Central Victoria Part 2 – Bindi

We have moved south from Bendigo, which was our first destination on this Australian adventure, to the Macedon Ranges. If you drive north out of Melbourne the first wine region you hit is Sunbury. North of that you come to this extremely cool climate region. Most of the well known vineyards lie north of Mount Macedon – Cobaw Ridge, Hanging Rock and Curly Flat sit northeast of Kyneton, with Virgin Hills just to its west. Bindi lies in the far south of this region, just fifty kilometres from Victoria’s capital, closer to Sunbury and Craiglee Vineyard than the Kyneton crowd, but it is still pretty chilly down there, and notably windy too.

Most of the vineyards are hidden away in sheltered spots, yet Bindi stands out on a hillside. Ordovician mudstone, clay, sandstone and a generous layer of quartz at the bottom, some of it washed down from the Great Dividing Range in epochs long past, giving way to volcanic soils over a lava flow at the top. The terroir changes every several metres, and in this respect at least, it is not dissimilar in degree to the changes we see on the Côte d’Or in Burgundy.

This patch of land produces what I think are some of the very finest renditions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the whole of Australia. In a couple of hours spent looking round and tasting with Michael Dhillon, one of the most perceptive and thoughtful winemakers I’ve had the pleasure to meet, I was completely blown away by the wines in cask, and again by the bottles I bought and drank during the rest of our time in Australia.

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It’s almost no wonder that Michael farms here, although it was his father, “Bill” who originally bought the land and converted it to viticulture. Bill, by the way, was his local nickname, they found “Darshan” a little novel for rural Victoria, perhaps. He had emigrated from the Punjab in 1958.

It’s a fairly solitary existence for a man who seems wholly focused on his task, which is to make the best wines he can without compromise. He is assisted by the fact that he appears to do so with humility and without ego. Whilst the farm employs effectively three-and-a-half people, it’s mostly just Michael and his beautiful Golden Retriever, Saffie, who have the place to themselves when outdoors. There is emphatically no cellar door here, no spur of the moment visits, and I sense that the name plaque on the gate is deliberately unreadable…nearly (we drove past first time around before Google saved us), but Michael seemed more than happy to give me some of his precious time with an appointment.

This is another fairly small vineyard, not more than seven hectares of vines on a 170ha farm. Around 15ha more are planted to high grade eucalypts for furniture making and the remainder is left as managed bush, though this native grassland does attract the kangaroos so the vineyards need to be well fenced. What makes it special, aside from the geology? The gentle slope rises 500 metres on a north-facing ridge. It gets the sun, and although it can be bracingly cold here, especially when the north wind blows in winter, it’s just that little bit warmer than the vineyards to the north.

The vines now average thirty or so years of age, but whilst Michael would assert that it’s all down to the vineyard, I doubt it’s as simple as that. He’s worked extensively in Europe, which has given him an eye for the changes in terroir in his own vines, most evident through the rows where there is more quartz under foot.

I think Europe also gave Michael a different perspective on farming methods, one that might be enhanced by a philosophical point of view which may also derive in part, perhaps, by osmosis, from his family’s heritage. Michael does seem a very thoughtful guy, calm too. He refuses to say he is “biodynamic”, although this does form a major part of his viticultural practices. What he does proclaim is a desire to manage his vines through sustainable agriculture, or as he once said to Australian journalist and author Max Allen, he asked himself “what will happen if we promote life instead of inflicting death?”.

It is remarkably difficult to claim to prefer any of the Bindi wines over others, and this is irrespective of price. Australia makes plenty of remarkable wines, and I have been lucky to sample a good few of them over the years. The wines I have listed below are wines of which I can say they have as much personality and striking purity as anything I’ve had before. Those tutored in Australian cliché will be surprised by how genuinely European in style they seem, superficially. Of course they are, in reality, wholly Australian, the product of this unique terroir up in the Macedon Ranges.

It’s just a shame that the wines are not currently available (as far as I am aware) in the UK, although some were imported by Les Caves de Pyrene at one time. The following wines were tasted from barrel with Michael in early November.

Chardonnay 2019 – This is a sample from the lower part of the volcanic soils, due to be bottled in February next year. The grapes are destemmed and the juice fills each barrel one by one, where it remains on lees, post-fermentation. It’s a bright wine with a fine backbone. It signals the Bindi purity.

Kostas Rind Chardonnay 2019 – Kostas Rind was a Lithuanian “sage” (Michael’s description), and the man who introduced Michael’s father to the culture of fine wine. This cuvée comes off a mix of Ordovician and volcanic soils, from vines a little over 30 years old. Fermentation is in French oak, typically 20% new, and it remains on lees over the winter. There’s more nuttiness here, but that streak of fine acidity sets it apart.

Quartz Chardonnay 2019 – I apologise for having first stated that I had no favourites, and now going back on that. This could be the finest Australian Chardonnay I’ve tasted, when placing this sample with the bottle of 2017 below. It’s a wine that has a massive presence yet is far from being a massive wine, if you know what I mean. It’s mineral, so much so that you just have to use that term with authority even if some shun it as a wine descriptor. Lemon zest thrusts through the wine and the mouthfeel has that gentle chalky texture on the middle of the tongue. The 2019 shows real concentration, and it is still tightly wound…but shockingly impressive.

The soils are sandstone, mudstone and clay, but the cuvée hails from that part of the vineyard most dense in quartz. It sees a month or two longer in oak, and the proportion that is first fill goes up to around 35%, so it’s a wine to age (and at just shy of AUS$100 it deserves that respect).

Dixon Pinot Noir 2019 – This is perhaps the most fruit forward of the Bindi Pinots. It comes from “declassified” fruit from the original 1988 Block, plus fruit from Block K, planted in 2001. Winemaking doesn’t differ essentially with all the Pinots. Fruit is mostly destemmed (save about 5%) and fermentation is in small open-topped vats. Ageing begins in French oak (about 11 months), 10-15% of which is new. This is currently showing a pleasant 12.7% abv, and genuine delicacy.

The name? I think Henry Reed Dixon was Michael’s maternal great great grandfather, who moved to Gisborne as a railway paymaster in 1898, as the town was growing on the back of improved communications, before getting into farming and forestry.

Original Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 – This is a three acre north sloping vineyard (planted 1988) with high density quartz in the soil. The treatment here is a little under a year and a half in oak, of which around 25% are new barrels. It has a more savoury profile than the Dixon, quite spicy, and certainly grippy right now. But the fruit purity is there. It appears that you could perhaps enjoy this soon, yet in truth you’d want to give it five years.

Block 5 Pinot Noir 2019 – We head up the ridge a bit to Block 5, which sits on the volcanic lava flow, which has been eroded on the top of the slope. The vineyard is just half of one hectare. The vines are a little younger (1992), but Michael stresses that this is a special site. Ageing is similar to the Original Vineyard Pinot, except that the new oak is up at 35%. Even now the wine doesn’t seem very oaky, and Michael says it just soaks it up. That said, I think the fruit is darker and it’s quite spicy. Ageing required.

Block 8 Pinot Noir 2019 – You won’t find this for sale. Block 8 is a sample from new vines planted in 2016 at a very high density, on just under two acres. The crop was very small, just four bunches per vine, but Michael is very happy with the results. From barrel it was slightly earthy, but fresh and with depth. As the vines age this will surely be another fine addition to the Bindi stable.

Darshan Pinot Noir 2019 – This cuvée, named of course after Michael’s father, is from the third crop off a plot of just 0.4 ha, planted at a density of 11,300 vines/ha. Michael has had to purchase a special small German “Niko” tractor for the high density plantings, but no synthetic herbicides nor pesticides are sprayed here. Michael says that each harvest from this plot has seen a big step up in the quality of the fruit. Even at such a young vine age, the wine tastes remarkably complete. Darshan and Block 8 are scheduled to see their first releases in 2022.

In addition, the three bottles I purchased were Pyrette Shiraz 2014 (made with fruit from Heathcote), Bindi Quartz Chardonnay 2017 and Bindi Kaye Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015.

Pyrette Syrah 2014 – I said Heathcote, but more specifically, this comes from Colbinabbin on the Mount Camel Range, the name interestingly translated from the Aborigine meaning “the meeting of the black and red soils”. This is the highest block on the famous Cambrian soils, from a cooler slope, facing east. Picking tends to be a couple of weeks earlier than is usual for the long hang time boys around Heathcote, so it won’t surprise you to know that this is one elegant Shiraz showing plum fruit with more tension than usual, some spice and pepper, but all under starters orders, nothing seeping out of the overall structure until loosened by the warming palate. It is no afterthought for this predominantly Pinot producer. We loved it.

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Bindi Quartz Chardonnay 2017 – One of the pains of long haul travel is how hard it is to bring back wine when your bags, naturally for a six-or-seven week trip, are pushing your 30 kilo limit. So this wine was enjoyed about a week after our visit to Bindi, whilst staying on a farm in NSW. I don’t often say this as I count myself a generous person, but I wasn’t sorry that I shared the single bottle only with my wife. Packed with mineral purity, complexity, elegance, length…I won’t go on. Certainly my white wine of the trip, even this young, and almost certainly my white wine of the year for 2019. Glorious! Expensive, but worth every single cent.

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Bindi Kaye Pinot Noir 2015 – In its way equally magical. Block K, running next to Block 5, produces the wine named after Kaye Dhillon, who passed away in 1985. The complex soils have, again, a tremendous concentration of fractured quartz, plus an extremely thin topsoil. The vineyard sits right below the lava flow, so the Ordovician mix is joined by washed down fine volcanic soil. The vines were planted in 2001, with clones 115 and MV6 if that is of any interest.

Kaye is a vat selection, so only seventy to one hundred and fifty cases are made depending on vintage. There are many things which struck me about this wine. First, I’d probably not be opening a fine Burgundy from 2015, but this wine didn’t seem a waste. The reason lies in its elegance. For me, the bouquet of a wine is at least as important as the palate, and perhaps more so with Pinot Noir. It was the nose of fine Burgundy which pulled me away from Bordeaux in my youth. The fragrance here is both haunting and ethereal. If the palate will develop further, no matter. The fine fruit rides out of the structure with the same poise. A truly lovely wine.

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This was a spectacular tasting, and I shall not forget the wines, nor Michael Dhillon’s kind hospitality, for a long time to come.

Saffie, and a lurking wine we didn’t get to taste…Bindi bubbles, I can imagine it could be quite sensational!

Posted in Artisan Wines, Australian Wine, Wine, Wine Heroes, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Central Victoria Part 1 – Around Castlemaine

Castlemaine is a small town in the old Victorian goldfields. It’s an attractive town in many ways, with plenty of places serving the great food and coffee one comes to expect almost anywhere in Australia, but do pronounce it with a hard northern first “a”, not an elongated southern one, unless you want some funny looks. It has a quiet country air, yet at the same time, is weirdly similar to East London. Every second person seemingly sports a fine array of tattoos. It is where I shall begin my journey, three weeks in a country which I hadn’t visited since 2007.

Australia has changed in those intervening twelve years, even more so since my first visit there many years before that. Melbourne and Sydney have added a few million people, the drought is worse, and the bush fires, Grand Designs-style domestic architecture seems to have become ubiquitous, and wine has changed too.

It has to be said that we in the UK, who used to guzzle Aussie blended wines like lemonade on a hot summer’s day, have come late to the new artisan producers who were being identified by those young Australian writers with their finger on the pulse a decade ago. But we are getting there.

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This article will cover a couple of small producers in Southern Bendigo, recommended to me on the ground, before a rather drunken visit to Bress, whilst spending time with Adam Marks, who was a pioneer of Bendigo biodynamics.

Although there is a line of granite hills, volcanic soils and red alluvial silts north of Bendigo, which signify the region’s short gold mining past, southern Bendigo around Castlemaine offers granite sands, which Mark likes to call “Harcourt concrete”. It is this part of Bendigo where the excitement lies, blessed as it is with a drier climate, yet still one which would be classed as “cool” in many places.

Blackjack Vineyards

Blackjack is on old granite close to Harcourt (where on the main road through the village you will find a wonderful new café/restaurant at the Harcourt Produce and General Store which sells, both retail and with food, a very good selection of the best local wines). The estate is named after an American sailor who jumped ship in the 1850s and made his fortune in gold. The McKenzie and Pollock families planted four hectares of vines in 1988/9, mainly Shiraz and Cabernet, with another two hectares planted in 1998, so old vines combined with respectful farming makes for artisan wines of class. James Halliday praises them and Blackjack has twice won Best Shiraz at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show.

There is a cadet family of wines, called Major’s Line, which produces a surprisingly good Tempranillo sourced from Heathcote fruit, full of cherry and summer berry freshness, and pretty easy drinking.

There’s a good Cabernet-Merlot blend under the main Blackjack label, which reminded me of how good this Aussie blend used to be before we began to see only the more commercial versions in the UK. But it is the Shiraz here that is of most interest.

Block 6 2017 was a crimson colour, with cinnamon notes contrasting with cherry and raspberry fruit in a rich but restrained wine which will last 5-10 years. Blackjack Shiraz 2017 is much more brick red in colour. It’s quite silky and the deeper fruit brings mulberry to mind. It has a bit more tannin evident right now and needs another few years (it will also last a decade). Chortle’s Edge Shiraz 2016 is more or less ready now, with plump plum flavours dominating, quite soft by comparison to the previous cuvée.

Now I’m not holding Blackjack out as a great new discovery, but what this small winery does illustrate is that you can find really well made wines at superb value in this emerging region. We turned up here mostly because it was quite close to where we were staying, but it does have a local following for its honest wines, and with me “honest” is not to damn with faint praise. If I learn’t anything in Australia, it is that good value, at least at cellar door prices, is far from dead.

Harcourt Valley Winery

This winery is quite a contrast to Blackjack. It’s kind of louder. They proclaim themselves as Bendigo’s most awarded winery, with more than 500 Awards and 34 Trophies listed on their web site. And why not, I suppose. This small James Halliday Five Star Winery has a pretty hot reputation locally, even if you might not have heard of them over here.

Originally an apple orchard, the Livingstone family now farm just four hectares of vines, all around forty years of age. Shiraz is also the main event here, and as well as matching Blackjack in the Royal Melbourne Wine Show, Harcourt Valley has ventured to London and achieved Gold Medal success at the International Wine Challenge.

There’s a small array of other varieties, Riesling in its off-dry style being highly enjoyable. The two Shiraz I tasted at a techno-trance party in the tasting room, stood out as the best wines. Barbara’s Shiraz comes from top blocks at the home vineyard. It has quite a full body, aged for 12 months in a mix of French and American oak. The vanilla cream sits beneath cherry and plum fruit, and the finish is spicy with pepper and mint.

Old Vine Shiraz 2014 – This wine is only made in years deemed exceptional. The vines are indeed old, planted by the original owners in 1975 at Mount Alexander (the Livingstones took over in 1989). They produce very low yields. The wine is aged in French oak and is structured, with mulberry fruit and a hint of eucalyptus on the finish. A serious wine.

I ought to mention that you can usually visit most wineries, barring the famous ones, without an appointment, and they all list cellar door opening times on their web sites. I can’t guarantee it will be party time, but it’s quite nice not to always be tied to a schedule.

Party time at Harcourt Valley Winery – what Aussie’s do on a Saturday lunchtime

Bress

I think perhaps one or two readers may have heard of Bress? Adam Marks farms around nine hectares on the previously mentioned “Harcourt concrete”, not far from the two wineries already visited. He began with 34 hectares planted to 17 varieties but he has cut that down to focus on quality here, although he does source fruit from other nearby regions to try his hand at other wines. I first got to hear about Bress via another producer, Dane Johns, who makes natural wine under the Momento Mori label (occasionally imported through Les Caves de Pyrene). I understand he did a stint at Bress, and that was enough to pique my interest, especially as Dane himself, and his garage, is not easy to track down.

The winery name has its origins in Eastern France. As well as wine making, Adam keeps chickens, of which he is remarkably fond (they are all very tame and you can pick them up if you wish). The name comes from Poulet de Bresse. Adam visited Bourg-en-Bresse in the early 1990s to study how they reared them. I never got round to asking him why he dropped the final “e” when he came round to found his own winery?

The morning began with a tasting in a wooden hut beside the estate’s large fish pond, before we tasted more wines in the small vat shed. Finally, we repaired to the main winery for lunch. Bress opens up for lunch for several weekends in the year from spring through to autumn, and if you ever get the chance, don’t miss it. The food was excellent, a set menu, but two of the five of us were vegan and they catered for that diet both willingly and with enthusiasm.

Bressecco – We began tasting Adam’s creamy mid-weight sparkler made from Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay, grown at Harcourt and Faraday. The wine has orchard fruit aromas and a little yeastiness on the palate. It’s a simple wine selling at around $30/£15, but fresh and fun, good for oysters and seafood.

You’ll find wines in Australia which, unlike this wine’s fun moniker, are actually called “Prosecco”. It’s a touchy subject. The Aussies will claim that when they agreed a trade deal with the EU Prosecco was a grape variety as well as a wine. We all know that later the Prosecco producers in Italy changed the grape name to Glera exactly in order to stop overseas producers capitalising on that name, just indeed as the Champenois have done viz Champagne. Whatever the arguments, I will say that most of the Australian “proseccos” I have tasted have been of good quality and considerably more expensive than the very cheap Italian Prosecco we see in UK supermarkets. Over here, wines from class producers like Dal Zotto (imported by Graft Wine) have to use a different line of attack. No bad thing with the “cheap” reputation Prosecco has in the UK on the whole.

Of the white wines we were torn between the unoaked Pinot Gris 2019, which has a smoky richness yet remains dry, and my preferred single vineyard Chardonnay. This comes from 40-year-old vines in the Fazio vineyard at Faraday, seeing a mix of stainless steel and oak (about 20% new). This 2019 had only been bottled a week but it was very good.

Adam has always had a bit of a reputation for his Rosé. It comes from Cabernet Sauvignon vines of 38 years of age in Bress’s home vineyard. It sees two months on lees with some gentle stirring and doesn’t go through malo, so it has a touch of complexity but a pert freshness too. It’s certainly dry and quite classy. Adam calls it his Wimbledon wine, and it certainly is all strawberries and cream.

We ended the tasting with Cabernet Franc 2019, bottled just eight weeks previously. From vines a little under 40 years old in Harcourt and Bendigo, it had good acids and delicious fruit. A wine to drink within two or three years but very nice indeed.

Of the other wines, there’s a very good Pinot Noir from a mix of Yarra, Macedon and Faraday fruit, quite grippy, a nice Unplugged Shiraz which I think may be a new cuvée, and a remarkable Reserve Chardonnay 2013. I say remarkable because this wine comes from Macedon fruit from what some would term a poorer vintage, but this is a cracking wine if it really was a bad year. There was Pinot Noir 2015 from Macedon as well. This is from the Chanter’s Ridge vineyard, where the clone D5V12 is trellised with vertical shoots and produces a wine of great fragrance. We drank both of these last two Macedon wines at lunch.

We finished lunch with a treat which Adam headed to the cellar to get for us, a Shiraz 2007. The fruit is Heathcote’s super Shiraz, fermented (as with all wines here) using indigenous yeasts, with the whole process (including malolactic) in oak, mainly hogsheads. This was clearly an older wine. Adam said not to worry if it was shot, but it wasn’t. It had developed a marvellous chocolate richness, but still retained acidity and freshness.

It being a Sunday, Adam had been relaxing, sampling all the wines along with the five of us (though I was spitting before lunch). I think he was pretty much as inebriated as we were (save our poor driver), and as a result we were entertained with some sharp Aussie wit alongside the food. Everyone calls him an entertainer, and I don’t feel bad repeating that because he uses the same phrase on the Bress web site. A great visit.

