Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Viognier. It’s a lightish, fresh, Vin de France, made with the same care they use to make their domaine wines. A delicious tribute to the generosity of their potes. Another domaine to support in hard times, when the nature they nourish has bitten them badly. Solent Cellar got just one case. Enquiries also to Les Caves. I get by with a little help from my friends!


La Bota de Florpower “Más allá” 53, Equipo Navazos – This is a 2010 bottling which had an extra ten months in barrel. I like to keep the odd bottle of these back to see how they age (I still have one bottle of 44, believe it or not). You’d expect this “unfortified fino” of a table wine to be past it. Wrong! In the words of The Stranglers, “golden brown, texture like sun”. The nose is still chalky, and there’s a flor-like freshness…still. What it has gained is an unexpected richness and complexity. Did I read Julian Jeffs recently stating that Jerez etc table wines will never be great? If my memory serves me correctly there, I suspect he’s never tried an older Florpower. Unique. Alliance Wine is the importer of Equipo Navazos in the UK.


“ULM” Vin de France, Domaine de L’Octavin – Alice Bouvot makes some of the most exquisite wines in Arbois in a plain garage on the edge of town, not far from the natural wine hangout, Bistro des Claquets. “ULM” is an acronym for ultra long maceration, and is a co-vatted blend of red and white (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) grapes. The result is a palish red which has a strong bouquet of strawberry and raspberry, mirrored very gently on the palate. Acidity is quite fresh, and the long finish lingers, even when the bottle is empty. Contemplative. This bottle came from the domaine, but Tutto wines is the UK importer. I think this is pretty sensational, but I’m guessing that the many who think I’ve really gone over to the dark side will now have their fears confirmed.


I’m not quite sure what I shall be drinking over the next month! But cheers to whatever you are doing. I shall hopefully manage to post a few pics from my adventures to Instagram, with luck, and hope to be posting more articles here by the second half of September.



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One More Cup of Coffee (‘fore I go)

Well, not quite, but in about a week’s time I will be on a break for a month. Fingers crossed I might be able to catch up on recent wines before then, but meanwhile, in today’s article, there’s a bit of a wine fix (a pretty good one) at the end, but before that I’m going to stray off subject and talk about…coffee.

I find a strong appreciation of coffee among wine lovers. Some prefer tea, although in such cases it is usually fine teas. I don’t find too many impassioned wine lovers who are totally undiscerning when it comes to other beverages. I’m not really a tea person, except when it comes to Japanese green teas, and my occasional cup of Himalayan Blue from Marriage Frères. But I do find myself getting more and more interested in coffee, which is why I grabbed the chance to visit one of the new breed of small batch coffee roasters last week.

Coffee Mongers is based at Lymington Enterprise Centre. The man behind the operation, Tarek El-Khazindar, has more than a couple of decades’ experience. He began as a coffee trader in Paris in 1984, and managed a green coffee trading operation in London from 1996. Now he buys high quality beans in relatively small quantities for his own business.

We had a good look around – a guided tour isn’t officially part of a trip to buy coffee here, but a tour and a tasting before buying felt somewhat familiar, a great idea. In the small trading unit the beans are kept up on the mezzanine. We compared the different origin beans, all different in colour, look, and especially smell. As with wine, each cup of coffee has its own aroma, but whereas grapes are more neutral when picked, green coffee beans really show their quality, and qualities, even before roasting.

Down below is the gleaming Bühler roaster (having a day off when we visited, ouch!). It’s a Swiss model which is so heavy the forklift was almost out of its depth when it was manoeuvred in. If, like me, you get just a little bit excited by the gleaming stainless steel of a new Champagne Press, you’ll find this quite thrilling too. A very expensive piece of kit, of course. Much of the roasting process is computer controlled, but the end of any roast is always judged by the roaster (as Gareth, our guide, pointed out, thirty seconds too long can ruin a whole batch). The black handle at nine o’clock on the roasting drum allows access to a sample of the beans.


Bühler Roaster – they have refrained from calling him Ferris

The photograph below shows the contrast between the unroasted green beans and the finished product. Each origin of coffee gets a different approach, and they have a very nifty small roaster in which they can experiment, partially with the length/intensity of roast, but also with different blends.


Coffee Mongers concentrate primarily on four blends – Brazilian (mainly Santos), Colombian, Javan and Mocha. Each of these costs £5 for 250g at the unit (£6.50 online), a step up from supermarket coffee, but still good value for the quality. You can take these as beans, or have them precision ground for your brewer of choice in their rather flashy £3,000 grinder (on the right).

They are also introducing single estate coffees, and when we visited they had a Rwandan estate on sale. This was somewhat more expensive, at £7.50 per 250g, but it’s a lovely coffee, really complex and fruity. I am already well aware of where the coffee bug can lead, as a customer of Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho’s Old Compton Street, and I’m not planning to begin blowing the wine budget on coffee any time soon. That said, you really do move a step up with the single estate coffees, but then the proprietorial blends they do are really good as well. We came away with a selection, including the Rwandan.

A visit to Coffee Mongers is not too dissimilar to a winery visit. We only really went to buy some coffee, having been made a cup of the Brazilian by a friend a couple of weeks ago. But Gareth, who was on duty last Friday, spent time showing us around, and more importantly, gave us a tasting (which is how we came to buy some of the brilliant Rwandan). We learnt many new things about different origin coffee styles, not least that smoother blends (like their Javan) are the ones to choose if using a non-dairy milk substitute (like soya or almond). A higher acid coffee, like the Colombian , works far less well. If you really have to put anything in your coffee, of course.

Coffee Mongers also sell a number of coffee peripherals, including the kind of ceramic filter cones you can buy for a whole lot more up in London. A visit to one of these places would really interest any coffee loving wine aficionado.

Coffee Mongers are at Unit 13, Ampress Lane, Lymington Enterprise Centre, Lymington. Another place to add to your New Forest trip. Monday to Friday only (closed weekends).

We drank some extremely good wines at the weekend, one as an aperitif, and the other three at The Shipyard, a Lymington Restaurant I’ve written about several times before, where the fish and seafood comes right off the dayboats.

The aperitif was Larmandier-Bernier “Latitude” Extra Brut 1er Cru NV. This is a pretty dry Champagne (just 4g/l dosage), made from 100% Chardonnay. The dominant flavour is a kind of orange citrus with summer flowers, fresh with a very fine line enhanced by the lovely bead. You’ll probably find it a little lighter than their “Longitude” cuvée. Expect to pay between £35 and £40 retail.


We opened up at The Shipyard with a really fine old Jeffrey Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2004 from Clare Valley in South Australia (under screwcap). Arguably Australia’s most consistently fine Riesling, the Polish Hill bottling is notoriously tight when young. At thirteen years we are beginning to see how it ages, but it is still very fresh. Anyone who has ever tasted Rose’s Lime Cordial will recognise it in this wine. Delicate and dry, but with a steeliness characteristic of the grape variety, this is fantastic, with complexity growing in the glass as it warmed. And what a colour, vibrant lemon-lime being the only words to describe it.



These mussels were cooked with harissa, fennel and chorizo in a tomato sauce, delicious. The wine was not a perfect match for the food, but both were so good that, frankly, no one cared.

Miani Chardonnay 2013, Friuli Colli Orientali is one of those wines which clearly demonstrates that we should not forget Northeastern Italy when looking for world class Chardonnay. From Buttrio, where Enzo Pontoni has been working since the mid-1980s, this wine is a beautiful green gold, very fine with a mineral core and velvet fruit. Indeed, some have argued that Pontoni is Italy’s finest white winemaker, yet how many fashionable names supplant him when commentators are talking about Italian whites? A bottle of this beauty will probably set you back over £50, but it really is that good.

                                     The fish is a whole sole, so beautifully fresh.

The final wine on Saturday night was from one of my favourite producers anywhere. L’Uva Arbosiana 2015, Domaine de La Tournelle (Arbois) is 100% Poulsard. It gets one month of carbonic maceration in open cylindrical vats, before ageing for between three and four months in foudres and old barrels. Bottled in spring with 900 to 1,200 mg/litre of natural carbon dioxide, the wine is unfiltered and no sulphur is added. Evelyne (Clairet) recommends transporting at 14 degrees or below, although I’ve latterly found that’s a cautious recommendation.

L’Uva can be a bit reductive. I once saw Wink Lorch sort it out by vigorous shaking in a decanter, and that certainly worked. Decant it if you can. There will otherwise be a good bit of CO2 dissolved in the glass, but a good swirl and allowing the wine to open out enables it to give its best…a very fruity wine which is deceptively simple. Ploussard/Poulsard has a haunting quality, whereby the smooth fruit develops an extra dimension with age and air (at least when made well), which I’ve described on many occasions as ethereal. The scent of fine tea and cranberries/redcurrants sometimes gets in there.

Don’t think such an apparently simple wine can’t age. The previous night, by coincidence, an online acquaintance in Sydney had opened the 2014, and had said it was singing. I will always adore this cuvée. Quirky, sometimes a little difficult to begin with, for me it epitomises the creativity of its producer, and how natural wine can not only beguile the senses, but also challenge the intellect.


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Wimps! (Champagne & Chardonnay)

Wimps is a wine lunch. It was one of the early examples of what people who inhabit internet forums call an offline, where people who meet online actually get together, flesh and blood. “Wimps” isn’t an acronym. It was coined by its founder, Keith Prothero, as a lunch for people who could only manage a bottle each at that time of the day (although, to be fair, the rule is ten bottles between each table of eight). It’s attendees all sign up through Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages Forum, where most (but not all) of them spend at least some time talking about wine with fellow wine lovers. We bring the wine and the restaurant does the cooking, a (very) posh form of BYO.

For many years Wimps was hosted very generously by The Ledbury, but understandably after they got their second star it became very difficult to allow 32-or-so wine lovers to enjoy a cheap (for The Ledbury) fixed four-course lunch and bring their own bottles, when the place was full every day. So Nigel Platts-Martin (co-owner) generously moved us down to La Trompette in Chiswick a few years ago, and the institution that Wimps has become continues to thrive there, hosting lunches once a month, each on a different theme.

