Radikon Action (To Unseat the Hold of the Monkey Mind)

Dynamic Vines showed eight wines from the Radikon family at Antidote (Newburgh Street, near Carnaby Street) yesterday. The reference in the title (to King Crimson‘s latest release) is not in the least bit fanciful. These are wines which provoke intense contemplation of all their qualities. None of them gives you what you might expect, and that is probably as true for those who don’t like skin contact wines as much as for those who are open to them. I’m sure you know which camp I’m in. In order to appreciate them, you do have to cast aside a few preconceived ideas about what wine should taste like, though, and even what it should be.

Stanko Radikon made a momentous decision in 1995, to eschew pesticides and other chemical preparations in the vineyard. His reason was simple. This is the year he decided to concentrate on skin contact for his wines, and skin contact requires both healthy and clean grapes. Another Radikon rule is that fermentation must be wholly with natural yeasts, and without temperature control. All of this builds wines which can age for extended periods, even without the addition of sulphur (they used to make cuvées with sulphur as well as the sulphur free ones, but gave up when they preferred the sulphur free bottlings on release). The wines can withstand, or at least recover from, temperature variations too, something often cited as impossible for sulphur free wines.

Within five years, they (after Stanko’s son, Saša, joined him around a decade ago, Stanko sadly passed away last year (2016)) were working with much longer skin contact times, and to eradicate potential TCA with extended bottle ageing, moved to custom made bottles with super premium corks. All but two of the wines below undergo long pre-release ageing, although there are also Riserva wines (not tasted) which spend considerably longer in bottle before release (and which are ferociously expensive).

The Radikon estate is now around twelve hectares in Venezia-Giulia, in the far northeast of Italy, in the village of Oslavia. This part of the region is designated Collio DOC, but as you will notice, all the Radikon wines are unsurprisingly labelled IGT. Slovenia is just over the hill. This enclave, north of Gorizia, has become known as an epicentre for experimentation, and for “orange wines” in particular (neighbours include Gravner, Dario Princíc and Primocic, among others).

Saša Radikon was on hand to pour and talk through the wines which, despite the bottle age of the final six wines, are all current releases and available from Dynamic Vines.

2015 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Slatnik” is a blend of Chardonnay and Tocai Friulano, from the vineyard of that name. This and the following wine both undergo a shorter maceration/skin contact than the remainder on show, around ten days. They come bottled in either 75cl or 150cl magnum, and we tasted from the latter.

Slatnik is pale orange in colour and it is really hard not to pick up orange peel and marmalade on the nose. The palate has plenty of texture, with quite smooth fruit underneath.

2015 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Pinot Grigio” is the other wine with just ten days of skin contact. The colour here is quite different, on account of the reddish skins of the grape variety. Imagine a ramato Pinot Grigio with the colour turned up several notches. It’s not exactly, pink, nor red, and certainly not the “partridge eye” of the ramato style. It has less texture, perhaps, than the blend above, but is also fresher, and the acidity is more pronounced as a result.

IMG_3587

“Slatnik” and Pinot Grigio in magnum

2010 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Oslavje” is the first of the longer skin contact wines. This blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and the two wines which follow, all see three months on skins, followed by four years in oak and a further two years in bottle before release. All the oak used is large format, of different ages, but used oak, not new.

Oslavje is a selection, not a single vineyard wine. It has an amazing bronze, or rust, colour with a mineral/earthy bouquet. There’s a lot of texture in the mouth, and tongue-coating earthiness, but there’s also a smoothness which goes hand-in-hand with the texture. It’s a feature of the Radikon style.

2010 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Ribolla Gialla” undergoes exactly the same fermentation as Oslavje, and has a similar colour, but shows more tannins, texture and dryness on the palate.

2010 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Jakot” is the Radikon wine I know best, and was indeed the first of their wines I ever tried. There’s a very slight difference in how this wine was showing, as compared to the previous two. I’d put it down to a slight (almost) sweetness of fruit on the nose and a delicate note of honey on the tongue, although the wine is bone dry. A degree more elegance and a touch more complexity.

Saša said that 2010 was a rainy vintage, which actually accentuated the character of the grape variety (Tocai Friulano, “Jakot” being, as you may know, Tokaj spelled backwards). For me, it was, and remains, my favourite of Radikon’s orange wines, and I think Saša’s in 2010, although I got the impression his heart generally lies with the Ribolla.

All of the above three wines are bottled in 50cl and 1litre formats.

 

2005 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Merlot” is the first of the three reds, palish in colour and with a powerful nose of cherry, plum and fig. Alcohol is 14% and you just get a hint of that too. The fruit is plump, but the wine tastes very dry (not dried out). There’s a kind of double attack – fruit first, then tannins, which linger with acidity on the finish. This has seen eight years in barrel!

2004 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Pignoli” is a rare outing for the pignolo grape variety. It may be a rarity, but wine writers have recently woken up to its potential to produce great wines. This too is pale. The nose is quite reminiscent of aged Nebbiolo, perhaps more powerful, but also complex, attractive and haunting. The palate matches in complexity, but like all of these wines, there’s more than a hint of considerable capacity to age. Don’t think that because the wines are well aged on release, that they need drinking soon. That is very much not the case. 14.5% alcohol is slightly “visible”, but well balanced.

If my favourite orange wine was Jakot, then Pignoli was my favourite of the reds.

 

2003 IGT Venezia-Giulia “Modri” is 100% Pinot Noir. 2003 was the first vintage of the Pinot, which has spent a decade in barrique. The nose is very clearly Pinot Noir, although there’s no small hint of California via its sheer size, and it does come with a 14% abv tag. Yet again we see smoothness allied to a tannic structure, which makes itself known on the very long finish. Very attractive, with genuine presence.

 

The red wines are also bottled in both 50cl and 1litre formats.

As I said, these are wines for contemplation, and for food I should say. You have to accept that they are living wines too. There’s a bit in Isabelle Legeron‘s book on natural wine where she quotes Saša Radikon. He says that “Chemical wines are like a flat line…that suddenly comes to an end”. I’m not sure I’m 100% in agreement, but he goes on to describe natural wine as being “like a giant wave”.

What he means is that sometimes the wine will show really well and other times, less so, I suppose reflecting the biodynamic calendar, perhaps. The picture of peaks and troughs does indeed reflect how natural wine can perform, and the peaks are the great heights to which these wines can climb. But as far as Radikon’s wines go, my experience has them far more often up at the peaks than down in any sun-starved, frosty, valley.

There is no doubt that many drinkers, unaccustomed to these flavours, would find all of the Radikon wines somewhat confrontational. But where some see confrontation, others will see their individuality, personality and soul. They are unquestionably wines which shine at table, with food. It’s what you’d expect of tannic wines.

If you compare the orange wines to red wines, you’ll see what I mean. Younger reds always taste better with food. It is also tempting, especially in the weather we are having in the UK right now, to serve them chilled. Ironically, I think Radikon’s reds take more to chilling than the orange wines. The former have their tannic edge taken away when cool, but the whites can lose their haunting qualities if you chill them down.

Maybe that’s just my preference. However you drink them, these are masterful wines, in touch with something quite profound at times. So do drink them.

I always enjoy being back at Antidote, whether to eat, drink, or to taste, and I must plug them as I always enjoy the food, and they do have some exceptional wines if you like your vino naturally inclined. The venue suits a small tasting like this (in the upstairs room), and it’s always a good sign when you are handed a Zalto Universal to taste with as you go through the door.

 

Posted in Italian Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Volcanic Wines

When I was at school I loved Geography. I’m sure it’s where my passion for travel came from. I think I was pretty young when I studied volcanoes, but they made a big impression, as did the consequences of their eruptions. Despite their destructive power, human beings have always been drawn to these fertile soils, and viticulture has been part of agriculture in these regions since man planted the grape vine.

It was back in the 1990s when I first became aware of “volcanic wines”, or wines made from vineyards on volcanic strata, and I soon formed a picture of some of the qualities which seemed to be present in them.

It is fashionable now, in some quarters, to deny the direct influence of “rocks” on wine. Before my subscription to World of Fine Wine was allowed to lapse, hardly an Issue went by without an eminent scientist demonstrating how minerals in the soil could not possibly transfer to the wine. The science is all well and good, but olfactory evidence suggests that the rock beneath vineyards, and the topsoils, do often correlate with some common characteristics in the wine, and I’ve always felt that this is nowhere more apparent than in wines emanating from volcanic terroir.

John Szabo MS has created a rather beautiful book about volcanic wines. It is subtitled “Salt, Grit and Power”. Salinity is often a feature of these wines. The grit for me comes as texture, which is often allied to a bouquet which can sometimes remind me of iron filings, and sometimes earth (occasionally terracotta). Szabo adds power, but I can’t taste one of these wines without finding a distinct freshness, on both the nose and palate.

IMG_3078

Volcanic Wines begins, after an introduction to where and how volcanoes form, in North America, working down from the Pacific Northwest (the Pacific Rim Volcanic Arc) to California, before travelling south, to Chile, perhaps where we find the most active volcanic activity today in the Andean Volcanic Belt. These chapters are very instructive on the geology and the wines, and the finest producers profiled here are often better known to Europeans than the nuances of terroir in this part of the world.

The next chapters cover some of Europe’s least known wine regions, throwing light on wines which are shouting out for a wider audience. Macronesia is a chapter on Madeira, The Canary Islands and The Azores. The wines of Tenerife, in the Canaries, are already getting a great deal of attention, largely through the brilliant bottlings from Suertes del Marques. It is perhaps fortuitous that the wines of the Azores, once famous in their own right, are undergoing a revival which has been acknowledged by Decanter Magazine (July 2017 edn), via an article by Sarah Ahmed.

IMG_3577

The wines of Pico, the island with the greatest concentration of vines in The Azores, are now being imported into the UK by innovative agent, Red Squirrel. They are pretty expensive, but also unique. The cost of producing wine from such remote islands, 900 miles from the Portuguese coast, is considerable. The UNESCO World Heritage landscape of dry stone walls (“Currais”) protects the low grown vines from sweeping Atlantic winds. In places, imported soil fills cracks in the solidified magma, allowing vines to be planted. It is a story of perseverance paying off.

From Macronesia, we move to Alsace and Germany, before a substantial section on Italy’s varied volcanic terrains: Etna, of course, then Basilicata, Campania, Tuscany and Soave. Naturally there is also a focus on the Greek Island of Santorini, before we finish in Hungary.

I was so pleased, here, to see a whole section on Somló. This unusual truncated cone, not far from Lake Balaton, reminds me a little of the Kaiserstuhl in Germany’s Baden wine region. Once famous for viticulture in the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it suffered under communist collectivisation. I know its wines through that favourite Austrian producer of mine, Meinklang. The family had owned vineyards here before the Iron Curtain came down, and after the fall of Communism, bought back into the region, where they make some of their finest, and most unique, wines (try the Juhfark varietal wine, which does especially well here).

IMG_3574

Volcanic Wines is a wonderful addition to any wine library. The wines John Szabo writes about may not have the fame of wines grown on other rock types – limestone being but one obvious example, yet they are wines of true singularity. The coffee table format belies the contents, which give just enough factual information about each region’s geological complexity, with good maps accompanying a host of attractive photographs.

I don’t intend to use very minor observations as a stick to beat the author, as some critics are wont to do, but I will say that on a personal level I regret one omission. The wines of Central France (Auvergne, Aveyron, etc) were some of the first in which I came to identify something unique about wines made from volcanic terroir. One or two have been available in the UK for some decades, yet whilst Szabo is a pioneer in identifying wines from The Azores (and to a degree, The Canaries), he may have been just a little too early in writing his book to pick up on the renaissance in viticulture in this part of France.

It would have been especially nice had Szabo been able to include reference to the wines of  Vincent Marie (No Control) , who makes wine north of Puy-de-Dôme in the Auvergne. If you make a cuvée called Magma Rock it deserves to be in a book on volcanic wines. All his wines are terroir specific examples of what the Auvergne’s volcanic terrain has to offer.

But you can’t cover everyone. I learnt a lot from this book, and even after writing this review, I shall continue reading, in order to cement much of the knowledge I have gained. If you are an open minded drinker, yet are wondering why you should read a book about a group of wines which cover a tiny part of the world’s vineyards, a good number of which one might rightly call “obscure”, I am sure that you will be won over. It scores especially highly on its overall look, and the photos almost have you tasting the wines. For the inquisitive wine lover, this book is highly recommended.

Volcanic Wines by John Szabo MS is published by Jacqui Small LLP, an imprint of Aurum Press (which published the highly acclaimed “Finest Wines…” series from World of Fine Wine). It retails for £30 in the UK, but of course can be obtained at a discount, should you wish, from the usual sites. There is a Foreword from Andrew Jefford, and the book was a worthy André Simon Memorial Fund Prize Winner.

                                          A few volcanic wines to whet the appetite

Posted in Volcanic Wines, Wine, Wine Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strong and Stable – Howard Ripley 2016 Germans

When the world of politics is dissolving, you know that there are still a few remaining certainties in life, and one of those is that a Howard Ripley German Tasting will come up with the goods. Consistency is something the Germans do well in most spheres, be that football, politics or wine. As the rain held off over Gray’s Inn yesterday, and eager voters thronged the streets, a group of us were getting down to the business of tasting sixty-two wines (and one delicious grape juice) from the 2016 vintage.

So what of the vintage? Terry Theise said of 2016 “Where I tasted, it is almost never not delicious” That’s a reasonable place to start, on a positive note. I am equally positive, although I do have friends with nuanced views based on their own stylistic preferences.

Generally, wines are of medium weight in relation to other recent vintages. Some wines were sweeter than expected within the Kabinett and Spätlese prädikats, but where I potentially differ from Theise in his own vintage assessment, is that I did find some mineral flavour and texture in the Mosel wines, where he found more silkiness. I agree with those who say that the wines of the Pfalz were quite “generous”, Rheingau being somewhere in between – so no surprises there.

Personally, I like the balance of the 2016s. There was, in the wines of my favourite producers, a freshness, and indeed in some, a lovely lick of salinity. The best Kabinetts were really to my taste, and where the Spätlesen were restrained, they were lovely too. Indeed, the move to sweeter Spätlesen seems to have been checked a little in 2016. Do you agree?

Finally, let’s not forget the trockens. I know these are more to my own taste than some people’s. I am, after all, quite a fan of the Grosses Gewächs wines higher up the scale. The dry wines here are (mostly) in contrast to those, wines to thrill the palate and quench a thirst on a hot day in the sunshine. Perennial favourites, Like Keller’s Von der Fels, always deliver for me. Again, it’s a matter of personal taste, but if you like that wine in 2016, there are others to try here as well.

I think “strong and stable” sums up the 2016s far better than it does our own political situation, as we go forward into the unknown. After the richer 2015s, this vintage may be slightly dialed back, but it will be no less long lived in the best wines – and there are plenty of those.

I don’t plan to give you a note on every wine tasted. I’m just going to give you a highly subjective overview of the wines of my favourite producers on the Howard Ripley list, along with a nod towards some of the other wines I found outstanding. I make no apology for the bias towards the wider Mosel Region.

All wines below will be shipped in Spring 2018. Further details from the Howard Ripley 2016 German Primeur List.

Julian Haart

Julian is a rising star. Two years ago some of my friends were unaware of his wines, but no longer. He came to wine making via the kitchen (as a chef), and then via a stint at a number of top estates (he’s now good friends with the winemaker at one of them, Klaus-Peter Keller). He began with around 4 ha of vines, at Wintrich and at Piesport (where he is based). The wines are still extremely good value, and are truly worth seeking out in any recent vintage (I really loved his ’15s too).

Piesporter Riesling is the dry wine, very hard to spit out. £69/case in bond is not the cheapest of my recommendations, but it does illustrate how silly prices are for German wines…well, some German wines.

One of my favourite wines from Julian is his classic Piesporter Goldtröpchen Kabinett. Stylistically, this wine suits my own taste for diversity in Kabinetts. If you compare it to the same wine from Reinhold Haart, you find a little less perfume, but a little more silkiness and, perhaps, weight. In other words, you gain a little succulence and lushness, but also find the tautness of a racket string. £66/case in bond.

When we move on to the Piesporter Schubertslay Spätlese, you definitely get more depth. Schubertslay is not an individual vineyard, but a section on the Goldtröpchen slope, a very individual microclimate planted with ungrafted vines of over 100 years of age. This is a very fine bottling, not too sweet, and suggestive of the slate on which it is grown through a touch of texture. The price is commensurately higher at £96/case in bond.

As with many wines in the tasting, the Spätlese will age well, yet it this one is strangely moreish now. In fact few wines were not immediately enjoyable, in the sense of “I know I shouldn’t, but…”. One or two wines yesterday did show a little sulphur on the nose, but only one or two.

 

Schloss Lieser (Thomas Haag)

Schloss Lieser is a brooding castle on the banks of the Mosel, just outside Bernkastel. It has a slightly gloomy air. But the wines are the complete antithesis of this. Thomas Haag has made this estate one of the river’s top producers, lavishing extreme levels of attention to detail to produce wines which, more than anything, display elegance and precision.

