Italians at The Glasshouse, Kew

When you alight from the train from Central London at Kew Gardens station you cross the tracks and immediately feel you are in a village. The tall trees surrounding the station set the scene for the famous gardens down the road. I have some fond memories of the gardens. A friend’s mother lived in a neighbouring road and at that time there was a now long-gone private gate giving free access for residents. I’m sure that its removal reflects the need nowadays for Kew to extract the full £11 entry from those of us who might otherwise have known how to get in for nothing.

Still, £11 is cheap compared to lunch at The Glasshouse, the increasingly fine restaurant which is my current connection with Kew. A group of friends try to dine there at least once a year in order to pair Italian wines (once just Tuscans but now broadened out a little) with the Michelin-starred food. It doesn’t seem too many years ago, acknowledging that Covid created a void in time, since lunch cost £50-60. £80 was a jump, but still good value, as a treat, because the kitchen seems to have moved up another notch here.

Friday was the hottest day of the year so far by quite some distance, with 33-degrees on my weather app, and the majestic trees of Kew’s Station Approach were puffing out some serious pollen too. But inside the restaurant the perfect air conditioning, said by some to be the best in London, made it the perfect ambient temperature for dining. That said, despite the restaurant temperature, and the fact that I for one had taken my own red contribution in a chiller sleeve, it wasn’t really a day for red wine. The whites showed better. The food was, come to think of it, faultless.

We opened the batting with our one non-Italian of the day, Champagne Bérêche Rive Gauche 2015. Raphaël makes this from fruit largely sourced from vines around Mareuil-le-Port, and it is 100% Meunier. It has the Bérêche signature elegance coming via a thin but firm spine of crystalline acidity. It develops in the glass with a mix of fresh yellow apple and cinnamon spice, with a hint of apricot exoticism. I wonder whether that is the result of a little skin contact? Others around the table detected a hint of cherry, but it passed me by. This 2015 is still a trifle young. It is yet to develop the tertiary notes of mushroom, and the turning of yellow apple freshness into tarte-tatin or toffee apple. Still loved it, though.

Our first course was veal tonnato with green asparagus, fine beans, crispy polenta, capers and pecorino. Two wines accompanied it. The so-called “lesser” of the two was Ca’ Lojera 2021 Lugana. This was 100% Trebbiano di Lugana (so actually Verdicchio, not the Tuscan Trebbiano). Pale white wine with a mineral heart, and a tiny bit of CO2 freshness, it was a delightful choice and paired nicely.

However, I think the next wine, many people’s “wine of the day”, was in a different league. It was also remarkable to note that Pieropan Soave Classico 1995 was not one of the single vineyard wines, but the ”Classico” tout-court. Although it had a richness which in some ways resembled Chardonnay more than Garganega (a vastly underrated grape variety, I think, when treated with care), it was equally fresh as a daisy. You almost had to double-check the vintage, except for the stately length, a sign of maturity. I do remember that we were always told this cuvée would improve with age, but how many people have kept a bottle of this for close to twenty-seven years?

The next course was an exceptional piece of sea bream, crispy on top and soft beneath, served with new season’s tomatoes, crushed green olives, crostini and smoked paprika aioli. I could have eaten two fillets, pure greed but it was so light and cooked to absolute perfection. We chose to accompany the fish with three reds.

Garnacha Not Guerra 2015, Sardinia was the first vintage of the first wine made on Sardinia by Irish MW Mick O’Connell. The grapes were bought in for this vintage, but picked early to preserve freshness. In fact, Mick calls this wine “Garnacha” rather than the local synonym, Cannonau, in order to distinguish the style. It’s perhaps more like a Garnacha grown at altitude in the Gredos Mountains of Spain rather than here in Sardinia.

The alcohol is marked as 12.9% all the same, but it doesn’t taste too alcoholic. It has light juicy cherry fruit flavour supplemented by hints of blood orange, with that unmistakable bouquet somewhere between raspberries and strawberries, allowing for lifted violet scents to waft over the top. Delicious, but perhaps not showing its delicacy on the day due to the heat and, perhaps, being paired with two bigger wines. That said, only 360 bottles were produced this first vintage, so it felt to me like a privilege to try it, my only bottle (I recall it was very much rationed on release). Some felt it had lost the freshness of youth, but somehow it seemed fresh to me, mostly thanks to the bouquet.

Elena Fucci “Titolo” Aglianico del Vulture 2015 is a very different wine. Elena makes wine on the volcanic soils of Monte Vulture, in Basilicata in Italy’s deep south. Altitude allows the Aglianico vines to ripen more slowly, and under less intense heat, than many might imagine. The result is rich, for sure, but also mineral and showing a degree of restraint. The wine is aged in small French oak barrels, and whilst the oak doesn’t dominate, it does bring a dark and firm intensity to the glass. A nice wine, but one I myself might not pair with Bream.

Graci “Quota 1000 Contrada de Barbabecchi” 2013, Etna was, for me, a delight to drink although I may have found myself the most vocal in its praise around the table. Graci is, of course, one of the first names in Etna wines and this cuvée is, I think, Alberto Graci’s top wine. It is made from, as the name suggests, vines grown at 1,000 masl and above, mostly Nerello Mascalese, on a small two-hectare single site.

Like all good Etna, it is classy. Not too dark in colour, more elegant than powerful, with for me cherry and tobacco being the main elements of the bouquet. There’s a little texture, but little sign that this was (I think) originally aged in young, oval, Stockinger casks. It has smoothed out nicely. I can find a drinking date of “by 2025” for this vintage. Personally, I think this took a while to open up so it might go a bit longer if properly stored…or equally it may be a sign that it needs drinking. I have no idea.

I read that this is labelled under the Sicilia DOC, not Etna DOCG, and this, apparently, is because the Etna appellation stops at 1,000 metres. Whatever its designation, this is a fine and beautifully aged wine.

Thanks to Mark Priestley for the Titolo photo

Our third course was some small but once more perfectly cooked pieces of Lamb a la Niçoise with olive oil creamed potatoes, violet artichokes and basil. Our plan was to drink a pair of Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo with it, but the 2004 was irredeemably corked. The 1998 was very mature in that balsamic and tomato purée way that older Sangiovese can go. I thought it smelt lovely, and the palate improved over time. Not enough for most people round the table and in consuming half a glass, I probably drank more than most.

All that remains of the “del Sorbo” 1998 label

Thankfully, the kind man who brought the 1998 also brought a backup. Peter Vinding-Diers Montecarrubo Syrah 2008. I can only say please try this if you can. Dane Peter Vinding-Diers goes right back to my nascent interest in wine. I bought what I think was my first ever mixed case from the Sunday Times Wine Club, chaired at the time by his friend Hugh Johnson, and it contained a white Bordeaux he had made. At the time I recall he was a great champion for Bordeaux whites, and Semillon in particular.

Peter, assisted by his English wife, Susie, has been around the wine world in the interim, certainly making wine in Spain and Hungary, as well as elsewhere in Italy, to my recollection, to name two of their peripatetic stops, all on the way to Sicily. Montecarrubo is their estate on the island, named apparently after the carob trees which grow there. It’s near Siracusa. Although Peter planted the local Nero d’Avola on a different site, he settled on Syrah and Petit Verdot on the estate and has been very happy with the results.

We are jumping ahead though. This 2008 Syrah was, I am told, possibly made with bought in fruit before his estate vines came on tap. However, it was magnificent, and for me, the other contender for wine of the day. As others said, like a good Côte-Rôtie, though more about the pepper and texture, without the bacon fat of mature Rhône Syrah. It did pair very well with the lamb.

Dessert was a lovely, light, toasted almond custard with poached cherries and “caremalised bracelet” (whatever that was). We had two half-bottles of Tedeschi Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 1996 to accompany it. There were definite differences between bottles. I had a pour from the second which, served cool, seemed to have clean dark berry fruit which was almost gluggable, it was that elegant. The first half bottle was described as more “coffee and balsamic”, which my glass was wholly devoid of. If anything, it seemed to lack just a tiny bit of its expected concentration, but on a hot day that was far from what we wanted with this lighter dessert. I’m sure it was down to serving temperature.

I don’t get to dine like this as often as I used to, and I make no pretence of finding it less easy to afford such a day out, post-Covid, what with travel and, in Kew, the absolute impossibility of neglecting to pop into The Good Wine Shop, being just a couple of minutes from the restaurant. Perhaps that helped make this such pleasurable meal, but I don’t think I am alone in being rather impressed with The Glasshouse these days.

Posted in Italian Wine, Restaurants, Sicily, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine and Food, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Recent Wines May 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

In Part 2 of my roundup of the most interesting bottles we drank at home in, effectively, the second half of May, I find a Jura-heavy selection, three wines out of six. The remainder come from Moravia, Alsace and Hungary. Whilst we don’t have as much diversity of location as usual, we do have a real diversity of flavours. Consistency comes in quality, because I doubt that I will drink a better half-dozen wines in succession this year, even if I manage to match them.

L’UVA ARBOSIANA 2020, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)

Drinking this, we were sending our thoughts, as ever, to Evelyne in Arbois for the tragedy which befell the domaine during Covid. This cuvée has a special place in my heart because it was the first Tournelle I ever brought back to the UK, stopping off on one of our return trips from Geneva, when we would often try to get to Arbois before everything closed for lunch, rushing here and to the A&M Tissot and Domaine de la Pinte shops.

This means I’ve been trying to drink the odd bottle of L’Uva at least once every year for more than twenty years. It’s made from Ploussard (Poulsard) harvested into small baskets, hand-destemmed and pressed gently in order to create a light “vin de copain”. Carbonic maceration, full malo and then bottling after around three months in tank with no added sulphites.

It’s a wine which is recommended, because of the zero sulphur additions, to be transported cool, and we used to use a cool box for the purpose. That said, bottles bought in Central London in the height of summer have never suffered. The cuvée is prone to reduction and often requires a good shake in carafe, but not always (not with this bottle). After a good swirl you will find heavenly scents of redcurrant and strawberry to fill the nostrils. Cherry seems to take over on the palate. It’s a light red which behaves like a hybrid red-rosé on account of the sheer vibrancy of fruit acid balance in the glass. In 20+ years my love for this has never faltered.

This bottle came from Antidote Wine Bar in Central London. Also imported and sold by Dynamic Vines in Bermondsey.

“AMBERO” 2020, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)

I finally met Petr and his wife at the Real Wine Fair in London a few weeks ago, and I am very excited that I shall be visiting them in Moravia soon. Since I discovered the wines of Moravia a few years ago I’ve become a big fan of Petr. For a man with a few hectares the diversity of what he makes suggests a man keen to experiment. No one can keep up with him. I have a special fondness for his wild petnats, but here we have a still wine made with skin contact, hence “Ambero”.

The grape is Traminer, a variety which takes well to the macerated style. We are in the Moravian sub-region of Velkopavlovická and the village of Boleradice (which last weekend I discovered I’ve been pronouncing incorrectly, it’s “tze” not “che”). Picked late, on 20th October, the fruit gets extended skin and lees contact, is fermented to dryness (giving 14% abv but don’t be concerned), and is matured in robinia casks. Robinia is also known as “black locust wood” or “false acacia”, and sometimes if you see that a wine was matured in acacia barrels it could be robinia.

This tastes clean and smooth, but with a little texture and grip. It’s very complex. Tarte-tatin, peach, Lucozade and hints of honey or maple syrup leap out. It has zippy acids and plenty of depth. Probably not for those who really dislike amber wines, but a good one to try if you are open to the style and want to experiment. Petr Koráb is imported by Basket Press Wines. They don’t seem to have Ambero on their site, though it may still be available via independent retailers whom they supply (ask them for details). They will always have a good selection of Petr’s current wines.

ARBOIS CHARDONNAY 2015, DOMAINE DES BODINES (Jura, France)

All of the wines I have drunk from this tiny domaine on the edge of Arbois (on the road to Dôle) have been purchased on my visits there. The domaine is run by one of Arbois’ most engaging young couples, Emilie and Alexis Porteret. Their wines, made naturally with both skill and intuition, have impressed from the start, especially the thought given to the viticulture of their tiny holding. Five hectares, which see no synthetic chemicals, nor where possible, ground-compacting tractors, on their blue marl soils. No sulphur is added in the small winery attached to their house at the foot of their vineyard.

This Chardonnay is frankly stunning. How many times do you see an expensive wine that you’ve never tried and wonder whether to spend, in this case for a current vintage, perhaps £44? We all do it…I saw a Jura wine for £72 yesterday. That’s beyond my budget but even I had never heard of the producer. In this case, I can only say I shall jump on the next bottle of Bodines Chardonnay I see.

The wine is a magnificent green-gold colour. The fruit is fresh, even after several years in bottle. It’s quite exotic fruit, with hints of something tropical. This is tempered, perhaps even slightly restrained, by a perfect amount of grip and structure. It’s no fleshy, warm climate, wine but it is made from ripe fruit (it measures a very specific 13.9% abv on the label). Fruit and acid balance seem in a perfect place.

Mouthfilling and very long, it might even be a tiny bit young, still, but I think it’s easily as good a Chardonnay I’ve had in several years, going as far back as Stéphane Tissot’s “Tour du Curon Le Clos” 2005, drunk in December 2018. Note that I’m talking about any Chardonnay, not just Jura Chardonnay!

Bodines is occasionally brought in by Les Caves de Pyrene. I have seen Berry Bros also noted as a source, but they don’t have any on their web site right now. A few enlightened indies will have it from Les Caves. All of their wines are very good, although I’ve only tried their Vin Jaune from cask, my own currently resting in the cellar.

SYLVANER ZOTZENBERG GRAND CRU 2014, JEAN-PIERRE RIETSCH (Alsace, France)

If you like Sylvaner, or maybe if you’ve not tried serious Sylvaner and are prepared to take my word for it, you will love this. Zotzenberg was, in 2005, the first Alsace Grand Cru to be designated for the variety. It’s a site with a southerly exposure of chalk just above Mittelbergheim, where JPR has his base. Chalk is unusual in Alsace, but this cru has been growing exceptional Sylvaner for as long as I’ve known of the village.

This natural wine saw 36-months in demi-muid followed with a year in tank, so you will see it’s no ordinary cuvée, and perhaps you now see why I am extolling a Sylvaner with almost eight years of age. It is, for me, a great expression of both terroir and what the variety can be capable of.

“Mineral” is frankly an understatement, but there’s more to it than chalk. It’s juicy and, if a wine can be, radiant with fruit acids, spice and structure. The freshness speaks of apples and pears, the texture is creamy. For me, this is as good as Sylvaner gets, certainly in Alsace. You’d need to go to Franken for Silvaner to come close(ish). This also takes the food-pairing possibilities of the grape variety to another level. In this instance, Sylvaner is wholly worthy of Grand Cru status on this site.

May I just take a moment to rant? Indie retail wine merchants soon took on board the natural wines of the Jura. They have, almost without fail, neglected to catch on to the fact that Alsace has the biggest buzz in France right now, and this is equally driven by natural wines. I’m especially speaking to those who have bravely begun to offer a few Savoie wines. Alsace is really exciting, particularly in the northern, Bas Rhin, sector, where JPR is based in Mittelbergheim. Wake up! We move on to Bugey soon so don’t be left behind.

This bottle came from the domaine. Wines Under the Bonnet imports Rietsch into the UK. I don’t think they have the Sylvaner Grand Cru, but they do list his 2018 Vieille Vigne Sylvaner, among other cuvées.

“ROBIN” 2020, ANNAMÁRIA RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)

The soils on the Eastern Hungarian border with Ukraine, where Annamária farms around Barabás, are largely volcanic and from this terroir she makes stunning wines which the world is just beginning to get excited over. However, sparkling wine off volcanic soils isn’t the first thing which comes to mind when thinking of the traditional location for a bottle-fermented fizz. Yet the soils are complex, with silica-rich rhyolite, grainy lava-based andesite, dacite (which forms between the previous two rocks) and tufa.

Earlier this year I drank her Traditional Method sparkler, Freiluftkino 2019, and remarkably good it was too. “Robin” is made using the Ancestral Method, which we mostly call petnat. The grapes are a traditional field blend where the main variety is Királyleányka (aka Fetească Regală for those knowledgeable about Romania’s grape varieties). We also have Rhine Riesling, Háslevelū and a little Furmint in the mix.

This cuvée remains undisgorged, so the lees sediments remain in bottle. However, the wine tastes clean with a firm mineral structure running through its spine. The bead is remarkably fine and the tiny bubbles bring elegance and poise. I’d suggest that the wine is more stony-mineral and slightly herby (not herbal), rather than fruity. This is a totally natural wine but only 970 bottles made. It’s definitely one of the best two or three petnats I’ve drunk so far this year.

Réka Koncz wines are imported by Basket Press Wines. It looks like Robin might be sold out, but they do still list the abovementioned Freiluftkino, made effectively from the same grape blend by the traditional method, for £26, pretty inexpensive for quality sparkling wine when you consider the price of a home-grown equivalent or a decent Champagne.

HIP HIP J… [2020], DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)

Alice Bouvot’s Hip Hip J is probably a quiet nod to Jura, if pronounced Juraah! It’s a Vin de France sourced from grapes grown organically by a friend of the winemaker in Arbois. The “Hip Hip” wines seem to have different coloured “pants” on their labels possibly denoting different varieties, because there is certainly a Chardonnay, alongside this Hip Hip Poulsard Blanc, and possibly others.

So, this is a very unusual Blanc de Noirs. The Poulsard grapes are gently, to avoid colour, direct-pressed into tank for a fairly short fermentation and ageing before being bottled young with just 10% alcohol and, as with all of Alice’s wines, no added sulphur.

Pale straw in colour, the bouquet has fresh citrus. The palate has peach stone and mineral texture. Frankly, if you bought this for the label, and let’s face it Alice’s gnomic negoce labels are wonderful, you might find it on the acid side. I’m an avowed acid hound so I love it, and I know what to expect as any wine I make is lucky to top 10% abv. This is a stripped-back natural wine to slake a summer thirst.

Domaine L’Octavin is imported by Tutto Wines.

Posted in Alsace, Arbois, Artisan Wines, Czech Wine, Hungarian Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Recent Wines May 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 1 of the wines supped in and around home in May contains bottles which might, even by my own standards, be called eclectic. We begin in Georgia, drink a remarkably good, if secretive, cheap wine, a Freisa from Tortona, a Californian Petnat, an old favourite from Vienna and a stellar wine of real stature from Puerto de Santa Maria.

ALADASTURI 2020, GVANTSA’S WINE (Imereti, Georgia)

Gvantsa Abuladze is the sister of Giorgi and the increasingly well-known Baia (of Baia’s Wine). They make wine in the Imeretian village of Obche, in Western Georgia. The sisters came to fame perhaps when a major article appeared in EU4Business in 2018. Baia founded the company in 2015 when she was in her early twenties, with exports, first to Austria, starting in 2017. Gvantsa joined later, having worked on a EU Voluntary Programme in Sweden.

The vines for this pale red wine come from reasonably young Aladasturi vines (15/16-y-o). The grapes are picked quite late, in November, and placed into qvevri. The wine ferments easily to dryness because this is a grape with high acidity and low sugars (hence the late harvest). Maceration on the skins lasts two months, using wild indigenous yeasts.

The result is a light red with a garnet colour and a bouquet of sweetly ripe red fruits (raspberry, redcurrant and a hint of darker blackcurrant). The palate is dry with notable acids balanced by the zing of concentrated fruit, which also add a smoothness in the mouth. Bear this in mind when I say it’s quite tart, but in a mouth-watering way. You could quite easily glug this, especially with its 11.5% abv, nicely chilled down a little on a hot day. Equally, you could pair it with a spicy stew, which we did. Either way, the merchant selling this calls it “unique” and they are not wrong.

Just £22 from Oxford Wine Company.

UVA NON GRATA VIN DE FRANCE 2020, BOUTINOT (Lyonnais, France)

This wine is something of an enigma, at least from looking at the bottle. It contains almost zero information, so we go to the agent Boutinot’s web site. There’s a bit about Gamay being outlawed in Bourgogne, and a note that the variety loves the granite and silica soils northwest of Lyon, from where the fruit presumably comes. We are also told, though we can tell, that it is made by carbonic maceration. That’s near enough all we get.

What we do get in the glass is lovely Gamay fruit, pure and simple. Crunchy cherries fill the nose with soft red fruits assisting what is simple but tasty fruit on the palate. A friend called this the best cheap Gamay he’s drunk for ages, and I can’t disagree. Within the context of an £8.99 wine, this is very good. There’s little to entice a serious wine lover from the bottle, although the text-free front label is nice, as you can see. But you could do a hell of a lot worse than grab some of this primary-fruited little grenade of Gamay.

Worthy of its Decanter Silver Medal, available from a range of indies including Solent Cellar (Lymington) and Butlers (Brighton).

BRAGHÉ DA UVE FREISA 2018, CLAUDIO MARIOTTO (Tortona, Italy)

DOC Colli Tortonesi is in the southeast of Piemonte, so far east that it is often forgotten, or would be were it not for its increasing profile thanks to producers such as Walter Massa. Mariotto, like Massa, specialises in the local white speciality, Timorasso, but for red wines he favours Freisa. It’s a variety that is more widespread in Piemonte than Timorasso, but it usually falls beneath the radar, in a region where there are many other varieties, from Nebbiolo down, competing for the limelight.

Not a natural wine as such, it is made with minimal intervention and bottled with very little sulphur. It’s a dark-hued red with a deep purple rim. The bouquet shows intense and vibrant bramble fruit (especially blackberry). There are bags of fruit on the palate, but you also get earthy, truffle, flavours and a little tannic bite. It has more body than some Freisa, possibly assisted by its 14% alcohol, which I initially thought high but which didn’t bother me as I drank it. Very tasty, and different.

This was £15.99 from The Solent Cellar.

PÉTULANT NATUREL CINSAUT 2020, BIRICHINO (California, USA)

No, the name isn’t a typo. This Cinsaut is from the Bechtold Vineyard on the Mokelumne River in Lodi. Birichino is a label founded by Alex Krause and John Locke, both formerly at Bonny Doon. They have a focus on unusual (for California) varieties and their labels match their slightly off-centre view of winemaking.

The Bechtold vineyard was planted with Cinsaut as long ago as 1886, by Joseph Spenker (Jon Bonné, The New California Wine, Ten Speed Press (2013)). They are said to be the oldest living Cinsau(l)t vines on earth. Still tended by Spenker’s family to this day, they are dry-farmed, and also have been farmed organically since planting. The grapes are wont to head to Bonny Doon, Abe Schoener and, of course, Turley, so this is a famous site and Birichino might be considered a little cheeky making a petnat from these grapes.

The inspiration with this wine is Provençal Vin Gris, but with bubbles. The Ancestral method of bottle-fermentation is employed and there is no disgorgement. We have nice red fruits, quite exotic (is that guava in there as well?), rounded out by the 13% alcohol (quite high for a petnat). The floral bouquet floats above a good frothy mousse. The wine is dry…and rather delicious. Just as well because it will set you back £31.50, but it’s definitely worth it. Think sunshine Vin Gris with bubbles, what not to like.

Sourced from Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton. This is one of four fascinating Birichino wines they currently stock.

SATELLIT 2018, JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna, Austria)

I was almost sad to drink this as I am now right out of Jutta’s wines for the first time since I discovered them, though I think its time had come. She’s a producer who I would always aim to keep a bottle or two to hand. Satellit is a Gemischter Satz field blend from Vienna’s 21st District (centred on Florisdorf), above the bank of the Danube. I guess the name comes from the fact that it is an outlier from Jutta’s main sites, closer to Grinzing.

The soils here are loess. The vinification includes a little skin contact before co-fermentation of grapes all picked together. The overall impression is of apples, but the loess adds a certain richness too. The blend is largely comprised of three varieties: Riesling, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner, but a little Sauvignon Blanc, rare in Vienna, helps add a touch of freshness. That said, this is less crisp than it tasted a year ago. Still a lovely wine, though. I’d find it hard to fault any of the soulful wines Jutta makes.

This was £24 from Littlewine. Their online shop is sadly no longer open at present, so I would suggest heading over to Newcomer Wines for supplies.

LAS CEPAS DE PACO « EL REFLEJO » 2018, VINOS OCÉANICOS (Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain)

This is another rather splendid example of the new wave of unfortified wines coming out of the Sherry Triangle. Made by Raul Moreno for Bodegas Herederos de Argüeso, the Vinos Océanicos label has become synonymous with these experimental new-style wines, brought to prominence by Equipo Navazos with their Florpower, just over a decade ago.

The source is an old Palomino clone, given skin contact, and made and aged in old Sherry casks. The colour is bright bronze, with mineral texture. The palette of flavours encompasses stone fruits, nuts, citrus, curry spice, honey, and even faint hints of Cognac. Some appear on both nose and palate. Complex doesn’t even begin to describe it, and it has such length it only finishes when you sip or eat something else. A quite remarkable wine.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, my bottle came from Solent Cellar (£34), but it is out of stock there.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, Californian Wine, Georgian Wine, Italian Wine, Natural Wine, Piemonte, Spanish Wine, Vienna, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Wine Fair 2022 – Olympia as Dionysus Might Have Imagined It

As I said in an Instagram post on Wednesday, the London Wine Fair is perhaps not my usual habitat, at least at first sight, but it does give me the opportunity to look outside my box and discover some new things. London Wine Fair 2022 proved successful in that respect, if for reasons the organisers might be less pleased about.

I normally spend much of my time at this large industry event up on the top floor of Olympia’s exhibition hall, in the gallery. Here is the section sadly still named “Esoterica” which in the past has been packed with small and medium-sized independent wine importers. Their wines are not esoteric to me, but then I can see that in the context of the “Trading Floor” below, they may well seem so to the beverage merchants. This time there were just under thirty exhibitors up there and it did seem much sparser. Joining them on the Gallery level were the producers looking for UK representation: “Wines Unearthed”. There’s always something here. The “Alliance Riceys” was my pick (see below).

Down on the trading floor things are mostly about the industry mainstream. Large importers, peripheral activities (publishing, education, vineyard services etc) and the large country or region pavilions (India, Greece and Romania, for example, mingling with Côtes du Rhône, Wines of Murcia or Provence, and so forth). The “Drinks Britannia” corner of the Trading Floor is always well attended, as are all the events taking place around the edge, from special tastings, industry briefings, awards ceremonies and masterclasses.

This means that I’m going to take you on an eclectic journey through the event, perhaps giving a flavour more reminiscent of a few sips than a whole bottle. There won’t be many detailed tasting notes, although we shall still taste as we go.

Olympia as Dionysus might have imagined it

Graft Wine

I hadn’t tasted Graft’s portfolio since before Covid and it was nice to reacquaint myself with a few of their wines. The first wine, however, is currently on its way to the UK and I mention it because I was seriously impressed. Dorper Chenin Blanc 2020 is from Stellenbosch in South Africa. Reg Holder is the winemaker. It’s a barrel-fermented example full of exotic passion fruit and peach on the nose, with a quince-like dry finish. Plenty of acids to balance the oak. Potential to age.

Koerner Clare Valley Pigato 2021 is a perennial favourite on top form. It’s from Koerner’s Gulleyville Vineyard in Watervale, off Terra Rossa soils, with destemmed, whole berry fermentation. It rests on lees for seven days and then has just seven months in stainless steel before bottling. It’s a fresh Vermentino, the bouquet showing orchard fruits, spice and floral notes, fine-boned but juicy fruit refreshing the palate.

Clos Cibonne Tibouren 2020 is the latest release of this Provençal classic, a wine which ranks among the finest Rosés of a region more soaked in mediocrity than most. Very pale, salmon pink, delicate yet with an intensity of old vine flavour, proving that the Tibouren grape is indeed a lost classic.

Vinteloper Shiraz 2019, Adelaide Hills is, as with all the wines made by this Adelaide Hills producer, a modern wine in the best sense. If you cast your mind back to the Australian bush fires of late 2019 (I was there at the time, up in NSW), you may remember that Vinteloper suffered terribly and this lovely red is going to be the last wine made from their own fruit for some years. All I will say is buy it and support this fabulous producer. Maturation was in large French oak for 15 months, then six more in bottle before release. Drink or keep up to a decade.

Alliance Riceys (Champagne)

The three hamlets in the very south of the Champagne Region, almost hugging the border with Chablis, which make up Les Riceys are now much better known than they were when I began to get to know its wines back in the late 1980s. Always a source of Pinot Noir for the large Champagne Houses up north, it was best known for an amazing still rosé which, with age, became one of the most hauntingly ethereal examples of Pinot Noir in France.

Today Les Riceys is full of small grower-producers and two of them, Champagne Péhu-Guiardel and Champagne Arnaud Tabourin, have joined together to seek a UK agent. They are typical of Champagne’s less high-profile growers, many of whom make good, interesting, wines, often less expensive than the more high-profile names we all know, but who we may never encounter, even in France.

I tried two wines from each. The Péhu-Guiardel Blanc de Blancs comes from a 2019 base, has 20 months on lees and a 6g/l dosage. It’s 100% Chardonnay farmed under “Exploitation de Haute Valeur Environmentale” accreditation. They make a Rosé which is blended with 18% still red Pinot Noir. I enjoyed the typicity of the BdeB, which was very obviously Chardonnay. Here, with the pink, I liked the fact that they have made something a little different. The dosage is not excessive but it isn’t totally bone dry like a Brut Zero.

The high proportion of still red wine makes this cuvée quite dark for Champagne, almost a red. It’s not unique and you will certainly come across this colour in the wine bars of the region, but English importers rarely try to sell these darker Champagnes. It’s a real shame. The result is nicely fruity but also assertive. I liked the combination

Arnaud Tabourin’s Cuvée Or is 100% Pinot Noir from a 2016 base. It saw ten months in oak and was given a dosage of 6g/l. It tasted fresh and youthful, very lively. This producer also makes a Rosé des Riceys still wine. I tasted the 2017 which had a nice pale red with burnished orange colour, combining delicacy of fruit with a bit of tannic grip. This may not age a decade or more, like a single site version from Olivier Horiot, but it will still age. That said, the family say they prefer it young and fruity.

This is the only producer I tried from the “Wines Unearthed” but they are typical of many here who just need to find the right agent. I doubt they are charging the prices we are increasingly seeing from the big-name growers, and affordable artisan Champagne is always welcome. Nice people on this stand, too.

Nyetimber (Hampshire, West Sussex and Kent))

I paid a couple of visits in the Drinks Britannia area. The Nyetimber Bus is always a big draw, so their tasting bar is always crowded. Competition is hot these days for the accolade of the “finest” producer of English Sparkling Wine, and I would guess that Nyetimber continues to work towards, perhaps as they would see it, maintaining that position (though rivals might disagree).

So here we must, to assess how they are faring, taste their entry level wine and their best wine, must we not? Well, I can say that the Classic Cuvée, here adorned with a special Jubilee sleeve, is as fresh and attractive as ever. It’s a pale and delicious, elegant blend of traditional Champagne varieties.

As for their top wines, well I asked to try the Tillington Single Vineyard Cuvée but was told “computer says no”. I’m obviously not important enough to taste Tillington, rocking up in casual attire at LWF, though I have sipped a glass on other occasions. I did try Cuvée Chérie, which is a “lightly golden” Demi-Sec. It certainly has more finesse than some versions of this sweeter style of sparkling wine can exhibit. It’s a style which wine professionals can be too sniffy about. This example is far from the coach party-pleaser some accuse demi-sec of being.

Lyme Bay Winery (Devon)

Lyme Bay Winery is near Axminster in Devon. They did own around ten acres of vines there, but these have been sold. The grapes are sourced mostly from Essex and Kent, as is much of the fruit made into wine in the West Country. Their Pinot Noir is sourced in Essex, for both still and sparkling wines, but I first wanted to try the Bacchus 2021 with fruit from Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire. Apple-fresh with elderflower and grapefruit from a mid-October harvest, this was very attractive and almost as good as the multi-award-winning Pinot Noir 2020.

The Pinot Noir fruit is specifically sourced from a vineyard by the River Crouch, planted with both Dijon and Spätburgunder clones. It sees 30% new oak, which is noticeable on the nose but doesn’t dominate. It is more rounded and fruit-driven than you might expect from a young wine that has seen some new oak, a nice smoothness balanced by a little grip on the palate. I think it well deserved its IWSC and IWC Gold Medals (it also bagged a Silver at the Decanter Awards).

Lyme Bay Brut Reserve 2020 blends Pinots Blanc, Meunier and Noir with Reichensteiner, Bacchus, Solaris and Chardonnay. It retains a quite high dosage of 10g/l but in this case, combined with the more unusual grape varieties, it gives the cuvée a point of difference. It was nicely fruity and a little aromatic. Equally tasty, but in a different way, was the Brut Rosé made from whole bunch pressed Pinot Noir. Cool fermented it retains a delicate lightness despite its mid-salmon pink colour. They call it fruit-driven, and it is, but there’s also honey and a touch of black pepper.

These are wines I would buy, especially as they are less speculatively priced than many (£22.50 for the Brut Reserve, £30 for the Rosé, £17.50 for the Bacchus and £27.99 for the still red Pinot). The latter is around the going rate for English Pinot Noir, but it’s a good one.

Ktima Tselepos (Greece)

Tselepos owns a number of wineries in Greece, in Mantinia, where Yannis and his wife Amalia settled in 1981, and Nemea, which was the source of the first wine from Tselepos I tasted back in the 1990s. I also tried one of their wines from a single vineyard on Santorini.

Most of the wines I tasted were from Mantinia fruit and made using the Moschofilero variety. Mantinia is one of the three major regions on the Peloponnese, based on a raised plateau north of Tripoli. As such, it’s cooler than you might expect, allowing for freshness in a variety that has lovely floral overtones, whether made still or sparkling.

Amalia Brut NV is sourced from a vineyard at 720 masl, the wine being a traditional method sparkler with just over nine months on lees. The floral bouquet is balanced by deeper brioche on the palate. Amalia Rosé on the other hand comes from the Asprokampos sub-region of nearby Nemea and it is made from that region’s most well known variety, Agiorgitiko. Again, the vineyard is at altitude (760 masl) and early harvesting preserves freshness. A similar maturation to the white sibling gives a wine which is driven by bright cherry fruit.

Mantinia PDO 2021 is a still white wine which takes us back to Moschofilero, grown up at 680 masl. After a pre-fermentation soak of eight hours, the must sees a temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel. Very fresh, as a result, the aromatics (floral and grapefruit) are preserved. The palate has a nice herbal finish. The freshness means that you don’t notice the 13% alcohol.

Blanc de Gris 2021 is another high-altitude wine from a region called Perpatiara, in Arcadia (in the far northeast, close to Türkiye (Turkey’s new official name) and Bulgaria. It sees fermentation split equally between amphora, stainless steel tanks and oak foudres. The wine is mineral, chalky even, in texture, floral but intense, and could be aged for perhaps five years.

Tselepos produces an Assyrtiko wine from a single vineyard on Santorini called “Canava Chrissou”, owned by the Tselepos family. Santorini VV 2021 is made from 100-year-old vines grown on the island’s famous volcanic soils. It has a delicious minerality but is more approachable than some Santorini’s, which in youth can be quite hard.

Last, I tasted their red Nemea (apologies for no photo). I think I was told that this comes from the family’s second estate, Ktima Driopi. Anyway, it is made, of course, from Agiorgitiko and spends eight months in used barrique. The altitude (even as high as 900 masl in Nemea for viticulture), proximity to the sea, cold winters and above average rainfall allow for wines which are fresher and less heavy than you would expect. Plump cherry fruit is balanced here by that fresh acidity. They make a more ageworthy reserve wine, but for me, this is really nice, Nemea just as I like it based on fresh fruit. I like Agiorgitiko. I also like Tselepos.

Champagne Virginie T (Champagne)

This is the label of Virginie Taittinger and Ferdinand Pougatch, who is Virginie’s son. They are based in what was once Champagne’s most famous village, Sillery, at the foot of the Montagne de Reims. The label was launched in 2013 long after Virginie’s family sold the famous house of the same name, and today it acts act as a boutique producer and small negoce, making around 80,000 bottles.

Virginie T Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut is typical of the house. A Chardonnay which has seen a minimum of six years ageing, dosed low at 3g/l. A bouquet of lifted white flowers and a touch of citrus with elegance to the fore. They currently choose to sell direct, online, which is fine as they do ship to the UK. I’m not sure that their online strapline for this cuvée excites me: “less sweet, more trendy”, but perhaps something was lost in the translation. What I will say is that it’s an impressive Champagne which, if purchased as a six-pack, only costs (according to their web site) £36 per unit. I can’t quite believe that.

Virginie T Rosé is a Rosé d’Assemblage with a blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir with red wine sourced from Cumières and Bouzy, on the southern edge of the Montagne. It sees four years ageing and has a pale-to-mid salmon pink colour. Red fruits are more elegant than pronounced and it majors on finesse. It appears, unusually for Champagne where pink wines usually command a premium, to sell for the same price as the Extra Brut.

There is an ever so slightly cheaper Brut in the range, along with a Brut Nature and a Grand Cuvée which are a little more expensive. So, considering the pedigree of the house, they represent remarkably good value from a boutique producer.

I was very interested to taste their organic cuvée, called Transmission. It’s a multi-vintage Pinot Noir based on 2017 (89%), with reserves from 2015 and 2016. Dosage is 5g/l. Its source is the Aube, specifically Neuville-sur-Seine, Celles-s-Ource and Les Riceys. Maturation is in stainless steel and only 2,500 bottles are currently produced. However, once more, the computer said no. Was it my casual jacket rather than my often-smarter attire? Should I have wheeled out the red trousers?

I was sorry that Ferdinand was rather negative about organics in Champagne. Despite evidence to the contrary, he seems to think producers pay organics lip service and slip back into conventional farming after a few years. In fact, Ferdinand was quite outspoken on a number of topics, surprising as I had never met him before. He’s definitely a passionate, quality-focussed, advocate for his brand. One fact is certain, that the packaging for this organic cuvée is really nice, and in my view a lot smarter and perhaps more contemporary than the packaging for their main range, in my humble Champagne-buying opinion.

Japan Centre (London)

A few readers will know that I have several reasons to love Japan, and for over fifteen years I have bought sake from the Japan Centre in Central London. They have moved several times, but are now in Panton Street, not far from Leicester Square (alongside two other locations outside Central London). They now appear to be putting more into promoting sake, a good thing, and they were showing a range of quality examples at LWF.

I tasted three sakes from a number available. The first was called Born Gold from the Katoukichibee Shouten Sake Distillery. This is a very high class Junmai Daiginjo, polished to 50%.  What does that mean? Daiginjo is the designation for the most “polished” rice and 50% is usually the maximum polish (that’s 50% of the rice being polished away). The purest rice, so to speak. Junmai sake is a pure sake with no extra added alcohol. This sake comes from the region of Fukui, north of Kyoto, the brewery founded by the same family as run it today in 1860. The Hyogo rice is of the highest quality and they use soft water pumped from underground in the Haku Mountains.

This sake is fruity, light, naturally brewed to 15% abv, and is very fine, clean-tasting and pure. I’ve not tasted sake this good for a long time. The person pouring said that she had been told this had been served in JAL First Class, but couldn’t verify that. It retails for around £50 for 720 ml.

Next, a sake speciality I am quite fond of, though perhaps that makes me the sake equivalent of a Bailey’s drinker (I never turn down a Bailey’s). It’s a Yuzusiyu, a Junmai sake with added yuzu fruit juice and sugar. Yuzu tastes closest to lemon, but that is no comparison. The best yuzu fruit sake has a kind of sweet and sour (or bitter) flavour. Often recommended as an aperitif, on the occasions we buy some we find it goes really well with lemon sorbet and fruit.

The final sake was another speciality, Nigori. Nigori sake is put through a wide-mesh filter so that some rice solids go into the bottle. The result is cloudy and the colour of milk. This lovely example was from the Gekkeikan Sake Company based in Fushima (Kyoto). It’s one of the world’s oldest companies, founded in 1637.

Nigori sake, as in this case, is often a little sweeter, thicker textured and more mellow than the clear sakes. This is dryer than some, though, with a cotton candy and umami flavour. It won’t break the bank to try this because 300 ml costs £8.19. Much sake is sold in a small 30 cl bottle.

I would suggest that these three styles of sake are a good place to begin if you want to explore this very different drink. Contrary to what some might think, it is not highly alcoholic, and is brewed, not fermented. It goes perfectly with all kinds of umami-rich food. Good Junmai Daiginjo doesn’t have to cost £50 either.

You can drink it in a glass, although in Japan you will be served it in a ceramic cup or earthenware pot (called a Choko). The latter can be of a pleasingly quirky, irregular, shape. Also look for sparkling sake, such as the bottle I purchased from the Oxford Wine Company, reviewed in my “Recent Wines April 2022 (Part 1)” published here on 12 May 2022.

The Japan Centre now has a dedicated Sake Sommelier, Bowie Tsang, who runs seminars for those interested, as of course does the WSET now. I can highly recommend Anthony Rose’s book, Sake and the Wines of Japan (Infinite Ideas, 2018). I think that anyone with any interest in Japan, Sake and indeed the burgeoning Japanese wine scene, should buy and read it. I often consider writing on the subject myself but I could never do it half as well as Anthony Rose and I guarantee that most serious wine lovers will enjoy it.

That’s all from LWF for this year. For me, as a visitor, it was a good Fair, enabling me to be quite random in my wanderings without the intensity and crush of some events, no matter how good. I hope that I have given a flavour of the event, supplemented by the photos below.

SOME PHOTOS

A few of the LWF Pavilions (clockwise: Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Romania and India)

Events (can you spot Tim Wildman pondering the question?) and peripherals (bottom pic is the Wine Scholars Guild stand)

Wine in a can was very big this year, as were very “fancy” bottles. Packaging seems to have moved on in the post-pandemic era.

Posted in Artisan Wines, English Wine, Sake, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Regenerative Viticulture by Dr Jamie Goode (Book Review)

Regenerative Viticulture is a phrase being bandied around a lot right now, but it is sufficiently new, and current, for the majority of people, that many probably don’t really know exactly what it means. This is why Jamie Goode has, once more, given us a topical book in which he hopes to enlighten us. The “us” in question certainly covers all wine professionals, in whatever capacity. We all need to get up to speed on regeneration, the buzz word of the decade for sustainability, not only in viticulture but agriculture in general. I also think that this book will appeal to any serious wine lover looking beyond books of scores, or those written about their favourite wine region. Certainly, anyone who read Jamie’s previous books examining the more scientific sides of wine (Flawless on wine faults, or Authentic Wine, with Sam Harrop, for example) will enjoy it.

Dr Goode is currently writing a longer book, to be titled “The New Viticulture”, to be published later this year. It’s a work intended to be more detailed and more technical. This current work is intended to “encapsulate what regenerative viticulture actually means, in a text that doesn’t require a strong scientific background” (to borrow the author’s words).

Regenerative viticulture as a concept is both simple, yet at the same time, difficult to understand. This is especially true as many consumers are already confused between organics, biodynamics and natural wine. Regenerative viticulture doesn’t fit into any neat pyramid, but is a separate entity with a focus on ways of creating an ecosystem allowing vines to thrive (including producing viable crops of healthy grapes and resistance to disease). Central to regeneration, but not exclusively so, is soil health.

When I was younger, I am sure I was not alone in being impressed when I visited vineyards of neat rows with not a weed nor plant in sight among the vines. What I didn’t understand back then, was that these vineyards were not only drenched in potentially harmful herbicides and synthetic pesticides, but beneficial root systems, and the microscopic life that inhabits them, were also compacted by tractors, torn by ploughing and stripped of nutrients by water run off’s erosive action.

Oddly enough it was first in Burgundy where I began to understand the negative impact of synthetic treatments and tractor compaction, and it was the top estates which were onto it first and led the way in changing the way they farmed. Becoming something of a passionate fan of Jura wines, I soon got to understand natural winemaking. Hand-in-hand with this philosophy you would always find an appreciation of soil health. In fact, a healthy vineyard is pretty much essential if you are making wine with zero, or minimal, added sulphites. So, I soon came to appreciate whatever the grower sowed or left to grow between the rows, and equally why they were using a horse rather than a tractor for work in the vines.

That, of course, is the romantic side of regenerative viticulture. How you get to that position requires a real understanding of your individual ecosystem (all vineyards are different). Jamie Goode brings a combination of deep scientific knowledge as a Doctor of Plant Biology, with his unrivalled ability as a multi-award-winning wine communicator, to explain a potentially complicated subject in a way which makes the light bulb come on immediately.

After a concise introduction Jamie sets the scene by talking about other vine management methodologies, through organics (the good bits and the bad bits) and biodynamics (especially the practical side of the philosophy). In Chapter 2 we get to understand that “regenerative” farming is effectively the way we farmed before the agri-chemical revolution, and indeed it has been practised as long back as indigenous peoples (anyone interested should read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and the relevant parts of Max Allen’s “Intoxicating” on indigenous farming in Australia, whilst noting that Pascoe has his detractors, and also an excellent book on Native American land husbandry by Robin Wall Kimmerer, called Braiding Sweetgrass).

We are introduced to the views and thoughts on the subject by a number of, mostly well known, practitioners of more enlightened viticulture, first in Bourgogne (as the region’s professional body would like us to call it now, not Burgundy), and then further afield, especially producers in Oregon and New Zealand.

One key concept Dr Goode introduces is permaculture. It’s a subject I’m interested in because I know the person who runs the Permaculture programme for Brighton and Hove Council. Permaculture is a subject in its own right, but there is a lot of overlap between that and regenerative agriculture. In permaculture we are beginning to see one path towards regeneration.

One key text is Masanobu Fukuoka’s “The One Straw Revolution”. You might have read my review of this wonderful, short, book (August 2021). Fukuoka was himself an agricultural scientist, not some guru-like peasant, and all his later techniques were the result of a very scientific observation of life in his fields (and, for sure, he certainly made mistakes to begin with). In the same way that Fukuoka will show you the way to regeneration and sustainability in a Japanese context, Jamie Goode will enable you to begin to understand why regeneration is so important to viticulture, not just to put right past mistakes, but in order to allow winemaking to remain sustainable through climate change (chaos).

If you want to taste Fukuoka-style permaculture in the glass, look for the truly astonishing wines made by Nate Ready, at Hiyu Farm in Oregon’s Hood River Valley. Nate, and partner China Tresema, get a page towards the end of Chapter 3.

Chapter 4 introduces the subject of Agroecology, fundamental to regenerative farming. Agroecology, in a viticulture context, means looking at the vineyard as a whole, as one total ecological being or system. Once the vineyard is recognised as an ecosystem, not just soil as a medium for crop production, then you are ready to begin a journey towards sustaining that vineyard, potentially indefinitely. Jamie discovered agroecology earlier than I did, via a book on the subject by Miquel Altieri, recommended to him by Ted Lemon of Littorai Vineyards in Sonoma.

The chapter looks at agroecology and introduces its current buzz topic, Functional Biodiversity. I won’t spin out the details, but if you take a percentage of your land out of production and create (or allow to grow) other habitats, the biodiversity created will directly benefit your crops.

Chapter 5 is called “Farming Soils” and starts out with a great quote from James Millton (Gisborne, NZ): “We’re not standing on dirt, but on the rooftop of another kingdom”. A simple idea, almost a cliché, yet one somehow forgotten by a post-war generation of conventional grape farmers…or if not forgotten certainly not understood. Here we delve deep into the micro-world of fungi and spores. If you want to dig deeper (trying not to disturb the underworld), read “Finding the Mother Tree” by Suzanne Simard, whose work in British Columbia led to revelations about the mycorrhizal connections which communicate in sophisticated and hardly believable ways beneath the ground (the so-called “wood-wide-web”). It opens the mind. Jamie mentions Simard in this chapter.

Chapter 6 gives us the regenerative tool kit. First out the bag, cover crops, though this, you will discover, is a very big subject, especially when remembering that all sites are different. Jamie touches on composting, biochar (which he comes back to in the last chapter) and mulching. Chapter 7 links in via weed control and looks further at no-till systems (Lemon, mentioned above, favours no-till). There’s a handy, balanced, section on glyphosates (“Roundup”) here, as part of the wider discussion of synthetic herbicides. But not all weed control needs the napalm death approach and other systems and approaches are introduced. We also get a good look at some of the most prevalent vine diseases here, a section which any MW or WSET Diploma student needs to understand.

After a brief discussion of certification and whether or not it has value in Chapter 9, we move on in Chapter 10 to a very current topic: incorporating animals. I’d never seen animals in a vineyard before I’d visited the Durrmann family in Andlau a few years ago. In their case it was sheep. Now, I find sheep, and hens, almost common and I’ve even seen pigs. As well as introduced species, some producers are content to allow wild animals (deer, bears, even potentially destructive wild boar) among the vines.

Equally, trees may be planted for shade, but they will, when grown, encourage birds. But they will eat the grapes, you say. They will also eat insect pests. The chapter discusses their value and function to the ecology of the vineyard, which is met with incomprehension in many cases from the viticultural, and especially government, bodies. Not to mention fellow farmers and neighbours. Jeff Coutelou in Languedoc, and the late Stefano Bellotti in Piemonte, both experienced vandalism from unknown sources who didn’t appreciate the planting of trees on or in the vineyard. André Durrmann, whose sheep I met in 2017, has trees actually interspersed among the vines.

One of the great issues with climate change is whether traditional varieties will still thrive, or survive, in the places where they are currently famous. A glaring example is Merlot in Bordeaux, where its tendency to over-ripen when the weather gets hot can lead to very unbalanced, high alcohol, wines. Matching variety to place is rightly discussed in Chapter 11 before the following chapter looks at hybrids and the new resistant vines (known by most as PIWIs, an abbreviation of the German word “pilzwiderstandsfähige”).

PIWIs are becoming increasingly important, even if the varietal label-seeking wine consumer is a long way from hearing about them. They are already getting a lot of producer attention in Switzerland, where research is in far greater proportion to that country’s production level. They are equally becoming more used in Germany. Goode quotes star natural wine producer Jan Matthias Klein as saying that their quality matches the traditional varieties, perhaps with the exception of Riesling.

The French equivalents to PIWIs are called ResDur (the Resistance Durable varieties). You might have heard of a few of them. In my case it’s Muscaris Blanc, Souvenier Gris, Solaris, Pinotin and three Cabernets (Blanc, Cortis and Jura). I’m equally sure that varieties such as Muscaris and Frontenac might be known to those who have sampled wines from the likes of La Garagista of Vermont. I had absolutely no idea, though, that Champagne has approved such a variety. Well, it’s on a ten-year trial, but “Voltis” is allowed as 10% of any blend. I don’t know what it tastes like, but its resistance to disease, and other attributes, do suggest it is an interesting proposition for the region’s climate.

The book ends with an in-depth interview Dr Goode conducted with two very different proponents of Regenerative Viticulture, Mimi Casteel (Hopewell Vineyards, Oregon) and Miguel Torres Jr (Torres, Peñedès). The interview took place at the launch of the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation in London, in March of this year. It’s the perfect note on which to end this marvellous little book.

I should say something about the production values. It’s a nicely bound paperback which does have something of the feel of a “print-on-demand” title (printed by Amazon), so it’s not as flashy as a paperback from a publishing house. But this doesn’t detract from the book, which has clear text interspersed with good, and relevant, photos taken by the author. The author has also been a science editor and that is probably why there are only one of two typos. A way better score than similar self-published works, like the book I’ve been reading over the holiday which asserted that a gig in Milan was very much enjoyed by “the Spanish audience”. You cannot beat a good proof reader.

Regenerative Viticulture by Dr Jamie Goode is available via Amazon for (currently) £16.76, or reduced to £9 for the electronic/Kindle edition. I really think this is a must read for any wine professional or wine lover who is interested in sustainability, climate change and ecological issues relating to viticulture, and wine in general. Whilst the book does contain more solid science, and scientific terminology, than your average wine book, Jamie Goode is such a great communicator that it didn’t feel that I was at any point close to being out of my depth. That alone is an achievement for the author. Rarely have I found a book like this to be so interesting. At 165 pages it doesn’t take an age to read, and it’s short enough that I shall re-read it after a suitable break away from wine-related material. Is there a more important, and relevant, topic in wine at the moment?

Posted in Grape Varieties, Natural Wine, Viticulture, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Science, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Real Wine Fair 2022 (Part 3)

This is the final part of my coverage of the Real Wine Fair 2022. We shall step out of mainland Europe to cover producers from England, South Africa, Georgia and Lebanon. It brings to a close a fantastic event, but I can’t help feel I’ve not quite done it justice compared to previous years, where I think I covered more wines and producers. However, I do think I’ve done justice to the individual winemakers I did include, so maybe my three articles will add in to what everyone else has written about the event.

I’m certainly finding that after a couple of years away from the tasting circuit it appears that I need to get back in training. I gave notes on seventy-seven wines over these three articles, and I won’t say exactly how many I decided not to include, but I guess that in the end I wasn’t too far below the hundred wines I normally decide is my limit. My enthusiasm has returned, but not quite yet the stamina. For those merchants holding tastings as well this week, I apologise for slumping behind my computer rather than hiking back to London for more palate work.

DOMAINE HUGO (Wiltshire, England)

I had been wanting to taste the wines of Domaine Hugo for a while, with several people I know recommending them. Hugo Stewart had spent twenty years farming in France, in the Corbières region at Les Clos Perdus, before heading back home. His philosophy in France was biodynamics, and he didn’t really want to farm grapes in the UK if he had to return to conventional methods, and synthetic inputs. He had feared that he couldn’t grow grapes biodynamically here, at Botleys, the family farm in Wiltshire, but he met Daniel Ham (Offbeat Wines) in 2108, who changed his mind.

Daniel convinced Hugo that his chalk slopes could produce excellent wines using the methods he preferred and so Domaine Hugo was born, with Daniel heading up winemaking and Hugo controlling the viticulture. Domaine Hugo is currently quite small, just three hectares, but another reason to try these wines is that this is yet another of the growing number of small artisan operations adding far more than the size of their production suggests to the wellbeing of English and Welsh wine.

There are currently three wines available from Hugo’s three hectares.

Hugo 2018 is a traditional method blend of the three main Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier) along with Pinot Gris. This 2018 was made by Daniel Ham at Langhams before the winery was built at Botleys. Hugo intersperses the vines with a tall cover crop. On the thin chalky soils this makes the vines work, but at the same time allows natural nutrients to pass back when the crops die off. Biodynamic, zero dosage and zero sulphur, it’s a classic English sparkling wine with all the summer hedgerow freshness and crystalline acidity you’d expect.

Hugo 2019 is the same blend and underwent the same vinification. It’s interesting tasting this next to the 2018 wine with an extra year in bottle because it does suggest these wines will age well, not that most won’t be consumed pretty much immediately. That’s a shame for a wine which may well be quite expensive. The vineyard is very chalky, and the topsoil is only eight inches thick, max. Less in places. This adds to the terroir-driven feel of the wine, doubtless enhanced by the biodynamic regime. Some might question zero dosage in Wiltshire. I applaud it because it’s yet another way, like zero sulphites, that a wine can be stripped bare to reveal the true terroir.

Botley’s 2020 stemmed from an idea Daniel had to hold back the final pressings from their Coquard press to make a Col Fondo wine. The inspiration actually came from one of my wine super-heroes initially, Jean-Pierre Rietsch, of Mittelbergheim (whose wine by total coincidence I was drinking last night). Dan used some of the fermenting 2020 juice to ignite a second fermentation of the 2019 pressings.

The result, made without disgorging and with zero added sulphur, is another very individual and welcome addition to the Domaine Hugo list. Two sides of the same coin. Brilliant.

They hope to be able to continue this experiment by using next year’s active ferment for the tirage of the 2020 Traditional Method wine as well. Experimenting like this is also to be applauded. Hugo says “…you have to go to the edge to make something special, you need to take risks to make something distinctive. That’s where the beauty lies”. Exactly!

Domaine Hugo is distributed by the excellent (trust me) Wines Under the Bonnet. I am grateful to their web site for some of the vinification info.

Here’s a gratuitous pic of Hugo chatting with Ben Walgate. His Tillingham table was rammed with fans all day. I’m more than impressed with what Ben has created, as a pioneer, at Tillingham.

CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, England)

I know Tim Phillips better than any other English winemaker, and there is no-one I admire more in the industry. Tim has bags of experience making wine in South Africa, but what he’s doing at his walled vineyard on Hampshire gravels, and orchard, near Pennington (just inland from the Isle of Wight) is something else entirely. Tim is genuinely in tune with nature, something which can be seen both in his vineyard (most obviously the hens which follow him around as he works) and in the nature of the land surrounding his small winery. What he has created is magnificent.

Tim makes infinitesimally small quantities of wine, and cider, most of which disappears at his open days, or swiftly from Les Caves de Pyrene, who distribute much of what he has left. Some lucky Fair-goers would have found some bottles in the venue’s pop-up shop. I think I got the last bottle of still Riesling.

A Fermament 2020 is Tim’s Sauvignon Blanc. The name is a play on artist Tom Phillips’ treatment of a Victorian novel, “A Humument”. Many of Tim’s labels reference this magnificent, unusual, work, as those familiar with it will know.

The 2020 is in a place kind of somewhere between the 2018 and 2019 in style. Winemaking was as simple as it gets…whole berry press, stick it in tank and leave it. Tim can be quite obsessive about tasting and tasting his wines and not bottling them until they are good and ready. To see the 2020 in bottle is good, from a purchasing perspective. It will age but has definite varietal character which I would put somewhere between Loire and Bordeaux without too much New Zealand.

Promised Land 2020. This is the name for Tim’s Riesling. In the past he has made a varietal Riesling only when the grapes have been perfect, and it has previously been made into a sparkling wine. Many suggest that’s impossible at our latitude, but the walled vineyard creates a special microclimate which has enabled Tim, at least on occasion, to make one.

In 2020 we have something new, a still Riesling. In many ways this is a remarkable wine. I’ve certainly never tasted English still Riesling before and that the wine is so good I find astonishing. Tim made a still cuvée because the acids were low enough in the hot vintage he had. But low acids are relative. This wine doesn’t lack acidity, although time will change that and ageing is something we all, those of us lucky enough to get hold of a bottle, will need to think about (or in my case, email Tim about). Right now, it has such exciting density and extract, and it will be hard to keep it hidden away.

Perfect Strangers 2021. Tim’s cider has always been vinous. Perfect Strangers has, most often, been cider made from Tim’s orchard of old apple varieties blended with a dash of his South African Syrah, adding colour and vinosity. This 2021 vintage cider was made by putting the dry cake from the Pinot Noir press in tank and adding 600-litres of pressed apple juice. The juice spent 35 days on the skins and then fermented for 2/3 weeks before the cap dropped. He pressed it off just before last Christmas. The result is a winey red still (this time) cider which has delicious acids and could probably fool some people, at least for a moment, if told it is wine. Real cider fanatics might think it’s too much like wine, but like others who use wine with apple juice, Tim is right to continue down this path. The results are always both innovative and exciting.

LOST IN A FIELD (various sites in England)

The guy behind Lost in a Field is the irrepressible Tim Wildman. Tim lives in Brighton but is well known for producing a range of innovative petnats with whacky labels out in Australia (alongside other UK ventures). The origins of this label lie in Tim’s “lost vineyard” project.

Like me, Tim realised that in the 1960s and 70s dozens of small-time amateur winemakers planted vineyards in the UK, using the recommended varieties of the time. In the age before today’s Champagne lookalike blends, people felt that in order to ripen grapes in our mostly cold and damp climate they needed to use either German crossings bred for higher sugar levels, or hybrid vines that are more resistant to some fungal diseases. My first wine was made from seriously over-cropped and under-ripe Seyval Blanc which a friend sort of inherited from an Italian guy in Sussex a number of years ago.

For Tim, as for me, the old German crosses form our viticultural heritage and whilst they don’t generally make wines of the same quality as we drink today (with a few exceptions, Bacchus topping the list), they are deserving of some attention.

Frolic 2021 is a pink petnat which Tim has blended from twenty-one heritage varieties sourced from eight vineyards scattered around seven counties in England and Wales. The bulk of this petnat comes from one variety, Madeleine Angevine (75%), one of those heritage varieties certainly capable of making interesting wine when carefully looked after. There is 10% Reichensteiner, then other bits and pieces including Schönburger, and red grapes (Triomphe, Rondo and Cabernet Noir).

The result is a soft and simple wine with good bubbles and massive summer picnic appeal. Like all of Tim’s wines, the packaging is exceptional, from the bright summery label to the unusual bottle shape. The magnums are magnificent to behold, although with the 75cl bottles retailing for around £33 (if I’m correct) I think that comparing it with petnats I buy from other sources, some may think it expensive. I shall certainly buy a bottle or two, though.

Tim Wildman distributes his own wines. Contact tim@lostinafield.com .

SCIONS OF SINAI (Lower Hederberg, South Africa)

Scions of Sinai is the project of Bernhard Bredell, who having grown up on a wine farm wanted to return to viticulture and winemaking. The name of the vineyard derives from the upper part of the vine (scion) and the Sinai Hill, that part of the Lower Hederberg where the family farm.

The vineyard is one of those great examples of once neglected bush vines now loved again. Bernhard sees them and his family as the descendants of this unique terroir. As with all the wines at the Real Wine Fair, Bernhard is committed to low-intervention methods and, he says, “varietal authenticity”.

Señor Tallos 2020 was a pretty good start. It’s a blend of half-and-half Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc, partial whole bunch fermentation and left on skins for four weeks. As a fan of both varieties, this works really well but there’s also a nice twist to this wine. The two varieties are fermented separately and then blended together, and aged for seven months after a layer of flor forms on the wine. The yeast influence isn’t too strong, so the wine retains pretty vibrant fruit and zip. It’s mouthfilling and I really liked it.

Gramdeolas 2020 is 100% Grenache Blanc, aged in French oak for seven months. If the last wine was good, this is no less so, for me. It has lifted aromatics, a beautiful scent of herbs, exotic fruits and flowers. The palate has this mouthfilling herb and fruit mix with a line of acidity giving out flavours of lime and quince.

Atlantikas Pinotage is what they call a “maritime” wine, the vines growing close to the sea and influenced by their location. This also sees seven months in French oak but the wine is nevertheless really fruity…juicy fruits. Definitely one to open for those whose view of Pinotage may be slightly outdated.

Nomadic Red Blend 2020 is comprised of 84% Cinsaut and 16% Pinotage. It’s a nice fruity red.

Fénilks 2020 is a different take on Pinotage, with a serious side. The vineyard was established in 1976 so the vines have age. 60% of the grapes go in as whole bunches and the remainder are destemmed. Ageing is eleven months in French oak. The colour is a deep, dark, purple. The wine is structured and tannic with darker fruit tones than the previous, lighter, Pinotage. Some tobacco notes are just beginning to emerge, but the wine is definitely still young. But quite impressive.

Swanesang 2020 brings us into new territory, varietal Syrah. Vinification is the same as for the Fénilks with 60% whole bunches into the fermenter and eleven months ageing in French oak. Another young wine where we are just beginning to see deeper notes developing under the plummy/damson fruit. For me, at this stage, it looks more to Europe than the New World, but there’s no doubt the winemaking philosophy here helps…it’s a wine that retains its freshness, so much so that I didn’t feel any compulsion to check the alcohol level.

Indigo Wines imports Scions of Sinai.

IAGO’S WINE/MARINA’S WINE (Kartli, Georgia)

Iago Bitarishvili and his wife, Marina Kurtanidze, have a winery in Chardakhi, in the Mtskheta sub-region of Kartli. Kartli is west of the Capital, Tbilisi, an area less well known in the UK than the wine regions in the east of the country (it isn’t mapped in the current World Atlas of Wine). Nevertheless, it’s an important region, one where the famous Neolithic clay wine vessels were discovered by archeologists, giving Georgia one of several claims to be the cradle of wine. Certainly, the region’s importance is echoed in the famous giant aluminium statue of Kartlis Deda (the Mother of Georgia), on Tiblisi’s Sololaki Hill.

Iago farms a couple of hectares of old vines (around 50-y-o), mostly the white Chinuri variety, the traditional grape of the region. All the wines he makes are made from grapes harvested when both berries and stems are ripe. Everything goes into the qvevris, many of which are very old, without pressing and fermentation is spontaneous. The stems help the wine settle naturally and no sulphites are added.

Iago Chinuri Skin Contact (Lot 520) 2020 is distinctive, with pear and quince flavours. The six months spent in qvevri give this colour and texture but there’s still a lovely balanced mouthfeel, without the raw tannic edge some qvevri wines can show when this young.

Iago Chinuri Skin Contact (Lot 720) 2020 also saw a six-month maceration but Iago always bottles his individual batches as separate lots as they can develop so differently. I’m not massively convinced that the two wines are all that far apart, but that doesn’t detract from them being as good as bottles I’ve tasted and bought in the past.

Marina’s Mtsvane 2020. Iago’s wife also makes wine. This has been pretty unusual in the past, in a country where in some cases women are not even allowed in the winery, shocking as that may seem. Well, I think things have changed quite a bit and there are a number of women now making wine in the country. But when Marina began making wine it was still not that common. Marina has not made wine every vintage, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, but it was really good to taste her excellent bottles once more here at RealWine.

The Mtsvane grapes are from the eastern part of the Kartli Region. It’s a juicy red with nice tight fruit, more acids and a pleasant bitter streak. Tasty, and nicely different.

Marina’s Tavkveri-Chinuri Rosé 2020 was a wine I don’t recall trying before. The red and white varieties are co-fermented to give a pink wine but with five months on skins you wonder why it isn’t fully red. It’s actually really pale in the glass, at least under the venue’s lighting. The blend is 60:40 in favour of the white Chinuri grapes. The wine has concentrated red fruits with spice. It comes in at just 12% abv, but it has a complexity to it and a savoury twist to the fruit which makes me see it more as a food wine, albeit perhaps perfect for outdoor dining. Perhaps it was the novelty but I liked this best of the four wines Iago poured, albeit all of them being really nice. I’d buy every one of them.

Importer – Les Caves.

MERSEL WINES (Lebanon)

The company (rather than merely producer, using bought-in grapes as well as estate grown fruit) makes wines in the region of Maksar Mercel. This is the highest wine region in the country, reputedly with some vines as high as 2,400 masl. They also take grapes from Ainata in the more familiar Bekaa Valley and a few more wine regions in Northern Lebanon. The philosophy they adhere to is the familiar one of no viticultural inputs except for minimal sulphur, and organic farming.

Their marketing is polished but it doesn’t always have the kind of detail a wine writer might wish for. That’s not really a criticism. I’m sure they present themselves in a way they have seen other wine producers do on different continents, to best show what they do to the market. But the wines are really interesting and generally well packaged. Eddie Chami, the man behind Mersel, is a very good advocate for them.

Lebnat Petnat Gold 2020 and Lebnat Petnat Rosé 2021 are the first petnats I’ve tried from Lebanon. The Gold (white) is a blend of Merwah with Viognier and the Rosé is Merwah with around 20% Sangiovese for colour. Ancestral method, first fermentation taking place in bottle, then the bottle is disgorged and the second fermentation occurs naturally in the refilled bottle. This creates light and crisp wines, the pink being redolent with nice red fruits, and the white taking on some more overt Viognier flavours.

Phoenix Merwah Skin Contact 2021 comes from the fruit of the autochthonous Merwah variety harvested from 150-year-old vines growing at around 1,400 masl. Yields are quite low, at 25 hl/h, from grapes picked in mid-October. They are split for fermentation between stainless steel tanks and amphora. Skin contact lasts three weeks, before racking into new stainless steel and used oak. Bottling is in May the following year. This is a very tasty wine, bone dry with interesting combinations of fruit and herb flavours. There’s a pink Phoenix (not tasted) made using similar methods from a field blend.

Lebnani Ahmar 2020 is made from 100% Cinsaut, fairly young vines from the Bekaa Valley. Fermentation is in concrete after destemming. It’s quite a meaty red with 13.5% abv, but although an expression of a warmer terroir than the previous wines, it’s very interesting as a “natural” wine, not at all attenuated by heat and alcohol, retaining freshness. This, and its white sibling (not tasted) are presented in litre bottles.

Red Velvet 2021 is an easy drinking red wine made from whole clusters of Cinsaut grapes. It’s meant to be drunk young and chilled and is a new addition to the Mersel range. That said, I think it still rocks in at a deceptive 13% abv, though it tastes lower in alcohol, for sure. The grapes are grown at around 1,200 metres in the Bekaa Valley.

Cider Piquette 2021 is an example of a beverage which is seemingly becoming quite popular, or at least we are seeing a few Piquettes commercialised. Piquette is usually made by adding water (spring water if making a quality version) to the still wet cake (pomace) from pressed grapes. Here, Eddie has added organic honey from their own bee hives to begin a further fermentation. There’s 2g/l of residual sugar, but the acidity makes it taste dry. The grape blend, not that it really matters I think, is 40% Muscat and 30% each of Sauvignon Blanc and Merwah.

After a week-and-a-half of refermentation the piquette reached, in this case, 9%abv. This is higher than some piquettes I’ve tasted, possibly higher than a producer would want if giving it to his pickers at breakfast, an hour or so into a day’s work among the vines, as is traditional in much of Europe. But it works well here. It’s very appley, acidic but refreshing when well chilled. The advantage of piquette is that you can drink half a bottle with your lunchtime picnic and still make it to the top of the mountain.

Distributed by Les Caves.

Sadly, that brings to an end my RealWine ’22 coverage. It was a great event which the team from Les Caves deserves massive praise for working so hard to prepare and put on. I’m sure they were happy to get the Fair up and running again after Covid lockdowns etc, and as trade members, I know we were thrilled to be back. It’s a shame we need to wait for the next one.

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Real Wine Fair 2022 (Part 2)

In my introduction to Part One of my coverage of RealWine 2022 I mentioned that, wandering around the tables and bumping into friends, I was bombarded with producer recommendations, most of which I had no time to visit. One or two I was able to see. There were also cases where people annoyingly said the next day “oh, did you taste that amazing…”. If only you’d come and dragged me there. We start Part Two with a producer I found for myself, the only one from Greece, but at least five or six people asked me whether I had been to their stand. A stand-out of the fair.

KAMARA ESTATE (Thessaloniki, Greece)

The Kioutsoukis family (Dimitrios, Elefhteria and their children) abandoned the city and planted eleven hectares of vines at Oreokastro, in Thessaloniki on the Northern Greek Mainland. Dimitrios is an advocate of permaculture and regenerative viticulture is central to what he does. Soil health in the vineyard and no interventions in winemaking, including zero added sulphur. The varieties planted are mainly autochthonous, including Malagousia, Roditis, Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. Eleftheria told me that they like to make wines to go with food, but I think these lovely wines are fit for any occasion. They are certainly neither heavy nor clumsy, nor are they insubstantial.

Stalisma 2021 is ablend of 80% Malagousia and 20% Xinomavro with three days on skins, yet still creating a white wine despite the presence of black grapes. This is a fresh and soft wine which sees just three months in used barrels.

Shadow Play White 2021 is 100% Assyrtiko. Although the variety is famous for, in some cases, extreme minerality when grown on its perceived home, the island of Santorini, here we get a different expression of the variety. Harvest takes place in September. There is still a line of minerality here, but it is wrapped in a nice chalky softness. I don’t think it will require the length of time needed for some Santorini Assyrtiko to express themselves.

Petnat Rosé 2020 is a three-variety blend of Malagousia, Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. The Xinomavro grapes are from the following vintage, so in this case from 2021. They start-off the second, bottle fermentation. No disgorgement takes place. It’s a simple wine, but in the most positive sense. It is massively fresh and refreshing and Dimitrios says he absolutely loves to drink it at lunchtime. Exactly my thinking. At 12.5% abv it’s not the lowest alcohol petnat you’ll find, but the zingy red-berry freshness makes it seem lighter.

Shadow Play Red 2020 is produced from young Xinomavro grapes. The result is a wine with pleasant lifted scents of red fruits, with a slightly darker tone (coffee, tobacco, tar?) just coming through. But despite the 13.5% alcohol, well, you’d never guess. It has the kind of lightness of touch which suggests you could serve it cool in summer. I’m pretty sure that having no added sulphur has something to do with it.

Keramos Orange 2020 was a contender for my favourite wine on the table. To 80% Assyrtiko they have added 20% Muscat of Samos, a grape more famous for its dessert wines. The wine is made in small amphora (225-litre), hand made in Crete, with full skins etc. The result isn’t a tannic, grippy, wine but one which lingers on the tongue with flavours which are more redolent of the Greek mainland, with soft fruits and herbs, rather than the scorching summer heat of the islands.

Keramos Red 2020 is the second wine tasted made in amphora. Two varieties are blended, Xinomavro and Limnio. Limnio is an interesting variety. We see very little of it, but hailing originally from the island of Limnios, it dates right back, ampelographers think, to Ancient Greece. It has a fair chance of being the same variety Aristotle called Lemnia. It makes full-bodied, mineral, wines with low tannin, so perhaps it’s ideal as a blending component.

This wine sees 30 days on skins in the amphora and then a further nine months after the skins are removed. Neither variety have made this a tannic wine, even in its youth. Instead, we have a unique wine with lifted aromatics and red berry fruit of some vibrancy. A red which feels alive. I loved it.

Retsina “Nimbus Ritinitis” 2020. I came back to taste the retsina at the end of the day. I thought it might wreck my palate, but it didn’t. I’m sure I’m not alone in having had bad experiences drinking too much retsina. Eleftheria explained how this speciality used to be made by small producers and artisans, but that during the 1970s onwards it was taken over by industrial producers and got such a bad name. Artisan production is coming back, and to be fair I can recall tasting some delicious retsina wines at wine fairs pre-Covid, on the stands of the specialist importers.

Kamara Estate makes its retsina from 100% Assyrtiko with 7-9 days of skin contact. The pine resin is specially selected from a producer on Evia, the large island near to Athens partially connected to the mainland. They add just one kilo per tonne of grapes. Like all the wines, it is unfiltered and no sulphites are added. It’s the most “natural” (in both senses) retsina I’ve tried. So different to the kind which made me ill in the 1980s.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrene.

LA BIANCARA (Veneto, Italy)

Angiolino and Alessandro Maule run this estate with the help of Emma Bentley, who I’ve known for a number of years. However, if that might make me somewhat subjective about this estate, I don’t think I need worry. Its fame has rightly grown over the years since Angiolino founded it sixteen or so years ago. As a founder of one of Italy’s natural wine groupings, VinNatur, he is a beacon of low intervention viticulture in a region once wholly dominated by very large-scale producers and just a few famous artisans.

Garg ‘n’ Go Sparkling 2020 is a “colfondo” blend of La Biancara’s Masieri white wine (the estate’s entry level), fermented in stainless steel, with 5% of sweet wine must from their passito added the following spring. This gets the second, bottle, fermentation going but, like all the wine here, there is no fining nor filtration, and the lees remain in the bottle without disgorgement. Fresh, frothy but medium-bodied with very good length. Lively wine for food or fun, this is very good indeed. The grape? Garganega, of course. You never knew it could be so good with bubbles, right?

Sassaia 2020 is a step up from the entry level Masieri Bianco, which I didn’t taste this time. It’s a selection of Garganega from a single, favoured, site, very rocky terroir. It’s the original 4-ha vineyard which came with the house. After just one night on skins before fermentation it spends nine months in oak. The result is a delicious blend of fruit and savoury flavours in a wine which is both easy to drink but yet has a distinct personality.

I was able to taste the 2016 Sassaia from magnum and what a treat that was. I hate magnums. I mean, it’s so hard to find occasions to drink too many of them, and at dinner parties it’s often all about trying a range of different wines. But there’s no question that wine ages so well in this larger format and this tasted noble and extraordinary. It’s not as if this wine is especially expensive either.

Pico Bianco 2019 comes from three parcels at around 250-to-300 masl. There are three soil types: volcanic, limestone and soil rich in iron. After four nights on skins the wine goes into used oak for twelve months. A small fraction of the cuvée is left on the skins for four months, which helps add a little structure and, Emma says, helps with ageing. This white has more structure than the others, perhaps being a little more serious. There’s certainly potential to age and for complexity.

Masieri Rosso 2020 blends Merlot with Tai Rosso. Of course, “Tai” is a truncated form of “Tocai”, but you can’t call it Tocai Rosso any more. However, it is merely a synonym for Grenache/Garnacha, although the variety has been here in Veneto for several centuries and has doubtless developed traits which make it very different to those of the Grenache grown in France, Spain or Sardinia. It’s a purple, juicy, wine fermented in stainless steel (destemmed and five days on skins). Lovely vibrant fruit, zippy acids and a touch of tannin on the finish adding bite and crunch.

Passito Monte Sorio 2016. I had a bit of a thing for Recioto di Soave in my younger days. This isn’t the same but it reminds me a lot of those wines and it brings back pleasant memories, including of the region itself. Garganega is harvested in September and the bunches are left to hang, to dry and shrivel in the sun, concentrating the sugars. The grapes are then fermented slowly (left one month in a 500-litre barrel). Sweet, spicy, complex with an absolutely delicious twist on the finish, bitter and sweet. Very slight notes of oxidation and bitter almond. 17% abv but only 50g residual sugar in 2016 (the norm is around 80g). This is the only wine Angiolino adds sulphites to (with all that sugar probably a good call), around 20mg/l.

Note to independent wine retailers – these really are top wines. Distributed via Les Caves.

MAISON YVES DUPORT (Bugey, France)

This ten-hectare estate has been in the Duport family for four generations. They farm the fabled Montagnieu slope, but some of their best vines are ungrafted, on the hillside below the Château at Groslée-St-Benoît, where they have their base (Yves’s daughter having joined her father after starting a career in banking). I’ve known Yves’s wines for many years now, one of the first Bugey producers I bought, having good friends who live not too distant from this bucolic rural idyll of scattered vines and mixed farming, almost lost in modern France.

I am, as many readers will know, something of a fan of Bugey and believe that it has the kind of feel Jura did three or four decades ago. That is, you have a few long-established producers of quality, now joined by a clutch of young people, a good few originating outside of the region, making exciting small production wines. Yves is long established, but this is nevertheless very much a natural wine producer who uses very minimal sulphur. Why Maison? I’m not sure. As far as I can tell they do buy in some extra Chardonnay, but this is hardly a large negociant house.

Originale Crémant 2018 is a good wine to kick off with. Bugey is divided into two sectors, and both are known for their sparkling wines. This is a traditional method sparkler blending Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Aligoté. It sees a gentle direct press and first fermentation takes place in stainless steel. The dosage after second fermentation is low, perhaps 2g/l, and is hard to detect – the wine tastes very dry. In this part of Bugey there’s an unusual, but common, twist to the method. The lees are isolated and heated to 20 degrees before being incorporated back into the wine with bâtonnage. The result is a leesy richness in the wine combined with tension and clarity in the acids. It works well.

L’Intact Pet Nat 2021 is a collaboration with Yves’s UK importer, who was keen on a Rosé Petnat. A single hectare of Gamay (not uncommon in Bugey) was direct pressed, fermented in stainless steel, and bottled with 8g/l of residual sugar remaining in the wine. The wine is chilled and so begins to re-ferment in the spring, as the temperature warms up, until all the sugar is converted to alcohol. No disgorgement takes place. What we get is a fresh, brightly acidic and fruity petnat, on the yeasts, simple but very morish, as they say.

Les Côtes Chardonnay 2019 is from a three-hectare single vineyard on soils rich in limestone. Direct press, again, and both fermented and aged in stainless steel. The vines are not old as such, but at around 20 years of age are old enough to give this wine a composure which complements the freshness preserved by the medium of inox. A fruity Chardonnay with bags of appeal. Neither Burgundy, nor Jura, but with a character all of its own.

Altesse de Montagnieu 2019. I mentioned that Bugey has, broadly speaking, two sectors. The northern sector, where you find the Cerdon wines I occasionally drink, nods towards Jura. The southern sector looks more to Savoie in some respects, and Groslée is only a figurative stone’s throw from Jongieux and the Lac du Bourget. Yves Duport makes some cracking Altesse (and Mondeuse, see below). Both varieties are much better known from Savoie. This wine is from a one-hectare plot of old vines at Montagnieu, on that wonderful steep slope where the limestone rubble heats the vines with its retained warmth, helped by its sunny exposure.

This wine has added complexity from extended lees contact. Stone fruit and nuts on the palate, whilst the bouquet has some exotic passion fruit. It’s a lovely wine. If you’ve ever been disappointed with co-operative produced “ski resort” Altesse, try this.

Pinot Tradition 2021 comes from the same “sous le château” parcel as the Mondeuse below. Hand harvested off clay, macerated fifteen days and aged in small oak, it’s a smoky rendition of the variety, slightly reductive, but with smooth tannins and cherry fruit.

Mondeuse 2020 from the same slope but from the part called “Terre Brune” is, like the Altesse, just a delicious example of a Savoie variety grown in Bugey. Nice tannins, definitely Mondeuse if you know it well, and yet different. It also has, I suggest, good ageing potential.

You could do worse than acquaint yourself with this small region. It was more or less unknown even a decade ago but now it’s very much “watch this space”. Yves Duport exports his lovely natural wines to Japan. Many of you will know that means the region’s profile is rising fast.

UK Distributor- Provisions (www.provisionslondon.co.uk), a wine and cheese importer with shops on Holloway Road and Hackney Road (the latter opening just two months ago).

DOMAINE L’ACHILLÉE (Alsace, France)

You know, I was initially a tiny bit disappointed when, on first perusing the RealWine exhibitors I saw only one Alsace producer listed, and one I didn’t know at that. Les Caves de Pyrene has an excellent list of Alsace estates on its books, in fact one of the best two Alsace lists in the country in my opinion. However, I was thrilled to taste the wines made by Yves, Pierre and Jean Dietrich, whose family have farmed vines at Scherwiller (just north of Sélestat, in the Bas Rhin) since the beginning of the fifteenth century. This was one of my discoveries of the Fair.

Yves converted to organics in 1999, but still sold grapes to the co-operative. Jean and Pierre began bottling their production when they took over from their father in 2016. In the interim Yves had moved to being fully biodynamic for the whole estate, that’s 18.5 ha of vines and 6 ha of fruit trees (from which they also make fruit-based petnats from cherries, damsons and plums). They boast as their cellar the largest building in Europe made from straw.

Crémant d’Alsace Dosage Zero 2018 is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and a little Auxerrois, making a rather good, mouth-filling sparkler. Tightly wound and dry, it has a lovely fine spine of acidity overlain with lean but precise fruit.

Alsace Blanc 2020 blends all their varieties, including Pinot Noir vinified en blanc. It’s one of those blends people are beginning to make once more, after what seems like decades when “Edelzwicker” had a terrible name, occasionally deserved. These blends are not always the expression of specific terroir, unless from a single site, but I sometimes think they are the essence of what Alsace means, and, at least to me, encapsulates its essence. I took a bottle home with me, although I wished the shop had bottles of other cuvées as well.

Pépin Blanc 2020. Pépin is the label used for non-estate fruit. This white blends Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Chardonnay and Riesling. The brothers work with five growers, all organic, to create the wines under this sub-label. This is a tasty, easy to drink blend. Pépin Orange 2020 was my favourite of the Pépin wines, very accessible and not tannic. It’s made from Gewurztraminer and Auxerrois. Pépin Rouge 2020 is only less interesting because it’s not an “Alsace”, blending Syrah, Carignan and Muscat of Alexandria, sourced from Hérault. Nevertheless, it’s light and tasty, if quite simple.

Riesling Schieferberg 2019 is, to be frank, several steps up. It’s Riesling off slate, as it says on the tin. It has an amazingly concentrated minerality with notes of lime, grapefruit, more exotic yellow fruits and a little spice (ginger, cinnamon). It comes from the very top of the vineyard, a site quite exposed. It has terroir written all over it. I think this may only be bottled in magnum, but surely there is no more magnificent sight than a 1.5-litre flute bottle.

Pinot Noir “Granite” 2017 is the sibling red. It comes off two special parcels, and undergoes a 21-day maceration. Ageing is in a mix of stainless steel and oak. Again, only bottled in magnum, it’s a wine with line, breadth and length, and the capacity to age further. As impressive as the Riesling, and it was interesting tasting these in a group and seeing a near even split between which people preferred. My vote was for the Riesling, but only just.

Importer – Les Caves.

LE GRAPPIN (Burgundy, France)

I’ve known Andrew and Emma Nielsen and their wines since their first vintage, 2011, a year after which I visited them in their original cellar within the old walls of Beaune. At that time, they made magnificent Côte d’Or wines which, with the odd tweak in sources, they continue to do. To these cuvées, now fairly expensive Burgundies, they have added wines from Macon and Beaujolais, plus the Rhône. Their aim to produce sustainable wines extends beyond vineyard and cellar to a raft of packaging and supply innovations, the best known of which must be their “bagnums”. This couple were probably the first to change the image of wine in a bag completely, packaging a litre-and-a-half of top-quality wine in a perfect for picnic/beach/bed format.

Macon-Villages 2020 is perfect if you want a lighter, fresher, but quality Chardonnay with great lifted fruit and a little food-friendly body without the butter and nut sandwich effect of the more serious kit from the region.

Monthélie Blanc “Les Tosières” 2019 is a different wine altogether. It’s sourced from a new vineyard just across the road from the Meursault boundary, bordering the D973 just before Auxey-Duresses. Monthélie wines have been something of a secret in the past, and the Monthélie of top grower, Domaine Roulot, has certainly been a well-kept secret as possibly his best value wine until prices went crazy a few years ago. This wine made by Andrew is simply a white Burgundy of extremely high quality, with some gras, but mostly elegance and poise.

Côte de Brouilly 2020. The first of three Beaujolais wines tasted, all being rather delicious. I know we are in Gamay territory here, not Pinot, but Andrew has always made superb wines from the Beaujolais region, and they are half the price of the Côte d’Or wines now. This is young, and also quite different to the 2019, but nevertheless it has really attractive, crunchy, Gamay fruit with a bit of a mineral, stony, quality. The cherry scent is lovely.

Fleurie-Poncié 2019 has equally become a sought-after wine from du Grappin(“du” being the designation for the wines Le Grappin produces outside the main Côte de Beaune appellations, including Macon, Beaujolais, The Rhône and Bourgogne Aligoté, the latter not tried on Monday but always, without exception, worth chasing down). The 2019 vintage produced a lighter style of F-P, with a very pretty haunting cherry bouquet. Juicy and elegant, but with a little structure, it’s a near perfect example and good as the Côte de Brouilly is, this is generally worth trading up for (or buying both).

Saint-Amour 2020 was the third Beaujolais wine to try. Slightly less pretty but with a touch more meat than the 2019 above, you get a nice cherry nose and crunchy Gamay fruit. The base is tannic and youthful but there are already signs of it rounding out nicely.

Savigny-lès-Beaune Rouge 2019. Here we are back on the Côte de Beaune, with a scented cherry and raspberry version of Pinot Noir from another village which seems to be coming into its own these days, but has always been the source of some good red wines for me. It’s a wine which will develop further, but right now it combines a developing nose (very pretty) with a bit of weight and body, but not too much.

Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” 2014. This was a treat to taste. I own older Le Grappin wines but I’m sure not this one (I do have 2015), and this cuvée has long been a favourite. The vineyard lies round the back of the hill at the southwestern extremity of the village appellation. Just over the hill is La Rochepôt, and I remember walking the tiny road which cuts through it back in the days when we used to visit Burgundy every spring and stay in that village. What I can say about this wine…well to be honest all you need to know is one word: balance. It’s in a good place, too good a place to spit out.

Andrew and Emma distribute their own wines via mail order and selected local markets in and around London.

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, Burgundy, Greek Wine, Italian Wine, Natural Wine, Petnat, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Real Wine Fair 2022 (Part 1)

RealWine, or the Real Wine Fair, took place at London’s Tobacco Dock venue on Sunday and Monday. This is one of the biggest natural wine fairs in the UK (along with Raw Wine), and possibly in Europe now. Organised for many years by pioneering UK importer Les Caves de Pyrene, it allows their own producers, and those of other smaller importers of natural wines, to show both to the public and trade.

I think for the trade it has become almost as much a social event as a working day and this was amplified a thousand times this year. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling an incredible warmth in the venue generated by friends and colleagues meeting up for what might have been, in some cases, the first time in two or more years. This was echoed in comments from the exhibitors. We all needed this opportunity to re-bond, and what a success it was. On a personal level, although this wasn’t my first post-Covid event, I even felt a little emotional to be back at this one.

As I begin to write I’m not sure whether this will emerge as two or three articles. I’m always aware that I have, in the past, written some whopping great pieces which are probably quite taxing to read. I should apologise as well that I’ve come away with only fifteen producers I want to write about, which is almost every producer whose wines I tasted. There is no logic here, and I missed whole regions, even countries. I’m just giving you a snapshot. Less chat and I could have covered more, but then the palate can only take so much (along with the legs). But I will say that I have included one or two producers highly recommended to me as I wandered around losing my voice chatting to long-missed friends over the din of hundreds of others doing exactly the same. So you will encounter some of the best.

On the floor – so it begins

WEINGUT BIANKA AND DANIEL SCHMITT (Rheinhessen, Germany)

The journey begins on Table 1 with a young couple whose wines I tasted properly for the first time several years ago at the “Common Ground” tasting of Alsace and Germany, a pair of articles from that event coincidentally quite popular at the moment on my site. Since then, I’ve been buying their wines to drink at home literally whenever I see a bottle.

They took over a winery at Flörsheim that had been in the family for two centuries, but their outward-looking approach (biodynamic and natural, making wines “only from grapes”) comes from working abroad and continued travel to promote their wines and philosophy. They have sixteen scattered parcels totalling sixteen hectares, and their wines are made in a mix of old oak, mostly large pieces, and amphora.

Riesling Sekt Brut Nature 2019 is frankly a great start to a day’s tasting. Rounded fruit, dry, frothy, really interesting. It’s a traditional method sparkling wine from a 2019 base, with one year in 1,200-litre oak before initial bottling. The second fermentation uses juice from the following year for its liqueur to get it started. Disgorgement is after a further 15 months on lees. The composition is 100% Riesling. It does not have the complexity further age might bring, but it has weight and presence, and I’d say it is eminently suitable to serve with food. Superb.

Riesling M 2020 is scented, natural and soft. Its from a single parcel off cold clay soils, harvested late, in October. It saw four days on skins followed by a year’s ageing in a 1,200-litre cask. It scores on gorgeous aromatics and a gentle but typical Riesling palate (citrus, mineral etc).

Zold Sylvaner 2020 (they spell the variety with a “Y”) comes from the same parcel as the previous wine. It has a lifted bouquet, concentrated scents lifted by the aromatics of a week on skins. Ageing is also one year in 1,200-litre oak. It’s a lovely expression of an under-appreciated variety which they do extremely well.

Riesling Dry White 2020 is a direct-pressed blend of grapes from all of Bianka and Daniel’s Riesling parcels. It is harvested six weeks earlier than the “M”, in mid-September. This gives a very different style of wine, with a great deal of freshness replacing the softer complexity of the former wine. Both have their place. This sees ten months ageing, but still in wood (despite the freshness). This time the casks are 3,000 and 4,000-litres.

Wild Pony 2020 was really fascinating. My first time tasting this cuvée, it’s a blend of 40% Gelber Muskateller with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Sylvaner. After two weeks on skins the varieties are fermented separately before ageing for fifteen months in oak, six of those months under flor. The yeast influence is there, but not dominant in a wine that’s smooth but with just a little texture. Long, characterful, I’m almost reticent to praise this as much as I want to so early in the day. All of the DB Schmitt wines are well worth grabbing, but I shall be looking out for this.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrene.

Bianka Schmitt

ANDERT-WINE (Burgenland, Austria)

The Andert family are in Pamhagen, the village on the southeastern side of the Neusiedlersee which also houses the larger, and perhaps better known in natural wine circles, Meinklang Farm, near the Hungarian border. There are apparently fifty Anderts in the village so each family has a nickname, which they use for one of their cuvées, below. This is a small operation, just four-and-a-half hectares of vines, along with vegetables, herbs and a range of animals, farmed by brothers Erich and Michael Andert.

Their idea of “natural” extends not just to additives. They prefer wines to remain undisturbed and unmanipulated during winemaking and ageing, so, for example, alongside the expected spontaneous fermentations they reject any temperature control of those fermentations. There is no electricity in the cellar to interfere with the wine either. The result is highly individual wines with distinct personalities.

G’mischter Sotz 2020 is, of course, a co-fermeted wine made from a field blend of varieties including Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Müller-Thurgau, Gelber Muskateller, Frühroter Veltliner and Muskat Ottonel. What can I say, it’s a typical gemischter satz, sappy, a little saline, cloudy, zingy but not massively acidic, in this instance. I bought one.

Pamhogna Weiss 2020 blends just five varieties. I’m not sure what they are but it doesn’t matter too much. It’s an easy drinking white, slightly more settled than the GS but cloudy and sour. That’s sour in a good way, interesting sour. But nevertheless, for the appreciative adventurer.

Ruländer 2020 and 2021. This is another favourite Andert cuvée for me. Fermentation is in 500-litre oak with a five-day maceration. The wine is softened by a naturally occurring malolactic. The ’21 was a sample, pink (the variety is a synonym for the pink-berried Pinot Gris/Grauburgunder in parts of Germany and Austria) with lifted scents. There’s a pleasant salinity here as well. The 2020 is slightly more amber than pink, at least in the light of the venue. The bouquet and palate showed more red berry fruit and less spice and mineral salt. Both are so good.

Grüner Veltliner “Anadjucka” 2020 is the wine which sports the family’s nickname by which they can be identified in the village. It’s softer than many Grüners, but it has a little bit of a tannic bite on the finish. As with all the Andert wines, they are fermented as whole bunches. It has bags of personality, as again, they all do.

Pamhogna Rot 2019 is a blend of 70% Zweigelt and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. In my opinion its success lies in the Zweigelt component managing to dominate the Cabernet with its overt berry freshness in a wine with glowing vibrant red colour to match. The fruit acidity is concentrated and delicious, with smoother dark fruits, presumably the Cabernet, lurking beneath.

Personalgetränk #5 NV is less straightforward, more complex, demanding perhaps of more attention. Not only is it a blend of more than one vintage, it is also a blend of red and white grape varieties. Approach without a thought in your head and let it speak to you.

Wermutlich Rot NV (50cl) is vermouth, but quite a remarkable one. Herbs are macerated in the barrel with the wine (made from Zweigelt) and, originally, honey, although they are moving to use stevia instead of honey as the sweetener because, during fermentation, it allows for lower alcohol. The result is savoury and less sweet than expected. It also lacks that “hot” taste which you find with a lot of Mediterranean vermouths. I’ve no idea what it costs but vermouth fans should really try it.

Importer – Les Caves.

JAROSLAV OSICKA (Moravia, Czechia)

Several Czech producers were grouped together as a national cohort in the corner of the small hall at Tobacco Dock. I’d tasted most of these producers extensively at the Basket Press Wines Portfolio Tasting back in March this year, so I just tasted a few new wines from three producers. You can read more extensive notes, if you wish, by typing “Basket Press” into the search box and looking for the March tasting (article of 17/03).

Jaroslav’s son, Luboš, was on hand to pour the wines. Back in Vilké Bilovice father and son farm 3.5 ha of vines in total harmony with nature, a philosophy mirrored in the cellar. Sulphite additions are minimal, otherwise there are no interventions, and ageing is in a mix of oak and acacia.

Chardonnay 2019. This is a wine I don’t remember trying before. It’s a wine with nice fresh acids balanced by medium weight of fruit. You genuinely would not guess this has 13% alcohol. You would guess that sulphur addition is minimal. It’s not volatile or anything like that, it’s perfectly clean. But it is also open and expansive, not attenuated.

Oranz 2020 is made from a single variety, Gewurztraminer. It gets its colour from a twelve-day maceration on skins. It has texture, but not too much. The palate shows as a deliciously spicy cocktail of fruit and unlike some Gewurz, it has freshness and is, shall we say, reassuringly dry. The lowish 12.5%abv is a bonus too.

P.A.N 2020 stands for Pinot Noir and André, the latter being one of the oddest names for a grape variety I know, and will doubtless remain so until I’m introduced to an obscure English variety called Kenneth. Apparently, it was developed in Moravia in the 1960s but registered in 1980 and there are now a little over 250 ha planted in Czechia, and also a little in Slovakia. It’s a cross, like Zweigelt, between Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) and Saint-Laurent. The new cross blended with Pinot Noir works well to produce another characterful red.

Chardonnay Vertikal NV is a complex blend of three vintages, 2017, 18 and 19. I’m not sure that Basket Press Wines imports this but they should, it being a really interesting red wine, showing the benefits of putting together a multi-vintage cuvée.

DVA DUBY (Moravia, Czechia)

Jiri Sebela is the man behind DVA Duby, although he was ably assisted by his sons at Real Wine. The eldest, only fifteen years old, is already making wine so the future here seems to have been secured early. They have 7 hectares of mostly old vines in the south of Moravia. I’ve drunk a couple of his wines quite recently at home, so regular readers will know all about the special terroir here, granodiorite. This is a magmatic rock (volcanic, but from magma, not ash) from the Pre-Cambrian era, 650 million years ago.

This is another biodynamic (since 2007) winery where the only intervention is the addition of minimal sulphur when deemed necessary. This is a winemaker I got to know some years ago but rather neglected for a while. Tasting and drinking more of these wines the past twelve months, I’ve come to appreciate them more, deservedly so. Recent bottles have been especially good.

Malvasia 2018 is a synonym for a variety which the Austrians more often would call Frühroter Veltliner. If I tell you that Moravians also call it Veltlinske Cervene Rane that’s just being mean. The aromatics are built around red apple, citrus and herbs. The palate is savoury and slightly saline. It’s a delicious, spicy, food wine with a little structure. Definitely on my wish list next time I’m ordering from Basket Press.

Zweigeltrebe 2018 is a fresh and delicious red with a lick of volcanic salinity and texture underneath lifted red fruit aromatics, with delicate almost floral scents. Definitely a wine showing some complexity after a few years in bottle, but yet also a wine of bright fresh fruit acids. Zweigeltrebe is just a synonym for Zweigelt, although what is more confusing is that because modern Austria has issues with Dr Zweigelt, who made this crossing of Blaufränkisch and Saint-Laurent in 1922, some Austrians are starting to call it Rotburger. I’m told that this new synonym does not go down well in America.

Duby Duby Duby

PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)

I think it was only a week ago that I called Petr a cult winemaker, though he didn’t take offence when I met him here for the first time, along with his wife, on Monday. He farms a tiny three hectares at Boleradice and has done so since 2006. He’s famous for his almost infinite variety of ever-changing petnat wines, with ever more extrovert labels, but he also makes an exemplary range of still wines. I drank his wonderful maceration white, Ambero, only days ago, so I didn’t taste it here. Nevertheless, its label now adorns my “hall of fame” so look out for a note in my “Recent Wines” for May when the article comes out.

Despite the very youthful looking labels on the petnats, and a youthful looking winemaker, the vineyards are all full of old vines and traditional Moravian varieties, or clones when it comes to varieties we think of as international but which have been in Moravia for a very long time. Again, minimal intervention, with low or no SO2 added. The wines can be edgy and too much so for some people. But I kind of think anyone reading my notes on Real Wine will not be of such a view.

It’s Alive 2021 is a petnat made to age. Petr says that a lot of petnat seems to go stale too quickly, after a year or two, and he wanted to make one which would develop a little. The main variety is Pinot Blanc, one I think is eminently suitable for sparkling wines and somewhat underrated generally. The wine is young now, having only seen two months in bottle. It’s zippy and one-dimensional, yet good enough that I’d crack one open. A long and slow first fermentation in barrel means that when it settles down it should mellow out and add lees-induced complexity. One to watch.

Quasi Crémant 2020 is a traditional method Sekt, so undergoing a second bottle fermentation with disgorgement. It’s the cuvée’s second vintage, of a wine made from Welschriesling, not a variety I’ve seen used a lot for sparkling wine myself. It has more body and perhaps weight than the petnats, certainly a little more of a serious side. More “classical” maybe? This was a sample, disgorged after only two months ageing on lees. It was really nice, but Petr plans to leave it much longer before its proper release. It was a pleasure to try it though, and it is looking very good for the future.

Grüner Veltliner 2021 was also a sample of the new vintage, straight from barrel where it is currently sitting on its lees in the cellar. This is an example of one of Petr’s more “classical” still wines, though still of course made with exactly the same natural wine methods. It has been through its malo but it’s still cloudy with lees flavours just showing through. Petr expects this to fall clear naturally and he will bottle in the summer. The wine has plenty of fresh acidity and I would expect this to tone down a little over time, to be replaced by more complexity. Petr’s single varietal still wines usually deliver.

Cryo Aromatic was pulled out at the last minute, so I didn’t get the vintage. A new petnat cuvée blending Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with at this stage the SB component dominating the nose, but the Chardonnay perhaps providing the body most to the fore on the palate. Very exotic, aromatic, one for the adventurous of course.

All three of these producers from the Czech Republic are imported and distributed by Basket Press Wines.

At nearly 2,700 words I think I should close here. I’m forever being told 1,800 words is the optimum for readers. So, we shall have three articles from RealWine 2022. Let me know what you think about this approach.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, German Wine, Natural Wine, Petnat, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines April 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Moving on to Part 2 of the wines we drank here at home during April, you might wonder that we are drinking all our favourite wines like there’s no tomorrow! Well, it’s true that you don’t want to leave all your best wines to posterity, but it’s also a question of balance. Cellar stocking chez-moi may have slowed beyond a trickle but it’s all a matter of balance. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that this selection of wines does contain several of my favourite producers.

We begin with two Burgenlanders, then a secret star of the South Downs not far from my home, and then an example of the kind of quality you can find down the range at some Rheinhessen producers of note. The Montagne de Reims provides a twenty-year-old favourite before we end with two contrasting wines, both as good as the other in their own way. A mere 2018 from La Palma, one of the smaller Canary Islands, and an almost twenty-one-year-old Barolo. The last wine reinforced what I already know, which is that when it comes to wine, I sometimes think I know nothing.

THEODORA WEISS 2020, GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)

I saw just this past weekend that they are gearing up to begin the season at Gut Oggau, by which I mean opening the Inn which serves as a beacon for lovers of their beautiful biodynamic wines from far and wide, as well as the locals. If I were to be allowed to visit, say, just four wine regions in Europe then Burgenland would be one of them. Memories of this wine certainly made me pine for Oggau, Rust and Gols etc.

As I’m sure you will know, the Gut Oggau “family” consists of three generations. Theodora is one of the younger members of that family. This is apt because when I first came to try the wines of this producer, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee, I kind of thought of her as the future. A natural wine stripped of artifice and absolutely resonant with joie-de-vivre.

Theodora 2020 is a blend of Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling which saw two hours of skin contact before pressing into old oak for both fermentation and ageing. She may be a young one, but she is far from simple. On the surface you have a vibrant, refreshing, white wine. Beneath the surface there’s plenty going on. Melon for one thing (Galia or watermelon, who cares) and something very definitely spicy. The acidity and low alcohol (11.5% abv) suggest lightness but there’s depth too. An uplifting wine, and advantageously less expensive than the older generations have become in our inflation-hit, post-brexit, world.

Gut Oggau is imported by Dynamic Vines in the UK. The wines are also available at Antidote, off Carnaby Street in Central London.

“IN A HELL MOOD” 2019, RENNER & RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)

Stefanie, Susanne and Georg are another bright shining beacon of Burgenland natural winemaking, this time working from Gols, which may well be the Neusiedlersee village best endowed with natural winemaking stars. The winery is an imposingly simple one on the edge of the village where the siblings’ father created the Renner profile as a well-regarded member of the region’s Pannobile group (nine Gols producers formed Pannobile in 1994 to raise the quality profile of the region’s wines) before (initially) his daughters made their own take on production. Now joined by their younger brother, they have updated the image to appeal to a voracious younger clientele whilst establishing their brand through some of the most innovative labels in Austria.

“In A Hell Mood” could not be further from the more classical wines which appear under the Pannobile label. This pétnat is named after Stefanie’s Instagram moniker. The varietal composition in this 2019, like the vintage before it, is Pinot Noir, the first grapes picked in the harvest going into this cuvée. I might be misinformed, but I believe the 2020 was made from Saint-Laurent (according to Littlewine’s web site).

The ’19 is pale and frothy with scents of red fruits. Less wild than some previous bottles/vintages, it was still super-fresh with a tight twister of fine bubbles rising in the glass, coating the palate with a creamy texture. Whilst red fruits dominate, I even sensed hints of apricot and maybe even pear. Delicious.

At just 10% abv this is a vivacious pétnat which has never come remotely close to putting me in a hell mood. £29 from Littlewine before the hopefully temporary closure of their shop, but imported by Newcomer Wines in any event.

CUVÉE MICHELLE MOREAU 2014, BREAKY BOTTOM (Sussex Downs, England)

This Breaky Bottom Cuvée was, I think, the one with which I began my love affair with Peter Hall’s wines. It’s not merely the wine. It’s also the man…and the location (the most beautiful vineyard I’ve ever visited in England, for sure). But then, it IS the wine.

In 1974 Peter planted vines on free-draining chalk in a natural bowl (“bottom”) on, or in, the South Downs near Rodmell. As he says himself, “near enough to the sea to offer a sheltered microclimate against frost”, though over the years he’s had much else to contend with. Somehow, through everything, his total focus on quality has created some near-perfect wines, all benefiting from time on lees and bottle age. In an age when a lot of money has been thrown at English Sparkling Wine (and I’m not knocking those producers), it’s nice to look to see what our few artisans are doing, and Peter has really few, if any, peers when it comes to experience in that realm.

Named after the sister of the famous French actress, Jeanne Moreau (all BB cuvées are named after family friends), the base is 70% Chardonnay, blended with 15% Pinot Noir and the same quantity of Meunier. This bottle was really beginning to come into its own, being slightly more developed than the bottle I drank last year. The acids are still bright and refreshing but perfectly balanced with the soft, sensuous and enthralling fruit. In comes a little more brioche, something of a mere hint a year ago. Like everything from this address, if you want me to reduce it to one word, elegance.

Londoners and others can find these wines at Corney & Barrow, but Brighton family-owned independent merchant Butlers Wine Cellar (friends of the Halls) stocks a near comprehensive range of Breaky Bottom (when individual cuvées are not sold out), and they ship them. They will charge you what, with the current cost of Champagne rising, is surely a bargain £35.

WESTHOFENER RIESLING TROCKEN 2018, WEINGUT WITTMANN (Rheinhessen, Germany)

Much as I love Keller, of course I do, I do not think I like the wines of Philipp Wittmann any less. This Wonnegau estate, working out of the famous village of Westhofen, is famous for many things, including its old cellars (built 1829, but the family has made wine here since 1663) and its use exclusively of large, traditional, wooden casks for winemaking. Yet this is in no way an estate looking to the past. They have been fully biodynamic since as early as 2004, and as well as their wines from the famous sites, classified “Grand Cru” vineyards under their VDP membership, they show equal pride in the wines they make from lesser sites (and from grapes other than Riesling). When I say “equal” I mean literally that.

This Riesling Trocken is the estate’s “village wine”, though it still comes from fine hillside sites, most in fact from the giddy metaphorical heights of the GG of Morstein, plus a little fruit from Brunnenhaüschen. It is modern in style, being dry, but is certainly classical in tone.

There is a surprising level of intensity here in a wine labelled with the village name. That intensity comes from, and is built around, the wine’s mineral core, but in parallel there is also a degree of richness. That said, minerality rules. The quite tropical lime and grapefruit is there to balance the rock, expressed through a line of salinity any German producer would be content with. It hits way above its QbA status.

Most of my Wittmanns come from The Solent Cellar in Lymington. They are pretty widely available in the UK, however.

COEUR DE CUVÉE 2002, CHAMPAGNE VILMART (Champagne, France)

Champagne Vilmart is hidden away atop the Montagne de Reims in the village of Rilly-la-Montagne. In charge of the house’s eleven hectares of vineyard since 1989 here is Laurent Champs, whose father before him has created the wonderful stained glass which adorns the barrel cellar, is recreated on some of the metal caps beneath each cuvée’s wire muselet, and on the label of the regrettably no longer produced “Cuvée Création”.

Vilmart is unusual in several respects. First, all their vineyards are concentrated in just a dozen plots close to Rilly on the Montagne. Secondly, their vines are around 60% Chardonnay in a sub-region where we know Pinot Noir to be the dominant variety. Finally, Vilmart’s sites are all classified Premier Cru. They don’t own any Grand Cru vines. This might mean that their range has to be structured to allow for this, but at the top (by which I mean the Grand Cellier d’Or, their exemplary Rosé (Cuvée Rubis) and the star Coeur de Cuvée, they have few equals among the smaller houses.

The key to excellence at this level (Coeur) is very old vines, of 40-50 years of age. The wines are all fermented in oak, mostly in majestic large foudres. This can lead to them being misinterpreted when young. This 2002 Coeur saw ten months in oak before bottle fermentation. Depending on vintage they need I would suggest a minimum of a dozen years to begin to show their true value. I will say here that few producers make wine as good as Coeur de Cuvée in so-called poor vintages, and this cuvée was one of the few I bought at all in the previous vintage, 2001 (and I bought more than a bottle).

Of course, 2002 was no poor vintage, on the contrary. Even at twenty years old this is a full and opulent prestige cuvée where richness has developed with maturity, simply replacing the oak influence with something wholly integrated and balanced. Whilst the nose is initially like opening the bakery door, you soon sense apple skin, lemon, ginger and cinnamon, plus a tiny hint of caramel. I do appreciate maturity in Champagne, but others might think this is at its peak. I am tempted to give my one remaining bottle another year, but let’s see.

I’m unsure where I purchased this bottle. It was either from a couple of mixed cases I bought on a visit there, or from The Solent Cellar a few years later. I think the bottles from Lymington’s finest wine store are long gone from their fine wine section.

LISTAN NEGRO “LAS ROSAS” 2018, VICTORIA TORRES PECIS (Canary Islands, Spain)

Based at Fuencaliente in the south of the small island of La Palma, Viki Torres runs the old Matías i Torres winery, taking over from her father, Juan, and bringing a passion for artisan natural wines which have, among aficionados of the Canary Islands, brought her fame far in excess of her small production.

She farms up to centenarian vines scattered over La Palma, autochthonous varieties which she fashions into unique wines with an infinite sense of place and truly individual personalities. Viki is undoubtedly one of a group of women winemakers whose skill goes way beyond college learning. “Inherited knowledge and intuition are our guides” she explained to John Szabo (Volcanic Wines, 2016, p130).

This wine is made from 100% Listán Negro, 80-year-old vines grown on the east of La Palma. It may be a small island but the microclimates are remarkably different, especially between the dry black volcanic soils of the south and the lush green of the north. But, of course, all of the soils here were spewed forth from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which has been so active lately. The east is buffeted by strong winds so the vines, all growing between 550-650 masl, are lucky to be well-established, hunkering low to the ground, and of course the wind keeps the vines more or less disease free, perfect for Viki’s low-intervention approach.

The wine is made in concrete and has all the slightly dusty textural hallmarks of this medium. Mid-coloured red, light, fresh acids, the bouquet is all smoky red fruits. Zippy and clean it may be, to a degree, but it has a wild side as well. It’s a little bit edgy, in a good way. It’s a wine which refuses to make a big impact upfront, preferring to linger long on the palate to make its undeniable impression. I’m afraid you won’t get much in the way of total objectivity from me. I’m very much at home with all Viki’s wines.

Victoria Torres Pecis is imported by Modal Wines in the UK. Chambers Street Wines in the USA, I believe.

BAROLO CLASSICO RISERVA 2001, GIACOMO BORGOGNO (Piemonte, Italy)

Founded in 1761, though today with quite a modern outlook, this 20-hectare estate in the village of Barolo itself has, in the past, taken a classical, traditional approach. There is no hesitation here in calling this wine “old school” so long as it is taken in the right way…because this wine was something of a revelation.

I didn’t read anything about the wine before drinking it. When one particular Barolo lover came to dinner I remembered it had her name on it. I can’t even be certain where I bought it, though I think it was most likely at the Harvey’s brewery shop in Lewes (or possibly at Berry Brothers, who still stock Borgogno). Wherever, it was back in the mists of time.

If I had done my research properly, I’d have considered keeping this at least five years longer, if not a decade more. This doesn’t mean it was way too young. In fact, it was that all too rare classic Barolo dominated by liquorice and tar with a lifted bouquet of rose petal and dark fruits. A long way from shy and retiring, but it had more than enough charm. The tannins have smoothed away but unlike many old Barolos, it hasn’t lost its fruit.

Long and substantial, Robert Parker’s site suggested a window of 2021-2041. No wonder I’m reluctant to buy Barolo any more. But it was a joy to drink a wine like this. They don’t come around all that often. I am happy to report than it certainly cost significantly less than the £70 I’ve seen quoted today. That might even be a bargain for a wine that may have another decade of life in it.

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Recent Wines April 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Almost half way through May and finally some wines from April emerge. I’m late because I had another week in Scotland, fuelled more by Whisky than wine, it must be said. But now back in the South of England, I can reveal some of the cracking wines we drank here last month. We begin with exciting new wave Alsace before visiting eclectic destinations like Georgia, Switzerland and Japan. Czech wines are, ahem, not uncommon on these pages and we have another here, but from a producer I’ve neglected a little. The penultimate wine is a magical Jura, from a man who I haven’t seen for way too long. We finish in the Loire, towards the east of the central section, drinking another beautiful Moelleux wine from a now sadly departed old-timer, an artisan vigneron who supplied a friend’s father for many years.

COMPLÈTEMENT RED 2020, LAMBERT SPIELMANN (Alsace, France)

I don’t think there’s a region in Europe where there are more new and emerging natural winemakers than Alsace, specifically its northern sector, the Bas Rhin. David Neilson (backinalsace.com) seems to mention a new one almost every week, and it was he who introduced me to the wines of this young guy, who has vines in Epfig and Nothalten, crafting original cuvées in his makeshift cellar in the former. His holdings currently total just 2.5 ha but he makes the most of what he has with the creativity of a musician (which he is). His environmentalism includes planting trees among the vines for future shade, and, of course, to encourage insect-eating birds.

Most of his labels reference some of his wide musical passions. I’m not sure I get any musical reference from this wine’s colourful label, however. It’s a Pinot Noir, made from 25-year-old vines on sandstone at Nothalten. Whole bunches are fermented for ten days, then pressed into demi-muids for a short time before bottling fresh and fruity.

What we get is a very pure-tasting natural wine which tastes even brighter for having no added sulphur. Vibrant cherry dominates both bouquet and palate, keeping things relatively simple except for a nice spicy twist. Fruit-forward is what the old-timers in the trade used to call this type of wine, but I use it here in the most positive sense. This will refresh the parts other Pinots might not reach (being more cerebral). What you get is fruit, zip and bite. A hint of reduction will blow off with a good swirl.

Lambert does recommend listening to “Comandante Che Guevara” (aka “Hasta Siempre” by Boikot,  hope I’ve spelt that correctly). If you hate the song, you may not like the wine (inserts large winking emoji). I did. So does Tutto Wines, who are importing Lambert Spielmann in the UK.

BAIA’S WINE 2020 (Imereti, Georgia)

Baia Abuladze, along with her siblings, makes wine in Obcha, a village the Eastern region of Imereti. Her star has risen swiftly, someone said to me “prematurely”, but they agreed that she is now making wines with the potential for star quality. Equally important, she’s raising the profile of her region with all the positive coverage she’s getting and is yet another Georgian winemaker with a strong international outlook whilst making traditional wines with minimal interventions.

This simply labelled cuvée blends 60% Tsolikuri with 20% each of Tsitska and Krakhuna. These are very much autochthonous varieties, farmed biodynamically. The vines are around 30-years-old, planted on local clays. A triage is carried out to pick only grapes which are in perfect condition. Each of the three grapes has good acid balance, so the wine is very refreshing, but it also has some body. This is in part down to a mix of the texture from qvevri fermentation (all varieties being co-fermented), and 13% alcohol.

After around three months in qvevri the wine was put into stainless steel in January 2021. The shorter period in qvevri makes for a wine less “orange” than some, although you’d certainly call it amber, just about. The fragrant bouquet shows apricot and pear, with apricot and soft lemon on the palate. You find there’s a little texture, but not a lot. In this respect it may suit those who are wary of the full-on tannins in some clay-fermented wines. For me, it was lovely. I really liked it and would (will) definitely buy it again.

It cost £21.50 from the Oxford Wine Company, and is imported by Taste of Georgia.

AUVERNIER NON-FILTRÉ 2019, DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN (Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

This Domaine has been making wine in the village of Auvernier since the 1600s. It’s a fairly large family estate of around 50 hectares, run today by De Montmollin siblings Benoît and Rachel. The estate is now fully biodynamic, though certified organic. They grow grapes on clay and limestone in eight villages along the shores of the Lac de Neuchâtel, benefiting from the sunlight reflected off the water to ripen them to a greater level than this northerly region might otherwise allow.

You have probably guessed that the variety here is Chasselas, a grape I do have, some say, a perverse liking for. But this is unquestionably a good one. It is vinified in stainless steel for freshness with just a short period of ageing before transfer to bottle. The result is a pale wine with a herbal/biscuity nose. The palate has a touch of lemon and then a hint of more exotic fruit. It dances lightly across the tongue and whilst I generally prefer this unfiltered wine a year younger, this 2019 hasn’t, to be fair, lost an ounce of freshness.

So, you say, “but Swiss wines are so expensive”. Well, this is just £22.20 at Alpine Wines. For around £6 more you can also taste the Neuchâtel speciality, Oeil de Perdrix, a pale partridge-eye Rosé made from Pinot Noir. I suppose I do have a soft spot for Domaine de Montmollin, but then they do make some tasty wines.

JUNMAI GINJO SPARKLING SAKE, AKASHI-TAI (Akashi City, Japan)

So, I do occasionally veer away from wine to other alcoholic beverages. If anyone has read my past pieces on Japan you will know I’m in love with that country. I don’t, to be fair, buy lots of sake, especially the sparkling version, but I wasn’t going to leave this on the shelf when I was picking up a Georgian stash from OWC’s Turl Street shop in Oxford

This is a bottle-fermented sake from Akashi City, near Kobe, and is made by the Yonezawa family who run the Akashi Sake Brewery Company. Anthony Rose in his excellent “Sake and the Wines of Japan” (Infinite Ideas, 2018) explains that Tai is sea bream, hence the label, I guess. After the 1995 Kobe earthquake the company relocated their brewery premises, using the opportunity to update equipment, and production was further updated, perhaps revolutionised (though that is perhaps a little strong for the way things move in Japan) by Kimio Yonezawa when he took over from his father. For sure, there seems to have been a jump in quality.

This sparkling sake is off-dry with a bouquet of peach, soft lemon/yuzu and melon, with just a hint of rice flavour (less than in most still sake). It has a lovely freshness to it, lifted by the fine bubbles. The water in Akashi (which again I would never have known without Anthony Rose) is very soft, a key to the sake they make, although they do filter out any iron content. The alcohol level is just 7%.

Akashi Brewery is one of the most export-orientated sake producers in Japan. Around 50% of sales goes overseas and the UK was their first export market (Rose, p192).

There’s just one downside to this lovely drink, and that is the bottle size, just 30cl. This also makes it perhaps more expensive than it seems at first sight but don’t let that put you off. Buy a bottle each and it will set you back £34 for a couple. It will be well worth it to try something different.

You should find this for £17 at Oxford Wine Company, who have a number of branches dotted in and around Oxford, Turl Street being the most central.

“VOX SILENTIUM” 2017, DVA DUBY (Moravia, Czechia)

Jiri Sebela is the man behind DVA Duby, making wine at Dolni Kounice in Moravia’s south, near the Austrian border. The soils here are pre-Cambrian, over 700 million years old, based on Granodiorite. This is volcanic rock and soil, but from magma, not lava flows, and soils are a fairly thin layer over solid (very solid) rock. Farming is biodynamic and winemaking is close to zero intervention, with just a little SO2 being added before bottling.

Silentium is Jiri’s top of the range Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch) from a single plot. The wine has concentrated raspberry and dark fruits at its heart. The added complexity comes through on the nose (floral notes) and fresh acids on the palate which give way to a deeper fruit concentration. The wine is dark in colour and over-all this perhaps suggests a brooding presence. When you taste it, and perhaps notice the lowish 12.5% abv, you are surprised and instantly uplifted. Uplifting is a pretty good word to use to describe this intense and exciting bottle.

I think this vintage has just the right amount of age, keeping its vibrancy yet perhaps allowing the concentrated fruit to mellow and develop. It’s a beautiful natural wine and one of the best from Basket Press Wines this year. Not that I’ve had any that were less than very good. Check out my notes from their London Portfolio Tasting published on 17 March.

ORANGE WAS THE COLOR OF HER DRESS 2015, PATRICE BEGUET (Jura, France)

Patrice Beguet is based at Mesnay, just a stroll outside of Arbois. He farms vines here and on prime sites over at Pupillin, where Pierre Overnoy gave him early encouragement. It’s a wonder he’s ever at home to receive visitors to his house and cellar right next to Mesnay’s tottering church. He started out in 2009, the domaine initially called Hughes-Beguet, adding the name of his former (English) wife. Within around three years Patrice achieved Demeter biodynamic certification, and he’s definitely one of the most environmentally conscious growers in a town and region well known for its focus on regeneration and sustainable, low intervention, viticulture.

The range has changed quite dramatically here over the years, as have the labels. This cuvée, which I believe 2015 was the first vintage, is a reference to one of Patrice’s musical idols, Charles Mingus. It sports his mid-period couture, a lovely lithographic image which was adapted from that used by his grandfather for his Gentiane. It’s a skin contact Savagnin (the ouillé version is named Oh Yeah!). It sees five months on skins in barrel after a three-week whole berry fermentation, though Patrice says it is more of an infusion than a maceration because there is no lees stirring, or pumping over. Patrice used to add a little sulphur to just his white (sic) wines, but 2015 was the first vintage he went sulphur free on everything.

It’s very orange, to be sure. The bouquet is fairly exotic with floral notes above rich fruits (mango especially) and cinnamon spice. The palate veers more to apricot with a hint of caramel and honey on a long finish. It has aged very nicely. You get a gorgeous mellow richness but it’s still fresh as well. Many have described 2015 as Patrice’s best vintage, although recent wines have been, without doubt, as good as he’s ever made, despite frost-ravaged harvests.

This bottle was purchased at the domaine, but Patrice Beguet is imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, who should have a selection of his more recent bottlings.

LE MÛR MÛR DE LA GAUDRONNIÈRE MOELLEUX 2011, DOMAINE DE LA GAUDRONNIÈRE (Loire, France)

The late Christian D’Orléans was an artisan vigneron based at Cellettes, near to the village and royal château of Cheverny, just south of Blois in Eastern Touraine. This producer, as I mentioned in my intro, provided wine for the father of a French friend. His cellar was amazing, and among all his First and Second Growth Bordeaux you would find boxes of Christian’s wines. For this reason, we paid him a visit when staying down there. We bought a selection of his wines but sadly he passed away a couple of years later. This sweet Moelleux wine, which he recommended we age for at least a decade, was the last bottle from that stash. Out of respect we did, which was a good move.

This is not in any way an expensive wine made by some internationally famous producer, but what it clearly shows is the occasional capacity of the obscure Romorantin grape, only grown now in this one appellation, to age to sublimity. Yellow-gold, like a wedding band, it smelt of rich honey, apricot and a little bit of curry spice. The palate was still bright. It would certainly be described as sweet, but not excessively so, with no hint of cloying. The texture and acids actually give it short moments of dryness, especially on that finish which, to my palate, was surprisingly reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. This all hangs on a fleshy core of honey. A lovely wine and very much more impressive than I expected.

The Appellation, Cour-Cheverny, I am assured by eminent sources, is exclusively for dry (often quite tart) wines made only from the Romorantin grape. Well, this was sweet, not dry, even if age had blunted the sweetness just a bit.

Purchased at the domaine, I don’t think you will find these wines very easily, certainly not in the UK. There are, however, many importers of very fine Moelleux Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Romorantin, less so. Perhaps the variety doesn’t always have this capacity to age? I truly wish that I’d bought more Loire Moelleux to lay down when I was younger. The rewards are usually far greater than the outlay would have been at the time.

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