Southern Bendigo is a frighteningly beautiful wine region, mostly bush with eucalyptus trees as far as the eye can see in some places. Of course it boasts other better known wineries (Sutton Grange and perhaps Balgownie being the famous ones). Bress is just half an hour from the city of Bendigo, which markets itself as a bit of a tech centre (free wifi in the streets), and boasts a pretty good art galley. So let’s have some new Aussie art please…

We have (clockwise from top left) Michael Doonan, Alex Sexton, Angela Brennan, Karla Marchesi, Juan Ford, Victoria Reichelt and Nyurapaiya Nampi(t)jinpa

East of here lies the perhaps better known Heathcote wine region, which has become highly fashionable, really on the back of the success of one winery, Jasper Hill. Ron Laughton founded Jasper Hill what seems like decades ago to me. As soon as Robin Yapp began importing his wines, I fell in love with them. There’s a delicious, under appreciated, Riesling, and now they have added a Nebbiolo (which I am yet to taste), but it is the two Shiraz wines, Georgia’s Paddock and Emily’s Paddock, which always were and remain the benchmarks. The wines which introduced the world to Heathcote Shiraz.

Whilst in Australia I had planned to visit my two favourite Aussie wineries, those being Jasper Hill and Clonakilla. Happily I managed to spend a good couple of hours at Clonakilla later in the trip, but my plans for Jasper Hill were thwarted. I had been talking to Ron, but he was away on the only day I could drive to Heathcote. Emily had hoped to get back to see me but we headed home half an hour before her delayed return. So no tasting at Jasper Hill. Next time, I hope, but I shall include a couple of pics, if only to allow me to gaze wistfully at them once more.

Having missed out on Jasper Hill, misfortune turned to luck. The following day we were driving back to Melbourne. I’d hoped to visit Hanging Rock Winery before an appointment at Bindi. We didn’t have time for Hanging Rock, whose wines I’ve known for many years, but we made our appointment at Bindi almost to the minute. Here I discovered a true jewel, a man making some of the very finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Australia. That is where my next article will take you.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Australian Wine, biodynamic wine, Wine, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Godforsaken Grapes (Book Review)

I’d been aware of Jason Wilson’s Godforsaken Grapes (2018) for some time, but it had never really registered as a book I needed to read until an American friend recommended it in the strongest terms. I think what had put me off, although “put off” is perhaps a little strong, is the association of the title with Robert Parker. I think I had mistakenly thought it was a critique of Mr Parker, and it is nothing of the sort. In fact, it is a book I feel could have been written specifically for me.

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Let’s get the quotation out of the way first. The book’s title is taken from a longer polemic about the assault on the Parker ideal of quality wine from newer wine writers and (perhaps) sommeliers. Parker suggests that “they would have you believe that some godforsaken grapes…can produce wines…that consumers should be beating a path to buy and drink“. Robert helps us out by listing a few, a diverse array of Trousseau, Savagnin, Grand Noir, Negrette, Lignan Blanc, Peloursin, Aubin, Calet, Fongoneu and Blaufränkisch. It’s an odd bunch, mixing new mainstream varieties with way out obscure ones (and I’ve never heard of Fongoneu).

I don’t want to dwell on the Parker angle, because the book is really not about him at all (he gets just three entries in the index), but I will say that I feel the quotation says more about the great critic and perhaps his waning influence than about the quality of wines made from Trousseau, Savagnin and Blaufränkisch, all of which have made wines of world class (and I’m pretty sure wines which Parker himself has praised in the past).

Parker, despite the sense of anger in his statement, does make one valid point, though. He suggests that the pursuit of the obscure is basically a way for those who cannot be heard in a world dominated by established “critics” to “monetise their internet sites”. We really do need to be aware of the danger of pursuing the obscure merely to get heard, although I might add that I’m not a wine “critic” and my site is not monetised (more fool me).

What Parker has always failed to see is that in a world where classic wines (Classified Bordeaux and Burgundy, increasingly California, Barolo, top Tuscans etc) are now out of reach of your average wine drinker, the consumer, especially those who show a real interest in wine, do require people to point out avenues to follow in search of excellent but affordable drinking. That is why some people might see Robert Parker as a sort of dinosaur and the new breed of wine writer as the ascending species.

Wilson begins his story in the Swiss Canton of Valais, moving from a restaurant where he makes the acquaintance of the autochthonous variety Humagne Blanche for the first time to a visit to a producer close to my heart, Domaine de Beudon. His companions in that restaurant, the Château de Villa in Sierre, were Jean-Luc Etievent and José Vouillamoz, and if you even vaguely know who either of those guys are, then you would be inclined to read on. Both of them are principal reasons why we increasingly know about a lot more of the world’s 1,360-or-so winemaking grapes than merely the twenty varieties responsible for making 80% of the world’s wine.

Imagine a world without Gringet, or Zweigelt, Poulsard or Nerello Mascalese, or indeed Fiano and Mencia. If you can imagine such a world, and you think it would be as wonderful as a world without whales, koalas or bees, stop reading right now. It’s not just the cost of Cabernet that puts many people off, and neither is it merely the need for many of the classic varieties to age for a decade or two to even justify their price. Many of us now see classic wines as, well, predictable. As I grow older, and my remaining “Big B’s” (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo) age gracefully, I want some wines to drink perhaps a few years sooner and I want diversity, bags of it. It’s the godforsaken grapes which bring the excitement to the table in a world where searching for the elusive perfect wine (or score) is pointless (excuse the pun).

Jason Wilson started out as a cocktail and general drinks writer but moved into wine because of his developing passion for the subject. This book pretty much takes us on his own journey, where his discoveries are as much internal as ones of a developing palate and tastes. He’s noticed that many wine writers don’t get a kick from the classics any more. He cites Matt Kramer (Wine Spectator) craving “surprise” (in a piece titled “Why I No Longer Buy Expensive Wine”), and Jon Bonné, who wrote in the Washington Post of such wines: “Yes, those wines are great, but I can live without them”.

We are not surprised at such sentiments. In a world where only Parker really counted (Bordeaux), we are saddened and appalled by Wilson’s arrogant and condescending treatment at a top Cru Classé property (described in Chapter Two). We’ve all been there, though perhaps not facing the degree of put down the author experienced. But he survives and thrives, and grows as a winelover as a result. As he moves “off the beaten path”, he reveals that “a larger, more exciting world of wine opened up to me”. That is a mirror of myself, with the emphasis on more exciting.

We spend a lot of time in this book reading about the wines of a broad part of Central Europe which I would call, using the term extremely loosely, “Alpine Wines”. Aside from the obvious we cover those foothills that would include Prosecco and Lambrusco. The author discovered early on (as a very young man) the pleasure to be found in fairly simple Italian frizzante wines, and realises later that it is not merely because of his untutored palate that he enjoys the gently sparkling wines of Northern Italy. They are the first experience many of us have of wines where their value lies in immediate pleasure, especially when paired, like real Lambrusco, with hearty local cuisine.

But this is a book which like the author, is again and again lured by one place. “Austria kept calling me back. Austria felt essential to understanding what wine had been in centuries past, as well as where modern wine might be headed.” So true. Wine from the seat of this great conservative empire, yet now transformed by the younger generation into one of Europe’s most modern wine industries, one whose influence is having such a positive effect on her neighbours. One where tradition is being given new life and a modern face.

In some ways, Austria is the country of godforsaken grapes, perhaps trumping France’s Jura Region for the accolade, assuming that Switzerland, home of Europe’s most obscure bunch of varieties, doesn’t really figure on the radar of all but a few obsessives like Jason and myself. I don’t just mean Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, Saint-Laurent and Grüner Veltliner. Rotgipfler, Zierfandler, Gelber Muskateller, Roter Veltliner, even Neuburger and others are well capable of producing stunning wines (and don’t get me started on Ströhmeier’s Blauer Wildbacher and the thrilling field blends which make up Vienna’s own wine, Wiener Gemischter Satz).

The few books which cover Austrian wine generally do so with a narrow focus which will dip into the more obscure varieties, but there’s a tendency to underplay the role of natural wines in the “New Austria”, which rather suggests either a prejudice against such wines from many older writers, or a finger more lightly on the pulse of what is happening in Austria today than perhaps it should be. If you are, like me, seriously excited by Austria, then you have another reason for reading Jason Wilson’s book.

In the later chapter “Pouring Unicorn Wines”, the author hits upon the reason why these godforsaken grapes have a growing audience. There’s a new market, people who are frequenting wine bars. In the UK at least, wine bars have become a rival to the traditional pub in many metropolitan urban areas. Young people are drinking wine socially, and places which offer a good selection by the glass, even “on tap” now in many, provide the kind of wine excitement which has perhaps grown in parallel to the craft beer movement. Such venues give consumers the opportunity to taste for themselves. They like what they like rather than what someone tells them is good, and so wine becomes that little bit more demystified.

One example of what the wine bars have achieved can be seen both in the USA and Great Britain through the rise in popularity of the Slavic countries and also former Soviet Georgia. Countries producing wine from behind the old Iron Curtain of Communism are flying, thanks to UK merchants like Basket Press Wines and Les Caves de Pyrene, in the same way that Newcomer WinesDynamic Vines and Alpine Wines helped introduce us to Austria and Switzerland. This work is mirrored in the USA by people like Tara Hammond (Blue Danube Imports in New York), or more generally by importers like Kermit Lynch.

These are the “blue sky” thinkers and disruptors in the wine world. Are they creating tomorrow’s mainstream? Maybe not quite, but their bit part is growing into something quite substantial rather rapidly. It is down to importers like these, along with many more, that to quote Wilson mean that “these days obscurity is less obscure than it ever has been”

In writing my review of Godforsaken Grapes I am aware that what I have thrown at you is less a narrative of the book, which I will say is as much a travelogue as a wine book, and all the more refreshing for it – it is more a set of ideas. If these ideas appeal to you, then this book will appeal to you as well. The writing style took me a chapter to bed down with (divided by a common language as we are), but I zipped through it in a warm glow of appreciation. That is for the wines explored, and for the author’s description of his wine journey, both his actual steps on the ground and his internal journey too.

I believe, and I’m sure Jason Wilson would assert, that it’s a journey that has led to a far greater understanding of wine, and perhaps to gaining greater ultimate pleasure from wine, through not merely sticking to those twenty grape varieties from which 80% of the world’s wine is made.

Wilson at one point describes wine in a way I really like. He says “Wine is not a ladder to climb…Wine is a maze, a labyrinth, one we gladly enter, embracing the fact that we don’t know where it will take us”. This book takes us on a journey through the hidden pathways of that labyrinth, and I won’t spoil the book by describing too many of his destinations. But if you see wine in these terms, then Godforsaken Grapes is certainly a book you will want to read.

Godforsaken Grapes is published by Abrams New York (2018). Since I bought this hardback edition I believe it has come out in paperback/soft cover, although that well known online retailer is only showing the hard cover edition here in the UK.

Perhaps the next nine articles here will focus on my trip to Australia (Victoria and New South Wales). I’ll be covering, over the coming weeks, some less visited wine regions (as well as some better known spots), visiting some new producers along with old favourites, and I hope that even on well trodden ground (Hunter Valley, for example) I can introduce you to some truly exciting new producers. You’ll get to discover some nice restaurants as well, including the place where I ate on my recent birthday, the “Sager+Wilde” of Sydney (Dear Sainte-Éloise). I hope that this diversion will be entertaining.

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Posted in Austrian Wine, Grape Varieties, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Travel, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Extreme Viticulture in Nepal

It lives! After my last article in early October I’ve been travelling. The result will be a host of articles from Australia, though I hope that, by-and-large avoiding the obvious, I won’t be substantially repeating what others have written as I pass through Victoria and New South Wales. Before that, however, I have a very interesting book to (belatedly) review in my next article, and, er, this. I suppose you could call it a pet passion in a way, as much for the scenery as for the wine.

In this article I’m going to take you back to Pataleban. If you’ve been following this blog for a number of years you will be well aware that Nepalese wine, whilst not making a massive splash on the international wine scene, is far from being a joke. My first article on Pataleban back in 2016 asked whether this represents the outer edge of the wine world? We find viticulture and winemaking in many obscure parts of the planet, but Nepal faces a number of genuine barriers to success, and the quality of the wines, in context, is a testament to a genuine desire to make something of worth.

Pataleban is best known for now for its resort, a lovely hotel set in forested hills just west of Kathmandu, at Chisapani/Baad bhanjyang. It is here that the original small (2ha) vineyard was planted with Japanese assistance and mainly hybrid vines, in 2006/7. The resort thrives, having undergone substantial rebuilding after the major earthquake which hit Nepal in 2015. Guests staying here can take a variety half-day or one day vineyard trips, fully guided.

These might not be the highest vineyards in the world (Colomé claims 2,300 metres, doesn’t it), but they are some of the most spectacularly located. On a clear day you can see several of the great Himalayan ranges from the resort terrace.

The main vineyards are now further away (in theory 45 minutes drive) further west, on the road to Pokhara. The two main locations are Kaule (the site of Pataleban’s current red blend) and Kewalpur (Dhading District), where the new winery is situated, and where they plan to build another hotel.

The vines at Kaule comprise mostly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Yama Sauvignon (the latter a Japanese variety, on which more later). At Kaule the desire of founder and winemaker Kumar Karki to minimise the use of sprays is usually confounded by fungal issues as the harvest takes place in the monsoon. The resulting wine is, in my view, pretty good considering trying conditions, which are in some ways not too dissimilar to those experienced in Japan.

The Kewalpur site, despite vines mostly planted at between 800 metres to 1,200 metres, is less affected by monsoon rains. It is here that most expansion is taking place, ever upward too. Kumar told me that they currently have around 40 acres under vine in total. Last year they planted 12k vines and the plan is to increase production by at least 20k bottles a year for the foreseeable future. In 2018 they produced 22k bottles and it looks like they will get around 40k bottles out of the 2019 harvest.

Pataleban is in good hands, and they have received assistance from two highly competent consultants. From the Swiss Valais there is Joseph-Marie Chanton, from a family who followers of my writings on Swiss wine will be aware of (one of that country’s finest producers, based at Visp). Chanton Weine is now run by Joseph-Marie’s son, Mario, giving “Chosy” (as he’s known) time to pursue other interests. He’s best known in Switzerland for his work saving several rare indigenous Swiss varieties from extinction.

He’s followed by Wolfgang Schäfer, of TVC (Tropical Viticulture Consultants). Wolfgang, who has worked extensively in India, runs that partnership with Hans-Peter Hoehnen, whose family is famous for having founded Cape Mentelle in Margaret River, and then Cloudy Bay Winery in New Zealand.

Before we look at the wines, I should mention the other issues Pataleban faces, aside from climatic ones. Consumer indifference is a major factor. If you say “wine” in Nepal, most people think of fruit wine. Divine is a major brand there, made from soft red/black fruits, sweet and slightly porty. And cheap. There is a real need to get out and educate. The Pataleban wines retail locally at between £7 to £14 a bottle, a big leap in price from the fruit wines and comparable to the branded wines which come in from India. Australian, French, Spanish and Chilean wines are easily available in Kathmandu. They have often sat in a bottle shop window in forty degree temperatures, or perhaps hail from a rather too old and dusty vintage, but consumers still assume foreign is best.

The government doesn’t really help. They show no current interest of offering assistance to such a niche product, yet Pataleban offers another welcome strand of tourism, with a lovely hotel close to the capital, fine food and wine, easy attractive forest walks and vineyard tours. Perhaps things will change as the vineyard’s profile increases.

Pataleban wine is currently available in a number of Kathmandu’s top hotels, and in a small number of retail outlets. Try Vino Bistro just off the major Lazimpat Road (towards the bottom, on Kumari Mai Marg, down the south side of the Big Mart supermarket).

Chairman and winemaker Kumar Karki and director Janapal Thapa gave me a wonderful tasting at Kewalpur, in the current makeshift shed of a winery, thankfully well insulated and wonderfully cool. The equipment is all imported from
Europe, of high quality, and I was very excited by the level of improvement I saw since my first acquaintance with the wines. The wine samples below were tasted from tank and come from the 2019 harvest.

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Kumar Karki and Janapal Thapa

Solaris If you know English wine you’ll possibly know Solaris. I was only praising Daniel Ham’s Devon-grown Solaris petnat in my August “Recent Wines” roundup. Solaris is officially a vinifera variety (formally acknowledged 2001), but it certainly contains hybrid traces in its convoluted parentage. It’s a good variety for organic production in wet or damp climates, hence its planting here in Nepal. A simple wine, yet very fresh and fruity, it makes an impressive start to the tasting.

Phoenix and Orion – blended in tank, two more obscure varieties making for a scintillating contrast to the Solaris, because this is less fruity, drier and more mineral. They probably plan to bottle the Solaris as a varietal, but I’m not sure what their plans are for this tank.

Chardonnay – Chardonnay is such an adaptable variety, and it proves this here. In tank the aroma was not fully developed, though it shows a little arrowroot biscuit, but it has clear varietal definition, especially on the palate. Alcohol will turn out around 11-12%, they say. I’m already acquainted with this variety in the Ashish blend from bottle and this 2019 is probably a step up again, worthy of a single varietal cuvée. The Chardonnay vines are planted lower down (750 to 800 metres), and I wonder how the blend would develop if they pushed that envelope just a little higher? Still, it is on the leaner side, no bad thing, though it’s early days. I challenge anyone not to enjoy this.

Heida – yes, Heida, aka Savagnin. Perhaps this is Joseph-Marie Chanton’s influence? I’d never tasted their Heida before, except in a blend, and in some ways this was the tank sample which impressed me most. If Kumar and Janapal are reading this, I should point out that I am something of a Jura fanatic. Don’t expect anything jurassically oxidative, though. There’s a bit of savoury nuttiness but I’d describe the style as more “traminer” (cf Stéphane Tissot), and definitely ouillé. It might end up in a blend with Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay again…we shall see. I’m guessing “Heida” would be a somewhat harder sell than “Chardonnay”.

Merlot – Although this variety may not always appeal to some wine obsessives, it clearly has a lot of potential to get Pataleban established on local markets. Another wine that exhibits clear varietal traits (I think the nose gives it away), it is quite hearty, aromatic, and with soft fruit on the palate. Not complex but easy to drink, in a good way.

Yama Sauvignon – Never heard of it? Even more obscure is the fact that this hybrid variety is a crossing made at Yamanashi University (Japan) between Cabernet Sauvignon and Yama Budou, the latter being a vitis coignetiae variety (I swear I’m not making that up, it’s a wild forest grape, big leafed and a prolific climber in its natural habitat). The grapes give a ruby red juice, resulting in genuine fruitiness but with quite pronounced acidity and a bit of grip. It makes for a fascinating, and pleasurable, glass of red on a warm Nepalese autumn day.

Fortified Merlot – This final sample is estate Merlot fortified with grain spirit from Nepal’s Terai region (the plains in the south famous for tiger and rhino). The resulting alcohol is 17% and the wine is rich and fruity, like a ruby port. It can’t be released until the bureaucracy involved in obtaining a different licence is completed, but I’m sure this will be a hit.

I also drank several bottles of the Pataleban Kaule Red Blend whilst in Nepal (40% Merlot, 30% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Yama Sauvignon), which is a tasty, smooth red, easy going but in my opinion way ahead of most of the European and Indian branded wines you find in Kathmandu, certainly with more personality.

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After the tasting we enjoyed a bottle of Pataleban Ashish White Blend (40% each of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer with 20% Heida), another genuine hit. Both wines seem to get better every year and their future is bright if the locals can be educated as to the value of well made grape wines. I hope Kumar’s amazing vision is rewarded.

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Pataleban is an exemplary estate, bringing wine tourism to Central Nepal, and giving work to around thirty villagers in the vines alone. Naturally you’ll have to go to Nepal to taste them, but the attractive countryside and the resort hotel make it a tempting venue for a weekend or a couple of days away from the pollution of the capital city, without travelling very far.

Check out the resort web site here, not least for the photos. We made a one day trip, warmly hosted by Janapal and Kumar, but I would certainly like to go back for a night or two. After returning to the resort (a three hour traffic jam caused by road resurfacing led to them sending rescue motorbikes to whisk my wife and I back to Chisapani), we had some delicious food. The momos are particularly recommended.

I guess you’d like to know whether I hit the Tongba again whilst in Nepal (a few people read that article every week)? Of course I did, but oddly without the mildly hallucinogenic effects of previous encounters. We travelled east of Kathmandu, to an area not very much frequented by western tourists, first to Charikot, where at the Charikot Panorama Resort (2,000 metres, amazing mountain vistas looking into Tibet) we encountered the wines pictured below, along with that lethal spirit, Himalayan Aaila (48.5% so you have seriously been warned)…

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…then we headed up to Kalinchowk, on roads that were like white water rafting on dried mud, and where we drove for hours at not much more than walking pace. Our destination was one of Nepal’s great shrines (Kalinchowk Bhagwati Dharsan). At lunch we partook of Tongba in its natural habitat. The mountain people consume this fermented millet drink  to keep warm in the freezing temperatures (we even had a gentle light snowfall as we stood at the shrine, at an altitude of 3,800 metres above sea level). It certainly performed that task as intended. We all had a warm glow but no one ended up horizontal. It was served not in the traditional wooden jar (like I’ve pictured before), but in a more standard, but more easily cleanable, stainless steel vessel.

Visiting the shrine is an amazing experience. It feels like a special place. Most of the ascent from the village can now be made by a new cable car (a welcome addition at this altitude), but you still have a bit of a climb at the end, in the thin cold air.

Millet from which Tongba is fermented

The business end of lunch in the cold Himalayan afternoon

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The shrine, sitting atop a peak of 3,800 metres

Charikot Panorama Resort

A final Charikot medley

 

 

Posted in Nepal, Wine, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines September 2019 #theglouthatbindsus

You’ve probably noticed how frantically I have been writing recently, with so many of September’s round of tastings to get through. Now is the time to reflect what I’ve been drinking at home in the past month, but I really am going to limit myself to one dozen bottles this time, tempting as it is to include a few more. Below you can read about wines from The Loire and The Ardèche in France, three different Austrian Regions, Australia, mainland and island Spain, England, Switzerland, The Czech Republic and Nepal. Remember, these are the most interesting wines I drank during September, the wines I think most of my readers will be interested in reading about. They are not necessarily the objective best. The wine from Nepal is a case in point, but it earns its place.

GROS PLANT DU PAYS NANTAIS SUR LIE “FOLLE BLANCHE 11º” 2018, HUTEAU & BOULANGER (Loire, France)

This is one of the most enigmatic wines I’ve drunk in a while, wholly unlike most wine made from Folle Blanche and almost impossible to find much information on. Folle Blanche is well known in the Brandy regions, Armagnac and Cognac, where its low alcohol and tartness are much prized. Why anyone thought that Gros Plant would be a good idea in a region which also had Muscadet’s Melon de Bourgogne, I’m not sure. I used to use it in my youth as a cheaper way to make a Kir  rather than using Aligoté, but that’s about it.

Huteau & Boulanger are the family names of a couple who run the Domaine du Moulin Camus at Vallet. François Boulanger also runs FB Vins Diffusion, which distributes other Loire wines, but it looks as if this is probably a negoce wine sold under François’s label. The acids are still prominent, but tamed, and the wine has a wholly different profile to what you might expect. It has herbal notes with a restrained streak of lemon citrus flavour, which reminds me more of a good Muscadet, in fact. It is probably assisted by 2018 being a good, warm, vintage in the Pays Nantais, and on the shelf by a rather attractive label. At £10.99 retail it’s also very much a bargain.

Importer – Dreyfus Ashby. Try Solent Cellar for retail.

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WAITING FOR TOM 2015, RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria) 

I had decided to save one of Stefanie and Susanne’s earliest wines to see how it would age. I was frankly very happy indeed. The blend here is Blaufränkisch, Pinot Noir and St-Laurent, from the Renner vineyards which slope towards the Neusiedlersee around Gols. It’s reasonably well known that the sisters make some of my favourite wines in the whole of Austria, and I’ve been trying to follow their careers since they cajoled their father into letting them loose on his vines. Their rise has been quite meteoric, helped no doubt by their bubbly and friendly personalities as much as by wines which began as an exciting new expression of Gols terroir, and have become more assured with each and every vintage. I think the wines are as good communicators as their makers.

With a few years under its belt in bottle, following ageing in large 500-litre neutral oak, this 2015 vintage of the “Tom” blend is smooth and svelte, and still full of biodynamic life. The bouquet is of gentle blackberry, the palate adding cherry and a little spice. Not over complex but still vibrant and lovely. Patience can be such a virtue with natural wine. I wouldn’t say it has developed a lot of tertiary elements, but it has remained fresh and vital. Equally vital that I replenish my stocks soon.

Imported by Newcomer Wines, Dalston (London).

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NEUBURGER 2016, SOMM IN THE MUST/RAINER WESS (Krems, Austria)

Nicolas Pierron and Pierrick Gorrichon are sommelier friends who have got together to source some interesting natural wines. Their first products are a couple of wines from Austria. Neuburger is a natural cross between Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner, originating in The Wachau, a variety which is seeing its star decline, partly because of the rise in popularity at home and abroad of Grüner Veltliner, and the fact that it is prone to disease. It’s a shame because the much less well known Neuburger is capable of making very good wine, and no one wants to see a loss of diversity.

Rainer Wess is a fairly well known producer at home, whose main vineyards are in the Wachau, but he also has vines around Krems, to where he has moved his winery. He is the source for the fruit. The bouquet is perhaps a little less overt than peppery Grüner, but it has touches of spice, florality and a certain lifted steeliness. On the palate it has presence, body (more than the nose might suggest, but it does come out with 13% abv) and some texture. You get a little apple and a little stone fruit. It’s not a “wow!” wine, but one that is interesting and food-friendly, and a very good example of one of the many lesser known varieties of Austria we all should try. Somm in the Must is a label worth following.

Purchased from Solent Cellar, Lymington, but it may be out of stock. It is currently listed by Stannery Street Wine Company, London.

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RAKETE 2017, JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna, Austria)

Jutta is one of the smaller producers with vines around Austria’s capital. This wine comes from the Kahlenberg, a 500-metre hill which many keen walkers will know well, in Vienna’s outlying 19th District. Jutta specialises in Wiener Gemischter Satz, the city’s traditional field blend of complanted grapes, co-fermented to make what are often eye-opening wines for the uninitiated. They are usually white, but this “Landwein” is exactly the same concept, but for red wine, effectively a Roter Gemischter Satz.

The blend is Zweigelt, St-Laurent, Blauburger and Merlot all from the same vineyard, off compressed sandstone. Fermentation is in stainless steel, from a desire to keep this natural wine vibrant and fruit-driven. What we get is a pale red wine which tastes just like a white, except for its juicy red berry fruit. It definitely needs chilling like a white wine. I’ve drunk this a few times now, both here and in Vienna, and for me it’s thrilling stuff from a young winemaker making so many thrilling wines. Jutta is always well represented at Mast Weinbistro, for many the first place to head for food in Vienna.

Imported by Newcomer Wines, Dalston (London).

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HEAVY PETTING PETNAT 2018, WILDMAN WINES (Riverland, South Australia)

Tim Wildman MW is a kind of neighbour of mine. Well, he lives just a few miles away when he’s in the UK, though we’ve only met once. He’s built a reputation as one of the experts on The New Australia, and he spends much of his time putting together eclectic wines which represent that new energy, especially via refreshing petnats. 

Wildman Wines is based at Tanunda, in the Barossa Valley, but the fruit for Heavy Petting comes from Riverland, that part of the Murray River from where it crosses into South Australia from Victoria, up to the point where it ceases to flow west, turning south towards the South Atlantic at Morgan. That fruit is a blend of Nero d’Avola and Zibibbo. It’s a bright ruby red, full of sediment (a gentle shake is encouraged), gently sparkling and bottled with zero dosage. What you get are lively red fruit flavours, texture to add interest, and bags of fun. It’s only 10% abv and this makes it a perfect picnic wine for any time between 8am and 4pm, though there are no rules.

For the 2019 vintage Tim has moved his fruit source to McLaren Vale, but expect similar. There’s also a white semi-sparkling petnat called Astro Bunny, which uses these two varieties plus Vermentino, and at least one new wine on the way.

This bottle came from Seven Cellars in Brighton.

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LA DEHESA TEMPRANILLO [2018], VINOS AMBIZ (Sierra de Gredos, Spain)

The Fabius Maximus, Fabio Bartolomei, is someone who I’ve written about a little bit, and of all the new wave Spanish wine producers, he may well be my favourite. Except that “Spanish” and “producer” are perhaps not the right terms. Fabio sounds Italian, and indeed his parents were, but they emigrated from a village near Lucca to Scotland, and it is there that he was born and grew up. He’s been in Spain twenty years, but it was only in 2013 that he moved to the Gredos, taking over the vast, derelict, co-operative cellars at El Tiemblo.

The difficulty with “producer” is that Fabio is as far from being a manipulator of grape juice as you can get. His front label states “made from chemical free grapes; no adulterations with unnecessary substances or processing in the winery”. The legendary back labels list dozens of things Fabio does not do to his wine that others may. Needless to say, this is a table wine with no appellation.

The grapes undergo a carbonic maceration/fermentation and the strawberry fruit on the bouquet is the freshest you can imagine. The palate shows a striking purity, not just the fruit, but also the refreshing “fruit acidity”. It’s a wine which livens the palate in a way that no other wine carrying 14% alcohol possibly could. It has no right to be this refreshing, but what the alcohol does is add presence. It’s not ephemeral, despite its briskness. In fact it is harmonious, but something more than a kind of gentle harmony. There’s some fine sediment in the bottle, because of course it sees no fining or filtration, and this adds a bit of texture on the finish at whatever point you allow the sediment into your glass.

This wine came directly from Fabio. I’ve met him quite a few times and he asked if he could send me this after I’d written about his 2017 in my July article. Vinos Ambiz wines are imported by Otros Vinos, who sell a range of ground-breaking and boundary-pushing wines from small, naturally inclined, Spanish producers.

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KOSHU ROSÉ 2016, PATALEBAN VINEYARD WINERY (Baad Bhanjyang, Near Kathmandu, Nepal)

Pataleban Winery Resort is located about sixteen miles west of Kathmandu, at around 1,600 masl. It sits above the Kathmandu Valley close to the point where those of you who have travelled on the lorry-clogged road to Pokhara will recall it drops steeply to the valley floor, by way of a number of big hairpin bends. This can be at anything between half and hour to an hour’s drive out of the capital, depending on traffic, but at least if you are crawling along you are unlikely to miss the signs.

The vineyards, established in 2006 with help and finance from Japan (hence the Koshu variety), sit surrounded by beautiful forest. This is the first time I’ve ever described a vineyard’s extent by using the ropani, a Nepalese unit of land measurement. Pataleban boasts 42 ropanis, and as there are almost 20 ropani to one hectare, you can see that its a fairly small project, but one with big hopes.

I visited Pataleban in 2016 (see here). The buildings had sustained some damage during the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, but the vines were fine. They began by planting mostly hybrid varieties more suitable to the climate, which frankly would be perfect were it not for the monsoon. But they are also working with European varieties, and seem to be having some luck with Chardonnay. If you want to read more about this unique estate, then visit their own web site here.

So what of the Koshu? Rather like Musar’s pink, it doesn’t seem to have been affected by age, but it does have a bit of astringency. In Japan it is common to leave a little residual sugar in Koshu to avoid or lessen this known trait in the variety. This wine has obviously been in enough contact with the skins to make it pink, so that may be another cause for that astringency. In Japan, Koshu is usually made as a white wine, but the variety is pink-skinned. It also lacks the delicacy of the best from Japan. I also have to mention that the bottle is sealed with a fairly poor cork. But it does have personality, and I would rather drink this than some of the European and Indian wines which sit in the sun in Kathmandu bottle shop windows.

This bottle came from the stall which the vineyard often has at the farmer’s market off the major Lazimpat Road, Kathmandu (north of the prime tourist hangouts of Thamel, and south of Baluwatar, where many of the great and the good of Nepal’s ruling elite are said to live). If you visit the city the market is a nice thing to do on a Saturday morning. There’s a lovely modern cafe and nice shops (including The Local Project for great gifts), and it has a very different ex-pat vibe to Thamel. I hope to be purchasing some more red and white wines shortly. Exact directions can be found online quite easily, or equally look for Le Sherpa Restaurant, which is on site.

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VINO DE LA MESA 2017, VICTORIA TORRES PECIS (La Palma, Canary Is., Spain)

We all crave the wines of Tenerife, but did you know that there’s also a thriving winemaking tradition on the tiny Canary Island of La Palma, to the northwest? Viki Torres took over the former Bodega Matías I Torres from her father when he passed away in 2014 (the labels no longer state the bodega name because Torres in Penedès apparently took exception). He already had a fine reputation, but somehow his daughter has become something of a star name in just a few short years. Maybe that’s why the big boys took notice?

If you would like to read more about Victoria then you can link to the article I wrote back in August following a tasting of her wines in London here. This particular cuvée is the only one from which a reasonable number of bottles have come into the UK, somewhere around 300. Quantities of the other wines are miniscule. It is made from ungrafted Negramoll vines grown in various plots and at various altitudes on the island’s volcanic terroir. It came from the 600-litre tank which the local restaurants in the south of this small island habitually came to top-up from.

It has intense fruit flavours, dark but not weighty. There’s a bit of texture and somewhat more acidity. You need to like reds with acidity, which I’d prefer to characterise as freshness and zip. There is also a touch of volatility, but only enough to add interest. It would not hurt to carafe it, and I will say that it will develop over time in the glass. All Viki’s wines take time to reveal themselves as you drink the bottle. It’s yet another wine which tastes much less alcoholic than the stated 13%. Lovely, but equally importantly, just so interesting.

Imported by Modal Wines.

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WILD ROSE 2015, BLACK CHALK WINES (Hampshire, England)

I tasted the 2016 Wild Rose, along with the 2015 Classic Cuvée, at the recent Out The Box young importer tasting last week, so you’ve very possibly seen what I wrote, including my assertion that Jacob Leadley’s Black Chalk is the most exciting new English sparkling wine label on the market. Excuse my repetition here. Jacob buys fruit from grape growers with whom he has close ties in and around the Test Valley near, Winchester. He currently makes just the two wines, and although I like both very much the 2015 rosé is my favourite so far.

The 2015 vintage has yielded a wine which seems to combine both elegance and a touch of richness. Whether it is the vintage, or the ripe Meunier Jacob has used (along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), there’s a lovely ripeness which is almost fleshy and which combines perfectly with the light and elegant strawberry and raspberry fruit which haunts the bouquet and is driven along by the fine bubbles on the palate. The 2016 tasted last week is very fine indeed, but if you can still find a 2015 then grab some. It’s in a very good place right now.

Black Chalk is available direct from the producer by mail order. This bottle was another purchase from Seven Cellars (Seven Dials, Brighton). It generally retails for £40-£42.

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PETITE SELVE VIN DE FRANCE 2018, CHÂTEAU DE LA SELVE (Ardèche, France)

This property, at Grospièrres in the Southern Ardèche, is a genuine 13th Century fortified house with a pepper pot roof-topped round turret at each corner. It was purchased by Jean-Régis and Magdeleine Chazallon in 1990, and it is their son, Benoît, who with his wife Florence has transformed the estate into a considerable wine producer, along with several gîtes where guests can holiday.

Petite Selve, sub-titled “Vin de Copain”, is from the entry level “Classiques” range. The blend is 40% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 20% Syrah, grown on and near the banks of the River Chassezac, a tributary of the Ardèche. The vines are at around 120-to-135 metres asl and this allows them to benefit from the cool night time temperatures during the growing season here. Farming is biodynamic and the grapes see a 20-day cuvaison. Around 30% of the press juice from the rosé is added. The result is a wine which truly lives up to that “Vin de Copain” name. That’s why it is included here. They make a fairly hefty 50k bottles of this, but for a reasonable £15 you get a really good fruity wine, delicious and full of glou.

Imported by Dreyfus Ashby.

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PETITE ARVINE TRADITION 2013, DOMAINE DES MUSES (Sierre, Switzerland)

Having recently reviewed Sue Style’s wonderful new book on Swiss Wine, it felt like a good idea to drink one of the wines she enjoys, from a prominent Valais producer, one which has in recent years developed a real reputation on export markets. Robert Tamaracaz worked with the legendary Denis Mercier, and undertook a stage at Sacred Hill in New Zealand, before he took over the family domaine, when his parents considered selling up, in 2002. He farms 9ha of steep vineyards, including a unique amphitheatre at nearby Saillon. The Petite Arvine is grown on the Rhône’s cooler left bank and this allows Robert to preserve all the freshness of an Alpine wine, not always the norm in this surprisingly hot and sunny climate (the vineyards between Sierre and Grange are said to be the driest in Switzerland).

Proving itself the most interesting, and surely the finest, of Switzerland’s autochthonous white grape varieties, the bouquet is both intense but also gently floral.The palate brings in more breadth, with pear fruit cut by lemon citrus. The 13% alcohol adds a bit of weight. It’s a wine that can develop a serious side, as the six years bottle age of this example has done, but it doesn’t taste that old. All of the Muses wines I’ve ever tried over the years have been of very high quality, from the cheapest to the most expensive. It is the Petite Arvine which I’ve drunk the most, ever since I was introduced to it by Geneva friends a good many years ago, and it is my favourite. A beautiful expression of a wonderful grape variety.

Purchased from Alpine Wines (mail order), around £40/bottle.

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CHARDONNAY 2012, JAROSLAV OSIČKA (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Jaroslav Osička farms three hectares at Belké Bílovice in Moravia, in the southeast of the Czech Republic, near the borders with Austria and Slovakia. He taught for thirty years at the local wine school and during that time became a leading light in Moravian natural wine. He may appear a traditionalist, but his knowledge is wide, citing the wines of France’s Jura region as highly influential. More than a “natural wine” maker, Jaroslav is deeply in touch with nature, and sees working the vines as a task which must rest alongside preserving the local ecology, man and nature working together.

This, like the previous wine, has a bit of bottle age to it, which you don’t see very often. It could not be more instructive. The shock awaiting me was a wine of almost profound freshness. That was a surprise not just because of its age, but also because I’d spotted 14% abv on the label. That freshness is carried through the wine by a firm spine of mineral texture, quite linear. If you appreciate a cleaner and leaner style of Chardonnay I think you will adore this, as I did. I could not believe how good this was.

Basket Press Wines, the excellent Czech Wine specialist, imports Osička. I think they may have some 2014 left (according to their web site). This 2012 came off the take away list at Plateau Brighton. I have no idea whether it was their last bottle. I’m also quite a fan of this producer’s Modry Portugal (aka Blauer Portugieser), among others.

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Out The Box Young Importers 2019, Part 2

Part 1 of my Out The Box 2019 article covered three of the importers who were showing their wines in Clerkenwell last Tuesday: 266 WinesSwig and Uncharted Wines. If you haven’t yet read Part 1 you will find it via the link here. This second part covers wines from Graft Wine Company, Carte Blanche Wines and Maltby & Greek.

