Before we head into the first part of my monthly article covering the most interesting wines we drank at home over the past weeks, I want to take you on a short diversion. I published an article on Swiss Wines on 23 June, which seemed to go down very well. In that article I made a brief reference to Italy’s tiniest wine region, which nestles below the Grand Saint-Bernard Pass, or the other side of the Mont Blanc Tunnel if you prefer the swifter but less scenic route.
I had it in mind to write an article about Val d’Aosta. Okay, production is tiny and little is exported. Nevertheless, quite a few Aostan wines are available on the UK market, and for good reason. Some of these are truly hidden gems, whether from grape varieties you’ve never heard of or from the international varieties. Even the wines from this tiny region’s several co-operatives can be unique.
I realised, when thinking about this, that I’d written an article four years ago, back in 2016, and that if I wrote about Val d’Aosta (or Valle d’Aoste as the French-speaking winemakers sometimes prefer in this bi-lingual part of Italy) I would only be more or less repeating what I’d written back then. Especially as, despite visiting the region on a number of occasions, I’ve not been back in the past four or five years.
So rather than write something which merely repeats what I said back then, I’m including a link here to that article from June 2016. If you enjoyed my sweep around Switzerland you might enjoy reading about this Italian Alpine Region, which seems to have connections, viticulturally, with Switzerland, Alpine France and Piemonte to its south. Of course things may have changed a little in the detail in four years, but I think it will whet the appetite. It’s not too long. Living as I do close to beautiful hills, I nevertheless miss real mountains, something I think may be evident from my recent writing.
Right, back to recent wines, from June. The two-part format continues, but there’s a small difference you’ll notice in the wines drunk. I had to move more than two-hundred bottles in order to have some electrical work done, and this gave me access to wines which I’d been neglecting because they were difficult to get to. I suppose you’d say they come from the more “classical” part of my cellar. A few of them crop up here among one distinctly non-classical Jura, a Champagne, one Aussie, one Austrian, two Burgundies, an English still wine and a classic Mosel.
“PIF”, AMÉLIE VUILLET & SÉBASTIEN JACQUES (Jura, France)
This wine is a Vin de France, hence no vintage, but this cuvée was made with 2018 fruit grown at Montigny-les-Arsures, just up the road from Arbois (where Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot have their winery). Amélie and Sébastien’s base is over at Petit Molamboz, near Vadans (off the road from Arbois to Dôle). It’s a blend of mostly Poulsard with some Gamay, Pinot Noir and Trousseau, grown on limestone and clay, with the vines being around fifty years old and worked by horse.
Vinification involves a one month skin maceration without pumping over, just ensuring the cap is wet. Following fermentation the grapes are gently pressed and the juice spends a year in tank before bottling, no fining nor filtration, and no added SO2. We get a spicy mix of red and dark fruits in a fairly dark coloured wine (for one dominated by Poulsard), and there’s some dissolved CO2 to add further lift. It’s very good indeed. This pair are emerging stars, only hampered by their currently tiny vignoble of (I believe) less than a hectare.
I picked this bottle up from the Arbois’ natural wine shop, Les Jardins de St-Vincent, but Tutto Wines imports it into the UK.
CHAMPAGNE BÉRÊCHE BRUT RÉSERVE VIEILLES VIGNES CUVÉE NON-FILTRÉ (Champagne, France)
I’ve been gently told off for having declared favourites, and I can see the logic, especially when I’m visiting a range of producers in a region. But perhaps Champagne is the one French wine where I am more than happy to nail my colours to the mast. I don’t get to visit Bérêche as much as I’d like to these days, and when I do I don’t buy nearly as much wine as I wish I could afford. Thankfully, although the range is not small here, including some of what for me are the finest still red bottlings available in the region, the entry level Brut Réserve is a pretty good place to start.
The Bérêche brothers are based at Le Craon de Ludes, with a winery right on the crest of the Montagne de Reims, but they have vines on the Montagne, on the Marne below, and even further south. This cuvée is a blend, in fairly even proportions, of all three major Champagne varieties, from all of the domaine’s 9.5 hectares. It was made in this case from a 2015 base which was disgorged in September 2017. If you want more detail, it’s a blend of wines aged both in barrel and cuve, and using 35% of reserves. It did not undergo malo.
There’s amazing depth here for a “non-vintage” bottle, from a grower. The high level of reserves sees to that, but so does the fruit quality from this lowest of low intervention producers. What leaps out for me are red fruits, salinity and vinosity. By the latter, I mean that it is a wine, not a mere “fizz”, and as such it goes well at the table. This is perhaps unusual with a wine at this level.
It does have bags of freshness, and whilst dosage is deliberately set at 7g/l, high for Bérêche but not for most NV cuvées, it does taste quite dry. The lack of malolactic perhaps retains the acidity to offset any residual dosage element? Note that this cuvée is unfiltered. It adds texture, but it’s not grainy. You will be hard pushed to find a better Grower NV. But be careful not to drink it on release. It needs six months, a year would be better. As you can see, I gave it longer and it’s lovely right now.
This bottle was purchased at the domaine, but Bérêche is thankfully quite widely available in the UK, certainly in London. Retail is usually around £40, but the extremely high quality still makes this remarkably good value.
WHITE #3 2017, URBAN WINERY PROJECT, VINTELOPER (South Australia)
Vinteloper’s Urban Winery Project is special. Every harvest they occupy a pop-up space in a city and invite ordinary people to get involved in the winemaking process, foot-treading grapes and everything. In 2017 it was Sydney’s turn, in collaboration with Three Blue Ducks Canteen in Rosebery.
The grapes, of course, come from the Adelaide Hills, over in South Australia. In this case the blend is a little over half Pinot Gris, just less than 40% Gewurztraminer, and a 9% dash of Riesling. It was foot trodden by Tani Wilson. The two main varieties were given skin contact for 14 days during fermentation, and the Riesling was fermented clean, but saw ten months in oak.
In some ways you’d say this wine is relatively simple, but it sneaks up on you. The aromatics are quite beautiful, tropical at first, but then a subtle floral element invades the bouquet, making it more gentle than the initial fruit hit. The palate certainly has structure and texture as you’d expect from the skin contact, but the citrus stoniness is nicely balanced. Everyone loves the label, but that should not detract from a lovely wine. Vinteloper was extremely hard hit by the bush fires last year. I’d plead with everyone to support them. They make very good wines, so it shouldn’t be hard.
This was purchased from Ten Green Bottles in Brighton, which usually stocks two or three Vinteloper wines. The UK importer is Graft Wine (formerly Red Squirrel).
Appropriately the Bottle Brush was in bloom for this one
SPITZER HOCHRAIN RIESLING SMARAGD 2007, FRANZ HIRTZBERGER (Wachau, Austria)
I drink plenty of Austrian wine, but you don’t often see me writing about a Wachau producer. Hirtzberger is one of the classical Wachau names, indeed one of the finest, and this famous vineyard is at Spitz, on the left bank of the Danube, somewhere close to half way between Melk and Krems. The Hirtzberger family have been a winemaking name here for many centuries, although they only moved to Spitz in 1897! Franz Junior now runs the Domaine, but his father, Franz Senior, was the founder of the Vinea Wachau grouping of producers which helped establish Wachau’s modern wines on the international stage.
The Hochrain hill is just down river from Spitz, towards Wösendorf. I wish I could locate one of my photos of this vineyard. Its tightly terraced slope looks quite spectacular as the sunlight shines on it leaving the side valleys in late afternoon shadow. Such a photo would demonstrate its “grand cru” quality. “Smaragd” is the top Wachau designation for a richer, perhaps bigger, style of wine, placed above Federspiel in quality terms, although of course purchasing a wine like this is pointless unless allowed to age properly. Here we have richness, evidenced by 13.5% abv, and thirteen years of bottle age.
This is, for want of repeating, a classic Wachau Riesling. Despite the age, and despite the alcohol, this is still pure minerals with lime cordial. Dry, though rich, it is complex yet it has not lost its freshness. We are really talking length here. So satisfying. A superb bottle, which I only wish I’d been able to share with some fellow lovers of Austrian wine. But you have to drink them some time.
The origins of this bottle are, I’m afraid, lost in the mists of time. Clark Foyster does import this in more recent vintages, for UK readers.
Before leaving Spitz, I can recommend it as a stop on the Wachau Cycle Trail. You can catch a train from Vienna to Krems, and there’s a cycle hire shop about five minutes from the station (it may be best to book bike hire, as is common in Austria, but you can do a little research).
Follow the left (north) bank of the Danube westward, past Unterloiben, where Weingut Emerich Knoll has a very good Heuriger (for those lacking fitness or requiring a post-breakfast bottle), before perhaps breaking the journey at Dürnstein. Richard I of England was imprisoned by Duke Leopold in the castle perched high above the village here in 1192, for ransom on his way home from the Third Crusade. This village is one of the places where you can purchase the wonderful Wachau apricots (and jam) for which the river rivals Switzerland’s Valais. Continue via Weißenkirchen to Spitz and you should arrive in good time for lunch.
You will probably, in fact, have time to visit the excellent wine shop, Föhringer, down by the jetty on the river before you eat. Upstairs you’ll find an astonishing treasure trove of Wachau wines, and bottles from further afield. We recommend a hearty lunch outside the Gasthaus Prankl, just stone’s throw further southwest, below Spitz’s castle and also on the river. A climb up to the castle is just enough to walk off lunch and affords some lovely views, but is not too far to utterly destroy you (depending on consumption) for the ride back to Krems (or onwards to Melk for the adventurous).
As you return to Krems, take a slow turn around the suburb of Stein-an-der-Donnau, which has some very old houses, or head across the river to Mautern to visit Nikolaihof, the region’s first producer (indeed one of the first in the world) to turn to biodynamics. Their winery and tavern, near the Mauterner Brücke, is quite famous for its well aged Rieslings. There’s an alternative route along the right bank of the Danube. What it lacks in pretty villages it makes up for in views of the vines, often spectacular, and the ruins of Dürnstein’s almost a thousand year old Castle and painted church.
There’s an excellent map of the Danube Cycle Trail, covering broadly the route from Krems to Melk and beyond, and the nearby World Heritage Trail, which you might be able to get hold of by contacting the Austrian Tourist Office.
BOURGOGNE ROUGE 2006, DOMAINE ROULOT (Burgundy, France)
Jean-Marc Roulot was heading for a career as an actor, but he chose instead to return to run the family domaine in Meursault. It’s lucky he did. With a singular, perhaps even identifiable, style of winemaking, he has turned this family domaine into one of the very finest on the Côte de Beaune.
When I say “identifiable” I’m really talking of the white wines, which at every level show purity of both fruit and line in abundance. Each wine is imbued with a rapier-like thrust of acidity, by which I mean it’s pointy at the end but elegant. Even the Bourgogne Blanc is astonishing at Roulot, very ageworthy, and could once have vied for the best value white in the region until prices went AWOL.
However, this wine is, you will note, the Bourgogne Rouge. It’s amazing how many people, on seeing a photo of this wine on Instagram, said that they’d never drunk a red Roulot. They tend to say the same thing about Coche-Dury, and even occasionally Lafon (see below). But knowing me as you do, I’m always the one to explore the less well-trodden routes, and surely Jean-Marc Roulot can’t fail to make brilliant reds if his white wine is that good?
In the case of the 2006 vintage, I don’t think many of the big name writers rated it all that highly. It did, after all, follow 2005. They also asserted that in 2006 the reds were better in Nuits than in Beaune, but then again, when do they not say that? This is a generally held belief, but I happen to have drunk a lot of wines like Jadot’s “Ursules”, or a string of fine Volnays. Different wines but with fantastic appeal (the Beaune Premiers have long been prejudicially under rated). There are always exceptions. If Roulot’s Bourgogne Blanc invariably lasts so well, why not the red? I have seen one tasting note from release which said drink this wine by 2012.
To be honest I didn’t have high hopes but I was very pleasantly surprised. Classic Burgundy, cherry-coloured with ripe cherry scents dominating. There’s even a little structure still. It’s elegant, but in so many ways, very Roulot…and extremely enjoyable.
Again, source unknown for this, I’m afraid.
VOLNAY 2006, DOMAINE DES COMTES LAFON (Burgundy, France)
Dominique Lafon is, of course, another Meursault-based producer who is far better known for his white wines, but of course many who know Lafon will certainly seek out the reds as well. This cuvée is from the younger vines in Volnay Santenots-du-Millieu. It’s very different to the Roulot, probably on account of vine age more than site. The dominant note here would be savoury, with some earthiness and mushroom. There’s a little structure. It strangely reminded me of an aged Rioja, red fruits and vanilla. Of course it has seen oak, but it’s not quite what I expected.
If you accept that the bouquet of Red Burgundy is at the very least 50% of the experience, then you will find this more promising. That bouquet did take a few minutes to evolve, but when it did, and was able to settle down, it became something ethereal and haunting, which really is exactly what I’m looking for. This may be past its peak but not so much as to fail to give pleasure, though that pleasure was unquestionably enhanced by the bouquet. Perhaps the man or woman who drinks aged Red Burgundy every week would scoff, but I’m sure many would find the experience of this wine fascinating. Indeed, some of my most soulful reds from the region have come from even less exalted producers and from equally not exalted vintages.
I’m as unsure of the provenance of this wine as I am the previous wine, but it might have been The Sampler in Islington? Or potentially the Berry Bros outlet at Basingstoke? I’ve had it a long time so don’t quote me.
“A FERMAMENT” SAUVIGNON BLANC 2018, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, UK)
This is an English Sauvignon Blanc perhaps like no other, from Tim Phillips at Pennington, near Lymington in Hampshire. This is, I think, only the second Sauvignon Blanc he’s released since 2013, because Tim is too much of a perfectionist to release anything which is not “perfect”. The Sauvignon Blanc from his walled Clos, actually the walled garden to a large Victorian house (which he doesn’t own) is macerated on skins and is blended, in 2018, with a little Chardonnay to round it out.
There’s definitely some pure varietal Sauvignon Blanc character, pert gooseberry, especially, but it is a very individual expression of the grape. It’s not like any SB you’ve tried before, well maybe with a very small nod to some examples of Sancerre. Its freshness is perhaps very English, but the mineral tension is universal. It’s a long way from most NZSB, though perhaps there are two or three similar examples there too, at least with regard to the minerality.
What I will say is that the 2018 is worth ageing further. I tried a bottle because I managed to prise three out of Tim himself. Some retailers are limiting this to one per customer. The best retail price I’ve seen is £26 (at The Solent Cellar). Their web site today shows six bottles, if it is up-to-date. Les Caves de Pyrene take what they can get so they are another source worth a call.
After a few years when Tim refused to release it, the news from his web site is that the 2019 is looking good, and will hopefully be bottled soon. Three vintages of Sauvignon Blanc in a row, almost unheard of from a man who treats all his vintages as if he were declaring a Port Vintage in Vila Nova de Gaia.
BERNKASTELER BADSTUBE RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2008, JJ PRÜM (Mosel, Germany)
We finish with another classic from a dusty corner, and when we speak of classic Mosel there is perhaps no more apt name on the label than this one. There have been Prüms in Wehlen since the twelfth century. This particular estate was founded by Johann Joseph in 1911. Many readers may have met JJ’s grandson, Dr Manfred Prüm, who along with Dr Carl von Schubert of Maximin Grünhaus (Ruwer), I have always considered the two great gentlemen of German wine. Dr Manfred’s daughter, Katharina, is most likely to be the face of the estate you will meet today.
I am convinced that most JJ Prüm gets opened far too young, and at twelve years old this wine is by no means remotely old. There is a perceived hierarchy of sites for those connoisseurs of the domaine, but for me I’m less worried, nor am I really prepared to pay the prices for the finest “auction” wines from here when the general estate releases are so fine.
We know that 2008 was a vintage of high acidities in general terms, one generally less favoured than the 2007 which preceded it. It has that in common with the 2006 Burgundies (above) which followed the way more lauded (rightly so, of course) 2005s. But if you plan to age a wine acidity is a positive, just so long as you’ve chosen a wine which will indeed age well.
Here, we have one. It opens with tiny prickles of CO2 on the tip and front of the tongue. The bouquet is essence of mellow, ageing, Riesling, but the lime citrus and white flowers are soon joined by the added gentle richness of white peach. The palate is fruity but also restrained. There’s a mineral element, perhaps equally, peach stone. It is, of course, medium dry, but there’s no overwhelming loss of balancing acidity because it had so much to begin with.
What interests me is that on Purple Pages Jancis Robinson does not include JJ Prüm in her list of “successful” producers in this vintage. I have no idea why? Neal Martin was more positive, giving this wine a score of 93 points after release, in 2010. At well over a decade old I reckon this wine has a good four-to-five years left before it begins noticeably to descend the slope. I’m not saying I know more about the Mosel than my betters, but hey, want to try a gorgeous near mature Mosel Riesling…there’s more like this chez-moi.
In this case I do remember where I bought this…The Sampler (well, 95% sure).
Part 2 will follow shortly.