Some people go every month, almost religiously, whilst many others go perhaps once a year. There is usually at least one person there for whom it is their first time, but they are always made to feel very welcome. I hadn’t been to one myself for a long time when I attended the July Champagne and Chardonnay lunch last week. In the time I’d been absent the cooking at La Trompette had gone up another notch, and the wines were as wonderful as ever (not one dud on the day). The company was as good as ever too, a real mark of Wimps. My notes follow, but if you read through and fancy an outing at Wimps, click the link below to check out the August Lunch (each lunch is listed individually on the “Offline Planner” of the Wine-Pages Forum, and you need to register there to get onto the thread and sign up for a seat). It’s currently only £65 all in (no extras, not even a tip), a genuine bargain.

Wine Pages Offline Planner Wimps Link

At the time of writing, the link therein to future lunches appears to be broken. I’m sure it will get fixed.


Wimps lunches always include extras like water, coffee, bread and an amuse-bouche or small starter with the first wine. We began with Truite et anguille fumée, radis noir, avocat and raiforttwo pieces forming two perfect mouthfuls to go with NV Jacquesson Cuvée 736. These numbered cuvées are now well established for their quality/price ratio. The 736 was released in 2012, so this has been well cellared. It was based on the amazing 2008 vintage, bottled at just 1.5 g/l dosage. It’s delicious, fresh and with a nice line. Lemon citrus with biscuits and nuts supporting.



Langoustines rôties, beurre blanc au concombre, and verveine provided our main “starter” dish, delicately done with the cucumber adding a distinctive and cooling note. In many ways this was where the wine fireworks happened. 2000 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill was more than a solid opener. This cuvée always has a certain style and stature, which even a vintage like 2000 can’t erase. It did have to battle the two (which then became three) Vilmarts, but was enjoyable in its own right.

2004 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée was up against 2004 Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or. You’d think this would be an unfair match, but the Crand Cellier d’Or is a beautiful wine when on song, and the 2004 is drinking now. It had nice development and was very much a “Vilmart”, but with a touch of restraint compared to the Coeur at this stage. A wine currently showing balance.

Initially the Coeur ’04 was bigger, with its wood ageing showing through more. It took time for it to show magnificence, but by the finish it had surpassed the baby brother. It still needs time, but it will make a very good Coeur. I said “three” Vilmarts. We were four tables for this lunch, and one of the others sent over a glass of the 2002 Coeur. I think I sadly drank my last bottle this year. At the time I got a sip it outdid both of the 2004s, perhaps not unexpectedly. Stunningly good!


Pain Perdu, ovoli cèpes et girolles and truffe noire was my dish of the day. Someone joked it’s really posh mushrooms on toast. I disagree. The fungi were top class and the truffle came through nicely. Someone said it was an Australian truffle. It was a bit more pungent that the Wiltshire truffle I had at Lime Wood (see recent article). I thought this dish impossible to improve.

We were temporarily over to the still wines next, the Chardonnays. Three very different yet wonderful bottles. 2002 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir, Domaine Billaud-Simon comes from a producer I’ve enjoyed a lot in the past. There was certainly development and complexity, but also freshness beneath the mellow flavours. It is so unusual to find a honeyed note in Chablis but this had it. Superb!

Next we were treated to two very different Meursaults. 2010 Meursault “En La Barre”, François & Antoine Jobard was still quite structured with the nose developed a little more than the palate. Still youthful, though with the faintest note of butter, butterscotch even. 2012 Meursault Les Chevalières, Henri Germain was quite different, quite mineral for a Meursault, and leaner/lighter. Limey and fresh too. In fact, a good old fashioned White Burgundy in a way. My nostalgia for this, and my love of the Chablis made it difficult to decide which was wine of the flight, without any criticism of the Jobard. My mind changed several times on the day.

We were also passed a pour from a magnum of 1996 Meursault-Poruzots, François Jobard which was very good, but bigger all round. Just like I remember Meursault when I used to stay in the village. In a magnum it had kept very well, tasting a bit younger than twenty years old.



Carré de porc d’Iberique, navets, polenta et prune Reine-Claude was our final savoury course, with melting pork cut from the rack. And here we returned to Champagne with two late 1990s bottles. It’s rare for me to see a magnum of 1998 Palmer & Co Brut Millésime. It’s quite old fashioned, I suppose, dosed at around 11 g/l. Perhaps “traditional” is a better word, because I do not intend anything derogatory. Actually, the dosage doesn’t taste as much as 11 grams, perhaps the magnum effect, which also ensures a certain structure. A treat, even in supposedly more exalted company. Also, it was a match for the pig.

The Palmer was paired with 1999 La Grande Année, Bollinger. Now many of you will not have the highest regard for 1999 as a Champagne vintage. Others will know how successful this wine was in 1999. First, you notice the freshness, unusual for the vintage and, more recently, for this particular cuvée in general. It tastes considerably younger than, for example, 2000 does. Its energy makes it really enjoyable, but over time in the glass it develops complex flavours too. Delicious, with lasting impact which, good and enjoyable as the Palmer was, it could not match.

Now at this point I realise I’ve not got a photo of the Bolly. It’s hard to keep on top of things with all that food and wine washing around. But I have got a pic of a rare 1989 Trillennium Reserved Cuvée, Veuve Clicquot, which was utterly delicious for a wine that previous drinkers of this ’89 on the table had described as “tired” (not actually using such polite language – I’ve never had one, nor the similarly labelled 1988 and 1990 versions). What I don’t have though, is a formal tasting note for it. Oops! There was also a 1998 Nyetimber swishing around too, a wine from the first period at this English domaine, when it was fast establishing a name for Champagne-challenging quality. Another successful bottle, and proof that at its best, Nyetimber can certainly age.


Dessert was perfectly judged in both food and wine. A small piece of Tarte de nectarine, glace à la feuille de cassis et fruits was accompanied by 1983 Barsac 1er Grand Cru Classé, Château Climens. The nectarine tart had sweetness and a little acidity, but the contrast of the blackcurrant leaf in the ice cream made this among the best desserts I’ve had at La Trompette. Not over complicated, but subtle, it provided the right level of sugar rush to wake me up. The Barsac was lovely. Of course, 1983 was not especially fancied on release, but it happens to be the first vintage I bought, being on sale in the region the first time I drove down to Sauternes and Barsac (and wider Bordeaux). It wasn’t too sweet and it wasn’t too unctuous. Quite remarkable for its age, and for the vintage, I’d say, though I’m no expert on these sweet wines.


I thoroughly enjoyed being back at Wimps. Thanks go to the team at La Trompette, and to a kitchen which is cooking to a very high standard, more than worthy of its star. I can thoroughly recommend a trip to this part of Chiswick (although from Central London I’d say that Turnham Green on the District Line is probably the closest London Underground station at 10-15 minutes’ walk). A great lunch, great company, and wonderful generosity, as ever, with the wines.


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Recent Wines, Summer ’17 Pt1

As usual, I’m way behind in describing the best I’ve been drinking at home, but I hope that the selection below will make interesting reading. But first I do want to mention Solent Cellar‘s Sicilian Evening last Friday. It’s because the COS Zibibbo 2014 made an appearance, in magnum, again. This is the wine which more people claimed as their “wine of the day” at the Real Wine Fair this year than any other.

It amply lived up to its billing, although some people found the amphora textures a little different. The nose is beautiful Muscat (flowery and grapey), but you can see from the colour that it will have texture from the ageing “in pithos” (amphora). Because the grape variety has that grapey, floral, nose you might not expect what comes on the palate, but over time it evolves into one of the most complex Muscats immaginable (Zibibbo is a synonym for the Muscat of Alexandria strain). Doug Wregg, of importer Les Caves de Pyrène, described this on IG as “sensational”, and it really is.

After that, COS’ delicious Nero di Lupo (Nero d’Avola) had a tough job, but acquitted itself well (as always, in the lighter and astonishingly fragrant style which often comes as a surprise to those used to “big boy” Neros). As did a Ciro Rosso Classico Superiore from Antonie Scala. This is a delicious organic version of the rare Calabrian grape Gaglioppo. With typical Southern Italian body, black fruits and plums, it is smooth, but also balanced. Great value at £14, somewhat less expensive than the Zibibbo! Among other wines by the glass they also had Vino di Anna Palmento, but I’ve had quite a few bottles of that this year. And as the rain was biblical, the reds seemed more appropriate. But if you need some more pinks for the summer weather when it returns, Solent Cellar have a pretty good selection.

Pasta with Sicilian toppings was by Bedda Co of Winchester.


We’re heading back a couple of months now, to one of the best wines I’ve drunk all year, in terms of value for money at least. Arbois Chardonnay “Les Amants” 2011, Domaine A&M Tissot is not, as far as I know, available in the UK, and the 2011 has sold out at the producer. But this is a reminder of how good Jura Chardonnay can be without reaching for a bottle of “Tour de Curon“. It really is gorgeous right now, mainly defined by its mineral line, but not without a little richness. It’s a blend of top parcels off the characteristic clays of Arbois, with some vines on limestone. There’s tension between butter, citrus and hazelnuts, and it’s oh so long.

I mentioned I’d bought some to a friend. Instead of saying thanks for the recommendation, he rather stunned me by his reply: “It is rather good, isn’t it. I went long on magnums”. To which I can only answer “looks like I’m a fool again, I don’t like it” (with apologies to Tom Petty). Why didn’t I…………


Cabronicus 2016, Bodega Cauzón

This is one of the gems imported by Otros Vinos. Made by Ramón Saavedra at Cortes-y-Graena in Andalucia, this became a firm favourite after my Granada trip last year, though I had already met Ramón and tried a couple of his wines earlier in 2016. As the name suggests, it’s made by carbonic maceration, giving a wine both earthy and fruity. It comes off sandy alluvial soils up to 1,000m up the north side of the Sierra Nevada, where temperatures are kept in check by altitude and cool nights. This nevertheless reaches 13%. The fruit is pure bright cherry and strawberry, and is (we think!) 100% Tempranillo. Saavedra is a bit of a guru, in the mould of Stefano Belotti. Strictly no additives, just grapes and possibly spiders. Otros Vinos sell by mail order, but you can find many of their wines at Furanxo deli in Dalston.


Grenache “A Tribute to Grace” 2013 (Lot 1, Los Olivos), Angela Osborne, Santa Barbara Highlands

This was tricky to track down, but Roberson had a bottle left. The quality is just as high as I’d been led to believe. Quite alcoholic (14.5%), yet it didn’t taste like a big wine, the fruit was developed plums overlain with red summer fruits. Very long, not in a way that showed massive complexity, but rather a wine with amazing fruit to the fore.

Angela is a New Zealander making wine in California, and this wine is a tribute to her grandmother. You can read all about her in Jon Bonné‘s The New Claifornia Wine. You really should try this!


“Ancestral” 2015, Claus Preisinger, Burgenland

You know Claus, of course. He’s one of my favourite producers, based in Gols at the northern end of the Neusiedlersee. Only last night was I drinking his deliciously quaffable Zweigelt. This is, as it says on the tin, a ancestral method bottle-fermented sparkler, unusual in that it is made from the Saint-Laurent grape variety, vinified as a white wine. It has a sort of bronzy hue, very fresh on the nose, very dry, quite acidic, but in a refreshing way. Simple, of course, but the kind of wine that, were I a bit younger, I could say “really smashes it” without causing too many chortles. Available from Newcomer Wines (until it’s gone!).


Forks & Knives Red 2014, Milan Nestarec, Moravia

This Czech producer is getting a bit of a reputation in the UK. This companion to the white Forks & Knives is really a dark pink, gently sparkling, light wine made from a grape variety called Suché. The sparkle has diminished to a gentle fizz, but I still really liked it (in fact, a bit more than the white version). The fruit is juicy and soft, and there’s enough acidity to give it lift. I would like to try a recent bottling, though I’m not just adding it here because of the label – it’s tasty as well as unusual. Newcomer Wines import Nestarec.


Cseresznyeérés 2014, HegyiKaló, Hungary

Another wonderful wine from this equally wonderful estate at Eger. Adam and Julia make wines which, more than anything, I’d describe as beguiling. Not that they are always as haunting as this one. Cloudy pale red, with a bouquet of red fruits and tea, the palate is quite soft and the fruit lingers forever. Serve it just chilled (but not too cold) and savour it. Its simplicity and purity is its complexity, if you know what I mean. Winemakers Club import HegyiKaló. All their wines are worth trying, but this is a little different. Let it grow in the glass.


Vino Tinto [2014], Pvrvlio, Alpujarras

Another wine from Granada Province, made as a simple table wine by Torcuato Huertas whose vines, like Cauzón, are on the north side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, in this case the Valle de Alhama. After making wine for home consumption and helping out at Barranco Oscuro, he planted just three hectares on red clay, at altitudes between 900m and 1,200m. Like that previous wine (Cauzón), the vines benefit from temperature reduction at night. There is very little rainfall here. Like so many of these natural wines from this region (there are exceptions, for sure) it doesn’t feel as alcoholic as the 13% on the label, but then 13% is quite restrained for Southern Spain. These mountains make wonderful wine terroir. Once more, no additives. Otros Vinos, again, is the importer.


Rosé for Albane NV, Pierre Péters, Champagne

I’ve written about the stunning Péters Cuvée Les Chetillons a few times in the past year. It ranks as one of my favourite of all Prestige Cuvées. For Albane is a cuvée I’d not tried before. They take their signature Chardonnay, from some of their top sites, and blend in a little rosé de saignée, making a wine between salmon pink and orange-pink, very attractive. Fresh and “mineral”, with delicate red fruit, framed by a very fine bead. A very elegant pink Champagne, I really loved it and will buy more. From Solent Cellar (not currently on their web site but I swear they had some at the weekend).

Red Bulles Vin de France, Domaine des Bodines, Arbois

Alexis and Emilie Porteret’s provocatively names pétillant naturel pink sparkler is bone dry but packed with ripe and concentrated red fruits (redcurrant, pomegranate and raspberry), with a mineral note, and perhaps the faintest earthy texture. It’s made from Ploussard in Arbois. The bubbles are persistent, the producers are really nice, all their wines are delicious…phew! I’ve written about this couple enough not to repeat it all again here, and for them to have a UK importer by now, so thank you Les Caves de Pyrène. Walking distance from Arbois if you are in the region.


Côtes du Jura 2012, François Mossu

Mossu is one of the old timers of the region, but almost unknown in the UK (unlike his peers, Overnoy and Puffeney). In Jura he’s known as “The Pope of Vin de Paille”, and it’s hard to argue anyone makes a more complex and concentrated version of that rare sticky. He’s based at Voiteur, one of the villages in the Château-Chalon AOC. This wine is a traditional Savagnin, biologically aged under flor, so it has nutty depth, but also surprising lightness, plus citrus-mineral freshness. Just 12.5%. Really good. No UK importer as far as I’m aware, this one came from the domaine, via very kind friends who visited recently (as a thankyou for my recommendation).


Côtes du Jura “La Cabane” Pinot Noir 2016, Les Dolomies

I’ve wanted to visit Céline and Steve Gormally for a couple of years, but have never quite made it to Passenans, not far from Lons-le-Saunier in the southern part of the region. They only have a few hectares, but their reputation is growing. This has raspberry/strawberry scents with smooth, juicy, fruit. Light, yet not lacking for body (only 11% abv), it’s a perfect vin de soif. I have an idea there may be a UK importer this year, fingers crossed. I also have their Trousseau “En Rollion” to try soon.


Blaufränkisch “Rusterwald” 2011, Heidi Schröck, Rust (Burgenland)

Rust is a beautiful town on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee, famous for its summer nesting stork population, and chocolate box houses. Heidi is one of Austria’s most welcoming winemakers, and this Blaufränkisch is concentrated cherries, dark and smooth now, with great length. Savoury, but not lacking in fruit, with more body than her entry level version of the grape. I’ve never not adored a Heidi Schröck wine, but I warn you, I’m biased. From Alpine Wines.



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New Forest, New Culinary Destination

I’ve written about New Forest restaurants before, but it is clear that this rather beautiful part of Southern England is currently developing a gastronomic reputation to rival any in the country. It is certainly now possible to spend a week there dining at an excellent restaurant every night, and should you wish to go the whole hog and double up with lunch as well, then you could do that too.

Last week I did exactly that, though just on one day. I’ll provide some links to past pieces on other New Forest dining at the end of this article, but here I will concentrate on Lime Wood outside Lyndhurst in the heart of the New Forest, and Elderflower, in the attractive Georgian town of Lymington, on the coast. I’ve written about Elderflower before, but we hadn’t been for quite a while before last week.

One of the joys of the New Forest is the chance to cycle, mainly off road on gravel tracks, through woodland whose quiet is only disturbed by bird song and the occasional swish of rubber on stones. I rode out from Brockenhurst with a couple of friends for what turned out to be a leisurely 45 minute cycle to the back entrance to Lime Wood. Plus point – no worries about driving after lunch, minus point – having to cycle after lunch.

Lime Wood is a luxury hotel set in many acres of grounds (if you are driving, it’s off Beaulieu Road on the  eastern edge of Lyndhurst), but its restaurants are run by Hartnett Holder & Co (that’s Angela Hartnett of infinite fame, and Luke Holder). Luke worked in London, but also at the 3-Star Enoteca Pinchiorri in Tuscany. The main restaurant at Lime Wood is billed as “Italian”, although the fine dining experience takes it away, a little, from what we might expect from Italian cuisine.


I will say straight away that the cooking here is very good indeed. We got off to a very good start with aperitifs on the terrace, whilst we awaited a fourth dining companion who preferred to arrive by car. Prices are fairly steep, but we were given complimentary olives and spiced nuts. Then we moved to the restaurant terrace for lunch. The carte is very good, but there is an extremely good value set lunch menu (£25 for three courses with a two-course option at £19.50). I chose a herb-crusted rabbit anti-pasti (with crispy trotter and romesco sauce)  followed by “double agnolotti” (guinea fowl, burratta and parmesan cream with a very generous shaving of Wiltshire truffle). For dessert I needed a sugar shot of Eton Mess, one of the best I’ve had.

The wine list consists around 800 bins. To most people reading this Blog it might appear a little dull, mostly made up of classic wines from classic varieties at prices which will doubtless give comfort to the hotel’s wealthy clientele. You need to dig a bit. We needed a lighter (but not too light) red with medium weight plus a bit of fresh acidity to match what we were eating. Instead of going with Sangiovese, I found a Schiefer Blaufränkisch 2015 from Austria’s Burgenland. I’m pleased to say it went down very well, and came in at £41. We were not tempted by the DRCs (up to £10,000 for the 1997 RC), nor even some SQN Grenache at a slightly more affordable £465. It was, after all, only a light lunch.


Overall impressions? The location is lovely, and we really enjoyed dining outside by the ornamental ponds. The food is very good indeed. The three dishes I chose were all exceptional. The food is described as more like home cooking than restaurant food, a claim I’d normally be suspicious of, but here I can see what they mean. If I have two criticisms, it is that my espresso was cold and that one of our waitresses over lunch was as miserable as sin (I have no idea why, though one uncommunicative waitress didn’t remotely spoil the delicious food). So no Ledbury levels of service to match the highly accomplished cooking, but I’m very keen to go again. I’d love to see a bit more invention in the wine list, but I can see that I’m not a typical Lime Wood customer.

Did I crack on the way home? No, but two-and-a-half glasses, including apero, was not excessive…and there were only a couple of gentle hills to negotiate, neither of them an imaginary Mont Ventoux. The food was elegant and, despite what it might look like, not at all heavy.

Our dinner venue was Elderflower, on Quay Street, Lymington. Elderflower and The Shipyard both serve delicious food made from scrupulously fresh ingredients and it is very difficulty, as an unbiased outsider, to say which I prefer to dine at when we are in Lymington. The cooking of Andrew Du Bourg (formerly Head Chef at Chewton Glen and Club Gascon), at Elderflower, is very inventive, and is more accomplished than a glance into his relatively small restaurant might suggest. Andrew is gaining a reputation beyond the region, and one of the very best ways to experience the sheer inventiveness of his art is to try the dessert called “Close but no cigar”. A smoked chocolate cigar is served on an ashtray, with chocolate and whiskey mousse, and coffee ice cream.

I ate “Essence of the sea”, a scallop starter, followed by a BBQ Rose Veal rack, then a selection of cheeses and “The grape vine” (all the dishes have names, a theme and a story), a grape vine parfait, with burnt meringue and ice made from Hattingley sparkling wine.

We started our evening with friends and a bottle of Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot’s Crémant du Jura “BBF” (Blanc de Blancs en fût). This is a marvelous wine which is as exciting and complex (with age) as any Champagne. We were able to take our own wines (pre-arranged, and with corkage, although Elderflower has a decent wine list), and we drank a wine with each course.

We were lucky, considering climatic events in and around Chablis over the past few vintages, to drink a bottle of Bourgogne Chitry 2014 from De Moor. It was one of a very few bottles Alice was able to sell to our friends on a very recent visit. It’s on a level with all their other wines (a high level indeed), though as you might expect, it has more acidity and a bit less weight than their Chablis cuvées.

With my veal we opened Williams Selyem Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2000. This was sensational. I knew it had impeccable provenance when I bought it, but you never know. This was fully mature with a haunting Pinot Noir nose (cherries and detritus), but with structure and freshness too. Very long on the finish and everything I’d hoped for.

With the cheeses (including some nice Munster) and desserts we drank Ostertag’s Fronholz Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2007, from near Epfig in the Bas-Rhin. I picked this up some years ago at Berry Bros’ factory outlet near Basingstoke. It’s the source of some real bargains. It isn’t always easy to find the right occasion to drink a really nice VT Gewurz. This was beautiful. At only 12% alcohol, it was neither too sweet, nor did it lack for acidity, albeit gentle acidity. It was the perfect time to open it.

Below are a few photos of the food. My wife is vegan, and Andrew is not only happy to cook for her, but comes up with the most amazing creations every time we dine there. The tall object in the starter in the first photo is not a large mushroom, but is in fact a pickled sunflower. This illustrates the sheer inventiveness of Andrew Du Bourg’s culinary art.

Another thing Elderflower has going for it is the level of friendly service. Front of House is Julien Bailly, a Frenchman who is both warm and welcoming. Approach him for wine recommendations, and he always has an opinion on which dishes he currently likes best. He will explain all the dishes and their complexities to you, you really wouldn’t want for a warmer welcome, and from the rest of the team as well.

Elderflower is on the left as you walk down Lymington’s cobbled Quay Street (at the bottom of the High Street/St Thomas’ Street hill) towards the quay.

There are plenty of places to stay in and around the New Forest, from the very luxurious (Lime Wood, Chewton Glen etc) down to Airbnb and the many camp sites among the trees. But it is worth mentioning that Elderflower has three en-suite rooms, which might come in handy after the Tasting Menu and a few digestifs.

Another option is the Thatched Cottage Hotel in Brockenhurst. This is worth a look because it’s just three minutes walk from Brockenhurst Station (from London Waterloo). You have to change at Brockenhurst for Lymington, although it’s also just fifteen minutes in a taxi. You can check out the Thatched Cottage Hotel via the link here, and note that it has a very special gin bar (300 gins, flights available and open to non-residents), of interest, certainly, to many of my friends. You might be aware that there are several locally produced fine gins from Hampshire and Dorset, Conker being a personal favourite.

It’s also just one minute from one of Brockenhurst’s cycle hire shops, though a warning: the main road down from the M27, the A337 via Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst,  to Lymington is busy, so unless you are a pro it’s worth getting a forest map and sticking to the tracks and minor routes.

The folks behind the Thatched Cottage Hotel also run Escape Yachting. If you want to explore various ways of getting out onto The Solent, or for a sail to the Isle of Wight and back, or even one of their special themed wine/gin tasting trips, follow the link in their web site (above).

For those whose sea legs are less developed, Lymington has its own ferry services to the Isle of Wight. It’s a nice day trip over to Yarmouth, but better to travel on foot or bicycle. If you are used to Dover to Calais prices, you may be a little surprised at what Wightlink need to charge to keep the route going, especially if you don’t pre-book your crossings.

More Links

Elderflower Restaurant

Lime Wood

Previous article on Verveine fish restaurant at nearby Milford-on-Sea

A previous visit to Elderflower (with the cigar dessert)

The Shipyard Bar & Kitchen

A previous article on a meal at The Shipyard

*Remember, click on any of the photos, especially of the food, to enlarge them

The cycle route between Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst, mainly on gravel tracks though the trees, and below that, yachts by Lymington Quay.

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Alto Adige at Solent Cellar

I’ve been down in the New Forest for a week, having family down there. It’s a lovely part of the UK, but increasingly it seems to be developing a real reputation as a gastronomic location as well. I’ve written about a few of the New Forest restaurants before, and I shall follow this article with one on a rather good day’s dining soon. But for those wanting to buy wine, Lymington is your destination.

On the coast, with attractions including its marinas, a ferry to the Isle of Wight, and a very good Saturday market, Lymington is worth a visit anyway, but it also possesses one of the best wine shops in the country, Solent Cellar (voted one of the “Top 50 Indies” by Harpers Wines & Spirits for the past two years, but in my view, clearly top-10 material if you browse the shop). Apart from scooping up a load of wine last week, I popped in on Friday evening for one of their regular tastings. This was billed as “Alto Adige“, although the importer apparently forgot to put one of the reds in the box, so we had a Piemonte red as a substitute.

The importer in question was Astrum Wine Cellars. All over the country dedicated staffers spend their evenings putting on tastings like this, in conjunction with local stockists. It gives customers a chance to try something new and to focus on a particular producer or wine region, under the tutelage of the importer. Generally, the wine shop will discount the wines on the night, so it will generate interest and a few sales as well.

ALTO ADIGE, aka Südtirol in the local German dialect (the region having formerly been part of Austria until war changed its nationality in the last century), comprises the valleys which follow, or diverge from, the River Adige, north of Lake Garda. We are between Trentino and the Brenner Pass, in Northeast Italy. The region has a strong local identity and co-operatives have played a major part in regional viticulture since the late nineteenth century. Co-ops like San Michelle Appiano and Cantina Gries are often listed among the best in the country, and Cantina Sociale Terlano, based at Terlan just north of Bolzano, can be added to that list.

The Terlan co-operative, founded in 1893, joined forces with Cantina Andriano in 2008 and the wines still appear under the two distinct labels. Six of the wines on show came from this source, but the first wine was a sparkler from Cesarini SforzaTridentvm Brut 2010 is a metodo classico (bottle fermented, like Champagne), made from the classic Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay (80%) and Pinot Noir (20%) in this case, under the Trentodoc DOC. Trentodoc is very quickly gaining a very fine reputation for classy sparkling wines, being brought to our attention by some of the foremost writers on fizz.

The grapes for Tridentvm (sic) are fermented in stainless steel before undergoing a second fermentation on lees in bottle for 48 months. Bottled at just under 10 g/l dosage, this nevertheless tastes very dry. The crisp acidity and mineral structure is set off against a very fine bead. There’s little sign of further autolytic character yet, but the nose is elegantly floral. As a Champagne rival, it challenges on price for quality (around £20), as well as being a well made and attractive wine. With 48 months on lees, it may develop more bready notes if cellared.


Next we tasted two varietal wines made from two of the white grapes with which the Alto Adige co-operatives are synonymous, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio. Finado 2015, Cantina Andriano is a Pinot Bianco, made with six months lees contact to give a little texture. The main impression is of soft pears, with an initial touch of CO2 which dissipated fairly quickly. Although it’s a gentle wine without being very assertive, it has a good length, and was quite popular.

It contrasted with Pinot Grigio 2015, Cantina Terlano, which is quite a bit richer (it comes from a south facing vineyard). The Pinot Grigios at this level are wholly different to the dilute examples sold for well under £10 in UK supermarkets (this one retails at £18, compared to £14 for the Finado above). In fact Waitrose sell a decent upgrade on the cheaper versions of Pinot Grigio for £12, which comes from another Alto Adige co-op, San Michelle-Appiano, but in terms of weight and complexity this Terlan version is another step up again. There’s pear, but apricot and peach as well, with a bitter stone fruit twist on the finish.

Terlaner Classico 2016, Cantina Terlano (£19) is one of the blends the region does so well. This one is 60% Pinot Bianco, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. It is mostly aged on lees in stainless steel for seven months, but 20% of the blend is aged in oak. The bouquet is much more floral than the previous two whites. The weight of rounded Chardonnay fruit dominates the palate, but on the nose there’s definitely a sense of grassy Sauvignon Blanc. A certain lightness of touch made this wine, on balance, my favourite of the three so far, though the best was still to come.


Terlaner “Vorberg” Riserva 2014 is one of the top wines from the Terlan Cantina, coming from one of the region’s best single sites. It is fairly expensive at £32/bottle, and this is why the opportunity to try something like this at a tasting is quite enlightening. It’s made from 100% Pinot Bianco, fermented in 30 hectolitre casks, and then aged for a year in oak, during which time it undergoes a softening malolactic fermentation. At 14% alcohol it is rich and buttery on the palate, with pear and peach fruit. The nose is developing slowly and right now is mainly reminiscent of white flowers, but this is one to age. In fact I know someone who has put away a couple of six-packs. The little bit of austerity, which may have put off some tasters, will give way to a complex bottle, given several years cellaring, at which point it might appreciate being paired with turbot at Verveine (the marvelous fish restaurant in nearby Milford-on-Sea).


There are a few red grapes which are native to Alto Adige. Teroldego is one, particularly well known in the version called “Morei”, from Foradori. Another red variety which is often grown alongside it is Lagrein. Under the Cantina Andriano label, we tasted Rubeno 2015, 100% Lagrein, and nicknamed “Ribena” by a few on our table. It’s a dense ruby red colour, fermented in stainless steel, and very bright to look at. It’s a fresh, young, red with soft and juicy black and red fruits, and a little tannin. It finishes slightly bitter. A nice sappy red at £16. These Alto Adige wines are never cheap when they are good, but if you’d like to try something a little different, it’s worth it. I find Lagrein attractive when it’s well made, and like so many Italian country reds, it goes really well with local cold cuts and cheeses.


We finished with our Piemontese interloper. The Produttori del Barbaresco is very well known, and I’ve written about them in the past. If the Alto Adige co-operatives are among the best in Italy, then “The Produttori” can stake a reasonable claim to be the best. Certainly a few of their single vineyard Barbaresco wines can match those of the top producers in the right vintage, and at half the price.

Here we were tasting the entry level Langhe Nebbiolo 2015. I’d not tried the 2015 vintage of this yet, so I wasn’t complaining our final wine wasn’t from the Northeast. These have finally hit the £20 barrier now, though even at that price they are still good value. I’ve had many cheap Barolos which truly disappoint, but this Nebbiolo cuvée has never done so. Characteristically pale, although far from the brick red which Nebbiolo assumes when old. The nose hasn’t fully opened, but it hints at something more haunting, and quite a few tasters detected a touch of liqorice. There’s tannin here, not the firm tannins of a young Barolo (or Barbaresco), but enough to prefer food, or a year or three in bottle. But a nice wine, well priced for the quality and, after a year or two, capable of showing the uninitiated what Nebbiolo can do. It won’t hit the heights of Barolo, but nor will it break the bank.


A nice little tasting. Some readers might have seen me mentioning COS Zibibbo on Social Media last week. Solent Cellar had one or two magnums of this new and rare COS wine, the Sicilian strain of Muscat vinified in amphora. I thought I’d offer a heads up to any readers who got this far, and who might fancy popping down to Lymington this coming Friday evening (21 July). From 6pm Solent Cellar are hosting a Sicilian night, along with Sicilian pasta merchants, Bedda Co. They will be cooking up some fresh pasta with Sicilian toppings out back, whilst Solent will be selling (mainly Sicilian) wines by the glass. I am promised that the last two magnums of the Zibibbo will be opened. There’s a large car park over the road, down the side of M&S, and you don’t need to book or buy a ticket. But if you want the Zibibbo, remember to arrive early (and don’t blame me if there’s a rush). If nothing gets in my way, I shall be there. Solent Cellar is at 40 St Thomas Street, Lymington.

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Social Me, Dear!

William Kelley’s piece on wine and social media in the new edition of Noble Rot got me thinking (and James Springall’s cartoons got me laughing out loud, spot on!). If you are reading this Blog Post, you may well have come to it via Twitter or Instagram, and Kelley is not the first to notice how important these two forms of social media (along with Facebook, and I would add, sites like Tom Cannavan’s Winepages, or Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages) have become to the wine community.

I admit that I rely on both, and especially Instagram, in order to see what my friends are drinking (and eating), and to see what various wine merchants and shops have just put onto their shelves. And I won’t deny that my posts on these sites help generate traffic for my Blog (it seems to work, thanks!). So how do these social media shape wine appreciation, and what are the potential effects of their influence on wine fashion and the wine market? It seems that it might be the right time to start talking about it.


Typical wine geek Instagram feed…oh, that’s mine…damn, no Ganevat there…

Only last night I spotted, via Instagram, that local wine shop Ten Green Bottles had a particular winemaker in for a staff tasting, alerting me to the forthcoming opportunity to buy some natural wine from Bordeaux some time soon. Today, in the same place, I saw that a friend had bought a wine I’m after, and now I know where to get it (if I’m quick). Yes, Instagram and Twitter are pretty essential for me, both as a wine writer and a wine lover.

Most of us who use social media to fuel our wine passion have come to enjoy the real sense of a wine community it has brought about. It connects customers with wine sellers, wine writers with their readership, importers with others who have regional expertise in what’s hot, and wine geek with wine geek. There are people I’d never have met were it not for Instagram and Twitter, and I’m so glad I have met them.

Yet Kelley does identify two issues with social media. The first is very well lampooned in Springall’s two cartoons, which feature bottles of Overnoy and Clos Rougeard. He’s pretty much nailed the wines, although he could have easily substituted a Ganevat for the Overnoy. There is certainly a particular type of wine geek on social media who might be compared to those who post pictures of Porsches and Rolex watches. There’s an assertion of something or other going on, whether it be via pics of Krug’s Clos du Mesnil or one of the kings of natural wine, like those mentioned above. Perhaps it’s an assertion that “hey, look at me, I’m here and king of the castle. Look on my cellar, and my impeccable taste, and despair”.


It’s not really fair to categorise people like this…is it? You drink a nice wine, you want to post a pic, simple as that. You can soon see the type of person you are following…if all they post are trophy wines. It’s not necessarily willy waving, but I know it can look like that. I’ve noticed that, not at all deliberately, I’ve almost stopped liking photos of Ganevat etc. Of course, I still adore the wines. It’s really because I see at least half-a-dozen Ganevats a day. I am trying to turn my likes into an acknowledgement that someone is at the cutting edge of exploration (Pvrvlio, Sanzay, Sean O’Callaghan, or a nice Pineau d’Aunis or Sumoll), rather than them merely being recognition of a wine I myself and everyone and their mother likes.

The other thing Kelley hits upon is the democratisation of wine which social media assists. Or, to put it another way, letting the cat out of the bag. It could be argued, and Kelley does, that a wine like Clos Rougeard was only known to a small selection of insiders before it began to be plastered all over Instagram. Some would argue that its dramatic increase in price is in good part down to the social media effect (although there are a number of other perfectly valid reasons for this in the case of Clos Rougeard, not least people having the chance to taste it at the excellent new breed of wine-focused restaurants like, er, Noble Rot).

Certainly social media has the effect of identifying the cool wines, thus potentially making them scarcer and harder to get hold of. I know this really annoys some people. They are not always shy in saying so.

My philosophy is a little different, but it would be of course, as someone writing about wine. I see my role as trying to be at or near the cutting edge of what’s good in wine, so I have to share what I am liking, and what I am hearing. I loved the classic wines once, and still do, and I’ve not forgotten how, when one wine became too expensive or hard to source, I just moved on to another. I’d still love to own some Haut-Brion, but I’m more than happy with Haut-Bailly these days. Winemaking has improved so much, and viticulture arguably even more, in the past twenty years or so, and whilst we lose some labels to the collectors, a host of new possibilities open before us.

Take one example, Jura. I would take just a tiny bit of credit for helping to bring Jura wines to a wider public (the vast bulk of that credit must go to Wink Lorch). When I first nosed around Arbois in the mid-1980s it was a backwater. Now, the finest producers are in the finest wine merchants and three star restaurants. But prices have risen inexorably as well. Actually, I’m glad they have, because it makes wine production economically viable for the many artisan vignerons who farm a few hectares of vines yet make amazing wines (Hughes-Béguet, Les Dolomies and Bruyère/Houillon are just three of many who are now getting international acclaim, and I hope Les Bodines and others will follow).

I remember, from talking to some of the better known people, what it was like back then. When a region gets no attention, no one can make a decent living. The best names generally get little premium over the ordinary producers. Recognition encourages younger talent to live their dream, and in that particular region we are now reaping the rewards in quite spectacular fashion. We have wines like Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot’s Clos de la Tour de Curon matching in quality pretty much any Chardonnay Burgundy produces, but we also have several dozen newcomers blazing a trail on the coat tails of producers like Stéphane, now able to make a living where it was impossible before.

[As an aside, I predict the same thing will happen to Savoie once Wink Lorch’s book on French Alpine Wines comes out later this year. I suggest you start acquainting yourselves now.]

My point is that it might annoy those who want to keep great wine a secret that everyone is just a Tweet away from the latest hot Chasselas in the Crépy region, or indeed from the latest exciting cuvée from Julie Balagny. But in the long run, these wines getting due praise benefits everyone. It gives hope and encouragement to producers who might otherwise struggle, be they a farmer of a hectare or two in the Alps, or be they geographically far away from world markets (like, for instance, Okanagan Crush Pad, whose wines have been picked up at the important natural wine fairs and have gained a big British following on social media). Put money in their pockets and they will grow, and make more wines, and their neighbours will look on them and want the same. The best rise to the top.

Social media also encourages small importers to take up the challenge. Take Otros Vinos whose wines are available in Dalston’s Furanxo deli as well as online. They import some brilliant, if obscure, natural wines from The New Spain (Pvrvlio, Cauzón, etc). Or their near neighbour and Austria specialist Newcomer Wines, who import the likes of Rennersistas and Preisinger, along with Milan Nestarec from the Czech Republic. These are wines which without social media would be a hard sell in the UK, and without the help of social media, how many of us would know about them? I actually think we bloggers do a good job in disseminating these wines to that public which most craves them.

The argument that social media helps to put the best wines beyond the reach of ordinary people is, to my mind, at least a little tenuous. It didn’t take social media to make Lynch-Bages and Fourrier so expensive. Wine has taken off, both as a beverage of the masses in the so-called First World (especially the middle classes and moderately affluent), and also as an investment vehicle. The fact that wine has brought greater profit than many other investments to a relatively small number of people is a result of different forces, including supply and demand, but not social media. The same supply and demand issue operates for cult wines, which are usually made in tiny quantity compared to top Classed Growth Bordeaux.

Instagram may give us pictures of Ganevat’s Vignes de Mon Père to lust after, but if we can’t afford the £150-plus asking price today, then there are plenty of really great wines from the same producer that we can afford. Instagram then gives us a window into a world where we can discover other producers and other wines, often no less exciting (if not Ganevat, then Labet nearby, for example). There are very few wines that are unobtainable if we can find out where to look. It’s then just a matter of cost. But at least social media brings them to our attention.

When one wine ceases to be available or in our price range, then another producer or wine comes along to replace it. Do I wistfully recall Latour when I drink my Pontet-Canet, or Fourrier when I drink my Pataille? No, not really. I enjoy the wine of my moment for what it is. I’m more than happy to share that joy with my followers on social media, and indeed to share a bottle if we meet. And I am so glad that they (you) all share back.

