Recent Wines, December 2018 #theglouthatbindsus

Quite a lot of wines were consumed at home in December, no surprises there, then. I’ve managed to cull it down to fifteen bottles by chopping out those I’ve written about fairly recently, and those that didn’t quite manage to give of their potential. This selection is a little Jura-heavy, on account of pre-trip homework before we headed out to Arbois in the middle of the month, a couple of bottles drunk in the apartment there (which sort of counts under the “drunk at home” banner), and one or two since we got back. But there’s plenty of variety here as well.

Grüner Veltliner “Esper” 2015, Matthias Warnung, Kamptal, Austria

Matthias Warnung has been making the wines at the ten-hectare family estate in Austria’s northerly Kamptal region (just east of Wachau) since 2010. The soils, sited near Etsdorf-am-Kamp, are a typical mix of loess and gravel, making for wines of texture and mineral mouthfeel. Esper is from reasonably old vines, a cuvée of around only 1,300 bottles. The must is fermented in large old oak and then sees a further two years in the same before bottling.

There’s a definite richness to this, and a hint of some skin contact (especially in its golden colour). But it is certainly dry, and has a lovely mineral freshness which livens the palate. Daniel at Les Caves de Pyrene recommended it to me, and it was an excellent call.

Bourgogne Aligoté 2015, Alice & Olivier De Moor, Chablis, France

The De Moors have long made a delicious Aligoté, indeed long before this variety became super trendy. In fact it could probably be said that Alice and the Goisots in nearby Saint-Bris, have done more than most to bring this grape’s qualities to the attention of a younger audience. This 2015 was a bit of a unicorn wine on release, tiny quantities being snapped up and people desperate to secure two-or-three bottles.

You’d probably not expect this kind of freshness and acidity from a 2015, but it is all carefully judged. In any event, 2015 was actually a bit cold and rainy in Chablis, until a very fine September brought the grapes on. The other thing you notice in this wine is the relatively low, 12.5%, alcohol. It must be a contributing factor to how light on its feet this is. It’s a wonderful, fresh, wine (though lacking the acidity levels of old fashioned Aligoté) which definitely did live up to the hype.

En Passant Devant le Château 2015, Les Vignes de Paradis, Burgundy, France

This is another of the incredible wines Dominique Lucas makes, not from his vineyards in the old AOC of Crépy, to the south of Lac Léman and east of Geneva this time, but from the 2.5 hectares he farms in his family’s home region of Burgundy. To be specific, this cuvée comes from a small block right outside the Château de Pommard, hence its name. The biodynamically farmed vines here are over fifty years of age. This cuvée consists of a mere 835 bottles.

What we have, in actual fact, is essentially not very Burgundian. In fact you might easily miss its origin because it’s bottled as a Vin de France, and gives Lucas’s address at Balaison, in Savoie. The grapes undergo a rigorous sorting and this is why the fruit tastes super clean despite the natural winemaking at play here. When you look at the juice in the glass, I’m not sure you’d believe it is Pinot Noir, it’s so purple. It also has an almost gritty texture, but clearly in the fruit. Think smoky cherry with the kind of grippy tannins that are softened by food. It’s a wine of amazing concentration and length. So classy, but not at all snooty.

Côtes du Jura Chardonnay “La Chaux” 2015, François Rousset-Martin, Jura, France

François farms at Nevy-sur-Seille, just outside Château-Chalon. I’ll admit I didn’t know anything about him before this wine was recommended to me. He speciallises in wines from individual parcels. Les Chaux is a 0.4 ha block of 65-year-old vines close to Château-Chalon and this cuvée  is made ouillé, in a non-oxidative style. Nevertheless, it gets its lovely mouthfeel and tingly texture from 14 months ageing on fine lees.

Somehow what we have here is a wine that tastes both modern and old fashioned. I remember Chardonnay wines in the past from Jura which tasted a little like Savagnin, quite nutty. The general conclusion was that it was a factor of terroir. The geology of La Chaux is complex, with both limestone and at least two types of marl present in a tiny area. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere there?

I chose to include this wine because it is a little unusual in that respect. The nuttiness gives it something similar to slight oxidation (remember, it’s not made oxidatively), but at the same time it has a freshness which suggests complexity, not a fault. But the friend who recommended it did later tell me they had drank a bottle that was less beautiful than the first. But on a score of a 2-1 Home Win, it gets a mention, with the suggestion that you explore further for yourselves.

Beaujolais 2016, Pierre Cotton, Beaujolais, France

Pierre Cotton is a young grower in Brouilly who took over fully from his father in 2014. Most of his recently enlarged estate is in fact inside the two Brouilly crus, but he also has some vines classified as Beaujolais, further south.

Full carbonic vinification is Cotton’s preferred winemaking method, and he also prefers to use concrete tanks for vinification, but after that it goes into previously-used oak for ageing. The resulting wine is quite dark in colour, so that the juice, tasting of purest cherry, is quite a surprise. There’s a faint prickle of CO2, which lifts it even further. Although you’d certainly describe this wine as fairly light, it does open out to reveal a darker fruit side. It also has a little bit of a bite, well, perhaps just a nibble, on the finish.

It’s really nice, and not totally unlike the pure and juicy Beaujolais-Villages we had from Jean-Claude Lapalu last Monday night (see previous article), a near neighbour of Pierre. I’ve got some of the up-range cuvées from this producer, and I’m very much looking forward to trying them.

The Liberator Episode 16 “Perfectly Flawed”, Swartland, South Africa

The Liberator series of wines is a project of Richard Kelly MW, who owns the UK importer Dreyfus-Ashby, but is also something of a South Africa expert. Episode 16 is made from 2015 Chenin Blanc, found in Tulbagh and made at Table Mountain Vineyards. This wine was aged in concrete and for some reason developed a layer of flor. It must surely be mere coincidence that at 33º of latitude, nearby Cape Town is on the same latitude as Jerez!

Only 353 cases were made. Initially you get a slightly nutty, flor, note, but next a delicious Chenin richness builds and takes over. The flor gives it an added freshness, as with a Fino Sherry, but the qualities of the Chenin Blanc make it a very different beast. It’s light and refreshing, but with depth.

I was really pleased to be introduced to these wines, which all sound very interesting. Episode 17 is a tiny production Pinot Noir (less than a thousand bottles) from the Western Cape, Episode 18 is a somewhat more plentiful (650 cases) Petite Syrah from Stellenbosch. These are well priced wines with good labels, and thankfully they seem to have a pretty wide distribution here in London and the South of England.

Champagne Legras & Haas “Les Sillons” Derrière les Partelaines, Chouilly, France

Legras & Haas has been around for a few decades but I think it is fair to say that only now have they begun to make waves, at least in the UK. This particular cuvée is a blanc de blancs Chardonnay of which a mere 3,600 bottles were made of this 2012 (disgorged April 2017).

Aged for eight months in oak, there are clear hints of it both in the structure and the flavour. It is rich and smooth, and extremely moreish. Fruit flavours range from ripe pear to peach, but these are carried on a stream of fine acidity. A touch of breadiness suggests it is evolving, but it’s basically pretty fresh right now, still youthful with lots more to give. This gift seems to retail for around £70, quite a lot for a relative unknown, but worth it.

A Demûa 2014, Cascina Degli Ulivi, Piemonte, Italy

Okay, I’ve written about this wine from Stefano Bellotti before, but I opened this, my last from this particular vintage, to toast the man whose departure from our world brought a genuine sadness to so many people I know. It’s one thing to make great wine, another to make it within the context of so much stress and opposition from the authorities in Gavi and the wider region, all because you want to respect nature.

To do so whilst suffering from serious illness, an illness which ultimately killed him, does rather cloud my feelings towards those who did not appreciate what Stefano was doing and sought to thwart him. I was lucky enough to meet the man two or three times, and there is no doubt that he was a special spirit, if wholly unassuming and modest. Thankfully it looks as if his work will be continued.

A Demûa is a blend of one of the local varieties rediscovered of late (and known commercially via Walter Massa), Timorasso, along with Chasselas, Riesling Italico, Verdea and Bosco. It’s very much a skin contact wine, a ninety day maceration giving quite a tannic structure, albeit definitely softened with age. There are effectively two elements.

Orange wines often taste of orange, I have no idea why, but they do. In this wine it is unmistakable, that first element being orange citrus and orange peel. Added to this, you get a second element, garrigue-type herbs, which add a different twist of bitterness. I kind of think if you love drinking negronis you’ll adore this, but then my wife doesn’t really drink negroni and she enjoys this as much as I do.

If you don’t know these wines, you have to try them (Caves de Pyrene import), and this wine is quintessential Bellotti. If you didn’t ever meet Stefano, you can do so in Jonathan Nossiter’s film, “Natural Resistance”. His appearances are poignant.

Côtes du Jura Chardonnay “La Chaux” 2015, Les Dolomies, Jura, France

Les Dolomies is the wonderful four hectare estate created by Céline Gormally, working with husband Steve, near Passenans, in the Côtes du Jura southwest of Poligny. The wines are beginning to be sold in shops in the region, but Céline has built an enviable reputation overseas, where much of her small production is exported (Copenhagen’s Noma lists them, a fact that is highlighted every time I read about them, so let’s not stop here).

Winemaking at Les Dolomies is biodynamic and natural. Céline is a former organiser of the Nez dans le Vert organic, biodynamic and natural wine tastings held each year in the Jura region. The soils here, in this enclave south of Poligny, are mainly limestone, coincidentally similar to those at Vadans, where Céline formerly worked at Domaine Saint-Pierre.

This cuvée is very easy to drink and it slips down so well you don’t notice that it shows 13.5% abv on the label (tastes more like 12% to me). The limestone gives wines of pronounced minerality, but it isn’t what you’d call highly acidic. But there is a gentle citrus flavour with just a hint of nuts as well. The overall ambience is one of freshness. It’s just a lovely wine, approachable, slipping down rather easily.

Ploussard “Oeuvre L’Esprit” 2016, Tony Bornard, Jura, France

Tony has taken over the Bornard Domaine in Pupillin from his father, Philippe, but I think he plans to keep his own label going. These are very individual wines which, as a range, display a particular lightness which distinguishes them from Bornard Père’s bottles.

This Ploussard is flavoured with strawberry, raspberry and cherry freshness, which you’d call the epitome of glou. There’s not an awful lot more to say because it’s a simple wine, with only 11.2% alcohol. It’s a wine of rare purity, so delicious. A perfect summer Ploussard which did not disappoint in mid-December. One left, can I manage to hold off until summer?

Arbois Tradition 2016, Fumey-Chatelain, Jura, France

I’m technically cheating here, because I drank this wine in a restaurant, and these monthly roundups are supposed to be for wines I drank at home. I’ve even mentioned this wine before, in the last of my recent Jura articles. But I was very much taken with it, so I am giving it another plug.

Raphaël Fumey and Adeline Chatelain farm 15 hectares at their home village of Montigny-lès-Arsures (about ten minutes’ drive from Arbois) and around Arbois itself. At Montigny they have converted an old farmhouse for their cellars and since the end of the 1990s have been steadily making wines with fewer and fewer inputs.

“Tradition” is an opportunity to taste what is self-evidently the traditional blend of white grapes around Arbois, Chardonnay and Savagnin. In this particular cuvée it is 70% Chardonnay to 30% Savagnin. The Chardonnay is topped-up as it ages, coming off limestone with some clay, whilst the Savagnin is planted on marls and is aged sous voile, in an oxidative style.

The first thing to notice is how subtle this wine is. Both grapes in the blend can be identified. The Chardonnay is fruity and floral, but with a buttery note just creeping in, whereas the Savagnin brings definite hazelnuts and a sharp lick of lime citrus. Acidity is nicely balanced but not pronounced.

Visiting Arbois each year seems like devotion to duty, but I can tell you that there is never enough time and I hope to visit this domaine for the first time at some point in the future.


Arbois “Les Moulins” 2016, Domaine de la Touraize, Jura, France

This is another domaine I’ve yet to visit, although their wines have been on my radar for around three years now. Ever since some friends brought me André-Jean Morin’s petnat to try (really good) I’ve drunk and or purchased a few bottles from local wine shops on each subsequent visit.

This wine is another blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin, around two thirds Chardonnay, but blended at harvest and co-fermented after whole bunch pressing. It comes from a single 0.75ha plot on gravel over marl. Ageing is for one year on fine lees, but topped up (ouillé).

It’s another pleasantly understated wine which has plenty of citrus, but equally a nice savoury note. It’s quite light on the palate and fresh without having pronounced acidity, but it is labelled as 13% abv. It has a slightly lighter feel than the Fumey (not a qualitative comment), perhaps ever so slightly fresher.

André-Jean and his wife, Héléana (eighth generation winemakers here), are in the process of converting their vines to biodynamic farming. They do use sulphur, but only in small amounts, mainly for the whites. Their vineyards in springtime look a riot of wild flowers between the rows. Along with Fumey-Chatelain, if I’d had an extra couple of days in December I’d certainly have tried to pay them a visit (the domaine is on the edge of Arbois, but they also have a small shop in the town, open in summer, not far from the Pasteur Museum, if you are in the neighbourhood).

“Artisan” 2016, Vignoble du Rêveur, Alsace, France

This domaine is run by Mathieu Deiss (son of Jean-Michel Deiss) and Emmanuelle Milan, using grapes from parcels left to Mathieu by his grandfather at Bennwihr (near Kaysersberg). All the grapes are farmed biodynamically. Artisan is a blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, given ten days on skins.

So this is truly an orange wine in all respects – colour and an abundance of texture, but not harsh tannins. The overall impression is one of gentle richness. Both of the grape varieties here generally react well to skin contact. The wine is rich but dry, and the three elements you notice on the palate are tropical fruits (especially orange and mango), peppery spice, and a zip of citrus acidity (soft grapefruit). This cuvée is also bursting with energy. I definitely plan to buy more of this, one of my wines of the month. Nice label too (shame about the photo, sorry).

