Recent Wines September 2020 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

This follow-on from Part 1 (last week) highlights another eight wines drunk at home during September. It’s an eclectic mix which, as always, pays scant attention to the vagaries of the weather, as it does to the norms of civilised wine snobbery. We start in Switzerland before travelling through the French Alps, Rheinhessen, Slovakia, Canberra District in Australia, the Pfalz, and a walled garden in Hampshire, before finally heading to Alsace, which is frankly where I rather wish I was right now. But I can’t complain. I have wine to drink and food to accompany it. More than many.

PINOT NOIR 2014, DOMAINE DE BEUDON (Valais, Switzerland)

Switzerland’s Valais is one of the most stunning vignobles in the world. It is also blessed with an extraordinary amount of sunshine, so that vines don’t just cling on, climatically, but thrive at quite high altitude. Domaine de Beudon is at Fully, close to where the Rhône hits a barrier and swings northwest towards Lake Geneva, at Martigny. Jacques Grange-Faiss (Jacky Grange) was the man who was synonymous with Beudon and he called his domaine “les vignes dans le ciel”.

You can read about the precarious old wooden cable car by which you access most of the Beudon vines (unless you prefer serious trekking) in the early pages of Jason Wilson’s “Godforsaken Grapes” (Abrams Press 2018, but now in p/b). Sadly Jacky died in a tragic vineyard accident back in 2016, but from 1971 he had created a wonderful, if until recently fairly secret, biodynamic domaine. His work is being continued by his wife and two daughters, one of whom I was lucky enough to meet (along with a very switched on young granddaughter) in February this year.

This Pinot is typically biodynamic. By which I mean that the fruit sings through so clearly. Vibrant cherry is the order of the day, but there is equally some maturity here. A little brick colour to the rim and a bit of funkiness (not too much but it could worry the traditionalists). The wine is unfiltered so you get a little lees-induced texture, but there’s no tannin. Despite the fruit, the wine finishes with a savoury flavour. It comes in at just 12.6% abv, so there’s a lightness, without the wine being insubstantial. Lovely stuff.

Domaine de Beudon is brought in to the UK by Dynamic Vines.

CHIGNIN “CUVÉE CLÉMENCE” 2016, DOMAINE DU CELLIER DES CRAY (Savoie, France)

Adrien Berlioz is the man behind this domaine, which he started in 2006. He’s distantly related to the famous Gilles Berlioz, and Berlioz is one of two or three family names you will see frequently on wine labels from this part of the Combe de Savoie (as the area southeast of Chambéry, with south facing slopes above the River Isère, is known). Wink Lorch (Wines of the French Alps, 2019) informs us that he dropped the “Cellier” name in 2018 in favour of merely Domaine Adrien Berlioz.

The variety here is the classic from this part of the region, Roussette de Savoie (Altesse), grown organically around the village of Chignin, where Adrien has his winery. This is most definitely a mountain wine, no mistake. It is mineral and dry with a little texture, but also a little unexpected gras. The bouquet has honeyed hazelnuts, a touch of quince, pear and bergamot for me, more than the herby notes some people find. With a few years in bottle this 2016 has retained its mountain freshness, yet it has put on a few grams of weight, which adds a bit more interest on the palate, and gives it a wider repertoire of potential food matches.

Sourced from The Solent Cellar. They import direct.

GRÜNER SILVANER 2018, KELLER (Rheinhessen, Germany)

If Klaus Peter Keller is one of Germany’s most famous winemakers, it is often forgotten that his interests extend far beyond eye-wateringly expensive, world famous, Rieslings. For one thing, he has a genuine passion for Spätburgunder, but he’s also fascinated by some of the so-called obscure varieties he has planted and wouldn’t dream of ripping them out. Despite the fame of Keller’s Rieslings only 75% of his 16 ha of vineyard is planted to it. Of all the varieties found in small parcels on the Keller estate around Flörsheim-Dalsheim, the Grüner Silvaner has in the past been one of the most difficult to track down for me.

As far as I can tell, Grüner Silvaner is merely the official name for Silvaner in Germany, not some odd mutation. Dry and mineral is pretty much all you need to sum up how this wine smells and tastes…just so long as you remember that this is a Keller wine, no matter that it costs under £20. It has the clean bite of a frosty February morning, and then, after a pause, the fruit slips in, like the sun rising above a vine clad slope, slightly warming the palate. Although you’d be tempted to call this a summer wine, I’ve been lucky enough to eat sorbet outdoors in winter in Russia and China (indeed, the Russian one was laced with warming vodka) and this might have a similar effect (though only at 11.5% abv).

Although Justerini’s import some posh Kellers, this Silvaner comes from the Howard Ripley list, which does also have KP’s top Silvaner “Feuervogel” (£156/6 IB). It came from Solent Cellar (and I think is still on their web site).

FRANKOVKA MODRÁ “UNPLUGGED” 2015, MAGULA (Slovakia)

Vladimir and Lucia Magula farm at Suchá nad Parnou, close to Trnava, northeast of the Slovakian capital, Bratislava. They have around ten hectares of vineyard, on fairly dry terroir, which has been biodynamically farmed for many decades now. The lack of rainfall encourages the vines to throw down deep roots, and it is those roots which are depicted on the domaine’s eye-catching labels. The variety is that which we know as Blaufränkisch in Austria, and “Unplugged” refers to the fact that this wine has seen no machinery in its making. The grapes are foot-trodden and the only additive is a tiny 10mg/l of sulphur added at bottling, after a couple of years ageing in older oak.

The bouquet smells of cherries with a hint of spicy green pepper, slightly wild, herbal and smoky. The fruit was picked quite late, in November, so there’s a richness and ripeness, and the overlain spice is perhaps the varietal character and the terroir coming through. It also has a nice sappy juiciness which makes it slip down well, along with a perfect balance of 12.5% alcohol. It’s one of my favourite wines from this variety, not just from Magula. It’s superb.

Imported by Basket Press Wines.

CANBERRA DISTRICT VIOGNIER 2017, CLONAKILLA (Canberra, Australia)

The Kirk family were not the first to begin making wine in the Canberra District, close to Lake George, but they have surpassed all the others in fame. Clonakilla is deservedly one of the icons of the Australian wine industry, but it is generally for their astonishing Syrahs (with a little added Viognier in a nod to Guigal’s Côte-Roties) that they are known. But when you go to visit (they are at Murrumbateman, 40km north of Canberra) as I was lucky enough to do last year, you will see a far wider list of varieties available.

I began my Viognier journey in Condrieu, of course, buying Georges Vernay’s wines from Yapp Brothers in Mere, having been entranced by this great saviour of the grape one morning at the end of the 1980s, beside the Rhône. But young vine Viognier has less complexity (and, for me, appeal) than when made from mature vines, and mature vines seem to add on a degree-or-two of alcohol with every passing decade. I know there is vibrant Viognier made on the Rhône (Mark Haisma, Stéphane Ogier etc), but Clonakilla makes a similarly dynamic and electric version in Australia, which is hard to beat.

The Clonakilla signature with white wine is “steely” (as a prematurely opened Riesling showed back in Australia in 2019). The Viognier, made since 1998, is also textured too, and it certainly benefits from time in bottle, after which it begins to take on more savoury elements. The cool climate of the Southern Table Lands’ granite terroir is the reason for the pleasant shiver you can get from a Clonakilla white. But 2017 was also an unusual vintage. Winter was unusually wet, as was early spring, but summer and harvest were warm, in the end giving a ripe crop of good size.

The bouquet here is defined by stone fruits and fresh ginger, but the palate has fresh acids and steely minerality. If you gaze on the granite up there you can almost taste the terrain (although when we were up there it was extremely windy and bush fires were raging rather closer than we might have liked, necessitating constant recourse to the essential “Fires Near Me” app on our phones). It’s one of those wines which will certainly age, and certainly add some complexity, yet at three years it had what seemed to my own palate to be a good balance between tingle and taste. It was actually so nice to drink this wine again after not having done so for two or three years.

I always buy Clonakilla Viognier from Fortnum & Mason, the Piccadilly department store, which does have a remarkable wine department. In the more distant past I bought it directly from Liberty Wines, Clonakilla’s UK agent.

RIESLING KASTANIENBUSCH GG 2007, ÖKONOMIERAT REBHOLZ (Pfalz, Germany)

Hansjörg Rebholz makes wines which don’t always quite conform to what some see as the norm from what can often be Germany’s warmest and sunniest wine region. He farms a healthy twenty hectares of vines on the Südliche Weinstrasse (which Stephan Reinhardt once pointed out is rather disparagingly sometimes called the Süssliche Weinstrasse) from his family’s base at Siebeldingen, about thirty kilometres (or a half-hour drive) north of the French/Alsace border at Wissembourg.

Kastanienbusch is the Rebholz flagship, a Grösses Gewachs “Grand Cru” facing steeply south. The 3 ha of vines Rebholz farms on this site are on complex soils of granite, slate and a porphyritic volcanic composite rock containing feldspar, called melaphyre. The vines are farmed organically and clover is sown between rows to help slow erosion on the steep slope. Kastanienbusch is one of the last vineyards Hansjörg harvests, but the wine is bone dry (coming in here at 13% abv). There’s about a 24-hour maceration before fermentation in stainless steel, and then it is kept on lees until bottling in the following spring.

I’m so glad I kept this a good long time in the cellar. It had benefitted in exactly the same way as the 2007 Domaine Weinbach, from Alsace, which I wrote about last week. The bouquet is faintly herbal, reflecting its gentle green-gold colour. The acidity has softened somewhat and the wine is now quite mellow, but it is still dry and rich. The bouquet has a touch of lemon/lime and petrol. The mouthfeel is rich enough that it almost hints of sweetness yet the texture grounds it in the firmly dry camp. In other words, it expresses so well the vintage year (warmer) without losing any of its dry GG poise and class, Gorgeous, and quite a little sophisticated.

This was purchased (don’t be shocked) from the Laithwaite’s shop in Stoney Street (near London’s Borough Market). It’s actually the only wine I’ve ever bought from there, but on the basis of this wine, more fool me. If indeed they are still open there?

“A FERMAMENT” SAUVIGNON BLANC 2017 (SKIN CONTACT), CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, England)

Back in June I wrote about an exceptional wine from Tim Phillips made from Sauvignon Blanc in 2018. It’s one which I would stick away for a year (as I have done with my remaining bottles). Some of the Sauvignon Blanc Tim harvested in the previous vintage went to make a very different experimental cuvée with skin contact. I bought a few 50cl bottles, in which some of it appeared.

The regime seems simple – three months on skins, fourteen months in barrel, bottling in September 2019 and not released until July this year. Tim is an obsessive perfectionist when it comes to his wines and he tastes them constantly. This is how he knows exactly when his wines are ready to move to their next stage and when they are ready to release. His imperative is the wine, not commercial considerations, which is why the words “cult English winemaker” increasingly precede his name when he’s written about.

Colour-wise, it’s a classic “orange wine” which smells, oddly enough, just like COS’s amphora white, Pithos. There’s deep, deep, orange peel and bergamot, slightly dusty on the nose and certainly textured on the palate. It has an autumnal hue and an autumnal demeanour. First taste is redolent of a mist rolling in around sunset on a dry and unseasonably warm October day. And like that perfect sunset, it lingers just long enough before fading. It has its wild side, but one which is somehow constrained…very Tim (if he isn’t offended by that, it’s a compliment Tim). It may actually be the best wine Tim has made, although I personally long to get hold of his next sparkling Riesling release (and more of it than the last one!).

Charlie Herring Wines are available in tiny quantity from Les Caves de Pyrene and selected independent wine shops (including some fairly local to his walled vineyard near Sway…I know Solent Cellar had some a week ago). I purchased my bottles direct from Tim. It’s about £26 for 500 ml.

PINOT NOIR “NATURE” 2018, LUCAS RIEFFEL (Alsace, France)

One of the leading lights of the Mittelbergheim School, a group of winemakers (including one from next village south, Andlau) who follow biodynamic and/or natural wine principles. Rieffel is literally a short stone’s throw down the village’s main street from Jean-Pierre Rietsch. He shares Rietsch’s passion for labels designed by local artists, and you can’t fail to spot the Rieffel bottles in the window of Lucas’s tasting room as you walk past.

Mittelbergheim’s vineyards produce glorious wines, proving that the old distinctions between the more southerly “Haut Rhin” and the more northerly “Bas Rhin” are long outdated. Mittelbergheim is without question one of the most exciting wine villages in Alsace, and as the vineyards even further north begin to get a reputation, it should be seen as firmly established. Its best producers (there are twenty or so winemakers in the village in total) are amongst the very best Alsace now has to offer. They also, to a man and woman, make cracking Pinot Noir for which Mittelbergheim is equally famed.

This “Nature” cuvée (I think Lucas makes three Pinot Noir bottlings) comes from various village sites and is aged in old oak. It undergoes no manipulations, nor additives, including sulphur. Lucas does use carbon dioxide to shield the wine from oxidation, and you will find that a little remains dissolved in the bottle. There are no bubbles, but there is a prickle on the palate on first sips. The result is a lively, zippy, fruit-packed red, with medium weight and glouglou-like concentration. It’s a lovely wine, it really is, which I will certainly buy again.

This was a recent purchase from Littlewine (littlewine.co) which I was unable to keep my hands off for long.

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Recent Wines September 2020 (Part 1) #the glouthatbindsus

The usual format again, we have here eight wines consumed, in fact relished, at home during the first part of September. Actually, one of these is a cider (Czech), so seven actual wines (ha!), which came from Alsace, Arbois, Alto-Piemonte, Catalonia, Eastern Hungary, South Australia and Vienna.

“JOHANNA” 2017, UTOPIA CIDER (Josafat Valley, Czechia)

Eva and Ivo Laurin farm orchards near Tábor in the north of the Czech Republic, around an ancient fortification called Sudkuv Dul. This is a mixed farm, perhaps untypically including carp, hens and bees. The whole philosophy is as natural as it gets. The cider apples include old Czech heritage varieties (and the trees are unusually old as well, some 80 years), and some English varieties planted to see how they go, all on two-hectares of orchard. There is no spraying, just horse manure. The ciders are fermented to dryness and all of the named cuvées are aged in well used 225-litre casks for twelve months. They bear the names of women who have inhabited Fort Sudkuv Dul over the centuries.

Utopia ciders are perhaps the closest pure ciders to wine I’ve ever tasted (putting aside those ciders such as Shobbrook or Charlie Herring, where a touch of red wine is added to the apple or pear juice). “Johanna” is mellow and golden, like an autumnal evening. It is clearly made from apples, almost as if slightly bruised, and does have a bit of bite, but it is also unquestionably a little different. I think it is an extremely versatile cider, food-friendly and one which should appeal to wine lovers…perhaps even more than your average cider drinker.

Utopia Ciders are imported by Basket Press Wines.

“TOUT NATURELLEMENT PÉTILLANT” 2019 , BECK-HARTWEG (Alsace, France)

Florian and Mathilde Beck-Hartweg farm eight hectares at Dambach-la-Ville in the increasingly exciting Bas Rhin, the northern half of the Alsace wine region. They are both in their 30s, but they are the 16th generation of the family at a domaine which was originally founded in the 1500s. Their approach is biodynamic, with total respect for nature and their terroir. Both of them are fans of Masanobu Fukuoka’s wider philosophies (Fukuoka, who died in 2008, was a proponent of natural farming, including “no till” and “no herbicide” methods which are often misleadingly described as “do nothing farming”). The terroir is something rather special as the soils around Dambach sit on pink granite.

This petnat comes from vines planted at the foot of the slopes, for this cuvée 40% Pinot Noir with a similar proportion of Muscat and 20% Pinot Gris. It’s an unusual combination which undergoes a light maceration before bottle fermentation, which gives beautifully fine bubbles and a firm spine. It’s bottled with no added sulphur, which surely enhances both the overall freshness of this 2019, and the vibrant fruit. The finish has an intriguing bitterness, which I like a lot. It would make a great aperitif, but we drank it with chick pea flour frittatas and salad. Of all the petnat wines I’ve drunk this year, this is definitely one I hope not to forget to order once the next vintage becomes available. Loved it.

Imported by Vine Trail.

“ALÉAS” 2017, DOMAINE LES BOTTES ROUGE (Jura, France)

A few years ago Jean-Baptiste Ménigoz was a quiet vigneron working just outside Arbois, in a village, Aubergement-le-Petit, which nobody visited…at least before Bottes Rouge hit the bars of Paris, London, New York and Tokyo. He’s certainly one of a group of seven or eight young Arbois producers who have attained their fame via the showcase for the region’s natural wines that is Le Nez dans Le Verre (held annually, except in times of plague, since 2011). There are only 4ha at this small domaine, which I think are all still rented, but the vines do have the advantage of being pretty old.

In 2017 the region suffered from considerable frost damage, affecting most producers to some extent, as in Eastern France generally. The result for Jean-Baptiste was that he was forced to make a single red wine cuvée. The result, however, was a triumph. This wine is smooth and fabulously fruity (total glou) but with a savoury, umami, note taking it that one step beyond. Light as it tastes, its 13.5% alcohol gives it a little weight and presence, albeit as surreptitiously as one could imagine. It went down very well.

I think this may have been a purchase from The Solent Cellar whose owners are very big Jura fans, so whilst they might not have this cuvée any more they will have something to take your fancy (you may need to ask!). Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

CAREMA CLASSICO 2016, PRODUTTORI NEBBIOLO DI CAREMA (Piemonte, Italy)

I suppose it cannot be a total surprise that as the famous wine regions of Piemonte, Barolo and Barbaresco, become increasingly expensive and sought after by collectors priced out of Burgundy, the lesser sub-regions are starting to get noticed. Whether we are of the view that there were always bargains to be had outside the two “B”s (as I am), or whether we think it’s just desperate hype, we are definitely seeing a lot more of names many of us only vaguely knew. To be fair, Roero began to get noticed a decade ago, and DOCs like Carema and Gattinara have always been there, in the background.

The Carema co-operative was founded in 1960 with around a dozen members (there are now more than eighty). They make wines which are remarkably good if you have never tried them, their reputation being similar (to a degree) to the more famous Produttori of Barbaresco. I believe the Classico is 100% Nebbiolo (85% is the legal minimum for the appellation). Fermentation is in stainless steel with twelve days on skins. Ageing is 12 months in tank, then six months in bottle.

The colour has that lovely brick orange at the rim, garnet in the centre. The bouquet is spice (mostly nutmeg) and orange peel. The palate does have red and dark fruit but is much more redolent of spice and herbs. There’s definite structure (I also bought some 2016 Riserva which I will definitely keep) so it will last for sure, but it was very enjoyable now. Would quite like some more for autumnal dishes.

Also from The Solent Cellar, this time via Astrum Wines. I’ve noticed that independents like Solent Cellar are beginning to stock a few Nebbiolo wines from outside the two classic zones. Time to explore.

SUMOLL RESERVA FAMILIA BLANC DE NOIRS BRUT NATURE, CLOS LENTISCUS (Catalonia, Spain)

It sometimes seems as if the most exciting Spanish sparkling wines are no longer labelled “Cava”. I guess we could all come up with a few names responsible for that shying away from this designation, but in the UK at least, it was the desire of supermarket giants to drag down prices (first of Cava and then Prosecco), which led to producers going along with it and of necessity thereby trashing quality for price, and ultimately harming the Cava brand itself.

This is a wonderful family producer based at St Pere des Ribes, founded in 1939. They make wine as naturally as they can. They are remarkably unusual among Spanish producers of Metodo Classico bottle fermented wines in using indigenous yeasts, and honey from their own bees to make the dosage for the second fermentation. If that were not enough, they use the remarkable, rare, but in my opinion wonderful, autochthonous grape variety, Sumoll, for this magical Blanc de Noirs.

The colour is not so much tinged with pink, but orange, certainly with this bottle where the base vintage was 2013. It was disgorged in February 2017, so it has seen a further three-and-a-half years post-disgorgement ageing. With zero dosage I wondered whether I had left it a little too long (my cellar gobbles up sparkling wines, which live in the furthest, darkest corner (common sense)). I needn’t have worried. It sings with bright biodynamic red fruits, but with such an individual character. Its philosophy and choice of variety (which, like Pinot Noir, truly seems to thrive for both red and sparkling wine) makes it a wine of real personality, not remotely like a simple Cava from the well known enterprises in the region.

Clos Lentiscus wines are not easy to source in the UK. In fact a friend has brought me some back from the region, and this bottle may have come from Barcelona. But the great little Spanish deli in Dalston, Furanxo (only five minutes from Newcomer Wines) has had bottles the past two or three visits (do check first but you’ll find their small range of wines, many (but not this one) from Otros Vinos, is worth the walk and an extra-large suitcase).

A CHANGE OF HEART 2018, RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)

Here we go again…Annamária Réka, who makes wines at Barabas near the Ukrainian border, has appeared pretty much every month during this pandemic era, but I make no apology for that. Each wine is new, and none have yet failed to reach the same heights as the previous bottle.

This wine is her red, made from Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch). The unique soils on which it is grown are loamy loess underlain with volcanic ash which has cooled and hardened to form perlite, often described as a sort of volcanic glass. There is a two-week maceration, 20% whole bunches, but the methodology is simple and hands-off. The result is a wine which sings of bright red cherries, like a rousing chorus. The vibrant acidity just lifts it to a crescendo. At 12% abv it is perfectly balanced, so darkly drinkable that one wishes it came in magnums.

There were a mere 711 bottles in the 2018 vintage. I bought the 2019 the other day, and there are, it seems, a more reasonable 1,633 bottles from that vintage. Still, I suggest getting in early to avoid disappointment. From Basket Press Wines. Restaurant/sommelier interest in Réka-Koncz does make it harder for any tardy private customers who have never used starting blocks.

SEASIDE CABERNET FRANC 2018, GEYER WINE CO (McLaren Vale, Australia)

Dave Geyer set up his wine company in Tanunda, in the Barossa Valley. This is another guy who as well as farming chemical free tries to follow a philosophy of not tilling the soil where possible. Not using a plough or rotovator may be quite unusual but an increasing number of farmers (not just in wine) are looking at the advantages of this system.

The Seaside Cabernet Franc, however, is (so I am told) not from Barossa. It comes from the cooler Sellick Hills (Adelaide Hills/McLaren Vale Region). True to form the vinification is a little strange. The first half of the blend is straightforward enough, a skin ferment for ten days. The other half of the blend was a Rosé, back blended before bottling.

The result in some ways is astonishing. The bouquet is discernibly Cab Franc, violets to the fore, but so “lifted” is the scent that it hits the very top of the nasal passage. Very refined, sweet almost. The palate is a cracker of ripe cherry fruit with bright red fruit acids hitting like a ray of light (excuse me, listening to some Hawkwind and getting carried away). It’s an easy-to-drink, medium-bodied wine where the 12.8% abv on the label for once seems spot on accurate. Joyful stuff.

I’ve enjoyed this wine regularly at tastings over the past few years but I am so glad I finally got around to buying a bottle. Definitely one to buy again. Imported by Nekter Wines.

“RAKETE” 2018, JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna, Austria)

Jutta and her partner farm a few precious hectares on the slopes on the edge of Vienna which comprise the most beautiful near-urban vineyards I know. A highlight of my visits to the Austrian capital is always to take a bus from outside Heiligenstadt Station, along the Grinzinger Strasse and up to the Gnadenkapelle in the hills above the city. After coffee and cake at the chapel cafe, the path by the bus stop leads downhill, first through silent woods, then to the vineyards which spread from the Nüssberg hill, east towards the Danube and west to the low slopes above Grinzing. The popup heurigen which dot the route in summer offer perfect refreshment stops along the way, and as it’s mostly downhill the odd glass won’t hurt.

Jutta is one of a bunch of truly intuitive women winemakers (like Annamária Réka, Victoria Torres, Veronica Ortega, Stephanie Tscheppe-Eselböck and the Renner sisters…I could go on), who are no less on top of the technical side of making clean and pure natural wines. She is also a fan of the traditional Viennese field blends, Gemischter Satz, and this wine is indeed a red field blend. It’s based on Zweigelt, but the other varieties here include St Laurent, Blauburger, Rotburger and some Merlot, all co-planted at Kahlenberg (north of Nüssberg, close to the river as it swings northwest to Klosterneuburg, with its famous abbey).

Grapes underwent four days of maceration in stainless steel, the only medium used for both fermentation and a short period of ageing. However, this natural wine was neither fined nor filtered and a bit of a shake before drinking (or lay it down in the fridge) will bring out the lees texture. The result is like drinking pure, pressed, cranberry juice, enhanced by those fine lees. It may be a pale red, but it has presence, poise and perfect summer fruit. It would certainly rank as one of my top summer wines this year, even though the 2019 became available a month or so ago.

Jutta’s wines are imported by Newcomer Wines from whom I bought this 2018, although I did (of course) buy some 2019 as well, from Littlewine.co.

See you soon, I hope, for Part 2.

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Celebration

Occasionally a group of wines come together where each and every one is of astonishing quality. Most people expect to assemble a great selection for a significant birthday, anniversary or other special event. Actually, birthdays in our house are more often than not pretty low-key. One might also quite rightly ask that if this lot wasn’t drunk to mark a special event, then what on earth were we doing celebrating anything in 2020. I might agree, but perhaps when there is absolutely nothing to celebrate that might actually be the time that a celebration of sorts is most welcome. Whatever you think of that nugget of non-wisdom, this is what four friends drank over two nights on the wettest weekend in memory.

If you are going to drown your sorrows, or perhaps shall we say raise a glass to a more optimistic future, you may as well do it well. I can say that the wines below were exceptional, each and every one of them.

“LES MAILLONSBLANC DE NOIRS EXTRA BRUT, ULYSSE COLLIN (Champagne, France)

At one time I used to be able to stretch to Selosse, and then Prévost, and when they became rather expensive I took solace in an emerging talent, Olivier Collin. Olivier worked at Selosse before starting his own venture in 2004 at Congy, on the Côte de Sézanne. He began with just one parcel, adding more so that he is now able to harvest almost nine hectares. “Maillons” was I think his second wine, first vintage 2006. It comes from the vines of Barbonne-Fayel, whose soils are rich in iron and packed with fossilised coccoliths (clusters of single-cell algae), just off the main D951 south of Sézanne itself.

This cuvée, disgorged in March last year, is one of the finest Champagnes I’ve drunk for a few years. Even better than I ever remember this wine. It has taken on a little colour from the red grapes, giving it a hue that seems to match the burst of full-bodied red fruits on both nose and palate. This initial hit is followed by a stately tailing off of flavours with autolytic character. When you put the glass down it feels like the conductor has just lowered the baton at the end of a thrilling symphony. Almost perfect, except perhaps for its price. Expect to pay £105 to £115 for it today. The quality fully justifies it.

RIESLING CUVÉE THÉO 2007, DOMAINE WEINBACH (Alsace, France)

Although today I’m only buying the wines of the exciting new natural producers in the region, my cellar still holds some classics. “Théo” is named after the husband of Colette Faller and her daughters Catherine and Laurence, who brought the domaine to prominence after Théo died in 1979 (sadly Laurence died in 2014, aged only 47, and was followed in 2015 by her mother, Colette). The domaine goes back to the seventeenth century, based around the 5 hectare monastic Clos des Capuchins, but Théo’s father purchased it in 1898 and grew the estate to around 30 ha, all on fine sites. Domaine Weinbach is unquestionably one of the region’s very top estates.

The fruit for Théo comes both from the Clos des Capuchins itself, and also usually supplemented by the fruit of younger vines on the Grand Cru Schlossberg. I’d say that the 2007 is pretty much fully mature now, though not on a downward trajectory. In fact it would be hard to find a more majestic example of mature Alsace Riesling. It simply has great complexity, presence and weight (though that weight is not remotely overbearing, nor fat). The alcohol is in perfect balance at 13%. At this age you get truly magnificent length. It is the only bottle I had, purchased long ago at The Sampler in London. I have more nice, elderly, Alsace but it will be hard to beat this bottle.

DOMAINE GRANGES DES PÈRES 2006 (Languedoc, France)

The birth of this estate at Aniane in the Hérault (not far from Daumas Gassac) was the life’s ambition of Laurent Vaillé, who had prepared by training with Gérard Chave, Éloi Dürrbach (Trévallon) and Jean-François Coche-Dury. His first vintage was 1992, of which there were a meagre 250 cases. I bought this estate’s red wine regularly throughout the 1990s and into the next decade, which enabled me to take part in a GdP vertical dinner covering every vintage, at the original 28-50 restaurant (fondly remembered) in London’s Fetter Lane. I was a little shocked, though not remotely surprised, to notice that this wine will now, in a current vintage, set you back £100. I’m so glad I was there near the beginning, and I was so grateful to relive some memories on Friday night.

The blend of the red (there is a rare white wine) is classic Aniane, ie giving Mourvèdre, Syrah and (here) a dash of Counoise a large boost of Cabernet Sauvignon. This 2006 was described by “noble rotter” Mark Andrew (in an article on the Roberson Wine web site in 2010) as “…in an awkward stage…as though it is yet to fully integrate…” Well, GdP needs time and at four years old I’d have expected as much. At sixteen years it is rich and smooth, with chocolate and hints of coffee. It is also very long. Hard to say how long it will last but at least one can say that it is fully integrated now. A treat in several senses.

BAS-ARMAGNAC CHÂTEAU DE GAUBE “UNIQUE COLLECTION” 1971, DARROZE (Gers, France)

This is a perfect example of a beautiful estate Armagnac, a spirit which knocks on the head any ideas the old guys had that it was inferior to Cognac. Chàteau de Gaube is at Perquie, in the Bas Armagnac. This bottling was made there and aged until it was taken on and bottled by the Armagnac firm of Darroze in 2017, 46 years later.

Bottled at 42%, this is a gorgeous old Armagnac, amber gold and bright in the glass with complex notes of coffee and toffee, with deep orange citrus rising above. The palate is textured, earthy even, but smooth and it’s also refined, not heavy. The lightness it almost ethereal but the alcohol is adequate warning that one glass, albeit a large one, is enough.

CAMPANIA REMENSIS 2013, BÉRÊCHE (Champagne, France)

Champagne Bérêche is fronted by the rather sophisticated Raphaël, and his brother Vincent, having been founded at Craon de Ludes, right atop the Montagne, originally back in 1847. In that time they have gained more than 10 ha of vines, on the Montagne de Reims, and down in the Marne Valley. They have also developed a small negociant line from excellent sources all over the region. In their cuvée “Reflet D’Antan” thay have one of the finest Champagnes made from a réserve perpetuelle, and they also make some of the region’s very finest still red wine. They were one of the early uptakers of nature-friendly farming among the mainstream growers, and they have also come to be known for their insistence on using cork rather than crown caps for the time spent during second fermentation.

This latter method is well exemplified in this Rosé. It leads to finer bubbles, but also a little more ingress of oxygen. This makes the Bérêche style ever so slightly more oxidative than some, for which those wholly averse to oxygen find problematic (including one Champagne expert who I otherwise respect greatly). Making the rookie error I am always accused of, I cannot pretend that over the whole range I have a greater passion for any other Champagne producer. My heart is constantly broken by the choices I have to make now these wines have doubled in price since I first knew them.

This pink from vines on the Montagne on the slopes below “Le Craon” is bottled Extra Brut with just 3g/l dosage. It is a 2013 vintage wine disgorged in March 2017, so with more than three years further ageing. I think this was a single bottle of “Remensis” left over from a domaine visit rather than a more recent purchase from Vine Trail. It bursts with soft red fruits, which perfectly complement a beautiful peachy salmon pink hue. The finish tails off to a creamy sour note which brings alive the savoury aspect of an otherwise fruity wine, doubtless the product of age to a degree. A wine with which to celebrate either sunset or sunrise, full of magic.

ARBOIS CUVÉE SPÉCIALE 1988, DOMAINE ROLET (Jura, France)

Rolet, once the largest family domaine in the Jura, has recently moved out of family ownership, the children of none of the four siblings who ran the estate having wanted to take over (crazy people). Rolet quietly went about their business, which included a whopping 65 ha of vines (Arbois, Côtes du Jura and a parcel at Étoile, further south) and a shop in Arbois, on the Rue de l’Hotel de Ville, next to Jeunet, without exciting the followers of the town’s trendy new names. Rather like biodynamic Domaine de la Pinte, their efforts never quite received the accolades and respect they deserved overseas when the Jura fixation hit the world’s wine bars. Wink Lorch called their range “exemplary, if unadventurous” (Jura Wine, 2014). I know exactly what she meant, but in such a big range there are definitely gems as well as the merely exemplary.

This wine, served from magnum, was a real treat, a wine so much better than the followers of Ganevat and Overnoy could imagine. It is the colour of a skin contact orange wine, a blend of Savagnin under flor with Chardonnay. A fine spine holds together rich umami with a lemon and caramel apple (tatin) palate. It smells simply divine. Great length too. Inspiring, quite difficult to find I think, but one of those hidden gems a few people deeply into the region know about.

It was the first time I’d drunk this wine, and I don’t mean to damn Rolet with faint praise (I go back a long way with them), but this was by far and away the best of their wines I have ever tasted. The added excitement in this case was the vintage. 1988 was the year I first visited Arbois, a fortuitous day trip from the Côte de Beaune which led to a lifelong love affair with the town, the region and her wines.

CÔTES DU JURA CHARDONNAY 2014, DOMAINE MACLE (Jura, France)

As you can see, this is becoming a bit of a Jura night, and you may even have guessed that Coq au Vin Jaune aux Morilles was on the menu (unquestionably the finest version I’ve eaten outside of Arbois itself). For a contrast with the Rolet we moved further south for the first of two wines from the village of Château-Chalon. Macle was always the most famous producer of the yellow wine from this special village, but in recent years has become much better known for their table wines as well.

Jean Macle founded the estate in the 1960s, and they currently boast a moderate 12 ha around the village, now farmed by Laurent, his son. The AOC Côtes du Jura Chardonnay is often blended with 10-15% Savagnin, but this 2014 is 100% Chardonnay from argilo-calcaire soils, aged sous voile in 228-litre barriques. The vines are fifty years old and although it bears the 2014 vintage it wasn’t in fact bottled until April 2018 (according to Vine Trail). It’s an elegant wine. The flor effect is definitely apparent but not so pronounced as with a lot of flor-aged Savagnins. Chardonnay can sometimes trick you into thinking it’s Savagnin in the Jura, a result of the soils and the ageing. Not here. There’s an elegance, and a certain lightness. Citrus comes to the fore, but there is also a savoury note with a bit of earthy texture to go with the walnuts. The finish is a stud of glorious salinity, you can almost crunch a couple of sea salt crystals between your molars. It makes it super-refreshing.

CHÂTEAU-CHALON 1999, BERTHET-BONDET (Jura, France)

Jean and Chantal Berthet-Bondet have always seemed very much a team. Jean wasn’t from a wine family. He shares a passion with me, Nepal, in that he worked there, volunteering, before finding his métier back in France in the early 1980s at Domaine Macle. Jean and Chantal set up their own domaine with just 3 ha of vines in 1984, though they have since grown this to 11 ha. The old vaulted cellar for Château-Chalon ageing at their home on Rue de la Tour dates back to the sixteenth century.

Berthet-Bondet Château-Chalon has a reputation for being one of the most elegant around, no doubt assisted in great part by the dry and airy cellar conditions (damp cellaring or a warm loft often leads to a fuller style of “Vin Jaune”). The bouquet is lifted with scents of citrus, Indian spices and a hint of malt whisky cask (definitely not used). I’d not call it light (as some VJ wines can be), more “refined”. This current bottle has sufficient age to it that its complexity shows through, with honey, lemon linctus, walnut and hazelnut on the palate. Whilst it will certainly age further, its elegance makes it highly enjoyable now.

The caveat is that almost all of the Vin Jaune/Château-Chalon wines the likes of you and I are likely to drink should be opened preferably twelve hours or more before consumption, and drunk at room temperature (unless you are blasting out the central heating or have the wood burner on full).

CAPOVILLA SATURNO PEACH GRAPPA

The choice for ending the evening, and in fact the weekend, was either my old favourite, Monsieur Roulot’s “Abricot”, or this. It just seemed like the purity of a fine Grappa was the right way to go. Capovilla was only founded in the mid 1980s but their reputation for making very fine distillates completely knocks on the head the yawn-inducing notion that grappa is some sort of rough drink for the unsophisticated.

This Distillato di Pesche Saturno (those flat peaches) is twice distilled in a copper still, only the heart being used. For grappa the pure peach fruit here will almost shock you, and the 41% alcohol (brought down by cutting with spring water) won’t, it being very refined. There’s a sweetness, countered with a more bitter dried citrus peel edge. It’s a grappa that far from giving me a headache seemed to wake me up at the end of a satisfyingly big meal. I slept like a log. You could probably drink this until death ensued, not advisable, obviously, but it’s that good. I’ve seen it retail in London for £85/500 ml. Worth every penny for grappa fans. Imported by Astrum, I believe.

Posted in Alsace, Arbois, Champagne, Fine Wine, Jura, Languedoc-Roussillon, Premium Spirits, Spirits, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Black Chalk

Six thousand years ago the early settlers in what was then a very cold, damp and misty island off the coast of mainland Europe, began to exploit the soft chalky Downlands in the south of that island for flint. It was there in abundance and was the first “wealth” those early settlers found here, the material they needed to make tools, and weapons for hunting.

Over the millennia those softly undulating, well drained, hills have been less productive. Relatively poor as agricultural land for the new field crops, devoid of metal ores or fine building stone, their best use was for grazing sheep, which were probably introduced into Britain by Neolithic settlers in around 4,000 BCE. Of course the large number of abandoned hill forts, perhaps from the Iron or Bronze Ages, which dot the South Downs are a sign, nevertheless, that this was one of the more habitable parts of the country, but agriculturally we had to wait until the last decades of the Second Millennium AD before this land found its true vocation.

We should probably identify climate change as the primary reason why wine grapes, and in particular the three main wine grape varieties of the Champagne Region, will now ripen successfully in most years in Southern England. We should not place too much faith in the effects of this global catastrophe, because with increases in temperature comes later hard frosts in spring and an increase in unseasonal rainfall and humidity. These can destroy the potential for a fine harvest just as much as more sunshine and an extra couple of warmer weeks can make it.

All of these factors provide hope and fear for the incredible number of operations investing in English and Welsh wine. The investments are staggering. In the 1970s there were probably around 500 acres of vineyards planted in England and Wales, and not all of those were professionally farmed by any means. The last figures I saw suggested a little under 7,000 acres were under vine by 2018, following a major planting spree on the back of English Sparkling Wine, but Stephen Skelton (The Wines of Great Britain, Infinite Ideas 2019) estimates further increases in planting of between 10-15% in each of 2019 and 2020, which would put the current figure closer to 10,000 acres planted (that’s a bit more than 4,000 hectares in our normal viticultural currency).

It’s a small vineyard by European standards, though not all that small. Switzerland, which has a few centuries start on the UK, only has around 15,000 hectares with a much larger area capable of supporting vines and we are a third of the way to catching them up. The amount of newly planted land in the south is remarkable, as is the investment. This worries me in the current economic climate.

I can credit Stephen Skelton again for some harvest figures. In 2013-2017 the harvest gave us an average of just over 5 million bottles. 2018 produced more than 15.5 million (admittedly a large harvest). Yet Skelton estimates that more than half of all vineyards planted with those three major Champagne varieties for traditional method sparkling wines do not yet have wines on sale. I hope there is a market for what may easily stretch to 25-to-30 million bottles at around £30-to-£40 a pop.

Switzerland is a useful country to stay with. The move of Swiss winemakers in recent decades from cheaper wines made from higher yields to a quality focus in order to sustain a market has some parallels in Great Britain. Back in the 1980s and 90s a great deal of wine here was sold at the vineyard gate. It was often still wine, largely from hybrid varieties, produced for the coach crowd, appealing as a patriotic product and something a little sweet (er, “off-dry”) to suit what was often an older palate. Most so-called wine aficionados would probably have largely steered clear of the genre, though there were notable exceptions, beacons of very high quality.

Today there are still a good number of gung-ho producers who appeal to the flag, though many others seeing export markets as absolutely essential to their ultimate success tone down the jingoism. It is certainly quality that will win out in what has all of a sudden become a very tough market. This is why Jacob Leadley and his team can be both proud, and perhaps a little relieved, that Black Chalk has in such a short time established itself at the very top of the tree.

Literally as I was writing about them gaining the accolade of Best Newcomer in the 2020 Wine GB Awards last week, Black Chalk was being announced as Overall Winner for sparkling wine at the Independent English Wine Awards (IEWA) 2020. As a champion of the quality of these wines from the start I am so pleased for them (and, yes, feeling ever so slightly smug, for I’ve not been shy in expressing my views over the past couple of years).

For good measure, Black Chalk also won a Gold Medal at the International Wine and Sprits Competition (IWSC)(95 points if that means anything to you).

Zoë and Jacob celebrate their “Best Newcomer” Award at Wine GB 2020

The whole seed for Black Chalk was probably sown when Jacob Leadley left the stress of London life for what he hoped would be a more fulfilling vocation back in 2009. After studying winemaking at Plumpton College in Sussex he wound up working for the award winning Hampshire winery, Hattingley Valley. It was here that he began to establish the close and personal contacts that would give him access to grapes in order to create his own label, from small batches of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.

Jacob’s first vintage under the Black Chalk label came in 2015, and I remember Jacob’s agent Red Squirrel Wines (now amalgamated with The Knotted Vine into Graft Wine Company) showing these wines to the press, and the justified enthusiasm of Nik and all his staff. It was an enthusiasm with which I immediately concurred.

There are two wines at Black Chalk, a Classic Cuvée and Wild Rose. The first vintage of the Classic (2015) won Silver Medals at both Tom Stevenson’s prestigious Sparkling Wine World Championships 2019 and at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) 2018. It is the 2016 Classic Cuvée, only the second vintage, note, which has won the current awards. Wild Rose is also made from all three varieties, to create a gorgeous strawberries, raspberries and cream bottle of pure delight.

Jacob – calm before the storm at Wines of Hampshire Tasting, 67 Pall Mall, early this year

These awards come at an important time for Jacob and the team. Whilst most winemakers in the British Isles spend the summer worrying about how the harvest will work out, Jacob has been fretting about whether his new winery will be done and dusted in time. The winery has been a long-term project, doubtless impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, but I’m assured that it will be ready this week for Jacob and new Assistant Winemaker Zoë Driver to bring in the fruit (Zoë began as an apprentice at Hattingley, rising to Assistant Winemaker there, and is currently studying for an MSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton). With harvest due to start on Friday that’s cutting things fine. The winery will sit beside the already open reception/tasting room and shop in the Test Valley, near Stockbridge.

The reason the new winery is so important is that there has been another major development at Black Chalk. This is the purchase of 30 acres of their own vineyards. These vines sit in the Test Valley, increasingly seen as one of Southern England’s sources for the finest grapes, and will in future provide the backbone of the Black Chalk brand, whilst they continue to benefit from the grape contracts which have already made these wines into award winners.

You can visit Black Chalk Wines, their shop and tasting room being at The Old Dairy, Fullerton Road, near Stockbridge, Hampshire SP11 7JX. A tour and tasting costs £18pp, £28pp with lunch. Alternatively, the wines can be shipped (shipping is free for three bottles or more). Contact the team on 01264 860440, or via info@blackchalkwine.co.uk

Their agent, Graft Wine Company, ( graftwine.co.uk ) will be able to point you towards a retailer. The 2016 vintage of Wild Rose is now sold out wholesale, so you might have to scour the shops for it, although the 2017 vintage is about to arrive imminently. The award-laden 2016 Classic is still currently available.

The Black Chalk Winery, Tasting Room and Shop with outdoor vine circle off Fullerton Road near Stockbridge

Posted in Artisan Wines, English Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Autentikfest Moravia 2020 (by Zainab Majerikova)

Having become increasingly impressed with the wines of Czechia over the past three or four years I had set my heart on visiting Moravia in 2020. There was no better occasion to do so than for the annual Autentikfest. The festival takes place in August and it not only showcases the Czech natural winemakers who are members of the Moravian-based Autentiste movement, but it aims to include other producers with the same philosophies from neighbouring countries and regions.

Sadly a visit in 2020 was not to be for me, the pandemic curtailing all my travel plans. However, Jiri Majerik and his wife Zainab, from London’s Czech specialist importer Basket Press Wines, were able to make it. I thought that as these wines are getting much better known in the UK, and creating a bit of a stir in particular with the sommelier community, readers would enjoy some reporting on the event. Zainab kindly agreed to write something, and to send over some photos, perhaps to whet a few appetites for next year. So over to Zainab…

“A natural wine festival in the Czech Republic may have sounded rather foreign to many a few years ago, but thankfully this has changed recently. Having been asked to write about one here on Wideworldofwine is proof that there is growing interest and a thirst to get to know the wines of this country in more depth.

The Autentikfest Moravia, in its sixth edition now, takes place every year on the second Saturday of August, from 11 am to 10 pm. The festival is organised by the Autentiste Group, more information on them below. It is definitely what we look forward to every summer since we started Basket Press Wines in 2017. It attracts many visitors from around Europe and now it’s great to see that many UK folks are keen to make the journey too.

The vision of the Autentiste Group is to bring together all of the members and other natural wine producers from Central/Eastern Europe under one roof. This year, we saw Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and, of course, Bohemia and Moravia from Czech Republic. The past 10 to 15 years has seen a significant rise in the number of Czech winemakers, many of whom form the Autentiste Group, who are steering away from making wines to please mass consumers. All the growers follow strict organic farming practices and intertwine biodynamic principles too. They also take a natural/low-intervention approach in winemaking that is not masking the fruit with any kind of additives or manipulation, allowing the wines to communicate where they are from and retain their unique sense of place.

Moravia can be easily connected via Brno, the main city in the southeast part of Czech Republic. Flights are available to Brno from London’s Stansted Airport, and then it’s only a short 40-minute drive and you can be in the heart of the winemaking region. Other alternatives include driving from neighbouring Bratislava in Slovakia, or from Vienna in Austria [Google Maps suggests approx 1 hour 45 mins from Vienna by car, 45 to 50 mins from Brno and around 1 hour 15 mins from Bratislava – Ed].

The festival takes place in the village of Boleradice in the Velkopavlovicka subregion. It takes place on a hill overlooking the village in the valley, in a beautiful courtyard dotted with traditional cellars, including Petr Korab’s cellar. Petr is one of the members of the Autentiste Group and the festival has been held here since its inception. Ask anyone and an outdoor tasting in the shade of the trees with vineyards surrounding the area sounds enticing enough to spend a hot summer day at. Even with ample accommodation in the village, booking early is recommended. One can also opt to camp out, right by the festival site. With unlimited supply of food from stands set up by restaurants, who also focus on sourcing their ingredients with care, you won’t go hungry.

Petr Korab

The Autentikfest leaves you feeling relaxed and has a lovely laid back feel to it. The visitors to this festival usually also show a great understanding of the wines and seem to really savour and enjoy the day rather than rush it. The continuous supply of food and water tanks can keep you going until the last hours. Not guaranteeing any lack of heavy headedness the next day, but at least, you know you have drunk well and been poured wines by some of the most exciting Central European winemakers on the scene.

A list of all the winemakers who poured their wines on the day can be found here: http://autentikfest.cz ” [click on the left hand button on the top row – that’s Introduction, or Uvod if you haven’t hit translate – and scroll down to the producer list].

Petr Kocarik
Petr Korab Vineyards
Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Slovakian Wine, Wine, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wine GB Awards 2020

Many of you will have seen the Trophy Winners of the Wine GB Awards 2020, announced around a week ago with an online presentation. Naturally, with the current pandemic, the Awards had to go “virtual” this year so there was no black tie dinner, and presumably fewer nasty hangovers all round. But with the difficulties experienced by English wine producers this year, whether that be with employing picking crews or merely selling wines when cellar door sales have been curtailed, it seems even more important to spread the word about the English and Welsh (I should stress Welsh as well) wine industry.

I hesitate to use the word “industry”. Although the UK is now planted with very close to 10,000 acres of grape vines, very few individual producers in the UK have reached the sort of production levels one might categorise as industrial, although it’s fair to say that a great many have gone beyond what we might call “artisan”. Most producers are still fairly small scale though, and many are also relatively new. They have all sunk large investments into their vineyards and wineries, and are hoping for a return on that investment. As we enter the great unknowns of the post-Covid economy and a potential deal-less Brexit, anyone who loves English wine will be keeping their fingers crossed for them.

The reason it’s worth investing our energy in promoting these wines is that they really are good. Okay, plenty of ridiculous hyperbole gets thrown around (recently we find that an English wine is purportedly the “best in the world”), but although that kind of wild reporting does our wines no good in the long run, except perhaps for the headline writers, nevertheless the quality of the best English and Welsh Sparkling Wines is simply stunning, and the still wines are not that far behind, if at all, in many cases.

The 2020 judging took place at the Ashling Park Winery near Chichester, with judges Oz Clarke and Susie Barrie as co-chairs, assisted by Rebecca Palmer (of Corney & Barrow). They tasted 281 wines over five days and awarded 245 medals (34 Gold, 98 Silver and 113 Bronze). For the top wines there were 13 Trophies. I shall list those and mention some of the other wines of interest which gained some sort of medal. After that we have the special trophies, the top awards.

Before moving on to the winners I would say that there were some producers who didn’t get a mention. It is likely, looking at my list below (just the ones which came to mind) that some may not have entered. That’s a shame, especially when one or two are clearly aiming to be the best. Some others may be too small to wish to enter (cost of entry?), or perhaps with one or two, their natural wine and biodynamic tendencies didn’t float the judges’ collective boat? We shall never know because the thirty-six wines which did enter but failed to gain an award are not listed anywhere, as far as I can see.

As I have drunk this past year excellent wines from Nyetimber, Rathfinny Estate, Westwell Wines, Tillingham, Ancre Hill, Hoffmann & Rathbone, Hambledon, Cottonworth and from the students at Plumpton College, I would like to give them a shout. Their names do not, as far as I can see, appear in the list of winners. Susie Barrie mentioned “boundary pushing” and I’d like to think that all of the above, albeit in different ways, have pushed forward the boundaries of English and Welsh Wine, and through innovation comes progress, does it not?

Oh, I didn’t expect to see Tim Phillips’s wines there, but those who know, know, and I think a fair few of you do judging by my correspondence.

Trophy Winners

Ashling Park (hosts) gained two trophies for their NV and Rosé sparkling wines.

Hattingley Valley, Jenkyn Place and Black Chalk gained Vintage trophies for their 2014, 2015 and 2016 cuvées respectively.

Breaky Bottom “Cuvée Michelle Moreau” 2014 (Non-classic Blend Trophy).

Chapel Down won three trophies for their Kit’s Coty cuvées (Bacchus and Chardonnay, both 2017, and their sparkling Coeur de Cuvée 2014).

Gusbourne won two trophies, both for still wines (Cherry Garden Rosé 2019 and Pinot Noir 2018).

Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs 2015.

Sugrue Trouble with Dreams 2014

The Golds…

Not all the gold medals are listed here, and not all are wines I know, of course, but the following producers have shown wines which, in the opinion of the judges (as stated by Oz Clarke on the Awards Broadcast) are “world class”:

Langham (2); Breaky Bottom (2), Raimes; Wiston; High Clandon Estate; Winding Wood; Grange Estate; Bluebell Vineyards; Sharpham; Gusbourne (2), Harrow & Hope; and Woodchester Valley.

Other notable medal winners…

This is just a random list of producers I know. Some are listed because they didn’t come away with any more than a silver though you might have expected them to.

Bride Valley gained Silver, as did Davenport for their well known Horsmonden Dry White 2018. Cornwall’s Camel Valley appears with a Silver for their 2017 Brut. Trevibban Mill gets a Silver for an unusual Sparkling Red. The two London urban winery projects get a mention, both Roberson via their London Cru Label (Pinot Noir Précose, better identified as Frühburgunder), and then Vagabond Wines, who managed three Bronze for Bacchus, Ortega and Pinot Noir Rosé.

Two further mentions, first Davenport who got a Bronze for their “HUX”. This is a botrytis-style varietal Huxelrebe made with 10g/l residual sugar (so off-dry). It’s a style which used to dominate English Wine, and it’s nice in some ways to see someone continuing the tradition at a decent quality level.

I’ll also mention Hidden Spring Vineyard. In the 1990s they had a burgeoning reputation. I believe that the first English Sparkling Wine the Fortnum & Mason department store in London sold was their pink, and their still wines boasted some innovative labels. I’m not sure how many times Hidden Spring sold but the current owners took over in 2015, building a small boutique winery on-site near Horam (East Sussex). It’s good to see a very old favourite back on its feet. They came away with one apiece of Gold, Silver and Bronze.

An old Hidden Spring label, taking me back a bit

Now we come to the top awards of the competition. These are for the wines which really shone.

Top Sparkling Wine Trophy went to Hattingley Valley for their King’s Cuvée 2014.

Top Still Wine Trophy went to Chapel Down for Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2017.

Regional Awards went to:

Wales – White Castle;

West of England – Sharpham (for their Stop Ferment Bacchus 2019);

South East – Given jointly to Chapel Down and Ashling Park;

Wessex – Hattingley Valley Wines;

Thames & Chilterns -Harrow & Hope;

Midlands & North – Laneberg Wines

East Anglia – Tuffon Hall

Laneberg Wines is Tyneside’s first urban winery project, in the Team Valley, Gateshead. From what I’ve read, this sounds pretty exciting, though I know nothing about them really. Their first vintage was 2018, and if you wondered about ripening the grapes, those used for that vintage came from Leicestershire.

Equally, I know very little about Harrow & Hope, although I’ve been reading a lot in recent months. They are at Marlow, on the Chiltern Hills. They planted almost 16 acres (6.4 ha) of the main Champagne varieties in 2010 and have since been described as “stars of the future” (Stephen Skelton MW, The Wines of Great Britain, Infinite Ideas 2019, p162). Henry Laithwaite needs little introduction, being the son of Tony, of the wine mail order specialist of the same name. The south facing chalk hill, riddled with hard flint, which Henry farms with his wife, Kaye, provides excellent terroir. Skelton’s latest book gives a large entry to a vineyard on which he offered consultation services. Worth reading because he obviously knows the operation well and it does sound, from other sources, that his prediction may be pretty accurate.

Stephen Skelton himself received the Wine GB Lifetime Achievement Award.

Best Newcomer Trophy went to Jacob Leadley’s Black Chalk in the Test Valley, and here I must moan that my closest wine shop has for whatever reason chosen to stop listing Black Chalk just as they receive recognition in these awards. A foolhardy decision. I must try to find time to pop over to see Jacob and the team, unless of course we are heading into a second Lockdown.

The Boutique Trophy is awarded to the top scoring wine of the Awards. A taste-off between High Clandon, Breaky Bottom and Sugrue saw the accolade go to Dermot Sugrue. His “Trouble with Dreams 2014” comes off a vineyard in Storrington (East Sussex), planted for a religious order in 2006. The field mix is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, planted (unusually) on an east-west orientation due to the nature of the site. The wine is made at Wiston, and in any vintage it is wonderful…but give it some age to see how magnificent it can be.

It’s worth noting that in his acceptance speach Dermot thanked, inter alia, his “Romanian pickers”, a reminder that the hard work done at harvest by these crews is often forgotten in the current climate. I know of several vineyards in the UK who rely on very experienced and expert Romanian pickers whose skills without doubt contribute to the quality of the grapes they bring in, and thus the end product.

Winery of the Year went to Wiston Estate, which I passed only yesterday by coincidence. The vines here were a project of Pip Goring, whose son Richard is now in charge of what, from their acceptance video, looks a very happy small team. Dermot Sugrue is Chief Winemaker. Fingers crossed I shall be toasting my dad on his birthday with the wine below, very soon.

Supreme Champion – The Gore Browne Trophy was a straight taste-off between the top still wine and top sparkling wine, the winner being Hattingley Valley King’s Cuvée 2014. This is a top barrel selection, both fermented and aged in barrel, fruit either sourced from the home vineyard or from vineyards directly managed by Hattingley Valley. Emma Rice is winemaker, at a producer which has grown to become perhaps the biggest exporter of English Wine overseas. Hanging onto, whilst adding to, export markets is going to be key to the future prosperity of UK wine.

The full list of medalists, along with a thirty minute film introducing the big winners from the 2020 Awards, is up on the Wine GB web site: here.

All I can add is to admonish Oz for his choice of a narrow flute with which to toast the winners. Take a tip from Susie, Oz! Treat him to some new stems, someone.

Otherwise, just go out and try some of these wines. The best are not cheap, but they do represent good value compared to Champagnes of similar quality. It’s a question of scale. If the wine is “cheap” then I’d be wary without tasting. Often we hear the criticism, albeit less and less, that the wines are acidic and young. As producers establish reserve wines for blending into the sparklers, and climate change brings warmer ripening seasons (albeit with less predictability for rain, frost and hail than previously), the route to true top quality becomes more well trodden. Often they key is merely to allow the wines to age, as indeed you would any other wine of quality.

I have changed somewhat during this pandemic, and one way in which I’ve changed is in a desire to shop locally. We can also try to drink more locally too. That’s never going to work perfectly for any wine obsessive, but then I still have to go further afield than my local corner shop and veg box delivery for some of what I need, and I even have to go to a large nasty online store when my local stores’s web sites can’t help me. Supporting the UK wine industry is no hardship, even for someone with my offbeat tastes. The old cliché rings true…use it or lose it.

Here are a few more photos of English and Welsh wines I enjoy, some winning awards here and others conspicuous by their absence.

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Recent Wines August 2020 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

We start out here in Part Two with a trip to Sicily, where I’ve not visited, so to speak, for a while. We then journey vicariously via the Mosel, Beaujolais (but not as we know it), Alsace, Burgenland, Champagne, Jura and back to Burgenland. As you will see, variety is the spice, and fruit, of life. If you haven’t yet managed to catch up on Part One, you only have to scroll down to find it.

ZIBIBBO IN PITHOS 2016, COS (Sicily, Italy)

I’ve drunk this relatively new addition to the COS range a few times, but the last time I wrote about it was from its inaugural 2014 vintage, and that was a rather magnificent magnum. There was no amphora Zibibbo in 2015 so this is the wine’s second vintage. I go back an awfully long way with COS, so much so that these days I forget to buy some very often, but I rather wish I could remember to buy this particular cuvée in every vintage.

Zibibbo is Muscat of Alexandria, and this comes from vines averaging an age of twenty years in the Marsala production zone, so quite a trip from the COS base at Vittoria. The grapes undergo a spontaneous fermentation in amphora, after which they spend a further ten months on skins. The colour is deep orange, and there’s plenty of texture, even in a four year old bottle, but despite that the nose has that lightness of mist drifting away as the sun warms up an autumnal morning (just like today, in fact, although I’m not sure they get autumnal mists around Marsala).

The beeswax and nectarine on the nose is complemented by orange and bergamot on the palate. It’s a dry wine, but initial lemon acidity has mellowed to just a twist. There’s remarkable depth here, it’s a very grown up wine for the grape variety. I’d go as far as saying it’s sophisticated, and it gets more so with age. It will certainly age further but I’m not sure there’s much point, it’s so good now.

Usually available on release in relatively small quantity from Les Caves de Pyrene.

WEINHAUS PETER LAUER DEUTSCHER SEKT BRUT 2016 (Mosel/Saar, Germany)

I am sure I’ve mentioned many times the old museum Sekts made by Peter Lauer in the 1990s, which occasionally crop up a few bottles here and a few more there, in London. These are quite remarkable bottles, worth grabbing even if they cost the same as a bottle of fine and famous Grower Champagne. But what we have here is the same wine made by current winemaker, Florian Lauer, at Ayl on the Saar tributary of the Mosel.

This is a Riesling from great terroir, eminently suitable for sparkling wines, being a little cooler than the slopes of the main river. I’ve read that the majority of the fruit comes from Ayler Kupp itself. It doesn’t lack for body, or maybe I mean structure, but there’s also a lightness which seems to infuse every part of this wine. We have a floral bouquet combining with a very mineral palate. It’s definitely not over acidic, but although balanced I think we could put it on the side of “strict”, perhaps less so than initially, four years post-vintage. But that’s its beauty. It doesn’t have that autolytic complexity found in those older releases, but it does have immediacy and class.

The older wines may be said to prove beyond doubt that Riesling can make complex sparkling wines by the traditional method, but this proves we can thoroughly enjoy Sparkling Riesling every day. Now for the tricky bit. I know this wine is fairly inexpensive and extremely good value, but I just cannot remember where I bought it. Not Howard Ripley, from whom I would usually obtain, indirectly, most of my Lauer wines. Perhaps someone might be kind enough to jog my memory? It’s important because I do want more. Having gone over to the dark side regarding Spätburgunder, Sekt and obscure German grape varieties are both pulling me inexorably over the edge right now.

PETNAT ROSÉ 2918, DOMAINE SAINT-CYR (Beaujolais, France)

Raphael Saint Cyr is the fourth generation working at a domaine previously started by his great grandfather under the name “Domaine Bellevue”. Although the domaine is at Anse, which is right on the southern edge of the region, in the “Beaujolais” appellation, they also have vines in the north, in the Crus of Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Chénas and Regnié.

The domaine is currently organic after conversion by Raphael, and this Gamay petnat is from clay and limestone soils and underwent a three day cold soak before fermentation. It’s simple but fruity, light, gently textured with a touch of minerality and incredibly thirst quenching (and 11% abv). The soft cherry fruit with a touch of raspberry is the essence of glou. A lovely summer wine, and summer does seem to be generously giving us a final flourish here in the south. Rather like the pink petnat from Domaine Maupertuis (Auvergne), this is one to buy every summer and not really think about it too much. Just grab for any occasion that takes place outdoors, especially picnics.

My bottle came from The Solent Cellar. Six wines from Domaine Saint Cyr are now available from Uncharted Wines. I don’t think they have this cuvée, but they sell a remarkably similar 2019 pink Gamay petnat called “Galoche”. As Raphael has started to give all his wines “parcel” names, it may be pretty much the same thing from the next vintage. It’s cheap as chips.

“RACINES MÉTISSES” 2018, LAURENT BARTH (Alsace, France)

Laurent Barth is one of the new wave of exciting natural producers in Alsace. He’s fairly typical of these young growers, in that his domaine is small (just four hectares), but he has seven grape varieties planted on twenty-five different sites, from which he produces, depending on the vintage, at least ten, often more, different cuvées. Three of these are usually Pinot Noirs.

This wine is a traditional blend of varieties, once generally known as Edelzwicker. Racines Métisses means, they will tell you, “mixed roots”, although in colloquial French it has a subtler and more contemporary meaning. Laurent has a fascinating label which depicts a vine leaf made up of the phrase “L’esprit du Vin” in Persian, Hindi, Georgian and Arabic script, which may perhaps hint at where this well travelled vigneron is coming from.

The blend here centres on Auxerrois, a Pinot Blanc variant (at around 55%), along with Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and a small amount of Gewurztraminer. Off light alluvial soils, the wine has a gentle quality and a good amount of vivacity (there’s around 6g/l of residual sugar which adds a little mouthfeel to the general lightness of touch). The 13.5% alcohol listed on the label is virtually invisible on the palate. Its fragrant florality is what you notice, with honey, lemon and lime. Aged partly in large old Vosges oak and partly in stainless steel, with minimal sulphur addition, it has genuine poise. A lovely wine from an excellent producer based at Bennwihr, a little north of Colmar.

Imported by Vine Trail.

PUSZTA LIBRE 2019, CLAUS PREISINGER (Burgenland, Austria)

From the balcony of Claus’s ultra-modern winery above Gols you can survey the stretch of vines which, uninterrupted, eventually reach the shallow Neusiedlersee, probably enveloped in a mid-morning haze as summer tails off and harvest is in full swing. Claus makes such a range of wines, all of them wonderful in their own way. A number of them are just so sophisticated that very few people in the UK know just how good they are. Yet Claus also has a sense of fun and enjoyment. When it comes to sheer drinking pleasure I think no wine better exemplifies this than Puszta Libre.

This is a blend based on Saint Laurent with Zweigelt and Pinot Noir, made in the style of an old Burgenland table wine as Claus’s grandfather might have fashioned. Puszta refers to the Hungarian Plain, and as with so many of the wine producers around here, acknowledges the Hungarian heritage of these vineyards before the Empire was split up.

The style is 100% simple, gluggable, fresh and zippy. You get very concentrated black fruits, as if you’ve overdone your hedgerow browsing. We drank this biodynamic cracker slightly chilled with Moroccan-inspired puff pastry tart of roast vegetables. The label, which emulates one found on lemonade bottles in the 1920s, is simple, classic and apt. This has to be one of the best summer wines you can buy and it is reasonably easy to source from either Newcomer Wines or Littlewine. Suitable both for bright sunshine and for cheering up a dull day.

CHAMPAGNE VINCENT COUCHE CUVÉE CHLOÉ BRUT NATURE (Champagne, France)

I drank a regular cuvée from Vincent Couche earlier this year. It was very nice but not really a wine that stood out, for £42, among those of very good but lesser known growers. This cuvée was a significant step up, I think. Couche grows thirteen hectares on the Côte des Bar, having converted to biodynamics in 2008. It’s clear that there is a real passion for the vineyard in his veins, which he has inherited from his mother (he says). It’s clear that, like all successful growers, he believes in allowing well nurtured fruit to express itself without much intervention in the cellar. To this end, Chloé is actually a zero added sulphur cuvée, not unknown but still relatively unusual in Champagne.

Being made with no added sulphur is not the only thing which is unusual about this wine. It’s actually a solera cuvée too. The grapes come from Buxeuil, and from the island of vines at Montgueux (made famous by Emmanuel Lassaigne). The blend is around two-thirds Pinot Noir and one third Chardonnay and a little over half of the blend was vinified in oak. Bottling was not only with zero sulphur, but zero dosage as well.

The result is a wine (I say “wine” deliberately) of stature with glorious complexity evolving, though you might know that I do love a good réserve perpetuelle, so it’s a style I can appreciate. You need perhaps to be able to tolerate a tiny bit of oxidative ageing, which I know some people can’t stand in their Champagne. But I think it’s lovely. Mature brioche notes dominate, balanced with citrus acidity, the palate being evolved and relatively forward but not too much. Allow it to open out, preferably in a wine glass (certainly not a flute). It will then give pleasure with food if that’s the way you want to go with it.

Again, I don’t know who imports this. It’s another bottle from The Solent Cellar and is listed at £50, only £8 more than the Montgueux and certainly worth every one of them.

CHARDONNAY “LES CORVÉES” 2015, DOMAINE DE LA TOURAIZE (Jura, France)

I’ve met André-Jean Morin and his wife in London, at Raw Wine 2019, having first tasted their wines a couple of years before, thanks to a kind friend who brought some back for me. Their domaine on the edge of Arbois was pencilled in for a definite visit in early July, one of several trips I was unable to make this year. By way of compensation I managed to grab a bottle of this Chardonnay when purchasing a mixed case from their UK importer recently.

André-Jean took over the family vines, now in the region of twelve hectares, from his father, who was a member of the Arbois co-operative. Now approaching fifty, he remembered, when we met, the excitement and fear of leaving the co-op and going it alone at a time when such actions were looked on slightly less favourably by the community than they are today.

The Arbois winery is quite small, but as André-Jean sells more than 60% of his grapes to other producers he is able to concentrate on a few cuvées of his own. This is the first time I’ve drunk a Touraize Chardonnay and I think it’s the best bottle from AJ so far. The vines are in the famous “Les Corvées” site, situated off the road from Arbois to Montigny-les-Arsures, and below the famous Tour de Curon where Stéphane Tissot makes his world class Chardonnay. The vineyard is actually planted more with Trousseau, for which it was originally known (AJ makes Trousseau Les Corvées too), than Chardonnay. Quite a number of very well regarded Arbois producers have vines of both varieties here. You’ll see the name on bottles from Domaine de la Tournelle, L’Octavin and others.

I think the quality of the Touraize wines has rocketed in the past five or six years, as exemplified in this Chardonnay. It’s a truly old vine cuvée (50-to-80-y-o vines) showing complexity with five years age. It’s nutty but not oxidative, fresh and remarkably light yet equally mature. I think both the domaine and this wine are a well kept secret, but they are a new addition to the Vine Trail portfolio. I hope the folks there agree with me that it is an astute addition.

FURMINT “AUS DEM QUARZ” UNFILTRIERT 2018, MICHAEL WENZEL (Burgenland, Austria)

We are back in Burgenland for our final wine, but we have moved round the lake anti-clockwise, from Gols on the northern shore to Rust on the western side. Michael is one of many winemakers with a long family history here, in his case going back to 1647. Back in the day, when Hungary was the dominating presence in this part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Furmint was widely planted. It almost died out around Rust, but in the 1980s some cuttings were smuggled over the border in the communist era (the old “Iron Curtain”, just down the road from Rust) by Michael’s father, Robert. It’s not really all that surprising, therefore, that Michael has made this variety his main focus. There are still less than a dozen hectares of Furmint planted here and he owns a little over a quarter of them.

The grapes are whole bunch fermented in a mix of barrel and tank, with eight months on lees and no fining nor filtration at bottling. The result is “flinty” on the palate (though the terroir is of course quartz with mica) and zippy/fresh. It begins zesty and mineral but finishes with spice. In the glass over time it develops a more fruity bouquet, and quite a bit of complexity despite being, if my memory is correct, the cheapest of Michael’s Furmint bottlings (£24). One of its vendors calls Furmint the “Chenin Blanc of the East”, quite apt as there are allegedly odd pockets of Furmint vines in France’s Loire Valley. The varieties are totally distinct, but they are both good at tapping into the mineral nature of their respective soils. Drinking a bottle of this was a lovely hour-long journey of a wine unfolding.

This bottle came from Littlewine. They do still have some, I think, and if you are putting together a mixed case from them I’d seriously recommend you grab a bottle. As I finish writing about August’s best wines I find myself wondering whether this may perhaps have been the most surprising wine of the month in terms of thrills per pound. Wenzel is also available from Newcomer Wines.

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Recent Wines August 2020 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Part one of my roundup of the wines drunk at home in August is pretty diverse. This first eight (eight more in Part 2 to follow) includes two from France (Jura and Bordeaux), plus bottles from England, Hungary, Germany, South Africa, Austria and Spain. The diversity was helped by the fact that I drank quite a few wines I’ve written about before during August, and I do like to avoid repetition. Most are in my usual “natural” camp, but I’m continuing to drink a few of the slightly more classical wines I have squirrelled away (if you would call white Bordeaux “classical”).

ORTEGA AMPHORA 2018, WESTWELL WINES (Kent, UK)

This is another bottle from a recent small purchase of Westwell Wines, who are undoubtedly one of the most exciting of the new wave of small, artisan, wine estates pushing boundaries on the UK wine scene. They are, perhaps, to Kent what Tillingham is to Sussex, although county borders aside these two producers are not far apart at all. Westwell is just below the Pilgrim’s Way walking path and just off the M20 between Maidstone and Ashford.

We are on North Downs chalk here, good terroir for Ortega, enhanced in this case by skin contact in amphora, both for fermentation and ageing. These are Italian vessels made in Florence by the renowned maker, Artenova.

It’s a really beautiful wine with a bouquet showing clear notes of apricot and honeysuckle with a little beeswax, perhaps. The palate has gentle orange citrus but finishng with herbs and spice. It’s a wine that’s soft and nuanced, and exceptionally good. Lovely label too.

The agent is Uncharted Wines.

PRETTY COLD 2018, RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)

This is my monthly fix of Annamária Réka’s wines, and as I type I’m about to drink another (they will soon be all gone). I’m trying to ration them but I could easily guzzle them far quicker. You probably know by now that Annamária is on Hungary’s eastern border with Ukraine, though not all that far from Tokaji, and that her vines cross into Ukraine in places as well.

This bottle is a petnat made from a field blend based on Királyléanyka, a local grape Annamária is keen to keep alive. It’s an ancestral method, bottle fermented but undisgorged, sparkler made from organic grapes. It has plenty of small bubbles, a lovely ethereal nose and a palate which is dry, mineral-textured and extremely refreshing. It does have a firm backbone but it slips down pretty easily, all too easily at 12% abv. Only 800 bottles of this were produced in 2018, so I feel lucky to have got one. It’s simply as good as all the rest of Annamária Réka’s wines I have tried. Certainly one of the best half-dozen petnats of the so-called summer of 2020.

Imported by Basket Press Wines.

PLOUSSARD 2016, ARBOIS-PUPILLIN, DOMAINE DE LA RENARDIÈRE (Jura, France)

Laurence and Jean-Michel Petit are well established now with around seven hectares in the village of Pupillin, just south of Arbois. Jean-Michel has run this traditional domaine whilst fulfilling several roles within the local wine community, but in recent years he’s been able to step back a little and to think through his own approach, which is now organic whilst using some biodynamic preps.

There are a little over 1.5 ha of Ploussard vines here, all on the local “marnes bleus” soils which suit the variety perfectly. Pupillin does, after all, style itself quite justifiably as the “World Capital” of the variety. Although Jean-Michel still adds sulphur to most of his wines, albeit in ever decreasing quantity, the Ploussard is a fully natural wine, made with no added sulphur. It sees 18 months ageing in large oak and is otherwise simply made.

In some ways it’s a simple wine in the end result, but that is not a disparaging remark at all. It’s very successful, tasting of pure raspberry, with perhaps the smallest hint of liquorice and cherry bite on the finish. This makes it smooth and a little bit chewy without tannin. It’s just a tasty bottle which seems perfectly judged, easy going and drinking well now.

I’ve not tracked down who imports this but it came from The Solent Cellar (though they currently only list this producer’s Vin Jaune).

LORCHÄUSER SELIGMACHER 2011, EVA FRICKE (Rheingau, Germany)

Eva doesn’t come from a winemaking family, both her parents being doctors in Northern Germany. It was on a gap year job in South Africa that she caught the wine bug and after studies at Geisenheim she found work experience at Cissac, Pingus, Schloss Johannisberg, and in Australia and Piemonte. She returned to Australia after graduating (Tatachilla, McLaren Vale) before returning to Germany as vineyard manager for JB Becker.

Her first solo vintage in the Rheingau at Eltville was 2006, her range based around three single site Lorch wines, from Schlossberg, the GG Krone, and Seligmacher. But 2011 was the first vintage where she was working full time for herself, previously holding down a day job at Josef Leitz. All of her vines, covering thirteen hectares (of which only a couple are owned outright), are Riesling. This 2011 vintage was the first I bought and this was my first bottle of Seligmacher I opened.

At nine years old this Riesling is simply gorgeous, almost shockingly good, confirming Fricke for me as one of the new young stars of the rejuvenated Rheingau region. These are old vines off slate with quartz deposits. The wine tastes assured, with posture. Lime and petrol make for a classic nose, and the smooth palate is almost regal. It has Riesling fruit but bags of mineral acidity. Giving it the chance to mature a little has really illuminated for me Eva’s gifts as a winemaker. The problem will be whether to swiftly enjoy the remaining bottles or to keep one for a good while longer? The latter course will be difficult. This was so good.

Eva’s wines appear to be available both via Berry Bros & Rudd and Lay & Wheeler.

SPOTSWOOD SHIRAZ 2010, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

We had a couple of very carnivorous family members to lunch on about the hottest day of the year, and I might have wondered why I was serving a wine with 15.5% alcohol, but it worked remarkably well (served at cellar temperature). A bit like drinking Port up the Douro, if you have ever done that.

You’ll have seen me drinking the wines and ciders made in Hampshire by Tim Phillips under his Charlie Herring label. Before he came home he made a range of very different wines in South Africa, but I think they show a similar degree of subtlety (you read that correctly), despite the high alcohol.

What we have is very low yield Shiraz destemmed and fermented in open-topped vats using wild yeasts, pumpovers and punching down, and then into a basket press before transfer to used French oak in both small and large formats. Ageing was 24 months, and this wine was bottled in February 2012, just over 3,700 bottles being filled.

The 2010 is really hitting its stride and seems to me in a wonderful place. Naturally it’s rich and smooth, with a degree of power for sure, but how can a wine with such high alcohol be so balanced? Well, it is. It balances fruit and alcohol on the palate, and also fruit and tertiary aromas on the nose. I’d call it a little gem, in the sense that it is almost unknown, but of course there is nothing “little” about it.

This wine, and others like it, are available at some independent retailers, but you can just contact Tim at http://www.charlieherring.com/contact/ if you want to see which older vintages he has in the UK. There’s also a telephone number on the contact form, though he’s a busy man and would doubtless prefer an email. The Durif is pretty popular among a few people I know too. I may save that until the first snows of winter.

BLANC DE LYNCH-BAGES 2013, CHÂTEAU LYNCH-BAGES (Bordeaux, France)

We all know Château Lynch-Bages, the seriously overperforming “fifth growth” in the hamlet of Bages, in the Pauillac appellation. Its red wines are long-lived, renowned and justly praised. I’ve drunk a fair bit of it in the past, before its price caught up with and overtook its fame. A visit here was one of the highlights of a trip in 2015 when I had been a guest down the road at Pichon-Longueville (Baron).

Despite its eminent position now in the Haut-Médoc firmament, this estate is geared up much better than most for wine tourism. For a start, the hamlet of Bages itself has a nice bar/restaurant in the tiny square, and no visit to Lynch-Bages is complete without, in true Banksy style, exiting through the gift shop, which sits nicely opposite the restaurant on the other side of the square, the “Bages Bazaar”. There’s also a nice butcher and an outlet of a somewhat famous Parisian baker, but you can discover Bages’s epicurean life for yourself. This is all to say that I purchased this fairly rare wine in said gift shop.

There are about 36,000 bottles of Blanc every year, which sounds a lot but it’s small compared to the region’s red wines from the classified châteaux. It tastes principally like a Sauvignon Blanc, so it’s surprising to discover that this variety only makes up around 60% of the blend, along with Semillon (circa 27%) and rather less (circa 13%) Muscadelle. The Sauvignon comes through perhaps because the aim is to pick the grapes a little earlier than in the past, in order to emphasise freshness, but the other varieties do add depth, for sure.

I drink very little white Bordeaux, and I’m sure this is partly why I enjoyed this very well executed version so much. The gooseberry fruit is there, but not over-stated, as one would expect from such a classy producer. It has a fresh leafy aroma too. The wine is refreshing, even at nine years old, subtle but not simple. The palate is vibrant and balanced and I was surprised how much I liked it. It was really just bought as an oddity because, after all, it seemed a little pointless trying to bring bottles of the Grand Vin I could buy very easily in London home on Easyjet. I’d happily buy more of this.

WEINBERGSCHNECKE PINOT NOIR ROSÉ 2017, ANDREAS & ELISABETH TSCHEPPE (Südsteiermark, Austria)

Andreas Tscheppe began farming in Southern Styria in 2004, based at Leutschach an der Weinstraße. His philosophy is outright biodynamics, venturing into territory which remains peripheral for many otherwise biodynamic producers. He’s also a proponent of sulphur-free winemaking where possible. He fashions a range of quite remarkable wines, acknowledged as such by a great many commentators, yet he also has his detractors amongst the “glass half empty” group of wine critics (sic). They don’t seem to like his “unfiltered” methods, but this is not their only cause for complaint. More fool their outdated conservatism, in my humble opinion.

This wine, take it from me, is a wonderful pink Pinot Noir petnat known to most of us as “The Vineyard Snail” (see label). It’s pale, and certainly cloudy (but that is in the nature of the “ancient method” of making undisgorged sparkling wine, comes with the territory). It is the colour of gloriously ripe raspberries, which oddly enough, lo and behold, it smells and tastes of too. It’s as simple as that, aside from a bit of dry extract texture and bright pointy acidity on the tongue as the wine finishes. It is also just off-dry and combined with its overt fruitiness, that small touch of residual sugar alongside a mere 10.5% alcohol made it perfect on a thirty-degree day. Yet another wine where its joyfulness outweighs any need for complexity.

Andreas and Elisabeth’s wines are imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

PENAPEDRE 2015, ZARATE (Ribeira Sacra, Spain)

Zarate is located in the Val do Salnes, one of Galicia’s five Rias Baixas sub-zones, but this is a wine from the stunningly beautiful Ribeira Sacra DO, a way inland in the province. The influence here is still from the Atlantic Ocean, and this is one of a bunch of typical Atlantic reds gaining recognition for their chiselled textures but general lightness.

Penapedre is a collaboration between current Zarate family winemaker, Eulogio Pomares, and Alberto Nanclares. Both made wines from the weathered granite and slate of the Penapedre vineyard and they were blended together. We have a field blend of Palomino, Mencia and Garnacha farmed without pesticides at around 500 metres elevation. The result, after fermenting in open chestnut vats for two weeks on lees, followed by 12 months in French oak, is very much a wine showing the influence of ocean winds and rain, yet with a warmth and ripeness from the steep-sided valley with rocks warmed by the summer sunshine.

It somehow combines a sort of racy verve with elegance. A pale wine which floats in the glass like the music of Nils Frahm, but with the underlying textures of the granite from which the vines struggle to derive nutrients. For some, perhaps, an unusual red wine. For you and I, a thrilling adventure.

The rather remarkable Zarate range is available from Indigo Wines.

That ends Part 1, but I’m pretty excited about Part 2, where we shall have some more very interesting and outstanding wines. It will follow, I hope, in a few days.

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Wir Trinken…Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir, what do we know about it? It’s “the” cool climate red grape variety. Many would omit “cool climate” and claim it’s absolutely the finest red grape bar none. It ripens late and is very fickle, dependent on location (soils, microclimate etc) like no other major variety. Oh, and it comes from Burgundy where it makes its finest wines. In fact in the Côte d’Or, in Eastern France, it makes “Red Burgundy” because Pinot Noir from anywhere else is just not the same, is it!

Well, it isn’t, but that is no bad thing. If Pinot Noir did find its earliest fame in Burgundy it soon spread to other parts of both France and Europe (I’m not going to go beyond Europe here, this is an article not a book). When I say “soon” I might be exaggerating a little if, as Columella suggested, in his De Rustica, a variety bearing a strong resemblance to Pinot Noir was growing in Burgundy in the 1st Century CE. Its spread is credited largely, if anecdotally, to the Cistercian Order of monks who transported the variety as they set up new monastic institutions across Europe, although we must not discount the influence of their more wealthy brothers, the Benedictines.

It’s a little known fact that Burgundy, despite being synonymous with Pinot Noir, does not have the largest plantings of Pinot Noir in France. That honour goes to Champagne. Here, it is mostly made into sparkling wine of course, but still red wines are becoming much more common all over the region, from the Aube in the south where the variety excels, right up to the Montagne de Reims. It is here that I find my favourite still wines from the region, not from the village of Bouzy, once (sort of) famed for its reds, but from Raphael Bérêche at Craon de Ludes.

From Burgundy the variety spread mostly north and east, although Sancerre and the other regions in France’s Upper Loire Valley are becoming increasingly well known for the variety. We shall come to Alsace later. This spread to more marginal regions might surprise some as we know it is a variety sensitive to the cold. It’s all about micro-climates and climate change, and this is why we see Pinot Noir thriving in Switzerland (Graubünden), Austria, Czech Moravia, Northeast Italy (as Pinot Nero) and now in England. Some of these wines are genuinely world class, for example those of Daniel and Marta Gantenbein in the Graubünden village of Fläsch.

However, this article, as you probably guessed, is about Pinot Noir in Germany. Here it mostly goes by the name of Spätburgunder, although as we shall see, some prefer the French nomenclature (and some producers use both). This is not an article attempting to place German Pinot Noir in the same frame as Red Burgundy. Rather, it is an attempt to briefly highlight the diversity of Pinot Noir wines and styles available in Germany. This diversity is largely a result of geology, although we shall need to discuss clones and climate as well. Germany has the second highest plantings of the variety after France.

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If Pinot Noir was first brought to Germany, as all the books suggest, by the dozen Cistercian monks who were sent from Clairvaux with Abbot Ruthard to found Kloster Eberbach on the Rhine in 1136 CE, then the variety has since spread in some form to all of the country’s wine regions (although the Benedictines were there thirty years earlier and what type of grape vines they brought is not recorded). The importance of this monastic spread of Pinot Noir (and indeed Riesling in Germany) could command a book to itself, and the centrality of wine culture in mainland Europe has been greatly enhanced by it. Vines like marginal land otherwise too poor for agriculture, even for that other great monastic export, sheep farming.

Before we look at each German region in brief it will be worthwhile digressing for a moment to discuss clones. Although each region has its own topographic, geological and climatic influences, the clonal debate crosses all boundaries. There are, to simplify things, two main types of Pinot Noir clone planted in Germany. We have the Burgundian clones (usually termed Dijon clones) and the clones developed in Germany (principally the Geisenheim clones).

German clones were developed initially to deal with some of the problems facing later ripening varieties in marginal (for Pinot Noir) climates, namely those caused by moisture (rot, mildew etc). The resulting clones often ended up emphasising fruit and can tend to produce wines which age quicker, producing some of the classic Pinot aromas we call “tertiary” after a remarkably short time. Such wines have been considered less serious by many top producers, but this generalisation can be a bit of a red herring.

One or two winemakers are very much in favour of refined versions of these local clones, especially as they help give their wines a true regional identity. Some, like Hanspeter Ziereisen (Southern Baden) have moved back from favouring Dijon to German clones. Others, like Fritz Becker at Schweigen, have both planted, and may use “Pinot Noir” on their labels for the French clone wines and Spätburgunder for the German clones.

The most northerly region for wine in Germany is the Ahr Valley, a tributary of the Rhine about 30 miles south of Cologne (Köln), which rises in the Eifel Mountains. This has always been a red wine region, and although Pinot Noir only makes up just over 60% of the vines planted here, Ahr Spätburgunder is undoubtedly the German red wine people of my age will have come across first. The Ahr can grow red grapes because it is a steep sided narrow valley where the water reflects sunlight onto the heat-retaining terraces, or so we are told. That said, the truth is nuanced. Spätburgunder in fact thrives as much at the western end of the valley, which is wider and less steep-sided. Oh, and the variety was purportedly recorded here in the 9th Century, before the Cistercians came.

Nevertheless, the river produces, the books will tell you, classically structured wines which perhaps give us a portrait of Pinot Noir at its most mineral. Not everyone “gets” slate-grown Pinot (why should they?), but many would posit that this is as far in one direction (the other direction being fruity) as you can get with this variety.

What about some names? Mayer-Näkel was the first Ahr estate I came across and their wines range from earlier drinking to long lived. Stephan Reinhardt has called Werner Näkel (who has now been joined by daughters Dörte and Meike) “the Ahr Jayer” in view of the high prices and renown of his Spätburgunders. The other big name for me is Jean Stodden (now under fifth generation Alexander Stodden). However, the Crown Princess of the region must be Juilia Bertram. She’s married to Franken producer Benedikt Baltes, and both are considered rising stars of German wine. Sadly the wines are impossible to find. Of several other names I should mention the firm of JJ Adeneuer. The family has 500 years of winemaking behind them but a major style shift, towards greater purity, a mere eight years ago has dialled back the wood and thus allowed the slate-fresh mineral flavours to come through. Definitely back on track.

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It’s a good point here to mention Frühburgunder. This is the grape often called Pinot Noir Précose in England. I much prefer the German “early (as opposed to late) Burgundian” as I grow some myself. Many winemakers are reviving it in Northern Germany, including Julia Bertram. You will also find that this earlier ripening variety lends itself well to natural winemaking methods. Frühburgunder is not strictly what we’re about here, but I’d definitely recommend grabbing a bottle of it from any fine producer of Spätburgunder.

Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (now rather stupidly in my opinion all called “Mosel” since 2007, like they call Languedoc-Roussillon merely Languedoc nowadays) seems possibly the least likely place to expect to find Spätburgunder, yet for whatever reason we are seeing a lot more of it. Around 400 hectares today, which is around 25% more than Franken, where Spätburgunder has something of a modern reputation. The geology is, like the Ahr, slate, though of varied types. Red wine used to be more common in days gone by in the less favoured reaches of the Mosel, and some other red varieties do well too, even in more famous villages (as those who buy red wines from Rudolph and Rita Trossen will attest).

Over the years I have drunk some delicious and approachable Spätburgunder from the Maximin Grünhaus, at Mertesdorf on the Ruwer. For me this thrilling estate had a little dip a decade(ish) ago, but is now back in my personal top rank (a deliberately subjective classification). The reds here, although not of the quality of the Rieslings, certainly thrill with Ruwer tension, but not without deep luscious fruit as well.

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But on the Mosel itself there is one estate which rather surprisingly has a Spätburgunder focus, and this is Weingut Daniel Tardowski. He’s even based at Dhron, pure Riesling territory. He has 3 hectares on the Dhroner Hofberg, whose wines English drinkers may know best via AJ Adam’s Rieslings from this site. But this is voraciously expensive wine, suggesting that Daniel got more than mere winemaking ideas from his beloved Burgundy when marketing his “Pinot Noix”. But at least he has proved that the Mosel can do Pinot Noir as well as anywhere. Oh, and a left field tip for drinkability: Schloss Lieser. But then I’m an avowed fan of Thomas Haag’s source for Pinot Noir, the Niederberg Helden, a steep south facing slope right next to the village.

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Franken means, to many who know German wine, Silvaner. It means the great old estates like the Staatlicher Hofkeller Bürgspital and the Juliusspital, and the flagon-shaped Bocksbeutel. But Spätburgunder is very important to Franken in qualitative terms. Some commentators put them up with the finest in Germany. This despite the frosts which can decimate yields here in Bavaria.

No producer exemplifies Franken Pinot more than Weingut Rudolf Fürst. Sebastian Fürst, who will be forty this year, is now in charge of all red wine production and he has taken things to another level…actually, that level is three fine GG (Grosses Gewächs) vineyards. These are stylish wines but require keeping. There are other cuvées, thank goodness, with which to begin the journey. The geology which makes Franken Pinot stand apart is Buntsandstein, from the Lower Triassic era (known to geologists as Bunter in the UK). It is, obviously, a sandstone, so here we have yet another terroir from which to try our Pinot.

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We mentioned Benedikt Baltes earlier. He’s been doing for Spätburgunder in Franken (Fürst aside) what his wife is doing for the variety in Ahr, breathing new life into it (and garnering all the publicity the variety might crave). Baltes is an inveterate experimenter, the kind of winemaker who pushes boundaries and thus finds true excellence via intuitive trial and (very little) error. His reds are whole bunch fermented in medium-sized and larger oak. If ever there was a producer tasting I’d like to be invited to, it would be Bertram-Baltes. Especially for a taste of Benedikt’s mythical Cabernet Franc alongside the Spätburgunders. He’s back in the Ahr now, just consulting in Franken, I understand, but some of you may be lucky enough to spot his Franken wines.

Rheinhessen is worth a brief stop. It’s not very well known for Spätburgunder, but Klaus Peter Keller makes some beautiful versions (of course he does), and they should not be ignored in the clamour for his white wines. His Pinot vines are direct grafts from top estates in Burgundy and Alsace, and the soils are mostly on limestone.

Klaus Peter has famously called Spätburgunder “Red Riesling” and it is clear he loves his red wine. As well as producing two GG Spätburgunders initially, he even grafted some very old Silvaner on Morstein to the variety. That’s a bit like grafting part of Romanée-Conti to Riesling. Of course for those of us less wealthy individuals there are other options, not least his “Spätburgunder S”, from young vines (well, around 25-y-o) planted in Morstein. It’s dark, spicy, smoky…and affordable at around £35/bottle.

Try also Bianca and Daniel Schmitt (Flörsheim) for the natural wine angle. Natur Spätburgunder sees four weeks on skins and then a year in 600-litre oak and is an astonishing wine, especially the bouquet.

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Pfalz is also becoming a lot more interested in Pinot Noir, especially as climate change ramps up. As a region which looks a little like a northern extension to Alsace it might not be the first place you think of as warm, yet remember how sunny Alsace is (one of the regions of France with the most sunshine hours). The Haardt Mountains act as a rain shadow in the same way that their southern extension, the Vosges, do in France. The vineyards are largely on the lower slopes of the Haardt, facing east and receiving warmer winds from the Rhine plain.

The Pfalz has every geological rock formation under the sun, or so it seems, from the volcanic magma of the Forster Pechstein, through limestone, to the buntsandstein and muschelkalk of the other famous sites of the Mittelhaardt (including the villages of Deidesheim, Forst, Wachenheim and Bad Dürkheim).

Spätburgunder is a relatively new addition to the vineyards of the Pfalz. Almost unknown before the 1980s here, there are now around 1,700 hectares planted, and Pinot Noir at all (literally all) levels of quality are produced. This is therefore a good place to come for some good value German red wine, so long as you are wary of the most commercial quality versions.

Two classic names in the village of Laumersheim are, first, Knipser, who, through Georg Heinrich Knipser and his sons, was one of the first estates to focus on Spätburgunder here, and the sons won Germany’s first red wine competition, the Deutscher Rotweinpreis, with one in 1987. The second is Philipp Kuhn, who makes a range of reds up to GG level. There really are too many producers to cover, but Ökonomierat Rebholz is one estate I’d like to mention. I’m a fan of all of their wines. The estate is at Siebeldingen, in the Southern Pfalz. Hansjörg’s Spätburgunders are elegant and restrained.

However, contrary to advice, I am yet again going to speak of favourites. In this case it is not so much a single winemaker, but a village, Schweigen-Rechtenbach. This village sits right on the border with Northern Alsace, and boasts three producers of note: Weingut Friedrich Becker, Weingut Jülg and Weingut Bernhart. Naturally there isn’t space to elaborate too much on the three of them, so try their wines. Actually, visit if you can…and as I have suggested before, take lunch at the Weinstübe Jülg in the village.

Kleine Fritz Becker

Many of the producers in Schweigen actually farm vineyards within France, on the south-facing slopes above the abbey of Wissembourg. This lovely Benedictine Abbey nevertheless gives no hint that it was once one of the five or six richest ecclesiastical landowners in Western Europe. It’s vineyards were special. Most of them sit within France, but rather than an Alsace Grand Cru designation, they come under German wine law for their German owners, who are forbidden to use the individual vineyard names. They therefore have to resort to the cryptic single letter method, or occasionally breaking the law to push the point. The famous Kammerberg vineyard, which provided the wine for the senior clerics in the medieval period, has been made with a stick-on label obscuring most of the word “Kammerberg” on the 2012 vintage, so that you know what it is. The law is an ass, as they say.

The Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder debate reaches its apogee here in some respects and this cross border winemaking is so fascinating that I will provide a link to my article following a 2017 visit to the village, principally to Fritz Becker, here. I’m a big fan of Jülg and Kleine Fritz (Becker), and there’s no doubt that they make some of my favourite Pinot Noir wines. Becker’s top wines, made in tiny quantity, are sensational. Fritz cites Mussigny as his inspiration. The next level down is pretty amazing too. But a visit is recommended in order to taste the full range of red and white wines.

That more or less leaves Baden, maybe the region younger drinkers might look to for fine German Pinot Noir. It’s a long and thin region which from north to south stretches from the Badische Bergstrasse south of Darmstadt to the Markgräflerland touching Basel and the Swiss border. Within this region are so many producers of worth, and that’s without even mentioning Baden’s eastern neighbour, Württemberg. It may be just a footnote but you might recall I very recently drank a Pinot Noir (thus labelled) from Weingut Roterfaden, the small estate founded by Olympia Samara and Hannes Hoffmann on a crescent slope on the River Enz, at Roßwag. The Muschelkalk and the steep orientation of the vines allows them to fashion marvellous “glouglou” Pinot (and Lemberger) which proves that natural wine Pinot Noir has a very big future in Germany.

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Perhaps we really get our Spätburgunder juices going in Baden when we reach Freiburg-im-Breisgau, the attractive if sleepy town which sits to the east of the volcanic plug, rising out of the Rhine plain, known as the Kaiserstuhl. South of the Stuhl’s vulcanism the vines sit on west-facing slopes protected by the Black Forest, where limestones from the Jurassic and Triassic periods underpin the vineyards, along with loess, sandstone and even granite.

If the Vosges mountains form the western boundary, the Black Forest forms the eastern boundary, of the Upper Rhine Rift Valley, created around 30 million years ago, before the river chose this route towards the sea. Whereas Alsace, sitting in the eastern lee of the Vosges, produces mostly white wine, this part of Baden excels with red, and the red variety of choice is Spätburgunder.

It’s time for another brief digression. We have skirted Alsace to the north (Pfalz) and to the east (Baden). If these regions make lovely Pinot Noir, then why doesn’t Alsace? Well, it does. The old myth, that “Pinot d’Alsace” is at best a pale Rosé, is outdated. Even when such an assertion had some truth to it there were some standout Alsace Pinot Noirs. Muré makes one still, from the Vorbourg Grand Cru (“V”, using the old single initial trick again). In fact the Clos St-Landelin within that site has always produced remarkable Pinot Noir. Today there are many more fine producers, too many to mention (and when it comes to Alsace I am firmly banned from ever mentioning favourites again). It should be said, however, that some of the very best Alsace Pinot Noir comes from the vineyards of the region’s fine natural wine makers. If you read my blog regularly you will probably have a good idea of who they are.

So back to Baden. A list of producers would be good. Bernard Huber (Malterdingen), Franz Keller (Vogtsburg-Oberbergen), Weingut Bercher (Burkheim), Dr Heger (Ihringen) and Salwey(Oberrotweil) are all classic names from this central section of the Baden vineyards. Newer estates should begin with Enderle & Moll (distinctly natural wines of very high quality from Münchweier), and Shelter Winery (Kenzingen). A great place to try the wines of Central Baden is Franz Keller’s Schwarzer Adler restaurants.

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Further south, indeed at Baden’s southernmost tip, are the vineyards of Hanspeter Ziereisen, which occupy that part of Baden known as the Markgräflerland, around the village of Efringen-Kirchen. There are other producers of note here, including the two domaines of the Waßmer brothers (Fritz and Martin, at Bad Krotzingen) and Weingut Wasenhaus at Staufen. There is also Jürgen von der Mark at Bad Bellingen, whose wines I would dearly love to try but haven’t yet. However, Ziereisen is perhaps the godlike figure here.

He came up in my Chasselas/Gutedel article. Whilst he makes the finest Gutedel in the world, Jaspis 10 Hoch 4 Alte Reben, he is best known for an exemplary range of Spätburgunders, primarily off Jurassic limestone infiltrated with Jaspis (Jasper in English). This terroir, just north of Basel, is blessed in the extreme. Protected by forest and warmed by the wind which blows through the Belfort Gap, the vines, some more than sixty years old, thrive without chemical inputs.

One of Hanspeter’s cheaper Spätburgunders, Tschuppen, is a wine I never pass by if available. Whether you go Tschuppen, Talrain, Rhini or Jaspis (two versions, one very old vines), then you can’t go wrong. Rhini is from a well protected site on limestone. The Jaspis Alte Reben is a barrel selection showcasing the finest Pinot Noir of the vintage. These wines, unlike Tschuppen, need ageing. In recent years Hanspeter has dialled back the new wood. He’s also changed clones. The Dijon clones he planted in the early 2000s were too prone to rot, and he now prefers German and Swiss clones (yes, Swiss). Quality is, in my opinion, phenomenal.

This is really as good a place to leave German Pinot Noir…or Spätburgunder, whatever you will. I hope that what I have illustrated here first of all is that this variety can grow and thrive on a variety of soils and on each there are examples which are more than well worth seeking out, both for your education but also for new experiences. Perhaps only the most fixated Burgophile would now sneer at these wines. I’m emphatically not attempting to make overall quality comparisons because for me wine is about exploration and new experiences. I’m not a wine snob who has to drink “only the best”.

For sure, many of the wines mentioned are no cheaper than fine Burgundy in any case. As with wines like Ziereisen’s top Gutedel, there are people who won’t pay Burgundy prices for German Pinot Noir. That’s fine. But even if you go back to Burgundy, it would be nice to think that you could drink some of these and be glad of a different experience without the need to resort to comparing quality.

There’s quite a bit of German red wine in many of my tasting reviews, but the following link, to “The Great German Pinot Noir Tasting” (held in London in March 2018) has a fine array on show. Follow the link here.about:blankImageUpload an image file, pick one from your media library, or add one with a URL.UploadSelect ImageInsert from URL

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Brief Encounter

It’s not that alcohol hasn’t been consumed during this period of pandemic. After all, the evidence is here for all to see. What I have missed is that opportunity to share a few too many bottles with really good wine friends. We have been out of action for longer than many due to delayed building work and the need to self-isolate before visiting elderly family for the first time in five months, but we did have a chance to finally visit equally wine obsessed friends this week. I thought a quick resume of what we drank might interest hard core readers, hence this short piece.

Mon Luc, Vin Pétillant Méthode Paysanne Vin de France (Jura)

We cracked off at lunch time on Wednesday with a Ganevat I’d never even seen before, let alone drunk. The negoce wines produced under the Anne et Jean-François Ganevat label are so multitudinous that it seems impossible to keep up, but this is highly recommended if you like what you read below.

J-F has been increasingly sourcing fruit in Alsace for the negociant blends and the 90% Pinot Gris which accompanies the 10% Jura Poulsard here comes from that region. That PG is on average 50 years old, the Poulsard a decade older. It’s pale pink (more than the photo shows) and smells of apples crushed on the orchard floor. Freshness dominates both bouquet and palate, though you also get some red fruits on the latter. It’s very appley, but not very cidery, if that makes sense. The bead is strong and it has a very firm backbone. Simple yet massively impressive.

Cuvée Orégane 2014, Côtes du Jura, Jean-François Ganevat (Jura)

This is an assemblage of almost equal parts Chardonnay and Savagnin from vines planted in the 1960s on argilo-calcaire soils on what is now Jean-François’s domaine. The 2014 saw almost three years in used oak, topped up (ouillé), so this is a non-oxidatively aged wine. Both varieties are to the fore and recognisable, the Savagnin adding its characteristic acidity whilst both come on with the nuts. The bouquet is herbal (I can’t swear it is oregano though). It certainly is smooth, saline, so delectable, mightily impressive. Drinking now but will age.

Chablis 1er Cru “Séchet” 2010, Vincent Dauvissat (Chablis)

It’s funny but I’ve drunk a fair few Raveneau these past couple of years but not so much Dauvissat, so this was a treat. Vincent now farms around eleven hectares of excellent Chablis terroir. Séchet is a fine Premier Cru on the western side of the Serein river, on a southeastern-facing slope, producing wines often said to be very mineral and, as has been suggested many times, razor-sharp. Chablis just as I like it.

The wine is so “green-gold” that you would very possibly guess Chablis just by sight. Spice and nuts (especially almonds) come through on the bouquet, and then a little pineapple fruit (deep, more like roasted pineapple). It’s complex, yet I’d also say very youthful. I’d be so bold as to suggest this will go a decade more and still taste fresh as the acids and spine are firm. The palate has that beautiful savoury Chablis quality already, though. It certainly went perfectly with roasted cashews as a pre-dinner aperitif.

Dom Pérignon 2002 (Champagne)

The colour here is very youthful, the bouquet initially fresh with spice (cinamon) and a hint of curry powder overlayed with a lovely floral element, with even fainter butterscotch coming in the glass. Later we got melon and, unmistakably, cucumber. And then, faint but certainly there, was a hint of tca. I probably should not go off on one about cork taint in Champagne. I’m pretty sensitive to tca but I get very few tainted Champagnes. One usually expects the construction of the cork to minimise it.

Here it certainly wasn’t strong enough to make the wine at all undrinkable, and we were able to dissect and analyse it. It’s always good to focus on the positives of a wine. Those positives come through in the typical DP structure and amplitude combining with a sort of rigid finesse. Vintage 2002 was a pretty warm year and whilst the fruit selection means it is very far from blowsy, there’s definitely a little fat. I’d say, taint aside, that it is probably around half way through its optimum drinking window, with a good decade left. Impressive, of course, but I was niggled by the cork. It’s an expensive wine to be spoilt, even if only a little, after careful cellaring.

Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 1996, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux)

Recent cellar exploration has reminded me that I don’t have a of of Bordeaux left, but I could easily do with drinking a few of them. Why I haven’t bought Bordeaux in recent years has more to do with the annoying elitist attitudes of many Château owners and those who write about Bordeaux than the wines themselves, although I certainly have a larger soft spot for the savoury and balanced wines of old rather than some of the more demonstrative oak and fruit bombs of the Parker era.

If there is one part of Bordeaux which has retained a taste link with its past more than any other, it is the Graves, and the top Crus of Pessac have always been among my favourite wines from the region. The sheer class of this wine goes without saying, but its assertiveness is different to that of a Pauillac, or other parts of the Haut-Médoc. Its earthy side comes through unmistakably as mellow peat. It smells almost as if it has been raised in an old Lagavulin cask. But we also get classic pencil lead and tobacco, absolutely text book stuff. Then you get violets wafting in. Forget about blackcurrant fruit, though some might detect a little blackcurrant leaf.

Parker only gave this 90 points, and it’s probably all the better for that. For me this is how Red Bordeaux should taste, and I think you might still be able to grab some (for around £120/bottle). It hints at what Bordeaux tasted like before 1982, and it is that organoleptic link with Bordeaux’s past which thrills me here.

Vin Jaune 1976, Pierre & Georges Bouilleret (Jura)

This was my first wine from the Bouillerets. Wink Lorch provides the background (Jura Wine, 2014, p204). They were among the earliest people in Pupillin to bottle their own wines and Pierre (who passed away some years before Wink’s book was published) was married to one of Pierre Overnoy’s sisters. This led to the Overnoy-Houillon domaine taking over some of the Bouilleret vines when the brothers retired.

This 1976 is an important wine, not merely because this was the first vintage of Vin Jaune (well, actually a Château-Chalon in my case) that I ever bought, and look what that did to me. No, it’s important as a lesson about Vin Jaune.

Most Vin Jaune is consumed way too young. That the wine is relased at over six years old and sold at around seven gives consumers the impression that they are buying an older wine. And they drink it. This wine shows what happens when you age a bottle, in this case for 44 years. I am definitely not suggesting all Vin Jaune keeps well for forty years, but when you taste a well aged bottle you experience something wholly different to a young one.

The bouquet is so complex: curry, ginger, walnut and hazelnut quite distinguishable. How come? Because the wine is mellow. The acids of a youthful Vin Jaune are smoothed out so that once again we have to think of a single malt whisky in terms of the “soul” of the liquid. It’s a contemplative wine, yet the Savagnin grape still retains its characteristic tang, giving the impression of a little salty acidity to underpin everything.

What this Vin Jaune also has, and has retained, is freshness. This is possibly its most surprising asset, because not all forty-year-old Vin Jaune will have this quality. It’s also a testament to old school Vin Jaune, and to the style itself. Remarkably, when Wink was writing, perhaps in 2013 or 2014, these wines were still available from Madeleine in Pupillin. I’m sure that there must be some still knocking around. Comté and walnuts recommended.

Vin Jaune 2011, Jacques Puffeney (Jura)

This is of course a more familiar name in the Jura firmament, although this great producer’s retirement, with 2014 as his last vintage, is making his otherwise fairly purchasable wines much more sought after now.

Puffeney made a number of different wines, but sous voile Savagnin was probably considered his speciality. He made everything from a wonderful Savagnin aged under flor for just two years (a brilliant wine, often cited as a “baby Vin Jaune”), up to Vin Jaune wines aged in large oak for a decade or more longer than is usual (although we all cite six years and three months as the required ageing period for Vin Jaune, in fact the AOP requires sixty months under flor, the rest being what happens before (fermentation period) and after (rest in bottle). Those periods are just the minimum).

This wine is what I would call Puffeney’s straight Vin Jaune. It ages in cellar rather than loft and the large oak coupled with the stable temperature of the cellar give it an almost unique mix of weight and remarkable elegance, even when fairly young. Only about 25% of the barrels which begin as potential Vin Jaune might make it through to the final selection and after this they spend another year, above the minimum, in large oak before bottling.

This wine is unquestionably young. It has far greater acidity than the more mellow 1976 (above), so that its nuttiness is far more to the fore than other more subtle qualities. It also has a fairly strong citrus element, a blend of lime and lemon with a touch of grapefruit. It’s undoubtedly very fine indeed, glorious even. And long. But if you have a bottle, as a fellow wine writer asked on Instagram, then do keep it if you can. 2011 was a fairly big vintage in terms of quantities, but the wines from top producers have proved to be from very good to excellent. Well worth putting in the hard work to reap the rewards.

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