Social media has been a catalyst to building a larger and stronger wine community. It has also brought together a much more diverse set of wine lovers, the types of people (young, or tattooed, or female, for instance) you’d not find sipping the Taylor’s in a London Club, and chatting about the merits of Ausonne ’47 and Palmer ’66.

So I’m all for it. Let’s all share our discoveries and enjoy wine together. Especially, let’s share what’s new and exciting in the wide world of wine. If it weren’t for The Wine Analyst, one of several bloggers I follow, I’d have never known (from a post this week) that I can try Palestinian wine in London (at Nopi). Now there’s a thing.

William Kelley’s article Vinstagram – Is Social Media Changing the Way we Enjoy Wine? appears in Noble Rot Issue 14, in many good wine merchants and magazine stores now. You can subscribe to the best smelling wine mag in the world at (you can quote me there, guys).

Below are a few of my pretty Instagram pictures of snobbishly obscure wines, just to show how cool I am…not!




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Tuff Act to Follow

In 2010, when Max Allen featured Tom Shobbrook in his seminal work on The Future Makers of Aussie wine, Tom had only been back in Australia for three years. He was embarking on a ten year plan to convert his family’s properties (his parents’ in Seppeltsfield and his partner’s at Ebenezer, in South Australia’s Barossa Valley) to biodynamics, but Max had his finger on the pulse, and knew Tom would go places. It’s now 2017, and what better time to have a look at how he’s getting on.

Those who know Tom’s wines, which certainly includes all the on the ball wine writers I can think of, are aware that he’s becoming one of the real stars of The New Australia. These are natural wines, with minimal intervention (including low sulphur additions), many being fermented and aged in concrete egg. Eight wines were on show at Winemakers Club yesterday, along with one exceptional treat (more of that later). Winemakers imports Tom’s wines, and in fact has been their champion in the UK for several years.

Reddish Cider 2016 is an unusual name for an unusual product. You do have to see the humour here. The classic criticism of natural wine is that it all tastes like cider, and this is just the thing to serve blind to such a person. When they scoff, you can point out to them that it is in fact a blend of pear cider and Mourvèdre (50:50). The two elements are fermented separately, of course. It’s an unusual product. There is certainly wine there, on the palate, but the cider element dominates in terms of acids and texture. What an idea! And it tastes, to be honest, bl**dy amazing. True glugging pleasure, and only 10.7% abv.



Sammion 2016 is Tom’s Semillon. I always wondered what the name signified, and now I know. Tom’s little brother is called Sam. This comes from two plots, one of 55-y-o vines, the other, 110 years old. It spent 15 days on skins in egg, was pressed, and then saw 7 months (Tom’s magic number) in egg to follow. A lovely wine, a bit richer than the previous vintage by my recollection, something which I think can be said of all of Tom’s 2016 “whites”. The Semillon fruit is plumpish, and quite long on the finish, rounded off with a little bite.



Riesling 2016 doesn’t necessarily smell like Riesling at first sniff. There’s something else going on here, but what is it? The grapes get a 12 hour maceration, but the egg is not quite fully topped up for later ageing. This allowed a thin layer of flor to form. The wine is reasonably rich, but fresh too. Colin said he thought people might not notice the Sherry-like note unless told about the flor, yet it is there, clear as day. But then I am a Sherry and Vin Jaune nut! It appears on the finish, almost as an afterthought and it adds the subtlest of complexity. So don’t knock it back too quickly. Let it build in the glass.



Giallo 2016 is a blend of Semillon, Riesling and Muscat. The varieties receive varying degrees of skin contact when fermented separately (12 hours to 12 days), before they are blended together for ageing, for the magic seven months, in egg. In some ways this wine is Tom’s signature, perhaps his best known among aficionados. It’s pale orange-gold in the glass, slightly cloudy, and beautiful on the nose. That Muscat is really concentrated and very ripe, showing apricots over the grapiness. The palate finishes with a beguiling apricot/peach sourness, and a little texture to ground it. Very long. Very delicious.



Cinsault 2016 – I told Colin that the Giallo was the first Shobbrook wine I drank, but actually, I now remember the Cinsault was. My wife bought me a bottle (with the old white label) soon after Winemakers opened (when her office was conveniently very close). This comes from a patch of just two rows of vines (27 ceps in total), the only Cinsault in Vine Vale. In fact they were due to be pulled before Tom bagged them, so to speak. There’s a three week maceration with some whole bunches, after which the wine gets the customary 7 months, but this time in one old 5hl barrel.

The colour is lovely and pale, a joy to look at. It smells of smoky cherries, and on the palate there’s a bitter cherry note with fresh and lively acidity. It’s a lovely vin de soif, although on second taste a fine grained texture shows that it will not be wasted on food.



Novello 2015 is, Tom would not be afraid to admit this, the wine he makes from his leftover grapes. In fact Novello tends to have an Italian character, whilst Nouveau is more French. In 2015 Novello was comprised of Nebbiolo, Grenache, Syrah and Muscat, the Nebbiolo giving the Italian slant. But the addition of Muscat here is interesting. It really lifts the blend, adding fragrance. Pure glugging pleasure. Seven months in egg, again, for this wine.



Clarott 2015 is made up of between 80% to 90% Merlot with a dash of Syrah. The regime here is 12 months in stainless steel tank, and the resulting wine is upfront and simple (not in a bad way, in fact it’s truly delicious). The nose has very plummy Merlot fruit (the grapes are picked pretty ripe), but there’s a nice hint of spice as well. The palate is darker, with black olives (and Winemakers’ manager Colin suggested seaweed). Although rich, and weighing in at 14% abv, you don’t really notice the alcohol when tasting. It’s that trademark Shobbrook freshness that’s ever present.



Tommy Field 2015 is the wine formerly known as Romanee Tuff (it was so-named up until this 2015 vintage). It’s 100% Syrah, which gets a three week whole bunch maceration, then a year in a 60hl barrel. This is very concentrated, and tannins are also present here, albeit the fine grained variety. Alcohol once more weighs in at 14% but the fruit is there, and boy is it silky. That will be your lasting impression. This is no Pinot Noir (which always made me puzzled at its former nomenclature), but when you let that fruit slip across your tongue, it’s pure velvet. But there’s structure enough to balance things, without turning off that spotlight on the fruit. Stealing a quip from Winemakers‘ A-board, “…the Ruff with the Smooth”.



The final wine on taste was not from Tom Shobbrook, but from his erstwhile mentor, Sean O’Callaghan. Shobbrook spent six years at Riecine with O’Callaghan in the 2000s, the Chianti Classico estate where O’Callaghan made his name as one of Tuscany’s finest winemakers. Sean left Riecine last year, following a change of ownership. Although Sean is originally from Somerset, twenty-five years making wine in Tuscany has given him a depth of knowledge and experience which few locals can boast. Winemakers Club, in the form of its founding father (literally), Robin Baum, is a partner in Sean’s new winery in Radda-in-Chianti, so expect to see his wines in the shop from now and in the future.

Il Guercio 2015 is the first of these wines. When Sean left Riecine he took with him a vat of Sangiovese. It comes from a vineyard at 700 metres altitude (one of the highest in Chianti), called “Mello”, which Sean is now leasing. He gave it three months’ whole bunch maceration in a square “Nomblot” cement tank at Riecine, and then it was aged at Sean’s new winery for a year in cement eggs (the same as Tom Shobbrook uses, shipped from Australia).

The nose is beautiful fresh cherry with a slightly ethereal quality. I think it’s very refined for Sangiovese these days. It’s also paler than many modern Sangios, none of the dark colour of added French varieties, and over extracted, over ripe fruit. This is fresh! In fact, the label looks more like that of a vin de garde but I think you will get the biggest thrill if you drink it now, on its fantastic primary fruit.

“Il Guercio” means one-eyed rascal. Sean was born blind in the right eye. He produced 1,800 bottles (and 234 magnums – I’d buy magnums but the wine isn’t cheap, even in bottle). Snap some up. I know a surprisingly large number of people who have already done so.




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Growing Reputation

One of my regular readers asked a while back for some recommendations for Grower Champagnes in advance of a forthcoming visit, and I’ve been meaning to oblige. This month’s Decanter Magazine has a Tasting of Grower wines, but as always, many of my favourites didn’t get tasted. So it seems a good time to say a few words about a subject close to my heart.

There are over 15,000 “growers” in the wider Champagne Region, but somewhere under a third of those actually make their own Champagne. Most supply grapes to the Champagne Houses, or the many co-operatives. That said, at around 20% of production, the growers are playing an increasingly significant role in Champagne. It may be fair to say that many grower wines can be one-dimensional, the product of a restricted palette of grapes, bottled from one vintage with no, or limited, reserve wines available to add depth and complexity. But there are also a number of growers, perhaps a hundred (I’ve not really counted), who make wine every bit as good as the best Grandes Marques. The very best make singular wines of personality which offer something a bit different as well. Many of the finest of these wines are thrilling in entirely different ways to the famous wines we know and love.

Peter Liem, in his Decanter overview, suggests that the best growers’ names are not “on the tip of our tongues” in the UK, even though they are on the “hippest” wine lists in New York, and a cult in Japan. I think Peter is being a little unfair. It is true that the UK has a particular thirst for the Grandes Marques, the well know names like Bollinger, or Taittinger, and even more so for the discounted brands usually flooding the supermarkets at Christmas. But there is a genuine thirst for the growers too, perhaps among those one might call “wine geeks”, but if we are “geeks” then the small restaurants and wine bars of our larger cities are increasingly full of us. Perhaps the “cultishness ” Peter describes in other places is just more hidden here, because the people enjoying such wines are perhaps a little younger than many traditional Champagne drinkers?

It is an undeniable fact that the grower category only accounts for just under 1.5% of Champagne sales in the UK, whereas the comparative figure for the USA is about 5%. But we must remember that the UK is a massive market for Champagne, especially for the cheaper labels where volume sales soar. So I’m not surprised the UK market shows a low share for growers. As availability improves, this will increase. I judge a wine’s success on how hard it is to find in the UK. Some of the producers I’m going to mention sell through all too quickly.

To many readers, the wines below will be well known and no surprise. But I hope it proves interesting to see my personal tastes, and some readers may discover one or two new names.

Bérêche et Fils

Bérêche is, unashamedly, my favourite grower. There’s a handful of producers whose wines I’d be happy to drink to the exclusion of all others if I had to, but Bérêche would be my choice if I had to make one myself.

Raphaël and Vincent Bérêche are based in the tiny hamlet of Craon de Ludes, up on the ridge of the Montagne de Reims (right by the speed camera!). They are the fifth generation of this family producer, which was founded in 1847, and the two brothers have been at the helm since 2004. In addition to their own carefully tended vines, the family make a small amount of negociant wine. No ordinary bottles, these are long aged wines which reflect the different terroirs of the region (Côte, Montagne and Vallée), bottled under the Cru Sélectionnés label.

I’m going to select three wines to mention from Bérêche, but all come from the family vineyards. The first is their entry level cuvée, Brut Réserve. It’s made up of roughly equal parts of the three main Champagne varieties (Pinot Noir from the Montagne, Chardonnay from Ludes and Ormes on the Montagne, and from Mareuil-le-Port in the Marne Valley, and Meunier from Mareuil), but 30% of the blend is from the Bérêche perpetual cuvée (Raphaël doesn’t like us to call it a solera). It’s a brilliant wine for its price (generally found for around £35 UK retail), showing both richness and mineral precision. It benefits from a little age, and the 60,000 or so bottles are usually given around 7g/l dosage.

Campania Remensis is a delicious pink made from 65% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 5% red Coteaux Champenois from Ormes. Vinification is in used oak. After 36 months on lees under natural cork (not crown cap), it is bottled at a fairly low 4g/l dosage. Consequently the wine is dry, with a real texture, Pinot fruit to the fore. If you are lucky enough to bag one or two of around 5,000 bottles, and like a dry rosé, you are in for a treat.

The truly unique wine here is called Reflet D’Antan. Using only wines from the perpetual blending system (the three varieties in almost equal proportions), it is vinified in demi-muid followed by 41 months on lees under natural cork. Bottled at 6g/l dosage, current production is just under 4,000 bottles and 400 magnums. To describe Reflet is also, in a way, to describe Bérêche. The wines exhibit both power and elegance. There’s always a mineral precision, here very much down to the chalk terroir, but every wine produced here is capable of attaining complexity with time. Reflet D’Antan is the apogee of this.

I’ve got to know Raphaël a little over the years. He’s a really nice guy, but he’s also a genius of a winemaker, who deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as a few of the better known superstars of the region. Take my word for that.



Pierre Péters

This is a star domaine of the Côte des Blancs, with a little under 20 hectares in Le-Mesnil-Sur-Oger (where they are based), and Avize. The domaine is run today by Rodolphe Péters, who has taken over from his father, François. This is the place to come to experience pure Côtes Chardonnay, although the first wine I plan to mention is in fact a pink. I only tried it for the first time this year. For Albane is made from top Chardonnay sites, blended with a rosé de saignée. It’s a colour between salmon and orangey pink, very delicate, as are the red fruits. Freshness and a fine mineral line describe a very elegant cuvée, and not too dry, dosed at 7g/l.

The true star at Péters is Les Chetillons, of course. I know people who would rate this the finest of all grower wines. This single site cuvée, previously known simply as Cuvée Spéciale, reflects Le Mesnil terroir wonderfully. But be warned, even at a decade old it may still be very acidic. Patience reveals a golden colour, a complex bouquet of nuts, fruits (often stone fruits) and flowers, but you are as likely to find more obscure complexities such as toffee or orange citrus in well matured bottles. I drank the 2002 recently. It’s quite a big wine, but with plenty left in the tank. The only down side – I can’t believe I was paying £55 for Les Chetillons not too many years ago. It has almost doubled in price, but It’s still well worth the money. On a level with Comtes, DP, etc.



Lilbert Fils

Bertrand Lilbert has a tiny estate, less than 4 hectares, tucked away in what is almost a garage in Cramant, in the northern part of the Côte des Blancs. His vineyards number some of the finest Grand Cru sites in the village, and at Oiry and Chouilly, and they produce rapier-like Chardonnay, with a lace-like structure which can be so fine that you imagine it could shatter like thin ice.

Bertrand produces some very fine Vintage Chardonnay wines which in youth reflect the terroir, and the acidity it nurtures, if you are crazy enough to open one too soon, and indeed there is exemplary Blanc de Blancs NV too. But there is one particular style which I think Lilbert is noted for among aficionados, the Brut Perle. You might remember Mumm’s Crémant de Cramant in the days before the “Crémant” designation was reserved for non-Champagne bottle fermented wines in France. One or two people make very good versions (Péters, above, was always a favourite, though I’ve not come across it for some years).

Crémant means creamy, and that is what the style reminds me of. Generally, Champagne has a pressure of between five and six atmospheres in a bottle, said to be the same  as that inside the tyre of a London bus (I’m not sure how accurate that is, but my car likes 3.2 atmospheres in normal conditions). That actually equates to something less than five million bubbles per bottle. Crémant comes in at between three to three-and-a-half atmospheres. The gentler mousse and bead generated make for a softer wine, which seems more easily digestible to many drinkers.

Lilbert may well make the best version. It’s an old vine cuvée which sees between four and five years in the cellar before release. With a gentler mousse, fine bead, and a chalky softness in the mouth, yet with the hidden structure of Cramant, this is a wonderful food wine. Turbot would be my choice, of course.

Bertrand is a really nice young guy, and he’ll take you through all his wines if you make an appointment. And if I’m honest, you may find it easier to get one with him than with Bérêche, who usually sell out of wine pretty swiftly. Getting an appointment chez Péters these days, well, you probably need to be a regular customer, or an important wine writer.

I can’t find a photo of the Brut Perle, so here’s a delicious Blanc de Blancs 2006.




My friends would tell you that I do have something of a passion for the Blanc de Blancs style, yet here is another producer from the Montagne, with plenty of Pinot Noir. Vilmart & Cie are based in the village of Rilly-la-Montagne. Vilmart has been in existence since 1890, but currently farms eleven hectares of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, under the watchful eye of Laurent Champs.

Vilmart was one of the originals when it comes to talking up the grower revolution. Their exemplary range, which gets better and better the higher up the range you travel, is marked by fermentation in large, and small, oak. If you are lucky enough to land a visit to their Rilly premises, aside from the wines and the wonderful stained glass created by Laurent’s father, René, one of the highlights is the temperature controlled room full of foudres and other oak barrels.

The wines really hit their stride, in terms of magnificence, with the Grand Cellier d’Or. This is the second tier from the top of the range, but the organic grapes which go into this cuvée see three years on lees. Malolactic is stopped, so the wine retains real tension. With age, complexity builds (with nuts, brioche and stone fruits like peach and apricot). It seems cut from granite in youth, but age brings out genuine complexity. It’s very drinkable when mature.

Coeur de Cuvée gets, as the name suggests, to the heart of the matter, and tops out the Vilmart range. The first pressing juice is fermented in 225 litre oak before long ageing (the current release is 2009). The grapes are only “Premier Cru” (about 80:20 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir), but the wine is monumental and magnificent in almost every vintage (in fact Coeur has a knack of producing something pretty special in many so-called off-vintages). A mature bottle (which will generally be, at the very least, twelve years old) will introduce you to some new flavours and aromas. Try looking for crème brûlée and linden blossom. Try not to pop one too soon, as well.

I used to love Cuvée Création, a Chardonnay with a lovely label depicting one of René’s stained glass works, but for some reason Laurent decided to discontinue it. What he does still make is (yet another) beautiful Rosé. Grand Cellier Rubis comes in both Vintage and Non-Vintage format, and it is the former which really lights my fire. It’s a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from a single parcel at Rilly, which is aged ten months in foudre, then thirty or more months on lees. Unusually, for pink Champagne, it ages pretty well. I have one bottle left of the 2006 (pictured below), which online sources suggest will go another six or seven years (it won’t survive longer than this summer though, if I remember to drink it).

With all of these wines I would recommend avoiding a flute. Particularly with Vilmart’s Coeur, Bérêche’s Reflet, and Péters’ Chetillons, something like a Riedel Sangiovese/Riesling glass works well. The large bowl allows these big wines a bit of space to grow as you drink them (with food, of course).



It’s probably not the time to write a book-length article, but I must make a few shorter recommendations for names to try. Everyone knows Selosse, but likewise everyone knows how expensive his wines are. A so-called disciple of Anselme Selosse is Jerôme Prévost, in the “Petite Montagne” village of Gueux. For some years Prévost made just one wine, called La Closerie Les Béguines, a cask-aged Pinot Meunier of majestic quality and expression. Then he added a haunting, pale, pink, extra brut called fac-simile. If you can find a bottle, you will be beguiled.



Another so-called Selosse disciple is Olivier Collin, who makes wine under the family label of Ulysse Collin, well off the beaten track at Congy, southwest of Vertus, beyond the Côte des Blancs. Any wine from Collin is worth a go, they are all wood fermented and made with the greatest of care. Les Maillons is an old vine Blanc de Noirs from a site with clay over chalk not far from Sézanne. Both appley and nutty, with some spice (though the wood used is not new, some sees small barrels). I’m sure Olivier is pretty well known in Champagne circles now, but six or seven years ago he seemed like a real discovery.

Cedric Bouchard makes very tiny batch Champagnes right in the far south of the region, on the Côte des Bar (Aube), under the Roses de Jeanne label. There are several small parcel wines, and you might find Les Ursules and Inflorescence in the UK. Personally, I’m very taken with the pink Le Creux d’Enfer. I’d hardly call it a rosé, more a wine with a dash of colour. It’s another haunting pink which reminds me on the nose more of a weak Earl Grey tea than a wine (depending which way the wind is blowing). Made by the saignée method, it’s pretty and delicate, but has that thin backbone which keeps it tight.

Another “B” is Francis Boulard. His vines are on the rather unfashionable slopes of the western side of the Montagne and the Massif de St-Thierry. Farming biodynamically, Boulard really does create silk purses from what by rights should be sow’s ears. I always had a very soft spot for his Cuvée Petraea, a multi-vintage perpetual blend of around nine vintages, fermented in wood. Honey and spice.

Rightly, Francis’ wine of the greatest renown is Les Rachais. It’s pure Chardonnay from silex terroir on the Massif. Fermented in oak and bottled at a very low dosage (maybe a couple of grams per litre), it develops a real rounded Chardonnay flavour, and complexity.

The  first bottle below (on the left) is under the Raymond Boulard label (vintage 2002). Francis split from the family firm some years ago, forging ahead with his daughter on the path of biodynamics. The bottle on the right is labelled Francis Boulard, retaining a similar look.


Heading back down to the Côte des Blancs, I want to finish on two very different producers and wines. Pascal Agrapart is based in Avize with a selection of Grand Cru vineyards there and nearby. Pascal is another proponent of biodynamic viticulture, or methods very close. The small range is exemplified by Cuvée Mineral. It’s an extra brut which sees a dosage of around 4 g/l. It increases in complexity with age, but it is well named, being above all mineral and fresh. It’s far from being Pascal’s most expensive wine, but I love it for its purity of expression.



Contrast with the Cramant-based domaine of Diebolt-Vallois. Jacques Diebolt makes exemplary wines which eschew the wood of several producers highlighted here, for ceramic and stainless steel tank fermentation, for most of the range. And indeed, I love the non-vintage Prestige Brut for its lively finesse. But the true prestige cuvée here is made in wood (205 litre Champagne pièces). Fleur de Passion is a non-malo vintage wine from the family’s finest crus and appears to be a bit of a secret to a relatively small number of aficionados in the UK. Not so in France and the USA. It’s yet another wine which develops peach flavours in maturity, replacing more apple tones in youth. Perfect balance between power and elegance in a good vintage, but again, with time.



As I intimated, I could go on for days extolling the virtues of Grower Champagne. There are also many lesser growers who, whilst not reaching these heights, have the advantage of being less well known and commanding lower prices. None of the top wines mentioned above are any cheaper that the prestige bottlings of the famous Houses. Indeed, the oft-cited cheapness of Grower Champagne can be a false economy. But then cheaper Burgundy is no different.

If you know these wines, I hope you found it interesting seeing what my tastes are. If you have found a few new names, then I hope you like them, if tempted to seek them out. But these are not wines to pop the cork when you get them home. And even when you do, a nice big glass, and even a carafe (for the brave), may be a good move.

Clockwise from top: One of René Champs’ lovely pieces of stained glass at Vilmart, one of Raphaël Bérêche’s negociant wines (Côte), and the elephant in the room, Selosse, and his least expensive cuvée. You don’t need me to tell you about Anselme Selosse.


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Radikon Action (To Unseat the Hold of the Monkey Mind)

Dynamic Vines showed eight wines from the Radikon family at Antidote (Newburgh Street, near Carnaby Street) yesterday. The reference in the title (to King Crimson‘s latest release) is not in the least bit fanciful. These are wines which provoke intense contemplation of all their qualities. None of them gives you what you might expect, and that is probably as true for those who don’t like skin contact wines as much as for those who are open to them. I’m sure you know which camp I’m in. In order to appreciate them, you do have to cast aside a few preconceived ideas about what wine should taste like, though, and even what it should be.

Stanko Radikon made a momentous decision in 1995, to eschew pesticides and other chemical preparations in the vineyard. His reason was simple. This is the year he decided to concentrate on skin contact for his wines, and skin contact requires both healthy and clean grapes. Another Radikon rule is that fermentation must be wholly with natural yeasts, and without temperature control. All of this builds wines which can age for extended periods, even without the addition of sulphur (they used to make cuvées with sulphur as well as the sulphur free ones, but gave up when they preferred the sulphur free bottlings on release). The wines can withstand, or at least recover from, temperature variations too, something often cited as impossible for sulphur free wines.

Within five years, they (after Stanko’s son, Saša, joined him around a decade ago, Stanko sadly passed away last year (2016)) were working with much longer skin contact times, and to eradicate potential TCA with extended bottle ageing, moved to custom made bottles with super premium corks. All but two of the wines below undergo long pre-release ageing, although there are also Riserva wines (not tasted) which spend considerably longer in bottle before release (and which are ferociously expensive).

The Radikon estate is now around twelve hectares in Venezia-Giulia, in the far northeast of Italy, in the village of Oslavia. This part of the region is designated Collio DOC, but as you will notice, all the Radikon wines are unsurprisingly labelled IGT. Slovenia is just over the hill. This enclave, north of Gorizia, has become known as an epicentre for experimentation, and for “orange wines” in particular (neighbours include Gravner, Dario Princíc and Primocic, among others).

Saša Radikon was on hand to pour and talk through the wines which, despite the bottle age of the final six wines, are all current releases and available from Dynamic Vines.

2015 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Slatnik” is a blend of Chardonnay and Tocai Friulano, from the vineyard of that name. This and the following wine both undergo a shorter maceration/skin contact than the remainder on show, around ten days. They come bottled in either 75cl or 150cl magnum, and we tasted from the latter.

Slatnik is pale orange in colour and it is really hard not to pick up orange peel and marmalade on the nose. The palate has plenty of texture, with quite smooth fruit underneath.

2015 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Pinot Grigio” is the other wine with just ten days of skin contact. The colour here is quite different, on account of the reddish skins of the grape variety. Imagine a ramato Pinot Grigio with the colour turned up several notches. It’s not exactly, pink, nor red, and certainly not the “partridge eye” of the ramato style. It has less texture, perhaps, than the blend above, but is also fresher, and the acidity is more pronounced as a result.


“Slatnik” and Pinot Grigio in magnum

2010 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Oslavje” is the first of the longer skin contact wines. This blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and the two wines which follow, all see three months on skins, followed by four years in oak and a further two years in bottle before release. All the oak used is large format, of different ages, but used oak, not new.

Oslavje is a selection, not a single vineyard wine. It has an amazing bronze, or rust, colour with a mineral/earthy bouquet. There’s a lot of texture in the mouth, and tongue-coating earthiness, but there’s also a smoothness which goes hand-in-hand with the texture. It’s a feature of the Radikon style.

2010 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Ribolla Gialla” undergoes exactly the same fermentation as Oslavje, and has a similar colour, but shows more tannins, texture and dryness on the palate.

2010 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Jakot” is the Radikon wine I know best, and was indeed the first of their wines I ever tried. There’s a very slight difference in how this wine was showing, as compared to the previous two. I’d put it down to a slight (almost) sweetness of fruit on the nose and a delicate note of honey on the tongue, although the wine is bone dry. A degree more elegance and a touch more complexity.

Saša said that 2010 was a rainy vintage, which actually accentuated the character of the grape variety (Tocai Friulano, “Jakot” being, as you may know, Tokaj spelled backwards). For me, it was, and remains, my favourite of Radikon’s orange wines, and I think Saša’s in 2010, although I got the impression his heart generally lies with the Ribolla.

All of the above three wines are bottled in 50cl and 1litre formats.


2005 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Merlot” is the first of the three reds, palish in colour and with a powerful nose of cherry, plum and fig. Alcohol is 14% and you just get a hint of that too. The fruit is plump, but the wine tastes very dry (not dried out). There’s a kind of double attack – fruit first, then tannins, which linger with acidity on the finish. This has seen eight years in barrel!

2004 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Pignoli” is a rare outing for the pignolo grape variety. It may be a rarity, but wine writers have recently woken up to its potential to produce great wines. This too is pale. The nose is quite reminiscent of aged Nebbiolo, perhaps more powerful, but also complex, attractive and haunting. The palate matches in complexity, but like all of these wines, there’s more than a hint of considerable capacity to age. Don’t think that because the wines are well aged on release, that they need drinking soon. That is very much not the case. 14.5% alcohol is slightly “visible”, but well balanced.

If my favourite orange wine was Jakot, then Pignoli was my favourite of the reds.


2003 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Modri” is 100% Pinot Noir. 2003 was the first vintage of the Pinot, which has spent a decade in barrique. The nose is very clearly Pinot Noir, although there’s no small hint of California via its sheer size, and it does come with a 14% abv tag. Yet again we see smoothness allied to a tannic structure, which makes itself known on the very long finish. Very attractive, with genuine presence.


The red wines are also bottled in both 50cl and 1litre formats.

As I said, these are wines for contemplation, and for food I should say. You have to accept that they are living wines too. There’s a bit in Isabelle Legeron‘s book on natural wine where she quotes Saša Radikon. He says that “Chemical wines are like a flat line…that suddenly comes to an end”. I’m not sure I’m 100% in agreement, but he goes on to describe natural wine as being “like a giant wave”.

What he means is that sometimes the wine will show really well and other times, less so, I suppose reflecting the biodynamic calendar, perhaps. The picture of peaks and troughs does indeed reflect how natural wine can perform, and the peaks are the great heights to which these wines can climb. But as far as Radikon’s wines go, my experience has them far more often up at the peaks than down in any sun-starved, frosty, valley.

There is no doubt that many drinkers, unaccustomed to these flavours, would find all of the Radikon wines somewhat confrontational. But where some see confrontation, others will see their individuality, personality and soul. They are unquestionably wines which shine at table, with food. It’s what you’d expect of tannic wines.

If you compare the orange wines to red wines, you’ll see what I mean. Younger reds always taste better with food. It is also tempting, especially in the weather we are having in the UK right now, to serve them chilled. Ironically, I think Radikon’s reds take more to chilling than the orange wines. The former have their tannic edge taken away when cool, but the whites can lose their haunting qualities if you chill them down.

Maybe that’s just my preference. However you drink them, these are masterful wines, in touch with something quite profound at times. So do drink them.

I always enjoy being back at Antidote, whether to eat, drink, or to taste, and I must plug them as I always enjoy the food, and they do have some exceptional wines if you like your vino naturally inclined. The venue suits a small tasting like this (in the upstairs room), and it’s always a good sign when you are handed a Zalto Universal to taste with as you go through the door.


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