Champagne Val Frison Blanc de Noirs Brut Nature  “Goustan”, Côte des Bar, France

Valerie Frison is an exciting new name to me. I tried her Blanc de Blancs “Lalore” for the first time back in June last year. I think I slightly preferred Lalore to this Pinot Noir cuvée, but that is only a slight personal preference. Goustan is still very good. She farms around six hectares of vines around Ville-sur-Arce, just east of the Seine, with just around one-and-a-quarter of those hectares being Chardonnay and the rest, Pinot Noir.

Goustan is a blend of grapes from several small Pinot parcels which are fermented in used oak (in this case, barrels from nearby Chablis). This wine spent six months in wood, on lees, and then 19 months, following its second fermentation, in bottle, before being disgorged in March 2016 (so it has also had a couple of years post-disgorgement ageing before I bought this in the summer of 2018). I am guessing that this is therefore from the 2014 vintage (how’s my maths?).

Initially served too cold, this was dry and firm, the zero dosage showing its teeth. On warming it became rounder, less angular, showing a little brioche, and when the red fruits revealed themselves, they were fresh, pretty and elegant. That initial hardness translated, as it warmed a little, into what many would term a fresh minerality.

I have another bottle of this, which I shall look forward to opening this year, perhaps making sure not to over chill it. I shall also look out for some more of the Lalore, and perhaps some other cuvées from Val Frison. The rosé, “Elion”, made with minimal sulphur, sounds very interesting when described by Peter Liem in his recent “Champagne” tome.

“Trenzado” 2016, Val de la Orotava, Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife  (Canary Is)

There are many occasions when a producer you drank quite regularly a few years ago slips out of your cellar purely because so much interesting new stuff comes along. As far as the Canary Isles are concerned, Suertes was my first discovery. Then came Envinate, and before long the volcanic islands theme had taken me further afield, to the Azores, and the fabulous wines of António Maçanita from Pico. I really should not forget Suertes del Marqués.

So what can we say about Trenzado? It is a white blend of mainly Listán Blanco (aka Palomino), with Vidueño and other ungrafted indigenous varieties, grown in the Orotava Valley on the island’s volcanic soils at altitude (300 to 700 metres), in a climate which is partly sub-tropical. Fermentation is 60% in stainless steel, but the other 40% of the must is fermented in concrete tanks, on skins. Ageing is eight months in concrete and eight months in old 500 litre oak casks.

The name “Trenzado” is worth explaining. The cordon trenzado is unique, and spectacular to see (the label doesn’t really do it justice, but photographs abound). A vine is trained to throw out tendrils from the trunk both up and down the slope. They almost hug the ground, twisted around one another in a line, supported by stakes. They are pruned so that fruit forms only at the end of these branches. From a distance a row of vines looks like an enormous millipede crawling across the landscape.

This is not a wine where you would jump to use fruit descriptors. It’s both mineral and herby. It has a fine edge to it, couterbalanced by a massive flavour profile, and I know this wine ages well. Now, in relative youth, however, it is also just so refreshing. Superb drinking now.

December is always a time for drinking lovely wines, but it seems that I enjoyed a lot of really good music as well. So you’ll notice a few CDs and LPs in one or two of the photos. They all come as highly recommended as the wines. As to the photos, some are less good, less in focus, than I would have hoped (if you are viewing them on a computer screen rather than a phone). I shall try harder, but hopefully it’s the text that counts.

Posted in Aligoté, Alsace, Arbois, Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Champagne, Jura, Natural Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Plateau of Excellence

I was planning to write my review of December’s wines today, but last night six of us dined at Plateau in Brighton and it was such a good meal that I thought they deserved an unashamed plug.

Plateau is in Brighton’s Lanes, maybe a fifteen minute brisk walk from the station, and just a couple of minutes or so from the sea, right opposite Brighton Town Hall. They are best known for what must be one of a handful of natural wine lists worth travelling out of London for. This is no secret, and it was good to see the place reasonably full on a Monday night in January, when other places, especially the chains, looked empty.

The six of us ranged from vegan and vegetarian to carnivore, and Plateau is well able to cope with any requirements. It’s the sort of place where the chef will tweak a vegetarian dish to make it vegan without any suggestion that it’s awkward, and the result is always very good. Of the three sharing small plates we began with, based on shallots, butternut squash, and carrot, it was the last of these which had been tweaked to vegan that was actually my favourite.

For anyone who doesn’t know Plateau, the food is really quite similar to what you find in quite a few of the Parisian natural wine bars which aspire to something a lot more sophisticated than charcuterie and cheese. I know that most people reading this will be heading there primarily for the wine, but the food is actually some of the most appealing in Brighton. For me, it compares favourably to some of the city’s more vaunted eating places. There is little fuss over pretty plating, but the flavours range from delicious to sensational, at least in my opinion.

Our main courses ranged from bavette steak, bream and chicken to the most amazing cauliflower dish with toasted hazelnuts, hazelnut purée and kale. Most of us went for a cocktail for dessert, cocktails being something of a speciality at Plateau. My Bridgetown comprised Doorly’s 5-y-o rum, antica formula, yellow chartreuse and angostura bitters, quite boozy but pretty delicious. My heart (and soul) said order a second but my head said no! Those of us who went for sesame seed ice cream (non-dairy, as it happens) with a salted caramel sauce didn’t regret it. Cold ice cream and unctuous alcohol is rarely a poor match.

But perhaps the important bit is the wines. With two diners sticking to cocktails, four of us drank a couple of crackers. Petr Koráb is one of Czech Moravia’s natural wine pioneers. Plateau list a good few wines from Petr’s UK importer, Basket Press Wines, but this is one of the best on the whole Plateau list if you want an interesting sparkler to kick things off.

Future Sekt is a skin contact wine, and one where the term “orange wine” is very apt. Skin contact here does add texture, for sure, but it doesn’t taste tannic. The plentiful bubbles froth in the mouth, and the flavours lie somewhere between orange citrus, with ginger, a whiff of nutmeg and a few more tropical-type notes.

Choosing a wine to accompany both red meat, white meat, fish and that cauliflower dish might not necessarily be easy, but a not too structured Gamay seemed the consensus, another good choice. Jean-Claude Lapalu Beaujolais-Villages Vieilles Vignes 2017 is pure fruit juice. It’s very fresh, not heavy at all, yet the juice is pretty concentrated. The perfect freshness completely hides 13% alcohol. The old vines add just a little complexity. Should it be aged? I think it’s brilliant now, personally. Lapalu is perhaps best known for his Brouilly cuvées, but this Villages is always a gem.

Plateau is definitely worth the trip down to sunny Brighton, even in the depths of winter when the sunshine is limited, but the crowds of the summer months are absent. I did say that the restaurant was reasonably busy for a Monday night, but there were still one or two tables (it’s always a good idea to book rather than just rock up there). The other thing of note about a Monday is that the volume levels are lower. Some might like it loud, but it did mean we could hear the excellent choice of music quite clearly. They usually spin some decent sounds here.

Bridgetown

Never leave without having a good look at the takeaway wine list. The prices equate to a 25-30% discount on the restaurant list, and there are only a small number of bottles that aren’t on it. I came back with a bottle of Anna and André Durrmann Pinot Blanc Nature 2017, at £18. I visited the Durrmanns in 2017. When I wrote about their interesting approach (see here) shortly after that visit they had no UK importer, but since then those excellent chaps, Wines Under The Bonnet, have begun to bring them in, and Plateau list a couple.

Plateau is at 1 Bartholomews, Brighton BN1. Call for reservations on 01273 733085, and check out their web site here.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Czech Wine, Dining, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Bars | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arbois Update (Arbois Visit, December 2018)

I thought I’d finish off my articles from my visit to Arbois at the end of last year with a short update which might be of use to anyone planning a visit to the town in 2019. I appreciate that this may be of limited interest to some readers, but I know that my pieces written about Arbois have been of use to many people in recent years. If you want to find more information, for example on walks, restaurants, wine (and other) shops and excursions, those articles are searchable via the box in the top right hand corner.

Arbois might just be a pleasant antidote to this month’s scrum of Burgundy Tastings here in the UK. What could be nicer than a quiet town with plenty of excellent places to eat, a wonderful and unique wine culture, and surrounded by some of the biggest forests in France. Franche-Comté is actually increasing its forests by around 500 hectares each year, and is the perfect place to take part in what the Japanese so rightly term “forest bathing”, using the fresh air and ozone of the forest to restore calm to our hectic lives.

I can tell you, on a frosty, sub-zero, afternoon high above the town, it was one beautiful icy silence, save for the occasional flock of small birds and the rustle of my six layers of clothing.

What’s more, from Arbois you can be outside the Hôtel-Dieu in the centre of Beaune within an hour-and-a-quarter, if you must, assuming you can find a space to park.

Lovely frosty Arbois night

As so often when we get to Arbois, our first meal will be at La Balance, just a short walk from the central Place de la Liberté (at 47 rue de Courcelles). Under new ownership for a few years now, some people have said they don’t think it’s as good. But they do cook the most substantial and satisfying poulet au vin jaune in Arbois, and the drive from England, always begun with a pre-5am start, makes me very hungry.


The wine list is still pretty good, and this year we drank a brilliant Ploussard from Tony Bornard. Tony has kept his own label as well as now fully taking over the vines and business of his father, Philippe, in Pupillin. I think he’s right to do so. His own label does have its own identity, the wines being light, fresh, and the essence of glou’. He’s proved he can do it, so the reputation of what is now one of Pupillin’s finest domaines is assuredly in safe hands.

I’ve not dined in every local restaurant, but I do know most. However, when friends suggested we head out to the hamlet of Les Planches for dinner at the Castel Damandre I jumped at the chance, especially as a lift was on offer. Naturally I’ve been out to the magical Cascade des Tufs, a ten to fifteen minute drive from Arbois, and the circular walk there takes you past a large and ancient building, obviously now an hotel. But I didn’t know it had a restaurant worth visiting. Our friends had only been there for the first time a few weeks before.

I can now vouch for it as worth the trip if you don’t mind driving. The restaurant was quite quiet (only three tables occupied), but then it was extremely cold outside. The food was good, and we drank a very nice Arbois Tradition 2016 (a 30:70 Savagnin/Chardonnay, blend) from Raphaël Fumey and Adeline Chatelain. This couple revitalised the family domaine in Montigny-les-Arsures, and every wine I try from them shows a steady improvement.

Another pleasant surprise was to find the former front of house from La Balance taking charge of the floor at Castel Damandre. A very friendly welcome added to the pleasure of dining there. I’m sure the hotel would be a relaxing place to stay if you don’t mind being away from the town.

One final restaurant recommendation, though in Poligny this time. When we left La Pinte and told Laura Seibel where we were heading, she told us about a new place, La Muse Bouche (60 Grande Rue). It’s directly opposite the Town Hall, on the right, about a hundred metres or so before you reach the central place as you drive into the town. The food is reasonably simple, but well presented and fairly inexpensive. The wine list is short, but they score well for having a good selection of wines from Domaine de la Touraize.

When in Poligny, as I say every year, a visit to Epicurea is essential, both for wine and cheese. It’s one shop you can almost guarantee to pick up some Ganevat negoce cuvées, and the prices are pretty good. It’s also one of the best shops in the region to pick up some good Morbier, with a choice of “fermier” or “artisan”, both different in texture.

Someone asked me about Epicurea’s shop in Arbois, which is just by the Place de la Liberté, a few doors from Hirsinger. Well, it’s true that they continue to offer a good cheese selection, local beers, cidre (they usually have the Freibourgeoise artisan ciders of the Cidrerie du Vulcain which, if you don’t know them, are sensational), and wine too, of course, but they can’t stock the large range of wines (Jura and otherwise) that they hold in Poligny.

The best news for wine buyers in Arbois is that Les Jardins de St-Vincent now appears to be open regularly, on Fridays and Saturdays. JSV is owned by the former Jeunet wine director, Stéphane Planche. Stéphane is possibly the most knowledgeable wine professional in Arbois, and his years at the town’s two-star restaurant were put to good use – he knows all the young growers, and has his finger on the pulse of what is happening in the region.

This makes the Jardins the place to go to discover a few labels you’ve not seen before. Definitely take a punt on some of them. Every year the amazing vibe generated by the region’s success is throwing out new producers. But you’ll also notice some hard to find older names. Sadly, no Miroirs this year, but a few new labels from L’Octavin were on the shelves, and in the section for wines from outside of the region I found a few cuvées from Yann Durieux, so perhaps you can get well “piffed” on one of Burgundy’s finest Aligoté as well.

The shop is at 49 Grande Rue, almost opposite to Epicuria, and close to the small Spar supermarket.

Finally, well almost, although I mentioned this in my article on La Pinte, it is worth repeating. The annual tasting, Le Nez dans le Vert, usually takes place at Domaine de la Pinte every second year. Laura said that after having two-thousand visitors per day at the domaine last time it was held there, it has just got too big for a single domaine to handle. As a consequence, the tasting due to be held this March will take place at Arc-et-Senans. I can’t confirm this as the web site of Le Nez appears only to be showing the details for the 2018 Salon, which was held at the Château de Gevigny, south of Lons-le-Saunier.

Truly finally, we had some sad news at the end of the year. The house we have stayed at in Arbois for far longer than I have been writing this blog is being sold, so is no longer available to rent. I know I’m not the only person to be truly gutted by this, as at least a couple of readers also stay there, one like me, every year for a long time (and both of us considered, albeit fancifully, putting in an offer). If anyone has any recommendations, preferably a small house or apartment within walking distance of Arbois centre (more specifically, walking home from a restaurant after a bottle or two distance!), do let me know.

We began in the 1990s staying up at Vauxelle once Arbois became the destination rather than a mere day trip from Burgundy. It was very convenient in getting to know Montigny-les-Arsures and the best vineyards, but too far for a midnight stroll home. We have looked forward to our annual Arbois visits even more knowing we had the perfect place to stay, so close to the centre of town, and yet quietly tucked away in a row of old vignerons’ cottages. But a new era must begin.

Posted in Arbois, Jura, Wine, Wine Shops, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Domaine des Bodines (Arbois Visit, December 2018)

Continuing the Jura series, we visited Domaine des Bodines again in December, after a stimulating first visit in 2017 (see here). Emilie and Alexis Porteret have been making wine from a small plot on the very edge of Arbois, off the road to Dôle, since 2010. Alexis cut his teeth with the Clairets at Domaine de la Tournelle, and after his wine diploma, for a while moonlighting at Domaine de la Pinte. In a short space of time he has converted most of their three hectares or so of vines in Arbois to biodynamics, and has managed to purchase another parcel on the way to Poligny, where conversion is coming along nicely.

I first came across the Bodines wines maybe four years ago, initially via their brilliant petnat Red Bulles, followed by their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Both are impressive, and I think even more so if given some time in bottle. There’s a feeling you get with some wines that they have a soul. Knowing the Jura reasonably well, and for so long, I have become quite attuned to the terroir differences, and some wines are truly able to express their terroir, if often fairly subtly. The Bodines wines fall into this category.

Another thing I perhaps fancifully feel I can sometimes do is paint a reasonably accurate picture of the winemaker through their wines. Not always, by any means, but I think I’d built up an image of this young couple as being quiet and thoughtful, but also warm people. We tasted with Emilie on our visit in 2017, but she now works in Hirsinger, the famous chocolatier in town, so 2018 we tasted with husband Alexis.

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Alexis Porteret

Anyway, I won’t repeat any more of what I wrote about the domaine last year as you can easily follow that link in the top paragraph, so let’s get on with the tasting. First, after the required walk in the vines, we tasted some 2018s. The vintage is a welcome change from the previous few years. It is plentiful but not over productive. Having a reasonable amount of wine in the cellar certainly makes the artisan vignerons more relaxed. Alexis estimates he may be able to sell around 60,000 bottles from 2018, a big leap from their first harvest (around 8,000 bottles) and the restricted 15,000 or so bottles of the recent, frost struck, harvests.

The reds from 2018 had finished fermenting, but not yet the whites, so we didn’t try those. The 2018 Poulsard was lovely and fresh and Alexis said that the grapes were very clean, with no hint of rot in any of them. The Pinot Noir, harvested in September, had more depth, adding spice and tannin to its pure fruit. It was good to taste such freshness and good, clean, juice, a very good pointer for the vintage.

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Next, we adjourned into the barrel cellar for a look at some 2017s. The first wine was the 2017 Côtes du Jura Savagnin from the Poligny parcel, which was a gorgeous, rounded out, wine already. Nutty, but with almost tropical fruit as well. It is the first vintage that these vines have been farmed fully biodynamically, and there is an additional mineral charge. The juice seems very much vivant. Alexis said that he has noticed the biodynamic regime forces the roots to go a lot deeper than they were when he bought the vineyard, which had previously been sprayed with synthetic treatments.

The vineyard is on the region’s traditional marnes bleue soils, whereas the home plot at Arbois is argilo-calcaire. The Arbois Savagnin from the same vintage is markedly different. The first thing you notice is its saline character, and greater mineral bite. There’s also more pronounced citrus, a twist of lemon on the finish. I always argue that tasting wines like this side by side is the biggest argument in favour of “terroir” that you will find. Two wines, same viticulture, same vinification and ageing, totally different flavour profile. My preference? Perhaps the Arbois, although I’d buy both.

All of the domaine’s vines are farmed biodynamically, and some are worked by horse. I think Alexis would like them to own a horse of their own (they have a number of animals, which their children adore). He was at pains to point out that they cost a fraction of what a tractor costs, but he did acknowledge that they are a lot of work, requiring care and attention every day (as Emilie also pointed out when I’d chatted with her two days before).

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Frosty vines sloping gently to the crest of the hill called “Bodines”, on the argilo-calcaire soils of the home vineyard

Onto Chardonnay 2017. The Bodines Chardonnay has been brilliant every time I taste one, and it does seem to me that even though the terroir on this side of Arbois is not uniform, it does produce immaculate Chardonnays (as any connoisseur of Domaine A&M Tissot will attest). 2017 was a fairly cold vintage all round and it has produced a wine here that is clean and fresh. It shows lovely balanced acidity, even at this stage as it sits in older oak. It also has a mineral touch, and just 12% abv.

The 2016 Chardonnay we tasted was from new oak. The vanilla oak is still evident on the bouquet and the wine has more spice, but again, the acidity is nice and fresh. You don’t often get much buttery fat over this way, except perhaps in some of Stéphane Tissot’s top of the range Chardonnays. Arbois Savagnin 2016 is really good. I’m less au fait with the Bodines Savagnins, but this is potentially pretty special, very grapefruity with amazingly lively, fresh and refreshing, acidity.

I mentioned that the best wines at this domaine appreciate time, and the 2015 Chardonnay is definitely a vin de garde. It has had three years in oak and now deserves a few years in bottle – how long I can resist is a moot point. Acidity is lower than in all the wines previously tasted, but it still has that Bodines freshness I love so much. It was aged under a tiny bit of a voile, so it has a slightly nutty Savagnin character, which could often be found in Jura Chardonnays in the past.

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Next from bottle we tried the Pinot Noir 2017. Alexis bottles each wine when he feels it is ready to be bottled, there is no formula. This wine saw a semi-carbonic maceration, with two-thirds of the fruit destemmed and a third not. This was followed by eight months élèvage and then it was bottled in August. The stems enable the wine to age, through the added structure, and like the Chardonnay, I think this wine could easily age for ten years. However, Alexis surprised me by saying that whilst he acknowledges this potential, he prefers them young.

Finally we tried a wine which I think has the potential to confer star status on this Domaine, their 2011 Vin Jaune. It comes from the first proper vintage at Bodines, but it is not currently made every year. Thus far, there will be a 2011, a 2014 and a 2017, but Alexis did express the hope that with the new Poligny vineyard a Vin Jaune might be possible every year. For 2011 there is a mere 600 bottles.

Some Vin Jaune requires long ageing in bottle, and I would guess that at least 95% of it gets consumed way too young. This is probably because when it appears on a restaurant wine list its prolonged pre-release ageing period makes it look old. That said, some VJ is nice in its youth (Domaine de la Tournelle’s is a good example). This one is still a baby, very discreet on the nose but fresh on the palate. There’s a lovely elegance, which just expresses the domaine so well. Everything at Bodines is just ever so slightly understated…I mean that in a really positive way. As a first attempt this was exceptional, and it will become a wine which people might come to see as one of the town’s most beautifully judged yellow wines in years to come.

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The young couple who run Domaine des Bodines, Alexis and Emilie, are not people who shout and jump about over their wines, but in their kind and gentle way they make wines which are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. These wines, for me, express a quiet passion through a sophisticated if understated elegance, with just that sprinkling of electrifying vivacity which makes me love them more and more with every vintage.

Domaine des Bodines sells a little wine through Les Caves de Pyrene in the UK, and via Selection Massale (Oakland, California) in the USA. I hope that with more wine to sell, they will become more widely available, and more widely appreciated too. They are already firm favourites of those in the trade with Arbois connections.

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

Enfariné? The Ancient Varieties (Arbois Visit, December 2018)

This article was meant to come out before Christmas but a nasty virus put paid to that. Instead of wishing you all a Merry Christmas, or Winter Solstice (for those of a non-Christmassy persuasion), I shall instead wish everyone a Very Happy 2019. After this tale of Jurassic obscurity I’ve a couple more things to share from December’s trip to Arbois – a visit to Domaine des Bodines, and a little bit of an update for people heading to the region this year.

In my last article I mentioned the grape variety Melon à Queue Rouge. Although it is quite rare and little heard of outside of Jura, it is merely a variant of Chardonnay. However, there is a whole string of indigenous and quite ancient grape varieties in the region, some in tiny scattered plots, and others co-planted with the better known varieties, as was once the way, a great insurance policy against some varieties falling foul of disease or the weather in times past.

It is interesting to speculate as to why this might be the case. You don’t see a host of ancient varieties in regions like Bordeaux, nor Burgundy. The other locations which come to mind where a similar number of obscure, occasionally unidentified, varieties exist in France is in Gascony, and in the Provençal vineyards of Palette (Château Simone). Outside France, we see a similar profusion of obscure varieties in Vienna, where they form a small part of the blend for Wiener Gemischter Satz.

Surely these old varieties have survived because no one has thought it worth grubbing them up and replacing them with a more fashionable variety. Bordeaux was not always the land of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and the viticultural face of Burgundy has changed dramatically since the 1880s and phylloxera. Vienna’s vineyards produced an under appreciated wine that, until quite recently, was seen more as part of the city’s culture than its gastronomic patrimony.

That said, the ancient varieties were once very much more abundant than today. After phylloxera devastated the Jura vignoble in the late nineteenth century, the area under vine shrank rather dramatically. When replanting took place, on American root stocks, the old varieties were either no longer wanted, or no one had any cuttings. Of course, when the AOCs were granted nearly everyone wanted to replant with the five permitted varieties. After all, why would you want anything else, thinking about the financial side of things?

Jura has always been seen as a backwater by the arbiters of taste in Paris, that is, until the wines of this small and obscure region became the darlings of the natural wine bars in the capital. Even then, it has taken some decades for the region to show outward signs of a greater prosperity. If you had visited Arbois in the 1980s and 1990s you would have experienced a very different place.

Today Arbois is beginning to thrive, as is its sister town, Poligny, yet among all the new wine shops and restaurants there are still dozens of eighteenth century buildings crying out for renovation and occupation. This is why tradition dies hard. Lack of progress seems to have had one very minor benefit…the old varieties have, in some cases, survived.

If you want to see some of these old cépages anciens the place to go is Château-Chalon. Down a steep path behind the church, which eventually leads you to the most spectacular vineyards of the village, you will see on your left a rusty gate in a lowish wall. The gate’s twisted ironwork vine tendrils barely bar your way, but do open it and go in. Just to the right of the gate a sign reads “Cépages Comtois Vigne Conservatoire”. It is one of three sites where a long list of ancient varieties are planted.

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If you wish to taste the old varieties it is not as difficult as it might seem. Most producers who have the old vines (Geuche, Mézy, Béclan, Argant, Rèze and, yes, Enfariné are a few examples) will have them co-planted among their other vines. I remember that Jacques Puffeney had old vine varieties in with his nobler cépages, and that they were just blended into other cuvées. Their tiny proportion fell well within the rules for AOC labelling.

Some producers do experiment with new plantings. The Pignier family down in Montaigu, south of Lons-Le-Saunier, has planted Rèze, according to Wink Lorch, along with other varieties. Rèze is, I presume, the same grape as that which is famous for Vin de Glacier in Switzerland’s Valais. There is also evidence that the Savoie red variety, Mondeuse, was planted here in Jura, probably arriving via Bugey (the compliment is returned in that there is Poulsard in Bugey).

The champion of the cépages anciens is Jean-François Ganevat. He claims to have more than forty varieties planted in his thirteen hectares of Sud Revermont vineyards. Several of his long list of wines contain a number of these treasures, although unfortunately he isn’t usually specific about which ones on his back labels. The other difficulty at Ganevat is that the cuvées change. But at least he is keeping the varieties alive.

J’En Veux used to be the one to go for. Does he still make it? Depending on who you read, it is made from either seven or seventeen different varieties. Y’a Bon The Canon is relatively easy to find, at least for metropolitans. That is a blend of Gamay from Beaujolais and old indigenous Jura varieties, as is De Toute Beauté Nature with its opinion-splitting “naked lady” labels. Poulprix is another one to go for now. Okay, it contains 80% Gamay from Beaujolais in this case (these are all consequently bottled under J-F and Anne Ganevat’s negoce label), but 20% comes from 40-year-old Enfariné Noir.

 

For most people it remains the case that the way to taste these varieties is in a blend. But I have a friend just outside of Arbois who is just starting out as a winemaker. It’s really hard for an outsider to get established in the region because, quite naturally, the locals are desperate to get more vines for themselves (hard, that is, unless you are a rich Burgundian estate that wants to diversify into Jura).

One way to go is to rent vines, which Marcel has done. If you rent them long enough you do get an option to purchase should the owner want to sell. Another way is to pay over the odds, and Marcel was able to purchase a small plot of old vines which were attached to some terrain whose classification had been changed from agricultural to building land. This meant a slightly higher price, but Marcel thought it worth it to get a decent plot of his own.

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The recently acquired plot showing the Enfariné Noir vines on the right

Among the Chardonnay, Savagnin and Poulsard vines were a couple of rows (just 2 are – 100 are = 1 hectare so one are is 100 square metres) of Enfariné vines, 50 to 55 years of age. The grape variety gets its name from the fact that its thick red skins become covered in a white, flour-like, yeast bloom quite unlike any other grape. Enfariné had a reputation as being very acidic, and I’m not sure it was ever popular. Today there is supposed to be merely a single hectare panted in the whole region. Genevat almost certainly has the most, but Marcel has gone one step further and made a single varietal wine from it.

The wine in question is a 2017 crémant. It’s not AOC (hence my lower case), nor is it for sale (Marcel doesn’t, at least as yet, commercialise the wines of the nascent Domaine Marcelon). Although this is a very dark skinned variety, the wine is quite pale, a rosé, the result of a gentle pressing (just one single rotation in the small rotary press with no destemming). After experimenting with dosage, Marcel decided on just 1 g/litre. It only saw nine months on lees because of the desire to try the finished, experimental, product, but the 2018 will probably get twelve months.

I was quite shocked at how good I thought the result was. It had a blend of lovely red fruits with a grapefruit finish (but not bitter). The bead was superb. It is quite linear, all held together by a nice firm backbone. The acidity seems perfect for a sparkling wine, but was less pronounced than I expected. It was easily of commercial quality, and I’ve tasted quite a few far less attractive AOP Crémant du Jura. Marcel only managed to make 130 bottles of this in 2017. Yields were a lot higher in 2018, but he carried out a green harvest and estimates he may just manage around 150 bottles.

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I know, it doesn’t look pink, a trick of the light, I suppose

Marcel also makes several other wines, including a lovely cherry, prune and liquorice flavoured, deeply fruity, Pinot Noir and Trousseau (30:70) blend from rented vines in Vadans (50-y-o planted on own roots). We tried some 2015, and then the 2014 single varietal Trousseau, which I’d previously tried before bottling (sour cherry, more acidity).

He produces a wonderful white Macvin made from Chardonnay which spent two years in oak. The marc used to fortify it  (to 17%) is Marcel’s own, taken to a local alembic, and aged for 12 months before using to mute the wine. The spirit is there in the background and smells refined. It’s very nice, and probably better than the somewhat sweeter red Macvin made from Poulsard (though the latter was a hazy bottle from the end of bottling).

The strong walnut liqueur was probably a step too far on a cold morning before lunch with the empty stomach rumbling, very strong in flavour and alcohol, but interesting. There’s also a glass bonbon of Vin de Paille slowly bubbling away in the warmth of the hallway, which I shall be very interested to taste one day.

We then adjourned to the cellar, in actual fact the garage, to taste the 2018s. Best of the whites was a very attractive co-fermented Chardonnay (40%) and Savagnin (60%) blend from limestone vineyards (more common than Jura’s usual clay marnes around Vadans and Saint-Pierre/Mathenay). The wine is nicely spicy and shows some class from more old vine stock.

Best of the reds was another Pinot Noir/Trousseau blend. It had ten days on skins, and the press wine has been blended back in, though the wine is still pale, with nice cherry fruit.

We tasted the 2018 Enfariné but it has not yet undergone its malolactic and is still a little yeasty. The next day Marcel intended to rack it off its dead yeast cells and return it to a clean tank.

Not all of Marcel’s experiments and cuvées are equally successful. This is the problem for someone just starting to make wine. Marcel doesn’t have a wine diploma so he’s reliant on the advice of neighbours and local wine producers, though their advice is frequent and given generously. But Marcel does seem to have a certain knack. I’m biased, of course. He has become a friend over the past few years and I hope one day to be able to say of his wines “here is where you read it first”.

I only wish there was a case of that sparkling Enfariné I could spread around. I think some folks would be sure I’d got hold of some unlabelled Tissot and was pulling their leg.

 

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Marcel uncorking the crémant

 

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Jura, Wine, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“It comes in Pintes” – Domaine de la Pinte (Arbois Visit, December 2018)

We left the annual Jura trip a bit late this year. It was tinged with a little sadness as the tiny house we have stayed in for a number of years is being sold, and so it was our last time there, unless the new owners decide to rent it out. Those emotions were somewhat ameliorated by the weather. This was our first December visit to Arbois and it was seriously cold (minus eight degrees one morning), and the vineyards and forest were bathed in a very thick white frost. My first strong memory of Arbois was wood smoke, and that beautiful scent was everywhere last week, and there were some serious wood piles ready for a hard winter. I’ve always wanted a wood pile.

As usual following the yearly trip to Arbois, my next few articles will focus on the Jura region, but our first producer visit was a morning spent at Domaine de la Pinte with Laura Seibel, and briefly later that afternoon with winemaker Samuel Berger (who took over from Bruno Ciofi a couple of years ago).

This is not the first time I’ve had a bit of a moan about how Domaine de la Pinte is not quite as, shall I say, fashionable as some other producers in the cosmopolitan wine bars where Jura wine is so popular. Particularly in the UK, I find it frustrating that their wines have such a narrow distribution, and what you don’t see you can’t try. A British wine lover would never guess how many interesting and innovative wines they produce. Their wines are also becoming more exciting with every vintage.

A bit of history. Domaine de la Pinte was founded after the last World War by Roger Martin, in partnership with then Arbois Mayor, Marcel Poux. The Martin family owns a large construction company and there was a fortune to be made in this period of post-war reconstruction, hence (presumably) the funds to purchase such a sizeable estate. Later they became a large constructor of the French Autoroute network as well. One result of their expertise can be seen beneath the domaine. They have not one but three large cellars, all made from beautifully dressed stone, which are formed in the characteristic stretched curved arch of the tunnels in the Paris Metro, on which they are exactly modelled.

The idea originally was to make only Vin Jaune at La Pinte, although that soon broadened out. Savagnin is prone to late frost and in some recent vintages there are producers whose Savagnin has been pretty much wiped out, so it was a sensible move. That said, Domaine de la Pinte has a rich history in Vin Jaune, and there are always older vintages available both at the domaine, and in their Arbois shop…for a price. It is said that the domaine may have the largest Savagnin plantings in the world – close to 20 hectares out of a total vignoble of around 35 hectares.

Winter wonderland at La Pinte. Bottom right are Savagnin vines, with the slope up towards Pupillin (behind the trees) to the left of the photo

The domaine began conversion in the late 1990s to biodynamics, around the same time as Stéphane Tissot. This provided a great impetus for biodynamics, and for natural wine, which have both taken hold in the region. The importance of Domaine de la Pinte in particular can be seen when you visit all the younger natural wine producers around Arbois. Many seem to have worked at La Pinte, with Stéphane Tissot, or with Evelyne and Pascal Clairet at Domaine de la Tournelle (several have worked with more than one of them). Since 2009, under the stewarship of Bruno Ciofi,  the whole domaine moved to being fully biodynamic. Samuel Berger continues that work.

Berger arrived as director of Domaine de la Pinte in 2016. His dynamism has taken the estate a step further, especially obvious in the range of wines he makes, and in the subtle changes he has instigated. The cellar boasts a large number of concrete tanks, the preferred fermentation vessel, and wood of various sizes, from foudre, through some new 400 litre demi-muids, down to small barrels, with experiments taking place all the time under Samuel.

Around 35% of production is exported (sadly all too little to the UK), with around a third each going into restaurants in France and sold locally.

We tasted our way through a number of 2018 wines in cask, and as other tastings showed, 2018 will likely be a very good year indeed. The wines all had great energy and presence, and this despite the increased (but normal, for once) yields. That production rose dramatically following several frost-hit vintages is great news for Jura vignerons generally. The financial strain of having so little wine to sell has manifested itself in so many ways around Arbois, some potential consequences of that strain being not altogether happy. Thankfully La Pinte is big enough to continue to thrive.

La Capitaine 2018 is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir with 40% Poulsard in this vintage. It comes from the plot of the same name, on the hill towards the N83. The two varieties are kept separate and blended following the malo, after which the wine is fed by gravity into foudre. The wine is very attractive now, although the Pinot dominates with its more tannic structure. It will definitely be a wine to keep.

There’s a little structural contrast with the Trousseau 2018, which is frankly stunning, so expressive, but not so tannic, offering bags of fruit at this stage. There hasn’t been any sulphur added yet, although it is fairly likely Samuel will add a little at bottling. There has been a systematic reduction in sulphur additions at the domaine over the past few years, and perhaps this is one reason that the reds especially have leapt in quality, and certainly in freshness.

We mustn’t forget the whites, though. 2018 will be the first vintage for a while where the white grapes were not adversely affected by the weather. The white grapes at La Pinte are quite exposed, on the hill near the winery as it slopes in the direction of Pupillin. This means that biodynamics gets a nice helping hand from a wind which keeps disease at bay, but it also means that these vines are prone to frosts. This doesn’t matter in winter, when the vine is asleep, but late ripening varieties are very susceptible. Even more of a problem in recent years has been a false spring followed by late frosts, which hit as the sap is rising. Damage can be catastrophic, 2017 seeing 85% loss to frost for the white varieties, but thankfully not in 2018. The Chardonnay 2017, tasted from demi-muid, was rather good despite the tiny quantity, retaining nice tension and line, but plush fruit.

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Our final tasting from wood was the Vin Jaune 2006, from a glass-fronted barrel, that is yet to be bottled (though the 2006 is available), showing the voile, and the dead yeast piled on the bottom. The scent was astonishing. If only you could bottle that…beats any diffuser I’ve owned. Vin Jaune is something of a speciality here. As I mentioned before, the domaine originally planned to make only Vin Jaune, and even after diversification in many directions, yellow wine remains a focus.

The Domaine de la Pinte Vin Jaune always has a tremendous amount of spice, quite distinctive. It also ages magnificently – we drank a 1973 a few weeks ago at a BYO Jura Dinner (at The Pig in the New Forest – which you can read about here). 1973 wasn’t even one of the finest years of that decade, but it was a glorious, complex, stately, wine.

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This is what a barrel of Vin Jaune looks like. I wish I could show you how it smells

We went on to try a number of wines from bottle. The palate-cleanser was a very linear, fresh, Crémant du Jura 2015 (with no dosage). This was followed by the 2017 vintage of the Capitaine blend, which Laura had opened a day in advance. It was still tannic, but very juicy (14% abv and just 0.5 mg/l of sulphur at bottling).

All the Crémant at La Pinte is riddled by hand in pupitres

One of several favourites here is the Melon à Queue Rouge (2016), a local Chardonnay variant with red stalks. The domaine has a small plot of around 1.5 hectares, one of the largest of the small number of producers who grow this rarity. The wines are usually more yellow than you’d expect from Jura Chardonnay, and this wine has a bouquet which is almost sweet (a MàQR characteristic), with flavours of yellow plum. The palate is totally dry. I recommend trying this if you can get to the domaine’s shop in Arbois (just opposite Jean-Paul Jeunet).

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Savagnin 2014 shows just how well this variety can age. This was mellow, and more buttery than one might expect, yet also light and fresh. Savagnin 2011 saw extended barrel age, being bottled in December 2017. An elegant wine with a lovely bouquet showing an ethereal, whispy, smoky, quality. A top quality, totally balanced, wine from a fine Savagnin vintage in Arbois.

Next, a new wine, Sav ‘Or 2017. This is Savagnin with twelve days on skins in concrete with stems removed. It is finished by ageing in stainless steel. It’s their nod to Georgia…orange peel, herbs, good salinity and a bit of texture, plus 14% alcohol (but you’d never guess). The finish is a lovely bitter citrus/orange peel. This is a superb wine, I like it a lot. I think it will age very well, although I’m told it has been available “by the glass” at Barcelona’s famous Bar Brutal recently. It will keep a week once opened, and will offer up a different profile every day.

One of the cheaper wines in the range is Cuvée d’Automne. It’s another recommendation to try. In 2017 the blend is 85% Savagnin with 15% Chardonnay, although 2017 is not the vintage. This is a multi-vintage wine. The Savagnin comes from both 2009 (wine destined for Vin Jaune originally, so under flor) plus topped-up Savagnin from 2010, whilst the Chardonnay is topped-up 2015. Auto-suggestive as it may be, it does have an autumnal glow to it. A fascinating wine.

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We finished up with Vin Jaune 2009, which had also been opened up a day in advance for us. Aged in a cool cellar (rather than a warm loft), this is youthful and restrained, yet already mellowing a touch. It has that characteristic turmeric sniff, which probably dominates the nutty profile you might expect. This is very good.

An aside on VJ vintages – There has been a string of good ones. 2008 less so for many, though good for some (the Château-Chalon at La Pinte is very good in this vintage, they own a small plot down there, just a few rows). 2009 made very good wines, 2010 even better (some spectacular), but in very small quantities, and 2011 also very good (and more of it).

With the requirement that Vin Jaune can only technically be sold after 1 January in the seventh year after harvest, though in reality now after the Percée ceremony on the first weekend in February, you will deduce that the current vintage is 2011, but not all producers will commercialise the most recent wine immediately.

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As even a few years extra ageing by the consumer is very wise, if you can grab some 2009 from this address, it is well worth doing so. But as I said earlier, you can buy some older vintages here as well. The domaine itself has the 1986 for a little over €130. The first ever vintage of Vin Jaune at La Pinte was 1959, but I was told that the few remaining bottles are not for sale. Just as well, perhaps.

Old VJ – 1973 at The Pig and 1959

The entrance to Domaine de la Pinte is situated off the N83, just a couple of hundred metres from the “Arbois South” junction, on the left, and is well signposted…but please don’t turn up without an appointment. The whole range can be tasted in comfort at the domaine’s shop in Arbois (English spoken), on the rue de l’ Hôtel de Ville, opposite Jeunet, and the Domaine Rolet shop.

At the time of writing Domaine de la Pinte’s UK agent is Liberty Wines, but they only currently list Savagnin 2011, the interesting Poulsard L’Ami Karl 2015 and Vin Jaune.

 

La Pinte van, labelling machine, old press, new press, concrete tanks, one of the three cellars, tasting bench, secret treasure trove

*note on Le Nez dans le Vert – this is the increasingly well attended natural and organic wine fair held every year in the Jura Region. In the past it has been held every second year at Domaine de la Pinte, who more than anyone has promoted the tasting. Last time La Pinte hosted it they were getting more than 2,000 visitors per day and were unable to cope with the number of cars, and the number of people wandering around the cellars and estate. So in 2019 the event moves (so I’m told) to the Salines Royale building in Salins-les-Bains, much more able to cope with the success that “Le Nez” has become.

**note on the obscure quotation in the title – I’m sure those familiar with The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of Peter Jackson’s LOTR films, will recognise it.

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Desert Island Dozen

The idea for this piece grew out of a very brief social media conversation. I happened to mention a particular wine would be in my desert island dozen, and threw in another couple of names. In a sense it seems a bit self-indulgent, putting my own passions out there in one place, but then wine is, or ought to be, about passion, is it not?

Of course, what we have here is not exactly “my favourite wines ever”. Rather, I’ve taken some truly exciting producers, whose wines I adore, and thought about what I might like to drink on a desert island. It will be hot, so I won’t be choosing Amarone, nor Napa Cab, but then you don’t usually find me writing about those wines. Yet don’t take this too seriously. I’m as partial to fine Gevrey and Côte Rôtie as the next person. I just don’t think they’d go with snapper, grilled on a driftwood fire, in a coconut cream sauce.

The selection here does quite neatly allow me to pretty much sum up a selection of the best wines from my monthly roundups of what I drank at home in 2018, under the hashtag #theglouthatbindsus.

I can guarantee that there will be vehement disagreement. There certainly was between me and my other self. I did consider Barolo and Côte Rôtie, and the odd Catalonian wine, and would have liked to squeeze in one more Jura, Alsace, Austrian…if this was a baker’s dozen (13), then Arnold Holzer’s Orange would have duelled with something from South Africa’s Blank Bottle Winery to be the wine most likely to make the cut. Oh well.

Oh, give me one indulgence, because I’ll need it…a small wine fridge and a generator to power it would be a silly request. I just need the island to have a cool, dark, dry, cave above the tide line.

The order below is random.

1. Gut Oggau “Winifred”, Oggau, Burgenland, Austria

Eduard and Stephanie are based in Oggau, just a couple of kilometres north of Rust, on the western side of the Neusiedlersee. Their (literal) family of wines seem to fit together so well that they genuinely almost appear as if they are truly their children. As I said recently, for me these wines are like the music of the spheres, profoundly beautiful.

Winifred is a blend,  60% Zweigelt with 40% Blaufränkisch in 2017 (the current vintage), 35+-y-o vines off limestone and slate. Is it a rosé, is it a pale red? It doesn’t matter. The red fruits have a crunch to them and there’s a bit of spice, but what lingers (if you let it) is a otherworldly quality, a gentle persistence, almost ghostly, and very beautiful. Refreshing, simple, but also a wine that yearns for wistful contemplation.

UK Importer – Dynamic Vines

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2. Julie Blalagny Fleurie “Chavot”, Beaujolais, France

Balagny has been my to Bojo choice for a few years, despite a strong field, and I’m sure plenty of readers will wonder why I’ve not gone for more obvious, more famous, names. The answer is excitement. The Balagny wines for me are quite close to the edge at times, and are thus always thrilling to sip.

In any bio of Julie you will probably read “artisan” (true), “reclusive” (hmm, maybe) and “challenging” (almost certainly). Like our previous producer, she works naturally, and biodynamically, without addition of sulphur. En Remont is the old vine cuvée (approaching centenarians) from pure granite, but Chavot is from mere thirty-year-olds on basalt, yet it is so complex with ripe red cherry and pomegranate flavours swathing quite firm tannins in the 2014 I drank. This may be Gamay, but it will last a decade, so here I’d have something to look forward to, a red to share with my rescuers.

UK Importer – Tutto Wines

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3. Domaine L’Octavin Betty Rosay,  Arbois, Jura, France

This is a Vin de France, and one I only tried (and wrote about) very recently. It’s actually made from bought-in Gamay fruit from Southern Beaujolais, not from Alice and Charles’ own Arbois vines. So why choose this when there are so many “home cuvées” to select from?

I think this wine exemplifies everything that is not just good but great about Alice Bouvot’s winemaking, and her approach. Hit by the usual weather disasters her answer is to call a mate, and get in the van. When she sees the fruit and tastes it, whether it be her own fruit or not, she decides how best she can express it. Betty Rosay was direct pressed, very gently. The wine is pale, so pale that it almost resembles a ramato style, a kind of oeil de perdrix.

So when you sniff, you are taken aback by the rush of very pure fruit. When you taste it, there’s a concentration akin to the hit of a boiled sweet, or perhaps a fruit smoothie. A tiny hint of CO2 adds lift, and protection. This is simple “fruit” juice but it somehow transcends everything, and the hit is thrilling. A kind of wake-up wine, though it only shows 12% abv.

UK Importer – also Tutto Wines

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4. Rennersistas “In A Hell Mood”, Gols, Burgenland, Austria

This is Stefanie and Susanne’s pétnat. It is also Stefanie’s moniker on Instagram, although absolutely every time I have met her, even on the first day of harvest this year, she seems to be constantly smiling, with never a hint of any hell mood in sight. I met the girls’ father, Helmuth, this year. I admire the trust he has placed in his daughters, allowing them to go in a dramatically different direction. But together they are such a force of nature that I hardly think resistance would have been an option. For what it’s worth, I believe in them too.

The girls may be young but they have had impeccable mentoring from Toms Shobbrook and Lubbe. Their style is unashamedly “natural”, but Weingut Renner owns some of the best parcels of vines on the northeastern side of the Neusiedlersee. Their father makes a very impressive traditional red as part of the Pannobile group of producers.

You need some bubbles on a dessert island and the competition for a petnat slot is very hot (I can think of two Jura wines that were snapping on the heels here). This wine is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, whole bunch pressed and made by the Méthode Ancestrale, seeing around seven months on lees in bottle.

The grapes are picked early (we tasted the Pinot for the 2018 version on that first day of harvest visit this year). The overriding quality is therefore freshness. It’s quite precise. Others have described it as “earthy” and I know what they mean. For me, it has a little bit of a rough edge, which adds to its allure. It isn’t attempting to be a Champagne-lookalike, rather a lively fizz with a bit of guts, the kind of guts the Renner sisters have shown in taking on this project, which mark my words, is changing perceptions in an otherwise conservative part of Burgenland.

UK Importer – Newcomer wines

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5. Champagne Bérêche, Reflet D’Antan, Craon de Ludes, Montagne de Reims, France

Reflet is, for me, not just the pinnacle of Raphael and Vincent Bérêche’s range, it also sits in that same position in relation to the wines of the whole region…in my wholly subjective estimation. Boy, there are some very fine wines, at very fine prices, that would wish to challenge it. But this is my selection, and it is true that having got to know Raphael a little over the years, I respect him more than any other Champagne producer I have met.

The grape mix is nothing unusual, normally a broadly equal blend of the region’s three main varieties, taken from the Bérêche vineyards on the Montagne and in the Marne Valley. After fermentation the wine goes into a cuvée perpetuelle (Raphael insisted once that I should not call it a solera, and of course, as always, he is technically correct). In recent years there was a curtailment of production of Reflet in order for the reserve wines to age even more. When the annual bottling has taken place the wine will see another three years on lees, and a dosage of around 6g/l is introduced at disgorgement.

The result is a wine of astonishing complexity, even on release, although it is built to age gently. When showing maturity it is a powerful statement of what can be produced, a world away from most non-vintage Champagne. Some oxidative flavours will combine with rich honey and dried fruits. For me, this wine is personal. I couldn’t be without it on my desert island, and I’m sure I’d keep the empty bottle for water (and use the others to send out my pleas to be rescued).

UK Importer – Vinetrail

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6. Jean-Pierre Rietsch, Klevener, Mittelbergheim, Alsace, France

I’d need some Alsace wine to keep me company, but why choose this producer and this wine? Especially why not choose a Riesling? I’ve visited Alsace many times over the years. I’ve met a few producers too. Jean-Pierre is probably the most thoughtful I’ve come across. I’d like to say philosophical, but that would be my interpretation, not his. I’ve also covered almost every corner of this stretched out region (never visited Thann), and Mittelbergheim just seems to buzz with excitement.

Klevener from the village of Heiligenstein is in actual fact Savagnin Rose, here grown on argilo-calcaire soils. The Rietsch version sees eleven months on lees, giving it a yellow colour. It’s zippy but with a nutty edge, and a touch of richness (a tiny 0.4g/l of residual sugar in the 2016). It also comes with great purity. I selected this because not only is it a fantastic wine (J-P makes plenty of those), it is also something uniquely different. There are reasons why many of you will never have heard of Klevener de Heiligenstein, but this is not one of them.

UK Importer – Wines Under The Bonnet

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7. Domaine de la Tournelle Vin Jaune, Arbois, Jura, France

Well, I’d have to have a bottle of Vin Jaune, but why La Tournelle? For many years part of my heart has resided at this domaine, not only for the wines, but also for the genuine couple that make them. Arbois is full of nice people, but the Clairets are always first on the lips of younger growers when listing those who have helped them.

Vin Jaune gets its character from the almost seven years it spends under a yeast veil of flor, but things are more nuanced than this. Vin Jaune is aged in lofts, cellars, sheds and almost anywhere a producer can stick it for such a long period. Some are damp, some dry, some well-ventilated and some less so. As a result, some Vin Jaune is nutty and rich, some rather old fashioned, whilst some is surprisingly light on its feet.

What the Clairets have mastered is the ability to produce a Vin Jaune which ages sedately into a beauty of a wine, yet is always approachable and enjoyable young. In many ways it is the essence of what you wish for with the style. It’s also a versatile wine as well, at home equally with the poulet as with the Comté. 

UK Importer – Dynamic Vines

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8. Claus Preisinger Erdeluftgrasundreben Weissburgunder, Gols, Burgenland, Austria

I was going to select Claus’ juicy, entry-level, Blaufränkisch, or Zweigelt, I think the first Preisinger wines I ever bought, but I’ve had this particular wine three times this year, two bottles being from 2013. It’s a masterpiece of skin contact natural winemaking that will impress far more people than it will frighten.

When you visit Claus’ winery, on the northern edge of Gols, you might be a bit surprised. It looks like the kind of modern architecture you would see on “Grand Designs”, jutting out over the vines, which slope to the distant lake. Yet Claus is an instinctive winemaker. What works best for this variety in this vineyard?

For Pinot Blanc from the Erdelgraben site it is Georgian amphora. Five months here, on skins, with spontaneous fermentation, is followed by a period in old oak. The wine isn’t filtered, and Claus actually recommends you shake it up rather than let it settle, to get that full-on lees action in the mouth. It’s rich and citric, sweet and bitter at the same time. And how many 13.5% wines glug down quite as easily as this? Refreshment and inebriation at the same time…for those moments when the ship on the horizon turns out to be merely a mirage (holds true for life too).

Claus is partner to Susanne Renner, such a wonderful combination of talents.

UK Importer – Newcomer Wines

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9. Stéphane & Bénédicte Tissot, Chardonnay La Tour de Curon “Le Clos” 2005, Arbois, Jura, France

I may have written about this specific wine in my previous article, but as I belatedly named it my Wine of the Year 2018 I could not leave it off this list. Guessing that most of you read that previous article, I won’t elaborate too much again here. Stéphane was a young man newly returned from South Africa when I first met him at Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, in Montigny-les-Arsures in the 1990s. I’ve followed his career closely as he has transformed his parents’ domaine into one of the best in France.

This is Chardonnay of a class equal to anything you’ll find anywhere. The vines sit on terraced limestone, tied to single stakes. Great terroir with great exposure. It might be the finest site in the whole Jura region. The wine exudes class, and more than anything, balance. That’s balance between à point fruit, mineral freshness, savoury nuttiness and a line of lemon citrus acidity. It has (this 2005) aged beautifully, though I’m not sure it is quite at its peak.

There’s only one downside to this wine, and that is the conversation I’m going to need to have later this week.

UK Importer – Some of the Domaine A&M/Stéphane Tissot wines are imported via Berry Bros & Rudd, but I don’t think they import the Curon. Enquire at the domaine’s shop on the Place de la Liberté in Arbois

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10. Meinklang Konkret Rot, Pamhagen, Burgenland, Austria

Meinklang makes wines around the southern edge of Austria’s Neusiedlersee, as well as further south, in Hungary, with vines on the rather unusual Somló Massif. Their Austrian vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the winds off the Pannonian plain to the south ensure a relatively disease free environment.

Konkret Rot (there’s also a Weiss) is made from a field blend of varieties, based on Blaufränkisch and Saint-Laurent, from clay soils. The wine is made in concrete egg, a technique which at Meinklang has been expertly refined. Here, you get spiced fruit, a bit of heft (it’s only 13% though), and texture, but that texture is integrated. With a bit of age it can come across as less textured than many orange skin contact wines. The berry flavours are nicely pushed forward by the vinification method.

Meinklang make a lot of different wines, and there are a handful that match this in quality, whether from the wild Graupert vineyards in Austria (where the vines trail free), or the unusual local varieties, like Juhfark, from the volcanic soils of Somló. Or even the Konkret Weiss. But this is unusual enough to make my cut. A fascinating wine. You are never bored drinking it.

UK Importer – Meinklang wines are available through several UK sources. I usually buy mine via Winemakers Club, who import them direct

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11. Jutta Ambrositsch, Sieveringer Ringelspiel, Gemischter Satz, Vienna, Austria

Jutta has a tiny vineyard holding on the hills north of Vienna, where her vines (over 60-years-old) grow on chalky loam. Gemischter Satz is the traditional Austrian field blend and a major part of Vienna’s (revived) wine culture. Jutta grows Grüner Veltliner, Neuberger, Sylvaner, Riesling, Gutedel, and other unidentified vines which make up the twelve grape varieties this cuvée.

Gemischter Satz has a uniqueness which comes from a dominance of terroir and tradition over variety. Everything is co-planted, and everything is picked at the same time and co-fermented. This gives wines that may not be complex (although with Wieninger’s single site wines, they certainly are complex with age), but they do have character and personality. Yet more than anything else, this is just fresh and zippy, with a touch of the savoury. When the heat is on, this (at usually around a sedate 12% alcohol) is the wine to reach for.

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12. Equipo Navazos Manzanilla Pasada Bota 80, Jerez/Sanlúcar, Spain

Equipo Navazos make, or I should rather say “select”, some of the most expressive wines in the world. I couldn’t go to a desert island without Sherry, and I’d want that Sherry to make an impact. That is why I have chosen their 80th release, and a pasada style of Manzanilla.

The wine here comes out of a solera from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín at Sanlúcar. As a Bota Punta, it comes from a single cask selected for its particular qualities. The wine is salty and nutty in equal measure, certainly oxidative in character, with pronounced chalkiness. Despite 16.5% alcohol, the wine exhibits genuine finesse and class, and as with all EN wines, quite astounding length. It’s a profound wine, with an impact that lasts on the palate and in the mind. And unlike some of the other wines here, I’d not need to finish it in one go.

UK Importer – Alliance Wine is the agent

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Okay, well I apologise at the relatively narrow range of wines here. Twelve wines, only three countries, and rather a lot from just two regions. After all, this is just a bit of fun, but if you ever find yourself on a desert island with any of these bad boys, you won’t be sorry.

As for the rest, well I’m happy to forego The Bible and The Compleat (sic) Works of Shakespeare, if I can just have a copy of the Michelin Road Atlas of France (to transport me in my dreams), Wink Lorch’s Jura Wine to read and The Sons of Kemet’s “Your Queen is a Reptile” to listen to (just pips Idles’ “Joy…” as my album of the year), plus something to play it on.

 

 

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

Jura Dinner at The Pig

It was quite fortuitous that, with a trip to Arbois imminent, we (that’s three couples with a passion for all things Jura) had the chance to take over the private room at The Pig, near Brockenhurst in the New Forest last Wednesday, for a Jura evening. Five, I must say, exquisite courses, including the chef’s first attempt at Poulet au Vin Jaune, and eight wines, several of which were exceptional.

The aperitif slot was taken by what remains my favourite Crémant du Jura, Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot Crémant du Jura Indigène. This majestic bottle-fermented sparkler is unusual in two respects. First, most Crémant from the region will be 100% Chardonnay, or at least predominantly so. This wine is comprised of 50% Chardonnay, along with 40% Pinot Noir and 5% each of Poulsard and Trousseau, the red grapes all vinified en blanc and partially aged in wood.

The second unusual aspect of this wine lies in its production. The prise de mousse (the second fermentation in bottle) is initiated by the addition of a liqueur de tirage made from the must of fermenting Vin de Paille. This liqueur is 100% natural grape juice with natural/indigenous yeasts. The second fermentation is much longer than the Jura norm with industrial yeasts, in this case around nine months. The wine then ages on lees for a further 13 months before disgorging (nowadays this has become a zero-dosage wine, so it’s quite dry).

It’s easy to latch onto this wine’s outstanding trait, that of pure elegance. But alongside this, the wine also has a strong influence from its liqueur de tirage, which gives it a slight oxidative edge in an otherwise pure and fresh wine with a fantastic bead of fine bubbles. Head above the parapet time here, but it is almost “Krug-like” (ducks), at least in its style. But this bottle was disgorged in April 2017 and purchased later that same year. I’d say that generally speaking this is better cellared for two years before it hits its peak, but it performed brilliantly to set the tone on the night.

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Our first course of Wild Boar Salami with purple sprouting broccoli, goat’s curd and hazelnuts saw us open Jacques Puffeney Arbois Savagnin 2011, a classic from the now-retired “Pope of Arbois”. It is made in the sous voile style (under the region’s thin layer of flor), aged in an array of old wood (largely foudres) after fermenting with natural yeasts and no additives.

Puffeney has a reputation of being quite reticent to open up, and his wines can be like that as well. They seem on the one hand a little old fashioned, yet they have that same quality as the wines of Pierre Overnoy and Emmanuel Houillon, unbelievable purity. This 2011 had that characteristic nutty tang that comes from flor-aged Savagnin, but which can become pronounced at this address. I often recommend Puffeney’s sous voile Savagnin (the topped-up/ouillé version, if released, is labelled Naturé to distinguish it) as a Vin Jaune alternative. In fact quite a few well-aged Savagnins can rightly be called “a mini Vin Jaune”.

This is a classy wine, although it has some years ahead of it before full maturity. Such wines can live a long time, and have a relatively long plateau of delicious drinkability, changing in style with age but yet not really increasing or diminishing in quality terms.

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The next wine straddled this first course and the second (most of the wines were sampled across several dishes), cider-cured trout, apple, garden mizuna and celery leaf. Indeed we returned to it until the last sip of the evening: Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot Tour de Curon Chardonnay “Le Clos” 2005. It’s a bit of a shame that I posted my review of the year early, because I’d now put this on the pedestal as my wine of the year, and at least one other person at the table felt so too.

The tower in question is not grand, but it does dominate the view on the route through the vines from Arbois to Stéphane’s winery in Montigny-les-Arsures. Stéphane and Bénédicte purchased the clos from the old negociant, Henri Maire, in 2001. The Chardonnay vines planted here, each on a single stake, face southwest on limestone. Limestone gives a very different style of wine to the more common marnes of the region, as those who read my recent comments on Fabrice Dodane’s Saint-Pierre Chardonnay will have noted.

The vineyard is steep and terraced, but is still able to be worked by horse. Stéphane now has nine hectares around the Tour (along with one or two of my other favourite growers), but “Le Clos” remains the core, with its densely planted vines now reaching maturity. The most pathetically used, and often downright lazy, description of Chardonnay like this is “Burgundian”, so I will refrain from using it. Yet in terms of proximity and soil composition, you could clearly be forgiven in thinking that you are drinking something fine from the Côte de Beaune. It certainly fools many, blind, on a regular basis. I wonder whether I could spot it?

Buttery-smooth, rich, yet with balancing citrus-fresh acidity, and a hazelnut note as it finishes, adding a very slight bitterness, is what you get. The length here is, needless to say, pretty amazing. However, it doesn’t come cheap at all. I’ve no idea where my fellow diner sourced this 2005, the 2015 was €70 at the domaine last year. But cheap at twice the price, dare I say.

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The next wine started out as something of a mystery. I bought this bottle of Overnoy 2012 at Plateau in Brighton, from, well, not exactly the take away list, but I think they were being very kind to me. It was, as is the way of these wines, anonymous as to its contents from the label, but you can usually tell by the colour of the wax seal. So, although this wine had been sold as Savagnin, we thought from the seal that it could be a Chardonnay. In the end it turned out to be a ouillé Savagnin.

Pierre Overnoy has now handed over winemaking to his protegé, Manu Houillon, who has been at the domaine for nearly thirty years, but Pierre’s wine passion goes back to the wartime years, when he began helping his father. It’s easy to see him as one of the great old timers with a history like this, and indeed he is, but this belies his intuitive understanding of what makes for fine wine, not least the scrupulous attention to hygiene at Domaine Overnoy-Houillon. It is this which allows them to forego sulphur additions and other additives, making them original natural winemakers, alongside Beaujolais’ famous “gang of four”. Viticulture here is also biodynamic, Ecocert certified.

This Savagnin, from Pupillin’s finest soils, is much more a product of that terroir than any method of winemaking. The Savagnin variety is always topped up here, although they very occasionally make a foray into Vin Jaune (I’ve never tasted one). The flavours really seem to be drawn out in an elegant smoothness. The impression is overall of a very fine wine which lingers on the senses for an age, rather than being capable of micro-analysis. Ethereal perhaps sums it up better than any fruit or spice descriptors.

One facet of winemaking at the Overnoy domaine is long ageing. Wines are aged a few years before release (sometimes much more than a few if the vintage deems it necessary). It’s all about the wine, not the money, or that at least is the impression I’ve always had, and I don’t think it’s cultivated. In this respect, the wine resembles the Puffeney – it would prefer more time. Although I think in this case it doesn’t need it, the wine certainly improved considerably in the glass from its initial shyness, opening out through the meal. It finished up quite magnificent in such company. Don’t judge it until you hit the bottom of the bottle – sound advice with Overnoy.

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The main course was a Hampshire take on the Jura classic, Poulet au Vin Jaune, this time with oyster mushrooms, garden greens and steamed rice. It might offend the purists, but apparently no morilles were to be found. The sauce, as (let’s be honest) with most versions of this dish, was actually made from a base of Savagnin (from the Arbois co-operative). Anyway, it was pretty good. A serious “well done” for a chef who’d never attempted this before.

The cheese course was titled “The Pig’s British “Jura” Board” and was made up of a delicious, ripe, Hampshire Winslade, Somerset Ogleshield and Cornish Gouda (sic). Okay, not exactly three ages of Comté, but very nice cheeses.

We managed not one but two exceptional Vin Jaune. In any other company Jacques Puffeney Vin Jaune 1988 would have been a wine of the night. In a very nutty, quite flor-affected, style. There’s a nice element of age here, but there’s no doubt this will improve for a long time. 1988 is generally thought to be one of the finest Vin Jaune vintages from the 20th Century.

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The next wine does not come from one of those “finest” vintages, but it makes up for that with age. Domaine de La Pinte Vin Jaune 1973 in fact comes from a vintage that was not rated all that highly in the region. But La Pinte goes back a long way, their first vintage being in 1959. They were one of the first in Arbois-Pupillin to convert to biodynamics, although that was in the 1990s, long after this particular wine was made.

There’s a lot of experience here, and it shows in the winemaking. Indeed, I’ve often argued that Domaine de la Pinte gets too little recognition, both for the wines (these days there’s plenty of innovation and looking to the future), as well as for their mentoring of so many young talents (including through their hosting, every second year, of the “Nez dans le Vert” tasting of organic producers’ wines).

What can I say about this 1973? It is all too easy to be in awe of old wines, but what they may lack in power, and in “quality” in its purest technical sense, you gain in other qualities. I tasted this before we headed off to the restaurant and it had an astonishing nose of caramel/toffee, but by the time we got round to drinking it (both Vin Jaune were decanted), that had dissipated. What remained was something in between walnut and almost truffley fungus (that fresh truffle smell, albeit faint). A gentle wine sinking back into the old, well worn, armchair, its work done, yet expecting a long and restful retirement.

There are sometimes older bottles available to buy at La Pinte, occasionally. The price of older Vin Jaune has gone up considerably over the past decade, but compared to most other wine styles, they are not unreasonable. Especially as this is a wine style where considerable age is almost always a plus. We see so many current release VJs on restaurant lists, and people pay top whack without having the chance to savour what this unique wine is all about. After all, we know that the Vercel 1774 sold at auction a few years ago was evidently perfectly drinkable!

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We had a few wines which didn’t get opened (what kind of people end up taking home a bottle of Ganevat Chardonnay?), but we did open Berthet-Bondet Côtes du Jura 2002, an aged version of a Savagnin-based white from one of my favourite producers at Château-Chalon. In such company, following those VJs, this could not really compare, except to add a nice palate-cleansing freshness to the end of our savoury courses. But that does miss the point, because I share with the couple who brought this an appreciation of Jean and Chantal Berthet-Bondet’s wines. It was nice to try a bottle with more than fifteen years age on it, and to see how it still managed to retain genuine freshness and purity.

For dessert we were served poached pear and almond frangipane tart which we paired with Julien Labet Vin de Paille 2003. Wink Lorch, in Jura Wine (2014), calls Alain and Josie Labet “perhaps the greatest unsung heroes of the Jura wine region”, and I could not agree more. They retired in 2012, leaving the domaine in the hands of sons Julien and Romain, and daughter Charline. As a figurehead for the domaine, Julien has certainly brought fame to this corner of the Sud Revermont, and most connoisseurs would hold equal affection for the Labet wines today as for those of near-neighbour, Jean-François Ganevat.

Alain and Josie were right there at the beginning of my Jura wine journey. After a few initial bottles from Henri Maire, it was Labet, along with André and Mireille Tissot (Stéphane’s parents) and the Rolet family, who were the catalysts for my lifelong passion for the region, in the Labets’ case with a Vin Jaune. I have a good few Labet wines in my cellar, but none which go back to the parents’ era. Julien did start helping with winemaking in 1999, and for a while also worked separate vines on his own, so it was a thrill to taste his Julien Labet Vin de Paille 2003.

Vin de Paille translates, of course, as “straw wine”. It is only made in miniscule quantities (estimated at less than 1% of the region’s output each vintage). Even of those who make it, it is not always thrilling, and the regulations are quite strict (including a stipulation for 14% alcohol, which has led Stéphane Tissot and others to make dessert wines outside of the Vin de Paille AOP, and Julien Labet did start making a non-AOC wine called La Paille Perdu but ran into problems over that name with the authorities). In this respect some modern growers seem to view it as rather old fashioned, yet when it is good (have you ever tried an old Chave or Chapoutier Vin de Paille from the Northern Rhône?) it is luscious and so concentrated.

One thing you find with Vin de Paille, and that can be said of this particular wine, is that it is rarely very complex, at least to my palate. I think that is down to the alcohol (which in this case is labelled as 14.5%). That rather luscious sweetness is bound up in honey and lemon, and perhaps something herby or savoury underneath. The concentration does give it length, and this, rather than any pronounced acidity, allows it to linger on the palate longer than the sweet flavours of the pear tart. The Labet Vin de Paille, at least in this era, was usually either 100% Poulsard, or predominently from that grape variety.

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That wasn’t quite the end of proceedings. We were sadly (only on account of the time) unable to whip off the table top in The Pig’s private room (which would reveal a billiard table), and of course the law would not have permitted us to enjoy a cigar as we played. But we were allowed a small glass of Macvin du Jura from the Fruitière Vinicole d’Arbois.

Macvin is a kind of liqueur wine made from the must of Jura grapes, to which is added eau de vie from the marc of Jura grapes. In France this type of wine is known as a mistelle, and the method of stopping the must from fermenting by the addition of spirit is called mûtage. What you get can be an acquired taste, largely because the marc used by some producers can grate a little, to my palate (the spirit must come from the marc of the producer’s own grapes, but need not be made by them…quite a few of the best producers now make, and age, their own, with often stunning results).

The result here is a drink which comes in at 17.5% alcohol, with a certain spirit note but also genuine fruitiness from the fortified, unfermented, grape must…you really get a lovely rounded flavour of mirabelle plums, as the back label suggests. I rarely buy Macvin, despite attempts, occasionally successful, by my favourite producers to make me do so. But it’s a big meal like this where it comes into its own, as a small digestif at the end of the evening. So I’m grateful that one of our company thought to bring one along. We didn’t finish the bottle, but you don’t need to. Like other liqueur wines of this type, it will keep, twenty years as the back label states is a perfectly reasonable suggestion, though I doubt many bottles see a fraction of that.

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An amazing evening of wines, the like of which I probably won’t see for a long time, even in Arbois, that is until we repeat it all next year (which I’m assured we shall). The Pig, I must say, did us proud. You can always guarantee that you will be looked after really well here, but on this visit I felt all the stops had been pulled out.

I think that, as I’ve said before, the New Forest has become one of rural England’s premier destinations for dining, with several fine restaurants to choose from (Chewton Glen and Lime Wood down to the East End Arms and several more), but The Pig has probably established itself as the place I want to dine at most regularly in the forest. It has an attractive location, and in winter the country house cosiness, with the fires all lit, makes it feel extremely comfortable, though if you plan to stay there try to bag a deal – it’s not cheap.

 

 

Posted in Dining, Fine Wine, Jura, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wines of the Year 2018 and stuff like that

It seems a little early to be doing a review of the year at the end of November, but I suspect there will be plenty of other things I want to write about before the Christmas hangover has disappeared, so now is as good a time as any. If my local record shop can release their “Top 100 List” this week, then so can I, though contrary to trepidation, I won’t go quite that far.

If I did a straight awards article I think I’d be in danger of repeating myself from last year, so I’ll just run through a few highlights to get us going, before we move on to the wines themselves.

Wine has now become established on a par with the food at plenty of places which blur the line between wine bar and restaurant, and whilst I do enjoy top nosh at a fane dayning establishment once in a while, I find myself increasingly more comfortable when I know that the wine won’t disappoint at the £50-a-bottle price point (still an awful lot of money and beyond the budget of many), as opposed to £100+-a-bottle at a two-star. You can find such places in most of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities nowadays, but a few have stood out in 2018.

Berlin’s JaJa I find particularly welcoming. It’s not the city’s most well known bar, but tucked off the main road through the Neukölln District, you’d be pushed to find a more genuine welcome, even when it’s rammed full and the staff are doing a good impersonation of people trying to sprint a marathon. Simple food done well, and a lot of fingers firmly on the pulse of natural wine. Some of the better known establishments, especially those in Paris (and indeed, Berlin), can be a lot less welcoming of strangers.

 

In the UK you’d be hard pushed to find somewhere as interesting as Winemakers Club. Interesting on two counts – first, the ambience of a very unusual space. It’s very dark, sometimes very cold (it’s one place you know the wine won’t be ruined by over heating), but second, the wine list. At Winemakers they import a lot themselves, so you’ll find stuff you’ve never heard of. Be adventurous, because John and the team have a lot of friends and very deep knowledge.

Winemakers had two bits of news this year. First off, they actually became a real club. Pay a membership fee (somewhat cheaper than 67 Pall Mall) and enjoy various discounts through the year. Secondly, to the joy of many, Winemakers Deptford tentatively reopened its doors. That is very welcome news.

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Outside of London, Plateau in Brighton has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting places to go for lovers of natural wines (and hey, if I can regularly train it up to London and back for an evening of wine, then you guys can get down here!). The bar/restaurant list is amazing, and a good part of it is available on the takeaway list for a discount of around 30% on table prices. The bonus with Plateau is that the food is up to scratch, and quite innovative, though not fussy. The only place I know on the South Coast that could potentially match Plateau is zero waste restaurant Silo, also in Brighton. But they just need to get their wine act together a bit more. If Plateau were in London it would be chokka every night…which, actually, it almost always is.

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Many readers probably know how much I love Vienna. It’s not only because it puts me a short train ride from some of my favourite producers, but because it is surprisingly well endowed with brilliant restaurants. If I had to choose my favourite meal of 2018 it would probably be the one we had at Mast back in August. The combination of innovative cooking and possibly the best natural list in Vienna makes it the most popular place to go for all the wine trade people I know. It’s just a short stroll, or tram ride, north of the city centre.

Sadly, when I am next in Vienna Mast will be taking their annual holiday, but I’m hoping Glacis Beisl will be open. Glacis is located conveniently round the back of the Museums Quarter, with an attractive garden (though I doubt I’ll be eating out there in January). Ask for “the red book”, their larger wine list if you have time to browse. Glacis is more traditional than Mast in terms of the cooking, but that is no criticism. Especially if you crave a schnitzel. It has been a favourite of mine since my first visit.

 

Best meals in the UK? The highlight was what I hope is becoming an annual outing to The Sportsman at Seasalter in Kent. It’s a total pain to get to, for me at least, but totally worth it for the tasting menu. At the other end of the scale, I went back to 40 Maltby Street for the first time in a couple of years in October, and wondered why it had been so long.

 

Wine dinners and lunches form a big part of my year. If I were writing this article a week from now I’m fairly sure that the next one would feature here. Look in on Wideworldofwine next week to see how we got on drinking a load of old Jura. For the wines alone, then Mark Priestley’s Volcanic Wines dinner at Foxlow in London was probably the standout, although no less exciting was the Sherry lunch at Pizarro in Bermondsey back in February, except that most people left that extravaganza fairly inebriated…it’s a wonder any of us remember it.

Tastings of the Year? That’s fairly easy, despite a crowded field. Newcomer Wines‘ first large scale producer tasting at the RIBA in March was a revelation, with the added bonus of almost all of my favourite Austrian producers under one roof. We missed Real Wine in 2018 (do not fear, it will be back on 12/13 May 2019) but Les Caves de Pyrene celebrated thirty years of business with an extensive tasting in September, showing that they are incapable of standing still. On a smaller scale, tasting the wines of Basket Press Wines at Plateau last February was the beginning of a love affair for the unbelievable secrets Czech Moravia has to offer.

 

Les Caves’ 30th anniversary (“Restyling Wine”)

On a more classical note, anyone who didn’t get to Howard Ripley‘s Great German Pinot Noir Tasting in March missed out on a cracker. German reds have come of age. Tasting Red Squirrel‘s wines is always a treat, and they showed their portfolio at the increasingly popular China Exchange in Soho in September, as indeed did Uncharted Wines. Both have astonishing lists which anyone not acquainted with them ought to explore.

 

Wine visits? Nothing compared to visiting Weingut Renner (Rennersistas) in Gols on the first day of their harvest in August. In retrospect, cycling around Burgenland on one of the hottest days of summer was not as bad as I expected, but the warm welcome we had from Stefanie (not remotely “in a hell mood” despite the picking team starting that morning) was something special. Tasting the first pressed juice from the 2018 harvest was a treat you don’t get every day.

 

A couple of days later Georg Grohs hosted us for a morning, and over lunch, at Wieninger (Vienna). I don’t think any producer has devoted more time to me than Georg did, what a lovely man. I’m so pleased one of Wieninger’s single site Wiener Gemischter Satz won a Best in Show award at the DWWA, helping to put these unique wines a little more prominently on the map internationally.

Book of the Year is easy. Despite brilliant work from Jamie Goode, Peter Liem and Robert Walters (Bursting Bubbles is a great read and a fascinating look at a very different side of Champagne), the accolade must go to Simon Woolf for his Amber Revolution. It’s not just well written, entertaining, informative and well produced (amazing for a self-published work), it is also a book of some importance. Skin contact wine is here to stay, so it’s of benefit to all of us that we have such a knowledgeable guide. There’s something very wrong with wine publishing when something like this doesn’t get snapped up by a major. I’ll be reading it again come the New Year. Read my own review from back in July here.

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As for all the above, I won’t link to them all, but you can track them down and read about them via the search box (top right hand corner on my home page).

Okay, 1,300 words in and he’s not got to the wines yet. Bear with me. I never make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think I’ll make a few this year.

  1. Organise some more wine lunches or dinners. Certainly New Austria needs a plug. Maybe Savoie too (here’s hoping Wink can get the book finished);
  2.  Try to visit Leroy and Brat, plus get along to one of the monthly Wine Pages “Wimps” lunches at La Trompette (didn’t make a single one in 2018);
  3. Pester the usual suspects for another Sherry extravaganza.

And what would I most like in my Christmas stocking? Not a Coravin, I’m afraid, but despite owning way too much wine, I’d bribe Santa for the following:

  1. A six-pack of assorted Swiss whites from Alpine Wines;
  2. A mixed six-pack from Basket Press;
  3. The same from Newcomer Wines; and
  4. A six-pack from New Zealand’s new star, Hermit Ram, via Uncharted Wines.

The following wines were some of my highlights, in no particular order.

Ganevat‘s Vin Jaune 2003 was the best yellow/sous voile wine of 2018, and I’ll readily admit it is beyond my pocket now. Such intensity and class, but still a baby. As was an even younger 2006 we drank at the sadly now defunct The Shipyard in Lymington, scene of some pretty amazing dinners over the past couple of years (I truly mourn its loss).

Of the many wines from Jiri and Zainab’s wonderful Basket Press I would probably choose (with great difficulty) Richard Stávek‘s Špigle Bočky 2015 from Moravia. Well, what’s in a name? Check it out.

 

Sherry…I didn’t drink enough Sherry in 2018, yet I did drink quite a bit! It’s usually the case that some marvel from Equipo Navazos wins out, but among too many fine examples at the aforementioned Sherry lunch at Pizarro, I drank Romate “Old & Plus” Oloroso for the first time. Fascinating, unusual, very good indeed.

From Spain, well, there are big names galore I could extol, but what about Costador Metamorphika Sumoll Blanc Brisat, from one of my favourite producers from Otros Vinos. Red Sumoll continues to thrill, but this rare white is amazing.

 

Sparkling wines are difficult. If I’m not in Champagne, then I think I can concur with Gault Millau in choosing a remarkable long-aged Chardonnay, Ebner Ebenauer Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature 2010. A quite astonishingly fine “Sekt” made by the méthode traditionelle.

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From Champagne we did drink a marvelous Bérêche Campania Remensis in Paris, from my favourite producer so I’m biased. But in that same week I drank my first Champagne from Val Frison. I really enjoyed her Lalore Blanc de Blancs, and I shall be popping her Goustan Blanc de Noirs at some point over Christmas.

 

Raphaël and Vincent Bérêche get another mention here, but not for a sparkling wine. Some years ago they began serious work on reds, and one of the wines someone brought along to our BYO meal at The Sportsman was the Bérêche Coteaux Champenois Rouge “Les Montées” 2014, from vines at Ormes. Every time I visit the Craon I fail to take home any of this, merely because one bottle of the red equates to a bottle of one of their finest Champagnes, and I am reasonably endowed with fine Pinot Noir. I won’t be making that mistake again.

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Somewhat less sparklin’ than the full-on fizz, but still with bubbles, the award for summer fun must go to Strohmeier Schilcher Frizzante, as the tart delights of the Blauer wildbacher grape finally hit UK shores, much to the annoyance of the more serious commentators on Austrian wine, I suspect. If you prefer your summer fun without bubbles, look no further than Domaine de la Tournelle L’Uva Arbosiana, one of the first natural wines from Jura I fell in love with, and that love has not waned one bit.

My discovery of the year was a producer I didn’t know, from a region (Burgenland) I purport to know well. Just shows there’s always something new. The completely anonymous label of the small range from Joiseph does not hint at the wonders within, yet Luka Zeichmann, who has only been making wine at Jois for a couple of years, is a new young star in the ascendant. He’s one of a very strong portfolio at Modal Wines. I tried a few of his wines, most recently at the Out the Box Tasting (always unmissable), but my favourite (I’ve drunk two bottles of this so far) is Fogosch Grüner Veltliner 2016. Frighteningly good.

 

Keeping the skin contact theme going a while longer, there is no doubt that COS Zibibbo in Pithos 2014 from magnum was a highlight of the year, but what about Brash Higgins? Brad Hickey’s amphora Muscat Zibibbo from Riverland fruit (of all places) was also a wonderful surprise. Bloom, his sous voile Chardonnay, is even better, but none of that rarity passed my lips in 2018 (come on Brad!).

 

I’m bound to have missed out plenty of delightful wines, like the unusual Betty Rosay from bought in Gamay fruit sourced in Southern Beaujolais by Alice Bouvot of Domaine L’Octavin in Arbois. Surely the best unpretentious wine of the year (pale, delicate, intensely fruity). Then there’s Ben Walgate’s game changing Qvevri Artego (Ortega) from his Tillingham Wines in East Sussex, near Rye. English wines had a strong showing through 2018, but this is different. PN17 seems so long ago, but you know, I think I drank more PN17 than any other single wine this year. Can’t wait to try Col 2017 again.

 

Oh, then there was this!!!

 

and these…

 

That’s what it’s all about, trying something a bit different. 2018 was not a year of guzzling up all the finest wines in the cellar (which it becomes increasingly difficult to say goodbye to when they become far too expensive to replace), more one of new discoveries that crept up on me, and thrilled. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Wideworldofwine throughout the year (nearly 27,000 views so far this year, already up by 5,000 on 2017, which amazes me). I shall try hard to make 2019 just as interesting for us all.

Finally, here are some of the people I really enjoyed spending time with in 2018. Wine really is full of the most amazing, warm, people. Do you recognise any of them? Do you see yourself? If you do, thanks for helping make 2018 so much fun. And all those I’ve missed, especially everyone who lives in Farringdon Street’s Winemakers Club, and those who have cooked such wonderful food, given us a bed, and most likely plied us with several amazing wines in Paris, Vienna and around the UK.

 

 

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

Recent Wines October/November 2018 #theglouthatbindsus

Quite a diverse range from the past six weeks at home, although four of the ten wines here are from Jura, perhaps a poor attempt to clear a bit of space for the purchases which will be made in the region very soon. As always, I’ve tried to cull things down (more successfully than usual, this time), so that every one of the wines below is a real cracker in its own way.

Apremont 2017, Domaine Giachino, Savoie

Apremont was the first ever Savoie AOC I tasted, back in the 1980s, I think. This wine is a good step up from those early bottles (from the Château). Most of Giachino’s vineyards are on the slopes of Mont Granier, and the Apremont vines are tucked between the rocks and the shore of Lac Saint-André. Apremont is effectively the first of the better known  Savoie crus south of Chambéry, in that boomerang-shaped viticole known as the Combe de Savoie. The soils here are the result of an enormous landslide in the thirteenth century, formed largely of limestone with some marls.

This wine is 100% Jacquère, which some call the workhorse grape of Savoie. Don’t be fooled. Frédéric Giachino has more than twenty years experience here. The vines, over 25 years old, are farmed organically, and although these are not “natural wines” as such, minimal sulphur is used at the domaine. They also ferment with the natural yeasts on the grape, and age the wine on lees.

Characteristically pale, it’s fresh, fruity (lemon citrus) and with a herby finish, and mineral too. It’s not a complex wine, but it’s truly fresh as a mountain glacier. The domaine claims it has bergamot notes, which I admit I didn’t get. There’s a nice lees texture, though, which adds considerable interest. It is relatively inexpensive considering this is a top Savoie producer.

This 2017 was purchased in Paris, although Dynamic Vines bring it into the UK (currently listing 2015 and 2014, which should not be of concern – the producer suggests that it will keep for five-to-ten years).

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Arbois-Pupillin “Côte de Feule” 2011, Hughes-Beguet, Jura

The first time I visited Patrice Beguet in Mesnay (just on the edge of Arbois) I bought some 2011 and 2012 Côte de Feule and set some aside to see how it might age. This vineyard is one of Pupillin’s best, on limestone and marl, with a nice sunny exposure which usually fully ripens the Ploussard, which thrives here. There’s a nice circular walk from the village which takes in the Côte de Feule slope if you ever visit Pupillin.

So, how had it fared? The colour was brick red with an orange glow. The bouquet was autumnal, a little leafy, but still showing some red fruits. The palate had slightly bitter cranberry and redcurrant flavours, pretty mellow now but still with a bit of bite. I’d say this bottle was more or less fully mature, and perhaps best drunk slightly sooner, but I’m glad I kept some. Definitely armchair stuff, sedate.

What I didn’t know when I bought this, is that Patrice’s Côte de Feule was going to become one of the finest reds in the region, a wine to challenge some of the more famous names, from the same slopes even. In recent years I think this wine has got even better, and the new labels are certainly a step forward as well. But if you happen upon an older bottle, you are undoubtedly in for a lovely taste of one of Northern Jura’s finest sites.

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Epileptic Inspiration 2016, Blank Bottle Winery, Elgin, South Africa

I’ve written about Blank Bottle a few times recently, in an article about Pieter Walser’s relationship with Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton, and in another article, meeting, and tasting with, Pieter in London recently (Swig Wines’ Portfolio in Soho). Epileptic Inspiration, a name and label which is quite personal to Pieter, is old vine Semillon. Originally unhappy with what was in barrel, Pieter left it and kind of forgot about it. A year later he tasted it, and as is often the way with these things, was amazed at the transformation.

It’s a little bit buttery on the mid-palate, with the lasting impression being honey and lemon with a tiny hint of lime at the finish. Underlying all this, it develops some nutty textures. You’d never guess, from its freshness, that this rather nimble wine piles in with 14% alcohol. It tastes lighter. There’s a lot going on here, and it evolves as it sits in the glass and warms a little. Brilliant stuff! Okay, my daughter thought it was a little weird, so maybe not one to pull out on Grandma’s birthday. Save it for explorers. I’m not sure many people are making more exciting and thrilling wines in South Africa right now.

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Grand Cellier d’Or 2006, Vilmart, Champagne

Vilmart is certainly a maison of star quality as far as most Champagne connoisseurs are concerned, but many of those will focus (and rightly so) on the top wine there, Coeur de Cuvée. I too adore that wine, but I’ve bought a fair bit of Grand Cellier d’Or in the past as well, and I am rarely any less than thrilled when I open one. This 2006 came from a visit to Vilmart, on the Montagne, in 2012.

Vilmart’s wines always question the old echelle des crus. Their vineyards around Rilly-la-Montagne are all premier cru, yet many would argue that Vilmart makes grand cru wines in all but name. Of course, careful viticulture, careful selection, and fermenting and ageing the wines in wooden foudres, all adds to a harmony between depth and freshness, which Grand Cellier d’Or exemplifies very well without being overwhelmed by the deep complexity which Coeur attains at maturity.

A few technical details: I believe the blend for the 2006 was 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. It had ten months in foudre followed by four years on lees in bottle, and it was disgorged in early 2011 and dosed at 9g/litre.

The 2006 has developed a little more colour over time. The bead is very fine and delicate and, for the vintage, it’s beginning to drink really well. It has depth, as I said. The bouquet is apples, but for me there’s more creamy apricot/peach on the palate. But there’s one more thing to say about this wine which isn’t easy to convey with mere words – it’s such pure joy to drink. Thank you, Laurent.

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Zibibbo in Pithos 2014, COS, Vittoria, Sicily

This wine is more or less legendary. It’s the first vintage of the COS amphora Muscat of Alexandria, bottled only in magnum (there was no 2015 and I only managed to get 2016 in 75cl).

There’s the deep straw-gold of a skin contact wine (seven months on skins in amphora). The nose gives out that clear, floral and musky Muscat fragrance, with a hint of lychee, whilst on the palate you get candied fruit balanced by a more bitter, ever so slightly astringent, spiciness which seems to recreate the texture of the terracotta inside your mouth. There’s also a touch of orange citrus, and a softness too. But whatever you get from the palate, I can assure you that it goes on for a very long time.

I had wondered whether I’d left this too long before opening, but maybe the magnum format helped – this was certainly nowhere near needing to be drunk up quickly. Solent Cellar are still showing four left on their web site, although I’d wager that is an oversight. Les Caves de Pyrene suggested there are no more magnums left from 2014, but this is a new classic from COS and one to follow in future vintages. Every time I tried it, it had the “wow!” factor, none more so than on this occasion.

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Arbois Chardonnay “Les Brûlées” 2015, Domaine de Saint-Pierre, Jura

Fabrice Dodane bought Domaine Saint-Pierre, just outside of Arbois at Mathenay, in 2011, but he’d been managing the domaine for its previous owner for more than twenty years before that. He’s still not as well known as some of his fellow vignerons around Arbois, but his reputation has grown very swiftly in the three years since I first tasted his wines.

Fabrice makes excellent Pinot Noir, and a fine Vin Jaune, among others, but I think that perhaps this 2015 Chardonnay may be my favourite from him so far. Its beauty lies in its freshness, allied to a certain richness from the hot vintage, without that richness playing too great a role. What keeps the wine together is a good mineral spine. It does have 14% alcohol, but it’s a good example of balance, achieved through not picking too late and handling the must carefully. It’s stony on the palate, but there’s a smooth velvet texture too. You’d think those two are incompatible, but that’s the interplay between the freshness and richness. Barrel fermented (25% new), like a white burgundy, it has quite a bit of polish.

Fabrice has Chardonnay at Mathenay, neighbouring Vadans and Arbois (which lies very close, to the south), just under three hectares, being his most planted variety. Les Brulées is a site at Mathenay where the soils are more based on limestone (with, unusually, a little chalk) than the usual marnes of Arbois. This limestone, some say, is what can give these wines such freshness. The winemaking is biodynamic and synthetic additive free, with the exception of a little sulphur added at bottling. I’ve read that Fabrice wants to eliminate sulphur, but doesn’t yet feel ready to do so.

Definitely a domaine to watch carefully, and one to give to any friends who are cautious about natural wines. Domaine de Saint-Pierre is quite widely distributed in the usual independents, via Les Caves de Pyrene.

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Côtes du Jura Trousseau “Les Lumachelles” 2016, Domaine des Cavarodes, Cramans, Jura

Etienne Thiébaud is still in his twenties by my reckoning, but he’s been making wine since his late teens. His small 4.5 hectare domaine is at Cramans, in that most northern part of the region near Arc-et-Senans (and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Saline Royale), which seems to yield some of the most singular personalities of Jura wine (think Catherine Hannoun and Raphaël Monnier), who have put some magic into a one time backwater. He also farms some vines at Arbois.

Etienne got his basic training, as so many inspired Jura winemakers seem to have done, with Evelyne and Pascal Clairet at Domaine de La Tournelle. He may be young, but Etienne was lucky to grab some plots of very old vines (many over a hundred years of age).

This Trousseau is another wine to juxtapose opposites. It is quite pale to look at. Sniff it and you get raspberry and light strawberry, plus a touch of underlying ripe plum. All this gets mirrored on the palate. The fruit is soft-textured and rounded, but there is also a bit of unexpected muscle and sinew. This is what binds everything together. This is a wholly natural wine with, in this case, no added sulphur. It’s good-natured and pure, and wholly lacking in pretence – exactly like Etienne, I’m told.

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Bulles de Minière Rouge, Château de la Minière, Touraine, Loire

Château de la Minière isn’t your normal artisanal natural wine producer like those most of us cut our teeth on when we discovered low intervention winemaking – in fact The Loire quickly became the heartland of natural glouglou in the early days. They are more than just a winery, with quite well developed options for tourism (ten rooms/suites in the 16th Century Château) at Ingrandes-de-Touraine, to the east of Borgueil. The estate has been owned since 2010 by the Van den Berghe family. The vines are currently in conversion to organic farming, and generally wine buyers from smaller importers might consider them too big to look at.

I only know this particular wine from Minière, but I wonder whether the other six or seven wines they make are as interesting? I’ll admit I’m not someone who buys a lot of sparkling reds, but I really liked this Cabernet Franc. It’s made by the Ancestral Method – carbonic maceration, then destemmed and pressed, fermented in stainless steel, fermentation blocked by cooling, a little under a year on lees under crown cap, then disgorged and sealed with cork and muzzle.

It’s a dark and frothy wine, with scents of dark fruits and violets. The palate is packed with fruit, with cherries and blackcurrants to the fore. Light (just 11.5% abv) but with a bit of grip and structure/backbone. It’s a fun wine, pure and simple, which the producers suggest consuming within a year of release, but what fun.

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Bulles de Minière among the Bonfire Night selection chez nous

Betty Rosay Vin de France [2016], Domaine L’Octavin, Arbois, Jura

As with so many producers around France over the past few vintages, Alice Bouvot has tried to ameliorate decimated yields by purchasing grapes from other regions. I recall the last time I saw her, she was rather bleary-eyed at 8.30 in the morning, having driven to Savoie the previous day to collect some.

Betty Rosay is a direct-pressed Gamay made with biodynamic fruit sourced from Patrick Besson in Southern Beaujolais. Although Alice is not unique in this respect, her winemaking approach is unusual. She doesn’t aim to produce the same wine year after year, but reacts to the raw materials she has available. This means that L’Octavin wines are always exciting and even when labelled the same as a previous vintage, you don’t necessarily expect the same approach.

Here, we have a different take on Gamay. Being direct (and gently) pressed, the colour is very pale, a kind of orange-pink. The fruit is intense, exploding in the mouth, pursued by a sprinting, zesty, freshness, riding on a thin bed of CO2. This wine is astonishingly good. I could almost cry whilst tasting it. It’s simple, not complex, but the fruit intensity and liveliness make it far more life affirming than many a posh wine. This is stripped back and pure. I really don’t know how she does it.

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Irouléguy 2009, Domaine Ilarria, Pays Basque

A very long time ago I visited Irouléguy, staying in a lovely chambre d’hôte at the foot of green clad hills, eating delicious basque chicken and drinking the local wines. We then headed into Spain, towards Pamplona, over a pass that leads to Roncesvalles (where Charlemagne stopped the Moorish advance). It was very early in the morning, and as we climbed a hunter came out of the forest, rifle in hand and with a small deer draped over his shoulders. That summed up how atmospheric this region is, green and misty and a little mysterious.

Back then its wine was hardly known in the UK, and today that has changed very little. There are, as far as I’m aware, seven independent producers, along with a fairly good local co-operative. The wines can be red, white or pink. The reds, mostly dominated by Tannat, are still, shall we say, ageworthy, though perhaps approachable sooner than most Madiran.

Peio Espil is the current winemaker at Ilarria, a domaine which has been in the same family for centuries, and he has created one of the region’s best estates, owning around ten hectares under vine. This is the estate’s entry cuvée and, as such, is a blend of 55% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and only around 20% Tannat. It’s still a firm old beast when young. Yapps, who import it, suggest ageing for 5 to 10 years, but this 2009 was still dark, structured and a little tannic (I wouldn’t say rustic, but there’s just a hint of earthiness).

Yields are low at around 25 hl/ha, so the wine tastes quite concentrated, but not at all heavy. It was quite “autumnal”. There’s a whiff of dead leaves in there, but with the nasal zip of bramble fruits. Underneath there’s a hint of ripe red plum. Slightly tongue-staining, you do feel you are getting your daily dose of resveratrol. Yapps recommend pairing it with local dried meats and duck, excellent choices of course. We didn’t drink it with any meat, but it was still a treat well worth waiting for (it had rested many years in the cellar).

It costs about £20 now, probably costing me a little more than half that when this 2009 was purchased, but it’s still very good value today (where the current vintage on sale is 2015). It should be noted, however, that this wine is not vegan, being fined with egg whites, it seems. I mention this because it’s increasingly the case that people reading this Blog are interested in such information.

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