Recent Wines March 2023 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

April is almost upon us as I write. Usually I am hastily trying to publish my Recent Wines articles before we are half way through the following month, but for March I’m getting in early, giving you the wines from the first half of the month well before the month is over. This is because, fingers very tightly crossed, April is going to be rather busy.

The wines we drank at home in the first half of March came from Moravia, Eastern Hungary, Roussillon, Alsace, Catalonia, Champagne, Hampshire, and Burgenland. Am I becoming predictable?

Karmazín (Frankovka) 2020, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czechia)

If you were expecting one of Petr’s outrageously colourful labels on this one you might be disappointed. Petr produces so many cuvées that it is easy to forget that some of his wines go out under these more traditional (well a little more) labels. The wine is hardly traditional, though, at least for the grape variety.

Karmazín is a local name for an old clone of Frankovka, which is of course the Czech synonym for Blaufränkisch. Its label is sedate but the juice is as exciting as anything that comes out of this picture postcard Boleradice cellar.

The vines, farmed biodynamically of course, are old, planted in 1934. The terroir is limestone, which we all know the variety loves, as evidenced in Burgenland around the Leithaberg Mountains. The winemaking, as is the rule here, is low intervention and equally low added sulphur.

The bouquet shows lovely concentrated cherries with more than a hint of spice. In the glass, as the wine unfurls, the aromas seem to get deeper, as you follow them down a tunnel of scent. Definite notes of floral violet appear and the cherry gets darker. I love these wine journeys, and we haven’t even tasted it yet. The palate has more cherry in layers, red to dark. I wouldn’t call it complex in a fane wane sense, yet there’s certainly a lot going on here. But maybe I should cut the waffle and just say “it’s so good”!

I think Koráb’s UK importer, Basket Press Wines, is onto the 2021 now, which will cost you all of £25.

Robin 2020, Annamária Réka Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

No introduction for Annamária (aka @nussancs) here because she does feature quite regularly. I was awaiting her new 2021 vintage and as it turned out that my order included two Robins it felt a good time to dispose of this one. Now you all know just how much I like this producer’s wines, and for me Robin yields up pretty much everything I want from a petnat.

However, I took this as a BYOB to one of the brilliant Sri Lankan popups we’ve been going to. This time we were a six-person table, and a couple of friends clearly had never tried a natural wine, let alone a petnat, certainly not one made from 70% Királyleánika and 10% Rhine Riesling, which Annamária farms in her vineyards at Barabás, on Hungary’s eastern border with Ukraine, with an added 30% of Furmint coming from Mád (in Tokaj).

They found the “sourness” (their description) on the finish unusual, and I suppose I should acknowledge that not everyone is used to the savoury texture of many natural petnats. However, those of my acquaintance who are more regular drinkers of Robin are as much fans as I am. To people like me this is, in the importer’s words, “super-drinkable”, and equally refreshing. A fine bead, good acids, a little bite and for me the tartness here enhances the wine, makes it a bottle you take note of, rather than one which merely slips down anonymously.

Only 970 bottles were made of this 2020. The 2021 vintage back label doesn’t state how many bottles were made (nor does it list Riesling in the grape composition this time), but I know it isn’t many. You might still be lucky and find some (£27) via Basket Press Wines, or look out for it on the lists in those super-cool restaurants which sell this kind of thing.

Les Chiens Blanc Vin de France, Alliance Wine (Roussillon, France)

This might seem a departure for me, a cheap (at least by our standards) wine, not “natural” in its making and not (presumably) “artisanal”. But we drank this at the same popup dinner where the previous wine had shocked (perhaps too strong a word) a few friends at the table. I freely admit I bought it because my daughter liked the label, but she is unrivalled at sniffing out a bargain, whether that be in a vintage clothes shop, a charity shop, or an antiques/junk shop. It seems wine shops as well.

This is the white wine in a pair (with a red) from UK agent and importer Alliance Wine. I’m not going to bother searching the code to find out who made it. It’s a blend of (I think) Colombard, Vermentino, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, quite possibly the most part being Colombard, but you certainly get hints of the two white Rhône varieties and Grenache Blanc, and perhaps Vermentino adds a bit of acidity?

Made in stainless steel, this is very much a straightforward wine, with a nicely floral bouquet, smooth on the palate, peachy fruit with pear, a little texture on the finish. It’s balanced, with gentle acids and a tweak of salinity. I’d say this is pretty well put together for a tenner (£10 for overseas readers). I couldn’t ask for more really, given the price. I’d be very happy to buy this again (especially as the whisky budget is decimating the wine budget). I wouldn’t want anyone who habitually buys the wines I usually write about to think this in the same space, but it is more than just acceptable in my view. Well done.

Spotted in Winekraft Edinburgh via Alliance Wine (so surely widely available, I’d certainly seen the label before).

Phénix 2020, Frederick & Arnaud Geschickt (Alsace, France)

Now, much as I enjoyed the previous wine, this is several levels up. Back to where we usually are, plus more. The Geschickt family have been farming biodynamically since back in 1998, although biodynamics has a long history in and around the village where they are based, Ammerschwihr, northwest of Colmar.

They have holdings on some of the famous sites which are now “Grand Cru”, including Wineck-Schlossberg, and the neighbouring, belatedly but deservedly elevated, Kaefferkopf. Both vineyards sit south of the village. For me, Phénix is one of their most interesting cuvées. It blends Pinot Gris from Kaefferkopf with a little Gewurztraminer.

Both varieties are pink-skinned and this is a maceration, or skin contact, wine. Sometimes a little skin contact yields a kind of “vin gris”, an example being the Italian “ramato” style of Pinot Gris/Grigio, but here we get a full-on Rosé, darker even than Provence’s more pallid examples from red grapes. Here we have vibrant red cherries and wild red fruits in a wine that is also textured and ever so slightly grippy on the finish. It’s as if the fruit riot is being contained by the structure but is nevertheless straining to burst free.

The wine also has another side too, a mellowness which is contemplative. A kind of after the battle feel. Maybe I got carried away, but that’s how it felt. Anyway, it’s a wine that is both extra-tasty and impressive at the same time, one I can’t wait to buy again.

This was another purchase from Winekraft Edinburgh. Made From Grapes in Glasgow were also listing it but it may be currently out of stock.

Brutal!!! 2020, Cellar Vega Aixalà (Catalonia, Spain)

The label sets this wine apart as one produced for the “Brutal Wine Corporation”. It began as an open-source label for producers of strictly natural wine. Not only were they all sulphur-free zones, but they were ideally meant to goad early detractors from natural wine into calling them faulty. Created by a group around Barcelona’s famous Bar Brutal, and French winemaker Anthony Tortul, it came out of Catalan colleagues calling his wine “brutal”. He was wrong to think it an insult. The word is used as a positive slang description much as you will hear “sick” as a super-positive expression in English/American.

It should be said that “Brutal” was a bandwagon rather a lot of people jumped on, and the unwritten rule that any cuvée was limited to a single barrel was being broken as much as any rule regarding winemaking techniques. It is for this reason that the striking label with the yellow writing had to be copyrighted to limit who could use it. As far as I know, these wines are mostly French and Spanish, although Dane Johns (Momento Mori Wines, Australia) bears the distinction, as far as I know, of being the only artisan winemaker outside of Europe to be admitted to the brotherhood.

This is a white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and the rather less autochthonous Albariño (which must have slipped over from Galicia). Biodynamic in all aspects, from a family winery, founded in 2003, at Vilanova de Prades in Tarragona Province. These were vineyards abandoned two generations ago, but the vines sit upon exceptional black llicorella slate. If the name is familiar, it’s the same slate you find in Priorat. The wine follows the Brutal rules in being a “zero/zero” wine, which means no inputs nor manipulations in vineyard nor cellar.

The vines here are at altitudes over 800masl on terraced slopes. The grapes (obviously hand-picked, hard work) go first into stainless steel to ferment, but then into amphora to age for three months. The result is fresh and fragrant on the nose. The palate has a smoothness which makes it less “brutal” in the regular sense of the word, than the uninitiated might expect. There certainly is acidity, and on account of the altitude of the vines, very much like cool climate acidity too. But beneath this is a dry, chalky, texture (amphora, perhaps) and an almost “gemischter-satzy” prickly, savoury, finish. Challenging for some? You need to stop, ponder, let it wash down over the palate.

Again, from Winekraft, and can also be found in Made from Grapes. Well, you must expect me to try all of the new wines I’m finding up here in Scotland.

Résonance Extra Brut 2019, Champagne Marie-Courtin (Champagne, France)

Marie-Courtin has emerged as one of the great Grower Champagnes producing biodynamic bottles since Dominique Moreau began making Champagnes in 2006. As with many Grower Champagnes, her estate is tiny, one single parcel of vines of less than three hectares on the Côte des Bar at Polisot. Marie was Dominique’s grandmother, after whom the domaine is named. The old vines, tended by Dominique since 2001, are propagated by massale selection.

Résonance is Dominique’s Pinot Noir cuvée made in tank (Efflorescence is made from the same variety but aged in wood). Bottled without dosage, these wines are quite singular, Résonance being a cuvée you might, if feeling lucky, guess in a blind tasting. The soils here are the Kimmeridgean clay and limestone mix, named after Kimmeridge Bay on England’s south coast, in Dorset, but also present as mainly marl (with Portlandian limestone) in Chablis, and in Sancerre.

The lack of dosage, the soils and perhaps the less oxidative vinification in tank, gives this wine certain characteristics, the foremost perhaps being structure, with texture and salinity. The fruit is crisp, fresh apple and whilst there is emerging depth, this wine in its youthful phase is definitely one for those who like their Champagne to be a bracing early spring stroll with a northerly wind whipping across the Forth from Fife. Just like me.

I am rather sad these days that I get to drink very little Champagne compared to years gone by. Once upon a time, lunches at places like Masters in Waterloo, where ten or twelve of us would BYO a bottle each, or dinners with wine trade friends, would invariably involve widening one’s experience. My cellar now contains no more than a dozen Champagnes. However, this is one Champagne which has not become completely unaffordable up until now (staring, as I am, down the barrel of a very large construction bill).

£50 from The Good Wine Shop Kew. You won’t get much from Champagne for less than this these days.

Seyval Blanc 2018, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire, England)

I drank a bottle of the 2017 vintage of Tim Phillips’s Seyval Blanc before Christmas. This is the following 2018 vintage, a sort of “just testing” bottle which Tim hopes to release commercially in early summer this year (June has been mooted). Tim knows I’m an evangelist for English sparkling Seyval Blanc, and like me, he knows that as far as this style and variety goes, Breaky Bottom is the Holy Grail. In terms of quality (not necessarily style because we have different terroir here), I think Tim is aiming to match that.

The grapes don’t come out of Tim’s walled clos, but as I’ve said before, from Tim Hurley’s Black Barn Vineyard near Pennington (so not far away). The vines date from the 1960s, so by English standards these are very old vines. Seyval Blanc is, of course, a hybrid variety (a cross between Seibel 5656 and Rayon d’Or, aka Seibel 4986). Although created in France, it is outlawed there, and in the rest of the EU, for its non-vinifera element. However, most planted in Great Britain (though with pockets in broader North America), I think it can make delicious wines, most especially ones with bubbles.

This bottle, disgorged in October 2022, was given a dosage of 8g/l. I thought this as perfectly judged as the smaller 5g/l was for the 2017, but bear in mind that I was tasting it a mere three months after it had been disgorged. The dosage will have melded nicely in three months but the residual sugars of the dosage will have taken the edge off the youthful acids. I think very low dosage with Seyval would be a risk in terms of balance.

The colour is worth commenting on – it had a nice yellowy tinge. The bouquet was fresh and floral (for me, jasmine and white flowers initially). The palate showed a crisp Bramley apple acidity with developing broader flavours of dessert apple. But this zips along on a very wine-like stream, by which I mean “vinous”, and also that with all these apple notes one couldn’t mistake it for one of Tim’s ciders. There’s a degree of the linearity you get with the cider but there’s rather more depth too.

I think this is a marvel of a wine and I’m hoping Tim will save me some on release. However, I know this will be in as short supply as all of Tim’s other micro-cuvées.

“Waiting for Tom” Weiss 2020, Rennersistas (Burgenland, Austria)

Still labelled “Rennersistas” rather than the “Renner und Sistas” which signified brother Georg coming on board (although that’s surely Georg pushing the tractor), this cuvée is perhaps the first icon Stefanie and Susanne made when they took over their father, Helmuth’s estate at Gols. “Tom” here refers to their habitually late famous mentor, though they don’t always like to reveal whether it was Tom Lubbe or Tom Shobbrook (quite convenient).

I suspect that this, in either its white or red form, was my first taste of a Renner wine. It remains a perennial purchase, and currently stands as a blend of 70% Weissburgunder (aka Pinot Blanc) with 30% Chardonnay, both varieties grown biodynamically on the vineyards towards the north end of the Neusiedlersee.

The backbone of this wine is its purity and mineral salinity, a dry wine with a little flesh on the bone but no flab. It’s the kind of wine which begins all prim and proper but as it unfurls it shows just a hint of unruliness. I think this is the velvet quality of the Chardonnay which counters the texture, fruit overlapping a mineral edge.

Some wines show a developing complexity in the glass. Perhaps here the texture changes, but my enthusiasm for the “Tom Weiss” is always that purity. I am tempted to say it is so pure it’s saintly, but that’s just getting subjective, isn’t it. But it is undeniably gorgeous.

Destemmed fruit spent a week on skins and then eight months on lees in a mix of barrique and a Stockinger cask.

Quite widely available via importer Newcomer Wines, this bottle came from Littlewine but I recently bought some from Made From Grapes (Glasgow) too. Around £22.

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

New British Wine by Abbie Moulton with Maria Bell (Book Review)

The back cover of Abbie Moulton and Maria Bell’s book proclaims that “British food has had its revolution. Now is the time for British wine”. It goes on to say that “British Wine” was once shorthand for imported grape mush [but] not any more. And Abbie is right.

When I began working through my wine exams “British Wine” had a very specific meaning. It was the term used for imported grape concentrate which, when rehydrated in the UK, made for a product very inferior to “English Wine” (the “and Welsh” was added later), even though the wine falling under that second term was very rarely anywhere near as good as we produce from our own vineyards today. But Britain, now, is slowly becoming a major player in the world of wine. Perhaps not for quantity, but certainly for quality. At the forefront of this movement towards fame and glory are the explorers, the boundary pushers.

I first visited Ben Walgate at Tillingham in June 2018, and this was my first sight of qvevri in England. Ben had two at that time, one half full of cider (just 200-litres), and the second had fermented 400-litres of Ortega. With his buried qvevri and in so many other practices, Ben was one of a tiny handful of English winemakers who were experimenting, pushing those boundaries, and working at the outer edges of the English wine universe. Others included Will Davenport, Tim Phillips (Charlie Herring), Daniel Ham (Offbeat Wines) and Adrian Pike at Westwell.

Here we are, not quite five years later, and we have a book about these outcast prophets. The winemakers featured (sixteen of them if I have counted correctly) all share several things in common, first and foremost a respect for their land and the minimal intervention philosophy and techniques which we have come to call natural wine and regenerative farming. Some are making sparkling wines by the tried and trusted “traditional method” (just like Champagne). Others are making petnats by the ancestral method, or variations thereof. Others are making still wines, and in some cases are rejuvenating the hybrid vines planted in England’s first winemaking wave (1960s/70s) to make still wines fit for the 21st century.

Abbie Moulton is a young drinks writer (and broadcaster) whose writing has appeared in The Times and the London Evening Standard. She has joined forces for this project with photographer Maria Bell, whose expertise lies in food and farming. Her work with top chefs and restaurants, which has featured in national newspapers and books, was nominated, and shortlisted, for the “Food Photographer of the Year” award in 2021.

Working with Hoxton Mini Press in London, Abbie and Maria have produced a hard cover book illustrated with very high-quality photographs to enhance the well laid out text. The photos really are very good indeed, especially the portraits. But naturally it is the text and the contents that will attract you to this book, a new work in what it must be said is becoming almost a crowded market, especially as I am aware of two more books on Britain’s vineyards and wine which are imminent.

For decades, it seems, to read an authoritative book on English and Welsh Wine you had to reach for Stephen Skelton MW. He was perhaps instrumental, as a viticulturalist, writer, wine judge, educator, and vineyard consultant, in nudging our wines towards a brighter future. He has been responsible for what has been planted where over a wide swathe of Britain’s vineyards. For many years he really was the one truly authoritative voice telling us all about it. The most recent of his books I own is “The Wines of Great Britain” (Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, 2019).

A year later, Oz Clarke brought his own unique perspective to the subject with “English Wine” (Pavilion, 2020). He called Great Britain “the newest New World wine country” and brought a degree of brevity and levity to the subject.

Things got a lot more interesting in 2022 when the work of Ed Dallimore appeared. Although his book, “The Vineyards of Britain” (Fairlight Books, 2022) claimed to be comprehensive, it wasn’t quite, but nevertheless Ed visited more than 140 UK vineyards and compared to any previous works, it was considerably more thorough. It’s the largest directory of people making wine in England and Wales we have, from the big boys and girls to tiny operations producing a few hundred bottles. Ed is also a pretty good photographer as well. With a couple of pages or more per profile, you will learn much from this book, and enjoy the process of doing so (as my review of it illustrated, 24/10/2022).

What Ed’s book did was, like some of the producers we’ve mentioned already, to push the boundaries. He was the first person to really look at, inter alia, the producers who Max Allen, in his seminal 2010 book on Australian Wine, called the future makers. People doing things at the fringes today that will like as not become mainstream in a few years (Ben’s qvevris are now almost ubiquitous in any forward-looking English winery).

Some previous texts on English/British Wines

Abbie, in her selection of producers for “New British Wine”, has not tried to produce anything near comprehensive, but what she has done is select exactly the right people who would fulfil Max Allen’s class of winemaker were it applied the Great Britain. Alongside names already mentioned we have the likes of Tim Wildman, creating, with the technical help of Dan Ham, wine from “heritage varieties” sourced in some of Britain’s lost vineyards, or Matt Gregory, whose wines I only discovered in the last six months or so through his agent, Uncharted Wines. He makes wine in North Leicestershire (and Italy), having worked with my favourite New Zealand producer, Theo Coles (The Hermit Ram).

We also have Black Chalk, perhaps the most conventional of an unconventional bunch, but who under Jacob Leadley, assisted by Zoë Driver, are making the most exciting new English Sparkling wines I know. These people really are, to borrow from Max Allen again, England’s own “future makers”.

In addition to the producers, the scope of this book is widened considerably by the inclusion of the places we can find these wines, whether they be restaurants, wine bars or bottle shops, and some of the individuals responsible for these wines’ promotion.

We have P. Franco in East London, which encompasses all of the above; we have Spry Wines, a remarkable wine bar not too far from my home, in Edinburgh; and we have contrasting restaurants from the very smart (in several senses) Berners Tavern in London’s Fitzrovia to Angela’s, a tiny seafood restaurant in Margate. All of them promote English and Welsh wine, as do India Parry Williams of Edinburgh’s Cork & Cask wine shop and co-founder of Edinburgh’s Wild Wine Fair, and Dominic Smith, an accomplished sommelier who also works in the music industry under a name you will have undoubtedly come across, Dynamite MC.

There are profiles for a dozen places to sample British wines, including the above (a list which is very far from being London-centric), and a handful of “industry voices” (including India and Dominic), making for a very rounded and cosmopolitan survey of the whole of the British wine scene, from vineyard to glass. I can think of a couple of highly influential individuals I might have chosen to include here, but I am not the one to question Abbie’s selections.

Maria Bell’s pics of Matt Gregory and India Parry Williams

It is normal in a work such as this, one where the author makes personal choices, to get tempted into suggesting that some people or places have been missed out. I mean, the book is called New British Wine, and the italics are the authors. So, I can’t argue that Breaky Bottom should have been included, despite the fact that Peter Hall makes such a magnificent sparkling wine from a heritage variety (Seyval Blanc) that others now are trying to emulate what he’s doing. He’s been doing it, after all, since 1974.

No, I think that the personal nature of the choices are actually a strength of the book. I do think some are inspired. Matt Gregory has gone from a name few (including myself) knew a year ago to a man whose wines sneak into either the foreground or background of photos here with some regularity. Maria has taken the best portrait ever of one of English Wine’s true philosopher-genius’s, Tim Phillips. Abbie has also included a couple of London’s exciting urban wineries, along with London’s only commercial vines, the community-focused Forty Hall Vineyard. These have been very obviously conspicuous in their absence in the older books on the subject, although within the capital city the urban wineries have created quite a stir.

In summary, the author and photographer have done a magnificent job. The overall design, led by Alex Hunting, is excellent, and of course because Hoxton Mini Press is an environmentally conscious publisher, the book is printed on eco-friendly paper, and, a nice touch, the cover board contains 15% grape waste.

I can recommend New British Wine unreservedly. With all the photos it does read swifter than I expected, but in part that is down to the readability of the text. It’s definitely a feel-good read. Not only does the author carry you along, like the long finish of Black Chalk’s Sparkling Rosé, but it also makes you feel very good about the future direction of one important part of British Wine, its artisan innovators.

The book is geared up for a wide readership, so you will need to accept several descriptions of skin contact winemaking, clay fermentation vessels and such like if, like many of my readers, you are already deeply lost in the subject and know your qvevri from your concrete egg. The other side of the coin is that I was introduced to several places I didn’t already know in which to try these wines, and indeed to the as yet untried wines of Ingrid Bates (Dunleavy Vineyards in Somerset’s Yeo Valley), who I don’t recall Ed Dallimore visiting.

Finally, if you do decide to purchase this book, and you really should if you can spare the cost of a decent bottle of British natural wine (£35), please consider buying direct from the publisher ( I got a very nice card with the book thanking me for a direct purchase. They will plant a tree for every direct sale, but more importantly (which they don’t mention), they will receive all of the price of the book. Other sites might save you £6-or-so, but Hoxton Mini Press do not charge postage on this product, so you won’t really be losing out. Hoxton Mini Press, and ultimately Abbie and Maria, might benefit quite a lot. Wine writers almost never get rich but they can get poor and how we purchase their work does make a difference. Meanwhile, my British wine library grows apace.

Note on Photos: This is an article about the book, and sometimes people comment that the photos used to illustrate the book are not presented professionally by me. This is deliberate. It is not my intention to use other people’s work to enhance my article, yet having some idea of what the photography is like is obviously important in a book where the photographer gets equal billing with the author. I hope that explains my logic for what is, after all, a blog (rather than magazine or newspaper) article. I also hope it allows you to see how good the photos are without using exact copies.

Posted in Artisan Wines, English Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like a Child in a Sweet Shop – Made From Grapes and Sevslo Wine, Glasgow

If you have been reading this blog recently you will probably have seen my piece on Vanessa Letort and her “Du Vin aux Liens” project, and the wine journey that flowed from my discovery of this wine collective and all the different projects and characters emanating from it. You will also have gathered that Vanessa’s UK agent/importer is a company called Sevslo Wine, based in Glasgow. Last week I made what was my first ever trip to that city to meet up with Sevslo founder, Séverine Sloboda and her business partner, Liam Hanlon, at Sevslo’s sister-company, the wine shop “Made From Grapes”.

Made From Grapes is situated in Glasgow’s South Side, on Nithsdale Road. For someone not knowing the city, and who decided to walk from the centre (about 45 minutes), the journey was an interesting one. Half an hour after crossing the Clyde I had traversed a wilderness of shuttered shops, social housing, and derelict industrial buildings, save for a few interesting restaurants (I spotted Afghan, Persian and “Middle Eastern”) and global food stores. I probably saw half-a-dozen people on the street. Passing under a flyover for the M8 Motorway I eventually reached Nithsdale Road, and found myself in a very affluent area, akin to West London’s smarter neighbourhoods, with cafés spilling onto the street, delis and Made From Grapes. The contrast made me blink.

I have to tell you, inside, the shop is a delight to anyone seriously interested in natural wine. I was like a child in a sweet shop. But first, let’s step back a bit.

Séverine Sloboda’s family were originally from the former Czechoslovakia, but moved to Paris, where as a child she was surrounded by wine and the wine trade. Her mother, at the time Séverine was around ten years old, became the first woman to manage one of the shops in France’s large Nicolas wine chain.

After working in, and managing, Parisian wine shops, Séverine moved to the UK in 2004, working as a sommelier at the Criterion and The Bleeding Heart, before being there for the opening of Michelin-starred Trinity Restaurant in Clapham in 2006. Her sommelier experience took her to Scotland, back to London (she did a stint as Head Sommelier at Angelus) and then up to Scotland again where, in late 2019 she founded Sevslo Wine.

Despite the Covid pandemic, Séverine and co-director Liam Hanlon managed to open Made from Grapes about a year after Sevslo was up and running, in late 2020. Possibly not the best time to start a business you might think, yet their ability to open their doors to customers, as an “essential service”, soon had locals flocking in because they were pretty much the only shop open in the neighbourhood.

Like all good independent wine shops, they have focused on cultivating a loyal local clientele with tastings, whilst at the same time they have created an online shop, and having gained a full Licence can now add in popups for local restaurants etc. They are about to transform into a “bar à vin” with snacks (cheese, charcuterie, maybe croque monsieur, says Séverine) with corkage or wines by the glass to drink in. The shop is spacious enough to hold events, is nice and light and has a great vibe already.

I had been drawn to Sevslo, the importer, by a raft of interesting producers, some (like Sons of Wine) I had heard of before but whose wines I had never tried. First, we have the Alsace producers mentioned in the article on Du Vin aux Liens, along with the Loire winemakers Vanessa works with and those who collaborate with Vanessa’s partner, Farid Yahimi (Sons of Wine).

They also import the wines from near Toul in Lorraine, Eastern France, made by Vanessa and Farid’s friends at Maison Crochet (Wilfried Crochet). But these are just the tip of the iceberg. I became aware that Sevslo also imports the wines of Jan-Philipp Bleeke, who has previously worked with Jan-Matthias Klein (Staffelter Hof, Kröv), whose wines I am a big fan of, through importer Modal Wines. They also have wines in store from the young Mosel micro-negociant Jas Swan, who also worked at the Staffelter Hof with JMK.

Jan-Philipp Bleeke Red Aquarius – Dornfelder with Regent, Mosel

Sevslo seems to be a company with a finger on the pulse when it comes to finding relatively unknown names in natural wine, although I use the phrase with a big caveat. Vanessa Letort wasn’t a name even I knew before this year, but as I mentioned in my article about her, her “Du Vin aux Liens” are already imported into a raft of countries and regions, including Scandinavia, North America, South Korea and Japan. The Japanese, especially, seem to sniff out a good natural wine producer in a way that the UK once had a reputation for, pre-Brexit.

However, Made from Grapes is not beholden only to Sevslo for the wines on the shelves. Liam told me that they purchase from at least fifteen different UK importers and agents, and this is the key to making this shop probably the best natural wine store I’ve seen in the UK. I’m tempted not even to add “outside of London”. There seem to be almost no compromises, or very few, in pursuing what is undoubtedly the dream here, to own a wine shop that stocks what the owners like to drink themselves. It’s something of a pleasant surprise to discover that their tastes pretty much match mine.

Marnes Blanches, Labet, Tournelle and Vin Jaune from Fumey-Chatelain top off the Jura selection; Claus Preisinger, Rennersistas and Judith Beck shout out for Burgenland; a good selection from Jean-Pierre Rietsch crowns the Alsace cohort, which also includes Catherine Riss and Geschickt, whilst Germany has the likes of Wassenhaus and Enderle & Moll. Bordeaux is represented by Château Le Puy, Italy by Foradori, Spain by Partida Creus. There are even a few wines from Basket Press Wines, such as Annamária Réka-Koncz (Hungary) and Magula (Slovakia). I also spotted some Slobodne from Slovakia, imported by Modal Wines.

Some of the importers with wines on the shelves include Les Caves de Pyrene, Winemakers Club, Newcomer Wines, Otros Vinos (especially nice to see here) and Dynamic Vines, to name only a few alongside already mentioned Modal and Basket Press. A good selection of sparkling wines starts with Champagne from Bérêche and Laherte, alongside several Crémants (sadly they had sold out of JPR’s Crémant d’Alsace, but it is usually listed), and they stock a healthy number of pétnats as well (which are very popular, Liam says).

Liam and Séverine

Made from Grapes (166 Nithsdale Road, Glasgow) is open Tuesday to Sunday, closed Mondays (check times on web site as they open late, at 12.00 some days). They do Mail Order like anyone else, but if you are in Glasgow it is well worth the trek out there in person. Especially if, like me, you are an inveterate browser. It would be easy to point to this store as a potential source for wines which might be sold out in London, except that would just be patronising. A scroll through the wines on the shop’s web site will show several sold out, as illustrated by their savvy customers hoovering up all the Jean-Pierre Rietsch Crémant d’Alsace which I so badly needed. I will say though (shhh!) that the Labet prices (as indeed all the prices) looked relatively generous compared to some sources outside the region. Don’t expect them to sell you the whole lot though.

Sevslo Wine can be contacted through their web site to supply their small artisan growers to the on-trade and to cutting edge indie wine shops ( ). You can read all the bio/profiles of their own growers there. Sevslo definitely doesn’t just distribute in Scotland. They are increasingly doing business in England, so you can all get your hands on these new wines if your local wine shop checks them out. Made from Grapes of course will deliver throughout the UK.

One final observation…Séverine Sloboda is a great example of a woman in the wine trade who, obviously through hard work and determination, has become successful. Perhaps it was fitting that my visit to Glasgow coincided with International Women’s Day. Meeting Séverine and Liam was a pleasure, as was browsing the wines in the Glasgow sunshine.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Heroes, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops, Women in Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines February 2023 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part Two of the wines we drank at home in February takes us to ground mostly not covered in Part One. We begin in Austria’s Rust, then Georgia’s Imereti, before we travel back to Alsace. Realising I’d not been drinking much Jura of late I pulled out a real gem from Pupillin. We finish with wines from Slovakia, Bugey and Chablis.

Furmint Aus Dem Quarz Unfiltriert 2018, Weinbau Wenzel (Burgenland, Austria)

The Wenzel family are Rust winemaking stalwarts, which for this chocolate box town on the Neusiedlersee’s western shore means a long time, in this case since 1647. The current incumbent in that long line is Michael Wenzel, and he has transformed the estate into one with a modern outlook, yet which at the same time holds dearly to tradition.

Rust, despite its relative proximity to Vienna, was once in the lands ruled by the Hungarian Monarch, always technically separate from Austria, even under the Hapsburg Empire. It was the Hungarian Crown which gave Rust its Free Town status in 1681. Not only is it Austria’s smallest administrative district, it is also (since 2001) a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It truly is worth visiting, for the buildings, the rather special lake, the storks, and of course the wine.

As a once-Hungarian town (the current border is a relatively short cycle ride down the lakeside) you will guess that Furmint was traditionally planted. It fell from favour from the 20th Century, but Michael Wenzel is one of a handful of winemakers who are re-popularising the variety here (Heidi Schröck is another). From the grey quartz-flecked terroir of the Vogelsang vineyard an amazing expression of the variety emphasises its mineral qualities.

We have a wine in which the minerality gives both texture and an amazing precision. That minerality is really deep, accentuated by eight months on lees. This bottle is as fresh as the one I drank from the same vintage in 2020, there being just more depth. Of course, Furmint is a very fine variety, wholly under appreciated in most Western European markets, so of course it is capable of ageing. Very impressive. A wine for both the mind and the soul.

I bought this bottle from Littlewine when their online shop was operating, but a more recent vintage might be available from Newcomer Wines. They certainly import Wenzel.

Otskhanuri Rosé 2019, Gvantsa’s Wine (Imereti, Georgia)

Otskhanuri is not one of the Georgian grape varieties which is on the tip of most people’s tongues. Not surprising in a country which claims 525 autochthonous vine varieties. In Imereti, at least in the hands of this family, it makes what turns out to be a really beguiling dark-hued Rosé wine.

I think the producer will be known to a number of readers. Gvantsa Abduladze is sister to the perhaps more famous Baia. Baia’s wines have achieved a fairly high profile as one of the new-wave of Georgian winemakers, not least because Georgia has been slow to embrace women in the profession (although to be fair this is changing).

The wine comes from the village of Obcha in Imereti, a lowland region to the northwest of the capital, Tbilisi (and where you might find the local name “churi” used instead of qvevri). It is a region where skin contact is less of a tradition and where the local white varieties Tsitska and Tsolikuri are often blended to make a fresh wine with good acidity.

The grape we have here is a red variety and it makes, as I said, a rather dark Rosé, perhaps reminding me of a Tavel in colour. The palate is very interesting. You get plenty of fruit, with raspberry, strawberry and redcurrant notes (which mirror the bouquet), but the fruit has a creaminess to it. A raspberries and cream touch. There is also a similar acidity to that which those local white varieties exhibit, so although the wine looks dark, it has something of a white wine about it too. It also feels like a terroir wine, even though it’s made in a qvevri/churi (although from free-run juice without skins).

This came from The Oxford Wine Company.

Raoni Riesling 2019, Sons of Wine (Alsace, France)

Sons of Wine is the micro-negociant label of Farid Yahimi, who you will have come across if you read my article on Du Vin aux Liens (27 February). Farid is the partner of Vanessa Letort. He’s one of the winemakers who have benefited from the friendship of Christian Binner, but he now shares a cellar with Vanessa at Beblenheim and is involved with various small or new winemakers in joint collaborations.

Raoni is named after the Chief of an indigenous tribe in Brazil, now a well-known, 93-year-old, ecology activist. The vines are grown by David Koeberlé of the up-and-coming natural wine producing Domaine Muller-Koeberlé. They are based in Saint-Hippolyte, and the vines are situated on the slopes of the Haut-Koenigsbourg.

The soils here are complex with granite containing mica, quartz, and feldspar. The Riesling old vines are farmed organically and made as a natural wine. The grapes are gently pressed as whole bunches and fermentation takes place outdoors until the full moon (in this vintage, 14th October).

The result is a wine which stands out as being a little different to the norm. I might go as far as saying this doesn’t really taste of Riesling, but in no way let that put you off. There are flavours of apple, vanilla pod and peach in there. It has a lees and mineral texture but real depth to it with spice and clove to round off the palate. This is a massively interesting iteration of Riesling from a site perhaps better known for its enormous, imposing, castle with views over to the Black Forest, than for its wines. I liked it a lot.

Purchased from Winekraft Edinburgh (£33), imported by Sevslo (Glasgow).

Ploussard 2017, Renaud Bruyère & Adeline Houillon (Jura, France)

This couple have established themselves as Pupillin royalty in a very short space of time. Although they met whilst studying at the hotel school at Tain L’Hermitage, Adeline later worked until 2011 with her brother, Manu Houillon, at Domaine Overnoy (Houillon-Overnoy), whilst Renaud lived in the village and worked as a chef. He began working the vines for Stéphane Tissot, as so many have, and the couple’s careers began in 2011 when Renaud took on a small plot at Les Tourillons, pretty much up in the hills in the Arbois appellation.

The domaine is somewhat larger now, but still I think under 5 ha. Their first Ploussard was made a decade ago from a rented plot of old vines in the village of Pupillin, and if anything proves the village to be the “World Capital of Ploussard”, then this wine is an exemplar.

This cuvée undergoes a carbonic maceration, with a cuvaison of 32 days. It’s a wholly natural wine with no added sulphites. The natural carbon dioxide created from the fermentation acts as the only preservative. Strawberry, cherry, textured with a lovely lick of fruity acidity, I opened this on a Wednesday, for goodness-sake. I cannot recall a better wine so far this year. I bought my bottle at Epicerie Vagne in Poligny and clearly had no idea whatsovever how much this wine sells for, retail, these days. Astonishingly good.

Fred #8, Strekov 1075 (Strekov, Slovakia)

I’ve drunk Fred in many of its vintages in restaurants or at tastings, but this is the first of Zsolt Sütό’s wines I’ve actually drunk at home, believe it or not. We have a blend of 50% Blauer Portugieser with equal parts Dunaj and Alibernet, all bush vines from the clay-loam soils of the hills above Strekov, a village northwest of Budapest on the other side of the Danube. The wide-flowing river helps warm the air in the vineyards, despite the fact that Strekov is a good way back from the water.

After fermentation for fifteen days a lot of colour was leeched from the three varieties. Blauer Portugieser (known as Modry Portugal over the border in Czechia) adds freshness, Dunaj fruit, and Alibernet structure. The wine is made naturally with ambient yeasts, no temperature control and certainly no added sulphur. Zsolt bottles Fred in a sparkling wine bottle with a crown cap because he believes it better retains the wine’s fresh fruit.

Fermentation takes place in open-top vat before going into a variety of old Austrian oak for only six months. The wine is very dark purple with blackberries and blackcurrant dominating the bouquet, snap for the palate, where you might also find some redcurrant or cranberry in the acids. A simple wine, but one which is fruit-packed and concentrated.

Another bottle from Winekraft Edinburgh, imported by Roland Wines.

“Table” Vin de France [2019], Caroline Ledédenté (Bugey, France)

Many readers will know that I’m a fan of Bugey and there is one producer new to the region who I have been following the career of for a while. In fact she would be my Bugey tip if anyone asked me, not that they do. Bugey is still a secret. Caroline goes by the Instagram nom-de-guerre as @carolinegrainpargrain, but finding out a lot more about her isn’t easy (although you can track down a French radio appearance from a link in her IG profile).

Caroline discovered natural wine in the bars of Paris, then, deciding this was the career for her, went to study wine in the Jura before going to work for Gregoire Perron in Bugey. She settled at Artemare, in Bugey’s southern sector, which is almost in Savoie. Her couple of hectares are farmed with biodiversity in mind. She’s another vigneronne who plants trees, in this case fruit trees, amongst her vines. They create a habitat for insect-eating birds.

This cuvée is made from the rare Molette variety, a grape which if known at all was known as the mainstay of the Savoie sparkling wine, Royal Seyssel. The grapes are planted at Carbonod, which is as geographically close to Savoie as a Bugey wine can get, although Caroline eschews any appellation (of course). Planted in the late 1990s, the vines have a good bit of age and so allow an interesting wine to be crafted from what others might have dismissed as “neutral” in flavour. Apparently, it is the variety’s unfashionability which attracts Caroline (definitely my kind of winemaker).

Naturally, in the hands of this talented lady, the result is not neutral at all. She has created a zippy, citrus-tinged, natural wine with no additives which livens the palate and lingers. It ends on a savoury dry note which might remind you of a good Swiss Chasselas or one under the name of Gutedel from Southern Baden. It’s very “Alpine”, very pure. Or perhaps, in that case, Altesse might come to mind? This was only Caroline’s second vintage as well!

I really need the whole range to be honest. This came from Noble Fine Liquor in East London, and whilst they may not have any of this Molette cuvée left right now, they are definitely listing four others from Caroline Ledédenté. Get in for some Bugey nights (got to keep on dancing).

Chablis “Humeur du Temps” 2018, Alice & Olivier De Moor (Burgundy, France)

The De Moors have become pretty much the only Chablis producer I buy now, since first discovering them in, of all places, Berry Brothers’ Basingstoke “factory outlet” what must be at least a couple of decades ago. Even in 2010 Jasper Morris called them “relative newcomers, with a small domaine in Courgis”. Far from being an established family in Chablis, Alice and Olivier planted their own vines at first, growing mostly Chardonnay within the Chablis appellation and Aligoté of the very highest quality further afield (they allegedly have some Sauvignon Blanc from St-Bris but I have never seen it).

Although they now have some Premier Cru land, they continue to make AOC Chablis of a quality which would challenge many 1er Cru bottles. This wine, possibly the easiest of their Chablis cuvées to find in the UK now, comes from four separate plots close to Courgis, down a valley to the south of the town of Chablis itself. Most of the vines were planted in 1995.

The grapes undergo a very gentle press before spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel. Ageing, for twelve months, is in both old oak and enamel-lined tanks. No bâtonnage, nor racking, is carried out but the malolactic is allowed to take place naturally. Almost no sulphites are added.

The majesty of mature, well looked after, old vines shines through in this magnificent wine. You get real intensity and purity plus personality with a capital P. I’m not sure how this couple manage to do this with such consistency, when others in the appellation are clearly just trotting out a cash cow Chablis? These Are wines with depth and soul, and I guess that’s really all I need to say about them.

The importer now is Les Caves de Pyrene, but I bought mine as part of a De Moor selection from The Solent Cellar (Lymington). Of course, they seem to have sold out, as you would expect, but they are a good place to look for this producer (and of course they are one of England’s finest indie wine retailers outside of London). Berry Brothers does list De Moor’s Bel-Air & Clardy, another of their Chablis cuvées from these two sites. I think it’s a touch more expensive. Les Caves should have the Aligoté cuvées, including the frankly astonishing “Plantation 1902” and the Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu.

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

Recent Wines February 2023 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Time seems to be zipping forward quite swiftly in 2023, especially as the evenings are noticeably lighter here now, though it seems that winter’s icy claws are about to grip tightly once more, hopefully a last-gasp before proper spring. The wines I drank in early February, represented here, seem a long time ago, yet they were enjoyed during a relatively mild spell. Of seven wines there were only two reds, and quite light ones at that. Whites predominate in a selection from Alsace, Southern Spain, The Loire, Hungary (2), East Sussex, and Kent which takes us up to 16th of the month.

Pinot Noir “Libre Comme L’Air” 2020, Catherine Riss (Alsace, France)

Catherine Riss was on my radar for a good while before I began to drink her wines with any regularity, largely thanks to the wonderful Plateau in Brighton. I was quite surprised to see her wines more frequently after moving to Scotland, which seems to go hand-in-hand with a bit more Alsace appreciation in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Catherine gained part of her winemaking experience with Chapoutier, not in the Rhône but in their Alsace vineyard at Reichsfeld, not far from her current cellar at Bernardvillé, which is just south of Andlau in what I call the Mittelbergheim basin, or enclave, of natural wine excellence.

The grapes for “Libre” come from the commune of Eichhoffen, east of Andlau. The red grapes are macerated as whole bunches for two weeks with one pump-over each day for gentle extraction. The wine goes into used Burgundy barrels for ten months, resting on its lees, but Catherine doesn’t rack the wine.

It’s a new cuvée for me, although I’m very familiar with this producer’s Pinot Noir “Empriente”. It sports another of Catherine’s distinctive, quirky, labels designed by Julien Kuntz. The wine is really quite concentrated, but not extracted. The dominating element is fruit, packed with cherry and berry flavours, on both nose and palate. It has a natural zip to carry the concentrated fruit, making it both refreshing, but not frivolous. The wine retains some CO2 which manifests on the tongue, and which protects a wine which has no added sulphites. Like all of her wines, it’s very moreish.

£32 from Cork & Cask, Edinburgh.

Vino Blanco 2014, Navazos-Niepoort (Jerez/Sanlúcar, Spain)

Before we all started buying Equipo-Navazos “Florpower” there was this white wine collaboration with Dirk Niepoort. The idea back then (hard to believe the first vintage was 2008) was to make an unfortified version of Palomino Fino from the finest albariza chalk sites in the Jerez-Sanlúcar corridor, as a mirror of what would have been the norm back in the early nineteenth century.

Whereas now you can find unfortified Palomino fairly easily, this was innovation, and innovation of the highest order. The grape had been “traditionally” fortified with grape brandy for two hundred years before these experiments (not only by this team) took hold. Many people have come to realise just how good the variety is, and not just in its homeland (try Christina Rasmussen’s version which she made from California old vines if you can find it). This collaboration has proved the point, especially this vintage, from magnum, with around eight years in bottle.

This cuvée saw eight months under flor in forty-year-old American oak casks of 600-litres, which were filled to 5/6 capacity. The result certainly has a nutty flor character, but this has softened somewhat over time. With age it has developed depth and smoothness, and strangely it has an almost “Puligny” quality to it. Nutty, rich, majestic, a perfect (I don’t use that word lightly) expression of Macharnudo Alto, one of the region’s most famous vineyards.

We drank this with family at a big lunch. I originally had three magnums of the ’14. One was enjoyed in youth, but sadly I took the second to family dinner where one partner is from Seville. I discovered she only drinks red wine and I have no idea what fate befell this unopened magnum. If they still have it, on the evidence of this third magnum, it might be nothing short of stunning. Despite my fears, there’s absolutely no hurry to drink up.

Originally shipped direct from Equipo-Navazos.

Babylone 2019, La Table Rouge/Du Vin aux Liens (Loire, France)

I’ve already mentioned this wine in my popular recent article on Vanessa Letort’s wine collective “Du Vin aux Liens” (27 January, see side bar to right for link). Alongside Alsace winemakers Vanessa works with a few Loire producers, despite her base being at Beblenheim in Alsace, largely because she studied at the Lycée Viticole in Amboise. Philippe Chigard, who farms the micro estate “La Table Rouge” (0.8 ha) with his partner Claude Cabel-Airaud, was a teacher at Amboise. Their vines are at Noizay, near Vouvray in Touraine.

The partnership with Vanessa works because of the tiny vine holding, so tiny that Philippe calls himself a wine gardener rather than a vigneron. The vines are actually spread over four different plots, and they grow several local varieties, including this Pineau d’Aunis. Perhaps this is not a variety especially common to the Vouvray/Montlouis region, where it is more often Chenin Blanc which dominates, but Noizay is right on the eastern edge of the appellation, on the other side of the river Brenne. Needless to say, for a host of reasons, this red is bottled as Vin de France.

We have a whole bunch fermentation of biodynamically grown fruit. It saw ten months ageing on lees in old oak with minimal manipulation, and no sulphites were added at any stage. It has a ruby colour, but is almost transparent. The lovely bouquet sends out aromas of strawberry, blueberry and soft cherry, which here is a truly lovely combination. There’s a good hint of pepper here too, just enough to spice up the fruit. Imagine a wine which is smooth, yet with a zesty acidity to balance.

Imported by Sevslo (Glasgow) and purchased at Winekraft (Edinburgh), £24.

A Change of Heart 2020, Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

This was my last bottle of Annamária’s beautiful Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch) from Barabás in Eastern Hungary. I didn’t know at the time but Annamária was unable to make a red wine in 2021, so that when my wines from that vintage arrive (if the courier can avoid breaking them, or was it stealing them, at the second attempt) I shall have to make do with white/orange for a year (though there is a new cuvée to try).

Annamária’s red wine has gained in several areas over the few years I’ve been drinking it. This may be down to vine age, but this bottle seems to be a little bit more structured, yet at the same time there’s a lightness as well. The fruit is very smooth, which I guess adds to the balance. That fruit is in both the red and dark berry spectrum, plump and “lifted”. This gives the wine over all an ethereal quality which I like a lot. Even in 2020 only 1,750 bottles of this cuvée were made.

Imported by Basket Press Wines. Although, as I said, there is no red wine this year, Annamária has produced a good selection of other cuvées, white, orange/amber and sparkling. They have just arrived in the UK and they will sell out very quickly. If you want to get on the Réka-Koncz bus, do not delay. I am yet to try the 2021 vintage, but nothing so far has led me away from telling all and sundry that these are some of the most interesting and exciting wines I have discovered these past three or four years.

Cuvée Oliver Minkley 2011, Breaky Bottom (Sussex, England)

I’ve often extolled Peter Hall’s 2010 pair as the finest wines I’ve bought from this favourite English estate, perhaps in England’s most attractive setting, hidden in a hollow of the South Downs. Whether this 2011 exceeds, or merely matches, those 2010s I cannot say. Every bottle is a new experience, and this one is a bottle I can’t recall being bettered.

Peter decided to blend all of his four varieties into this small batch wine for one of his two cuvées of 2011. We therefore have 60% Chardonnay with 30% Seyval Blanc, the last 10% being an equal split of Pinot Noir and Meunier. It has aged magnificently so that we have a mix of bready brioche (we really do have brioche here, not the brioche cliché) and autumnal fruits like softer-flavoured apple and even a touch of quince.

Oliver Minkley worked part-time at Breaky Bottom but sadly died in 2010 at the young age of 35. This rather special wine is a fitting tribute to the man. Only 2,600 bottles were produced (Peter’s other 2011 is Cuvée Cornelis Hendriksen, of which there were rather more, over 6,700, bottles made). You can still find some Oliver Minkley around. Try Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton) or Forth & Church (Hove). Peter still has some for sale direct from the vineyard (see his web site), on limited allocation. Corney & Barrow might also have a little.

Vulkan #2 [2020], Meinklang (Somlό, Hungary)

Meinklang will be known to many readers as one of the most interesting natural wine producers in Burgenland, farming wine, cereals and cattle at Pamhagen on the southern shore of Austria’s Neusiedlersee. They also farm vines on the slopes of the Somlό Massif in Hungary, where the family once had vine holdings before Communism removed their ownership.

The terroir here is full-on volcanic, the site being a distinctive volcanic plug. The grape varieties are Háslevelű and Juhfark. This wine was in fact my wine of the day at Cork & Cask’s winter wine fair in Edinburgh last year, and this bottle was the result of popping into their shop on the way home to make sure I got some. It tastes quite similar in style to a Gemischter Satz, although we only have two varieties. It’s both spritzy and savoury, and very refreshing. Definitely 100% satisfaction. The volcanic terroir comes through via a stony mineral dryness on the tongue, but there is also fresh grapefruit and just a hint of something more exotic (papaya?).

£26 from Cork & Cask (Edinburgh).

Pelegrim NV, Westwell Vineyards (Kent, England)

I drank a pre-release bottle of this back in October last year, but another came in a mixed case offer of English wines I purchased before Christmas. Although I wanted to see how this revamped release from Westwell would taste after a few more months settling in bottle, I couldn’t resist opening it. The reason – that original bottle was just so astonishingly fresh and whilst you can get the flavours of development and age on bottle-fermented sparkling wine by sticking it in the rack and forgetting about it, it isn’t always easy to find a wine which tastes quite this good when young.

The blend is the classic Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier, given three years on lees in bottle before disgorgement. Adrian Pike’s masterful winemaking is on display here. Autolytic character will certainly come if you leave it a while, but we are still looking at a wine which shouts vivacity, or perhaps “off-the-scale” freshness. I don’t mean acidity as such because the wine is in balance, but it does have a certain tension which I find thrilling. The lees ageing has certainly softened acidity, but not too much. There are wines, I’m thinking of Péters’s Chetillons, where you’d say it’s just far too young, but I don’t get that impression with Pelegrim. It is already quite harmonious, definitely a triumph from a winery and a winemaker who gains in stature with each vintage.

Westwell’s UK agent is Uncharted Wines. Westwell also sells direct (no cheaper though) and are open for visitors (check their web site for times).

Posted in Artisan Wines, English Wine, Hungarian Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One New Wine Leads To Another – Du Vin aux Liens and other stories

Anyone who has known me a long time will know I have been a wine obsessive since my mid-twenties, but that back in the day, like many of my generation, I was hooked on Bordeaux, Burgundy and other classics. If you’d asked me in 1990 who my favourite producer was, I’d have said Gérard Chave. But times change. I guess my own change in tastes was only partly caused by the rise in price of the wines I loved (I remember buying Chave’s 1982 Hermitage for £25 and have the Yapp Brothers price list to prove it). It was also an opening of my eyes to new tastes and the sheer excitement of NEW flavours.

I visited Arbois in the late 1980s, and a couple of years after that I spent two years travelling. This included a little over four months driving a circuit of Europe which was 80% wine-focused (the other 20% was generally old buildings and food). In 1989 I visited, bought wine and drank “El Bierzo” (as it was then known), red Vinho Verde, the Aveyron wines (Entraygues, Estaing and Marcillac), Bugey, Savoie, Aqui-Terme, Swiss wines, and a good forty more. At the time I had planned to write a book, The Lost Vineyards of France. Back then, wines like Marcillac, Collioure, Bugey or Irouléguy were pretty much “lost”, at least in any meaningful commercial sense. Today, almost every wine region I would have written about has found a market, and has at least one or two internationally known producers.

Back in the day these were quite simple wines, mostly, but they gave birth to an interest in trying new flavours, and created an openness, I would say, which stood me in good stead when I began to be aware of the phenomenon of “natural” wines. I’ve been asked how I got so interested in natural wines, and maybe that’s another story, but by the mid-1990s into the early 2000s these wines were beginning to surface on my radar, especially through my annual trips to Arbois and Paris.

On that circuit of Europe, we spent a week in Alsace, staying in a gîte in Itterswiller. At the time it felt a little far north for mainstream Alsace, but those who know the region will know how close Itterswiller is to Mittelbergheim, which later became a personal epicentre for my love of Alsace natural wine. It is in more recent years that this passion has been somewhat reignited, not least through discovering the finger-on-the-pulse writing of David Neilson (, who has drawn me further and further north to the new frontiers of Alsace wine.

I’m forever trying to persuade UK importers and retailers that Alsace is the most exciting region in France right now, a place full of young winemakers, many with no family background in wine. I’ve had limited (albeit some notable) success, largely because for some reason retailers who are quite capable of selling now-fashionable Jura’s sometimes strange flavours seem uneasy about risking a few Alsace on the shelf. Customers, it must be said, have always been wary of the flute bottle. Personally, I think a flute magnum is the most beautiful bottle you can find! I will also add that Alsace Pinot Noir, occasionally blended with skin contact Pinot Gris, now provides some of the most smashable or glouglou (whichever term you prefer) red wines in France.

One retailer who agrees with me on Alsace is Graeme Sutherland, a co-founder of the well-known Good Brothers Wine Bar in Edinburgh’s posh Stockbridge district, and who also created Winekraft, a nifty little shop not far from the city’s amazing botanical gardens. It was on my first visit to Winekraft, last year, that I spotted a wine on the shelf and its story describes perfectly how my penchant for grabbing something I don’t know can open a whole string of leads to follow. In this case, one which covers Alsace, The Loire and Brittany. It’s the story of “Du Vin Aux Liens”.

The wine in question was called Terre. It’s a skin-contact Riesling, aged in amphora, and I wrote about it very recently (Recent Wines January 2023 (Part 1), posted on 7 February). It was bottled by a guy called Yannick Meckert for the Du Vin Aux Liens label, which is run by Vanessa Letort. Yannick made wine at Christian Binner before going solo and Vanessa helped Christian set up and run the now well-known Pirouettes label, where he advised and helped young Alsace talent market their wines under one umbrella. Vanessa went solo in 2019 and Christian has now stepped back from Les Pirouettes, but finding out more about Vanessa led me to a story I thought worth repeating.

Terre, bottled by Yannick Meckert for Du Vin aux Liens

Vanessa Letort is from a Breton family, but was working in The Loire. A side-line organising wine tastings led her to a one-year course, mainly in wine marketing, at the Lycée Viticole in Amboise. It was around this time that Vanessa met Christian Binner, which led her to Alsace. The evident success of Les Pirouettes as a side project for Binner appealed massively to Vanessa and as we shall see, her “Vin Aux Liens” project to some extent mirrors it. What she has gone on to create is a label which both bottles her own product and assists micro producers in both Alsace and The Loire to bring their own tiny production to market without all of the extra promotional costs associated with small-scale bottling. It’s more than a mere negociant, perhaps more a wine collective, and Vanessa assists in winemaking with her charges.

Never heard of Vanessa Letort? Well, her wines are exported to Denmark, Belgium, Lithuania, Japan, North America, Poland and South Korea. I was going to say let’s not become an island backwater, post-Brexit, but as you will have realised, her wines have become available here (since 2021). Perhaps available under the radar, but I might be able to do a little to raise their profile.

Vanessa met Philippe Chigard back in Amboise, where he was lecturing. Along with partner Claude Cabel-Airaud he runs La Table Rouge, a micro domaine which consists around 80 ares (0.8 of a hectare) of vines over four plots at Noizay (near Vouvray). The plots are so tiny that Philippe and Claude call themselves “wine gardeners” rather than vigneron(ne)s. A clue to their farming beliefs lies in the interplanting of fruit and almond trees in the place of every missing old vine, and of lavender between rows. Even with such a small area to farm, they still work the soil using a horse. They produce a number of wines, and I’ve already drunk (but not yet written about) Babylone, an exquisite, shimmering, Pineau d’Aunis red.

Babylone by La Table Rouge for Du Vin aux Liens

Also part of Vanessa’s Loire stable are Tanguy Perrault and Anne-Cécile Jadaud; Benoît Savigny (Domaine des Fosses Rouge); and Lou Chigard/Louis Lange (Domaine de la Pensée Filante). In Alsace Vanessa works with (among others) Domaine Albert Hertz (Albert and Frédéric Hertz in Eguisheim); Domaine Loberger at Bergholtz; and, as with the wine which started this journey, formerly worked with ex-Binner winemaking intern Yannick Meckert. In all, Vanessa seems to have a range of more than twenty wines, including some petnats of her own and, remembering that connection with Brittany, ciders bottled from her family’s orchards.

Those ciders came into the range on the suggestion of Vanessa’s partner, Farid Yahimi. Farid originally worked in digital communications but began experimenting with wine in his garage, eventually founding micro-negociant Sons of Wine in 2017. At this point he moved to the original cellar of (yes, you guessed) his friend Christian Binner. I’ve met Christian a few times and was well aware of his work with Les Pirouettes, but I wasn’t aware of quite how much impact on other people’s careers he’s had. There just seem to be winemakers, rather like Stéphane Tissot and the late Pascal Clairet in Arbois, whose names crop up on everyone’s CV. I managed to get hold of one wine, a Riesling called Raoni, from Farid’s label.

We drank Raoni, named after a Brazilian chief of an indigenous tribe, now in his nineties and an inveterate ecology campaigner, several nights ago and it was superb. It comes from old vines on the slopes of the Haut Koenigsbourg, near the most imposing castle in Alsace. The soils are very complex with mica, quartz and feldspar mixed in with the granite, and the vines are tended by David Koeberlé of Domaine Muller-Koeberlé. This is a young viticulteur starting to build a reputation for natural wines, and doing various collaborations whilst establishing himself. This one, with Farid, is quite impressive and very seductive. I think this looks like another interesting winemaker to seek out. His approach is permaculture, and like an increasing number of small producers I know, plants trees in the vineyard, looking to create a diverse and self-supporting ecosystem.

Raoni by Sons of Wine

All of these bottles will appear with others in my “Recent Wines” articles in due course, as will a wine called Native from a producer in Lorraine. Maison Crochet is the only producer here that cannot properly be described as making “natural wines”, although they do follow an increasingly low intervention approach and are currently “in conversion” to organic viticulture. They are clearly moving towards natural wine, doubtless under the influence of their friends Farid and Vanessa. They are based in the village of Bulligny, about 30km southwest of Nancy, in what is technically the small region of the Côtes de Toul, although Maison Crochet bottle their wine as Vin de France.

Apart from the opportunity to try wines from Lorraine, which I’m pretty sure the kind of adventurous drinkers who read my blog will be interested in doing, the other significance of Maison Crochet is that they are assisting our couple, Vanessa and Farid, in setting up their own Toul vineyard. So, soon enough, we shall have some new wines from a new region coming from the creative minds of Vanessa Letort and Farid Yahimi. Whether they will appear as Sons of Wine, Du Vin Aux Liens, or most likely some other label, who can say? This new project is called Domaine de la Légèreté, and Vanessa and Farid, along with their friend Naoufel Zaïm, have purchased one hectare in Bulligny and a further 3.5 ha at Lucey.

I should mention that Vanessa and Farid currently share the same cellar and winemaking facility in Beblenheim, but the couple’s winemaking and wines are totally separate. Whilst they establish the domaine at Bulligny they are driving between the two, a trip of just a couple of hours, west, over the Vosges.

The wonderful thing about wine is that the discovery of one bottle can lead you on a detective trail for more, but I have to say that few chance encounters unearth quite so much new wine as finding a solitary bottle of “Terre” on the shelf of a small Edinburgh wine shop did on this occasion.

All the bottles from Vanessa, Farid and the Crochet family that will appear over the coming months have so far been purchased from Winekraft in Edinburgh. The importer for these wines is Sevslo Wine, based in Glasgow, where they have a sister company wine shop, “Made From Grapes”. Made From Grapes is at 166 Nithsdale Road (Glasgow Southside), whilst Winekraft is at 6 Brandon Terrace in Edinburgh.

In keeping with Sevslo’s support for young winemakers I notice that they also list wine from Jan-Philipp Bleeke, at Traben-Trabach on the Mosel. J-P is another young guy who moved into wine as an outsider and after a stint in New Zealand went to work for Jan-Matthias Klein (Staffelterhof), who regular readers will have come across many times in my writing. Now on his own, with two hectares in the Mosel, he’s also a member of the interesting “Solawi Bodensee” organisation which encourages ecological, climate-friendly and social land management. Think I will be trying his wine soon!

I do love connections (like England’s Matt Gregory whose wine I tried simply because he worked with the pioneering Theo Coles at Hermit Ram in NZ). I have to admit that I got to taste many of the wines which began my natural wine journey largely because they at some time worked with the two Jura winemakers I’ve already mentioned. I guess following such leads is part of the fun for me in wine’s big adventure.

The information in this article was provided in part by Vanessa herself and from the Du Vin aux Liens web site, by David Neilson ( and by Séverine Sloboda, founder of Vanessa’s UK importer, Sevslo. Any errors are my own.

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, Loire, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Women in Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines January 2023 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

For Part 2 of the “wines I drank at home” in January we have another select but diverse bunch, from Beaujolais as natural as it comes, to South African Chardonnay, “Noir and Meunier” from Kent, Wiener Gemischter Satz and a wine made from Heathcote grapes but created by a cult producer based in Gippsland, Victoria.

B…j.l..s 2021 Vin de France, Julie Balagny (Beaujolais, France)

Oh the lengths producers have to go to in order to enable you to recognise what their natural wine “Vin de France” should be allowed to be called, were it not a significant improvement on most of the dross which goes out under the equivalent appellation (and therefore of considerable annoyance to the arbiters of taste on the local appellation panels). Of course, in this case the said Vin de France will cost you a little shy of forty quid, possibly six-to-eight times more than AOP Bojo from an industrial scale producer would cost in a French Intermarché or equivalent, so it had better be damnedly good!

This is expressive (capitalised), unfiltered Gamay from seventy-year-old vines planted on sandy soils at Émeringes, which is right on the border with the Juliénas Cru. It’s very easy going, having seen a cold carbonic maceration without any remontage, nor pigeage. It underwent a very slow and gentle press into old oak, and that’s it. Bottled without any added sulphur, of course. Strawberry aromatics dominate, with ripe cherry fruit sweetness riding over the savoury palate. It’s just so perfect. Julie’s wines are regrettably rising out of my price range for many, indeed most, of the cuvées.

It’s always sad to see this happen, where natural wines become the playground for the wealthy wine collector, but costs and artisanal scale of production makes such price rises inevitable…though let’s not forget the significant extra costs UK importers are facing via transportation price increases and post-Brexit paperwork. These wines are definitely cheaper in France. But this delicious cuvée is still accessible to me, and hopefully for a few vintages to come judging by the pleasure given by this bottle.

£38 via Noble Fine Liquor, or from the online shop of importer Tutto Wines.

Luuks 2020, Blank Bottle Winery (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

Although I try not to write multiple times about a wine I’ve mentioned before, this one deserves it. It’s extremely good, perhaps an understatement. Luuks is Afrikaans slang for luxury and in this case, it refers to Pieter Walser’s first ever brand-new barrel, from Burgundy, in which he put the debut 2020 vintage. I believe the 2021 was made in the same barrel, so that would make it second fill for the 2021 if you find that in the shops now.

The 2020 has matured very well indeed since I first drank a bottle in August last year. The 2020 for some reason never felt as overtly oaky as a lot of Burgundy would have tasted from new oak. For me it is more harmonious now, though, the plush fruit and acidity being balanced nicely. The first thought which comes to mind is opulence, but the acids keep it real. The bouquet has a strong floral element, but the oak gives the palate a creaminess which is starting to become more complex than it was almost six months ago. I definitely plan to grab some of the 2021.

The importer is Swig Wines. Butlers Wine Cellar (in Brighton) has the 2021 for £27.95. The Good Wine Shop (various branches in London) appears to list it for £33 if you can’t pick up the phone to Butlers.

Double Pinot 2021, Westwell (Kent, UK)

When I posted a photo of this Pinot Noir and Meunier blend on Instagram I got a number of messages saying how exceptional this perhaps unobtrusive wine from Adrian Pike is. It came out of Adrian’s desire to make a red wine in 2021, in what was not the easiest of vintages. His answer was to use layered carbonic maceration as a way of breaking down some of the malic acids.

Harvested in late October, he used a mix of whole bunches, destemmed whole berries and crushed grapes in a ratio of 20:40:40. After the maceration, which took place over one week, the fruit was very gently pressed into a split of barrel and amphora for six months ageing. Bottling took place in July 2022 without any manipulation and with no added sulphur.

Cherry red in colour, the nose blends cherries and ripe strawberry. The palate is all chewy smooth fruit except for a distinctly peppery finish. It’s worth noting the alcohol – just 10.5%. That makes for a great summer red, one that you can glug freely like a thirst-quenching juice. But it was ten degrees up here when I drank this (as it is today, as we bask in glorious sunshine), and it was perfect. Very fresh indeed.

Uncharted Wines has this available for £25. It’s worth considering a look at their “New England” offer of six bottles (three from Westwell and three from Matt Gregory) for £120. You can also buy “Double Pinot” direct from Westwell for the same price.

Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg DAC 2021, Weingut Zahel (Vienna, Austria)

This is a traditional co-planted and co-fermented field blend, so traditional, and culturally intrinsic, to the beautiful vineyards which ring Austria’s capital, mostly to the east. In this case the blend, from vines on the Nussberg hillside, is made up from Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Gewurztraminer. Alex Zahel follows biodynamic practices and is Demeter-certified.

The vines on the Nussberg are planted on cracked, weathered, limestone with sandy loam. Ageing is mostly in stainless steel and this keeps the freshness, and perhaps helps enhance the mineral streak in the wine, which appears on the nose (along with citrus and floral notes) and goes right through to a stony texture on the palate. As with most Gemischter Satz, it has a savoury bitterness, gentle but lifted by the tiny carbon dioxide bubbles in the glass (protection from oxidation).

Once you come to know the field blend wines of Austria’s capital you soon come to realise how versatile they are, either as an aperitif or with food. We took this, for example, as our “BYOB” to a Sri Lankan popup down the road. The wine’s zippy freshness allied with its mineral texture made it a good foil for moderately spicy vegetarian food.

This came from The Solent Cellar (£22). The Good Wine Shop (branches in West London) should have the single site “Nussberg Ried Kaasgraben” for £25.50. Expect a touch more weight and ageing potential from the latter, but drink this wine over summer for zesty freshness.

Etcetera, Etcetera 2019, Momento Mori (Gippsland, Victoria, Australia)

I’ve mentioned Dane Johns, who began his career under the tutelage of William Downie, a few times before, not least when I was trying to track him down last time I was in Australia. Then I wrote about his Tolone Riesling back in September, one of the new wines from his home vineyard, Nikau Farm. I was especially happy to be able to drink this Momento Mori cuvée as the last bottle I’d bought was the victim of my kitchen floor and the appalling packaging used by one UK bonded warehouse in which to deliver my wine.

“Etcetera” is a blend of the Friulian grape variety, Schioppettino (aka Ribola Nera), with Syrah. It isn’t a wine from Dane’s Nikau Farm (in Gippsland’s Baw Baw sub-region), but is made from grapes originating from the Chalmers Family Vineyard at Heathcote, some way to the northwest. This may explain the Syrah, a famous stalwart of Heathcote, a region where several famous names (including the odd French one) grow it. Don’t ask me how Schioppettino ended up there, but I know Dane has a penchant for such varieties, including other gems originating in Friuli.

As with all Dane’s offerings, we have nothing added, especially not sulphur. Totally natural wine is the goal of a man who I believe is the only non-European producer allowed to use the official label of the “Brutal Corporation” for one of his cuvées. We get a deeply-coloured wine but one which on first sip is quite light. Deliciously mixing abundant red and darker fruits with a little texture and grip, but a wine which overall is smooth and sensual. Mega-delicious for sure.

My bottle came from Noble Fine Liquor in London (£29), though the importer for Momento Mori and Dane’s Nikau Farm bottlings is Les Caves de Pyrene. It’s worth giving a heads-up here that whilst the Nikau Farm wines are at first sight horrendously expensive (usually more than double that for the Momento Mori wines), The Solent Cellar has some pretty hefty discounts on their obviously limited stocks (these wines are in any case unicorns made in achingly tiny quantities) of four different Nikau Farm cuvées. You will need to get on the phone swiftly I suspect, as one or two restaurants are often quick to snap up any unicorns which Simon and the team get hold of. My own suspicion is that reading this article you are going to be slightly ahead of the curve.

The wines in Part Two were all delicious, it goes without saying, but the labels were all a bit monochrome, weren’t they. That’s not a criticism. I really love Galia’s labels for Westwell, likewise the drawings by Delphine Chauvin (for Julie Balagny), which always bring a smile to the face. I guess I just noticed the lack of colour on the labels compared to those staring at me when I go to find a bottle. I just need to work harder to add colour to their backgrounds.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Australian Wine, Austrian Wine, Beaujolais, English Wine, Natural Wine, South African Wines, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines January 2023 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

A somewhat reduced number of wines were consumed at home in January, not, I should stress because of any “Dry January” leanings, but down to the “Not Covid” virus that struck me down for most of the first two weeks of the month. Still, ten wines are here for me to tell you about and it is still worth me splitting them to make them easier to consume. In Part 1 we have a fine white Burgundy, a star from Slovakia, A Languedoc, an Australian Savagnin, and a very interesting find from Alsace which has recently led me on an interesting journey, following a little detective work.

Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” 2015, Le Grappin (Burgundy, France)

Andrew and Emma Nielsen remain good wine friends, despite my seeing them perhaps once a year nowadays. I joined the Le Grappin story at the beginning, with a six-pack of Beaune Boucherottes purchased at their former winery within the walls of Beaune, located in an old gunpowder store. It was wine bottled from their first vintage, I believe, 2011. I can’t afford to stay on board, but I remain a loyal fan.

The older vintages I’ve managed to cellar are treasures for me. This 2015 is an example of a nicely matured wine from a village I have a special fondness for, because we used to stay in a very cheap Chambre d’Hôte, a short walk over the hill, on our first visits to the Côte de Beaune in the 1980s.

This comes from a small parcel of west-facing vines behind the village, off very chalky soils. The vineyard is described as “late-ripening” (which used to mean difficult to ripen until climate change changed all that, but the grapes still ripen late).

The Nielsen way is to tread by foot, into a basket press, spontaneous fermentation with natural yeasts and élevage in traditional Burgundian used oak barrels, of which five were filled from this vintage and this vineyard.

The scent is a mix of white flowers for the high notes and toasty, buttery, hazelnut for the bass. More than anything this wine shouts place, with a mineral core from the high chalk content of the soils. I would suggest that this is not 100% mature, but it was glorious. Such assured winemaking.

Purchased direct from Le Grappin, this bottle almost certainly from one of their pre-release mixed cases.

“Carboniq” 2020, Magula (Slovakia)

Magula is very much on my list of favourite producers from Central Europe. If you are thinking of exploring what Slovakia has to offer there are certainly a number of fine estates, a few having perhaps a higher profile, but Magula is up there with the best. The wine region known as the Little Carpathians in English is certainly beginning to show its potential, managing to adapt modern winemaking (and marketing) to tradition.

Carboniq is a pale red, a product of this estate’s biodynamic practices. The variety here is Modry Portugal (aka Blauer Portugieser). It’s a variety which you may have tasted from Germany, where it is mostly planted in the Pfalz, but you will increasingly find it in Lower Austria, Czechia, Slovenia and Croatia (it is also permitted in Hungary’s Bull’s Blood), as well as here in Slovakia. In this cuvée it undergoes carbonic maceration and so produces a light red with just 10% abv, quite delicate but packed with flavour.

The whole berry ferment lasts for two weeks before the grapes are gently pressed. A small dose of sulphur is added before bottling. The terroir is deep loess, rich in minerals, and this is very much reflected in the character of the wine. I’d describe it as a mineral-rich cherry bomb with zesty fruit acidity. The low alcohol makes it dangerously gluggable, a splendid adult fruit juice if you like. I’m known for peculiarities such as drinking pink and light red wines in winter, but if you are more conventional with the seasons, I would strongly recommend getting some of this for when the temperatures climb and the sun comes out (though I should say that it seems to be sunny about 75% of the time where I live now).

 Imported by Basket Press Wines.

La Buvette à Paulette 2019, Mas Coutelou (Languedoc, France)

Jeff Coutelou (Jean-François if you prefer to be formal) makes probably my favourite Languedoc wines at Puimisson. Not all of the wines suit my mood all of the time, some being pretty alcoholic, but Jeff makes a wide range from which I can choose those which, as I grow older, make me more able to stand up after consuming.

“Paulette” is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Merlot, creating a wine with layer upon layer of plush, smooth, fruit. You might think I’m contradicting myself when I say this is an easy drinker despite its 14.5% alcohol, but it’s made very much in the style of a bistro wine. It’s simple in the best sense of that word, satisfying, nourishing even.

It is lifted in every sense by classic dark fruit acidity so that the alcohol actually feels negligible. It’s what Coutelou does so well. You’d never guess a bottle could leave you under the table. I think it’s a wine which actually might benefit from some time in bottle to settle down, at least on the evidence of the bottles I have drunk. This is my third (possibly even fourth) of the 2019 vintage and I’d say it was definitely the best bottle, fully ready to drink. Really good.

Purchased from Winekraft, Edinburgh. It is quite widely available through various indie wine shops in the UK.

Savagnin 2018, Castagna (Beechworth, Australia)

Beechworth is less well known than it ought to be, at least compared to some regions in the State of Victoria (Mornington Peninsula, Yarra, Geelong etc). Way up towards the border with NSW, northeast of Melbourne, it is the home to some of Australia’s finest producers, such as Giaconda, Sorrenberg, and of course Castagna (as well as a host of new stars, not least Dane Johns, of whom more in Part 2).

Julian Castagna’s wines have impressed me a lot since I first came across them, and the man himself, at a tasting in Lymington’s Solent Cellar, what must be almost a decade ago. Since then, I’ve occasionally met up with Julian and his son, Adam, at London’s Real Wine Fairs, and continued to obtain the odd bottle of his wines. This is my first Castagna Savagnin.

This wine is labelled “Growers’ Selection” and it indicates fruit which doesn’t come from the Castagna estate sites, but from local growers with whom they work. The grapes are grown on neighbouring properties, but the wine is made and bottled at Castagna.

Green-gold, such a lovely limpid colour, this initially shows peach and pear richness in the bouquet which almost hints at Chardonnay. After a while the nutty dryness comes into play. It’s another wine with weighty alcohol (14.5%) which you don’t really notice to begin with, on account of the wine’s freshness. Crisp acidity overlays, and complements, the richness. It’s gorgeous, honestly, though not really comparable in flavour to most Jura Savagnin.

This cost £40 from The Solent Cellar, but worth every penny. They don’t show any stock left, but I’d inquire as to whether or when they might get some more. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

“Terre” 2019, Du Vin Aux Liens (Alsace, France)

I love discovering new wines, and I bought this on a whim, spotting it on a shelf a couple of months ago. It’s why I like the physical act of shopping, whether that be in a wine, record or book store. You spot things that you may well miss when “browsing” online.

This wine has actually taken me on a voyage of discovery covering Alsace, The Loire and Lorraine’s Côtes de Toul, all based around a winemaker who helped Christian Binner establish “Les Pirouettes”, Vanessa Letort. I have a fascinating (I hope) article to come, later this month, on Vanessa and her partner, which tells a common story for so many young winemakers from a non-wine background establishing themselves in France right now.

Vanessa shared a cellar in Rosheim for a year with Yannick Meckert, and he bottled this wine under Vanessa’s Du Vin aux Liens label, although the pair no longer work together (Vanessa has now relocated to Beblenheim…and Lorraine).

It’s a skin contact Riesling with destemmed fruit seeing a seven-day maceration, followed by ten months in amphora. I like this a lot. It’s zippy with a mineral, skin contact, texture, one of Dr Goode’s “smashable” wines (though it does come in at 12% abv). I mean, how many “orange” wines are truly smashable, and how many Rieslings for that matter?

It’s a bit of a unicorn in that I don’t think this is a wine to be repeated, at least not in this form. I have Winekraft in Edinburgh once more to thank for this discovery, its proprietor I’ve recently discovered being something of an Alsace fan and advocate. We will get on well. £26, cheap, a shame it’s all gone (unless they found a few more bottles).

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, Australian Wine, Burgundy, Languedoc-Roussillon, Natural Wine, Slovakian Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines December 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that when I published Part 1, I called it Part 2. The brain fog lasted a day before I corrected it. This is the real Part 2 with, I promise you, a different set of wines.

My Part 2 selection from December covers most of the wines I drank at home during the second half of the month, from 18th to 26th. After this there’s a large gap until 8 January as I was struck down by that awful “Not Covid” virus. Nevertheless, this selection covers the festivities of Christmas Day and Boxing Day, so we start out with some natural wines (two English, one Swiss and one from Alsace), and then we throw in a few classics from Burgundy, Tuscany and Rioja. That Rioja may have been the last alcohol I drank in December, but I did manage to enjoy another one of the Euforia birch saps, which are very interesting indeed. I’ve tagged that onto the end.

Seyval Blanc 2017, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire, England)

This is, I guess, a sample bottle of Tim Phillips’s Seyval, the first of which I’ve tasted. I don’t think this is available (prod me if I’m wrong, Tim) but he does plan to release the 2018 vintage around Easter time. The vines aren’t grown in Tim’s own walled vineyard, but on a plot close to his winery at Pennington. They were planted in the 1960s, so really before the first planting boom in the county, by Mark Turley, on his Black Barn Vineyard.

The key to this wine is Tim’s usual reticence to let go until he feels it’s good and ready. This is often down to his gut feeling and intuition rather than analysis. This vintage was dosed at 5g/l which to me seems well judged for the variety. At five years post-harvest (but disgorged October 2020, so two years pda) it has some autolytic character which has rounded out the variety’s natural acidity, yet it keeps its spine intact. There’s also nice weight on the palate to balance the acids.

Initially I saw some similarities to Tim’s Riesling, perhaps in the mineral edge, but then his Sauvignon Blanc came to mind. You probably know that, for me, Breaky Bottom is the benchmark for sparkling Seyval Blanc. This 2017 isn’t quite a match for Peter Hall’s still available 2010 (I’m sure Tim will agree), but it is extremely good and coming up on the rails. I wonder what Tim’s 2018 will taste like. Knowing Tim, he’ll be aiming for something even better (he always has something in mind to aim at), but if it were merely as good as the 2017 it would come more than highly recommended.

I don’t know where the 2018 will be available when released. I understand there may be around 250 bottles, so as with Tim’s other wines, unicorn alert.

Ham Street Wines Petnat 2021 (Wiltshire via Kent, England)

This blend of Pinot Gris, Bacchus and Pinot Noir comes from a regeneratively farmed vineyard on the periphery of Kent’s Romney Marshes. Lucie Swiestowska and Jules Phillips (no relation to Tim) planted 16,000 vines on an original 4-hectare site in 2019, near the village of Hamstreet, just south of Ashford. These include the varieties in this blend along with Meunier and Chardonnay. They began to supply their fine organic fruit to Daniel Ham for his Offbeat Wines, made in Wiltshire. In 2021 Daniel made and bottled some of those grapes for Jules and Lucie’s first wine under their own Ham Street label.

The farming is now effectively biodynamic, though not as yet certified (organic certification due this year). At the winery all the grapes for this cuvée were vatted together and the wine was made with no added sulphites. The Pinot saw a little foot treading, the rest were macerated overnight with pressing the next day. The result is a pink petnat which is simple but lovely and fresh, a genuine thirst quencher. The scent of gentle strawberry and other red fruits is mirrored on the palate, which rides on a line of brittle acidity at a mere 10.5% abv.

The wine was not disgorged, so the bottle contains sediment, which one can invert to distribute and thereby increase the wine’s texture and flavour, or which the less adventurous can stand up and let it settle in the bottle and enjoy clear. A classic English petnat in so many ways. Lightly sparkling, it’s a very nice treat, especially as I grabbed one of only 484 bottles made. One to look out for from the 2022 vintage when bottled this year.

This came from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh, and cost £25. The ’21 is, of course, sold out. The wines are distributed by Wines Under the Bonnet.

Blauburgunder 2018, Bechtel Weine (Zürich, Switzerland)

One of Mathias Bechtel’s wines appeared in my recent “Wines of the Year”, so I won’t repeat everything I said there. Mathias is a very highly regarded winemaker who works the slopes of the tiny but prestigious enclave of Eglisau in the Canton of Zürich. His Pinot Noirs are becoming famous, and expensive. Blauburgunder, using the Swiss name for the same variety, is how he labels his entry level wine. This is the penultimate bottle of four.

Over time this 2018 has matured in bottle and become more assured. It doesn’t taste “entry level” to be honest. It is in the darker-fruits spectrum of Pinot, quite ripe fruit with an added smoky quality. I’d call it structured still, but not really tannic. As such it is drinking nicely as an accompaniment to food, but will age a little further for sure. I’ll see what happens with my last bottle.

I’ve purchased Bechtel mostly from importer Alpine Wines, although this bottle, and the one I have left, both came from The Solent Cellar in Lymington. They no longer have any (though I’m pleased to see they do have four Swiss wines in stock), but Alpine Wines (online) should have the 2019 or 2020 for £33.60. That isn’t inordinately expensive for Swiss wine, which, as so many commentators seem to be saying, might just break through properly this year on account of impending support from the Swiss government for wine exports.

Riesling sur Grès Cuvée Nature 2021, Domaine Durrmann (Alsace, France)

The Durrmann domaine occupies a fairly central position in the lovely wine town of Andlau, a town of which I am especially fond of not just for its wines but also for the walking (a day’s walk from Andlau can take you up to a number of ruined castles hidden away in the forest). The domaine was founded by André and Anne, but is now effectively run by their son, Yann.

I met André when I visited the domaine in 2017 (only meeting Yann later at the Real Wine Fair in 2019), and according to him I was the first English wine writer to do so, and to write about their wines. Since then, Yann has taken the wines more in the “natural” direction, a direction commenced by André, who began to use sheep in the vineyards, encouraged birds as natural insect predators, and drove around, whether locally or to Paris, only by electric vehicle.

“Sur Grès” is a direct pressed Riesling off sandstone (grès). As 2021 was a cooler vintage this is citrussy, precise and nicely textured. The fruit is quite appley. I am sure this will flourish further in bottle and I may try to pick up another to prove my point, but sometimes its nice to drink a Riesling which stands out for its purity, as this does right now. Not currently complex, but certainly dynamic, it hits the spot. It is lifted by a little dissolved CO2, making it lightly “perlant”, an old French phrase I’ve not seen used for a good while. “Nature” on a Durrmann label indicates their unsulphured cuvées.

Imported again by the excellent Wines Under the Bonnet, and purchased at Cork & Cask, Edinburgh (£23). Very good value.

Morey-Saint-Denis “Clos Solon” VV 2006, Domaine Fourrier (Burgundy, France)

This is another wine I don’t intend to expand on too much, in this case because it was among my Wines of the Year (see article 10 January 2023). It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. Although I tend to buy natural wines, and increasingly wines which cost somewhat less than this domaine now costs, Fourrier was always one of my favourite producers of fine Red Burgundy back in the day. Clos Solon, an old vine lieu-dit, in the village of Morey-St-Denis on the Côte de Nuits, has always outshone its “village” designation, producing wines which age as well as many a Premier Cru. An insider wine, so to speak.

Jean-Marie Fourrier, who took over the running of the domaine in 1994, learnt his art with Henri Jayer, and subsequently in Oregon at Domaine Drouhin. He espouses a low intervention regime throughout the farming and winemaking process. There’s a touch of old school in what are nevertheless certainly not old-fashioned wines. This bottle has purity and balance, developing in the glass into a savoury, smoky, yet structured and restrained example from a vintage the critics and charts don’t rate up there with the best. Very good for whites but patchy for reds, though some nice ones from the Côte de Nuits, was the post-harvest generalisation, though the ever-optimistic Berry Brothers web site says that the 2006s “have developed significantly since…immediately after the harvest and are now a delight”.

I tend to think Berry Bros are right in this case, although they list the 2004 (not the 2006) for an equivalent of £300/bottle (3,600/case) in bond. Sadly, I won’t be buying Clos Solon again. That was my last bottle, and my penultimate Fourrier (I spotted a Gevrey, the domaine’s home village, in the rack). This one came from The Sampler in London many years ago.  I don’t know what it cost, but I could afford it. It was, as you will have guessed, a fitting centrepiece for our family Christmas lunch.

**I only learnt today that Jean-Marie Fourrier took over as winemaker of the famous (or should I say cult) producer, Bass Phillip, in Victoria’s Gippsland, Australia in 2020. Ironically, or perhaps pertinently, Bass Phillip founder Phillip Jones is known to have wanted to create Pinot Noir in the image of the Henri Jayer wines he had loved in this oft-windswept region southwest of Melbourne. I can attest his initial success via a few rare bottles from one-time Australian importer par excellence, Vin du Van. I presume Jean-Marie is still involved at Fourrier.

Montecarlo Vin Santo 2003, Fattoria del Teso (Tuscany, Italy)

Vin Santo is a wine style I used to drink far more frequently when I was younger. I really enjoy it, and I think I got the taste for Vin Santo travelling in Tuscany in the late 1980s, when a glass with some cantucci biscuits, the classic combo, made a good substitute for dessert in the cheap restaurants we frequented on the road. I used to get to drink some at the Tuscan lunches I used to go to every year (latterly at the sadly now defunct Glasshouse in Kew), and most often at Christmas. Our tradition of leftovers with nuts and snacks in the evening always seems a good pairing.

This wine comes not from Chianti, but from Montecarlo, in the Province of Lucca in Northern Tuscany. The estate dates back to the 13th century. Today they farm a considerable 70-ha, Francesco Bartoletti consulting. This Vin Santo is made in the traditional way, whereby ripe Trebbiano di Toscana grapes are dried on reed mats and aged in an assortment of small wood (both oak and chestnut) in an attic room for two years. Heat rises and thus creates a warm environment, unlike the cool cellars more normally used for ageing wine.

The result is a sweetish and highly concentrated wine of dark amber colour and considerable complexity. Indeed, this complexity can contain contradictions, all to the wine’s benefit. The sweetness is echoed in scents and flavours of apricots and dried raisins, but the sweetness is matched by an intense savoury edge with almost a hint of bitterness. Such wines are very long-lived and this 2003 certainly tastes fresh and youthful. It is also rich, complex and long.

Living as I now do up here in Scotland, I can tell you that shopping at Valvona & Crolla near the top of Edinburgh’s Leith Walk is such a pleasure, especially at Christmas. This 500ml bottle (c£25) came from here, and it was far from being the only item I left with on that particular visit. Indeed, we only finished the last pieces of panforte at lunchtime on 15 January. I shall be back for more (of both).

Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2004, Bodegas Muga (Rioja, Spain)

This was our Boxing Day wine. From one of Rioja’s great Bodegas, this is a top cuvée made from 80% Tempranillo, the rest comprised of Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. Only made in the best vintages, it spends twelve months in vat, three years in barrel and a further three years in bottle before release. It seems I’ve had this in my cellar for a long time.

Muga was founded way back in 1932, but the company really took off in the 1960s. Although they make a very modern version of the DOCa in Torre Muga, the Prado Enea Gran Reserva is the epitome of fine, traditional, wood-aged Rioja. Grapes are sourced from high altitude sites of their own, along with some exceptional parcels owned by other growers with whom they have worked for decades.

It showed a dark garnet colour in the glass and the bouquet was pretty complex once it began to open up. I’d say that tobacco notes dominated, though you also find hints of liquorice and peppermint. The palate has very deep fruit, not distant but neither is it in your face, with savoury dried fruit undertones. It’s quite a giant of a wine, not in the sense that its 14% alcohol dominates, nor that it is tannic. It just has a broad and sturdy structure.

Barquin, Gutiérrez and De La Serna, in The Finest Wines of Rioja etc (Aurum Press, 2011) call Prado Enea “intellectual” and I can see exactly what they mean. There are vintage sites that say the 2004 is at its peak, but I’m not sure it is. If I had a second bottle I’d try it after another decade, but as a word of caution, I’m very partial to old Tondonia.

Purchased from Majestic Wine. Do they still sell it? I think they have the 2015 for £54.99. Waitrose Cellar claims to have the 2014 for £59 (you can never be sure of the vintage with supermarket purchases). Berry Bros lists older vintages and overall, it’s not a difficult wine to source.

Euforia Fermented Birch Sap, Blackthorn (Bohemia, Czechia)

A few readers may have seen me write about these birch sap drinks a couple of times last year, and indeed in my article about Autentikfest, in Moravia, in the summer. It’s both a unique and unusual product made by a skilled and dedicated couple, Jan Klimeš and his wife, in the Bohemian Highlands of Northern Czechia (very close to Utopia Cider, with whom they are great friends).

The sap is collected from birch trees and then macerated, usually with fruit and in this case with wild blackthorn berries. The maceration takes place over a whole year before bottling and release. Although a type of fermentation does take place, it is a kind of malolactic, not alcoholic, fermentation and the product has zero alcohol. Nor are there any additives, so it is completely natural.

The taste has been described as akin to coconut water with a hint of aloe vera, but the macerated fruit gives the drink its taste profile. Some are enhanced, as this is, by a gentle effervescence. I think it tastes a little like some kombucha, and it certainly has a similar gently uplifting quality. The importer of these drinks, Basket Press Wines in the UK, says they are “considered to have great health benefits, very hydrating, diuretic, detoxifying, with high levels of manganese, amino acids and magnesium”.

I have now tried a good few of these and blackthorn remains one of my favourite flavours, alongside blackcurrant, rose hip and orange. In fact, I was personally less keen on non-fruit macerations, such as the pine, but that’s just me. They are all worth a try. They definitely make you somehow feel good after drinking them and seem, for me, to aid digestion. It’s something different to pull out when you don’t want alcohol for lunch, or in my case when you just couldn’t face a glass of wine. At £16 they are not cheap, but remember this is a natural artisan product, cheaper than wine and these days cheaper than much artisan cider. They are certainly unusual, but I’d definitely recommend giving them a try.

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Christmas and Wine, Fine Wine, Natural Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines December 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Straight from my Wines of the Year we move swiftly on to the wines I drank at home during December 2022. I say wines, but of the eight bottles which form Part 1 (lots consumed in December), one is a Sake (but from London!). The seven wines are from Rheinhessen, Champagne, Moravia, Sanlúcar, Leicestershire, Savoie and Eastern Hungary. It doesn’t get any less eclectic in Part 2, I must warn you. And yes, you did read Leicestershire correctly, a very interesting producer I’m just beginning to get to know.

Weisser Burgunder Trocken 2018, Weingut Wittmann (Rheinhessen, Germany)

The Brilliant Philipp Wittmann (Stephan Reinhardt’s description) heads up the family winery, now a leading VDP member, which goes back to the mid-1600s in the famous village of Westhofen, in the Rheinhessen sub-region of Wonnegau. Wittmann is best known for the fabulous Riesling Grand Cru bottlings, including Morstein and Kirchspiel, but Weisser Burgunder (aka Weissburgunder or Pinot Blanc) is close to Philipp’s heart. If you want proof that this variety can produce genuine class, try this relatively inexpensive version.

The whole estate has been biodynamic since 2004. The grapes for this cuvée come from predominantly chalky soils on classic sites. You’ll find this lemony, waxy and stony, with a pebble-like texture. In the glass, initial apple acidity is replaced with pear and apricot as it opens out, all the while backed by a ground bass of mineral texture.

Although most would drink this on release, my experience of buying a bottle or two every year is that it will benefit from 12-24 months in bottle. It’s a hidden gem of a wine for, I think, around £15 for this 2018. Wholesale stockists are Howard Ripley and Roberson. I usually pick mine up from The Solent Cellar, though it is only periodically in stock.

Campania Remensis Extra Brut Rosé 2010, Champagne Bérêche (Champagne, France)

Whether Bérêche remains a “grower” or now qualifies as a micro-negoce as well remains a moot point among those I speak to, but for the many years I have idolised these wines made at Craon de Ludes on the Montagne, I have always concentrated mostly on the estate-grown fruit. I have long considered Raphaël and Vincent’s wines among the absolute finest in the region, and this, their Rosé, would rank amongst my top four pink Champagnes.

The grapes come from a specific 0.7ha site at Ormes, west of the Montagne, and the blend comprises 60% PN, 30% Ch and 5% PM (=95%) with the addition of 5% “Coteaux” rouge. This all undergoes spontaneous fermentation in both oak and small vats with lengthy (36 month) lees ageing. Fruit picked in 2010 was disgorged in May 2014, dosed at just 3g/l.

A darkish salmon pink, the bouquet is redolent of fresh ripe strawberries but there’s a savoury spiciness alongside the fruit on the palate. Like all Bérêche wines, it has a nice spine of well-focused acidity and great length. Also, plenty of post-disgorgement development but it retains freshness. My last bottle of the Rosé, sadly. From Vine Trail.

“Kumo” Cloudy Premium Sake, Kanpai (London, England)

Kanpai is one of two sake producers I know of in the UK (the other being in Cambridgeshire). They are based in Southeast London, at Peckham. Lucy and Tom Wilson set it up in 2016/17. Their product is all what one would call “Premium Sake”, vegan-friendly and like natural wine, without any added sulphur.

Kumo is a cloudy (kumo is Japanese for cloud) nigori junmai, nigori indicating cloudy (using a wide-mesh filter) and junmai meaning pure rice sake without added alcohol spirit. The rice is polished to 70%, which may mean little to the uninitiated, and to be frank matters not one bit for the enjoyment of this sake, but polishing ratio talk is the ultimate geekiness for sake aficionados. You get a lovely pure taste alongside a leesy texture, a touch of acidity and a milky/yoghurt-like finish. Very smooth and deceptive (15% abv). You can either drink this style cool (circa 10 degrees as we did) or heated warm to 40 degrees. Be sure to invert the bottle before opening to distribute the sediment.

If you haven’t tried sake this is a fairly traditional style to begin with. Kanpai’s products are mostly found in London. You can visit the brewery or buy direct from the web site. This bottle came from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh. I can highly recommend further research via “Sake and the Wines of Japan” by Anthony Rose (Infinite Ideas, 2018).

Ex Opere Operato I 2017, Dva Duby (Moravia, Czechia)

Jiři Šebela farms in the valleys around Dolni Kounice, close the the Austrian border in Southern Moravia. This is rocky, volcanic, terroir and the red wines from these biodynamically-produced hillside vines are remarkably intense. They have that characteristic mix of iron and blood which is common among volcanic wines.

The grape variety here is St-Laurent, farmed and made as a natural wine with only a little sulphur added at bottling. Lowish alcohol and the terroir make this an overtly fresh wine, in some ways not overly complex yet brimming with personality. You get a rare combination of intensity and lightness. Dva Duby was partly founded by Moravian guru Jaroslav Ošicka, so you know we have a producer worth checking out. I’m a big fan of these wines.

Imported into the UK by Basket Press Wines.

La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada « Bota Punta » 80, Equipo Navazos (Sanlúcar, Spain)

This Manzanilla Pasada comes from a long line of fine releases including Bota’s 20, 40 and 60 before it. This is a saca of December 2017, a thousand 50cl bottles taken from a single cask at the very end of this solera at Hijos Rainera Peréz Marín. The butt was filled to the “tocadedos” level, ie well over 5/6ths of the cask. The flor is therefore only a very thin layer, kept alive only through sporadic topping-up. The average age of the Sherry in this rather singular cask was fifteen years old.

The thinner flor means this pasada has more oxidative notes than is usual for a biologically aged wine. There is also 16.5% alcohol. The result has a little more weight but it hasn’t sacrificed elegance and finesse. The bouquet reflects the chalky texture layered on the palate, along with nuts, lime, quince and a tiny balsamic note. This is a complex wine and it needs air. Also, not one to serve chilled, but just cool. A direct purchase, but EN’s UK agent is Alliance Wine.

Field Blend 2021, Matt Gregory Wines (Leicestershire, UK)

I’d been hearing about this crazy guy making wine up near Loughborough, in the East Midlands, long before I got to try any. Late last year I heard he was about to get a deal with an importer I buy from when I can, so I was finally able to get my hands on some of these. I had spotted that Matt had worked in North Canterbury with my favourite NZ producer, Theo Coles (The Hermit Ram), which frankly only piqued my interest more. Matt also makes wine in Piemonte, but I’m yet to get hold of any of his Italian bottles. Jamie Goode has (he met Matt in NZ with Theo as far back as 2019).

Field Blend is what it says on the label, a more-or-less co-planted blend of Seyval Blanc, Bacchus, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Regent and Solaris. It calls itself a pink more than a light red, but it’s kind of somewhere around the darker Rosé spectrum. It has the fruit of a red wine and the refreshing qualities of a white and clocks in at just 10% abv. Although most people would call this a summer wine, I am not averse to wines like this in winter. I may not be able to match my wife in sea-swimming in the North Sea throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do “bracing”, and this wine’s fruitiness keeps its head above the waves. I’ve a couple more from Matt to try. This was pretty exciting stuff. Good luck to Matt with the weather around there.

£18.65 from Uncharted Wines.

Monfarina 2020, Domaine Giachino (Savoie, France)

This estate is based in the hamlet of La Palud, above Chapareillan near the famous Col du Granier and to the west of the Isère river. Run by David and Frédéric Giachino, the brothers are now assisted by Frédéric’s son, Clément, who I met in London a couple of years ago. I’ve purchased their wines for some time, including their “Prieuré Saint-Christophe” label, the vines for which they were selected to take over, via a rental agreement, from the region’s most famous vigneron, Michel Grisard, when he retired a few years ago.

Monfarina is Giachino’s entry level white wine, made from what is usually considered the region’s workhorse variety, Jacquère. The vines for this cuvée grow on the scree slope of Mont Granier, which collapsed in 1248 with significant loss of life locally. The legacy of this tragic event, a very fine terroir for viticulture.

If the wine is relatively simple, it is classy. Biodynamics are practised at the domaine. The wine has great texture from the limestone scree and you get apple blossom, apples, gooseberry and more. Wink Lorch (Wines of the French Alps, 2019, p192) suggests there might be small amounts of Mondeuse Blanche and Verdesse in the mix, two autochthonous varieties which are seeing a glimmer of a revival.

£24 from Cork & Cask Edinburgh, the importer is Dynamic Vines.

A Change of Heart 2020, Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

Who would have thought a few years ago that one of the producers I drink most often would be a complete unknown making wine in Eastern Hungary, right up on the border with Ukraine. Maybe you get fed up with reading about these wines, but I like them so much for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, they are very good. Secondly, they are affordable, and thirdly, this is a producer I discovered near the beginning of their journey into export markets and have travelled along an increasingly confident path with her. This is pertinent because her new vintage will be arriving in the UK fairly soon and there will be a window of availability once more.

This red wine is made from Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch), and I first drank this vintage almost exactly a year ago. Has it matured? Well, it retains that freshness typical of the variety (when not over-extracted), and it has not lost any fruit. The bouquet is still vibrant cherry and the palate also has some dark fruit lurking beneath. Perhaps the acidity has toned down a little. It feels just a touch more bedded-in.

Only 1,750 bottles made, of which I snaffled three. Imported by Basket Press Wines.

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