We begin with two Kabinetts. I know writers always seem to focus on Haag’s sweet wines, but I really like these (a Lieser Kabinett was the white wine at our son’s wedding last year). The Schloss Lieser Kabinett is the entry level (there is a “Kabinett Trocken” from the estate sometimes, not on the Ripley List). This is a wine where my description of “precision” is well aimed, I think. Perfect balance on a tightrope. You can buy this for £54/case in bond, yet the Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett is only an extra 50 pence/bottle (in bond), and you get a real hint of what is to come in Haag’s signature spätlese wine from this site.

The Brauneberger Jufer-Sonnenuhr Spätlese is a beauty, though you didn’t need me to tell you. Very elegant, with a touch of salinity. But don’t discount the Niederberg-Helden Spätlese. What I personally liked about this was that you could almost smell the wet slate. Very fresh and alive.

From the same vineyard there’s a Niederberg-Helden Auslese which is completely balanced and, topping the list at £177/case in bond, Lieser Niederberg-Helden Auslese Goldkapsel. Probably little point in saying anything but “sublime”.

 

Weingut Peter Lauer

Let’s go with Florian Lauer next. If I was forced to buy just one producer from 2016, I’d probably choose this one. I met Florian this year, and it only cemented my love of his wines, which go well beyond those at this Tasting.

We begin with the Saar Riesling Faß 16. Ironically I bought some 2015 of this cuvée only two days before this Tasting. The 2016 has a new label and, at £45/case in bond it’s great value. You have to be partial to precision, but it’s fruity with citrus freshness. This precision comes from both the Saar region, and from the Devonian slate of the soils here. We step up with the Ayler Kupp Kabinett Faß 8, which may cost £69/case in bond, yet is worth it. There’s still that precision, and the concentration of the fruit is a notch higher. These are both wines you’d be tempted to guzzle very soon. Whether you are prepared to keep these mineral gems is up to you, but the Ayler has great ageing potential.

The Ayler Kupp Spätlese Faß 7 was a tiny bit sweeter than I expected from this address (such perceptions can be so subjective when tasting among other samples), but still thrilling. The fruit is a touch fatter, from an extra week of hang time. I’m sure I have it wrong in many eyes, but I think this needs time much more than the Kabinetts. Kupp Auslese Faß 10 just has a whole lot of everything. More colour, more sticky weight, and yet a mineral spine as well.

 

Schäfer-Fröhlich

I admit I came to this wonderful Nahe producer rather late, just a few years ago. Tim Fröhlich was a star before I ever tasted his wines. He began making wine in Bockenau around twenty years ago, despite looking not much more than thirty (I think he’s in his 40s). These are terroir wines, made on the back of old vines on the best sites. Again, this is an estate which has built a reputation on its GG (from Felseneck), and on its sweet wines from the same site.

There are two dry wines to try here. Nahe Riesling Trocken was the cheapest wine at the Tasting (£39/case IB), and deserves a mention for its nice grapefruit notes and freshness. You have to leap to £72 for the Vulkangestein Trocken, but this is really good, if quite bracingly mineral. It comes from parcels in Felsenberg and Stromberg.

The Felseneck vineyard, which this estate is famed for, first appears as Felseneck Kabinett, which has wonderful mineral precision. We are treated to two Spätlesen from this site, the straight Felseneck Spätlese, which appears to have all the fine balance you want from this prädikat, until you try the Felseneck Spätlese Goldkapsel. It’s a leap from £84/case IB to £102, but it is also clearly a step up, it seeming to have more in every department. This is probably down to it being made from an especially old vine parcel within the vineyard.

Felseneck Auslese (£112 for a case of half bottles IB) is made from non-botrytis fruit, and is not as sweet as you’d expect. It has room for minerality, salinity and a herby side. It probably needs a good fifteen years before you will really see its nuance and complexity, yet Auslesen are always so tempting.

 

Weingut Keller

I’m not going to try to get away without featuring Klaus Peter Keller’s Rheinhessen marvels. So much does everyone focus on the finest wines like Morstein, Hubacker and even G-Max, that people can forget how German estates generally offer wines to suit all pockets. Here we are going to focus on four such wines.

In the dry category there is a Riesling Trocken for just £57/case IB. This has a floral nose and a lick of gooseberry fruit, with a little sourness on the finish. Upping the price to £72/case gets you the very well regarded Riesling von der Fels. I would say I buy a few bottles of this pretty much every year. It’s always remarkable value, and Ripleys suggest that it is of GG standard. It’s hard to disagree. The vines are really quite old for a wine at this level, and are all situated in Hubacker, Kirchspiel and Morstein. Consequently, the ageing potential is surprising. If you drink it young, there can be a sense of solid mineral there, which age adds complexity to, and softens (though it never disappears).

There next comes a couple of Kabinetts. Kabinett Limestone gives minerals, fruit and precision for just £81/case IB. It comes from the same parcels as the “von der Fels”. Of course, if you are flush with having a bet on the election, you could move up to the Niersteiner Pettenthal Kabinett. This is a great wine. I may have detected a sniff of sulphur, but this wine is destined for the long haul, and I’ve no doubt it will go to around 2040 if well cellared.

There is no doubt that these are very impressive wines. For me, I’m a fan of the von der Fels, and a buyer of odd bottles of the GG wines (and of the Spätburgunder reds when I spot them). But it would be wrong to fixate only on the GGs.

We finish Keller with the Westhofen Bräunenhauschen Abts E Spätlese Goldkapsel. This is another fine wine which clearly has everything. But at £198/case IB of course. If you can afford it, this is worth purchasing, because these Spätlesen are made in fairly small quantity and you might not get another sniff at it. There are a couple of Auslesen and a BA on the List, but we were not likely to have been offered a taste of these. There was only 60 litres made of the BA GK 2016, but some can be had for £948/six halves, in bond of course.

 

What else should we talk about? Too much, but I’ll keep it as brief as I can. The Ruwer wines of Maximin Grünhaus/von Schubert continue their revival in my eyes. I’m always a sucker for one of their wines which shows great individuality, the Abtsberg Superior. Almost dry, but ripe and rounded fruit showing grapefruit with a hint of pineapple, and with a little more weight than some of the dry wines here. It’s £114, but these are some of the Abtsberg’s finest grapes just left to do their own thing. I’ve been lucky to buy some older vintages of this bottling and it does age marvelously well for a decade or longer.

IMG_3493

I’m not going to say much about Egon Müller‘s Scharzhofberger Kabinett. The only vintage I own now is 2008, and if anyone thinks I should be giving it a go yet, do let me know. £336/case, and unsurprisingly, by the time I got to the bottle (the Tasting was around 40 minutes old at this point) it was only 20% full (compared to 70-80% for the rest). Interesting, that. Still, potentially a great wine, even at Kabinett level, if you are wealthy enough.

IMG_3498

There were two Mosel wines which were new to me: Philip Vesser Mülheimer Sonnenlay Kabinett and Franzen Bremmer Calmont Kabinett (the latter is new to Howard Ripley, I believe). Both are worth trying if you get a chance. I enjoyed trying the Franzen (£57 IB).

IMG_3514

There were several other individual wines I liked a lot. Hermann Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett has great fruit. This is significant, as it’s a cooler vineyard with a really mineral terroir, so it needs it. Another Spätlese I particularly liked was the Grünhaus Abtsberg (£78). Robert Weil Gräfenberg Spätlese was also especially good, but you need deeper pockets (£176). This is richer, quite honeyed, as one might expect.

Of the Auslesen I liked the contrast between Reinhold Haart Goldtröpchen (about 20% botrytis, very fine and long) and Peter-Jakob Kühn Lenchen, which is more creamy and rounded, a touch of plumpness too. A contrast between Mosel and Rheingau.

IMG_3535

There are notable names missing from my write-up (like Zilliken and Willi Schaefer), but please don’t think that because they are missing there is something less attractive about their wines. This is a personal selection, based on my taste, and very subjective. And price plays its part for me, as well, in some cases.

But by way of a postscript, I will mention the non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice, Raumland Grape Secco. It’s made from the Bacchus variety, and is more frothy than straight sparkling, but the bead is very fine and it is full of apple acidity. Incredibly refreshing and quite intense. £42/case IB (no duty, of course), making it a cool £3.50 per bottle. Well worth it!

 

 

 

Posted in German Wine, Mosel, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Go Gamay, Go!

It’s Beaujolais time again. Not Beaujolais drinking time (it’s always that), but tasting it. Yesterday, Westbury Communications and Beaujolais Wines UK put on a Tasting at The Trampery on London’s Old Street. There were close to two hundred wines to taste, and I doubt I’ve been in the presence of so many wines from this region before. It’s fair to say that it was up there with the best Tastings of the year so far.

IMG_3477

The theory was to highlight the 2016 vintage, although as it turned out the majority of the wines appeared to come from 2015, and there were one or two older wines. With the samples set out as a range from white/rosé, through Beaujolais, Villages, and then the ten Crus, it was in theory possible to judge the individual AOCs. But as with Burgundy, the conclusion here was that it is normally safer to look to the individual producer. That said, Morgon did show itself to be perhaps the most consistently impressive cru over the whole Tasting. Maybe that is in part down to personal taste, and partly because of the impressive producers based there.

With so many 2015s on show, it was really rather instructive. There has been some criticism of some wines from this very ripe year, but from this Tasting it was clear that where producers had managed to moderate alcohol levels, the wines could be as delicious as ever. Also, having tasted many 2015s already, I feel that they are all settling down a bit as they get used to being in bottle. It is only when you see alcohol levels clearly very high for Beaujolais that you worry, but even here, it’s not black and white. Foillard’s Côte du Py, after all, registers 14% (not the 12.5% in the catalogue), and that is a very fine wine.

Just by way of background, before we hit the wines, it’s worth setting out a few Beaujolais facts. The region has 3,000 producers, who farm 17,000 hectares of vineyard. Less than 2% of that vignoble is Chardonnay, for the white wines, the rest, of course, being Gamay. The region produces 110 million bottles each year, of which 42.4 million come from the ten named Crus, the pinnacle of the Appellation pyramid.

IMG_3452

Soils in the region are more mixed than is often generalised. Granite is the main rock type, of which there are several different kinds. But there are also clays, and, importantly, limestone. The white wines, mainly produced from vines in the far south, and north, of the region (towards the famous Macon Crus) are normally grown on these limestone soils. Of the Cru villages, the largest are Brouilly and Morgon (7.5 million bottles from 1,257 ha, and 6.8 million bottles from 1,115 ha respectively). The tiniest is Chénas (just 1.3 million bottles from 250 ha).

You will see below that many of the producers I liked best are either organic or biodynamic, and some are what we would call “natural wines”. I make no apology for these preferences. I heard a lot of conversations whilst tasting. Where another taster was critical of a wine I liked, they generally seemed to come from an older age group and had something of a conservative air about them. Where a wine I loved was praised, it was often by someone from a younger demographic. Perhaps that mirrors life in the UK right now.

That was absolutely true of Julien Sunier’s wines, which I felt were some of the best on show. I point this out not to be critical of those preferring a more conservative approach, but merely to warn you of my own preferences – for lively fresh fruit, a lick of acidity, and something a little different, perhaps. None of the wines here seemed burdened with any great excess of funk, not to me at least. But some sulphur levels were proudly low.

Beaujolais Blanc “69” 2016, Christopher Coquard – This is made from old vines (up to 40-y-o), gently pressed and aged in steel. A simple wine, which was a good palate cleanser, and introduction to the tasting.

Beaujolais Blanc 2015, Domaine de la Bonne-Tonne – This was a step up, though no more expensive. Coming from the “Pizay” lieu-dit, in Morgon, it had a nice mineral edge, clean, with a touch of nuts and butter on the finish, with a citrus freshness running right through. Seeking distribution.

IMG_3450

Beaujolais 2015, Château Cambon – This is not inexpensive for straight Beaujolais (about £11 to the trade, ex VAT, from Les Caves de Pyrène). It’s nice and fresh from whole bunch pressed fruit. With medium colour, that fruit is pretty plump. The key is 80-year-old vines and, after a 15 day fermentation, ten months in old oak. Sulphuring is negligible. The label may be simple, but, for straight Bojo, the wine is deceptive (in a good way).

IMG_3451

Beaujolais “L’Ancien” VV 2015, Pierre-Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun) – Brun produces his wines from the far south of the region (at Charnay), and he’s been a favourite producer of mine, across his range, for longer than any other producer mentioned here. L’Ancien is slightly funky, again in a good way. It gives you a lighter fruitiness from destemmed grapes (made in a more Burgundian way, and just 12.5% abv), but it doesn’t lack depth, nor interest, for a wine at this level. Delicious. OW Loeb is the importer.

IMG_3455

Beaujolais-Villages “La Sambinerie” 2016, Richard Rottiers – This is a light wine, but with an intriguing sourness on the finish. The vineyard is close to Moulin-à-Vent, and it’s Ecocert organic, made by semi-carbonic maceration, with malo in old barrels. Seeking an agent, this wine comes with a rrp of £16.

IMG_3456

Beaujolais-Villages 2016, Maison Trénel – Although this is a negociant wine, it’s a simple, light and fruit-filled Villages with fresh cherry flavours. The Wine Society sell this, and it is very reasonably priced. The vines are around 45 years old, in Clochemerle and Perréon. Ten day maceration, 30% destemmed, and aged six months in cement. There is also a Saint-Amour, which is quite pretty, the sort of Valentine’s Day wine to fit the cliché, but very nice in an easy drinking sense. The Wine Treasury were listed as bringing that one in, though I don’t see it on their web site.

Régnié “Chamodère” 2016, Domaine les Capréoles – is a light and vibrant wine from the newest of the Cru villages. There’s not a lot of substance, but it is very pretty, and as it isn’t expensive, that makes it an attractive proposition.

Régnié “Diaclase” 2015, Domaine les Capréoles – has an extra degree of alcohol (14%) and a more purple colour. The nose is bigger and deeper too. This wine is certainly more serious, though I’d love to try them again – the former does have charm, and is cheaper.

IMG_3466

Regnié 2015, Antoine Sunier – In the clamour for Julien Sunier’s wines, don’t forget his brother, Antoine, who also makes exquisite Gamays. This 2015 has a beautiful perfume on the nose, and is very purple in the glass. Classic Gamay in fact. You can tell you have something a bit different here. The fruit is smooth and there’s a nice cherry twist on the finish. There’s more body than you expect from Régnié, and this is lovely. I don’t know to what extent there’s a friendly sibling rivalry, but game on! Not cheap though.

IMG_3458

Régnié “Vin Sauvage à Poil” 2015, Château de la Terrière – This bursts with cherry fruit, although there was also a whiff of alcohol on the nose initially (14%). It’s quite big and ripe in the mouth, typical of 2015, yet it had presence and a certain style which won me over.

IMG_3459

Régnié “Grain & Granit” 2014, Charly Thévenet – Charly’s Régnié comes off pink granite and clay with alluvial stones in the vineyard. The wine is aged on fine lees in older Burgundian barrels after carbonic maceration, and as with all of Charly’s wines, there is minimal sulphur added at bottling. This has a Pinot Noir paleness, but it is very much cherry Gamay all round. Serve a little cool. It tastes “natural”, and it’s really good. Charly is, of course, the son of Beaujolais giant, Jean-Paul Thévenet. Contact Roberson for both Thévenets’ wines (father and son).

IMG_3467

Saint-Amour “Vieilles Vignes” 2015, Château Bonnet – This has more structure than the Trénel Saint-Amour mentioned above, but it also has an abundance of fruit. I think this is a 2015 that needs a bit of time, not lots, just to realise the potential that is there.

IMG_3469

Brouilly “Terre de Combiaty” 2016, Domaine Manoir du Carra – This comes from a 3 ha lieu-dit with high density planting. The cherry fruit bouquet is refined. The colour is pale, but not especially so. This is around €5.50 ex-cellars, so pretty good value.

IMG_3470

Brouilly “Vieilles Vignes” 2015, Jean-Claude Lapalu – I’d been itching to taste Domaine Botheland’s Brouilly, but the wine hadn’t turned up. My disappointment soon disappeared when this appeared a few bottles along the line. These are very old vines, between 60 to 80 years old. It’s made by carbonic maceration, but for around ten days, after which it is aged for six months on fine lees in old wood. Just 2 g/hl of sulphur is added at bottling. The lees ageing gives texture and there’s a little tannin and bite. Delicious. Another offering from Les Caves de Pyrène.

IMG_3460

Brouilly “Combiaty” 2015 and Brouilly “Corentin” 2014, Domaine Laurent Martray – Both of these sites are on the same soils (granite with sand and silt) in Odenas, and vinification is conventional (but see below), so it’s a chance to look at the two sites in consecutive vintages. “Combiaty” has very easy going fruit, a little body, a simple but tasty wine. Ageing is in foudre and new muids. “Corentin”, from 2014 with an extra year in bottle, and from a more classical vintage, has more complexity on the nose, a little more depth and more subtlety on the palate, without appearing to sacrifice fruit. This wine was aged in “oak barrels”. Both were attractive, the 2014 Corentin seeming a little more serious. Justerini’s are listed as importer.

IMG_3474

Brouilly “Cuvée Prestige” 2010, Domaine du Château de la Valette – This was the oldest wine I tasted yesterday. The vines are 100 years old and the soils on the lieu-dit of “La Valette” near Charentay are clay and limestone, not granite. The nose is quite developed, but not towards the Pinot Noir bouquet of the cliché for older Beaujolais. It has depth, but also (despite its age) tannic structure, perhaps because it is made from a yield of just 25 hl/ha. In all honesty it tastes younger than seven years old. But quite an impressive effort. Seeking distribution.

IMG_3475

Fleurie 2015, Julien Sunier – For me, this was the pick of the very many Fleuries on taste, but as I intimated in my introduction, it wasn’t a wine without controversy. It comes from a lieu-dit called “Niagara” at only a little below 500 metres’ elevation, on granite and quartz. The nose is very pretty, and elegant too, but the wine has structure, more so than many 2015s. No hint of flab. Alcohols are highish, but 13.5% is not excessive for the vintage. You can tell there is minimal sulphur addition, yet it is well handled. Roberson import Julien Sunier.

If I was going to recommend any other Fleurie wines, I’d point you towards Lucien Lardy (Bibendum), but I can’t mention everyone.

IMG_3461

Chénas “Quartz” 2015, Dominique Piron – Chénas isn’t seen all that often. As I said in the introduction to this Tasting, it’s the smallest Cru in terms of production. This is listed as another import by Roberson (although I can’t currently spot it on their web site, and  Piron’s other wines seem to be available through a number of UK merchants). It’s not a wine I’d tried before, and it was impressive, with plump fruit combined with a high note on the nose. The palate to me displays the kind of mineral definition suggested by the name of the cuvée.

IMG_3472

Morgon “Les Charmes” 2015, Château Grange Cochard – This is a different proposition to the wines which have preceded it. Morgon has a reputation for structure but Les Charmes is pretty dark in colour for Beaujolais. It’s also structured and tannic at this stage, and 13.7% abv is not exactly restrained. Yet it will be interesting to see how this ages, as it suggests potential.

Morgon “Côte du Py” 2015, Château Grange Cochard – has an even higher abv level, 14.3%. It’s just as dark, but much more mineral, and it seemed, counter-intuitively, the more balanced of the two at this stage. Interestingly, viticulture and vinification with these two wines is very similar, so they do show site differentiation. These wines definitely have the potential to age. Both are available through Raeburn in Edinburgh.

IMG_3463

Morgon 2015, Julien Sunier – This cuvée comes from two sites, Les Charmes and Corcelette (of Foillard fame). Ageing is for eleven months in barriques on fine lees. This Morgon is less pretty than Julien’s Fleurie. It’s also plumper, with more rounded fruit. Which do I like best? Impossible to say. I can only repeat that these were among my top wines of the day. Contact Roberson for availability. Julien Sunier has unquestionably become a star of the region fairly quickly. The only downside, prices have risen somewhat swiftly as a result.

IMG_3462

Morgon “Tradition, Le Clachet” 2015, Jean-Paul Thévenet – What can I say about this wine? It’s clean, perfectly in balance and lovely, but I think it will benefit from a bit of bottle age, for sure. The vines are pretty old (70), and yields are low for the region. Colour (and plenty more besides) comes from punchdowns during fermentation. Ageing is for about eight months in 5-to-7-year oak. Classic. As with son, Charly’s, wines, contact Roberson.

Morgon “Vielles Vignes” 2014, Jean-Paul Thévenet – There’s a touch more funk on the nose than with the “Tradition”, but it’s also a bit livelier and, with a swirl, fresher. This could be the vintage. It’s a step up from the previous wine, and around £4 more retail. It still has the structure to make me recommend keeping it, though.

IMG_3471

Morgon “Côte du Py” 2014, Domaine de la Bonne-Tonne – You’ll recall I tasted this domaine’s white earlier in the Tasting. I’m not going to argue that this wine is in the same class as Thévenet’s Morgons (above), nor the wine which follows. But this Morgon is relatively inexpensive for this famous Cru. It’s paler than one might expect, made with an all round lighter touch. If you say you expect something different from the Côte du Py, well fair enough. But this wine is worth a mention for its good value.

IMG_3464

Morgon “Côte du Py” 2015**, Domaine Jean Foillard – Is this the king of the Crus? The Côte is made up of crumbling granite and schist of considerable geological age. The wine here is nurtured like a frail child at every stage. It first sees cement tanks and open fermenters, soaked with protective CO2. Pressing is gentle, and everything is done using gravity. It is aged on fine lees for between six to nine months in old wood of various sizes. What it doesn’t see in the vineyard is any chemicals (including sulphur, although a tiny bit of SO2 is added at bottling in the normal cuvée).

For all that, you get structure. It’s hard to read at just under three years old, but the 2014 has seemed to me very impressive at every stage, and this 2015 follows in its wake. The cherry fruit is rich, but herbs and spices add a dimension rarely found in Gamay. It has a long life ahead of it. Note that alcohol is 14% abv, not the 12.5% listed in the catalogue to the Tasting. This is quite high, but Foillard seems to handle it impecably. **Equally, this was the 2015, not the 2014 as listed, but don’t worry which you are buying if you come across it.

IMG_3465

 

To sum up, if merely to repeat what I said in my introduction, this was a brilliant Tasting and, considering the sheer number of wines on show, extremely well organised by Westbury Communications. I kind of wished Beaujolais Wines UK had laid on some branded pens (as the good people of Saint-Chinian, and Comté, had laid on recently), and I could have done with exiting through the gift shop to snag one of the delicious “I Love Beaujolais” t-shirts sported by Westbury’s Christina Rasmussen, but I’m just greedy for merch!

As to vintages, well 2014 is often elegant and intense, whilst 2015 is ripe…to very ripe. But we mostly knew that. 2016 does appear to have been successful in terms of quality and overall levels of production, though spring hail was a bane for many producers. Still, compared to Burgundy, the region was perhaps lucky.

There were two seminars during the day, which I didn’t get to. In the morning, Christopher Piper spoke. Christopher both makes and imports Beaujolais. Last time we met, he was writing a book on the region. I missed him yesterday, but I sincerely hope he’s going to be able to publish it. In the afternoon, Jamie Goode had the lectern. I really wanted to attend that, but it was full and I didn’t fancy waiting around for an hour on the off chance (very off chance with Jamie on stage) that someone dropped out.

I hope the wines I mentioned whet your appetite for one of my favourite wine regions. A few of the wines above were tasted as a result of recommendations from others as I was moving around. Meeting another friend for a drink afterwards, I realised I’d missed the wines of the Château de Moulin-à-Vent (especially the “Champ de Cour”), and the wines of Domaine Mee Godard. But I’m sure that if you are extra keen to read about more wines, others will be writing/blogging about the Tasting too.

IMG_3454

IMG_3453

 

 

 

Posted in Beaujolais, Wine, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Time to Go Pink

With temperatures hitting twenty-seven degrees here yesterday, it has focused the mind on the pinker hues as a source of vinous pleasure. I hesitate to focus just on rosé here. The first hurdle to overcome is the connotation of that label, that it’s a drink for girls, as it undoubtedly is in some minds. But secondly, and more importantly, we should not forget that today there are many lighter coloured “reds” with low alcohols, especially in the realm of natural wines, which sort of fulfil the same function as a rosé. Benefiting from chilling a little, they are fresh and fruity.

I actually look forward to bringing out these wines, and to making the most of whatever sunshine we get. There’s nothing worse than realising summer has passed you by, and there’s still a dozen bottles of pink in the cellar…unless you buy the ones that will age.

I remember in the early 1980s, judging at the International Wine Challenge. I think one of my first tables was the Rosés, which, along with “Spanish Whites” (yes, that one as well) was considered a very short straw (the big boys probably got Barossa Shiraz, Amarone and Napa Cabs). But quality has rocketed since then, and more than quality, diversity. Whilst the supermarkets will still be pushing Chileans, Provence or Navarras in the rosé category, independent merchants will have much more to offer for your garden table.

The baker’s dozen wines below are my usual eclectic mix. If we get a hot summer, these will be gone in no time. If you fancy a change from Whispering Angel, read on.

I’ve already drunk a couple of bottles of this first wine this year. Palmento Rosso 2015, Anna Martens (Vino di Anna), is a field blend (Nerello Mascalese plus others, including white varieties), which gets fermented on skins for just three or four days, so it’s a very pale red. At 13% abv it’s a bit more alcoholic than many of the bottles here, yet it tastes light and fruity. It’s truly delicious. The 2016 is coming soon, via Les Caves de Pyrène. I picked up a couple of bottles of the 2015 (retail) at Terroirs near Trafalgar Square.

IMG_2743

Another wine I’ve drunk up already is Czech, Forks & Knives Red, Milan Nestarec. This Moravian beauty is made from the Suché grape. There’s a little sparkle, juicy fruit and a soft yet refreshing finish. Fun too. Imported by Newcomer Wines. Of course, it also happens to have one of the most summery labels you’ll find.

IMG_3274

Moving south, the next wine I have to suggest is one of the most beguiling I’ve drunk this year. It also has something in common with the Rosé des Riceys I’m going to mention later – a haunting nose and floral freshness which will remind many of a rose hip tea. Cseresznyeérés 2014 is from that lovely Hungarian producer, Hegyikaló. This is really a pale red, and cloudy too, but the rose hip nose and the soft strawberry and cherry palate linger on as you sit in the shade on a scorching May afternoon. Slip over to Winemakers Club, grab a bottle (if they’ve any left), and serve it very lightly chilled.

IMG_3364

If, as it seems, we are focused in the east right now, we need to talk about Austria. Even when I was more fixated on the classic wines of the Wachau, I always enjoyed a pink Zweigelt, preferably sitting on the banks of the Danube. The two still wines I’d like to recommend are more modern, natural, wines, from around the Neusiedlersee. At Illmitz, Christian Tschida makes a very fine pink in his Himmel Auf Erden (Heaven on Earth) range. Okay, so this isn’t quite what you might expect…unless you know Christian. Cabernet Franc, skin contact, and unfiltered. Stand it up for several days, mine is full of small sediment balls. It will age, and it will go with food, a serious pink. Also from Newcomer Wines.

IMG_3395

The second Austrian pink I’m recommending, if you can beg some, is Rennersistas Waiting for Tom Rosé. With luck, some of this will be arriving at Newcomer Wines before long. The sample 2016 was one of the best wines from these young ladies at Raw Wine back in March. Based in Gols (Neusiedlersee’s northern end), this blend is Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. The wine is fruity and zippy. The girls worked with both Tom Lubbe (South Africa and Roussillon) and Tom Shobbrook (Australia). I can’t remember which one they are waiting for.

IMG_2772

I can’t leave Austria without a fizzy one from The Klang! Meinklang Prosa comes from their vineyards near Pamhagen, south of the Neusiedlersee (on the Hungarian border). Strawberry flavours with a touch of cherry, off-dry but set beside good acidity. Billed as a “frizzante“, this really is a wine to seek out when you need a little fruity and uncomplicated sparkle. Light and simple (and sealed with a rather endearing tied cork – the look is rustic, yet the wine isn’t). Look at Vintage Roots for this wine, although I’ve bought it from Wholefoods Warehouse in London, where I found it on just a couple of occasions last year.

img_1881

Another natural home of the “pale red” is Jura. There are dozens of Poulsard/Ploussard wines which fulfil this description, so many that it seems pretty difficult to select just two or three. But I will try.

The non plus ultra of light Arbois reds comes from Domaine de La Tournelle, their L’Uva Arbosiana. Carbonic maceration, a month in vat, then moved to foudres and bottled the following spring without sulphur. This is a wine I have drunk every summer for some years, and would hate to be without. If you can, drink it in the Bistro de la Tournelle on the banks of the Cuisance in Arbois. If you bring it home, or buy it in the UK, keep it cool, and be prepared to use a carafe to shake off any reduction. Another hauntingly fruity wine. Find it either at Dynamic Vines, or from the retail shop at Antidote Wine Bar (Newburgh Street, near Carnaby Street in London).

image

Domaine L’Octavin, in Arbois, make several delicious pale reds. These are all very “natural”, and their light fruit makes them perfect for drinking on the cool side. Ulm is certainly the first of such wines which comes to mind. This odd blend (for a still wine) of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (proportions vary from vintage to vintage, but check out the label below) sees all the grapes co-fermented as whole bunches. Dorabella (Ploussard) or even Commendatore (Trousseau) are equally exciting. I’ve not yet tasted a wine from Alice Bouvot which has not excited me, although the way she pushes the boundaries in search of purity and naturalness might just about scare a few people, for sure. Ulm has just 10.5% abv. It should be available from Tutto Wines (specialists in the unsulphured), possibly in magnums too (now there’s an idea!).

IMG_3396

It would be an error for me to leave Jura without recommending one of the region’s inimitable pét-nats, but which one? Patrice Hughes-Béguet’s Plouss’ Mousse would be a shoe-in, were it not for the fact that I don’t have any right now. I will therefore recommend my other current favourite Jura wine of this style, Domaine des Bodines Red Bulles (nice pun – “bulles” means bubbles and it is kind of red). Alexis and Emilie Porteret are a young couple whose vines and winery lie on the northern edge of Arbois. Red Bulles is another sparkling Ploussard which is just simple and fruity, but as such it does exactly what the label suggests, providing fun for uncomplicated summer drinking.

This is the one wine you won’t find in the UK, as far as I am aware. A visit to buy at the domaine, or perhaps to Fromagerie Vagne (aka Epicurea) in Poligny, is your best bet. North American readers can contact Selection Massale (Oakland, California, plus New York and Chicago).

image

Head south from Jura and before you reach The Alps, you get to that odd pre-alpine enclave known in France as the Revermont. This is where you’ll find one of France’s up-and-coming wine regions, Bugey. Bugey-Cerdon is a cru of Bugey, making méthode ancestrale sparkling wines from Gamay and (often) a touch of Poulsard. These pink sparklers are off-dry, and low in alcohol (around 7-8%). Refreshing and frothy, the sweetness makes it perfect for light desserts, as well as simple sipping. Less grapey than a Moscato Rosa, or a Brachetto, these wines are just beginning to appear in the UK. The version which is currently my favourite, is from Philippe Balivet (now run by Cécile and Vincent Balivet), based in Mérignat.

This wine was purchased in the region, but keep an eye on the shelves. With Wink Lorch publishing a book on The Alpine Wines of France later this year, we are beginning to see a bit of a surge in availability (for both Savoie and Bugey). In the meantime, Christopher Keiller Fine Wines import excellent Bugey-Cerdon from Alain and Elie Renardat-Fâche (and other Bugey wines from the excellent Franck Peillot).

IMG_3397

So, three to go. I can’t leave France before mentioning a rather special Pinot Noir rosé. It doesn’t come from Burgundy, but rather Champagne’s Côte des Bar. I chanced upon Rosé des Riceys (from the cluster of villages which go under the name of Les Riceys) in the 1980s, and felt very geeky diverting from the Autoroute to grab a few bottles as often as I could. Then I discovered that Champagne producer Olivier Horiot makes small quantities of this unusual wine. It is unusual because it’s a rosé with tannins. And when it ages (which it does rather well, indeed it almost demands age) the red fruits which give that haunting “tea-like” quality are joined by gamey old Pinot notes.

The Sampler (Islington and South Kensington) bring over tiny quantities of this rather expensive pink, from two site-specific bottlings, “En Valingrain” and “En Barmont”. The former is slightly less structured than the latter cuvée, but expect complexity and length like (I hope) you have rarely found in a pink wine. Note that my last bottle of Valingrain is a 2006. The Sampler is, I think, listing 2010s right now (at around £40-a-pop, which may sound a lot, but this wine has a reputation in France which the British have so far missed).

IMG_3398

Spain is an enormous source of rosado wine, but the one I’m recommending here is the all time classic. I don’t have any right now, but Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva is undoubtedly one of the finest pink(ish) wines you can buy. It has a colour which in bottle hardly looks “pink” at all, more onion skin. It is characterised by its freshness, even when approaching twenty years old. Chateau Musar rosé can age magnificently as well, but Tondonia’s rosado usually has an ability to outlive it. It is not exactly widely available, but it does appear from time to time in shops like Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, and The Sampler.

Last, but by no means least, is my favourite rosé of last year, Clos Cibonne Tibouren. It’s a “Cru Classé” of the Côtes de Provence, from near to Le Pradet (between Toulon and the Îles d’Hyères). This old mediterranean variety also goes under the name “Rossese” in Liguria. It makes smoky, red fruited, slightly earthy, wine in this special cuvée from Cibonne. It’s really the antithesis to all those supermarket Provençals (though Simone, Tempier and a few other’s pinks shouldn’t be put in that category). I have one magnum left for a visit by Aussie friends in July. I hope the weather obliges. This wine is magnificent. Clos Cibonne wines are imported by Red Squirrel.

IMG_3399

Pink wine comes in all guises, and there are whole styles, and whole countries, I’ve left out of this case for summer drinking. As I’ve been scrolling through for photos I’ve come across many more wines I could have written about. There is still a lot of bland rosé out there, and I hope that if I have achieved one thing here, it is to have pointed out some less well known, yet characterful, choices. You’ll have no doubt gathered that I have a penchant for haunting, ethereal, versions, but I also like the simply fruity as well, especially if they come with bubbles.

The important thing is not to get hung up over drinking pink. It’s just another style of wine, and indeed it’s capable of complexity as well as being refreshing. Christian Tschida ended up almost reluctantly making the Himmel rosé (above) after his father claimed he could make a better one than his son. The result is far from the bland style we all came across two decades ago, and still do on the hypermarché shelves today. Compare something like the clean and fruity Bugey-Cerdon to the old style of semi-sweet fizzy pink you might have tasted from Portugal, or industrial Lambrusco, and the similarities are remote. But the idea of fun remains.

So, simple pleasures, or serious complexity (and an ability to improve with age). Two styles of pink. Try both this summer. And we didn’t even mention Champagne…

Posted in Rosé, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crafty Little Tasting

Crafty Little Tasting was the rather nice name Alliance Wine gave to a tasting of their more artisan winemakers, which took place at Carousel, on Blandford Street (London) on Tuesday. More than 170 wines were on show, and I managed to taste more than seventy. Very few warranted ignoring here, so I’m going to skip through without too many notes. I apologise if this article is even longer than usual. I really wanted to get everything down in one go. I hope you can make it to the end. There are some particularly nice Greek wines towards the bottom, and also a nice pair from New Zealand to finish up with. In between there are also delights from Italy and Spain, a rather surprising wine from Poland, and two excellent producers from Alsace and Jura.

Overall, this is an exceptionally well chosen range. The wines don’t tend to run to the artisan extremes that some of the smaller importers manage. There might be slightly less risk taking here, fewer wines at the periphery of the world of wine. But that is in no way a criticism. What Alliance do very well is supply a host of really interesting wines to independent retailers and restaurants.

From Italy, we begin in Piedmont. Tenuta Olim Bauda is set in the beautiful rolling Monferato Hills, north of Nizza. This is prime territory for Moscato and Barbera, and there is a textbook Moscato d’Asti (frothy, with grapey Muscat fruit and 5.5% alcohol), and a fairly concentrated Barbera d’Asti, with nice colour, bright fruit and some tannins on the 2016.

Staying with the froth, Venturi Baldini is a new Lambrusco producer to me. With lovely bitter cherry and just 11.5% abv, this Montelocco Lambrusco is perfect to introduce this style for summer drinking, with charcuterie at lunch in the garden…preferably.

Val D’Aosta is one of my favourite wine regions to visit, for its innate beauty as much as anything. It’s just luck that the wines are generally of a very high standard, although production is so tiny that the wines are rarely seen outside of the region. That’s been changing, insofar as the UK is concerned. La Crotta di Vegneron, based in Chambave, is one of the larger producers, a co-operative, but a welcome addition to the Alliance list.

On show were Crotta’s Petite Arvine and Fumin, two signature grapes of the region. Petite Arvine is the grape of Switzerland’s Valais, just over the Saint-Bernard Pass. This is bright and peachy, with grapefruit acidity and lots of extract. Fumin is a massively under rated variety, especially by some anglophone wine writers. This version has a high tone of sweet cherry fruit, with a bitter finish. Like Barbera, such wines come into their own with fattier foods. It is not at all heavy.

La Crotta makes two highly acclaimed dessert wines, often the best in the region. If you ever come across their Moscato Passito or Malvasia Flètri, give them a try, as well as the wines above. I know Alliance import the first of these.

Another rare alpine variety is Lagrein. Alliance have one from the Cantina Merano co-operative (in the Adige Valley, northwest of Bolzano). Another blend of florality on the nose and cherries (this time slightly darker) on the palate, the 2015 is a bigger wine than some versions I’ve tried, but wins on a little greater concentration than many. The co-ops up here all make very good wine.

Gulfi is a name that is fairly well known to lovers of Sicilian wines. Based north of Ragusa on the island’s southeastern side, they specialise in the wines of Vittoria. Two varietal wines (white Carricante and red Nero d’Avola) and a Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend were an interesting contrast to COS (who I wrote about in Part 3 of my Real Wine Fair roundup the other day). These wines are bigger than COS wines, with generally higher alcohols. But the white is nice, bright but with a fascinating sour finish. The reds both have sweet fruit.

The other Sicilian I tried was a Grillo from Cantine Rallo. I like my Grillo to be fresh, and this was, although with 13% abv it didn’t quite have the acidity and lightness of some. It’s a style thing. If you want a bigger, rounder, Grillo, here you have it.

Another island wine was the Cannonau di Sardegna from Mora & Memo. This has red fruits and a bitter twist, remarkably fresh for a wine with 14% alcohol…be careful, it is quite moreish.

Alliance has now taken on Riecine, the exquisite producer of biodynamic Chianti Classico in the Gaiole hills. The Classico 2015 is no shrinking violet, but it is clean, with medium colour and a little tannin, which needs to rest. Riecine Rosé is always good, often more than. A salmon pink rosato in a clear burgundy bottle, 13% with great fruit and length. In fact, it’s one of the best pinks in Chianti.

“La Gioia” is their “Super Tuscan” – old vines, low yields, vineyards at 500 metres, a year in new and second use barrique. So this 2013 is big, and there’s depth. “Riecine”, or “Riecine de Riecine” as it is sometimes known, is the estate’s top wine. Both are 100% Sangiovese, but this is a small production cuvée, aged for 36 months, first in concrete egg, then in used tonneaux. The 2012 is already gaining depth on the nose, and complexity, but it needs a lot longer before it opens and shines fully.

“Sebastiano” is not a Vin Santo, but a passito. The grape canes are usually cut, so the majority of the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes dry on the vine. I’ve had a few bottles of this. It’s delicious – mahogany colour, a figgy/toffee nose, smooth and sweet. Hard to spit! But not cheap, of course.

Moving on to France, Alliance do like to buy Beaujolais, and they usually do the region very well. Domaine de Colette had three wines on show. A simple Villages 2014 was fresh and classic, and then we were able to contrast a 2015 Regnié Vielles-Vignes with a 2014 Morgon. The VV from 2015 was dark and concentrated for this Cru, showing the higher alcohol of 2015. But being Regnié, it didn’t go over the top. Still, I much preferred the classic profile of the Morgon myself. Leaner, but fresher too.

Domaine de la Couvette is at Bully, in the Southern Beaujolais, not all that far from Lyon. A 12.5% “Blanc”, from Chardonnay, was light and fresh, very pretty but with an unusual lick of quince on the finish. There are two straight Beaujolais reds, a simple cherry chiller, and an organic version, which did in all honesty have a bit more fruit and depth. But it is a 2015 (the other two are 2016). Nice labels here too, which I shouldn’t really comment on, but it’s useful for retailers to know people will be attracted to the bottles. They will provide simple summer drinking pleasure.

Next, we move to alpine climes again. Jean Perrier is based on the western bit of the Combe de Savoie, as it goes up towards Chambéry. Not a producer I know, but as Savoie is becoming the new Jura, it’s good to see Alliance bringing some in. Jacquère is the workhorse grape of the region, and appears in Perrier’s mouthfillingly fresh (quite bracing) Crémant, and the still white Cru Abymes. Chignin-Bergeron is a specific name for wines made from Roussanne, which is more rounded (peach and pineapple), with a slightly fuller palate. The Pinot Noir, like many from the alps, is pale light ruby and with almost carbonic red and cherry fruits.

IMG_3330

Last year I went to the annual Jura Tasting at the Chandos House Hotel in London. I tasted the wines of a producer who, as an annual visitor to the region, I know really well. It was amazing that one of the most highly regarded growers in the village of Château-Chalon, Berthet-Bondet, had no UK importer. Well, now they do.

At the entry level (though entry to a fine domaine doesn’t come cheap), we begin (as we always do in Jura) with a red. “La Queue Au Renard” blends Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau into a light and sappy single site wine of character. The whites, “Balanoz” (a Chardonnay parcel), and “Savagnier” (Savagnin, of course) are both made in the ouillé style (ie topped up). Both are approachable yet classy.

The oxidatively aged wines here are superb. Château-Chalon 2009 is very elegant (a B-B trait). It is very young, of course, but it has already started to come together nicely. If you want to try the style at half the price, buy “Tradition”. A blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin, it is aged for two years in 228 litre barriques without topping up. A layer of flor protects the wine, as with the Vin Jaune style Château-Chalon. It doesn’t have the depth and complexity which will come with age in the C-C, but it has beautiful line and a nutty finish. But, of course, nothing beats a fine Château-Chalon, which even at over £50, is good value for a world class product.

I’m often guilty of neglecting Languedoc, but I did want to catch up with Mas Cal Demoura. This well known producer is situated not far from Gignac and Montpeyroux, in the hills north of Clermont L’Hérault. The “Mas des Amours” Côteaux de Languedoc red is simple, but tasty. “L’Infidèle”, a Terrasses du Larzac cru wine, is deeper (garrigue herbs, pepper, dark fruits), smooth but with lingering tannins. It’s a five variety blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault coming in at 13%. Ageing potential abounds.

Another red of a different kind came from Chinon, on the Loire (Touraine). Domaine de la Noblaie makes lovely wines, very vibrant and alive. Their whole range is one to seek out. Their Chinon red in 2015 is a little darker than usual, richer too. If you feel Cabernet Franc can sometimes be under ripe here, this will persuade you otherwise.

Alliance also imports the wines of Domaine des Baumards. Based in Rochefort-sur-Loire, around 20km from Angers, they specialise in Savennières and Chaumes. The Quarts de Chaume 2009, in half bottle, displays the classic warmer vintage characteristics of concentrated sweet Chenin. Candied fruit, honeyed and waxy. This will age but how can one resist such a wine.

Clément Klur from Alsace deserves a slot to himself. He’s based in Katzenthal (north of Turkheim and west of Colmar), and specialises in wines which, for me, reflect terroir more than grape variety.

His Crémant d’Alsace, bottled without added sulphur, has a rounded character. It’s not the most elegant example, and the Crémant style doesn’t aim for autolytic complexity, but it wins on personality. The classic wine from Klur is the “Gentil”, a blend of Pinots Blanc and Gris, with Gewurztraminer. The 2015 is a little fresher, perhaps less soft, than the previous vintage. Gewurztraminer dominates on the nose this time. Alsace blends are coming back, trust me.

Clément’s varietal Pinot Gris is one for those who find many Alsace examples too alcoholic and too sweet. This is just off-dry, and soft, but there’s a great lick of acidity to balance it. Almost a mineral touch…on an Alsace PG! Top of the range is a Grand Cru Riesling (2011), from Wineck Schlossberg. This really is mineral, and structured. 13.5% alcohol, and potential to age, this is impressive. But don’t open too soon.

IMG_3337

The next table was showing all sorts of odds and ends from different countries. I was looking forward to the Slovenian wines from Guerila (based in the Vipava Valley). I’ve been drinking too many of the finer wines from Batic and so I found these wines a touch pedestrian. I was very interested in the Polish wine on show (my “oddities” radar was flashing), Domaine Bliskowice. I know almost nothing about this domaine, except that they only planted vines in 2009. If you asked me to name a Polish wine region, I’d be blank-faced. But they were at Raw Wine 2017, so their natural credentials must be good.

“4&14 Canva” appears to be the name of the wine. I’m not saying we’ve discovered a new superstar, but this smooth and simple wine is very tasty. I have no idea of the grape variety/varieties. All credit to Alliance for taking a punt on this. I’ve reproduced the back label, for those who speak Polish (you’ll need to click to enlarge).

There were a lot of very good Spanish wines, an area where Alliance does particularly well. Bodegas El Lagarto “Ruby Luby” from Arribes del Duero was a pretty good start. Six months on lees, darkish yellow, herby, mineral, with taste and texture. 13.5% alcohol. I really liked this and it’s relatively cheap.

Casal de Armán makes wine in the Ribeira region of Northwest Spain, and is based in Ribadavia. “Eira Dos Mouros Blanco” is mainly Treixadura from the Valle del Avia. Fresh, light, but stony mineral character dominates. The red “Eira dos Mouros Tinto” is a fascinating wine. I wondered what the grape varieties could be, and researching the Alliance web site I see it is a blend of the very well known Brencellao, Caiño and Sousón varieties. Bright cherry, a bit smoky, supple tannins…like the white, this is really nice.

IMG_3342

Cellar del Roure also makes very attractive wines. From Moixent, near Valencia, their whole range is attractively labelled, too. Showing two wines, the first, called “Cuillerot”, is a blend of six white grapes, is dry and fresh, but with deep flavours too. “Safrà” is a bright-fruited red wine, just 12.5%. Tannic now, but it will soften. 85% Mando and 15% Garnacha Tintorera. Look out for “Vermell” from  this producer too (bigger and richer).

I particularly like the wines of Rioja producer, Abel Mendoza, especially the white wines. Their barrique aged Malvasia white Rioja is pale and fresh, even at five years of age (as with this 2012). A 2010 Viura further proves how well their white wines age. Real depth, with grapefruit and lime to nuts and creaminess. Aged in barrique as well.

Mendoza’s “Jarrarte” is quite unusual. A red Rioja, vinification (of 100% Tempranillo) is by carbonic maceration in cement, and the fruit gives that away (dense cherry bursts out). But we also have 14.5% alcohol in the new 2016 vintage. I swear you’d not realise it’s this high, so nicely is it balanced. It’s remarkable value, and I’ve not, myself, tasted anything quite like it. The 2015 was my first vintage of this wine, and this 2016 is just as good.

I also couldn’t turn down a sip of Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2016, from Rias Baixas. Some of you will have read about the full range of Señorans wines I drank at a dinner at the end of March (at Lymington’s Shipyard Restaurant). That included some wonderful, aged, bottles. Out of that context, the 2016 tasted every bit as good as you could want, cementing this producer’s place at the top of the Galician pyramid. With a nose a touch like Sauvignon Blanc, you get grass and asparagus, but even more, that mineral structure, and a surprising touch of underlying richness beneath the acids.

My last Spanish red was an afterthought. Phoebe, from Alliance, pointed me towards this amazing gem of a wine. Always pays to ask for a tip or two. Oller del Mas only produced 1,056 bottles of Picapoll Negre Especial from their Pla de Bages DO vineyards not far from Montserrat. It’s the same grape as Picpoul Noir, which is as rare in Languedoc-Roussillon as it is in Catalonia. A pale, bright, red, it is smoky with a brambly undertone. The 2014 is about £50 a bottle, but it’s very good and I felt privileged to taste such a low production rarity. As such a rarity, it probably has a limited audience. Just as well with only a thousand bottles to play with.

IMG_3359

Spain ended for me with Equipo Navazos. They need no introduction, I’m sure. I’m a fully paid up friend of EN, who bottle some of the most glorious wines in the world in my book.

“Florpower” Bota 44 MMX is their table wine, both clean and sour in a lovely, soft, way. This is Palomino Fino, with just a hint of the chalky white soils which give the best of Jerez its character. This is a nice and fresh, even though it is an aged version from 2010, with 32 months under flor, 8 months in butts, and 24 months in tank. Each bottling of Florpower is quite different, but do try any you see. It’s such good value. The current bota is No 67, from 2014.

“I Think” Manzanilla En Rama comes in a screw-capped half bottle. A saca of February 2017, it is both light and textured, and has real en rama yeasty character and the texture of a more or less unfiltered wine. More expensive than most half bottles of Sherry, but the wow! factor is there.

Manzanilla Pasada Bota 59 “Capataz Rivas” is from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín. From a 15-butt solera of very old Manzanilla, this has the depth of age (average age of around 15 years), but also the fresh salinity of Sanlucár. I’ve had this several times and it’s a stunner. La Bota de Manzanilla 71 is a more recent release and shows the vibrancy of a straight, relatively youthful in comparison (around seven years old) Manzanilla. This is a wine for a seafood lunch.

IMG_3358

If you are flagging a bit, try to stay awake. There are a few wines to go, but we have reached Alliance’s Greek wines. Greece appears to be back on the agenda in the UK, with quite a few hitting the shelves. These guys have a good range.

Especially good were the two wines from Vassaltis on Santorini. Of two 2015 Assyrtikos, the “Barrel Aged” cuvée showed depth and keeping potential, though my own preference was for the zippy unoaked wine, with six months on lees. Great texture and grassy grapefruit freshness.

T-Oinos is a producer on the island of Tinos (in the Cyclades, not far from Mykonos). “Malagouzia” is a simple but effective white, its citrus and mineral flavours reflecting perfectly this boulder strewn island. “Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko” is bigger all round, and even more mineral. Real personality. “Mavro” 2011 blends Mavrotragano and Avgoustiatis varieties grown at 450 metres on granite. Impressive dark wine but still tannic. “Clos Stegasta Mavrotragano” 2013 is also tannic, but has a lifted nose and crisp acidity to balance a big wine.

Bizios makes Nemea. West of Athens, this hilly region of the peloponnese produces a long time favourite Greek red from Agiorgitiko. At 14% abv, this is at the powerful end of the Nemea spectrum, but I liked its smoky, slightly bitter, fruit.

La Tour Melas makes wine in Achinos, in Northern Greece (facing the top of the Island of Evia). These are fairly traditional wines with a nod to Bordeaux. “Cyrus One” 2015 blends international varieties Merlot and Cabernet Franc with Agiorgitiko, getting 15 months in oak. Imagine blueberries and raspberry on the nose with a floral bouquet. It has grip, and would suit smoky BBQ food.

The wine eponymously named “La Tour Melas” (2014) has a very traditional gravure label of an 1806 print of Echinos (sic) by Irish painter and travel writer, Edward Dodwell. This is pretty much like a Saint-Emilion. Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 14.5% abv, dark fruit, graphite and vanilla oak notes. Actually pretty impressive, if not the kind of style I buy much of these days.

Moving out of Europe we reach the final five wines. I wanted to try Raats Family Wines “MR de Compostella”. It’s a Stellenbosch blend of all five Bordeaux varieties. As the 2008 got the highest ever Wine Advocate score for a South African wine, you may not be surprised that the 2014 weighs in at 14.5%, nor that it comes in a very heavy bottle, heaviest of the year so far. Not my cup of tea, but this big, tannic, wine has such sweet fruit. Impressive, but hard to do anything but sip it.

The Drift Farm “Year of the Rooster” is altogether different. A single vineyard Touriga Franca rosé, it’s light, fruity and fun (and pink, of course). It comes from a single mountain vineyard in the Overberg Range (east of Cape Town), weighs in at just 11.5%, and sadly comes from a production run of just four barrels.

“There are Still Mysteries” Pinot Noir is pale, with a vibrant nose and strawberry and raspberry fruit. You don’t expect 14% alcohol. It’s appealing, nevertheless, and pretty serious stuff. Which you would expect for £50-a-pop. The rosé is quite serious too, but a more manageable £15. But both are impressive in different ways.

Last, well almost, were the pair of wines from New Zealand’s Central Otago District, made by Mount Edward. This leading producer is based in Gibbston. Alliance showed a 2016 Riesling from the Lowburn sub-region, in the typical off-dry style which New Zealand seems to do so well now in Otago. More weight and richness than a German Kabinett, but real concentration of flavours and varietal character.

The Pinot Noir from 2014 was, if anything, even better. Excellent fruit, very concentrated and lifted. It’s elegant but, yes, it is all about the fruit. Duncan Forsyth and his partners have fashioned a lovely Pinot Noir here.

This would have been a nice way to end, but the final wine on the table was Stella Bella‘s Pink Muscat, from Australia’s Margaret River Region. Moscato Rosa is often quite expensive from its heartland in Northeastern Italy. The Aussies fashion somewhat more inexpensive versions. As a pink alternative to Moscato d’Asti, and for around £12.99 in the UK, this is a delicious, low alcohol, palate cleanser. Frothy, grapey, and that’s about it, but sometimes you don’t need any more…especially after tasting 70+ wines. I took a cheeky slug. It’s the colour of mouthwash at the dentist, but oh so much better to swish away all those tannins.

IMG_3353

 

 

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summit in Sight – Alpine Tasting for Wink’s Book

Last Monday was not only the final day of Real Wine 2017, but also the day when Wink Lorch‘s successful Kickstarter finished. Wink now has the funds to go ahead with her (ahem!) long awaited second book project on The Wines of the French Alps.

I have been trying very gently, over the past couple of years, to suggest that the regions which loosely comprise the French Alps (Savoie, Bugey, Isère and the Diois) have the potential to become as exciting as those of Jura, currently one of France’s most regenerated wine regions. Savoie has vines just as dispersed as Jura, and the other alpine regions mentioned above are very small in real terms. Yet there are signs of life, even in that very conservative region of the pre-alpine Revermont, Bugey.

There had always been a number of very good family domaines, making wines like small rocks in a sea of mediocrity. Yet winter sports created an eager and not particularly discerning market in the Alps, and co-operatives and negociants satisfied the demand with undemanding wines. For some reason, the artisan quality path of next door Aosta, over the border in Italian Savoy, was never followed with enthusiasm, but of course Aosta is a tiny region.

The old families, Dupasquiers, Quenards, Grisards and Tiolliers, who did keep the flame alive, have since been joined by enough young growers to bring more than a mere prospect of excitement to the regions. Today the future looks bright. In fact, it does look rather like Jura did in the 1990s in this respect.

This tasting, organised by Wink with wines she’d brought over from her Alpine home, supplemented by a few wines from Joelle Nebbe-Mornod, of  specialist Web Merchant Alpine Wines, amounted to fourteen bottles from around the region, which we tasted alongside some delicious local fare (cheeses, charcuterie and an exquisite Torte de Savoie). The great thing about the Tasting was that several of the wines had some decent bottle age. Two went back to 1997. It was a rare opportunity to see how these wines develop.

I won’t provide detailed notes on every wine as that would make this article very long, but I hope the flavour of it comes through. I also hope that my positive comments will whet the appetite of those who signed up for a copy of the book (due to be published in November), and perhaps those who have not done so may be moved to purchase a copy when it comes out. Some of Mick Rock’s stunning photos have already appeared in updates. The book would be worth the price for those alone, but it will really be a gateway to some fascinating, high quality, wines. Wines which perhaps you never thought existed.

We began our Tasting with a rare variety (fewer than 10 hectares in existence) from one of Savoie’s finest producers, Maison Philippe Grisard (of Cruet, on the Combe de Savoie). Mondeuse is the autochthonous alpine red variety most people know. That is officially “Mondeuse Noir”. Mondeuse Blanche 2013, from an altogether different variety, is floral, and yet it has a pleasant rounded fruit texture allied to a lively freshness. A very nice wine, but perhaps worth trying for another reason. Whilst it may be almost extinct, it has had a great impact on modern viticulture – it is a parent vine to both Syrah and Viognier.

Nice as that wine is, it was hard to compare with the next wine, coming as it does from my favourite Savoie producer. Domaine Belluard Savoie Ayze “Le Feu” 2010 comes from the rare Gringet variety. Ayze (also Ayse locally) is a small enclave on the River Arve, between Geneva and Chamonix. Domaine Belluard was founded in the 1940s, but it is only over the past decade that it has become one of the most sought after producers in France, so much so that even I have difficulty in sourcing their wines (at increasingly high prices). I’ve even seen Belluard’s “Les Alpes” (another Gringet cuvée) given a name check on two occasions by Keira Knightly, in Noble Rot Magazine, where once she described it as her “gateway white wine”, and on another occasion chose it (with duck rillettes) for her hypothetical “last meal”. No wonder Belluard is now in superstar winemaker territory.

“Le Feu”, a still white of considerable complexity at this age (the oldest I’ve ever drunk), shows why. It starts off as a lovely, almost softly floral, wine (which indeed it remains when young). With a little age it adds spices and herbs. In this 2010 I was getting subtle ginger notes very clearly. In fact, Gringet is a real find as a still varietal. It had been previously used for sparkling wine in Ayze (and Belluard do make a lovely bottle fermented fizz). Its qualities are now well known. Just a pity there are only somewhere between 20 to 30 hectares planted.

IMG_3258

 

Next we tried four examples of a more commonly known Savoie grape which, like Gringet, has been under appreciated for many decades: Altesse. This local variety is grown in Bugey too, but in Savoie it can also go under the name of Roussette. There is a separate high quality AOP for Roussette de Savoie. All four of the following wines have that appellation.

Roussette de Savoie 2013, Domaine St-Germain comes from a little further east along the Combe de Savoie (southeast of Chambéry), near Fréterive. It has a lovely deep nose which is not a million miles from Pinot Gris, and there’s even a richness here, but not taken too far. Thirst quenching is still possible.

Roussette de Savoie 2009, Domaine L’Idylle is from back down the road in Cruet. Their wines were the first from Savoie I ever bought in the UK, from Yapp Brothers (who continue to import them). The older 2009 ironically had more acidity than the St-Germain version, but also more restraint, and less richness. It has aged quite well. But will Altesse age even further?

Five years older than L’Idylle was Roussette de Savoie 2004, Prieuré St-Christophe. This estate is owned by Michel Grisard, who is known as the “Pope of Mondeuse” (there’s some of that to come). Michel currently owns around 6ha of vines, split between Fréterive and Arbin. He is committed to biodynamics, and his wines are imported by Dynamic Vines in the UK. This is a wonderful wine. The nose has the complexity of age, yet the palate is clean and fresh, like a young wine. You will be pushed to find a more impressive example of an aged Savoie white. But yet…

Roussette de Savoie 1997, Prieuré St-Christophe takes Savoie’s Altesse variety to another level. Of course, it is far from likely that many estates in the region could show a white wine of this age, twenty years, which would display complexity and freshness. This is certainly getting mature, but it doesn’t lack anything. There’s a lovely quince flavour on the finish. Where that young Altesse seemed a little Pinot Gris-like, this has more the texture of mature Chenin. A remarkable wine.

 

As we move on to the reds, we begin in the territory of one of the rarest grapes in France. There is one vineyard of Espanenc in the country, at Remollon, in the Hauts-Alpes. The grapes usually go into a blend at the local co-operative, but in 2015 Yann de Agostini made a micro-cuvée from just 200 plants which had been grafted with cuttings from the Remollon vineyard.

Domaine du Petit Août “Un de Ces Jours” Espenenc 2015 is the Vin de France which was the result of that micro-vinification. The domaine itself has just between four and five hectares currently, located not in Savoie, but in the region of Hauts-Alpes, at Theus, not far from Gap. The vineyards are all at altitudes of between 600 to 700 metres, and Yann Agostini has a passion for obscure varieties. He’s perhaps best known for his varietal Mollard. The Espenenc is a neat little red, not over complex, yet very interesting. Light, aromatic, and obviously made with care. Only 200 bottles were produced, so I feel especially privileged to have tried it.

IMG_3261

 

Next, a red from the producer of our third white, above. Persan 2013, Domaine St-Germain is an example of another autochthonous Savoie variety. Michel Grisard (of Domaine St-Christophe) has been spearheading the replanting of Persan, and Domaine St-Germain is one of a handful of noted producers. It’s not a bad wine by any means, but for me it is less interesting than the Espanenc. The fruit is fairly simple, but pleasant.

The following two reds were finer examples from the same domaine, but of course we have now moved on to Mondeuse, the finest and most interesting of the Alpine red varieties. Mondeuse is reasonably well known now, although when Yapp’s started importing one a couple of decades ago, hardly anyone here in the UK would have tried it, except perhaps without knowing, on a skiing holiday.

Mondeuse is a dark skinned variety which tends to come in two shapes and sizes. Some cheaper versions are real gluggers, almost like Beaujolais. Some Bugey Mondeuse can be like this. Then there are the deeper coloured, dark and brambly wines which need time. Such wines have real intensity, bite, tannins, and combine a floral and fruity bouquet with a bitter cherry palate, sometimes with black hedgerow fruits.

Domaine St-Germain makes three terroir/single site Mondeuse cuvées, and we tried two of them. Les Taillis 2013 is dark fruited with some tannins still. But it’s showing good acidity, and is accessible. There’s a very attractive wild side to it. La Perouse 2007 was quite different. Six years older, but still a relative youth. The tannins are tamed a little here, but that fresh acidity persists. A very attractive wine, but a serious wine too, for Mondeuse.

IMG_3262

 

For our final pair of aged Mondeuse, we return to Domaine Prieuré St-Christophe. Remember, as Pierre Overnoy is the Pope of Ploussard, and Jacques Puffeney is the Pope of Arbois, so Michel Grissard is the Pope of Mondeuse. His biodynamic reds may be unheard of among drinkers of Bordeaux and Burgundy, yet that doesn’t make him any less of a star in biodynamic wine circles. We were so lucky to be able to contrast his Mondeuse Tradition 2003 with his Mondeuse Prestige 1997.

The 2003 initially has a tannic edge, but softens as one swirls, even with a tasting sample. There’s texture and (for Mondeuse, which is not a heavy grape variety), a little weight. Here we have a good example of the floral element developing on the nose. The 1997 has a much deeper and mature nose, almost in the direction of mature Burgundy, with some sous-bois elements, without losing fruit. I think such a wine would impress most people. Genuine eloquence, and, not wishing to sound too pretentious, a wine which seems to have wisdom. Anyway, I guess you can tell I liked it.

IMG_3263

The 2003 Mondeuse Tradition, with the 1997 Prestige in decanter

We finished our Tasting with two gently sparkling wines in the demi-sec category, from the extreme north and south of the region. Bugey-Cerdon is made by the ancestral method, whereby fermentation takes place here in thermo-regulated tanks, and then continues in bottle, but is not followed by disgorgement. This means that some of the original yeast sediment is left in bottle, and that no additional yeasts, nor sugar (by way of liqueur) is added. It’s really the origin of the popular pétillant naturel wines we are all (I hope) glugging, except that Bugey-Cerdon (Cerdon is a Bugey cru) is not dry.

Bugey-Cerdon 2015, Domaine Renardat-Fâche comes from the important wine commune of Mérignat. The wine is a lovely bright pink-red blend of Gamay with some Poulsard. It is fragrant and fresh, demi-sec, and a mere 8.5% alcohol. I have a genuine soft spot for this wine. I was first introduced to it in the 1990s, by friends near Gex. Over the ensuing time, a number of artisan producers have begun to receive acclaim for versions with far less acidity and way more fruit than those earlier examples. It’s a wine you must explore, and over the past eighteen months I’ve been noticing examples on UK shelves, though you have to look hard.

IMG_3265

Clairette de Die 2015, Domaine Achard-Vincent is an example of the revamped Clairette de Die wine which seemed to go out of fashion in the 1990s and 2000s. Made from a blend of Muscat (minimum 75% under AOP rules) and Clairette, the méthode diois is a very particular process. The must is filtered so that even the larger yeast cells are removed. There is just enough yeast and sugars left to enable a gentle fermentation in bottle. The wine is then disgorged into a new bottle. It should not be confused with the méthode traditionelle Crémant de Die, which is a dry sparkler, confusingly made just from Clairette.

This biodynamic Clairette de Die wine is frothy and grapey, although the Muscat effect is slightly tempered by the Clairette. This wine is traditionally taken on its own, either with pastries, cake or nuts. I know many people for whom the demi-sec sweetness is a welcome alternative to the acidity of Champagne, and like Bugey-Cerdon, it has low alcohol (just 7%).

IMG_3266

A little tale of strife

It is rather a shame that these two regions, in the far north and far south of what we might widely term the French Alps, are currently at near war over what amounts to restrictive practices, or a threat to livelihoods (depending on whose side you are on). Bugey-Cerdon was once France’s only méthode-ancestrale pink with an AOC/AOP. This year sees the release of pink Clairette de Die. Bugey is up in arms.

Wink Lorch herself wrote a very interesting article about the dispute (The War of the Rosés…) for Winesearcher here. It’s worth reading. I’m sure we all know how jealously regional wine producing bodies guard their regional character, but it does also remind us of how conservative attitudes can be in rural France. Not everyone, and certainly not the various viticultural bodies, display the same openness of the young and dynamic growers, who are often the ones moving these appellations forward. I love Bugey wines, and rarely drink those from Die. But please, gentlemen!

What do I think? Well, I can see, as Wink says, that we could see vast amount of Gamay being made into a semi-sweet, commercial fizz which might affect Cerdon. But then we have pink pét-nats from all over the world now. One or two Beaujolais producers are making them in the same style, as Vins de France. I don’t think Bugey can stop these wines, which do not rely on an AOP. They have to get on and market their wines as well made, artisan products. Hopefully, like alpine wines in general, they will shine through in the end.

A note on sources

I’ve mentioned a few importers in this article, and you will also find other references to the wines of Savoie and Bugey in particular in my Blog. I’ve also recently been drinking the wines of Dominique Lucas’ Les Vignes du Paradis. These are wonderful wines made near the Chasselas enclave of Crépy, near Lac Léman’s southern (French) shore. Dominique’s wines (he also makes Pinot Noir in Burgundy) can be sourced from Les Caves de Pyrène.

I would suggest also looking at the web site for Alpine Wines (formerly Nick Dobson Wines). This merchant specialises in wines from Europe’s Alpine regions. Better known for excellent ranges from Switzerland and Austria, they also have an interesting selection of wines from Savoie, which I know will get larger over the coming year (in time for Wink Lorch’s book launch, at a guess). As I said above, Joelle, owner of Alpine Wines, brought some of the wines we tasted.

 

Posted in Savoie Wine, Wine, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Real Wine Fair 2017, Part 3 – France, Spain, Portugal, Italy

Part 3 of my Real Wine Fair roundup for 2017 covers nine European producers, half of which may be familiar to readers, and the other half, I’m guessing, less so. Europe in general is familiar territory, of course, to lovers of natural and low intervention wines. It was, after all, the place where the modern movement began (though I’m sure natural wine really started out a couple of thousand years ago, if not after The Flood), and whilst natural wine has spread all over the world, it seems still to have its heart in Europe.

This is an area where I could have gone over old ground very easily. It is also somewhere I could have written about too many producers, making this Part 3 a bit of a slog. I hope that the nine winemakers represented here, some in detail and some less so, are just about the right number. If you are wondering at the presence of familiar names, you’ll hopefully find that I’m looking at new wines. When you consider passing on COS, think again. Their new white amphora wine was (a very tough choice) my overall Wine of the Fair.

FRANCE

Christian Binner, Ammerschwihr (Alsace)

Although I haven’t had any Binner for a year, I love the wines, which I find are genuine expressions of their site, rather than being merely varietals. Most of his wines are sulphur free, aged in century-old large foudres, and are put through their malolactic. They do truly fit the cliche of “alive” in my book, and I commend any of them. There are several cuvées of Riesling, including Grand Cru, which are at the extreme end of mineral, and are some of the purest versions of the variety you’ll find these days in the region. But, unusually, Christian is a great red wine maker too. His Pinot Noirs are superb, whether in the simple easy drinking style (but fruit packed, not always a given in Alsace), up to the unfiltered “Cuvée Béatrice”.

Christian also makes wine with various friends as Les Vins Pirouettes. Here, there’s another fine example of his red wine prowess, in Hubert & Christian Pinot Noir 2014, a wine which fulfills all the gulpable qualities required for fully signed up membership of “club glouglou”. Available in litre bottles, this would easily suit a bladder pack (like a Du Grappin #bagnum).

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

 

La Folle Berthe, David Fourbet, Saumur (Loire)

Fourbet was a journalist in Paris who decided to follow the dream, making his first vintage in Saumur in 2014, but only getting his own place in time for the 2015 vintage. He leases from the recently retired Philippe Gourdon, whose vines are perfect for David’s philosophy of wine, having been farmed biodynamically since the late 1990s. Gourdon has been a great help whilst Fourbet starts out.

Four wines were on show. Amandiers 2015 is made from Chenin (I hope). Initially a little quiet on the nose, but it is very pure, with a nice line of acidity. A wine for drinking.

P’tite Berthe 2016 is a Pineau d’Aunis. This variety seemed to go right out of fashion when I was beginning to appreciate Loire reds, but it seems, luckily, to have been brought right back by the natural wine movement (plantings decreased from around 2,000 hectares in the 1950s to a little over 400 ha by 2010). It seems to have an almost haunting quality to it, and this is certainly the case with this particular wine. It is quite pale, with medium weight of bright red fruit. Smooth, but also not devoid of tannins. What you get after the fruit is something reminiscent of weak black tea. The perfume is beautiful.

Vinneaux 2015 is pure Cabernet Franc. There’s only a bit more colour here than the Berthe, but with a touch more weight, and a little more tannin. This is a delicious wine, but also a thought provoking one as well. I may slightly prefer the Pinot d’Aunis over the Cabernet Franc wine, but both are good.

I was also able to have a small sip of the first (2014) vintage of Renaissances, a lovely sour wine, 100% Chenin Blanc, concentrated, with real texture and great length. This is a producer I must get to know better.

Importer – Under The Bonnet Wines

 

SPAIN

Partida Creus, Tarragona

Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerosa run Partida Creus from Bonastre in the Baix Penedès. Like David Fourbet, above, they were professionals (Italian architects in this case) who made a lifestyle change and moved to Catalonia, first to Barcelona, before hitting the countryside, and winemaking.

I’m flattered that a lot of people think I know quite a bit about wine, and that I’m often a step ahead of at least all the other old fogeys like me. But I’d never tried Partida Creus before the Fair, let alone really knew that they were making “some of the most talked about wines coming out of Spain”. That comment was written exactly two years ago in Saveur Magazine by Rachel Signer, a prominent American writer on natural wines. [Rachel writes a blog, by the way, A Brave New Palate, which is well worth exploring, and is currently in the process of funding a magazine on natural wine].

With my reputation in tatters, especially as I’ve been writing about Spanish natural wines an awful lot this year, I put my mind to tasting the six wines on show. What I found ended up being one of my top producers of the day, a brilliant discovery for me. Rachel was not wrong.

This part of Spain boasts a host of very old vineyards which, in the past, have been used for pretty ordinary wines. In such a region a quality-focused winemaker has a lot of fruit to choose from, not necessarily at the ridiculous prices you have to pay if you set up somewhere like Priorat.

I began with an example of a fairly staple local variety, Xarel-lo, with other rare local varieties, but treated here very differently, to make a pink Pet Nat wine at 10% alcohol, sealed under crown cap. CV Rosado Pet Nat Cartoixa Vermell is fruity, spicy, and that’s about it, but that’s all you want from the style. Complicated doesn’t make for a good glugging fizz, but really good fruit does.

SP Blanco 2015 is Macabeo with good acidity and a lovely freshness, simple but fruity. BN Blanco Natural 2015 is similar, but from a different site, and with no added sulphur.

BS Sumoll Blanco 2015 is made from red Sumoll, vinified white. It has an onion skin colour from the red grape skins. The free-run juice makes this a gentle wine, with really fruity flavours, and there’s also a little bit of spice again on the finish. A very attractive wine.

VN Vinello Tinto 2015 takes the same grape variety, Sumoll Tinto, and vinifies it as a red. I’ve grown to really appreciate this native grape over the past couple of years. It can make wine with body, but here it is quite gentle. The fruit flits between strawberry and light cherry, with very attractive fruit acids, almost like strawberry juice. “Vinello” is the Italian term for a “drinking wine”.

Much as I love a Sumoll, the best wine here, for me on the day, was BB Bobal 2015, served from magnum, almost to emphasise its serious qualities. It’s a very pale red, not too far off the colour of a Rosé des Riceys. This is unusual, because Bobal often has a deep colour. Generally used to make bulk wine, it is increasingly being taken more seriously. There was also (possibly) a very slight touch of reduction, though for me that doesn’t pose a problem (I’m certain it blows, or shakes, off at lowish levels). Red fruits and red fruit tea are the main characteristics of this wine, a satisfying combination.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrène

 

PORTUGAL

Vale da Capucha, Pedro Marques, Lisbon

Pedro Marques is one of the young stars of Portuguese wine. I say young, he’s in the second half of his thirties, but the enthusiasm he exudes, and the thoughtful way he creates his wines, are both symbols of a man who has been making wine only since 2009, and yet has received international praise for what he is doing.  Lisbon is a relatively unfashionable region in a country so often forgotten, and yet it has an amazing palate of autochthonous grape varietes, and Pedro’s family vineyards, around ten kilometres inland from the coast, near Torres Vedras (just north of Lisbon), are full of them.

First I tasted some of Pedro’s classic whites. Branco is, in 2015, a very tasty entry level blend, usually of Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires, which has a slightly saline and mineral quality. Pedro believes his estate’s terroir better reflects white varieties, and there’s evidence of this in his Alvarinhos. Alvarinho 2013 exhibits the delicious qualities of this grape with a little age – a lovely line of developed fruit and mineral texture, whilst Alvarinho 2015 was much fresher, with almost a tropical quality. There are, additionally, varietal cuvées of Gouveio, Arinto and Castelão.

Pedro also makes two relatively simple but very sappy wines which are easy drinking without losing that interest provided by the native varieties. Fossil Branco 2015 uses the same varieties as the Branco blend above, It has a palate of citrus and pear, with a delicious saline finish which makes it a good bet for seafood. Fossil Tinto 2015 comes from 60% Touriga Nacional with 30% Tinta Roriz and 10% Syrah. It has black fruits, but a floral scent. Good acidity means it will work well with food (I hesitate to suggest a cliche such as cabrito, but, along with any pork or fattier meats, that would be perfect).

Both of these wines are fun. They combine modern flavours with tradition, and although these wines are both “natural”, and indeed “vegan”, they don’t have the low alcohols you often see in such wines (14% and 13% repectively). That may appeal to some, if not to others. They would make a wonderful choice in a restaurant.

Importers – Caves de Pyrène for most of the range, but Red Squirrel bring in the two Fossil wines.

 

ITALY

Cascina degli Ulivi, Stefano Bellotti, Piemonte

I’ve written about Stefano and his truly beautiful wines before, and many of you will already know of him from Jonathan Nossiter’s Natural Resistance film. I’m not ever going to miss an opportunity to try his wines, and indeed buy some as they are not easy to come by. The man (he’d hate me for saying it) is a legend. How he copes with these big Fairs I’m not sure. He seems to me a quiet and humble man who I’d imagine would prefer to be on his farm. But maybe he parties like the Georgians when the day is done?

I was able to try two wines which were new to me, plus one I wanted to try in the new vintage, though I had an idea I’d end up buying a bottle anyway. The first new wine was a Moscato Passito, made from grapes dried on straw in small boxes, fermented in only half full barrels with 15% skin contact. Not unlike other passito wines, this really did seem to have some extra dimension of purity and shone in the glass. It has 15% alcohol, and a concentrated sweetness with a slightly caramelised sugar note. Then comes the honey, raisins and fig. Not a wine to spit.

Etoile du Raisin 2007 is a most unusual wine. Made from Barbera harvested in 2007, with Dolcetto, Ancellotto and a touch of Cortese making up 15% of the blend. It didn’t finish fermenting until 2011, and Stefano finally decided to bottle it in September 2012. It’s quite smoky on the nose, and on the palate there are plum fruits and gentle balsamic flavours. It also comes in at 15% abv, so a red wine to sip and contemplate, not so much a food wine. This wine won’t appeal to everyone because of its concentration and alcohol, but it’s complex, and very individual…like its creator.

My favourite wine from Bellotti is often his “orange” A Demûa Bianco, which has the characteristics of a skin contact wine, albeit in a gentle way. But Stefano makes a simpler white, and I tried the new vintage, IVAG 2016. IVAG is, of course, Gavi backwards. Naturally Stefano didn’t apply for the DOCG. The powers that be know by now that this great grower makes wines far too individual to give him the same “Gavi” label worn with pride by sometimes insipid bottles from industrially-minded producers.

IVAG 2016 has lovely fruit, for a (non-)Gavi. Good Gavi tastes of pears, and this wine has that, plus a nice rich lick of pineapple (or was it apricot) as well. Pure Cortese, in more than one sense. It provides a way in if you want to try something which expresses the terroir southwest of Novi Ligure much better than your average bottle of Gavi.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

 

Cantina Filippi, Castelcerino, Soave (Veneto)

I didn’t try the wines this time, but I have to give them a mention. The stand was being manned by fellow Blogger, Emma Bentley, who works with the estate. Their vineyards are the highest in Soave, well known for its “wines of the plain” at mere DOC level. They are lucky to have mature vines, most being more than 60-years-old, and the philosophy is to produce terroir wines which reflect the three cru sites on the estate. There’s an entry level (but unfiltered) bottling, which knocks most inexpensive Soave off the table, plus a number of more expensive wines, which nevertheless offer amazing value for money. Aiming my comments at independent retailers, these wines offer a lot of bang for the buck. And I’m not just saying that because Emma offered me her seat to eat my QCH pork pie!

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

IMG_3201

A quick break for lunch – Quality Chop House pork pie with “Kernel Table Beer” mustard, in the company of the Filippi Soaves

 

Casa Belfi, Albino Armani, Prosecco (Veneto)

Casa Belfi make “Colfondo” Prosecco from vineyards around San Polo di Piave, a little less than 20km south of Conegliano. Colfondo Prosecco is often cited as the historical version of this modern, often industrial wine. It is bottled on its lees sediment, rather like the méthode ancestrale pétillant naturel wines of France. Rather like real Lambrusco, it’s a very different wine to the norm.

Belfi’s Prosecco Colfondo Frizzante (currently 2015 vintage) is a low alcohol (around 10.5%) dry wine with bracing flavours. Susie Barrie reviewed a previous cuvée of this unapologetically “natural wine” Prosecco on Decanter’s web site in 2015, saying “I was sceptical, but it’s superb”, and it still is. This biodynamic Prosecco is nothing like the stuff you buy for £5.99 in the supermarket. Expect to pay a shocking £13 or so.

So is there more to Casa Belfi? Of course there is. They make a very unusual Prosecco Colfondo Anfora, which is also available in magnums. This is an even more delicious rendition of the Glera grape variety, for the adventurous palate. It sees seven days skin contact in a large amphora, and the resulting wine is floral, and a little bready in a nice savoury way. All bottling is done strictly adhering to the biodynamic calendar, and remember, it is bottled on lees. Not only will it continue to develop in bottle, but if you don’t want the cloudy option (a more textured experience), you have to stand the bottle upright for a good 48 hours and pour carefully.

Casa Belfi’s Raboso Frizzante was completely new to me. Raboso is a traditional red grape from the western part of Veneto, and it probably means “angry” (from the Venetian dialect word, “raboxo”). This could have something to do with its inherent acidity, yet this non-vintage red fizz is not exceptionally acidic. The fruit levels are crazy and, although it is also fermented on lees, it tastes clean. Drink now, or, like the Proseccos, keep it a little while to see it develop in bottle.

I should state firmly that these are wines which have no pretension to be serious. The basic Prosecco is remarkably cheap, not for Prosecco of course, but cheap for a really tasty dry sparkler. I will be looking to get some Raboso for weekend afternoons in the garden, or taking to BBQs, hoping that my sources for the other two wines order some.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

IMG_3197

 

Vino di Anna, Anna Martens, Etna (Sicily)

Real Wine had five Sicilian estates on show, and as is so often the case with Sicily at wine fairs, I know the wines too well to taste them. But I drank Anna’s Palmento Rosso 2015 very recently at Terroirs in London, and it was so good I had to tell her. Is this really a red? Fermented on skins for 3-4 days only, it is a pale red more than a dark pink, but only just. The fruit is almost sweet, filling the mouth and coating the tongue. There’s almost a typically Sicilian level (13%) of alcohol here, but you really can’t tell. You can almost knock it back like fruit juice. It’s mostly Nerello Mascalese, but there are other varieties in the field blend, including some white ones. The 2016 is almost ready to bottle, but do try this, A super wine.

Etna Rosso “Jeudi 15” 2015 is the current iteration of the first wine I ever tried from Anna, a wine which over time has flitted between Burgundy-, and Bordeaux-shaped, bottles (for what it’s worth I have an aesthetic preference for the burgundy shape). This is Etna’s wonderful Nerello Mascalese once more, and there’s some of the rare Minella variety in the field blend too. Created in an open fermenter (8 to 10 days on skins this time with some whole bunches), it has more bite and grip than Palmento. More colour too, not that it matters.

Anna makes wine with her partner, Eric Narioo, who’s well known to us all as one of the men behind Les Caves. The vines are all at altitude (600 to 1,200 metres) on Etna’s northern slopes. “Palmento” refers to the stone  floors where the grapes were traditionally foot trodden. Eric and Anna restored a 250-year-old building with one of these floors, in which they make their delicious biodynamic wines from a small, six hectare, estate. Anna had run out of her white wines, but everything here is worth a try. I think I bought the very first vintage of “Jeudi 15”, and the wines seem to get better and better.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

IMG_3206

 

COS, Vittoria (Sicily)

COS was founded by Giusto Occhipinti, along with school friends Giambattista Cilia and Pinuccia Strano, back in 1980. Over time, the wines of COS have moved in a much more “natural” direction. The company has also become famous as one of Sicily’s proponents of amphorae. COS has pretty much revitalised Cerasuolo di Vittoria [Classico] as a DOCG, as well as the local Frappato grape. Their Nero d’Avola exhibits a restraint hardly seen elsewhere on the island, and as I mentioned above, “Pithos” has become a byword for classy terracotta-aged wine.

I usually have a few COS wines at home, often a few bottles of Frappato, Cerasuolo (which traditionally blends Nero d’Avola and Frappato), and the two amphora wines, Pithos Bianco and Rosso. I also have a tendency to mention these on the Blog fairly frequently, so here I’m going to talk about a couple of wines I see less often, plus one amazing new wine.

Nero di Lupo 2015 is 100% Nero d’Avola, made from vines only a little over a decade old, which is fermented and aged in cement tanks before bottling. If I haven’t bought this wine for several years, it is only really because I like some of the others so much. It’s very good in 2015, fruity but not too big (only 12.5% alcohol). If you’ve been put off by the monster Nero d’Avolas of some other Sicilian producers, this will make a refreshing change.

Aestas Siciliae Vino Dolce No 5 is a new (to me) dessert wine made from Moscato grapes which have dried on the vine. Grapey and concentrated, yet it only has 12.5% alcohol, and the sweetness is not cloying. It’s too hard to be objective when a wine is this moreish. Just sip it.

The last wine I’m going to write about in this Part 3, and therefore of all the wines I tasted at the Real Wine Fair 2017, was my Wine of the Fair, my favourite wine of the day. It was also a new wine from COS, which I’d never tasted before, and which is not yet imported into the UK as far as I’m aware. Don’t take my word for it – many others were raving about this wine. It is clearly not in my interests, wishing to secure a bottle (or magnum, oh yes!) or two, for me to big this up, but I cannot lie.

Zibibbo in Pithos 2014 (poured here from magnum) is made from Muscat of Alexandria (known as Zibibbo on Sicily). It’s aged on skins for eleven months in amphorae, so that alongside the grapey flavours and aromas of the Muscat grapes, you also get candied fruit and pleasantly savoury, or bitter, spice, presumably from the skin contact and terracotta. Smooth, and quite powerful, yet only weighing in at 10.5% abv, it is totally delicious. If restricted to a one word tasting note, it would be “want”, though I’d like to add a very plaintive “please” to those nice people just outside Guildford. I presume they will be bringing in as much as they can beg from Giusto.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyréne

 

So that’s all I’m going to give you for Real Wine 2017, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the limited selection of producers and wines I’ve described in these three articles. I am sure that they complement all the other pieces written about this extraordinary Fair, and the 170 producers who attended. I’m not really sure how I could have got around many more in a day, and I doubt that any of the Press managed to speak to all of them.

After the Fair I was invited to a Tasting of French Alpine Wines, organised by Wink Lorch. As I said in Part 1, it was to celebrate the successful end to her Kickstarter Campaign to fund her next book, on this very subject. My next article will be on that Tasting, and it was indeed a particularly interesting Tasting because some of the wines were well aged.

Posted in Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Real Wine Fair 2017, Part 2 – Mainly USA

In dividing my Real Wine Fair 2017 odyssey into three manageable parts, I decided to base Part 2 on four North American producers I tasted. But as this will be the shortest of the three parts, I’m going to throw in one from Australia and one from England as well. There is no doubt that The USA is increasing its “natural wine” profile in the UK year on year. Three of the producers below were completely new to me, and were showing some brilliant wines, but first, we’ll begin with a producer I do know pretty well.

What did I get from tasting these particular producers? Well, with the North Americans and the Australian, I think none conformed to stereotypes and cliches about what wine from these places tastes like. There was an overwhelming sense of joy in the wines, rather than an attempt to be serious. They are, on the whole, wines to drink, rather than (as is so often the case in these regions) wines of high alcohol, wines to sip on their (and often, your) own. This is the prime reason why even the more affluent younger drinkers are turning to these wines, and away from the monsters. It’s what makes a Wine Fair like Real Wine (and Raw) so important, and also so obviously popular with a younger audience. The demographic here, as compared to many other London Tastings, is telling, and should be a warning to the trade.

La Garagista, Vermont

La Garagista are in Barnard, and have vines around Lake Champlain, and Mount Hunger. The focus is on biodiversity and permaculture on their home farm, and all winemaking is biodynamic. Viticulture is only part of their story.

I first met Caleb and Deirdre a year ago, and loved their wines. My favourite was without doubt the pét-nat, Grace and Favour, made from La Crescent, a hybrid grape variety said to be descended from Black Hambourg. It gets its name because that is the variety of “The Great Vine” at Hampton Court Palace, outside of London (where “grace and favour apartments are allotted to former royal functionaries). It was just a month ago that I drank the 2015 bottling of Grace and Favour, so I had to try the new one.

Grace & Favour 2016 has less of the zip and direct thrust of the 2015, but that is replaced by a lovely floral ambience. It’s quite a different wine, but equally good. The 2015 was my first vintage of this sparkler, and it was such an exciting wine. This is a little toned down, but it won’t be any less of a shock (I’m hoping in a good way) to the uninitiated.

Ci Confonde Rosso Pet Nat 2015 was completely new to me. I knew of a rosé in this series (made from Frontenac Gris), but Caleb said that this cuvée was made from Marquette, a hybrid developed in Minnesota especially for colder climates. It was my first (but not last) “new” grape variety of the day. The wine is frothy, fruity and has a certain savoury quality on the finish. Very possibly a challenger to Grace & Favour.

I finished off with Loup d’Or 2015, which I have tried before – so “Brianna” is not a new variety to me. Brianna is a hybrid between vinifera, labrusca and riparia plants, developed this time in Wisconsin. It does, again, suit colder climates. It was originally developed to use as a table grape, but is now quite widely planted in the Midwest for wine production. Up in Vermont it seems to make a very taut wine, but it also has a creamy texture. If citrus and cream sounds weird, don’t let that put you off. It’s an unusual wine, but it has a nice floral quality which the adventurous will find beguiling.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

Caleb pouring Grace ’16, some red pét-nat Ci Confonde, and that map again – one presumes they draw a new one every year? Most of us need it!

 

Golden Cluster, Jeff Vejr, Oregon

Jeff Vejr is lucky to be able to source his grapes from one of the Willamette Valley’s heritage sites. Originally called the Charles Coury Vineyard (it has since been renamed David Hill Vineyard, after a later owner), he was one of the three original pioneers of Oregon viticulture (David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, who died back in 2008, was perhaps much better known). Jeff pays homage to Coury, the region’s unsung hero, through his labels, but he is completely opposed to the modern day marketing story that Oregon means Pinot Noir. Hence the diversity of varieties he bottles. Jeff’s not a local, he hails from New Hampshire, and his first vintage was only in 2013. Early days then, but lots of promise.

Coury Old Vines Semillon 2014 is far from typical, if you are thinking Graves, or Australia. Dry farmed on its own original rootstock, it is given a little skin contact (two days), and is then aged on the lees in bottle. But the vines are old – in fact the oldest Semillon vines in America’s Pacific Northwest, and you can tell. Good texture and mouthfeel, combined with quite a concentration of fruit, though not remotely flashy. The fruit is bright, layered over a gentle beeswax base. Delicious, and a piece of viticultural history too.

Dion Vineyard Syrah 2015 actually has 2% Grenache added. Made with some whole clusters, this is aged partly in 500 litre wood, and partly in some stainless steel kegs. Apparently Syrah does extremely well in the Willamette, although I’ve little experience of it myself. This has nice bright fruit, very tasty now, but I presume with the capacity to age.

The one wine I wasn’t quite sure about was Olmo Flora 2016. Flora is a cross between Gewurztraminer and Semillon, made in 1938 by Harold Olmo at the California Viticultural Experiment Station. I first came across it not in North America, but in Australia, via Brown Brothers’ well distributed dessert wine, Orange Muscat & Flora. This also comes from the David Hill (originally Charles Coury) vineyard. It is a relatively low acid wine with quite a sour and ever so slightly bitter finish. But I won’t pass judgement and dismiss it on one sip.

Savagnin Rose 2015 was much more to my taste. The variety is also known as Roter Traminer, but may be better known to some as the grape variety in the rarely seen Alsace wine, Klevener de Heiligenstein  (which isn’t, confusingly, made from Klevner, note the middle ‘e’). It’s a white grape, yet has a pink skin. This cuvée tastes dry, but has around 5g/l of residual sugar, balanced by good acidity which is nevertheless not too assertive. There’s also some protective CO2. Jeff thinks this was the first planting of the grape variety in Oregon. A fun wine, worth trying if you can find it.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

IMG_3221

 

Bow & Arrow, Scott and Diana Frank, Oregon

Scott and Diana are based in Oregon, but some of their wines could almost be straight out of Anjou and Touraine. They’ve been going almost seven years, and bring their own brand of low intervention wines to an industry which at times can seem like, well, an industry. They share with their natural wine counterparts in The Loire a predilection for lower alcohols, refreshing in both senses.

Melon Blanc 2015 is clearly a nod to Muscadet, further evidenced by the year the wine spends on its lees in tank. Like Muscadet, this wine has very linear minerality, and fresh fruit, but expect a little more body than many Muscadets, at least the young ones. With superb length, this is really good. It won’t match the ridiculously low prices which the French wine fetches, but at around £20 UK retail, it’s still very much worth seeking out (and I will).

Gamay Noir 2015 is made by semi-carbonic maceration from vines grown in the Willamette Valley. The nod to The Loire continues, in that this reminds me more of the increasingly delicious versions from here, than of Beaujolais. I’m finding North American Gamay quite exciting right now, and this is no exception. Expect fruit concentration, but something resembling restraint.

Was Air Guitar 2015 my favourite wine from Bow & Arrow? Certainly, it gains bonus points for the name with me. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the fruits firmly in the “red” spectrum, rather than anything darker. It has the same kind of restraint I found in the Gamay, something which for me signals perfect ripeness, but no unwarranted extra hang time.

Scott was also showing his Pinot Noir wines. Rhinestones 2015 is actually a blend of 60% Pinot with 40% Gamay. Think good Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, or the best of Dôle from Switzerland’s Valais. I don’t think there’s a hint of pretension here, just a very pleasant and fruity wine for glugging…yet extremely well put together despite the minimal intervention.

Hughes Hollow Pinot Noir 2014 (an error in the catalogue listed 2015) is a single vineyard wine from a north facing site in the Willamette Valley, just west of the Eola-Amity AVA. Very much cool climate initially, and Scott said he thought it may have just been planted for extra volume, although the vines are planted on their own rootstock. But with global warming, the vines now achieve full phenolic ripeness without going above 12% abv (yet), and 2014 was a very warm vintage. Ripe fruit is quite floral on the nose, whilst on the palate it’s mainly raspberry with a touch of red cherry. There are tannins which are quite smooth but not without texture. Hughes Hollow is possibly the most potentially fine wine from Bow & Arrow, although my heart is probably with the Melon and Air Guitar.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

Scott Frank demonstrates a bit of air guitar to the thronging crowds at Tobacco Dock, defending the faith

Ryme Cellars, Megan and Ryan Glaab, California

In Part 1, I mentioned how I’m always stopped by people recommending producers to me, and how they often end up being some of my best discoveries at big wine fairs like Real Wine. My friend Nayan Gowda was responsible, via social media, for sending me to Ryme Cellars, having graduated with Megan. This was no mere plugging of a mate, the wines are brilliant.

Megan and Ryan are both winemakers (Ryme combines the first letters of their names), and they started making wine together out of Healdsburg in 2007. They claim to have the same ideas and intuition in their winemaking, but where they did disagree was in what to do with their Vermentino. So they made one each.

“Hers” Carneros Vermentino 2016 takes as its inspiration the bright and clean wines of the Ligurian coast. Stainless steel renders a lovely fresh “garden wine”. “His” Carneros Vermentino 2014 (note the vintage) is a skin contact wine, more orange than Megan’s yellow. It’s made from whole clusters, with two weeks on skins. It has texture from the winemaking method, but great purity. I didn’t tell Megan I kind of preferred Ryan’s wine, but only because I love the style. Both wines are very good.

However, I liked the next wine even more. Fiano is an under rated grape variety. Famous in Italy’s Campania/Irpinia region, and especially around Avellino, we are seeing the grape spread beyond its homeland. One of the most exciting finds of last summer was Larry Cherubino’s version from Frankland River in Western Australia.

Sonoma Fiano 2015 is every bit as exciting. It comes from Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County), a little north of Healdsburg. Megan said she thinks there are only around eight acres of Fiano planted in California. This version is simply made, aged in neutral French oak for ten months with just one racking. The fruit is rounded and stony, with a nice gentle texture, overlaid with citrus freshness.

Napa Ribolla Gialla 2013 is a rare find. In the Oak Knoll district of Napa, at the foot of Mount Veeder, a guy called George Vare has around 2.5 acres of this Northeastern Italian grape variety. Megan and Ryan secured a single ton of grapes, and decided (they love the wines of Sasha Radikon) to ferment it on skins for six months, before ageing for two years in more neutral French oak. The wine is very complex already. The colour is deep, the nose is quite spicy (ginger and nutmeg?), and the palate is textured, with the tannins of a red. It tastes of crunchy pears. There’s quite a bit of gras adding a little weight, but it’s in no way a heavy wine, just nicely poised.

The first wine this couple made together in 2007 was an Aglianico, from fruit sourced from Peachy Canyon Road, Paso Robles. It had been planted to complement the prodigious quantities of Zinfandel around that district. This would remind you that it’s pretty hot here, but Aglianico is a late ripener which doesn’t mind such temperatures. Picked in late October, foot trodden as whole clusters without destemming (ouch!), it is aged for three years in barrel, then given a year in bottle before release. The 2012 Paso Robles Aglianico has 14% alcohol, but also a very high ph of 3.2, so enough balancing acidity. Right now it is super tannic, though the acidity lifts it, making it not hard to contemplate. It’s made to age…Megan said well over twenty years. But it seemed to me to have enormous potential.

Not generally a fan of high alcohol Southern Italian reds, I’ve nevertheless always had a soft spot for Aglianico. Like Sicily’s Nerello Mascalese, it seems to retain freshness (both grapes are often grown at altitude in the finest examples). As an example of the remarkably assured winemaking here, this wine is exemplary.

I didn’t get to try the Carignane and their Cabernet Franc.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène.

Megan holding a carafe of the highly impressive Paso Robles Aglianico

 

Martha Stoumen, California

Matha makes wine by herself in Northern California, aiming to create real biodiversity in the vineyards she leases directly. She had three wines at the Fair: Post Flirtation 2016, a blend of 65% Carignan plus Zinfandel made in the glouglou/gulpable style (11.3% alcohol); Venturi Vineyard Carignan 2015 from Larry Venturi, out of a vineyard on Russian River’s former bed, covered in large stones; and Mendo Benchlands 2015, 60% Nero d’Avola blended with 40% Zinfandel (whole clusters, foot trodden, one month maceration then 18 months in neutral oak, 14% abv).

Sadly, when I arrived a little before 5pm, Martha was clean out of wine. I mention her in part because of the rave reviews she got from some of my friends, and also for what I decided was the “Label of the Day”, for the Post Flirtation Blend, which I have reproduced below.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

IMG_3268

 

Sam Vinciullo, Margaret River, Western Australia

Sam Vinciullo was another of the star producers at Real Wine 2017. Sam has had a varied winemaking career, around Australia and in California. But his most formative experience was working with Frank Cornelissen on Etna. Helped by Sarah Morris of Si Vintners, who sold him his first parcel of fruit for the 2015 vintage, Sam makes three wines – a red and a white, and a “red-white” blend. 2016 is his second bottled vintage, 2017 being safely in tank.

Warner Glen Sauvignon 2016 is no typical Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is stunning, almost tropical and very primary, but not in the same direction as many New Zealand versions. It’s softer than you expect on the palate, though the acids are there, as is a nice texture. Sam allows fermentation to run wild, with no temperature control, but every stage of vinification is scrupulously monitored, and the winery is said to be spotlessly clean.

Warner Glen Red Blend 2016 is Cabernet/Merlot, a combination that’s hardly uncommon in Margaret River. Sam destems the fruit, but uses a high proportion of whole berries. The red winemaking is very gentle, and the resulting wine has a nice medium weight with bright, vibrant, fruit. Definitely a wine to match with food. Good to go if you open it early, or splash into a carafe. Probably even better in a year.

Red/White Blend 2016 is one of those fortuitous discoveries which may not be the height of sophistication, but provide the perfect fruity wine for summer. The blend is Merlot and Semillon. It has a nice glowing red colour to it, very attractive (I know that pretty labels and bright colours shouldn’t sway sophisticated palates, but this is a fun wine, not a Grand Cru). It simply delivers fruit and freshness. Great garden fodder, if we can persuade the sunshine to return.

Sam is pretty particular about his way of doing things. He eschews oak, uses a small basket press, and there is no pumping, just hand punching in open fermenters. He’s very tactile, getting to know the skins as he said. Sam aims for texture and a relatively low ph. Native yeasts and no added sulphur complete the picture. So whilst the grapes are your usual Margaret River fare, the winemaking, and hence the wines, are not. As I said at the top, but will repeat here, star quality.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

 

Davenport Vineyard, Limney Farm, East Sussex (UK)

Whilst the sparkling wine industry in the UK is relatively new, Davenport has a history longer than many, having built up vine holdings at a rate of about an acre a year over twenty years, and over five different sites. They are unusual, for our UK climate, in being fully certified organic. Some copper and sulphur are used to control mildew, but all other treatments are made from plants (nettles feature prominently). There is generally a very high degree of environmental awareness here, even down to bottle weight and non-bleached cartons, and the winery is solar powered.

The range of wine is quite broad, although Davenport were not showing their top “traditional method” white – the current vintage (2013) is settling in bottle after disgorging.

Limney Auxerrois Sparkling 2014 is somewhat simpler than that 2013, made from Pinot Auxerrois instead of the classic three variety Champagne blend. Nevertheless, it gets two years on lees in bottle, and reminded me a little of a very good Crémant de Bourgogne.

Davenport Pet Nat 2014 is more fruity and quite simple, but I can’t recall tasting a better English wine in this style. It is only in its second vintage, but I really hope it proves a big success. In its first vintage it was made from Pinot Auxerrois, but that block was apparently eaten by badgers in 2016, so they switched to a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Faber (Faberrebe), and they think this is even better. I can’t comment on the 2015, not having tried it, but the ’16 is delicious, in the pét-nat style, ie ripe fruit, great acidity, slightly tart but very refreshing. Simple wine to knock back and enjoy.

Limney Estate Sparkling Rosé is the counterpart to that resting white. Mainly Chardonnay, with 10% Pinot Noir for colour. It gets a year on lees and is dosed at 4g/l, so it is very dry. There’s a line of fine acidity to go with the fine bead, and it’s red fruits all the way.

Horsmondon White 2015 comes from a vineyard planted originally in the early 1990s with a range of varieties which at that time were considered, by the English viticultural fraternity, to be the future of English wine. They may have been proved wrong in the event, but the Bacchus, Ortega, Huxelrebe, Siegerrebe and Feberrebe planted here make a refreshing white, which is given a touch more weight by placing the Ortega in wooden foudre for six months.

I am generally wary of many English white blends using these type of grapes, which can often produce wines high in acidity and which are rather one-dimensional. But this wine has gained a very good reputation, and I’d say deservedly so, especially for its thirst quenching qualities. Sip at the cricket on a Sunday afternoon.

Diamond Fields Pinot Noir 2015 was, for me, the least convincing of the Davenport wines. It is actually made from the strain of Pinot called Pinot Noir Précose, a Pinot Noir mutation known in Germany as Frühburgunder. It is basically an earlier ripening version of the Burgundian grape. We grow some ourselves, just one big old vine, which yields at best thirty bunches, which we juice. It’s a real pain, always having uneven fruit set, and with some tiny berries among the normal ones.

Diamond Fields has darker fruit than you expect from Pinot Noir, along with a bitter touch on the finish. I’m going to put my neck on the block by suggesting it is not going to yield the complexity true Pinot Noir is capable of, due to its early ripening properties.

There’s nothing wrong with Diamond Fields. It’s just that for me, although there are a couple of glaring exceptions, I am just not convinced that global warming has gone quite far enough, and that vine siting and age are yet helping create truly exciting still Pinot Noir in England that offers value for money. But as we know, it’s getting warmer and if we can become lucky with the rain, the future may well be bright for English red wine.

 

 

Posted in Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Real Wine Fair 2017, Part 1 – Austria & Germany

Real Wine is an event I really look forward to. Okay, 170 producers is an impossible task for anyone, and I reckon I’d need five days to do the Fair justice. But the Fair is very well organised (if you excuse the lack of water bearers for glass rinsing), Tobacco Dock is a good venue (and not as inaccessible as I always imagine), and certainly on yesterday’s press day there was plenty of space to taste, at least in the morning. Of course, there are always minor gripes, but those are too minor to air here. Real Wine is a fantastic Wine Fair. Like my summer holiday, I wish it would never end.

My strategy for getting the most out of an event like this is to download the catalogue and make a list. Then I get to the event, bump into lots of people, and find my list grows considerably longer: “you really have to taste…”. Difficult as that makes the task in hand, those recommendations often yield the best surprises, and I’m forever grateful for them. Yet I also tried to enforce another rule yesterday. Don’t spend half your time tasting wines you already know. With a crossover of producers with Raw Wine, there are several big names I had to pass by, but one or two favourites had new wines to show, and one of those was my Wine of the Day.

Part 1 of my roundup will cover Austria and Germany. Part 2 will cover North America, Australia and the UK. Part 3 will cover some European producers. After the Fair I went to a Tasting of French Alpine Wines, organised by Wink Lorch, as celebration for hitting the target for her Kickstarter campaign, for a book on the same subject. A write-up of that tasting will follow Parts 1-3.

AUSTRIA AND GERMANY

Meinklang, Burgenland

Don’t worry, I’m not going to run through all the Klangs again, despite these guys being one of my favourite few Austrian producers. But I had to say hello, hector a few passers-by to come and taste, and to try one wine, the 2015 vintage of Foam Rot. This is a red partner for their white pét-nat, and it is made with 80% Gamaret and 20% Blaufränkisch, from their vineyards near Pamhagen (near Neusiedlersee’s southern shore). Gamaret is an interesting variety, a cross (1970) between Gamay and Reichensteiner which is largely planted in Switzerland (I’ve written about Gamaret from Geneva’s vineyards this year). This wine has a good colour, and lots of fruit, ripe red cherries and darker notes (blackberries?). Perfect for a pét-nat. Hoping there will be some around for me this summer.

Importer – Winemakers Club

IMG_3211

Claus Preisinger, Burgenland

Claus is another favourite of mine, but although I drink a good number of his wines at home, I only said “hello” back at Raw. And in any event, having drunk a bottle of his 2015 Ancestrale sparkler at the weekend, I wanted to try the 2016. It’s quite different, but equally delicious. 10.5% abv, as opposed to just 9% in the 2015, it is also back to being stoppered with a crown cap, rather than the mushroom cork closure on the previous vintage. The nose really hits you – fragrant. It’s a bronzy colour (let’s not forget, the grape is the red St-Laurent), and there’s nice extract. It may be a little gentler than the rapier-sharp ’15.

Claus is based in Gols, at the northern end of the lake. He was talking about all the heavy snow they’d been having this winter (up to 20cm on the ground), and that a severe frost was also forecast for yesterday. I’m sure we all wish Claus, and all the other winemakers around the Neusiedlersee, the best of luck.

As a lover of the indigenous Austrian varieties at this address, I often forget Claus’ Pinot Noir. This is a mistake because he does produce a very good one. Pinot Noir 2015 is very fruit driven, but 2015 was a warm vintage, here as in most places. The wine, from a relatively cool climate terroir, is not at all jammy, but it does have a lovely texture, which Claus says was enhanced by the warm weather.

Unable to resist, I did have a quick glug of a couple more wines. Kalk und Kiesel Weiss is Preisinger’s entry level white. It won’t be the same every vintage, as that’s the way Claus works, but the new 2016 is very fresh, and if you don’t mind a touch of zippy apple (not cider), then this is one to try. By way of contrast, the Blaufränkisch ErDELuftGRAsundreBEN (sic) 2015 is in a very different style, and one for keeping. Quite big with concentrated fruit and tannins. Excellent, but give it time. The labels are very plain here, but the wines are far from it.

Importer – Newcomer Wines

Christian Tschida, Burgenland

This particular Tschida is based in Illmitz, on Neusiedlersee’s eastern shore, home to some of Burgenland’s finest producers. Christian’s small domaine consists of around ten hectares of vines which look unkempt compared to many of his neighbours’. But everything here is done with a combination of love, passion, and (truthfully) an awful lot of thought.

There are four wines which go under the Himmel auf Erden label (aptly, for the region, on which I’ve written before, heaven on earth). There’s a white made from Gelbermuskateller, Scheurebe and Weissburgunder, which is fresh with good acidity; another white labelled Maische Vergoren, which replaces the Weissburgunder with Muscat Ottonel, and has some skin contact (cloudy, with a bitter, almost earthy finish, which I love but it might scare some), a pink (not on show, but thankfully I have some), and the Himmel auf Erden Rot. This was a 2014 (the whites being 2015s). It’s a savoury wine blending Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon, which go together surprisingly well.

Kapitel I is the first of the more serious bottlings. This one blends Zweigelt with Cabernet Franc (50:50). It gets ten weeks on skins, then a year in oak. Another good combo, but this one’s not for glugging.

Felsen I is 100% Blaufränkisch, grown on limestone on the eastern side of the lake. It has a high-toned and peppery nose, concentration and length. Felsen II is 100% Syrah. This gets the ten weeks on skins again, but two years in oak this time. The nose is dark and mysterious, probably olives if you want a word for it. It has structure and mineral-texture, with, at this stage, a fair line of acidity. Maybe keep this the longest?

Importer – Newcomer Wines

Martin and Anna Arndorfer, Kamptal

Anna comes from Kamptal winemaking royalty (her father is Karl Steininger). They make wonderful wines here, which I only discovered last year, via their “Handcrafted” label (Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, the former which I drank a few times).

Vorgeschmack White 2016 is a blend of those two varieties (with Riesling at 20%). They are harvested together, pressed on the same day, and co-fermented. This is another delicious wine, which seems to express terroir more than those individual varieties.

Riesling Strasser Weinberge 2015 comes from two of the best sites in the village of Strass, on pure primary rock. Fermented, then aged ten months, in large oak, the wine is intense, with a lovely line and length. Fresh, but balanced by some body. I really like this.

Grüner Veltliner Die Leidenschaft 2015 is a selection from the Arndorfer Estate’s oldest vineyards, some of which were planted in 1959. Mouthfilling, refreshing, and with palate-cleansing acidity. It will age.

Roter Veltliner “Terrassen 1979” 2015 does what it says on the label. A terraced single vineyard, planted in 1979. Mineral and fresh, perhaps not as expressive as the Grüner Veltliner, but the Roter version (a white grape, not red) is a fascinating variety. Definitely has a (ahem!) mineral quality, but also the kind of subtle flavours you can’t really put a name to.

Müller-Thurgau “Per Se”2014 is yet another shockingly good version of this most maligned of varieties. It has a bronze colour from two weeks on skins, and a lot of extract and texture. For some, this should come with a red flashing warning light. For others, I doubt you’d easily guess the variety, and it’s one of the most unusual versions of this grape you will find.

Martin and Anna have a side project with their friends, Stefanie and Alwin Jurtschitsch, called Fuchs und Hase. The project is focussed solely on pét-nat wines. Relatively inexpensive, fruity and fun, but also very well made, these are worth seeking out.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

Weingut Werlitsch, Ewald and Brigitte Tscheppe, Sudsteirerland

This estate is close to the Slovenian border, at Leutschach. The estate’s eight hectares of vineyards here are steep, and farmed biodynamically, the grape varieties being almost exclusively Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (which here goes under the synonym of Morillon). The key word here is “nature”. Understanding nature in this specific location is the all-consuming aim of this couple, and I think their wines show it (as does one of their label styles – a tree with roots hugging the earth, which reminded me of the Japanese tale of Laputa).

Morillon vom Opok 2013 is a nice, rounded but balanced, Chardonnay. It’s a more simple style, if you want to get to know Austrian Chardonnay. Both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc do excel in Austria’s Southern Regions. Opok is the sandy sedimentary loam which is said to give a certain powerful quality to the white wines.

Freude 2013 blends the two, though it’s mostly Sauvignon. Some stems are often added here, and the wine gets a whole year on skins. That creates a lovely orange colour. There’s fruit here, but the finish, in keeping with many orange wines, has the texture and savoury quality of a red wine. It’s lovely if, like me, you get the style (that’s a bit unfair, let’s say “like”).

Glück 2013 is perhaps a little less forthright. This cuvée blends the two varieties in equal proportion, and skin contact is just three weeks. But all of these wines are aged for several years in neutral large oak, hence the current vintage on show being 2013. The latter two wines in particular show genuine complexity. Freude is very complex for a Sauvignon Blanc from outside its homeland. The complexity (if not the style) reminds me of Abe Schoener (Prince in his Caves).

Importer – Newcomer Wines

Maria and Sepp Muster, Sudsteirerland

Weingut Muster is also near Leutschach. This is a very old estate, dating back to 1727. As with the Werlitsch vineyards, we have steep stony slopes on “opok”. The Musters also have something else in common with their near neighbours. Like their “Freude” wine, Muster’s skin contact cuvée is bottled in an earthy flask.

Sepp and Maria’s Opok White 2015 is a blend of varieties (SB and CH with Muskateller and Welschriesling). It has colour but no skin contact, and is another lovely expression of the region. There is also a pure Welschriesling vom Opok and a Gelber Muskateller vom Opok (both 2015).

I like all of the Muster wines. Try the Graf Sauvignon 2013 if you want to experience another totally different iteration of this variety. The reds are often overlooked – and aware of that I brought home the Rotwein 2011 (made from Blaufränkisch, Blauer Wildbacher (the grape of Schilchersekt), and Zweigelt, all fermented on skins). I do rather wish I’d also grabbed the somewhat more expensive Erde 2013 as well, though. That is created from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay with a year on skins, then aged in a variety of cask sizes (225 litres up to 3,000 litres). Pure heaven (and earth) for fans of “deep orange” (deep referring to profundity as much as colour).

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

2Naturkinder, Melanie and Michael Voelker, Franken

I’ve written about this lovely couple a few times. Ex-publishers who turned to wine (with six hectares of vines close to Iphofen) and bats. This is Silvaner country, and it is the main grape of choice for Michael and Melanie. They might only have six hectares, but they produce a lot of cuvées (I’ve counted 15, eleven of which were on show yesterday). Where to begin?

Silvaner Pet-Nat 2016 (originally “Bat-Nat”, but I prefer “Pet-Bat”) is as good a place as any. Easy going, with 10g/l residual sugar, this is quite spicy (ginger), cloudy and very “funky” (it promises the full on Funkadelic).

There are two cuvées named after their favourite vineyard inhabitant (not the Johann Straus operetta). Fledermaus White 2016 is another nod to Müller-Thurgau, this time with 25% Silvaner, and will do you for a simple white.

The very interesting Kleine Wanderlust 2015 will sort you for a red. Take 80% of the Regent variety (which you will also find in the UK now) and 20% Dornfelder (which Bolney in Sussex use to make a delicious red fizz). Made using carbonic maceration, but from a very dry vintage, fermentation actually stopped. With just 10.5% alcohol, it’s packed with oozing blueberry fruit. Quite different.

The Heimat wines undergo a degree of skin contact. Heimat Silvaner 2016 is a serious wine, with 20 days on skins. The vineyards aren’t on hillsides, but they are of a southerly orientation. As far as I’m aware it is, by a long way, their most expensive wine to date, and whilst 2Naturkinder do focus on gluggable wines, this is something different. The bottle of this wine on taste at the Fair was a barrel sample, but it has real potential.

This couple are getting a bit of a reputation, but the wines are very firmly of the non-interventionist style and, as I intimated, they are quite funky.

Importer – Under the Bonnet Wines

Weingut Brand, Pfalz

Daniel and Jonas Brand remind me of the Rennersistas from Gols in Austria. They are two brothers in their early and mid-twenties who took over the family domaine and took off in a very different direction. I asked whether their father had confidence in what they are doing. “Not at first, but now, yes” was Daniel’s reply. It’s all down to trust.

The Brand brothers farm at Bockenheim, north of Deidesheim and Bad Dürkheim, and directly west of Wörms, in the northern part of the Pfalz. I started off tasting their Pet Nat White 2016, made from a blend of Silvaner and Pinot Blanc (Daniel didn’t say “Weissburgunder”). It has just 12 hours maceration and is both simple and very tasty. There is a red/pink Pet Nat as well, made from Pinot Noir with 10% Blauer Portugieser. I think I liked this even more.

Wildrose 2016 is 100% Blauer Portugieser, and a very interesting version of a variety which gains little respect from wine writers outside of Germany. But among the several cuvées made by these young men, the one which perhaps illustrates their potential is Mythos 2015. It is made from an early ripening grape variety called Cabernet Mythos (aka Cabernet Mitos), developed in 1970 as a cross between Blaufränkisch and Teinturier du Cher. It is made almost like a rosé, with just 12 hours maceration before being racked off into barrels. The teinturier element nevertheless gives it a typical dark colour (Teinturier grapes have dark flesh). The vines are 30 years old, grown on limestone, with loess and loam. It’s dark, very fruity, but the fruit acids are prominent, as is a mineral texture. You expect more than the 12.5% alcohol which undoubtedly helps this wine retain its freshness. Not complex, but certainly a wine which poses questions and makes demands of the taster.

Importer – Under the Bonnet Wines

FOOTNOTE – The Glou(glou) which binds us together

Whilst the Fair is about the wines, visitors need sustaining. There’s a whole raft of food on offer, and Real Wine does this very well. New this year was the incredibly popular Quality Chop House. Imagine a fine pork pie with pickled walnuts, and mustard made using Kernel Brewery’s fabulous Table Beer. As wine tasting is a taxing business, sugar levels could be re-instated with some delicious cinnamon and marzipan pastries from The Bread Station (London Fields), the perfect accompaniment to coffee from Taylor Street Barristas (New Street). Canopy Beers (Herne Hill) were on hand in the main hall, and were popular with the exhibitors. These are just a few of the many well thought out ways of getting us poor wine addicts through the day.

The wine shop is an unmissable part of the Real Wine Fair. Last year I brought a suitcase with me, but this year, with a post-Fair Tasting to get to, I made do with just a couple of bottles. Where the shop scores is in the large selection brought to the event, mainly, but far from exclusively, from the Les Caves de Pyrene warehouse.

If all that were not enough, I did joke that I only went to the Fair to buy Michel Tolmer‘s bande dessinéeA Short Treatise on Tasting (wine tasting adventures with Tolmer’s characters, Fifi, Mimi and Glouglou, who seem almost a trade mark of the natural wine movement). Michel was on hand for book signings, as was Wink Lorch, signing Jura Wine. Noble Rot also had a stand to entice what must have been the very few Fair-goers who do not already purchase a copy.

With seminars and talks, Real Wine is a a proper event. It really warrants more than a day to do it justice, but I did my best (though I could have spent the day just chatting to some of the nicest people in the wine trade). Part 2 of my happy adventure will therefore follow soon.

Posted in Austrian Wine, German Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment