Nebbiolo Day 2019

On 5th March I spent the day at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London, at Walter Speller‘s second Nebbiolo Day, the first being in 2017. Imagine, 92 Nebbiolo producers showing more than 500 Nebbiolo wines from 18 denominations in Northern Italy. That’s a lot of exciting wines, if equally an awesome lot of tannin.

How many of us really know Nebbiolo? For many years, to those it meant something to, it meant Barolo and Barbaresco, situated either side of Alba, east of Turin, in Italy’s Piemonte Region. A few vinous adventurers will have come across, or even sought out, Nebbiolos from other regions, especially from Valtellina, where the variety is known locally as Chiavennasca, or perhaps from Aosta’s Donnaz. There’s a fair bit of Nebbiolo grown in wider Piemonte, of course, which we shall come to soon, but pretty much the only place you will come across a reasonable number of examples of the variety outside of Italy would be Australia, and there one might suggest that top quality only comes from a handful of producers.

There’s no doubt that in recent years, quite recently as a matter of fact, the two famous “B”s of Barolo and Barbaresco have finally become fashionable, and (more ominously) collectable. With that, prices have risen, dramatically in many cases. This has coincided with two things. First, the end of the so-called (and to a degree wine media-hyped) war between the barrique-loving modernists, and the so-called traditionalists, who continued to rely on large old oak. Most people would call it a draw, and it is totally pointless repeating the tired old stories. The producers will only yawn.

Secondly, a great deal has been achieved in mapping the vineyards, and Barolo in particular, is fully mapped (a prodigious task) with official crus. After realising that Nebbiolo makes wines of haunting scents and subtle flavours, the mapping project has drawn Barolo in particular to the attention of lovers of Burgundy. They can see at least some similarities and, importantly perhaps, more ageable relative bargains, from micro-terroirs not dissimilar to those on the Côte d’Or.

The beauty of having such an erudite and well-respected organiser is the quality and depth of exhibitors, from top estates to lesser known producers from lesser known regions. In this article I shall cover the wines of just a few more than a dozen producers out of those ninety-two. This is still a good number of wines and it was certainly necessary to wash away the tannin with a beer at the end of the afternoon.

As with my Raw articles, I’m only intending to give a snapshot, to go with what you may have already read elsewhere. And you will also note that I do not remotely focus on Barolo and Barbaresco exclusively, including here wines from less fashionable regions. That is wholly intentional. One of the joys of Nebbiolo is that you can still find relatively inexpensive wines, certainly wines of good value, elsewhere in Northern Italy.

SANDRO FAY (Valtellina)

My favourite Valtellina producer (no points for guessing) was not at the tasting, but I did taste the wines of two of the best known. Sandro Fay began on a small scale in the early 1970s, growing his vineyard to 15 hectares today. Vines grow on a mix of sand, silt and granite at high altitude (between 350 to 900 metres) in the mountain valley which spreads east and west of Sondrio. The vineyards are on steep terraces rising above the River Adda, and are as hard to work as any in Europe.

Sandro Fay and his sons like to focus on individual cru wines. Of the four wines on show it is perhaps helpful to look at two different styles. At the region’s entry level is Valtellina Rosso DOC, but we will begin with a wine from the smaller, and generally higher quality, “Superiore” sub-region (two enclaves, one being central and one in the east of the wider Valtellina Region), which is DOCG.

Valtellina Superiore “Valgella Costa Bassa” 2016 is pale-ish, fresh, and with terrific varietal character but with the addition of a touch of youthful tannin and 13% abv. It’s described as the estate’s “classic” wine. It comes from the Valgella sub-zone, and specifically the Costa Bassa vineyard. It is fermented in stainless steel and then ages for twelve months in oak casks.

Sforzato di Valtellina “Ronco del Picchio” 2014 is at the other end of the spectrum.  Sforzato (aka Sfursat) is a dried-grape Nebbiolo wine. Grapes are dried for around three months on racks, during which time they shrivel and lose a good 40% of their weight. There is no doubt that this method can make very fine wines, almost certainly Italy’s most interesting reds in this style, but at the same time you have to watch the alcohol. This one, for example, weighs in at 15%.

It has very big legs and is a little darker in colour than the “Superiore”. It is still pretty tannic after just over four years from harvest, during which it spent a year in a mix of 25 hectolitre and 500 litre oak. Although the wine is undoubtedly big, it is unquestionably classy, and a style everyone ought to try. It comes from a tiny 2.5 hectare vineyard at 750 metres, in the commune of Teglio. The altitude makes this a true mountain wine, imparting a freshness along with its rugged power.

Passione Vino is the UK agent.

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NINO NEGRI (Valtellina)

This old estate was founded in 1897, but is now part of the large Gruppo Italiano Vini (which is also the UK importer), and is run by Danilo Drocco. I’ve drunk many Nino Negri wines over the years. Their output covers all of the region’s Crus (Valgella, Mazèr, Inferno, Sassella and Grumello), and I will begin with the one I’ve drunk by far the most times, one I have a bit of affection for as a result.

Valtellina Superiore DOCG Mazèr 2015 is the latest vintage of the first Valtellina wine I ever bought, in Venice around twenty-or-so years ago. 100% Nebbiolo, it is savoury with a bitter touch, very structured at this stage, but with nicely balanced fresh acids which, along with the smooth fruit, suggest it will be at least approachable before too long, if better kept. It is almost certainly my favourite wine from this estate, although, of course, it is not their most famous.

That accolade is reserved for Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG “Sfursat 5 Stelle” 2015. For me, this is a difficult wine. Unquestionably a wine of genuine world class, but equally a wine with alcohol (16% abv), body, power and structure which makes it suitable only for the most robust dishes, perhaps wild mountain game.

The colour is once again dark, although there’s a lovely brick edge. The bouquet is deep within a long tunnel of scents, with fruit, but more complex aromas of mocha, spices, herbs, and even treacle/molasses. The key is, as perhaps with Madiran or traditional Sagrantino, very long ageing indeed.

CANTINA DEI PRODUTTORI DI CAREMA (Carema)

Carema is a DOC region few Nebbiolo lovers will know. It sits in the far northwest of Piemonte, and Carema’s vines border the Valle D’Aosta’s best Nebbiolo at Donnaz. Carema is often lumped together with Ghemme and Gattinara whenever writers think to mention it, although there are many even less well known DOCs in Alto Piemonte. Nebbiolo here is sometimes called Picutener by the older locals. There is only one private estate of note, but the co-operative has a very good reputation for those in the know.

Carema (there’s also a Riserva designation) requires two years of ageing. This is because, contrary to what you might think, these wines are not merely some lighter style of Nebbiolo, but wines that age remarkably well in bottle. The first twelve months must be in wood, which is usually a mix of oak and chestnut, and a further year in bottle makes the wine approachable.

Carema DOC Classico 2015 is a pale wine, an attractive colour between brick and orange. The bouquet has a haunting quality, of fruit and flowers with a little spice. The palate has what I call a fruity acidity, where the acids are fruit acids rather than something tacked on and separate. It finishes with a textured dryness, but you could drink this with food now, certainly. It will age as well. I can’t give you a price for this (Astrum want me to login to see the prices), but I liked it and I’m pretty sure it’s not expensive.

Astrum Wines is the importer.

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FRANCESCO BRIGATTI (Colline Novaresi and Ghemme)

The Novaresi Hills DOC and Ghemme DOCG are neighbours in Eastern Piemonte, somewhat south of Lake Maggiore. Pre-phylloxera these wines had a genuine fame, at least in the regional capital, Turin. Now Ghemme has shrunk to a mere 26 hectares. The main differences between the two wines are in ageing and grape varieties. Colline Novaresi is the overarching DOC where ageing requirements are shorter, and where the vartieties Uva Rara (aka Bonarda) and Vespolina are permitted.

Francesco’s grandfather started this small domaine in 1900 and Francesco makes six reds and one white. He was showing three reds, two Novaresi wines and one Ghemme.

Colline Novaresi DOC Nebbiolo “Mötziflon” 2015 comes from one of the first hillside sites planted by Francesco’s grandfather. It is in fact 85% Nebbiolo with 10% Vespolina and 5% Uva Rara/Bonarda. It is aged in 21 hectolitre Slavonian oak casks for 20 months. There is a touch of hardness to it, and these wines are notorious for needing a bit of time, but there was something promising about it.

Colline Novaresi DOC Nebbiolo “Mötfrei” 2015 is from a different hill, and shows good differentiation of the terroirs. This wine, 100% Nebbiolo in this instance, spent 18 months in medium-sized, French oak tonneaux, and it seemed a gentler wine with a good, vibrant colour, more elegance and a touch of spice.

Ghemme DOCG “Oltre Il Bosco” 2013 is 100% Nebbiolo which saw 24 months in used oak. The bouquet is more what you’d expect from a traditional Nebbiolo, with red fruits and violets on the nose, and a good structure with a bit of spice on the palate. More savoury. It has 13% abv, and is a wine to age like a Barbaresco. It feels a bit more old fashioned, but none the worse for that.

No one is currently importing Brigatti.

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PODERE AI VALLONI (Colline Novaresi and Boca)

Boca is another old Piemontese DOC, which lies on the northern border of the Colline Novaresi DOC, but today there are less than ten hectares within the appellation. Valloni has vineyards sited on the edge of the Monte Fenera Natural Park, and produces around 10,000 bottles per year from both DOCs. I would say that personally I found the wine from Boca to be more interesting than the Novaresi wines (as was the case with Brigatti to a degree).

Boca DOC “Vigna Cristiana” 2011 is a nicely aged version. The grape composition here is just 70% Nebbiolo with 20% Vespolina and 10% Uva Rara. It is aged for a significant three years in large old wood plus a further year in bottle before release. Garnet colour, it is floral and spicy, even smoky on the nose. The palate shows red fruit under a rich and savoury tannic structure.

Boca DOC “Vigna Christiana” 2010 with an extra year of age (and, I’m guessing, perhaps the better vintage) had lovely peppery spice coming through (apparently from the Vespolina). I thought this was a nicely rounded, complete, wine. The vines are grown at 450 metres, perhaps explaining the freshness, and the fact that it has a beautifully balanced alcohol level of just 12.5%. Quite delicious, I thought.

FortyFive10° imports.

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VALLANA (Boca and Gattinara)

Vallana is famous in the UK for its Spanna, which at one time was available in quite old vintages, amazing value wines back in the 1980s/1990s. The estate goes back much further, to the mid-18th century. The vineyards here are not unlike Barolo’s, with steep hills and a cooler climate, but the strata and soils are largely volcanic, this zone being within the large Valsesia super-volcano, which (I didn’t know this) is a UNESCO-protected geopark.

I began by tasting an exciting sparkling wine, a VSQ Rosato. This is made from Spanna must which when disgorged had a natural 9g/litre of residual sugar, so no extra dosage was added. It had seen 13 months on lees and the disgorging was only about three weeks before I tasted it, yet it was just very good. Very fruity, but it tasted fairly dry, the acids balancing the sugar. It hasn’t yet been commercially released, and I’m not sure whether Vallana’s UK importer, Fields, Morris and Verdin, will list it, but it is well worth trying if you see it. Great fun for summer, and how can you not try a sparkling Nebbiolo, even if it is a pink one?

Of the still red wines, I did enjoy the Colline Novaresi DOC Spanna 2015, but I did feel it really must have a bit more bottle age. This was reinforced when tasting Gattinara DOCG 2009, which felt a step up. It’s a bright wine which was fermented in cement tanks before seeing two years in large old oak. 100% Nebbiolo, it has a certain austerity, and even perhaps some Patrician qualities normally associated with Barolo. The bouquet is more savoury than fruity, and it’s sort of old fashioned, but once again, that is not a criticism. I like the fact that we can still find wines which have not been over-modernised. It does also need a bit more age but it’s getting there.

NERVI (Gattinara)

This is a major “new” producer in terms of quality in the whole of Alto Piemonte. Roberto Conterno (of Giacomo Conterno) has purchased this already promising estate (one which was instrumental in obtaining the original DOC for Gattinara in 1967), with vines on those steep Gattinara hillsides, only accessible with the right type of vehicle. and a pair of stout boots.

The volcanic soils here (see under Vallana, above) are rich in iron, manganese, zinc and copper, with clay and an absence of chalk. This means acidic soils, well suited to Nebbiolo. The estate is not small, currently having 28 ha planted. Three wines were shown.

Gattinara DOCG 2015 is a blend of Roberto’s Molsino and Vigna Valferana sites, which importer Corney & Barrow describes, aptly, as like a Burgundian blend of village wine with premier cru. Red fruits hit the high notes here, deliciously so, plus there’s a savoury note and a touch of salinity. There is a little tannin as well, but the exuberant fruit does a good job of masking it. This wine is significantly cheaper than the next two (£225/6 IB as opposed to £395/6 for the other two), so represents special value, and earlier drinking.

Gattinara DOCG “Vigna Valferana” 2014 is a step up, though the previous wine is a true winner on innate drinkability. The plump fruit is defined by a tannic frame, yet there’s once more a savoury note which develops strongly as you taste. This could easily be broached now with food, but it would be a shame to do so.

We end with another step up the quality ladder, Gattinara DOCG “Vigna Molsino” 2014 with vines sited in a natural, south-facing, amphitheatre. This is distinctively cherry-fruited, maybe slightly more tannic, certainly savoury again (peppery?). For me, this will keep longer than the “Valferana”, certainly maturing in perhaps a decade, maybe longer.

This is one of those occasions when you try something new and are genuinely wowed. It happened, I remember, when I first tasted the wines of Guido Rivella at a Ultravino tasting last summer, and it happened here. Corney & Barrow are both lucky and astute in being able to represent these wines in the UK.

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CASCINA VAL DEL PRETE (Roero)

This producer is represented by the abovementioned Ultravino, whose list I can strongly recommend. Roero is much closer to Nebbiolo’s heartland than the previously covered regions, and instead of being in Alto Piemonte, is instead usually described as being in Southern Piemonte. Walter Speller calls Roero “the novice’s introduction to Nebbiolo par excellence”. It is also possibly the best place for price-to-quality ratio for the variety.

There are a surprising number of very good producers here, though they are usually with small importers in the UK. Roero has around 200 ha of Nebbiolo, and a lot of the white variety, Arneis (often very good). Soils in general are far more sandy than the more famous regions to the south and southeast. This means the wines are often a bit less long-lived, recognised in ageing requirements of (for the normale) two years, of which only a minimum of six months needs to be in wood. Riservas require an extra year. Since 2017, like Barolo, all of the Roero vineyards have been mapped and legally delimited.

Val del Prete is now under the guidance of father and son Mario and Giovanni Roagna (yes, cousins of Luca, I think). They claim to make “hippy wines”. I’m not sure what they mean? They are organic, and are fairly critical of the DOCG, but they do work within it.

Roero DOCG “Bricco Medica” 2016 is a hilltop site on limestone and red clay (unusual for Roero, having mentioned the sand above). Fermentation is in concrete tank and then ageing is in concrete for ten months before transfer to very old oak for the remainder of the élèvage. There is tannin here, but nothing harsh or hard. You can tell from this wine that Roero is a little bit different…and this is quite delicious.

Roero DOCG “Vigna del Lino” 2015 is a cuvée named after Mario’s grandfather who planted the vineyard only in 1977. Fermentation is in stainless steel this time, with ageing for 16 months in old barrique, then six months in bottle before release. The colour is brighter, and both bouquet and palate show more savouriness. The clear difference with the “Medica” is not just down the the winemaking, but also because this vineyard has that Roero sand, and a southwest exposure (afternoon and evening sun). It’s a wine which has a nice complexity building.

Roero DOCG Riserva 2015 is a selection of the best grapes from the very top of the hill, those vines which get the most sun. That means riper fruit that can take more oak, so after fermentation in stainless steel, it sees 24 months in a mix of 2nd and 3rd passage barriques (no new oak). You get pronounced legs, and a big bouquet with fruit intensity. The palate has the fruit too, fruit to match the tannic structure. It has an austerity in youth that the two previous wines don’t have, but it is built for a longer haul.

The “Lino” represents very good value…the 2013 was only £85/6 IB, and I don’t suppose the price for the 2015 has risen enough to make me change that assessment. Quite a long time ago a Danish importer of Piemontese wines introduced me to Roero and its producers, and I bought a few. I kind of wish I’d continued rather than taking my eye off the ball, looking elsewhere. But the value I found then seems to still be there if you are looking for earlier drinking Nebbiolo of increasingly good quality. Roero is not just for novices.

SOTTIMANO (Barbaresco)

This well known Barbaresco producer is based in the village of Neive, at the top of the southeastern arm of the DOCG. They farm a number of prime sites around the village and in most lists of the DOCG’s top producers you will find the name Sottimano.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 represents an interesting DOC. Because the Langhe Hills are associated with Barolo in the minds of many consumers, it gets a relatively easy ride in terms of name association, which can be misleading. It is often the case that DOCGs like Roero are much better value. But with a top producer you get a wine made from young vines, only around 15 years of age, but from a very top site. In this case it is the Basarin vineyard, a high altitude cru on the border between Neive and Treiso, and also on the southern border of the appellation. It has a lightness, and a touch of licorice. Quite classy, it sees around 16 months in oak.

