Recent Wines May 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 2 of May’s most interesting wines drunk at home begins with two stunning wines, from the Jura and Burgenland (the second of those a fellow blogger coincidentally chose as his wine of the month for May). From here we swing over to Portugal, then Franken in Germany, Savoie (just south of Lac Léman), and Burgundy, finishing with a familiar friend from Alsace.

LE ROI DES 8 CÉPAGES [2017], DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)

Alice Bouvot continues to make the most innovative wines in Arbois, and I’d even put her ever-growing negoce range a step up from ex-vigneron (?) Mr Ganevat. The innovation comes from using or blending grapes from different regions which Alice harvests herself, making the wines wholly “naturally”, including with no sulphur additions. It kind of figures that the labels are always equally innovative, but this one is next level too, a line drawing of her favoured gnome as “Roi” with a painting-by-numbers chart for us to colour it in, should we wish.

This cuvée is Riesling, grown by Philippe Brand at Ergersheim in the Bas Rhin (Alsace), directly east of Strasbourg. The grapes are transported back to Arbois and are give two weeks maceration on skins before ageing in tank. This was bottled in May 2018 and three years in bottle had not wearied it one bit.

The grape variety gives itself away on the nose with beautiful Riesling scents, quite evolved. The palate is very interesting. High-toned fruit acids are still evident but there’s a really nice depth to a wine you might assume would be lighter from the bouquet. But the flavours of chilli and ginger which mix with the lime citrus make for something quite different again. There’s finesse, but “Roi” definitely has a rebellious side too. I love this so much, but it might scare the unaware.

Imported by Tutto Wines.

GRAUBURGUNDER 2019, RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)

Rennersistas, now “Renner und Rennersistas” since brother Georg joined the team, operate from their father’s original winery right on the western edge of Gols, as you approach from Neusiedl am See, at the top end of said lake. (I discovered that if you write GOLS in capitals it will be mistaken for the acronym for “Global Organic Latex Standard”, in case that comes in useful some time).

I do recall Stefanie telling me some time ago that they were going to move away from single varietal wines, once they had fully understood what vine stock they had and how the terroir affected it, towards producing more interesting blends. I pray, having discovered this wine for the first time, that they keep making varietal Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). Fellow blogger Alan March declared it his Wine of the Month for May and were I so inclined, I cannot think of one to top it, though Alice Bouvot’s Riesling would be its equal.

The fruit comes from a new vineyard only planted in 2017 (this is the first vintage), and is fermented on skins for four days, and this was evidently enough to extract sufficient colour to make the wine a clear cherry red or magenta (though oddly described as “amber” on the retailer’s web site). The colour was a shock, but the wine divine. Ageing is in old wood, on lees.

The bouquet is of red fruits, but in the way that a Blanc de Noirs has the same kind of nose, the palate definitely cries “white wine”. Especially if you close your eyes. You will taste both redcurrant and cranberries, with the kind of edge you get in cranberry juice. The alcohol, at 12.5%, is just perfect. It’s a truly versatile wine. I’m shooting myself in the foot big time here because it will be my own fault if I can’t get some more.

Available from Littlewine and Newcomer Wines.

FITAPRETA TINTO 2019, ANTONIO MAÇANITA (Alentejo, Portugal)

I think you will see a sudden influx of Portuguese wines into these articles in the coming months. After getting behind Simon Woolf’s project, a new book on the Wines of Portugal, I thought I ought to make an effort to drink more of them. I have enjoyed many Portuguese wines in the past, and even visited the wine regions in the north, but sometimes a country drops off the radar for whatever reason.

I’ve actually met Antonio Maçanita a few times, a really nice guy, but it was always to taste the wines he makes on Pico Island with his Azores Wine Company. Those wines are hand crafted artisan gems, made from grapes grown on some of the most rugged and windswept volcanic terroir in Europe. The pair of Alentejo wines (this red and a white) are quite different, more commercial perhaps (on tasting the red). However, they are significantly cheaper. If you only drink natural wines, I don’t think this will be for you, but if you are seeking something fairly inexpensive (although £15.50 isn’t inexpensive for most consumers), this may provide an interesting experiment.

Antonio has partnered with Sandra Sárria to make a cuvée from forty-year-old Aragonez (aka Tinta Roriz, aka Tempranillo) (40%), blended with Alicante Bouschet (30%), Trincadeira (20%) and Castelão (10%). The vines are all grown on schist and granite.

Fermentation is in small vats with 15-20 days post-fermentation maceration. It’s quite different to the wines I normally drink. Alcohol is up at 14.5% and the wine is suitably dense and dark to match, and has thick violet legs running down the glass. The nose is of dark, spiced, fruit whilst the palate is equally dense, and earthy. It’s viscous and I can’t help thinking a degree less alcohol would have suited my taste, but that’s my purely subjective assessment. I think age will assist in balancing it. You get liquorice and eucalyptus.

In sum – it’s a very well-made wine at the top end of what I’d call commercial. Commercial or not, I do think if I’d aged it I’d have found more nuance. I do know a couple of people who have loved this, and although it’s not my thing it’s good to leave the comfort zone.

Purchased from Butlers Wine Cellar.

“LE ROUGE NU” 2018, MAX SEIN WEIN (Franken, Germany)

This is my third bottle, but first red, from this relatively unknown 3.5-hectare estate at Wertheim-Dertingen, in Franken (Franconia). It has already furnished me with some very good old vine Silvaner…or should that be “Sylvaner”. You can see from the name of the wine that Max has decided to go Français, and he carries this through to the grape varieties. Instead of using its common German name, Schwarzriesling, he uses its more common French synonym, Pinot Meunier, for the main grape variety, and there’s also just a touch of Pinot Noir (I’m told), not Spätburgunder.

I’d suggest that the red here is equal to the whites. If you enjoy good Meunier. The simplest way to describe this is plum coloured raspberry juice with strong notes of strawberry on the nose. However, it’s not one-dimensional. There’s also a nice hint of “forest floor” coming through in the 2018. It’s another bottle of total glouglou for quenching that thirst. Fresh, zippy acidity and mouth-filling fruit. Joyous…you get the idea.

As well as this 2018 there is also the 2019 vintage available right now, which will certainly feature in my next order.

Discovered and imported by Basket Press Wines.

“1515” 2016, LES VIGNES DE PARADIS, VdP des ALLOBROGES (Savoie, France)

Dominique Lucas, based at Ballaison, made this 100% Chasselas cuvée from one of the least known regions for the variety, which has been grown for centuries south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) as well as on the northern (Swiss) shore of the lake. There are various AOP designations in the short stretch between Geneva and Evian-les-Bains, including Crépy, Marin, Marignan and Ripaille.

In this case, Dominique uses the regional Vin de Pays (now IGP) designation, Allobroges. However, in this part of Savoie there is no one making wine quite like Dominique’s. I’m not the first to suggest his Chasselas stands with the best wines of France. Having finally given up his family vines in Burgundy, he can now concentrate on his special project here in Savoie.

“1515” comes from the appellation of Marignan, a tiny sub-region near Sciez, almost on the lake, just east of the promontory on which sits the beautiful and much visited medieval village of Yvoire (you can take a lovely boat trip across the water to Yvoire from Geneva). The grapes come off slopes at between 350 to 400 masl, all gravel with clay.

Ageing is in a mix of large old wood and concrete eggs, vinification following meticulous sorting. Dominique not only uses biodynamics but also several other more mystical measures. You probably know his “Kheops” (sic) Chardonnay is made in a concrete and oak pyramid aligned to the points of the compass. He also plays classical music to the wines (he’s by no means alone in trying this), believing sound waves calm the wine. But then it’s nice to have some music in the winery and perhaps Napalm Death might scare the juice?

This is perhaps the weightiest of the five Chasselas cuvées here, and it’s perhaps less mineral than some. But it is built around a filigree lacework of acids which wraps around gorgeous pear flavours, with maybe a hint of pineapple. It does have a classic mineral texture on the dry finish though. More than anything else, I think this particular Chasselas proves that the variety is capable of ageing, something few give it a chance to do. It’s clearly the attention to detail at every stage which creates the possibilities. It’s up there with Ziereisen’s top Gutedel and a lot cheaper (under £30 for this vintage when purchased, pre-Brexit). Try it before you dismiss Chasselas.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, but quantities are fairly small (3,400 bottles of this in 2016).

BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ « LA CHARME aux PRÊTRES » 2017, SYLVAIN PATAILLE (Burgundy, France)

Sylvain Pataille, like many a traditional Burgundian winemaker who remains glued to their patrimoine, was born in Marsannay from where he now farms from a base near the church. This is another biodynamic farmer whose red wines have proved both increasingly excellent, and equally remained excellent value, for twenty years, getting better all the time.

Also a specialist with Aligoté, in which he has a remarkable belief, Sylvain is finally seeing that variety get some of the credit it deserves. Whether or not this has been precipitated by the shocking price of Côte d’Or Chardonnay at almost any level now, the very best Aligoté is now getting decent prices, and one or two have become genuine unicorn wines, highly sought after (says a man who just bought some De Moor Plantation 1902).

The winemaking here is natural, no additions except sulphur, added only if necessary at bottling and in tiny amounts. Several different Aligoté are made and this one comes from the “Aligoté Doré” clone. Most of the acidic Aligoté readers will have drunk, perhaps mixed in a Kir, is made from Aligoté Vert, the most common clone in Burgundy. Aligoté Doré was made famous by Aubert de Villaine in his exceptional Bouzeron Aligoté. It’s a different beast.

Significantly lower yields, a tendency of the clone, improves both aromatics and concentration. That Pataille’s vines for this cuvée were planted in 1949 on a gentle east-facing slope rising to 300 metres, in red soils over classic Burgundian limestone, gives this wine the best possible start. Twenty-four months in old oak rounds it out and some bottle age mellows it further.

This wine has a remarkable affinity to Chardonnay, for a moment, then it flits back to Aligoté, and seems to make this pendulum switch gently, on the palate, down to the end of the bottle. There is no piercing acidity, just a sensual smooth mouthfeel, but the wine is steeped in the fresh mineral texture of limestone. There are now a good number of fine Aligoté, but this is up there with the very best.

From The Solent Cellar.

PINOT NOIR “NATURE” 2018, LUCAS & ANDRÉ RIEFFEL (Alsace, France)

The Rieffels make this Pinot from a number of parcels scattered around below their home village of Mittelbergheim, where their winery/tasting room sits on the main street, almost opposite Jean-Pierre Rietsch. They are one of a group of winemakers which David Nielson (“Back in Alsace” blog) has dubbed the Mittelbergheim School…with good reason because the winemakers involved share experiences, taste together and have a very similar outlook, whether that be on natural winemaking or the graphic design of their labels.

“Nature” is one of three Pinots under the Rieffel label, and is the most glouglou of the three. Fermented for around two weeks in stainless steel, as whole bunches, the wine then gets just eight months in older oak before bottling the following spring. With no additions, including zero sulphur, the wine is protected by an injection of CO2 (which, don’t worry, the wine absorbs, leaving just a mouth-tingling freshness). Pure as it’s possible to get, this is like fruit juice, albeit with a very surprising 13% alcohol. The wine is quite light though, lifted, zesty. What kind of juice? Strawberry and cherry for me. Wine should be fun and this is!

This cuvée came from Littlewine (littlewine.co). Just £26. I plugged this very same wine when I drank a bottle last year, but it’s well worth a repeat recommendation. As they say, if it’s worth Tweeting, Tweet it twice.

Posted in Aligoté, Alsace, Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Burgundy, German Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Neusiedlersee, Portuguese wine, Savoie Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Recent Wines May 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

May wasn’t quite the start of the early summer we experienced last year, but we kicked off with wines which at least helped to make it feel like one. Will the wines still be this good out of Lockdown? I hope so, but then we might just be heading for a “third wave” so it’s just as well the cellar is well stocked. We began on 1st May with a sensational English sparkler from a much-maligned grape variety. Moving on, we visited Slovakia, Australia’s Adelaide Hills, back to England, then over to Savoie. The first half of the month concluded with a rare but welcome trip to the Languedoc, another of the increasing number of wonderful Palomino table wines coming out of Southern Spain, then ended with a nicely aged Cabernet Franc from the Loire.

SEYVAL BLANC “CUVÉE JACK PIKE” 2015, BREAKY BOTTOM (Sussex, UK)

Peter Hall planted Breaky Bottom by hand in 1974, so it was one of the first commercial small artisan vineyards in England. It is blessed with a truly beautiful location, nestling in a fold in the South Downs, between Brighton and Newhaven. As you stand on the South Downs Way walking path you look down on the farm, and over the ridge beyond to the sea, just less than two miles away. The vineyard consists 6 hectares on chalk in the South Downs National Park, on land shared with a small herd of forty sheep.

Peter and Christina Hall were pioneers of Seyval Blanc long before the Champagne varieties became the chosen grapes for English Sparkling Wine. Whilst Peter makes equally enthralling wines from those varieties, which all seem to share a house style of lacelike fruit and mineral acidity, I have only once tasted a Seyval Blanc sparkling wine which approaches this one in quality, though quite different (one made by Tim Phillips, and I only tried it a few days ago…but more of that another time).

This is a traditionally bottle-fermented wine, aged on lees, with almost the colour of elderflower cordial, no doubt psychologically precipitating the lovely floral elderflower bouquet. The palate shows fresh apples with a hint of confit lemon. It has a sharp focus but overall is very light on its feet. This is a wine to pour blind for the traditionalists who really don’t rate Seyval Blanc (since they tried one acidic still wine in 1989, you know how the story goes).

Butlers Wine Cellar (two Brighton shops and mail order/web sales) usually stocks the widest selection of Breaky Bottom wines I’m aware of in the UK, aided by their close relationship with the Halls.

“CARBONIQ” 2019, VINO MAGULA (Lower Carpathians, Slovakia)

I love the wines of Magula, but I do reckon they have upped their game in the last couple of vintages. Both Czechia and Slovakia are making truly exciting wines which seem ready to break through beyond the cool bars of the UK’s metro areas, with a few more journalists waking up to them. Although good packaging doesn’t make a wine taste better, I do appreciate the effort they have put into adding a little more interest to their already striking labels (a cut-out vine driving deep into the earth to seek nutrients).

Magula is a ten-hectare family farm at Suche Nad Parnou in the Lower Carpathians. The family farm biodynamically on mainly loess soils with a high mineral content. Very low rainfall in this valley forces the vines to go deep, and they have a rugged side, balanced by the fruit purity of biodynamics.

Carboniq is a lowish alcohol (10.5%) red made from the Modry Portugal variety (aka Blauer Portugieser), one which can make surprisingly juicy wines (see Staffelterhof etc in Germany) but is another grape woefully underestimated by the traddies. It makes a pale but vibrant red here, scented with pure red fruits (red cherry, strawberry), with classic “whole berry” juice. The good acidity makes this very refreshing, and there’s just a little bite on the finish. It makes a great lunchtime red, not that you can’t drink it anytime (I mean, at 10.5% it might go well with a cooked breakfast?). Altogether, amazing value too, at £19.

UK importer is Basket Press Wines.

RAINBOW JUICE 2019, GENTLE FOLK WINES (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)

Gareth Belton has had an interesting career progression. Born in South Africa, he came to Australia in his teens on a tennis scholarship of all things, but ended up as a marine biologist before being afflicted by the winemaking bug. He farms 11 hectares in and around the Basket Ranges, purchasing additional grapes from friends. He follows biodynamic processes, and unusually for Australia (but not in the natural wine fraternity) all his vines are unirrigated.

Rainbow Juice originally came from a single site co-planted with 21 varieties, but these days it comes from a wider spread of sites. Some of the older vine stock is over forty years old. Both red and white varieties go into the blend, with a focus on Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Gewurztraminer (among a very long list). The white varieties get a three-week skin maceration and the red varieties are lightly pressed to give the wine its Rosé colour. Fermentation is described as “rolling”, with grapes added as they come in.

That colour is a darker pink with some orange or copper glints. The colour would be described by Rosé traditionalists, and those focussed on what the market seems to lap up, as “Non-commercial”. The wine is dry yet juicy, with grapefruit and other citrus aromatics. The palate is more around the mandarin spectrum with a little texture from the skin contact (but not too much). All this makes for a delicious glugging pink with a lot more interest than many. So tasty.

This bottle came via Littlewine.

“PERFECT STRANGERS”, BRUT NATURE CIDER, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, UK)

Tim Phillips makes this artisan cider from the apple orchard adjoining his beautiful paradise of a walled vineyard near Lymington in Hampshire. He adds a dash of his red wine to colour it (although now he’s switching from this to using skins), and of all the fine English Sparkling Ciders I know, this is the most vinous. In fact, Tim told me recently that his UK agent said it could almost be a fine Grower Champagne, and that’s what you get.

The first thing that comes over is a remarkable spine-tingling freshness, backed with very fine tiny bubbles. Although one can push the sparkling wine analogy a long way here, the apples definitely tell you it’s cider, just cider with an extra dimension. Taut and tantalising, but sadly (as with anything Tim produces) hard to source.

This was my last bottle. I managed to secure just one from the 2020 vintage, the remainder going straight to Les Caves de Pyrene. I understand they sold them through pretty much immediately, but there should be a few bottles knocking around in the Indie retail sector and restaurants. Grab one if you spot one. It’s fine…like fine wine…and different.

ALTESSE “LA PIERRE MARQUÉE” 2019, ROUSSETTE DE SAVOIE, DOMAINE SAINT-GERMAIN (Savoie, France)

This 15-hectare domaine (grown from 3.5 hectares back in 2001) is at St-Pierre d’Albigny, east of Chambéry on the Combe de Savoie. There is a mere two-hectares of Altesse planted, the traditional white variety of the Combe. The domaine has been run since 2001 by Raphaël Saint-Germain, who studied plant biology, but winemaking is in the hands of Fabrice Bouché. He follows a progressive, low intervention route using indigenous yeasts and carbon dioxide injected into the tanks as a means to protect the juice and minimise the addition of sulphur.

The result with this Roussette is a classically mineral profile unhindered by adulteration. The bouquet is herbal but the palate, whilst fresh, is a little unexpected. I would fancifully describe it as (please indulge me) like licking honey-coated stewed apple from a stone. These wines are very good and excellent value, from an estate which flies below the radar of those seeking the more fashionable names of Savoie.

Wink Lorch, in Wines of the French Alps (Wine Travel Media, 2019) suggests that the white wines from this domaine develop well over a few years, and tasting this bottle bears that out. You just sense that whilst right now it’s lovely and fresh (and only 12% abv), it does have more potential to round out and develop, especially the nose.

Imported by Alpine Wines, purchased from Butlers Wine Cellar.

“LA BUVETTE À PAULETTE” 2019, MAS COUTELOU (Languedoc, France)

Jeff Coutelou (who can now no longer use “Mas” on his non-AOP Languedoc wines) seems to have an uncanny ability to make some very serious natural wines, but equally, some of the most glouglou in Southern France. He farms circa 13 hectares at Puimisson, north of Béziers. Jeff takes natural wine to another level with a desire to develop a mixed habitat with a focus on ecology.

His more Neanderthal neighbours have not always appreciated why planting trees on the edge of the vines benefits viticulture, and Jeff sometimes seems like a prophet amongst the blind in a part of the region well known for boosting the profits of the agrichemical industry.

Anyway, out of Jeff’s very wide range of captivating wines, “Buvette” has traditionally been the one made from odds and ends, “glou’d” together for glugging, although at 14.5% abv don’t glug it too quickly. The 2019 is a blend of Merlot, Mourvèdre and Syrah and in this vintage it’s really juicy. A big wine but balanced by freshness so that it doesn’t taste heavy at all. The colour is dark and you get that expected dense fruit with sharp fruit acidity balanced just right. Crunchy and with punch! The one thing which could put some people off is a slight touch of volatility, which a couple of friends found more of in their shared bottle than I did mine.

Coutelou is imported by Gergovie Wines but this bottle came from Keeling Andrew & Co, the import arm of Noble Rot, purchased at Seven Cellars in Brighton. I must say, I was only allowed one bottle, though there were two on the shelf. It’s a slightly odd wine to be on ration, a cheap and cheerful glugger, albeit a very good one. I’ve noticed an increasing tendency to ration wines, but I don’t think a couple of bottles is excessive. However, my reason for wanting two was to persuade another retailer to stock it, but I later found out they already do.

LAS CEPAS DE CURRO DEL PUERTO A ZEREX [2018], VINOS OCEÁNICOS (Jerez, Spain)

This wine comes from Bodegas Herederos, a project led by Raúl Moreno. Born in Seville, Raúl worked in London before setting up an import business in Australia and New Zealand. But he wanted to make wine back home. Not just any wine, but a replica of the wines once made in Jerez before Sherry became a fortified wine. It just happens that unfortified table wines are really taking off in the region, but this new addition (begun with the 2017 vintage) is at the forefront of exciting quality, a tremendous new discovery for me.

All of the Oceánicos wines are from single vineyards, with a terroir focus. “Curro” consists of Moscatel from Puerto de Santa Mariá and Palomino from Sanlucár, both from single vineyards (Viña Maria Luisa and Viña La Fama). All are old vines off Albariza soils, which of course is quite unusual for Moscatel. The grapes are fermented in tank as whole bunches, then the juice spends nine months on lees with no oxygenation.

The green-gold flecks in the glass already make this attractive. The bouquet is striking, like a slightly salty Chablis (the Chablis element is really noticeable for me, and I got it on another Palomino last week). The palate is clean and fresh with bags more salinity, suggestive of the white, sun-baked Jerez albariza soils. It’s also herbal (fennel is in there), with a classic textured acid finish, chalky-dry. This is very good indeed. I have another untasted Oceánicos wine (Cepas de Pacco) which I think is more expensive and also has more skin contact, but the Curro comes as highly recommended as possible.

The Oceánicos wines are brought in by Les Caves de Pyrene, this one via The Solent Cellar. There’s a worthwhile article on them on Doug Wregg’s blog, Doug Decants, on Les Caves’s web site.

SAUMUR-CHAMPIGNY 2014, ANTOINE SANZAY (Loire, France)

Antoine has been in charge of the family domaine at Varrains, not far from Chaintré, since 2002. Over almost twenty years he has established himself as one of the most exciting producers in the Central Loire, but unlike certain other domaines, his prices remain very reasonable (let’s say by comparison to the likes of Clos Rougeard).

He credits as mentors Thierry Germain and the Foucault brothers of Clos Rougeard, whose vineyard some of his eleven hectares abut (in the sandy soils of “Les Poyeux”). Ten of those hectares are red grapes for Saumur and Saumur-Champigny, with one precious hectare of Chenin, for white wine.

This is what I would call an old school Cabernet Franc made by a man who looks younger than he probably is. Vinification is in cement tanks and the red consequently has that lovely earthy texture these vessels can give a wine. Ageing is deep underground in an enormous cool cavern. This texture supports plum and red fruits on the bouquet, the palate showing deeper plum notes. Even at almost seven years old there are still nice acids, set off by a very balanced 12.5% alcohol. There’s no appreciable tannin, just that texture. Quite magnificent, really, and one wonders when tasting a wine like this why Cabernet Franc seems to gain so much less kudos among most wine connoisseurs than Cabernet Sauvignon?

I’m not totally sure where all of my few bottles of Antoine Sanzay, red and white, came from, but I’m thinking almost certainly The Solent Cellar. They currently list an interesting (and discounted) six-bottle selection case of 2018s (two red pairs and one white pair for £159). Worth checking out. At just over £26/bottle my “prices remain very reasonable” might be an understatement.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Cider, English Cider, English Wine, Natural Wine, Rosé Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Collector

Do you have too much wine? The answer to that question will probably depend on how much disposable income you have and whether you have the space to keep it, or to pay someone else to do so. I’m extremely lucky. I don’t have a cellar in the conventional sense, but our house is built on a hill so that, via a door lower down the house, I have storage which is beneath the front floor. It’s much the same thing in terms of temperature variation. It means that over time I’ve built up a decent wine collection, albeit measured in merely hundreds of bottles.

I have friends and acquaintances who own many thousands of bottles, far more than they could possibly drink in their lifetimes. Of course, if they have purchased wisely, they may be able to turn their cellar, or their stash at a bonded warehouse, into a nice retirement fund. I couldn’t do that. Never sold a bottle, don’t intend to, though when my last Chave Hermitages were worth around £250/bottle it was almost tempting. Almost. My ideal would be to drink it all before I go, but timing like that would be mere luck. No one in my family would be sufficiently interested in my stash for it to be particularly appreciated as something to pass on. It may end up as something only slightly less onerous to clear out than all the crap stored in the loft.

I spotted an anonymous poll on Tom Cannavan’s Winepages Forum last week, titled “How Many Bottles Do You Own?” The largest number of respondents at the time of looking (19%) said they own between 1,000 and 2,000 bottles, but 5.7% of those replying claim to own “more than 10,000 bottles”. Another 5.1% answered “7,000 to 10,000”. As a visitor to that forum, I would tend to believe they are telling the truth.

I’m guessing many people reading this will not be so lucky, particularly younger readers who, like me back in my twenties and very early thirties, probably just have a rack or two under the stairs. I think it was around the mid-1990s when I hit my first hundred bottles and it has crept up from there.

The thing is, when you begin to amass a lot of wine, something odd begins to happen. Before your cellar reaches a sort of equilibrium, the common problem is being forced to drink a bottle too young, either that or to go out and buy something cheap to drink instead as the only alternative. After a certain point you end up not wanting to drink that precious bottle you have saved for years. A certain unwillingness to let go. Sometimes bottles get ignored as a result of changing taste. I have a dwindling selection of fine Bordeaux and Burgundy, which save for a small handful of “natural” producers I hardly buy anymore. But there are also unicorn wines which I doubt will be easy to come by again, even if I can afford the atrociously elevated prices of current vintages. So, when they are gone, they are truly gone, and that can be scary.

There’s a kind of warm feeling I get when I enter the cellar. I don’t exactly stroke the bottles (I’m told some people do), but I am aware (in most cases with remarkable accuracy) where most wines are located and their presence does impinge upon my consciousness. Frankly, it feels good. I think it’s a similar feeling with all collections, except that with a book or an LP you can re-read or re-listen. Once the wine is consumed, that’s it, gone. It’s a frightening thought.

Some people firmly believe you have to buy a whole case of each wine. Then you don’t need to feel that sense of loss until the final bottle, which you will probably consume as the contents are beginning to fade, anyway. Of course, there’s always the Coravin, but I don’t own one and don’t intend to, a purely personal choice based on how I like to enjoy a bottle of wine.

I used to subscribe to the view that one should preferably buy a whole case, certainly six bottles at least (though money was certainly a factor in curtailing how often I did), but then at some point around the year 2000 I realised that there is such a wide world of wine out there, buying cases, or even six-packs, was going to seriously curtail the number of new experiences open to me. This is when my norm of purchasing one bottle, sometimes two, very occasionally three or four, began to take hold.

What makes for a collector, I wonder? Some suggest it’s a pastime for geeks, introverts with few social skills. I don’t agree, or at least I hope those who know me find me pleasant, engaged, capable of empathy etc. But there is certainly a collector gene. Strangely, my daughter has it but my son could probably live out of a suitcase (plus a couple of guitars). People collect all sorts of things, and I’m sure wine collecting is just another aspect the overall “hobby”. In many cases it can become a genuine addiction though.

I began to wonder, when the idea for this piece came into my head, how long collecting has been a thing. We all know about the obsessive Victorians who went across the world, bringing back collections of plants, stuffed animals, dead butterflies and more. Before this period of frantic activity, Colonialism had already begun to sweep up the treasures of defeated civilisations like some great human phylloxera vastatrix, taking all in its path to fill country houses and the great new museums.

The Grand Tour was perhaps a more legitimate way of collecting cultural objects to bring home…when you paid the artist rather than some tomb or temple thief (the robbing of temples is still going on today, whilst most tombs have long been emptied). Have we always been collectors? Did our Neolithic ancestors invite a prospective partner back to their cave to see their collection of flints, or sabre-tooth tiger teeth?

My own habit began very briefly in childhood. I had a stamp collection aged around nine or ten. As pre-teens hit, that tentative interest transferred to a zeal for vinyl as I got into music. It was two miles to my nearest record shop, and on a Saturday morning I would walk there and back with my mate, David White, to buy a 7” single. Both of us had a fairly standard allowance that meant we could afford the record but not the bus fare.

Collecting recorded music has been a lifelong passion of mine, although pretty much every record I owned was sold for very little money around 1978 in order to buy the new bands of the post-punk era. I’ve been equally voracious in accumulating classical composers as well as rock and pop, especially opera. I’ve been trying to play every one of my alphabetically-shelved LPs and CDs this past year. It is going to take a very long time to get through them, but I’m enjoying the discipline. Some things haven’t been given a spin for twenty years.

Books have also been a passion. I’m an avid reader, as is my wife, and we have well over two-thousand books here at a guess. Occasionally some go to charity, but inevitably every time they do I want to read a book I gave away six or twelve months ago. Of course, within this category is my wine library. I did a quick count and it came to 108 wine books. Some of them I’ve read three or four times and they are an invaluable research resource. Even here, I’ve got rid of some over the years and almost always regretted it.

People collect what many of us would think odd things. When I was in my early teens a friend’s father was an amateur film maker and he collected those LPs of sound bites (steam train, fanfare, volcano erupting…) and we spent many fascinating hours playing them just as we would play any of our more conventional musical discoveries. These records became highly sought after when sampling became common in certain musical genres.

A lot of collecting is of things from the past. Nostalgia is very much one impetus for collecting, for inducing that warm glow, often for a time when life was a lot simpler and we felt safe and secure. It’s probably why I’m all of a sudden playing music from my teenage years. Wine purchasing is in some ways the opposite, a burning desire to try the new. But then we don’t open it. What’s that all about? Ownership? Is hanging on to wine bottles a bit like buying vinyl and keeping it unopened in its shrink wrapping, or like collectors of toy cars or plastic film characters, left in their boxes or blister packs, not played with?

Some collect wine to boast about it. Rows of Le Pin, Pétrus and DP to show your friends, just like the guy who was a friend of my wife’s father, who had a whole room full of his regimental memorabilia which he would be sure to show with glee on any visit. Others hide it all away, lest a visitor should ask him (usually him) to open a treasured bottle. I fall in between, because I know that part of my reason for not opening a bottle is because I want to be able to share it with people who don’t have one, be that at our place for dinner, or at a BYOB wine event. There are definitely wines we connect with certain friends. Oh, so-and-so loves L’Octavin but someone else likes old Bordeaux.

My wish to be generous is genuine, although there is the occasional pang of minor regret…the tiny pour of that last bottle of Ganevat Vin Jaune shared with ten or twelve wine fanatics in a restaurant. But what goes around comes around, and I know my own mild generosity has been more than matched by the generosity of others over the years. That is one of the great things about the wine fraternity, and collecting wine at least allows a degree of sharing not available to those who collect toy cars or dolls.

You might think this is an unusual topic for me to write about. I suppose that over the past year of lockdowns I have been buying more wine than usual. Without doubt, we have been drinking a bit more wine than usual as well, so the wine collection hasn’t really decreased in size, much as my wife would like to see fewer bottles parked on the floor in front of the racks. It has got me thinking, though, about the sheer quantity we have to get through at some point. As a result, I think our drinking habits have changed in one positive way. I have been selecting wines to drink which before, I would not have opened. I know I’m not alone in opening wines previously reserved for birthdays or Christmas on a random Wednesday night.

This feels like a major breakthrough. I’ve drunk more wines from favourite producers, such as Domaine L’Octavin, Gut Oggau or Rennersistas, during the past year than in any previous years. Equally, there are wines I own which I’d have readily grabbed in preference to rarer bottles, but which now I look at and wonder why I bought them. Not that they are bad wines…on the contrary. It’s just that they are not quite at the level of the wines I’m drinking, and that means both in terms of quality and also in terms of interest.

Another aspect of my collecting mentality has changed too. A few years ago, I was no less interested than any of my wine mates in trying to get hold of unicorn wines. Domaine des Miroirs, Dominique Lucas’s “Kheops”, Prieuré-St-Christophe from the Grisard era, Overnoy, Ganevat’s top domaine wines, you know the type of thing. As I mentioned in my last article, trying to obtain a mere bottle of these can be rather soul-destroying. In the old days you’d go into a Parisian wine bar and try to order a wine like this, and the guy behind the bar, glimpsing your imperfect anglophone pronunciation, would reply with an emphatic “Non!”. Well, these days you begin to hear that from English wine merchants you’ve known for years. A local wine shop refused me more than one bottle of a certain Languedoc red the other day, even though there were two out on the shelf.

I’ve started to realise that actually, much of the true excitement in wine exists in the £25-to-£35 range rather than going more expensive. I suppose that as my (relatively) expensive bottles do get consumed the desire to keep wine for decades will be tempered by the fact that many of the wines I’m buying now will probably taste better after four or five years rather than one or two decades (though the price-to-quality and ageability ratio for German Riesling remains astonishing). It’s a little sad to be reminded that fine Barolo is a pointless purchase for me now. I hope I’m still here in twenty years but I’d rather enjoy a top producer’s lesser wine in five years, just in case.

Spending less is greatly assisted by a new tack in my wine “collecting”. As wines from established producers become both more expensive and harder to source, I have found a new passion for new producers. I’ve always had a knack, due to my level of long emersion, for finding new stars. Having a finger on the pulse has always been important to me. I only truly know Jura as well as most because I first went to Arbois (as a day trip from Burgundy) in the 1980s and have returned most years ever since.

This certainly has a mirror in music. Part of my musical focus is definitely nostalgic. I bought a Neil Young ten-cd box of assorted radio broadcasts last week, and I have Frank Zappa’s last US concert on pre-order (out in June). But at the same time, I’m very much open to the new, hence my interest in the contemporary jazz of Sons of Kemet, and all the British rap/hip-hop artists I’m listening to at the same time.

This brings me to the last point, I think, that I’d like to make about the collecting impulse. It’s not necessarily about perceived quality. Of course, the collector of Le Pin in large format is no different to the guy who collects vintage Rolex (or vintage Porsches). That’s about collecting what is conspicuously the best, and will be seen as the best by fellow connoisseurs. But most collectors, for want of money or just a very different sensibility, collect for different criteria. To amass things which speak to them on a personal level. That may be toy soldiers, Wedgwood pottery, football programmes, concert tickets, or it may be wine.

This is why I’m pretty sure that owning wines from new and young producers in sometimes less well known, even obscure, wine regions, engages a different feeling than that of owning a collection of the finest Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne. That’s not to denigrate such collectors, who in all probability started their wine stash at a time when these wines were not so expensive, and not so difficult to source. But many will equally have paid top auction prices, and their feeling will be one of pride at the victory over others in the saleroom. Success as an emblem of manhood, perhaps. Seeking out the new, wines which do not yet have the stamp of greatness placed upon them by the trend setters is different, surely? Or perhaps not? I mean, we’re all obsessives to some degree.

At least you can be pretty sure that inviting someone to share your bottle of Prévost Fac-Simile may be slightly more enticing than asking them to come over to see your collection of pristine, boxed, Corgi toy cars. The bottle of wine you bought from a relatively unknown producer today may turn out to be a Prévost of the future (anyway, isn’t Collin the new Prévost, and Lassaigne the new Collin, or something like that?). It’s probably going to be the people with that sort of collecting mentality who will suss out which wines among the vast sea produced around the world will be the unicorns of tomorrow. Isn’t it? Help me out here.

I’m hoping, on that note, to take a break from writing for a couple of weeks (though no, I’m not dashing off to Portugal, Ascension Island or The Falklands – to readers outside of the UK, a handful of places we could, in theory, visit without hotel quarantine on our return). I should be back in a fortnight’s time with what is shaping up to be a gorgeous set of wines from May, plus an article on a very exciting new winemaker, who some “collectors” I know are already busy snapping up.

Posted in Wine, Wine Hobby | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Rosé – Taking Pink Wine Seriously

You might expect me to make some kind of excuse that, oh well, it’s Rosé time of year, but I have a confession to make. I drink Rosé throughout the year, sometimes even when it’s cold and wet. I’ve been showing these tendencies for a few years. I try to keep quiet about it in certain places (Australia, mainly) because it’s not really nice to have your manhood questioned, and very dated jokes being made about wine for Sheilas or “the ladeeez”. But I don’t mind sharing with people who actually like wine for what’s in the glass, like you folks reading my blog.

I think I’ve always known I like Rosé. It’s just that in the early days the ones I liked were not of the fashionably light pink hue that seems to provide the most commercially successful wines today. There were a couple of reasons why I tended to buy darker Rosé wines. First, they seemed to me by far the most interesting. Also, many were quite a bit more expensive than the paler pinks from Provence, and they tended to be pink(-ish) wines which could age.

That was very important in the UK where we never seemed to get the most recent vintage, which didn’t seem to be bottled and shipped quite in time for our summer…or maybe the wine chains just got a better deal on the previous vintage’s leftovers. But if you found Rosé wines which could, and occasionally had a strong desire to, age, then it didn’t matter.

The catalyst for this article was reading Elizabeth Gabay’s “Rosé – Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution”, yet another work in the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library series. Liz’s book was published in 2018 so it has taken me a while to get around to reading it. What I plan to do here is talk about the book a little whilst taking readers on my own pink wine journey. At the end of the article, I’ll tell you which my favourite half-dozen Rosés are, and why.

This particular book is slightly different from the other half-dozen-or-so I’ve read in this series. That difference is both a positive and a negative in terms of who the book will appeal to. If you take the last books I reviewed in the series, Matt Walls’s Rhône Wines, or Anne Krebiehl’s Wines of Germany, they both fit neatly into the type of book which takes a wine region, or country, describes its regions or appellations, and then gives us an entry for what the author perceives as the top, or best, producers. This book attempts to describe a wine style over the whole world, and indeed “wine style” is grossly inaccurate because Rosé comes in many styles. It also describes the industry of Rosé. This means that you get the commercial side of the larger producers represented as well as the smaller artisan labels which my own readers are probably more interested in.

So, Liz’s book has appeal for those in the wine trade, especially those wishing to study for the higher WSET levels or the Master of Wine qualifications. It isn’t a massively technical book, but it is technical enough not really to be of interest to those who buy their Côtes de Provence Rosé in the supermarket (who, if at all, might prefer a chatty, slim, wine guide). The elements relating to commercial production may, conversely, not appeal to the aficionado. That said, this wide-ranging book is as important as Simon Woolf’s on Amber (orange) Wine. If you don’t know much about Rosé you are missing out on one of wine’s fast-growing market segments.

Although you will read plenty about wines (in the general sense) many of you would not immediately consider going out to buy, the book does have a thread running through it which isolates serious examples in this genre. They are very often not the most fashionable wines among the general population, and it is clear that the apparent clamour for pale pink wines in a clear glass bottle (with a real chance of light strike affecting their quality) is not one always shared by connoisseurs of the Rosé style.

The book, after a couple of introductory chapters, begins by exploring what Elizabeth Gabay MW calls the “historic” Rosé regions. It’s here that we first meet the profusion of styles, with Bordeaux Clairet, Tavel, Rosé des Riceys, Cigales, Siller/Schiller/Schilcher, Cabernet and Rosé d’Anjou, and Vins Gris (including Oeil de Perdrix) offering a perfect reflection of how strikingly different Rosé tradition can be.

Here we meet several styles which I found attractive in my twenties. Tavel, because I visited the appellation back in the 1980s (and immediately after bought the wines of Domaine Maby from Yapp Brothers). Rosé des Riceys felt like a genuine secret when we first discovered it, staying with honeymooning friends close-by, in France’s Aube department, when travelling down to the South of France (incidentally a trip on which I visited my first Provençal producer, the beautiful Château Sainte-Roseline, near Les Arcs-sur-Argens) in the mid-1980s. It took me decades and a producer called Olivier Horiot to convince my friends how majestic a properly aged bottle of Rosé des Riceys can be.

Back in the day, Marsannay, at the northern end of the Côte de Nuits in Burgundy, used to be the Pinot Noir Rosé often pointed to as something different. These were the days before Marsannay had been granted a Village AOC for red wine, and the pink wine stood out within the Côte d’Or. Personally, I found it pretty simple beside a good wine from Les Riceys (which, of course, has long been an almost secret source of Pinot Noir for some of the biggest and most famous Champagne Houses).

One other grape variety I’ve not mentioned is Gamay. It is rarely thought of as a top Rosé variety, but the Beaujolais has made tasty pink wine for years, and the Ardèche clones seem equally as capable. But again, I seem to discover wines from off the beaten track, and certainly one of my favourite in recent years has been from Switzerland’s Valais, Domaine des Muses being an estate whose range I have sampled liberally. Surprise, surprise, though this really is a surprise, it has an uncanny ability to improve with age too (though we are not talking “Riceys”, just a few years).

This Swiss Rosé was drunk last year and I’m sure a few of you won’t believe it showed as well as it did (from Alpine Wines)

Schilcher came via a Viennese friend’s obsession with very dry sparkling wines. Once I had served her a nice Extra Brut Champagne in the UK, she felt I was ready for this Styrian speciality (and I most certainly was). Vin Gris experiences came from Toul, and Oeil de Perdrix from Switzerland (via Swiss friends in Geneva this time, but try the wine I wrote about recently from Domaine Montmollin in Auvernier, Neuchâtel), Both were preceded by Gérard Cordier’s oeil de perdrix Pinot Gris from Reuilly in the Loire. This was another staple from Wiltshire wine merchant Yapp Brothers (who have a beautiful, restored, old brewery as their headquarters, in Mere). It strikes me that Yapps sell one of the best and most diverse range of Rosé wines in England.

We then travel with Liz to Provence (which we shall return to), and the other classic French regions for Rosé, before we head over to North America. Here we go from the sublime (SQN) to the…with Blush Zinfandel. It’s such an important style. You may think you don’t want to read about Blush, but you need to. You know how, in an election, you think “how can anyone possibly not see through all the lies and vote for that…?” It’s a reminder that whilst we all geek over wine, in real life it’s just a beverage. One that if it’s easy down the throat, looks nice, costs relatively little, and has a few million marketing dollars thrown at it, will make someone a tidy profit by shifting millions of units albeit on small individual margins. It will also give millions of casual drinkers genuine pleasure.

You know, there’s a lot of wine like this in the Rosé sector. Thankfully, some are still making the hidden gems. One from North America appears in my last article, “Recent Wines April 2021 (Part 2)”. I drank my first ever bottle of Jaimee Motley’s Mondeuse Rosé only last month and it nearly made my top six, being I’m sure the best pink wine hailing from California I’ve ever drunk. I am promised by its importer that the bottle of Smockshop Band Spring Ephemeral Rosé from Hiyu Wine Farm in Oregon, which currently sits in one of my racks, may even surpass that.

The Southern Hemisphere follows next. Both Australia and New Zealand make fine Rosé. If I was forced to choose one Australian off the top of my head it would probably be Julian Castagne’s Allegro. For New Zealand, well my head was first turned by the whole bunch Pinot Noir Vin Gris from Otago’s Felton Road (which I first drank in a restaurant called Ginger Boy in Melbourne’s Central District, on the wonderfully named Crossley Street).

An interesting aside, which shows the disconnect in Australia over Rosé wine: the author mentions that Rosé is currently the fastest growing sector for wine in Sydney (well, 2017 figure), yet in Australian wine guru James Halliday’s “Top 100” published in the Weekend Australian (Nov 2020), he selected not one single Rosé (not even a fizzy one). I can’t speculate as to why, but whilst the Rosé style is becoming fashionable with younger Aussies, there is still that lingering suspicion that to some old, white, grey hairs, it is still a wine for “Sheilas”. Younger drinkers, interested in funky natural wines like Gentle Folk Wines’ “Rainbow Juice” Rosé (Basket Range, Adelaide Hills) won’t be thinking too much about the dinosaur viewpoint (not that I have the remotest idea what Halliday’s view is…maybe he just thinks that no Aussie Rosé makes the Top 100?.

I don’t propose really to include Pink Sparkling Wine here, much as I love it. In fact, I’m so partial to this colour of fizz that it would take up way too much space, but suffice to say that Elizabeth Gabay gives it a Chapter. If there were ever another edition, I think this is one place where she might expand her coverage a little. Grower Champagne is producing some truly unique styles we haven’t really tasted before (take Jérôme Prévost, Cédric Bouchard and Pierre (Rodolphe) Péters to name just three).

England is producing some fine Rosé sparkling wine as well, especially from newcomers like Jacob Leadley’s “Black Chalk” (Wild Rose), and wines with a clear unique selling point, such as Exton Park’s occasional release of a pure Meunier made by their brilliant winemaker, Corinne Seely. We Brits are also joining the pétnat revolution with the likes of Tillingham and Westwell (to name but two very successful interpreters of the genre).

The final part of the regional coverage returns the reader to the rest of Europe. The author gets into many nooks which remain a mystery to the majority of drinkers. Again, I’m sure another edition would expand a little more on Germany and Austria, both hitting us with a host of remarkable pink wines in literally the past two or three years in some cases, with special mention to Burgenland generally (source of one of my top six). If you want to know why, it’s largely because the “natural wine” producers in these countries especially (but it’s a trend which is widespread) are less hung up about the commercial viability of any style. If they want to make it, and it’s good, then they will hand sell it to specialist importers who know how to place these wines.

In this respect I must mention Alsace, where with red wines becoming truly red these days, there are some fantastic true Rosé wines, mostly made with Pinot Noir, from producers including, inter alia, Christian Binner (Si Rosé very nearly made my top six, and perhaps it was an error that it didn’t), Lissner and Beck-Hartweg.

The book finishes with around thirty pages on “the business of rosé”. Many of you will read this and think you have moved into a completely different world, but it’s a great lesson that you and I inhabit but a tiny little corner of the wine business. In fact, I’m going to put it in print here that I probably learnt more that I didn’t know from Elizabeth Gabay than from any other wine book I’ve read in the past few years. That’s despite knowing perhaps almost as much as the author about some of the less commercial and more geeky styles of Rosé covered.

Ah, I promised we’d get back to Provence. We all know, I imagine, that what the public adores is a nice pale pink which can be sipped on the patio and immediately (if our weather gives us just a chance) to be transported to Cannes, or Saint-Tropez. A few may even be able to conjure up a (pale?) imitation of bouillabaisse to go with it. If it has a nice easy name, like Whispering Angel, so much the better.

I am no less enamored with Provençal Rosé, as you will see from my selection below. However, the ones I like most tend to be a little different, almost certainly a little darker, and in my opinion a little more gastronomic. And, of course, I believe more capable of ageing (not that I personally keep these wines for many years, with the exceptions of Rosé des Riceys, Tondonia, which is released with some age on it anyway, and perhaps Château Musar’s Rosé).

There were dozens (literally) of pages in this book where I found an interesting fact or anecdote, and where I’d folded down the page, intending to mention them. But they would just lead to an enormous list. Even longer than the useful list the author includes in her “conclusions” after the final chapter.

The book does have a few minor frustrations (perhaps more so for the author than the reader?), in which I would include some poor proofreading and some frustrating omissions in the index (I think this specialist publisher ought to employ an indexer who really knows wine). But that should not put you off reading it. It’s perhaps a left-field choice for many of my readers, but as I said, I learnt a lot, and Rosé is important, whether or not you are taking a pretty bottle off the shelf in Tesco or looking for something obscure and somewhat more expensive in an indie wine shop. Whilst it might sound more of a textbook than some in the series, it really isn’t. It was equally an enjoyable read as well.

And now to my favourite Rosé wines. I’ve mentioned a few pink(-ish) wines already throughout this article, all of which merit trying by that mere token. This time, for once, I really am going to stick to six, albeit an impossible task because it means I’ve missed out Domaine Tempier in Bandol…but then it’s their reds I love most and my guess is that if you know any of my favourites already, it would be Tempier. My friends will wonder why we don’t see L’Uva Arbosiana from Domaine de la Tournelle, but as Liz Gabay rightly points out, Poulsard makes “false Rosé”. A Rosé is not defined by its colour but by its vinification and Poulsard/Ploussard counts as a red if it’s made as a red. Well, it saves my blushes!

I’m fairly sure I shall forget some but here we go, David Crossley’s definitive six most tasty, exciting and best Rosés in the world, ever (in no particular order):

Château Simone, Palette, Aix-en-Provence

I once tried to find this place around thirty-odd years ago but failed, though you can glimpse it from the autoroute as you speed eastwards, towards the beaches. The Rougier family takes 45% Grenache and 30% Mourvèdre, and adds in a mix of Syrah, Castet, Manosquin, Carignan and Muscatel (according to UK importer Yapp Brothers). It’s old school, aged in oak, ageworthy, ruby red and complex. For the table and perhaps the first truly serious Rosé I fell for.

This is another wine that proves Rosé is not defined by its colour. As with Tavel (at least more traditional Tavel wines), it can look more like a light red than “pink”.

Try Yapp Brothers.

Clos Cibonne Rosé Tradition, Côtes de Provence

Cibonne is by contrast made from a single variety, Tibouren, in the part of the Côtes de Provence to the east of Toulon. Elizabeth Gabay says “Tibouren is regarded by many in Provence as the traditional variety for making Rosé”. This autochthonous variety went out of favour in the second half of the 20th Century, so most Tibouren today is good old vine stock. Gabay also reveals a genetic connection with the Rossese variety of Western Liguria, which figures.

Cibonne makes several cuvées, but at this simple level you get a Rosé with a haunting, floral-dominated, bouquet and fresh red fruits, riper in a warmer year. What makes the wine unique is that it is aged in old barrels under flor. Just a very thin layer forms, so it’s not really as noticeable as in a biologically aged Sherry, or a Vin Jaune. It just adds a lot of complexity.

From Graft Wine (formerly Red Squirrel).

Think we may have got the red, en magnum, here, but you get the idea

Domaine Sainte-Magdeleine, Cassis

There’s an argument for suggesting that Domaine Sainte-Magdeleine is the most beautifully located vineyard in France, sitting as it does atop the cliff that is Cap Canaille, within the UNESCO World Heritage “Les Calanques”, just overlooking the town of Cassis itself.

Jonathan Sack-Zafiropoulo now runs the domaine, whose wines are sought in the cafés and restaurants of the town, especially this Rosé (the white is excellent, if unusual, too). Made from a blend of Grenache Noir, Cinsault and (the largest percentage) Mourvèdre. Coral pink in colour, all red fruits and fresh acids, but with the weight, as UK importer Yapp Brothers suggests, to accompany crab or lobster. I would describe it as perhaps the closest wine here to what the public is looking for in a bottle of Rosé, yet somewhat more serious (as you’d hope from a bottle which retails for around £25).

Olivier Horiot, Rosé des Riceys, Les Riceys, Côte des Bar

It might seem unfair that four of my six choices are French, but there are many clues to follow in the article as a whole to enable you to seek more widely, and at least this one isn’t from Provence. Olivier makes two single vineyard Rosés, definitely terroir-expressive, so different (including in terms of their ability to age, I think), but whether you find a bottle of Valingrain or En Barmont, go for either. Drink them on release and you’ll be mad at me, and my palate (and shocked they are tannic). Age them a decade or more and you will find haunting Pinot Noir, with scents of tea leaf, dark cherry and dark chocolate, sometimes with a top note of soft strawberry.

I won’t go into the vinification, which is described in the book, but these wines are rare and fine. Judging by the results of a 2012 tasting presented by Eric Pfanner in the New York Times, which is mentioned in the book, and which included the producer I first encountered and some years later revisited, Morel Père et Fils, some of the original vintages I purchased there (1982 and 1983) might still be hanging on. The hints of wild strawberry and liquorice noted by Pfanner absolutely ring true with me.

Ask re availability for Olivier Horiot at Winemaker’s Club (London). The Sampler has sold them in the past.

Lopez de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva, Rioja

When we think of unicorn wines it’s not Rioja that comes to mind, but even less so a pink wine. For decades the traditional Riojas of Lopez de Heredia in Haro have been seriously under-priced, and even then, only enthused over by people like me (and doubtless many of you) who have occasionally sampled gems from the 1970s, 1960s, and if we were very lucky the 1950s. But a Rosado?

This cuvée is an example of where the wine is so good that it overcomes a lack of fashionability. It’s a blend of (usually) around 60% Garnacha with Tempranillo and maybe 10% of Viura. Released as a Gran Reserva when supposedly ready to drink about a decade after the vintage (that’s what LdH say but most experienced consumers will counsel another three, or even better, five years in the cellar), it has a traditional upbringing which includes four years in barrel, not really the norm for a pink.

The colour can vary and some vintages have looked almost blood orange, but the 2010 appears closer to onion skin pink. The complexity of this wine amazes first time drinkers. You do get red fruits but there’s always a lot more. I usually find the scent of those tinned mandarin segments we ate as children and, like my mother, we put into lime jelly for our own children. So, a Proustian wine, but not a vegan wine: it’s fined with egg whites even today.

One word of caution though. The price of the LdH Rosado has gone crazy, even if you can actually persuade your wine merchant to sell you some (most go all Parisian hipster wine bar if you ask). You can buy the 2008 for £106/bottle in London, though the current 2010 might be had for around £50-60 if you bid for a three pack on various auction sites. I guess with Simone almost hitting £40 these days, it’s not a big leap. But I’ve given up on unicorns.

If you need a bottle, I recommend trying Hedonism or Berry Brothers’ London shops. Many independents obtain a tiny amount but what they don’t put straight into their personal cellars goes within ten minutes. If you see a bottle, pounce.

Gut Oggau, Winifred Rosé, Burgenland

I had to include a pink wine from Burgenland, and the shores of the Neusiedlersee offer so many fine Rosé wines that I can’t even list the also-rans. Almost every kilometre around the whole circumference of the lake will yield a bottle you should grab. But this one, from Oggau, just north of Rust, is the ne plus ultra. In my humble opinion, of course. Perhaps if you are really interested in the fun aspect of Neusiedlersee pinks, you could also grab something from Rennersistas or Koppitsch.

Stephanie and Edouard Tscheppe-Eselböck have created a literal family of wines, as depicted as characters on the labels. Winifred is part of the younger Gut Oggau generation. There is a reluctance to enlighten the consumer as to the varietal composition of the wines, the desire being for us to see them as expressing the terroir. It’s a worthy ideal (and certainly as valid for a Rosé as any other colour), but because consumers want to know, then writers like me have a tendency to spoil things.

So, we are likely to have 60% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufränkisch. It’s worth mentioning because, as with Gamay in France, Zweigelt is vastly underrated for making Rosé wines. This one uses low-yielding old vine fruit, gently pressed, but the colour is still on the darker side (magenta or fuchsia).

The bouquet tends to cherry and cranberry, the palate perhaps raspberry and apple, with zip and texture (it sees some time in used oak). The wine is joyous and soulful, with both a frivolous and a slightly more serious side. Kind of perfect really. Certainly less “serious” than the wines listed above, but absolutely no less amazing.

Gut Oggau can be had from Dynamic Vines and Antidote Wine Bar (both London).

Posted in Rosé, Rosé Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Recent Wines April 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 1 of April’s wines began with a new wine from a very new producer, Jas Swan. This Part 2 begins with a new wine from a producer I expect is unknown to most readers as well, but one who more than most points to the remarkable things going down in Czech Moravia at the moment. This lovely Czech wine starts off a run which, even within the context of my usual exploratory drinking, yields some additional wonderful and exciting wines from Greece, California, Alsace, Switzerland, The Canary Islands, and also Cahors and Jura in France.

UNCUT SILLER 2020, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)

Siller is a traditional wine style, also called Schiller in Germany, and although there are differences, Schilcher in Austria. It’s a lighter style of red wine (the name translates as “to shimmer”) and it was originally a pale pink. However, all of the modern Siller/Schilcher I’ve drunk has been dark in colour. It was also traditionally a blend of red and white grapes (hence the colour), but as you will know, Austrian Schilcher is made from one very red grape. This Czech Siller is a blend of three, but all red varieties. This one is closer in style to Hungarian Siller, which would often be a darker-coloured light red, but with a tannic crunch.

The Siller blend from this exciting Boleradice domaine is St Laurent, Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) and Zweigelt, from vines over thirty years old and picked in mid-September. It is called “uncut” because the vines are left untrimmed, similar to the “graupert” style of cultivation we see at Meinklang in Burgenland. Far from overproducing grapes or greenery, the vines find an equilibrium, even if they look untidy to those who prefer a lawn to a wildflower meadow.

As you can see from the vintage, this wine is very young and as such, by drinking it now, we capture its almost raw vibrancy. It has a brambly, hedgerow, scent and the palate pricks the tongue with concentrated dark fruit acids. The finish does indeed have a good lick of texture which makes it inhabit a world very different to a lot of easy going young red wines. In a way it reminds me of those refreshing wines from the less well-known grape varieties of Piemonte (Freisa, Grignolino, Ruché…). It’s kind of rustic yet very modern at the same time. At a perfectly judged 12% abv, it’s delicious served a little cool and very gluggable. Indeed, as wines go, it’s very cool indeed. More please.

Petr Koráb is, of course, imported by Basket Press Wines.

“SPIRA” [2018], KTIMA LIGAS (Pella, Greece)

There’s definitely a feeling among most wine professionals that Greece makes wonderful wines, and this is proved beyond doubt at numerous trade tastings. The difficulty is that their retail distribution is relatively poor, and this in my view holds them back in getting the recognition they deserve from consumers. Perhaps retailers think Greece would be a hard sell, the same issue faced by a number of smaller and less-hyped countries. If you taste the wines of this “natural” producer you’ll see how wrong that is.

Domaine Ligas was founded by Thomas Ligas in 1985, based in Northern Macedonia (north of Thessaloniki), up in the mountains at Pella, where he follows the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka, allowing nature to take its course in vineyards which, from the photos I have seen, look achingly beautiful. Son Jason is now involved, and daughter Meli, who lives in Paris, travels Europe to promote the wines. It is therefore Meli with whom I have tasted on numerous occasions at the natural wine, and importer, fairs in London.

This cuvée is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, it is made from the black Xinomavro variety, vinified as a white wine (although the colour is actually more yellow with a pink/orange tint). Secondly, it’s a solera wine, comprising in this bottling vintages from 2012 to 2018. It has undergone skin contact and the result is unctuous and rich, a little toasty with hints of orange citrus, peach and honey. It is a wine in complete harmony, even at 14% abv, and I would probably say it is my favourite of all the Ligas wines I’ve drunk so far, and from one of my very favourite Greek producers. Zero sulphur is added and, honestly, this is so damned good.

The importer of Ktima Ligas wines is Dynamic Vines.

MONDEUSE ROSÉ 2017, RORICK HERITAGE VINEYARD, JAIMEE MOTLEY (California, USA)

Jaimee is an art graduate who fell in love with wine whilst working under Rajat Parr at the famous restaurant, RN74 in San Francisco, which has rightly been described as revolutionary in introducing West Coast diners both to more unusual grape varieties, and to a more food-friendly style of wine than the Napa norm. She then went on to work as an assistant winemaker for Pax Mahle, another mover and shaker for the New California.

This wine comes from Calaveras County, high in the Sierra Foothills. Jaimee sourced the cuttings in the Santa Maria Valley and Matthew Rorick (of Forlorn Hope) grafted them onto old Graciano roots.  Fermented in stainless steel after a long period of gentle foot-treading, the wine was then aged in used oak. Only a tiny addition of sulphur at bottling, no other additives at any stage. This was Jaimee’s first vintage and what she has produced is astonishing. I’ve never drunk a Californian Rosé remotely as good as this.

The colour is more burnt copper than pink. The bouquet is both herbal (it’s the large sage bush outside our back door) and floral, and on the palate it is rich for a wine of just 12% abv, but yet it has that clarity you might expect from grapes grown at 600 masl on mainly limestone rock with a thin layer of schist. Essence of Rocky Mountain Way. I cannot express how much I loved this wine, there’s just so much in there. Inspired.

Jaimee’s wines have recently been brought in by Littlewine (littlewine.co). Uncharted Wines also lists them, but currently has no stock (according to their web site).

RIESLING “LE CHAMP DES ALOUETTES” 2016, CHRISTIAN BINNER (Alsace, France)

I think I may have mentioned fairly recently that Binner was one of the first of the Alsace natural wine domaines I got to know. Most likely for that reason I hadn’t drunk any of late, so I put that right by purchasing a few bottles. Binner is based in Ammerschwihr in the Haut-Rhin, that part of Alsace which used to be rather dominated by some of the bigger producers.

Christian, a mainstay of London’s natural wine fairs, converted to biodynamics way back in 2003 and has ever since been producing a range of exceptional white, and indeed red, wines from his Ammerschwihr winery. This one comes from a vineyard at Katzenthal which is also known in dialect as Lerchenfeld. The soils are pure granite with mica.

Why buy this wine, which retails for just over £20, as opposed to more weighty offerings, such as the Grands Crus? You get the expression of a single site, but if you like a nice taut and mineral Riesling, you don’t need to wait years to enjoy it. The colour is closer to amber than the usual pale Riesling hue. The bouquet is classic Riesling but with orange blossom and beeswax. The palate is quite savoury, with a honey-like finish. Lime and ginger add to the complexity and interest here, which is surely a bonus at this price. Bottled with zero added sulphur and sealed under a glass Vinolok. Don’t try inserting a corkscrew.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene and also available from Littlewine (littlewine.co).

OEIL DE PERDRIX 2019, DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN (Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

Œil de Perdrix translates as partridge eye, the French term for a particular pale style of Rosé. The style used to be relatively common in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland, with a similar type of wine being made in the German-speaking Cantons under the name of “Federweiss” (which can be white or a pale pink). I used to buy Oeil de Perdrix regularly from one or two small domaines to the west of Geneva, but some years ago the Swiss authorities bowed to the winemakers of Neuchâtel and the Trois Lacs, and reserved the term for their Neuchâtel AOC pink wines.

Although a number of grape varieties can be used for the style here, Domaine de Montmollin, based in the famous wine village of Auvernier, is one of the producers which makes their Oeil de Perdrix from Pinot Noir (which I would also argue makes the best Federweiss). The grapes see a very light direct press, and the juice is relatively pale. I say relatively because by using Pinot Noir (organic at Montmollin) the wines have just a bit more weight to them. The colour can also vary from vintage to vintage, if only slightly. I’ve seen them paler than this 2019 from a domaine whose wines I have bought for several years.

The style isn’t overtly complex. Red fruits and grapefruit acidity dominate. But there is subtlety here, and you don’t want to lose that by serving it too cold. As it warms the Pinot character is amplified and the wine rounds out nicely. The back label had the usually bland suggestion that it goes well with “Asian cuisine”. In this case, well, it did.

Swiss wines are always expensive to we Brits, but at a little less than £30 it’s not too expensive for the adventurous drinker to try a unique style. There is still some up on the Alpine Wines web site, though as one of the only sources of Swiss Oeil de Perdrix in the UK, it does sell out fairly swiftly.

LISTÁN BLANCO 2019, LA PALMA, DARREN SMITH with VICTORIA TORRES PÉCIS (Canary Is, Spain)

Darren used to work at The Sampler in London, but like a few young people who work in the wine trade he wanted more. Wine writing, which he has also since turned his hand to, probably wasn’t enough either, so in 2018, after dabbling at a few harvests, he became an itinerant winemaker. So far, he has made wines in collaboration with local winemakers in Portugal’s Bairrada, Chile’s Bío Bío, and here on La Palma, the smallest of Spain’s Canary Isles. They are all released under his label “The Finest Wines Available to Humanity”, which is a quote from the cult British comedy classic, Withnail and I.

Darren’s collaborator for this Listán Blanco (aka Palomino Fino) is Victoria Torres. As Victoria was one of my highly trumpeted discoveries of 2019, you will understand my desperation to get hold of some of this wine just as much as I was keen to try some wine from Jas Swan (see Part 1 of April’s “Recent Wines”). On the basis of this first bottle, I definitely plan to try more from Darren.

The vines are quite old, grown on the island’s “picón” soils, dark volcanic ash, which cover the vineyards here in both the southeast and southwest of La Palma. Viki’s winery is at Fuencaliente, nearby, and this is where Darren made the wine. That wine is made from organically farmed grapes with very low added sulphur and no other manipulations…and it really is remarkably good. It has the island’s characteristic salinity along with a dry, apple freshness, but it has a gently honeyed centre centre as well, which definitely adds depth. This all creates a wine which lingers a long time, riding the palate in a sedate slalom. Only 400 bottles were made so I am thrilled to get to try it.

Darren has this wine at his former employer’s, The Sampler, along with Lechevalier on Tower Bridge Road, and he seems to have a stall at the famous market in London Fields (Westgate Street) on Saturdays. Maybe check out his Insta (@tfwath) for updates and details. The quantities made of these wines do not suggest a much wider distribution. I purchased mine directly after contacting him via Instagram.

HAUTE CÔT(E) DE FRUIT 2019, FABIEN JOUVES (Cahors, France)

When I was younger, I had a bit of a thing for Cahors. I suppose it was a little different to Bordeaux but in a similar space. The region around the city is very beautiful, as is the cuisine, and although we never stayed there, I was lucky enough to pass through it several times, allowing long enough for an hour or two in the city or nearby. As I got more interested in natural wines, Cahors (with one or two exceptions) didn’t always come to mind.

Fabien Jouves, however, has been a constant in my more enlightened drinking, not least for his cuvée which strikes a deliberately offensive pose, “You F**k My Wine”. It certainly gained him some notoriety, but it makes a point about how some more conservative appellations seek to move in one direction only, which doesn’t always connect with the zeitgeist.

In the case of Cahors, it might be worth noting that there have been some moves to identify the wine with its main grape variety, thus jumping on the bandwagon of the commercial success of Argentinian Malbec in a big and usually quite alcoholic style. Fabien makes something very different, and indeed although the wine does say “Malbec” on the label, this cuvée’s name emphasises the local synonym for Malbec, Côt.

Mas de Périé, Fabien’s domaine, sits up on the plateau above Cahors, where the soils blend limestone and clay with deep-bedded mineral deposits. The vines are currently undergoing biodynamic conversion, but Fabien’s wines are all “natural wines”. Haute Côt(e) de Fruit has a vibrant deep inky purple colour with scents of violets along with mostly red and some darker fruits. It has a delicious freshness which you might call “brisk”, and a general fruity lightness.

Very much glouglou rather than structured and/or tannic. Most certainly not your typical Malbec, certainly not one I’d give to my neighbour who loves the variety. That said, this does sport 13% abv, so any move to glug this down swiftly might result in a surprise wobble on standing up. Still, what its brambly fruit does allow it to share with its distant Argentine cousin is a suitability for the barbecue.

Fabien Jouves is imported by Carte Blanche Wines. My bottle came from Bin Two Wines (Padstow, Cornwall) because I decided to make it worthwhile when I ordered the Jas Swan wines by adding in a further assortment of bottles (as one does).

CHARDONNAY “TERRE DU LIAS” 2018, DOMAINE DE LA BORDE (Jura, France)

The final wine from April is another absolute stunner. Julien Mareschal started out in his early twenties with, originally, no wine background at all. He moved from studying agriculture onto a wine diploma course at Dijon before working for a number of Jura domaines (among other regions). I think it is pertinent to mention that his approach was changed when he was mentored, as so many superb natural wine producers in the region were, by the late Pascal Clairet of Domaine de la Tournelle

Julien now farms around five hectares from his base at Pupillin, just outside Arbois. This particular wine is from a site called “Sous la Roche”, a steep slope rising to 500 masl. The soils are “argiles bleues du lias” (lime-rich blue marls). Although Julien has little Chardonnay, he does make it from two sites. Both are made ouillé (topped-up, not the traditional oxidative style). This wine is both fermented and aged in older foudre with ten months on lees. There are no additives, either in the vineyard or winery, except for very minimal sulphur.

This is an especially fine Chardonnay, from one of the finest of Jura’s new wave of producers. A wine of considerable purity, showing lemon citrus, hints of pear and a little nuttiness. Its great minerality and lees-induced texture suggest it will age rather well, but who cares. If I had a second bottle I’d be no more able to hang on to it to find out just how well. One to seek out before prices go really mad. A decade ago, this young man was almost unknown. Now his reputation is assured.

Domaine de la Borde is imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. This bottle was purchased retail from The Solent Cellar (Lymington).

Posted in Artisan Wines, Californian Wine, Czech Wine, Greek Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Swiss Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines April 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

April arrived swiftly, May even more quickly, but as I begin my roundup of last month’s bottles, with reference to my previous article, I can pretty confidently assure you that no “Roundup” was used on any of these wines. They all fall, most of them firmly, into the natural wine camp. We begin with a serious “score” from the Mosel, a producer I had been craving to try for a while. Next, a Champagne I wanted to try so much but couldn’t afford. A friend for whom I did a small favour sent me a bottle and he cannot imagine the thrill I felt both on opening and drinking it.

That accounts for two of the eight wines in Part One, but those which follow are no mere pedestrians, as we shall see. Alice Bouvot, Vino Magula, La Soeur Cadette, Jan Matthias Klein, Pieter Walser and Meinklang make for some spectacularly varied and “different” drinking in the first half of last month.

“SIF” 2019, KATLA WINES (JAS SWAN) (Mosel, Germany)

I’d picked up on what Jas Swan was doing, working mostly as a micro-negociant out of Jan Matthias Klein’s Staffelter-Hof premises at Kröv, some time ago. Then when Trink Magazine launched, I read an article about Jas and the “Alternative Mosel” movement, written by Valerie Kathawala (trinkmag.com), one of my favourite writers on wine. This cemented my desire to try her wines, yet she has no major UK importer. Then I found a source which had literally a handful of bottles of “Sif” and I was in like a shot.

When I chatted with Rudolf Trossen at an event put on by Vine Trail and Newcomer Wines in London a couple of years ago, he told me that all the young winemakers should come to the Mosel because they can get hold of vineyards pretty much for free. Well, I think a few did and they make up a group which Swan calls “Alt-Mosel”. They tend to be young, farm abandoned vineyards in less famous villages or sites, and use whatever grape varieties they feel like. Whilst Trossen may be a guiding light, Jan Matthias Klein (who we shall meet later) has been a true mentor, whilst putting his own beliefs into practice as well. Valerie Kathawala calls ex-sommelier Swan the spokesperson for this group. She only founded Katla Wines in 2019.

Although Jas tries to farm the vines for her negoce label herself, she purchases fruit from Nahe and Rheinhessen as well as the Mosel. She works in a very traditional way, hands on but minimum intervention. Sif is a Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) grown on slate and clay soils. It is fermented with indigenous yeasts, 50% destemmed, in füder with a five-day maceration. Then, with 50% direct pressed fruit, it is moved to stainless steel after winter, and is bottled after a year.

Bottled with carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine, it is slightly pétillant on opening. It is dry and textured, having that minerality that I like from Pinot Blanc. It’s also light and refreshing (just 11% abv). No sulphur is added. It’s certainly not a complex wine, but it’s not meant to be. Fun, fresh and savoury, glad I have another bottle. I look forward to trying more of Jas’s wines, and I’m sure we shall be hearing a lot more from this young talent.

The only source I found for Jas’s wines was the retailer Bin Two Wines in Padstow, Cornwall. I’m grateful to them for allowing me to purchase two whole bottles, to give me the chance to try one and, in due course, spread the word a little more with the second.

 “HÉRACLITE” BRUT NATURE 2014, TIMOTHÉE STROEBEL (Champagne, France)

Timothée Stroebel is based on the Montagne de Rheims at a village few will have heard of, Villers Allerand (which sits between the main D951 route to Épernay to the west and Rilly-la-Montagne to the east). Although the family vines go back to Timothée’s grandfather’s generation here, he is the first to really carve a niche as a top-quality Grower. He describes himself as a practitioner of “agriculture paysanne” making non-interventionist wines from Premier Cru fruit. “Héraclite” is 100% Meunier, planted in 1964 on mostly clay soils. In fact, Timothée is incredibly focused on soil health, using a couple of horses to plough and working organically. All the finished wine sees is a tiny bit of added sulphur. The name of this cuvée was inspired by a quote from Heraclitus: “The only constant in life is change”.

The wine, which sees three years on lees before disgorging, sings of red fruits on the bouquet but the palate is quite savoury. It’s actually pretty unique among Champagnes in terms of flavour, and one Champagne specialist I know, who also likes this wine, said “but it is different”. It certainly has its own personality, but that personality is not necessarily assertive. The wine sings with purity. It was a touch tight initially because I served it too cold, but it soon opened up into something beautiful. Some have said “poetic”. I agree. I could drink this every week. Only 2,005 bottles made.

Although this was a gift it was sent to me via Littlewine (littlewine.co), which on last look had a few Stroebel cuvées on the site.

“COMMENDATORE” [2013], DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)

Always getting told off for naming my favourites (I can see why a wine writer shouldn’t really do that), I really cannot deny the passion I have for this producer’s ever-increasing range of wines. Many of the bottles I have bought since Covid struck have been the “gnome label” négoce bottles, but I try whenever I can to source the immaculate domaine wines. This one is one of Alice’s originals, the name reflecting her love of Mozart operas (in this case, Don Giovanni).

Commendatore is a Trousseau made from over 50-year-old vines in the well known Arbois vineyard called “Les Corvées”, which lies just to the northeast of the town, below the road to Montigny-les-Arsures. The fruit is macerated for eight months in tank with no plunging of the cap or pumping over. The result is at seven-and-a-half years of age a stately wine, mellow with smooth fruit. Contemplative, but in no way “old”. There are soft red fruits to the fore and just a nice savoury edge to add interest. It is one of the finest bottles of L’Octavin I’ve drunk for a couple of years.

Although I buy, and continue to buy, Alice Bouvot’s wines wherever I can find them, both in London and Arbois (the UK importer is Tutto Wines) I’m sure this bottle was cellared from a visit to the winery some years ago.

VELTLÍN 2018, VINO MAGULA (Lower Carpathians, Slovakia)

This is Grüner Veltliner, known as Veltlín in Slovakia, and it comes from a biodynamic producer whose wines I seem to be drinking with increased frequency as I get to know them better. Magula is a biodynamic family farm at Suchá nad Parnou in the Lower (aka Lesser) Carpathians, northeast of Bratislava. They have 10 hectares of vines on deep loess soils which are rich in minerals, especially calcium. The climate is sunny and dry, and their labels depict a vine delving deep underground to find nutrients.

I think you’ll find this is a wine which sort of hits you and makes you sit up. Dry on the palate, yet with quite exotic fruit (lime, mango and pineapple for me), but with a touch of, almost, chilli spice, on the front of the tongue. This is accompanied by some zesty acidity, so that you might think the wine is a year younger. The balance comes from an initially deceptive 13% abv. Delicious. A nicely different take on the old Grüner variety.

Magula has, since 2018, upped their label game (as you will begin discover next month, and as indeed has Jas Swan since “Sif” was released). Of course, we don’t buy a wine for its label (though I can think of a few whose labels put me off), but we all love a nice wine that is well packaged.

Magula is part of the Basket Press Wines portfolio in the UK.

MELON 2018, VIN DE FRANCE, LA SŒUR CADETTE (Burgundy, France)

Melon is, of course, Melon de Bourgogne. It’s the grape of Muscadet, so there’s a kind of neatness to see it grown in Northern Burgundy. Domaine de la Cadette was created by Jean and Catherine Montanet when they planted just short of 14 hectares of vines, beginning in the late 1980s, to the southeast of the beautiful abbey town of Vézélay (way west of Chablis). The soils, on the edge of the granite Morvan Hills, are complex, blue, red and grey clay marls with limestone outcrops.

Of course, the vines are now reasonably old and despite this being a little-known corner of the greater Burgundian vignoble, they have made something of a name for themselves. By 2010 they even warranted inclusion in Jasper Morris’s Burgundy Bible, Inside Burgundy. Although Vézélay has been AOC/AOP since the late 1990s, this interloper variety (but is it?) is bottled as a Vin de France. Jean and Catherine’s son, Valentin, has been in day-to-day charge for the past decade.

Most would drink this wine young and fresh, but I left this resting over the winter and so we are drinking 2018 here. Age has softened it a little but what it lacks in the kind of freshness you might associate with this grape variety, it gains in interest in other areas. Despite being a cheap bottle, it has some subtlety. It hints at Chardonnay in a strange way, just a tiny bit, though I am assured it is 100% Melon de Bourgogne. It does show an innate minerality from the limestone content in the soil, which adds a touch of steeliness. In its third year, it may be relatively simple but it is a lovely wine.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, and in light of my recent article about the man, it is imported by Kermit Lynch in the USA.

PAPA PANDA’S RISING [2018], JAN MATTHIAS KLEIN (Mosel, Germany)

We already mentioned JMK in relation to Jas Swan earlier in this article. Jan runs the family winery, Staffelter-Hof, at Kröv. Although his family have long tenure here, since the early 1800s, the estate is claimed to have been mentioned in 862 (sic), as part of the property of a Belgian Benedictine Abbey. Some say it may be the oldest still existing wine estate in the world.

That’s all very traditional, as (more or less) are the Rieslings JMK produces under the estate label. However, Jan is a man on a mission and he also makes a large and ever-increasing number of natural wines, many with the most unusual grape varieties for the Mosel, and some under a label he calls “Pandamonium” (sic, hence the panda references). These specific wines are collaborative ventures. In fact, there’s a rumour he’s doing one with Jas Swan, but this petnat wine was a joint venture with a Polish neighbour, Andrzej Grestza.

Each of them, Jan and Andrjez, fermented a 1,000-litre füder of Riesling grown on slate, and allowed malolactic to take place. The two barrels were blended together before bottling. It makes a lovely petnat wine showing a herbal bouquet with a slatey edge (you can definitely smell wet slate). The palate is mineral, citrus and with plenty of texture derived from the lees in bottle (if you prefer not to drink it cloudy, then it needs to be stood up for 24-hours at least).

Simon Woolf (The Morning Claret) tasted this 2018 vintage in October 2019 and found it a little tight. His suggestion, to leave it a year, has certainly worked in this case. It’s a lovely bottle, and I’m sure some of you noticed it appeared in my article on “petnats” recently, as one to look out for.

Imported into the UK by Modal Wines. They usually sell a good selection of JMK’s wonderfully different cuvées which challenge the whole conservative ideal of what Mosel Wine should be.

“A RARE MOMENT” 2019, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Western Cape, South Africa)

This is the red brother to “The Trip”, which was a Grenache Blanc I drank back in December last year, one of the latest pair of wines Pieter Walser made exclusively for Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton.

This cuvée is mostly old bush vine Pinotage with a dollop of Syrah, all from a single small grower at Darling, Western Cape. It’s the same source for the Pinotage of the previous red Pieter made for Butlers, “Gothus”. Some stems were left on in the fermentation and the wine was aged in casks of some age.

You get rich, smoky, fruit on the nose with a dusting of cracked black pepper. There’s a beautiful freshness which belies the 14% abv on the label. Pieter’s wines often tend to look ripe and rich from the declared alcohol level, but they always tread lightly with an elevated freshness making them seem a couple of degrees lighter…unless you drink the bottle solo. Right now, we get some tannic structure which suggests it will age well, but you weren’t going to see me keeping my hands off it for long. Bursting with vitality now, you could go either way, drink or keep. Or buy two or three, especially if you reckon you don’t like Pinotage.

Blank Bottle Winery is imported by Swig Wines, who can supply the very wide range of small batch wines Pieter makes. His labels, many designed by his children, are some of the most exciting in South Africa. This wine is, of course, exclusively available through Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton. It seems like they will be doing an exclusive pair every year and at a little over £20, they are brilliant value.

KONKRET ROT 2012, MEINKLANG (Burgenland, Austria)

Meinklang Farms is a large mixed biodynamic operation at Pamhagen, at the southern end of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee, close to the Hungarian border. Aside from their cereals and beef cattle they make beer from ancient grains, remarkable ciders, wine from the Somló Massif in Hungary, and a wide range of everyday wines in Burgenland. Then there are the premium quality bottlings from “graupert” vines (unpruned, left wild more or less) and at the top of the tree, perhaps, some red and orange/white wines called “Konkret”, vinified for twelve months in 9-hectolitre concrete eggs.

The red version in 2012 is 100% Saint-Laurent. Although the wine has a darker hue, it’s not remotely heavy. The permeability of the concrete in the eggs allows for in effect some micro-oxygenation. This gentle ageing allows the wine to stabilise and to continue ageing slowly in bottle. Despite this being nine years old, it still has clear and defined, and fairly concentrated, raspberry and cranberry fruit on the bouquet. The palate goes on to pick out some darker blackcurrant flavours as the wine opens in the glass (Zalto Universal, to concentrate that fruit). You might then find some nettles prickling the back palate slightly and, certainly, an iron-rich texture characteristic of the vinification vessel.

This is, I would say, one of the most under rated wines I habitually buy (though Meinklang hasn’t arrived here since the first Lockdown and I’m now clean out of them for the first time in many years). The care that goes in at the front end allows the wine to age beautifully and what you get is both intellectually stimulating, and thrilling at the same time. Most of my Meinklang, including this Konkret Rot, came from Winemakers Club in London.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Slovakian Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are We Doing Enough?

Last week we had Earth Day, and all media was full of climate doom and save the planet pleas from environmentalists and scientists. Most of us probably gave the matter some thought, whilst others would have let the warnings pass them by, either because they don’t believe or would rather leave it all to others to solve. Governments and large corporations continue to talk the talk whilst any walking the walk is generally cosmetic, fiddling (whilst Rome burns) around the edges without addressing the key issues. One of those issues is agriculture.

A few years ago, we saw an enormous revival in the interest in nature writing, whether this was through those who poetically described the nature they saw in our past, like WH Hudson and Edward Thomas, or highlighted the perils we were about to face, like Rachel Carson in the 1960s. Have you noticed how there has been a bit of a shift over the past year or two? Now we have moved to a narrative which purports to show what needs to be done. We have solutions like Chris Smaje’s “A Small Farm Future”, James Rebanks’s “English Pastoral” (more or less a return to rotational and smaller scale farming which takes on stewardship of nature at the same time) and Isabella Tree’s “Wilding” (hopefully self-explanatory), and many more, all of which offer us a hope for the future under the overarching umbrella of sustainable regenerative agriculture.

So, what has all this got to do with wine? Well, I feel that wine has somehow become disconnected from agriculture in general and has largely slipped out of the debate. Wine producers grow grapes, which provide an annual crop just like any other form of agriculture. It could be said that viticulture is different to other forms of agriculture, arable farming and animal husbandry, being fruit production, where the tree or vine remains in situ throughout its whole life cycle, rather than a crop being planted, grown and harvested (by animal or man) through a growing season.

This perhaps avoids that which is central to all agriculture, the soil. Many people, perhaps the majority, are aware now of the issues surrounding the application of synthetic chemicals in vast quantities to crops. Especially from the middle of the 20th Century, the agrochemical industry began to provide solutions which could, along with modern mechanisation, increase crop yields dramatically, pushing memories of food shortages into the past (so the theory went).

A beautiful diversity of wildflowers in the vineyard, here above Mesnay (Arbois, Jura)

By providing cheap food, the idea goes, people are moved out of poverty too. Combined with the choices reliably available in the new modern supermarkets, it all sounded so good. Food could equally cease to be seasonal, and cease to be of national origin, one of the first consequences of global markets. But looking at it from the perspective of the 2020s, that just hasn’t happened. We in Britain spend close to the smallest proportion of our income on food in the whole world, and by quite a long way the smallest proportion in Europe, yet we still have food banks, child poverty and, just as importantly, many very poor farmers.

Going back to the farming landscape, the biggest visible impact of the application of agrochemicals is in the flora and fauna which are removed from our farms in order to “keep our crops healthy and to increase yields”. This is no different for vineyards. Wild flowers provide food for pollenating insects, and insect life provides food for birds, and so it goes on up the food chain. In this fiftieth anniversary year of JA Baker’s book, “The Peregrine” it is interesting to note that a general recovery in raptor populations in the UK hides the fact that they are often adapting to safe urban environments whilst actually declining over some intensively farmed regions (and grouse moors, of course). But the biggest impact, which we don’t see, unless it is pointed out to us, is the effect of these chemicals on soils.

A good example (on the left) of the dead zone, photo courtesy Christina Rasmussen, littlewine.co

On the earth (as opposed to in the seas), our soils contain by far the greatest number of living organisms. Or I might say “should contain”. The effect of spraying crops regularly, in which we include spraying vines, acts inevitably as a kill-all solution. Constant spraying, especially when coupled with soil compaction by tractors, creates a dead zone. Then we must add in the effects of soil erosion on hillside vineyards, which deprive the vines of a whole system of nourishment and health. So, to keep producing a crop from increasingly sterile soil, more and more chemicals need to be poured in. In fact, the eventual outcome is that the application of chemicals becomes systemic. Everything is thrown at the vineyard/field system in order to hedge against any eventuality, a bit like giving livestock antibiotics whether or not they have any illness or disease.

With antibiotics we kind of get it. Resistance. This is no less a problem for livestock and poultry as it is for humans. The situation with the application of synthetic chemicals to a vineyard is analogous. You need more and more applications until, as we have seen on some of the large industrial farms, the soil dies and it cannot be revived. There’s no pulse in this living organism.

Arable farmers used to have a solution which worked, rotational agriculture on, perhaps, a mixed farm with crops and grazing animals rotating, and with fields left fallow to recover. Of course, you can’t do this in a vineyard, and you don’t need to. Every year, barring frost and hail, serious disease or bush fires, you will (under all but the worst circumstances) get a crop. Sometimes large, sometimes small, but a crop nevertheless. This gives a false sense of security that all is well in the ground.

So, let me get around to the point of this article. Many consumers who are at least aware of the issues surrounding highly intensive agriculture are nevertheless unable to draw a connection to the wine they drink. Of course, we have “organic” wine, but I don’t think the majority of even mildly concerned consumers seek out organic wine every time they take a bottle off the shelf. This is without any discussion of what exactly organic means here.

The people who are really doing the most to make wine sustainable are those making so-called “natural wine”, but the difficulty here, let’s not kid ourselves, we who advocate for low intervention viticulture and winemaking, is that this area is currently very niche. A lot needs to be done to educate consumers about what natural wine is and how it may differ to wines farmed and made conventionally, but before that happens the wine retailers and wine writers need to be educated.

I always find it both funny and frustrating that people who can afford to buy their provisions from fresh produce suppliers like Riverford Organic, or buy their “Duchy Organic” lines from Waitrose “because they are not covered in pesticides” (a topic for discussion from both angles) are nevertheless wholly uninterested in what is sprayed on, and what additives go into, the wine they have just selected to accompany their “pesticide-free” dinner.

There’s a whole list of things wine producers are trying out in order to make viticulture more sustainable, and many of those are focused on renewing soil health. They can range from using a horse to plough between the rows, using sheep to graze the space between, using sexual confusion rather than sprays to deter insects, and even planting trees to encourage birds, right up to not tilling the soil at all. Those who follow the practices suggested by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) use no pesticides nor herbicides, and follow a “no-till” philosophy which is being shown increasing levels of interest, both in viticulture and farming generally.

Domaine Lissner (Alsace) follows Fukuoka’s philosophy in the vineyard, with results for wine and biodiversity

I should also add in a sentence about wine farmers who work their vines on a mixed farm. It used to be the norm in much of Europe, especially France. Today it remains relatively common in parts of Central Europe, especially countries in the former Eastern Bloc. It has also seen something of a revival in Austria. Cows, goats, geese, chickens, ducks, sheep, they all fit in to the lifestyle choices which many younger winemakers are drawn to.

As an aside, so many of the books I read talk about the disconnect from his or her land a farmer suffered when they swapped horse and plough for the insulated cabin of a tractor. James Rebanks, in English Pastoral, talks about the importance of walking his land every morning, just as his grandfather did, looking for tiny changes and any signs that something might not be quite right, as do the best wine producers who get to know their vineyards intimately. Feeling the ground under your feet does genuinely act as a connection between farmer and land.

Natural Wine’s opponents can be highly vociferous, criticising wine faults without caring to address the issues surrounding the potential harm which can be caused by synthetic chemical applications. We no longer have DDT sprayed on our crops, but we still see the widespread use of Glyphosate (which is the subject of mass actions for damages connected with cancers, although the producer, Monsanto, it must be stressed, argues that more than eight hundred studies show no cancer risk so long as the herbicide is used according to directions on the label). But let us not pretend that the lobby groups will ever allow governments to ban the whole arsenal of weed and pest killers currently at the vigneron’s disposal. It needs to come from the farmers.

Many of these critics of natural wine almost seem to have an attitude which goes along the lines of “if the wine’s faulty it must be a natural wine”. They forget that some of the world’s most famous wines are “natural wines”, at least under any definition which accepts the application of minimal added sulphur. They also forget that some of the greats from the past made wine without synthetic chemicals or winery additives, even into the early 1980s, because they simply could not afford them. I’ve used the example recently of the revered names of the Northern Rhône in this context. Today, I would argue, there are still faulty natural wines (as indeed there are faulty conventionally-made wines), but wine faults due to poorly made natural wines have decreased dramatically.

I have not yet mentioned one of the major issues relating to sustainable viticulture, water. Like any crop and any animal, vines need water to survive and thrive. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Too much rain can be as bad as too little, and a little too little can be a good thing (vines forced to seek water below the surface send down stronger and larger root systems). But wine requires a lot of water, both where irrigation is required and indeed in the winery. Water is used in vast quantities to cool vats during fermentation, and to clean winery equipment, wash bottles etc, in order to create a hygienic environment.

Of course, “natural” viticulture will usually receive no irrigation, not only because any rain will soak into healthy soils and will not run off, but equally because irrigation is one of many things which will not be allowed for people wishing to credibly describe their product as natural wine.

Another one of the main inputs most natural wine producers potentially need to address is electricity use, and I’m not suggesting all winemakers are doing so, but at least in most regions suitable for viticulture there are alternative ways of harvesting electricity (principally solar and wind, but hydro-electricity is also sustainable). I’d also argue that we have to look carefully at those claiming to be “sustainable” and who claim to be “carbon-zero”. Carbon offset schemes are currently under a great deal of scrutiny, in some cases calling into question that you can offset your emissions by planting trees on the other side of the world.

Sheep graze amongst the vines at Domaine Durrmann (Andlau, Alsace) where André and Yann have also planted trees in the vine rows to encourage birds, where most vignerons would love to erect nets

What needs to be done? As I have said, education is the key.

We need to get those people who are thinking about the environment and buying their more expensive organic veg and fruit to put that same degree of thought into purchasing wine. Yet the vast majority of consumers purchase wine as a commodity. Whether they would like to drink wine which is tastier, and potentially in some cases a little healthier (though connecting wine with health is clearly a no-go zone today), certainly wine which is more sustainable for the wider environment, they may not have the disposable income to do so. For many, wine is fuel, just like food, albeit fuel which can bring the pleasure, or the escape, of intoxication.

For the benefit of this segment of wine consumer, especially, we need perhaps to educate the producers of more industrial wine. Maybe the answer is for them to see the long-term effects of soil health that the systematic application of chemical treatments on the land is causing, to help them realise that what they are doing is not sustainable. It would also be good to get them on board with the idea that they can make their own contribution to our environmental crisis.

There may be some large-scale producers who have absolutely no intention of doing their bit, but it is good to remember that a well-known Bordeaux Château, or Southern Rhône estate, may be producing many hundreds of thousands of bottles, and any changes they could make would have a genuine impact for the good. And, of course, in those cases where there are shareholders to please, they will have a corporate social responsibility strategy, which may well connect with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (especially, but not exclusively, STG15, “Life on Land”).

In the UK there are an increasing number of retailers and importers who truly are taking these concerns seriously. This may not merely be in the wines they import. Companies like Littlewine try to ensure their shipping is carbon neutral (occasionally carbon negative) too. This is all admirable, but the proof of the pudding (that there is a market out there for these ideals) is in their success. It is incumbent on we who share those ideals to support such operations, as much as it is incumbent on them to keep pushing these ideas and beliefs out there, getting more and more consumers to think more about their purchasing habits.

Postscript Note: I hope that the more sceptical reader will have reached this far, though that might be optimistic. Occasionally I write a piece which is just intended to throw some ideas out there. To get people thinking a bit. I don’t claim expertise in all areas environmental, and I certainly do not claim to have all the answers. So, you may be able to pick holes in what I’ve written. That’s fine, I have no ego to damage. But I am convinced that as our “rulers” appear so inept at taking any meaningful measures to lessen the impending impacts of our climate catastrophe, despite all their COP26 bluster, it only remains for individuals to do what we can, following the mantra of successful sportsmen and women, that the sum of small, incremental, changes to our behaviours can still have a meaningful, even significant, result. Not everyone can take more direct action, or protest, but we are judged, ultimately, on how we live our lives. Thank you for listening.

I’ll leave with what may at first glance seem like a fairly random quotation I found in James Rebanks’s “English Pastoral” (Penguin, 2020). It comes from Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America (1977).

“A healthy farm culture can be based only upon familiarity and can grow only among a people soundly established upon the land; it nourishes and safeguards a human intelligence of the earth that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace.”

Yet it is our rejection of a “healthy farm culture” in favour of agro-industry which is ultimately putting our food security at risk. Perhaps somewhat less important, but important nevertheless to we wine lovers, it is also putting at risk the idea of wine as a thing of value, part of our own enduring culture, rather than a mere commodity to be consumed and forgotten. Alongside our planet, surely that culture is also of value and ought to be preserved?

The rewilding of the Knepp Estate in Sussex is one of ecology’s great success stories. Only a week ago we saw five storks nesting around the farm, where livestock, ponies and deer roam free
Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Vegan Wine, Viticulture, Wine, Wine and Health, Wine Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures on the Wine Route (Kermit Lynch) – Still Relevant Today

It’s now over a year since I last left the UK, and almost eighteen months since I stood in a vineyard. The craving for wine travel, within the context of realising how very lucky I am, of course, grows every week and like many I have been finding ways to assuage that thirst. I don’t know if I’m unusual, but the initial hit of the Zoom event, spending time with a winemaker, often gazing on the vista of their vine clad slopes over their shoulder, ceased to give me that hit after a while. I think after a day staring at a screen it became almost exhausting to catch up with friends and family, and then to strain to see and hear a winemaker in a far-off place.

One way I’ve found to lose myself in wine without, that is, merely staring into the bottom of a glass, has been through wine books. You may have noticed the increase in the number of reviews I’ve written, a sure sign I’ve been reading more about wine and less about my other interests as the year has progressed. Reading Matt Walls’s book on the Rhône caused me to dip into Robin Yapp’s “Drilling for Wine” autobiography, which naturally led me to a classic of the wine travel genre, Adventures on the Wine Route by American importer Kermit Lynch.

Lynch first published Adventures in 1988, but it covers his travels from a young and inexperienced wine buyer to a man with a considerable palate over the later 1970s and into the 1980s. It overlaps quite a lot with the travels described by Yapp (also, by coincidence, published 1988) in that he spends quite a bit of time in the Loire, Rhône and Provence (the three Yapp specialisms back in the day). Lynch’s travels, however, range wider, into Bordeaux, the Languedoc, and northward through Beaujolais, Mâcon/Chalons, the Côte d’Or and Chablis.

Lynch and Yapp both built up a strong relationship with many of the same producers, none more so than Gérard Chave at Mauves. In fact, I have an idea that Gérard became the godfather to Robin Yapp’s son, although Kermit Lynch was eventually to have a falling out with Chave, or at least he alludes to that in the book. Nevertheless, facing the Title Page of Adventures on the Wine Route there is an old photograph which truly sets you up for the journey within its pages. We are deep within a musty barrel cellar underground. Lynch stands among three vignerons, who are named below. They are Raymond Trollat, Père Trollat, and Gérard Chave. Chave looks relatively youthful, and it’s possibly the youngest I’ve seen him in any photograph. One picture is a window on another age.

But here it gets interesting. This book is far from being merely a nostalgic saunter through a different age of viticulture and winemaking. It is true that life was tougher back then in terms of the income you could make and the hard work you had to put into your few hectares of vines. The importance of this book is that it reminds us that there is nothing new in wine. In a time before Parker Points, new oak, high alcohol and widespread synthetic chemical inputs, it is a reminder that most winemakers in France could not afford any of these things (except, perhaps, a truckload of sugar to chaptalize the alcohol a few degrees upward).

Lynch uses a word to describe wine in a way which might surprise modern readers. That word is “natural”. Yes, natural wine. What he describes may not have exactly the same meaning as when used by, for example, Isabelle Legeron MW, today, but the concept is the same. Wine without significant adulteration, certainly without fining and filtration (we shall come to sulphur in due course). This is what Kermit Lynch seeks out.

In many ways, in describing a time before the wholesale mechanisation of wine and its yielding to white coat scientists, he walks the same path of those nature writers who have done the same for our English countryside and farming, such as WH Hudson, Edward Thomas and James Rebanks. As we follow the narrative there is a lot to be learned for the attentive reader.

I came across Kermit Lynch again not that long ago on a Zoom chat and his wisdom is obvious. I read an article about him this week which made a striking observation about the quality of the French wine domaines he unearthed and brought back to North America. It went along the lines that if Lynch were a music A&R man, it was as if he had discovered The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and Pink Floyd all on his own. Because, of course, these now famous name producers he visits, and often befriends, were far from famous back then. Some were even unknown prophets in their own land.

That Zoom event helped me to draw into focus a deep affinity I share with Lynch. I followed in his footsteps a little later as I made my first travels around viticultural France, and the year after his book was published, I made my first extended viticultural tour of the country. Although I’d already visited the Loire, Provence, Bordeaux and Burgundy, it was the year of my first visit to the Rhône. The closest I got to Gérard Chave, at that time very definitely my favourite wine producer, was a sheepish glance at his roadside front door in Mauves, and a picnic above some of his vines on the Hermitage hill (though as I’ve mentioned before, I was blessed with a morning spent with Georges Vernay the following day). But I feel that I just caught the end of the era which Lynch describes, and that has stuck with me.

There is a sense among many wine drinkers who grew up in the Parker era that the old timers were lacking in knowledge. After all, they had rarely been blessed with the kind of wine education their children may have been given, whether at Bordeaux University or Dijon, or for those further afield, at Geisenheim, Roseworthy or Davis California. When the old timers looked at the rigid and controlled perfection of the results made by the students of these institutions, they said that the wines lacked soul. For their pains they were called anachronisms.

Some of their beliefs may be difficult to comprehend in terms of “science”, but they often hold the kernel of an idea which we should pursue. An early example in the book is where Lynch is talking with René Loyau, a Burgundian old timer even then, who recounts a visit to another grower in his cellars in Gevrey-Chambertin. Loyau comments that the wines from one vineyard always exhibited a strong scent of wild currants, which had disappeared from recent vintages. Loyau asks (merely intuitively) when the grower had torn out his wild currant bushes. Well, as it turns out it was actually his neighbour over the wall who had done so, coinciding with the loss of the scent in the wine.

Loyau postulates that the scent in the wine came from the pollen being transferred by the local bee population. Now it has been pointed out to me that vines are not pollenated by bees, but there is no reason to suspect that bees might not alight on the flowers of the neighbouring vines after having visited the wild currants, or perhaps that pollen had been carried by other insects or even on the wind. There are many cases of the transfer of scent from a local plant to wine, the classic example perhaps being eucalyptus in Australia. At least there the pungency of the oil from the eucalyptus leaves are a good candidate for transfer.

We tend to think of winemakers back then as being predominantly men, and that the rise of female winemakers is something new. Of course, back in the 70s and 80s there were plenty of women making wine. Often, however, it was a case of needs must rather than a free career choice, when their husband or father was injured (broken limbs from falling off ladders resting against vats being horribly common), or had tragically died prematurely with no “son” yet ready to take over. One such winemaker was Madame de Lacaussade, proprietor of Château de L’Hôspital in the Graves. Her story is perhaps a sad one, in that her children apparently had no interest at all in continuing the family tradition (nor indeed in country life itself).

Perhaps typically of a woman forced to be strong by circumstances, she always made a point of recommending other winemakers to Lynch, who always, without exception, turned out to be vigneronnes. She also, typically of her time, even for Bordeaux, had “a horror of certain modern vinification techniques like chemical fertilizers and asbestos filter plaques” and weedkillers.

I don’t follow this property today. It was bought by a couple called Batistella in 2012 and converted to organics. They professed a desire to restore the Château and vineyards to their “days of past glory”, though one English importer describes a recent vintage (2016) of the red as “almost New World style”. I remember when I was cutting my teeth on Bordeaux in the mid-1980s and Château L’Hôspital often came up in conversation, almost without fail, as a very traditional and extremely good value Graves, a wine which back then always had a large part of the blend made up from Cabernet Franc. I notice that the 2016 vintage is comprised 65% Merlot with almost all of the rest comprising Cabernet Sauvignon. Sic transit gloria mundi, at least in the eyes of those who favour the so-called lesser Cabernet off the gravels south of Bordeaux.

The subject of modern vinification practices comes up a lot in the book, and none more so than filtration. Lynch always tries to get his wines bottled without what he sees as a process which strips the life from the wine. The producers generally quibble on the grounds that like sulphur, filtration adds stability to the wine, adding that customers always complain about sediment. Lynch takes pains to cool-ship his wine, using refrigerated “reefers”. He must have been one of the very first to do this to North America. Today, every wine lover should pay attention to how and when their wine is shipped, filtration or not. Most merchants paid scant regard to such matters back then…and some still don’t today.

So, the book has plenty of examples of the comparison between filtered and unfiltered bottlings of the same wine. Lynch is always surprised that the winemakers don’t undertake this experiment of their own volition. Whether at Domaine Vieux-Télégraph with the Bruniers or at Domaine Tempier with the Peyraud family, everyone always agrees, to Kermit’s great satisfaction, that there is no contest. Unfiltered always wins hands down. There’s a moment later in the book where at Domaine Tempier an old bottle is brought out and, although filtered, has thrown just as much deposit over time as an unfiltered bottle. Why bother? Sediment in wine has to be one of the first things to educate consumers about.

Another thing that comes through in Adventures is how, price aside, it is relatively easier to get hold of examples of some of the appellations he visits today. Nevertheless, some of these are extremely small vineyards. Giving figures in his original edition in acres (not hectares), the author makes some comparisons. 300 acres of Hermitage compared to 7,900 at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 130 at Cornas compared to 2,600 at Gigondas. He mentions that Vieux-Télégraph, which he imports, is itself as large as Cornas. However, he does go on to point a finger at a trend in the Northern Rhône which continues, if more slowly today than in the 1980s and 1990s, the planting of flat land either down near the river or up on the plateau above.

Saint-Joseph has been the most widely publicised victim of over-planting in this way. But Lynch is quite warm towards this often-maligned appellation. He’s always one for making a wine suit the occasion, and clearly the occasion does not often warrant opening a Chave Hermitage. He likens St-Jo to Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, seductively distracting to the Don despite not matching the emotional dimension of Donna Elvira (personally I excuse any imagery which crops up which would surprise some younger readers…it was of a time and perhaps only rarely does the author become overtly sexist in this book).

But I do like his summing up on modern Northern Rhône, when he asks “Which deity handed down the law that serious, heavy wines are better than gay, playful wines? It certainly was not Bacchus. Was it America’s Puritan God, who refuses to accept that wine can be pure unadulterated fun?”

One wonders who the puritan god of wine was that he had in mind? Perhaps we can find a clue later in the same chapter when he talks about some modern Côte-Rôtie wines, drenched in oak (okay, going back to 1980s sexism, perhaps avoid the middle para on page 178 if you don’t want an analogy of big wines with female physique).

“I cannot begin to communicate how profoundly the critics’ embrace of such freak wines depresses me” is at least an assertion with which most of my readership will doubtless agree, perhaps especially in relation to Côte-Rôtie, which I know should be elegant and perfumed.

Kermit Lynch was perhaps the very first wine merchant to suss out what was new in the Beaujolais, and he did so by sussing out what in fact was old, via the group of winemakers which he dubbed the Gang of Four (which forever after has stuck). In his introduction to the Chapter on the Beaujolais he says that when a client is planning a wine trip to France, he always recommends they go to Alsace, or to this region.

Lynch’s love for Beaujolais began with a leading Parisian wine merchant, Jean-Baptiste Chaudet. Chaudet describes Beaujolais as a pale red, with a touch of greenness, rarely above 11% abv, and a wine without chaptalization (sugar added to raise the alcohol level). He contrasts Chaudet’s 1970s description with that from Robert Parker’s 1987 Wine Buyer’s Guide (soft, lush, silky, full, fleshy, rich, supple…all these adjectives are used to describe the wine a decade later). As Lynch says, “Mr Parker is correct. His adjectives perfectly describe today’s overchaptalized, overalcoholic, Beaujolais”.

Chaudet in his autobiography “Marchand de Vin” mentions a near namesake, Jules Chauvet, so Lynch seeks him out. He enters another world, tasting simple, wholly unadulterated wines, wine even without the addition of sulphur dioxide. I could go on at length about where this all leads the author, though it certainly leads him to Lapierre, Foillard et al. These guys crop up again in the more recently added epilogue to the 2013 “25th Anniversary Edition” I have been reading.

What everyone forgets in the story of Jules Chauvet is that he was a great scientist. Indeed, his background in biochemistry led him to work with a Nobel Prize-winning team. But he also remembered what old-style Beaujolais had tasted like, in the days before the Second World War. As a scientist he observed and recorded everything. It shows that he was far from being totally laissez-faire, as many natural wine makers are accused of being, and it was by constant observation that he came to be able to more or less guarantee that his zero added sulphur wines would remain stable, at least so long as they didn’t get too warm.

Chaudet wrote in his autobiography “The day the consumer demands a more natural product, the winemakers will be obliged to take up the methods of their ancestors”. I think what has happened is actually that many winemakers got fed up with soulless wines stripped of flavour, that flavour being replaced with alcohol and oak. So, they have created a sizeable, growing, market for natural wines and consumers are following.

One person whose wine I have never tasted is the late, great, Burgundian winemaker, Henri Jayer. But few truly enamoured with wine would not wish to bask in the romance of Jayer’s wines, even vicariously.  I think Lynch must have visited some time in the mid-1980s, when Jayer was in his sixties, during the episodes he relates in the book, but it is obvious they have known each other longer. Jayer was another supposedly “paysan” winemaker, yet as Lynch says, “he’s one of wine’s most lucid intellects”.

Farmers learn far more from long experience than most scientists will learn from five years at University and another four or five in research. I think Jayer hits the proverbial nail on the head when he says “fewer and fewer winemakers are willing to take the risks it requires to make wine in the traditional way” and as Lynch repeats, “he warns that enology is replacing the artistic side of winemaking”.

Is there a key difference in wine appreciation here? Do some of us look at wine as a crafted product which satisfies a need, whilst others look to wine to transcend that, to thrill, excite and transport us who knows where? Of course, wine is probably not art in the same sense as a Picasso painting, a poem by Byron, a novel by Stendhal or a Mozart opera. But it can have elements of art within it based on what its maker is setting out to achieve.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and younger drinkers are obviously unable to process a recollection of something they’ve never had the chance to drink. But what worries me is that I know some older drinkers of a conservative bent who have had plenty of opportunity to sample and to cellar wines from the old timers in some of these once less well known but now classic wine regions (take Cornas as an example). They worship at the feet of the old guys, but yet will not countenance any of the new “natural wine”. You cannot call Jayer anything but the master, just like Aubert de Villaine or perhaps Jean-François Coche. Yet his wisdom is perhaps ignored by his acolytes in the world of wine collecting, the mere name being enough.

I think that my understanding of wine has altered a great deal over the decades in which I have grown to love it in all its forms (well, so long as Macvin and Ratafia are more occasional, er, treats). Wine changed when scores became all important. Or when, as Lynch says, “American wine critics were sounding the intellectual shallows, passionately debating numerical ratings for wine”. He loathes points like I do and suggest that such ratings actually cloud our appreciation of wine. Spot on they do.

I hope the author doesn’t mind me pinching his two best quotations in the book, but I think they sum up my own feelings pretty damned well. Colette tells us “wine makes the true savour of the earth tangible to man” and I would add like no other food we know. But Nikos Kazantzakis, the creator of Zorba, takes it to another level. A level to which not all of us would admit to travelling, but I’m certainly in that place. “When you drank it, you felt as if you were in communion with the blood of the earth itself”. If you are reading this and you say you haven’t been there, then I suggest you were merely too drunk to remember.

My edition, the 25th Anniversary version, as I mentioned, comes with an epilogue which for me is an important addition to the book. It details the “where are they now” for some participants, a number of whom are sadly departed. Lynch also updates us in a few wider areas of interest. Foremost of these is probably “natural wine”. He is thrilled to have been proved wrong and that today there is more interest in unadulterated wine than he had dreamed possible. He doesn’t blow his own trumpet to remind us the part he played in that. Yet he does remind us why this is important, not just aesthetically but for health.

“In Europe today, fifty-nine additives are permitted [in wine], and in the United States a couple of dozen more”…not to mention those that are not permitted! Lynch makes no bones about why he believes additive free wine is healthier for us. He cites a letter from Marcel Lapierre outlining why he believed natural wine was better for us, and I often wonder why so many people think it’s all rubbish. It is truly amazing what people will readily believe, as we have discovered pretty much for the whole of the past five-or-six years, politically speaking. Wine additives are primarily sold for profit and as the wine business is huge, so are those potential profits.

As Kermit Lynch says, “…natural [wine] is alive. Death is stable. Living wines…present a risk and I’ve noticed that even those who demand a natural wine will be back with the bottle if the living wine goes haywire. It would be nice if the risks are shared”. I agree with this, even as a consumer. I have never returned such a wine. One takes a risk buying the bottle, as one may take a risk on a record one hasn’t heard, or on a new and unusual dish in a restaurant. We should try to accept that sometimes we will sense the meaning of life in our Zalto, and occasionally we will experience a volatile or oxidised mess.

As an advocate for living wines, Kermit Lynch was one of the first. His influence has been monumental in his native North America, and few wine obsessives anywhere will be unaware of his name. Life is always full of coincidences and yesterday I discovered that a New Zealand winemaker/estate owner of my acquaintance has been reading the very same book, and discovering what a wonderful read it is.

For some wine lovers it is the one classic wine travel book they will cite, and I can’t recommend it enough for both those like me who through its pages can travel back to their youth, and to younger wine lovers whose lives revolve around today’s natural wine movement. In the pages of this book, they will see the very roots of what, for health and excitement, they drink with such pleasure today. For all readers it offers a different perspective, from the time when the pendulum was swinging towards a certain type of “modern” wine, but perhaps that pendulum is now beginning to swing back.

Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch is published in its 25th Anniversary Edition by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG Books), this edn 2013 at $19. My copy came from Blackwells online and cost just £12.41 with free (if slow) postage. My only criticism of this paperback edition is that by the time I had read around half of the book some of the pages came loose on account of the glue in the binding. That said, the epilogue of just over thirty additional pages in this 2013 soft cover is, in my view, an essential addition which definitely enhances our appreciation.

For those interested in more wine travel, Drilling for Wine by Robin Yapp was published by Faber & Faber in 1988. It will probably be a second-hand copy if you want to read it, but available quite cheaply (Blackwells Online suggest there’s one for £0.77), although Yapp Brothers wine merchants in Mere, Wiltshire, might still have new copies.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Fine Wine, Natural Wine, Rhone, Viticulture, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Science, Wine Travel, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Petnat Phenomenon – A Gateway to a Different Path

Back in January I wrote about Grower Champagne and what a phenomenon that seems to have become, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to write about what I see as a complimentary sparkling wine style ever since. There is no doubt at all that the pétnat phenomenon has grown dramatically over the past ten-to-twenty years, providing vinous adventurers with wines which perhaps may not fit within the standard hierarchy of classic quality perceptions, but which nevertheless provide real excitement, especially it seems for part of a younger wine drinking demographic.

With an increasing emphasis on stimulating labels and what is perceived as good value when compared to more traditional (method) bottle-fermented sparkling wines, pétnats have carved a niche, especially in wine bars and for outdoor drinking (picnics, barbecues). They have especially struck a chord with fans of natural wine because in order to enjoy them to the full, perhaps one needs to have a slightly different take on outmoded ideas about “wine quality”, and indeed what wine is and can be.

It would be useful to try to define what a “petnat” wine (or pétillant naturel, to give the genre its original French name) is, and we can begin by saying what it is not. Two or three decades ago there were perhaps two main ways of making quality (sic) sparkling wine, with some variations. We have the method used in Champagne, whereby (very broadly speaking) the fermented wine goes into bottle to undergo a second fermentation, started by a liqueur sugar solution, whilst resting on its lees sediment. This sediment is removed (disgorgement) usually after an extended period of ageing, before the bottle is sold. This, with the autolysis created by longer ageing on lees, was always seen as the way to produce fine sparkling wine, with the complexities of that interaction between wine and yeast cells over a number of years in a cool chalk cellar.

The cheaper method was to undertake the process in a tank, most commonly stainless steel. Fermentation is usually much faster here and it is ideally suited to base wines which perhaps have less capacity to age or where complexity is not sought. In France this is called the charmat or cuvé close method. But perhaps the most famous wine mostly made in this way is Prosecco.

Those two methods of making quality sparkling wine (ie other than by merely injecting carbon dioxide into a still wine) are kind of at the two extremes. I’d add …of perceived quality, but of course there are many very good Proseccos made by the Charmat method. They have their own style. Our modern day petnat occupies a kind of middle ground. Most of the pétillant naturel wines we enjoy today are made by a method known as the méthode ancestrale (sometimes called méthode rurale).

With the ancestral method, the second fermentation takes place in bottle, just like Champagne and the wines described in France as Crémant (d’Alsace, du Jura, de Bourgogne etc). The major difference is that with the Ancestral method the wine is not usually disgorged of its sediment, which remains in bottle when sold. Many consumers may be frightened of the sediment and stand the bottle up when chilling so that it remains safely in the bottom of the punt. However, most producers suggest we embrace the sediment, which adds texture and flavour in the glass. The dead yeast cells are totally harmless. Another major difference is that petnats are usually sold in the year following the vintage, so do not undergo long ageing on their lees. There are exceptions.

Thirty years ago, wines made by this method were relatively rare, and those found by the average consumer would mostly be French. The most commonly seen wine (even in some supermarkets) was Blanquette de Limoux, from Southwest France. Adventurous drinkers might have come across wines of a similar style from Bugey, on the edge of the Alpine regions of France. Both were generally off-dry or sweet, with the second fermentation creating bubbles but not converting all the sugar to alcohol. Bugey, by way of its Bugey-Cerdon sparklers, can be extremely good these days, and is very much under the radar. Some wine lovers would have tasted an Italian wine made by a similar method, what writers often called “real Lambrusco” (as opposed to the sweet, industrial, version popular in the 1970s and 80s), sold by a very small selection of specialists here in the UK.

The Ancestral Method can be tricky to get right, and I know of a few producers in the early days, shall we say in the 1990s, who got it wrong, either bottling too early and failing to get bubbles, or doing so late and getting too much CO2, leading to bottles exploding in some cases. The key difference today is that most of the petnats you find are intended to be more or less dry, an added complication to the process requiring more skill and judgement on the part of the winemaker. Equally, some winemakers lightly filter their petnats to reduce sediment, usually at bottling (a few disgorge).

The result is a wine which will most often be a little less sparkling than Champagne, but yet should have a fine bead of bubbles and a good mousse. It will almost always have spent less time on lees than Champagne and other Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wines, and so will lack the complexity brought about by long ageing on the yeast cells, yet it should offer vibrant fruit when young, and aged bottles can be increasingly interesting in their own right.

One big difference to Champagne we might cite is consistency. Petnats will not taste the same from year to year, and are rarely intended to. Some in fact do not contain the same grapes (one of the wines recommended below is a different colour in the current vintage). One major difference may lie in the pressure/bubbles. This is in part due to the imprecise nature of the Ancestral process, but I’m also aware of how the application of the usual closure, a crown cap for petnats, by hand, can lead to loss of pressure. That said, if the wine lacks some of its fizz, that doesn’t usually spoil the experience too much.

The style has been taken to heart by the natural wine world. It fits in so well with the whole ethos, not just of winemaking, but the philosophy of fun which the whole movement promotes.

The first producers to really market the petnat style were in the Loire, one of the early hotbeds of natural wine more generally. It was certainly these wines which I came across first. An early favourite, still brought in by Les Caves de Pyrene is Domaine Mosse’s “Moussamousettes”, a blend of Grolleau Gris, Gamay and sometimes a little Cabernet Franc, so pink in colour, cloudy (if you shake it) and very frothy. For a white petnat, Catherine and Pierre Breton were always a good bet.

Another region where petnats began to crop up in abundance was the Jura, also a hotbed of natural wine experimentation. Alice Bouvot’s Domaine L‘Octavin began making “Foutre d’Escampette” from Chardonnay, although L’Octavin’s most commonly found petnats now are probably the ”Betty Bulles” cuvées. Along with Alice Bouvot’s bubbles, I also got to enjoy a few good bottles from Patrice Béguet, the Ploussard-based “Plouss Mousse”.

Austria was another early adopter of the style, again riding on the back of the natural wine movement and the industry’s transformation by a raft of “new generation” winemakers taking over from their parents. Some of the most exciting petnat wines are coming out of Austria, and nearby countries, Czech Moravia being a case in point. Germany is now also getting in on the act.

Further afield the world is your oyster, but I would recommend being as adventurous as possible. One place where experimentation combines Ancient Method sparkling wine with hybrid grape varieties is in the North American State of Vermont. I will list one below, because it’s a wine I can source here in the UK, but it looks like there’s a lot going on more generally around Lake Champlain.

So, as promised, here’s a selection of petnat wines to try. In limiting the list I’m missing out an awful lot of truly stimulating wines, and I had to cull 50% of my original selection just to keep things sensible. I do drink quite a lot of this style of bubbles, and my revised plan to include just a dozen examples here has stretched slightly. Never let it be said I sell you short.  I have tried to offer a spread of regions, but Burgenland and Jura still get two entries each, both cut down from four.

The key to the style is that the wines are fun, and hopefully relatively good value (cheaper than Champagne, though obviously expensive when put alongside cheaper supermarket fizz made by less labour-intensive, less artisan, methods). It just depends how discerning and adventurous you want to be, and of course, how much money you have to spend.

JURA

Domaine L’Octavin, Betty Bulles (Arbois)

Alice Bouvot’s gnome labels can be spotted before you even enter the shop, so distinctive are they. The grape blend is unusual. Being one of Alice’s négoce wines, Gamay is sourced in the Ardèche and Muscat near Perpignan, in Roussillon. Light, fresh and very frothy. Alice effectively manages the vineyard, and like all the wines here, there are no additives (except minimal sulphur in some cases, but not here). There is also a white version.

Domaine des Bodines, Red Bulles (Arbois)

Alexis and Emilie Porteret’s provocatively, but accurately, titled wine is made from Poulsard grapes from their vines around Arbois. I described its bouquet as a “riot of raspberry, pomegranate and cranberry”, which it is. Very fruity with an attractive edge. This is a small, very hard-working, family domaine whose wines, over the whole range, are very accomplished, and which is only now beginning to garner the attention it deserves.

AUVERGNE

Jean Maupertuis, Pink Bulles (Saint-Georges-sur-Allier)

Jean’s “Pink Bulles” is made from old vine Gamay d’Auvergne. Blended with a little Pinot Noir, it has a pale orange tinge. Cherry fruit is joined by strawberries, especially on the bouquet. Its refreshment value is enhanced by a spine of firm acidity and a little texture. I look out for this wine every summer. It’s always popular when opened on a hot summer’s day.

BUGEY

Domaine Philippe Balivet, Bugey-Cerdon (Mérignat)

The Balivet family makes Bugey-Cerdon in both colours and I like both equally, but for summer fun let us go with the pink (though I have white for this summer). Gamay with a smidge of Poulsard, this wine has a good degree of sweetness and low alcohol. It’s a traditional style of méthode ancestrale where not all of the sugar is converted. It is also sealed with a mushroom cork, less common for petnats these days but of course traditional in Bugey.

AUSTRIA

Rennersistas, In a Hell Mood (Gols, Burgenland)

This is one of my favourites, but I’d also say that some might consider it potentially the most edgy, or feral. You can’t be sure every vintage will be the same blend, but my last bottle was 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. The overriding quality is freshness, but it can also have a texture some have described as earthiness. I’d say it’s a wine with guts, rather like its makers.

Alexander & Maria Koppitsch, Pretty Nats (Neusiedl-am-See, Burgenland)

It may be quite difficult to source this wine, made by a truly lovely family based just a few kilometres west of the Rennersistas, on the north shore of the Neusiedlersee. It usually appears in small quantities and then disappears almost immediately, due to its very small distribution in the UK. Half Pinot Noir and half St Laurent, fermented in fibreglass, bottled in spring. Simple, but one of the most fun wines in this selection.

GERMANY

Jan Matthias Klein/Staffelter Hof, Papa Panda’s Rising (Kröv, Mosel)

Jan has a range of wines made as a collaboration with other growers which he calls “Pandamonium” (sic). A local grower from Poland grew the Riesling for Papa Panda’s 2019 cuvée on Kröv’s steep slate. Fermented initially in two Füder (Jan and the grower made one each) and then bottled together with no added SO2. If you don’t like fine Riesling Sekt then this would clearly be a couple of steps too far. For those of us who do, this is a fun diversion down wine’s learning curve.

CZECHIA

Petr Koráb, The Milkman [2019] (Boleradice, Moravia)

Koráb is perhaps establishing himself as the best producer of the petnat style in Moravia, and frankly any of his petnats are recommended (I’ve drunk a few). My favourite so far has been this one, which featured only last week in my Recent Wines from March 2021. The blend is Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc from old vines picked early. Maturation is in robinia (false acacia) barrels and the colour is an enticing pale orange. You get red fruits, citrus peel, and even a hint of curry powder. Although it is dry and crisp, there’s also a creaminess, from where it gets its name. But note that the 2020 version is apparently made from Pinot Blanc and Neuburské (Neuburger).

HUNGARY

Annamária Réka Koncz, Pretty Cold (Barabás, Eastern Hungary)

This wine probably has the most unusual grape blend as it’s based on the autochthonous Királyléanyka variety. It is rammed with fine bubbles and has quite an ethereal nose hinting of red and citrus fruits. The palate contrasts with texture and minerality, with a firm backbone. Production is quite low and it is presently sold out, but I presume we shall see some here via Basket Press Wines when their next shipment arrives from Hungary, perhaps in a few months.

ENGLAND & WALES

Tillingham Wines, PN** (Rye, East Sussex)

As the vines at Tillingham became established Ben Walgate bought in organic fruit and started to experiment like mad. He was not the first to make petnat on our islands, but he has been prolific, and I could easily have selected other cuvées here, especially “Col”. But I’ve gone for “PN” because it was the first one I tried. It’s slightly different every vintage but the first, PN17, was just so exciting. Pinot Noir was the main grape variety and it was packed with red fruits, pretty simple but delicious, which is just what you are looking for. PN20 blends seven different varieties for a gently sparkling strawberry and peach fruit bomb.

Ancre Hill Estate, Triomphe (Monmouth, Wales)

This highly regarded biodynamic estate on the Welsh Borders made its name through traditional bottle-fermented wines, but this is something different. One reason is that it is unmistakably a red wine. Secondly, it is made from the hybrid variety, Triomphe (aka Triomph D’Alsace). It is a non-vintage wine in that new juice is blended with the previous year’s wine and fermented to a low pressure of 2-to-3 bar (gently fizzy). It’s frothy, dark-fruited and just 10% abv. Very different, great fun.

NORTH AMERICA

La Garagista, Grace & Favour (Lake Champain, Vermont)

The grape variety is the hybrid (La) Crescent, descended it is claimed from the Great Vine (Muscat d’Ambourg) at Hampton Court, outside London. I like this for its savoury depth, a little weight and, dare I say it (for a hybrid), a little complexity. I just think it’s one of the most interesting sparkling wines you’ll find. I’m almost tempted to call it “profound”, but then you’d think I’m silly.

AUSTRALIA

Tim Wildman Wines, Heavy Petting (Riverland, South Australia)

There are plenty of petnats  in Australia now, and equally some very interesting wines being made in the same way as Col Fondo Prosecco, using the same Glera grape variety (check them out). But I have decided to select one of a series of wines made by English MW Tim Wildman, mainly because they are completely crazy…in a good way. Heavy Petting blends Nero d’Avola and Zibibbo from the vast Riverland Region. Zero dosage, zero added sulphur, ruby red and full of sediment. I think Tim changes his source but Tim’s label will always guarantee excitement and adventure.

NEW ZEALAND

The Hermit Ram, Ancestral Müller Thurgau (North Canterbury, South Island)

Theo Coles is always experimenting, but few people in NZ still use what was the country’s first mainstay variety before the savalanche occurred. Whole clusters go into open top fermenters and then settle in tank. On bottling, some frozen unfermented juice is added to promote the second fermentation, but then nothing more is added, nor taken out. The wine generally has a kind of raw edge to it, like most of Theo’s wines. Millions will disagree, but I think he’s making the best wines in New Zealand right now. Plenty, however, will agree that they are the most interesting. What a coincidence, another bottle of this arrived today. Party Time!

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Petnat, Sparkling Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines March 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

For Part 2 of March’s most interesting wines (I used to say “drunk at home”, but let’s face it, where else am I going to be drinking wine at the moment?) we start off with a little-known (in the UK, but soon to change, I think) Australian estate which I’m particularly fond of, then a rather lovely Bourgogne Aligoté, a petnat from very possibly Czechia’s finest proponent of the style and a very interesting Jura red blend from one of my first loves in Arbois. The final bottles from this roundup feature an Alsace blend from Bennwihr, a stunning new “Florpower” from Equipo Navazos, another natural wine discovery from Bordeaux and, to finish, a brilliant South African Cabernet Franc which amazingly tastes great now but will definitely age very well indeed.

“FRNC” CLOS ANTONIO LAMENTO CABERNET FRANC 2018, BRASH HIGGINS (McLaren Vale, South Australia)

Brash Higgins is the label of Chicago native Brad Hickey, based in McLaren Vale. This Cabernet Franc comes from vines planted in 2001 at Malpas Road in the Vale. Brad makes all his wines with minimal intervention and many are made in innovative ways (for Australia). Some readers will have read my previous reviews of his amphora wines, and his Chardonnay nod to Vin Jaune, Bloom. Here, we have a more conventional approach, but a very Australian take on a classic French grape variety.

We get an extended period of skin contact, around five weeks in open-topped vats, the fruit plunged once a day. Fermentation is, of course, using wild yeasts. Next, the wine goes into French oak hogsheads for eight months, and thereafter is bottled under a Stelvin closure. The result is a deep ruby red colour smelling of both red and dark fruits, hints of violet and a faint smoky note rising above the bouquet as if in whisps. As it opens up it becomes even more nicely aromatic. The palate has a lot going on too, ranging from plump mulberry fruit, with raspberry acidity and a little black pepper adding spice.

The silky-smooth fruit has a medium body and it tastes less weighty than the 13.9% abv on the label suggests, although there’s a little more beef than many Loire versions of the variety. There’s a nice bit of grip on the finish and it would age if you wish to…but the fruit is so good now. Well balanced, delicious, definitely one of my favourite half-dozen wines from Brad (although my list of favourites grows each vintage). There was no FRNC in 2019 so the current vintage is 2020.

The new importer for Brash Higgins is Berkmann Wine Cellars. The wines have a reasonable distribution now, and this bottle came via The Solent Cellar.

BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ “L’ALIGATOR” 2018, DOMAINE DES ROUGES QUEUES (Burgundy, France)

This wine is another perfect example where subtlety could so easily get lost on the tasting bench, but where if you have time to sip and savour, then a totally different experience awaits. Isabelle and Jean-Yves Vantey have put together a small domaine at Sampigny-lès-Maranges. We are right at the foot of the Côte de Beaune here, so remote in feel from the famous vineyards fifteen minutes away to the north. I’ve only been down here once. It’s the kind of place you visit if you have more than the standard few days in Burgundy, but this is an attractive corner making increasingly interesting wines, especially from the old and once neglected vines down here.

The Vanteys make this old vine Aligoté from a tiny 0.15 hectare plot planted in 1972 (though the domaine was founded in 1998). It manages to produce on average just 1,300 bottles. Aged on lees in tank, it’s a marvellous wine. It starts out deceptively simple (simple is not a negative here). In the glass you can sense it evolving. Sometimes you think you are drinking a softer version of the Aligoté of old, but next sip you are drinking a relatively fat-free Jura Chardonnay off marnes bleues. When we talk about a soulful wine, I know some people will just switch off. But sometimes a wine affects more than the palate. It makes you both think and feel. A wine definitely best drunk whilst relaxing, not rushing. Mineral flavours, wholly “natural” (free of chemical inputs) except for a little sulphur if necessary. It’s the epitome of an honest wine.

This came from Littlewine. Christina Rasmussen chose it as the wine which most made her sit up during 2020 in an article published here before Christmas. £29, and I can’t believe they still appear to have a little left. I have also discovered that Isabelle Vantey takes beautiful photographs, which she posts to Instagram as @isabellevantey. Worth checking out as well as the wine.

THE MILKMAN PETNAT [2019], PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)

Petr Koráb has a mixed farm at Boleradice in the heart of Moravia’s vineyards in the Velkopavlovická sub-region. He specialises in autochthonous varieties and Moravian clones, keeping alive the region’s old vines. Like many of the region’s finest producers, he follows the charter of the Authentiste group of winemakers, of which he is a member. But take a look at his portfolio and you will see that he’s far from old fashioned. In fact, Koráb is becoming something of a petnat specialist, and whilst his whole range is top-notch, his ancestral method sparkling wines are very exciting.

The Milkman is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc from 30-year-old vines, picked in early September 2019. Initial maturation is in robinia (aka false acacia) barrels, before transfer to bottle. The 2019 version is a pale orange colour smelling of delicate red fruits, a twist of citrus and curry powder. But the palate has a creaminess which, having been consistently picked up by tasters, led to the name. The result is both dry and crisp, but with an underlying creamy softness to balance the mineral texture. There’s a certain tension between the two, but they don’t pull apart, if that makes sense. It gives the wine a multi-dimensional feel to it.

Note that the current 2020 vintage is a white petnat made from a blend of Pinot Blanc and Neuburger (Neuburské in local dialect). It’s a different wine. Doubtless as good, but I’ve yet to try it. Petr Koráb is, of course, brought to us by specialist importer Basket Press Wines.

“CUL DE BREY” 2015, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)

Domaine de la Tournelle is run by Pascal and Evelyne Clairet, with a tasting room and now famous little bistrot beside the River Cuissance in the centre of Arbois (5 Petite Place), though the winery is elsewhere. Pascal started out making wine in 1991, and it became a full-time occupation in 1995. He soon became fully biodynamic and has always followed a low intervention, low (and occasionally zero) sulphur, winemaking methodology. Pascal and Evelyne work together, both having wine science qualifications and experience, Pascal for the regional wine body and Evelyne as a vineyard technician in the Rhône Valley. They own and farm around ten hectares of vines now, both in the vineyards around Arbois itself and out in the villages close to the town.

They have created a pretty unique cuvée in “Cul de Brey”, blending equal parts of Trousseau, the rare autochthonous Petit Béclan and Syrah. The grapes see a light press and a long maceration (up to thirty days) with foot treading twice a day. Then the wine goes into used oak barrels to age, being bottled with no added sulphur. I think I bought this in 2019.

The aromas of red fruits are almost profound, a truly lovely scent as you first approach the glass. Cherry is dominant on the palate, fresh and clean acids melding with the soft, ripe, fruit, and beneath there’s just a little texture in a wine which I’d say is still fruity but drinking beautifully now.

Domaine de la Tournelle is imported by Dynamic Vines, and their wines are also available in the upstairs shop at Antidote Wine Bar in Central London (12A Newburgh Street). Of course, I would strongly recommend a visit to the Bistrot de la Tournelle in Arbois, when it is open during the summer months, and a visit to the tasting room next door, afterwards.

“UN INSTANT SUR TERRE” 2017, VIGNOBLE DU RÊVEUR (Alsace, France)

Mathieu Deiss and Emmanuelle Milan farm seven hectares biodynamically at Bennwihr, vines left to Mathieu by his maternal grandfather and uncle. They do so separately to Mathieu’s family operation, for whom he also works alongside his father, Domaine Marcel Deiss. Vignoble du Rêveur is purely an opportunity for this very talented winemaker to do his own thing, presumably before the full responsibility of one of the region’s famous name estates begins to take most of his time.

Doing his own thing in the case of this particular cuvée means exploring skin contact. It’s a method of winemaking which has become increasingly fashionable, I suppose, in Alsace, but for which a number of varieties, especially Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, are particularly well suited. “Un Instant…” blends both those varieties with 10% Riesling.

Skin maceration lasts for eight months in amphorae of various types before final ageing of three months in clay amphorae. The Riesling and Gewurztraminer is all fermented as whole clusters, the Pinot Gris being partially destemmed. It’s made fully naturally, including with zero sulphur addition.

The colour of this 2017 looks deep amber, but on pouring into the glass it reveals a hint of pink from the skins. First the bouquet gives out scents of both peach and grapefruit, and then candied orange (for those who know, I’m talking of the wonderful candied orange you can buy in Fortnum & Mason at great expense rather than those confected, sweet, boxes of candied fruit made by Rowntrees in the 1970s, standard issue in my childhood home at Christmas).

The palate is certainly complex. The fruit is quite rich, enhanced by 14.5% alcohol, no doubt. It doesn’t taste boozy though. In fact, the complexity comes through a degree of salinity and skin contact textures which allow the tongue to grip onto the ample fruit. There’s a certain weight to it but the wine avoids being ponderous, perhaps through excellent judgements made in the wine making. Because it does seem well-judged for a fairly big wine. I drink this cuvée usually once every year and it always impresses.

The importer is Swig Wines and I purchased this through my regular, if occasional, source for Mathieu Deiss wines, Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton).

LA BOTA DE FLORPOWER 99 « ANTES DE LA FLOR », EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)

We are getting close to the landmark 100th edition of the Equipo Navazos series. In fact, I own a few of La Bota de Manznilla Pasada 100, but sufficiently few that they will be saved for special occasions. However, the latest in the Florpower series is, I can tell you, a real cracker.

Bottled without fortification and without having been aged under flor, this is a pure Palomino Fino table wine, and I mean pure in both senses. The grapes came off old vines in the La Baja section of the Pago Miraflores at Sanlúcar. 2019 was an exceptional vintage here. The wine was aged only in stainless steel, for twelve months, before bottling under a Stelvin closure, and the result is clean and fresh juice with just a little texture on a filigree spine. It will evolve in bottle, for sure, and I won’t argue with the suggestion that it will improve. Yet right now, it’s just SO good that I don’t regret opening a bottle in the slightest.

It’s hard to better what the Equipo Navazos folks say about this lovely wine: “The exceptional 2019 vintage provides a magnificent opportunity to show wine lovers the raw essence of “florpower”, a pure expression of a vineyard, a grape and a climate. Of a terroir, to express it in one word”.

Imported into the UK by Alliance Wine with reasonably wide availability, whilst it lasts.

CLOSERIE DES MOUSSIS 2016, HAUT-MÉDOC (Bordeaux, France)

Laurence Alias and Pascale Choime are pretty much the epitome of the true garage winemakers. They were the lucky successors to a lease on an exceptional small plot of vines on the Sénéjac gravels, passed on by Michel ands Stéphanie Theron because, apparently, they wanted the vines to be farmed with a similar hands-off philosophy.

The ladies do all the work themselves, having managed to grow their holdings just a little to around two hectares, with help from their Breton draft horse, Jumpa. The wines are made along natural wine lines, just using a little added sulphur as the only manipulation.

The Haut-Médoc here is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It’s a beautiful wine from vine to glass. Extraction is gentle and the wine undergoes just occasional pigéage before ageing in 400-to-600-litre casks (90% are old casks and 10% new oak). This is truly gluggable Bordeaux, very fruity, packed with blackcurrant flavours. In one respect it seems quite classical, but at the same time you don’t often experience such brightness and vivacity in Red Bordeaux.

I first tasted this domaine at the seminal “Bordeaux – The Risk Takers” Tasting hosted by Vine Trail in 2019, where I also tasted their Merlot-dominated special cuvée, “Baragane”, made from 150-y-o pre-phylloxera vines (pretty stunning but doubtless more expensive). Vine Trail naturally imports them, but Littlewine lists this Haut-Médoc cuvée (£30), and that’s where this bottle came from.

 “BRETON” 2018, LUKAS VAN LOGGERENBERG (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

Lukas has been making wine since 2015, but has worked for a few of South Africa’s famous names, which has stood him in good stead when breaking out on his own. He’s definitely been singled out as one of the rising stars of South African wine. A graduate of Elsenburg College, his stints working for others have even included one in North America’s Finger Lakes. He’s now working out of the Devon Valley in Swartland (at least he was when I bought this), but “Breton”, a Loire synonym for Cabernet Franc, comes off the Polkadraai Hills in Stellenbosch.

Although I’d say the style here is more Loire than Bordeaux, there is a very South African angle, through the really concentrated and bright fruit. Breton sees ten months in used French oak and although that fruit fills the mouth, it is at the same time restrained and elegant. It’s a focussed wine and it will certainly age superbly. In this respect, I probably opened it too soon, but it had no hardness to it. Just black fruits joined by a little touch of herbs on the palate, and a little texture and grip. It’s got a nice long finish.

Sometimes you find even with great expectations, a wine still over delivers and Breton is a case in point. The importer is Dreyfus Ashby and the good news is that this vintage still has a pretty good distribution. You should still find the 2018 at Butlers Wine Cellar Brighton and The Sampler in London. The Solent Cellar (source of my bottle) and Handford Wines, among others, have moved on to the 2019 vintage. Last April I drank Lukas’s “Break a Leg” Rosé, made from Cinsaut (sic). That is also highly recommended. If you can, grab a couple of bottles of the Breton and age one. I’m pretty sure it will be worth it. Around £35.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments