More odd bottles (and a few not so odd)

The last ten days worth of drinking, I mean wine exploration of course, has ranged from the sublime to the sublime, and from the very obscure to very classic. If the wines get more (sort of) normal over this period, guess what, we had family here for a few days.

We began with a couple that were probably in the “odd” category for most people, but I have to say that the first wine here was stunning, quite a revelation. Héjon erjesztett 2012, Adam and Julia Hegyi-Kalo is  Hungarian Grüner Veltliner from Szomolya, near the famous Eger. Julia’s father is Imre Kalo, famous for extreme non-intervention winemaking with miniscule grape yields. Adam and Julia, following their mentor, go for long skin contact and long ageing in old wood. The wine is the colour of something nasty when you are dehydrated, which comes from one hundred days of skin maceration. It smells of apricot tarte-tatin (very nice indeed) and really takes up texture from the skin contact. Despite a cheap, dodgy looking, cork, it’s astounding. Seriously good. 14.5% alcohol, imported by Winemakers Club.

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Riesling 2013, Apostelhoeve, Louwberg-Maastricht, Netherlands – I’ve had a few Dutch wines. A Pinot Auxerrois a couple of years ago smelt of runny cheese and went down the sink, but more recently the examples which have come my way have been tolerable. This one, purchased in Amsterdam last summer and kind of forgotten was actually pretty good. If I’d known how good I’d have saved it for an Oddtites Lunch.

The vineyard is on the River Jeker, on gravel, silex and loess. This part of The Netherlands is not exactly hilly, but at least it’s lumpy, providing some semblance of a slope or two. I first came across the producer in Tom Stevenson’s Wine Report (sadly no longer published), where Ronald De Groot listed Apostelhoeve as one of the top Dutch producers, and cited their Riesling as an exception to the rule that the country doesn’t do well with this grape variety. This one is appley with a hint of pear, very fruity-fresh without being lean. And it does smell of Riesling. A lot better than I expected, pretty decent in fact, and I don’t think it was a lot more than €10-12. Reminded me of a good Luxembourg example. Yes, The Netherlands can make good wine. 12% alc.

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Navazos-Niepoort Blanco 2012 – Having just topped up on the 2014, I thought it would be a good idea to sample one of my diminishing stash of 2012s. Most readers probably know this is a collaboration between Dirk Niepoort and the Equipo Navazos team, a 100% Palomino Blanco table wine from the chalky Albariza soils of Jerez. When released, this was citrus fresh (I don’t think it sees a malolactic fermentation). Now it has the colour of one of EN’s older Fino, the nose is fino-like, but mellow and this is echoed on the palate. There’s an elegant softness. It’s a cousin to Florpower, but less wild, perhaps a little more refined being another way of approaching it. It has become a complex and lovely wine, very much a food wine too, with the weight and complexity to go with a very wide range of cooking, from something like paella to mildly spicy dishes and white meat or fish. Very versatile. 12.5% alc.

Postscript: I have read that Dirk has left Niepoort (since this summer). If true, I sincerely hope that this lovely wine continues to be made. If you see any of the 2014 magnums, grab some.

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Brain de Folie Vin de France, Les Vignes du Mortier, Boisard Fils, Loire – This being a Vin de France there’s no vintage, but I’m led to understand that the current bottling is 2015. It’s a Cabernet Franc made by carbonic maceration and as a “natural” wine by a small domaine based in Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil. No sulphur is added at bottling and the wine is pale red, quite light, quite appley, but think apple and blackcurrant crumble. Juicy Fruit, as James Mtume sang back in the early 1980s! The vineyard is in Brain-sur-Allones, but Brain de Folie is slang for a hangover. The recommendation from Simon at Solent Cellar to drink this chilled was spot on. It proved perfect on one of those baking hot, 32 degrees, end of summer days we had last week, but its freshness will make it delicious through autumn. 12.42% alc, so precise!

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Enkircher Ellergrub Riesling Spätlese 2013, Weiser-Kunstler, Traben-Trarbach, Mosel – Just about straw coloured, quite tropical on the nose, and it has a decent fruity acidity balanced by quite a bit of sweetness for a spätlese right now. Still pretty youthful so it’s kind of frisky, not quite settled down. I don’t do scores, but the fact that this is generally a 90+ scoring wine which can be had retail for under €20 says everything about the quality and value coming out of the Mosel. Whilst not at the top of my very personal list of favourite producers from the Mosel, you get nothing but excellence from Weiser-Künstler, and this bottle was no exception. 7% alc. Purchased at the incomparable Weinhaus Pörn in Bernkastel, probably the best wine shop on the river.

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Chianti Classico 2011, Riecine – This is the bottling for London department store Fortnum & Mason. Fortnums are not the only wine seller to take their own label wines from very good producers, but they are pretty innovative in both the wines they release under their own label and the producers they choose. There’s always a little intake of breath when they release a new one, signifying a pleasant surprise. There’s a Franken Silvaner from Horst Sauer, an Alsace Grand Cru Riesling from Bruno Sorg, A red Priorat from Alvaro Palacios, a Barolo from Vajra’s Albe vineyard and a Valpolicella from Corte Sant’ Alda.

Not all of those I haven’t listed are quite as interesting, but my favourite is almost certainly this Chianti Classico from one of my favourite Chianti domaines, Riecine, based near Gaiole in the (southern) heart of the Classico region. The wine is quite dark and the nose has hints of coffee or liquorice along with the darker cherry fruit. It is rich on the palate and still has softening tannins. It’s still grippy and very much a food wine, but it has clearly matured a bit since bottling. Very impressive for an “own label” wine, or as Fortnums say, “House Selection”. 14.5% alc. Normally £17.50, the current vintage is on offer at £15.75. Quite a bargain, although their web site doesn’t say when the offer ends, and it’s not always bang up to date.

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Brut Réserve NV, Taittinger, Champagne – Okay, some regular readers might think posting about this wine is a little boring (I don’t write about every wine I drink). But I have a great deal of affection for Taittinger. Okay, it may be for their Comtes de Champagne prestige cuvée, which I’ve probably been lucky enough to drink more frequently than their entry level NV of late, but this is good. There’s still 40% of the house’s classic Chardonnay in the blend and it does come through to give a clear house style. You do get some brioche, but there’s bags of freshness and elegance too. This was a gift, and I am not sure what the base vintage is, but it’s drinking nicely after a few months rest in the cellar. I’ve cellared the odd bottle of Taittinger’s 2008, by the way, but the quality is still there in the Brut Réserve. Widely available, as they say.

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Grüner Veltliner “Handcrafted” 2015, Martin & Anna Arndorfer, Wagram – Yet another Wagram producer putting their region on the map, this time based in Strass. Actually, both Martin and Anna’s families have a background in wine, Anna’s father being the very highly respected Karl Steininger. The younger generation have embraced more minimal intervention in vineyard and cellar and if this wine is anything to go by, are making exciting new wines.

Slightly cloudy (but clearing somewhat in the glass), fresh nose, but there’s a soft touch on the palate tempering the acidity, what I call a chalky minerality with a touch of salinity (others feel minerality doesn’t exist). I’m not sure I’m getting the traditional black pepper on this GV but there’s certainly something on the finish which reminds me of quince with a touch of grapefruit rind. This wine is brought in by Les Caves de Pyrene, but some of Martin and Anna’s other wines are available from Alpine Wines (online). Definitely a producer to explore further. 12%.

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Oh yes, mustn’t forget the beers. The Stockholm Lager (another great beer from Solent Cellar) has a nice citrus twist on the finish, the Beavertown “Quelle” is a Farmhouse Pale which is one of the nicest tinnies I’ve tried from N17’s finest (nice artwork too, as always), and The Kernel Table Beer is almost certainly my favourite pre-wine dinner tipple (only a little over 3% alc prevents peaking too soon), and ranks alongside Meinklang’s Urkorn-Bier as my favourite ale. I also can’t resist a record of the month this time. Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree is a deeply moving record, made at a time of deep personal tragedy. It’s got musical depth and fathoms emotional depths. Cave has long been mining a rich seam of creativity with Warren Ellis and the rest of the Bad Seeds.

Coming next…let’s see how 2016 in Jura is shaping up, Arbois bound (where my wine lies waiting silently for me…).

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A Crush on You

When I wrote about the Red Squirrel portfolio tasting the other day, I promised to devote another piece entirely to the wonderful Okanagan Crush Pad. I think most of us are probably au fait with what the concept of a crush pad is, a place geared up to make wines for a number of, perhaps, small producers. This has worked to a point in places like California, where creative small labels make use of winemaking facilities on a contract basis. The first such facility I heard of, which came to fame in the mid-2000s, was the eponymous Crushpad in San Francisco. Set up in an industrial neighbourhood in 2004 it grew to a 45,000 case operation before spiralling out of the wine scene six or so years later. But the concept was established, and it led to many similar contract wine facilities all over the world. Although not the same, London Cru’s urban winery is a kind of cousin, doubtless inspired to a degree by the concept.

Okanagan Crush Pad began crushing grapes five years ago, in 2011, and differs from many of those similar facilities in that viticulture and winemaking are all part of a single vision. Along with contract crushing they also make wines of their own under the Narrative and Haywire labels. Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, Canada, is a 120 mile long chain of rivers and lakes with glacial deposits forming benches, experiencing warm summer days (up to 35 degrees celsius), cool nights, and winter temperatures which may not reach the levels below zero you’ll find over in Niagara, but still promises annual lows of -10 degrees celsius. The winter snow tends to sit on the vines through the cold months, and average rainfall is about ten inches per year, higher in the north and a bit lower in the south, but that’s pretty low. The southern end of the valley stretches towards Washington State, over the US border.

Crush Pad was founded by Christine Coletta (who I tasted with) and Steve Lornie, the home team more or less completed by winemaker Matt Dumayne, a New Zealander who has also worked in Australia, California and Oregon in his journey ever northward.

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Christine at the Red Squirrel Tasting (Winemakers Club, London, 6 September 2016)

Winemaking philosophy here is “natural”. You might therefore be surprised to know that Alberto Antonini has a role as a winemaking consultant, whilst Pedro Parra, from Chile, is viticultural consultant. He’s the man who introduced precision viticulture, digging exploratory pits all over the Garnet Valley Ranch, a 120+ hectare site which will eventually form the heart of the Crush Pad’s operation, initially with about 28 hectares to be planted to vines.

Grape growing is organic, and the grapes have to be completely healthy, that’s the key to the success of low intervention winemaking, especially when aiming for low sulphur levels. Virtually no oak is used in the winery, concrete being the preferred vessel. There are small and larger concrete tanks, and some Italian amphorae (800 litre), which seem to impart a freshness the world over. In this Canadian Valley the more extreme northern climate seems perhaps to enhance this, and the wines exude freshness above all other qualities.

Christine showed me four wines from their growing portfolio, one delicious sparkler, one white and two reds. The Narrative Ancient Method 2013 sparkler (£40) is a Chardonnay sourced from John and Maria Cerqueira in Oliver, self-styled “Wine Capital of Canada” due to the high concentration of wineries in the town. As the name suggests, it’s made by the same method known in France as “Rural” or “Ancestral”, the same as is used for many pét-nats. It’s bottled whilst the primary fermentation is still underway, without filtration, and with zero dosage. It has a great bead and the nose is very fresh. It doesn’t of course have the depth of a Blanc de Blancs Champagne, such as David Levasseur’s, which I liked so much at the same tasting. There are no older reserve wines here, it’s not made in the same way, and it’s only three years old. But it really makes up for that in nervosity, and that freshness. A lovely wine. I want to drink it again, as I can’t stop wondering whether it was really as good as I remember (I’m sure it was).

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Haywire Free Form White 2014 (£35) comes from a steep 3ha slope in Trout Creek Canyon. It’s Sauvignon Blanc fermented in stainless steel, but it has over five months skin contact, reached 13.5% alcohol and was bottled with no filtration and no additives (including sulphur). It also doesn’t undergo a malolactic fermentation, hence (in part) the amazing zip and freshness. Orange in colour, the nose is impressively wild. A touch of salinity seems to meld with tropical fruit. It’s Sauvignon Blanc of a very different kind. It’s odd…the technical data mentions nothing of it but you’d really think this was made in amphora. The “Haywire” label is meant to signify something unpredictable. At this winery, risk taking seems to bring the desired result.

Haywire White Label Gamay 2014 (£23) comes from a site called Secrest, farmed by Brad and David Wise, 15ha situated on a mountain bench at just under 500 metres above sea level. The soils consist of alluvial deposits with coarse gravels and limestone. As with the Sauvignon Blanc, the Gamay is picked late (October) and fermented in open-top concrete. The maceration is pretty long, four weeks, thereafter going into different concrete tanks for eleven months before bottling. The wine smells and tastes of both cherries and raspberries. There are some tannins which give grip, but generally there’s an underlying smoothness, and of course a characteristic fresh lick of acidity. 12% alc.

Haywire Cannonview Pinot Noir 2013 (£35) comes from Trout Creek, like the Free Form White. The vineyard, Cannonview, consists 2ha on south facing terraces which benefit from the cool air off Okanagan Lake in the growing season. Subsoils are limestone, again. Fermentation is in concrete using around 25% whole clusters and skin contact is once again the norm – around 30 days before pressing, when the juice is moved into one concrete tank and left on its gross lees for 14 months before bottling. Skin contact considered, this wine is pale. It reminded me a little, in the light of the Holborn arches, of a Rosé des Riceys in its elegant, gentle hue. It smells wild, with a bit of maturity on the nose. The palate shows red fruits, given a definite edge by the concrete. You don’t really notice you are getting 13.5% alcohol.

There’s also another wine in the Red Squirrel portfolio, Haywire Switchback Pinot Gris 2014 (£23), which comes from Crush Pad’s home vineyard near the winery. Fermentation is in egg-shaped concrete, again producing a wine with a mineral edge.

You’ll note that I’ve not really made a qualitative assessment of each wine. Suffice to say that the wines really impressed, as did Christine Coletta, in both her knowledge and the vision she sets out. I also think that a good number of you will be aware of the buzz these wines created at Raw Wine 2016 earlier in the year. It’s difficult to say which wines I liked most, but committing myself I’d say that the Gamay was wonderful for what it was, not attempting complexity but winning hands down on purity and fruit. It’s also well priced, comparative to good Beaujolais. The Narrative Ancient Method Sparkler also impressed, quite dramatically, then you know I love my pét-nats. But I don’t want to miss out the Sauvignon Blanc. This will perhaps appeal most to the more adventurous. It’s a wine which is a bit like a spirited horse, capable of being ridden but maybe a touch unpredictable. Just my assessment.

For a link to my main article on the Red Squirrel 2016 Portfolio Tasting follow the link at the top of this article: “Red Squirrel”.

I’m sorry to have splurged out so many words in the past few days. I’m off to Arbois soon, to breath in the harvest, and to seek out a few wines and producers who, even with the massive growth in availability of Jura wines in my home market, are still pretty hard to find. I hope to have plenty to write about when I return.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

I’m of an age, well, not too old, where I still remember as teenager sitting around with friends listening to vinyl, discovering together a passion for bands we’d never heard before. I guess people with a passion for all sorts of things gather together to share, like book clubs, or art groups who gather round a model to draw from still life. But passionate wine lovers often do it with style, or perhaps excess, depending on your perspective.

Some of our wine drinking, that which doesn’t go on behind closed curtains in the privacy of our own homes, or by the side of our Tuscan swimming pools (joking there), takes place at organised events, such as the regular Oddities lunches which Dave Stenton and I put together. But sometimes a mate just happens to be flying into London and a group of us go out for dinner. Sometimes? Quite often, my family reckon.

I wrote earlier in the summer about one such dinner at 28-50 when a friend, let’s call him Professor B, flew in from Spain. This week we were able to enjoy his company for a second time this summer. We were back at 28-50’s Marylebone outpost again, chosen because the food is good, they understand serving fine wine and, in certain situations can be persuaded to let long standing customers bring a stash of bottles (for a reasonable corkage fee, of course).

After a glass of the restaurant’s La Guita Manzanilla to whet the appetite and quench our thirst on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of “summer”, we began in the customary way: a bottle of fizz. We taste blind with a quick reveal, and pretty much everyone nailed this as a Côte des Blancs Chardonnay. I guessed Diebolt-Valois but said it would probably turn out to be Salon. I laughed when it was revealed to be their sister house, Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2004. I’ve had this several times, though not recently, and I’m a massive fan of both this cuvée (a big step up from their NV BdeB), and this vintage of it. Very much classic Chardonnay with good fruit and a decent bit of maturity. I loved it. It’s one of the (relative) bargains of the region.

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The first still white was a real mystery, especially when told it wasn’t a white Rioja, nor even Spanish. I don’t think any of us guessed it was Portuguese, but it was a white Bairrada 1994, Quinta das Bageiras. I think it’s made from Maria Gomes with Bical. There’s a dry lemony citrus and a herby note. The colour suggests age but it’s still remarkably fresh. Quite profound in its way, and a real reminder how we forget Portugal as a source of classic, high quality, whites which have something different to say. Okay, this vintage is not going to be commercially available today. I’m not sure they even have a UK importer, although I think US readers would be in better luck. Such old wines are a treat. “Vinho Premiado” indeed!

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Our second white was from a producer in the Côte de Beaune who has become something of a darling of the wine fraternity. He goes by the friendly acronym of “PYCM” – Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey. In just a decade P-Y has managed a near impossible task for Burgundy, building a domaine of nearly ten hectares, plus bought in grapes as a micro-negoce, from around Puligny, Chassagne, Meursault and Saint-Aubin. We drank a Chassagne Caillerets 1er Cru 2010 which we thought was older (I’ve probably drunk too much taut and mineral Roulot from this vintage), but was a truly lovely drop, drinking now but no hurry. P-Y is the eldest son of Marc Colin, and has wine running through his veins. He’s shaping up to be one of the stars of the future.

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Our first red was my own offering for the evening. There seemed a degree of certainty as to the origins of this wine, though we were not in fact in the Northern Rhône (exactly what they were meant to think, LOL, as they say). Tim Kirk makes, in my opinion, one of the finest wines blending Shiraz with Viognier in the world. That’s saying something, but the first twenty years of my life in wine were spent adoring the very finest wines of the Northern Rhône, until the regular purchase of them became prohibitative. The nose is just so refined here (I do apologise for eulogising my own wine, it seems in poor taste, but I was so captivated by it). Everything about the Clonakilla Canberra District Shiraz-Viognier 2005 seemed to fall into place as I’d hoped. Fruit, structure, softening tannins, maturity and length. Several people have since told me how highly they rate this 2005 vintage, but Tim continues to produce stunning cuvées outside the National Capital, over towards Lake George. It’s a cliché to say that this tastes just like a top (I mean top) Côte-Rotie, but it does.

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Guado al Tasso 1995, Antinori is one of a breed, the “Supertuscans”, to which that epithet has been self-granted by a few too many wannabe examples. Yet this blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and less Merlot, with a tiny smidgen of Syrah deserves that honour without doubt, on the basis of this well aged bottle. It has weight but it isn’t big, nor blowsy. The blackcurrant fruit of the Cabernet comes through nicely, in an elegant way. It hails from the estate of the same name in Bolgheri (previously Tenuta Belvedere), and was probably seen in the Antinori stable as a replacement for Sassicaia when the company had to give up the marketing of that icon. It may lack, as Nicolas Belfrage MW suggests in his last book on Tuscany (Aurum Press, 2009), “the subtlety of Sassicaia or the opulence of Ornellaia”, but at over twenty years of age it’s a majestic beauty. And if Winesearcher is to be believed, you can probably pick this up for around £65/bottle, taxes included. Not bad at all.

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All the wines so far may, to people who know my current drinking habits, seem pretty classic, but I don’t think it unfair to say that for the attendees on Wednesday night, they were ever so slightly off-piste. That can’t be said of the last red. Don’t think that just because I have a section of Bordeaux in literally the darkest and deepest recesses of my small cellar which seems rarely to see the light of day, I don’t like it. I do. It’s just that a bottle of Ganevat from Jura, or an Austrian Grüner is always closer to hand, and probably more to the taste of those I drink most wine with these days. But when a good Bordeaux comes out it’s a real treat for me, especially when (as usually happens) a so-called lesser vintage comes up trumps.

Léoville-Las-Cases 1994, St-Julien was the first vintage at this so-called “super second” that Jean-Hubert Delon had a hand in making. In 2010 James Lawther MW described the wine as “Restrained and backward in style. Plenty of dense extract. Powerful – even robust – tannic frame.” (The Finest Wines of Bordeaux, Aurum, 2010). Today it has shed any backward quality, yet as a maturing wine it still shows classic restraint. The core of the Châteaux’s vines are located between the village of St-Julien and Château Latour. Some people attribute a Pauillac quality to Las-Cases as a result. I’m not expert enough in the nuance of the gravelly hummocks sloping down to the Gironde between these communes to comment, but there’s still a nice, and really classical, sedate but structured, feel to this bottle. Exceptional for a ’94, I’d say. One attendee got this spot on, wine and vintage. There may have been a small element of “read the man, not the wine” to his achievement, but I don’t under estimate him for it. This blind tasting game is tough, but sometimes highly rewarding. Well done Ray!

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Well, that looks like we’re done…except you probably know by now what happens every time a group of wine fanatics get together. “I brought this as a backup. We may as well open it if you would like to try it”. Well, all I can say is that the generosity of wine lovers is without equal. Mr PYCM, who unfairly still remembers his corked wine from least time (which he generously replaced from the 28-50 list), pulled out another from the same stable. Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey St-Aubin 1er Cru “en Remilly” 2013 was delicious. Thanks Ian. Of course we all got the producer in ten seconds, but I was especially pleased. This St-Aubin is at the more affordable end of P-Y’s holdings, it’s a nice site in what is without question one of the up-and-coming villages of the Côte de Beaune now that land in the “Montrachets” is so expensive. I’ve got some 2011 of this, which I must open. The ’13 was drinking beautifully.

So another good evening. The food at 28-50 always provides a great base for the wine without dragging our attention away from that focus. That’s not faint praise, the cooking is solid here without trying to be trendy or nouveau. A charcuterie platter, burrata (a simple cheese blending mozzarella and cream) with girolles and salad, and belly pork were my choices. The evening was only slightly spoilt by the coincidence of another Southern Rail strike (there was one on the day of our last get-together), affording me a longer than usual trek over to a Thameslink station and an extended train ride home. It was my own fault. I’d drunk too much, but thankfully not by a lot. At least a couple of people said they regretted the post-dinner pint, which being an out-of-towner with a crap train service precluded.

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It’s GGs and Reds Time Again

Howard Ripley’s tastings are always a contrast to many of the other Autumn events on the calendar. First of all, you can guarantee sedate surroundings, this time in the Pensions Room at Gray’s Inn, tucked behind High Holborn and the most northerly situated of Legal London’s Inns of Court. When you arrive early, as I did, you will also find all the wines laid out in neat rows, plenty of spittoons, wafers and water, and seemingly just the right amount of light. What you can’t control is the weather and Wednesday must have been one of the most glorious days of our strange English summer. The ice was melting in the ice buckets. But the early bird tastes well cooled wines in peace and quiet.

This tasting was my first opportunity to sample the dry wines from 2015, along with the 2014 reds. It is also customary to show the pradikats from JJ Prüm here as they are not bottled, I think, when the other pradikats are shown.

What was my overall impression of 2015? There’s no doubt that there have been some very positive comments and something of a buzz around the dry Rieslings from last year’s harvest. Martin Zwick (of the Berlin Riesling Cup etc) tasted the wines in Berlin and was very positive – “Bottom line, simply mind-blowing vintage and some of the best ever produced at the estates”. Mosel Fine Wines’ review of the April VDP tasting was similarly positive but with reservations – “Vintage 2015, Great Yes…But”. It’s a small vintage and the wines have immediate appeal, but acidities and sugar levels are both high.

Claude Kolm tasted the wines in Wiesbaden for his Fine Wine Review and he notes the high acidity, also commenting on high alcohol, especially the further south you go. He draws a comparison with 1990 but notes that Helmut Dönhoff, whose memory goes back further, drew comparisons with 1975 and 1971. Claude made another point, worth bearing in mind. It was very hot in Wiesbaden and with the high alcohol levels, it made tasting them in too high temperatures problematic. Thankfully, with the white wines almost untouched and sitting in ice, that did not pose a problem for me, despite the unusually hot September weather in London.

I’m not going to run through all the wines, and those I do mention I don’t intend to go into detail. You don’t need a string of tasting notes which attempt to say something different about each wine just for the sake of it, looking for nuance where it may exist, but not in a way that will stop you falling asleep by the end. What I think you want to know is what I think of the wines, and which ones I liked most. I am happy to let on, even though we are not looking at wines produced in prodigious quantities, especially in 2015. But be aware that I have my prejudices and passions.

Although I tasted the Grosse Gewächse whites first, I’ll start off here with the JJ Prüms. There’s not an awful lot to say, you know they will be good…but maybe there is. First of all, the wines were pretty stunning, but almost unbelievably, you’d have no problem drinking the Kab (Wehlen) and Spätlesen (Graach and Wehlen) now. People talk endlessly about so-called sulphur levels (w-rong) and reduction in these wines. I’ve always had little problem drinking the Kabinett and at least the Graacher Spätlese young, though I do try to age them, honest. But I genuinely think these are very approachable, with the Kabinett and the Graacher Spätlese showing (to me, at least) no obvious reductive qualities. Obviously Wehlen’s Auslese is not remotely ready to drink, but the others, yes, definitely if you feel the urge. They are really good as well.

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The dry whites were not only tasted cool, but I didn’t spot any above 13% alcohol, with a fair number at 12.5% (I didn’t scrutinise every bottle). There is no doubt that quality is high, almost uniformly high from Howard Ripley’s stable, which goes to show the expertise they have in selecting their German estates. (Prices in brackets are for six bottles, in bond).

Peter Lauer, from the Saar, is fast becoming a favourite of mine and they showed his Kupp Fass 18 GG, (Ayler) Schonfels Fass 11 GG and Saarfeilser Fass 13 GG (all £117). My own favourite wine was the Schonfels. Interesting, then, that the 2014 version of this wine was described by the Mosel Fine Wines site (Jean Fisch and David Rayer) as “a strong candidate for dry wine of the vintage” (1 November 2015). On balance, Peter Lauer might get my vote for producer of the day, and not bad when you consider giving the wine of the day accolade to the third wine tasted. In my joy I didn’t even photograph it!

On the Fass numbers for Lauer’s wines, he is not alone in producing different bottlings from very small parts of each site, aiming to show changes in either the colour and composition of the slate soils, or microclimatic nuance. It might mean that each bottling is small, and it can make it complicated for the consumer over concerned about which wine he or she is getting. But from my limited experience, I think it’s both justified and worthwhile.

The Grünhaus showed two dry wines, with the Abtsberg a notch up from the Herren, justifying its very small price difference (£96 to £108). My deep affection for von Schubert’s wines goes back a long way, certainly into the early 1990s or longer, and this is not the last you’ll read of this Ruwer estate today.

Another very firm favourite, since both of the Ripley tastings last year and my own visit to the Mosel last summer, is Julian Haart. Julian only set up his winery in 2010, with no vines to his name (at least he now owns a hectare or two). This was too early for him to appear in Stephan Reinhardt’s 2012 book on German wines, probably the current bible on the top producers. But he does have a close family connection to the Reinhold Haart estate in Piesport (Ripley showed two of these wines as well).

Julian Haart’s only wine today was the (Piesporter) Goldtröpfchen (why the brackets…must get the nomenclature of just the vineyard name right for GGs), but what a fabulous wine. Probably “rounder” than the precise wines of Peter Lauer, but certainly showing restraint and class (£126).

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Thomas Haag must be one of the best producers on the Mosel at the moment, working from the imposing pile that is Schloss Lieser, just upriver from Bernkastel. We had the Juffer GG (£111), and the Niederberg Helden (same price). I always like the Helden. It’s a large vineyard on a very steep slope on blue slate just outside the village of Lieser. It tends to produce wines of restraint. The 2015 is no exception. It reminds me of lime and something saline right now. Imagine a toned down version of the flavours on the rim of a glass of margarita – well, not quite, perhaps my imagination is running wild, but you might get what I mean.

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Schäfer-Frölich showed well. In fact Sebastian Thomas, Ripley’s German expert, seems to have a strong liking for these wines, which the astute purchaser will take note of. Tim Frölich is another of Germany’s young superstars, this time from the Nahe. Of the three wines shown, the Felseneck stood out (naturally, at £192 it was his most expensive on show), but I also liked the Dellchen a lot (£165). A lovely nose, I think I found ginger along with the citrus.

We were now firmly in the territory of superlatives. Dönnhoff‘s Hermanshöle showed its usual class (for me) (£186), Robert Weil‘s Gräfenberg (£165) was pure, mineral, citrus and grapefruit, and Klaus Peter Keller‘s Hubacker was spicy and powerful (interesting that Reinhardt claims this wine was bigger in the past than the more delicate versions in the vintages before his book was published. I found this bigger and broader than what I have tasted before)(£180).

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As for the (mainly) 2014 reds, my reaction was interesting. Those of you who know me will be aware that I do like German reds, especially those who are less keen on Spätburgunder and pull my leg about it. Suffice to say that I consider such people philistines! That said, I was not quite as impressed with the wines overall considering my expectations of the vintage. I don’t mind if the wines are generally pale, but one or two were very pale indeed. I found some lack of fruit in some wines too. But then we are trying to judge 2014s at less than two years old for a vintage which I’m told saw the highest median temperatures, on average, in a hundred years. There were no big heat spikes and the wines should taste ripe. Not all of them did, but it could be down to extraction, or more likely mere youthful tannins?

Ziereisen are right down in the southern part of Baden, at Efringen-Kirchen. Much further south and they’d be in the suburbs of Basel, well, almost. Hanspieter Ziereisen is definitely one of the region’s top producers of red wines, eschewing chaptalisation despite the cooler climate here, as the winds whip in, up the Belfort Gap. Four wines were shown. I’m quite a fan of the inexpensive (£60) Tschuppen. I’m sure I’d buy this, but I don’t think the ’14 was showing as well as some previous vintages. A 2011 drunk in April this year was like a nice fruity Cote de Beaune village wine, which is praise from me. The 2013 Rhini (£132) was a big step up, showing presence and the stuffing for ageing, whilst not losing the fragrance of this sheltered limestone site.

Top wine here, the Jaspis Pinot Noir (£168), was from the 2013 vintage as well. The Jaspis wines are usually barrel selections, the top wines of the estate. This was showing very brightly and with a promising softness. I think the reason they label some wines as Spätburgunder and others as Pinot is, as with several German red wine producers, an attempt to distinguish the wines stylistically. The ones labelled Pinot are meant to be more Burgundian. Often I’m sceptical that German Pinot, or any other Pinot for that matter, tastes quite like Burgundy. But there can be a certain affinity between the two at Ziereisen, and that’s probably due to the location, soils and climate in this southerly outpost of Baden. I’ve also come across a Jaspis Pinot labelled Alte Reben, an impressive wine with good concentration, but I didn’t see it on Wednesday.

At the end of the line of reds were the two Kellers, the Dalsheim Bürgel and the Flörsheim Frauenberg. Keller’s wines are impressive but, expensive (£186 and £264 respectively). They are very highly regarded in Germany, and open minded consumers should age them and try them. But with prices as high as this, the Frauenberg being well over £50/bottle with duty and VAT, you are asking a lot of commited Burgundy drinkers. That’s why, for me, Ziereisen offers a nice half way option.

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I said we’d be talking about von Schubert again before we part. I remember tasting Dr Carl’s red last year and being impressed. The 2014 is, for me, the best Spätburgunder yet from this address. It’s fruity but has bite, and it just seems in perfect balance. At £114/6 IB this is comparable in price to a good Bourgogne Rouge, although I’m not making a direct stylistic comparison. I’m not yet ready to put the Maximin Grünhaus Sekt up on a pedestal, but I find the red here surprisingly impressive for what it is, and very much to my taste. This was my very personal red of the day. Could the 2015 be even better when bottled?

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There we have it. Another excellent Howard Ripley event, professionally executed. Nice to see several acquaintances, and to try some fantastic wines. 2015 for the dry whites, and indeed at JJ Prüm, gets my endorsement, although with the wine pros queuing up to echo my sentiments, you don’t really need me to tell you that. Vintage of the decade…we shall have to see, but whether to buy is not an issue. It’s when to drink them? They will be hard to resist.

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Nuts in Farringdon

Many readers will know of 67 Pall Mall. It’s a members club for lovers of fine wine. On the edge of the City, on Farringdon Street, under Holborn Viaduct in the arches long ago occupied by Oddbins’ Fine Wine shop is another kind of club.

At Winemakers Club you can buy and taste wine, eat, sometimes even “dine”, or watch a band. A very different kind of club. And you don’t have to pay to join this one. They must be nuts!

It’s a space often used for tastings too, and on Tuesday importer and agent Red Squirrel hosted their annual portfolio tasting here, New Frontiers. These guys are nuts as well. It’s not the name, which let’s face it would be up to my usual poor standard of punning, but because they take more risks than most to bring some of the world’s more unusual wines to their customers.

This is why I was very pleased to see some of the big names in the world of wine writing present. I hope they enjoyed the wines as much as I did.

I do want to address one issue brought up on social media – that the room was too dark to see the wine. Actually, the space resembled perfectly a traditional underground wine cellar, where I’m sure many of us regularly taste. The light of a solitary bulb or candle doesn’t put me off at Mauves or Vosne, and it was not quite that dark, but then I’m not so fixated on what the wine looks like in bright light. I’m not using the WSET scoring system (sorry guys – I do actually have the Diploma). So the dark venue didn’t bother me. It was no darker than some other tastings, like Haisma/Le Grappin for example. That said, it’s a perfect excuse for some of the photos being a little dark…

Anyway, onto the wines. I largely stuck to the new wines in the portfolio, so you won’t see notes for Vinterloper, Clos Cibonne, the Ligurians, Parxet Cava etc. I’ve written about these and others elsewhere (link at bottom), and suffice to say they are all worth trying. Below are what I would like to think is the best of the new stuff, but as with all tastings like this, you can’t always try everything. I can think of one winery I sadly missed – Ahrens Family. There’s always one.

Champagne A Levasseur

This was a good start, perhaps an under statement. This Marne grower is in the village of Cuchery, which is a little to the west of the main Reims-Epernay road, up in the Parc Régional. Founded by Albert Levasseur in the 1940s, this small producer (with just 4.2 hectares) is now run by the very able David, his grandson. The entire production is organic, and amounts to around 35,000 bottles per year.

Five wines were on show: a fruity Brut (9g/l), a precise and one year older Brut Nature, a Blanc de Blancs from Marne Chardonnay, an Extra Brut from 100% Pinot Noir, and a cuvée called Extrait Gourmand, a pink containing blended in three year old red wine. My favourite was the Chardonnay, but that’s probably my own tastes coming through. The rosé would make a very good food wine, fresh but with real presence. David, a very affable chap, recommends it with spicy food and sushi. The wines are not cheap (the Brut is only £35 but the single variety cuvées are £65 retail, the pink £40, the latter being a relative bargain I suppose), but quality is high and I count this a discovery.

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Chateau L’Argentier, Sommières, Languedoc

This producer is based in the hills more or less between Montpélier and Nîmes, just north of Lunel. Run by the Jourdan family since 1937, there are 45 hectares on the estate, of which 24 ha are currently under vine. They have kept all the old concrete vats here, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that the wines have an earthy authenticity, most pronounced in the really grippy Cinsault. It’s a vielles vignes cuvée, which shows real character. There’s a Coteaux du Languedoc made from a blend of 40% of both Syrah and Grenache with 20% Carignan, with more colour and depth and less rusticity. I like both wines but slightly preferred the Cinsault (£16).

The top cuvée is the Sommière, a new Languedoc denomination, and L’Argentier were the first to release under this label. They were showing that first 2011 here, based on 70% Syrah with 20% Carignan, the remainder Grenache. It comes from a 2.2 hectare single site on very thin soils and just 500 cases were made. It’s a deeper, darker, wine with the Syrah gently dominating. A step up, but only £22 for a wine which is in no hurry to be drunk.

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Château Combel-la-Serre, Cahors

This is one of a growing band of Cahors producers who prefer to make their wines from pure Malbec, but the wines here bear little relation to the big and brassy Malbecs we often see out of South America. In fact “pure” is a perfect description of Julien Ilbert’s wines. He’s been bottling since 2005, and has been organic since 2013 (certified 2015). The vineyards, totaling 26 ha, are on different topsoils, but all having as their base the limestone of the causse above the Lot Valley.

The opening wine is called Pur Fruit du Causse, and served from magnum it had a purity you’d be surprised at (£32 mag/£16 btl). A lovely, fresh, wine. I want some of this! The Cuvée Château is less mineral, very slightly softer, and perhaps this is because there’s more topsoil on this site (yellow/red clay). The top wine is Au Cerisier (cherry tree). This is from a small parcel on very hard limestone. It has a mineral and saline savouriness, very impressive (£25).

 

Pasaeli, Izmir, Turkey

I’m increasingly impressed by the Turkish wines I’m tasting. They are beginning to make inroads into the UK market thanks to people like Pacta Connect and Sarah Abbott MW. I just hope their President doesn’t go and completely mess it up for them! Pasaeli was founded in 2000 by Seyit Karagözoglu, sourcing indigenous grape varieties from vineyards in Anatolia and Thrace. All of these wines are truly distinctive.

The whites on show were a Yapincak white from a vineyard 200 metres from, and facing, the Sea of Marmara, on the Asian side facing the European shore. These are old vines trained in a traditional gobelet bush style. A wine for mezze. Çalkarasi makes an aromatic rosé with fresh acidity.

My two favourites were the red wines. 6N 2014 is 82% Karasakiz with the addition of 18% Merlot. Fruity, very distinctive, although the plummy Merlot does make itself known, as always with this grape. The top red, if only by £1 (£18) is 100% Papazkarasi. It’s not too tannic (undergoes soft punchdowns), and whilst Seyit suggests drinking it young, this 2013 is not going to fall apart soon. This is a very interesting grape, also very distinctive, apparently well regarded in the 1960s and only now coming back into favour. Let’s hope others keep flying the flag for Turkey’s autochthonous varieties. If you want to try genuinely new flavours, this is a good place to come.

 

Bioweingut Diwald, Großriedenthal, Wagram, Austria

Martin Diwald is the second generation to be running a pioneer of organic viticulture in Austria (organic since 1980). He farms 20 ha in 43 different sites in this increasingly quality focused region to the East of Krems. Martin is not only the neighbour of Arnold Holzer, whom Red Squirrel devotees will know very well. They are also best mates since childhood. The focus here is a little different though, and Martin was showing seven wines.

First up, a very good Sekt, bottle fermented and made from Grüner Veltliner, two years’ lees ageing, 13% alcohol. Usually this is pushing it for sparkling wine, but it didn’t seen too alcoholic. It has a freshness and a little weight. Then come the still Grüners, three bottlings representing a village blend and two different sites. Goldberg is a Danube-facing terrace on warm loess, Alte Weingärten a high plateau with nearby forest and overall a cooler site.

Fuchsentanz is a fruity Riesling, Zündtoff Maischegärung #2 a very different one. It’s an orange wine with 20% Grüner blended in. Ten days skin contact, then into used barrels, no filtration and a tiny bit of sulphur at bottling. Very good indeed, though at £45 it should be, but then they only made 350 bottles of this in 2015.

The final wine of the lineup was the Grossriedenthaler Löss red (from Zweigelt). This is another skin contact wine, but it is aged in acacia, very large barrels of between 1,300 and 2,700 litre capacity. This means they impart no “oak” flavours whilst allowing gentle oxygen ingress. The nose is pure cherry. At £16 this is good value.

These wines are what Martin calls “northern style”. They’re not too big, restrained, food friendly. Diwald make a brilliant addition to the Red Squirrel range, sitting beside Arnold Holzer. There’s still a rich vein to be mined in Austria.

 

Eschenhof Holzer, Großriedenthal, Wagram, Austria

Some of you will know that Arnold Holzer’s wines form a regular part of my drinking, in particular his Zweigelts, which for me, along with those of Claus Preisinger, I consider some of the best value drinkers on the market. So I’m not going to take you through Arnold’s wines this time, but I had to stop to say hello and to taste The Orange.

Holzer didn’t make an orange wine in 2014, and this 2015 was only bottled five weeks ago. It is made from an intriguing Austrian rarity, Roter Veltliner (they make a couple of more classic whites from this grape, which despite the name is not a red grape, at £15 and £30). It has a whopping 4 to 5 week maceration and pretty much zero intervention. £40…but if the guys at Red Squirrel HQ don’t save me a bottle I’ll be seriously pissed off. It was, albeit by a narrow margin, my Wine of the Day!

 

Valdonica, Maremma, Tuscany

Tim Manning is the very able genius winemaker at this Maremma estate. Winemakers Club devotees will know Tim, not only from his occasional off-season stints in the shop, but also for his personal wines made under the Vinochisti banner, which Winemakers sell. You may remember that I swoon every time I try a version of his dry Erbaluce. The Valdonica wines take fewer risks (I’m guessing Tim wants to keep his day job), but they’re still superb. Mersino and Ballarino are both lovely Vermentinos, the latter made with a third of the grapes fermented on their skins before both parts see a year in steel tanks before bottling.

Arnaio blends 90% Sangiovese with Ciliegiolo, whilst the year older 2012 Saraggio is 100% Sangiovese. This latter bottling is made by fermenting small parcels separately with an average of 30% whole clusters for 5-6 weeks. The wine then sees 18 months in barrique, 15-20% being new wood. The latter is a more structured, serious, wine capable of ageing (£30). The Arnaio is more youthful, and an attractive £19.

As always, you can’t go wrong with anything made by Tim Manning. His love for wine was fuelled by working for Oddbins, before he managed somehow to wangle a job as assistant winemaker at Riecine under Sean O’Callaghan, so his CV is pretty impressive. With his own label wines at Winemakers Club and Valdonica with Red Squirrel, the UK market is twice lucky.

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Bellwether, Coonawarra, South Australia

In Vinterloper, Red Squirrel have one hell of a South Australian producer. Now they have another to look out for in Bellwether. Sue Bell founded this micro-winery in Coonawarra, making wine from bought-in grapes, but now sources more widely. There’s a very classic 2009 Coonawarra Cab’ (excellent with seven years age, think iron and eucalypt plus tannins, £30), a Wrattonbully Shiraz-Malbec, and a Vermentino (not sure where that comes from?). My favourite wine of the bunch was a Tamar Valley Tasmanian Chardonnay (£30). The nose, not immediately obvious as Chardonnay, was amazing, more appley cool climate than most so-called new world examples. No malo for this wine, but whilst the freshness almost stuns the palate, it isn’t over acidic, nor under ripe.

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Dal Zotto, King Valley, Victoria

Heading northeast we are into Victoria’s high country where Otto and Elena Dal Zotto settled in 1967, having emigrated from Prosecco country. Originally tobacco growers, the wine came twenty years later. The focus is on traditional northern Italian varieties, and winemaking is now in the hands of one of their sons, Michael.

The two whites on show contrast Piemontese and Veneto varieties. The Arneis has stone fruit and a bit more weight than many Italian versions. It’s a grape which seems to suit Aussie upland viticulture very well. The Garganega is fruity with an almond touch on the finish. Like the Arneis, it’s fresh but mouthfilling. Not sure I see many Italian single variety versions of this grape, but I’m absolutely sure it’s my first Aussie Garganega.

Their Barbera is paler than most Piemontese versions of yet another grape which seems to do remarkably well in Australia. It’s also more fruity than you may expect, but it still has that characteristic bitter bite on the finish. The final wine in the lineup was their Sangiovese. Definite brick colour here. No need in Australia to plump up the wine with some dark, satanic, Merlot. Savoury.

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De Kleine Wijn Koöp, Western Cape, South Africa

It is pretty kleine as there are just five members of this coop. But they are not five ordinary men. There’s Edo Heyns (editor of Winelands magazine), JD Pretorious (winemaker, Steenberg farm), Jan Solms and Rohan Etsebeth (both designers) and Faan Rabie (a videographer). Everything here is in Afrikaans, but the wines are as far from old fashioned as you could imagine. This is minimal intervention winemaking as natural as possible. The two wines I tasted were fairly simple, but very pure and direct. Kreatuur No 3 Die Grenacinrah is 90% Grenache with a tad each of Cinsault and Syrah, whilst Liefling is a 12.5% alcohol pure Syrah. With a couple of designers onboard you’d expect decent labels too…

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Okanagan Crush Pad, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Having failed to introduce readers to the wines of the Okanagan Crush Pad in my articles on the Raw Wine Fair earlier this year…because I just ran out of time to try them, being waylaid at the end of the afternoon by some folks from Vermont, I’m not going to let you down again. But the thing is, these fabulous wines deserve a spotlight they probably won’t get at the end of what is already a very long article. So I’m going to give them a slot of their own, some time after I write up Wednesday’s Howard Ripley German Tasting. I hope you can bear with me. Do give it a look when it comes. The wines are worth it.

If you want to explore some more of Red Squirrel’s portfolio, here is a link to their October 2015 Tasting at Black’s Club in Soho.

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Post Holiday Blues Amelioration

When you’ve been somewhere nice and hot on holiday (see previous post) you really want summer to linger back home, and more or less that’s been the case, barring a few heavy showers. The parasol has been up and the occasional day taking three meals outdoors has been so relaxing. It’s not as if I have a right to feel low. Autumn has a couple of wine trips in store, but there’s nothing like coming home to a few nice, summery, wines.

Rotgipfler 2014, Thermenregion, Johanneshof Reinisch (Austria) – Rotgipfler is a grape variety I’d hardly heard of three or four years ago. The grape is a speciality of the area around Gumpoldskirchen in the Thermenregion, just south of Vienna (where a little is grown as well). A cross between Roter Veltliner and Savagnin varieties, there are less than 130 hectares in Austria, but that small planting creates some super wines and, having now tasted a good few examples, I’m convinced it’s a top quality grape.

Johanneshof Reinisch, since 2009 run by Johann’s three sons following his untimely death, is based south of Gumpoldskirchen, in Tattendorf. They are something of a Rotgipfler specialist. They make plenty of other wines from their extensive 40 hectares, but this variety may be the cream of the very impressive crop here.

They make some single site Rotgipflers, but this bottling is a blend from different vineyards. The nose is fruity and spicy and you might guess Pinot Gris. There’s good acidity and freshness, but a bit of structure too. That, and some richness, comes from a bit of skin contact (but not too much). It’s a dry richness making it very food friendly. It increases in complexity through the bottle and finishes with almost a ginger note. This is very good indeed. 12.5% alcohol.

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Vino Rosso 2014, Domaine Lucci (Adelaide Hills, South Australia) – This has one of the least forthcoming labels of the year (though at least it has a label – see the final wine here). But most readers will know this is one of Anton van Klopper’s enigmatic creations from the Basket Range of the Adelaide Hills. The minimalist label echoes the minimalist approach Anton has to winemaking, adding nothing but grapes. Anton has done his time with some industry big names and he knows how to make wine, but his fame comes from the truly exciting stuff he’s dripping out under the Lucy Margaux and Domaine Lucci labels.

This red is a real enigma. The grapes which go into it can be, depending on your source, “a blend of Bordeaux and Burgundy grapes” (what he told Max Allen six or seven years ago), to 60% white varieties (Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc) with the other 40% being Merlot and Sangiovese. This latter blend is what most people would go with for the current vintages.

The wine is fruity in a soft brambly way, yet with crunchy acidity. Simple and fresh. There’s very little equipment in the winery and everything goes into wood, or the ceramic eggs. There’s no cooling, nor heating of must, and no intervention (although I understand that a little sulphur has been used for the 2015s). File under “hardcore biodynamic” (Max Allen) and natural. These are wines at the edge, yet very accessible. Alcohol content unknown.

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Pinot Grigio “Fuoripista” 2014, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, Foradori (Trentino, Italy) – Elisabetta Foradori is perhaps better known for her Teroldego and Nosiola, made biodynamically in the Trentino region of Northeast Italy. 2014 is, I believe, the first vintage of her skin contact Pinot Grigio and forms a tiny part of her production (8,000 bottles from perhaps 2 hectares, from a total of 40 hectares), from the alluvial soils of the Campo Rotaliano .

The wine is nothing like the Pinot Grigio so ridiculed by so-called wine experts around the world. In fact, it’s not even quite the same as the traditional ramato style for which the region, and northeast Italy generally, is known among more clued-up wine lovers. Pinot Grigio/Gris skins have a pink pigment and light skin maceration produces a “coppery” tinge to these wines, but Elisabetta has given this bottling eight months on skins in amphora (Spanish tinajas, in fact). The bouquet is beautifully scented, the palate textured and mineral/saline. There’s also more colour than a mere ramato shows. It’s a truly lovely wine. It has an ethereal quality, despite being a wine of some presence. My only comment to Elisabetta – for a biodynamic producer who cares and thinks profoundly about nature, how about going a little easier on the heavy bottles to cut your carbon footprint? But keep making wine as great as this. I don’t use that word lightly. (11.5% alcohol).

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Bota de Fino 54, Equipo Navazos (Jerez, Spain) – The 54 has proved a superb bottling over time, yet on opening this I wondered whether it was starting to tire, whether its acidity was on a downward path, and whether I needed to drink my last remaining bottle soon. Yet drinking this over two evenings, I was astounded at how it woke up on the second night, showing an astonishing level of complexity not present the night before. This may well not surprise many fine wine drinkers. A wine changes personality over time for all sorts of reasons. This became very complex in its tertiary flavours and aromas. Little citrus now, much more in the way of spice and umami.

The 54 is from Valdespino, and the grapes hail from the Macharnudo Alto region, of course. It’s a 2014 bottling, from the same casks which have already provided Equipo Navazos with six Fino bottlings, a rich seam. The wines making up this bottling are around ten years old, I think, perhaps not ancient for EN. But the complexity with age is there. With an older Fino it’s recommended not to drink it too cold, perhaps ten degree and warming in the glass. Lower temperatures will mask the complexity. Truly world class, but also seeing this wine evolve is almost filmic. Pretentious as it sounds, each EN release does seem to have its own narrative. (15% alcohol).

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Trousseau 2013, North Coast, Arnot-Roberts (California) – This is something of a unicorn wine. I know one or two out there will feel a tinge of jealousy in the same way as if I were bragging about some Coche-Dury Meursault. I did have to work hard to get a small allocation of this wine, a few bottles destined for a rather well known London wine bar (shhh!). And this is my last bottle.

Arnot-Roberts are one of the trendiest producers of the moment, and their base is Healdsburg, northern Sonoma’s exciting wine hub which has, for many, supplanted Napa’s St. Helena as the place to visit for its bars and boutiques. Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers went to school together, and whilst Meyers had a spell in pro-cycling, they ended up back together as drinking buddies. The drinking was usually whatever exciting European wines they could get hold of, and this inspiration has led them to seek out old vine, often neglected, European varieties in northern California..

Of course no one had knowingly planted the obscure Jura variety, Trousseau, in the Golden State, but Trousseau is the same grape as the minor Port variety, Bastardo. The Luchsinger family had planted a block of “Bastardo” in Lake County to add to a “port style” wine, and its relative success led others to plant some, but it’s this Lake County plot which provides the grapes for Arnot-Roberts’ “North Coast” labelled cuvée.

The wine is quite pale, but not close to rosé. There’s a nice strawberry note on the nose. It also has a touch of Jura bite giving a slightly darker edge to the palate, but it is overall softer than many of its French counterparts. It’s a lovely wine, satisfying and gluggable, not complex, but at the same time a wine you want to savour slowly. That’s not only because you don’t know where the next bottle is going to come from. (12.1% alcohol).

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Vipava Rosé 2014, Batic, Sempas (Slovenia) – Batic is a smart biodynamic producer based in Sempas in the Vipava Valley, which at its western end borders Italy’s Gorizia (somewhat southeast of Collio). There are two things which strike you immediately about this wine. First, the bottle. It may be an attempt at sophistication, but I can’t help being reminded of other unusual bottle shapes which, especially in Italy, have rarely denoted a quality wine. The second complicated factor – the bottle has no label. Thankfully it does have a neck tag, but this sets out the producer’s philosophy, echoing their rather similar web site, without telling you much about the wine.

This is a pity because the wine is lovely, and very good indeed. It’s made from a blend of high density (almost 12,000 vines per hectare) Cabernet Sauvignon (97%) with 3% Cabernet Franc, from the Vogrsko vineyard at Brajda. The soils are clay-marl and the vines are 25 years old. The wine has an orange tinge as much as pink, and a nose blending orange blossom with darker red fruits. Again, it’s a wine with more body than you expect from such a refined nose. Quite a surprise, this is a pink wine which combines genuine drinkability (you could glug it quite swiftly without difficulty) with quite a presence. Dry but fruity, this is just how you wish Rosé d’Anjou would taste, but so rarely does. (12.5% alcohol).

Pacta Connect bring this wine into the UK, and I only mention it because I grabbed this bottle from their store at Brighton’s Open Market. People often complain at being unable to find wines from Slovenia and Croatia in the UK despite the awards these countries seem to win and the press they get. Pacta Connect specialise in wines from the Adriatic, and increasingly from Turkey too. Their web site is woefully out of date, I’m not sure when they last touched it, but don’t let that stop you exploring their wines. These wines need a bit more exposure.

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And now for something completely different…I always like to mention a good beer and when it comes from one of my favourite Austrian wine producers, all the better. Meinklang urkorn-bier is made mainly from spelt, so I’m told (Urkorn means ancient grains, or heritage grains, a collective name for enkorn, emmer and spelt). It’s a biodynamic pilsner style beer at 4.7% alcohol. It’s really good, trust me. The only problem is that I don’t think Winemakers Club have any left, but hopefully they’ll get some more. It has proved as popular as this Austrian producer’s wonderful wines.

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City of the Pomegranate

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I’ve just spent a week in Granada, my first visit to that beautiful Spanish city, crowned by one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever visited, the Alhambra complex. Of course, Granada is so much more than just the Alhambra and alongside the monuments to the city’s Moorish and Sephardic past, there’s a thriving food and drink culture. Everyone has been asking me about the Sherry. Jerez was not such a tempting drive in temperatures reaching the upper thirties in the day time and rarely dipping below twenty-seven at night. I drank just one glass of Fino, it turned out to be Tio Pepe, in a tapas bar. In those temperatures a tube of beer was welcome for its volume (a couple of local beers proved tasty, Alhambra, and the darker craft beer, Sacromonte). But Andalucia does have a thriving wine industry, quite small scale, and with a focus on natural wines too. Vinos auténticos!

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If you ask someone who is already interested in Andalucian natural wines for the name of a wine producer, the chances are you will get Barranco Oscuro. Manuel Valenzuela arrived in the Sierra de la Contraviesa, in the Alpujarras range, in 1979. It claims to be the highest viticultural regional in Europe. The land here had never been worked with chemicals and after a time Manuel began to undertake a wholly non-interventionist approach to making wine, even leaving fermentation to its own devices. He farms 12 hectares and from them produces a vast number of cuvées (I know of twenty), but as his labels state, “European legislation prohibits us from informing you about the origin of the grapes or the vintage of this wine. Ask the person who sold you this bottle“. We’re talking the equivalent of Vin de Table or Vino de Mesa.

This first wine from Barranco Oscuro shows the unique nature of Manuel’s production. You’d be disappointed if you expected them all to be made from obscure local varieties. It’s true that he did revive the use of the Vigiriega grape, but in pioneering red winemaking in the Alpujarras, he’s planted many French varieties, and some of the more ubiquitous Spanish ones too. This bottle takes it from the top. El Pino Rojo is Pinot Noir, but it has 16.5% alcohol. He may be high in the Sierra de la Contraviesa (over 1,350 metres for the highest vines), but as I can attest, it gets pretty hot in summer. The landscape of schist with some clay is dry and quite barren. The key to this wine is to cool it a little. At least this is what I did, drinking it in early evening temperatures in the mid-30s centigrade. It took the edge off the alcohol and made it surprisingly refreshing. Delicious!

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The advantage of travelling with three vegans (there’s a thriving vegan food scene in Granada) is that the vegan restaurants seem to sell a lot of natural wines. Paprika, on the edge of the old Albayzin district , combines quite inventive dishes with a small but well formed wine selection, and it’s a minute away from the well known deli-wine shop, Al Sur de Granada, another good source for local wines. It was at Paprika that I drank perhaps my wine of the week, Purulio Blanco Joven from Bodega Torcuato Huertas. It’s said that Manuel Valenzuela kickstarted the revival of Alpujarras winemaking, and it’s true that so many people have indeed benefited from his help and experience. Torcuato Huertas is one of them, although he has been immersed in wine since childhood, having helped foot-tread his grandfather’s grapes.

Again, the stereotype is broken – old guy making non-intervention natural wines, yet he introduced French grape varieties (Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc), and new oak barriques. The vineyards here are located on the northern side of the Sierra Nevada, near to Guadix. They are also at altitude, around 1,000 metres, but rather than the schist in the southern valleys, there’s more sand and alluvial deposits with Mica, quartz, basalt and iron. The wines are taut, saline and fresh, hard not to call “mineral”. The blanco joven is made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeo and Palomino, plus minor additions…and it’s orange. It starts off with a fragrance of ripe apricot before the palate kicks in as I described above. Its 13% alcohol doesn’t really make itself noticed. It’s quite sublime, a complexity wholly different to that you expect from a more classic wine. Maybe that’s why I loved it. To the dubious reader, not a whiff of any cider-like volatility.

Barranco Oscuro quite fittingly gets a second wine in the “holiday top-4”. This time it’s a red blend based on Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – Tempranillo y Màs. It’s a  tinto crianza  which tastes quite seamless as a blend, although I did seem to get a hint of each of those varieties as I drank through it (maybe I was just fooling myself). It’s a lovely, rich wine, full bodied with a long dark-fruited finish. It’s also one of their wines I’d never come across before, so I was all the more pleased to see it in a couple of places in Granada. Barranco Oscuro is a gem of the Alpujarras and it’s good to hear that Manuel’s son, Lorenzo, is working at the winery. Hopefully the succession here is secure.

I was very pleased to find Bodegas Cauzon‘s Blanco 2015 on the shelves at Al Sur de Granada. I first met Ramon Saavedra at the Raw Wine popup at the London Edition Hotel back in May this year, and then again, a few days later, at the Raw Wine Fair in East London. We had to communicate in his little French and my even less competent Spanish, but he was very friendly. So much so that I was sorry to get as far as Granada and be unable to take up the invitation to drive up to Cortes y Graena, again high up in the Northern Sierra Nevada. Ramon has just 2.5 hectares of vines. Most of these produce red wine from Syrah, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a few local rarities, but the blanco is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Torrontés. It’s the colour of pale apple juice, cloudy and, being unfiltered, it has some pretty large clumps of yeasty sediment. With its clear glass bottle and clear label, it looks a bit like one of those pét-nats you can drink clear or cloudy depending on how you store them. Scary to look at, it’s actually 12.5% of refreshing white(ish) wine with a mineral/stone fruit palate. Easy to drink with a view towards the Alhambra, come 6pm on a hot August afternoon.

The delicatessen/wine shop Al Sur de Granada is at the top end of the Calle  de Elvira (No 150), on the right just before you get to the Moorish Arch. In fact it’s much more than a deli, being at various times of the day an organic wine bar and restaurant, with a good selection of locally grown produce. Open, in theory, 10am-4pm and 6-11.30pm (I think they might shut at 3.30 and not the advertised 4pm in summer). The name, meaning South from Granada, references a book (pub 1957, since 2003 also a film by Fernando Colomo) by that famous historian of Spain, Gerald Brenan. The book is autobiographical and charts his complicated life as a demobilized soldier in the years after 1919, in a village in the Alpujarras.

Before visiting Granada I read Granada – The Light of Andalucia by Steven Nightingale (Nicholas Brealey, 2015). It combines a history of Granada with a captivating description of an American family’s move to the Albayzin district just over a decade ago. Nightingale is a poet and novelist, and he uses a poet’s sensibilities to appraise the rise and decline of Moorish and Sephardic culture in this great city, and the impact of the conquest by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. I loved this book, and plan to read it again now I’ve been there. By coincidence, we discovered that the carmen Nightingale bought and renovated was only metres from where we were staying. [Note slightly different title for US market]

We stayed in the Albayzin district in an apartment found on airbnb. Here’s a link  . The view of the Alhambra at the beginning and end of this article was taken from the long living room, a constant companion for the week, and possibly the best view I recall having from a holiday rental. The Albayzin is effectively a village within a city, a series of tiny lanes, many a mere metre wide, snaking across a hill. It contains many churches, hidden Moorish architecture, small museums, and the beautiful houses known as carmens with their hidden gardens, oases of calm in the summer heat.

Other recommended (but smaller) sites to see include the Madraza de Granada (side of Cathedral, 2€, do not miss), the arab-era bathhouse on the Carrera del Darro and the Corral de Carbon (a Nasrid-era corn exchange). The Alhambra itself is magical. The complex contains the famous Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba fortress and the Generalife (where the famous water gardens are located). Ticketing is complicated so consult an up-to-date guidebook. Buy tickets online, in advance – you still have to collect tickets before entry and timings are reasonably strict. But remember, parts of the complex are free, including a small but worthwhile museum in the Palacio de Carlos V. We went up there three times.

If you are in Granada with a car, try to visit the white villages of the Alpujarras, some of the most beautiful in Spain. We lunched at L’Atelier restaurant in Mecina, in the Taha Valley, about 20 minutes east of Pampaniera (via Lanjaron). It’s a tiny place so booking is advised (they have a few rooms). Don’t be put off by it being vegetarian/vegan, the cooking is inventive and good. There is nice easy walking from the next hamlet, Fondales, with its flat-roofed Berber-style houses. Follow the trail signs in the village.

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Oddities (12 August 2016)

We were back at Rochelle Canteen on Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, on Friday for our fourth of six Oddities lunches this year. There was no theme this time, everyone bringing a wide range of wines, which (miraculously, as always seems to be the case) were a delight to taste. Maybe the majority of the wines were not quite as obscure as we sometimes get, but there were some real treats. As always, the food was brilliant, little short of perfect, and it deserves more than a footnote – so here are some food pics before we launch into the liquid refreshment. A sardine starter, deep fried rabbit with aioli, and (for my sweet tooth) berries and meringue to finish.

 

Priorat Blanco “Pedra de Guix” 2012, Terroir Al Limit Some of us wondered whether this was a Chardonnay on the nose. It’s actually Macabeo/Grenache Blanc and Pedro Ximenez, a wine once made by Eben Sadie, along with his partner Dominik Hubre in Catalonia’s mountains. Sadie is no longer involved, of course, but Hubre fashions wines with as much class as we have come to expect from that great winemaker (as you’d expect for a wine in the £40-50 bracket). Beautifully balanced with 13% alcohol, fruit aplenty, but with a savoury quality too. It was the White of the Day for many of us, and up there as one of the wines of the lunch. Very impressive indeed, especially with a few years in bottle.

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Caiati 2014, Michèle Alois Quite a few of us were sniffing around Southern Italy with this wine, but my guess of Sicilian Catarratto was off the mark. It’s a Campanian Pallagrello Bianco! Two decades ago there was a regional project to rediscover Campania’s pre-phylloxera grape varieties, and Alois is cultivating several of them, including this. The wine has a deeper colour than many Italian whites, and is quite fruity. A genuine rarity but, on this evidence, well worth the effort.

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“Smiley”  V2 Chenin Blanc NV, Swartland, Avant Garde Wines Quite an enigma. I’m not sure we arrived at Chenin very quickly. In fact, I thought the nose quite Sauvignon Blanc-like, though not the palate. It’s actually the second wine of Silwervis. It is 70% tank fermented and 30% in a concrete egg, whole bunches and minimal sulphur. A fun natural wine, a little funky but nothing to worry anyone but the die-hard conservatives, and extremely refreshing. The sheep’s head on the label? Silwervis is supposed to be Afrikaans slang for the meat left on a sheep’s head, a delicacy.

 

Rosé des Riceys “En Barmont” 2006, Olivier Horiot Many readers will know Horiot through his Champagnes, or even via his Coteaux Champenois red, but the pink wine made in the villages which form Les Riceys, on the Aube/Yonne border, is almost unknown outside of France. I first discovered it when we visited friends honeymooning near there in the mid-1980s. I kind of fell for a hauntingly perfumed rosé, yet this single vineyard cuvée was more of a light red, perhaps reminiscent of old Burgundy, though at just a decade it’s not old by Cote d’Or standards. Having written about this, albeit briefly, in my blog post on pink wines a few days before the lunch, I was slightly crestfallen that no one guessed what it was. Never mind, it went down well enough. It was good, if not quite as hauntingly perfumed and cold tea-like as some bottles can be. As you will see from the back label, Horiot suggests this will age five to fifteen years, and unusually for a rosé, it does have this reputation for improving over time like a fine red.

 

Sumoll “1954” Orange de Noirs 2014, Costador The “1954” here refers to the year these Sumoll vines were planted at 650 metres on clay and limestone in Penedès’s mountainous terrain. Fermented on skins in amphora, this orange wine from red grapes is then aged 8 months in French oak. We’ve had a few bottles of Sumoll’s more usual red iteration at Oddities before, but this is complex, and stunningly good. Another of my wines of the day.

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“Pét-Nat James” Vin de Table [2015], Ormiale, Bordeaux I managed to guess this wine, though I’ve never tried it. As soon as I caught a whiff of what I took to be Merlot I knew I’d read only days before (in The Sampler’s Newsletter) that this was was (potentially) the first pétillant naturel from Bordeaux. It’s a bottle fermented blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Simple berry fruits and a texture that’s more mouthfeel than tannin, if you know what I mean. Something savoury, a food wine with a touch of freshness (the Petit Verdot, one presumes). Jamie Hutchinson recommends serving it at cellar, rather than fridge, temperature (we had it slightly cooler). I was thrilled to try it – it’s good, but if I’m truthful, there are some very good petillant naturels out there for half the UK retail price (£33). But still, fizzy red from Burgundy I’ve had aplenty, never before from Bordeaux. This is just what the region needs to bring in younger drinkers, fun wines and a touch of innovation.

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Riflesso Rosi, Vallagarina IGT 2014,  Eugenio Rosi This is called a rosato on the label, but it’s more like a light red. We had no idea of the grape variety, I was floundering in Switzerland. But in fact it’s Cabernet Sauvignon, albeit macerated for an unusually curtailed two days. The must is then added to the pomace of Nosiola grapes (to fix the colour, apparently). It has the colour and scent of pomegranate with cherry on the palate. A little perfume on the end also suggested to me a grape like Rondo. A very attractive light red, though more fascinating than high scoring in a traditional sense. But if you ever find it, at a retail price of around €11-12 in Italy, you must try it.

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La Pépiè 2015, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, Domaine de la Pépière I’ve drunk what one would unofficially call sparkling Muscadet a few times, and very nice it was too. This is, again unofficially of course, red Muscadet from an estate well known for those under rated wines from the Melon grape. This cuvée is made from Cot, the regional synonym for Malbec, and one of three reds made on the estate. It does have that very deep colour, but thankfully not nearly the alcohol increasingly found in South American Malbec (just 11.7%). Consequently the wine is very refreshing and, grown on granite, it does have that liveliness you’d look for in a Beaujolais-Villages. This domaine makes biodynamic wines in the village of Maisdon-sur-Sèvre. Seek them out. This was tasty!

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Slarina 2014, Cascina Tavijn This extremely rare and indigenous Piemontese grape is grown by Nadia Verrua on a 5 hectare plot in the Monferrato hills, near Asti. The soil is sandy and the wine is light and pleasantly perfumed. Made naturally and fermented in a variety of vessels, as with the wine above, this is far removed from a “competition wine”, but all the better for it. A lovely example of a little hidden gem of a grape variety which I’d not even heard of before I tried this. Piemonte seems to be throwing up so many of these almost lost autochthonous varieties, and every one I try has something good to offer. Tutto Wines, who sell this, describe it as a love child of Barbera and Ruchè, and that is a reasonably apt description if you know those two grape varieties. Tutto stock several wines from this estate, and I must say that they all look worth following up.

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Carignan Reserva “Vinedo Silvestre” 2012, Villalobos, Colchagua Valley This is a reasonably well known example of “the new Carignan” which is rightly finding favour in Chile. It’s berry scented with a little crunchy fruit and, at 12% alcohol, provides excellent quaffing. The vines, many around 60 years of age, are left wild with no pruning (like Meinklang’s Graupert vineyards, which I’ve written about in previous posts). This means they grow into large bushes, or up trees, but they seem to find a natural balance and don’t over-crop. One attendee has tasted this wine several times and said that in its youth it’s much more punchy. One or two people down at my end of the table suggested it might have been a touch corked.

 

 

Tinto Joven, Bodegas Insulares, Tacoronte Acentejo DO, Tenerife We are very familiar these days with the wines of Tenerife via the renowned producers Suertes del Marques and Envinate. But the island has plenty more estates and this one is completely new to me. This young wine is mainly (95%) Listan Negro, the main red variety on Tenerife, here accompanied by 5% Negramoll. It’s cherry red with red fruits and violets, finishing dry and with a little structure you might not expect from the nose. I’m not sure whether this was NV or I just missed the vintage. A good reminder that Tenerife has a lot more to discover.

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Domaine Tempier Cuvée Spéciale 1993, Bandol Well, for me I must admit my worst guess of the day, tasting this blind. It was certainly not a Portuguese red from Alentejo, and that guess was especially bad considering how well I know Tempier’s wines. This is well aged Mourvèdre, very complex. On my first few sips I awarded this my “red wine of the day”, with the caveat that it was beginning to fade on my second small pour. But in the moment, sublime. It was clearly a classic wine, more structured than any which preceded it, and also clearly a wine of considerable class.

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Watervale Nero d’Avola 2013, Mount Horrocks, Clare Valley Our resident Italian  expert, Mark Priestley, threw us a curved ball here, an Australian Nero d’Avola. Australian producers are realising that climate change is making some Italian varieties more of a sensible option, as it gets warmer and drier throughout the country. Yet I didn’t know Stephanie Toole made a version of this Sicilian grape variety, albeit in tiny quantities (around 200 cases). There’s a lovely refreshing quality to this wine, with lifted strawberry fruit on the nose and cherry fruit on the palate – more in tune with, say, a Cerasuolo than the more jammy Nero d’Avolas you can find on the island. A wine to drink cellar cool. James Halliday gave this 95 points, and although you know I don’t like scoring wine, that was well deserved.

 

Passopisciaro 2006, Sicilia IGT A magnum, no less, of a very fine example of why Sicily’s Etna region deserves to be rated alongside Italy’s other top DOCGs – although this majestic Nerello Mascalese is an IGT, not DOC. This is one of the first Etna estates I got to know, along with Terre Nere. I’ve had both the 2005 and 2008 recently, and along with this 2006, all three showed signs they would age well (the bottle of 2008 I took to a previous Oddities was perhaps the most forward of them all). Like great Burgundy, this is crying out for game, or Goose even. This was magnificent. Not one of our official wines for the lunch, but opened afterwards in an act of great generosity, I’ve not included it in the wines of the day below, but it got my Coup de Coeur.

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In Olympics mode, the medals are as follows:

Gold – Terroir al Limit’s Blanco. This producer makes great reds, although they are sometimes too alcoholic for me to drink with abandon, and too often. This white really won the day, for me.

Silver – Goes to the Tempier Bandol. As I said above, it did start to fade, but in the moment it showed another French AOC which is too often overlooked when seeking greatness. Few can match Tempier.

Bronze – Pretty apt for an orange wine to get this, considering its colour. Costador’s Sumoll “1954” is, sadly, a wine I can’t just go and buy in London. If I could, I would. I’d love to enjoy a whole bottle.

Man of the Day – (well, there were no ladies present this time) must be Mark Priestley. Having brought two wines anyway, he generously pulled the cork on that expensive magnum of Passopisciaro, which really turned out to be the perfect end to yet another enjoyable Oddities lunch. Thanks, Mark.

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Pink, The New White?

It wasn’t that many years ago that rosé wine was beyond the pale for many wine drinkers, and it wasn’t just because what was then a much more male dominated wine trade thought it feminine. Pink wine was often an afterthought for producers, a way of getting rid of excess red grapes, whilst perhaps concentrating their red wines via a bit of saignée (bleeding off the red vats). Of course, rosé was, and still is, all the rage on the Cote d’Azur, where much of the produce of Provence gets guzzled during those long French summer holidays. Tavel, as a pink only AOC, once had a certain cachet, but otherwise much pink wine was over sulphured, over sugared, or both, and was destined for the less sophisticated end of the market.

Yet slowly, whether or not through climate change, or just someone realising that there was a whole wine style to be tapped, “pink”seems to have improved and is now firmly in fashion. I don’t mean the craze for “white Zinfandel” (sic), still favoured by the larger Californian producers, but good quality wines offering and alternative to whites and reds. Rosé comes in a variety of styles, from just an onion skin tinge of colour to something approaching pale red, and it hails from nearly any grape variety you’d care to think of (and a great many you probably hadn’t).

Decanter Magazine has produced a tasting feature on “the top 50 rosés” for this current month, so I thought it might be fun to elaborate on a few of my own favourites. Needless to say, there are a good few which didn’t feature in their selection.

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A relaxing glass of pink Zweigelt in Spitz, on the Danube (see previous article)

The present fashion for rosé has focused on a few brands, so at least one element of rosé’s past has not changed. But the brands of today’s pink are at least individual producers, albeit with a good sprinkling of glamour and plenty of hectares at their disposal. It’s a list headed by the Whispering Angel range, from Provence’s Chateau, and Caves, D’Esclans, created by Sasha Lichine (whose father owned the Margaux Classed Growth, Prieuré-Lichine). The Chateau d’Esclans Garrus can be had for almost £100 in some of the more expensive retail outlets! Rock Angel is thankfully cheaper, a little above £20 if you are lucky.

Whispering Angel is closely followed by Chateau Miraval in its distinctive, squat, bottle, from the village of Correns. Miraval has 500 hectares under vine and is made by the Perrin family (of Chateuneuf-du-Pape royalty at Chateau de Beaucastel). Of course, it’s far better known as the wine of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! These two producers seem to vie with each other for the title of “best rosé in the world”, whatever that means. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the property was previously owned in the 1970s by French jazz star, Jacques Loussier, who installed a recording studio which has been used by artists as diverse as Sting, and Pink Floyd (tracks for The Wall were recorded there).

I wouldn’t wish to knock these wines, and I shall nail my colours to the mast here and say that I do enjoy pink wine. Probably more than many men. I find it a good choice with summer lunches, especially those taken outdoors. But I also enjoy seeking out some of the least well known styles, which can turn out to be the most interesting.

Provence is, of course, a good place to begin searching for a good pink. It’s not, on the whole, Cotes de Provence where I usually look, although I will be coming full circle when I reveal my “rosé of the year” towards the end of this piece. Usually I like to move to the smaller appellations, in particular Bandol and Cassis. Most of the top Bandol estates make a pink in their range, but Chateau de Pibarnon and Domaine Tempier are favourites. These tend to be wines structured for food, yet with lovely scents (often pomegranate to the fore). Just along the coast from Bandol, right by the towering cliffs of the Cap Canaille, is the Cassis estate of Clos Sainte Magdeleine. Not only is this wine a perfect accompaniment to a local fish soup or stew, these are also some of the most beautifully situated vineyards in France, poised quite literally right above the blue Med.

Further inland, near Aix-en-Provence, is another favourite pink wine, from Chateau Simone, in the tiny AOC of Palette. The Rougier family have been making wine here since 1830, but there’s been a monastic vineyard here since at least the 16th Century. The estate is planted with 17 different grape varieties (quiz fact – the most allowed in any French AOC), many being old Provençal varieties. The rosé is based on Grenache Noir, Mourvedre and Cinsault, is much darker than most of the other rosés of Provence (almost a red), and a wine not shy of ageing a few years.

Clos Sainte Magdeleine and Chateau Simone are not cheap (Simone is approaching £40 a bottle), nor are the Bandols. But those two wines are sold by Yapp Brothers, who are an excellent source for good value rosé in general, through their Loire-Rhone-Provence specialisation, and their forays further afield. Look for Gérard Cordier‘s Reuilly Pinot Gris (a very pale “oeil de perdrix” style), a good value Saint-Pourçain from the co-op in the upper reaches of the Loire region, La Canorgue‘s Luberon, and a couple of stunning value pinks from their Corsican offering, among many. Yapp’s usually do mixed case deals on pinks throughout the summer.

If you enjoy that Loire Pinot Gris, seek out some of the ramato style Pinot Grigios from Northeast Italy (copper-coloured, taking that colour from a light maceration of the pink skins of the Pinot Gris grapes). Foradori‘s is magical, though so far removed from ordinary Pinot Grigio in every way, and maybe not really a rosé in the strict sense?

Still in France, one grape which is often missed when thinking of pinks is Pinot Noir. When I started visiting Burgundy in the 1980s Marsannay was hardly known for red wines. Her thing was pink – Rosé de Marsannay. That has changed in recent years as the clamour for Cote d’Or red has elevated the quantity and quality of the Pinot Noir coming out of this northerly village, on the edge of Dijon. One wine which did feature in the Decanter Top-50 was Sylvain Pataille‘s “Fleur de Pinot” bottling. This young grower can do no wrong, and it’s a good address at which to try a pink from the Cote d’Or.

There’s another noted pink wine region, albeit pretty obscure, even further north, in that hinterland between Burgundy and Champagne, beyond the Cotes d’Auxerre. In the connected hamlets close to the regional border which make up Les Riceys you will find a pink wine almost never seen outside of France, Rosé des Riceys AOC. It’s a strange wine in some ways. It has a truly haunting quality with bottle age, which the best deserve, and on the palate there’s more than a hint of tea (Assam or English Breakfast, perhaps). The local producers usually make a little as a sideline to their Cote des Bar Champagne business, and the closest I’ve come to the flavour of this still pink is in Cédric Bouchard’s sublime rosé Champagne, Le Creux d’Enfer. My favourite Rosé des Riceys comes from another Champagne producer, Olivier Horiot. Horiot makes a number of single parcel rosés (and a red Riceys Rouge as a Coteaux Champenois as well) which show the nuance of terroir in such ethereal wines.

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En Valingrain – one of Olivier Horiot’s single site Riceys

When I said that some pinks are almost reds, that can work the other way around too. Alsace Pinot Noir used to be notoriously pale, and Jura’s Poulsard/Ploussard is naturally pale as well. This has led some producers to make a straight pink from it, either as a still wine, or as a pét-nat. In the former category, Patrice Hughes-Béguet shows what fun can be had with a variety until recently out of favour with all but a few wine geeks.

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Hughes-Béguet – Pulp Fraction, the lighter side of Ploussard

But not all the best pink wines come from France, by any means. One wine I was a little surprised to see in the Decanter selection was Gunter & Regina Triebaumer‘s Blaufränkisch from Rust, in Burgenland. Austria is not the first place you think of for rosé, but it’s a popular style locally. That said, it’s often pink Zweigelt that I’ll be found sipping on the banks of the Danube, though this Blaufränkisch is a very nice wine – fresh with hints of spice and floral notes, and worthy of its high score in the Decanter tasting. My absolute favourite Austrian pink comes from one of my favourite producers who are just a couple of kilometres from the Triebaumers. Gut Oggau‘s Winifred is made from a blend of biodynamically farmed Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt and, if I had to select just one adjective to describe it, that would be “alive”.

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Gut Oggau – one of the younger generation

There are two world class pinks which wine obsessives will always try to have in the cellar. Lopez de Heredia is possibly Spain’s most traditional wine producer. Renowned for their red Riojas, capable of ageing for decades if not half centuries or more, slowly evolving, they also make majestic whites and Rosado at all levels. The Tondonia Gran Reserva is more of an amber/onion skin colour than pink, going tawny with great age. It’s a food wine of great complexity, more serious than our usual perception of a pink.

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Tondonia Rosado – not Gran Reserva but still pretty special

If you don’t have one of those to hand, perhaps you have a pink Musar? Again, Lebanon’s famous Chateau Musar is known primarily for her reds, yet makes beguiling white and pink wine as well. Unlike your typical Provençal pink, this is a wine to serve just cellar cool, not chilled, and allow it time to breath (or carafe it). Look for scents and flavours of peach and oranges.

There’s been no mention of any so-called New World wines here. Of course, they do exist, in profusion. I used to have a bit of a thing for Felton Road‘s Central Otago Vin Gris, though I’ve hardly ever found it in the UK, and not had one for some time. It seemed to go very well with the Asian fusion cuisine of Sydney and Melbourne. I also recall John Forrest made a decent Pinot Noir pink in Marlborough, though very different from the merely copper tinged version of Felton Road. There have, of course, been enjoyable pinks from Australia, South Africa, and North and South America, and there are lots more to explore and discover. Next time you are in a branch of UK supermarket Waitrose, grab a bottle of Bolney Estate‘s pink to see what England can manage. It may not be up there with their Pinot Noir red and Blanc de Blancs sparkler, but it’s a tasty rosé and worth a punt.

So, what is my rosé of the year? Oddly enough, we are back in the Cotes de Provence: Clos Cibonne. Tibouren is an unusual grape variety which, at this estate near Toulon, makes both red and pink wines, made as Cuvées Tradition, Spéciales and Prestige. The pink wine below was a revelation at Red Squirrel’s Trade Tasting last year, and then again at the Real Wine Fair at London’s Tobacco Dock earlier this year. It’s a sensational wine. The best thing of all – I tracked it down in magnum at my old friends, Solent Cellar, in Lymington. And at around £40 for 150cl, it’s the same price as an ordinary bottle of Chateau Simone! Or just about £20 for a bottle. A bargain, sheer class. A few years ago you’d have been hard pushed to see those words written about a rosé!

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Cibonne Tibouren – it comes in magnums!

There is just one more wine to mention before I go. Andrew Nielsen has got a pretty good name already for his hand crafted Burgundy, and in recent vintages he’s been branching out, sourcing grapes in Beaujolais and Macon. With an eye to being ecologically sensitive (up to 80% less of a carbon footprint than glass), whilst at the same time grabbing the attention of the picnic and festival market, he started putting decent wine in bags as part of his and wife Emma’s Du Grappin range. Hence the 1.5 litre bagnum. The rosé is a Beaujolais-Villages, just 12% alcohol, and the bag will keep the wine fresh for up to two weeks if you need it to. There’s one in my fridge right now, just the thing for the beach.

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Du vin, Du Grappin #bagnum – all you need for the picnic

Posted in Rosé Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bicycle, Bicycle,…

It may be a coincidence, but so many people I know who love wine also love cycling. Of course, wine is a highly calorific beverage and we all need to battle those calories. But there’s another angle as well. I remember last time I visited the Cote d’Or, driving down the Route des Vins between producers, stuck in a stream of traffic, boots full of wine. Whilst you really can’t beat walking in the vineyards to get to know your terroir, a bicycle is a relaxing alternative to the car: you get to cover a wider area than on foot, with the chance to stop and look whenever you want.

Almost every time I visit a wine region I try to get on a bike at least once during the trip. The good news is that many wine regions now have dedicated cycle routes, often well away from the traffic which can clog the roads in summer. Such routes are usually well marked and well mapped, and if you don’t want to lug your bike across Europe (or are flying), there are almost always cycle hire facilities on hand. In recent years I’ve cycled on the paths of the Mosel in Germany, the Neusiedlersee and the Danube in Austria, and the Loire in Touraine, France. These are not the only options for wine biking by a long way, but for sheer cycling pleasure, stunning wine country, not to mention all important pit stops for tasting and eating, they are a good place to begin.

The Wachau Trail

As the Danube flows majestically towards Vienna it passes through the Wachau region. It’s the Austrian vineyard which is closest in feel to Germany’s Mosel, steep vineyards rising above the river to hills topped with ruined castles, whilst pretty villages below huddle around the tall spire of an old church. It’s a region where, like the Mosel, Riesling also excels, along with the native Grüner Veltliner.

We took an early train from Vienna’s Franz Joseph station up the line to Krems, having pre-booked bike hire online, a ten minute walk from our destination (but Krems is full of bike hire options). Even before you leave Krems itself you are almost immediately onto a dedicated cycle track, but when you leave the old suburb of Stein on the town’s western edge, you are truly off-piste as far as traffic is concerned. Some of the Wachau cycle route is on vineyard roads, and it reverts to public roads through the village centres, but it is generally very safe and traffic free, apart from the odd vineyard tractor.

It’s possible to cycle a long way on the Danube trail, as far as Germany if you’re game. Or maybe take a day to reach Melk at a leisurely pace, stay over night, and explore the abbey. We went for a lighter, one day, option – cycling to Spitz where we had a leisurely lunch in the sunshine at Haus Prankl (just west of the village itself),  followed by a wake-up walk to the castle above the village. Here you get a bird’s eye view of the sweep of the river and the vineyards.

On our way to Spitz we passed through villages which will be as familiar to lovers of Wachau wines as those of Burgundy and the Mosel: Unterloiben and Oberloiben, Durnstein, Weissenkirchen and Wosendorf. Durnstein is particularly attractive, though equally popular, sitting above the river, towered over by another castle ruin. This one served as the prison of Richard I of England when he was captured on his way home from the Third Crusade, having offended Duke Leopold of Austria after the siege of Acre.

Spitz is a great destination for another reason, though you will need some panniers or a bike with a basket. Although the wine route is scattered with the famous producers of the region, from the traditional winery and very good heuriger of the Knoll family (the Loibnerhof restaurant in Unterloiben is another great food destination) to FX Pichler’s ultra-modern winery just off the cycle route near Oberloiben, you do need to make an appointment to taste. But if you want an in-depth survey of the Wachau’s wines, Vinothek Hubert Fohringer (down near the ferry jetty in Spitz) is one of the very best wine shops in the region. A visit here is highly recommended.

The Austrian Tourist Board will send you a very good Wachau Trail Map at a scale of 1:35,000 – indispensable.

 

Touraine-Chinon 

France’s longest river has unending cycle touring possibilities along almost its whole length, but Touraine provides some of the most picturesque (and easy) biking, and the medieval town of Chinon is a good place to start. Whilst aficionados of Chinon’s wines might wish to head east, towards Panzoult, the prettiest cycling is in a westward direction.

Just south of Chinon, beside the bridge over the River Vienne, there’s a cycle hire depot. If you cycle west for a short distance, along the right bank as far as the busy D751, and cross to the north side, via the bridge, the cycle route mixes (as in the Wachau) dedicated, traffic free, cycling paths with small village roads which are very quiet. The off-road route begins immediately after that bridge, on your left, following the river’s right bank. After a detour through a couple of villages, the off-road route recommences between Savigny-en-Véron/Port-Guyot and Candes-St-Martin/Montsoreau, where the Vienne flows into the Loire. From here I recommend a detour south, to the Abbey of Fontevraud. There’s some nice hilly countryside and forest around here, and all of these villages have numerous places to grab lunch with a bottle of local wine.

Mind you, on the subject of drinking and cycling, I did learn a lesson here a few years ago. It’s all very well sitting in the sunshine over lunch enjoying a glass, or maybe two. But it is possible to be caught drunk in charge of a bicycle, and even if you keep within limits its still the same as drinking when you are driving a car. However sober you might be, the dehydrating effects of alcohol and a large lunch on one’s peddle power shouldn’t be underestimated. I remember cracking on a rise towards Fontevraud which could, in all honesty, only be described as a gentle incline, hardly a minor alp. I almost had to get off and push.

Neusiedler See

Regular readers will know how much I love this lake, about an hour’s bus ride from Vienna. The whole region is very well endowed with wine producers, and you can’t visit Rust without hiring one of the small motor boats for a morning out on the lake and among the reed beds. But the lake is also blessed with a passenger ferry service which allows you to take your bike over, thus opening up a lot more possibilities for a day in the saddle. Once again, if you don’t have your own cycle, don’t worry. Fahrrad Johann Schneeberger on Rust’s Rathausplatz, just a few doors up from Heidi Schroeck, is your man.

You can take a ferry from the marina at Rust, over to Podersdorf, but last summer we preferred to cycle the five-or-so kilometres between the vines and the lake to Morbisch-am-See (keep your eyes open for the adorable Mangalitsa pigs if you take this route), for the ferry to Illmitz. Illmitz is another four kilometres from the ferry jetty, but this eastern side of the lake contains an extensive bird sanctuary. I’m not especially knowledgeable on this subject, but we spent an hour or two cycling the lanes here, stopping at several hides to watch the waders. There are a number of circular routes from Illmitz itself, which is a good place to stop for lunch or a coffee, the village being home to several internationally renowned producers (Kracher and the Tschidas for starters).

If you have the energy, once you have returned on the ferry, head south out of Morbisch and before you know it you are into Hungary. The very intrepid (and fit) cyclist could actually ride right around the south side of the lake here, but from Illmitz to Morbisch on the “Iron Curtain Trail” is something approaching 50 kilometers (I know a good few fellow wine lovers who would zip that off in an afternoon, but my joints are beginning to creak a little for that level of exertion). Anyway, the ferry across the lake is fun, and sitting on deck with a restorative coffee is a pleasure in itself.

Pick up the Raderlebnis Neusiedlersee map, which includes all the cycle routes, from the Tourist Office in Rust.

Mosel

Last summer we also added the Mosel cycle path to our list of favourites. We were staying just outside of Bernkastel and it’s suburb on the other side of the river, Kues. Once again, there are several bike hire options, and the Tourist Office will have a list. There are two choices of direction from Bernkastel, both providing unrivaled views of the vertiginous vineyard slopes which make this river one of the most beautiful destinations for wine lovers in the world. You can go southwest, towards Piesport, perhaps via Thomas Haag’s brooding pile, Schloss Lieser, or do as we did and cycle northeast, to Traben-Trarbach. Keeping to the Mosel’s eastern bank, nearly all of the route to Trarbach is off-road.

Almost immediately upon leaving Bernkastel, in the shadow of the Doktorberg, you are flanked by the steep vineyards of Graach and Zeltingen, split by the vineyards opposite Wehlen, where a stop in front of the famous Sonnenuhr (sun dial) vineyard is de rigeur. As well as being quiet, the track sticks close to the river here. There are plenty of other kinds of watering holes too. The capacity of the German cyclist for a mid-morning beer is impressive.

As you sweep round the river’s meander towards Erden the vineyards switch to the south-facing western bank, as Urzig’s “spice garden” comes into view, a reminder of how difficult, and dangerous, working these vines is for the dedicated men and women who farm these slippery, slate slopes.

It’s here that you will pass beneath the river’s great blot on the landscape, the contruction site of the mindless Mosel Bridge, intended to open up Frankfurt-Hahn airport. Regional transport policy, and party-politics, obviously take precedence over a World Heritage vineyard in the minds of Germany’s politicians. Yet despite the bridge, the river here is incontestably beautiful beyond words. You ride on through Losnich, following yet another sharp bend in the river, until you eventually reach Trarbach (with its Buddhist Museum), and cross the old fortified bridge into Traben on the opposite bank.

You can cycle onwards if you so wish. Eventually you’ll get to the Rhine at Koblenz. We took the option of lunch in a small restaurant down near the river by Traben, before returning to Bernkastel on the other side of the Mosel. The cycle route on the western bank is not quite as attractive, nor traffic free, as the other side of the river, but, with a few detours into the vines and a bit of sniffing out a route, it does afford another perspective on the river. The last part of the route back into Bernkastel, via Kues, is very gentle and quiet.

Although you can get a free cycling map of the Mosel from all the local Tourist Offices, I’d try to get hold of the green Geomap 1:50,000 Moseltal map (number 44105, Vulkaneifel-Moseleifel in the Wander-und Freizeitkarte Series, Schweich bis Winningen). The added detail is worth it.

Posted in Loire, Mosel, Neusiedlersee, Wachau, Wine, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments