Real Wine Fair 2022 (Part 3)

This is the final part of my coverage of the Real Wine Fair 2022. We shall step out of mainland Europe to cover producers from England, South Africa, Georgia and Lebanon. It brings to a close a fantastic event, but I can’t help feel I’ve not quite done it justice compared to previous years, where I think I covered more wines and producers. However, I do think I’ve done justice to the individual winemakers I did include, so maybe my three articles will add in to what everyone else has written about the event.

I’m certainly finding that after a couple of years away from the tasting circuit it appears that I need to get back in training. I gave notes on seventy-seven wines over these three articles, and I won’t say exactly how many I decided not to include, but I guess that in the end I wasn’t too far below the hundred wines I normally decide is my limit. My enthusiasm has returned, but not quite yet the stamina. For those merchants holding tastings as well this week, I apologise for slumping behind my computer rather than hiking back to London for more palate work.

DOMAINE HUGO (Wiltshire, England)

I had been wanting to taste the wines of Domaine Hugo for a while, with several people I know recommending them. Hugo Stewart had spent twenty years farming in France, in the Corbières region at Les Clos Perdus, before heading back home. His philosophy in France was biodynamics, and he didn’t really want to farm grapes in the UK if he had to return to conventional methods, and synthetic inputs. He had feared that he couldn’t grow grapes biodynamically here, at Botleys, the family farm in Wiltshire, but he met Daniel Ham (Offbeat Wines) in 2108, who changed his mind.

Daniel convinced Hugo that his chalk slopes could produce excellent wines using the methods he preferred and so Domaine Hugo was born, with Daniel heading up winemaking and Hugo controlling the viticulture. Domaine Hugo is currently quite small, just three hectares, but another reason to try these wines is that this is yet another of the growing number of small artisan operations adding far more than the size of their production suggests to the wellbeing of English and Welsh wine.

There are currently three wines available from Hugo’s three hectares.

Hugo 2018 is a traditional method blend of the three main Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier) along with Pinot Gris. This 2018 was made by Daniel Ham at Langhams before the winery was built at Botleys. Hugo intersperses the vines with a tall cover crop. On the thin chalky soils this makes the vines work, but at the same time allows natural nutrients to pass back when the crops die off. Biodynamic, zero dosage and zero sulphur, it’s a classic English sparkling wine with all the summer hedgerow freshness and crystalline acidity you’d expect.

Hugo 2019 is the same blend and underwent the same vinification. It’s interesting tasting this next to the 2018 wine with an extra year in bottle because it does suggest these wines will age well, not that most won’t be consumed pretty much immediately. That’s a shame for a wine which may well be quite expensive. The vineyard is very chalky, and the topsoil is only eight inches thick, max. Less in places. This adds to the terroir-driven feel of the wine, doubtless enhanced by the biodynamic regime. Some might question zero dosage in Wiltshire. I applaud it because it’s yet another way, like zero sulphites, that a wine can be stripped bare to reveal the true terroir.

Botley’s 2020 stemmed from an idea Daniel had to hold back the final pressings from their Coquard press to make a Col Fondo wine. The inspiration actually came from one of my wine super-heroes initially, Jean-Pierre Rietsch, of Mittelbergheim (whose wine by total coincidence I was drinking last night). Dan used some of the fermenting 2020 juice to ignite a second fermentation of the 2019 pressings.

The result, made without disgorging and with zero added sulphur, is another very individual and welcome addition to the Domaine Hugo list. Two sides of the same coin. Brilliant.

They hope to be able to continue this experiment by using next year’s active ferment for the tirage of the 2020 Traditional Method wine as well. Experimenting like this is also to be applauded. Hugo says “…you have to go to the edge to make something special, you need to take risks to make something distinctive. That’s where the beauty lies”. Exactly!

Domaine Hugo is distributed by the excellent (trust me) Wines Under the Bonnet. I am grateful to their web site for some of the vinification info.

Here’s a gratuitous pic of Hugo chatting with Ben Walgate. His Tillingham table was rammed with fans all day. I’m more than impressed with what Ben has created, as a pioneer, at Tillingham.

CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, England)

I know Tim Phillips better than any other English winemaker, and there is no-one I admire more in the industry. Tim has bags of experience making wine in South Africa, but what he’s doing at his walled vineyard on Hampshire gravels, and orchard, near Pennington (just inland from the Isle of Wight) is something else entirely. Tim is genuinely in tune with nature, something which can be seen both in his vineyard (most obviously the hens which follow him around as he works) and in the nature of the land surrounding his small winery. What he has created is magnificent.

Tim makes infinitesimally small quantities of wine, and cider, most of which disappears at his open days, or swiftly from Les Caves de Pyrene, who distribute much of what he has left. Some lucky Fair-goers would have found some bottles in the venue’s pop-up shop. I think I got the last bottle of still Riesling.

A Fermament 2020 is Tim’s Sauvignon Blanc. The name is a play on artist Tom Phillips’ treatment of a Victorian novel, “A Humument”. Many of Tim’s labels reference this magnificent, unusual, work, as those familiar with it will know.

The 2020 is in a place kind of somewhere between the 2018 and 2019 in style. Winemaking was as simple as it gets…whole berry press, stick it in tank and leave it. Tim can be quite obsessive about tasting and tasting his wines and not bottling them until they are good and ready. To see the 2020 in bottle is good, from a purchasing perspective. It will age but has definite varietal character which I would put somewhere between Loire and Bordeaux without too much New Zealand.

Promised Land 2020. This is the name for Tim’s Riesling. In the past he has made a varietal Riesling only when the grapes have been perfect, and it has previously been made into a sparkling wine. Many suggest that’s impossible at our latitude, but the walled vineyard creates a special microclimate which has enabled Tim, at least on occasion, to make one.

In 2020 we have something new, a still Riesling. In many ways this is a remarkable wine. I’ve certainly never tasted English still Riesling before and that the wine is so good I find astonishing. Tim made a still cuvée because the acids were low enough in the hot vintage he had. But low acids are relative. This wine doesn’t lack acidity, although time will change that and ageing is something we all, those of us lucky enough to get hold of a bottle, will need to think about (or in my case, email Tim about). Right now, it has such exciting density and extract, and it will be hard to keep it hidden away.

Perfect Strangers 2021. Tim’s cider has always been vinous. Perfect Strangers has, most often, been cider made from Tim’s orchard of old apple varieties blended with a dash of his South African Syrah, adding colour and vinosity. This 2021 vintage cider was made by putting the dry cake from the Pinot Noir press in tank and adding 600-litres of pressed apple juice. The juice spent 35 days on the skins and then fermented for 2/3 weeks before the cap dropped. He pressed it off just before last Christmas. The result is a winey red still (this time) cider which has delicious acids and could probably fool some people, at least for a moment, if told it is wine. Real cider fanatics might think it’s too much like wine, but like others who use wine with apple juice, Tim is right to continue down this path. The results are always both innovative and exciting.

LOST IN A FIELD (various sites in England)

The guy behind Lost in a Field is the irrepressible Tim Wildman. Tim lives in Brighton but is well known for producing a range of innovative petnats with whacky labels out in Australia (alongside other UK ventures). The origins of this label lie in Tim’s “lost vineyard” project.

Like me, Tim realised that in the 1960s and 70s dozens of small-time amateur winemakers planted vineyards in the UK, using the recommended varieties of the time. In the age before today’s Champagne lookalike blends, people felt that in order to ripen grapes in our mostly cold and damp climate they needed to use either German crossings bred for higher sugar levels, or hybrid vines that are more resistant to some fungal diseases. My first wine was made from seriously over-cropped and under-ripe Seyval Blanc which a friend sort of inherited from an Italian guy in Sussex a number of years ago.

For Tim, as for me, the old German crosses form our viticultural heritage and whilst they don’t generally make wines of the same quality as we drink today (with a few exceptions, Bacchus topping the list), they are deserving of some attention.

Frolic 2021 is a pink petnat which Tim has blended from twenty-one heritage varieties sourced from eight vineyards scattered around seven counties in England and Wales. The bulk of this petnat comes from one variety, Madeleine Angevine (75%), one of those heritage varieties certainly capable of making interesting wine when carefully looked after. There is 10% Reichensteiner, then other bits and pieces including Schönburger, and red grapes (Triomphe, Rondo and Cabernet Noir).

The result is a soft and simple wine with good bubbles and massive summer picnic appeal. Like all of Tim’s wines, the packaging is exceptional, from the bright summery label to the unusual bottle shape. The magnums are magnificent to behold, although with the 75cl bottles retailing for around £33 (if I’m correct) I think that comparing it with petnats I buy from other sources, some may think it expensive. I shall certainly buy a bottle or two, though.

Tim Wildman distributes his own wines. Contact tim@lostinafield.com .

SCIONS OF SINAI (Lower Hederberg, South Africa)

Scions of Sinai is the project of Bernhard Bredell, who having grown up on a wine farm wanted to return to viticulture and winemaking. The name of the vineyard derives from the upper part of the vine (scion) and the Sinai Hill, that part of the Lower Hederberg where the family farm.

The vineyard is one of those great examples of once neglected bush vines now loved again. Bernhard sees them and his family as the descendants of this unique terroir. As with all the wines at the Real Wine Fair, Bernhard is committed to low-intervention methods and, he says, “varietal authenticity”.

Señor Tallos 2020 was a pretty good start. It’s a blend of half-and-half Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc, partial whole bunch fermentation and left on skins for four weeks. As a fan of both varieties, this works really well but there’s also a nice twist to this wine. The two varieties are fermented separately and then blended together, and aged for seven months after a layer of flor forms on the wine. The yeast influence isn’t too strong, so the wine retains pretty vibrant fruit and zip. It’s mouthfilling and I really liked it.

Gramdeolas 2020 is 100% Grenache Blanc, aged in French oak for seven months. If the last wine was good, this is no less so, for me. It has lifted aromatics, a beautiful scent of herbs, exotic fruits and flowers. The palate has this mouthfilling herb and fruit mix with a line of acidity giving out flavours of lime and quince.

Atlantikas Pinotage is what they call a “maritime” wine, the vines growing close to the sea and influenced by their location. This also sees seven months in French oak but the wine is nevertheless really fruity…juicy fruits. Definitely one to open for those whose view of Pinotage may be slightly outdated.

Nomadic Red Blend 2020 is comprised of 84% Cinsaut and 16% Pinotage. It’s a nice fruity red.

Fénilks 2020 is a different take on Pinotage, with a serious side. The vineyard was established in 1976 so the vines have age. 60% of the grapes go in as whole bunches and the remainder are destemmed. Ageing is eleven months in French oak. The colour is a deep, dark, purple. The wine is structured and tannic with darker fruit tones than the previous, lighter, Pinotage. Some tobacco notes are just beginning to emerge, but the wine is definitely still young. But quite impressive.

Swanesang 2020 brings us into new territory, varietal Syrah. Vinification is the same as for the Fénilks with 60% whole bunches into the fermenter and eleven months ageing in French oak. Another young wine where we are just beginning to see deeper notes developing under the plummy/damson fruit. For me, at this stage, it looks more to Europe than the New World, but there’s no doubt the winemaking philosophy here helps…it’s a wine that retains its freshness, so much so that I didn’t feel any compulsion to check the alcohol level.

Indigo Wines imports Scions of Sinai.

IAGO’S WINE/MARINA’S WINE (Kartli, Georgia)

Iago Bitarishvili and his wife, Marina Kurtanidze, have a winery in Chardakhi, in the Mtskheta sub-region of Kartli. Kartli is west of the Capital, Tbilisi, an area less well known in the UK than the wine regions in the east of the country (it isn’t mapped in the current World Atlas of Wine). Nevertheless, it’s an important region, one where the famous Neolithic clay wine vessels were discovered by archeologists, giving Georgia one of several claims to be the cradle of wine. Certainly, the region’s importance is echoed in the famous giant aluminium statue of Kartlis Deda (the Mother of Georgia), on Tiblisi’s Sololaki Hill.

Iago farms a couple of hectares of old vines (around 50-y-o), mostly the white Chinuri variety, the traditional grape of the region. All the wines he makes are made from grapes harvested when both berries and stems are ripe. Everything goes into the qvevris, many of which are very old, without pressing and fermentation is spontaneous. The stems help the wine settle naturally and no sulphites are added.

Iago Chinuri Skin Contact (Lot 520) 2020 is distinctive, with pear and quince flavours. The six months spent in qvevri give this colour and texture but there’s still a lovely balanced mouthfeel, without the raw tannic edge some qvevri wines can show when this young.

Iago Chinuri Skin Contact (Lot 720) 2020 also saw a six-month maceration but Iago always bottles his individual batches as separate lots as they can develop so differently. I’m not massively convinced that the two wines are all that far apart, but that doesn’t detract from them being as good as bottles I’ve tasted and bought in the past.

Marina’s Mtsvane 2020. Iago’s wife also makes wine. This has been pretty unusual in the past, in a country where in some cases women are not even allowed in the winery, shocking as that may seem. Well, I think things have changed quite a bit and there are a number of women now making wine in the country. But when Marina began making wine it was still not that common. Marina has not made wine every vintage, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, but it was really good to taste her excellent bottles once more here at RealWine.

The Mtsvane grapes are from the eastern part of the Kartli Region. It’s a juicy red with nice tight fruit, more acids and a pleasant bitter streak. Tasty, and nicely different.

Marina’s Tavkveri-Chinuri Rosé 2020 was a wine I don’t recall trying before. The red and white varieties are co-fermented to give a pink wine but with five months on skins you wonder why it isn’t fully red. It’s actually really pale in the glass, at least under the venue’s lighting. The blend is 60:40 in favour of the white Chinuri grapes. The wine has concentrated red fruits with spice. It comes in at just 12% abv, but it has a complexity to it and a savoury twist to the fruit which makes me see it more as a food wine, albeit perhaps perfect for outdoor dining. Perhaps it was the novelty but I liked this best of the four wines Iago poured, albeit all of them being really nice. I’d buy every one of them.

Importer – Les Caves.

MERSEL WINES (Lebanon)

The company (rather than merely producer, using bought-in grapes as well as estate grown fruit) makes wines in the region of Maksar Mercel. This is the highest wine region in the country, reputedly with some vines as high as 2,400 masl. They also take grapes from Ainata in the more familiar Bekaa Valley and a few more wine regions in Northern Lebanon. The philosophy they adhere to is the familiar one of no viticultural inputs except for minimal sulphur, and organic farming.

Their marketing is polished but it doesn’t always have the kind of detail a wine writer might wish for. That’s not really a criticism. I’m sure they present themselves in a way they have seen other wine producers do on different continents, to best show what they do to the market. But the wines are really interesting and generally well packaged. Eddie Chami, the man behind Mersel, is a very good advocate for them.

Lebnat Petnat Gold 2020 and Lebnat Petnat Rosé 2021 are the first petnats I’ve tried from Lebanon. The Gold (white) is a blend of Merwah with Viognier and the Rosé is Merwah with around 20% Sangiovese for colour. Ancestral method, first fermentation taking place in bottle, then the bottle is disgorged and the second fermentation occurs naturally in the refilled bottle. This creates light and crisp wines, the pink being redolent with nice red fruits, and the white taking on some more overt Viognier flavours.

Phoenix Merwah Skin Contact 2021 comes from the fruit of the autochthonous Merwah variety harvested from 150-year-old vines growing at around 1,400 masl. Yields are quite low, at 25 hl/h, from grapes picked in mid-October. They are split for fermentation between stainless steel tanks and amphora. Skin contact lasts three weeks, before racking into new stainless steel and used oak. Bottling is in May the following year. This is a very tasty wine, bone dry with interesting combinations of fruit and herb flavours. There’s a pink Phoenix (not tasted) made using similar methods from a field blend.

Lebnani Ahmar 2020 is made from 100% Cinsaut, fairly young vines from the Bekaa Valley. Fermentation is in concrete after destemming. It’s quite a meaty red with 13.5% abv, but although an expression of a warmer terroir than the previous wines, it’s very interesting as a “natural” wine, not at all attenuated by heat and alcohol, retaining freshness. This, and its white sibling (not tasted) are presented in litre bottles.

Red Velvet 2021 is an easy drinking red wine made from whole clusters of Cinsaut grapes. It’s meant to be drunk young and chilled and is a new addition to the Mersel range. That said, I think it still rocks in at a deceptive 13% abv, though it tastes lower in alcohol, for sure. The grapes are grown at around 1,200 metres in the Bekaa Valley.

Cider Piquette 2021 is an example of a beverage which is seemingly becoming quite popular, or at least we are seeing a few Piquettes commercialised. Piquette is usually made by adding water (spring water if making a quality version) to the still wet cake (pomace) from pressed grapes. Here, Eddie has added organic honey from their own bee hives to begin a further fermentation. There’s 2g/l of residual sugar, but the acidity makes it taste dry. The grape blend, not that it really matters I think, is 40% Muscat and 30% each of Sauvignon Blanc and Merwah.

After a week-and-a-half of refermentation the piquette reached, in this case, 9%abv. This is higher than some piquettes I’ve tasted, possibly higher than a producer would want if giving it to his pickers at breakfast, an hour or so into a day’s work among the vines, as is traditional in much of Europe. But it works well here. It’s very appley, acidic but refreshing when well chilled. The advantage of piquette is that you can drink half a bottle with your lunchtime picnic and still make it to the top of the mountain.

Distributed by Les Caves.

Sadly, that brings to an end my RealWine ’22 coverage. It was a great event which the team from Les Caves deserves massive praise for working so hard to prepare and put on. I’m sure they were happy to get the Fair up and running again after Covid lockdowns etc, and as trade members, I know we were thrilled to be back. It’s a shame we need to wait for the next one.

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Real Wine Fair 2022 (Part 2)

In my introduction to Part One of my coverage of RealWine 2022 I mentioned that, wandering around the tables and bumping into friends, I was bombarded with producer recommendations, most of which I had no time to visit. One or two I was able to see. There were also cases where people annoyingly said the next day “oh, did you taste that amazing…”. If only you’d come and dragged me there. We start Part Two with a producer I found for myself, the only one from Greece, but at least five or six people asked me whether I had been to their stand. A stand-out of the fair.

KAMARA ESTATE (Thessaloniki, Greece)

The Kioutsoukis family (Dimitrios, Elefhteria and their children) abandoned the city and planted eleven hectares of vines at Oreokastro, in Thessaloniki on the Northern Greek Mainland. Dimitrios is an advocate of permaculture and regenerative viticulture is central to what he does. Soil health in the vineyard and no interventions in winemaking, including zero added sulphur. The varieties planted are mainly autochthonous, including Malagousia, Roditis, Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. Eleftheria told me that they like to make wines to go with food, but I think these lovely wines are fit for any occasion. They are certainly neither heavy nor clumsy, nor are they insubstantial.

Stalisma 2021 is ablend of 80% Malagousia and 20% Xinomavro with three days on skins, yet still creating a white wine despite the presence of black grapes. This is a fresh and soft wine which sees just three months in used barrels.

Shadow Play White 2021 is 100% Assyrtiko. Although the variety is famous for, in some cases, extreme minerality when grown on its perceived home, the island of Santorini, here we get a different expression of the variety. Harvest takes place in September. There is still a line of minerality here, but it is wrapped in a nice chalky softness. I don’t think it will require the length of time needed for some Santorini Assyrtiko to express themselves.

Petnat Rosé 2020 is a three-variety blend of Malagousia, Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. The Xinomavro grapes are from the following vintage, so in this case from 2021. They start-off the second, bottle fermentation. No disgorgement takes place. It’s a simple wine, but in the most positive sense. It is massively fresh and refreshing and Dimitrios says he absolutely loves to drink it at lunchtime. Exactly my thinking. At 12.5% abv it’s not the lowest alcohol petnat you’ll find, but the zingy red-berry freshness makes it seem lighter.

Shadow Play Red 2020 is produced from young Xinomavro grapes. The result is a wine with pleasant lifted scents of red fruits, with a slightly darker tone (coffee, tobacco, tar?) just coming through. But despite the 13.5% alcohol, well, you’d never guess. It has the kind of lightness of touch which suggests you could serve it cool in summer. I’m pretty sure that having no added sulphur has something to do with it.

Keramos Orange 2020 was a contender for my favourite wine on the table. To 80% Assyrtiko they have added 20% Muscat of Samos, a grape more famous for its dessert wines. The wine is made in small amphora (225-litre), hand made in Crete, with full skins etc. The result isn’t a tannic, grippy, wine but one which lingers on the tongue with flavours which are more redolent of the Greek mainland, with soft fruits and herbs, rather than the scorching summer heat of the islands.

Keramos Red 2020 is the second wine tasted made in amphora. Two varieties are blended, Xinomavro and Limnio. Limnio is an interesting variety. We see very little of it, but hailing originally from the island of Limnios, it dates right back, ampelographers think, to Ancient Greece. It has a fair chance of being the same variety Aristotle called Lemnia. It makes full-bodied, mineral, wines with low tannin, so perhaps it’s ideal as a blending component.

This wine sees 30 days on skins in the amphora and then a further nine months after the skins are removed. Neither variety have made this a tannic wine, even in its youth. Instead, we have a unique wine with lifted aromatics and red berry fruit of some vibrancy. A red which feels alive. I loved it.

Retsina “Nimbus Ritinitis” 2020. I came back to taste the retsina at the end of the day. I thought it might wreck my palate, but it didn’t. I’m sure I’m not alone in having had bad experiences drinking too much retsina. Eleftheria explained how this speciality used to be made by small producers and artisans, but that during the 1970s onwards it was taken over by industrial producers and got such a bad name. Artisan production is coming back, and to be fair I can recall tasting some delicious retsina wines at wine fairs pre-Covid, on the stands of the specialist importers.

Kamara Estate makes its retsina from 100% Assyrtiko with 7-9 days of skin contact. The pine resin is specially selected from a producer on Evia, the large island near to Athens partially connected to the mainland. They add just one kilo per tonne of grapes. Like all the wines, it is unfiltered and no sulphites are added. It’s the most “natural” (in both senses) retsina I’ve tried. So different to the kind which made me ill in the 1980s.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrene.

LA BIANCARA (Veneto, Italy)

Angiolino and Alessandro Maule run this estate with the help of Emma Bentley, who I’ve known for a number of years. However, if that might make me somewhat subjective about this estate, I don’t think I need worry. Its fame has rightly grown over the years since Angiolino founded it sixteen or so years ago. As a founder of one of Italy’s natural wine groupings, VinNatur, he is a beacon of low intervention viticulture in a region once wholly dominated by very large-scale producers and just a few famous artisans.

Garg ‘n’ Go Sparkling 2020 is a “colfondo” blend of La Biancara’s Masieri white wine (the estate’s entry level), fermented in stainless steel, with 5% of sweet wine must from their passito added the following spring. This gets the second, bottle, fermentation going but, like all the wine here, there is no fining nor filtration, and the lees remain in the bottle without disgorgement. Fresh, frothy but medium-bodied with very good length. Lively wine for food or fun, this is very good indeed. The grape? Garganega, of course. You never knew it could be so good with bubbles, right?

Sassaia 2020 is a step up from the entry level Masieri Bianco, which I didn’t taste this time. It’s a selection of Garganega from a single, favoured, site, very rocky terroir. It’s the original 4-ha vineyard which came with the house. After just one night on skins before fermentation it spends nine months in oak. The result is a delicious blend of fruit and savoury flavours in a wine which is both easy to drink but yet has a distinct personality.

I was able to taste the 2016 Sassaia from magnum and what a treat that was. I hate magnums. I mean, it’s so hard to find occasions to drink too many of them, and at dinner parties it’s often all about trying a range of different wines. But there’s no question that wine ages so well in this larger format and this tasted noble and extraordinary. It’s not as if this wine is especially expensive either.

Pico Bianco 2019 comes from three parcels at around 250-to-300 masl. There are three soil types: volcanic, limestone and soil rich in iron. After four nights on skins the wine goes into used oak for twelve months. A small fraction of the cuvée is left on the skins for four months, which helps add a little structure and, Emma says, helps with ageing. This white has more structure than the others, perhaps being a little more serious. There’s certainly potential to age and for complexity.

Masieri Rosso 2020 blends Merlot with Tai Rosso. Of course, “Tai” is a truncated form of “Tocai”, but you can’t call it Tocai Rosso any more. However, it is merely a synonym for Grenache/Garnacha, although the variety has been here in Veneto for several centuries and has doubtless developed traits which make it very different to those of the Grenache grown in France, Spain or Sardinia. It’s a purple, juicy, wine fermented in stainless steel (destemmed and five days on skins). Lovely vibrant fruit, zippy acids and a touch of tannin on the finish adding bite and crunch.

Passito Monte Sorio 2016. I had a bit of a thing for Recioto di Soave in my younger days. This isn’t the same but it reminds me a lot of those wines and it brings back pleasant memories, including of the region itself. Garganega is harvested in September and the bunches are left to hang, to dry and shrivel in the sun, concentrating the sugars. The grapes are then fermented slowly (left one month in a 500-litre barrel). Sweet, spicy, complex with an absolutely delicious twist on the finish, bitter and sweet. Very slight notes of oxidation and bitter almond. 17% abv but only 50g residual sugar in 2016 (the norm is around 80g). This is the only wine Angiolino adds sulphites to (with all that sugar probably a good call), around 20mg/l.

Note to independent wine retailers – these really are top wines. Distributed via Les Caves.

MAISON YVES DUPORT (Bugey, France)

This ten-hectare estate has been in the Duport family for four generations. They farm the fabled Montagnieu slope, but some of their best vines are ungrafted, on the hillside below the Château at Groslée-St-Benoît, where they have their base (Yves’s daughter having joined her father after starting a career in banking). I’ve known Yves’s wines for many years now, one of the first Bugey producers I bought, having good friends who live not too distant from this bucolic rural idyll of scattered vines and mixed farming, almost lost in modern France.

I am, as many readers will know, something of a fan of Bugey and believe that it has the kind of feel Jura did three or four decades ago. That is, you have a few long-established producers of quality, now joined by a clutch of young people, a good few originating outside of the region, making exciting small production wines. Yves is long established, but this is nevertheless very much a natural wine producer who uses very minimal sulphur. Why Maison? I’m not sure. As far as I can tell they do buy in some extra Chardonnay, but this is hardly a large negociant house.

Originale Crémant 2018 is a good wine to kick off with. Bugey is divided into two sectors, and both are known for their sparkling wines. This is a traditional method sparkler blending Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Aligoté. It sees a gentle direct press and first fermentation takes place in stainless steel. The dosage after second fermentation is low, perhaps 2g/l, and is hard to detect – the wine tastes very dry. In this part of Bugey there’s an unusual, but common, twist to the method. The lees are isolated and heated to 20 degrees before being incorporated back into the wine with bâtonnage. The result is a leesy richness in the wine combined with tension and clarity in the acids. It works well.

L’Intact Pet Nat 2021 is a collaboration with Yves’s UK importer, who was keen on a Rosé Petnat. A single hectare of Gamay (not uncommon in Bugey) was direct pressed, fermented in stainless steel, and bottled with 8g/l of residual sugar remaining in the wine. The wine is chilled and so begins to re-ferment in the spring, as the temperature warms up, until all the sugar is converted to alcohol. No disgorgement takes place. What we get is a fresh, brightly acidic and fruity petnat, on the yeasts, simple but very morish, as they say.

Les Côtes Chardonnay 2019 is from a three-hectare single vineyard on soils rich in limestone. Direct press, again, and both fermented and aged in stainless steel. The vines are not old as such, but at around 20 years of age are old enough to give this wine a composure which complements the freshness preserved by the medium of inox. A fruity Chardonnay with bags of appeal. Neither Burgundy, nor Jura, but with a character all of its own.

Altesse de Montagnieu 2019. I mentioned that Bugey has, broadly speaking, two sectors. The northern sector, where you find the Cerdon wines I occasionally drink, nods towards Jura. The southern sector looks more to Savoie in some respects, and Groslée is only a figurative stone’s throw from Jongieux and the Lac du Bourget. Yves Duport makes some cracking Altesse (and Mondeuse, see below). Both varieties are much better known from Savoie. This wine is from a one-hectare plot of old vines at Montagnieu, on that wonderful steep slope where the limestone rubble heats the vines with its retained warmth, helped by its sunny exposure.

This wine has added complexity from extended lees contact. Stone fruit and nuts on the palate, whilst the bouquet has some exotic passion fruit. It’s a lovely wine. If you’ve ever been disappointed with co-operative produced “ski resort” Altesse, try this.

Pinot Tradition 2021 comes from the same “sous le château” parcel as the Mondeuse below. Hand harvested off clay, macerated fifteen days and aged in small oak, it’s a smoky rendition of the variety, slightly reductive, but with smooth tannins and cherry fruit.

Mondeuse 2020 from the same slope but from the part called “Terre Brune” is, like the Altesse, just a delicious example of a Savoie variety grown in Bugey. Nice tannins, definitely Mondeuse if you know it well, and yet different. It also has, I suggest, good ageing potential.

You could do worse than acquaint yourself with this small region. It was more or less unknown even a decade ago but now it’s very much “watch this space”. Yves Duport exports his lovely natural wines to Japan. Many of you will know that means the region’s profile is rising fast.

UK Distributor- Provisions (www.provisionslondon.co.uk), a wine and cheese importer with shops on Holloway Road and Hackney Road (the latter opening just two months ago).

DOMAINE L’ACHILLÉE (Alsace, France)

You know, I was initially a tiny bit disappointed when, on first perusing the RealWine exhibitors I saw only one Alsace producer listed, and one I didn’t know at that. Les Caves de Pyrene has an excellent list of Alsace estates on its books, in fact one of the best two Alsace lists in the country in my opinion. However, I was thrilled to taste the wines made by Yves, Pierre and Jean Dietrich, whose family have farmed vines at Scherwiller (just north of Sélestat, in the Bas Rhin) since the beginning of the fifteenth century. This was one of my discoveries of the Fair.

Yves converted to organics in 1999, but still sold grapes to the co-operative. Jean and Pierre began bottling their production when they took over from their father in 2016. In the interim Yves had moved to being fully biodynamic for the whole estate, that’s 18.5 ha of vines and 6 ha of fruit trees (from which they also make fruit-based petnats from cherries, damsons and plums). They boast as their cellar the largest building in Europe made from straw.

Crémant d’Alsace Dosage Zero 2018 is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and a little Auxerrois, making a rather good, mouth-filling sparkler. Tightly wound and dry, it has a lovely fine spine of acidity overlain with lean but precise fruit.

Alsace Blanc 2020 blends all their varieties, including Pinot Noir vinified en blanc. It’s one of those blends people are beginning to make once more, after what seems like decades when “Edelzwicker” had a terrible name, occasionally deserved. These blends are not always the expression of specific terroir, unless from a single site, but I sometimes think they are the essence of what Alsace means, and, at least to me, encapsulates its essence. I took a bottle home with me, although I wished the shop had bottles of other cuvées as well.

Pépin Blanc 2020. Pépin is the label used for non-estate fruit. This white blends Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Chardonnay and Riesling. The brothers work with five growers, all organic, to create the wines under this sub-label. This is a tasty, easy to drink blend. Pépin Orange 2020 was my favourite of the Pépin wines, very accessible and not tannic. It’s made from Gewurztraminer and Auxerrois. Pépin Rouge 2020 is only less interesting because it’s not an “Alsace”, blending Syrah, Carignan and Muscat of Alexandria, sourced from Hérault. Nevertheless, it’s light and tasty, if quite simple.

Riesling Schieferberg 2019 is, to be frank, several steps up. It’s Riesling off slate, as it says on the tin. It has an amazingly concentrated minerality with notes of lime, grapefruit, more exotic yellow fruits and a little spice (ginger, cinnamon). It comes from the very top of the vineyard, a site quite exposed. It has terroir written all over it. I think this may only be bottled in magnum, but surely there is no more magnificent sight than a 1.5-litre flute bottle.

Pinot Noir “Granite” 2017 is the sibling red. It comes off two special parcels, and undergoes a 21-day maceration. Ageing is in a mix of stainless steel and oak. Again, only bottled in magnum, it’s a wine with line, breadth and length, and the capacity to age further. As impressive as the Riesling, and it was interesting tasting these in a group and seeing a near even split between which people preferred. My vote was for the Riesling, but only just.

Importer – Les Caves.

LE GRAPPIN (Burgundy, France)

I’ve known Andrew and Emma Nielsen and their wines since their first vintage, 2011, a year after which I visited them in their original cellar within the old walls of Beaune. At that time, they made magnificent Côte d’Or wines which, with the odd tweak in sources, they continue to do. To these cuvées, now fairly expensive Burgundies, they have added wines from Macon and Beaujolais, plus the Rhône. Their aim to produce sustainable wines extends beyond vineyard and cellar to a raft of packaging and supply innovations, the best known of which must be their “bagnums”. This couple were probably the first to change the image of wine in a bag completely, packaging a litre-and-a-half of top-quality wine in a perfect for picnic/beach/bed format.

Macon-Villages 2020 is perfect if you want a lighter, fresher, but quality Chardonnay with great lifted fruit and a little food-friendly body without the butter and nut sandwich effect of the more serious kit from the region.

Monthélie Blanc “Les Tosières” 2019 is a different wine altogether. It’s sourced from a new vineyard just across the road from the Meursault boundary, bordering the D973 just before Auxey-Duresses. Monthélie wines have been something of a secret in the past, and the Monthélie of top grower, Domaine Roulot, has certainly been a well-kept secret as possibly his best value wine until prices went crazy a few years ago. This wine made by Andrew is simply a white Burgundy of extremely high quality, with some gras, but mostly elegance and poise.

Côte de Brouilly 2020. The first of three Beaujolais wines tasted, all being rather delicious. I know we are in Gamay territory here, not Pinot, but Andrew has always made superb wines from the Beaujolais region, and they are half the price of the Côte d’Or wines now. This is young, and also quite different to the 2019, but nevertheless it has really attractive, crunchy, Gamay fruit with a bit of a mineral, stony, quality. The cherry scent is lovely.

Fleurie-Poncié 2019 has equally become a sought-after wine from du Grappin(“du” being the designation for the wines Le Grappin produces outside the main Côte de Beaune appellations, including Macon, Beaujolais, The Rhône and Bourgogne Aligoté, the latter not tried on Monday but always, without exception, worth chasing down). The 2019 vintage produced a lighter style of F-P, with a very pretty haunting cherry bouquet. Juicy and elegant, but with a little structure, it’s a near perfect example and good as the Côte de Brouilly is, this is generally worth trading up for (or buying both).

Saint-Amour 2020 was the third Beaujolais wine to try. Slightly less pretty but with a touch more meat than the 2019 above, you get a nice cherry nose and crunchy Gamay fruit. The base is tannic and youthful but there are already signs of it rounding out nicely.

Savigny-lès-Beaune Rouge 2019. Here we are back on the Côte de Beaune, with a scented cherry and raspberry version of Pinot Noir from another village which seems to be coming into its own these days, but has always been the source of some good red wines for me. It’s a wine which will develop further, but right now it combines a developing nose (very pretty) with a bit of weight and body, but not too much.

Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” 2014. This was a treat to taste. I own older Le Grappin wines but I’m sure not this one (I do have 2015), and this cuvée has long been a favourite. The vineyard lies round the back of the hill at the southwestern extremity of the village appellation. Just over the hill is La Rochepôt, and I remember walking the tiny road which cuts through it back in the days when we used to visit Burgundy every spring and stay in that village. What I can say about this wine…well to be honest all you need to know is one word: balance. It’s in a good place, too good a place to spit out.

Andrew and Emma distribute their own wines via mail order and selected local markets in and around London.

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, Burgundy, Greek Wine, Italian Wine, Natural Wine, Petnat, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Real Wine Fair 2022 (Part 1)

RealWine, or the Real Wine Fair, took place at London’s Tobacco Dock venue on Sunday and Monday. This is one of the biggest natural wine fairs in the UK (along with Raw Wine), and possibly in Europe now. Organised for many years by pioneering UK importer Les Caves de Pyrene, it allows their own producers, and those of other smaller importers of natural wines, to show both to the public and trade.

I think for the trade it has become almost as much a social event as a working day and this was amplified a thousand times this year. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling an incredible warmth in the venue generated by friends and colleagues meeting up for what might have been, in some cases, the first time in two or more years. This was echoed in comments from the exhibitors. We all needed this opportunity to re-bond, and what a success it was. On a personal level, although this wasn’t my first post-Covid event, I even felt a little emotional to be back at this one.

As I begin to write I’m not sure whether this will emerge as two or three articles. I’m always aware that I have, in the past, written some whopping great pieces which are probably quite taxing to read. I should apologise as well that I’ve come away with only fifteen producers I want to write about, which is almost every producer whose wines I tasted. There is no logic here, and I missed whole regions, even countries. I’m just giving you a snapshot. Less chat and I could have covered more, but then the palate can only take so much (along with the legs). But I will say that I have included one or two producers highly recommended to me as I wandered around losing my voice chatting to long-missed friends over the din of hundreds of others doing exactly the same. So you will encounter some of the best.

On the floor – so it begins

WEINGUT BIANKA AND DANIEL SCHMITT (Rheinhessen, Germany)

The journey begins on Table 1 with a young couple whose wines I tasted properly for the first time several years ago at the “Common Ground” tasting of Alsace and Germany, a pair of articles from that event coincidentally quite popular at the moment on my site. Since then, I’ve been buying their wines to drink at home literally whenever I see a bottle.

They took over a winery at Flörsheim that had been in the family for two centuries, but their outward-looking approach (biodynamic and natural, making wines “only from grapes”) comes from working abroad and continued travel to promote their wines and philosophy. They have sixteen scattered parcels totalling sixteen hectares, and their wines are made in a mix of old oak, mostly large pieces, and amphora.

Riesling Sekt Brut Nature 2019 is frankly a great start to a day’s tasting. Rounded fruit, dry, frothy, really interesting. It’s a traditional method sparkling wine from a 2019 base, with one year in 1,200-litre oak before initial bottling. The second fermentation uses juice from the following year for its liqueur to get it started. Disgorgement is after a further 15 months on lees. The composition is 100% Riesling. It does not have the complexity further age might bring, but it has weight and presence, and I’d say it is eminently suitable to serve with food. Superb.

Riesling M 2020 is scented, natural and soft. Its from a single parcel off cold clay soils, harvested late, in October. It saw four days on skins followed by a year’s ageing in a 1,200-litre cask. It scores on gorgeous aromatics and a gentle but typical Riesling palate (citrus, mineral etc).

Zold Sylvaner 2020 (they spell the variety with a “Y”) comes from the same parcel as the previous wine. It has a lifted bouquet, concentrated scents lifted by the aromatics of a week on skins. Ageing is also one year in 1,200-litre oak. It’s a lovely expression of an under-appreciated variety which they do extremely well.

Riesling Dry White 2020 is a direct-pressed blend of grapes from all of Bianka and Daniel’s Riesling parcels. It is harvested six weeks earlier than the “M”, in mid-September. This gives a very different style of wine, with a great deal of freshness replacing the softer complexity of the former wine. Both have their place. This sees ten months ageing, but still in wood (despite the freshness). This time the casks are 3,000 and 4,000-litres.

Wild Pony 2020 was really fascinating. My first time tasting this cuvée, it’s a blend of 40% Gelber Muskateller with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Sylvaner. After two weeks on skins the varieties are fermented separately before ageing for fifteen months in oak, six of those months under flor. The yeast influence is there, but not dominant in a wine that’s smooth but with just a little texture. Long, characterful, I’m almost reticent to praise this as much as I want to so early in the day. All of the DB Schmitt wines are well worth grabbing, but I shall be looking out for this.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrene.

Bianka Schmitt

ANDERT-WINE (Burgenland, Austria)

The Andert family are in Pamhagen, the village on the southeastern side of the Neusiedlersee which also houses the larger, and perhaps better known in natural wine circles, Meinklang Farm, near the Hungarian border. There are apparently fifty Anderts in the village so each family has a nickname, which they use for one of their cuvées, below. This is a small operation, just four-and-a-half hectares of vines, along with vegetables, herbs and a range of animals, farmed by brothers Erich and Michael Andert.

Their idea of “natural” extends not just to additives. They prefer wines to remain undisturbed and unmanipulated during winemaking and ageing, so, for example, alongside the expected spontaneous fermentations they reject any temperature control of those fermentations. There is no electricity in the cellar to interfere with the wine either. The result is highly individual wines with distinct personalities.

G’mischter Sotz 2020 is, of course, a co-fermeted wine made from a field blend of varieties including Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Müller-Thurgau, Gelber Muskateller, Frühroter Veltliner and Muskat Ottonel. What can I say, it’s a typical gemischter satz, sappy, a little saline, cloudy, zingy but not massively acidic, in this instance. I bought one.

Pamhogna Weiss 2020 blends just five varieties. I’m not sure what they are but it doesn’t matter too much. It’s an easy drinking white, slightly more settled than the GS but cloudy and sour. That’s sour in a good way, interesting sour. But nevertheless, for the appreciative adventurer.

Ruländer 2020 and 2021. This is another favourite Andert cuvée for me. Fermentation is in 500-litre oak with a five-day maceration. The wine is softened by a naturally occurring malolactic. The ’21 was a sample, pink (the variety is a synonym for the pink-berried Pinot Gris/Grauburgunder in parts of Germany and Austria) with lifted scents. There’s a pleasant salinity here as well. The 2020 is slightly more amber than pink, at least in the light of the venue. The bouquet and palate showed more red berry fruit and less spice and mineral salt. Both are so good.

Grüner Veltliner “Anadjucka” 2020 is the wine which sports the family’s nickname by which they can be identified in the village. It’s softer than many Grüners, but it has a little bit of a tannic bite on the finish. As with all the Andert wines, they are fermented as whole bunches. It has bags of personality, as again, they all do.

Pamhogna Rot 2019 is a blend of 70% Zweigelt and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. In my opinion its success lies in the Zweigelt component managing to dominate the Cabernet with its overt berry freshness in a wine with glowing vibrant red colour to match. The fruit acidity is concentrated and delicious, with smoother dark fruits, presumably the Cabernet, lurking beneath.

Personalgetränk #5 NV is less straightforward, more complex, demanding perhaps of more attention. Not only is it a blend of more than one vintage, it is also a blend of red and white grape varieties. Approach without a thought in your head and let it speak to you.

Wermutlich Rot NV (50cl) is vermouth, but quite a remarkable one. Herbs are macerated in the barrel with the wine (made from Zweigelt) and, originally, honey, although they are moving to use stevia instead of honey as the sweetener because, during fermentation, it allows for lower alcohol. The result is savoury and less sweet than expected. It also lacks that “hot” taste which you find with a lot of Mediterranean vermouths. I’ve no idea what it costs but vermouth fans should really try it.

Importer – Les Caves.

JAROSLAV OSICKA (Moravia, Czechia)

Several Czech producers were grouped together as a national cohort in the corner of the small hall at Tobacco Dock. I’d tasted most of these producers extensively at the Basket Press Wines Portfolio Tasting back in March this year, so I just tasted a few new wines from three producers. You can read more extensive notes, if you wish, by typing “Basket Press” into the search box and looking for the March tasting (article of 17/03).

Jaroslav’s son, Luboš, was on hand to pour the wines. Back in Vilké Bilovice father and son farm 3.5 ha of vines in total harmony with nature, a philosophy mirrored in the cellar. Sulphite additions are minimal, otherwise there are no interventions, and ageing is in a mix of oak and acacia.

Chardonnay 2019. This is a wine I don’t remember trying before. It’s a wine with nice fresh acids balanced by medium weight of fruit. You genuinely would not guess this has 13% alcohol. You would guess that sulphur addition is minimal. It’s not volatile or anything like that, it’s perfectly clean. But it is also open and expansive, not attenuated.

Oranz 2020 is made from a single variety, Gewurztraminer. It gets its colour from a twelve-day maceration on skins. It has texture, but not too much. The palate shows as a deliciously spicy cocktail of fruit and unlike some Gewurz, it has freshness and is, shall we say, reassuringly dry. The lowish 12.5%abv is a bonus too.

P.A.N 2020 stands for Pinot Noir and André, the latter being one of the oddest names for a grape variety I know, and will doubtless remain so until I’m introduced to an obscure English variety called Kenneth. Apparently, it was developed in Moravia in the 1960s but registered in 1980 and there are now a little over 250 ha planted in Czechia, and also a little in Slovakia. It’s a cross, like Zweigelt, between Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) and Saint-Laurent. The new cross blended with Pinot Noir works well to produce another characterful red.

Chardonnay Vertikal NV is a complex blend of three vintages, 2017, 18 and 19. I’m not sure that Basket Press Wines imports this but they should, it being a really interesting red wine, showing the benefits of putting together a multi-vintage cuvée.

DVA DUBY (Moravia, Czechia)

Jiri Sebela is the man behind DVA Duby, although he was ably assisted by his sons at Real Wine. The eldest, only fifteen years old, is already making wine so the future here seems to have been secured early. They have 7 hectares of mostly old vines in the south of Moravia. I’ve drunk a couple of his wines quite recently at home, so regular readers will know all about the special terroir here, granodiorite. This is a magmatic rock (volcanic, but from magma, not ash) from the Pre-Cambrian era, 650 million years ago.

This is another biodynamic (since 2007) winery where the only intervention is the addition of minimal sulphur when deemed necessary. This is a winemaker I got to know some years ago but rather neglected for a while. Tasting and drinking more of these wines the past twelve months, I’ve come to appreciate them more, deservedly so. Recent bottles have been especially good.

Malvasia 2018 is a synonym for a variety which the Austrians more often would call Frühroter Veltliner. If I tell you that Moravians also call it Veltlinske Cervene Rane that’s just being mean. The aromatics are built around red apple, citrus and herbs. The palate is savoury and slightly saline. It’s a delicious, spicy, food wine with a little structure. Definitely on my wish list next time I’m ordering from Basket Press.

Zweigeltrebe 2018 is a fresh and delicious red with a lick of volcanic salinity and texture underneath lifted red fruit aromatics, with delicate almost floral scents. Definitely a wine showing some complexity after a few years in bottle, but yet also a wine of bright fresh fruit acids. Zweigeltrebe is just a synonym for Zweigelt, although what is more confusing is that because modern Austria has issues with Dr Zweigelt, who made this crossing of Blaufränkisch and Saint-Laurent in 1922, some Austrians are starting to call it Rotburger. I’m told that this new synonym does not go down well in America.

Duby Duby Duby

PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)

I think it was only a week ago that I called Petr a cult winemaker, though he didn’t take offence when I met him here for the first time, along with his wife, on Monday. He farms a tiny three hectares at Boleradice and has done so since 2006. He’s famous for his almost infinite variety of ever-changing petnat wines, with ever more extrovert labels, but he also makes an exemplary range of still wines. I drank his wonderful maceration white, Ambero, only days ago, so I didn’t taste it here. Nevertheless, its label now adorns my “hall of fame” so look out for a note in my “Recent Wines” for May when the article comes out.

Despite the very youthful looking labels on the petnats, and a youthful looking winemaker, the vineyards are all full of old vines and traditional Moravian varieties, or clones when it comes to varieties we think of as international but which have been in Moravia for a very long time. Again, minimal intervention, with low or no SO2 added. The wines can be edgy and too much so for some people. But I kind of think anyone reading my notes on Real Wine will not be of such a view.

It’s Alive 2021 is a petnat made to age. Petr says that a lot of petnat seems to go stale too quickly, after a year or two, and he wanted to make one which would develop a little. The main variety is Pinot Blanc, one I think is eminently suitable for sparkling wines and somewhat underrated generally. The wine is young now, having only seen two months in bottle. It’s zippy and one-dimensional, yet good enough that I’d crack one open. A long and slow first fermentation in barrel means that when it settles down it should mellow out and add lees-induced complexity. One to watch.

Quasi Crémant 2020 is a traditional method Sekt, so undergoing a second bottle fermentation with disgorgement. It’s the cuvée’s second vintage, of a wine made from Welschriesling, not a variety I’ve seen used a lot for sparkling wine myself. It has more body and perhaps weight than the petnats, certainly a little more of a serious side. More “classical” maybe? This was a sample, disgorged after only two months ageing on lees. It was really nice, but Petr plans to leave it much longer before its proper release. It was a pleasure to try it though, and it is looking very good for the future.

Grüner Veltliner 2021 was also a sample of the new vintage, straight from barrel where it is currently sitting on its lees in the cellar. This is an example of one of Petr’s more “classical” still wines, though still of course made with exactly the same natural wine methods. It has been through its malo but it’s still cloudy with lees flavours just showing through. Petr expects this to fall clear naturally and he will bottle in the summer. The wine has plenty of fresh acidity and I would expect this to tone down a little over time, to be replaced by more complexity. Petr’s single varietal still wines usually deliver.

Cryo Aromatic was pulled out at the last minute, so I didn’t get the vintage. A new petnat cuvée blending Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with at this stage the SB component dominating the nose, but the Chardonnay perhaps providing the body most to the fore on the palate. Very exotic, aromatic, one for the adventurous of course.

All three of these producers from the Czech Republic are imported and distributed by Basket Press Wines.

At nearly 2,700 words I think I should close here. I’m forever being told 1,800 words is the optimum for readers. So, we shall have three articles from RealWine 2022. Let me know what you think about this approach.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, German Wine, Natural Wine, Petnat, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines April 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Moving on to Part 2 of the wines we drank here at home during April, you might wonder that we are drinking all our favourite wines like there’s no tomorrow! Well, it’s true that you don’t want to leave all your best wines to posterity, but it’s also a question of balance. Cellar stocking chez-moi may have slowed beyond a trickle but it’s all a matter of balance. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that this selection of wines does contain several of my favourite producers.

We begin with two Burgenlanders, then a secret star of the South Downs not far from my home, and then an example of the kind of quality you can find down the range at some Rheinhessen producers of note. The Montagne de Reims provides a twenty-year-old favourite before we end with two contrasting wines, both as good as the other in their own way. A mere 2018 from La Palma, one of the smaller Canary Islands, and an almost twenty-one-year-old Barolo. The last wine reinforced what I already know, which is that when it comes to wine, I sometimes think I know nothing.

THEODORA WEISS 2020, GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)

I saw just this past weekend that they are gearing up to begin the season at Gut Oggau, by which I mean opening the Inn which serves as a beacon for lovers of their beautiful biodynamic wines from far and wide, as well as the locals. If I were to be allowed to visit, say, just four wine regions in Europe then Burgenland would be one of them. Memories of this wine certainly made me pine for Oggau, Rust and Gols etc.

As I’m sure you will know, the Gut Oggau “family” consists of three generations. Theodora is one of the younger members of that family. This is apt because when I first came to try the wines of this producer, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee, I kind of thought of her as the future. A natural wine stripped of artifice and absolutely resonant with joie-de-vivre.

Theodora 2020 is a blend of Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling which saw two hours of skin contact before pressing into old oak for both fermentation and ageing. She may be a young one, but she is far from simple. On the surface you have a vibrant, refreshing, white wine. Beneath the surface there’s plenty going on. Melon for one thing (Galia or watermelon, who cares) and something very definitely spicy. The acidity and low alcohol (11.5% abv) suggest lightness but there’s depth too. An uplifting wine, and advantageously less expensive than the older generations have become in our inflation-hit, post-brexit, world.

Gut Oggau is imported by Dynamic Vines in the UK. The wines are also available at Antidote, off Carnaby Street in Central London.

“IN A HELL MOOD” 2019, RENNER & RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)

Stefanie, Susanne and Georg are another bright shining beacon of Burgenland natural winemaking, this time working from Gols, which may well be the Neusiedlersee village best endowed with natural winemaking stars. The winery is an imposingly simple one on the edge of the village where the siblings’ father created the Renner profile as a well-regarded member of the region’s Pannobile group (nine Gols producers formed Pannobile in 1994 to raise the quality profile of the region’s wines) before (initially) his daughters made their own take on production. Now joined by their younger brother, they have updated the image to appeal to a voracious younger clientele whilst establishing their brand through some of the most innovative labels in Austria.

“In A Hell Mood” could not be further from the more classical wines which appear under the Pannobile label. This pétnat is named after Stefanie’s Instagram moniker. The varietal composition in this 2019, like the vintage before it, is Pinot Noir, the first grapes picked in the harvest going into this cuvée. I might be misinformed, but I believe the 2020 was made from Saint-Laurent (according to Littlewine’s web site).

The ’19 is pale and frothy with scents of red fruits. Less wild than some previous bottles/vintages, it was still super-fresh with a tight twister of fine bubbles rising in the glass, coating the palate with a creamy texture. Whilst red fruits dominate, I even sensed hints of apricot and maybe even pear. Delicious.

At just 10% abv this is a vivacious pétnat which has never come remotely close to putting me in a hell mood. £29 from Littlewine before the hopefully temporary closure of their shop, but imported by Newcomer Wines in any event.

CUVÉE MICHELLE MOREAU 2014, BREAKY BOTTOM (Sussex Downs, England)

This Breaky Bottom Cuvée was, I think, the one with which I began my love affair with Peter Hall’s wines. It’s not merely the wine. It’s also the man…and the location (the most beautiful vineyard I’ve ever visited in England, for sure). But then, it IS the wine.

In 1974 Peter planted vines on free-draining chalk in a natural bowl (“bottom”) on, or in, the South Downs near Rodmell. As he says himself, “near enough to the sea to offer a sheltered microclimate against frost”, though over the years he’s had much else to contend with. Somehow, through everything, his total focus on quality has created some near-perfect wines, all benefiting from time on lees and bottle age. In an age when a lot of money has been thrown at English Sparkling Wine (and I’m not knocking those producers), it’s nice to look to see what our few artisans are doing, and Peter has really few, if any, peers when it comes to experience in that realm.

Named after the sister of the famous French actress, Jeanne Moreau (all BB cuvées are named after family friends), the base is 70% Chardonnay, blended with 15% Pinot Noir and the same quantity of Meunier. This bottle was really beginning to come into its own, being slightly more developed than the bottle I drank last year. The acids are still bright and refreshing but perfectly balanced with the soft, sensuous and enthralling fruit. In comes a little more brioche, something of a mere hint a year ago. Like everything from this address, if you want me to reduce it to one word, elegance.

Londoners and others can find these wines at Corney & Barrow, but Brighton family-owned independent merchant Butlers Wine Cellar (friends of the Halls) stocks a near comprehensive range of Breaky Bottom (when individual cuvées are not sold out), and they ship them. They will charge you what, with the current cost of Champagne rising, is surely a bargain £35.

WESTHOFENER RIESLING TROCKEN 2018, WEINGUT WITTMANN (Rheinhessen, Germany)

Much as I love Keller, of course I do, I do not think I like the wines of Philipp Wittmann any less. This Wonnegau estate, working out of the famous village of Westhofen, is famous for many things, including its old cellars (built 1829, but the family has made wine here since 1663) and its use exclusively of large, traditional, wooden casks for winemaking. Yet this is in no way an estate looking to the past. They have been fully biodynamic since as early as 2004, and as well as their wines from the famous sites, classified “Grand Cru” vineyards under their VDP membership, they show equal pride in the wines they make from lesser sites (and from grapes other than Riesling). When I say “equal” I mean literally that.

This Riesling Trocken is the estate’s “village wine”, though it still comes from fine hillside sites, most in fact from the giddy metaphorical heights of the GG of Morstein, plus a little fruit from Brunnenhaüschen. It is modern in style, being dry, but is certainly classical in tone.

There is a surprising level of intensity here in a wine labelled with the village name. That intensity comes from, and is built around, the wine’s mineral core, but in parallel there is also a degree of richness. That said, minerality rules. The quite tropical lime and grapefruit is there to balance the rock, expressed through a line of salinity any German producer would be content with. It hits way above its QbA status.

Most of my Wittmanns come from The Solent Cellar in Lymington. They are pretty widely available in the UK, however.

COEUR DE CUVÉE 2002, CHAMPAGNE VILMART (Champagne, France)

Champagne Vilmart is hidden away atop the Montagne de Reims in the village of Rilly-la-Montagne. In charge of the house’s eleven hectares of vineyard since 1989 here is Laurent Champs, whose father before him has created the wonderful stained glass which adorns the barrel cellar, is recreated on some of the metal caps beneath each cuvée’s wire muselet, and on the label of the regrettably no longer produced “Cuvée Création”.

Vilmart is unusual in several respects. First, all their vineyards are concentrated in just a dozen plots close to Rilly on the Montagne. Secondly, their vines are around 60% Chardonnay in a sub-region where we know Pinot Noir to be the dominant variety. Finally, Vilmart’s sites are all classified Premier Cru. They don’t own any Grand Cru vines. This might mean that their range has to be structured to allow for this, but at the top (by which I mean the Grand Cellier d’Or, their exemplary Rosé (Cuvée Rubis) and the star Coeur de Cuvée, they have few equals among the smaller houses.

The key to excellence at this level (Coeur) is very old vines, of 40-50 years of age. The wines are all fermented in oak, mostly in majestic large foudres. This can lead to them being misinterpreted when young. This 2002 Coeur saw ten months in oak before bottle fermentation. Depending on vintage they need I would suggest a minimum of a dozen years to begin to show their true value. I will say here that few producers make wine as good as Coeur de Cuvée in so-called poor vintages, and this cuvée was one of the few I bought at all in the previous vintage, 2001 (and I bought more than a bottle).

Of course, 2002 was no poor vintage, on the contrary. Even at twenty years old this is a full and opulent prestige cuvée where richness has developed with maturity, simply replacing the oak influence with something wholly integrated and balanced. Whilst the nose is initially like opening the bakery door, you soon sense apple skin, lemon, ginger and cinnamon, plus a tiny hint of caramel. I do appreciate maturity in Champagne, but others might think this is at its peak. I am tempted to give my one remaining bottle another year, but let’s see.

I’m unsure where I purchased this bottle. It was either from a couple of mixed cases I bought on a visit there, or from The Solent Cellar a few years later. I think the bottles from Lymington’s finest wine store are long gone from their fine wine section.

LISTAN NEGRO “LAS ROSAS” 2018, VICTORIA TORRES PECIS (Canary Islands, Spain)

Based at Fuencaliente in the south of the small island of La Palma, Viki Torres runs the old Matías i Torres winery, taking over from her father, Juan, and bringing a passion for artisan natural wines which have, among aficionados of the Canary Islands, brought her fame far in excess of her small production.

She farms up to centenarian vines scattered over La Palma, autochthonous varieties which she fashions into unique wines with an infinite sense of place and truly individual personalities. Viki is undoubtedly one of a group of women winemakers whose skill goes way beyond college learning. “Inherited knowledge and intuition are our guides” she explained to John Szabo (Volcanic Wines, 2016, p130).

This wine is made from 100% Listán Negro, 80-year-old vines grown on the east of La Palma. It may be a small island but the microclimates are remarkably different, especially between the dry black volcanic soils of the south and the lush green of the north. But, of course, all of the soils here were spewed forth from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which has been so active lately. The east is buffeted by strong winds so the vines, all growing between 550-650 masl, are lucky to be well-established, hunkering low to the ground, and of course the wind keeps the vines more or less disease free, perfect for Viki’s low-intervention approach.

The wine is made in concrete and has all the slightly dusty textural hallmarks of this medium. Mid-coloured red, light, fresh acids, the bouquet is all smoky red fruits. Zippy and clean it may be, to a degree, but it has a wild side as well. It’s a little bit edgy, in a good way. It’s a wine which refuses to make a big impact upfront, preferring to linger long on the palate to make its undeniable impression. I’m afraid you won’t get much in the way of total objectivity from me. I’m very much at home with all Viki’s wines.

Victoria Torres Pecis is imported by Modal Wines in the UK. Chambers Street Wines in the USA, I believe.

BAROLO CLASSICO RISERVA 2001, GIACOMO BORGOGNO (Piemonte, Italy)

Founded in 1761, though today with quite a modern outlook, this 20-hectare estate in the village of Barolo itself has, in the past, taken a classical, traditional approach. There is no hesitation here in calling this wine “old school” so long as it is taken in the right way…because this wine was something of a revelation.

I didn’t read anything about the wine before drinking it. When one particular Barolo lover came to dinner I remembered it had her name on it. I can’t even be certain where I bought it, though I think it was most likely at the Harvey’s brewery shop in Lewes (or possibly at Berry Brothers, who still stock Borgogno). Wherever, it was back in the mists of time.

If I had done my research properly, I’d have considered keeping this at least five years longer, if not a decade more. This doesn’t mean it was way too young. In fact, it was that all too rare classic Barolo dominated by liquorice and tar with a lifted bouquet of rose petal and dark fruits. A long way from shy and retiring, but it had more than enough charm. The tannins have smoothed away but unlike many old Barolos, it hasn’t lost its fruit.

Long and substantial, Robert Parker’s site suggested a window of 2021-2041. No wonder I’m reluctant to buy Barolo any more. But it was a joy to drink a wine like this. They don’t come around all that often. I am happy to report than it certainly cost significantly less than the £70 I’ve seen quoted today. That might even be a bargain for a wine that may have another decade of life in it.

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Recent Wines April 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Almost half way through May and finally some wines from April emerge. I’m late because I had another week in Scotland, fuelled more by Whisky than wine, it must be said. But now back in the South of England, I can reveal some of the cracking wines we drank here last month. We begin with exciting new wave Alsace before visiting eclectic destinations like Georgia, Switzerland and Japan. Czech wines are, ahem, not uncommon on these pages and we have another here, but from a producer I’ve neglected a little. The penultimate wine is a magical Jura, from a man who I haven’t seen for way too long. We finish in the Loire, towards the east of the central section, drinking another beautiful Moelleux wine from a now sadly departed old-timer, an artisan vigneron who supplied a friend’s father for many years.

COMPLÈTEMENT RED 2020, LAMBERT SPIELMANN (Alsace, France)

I don’t think there’s a region in Europe where there are more new and emerging natural winemakers than Alsace, specifically its northern sector, the Bas Rhin. David Neilson (backinalsace.com) seems to mention a new one almost every week, and it was he who introduced me to the wines of this young guy, who has vines in Epfig and Nothalten, crafting original cuvées in his makeshift cellar in the former. His holdings currently total just 2.5 ha but he makes the most of what he has with the creativity of a musician (which he is). His environmentalism includes planting trees among the vines for future shade, and, of course, to encourage insect-eating birds.

Most of his labels reference some of his wide musical passions. I’m not sure I get any musical reference from this wine’s colourful label, however. It’s a Pinot Noir, made from 25-year-old vines on sandstone at Nothalten. Whole bunches are fermented for ten days, then pressed into demi-muids for a short time before bottling fresh and fruity.

What we get is a very pure-tasting natural wine which tastes even brighter for having no added sulphur. Vibrant cherry dominates both bouquet and palate, keeping things relatively simple except for a nice spicy twist. Fruit-forward is what the old-timers in the trade used to call this type of wine, but I use it here in the most positive sense. This will refresh the parts other Pinots might not reach (being more cerebral). What you get is fruit, zip and bite. A hint of reduction will blow off with a good swirl.

Lambert does recommend listening to “Comandante Che Guevara” (aka “Hasta Siempre” by Boikot,  hope I’ve spelt that correctly). If you hate the song, you may not like the wine (inserts large winking emoji). I did. So does Tutto Wines, who are importing Lambert Spielmann in the UK.

BAIA’S WINE 2020 (Imereti, Georgia)

Baia Abuladze, along with her siblings, makes wine in Obcha, a village the Eastern region of Imereti. Her star has risen swiftly, someone said to me “prematurely”, but they agreed that she is now making wines with the potential for star quality. Equally important, she’s raising the profile of her region with all the positive coverage she’s getting and is yet another Georgian winemaker with a strong international outlook whilst making traditional wines with minimal interventions.

This simply labelled cuvée blends 60% Tsolikuri with 20% each of Tsitska and Krakhuna. These are very much autochthonous varieties, farmed biodynamically. The vines are around 30-years-old, planted on local clays. A triage is carried out to pick only grapes which are in perfect condition. Each of the three grapes has good acid balance, so the wine is very refreshing, but it also has some body. This is in part down to a mix of the texture from qvevri fermentation (all varieties being co-fermented), and 13% alcohol.

After around three months in qvevri the wine was put into stainless steel in January 2021. The shorter period in qvevri makes for a wine less “orange” than some, although you’d certainly call it amber, just about. The fragrant bouquet shows apricot and pear, with apricot and soft lemon on the palate. You find there’s a little texture, but not a lot. In this respect it may suit those who are wary of the full-on tannins in some clay-fermented wines. For me, it was lovely. I really liked it and would (will) definitely buy it again.

It cost £21.50 from the Oxford Wine Company, and is imported by Taste of Georgia.

AUVERNIER NON-FILTRÉ 2019, DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN (Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

This Domaine has been making wine in the village of Auvernier since the 1600s. It’s a fairly large family estate of around 50 hectares, run today by De Montmollin siblings Benoît and Rachel. The estate is now fully biodynamic, though certified organic. They grow grapes on clay and limestone in eight villages along the shores of the Lac de Neuchâtel, benefiting from the sunlight reflected off the water to ripen them to a greater level than this northerly region might otherwise allow.

You have probably guessed that the variety here is Chasselas, a grape I do have, some say, a perverse liking for. But this is unquestionably a good one. It is vinified in stainless steel for freshness with just a short period of ageing before transfer to bottle. The result is a pale wine with a herbal/biscuity nose. The palate has a touch of lemon and then a hint of more exotic fruit. It dances lightly across the tongue and whilst I generally prefer this unfiltered wine a year younger, this 2019 hasn’t, to be fair, lost an ounce of freshness.

So, you say, “but Swiss wines are so expensive”. Well, this is just £22.20 at Alpine Wines. For around £6 more you can also taste the Neuchâtel speciality, Oeil de Perdrix, a pale partridge-eye Rosé made from Pinot Noir. I suppose I do have a soft spot for Domaine de Montmollin, but then they do make some tasty wines.

JUNMAI GINJO SPARKLING SAKE, AKASHI-TAI (Akashi City, Japan)

So, I do occasionally veer away from wine to other alcoholic beverages. If anyone has read my past pieces on Japan you will know I’m in love with that country. I don’t, to be fair, buy lots of sake, especially the sparkling version, but I wasn’t going to leave this on the shelf when I was picking up a Georgian stash from OWC’s Turl Street shop in Oxford

This is a bottle-fermented sake from Akashi City, near Kobe, and is made by the Yonezawa family who run the Akashi Sake Brewery Company. Anthony Rose in his excellent “Sake and the Wines of Japan” (Infinite Ideas, 2018) explains that Tai is sea bream, hence the label, I guess. After the 1995 Kobe earthquake the company relocated their brewery premises, using the opportunity to update equipment, and production was further updated, perhaps revolutionised (though that is perhaps a little strong for the way things move in Japan) by Kimio Yonezawa when he took over from his father. For sure, there seems to have been a jump in quality.

This sparkling sake is off-dry with a bouquet of peach, soft lemon/yuzu and melon, with just a hint of rice flavour (less than in most still sake). It has a lovely freshness to it, lifted by the fine bubbles. The water in Akashi (which again I would never have known without Anthony Rose) is very soft, a key to the sake they make, although they do filter out any iron content. The alcohol level is just 7%.

Akashi Brewery is one of the most export-orientated sake producers in Japan. Around 50% of sales goes overseas and the UK was their first export market (Rose, p192).

There’s just one downside to this lovely drink, and that is the bottle size, just 30cl. This also makes it perhaps more expensive than it seems at first sight but don’t let that put you off. Buy a bottle each and it will set you back £34 for a couple. It will be well worth it to try something different.

You should find this for £17 at Oxford Wine Company, who have a number of branches dotted in and around Oxford, Turl Street being the most central.

“VOX SILENTIUM” 2017, DVA DUBY (Moravia, Czechia)

Jiri Sebela is the man behind DVA Duby, making wine at Dolni Kounice in Moravia’s south, near the Austrian border. The soils here are pre-Cambrian, over 700 million years old, based on Granodiorite. This is volcanic rock and soil, but from magma, not lava flows, and soils are a fairly thin layer over solid (very solid) rock. Farming is biodynamic and winemaking is close to zero intervention, with just a little SO2 being added before bottling.

Silentium is Jiri’s top of the range Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch) from a single plot. The wine has concentrated raspberry and dark fruits at its heart. The added complexity comes through on the nose (floral notes) and fresh acids on the palate which give way to a deeper fruit concentration. The wine is dark in colour and over-all this perhaps suggests a brooding presence. When you taste it, and perhaps notice the lowish 12.5% abv, you are surprised and instantly uplifted. Uplifting is a pretty good word to use to describe this intense and exciting bottle.

I think this vintage has just the right amount of age, keeping its vibrancy yet perhaps allowing the concentrated fruit to mellow and develop. It’s a beautiful natural wine and one of the best from Basket Press Wines this year. Not that I’ve had any that were less than very good. Check out my notes from their London Portfolio Tasting published on 17 March.

ORANGE WAS THE COLOR OF HER DRESS 2015, PATRICE BEGUET (Jura, France)

Patrice Beguet is based at Mesnay, just a stroll outside of Arbois. He farms vines here and on prime sites over at Pupillin, where Pierre Overnoy gave him early encouragement. It’s a wonder he’s ever at home to receive visitors to his house and cellar right next to Mesnay’s tottering church. He started out in 2009, the domaine initially called Hughes-Beguet, adding the name of his former (English) wife. Within around three years Patrice achieved Demeter biodynamic certification, and he’s definitely one of the most environmentally conscious growers in a town and region well known for its focus on regeneration and sustainable, low intervention, viticulture.

The range has changed quite dramatically here over the years, as have the labels. This cuvée, which I believe 2015 was the first vintage, is a reference to one of Patrice’s musical idols, Charles Mingus. It sports his mid-period couture, a lovely lithographic image which was adapted from that used by his grandfather for his Gentiane. It’s a skin contact Savagnin (the ouillé version is named Oh Yeah!). It sees five months on skins in barrel after a three-week whole berry fermentation, though Patrice says it is more of an infusion than a maceration because there is no lees stirring, or pumping over. Patrice used to add a little sulphur to just his white (sic) wines, but 2015 was the first vintage he went sulphur free on everything.

It’s very orange, to be sure. The bouquet is fairly exotic with floral notes above rich fruits (mango especially) and cinnamon spice. The palate veers more to apricot with a hint of caramel and honey on a long finish. It has aged very nicely. You get a gorgeous mellow richness but it’s still fresh as well. Many have described 2015 as Patrice’s best vintage, although recent wines have been, without doubt, as good as he’s ever made, despite frost-ravaged harvests.

This bottle was purchased at the domaine, but Patrice Beguet is imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, who should have a selection of his more recent bottlings.

LE MÛR MÛR DE LA GAUDRONNIÈRE MOELLEUX 2011, DOMAINE DE LA GAUDRONNIÈRE (Loire, France)

The late Christian D’Orléans was an artisan vigneron based at Cellettes, near to the village and royal château of Cheverny, just south of Blois in Eastern Touraine. This producer, as I mentioned in my intro, provided wine for the father of a French friend. His cellar was amazing, and among all his First and Second Growth Bordeaux you would find boxes of Christian’s wines. For this reason, we paid him a visit when staying down there. We bought a selection of his wines but sadly he passed away a couple of years later. This sweet Moelleux wine, which he recommended we age for at least a decade, was the last bottle from that stash. Out of respect we did, which was a good move.

This is not in any way an expensive wine made by some internationally famous producer, but what it clearly shows is the occasional capacity of the obscure Romorantin grape, only grown now in this one appellation, to age to sublimity. Yellow-gold, like a wedding band, it smelt of rich honey, apricot and a little bit of curry spice. The palate was still bright. It would certainly be described as sweet, but not excessively so, with no hint of cloying. The texture and acids actually give it short moments of dryness, especially on that finish which, to my palate, was surprisingly reminiscent of Chenin Blanc. This all hangs on a fleshy core of honey. A lovely wine and very much more impressive than I expected.

The Appellation, Cour-Cheverny, I am assured by eminent sources, is exclusively for dry (often quite tart) wines made only from the Romorantin grape. Well, this was sweet, not dry, even if age had blunted the sweetness just a bit.

Purchased at the domaine, I don’t think you will find these wines very easily, certainly not in the UK. There are, however, many importers of very fine Moelleux Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Romorantin, less so. Perhaps the variety doesn’t always have this capacity to age? I truly wish that I’d bought more Loire Moelleux to lay down when I was younger. The rewards are usually far greater than the outlay would have been at the time.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Sake, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dermot Sugrue – Wiston and Sugrue South Downs

The long Easter Bank Holiday here was not without its pleasures, a lovely picnic and some wonderful food, but it was mostly dedicated to decorating. It was rather nice, therefore, to be getting up bright and early last Tuesday to head off for breakfast in the new Chalk Restaurant at Wiston Estate. First up, breakfast with Dermot Sugrue (plus Damon Quinlan of Swig Wines, Agents for Wiston, and Ruth Spivey, of many hats including Star Wine Lists, Wine Car Boot, consultant, and not least an exciting book project which will bring a new angle to the writing about English Wine). We chatted about Dermot’s future plans for Sugrue South Downs (rather exciting, to be sure), but more of that later. Breakfast was followed by a tasting of the Wiston Estate range, and it is that which I shall begin with.

Wiston Estate is just north of Worthing in West Sussex, right on the busy southbound lanes of the A24. Literally a grass verge separates the outdoor, stainless steel, tanks from the traffic. Away from the road and the winery the South Downs rise reasonably steeply south of the village of Washington, where around 7 hectares of vines were planted from 2006. This is all part of the Goring family’s 2,400-hectare farm, but the sites chosen for vines, on Downland chalk, are quite special, with one vineyard in particular in a protected bowl with perfect exposure.

It was probably the exceptional vineyard sites that lured Dermot Sugrue to the new Wiston venture, from his short stint at Nyetimber, just before that estate was purchased by its current owner. Dermot has spent sixteen years at Wiston as Chief Winemaker, and during that time he has established himself as certainly one of the three best known winemakers in the UK, alongside developing his own brand, Sugrue South Downs.

The whole setup at Wiston has benefited from a lot of investment recently. This is not restricted to the winery, but equally into wine tourism. Although the new Chalk Restaurant is set in a very newly landscaped part of the site, some young vines planted but quite a bit of asphalt, from the breakfast I ate in a beautifully restored old Sussex barn, I’d say it’s well worth a visit. Next door is the tasting room and shop (where alongside the wines, and Wiston Gin, you can also buy the excellent coffee served in the restaurant, roasted by a not-for-profit company which works towards helping homeless people through various projects).

Chalk Restaurant at Wiston Estate

Our morning tasting comprised seven cuvées, three being non-vintage and four vintage. Pricing at Wiston has not yet reached the more speculative levels of some of the larger English producers, and you can still buy a very good classic NV and Rosé for under £30 here.

The tasting notes are brief because, let’s face it, TNs are dull, but I hope there’s enough to describe what the wine is like.

WISTON CUVÉE NV

Wiston’s house wine, a blend of all three “Champagne” varieties with judicious use of reserve wines from a perpetual reserve covering all vintages back to (I think) 2008, with just 2013 missing. It has that classic English apple freshness, linear, crisp and definitely chalky. It’s nice to try the entry level wine to the range and to taste something of the terroir from which it comes. £28.99.

WISTON VINTAGE 2017

This sees barrel ageing, but old barrels so there’s not really any direct sign of oak, but the ageing medium does give this cuvée a nice roundness. You can definitely see that. There’s also a textural note. The grape mix in the blend is 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Meunier, but you definitely get a fresh bready/brioche note which raises it above the non-vintage. It’s a wine with a nice savoury touch, and with further ageing potential. £38.99.

BLANC DE BLANCS NV

This cuvée is absolutely recognisable as a BdeB. Pale, deep, Chardonnay fruit on the nose. The base was the excellent 2018 vintage. The palate is really interesting with herbs and some exotic fruit (mango, peach) and candied citrus peel. This is not the best wine in the range, but it is almost certainly the best value. It over delivers on its £36 retail price.

BLANC DE NOIR 2014

The vintage BdeN has an astonishing bouquet of cherries, in fact cherry bakewell. I’ve never quite smelt anything like it on a sparkling wine and I love it. It has some blackcurrant in there too, and that comes in on the palate as well as the bouquet. It has a massive personality, but don’t think that means it lacks elegance. Nor structure. But it has a nice amount of age on it as well. I brought some BdeB home with me but I truly regret not grabbing a bottle of this as well (£56).

ROSÉ 2014

The vintage Rosé is a very pale salmon pink colour. The blend is 68% PN, 22% Meunier and 10% Ch. The fruit is very fine, carried along on an elegant line and length. It’s in the red fruits – pomegranate and cranberry spectrum. Added complexity comes with a touch of spice on the finish. It sets off the sweetly ripe fruit nicely. The gorgeous acids finish it off, a balanced, very impressive pink sparkling wine. £38.99. No photo (oops!).

ROSÉ NV

The non-vintage Rosé is a much deeper pink. This wine is a total contrast to the 2014 vintage wine. Although overall it’s a much simpler wine, it’s very much more suited to pleasing a crowd outdoors in summer, assisted of course by the lower retail price. The fresh fruit explodes on the palate. Horses for courses. Whilst the vintage Rosé will appeal to the serious wine lover, who will pay the premium for what is much more than a very good example of the genre, this version provides great value for money. £28.99.

WISTON BLANC DE BLANCS 2015

This is the just-released vintage Chardonnay cuvée. It has an elegant, fragrant, bouquet with complex spices and an intense perfume. One of the ladies in the tasting room suggested it has a bouquet similar to “cologne”. It really does, but in a subtle way, not the overpowering smell you might be more au-fait with when thinking of that scent. Dosage at Wiston is generally in the range of 6-8g/l, and this wine has 8g dosage, but it does taste drier to me right now. It is a wine in its youth, with a way to go before it reaches full maturity. Perhaps that’s more just me and the way I like to drink my traditional method sparklers, and I can’t help but think that most will be drunk soon after purchase. Fair enough, but a shame. It’s very good right now, don’t get me wrong, but it will get even better. £45.99.

Some cuvées will be available in magnums from time to time.

DERMOT

As I said in my intro, Dermot Sugrue has been at the helm at Wiston for round about sixteen years. During that time, he’s developed a reputation few can match in English winemaking. There are brands which are perhaps better known by the general public, but Wiston undoubtedly makes exceptional wines. Pricing here, whilst having seen rises which reflect inflation, is not as speculative as many, especially true of the top cuvées. I’ve included a few prices in the notes above, for reference, from local Sussex independent retailer Butlers Wine Cellar, which always carries an exceptional range of English Sparkling Wines.

Dermot

It seems the time has come for Dermot to move on. His own label, Sugrue South Downs, goes from strength to strength (awarded Boutique Producer at the WineGB Awards in both 2020 and 2021). Dermot currently makes four cuvées. The range starts with “The Trouble with Dreams”, the flagship as Dermot calls it (current vintage release 2017), a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (60:40) with 7,700 bottles from the vintage. This was my first introduction to Sugrue, and I still have a single bottle of the 2010 vintage awaiting an appropriate occasion to open it, perhaps alongside some of Peter Hall’s 2010s from Breaky Bottom.

Cuvée Boz” is a Blanc de Blancs named after Dermot’s brother. The Chardonnay comes from Jenkyn Place Vineyard in Hampshire and the wine won a Trophy at the 2021 WineGB Awards. Next is “#ZODO”, a zero-dosage multi-vintage blend with a 2014 base and reserves from 2009 and 2011. Retail is £59-£62 for both.

Top of the range is the oak-aged “Cuvée Brendan O’Regan”, named in honour of Dermot’s uncle. It has the same proportion of Chardonnay versus Pinot Noir as “Dreams”, but the selection creates a wine “beautiful to enjoy now”, yet one to cellar for a decade if you are going to let go of £95 (though in a gift box with free delivery if purchased from the web site, www.sugruesouthdowns.com ).

I haven’t tasted these current releases, but there are some pretty reliable notes on the web site from Neal Martin.

Dermot is currently securing premises and equipment (tanks and a press, he’s going for a Vaslin Bucher membrane press), which ideally will be close to his Mount Harry vineyard between Lewes and Plumpton. To this he can add the grapes from his original leased site near Storrington, planted in 2006 for a monastic order, from where his Trouble with Dreams has been created.

Finally, there’s a new site of about of five hectares just inside Hampshire, mostly Chardonnay on chalk but also planted with a little block of thirty-year-old Bacchus, which Dermot is quite excited about trying to make something with. The initial production for Sugrue-Pierre, as it was known, was around 5,000 bottles, which rapidly increased to 11,000 bottles. But Dermot feels, justifiably, that he can increase this further without losing the boutique feel to these hand-crafted wines.

Dermot is a man on a mission when it comes to terroir, and creating wines which aim to illustrate their place. He realised very early on that the Storrington vineyard was pretty special, as I can attest from tasting the early vintages of “Dreams”. Mount Harry likewise. He should now have the opportunity to show that site’s character, perhaps through a site-specific Blanc de Blancs.

The wines Dermot has thus far made under his own label have been astonishing, very much in the high-quality artisan frame. That said, the wines have up until now been made in the shared space of Wiston, and with a good dollop of his grapes being sold to Wiston as well. With a 100% focus on Sugrue South Downs (plus a little consultancy work) the future is exciting. I think most people would agree that it is probably the most exciting development in English Wine this year.

Which seems a good note to end on. I had a thoroughly satisfying morning at Wiston Estate, the breakfast in the new Chalk Restaurant being as enjoyable as the tasting (not least for the company). Wiston has a new winemaker in place to take over after the 2022 vintage and carry on Dermot’s good work, and he will be around and on hand, at arms-length, to offer support. But he now has a brave new adventure to pursue. We can only wish him well, but I’m sure that a winemaker of his calibre will advance English wine even further when he is fully focused on his own label.

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Recent Wines March 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Continuing swiftly into Part 2 of the wines we most enjoyed at home during March, we begin with a gorgeous Crémant du Jura, then a long-time friend from Burgenland, my first taste of a natural wine producer from Alsace, a long-sought Bugey-Cerdon, Tim Phillips’s immaculate Hampshire Cider and a white from a relatively new German producer I’m beginning to like a lot. I think we should jump straight in.

CRÉMANT DU JURA 2016, DOMAINE BURONFOSSE (Jura, France)

Peggy and Jean-Pascal Buronfosse farm just four hectares at La Combe, near the famous Southern Jura village of Rotalier, and at St-Laurent-de-Grandvaux. They had the opportunity to start their domaine when one of Rotalier’s old-timers took a shine to what Peggy wanted to achieve and allowed them to take over his vines. That was more than twenty years ago. They now have an Ecocert accredited domaine, making a lovely range of wines, but I shamefully have to admit that having sought out many of their bottles in the region, this was the first time I’d drunk their Crémant.

Peggy had a lot of encouragement from near neighbour Jean-François Ganevat, and this has influenced the couple to concentrate on white wines, as is common in Jura’s Sud-Revermont…though I must say that in my opinion their reds are no less good. This particular vintage of the Crémant blends a little Savagnin into what was always a pure Chardonnay cuvée (I am told).

Bottle age has matured it into a delicious wine of depth, but one which also seems to mirror the vivacity of its maker. This really is good. It’s not just “drinking the stars”, it’s drinking the whole damned Milky Way. It’s not cheap (for Crémant du Jura) at £39/bottle retail, but I have to admit I’m very tempted to buy some more. Trouble is, production is small and demand is great. It’s one of those domaines you might find more easily in New York or Tokyo, but Buronfosse comes into the UK through Raeburns. My bottle came from The Solent Cellar, one of the most astute purchasers/retailers of Jura wines in the country.

BLAUFRÄNKISCH RIED KULM 2017, HEIDI SCHRÖCK (Burgenland, Austria)

I visited Heidi Schröck when I spent a few days in Rust, back in 2015 (which is way too long ago…definitely would have been back but for Covid). I had appreciated her wines for a few years, but meeting her I realised just what a wonderful human being she is. This always enhances my love of the wines.

Heidi lives and works on the edge of the town’s chocolate box main square, where she will receive visitors by appointment. She’s been in charge of the family’s vines since 1983. Those vines total around ten hectares on the gentle slopes angled towards the shallow reed beds of the Neusiedlersee’s western shore. The domaine produces a wide range of wines, from single varietals, both red and white, up to complex Ruster-Ausbrüch stickies. Her red wines are most often from soils on limestone, which here produce classic Blaufränkisch.

This single vineyard cuvée was aged in wood. We get deep scented cherries on the bouquet and palate too, a little structure, but the tannins have smoothed out just enough to make this 2017 in a nice place for drinking (but it will keep longer if you insist). There is always something mineral about the variety from this location, both on the nose as well as the palate, where it gives an earthy edge here to the quite concentrated fruit.

This bottle came via Lay & Wheeler, though in the past I have bought it several times direct from Alpine Wines.

L’INDIGÈNE 2020, DOMAINE BOHN (Alsace, France)

Bernard and Arthur Bohn, father and son respectively, have nine hectares of vines on Precambrian schist, slate and shale at Reichsfeld and on sandstone and volcanic soils at Nothalten. We are in the Bas Rhin here, just a little to the south of Andlau and Mittelbergheim, in what has become perhaps the golden triangle of Alsace natural winemaking. This is a three-centuries-old family domaine, but it was Arthur’s arrival on the team in 2010 which saw the move to low-input viticulture, including the rejection of any added sulphur, along with a predilection for skin contact.

Arthur is also (far from alone in Alsace in this respect) interested in pursuing the no-till practices of Masanobu Fukuoka (see my article on Fukuoka’s “One Straw Revolution” on this site, August 2021). Both father and son very much see themselves as conservationists as well as farmers.

L’Indigène is made from 70-y-o Sylvaner coming two-thirds off the Reichsfeld schist and a third from that Nothalten sandstone. The skin contact here is a fairly significant five weeks, after which they remove the dry top of the cap before gentle pressing into foudre. The result is an equally gentle bronze colour with a bouquet of apricot and soft apple. The palate is super-refreshing, with more of the apricot plus a little almost peppery spice. There’s a bit of apple skin too and a little bit of tannic texture.

It doesn’t really help when I say that this was exceptional. I grabbed it off the top shelf at Winemakers Club the second I saw it, sitting all lonely on its own. Now it’s all gone. Domaine Bohn is brought to the UK by Vine Trail, who I sadly have to say is one of the very few importers who really get Alsace (pet beef here), certainly the exciting new wines coming out of the region.

BUGEY-CERDON 2019, RENARDÂT-FACHE (Bugey, France)

Bugey is one of those few remaining parts of France viticole that could still truly be described as a sleepy rural idyll. The vineyards sit south of the Jura region, of which those of the Cerdon cru are an extension, on a vague line between Bourg-en-Bresse and Geneva. They are within France’s first department, Ain. The Bugey vineyards are split, north and south. The southern sector includes the crus of Montagnieu and Manicle and many wines are based on traditional Savoie varieties. Bugey-Cerdon sits in the northern section of the appellation, just south of the rather impressive tunnels and vast concrete supports of the aptly named A40 “Autoroute des Titans”, which I have driven along many times, bound for Geneva.

As Wink Lorch points out (Wines of the French Alps, 2019), Renardat-Fâche is the most internationally known producer (exported to 12 countries, she says) of a wine which many, I guess, might think old-fashioned and even obsolete. Yet it isn’t. Not remotely. It is a wine whose time has come. Cerdon is an Ancestral Method light sparkler which ends its fermentation leaving the wine with some residual sugar and low alcohol.

Current winemaker Elie is passionate about Poulsard. These days much Cerdon is made from just Gamay, as in fact is the Renardat-Fâche negociant bottling (they buy in about 20% of grapes used), which also contains fruit from their young vines. This domaine bottling (black label) usually contains around 30% Poulsard. In 2019 I think the Poulsard quota went up to 42%.

Viticulture has always been organic, and Elie is using some elements of biodynamics too. The one thing holding him back from full conversion is the rain they get. Vinification starts with a maceration/soak of some of the grapes, to get the pale colour from the skins. Just a few hours are enough. Local yeasts get the fermentation in bottle started, and unlike in Champagne, the bottles are left standing up, not laid down. A lot of local quality producers swear by this, saying that it starts the fermentation more slowly and leads to finer bubbles. Elie is unusual, however, in that since 2020 (ie the vintage after this) he has begun to blend vintages for consistency.

The wine is light pink in colour, very fresh and fruity, light on the palate and frankly delicious. The red fruit dances on the tongue. It’s hard to think of a better wine to drink at lunch, outdoors in the middle of a hot summer, or with cake for afternoon tea. This is not one of the sweeter versions of Bugey-Cerdon, being more off-dry rather than semi-sweet. The acids set off the sugar remaining from a ferment where just 8% abv is achieved. The received wisdom is to drink these within a year of release, but this is still fresh and rather lovely. I have another bottle, which I’m hoping to add to next week.

Domaine Renardat-Fâche is at Mérignat (115 rue de la Balmette). The village is close to the autoroute, and you will also find there the domaines of Raphaël Bartucci and Balivet (the latter whose wines you may have seen me write about here on a number of occasions). According to Wink Lorch’s book, all three accept visitors by appointment. After trying to track down this particular wine for at least two years Solent Cellar kindly ordered some in for me. Raeburn is, as with Buronfosse above, the UK importer. Perhaps I need to pay them a bit closer attention!

“PERFECT STRANGERS” ARTISAN CIDER BRUT NATURE, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, England)

Charlie Herring is the domaine name for Tim Phillips, who makes tiny quantities of highly sought-after wines from a walled vineyard (Clos du Paradis) in Hampshire, just west of Lymington. To supplement his small grape production Tim is fortunate to own an orchard next door. There is generally more cider to satisfy his expectant customers than wine, so it is fortunate that his cider is excellent as well.

Tim made wine in South Africa before he returned to the UK. He still has mature stocks of his red wines made there (some are available from Littlewine and are well worth checking out). A friend of Tim’s, Tom Shobbrook, makes a cider/red wine blend in Australia near Seppeltfield. I don’t know whether this provided any inspiration for Tim, but his “Perfect Strangers” cider (clue in the name) is made with the addition of a small dose of Tim’s South African Shiraz. It gives the cider both colour and a wine-like flavour. Something different but something special.

The addition of red wine also has the effect of making this fine-bubbled drink quite like a petnat in some respects, as much as it also has the apple-freshness that signals it is cider. There’s vibrant ripe apple fruit, which also adds the acids of a good dry cider. This combines with winey red fruits on the nose to at first confuse before satisfying. Makes you think as well as taste. This bottle is a 2017 vintage, disgorged November 2020. It tastes just made yesterday.

I buy this cider regularly, so I’m sure a good few readers will have seen me write about it before. I make no apology for writing about it again. I usually buy my bottles direct from Tim, but they are sometimes available, until they sell out, from Les Caves de Pyrene, and at Tim’s local indie wine shop, Solent Cellar in Lymington (around £18). Tim will be at Tobacco Dock for The Real Wine Fair in late May. His bottles (especially the wines) are so rare that this may afford the best chance of trying his range. He should have a new still pink cider to show alongside some wines. There’s rarely a bottle left of most of the wines within a week of release in most vintages. The recent release of his famous sparkling Riesling was distributed by single bottle lottery. Tim has a very devoted following.

“BLANC” 2019, MAX SEIN WEIN (Franconia, Germany)

Max Baumann is a talented new name working vines at Wertheim-Dertingen, in Württemberg/Franconia, southeast of Stuttgart. It’s not exactly somewhere you will find on most vineyard maps of Germany. Coming from a winemaking family of several generations, Max travelled to make wine in New Zealand, but slightly closer to home he worked with Judith Beck and Gut Oggau, both in Burgenland, Austria. He has several varieties planted on a small 3.5-ha estate. Some are from vines over sixty years of age, almost all on limestone (around 5% on red sandstone).

“Blanc” blends three of Max’s white varieties, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner and Gewürztraminer. His methods are described as organic, but he uses no additives and this wine is made without any added sulphur. The MT is 50% fermented on skins for ten days and the rest is direct pressed with the Silvaner. The Gewürztraminer is then added in. Fermentation is mostly in old oak, around 10% in stainless steel.

The nose manages to confuse a little initially, but in a complex way. It starts out quite herbal, savoury, and then the Gewürz spice comes through, and with it a richness of tone and a bit more roundness. The palate is deliciously savoury too, but it’s also very zingy with apple freshness. On the finish I am sure I was getting ginger. I’ve become something of a fan of Max’s wines and I am also impressed with what he manages to do with Pinot Meunier in a still red.

This wine is still available (at the time of looking) at Basket Press Wines, £25.

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Recent Wines March 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

March already seems an age away. I’m late with my “Recent Wines” articles, in part because of the Vineyards of Hampshire piece, but we’ve also got builders in so we’re a bit upside down. There are only a dozen wines to write about but even that is perhaps a bit much for one sitting, so I’ll still publish two articles as usual this month, just six wines in each.

We shall go to Burgundy for Aligoté to start Part 1, then Piemonte, Kakheti, Rheinhessen, Bonnezeaux and North Canterbury. That includes famous names (De Moor, Rinaldi and Keller), an unknown (Nika Winery) plus two stunning wines, one a dry Loire Chenin and the other, a five-variety blend from my favourite producer in NZ.

BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ 2019, ALICE & OLIVIER DE MOOR (Burgundy, France)

I don’t buy a great deal of Burgundy these days on account of the prices but I have not yet gone a vintage without buying a few bottles of Alice and Olivier De Moor’s wines, whether that be Chablis or their Aligotés, which I think count among the best in the wider region. Of course, the De Moors make their exceptionally rare “Plantation 1902”, which of necessity must be saved for a special occasion, but this, their “straight” Aligoté, is usually available, at least a bottle or three, for a month or two after release.

Aligoté is not what it was…for which we can be thankful. It was often pretty acidic. This meant that from lesser producers it was consigned to making Kir. From the top producers it generally needed long ageing so that the acid levels, somewhat similar to those found in my home made Frühburgunder on bottling, could soften just a little. Burgundy has seen something of an Aligoté revival, about which I have written in the past, and some growers have proved the variety is capable of so much more than a base for blackcurrant liqueur.

There is 13.5% alcohol in this wine, which helps give it both weight and presence, although we do have perfect balance because Aligoté will always have a degree of acidity. At approaching three years old it is in a nice place. If you believe that terroir trumps variety, then this wine will help prove that point. It tastes like a prehistoric seabed of marine fossils, and it smells almost chalky too, like oyster shell (washed, of course) with a twist of lemon. It also has a touch of viscosity which you don’t often get with Aligoté. But if one descriptor leaps out, you guessed it, salinity! It coats the whole palate. The salinity and fruit come together in something actually quite sensual. A beguiling wine, as always.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

DOLCETTO D’ALBA “ROUSSOT” 2020, FRANCESCO RINALDI (Piemonte, Italy)

This Alba producer is naturally famed for their Barolo wines, but they have a fairly good distribution for wines made from the so-called lesser varieties of the Langhe. I say “so-called” because as any lover of the region knows, you buy your Barolo to drink in the next life and your Barbera and Dolcetto to drink in this one. Although there is some nice wine labelled as Nebbiolo d’Alba, you can often get more satisfaction from the other traditional varieties, especially with food.

“Roussot” is a traditional wine from a traditional producer, but having the Rinaldi name attached, it is no mere afterthought to fill a gap in the range. It is fermented in stainless steel to retain the fruit freshness that the best Dolcetto has. No pimping-up with wood or anything. It goes through its malolactic whilst there, and then into bottle. The fruit is indeed fresh, and crunchy, balanced with violet and other floral notes on the nose. The finish is that classic mix of bitter-sweet red and dark fruits.

This 2020 might actually improve in bottle but I’d say don’t bother, it’s not the point. Enjoy it now. It’s delicious, and £18 isn’t too much to pay for a versatile wine like this. Fusilli with pesto, chopped tomatoes, garlic, salad onions and some baby spinach and we’re away.

This was purchased at Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton.

“DATO NOAH” 2020, NIKA WINERY (Kakheti, Georgia)

In February we drank a red wine from Nika Winery, my first from this little-known producer in Georgia’s eastern province of Kakheti. This wine also comes from the same stony Tsaraphi vineyard as that red. It’s in the Alazani Valley and is one of eight smallish plots farmed by artist and sculptor Nika Bakhia and his wife. They have all been farmed organically from the start (2006) and it is doubtful these old vines had ever seen chemical inputs. Winemaking uses the traditional qvevri vessels for fermentation and ageing.

Dato Noah references Nika’s nephews, David and Noah. It’s a single varietal Rkatsiteli. Out of the qvevri it is a glistening bronze colour, certainly darker than many skin contact wines. The bouquet is at first sweet apricot and (yes) rust. It has an earthy nose and texture which immediately reminded me of my first taste of COS Frappato all those years ago.

The palate adds honey but also tannin from the skins. Unfiltered, it’s a wine that is broad-shouldered, carried by its 14.5% alcohol. It’s a complex wine, not at first easy to understand on tasting on its own, I think, but it excels with food. It does evolve, both the bouquet and on the palate, over time in a nice big glass, and not too chilled.

Nika Winery is a recent addition to the Basket Press Wines portfolio. Credit to those guys for being adventurous. There was a time when Georgia was left to Les Caves, so it’s good to see others joining the party.

WEIßER BURGUNDER & CHARDONNAY 2019, KELLER (Rheinhessen, Germany)

This is another wine from a famous, classic, producer which deviates from their most expensive and sought-after wines. In this case, Klaus Peter Keller is well known for making wines towards the bottom of his range which are almost every bit as good as the top wines. Well, if that’s a slight exaggeration, it’s not that far off the mark. They certainly represent amazing value. The demand for the top wines of Rheinhessen’s most famous son is such that even those who can afford them can’t always purchase them. But if you want Keller Silvaners, Weisserburgunder, or indeed this blend, you can usually get hold of them and astute drinkers do just that.

Weißer Burgunder is a bit of a speciality at this Florsheim-Dalsheim address anyway, and KP has always been adept at getting the best from it, but I think many people are surprised to find Chardonnay here. They go well together. Felix Keller has coaxed orchard fruits (apple and pear) from grapes vinified swiftly after picking. The terroir is, I’m told, what adds the lick of salinity. At the moment the wine has a very appealing zippy freshness, but if kept a while it will evolve a more creamy texture and will last at least five years. Not that I could ever buy enough to keep any that long.

Purchased from The Solent Cellar (£28), according to their web site they have just half-a-dozen left. You could also try Howard Ripley.

“FRIMAS” 2019, CHÂTEAU DE BONNEZEAUX (Loire, France)

The grape variety we all complain no one drinks enough of is Riesling. Well, it’s probably my favourite variety and I drink plenty. What I don’t drink enough of, a variety equally capable of greatness, is Chenin Blanc. This is a wine which has emphatically reminded me of that fact.

I do remember the old sweet wines of the Château de Bonnezeaux from back when I had just begun to appreciate wine. It appears that the vineyards fell out of production for about three decades until a younger member of the family, Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie, along with her uncle, revived them. But with one big difference. Bonnezeaux, the appellation, is for sweet wines, and Guyonne is making biodynamic dry Chenin Blanc, so this is labelled Vin de France.

Frimas comes from parcels close to the château itself, but some purchased fruit was used in this 2019 because the frost-affected crop was tiny. It is therefore technically a negociant wine. The vines are on schist slopes and were hand-harvested. Fermentation used natural indigenous yeasts and the grapes were basket-pressed very gently. After spending 12 months in oak the wine was, however, lightly filtered before bottling, with a small addition of sulphur.

The bouquet is classic Chenin, certainly identifiable by those who know the variety. The confit lemon and honey of the bouquet is replicated on the palate along with a touch of pear. The wine is dry, but there’s a definite richness, accentuated by the lovely balanced 13.5% alcohol, and seen in the notable legs on the side of the glass. It’s a lovely honey colour too. This wine has so much. It’s fairly rare but it was only £30, again at The Solent Cellar, and came as a recommendation from Simon Smith. Of all the wines so far drunk in 2022, this one surprised me the most. I’d never heard of it. Now it’s all over social media. I’m very glad I once again trusted his recommendation. A lovely wine. Must…drink…more…Chenin!

FIELD BLEND 2018 “SKIN FERMENTATION”, THE HERMIT RAM (North Canterbury, New Zealand)

Theo Coles makes quite remarkable wines from the Limestone Hills Vineyard in North Canterbury, on New Zealand’s South Island. They are so far removed from what most people experience as New Zealand wines, and yet they are full of excitement, even if that sometimes takes them close to the edge. I’ve only met Theo a couple of times and can’t say I know him, and yet through his wines he seems to come closest to a couple of other producers I revere, Julie Balagny and Alice Bouvot.

Since he began making wine here in 2012, Theo has used zero additives and the wines are all gently matured in old oak. The field blend here contains Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewurztraminer, all old vines within the North Canterbury context. The (red) juice sees six weeks on skins after which it is pressed into very old barrels where it goes through its malolactic. Then it’s bottled with no fining, no filtration and no additions of sulphur.

The aromatics are lovely, quite exotic (maybe a touch of the Gewurz coming through?) but mostly of bright red fruits. I don’t know the percentages, but on the palate this does have a bit of Pinot Noir character. If the nose is intoxicating then the palate escapes like a jack-in-the-box with fresh red fruits riding on a wave of concentrated fruit acids. Delicious.

Uncharted Wines imports Hermit Ram, but you will also possibly find their wines at Littlewine, where I grabbed this. The 2020 vintage is currently on special offer on their web site, priced at £22 (£3 off). If you want to try an edgy NZ natural wine, it’s a bargain, though approach with caution if you like your NZ reds in a more classical style.

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Vineyards of Hampshire 2022

It was a little over two years ago that I was at 67 Pall Mall for the last Vineyards of Hampshire Press and Trade Tasting. It was nice to see some old friends among those exhibiting, and to taste the first wine from their newest member, Louis Pommery England. Below you will find some notes on the wines shown from nine exhibitors. I’ve tried to avoid being expansive on all of the wines, bearing in mind that producers showed up to seven wines in one case. Pommery currently has only one.

The vineyards represented are pretty much situated in the eastern half of the county, all of them (near enough) to the east of a line drawn between Southampton and Andover. The terroirs vary but the common factor is chalk. Raimes has some greensand, I believe, but the rest of the producers are on chalk. However, this is not all it seems, because the larger producers will source fruit from contract growers. Hattingley sources grapes from Sussex and Kent, plus a little from Essex, Buckinghamshire and even Suffolk, to supplement its own ten hectares, plus grapes from contract growers within Hampshire. It is reassuring that their still Pinot Noir red wine comes from sand and clay in Kent, rather than their own very fine but probably unsuitable Hampshire chalk.

BLACK CHALK

Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver make a powerful team at Black Chalk. Leadley was an experienced winemaker at Hattingley when he started his own production what was only a few years ago. Zoë Driver came on board as assistant winemaker following studies at Plumpton, but I have a suspicion she has a very bright future. The pair are the definition of dynamic, though Jacob comes across as the least extrovert of the two. I remember being pulled over to taste the first vintage at a Red Squirrel (now Graft Wine) tasting and being blown away by how good the wines were. I can honestly say that they have only got better.

Black Chalk’s Test Valley wines are not the only things which have come on since that tasting in September 2018. They have managed to build their own winery, and have just opened a new tasting room to give visitors an experience worthy of the wines.

My first sip of the day was the Classic Brut 2018 (II), a blend of 58% Chardonnay, 32% Pinot Meunier and 10% Pinot Noir. The hallmark of Black Chalk sparklers is freshness, poise, and a focussed spine of acidity. This is lovely. Wild Rose 2018 (II) shown here is, as with the Classic, a second bottling from the vintage. It underwent more malolactic than the first bottling (around 90% of the wine). There are frankly few English Sparkling Rosé wines which can compete with this. Stylistically it’s a little softer than the first release from 2018, but it really is packed with red fruits which fill the mouth. It’s a personal pink favourite, though at £40 it isn’t priced for my frequent purchase. Others may be luckier.

I’ve mentioned acidity and I should qualify this by saying that the balance in both of these wines is excellent. It creates a certain tension on the palate. Some English sparkling wines may be more easy-going, and this is undoubtably true where some estates (I’m not necessarily thinking within Hampshire here) make a “classic cuvée” alongside a reserve. The Black Chalk wines might not have wide commercial appeal for the cellar gate coach parties. They are wines for those who seek a thrill, not exclusively for connoisseurs, but wines which will certainly appeal to that kind of clientele. I’m not sure whether Jacob would agree, but the observation is intended very much as a compliment, nevertheless.

We can’t leave without mentioning Dancer in Pink. This is their still Rosé, 2021 being the just-released second vintage. A blend of Pinots Noir and Précose (aka Frühburgunder), with around 16% Pinot Gris. The PG adds a nice touch to the aromatics and although this is perhaps a more easy-going addition to the Black Chalk portfolio, it’s an essential purchase for summer drinking (and I think a permanent fixture). At a RRP of £19 it is also cracking value compared to the more speculative pricing of some English still wines.

COTTONWORTH

Cottonworth is the English estate of the Liddell family. Run by Hugh Liddell and his wife, they are now living in Saint-Aubin in Burgundy, making Chardonnay wines from vines there and in Chassagne, whilst continuing to run their 30-acre English estate. Cottonworth, like Black Chalk, is based in the exceptional Test Valley, between Stockbridge and Andover.

We had three sparkling wines to taste from Cottonworth. The Classic Cuvée is based around just over 50% Chardonnay with 35% Pinot Noir and a touch of ripe Meunier. It’s a softer style than the Black Chalk, but I like variety and Cottonworth is also a producer whose wines I’ve purchased with some regularity. They also generally come in ever so slightly cheaper than Black Chalk. I’d say it has mouth-filling soft brioche developing and ripe fruit on the palate.

The Cottonworth Blanc de Blancs 2014 is, of course, 100% Chardonnay. After four years on lees this is lovely, and quite impressive. Of course, the price leap is £12 (this has a RRP of £45), but you expect that for the extra age and the quality warrants it.

The Sparkling Rosé is very pale and delicate. It shows vibrant, lifted, red fruits, based on a blend of 51% Pinot Noir, a little less Meunier and a dash of PNP (Précose). Cottonworth benefits from warm, south-facing, slopes, but the fruit balances ripeness and freshness to retain elegance, which kind of goes with the wine’s lovely pale colour.

DANEBURY

Danebury is the third of our Hampshire vineyards situated near Stockbridge. The vines were planted in the old paddocks of what was a racecourse back in the 19th century, and their single sparkling wine is named after a famous local racehorse which won the 1847 Epsom Derby, and whose painting is hung in the family house. Danebury is a small estate, making wines for the past twenty years, from its own vineyards, but it is open to visitors on set open days and for afternoon teas.

Before tasting the sparkling wine, I got to try the latest vintages of the still wines. Unique among the exhibitors, Danebury has some of what I call England’s “traditional” grape varieties, by which I mean those varieties planted in the earlier days of the industry, before the so-called Champagne varieties became popular and viable.

There is a single varietal Madeleine Angevine 2020, a Schönburger 2021, and a Reserve 2020. Of the three I have a kind of nostalgic preference for the Madeleine. It has a fresh apple acidity but also a softness to it. The Schönburger is more floral, with some pear and grapefruit. The Reserve blends those two varieties (30% each) with 40% Auxerrois to create something with a bit more complexity, if slightly less defined in terms of varietal character.

The Cossack Brut Vintage 2018 is 95% Auxerrois (once considered a clone of Pinot Blanc, with which it is often blended in Alsace), to which they have added just 5% Pinot Gris. It had three years on lees and has a nice freshness to it.

I do like the Danebury sparkler, but I am always intrigued by their Schönburger, and especially the Madeleine Angevine. These still wines have a remarkably low retail price of around £12 (the Reserve is only a pound more). They are not the finest still wines made in England, perhaps, but they are very well-made examples of a product from what seems almost a different age of English viticulture. If you can find them. It’s definitely worth seeking out some of England’s smaller producers.

EXTON PARK

This has always been an impressive producer, no doubt in large part down to their impressive winemaker, Corinne Seely. Corinne has made wine in Bordeaux, at Lynch-Bages and Domaine de Chevalier, no less, although perhaps her experience in Portugal and Australia helped engender an outlook which led her to become head winemaker here on the edge of the South Downs, at Exton, east of Winchester and Southampton.

The vineyards here, all 24 ha (60 acres), are quite high and exposed, with in places frighteningly little topsoil over the chalk. Corinne retains the intensity of the fruit by ensuring it reaches the press, located in the heart of the vineyard as is often the case in Champagne, within around five minutes of picking.

The truly exciting development at Exton Park since I last tasted their wines is the signature “Reserve Blend” range. Each of the four wines tasted has the letters RB followed by a number indicating the number of reserve wines in the blend. There is now a ten-year library of reserves which Corinne built up in order to be able to create consistent quality over time. This allows the team to draw on perhaps the most sophisticated range of wines in England with which to build each cuvée.

Exton Park RB28 Brut is a Blanc de Noirs, 100% PN, showing glorious red fruits to the fore, both in the aromatics and on the palate. Whilst quite rich, and very mouth-filling, the acids are nicely judged.

Exton Park RB32 Brut (60:40 Ch and PN) has had a majestic five years on lees and 7g/l dosage with no malo. Long, mouth-filling, delicious. A wine of precision but also with a bit of weight.

Exton Park Rosé RB23 (70% PN, 30% Meunier) had three years on lees. The colour is pale, but not extremely so. The colour comes from a very gentle nine-hour press. The red fruits are super ripe and this is a lovely vibrant wine.

Exton Park RB45 is the top of the range so-to-speak, as denoted by the number of different reserves which make up the blend. This is a Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay. It’s made from only reserves, no current vintage, and lees ageing is for four years. The dosage is 9g/l. The bouquet immediately shows great depth, something you get on the palate too. A combination of the lees ageing of Chardonnay, but also from the fact that 25% of the blend saw wood.

This wine has a RRP of just under £50. I would suggest that at this level of quality and even greater complexity with a little more ageing, that is in fact something of a bargain. Especially as some English producers are getting quite ambitious with their current pricing of top cuvées. Just my opinion.

As a postscript, some readers will, like me, have a bit of a thing for Corinne’s occasional Pinot Meunier Rosé cuvée. I understand that another one may be on the way. Look out for it.

THE GRANGE

Burge’s Field, a 30-acre vineyard, was planted in 2011 overlooking the River Itchen, six miles east of Winchester. The topsoil is a thin layer of gravelly clay, beneath which is a very deep layer of pure Cretaceous chalk. This is the estate, known as The Grange, was founded by a banker, the late John Ashburton and is now run by his children. They have their own dedicated vineyard team on site, but the wines are made at Hattingley, overseen by Chief Winemaker and Hattingley Director, Emma Rice.

There are two wines in the range here. Classic Cuvée is a non-vintage blend of Chardonnay (50%) with 28% Meunier and the remainder PN, and 13% being reserve wines added to (in this case) the 2017 vintage. The reserve wines come from a solera/perpetual reserve. 18% of the wine sees fourth fill oak and only 40% went through malo. Lees ageing was 37 months and dosage 8g/l. It’s a softer style in some ways (despite only partial malolactic), but a nicely put together wine with wide appeal without appearing at all “commercial”.

The Pink NV is mostly comprised fruit from the 2017 vintage, a fairly even blend of Meunier with just a touch more Pinot Noir. This also saw 37 months on lees and was dosed slightly lower, at 7g/l. It shows nice fresh acidity and it also has a very interesting savoury note adding complexity above and beyond the red fruits. There’s also a little texture. Very nice.

Although this is a producer who does not yet have its own winery, the wines are immaculately made in their own style. They have won lots of awards, both in the UK and internationally, pretty impressive for a very new producer.

HAMBLEDON

Hambledon is one of the great names of English wine. Not only was the village the birthplace of cricket, but of more relevance to us, it was where Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones planted the first English commercial vineyard of what we should call the modern era, in 1975. Today the man behind Hambledon is biochemist Ian Kellett, who has some persuasive views as to why this site, southeast-facing towards the gentle morning sun, on chalk with a high concentration of Belemnite, apparently identical to that at Le Mesnil on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs, is perfect for ripening Champagne varieties.

There are just over 80-ha of vines here, processed in a gravity-fed winery said to be unique in Great Britain, and stored in a cellar dug into the chalk just like Champagne. As at Exton Park, the presses are close enough to the vines to allow minimal time between picking and pressing. The wines produced, three of them, are all different, but when we speak of Le Mesnil, it is true that they all exhibit, to varying degrees, that classic minerality found in wines from the pure chalk of that part of the Côte des Blancs. Rain and, to a large degree wind as well, are mitigated by the presence of the Isle of Wight to the south. All that is required, it seems, is a focus on quality, and we certainly have that, evidenced by the awards garnered in recent years.

Hambledon Classic Cuvée 2016 is based on nearly 60% Chardonnay with around a third Pinot Noir and a sixth Meunier. It spent three years on its lees and is dosed at a more crowd-pleasing 12g/l. The result is a fruit-forward wine with a high degree of accessibility…but it doesn’t lack depth. It’s also a very consistent wine, one which I’ve been happy to order, mostly as an aperitif, in restaurants, knowing it won’t disappoint us.

Classic Cuvée Rosé is made differently from most English pink sparkling wine. The fruit is Chardonnay, to which is blended 10% still wine made from Pinot Noir. In other words, this is what is known in Champagne as a “Rosé d’Assemblage”. The colour comes from the judicial addition of red wine rather than skin contact from red grapes before fermentation. Dosed at 10g/l it is still fresh with a good acid spine, but the red fruit tastes ripe and mouth-filling.

Hambledon Première Cuvée is another of English Sparkling Wine’s bargains (RRP £55). The current version spent 62 months on lees, having been disgorged at the end of May last year (so we have a further ten months post-disgorgement ageing too). Dosage is a low, connoisseur-enticing, 2.5g/l. This is a special wine. I mean, the other two are good, but this…

We have a predominance of Chardonnay (67%) with 11% PN and 22% Meunier. The bouquet is complex, drifting between the aromatics of Chardonnay and the red fruit of the Pinots. There’s a lovely mouthfeel which accentuates the mineral texture with a nice savoury grip on the finish. Something comes through that I thought might be sweet ginger spice.

HATTINGLEY

I have probably recounted the story before of how founder Simon Robinson decided to turn twenty-five acres of his chalky farm over to vines after having seen an item on television about the English wine industry. That was way back in 2000. Today Hattingley is one of English Wine’s major players, down in no small part to their head winemaker Emma Rice. Emma has become one of the three or four big names in the production side of the industry.

Emma may have worked in three New World wine countries (Australia, New Zealand and California in the US) following her studies at Plumpton (graduating in 2006), but apparently, according to Oz Clarke (English Wine, Pavilion, 2020) wine was in her blood from an early age because her mother used to take her grape harvesting as a child. Emma has twice been crowned UK Vineyards Association Winemaker of the Year (2014 and 2016).

Seven Hattingley wines were on taste, and I hope not to do them a disservice in trimming my notes. As well as their current 10.5-ha of vines planted close to the very impressive winery near Arlesford, I have already recounted in my introduction how they also source fruit from far and wide. This has enabled an expansion of the range into still wines. This is surely the next step for the industry here in Britain.

There were three still wines to taste. Still White 2020 is a Chardonnay with a classic varietal bouquet coming in at 12.5% abv. Just less than 15% of the juice has seen oak. It combines crispness and soft fruit and might be described as a clean cool climate Chardonnay. Reserve Chardonnay 2020 is 100% aged in used oak for six months. Interestingly the alcohol is slightly lower, at 12%. It has a richer bouquet and mouthfeel/weight. Nice and smooth on the palate with a little bit of texture. It will probably get even better. Still Red 2020 is made from Pinot Noir sourced off sandy clay in Kent. The grower had, on the request of Hattingley, planted a number of Burgundy clones for this wine. The fruit is ripe, but the wine, at least at this stage, tastes quite primary. It has good Pinot character, though with a RRP of £25 it is worth keeping it a while to see how it ages.

There are four sparklers. The cheapest of them (a good value £32 RRP) is the Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve NV. The blend of this 2015-based cuvée is (I was told) 53% Ch, 31% PN and 15% PM. Not sure what the other 1% is! The lovely bouquet suggests honeysuckle to me. Acids are fresh and it has the depth of some age.

Rosé 2018 (50% PN, 45% PM and 5% PNP, the latter added as a still wine) is pale, elegant, red-fruited, but also very interesting. Because it’s so elegant it has something more to it that it’s difficult to put your finger on. It’s lovely now, but I’d also like to taste it to see what happens after another year of pda. It could become quite ethereal.

Blanc de Blancs 2014 is yet another step up the ladder, but is still well-priced at a little over £40. The longer lees ageing has certainly added complexity but not at the expense of amazing freshness. In some ways this might be the “value” sweet spot in the range, definitely worth the extra tenner, so to speak.

King’s Cuvée 2014 is certainly another step up in quality. In fact, it’s a very impressive wine. It’s also a good step up in price, retailing at around £85. It is made from the best barrels (sic) of the harvest, usually the best five or six. In 2014 the blend of grape varieties was something like 45% PN, 43% Ch and 12% Meunier. The fruit saw 100% wood ageing with disgorgement in June 2020. The PDA shows. There’s so much depth here, and indeed concentration. I’d suggest, however, that good as it may be right now, look at this wine as an investment…which will mature in a number of years. They don’t give an indication of maturity, but knowing how I like to age my Champagnes, I’d be tempted to take a look after four or five years without expecting full maturity. I think it will go longer.

LOUIS POMMERY ENGLAND

We have talked, within the industry, of investors snooping around from Champagne, but there has been less concrete interest than that hyped in the press. Of course, Taittinger has begun to develop its interestingly named Domaine Evremond. And then we have Pommery. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a Champagne-led operation because the impetus for establishing an English vineyard at Pinglestone came in fact from Pommery’s Californian outpost.

Nevertheless, Pommery is the first Champagne brand to get up and running in England, with their estate at Pinglestone producing, so far, just one wine. The vineyards are close to the environmentally significant watercress meadow beds at the confluence of the rivers Itchen and Arle, on white chalk. In recognition of the importance of the location here, they have also achieved “Sustainable Wine of Great Britain” status (as of last year). Measures additional to sustainable viticulture include bee hives situated in the centre of the estate.

There are a significant 30-ha already planted, with a further 10-ha being planted currently. The first harvest was in 2020 when selected bunches were taken. Hattingley has made the first wines. The plan is to build a winery/cuverie but English planning law is not always helpful to those investing in the rural economy.

Louis Pommery England Brut NV is a welcome start from a welcome investor in our industry. It’s a blend of 62% Chardonnay with Pinot Noir and Meunier, with a few bunches of Pinot Gris (I’m not sure whether those actually went into the blend). It’s probably a little early to define the style, which is seemingly quite easy-going with a lot of commercial potential (without any loss of quality). It will be more than interesting to see how this operation develops. This first wine retails currently at an attractive £32.

RAIMES

This is a single estate, producing their own fruit which is converted to wine at Hattingley by Emma Rice. Augusta and Robert Raimes are the fifth generation of the Raimes family to farm the historic Tichborne Estate, near Arlesford, which stretches between the water meadows of the Itchen to the edge of the South Downs National Park outside Winchester. The whole estate is pretty large, 740 hectares, but just 4-ha are planted to vines (Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay).

From these four hectares four wines are produced. There’s a “Classic”, a Blanc de Noirs, a Blanc de Blancs and, most interestingly, a Demi-Sec. The Classic has a 2018 base with only thirty months on lees. Only disgorged in January this year, this three-grape blend is nice and fresh with a savoury touch. The Blanc de Noirs, also 2018, had just 22 months on lees (and consequently longer in bottle after disgorgement) but 5% saw oak and it just had a partial malo. This is super-fresh and zippy.

The Blanc de Blancs 2016 is lovely. It has real character, demonstrably a Chardonnay cuvée, which has really benefitted from its longer (42 month) lees ageing. A slightly larger 17% saw oak and 86% of the wine went through its malolactic. Remarkable value if the £35 RRP is correct.

The final wine of the day was the Raimes Demi-Sec 2017. This is something of a treat in my opinion. The residual sugar registers 34g/l but with 10g/l acidity. The acidity balances the sugar so that the wine actually tastes drier than you might expect, without tasting dry. Again, 42 months on lees and there’s genuine depth here.

I’d rate this more highly than some demi-sec Champagnes I’ve tried, which can occasionally seem to be made to a formula to fit a stylistic hole in the range. It’s also a truly underrated style, and I’d suggest that if you are going to stick your head over the parapet to make one you have to do it well. I think Raimes and Rice have achieved that.

For me, there is just one problem with Raimes and it has nothing to do with quality. It’s availability. There’s not a lot of wine and it is one of the few producers whose wines I absolutely never come across. The wines are reasonably priced in today’s market, although the Demi-Sec at the top end of the price range is £40. But as a regular visitor to the Vineyards of Hampshire Tastings, I think they are getting better every year. I don’t know why, as they use Hattingley’s contract winemaking, which will likely aim for consistency, but it’s just my hunch that they are. Could it be vine age?

This was a very successful tasting. As an excellent innovation this year, Vineyards of Hampshire has put together a mixed six bottle sampler case. There are four sparkling pinks (Exton Park, The Grange, Hattingley and Black Chalk), one white sparkler (Raimes Blanc de Blancs) and Danebury’s aforementioned still white Schönburger. It costs £200 including delivery.

There is also a Vineyards of Hampshire public tasting event, “FizzFest”, this year to be held at Black Chalk on the afternoon of 24 July, where I think seven VoH members (including Pommery) will be presenting their wines. Check out their web site at vineyardsofhampshire.co.uk for information about both. Now if only Sussex (my own county) and Kent could do the same to promote the very many fine producers in those counties. But Well Done Hampshire!

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Winemakers Club (March 2022)

I joined a few friends at Winemakers Club, under the arches at Holborn Viaduct, on Wednesday night. That wouldn’t usually be worthy of comment but for the fact that it was my first evening in London since the beginning of the pandemic. That’s two years. Of course, that in itself isn’t a massive deal, but then there were the wines.

I think the germ of an idea was to have a tasting of wines aged under flor but it didn’t quite work out like that. Probably down to the organiser breaking his foot whilst out running and being unable to come. I was especially gutted as he’d organised the evening in part to allow me to taste his last bottle of the previous release of Brash Higgins Bloom, Brad Hickey’s McLaren Vale “Chardonnay under flor” homage to Vin Jaune. Oh well!

Five of us drank seven bottles, in the end a random selection, but these did include three immaculate Jura wines which can’t go without mention.

First up though, Bourgogne, Chardonnay Rose 2019, Sylvain Pataille. This is a white wine, nothing pink about it, despite the reputation that Marsannay has for Rosé – in fact when I first got into Burgundy, Rosé wine was just about all you saw from that village at the northern end of the Côte de Nuits. That was made from Pinot Noir. Chardonnay Rose (not Rosé) is a mutation of Chardonnay which is, according to several sources** unique to Marsannay.

Apparently, Sylvain noticed these pink grapes around twenty years ago, the vines having been planted just after the Second World War. He’s since propagated them by sélection massale and, like all his vines, farms them biodynamically. Ageing is around 15 months in old oak, with miniscule sulphur additions at bottling.

The result is amazingly fresh and bright. It has none of the weight of a Côte de Beaune Chardonnay (in fact in some ways it’s lighter on its feet than a Saint-Romain or a Monthélie), but boy, what vitality. A rather lovely wine. It has zip and zest but at the same time, varietal character.

**Stéphane Tissot in Montigny-lès-Arsures (Arbois, Jura) releases a wine which he calls “Chardonnay Rose Massale”, likewise made from a pink-berried Chardonnay mutation, and which tastes uncannily similar to Sylvain’s. Perhaps some further detective work is in order. It’s one of his wines I never fail to buy if I see it when in Arbois.

After Pataille we moved on to the Jura wines. The first two came from the domaine many consider, at least historically, the finest in Château-Chalon, the most beautiful of Jura’s wine villages. Jean Macle founded the estate in the 1960s, but it is now under the sound control of Laurent, Jean’s son.

We were presented with two vintages of what has become, over the years, not that much less famous than the estate’s Château-Chalon AOC, and that is the Côtes du Jura. This is a wine which can be something of an enigma. It is usually made principally using Chardonnay (in fact at least one vintage has been 100% Chardonnay) with the addition of Savagnin (on average, perhaps 15% of the blend). Further confusion is added when some of the wine is aged under voile, and to complicate things even more they might release more than one cuvée in a vintage. There are clues to be found on the back label, with the sous-voile versions marked with an easily recognisable diagram. Importer Vine Trail explains each cuvée on their web site.

We took the novel approach of drinking the oldest first.

Domaine Macle Côtes du Jura 2011 was pretty immaculate, it must be said. It had colour, depth and complexity, and certainly both smelt and tasted as if it had seen some flor. It had flavours suggesting a strong Savagnin influence over time, although most sources suggest that grape formed 15% of this cuvée in 2011. It was aged three years in barrel so the remaining seven-to-eight years have been in bottle, though stored in ideal conditions at Winemakers Club. Nuts dominate, with ginger spice and a faint hint of honey on the finish. Gorgeous. Many might, on tasting, assume even a “mini-Vin Jaune”.

Domaine Macle Côtes du Jura 2016 was a lot fresher. I think that by tasting it second, we actually learnt more, in a strange way. Much fresher, yet also allegedly made (from 50-y-o Chardonnay vines) sous-voile. But listen to what Macle importer Vine Trail says about it. “[T]his wine is more subtle and forward than the traditional oxidative Chardonnay/Savagnin blend, displaying notable morel flavour with attractive spices and finishing quite saline”. I certainly couldn’t improve on that as a tasting note. I will say that whilst the 2011 would certainly have fooled me into suggesting it was a Savagnin, or at least a Savagnin-heavy blend, I’d peg this as a Chardonnay. It has a good few more years before it will plateau and may go on for many more.

Jacques Puffeney Arbois “Naturé” 2014 was another Jura treat. As many of you will know, Jacques Puffeney farmed a little over five hectares of vines at Montigny-lès-Arsures, just north of Arbois, until his last vintage in 2014. At the point of his retirement, with no heirs wishing to take over the vines, he leased them to the new Domaine du Pélican. He retained his wine stocks, which continue to appear in small quantity, especially that last 2014 vintage.

Naturé is as confusing as Puffeney’s wines can often be. Most online vendors list this very clearly as a topped-up Savagnin cuvée. Indeed, this is backed up by Wink Lorch in her “Jura Wine” (2014), who adds that it is a cuvée released just in a few vintages. On the nose and palate my immediate sensations were of Chardonnay. But I was so wrong! This is really just a facet of how complex the Savagnin grape can be. It is a masterful wine. It has a depth almost off the scale. It somehow manages to shout old school yet has a modern touch, doubtless because I have drunk mostly oxidatively aged Puffeney over the years. These wines are fast disappearing, but really you should grab anything you find made by this past master of Arbois AOC.

Next, a rare foray into Chambolle for me, and a Premier Cru I don’t ever recall tasting before: Maison Frédéric Magnien Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Baudes” 2014. Baudes is the last of the Chambolle Premiers before the border with Morey-St-Denis. It’s a 3.4-hectare site which Jasper Morris suggests can produce fairly firm wines, but he also remarks that the northern and southern parts of the vineyard produce quite different wines.

This 2014 could be said to have a degree of firmness to it. That can’t be down to youth because a Decanter tasting note gives it a drinking window of only up until 2024 (although personally I’d suggest this could be a bit mean of them). Despite initially suggesting a firmness, it certainly developed a classic Chambolle silkiness as it opened out, though on a scale proportionate to a Premier Cru I’d never heard of from a nevertheless excellent modern negoce. Whilst I would have hesitated to carafe any of the Jura wines, this Pinot might have benefited from a bit of air in the decanter. Nevertheless, a lovely wine.

The penultimate wine of the evening was, although perhaps I shouldn’t be using this analogy in current times, the nuclear option. Equipo Navazos Palo Cortado Bota 72 “Pata de Gallina” is one of the most intense wines I’ve drunk over the past year. Although the taste is very different, you might say that it has a similar intensity to malt whisky.

Bota 72 was drawn off in January 2017 from a small solera at Rey Fernando de Castilla in Jerez. Two thousand-one-hundred 50cl bottles were filled. One of the alternative ways of producing a Palo Cortado is from oxidative wines, the result blending the styles and attributes of amontillado and oloroso. The selection of wines originally came from the finest casks of the old Almacenista Juan Garcia Jarana, with the wine being settled at Fernando de Castilla in a solera dedicated to, and owned by, EN. It is from the same source as the previous Bota 34 of 2012, but with five further years of ageing.

So, I said it’s intense. Can we drill down further than that vague concept? The wine is overall around thirty years old but it is still remarkably fresh. It’s nutty (hazelnut and walnut), definitely redolent of orange peel and ground ginger, and extremely saline. Within that salinity I got a faint hint of iodine, which is probably what lit my whisky lightbulb. This remarkable wine has a never-ending length to it. Some find the intensity of Equipo Navazos troubling. For me it is always “bring it on”, quite surprising considering my avowed preferences for wines of subtlety and lower alcohol (20.5% abv on this bad boy).

How do you follow a wine like that? I don’t mean in terms of quality, but how can any wine which follows not be drowned by it. And what do you pair it with. The sensible answer to the latter question is just a plate of salted almonds, ideally. To the former, the answer might be the palate-refreshing qualities of  Champagne, although preferably after new or well-rinsed glasses and a glass of water to cleanse the palate.

Champagne Emmanuel Brochet Extra Brut “Le Mont Benoît” was chosen from the shelf, and a chilled bottle was produced. Emmanuel Brochet took over two-and-a-half hectares of his family’s vines in the late 1990s. They are at Villers-aux-Noeuds, on the western side of the Montagne de Reims (somewhat southeast of Vrigny and Gueux, villages which may be more familiar). Although you will see “Le Mont Benoît” on the label, suggestive of a single site cuvée, which it is, in fact all of Emmanuel’s vines are situated within this one plot.

We are on classic Montagne chalk here. Some have described this as his non-vintage wine, but “multi-vintage” is more accurate. We begin with, in this case, fruit from the frost-affected 2017 vintage. That makes up around 30% of the cuvée. To this he adds wines from a perpetual reserve, formed here from vintages 2016 back to 2011. The varietal mix is approximately 40% each of Pinot Noir and Meunier, plus 20% Chardonnay. The wine rested for eleven months in wooden fûts on lees before bottling for its second fermentation, where it remained for two-and-a-half years. Labelled Extra Brut, the dosage is a nice low 2g/l. This cuvée produced just short of 8,700 bottles.

The wine has that “alive” quality which the very best “natural wine” Champagnes have. It is neither fined nor filtered. This, and the lees ageing during and after both fermentations, help give the wine a chalky, oyster shell, texture. The combination of richness and freshness is beguiling. I love it. It’s available from the wonderful selection of wines at Winemakers Club, and is also another wine from Vine Trail’s enviable portfolio. I was truly gutted that I needed to dash for my train and had to leave half a glass of this truly glorious wine on the table.

It had been too long…Winemakers Club is unique in London, both as a venue and for the rather eclectic and wonderful wines they sell (drink in or take out…one of the bottles I purchased will be consumed tonight at home). The food is pretty much the kind of fare you’ll find at all the original Parisian wine bars (cold meats, cheeses etc, plus some delicious cheese toasties made with the famous bread from St-John). I was pleased to see how busy they were on a Wednesday night and was very pleased to be told that its popularity has been consistent since Covid regs were relaxed. This wonderful, dark, cavern under the arches, at 41a Farringdon Street (London EC4A 4AN), should be on everyone’s hit list. Let’s just hope I make it back again soon.

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