Barbaresco DOC Pajorè 2015 is the first of the crus. It is closer to Treiso than Neive and the vines here are quite old, up to seventy years. The wine undergoes a 25-day maceration on skins and, after fermentation, is aged in French oak (15% new), coopered by François Frères, for 24 months (12 months of that on fine lees). It’s tannic and firm now, even slightly dusty, but the fruit is quite silky and the wine is impressive.

Barbaresco DOCG Cottà 2012 is made no differently to Pajorè, and the vines are of a similar age, but the nose here is more muted/backward and the tannins are firmer. It seems very rich in extract, dense and chewy, despite being three years older, suggesting good ageing potential.

Barbaresco DOCG Fausoni 2012 is also made the same way. The tiny vineyard is right outside Neive and indeed is so small that it doesn’t appear on some of the more cursory maps of Barbaresco. The vines are a little younger (45-50 years old) and the bouquet is a lovely classic blend of florality and concentrated fruit. It is firm of structure, yet also elegant.

Barbaresco DOCG Pajorè 2012. This is the same site as the first Barbaresco above, but with an extra three years in bottle. It is a little pale, beautifully so, and the floral element of the bouquet has developed nicely. At 14.5% abv it does show heft in the tannic structure, but it is a classic top notch Barbaresco.

Barbaresco has a shorter ageing requirement than Barolo before release, but it is very much down to producer as to how long to age the wines after that. In the case of Sottimano I think probably longer rather than shorter. Classic wines to rival Barolo if you follow that advice.

Lea & Sandeman import for the UK.

GD VAJRA (Barolo)

This is one of the best known producers of Barolo, but making wines which always represent such good value. I, like many others, have drunk many bottles of their Barolo “Albe” over the years, and it is also true that Giuseppe Vaira (below, and he seems to prefer that spelling) is one of the friendliest and warmest men in the Barolo DOCG. The company was established by Aldo Vajra in 1972 and named after his father, Giuseppe Dominico. It has grown to a large 60 hectares, but only ten hectares are within the Barolo DOCG.

Barolo DOCG “Albe” 2015 is the current vintage of that wine I cut my teeth on all those years ago, via UK importer Liberty Wines. The wine, from three sites within the Barolo commune, with its bright label (for Barolo, where the labels are generally pretty conservative), sees a temperature controlled fermentation (with a 20-day maceration) before malo in a mix of 25-to-50 hectolitre Slavonian oak. This was a sample as the 2015 is, of course, not yet released (it remains in oak for 42 months before bottling). It has a richness, and the approachability of every vintage of this wine, and it remains one of Barolo’s great values.

Barolo “Bricco delle Viole” 2015 comes from a 4.8 ha vineyard located in the commune of Barolo, between 380-450 metres altitude where the vines average 60 years old. Fermentation is standard, if prolonged, in stainless steel for around 40 days, after which the wine is aged in Slavonian oak for four years. The fruit is darker than Albe, with cherry too, and a hint of mint leaf in the high notes. The altitude of the vines, and the consequently longer ripening, help establish greater complexity. The tannins are quite silky, but this does need to be kept.

Barolo Luigi Baudana “Baudana” 2015 is the first of two Luigi Baudana single vineyard wines here. Luigi and Fiorina Baudana created a highly reputed but tiny (2.4 ha) Serralunga d’Alba estate over thirty years ago, but they brought in the Vajra family to run it in 2009. The wines retain an artisanal quality and are distinctive.

The Baudana cru (and Cerretta which follows) is around a kilometre north of Serralunga. It’s a lovely wine showing some early development, softer than Vajra’s Viole above. The soils here are largely marls, which give the wine these distinctive qualities. Production is tiny, but I was very taken with this.

Barolo Luigi Baudana “Cerretta” 2015 is actually remarkably different, despite the two vineyards being neighbours. It has a lovely floral bouquet, yet the palate has a bit more structure, even a touch of austerity, which will serve it well as it ages. There’s a lot of latent depth, you sense. It probably needs more than a decade, whereas the Baudana might be worth trying a little sooner.

Liberty Wines imports the GD Vajra wines into the UK.

ARNALDO RIVERA (Castiglione Falletto)

Arnaldo Rivera was a primary school teacher who both went on to be Mayor of Castiglione Falletto, and, in 1958, founded the Terre di Barolo co-operative. The Arnaldo Rivera Winery today has contracts to buy grapes from local Castiglione growers and others around the region. The wines have nice, sparse and modern labels, and the wines themselves seem to have an equally modern approachability.

Barolo “Undicicomuni” 2015 is the only wine here with a significant (50k bottles) production. It is, self-evidently, a blend from eleven different Barolo communes. After fermentation this sees only 24 months in assorted French oak, none new, and some of the wine sees six months in concrete. The fruit may not be as plush as, for example, the Bussia below, but the tannins are smooth. It may be the least expensive of the six wines shown, but (and I normally won’t quote scores) Suckling gave the 2015 92 points, which is at least indicative of its quality.

Barolo “Ravera” 2015 is the first of the crus. This saw longer in oak, 32 months. Only 5,600 bottles were produced. It has more ample tannins and is notably bright-fruited with nice acids.

Barolo “Monvigliero” 2015 comes from a Verduno cru which is, I think, the second most northern vineyard in the Barolo DOCG. Winemaking is similar to Ravera, and production is around 5,000 bottles. I found it less tannic, less structured, but nice and savoury.

Barolo “Boiolo” 2015 is the most approachable of all the crus here. Once more, there’s nothing unique about the vinification and ageing, but the vineyard, on the border with Roche dell’ Annunziata, replanted in 2002, is at 420 metres above sea level. This gives it a long growing season and a certain ripeness. Only 2,400 bottles produced.

Barolo “Castello” 2015 is a Rivera monopole, which I believe to be in that tiny northeastern commune of Grinzane Cavour. It’s a lower site, 250 metres altitude, and we are back to 5,000 bottles. This has medium tannins, a little structure, but fantastic fruit, all leading to noticeable length. Delicious.

Barolo “Bussia” 2015 comes from one of the region’s best known, and also largest, vineyards which, with all its sub-plots, stretches more than three kilometres north and south, to the east of Barolo. This wine comes from two different sites within Bussia, with south west exposures at around 410 metres above sea level. Yields are low, at 25 hl/ha, and the wine, after a two week fermentation in stainless steel, sees malolactic and ageing for 32 months in French oak tonneaux. Production accounts for 4,500 bottles. It’s a delicious, concentrated wine which despite being aged in larger oak, just needs time for the oaky tannins to integrate.

My own favourite? Probably Castello, but I’m sure that a true expert might choose something else. Arnaldo Rivera is imported by Raeburn Fine Wines.

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ELVIO COGNO (Novello)

This producer, based in the commune of Novello in the southwest of the region, farms around 15 hectares of vineyard. I get the impression that the vineyards are important, and a lot of store is placed in how they manage them, and work the land. The winery is easy to find as it sits right on the top of the Ravera hill.

Barolo “Ravera” 2014 is a rare entry for this vintage. The cru is Novello’s best known, a five hectare site where Cogno has vines at around 380 metres. The soils are chalky here, and Cogno’s vines are directly south facing. This wine is fermented in stainless steel with a 30-day post-fermentation maceration. Then it is aged for 24 months in 25-30 hl Slavonian oak. The fruit seems nicely rounded, plummy and brambly, with that hint of mint again coming in the higher register. There are tannins, of course, but the vintage perhaps lessens the austerity. The ’14s do often seem approachable.

Barolo Ravera “Bricco Pernice” 2014 is an individual two hectare plot within Ravera. Winemaking is the same, but this wine tends to be given longer bottle age before release. This makes it effectively a Riserva, The site is more oriented southwest than south, so the vines get the evening sun. It’s also worth noting that vine density in this plot is 5,000 vines per hectare (usually 4,000 for the rest of the estate). There’s much more concentration and this is certainly the more serious wine. Which you choose will depend on how long you are happy to keep the wines and how much you are prepared to pay. But this is a very good producer.

UK agent – Flint Wines.

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PARUSO (Monforte d’Alba)

Tiziana and Marco Paruso run the estate founded by Marco’s father, Armando, in 1971 in the commune of Monforte. There’s a sense of tradition and pride here, but I also thought to include them because, despite the current popularity of Barolo, they do not currently appear to have a UK representative/importer. Six wines were on show.

I began with Langhe Nebbiolo 2017 which was exactly what I hoped, not attempting to be anything more than juicy, smooth and fruity. Barolo 2014 is a generic blend of DOCG vines in Monforte and Castiglione Falletto. Aged in barrel, it has at least 18 months lees contact. This is a genuinely drinkable wine, full of sour cherry, very approachable. It’s softer than many.

Next, three Barolo crus. Mosconi 2015 was also quite genuinely approachable. The plantings are high density (6,000 vines per hectare) on marl and tufa. The bouquet tends towards quite intense herbs and the tannins are a little chalky in texture, but again, quite soft. It’s a wine you might call “ample”. Mariondino 2015 is a vineyard sited on marls and sandstone. This shows more spice, a touch of licorice, and then cherry fruit coming through. I think this cru sees some small, new, French oak, which is noticeable at this stage. Bussia 2015 is from sandstone, marls and silt. It has structure, noticeably so, but undoubted elegance too. Also matured in small French oak, there’s an interesting juxtaposition here between a certain earthy quality and a touch of finesse.

Finally, there’s a Riserva wine, Barolo “Bussia Riserva Oro” 2010. The vintage is one I’m happy to taste as I bought a few 2010 Barolos, including from the next producer below. The wine is a careful selection of the best grapes in the estate’s Bussia plots. The colour here is a lovely pale brick and bronze. It has possibly the bouquet of the day, haunting and sweet-fruited. It is unexpectedly delicate and long on the palate with savoury tannins to finish. 14% abv. After ageing 18 months on lees in small French oak, it is bottle aged for five years before release. The fruit seems a complex mix of blackberry, cherry and plum, with savoury notes including mint and a hint of coffee. Have I missed the floral bit? Yes, I like this.

I am 99% sure that Paruso will be available in the UK soon.

GIACOMO FENOCCHIO (Monforte d’Alba)

The Fenocchio brothers own 14 hectares of vines and make around 90,000 bottles each year from all the main Piemontese varieties. They are particularly export-focused, and around 90% of their production goes overseas.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2017 is worth a mention first. The grapes come from a two-hectare Monforte plot from young vines around 15 years old. They see just ten days fermenting in stainless steel, then a year’s maturation split between steel and Slavonian oak casks. The result is fragrant and fairly light with nice plum and cherry fruit. A good example.

Onto the Barolos and there were three crus to taste. Barolo “Bussia” 2015 sees a long forty day maceration and then three years in large Slavonian oak. I like the colour, quite pale garnet, and the bouquet is classic Barolo with licorice spice (it always seems more licorice than tar to me) and violets (more than roses). This is lovely, but it does need ageing, after which it will be a translucent wine where the scents will transport you even more than the palate.

Barolo “Villero” 2015 comes from the famous Castiglione site, a southwest facing slope close to the village. For me, this wine offers more structure, more tannin, and perhaps a different kind of more powerful complexity? It’s a good choice for game dishes, after the required decade or more in the cellar.

Barolo “Cannubi” 2015 comes from the site just north of the village of Barolo itself. Soils are complex – tortonian marls, tufa and sand, the latter helping it to be a dry vineyard. Production of this cru is a slightly miserly 3,000 bottles most vintages, and at this stage (both for the wine and for my palate) it was quite hard to judge. It felt as if it were just bedding down for some considerable ageing. But there’s nice spice here and, beneath the tannins, genuine prospects of great elegance. I can only judge this by what I know, but I’d suggest it’s really promising.

Armit Wines imports Giacomo Fenocchio.

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So, by this stage my palate was beginning to suffer from tannin fatigue. I adore Nebbiolo as a variety, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit the region quite a few times (more visits than to Tuscany). The fatigue is probably why you don’t get anything here from La Morra. I’d have liked to bring you Marcarini and Ratti for old time’s sake, and Michele Chiarlo from Calamandrana (because outside that village, on the road to Nizza,  is where we’ve most often stayed in the region). But by 3pm I was done.

I’m pleased with how many wines I did manage to taste (most but not all were mentioned here). There were very few poor wines and I didn’t taste any howlers. I hope this article adds to the general amount of information available for what I hope was a very successful day for the producers. As Nebbiolo gains both recognition and popularity, we are lucky to have such a well organised and fairly comprehensive event established in London. My final words go back to the beginning. The satellite regions do have something genuinely interesting to offer, at a good price. Much as we love the two Bs, Nebbiolo’s not all about Barolo and Barbaresco.

 

 

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Raw Wine 2019, Part 2

If Raw Wine has changed over the years, it is no more so than in this respect: whereas once the writer or blogger could identify the best producers with relative ease, now it is much harder. Of course, there are more producers, but there’s no doubt that quality has risen too. I know, speaking to the exhibitors, that many were desperately trying to cool their often sulphur-free wines during Monday afternoon’s session, yet I didn’t taste any signs of spoilage really.

This makes it doubly difficult to choose the best wines for inclusion in this second part (if you missed Part 1 you can link to it here). I don’t claim to have all the best, but I am sure my own selections will add to those of others to form a broader picture of this big event. What I would like to mention are two “Raw” exhibiting producers I don’t cover here. Ancre Hill, you will probably know as a fine producer of Welsh sparkling wine. In recent years they have diversified, and I tasted two genuinely inspired wines from them at Winemakers Club on the same day, which will feature in a future article.

Second, Andi Weigand is (to me) a new and strong voice in the increasingly innovative Franken region in Germany. I had the opportunity on Wednesday this week to taste his wines in slightly calmer circumstances, where I was able to have a nice long chat with him (no one else at the table!). He’s next door to 2Naturkinder, in Iphofen. If you like their wines, then read about Andi in my piece on the Howard Ripley tasting when it eventually appears.

DOMAINE BRAND (Ergersheim, Alsace)

Ergersheim may well be a village you’ve never heard of, but the stretch of outlying vineyards in the north of the Alsace Region, about 20 kilometres west of Strasbourg, and known as the Couronne d’Or, has been getting attention from Alsace lovers for quite a few years. Domaine Brand, with Philippe now the young third generation winemaker following a natural wine philosophy, can probably be regarded as a torch bearer for this increasingly exciting part of the Alsace vignoble.

The 10 ha domaine has been organic since 2001 (Philippe joined his father, Charles, in 2006). The first natural wines were released in 2013, and Demeter Certification came in 2015. All six of the wines on show were excellent, but I will single out three.

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Philippe

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Nature “Flêche Saignante” 2016 is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir off clay/limestone soils. The name means “bleeding arrow” which might point to something of the wine’s nature. The second fermentation (prise de mousse) uses the must of the following year’s harvest. Only indigenous yeasts are used, of course, and no dosage is added. What can I say? Jean-Pierre Rietsch makes my benchmark Crémant, but this one is nothing short of brilliant in my opinion. And some Crémant d’Alsace is becoming very good these days, trust me.

Fleurs de Macération 2017 is a pure tasting Pinot Gris (with a little Pinot Noir) off the clay/limestone of the Kefferberg, that spent two weeks on skins and eight months in barrique. It is effectively an orange wine and so is a little tannic, with a bitter or savoury finish. In fact it’s very savoury, with a touch of salinity. But it is also wonderfully aromatic, and you’d be pleasantly surprised to know this comes in at just 12.5% abv. In my humble opinion this is how to do APG, folks.

Apolllinaire “La Dame au Chapeau” 2017 represents the original range of natural wines from this domaine. Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay from the same clay and limestone soils are blended 60:40. The vinification is different here, gentle direct pressing of whole bunches which are fermented, and then aged 15 months in demi-muid. It seems lighter/fresher than the previous wine, yet packs 13% alcohol. It’s also beautifully cloudy (yes, beautifully!). The bouquet is floral, with a touch of woodsmoke. The palate offers apricots and plums, with some of that florality coming through as well. A super contrast.

These are three exceptional wines. Sometimes I cannot believe those three words –  “currently seeking representation”.

DOMAINE DE LA TOURAIZE (Arbois, Jura)

I’ve known the wines of André-Jean and Héléana Morin for a few years now, ever since friends brought me back a bottle of their petnat. I’ve been meaning to visit them on each of three subsequent weeks in Arbois but to my shame there has always been too much to do. I promise to put that right next time.

André-Jean only left the Arbois co-operative when he was in his forties, his first solo vintage being 2010. He farms around 12 hectares.

This is another producer who needs good UK distribution. I highlighted Touraize on Instagram and got a lot of feedback saying people agreed that these wines were very good indeed, so I shall give you the full half-dozen.

Dix Bulles 2018 is the new vintage of the Touraize petnat. This is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Trousseau, quite an unusual combo for Jura fizz, as far as the Trousseau component goes. Direct press after cold settling is the vinification method, with second fermentation in bottle, of course. There’s actually about 18 g/l of sugar left here, but the acidity masks it. One of the better value wines from Arbois in this style as the top producers get more expensive.

Chardonnay “Arces” 2017 is one of two Touraize Chardonnays. This comes off limestone, and from vines over 40 years in age. Whole bunch pressed and aged on fine lees, in old oak for around 18 months, this errs slightly to the lighter side, but it does currently show a bit of structure. Very gourmande.

Savagnin Terre Bleu 2017 is one of the estate’s pair of Savagnins. It comes from two plots (Petit Curoulet and Chenaillotte) totalling 0.7 ha, at 300 metres altitude, where the soils are on the blue marne (marls) so characteristic of Arbois. The vines here aren’t as old as those for the previous wine, but yields are low, at 25 hl/h. This is an ouillé wine (topped up) in a fruity “Traminer” style. A good example of a more refreshing, less overtly nutty, Savagnin.

Poulsard “La Cabane” 2018 is an old vine cuvée with vines between 30 to 50 years, off grey marl here, in two vineyards – the previously mentioned Curoulet, and Touraize itself, which is up above the Arbois cemetary, visible from the marked town circuit walk from the Eglise Saint-Just. It has some tank ageing before three months in demi-muid. It’s lovely and pale with soft red fruits set off by a nice texture. A very “pure” wine, it is made to perfectly accompany cold meats or crudités. I can’t imagine leaving the domaine without a few of these.

Côtes à Côtes 2017 is made of Trousseau and Pinot Noir, which is another blend characteristic of the lovely style the Morins produce – there’s a lightness to the wine without it being in any way insubstantial. There’s lovely fruit, but it doesn’t lack the architecture to hang it off.

Trousseau Corvées 2017 comes from perhaps Arbois’ best known vineyard, a southwest facing hillside just outside of town where gravelly soils sit on top of complex marls. André-Jean gives the grapes a two day cold soak under SO2 before a 30-day vatting (no punchdowns but two or three sprayovers each week). The cuvée is split for ageing between tank and 600 litre demi-muids. Delicious, not too firm so approachable now with its fresh red and dark fruit combination and soft tannins, but it will age.

Where do I rank them? This is hard to say, but what I can say is that they have shot up without UK consumers really having taken notice. The wines are excellent, and like Domaine des Bodines, they represent incredible value. For those who do want to explore further, Domaine de la Touraize has a small shop in Arbois. If you are walking out of town, you will find it near La Balance and the Pasteur Museum, on the same side of the road.

André-Jean, Héléana, and their lovely wines

MÔRELIG/WIGHTMAN & SONS (Swartland, South Africa)

I discovered Môrelig last year and since then they have undergone a name change. The current vintage is labelled Môrelig and the next vintage being shipped is Wightman & Sons. The reason – because Andrew has been joined by his son, Brandon, and he wanted to express that partnership.

The vineyard, at the foot of the Paardeberg Mountain just 90km north of Cape Town, has been owned by the Wightman family since 2011. The vineyard consists of old bush vines grown on decomposed granite, producing low yields. When I last wrote about Môrelig I suggested that this was a great new South African producer, and tasting again at Raw only strengthened that view.

We began with two exceptional Chenins, Môrelig Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2017 (under the old label) and Wightman & Sons Chenin Blanc 2018. The former, picked early with a quick but light pressing is delicious and worth grabbing whilst you can. The 2018 is massively fresh and at least as good, with just a little vintage variation.

Skin Contact 2018 is pretty self-explanatory, a skin contact cuvée. Chenin Blanc had 13 days on skins. Young vines from a hot year with low yields give an intense wine all round, bouquet and palate. Typical Chenin flavours come through the structure of the skin contact. Very successful.

The Gentleman and his Small Brother 2019 was probably my personal favourite on the table here, despite loving all three Chenins. This is gorgeous glouglou Cinsau(l)t weighing in at just 11% abv. It’s what Jamie Goode would call “smashable”, yet there’s a little structure to keep it standing up straight. So good.

Môrelig Syrah 2017 is another bush vine cuvée from granite soils. There’s depth here, and lift as well. It’s that kind of fresh-fruited Syrah that seems to express the soil in the glass, as a certain Rhône Wine expert would say. There’s certainly a European quality to the fruit expression but it has its own South African style (though I’ve tasted many more massive Syrahs from Swartland).

Red Squirrel is the lucky importer of these boys.

Andrew Wightman was on hand to pour his wines

TILLINGHAM (East Sussex, England)

I’ve written plenty about Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines, more or less documenting Ben’s journey to becoming one of the UK’s most interesting, and innovative, artisan winemakers. He’s come a long way since leaving Gusbourne. As his vineyards come on stream he is purchasing fruit to make an ever changing array of wines, each one as interesting as the previous.

Tillingham looks south over some stunningly beautiful countryside towards the Romney Marshes and the picturesque town of Rye. This is a large mixed farm, rearing high quality livestock. Ben has big plans. Along with the vineyards, most planted a year ago, a restaurant, tasting centre/shop and eleven rooms will be ready for visitors hopefully by July. As many readers will know, Ben has an ever growing collection of qvevri buried at the winery, and some wonderful ciders too, but on Monday he was just showing his new baby, Tillingham Rosé.

Tillingham Rosé 2018 is a three grape blend of Rondo, Madeleine Angevine and Orion. It’s an aromatic pink with zesty raspberry and strawberry fruit, super fresh and smooth, with just a touch of plushness. Another winner from Ben, and one to drink this summer (and whilst we wait for that almost elusive Tillingham red). Try Les Caves de Pyrene, but be quick: quantities are always tiny.

Ben Walgate and his nicely labelled Rosé

OKANAGAN CRUSH PAD (Okanagan Valley, Canada)

OCP has grown massively in reputation since I first began tasting their wines several years ago. This is in part down to the drive and innovation of owners Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, and the work of their excellent winemaker, Matt Dumayne. It’s probably also in part down to their two very famous consultants, Alberto Antonini on wines and Pedro Parra on soils (Parra is a genius who seems to know the right variety for every location).

The Crush Pad is another producer I’ve written about a lot, and will no doubt do so again when the Wines of Canada Tasting comes around again in May. Here I only plan to cover one wine, but don’t let that put you off trying absolutely anything from their HaywireNarrative and Free Form ranges.

Free Form Cabernet Franc 2017 is a wine I’d not tasted before. Listen to this…Cabernet Franc from the Kaleden vineyard (silt with glacial rock and gravel) was fermented in two clay amphora and three large oak vessels on skins for eight months. It was then all pressed-off in June 2018 and blended in tank before bottling mid-August 2018. The bouquet is beautiful, but complex too. There is that Cabernet Franc florality of violets, with an almost metal/mineral, iron-rich, note from the amphorae. The palate has smooth black fruit with a hint of coffee, which adds a pleasant bitter note to the richness. At the moment there’s tannin and texture as well.

This is a very interesting red wine, taking a classic variety and seeing where you can take it. It doesn’t taste as if it has 13.5% alcohol because the richness is balanced by the freshness inherent from the terroir and the winemaking. I like it a lot. Red Squirrel imports.

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DOMAINE LIGAS (Macedonia, Greece)

Fame is relative. I was speaking to a friend the other day, suggesting that Ktima Ligas is pretty well known, but she pointed out that they are only really so well known to, and highly sought after by, a very small group of natural wine aficionados. Domaine Ligas is one of my two favourite Greek estates (Kalathas, from Tinos, is the other among quite hot competition), yet it is perfectly true that most wine purchasers will not have heard the name, and are not likely to have seen one of their often distinctive, if hard to track down, bottles.

Ligas (minus Meli, who had flown back to Greece leaving the pouring on Monday afternoon to their importer, Dynamic Vines) showed ten wines. From me you get mention of my favourite five, but on any other occasion I might well choose different wine. There is literally no Ligas wine I would turn down.

Thomas Ligas, with his son Jason, started to follow a unique form of permaculture propounded by Masanobu Fukuoka (who died in 2008). Although it has been called “do nothing farming”, Fukuoka’s methods are intended to create a sustainable ecosystem which will last for generations. This is central to the Ligas wine philosophy.

Assyrtiko 2017 is made from Greece’s most famous white variety, but here of course it is from Macedonia, not Santorini, so stylistically it is different. And, of course, this is Ligas. The vinification is very simple. Vines of around 20  years of age grown on clay and limestone. Fermentation and ageing is in old oak for just six to eight months. The vivacity in this wine is amazing, it just feels alive.

Roditis “Barrique” 2017 is, like the Assyrtiko, labelled PGI (ie IGP) Pella. It’s a more complex wine. Slightly older vines (25-y-o) off sand and clay get a twelve month stint in old barriques. Although the wood isn’t new, the wine does have structure. The fruit is simple but there’s a creamy texture. I bought some and I shall have to think carefully what to pair it with, but I might be thinking in Chardonnay territory. Anyway, lovely wine. The lady on the label is Melina Mercouri, a famous Greek Socialist politician, and before that a singer and actress, who died in the mid-1990s.

Yomatari 2017 is another 100% Roditis, aged in oak, and according to the Dynamic Vines guy pouring, it is infused with “retsina”. The problem sometimes with tastings like this is that it’s often too noisy to take in all people say. Normally you can check facts after, but I can’t find a lot of info on this wine, and certainly no mention of retsina or resin. That said, it’s a more lifted style of Roditis here, whether due to resin or not, I don’t know? A lovely wine with a biting freshness. It was the first time I’d tasted this cuvée.

Spira, after fermentation in stainless steel is made in a solera up and running since 2012. The cuvée tasted this time was extracted in 2017. The variety is 100% Xinomavro and the colour is almost perfect bronze. This is very complex and quite exotic. I’d say there are hints of caramel and toffee, nuts and orange, and plenty of richness. It was one of my wines of the day.

I should just give a quick mention to another favourite from Ktima Ligas, Pata Trava. I didn’t see it on taste, but it’s another Xinomavro which takes a little colour from the skins, so that it becomes a “vin gris”. Definitely one to seek out for the coming months.

You’ll have gathered that Dynamic Vines are the folks to go to for Ligas in the UK.

DOMAINE TATSIS (Macedonia, Greece)

A new domaine to me, run by brothers Stergios and Periklis Tatsis, who farm around 13 hectares in Goumenissa, Macedonia, at the foot of Mount Paiko. Biodynamic since the early 2000s, they also generally use zero sulphur (the exception being the final wine here, which has 35 mg/l).

Roditis 2015 gets 15 days on skins and 13 months in old French oak. The skin contact gives it a nice texture but the fruit and acidity are nicely balanced. A good beginning here. Roditis had a reputation in Macedonia, perhaps in Greece as a whole, for being a second division variety. I think that today, some superb examples are being made. As with so many varieties, quality depends how you treat it.

Resin Flavour Roditis 2015 (not listed in the Raw Wine Catalogue)  is fermented in steel, where resin is added in a sack, before the wine is aged in wood. I know that sounds a bit like oak chips, but that’s not the effect. You do notice the pine resin on the nose, but it’s not at all pronounced on the palate. To me this is a top quality wine. In fact I tried to buy a bottle at the Burgess & Hall shop in the hall, but they didn’t have any, so I settled, quite happily, for the next wine.

Malagouzia 2015 sees 34 days on skins. The variety (sometimes “Malagousia”) was nearly extinct but was revived in the 1970s at the famous Domaine Carras, and by Vangelis Gerovassiliou. This is a genuine orange wine with that classic orange citrus bouquet and flavour. Malagouzia is notably aromatic anyway, and so the nose on this wine is complex and so inviting. There’s a softness, but structure too. My only difficulty, now having a bottle of this, is whether I need to keep it a while, just because of the structure. I probably won’t as I’m keen to try it again.

Goumenissa 2017 is a PDO (ie “appellation”) wine, a 50:50 blend of Xinomavro and Negoska. It has a gorgeous, big, bouquet of dark and red fruits, and is savoury, even oaky, on the palate (although the oak used for ageing is not new). Alcohol is 13.5%, and it is reasonably powerful. Their varietal Negoska 2013 is a nicely aged wine, but it doesn’t seem to have lost its freshness. The purple colour suggests a heavier wine than that which appears on the palate, with plum and red fruits, and it only packs 12.5% alcohol. It would be difficult to choose between these two reds.

Domaine Tatsis was yet another excellent Greek discovery. They seem to come thick and fast, which is why I think Greece’s time has come for a genuine breakthrough. Whether it will happen, I’m not sure, but I hope it does. There are so many pure and exciting wines to try from all sorts of new varieties.

The Tatsis wines are imported by Southern Wine Roads, based in Orpington (London Borough of Bromley). Tatsis might be the best producer I’ve tasted so far from them.

Stergios Tatsis with his Negoska, assisted by Ania of SWR gripping the Malagouzia and Resin Roditis

 

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Greek Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Raw London 2019, Part 1

Mad March, that time of year when wine importers think we are capable of getting to four or five tastings a day trundles on (no exaggeration, as well as Raw yesterday there were at least four other “unmissable” wine events). I have eight articles waiting to be written since Nebbiolo Day on 5th March. But Raw Wine is an important event, and I know that a lot of people want to read about it, so that’s why I shall give you a couple of pieces first.

Raw Wine seems to have found its place at The Store X on The Strand. No venue is perfect, and this one seems to have found its imperfection in being quite hot when there’s a big crowd, yet it scores on being far more accessible, especially to those of us who live outside London, than some of those outlying events spaces which take a while to get to.

I’m going to focus on far fewer producers this year, only five in Part 1 (more in Part 2). There are plenty of other people who will write about Gravner, Radikon, Cornelissen et al. They make amazing wines, but they are famous already. My featured wine makers are either less well know, or come from less appreciated wine producing countries, certainly the case with the Czech Republic here, and Greece in Part 2.

DOBRÁ VINICE (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Dobrá Vinice should properly be described as one of the top estates in Moravia. As Simon Woolf, in his brilliant Amber Revolution, reminds us, their wines appear on the list at three London Michelin-starred restaurants. They farm a relatively large 15 hectares near Znojmo on the boundary of the Podyjí National Park, close to the Austrian border (maybe 90 to 100 km northwest of Vienna).

Winemaking here is biodynamic, and the wines are made in a mixture of oak and qvevri, with an emphasis (usually) on extended skin macerations. They follow a production method called “Kartuli”. By producing healthy grapes, this Georgian technology (maybe not the right choice of word) uses very long fermentations and ageing on the skins (often for many months) to promote longevity and to give the wine stability without recourse to any chemicals. After all, it’s what the Georgians were doing for around 7,000 years, barring those decades when the Soviet Union held the reins of production.

Narodní Park 2017 – this is a white wine made largely from Müller-Thurgau. It’s one of those wines which kick sand in the face of preconceptions about this variety, one which, perhaps along with Airén, is wine’s most maligned grape. There is plentiful acidity, but the acidity of freshness, not the battery acid kind. Along with acidity there’s a good deal of nice, rounded, almost plumpish, fruit.

Cuvée Kambrium 2015 is a blended wine, combining Veltlín, Ryzlink and Sauvignon Blanc. The first of those varieties should be self-explanatory, but the second, it should be noted, is Rhine Riesling. It’s rounder than the first wine, and pretty chalky (as the name might indicate). The texture is attractive. At 12.5% abv it has a lovely balance.

Blanc de Pinot Noir 2016 was a nice surprise. It’s direct-pressed Pinot Noir, so made without skin contact. The wine is not complex, but it sure is delicious and thirst quenching, though it does kick back 13% abv without you realising it. Pinot Noir made as a still white wine seems not uncommon in Moravia, and I’ve had two or three. This may well be the best yet.

Chardonnay Qvevri Georgia 2013 is self-explanatory. It sees a nine month maceration in qvevri and then a year in oak. It shows from the colour, the nose and the textured tannins on the palate. Iron-rich would sum up the flavours, a lovely “orange” style.

Nejedlík Orange Qvevri Georgia 2011 also sees time in Georgian qvevri, but this time it’s a little different. The wine, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, is aged a year in old oak, and then moves to qvevri, where it macerates five months on the skins of the following year’s harvest (in this case, 2012). If you like orange wine, it’s a cracker.

VDC 2015 (aka Velké Dobré Červené) is a red, 80% Pinot Noir with 20% Zweigelt (I hope) and a little Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch). The Pinot Noir gets 9 months in qvevri and the other varieties are aged in oak. Like most of the wines from this producer, it is quite structured, and this red has a firmness to it which suggests it will benefit from a little more age, though I’d hazard that it will match some Central European cooking quite nicely. It doesn’t lack the acidity to cut through fats.

The UK importer here, and for the producer below, is Basket Press Wines, who I must say (and I have no connections here) is importing a raft of these truly exciting Moravian wines. I hope that 2019 will be the year of Greek and Czech wines.

JAROSLAV OSICKA (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Jaroslav Osička is less well known than the previous producer, perhaps because they only farm three hectares of vines at their base at Velké Bilowíce, which is in that corner of the Czech Republic near where the borders of Slovakia and Austria meet, and a little to the north of the town of Břeclav (for those with a map obsession). Wood ageing is the method here, but they use both oak and acacia. Sulphur additions are tiny, between 5-20 mg/litre.

Akácia 2018 is a fairly simple wine, fresh and light with bright acidity. It’s a very nice wine, and introduction to the range, but with Milerka 2018 we get a little more serious. 80% Müller-Thurgau, there are just 800 bottles of this wine from the Velkopavlovická sub-region, where the soils are loess and clay. After ageing in 500 litre oak this wine has complexity combined with drinkability, and versatility.

There’s a variety common to Moravia which I always enjoy. Modry Portugal (2017) is strangely named. Modry means blue, and the vine has no known ampelographical connection to Portugal. It seems reasonably well dispersed along the Danube and surrounding areas, where you may well have come across it under the name of Blauer Portugieser.

This one sees fermentation and ageing in both 228 litre and 500 litre wood. It has a fairly identifiable bright bouquet of dark fruits, with more vibrant fruit on a palate that additionally has a savoury finish. It reminds me a little, in terms of colour, of teinturier varieties like Alicante Bouschet. It is a lot less heavy than its colour might suggest, and its tart finish is actually very pleasing to those of us who enjoy freshness and acidity in our reds. I’ve drunk this variety quite a few times now, and I can recommend seeking one out if you like what you’ve read.

GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)

Although I’m prone to writing about this favourite producer of mine quite often, I think the last time I did so in detail was on the release of the unusual 2016 vintage, where the different wines were blended into the “family reunion” cuvées, due to tiny yields. At Raw I had the opportunity to sample a few 2017s.

Winifred 2017 is the Gut Oggau rosé. If occasionally it is the simpler wines which can provide pure sensual joy, this is an example. I know that Stephanie and Eduard sometimes give a wry smile at how popular this wine is, but I have to say that in 2017 Winifred is singing like a choir of angels (and that’s as close as you’ll get me to a tasting note that sounds as if it was constructed in a creative writing class for twenty-somethings). The blend is Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt off limestone and slate, the vines being around 35-40 years old, so this is no throwaway pink. Fermentation is in large oak with no punching down. It is pretty close to being the definition of glouglou.

Theodora 2017 is a white wine blending here 60% Grüner Veltliner with 40% Welschriesling. The soils Theodora grows on are limestone and gravel, and the limestone really shines through with the Grüner Veltliner. Timotheus 2017 is from limestone, gravel, and slate. Some of the grapes are fermented on skins in wooden vats, the rest in barrel without skins, and here there is further ageing in oak. There’s a bit more depth as a result. A delicious cuvée in 2017.

I’m quite a fan of the red cuvée, Josephine. Josephine 2015 blends Roesler (a 1970 Austrian cross between Zweigelt and Seyve-Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch) with Blaufränkisch. The soils are limestone, so you get absolutely stunning brightness once more, this time through the Blaufränkisch. The fermentation is the same as with Tim, so some skin contact in vat. Although you might not mark this one out as complex, there’s just an incredible vitality to the 2017. Ooh, they do this in magnum, you know!

Dynamic Vines imports Gut Oggau. 

MEINKLANG (Burgenland, Austria)

The must try new wines from Meinklang from the 2018 vintage are Mulatschak – there’s a Roter and a Weisser. Take the white, a blend of Pinot Gris and Traminer with 50% Welschriesling from their Austrian vineyards at Pamhagen (southeast of Neusiedlersee). It’s a light wine which is super-fruity, with maybe a touch of spice. As with all Meinklang’s wines, it is vegan-friendly, and just 11.5% abv. The red blends Zweigelt and St-Laurent. Both are made in stainless steel and see a week on skins to add a bit of texture. The white in particular, with a little colour from skins, is brilliant.

The other 2018 wine to look out for is the Graupert Weiss. Pinot Gris (or Grauburgunder) is harvested from Graupert vines, these being vines which are effectively allowed to grow wild and find their own equilibrium. Perhaps there’s less weight than the Konkret cuvées (fermented in egg), but the Grauperts don’t lack complexity and subtlety.

There was also one of the cuvées to taste from Meinklang’s vineyards on the Somló volcanic massif in Hungary. This was J15, the variety being Juhfark. This sees about five days maceration on skins and after a few years in bottle it is wonderfully creamy and fairly exotic. It ages pretty well, or at least I hope so – writing this prompted my discovery of a J12 in the cellar which must have escaped opening some time.

I buy my Meinklang from Winemakers Club. Vintage Roots also has some of the wines. Somehow I managed to avoid taking photos here…and I know who to blame. Sorry!

SALVATORE MARINO (Sicily, Italy)

I always find it’s a good idea to turn up to big events like Raw Wine with a list, in this case pulled from the online catalogue, helpfully available in advance. Without a list your day will be hopeless. It’s all too easy to be swayed from your path because almost every time you look up there’s someone to say hello to, but that does have one advantage – you get a few tips. I’d have never tried this producer without a tip-off from Alan March, who some readers will know from his illumination of viticultural life chez Jeff Coutelou over the past few years.

Salvatore owns a mere 1.5 ha of vines near Pachino, which is right down in the southeastern corner of the island, within the Eloro (Rosso) DOC. He only began this enterprise in 2017, following a regime of dry farming and biodynamic principles (including using the lunar calendar, though Salvo is not certified).

Two wines were on show. My favourite, but perhaps only just, was Turi Bianco 2018. This is 100% Catarrato labelled IGT Terre Siciliane. You get soft, well sanded lemon, grapefruit and a little pineapple with nice acid balance. Turi Rosso 2017 is under the Eloro DOC and is made from a special local clone of (Pachino) Nero d’Avola (we are also pretty close to the town of Avola here). This has a bit more ripeness to the fruit (and 13% abv). The regime is six days skin contact before fermentation in stainless steel. The dark cherry fruit is clean and bright, not at all jammy, as some Nero d’Avola can be.

Salvatore Marino is currently seeking a UK importer. There can’t be a lot to go around from 1.5 hectares, but hopefully he will find one.

 

The amply stocked shop at Raw was, as always now, provided by Burgess & Hall (Arch 353 Winchelsea Road, London E7). I know they work really hard through the fair, but their offering seems to get better every year. Of course, it’s advisable to grab a few things before they sell out, but it’s also good to go back and grab a bottle which really impressed.

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Invivo – Spirit of Vienna

During my last visit to Vienna a friend asked me if I wanted to arrange a spirits tasting with a relatively new distiller in the city, but my diary was completely full. As recompense we tasted through part of the Invivo range when we visited him and his wife for dinner, and I brought back a few bottles to try at home.

Vienna, as everyone knows, is partly surrounded by beautiful vineyards, and if you have been paying attention to me over the past five years or so, you will know that she makes some pretty special wines. Vienna actually possesses more agricultural land within the city limits than any other European Capital, and it is the fruit and vegetables from these farms and orchards, and other produce from the hills and mountains of Lower Austria, that Invivo utilises for its rather remarkable distillates, made in the city’s 18th District, northwest of the centre.

How good are Invivo’s products? Well, the press has been particularly full of praise. Falstaff’s spirits supplement recently gave quite a lot of their spirits scores in the nineties, with the gentiano brandy scoring 97 points. Even more interesting was the success of the paprika brandy, which won “Most Extraordinary Product” at Prowein Messe, Düsseldorf, in 2016.

The key to the quality of the Invivo spirits, aside of course from the quality of the locally grown fruit and veg, is the distillation process. Invivo uses a fairly rare vacuum still, which boils at a much lower temperature than most types of still. This gentler process means that fewer fruit and vegetable aromas decompose, and certainly the first thing you notice about these products is how intense is their bouquet. In one case, perhaps too intense, but we’ll come to that.

Donauweibchen Gin

We will begin with my favourite of all the Invivo drinks, Donauweibchen Gin. Its name derives from the daughters of the Mermaid King who live beneath the Danube, echoes of the Rhine Maiden legend there.

The Gin is percolated and vacuum distilled. Percolation is fairly unusual with gin, because it’s a lot slower and more expensive than using a mash. In fact, it takes a week to produce fifty litres of spirit. Percolation, through a large stone funnel, leaves behind the bitter oils and tannins in the botanicals.

The main botanicals used here are juniper berries (grown in a dry climate, they have great intensity so the juniper flavour here is quite strong), orange peel and rose hips.

This is probably a good time to mention another very attractive aspect of Invivo, the packaging. As the photos will show, great attention has been paid to the labels (the plain fruit brandy labels in the photos are sample bottles). The gin label was designed by American graphic artist Tony Millionaire. Tony is known for his sea creatures and other nautical themes, and it’s not difficult to see what he’s representing here. The label also intentionally has the feel and atmosphere of the Viennese Jugenstil.

This is an amazing quality small batch gin for €40, very pure and elegant.

Whiskey (3-y-o)

Whiskey may not be something you think about within an Austrian context, but Invivo’s founder and distiller Aco Nejemcevic decided to give it a go, the first release being in 2016. All the ingredients are sourced in Lower Austria, and after a double-vacuum distillation it is cask aged for three years.

As a young whiskey it’s fairly light, though not too light. This allows its purity to shine through. It’s not a peaty drink, of course, but it is a touch smoky, and certainly its 40% alcohol is obvious. With an ice cube it begins to flourish. I’d view it as an aperitif whiskey, rather than as a late night digestif, where its purity and lightness shine through. Very enjoyable, and a nice change. Very different to a commercial blended whisk(e)y.

Fruit and Vegetable Spirits

Fruit brandies are pretty well known in Austria, vegetable distillates perhaps less so. Invivo produces a wide range. I counted at least sixteen (doubtless more) fruit spirits, ranging from cherry and plum to barrel-aged apple and a couple made from grape marc (Gewurztraminer and Muscat). There are three vegetable brandies (paprika, cucumber and spinach), plus brandies made from beer and hazelnuts.

My favourite fruit brandies were probably the Zwetschkenbrand (damson) and Mirabellanbrand (mirabelle plum), although I’ll admit I’ve always had a thing for plum schnapps since my student days. Both of these have such an elegant scent, which is a counterpoint to the strong clean spirit on the palate. I also recommend the cherry brandy (Kirsch) and the brandies made from Port, and from Muscat skins.

I would particularly like to try the apricot brandy, because the nearby Wachau is one of the two best places in Europe for apricot cultivation.

The vegetable spirits in particular came out of over production by local farmers. By purchasing at a good price, Invivo helped the farmers avoid lower prices and/or waste, and the relationship has since flourished.

Of the vegetable brandies the clear standout was Paprika, the one which won the Prowein Award. The smell of bell pepper is so strong, but it is both spicy and savoury, a bit of a revelation. To make three litres of this brandy takes 100kg of peppers.

Cucumber is very interesting. The vegetable itself is refreshing but not particularly intense, whereas the distilled cucumber is the opposite. The spirit is lovely, but the intensity of the bouquet is startling. It doesn’t smell confected, in fact it smells very pure, but I have never smelt such strong essence of cucumber, and it was a bit of an assault on the senses. It also took some rinsing to remove the smell from the glasses.

One suggestion on the Invivo web site is to use a dash as a mixer, which may be acknowledgement of its intensity. I’m going to try a small dash in a gin & tonic when the warm weather returns.

The cucumber intensity aside, I’d strongly suggest trying these unique vegetable products because the quality is astonishingly high. As far as I’m aware, Invivo’s Viennese spirits don’t (sadly) have any UK distribution, but if you are in Vienna be sure to seek them out. There is a store locator on the Invivo web site. If they were available here in England, I’d be one of the first customers.

Invivo Spirits are available online via invivospirits.com . I’d like to thank my friend Dr Gregory Weeks for introducing me to Invivo and sharing so many bottles with me, which led to a rather pleasant, if late, evening. Looking forward to the next time, Greg!

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Recent Wines January and February 2019 #theglouthatbindsus

Being away for a couple of weeks in January, and ill for more than a week in February, I’ve decided that my regular “wines drunk at home” column will cover the first two months of the year. It’s a bumper edition, but not too bumper – I’ve cut out a few wines to keep it to fifteen bottles, but there’s quite a bit of variety here with one or two classic wines sneaking in with the natural stuff.

Sauvignon Blanc “Buxus” 2004, Villette, Louis Bovard (13.5%)

That’s not a typo, this really is fourteen years old. It came in a mixed case from Alpine Wines chosen by Joelle and the team there to highlight some of their more unusual offerings (a Christmas present from my wife). Louis Bovard may be familiar to some readers, one of the producers seen occasionally outside of Switzerland, of those who farm the spectacular steep terraces which border the north side of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). Bovard is based at Cully, between Lausanne and Vevey, and owns 17 hectares, quite a holding in terms of the region.

The “Buxus” is one of two very special Sauvignon Blancs, around 2,000 bottles produced, and I understand they are highly sought after in Switzerland. It’s aged in oak, which may at least in part be why it has lasted so well, and it is quite astonishing. There’s definitely Sauvignon Blanc character, yet it has the fatness and weight you might expect of a Chardonnay, and it’s remarkably rich. What you don’t expect is the grapefruit acidity, which may be far from searing but it is easily sufficient to lift the wine. It was perplexingly good. Whether this is a lucky, well stored, bottle or whether every one would be as good as this, I have no idea.

Spätburgunder “S” 2012, Klaus Peter Keller, Rheinhessen (13%)

This is often described as Keller’s entry level Spätburgunder, although I believe there is a cheaper cuvée. The fruit comes from what one might call youngish vines, 25-years-old, planted in the famous Morstein vineyard. It’s quite dark in colour and the bouquet has a lovely, fragrant, spiciness and a smoky quality. The fruit is fairly concentrated cherry with a hint of richness and a hint of restraint. Not at all simple, this is indeed classy.

I’d been keeping this for a couple of years, and I’d recommend doing that if you buy a more recent vintage. It may be only a £30 wine, but it does have the same capacity to age as a good village wine from Burgundy. I believe Keller’s top Spätburgunder is way out of the league of normal people, but this “S” does merit regular purchase. But Burgundy it is not. The special Morstein site sees to that, and Klaus Peter calls Pinot Noir here “red Riesling”. When you try this you can see what he means.

The Spätburgunder “S” has fairly good, if intermittent, distribution. This bottle came from Winemakers Club, although if you want a case, contact Howard Ripley.

Saperavi 2017, Kakheti, Georgia, Zurab Topuridze (13.5%)

Saperavi is Georgia’s best known red variety. What many don’t know is that it is a teinturier. This means that along with its red skin it has red flesh. Like Alicante Bouschet, France’s best known teinturier, it makes deeply coloured wines which stain the glass red.

Although you’ll notice this has a fairly high alcohol content, it actually seems much more light on its feet. It’s fresh and lively despite not having masses of acidity. It scores on really delicious cherry and bramble fruit with a slightly dusty texture, and a fruit bomb richness. This is a wonderful natural wine from a very good producer which oozes pure juiciness. It’s one of the ever brilliant range of Georgian wines from Les Caves de Pyrene.

Champagne Bérêche “Les Beaux Regards” 2013 (12%)

This is pure Chardonnay from Ludes’ 1er Cru fruit (so off the Montagne). Just 3,791 bottles were made from this site in 2013 and it was disgorged in March 2017 (Extra Brut, dosed at 3g/l). Even as a relatively young wine this is quite complex. First you get quite a lot of citrus, especially lime, which is counterbalanced by just a hint of ginger. Then you sense a bready note over the top.

The wine comes primarily from vines planted in the very early 1900s, on a very chalky site, although there were further plantings by massale selection in the 1970s. Beaux Regards always starts out as a fairly linear wine with a firm acidity running down its spine. With time it broadens out. It’s one of my favourite wines from Bérêche, so I’m terrible at giving it the time it deserves, but even in January it was a classy bottle, thrilling as always.

Purchased on a visit in 2017. Vinetrail is Bérêche’s UK agent.

Crémant d’Alsace Extra Brut 2014, Jean-Pierre Rietsch, Mittelbergheim

Rietsch blends Auxerrois and Chardonnay for his Crémant, with a dash of Pinot Gris, which could account for what I call the extra half percent of alcohol (12.5%). Jean-Pierre is one of several top producers in what is arguably the most exciting village in Alsace these days. Although his still wines are rightly renowned, his Crémant should not be ignored.

Fermented with native yeasts, the prise de mousse is also achieved with a liqueur from the same yeasts, with a little 2015 juice. This was disgorged in July 2017 with zero dosage and no added sulphur. It is a clean, fresh, sparkler with a steely dryness. It’s bracing but it exudes class in a way that very few Alsace Crémants do. There are few Alsace producers I currently rate higher than Jean-Pierre Rietsch.

This bottle came from a visit in 2017, but Wines Under The Bonnet are the very astute importers for Rietsch in the UK now.

Riesling “Clos Windsbuhl” 2008, Zind-Humbrecht (Turckheim) (12.5%)

Before my passion for Alsace was reinvigorated by a plethora of new producers, largely (but not by any means exclusively) from the northern villages of the region, I used to purchase a steady amount of more classic Alsace, under which category this certainly falls.

Z-H needs no introduction, being one of the region’s three or four most famous producers. Although they are based at Turckheim, the Clos is at Hunawihr, in sight of the famous fortified church, but at altitude on rocky, chalky, soils. It would rank as one of Zind-Humbrecht’s drier wines (Indice 1 on their scale, for those familiar), yet it is still a rich and concentrated wine.

When you get a fully mature Alsace Riesling like this, it almost becomes facile to describe it. There are petrol notes, but it retains a lovely elegant florality too. Ginger and lime seemed to dominate. We matched it with New Forest pannage pork, which I thought worked really well. A wine of world class and undoubted Grand Cru quality in any system of classification.

Originally purchased from Berry Bros & Rudd, then cellared at home.

Pommard “Les Pézerolles” 1er Cru 2001, Domaine de Montille (12%)

Ah, De Montille. I will never learn to keep these wines as long as they deserve, although I’m not sure our guests thought this lacked maturity. Pézerolles lies on the Beaune side of Pommard, just up the slope from Les Petits Epenots. It’s a very traditional wine, with intense fruit (Pommard escaped the hail of 2001), but a certain earthiness.

The fruit is wrapped in a firmish structure, so that whilst it is not a terrible error to drink it now, I think it suggests further development. There’s still plenty of fresh acidity here, as well. As you’d expect from a De Montille of this period, it’s a fine, classic, old school red Burgundy that flourished as it opened in the glass. Give it plenty of air.

Another purchase from Berry Bros.

Ruster Ausbruch 2002, Heidi Schröck, Rust (11%).

Ausbruch is a dessert wine style made from nobly-rotten grapes around the Burgenland town of Rust. Whilst Illmitz, on Neusiedlersee’s eastern shore, is more famous for its sweet wines, Ausbruch is a designation and a style unique to Rust, on the western shore. Some suggest it is, in terms of sweetness and concentration, between a beerenauslese and a trockenbeerenauslese. Ausbruch was regulated here even as far back as the early seventeenth century, making it one of the oldest wine appellations in Europe.

Heidi Schöck is, as regular readers will know, a long time favourite producer here, one whose UK profile is far too low in my opinion. But of all the producers of Ausbruch wines, Heidi is objectively one of the best. Here, she has blended Pinots Gris and Blanc with tiny amounts of Welschriesling and Gelbermuskateller (Muscat).

I think that only around 150 half-bottles were produced by Heidi in 2002 (and Ausbruch isn’t made every year). Yields are low, and only berries with botrytis are harvested. It’s a very complex style where you get lemon citrus, ginger spice, honey and wild flowers which give way to later dominant concentrated orange citrus on a very long, rich, finish, with obvious botrytis notes as well. Good acids stop the wine being cloying. Not a well known style, but fantastic.

This wine was purchased on a visit in 2015. I have no idea what I paid, but it was nothing near the £75 quoted by Winesearcher. Alpine Wines imports Heidi Schröck into the UK and they list three of her different Ausbruchs, ranging between £40 to a little over £50. Worth seeking out.

In a Hell Mood 2017, Rennersistas, Gols (Burgenland) (11%)

This 2017 is a cracking petnat which I’d place firmly in my favourite half-dozen of the style. It comprises 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay made by the ancestral method (bottle fermented but not disgorged), with around seven months on lees. It’s usually categorised as “red”, but to be honest you can hardly tell, so pale is the colour, which is often a more orange-pink.

Harvested early and made without the addition of sulphur, this may be quite simple, but it is incredibly pure. The wine has a gentle texture, but there’s vibrant fruit. Refreshing, uncomplicated, satisfying, as all the best petnats are. And to be honest, this wine (not my description of it) does seem to perfectly mirror the personality of Stefanie Renner. My last 2017, I can’t wait for the 2018 which I tasted from the press in August.

Purchased from Newcomer Wines in Dalston.

Rotwein 2012, Maria and Sepp Muster, Steirerland (12%)

This is probably one of Sepp and Maria Muster’s most underrated wines. Styria has not perhaps been noted much for its red wine production, with the exception of the local speciality variety, Blauer Wildbacher, which is the grape variety used in Schilcher Sekt. This still red is a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch with a little of that variety.

There’s real acidity and freshness which led my daughter to describe it as “boisterous”, which I think suits it well. The accompanying fruit is straight from the hedgerow, and has bite. It’s not a complicated wine, but in some ways that just makes it perfect for so many simple dishes. From one of the most philosophical winemaking couples in Austria (and Styria seems to breed philosophers).

I can’t quite recall where I bought this, although Newcomer Wines (again) is a good bet.

La Bota de Florpower 67 “Más Acá”, Equipo Navazos, Jerez (12.5%)

This wine is from the 2014 vintage, bottled in 2016, 100% Palomino Fino from the Pago Miraflores site on Sanlúcar’s albariza soils. Following fermentation in stainless steel, it saw 20 months under flor. Seven months of this was in old Sherry casks and a further 13 months in vat, where the flor influence was reduced. There’s prickly acidity which reflects the texture given by the terroir (both the soils and the Atlantic Ocean’s influence). Long, lively and fresh.

The name, Más Acá, is interesting. Acá means “below” (broadly speaking), whereas La Bota de Florpower 53 was named “Más Allá” (beyond) because it saw extended time in wood, with more flor influence. This is relevant as the intention here was to produce a fresher and less flor-influenced “Florpower” than had previously been the case. This series of unfortified wines continues to astonish in their variety.

Purchased direct, but Equipo Navazos is available via Alliance Wine on the UK market. Solent Cellar is a regular retail stockist of Florpower.

Gewurztraminer 2009, AOC Wallis (Valais), Chanton Weine (13.4%)

Mario Chanton, based in Visp, is one of the bigger names in the Swiss Valais. Mario’s father, Josef-Marie, pioneered rare and unusual grape varieties in the high altitude vineyards of the Swiss Valais, especially up in the Val d’Anniviers where Vin de Glacier is a speciality. Out of Laftetscha, Himbertscha, Eyholzer, Plantscher, Resi and Gwäss, it is only the latter two which I have knowingly tried. Gewurztraminer may not be among these varieties which few have heard of, but it is still very rare in this part of the world.

At nearly a decade old, this wine is reasonably dark in colour and the style is rich and off-dry, with Alsace levels of alcohol. Despite the altitude, the valley’s sunshine hours ensure summer heat and ripe grapes. The bouquet is pure, unmistakable Gewurztraminer and the rich palate has pronounced spice.

This was another lovely old wine from Alpine Wines.

Côtes du Marmandais “Le Vin Est une Fête” 2016, Elian da Ros (12.5%)

I go a long way back with Elian da Ros. Before natural wine was really a thing for me, I used to buy quite a lot of wine from Southwest France from Les Caves de Pyrene (who import Elian’s wines). Wines from the Plageoles, Tour des Gendres, Domaine du Pech, Domaine du Cros, Clos du Gamot and the wines of Irouléguy in particular, were all favourites, although I’d come across Da Ros years before, via Adnams in Suffolk.

This is what one might describe as Elian’s easy drinker. Simple, sappy, brambly dark fruited wines with moderate alcohol, like this, are just the kind of wines you need in the cellar for simple suppers and lunches. It’s the sort of soulful simplicity you yearn for in more commercial wines but never find.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, this was a great value £15.99 retail from Solent Cellar.

Traminer “Natural” 2016, Hajszan Neumann, Vienna (14.5%)

Hajszan Neumann is technically based in Grinzing, just outside Vienna at the foot of the Nussberg, and if you are catching the bus to or from Mayer-am-Pfarrplatz you will see their warehouse. They have, however, been taken over by Wieninger, and the wines are made at the Wieninger winery near Bissamberg, on the other side of the Danube.

Wieninger uses the much smaller production of Hajszan Neumann to experiment. They still make a highly regarded Gemischter Satz under this label, but it is the “Natural” range which I find most interesting here.

This 2016 Traminer was awarded 94 points by the usually quite conservative Falstaff Wine Guide. The wine is both natural and biodynamic. Skin contact is five months after fermentation in concrete egg. The wine is so fragrant, beautifully floral on the nose, yet on the palate there’s texture and for an orange wine, it tastes pretty much of oranges too (why is this so often the case?). It is also unfiltered, the sediment adding to the texture. Really delicious. Don’t be put off by the alcohol. I really didn’t notice. So many natural wines use their freshness to hide their alcohol.

I’m not sure the Hajszan Neumann “Natural” range is imported into the UK. This was purchased on a visit to Wieninger in August 2017.

Petite Arvine 2016, Les Crêtes, Valle d’Aosta (13%)

Les Crêtes, in its current incarnation as perhaps the Val d’Aosta’s premier wine producer, was created by Costantino Charrère, and his three daughters are following in his footsteps. The wines are both traditional and modern, perhaps encapsulated in the beautiful modern architecture of their tasting room, which reflects the shape of a traditional mountain hut updated to the twenty-first century.

Les Crêtes might be better known, especially in the Gambero Rosso Wine Guide, for their Chardonnay “Cuvée Bois”, a regular three glass winner, and their rendition of the region’s finest red variety, Fumin. But equally special, in my view, is their Petite Arvine.

We are only a drive over the St-Bernard Pass to Petite Arvine’s home territory in the Swiss Valais. Here at Aymavilles, the grape thrives. You get the weight of a Chardonnay with a bouquet of acacia, passion fruit and mountain herbs. The palate has quite explosive exotic fruits plus grapefruit acidity, all wrapped up in a mineral salinity which gives texture. It’s a cracking wine from one of my favourite wine regions to visit. Almost unknown in the UK, the vines grow in some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in Europe.

This is another wine imported for many years by Les Caves de Pyrene.

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Vineyards of Hampshire

Vineyards of Hampshire is an umbrella organisation for what is now eight sparkling wine producers from the county, who seem to have got their act together for joint promotion. I say “now eight” because the original seven have recently been joined by Black Chalk, Jacob Leadley’s new project, who I believe may just be the most exciting English sparkling wine producer right now.

Vineyards of Hampshire consists of Black Chalk, Cottonworth, Danebury, Exton Park, Hambledon, Hattingley Valley, Jenkyn Place and Raimes, and they all came together earlier this month for a tasting in the basement at 67 Pall Mall. Whilst there were “stars” for sure, all of the producers showed some lovely wines.

I’d especially like to highlight those brave enough to try something a little different. I’ve always liked my local Sussex vineyard, Bolney Estate’s Cuvée Noir, made from Dornfelder. It may not quite hit the high notes of their best white and pink sparklers but it does add interest to the range. No Dornfelder here, but a few interesting wines outside the norm.

BLACK CHALK

Jacob Leadley spent eight years making sparkling wine in Hampshire and is best known as a former winemaker at Hattingley Valley. The Black Chalk project, which is now his full time occupation, produces small batches of finely honed wines from grapes sourced from top growers, on a unique terroir on the western edge of the South Downs.

The praise heaped on Black Chalk, since the release of the first wines at the London Wine Fair in 2018 has been quite astonishing. Wine writers have been lining up to praise Jacob, and Jamie Goode is not wrong when he calls Black Chalk “one of the best UK Sparklers out there”. Fine praise for such a new estate.

Classic 2015 is the entry point here, 49% Chardonnay, 34% Meunier and 17% Pinot Noir. It should be noted that Jacob is rightly a fan of Pinot Meunier and here it adds ripeness to a gorgeous palate refresher which retails for around £35. The use of oak shows through but not in an intrusive way. The price is pretty good for a wine which has clearly benefited from extended lees ageing, and small batch production.

Wild Rose 2015 is a little more expensive (£40) and is a blend of 41% PN, 38% PM and 21% Ch. It has super red fruits (strawberry, raspberry), and is very clean, elegant and lifted. There is an abundance of very good English Rosé on the market now, wines which scream beautiful red fruits, but I can’t think of any which do so more than Wild Rose.

Wild Rose 2016 has a little more Pinot Noir and less Meunier than the 2015. This gives it just a lighter touch. It was only disgorged in November (6g/l dosage but there was a little residual sugar from the tirage, so it contains more like 7-8g/l). Fresh and ripe, this will certainly equal the 2015 when it is released.

This is my third time tasting with Jacob since the London Wine Fair last year and every time the wines seem to have grown in stature. It will come as no surprise that I tip them for the top.

Black Chalk’s UK agent is Red Squirrel.

COTTONWORTH

The Liddell family own thirty acres in the Test Valley between Andover and Stockbridge. As well as the two wines on show there are plans afoot for a Blanc de Blancs in the future.

Classic Cuvée NV is yet another expressive entry point wine, elegant and fresh in style. Made from almost equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a little under 10% Meunier, the Pinot fruit seems to dominate the style. Although Non-vintage, this saw 34 months on lees before being disgorged in February 2018.

Sparkling Rosé blends around 48% of both Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir with a little Pinot Precoce (aka Frühburgunder in my garden), and no Chardonnay. This sees almost as long on lees (30 months), and although it is undoubtedly fruity, it also has an interesting savoury quality.

Cottonworth is another small producer, making only 10,000 bottles each year. Quality is extremely high, and these are excellent wines, which should retail for around £30.

Cottonworth wines are available through Berkmann Cellars.

DANEBURY VINEYARDS

Danebury is also near to Stockbridge, at Nether Wallop, and is the most westerly of the group of eight. They own a single, seven acre, vineyard on a south facing slope within the former Stockbridge racecourse, which has been quietly producing sparkling wine for twenty years. Winemaker is Vince Gower.

Cossack Brut 2014 benefits from reasonably mature vines, 25 years old, but also four years extended lees ageing. Where it differs to many more recent English sparklers is the grape blend, 95% Auxerrois and 5% Pinot Gris (Rülander). The initial bouquet was slightly muted, but it opened out in a couple of minutes to something quite biscuit-like. The palate is broader than the wines based on the traditional Champagne varieties, and it’s quite savoury, but it’s nice to try something different. RRP £27. Cossack is the name of the Danebury-trained winner of the 1847 Epsom Derby.

Unusually among this group, Danebury were showing their three still white wines. Madeleine Angevine 2016 is dry with a floral bouquet and a pleasant texture. Schönburger 2016 is given a quick pressing to create a wine which is dry, softly textured, and very aromatic. The softness cushions a bright and broad grapefruit acidity. Both are delicate and refreshing wines.

Reserve 2016 blends all four varieties grown on the estate and mentioned above (proportions approx Auxerrois 38%, MA and Sch 30% each, and PG 2%). As with the two varietal wines above, alcohol is a low 11.5%. The nose is richer but the palate has fresh lemon citrus acidity. There’s a tiny bit of complexity which comes through the texture and mouthfeel.

We are just starting to see a glimmer of interest in English still wines. Always popular at the cellar door, I expect to see more working their way into independent wine shops and small restaurants, and whilst we are not looking at complex fine wines here, they undoubtedly express a pleasant English summer. All three retail for £12.50!

Danebury is available via Wineservice Ltd London.

EXTON PARK

Perhaps Exton Park would be my second favourite producer here. They are larger than many, with 55 acres (22 ha) on one site, though divided for harvesting and batch fermenting into a number of delineated plots. This allows their accomplished head winemaker, Corinne Seely, to release a number of special cuvées when exceptional fruit permits, although the overall philosophy is “terroir expression” via predominantly non-vintage wines.

Brut Reserve NV is a Pinot Noir dominated (60%) wine with the rest of the blend being Chardonnay. It sees two years on lees, but then a further two on cork, which does mean that it is nicely bedded down on release. There is a nice bit of spice in this cuvée, more savoury than many, with soy and ginger notes adding complexity. This is available in magnums (and halves), which is an excellent move in my opinion. £65/magnum is a small premium above a RRP of £27.50 for a bottle.

Blanc de Noirs NV is 100% Pinot Noir and has nice red fruit aromatics. The big fruit is contrasted by a delicate crystalline acidity. There are plenty of reserve wines in here, with a library for Corinne to select from going back to 2011. It is this carefully built library of reserve wines which helps Exton Park stand out from the crowd in England. Some producers have been too slow to build such a library, perhaps due to the dictates of cash flow. This BdN sees two years on lees, but just one on cork before release.

Rosé Brut NV is a pale salmon pink made by whole bunch saignée, utilising the ripeness of the grape skins for colour. Pressing is very gentle, for just four-to-five hours. The blend is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Meunier, the latter probably adding a little weight and ripeness. Yields are low and the wine is already a little complex, a good bet for food.

Blanc de Blancs 2011 is one of those special parcel wines I mentioned, and indeed it is pretty special. Just 3,000 bottles were made of this 100% Chardonnay. The bouquet is wonderful, quite complete, and the fruit is explosive. Although over seven years old I’d argue that it’s not yet fully mature. It may retail at £40 (the previous Exton wines all generally retail at under £30), but this is marvellous value for the quality.

Pinot Meunier Rosé is a little different, but no less fine. It’s very pale with red fruits more in the pomegranate/cranberry spectrum this time, plus an attractive umami note. It’s a brilliant expression of Meunier fruit off a special terroir, perhaps one of the finest pink sparkling wines in the UK. Real zip and zest lift it up towards the stars.

Exton Park is represented by Friarwood Fine Wines.

HAMBLEDON VINEYARD

Hambledon is England’s oldest commercial vineyard, famous for having been established by Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones in 1952. I’m not sure what Sir Guy planted back then, before anyone imagined an English sparkling wine industry, but today the focus is on the classic varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.

The soils at Hambledon are, of course, chalk, but more specifically the belemnite-rich chalk of the Newhaven Formation which closely mirrors that found in Champagne’s Côtes des Blancs. Hambledon, which it must be said has undergone something of a revival in recent years, has what for England can really be termed a massive area under vine, around 200 acres. The dominant variety is unsurprisingly Chardonnay, which dominates to one degree or another all of the Hambledon bottlings.

Hambledon Classic Cuvée doesn’t have a vintage, but the current release is mainly 2014 with reserves. It contains the least Chardonnay (40%) of the three wines with more or less equal proportions of the other two varieties. It sees a good eighteen months on lees and shows nice fruit in an accessible style.

Classic Cuvée Rosé is, surprisingly, 90% Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Noir, and it is dosed at a rather high 10 g/l. It has an orange-salmon hue from barrel aged Pinot Noir, from the 2010 vintage, the Chardonnay coming from 2014. You get strawberry and raspberry fruit with added spice, and the wine shows depth and weight. A bit of texture too makes it quite gourmande, an adaptable food wine despite (or maybe because of?) the dosage.

Première Cuvée tops the range at £45 RRP. The blend is 73% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir and just 3% Meunier, and the dosage is back down to 7 g/l, the same as the Classic. The nose has that brioche/arrowroot biscuit note from the Chardonnay, and complexity is added by the inclusion of 2011 and 2013 reserves partly aged in oak. Around 45 months on lees, this of all the wines tried at the tasting has some oxidative, as well as autolytic, notes, which do add to the complexity even further. But it doesn’t lack freshness. Impressive.

Hambledon is distributed by Fields, Morris and Verdin.

HATTINGLEY VALLEY

Established in 2008 at Lower Wield, near Alresford, Hattingley Valley has grown to 60 acres (24 ha) over two sites not far from Alton. Owned by Simon and Nicola Robinson, Chief Winemaker (and a director) is Plumpton College graduate, Emma Rice.

Classic Reserve won the Trophy for Outstanding Classic NV in the Wine GB Awards 2018. It’s an excellent entry point to the Hattingley Valley range. It comprises 50% Chardonnay with 30% PN, 19% Meunier and a dash of Pinot Gris. This wine actually deserves the term “classic” in that I’d describe it as a wine of wide appeal.

Rosé 2014 (60% PN, 38% PM and 2% Pinot Precoce) is another pink with a savoury touch adding to the appealing red fruits. The Meunier comes through as quite plush, erring towards a certain richness, and it has an extra half per cent of alcohol (12.5%) over the Classic white.

Demi-Sec 2013 is a brave wine, because connoisseurs tend to shun the style. Although it may have commercial appeal at the cellar door, I actually think this is very good. The grapes were initially selected for the Blanc de Noirs, but this parcel just had more sugar. Just 2,400 bottles were made, and the richness is nicely balanced with some fresh acidity. I’m not sure whether this will become a regular at Hattingley?

Blanc de Blancs 2013 is the new release here. 100% Chardonnay, four years on lees, and just 6 g/l dosage, right now it is much tighter than the Classic, and not a little expensive (£50 RRP), but it promises quite a lot.

Hattingley Valley Aqua Vitae is something very different, five times distilled Chardonnay from 2015 and 40% abv. It’s strong stuff and powerful on the nose, but complex, and frankly excellent.

Hattingley Valley is one of the busiest wineries in this part of Hampshire, with Emma making the wine for Raimes (see below), along with involvement in the projects by Cottonworth (including also managing the viticulture there), and Black Chalk. However, the experienced Hattingley team is producing some exciting wines and Hattingley Valley is in the top rank for English Sparkling Wine..

Hattingley Valley is represented by Enotria & Coe.

JENKYN PLACE

Jenkyn Place lies just off the A31, west of Farnham. Simon Bladon, a Yorkshire-born entrepreneur, moved in during 1997 but didn’t plant the first vines until 2004, converting the estate’s old hop gardens. The first vintage was 2006. The current acreage in production is twelve, with another 1.5 acres planted last year, which represents full capacity.

Classic Cuvée 2013 is dominated by Chardonnay (62%), with 24% PN and 14% PM. Alcohol is a relatively low 11.8% and dosage is on the higher side at 9 g/l. The bouquet is surprisingly floral and the wine itself shows a nice spine of rapier-like acidity, but within a fairly broad palate. It’s savoury and chalky.

Sparkling Rosé 2014 (52% PN, 32% Ch, 16% PM) is even lower in alcohol at 11.37% (very exact!). Dosage has sensibly been reduced here to 8 g/l allowing the fresh red fruit flavours to shine elegantly. This is another wine with a bit of umami adding a nice savoury edge. After tasting two Jenkyn Place wines, it seems that a core of elegant and crisp acidity is a style trait.

Blanc de Noirs 2010 is an equal blend of the two red varieties with five years on lees and a further couple of years on cork after disgorging (7 g/l). The style is broader and more developed, with slightly higher alcohol too, but still a nicely restrained 12%. If this does really retail for £35 it’s a bit of a bargain. Perhaps less commercial than the previous two wines, because I’d use it at the table rather than as an aperitif, but all the better for that, I think.

Jenkyn Place is represented by New Generation McKinley.

RAIMES

Robert and Augusta Raimes grow just ten acres of vines on their family farm and on the Tichborne Estate on the South Downs, just east of the M3 Motorway, not far from Black Chalk. The wine is made by Emma Rice at Hattingley Valley. Two cuvées are produced.

Raimes Classic 2014 (51% Chardonnay, 29% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier) deservedly won a Gold Medal and Trophy at the last International Wine Challenge. The style is quite rounded and the acidity is less pronounced than in some wines here. I would say that the dosage tasted slightly higher than the 7 g/l listed for some reason, but that doesn’t detract in any way from the quality spotted by the IWC Panels.

Raimes Blanc de Noirs 2015 (69% PN, 31% PM) interestingly tastes as if the dosage is lower, yet it is 8 g/l. Part of this is perhaps down to the savoury aspect both on the bouquet and the palate, and a little dry texture. In some ways that makes it the more interesting wine to the connoisseur, if slightly less commercial. I’d never tasted the Raimes wines before, so I need to get to know them better, though as they produce just 1,000 bottles a year of this lovely BdN (out of a total annual production of around 7,000 bottles) that may not be all that easy. So worth seeking out.

As far as I’m aware, Raimes has no UK agent, hardly surprising with such low production. Contact Augusta Raimes via info@raimes.co.uk for trade enquiries.

Summing up

What are my conclusions? I have to say that I’ve never been in favour of classifying English Sparkling Wine by County, but we do see here a group of producers who all make wines off the chalk terroir of the South Downs. It is by no means the case that all English Sparkling Wine comes off chalk. I wonder whether some of the growers of Sussex and Kent will follow the same promotional path?

Whilst there are notable English producers who do grow vines on soils other than chalk, there is an argument that chalk produces the best wines. But here we should be very much aware that the chalk we see on the South Downs is by no means uniform. That is exactly the same as the situation in the wider Champagne Region.

This enables the producers here to exhibit one thing in common. Although they vary in size, from Danebury’s seven acres and Raimes’ ten acres to Hambledon’s 200 acres, all of them are engaged in trying to reflect their particular terroir. It is via this path that I think the English Sparkling Wine industry is coming of age.

Although a lot of total twaddle is expressed in the wider media about English fizz, the past fifteen-to-twenty years has seen a real refinement in what some producers are doing. Success can’t be founded on a single vintage in wine, but it is clear that success is being built over time, perhaps precariously in terms of the weather (especially late frosts) and increased costs, but the signs are wonderfully positive when you attend a tasting such as this.

The wines patently do not taste superior to the finest Champagnes, but they are very good indeed, and to an extent, an English style is developing off English chalk. There’s a lot of pristine fruit and freshness and lacelike wines often grip firm spines of lifted acidity.

The Vineyards of Hampshire web site (see here) lists events and cellar open days in 2019, including the Vineyards of Hampshire Fizz Fest at Exton Park on Sunday 21st July.

Posted in Artisan Wines, English Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“…Yellow, Orange and Red” – the Diverse and Wonderful Indigo Portfolio

I used to think of Indigo Wine as a small-to-medium importer with a portfolio focused on Spain, but in truth they seem to have grown rather rapidly into something larger and much more diverse, but without loss of direction. There’s a lot of finger on the pulse stuff alongside names that have become quite established now.

On 12 February Indigo took over two floors of the increasingly popular China Exchange venue in London’s Soho. Twenty-one wine producers were present, most showing between four to half-a-dozen wines, approaching a hundred wines. I plan to mention around fifty. So many? I can tell you, I’d be happy to drink all of these, and more.

For those for whom it matters, Indigo states that the vast majority of its wines are suitable for vegans. It’s something they are hot on.

Indigo works with Biercraft, the small but very important beer merchant which supplies so many perfectly formed craft beers to the independent trade. Aside from deserving equal billing with Indigo, there’s nothing better at the end of a wine tasting than to sip on a few beers, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Hoffmann & Rathbone, Sussex, UK

This East Sussex producer, based in Mountfield north of Battle, has impressed me every time I taste their wines, and with a “Wines of Hampshire” tasting the following day, it felt good to try something from the home team, so to speak.

Their Classic Cuvée comprises 60% Pinot Noir with 30% Chardonnay and 10% Meunier, bottled with 7g/l dosage. The nose here is beautifully precise, but the palate has a bit more weight, definitely a wine with gastronomic possibilities. The base vintage here is 2013.

Blanc de Blancs 2011 won best English Wine at the London Wine Competition. With more than five years on lees it has a nascent complexity, yet a refreshing peach and floral dimension. Elegant yet with body.

Rosé Reserve 2011 is a salmon-pink blend of 85% PN with 15% Ch. The colour comes from a little skin contact. This is, once more, a food wine, showing red berry fruits which burst with flavour on the palate. As well as the obvious fish pairings I think this would stand up to game, paté and even dark chocolate.

These wines retail between £44 and £48, but they are nicely packaged and definitely worth seeking out. I find I like them more and more as I get to know them.

Hirsch, Kamptal, Austria

Johannes Hirsch makes wine around the Kamptal village of Kammern, east of the Wachau, working the two major varieties of the region, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, the latter planted on the steeper slopes and the former beneath, where the soils are more fertile.

The entry level Grüner, Hirschvergnügen (2017) is nice, but the village wine, Kammern 2017, is a step up. The predominantly loess soils give a softness combined with a nice minerality. Kammern is pretty well known for its fine Grüner Veltliner, and Kammerner Lamm is the village’s best cru. Kammerner Lamm 2016 is spicy with a lovely bouquet, but the same wine from the 2012 vintage shows its class. It’s still youthful but the spice and mineral texture are impressive.

Two Rieslings prove Hirsch is not all about the Grüner. Riesling Zöbing 2015 is classic and juicy. It is drinking nicely, though the acids will enable it to age further. The single site Riesling Zöbinger Gaisberg 2015 has an even more complex bouquet and is finely honed, the best wine on the table, off the mica and schist soils which can produce such fine examples of Riesling, proving you should not always think Wachau.

Birgit Braunstein, Burgenland, Austria

Birgit is someone I warm to a lot. Burgenland seems to be well placed for exceptional female winemakers and Birgit is definitely one of the finest. Purbach is her base, near the top western corner of the Neusiedlersee, where her family (like so many in the area) has been making wine for 400 years.

There’s a cliché I always hear with Birgit’s wines, that they are sensual. Well, they are, I suppose, but there is so much more to her than this (and we don’t even see her famous amphora wines in the UK).

Birgit

First we go through the lovely, pure, varietals…Welschriesling and Pinot Blanc, and then the Rosé (all 2017). I particularly recommend the pink, a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch which has just a few hours on skins. It’s always delicious, and I do believe Zweigelt makes great sappy rosé.

Pinot Vom Berg 2016 does what it says on the label (hillside vines, actually around 17 years old). Aged in acacia, there’s a balance of tannin and red fruit. Give it a little while to settle.

Blaufränkisch Heide 2015 won Birgit a “Female Winemaker of Europe” Award. It’s a fabulous Leithaberg wine, with all the iron-freshness that the schist and chalky limestone soils of this particular site impart.

Wildwux 2016 is a blend of Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and Merlot. But its also a special project for Birgit, one of biodiversity. The site has herbs, bees, chickens and bird houses, so that the vines grow in as wild an environment as is possible for commercial viticulture. This is a lovely blend, far from being merely worthy. On my list!

Finally, from under the table, Blaufränkisch Leithaberg DAC 2015. This is made from old vines on very chalky limestone soils and is concentrated and fine. Wines for those who appreciate Judith Beck and Heidi Schröck. Highly recommended at all levels…but I still need to see these amphora wines in the country.

Péter Wetzer, Sopron and Tokaj, Hungary

Does Péter Wetzer know how good his wines are? He often seems a bit nonplussed by the attention, and equally, to be fair, I’m not sure how many people know his wines that well. Sometimes I’m the only one at his table. I’ve known them for long enough to appreciate them as some of the best from Hungary.

Three wines only here. The white Furmint 2016 comes from vines in the Tokaj Region, off dark volcanic terroir. Basket pressed and then fermented and aged in 500 litre Hungarian oak, the stunning bouquet is quite high-toned, whilst on the palate this is a gentle natural wine with a softness you don’t expect.

Of the two reds, the Kékfrankos (Austria’s Blaufränkisch) is the native grape. A brambly wine with big legs, it is initially soft and gentle, yet there’s a lick of tannin and a bitter peppery twist on the finish. Pinot Noir 2016 comes, like the previous wine, from Sopron, near the Austrian border at the southern end of the Neusiedlersee. The source is two vineyards, one on schist and the other, limestone. Thirty percent is fermented with stems, a third whole bunch. A vibrant cherry colour is matched with intense cherry on nose and palate. It’s very juicy, but with tannin too.

All of these wines are exceptional.

Eugenio Bocchino, Piemonte, Italy

This small Alba producer (around 5.5 hectares) isn’t well known to me at all, but beginning with his Langhe Nebbiolo “Roccabella” 2015 I was drawn to its floral bouquet. It’s a juicy Nebbiolo and an attractive version of a DOC that can so often disappoint.

Barbera d’Alba 2017 comes from vineyards at Verduno where the variety has managed to bag some promising hillside sites. It’s a dark Barbera which coats the glass, and proves that Nebbiolo isn’t the only variety worth pursuing in this part of Piemonte.

I’m not sure whether Indigo imports any Bocchino Barolo, but Perucca Nebbiolo d’Alba 2013 is a fine example of the variety, the estate’s signature wine from a monopole site overlooking the town of Alba itself. It is treated like a Barolo. The vineyard is clay and limestone at 250 metres, exposed southwest. Ageing is 24 months in oak cask then 24 months in bottle. This seems to me of no less quality than a fine Barolo, a bit of a hidden gem, perhaps.

Vitor Claro, Portalegre, Portugal

Portalegre? It’s in Alentejo. Vitor caught the wine bug whilst working in a restaurant for Dirk Niepoort, and Dirk (as always) provided lots of advice to get him started. The vines are at altitude (650 metres) and average 85 years old, so a promising start.

Of the six wines on show, three stood out for me. The white Dominó 2016 is a field blend from vineyards up near the Spanish border. Imagine a savoury, dry, softness.

Pulso Nat’cool 2017 is made from Castelão grown on the Lisbon seashore. It’s a pale red with a dusty, ethereal, scent, very restrained. The red version of Dominó (2015) is a bigger, classic Portuguese savoury red. A field blend of old varieties, it has tannic structure and a genuine food friendly quality which gets me every time. Goat would work! Yes, why don’t we drink more classic Portuguese reds?

Evening Land, Willamette Valley, USA

This is Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman’s famous collaboration, and it was great to see Sashi on hand to pour the wines, pretending to be no one famous at all. Each one of these wines is a star, even the least expensive among them (even more so as the top wines do cost an arm and a leg).

Seven Springs Willamette Valley Chardonnay is pretty damned good in both 2015 and 2016. La Source 2015 is a clearly big step up, but at double the price, a single parcel with low yields off shallow soils. It is aged, unusually, in 500 litre Austrian oak and the sweet fruit is classy and elegant.

Three Pinot Noirs are no less thrilling. The cheapest wine here (£17 to the trade), Salem Wine Company 2016, is fruity with a savoury nose (soy?). Seven Springs Pinot Noir 2016 is bigger, more tannic, needing time but very classy. Top of the tree is the remarkable Anden Pinot Noir 2016. 100% whole bunch from old vines, it has all the features of a Pinot that is built to age, but although it’s from a cool site the fruit still has a sunny disposition. The complexity of the Amity Hills terroir is evident. Occasionally I crave wealth, but only so I could afford to buy a wine like this. Wow, it’s good!

Gaintza, Getaria, Spain

Txacoli is one of the great summer wines, full of apple freshness, to be drunk more as an alcoholic long drink, as a thirst quencher. The Lazkano family has been making this Basque speciality for four generations since the 1920s. The vineyards are coastal, but protected by the Garate hill. The maritime climate gives amazing freshness to these wines.

Gaintza Txacolina 2018 is a classic Txacoli de Getaria with small bubbles adding zest and zip. Floral and appley-crisp. Aitako 2017 comes from one plot of 100-year-old vines, of which, along with the more traditional Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltz, contains around 10% Chardonnay. With 12 months on lees, this has a bit more depth. The fruit is very ripe.

Much as I really like the two white wines, I was rather taken with the pink, Gaintza Roses 2018. The two Hondarrabi varieties are blended together (60% Hondarrabi Beltz, the red grape version, in this case). It has the characteristic tiny bubbles of some Txacoli, with pure-scented red fruits and perfectly judged acidity, making a perfect summer aperitif (I must source a couple of bottles).

I’m not much of a fan of scores, but when a Txacoli producers achieves scores in the 90s for all three wines at the 2018 International Wine Challenge, it is perhaps worthy of noting.

Coto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Spain

Coto de Gomariz make the well known The Flower and The Bee wines, both of which are great bets if you see them on a restaurant list. The red (2016), made from Sousón is both tannic and even a tad bitter, but genuinely interesting.

For a few quid more, Coto de Gomariz Blanco 2016 off three sites is more complex, soft and savoury. Gomariz Xistos 2017 is 95% Albariño with Treixadura off schist. This is “inland” Albariño, very different. It has a textured, highly mineral, edge, definitely one for food.

Colleita Seleccionada 2016 is selected fruit aged 14 months in 500 litre French oak. A fine savoury white with more weight. This producer’s growing reputation is well deserved.

Fedellos do Couto, Ribeira Sacra, Spain

Ribeira Sacra boasts some of Spain’s most truly beautiful vineyards, but with that beauty comes a near impossibility to work them profitably. Backbreaking toil requires real dedication, but so often these high terraces yield wines which justify the work, as they do here.

I’ve written about Fedellos do Couto before, and the wines are reasonably well known, so I shall only mention one. This is not a Mencia. Bastarda 2017 is made from what is effectively Jura’s Trousseau, grown here on wild granite and slate rather than that region’s marls. Whole bunch macerated, this is so beautifully pale with a stunner of a dreamlike nose. It’s an unbelievable wine and one of my wines of the day. I adore it.

Bodegas Peixes, Galicia, Spain

Peixas is located just outside the Valdeorras region and this is, I think, their first vintage. It’s a side project by the chaps at Fedellos do Couto with old bush vines on terraces at serious altitude (up to 850 metres) above the river valley. The soils here are granite with a high mica content and every plot is treated separately.

The three wines are all red, all 2016, called Lacazan, Peixe da Estrada and Peixes da Rocha. The latter might be the best and incidentally is the most expensive, but it is only £17 to the trade. Every one of these is brilliant so get in there swiftly. Smooth and slightly bitter-sour wines of real personality and individuality with that characteristic northern crispness and bite.

César Márquez, Bierzo, Spain

Still in NW Spain, we finally get to Bierzo, where Mencia rules. But I’m going to highlight the white wine from César Márquez. This young guy is blessed with the region’s most famous uncle, Raul Pérez. He’s used his contacts well, working in Mendoza for the Michelini Brothers for a time, before returning to work 100-y-o vines at Valtuille de Abajo.

Everything is trad. Long macerations and 12 months in oak, using mainly Mencia for the reds, but with odds and ends which make up field blends, as was the way here in Bierzo. The Bierzo reds are not textbook…in that they have an elegance many lack these days. But the white here, from these very old vines, is complex and special. La Salvación 2017 comes from a mere 550 metres altitude, is made from Godello fermented in 500 litre oak, then aged 12 months in barrel. Due to hit the UK in March, a producer to watch closely.

Dominio del Águila, Ribera del Duero, Spain

You don’t often find me recommending Ribera del Duero wines. Their tannin heft doesn’t usually chime with my preference for more elegant fare. The producers in this region have, in many cases, taken a step back in Parkerised time to produce something more redolent of the 1990s. Jorge Monzón is different. His wines are more restrained and terroir-expressive, as you’d expect from a man whose first job was at DRC, and who worked a year more recently at Vega Sicilia.

Blanco 2015 is worth a look for its herby white fruit (from Albillo) made fresh by limestone in the soils. Expensive though. There’s a lovely rosado, Picaro del Águila Clarete 2016, made from Bobal, Garnacha and Albillo, and a similarly priced Tempranillo red, Picaro del Águila 2016, both around £18 to the trade. Then we more than double the price to the Reserva 2014. Leather and plum, quite tannic but with exceptional fruit.

Priced at £204, unless it was a misprint, Canta la Perdiz 2014 comes from a high altitude single vineyard on a rare form of limestone covered with a layer of sand. It’s 95% Tempranillo with a few co-planted interlopers. This is a very fine wine, although I would guess the UK market is pretty tiny.

Pamela Geddes – Lobban Wines, Regional Spain

Pamela’s location is vague because she sources fruit from Calatayud and Jumilla, but makes wine in Cava country, in the village of St Jaume Sesoliveres, near to St Sadurni d’Anoia. She’s always getting hassled by the authorities for her labels, but her wines are wonderful, handcrafted gems. I think their appeal is assisted in no small part by Pamela’s lovely Aberdeen accent.

Babito Brut is merely labelled as a Vino Espumoso de Calidad, but its a beautifully fresh Xarel-lo fermented in bottle. There are two more sparklers, La Rosita being a great take on ripe, red, Garnacha and La Pamelita, perhaps her best known wine, being a Syrah aged on lees for eight years (so this is really a 2010 vintage). There’s a sweetness to the fruit but the wine is dry, much more European than any Aussie sparkling Shiraz would taste. The wines are ridiculously cheap.

Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife, Spain

This producer may be the most famous of the Canary Island labels, but the quality remains just as astonishingly good as ever. Jonatan (Garcia Lima) managed to produce eight wines here in London, somehow. I won’t mention Trenzado, La Solana, nor 7 Fuentes, because I’ve written about them relatively recently.

Nat Cool 2017 is Listán Negro aged in concrete and bottled at just 11.5% abv, with very low sulphur, and it’s one of my wines of the moment from Suertes.

El Lance 2016 is a soft blend of five different red varieties which are fermented in a mix of concrete and plastic, and then aged in 228 litre and 500 litre oak. It has the grippy but fresh mouthfeel of a wine from volcanic terroir.

El Chibirique 2016 is a pale red parcel wine, textured and almost tea-like. It’s a lighter style of wine, yet sits over a fairly tannic base. I love this, though have drunk it rarely. But the 2016 is really on form. It’s 100% Listán Negro fermented in open plastic vats before seeing ten months ageing in mixed oak.

El Ciruelo 2016 is the same variety (with a tiny bit of co-planted Listán Blanco), but this time fermented in concrete. It’s a red with a clearly orange/brick tinge. It’s quite peppery. Named after an old plum tree in this vineyard.

Out from under the table came the final wine, a sample of La Floridita 2018. This is a new light red, showing the softness of Listán Negro fermented in concrete for four days on skins before transfer to barrel without skins. It’s mega-fruity, very much a wine to grab for this summer before it is all snapped up.

BIERCRAFT

It’s totally unfair that Biercraft draw the short straw, as a postscript, but I guess most readers are not here for an in-depth beer tasting. Nick and Theresa distribute a whole host of great craft beers: Lost & Grounded (Bristol), Cloudwater (Manchester), Verdant Brewing (Cornwall), Beavertown (Tottenham, London), The Kernel (Bermondsey, London celebrating their tenth anniversary this year), and Burning Sky (Firle, East Sussex) are all names I buy fairly regularly.

One of my new favourites, on account of them being based quite close to my parents’ home village, is Braybrooke Beer Co, from near Market Harborough, Leicestershire (where I pick them up at local wine merchant, Duncan Murray). Their ingredients are shipped from Bamberg in Germany and their lagers are all unfiltered and unpasteurised. Their Keller Lager is described as the UK’s most authentic, and I was enjoying their New Zealand Pilsner just this weekend.

Honey Märzen is a 5.9% abv collaboration Braybrooke has done with Beavertown as part of their “Seven Deadly Sins” project – one tank from each of seven brewers. This is a strong beer, but lovely and fresh with that honey(ed) nose. Rare, so if you see some…

I probably didn’t expect to be ending this article with an alcohol free beer. Most are frankly terrible in my opinion, but Lucky Saint, whose posters of beer drinking nuns in habits are appearing all over London, is different. This is also unpasteurised and unfiltered Bavarian lager which is brewed in the classic way before the alcohol is removed by distillation in a vacuum, so there is no heat damage. The beer then sees a six week cold storage before shipping.

I’m told this is made for the posh hotel market (my words), and is “reassuringly expensive”, but flavour-wise, I can’t fault it. They should have been handing out bottles on the door on the way out!

Posted in Artisan Wines, Beer, Portuguese wine, Spanish Wine, Vegan Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winemakers Club, Otros Vinos and Wines Under the Bonnet by Inna Sirota

Having made rash promises more than a week ago about all the articles I was going to write, I promptly got ill. Those promises will be met, eventually, but in the meantime I was unable to make it to the tasting at Antidote earlier this week. 

Help was at hand…Inna Sirota has provided some notes on her favourite  wines from this event. I hope that they provide some recompense for my own  inactivity. I’d like to thank her for generously giving of her time to provide a  record of this important tasting.

Inna spent fifteen years crunching numbers in New York (banking) and London (Google) before deciding to quit finance in order to concentrate on her passion for wine travel and photography (and hopefully a lot more wine writing). She began her real journey helping with the 2017 vintage in the Barossa, at Smallfry Wines, having already by 2016 achieved WSET Level 3. Inna says that she loves travelling to wine regions and hearing the winemakers’ stories, as well as connecting with everyone in wine. You will find her doing just that on Instagram as @poetryinawineglass.

Looks like pouring wines is thirsty work

Going to a new portfolio wine tasting must feel like entering the shop for a fashionista when the new season arrives – excitement and joy in the anticipation of all the new shiny, beautiful, trendy and exciting things the stores might have in wait for you.

That’s how I felt going into the trade tasting of The Winemakers Club, Otros Vinos, and Wines Under the Bonnet to sample their new arrivals in the airy room above Antidote Wine Bar near Oxford Circus.

What’s on trend? What’s new & exciting, what’s reassuringly beautiful but well known?

Below are my highlights from each importer. Turns out it is a very difficult exercise to write, taste and communicate at the same time!

THE WINEMAKERS CLUB

Ismael Gozalo of MicroBio Wines, Nieva, Rueda, Spain

Sin Nombre 2016 from 100 year old pre-phylloxera Verdejo vines, 900 metres elevation, mixed soils of limestone and clay, sandy topsoil. Twenty months on its lees, half of the time in large format oak barrels, then transferred on its fine lees into stainless steel tanks.

It is a special wine, full of its uniqueness. The little these ancient vines produce make for a complex and concentrated wine, round yet fresh, tingling on the palate. On the nose Chardonnay-like, ripe citrus, yellow stone fruits, mineral and a touch of brioche and yeast. Only 1,200 bottles made.

Karim Vionnet, Villié-Morgon, Beaujolais, France

Good old Beaujolais, oh how much I love you! And so happy to taste Karim’s wines again.

Beaujolais-Villages 2017 from two vineyards near Morgon, glass fibre vat fermentation, then 3 months in concrete tanks. Very well structured for Beaujolais-Villages. I could smell wet granite soils, super yummy red fruits. Delish!

Chénas 2016 aged for 3 months in Burgundian barrels. What a great nose, super sexy wine, complex aromas of fruits, rocks, minerality.

I don’t drink much Chianti these days for obvious reasons to natural wine lovers. But I’d throw in this one for the delight we sometimes need from a good old Chianti. Setriolo, Castellina in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy – mostly an olive farm, but now making their own wines from 4ha planted, organically farmed.

Chianti Classico 2014 – 95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot. Fermented in steel and cement tanks with 15 days of skin maceration. Aged for 12 months predominantly in cement and steel with a small proportion in 2nd passage American oak barrels, and 6 months in bottle before release. A classic Chianti nose of dark cherries, smokey, almost cigar-like, meaty. Good muscular tannins to support the palate.

OTROS VINOS

Costador Terroirs Mediterrani, Conca de Barberà, Spain

Sumoll Blanc Brisat 2016

Costador wines by Joan Franquet from the Conca de Barberà region of Spain are unique, and not only because they are bottled in the cool-looking, mighty ceramic bottles. Vines are 60 years old, tended organically, on soils of slate, clay and limestone. This is 100% rare Sumoll Blanc, 8 weeks whole berry maceration, 5 months in French oak and the result is this delicate flower that you cannot stop smelling and drinking. This lightness and effervescence is the trademark of Costador wines.

Bodega La Senda, Bierzo, Spain

El Aqueronte 2017

Thirst crunching with great mouthfeel, 70-year-old Mencia vines, whole bunch fermentation, eight months in chestnut barrels. It was so good, finally a very good Mencia!

The winemaker Diego Losada was born and raised in Ponferrada, Bierzo. He started Bodega La Senda in 2012, apparently quite a rebel (comes through the labels too). Diego works with old vines, mineral rich (clay or calcareous with slate, iron, gold or quartz) but nutrient poor soils on steep slopes. The wine is pure & clean.


WINES UNDER THE BONNET

Yann, Anna & André Durrmann, Andlau, Alsace, France

Kastelberg Riesling Nature 2017

New in Wines Under the Bonnet portfolio! I had to look up where Andlau actually was, while still in Alsace, it is a 30 minute drive south west of Strasbourg, further north than the well known regions of Haut-Rhin. André Durrmann took over his family estate in 1979, converted it to fully organic viticulture in 1998, and applied principles of permaculture to achieve the greatest possible biodiversity in the vineyards.

The vast majority of the production is sold to private individuals who buy at the cellar door. 28-year-old Yann, André’s son, is helping his father and they are now producing several ‘natural wine’ cuvees (labelled “Nature”). This Kastelberg is one of them – wine from the Grand Cru site which rises directly behind the town, a gorgeous Riesling, full of complexity on the nose and palate, a strong stand out.

Editor’s note – I’m so happy Inna liked the Durrmann wine. I’m going to claim that the UK had not heard about this producer until I visited in 2017.  If you’d like to read my article on  that visit, you will find it here.

Thomas Boutin, Rochefort-sur-Loire, Angers, France

2016 Quillette – Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Grolleau

A tiny producer (3ha), Tom Boutin started in 2008 in Rochefort-sur-Loire (across the Loire river from the famous Savennières), practising minimal intervention, after having worked for many years in larger wineries. Quillette – Gamay (55%), Cabernet Franc (40%), Grolleau (5%), undergoes a separate eight day maceration and fermentation (whole bunch) before pressing. Assembled in fiberglass tanks, Super easy drinking, crunchy, fresh wine with complexity. Lovely! 13.5% abv

A mental note to myself – next time, arrive early when trade people & wine is fresh. But overall, a very fun compact tasting.

Posted in Inna Sirota, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nekter-Roland-Modal

February is the month when we suddenly begin to see calendar congestion. The Spring portfolio tastings come so thick and fast that it is unfortunately impossible to go to them all. I’ve tried to select a good variety. The first of these, which I’m bringing to you today, is a trio of tiny importers who I would suggest are bringing some stars of the future to the UK. All three of them I consider very important because they are pushing boundaries.

Nekter Wines specialises in the New World, effectively South Africa, North America and Australia, where they have deep knowledge. Nic Rizzi’s Modal Wines is hot on Central Europe, but also ventures into Spain, Germany, Italy and France. Roland Szimeiszter is the guy behind Roland Wines, and he’s focused on Central Europe, covering Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia and also Serbia.

As a heads-up of what is to follow in the next three weeks here on Wideworldofwine, we shall have write-ups for Indigo Wines, Wines of Hampshire (don’t look away, this was an excellent tasting at 67 Pall Mall), and another trio of wonderful small importers, Winemakers Club, Wines Under The Bonnet and Otros Vinos (who are presenting at Antidote next Tuesday). I also owe you “January Wines” , an article on the exciting Austrian spirits of Invivo, and an article on some new and interesting wine publications. That’s a lot to get through, so bear with me.

NEKTER

Imogen and Jonothan

It looks as if each importer was allowed fifteen wines on the table, plus another wine each on a food matching table. I started with Nekter, whose range has some superb simmering wines which may be new to many readers.

The Matthiasson Family may be well known, certainly as pioneers of organic viticulture out west, in California, but their Tendu wines, bottled in litres, are less well known. There’s a white (2016) Vermentino-Colombard, and a red (2017) Aglianico-Barbera-Montepulciano blend, both off the alluvial and pink gravel soils of the Dunnigan Hills AVA (Northeast of Napa, some way south of Colusa). Both are great palate cleansers, the white being particularly lovable for its 10.3% abv lightness, the red being a strong contender for hot summer barbecue duty (simple bitter cherry fruit and a heatwave-tolerant 11.7% abv).

Steve and Jill live a genuinely “back to the land” life in Napa, producing a lot of what they eat along with their wines. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Steve worked for some of the biggest names in California wine before some of the ideas he soaked up as a philosophy grad made him rethink a few things. Especially the issue of ripeness and alcohol. This is why their wines are always ripe, fresh but shall we say higher in liquids than jammy solids (alcohols are restrained for California, to be sure). Pretty much anything they make is worth exploring, but these simple wines really exemplify so much of what these Californian pioneers of sustainability stand for.

Staying with alternative varieties, another interesting producer is somewhat less well known. Ferdinand Wines gave us an Albarino 2017 from Borden Ranch (an AVA straddling Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties), and a 2014 Tempranillo from Sierra Foothills.

Evan Frazier is the guy behind Ferdinand. He used to work for John Kongsgaard, and in fact he makes his wine in the Kongsgaard facility. The Albarino, which spends 18 months in barrel, has some tropical notes, but it also tastes a little like a Chablis-style Chardonnay, perhaps some influence from the superb Chardonnays he made for Kongsgaard.

The Tempranillo has a gentle strawberry/cherry bouquet and comes from the famous Shake Ridge Vineyard owned by Anne Kraemer in Amador County. The fruit is all destemmed and it goes into oak (a small proportion of which is new) for 22 months. It’s pure with lovely fruit and structure, but it does pack 14.1% alcohol.

There are also some wines in a can from Ferdinand. Don’t laugh, they are fun, and wine in a tinny has come a long way since I used to see the alcoholics guzzling the M&S cans on the early train to London Victoria.

Donkey and Goat is a label you may have come across as it has been getting a bit of social media coverage lately. Jared and Tracey Brandt make natural wines in Berkeley, California. When I say “natural”, they will use minimal sulphur, but nothing else is added at any stage. Perli Mendocino Ridge Chardonnay 2016 spends ten months in barrel but the fruit is picked early. This gives the wine real zip, but without too overt acidity. Stone Crusher El Dorado Roussanne 2017 sees 12 days on skins, giving some texture and a savoury, even sour, note, but it’s lovely. Hard to choose between the two, though the Roussanne is a fascinating wine.

Geyer Wines perhaps won my producer of the day award on the Nekter table. Dave Geyer is based in the Barossa and is making natural wines from varieties just outside the mainstream. The absolute freshness, wholly uncharacteristic of many old fashioned Barossas, is exemplified in his very lovely Barossa Semillon 2017. Forty-three year old vines, direct press with a little skin contact adding complexity and texture, silky fruit, and all for 11% abv.

Rosé 2017 is a blend of 55% Cinsault with Pinot Meunier and Grenache, the latter from 100-y-o vines. Pale with an ethereal strawberry/raspberry scent, it could have been a New World Poulsard. Lovely sour/savoury palate. Then we have Seaside Cabernet Franc. This is also a 2017, hailing from the Adelaide Hills. The nose is classic Cab Franc, and the violet scented fruit (whole bunch fermentation) is delicate, but still hitting 13% abv. Deliciously sappy and juicy.

We also had a couple of exemplary producers (the first new to me) from South Africa. Bryan MacRobert Wines is a producer in Abbotsdale, just southwest of Malmsbury (technically Swartland but off most vineyard maps). Chenin Blanc 2015 is remarkable value, tasting quite a bit more expensive than the price (maybe a little over a tenner) suggests. The vines grow on east-facing slopes, giving cooler evenings, so you get just 12.5% abv and a lovely fresh acidity along with obviously Chenin flavours. Abbotsdale Syrah 2015 is also good value, and both wines make excellent by the glass options for the restaurant trade.

Martin Smith owns Paserene with Ndabe Mareda. These are wines at the opposite end of the spectrum, in the luxury bracket, though it’s all relative. Luxury wines but not luxury prices.

Union 2015 is labelled Western Cape, but it is made from Martin’s Tulbagh fruit: 51% Syrah with Carignan and Mourvèdre which sees 20 months in old oak. A serious wine, yet approachable. Shiner 2016 starts with 80% Cabernet Franc, plus 13% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, all from Stellenbosch. It’s a big boy, and I quote, “a badass wine”. Marathon 2016 is heavy…I mean the bottle. Sourced in Stellenbosch, it has 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Petit Verdot and the rest Carmenère (I think this is the only Carmenère vineyard in South Africa). This flagship cuvée knocks out a big 14% abv, but you do get class and developing complexity for your money.

MODAL

Nic was showing the broadest spread of wines out of the three importers, so everything here was quite individual and different. The wines mentioned below were my own favourites, and this included four wines from my favourite Modal producer of all, Weingut Joiseph.

Nic

Based in Jois, near the top of the Neusiedlersee in Austria’s Burgenland, this is the project of Luka Zeichmann with Richard Artner and Xandl Kagl. They cultivate six hectares now, starting out with much less in 2015, on limestone and shale at the foot of the Leithaberg Range. Their work in the vineyard supercedes everything else. They are star wines, but not for the faint hearted I might add. They take more than a cursory swig.

Fogosch 2017 is the new vintage (I still have a ’16 left). It is always an edgy Grüner. Softer than many, it has texture and extract. There’s bags of interest. Also from the new 2017s, Welschriesling has twelve weeks’ skin contact. Sweet and sour, almost literally. One of the most singular versions of this grape you’ll find.

Roter Faden is a truly beautiful blend of Zweigelt (from Trift), Pinot Noir from the Langen Ohne site, and Blaufränkisch from Obersatz. It’s basically just amazingly fruity, and I have to have some for summer. Last but not least is BFF 2017. It can’t be called by its grape, Blaufränkisch, due to DAC complications, but it has the vibrant colour and freshness of limestone-grown Blau’ (from the Neuberg). The fruit and texture are delicate and it has a lingering mouthfeel that goes on and on. Not a heavy wine, yet it stains the glass.

Everything by Joiseph comes in tiny quantities (between 1,000 and 1,500 bottles and a few magnums from each cuvée), so they are fiendishly hard to get hold of, but well worth the effort. Wines for the adventurous connoisseur of Austrian natural wine.

Staffelter Hof is an old family farm based in one of the Mosel’s lesser known villages, Kröv, which you can look over the river towards if you are on the wonderful Mosel cycle path heading for Traben-Trarbach (it’s at the start of the big bend which almost encircles Wolf).

I’m not sure I remember tasting their wines before but they are quite different, as Little Bastard (2017) signals just by its name. It’s an unusual blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Muller-Thurgau and Muscat in what I would call a gemischter satz style (both as a field bled and as a prickly fresh white). I thought it was brilliant fun, light and summery. I must admit, I couldn’t find this, nor the “Little Red Riding Wolf” on their web site, and I almost thought I’d got a different producer of the same name, but no, Modal links to the same producer. I suspect the younger generation is at work.

Silice Viticultores is a producer I’ve mentioned before, and again, one whose red wine I have in the cellar. Fredi Torres has worked internationally, and at Clos Mogador in Priorat. He’s the co-ordinator for a group of producers in Northern Spain’s beautiful Ribeira Sacra region. Blanco 2017 is new to me, and turns out to be just as exciting as the red. It’s Albariño (the inland version being quite different to the coastal strain) with Treixadura and Palomino, one third each. Just 11.5% abv, fresh and mineral with a nice roundness underneath.

Tinto 2017 is the wine I know from the previous vintage. Pure-fruited Mencia (80%) plus a field blend of other local varieties, and I mean pure. If you think Mencia has become big and ballsy, especially in Bierzo, give this a try. It’s more delicate. It’s a wine that helped me fall back in love with a grape variety I thought would be Spain’s big red hope a decade ago.

There follows a handful more wines that deserve exploration. Nibiru Grundstein Grüner Veltliner 2017 is from Kamptal, but is not DAC-labelled. Nice and juicy. Slobodne Cutis Deviner 2015 is a Slovakian rarity from the Hlohovec region, and is a blend of Roter Traminer and the autochthonous Devin variety.


The Slobodne story has been touched on before on this blog…a family who took part in the rebellion against Nazi occupation only to lose their land in the Communist era. The younger(ish) generation got it back in (I think) 2010, and have been making natural wines in Western Slovakia since then. If you really want something different this is your bottle. The nose alone is worth the entry, and the palate gives you a host of white and yellow fruits and a sourness. It’s very different, and I love it, I really do.

With Atelier Kramar we are in Slovenia, in the western part of Goriška Brda (Barbana to be exact). The wines, from 4.5 hectares, are effectively biodynamic (including attending rigidly to the phases of the moon). Primario 2016 is made from Rebula which saw three days skin maceration and six months in 1,000 litre oak (note that the 2017 saw a different method). This is another wonderfully textured wine with a nice plumpness.

Last but not least, Cascina Borgatta. This pioneer of organic wine production in the Alto Monferrato hills is based at Tagliolo, just east of Ovado. Production, since 1948, has been solely Dolcetto and Barbera, of which together they make under 10,000 bottles a year. Lamilla 2013 is 100% Dolcetto, perhaps not Piemonte’s most highly regarded grape, but something of a speciality in this part of the region (Ovado, Acqui Terme).

If you think the vines are quite old (over 40 years), then this is nothing compared to Emilio Oliveri, who is still making the wine in his eighties. This bottling is fermented in concrete and aged in stainless steel. It’s juicy, like all the best Dolcetto, but it also has a serious side, justifying the four years it has in bottle before release. Old school.

ROLAND

Roland

Roland wines may focus on less well known countries in Central Europe, but that’s not to say they don’t have a few well known producers. For me, their star wines come from Strekov1075. Sütó Zsolt cultivates 12 hectares of vines in a unique region of ponds and lakes amid marshland at Strekov in Slovakia. I will never forget the photo of Sütó on the Raw Wine website playing his drums to the vines, wearing a white sleeveless vest with inches of snow on the ground. Not just because I was a drummer in a former life, but because the photo made the man immediately worth investigating.

As it turns out (well, obviously), he makes brilliant wines. He’s an avid experimenter…with skin contact, wine under flor, and bottling unfiltered and sulphur free. Rizling/Veltlin 2016 is, of course, Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner as we know them better. It’s a blend of the two white varieties which usually appear in separate cuvées. A singular wine, just try it! Fred #1 is a non-vintage field blend of local varieties, actually from 2016 and 2017, very savoury, made in open fermenters and no added sulphur. This is a great wine to choose if you want to find out what Strekov1075 is about.

Frankovka 2016 is that variety we know better as Blaufränkisch. This is perhaps slightly less wild than Fred, but it’s all relative. Great cherry fruit from very complex soils, but containing limestone, which all but guarantees a zippy freshness with this variety. All superb wines. Why 1075? The year the village of Strekov first appeared in manuscript. Why no space? No idea.

You may also have tried the wines of Klabjan. They are based in Slovenia’s province of Istria, and are lucky to possess some of the region’s oldest vines (up to 150 years old, the older ones ungrafted). Roland showed just one Klabjan wine, Refosk WL 2015 (one of two Refosco cuvées they make, there being a specifically old vine bottling). It’s a big wine, weighing in at 14% but the mouthfilling fruit and softening tannins suggest it will be more than merely interesting with a bit of age to it.

The Maurer family originated in Salzburg, but in the 19th Century, when this was all part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the moved south to what is now Serbia. The family farms 16 acres of vineyards, six of them just south of the Hungarian border at Szabadka in Serbia, with another ten acres in Fruška Gora, a mountain region below the Danube, about 40 miles north of Belgrade.

With so many wonderful wines coming out of Central Europe, it’s really exciting to taste Serbian wines. I’ve tasted some before, but (I won’t name names) without much of a thrill. Furmint 2016, made from one of Hungary’s best known varieties, was herby with a touch of mint, quite mineral (perhaps the volcanic soils of Szerémség), almost certainly the best Serbian wine I’d tasted to date.

Kadarka, a native of the Carpathian Basin, is a grape I like, especially off (the same) volcanic soils. Kadarka 2017 was light red with a bit of an orange glow, very easy to drink but with genuine personality and originality, and no less good than the Furmint. Serbia…who’d ‘ve thought.

Another potential star here was the Slovakian producer, Bott Frigyes, based in the Pohron Region. Again, the soils are volcanic. The range would actually ring bells with anyone familiar with traditional Hungarian varieties, not least Háslevelü 2017. Two thirds of the grapes see four days on skins with a further eight months on lees. The other third was fermented by carbonic maceration and the two parts were blended at bottling. The wine has a lovely lime freshness, but weight as well. Delicious.

Giorgio Clai is one of Croatia’s (and Istria in general) best known winemakers, and his wines feature on the lists of some smart restaurants worldwide. Roland showed his Ottocento Bijeli 2014, a white blend of Istrian Malvasia (70%), Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc off Istria’s singular chalk and clays. It’s a classic skin contact wine, golden in colour, aged in various sizes of oak, showing the chewy texture and mouthfeel of what is a classic orange wine style. There’s also a red Ottocento from the same vintage made, I believe, from Refosco and Merlot. It was the orange (golden?) wine which stood out for me.

Back to slightly more familiar territory, a word for Bencze Birtok Riesling 2017, a nice food-friendly Riesling from Hungary’s Badascony Region, immediately to the north of Lake Balaton in the west. And for a wine from even more familiar territory (for me), Grabenwerkstatt’s Grabenwerk 2017 from Austria’s Wachau no less.

Michael Leke and Franz Hofbauer farm in the far west of the Wachau region, beyond Spitz, with vines (Riesling and Grüner Veltliner) on the Spitzer Graben at around 500 metres altitude, probably the last vines in the valley. The winery is…a garage. They caught the biodynamics bug working at Pyramid Valley in New Zealand. This tasty Grüner Veltliner, delicious and approachable as it is, singles these guys out as producers to keep an eye on. The small production here makes this wine expensive (over £20 retail), but it is rather good.

That’s a lot of wine, but these three importers should be supported. In fact I’m happy seeing plenty of restaurant buyers at tastings like this. If we don’t support the small guys (and girls) who are unquestionably pushing the boundaries and discovering brand new, often small production, gems, then we’ll end up drinking the same old wines. That’s not a terrible thing, there’s so much out there that’s brilliant. But those wines were new once. The likes of David Geyer, Strekov1075 and Joiseph are tomorrow’s stars, perhaps.

The tasting was hosted by the Duke of Cambridge in Islington

Field Recordings Wonderwall Paso Robles Chardonnay 2016. It was quite lovely but didn’t get a note. Another wine from Nekter.

Posted in Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Californian Wine, Czech Wine, Hungarian Wine, Natural Wine, South African Wines, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vienna Week 3 – Vinifero and a walk in the snow

In August I mentioned one of Vienna’s best natural wine shops, but as part of a roundup, and I didn’t go into any detail, so this time around I thought I should give Enrico a bit of a plug.

Vinifero occupies a narrow shop front on a road you’d probably never venture down were you not in search of a great selection of natural wine, although a few regular readers will note that it’s a mere few minutes from my favourite café in Vienna, Café Sperl.

Enrico Bachechi describes himself as an Önologe, and as well as owning Vinifero he also consults for a number of wineries. You can tell Enrico isn’t Austrian, right? His shop has a very good selection of Italian natural wines, with perhaps a slight emphasis on Tuscany, but you’ll find familiar names beside less familiar ones from all over the world.

Enrico

One thing I particularly like about Vinifero is that the range of Austrian wines is less obvious than some stores. I’m not going to deny that my heart leaps every time I go in a wine shop and see Gut Oggau, Werlitsch, Rennersistas and the like, but here you’ll find some less well known labels.

Top – some of the excellent international wines at Vinifero. 

Bottom- some of the local bottles. The eclectic labels to the right and bottom shelf left are from Florian Schuhmann’s experimental Quantum Winery (Weinviertal in Lower Austria)

Vinifero used to be an old Beisl (neighbourhood restaurant) and aside from the ventilation ducts it retains a nice old feel.

I brought back a few Austrian bottles, but the one we drank whilst in Vienna was quite unusual, “Mea” Elderflower Fizz by Hochdeutsch. Hochdeutsch is the label of Julie-Ann Hoch (whose partner, Christoph Hoch, might be known to readers of this blog and customers of Newcomer Wines). Julie-Ann is German, hence the play on words here.

Mea is not exactly a “wine”, partly because of its low (6%) alcohol content, but also because it’s a blend of wine and botanicals, in this case elderflower tea. This lightly sparkling drink is made by blending biodynamically grown grape must (Demeter certified) with biodynamically grown botanicals, both directly filled into bottle to ferment on natural yeasts, in a similar way to a petnat.

The result is super-refreshing, bone dry, and with the feel and weight of a sparkling cider. The elderflower scent and flavours are subtle, which adds to an attractive lightness.

Julie-Ann is based (with Christoph) at Hollenburg, south of the Danube not far from Krems, and around 35 miles west of Vienna. These drinks are very low production but well worth seeking out, just the sort of thing to be guzzling once the weather warms up, but none the worse for being sipped in a minus six-degree Vienna January.

Vinifero is at Gumpendorfer Straße 36, 1060 Wien. Note its limited opening hours, Tuesday to Friday 2pm to 8pm and Saturday 12pm until 6pm. They close Sunday and Monday.

Whilst on the subject of cold Vienna temperatures, we made another trip up into the vineyards, via a walk in the woods. Of course, in winter all the pop-up Heuriger on the Nussberg are closed, even Sirbu which opens again in early springtime (and Mayer-am-Pfarrplatz, which is a good place to end your walk, at Pfarrplatz, before catching the 38A (see below) back to Heiligenstadt, generally opens at 4pm in the winter). It wasn’t always easy walking in a biting southerly wind blowing up from the Pannonian Plain, but worth it to see the vineyards in the winter.

It really is a great way to spend one of your days in Vienna. Just take the U4 Line to its final destination, Heiligenstadt. Directly outside the station exit is the stop for the 38A Bus, which will take you through Grinzing and up into the hills. Alight at the stop called Sulzwies (one stop before Kahlenberg – the bus has an electronic route screen). All you have to do is head down the path just to the right of the bus stop and you are into the Vienna Woods, eventually coming out into the Nussberg vines. There’s more information from our summer walk here. This includes details of a good, I’d say invaluable, map of Vienna and the surrounding woods and vineyards at 1:25,000, some ideas for summer lunches and information about a café at the start of the walk (that’s if you haven’t read it already).

Finally, a photo of some Schilchersekt. If a trip to Vienna isn’t the same without a schnitzel, neither is it the same without a few glasses of this bracing Blauer Wildbacher speciality of raspberry-and-blueberry-tasting frivolity from Styria. Viennese friends can always be relied upon to open some before dinner.

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