Mike Bennie Jura Masterclass, P&V Wine Merchant’s, Newtown, Sydney

Mike Bennie is, along with Max Allen, one of two Australian wine writers/journalists who have informed my knowledge, and indeed passion for, the New Australia. Max came into my life via his wonderful (and I would say still essential) The Future Makers (2010), one of a small number of wine books which was so ahead of its time that here we are, in that future, drinking these wines. Mike, however, isn’t a book writing kind of guy, and his work came to me initially via Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine and Decanter.

This was all before I knew Mike shared my passion for natural and low intervention wines, before I knew he was a founder of Sydney’s best wine company, and indeed before I knew he shared another of my passions, the wines of The Jura. My son moved to Sydney last year and had the good fortune to fall on his feet in one of the very best of the inner suburbs, at least for a young person, Newtown. This is where P&V Wine Merchants has its largest store. It was on my first visit here in April that I sussed Mike was doing a Jura Masterclass, and on inquiry there was one seat left. It was meant to be.

So, on 27 April I wandered a mere fifteen minutes up to 64 Enmore Road for an evening (as expected, rather longer than billed) with one of Australia’s best palates and greatest wine entertainers too. An informative tasting of ten wines covered far more than mere sipping, but here are those ten wines, including two from producers I had never tried (Philippe Chatillon and Frédéric Lambert).

I’ve included the prices in Aussie dollars for reference. Those who read my last article, on the Australian wines I drank on my trip, will notice a reversal in that whilst those wines were far cheaper than we have to pay in the UK once imported, these Jura wines tend to cost the Aussies more than we will pay in the UK (which in turn is very often a good whack more than you’ll pay in Arbois etc).

*Sorry some of the photos are not in full focus. The light was very low in the tasting room.

Domaine Tissot Crémant du Jura Blanc de Noirs NV ($112)

Familiar territory for me, perhaps, but I will never complain at a taste of this exemplary Crémant, especially when I don’t need to spit. Even in one of Stéphane’s entry level sparklers you get texture, fine bubbles, and genuine depth. Although Stéphane and his wife Bénédicte have built this estate up to a large one of over 50 hectares, producing a dizzying array of wines, not one wine feels as if it isn’t made with great care. The Crémants, including this Pinot Noir cuvée, can easily be a good substitute for Grower Champagne. Here you get Demeter Certified biodynamics, zero dosage and no added sulphur. The skill here is to create a zero-dosage sparkling wine which keeps the very fine acidity in balance, which Stéphane does so well.

Domaine de Montbourgeau Côtes du Jura Trousseau 2020 ($110)

Following the Jura tradition of tasting the reds before the whites/yellows, we kicked off the still wines with an example from an estate often underrated, or even ignored, aside from those who know the region well. Nicole Deriaux doesn’t jump and shout about her wines, but she is without question the star producer in L’Etoile, a village and an appellation to the southwest of Château-Chalon. As Wink Lorch points out (Jura Wine, 2014), she was for a time also the only woman solely in charge of a fine Jura estate, although thankfully that has changed somewhat in recent decades.

This Trousseau, perhaps Jura’s signature red variety, comes from vines within the wider Côtes du Jura appellation. Although Nicole has a greater focus on white wines, as has traditionally been the case in L’Etoile, this red is of no less interest, and perhaps more so for being produced in much smaller quantity than the white wines. It’s a wine with hints of both “old school” and modern. Old school perhaps in part because this is recognisably an old vine cuvée, here from 100-year-old vines. Yet it is also a product of very careful winemaking. The bouquet is heavily scented. I picked out violets over predominantly red fruits with a bit of bramble thrown in. The palate is savoury. Having not drunk a wine from this domaine for three or four years I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. If you are busy checking out the plethora of new names in the region, do not pass this producer by.

Domaine Berthet-Bondet Côtes du Jura Rouge « Trio » 2020

This domaine will soon have been producing wine in Château-Chalon for four decades and today it is still a real family affair. It’s a producer I got to know first via their Château-Chalon yellow wines, which are exemplary. Over the past ten-to-fifteen years I’ve become more acquainted with their table wines, especially their famous Savagnin range.

The trio of varieties here are Trousseau and Poulsard, of course, plus Pinot Noir. Pinot does well in the Jura, perhaps not often quite reaching the heights of the very best from the other side of the Saône Valley (but how much Burgundy actually does hit the peaks?), but still making high quality wine. The bouquet is gamey, but pleasantly so and not too overtly, as you’d expect from a wine approaching just three years of age. Like the previous wine, the palate is savoury, but it is both smooth and textured at the same time. The initial impact is of smooth cherries, then the texture gets picked up.

A delicious wine, yet again from a producer whose whites have crossed my palate far more than their reds. I don’t think P&V have stock of this, probably from Mike’s personal stash.

Philippe Chatillon « Vice et Vertus » Pinot Noir 2020 (Vin de France) ($125)

I hadn’t drunk a wine from Philippe’s own label before, but I have drunk wines which he had a hand in making. This is because this vigneron, in his seventies now, used to work at Domaine de la Pinte. It was Philippe, in the 1990s, who began the conversion here to organic farming whilst the Estate Director for the Martin family, before Bruno Ciofi (ex-Pierre Frick in Alsace) finished the job in the following decade by making La Pinte the Jura Region’s first fully biodynamic estate.

I said above that Pinot doesn’t often reach the heights of fine Red Burgundy, but this is an exception. Mike called this a “fine wine paradigm Pinot Noir”. For sure, it is a very complex wine, and with the capacity to age. Australia’s Winefront website says this, a tasting note which I cannot better. “Sappy, savoury, earthy and yet clean as a whistle”. It has the elegance of exceptional Pinot Noir but it doesn’t taste like a so-called natural wine. Superb.

Michel Gahier Arbois Chardonnay «Les Follasses» 2020 ($83)

This always feels like one of the older established producers, whose wines I came across many years ago, yet which until recently have not been all that easy to find in the UK, although they seem finally to have gained due respect. The Gahier cellar is close to the church in Montigny-les-Arsures, well known to me because I could count the number of times I stayed in or near Arbois and didn’t walk or drive to Montigny on the fingers of a chicken’s foot.

This is a resolutely uncertified organic domaine making natural wines without fanfare. Wink Lorch (Jura Wine, 2014, again…you know you need a copy) tells us that Michel’s father didn’t like using sulphur and so Michel, when he created his own vineyard, naturally followed suit. Here we have an example of classic, bright, Jura Chardonnay. It does have a nuttiness, for sure, but is also full of peach and apricot, and more exotic notes in the bouquet. This is matched by a streak of salinity in with the fresh acidity. The cuvée comes off a more chalky terroir, rather than more typical Jura marls, which may account for it missing what some tasters assume, sometimes incorrectly, to be the oxidative note they seem to expect, even from Chardonnay, in the region.

I would say that if you want to taste peerless fresh Chardonnay around Arbois, then along with some of Stéphane Tissot’s bottlings, this is a good one to try. It is certainly the most “vibrant” of Gahier’s Chardonnays, and maybe the one requiring less age in bottle. It’s none the worse for that.

Domaine A&M Tissot Arbois Savagnin Ouillé, Traminer 2018 ($161)

Domaine A&M Tissot Arbois Savagnin 2018 ($162)

We tasted these two wines from Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot together because they exemplify the two styles of Jura’s signature Savagnin. Ouillé signifies that the barrels have been topped-up, so without air in the vessel the wine will not age oxidatively. These wines are named “Traminer” by many producers, not all, but it does give the consumer a heads-up as to what to expect. Traminer is an alternative name/synonym for Savagnin, being related to the pink-skinned Gewurztraminer. This wine has freshness, quite zippy acids and overt salinity. The nose is high-toned and it has a lightness. It’s a dry wine but the fruit has a kind of ripe sweetness to it. There is no hint of oxidation.

The Savagnin tout-court is a different beast. The vintage was nicely selected to show off the classic nutty, deliberately oxidative, bouquet with its salty yet deeper flor influence, where the space above the wine in barrel allows the oxygen to do its thing in the void.

Tissot’s oxidatively aged Savagnin is a lovely wine. It still shows real freshness and is not heavy. Some oxidatively aged Savagnin cuvées can almost feel like a “baby Vin Jaune” (as some describe them). It’s true that many Savagnins are originally earmarked as Vin Jaunes, but for a string of reasons maybe didn’t quite make the cut for the six years plus ageing required. Those can be genuine bargains.

It’s good to taste both wines together in a room full of people who, I think, in most cases had not tasted overtly oxidative wines before. Many were quite shocked by the Savagnin, although I myself found it ultimately the most rewarding of the two. But it was a valuable lesson about consumer expectation.

Domaine de Montbourgeau L’Etoile Cuvée Spéciale 2017 ($107)

This second wine from L’Etoile’s most highly regarded producer is labelled as the classic village appellation wine but it has a twist: it showcases a Jura tradition which I seem to see less and less these days, a blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin. This was originally a Chardonnay estate, in an appellation probably created to showcase Jura Chardonnay. The domaine does make a wine labelled L’Etoile from only that variety, but Nicole, when she took over, wanted to make Vin Jaune so she planted Savagnin. Now her top L’Etoile is a blend of the two varieties, although with considerably more Chardonnay than Savagnin.

The terroir for this cuvée is very rocky and the Chardonnay vines are said to be very old. The ageing regime for Cuvée Spéciale is very interesting. It starts out being fermented in oak, where it remains with classic, almost Burgundian, bâtonnage through the colder months (to keep the lees in suspension), then undergoing the malolactic. All very much classic Chardonnay élèvage. However, thereafter the wine is not topped up. During four years in old wood a thin voile of yeast/flor forms. I’d not really liken it to Vin Jaune for a myriad of reasons. It’s something different altogether, and in my experience unique. It’s a complex wine which I’d very much like to taste with a decade or more in bottle, if only. It’s a little-known Jura gem.

Frédéric Lambert Château-Chalon “En Beaumont” 2013 ($156)

I’m sure most readers know, but for anyone who doesn’t, Château-Chalon is not only a very attractive village perched on a cliff above the River Seille, half way between Poligny (north) and Lons-le-Saunier (south), but it is also a special appellation for Vin Jaune-style wines from the vineyards surrounding the village and nearby Voiteur, Domblans, Nevy-sur-Seille and Menétru-le-Vignoble.

Altogether it’s a vignoble of around fifty hectares. With well over 150 vine owners there are really just a handful who make genuinely fine wines, those as good as the finest in France. These include old-established village names like Macle and Berthet-Bondet. Also of note here is Alexandra Mossu, whose father François was known, I can assure you with good reason, as the “Pope of Vin de Paille”, Jura’s sweet wine made from partially-dried grapes. Whilst a limited number of hundred point wines are made, there are still a great many worthy of our cellars.

I know little about Frédéric Lambert and have never tasted his wines. I can glean from Wink Lorch that this is an emerging family estate, a husband-and-wife team having established it in Toulouse-le-Château in 2003, with one son preparing to join (very probably already has by now) after viticultural studies. This is an estate within, if at the periphery of, the Poligny sector of the Côtes du Jura, but Frédéric has some plots at Château-Chalon and released his first wine from there in (thank you again, Wink) 2014 (the 2007 vintage).

I would call this an easy going sous-voile wine, perhaps lacking the complexity of some, even at a decade old, but certainly very nice. If we are spoilt for choice in Europe, I’d not turn down the chance to buy a bottle of this if presumably well-priced. More expensive in Australia than in the region of production, it looks remarkable value when you compare it to, for example, the cost of Stéphane Tissot’s yellow wines down under.

Domaine A&M Tissot Macvin du Jura Blanc NV ($130)

Take me back a decade or so and I would have told you I’m not a big fan of Macvin. That was rather a shame because several Jura producers back in the day had given us a bottle as a gift (as indeed had one noted Champagne producer, though in that case, Champagne’s version of Macvin, Ratafia).

Macvin is a Vin de Liqueur, Vin Doux, or technically a Mistelle. It blends unfermented grape juice with a distilled spirit which is rather like Grappa. There are versions all over France (other notable examples include Pineau des Charentes and Floc de Gascogne), and now more widely (even Australia makes some). The Jura version used to occasionally be of dubious quality, but a wine labelled Macvin du Jura (a special stamped bottle may be used) must be made from a distillate (brandy) derived from the marc (skins) of the producer’s own grapes. The rule is that the spirit is aged a minimum of 14 months (often longer). The spirit usually hits around 60% abv, with the finished Macvin weighing in at between 16% and 17% abv..

I’m not sure whether any producers have their own still (with micro-distilleries for gin all the rage in the UK and Australia, I’d not discount the possibility), but there is one famous mobile distillery which does the rounds in Jura. It’s the same tradition which stretches back a couple of centuries, except that this one is somewhat more modern and less prone to blow up.

My feelings about Macvin have softened. It can be a lovely aperitif. Although it keeps in the fridge for a long time, I think the thought of getting through a whole bottle often felt daunting. The one which most turned me onto enjoying it was made by Patrice Beguet, but Stéphane’s version is, as you’d expect, exemplary. No alcohol burn, I believe that fermentation is allowed to start briefly, creating less than 1% alcohol but helping the spirit to mix with the grape juice. This was patently not what happened in the past. Expect a sweet and quite grapey drink with a certain viscosity and a whack of alcohol. Don’t glug it from the bottle.

My only issue is that if I had $130 to spend at P&V I’d probably buy that Montbourgeau L’Etoile and spend the change on one of the their nice, cheap, Aussie petnats. At least P&V offer a 10% discount on purchases made on the night, which in the case of these lovely imports would have been worth having. No free shipping to the UK though.

This was a brilliant tasting. Mike Bennie is someone I could listen to all night, a man with not a bit of pomposity, very down to earth, and a man who thrives on sharing his knowledge. We have a lot in common, except that he has the benefit of being younger than me. It was instructive to see what Australia can get hold of from the region, and I would challenge anyone to find a better range of Jura wines on the continent. As the photos below show, the eagle-eyed will spot at least a couple of wines they would have a real job finding in the UK.

Posted in Arbois, Artisan Wines, Jura, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines – Australia, April and May 2023 #theglouthatbindsus

We drank some interesting wines during our three-and-a-half weeks in Australia. I set out to try to drink wines from producers I didn’t know. In the end, that only applies to half the wines here, though only in one case had I tried the exact wine before, in a previous vintage. We were mostly staying with our son, who lives in Newtown, Sydney. It’s a vibrant, young area full of vegan restaurants, record shops, thrift stores, and the city’s best wine merchant, P & V Wines, for those of us who love natural wines. So all but two of the wines here came from them (the Shoalhaven Coast Sauvignon was purchased at the winery). Many readers will know of wine journalist and competition judge, Mike Bennie, one of the company’s founders. They also have another store in Paddo (Paddington). If you are in Sydney this is the one wine merchant which I recommend you visit. The Newtown store appears to be the larger of the two.

Dr Ongo Dr Op Pinot Noir 2022, Dr Edge Wines (Tasmania, Australia)

This is a gorgeous light Pinot Noir from rising star of Tassie natural wine, Peter Dredge. Turning to wine following a sporting injury, Peter worked at Petaluma in South Australia for twelve years before moving to Bay of Fires in Tasmania as Head Winemaker. His next move involved taking over winemaking at Meadowbank, in Tassie’s Derwent Valley alongside launching his own Dr Edge label. He eventually became a partner at Meadowbank, which had become a main source of fruit for Dr Edge (his nickname at Petaluma).

A four-day maceration is enough to give this easy-drinking Pinot a bit of colour. It has a white wine level of acidity yet is packed with fresh cherry fruit, assisted by an off-the-scale fragrance. A hint of complexity is added via peppery spice and herbs, but overall, it’s a glugger. Definitely recommended for chilling. $40AUS.

Peter’s P & V connection is enhanced through making wine with Joe Holyman and P&V’s Mike Bennie under the “Brian” label.

Prosecco, Dal Zotto (Victoria, Australia)

Dal Zotto is a great family winery based in the King Valley, which is one of the high-altitude wine regions (Beechworth is another) in North East Victoria. I’ve met these guys a number of times in London at tastings organised by their UK agent, Graft Wine (formerly Red Squirrel) and they are great people, super-friendly and massive fun. This is the first of two Dal Zotto wines I drank in NSW.

Now the arguments about “Prosecco” will rear their head, I guess. In principle I would not disagree with those who would claim the name “Prosecco” for the wines produced under those DOC(G)s in NE Italy, but it should be said that Italian families like the Dal Zottos have been marketing their Glera varietal wines as Prosecco in Australia for a long time now, and of course no one out there sees it as a problem. Anyway, at least Otto Dal Zotto emigrated from the Prosecco Hills (in 1967) and his sons were the first to plant the Glera variety in Australia (1999), so they, more than most, know what they are doing.

This “Prosecco” is made specially for P&V and is an easy drinking fizz with an enticing floral bouquet. P&V suggest adding Campari or peach nectar, which would have been a nice idea – we enjoyed pretty-warm autumn days, some up to 28 degrees, down south of Sydney on the East Coast. But this went down pretty well on its own, on a family farm near Milton. I make no massive claims except for its sheer drinkability and its price. $25! Today with $1 = 53p that’s £12-£13. Seriously folks, we are being fleeced by the Chancellor.

Alphonse Sauvignon 2021, Cupitt’s Winery (NSW, Australia)

Cupitt’s is just outside the small town of Milton, a popular stop-off for tourists and close to the beaches of Mollymook (where, at Bannister Head, Rick Stein has a smart restaurant). The wine region here is Shoalhaven Coast. It has been described by Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine as “emerging”, and it does have a distinctive coastal climate. Although vines stretch a good distance along the coast here, they gather as small islands among pasture and there are not, as yet, all that many wineries. Cupitt’s is typical of many in that most of the fruit it processes comes from other regions. However, it does boast a vineyard (and a popular restaurant) from which they make one wine…this one.

This Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in French oak but there is little oaked character. It is clean with lemon zest and apple freshness. It’s more French-leaning than, for example, most SB that New Zealand produces though. They also suggest they don’t add sulphur to this cuvée, but for those who think they don’t like natural wines, it is not in the slightest bit funky. $36 at the cellar door.

This is a winery which perhaps makes more of its location for dining (they also make cheese here too) and “luxury” accommodation than wine, but it definitely has the potential to make good wines in a region where there is certainly a good market from relatively high-end tourism, being a two-hour drive from Sydney. As I have connections down here, I’m always keen to pop in and keep an eye on what they are doing when I visit. Their low-intervention approach also appeals. Apparently, they won a NSW “Hall of Fame” Tourism Award since my last visit.

Other wineries within the Shoalhaven Coast region include Mountain Ridge, Coolangatta Estate (a highly regarded Semillon is made here), Two Figs, Silos Estate, Mountain Ridge Wines, Cambewarra Estate (near the famous and impressive Kangaroo Valley and Cambawarra Mountain), Lyrebird Ridge, Bawley Vale and Yarrawa.

Mt Midoriyama Chevaucher L’Eclair 2022, Konpira Maru (Victoria, Australia)

This confusingly named wine is from the Eminence Vineyard in Wurundjeri Country, Whitlands, Victoria. We are not far from the Dal Zotto winery in the King Valley. Chevaucher L’éclair means “ride the lightening”, which apparently was taken from Stephen King’s The Stand. Konpira Maru is the producer, and this is a petnat, first made in 2014, from equal parts Chardonnay and Meunier. Made as a natural wine, of course. We drank this on a trip up to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Hadn’t been there since 1988. It’s a bit more touristy now, but 100% worth the drive.

Aromatically it doesn’t really shout out the varieties. Lemon zest dominates the bouquet. The palate has a mix of oranges and nuts. It’s another fun petnat made for well-chilled slurping on a sunny Sydney afternoon (which means at least 300 afternoons a year). I have to say that these Aussies are totally smashing it with the labels on wines which, like the people themselves, don’t think they should take themselves too seriously. $33 is a nice price for a very nice wine (P&V again).

Gonzo 2021, Les Fruits (South Australia)

The origins of this wine are as confusing as they can be in appellation-free Australia. The label says it was conceived by “Les Fruits”, whoever they are, in Lilyfield, NSW. The fruit comes from both Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, and it was made in the Adelaide Hills.

This is another prime example of a simple, biodynamic, Grenache and Cinsault, blend, here made by well-known natural winemaker, Tim Stock, working from the Commune of Buttons winery in the town of Basket Range (Adelaide Hills). The Grenache is from old vines in the Barossa, and the Cinsault is a mix of Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale fruit. These regions are famous for big wines from these varieties, but this is somewhat the opposite. The grapes were all co-fermented by carbonic maceration and the result is light and zippy, weighing in at just 11.7% abv. Ageing was in large, old, oak.

Strawberry-scented with rose petal fragrance, the palate adds in plums and a hint of both spice and tannin. The acids are good and there’s a twist of pomegranate on the finish. With the low alcohol and the light fruit, you can chill this down, or at least serve cellar cool. I’m loving chilled reds back home as the evenings get lighter (already it is still light towards 10.30 on a sunny day up here in Scotland). Australia may be approaching darker evenings, but they have really embraced reds for the fridge. As the retailer says, it’s fresh and exhilarating, and only $36 from P&V.

King Valley Pinot Grigio 2022, Dal Zotto (Victoria, Australia)

This second bottle of Dal Zotto wine was picked up in a bottle shop on the northern side of the harbour, on the way to lunch with friends. As the guy in the store said, “if the Italians don’t know how to make Pinot Grigio, then who does?”. I didn’t have the heart to point out that rather a lot of Italian producers actually don’t, but a few most certainly do, and this bottle was definitely in that better category.

What you get here for around $21 (a tenner, basically) is infinitely better than almost any of the Grigio you would be likely to find in any British supermarket, and it’s half the price of the better ones found at UK merchants. Perhaps unsurprising in the latter case, taking account of duty, tax and increased transport costs.

What I like is the definition in this wine. The bouquet gives off ripe pear with a hint of fennel. The palate gives more pear, a squeeze of lemon and perhaps a hint of hazelnut in the textured finish. It’s dry, but has a little weight giving it a food-friendly versatility that wines labelled Grigio (as opposed to Gris) almost never have.

I’m about to pay for a lot of building work at the moment, and the wine budget is tight. I wish I had access to wines like this to make my midweek drinking easier. I’m sure Graft Wine still brings in Dal Zotto, perhaps not this particular wine. But I highly recommend checking them out. These are great value wines, even at UK prices, good fun and from a family serious about their craft. That makes a difference.

Susan Petnat 2022, Wedded to the Weather Cloud Project (Queensland out of Riverland, Australia)

Here is another wine with a beautiful label and a confusing name. The winemaker is a guy called Doug Woodward, working out of somewhere called Meanjin, in Queensland, though the fruit was grown by the Basham family in Riverland, as it says on the back label “on the traditional lands of the First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee”. And what fruit. Just under 90% is Fernao Pires, the Portuguese variety, macerated and pressed off skins for eleven days. The remaining grapes in the blend are Montepulciano, which saw seven days of carbonic maceration.

The result is a pale red with an orange glow. There’s a gentle sparkle, more than full on fizz, but the bubbles push out a lovely spiced cherry aroma. The palate adds zingy raspberry to the cherry notes, and continues the spice motif. Another wonderful, fun wine from P&V for $30. You know what this reminds me of? Tim Wildman’s wonderful petnats, which you can find over here in the UK, both his Riverland-sourced wines (Astro Bunny, Piggy Pop) and his English heritage varieties “Lost in a Field” project. I bet he knows Doug?

Fistful of Flowers 2022, Momento Mori (Victoria, Australia)

Dane Johns is right up there with my favourite producers in Australia. He’s a little bit on the edge of things, always innovating and experimenting. He has a particular interest in Italian grape varieties, and his Momento Mori label gives these a shop window. Fistful of Flowers blends Moscato Giallo and Vermentino and combines the characteristics of these two grapes to great effect. Most of the Momento Mori wines, including this one, come from Victoria’s Heathcote region.

The fruit was grown by the Chalmers family, who have twenty or more Italian varieties over 80 hectares on the Mount Camel Range, near Colbinnabin. Those of us who first heard of Heathcote in its early days, possibly when Robin Yapp began importing Jasper Hill, will remember that it has now famous pre-Cambrian Terra Rossa soils, red clay/loam with ironstone, jasper, dolerite and basalt on higher slopes. The Chalmers’ Vineyards now supply more than forty winemakers with sought-after fruit.

The bouquet is big, with ginger spice competing amiably with heady floral notes. It lives up to its name very well. The palate is mineral, with elderflower and crisp, juicy, apple. It’s an orange/amber wine which saw three weeks on skins. It’s a marvellous wine too (I’d go with “sensational” but some may suggest that’s too subjective). P&V sell it for $35 (around £18). Les Caves de Pyrene import Dane’s wines into the UK and I’ve seen it retail for £35 here (try Natty Boy Wines, or Les Caves’s online shop). The UK price is no one’s fault in the trade. I’m already missing Aussie prices.

I mentioned the food in Sydney and we certainly ate well, even better than on previous trips, so I thought I would add in a few pics to whet the appetite and get the stomach rumbling, along with a couple of photos from P&V…

From top, L to R, two from Golden Lotus (Vietnamese), and two from Khamza (Palestinian), both on King Street, Newtown. Eclair and cakes from Miss Sina, Marrickville. Then two from Moksh (Nepalese), also on King Street in Newtown, and the sensational Negroni variation at Bad Hombres (Mexican) in Surry Hills. The food here is very decent but you go for the cocktails! The Masman potato curry was one of the best dishes we ate, at Little Turtle (Thai) in Enmore. All the food pictured is vegan. The bottom pic is at La Petite Fauxmagerie, King Street, Newtown. Generally, I don’t really get on with any vegan cheese. This is the first time I was genuinely impressed, and they also make really good vegan “butter” which tastes as if it has come straight from a French cow. There’s a vegan bakery next door for the accompanying baguette.

P&V Liquor Merchants, Newtown and Paddo. I am eternally grateful to Jamie at Cork & Cask in Edinburgh for the recommendation to check them out. I’m yet to find a better (natural) wine merchant in Sydney.

Newtown – 64 Enmore Road, 10am to 9pm seven days a week.

Paddo – 268 Oxford Street, Weds to Sun, shop open midday, wine bar from 4pm.

If you are in Sydney check out their events. I bagged a seat at a Jura Masterclass hosted by Mike Bennie, which I will write about soon.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Australian Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines April 2023 #theglouthatbindsus

For the wines drunk at home back in April, before we headed off to Australia, we have just six, plus an unusual beer. All the wines are classics in their own way (four are what we’d term natural wines and two we wouldn’t), and they were all stunningly good. There is one wine from the Mosel, two come from Jura, one from Kent, one from Austria’s Wachau, and one from Trentino in Northeast Italy. The beer is from Hampshire.

Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese 2010, JJ Prüm (Mosel, Germany)

There are some Prüm geeks who will turn their noses up at the Graach wines, preferring Wehlen’s Sundial every time. It would be a narrow-minded approach in my view. They say the Graachers age more swiftly. If that is the case, this fabulous 2010 Spätlese must be all-the-more wonderful for lasting so long in what is now the third cellar it has resided in.

Dr Katharina Prüm is the latest in a line of this eminent family to make wine at Bernkastel-Wehlen, the estate being founded in 1911. This wine was made by her father, Dr Manfred. In some ways these Mosel wines are unique in the way they combine floral lightness with amazing depth and spice. That’s all fine, but more than anything else, Prüm wines last for a very long time. In fact, if you drink them young you are wasting both money and potential. This applies almost equally to the Kabinetts and Spätlesen as to the higher Prädikats.

Stephan Reinhardt calls Prüm’s wines from Graach’s Himmelreich site (where the family farms more than eight hectares) “filigreed and dancing”. I cannot top that. The 2010 vintage was one that yielded higher acids and this bottle has a strong lime/mineral spine. Layer upon layer of aroma and flavour build on that, with apricot and ginger being the most obvious. The wine has superb, near perfect, balance now. The fruit is rich and spicy, but it is the still present lime acidity which carries it upwards. Complex and long.

Most of my Prüm wines over the years, including this one, have come from The Sampler.

May Provisions x Charlie Herring Riesling Graff (Hampshire, England)

Brewers May and Tim Phillips collaborated to make a rather innovative and intriguing beer. It’s a 50:50 blend of (you’ll need to pay attention) May’s wheat beer aged on the skins of Tim’s Riesling grapes, and Tim’s cider, which was also aged on Riesling skins. I think the skin contact (or conditioning as the brewer would call it) was for around five months, so quite an extended period. There was no fining, filtration, nor pasteurisation.

This is the inaugural 2020 vintage, the 2021 having now been released. The result is remarkable. It does taste very much a blend of beer and cider, which works exceedingly well. The grape skins seem to pull it all together. When I first tasted this cuvée I thought it needed time for the elements to meld, and they have now. It is fresh, appley and quite complex. The wheat beer’s freshness combines well with the cider acids. The bottle says “best before December 2022” but I think that date was pessimistic. I stuck to my guns and scored a hit.

£18 from The Solent Cellar, although naturally sold out.

Côtes du Jura « Les Cèdres » Chardonnay 2015, Anne & J-F Ganevat (Jura, France)

The Ganevat domaine wines are generally wines of stature, another example of a domaine where their own vines produce wines which benefit from prolonged ageing. They make some very impressive Chardonnay from the area around Rotalier, in Jura’s Sud-Revermont. The domaine, and Jean-François himself, need no introduction, of course, suffice to say that as well as a bewildering array of negoce bottlings, many containing some of Jura’s (and indeed France’s) rarest grape varieties, he looks after an estate of around 10ha, of which just under half is planted to Chardonnay.

Les Cèdres comes from old vines off a mix of chalky limestone and marl, with a 30-month vinification, and yields its complexity, after a decent spell in bottle, of lemon peel, ginger, and fresh melon. It’s a wine which genuinely evolves through several personalities as it sits in the glass. It would take a very long paragraph to describe its progression as it deepens on nose and palate, indeed just as you’d expect a fine Burgundian Chardonnay to evolve (assuming it was premox-free…it may be ironic that whilst Jura wines can be famous for their deliberately oxidative nature in some cases, Ganevat Chardonnays are as clean as a whistle, and natural wines too). Carafage recommended by the producer.

This is simply a very fine wine. I dread to think what these bottles cost now. This was in the low £40’s from The Solent Cellar some years ago.

Trousseau Amphore 2015, Domaine A&M (Bénédicte and Stéphane) Tissot (Jura, France)

The array of wines made in his cellar at Montigny-Les-Arsures surely give Stéphane the chance of claiming to be the most prolific of Arbois’ natural winemakers. They come from a whopping 50 hectares, mostly around the town, although the family now owns vines at Château-Chalon too. That these are all farmed biodynamically, with no synthetic chemical inputs, is quite remarkable. Stéphane’s wines played a part in my trip to Australia, which took place a couple of weeks after we drank this Trousseau, but I wasn’t to know this at the time.

Whenever I have visited Montigny, as opposed to the domaine’s shop on the Place de la Liberté in the centre of Arbois, it was always impressive to glance along the rows of amphora. Stéphane was an early adopter of these vessels in Jura (I’m reasonably sure he was the first), initially for white wines, but Trousseau does well in the terracotta. I wonder whether Trousseau, in its Bastardo incarnation in Portugal, saw the inside of similar vessels with any regularity?

Served cellar cool, the bouquet of this eight-year-old wine is nicely developed. The darker fruit side of the variety combines with the slightly earthy or ferrous texture of the amphora in which it was fermented and aged. The palate is both fruity and spicy, with a slightly bitter-fruit, clay-textured finish. However, overall, the wine is fairly smooth, quite mature, yet still super-fresh. This comes from the extremely long and slow fermentation it undergoes in the amphora.

Another exceptional bottle, sourced directly from the domaine.

Naturally Petulant Pink 2021, Westwell Wines (Kent, UK)

Westwell is one of the English producers to watch. Although Adrian Pike got off to a flying start here, the wines have now reached an exceptional level of excitement. There may be posher English wines, but Westwell is up there with the innovators, forging flavours which really rock.

The grape blend for this “petnat” cuvée is the classic triumvirate of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, but the flavours are exciting and new. Picked at the end of October 2021, the grapes were all macerated on their skins for a few days in stainless steel tanks, with only natural yeasts during fermentation. It only underwent a rough disgorgement before early bottling, and no sulphites were added.

The colour they call “rose quartz” (nice). I’d say it also has a touch of sunset pink, if we are trying to be poetic, which the wine certainly deserves. The palate combines strawberry and lemon meringue with raspberry sherbet. It’s perfectly dry though, and the fresh fruit acidity makes it an absolutely perfect, refreshing, glass of sparkling wine and, again, as Westwell suggests, it would be a great match for fish and chips. I’d add prawns if they are your bag, or unsmoked lighter fish. Or perhaps with a croissant for breakfast?

Westwell’s agent is Uncharted Wines. Purchase direct from them or their retail customers. You can go direct to Westwell, but the wines don’t tend to be cheaper. £24.

Ried Loibenberg Loibner Riesling Smaragd 2007, Weingut Knoll (Wachau, Austria)

This is a wine where some readers might like me to explain the label. Ried Loibenberg is one of the finest sites on the mostly south-facing slopes above the River Danube, in Austria’s classic Wachau region. We are a short train ride west of Vienna, and immediately west of the town of Krems (where you can hire bikes and cycle the excellent Wachau cycle route). The variety is self-explanatory, along with Grüner Veltliner, one of the region’s two staple varieties.

Smaragd is the term effectively used for a richer (but still dry) style of wine made for ageing. Federspiel is often the designation for those intended to drink sooner. 2007 was a trying vintage in some ways in the Wachau. Hail disrupted a warm summer, and a wet September meant that many had to harvest later than usual. The number of Smaragd wines producers were able to make was reduced, but where they were made by top producers (and Knoll is unquestionably a top producer), they were usually up to the mark.

This wine is definitely fully-mature but not falling off any cliff yet (though maybe I’d not hold it for too long). As such, it was a pleasure to experience a fully mature Wachau at over fifteen years of age. Lanolin. Olives, some citrus, rounded, a little voluptuous, certainly one of the more sensuous wines of the year so far. The length is incredible, and if you love Riesling then experiencing a Wachau Smaragd with decent age is a must. And I just love Knoll. I was so pleased to share this with a couple of friends who also take pleasure in Austrian wine but perhaps know this classic region less well.

This gem was purchased, possibly in 2014, at the wonderful Fohringer wine shop on the banks of the Danube at Spitz, before cycling on to lunch at the Gasthof Prankl down the road. The wines survived transport in a basket on the front of my bike…I’d advise being better prepared. The kind staff at the restaurant guarded our bikes whilst we climbed up to the castle above the river to get us moving again, although this being Austria, we probably should not have worried. Weingut Knoll has its own inn at Unterloiben 132, Dürnstein, also on the cycle route, and substantially closer to Krems if you are feeling unfit (though the whole route is quite flat along the river’s left bank and at least as far as Spitz the scenery is magnificent).

“Morei” Teroldego 2013, Foradori (Trentino, Italy)

I would not be the first to call Elisabetta Foradori the Queen of Teroldego (cf the World Atlas of Wine, 8th edn), but she most certainly is. The Foradori winery sits on the western edge of the Campo Rotaliano, between Mezzocorona and Mezzolombardo, above the Adige Valley. The appellation (DOC) for the variety here is Teroldego Rotaliano, but the Foradori family make natural wines, fermented and aged in amphora, so of necessity as well as choice they bottle theirs as “Vigneti delle Dolomiti”, an “IGT” equivalent.

Teroldego does not always make great wines. Some less enthusiastic drinkers may substitute “rarely makes” (unfair in my view as I quite like an “ordinary” Teroldego from time to time), yet in the case of Foradori we are most definitely in fine wine territory. These are yet more wines to respect through proper ageing. The results will be quite different to the albeit often pretty good, yet easy going, co-operative Teroldego you can buy relatively cheaply.

The soil on the Campo is gravelly and well drained. Biodynamic farming has been the norm at Foradori for many decades, a pioneer in the region for this philosophy. Morei means “dark” in Trentino dialect, and it describes the wine perfectly. The nose is immediately saturated with intense, dark, fruit. This is surely intensified by the vinification vessels, terracotta Tinajas from Villarobledo in Spain.

The palate is purity personified. Mineral, concentrated, textured, still tannic, it takes a long, long, time to open-up even at almost a decade old. The bouquet takes as long, but the scent of black fruits and lavender are joined by a more earthy bass note as time progresses. All the while the wine’s acidity makes its presence felt. In some ways this is a difficult wine to drink, both complex and complicated. But sometimes you enjoy a wine that poses more questions than it answers, and as I’ve already intimated, it is undoubtedly fine.

Another wine originally purchased from The Solent Cellar, but which should be available via Les Caves de Pyrene.

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Spry by Nature

As London appears to lose one of its most iconic natural wine bars, I have had the good fortune to become acquainted with what may well be something similar in Edinburgh. Spry Wines is a restaurant, bar and bottle shop (and this year, with a sister café downstairs in the basement) and, through a mix of creative genius and attention to detail, it manages to excel at all three.

Sitting at the top of Leith Walk, at 1 Haddington Place, Spry is smack bang in the middle of the part of Edinburgh I frequent most. Two second-hand vinyl shops within ten minutes, various global food supermarkets down the road, Edinburgh’s finest book shop within less than five, and right over the tram lines, the institution that is Valvona & Crolla.

Founded by Matt Jackson and his partner, Marzena, Spry describes itself as a neighbourhood wine bar and bottle shop, but both the class of the food and wine on offer and its relatively central location make it a destination for anyone in the city looking for natural wines, and for visitors up from the south. The latter will not be disappointed.

The founding ideas behind Spry are local produce, from the British Isles, but from Scotland wherever possible, with a regularly changing seasonal menu, and natural wine. The wine list does contain a fair number of wines from Great Britain, although the amazing list here covers the whole natural wine world (Europe figures most strongly). All the wines are also available to take away at a £10 discount from the very reasonably priced list. The are no gouging markups here.

You’ll find plenty of fairly obscure stuff if you look. I grabbed a bottle from Modal Wines’s new Bugey producer as my take away treat, but I spotted that the new vintage from Annamária Réka-Koncz had arrived, along with several Czech wines from Basket Press Wines. I overheard Matt speaking with another customer about the wine selection and answering a question he said “the wines I’m most intrigued by at the moment are the Czech wines”. Very astute.

If you are going for lunch then the food is very good indeed, although be aware that the plates are quite small. On a Tuesday lunch I went for one main and one dessert, but to feel properly full you would probably want some accompanying dishes. I chose the rolled pork belly with apple and gremolata, which was a pure ten out of ten. At £14 it was the most expensive dish on the menu, but you could easily select two dishes for the same money. I wanted to try the dessert as well, bread & butter pudding with brown butter ice cream. Again, as the photo shows, it wasn’t a massive portion, but sufficient…and again, exceptional.

There wasn’t originally a lot of space for cooking and the dishes are finished at the bar kitchen on the central island. They do a magnificent job in the circumstances (though it’s not quite the old double gas burners at P Franco).

There are around a dozen wines by the glass, priced from £6.50 to £10, which change daily. As Matt said, some bottles will last a couple of days, but some bottles need to be consumed in one day, and if they are not finished by the customers, they get taken off the list, presumably quenching the thirst of staff members. The bottle list, if you need to consume more, is both extensive and amazing.

I drank a glass of Milan Nestarec Năse, a 2021 sparkling Riesling blend which I’d never tried before. Highly recommended. This was followed by something quite unusual to accompany dessert, Weingut Weninger’s Traubensaft. This is Austrian alcohol-free grape juice (not wine), made from organic Blaufränkisch grapes. It has a sweet scent with very concentrated, mostly red, fruit and it’s delicious, far better than a so-called non-alcohol wine for those not drinking. Off the shelf I think Spry sells it for £12/bottle, or £4 a glass.

On a Tuesday lunchtime it was very easy to get a table, being there at 1.00pm sharp. I think you’d be lucky to get in without a booking in the evening, but there are chairs at the bar for walk-ins, either for a glass or two, or food. In addition to the à la carte, a five-course set menu is offered for £45 with the option of wine pairings. This can be willingly tailored to dietary requirements, including fully vegan, with notice when booking.

Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 1-10pm. Since Abbie Moulton spoke to Matt and Marzena for her New British Wine book, Spry has changed a little, not least in that they have just opened a new sister café and bakery in the basement below. Called Ante, it’s described as a brunch café, but it has a kitchen and old bread oven, and now an internal lift can send food up to Spry, so what they can do will be greatly expanded. I’ve not been down to the café yet, but the coffee they sent up was the best I’ve had so far in the city centre by quite a margin.

I think Spry should top any visitor’s list of places to try in Edinburgh, despite there being a good number of smart or famous restaurants in the city. It’s light, with a modern, Scandinavian-influenced, vibe, a very relaxing and friendly place to spend an hour or so away from the shopping or sightseeing. It’s also pretty close to Calton Hill, for great views towards the castle and Arthur’s Seat.

Spry: 1 Haddington Place, Edinburgh, EH7 4AE

Tuesday to Sunday 1-10pm

Tel 0121 557 0005

Matt Jackson (right)

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Recent Wines March 2023 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

After a bulkier eight-wine Part 1 we have a slightly lighter Part 2 encompassing wines from Alsace (2), The English Midlands, The Loire, The Mosel and Burgenland. I guess in drinking so much more Alsace than I was a year ago, I am at least backing my assertion that the region is the most exciting in France right now. But our producer from Leicestershire, seemingly obscure six months ago, is getting a lot of attention too. As a treat at the end, there’s a vinegar! Take a look.

Alsace 2019, La Grange de l’Oncle Charles (Alsace, France)

Some years ago, I chanced upon these wines at a tasting at Winemakers Club in London, and they stood out. Others in the world of wine having also taken note, they have recently gained a larger profile (and generally increased in price, but I guess so has everything these past few years).

Jérôme François took over his family’s 0.2-ha of vines (belonging to Uncle Charles) in 2014, at the age of just 23. His winemaking has matured over the ensuing nine years, and so has his vine holding, which I think has now reached 5.5-ha. These are around Ostheim, directly just north of Colmar, from where he works the vines biodynamically, at first with his former with business partner Yann Bury (now parted company), and now with his horse, Sirius. The professed farming philosophy is total respect for nature and the environment. Some of the newer vine holdings originally came via Yann, some are old parcels owned by Christian Binner.

This wine is at the entry level to Jérôme’s range, a traditional field blend which is made from eleven varieties including Riesling, Pinots Blanc and Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chasselas, Auxerrois and others (which include a few rarities). The vines range between 30 and 60 years old, impressive. The vinification includes lees ageing in used barrique for a year without racking, but there is minimal skin contact during fermentation so any texture comes purely from the lees. Pressing is very slow, sometimes over nine hours. You get a little bit of oxygenation and zero added sulphur.

First thoughts on sniffing are a floral bouquet with summer meadows and a touch of lemon. The palate shows quite a bit of depth, and there’s breadth too. It doesn’t have the linearity of some mineral-driven Alsace natural wines. The abv is up at 13%, which makes it very much a food-friendly cuvée. In summary a textured wine with lots of dry extract and a genuine stature. Lovely stuff.

Bought at Winekraft Edinburgh, but imported by Winemakers Club. Retail is around £26 but it may currently be out of stock right now. Still, a producer well worth seeking out.

The Ancestral Red 2021, Matt Gregory (Leicestershire, England)

As I said in my intro, Matt Gregory was unknown to me seven or eight months ago, and then I picked up on him via Instagram. In fact, I was aware of Matt’s Piemontese wines before I had a chance to buy his English ones. How a few months changes things. Matt didn’t make the cut for Ed Dallimore’s “The Vineyards of Britain” last year. Reading Abbie Moulton and photographer Maria Bell’s “New British Wine” (Hoxton Mini Press, See Review on this blog, 20 March 2023), not only is Matt featured but his wines somehow get into a lot of photos (as well as three in the section on him, I counted another five from various bars, shops, or restaurants featured in the book).

Matt worked, inter alia, with Theo Coles (The Hermit Ram) in North Canterbury, New Zealand. That is enough to make him a mate of mine, except that he is also seemingly foolhardy enough to make wine from a vineyard called Walton Brook, which is in the north of the county of my birth, close to Loughborough. The vineyard does at least roll down a south-facing slope, which Matt has insisted on converting to organics, despite the fact that certification, with all the neighbouring intensive farming, would be an unlikely dream. It was planted back in 2009 so the vines at least had a decade of growth in them before Matt began to restore the site to health and equilibrium in 2020.

This far north hybrid vines play a role in making wine without synthetic chemical inputs. Matt has Solaris, Madeline Angevine and Seyval Blanc, and others. The Ancestral Red is, of course, a red “petnat” style made by the Ancestral Method. It is a quite gently sparkling blend of, in this case, vinifera varieties, 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Gris. The strata here is Jurassic limestone, well suited to these grapes. Both were destemmed and crushed, and a pied de cuve started the fermentation. This method uses a grape starter to get the fermentation going as a support for indigenous yeasts where the winemaker wishes to avoid adding commercial yeasts.

A basket press is used to gently crush the grapes, and the only “manipulation” is the addition of some unfermented juice to start the second fermentation in bottle. There’s no fining, filtration, nor addition of sulphites. This is all rather impressive, not just for the northerly location, but for the vintage. If 2020 was a wonderful wine year for English wine, 2021 was pretty difficult, even in the South let alone the East Midlands, which can be very wet, I can tell you.

The end result is superb. A zingy petnat with nice concentrated cherry fruit which the bubbles help inject onto the palate and across the tongue. Very easy to swig, but you can show decorum by sipping it if you wish. Dry rosehips and sloes come to mind as the finish fades into the sunset. Matt’s experiments are placing him among a half-dozen-or-so British winemakers who are pushing the boundaries to the ultimate benefit of our winemaking industry. One day I must try to visit him.

A great coup by Uncharted Wines, who seem to have got Matt’s wines into all the right places, if the photos from Abbie’s book are anything to go by.

Chinon “Le Clos du Guillot” 2020, Bernard Baudry (Loire, France)

From super-natural wine to a classic wine from a classic region, but one which nevertheless follows a regime that makes it almost a natural wine in all but name. This is Cabernet Franc from the Chinon appellation in Touraine. Many of you will know Chinon as an attractive medieval town and imposing castle on the Loire tributary, the Vienne. The single vineyard “clos” where the grapes for this cuvée come from are planted on the exceptional terroir of the slopes at Cravant-les-Coteaux, a village approximately five kilometres along the D23 route to the east of Chinon.

Bernard Baudry is, of course, one of the great, classic, producers of Chinon and is based in the village. Bernard’s son, Matthieu, joined his father in 2000 and is now pretty much running the winemaking here, but the family tradition continues. Around 30-ha are farmed without synthetic inputs (herbicides, pesticides). The cellars are very traditional for the region, hewn out of the tufa (tuffeau) rock which, as well as making perfect winemaking and storing facilities, has also served for troglodyte dwellings in large parts of Touraine. Tufa, a type of limestone formed when carbonate minerals precipitate out of water in unheated rivers or lakes, is very easy to work.

The soils in the Clos are tufa limestone, made more complex by additional silica and clay. The cuvée’s mark of individuality is mineral tension, making it a wine with structure that needs time to age. I’m not even sure that my bottle, over twelve years old, was given sufficient time? Ageing is traditionally in used oak for a year before transfer to cement tanks for a further nine months, where, I’m sure, additional texture is picked up.

The fruit seems dark at first, and the wine’s colour doesn’t dispel that. We have blackberries and a definite blueberry note. The smokiness which comes in is like blackcurrant leaf, but I think some red fruits develop over the top as well. It still shows tannins, structure and intense minerality, but complexity too.

Where did I get this? Possibly on a visit to Cravant/Chinon, although The Solent Cellar comes to mind. They don’t list any right now, although they do list a good case deal from Baudry, a six-bottle mixed case which includes a couple of bottles of their quite hard to find Chinon Blanc (£166.50, just two left). Baudry also makes one of the best Rosé wines in the region, in my very humble opinion. The Clos Guillot 2020 should be available from Lea & Sandeman for just under £28/btl (£25 by the case). If you are prepared to age this, it’s a bargain, I think. Dressner and Lynch both have Baudry in the US.

Red Aquarius [2021], Jan-Philipp Bleeke (Mosel, Germany)

JPB is another of my most interesting discoveries of 2023 so far, I think. I say “I think” because this is the first (hopefully not the last) of his wines I’ve tried. Jan-Philipp studied marketing in the northwest of Germany, far away from any vineyards, but he fell in love with wine whilst working in a wine shop. Wine naturally seemed a lot more interesting than what he was studying, especially as he was developing as an environmentalist with a social conscience.

After a few jobs in the vineyard he began to work with Jan Matthias Klein at the Staffelterhof, on the Mosel (also I believe introducing Jas Swan to the team). He’s since set up on his own, as JPB Winemaking, now citing Thorsten Melsheimer as a continuing mentor. His vines are, like many young winemakers in the Mosel, situated in places which no one wanted to farm until recently, but those two hectares are close to Traben-Trabach, hardly the unknown reaches of the river. I remember Rudolf Trossen, of the same village, telling me a few years ago that there were perfectly excellent sites on the Mosel which people couldn’t give away, ideal for youngsters (like Jan-Philipp) to get started.

Red Aquarius is made from Dornfelder, one of Germany’s undoubted underrated grape varieties. It is perfect for easy to drink natural wine. Jan-Philipp uses biodynamic methods, though is not certified. Hand-picked, destemmed grapes are macerated for 12 days with a light hand-pigeage. Fermentation is in stainless steel and ageing is in old barrels for about four months. No sulphur is added.

We have a genuine fruit bomb here. Dark and concentrated brambly glouglou making this a lip-smacking thirst quencher of a wine which slips down more easily than you might imagine, given 12% of alcohol. Drink lightly chilled, it has some CO2 to preserve the wine and the tiny bubbles add real zip.

Only 999 bottles made, £25 from Made from Grapes (Glasgow), imported by Sevslo Wine. I think there are others on the trail of JPB, so don’t be slow.

I mentioned this guy’s social perspective and it is worth noting that he has set up the Mosel’s first Community Supported Agriculture Scheme (CSA). It’s a partnership between farmers and consumers, where each party shares in responsibilities, rights and rewards. Another man I’d love to meet.

“Mariage Plus Vieux” 2020, Lambert Spielmann (Alsace, France)

Lambert Spielmann, based at Saint-Pierre now, has established himself as one of my very favourite Alsace producers in the two or three years since I first bought a couple of his bottles. The whole package just seems exciting. Wines with strong music references (such as “Red Z’Epfig), a cork with the punning motto “Partisan Vigneron”, a music recommendation (printed on the back label) to listen to whilst drinking the wine, and a domaine name, “Domaine in Black”, which is surely a reference to The Stranglers? This is all calculated to hook me. But, as they say, if the wine ain’t no good…so far it has been more than good.

“Mariage” is a skin contact Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer blend, made from a 60-year-old parcel of vines at nearby Obernai. The Gewurztraminer is destemmed and then macerates in the pressed juice of the Sylvaner for six months, in vat.

In the glass the colour is very definitely orange, and it smells of orange marmalade. Really, how do they do this? The palate is dry with some dusty tannins, but with smooth overlying fruit, along with plenty of zippy acidity accentuated by a little protective CO2 in place of added sulphur. The finish is spicy, like ginger with a faint hint of chilli.

The wine is innovative, very tasty and if you like natural wine, a must buy. The music recommendation here is a track from 2013 (but relevant today) called “Etat des Lieux” by French punk band Heyoka. It is “very French” but combines the snarl of The Pogues with a sound which reminds me of Pirate Metal (Alestorm comes to mind).

Lambert Spielmann’s UK importer is Tutto Wines. Contact for stockists. Right now, they only appear to have one of Lambert’s wines on their online “Tutto a Casa” shop, but it’s always worth asking them.

My bottle came from Noble Fine Liquor, but I heard only a week ago that this excellent wine retailer, along with the irreplaceable P Franco, and Bright from within the same group, have all shockingly closed. I know nothing yet of the details and I can only hope their suppliers are not in too deep. I mention it here because it’s the saddest news on the restaurant scene since London’s original natural wine bar/restaurant, Terroirs, closed in 2021.

Perspektive Weiss 2020, Alex & Maria Koppitsch (Burgenland, Austria)

We end, as far as March’s wines go, with a producer I know personally, a family I feel a great deal of warmth toward. I may appear biased therefore. I met Maria first and I don’t deny I tried hard after tasting their wines at a London Raw Wine many years ago to get them a wider UK exposure. Finally, after a couple of false starts they seem to have national distribution and a deservedly bigger profile. I’m thrilled that my new friends at Cork & Cask in Edinburgh are massive fans because it hopefully means a regular supply.

Alex and Maria are based in Neusiedl-am-See, at the top of the lake. The town’s railway station links with Vienna and a handy cycle hire place next door to it makes the lake’s most popular land-based leisure activity easily accessible (it’s quite flat, but the wind does gust up over the Pannonian Plain). The wind does help keep vines here disease free, and the Koppitsch vines are farmed biodynamically and without synthetic inputs.

Perspektive Weiss is a blend, comprising equal parts Chardonnay and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). The grapes are from three plots ranging from 1960s and 2017 plantings of Chardonnay and something like 2005 for the Weissburgunder. They all grow on a rocky limestone hill called Neuburg. The grapes are treated in various different ways as regards destemming etc, but the important bits are that just a quarter of the juice sees skin contact (eight days), but it is all aged on gross lees for ten months. As well as no fining/filtration, no sulphites were added at any stage.

The result is two elements, fruit, and mineral. The fruit leaps out and is quite tropical, yet restrained by the acidity and texture. It’s lime, guava, peach, and a hint of pineapple. The lime is carried on the zippy acids and all is underpinned by a mildly abrasive texture, just enough to apply a gentle brake on the palate. The 2020 has just 11% alcohol, though I think the 2021 may be a touch higher. It has a real freshness, in a wine capable of ageing but one that brings masses of sensual and almost bracing pleasure just as it is.

Just under £28 from Cork & Cask Edinburgh. As of yesterday, they only had one left but I’m pretty sure they will be restocking Koppitsch. Their current UK importer now is Roland Wines.

And now for something completely different…

Ocet Na Pití Jabklo, Cabernet Franc/Frankovka/Černý Bez, Utopia (Czechia)

The name might give this away, at least the “Ocet” part, which has a similar word in Italian, aceto. Utopia is a Czech cider producer whose bottles I’ve shown a bit of enthusiasm for over recent years. Well, Ivo and Eva also make vinegar and I first got to taste these fantastic products at Moravia’s Autentikfest wine fair last August. Now they are available in the UK in several forms under the name “Utopia Drinking Vinegars”.

They are cider apple vinegars made via a slow, 20-month, process. The product begins as a cider, which sees a year in cask. At this point Utopia usually bottles its ciders, but this liquid is aged a further seven or eight months following the traditional Orléans method for vinegar production (barrel-fermentation at between 21-31 Degrees Celsius, rather than the quicker and more commercial method of artificially heating the must).

For some of the vinegars Eva searches for wild berries or herbs for the maceration, but this is made with grapes (Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch/Frankovka, with Elderflower). It’s a concentrated, but light on the palate, artisan vinegar. I always get my best vinegar from Philippe Gonet in Arbois (the Vin Jaune vinegar is exceptional, as is the Poulsard), but these are in the same class, very fine.

What to use them for? It is suggested they be used to enhance cocktails, added to water (ratio one part vinegar to 5-10 parts sparkling water, they say), used in baking etc. We do use high quality vinegars in cooking and the bottle we bought has been used to add a table spoon to dishes after taking off the heat (as a wine vinegar it works well) or to add to sauces. A little makes a difference. As the nights get longer and warmer, we shall get through our 25cl bottle for salad dressings. It contains no ingredients other than 75% apple cider vinegar macerated with the grape skins and elderflower, with a little organic sugar and water. Definitely no sulphites added, and equally these products are unpasteurised. Keeping in the fridge prolongs its life.

£15 for 250ml from Basket Press Wines. They have a number of other versions, including one macerated with raspberry, wild thyme and jalapeño, which looks exciting.

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Recent Wines March 2023 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

April is almost upon us as I write. Usually I am hastily trying to publish my Recent Wines articles before we are half way through the following month, but for March I’m getting in early, giving you the wines from the first half of the month well before the month is over. This is because, fingers very tightly crossed, April is going to be rather busy.

The wines we drank at home in the first half of March came from Moravia, Eastern Hungary, Roussillon, Alsace, Catalonia, Champagne, Hampshire, and Burgenland. Am I becoming predictable?

Karmazín (Frankovka) 2020, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czechia)

If you were expecting one of Petr’s outrageously colourful labels on this one you might be disappointed. Petr produces so many cuvées that it is easy to forget that some of his wines go out under these more traditional (well a little more) labels. The wine is hardly traditional, though, at least for the grape variety.

Karmazín is a local name for an old clone of Frankovka, which is of course the Czech synonym for Blaufränkisch. Its label is sedate but the juice is as exciting as anything that comes out of this picture postcard Boleradice cellar.

The vines, farmed biodynamically of course, are old, planted in 1934. The terroir is limestone, which we all know the variety loves, as evidenced in Burgenland around the Leithaberg Mountains. The winemaking, as is the rule here, is low intervention and equally low added sulphur.

The bouquet shows lovely concentrated cherries with more than a hint of spice. In the glass, as the wine unfurls, the aromas seem to get deeper, as you follow them down a tunnel of scent. Definite notes of floral violet appear and the cherry gets darker. I love these wine journeys, and we haven’t even tasted it yet. The palate has more cherry in layers, red to dark. I wouldn’t call it complex in a fane wane sense, yet there’s certainly a lot going on here. But maybe I should cut the waffle and just say “it’s so good”!

I think Koráb’s UK importer, Basket Press Wines, is onto the 2021 now, which will cost you all of £25.

Robin 2020, Annamária Réka Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

No introduction for Annamária (aka @nussancs) here because she does feature quite regularly. I was awaiting her new 2021 vintage and as it turned out that my order included two Robins it felt a good time to dispose of this one. Now you all know just how much I like this producer’s wines, and for me Robin yields up pretty much everything I want from a petnat.

However, I took this as a BYOB to one of the brilliant Sri Lankan popups we’ve been going to. This time we were a six-person table, and a couple of friends clearly had never tried a natural wine, let alone a petnat, certainly not one made from 70% Királyleánika and 10% Rhine Riesling, which Annamária farms in her vineyards at Barabás, on Hungary’s eastern border with Ukraine, with an added 30% of Furmint coming from Mád (in Tokaj).

They found the “sourness” (their description) on the finish unusual, and I suppose I should acknowledge that not everyone is used to the savoury texture of many natural petnats. However, those of my acquaintance who are more regular drinkers of Robin are as much fans as I am. To people like me this is, in the importer’s words, “super-drinkable”, and equally refreshing. A fine bead, good acids, a little bite and for me the tartness here enhances the wine, makes it a bottle you take note of, rather than one which merely slips down anonymously.

Only 970 bottles were made of this 2020. The 2021 vintage back label doesn’t state how many bottles were made (nor does it list Riesling in the grape composition this time), but I know it isn’t many. You might still be lucky and find some (£27) via Basket Press Wines, or look out for it on the lists in those super-cool restaurants which sell this kind of thing.

Les Chiens Blanc Vin de France, Alliance Wine (Roussillon, France)

This might seem a departure for me, a cheap (at least by our standards) wine, not “natural” in its making and not (presumably) “artisanal”. But we drank this at the same popup dinner where the previous wine had shocked (perhaps too strong a word) a few friends at the table. I freely admit I bought it because my daughter liked the label, but she is unrivalled at sniffing out a bargain, whether that be in a vintage clothes shop, a charity shop, or an antiques/junk shop. It seems wine shops as well.

This is the white wine in a pair (with a red) from UK agent and importer Alliance Wine. I’m not going to bother searching the code to find out who made it. It’s a blend of (I think) Colombard, Vermentino, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, quite possibly the most part being Colombard, but you certainly get hints of the two white Rhône varieties and Grenache Blanc, and perhaps Vermentino adds a bit of acidity?

Made in stainless steel, this is very much a straightforward wine, with a nicely floral bouquet, smooth on the palate, peachy fruit with pear, a little texture on the finish. It’s balanced, with gentle acids and a tweak of salinity. I’d say this is pretty well put together for a tenner (£10 for overseas readers). I couldn’t ask for more really, given the price. I’d be very happy to buy this again (especially as the whisky budget is decimating the wine budget). I wouldn’t want anyone who habitually buys the wines I usually write about to think this in the same space, but it is more than just acceptable in my view. Well done.

Spotted in Winekraft Edinburgh via Alliance Wine (so surely widely available, I’d certainly seen the label before).

Phénix 2020, Frederick & Arnaud Geschickt (Alsace, France)

Now, much as I enjoyed the previous wine, this is several levels up. Back to where we usually are, plus more. The Geschickt family have been farming biodynamically since back in 1998, although biodynamics has a long history in and around the village where they are based, Ammerschwihr, northwest of Colmar.

They have holdings on some of the famous sites which are now “Grand Cru”, including Wineck-Schlossberg, and the neighbouring, belatedly but deservedly elevated, Kaefferkopf. Both vineyards sit south of the village. For me, Phénix is one of their most interesting cuvées. It blends Pinot Gris from Kaefferkopf with a little Gewurztraminer.

Both varieties are pink-skinned and this is a maceration, or skin contact, wine. Sometimes a little skin contact yields a kind of “vin gris”, an example being the Italian “ramato” style of Pinot Gris/Grigio, but here we get a full-on Rosé, darker even than Provence’s more pallid examples from red grapes. Here we have vibrant red cherries and wild red fruits in a wine that is also textured and ever so slightly grippy on the finish. It’s as if the fruit riot is being contained by the structure but is nevertheless straining to burst free.

The wine also has another side too, a mellowness which is contemplative. A kind of after the battle feel. Maybe I got carried away, but that’s how it felt. Anyway, it’s a wine that is both extra-tasty and impressive at the same time, one I can’t wait to buy again.

This was another purchase from Winekraft Edinburgh. Made From Grapes in Glasgow were also listing it but it may be currently out of stock.

Brutal!!! 2020, Cellar Vega Aixalà (Catalonia, Spain)

The label sets this wine apart as one produced for the “Brutal Wine Corporation”. It began as an open-source label for producers of strictly natural wine. Not only were they all sulphur-free zones, but they were ideally meant to goad early detractors from natural wine into calling them faulty. Created by a group around Barcelona’s famous Bar Brutal, and French winemaker Anthony Tortul, it came out of Catalan colleagues calling his wine “brutal”. He was wrong to think it an insult. The word is used as a positive slang description much as you will hear “sick” as a super-positive expression in English/American.

It should be said that “Brutal” was a bandwagon rather a lot of people jumped on, and the unwritten rule that any cuvée was limited to a single barrel was being broken as much as any rule regarding winemaking techniques. It is for this reason that the striking label with the yellow writing had to be copyrighted to limit who could use it. As far as I know, these wines are mostly French and Spanish, although Dane Johns (Momento Mori Wines, Australia) bears the distinction, as far as I know, of being the only artisan winemaker outside of Europe to be admitted to the brotherhood.

This is a white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and the rather less autochthonous Albariño (which must have slipped over from Galicia). Biodynamic in all aspects, from a family winery, founded in 2003, at Vilanova de Prades in Tarragona Province. These were vineyards abandoned two generations ago, but the vines sit upon exceptional black llicorella slate. If the name is familiar, it’s the same slate you find in Priorat. The wine follows the Brutal rules in being a “zero/zero” wine, which means no inputs nor manipulations in vineyard nor cellar.

The vines here are at altitudes over 800masl on terraced slopes. The grapes (obviously hand-picked, hard work) go first into stainless steel to ferment, but then into amphora to age for three months. The result is fresh and fragrant on the nose. The palate has a smoothness which makes it less “brutal” in the regular sense of the word, than the uninitiated might expect. There certainly is acidity, and on account of the altitude of the vines, very much like cool climate acidity too. But beneath this is a dry, chalky, texture (amphora, perhaps) and an almost “gemischter-satzy” prickly, savoury, finish. Challenging for some? You need to stop, ponder, let it wash down over the palate.

Again, from Winekraft, and can also be found in Made from Grapes. Well, you must expect me to try all of the new wines I’m finding up here in Scotland.

Résonance Extra Brut 2019, Champagne Marie-Courtin (Champagne, France)

Marie-Courtin has emerged as one of the great Grower Champagnes producing biodynamic bottles since Dominique Moreau began making Champagnes in 2006. As with many Grower Champagnes, her estate is tiny, one single parcel of vines of less than three hectares on the Côte des Bar at Polisot. Marie was Dominique’s grandmother, after whom the domaine is named. The old vines, tended by Dominique since 2001, are propagated by massale selection.

Résonance is Dominique’s Pinot Noir cuvée made in tank (Efflorescence is made from the same variety but aged in wood). Bottled without dosage, these wines are quite singular, Résonance being a cuvée you might, if feeling lucky, guess in a blind tasting. The soils here are the Kimmeridgean clay and limestone mix, named after Kimmeridge Bay on England’s south coast, in Dorset, but also present as mainly marl (with Portlandian limestone) in Chablis, and in Sancerre.

The lack of dosage, the soils and perhaps the less oxidative vinification in tank, gives this wine certain characteristics, the foremost perhaps being structure, with texture and salinity. The fruit is crisp, fresh apple and whilst there is emerging depth, this wine in its youthful phase is definitely one for those who like their Champagne to be a bracing early spring stroll with a northerly wind whipping across the Forth from Fife. Just like me.

I am rather sad these days that I get to drink very little Champagne compared to years gone by. Once upon a time, lunches at places like Masters in Waterloo, where ten or twelve of us would BYO a bottle each, or dinners with wine trade friends, would invariably involve widening one’s experience. My cellar now contains no more than a dozen Champagnes. However, this is one Champagne which has not become completely unaffordable up until now (staring, as I am, down the barrel of a very large construction bill).

£50 from The Good Wine Shop Kew. You won’t get much from Champagne for less than this these days.

Seyval Blanc 2018, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire, England)

I drank a bottle of the 2017 vintage of Tim Phillips’s Seyval Blanc before Christmas. This is the following 2018 vintage, a sort of “just testing” bottle which Tim hopes to release commercially in early summer this year (June has been mooted). Tim knows I’m an evangelist for English sparkling Seyval Blanc, and like me, he knows that as far as this style and variety goes, Breaky Bottom is the Holy Grail. In terms of quality (not necessarily style because we have different terroir here), I think Tim is aiming to match that.

The grapes don’t come out of Tim’s walled clos, but as I’ve said before, from Tim Hurley’s Black Barn Vineyard near Pennington (so not far away). The vines date from the 1960s, so by English standards these are very old vines. Seyval Blanc is, of course, a hybrid variety (a cross between Seibel 5656 and Rayon d’Or, aka Seibel 4986). Although created in France, it is outlawed there, and in the rest of the EU, for its non-vinifera element. However, most planted in Great Britain (though with pockets in broader North America), I think it can make delicious wines, most especially ones with bubbles.

This bottle, disgorged in October 2022, was given a dosage of 8g/l. I thought this as perfectly judged as the smaller 5g/l was for the 2017, but bear in mind that I was tasting it a mere three months after it had been disgorged. The dosage will have melded nicely in three months but the residual sugars of the dosage will have taken the edge off the youthful acids. I think very low dosage with Seyval would be a risk in terms of balance.

The colour is worth commenting on – it had a nice yellowy tinge. The bouquet was fresh and floral (for me, jasmine and white flowers initially). The palate showed a crisp Bramley apple acidity with developing broader flavours of dessert apple. But this zips along on a very wine-like stream, by which I mean “vinous”, and also that with all these apple notes one couldn’t mistake it for one of Tim’s ciders. There’s a degree of the linearity you get with the cider but there’s rather more depth too.

I think this is a marvel of a wine and I’m hoping Tim will save me some on release. However, I know this will be in as short supply as all of Tim’s other micro-cuvées.

“Waiting for Tom” Weiss 2020, Rennersistas (Burgenland, Austria)

Still labelled “Rennersistas” rather than the “Renner und Sistas” which signified brother Georg coming on board (although that’s surely Georg pushing the tractor), this cuvée is perhaps the first icon Stefanie and Susanne made when they took over their father, Helmuth’s estate at Gols. “Tom” here refers to their habitually late famous mentor, though they don’t always like to reveal whether it was Tom Lubbe or Tom Shobbrook (quite convenient).

I suspect that this, in either its white or red form, was my first taste of a Renner wine. It remains a perennial purchase, and currently stands as a blend of 70% Weissburgunder (aka Pinot Blanc) with 30% Chardonnay, both varieties grown biodynamically on the vineyards towards the north end of the Neusiedlersee.

The backbone of this wine is its purity and mineral salinity, a dry wine with a little flesh on the bone but no flab. It’s the kind of wine which begins all prim and proper but as it unfurls it shows just a hint of unruliness. I think this is the velvet quality of the Chardonnay which counters the texture, fruit overlapping a mineral edge.

Some wines show a developing complexity in the glass. Perhaps here the texture changes, but my enthusiasm for the “Tom Weiss” is always that purity. I am tempted to say it is so pure it’s saintly, but that’s just getting subjective, isn’t it. But it is undeniably gorgeous.

Destemmed fruit spent a week on skins and then eight months on lees in a mix of barrique and a Stockinger cask.

Quite widely available via importer Newcomer Wines, this bottle came from Littlewine but I recently bought some from Made From Grapes (Glasgow) too. Around £22.

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New British Wine by Abbie Moulton with Maria Bell (Book Review)

The back cover of Abbie Moulton and Maria Bell’s book proclaims that “British food has had its revolution. Now is the time for British wine”. It goes on to say that “British Wine” was once shorthand for imported grape mush [but] not any more. And Abbie is right.

When I began working through my wine exams “British Wine” had a very specific meaning. It was the term used for imported grape concentrate which, when rehydrated in the UK, made for a product very inferior to “English Wine” (the “and Welsh” was added later), even though the wine falling under that second term was very rarely anywhere near as good as we produce from our own vineyards today. But Britain, now, is slowly becoming a major player in the world of wine. Perhaps not for quantity, but certainly for quality. At the forefront of this movement towards fame and glory are the explorers, the boundary pushers.

I first visited Ben Walgate at Tillingham in June 2018, and this was my first sight of qvevri in England. Ben had two at that time, one half full of cider (just 200-litres), and the second had fermented 400-litres of Ortega. With his buried qvevri and in so many other practices, Ben was one of a tiny handful of English winemakers who were experimenting, pushing those boundaries, and working at the outer edges of the English wine universe. Others included Will Davenport, Tim Phillips (Charlie Herring), Daniel Ham (Offbeat Wines) and Adrian Pike at Westwell.

Here we are, not quite five years later, and we have a book about these outcast prophets. The winemakers featured (sixteen of them if I have counted correctly) all share several things in common, first and foremost a respect for their land and the minimal intervention philosophy and techniques which we have come to call natural wine and regenerative farming. Some are making sparkling wines by the tried and trusted “traditional method” (just like Champagne). Others are making petnats by the ancestral method, or variations thereof. Others are making still wines, and in some cases are rejuvenating the hybrid vines planted in England’s first winemaking wave (1960s/70s) to make still wines fit for the 21st century.

Abbie Moulton is a young drinks writer (and broadcaster) whose writing has appeared in The Times and the London Evening Standard. She has joined forces for this project with photographer Maria Bell, whose expertise lies in food and farming. Her work with top chefs and restaurants, which has featured in national newspapers and books, was nominated, and shortlisted, for the “Food Photographer of the Year” award in 2021.

Working with Hoxton Mini Press in London, Abbie and Maria have produced a hard cover book illustrated with very high-quality photographs to enhance the well laid out text. The photos really are very good indeed, especially the portraits. But naturally it is the text and the contents that will attract you to this book, a new work in what it must be said is becoming almost a crowded market, especially as I am aware of two more books on Britain’s vineyards and wine which are imminent.

For decades, it seems, to read an authoritative book on English and Welsh Wine you had to reach for Stephen Skelton MW. He was perhaps instrumental, as a viticulturalist, writer, wine judge, educator, and vineyard consultant, in nudging our wines towards a brighter future. He has been responsible for what has been planted where over a wide swathe of Britain’s vineyards. For many years he really was the one truly authoritative voice telling us all about it. The most recent of his books I own is “The Wines of Great Britain” (Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, 2019).

A year later, Oz Clarke brought his own unique perspective to the subject with “English Wine” (Pavilion, 2020). He called Great Britain “the newest New World wine country” and brought a degree of brevity and levity to the subject.

Things got a lot more interesting in 2022 when the work of Ed Dallimore appeared. Although his book, “The Vineyards of Britain” (Fairlight Books, 2022) claimed to be comprehensive, it wasn’t quite, but nevertheless Ed visited more than 140 UK vineyards and compared to any previous works, it was considerably more thorough. It’s the largest directory of people making wine in England and Wales we have, from the big boys and girls to tiny operations producing a few hundred bottles. Ed is also a pretty good photographer as well. With a couple of pages or more per profile, you will learn much from this book, and enjoy the process of doing so (as my review of it illustrated, 24/10/2022).

What Ed’s book did was, like some of the producers we’ve mentioned already, to push the boundaries. He was the first person to really look at, inter alia, the producers who Max Allen, in his seminal 2010 book on Australian Wine, called the future makers. People doing things at the fringes today that will like as not become mainstream in a few years (Ben’s qvevris are now almost ubiquitous in any forward-looking English winery).

Some previous texts on English/British Wines

Abbie, in her selection of producers for “New British Wine”, has not tried to produce anything near comprehensive, but what she has done is select exactly the right people who would fulfil Max Allen’s class of winemaker were it applied the Great Britain. Alongside names already mentioned we have the likes of Tim Wildman, creating, with the technical help of Dan Ham, wine from “heritage varieties” sourced in some of Britain’s lost vineyards, or Matt Gregory, whose wines I only discovered in the last six months or so through his agent, Uncharted Wines. He makes wine in North Leicestershire (and Italy), having worked with my favourite New Zealand producer, Theo Coles (The Hermit Ram).

We also have Black Chalk, perhaps the most conventional of an unconventional bunch, but who under Jacob Leadley, assisted by Zoë Driver, are making the most exciting new English Sparkling wines I know. These people really are, to borrow from Max Allen again, England’s own “future makers”.

In addition to the producers, the scope of this book is widened considerably by the inclusion of the places we can find these wines, whether they be restaurants, wine bars or bottle shops, and some of the individuals responsible for these wines’ promotion.

We have P. Franco in East London, which encompasses all of the above; we have Spry Wines, a remarkable wine bar not too far from my home, in Edinburgh; and we have contrasting restaurants from the very smart (in several senses) Berners Tavern in London’s Fitzrovia to Angela’s, a tiny seafood restaurant in Margate. All of them promote English and Welsh wine, as do India Parry Williams of Edinburgh’s Cork & Cask wine shop and co-founder of Edinburgh’s Wild Wine Fair, and Dominic Smith, an accomplished sommelier who also works in the music industry under a name you will have undoubtedly come across, Dynamite MC.

There are profiles for a dozen places to sample British wines, including the above (a list which is very far from being London-centric), and a handful of “industry voices” (including India and Dominic), making for a very rounded and cosmopolitan survey of the whole of the British wine scene, from vineyard to glass. I can think of a couple of highly influential individuals I might have chosen to include here, but I am not the one to question Abbie’s selections.

Maria Bell’s pics of Matt Gregory and India Parry Williams

It is normal in a work such as this, one where the author makes personal choices, to get tempted into suggesting that some people or places have been missed out. I mean, the book is called New British Wine, and the italics are the authors. So, I can’t argue that Breaky Bottom should have been included, despite the fact that Peter Hall makes such a magnificent sparkling wine from a heritage variety (Seyval Blanc) that others now are trying to emulate what he’s doing. He’s been doing it, after all, since 1974.

No, I think that the personal nature of the choices are actually a strength of the book. I do think some are inspired. Matt Gregory has gone from a name few (including myself) knew a year ago to a man whose wines sneak into either the foreground or background of photos here with some regularity. Maria has taken the best portrait ever of one of English Wine’s true philosopher-genius’s, Tim Phillips. Abbie has also included a couple of London’s exciting urban wineries, along with London’s only commercial vines, the community-focused Forty Hall Vineyard. These have been very obviously conspicuous in their absence in the older books on the subject, although within the capital city the urban wineries have created quite a stir.

In summary, the author and photographer have done a magnificent job. The overall design, led by Alex Hunting, is excellent, and of course because Hoxton Mini Press is an environmentally conscious publisher, the book is printed on eco-friendly paper, and, a nice touch, the cover board contains 15% grape waste.

I can recommend New British Wine unreservedly. With all the photos it does read swifter than I expected, but in part that is down to the readability of the text. It’s definitely a feel-good read. Not only does the author carry you along, like the long finish of Black Chalk’s Sparkling Rosé, but it also makes you feel very good about the future direction of one important part of British Wine, its artisan innovators.

The book is geared up for a wide readership, so you will need to accept several descriptions of skin contact winemaking, clay fermentation vessels and such like if, like many of my readers, you are already deeply lost in the subject and know your qvevri from your concrete egg. The other side of the coin is that I was introduced to several places I didn’t already know in which to try these wines, and indeed to the as yet untried wines of Ingrid Bates (Dunleavy Vineyards in Somerset’s Yeo Valley), who I don’t recall Ed Dallimore visiting.

Finally, if you do decide to purchase this book, and you really should if you can spare the cost of a decent bottle of British natural wine (£35), please consider buying direct from the publisher (www.hoxtonminipress.com). I got a very nice card with the book thanking me for a direct purchase. They will plant a tree for every direct sale, but more importantly (which they don’t mention), they will receive all of the price of the book. Other sites might save you £6-or-so, but Hoxton Mini Press do not charge postage on this product, so you won’t really be losing out. Hoxton Mini Press, and ultimately Abbie and Maria, might benefit quite a lot. Wine writers almost never get rich but they can get poor and how we purchase their work does make a difference. Meanwhile, my British wine library grows apace.

Note on Photos: This is an article about the book, and sometimes people comment that the photos used to illustrate the book are not presented professionally by me. This is deliberate. It is not my intention to use other people’s work to enhance my article, yet having some idea of what the photography is like is obviously important in a book where the photographer gets equal billing with the author. I hope that explains my logic for what is, after all, a blog (rather than magazine or newspaper) article. I also hope it allows you to see how good the photos are without using exact copies.

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Like a Child in a Sweet Shop – Made From Grapes and Sevslo Wine, Glasgow

If you have been reading this blog recently you will probably have seen my piece on Vanessa Letort and her “Du Vin aux Liens” project, and the wine journey that flowed from my discovery of this wine collective and all the different projects and characters emanating from it. You will also have gathered that Vanessa’s UK agent/importer is a company called Sevslo Wine, based in Glasgow. Last week I made what was my first ever trip to that city to meet up with Sevslo founder, Séverine Sloboda and her business partner, Liam Hanlon, at Sevslo’s sister-company, the wine shop “Made From Grapes”.

Made From Grapes is situated in Glasgow’s South Side, on Nithsdale Road. For someone not knowing the city, and who decided to walk from the centre (about 45 minutes), the journey was an interesting one. Half an hour after crossing the Clyde I had traversed a wilderness of shuttered shops, social housing, and derelict industrial buildings, save for a few interesting restaurants (I spotted Afghan, Persian and “Middle Eastern”) and global food stores. I probably saw half-a-dozen people on the street. Passing under a flyover for the M8 Motorway I eventually reached Nithsdale Road, and found myself in a very affluent area, akin to West London’s smarter neighbourhoods, with cafés spilling onto the street, delis and Made From Grapes. The contrast made me blink.

I have to tell you, inside, the shop is a delight to anyone seriously interested in natural wine. I was like a child in a sweet shop. But first, let’s step back a bit.

Séverine Sloboda’s family were originally from the former Czechoslovakia, but moved to Paris, where as a child she was surrounded by wine and the wine trade. Her mother, at the time Séverine was around ten years old, became the first woman to manage one of the shops in France’s large Nicolas wine chain.

After working in, and managing, Parisian wine shops, Séverine moved to the UK in 2004, working as a sommelier at the Criterion and The Bleeding Heart, before being there for the opening of Michelin-starred Trinity Restaurant in Clapham in 2006. Her sommelier experience took her to Scotland, back to London (she did a stint as Head Sommelier at Angelus) and then up to Scotland again where, in late 2019 she founded Sevslo Wine.

Despite the Covid pandemic, Séverine and co-director Liam Hanlon managed to open Made from Grapes about a year after Sevslo was up and running, in late 2020. Possibly not the best time to start a business you might think, yet their ability to open their doors to customers, as an “essential service”, soon had locals flocking in because they were pretty much the only shop open in the neighbourhood.

Like all good independent wine shops, they have focused on cultivating a loyal local clientele with tastings, whilst at the same time they have created an online shop, and having gained a full Licence can now add in popups for local restaurants etc. They are about to transform into a “bar à vin” with snacks (cheese, charcuterie, maybe croque monsieur, says Séverine) with corkage or wines by the glass to drink in. The shop is spacious enough to hold events, is nice and light and has a great vibe already.

I had been drawn to Sevslo, the importer, by a raft of interesting producers, some (like Sons of Wine) I had heard of before but whose wines I had never tried. First, we have the Alsace producers mentioned in the article on Du Vin aux Liens, along with the Loire winemakers Vanessa works with and those who collaborate with Vanessa’s partner, Farid Yahimi (Sons of Wine).

They also import the wines from near Toul in Lorraine, Eastern France, made by Vanessa and Farid’s friends at Maison Crochet (Wilfried Crochet). But these are just the tip of the iceberg. I became aware that Sevslo also imports the wines of Jan-Philipp Bleeke, who has previously worked with Jan-Matthias Klein (Staffelter Hof, Kröv), whose wines I am a big fan of, through importer Modal Wines. They also have wines in store from the young Mosel micro-negociant Jas Swan, who also worked at the Staffelter Hof with JMK.

Jan-Philipp Bleeke Red Aquarius – Dornfelder with Regent, Mosel

Sevslo seems to be a company with a finger on the pulse when it comes to finding relatively unknown names in natural wine, although I use the phrase with a big caveat. Vanessa Letort wasn’t a name even I knew before this year, but as I mentioned in my article about her, her “Du Vin aux Liens” are already imported into a raft of countries and regions, including Scandinavia, North America, South Korea and Japan. The Japanese, especially, seem to sniff out a good natural wine producer in a way that the UK once had a reputation for, pre-Brexit.

However, Made from Grapes is not beholden only to Sevslo for the wines on the shelves. Liam told me that they purchase from at least fifteen different UK importers and agents, and this is the key to making this shop probably the best natural wine store I’ve seen in the UK. I’m tempted not even to add “outside of London”. There seem to be almost no compromises, or very few, in pursuing what is undoubtedly the dream here, to own a wine shop that stocks what the owners like to drink themselves. It’s something of a pleasant surprise to discover that their tastes pretty much match mine.

Marnes Blanches, Labet, Tournelle and Vin Jaune from Fumey-Chatelain top off the Jura selection; Claus Preisinger, Rennersistas and Judith Beck shout out for Burgenland; a good selection from Jean-Pierre Rietsch crowns the Alsace cohort, which also includes Catherine Riss and Geschickt, whilst Germany has the likes of Wassenhaus and Enderle & Moll. Bordeaux is represented by Château Le Puy, Italy by Foradori, Spain by Partida Creus. There are even a few wines from Basket Press Wines, such as Annamária Réka-Koncz (Hungary) and Magula (Slovakia). I also spotted some Slobodne from Slovakia, imported by Modal Wines.

Some of the importers with wines on the shelves include Les Caves de Pyrene, Winemakers Club, Newcomer Wines, Otros Vinos (especially nice to see here) and Dynamic Vines, to name only a few alongside already mentioned Modal and Basket Press. A good selection of sparkling wines starts with Champagne from Bérêche and Laherte, alongside several Crémants (sadly they had sold out of JPR’s Crémant d’Alsace, but it is usually listed), and they stock a healthy number of pétnats as well (which are very popular, Liam says).

Liam and Séverine

Made from Grapes (166 Nithsdale Road, Glasgow) is open Tuesday to Sunday, closed Mondays (check times on web site as they open late, at 12.00 some days). They do Mail Order like anyone else, but if you are in Glasgow it is well worth the trek out there in person. Especially if, like me, you are an inveterate browser. It would be easy to point to this store as a potential source for wines which might be sold out in London, except that would just be patronising. A scroll through the wines on the shop’s web site will show several sold out, as illustrated by their savvy customers hoovering up all the Jean-Pierre Rietsch Crémant d’Alsace which I so badly needed. I will say though (shhh!) that the Labet prices (as indeed all the prices) looked relatively generous compared to some sources outside the region. Don’t expect them to sell you the whole lot though.

Sevslo Wine can be contacted through their web site to supply their small artisan growers to the on-trade and to cutting edge indie wine shops ( sevslowine.com ). You can read all the bio/profiles of their own growers there. Sevslo definitely doesn’t just distribute in Scotland. They are increasingly doing business in England, so you can all get your hands on these new wines if your local wine shop checks them out. Made from Grapes of course will deliver throughout the UK.

One final observation…Séverine Sloboda is a great example of a woman in the wine trade who, obviously through hard work and determination, has become successful. Perhaps it was fitting that my visit to Glasgow coincided with International Women’s Day. Meeting Séverine and Liam was a pleasure, as was browsing the wines in the Glasgow sunshine.

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Recent Wines February 2023 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part Two of the wines we drank at home in February takes us to ground mostly not covered in Part One. We begin in Austria’s Rust, then Georgia’s Imereti, before we travel back to Alsace. Realising I’d not been drinking much Jura of late I pulled out a real gem from Pupillin. We finish with wines from Slovakia, Bugey and Chablis.

Furmint Aus Dem Quarz Unfiltriert 2018, Weinbau Wenzel (Burgenland, Austria)

The Wenzel family are Rust winemaking stalwarts, which for this chocolate box town on the Neusiedlersee’s western shore means a long time, in this case since 1647. The current incumbent in that long line is Michael Wenzel, and he has transformed the estate into one with a modern outlook, yet which at the same time holds dearly to tradition.

Rust, despite its relative proximity to Vienna, was once in the lands ruled by the Hungarian Monarch, always technically separate from Austria, even under the Hapsburg Empire. It was the Hungarian Crown which gave Rust its Free Town status in 1681. Not only is it Austria’s smallest administrative district, it is also (since 2001) a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It truly is worth visiting, for the buildings, the rather special lake, the storks, and of course the wine.

As a once-Hungarian town (the current border is a relatively short cycle ride down the lakeside) you will guess that Furmint was traditionally planted. It fell from favour from the 20th Century, but Michael Wenzel is one of a handful of winemakers who are re-popularising the variety here (Heidi Schröck is another). From the grey quartz-flecked terroir of the Vogelsang vineyard an amazing expression of the variety emphasises its mineral qualities.

We have a wine in which the minerality gives both texture and an amazing precision. That minerality is really deep, accentuated by eight months on lees. This bottle is as fresh as the one I drank from the same vintage in 2020, there being just more depth. Of course, Furmint is a very fine variety, wholly under appreciated in most Western European markets, so of course it is capable of ageing. Very impressive. A wine for both the mind and the soul.

I bought this bottle from Littlewine when their online shop was operating, but a more recent vintage might be available from Newcomer Wines. They certainly import Wenzel.

Otskhanuri Rosé 2019, Gvantsa’s Wine (Imereti, Georgia)

Otskhanuri is not one of the Georgian grape varieties which is on the tip of most people’s tongues. Not surprising in a country which claims 525 autochthonous vine varieties. In Imereti, at least in the hands of this family, it makes what turns out to be a really beguiling dark-hued Rosé wine.

I think the producer will be known to a number of readers. Gvantsa Abduladze is sister to the perhaps more famous Baia. Baia’s wines have achieved a fairly high profile as one of the new-wave of Georgian winemakers, not least because Georgia has been slow to embrace women in the profession (although to be fair this is changing).

The wine comes from the village of Obcha in Imereti, a lowland region to the northwest of the capital, Tbilisi (and where you might find the local name “churi” used instead of qvevri). It is a region where skin contact is less of a tradition and where the local white varieties Tsitska and Tsolikuri are often blended to make a fresh wine with good acidity.

The grape we have here is a red variety and it makes, as I said, a rather dark Rosé, perhaps reminding me of a Tavel in colour. The palate is very interesting. You get plenty of fruit, with raspberry, strawberry and redcurrant notes (which mirror the bouquet), but the fruit has a creaminess to it. A raspberries and cream touch. There is also a similar acidity to that which those local white varieties exhibit, so although the wine looks dark, it has something of a white wine about it too. It also feels like a terroir wine, even though it’s made in a qvevri/churi (although from free-run juice without skins).

This came from The Oxford Wine Company.

Raoni Riesling 2019, Sons of Wine (Alsace, France)

Sons of Wine is the micro-negociant label of Farid Yahimi, who you will have come across if you read my article on Du Vin aux Liens (27 February). Farid is the partner of Vanessa Letort. He’s one of the winemakers who have benefited from the friendship of Christian Binner, but he now shares a cellar with Vanessa at Beblenheim and is involved with various small or new winemakers in joint collaborations.

Raoni is named after the Chief of an indigenous tribe in Brazil, now a well-known, 93-year-old, ecology activist. The vines are grown by David Koeberlé of the up-and-coming natural wine producing Domaine Muller-Koeberlé. They are based in Saint-Hippolyte, and the vines are situated on the slopes of the Haut-Koenigsbourg.

The soils here are complex with granite containing mica, quartz, and feldspar. The Riesling old vines are farmed organically and made as a natural wine. The grapes are gently pressed as whole bunches and fermentation takes place outdoors until the full moon (in this vintage, 14th October).

The result is a wine which stands out as being a little different to the norm. I might go as far as saying this doesn’t really taste of Riesling, but in no way let that put you off. There are flavours of apple, vanilla pod and peach in there. It has a lees and mineral texture but real depth to it with spice and clove to round off the palate. This is a massively interesting iteration of Riesling from a site perhaps better known for its enormous, imposing, castle with views over to the Black Forest, than for its wines. I liked it a lot.

Purchased from Winekraft Edinburgh (£33), imported by Sevslo (Glasgow).

Ploussard 2017, Renaud Bruyère & Adeline Houillon (Jura, France)

This couple have established themselves as Pupillin royalty in a very short space of time. Although they met whilst studying at the hotel school at Tain L’Hermitage, Adeline later worked until 2011 with her brother, Manu Houillon, at Domaine Overnoy (Houillon-Overnoy), whilst Renaud lived in the village and worked as a chef. He began working the vines for Stéphane Tissot, as so many have, and the couple’s careers began in 2011 when Renaud took on a small plot at Les Tourillons, pretty much up in the hills in the Arbois appellation.

The domaine is somewhat larger now, but still I think under 5 ha. Their first Ploussard was made a decade ago from a rented plot of old vines in the village of Pupillin, and if anything proves the village to be the “World Capital of Ploussard”, then this wine is an exemplar.

This cuvée undergoes a carbonic maceration, with a cuvaison of 32 days. It’s a wholly natural wine with no added sulphites. The natural carbon dioxide created from the fermentation acts as the only preservative. Strawberry, cherry, textured with a lovely lick of fruity acidity, I opened this on a Wednesday, for goodness-sake. I cannot recall a better wine so far this year. I bought my bottle at Epicerie Vagne in Poligny and clearly had no idea whatsovever how much this wine sells for, retail, these days. Astonishingly good.

Fred #8, Strekov 1075 (Strekov, Slovakia)

I’ve drunk Fred in many of its vintages in restaurants or at tastings, but this is the first of Zsolt Sütό’s wines I’ve actually drunk at home, believe it or not. We have a blend of 50% Blauer Portugieser with equal parts Dunaj and Alibernet, all bush vines from the clay-loam soils of the hills above Strekov, a village northwest of Budapest on the other side of the Danube. The wide-flowing river helps warm the air in the vineyards, despite the fact that Strekov is a good way back from the water.

After fermentation for fifteen days a lot of colour was leeched from the three varieties. Blauer Portugieser (known as Modry Portugal over the border in Czechia) adds freshness, Dunaj fruit, and Alibernet structure. The wine is made naturally with ambient yeasts, no temperature control and certainly no added sulphur. Zsolt bottles Fred in a sparkling wine bottle with a crown cap because he believes it better retains the wine’s fresh fruit.

Fermentation takes place in open-top vat before going into a variety of old Austrian oak for only six months. The wine is very dark purple with blackberries and blackcurrant dominating the bouquet, snap for the palate, where you might also find some redcurrant or cranberry in the acids. A simple wine, but one which is fruit-packed and concentrated.

Another bottle from Winekraft Edinburgh, imported by Roland Wines.

“Table” Vin de France [2019], Caroline Ledédenté (Bugey, France)

Many readers will know that I’m a fan of Bugey and there is one producer new to the region who I have been following the career of for a while. In fact she would be my Bugey tip if anyone asked me, not that they do. Bugey is still a secret. Caroline goes by the Instagram nom-de-guerre as @carolinegrainpargrain, but finding out a lot more about her isn’t easy (although you can track down a French radio appearance from a link in her IG profile).

Caroline discovered natural wine in the bars of Paris, then, deciding this was the career for her, went to study wine in the Jura before going to work for Gregoire Perron in Bugey. She settled at Artemare, in Bugey’s southern sector, which is almost in Savoie. Her couple of hectares are farmed with biodiversity in mind. She’s another vigneronne who plants trees, in this case fruit trees, amongst her vines. They create a habitat for insect-eating birds.

This cuvée is made from the rare Molette variety, a grape which if known at all was known as the mainstay of the Savoie sparkling wine, Royal Seyssel. The grapes are planted at Carbonod, which is as geographically close to Savoie as a Bugey wine can get, although Caroline eschews any appellation (of course). Planted in the late 1990s, the vines have a good bit of age and so allow an interesting wine to be crafted from what others might have dismissed as “neutral” in flavour. Apparently, it is the variety’s unfashionability which attracts Caroline (definitely my kind of winemaker).

Naturally, in the hands of this talented lady, the result is not neutral at all. She has created a zippy, citrus-tinged, natural wine with no additives which livens the palate and lingers. It ends on a savoury dry note which might remind you of a good Swiss Chasselas or one under the name of Gutedel from Southern Baden. It’s very “Alpine”, very pure. Or perhaps, in that case, Altesse might come to mind? This was only Caroline’s second vintage as well!

I really need the whole range to be honest. This came from Noble Fine Liquor in East London, and whilst they may not have any of this Molette cuvée left right now, they are definitely listing four others from Caroline Ledédenté. Get in for some Bugey nights (got to keep on dancing).

Chablis “Humeur du Temps” 2018, Alice & Olivier De Moor (Burgundy, France)

The De Moors have become pretty much the only Chablis producer I buy now, since first discovering them in, of all places, Berry Brothers’ Basingstoke “factory outlet” what must be at least a couple of decades ago. Even in 2010 Jasper Morris called them “relative newcomers, with a small domaine in Courgis”. Far from being an established family in Chablis, Alice and Olivier planted their own vines at first, growing mostly Chardonnay within the Chablis appellation and Aligoté of the very highest quality further afield (they allegedly have some Sauvignon Blanc from St-Bris but I have never seen it).

Although they now have some Premier Cru land, they continue to make AOC Chablis of a quality which would challenge many 1er Cru bottles. This wine, possibly the easiest of their Chablis cuvées to find in the UK now, comes from four separate plots close to Courgis, down a valley to the south of the town of Chablis itself. Most of the vines were planted in 1995.

The grapes undergo a very gentle press before spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel. Ageing, for twelve months, is in both old oak and enamel-lined tanks. No bâtonnage, nor racking, is carried out but the malolactic is allowed to take place naturally. Almost no sulphites are added.

The majesty of mature, well looked after, old vines shines through in this magnificent wine. You get real intensity and purity plus personality with a capital P. I’m not sure how this couple manage to do this with such consistency, when others in the appellation are clearly just trotting out a cash cow Chablis? These Are wines with depth and soul, and I guess that’s really all I need to say about them.

The importer now is Les Caves de Pyrene, but I bought mine as part of a De Moor selection from The Solent Cellar (Lymington). Of course, they seem to have sold out, as you would expect, but they are a good place to look for this producer (and of course they are one of England’s finest indie wine retailers outside of London). Berry Brothers does list De Moor’s Bel-Air & Clardy, another of their Chablis cuvées from these two sites. I think it’s a touch more expensive. Les Caves should have the Aligoté cuvées, including the frankly astonishing “Plantation 1902” and the Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu.

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Recent Wines February 2023 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Time seems to be zipping forward quite swiftly in 2023, especially as the evenings are noticeably lighter here now, though it seems that winter’s icy claws are about to grip tightly once more, hopefully a last-gasp before proper spring. The wines I drank in early February, represented here, seem a long time ago, yet they were enjoyed during a relatively mild spell. Of seven wines there were only two reds, and quite light ones at that. Whites predominate in a selection from Alsace, Southern Spain, The Loire, Hungary (2), East Sussex, and Kent which takes us up to 16th of the month.

Pinot Noir “Libre Comme L’Air” 2020, Catherine Riss (Alsace, France)

Catherine Riss was on my radar for a good while before I began to drink her wines with any regularity, largely thanks to the wonderful Plateau in Brighton. I was quite surprised to see her wines more frequently after moving to Scotland, which seems to go hand-in-hand with a bit more Alsace appreciation in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Catherine gained part of her winemaking experience with Chapoutier, not in the Rhône but in their Alsace vineyard at Reichsfeld, not far from her current cellar at Bernardvillé, which is just south of Andlau in what I call the Mittelbergheim basin, or enclave, of natural wine excellence.

The grapes for “Libre” come from the commune of Eichhoffen, east of Andlau. The red grapes are macerated as whole bunches for two weeks with one pump-over each day for gentle extraction. The wine goes into used Burgundy barrels for ten months, resting on its lees, but Catherine doesn’t rack the wine.

It’s a new cuvée for me, although I’m very familiar with this producer’s Pinot Noir “Empriente”. It sports another of Catherine’s distinctive, quirky, labels designed by Julien Kuntz. The wine is really quite concentrated, but not extracted. The dominating element is fruit, packed with cherry and berry flavours, on both nose and palate. It has a natural zip to carry the concentrated fruit, making it both refreshing, but not frivolous. The wine retains some CO2 which manifests on the tongue, and which protects a wine which has no added sulphites. Like all of her wines, it’s very moreish.

£32 from Cork & Cask, Edinburgh.

Vino Blanco 2014, Navazos-Niepoort (Jerez/Sanlúcar, Spain)

Before we all started buying Equipo-Navazos “Florpower” there was this white wine collaboration with Dirk Niepoort. The idea back then (hard to believe the first vintage was 2008) was to make an unfortified version of Palomino Fino from the finest albariza chalk sites in the Jerez-Sanlúcar corridor, as a mirror of what would have been the norm back in the early nineteenth century.

Whereas now you can find unfortified Palomino fairly easily, this was innovation, and innovation of the highest order. The grape had been “traditionally” fortified with grape brandy for two hundred years before these experiments (not only by this team) took hold. Many people have come to realise just how good the variety is, and not just in its homeland (try Christina Rasmussen’s version which she made from California old vines if you can find it). This collaboration has proved the point, especially this vintage, from magnum, with around eight years in bottle.

This cuvée saw eight months under flor in forty-year-old American oak casks of 600-litres, which were filled to 5/6 capacity. The result certainly has a nutty flor character, but this has softened somewhat over time. With age it has developed depth and smoothness, and strangely it has an almost “Puligny” quality to it. Nutty, rich, majestic, a perfect (I don’t use that word lightly) expression of Macharnudo Alto, one of the region’s most famous vineyards.

We drank this with family at a big lunch. I originally had three magnums of the ’14. One was enjoyed in youth, but sadly I took the second to family dinner where one partner is from Seville. I discovered she only drinks red wine and I have no idea what fate befell this unopened magnum. If they still have it, on the evidence of this third magnum, it might be nothing short of stunning. Despite my fears, there’s absolutely no hurry to drink up.

Originally shipped direct from Equipo-Navazos.

Babylone 2019, La Table Rouge/Du Vin aux Liens (Loire, France)

I’ve already mentioned this wine in my popular recent article on Vanessa Letort’s wine collective “Du Vin aux Liens” (27 January, see side bar to right for link). Alongside Alsace winemakers Vanessa works with a few Loire producers, despite her base being at Beblenheim in Alsace, largely because she studied at the Lycée Viticole in Amboise. Philippe Chigard, who farms the micro estate “La Table Rouge” (0.8 ha) with his partner Claude Cabel-Airaud, was a teacher at Amboise. Their vines are at Noizay, near Vouvray in Touraine.

The partnership with Vanessa works because of the tiny vine holding, so tiny that Philippe calls himself a wine gardener rather than a vigneron. The vines are actually spread over four different plots, and they grow several local varieties, including this Pineau d’Aunis. Perhaps this is not a variety especially common to the Vouvray/Montlouis region, where it is more often Chenin Blanc which dominates, but Noizay is right on the eastern edge of the appellation, on the other side of the river Brenne. Needless to say, for a host of reasons, this red is bottled as Vin de France.

We have a whole bunch fermentation of biodynamically grown fruit. It saw ten months ageing on lees in old oak with minimal manipulation, and no sulphites were added at any stage. It has a ruby colour, but is almost transparent. The lovely bouquet sends out aromas of strawberry, blueberry and soft cherry, which here is a truly lovely combination. There’s a good hint of pepper here too, just enough to spice up the fruit. Imagine a wine which is smooth, yet with a zesty acidity to balance.

Imported by Sevslo (Glasgow) and purchased at Winekraft (Edinburgh), £24.

A Change of Heart 2020, Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

This was my last bottle of Annamária’s beautiful Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch) from Barabás in Eastern Hungary. I didn’t know at the time but Annamária was unable to make a red wine in 2021, so that when my wines from that vintage arrive (if the courier can avoid breaking them, or was it stealing them, at the second attempt) I shall have to make do with white/orange for a year (though there is a new cuvée to try).

Annamária’s red wine has gained in several areas over the few years I’ve been drinking it. This may be down to vine age, but this bottle seems to be a little bit more structured, yet at the same time there’s a lightness as well. The fruit is very smooth, which I guess adds to the balance. That fruit is in both the red and dark berry spectrum, plump and “lifted”. This gives the wine over all an ethereal quality which I like a lot. Even in 2020 only 1,750 bottles of this cuvée were made.

Imported by Basket Press Wines. Although, as I said, there is no red wine this year, Annamária has produced a good selection of other cuvées, white, orange/amber and sparkling. They have just arrived in the UK and they will sell out very quickly. If you want to get on the Réka-Koncz bus, do not delay. I am yet to try the 2021 vintage, but nothing so far has led me away from telling all and sundry that these are some of the most interesting and exciting wines I have discovered these past three or four years.

Cuvée Oliver Minkley 2011, Breaky Bottom (Sussex, England)

I’ve often extolled Peter Hall’s 2010 pair as the finest wines I’ve bought from this favourite English estate, perhaps in England’s most attractive setting, hidden in a hollow of the South Downs. Whether this 2011 exceeds, or merely matches, those 2010s I cannot say. Every bottle is a new experience, and this one is a bottle I can’t recall being bettered.

Peter decided to blend all of his four varieties into this small batch wine for one of his two cuvées of 2011. We therefore have 60% Chardonnay with 30% Seyval Blanc, the last 10% being an equal split of Pinot Noir and Meunier. It has aged magnificently so that we have a mix of bready brioche (we really do have brioche here, not the brioche cliché) and autumnal fruits like softer-flavoured apple and even a touch of quince.

Oliver Minkley worked part-time at Breaky Bottom but sadly died in 2010 at the young age of 35. This rather special wine is a fitting tribute to the man. Only 2,600 bottles were produced (Peter’s other 2011 is Cuvée Cornelis Hendriksen, of which there were rather more, over 6,700, bottles made). You can still find some Oliver Minkley around. Try Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton) or Forth & Church (Hove). Peter still has some for sale direct from the vineyard (see his web site), on limited allocation. Corney & Barrow might also have a little.

Vulkan #2 [2020], Meinklang (Somlό, Hungary)

Meinklang will be known to many readers as one of the most interesting natural wine producers in Burgenland, farming wine, cereals and cattle at Pamhagen on the southern shore of Austria’s Neusiedlersee. They also farm vines on the slopes of the Somlό Massif in Hungary, where the family once had vine holdings before Communism removed their ownership.

The terroir here is full-on volcanic, the site being a distinctive volcanic plug. The grape varieties are Háslevelű and Juhfark. This wine was in fact my wine of the day at Cork & Cask’s winter wine fair in Edinburgh last year, and this bottle was the result of popping into their shop on the way home to make sure I got some. It tastes quite similar in style to a Gemischter Satz, although we only have two varieties. It’s both spritzy and savoury, and very refreshing. Definitely 100% satisfaction. The volcanic terroir comes through via a stony mineral dryness on the tongue, but there is also fresh grapefruit and just a hint of something more exotic (papaya?).

£26 from Cork & Cask (Edinburgh).

Pelegrim NV, Westwell Vineyards (Kent, England)

I drank a pre-release bottle of this back in October last year, but another came in a mixed case offer of English wines I purchased before Christmas. Although I wanted to see how this revamped release from Westwell would taste after a few more months settling in bottle, I couldn’t resist opening it. The reason – that original bottle was just so astonishingly fresh and whilst you can get the flavours of development and age on bottle-fermented sparkling wine by sticking it in the rack and forgetting about it, it isn’t always easy to find a wine which tastes quite this good when young.

The blend is the classic Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier, given three years on lees in bottle before disgorgement. Adrian Pike’s masterful winemaking is on display here. Autolytic character will certainly come if you leave it a while, but we are still looking at a wine which shouts vivacity, or perhaps “off-the-scale” freshness. I don’t mean acidity as such because the wine is in balance, but it does have a certain tension which I find thrilling. The lees ageing has certainly softened acidity, but not too much. There are wines, I’m thinking of Péters’s Chetillons, where you’d say it’s just far too young, but I don’t get that impression with Pelegrim. It is already quite harmonious, definitely a triumph from a winery and a winemaker who gains in stature with each vintage.

Westwell’s UK agent is Uncharted Wines. Westwell also sells direct (no cheaper though) and are open for visitors (check their web site for times).

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