Recent Wines October 2021 (Part 3) #theglouthatbindsus

This is the last part of my resume of interesting wines drunk during October. This half-dozen bottles, all gems in their own way, travels around a fairly small part of Europe, with one exception, but they are all from different countries. We travel to Alsace (one of the coolest wines of the year), Slovenia, Tenerife (Spain’s Canary Isles), Burgenland (don’t I always), Baden and Piemonte.

RED Z’EPFIG VIN DE FRANCE [2019], LAMBERT SPIELMANN (Alsace, France)

My first ever trip to Alsace was rather a long time ago, but we stayed in Itterswiller, only just up the road from Epfig. It’s a beautiful part of Alsace, and the villages here and to the north (Andlau and Mittelbergheim, to which we walked on that trip) are now the location for some of the whole region’s most exciting wine. Epfig was a bit of a backwater, except that it was, and is, the home of the Ostertag family.

Now, Epfig has a new wine name. Lambert is not from a wine family, so he didn’t inherit vines. He’s put together around two-and-a-half-hectares whilst at the same time doing what most young people do in the region, picking up work with more established names who can pay him a wage whilst teaching him along the way. As a musician as well as vigneron, he not only makes superb wines which are already garnering plaudits, he’s adorning the bottles with striking labels which reflect his wide musical tastes (see “This is Muska”, Recent Wines January 2021, Part 1).

Lambert was lucky to purchase vines which had already been farmed organically for two decades. This allows him to follow his Slow Wine and biodynamic methods using zero intervention where possible. Having vines over a large number of sites and different terrains does allow him both diversity of fruit, and a hedge against climatic threats like frost, hail and rot.

Red Z’Epfig is a homage to Led Zeppelin. I think, however, what goes for the label does not necessarily go for the wine, because although this red weighs in at 13.5% abv, it isn’t “heavy”. Unusually, for red wine from Alsace, this is only 50% Pinot Noir (off limestone), the other half of the blend being made up from the pink-skinned Pinot Gris, off clay. The grapes all see a two-week whole bunch fermentation followed by nine months in old wood.

The wine is gorgeously scented with red fruits. The palate echoes red fruits with a spicy finish and a mineral texture despite the richness (and alcohol). That alcohol is well hidden by this evidently very good winemaker’s lightness of touch. It’s more “fruity and zippy” than heavy metal and Zeppy.

Imported by Tutto Wines. They generally place a few of the Spielmann wines in their online public shop, Tutto a Casa. It can be hit and miss as to what’s there (rarely the whole range), but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see this one when looking the other day. However, it’s always worth contacting Tutto. This merchant has some stunningly good producers in their portfolio.

RENSKI RIZLING “DOLIUM”, ZORJAN (Tinjka Gora, Slovenia)

Božidar Zorjan is perhaps one of the great mystics of wine. His whole philosophy and the way this interacts with his farming (not just winemaking) is fascinating. A lot of cosmology is involved but that’s not the half of it. There’s an excellent post on the Les Caves de Pyrene web site from 13 August 2018 which is far too long to paraphrase or quote from here, but I would recommend it if you have time (the link is here). He is one of the few producers I know, for example, to ban mobile phones in the winery. He farms with his wife, Marija, in the Stajerska region of the part of Styria which lies within Northern Slovenia (the greater part of Styria/Steiermark being within Southern Austria).

Božidar uses a whole selection of different vessels in which to ferment and age his wines, but those under the Dolium label all see clay qvevri for fermentation. These clay vessels used to be outside, under the stars, buried in the vineyard, although it might have been Simon Woolf who told me he’s since brought them indoors (?).

This is the second “Dolium” I’ve drunk. The first, way back in December 2019, was made from Muscat Ottonel. This wine is made from Renski Rizling. The name kind of gives it away that this is classic Rhine Riesling, as opposed to Laski-Rizling, or Welschriesling as it is better known in Austria.

The bouquet unfurls slowly on opening but it’s worth waiting for the herbs, orange and grapefruit citrus and apricot which follow. The colour is a rather spectacular orange-bronze in the glass. The palate is orange and apricot, smooth and rich. Long, complex, remarkable (it truly is special). I don’t know the vintage, but there’s a Lot Number, L01/900. Perhaps someone out there knows?

Les Caves de Pyrene is the lucky importer.

TÁGANAN TINTO 2018, ENVÍNATE (Tenerife, Canary Is., Spain)

The four young people who formed Envínate after graduating from university together have joint projects in several parts of Spain, but I think their work on Tenerife is what they are currently best known for. One of the four, Roberto Santana, is from the Canary Isles and in fact made wine for the other great producer on the island, Suertes del Marqués, so perhaps it was natural that they explored the viticulture there. They did so at just the right time, with the wines of Tenerife literally bursting onto the Spanish, and international, wine scene on the back of the natural wine movement.

Envínate make a number of wines on Tenerife, but Táganan comes from one of the wildest and most inaccessible parts of the island. Anaga is a small region up in the northeast, and Táganana is a small village up in the mountains, very difficult to get to. The great thing about the vines here is that phylloxera didn’t even get a sniff of the place, so all the vines are ancient, and on their own roots. The slopes, at over 300 masl, are steep but the soils are sandy volcanic bassalt, which the louse doesn’t like in any case. Some vines are over 300 years old, but none are said to be younger than seventy.

The first Táganan wines were produced from the 2012 harvest but they have quickly made a great name for themselves. Intervention is minimal, the Listán Negro and Malvasia Negro (with other assorted varieties popping up in the field mix) grapes are placed in open fermenters as whole clusters. Ageing is for a little under a year in 500-litre oak.

The result is soft, haunting, fruit. The wine has a ghostly lightness on the palate via red fruits, but a little bite comes in by way of developing herbal notes and the faintest whiff of espresso. Sort of elegantly light on the palate but ever so slightly raw.

Envínate is imported into the UK by Indigo Wine. See also, perhaps, thesourcingtable.com.

“INTERGALACTIC” 2020, RENNER UND SISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)

I don’t plan to re-introduce the Renners of Gols here, Rennersistas Stefanie and Susanne, along with brother Georg now on the team. I drink their wines as often as any, and write about them frequently. This is one of those wine producers whose wines really mean a lot to me. I’ve been with them, so to speak, from the start and I truly believe in what they are doing. I won’t pretend I can be very objective when describing the wines. I’m afraid you’ll have to accept that. But they have become well known enough that my voice is now just one among many, and of course their place among some very influential women winemakers in Camilla Gjerde’s new book can only cement that position.

Intergalactic is one of the new cuvées from the Renners, a kind of white brother or sista to the red “Superglitzer”. Susanne and Stefanie planted this vineyard as a field blend in 2017, after they took over from their father. Their early wines were made as single varietals in the main, as they wanted to get to know their varieties, but blends are what have always interested them most.

We have Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Gewüuztraminer and Muskat Ottonel, plus a tiny bit of Chardonnay. Four days on skins and then ageing on lees in old oak. Carbon dioxide protects the biodynamic fruit in place of sulphur. The cuvée is well named. It’s like a blast through the universe on the tongue and feels like you are colliding with the stars. Vibrantly fresh and soulful. Simple in some ways, yet like a good Gemischter Satz, it is deceptively beguiling.

This will cost £22 at Littlewine, or you could try importer Newcomer Wines.

GUTEDEL 2019, BÄDISCHER LANDWEIN, WASENHAUS (Baden, Germany)

Wasenhaus is the project of Alex Götze and Christoph Wolber who met not in Germany but in Meursault. They got together to make wine in Baden, in Southwestern Germany, at Staufen-im-Breisgau. We are in a land bounded to the west by the Rhine and Alsace, and to the east by the protective mass of the Black Forest, southwest of Freiburg (im Breisgau) and the Kaiserstuhl.

Gutedel is, of course, known as Chasselas in the francophone world, but the wine I consider to be possibly the best Chasselas I know is made under its German name, a little further south in the same region by Hanspeter Ziereisen.

Alex and Christoph, like the Ziereisens, have some very old vines. Two-thirds of the grapes for this entry level bottling are direct pressed to ferment in old wood whilst the remaining third are allowed eight days skin contact. Everything then goes into old wood for just six months before bottling fresh.

The wine is very savoury and it has just a touch more weight than the 10% abv on the label might suggest. It’s very different to the zippy and light, prickly Chasselas of the closest regions in Switzerland to plant it. It’s not rich as such, but the old vines and skin contact give it a bit of complexity, an extra dimension perhaps. It shares the savouriness of Chasselas from Switzerland. There is a tiny citrus element, perhaps distant lime, like a pinprick, but the overall impression is herbal and slightly biscuity.

This wine can also be had from both Littlewine and Newcomer Wines.

BOCA 2013, VALLANA (Piemonte, Italy)

Okay, this one sneaked into November’s drinking, you only saw a picture of it on Instagram this morning, but it makes up a neat half-dozen wines for Part 3, so a bit of cheating is fine, okay? It means you get a glimpse of Alison Bolton’s lovely cornflowers twice in one day.

Say “Piemonte” and most wine lovers will think of Barolo and Barbaresco and then move on from Nebbiolo to Barbera and Dolcetto. But Piemonte covers a vast area, most of Northwest Italy, and as Nebbiolo from those two famous regions becomes as expensive as fine Burgundy, so people have begun to look further afield. Some ripe pickings can be found in Roero but one doesn’t have to travel far from the Nebbiolo heartland to get there.

It’s quite a drive to the northern appellations of Piemonte, and I think perhaps the northernmost of all of these is Boca. Boca sits just to the north of Gattinara and Ghemme in an area known locally as the Colline Novaresi, but the Boca DOC sits within a UNESCO Biosphere Park based around an ancient volcano.

This is the region of Alto Piemonte which you will hear more and more of as small importers like Ultravino discover the hidden gems away from most (not all) of the prying eyes of Barolo producers eager for inexpensive but promising vineyards. As Jancis et al point out in the current World Atlas of Wine (8th edn, Mitchell Beazley), Alto Piemonte was once, albeit a long time ago, “more highly regarded than the then-emergent Barolo” (p156).

Antonio Vallana’s company is famous among lovers of Piemontese wines. His bottles from decades old vintages were still available until quite recently, and in the good old days (1990s) his “Spanna”, sold with decent bottle age, was a regular in your local Majestic Wine Warehouse.

Spanna is the name up in the north for Nebbiolo, but this Boca pairs that variety with 30% Vespolina, a variety also known as Croattina. It has a parent or offspring relationship with Nebbiolo and is thought to be autochthonous to the wider regions of Piemonte and Lombardy. The grapes see 18 months in large oak, but it is usual for Vallana to give the wine good bottle age before release. I think the current vintage, at least the one I bought most recently, is 2016.

The colour is brick red, unmistakably that of Nebbiolo. The scents mix quite strident red fruit with an ethereal rose petal bouquet. Deeper and darker scents follow, perhaps coffee. The texture is tannic, that of a still youthful wine, but the tannins are not abrasive. In fact, with food (including some nicely roasted assorted vegetables with a nice bit of browning) it went splendidly. I’d call it a delicious, mouth-filling, winter wine.

The back label quite rightly claims that this wine will age for decades. But do we want to keep our Boca as long as a famous producer’s Barolo? I think we should, as a rule, but I’m now too old to buy any wine which is going to sit beneath the ground for thirty years. For me, this is a wine to savour and enjoy in its primary state, with good hearty food.

There may be a little 2013 around, and probably more of 2016. I bought mine from The Solent Cellar, but I think they only have some left as part of one of the excellent mixed cases they do (a Vallana six-pack for just under £160, which includes a bottle of their excellent Nebbiolo Metodo Classico, well worth a sniff, I promise). No luck there, then try Butlers Wine Cellar (which has always been hot on Piemonte). I’m sure that the Vallana wines are also available in many other independents.

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Recent Wines October 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

As I said yesterday, I’m publishing October’s “Recent Wines” in three parts, six wines in each. Part 2 here represents six wines, or rather five wines and one bottle of spirits we finished, drunk on one evening in mid-October, with two very good friends whose wine passion mirrors our own. We drink a lot of natural wine with these particular friends, but at the same time we do like to raid the cellar for a few classics, and that is what we did. Four of the wines are French, the other being a rather desirable Austrian. The spirit was rum, a rather special Spanish one.

CAMPANIA REMENSIS 2015, CHAMPAGNE BÉRÊCHE (Champagne, France)

In a world where Champagne is getting more and more expensive by the year, Bérêche has become a rare treat, at least at this level of their portfolio. For a few years after I first discovered this Grower Maison on the crest of the Craon de Ludes at the top of the Montagne de Reims, I was lucky enough to visit them most years, until just before Covid intervened. I was always extended a warm welcome by Raphaël, or occasionally his mother, which makes me genuinely sad that I’ve not been able to return for at least three years. I worry that they will not remember me because in terms of fame, Bérêche has moved on (and up).

Campania is firmly among my half-dozen favourite Rosé Champagnes, as it deserves to be on any list, on merit. Only 5,416 precious bottles were made in 2015, and I had just two. This one was disgorged in May 2019 and dosed Extra Brut, at 4.5g/litre. The grape blend is slightly towards Pinot Noir (60%), with 30% Chardonnay and 10% Meunier. Raphaël and Vincent grow exceptional Pinot Noir, their Coteaux Reds being among the very best in the whole region. Around 5% of the final blend consists of the same Pinot Noir for colour.

That colour is on the pale pink to orange spectrum, elegant and very attractive to the eye. The bouquet is light but concentrated, with notes of pomegranate and raspberry. The bouquet in itself is enough, but the palate has zippy red fruits and lovely salinity, bound together around a stream of fine bubbles which spiral into the space above the elegant liquid. A star of a wine. Stellar, in fact.

The UK agent for Bérêche is Vine Trail.

GLÜCK 2015, WERLITSCH (Südsteiermark, Austria)

Ewald and Brigitte Tscheppe are the dynamic yet thoughtful couple behind Werlitsch. They are star biodynamic winemakers, although they do not appear in the first edition of Stephen Brook’s book on the Wines of Austria (perhaps the second edition rectified that omission?).

Ewald makes biodynamic wine from around Glanz an der Weinstrasse, in South Styria. It’s easy for those of us who love this region to forget that many may not know where it is, let alone have drunk wine from there. Styria (Steiermark) hugs the southern border with Slovenia, west of both Burgenland and Slovenia’s border with Hungary. Eight hectares of Chardonnay (known here as Morillon), Sauvignon Blanc and Welschriesling are planted on the local “opok” marls, and the beautiful wines which result are made with minimal intervention, a path the couple have been following since 2004.

Glück blends Morillon with Sauvignon Blanc, a variety which the region does especially well (Styria is perhaps the hidden gem of Sauvignon Blanc). This cuvée sees serious skin contact. Initial ageing is in large old wood but it is “bottled” in a ceramic flask, which those who use such containers (quite a few Austrians these days, and Metamorphika in Catalonia) do so with great results.

We get a complex mix of yellow fruit with citrus aromas along with a little tannic texture. It’s a wine which gains complexity in the glass, but I still suggest serving it just cool rather than cold. Savour it almost as you would a Vin Jaune, although subtlety in this case is its greatest asset, easily lost if washed down straight from the fridge. Of course, everyone raves about the wonderful “Ex Vero” cuvées from Werlitsch, rightly so, but ignoring Glück would be a terrible shame.

Available on occasion from both Newcomer Wines and Littlewine.

POMMARD CLOS DES EPENEAUX 1er CRU 2002, COMTE ARMAND (Burgundy, France)

This Monopole Clos has been in the family of Comte Armand since 1826, but in 1999 winemaking was taken over by the now very famous Benjamin Leroux, who has taken the domaine into biodynamics from field to bottle. The 5.5-hectare vineyard, which was the only site owned by Comte Armand until more vines were purchased in the mid-1990s, sits on the Beaune side of the village, above the D973, close to where it splits from the D974.

Of the vintage 2002 I’d like to quote Jasper Morris (Inside Burgundy 1st edn 2010, BBR, 2nd edn just published). “This has always been a favourite of Burgundy professionals. The whites are fine and crisp and show their vineyard characteristics. Those comments go for the reds as well, which are pure and precise – without the weight to be considered among the great vintages, but nonetheless a year to give real pleasure.”

How do those comments stack up here? This bottle was magnificent, at least to my palate, one which used to drink fine Burgundy with some regularity until a decade ago, but less now (it’s basically down to the few cases left in the cellar, cost again you see). It had certainly retained a touch of youthfulness by way of structure, yet it developed well until, typically, it really began to hit its stride as the bottle was almost empty.

Very plummy, I’d say, with some darker fruit emerging, followed by winter spices. Another wine which is both concentrated but elegant (more elegant than can sometimes be the Pommard norm). I would argue that it may not be a truly great vintage, but this could be almost a great wine. It’s certainly a wine which will age further, but it gave immense pleasure to the four of us who got to drink this solitary bottle.

Originally purchased from Berry Brothers & Rudd, I believe.

CHÂTEAU LANGOA-BARTON 2001, SAINT-JULIEN (Bordeaux, France)

Langoa was purchased by Hugh Barton in the 1820s just before he became owner of the more famous Léoville estate. I say more famous, because Léoville was classified as a Second Growth in the Médoc’s 1855 Classification and has gone on to be considered a “Super Second”, a member of that elite group of Deuxieme Cru estates which consistently challenge the Premier Grand Cru Classés. Langoa-Barton was classified Third Growth (Troisieme Cru) in 1855 and whilst always being acknowledged to be great value, a firm favourite in Britain, it has never reached the same level as Léoville in popular mythology. Or has it?

This bottle was not decanted, and initially I thought this a sound decision as I’d say that the fruit seemed a little attenuated. However, with time the fruit actually built in the glass, accompanied by some very nice tertiary elements. These I would characterise as classic cedar wood aromas, delicious savoury notes, and a noticeable lick of either mint or eucalyptus (noticeable but not pronounced). My initial thoughts were turned on their head as, instead of declining, the wine flourished when poured (into, unusually, Zalto Universals, the heathen you may say).

I understand that Neal Martin gave this vintage of Langoa 93 Points (FWIW) in September this year, and apparently (I am told) wrote that the 2001 Langoa matches Léoville from the same vintage. It was a very lucky bottle.

I don’t suppose you’ll find a 2001 that easily, though buy it if you do. Justerinis sell Langoa, but I’m pretty sure this bottle came from the “factory outlet” (aka warehouse) of Berry Brothers at Basingstoke. In any event, it had been in my cellar a long time.

VIN JAUNE “EN SPOIS” 2005, STÉPHANE & BÉNÉDICTE TISSOT (Jura, France)

I first met Stéphane Tissot just after he’d returned from overseas to the family domaine, A(ndré) & M(ireille) Tissot at Montigny-les-Arsures, just up the road from Arbois. I watched this talented young man transform the wines of this domaine from very good to great, as well as expanding production into what seems like an almost infinite number of cuvées.

Amid all of these wines there are four things this great winemaker does, in my opinion, better than anything. First, he makes some Chardonnay which wholly merits the description “great”. Second, he makes some of the very finest sweet wines in the whole Jura region, in my opinion only rivalled by three or four other producers. Thirdly, he has been broadly responsible for the introduction of amphora into the region, something he’s maybe not had the credit for. Fourthly, he makes some amazing “sous voile” wines.

In the latter style there are several Vin Jaune plus, in more recent years, wine from a parcel at Château-Chalon. This wine featured here comes from an Arbois vineyard called “En Spois”, one of the first sites Stéphane planted in the early 1990s, whose vines are now nicely mature. Wink Lorch rightly says (Jura Wine, 2014, Wine Travel Media) that the Savagnin turned into Vin Jaune from this vineyard is usually the first of the domaine’s Vin Jaune wines which enters its drinking window.

It’s worth making a few comments on Vin Jaune drinking dates. These wines are aged under a thin veil of flor for between six and seven years before bottling, the wine being released at a ceremony, La Percée, held at the beginning of the February of the seventh year after harvest. This means that when young, just released, Vin Jaune appears on a restaurant wine list the consumer often imagines they are getting an “older” wine with greater bottle age.

As a rule, Vin Jaune needs ageing, and occasionally with top wines, literally the longer the better. Some smaller producers in Arbois are now making Vin Jaune which is remarkably appealing when young. So, whilst this cuvée will drink well younger than, say, Stéphane’s Château-Chalon, or more oak-influenced Vin Jaune “Bruyère”, it’s all relative.

“En Spois”, the site, is made up of clay/marl soils, not easy to farm biodynamically, as Stéphane Tissot does. The result is very elegant, a wine which is medium-weight despite a higher degree of alcohol than some other Vin Jaune (15% here). It is still youthful but also becoming complex with a remarkably long finish. My taste impressions are of walnut and ginger, dry, textured, a little saline. As always, serve at room temperature and sip, so that complexity builds on your tongue. Once opened it will last days, and a good long period to breath beforehand would be a good call too. Many people will open a Vin Jaune in the morning before drinking, occasionally the night before. Nothing goes better with nicely aged Comté.

Purchased at the domaine’s shop in Arbois, on the main square (Place de la Liberté). Note that there are a number of Tissot domaines, also with Arbois shops (as indeed there is more than one Overnoy in Pupillin). I have seen a UK wine merchant calling one of the others by just the Tissot surname, which could at best be confusing to consumers, considering that without dismissing the other Tissots, this one (also known still as Domaine A&M Tissot) is the world class address.

LA BOTA DE RON 65, BOTA NO SINGLE CASK, EQUIPPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)

This release from Equipo Navazos is one of a line of crafted artisan spirits, of which I managed to obtain, in the end, three bottles, along with a single Gin. This was the last bottle of rum, and indeed the last of the last bottle, as we drained what little there was left at the end of this long evening of food and wine (lots consumed, but I think I was saved by avoiding a cigar to go with it).

The rum was aged in a single Oloroso cask and bottled in Jerez in the spring of 2016. I am not sure of the origin of the sugar cane, but the spirit is “Muy Viejo”, aged between fifteen and twenty years. The whole of the butt was emptied to fill just 800 x 70cl bottles. Alcohol was reduced to 44%, more balanced than the cask strength of 50%.

Complex, smooth and with such depth to it, remarkably elegant aromatics but a punchy palate, which tapers to great length. No additives whatsoever were introduced and unlike most rum, no chilled filtration took place. A very complete product of stratospherically high quality.

A direct purchase, but Alliance Wine is EN’s UK agent. Some of the Equipo Navazos spirits are released from time to time, including from the very latest releases, single cask malt and grain whiskies (Botas 104 and 105).

As all of these wines were consumed over something between four and five hours on one day, it’s worth saying something about the appreciation of multiple fine wines. Occasionally I might go to a dinner or lunch for ten or twelve people, and more often than not these days the rule is to bring two bottles each. Such events can be spectacular, especially at a special restaurant (like the Sportsman, which I’ve had to pull out of this week for family reasons). But I’m frankly more often than not a little inebriated after such events and sometimes the wines can be a blur.

With a dinner such as this one, for four close, wine loving, friends/partners, the wines fall more into focus. There may have been plenty of alcohol consumed, but not too many bottles to blur (in both senses) the distinctions between them. Even if some are drinking less than others, I would still end up drinking less than two bottles. Equally, the pain that is loading the dishwasher and hand washing all the glasses is definitely less onerous than getting a couple of trains, with taxis either end, home again. However, some such meals are still worth it.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Fine Wine, Premium Spirits, Rum, Spirits, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines October 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

I have eighteen wines to tell you about from October’s home drinking, and to help my own logistics I’m going to change the format for this month and split them into three, not the usual two, parts. Short and sharp. We are going to begin with a half-dozen from Czechia, Wales, Northeast Italy, Austria, Slovakia and Germany’s Mosel. Although that’s six wines from six different countries, with the exception of the Welsh offering, they are all in some ways like distant cousins of each other.

“HELENA” 2020, DLÚHÉ GREFTY (Moravia, Czechia)

This is a new producer for me. Jaroslav Tesarik and family farm a small estate of just 2.5 hectares at Mutěnice. The organically farmed vines are split among eight different plots. “Helena” is a pale red pétnat made from the Austrian variety, Saint-Laurent, bottled on its lees so that you get that typical pétnat sediment left in the bottle. Stand it up if you want a clean (sic) wine, lay it down in the fridge for a more textured, cloudy, experience.

Helena is one of the Tesarik daughters, and I wonder whether this wine in any way mirrors her personality? It is slightly wild on the nose, but also floral. The palate bursts with strawberries and other zippy red fruits. The acids are fruity but there’s also a steely backbone here to set them off. That texture I mentioned sort of grounds the wine. It is bottled with no added sulphur. As I said, it does have a wild side without going completely AWOL. Very nice.

A new producer from Basket Press Wines.

“ORANGE WINE” ALBARIÑO 2018, ANCRE HILL (Monmouth, Wales (UK))

Ancre Hill was founded by Richard and Joy Morris in 2006. I have no idea whether they have, wishing to retire, found a buyer for the estate yet, but I keep enjoying their exciting biodynamic wines when I can get hold of a bottle or two. Especially as I presume 2021 will have been a challenging year, even in that sweet dry spot of South Wales.

These 12 hectares of south-facing slopes are planted to an incredible diversity of vines. This cuvée is principally made from the Galician variety, Albariño, vinified as 100% whole bunches. The fruit receives a 30-50-day maceration (long) and the wine is finished off in a mix of oak and stainless steel, on lees with no added sulphur.

The resulting colour is a fairly dark orange-bronze. There is real depth in the bouquet, and complexity, everything from lifted orange citrus to deep and rich butterscotch. The palate is dry and textured. It’s a real “orange wine” but the time spent in bottle has undoubtedly made it smoother, I would guess. It still retains fine acidity. It’s a complex wine, potentially challenging if you don’t like the true orange style, but very rewarding if you do. It was a good accompaniment to one of my curries, a role which for my palate orange wines often enjoy.

Of course, the label has to be a modern classic.

I pounced on this at Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton) the minute I saw they had some. You might find some via Les Caves de Pyrene. If you fancy owning a Welsh vineyard, contact Savills.

“SONNTALER” VERNATSCH ALTE REBEN 2019, KELLEREI KURTATSCH (Alto-Adige, Italy)

I’ve been trying to put right my drift away from the wines of Italy’s Südtirol over the past couple of years, purely I must stress due to availability, but I must say that it’s a long while since I’ve drunk Schiava. This regional mainstay of Northeast Italy, or at least its Adige Valley, is also known as Trollinger in Germany, but its one-time ubiquity has faded fast. Except that it can make lovely wines which are very much underrated, especially when taken a little more seriously, as with this Alte Reben (old vine) cuvée from the Kurtatsch (aka Cortaccia) co-operative.

The vines are grown on picture postcard slopes, usually basking in sunshine at reasonable altitude (I say usually because I do remember the autostrade running like a river and snow on the Brenner one June). The key to this wine’s success is a mix of clones (including some rare Schiava Grigia) and truly old vines. Vine age in this wine is between sixty and ninety years. The soils are sandy, and prone to erosion up here at around 400 masl.

Fermentation is in stainless steel before five months in 6,000-litre Slavonian oak casks, during which time it undergoes malo. The result is a wine that is a little different to the international norm, and all the better for it. The clean red fruits are vibrant and darker cherry adds a slightly lower note. The more unusual character comes from orange citrus underneath a floral (rose perhaps) note on the bouquet. I’d say it errs towards a leaner rather than fat style, which has a little (but not too much) in common with Touraine Cabernet Franc (in style and weight, not flavour).

Available from several independents, mine came from Butlers Wine Cellar, but if they don’t have any left, Solent Cellar does (£23).

NEUBURGER 2017, WEINGUT KISS, LEITHABERG DAC (Burgenland, Austria)

Neuburger is another variety which has virtually lost even the tiny bit of popularity it may have had until fairly recently, when it has seen a modicum of a renaissance. Those producers who do bottle a varietal Neuburger often charge a decent price for its rarity value, so the chance to drink one for less than £20 is an uncommon experience.

It doesn’t have pretentions to great complexity, undergoing a fairly simple vinification in stainless steel, with no oak. However, it’s far from being a simple wine. It hails from a single vineyard, it has some skin contact to add texture, and you will notice it has some bottle age. It is also from fruit grown on a prime site within the Leithaberg DAC, hilly terrain around the north of the Neusiedlersee, close to the Kiss family’s base at Jois. Of course, the skin contact has allowed them to use minimal added sulphur.

This is what Joelle of importer Alpine Wines said: “We looked for a good Neuburger for three years until we found this…we met Verena Kiss at ProWein…this is how it should be done”.

I’d agree, especially for £19 retail via Solent Cellar, who seem now to be out of stock (and possibly for a little bit less direct from Alpine Wines, currently £16.80 on offer…something to help alleviate the cost of purchasing a few of their superb but rarely cheap Swiss wines).

Joelle calls this an orange wine. It’s not a long way along that spectrum compared, say, to the Ancre Hill, mentioned above. But it does have that medium weight, texture and unoaked complexity which, as Joelle rightly says, makes it a good accompaniment to foods which are difficult to pair with wine (a genuine orange wine trait, which is why I often drink orange wines with my Indian cooking). Layered flavours include both crisp and fresh apple and stewed apple, with a notable mineral salinity.

“BACCARA” 2017, VINO MAGULA (Slovakia)

I seem to drink a lot of different bottles from this Slovakian producer, in the same way that I drink lots of Petr Koráb from next door Czech Moravia. This talented family manages to farm around ten hectares now, all biodynamically, around Sucha Nad Parnou. The soils are deep loess packed with minerals, including a high proportion of calcium. Very low rainfall also stamps its mark on the terroir.

The grape blend in this cuvée contains, as the main component, Rosa (a variety I’d never heard of), with Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch), Modry Portugal (aka Blauer Portugieser) and another obscure variety, Dunaj. The result is a lovely rose-scented palish red, but the palate has more weight than the colour and scent suggest. You get crisp black fruits, some crunchy tannins and some bite. It’s structured but massively fresh, and a long way from heavy. One of those lighter reds (12.5% abv) which is just gorgeous with food. It has a beautiful, almost ethereal, scent which enhances what’s on the plate, but with the grip to match anything which is not too overpowering.

In some ways this wine is made in a style which has been disappearing, not helped by the passion for thick and soupy wines since the 1980s. Lighter reds are now fighting back in many of the regions of Central Europe, and now almost everywhere else. It is perhaps one of the great legacies of natural wine.

The beautiful label (Magula have been upping their game here, embellishing their vine concept with colour) shows the Black Baccara rose after which the cuvée is named.

Imported by Basket Press Wines.

“LITTLE BASTARD” LANDWEIN [2020], JAN MATTHIAS KLEIN (Mosel, Germany)

Always one of the most interesting wines from Kröv’s great experimenter, Jan makes this provocatively named gem from vines between ten and forty-five years old. It’s a white blend of Riesling (55%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%), Müller-Thurgau (10%) and 5% Muscat (although we need to find room for a splash of Bacchus, apparently).

The fruit is spread around the village, but most comes from Kröv’s Letterlay site. It’s not a vineyard which sits alongside the Mosel’s great names, but the terroir is grey slate. The Sauvignon Blanc comes off Kinheimer Hubertslay. I bet not many of you knew there was Sauvignon Blanc in the Mosel, but you may well know that Jan has been planting all sorts of varieties as a test to see what may work with climate change. This is why his wines, other than those under the Staffelter Hof label, are all Landwein.

The regime here is stainless steel for purity of flavour but a little skin-contact for added complexity. CO2 is added in lieu of sulphur. You don’t need any florid language to describe this wine. It’s just a zingy glass of pure joy, Joy as an Act of Resistance (to coin an album title). I think the label and name tell you enough about what the wine inside the bottle will be like. One look and you’ll pretty much know whether you will like it. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of JMK.

Jan Matthias Klein is imported by Modal Wines.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austria, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, German Wine, Italian Wine, Mosel, Neusiedlersee, Slovakian Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Don’t Want Any Crap in Our Wine by Camilla Gjerde (Book Review)

Over the past several years I have noticed something interesting. Not only am I buying more wines from women winemakers than I was, but some of those women would count firmly among my very favourite producers. I’ve tried to work out why this is, because I can categorically say that it’s nothing to do with the style of the wines. I don’t go for all that “feminine wines” crap, and in any event, some of those wines are pretty damned assertive.

Women have been making wine forever, of course, but wine has, until relatively recently, been very much the domain of the male ego. There are some great partnerships in wine but not every one of those partnerships has been the kind you see at places like Gut Oggau in Burgenland, a partnership of true equals. The traditional role for the female half of a wine partnership in a male-dominated profession has been sitting at the kitchen table, doing the paperwork, or occasionally making lunch when your husband’s (sic) male importer comes to visit. Or, in some cases I know, going out to work when lean harvests mean just too little money is coming in. In many wine regions, the role of the wife is also one of the mother as well, with child care near the top of the job list

Occasionally an untimely death throws the wife, or daughter, into making the wine. There are plenty of sad stories of winemakers passing away during harvest, giving other family members no choice but to subdue their grief and forge ahead. But it is probably only in the last twenty years that there has been a real groundswell of women winemakers starting out alone, from scratch. It is especially true that many of them are very young, new blood joining the likes of pioneers like Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Birgit Braunstein or Heidi Schröck. (As an aside, have you noticed how many women winemakers succeed in Austria, especially Burgenland?).

There have been books and articles aplenty in recent years on the phenomenon of “women in wine”. It has become an even bigger topic of late, with stories of misogyny and worse coming to light, usually the result of male dominated power structures. The latest work on women in wine has been written by a Norwegian almost turned Swede, Camilla Gjerde.

Le Reine d’Arbois graces the cover, capturing Alice so well

Born in Norway, Camilla was awarded a PhD in Political Science from Oslo University and worked as a civil servant, but has lived in Sweden for the past twenty years, recently moving from Stockholm to Malmö. Her own life- and career-changing moment came when she tasted Arianna Occhipinti’s “Il Frappato” in 2008. She became completely hooked on natural wine. This led her to a WSET Diploma and a change of direction into wine writing. Her book, many years in the planning, chooses for its title a quotation from one of the women it profiles – We Don’t Want Any Crap in Our Wine and is subtitled The Women Behind the Bottle.

Within its two-hundred plus pages it profiles nine women from seven estates who have between them not only evolved a great reputation as wine producers individually, but who have also done so much to change perceptions of what women can achieve in wine. All of them are uncompromising individuals, and they have had to be. Of course, any difficulties they have faced have not all been down to the male of the species. Many are down to weather. Nature’s way of throwing the unexpected your way at the worst possible time is always going to be an issue when you don’t want any crap in your wine.

Of the seven estates profiled, I know the wines of all but one of them (Fonterenza in Montalcino). A couple of producers I know fairly well, I mean personally as well as their wines. Others I’ve met once or twice, either at wine fairs and or on visits. Others, I just know their wines and have read about.

Those who I do know do seem to have some appealing character traits which help warm me to the wines. I’ve said before that if I like the winemaker and respect their working methods, that is a major step towards my appreciation of their wines. You can learn a lot about a person which ultimately enables you to trust them and their wines.

All of the women profiled have a very steely determination to make wine, and to make it on their own terms. This has led to great difficulties for all of them to greater or lesser degrees. And going back to the child rearing aspect of their lives, at least three of them have children to look after on top of the hard physical work and long hours of the vigneronne.

Of those I know in the book, and indeed other women winemakers of my acquaintance, there’s definitely a warmth and openness, even if one or two are quite shy. In the world of the male winemaker, there can often be a certain, well, if not exactly macho stance, certainly an ego present. This is even evident with some of the men making natural wines.

So, who do we get to read about?

Elena Pantaleoni makes wine at La Stoppa, in Emilia-Romagna, as well as in Chile now, as well. Her wines were always among my purchases in the early days of Les Caves de Pyrene, her UK importer. Francesca and Margherita Padovani are twins who share responsibility for the Fonterenza estate at Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino). Jutta Ambrositsch is the ex-graphic designer who ploughs her own furrow on the hillside vineyards of Vienna. For me personally, her wines are sensationally exciting.

Alice Bouvot (Domaine L’Octavin) is, whether she likes it or not, the Queen of Arbois, making some of the most radical, challenging, yet satisfying and in some ways “perfect” wines in the Jura Region. “Rennersistas” Stefanie and Susanne (recently joined by their brother, Georg) took over running a long-established family winery in 2015/16 and, as the author quotes, had to tell their father to “back off, we have a plan”.

Catherine Hannoun (Domaine de la Loue) has gone it alone at Port-Lesney, the Jura’s northern frontier. She used to be a film producer and has brought knowledge from that métier to bear fruit (in both senses) as a winemaker. Catherine has in some ways faced the greatest wine-related problems of all the featured women here, but she makes truly wonderful wines simply because she makes them on her own terms. I wish they were less difficult to source, and she is one winemaker I shall be even more reticent to visit now I know how little time she has to waste.

Arianna Occhipinti is also a veritable star, who decided to go it alone at the age of only twenty-one, in one of the places you’d probably least expect to be a hospitable environment for a young woman to make wine, Sicily. Her advantage was, perhaps, having a famous (well, to me) uncle who is part of the COS setup. COS, like Arianna, close to the south-eastern town of Vittoria, was one of the first natural wine producers I got to know.

I wondered why Camilla had wanted to set out to write this particular book. As she says in her Preface, only about 14% of all winemakers are women, and she wanted to give them a voice. The voice she gives them is not quite the one you might expect in a wine book. Let me explain. As a political scientist, Camilla is most interested in the people and what makes them tick. Of course, the wines they make are ever present, but aside from broad descriptions you won’t find too many technical details about how the wines are made, nor a string of tasting notes. What you will find filling the pages are the philosophies of these winemakers, coming from their own mouths. They are remarkably similar.

It would be a crass cliché to draw gender-related conclusions from the fact that all of these women are wholly in tune with nature, and their own terroir (ecosystem). This is not purely a feminine trait. Neither is the passion these women have exclusive to the female sex. Plenty of blokes (Jeff Coutelou, André and Yann Durrmann, Pierre Overnoy, and a hundred others) understand how nature works and how dead soils lead pretty swiftly to dead wines. Yet throughout the pages of this book, the winemakers say pretty much the same things, within the context of their own story and circumstances. And it is their story which comes through clearly…it is what makes the book so interesting.

Of course, passion so often leads to experimentation. All of them are inquisitive. Such people are always going to be at the periphery of their profession, quietly pushing boundaries, so that the experimental might one day become the mainstream. If it is true that classical modern winemaking, the type taught by scientists in universities and regional wine schools, and which became entrenched by the likes of Robert Parker’s wine criticism in the 1980s, and if it is true that the revolution in the application of synthetic agri-chemicals in the years post-WW2, were both largely driven by men, men who believed they could conquer nature, then it is now true today that natural wine is something which is being driven by women as well.

This doesn’t mean that the world of natural wine is especially egalitarian. I know plenty of natural winemakers who still have, shall we call it, a “traditional view” of a woman’s place. Heaven-help these ladies when their wines come in front of conservative, cliquey, male-dominated appellation tasting panels. It’s not only those who go in for a certain kind of (c)rude wine label whose views may not conform to what we should expect in the modern world.

Jutta Ambrositsch prefers to be in the vines rather than the cellar but her wines are electric

However, plenty of men are supportive as has been the case for some of the women in this book. That said, what does come through is that every one of the winemakers here has had to develop the confidence to trust their knowledge and instinct, something their male counterparts have often approached with fewer worries. There’s a funny story in one chapter where a male colleague told one winemaker that she was macerating a wine on skins for far too long. Her reaction, to give it an even longer period on skins than she had done in previous years!

The book is a labour of love, self-published and greatly enhanced by the lovely photographs of Cecilia Magnusson. Cecilia’s bio says that her passion is taking photos which capture the moment, and she genuinely does that here. These pictures were taken as the pair cycled to and from the wineries in a trip which took them from Arbois to Sicily (well, a few other modes of transport may have been involved as well, as revealed in the preface, as Camilla obviously didn’t manage the whole journey on her fold-up Brompton commuter bike).

The Author leaving a well known Viennese natural wine store with her trusted two-wheeled partner on this project

The photos do play a major part not only in conveying the passion of the winemakers but also that of the author. It’s a warm and personal account. It’s not a book which will end up on a WSET syllabus, but it is one which will appeal to lovers of natural wines, and who want to read the stories of these women and to discover what makes them need to make wine.

Do I have any criticisms? Well naturally I’d have loved to go on reading, and I can think of a whole host of women winemakers who would have been a good fit here (certainly Julie Balagny in Beaujolais and perhaps Catherine Riss in Alsace). Of course I’m not the one who had to put in the leg work, so as complaints go, it’s a positive that I wanted more. There’s a helpful list of more women natural winemakers towards the back of the book.

I would say, as a writer myself and well aware of my own limitations, that as with many self-published books, in places it does read as if the overview of a professional editor might have helped eliminate the odd clunky sentence or repetition, but I would stress that I only make these comments to show that the book isn’t perfect. Such instances are very rare, but interestingly perhaps come closer to the beginning than the end. But take note – I don’t think, for one minute, that such very minor points would diminish anyone’s enjoyment, nor do they diminish Camilla’s significant achievement in researching, writing and publishing this book.

We Don’t Want Any Crap in Our Wine is self-published under the Now What Publishing imprint (2021), written by Camilla Gjerde with photographs by Cecilia Magnusson. It’s a good, solid hardback. It is available from camillagjerde.com (£26 for UK plus shipping, but posting worldwide). I know that Camilla has signing sessions planned back home.

Ultimately, it’s a feel-good book with an emphasis on passion and success, but not before the book’s subjects have faced very steep learning curves and a host of obstacles, which in the case of some of the women featured, still persist. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I know many of my friends in wine will too. Go out and buy it if you feel remotely interested. There is no question that the women within are inspiring, and for me, this does come through clearly in the text. Just don’t expect a textbook.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing, Women in Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines September 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Following on from Part One, we have another pretty eclectic mix of wines. For those who think I drink too much from Austria and Jura, or even Czech wine, well, there aren’t any here. Instead, I give you a Portuguese white wine from Alentejo, one of the finest wines being made in Alsace (well, a minority view, perhaps, but I’m not alone in this assertion), a South Australian Nero d’Avola, a Grower Champagne whose producer’s reputation is growing rapidly, a still English Rosé in its first vintage, a classic English Sparkling Wine and a Manzanilla from my old friend Jesùs and amigos at Equipo Navazos.

“FITAPRETA BRANCO” ANCESTRAL 2019, ANTÓNIO MAÇANITA & DAVE BOOTH (Alentejo, Portugal)

In the couple of years before Covid I began to explore António Maçanita’s wines from the Azores Wine Company. They are so good that I found the style of his “Fitapreta” red from Alentejo (Recent Wines, May Part 2) a little too modern for my palate, or indeed should I say “old school” in a modern context of big and shiny…and 14.5% abv? The red was unquestionably very good, but just not really the kind of wine I drink too often nowadays. However, I did really enjoy the corresponding white.

The Branco is a complex blend comprising Roupeiro, Rabo de Ovelha, Antão Vaz, Tamarez, Alicante Branco and Arinto. Around 7% of the wine saw oak, the rest stainless steel, but I don’t know a lot about its fermentation (ie separate or co-fermented?). Reasonably low sulphur regime noted.

However it may have been made, you get a lovely dry wine with fresh lemon acidity, made much more interesting by a savoury edge. The vines are old, between 30-to-47-years of age. The alcohol is perfectly balanced at 12.5%, yet there’s still a little weight, even gras, or perhaps sinew, in a wine that has zero flab. Very much a food wine as a result of the savoury element. As with a lot of Portuguese white wines, it may well age into something interesting, but if I had another bottle, I’d still drink it now. I just loved the freshness.

What makes this more enticing is the UK price of £15. It’s somewhat cheaper still in Portugal. However, I don’t know about you but last time I imported wine from the EU I decided to avoid doing so again. The shipping cost was stupid. Better to phone up Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton).

SI ROSE 16-17, CHRISTIAN BINNER (Alsace, France)

Binner’s “Si Rose” (that’s Rose, not Rosé) is legend. It is made from old vine Pinot Gris (35%) and Gewurztraminer (65%) from diverse parcels of oolitic limestone near the family’s home village of Ammerschwihr. Farming is wholly biodynamic. The cuvée is made up from equal parts of both vintages (2016 and 2017) with the 2016 seeing a long, eight-month, maceration whilst the 2017 part of the cuvée received just 8 days on skins. Aged in 100-year-old oak foudre, it was bottled in spring 2018. I’ve aged it further, beyond the release of subsequent blends.

It’s a remarkable wine, really complex. The primary notes on both nose and palate are within the “orange” family of citrus, with herbal touches and a hint of yellow peach moving to apricot. As the wine warms it expresses complex umami notes. It’s a powerful wine, both in terms of abv and also in terms of its affect on the drinker. I find this one of the most profound wines I buy, frankly. This is why I chose to age this bottle, and it was a good call.

The name, Si Rose, hints at the “rose petal” nuances which, you will note, I haven’t mentioned (on past experience age has replaced them here). I was also surprised to learn recently (I didn’t know) that “Si Rose”sounds like “cirrhose” in reference to the wine’s liver colour. It has darkened just a touch in my cellar. But I still love it.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene although I think this particular bottle came from Littlewine.

NDV NERO D’AVOLA 2016, BRASH HIGGINS (South Australia)

Brad Hickey makes most of his wine using home-sourced fruit from McLaren Vale, and this Sicilian variety comes from the well-known Omensetter vineyard there. The wine has more in common with Sicily than just the variety because it’s part of Brad’s amphora project.

NDV saw a whopping 180 days on skins in 2016, in 200-litre, beeswax-lined, amphorae which are made locally, not imported. Fermentation is with wild yeasts and sulphur is minimal. Only 300 cases were made of this vintage.

It’s a beautiful wine, my favourite of Brad’s reds (though almost a close call with, perhaps, his Cabernet Franc). It has the typical “ferrous” and earthy freshness from the amphora and a certain richness (alcohol is a perfectly balanced 13.5%). It feels more restrained than the bigger wines from the Vale, doubtless downto the amphora-freshness. Its long stay in the clay hasn’t dulled the fruit one bit.

I have met Brad because, as I’ve said before, he’s originally a Chicago native and his best buddy at school ended up working with my wife. So, that contact aside, I still believe Brad makes some remarkable wines (including an impossible to source marvel of a nod to Vin Jaune, but made from Chardonnay, called “Bloom”, and a lovely amphora Zibibbo). They really do merit exploration. Including “NDV”.

I think this was one of the last two bottles which I snaffled from Bin Two Wines (Padstow), although Berkmann Wine Cellars now imports Brash Higgins and I think they may have added “NDV” to an initially smaller selection of Brad’s Wines.

FOSSE GRELY BRUT NATURE 2015, CHAMPAGNE RUPPERT-LEROY (Champagne, France)

Gérard and his daughter, Bénédicte, originally set up this domaine, based just outside Essoyes. This is almost as close to Burgundy as you can get in Champagne. Bénédicte converted the domaine to biodynamics under the mentorship of Pierre Overnoy in Pupillin, and Bernard Gautherot (Vouette & Sorbet) in her own region. She also follows a regime whereby she adds no dosage and no sulphur to the wine. It’s very much “natural wine” here.

The blend of this cuvée is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the 2015 vintage, off argile-rouge terroir. There is more clay in the Aube than the chalk of further north. It may make the region more suitable for Pinot, but Chardonnay excels in the right places. Fosse Grely was disgorged in January 2018, so saw a decent time on lees. It’s a very classy Champagne, initially floral but then opening to rich fruit (citrus and peachy tones) with more complex classic hazelnut developing as the wine warms and the bubbles soften.

I think there are many Growers who are gaining a very high reputation now (not least the aforementioned Bernard Gautherot), but Ruppert-Leroy is definitely up there with all of them. They are on a roll and worth checking out.

Sometimes I’m not sure where a particular bottle came from. I’ve bought this at Papilles in Paris and The Good Wine Shop in Kew, but I’m reasonably sure this bottle was from my last order with Vine Trail, whose list of Grower Champagnes is enviable, if wallet-damaging.

“DANCER IN PINK” 2020, BLACK CHALK WINES (Hampshire, UK)

This is the newly released, first still wine, from the new star in English Sparkling Wine, Black Chalk, based in Hampshire’s Test Valley, not far from Winchester. If you are a regular reader, you will know that I think Jacob Leadley and his assistant, Zoë Driver, have had a massive impact since launching Black Chalk around five or so years ago. Their sparkling wines are becoming established amongst the very finest in England.

The very ripe fruit of the 2020 vintage enabled Jacob to experiment and release a still wine made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Précose (aka Frühburgunder) and Pinot Gris. The wine is a lovely salmon-pink in colour. The ripe fruit is immediately apparent on the bouquet, with rich scents of strawberry with cherry. The mid-palate becomes creamy, adding peachy notes and the finish adds a little grippy bite, which grounds the wine. Fresh acidity tops off a lovely bottle, which others before me have rightly praised.

I’ve been unable to get hold of a tech sheet as yet, so I can’t really say a lot more about this, suffice to say that it’s very good. I don’t know whether it will make a regular appearance now, or only when the vintage provides ripe fruit. I believe most of it has sold out from this inaugural vintage. My bottle (sadly only one) came from The Solent Cellar (Lymington). I do believe that the winery has a little left. At least it is still up on the web site (£19/btl). Worth adding a couple or more into your sparkling wine order.

CUVÉE OLIVER MINKLEY BRUT 2011, BREAKY BOTTOM (Sussex, UK)

As many of you will realise, I’m drinking my way through various cuvées of Breaky Bottom. This is one of England’s, and the South Downs’s, earliest artisan producers, founded by Peter Hall and his wife in (I think) 1974, in a stunningly beautiful “bottom” of chalky loam, between Rodmell and the sea. Each year cuvées are named after friends of the family.

We have a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Seyval Blanc and 5% each of Pinot Noir and Meunier. The wine is, take it from me, stunning. What makes it so good is first and foremost the ageing: six years on lees. I would also add that I don’t know of any English producer who grows better Seyval Blanc. Try the 100% Seyval cuvée, “Jack Pike” (the 2015 may still be available).

This particular cuvée is developed and evolved but retains amazing freshness too. The citrus acidity has morphed into lemon peel, a deeper lemon. The red fruits seem more autumnal and there is just that miniscule hint of “forest floor” you can get with aged Pinot (despite it being such a tiny part of this cuvée). There’s more brioche the more you let it warm up, but it doesn’t overwhelm. It’s drinking so well.

Vintage 2011, six years on lees…hard to find this degree of depth in English Sparkling Wine without cellaring it yourself. Yet I bought this wine only this summer from Butlers Wine Cellar. Despite production being small (2,604 bottles of this), Butlers, in Brighton, is usually a good source for Breaky Bottom. They have a close relationship with Peter and family, and usually stock any cuvées they can get hold of.

LA BOTA DE MANZANILLA 82, FLORPOWER MMXV, EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)

Florpower as a concept began as a Palomino Fino table wine, but recently the Navazos team has begun to bottle it also as a fortified Manzanilla. The grapes come from the “La Baja” part of the famous Pago Miraflores at Sanlúcar, south of Jerez. Single vineyard/vintage Manzanillas are still quite rare, but are starting to become popular as an expression of the region’s great terroirs. The expression of time and place is the whole reason for creating this wine.

This Bota 82 differs in the intensity of the flor influence in a wine which still, in its lightness and freshness, resembles the unfortified Florpowers. In fact, whereas the unfortified versions I’ve kept to age have definitely matured, this bottle still has a remarkable freshness. It is aged under flor in the same butts as it was fermented in, fortified from a 12% table wine to a 15% Manzanilla.

Delicate, a wine of finesse, would be its hallmarks. It’s by no means simple, though. First, take the salinity! There’s also a depth which strangely, on the bouquet, reminds me of a fine Meursault. Odd, I know, but that’s what it smells like, somewhere deep in its core. Either that or it was making me hallucinate. Either way, amazing!

The 82 might be hard to find now, but if you want to try a “Florpower Manzanilla” then Bota 101 is a similar wine, but from 2016 rather than 2015. Although made in small batches, the Equipo Navazos wines are quite widely available. I certainly see a reasonable number in small independents like Solent Cellar. For more stockist info, contact importer, Alliance Wine.

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Recent Wines September 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

September has been a strange month. After feeling we had pretty much no summer it turned out to be mostly warm and sunny. It doesn’t quite feel like time to raid the Nebbiolo and Syrah really. So, the reds have been on the lighter side…in theory, alcohol levels not always low, but at least not too noticeable. The whites haven’t been too light either, but any alcohol has been magically balanced to perfection. I’ve chosen seven wines for this first part of September’s wines drunk at home, originating from Alsace, Jura, Rheinhessen, Burgenland, Liguria, the far north of Burgundy and Switzerland’s Valais. So, a nice varied selection. Some were cheaper than others, but all merit exploration if you come across them.

“LE BLEU” PINOT NOIR 2020, PHILIPPE BRAND (Alsace, France)

Philippe made this particular wine, bottled in litres, from grapes cultivated by a young winemaker friend, Guillaume Edel. It’s organic Pinot Noir off argilo-calcaire soils at Ergersheim. The village is of great interest, first because it is situated on the new frontier of exciting Alsace wine, directly east of Strasbourg (and just north of Molsheim). Secondly, Philippe Brand is, of course, one of the most exciting vignerons in the whole of Alsace right now, and is helping lead the charge up there.

This cuvée is just pure and total fruit which underwent a ten-day maceration before eight months in tank. Blackberry fruit makes a nice change in Pinot Noir, in a wine which is remarkably drinkable from the off. Very highly recommended.

This was purchased from a pop-up shop in Brighton’s Lanes area, Brazen. The guys behind it, Jon and James, are looking out for new premises soon, and I hope they find some. Their all-natural wine range is small but very well chosen. In the meantime, until they find more bricks and mortar, check out brazenwine.co online.

“THREE VIEWS OF A SECRET” 2019, PATRICE BEGUET (Jura, France)

Patrice is one of a handful of my favourite producers in Arbois, although technically he’s in the hamlet of Mesnay, around three minutes at most by car once you leave Arbois on the road towards Les Planches. The wider Jura region seems increasingly hit by climate change events now, mostly hail, and frost, and as in other regions, producers (especially small ones) have been forced to start a negoce label for bought in fruit. Patrice has followed Alice Bouvot’s well-established natural wine lead in this respect.

This wine, then, is an equal blend of Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewurztraminer from Marc Humbrecht in Alsace. It’s interesting that those Jura growers who have gone down the negociant route often favour Alsace varieties for their aromatics.

The result here is an amber/orange wine which saw around four weeks on skins to produce a deep colour. I’m always struck how these wines really do seem to have scents of orange. The palate strikes me as peachy, initially, with clementine to follow. The acidity is fresh and there’s a good amount of texture (though I’d not call it tannic). This was my first bottle of this and I was extremely taken with it. In the past, Patrice has been a master of experimentation for his own wines, and this is frankly as good as anything I’ve tasted from the domaine (and trust me, I’ve tasted a lot). Superb stuff.

Patrice Beguet is imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, from whom I bought this direct.

“FREI, KÖRPER, KULTUR” 2018, WEINGUT SCHMITT (Rheinhessen, Germany)

Free (be brave to be free), Body (we are all of the same kind), Culture (cultivate your nature cleverly, consume with culture)! Not a bad philosophy. This is a red Landwein, bottled in litres, from Daniel and Bianka Schmitt who are based in the famous Rheinhessen village of Florsheim-Dalsheim, in the Wonnegau sub-district. Both Daniel and Bianka have an unimpeachable CV in terms of natural wine stages but they are lucky to be able to farm 16 hectares of vineyards now which have been in the family for two-hundred years.

This red is a blend of the unsung varieties Dornfelder and Portugieser. The fruit is all destemmed and the skins separated from the free-run juice. Maceration on the skins lasts four weeks and then the wine goes into very large, old, oak füder for ageing. The result is a very dark and deep purple wine which is mirrored in dark bramble fruit on nose and palate, exactly as you’d expect. It’s another wine with great fruit acids (like the Brand Pinot, above), which just add biodynamic “brilliance” (in both senses, really). It’s a genuinely delicious wine, and a litre is just right for glugging purposes.

Purchased from The Solent Cellar.

“FOGOSCH” GRÜNER VELTLINER 2016, JOISEPH (Burgenland, Austria)

Luka Zeichmann is the winemaker in this partnership, based in Jois at the top end of the Neusiedlersee, just south of Vienna. For the past few years I’ve been calling him a star in the making, but it takes time to see whether the wines will age well. On the evidence of this 2016, one of my favourite Joiseph cuvées, it ages magnificently.

This was only the second vintage Luka made here. Fogosch is Grüner grown on the typical limestone mixture you find here, which suits the variety (and Blaufränkisch) so well. The vines are old so benefit from roots which go down deep through the limestone’s small crevices seeking water and nutrients.

Twenty-four hours is all the grapes are macerated for and ageing is one year in old chestnut barrels. The result is a bouquet of orange marmalade, with quince and peach appearing on the palate. The wine’s savoury side is enhanced by a saline minerality. I’d say it’s rich but with restraint, not at all a flabby richness. The spine is taut. It sees minimal added sulphur. Aside from that, it’s damned gorgeous, but note, also cloudy. The sediment definitely adds to the textural quality so don’t be afraid to agitate the bottle.

I drank the 2019 Fogosch at Plateau down in Brighton this summer and it was delicious, but the extra age of this bottle from 2016 gave it another dimension. Brilliant, but definitely be wary if you are not a fan of natural wines. If you are, you really must try it. Imported by Modal Wines. Only 600 bottles made.

ROSSESE DI DOLCEACQUA 2019, TERRE BIANCHE (Liguria, Italy)

I bought a couple of bottles from this producer, a Pigato (a Vermentino clone) and this red made on Western Liguria’s rocky coast not far from the border with France. Filippo Rondinelli and Nicola Laconi are behind the Terre Bianche label. It’s not strictly a natural wine, but they do employ a minimal intervention approach to their vines (many over a hundred years old) and wines.

Destemmed Rossese grapes are fermented with indigenous yeasts to give a bright crimson red wine with an edgy bouquet of red fruits and spice. The palate has smooth fruit but the finish has bite. The wine is pretty good value at £22.50 and is one of those wines you don’t come across very often, which perhaps adds an extra level of interest. It might not match the wines which both precede and follow it here, but definitely makes the cut on its merits, and it is at the cheaper end of my monthly drinking.

This bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton.

“CARAVAN” 2019, LE VENDANGEUR MASQUÉ (Chablis, France)

Le Vendangeur Masqué is, of course, the negociant label of Alice and Olivier De Moor, based in Courgis in France’s Chablis region. As with Patrice Beguet (above), the De Moors have been forced by the weather to spread their search for grapes. They’ve been doing this successfully for a few years now, and I get the impression they revel in the experimentation it allows. Caravan has become almost iconic amongst such wines.

We have 40% Riesling sourced from Luc Faller in Alsace, with 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Chardonnay from vineyards closer to home, in the Yonne. These are topped up with Aligoté from their own vineyards. Blending these varieties together is, at least in their capable hands, a genius idea. Each variety adds to the blend. The result is unusual, but in a good way.

The wine is aromatic and has a bit of gras which, in this case, results in a wine with lower alcohol (12.5%) than you might perceive from the medium weight. The balance comes from perfectly judged, sleek, green apple acidity. The whole is rounded out by twelve months in foudre with only a tiny amount of sulphur added at bottling. Mightily impressive but even more enjoyable. It has that characteristic De Moor vivacity…know what I mean?

The name “Caravan”, by the way, comes from the inspiration afforded by listening to the Duke Ellington track of the same name. The label, as with many of the De Moor wines, is as exquisite as the contents, at least for my aesthetic.

From The Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene.

DÔLE « LA LIAUDISAZ » 2017, MARIE-THÉRÈSE CHAPPAZ (Valais, Switzerland)

Some readers will know that Marie-Thérèse is one of my very favourite Swiss producers, based at Fully near Martigny, the bit of the Valais just before the Rhône turns abruptly north, towards Lac Léman. The vineyards are steep and benefit from the sun’s reflected warmth and biodynamic viticulture thrives in this lady’s experienced hands.

To many who know Swiss wine, Dôle can be a disappointment, perhaps an understatement. However, this talented producer makes more than one version of this once-derided blend, which is the same (Pinot Noir and Gamay) as Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, and despite appreciating such wines from Burgundy made by the likes of Lafarge and, in the past, Arnaud Ente, this is my favourite.

La Liaudisaz is mostly Pinot Noir (between 85-90%), topped-up with Gamay. Its crunchy fruit is balanced by a certain richness making a wine that is both smooth and savoury. Aged in old wood after a whole berry fermentation and a low sulphur regime, it’s simply gorgeous. It’s kind of a bit serious, as befits a top domaine, but then not too much. It’s after all not meant for big occasions, and all the better for it. Someone, perhaps knowing Dôle, wondered whether this 2017 might be past its best. LOL! It’s Chappaz!

I’ve bought this over the past few years from both Dynamic Vines in Bermondsey and from Alpine Wines online, and I can’t tell you which one of them sold me this bottle. As these wines are hard to come by, take a look at both importers.

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Foot Trodden by Simon J Woolf & Ryan Opaz (Review)

If I ask you to name one country which is most often completely forgotten for its wines, at least on the UK market, I’d put money on many of you saying Portugal. It’s not as if Portugal doesn’t make a range of fantastic wines, from tinglingly fresh Vinho Verde whites (and reds, come to think of it) to long lived, serious, Douro red wine, with rather a lot in between. The Body in charge of promoting Portuguese wine also does a good job here once a year with a Portuguese Wine Week, which rewards independent wine shops which most successfully bring this country’s wines to our attention. I know a few wine shops I use get involved.

It is equally not as if this country on Europe’s Western edge doesn’t have a lot to offer. It has the undoubted expertise of the Port Houses, it has traditions like foot treading in Lagars and fermenting and ageing in traditional clay vessels (Talhas, largely from Alentejo, are the Portuguese equivalent, though very different, to the Georgian qvevri), and it has a string of barely known autochthonous grape varieties to entice the wine geeks and satisfy their curiosity for months.

Perhaps the main issue Portugal has had in popularising its wines would be, in the past, a lack of quality-conscious individual producers with a reputation overseas. They have always existed, of course. Take Luis Pato as an example, who started bottling his own wine back in the 1980s. But overall, Portuguese wine has been dominated by larger producers, whether private companies or co-operatives. They have sometimes been content to produce rather generic examples of traditional wines.

Luis Pato, whose Bairrada was the first quality Portuguese wine from an independent producer I ever tasted, back in the 1980s

Where such wines have been made in a more traditional style, then they have just not been easy to find outside Portugal. Take the wine of Colares as one prime example, or traditional wines favoured by the older generation (or younger football managers in the case of José Mourinho’s professed love of Barca Velha).

Then there is the “flying winemaker”. When I was getting into wine these folks were everywhere, but Portugal had a few high-profile individuals (Peter Bright and his Bright Brothers company is probably the most prominent example of an Aussie flying winemaker who had a massive influence on the more commercial side of Portuguese wine). As in other countries, Antipodean winemakers, university educated in modern winemaking, have had a transformative influence. It’s just that in the quest to “clean up” Portuguese wine, undoubtedly producing wine of good quality at affordable prices, maybe something of its original character and uniqueness was occasionally bypassed.

Another cause for Portugal lagging behind the rest of Europe has probably been the paucity of natural wine producers. The natural wine movement has seen many young people begin to make wine across the continent, often with very little land at their disposal, but they have achieved a profile far greater than their output would usually warrant. Those countries/regions with a hive of natural wine activity (Eastern France, Austria, Loire, South Africa etc) have very quickly become fashionable, especially among younger drinkers. Until quite recently, Portugal was slow off the mark here, although this is changing.

This new side to Portuguese wine I have yet to experience in the flesh. I won’t tell you exactly when my one and only trip to the country was, but we are talking decades. It was restricted, so far as wine went, to the north, with a visit to Vinho Verde country and a journey up the Douro. This was a time when a desire to try a red Vinho Verde in a bar was met with an attempt to dissuade me. I discovered why. It did taste rather similar to the vinegar on the table. It was also a time when in regions like Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro transport was frequently by mule cart, when a 1940s-era bus was more or less the only alternative. It was also happily a time when EU-funding was beginning to change people’s lives here, reducing rural poverty and for better or worse, eroding one of Europe’s last bastions of embedded tradition.

I have just one book on Portuguese wine on my shelves, written by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter, self-published in 2007 (The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal, Inn House Publishing). It was an excellent book. Not only did it cover the wine regions, it was also a useful travel guide with places to stay, eat, and buy food and wine. But a decade-and-a-half on we are in need of something new.

Thankfully we have it in Foot Trodden – Portugal and the Wines that Time Forgot by Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz. I’m sure you all remember that Simon Woolf’s first book, Amber Revolution was my Book of the Year in 2018. Simon is one of a small number of people I cannot imagine writing anything I would not love. His photographer and fellow contributor is a real talent in his own right and the photography here adds to the mood of the book in ways hard to imagine without seeing for yourself. They “tell the story” alongside the words, the two being inseparable. The photograph taken on Madeira (pp200-201) must rank among the finest wine pics I’ve seen in print.

Ryan Opaz is, of course, based in Portugal so his local knowledge and network of contacts has probably been transformative in terms of what, and who, the authors have been able to gain access to, but Simon Woolf is hardly lacking in expertise himself, having visited Portugal regularly for at least the past decade.

Foot Trodden states its aim to explore the intersections between wine, culture and history. This is essential on several levels: it’s the only way to view Portuguese wine, but at the same time, it is culture and history which both ground the story and furnish us with that true sense of excitement which may have been lacking. Portuguese wine is so much more that some grape varieties we’ve never heard of fermented in stainless steel, aged in oak and sold for £8.99 on the supermarket shelf alongside the Rioja and Rueda from Spain.

After the preliminaries and an Introduction, Foot Trodden is divided into seven further chapters, all thematic. They are as follows:

2. Granito – Vinho Verde

3. Lagar – Douro

4. Serra – Dão

5. Baga – Bairrada

6. Talha – Alentejo and Ribatejo

7. Terra – Colares and Madeira

8. Bom Dia! – Lisboa and Beyond

Each chapter covers wider ground that you might imagine. We meet the wines, and we meet the people who are not only making them, but who are pushing the boundaries and drawing the international spotlight onto their respective regions. These are individuals who are doing so much more than the regional wine bodies, hidebound, perhaps to a degree, by the need to service the larger producers who are paying their wages. This is not a book which ignores larger producers where their wines are sufficiently interesting and, shall we say, any good. But it is a big shout for artisanal winemakers, and for producers who feel a connection to place, tradition and the wider culture, treading increasingly lightly on their often unique terroir (terra).

In the same way that many so-called modern winemakers in Spain are going “back to the future”, making modern wines via an exploration of tradition and forgotten expertise, Portugal’s best winemakers seem to have an interest in what has been forgotten from the past alongside what has been learnt in the present. Authenticity is a much over used word, but perhaps it is relevant for the wines made by this younger generation of winemakers, looking back to a few select mentors from an older generation and to some of the methods their grandfathers may have used, and generations before them.

Do I have any criticisms? It seems a mean one…my own interest in the wines of the Azores is not reciprocated as this distant outpost of Portuguese winemaking is not covered. I can well understand the reasons, being a mix of Covid constraints and the sheer cost of getting boots on the ground there.

I am pleased that due to the success of the Kickstarter campaign, it became possible for the authors to visit Madeira. I grow increasingly intrigued by all the wines produced on this island, despite poor knowledge and all too little experience. Equally, when I was younger Madeira was seen very much as a destination for old people, on cruise ships. This perception has changed, and with its culture, wine and walking (always a bonus for us), I am coming closer to desiring a trip there.

I think that the world of wine today is crying out for a different tack, and I know Simon Woolf is with me on this. The three decades years before this current decade has seen wine writing take an approach based all around scoring wine. It has led to a great deal of technical discussion in relation to viticulture and winemaking. Can you read anything of this ilk which doesn’t talk about clones, about the size of the open-top fermentation vessels and what was the toast level of the oak in which the wine was aged?

This book has a different focus…on the people and their stories rather than only on the wine as an object to analyse. It’s a book of history and culture rather than just wine science (though winemaking has its part to play here). This is why, alongside knowledge, perception and fine writing, I commend this exceptional book to you. It’s one of those rare books which you don’t know you need to read, but when you do you will be enriched by reading it.

This is, as Jamie Goode says on the back cover, “A beautiful creative endeavour that looks set to introduce a new public to Portugal’s remarkable wine scene”. I could not have put it better.

Foot Trodden by Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz is published this month, arriving first to those who helped fund the project via a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. It is published in Europe by Woolf’s Morning Claret Productions and in the United States by Interlink Books of Northampton, Massachusetts, priced £25 (UK), €30 (Europe) and $35 (USA).  Contact for sales via http://www.themorningclaret.com (Shop) or Simon Woolf via Instagram ( @themorningclaret ) for further information.

Images © Ryan Opaz 2021, used with permission.

Ryan Opaz and Simon Woolf

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Portuguese wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines August 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part Two follows swiftly on from Part One, mostly because I can’t wait to review a rather exciting new wine book as soon as I can get through it. So, taking up where we left off on Wednesday, we begin with a wine made from some very obscure varieties in Czech Moravia, then one of my all-time favourite Viennese field blends and a lovely litre of Corsican Vermentino, which had shamefully been in my fridge for nearly a year. Next, a Crazy fizz from Germany, a beautiful Rosato from Frank Cornelissen on Sicily and, to wind up August’s wines drunk at home, possibly my bargain of the summer, from Northern Spain.

MLADÝ BOCEK 2017, RICHARD STÁVEK (Moravia, Czechia)

Richard has been making natural wines in Moravia for over 25 years on part of his mixed farm (15ha, of which around 4.5ha are planted to vines). Although I am buying probably more Czech wine than most individuals these days, I’ve probably neglected this producer. Checking through my notes I’ve tried far more of his wines at tastings than I have bought over the past three or four years.

This wine has a level of interest which suggests I’ve been a fool. The blend here is enough to get any rare variety hound salivating, Sevar and Rubinet are the grape varieties. They make a powerfully juicy red wine. The concentrated fruit is cherry with other red fruits in a supporting role. The colour is very dark, yet it is lighter on the palate than you would expect…unless you’d spotted the 11.5% abv on the label. The bright acidity makes it remarkably refreshing. You slurp it almost like a fruit juice with a chewy finish.

This makes for a wine which I guess you’d use for the same kind of cuisine as you might pull out a Barbera or Dolcetto for…or any number of Alpine reds for that matter. Don’t be put off by the obscure grape varieties. It’s a lovely, sappy, uncomplicated red wine crying out for a whole platter of rustic delights.

The current vintage has, I think, moved on to 2018, which will cost £30 at Basket Press Wines.

RAKETE [2019], JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna, Austria)

It is difficult to explain why I love this wine so much without taking you to the vineyards immediately to the north of the Austrian Capital, blending seamlessly into the city suburbs. I love walking among the vines over the wider Nussberg and Kahlenberg hillsides, in summer sipping wine at the pop-up Heurigen, in winter delighting in the crisp air above the Danube. Most Gemischter Satz field blends, from here and elsewhere, tend to be white wines, but there is no reason why they should not contain red varieties, vinified as a Rosé or pale red.

I’ve written a lot about Jutta before, suffice to say that this ex-graphic designer makes the most exciting, edgy, wines in the region, one which should have a bigger international profile than it perhaps does. It might be that most of the winemakers (not all, for sure) are as quiet and undemonstrative about their wines as Jutta is. She remains at the top of her game, yet sadly her output is tiny.

Rakete is a field blend of St Laurent, Rotburger (aka Zweigelt), Blauburger (Blauer Portugieser x Blaufränkisch), Merlot and some assorted white varieties in very tiny quantities. The vines are close to fifty years old, off the limestone of Kahlenberg (a short walk or bus ride from Nussdorf).

The grapes come in and undergo a four-day maceration. The essence of gemischter satz winemaking is that the grapes are all picked together and co-fermented. In this case, whole bunches go into stainless steel. Bottled without fining, nor filtration, with an admonition on the label to shake the bottle and serve chilled. It’s just pure cranberry juice, joyful and life-affirming.

Rakete, and other wines from Jutta Ambrositsch, are usually available via Newcomer Wines and Littlewine (littlewine.com).

“ZINZINU” 2019, VERMENTINU, CANTINA DI TORRA (Corsica, (France))

This is a litre of low alcohol Vermentino (or Vermentinu using the Corsican dialect spelling) from Nicolas Mariotti Bindi on his Cantina di Torra label. The wines are made from around 7.5ha of north-facing slopes on the Golfe de Saint Florent, west of Bastia. This is a part of the island perhaps better known for its appellation wines, Patrimonio and Muscat de Cap Corse.

Although bottled in litre size, this is no plonk. Seventy-year-old vines are hand-harvested off limestone “carcu” and clay before being whole-bunch pressed into stainless steel. Although only labelled as organic, bottling is with minimal added sulphur. This perhaps enhances the freshness which this 10.4% abv beauty had retained in my fridge for nearly eleven months. It’s easy drinking, light but with a saline finish which elevates it from simple to delicious.

We drank this al fresco, first with taboulé, and then cheese and it just did the job perfectly. To be honest I am not sure it would have tasted substantially better if it hadn’t performed the function of emergency backup for longer than I’d normally hope (do you keep wine in the fridge just in case you get unexpected guests?).

This came from The Solent Cellar. I don’t see it currently listed, but they do have a couple of Nicolas Mariotti Bindi’s red wines in stock so perhaps they will get some more next year.

“CRAZY CRAZY” 2020, MARTO WINES (Rheinhessen, Germany)

Today Rheinhessen rivals The Pfalz as the most innovative and progressive wine region in Germany”. Those, more or less, are the opening words on Rheinhessen in the M&B World Wine Atlas, current edn (Robinson et al). That statement is undoubtedly true, although perhaps the authors were thinking Keller and Wittmann rather than the kind of innovation we have here!

A tome like the Wine Atlas spends its two Rheinhessen pages relating the great concentration of fabulous names in both Wonnegau and the revived Nierstein/Oppenheim axis, but this is Germany’s largest wine region and there are more than 150 wine communes to take in. Not all of them have sites famed for GG Riesling, but that’s by no means to write them off, especially if it is indeed innovation you are seeking.

This wine was described to me as a kind of “German take on Prosecco”, so naturally I was hooked and reeled in. Marto Wines is the label of Martin Wörner, based at the notable wine village of Flonheim, northwest of Wonnegau, that being one of Rheinhessen’s better known sub-regions, in which you will find that other pair of aforementioned innovators. Taking natural wine methodology seriously (Martin did work at Gut Oggau and Matassa, after all), the estate’s five hectares are sown with cover crops and sheep graze the vineyards.

If the wine’s name is a repetition of the word “crazy”, the first crazy must be the blend: Würzer, Huxelrebe and Müller-Thurgau. The latter used to be the mainstay of Rheinhessen in the bad old days, and Huxelrebe? It must be decades since I have drunk a wine containing that variety, and when I last did it might well have been English wine. Würzer? Another one for the rare variety sleuths.

So, to the taste of it. Apple and lemon freshness, quite cidery on the palate yet not volatile, more just sharp apple freshness. It’s a gorgeously thirst-quenching froth monster, real fun in the glass. Well sedimented, though, and definitely the way it tastes is the second “crazy”.

This small winzer, pretty much unknown in the UK, exports to places as diverse as Australia and Japan. Whilst some of the UK wine trade has very possibly taken its finger off the pulse due, no doubt, to our current Covid/Brexit predicament, we can still rely on Les Caves de Pyrene to bring in some of the new names in European wine. Let’s hope they are able to continue to do so. Anyone noticed the rise in cost of importing as an individual!

SUSUCARU ROSATO 2020, FRANK CORNELISSEN (Etna, Sicily (Italy))

Frank is still often portrayed as the wild man of Etna’s natural wine scene, but I’m told he’s changed a lot since I first began to drink his wines, and his wines have changed a little too. As an early enthusiast I kind of stopped drinking them eventually, down to many a volatile disaster and the cost of those fails. In fairness to the winemaker, they were probably caused by shipping and storage, with the sulphur-free instability one saw more often in the early days of natural wine, and it was certainly not the case that every bottle was affected.

Robert Camuto in his 2010 book, “Palmento” (Univ of Nebraska Press), suggests that Cornelissen decided to make wine on the slopes of Etna because he believed it was the only place in Europe where he could make wine free of chemical additives. Thankfully, many more such places have since been discovered. Perhaps the bleak solitude of the mountain appealed to this former mountaineer, and maybe even the danger inherent in living beside an active volcano?

Susucaru is the label for the entry level wines Frank used to call “Contadino”. The name translates as “they stole it”, and grape theft is a real problem in Sicily, as one might imagine. That sort of activity cannot help but make this rosato even more of a supposed unicorn than it already is. Frank blended Malvasia, Moscadella, Inzolia and Nerello Mascalese into this 2020 vintage. It saw ten days on skins before ageing in tank. It also saw a very light filtration, but no added sulfites.

Does it express the terroir, as intended? It certainly expresses real purity of fruit, with clean cranberry flavours plus a saline edge. Definitely a “volcanic wine”. I don’t quite see the similarities with Poulsard which have been touted, but that’s just me. It’s really good, in fact inspiring, and a very clean and fresh, dark pink, wine.

So, this is said to be a unicorn. It’s true that no one in the UK has a lot to sell (although an acquaintance did say she saw three cases of this in a Barcelona wine shop recently). However, it does seem to be shared out fairly widely among the indie merchants, so plenty of folks will have six or twelve to sell. It’s just a question of getting in quickly, either there or at Les Caves de Pyrene. When there’s some around you can get it, but it disappears quickly. What it does not share with most so-called unicorns is price. This is priced around just £30. For now, we are lucky.

TXACOLI ROSÉ 2020, BODEGA REZABAL (Euskadi/Basque Country, (Spain))

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this wine has probably been my bargain of the summer. The grape variety is one of the Hondarrabis common in the Basque Region, but this one is Hondarrabi Beltza. It is grown on that lush, green, part of Northern Spain which goes from just west of Bilbao to just east of Donostia/San Sebastian, increasingly known for apple-fresh tasting white Txacoli, a wine which is well enough known these days that most people can now pronounce it.

However, this wine is very pale pink, and in fact the producer calls it a Rosé rather than use the Spanish term. It is made by Anders and Mireya Rezabal on their 20ha domaine in the sub-region of Getariako (Guetaria DO), just west of that gastronomic mecca, San Sebastian. The vines are traditionally high-trained, and the vinification is as simple as possible with the aim to retain the same freshness you find in the white wine.

The bouquet gives a lively strawberry scent and the CO2 prickle in the wine is easily sensed on the nose on first sniff. The palate, whilst full of that freshness, also has a rounded, lush, peachy flavour. There’s a little dry extract on the finish to ground things. Simple but most effective, its 11% alcohol being just right to quench a summer thirst. Serve well chilled. I’m thinking of getting some more, although that may well be an easier task than finding some more reliable sunshine.

This wine is quite widely available. My bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton, and cost just £13.99. I know that Theatre of Wine sells it in London, as do quite a few of the usual independent suspects.

The following wines are bottles we drank from someone else’s cellar. You just get a peak.

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Recent Wines August 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

August’s “recent wines” will be a little shorter than usual, still two parts, but with a focus on just six wines in each part. This is partly because of spending time away and partly because we drank some bottles I’ve written about fairly recently. I don’t think I can resist a brief mention of a couple of additional bottles we drank on the road though. For Part One we have Dorset, Anjou and Bio Bio alongside Jura, Sanlúcar and the Eastern Languedoc. The bonus wines are a fabulous New Zealand petnat and a smart Champagne which drew attention to the dangers of writing off a less favoured vintage.

“CORALLIAN CLASSIC CUVÉE” EXTRA BRUT, LANGHAM WINERY (Dorset, UK)

Made from 75% Chardonnay with 15% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier (that’s much more Chardonnay than the 2017 base), 83% of this cuvée is from the 2018 vintage and 17% from reserves. Bottling was in August 2019 and disgorgement February 2021, dosed at 1.5g/l.

John Langham first planted vines near to his new home close to Dorchester, which he purchased in 1980, a manor house dating from the time of Edward VI. In 2009 his son, Justin, commercialised the operation, planting the 30-acre Crawthorne vineyard. The Langham cuvées are effectively single vineyard wines, all made from fruit grown on the estate, using what the team term “low intervention” methods in the vines and the winery.

This is the second recent bottle, the first being around seven or eight weeks before this one and the difference was marked. The first bottle was nice but very young, but for some reason this one was a big step up in terms of flavour and complexity. This is curious, considering it’s a fairly young wine in which I’d have expected less autolytic character. It could possibly mean that this 2018 base may age more quickly, or it could be bottle variation. That said, most people will buy this to consume almost immediately.

Nevertheless, it really was very good indeed. Brioche notes on the nose, a slightly rounder mouthfeel despite the low dosage, and pretty good length. A nice bit of chalky texture lingers on the finish, which seems a little softer than many Extra Brut cuvées.

In any event, this is shaping up to be one of my favourite “classic cuvées”, helped perhaps by the fact that it’s a bit cheaper than some of the others which would make my list. This cost £30 from The Solent Cellar. The Langham Blanc de Blancs leaps to £39.

“EGLANTINE” VIN DE FRANCE PÉTILLANT [2019], BENOÎT COURAULT (Anjou, France)

The Courault domaine is at Faye D’Anjou in the Western Loire Valley, south of Angers and west of Saumur. The vines here are grown on a fairly flat plateau comprised of clay over blue slate and schist. Benoît took over 6.5ha of vines around fifteen years ago and farms with the sensitivity to the environment and ecology that he learnt from one of his mentors, the great Eric Pfifferling, at L’Anglore in Tavel.

“Eglantine” is a delightful pink petnat. Delightful as a descriptor could be taken as damning with faint praise, yet it fits so perfectly here. The wine isn’t in the slightest bit demonstrative, but it’s lovely. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc and Grolleau, with in 2019 a dash of Pineau d’Aunis. The wine’s makeup changes each year, as does the pressure in the bottle. The 2019 has turned out more frizzante than fully sparkling, and I think this is what gives the wine its charm. Just a touch of sulphur is added at bottling, which is in the spring after harvest. This petnat is disgorged.

The bouquet is initially of rose petals, which come across in a gentle, ethereal stream. This is followed by red fruits (raspberry aromatics), which also dominate the palate, but the finish is unexpectedly redolent of spice, perhaps pepper. The gentle nose gives way to a firmer palate, which is built around some nice fresh acidity with just enough steeliness.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

PAÍS 2019, DARREN SMITH & ROBERTO HENRÍQUES (Bio-Bio, Chile)

This is another of Darren Smith’s collaborations under his “The Finest Wines Available to Humanity” label. Roberto Henríques worked as an agronomist and this was how he discovered plots of old vine País in Bio Bio’s Itata Valley. País is probably the same variety as Listán Prieto, which originated in Spain’s Gredos Mountains. A “peasant” workhorse grape, it probably made the communion wines of the first Christian monks and priests who went to Chile during the conquest by Spain in the sixteenth century.

I recall being pointed towards Roberto’s wines when they were first imported into the UK by Wines Under the Bonnet several years ago, and I remember being particularly impressed with his País. Having drunk a few of Darren’s collaborations from Portugal and the Canary Islands, I was rather looking forward to my bottle of this.

The grapes are from 200-year-old, dry-farmed, vines near the tiny village of Millapoa, right up at around 350 masl. The soil here, not that there’s much, is eroded black basalt sand.

The colour is a dark ruby with glints of deep purple. The legs are notably thick, but the wine only registers 13.5% abv. The bouquet is all concentrated bramble fruit and cherry with notes of violet and lavender. The palate has a nice line in rusticity but certainly with a modern twist. In sum, textured, fruity and with bright acidity. Remarkably, it’s easy to slurp this, despite the alcohol level. I was very taken with it and Darren seems to be putting out some very exciting wines. I guess his choice of collaborator here has been spot on.

Purchased direct from Darren but you can read more about his wines and other avenues to purchase them in my article from June, Here.

“ENTRE-DEUX” CÔTES DU JURA 2016, PEGGY & JEAN-PASCAL BURONFOSSE (Jura, France)

I have been a fairly regular small-scale purchaser of the Buronfosse wines, on and off, when in the Jura region, but they had previously appeared absent from the UK market. It was a shame. I know there are so many fashionable small growers in the region, but Peggy is up there with the very best. Thankfully, I’ve now discovered they are in the UK, thanks to the ever Jura-vigilant Solent Cellar in Lymington.

Peggy fell on her feet really when Raymond Pageault rented his old vines to her and husband Jean-Pascal on his retirement. It helped that Peggy had become friends with her neighbour, Jean-François Ganevat, because these vines were in La Combe, Rotalier, one of Jura’s most famed locations. A “grand cru” if ever there was one.

The couple’s 4ha of vineyards are on steep slopes of limestone, marl and schist at both Rotalier and St-Laurent Grandvaux. “Entre-Deux” is Savagnin, a selection wine presumably made from vines in both locations. It is made in the ouillé style (topped-up, not oxidative). It’s lime-fresh, gorgeously so, with a very lengthy finish. The 12% alcohol seems perfectly judged in a lovely, impressive, bottle. It’s one of those wines you don’t see very often on Instagram but one which those who know, know.

Imported by Raeburn Fine Wines.

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

I decided I needed to check up on one of my most recent EN purchases, although the weather this August hasn’t really induced me to drink a lot of Palomino Fino, whether fortified or not. It’s a shame because I don’t normally need an excuse.

This Palomino comes from the Pago de Miraflores La Baja at Sanlúcar, a very special terroir. The idea behind this bottling “before the flor” is indeed to create a table wine, without fortification, which is the purest expression of that terroir. So, no cask ageing, just tank. The vintage is 2019 and ageing was 12 months in stainless steel, without the appearance of a veil of yeast. Then bottling, which took place last year.

The result is, as always with these “Florpower” wines, pretty amazing. It’s certainly youthful, but that’s a good time to broach one. The salinity and chalky terroir texture are perhaps at their peak, along with freshness, which will mellow into greater complexity with time. The vines are very old and the yields are naturally low, which assists the winemaker to get that tell-tale EN concentration, and the potential to age impressively is definitely there for anyone who cares to do so. That potential for this wine is significant, which is why a few bottles, not merely one, would be essential if you can get some. At least these delicious Florpowers are cheaper than the fortified Sherries they bottle at EN.

The UK agent for Equipo Navazos is Alliance Wine.

MAS LASTA PÉTNAT ROSÉ, ANNE-LAURE SICARD (Languedoc, France)

Anne-Laure is a vigneronne on the Terroir de Larzac, the vineyards near the Causses of the same name in Western Languedoc. She has farmed 8.5ha of vines, all up at around 400 masl, at St-Privat since 2015, using non-intervention approaches in the vineyard and winery. Initially she trained as an agricultural engineer before enology studies. Subsequent to that she has worked over several continents and is very widely travelled for a young winemaker.

From what I can tell, Anne-Laure is something of a red wine specialist, certainly getting excellent reviews for her Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. Her vines are old, and scattered in small parcels around the village, but growing on the now famous schist and sandstone of the sub-region.

This simple petnat is delicious. It’s a darker shade of rosé, made from Grenache. It’s fruity, light and clean, in fact not remotely scary for anyone new to natural wine. It’s just what you want from summer fizz, although this is a petnat which contains sediment, easily avoided by standing the bottle up for a while if the idea of cloudy wine doesn’t appeal. I prefer a little texture, which the sediment adds. At 12.5% this is still very easy to guzzle down.

This was a recommendation from Solent Cellar.

Now to the two wines I didn’t drink at home. The first was shared with a couple of friends on the beach and it was as perfect as you could imagine a beach-time petnat could be. So, you might be shocked to discover the grape variety is Müller-Thurgau. If anyone makes a brilliant version of this old workhorse variety, once widely planted in New Zealand before Savvy Blanc became fashionable, it is Theo Coles.

Theo farms at North Canterbury on NZ’s South Island, and I’d be hard pushed to name a New Zealand winemaker whose wines thrill me as much as his do. This was his Ancestral Method Müller-Thurgau 2019. Who would have thought the old variety of German sugar water fame could give us this little gem! To be fair, a few German winemakers are re-evaluating the variety and we are seeing a few excellent natural wines made from the grape in Germany now.

What we have here is just pure fruity fizz, zero complications, for times when you have a thirst (post-swim, perhaps). The 2019 is almost certainly all gone, but maybe you can grab a bottle of the 2020? Uncharted Wines is the agent, and my previous source, but this one came from Littlewine.

The second wine I want to mention is a classic, and in many ways it’s not a wine I would expect to drink often. Yet “Comtes” is and has always been one of my favourite Prestige Cuvée Champagnes. That said, I can’t see myself buying any more because this has pushed over £150 now. I’m not sure what this 2005 (yes) cost because it would have been purchased with a discount, but the 2006s I have remaining are my last, I’m guessing.

So it goes with a lot of Champagne. I used to have a reasonable amount of the stuff, but it’s disappearing way too quickly and however much I claim there’s plenty of wine out there, Champagne is something I just cannot replace. It hurts.

This Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2005 was delicious and I mention it primarily because it highlights that truth, obvious to any real wine lover, that a top producer’s top wine will be worth buying whatever the vintage. People talk some generalised rubbish about vintages. Someone I know drank a very tasty Haut-Brion 1984 the other day and it reminded me that a friend’s father had opened one for our anniversary, over in France, a few years ago, with a similar result.

Are the 2004 and 2006 vintages of Comtes better than the 2005? Probably, if you ask an expert. The 2005 is just different. We drank it with close friends, one of whom has a special love and connection with Comtes, which is why I took it for our Glyndebourne picnic and we were lucky…this bottle was glorious, drinking perfectly but I don’t think anyone need panic if they have a case or two. Complex and majestic.

I know there’s no God-given right for any of us to be able to drink any given wine, whether that be fine Champagne or a Jura Unicorn. But that doesn’t stop me wishing.

This is, of course, very widely available in whatever is the current vintage (the excellent 2008 vintage is available at some retailers if you have £160 to splash). If Waitrose is having one of their 25% off weeks, it’s always worth popping into their Oxford Street or Canary Wharf branches. But even so, wines costing more that £100, even with discount, cost more than I care to pay these days.

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The Visitor

It’s what we do, isn’t it? As wine lovers, obsessives even, we visit vineyards and taste the wine, and if we are not the victim of airline baggage restrictions, we probably buy some to bring home. If we are lucky enough to be driving, we bring lots home. Although our partners and children don’t always appreciate our obsession, for those of us who have a wine passion, bringing home bottles from producers we’ve visited on holiday is probably (don’t tell the family) the most exciting part of the trip.

I’m pretty sure that I’m far from being alone here. The fun is partly in obtaining bottles you might not be able to get back home, something the importer thinks won’t sell, but for the self-styled connoisseur it’s just what he or she had hoped to get hold of. Sometimes it’s just bagging new cuvées or vintages which have not yet reached our shores. There’s also the fun of cramming it all in, along with the luggage, and all that paraphernalia you need to give the young ones in the family a sense that it is a holiday for them too, not just a period of automobile incarceration for the length of daddy’s wine trip.

Of course, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek. Wine regions surely vie with the mountains as the most beautiful places to holiday and the vineyards I love to visit are usually near to mountains, or at least pretty big hills. Can you beat a vineyard walk after breakfast? And on the subject of food, it is probably no coincidence that wine regions also seem to have the best cuisine, at least in Europe.

Such holidays always excite the organisational side of my personality. I like a good puzzle and fitting wine into an already crammed boot is a challenge I’m up for. When the children’s feet didn’t reach the floor in the back of the car, the seat wells could take the odd six-pack for them to rest upon. Odd bottles fit under seats and it is amazing how many small spaces there are in the boot. Mind you, I remember one particular holiday, many years ago now, where we ended up in the mountains near Aosta and I genuinely thought I’d broken the back axle, which had it been true would have been a mean feat for a Volvo estate.

So, if the “wine visit” is the highlight of our holiday, we also assume that it’s part and parcel of a day in the life of your average wine producer. This assumption, or not so much an assumption but something one probably didn’t really think about, has been rocked somewhat over the last eighteen months or so. The issues around visits were first mentioned to me in conversation with Wink Lorch, who highlighted the difficulties even she, as an established authority on Jura and Savoie, was sometimes having in gaining appointments in these regions.

The issue was once more brought to light on social media this month, with some Twitter users apparently declaring their God-given right to rock up at a vigneron’s house, expecting a tasting. The overall opinion went along the lines of “well, they are running a business”. Such a view was somewhat countered in a great piece by Hannah Fuellenkemper, which appeared a week ago on Simon Woolf’s “Morning Claret” site.

It’s a fun read and it puts across the potential point of view of the winemaker very well. In examining all the reasons why someone decided to become a winemaker, she says “but I bet at no point you decided to make wine because you wanted to spend all your time drinking with random people in your kitchen”.

Shall we take a step back. There are many kinds of winemaker and a great number positively encourage visitors. They may be a large commercial operation where coaches are welcome. They may merely be Australian. I jest, but Australian winemakers with almost all sizes of vine holdings will have a tasting room. Those who don’t are highly adept at making their winery very hard to find (even if one has been granted an invitation). Even a star producer like Clonakilla in Canberra District will allow the odd coach by appointment, though.

The finest estates in an Australian wine region like the Hunter Valley, or Mornington Peninsula see the value of wine tourism in helping to establish both their own brand and that of their region. You can expect a tasting room which, these days, will often be modern and light, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a restaurant too. There will be staff employed just to conduct your tasting and the punter will usually be expected to pay a small fee for the samples, albeit usually refunded against a few bottles purchased.

In Europe this kind of experience used to be most common in Champagne. You pay for the “tour” of, if you choose well, some beautiful chalk Crayères in Reims, with a man in period costume, circa 1920, riddling a few rows of bottles by hand (the mechanical gyropalettes which jerk the sediment down the bottles in their millions will be behind closed doors but the keen-eared visitor will hear them clunk every so often). At the end of the tour your fee will include a few sips of the non-vintage.

I’m not knocking this at all. In fact, everyone should pay such a visit. It’s worth it at houses like Taittinger just to see the magnificent cellars. But these tours are not aimed at serious wine lovers. Such tours are now even available in Bordeaux, last bastion of the verb “to exclude”, where the public have generally been excluded in the past and the wines have therefore become even more exclusive.

Today, Bordeaux has opened up. Of the tours available to the general public, perhaps one of the best is to Château Lynch-Bages, in the “wine destination hamlet” of Bages. Bages has a nice place to eat, a top bakery, and on the opposite side of the square, the Lynch-Bages gift shop where, trust me, it’s impossible not to spend some money after the winery tour (the Lynch-Bages Blanc I grabbed on my 2015 visit was actually rather good).

There are many thousands of family producers who fall into the next category, where there’s a tasting room either open at certain times (weekends, open days), or maybe by appointment. If a producer has a tasting-room you can be pretty sure they welcome visitors, though perhaps more at their convenience than yours. Quite often it may be another family member who is on hand to welcome you. A daughter back home from studying English in Boston, or the vigneron(ne)’s partner. You can find such places all over viticultural Europe, from Alsace to Piemonte and from the Rheinpfalz to Burgenland.

Usually, if you’ve called in advance, you will get a welcome, although the article I referred to by Hannah Fuellenkemper is actually titled “Why French Winemakers Never Reply to E-mails”, and the title is apt. They really don’t, and why would they? Don’t imagine you are not one of dozens of people at least who every week crave an audience with the great winemaker him/herself. I always recommend telephoning.

If you don’t speak their language, you may well be, as they say down here, stuffed. My wife speaks the kind of French which sounds French, fluent but with just enough of an English accent I’m told is appealing to the ear (unlike mine…I can get by very well so long as no one mentions my accent). This is a bonus for me, and indeed occasionally for friends who request a favour.

A welcome may not always be forthcoming because life can move at pace for these families. I remember a visit with my own family in tow, arranged with one producer during our drive back to England. We turned up at the appointed time to discover he’d gone out to his furthest vines and we were met by his wife, in her dressing gown (late morning), wholly unaware of our visit. She did open something, but I think she was pleased we were just most interested in relieving her of a mixed case. A relatively short visit seemed in everyone’s best interests.

The difficulty, for the potential visitor who exhibits even a mild obsession with wine, is that Europe’s wine regions are increasingly peopled by very small producers who farm a hectare or two, often with no full-time help. These are the young stars we increasingly chase after, and as the classics of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Barolo become too expensive for most of us, and as natural wine gains even more appeal, more and more of us want to seek them out.

Their partner may do the accounts in the evening or weekends, but there’s no tasting room and no-one to conduct a tasting. These are the producers Hannah is talking about in her article. If you like natural wine, then almost all of the producers you desire to meet and taste with are likely to fall into this category. The issue has been highlighted on social media especially in regard to Jura producers, but the problem is not restricted to that region in France, and not to France exclusively. It is a big problem for the young winemakers who are struggling to make a living from a few small parcels anywhere, but mostly in Europe.

André Durrmann in their tasting room – It’s nothing fancy but you will be made welcome

A good example of this kind of winemaker was mentioned in the Twitter feed which led to Hannah’s “response” article. Patrice Beguet is based at Mesnay, a small village which is walkable, being just down the road, from Arbois, Jura’s heartland. I’ve visited Patrice a few times and any tasting he conducts takes place in his small cellar, below the house. Any transactions are conducted in his open plan living room above. Such producers are not geared up for wine tourism and it is hard to believe how an exciting young vigneron like Patrice, whose vignoble includes plots in far-away Pupillin, could actually get any work done if he saw all the visitors who would like to taste there.

Then there’s the elephant in the room…wine to taste? What wine? Many of the people who left comments on the article, and those who commented on Twitter, say the same thing. At the end of the day, wine is a business and if you make wine, you’ve just gotta go out and sell it, boy! But the key lies in whether you’ve got any wine to sell.

Some people forget, or have no idea of, the size of some domaines in regions like the Jura, the Ardêche or Alsace. If you’re a cult natural winemaker worldwide demand strips out your production before it’s seen the inside of a bottle. I know some lucky souls who could double production and still sell out in a week or two, as indeed is quite common in Burgundy as well. These guys aren’t trying to ship hectolitres to China, but anyone who’s been to Tokyo in the past few years will see where a lot of natural wine is heading, especially now that the post-Brexit paperwork or other hassles make my own market such a pain to ship to. The more new markets open up, the less wine there is for us.

Perhaps the extreme of this can be found almost on my own doorstep with Tim Phillips’s Charlie Herring Wines in Hampshire. September will see a tranche of Riesling released. Even at one bottle per customer, he will be over-subscribed, and he could probably double his prices with no change in the result.

You may be lucky enough to sell all of your production from a good year without difficulty, but if you are cursed with having vineyards in much of France, especially Central and Eastern France, you’ll have been greeted with either terrible frosts, or hail, or various kinds of rot, or all three, in pretty much every vintage for the past…well almost as long as I can remember.

Take the case of Patrice Beguet, of whom I spoke above. When I first visited him, it must have been almost a decade ago, he let me taste a whole range of cuvées, dark red, light red, white (oxidative and ouillé), pink, orange and a few petnats as well (not forgetting the Macvin!). I’ve just last week purchased a new wine of Patrice’s called “Three Views of a Secret”. Devastated harvest conditions in 2019 saw his mates Benoît Landron, Claude Ughetto and Marc Humbrecht help him out, and “Three Views” is the result. Without friends like that one wonders whether he’d have enough cash flow from his own vineyards to continue.

Some producers have made a real name for themselves from their negociant wines (Alice and Olivier De Moor in Chablis, Alice Bouvot at L’Octavin in Arbois and J-F Ganevat down at Rotalier to name just three). But make no mistake. The catalysts for creating these labels have been the vicissitudes thrown at them by the weather.

This is happening every year now, especially in and around Arbois. It’s not one bad harvest but several. I know winemaking couples where one has had to go out and get another job to bring in a little more income. Life is tough, and you will know just how tough if you read my June article on the very sad loss by suicide of two of Eastern France’s truly great winemakers (though I don’t wish to judge or to over-simplify the reasons for those tragic deaths, which are not directly related to the contents of this piece).

So, you say, what’s the point of your article? Well, I’m not the kind of person who thinks they can tell others how to behave. If you think these guys are there for your entertainment, or your determination to bag that Vin Jaune their importer doesn’t get an allocation of trumps everything, then that’s up to you.

What I want to do is merely to make my readers pause and think about the situation these incredibly hard-working people find themselves in. Time poor, worn out not just by vineyard work but by the whole commercial/admin side of their business, and with an empty cellar. I have been truly honoured on occasion when I realise that the few bottles a winemaker has agreed to let me buy actually come from their own private stash. That has happened at one producer on two consecutive visits.

How do I propose to change my own behaviour? I think I’m going to seriously curtail my visiting in the case of these very small producers who don’t have a tasting room regularly open to the public. I’m going to stop and think about the impact of my visit. Sadly, this means there are people I’d truly like to revisit but on the whole, I may not feel I can justifiably bother them anymore. I would even say that I feel a degree of guilt for past visits…for my assumption that even as a writer with a wide readership, I have some right to take an hour of their precious time.

Alice…in a garage…in Arbois…at 8.30 am! How did she make time?

This still leaves a group of producers I know quite well, or at least a little. Mostly people in Alsace, Jura and Burgenland who I’ve already visited, chat with on social media and see at wine fairs. I feel pretty certain there are nine or ten places where I am genuinely welcome in those regions. In some cases, I’ve championed their wines from the beginning and they remember that.

I’ve never had the stamina for five visits in a day, like some people, so if I can see three or four producers on a week-long trip, that’s enough. Plus, those who maybe say at a wine fair that I must go and visit them. It does happen, and I’m quite happy to remind them of it. You have to be prepared to take rejection though. I’m not like these “top” journos who believe they can dictate a date and time of arrival, turn up three or four hours late, and still expect to be treated like a king.

Even the hard-working winemakers usually get away for some kind of holiday in August, and equally, hassling them around harvest is usually unforgivable (though again, generosity abounds, as it did with one producer I know well, who honoured our appointment even though it turned out to have been made for the first day of an unexpectedly early harvest, and there was a team to manage. If she was stressed, we didn’t see it).

Possibly the highlight of all my wine trips – being literally the second person (after Stefanie) to taste the first juice of harvest (Pinot Noir for Petnat, Weingut Renner, Gols 2018)

It’s really just a question of being more thoughtful.

Oh, and one more thing…Hannah says “sometimes people bring gifts”. She also points out the other side of the coin, that some expect an aperitif, or even an invitation to stay for dinner (and it’s true, I’ve heard stories). Winemakers do love trying new wines. Some will have a row of bottles from around the world in their cellar. If you take a carefully selected bottle or two as a gift, you will more than likely find your generosity is rewarded, perhaps with a free bottle yourself, but mostly with a better, more relaxed, visit and the chance to at least buy a few coveted bottles. I’ve done this myself, not at all out of any expectation of reciprocity, but out of a shared passion and respect for the winemaker and empathy for their work.

At the end of the day, it’s all about empathy, isn’t it!

Hannah Fuellenkemper’s article in The Morning Claret can be found here.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Jura, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Hobby, Wine Tastings, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments