Gut Oggau Visit, August 2022

I might have mentioned previously that when we visited Moravia we flew into Vienna. The route worked best to minimise overall travel, and to avoid Stansted. It also afforded an opportunity to spend a couple of nights in Rust. This town, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland, is a great base for a holiday, whether wine-obsessed or not, and I’d not been there since 2015 and was well overdue a return visit.

Rust has many attractions, and many good wine makers, but I was also long overdue a visit to one of my favourite producers who happen to be just a few minutes down the road in the village of Oggau. Stephanie and Eduard Tscheppe-Eselböck purchased vines and winery in 2007, an estate which had been abandoned for a year. This was a good start for a couple who wanted to pursue a zero-tolerance of synthetic inputs in their viticulture and winemaking. This is a producer whose number one aim, I would guess, is to ensure healthy soils and biodiversity on the land they farm.

Many people come into wine with ideas about what they want, and they change whole landscapes and ecosystems in order to achieve that, whether their intentions are good or not. Stephanie and Eduard had a different aim. They had inherited a vineyard and they wanted to discover its personality and soul for themselves, not to mould it into something it wasn’t. That is both the heart and the beauty of the Gut Oggau project. Today they are by no means standing alone in such aims, but back in 2007 such a way of thinking was, if not less widespread, certainly less publicised.

One needs to remember when drinking these wines, that although Stephanie and Eduard seem the happiest couple, always smiling, always having fun, they are deadly serious in wanting to have a positive impact, and a lasting one, on their land…and not just the soil. The regime is biodynamic and regenerative, from biodynamic tisanes to horses for ploughing etc. A holistic approach is both rigorously and intuitively followed.

We were invited to dine at Gut Oggau’s Inn and then to spend some time with Eduard touring the winery and visiting the horses. We had a spectacular meal of small plates, created from ingredients grown and tended by the team. Everyone pitches in for service, and on what seemed like an incredibly busy Sunday evening everyone was very attentive. With the dishes we got through ten wines (and could still stand afterwards) which I shall briefly describe. I shall presume that readers are aware of the “family” created for their wines, made up of three generations. The Maskerade wines below are bottled in litres, and wear a mask. They are vineyards under biodynamic conversion, which have not yet revealed their full personalities.

I should just apologise for how long this article has taken to appear, caused as I’ve mentioned before by moving house/country and then catching Covid, a lengthy bout as it has turned out. The UK importer for Gut Oggau is Dynamic Vines. They are also usually available (including takeaway) at Antidote Wine Bar off Carnaby Street.

Maskerade Weiss 2021 – This is by no means a simple wine. Although it isn’t the desire of Gut Oggau to detail the grape varieties in what are often field blend cuvées, sometimes there are clues. This wine strikes me (I could be wrong and it’s not important to become a detective to check this) that there’s a good dollop of Grüner Veltliner here. It is certainly macerated on skins to give the wine a good amber hue. It starts out full of lifted aromatics, initially floral but complexity builds to something savoury and mineral.

Maskerade Rosé 2020 – This is a year older and we are straight into a wine given a textured mineral core from gravelly soils. Yet riding to the top we have red berry fruits with a soft but fresh mouthfeel, strawberry and raspberry, beguiling us. I always believe Gut Oggau makes some of the very best pinkish wines in Burgenland, and I am sure it’s the fruit purity that hooks me every time.

Maskerade Rot 2020 – This wine is fascinating. The grapes come from a little higher up in the hills which encircle the lake on the western and northern sides. The soils here are quite complex, a mix of limestone and slate with scattered quartz stones. The wine has a stunning freshness and vivacity for a red wine. I’m pretty sure I have a bottle of this, and if that’s the case, I’m seriously happy.

Winifred 2021 – Winifred is sourced off sand and clay soils from vines aged around 35 years old. Maceration in 2021 was only for a few hours in old wood. As with the whole range, there is no fining nor filtration.  The grapes are usually a blend of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt, making a luminous pink Rosé wine. In a large Burgundy bowl of a glass this unfurls under your nose. It’s always a wine that fascinates me because it’s subtle, full of intrigue and it changes so much in the glass. Always one of my favourites from the range.

Atanasius 2021 – Atanasius is brother to Theodora and made from the same grape varieties as Winifred, from vines of the same age. Its origin is on flat terroir to the north of Oggau, off mostly limestone. 2021 was an exciting vintage because at the end of a warm summer it saw temperatures drop to around 12-13 degrees at the end of the growing cycle. This preserved quite amazing aromatics in this red wine, but also some structure as well. The combination of violets and dark cherry is quite lovely, creating a sense of aromatic complexity. A smooth-fruited wine with big legs, later on you get a touch of plum in the fruit. The finish, however, reminded me of an amazing cherry clafoutis, although the wine is dry. Quite stunning!

Cecilia 2021 – Cecilia is a new addition to the family, and this was my first taste of her. This is a true gemischter satz, a wine made from co-planted grapes, both red and white varieties, picked together and fermented together. The site from where she comes is about one-and-a-half hectares brought back to life by Eduard and Stephanie. Two-thirds of the fruit is direct press and one third is crushed. Fermentation is in wooden vats and maturation is in large 1,500-litre barrels. The vineyard is now fully biodynamic, hence release “fully realised”.

The colour is a kind of salmon and peach blush. There was a touch of reduction which blew off to leave fruit scents such as clementine and grapefruit. The palate has a vibrant freshness which I completely adored, a unique wine which frankly I just want to get hold of (though it seems sold out as far as I can see).

Edmund 2019 – These wines all like some bottle age, especially as one moves up the generations. Edmund is one of the most unconventional of the stable, as you might guess from the label, as ever designed by the artist Jung von Matt. Edmund comes from a half-hectare site, and it is envisaged that there won’t be enough fruit in every vintage to make Edmund. You can imagine that he goes wandering off occasionally, like a nomad, perhaps.

The vineyard was planted in the 1970s and had been untilled, perfect for Gut Oggau’s gentle exploitation. They used a lot of biodynamic preps to help the soil, and the vines in hot, dry, weather. The blend is a mix of white varieties, again co-planted, fermented in an open vat and matured in a single 225-litre Stockinger barrel (or two if there’s enough). The fruit has a sweetness to it (although the wine is dry) in this first vintage. It is mercurial, with grapey aromatics but also umami and white melon. A gorgeous wine and a major addition to the portfolio, even though it may be pretty hard to get hold of. I’m guessing the label alone will increase its popularity.

Josephine 2018 – I love this wine. It’s a fairly regular purchase for me, although the rise in prices in recent years means it’s a single bottle per vintage if I can get it. I’m never fully sure what grapes this wine comprises of, but many will tell you it’s a varietal Rösler (also spelt Roesler). Rösler was developed in the early 1970s in Austria by crossing Zweigelt x (Seyve-Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch). Its main quoted attributes are withstanding low temperatures and resistance to mildew. However, if Josephine is anything to go by, it has great potential for flavour too.

From a sunny south-facing slope, the aromas are as deep as the dark, inky purple, colour. What you don’t expect, aside from the tannic structure advocating more bottle age, is the crispness and overall lightness. From a hot vintage, the grapes were picked early and it has retained freshness. It is just 12% abv. A wine of elegance and finesse, which is principally why I love it.

Mechtild 2018 – This is the white wine from the “grandparents” generation. Mechtild is the Gut Oggau family matriarch. The grapes come from the oldest Grüner Veltliner they farm, and this is a world class wine by anyone’s reckoning. It commands a price which is now beyond the means of your average wine writer, but hey, I was privileged to taste half a glass. The wine challenges preconceptions but in a good way. Sixty-year-old vines on limestone give up grapes then fermented on stems and skins. The colour is sandy, the aromatics herbal with a faint floral top note. The palate is frankly complex and complicated. The wine is serious…and seriously good.

Bertholdi 2020 – the vintage saw a cool spring followed by a hot summer, temperatures dropping for harvest. This old vine Blaufränkisch complements Mechtild perfectly. Remember, this is a very young wine requiring cellaring for it to reach full potential. That said, the bouquet has gorgeous cherry fruit, oddly reminding me of fine Chianti Classico at first. It’s tannic, but the fruit is so good it didn’t seem like a crime to drink a glass. It’s purple colour is deceptive as once more, we are only pushing 12.5% abv. Barrel-aged, after being pressed in the beautiful 200-year-old vertical press, it is then aged two years in used 500-litre wood. Like Mechtild, no sulphur is added. The tannins are slightly soft even now, and the palate is very savoury. The terroir is stamped all over Bertholdi and the 2020 has a very bright future.

That was the tasting, or should I rather say drinking because these were all good half glasses of wine and we’d luckily booked a taxi (not an easy task when the opera festival is on at Morbisch, just down the lake). I won’t lie…on an emotional level this is one of the best wine evenings I’ve experienced. Don’t therefore expect my notes to be constrained by objectivity, but I think in any case the reputation of these wines and their creators does not require my mere words to enhance them. I can afford to drink them so rarely that this dinner was a treat. In any case, the photos are more evocative of the place than my words.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austria, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Tourism, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moravia 2022 – Richard Stávek, Maverick and Magician

First, an apology, both to my readers and to Richard Stávek, for taking so long to write about these wines. First, we returned from Moravia a week-and-a-half before moving house, and indeed country. Then, the same number of days into our new life we both got Covid. It has been unpleasant, and even as I type, I’m still waiting for a negative test to allow me to resume life with a clear conscience. Catching up will be further hampered by the celebration of a major milestone birthday for my father next week, but I shall do my best to complete the final article after this one from my trip to Czechia and Austria before then.

If Richard Stávek is indeed a maverick I mean that in the most positive sense. Of all the “tasting rooms” I’ve been in during the past twenty years, his reminds me most of the days I’d spend visiting older growers in places like Burgundy, or maybe Bergerac, back in the 1980s. With all expense spared, it’s a table in a corner of a chaotic kitchen which has probably not changed since the 1970s (ironic that he only began winemaking in the 1990s). However, looks are deceiving, because on that table sits the finest glasses for tasting and out comes a special edition Riedel decanter too. Everything here, both tangible and emotional, goes into the wines.

Richard is unquestionably a magician, but no flashy spell caster. His magic comes from thinking deeply about his wines, and understanding them on both a practical level and, I am sure, on a metaphysical level too. Richard is a shy man and I am sure he hates fuss, but he is an important winemaker, not only for Moravia but on a world stage which he would perhaps wish not to inhabit, despite the fact that markets even more forward-thinking than the British one (Japan, for example) are fully aware of these wines.

There are generally two kinds of tasting, neither always better than the other. The first type is where you sit down and taste a lot of wines and the second is where one is treated to far fewer wines, but the conversation may be longer and deeper. This was the latter kind of tasting. Five wines, a brandy and a speciality, but tasted over more than two hours. We learned a lot, absorbing everything Richard told us almost by osmosis. It was a totally absorbing morning.

Richard is a firm believer in using, though not exclusively, materials from the same location as the grapes, so he uses both oak and acacia from Czech forests where possible. The acacia comes from his own forest. That said, he also has some of the famous Stockinger barrels, a touch of class and often the sign of a serious winemaker in this part of the world. Oak is usually the preferred wood for the red wines, Richard finding that acacia has an affinity with the orange and rosé wines.

There are 15 hectares farmed here, around the small Moravian town of Němčičky, but a little less than a third of that is under vine. From the rest Richard farms goats to make cheese, cherries and apricots, vegetables, and makes several types of honey from his own bees (and uses his beeswax to seal the bottles). Winemaking is very much “natural”. Grapes are foot-trodden as whole bunches and fermented in wooden vats. Gravity moves everything, there is no pumping of must or juice. If sulphur is added at all, which it isn’t unless it is really necessary, then additions are minimal. Water in the house comes from its own well, fresh and pure. Such things are considered important in an holistic approach to creating wine.

I should just say that we met Richard at his rather Hobbit-hole-like cellars sunk on a hillside rammed full of similar wine cellars, cut into sandstone scattered with chunks of limestone. We then went to taste via some of his vineyards, up on a wind-swept hillside. Richard showed us the effects of hail, which had damaged one side of a row of Welschriesling, but left the other free from its effects. As we listened to the winemaker we watched a deer, unconcerned, eating the grapes up at the top of the hill. Of course, seeing the deer was an attractive occurrence for us. I think Richard was less pleased. I’m not sure whether he was joking about wishing he had his dog and gun? Perhaps his holistic approach doesn’t extend as far as that practised by Jaroslav Osička, or maybe he was joking.

Hobbiton, Moravia Style

Odmery 2019 – We began with a wine which is slightly unusual for Richard, in that it is a varietal wine, 100% Pinot Blanc in 2019. He tends to favour not only blends, but co-planted and co-fermented field blends. The vineyard was planted in 1973, long before Richard took it over. It has a northern exposure. The grapes saw a ten-day maceration of whole bunches with no destemming, using a basket press to gently obtain the juice. Ageing was one year in large oak and the result is a wine of only 11.7% abv, straw-coloured with a deep straw/hay bouquet, savoury. The palate is fresh and lively but has a mineral depth. The importer currently has the 2018, which I believe may contain around 15% Chardonnay and is drinking nicely.

Veselý 2018 – This is a co-planted, multi-varietal, field blend made up from Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Neuburger, Traminer, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc and Moravian Muskat. Veselý is the name of the vineyard hill, coming from the Middle Ages. It’s quite dark in colour but what strikes home are the amazing aromatics, too complex to describe really, like a moving picture of floral and savoury aromas. The wine is listed at NOMA, perhaps ‘nuff said. It’s a remarkable wine which exudes subtlety. It’s very beautiful, yes, I think that’s actually the best adjective to employ.

PNC 2020 – PNC stands for “Pinot Noir Clairet”. In fact, this wonderful wine is almost bronze in colour, maceration taking place for one night. When the wine was transferred from the basket press to acacia barrel Richard said that the juice was pretty much white. The colour transformation took place in the wood as it aged. The colour is subtle, and the wine takes its cue from this, showing subtlety of both scent and flavour through cherry and red fruits with a floral edge. A kind of haunting scent which is not uncommon with lighter renditions of Pinot.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 – I suppose in a world full of expensive and seriously oaked Cabernet, it would be quite easy for the world to pass this by. It shouldn’t. I think the mistake we make is to associate grape varieties with a restricted palate of flavours and places. As Cabernet Sauvignon spread from Bordeaux, it then became associated with the New Word as well, Napa, Australia and so on. Of course, it has been grown here for a long time and has developed its own local clones. This wine certainly amplifies many of the characteristics we associate with the variety, especially on the (concentrated) fruit side. Yet it still seems to retain a local identity, unencumbered by chemical inputs. Definitely impressive and soulful.

Veselý 2018 – This is the red version of the Veselý tasted above. It comes from the same site but is a field blend of Blaufränkisch, St-Laurent, Blauer Portugieser, Cabernet Moravia and a little André, the latter being a really interesting variety actually developed in Moravia in the 1960s, a crossing of Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent. Cabernet Moravia is another Czech cross, using Zweigelt and Cabernet Franc, developed in the 1970s. The regime is two week’s maceration of whole bunches and a year ageing in large oak. These are blends of considerable interest, the whole being more complex (though subtle) than the individual parts. The concentrated fruit acids are literally lipsmacking, in a good way. Sappy, fresh, delicious.

Brandy – Richard has made his own brandy, and we got to try a blend from 1998/99. Around 60-70% of the grapes distilled were Grüner Veltliner, the rest made up of a myriad of different varieties. I am not sure how much this would retail for, but I can say that it is one of the most astonishing brandies I’ve ever tasted. So complex, and nicely balanced at 48% abv. Richard wanted to create a special label. Many of his other wines used very old typography for their labels, but he wanted more. He found a calligrapher who agreed to create the labels all by hand. She did a wonderful job, but did say had she known how much work it would be she’d not have taken on the task.

The next job was to find a way to attach the labels, made from hand made paper, to the bottles. Normal glue would not have worked with paper this absorbent. Richard contacted an archivist in Brno who rocked up one Sunday to brew up a batch of glue, which they then used to affix the labels. This is a nice place to almost end our time with Richard, because it fully illustrates his no compromise approach in the search for perfection. And I can say quite honestly that in this brandy he has achieved that. In his wines, he comes as close as it’s possible to get.

We were not quite done here because we also got to try some Mosto Coto, must cooked in a copper kettle non-stop for three days. Concentrated grape juice which tastes like caramelised plum jam. It reminded me of a super-upmarket version of the “vin cuit” (in that case made from pears) I miss so much from trips to Switzerland. We tasted the mosto alongside some amazing 20-y-o balsamic vinegar which a visitor brought from Moderna. Another sign of Richard Stávek’s appreciation of the finest culinary items.

concentrated “mosto coto”, 3-days bubbling in a copper kettle

Before we finally leave Richard, in fact for Autentikfest (the article which began our journey in Moravia), there is a little story which I think reveals the magic of the place and the man. The kitten in the photo was orphaned shortly after birth. Richard’s dog is a beautiful Shiba Inu called Amaya (which means night rain in Japanese, reflecting the weather the night she arrived). Almost incredibly, Amaya started to lactate and fed the kitten, and continued to do so. I certainly find that magical, but once you experience the ambience of the Stávek abode it doesn’t seem remotely strange. The wines are just a reflection of all this magic.

Basket Press Wines is the UK importer for Richard Stávek, although they may not always stock all of the wines tasted here. They do not currently import the brandy.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Spirits, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moravia 2022 – Jaroslav Osicka

Jaroslav Osička is a legend in Moravian natural wine, a kind of Pierre Overnoy. Except that Jaroslav not only makes wine, but taught at the local wine school for thirty years. Many of the younger generation of winemakers learnt from him, and indeed some have stories showing Osička’s true grasp of teaching winemaking: lots and lots of tasting (and drinking). He instilled the first law of winemaking, to trust your palate. Each wine is different, each vintage is different. This is what he manages in his own winemaking, ably assisted now by his son, Luboš.

The Overnoy comparison is apt in a way because Jaroslav was inspired by the wines of the Jura, long before they became fashionable and achieved a profile that was more than local. Not that his wines are in any way replicas of that region. His portfolio concentrates to a degree on local varieties, or more often local clones of international varieties which have been in Moravia for many years.

The Osička vineyard is only around three hectares in size, but they do manage to make a lot of wines from it, almost in parallel with another Eastern French region, Alsace. Their base is in the important South Moravian wine village of Velké Bílovice. His two main vineyards, one stretching up the slope behind the cellars, are on mostly sandy loess at around 200-to-240 masl. The vineyards are lovely to walk in, full of other plants and flora. Far from discouraging local wildlife, Jaroslav puts out salt for the local deer in summer, placed under small wooden constructed shelters. He says you need to balance the needs of man with nature, something followed through in the winery. He means this in the wider sense.

Everything is done as you’d expect with natural wine – wild yeasts, spontaneous fermentations, etc. There is generally barrel maceration for white wines, whole bunches added to the must which he believes stops bitter compounds leeching into the wine. It also adds freshness. Wood is a mix of oak and local acacia. If SO2 is used at all, it’s a tiny amount at bottling, and the only wines to see a (coarse) filter are the young wines which are bottled after six months. Anything else is unfiltered. This means Osička wines of all colours do tend towards texture.

Of course, it’s all well and good to ensure low yields and to keep the vineyard and winery free from synthetic agri-chemical inputs, but here it’s all about listening (not literally) to what each wine is saying, being in tune with the fermentation and reacting to its individual needs. As father and son both stress, there is never a template. Each wine from each vintage is individual, and is allowed to express itself as such.

As a nod to the Jura, oxygen is seen as a friend here more than an enemy. As with all of the best natural winemakers, there is an innate understanding here that exposure to oxygen at an early stage ensures resistance to the potential negative effects of such exposure later on, especially when the wine is not drowned with SO2. It’s rather like us learning that exposure to certain things allows we humans to build a resistance to germs, if that’s not too ridiculous an analogy.

We had a pretty comprehensive tasting with Jaroslav initially, then joined by Luboš. The intensity of the (relaxed) tasting illustrated the profound thinking and evident passion behind the wines, but not a technical intensity. Of course, we learnt how the different wines are made, but we learnt much more about the wines on an emotional level, I think.

Moravian Rhapsody 2021

This is going to be the new name for Akacia, one of my favourite Osička white blends, Moravia being the southern Czech region to balance Bohemia in the north. This was a barrel sample, a blend of 75% Rhine Riesling, 20% Pinot Gris, and the balancing 5% Neuburger. “No chemistry, just artistry”, Jaroslav half-joked, although he did admit that this unsulphured sample will probably get a touch of sulphur at bottling. It’s very fresh, although underpinned by the richness of the Pinot Gris. Can’t wait for this to appear.

Pinot Gris 2021

This is also still in barrel, on its lees, although it has also seen a period in fibreglass tank since it was fermented. Between 10-15% was fermented as whole berries with a one-month maceration on skins to give a little texture. Pinot Gris certainly has a degree of richness in Moravia, but not the full-on Alsace style of richness. It also has that classic Osička lift. I think a lot of people would be surprised by this.

“BB”

BB stands provocatively for Bílovice Burgundy. Of course, it doesn’t bear any relation to the French region whatsoever, being a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Blending red and white varieties is fairly traditional in Moravia, although you don’t often see this blend. However, the name seems more apt when you taste it, discovering the smoothness of a good Cöte de Beaune. Jaroslav favours Czech oak here, suggesting that he wants to keep the wood source as close to the vines as possible. This is why many Czech natural winemakers also use acacia, or robinia (aka “false acacia”).

Chardonnay 2020

This has seen almost two years in Czech oak. The oak and fruit are already integrated quite nicely and it already shows a stunning bouquet. It will age magnificently, and should be allowed to do so, although my guess is that it will be extremely enjoyable now. It’s an impressive wine in a market full of really good Chardonnay, so don’t be afraid to choose this if you see it on a restaurant list.

Modry Portugal 2021

Modry Portugal is varietal Blauer Portugieser, a variety which probably originated in Lower Styria (now in Slovenia), but which is far from uncommon in parts of Germany. Aged in old oak, in 2021 this signature red was riper, with lower yields. It has an extra degree of alcohol (at 13% abv rather than its more usual 12%). This makes it a richer, more concentrated, wine, but it also has the structure given by its tannins. Perhaps a good year to try this, although previous vintages have been more gluggable. It is always densely purple with sappy dark berry fruit, a result of the variety, but in the past Modry Portugal was taken far less seriously. Those who have taken the time to do it justice have generally yielded good results, this being a prime example.

P.A.N. 2021

P is for Pinot, N is for Noir and in between comes A for André. This is a local variety, developed in Moravia in the 1960s, but it now crops up to great effect down south, in Austria’s Burgenland. It’s a crossing of Blaufränkisch (aka Lemberger) and Saint-Laurent. The André grapes for this blend come from a vineyard called Panský, planted only in 2014. Ageing is in 3-to-4-year oak so there is a neutral effect on the wine. It’s a lovely garnet red, not at all heavy, very much lifted in both bouquet and palate. Another Osička wine I like a lot, although it would be hard to think of any I don’t. I think once the André vines are older it may go out as a single varietal, but in the meantime enjoy this blend.

Rysak 2021

The Rysak ’21 blend is equal parts Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. You’ll have realised by now that Jaroslav sees a distinct affinity between these varieties, as interestingly do a few natural winemakers I know in Eastern France. The maceration here is short, maybe five to six hours only, with both varieties co-fermenting in the vat as whole bunches. The result is a pale and light red wine, but the colour deceives. There is a concentration of fruit here which appears along with a real zing on the palate from the natural fruit acidity.

Milerka 2021

This is an unusual blend of Müller Thurgau and Neuburger. It’s a pale white wine with a floral bouquet and a fresh palate underpinned with a little pebbly texture. Very easy to drink. It may be simple, but simple and satisfying as the maxim goes.

Pinot Gris 2020

It’s the same wine as the PG tasted above, but with an extra year’s age. A bit more depth, a little more mellow, but no less fresh to my palate. It shows this wine will age. Perhaps the extra year has broadened it a little and whether you’d keep it longer (you certainly could), it’s delicious to go.

BB 2020

Likewise, we have another wine from the 2020 vintage with an extra year over the example we tried earlier. This had seen six months in bottle when opened. It is still young, accentuated by the fact that this vintage saw new Czech oak, though being untoasted the wood effect is less pronounced. Tasting this wine showed that it’s good to be patient. This is gorgeous!

Chardonnay 2019

Likewise, waiting is advised for this wine. Not necessarily years as this is from a vintage they described as “open”, but certainly six months would help. Made from six different Czech clones of Chardonnay, it’s yellow-gold in colour, rich and mineral at the same time. You can see that they are masters of Chardonnay here.

Chardonnay 2017

This was made in new Czech oak. They now use steam to temper its effects, but the oak used here was found to be too aggressive. It was only bottled at the end of 2019, but with three years in bottle any aggression has softened. It’s still a young wine as it has undergone the slow evolution offered by the Osička cellar, deep and cold. It’s probably all the more impressive as a “fine wine” as a result.

Chardonnay “V”

I had already tried this remarkable wine at the Real Wine Fair in London earlier this summer. V stands for vertikal, and this is a blend of 2017, 2018 and 2019 Chardonnay in the proportion 60/30 and 10 percent. If you were to find some it would be a treat. It really is a summation of the three vintages, with complexity in abundance. It exemplifies the benefits available for multi-vintage cuvées, if done with the right degree of empathy and intuition.

Traminer 2021

This is actually made from Roter Traminer, with no skin contact and just a few hours in the press. It is then aged in Robinia. It’s beautifully aromatic but dry.

Oranj 2021

100% Traminer aged in acacia after maceration in open vats as whole bunches. The colour is somewhere between sunset gold and bronze. It had only been bottled a few weeks but its freshness and vibrancy shone through. It is also developing a characteristic savoury edge. Drink it now, for sure, but there’s no doubt it will become more complex.

That’s the end of the tasting, fifteen wines being a good way to really get to know this genuinely great producer. You can’t beat being in someone’s company to get the feel of them as a person. Father and son are very different in so many ways, but they are both passionate and committed. Jaroslav is completely immersed in his oeuvre.

We began the tasting in the upstairs barrel room, quite small. Then we moved down to the underground cellars. We finished, despite the mid-thirty-degree heat, out in the vines. Moravia’s vineyards are attractive anyway, the rural nature of Moravia more beautiful than I had imagined. But visiting a much-loved natural environment like this, with everything in balance was quite magical. It could hardly fail to make me appreciate the wines even more than I did…and to have an even more emotional response when I drink them.

As with all the producers in this series of articles, the UK importer is Basket Press Wines. I was invited to Moravia by Basket Press and accommodation was provided by them and Petr Koráb in Boleradice. All other expenses (flights, car hire, and beer for my co-visitors on occasion) were provided by myself.

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Moravia 2022 – Krásna Horá Winery

Krásna Horá means beautiful hill, or mountain, in Czech, and the winery which sits at the bottom of it in the village of Nový Poddvorov, and is named after it, nestles among extremely attractive, gently rolling, Moravian hills. However, in this rural idyll the winery stands apart as a flash of modernity. It was by far the most modern of the “artisan” wineries we saw in Moravia, and its architectural design was a big step up, gravitational flows and modern equipment etc, from those of the larger producers we passed. Very attractive tasting room too, very light and overlooking the vine rows trailing up the slope outside.

The design element is taken through to the labels as well. Petr Koráb does wild labels for his petnats but keeps broadly traditional for his still wines. There are wines here with what you might call a more traditional label, but the majority of the range has a theme running through the labels. I think there has been a degree of influence from that star of modern Czech wine, Milan Nestarec, in this department. They are certainly friends and he was mentioned several times.

Our morning tasting was conducted by Ondrej Dubas, who is the English-speaking face of the winery, which is family owned. The head of the family and current owner is Marek Vybiral, who is Ondrej’s uncle. Ondrej’s grandfather planted their first vines in the early 1960s, under the communist regime, although vines had been planted here long before by Cistercian monks in the 12th or 13th century. Over sixty years this vineyard developed into an important eight-hectare biodynamic producer of low intervention wines (with another vineyard purchased recently substantially adding to this, and local organic fruit bought in too) with an international outlook and a total focus on quality at a fair price.

Ondrej

Soils vary up the main hill (and they farm vineyards elsewhere in the region too), but there is generally a 50-60 cm layer of topsoil on a mix of clay, limestone and sand. Orientation is southwest. The top of the gentle hill is crowned by a beautiful old oak forest, which protects the vines and creates a warm microclimate, which we certainly enjoyed on our visit. It is certainly warm enough to ripen apricots, and certain other plants which could not be grown openly in the UK even if the climate were warm enough (not, I should stress, on Krásna Horá land, and equally, not illegal I’m told in the Czech Republic). That said, this part of Czechia is situated on the 49th Parallel, generally felt to be around the limit where grapes will ripen in Central Europe, so this is still cool climate viticulture. The key to wine quality here is the difference between daytime and night time temperatures, the drop at night helping to retain acids and aromatics.

No synthetic products are used on the vines or in the winery, and just a small addition of sulphur is used, if needed, before bottling. The winery does buy oak, mostly new, from François Frères in Burgundy, and since 2010 has amassed eighty-nine barrels. Organic certification in 2009 was followed by a shift to biodynamics in 2014, the certification for that being ongoing. Yields are restricted to a maximum of 1.3kg/vine, often lower, which translates to a purity and fruit etc intensity, even at the lower end of the range.

Another key to the freshness of Moravian wine is the cellars. The architect-designed but simple winery at Krásna Horá is built over cellars dug into the earth. They may not be as old as some we saw, interestingly dug in 1942 during the war, but they are as cool, no, cold, as any we entered.

We tasted eleven wines before a simple lunch, thoughtfully made fully vegan for one of our party, topping off our visit with a walk among the vines and around the local area, among smallholdings with animals, fruit and nut trees, large pumpkins and other scattered crops.

Anna 2021 – Anna is a blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc, easy, fresh and fruity. A few of these wines are named after family members and their faces adorn the labels. Anna is a daughter, and Miya (next) is the daughter of Ondrej’s cousin.

Miya 2021 – This was the first time I’d tasted Miya and I was not alone in being immediately taken with it. It’s 100% Zweigelt. It has that beautiful profile of raspberry fruit, not totally dissimilar to Petr Koráb’s “Rasberries on Ice” that I had enjoyed so much the previous evening. Total freshness. The fruit is direct-pressed whole bunches which only see tank, no oak. Ondrej was astonished, and mildly amused, that this wine was awarded 93 points in a Decanter Tasting. “It’s a basic wine” he said. But basic can be brilliant. It’s something I’ve learnt quite often tasting artisan Czech wines.

Sekt, Blanc de Noir 2020 – This wine was originally made from Zweigelt, but swapping to Pinot Noir was a good move. It’s another star of the range here. It only sees fifteen months on lees, though zero dosage gives fresh acids. It has an elegance and even a tiny bit of autolytic character. The intention here is to make something very different from Champagne, but aiming for both quality and a regional identity, which it achieves.

Herr Gewurztraminer 2021 – I don’t buy a lot of Gewurztraminer, but I have bought this one. The reason being that I find the grape’s propensity towards both high alcohol/ripeness and residual sugar less to my taste, unless the wine is very well made. This sees 100% skin contact for two-to-three weeks, and only two months in tank. It’s a light, fresh, and importantly dry, summer wine.

La Blanca 2021 – This was created as a bar and restaurant cuvée and it is their most exported wine. It fulfils that role nicely, both on price and flavour. It’s fresh, smooth, easy going but certainly not dull. The blend is flexible, mostly Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Neuburger and Pinot Blanc. In 2021 they made around 12,000 bottles of it. 30% of the blend sees some skin contact, 30% some oak and 30% is in tank, all adding to interest. It has a dry, lychee-stone texture, some aromatics, and neutral but sappy fruit.

Riesling 2021 – Riesling is certainly grown in Moravia, but it doesn’t really get pushed as it does over the border in Austria. Grown close to the Slovakian border, three clones are put together in the blend to add complexity and interest, and even a touch of seriousness. The yields for this vintage were tiny because 80% of the fruit was lost to a tornado! The result is definitely intense and concentrated. In fact, it’s a rather special wine.

Sauvignon Blanc 2021 – I’ve mentioned Sauvignon Blanc in a few blends, but this single varietal wine gives me the chance to talk about this grape in Moravia. I’m sure plenty of readers will know how good SB can be from the Austrian region of Steiermark (Styria). There’s a little in Burgenland, but not much, and then it pops up again here. It’s rather good. In Czechia we have something close to the Austrian style, certainly a long way from both New Zealand and Loire iterations of Sauvignon Blanc. Something not only unique, but a style I find can be massively attractive in the right hands.

Four different clones are used. Around 40% of the blend is fermented on skins, part in oak and part in tank. The key is a stone-mineral core and texture, making for a wine situated lower on the stave than Sancerre, and more serious opera than the operetta of cheaper NZSB (note that I am aware NZ does make some astonishingly good SB, just that few get the chance to try them). This, like the best Styrians, has soul and a hint at a serious side. But it isn’t long-aged, being bottled in April of the year following harvest. Ondrej said that for some reason the odd vintages always turn out best with this wine.

Chardonnay 2020 – Limpid green-gold in colour, this barrel selection wine comes from the best fifteen-to-twenty casks containing the best Chardonnay grapes. It sees a year in French oak, some of those François Frères barrels I mentioned earlier, but it is a cuvée they only release in the best vintages. There are some notes of exotic fruits and a good degree of richness, yet it retains its acids, certainly at the moment, and shows a good mineral core. I guess on export markets one might ask whether we need any more Chardonnay in this style, but it is undeniably excellent, ageworthy, and well-priced compared to its peers.

Ruby 2021 – This is mostly made from Zweigelt grown in the village, but with some additions of Dornfelder, Pinot Noir and a few other odds and ends. They come from a 7-hectare plot they bought in order to meet demand for what Ondrej called a “pasta and pizza wine”. Twenty-year-old vines are destemmed then whole berries are fermented on their skins for three weeks. They are then spiced-up by a few months in oak before bottling. There’s delicious and simple cherry fruit, some acidity (just right), and freshness to the fore. It’s the kind of wine you wish you could find in a chain restaurant, but almost always have to make do with a glass of something more pedestrian when you’d much prefer a bottle of this to glug.

Pinot Noir 2021 – There is no doubt that wherever you can grow Pinot Noir successfully, people will try to make wine from it. Moravia is certainly able to grow the variety, and does, but we shouldn’t expect Grand Cru Burgundy from these slopes. We need to judge it as wine, on its own merits, not as a reflection of something else. It’s what I always say when tasting the German Pinots off slate (Ahr), or volcanic soils (parts of Baden) and so on.

This 2021 was a barrel sample due to be bottled around now as I type. A mix of four different Burgundian clones for complexity, they all have tiny berries which are destemmed and fermented (each clone separately) on skins. Blending takes place in July, so a little before we visited. The wine had seen no added sulphur, although a small dose might be added at bottling. Right now, it majors on intense cherry fruit, accentuated no end when swirled in a large glass.

Pinot Noir 2020 – This is a barrel selection, like the Chardonnay. Bottled this January, at 12.5% abv, it comprises just four barrels and two out of the four clones we saw in the 2021 sample above. It already has plenty of obvious depth, although it’s a wine one might counsel keeping for 5-7 years. Quite impressive.

This was an excellent tasting, naturally assisted by sitting comfortably at a large table in a light tasting room, tasting from fine glasses made exclusively for Krásna Horá, not that I would remotely suggest tasting in the cellar or around a tiny kitchen table (the tastings to come) are any less enjoyable. The range is forward-looking. If the labels for the serious end of the range are a little dull compared to the easy-drinkers, I can see why such differentiation is desired. There’s still a certain brutal modernism to the labels for those bottles.

If I say that this is a good-value range, that should not be taken as faint praise. I can see why these wines would be popular with customers at restaurants like Ottolenghi’s, because they offer a clear point of difference to more mundane fare, very good wines that taste a little bit different. Exciting even. They are a great entry point to Czech wine too. The more serious selections are also seriously good.

Krásna Horá Winery is imported into the UK by Basket Press Wines, although they will not have all of the wines tasted, and be aware that those wines popular in the restaurant market may sell through quite swiftly.

View from the tasting room
View up to the tasting room and winery from the vines
Ripening fruit of a hot summer

On the way to our next appointment at Jaroslav Osicka we stopped at this small chapel to admire the uninterrupted views of the Moravian hills.

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings, Wine Tourism, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moravia 2022 – Petr Koráb, Boleradice

We were pretty tired on arrival in the village of Boleradice, about two hours north of Vienna, a relaxed drive through a pastoral idyll of rolling hills and vineyards, and very little traffic, a world away from what we had left behind that morning. London Gatwick was seething with people and a plane delayed by nearly two hours made us very thirsty by the time of our arrival. No sooner had we thrown our luggage into our room than we were off walking to Petr’s cellars, about ten minutes up the hill. We entered a small glade of trees, surrounded on one side by an arc of cellar entrances, like small chalets concealing cavernous depths. A beautiful table was set for our dinner. It was going to be the best night of the summer, but that story is to come.”

These words appeared in my article about Autentikfest 2022, and the introduction to my trip to Moravia in the Czech Republic. Now it is time to tell you a little more about Petr Koráb, and the wonderful evening we spent with him. If you don’t know me but are aware that Petr provided our accommodation for the trip you might be suspicious of what I write. If, on the other hand, you have read just about anything I’ve written about Moravia, you’ll know how excited I get drinking this man’s wines. I finally met Petr and his wife briefly in London, at the Real Wine Fair this year, but it was nice to get to know him a little better in his own surroundings.

Petr opening crown caps like a pro

Petr Koráb founded the winery with his brother in 2006, but Petr is now at the helm, making wine from around 4-hectares close to the south Moravian village of Boleradice. Some plots they own, others they rent, but all are old vineyards on unique soils with very low yields from Moravian clones. Farming is completely biodynamic, winemaking utilises gravity without pumping, and only partial racking takes place. All of this requires totally healthy fruit. Naturally, nothing is added in the winery, Petr following the Moravian “Autentiste” charter. He ran Autentikfest until this year so he deserved a break (although he was there with his wines).

Our meal began, after a welcome beer, with Petr’s new wine, the honestly sensational Raspberries on Ice, a blend of Pinot Noir and St Laurent. This tastes just like the name suggests, like purest raspberry fruit juice. Stock up if you are prepared to hedge on a long end to summer or a balmy autumn. If Basket Press Wines don’t save me at least a bottle we won’t be on speaking terms. Petr’s wines get even better every year but among the fun wines this may just be his best yet.

Neuburger is always nice to taste and Petr’s version was a highlight, along with his Natur Ryšák on Leaves (“Ryšák” is the name for traditional field blends, made like a gemischter satz, in these parts), and Orange on Leaves, a petnat I’ve drunk a few times made from Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling. The Koráb wines described as “on leaves” see the vine leaves, or occasionally herbs, dried, made into a powder and used as a natural fining agent to take out the larger solid matter.

After a spectacular dinner of several thoughtfully prepared dishes, each accompanied by a different wine, we entered the small chalet that forms the entrance to the cellar. Your eyes are deceived because behind a big red door stretches a long tunnelled underground cellar on two levels, excavated into the sandstone hillside. After the heat outdoors the temperature in here is as cool as can be. In fact, after an hour in here a few people wished they’d brought a jacket.

Petr went on into the night opening petnats and still wines. I still don’t know another producer who makes such a variety of petnats, new wines appearing every year. They are all different, which is part of the excitement, and they are all refreshing. None more so than the Lemonade (Welschriesling) which was one of many Petr popped for us. Frankly, if you like petnat you can’t go wrong with any of them. Even if the wines were not brilliant, which they are, they would be worth buying for the labels. Petr knows how to push the right buttons for his market for this side of his range, retaining a modern yet less out-there look for his still wines.

We left after a further half an hour of barrel samples, having risen at 5am to get out to Czechia. The youngsters stayed on for a bit of sabre work in the lower cellar, followed by steaks I believe, though to be fair they were remarkably quiet when they staggered in later. We had emerged from the cellars to see half the village watching a film on a big screen outside, chairs arranged beneath the trees. We strolled downhill, our way illuminated by a large moon, our conversation half drowned-out by the cicadas. We had no hangover the next morning, rising early to head off to our first visit of Friday.

Petr Koráb is not only one of Moravia’s best winemakers, but he’s also one of the most interesting. He can talk for hours sharing deep, perceptive, knowledge. He seems able to combine the wisdom of the older guys we shall meet in later articles with the innovative spirit of the younger ones. This is why his range should be one of the first you should head to if you want to dip your toe into Czech natural wine.

Silent but for the deafening sound of cicadas. Oh Moravia, you are beautiful.
Posted in Artisan Wines, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Petnat, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tourism, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Autentikfest 2022, Moravia

I’ve just returned from a trip to Moravia in the south of the Czech Republic. The main reason for going was an invitation to Autentikfest 2022, the wine festival for the Czech natural wine movement, but whilst there I also managed to visit four producers, and then to take up an invitation to dinner (and wine, of course) at Gut Oggau, a couple of hour’s drive away in Burgenland.

This gives me a lot to write about over the coming weeks (including several “recent wines” articles and a book review), all at a time when we are about to move ten hours up the road. So, I’ll be playing catchup whilst acclimatising to my new surroundings, and making the most of the end of summer from a house within a two-minute walk from the ocean.

I shall write separately about visits to taste with Petr Koráb, Krásná Horá, Jaroslav Osička and Richard Stávek as I find time (and, of course, Gut Oggau). Here I plan to write a brief intro now I’ve finally been to the region, and tell you a little about Autentikfest. We were there at the invitation of UK specialist importer Basket Press Wines. Petr Koráb kindly provided our accommodation in a Penzion he owns. I should also mention that two of the winemakers we visited provided meals, but all flights, car hire etc were paid for by myself.

We were pretty tired on arrival in the village of Boleradice last Thursday evening, about two hours north of Vienna, a relaxed drive through a pastoral idyll of rolling hills and vineyards, and very little traffic, a world away from what we had left behind that morning. London Gatwick was seething with people and a plane delayed by nearly two hours made us very thirsty by the time of our arrival. No sooner had we thrown our luggage into our room than we were off walking to Petr’s cellars, about ten minutes up the hill. We entered a small glade of trees, surrounded on one side by an arc of cellar entrances, like small chalets concealing cavernous depths. A beautiful table was set for our dinner. It was going to be the best night of the summer, but that story is to come.

Saturday was festival day, and we arrived at lunch time after a morning producer visit. Autentikfest usually takes place in Boleradice, but this year it changed venues and moved to the equally attractive wine village of Mutěnice. This is a village absolutely full of small wine cellars, but in a totally different style to those of Boleradice.

We tasted from several winemakers, the best of which was Vykoukal (we’d done Koráb the night before), a producer imported by Basket Press Wines, whose bottles I’ve written about on a number of occasions. Styled as “Vin d’Austerlitz”, the 1.5 ha they farm are part of the famous battlefield of the Napoleonic Wars, where 100,000 soldiers were killed (for what?).

What I want to do here, though, is to highlight two producers who are neither from Moravia, nor make wine, but were at the festival. Utopia Cider and Euforia, makers of Birch Sap, are based in the North of Czechia. Ivo and Eva have created a wonderful home in the 14th Century fort called Sudkuf Zul, in the Josafat Valley. They make minimum intervention ciders…spontaneous fermentation, no enzymes, fermented dry (except for one), aged in barrel for twelve months and then further in bottle before release. These drinks have the vibe of a natural wine petnat more than the kind of cider we have traditionally drunk in the UK.

The orchards see no sprays and there are trees as old as 80 still bearing enough fruit. They buy in apples from local farms, and have planted their own orchards, with many English cider varieties. The farm is mixed and they aim for as great a degree of self-sufficiency as they can.

Utopia makes a range of white and red drinks (including an apple/grape co-ferment where the apples ferment on grape skins from Moravian producer Dlúhé Grefty’s “Rufus”). The pinnacle of their range is the amazing ice cider called “Patience”. Ania, if you are reading this, they have used your quote from your Silo days: “total brainfuck”. But it really is.

This cider is free of any added sulphites, unlike most ice ciders, and this ramps-up the purity factor massively. It sees 18 months on lees in neutral used oak casks (225 litres). It takes five kilos of late ripening apples, a small Czech variety which grows wild and is too small for anyone to bother with these days, to make 75cl of the cider. It isn’t cheap but for those of us less wealthy, they do bottle it in halves as well. It’s sweet, but the acidity matches it, like you would get with a fine German Auslese. Intense is the only word for it, but maybe magical too.

They also make another amazing product, called drinking vinegar. Again, this is a sulphur-free natural product made by the very slow “Orléans” fermentation method, in vinegar casks, taking 17-18 months rather than the mere days it takes to produce a commercial vinegar.

After the apple fermentation is complete the vinegar is macerated with blackcurrant (the full-monty of fruit, leaves and wood) and then, in this particular batch, elderflower. This creates unbelievable levels of complexity in both aroma and flavour. It has a number of uses for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. If you drink apple cider vinegar in a tumbler of water first thing in the morning (as some people do), this would be a perfect artisan substitute. Other flavours are available, as the photo below shows.

I do hope these might appear in the UK at some point, especially as I was on this trip with three buyers from the Ottolenghi chain – we all agreed they’d be perfect for the Ottolenghi delis. I do like artisan ciders, and regularly buy fine grape ciders from “Vins et Vinaigres” in Arbois. I have now found my favourite vinegar. If only I was brave enough to book cabin baggage at the moment!

the Utopia vinegars

Euforia makes something very different. Jan Klimeš harvests birch sap from the forests of the Bohemian Highlands, quite close to Utopia Cider, and they are all good friends. This purportedly health-giving drink is made from the sap, fermented with other fruits etc. I say “fermented”, as this is what I was told, but it is some kind of malolactic and the fermentation produces no alcohol, so these drinks are alcohol free.

At the Basket Press Wines portfolio tasting (see my article of 17 March this year) I tasted three versions, macerated with Blackcurrant, Blackthorn and Earl Grey Tea. The blackcurrant was my favourite. At Autentikfest I tasted several more and loved the sloe, rose hip and orange. The pine version (replete with a large twig in the bottle as they all contain solids from that which they were macerated with) divided opinion. Luca from Sardinia (and Nopi Restaurant) and Michal from Poland (and Ottolenghi Spitalfields) both loved it, but I found it quite intense. I obviously prefer the subtler flavours. That said, these are really unique drinks. They have a touch of Kombucha about them and they feel invigorating, despite being gentle on the palate (and stomach).

Both producers will feature once more next time I buy from Basket Press. They are both really nice young guys making something special.

The festival was great fun and the village was unique, to me at least. I was originally supposed to go to Moravia in 2020 but Covid screwed up my plans. I was so happy to finally get there, and I can guarantee I shall be trying to get back.

In following articles I’ll move on to the frankly exciting natural wines of the region, authentic, artisan, wines made by wonderful characters, a couple of whom would be seen very much in the Overnoy/Ganevat, or maybe Puffeney mould, were they not from a tiny country whose wines are only just now breaking through to an increasing profile and, I predict, great things on the UK market. There’s that initial sign that any truly innovative wine list probably has at least one Czech wine. One or two cutting edge restaurants have a few.

To finish, some pics of the wine cellar entrances to caves built down into the hillside, and some views from the top of the hill.

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Cider, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine and Food, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings, Wine Tourism, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Wine Leaders 1 – Christina Rasmussen

I was flicking through one of those trade magazines, one which always helps to form a disorderly pile beside my bed after a big event like the London Wine Fair. Anyway, this copy had one of those rankings of young people said to be having the greatest influence on the wine trade right now. How they manage to rank fifty people, I don’t know. I only knew two or three of the people listed, and that’s the thing…you see I know a few young people (and not so young) who have had a significant impact on the UK wine trade, especially on independent retail and education recently, and whose influence, and achievements are no less significant. It got me thinking I should write about a few of them. Perhaps over time, I will. I refuse to call them “influencers”, but they are all leaders in taste, so “Leaders” it is.

I thought who better to kick off with than one of the most open, and frankly nicest people you’ll meet on the UK wine scene. This is someone who has shown considerable focus to get where they are, but at the same time someone who is developing quite a few strings to their bow. I’m talking about Christina Rasmussen.

Christina was born in the UK to Danish parents, as it turns out just over a month after my own daughter. Her parents had been in the UK for just a year and they were very keen that their daughter should have Danish as her first language, so that is what she learnt to speak before English. After school, south of London, Christina left home to study French, taking a four-year degree at Exeter University. Perhaps her linguistic abilities, honed by already being fluent in two languages, helped.

Christina told me that when she went off to Exeter, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do after university, maybe journalism or writing of some kind. As part of her four-year course, she needed to spend a year in France and managed to secure an internship in public relations at Louis Latour, in Beaune. It was here that her passion for wine was ignited. After seven months she had to move on, to a role with an organic cosmetics company in Paris, but having been unaware that wine could be a career she had by then made up her mind what she wanted to do. For someone who loves nature it seemed perfect.

Christina photographed by Robin Lee in her Oxfordshire vineyard

On returning to the UK, we are still looking at an inexperienced, but very resourceful Christina. She didn’t really know to what extent wine PR was a thing, but she was soon contacting Westbury Communications, where she bagged another internship in 2014. It was the foot in the door she needed and over the following almost five years she rose from intern to junior executive, and eventually to director.

During this time, she wanted to write more, so she began her own blog, “Vintage of all Kinds”, soon rebranded to christinarasmussen.co. In 2017 she was writing on other blogs, especially citing Doug Wregg (Les Caves de Pyrene), one of wine’s most wonderful human beings, as a great help and mentor. Equally helpful was Sue Harris, the experienced founder and MD of Westbury. She knew how much Christina wanted to write, and in spite of being her boss, she introduced Christina to people at trade mags like The Buyer, where she could cut her teeth in wine journalism.

With a colleague and friend at Westbury’s annual Beaujolais tasting, a region Christina has a special affection for

One day, out of the blue, Christina got a call from Peter Honegger, who along with partner Daniela Pillhofer, runs Newcomer Wines. Newcomer started out in 2013, wow, almost a decade ago, in order to sell low-intervention Austrian wines out of a shipping container shop in Shoreditch Boxpark. I was a fan from early on, and used to visit before each one of the monthly Oddities lunches I used to co-host at nearby Rochelle Canteen. Newcomer Wines soon outgrew those tiny premises and moved to a shop at Dalston Junction, whilst expanding their range into other European regions. They have become one of the most exciting wine shops and trade suppliers in London, worth even the long bus journey east for me, occasionally (more often than not, come to think of it) accompanied by an empty suitcase.

Peter and Daniela had a vision to do something outside their sphere at the time, something more content-based and educational. Eventually, after six months hard planning, Littlewine (littlewine.co) was born in April 2020. Christina came on board as partner and Head of Content, running the site alongside Daniela. If you don’t already know, Littlewine is a subscription-based platform for wine knowledge, but for wine with an organic and ethical base. Members get high quality wine information across the whole wine world, perhaps with a European focus. This can be regional, winemaker-based or wine-specific.

There is a wine club too, introducing members to some rather fine bottles, many under the radar, small production or stars of the future. Recently, the club included Tim Phillips’s Charlie Herring label, bottles which usually sell out on his open days or go on single bottle allocation (now by ballot). Such selections show not only both deep and wide knowledge, but a finger firmly on the pulse of what is happening in natural wine right now. Littlewine also had an online shop, now closed to focus more on the content, but it was one of those places where you could happily shop nowhere else if you could choose only one place to source your wine.

Anyway, having honed her journalistic skills, Christina was well placed to help create this amazing online resource. Anyone who has read her words will know she’s a very good writer, imparting the facts with just enough passion. She likes to tell a story, and like me feels that this is far more interesting than a florid tasting note. I would describe it as writing with soul, and the reason it appeals to me so much is that this is exactly what I aim for. Christina is also an accomplished photographer, and in fact this led her to learn to pilot a drone which has captured some of the most spectacular images on the Littlewine site. I think I first saw it sweep over some beautiful vineyard scenery in Burgundy on her first trip with it.

Even when working at Westbury Comms Christina had done a bit of grape picking, especially In Beaujolais, one of the accounts she handled there. After leaving Westbury she went out to LA to harvest and make wine with Abe Schoener, for his Scholium Project, as well as for the inaugural vintage of the Los Angeles River Wine Co. She counts Abe as one of her dearest friends and mentors, together with Rajat Parr.

Abe having set up an urban winery in LA with assistance from Christina, they travelled and worked together for two months, and with Raj, to discover and understand the old vineyards in Southern California. Currently, from sites in Cucamonga and Temecula, Abe creates the Los Angeles River Wine Co range, and Raj makes his Scythian Wine Co wines.

A love for the Palomino variety came from drinking the Listán Blanco (a synonym) wines of Tenerife. Back in California, Christina discovered a very old-vine blend of Palomino Fino and Muscat (with other varieties added) made by Cline Cellars from the historic Bridgehead Vineyard in Contra Costa County, while tasting with Megan Cline (second-generation of Cline Cellars). It’s called Cline Cellars Farmhouse White Blend. The Palomino vines were planted in 1935, are head-trained, and are only sprayed with sulphur once a year and nothing else. Christina managed to persuade Megan to part with half-a-ton of fruit and the result was 200 bottles, made in LA, sitting now in the UK awaiting labelling before going on sale very soon. This is where I remind Christina that she did swear and cross her heart that I can get one (honest!).

In the Bridgehead Vineyard, Contra Costa, California

In 2020 Christina made new friends, picking and helping make wine at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. Christina met Jeremy Seysses’s wife, Diana, back in 2017, when profiling her Snowdon Vineyards in Napa for The Buyer. The Seysses not only extended a very warm welcome in Burgundy, leading to an ongoing close friendship with Jeremy and Diana, but they also gave her more confidence in the wines she had made herself back in California in 2019, and indeed later inspiration for her own vineyard’s Pinot and Chardonnay vine plantings in Oxfordshire (see below). Christina and I share another of those odd skills which sometimes come up in one of those “tell us something we don’t know” questions: we both learnt to drive a forklift truck. I learnt in the early 90s, and Jeremy taught Christina the basics in Bourgogne.

Littlewine goes from strength to strength, but Christina has another project. I’m not sure hobby would be the right way to describe it, being a bit more serious than that word suggests – a vineyard. It’s on land owned by her sister between Oxford and Swindon. One would think its location is marginal, yet rainfall levels mirror the Côte d’Or. The terroir is based on Cotswold Brash, a mix of sandy clay and gravel, and soil samples show limestone strata half-to-one-metre down.

Working with a well-known South of France vine nursery, Lilian Bérillon (www.lilian-berillon.fr ) Christina has planted a thousand Pinot Noir vines, 600 Chardonnay, 600 Savagnin, 400 Gamay, 444 Trousseau, 50 Pineau d’Aunis, and 20 Mondeuse, on one larger and two smaller sites. All of the vines were propagated by massale selection. You can see Christina’s wine tastes in those choices, for sure. It’s now a matter of tending the young vines during the dry summer months and protecting them from hungry mammals.

Whilst she’s an advocate of minimum intervention and regenerative farming, always deeply knowledgeable about soil ecosystems, it has nevertheless been necessary, manually of course, to minimise competition directly around the vine saplings themselves (especially hand-plucking the dandelions which have been so profuse seemingly everywhere this year). Otherwise, this is very much a place where nature is left to do its own thing. So far, Christina has just sprayed with a horsetail ferment and a “tea” which she brewed herself. No synthetic inputs here.

All of this is already a massive achievement for someone hardly into their thirties. Somehow Christina manages to find time for her other passions: photography, yoga, music (like me, she’s a drummer) and (yes) houseplants (something of an obsession she says). Certainly, there is one other thing which surpasses all of these, a love for (and I would say empathy with) animals.

No longer a lizard owner, Christina does still have her chinchilla. Then there are two Shetland ponies (one a rescue pony), and a rescue horse kept at her sister’s place. I think she would certainly keep a dog were it not for the massive amount of traveling she does (her Instagram account suggests she rarely stays still for more than a few days). I am absolutely certain that we shall hear a lot more from Christina Rasmussen over the next decade or two. Her impact on the wine scene has already been immensely positive.

I asked Christina, at the end of our chat, if she could list her favourite wines. Each one of these is full of meaning to a deeply thoughtful wine obsessive (I certainly know one when I see one). These are Christina’s special wines in her own words.

“M……. 14 – Michel Grisard ‘Priez Saint Christophe’ (Domaine Prieuré Saint-Christophe)

The last vintage of iconic grower Michel Grisard, who preserved the Mondeuse grape variety and put it firmly back on the map for fine wine. This is one of the most complex wines I’ve ever had, full of pepper yet soft as silk. He retired with a bang! 

Les Granges Pâquenesses La Pierre Savagnin 2016

Loreline Laborde creates wines that bring a tear to my eye (of the good kind). They are invigorating and full of soul, and her Savagnin cuvées inspired me to plant Savagnin myself in the UK. 

Domaine des Miroirs Ja-Nai 2016

Doug Wregg was so kind to share this with me. It is light as a feather; one of the gentlest wines I have ever tried. This little Jura domaine is simply magical — pure in both philosophy and in wine. 

The Sadie Family Wines T’Voetpad 2016 

It’s hard to express what Eben Sadie has done for our wine world; not only in terms of creating delicious wine, but also for safeguarding old vines, farming in a sensitive and planet-friendly manner, and planting for the future. This bottle captures all of his energy and effort. 

Dard et Ribo Saint-Joseph Blanc Les Opateyres 2017

Meeting René-Jean Dard and François Ribo and profiling their domaine for LITTLEWINE was one of the highlights of my career. This duo creates some of the most energetic and vibrant wines of the Northern Rhône, and every time I drink them I beam from ear to ear.  

Werlitsch Ex Vero II 2006 

This sits firmly on my desert island list. I simply cannot put this wine into words except Dagueneau meets Raveneau and together they have a Styrian love child. 

Finally, I must add that the many wines I have been fortunate to taste and drink made by Domaine Dujac, Rajat Parr (in particular Phelan Farm, his new venture) and Abe Schoener (Scholium Project and Los Angeles River Wine Co) have all moved me immeasurably. Drinking, learning and speaking about wines made by friends and mentors enables a deeper understanding of not just wine, but also people — how we think and how we see the world. Great wine sparks and solidifies great friendships. 

With Abe and Raj, two of the catalysts for Christina’s own winemaking journey

Thanks Christina, for finding time to meet up and chat with me, and thank you for sharing some of the wines which have had the greatest impact on you. Like you, I believe a great bottle of wine can change the way we think about so many things, and can have a genuine effect on the way we feel at the time. Great wine can have lasting impact, and even improve our lives on a certain level.

Posted in Californian Wine, Natural Wine, Viticulture, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Heroes, Wine Writing, Women in Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Journey Through the Past to get Lost in a Field

Back at the end of May I was wandering around the Tobacco Dock venue for the Real Wine Fair and I happened to spy Tim Wildman. I have been a fan of his Aussie Petnats for ages, so I thought I’d head over, say hi and probably taste some new vintage Piggy Pop! and Astro Bunny. What I saw instead was a rather fancy bottle with a lovely bright label (as you’d expect from design-savvy Tim). I was about to get acquainted with his latest “Lost Vineyard” project.

Back in the day (a long time back in the day), before any sane wine journalists were hyping English Wine, it didn’t really have a sparkling focus. Almost all of the wine from my home country was white, lowish in alcohol and quite acidic. In many cases the best compliment you could come up with was that they might be refreshing on a hot day…in five years’ time. Okay, they weren’t that bad, well not all of them. The acidity didn’t really make them interchangeable with Gros Plant for a cheap Kir because they were usually made with grape varieties of mostly Germanic origin, usually crossings, usually floral by nature. And as for cheap, production costs meant they were not…although the prices back then would seem so to contemporary consumers.

Tim’s wine looks back to a time when varieties like Gutenborner, Ehrenfelser, Huxelrebe, Madeleine Angevine, Reichensteiner, Schönburger, Bacchus and Seyval Blanc ruled in an English vineyard. Anything, in fact, which didn’t require much sun to ripen and could cope with a bit of fungal disease. Tim’s Lost Vineyards are in fact planted with such varieties, which with a few notable exceptions (especially Peter Hall’s sparkling Seyval Blancs from Breaky Bottom in Sussex) have well and truly fallen out of fashion, trampled in the march to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.

The wine in question is called Frolic. It is a blend of twenty-one heritage varieties sourced from eight lost vineyards in seven English and Welsh counties, vineyards which no longer make commercial wines, at least from these varieties. Tim is rightly tight-lipped as to exact sources – he wants to keep making wine from them. Madeleine Angevine, once one of the most popular varieties in the UK due to its tolerance of cold weather, makes up around 70% of the blend. It also includes Reichensteiner, Schönburger, Seibel, and other red varieties such as Triomphe (used to great effect at Ancre Hill in a red petnat), Rondo and Cabernet Noir.

Tim’s wine, of which you will have to wait until one of my “Recent Wines” articles to read how it tastes, tied in nicely with something I found this morning whilst packing my enormous wine library for our imminent house move. Back in the second half of the 1980s, as a newly interested wine lover of three or four years and trying to wean myself off Mouton Cadet, I went to the Sunday Times Wine Club’s London Wine Fair, and began to collect a series of booklets which came weekly in that newspaper.

Four pages on English Wine in the final (sixth) part of a series edited by a presumably very young Joanna Simon paints a very different picture of the English wine scene back in the 1980s (I’ve dated, by a process of deduction, the booklet to either late 1987 or early 1988). The introduction stresses the poor weather, but equally extols the high winemaking standards. Perhaps back then a degree of wishful thinking (and a degree or two too little to ripen the grapes very often, although among the “hobbyists” we did have some exceptional winemaking talent who helped the industry take off).

Back then, Englishness was expressed in terms of floral bouquets and a lot of elderflower references, the codial doubtless striking a familiar note for potential consumers. The taste often consisted of tart fruit (grapefruit and especially gooseberry, always a classic note as well for unripe Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley back then, but also very “English”…I grew up on gooseberry tart and gooseberry fool). In those days a lot was made of the fact that Roman and Medieval Britain had a “thriving” vineyard. Most modern writers (Oz Clarke, Stephen Skelton) would probably stress the “thriving” a bit less today.

From today’s perspective, having just had some of the hottest days on record in Southern England, the last big heatwave of 1976 gets a mention, though I’m not sure it had a great specific impact on the long-term prospects for English wine, except to give hope to many downcast grape growers. The system for taxing winemaking and wine was equally a focus back then, with complaints that the young industry was being hindered by unfair tax levels. Plus ça change!

Perhaps one of the most surprising (or not) statistics was how little land was planted with vines back them: just 1,200 acres (not hectares, acres), farmed by between 500-to-600 growers. Figures from June this year put us at over 8,000 acres (around 3,500 hectares). This is a pretty good increase, although to put this in context, Spain (with the largest planting) has more than 960,000 ha. We are still tiny. For the record, France has around 797,000 ha and China 781,000 ha (Source: State of the World Vitivinicultural Sector in 2020, pub 04/2021).

A good few of the vineyards of England followed the tradition set in motion by the father of English wine, Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones. His original vineyard at Hambledon, planted in the 1950s, was effectively a hobby. Whilst commercial vineyards were to follow, certainly from the 1970s, the hobbyists still had a profile, as illustrated by the fact that among those mentioned in the booklet, Beaulieu Vineyard in Hampshire, home of Lord Montague, gets a few lines for their “first-class rosé” made, in a “lighter, fruitier, Provence style” from Seibel. Albert Seibel crossed a number of European varieties with American grapes in the 1950s. The idea was to produce fruit with increased disease resistance. In theory such hybrid varieties are now banned within the EU, though they do crop up in some interesting places, hidden from the authorities.

Lamberhurst, owned by Sir Kenneth McAlpine, was one of the bigger names in English wine in the 1980s. Stephen Skelton ran it between 1988-1991. Karl-Heinz Johner, as winemaker, had a seminal influence on English wine.

Look at the photo of the map and you will see a good number of vineyards you might not have heard of. Highwaymans, Paxton Crest, Croffta, Chalk Hill and Castle Vineyard are all off my radar. I’ll probably find out how many are still going soon as I’m about to begin to read Ed Dallimore’s new “The Vineyards of Britain”. A casual flick through threw out some names I didn’t previously know.

What is maybe more telling is what isn’t on that map. Think of today’s stars, England and Wales’s best-known vineyards, certainly among connoisseurs, and you won’t find many. Back then, Kent seemed the county of choice. The West Country is bare, although to be fair a lot of vineyards in the West of England make good use today of the East of England’s sunshine to ship grapes over. Nothing wrong with that of course, if the results are good. Essex, to a degree, might be the unsung county of English wine. Kentish Pinot Noir was once a euphemism for a joke of a wine among some people I know, but not today. A good example of east-west traffic is Lyme Bay’s award-winning Pinot which I praised after tasting at the London Wine Fair in June this year. It’s fruit source is a secret, but it is somewhere along the River Crouch in Essex.

For me, nostalgia is nothing to be embarrassed by. I’m happy to try a Bacchus from Lyme Bay here, or a Madeleine Angevine from Danebury. Of course, these wines are not in the same league as our finest sparkling wines, but it’s a bit like listening to the music of my youth for me. A reminder of a different time, a journey through the past (to steal from Neil Young).

Tim Wildman’s “Lost in a Field Frolic Petnat” costs around £32-33/bottle and has been distributed mostly to savvy independent retailers and some restaurants. Although many got small allocations and will have sold out, I know that as of yesterday the new and wonderfully named wine shop on the South Coast, “Bottle of Hastings”, had more than a case of bottles left, and more magnums than are healthy. I got my restricted access single bottle from Seven Cellars in Brighton, whose parsimonious policy may mean some might be left (it was just over a week ago). I also saw Tim had been distributing in London, including (inter alia) to the fairly new wine shop “Bedford Street Wines” in Covent Garden.

Posted in Artisan Wines, English Wine, Grape Varieties, Petnat, Rosé, Sparkling Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines, Off-Topic

Why off-topic? My “Recent Wines” articles are almost exclusively made up of wines drunk at home, and the ten wines here were drunk on two evenings last week whilst staying with friends in the New Forest. But perhaps “off-topic” also because some of the wines are a little outside what I’m normally known for drinking. In case you were wondering, as far as I know, no one out of the four of us felt even slightly the worse for wear. I’ll keep the notes for most of the wines short.

“LA BUBULLE À JEANNOT MOUSSEUX BRUT NATURE, ANNE & JEAN-FRANÇOIS GANEVAT (Jura, France)

This wine is something of an enigma. Our friend got it in a case of odd Jura wines from Les Caves de Pyrene and it has no vintage info, just a code (1705B). Vaguely pink in colour it tasted aged, even suggestive of hints of Vin Jaune in its hazelnut aromas. But it’s apparently an Ancestral Method sparkler made from a blend of Gamay and Poulsard, so bearing a little resemblance to a Bugey-Cerdon. The grapes apparently come from the Jura region, but this is by no means certain with the A&J-F negoce wines. Certainly delicious. I’ve seen a suggestion that this may cost around £32 if you can find it. If true, that would be well worth pursuing.

FRÜBURGUNDER 2019, DAVID CROSSLEY (Sussex, UK)

I’m rather proud of this. My Frühburgunder (aka Pinot Noir Précose) usually comes out somewhere in the pink spectrum but 2019 gave us a proper red wine. Unfiltered, but having stood up for a good while 80% of the bottle poured a beautiful luminous red. Scents of cherry and good fruit on the palate. I suspect it may not be a lot higher than 10% abv, though I might be wrong. I also think that it did need a couple of years for the acids to soften…but they have. Definitely the best wine I’ve made so far. 2020 was lost to bacterial spoilage. The 2021 went into bottle only a month ago. Not commercially available. Nothing added (and I promise I washed my feet in water before treading the grapes).

CASOT DES MAILLOLES ROSÉ DE ZAZA XX (Roussillon, France)

This was a case of once more trusting a recommendation from a retailer. I’d popped in to London’s Antidote Wine Bar to pick up some Gut Oggau, but their pink wine hadn’t yet arrived. This was in fact very highly recommended indeed as a replacement, so I thought I’d try one. It was definitely all it was cracked up to be and more.

It’s a Vin de France made from fruit grown somewhere near Banyuls, better known for its fortified wines and powerful AOC reds from next door Collioure, and I’m not aware that rosé wine can be made under the Banyuls, or even Collioure, appellations. The vintage is 2020 and the grape mix is mainly Syrah, with just a splash of Marsanne. It’s a beautiful, orange-tinged, darker-coloured rosé which in some ways brought to mind that much under rated appellation over in the southern Rhône, Tavel. The lasting impression was of vibrancy, yet with a well-disguised 13% abv, it was perfect with food, in this case roasted aubergine with a tomato-based marinade.

TROUSSEAU “LE GINGLET” 2016, Philippe Bornard (Jura, France)

Philippe’s son, Tony, has taken over winemaking at the domaine now, but this wine was made by Philippe, who is still based in Pupillin. I’ve had a number of bottles of Le Ginglet 2016, some bottled under the Vin de France designation and some under the Arbois-Pupillin Appellation. I’m not entirely sure why, but this is under the latter appellation.

Cherry red, fruity and edgy, with genuine verve. There’s still lots of fruit but I would probably judge this 2016 worth drinking soon. This came via Les Caves de Pyrene.

VIN JAUNE 2011, DOMAINE DES BODINES (Jura, France)

On my last visit to Domaine des Bodines in December 2018 I was able to taste Emilie and Alexis’s first Vin Jaune. I was able (allowed) to purchase one bottle, so that got tucked away safely in my cellar. Our friends are also Jura visitors and they managed to pick this up retail in Arbois some time later (2019?), and rather kindly if unexpectedly opened it.

When I tasted this first vintage of Bodines VJ I wrote at the time that this could be the wine to really establish their reputation, although I’m glad to say that reputation has flourished in the interim, based on their other wines. This registers 14.5% abv, yet is so fresh and lively for a VJ. It’s definitely one of those Vin Jaunes you can drink early, and it might cause me to change my mind about when to drink my bottle. There’s no hurry at all, of course, and having just one bottle, I can see I might be reticent to part with it just yet. Fantastic. As far as I know, not imported, though Les Caves have had a few Bodines wines from time to time.

PIGGY POP PETNAT 2021, TIM WILDMAN (Various Regions, South Australia)

Tim Wildman has literally just released his first petnat made from English vineyards, but along with Astro Bunny, Piggy Pop is part of his long-running offering made from grapes sourced in South Australia. Tim is both an English MW and a devotee and master of the Ancestral Method, having made wine using this technique for a decade now.

We drank this on a spit of land close to Hurst Castle, inaccessible on foot, after a trip out in a rib (rigid inflatable boat to land lubbers). On the way back to Keyhaven we saw the local resident seal. Not a late afternoon easy to better.

Piggy Pop is a multi-varietal, multi-region, blend of Nero d’Avola and Mataro from McLaren Vale, Zibibbo from Riverland (where Brad Hickey also sources Zibibbo for his superb Brash Higgins amphora version), plus Fiano and Arneis from the Adelaide Hills. The result is for my money one of the best Aussie petnats on the market. Tim states his aim to make frivolous wines from serious grape varieties which you can “quaff with impunity”. Both of the two Aussies mentioned fulfil that role, and “Piggy” is a gloriously fun-packed frothy pink fizz. I’ve also just grabbed a bottle of the English version, “Lost in a Field”, which I tasted with Tim at Real Wine back in May.

Piggy Pop and Astro Bunny cost £26.80 from anyone who Indigo Wines distributes to, and also The Sourcing Table (online or from their new shop in Peckham). Lost in a Field, with its bright label and statement glass bottle, is a little more expensive, into the thirties, but the nature of the project, resurrecting very old English patches of vines mostly planted more than forty years ago with “Germanic” varieties, has a high-cost base.

CHAMPAGNE MICHEL GONET BLANC DE BLANCS GRAND CRU 2012 (Champagne, France)

Gonet is based on the Côte des Blancs at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. As a Blanc de Blancs this 2012 vintage wine is made from Chardonnay. Dosed as Extra Brut (2g/l) it was mis en cave in April 2013 and disgorged in April 2021, so it has also seen an extra year of post-disgorgement ageing. Rounded, lemony, bready with some autolytic character balancing the freshness, it is still very much on its fruit. But this costs only £45 (The Solent Cellar, Lymington), and I have to say at that price it is something of a bargain. Long lees ageing, a vintage wine, a prime location for the fruit…all for the price of a non-vintage wine from many of the larger Champagne Houses. It will age further, and it is very good.

BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ 2019, BALLOT-MILLOT (Bourgogne, France)

This wine comes from a long-standing producer based in Meursault, where they are better known as producers of that village’s wine. Charles Ballot runs the domaine today, the domaine name coming from the unification of both his parents’ vine holdings when they got married.

Charles’s Aligoté comes from 50-year-old vines, grown under a strict (but uncertified) organic regime which includes the use of no herbicides and minimal other approved treatments. The wine is aged in oak and even after a relatively short period of bottle age has softened way more than you’d expect from Aligoté, even perhaps if you have been assiduously following this grape’s renaissance in the region. It’s almost chalky in its soft minerality. Imported by Thorman Hunt, this again came from The Solent Cellar in Lymington. £18.99. I quite fancy trying the domaine’s Meursault now (around £50, I think).

CHÂTEAU HAUT-BAILLY 1999, PESSAC-LÉOGNAN (Bordeaux, France)

I’m no fundamentalist, and whilst these days I prefer to drink more natural wines, I still have classic wines in my cellar. Everyone outside the rarefied collector clique has been more than happy to slag off Bordeaux for the past decade. High alcohol, Parkerisation, pricing for oligarchs, snooty owners and many other sins have been heaped on the Bordelais, some criticisms quite justified. Yet…yet…when you drink a classic.

Haut-Bailly is what we used to call old school Graves. A wine of lowish alcohol, fruit for sure, but a savoury wine in its essence, built for the job of accompanying food (for most people, let’s face it, for accompanying a large slab of dead cow).

What we have here is a wine grown on a classic terroir consisting of sandy gravels just to the south of the city of Bordeaux. The blend is probably around 60-65% Cabernet Sauvignon with around a quarter Merlot and a small but significant 10% of Petit Verdot. Current wines see around 50% new oak, but I suspect this was less back in the late 1990s.

This is one of my very favourite Bordeaux Châteaux, one I’ve drunk from many different vintages. It was also, sadly, the last bottle of Haut-Bailly I owned. It has a seemingly infinite ability to age when stored in a cool, dark, place. The result is always savoury, though I won’t deny there is blackcurrant fruit here still. It has an earthy side, which I find so much more attractive than the more modern fruit bombs from the wider region I’m less enamoured with. The alcohol is listed as 12.5%, which, whilst not putting it among the cohorts of old 11% Graves, certainly makes it fit for purpose: the dinner table rather than the tasting bench.

You might be able to source some even today, but it will be pushing £100/bottle. I suspect I bought this in the early days of The Sampler in London, so not on release, but I’ve had it quite a long time. I think if it has been safely stored, even for £80-100 you’ll be getting a lot of pleasure if you like wines like this.

CAREMA 2016 (Black Label), FERRANDO (Piemonte, Italy)

Carema is a small appellation in Northern Piemonte. It’s so far north in fact that the next stop for vineyards is Aosta’s Donnaz DOC. It has always had a reputation, largely kept alive by one private producer, Luigi Ferrando, whose sons are keeping the flame very much going (as well as an excellent co-operative in the region whose wines are quite easy to find in the UK). Now the Ferrando wines are starting to garner interest among aficionados of Barolo and Barbaresco, and these wines ain’t cheap.

This is old vine Nebbiolo (sometimes called Picutener up here). Grown at altitude, the wines are perhaps lighter than their southern cousins, but they major on scent (cherry and rose petal) and a nice minerality. I think “ethereal” may be a better adjective than “lighter”. If you expect less ripeness, think again. The 2016 vintage was near perfect, with a long, slow, ripening season without too much heat and little by way of rain. The resulting wine is certainly stately, but not constrained. This means that it will keep like any other great Nebbilo, but it has the kind of delicacy, and lack of big tannins, which make it drinkable now. £80 (ouch!), but it is a very fine Nebbiolo, again from The Solent Cellar.

Ooh, and we drank this as well…!

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Recent Wines June 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 2 of June’s “Recent Wines” is, as a half-dozen, perhaps, almost as diverse as it can be, although I’m sure someone will be there to shoot down that statement with regard to origin (no Americans, Africans or Antipodeans). I mean in regard to grape varieties and flavour. There are wines from Hampshire, Alsace, Roussillon, Yamanashi, Eger and the Vaud. That’s quite diverse!

WILD ROSE 2017, BLACK CHALK (Hampshire, UK)

Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver continue to take Black Chalk forward in leaps and bounds. Having established this estate as a boutique winery to be reckoned with from the off, they continue to improve, year-on-year, from an impressive beginning. Their base, including a new winery and tasting room, is close to Hampshire’s Test Valley, near Andover and not far from Winchester. It’s a part of the county which is proving exceptional for English Sparkling Wine.

Of the two wines from this vintage, Wild Rose is my favourite, which is not in any way to disparage the white version, Classic Cuvée. As a sparkling Rosé it contains all three classic “Champagne” varieties, including Chardonnay, but it majors on red fruits: elegant, perfumed raspberry and strawberry with a vibrancy rarely surpassed by rivals. The palate tastes clean and zippy, fresh and fine. An extra year in bottle hasn’t taken away the fruit-driven element which appeals so much to my palate, but one might say it seems more assured.

Winner of a Gold Medal at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards 2019, it is one of the best English sparkling rosé wines currently on the market, but it is increasingly hard to source as most retailers have sold out of the 2017. Mine came from The Solent Cellar. UK agent is Graft Wine. The 2018 Wild Rose is available via Black Chalk’s web site (£40). The “Classic” is £35.

SI ROSE 18-19-20, CHRISTIAN BINNER (Alsace, France)

“Rose” not “Rosé”, this bottle from Christian Binner of Ammerschwihr is a skin contact wine blended from three vintage (above). The blend is complex. The grapes are Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris in the proportion 65:35. The Bildstoeklé lieu-dit provides much of the blend along with some of Binner’s Grand Cru sites. The 2020 Bildstoeklé element saw an eight-day maceration on skins, whilst the 10% added from the Grand Crus saw a longer two-months on skins. These together made up around 70% of the final blend, the remaining 30% coming from a perpetual reserve of the 2018 and 2019 vintages. There were zero additives, which includes no sulphur, and the seal is a glass stopper.

Bottling was in May 2021, so this has rested for a year before opening. Some expressed surprise at this, but skin contact wines tend to age well in my experience, and my cellar seems cool enough for zero sulphur bottles as far as I can tell. On opening you notice this wine is slightly cloudy and a lovely colour evoking both cherry wood and bronze. It smells unmistakably of rose petals, peach and apricot. The palate is initially so smooth you could confuse it with fruit juice, though best not to (the abv is 14%). The wine is rich, but there is a textured dryness to the finish.

I need to choose my words carefully, because I plan to limit myself to three in order to describe this. Sensational, profound and unique fit well. I can’t recall what I paid for this, nor whether it came from Les Caves de Pyrene (Binner’s UK agent) or Littlewine. I can only say that if you haven’t tried it, track some down. As far as Alsace is concerned, if you are not yet on board, jump up.

LE SOULA BLANC 2016, IGT CÔTES CATALANES (Roussillon, France)

Le Soula was founded in 2001, a partnership between Roy Richards and Mark Walford, already working in the region, and Gérard Gauby, whose wines made near Calce in the Agly Valley, headed by his famous “Muntada”, were already vying to be top of the pile for the emerging Roussillon new wave since the early 1990s. The trio were joined in 2008 by Gérald Stanley, who now manages the vineyard.

Le Soula Blanc is one of the most interesting wines from this wild and rugged part of France, namely the Fenouillèdes, above the Agly Valley on the edge of the Pyrenees. A little over twenty hectares are under vine, on rocky granite between 350 and 600 masl. The climate switches from hot sun to cold rain in a moment, as any similar mountain region can.

The grape variety making up most of the blend (49%) is, most unusually for the region, Sauvignon Blanc. But this is a terroir wine, and it seems to express so perfectly this wild landscape despite Saivignon Blanc’s cool climate credentials. The remainder of the blend is made up of Vermentino (23%), Grenache Blanc (14%), Macabeu (12%) plus 2% others (allegedly a little Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne and Malvoisie).

This 2016 vintage was the first made by new winemaker, Wendy Paillé. Farming and winemaking are both biodynamic. The wine, as one would expect, is herb-scented, I think clearly fennel, with honey and quite intense minerality on the palate, along with yellow fruits and pear. This natural wine is refreshing, but at the same time highly nuanced and increasingly complex as it is allowed to warm in the glass (don’t be tempted to serve it too cold). Exceptional.

£35 is actually a bit of a bargain for a wine of this quality with a bit of bottle age. My wife got me this as a present from the Berry Brothers & Rudd shop on Pall Mall. A brilliant choice.

KOSHU GRIS DE GRIS 2020, FUEFUKI DISTRICT, CHATEAU MERCIAN (Yamanashi, Japan)

Château Mercian is one of a couple of Japanese wine producers who first exported to the UK. Yamanashi is around an hour west of Tokyo and just north of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji. It is far from being the only place making quality wine in the country, but it is certainly the best-known outside of Japan, and few would argue it is the most developed for viticulture. Exactly the same might be said of Mercian itself, Japan’s oldest commercial wine company, now (since 2007) part of the Kirin group (see Anthony Rose, Sake and the Wines of Japan, Infinite Ideas 2018, pp274ff).

Koshu is Japan’s best known autochthonous grape variety. It has a pink bloom to the skin but can be made in a number of styles, from white wine to a kind of white/rosé hybrid. The grape’s thick skin acts as protection in the Japanese climate, as do the wonderful paper “hats” growers use to protect the bunches from the inevitable harvest rains. The vines are also usually grown on pergolas to raise them above the humidity of the soil and to allow breezes to help keep the grapes disease free.

Apparently (Rose, p263) Jancis Robinson used the phrase “zen-like purity” in describing Koshu. Whether this was genuine praise, or faint praise for a variety which can produce quite dilute wines, I don’t know?  I would still argue that you really should try it. Koshu is rarely dilute now, or at least those which are selected by overseas buyers aren’t, and it has become more than a mere novelty.

The wine in question here is a Koshu “Gris de Gris”, faintly pink in colour, though more yellow-gold in some lights, because it has seen some skin contact. This also gives the wine a bit of tannic structure. The aromatics are soft apple compote with a kind of candyfloss texture. I did say it is unique. What to drink it with? Anthony Rose attended a pairing event in London where it went well with fish cake, langoustine and suckling pig. I have paired it with sushi and, on this occasion, with a vegan version of Katsu Curry (using crumbed seitan with sweet potato and edamame). I’m guessing a variety of fish and seafood would also work well.

I should add that this cuvée is one of Mercian’s entry-level wines. The more expensive cuvées are a step up in quality, but this is the perfect place to dip your toe in. £21.50 from The Good Wine Shop (Kew).

CSERESZNYEÉRÉS 2018, HEGYI-KALÓ (Eger, Hungary)

I’ve known the wines made by this young couple in Hungary’s once famous Eger region for quite a number of years and my positive feelings for their wines are no doubt in part down to how much I liked them when many of us met Julia at a tasting at Winemakers Club in 2017. Julia has a wine PhD and Adam is head of wine research at Eger University. They have a mixed farm, with pigs and sheep alongside the vines, making wine very much according to natural principles. They use only free-run juice and no skin contact.

This is their Rosé, which I had not drunk for a long time (since the 2014 vintage) but remembered equally fondly. The grape variety is one you don’t come across often, Medina. It is apparently more commonly planted in Poland, where it is noted for its thick, disease-resistant, red skin. The deep pigment allows for a pink wine to be made without extra maceration. Only old barrels and older wooden casks are used for ageing/fermentation. The terroir is volcanic, which adds a ferrous edge to what is a subtly-flavoured wine. Back in 2017 I described it as tasting a little like a red fruit tea. This bottle was definitely floral and fruity.

I’d recommend this for anyone seeking out Rosé wines made a little differently. It has a beautiful orange-tinged pink colour and the edge you’d expect to find in volcanic wines. I bought this bottle from Solent Cellar (no longer in stock). Julia and Adam still export through Winemakers Club in the UK, but whilst they have other wines of theirs, I can’t see this Rosé currently listed. But do look out for it.

MONT-SUR-ROLLE GRAND CRU 2020, DOMAINE DE MAISON BLANCHE (Vaud, Switzerland)

I’ve written about this wine before, and indeed this producer’s sparkling demi-sec, but I think I can get away with plugging the 2020 vintage of the still wine because it illustrates the fact that Swiss wine is not always as expensive as you imagine.

Mont-sur-Rolle is an appellation in Switzerland’s Vaud region, in the part of the vignoble close to Geneva known as La Côte. To the east of Lausanne, we have Lavaux, with its steep, terraced, UNESCO designated vineyards. La Côte is west of that city, and forms one almost contiguous slope down to Lac Léman. Generally, these wines have been ignored outside of Switzerland, especially as the main local variety, Chasselas, is seemingly forever denigrated by Anglo-Saxons. Mind you, calling a wine like this by the misnomer of “Grand Cru” doesn’t help.

Yves and Antoine de Mestral are in charge of this historic estate dating back to the 13th Century (1258), and in the same family since the 1520s. They are adept at making something interesting out of Chasselas, as their sparkling wine (reviewed 07/02/2022) attests. They work on heavier topsoils, which help give this wine just a touch more weight and body than some examples. The variety retains some of its best traits on these terroirs: verve and herbal essence. It is made cleanly, without oak, aiming for freshness above all.

The result is a light-ish white wine (12% abv) which tingles on the tongue with a little tension. Herbal, for sure, there’s also a floral element (camomile) and pear. It might not be the finest Chasselas in Switzerland but there’s a reason it is well distributed among retailers who take stock from specialist importer Alpine Wines. This is, aside from its attractive, old-fashioned style of label, because it’s a good, accessible, version of a unique Swiss wine style, one made for cheese and lighter fish dishes along with many vegetarian possibilities, and it only costs £22.99. Don’t dismiss it. Approach it on its own terms. In my case, I find well made Chasselas has a certain understated appeal…rather like La Côte when you get to know its villages.

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