GRAFT WINE COMPANY

Graft Wine Co was born from the coming together, in summer 2019, of Red Squirrel and The Knotted Vine, two very highly respected wine importers in their own right. David Knott and Nick Darlington and their respective staff seem to be a good match, and there are plenty of synergies between them and what they had previously been trying to achieve. Red Squirrel in particular has expanded quite a lot in recent years and I hope the future continues to be bright for them.

Black Chalk Classic Cuvée 2015 and Black Chalk Wild Rose 2016 (Hampshire, UK) Black Chalk is the label of Jacob Leadley, who purchases fruit from trusted local growers in and around the Test Valley, not far from Winchester. In a short space of time, Jacob has established Black Chalk as possibly the most exciting new label for English sparkling wine. He makes two cuvées.

Classic Cuvée 2015 is a blend of the three main “Champagne” varieties, whose character I think is determined by four things. Well selected fruit is essential, the judicious use of oak and time on lees are also important. But I would add that the Pinot Meunier he uses with confidence, a variety so misunderstood by casual “Champagne” lovers, adds a lovely ripeness which balances the crisp acidity. It helps create real harmony here.

Mind you, I think that the rosé cuvée, Wild Rose 2016, is even better. I recently drank the Wild Rose 2015 (it will get a full note in an article on recent wines next week). I said I had never drunk a “better” English Sparkling Wine. At the time one or two people suggested that the 2016 is even better. Well it’s a touch less developed right now, and I do love Jacob’s ’15s, but it is glorious. Don’t just believe me, the 2016 won “Gold” at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships 2019. The raspberry and strawberry fruit is lifted here by that signature crispness. It seems less opulent than the ’15 right now, but it will develop with a little more time in bottle. Still stunning though.

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Polperro Chardonnay 2017 (Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia) Mornington Peninsula, on the coast close to Melbourne, has a maritime climate that allows for genuine vintage variation. This single vineyard (near Red Hill) Chardonnay, from the very highly rated 2017 vintage, saw 10% new oak, the rest aged in second year barrels. So you get some vanilla, and 13.7% abv, yet it’s not as big as you’d think. It has the freshness characteristic of the best wines of the Peninsula. There’s smooth lemon and peach fruit with some classy (not too overt) nutty flavours. The wine’s character is influenced by the vineyard, which is up on the ridge at Red Hill at around 280-metres, the highest point on the Peninsula. See below for their Pinot Noir.

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Sigurd Chenin Blanc 2018 (Clare Valley, South Australia) Aussie Chenin…you know how I like something different. Dan Graham gave this ten days on skins, then fermented it in ceramic egg. You can tell the variety easily, but as we are in Clare it has that freshness and precision, making it taste modern, and maybe a little unique. As does its restrained 11.7% alcohol content. Lovely and refreshing.

Koerner Rolle 2018 (Clare Valley, South Australia) Now I go back a way with Damon and Jono Koerner’s Vermentino wines (or Pigato as some prefer). They are a unique expression of the grape and, for me, are very Australian, rather than Mediterranean. The bouquet is clean. They use a little oak, plus ceramics, but that oak comes through more on the palate, which has a breadth to it, a decent bit of texture (though the oak softens it a little), all wrapped in nice acidity, a Clare trait (they are based at Leasingham, at the bottom end of the valley, just south of Watervale). This might just be Australia’s best rendition of the variety, though I can’t recall others using the Rolle synonym.

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Damian Pinon Vouvray “Clos Tenau” 2014 (Loire, France) Damien Pinon runs the family Domaine de la Poultière at Vernou-sur-Brienne. Clos Tenau is a single vineyard old vine cuvée, 100% Chenin of course, which is vinified half in barrique and half in concrete egg. The wine is aged in their traditional cellars cut into the soft tuffeau rock, and this wine is five years old, showing nice development. It began life with twenty months on lees, and this contributes to a complex nose, with depth. The palate is a little oily in texture, but with nice lemon zip. The lees and the tuffeau terroir add up to a pleasant soft mineral texture which has doubtless softened in bottle and will soften more. A very nice bottle, but worth splashing into a carafe, to give it some air, and serve it not too cold.

Morgado do Quintão Vinhas Velhas Branco 2017 (Algarve, Portugal) Filipe Vasconcellos inherited this estate which was quite rare in modern day Algarve. Why? Filipe’s mother had never pulled up the traditional grape varieties, where so many others had done so to replace them with the international varieties which now appear ubiquitous in southern Portugal. This old vine cuvée is made from Crato Branco (aka Roupeiro, from the Malvasia family), which I’m guessing only a few readers will know. It’s one of those wines which combines fruit and savoury in one mouthful. Aged in traditional old oak, it has tension and vitality, a wine to drink now when fresh or to allow to pick up more complexity with age. The winemaker, incidentally, is Joana Maçanita, sister of Antonio, of Azores Wine Company fame. There’s a nice rosado too, made from a blend of Negra Mole (aka Negramoll) and Crato Branco.

 

Clos Cibonne Rosé Tradition 2017 and Clos Cibonne Tradition Rouge 2017 The rosé cuvée is legend, especially when served from magnum (as here). There are several pink wines which warrant a very serious appraisal (Tondonia, Musar, Ch. Simone…), and this is certainly on that list. The main variety is Tibouren, a very old autochthonous Provençal grape which is very hard to grow, but was revived back in the 1930s here at Cibonne. To this is added 10% Grenache, largely to allow it to qualify for the Côtes de Provence AOP. Such an elegant wine, with budding complexity, whose ripe fruit masks the fact that this is seriously ageworthy. You should buy some…in mag.

The red cuvée has the same encépagement as the rosé. It has a more savoury, herbal, character and some finely grained tannins, but unlike the rosé, and perhaps counter-intuitively, it is recommended that you drink the red sooner rather than keeping it. I think it’s a lovely red which I know goes well with herby, and mildly spiced, vegetarian dishes (seared aubergines come to mind).

 

Polperro Pinot Noir 2017 (Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia) Sam Coverdale is the winemaker at Polperro, using biodynamic viticulture and the diversity of the great micro-climates (Polperro has eight sites here on Mornington) of this maritime-influenced strip of land, to fashion complex wines. This Pinot comes in at 13.2% abv which lifts the ripe fruit of the 2017 vintage, but beneath lie savoury depths which make this one impressive red…if you like the Mornington style (I do), which at its best walks a tightrope between richness and restraint (not every winery here gets it consistently right). The fruit is ripe enough to drink now, with food, but the fine grained tannins will allow it to evolve in bottle. If I make it down to the MP soon I shall be paying Sam a visit (and I see they have a well regarded restaurant too).

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Koerner La Korse 2018 (Clare Valley, South Australia) If your interest was piqued by the Koerner Vermentino/Rolle, then take a look at this bad boy. Sangiovese (60%), Sciaccarello (20%), Grenache (15%) and Malbec (5%) make up an unusual blend with a nod in the direction of Corsica. I’m not sure I’d place this wine there if tasted blind as it doesn’t have that savoury, herbal, garrigue bite, but it is nevertheless a delicious wine. The grapes get a whole berry ferment and, as is their wont at Koerner, ageing in a mix of half old oak, half ceramic egg. It gives what for me is an early drinking wine in a vibrant fruit-forward style.

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CARTE BLANCHE WINES

Carte Blanche celebrates a decade in the wine business this year. It must say something for their standing that they seem to have been around for longer. It must be so difficult for all these smaller importers trying to get their wines into restaurants and wine shops when the larger importers are an all too easy option for their proprietors, but when you see how much more interesting some of these wines are you would hope they take note. If you want to excite your customers then straying into the Out The Box Tasting every year is surely the way to go?

Ancre Hill Blanc de Noirs NV (Monmouthshire, Wales) If you want something different, then Welsh wine, surely? But different isn’t enough, is it. Ancre Hill thankfully makes amazing wines, some of them highly innovative. This is effectively their classic sparkler, made from 100% biodynamic (in Wales!) Pinot Noir by the “traditional method” (ie bottle fermented and disgorged). It has a lovely bouquet, at one moment floral but then with apple peel coming through. There’s a slight touch of brioche but the main sensation right now is of refreshing, thirst quenching fruit, reminding me of crisp mountain apples (for which, especially in Nepal, I have a real fondness). I know that with time it takes on a more honeyed edge. It retails for a reasonably steep £40-ish, but don’t be put off by the price – it’s a very classy bottle.

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Vincent Caillé “Fay d’Homme” Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2018 (Loire/Pays Nantais, France) When Vincent took over in 1986 Muscadet was at a low ebb. He was one of a band of producers who could see that the only way forward was the pursuit of uncompromising quality. That is what you get here. Vincent was one of the first to convert all his considerable 25ha to organic farming, and is currently undergoing trials with biodynamics, despite the notoriously wet Atlantic climate here.

The Melon de Bourgogne vines at Monnières are on gneiss. Fermentation lasts around 20 days, after which the wine rests on lees until the following spring. There’s no avoiding the M-word here (minerality), and why should we! But this is also Muscadet with a difference. There’s acidity but it is more softly spoken than many. The lees character also gives it a savoury slant that I really like.

Christelle Guibert Terre de Gabbro Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine 2017 (Loire/Pays Nantais, France) Many readers will know Christelle, a former wine journalist and Tastings Director at Decanter Magazine who now, among other things, makes Muscadet with Vincent Caillé (see above), as well as a gorgeous but elusive Muscat orange wine from Itata in Chile.

This Muscadet is made in a béton ovoïde, a concrete egg which looks rather like a 1950s idea of a Mars Lander (I’ve see red tin models that look just like this grey receptacle). Terre de Gabbro comes from seven tiny parcels which don’t add up to more than a hectare. Biodynamic methods are followed. The wine is frankly superb. The nose is so alive, and the palate has a softness, even softer than the “Fay” above. It’s also impressively long for a Muscadet generally. Just 1,450 bottles made.

 

Weingut Thörle Saulheimer Kalkstein Riesling 2017 (Rheinhessen, Germany) There’s little about the Thörle labels to draw you to the wine. I drank my first a few years ago, a Spätburgunder on a recommendation, and didn’t stop. Christoph and Johannes Thörle are brothers who introduced biodynamics to the family domaine at Saulheim in Central Rheinhessen, south of Mainz. The vines from the Kalkstein site are up to sixty years old. Vinification is in stainless steel and ageing is in traditional large old oak, but they use some skin maceration and short fermentations to keep the wines fruity, whilst helping them to live up to the textural image a site named “Kalkstein” suggests. The feel here is of two young brothers wanting to forge a new name in quality, in a region where quality seems to have won through over past mediocrity.

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Camille Braun Edelzwicker NV (Alsace, France) I attempt to keep on top of Alsace, one of the French regions I’ve long been in love with (the landscape as much as its wines), but Camille Braun is a name I have never come across. The estate is based in Orschwihr, in the south of the Bas-Rhin Department. The village sits in the shadow of the Vosges a little north of Guebwiller and just south of the Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé. The estate was founded by Camille in the 1960s, and is now run by Camille’s son, Christophe. He farms 13ha of vines, made up of thirty-or-so different parcels and what you get here is pretty much a wine per parcel. Today biodynamics is the methodology (Demeter Certified).

The traditional Edelzwicker blend is mainly made in this case from Pinot Blanc (45%) and Sylvaner (35%), with some Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chasselas. Edelzwicker used to have a bad name but that has been turned on its head as blends become more serious in terms of quality and the care taken in their making. But this still remains a fruity wine to consume within a year or two, and I reckon you can guess the cold dishes from the region which it would accompany to perfection. Camille also suggests it would make a good base for a liqueur (rather like a kir,  although Alsace can provide some quite adventurous further fruit options beyond cassis in this department).

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Ca di Mat “Valautin” 2017 (Sierra de Gredos, Spain) This is from the same guys, Jesús Olivares and Curro Bareño, who are behind the Fidellos de Couto wines, which another prominent importer of Spanish wines brings into the UK. Apparently the soils here, in the mountains of Central Spain, are not dissimilar to those they work with in Galicia (three types of granite). The vines are at altitudes of between 800 to 850 masl and here the weather is quite wet and windy. Ancient bush vines hug the terrain and yield as few bunches as they can get away with.

The wine begins with a bouquet that has real punch, quite surprising as the juice looks pale. This is how Garnacha should look, of course. Strawberry and other red fruits seem to float over some structure and a little power. There’s grip as well. Don’t be fooled. This pale creature packs 14.5% alcohol and it’s as delicious a wine as you would expect from this talented partnership.

Ca di Mat “Fuente de los Huertos” 2017 (Sierra de Gredos, Spain) This second cuvée is also 100% Garnacha, from a different single vineyard. The colour is slightly deeper, more brick red (or at least in the subdued light of the crypt). However, this cuvée only carries 13.5% alcohol. This perhaps assists the bouquet in delivering a little more elegance, but it is nevertheless not without a certain tannic structure. What makes it for me is the underlying fruit, Gredos Garnacha being capable of something very special, as we know from other more famous sources.

 

Domaine L’Ecu “Mephisto” Vin de France 2015 (Pays Nantais, France) If you know Guy Bossard, who created this domaine, near Landreau in the Western Loire, you’ll probably know the famous Muscadet cuvées Orthogneiss, Gneiss and Granite. If you are come lately to the domaine, then you may be more likely to recognise the unforgettable label of “Mephisto”, a Cabernet Franc made in oak and amphora by current winemaker and Bossard’s disciple, Fred van Herck, who finally took over the reigns here fully in 2014. There are only around two-hundred-dozen of this biodynamic wonder made every year, and it is probably as good as any Loire Cabernet Franc you can care to mention at its best.

It’s an elegant terroir wine which, after a few years ageing here, has the complexity of both red fruits (pomegranate and cranberry), dark fruits (especially blackberry) along with typical violets on the nose with hints of cloves and tobacco. It’s the combination of violets and more savoury elements on the nose which remind me how Cabernet Franc is capable of matching Pinot Noir in transporting the taster to vinous heaven even before sipping the wine. If you can find a bottle do keep it a few years.

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Cancedda O’Connell “G.n. Guerra” 2018 (Sardinia, Italy) I’ve known Mick a while and I can’t say I’m totally objective about his wines, but they are rather marvellous. I recall tasting his first (2015) vintage at Winemakers Club and being a bit nonplussed when John told me the maximum I could buy of this astonishing wine was two bottles. I had no idea he’d only made 350 bottles in total. There are nowadays a few more of this Garnacha (the desired name of the cuvée would be “Garnacha not Guerra”), precisely 1,200. The fruit is grow up at 700 metres asl in the north of the island where Mick has settled with his Sardinian wife.

Whole bunches are foot trodden to make a wine which for the 2018 (it said 2017 in the tasting book…one of several errors and typos) has just 12% abv from early picking in a cooler vintage (which Mick described as being as cool and damp as it gets in Sardinia), but it still has big, almost massive, fruit. I love it. It combines a serious side (definite ageability if required) with something you can knock back for pleasure, not “education”. For 2019 Mick will be releasing a few bottles of a new wine, a Vermentino. Cannot wait.

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Avant Garde Wines Smiley NV (Swartland, South Africa) The grapes for this beguiling wine come from all over Swartland. The current blend, which does change with the vintage, is based on Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah, but we are assured there are others. It’s one of those South Africans which slips easily into the glou category of easy fruit and no harsh edges, but I wouldn’t call it a light wine. You get pretty concentrated fruit, and 13.5% alcohol. The fruit is smooth but it’s not devoid of a little grippy tannin…just a little bit. 7,500 bottles are made, so it’s quite easy to find, and you get a drawing of a dead sheep’s skull on the label. What not to like?

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MALTBY & GREEK

I tasted some more wines from Maltby & Greek quite recently, back in September, at the “Dirty Dozen” tasting and I’m slowly getting to know their range better. The “Maltby” part of the name derives from their original location in Bermondsey’s Maltby Street Market. That was back in 2012, from which time this purveyor of Greek food and wine has grown. The focus has remained, for both food and wine, on (mostly) small, certainly artisan, producers. The wines are predominantly made from indigenous grapes and represent the true traditions of both mainland Greece and her diverse island cultures.

I hope you excuse my re-tasting of a couple of wines from that event, two very good wines…not everyone reads every article I write. The remaining wines are not duplicates, and although Greek Wine is not my speciality, I’m very interested and I’d truly like to see it gain more coverage in the UK. The quality, as with Swiss Wine, is definitely there.

Douloufakis Winery (Dafnes, Crete, Greece)

I’ve chosen to highlight this Cretan winery with three wines because, having tasted one in September, I was most impressed. If Greek wine is currently having something of a burst in the spotlight, then wine from Crete is a little way behind. There’s no reason why. The island has some very promising autochthonous grape varieties, and this third generation producer (Nikos Douloufakis), based about 20km from the capital, Heraklion, is one of the best I’ve tried.

“Dafnios” White 2017 – This wine is made from the Vidiano variety, an autochthonous Cretan variety which many people have been (rightly) getting quite excited about. It has the potential to gain the sort of reputation for Crete that Assyrtiko has for Santorini, except that there’s a lot less Vidiano planted around the Aegean. Many think that Vilana is Crete’s star white variety, but if so then Vidiano isn’t far behind. Some call it the Greek Viognier, probably because of its apricot and peachy scent, but here it has much more – a textured mouthfeel, melon and stone fruit flavours, and a creaminess. It’s a medium-bodied wine with restrained acidity, and with a DPD/ex VAT price under £10 represents great value for a wine which would interest a lot of drinkers.

“Alargo White 2017” – Talking of Assyrtiko, if you want a different take on Greece’s most famous white variety, try this. The grapes are grown at around 350 masl, and undergo a simple fermentation, then ageing, in stainless steel, but with three months on lees. You get lemon, herbs and a chalky texture, yet not with quite the texture that Santorini’s volcanic terroir produces. It has a lemon-lime lip-smacking quality but a breadth on the palate too.

“Dafnios” Red 2017 – What I like about the Douloufakis wines, aside from their being fairly inexpensive, is that they are modern wines that retain an air of tradition. This red, from the native Liatiko variety, hits just that spot. It’s fruit forward but with an underlying herb and spice thing going on, that does remind you of the smells of Greek mountains in late spring (though I haven’t visited Crete itself). Quite simple but rather nice. Liatiko, with its own PDO, is a very ancient variety on Crete, and I love the producer’s confidence that it is capable of making a wine worthy of export markets.

 

Domaine de Kalathas “Notias” 2016 (?) (Tinos, Cyclades, Greece) Tinos is roughly on a line East of Athens before you reach Sámos, or just north of Mykonos. It is where, in 2011, Jérôme Charles Binda established what has become, as I’ve said many times, one of my favourite two Greek domaines. The wine listed for tasting at this event was his wonderful Saint-Obeissance 2017, but as that is currently sold out we had this wine instead. Why the question mark over the vintage? I didn’t note it on the back label at the time and the 2016 is the vintage which is currently listed on the M&G web site.

We have here an extremely interesting orange wine, made from the Aspro Potamisi variety. You’ll notice that it is sub-titled “Vent d’Affrique”. It’s because Jérôme says it reminds him of the warm winds that blow up from Africa. The grapes get a cold soak maceration and are then foot trodden and gently pressed. They go into stainless steel to ferment for about two months.

This is a food wine, and one to serve cool but not chilled. The flavours of orange peel and bitter, fragrant, bergamot, spices and a layer of creaminess combine with a little tannin, so I’m not sure you’ll be opening this at apéritif time. It’s a grown up wine, contemplative and if you sit and ponder over it, very satisfying. But I’m a convert. If you buy one Greek wine from this importer, then be adventurous and try this one.

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I’ve been trying to taste more of the reds here, because winter is coming, after all. So here are five more Greek reds to finish…

Chatzivaritis Estate Negoska Carbonic 2018 (Macedonia, Greece) Negoska is another Greek variety you may not have come across, but it is well known in Central Macedonia, where it can be blended with Xinomavro in the Goumenissa PDO, and Chloe Chatzivariti (sic) does produce a Goumenissa red, which I tasted back in September at the Dirty Dozen. Here, Negoska has been treated to carbonic, whole berry, fermentation, which the hi-toned, thrusting, cherry fruit on the nose gives away immediately. This is a more fruit-forward wine for early drinking and is nicely judged.

For those who didn’t read the Dirty Dozen article, that Goumenissa 2015 (said blend of  a little Negoska with the main variety, Xinomavro) was showing real depth at this tasting. The bouquet is ripe, but there are more herbal notes here, and more grippy, grainy, tannins. Some bottle age shows in its more savoury tertiary notes, but it seems as if it will develop further. Whenever I drink Macedonian reds like Goumenissa or Náoussa I’m so often transported to an autumnal Piemonte of mists and leaf detritus. Where this wine differs is in the notes of black olive which come through on the finish. This time I didn’t get any “tomato” though! But beware, the alcohol will creep up on you.

 

Diamantis Winery Xinomavro 2016 (Macedonia, Greece) Diamantis, from the Western (Greek) Macedonian region of Siatista (this must be “Zítsa” in the M&B Wine Atlas, surely), makes this 100% Xinomavro from bush vines planted on a rocky limestone terroir up at 850 to 950 masl, in mountains once famous for their wines (apparently) but relatively unknown today. Well, I’d never heard of the region. This is a “selection”. The wine has a bright ruby colour, medium body and especially vibrant and lively red fruits on the palate. It’s a delicious wine and a lovely example of pure Xinomavro. Don’t be put off by the rather staid and traditional label.

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Vourvoukelis Estate “Limnio” 2016 and “Mavroudi ” 2017 (Thrace, Greece) I don’t see a lot of Thracian wine, certainly not from “Greek Thrace” in the country’s northeast (the Turkish part of Thrace also makes wine). Avdira is another once famous wine region, said to be known for its wine in the time of Homer, whose wines almost disappeared. Along with Maronia, these vineyards once supplied the needs of Constantinople (Byzantium). Nick and Flora Vourvoukeli decided to revive them back in 1999, and today their sons run a large organic estate which has grown to 100ha, with wines mainly under the Xanthi PDO. The two wines below are from these named native varieties.

Limnio is one of the native grape varieties revived here. The vines are on chalky limestone, and are fermented in stainless steel with around a week’s skin contact, before short ageing in oak for six months on lees. The wine is packed with raspberry, and pleasantly tart forest fruits which taste of the cool breezes blowing in from the Black Sea. It doesn’t lack tannin, though and is quite spicy on the finish.

Mavroudi is a black skinned variety (not related, I’m told, to the better known Mavrud of Bulgaria) and is generally stated as the most famous variety of Ancient Thrace. This wine is selected fruit from the estate’s best sites. The bouquet is almost sweet, with wisps of darker fruits. The palate shows elegant fruit but firm tannins.

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Given time in bottle I think both of these wines could be magnificent, but I don’t claim to have remotely the experience to know for certain, and I have my doubts that many people will give them the time they deserve. This is so often the fate of wines which people don’t know well, or in fact which are relatively inexpensive for their actual quality. Nevertheless, I’d love to try a fully mature bottle of either. I would really recommend trying some of the Greek wines, either from Maltby & Greek, or their fellow purveyors of Greek Wine, Southern Wine Roads. There is a rich seam to be plundered.

 

 

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Out The Box Young Importers 2019, Part 1

The Out The Box “young importers” tasting took place on Tuesday 1 October at what has become its usual venue, The Crypt on the Green, beneath St James’s Church in Clerkenwell (London). The rather flattering name of this tasting event is actually pretty apt, because the importers who show here are reasonably young. The event brings together some of the smaller importers whose ranges are definitely among the most exciting available in the UK. I got absolutely soaked to the skin walking to the station and were it not for the opportunity to taste such interesting wines I’d probably have turned around and headed home for a warm shower. I’m glad I didn’t.

There were six importers showing in Clerkenwell. Part 1, here, will cover 266 WinesSwig and Uncharted Wines. Part 2, which will follow, will cover Graft Wine Company (the newly amalgamated Red Squirrel Wines and The Knotted Vine), Carte Blanche Wines and Maltby & Greek.

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266 WINES

266 Wines has only been going since March 2019. The company is run by Ben Slater (ex The Sampler), and its mission is to import interesting wines made without heavy manipulation. It was my first chance to taste a selection from the “266” portfolio and boy did they have some interesting stuff on show, not least the Georgian wines, including two sparklers, made by an ex-Champenois and his Georgian wife.

Champagne Charles Dufour “Bistrotage B10”, 2010 (Côtes des Bar) Charles Dufour established a 6ha estate at Landreville in 2010 when the family estate he was running was split up. He’s become a bit of a star, especially for his “Bulles de Comptoir”, but this new wine is made from a parcel owned by his mother, Françoise Martinot, at Celles-sur-Ource. The nose is stunning, I mean what a start to a tasting. 100% Pinot Noir aged in a mix of neutral barrel and stainless steel for a year before six years on lees in bottle, it has a slightly oxidised feel, bruised apples and soft autumn leaves under foot. Very vinous and gastronomic, and very likely of slightly lower pressure than some Champagnes. Nothing aggressive about it.

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Ori Marani “Nino” Brut Nature NV (Igoeti, Shida Kartli, Georgia) This is the first of several wines, including two sparklers, from the Kartli Region of Central Eastern Georgia. Bastien Warskotte and his wife, Nino Gvantseladze, set up their domaine in 2017 and the wines, which only landed in the UK a week ago, are quite exciting. The limestone soils in Kartli are particularly good for sparkling wines, and Kartli, and Imereti where some fruit is sourced, are cooler than Kakheti to the northeast. The Nino cuvée is a three grape blend of Tsitska, Chinuri, and Goruli Mtsvane, which are all initially aged half in qvevri and half in neutral oak (I think this is the regime for all their wines). The period in bottle on lees was a year and a half and this cuvée was disgorged only at the end of August. There’s a lively bead and mousse, and flavours of frothy peach, nectarine and pear. It finishes dry.

Ori Marani “Areva” NV (Igoeti, Shida Kartli, Georgia) The previous wine might appeal to more traditional palates, and it is remarkably good, but this is the wine to try if you are a vinous adventurer. The blend is currently Takveri, Chinuri and Goruli Mtsvane, gently direct pressed and bottled in the January following harvest to preserve freshness and aromas. The wine is pink, verging on pale red and sealed under crown cap, with lower pressure creating a kind of petnat style. Honey from Imereti (where Bastien sources some fruit) is used for the liqueur to start the second fermentation and this comes through as a touch of richness on the palate. The dominant flavours are pomegranate, cranberry and strawberries. It’s slightly more unusual than it sounds, but I really have to get myself a bottle of this. It’s around £16 to the trade (DPD and ex VAT), ever so slightly cheaper than Nino.

Hiyu Wine Farm “Falcon Box” 2017 (Oregon, USA) This is a truly remarkable wine, though very expensive. It’s a blend of Pinots Noir, Meunier, Blanc and Gris, Aligoté, Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne, all from the far north of the Oregon, almost in Washington State. Hiyu is a 30-acre farm with pigs and cows, orchards, a market garden and just two hectares of vines, which are farmed without any synthetic chemical inputs whatsoever, using a mix of biodynamics and permaculture. They use oils and tisanes to combat disease. This wine is a field blend, apparently inspired by what the Corton Hill on the Côte de Beaune might have looked like before phylloxera. 

This is so savoury. It has lovely balanced acids with a smoothness that helps it slip down. The problem is that you really want to savour this over time, and a tasting doesn’t allow for that. Mind you, I was lucky to taste it at all. It retails for £90/bottle at The Sampler and much as I would not dispute the price for such a unique wine, it is very much for those above my pay grade.

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Ori Marani “Mariam” 2018 and Ori Marani “Nita” 2018 (Kakheti, Georgia) These are two still wines made by Bastien Warskotte at Igeoti (see above), proving he has wider talents than merely those imposed by his Champenois origins. “Mariam” is made with Chinuri sourced from Okami, Lamiskana and Kartli, with three weeks on skins, aged partly in qvevri which keeps the fruit pure and allows the lees to circulate, and partly in neutral oak barrels which add complexity and a different kind of texture. Even the nose is textured here. The wine is broad and rounded, and there’s more texture on the tongue. As with most Chinuri, it makes for a versatile food wine.

Nita” is a red blend from Chumlaki and Kakheti fruit. The varieties are Saperavi (40%) and Rkatsiteli (20%) plus Cabernet Sauvignon (40%). Only 500 bottles were made of a light and luminous palish red in a “fruit juice” style. Cranberry, strawberry and raspberry fruit and a little grip to ground it. Delicious.

Weingut Schmelzer Zweigelt 2015 (Burgenland, Austria) This is yet another interesting biodynamic and natural producer based in Gols, on the northern shore of the Neusiedlersee. Since 2013 no sulphur has been added to any of the Schmelzer wines. This Zweigelt is off loamy soils and is aged in neutral oak. The style is fresh and pure, which is how I like my Zweigelt, but there is a little bit of grippy texture which adds a degree of structure. This wine scores on great value for money (just under £10 DPD, ex VAT).

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Artuke “Artuke” Rioja 2018 and Artuke “Paso Las Mañas” 2017 (Rioja, Spain) This is a new find by Ben, a Rioja producer based in the Alavesa village of Baños de Ebro and I will provide a note on two of the Artuke wines which make for a good contrast. The cuvée named after the producer is a carbonic maceration Rioja from the Alavesa sub-district. It may be a youthful wine with dark and red berry flavours to the fore, but it comes from a single site and biodynamic fruit. It’s like glass-coating, joven, cherry drops. Pretty cheap at around £12 retail.

Paso Las Mañas is quite different and a more serious proposition. It comes from Artuke’s highest altitude vines, is darker (in colour and tone), and is glass-coatingly big and already hinting at complexity. Definitely a terroir wine, with tobacco flavours peeking out behind the fruit, and this is because Artuke avoid negating terroir with oak and over extraction (as can be the case with modern Rioja). This cuvée is one of the “purest” styles of Rioja you are likely to come across but, I think, quite serious stuff.

Although that’s the last wine from 266, I have to admit frustrating embarrassment…there were two wines on a final page of the tasting book which I missed. They were Smokeshop Band Spring Ephemeral Grenache (Oregon) and Scholium Project “1MN” Cinsault. If only I could go back and taste those, but I can’t. They are more than worth looking out for.

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Ben Slater of 266 Wines with partner Dawn Mannis of The Sampler

SWIG

Swig has been going longer than many, but their youthfulness doesn’t lie in the time they’ve been around, but in the energy the folks here put into sourcing some of the most exciting wines in the room. I know Swig’s portfolio pretty well, and the task when tasting here is not to just hit the wines I love and miss new producers. I think I managed partial success.

Badenhorst “Papegaai” 2018 (Swartland, South Africa) The inexpensive Cape Parrot blend from Adi Badenhorst is irresistible. Chenin Blanc dominates (80%), but with a lot more added by the Palomino, Roussanne, Verdelho and Grenache Blanc. At 12.5% abv it majors on freshness, but it has a little weight as well. Classic pear and quince, finishing with a pebbly texture that adds something extra.

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Vignoble du Rêveur “Artisan” 2018 (Alsace, France) Of all the lovely wines made by Matthieu Deiss and Emmanuelle Milan, from Bennwihr fruit, this is my favourite, so I was very happy to taste the latest vintage. It was bottled in August and isn’t yet officially released. Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are harvested together and macerated ten days on skins before gentle pressing into concrete tank for fermentation. The grapes are picked ripe but ensuring no bunches have botrytis. No sulphur is added. It’s an orange wine, but not one with really overt texture. The smooth fruit is redolent of tangerine orange and grapefruit, with perhaps a more tropical side as well. Long and satisfying, I hope I can find some before it’s all gone.

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Guy Breton Beaujolais-Villages “Marylou” 2018 (Beaujolais, France)  This is one of Guy’s entry level wines, named after his daughter. The key to its appeal lies in very healthy grapes, from young vines (young for Breton at 30-50 years of age), harvested from his plots at 450 metres, above the Côte de Py at Saint-Joseph, just outside the Morgon Appellation. Pure bright cherry results from two-weeks of carbonic fermentation. The juice is super clean, with no lees after gentle pressing. An extra dimension comes from a bit of spice and a little grip. Gorgeous stuff, Beaujolais just as Jules Chauvet would have wanted.

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Lourens Family “Howard John” 2017 (Western Cape, South Africa) Franco Lourens, who learnt his trade with Adi Badenhorst and is also an assistant Winemaker with Chris Alheit, has sourced fruit all over Western Cape for this impressive red blend of Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, and has named it after his father. The wine sees nine months in older oak, is very bright and has a mix of concentrated cherry fruit and a touch of olive and garrigue (or should I say Fynbos?). It has a touch of the Languedoc about it, also enough tannin to suggest it will age a little further, perhaps.

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Domaine de Maupertuis Bourgogne “Les Brûlis” 2017 (Burgundy, France) This is not the Auvergne domaine of Jean Maupertuis, but don’t be disappointed. This domaine is based at Saint-Bris, near Chablis, in Burgundy’s far north, and a region from which increasingly interesting wines are coming. The Pinot Noir vines for this cuvée are thirty years old and the wine is given six months on lees (no oak) to give us a wine that has lovely fruit character, quite elegant and not at all lacking ripeness, but with restraint too. It’s a lighter style, and for “Burgundy” is pretty good value (£13.35 to trade, ex VAT). In many ways a much better bet than a cheaper Bourgogne Rouge from the Côte d’Or, I’d suggest.

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Domaine L’Horizon Côtes Catalanes “Mar y Muntanya” 2018 (Roussillon, France) This is a long-time favourite Roussillon estate of mine. Based in Calce, up the Agly Valley in the hills northwest of Perpignan, Tomas Teibert (whose father-in-law is Franz Stockinger, of the famous Austrian cooperage) makes increasingly lauded wines from very old vine stock. The region is packed with other great producers (Pithon, Roc des Anges, Matassa and Gauby to name just four) and Tomas was helped very much by Gérard Gauby when he was starting out. “Mar y Muntanya” is made from 45% Syrah, 45% Carignan and 10% Grenache. It’s not perhaps what you might expect of this wild garrigue. Made by semi-carbonic maceration, it has a lightness and elegance, but the fruit is mouthfilling, all the more satisfying after the intense perfumes of the wine’s bouquet. It’s essentially a wine of terroir, but with a lighter, and perhaps more modern, touch.

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La Vigne des Pères “Petit Père” 2016 (Saint-Joseph , France) I’m sure some of you have read several reviews of the Champagnes of Bruno Paillard on my site, usually presented in London by his daughter, Alice. Well this estate is run by Bruno’s son/Alice’s brother, Aymeric Paillard. After making some winemaking travels with his wife he worked a while with Delas Frères and Stéphane Ogier, before managing to purchase vines near Tournon, opposite the Hermitage Hill on the Rhône’s right bank. These vines had suffered terribly from rot and other fungal diseases and the vineyard took a lot of work to rejuvenate.

Now in good health, the vines, interplanted with herbs and flowers and worked by a horse called “tartiflette”, produce a gorgeous, and I must say impressive, Syrah. Farming is organic but not advertised as such. There are tannins and structure, as one would expect from a serious attempt at St-Jo, but the wine is so pure, and I thought the fruit was pretty amazing…blackcurrant, pepper, herbs. A new name to follow in the Northern Rhône, for sure.

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UNCHARTED WINES

Rupert Taylor founded one of the most innovative wine companies for many years when he left a famous name importer to concentrate on something he’d been developing for a while – wine on tap (aka keg wine). The idea that quality wine can be purveyed just like beer, from a “tap” in a bar, was quite revolutionary at the time. Now it is commonplace and much of that is down to Rupert and his team. As Uncharted Wines has developed they have also added more wines in bottle, but the sense of adventure which came with the keg wines has filtered through into this more traditional delivery method. Nothing is short of excitement.

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Rupert with Miss Wine Car Boot, Ruth Spivey

The keg wine samples were mostly all freshly splashed into clear sparkling wine bottles for tasting. This meant that the wines were all able to show of their best. I began by tasting Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne Aligoté 2018 made in the modern style, ie fresh and fruity without any piercing battery acid. It’s very good, and perhaps the ideal wine bar wine for late summer into autumn. Another cracking white, straight from the keg, was Hans Wimmer-Czerny Grüner Veltliner “House Wine” 2018 from Fels in the Wagram region, which many will know is somewhere that quality has rocketed in recent years. This is a wine normally bottled in litres, so it’s obviously a simple wine for glugging. It adapts really well to the 20-litre keg format. Biodynamic, unfiltered, light and refreshing.

The best of the white wines in keg was probably Westwell Wines Ortega 2018, from Kent in England. The fruity-floral nose characteristic of Ortega but with something else akin to buttered toast haunts the bouquet. On the palate it’s straight and fresh grapefruit with a good lick of refreshing acidity which doesn’t intrude. I’d buy this in a bar if I was thirsty, and it would go nicely as a half-pint. If, as I think is the case, it’s the same wine as the Westwell Ortega that doesn’t go into amphora, then it has 11.5% alcohol.

From bottle…

Sybille Kuntz Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2015 (Mosel, Germany) Sybille Kuntz is an exciting producer based in Lieser, a neighbour of Thomas Haag at the Schloss. I’ve followed her wines for several years and recently some of the big boy (or rather, girl) wine writers have been taking notice. I feel wholly vindicated. Note the vintage here. 2015 was a superb Mosel vintage, one of the best in recent years. Acidities were good and so this Kabinett Trocken has been able to age. It has a big bouquet and an explosive palate, a lovely wine even at this level. 12% abv, but don’t look for the delicacy of its prädikat sibling.

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Succés Vinicola “Expériencia” 2018 (Conca de Barberà, Spain) Mariona Vendrell and Albert Canela studied winemaking together at Tarragona and were only 20 years old when they set up their estate from vines owned by Albert’s family in 2011. I met this engaging young couple at a tasting in Soho almost a year ago to this day (3 October 2018). There I tasted “Expériencia” 2017. The 2018 is still 100% Parellada from Conca fruit, coming in at a nicely balanced 12% abv. It has a bit of texture because half the fruit is direct pressed and half has some skin contact. Lovely. Although there’s no photo, Uncharted also had their Cuca du Llum 2017 on taste. This is a light red made in the glouglou style from a very promising local variety, Trépat, with nice crunchy fruit. These inexpensive wines are a real find.

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Hermit Ram Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (Canterbury, New Zealand) Theo Coles must make the most interesting wines in New Zealand, surely? This is Sauvignon Blanc so removed from the usual “savalanche” norm that it is unrecognisable. In fact some might think it is unrecognisable as wine. The bouquet is peachy (honestly) at first, before you smell the scent of deep gooseberry. It sees a very long but gentle skin maceration, so it’s not too textured and it is fairly linear. But its cloudy goodness reveals something complex, with a savoury umami element. I love The Hermit Ram, possibly my favourite range of wines that Uncharted sells.img_7630

Red from keg…

Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne-Passetoutgrain 2018 (Burgundy, France) This traditional blend of Gamay (30%) and Pinot Noir (70%) is just what you wish all Passetoutgrain could be, “smashable”. Both varieties are harvested together (I believe the co-planted vines are south of Meursault, towards the main D974 road), and co-fermented too, as whole bunches. The result is fruity, no more, no less but from a keg, absolutely on the nail.

Le Grappin Côtes du Rhône 2017 I don’t actually know where the grapes come from, and I ran out of time to email Emma or Andrew today, but if it’s the same fruit as their bottles and bagnums, then it may be from down at Nyons (in the Drôme, close to Vinsobres). Their commitment to keg has been consistent, and their wines, with forward fruit and good acid balance, seem just made for the medium. Rupert did say that this cuvée is best glugged fresh from the keg (it was delivered on tap here). It has a lovely hi-toned fruit bouquet and is just so refreshing. In so many ways this is just what keg wine is all about.

And from bottle…

Westwell Wines “Field” 2018 is another triumph from Adrian Pike, near Ashford in Kent. I hardly ever get so geeky as to give clone numbers, but Adrian feels it’s important to know that the Pinot Noir in this blend is clone 667 and the Chardonnay is 96. I feel as out of my depth on this as Noel Fielding pretends to be on the Bake-Off. The grapes ferment in open top stainless steel and have a tiny bit of sulphur added at bottling, that’s all. The wine is rich in the scents of strawberry and apple with a touch of the old herbs from somewhere deep within. The palate has cherry, strawberry and pepper. Only 1,000 bottles of this lovely wine were made and I like it very much, thank you. The unpressed skins went to Burning Sky Brewery to make a saison beer.

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Les Caves de Pyrene Drinking Outside the Box Tasting 2019 (Part 3)

This final part of my coverage of the large and rather magnificent 2019 vintage Les Caves portfolio tasting (or at least the London leg) contains well over thirty wines, so I won’t waste time on introductions. If you haven’t read my preliminary and explanatory comments at the beginning of Part 1, it might be worth following the link here.

Part 2 covers various terroir categories formulated by the team at Les Caves as a way to allow tasters to look at some groups of wines from diverse geographical locations, yet which share the characteristics of a particular set of soils, climate etc. You should find that Part 2 sits below this Part 3 on my site.

If you don’t plan to read my intro it might be helpful if I point out that from all these wonderful wines I have given three hearts (♥♥♥) to those of which I am most enamoured. It’s purely subjective, wines I react to on an emotional level rather than being a reward resulting from organoleptic analysis.

ALL ABOUT THAT GRAPE (Around the world in twelve Pinots)

In my case make that seven Pinots. The standard on this table was incredibly high with four wines awarded the hearts (and one missing out probably because I worry that you think I just love everything…which isn’t far from the truth in this particular case).

♥♥♥Kelley Fox Wines Mirabai Pinot Noir 2017 I’m on solid ground here as I bought some of this very wine and vintage after tasting with Kelley earlier in the year. Right now it’s remarkably pure, heavenly even. But although I bought this cuvée in the hope that it will drink a little sooner than some of her others, I’ll stick my neck out and say it still needs a bit longer and will indeed age magnificently, which tasting it again confirmed. From the Maresh vineyard in the Dundee Hills, this shows the vineyard’s characteristic strawberries and spice freshness. Kelley is becoming a real icon producer. “Keep it secret, keep it safe”.

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Vini Viti Vinci Bourgogne Coulanges La Vineuse 2016 VVV is a negoce based in the western part of the Côtes d’Auxerre, in Avallon, not far from Vézelay, where in sight of the magnificent Romanesque church Bernard of Clairvaux got the Second Crusade rolling in 1146. Apparently, the church contains relics of Mary Magdalene…so easy to digress, isn’t it…The wine, which incidentally appears to be one of the few from this negoce which doesn’t wear a risqué label, had good linear Pinot fruit and a bit of smoky spice. It has a “northern edge” and is quite cloudy, but the acid-fruit-texture ratio is spot on. An interesting diversion into uncharted Burgundy well worth following.

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♥♥♥Tillingham Wines Qvevri “Tinop” 2018 Ben Walgate makes so many different wines in his artisan winery near Rye that I can no longer keep up. However, it’s his qvevri wines, buried under an oasthouse on the farm, which interest me most. Qvevri Pinot Noir is not something you taste every day, but one sip of this is enough to suggest that perhaps we should. A beautiful medley of fruit, texture, length and fruit acidity. A friend who has tasted all Ben’s 2018s tells me he rates the vintage at Tillingham as spectacular. On this evidence (and the white wine which follows later), I’m willing to agree. Sadly only 400 bottles were made of this and I’m already fearful of missing out. Wonderful experimentation that works astonishingly well.

Domaine Christian Binner Cuvée Béatrice 2017 I bought a bit of Binner when it first came over, and the first wine I drank was a Pinot Noir. It’s a proper wine, serious stuff, but one so full of fruit that you don’t need to prostrate yourself in front of it. It comes from old vine parcels on a conglomeration of very complex soils close to the Kaefferkopf Grand Cru, near the Binner family’s home village, Ammerschwihr. Viticulture is as one would expect from a CdP producer, but picking is always later than most of their neighbours. Vinification involves ageing in very large 100-year-old foudre. A lovely wine, but one I think you’ll agree has something different to it.

♥♥♥Les Cailloux du Paradis Pinot Noir 2016 In the viticultural loneliness of The Sologne, the area of marshes, forest and small lakes so beloved of hunters and vaguely close to Alençon, near the Rivers Loire (north) and Cher (to the south), the Courtois family magic from their cauldron the most wonderful natural elixirs. How they got here is a long story but one ultimately worth pursuing elsewhere if you have time. Claude is the father, who now retains a couple of hectares with which to make the Racines cuvées. His sons, Julien and Étienne, both make wine themselves, separately but close together, and if I have it correctly, the Les Cailloux du Paradis wines are largely made by Étienne (the youngest of the two sons), with occasional help from Claude. It’s pointless writing a tasting note here. You have to experience such wonderful creations yourself. The minerality sings like a fine soprano, but it is the sheer life in the glass which sings the loudest.

♥♥♥Domaine Saint-Pierre Pinot Noir “Les Corvées” 2018 Fabrice Dodane farms around six hectares at Mathenay, just outside Arbois and close to where we have friends, so I’ve been following him, from vineyard manager to estate owner. I came to hear about him several years ago, during which time he’s become a rising star, albeit quietly. Most of his vines lie between St-Pierre-sous-Vadans and Vadans itself, where the soil is notably more limestone than the usual marls of the region, but Les Corvées is an Arbois site of gravel over Jurassic grey marls, located between the town and Montigny-lès-Arsures, presided over by the now famous “Tour de Curon”. Several well known natural winemakers have vines here.

This may be the best wine I’ve had from Fabrice so far. Pale, luminous, cherry scented (like those “car sweets” you get in a tin at service stations), it’s stunning and impressive yet so drinkable.

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Celler Batlliu “Biu de Sort Negre” Pinot Noir 2017 This comes from Borda de Cebria, specifically Pallars, in one of the sub-zones of Costers del Sègre in inland Catalunya. The region has begun to get a name for international varieties, and at altitude it is possible to ripen Pinot Noir without losing acidities. That is what you get here, the grapes being farmed at 850 metres. The wine is made completely in stainless steel, fermenting with punchdowns and then aged in tank as well, “reductively”. The fruit has a little structure and a lot of flavour. Alcohol is a balanced 13%. So impressive, yet I’d never even had a sniff of this before.

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ALL ABOUT THAT GRAPE (Native grapes and Field Blends)

Les Cailloux du Paradis Racines Blanc 2016 We’ve just had one of the Courtois wines, but this (as with its sibling red in Part 1) is from the “Racines” line made by Claude Courtois from his retirement patch of two hectares down in the Sologne. It’s a blend and what is in it is difficult to say as there are as many as forty varieties on the joint family properties. Certainly there’s Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (or so I was told, and I know they have some very old Orléans clones of the grape, maybe 90+ years of age). There’s also Menu Pineau (another ancient variety which also, oddly, occasionally goes by the synonym “Arbois Blanc”, though I can’t discover a Jura connection). I found the wine intense and appley, but not an acidic apple variety. Someone else put it really well – “hoppy sour beer”. Don’t let that put you off, it was superb, if encouragingly different.

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♥♥♥La Garagista “Loup d’Or” 2017 I won’t dwell over a wine I’ve written about before this year. Deirdre and Caleb make wines in cold climate Vermont, from American hybrid vines, and they really prove how good these varieties can be. In this instance we have the Briana variety, a hardy cold-resistant cross, close to Muscat, only bred (in Wisconsin by Elmer Swenson) in 1983. The result is intensely perfumed (floral, orange citrus and a hint of marmalade) and the palate is not remotely “foxy” (referring to the fox aroma of many US hybrid varieties). Tasting this, as with all of the Garagista wines, I can only exclaim YESSSSSS! So good…so interesting…mind stretching stuff.

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Ramaz Nikoladze Tsolikouri “No Skin Contact” 2017 This wine comes from one of my two or three favourite Georgian producers. Nakhshirgele, in Imereti, is the location. The wines are made in qvevri, but usually (in this producer’s case) without extended skin contact. The fruit was directly pressed into the clay pots, fermented 18 days, then left 5-6 months before racking into fresh jars until bottling. The wine is quite linear, but that line is lovely and clean, acidities are fresh and the overall flavour is lemon citrus. My bottle at home has a lot of sediment, perhaps worth noting.

Piquentum “Crno Vino” 2017 This is made from Téran (from the Refosco family of grapes) in the Croatian region of Istria. I used to buy this producer from a small importer who I don’t think exists any more, so I was pleased to see Les Caves take them on a while ago. The Téran clones here have red stems, unique. Acidity is pronounced, but in a way that refreshes. As well as bramble fruit you get flavours and scents of iron and iron filings, perhaps a touch of blood…like wines made from the Fer Servadou variety in Aveyron, France.

Okro’s Wine Saparavi Budeshuri 2017 Okro’s Winery is in the village of Manavi, in Eastern Georgia’s Kakheti Region. I didn’t know this producer until I bought a mixed case of Georgians as recommended by Doug Wregg, and I was somewhat enthralled by their Mtsvane. This is just as impressive and, most important, equally enjoyable. It’s an intense qvevri red with big legs and very pure juice, made by completely natural winemaking, with no additives (including sulphur). It is made from a quality-based selection of a particular strain of Budeshuri Saparavi, aromatic and smooth.

BY STYLE – GLOU

That which binds us all together, those of us who seek pleasure through natural wines, is glou(glou). What does it all mean? It is a French onomatopoeic term which describes the glugging noise we make when “necking” a thirst-quenching glass of fruity, fresh and full of flavour vin de soif (or equally the sound of wine quickly glugging out of a bottle without undue ceremony). It’s a rare case of a very contemporary French phrase which has captured the zeitgeist in both the francophone and anglophone worlds of wine. The essence of these wines is not the worship of the gods of super serious wines at serious prices, but the worship of Bacchus, god of wine for pleasure and enjoyment (and occasionally, er, mild inebriation, right!). The next half dozen will quench any thirst.

Pol Opuesto Criolla Que Grande SOS 2017 That very much maligned heritage variety, Criolla (aka Mission, Pais) is starting to be recognised in Argentina and on foreign markets as a potential new weapon, albeit a niche one. Wines like this are doing wonders in advertising its potential for interesting wines which slip down easily, rather than the big faux-Europeans tasting of naked oak, which some producers there are aiming for. Sipping wines, to put it nicely.

Uco (Mendoza) old vine fruit, farmed at Finca Serrera,  is harvested early and undergoes a soft extraction. There’s some Bonarda in here too, and probably Tempranillo and Muscat, but mainly Criolla. It’s a light (11% abv) wine with a palish colour and grippy bramble fruit, repeated on nose and palate. I really like this wine. 2017 is only its second vintage, and it is reasonably priced at the moment. Although I’m not reviewing a lot of South American wines in these articles, it must be said, this is a terrific advertisement for the possibilities outside of oaky CMM.

Domaine de la Borde Ploussard Côte de Feule 2018 Côte de Feule is a lovely steep hill situated in the bowl of vines just outside of Pupillin (off to your right if driving through from Arbois, and nice vineyard walking territory). I consider it possibly Pupillin’s finest site. Julien Mareschal, who we met previously, in Part 1, makes a Ploussard (Pupillinese for Poulsard) which I think is even better than his brilliant Chardonnay. It’s glugging qualities come from 11.5% alcohol, and the freshness that this site’s famous red clay (argile rouge) brings to the party. If you look at the soils here, or get them stuck to your boots, you just know the wine will have a rapier thrust of bite to it. What it requires is the cranberry and pomegranate fruit, with maybe a lick of strawberry sweetness, to go with it. We ask and Julien delivers, or rather the Côte de Feule, with a leafy nose and a modicum of grip for good measure.

Vino di Anna Palmento Rosso 2018 is yet another near perfect Etna red from Anna. You know, I bought three bottles of the first vintage, and I remember some volatility, but this (as with all recent vintages) is just pure fruit. Thankfully I’ve drunk literally dozens of Anna Martens’ wines, and as you probably have too you won’t need much convincing. Largely the two main Nerello varieties (Mascalese = 90%) with Cappucchio, Alicante (Grenache, not “Bouschet”), Minella, and Grecanico. Everything is vinified together, first foot trodden after a four day maceration in Anna and Eric’s 250-year-old stone palmento (incidentally the name of a worthwhile book on Sicilian Wines by Robert Camuto, pub 2012, Univ of Nebraska Press). As I said, just pure fruit.

Domaine Le Clocher Capitalisme Rouge, 2018 This is a “Loire” red, but it’s made near Vendôme, which I visited a few years ago, not very much “wine country” as I recall. The full name of this 12% quaffer (sorry, promised never to use that word) is “Le Capitalisme Rouge Est Un Vin De Garage”. According to winemaker Brendan Tracey, the name is based on a Trotskyist newspaper headine where the original use is “Une Voie” instead of “Un VIn”, but I’m not really much the wiser.

We have two-thirds Gamay with one-third Côt (a Loire synonym for Malbec, common in Touraine), I believe from a bit of research (although the CdP employee on the table reckons it’s Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, perhaps someone might know the correct encépagement?). It’s packed with fruit and goes down easily, but it does have a bitter twist. Brendan reckons it has a “punk energy”, and seeing him in one of his punk band t-shirts, you’d have to agree. Banging high glou quotient.

Ruth Lewandowski Wines Feints Red 2018 I won’t say a lot about this delicious red from Evan Lewandowski, who harvested this Arneis, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera fruit in Mendocino and, as is his wont, trucked it back to Utah to make “biblical” wine. I shouldn’t joke. For one thing, you’ve got to sit up when a bloke says he has a “favourite” book of the Bible (Ruth, of course), and stay sat up when seemingly against all odds he continues to make stonking wine. An adorable, zippy, light red which I keep praising (and enjoying) when I taste it but somehow, inexplicably, never get around to buying.

♥♥♥Momento Mori Wines “Etcetera Etcetera” 2017 I’ve been trying to track down New Zealander Dane Johns, who makes wine out of a garage somewhere in Brunswick, from Heathcote fruit. Dane, if you’re out there get in touch. I plan to visit the winery where you trained (Bress) for lunch quite soon, but I’d far rather hook up with you in Melbourne, if you don’t mind me saying. This blend of Schioppettino (60%) with Greco, Fiano and Syrah (like there’s any Schioppettino in Australia, LOL!) is gorgeous, pure, juice, with sour cherry fruit. Les Caves previously sold Dane’s “Staring at the Sun” skin contact Moscato Giallo/Vermentino/Fiano blend, and this wine is equally as brilliant.

BY STYLE – O2 & FLOR

This is the table for oxidative and biologically aged wines. They can be tough on a hard-worked palate after (at this stage) more than four hours tasting. That may be why I was selective here. Three of the four wines got the ♥♥♥ treatment, and that’s only because I couldn’t justify giving them to all four. Anyway, you know my Jura passion and I’ve loved Marie-Pierre’s wines (see below) for many years.

♥♥♥Tillingham Wines Qvevri Rülem 2018 I will assume you’ve got the hang of Ben’s wine names by now. The fruit is organic but not EVA-certified, so he cannot use the varietal names. Lo and behold, here we have qvevri Müller-Thurgau. One of the world’s most maligned varieties, often with reason, it is making a comeback, alongside many other German grapes. Treated with care you need not make the dilute sugar water of Liebfrau-Gütes-Black Tower of 1970s infamy. This is partially fermented on skins, then “pressed” and the clean juice added back to the qvevri with some newly fermented Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, where it formed a veil of yeast flor. There’s zippy citrus along with a gentle nutty quality. It’s pretty sensational, but only if you get hold of one of just 533 bottles will you be able to find out if I’m right. Is Ben a lucky maverick, a genius, or both?

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Marie-Pierre Chevassu Chardonnay Sous Voile 2017 Marie-Pierre Chevassu-Fassenet works out of the old family farm, Les Granges-Bernard, near Menétru-le-Vignoble in the Côtes du Jura, just north of Château-Chalon, where she also has some vines. This Chardonnay is made in a similar way to those Savagnin wines, not being topped up during maturation, so that a thin layer of flor (the voile) forms on the wine’s surface. It protects the wine from oxidising but adds a nutty character during biological ageing. But the oxidative nature of the wine is not all that pronounced, so the bouquet and flavours “hint” rather than “steamroller”. It’s therefore a subtle wine on most levels, and therefore quite fine. An under-the-radar producer you can rely on, and well priced compared to many of the “New Jura” stars.

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♥♥♥Bodegas Cota 45 UBE Paganilla 2018 This is the second of the Cota 45 wines we’ve come across in this series of articles, the first being “Miraflores”. The third, Agostado Raya Oloroso, is no less fine than this so you can take it that my feelings for both are equal. I’ve tasted many of these wines before, and I’m hooked, but the wine from “Paganilla” is new to me. I consulted my “Liem & Barquin” to no avail, as they neither mention this pago, nor does it appear on one of the maps. I’m told it is “inland”, and has a high chalk content, which figures.

I chose this wine to illustrate that what at first might appear a relatively simple Palomino table wine blossoms into something far more complex than the lemon and lime which initially strikes you. It’s like when you listen to a record and after a couple of listens it reveals more and more. It’s pretty exceptional to achieve this from what we are all told is a fairly neutral variety and at low alcohol.

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♥♥♥Marco de Bartoli Vecchio Samperi NV People often call this wine “Marsala”. Strictly speaking it isn’t (and does not have the Marsala DOC). Samperi is the arid limestone region outside of Marsala, where this wine (and Marsala) is made, a wine originally created by English merchant John Woodhouse in 1773. The variety is Grillo, here fermented in chestnut cask before moving to a solera. Although the wine shows 16.5% abv, it remains unfortified, unlike modern, often cheap, Marsala. This is a finer beast. The wines in the solera system average around 15 years of age, but the solera was started by the late Marco de Bartoli in 1978, so some parts of your bottle will be 40+.

The colour of cherry wood, it smells heady but not alcoholic. The mixture of dry salinity and complex wood, coffee, chocolate and caramel notes create a truly magnificent wine which deserves as much fame as Port, Sherry and Madeira. Sometimes available by the glass in some restaurants (occasionally, for example, at Terroirs), if you spot it don’t hesitate. Often thought of as a digestif wine, it has a surprising number of applications during a meal.

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BY STYLE – AMBER REVOLUTION

The title of this table is a nice nod to Simon Woolf, whose book of the same name has just won, deservedly in my view (it was my “wine book of the year” in 2018) a Roederer Prize (a gong to sit beside my “WOTY” Certificate on his mantelpiece, no doubt). I will give notes on five wines here, but take it as read that the Rebula from Nando (Slovenia), Cascina degli Ulivi A Demû (Gavi/Piemonte) and my almost beloved COS Zibibbo In Pithos 2017 are at least equally worthy of your hard earned cash.

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Christian Binner “Si Rose” NV is an unusual wine from a quietly innovative producer in the village of Ammerschwihr, west of Colmar. The grape blend is 65% Gewurztraminer and 35% Pinot Gris. Half the juice was from 2016, half from 2017. This is a skin contact wine and the juice is macerated on fine lees in foudre, too. As Pinot Gris in particular has a reddish skin, the wine is pink. Not the pale onion-skin-oeil de perdrix-ramato of most skin contact PG, but full-on pinko with a hint of Irn Bru. There’s definitely a bit of texture here, but overall you have a light wine, which you look into its depths as if through a telescope. There’s more in there and you are encouraged to fish for it, if that doesn’t sound too “Eric Cantona”. I guess I’m saying it’s bloomin’ good but it might take you a moment or two to realise.

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Zurab Topuridze Golden Blend 2018 Here we have a difficult wine in some respects. There is no doubt that you are captivated in part because, with 15% alcohol, it sort of thrusts itself at you. But it’s also an unusual wine that appears both friendly and interesting, and part of its appeal lies in the fact that it is unquestionably unusual. The blend is Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli and a rare Kakheti variety, Kisi. The three varieties are all co-fermented in qvevri for six months. I saw a note from someone which said “diapers and asparagus”, which my poor palate thankfully didn’t find at all. I found more pears, plums and maybe a little apricot. A clean wine too, I’d say. But Unusual.

Sisters Wines Kisi 2017 Another wine from the Okro’s Wine stable in Kakheti (Eastern Georgia), and this time the rare Kisi grape made as a 100% varietal wine. Winemaking is four months on skins in qvevri. Pear and galia melon dominate but there’s something akin to a very faint caramel note down in the depths of this wine. After a few sniffs I’m also certain I was getting some hint of leaf tea (don’t ask me to specify, but not “builder’s tea”, okay). The 14% alcohol sort of creeps up on you, unawares. I drank a Kisi and I liked it!

Iago Bitarishvili Chinuri Skin Contact 2017 Of the few Georgian winemakers I’ve met, I really warmed to Iago more than any other. He makes his wines in Kartli, which like the Kakheti Region we have seen wines from here, is in Eastern Georgia (not far from Tblisi), but is cooler and windier, which does affect the character of the wines. The grape is another of the less well known autochthonous varieties, Chinuri, a late ripener known for its highish acidity. This wine has a good bit of colour from Iago’s characteristic six month maceration in qvevri. The bouquet is almost floral, with hints of fennel, but the palate has lovely peach and pear flavours. Another well priced “amber” wine from Georgia, which country it must be said, Les Caves de Pyrene has pretty much cornered the UK market in.

♥♥♥Progetto Calcarius Nû Litr Orange 2018 We saw the Calcarius Bombino Bianco back in Part 1. This is their very differently coloured “orange wine”, again under crown cap and bottled in litres. Falanghina is the variety and here it creates a wine that is remarkably fresh and refreshing for that sun-seeker’s heaven, Puglia, down in Italy’s far south. What you get is simple yet interesting. Stone fruit is the dominant note. There is a bit of citrus acidity, and a bit of honey (a touch of richness, not sweetness). There’s a bit of grippy texture, but less than you would suspect from the colour, just enough to grate the tongue a little. I love it, and it just edges the non-skin contact version on my “to buy” list.

BY STYLE – BUBBLES

Fizzy wine! Just the thing after a long tasting. We are still spitting here, but tiny quantities are allowed to trickle down, especially as these are so good. Seven wines (out of nine on the table), five with hearts. All of these are fun…well, Valerie’s Champagne is a little bit serious. All of them are wonderful, and more than a few spectacular. But I do like a few thousand bubbles!

♥♥♥Recaredo Terrers Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2013 Cava had a terrible reputation twenty years ago, no better than Prosecco’s today, inasmuch as most of it was pretty commercial and the few that excelled were known by very few people on export markets. That has changed, and Recaredo must be at the top of the list of those quality producers (as opposed to brands) which are now given due credit. What makes this wine so good? Gran Reserva (six years old), Brut Nature (so dry) and from altitude in the Alt Penedès, so the fruit was fresh to start with. The perfumed bouquet is elegant and the palate is excitingly fresh with perfectly judged acidity, accentuated by the dryness. This is currently tasting better than ever. Time to try (the best) Cava again if you haven’t recently.

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Cambridge Road Pet Nat “Naturalist” 2018 is perhaps a rare thing, petnat from New Zealand. About time. Since taking over the Martinborough vineyards of Cambridge Road in 2006 the Redgwell family has been committed to minimal intervention viticulture and winemaking, and their reputation has rocketed. This is a gently sparkling wine blended from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, with a touch of Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (I think they make a red from Pinot Noir as well). The wine can be quite cloudy from the lees in the bottle (especially my first taste from the last couple of centimetres in the bottle) and there’s a bit of residual sugar too, adding sweetness to the texture. A new bottle was opened and this had more zip, but both were very good, if different. Shake or stand for cloudy or clear.

Casa Costa Piane Di Loris Follador, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV The 100% Glera vines here, all over sixty years old, in the Valdobbiadene sub-zone of Prosecco, are planted on very sparse and rocky limestone and sandstone soils. Loris Follador and his sons farm organically on hillsides where no tractor or machinery could go. So this is as far from flatland, industrial, Prosecco as you can get. The nose gives a good nip of arrowroot (if anyone still recognises that these days), but otherwise it is quite neutral. The palate is almost totally different, cleansing the tongue with apple and lemon freshness and a line of bright rocky acidity with a little lees texture. Not a wine for long ageing, but for fun drinking, preferably with (lighter) food in my opinion, despite the producer’s suggestion of an aperitif function.

♥♥♥♥La Garagista Grace & Favour Petnat 2018 Another Garagista wine which I’ve written about recently, so I won’t go over the whole story. Just to say that “Grace & Favour” refers to the apartments granted by the British Monarch to former Ladies in Waiting and other employees at the royal palaces (specifically, here, Hampton Court), in gratitude for services rendered. The vine, La Crescent (as always here at La Garagista, a hybrid) is a descendent of Muscat d’Ambourg, the “Great Vine” at Hampton Court. The climate is cool, maybe “cold” is a better word, in this part of Vermont, but the waters of Lake Champlain do ameliorate the temperatures, as up in the Great Lakes (Niagara, for example, benefits in the same way).

This has savoury qualities, depth, a little weight, balanced with brisk and fresh acids. It’s a wine I find quite gourmande and even a little complex (dare I say that of a hybrid?). If I were to order a mixed case from Les Caves today there would be one, if not two, bottles of this in it. What more can I say. I truly love this wine (so it gets an extra heart).

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♥♥♥Loxarel “A Pel” Ancestral Petnat 2018 This is another wine from Alt Penedès, but not a Cava this time. Josep Mitjans started Loxarel in the 1980s, which you might not guess from the modern feel of this wine. Xarel-lo spends a week on skins for texture and finishes fermenting in bottle using the Ancestral Method (so the lees remain in the bottle without disgorgement). This wine is frankly brilliant for a retail price of perhaps around £20 or so. Apple-fresh with strong herbal notes beneath, a lovely gentle fizz and a bit of savoury bite. It’s also memorably packaged.

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♥♥♥Camillo Donati Malvasia Rosa Frizzante 2018 Back in the 1990s I’d come across occasional “frizzy” wines from Emilia-Romagna, but then they’d disappear, never to return. Nowadays this kind of wine obviously must sell better. Now Malvasia is a white grape, but this wine is pink. I know that there is 5% of a red grape in here, but I’m not sure what. This looks like a simple, frothy, fun, glass, and to a large degree it is. But there’s a lot going on here. Cherry and plum fruit combine with spice and fine earthy flavours suggesting that it wants to pair with typical Italian country dishes or cold meats. I love the acidity (like you get in a good Lambrusco, without quite the bitter bite), and also how as it sits on the palate a harmony takes over, as if it resolves right there on the tongue. I may forget to buy this for a year, maybe two, but rarely for longer.

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♥♥♥Champagne Val Frison “Goustan” Brut Nature NV In just the past two years I’ve taken up buying quite a bit of Valérie Frison’s wines. She now farms around 6ha at Ville-sur-Arce, in the Aube/Côte des Bars, just east of Bar-sur-Seine. Her vines are 93% Pinot Noir, the rest Chardonnay, on Portlandian Limestone, all farmed organically. This Blanc de Noirs cuvée is direct pressed before fermentation and is aged in neutral oak (secondhand Chablis barrels) until the following summer. It stays on lees in bottle for around 19 months before disgorgement.

I have always previously felt I liked Val’s rarer Blanc de Blancs best of all (though a close call), but this made me think again. The cuvée tasted here is based on perfect 2014 fruit, and it’s another wine where I got a distinct hint of arrowroot biscuit (regularly consumed with tea in my family childhood), plus gorgeous, sparkling, clean red fruits with that nice edge that ripeness brings, all underpinned by stony minerality.

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This was a rather classy way to finish such a magnificent tasting. I hope you’ve enjoyed the three parts I’ve managed to bring you. I’m afraid “the torture never stops” as I’m off to London tomorrow (hoping they manage to remove a fallen tree from the line) for the rather similarly titled tasting for a group of small (and “young, apparently) importers, “Out the Box 2019”. It’s another of the best tastings in town, and I hope to bring you some notes soon.

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Les Caves de Pyrene Drinking Outside the Box Tasting 2019 (Part 2)

This second part of my coverage of Les Caves de Pyrene‘s 2019 London Portfolio Tasting takes in four of the categories of wines which relate to “terroir and climate”. These are MineralsSea Sand and SalineVolcanoes and Mountains and Garrigue Maquis Fynbos. If you would like to read Part 1, which includes all of my introductory comments, follow the link here. Part 3, which will take us through to the end of the tasting, will follow shortly.

If you don’t read my intro it might be helpful if I point out that from all these wonderful wines I have given three hearts (♥♥♥) to those of which I am most enamoured. It’s purely subjective, wines I react to on an emotional level rather than being a reward resulting from organoleptic analysis.

TASTE OF TERROIR AND CLIMATE – MINERALS

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The four sections which make up Part 2 are where we really see the team at Les Caves working hard to create a narrative. In a wine shop I tend to prefer the shelves to be organised by country and region. That’s partly because eight times out of ten I enter a store knowing more or less what I want (although invariably I spot something I didn’t know I wanted and end up buying it). At a tasting it’s a nice change to look at wines in a context which is more real than that of sometimes random geopolitical borders, and it enables me to learn far more about the wine in a stylistic context.

♥♥♥Nicolas Carmarans “Entre Les Eaux” Blanc 2017 Nicolas is based half way between Aurillac, on the Causse de Cantal, and Espalion in Aveyron, two of France’s least visited but most strikingly beautiful departments, but for this 2017 white wine he needed to supplement his grape supply due to the usual meteorological disasters of frost and hail. So this wine is a blend of 60% Aligoté sourced from a friend’s organic vines in Mâcon and 40% Chenin Blanc from his own vines, grapes which would usually go into the cuvée called “Selve”. It has a granite minerality immediately coming through. The Aligoté has that modern fruitiness with none of those old fashioned shrill qualities, whilst the Chenin brings a deliciously sour finish to the party. A fascinating, and satisfying blend.

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Andreas Tscheppe Blue Dragonfly Sauvignon Blanc 2017 We had another impressive Sauvignon from Styria in Part 1 (Sepp & Maria Muster), and this pair merely shows how excellent this Austrian region is for the variety. The bouquet soars with a “you can take me high-er” (Funkadelic) and it is remarkably multi-dimensional for the variety, despite a certain clean side to it. I know this wine well, and if you linger over it you will get all sorts of quite dainty floral and fruit flavours, with a bit of weight in the mid-palate. Aims for purity, gets purity.

♥♥♥Domaine de la Borde Chardonnay “Terre du Lias” 2018 2004 was a good year for the Jura. Wink Lorch says that ten new young vignerons got off the ground, and Julien Mareschal was one of them. He farms around five hectares biodynamically in Pupillin, near Arbois. I came to Julien’s wines late, but I think he has really come a long way since 2004. “Terre du Lias” is made from 50-year-old vines on a decent slope below Pupillin, with clay and limestone over grey marl. The wine has a certain breadth which gives it a more serious air than some, but the mineral freshness he gets gives it lift. A fine wine from one of the village’s “newer” stars.

 

♥♥♥Domaine Belluard Gringet “Le Feu” 2016 The autochthonous grapes of the French Alps have surely been given a boost by Wink Lorch’s new book, but obscure and rare as Gringet is, I’d guess that most people reading this article have at least heard of it. That’s down to Dominique Belluard of Ayze, just off the A40 Autoroute, southeast of Geneva. His ten hectares plus of vines are dominated by this rare but fine variety, from which Dominique makes both still and very fine bottle fermented sparkling wine. Le Feu is the top Gringet cuvée, from a perilously steep slope with tiny parcels of old vines. It’s just a remarkable wine, intense and pure, mineral and long. But be aware that it begins life as a wine with concentration and acidity. It prefers at least five years of age to soften. The “Les Alpes” cuvée is approachable sooner but doesn’t quite match the product of this half-hectare patch of vines.

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♥♥♥Les Vignes de Paradis “C de Marrin” 2017 The best winemakers in the Alps usually seem to be called Dominique these days. Dominique Lucas is based south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in a region long known for Chasselas of generally (but not exclusively) mediocre quality. Dominique is the magician who has conjured miracles from these soils. “Kheops” is his rare as hen’s teeth super cuvée, made in a cement pyramid. “C de Marrin” is biodynamic Chasselas (the C) from the appellation known as Marin (with one r), close to Evian and Thonon (this wine is, of course, VdF). The acidity is curtailed and it allows the mineral intensity of the Chasselas to come through. Much as I like many a Chasselas from the lake’s north (Swiss) shore, this is perhaps superior to most of them.

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté Cötes d’Auxerre 2018 I’ve known the Goisot wines for decades, and I rather think that being over familiar makes me buy them less often these days than I should. This may have been compounded in recent years by the very small harvests they have suffered, up in the very north of Burgundy. Their Aligoté used to be legend in our house, when all Aligoté was usually thin, weedy, and shrieking with acidity. This isn’t a wine of overt complexity. It is fresh but not too acid, and it rests its case on one thing – being the essence of minerality. It’s that sea shell/marine fossil minerality we get in nearby Chablis (the family is based at Saint-Bris in the Yonne). A very affordable classic, no question.

 

TASTE OF TERROIR AND CLIMATE – SEA, SAND, SALINE

Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Goulaine Excelsior” 2015 Note the vintage. L-P is always a source for majestically aged Muscadet. Thirty-six months on lees here, from vines planted in 1936. Depth of both flavour and texture make this genuinely “Grand Cru” quality. What adds the icing to the very dry cake is its salinity. Wow!

Domaine de la Sénéchalière Folle Blanche 2017 is one of an increasing number of super wines being made not from the Pays Nantais’ best known variety, Melon, but from Folle Blanche (I had another at home recently). The variety is a child of the famous Gouais Blanc, and is better known in Cognac and Armagnac, where thin and acidic wine is a plus. In fact it became used in the Western Loire for Gros Plant, which in our house was usually best softened with some Crème de Cassis, if not used to clean the sinks. But if you take 60-year-old vines and allow the wine to rest four months on lees you might get a wine like this, pure and long, textured and tasting of the sea. For Folle Blanche this is magnificent, but hardly less so for just a lovely seafood-friendly drink.

 

Martha Stoumen Post Flirtation White 2018 We saw Martha’s exciting red sibling to this wine in Part 1. The white is 40% Roussanne with 28% Colombard, 17% Marsanne and 15% Muscat, largely from Mendocino, and it comes in at a very moderate 10% abv. The Colombard is fermented separately and the other varieties are co-fermented and then added in. I’m not sure what the specific effect is, but as with all of Martha’s wines, it’s certainly effective. This is pure salinity on the tongue, in some ways extreme, but it really works. A delicious wine which I’m hoping my usual sources for the red might be selling soon.

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Bodegas Cota 45 UBE Miraflores 2018 How many people know that before the 1970s the fortification of Sherry was not as habitual as it is today? What we have seen recently, perhaps given a big boost by the Equipo-Navazos Florpower series, is a return to unfortified Palomino. It’s really making waves. Ramiro Ibáñez Espinar is the man behind Cota 45 and three of his wines were on taste on Monday. The “Miraflores” is from one of the famous Sherry Pagos, but this is an unfortified Vino de la Tierra de Cadíz. The bouquet is a floating chalky perfume. There’s a burst of citrus fruit on the palate which as it broadens turns salty and tingly. Just 10.5% alcohol.

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TASTE OF TERROIR AND CLIMATE – VOLCANOES AND MOUNTAINS

I Vigneri Carricante “Aurore” 2018 is a classic Etna white from the village of Milo, 90% Carricante with 10% Minella, a variety whose name derivation is interesting, but perhaps I’ll leave you to look it up. The vineyard is between 900 to 1,000 MASL on Etna’s north side. As the producer, Salvo Foti, would suggest (he’s cited as “the godfather of Etna wine”), this is no simple white. The old bush vine fruit gives depth and intensity, and from my perspective it is a typical “volcanic” white wine, yet it also shows some of the marine influence of the wines from the previous section. Classic Etna, far more serious than Carricante used to be taken.

Vino di Anna Jeudi 15 Rosato 2018 Anna’s rosato is mostly Nerello Mascalese co-planted with other varieties (including white). Just looking at the colour brings joy, and that’s what this wine is all about, joy (joy as an act of resistance, as Idles would say). It’s a wine for all seasons, with beguiling ripe fruit on the bouquet and a little richness underlying its volcanic structure making everything nicely in balance.

 

Etnella “Kaos” Rosso 2016 Totally new to me, a blend of principally Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from vines at 750 metres, again on Etna’s northern side. Davide Bentivegna also makes olive oil and apple cider at his 17 ha property, plus he runs an agriturismo with what look like stunning, elevated, views to the coast. This wine reminds me a little of Palari’s Faro, which Les Caves used to sell in the distant past. Bright fruit, textured and tannic, built to age a while, and a richness partly derived from, and driven by, 14% alcohol.

Jean Maupertuis Gamay “Pierres Noires” 2018 is a still wine made by a producer from whom I buy his pink petnat every year. Jean farms less than four hectares in the village of Saint-Georges-sur-Allier and neighbouring La Roche Noir. They lie on dramatic rocky terrain southeast of Clermont-Ferrand. The Gamay here, Jean describes as Gamay de L’Auvergne, demonstrably different to the Beaujolais Gamay. I think the soils here are well described in the wine’s name, based on the area surrounding Central France’s volcanic puys. The grapes have a short maceration and you get the purest cherry fruit with an extra dimension. A lovely artisan wine, full of personality.

Cave Verdier-Logel “Le Poycelan” 2017 is a wine from a rarely seen region, the Côtes du Forez, which is in the hills between the Loire and the Allier to the northwest of Lyon. This is also Gamay, but like the Maupertuis above, it’s a different wine entirely to Beaujolais. The vines in this case are over a hundred years old and the soils are volcanic, again being the outer reaches of France’s Massif Central. It’s spicy and quite dark-fruited, and even though I knew otherwise, I really stopped in my tracks and wondered whether this was Syrah. Big, mouthfilling fruit with a textured finish. 13.5% abv gives it quite a presence, but a deliciously concentrated one.

 

TASTE OF TERROIR AND CLIMATE – GARRIGUE, MAQUIS, FYNBOS

I could have written about every one of the eleven wines on this table, and that in a nutshell summarises the difficulty I elaborated in my intro to Part 1. At a Les Caves tasting there really are too many wines (178) to do them all justice. So there’s no Fynbos among the three wines below. These bring Part 2 to a close.

Clos du Gravillas “Lo Vielh” 2016 is another one of the earliest wines I bought from Les Caves rather a long time ago now. In those days I had rather more of a thing for fairly rich wines from Languedoc-Roussillon. I suppose in some cases I’ve become less keen on high alcohol wines, but mostly it’s just down to the desire to try new things. Tasting this after a long time no see, I was struck by how intense and herbal this 100-year-old Carignan wine is in the freshness of relative youth. If you want sweet fruit seasoned with garrigue herbs wafting across the nose and on the tongue, you can’t do a lot better than Nicole and John Bojanowski’s brown label. It’s made from the first vines the couple purchased, and is only excluded from the Minervois AOP because it is 100% Carignan, bottled instead as IGP Côtes du Brian.

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Panevino UVA Rosso Sardegna 2018 I’ve never seen this before. Les Caves calls it a “rare unicorn”. Gianfranco Manca is a baker, and as he knew his way around yeasts, and as his bakery had a plot of old vines, in the mid-1980s he decided to give winemaking a go. All Gianfranco’s wines do what they will. This new one (they don’t usually have consistent names vintage to vintage) comes from forty varieties of co-planted centenarian vines off three vastly different terroirs, all hard and mineral-laden.

Although this is a zero sulphur cuvée it doesn’t taste at all like the stereotype of a natural wine, then how many here do? It has a smoothness and very pure biodynamic fruit, with, as they say, great line and length. There’s also a touch of the vermouth about it…packed with herbs. UVA? United Vines of Angiona, of course. It also spells “grape” in Italian. Doug Wregg called it “a wine true to its time and place, born out of the instincts of the vigneron”, hence “unicorn” status.

 

Hervé Souhaut Syrah Vin de France 2018 We finish with a classic producer of natural Northern Rhône wine. I’m hazarding a guess that this is one wine many readers will have tried, perhaps in previous vintages. Hervé farms at Saint-Épine, within the Saint-Joseph appellation and opposite the Hermitage Hill. He trained with Dard & Ribo and his illustrious neighbour is Thierry Allemand, but his connections run very deep. His “Cuvée Saint-Épine” is the essence of concentrated natural Syrah, but this wine has a similar smoothness of fruit, assured I’d say. I’ve seen some volatility in his wines in the past, but not here. Classic, fine and, as with everything tasted (but particularly in this case), sings out “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive”.

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Posted in Minerals and Wine, Natural Wine, Volcanic Wines, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Les Caves de Pyrene Drinking Outside the Box Tasting 2019 (Part 1)

Les Caves de Pyrene held their annual Portfolio Tasting on Tuesday 23 September at the Hellenic Centre off Marylebone High Street, London. As with a similar event last year, Les Caves decided to stir things up a bit. A lot of work was put into choosing wines which would fit into several different categories (see below). The success of the tasting depended on the wines not only showing in a good light, but equally demonstrating that they did actually fit into these loose boxes.

That they achieved this made the event that little bit more interesting for we tasters. Not only could we assess the individual wines, but in some cases we could place them within a broad narrative. Such thinking shows that Les Caves continue to innovate on all sorts of levels, and they manage to educate us further than merely showing individual wines in isolation might.

I like the small hall at the Hellenic Centre. It’s bright white walls create the right environment for tasting, but even better is the nice high ceiling. The venue was quite full at times, and I tasted what I consider to be a lot of wines, more than ninety out of 178 on show. The high ceiling means that noise is less pronounced, which overall makes tasting more peaceful and less stressful. I kind of wish other organisers of portfolio events would consider these things.

If I’m truthful, what is hard with any Les Caves tasting is the sheer volume of wine to look at. They are, after all, the UK’s largest importer of natural wines, and their range is as broad as it is deep. I’m pretty sure no one got through all of the 178 wines, and I’m proud that I managed as many as I did in something over five hours, non-stop. I can’t repeat the feat of the recent South African New Wave event, where my single article was frankly too long. Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson. I shall bring you three bite-sized chunks over the next several days, which I shall hope to complete next week.

The categories chosen to illustrate the importer’s range were as follows (paraphrasing):

  • Keg Wines
  • Bang for Buck
  • Variations on Classics
  • Old and New (faces, arrivals, vintages)
  • Taste of Terroir – Minerals
  • Taste of Terroir – Sea, Sand & Saline
  • Taste of Terroir – Volcanic, Mountains
  • Taste of Terroir – Garrigue, Maquis, Finbos
  • All About… – Pinot Noir
  • All About… – Native Grapes
  • Glou
  • 02 and Flor
  • Amber Revolution
  • Bubbles

Part 1 will take us up to the beginning of the “Taste of Terroir” categories. Part 2 will take us through those four “terroir” categories, and then a slightly larger Part 3 will carry us through to the end.

Of all the wines I tasted there were none I didn’t like. One or two showed some reduction, which I feel I understand sufficiently that it doesn’t worry me. One usually cracking wine did seem closed. I tried to mix up some new wines and old favourites. With such a fine array of wines I decided to find a way to indicate any wines I felt were especially good. To achieve this, if you see ♥♥♥ before a note, you’ll know I especially loved that wine. I say “loved” because such assessments, selecting the best among equals, can only really be subjective, and intentionally so.

I must, before beginning, mention one thorny subject – mousiness. It’s a fault said to bedevil natural wines (and is well covered in Jamie Goode’s recent book on Wine Faults, Flawless). Jamie notes that around 30% of people may be immune to detecting this fault, which is only picked up on the palate, not by the nose. It is also a wine fault poorly understood by many. I have detected mousy wines on occasion, but rarely, and I think I may be at least on the outer edge of that 30%. I detected none on Tuesday, but I can’t ignore the fact that more than one taster told me they had.

LICENSED TO KEYKEG

This was subtitled 0020 (Litres) being the size of these kegs. Naturally, you cannot get them “in Bond” (ouch! Sorry). The first four were actually sampled from keg whilst the last two wines were bottle samples of wines available in keg.

Domaine Nicolas Reau, Bonhomme Chenin Blanc 2017 comes from the village of Sainte-Radogne in Anjou. Nicolas is a former jazz pianist who began making wine in 2002, but he’s better known to natural wine lovers as the bon mec who, with his wife Sylvie Augereau, created La Dive Bouteille, aka Le Salon des Vins Nature, in Saumur. This keg wine expresses gluggable Chenin perfectly.

Keg wine is relatively new, but pioneered by the likes of Rupert Taylor’s Uncharted Wines, and producers like Andrew Nielsen (Le Grappin), they have really taken off as a perfect tool for wine bars into selling the glouglou. 

Ben Walgate has naturally been a keen advocate of the 20-litre keg format, and Les Caves sells a multi-varietal white blend, Tillingham Wines, Tillingham White 2018 made from grapes purchased from organic vineyards close to Tillingham, near Rye in East Sussex. It’s a foretaste of Ben’s delicious ’18s to come in later eoisodes. Andi Knauss Pinot Noir 2017 is a juicy German red from 15 hectares of vineyards near Stümpfelbach and surrounding villages, just east of Stuttgart (Württemberg). This is the valley of the famous River Rems (only joking), with vines up to 350 metres ASL. San Ferdinando Toscana Rosso 2016 is in effect a remarkably rare thing, gluggable Chianti which I reckon should be served quite cool.

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The best of the bottle samples were the classic Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Clos du Tué-Boeuf “Le P’tit Blanc 2018 (very fresh indeed), and Arndorfer Grüner Veltliner Unfiltered 2018 from that excellent Kamptal producer…although I also liked Nicolas Reau Muscadet Indigène 2018.

 

Trade Prices (excl VAT) for a 20-litre keg vary from around £160 up to £340 (the Tillingham being the most expensive). They did the concept proud. What strikes me is that these are interesting wines, a real step change from the old bag-in-box rubbish we used to see.

BANG FOR BUCK

This section speaks for itself. It’s easy to get into thinking that these artisan natural wines are all expensive. In this category all of these wines bar one would be under £11 to the trade, with the cheapest at £6.25/bottle. I think all of these five wines below deliver real value for money. For Les Caves, price is meaningless if the wine doesn’t inspire at least joy in its drinking.

Celler Credo Miranius 2018 is 100% Xarel-lo from Penedès in Spain. The fruit here is very clean but the wine does show some personality. Excuse the short notes for these wines. We are not, after all, trying describe wines aspiring to greatness. These are more likely wines you will buy off a restaurant list, or by the case for a party, rather than to tuck away in your racks for a special occasion. But that doesn’t mean they are not worth trying, far from it.

Adega Sameiras, Sameiras Blanco 2017 is a case in point. A Treixadura-based multi-varietal blend from Ribeiro in Galicia, Spain. All the grapes are co-fermented in stainless steel and then aged a while in neutral oak to give a very fresh and harmonious, if simple, wine. Mind you, this was that one wine which, at £11.20 (trade, excl VAT) edged over that £11 mark.

There’s a big name Loire producer surprisingly in this category, with Domaine Vincent Ogereau L’Anjouée Rouge 2018. 70% Cab Franc blended with 15% each of Merlot and Pineau d’Aunis, all fermented separately by carbonic maceration. It’s super-cherry juice with plump fruit.

 

Even more powerful on the nose, almost a “grown up” wine, was Continental Platter “Pot à Cab Sav” 2018. Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River (WA), this is a steel fermented wine, aged in neutral oak for six months. The 13% alcohol pushes it forward. For £8.20 it has to be a bargain. It was only pipped for favourite red here by a very purple and violet 2018 Syrah from Domaine des Vigneaux in the Ardèche.

 

VARIATIONS ON CLASSICS

This section threw up some classics indeed, but always wines with a twist. Wines whose personalities somehow make them stand out in whatever context they are viewed. Take Jo Landron Vin de France “Melonix” 2017. This estate makes glorious Muscadet but this is made from fruit grown outside those appellations. With 12 months sur-lies, it is fresh and stony, in fact the texture is pure pebble. It’s not as high in acidity as the fresh bouquet might suggest, but it is perfectly balanced.

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Intellego Wines Chenin Blanc 2018 is made by Jurgen Gouws, who used to work with Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek. This comes from two separate Paardeburg (Swartland) parcels. The bouquet is unmistakably Chenin. The palate bursts with pure fruit, from grapefruit and lime to pear, so fruit-driven and pure.

Matthias Warnung Basis Grüner Veltliner NV is an example of the new styles from Kamptal, challenging the more serious bottles from nearby Wachau. Sealed under crown cap, boasting just 12% abv, it has lovely sour pear fruit and good fruit acidity. It shares that fresh quality, driving it forward, like the South African above.

 

♥♥♥Patrick Sullivan Baw-Baw Chardonnay 2018 is not what many might expect from an Aussie Chardie. Gippsland is a promising region for Burgundian grape varieties, being a little cooler and in part almost coastal, not a million miles from Mornington (lying to the east of Melbourne). The bouquet is fresh, and the palate’s attack begins quite smooth, before the acids kick in. It finished as mineral as anything you’ll taste from Gippsland, but has an added dimension of vivacity balancing what it lacks in seriousness.

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♥♥♥Domaine Alexandre Bain Pierre Précieuse 2017 is a Vin de France made from Pouilly-Fumé fruit by one of the Upper Loire’s iconoclasts. Slowly fermented (six months), with extended lees ageing (twenty months) and zero sulphur added, this wine was obviously never going to be granted the appellation, yet it is a beautiful example of complex, mineral, Sauvignon Blanc. Its sour quality might put some people off, yet this makes it a more weighty, food-friendly, wine than most examples of the variety.

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Jauma Audrey’s Fairygarten Shiraz 2017 actually has 10% Grenache, I believe. Another wine under crown cap (too much expensive and dodgy cork around, I’m led to believe), the fruit comes from altitude in the Basket Ranges from vines farmed by Audrey Wood. Fermented and aged partly in old wood and partly in steel, you get a pale and fruity wine with just 12.5%.

Château Lamery Autrement de Lamery 2015 This is described as “Bordeaux”, although it is made by Jacques Broustet from his 4.5 hectare property in St-Pierre-de-Aurillac, nearly 50km southwest of the city. That matters little. We have a biodynamic wine made from approximately 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc with no added sulphur, and you know, it actually tastes like a good Bordeaux. What that says about terroir I’m not sure, but it is lovely and pure. Goes from good old cement into neutral oak for ageing, and pops out at a decent 12.5%. Very 1978.

Antoine Arena Carco Vermentino 2018 is from Corsica’s Patrimonio, and is from one of the first “natural” producers I discovered. Oddly enough this was before the days of natural wine bars, and it was in Le Villaret, then quite a famous off the beaten track Paris bistro among those in the know…but it was, and still is, in Oberkampf, of course. This is sweetly perfumed with a puff of blackboard chalk. Elegant.

 

♥♥♥Pierre Frick Riesling Grand Cru Vorbourg 2014 comes from what for me personally is one of the great GC sites in Alsace, and a wonderfully versatile one too (it provides some of the region’s finest Pinot Noir). It has an intense bouquet like a “Top C” and, in its savoury deliciousness, is just so obviously a terroir wine par excellence. 

♥♥♥Cascina degli Ulivi “Filagnotti” 2015 is another of the late and truly great Stefano Bellotti’s creations, and another “non-Gavi”. Made from Cortese (like Ivag), it has a striking, bright, yellow-gold colour, a bouquet of apples and pears leading to tangerine and quince (yes, it’s complex Cortese) which fills the mouth with flavour almost like no other wine tasted here so far.

 

Sepp & Maria Muster “Graf” 2016 almost got the three hearts treatment (trying not to be too profligate), a wonderful wine from a wonderful Steirerland (Styrian) producer. It’s a multi-dimensional Sauvignon Blanc off the famous Styrian opok (fine-grained sedimentary rock comprising marl, clays and silt), particular to Steiermark. The wine has a genuine breadth which you so rarely find in the variety grown anywhere else. It has to be tried.

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♥♥♥Les Cailloux du Paradis Racines Rouge 2015 – Courtois, of course, so lonely in the Sologne. Thirty grape varieties, many given to Claude Courtois by visitors. I think the key olfactory experience here is the amazing shock of a wine that tastes so alive. Simple vinification in old oak can’t have that much influence, so it must be magic. Serious stuff worthy of the legendary status these wines have attained.

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Domaine des Vignes du Maynes Mâcon Rouge Cuvée 910 2018 like the Muster above only fails to get the triple love award because, well, you can’t truly love them all, I suppose. This is the cuvée made in the medieval styleee, from the Cluniac Clos, brought to the winery by ox cart, you know the form. Raspberry and cherry fruit with a touch of tannin, but also haunting and intense at the same time.

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Domaine Leon Barral Faugères “Jadis” 2015 is a great example of beyond biodynamic wine. The vines near Lenthéric in Faugères are grazed by livestock,  and were some of the first to enthusiastically take up insect predators as part of creating a balanced eco-system. Jadis is 50% Carignan with Syrah and Grenache (all old vines), fermented in cement, then basket-pressed into oak (10% new) for two years. This has smoothed out with age and the purity is beginning to come through. Lovely wine.

No photo 😦 .

OLD & NEW

This category amalgamates some new imports, new arrivals and some new vintages from old favourites. We have here the final ten wines of Part 1. They are all crackers in my opinion, but four of them earned the hearts.

♥♥♥Domaine Les Bottes Rouges “Face B” Savagnin 2017 is yet another Savagnin cuvée from Jean-Baptiste Ménigoz, who makes wine in a tiny hamlet, Abergement-le-Petit, west of Arbois. It’s new to me, though I do know his Savagnin “No Milk Today” (presumably named after the Herman’s Hermits song, whose B-side incidentally was “My Reservation’s Been Confirmed” – yes, I own it to my shame). This is mineral stuff, bright and vivacious and far superior stuff to the single, if I’m honest. More intense, for sure.

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♥♥♥Progetto Calcarius, Nû Litr Bianco 2018 is the first of these wonderful new wines from Puglia sold in litre bottles, sealed under crown cap. I say “new” but they have been all over Instagram this summer, although this was my first sampling of them. The white is 100% Bombino Bianco, which may be the same variety as Pagedebit. I won’t go into all the periodic table stuff (see the label), but giving the fruit some skin contact has turned what is normally a neutral, over-cropped ugly duckling into a fully fledged pterodactyl with sharp teeth. Fresh, with bite, grip and a pebbly texture.

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Luddite Chenin Blanc 2018 is, yes, yet another Saffer Chenin. Don’t yawn, this Bot River (Western Cape) wine sees a year in oak and undergoes full malo, but retains great acidity nevertheless. What this wine gives you is a beautiful savoury and mineral finish, making it versatile at the table.

♥♥♥Domaine des Miquettes Viognier-Chasselas 2018 is a Vin de France made in Saint-Joseph, on the Rhöne. Doug Wregg told me to try this, and I might have otherwise missed it. It’s a 50-50 blend made initially with around ten days on skins, and fermented in amphora. It smells like expensive perfume but the palate has lovely sweet fruit (in a dry wine) and almost massive texture. A wine that perhaps impresses as much as pleases, but one which you want to savour over a bottle rather than merely sip and spit out at a tasting.

 

Kelley Fox Weber Vineyard Pinot Gris 2018 Kelley makes this pinky PG from from “self-rooted” vines planted in 1987 in the famous Weber Vineyard (Dundee Hills, Oregon). I’m not allowed to tell you how good this is, because Kelley prefers to focus on her admittedly inspirational Pinot Noirs. But it’s pale and has the texture you find when rolling a grape skin around on your tongue…and I do rather love it.

Martha Stoumen Post Flirtation Red 2018 is the new vintage of another classic “drinker” from a great American female winemaker. She’s based at Sebastopol, obviously not in the Crimea but in Sonoma, California. The fruit for this wine, however, comes from Mendocino and Contra Costa Counties. It is Zinfandel and Carignan, in equal proportion, old vines but made in a lovely light style (12.3% abv), showcasing pomegranate fruit and rhubarb acidity. Pale and vibrant, alive with so many possibilities, you drink it and feel you can achieve anything. Life-affirming juice.

Bow & Arrow Air Guitar Red 2017 Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of air guitar. I know I do and I’ll bet Doug does too. I know winemaker Scott Frank does, because I’ve got photographic proof from several years ago. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon from Borgo Pass in the foothills of the Coastal Range and 50% Cabernet Franc from Willamette Valley’s Johan Vineyard, the wine made in Scott and his wife Dana’s Portland urban facility. At 12.5% abv this is clearly an attempt to make a lighter and (Scott says) European style. Yet like its maker, it’s a bold wine, big fruit with strong and intense flavours, very long (like all good guitar solos, of course…).

 

♥♥♥♥Vittorio Bera Bianchdudui 2000 Oops! Four hearts. Well, it is a special wine, though I’d suggest others matched it for my favour. It’s flor-aged Moscato. The flor was totally accidental, but after it formed the wine was left for 14 years in tank. It tastes unique (and totally dry), with a little Muscat quality but mostly pure umami. It’s simply a unique and astonishing wine which I’d urge every adventurous wine geek to try. The kanji on the bottle is the symbol for harmony. Spot on.

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Ryme Cellars Ribolla Gialla 2013 This is a Geyserville wine, and I’m not sure whether the vines here originated from that first suitcase of illegal cuttings which came in from Gravner in the 1970s. The wine certainly does more than merely nod to Gravner, but a later Gravner of skin contact (two weeks here, I think) and texture. Ageing is in large old oak, not amphora, though. You really taste the depth here.

Domaine du Pech “Totem” 2004 Linger over the age of this new cuvée from Magali Tissot who makes probably the only wine worthy of being positively described in Buzet (Southwestern France). It’s obviously why the local authorities have never welcomed her into the appellation. The blend in Buzet is a Bordeaux mix, here around 50% Merlot with 25% each of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon aged in 200-year-old foudre…for fourteen years! Another quite astonishing wine from a producer I’ve had a long affection for. Quite big, smooth, structured even (and 13.5% alcohol), a bit of a big boy really, but very impressive.

 

 

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Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments