Recent Wines June 2019 #theglouthatbindsus

That was certainly not the warmest June I can remember in the UK. In fact much of the month was wet and unseasonably cold. That means one thing…that we have not cranked our petnat consumption up to usual summer levels yet, although as we moved into July the vermouth has begun stepping up at aperitif time.

There’s only one Jura wine in June’s selection (oh, but what a wine). Otherwise, there are a couple of South Africans, a couple from Alsace (including the only petnat here, and coming right at the end of June), a couple from wider Burgundy, and also in the mix a rare sighting of a Brunello (yes, it was that chilly at times). I’m already getting very excited about July’s treats, but I hope you enjoy this selection first – the most interesting dozen from the wines I drank at home last month.

GUMPOLDSKIRCHNER TRADITION 2016, JOHANNESHOF REINISCH (Thermenregion, Austria)

Thermenregion is possibly one of Austria’s least known wine regions, but it’s only a half hour drive south of Vienna. Johanneshof Reinisch is a well known family company making wines around the villages of Tattendorf and the much better known Gumpoldskirchen.

The “tradition” here in Gumpoldskirchen is the combination of two rather obscure but nevertheless wonderful grape varieties. In fact these two would merit much wider coverage than Austria currently has planted. There are around 130 hectares of Rotgipfler in Thermenregion and 80 hectares of Zierfandler (50% of it planted in Gumpoldskirchen). Reinisch harvests and ferments the two varieties separately before blending into a large cask for four months.

The aim is for freshness, yet with a little exotic fruit. Apricot, peach and mango come through in a wine that is dry but shows really sweet, ripe, fruitiness. This is balanced by lowish alcohol (12.5%) and a crispness which has a mineral texture and a bit of salinity. It’s not a complex wine, not in the way we usually describe complexity, but it’s in a good place (the producer counsels ageing three years). A wonderful chance to try these two varieties blended together.

It would go with many dishes, but with either a simple schnitzel, or some mild kabuli pulao, would be good and certainly with some Wishbone Ash (Blowin’ Free…in a corn field…). This is occasionally stocked by Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton. Astrum Wine Cellars is the UK importer.

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“GIVE & TAKE” 2017, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

I’ve told the story of the grapes for this wine before, but it bears repeating. Pieter Walser always comes up with a name that reflects the wine’s story, and here Pieter wanted to buy some Pinot Blanc from a winemaker at a more wealthy address. For some reason unknown to him, the winemaker told Pieter that the owner had told him not to sell any grapes to the bloke in the shed. However, Pieter had some Semillon going which the winemaker needed, so they managed to do an under the radar swap without the owner’s knowledge.

Give & Take is 100% Pinot Blanc, aged for a year in oak, which adds a certain texture. It’s rich and mellow with nice stone fruits lingering long on the palate. At 14.5% you do need to approach with caution, because like most of the Blank Bottle cuvées, you absolutely don’t notice the alcohol until you attempt to stand up. It’s evil, but I love it. This is one of Pieter Walser’s exclusive bottlings for Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton), and for the label Pieter has drawn the skeletal ruin of the iconic Brighton West Pier. A mere £22 whilst it lasts.

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XINOMAVRO JEUNES VIGNES 2016, THYMIOPOULOS ESTATE (Naoussa, Greece)

This is one of my go-to everyday wines, and many agree with me that it’s one of a handful of top value crackers that Greece seems to produce at a great price alongside her more expensive gems. Naoussa, in the very north of mainland Greece, is normally the source of long-lived, inky, Xinomavro which has earned the region’s wines the epithet of the “Barolo of Greece”. This young vine bottling is nothing of the sort. I reckon it’s closer to a young Burgundy than a Barolo, and drinks like a Beaujolais. But despite all those “B”s, it’s very much a product of its own place, and in possession of its own personality.

Here we have a wine with lightness belying 13% abv, and a faint sense of something more ethereal shimmering above the youthful juicy biodynamic red fruits which make the wine so drinkable. As this is a young vine cuvée, the fruit comes from several vineyards, some at altitude, off schist, granite and limestone. Fermentation of destemmed fruit is in stainless steel with short ageing, a few months, in concrete.

I usually pick this up from Duncan Murray Wines in Market Harborough (Leicestershire), but it’s pretty widely available. I happened to see a news item on the Harpers Wine & Spirits web site that Berkmann Cellars has taken on distribution of Thymiopoulos in the UK (June 2019).

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BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2004, POGGIO SAN POLO (Tuscany, Italy)

Although I drink mainly more natural wines these days, I’m not a fundamentalist, and I have no intention of jettisoning wines cellared for years. In any case, there’s no way these wines shouldn’t be judged on their merits, by which I mean judged on their organoleptic properties rather than their manifesto. I would imagine that a classic wine like this would appeal to many people I know who would find the next red in this selection a lot more challenging.

San Polo is a 16 hectare vineyard located in the northeastern part of the Brunello zone. It was purchased in 2006 by Marilissa Allegrini, and she has done a lot of work to revive it. Back in 2004 it might not have had the same cachet, but age has done this wine many favours. The Sangiovese Grosso grapes come from fairly young vines, at this stage probably no older than 14 years. They were grown at around 450 metres above sea level, so how did it come across?

It’s a dark wine, but with a luminous, almost golden-bronze, tint. The bouquet is quite rich and there’s very nice development of tertiary elements in a wine whose bouquet suggests it’s close to maturity, if not perhaps there already. The wispy violets on the nose are in contrast to the more plump cherry fruit of the palate. There’s a nice bit of decayed leaf and tobacco, with a hint of soily mushroom and coffee grains. Altogether this is a really nice mature Brunello, lacking the spectacular depth and concentration of the last wine I had from the DOCG, but then that was a Soldera Riserva. This San Polo was very satisfying.

I hadn’t realised that this was quite such a Butlers Wine Cellar month, but I purchased this bottle from them quite a few years ago now. Expect to pay around £40+ for a current vintage. The UK importer is Liberty Wines.

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CHAMPAGNE DEHOURS TERRE DE MEUNIER EXTRA BRUT (Champagne, France)

Mareuil-le-Port and its surrounding villages, on the left bank of the Marne, is a source for some lovely Meunier, made all the more so by the age of the vignoble here. It is the source for some of Vincent and Raphaël Bérêche’s best Meunier, and also the source for this excellent varietal wine from Jérôme Dehours. Since Jérôme took over the family estate in 1996 he’s been steadily improving the wines and winemaking, and now his single vineyard wines rate alongside the best growers.

Terre de Meunier is a non-vintage selection, fermented in stainless steel with a small addition of reserve wines kept in oak. It is lightly dosed (I can’t find an exact figure, but I think we are looking at around 2 g/l), having spent a couple of years on lees. It’s a wine which majors on fruit, making it more of an aperitif style than a gastronomic Champagne. But don’t let that put you off. This has extra spicy notes, some freshly baked bread and a little earth as well. It’s a classic Marne Valley Meunier and eminently satisfying. Expect to pay either side of £35 for this, which makes it pretty good value Grower Champagne. If you’d like to buy Prévost but can’t scrape together a loan, then this is worth a try for that varietal Pinot Meunier experience.

I thought this came from Solent Cellar, but I see that their web site currently only lists the Dehours Oeil de Perdrix (also excellent, £40).

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“CARAVAN” VIN DE FRANCE [2017], LE VENDANGEUR MASQUÉ (Chablis, France)

Le Vendangeur Masqué is, of course, the label Alice and Olivier De Moor use for the wines they make from bought in grapes, a trend that is the result of catastrophic vintages in recent years in their Chablis vineyards (frost and hail). This wine is a multi-varietal blend of organic grapes, namely Clairette, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Aligoté, hailing from a diverse array of friends in Southeastern France, Burgundy and Alsace. The grapes are all fermented separately and only blended together after a year in older oak barrels.

The wine has a simplicity to it, in a way, but a better description would perhaps be “purity”. It’s very fruity, with a certain richness as well, but balanced by a glowing brightness on the palate. The texture is deftly judged but grounds it nicely. I tasted this at the Real Wine Fair earlier this year, but the bottle drunk last month was even better. A lovely wine which I was happy to share among five of us, though that left a mere glass for me to savour.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

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PINOT NOIR D’ALSACE 2016, DOMAINE GÉRARD SCHUELLER (Alsace, France)

Bruno Schueller makes increasingly lauded wines from his base at Husseren-les-Châteaux in the south of the region, close to Eguisheim. Of the ten hectares of vines he’s farmed since the age of eighteen, just one hectare is Pinot Noir, off clay-limestone soils that give a unique freshness.

On the whole, Alsace produced very light Pinot Noir in the past, much of it pale red that could be marred by high acidity and lack of any real concentration, though there were fine exceptions. This was down to fairly industrial methods and very high yields. When the Alsace Grand Cru regulations were originally drawn up this noblest of varieties wasn’t delimited for any of the Grand Cru sites, so that those who did produce a fine Pinot Noir were required to come up with a fantasy name, most often a single letter (as in Muré’s “V” for Vorbourg).

Bruno Schueller is trying to do something different. He’s not trying to ape Red Burgundy, as some Pfalz or Baden producers might do. He wants to retain that Alsace lightness, so he makes a Pinot that’s light and fruity. It’s very much a natural wine, with hints of fresh apple, along with very zippy red fruit acidity. No sulphur is added. It’s a super-refreshing wine that benefits from being served cool, even ever so slightly chilled when it’s hot outside. But do take note of the alcohol level. At 13.5% it may not be as gluggable as it tastes. You may need a snooze after emptying the bottle.

Widely available, this bottle probably came from Plateau (Brighton), but I’ve equally picked it up in Paris (both Verre Volé and Les Papilles).

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BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ 2017, DU GRAPPIN (Burgundy, France)

Makers of very fine Côte d’Or micro-negoce wines, the Nielsens are building no less of a reputation for some of their wines that come from further south. Top of the list are their Aligotés. The vineyard from where Andrew sources the fruit for this Aligoté is Perelles le Haut in the Macon village of La Roche-Vineuse. These are ancient vines, over 80-years-old, off white Bathonian limestone marl.

The berries are special, orange-tinged grapes from vines producing very tiny yields, unwanted by most producers down here. Andrew’s team hand harvest them and crush by foot back in his cool Beaune cellars under the city walls. It is aged for six months on fine lees (no skin contact at fermentation for this cuvée) and is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Aligoté always tended to be dry, acidic, and fruitless, that sharp acidity slicing up any fruit like a fine Japanese chef’s knife. Here, we have bags of fruit, mostly gentle lemon and peach. It has a softness, but don’t think that it doesn’t have balancing acidity. It does. Just perhaps not quite the acidity you may expect from an Aligoté. It is one of the most soulful versions of this increasingly popular grape variety you will come across. Possibly atypical but perfectly judged, especially the 11.5% alcohol. This bottle came as a direct purchase from the producer, available via mail order with UK dispatch, but small quantities.

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ROCKING HORSE CAPE WHITE 2014, THORNE & DAUGHERS (Elgin, South Africa)

John and Tasha Seccombe set up Thorne & Daughters only in 2012, in South Africa’s Western Cape. They met at Stellenbosch University, but studying computer science and fine art, not wine. After working in London and Edinburgh John decided to learn winemaking at Plumpton College in Sussex. They returned to the Western Cape in 2008, where John worked at Thelema and Iona, before Thorne & Daughters came into being.

The Rocking Horse white blend, named after a rocking horse they made from old barrel staves for their daughters, is their classic estate signature wine. The varieties are Chenin Blanc (from Bottelary and Swartland, off granite), Roussanne (Voor Pardeberg, clay with decomposed granite), Sauvignons Blanc and Gris (Franschhoek, alluvial soils) and, unusually,  bush vine Chardonnay (off clay/shale). All the vines are 20-35 years old except the Roussanne, which is about ten.

All the grapes are pressed as whole bunches and fermented in old oak. The result is quite rich but well structured. The bouquet is largely orange citrus, peach and herbs at this stage, the palate kicking in with more stone fruit, more tangerine and a quince finish. That finish is also textured and saline. I think it really needs a couple (or so) more years, but the acidity lifts it and you won’t want to lose that. I really enjoyed this, as I continue to move from admiring to falling in love with Cape white blends.

Richard Kelley MW (Dreyfus Ashby) imports this wine, and that (I think) was the original source for this bottle which came from Solent Cellar (now out of stock). Nevertheless, it is quite widely available (Swig, H2Vin and Lay & Wheeler among others). Priced somewhere between £20-£25, it represents great value, but don’t let the price put you off giving more recent vintages a little bottle age.

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ALADASTURI 2017, RAMAZ NIKOLADZE (Nakhshirgele, Georgia)

Ramaz Nikoladze founded what I assume to be the name of his company, Nikoladzeebis Marani, in 2007, in the distant days of our appreciation of Georgian wine. He might be best known for his qvevri wines made from Tsitska and Tsolikouri grape varieties, which he farms at Nakhshirgele, in Western Georgia, but he also farms red grapes from some allegedly old guy called Didimi, some say his father-in-law (the stories in Georgia can become complicated and I’m told its because you are always too drunk/hung over to remember them).

Ramaz is actually a big name in Georgian wine. He co-founded Tblisi’s first natural wine bar, and he’s president of Georgia’s Slow Food Chapter. His winemaking is often portrayed as rustic, but that would be quite misleading. Certainly “traditional”, but Nikoladze clearly knows what he wants to achieve with every cuvée.

This vibrant, pale, Aladasturi red showed a little reduction on opening, but once this protection had blown off the fruit burst through. Its lightness of colour and weight belies the intensity here. It combines red fruits (strawberry) and black fruits (mainly softer blackberry), with a sprig of mint to season. The acidity on the finish makes you think of a slight brambly bitterness.

A truly exciting wine, which I suggest you try as well as his better known orange wines. Every month that passes finds me wanting to visit Georgia/Tblisi more and more, despite what I’m reliably told might happen to my liver. It’s without doubt the wine producing country I’ve not visited that I want to go to most (closely followed by Czech Moravia), though I’m not sure how easy independent wine tourism would be without a guide? Thankfully we can at least find an increasingly wide selection here in the UK., thanks to strong interest and promotion by Nikoladze’s importer.

Les Caves de Pyrene import Ramaz Nikoladze. This bottle came from the same mixed selection of Georgians I picked up late last year, and which I’ve been drinking my way through. Every one so far has made it onto these pages, but this might be the best so far, much as I worship at the altar of the god of skin contact. And look at that 10.5% alcohol. That’s “down in one” territory for some people, but of course I’m far too civilised…

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ARBOIS “TERRE DE GRYPHÉES” 2013, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)

Domaine de la Tournelle remains one of my three or four favourite Jura producers, even though I’ve been unable to visit for a couple of years. Based in the centre of Arbois, they have one of the most lovely bistros I know, outdoors on the bank of the River Cuisance. It was as a sort of celebration for the annual opening of this “summer only” bistro that I popped the cork on this Chardonnay.

It was a mistake. No, it wasn’t corked, nor was it too young. The error I made was that it truly deserved to be shared among more passionate Jura lovers. This beautiful wine was one of my whites of the year so far, and as we are already half way through 2019, that is praise indeed.

Gryphées comes from two separate plots of biodynamic Chardonnay off early Jurassic grey marl. The fruit goes through a gentle pneumatic press, ferments in tank, and is then aged in used 228-litre oak for two years, on lees, and topped up (normal practice elsewhere, but in Jura you need to be clear about this).

The depth of fruit here is what impresses, but also the sheer life in the glass. It has a rich nuttiness, but the counter-balance comes by way of grapefruit freshness, and when you put these together you get balance and length, oh what length. This is outstanding.

Dynamic Vines imports Domaine de la Tournelle, but several of their wines are also available at Antidote Wine Bar, in their new shop (above the bar) near Oxford Circus. Evelyne and Pascal Clairet have a partnership interest in Antidote and they are proud to stock a good selection from the domaine.

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PET EN L’AIR 2017, CLÉMENT ELISA AND FRANCINE KLUR (Alsace, France)

Clément Klur’s family has been making wine in Katzenthal (not far from Turckheim, northwest of Colmar) since the Seventeenth Century, but I guess that’s not all that unusual in Alsace. Clément has been at the domaine for twenty years, farming around seven hectares, and he’s been biodynamic for the past fifteen.

I’ve been a regular buyer of the Klur Crémant d’Alsace for a few years, always enjoying it. I couldn’t resist this petnat as an addition to my summer bubbles. It’s a blend of Riesling (70%) and Muscat (30%) off granite. Following very gentle pressing the must goes into bottle after three weeks, so before fermentation is completed, along with its lees, and with no added sulphur.

There’s a floral Muscat bouquet, with a dry and refreshing palate where there’s acidity, but of a softer shade. If Muscat dominates the nose, Riesling perhaps dominates the tongue. It’s a wine of delicate but intense flavours. This was enjoyed around the table outside on our first really late dinner en plein air this year, as the bats swooped above us and the incense burned. It just proves that summer and petnat are made for each other. The Klurs suggest it will drink well from breakfast to bedtime, but unlike many petnats, this one pushes out 13.5% alcohol. Call me a lightweight, but that’s just a bit too much for breakfast in our place.

This came from Solent Cellar (£25), via Alliance Wine.

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And my two albums of the month – Gong’s legendary 1973 set, “Live au Bataclan”, and the brilliant Gary Clark Jr’s latest, “This Land”.

 

 

 

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Pipette and Other Vinous Writing

Having reached its third Issue in what seems like no time at all, it’s about time I reviewed Pipette, an independent magazine running to three issues per year, coming out in February, June and October (Issue 4 is scheduled for November according to the web site) and devoted wholly to “natural wine”. That forms the first part of this article, but there are a couple of other magazine publications which also deserve being brought to your attention.

Root + Vine is a spin-off from Root + Bone, with a focus on what I might call some of the more interesting parts of the wine world (ie not DRC or Mouton). Vin.s La Passion des Terroirs is a relatively new French publication with a fairly wide remit to cover terroir wines. Root + Vine is cheaply produced, but well designed, relying on enticing articles from writers you really want to read. Vin.s has production values somewhere between RVF and World of Fine Wine.

Finally we will take a small step into Wine “BD”, and then into infinity (if not beyond) with Doug Wregg’s long awaited first novel publication.

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Rachel Signer, a former New York resident who is now based in South Australia, and who was a leading member of the team that brought out Terre Magazine, is the lady behind Pipette. Terre had quite a wide remit. I recall an article on cannabis consumption in Issue 2, but Rachel has made natural wine the sole focus for Pipette and it continues where Terre left off with more fabulous articles which somehow cover the producers, or wine bars etc, you really want to read about. That’s the first thing I’d say about the magazine…it has its finger firmly on the pulse.

So what do we get in Issue 3? Articles on Pineau d’Aunis (desert island wine), Le Verre Volé, Clos Lentiscus, Daniel Sage, Sam Vinciullo, Claus Preisinger, and François Saint-Lô, among others. You get writers like Aaron Ayscough whose intimate knowledge of Beaujolais and the Gamay grape is translated here to Mont Pilat in the Ardèche, and we have young and talented photographers like Ania Smelskaya, who might be better known for creating innovative natural wine lists at Plateau and Silo in Brighton (UK), following her stint at Sager + Wilde, yet here creating the feel and mood of the articles: professional but still fun.

In addition, every issue from now promises a city guide, and Pipette’s guide to where to imbibe natural wine in London is an obvious place to start (don’t worry Paris, Tokyo, Berlin and SF, your time will come, as I hope will Vienna’s).

Pipette is pretty close to Terre in terms of production (same layout, same quality paper and certainly a publication where photography and graphic design are considered important). It’s very easy on the eye, and I love the format, close to A5 and perfect bound, which makes it pretty easy to carry around for planes, trains and automobiles.

Issue 3 runs to 92pp, with just one or two unobtrusive ads, and I paid £18.50 for it in a specialist magazine shop. I think the price might surprise a few people, those accustomed to paying less for wine material, but I’d argue that the price is justified. That’s not just because of the quality. I’m told Rachel believes in actually paying her contributors, far from being a given for writers on wine, I can tell you.

The production quality is very good, irrespective of the fact that the writing easily matches it. And finally, if you do take a nose around a specialist magazine shop like the one where I bought this issue (see http://www.magazinebrighton.com ) you’ll soon realise that in order for a relatively specialist magazine like Pipette to survive they, like others, just have to charge this much, relying on the consumer to pay for quality.

There aren’t many opportunities to read about natural wines in English, and even in French we pretty much only have the more narrowly focused Le Rouge et Le Blanc, so I would recommend supporting Pipette without any hesitation. Subscriptions are available via pipettemagazine.com. The cover art was created by Justine Saint-Lô (see Pur Jus, below).

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ROOT + VINE

Root + Vine is an offshoot of Root + Bone, an independent rag that has a wider focus on food and drink. It doesn’t give away some of its secrets lightly. I know that I grabbed the first “Root + Vine” published separately to Root + Bone, and that it was actually published at the end of 2018. It was hard to track down once I’d been alerted to its existence by not one but two of the contributors. The suggestion that I might find it at Berry Bros London shop proved fruitless (none left), but then I stumbled upon a copy at Winemakers Club later that same day.

Whether there will still be copies knocking around, and whether there will be any more Issues, I’ve no idea, but it was well worth the paltry (in wine media terms) £5 I forked out for it. It runs to fourteen articles, and these include Mark Haisma on the challenges he’s faced in Burgundy, Miquel Hudin on making wine in amphora, Ben Walgate on his Tillingham project, Aaron Ayscough (he crops up all over) on Beaujolais’ furthest flung satellite village, Joss Fowler on Wine Crit, Henry Jeffreys on En Rama Sherry, Simon Riley on urban wineries, Doug Wregg admonishing us to stop dissing, Wine Carbooter Ruth Spivey on wine in London, and Tom Cannavan on wine forums and the great institution known as “WIMPS”. If you’re anything like me, you’d shell out a fiver for just a couple of those.

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VIN.S LA PASSION DES TERROIRS

I also picked this up at the back end of last year in France, a brand new (Issue 1 – Novembre) French wine publication which seems to originate with Groupe EBRA (Le Dauphiné Libéré).

Issue 1 is a perfect bound magazine running to 226pp. It begins with news items, accessories, ways of buying wine, etc, before getting into the meatier features. This is why I bought it. A section on Champagne includes an article on Delphine Richard-Boulard (Champagne Francis Boulard). Other regions include features on Domaine Weinbach (Alsace), La Famille Lapierre (Marcel Lapierre, Beaujolais), Lyonnais Bistronomie, Michel Grisard (Savoie), Pierre Overnoy (Jura), and Gramenon and Chapoutier (Rhône).

Each region has other features, including recipes from a local chef and recommendations from a local caviste. The photos are pretty good, many approaching World of Fine Wine standard, and it only costs 8,50 €. I’d say that if your French is just about acceptable, it’s well worth flicking through the current Issue if you see one in a Tabac or Librarie that sports a selection of wine mags.

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WINE BD

It’s probably also a good place here to mention some wine-related Bon Dessiner. “BD” for wine lovers sort of took off when the Japanese graphic novel “The Drops of God” was translated into French (and initially into English, but I believe that the English translation only made it to five volumes…do please let me know if I’m mistaken). The Drops of God by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto was first published in Japan back in 2005 (English Language edition 2011, Vertical Press, New York). It was described, probably with good reason by Decanter Magazine as “Arguably the most influential wine publication for the past 20 years” at the time.

At the same time I bought the Vin.s magazine mentioned above (Jura visit, December 2018) I picked up Pur Jus Vinification. This is the second volume of Justine Saint-Lô and Fleur Godart’s Pur Jus graphic series on natural wine (Marabout, August 2018). The first volume, on vine growing, is called Pur Jus Cultivons L’Avenir dans les Vignes.

Both work on the same format – visit twenty or more natural wine producers of note, discuss their philosophies and techniques, and render these interactions into a graphic work filled with facts, ideas and humour.

To list all the producers here would be tiresome, and you probably know almost all of them. A few names give a flavour – de Béru, Albertus, Riss, Cotton, Coutelou, Porteret, Overnoy, Péron and Grappe.

In some respects you need slightly better French to read this than Vin.S, because of the colloquial language. The graphics convey the humour…yet at the same time they can be quite surreal. But if you do feel up to giving it a go (I don’t claim fluency) then you can access a nice bunch of lighthearted interviews with some of natural wine’s leading lights.

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If you quite like the idea of wine translated to the graphic novel format, there are a couple in English translations you can look out for. Michel Tolmer is probably the funniest of those writing (and drawing) on wine right now. His adventures of Mimi, Fifi & Glouglou published by Les Éditions de L’Épure describe the wonderful, often pretentious, always amusing, wine tasting scrapes of three obsessives. The stories are always tongue in cheek and afford a wry look at how we ourselves can become ever so slightly ridiculous on our chosen subject. As Jamie Goode suggests in the Introduction, we are all ripe for satire.

Mimi, Fifi & Glouglou – A Short Treatise on Tasting was first published in French in 2013, but an English translation by Doug Wregg (2016, £22) is available. I originally picked this up at the 2017 Real Wine Fair (Michel was signing copies), but I would guess that Les Caves de Pyrene will be able to point you towards a copy.

The Initiates is one of my favourite wine stories in graphic format. It’s a tale of a comic artist and an artisan winemaker changing jobs. It’s written by Étienne Davodeau, and he is that artist who goes to learn about wine from Richard Leroy. They visit vignerons and writers, as each is initiated into the world of the other. It’s a graphic novel all about inspiration, motivation, and a surprisingly similar world view.

This English Language Edition was published by ComicLit, an imprint of NBM Publishing Inc, New York (USA), in 2013, and I still spot it in places which have a good Food & Drink section.

I’m currently reading The History of an Unusual Wine Company in 10 1/2 Chapters by Sir Douglas Wregg, and I suppose if I don’t mention it here I shall misplace the moment.

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What exactly is is, you ask? Well, one of the “Mr Les Caves de Pyrene”s has written a history of the UK’s first, and major, importer of natural wines. Except that it’s less John Julius Norwich and more a cross between Ulysses and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with a little added soupçon of Shelley, Shakespeare and probably Shakespeare’s Sister. It’s published to look like a university dissertation (though thankfully minus the two hundred pages of footnotes at the end, which Doug is doubtless capable of adding if not physically restrained).

I only know Doug a little, but I make no apology for suggesting he is one of my wine heroes (in fact, there aren’t all that many of them). Through his various writings (via blog and wine list) I’ve learnt more about natural wine than from anyone else. I have also shaped my whole wine philosophy around the crap (I mean astute words) he has spouted forth over the decades.

So for me, this ten pound tome has been essential reading, and I promise it’s not because I, to my surprise, found I get a mention deep within. The prose (or is it poetry?)…well, I think the phrase “off at a tangent” (aka AWOL) was invented for this lovely human being. But the tangential exposition is always entertaining and a little bit illuminating. I’m guessing that with the chance to expand, Doug took it and did a Mo Farah twenty-six miler with it. It’s a history of Les Caves…sort of.

Running to 320+ pp it is ironically pretty much the same length as Julian Barnes’ original (the first edition h/b of course), but the Wregg is weightier than the Barnes. This isn’t merely a comparison of towering intellects, albeit with different wiring, but the Wregg is in a soft A4 cover, most likely printed on a HP Photosmart C4780 inkjet, albeit with a new cartridge. If your English is up to it, you can probably still get a copy from Les Caves (I paid a tenner at Real Wine 2019, but I cannot speculate whether, like stocks and shares, it has gone up or down in price since then).

I love it Doug, I really do. Thousands of fans of Mr Robert Parker might not. I hope you sell half as many as Mr Barnes’ second most famous novel.

 

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

Bruno Paillard at Hedonism

I have a bit of a thing for Bruno Paillard Champagne. I may spend a lot of my time drinking the Growers these days, but what I am looking for, always, is wine with a soul, wine which reflects its maker, and wine which even more importantly reflects where it comes from. This can very much be a blended wine from different locations because those locations are still perfectly capable of making their mark in a cuvée.

I had the opportunity on Wednesday to attend the launch of the new 2009 “Assemblage” at Hedonism Wines in London’s Mayfair. Assemblage is a beautiful portrait of the vintages which this small house decides to bottle (it’s not made every year). The icing on the cake was that Alice Paillard was not only showing the 2009, but had brought along the 1999 and 1989 vintages (in magnum) to show alongside it.

Champagne Bruno Paillard has been around since it was founded by Bruno in 1981, after he had been working as a Champagne broker previously. He has since become one of the most highly regarded individuals in, and servants of, the Champagne region, and I sometimes wonder whether his de Gaulle-like height has been a distinct advantage in establishing himself as a natural Leader among his fellow producers.

There are certain aspects of the house which don’t tally with normal preconceptions of a Maison de Champagne. There are bought in grapes, but yet at least 70% of the wine is from vineyards they own. Where the grapes are purchased, they are via a large number of contracts where quality can be easily monitored. A particular obsession here is the desire to have deep rooting vines, vines which can seek the nutrients in the soils, vines which can express their terroir.

Also, production across all the Bruno Paillard wines is not high. I know that a decade ago, total production stood at a few hundred thousand bottles, and I doubt it has increased significantly.

The point of all this is quality. We expect a Marque to have prestige bottlings, and, in many cases, more run-of-the-mill cuvées. At Bruno Paillard the focus is on quality, and for Assemblage that focus is rigorous, which is the reason it isn’t released every vintage.

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ASSEMBLAGE 2009

I think most people would agree that after the beautiful 2008 vintage, 2009 had its challenges. A wet spring and early summer was followed by what some thought at the time was vintage-saving hot weather in August. But the heat continued and so growers risked surmaturité if they didn’t get picking just right.

Paillard harvested early, beginning on 10 September with the Chardonnays on the Côte des Blancs, working north to Mailly at the top of the Montagne, where Pinot Noir was harvested ten days later. They also have some vines down at Les Riceys, in the Aube, but I’m not sure whether any of these grapes went into this “ten village” blend. The fruit was certainly more mature than in many vintages, but acidities were wholly in line with the past ten years.

There is no set blend for Assemblage, but for 2009 equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were used, with no Meunier. Around 20% of the grapes were fermented in barrel, and Paillard only uses the first pressing. This vintage saw ten years ageing before release this week. Seven of these years were on lees, the wine being disgorged in September 2017 (date always stated on the back label), with 5g/litre dosage, making it, as usual, an Extra Brut.

The 2009 was served from 75cl bottle, for reasons I hope would be self-evident for a brand new release. The wine is a lovely bright gold. At first the bouquet hits with freshness, and it shows a characteristic elegant bead. As it opens, the red fruits of the Pinot Noir show first, then some lemon citrus, developing honey after a few minutes. Finally, within the time frame one gets at a tasting, a savoury/umami note appears, which with my limited experience is a trait found in Assemblage, probably in part the result of the long cellar ageing it receives (you might merely find this takes longer to develop from magnum and/or in a cooler vintage).

As a reflection of the vintage, and of the long ageing this wine has had before release, one would expect that the majority of people who will consume it immediately will be very happy. That will certainly be the case. But this is a wine that should retail at around £70, £150 for a magnum. What happens when you age it?

Well, before we have a look, I should just mention the label art. Assemblage has a commissioned artist label each release. Indeed, the 1996 was illustrated by one of my favourite contemporary artists, Sandro Chia, who also happens to own Castello di Romitorio, producing Brunello di Montalcino with his son.

The 2009 vintage label was created by Swedish artist, Anna-Lisa Unkuri. She worked on the theme of “Invitation au Voyage” (the label always has a phrase or sentence which reflects the vintage too). The result seems to fit the feel of a wine which is perhaps a little exotic and invites the senses to travel to the East. For the artist, travel is both a physical experience, and an experience enacted through memory, which fits nicely with the way we can continue to enjoy a wine we feel has a profound impact long after the last drop has been swallowed (or mostly deposited in the crachoir in this case).

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ASSEMBLAGE 1999

The 1999 hails from another warm vintage, and not one to have been regarded as remotely classic in most quarters. It was disgorged in November 2011, so it has had more than seven-and-a-half years of post disgorgement ageing (and as stated, served from magnum, which is the format for all of the Maison BP private reserves). It also had the same 5g/l dosage.

First of all you notice the freshness, which might perhaps be a little surprising if you were merely thinking of the vintage by way of generalisation. In fact that initial freshness (I got there early and tasted the wines very soon after opening) is suggestive of the care that goes into these blends. There’s quite a bit of texture here. It’s chalky texture, but hard chalk. There’s also a touch more structure overall from the magnum. There is a savoury element which develops in this wine too, but I’d characterise it more as minerality, and perhaps a bit of salinity, rather than pure umami.

Interestingly, the blend of varieties in this 1999 is quite different to the new release, and we have a wine dominated by Chardonnay (42%) with equal parts Pinot Noir and Meunier (29%).

This is an impressive wine. A lot of people would drink this now. It has everything that you would generally want from a prestige cuvée of twice the price, yet the next wine opens a new dimension, and a window into the possible.

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ASSEMBLAGE 1989

Another varietal mix entirely, the 1989 (yet another warm vintage) was made up from 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. It was disgorged in 2008 (October, I think), so it has had a long old time ageing in bottle. This showed in its darker gold colour, yet it remains beautifully bright.

The first thing we noticed was a whiff of oxidation. This caused a discussion…I am not at all averse to a bit of oxidation on Champagne so long as two things follow. First, it must not be oxidative to the exclusion of all else, and second, there must also be other elements which can at least match those oxidative notes. In time these other qualities ought to come to the fore.

Actually, other qualities appeared swiftly, and most interesting they were. I got a touch of fresh apple, and then something a little deeper resembling delicious sweet caramel. It wasn’t the full tatin, but a very tiny hint of butter was there as well. Then, as it opened further there were red fruits, honey and beeswax.

For me this extremely complex, and indeed vinous, Assemblage is a wine for the table, and I’d like to try it with partridge or quail, or something like that. I’d also like to see how it unfurls further. It’s certainly a mature wine, but the possibility of discovering how this wine tails off would be rather like the chance to witness a dying star out there in the Galaxy…just think. Not that I’m ever going to sit down around a table with a magnum of this, I don’t suppose, but then what are dreams for? And as with Anna-Lisa Unkuri’s painting for the 2009, I can travel through my memory of it.

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So this was a lovely tasting, and it also provided an opportunity to chat with Alice again. I don’t know what she makes of the particular way I assess and look at the wines, which is not at all focused on some finite number of points to express quality, rather looking at whether the wine has soul and personality. In any event, I like Alice. How could I not, she drinks Rosé des Riceys.

It also afforded the opportunity to have a little look around Hedonism, which is as much a wine museum as a wine shop to enthusiasts, not least those of us who like to find difficult to source and obscure wines. They also have a very good selection of Bruno Paillard in the sparkling wine section to the right as you enter the store.

Champagne Bruno Paillard is imported into the UK by Bibendum. They are represented here by Relish PR/Sally Bishop (sally@relish-pr.co.uk) .

Hedonism Wines is at 3-7 Davies Street, Mayfair, London W1.

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I also had the chance to make my first visit to the upstairs wine shop at Antidote Wine Bar near Carnaby Street that same afternoon. The shop has been open for about three months but I hadn’t yet had time to go to take a look. I grabbed a couple of wines.

Gut Oggau fans will be especially pleased to see they have the new Maskerade cuvées from this favourite Burgenland producer. There’s a red and a white blend, both bottled as litres, and priced at £35. For those aware of the story, they wear masks on the label hiding their identity (we are not told the varieties in the blends). The reason – these are young vineyards which are yet to reveal their true personalities.

These wines have just arrived and are exclusively available at Antidote, at least for now. Don’t hang about.

Antidote is at 12A Newburgh Street, London W1.

Posted in Champagne, Fine Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Shops, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sake and the Wines of Japan by Anthony Rose (Book Review)

Of all the countries outside Europe I would say my favourite has to be Japan. Somehow I find I have an affinity with so much about Japan (though certainly not every aspect of Japanese society). It might surprise British readers who have never visited that so much about this country, however exotic it might seem from a distance, feels not all that removed from the many aspects of our own society. It’s also a country which is far less difficult to navigate, at least in a literal sense, than you would think. But in another sense, Japan is two countries. There is an amazing welcome waiting for you as a tourist, but there is also a very private Japan, where the tourist is unlikely to penetrate without a strong connection.

Sake is a little like that. I’ve visited Japan four times, and every time I’ve got to know sake a little better, yet as with the Japanese language, when it comes to anything deeper than superficial knowledge I have made slow progress. I’m a little further ahead with Japanese wine. After all, wine is my background, and ever since I was aware of Japanese table wines on the UK market I went out of my way to find them. In Japan my first efforts were tentative, hindered once more by my inability to read Japanese script, but now I have broken through the barrier to visit my first vineyards. I hope to do more on my next trip.

You will imagine how happy I was when I heard that established wine writer, Anthony Rose, himself something of a sake expert, has written a book on both subjects. I read this eagerly a month ago, and it has only now found a slot in my schedule for me to write a review.

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On first sight this paperback/softbound book looks rather like a textbook. As part of the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, a relatively new series with approaching twenty titles currently, its production values could be described as “no nonsense”. Photos and diagrams throughout are all in monochrome, save for a nice eight page insert of colour photographs in the middle. But the text is clearly set out.

Where the book scores is that as well as containing at least three of four times as much information as your average coffee table book on the subject of sake, Rose writes in an engaging and easy-to-read style. As well as being a British expert, he’s so obviously a massive enthusiast. That enthusiasm comes through, and it is central to helping the reader assimilate some complex and difficult knowledge…as well as unfamiliar language and culture.

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As you would expect, there’s a good bit of welcome history, an explanation of what exactly sake is and how it is made, along with explanations for the myriad styles of this rice alcohol (you’ll learn a lot about rice along the way). Naturally there is also the obligatory chapter on how to enjoy it. But there’s also a lot of up-to-date information about “Sake‘s New Wave”, the movement making sake great again (including the debunking of certain snobbish attitudes towards sake and its different styles prevalent both inside and outside Japan). There’s also a chapter containing details of sake production outside of Japan, in Australia, the UK, Norway, Spain and the USA (I’ve yet to visit London’s sake brewery, Kanpai, in Peckham, but it’s on my list).

A large part of the book, around a third, is taken over by entries for the main sake breweries in Japan. As well as providing essential information for the visitor, I suspect the real interest here for the reader who is unlikely to spend as much time visiting breweries as Rose, is reading about those breweries whose sakes we can find and taste in our own country, especially as this beverage is currently generating something of a surge on export markets, just as it is finding its renaissance in Japan.

There is a highly useful glossary of terms at the back of the book. To get to grips with this drink you really need to know your Daiginjō from your Junmai and your Nigori from your Genshu. I’ve written myself a list to learn.

The section on the Wines of Japan at first looks a bit like an add-on, but that is not the case. There are still around ninety pages on grape wine in a book of 340+ pages, plus appendices. This section is divided into a useful short chapter on history, grape varieties etc, including very useful paragraphs on visiting Japan’s main wine regions, something you really should try to do if you have the chance – where I have been they are as beautiful as any in Europe, especially those near Nagano on the edge of the Japan Alps.

The rest of the wine section is made up of profiles of the major Japanese wine producers, from the larger companies making wine that you might have found in a UK supermarket (Sol Lucet Koshu in Marks & Spencer), to small boutique producers making wine of superb quality which fly under the radar outside Japan, if indeed they have international distribution.

The Japanese wine industry is going through rapid change right now. First of all, increasingly, quality is being recognised. Japan grows a lot of hybrid varieties (vinifera and labrusca crosses on the whole, such as Delaware, Concord plus the home grown Muscat Bailey A, a red variety, and Kyohō), but a surprising number of European vinifera grapes make (generally) far more successful wine. Some of these are proving successful as site identification improves.

Chardonnay now makes up 5% of plantings and has a bright future, but other less well known varieties are making exciting wines in pockets. Look out for Kerner, Zweigelt, Merlot and (as I have tasted) rather good Albariño and Petit Manseng at Domaine Sogga (Obuse, Nagano). Rose also nicely identifies the potential for Cabernet Franc.

That said, anyone wishing to explore Japanese wine cannot fail to seek out Japan’s native grape variety, Koshu. It’s without doubt the vinifera variety people associate with Japan. It has a thick pink skin, and was originally prized as a table grape (Japan does table grapes oh so well, as any visitor to a Tokyo food store will notice). It takes up 16% of the Japanese vineyard but that is still just under 500 hectares, most of which are in Yamanashi Prefecture (in the Chūbu Region, southwest of Tokyo).

If seriously over-cropped, Koshu can be pretty dilute and nondescript. I’m also not convinced that new oak is the way to go. But when the site is well chosen and yields are within reason (which may not mean “low” in a European context), it makes a lovely fresh, dry wine with nice, almost exotic, fruit concentration. Expect a little salinity as well, to add a touch of complexity, but if you are holding a good glass it will almost certainly possess a genuine purity which you notice.

Koshu has real potential because it can turn its hand to a variety of styles, including sparkling wines, which have only really taken their first steps in Japan, as indeed has sparkling sake. 

There are plenty of experiments with organic and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking in Japan (cf the aforementioned Domaine Sogga, run by the self-deprecating but supremely talented Akihiko Soga…for some reason his name has one “g” and the domaine two). There is massive interest in natural wines in Japan, and in Tokyo you will find plenty of European unicorns. The Japanese are the masters of discerning food and drink consumption, and there are bound to be more experiments in this direction.

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However, the enemy is the climate. For example, if you visit vineyards in summer you will marvel at thousands of small waxed paper umbrellas which cover every bunch of grapes. These protect the grapes from harvest rains, and in fact without them rot would be far more rife. This means, inevitably, that synthetic chemical applications, and indeed chaptalisation, is widespread. There’s also an unhealthy worship of the new barrique in some quarters. Yet given all that, there’s massive potential in Japan and the Japanese are innovative enough that we can be sure of some very exciting discoveries to come.

 

These are the rather beautiful waxed paper umbrellas which protect grapes from the summer rains in most of Japan’s major vineyard regions.

In summary, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Of course, if you plan to visit Japan I’d say it’s essential reading for any drinks lover. There is, I should add, a really useful “Guide to Japan” (Chapter 10), which includes an illuminating introduction (Navigating Japan) and a guide to Tokyo restaurants, bars etc, for finding sake and Japanese wine. It’s more focused on the sort of places you and I would enjoy than those in more general guidebooks. But at the end of the day it’s as much an enjoyable read as a source of invaluable information. It joins that select bunch of drinks books which I know I shall read again, certainly before what I hope will be my fifth visit to Japan in 2020.

Sake and the Wines of Japan by Anthony Rose is published by Infinite Ideas (2018, 380pp, £30).

If you want to discover sake of all styles in the UK it has become far easier in the past five or six years. I began my journey at The Japan Centre, near London’s Piccadilly Circus, but a number of wine merchants and department stores in the capital stock a selection. Quantities of the best sake are not high on export markets, and neither are prices low, but there’s a small selection out there. Some London wine merchants, including small independents, are getting on the sake bandwagon, although some stick doggedly to Japanese spirits. I think we’ll see many more in the next year or so.

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This was the enormous sake table at the recent London Wine Fair. The IWC’s International Sake Challenge takes place in Tokyo every year and Anthony Rose is Co-Chair. I would have needed a whole day to make inroads on these.

At least quantities for sake are not quite so tiny as they are for the best Japanese table wines. You may need to search hard for these, but you can find some of the wines from the larger producers without too much aggravation. I mentioned that Marks & Spencer sold a Koshu (Sol Lucet from Kurambon Winery, Yamanashi) which apparently went down well with customers, but I don’t see it right now on their web site. It may be ever so slightly pedestrian, yet it’s a perfect bottle with which to dip your toe in, and I hope they haven’t delisted it.

For around double the price Selfridges usually have one of Grace Wines’ Koshus, Kayagatake (£22). For other wines I’m loath to recommend any companies which I’ve not dealt with. Aside from Selfridges, the places you might expect to find some (Hedonism, Harrods, Fortnums) all fail to list any.

If you want to get to learn more about sake then I understand that Anthony Rose and Christine Parkinson run occasional courses at Sake No Hana in St James’s Street, London (where Christine is Group Head of Wine for the Hakkasan Group). The next Masterclass is on 20 July, with a final event for 2019 on 19 October. Frustratingly, I can’t make either, but I do plan to attend one as soon as dates work out. Cost is currently £72 per person, and includes a tasting of various sake styles, lunch and a gift bag of goodies. If interested, follow the link here. Then follow the link within that page for more information.

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Posted in Japan, Sake, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mastering Food and Wine Pairing at Masters Superfish

This is a wine blog, and I suppose that when I write about a restaurant I concentrate on the wine…and the food too, of course. But this piece isn’t primarily about either, but rather a musing on “lunch” in a wider sense. Long-term readers will have been, at least vicariously, to Masters before. What is arguably London’s finest “fish & chip restaurant” has been the venue for several notable BYO lunches, which have gone under the banner of fizz and chips (Champagne/sparkling) and fish and fino (Sherry). Both are wonderful accompaniments to Britain’s most traditional dish, but this time we felt like widening it out. A kind of bring what you like lunch.

Masters is something of a London institution. Of course, the capital has other contenders, but Masters, for me, is the place to go for fish & chips, and this is surely backed up by the number of Japanese tourists I always see there. Which other nation is so clued-up about the genuinely best places to eat in any given foreign city?

The fish was particularly good last week. A friend quite rightly pointed out that Masters is always that percentage point better than its usual excellence when it is extremely busy, as it indeed was. The oil will be really hot, which makes a difference. But the full Masters experience is not just the fish. A full lunch comes with plump shell-on prawns and a plate of pickled onions and gherkins the size of a courgette. We couldn’t resist adding in a couple of portions of whitebait, one portion being sufficient for three extremely hungry stomachs.

The chips are lovely, dry, fluffy pieces of properly fried potato. I ordered Haddock on this occasion. One of the diners said it was “certainly the best fish I have had in the UK”. He’s a discerning bloke, and as an Aussie knows a thing or two about fish. It really was that good, although it’s fair to say that it was even a small step up from the wonderful fish I’ve had there previously.

So we’ve established that the food is good. I’m sure we all enjoy our fine dining experiences when they come along, but to eat a simple dish so well done makes one realise that fish and chips is not a national joke. I suppose it’s the equivalent of grabbing some cold meats, paté and a good cheese platter in a Parisian bar.

Such a lunch might be deemed to call for simple wines, but in fact we drank the full range, from inexpensive and simple to frighteningly expensive and complex. It was rather odd that we found that every single one of them went perfectly with the food. The essence of a good wine lunch is naturally good food, good company, and just the right number of wines. This is why, wonderful as our various sherry lunches usually are, you frankly get a bit too inebriated. There is always the journey home to be negotiated.

I think the key to the success of this particular lunch was not too many people, and a group who all know each other, but who in most cases hadn’t seen each other for a little while. The food was by no means anonymous compared to the wines, and neither strove to outdo the other, as can happen if you take a dozen different 1982 Bordeaux to a Michelin Two-Star.

I can think of many places where I’ve had spectacularly successful wine lunches. They range from The Ledbury and The Sportsman (Seasalter), through Noble Rot to The Draper’s Arms and Rochelle Canteen (the list is very far from exhaustive). But my point is that this lunch was no less enjoyable, and it’s hard to imagine that is possible from a venue where I paid £20…that includes £5/bottle corkage and a healthy tip.

I imagine that before we go you’d like me to elaborate on what we drank. Five bottles, from a bottle for the rich to a bottle for the poor. You get them in the order we drank them.

Vouvray Pétillant NV, Huet (Loire, France) – These days this wine is usually vintage dated, but this non-vintage bottle is around a decade old. I don’t remember exactly where I bought it, originally thinking it came from the region, but it may have been a bottle I bought from RSJ, the sadly no longer extant Loire-focused restaurant behind London’s South Bank, and the scene of several wonderful wine dinners back in the day.

As a “pétillant”, this wine has lower atmospheric pressure than a fully sparkling crémant, so the bubbles are finer and a little less profuse. The colour here is dark straw, sowing the signs of bottle age, but this is a wine which will normally go ten or twelve years. It is made, of course, from simply Chenin, and from the younger vines at the estate. This gives acidity and freshness, but around three years in bottle before traditional disgorgement allows it to start down the road of complexity, a journey completed when its owner gives it further cellaring.

If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting it to taste quite as fresh as it did for its age, but I was expecting that hint of tarte tatin that came in after the fresh apple and pears of the attack. It’s a dry wine, but the kind of dry wine that gets you wondering whether there’s just a hint of sugar (I don’t know the dosage, but there’s richness from the tertiary elements). A lovely wine. Armit Wines imports Huet into the UK.

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Dom Pérignon 2002 (Champagne, France) – So, Dom with fish & chips. To some it will sound decadent, to others a waste of a fine wine. I can’t answer for the first (except to thank the remarkable generosity of the man who brought it along), but I will say without hesitation that it was a superb match for my haddock.

I don’t really need to tell you about Moët’s remarkable prestige cuvée, even more remarkable considering the quantity in which this wine is produced. The 2002 has always been, for me with less experience than others, a lovely DP. I had a couple of bottles of ’02 but I’m pretty sure I drank them. Well, this 2002 was still relatively youthful in some respects, certainly in its freshness and a certain steely quality initially. But when it opened out so much seeped out and amplified. The floral bouquet gave way, eventually, to some beguiling, and almost exotic, stone fruit flavours. Oxidative hints? Hmm, not sure, perhaps the faintest little glimmer.

Elegant, long, glorious of course and ready to drink now without any need for unbecoming haste. Very widely available if you have the disposable income. Occasionally worth an early visit to a Waitrose “25% off all wines” promotion (giving away my secrets).

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Chardonnoir 2012, Bodegas Re (Casablanca, Chile) – This is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from a single site, with the dry-farmed vines mostly at least 60-years-old off steep red clay slopes. Both varieties are vinified and aged in French oak, the Pinot Noir vinified as a white (pressed early and gently), but there is a little colour from the red grape skins, more peachy than pink.

Bodegas Re is a fairly large, 72 hectare family operation. The Morandé family farms some of the best of these two varieties in Casablanca and also in the Maule Valley. The aim here is to make something akin to a still Champagne (as the man who brought it explained). It’s a lovely wine, with both weight and elegance, good acidity and the structure to age further. Acidity plays an important part in the structure, and it does taste like a wine that has not gone through malolactic. But at the same time, it does not lack for absolutely the right amount of weight. Very impressive.

Bodegas Re wines are imported by Berry Bros & Rudd, although I didn’t spot this on their web site when trying to find a price.

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Hortas do Caseirinho Frisante (Vinho Verde, Portugal) – Now this is something completely different, although it was no surprise to me, nor the person who brought it, that it was a heavenly match for our food. I told the story at lunch of my first efforts to find and try red Vinho Verde, in Oporto, longer ago than you need to know. A guy in a bar actually tried to persuade me not to drink it. The acidity was ramped up to eleven. Today, things are a little different.

This semi-sparkling red is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Vinhão, Espadal and Touriga Franca. It’s a non-vintage wine, but the grapes saw an eight day cold maceration before temperature-controlled fermentation. It’s a cheap wine that doesn’t taste cheap. The dark purple colour is reflected both on the bouquet and palate. You get plum and the zest of concentrated black fruits. There’s a little soft tannin. It tastes very concentrated yet light, and it only packs 10.5% abv. The fresh fruit acidity cut through the batter on the fish perfectly. I’m told that this is literally cheap as chips in Portugal.

The Wine Society sells this wine’s branco brother for £7.25. If you can find the red version anywhere I’d grab some. Perhaps the person who brought it along might let us know where he found it. I know he generally reads my articles. An ideal breakfast wine too, if such a thing is required.

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‘T Voetpad 2016, Sadie Family Wines (Swartland, South Africa) – Without in any way downgrading the majesty of the DP, we did finish up with something very special. ‘T Voetpad (the footpath, which has connotations with the expression of the landscape) is one of Eben Sadie’s “Old Vine Series” wines. Old vines is no lie here. The vines which make up this white Cape blend are all between 90-to-130 years old, planted on original rootstocks on a site which claims to be one of the Cape’s oldest vineyards.

This classic blend is based on Semillon (both Blanc and the rare Gris) with Palomino, Muscat (d’Alexandrie) and Chenin Blanc, all part of a field blend from this single vineyard. The 2016 is quite rich and packs 13.5% alcohol. The wine has a very interesting profile. Stone fruits such as peach probably dominate, but the outlying elements make it special. Orange citrus, quite unusual, gives a nice edge, accentuated by a little salinity, but I won’t go on.

It is typical of a great field blend in that it tastes, however, like one harmonious whole. I say this, and it was true of this 2016 last week, but we were still drinking a baby. This has a good decade before it if you want to give it free rein to show what it can do. Nevertheless, it was also magnificent young, and I’d be just as tempted myself if I owned a bottle. Sadly I can only offer Pofadder.

Where to find it? Uncorked used to be a rare source for some of the Old Vine Series, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have any now. The UK importer to contact is Fields, Morris & Verdin.

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Masters Superfish is at 191 Waterloo Road, about a six or seven minute walk from Waterloo Station (when you pass The Old Vic Theatre you are more than half way). Pre-arranged corkage is £5/bottle, but they do have their own inimitable wine list. If you take your own wine I recommend you take your own glasses too. They also serve beer, and in the finest Whitby tradition, English tea, if you wish to go native.

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Posted in Artisan Wines, Champagne, Dining, Loire, Portuguese wine, Restaurants, South African Wines, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine and Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines May 2019 #theglouthatbindsus

Although May’s weather wasn’t perfect, it was somewhat better than June has been thus far. That might account for the inspiration to drink once more from the wide brimmed cup. We also drank deeply, I should perhaps say with a degree of shame, so even though I have stuck to fourteen wines here, there were many I hated leaving out. I’d like to mention Champagne Soutiran Blanc de Blancs 2006Von Buhl Forster Jesuitengarten 2009 (lovely mature trocken GG Riesling from the Pfalz) and Tillingham PN17 (I only omit my last bottle of that because I’ve mentioned it many times before, but the ’17 is still lovely).

ZWEIGELT AUTHENTISCH 2016, ALEXANDER KOPPITSCH (Burgenland, Austria)

Alex and Maria tend vines by the shore of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee, based in the town of Neusiedl-am-See, which conveniently has a railway station with a bicycle hire place right next door to it. I only mention this because I think that the cycling here, around the lake, is wonderful…as are the Koppitsch family wines. They are not complex and serious, more soulful and fun, and they reflect the energy and kindness of their makers. There really is something in the air around this large, shallow, lake of reed beds, water fowl, and vines.

On opening, this Zweigelt showed slight reduction, which was easily sorted with a bit of air. It developed that lovely dark bramble fruit palate that makes the variety so eminently gluggable when people don’t try to over work it. Because of this, when the bouquet drifts in, the strawberry perfume is irresistible. At a well balanced 12.5% abv, serve this cool and enjoy. Wines like this can, in their enjoyable simplicity, profoundly change the way you look at wine, and at what supposedly makes a wine “fine”.

Purchased from Fresh Wines of Kinross, Scotland.

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λ’13 CUVÉE EXPERIMENTALE, DOMAINE LIGAS (Pella, Greece)

Thomas, Jason and Meli Ligas make and sell some of the most profound wines in Greece, on the slopes of Paiko Mountain in the north of the country. Here, their vines grow to their own rhythm without intervention, via permaculture, bar a little shoot repositioning now and again. I’ve never visited, but photos always show a profusion of wild flowers which remind me of how Alpine meadows raise Alpine summer cheeses to unimaginable heights. I wonder whether the flora has a similar effect here.

λ’13 (or Lamda ’13 if you prefer) is cloudy (unfiltered), so although light and fresh, it has texture. That lightness hides 13% alcohol. This is one of Ktima Ligas’ small batches of experimental wines, in this case a blend of pergola trained Assyrtiko and Roditis. The overall impression is of a zesty wine with citrus notes (lemon and grapefruit), the texture (from 3-5 days skin contact) giving an ever so slightly bitter edge to a nice finish. If I were to find a style to compare it to, I might (at a stretch) suggest Swiss Chasselas.

Purchased from the takeaway list at Silo, Brighton. For availability contact Dynamic Vines, Bermondsey.

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CHAMPAGNE EXTRA BRUT 2007 “LES PAPILLES CUVÉE”, EMMANUEL LASSAIGNE (Montgueux, France)

Emmanuel Lassaigne, of Champagne Jacques Lassaigne (his father), makes wine in that tiny outpost of the Champagne Region between the Côte des Blancs and the Côte des Bar, close to Troyes. The slopes are all south facing and see more sun than their northern counterparts, but Emmanuel farms with some of the strictest standards in Champagne, he’s fanatical about quality.

He owns 3.5 hectares and buys grapes from a further 2.5 hectares over which he has full control, and I’m presuming it is from those parcels that this cuvée comes. It is made from Chardonnay (90% of the Montgueux vignoble is Chardonnay), for his friends at Paris’ La Cave des Papilles (in the 14th). It’s a nice dark straw colour which gives a hint that there’s lovely depth here. No ordinary “house wine”. It’s actually quite spicy and also vinous…a gastronomic wine if you wish. Lassaigne surely makes some of the best Grower Champagnes around, wines that are seriously under rated among Champagne consumers, but I think not among aficionados. This excellent cuvée is a good way in. Pick one up next time you visit, as I know you surely will.

The current vintage is 2014 (ridiculously inexpensive at €31). Lassaigne also makes Les Papilles Insolites 2016 (€53) for the store, unusually for Montgueux, a Pinot Noir, and the shop lists eleven of his wines in total, right up to La Colline Inspirée (€152).

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MINERAL CHARDONNAY 2013, FRIEDRICH BECKER (Pfalz, Germany)

Fritz Becker Junior (Kleine Fritz to his family and friends) farms vineyards which straddle both the German Pfalz at Schweigen and Alsace, in France, where the ancient monastic vineyards slope steeply down to the Abbey of Wissembourg. I’ve written before mainly about Fritz’s Pinot Noirs from those sites, but this Chardonnay, which I picked up on my visit in 2017, comes from the German vines around Schweigen itself.

This is seriously good, honestly. It has an elegant mineral-tinged nose and it tastes not unlike Chablis, although I’m thinking Tasmania too. It has that chalky citrus freshness, and restraint, but there’s firmness and strength too. As it unfurls you get grapefruit, and even a little butter, on the palate. I suspect I was drinking this too soon, although I don’t recall it being too expensive. I bought more Pinot on that visit and just grabbed some odd bottles of his whites. I really wish I had more.

I have an idea someone brings Becker into the UK, but I can’t think who? Perhaps someone will illuminate me. I think I might have bought Becker at Hedonism in Mayfair (London) some years ago.

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I WISH I WAS A NINJA 2018, TESTALONGA EL BANDITO (Western Cape, South Africa)

Craig and Linda Hawkins make what for me is probably the most exciting, simply-styled, sparkling wines from The Cape. This is a wine that I’m assuming many of my readers will know, but for those who don’t, this Swartland Colombard petnat fizz is exotically fruity (apple, kiwi fruit, peach), with a palate that is dry but soft. It also tastes more frothy than intensely sparkling. To top it all, it only puts out 9.5% alcohol, so you need a couple of bottles between two…ideally.

Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene. Around £20.

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MONTLOUIS “LES TUFFEAUX” 2009, FRANÇOIS CHIDAINE (Loire, France)

This is the most “classic” of the wines from May’s selection, but I’ve loved Chidaine’s wines for many years, and I never fail to visit his excellent wine shop if I’m in Touraine (it doesn’t just sell Chidaine wines) on the left bank of the Loire at Montlouis.

Chidaine sources this cuvée from some of his oldest plots of Chenin Blanc, off soils dominated by the region’s famous yellow limestone, aka Tuffeaux, and from vines up to almost a hundred years old in some parcels.

This ’09 is almost golden in colour, and at a decade old you still get a piercing whiff of quince on the nose. It’s slightly off-dry, or perhaps “rich” is a far better description, although at 13.5% abv it is in perfect balance. This is because a counterpoint to the richness is a gripping mineral bite and a texture that just reminds you of the terroir, whatever the scientists might claim. So, a classic(al) wine, but one so redolent of place.

Purchased from the domaine.

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DIVÝ RYŠÁK 2016, RICHARD STÁVEK (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Richard Stávek makes remarkable wines at Němčičky, in Czech Moravia not too far from the Austrian Border. He has a mixed farm of around 14-15 hectares of which 4.5 ha are devoted to vines. Richard is one of the pioneers of the new bunch of biodynamic and natural winemakers in the region, where he’s been growing grapes since the mid-1990s.

This wine is probably best described as a light red, but even better as a wine which is fairly unique. The blend is complicated. Modry Portugal, Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch) and St-Laurent are the red varieties, Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling the white, and Isabella the French-American hybrid which you can find planted as widely as Vermont, British Columbia, the Azores and Southwestern France.

If I were to use one word for the colour it has to be “luminous”. It looks right out of Chernobyl. “Clairet” would be more polite, but you can’t ignore its rather special vibrancy. A red fruits bouquet leads to a palate with fairly zippy acidity. It both drinks like a white wine, and like a wine with 10.5% abv, rather than the 12.5% on the label. It’s just so fruity and refreshing, an exquisite summer red. It’s a wine to enjoy, not to ponder over, but such enjoyment, if that is what you are looking for.

I have a friend who buys very fine wine. I won’t shame him by giving any more details, but I recall him quite recently talking about having received some Czech wine that would probably go “into the cooking”. I said nowt, but I can’t help finding Czech producers in this part of the country every bit as exciting as the other hubs of European natural wine making. Some of the wines may be eccentric, but boy do they deliver some thrills. Serve this one cool or slightly chilled.

Basket Press Wines is the importer, a wonderful small specialist in Czech wines and those of the wider region.

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HEIDA RÉSERVE SPÉCIALE 2014 “MAITRE DE CHAIS”, PROVINS (Valais, Switzerland)

Provins is one of the larger and better known producers at Sion in the Swiss Valais. They produce a large range of wines, all of good quality. Heida is one of the traditional grapes of the high mountain slopes here, but it is none other than a synonym for Savagnin (and sometimes known as Païen). This part of the Rhône Valley is very sunny, but whilst the light is bright, the altitude of the vineyards, some of Europe’s highest, ameliorates the temperatures.

The wine which results here is clean-tasting, without the nutty signature of Jura-grown Savagnin. Think of the “Traminer” style some producers in Eastern France come up with, but perhaps with a little more weight (13.5% abv). As it has aged the fruit has become a little more exotic, but for me yellow plum is my overall lasting impression. I’d like to say that you also get a hint of Alpine meadow, and I know you’ll think I’m going off on a flight of fancy. But what is wine for if not to allow you to float away to a beautiful location?

People bang on about how expensive Swiss wine is, and they are right, of course. But this can be had for not much more than thirty quid from Alpine Wines, who sell a wide range from this producer among their fine Swiss range.

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PINOT NOIR 2011, DENIS MERCIER (Valais, Switzerland)

Madeleine, Anne-Catherine and Denis Mercier farm at Sierre, just a little further up the Rhône Valley from Sion. Denis and his wife began their 7.5 hectare estate in 1982, and have recently been joined by their daughter, Madeleine, a trained oenologist. They have long had a reputation for producing some of the region’s most harmonious and lovely wines. They fly under the radar in the UK, but I do recall my very old edition of “1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die” featuring their Cornalin, so someone knew their stuff back then.

The difficulty with cellaring wines like this is that I really don’t know when they will peak. This 2011 is stunning right now. It is a perfect garnet-to-ruby red colour, the bouquet is red-fruited with the additional scent of violets, but it is unquestionably developing tertiary nuance through a savoury element. The palate is just gorgeous, silky and sensual. And yet the current vintage of this wine (2017) could have been picked up at the cellar last summer for CHF20. My bottle came from Lavinia in Geneva, and doubtless will cost you more. You may save on petrol but miss the scenery.

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CREMANT DU JURA, A&J-F GANEVAT (Jura, France)

Jean-François Ganevat makes an astonishing array of cuvées these days (someone told me more than 100 now), both from the domaine and with his sister under the A&J-F negoce banner. Some are easier to find than others, and thankfully the Crémant du Jura is one of the former. 100% Chardonnay, the grapes are picked early to preserve acids. The wine is fermented in large old oak demi-muids and then gets a decent 24 months on lees before disgorging. No dosage is added.

It’s one of those wines that is hard to describe in a way that does it justice. It’s not actually my favourite bottle-fermented sparkling wine from Eastern France, not even from the Jura, but I do love it. It’s totally dry, and has a bit more breadth than most Champagne, yet the acidity keeps it in a moderately tight corset. The thing that might give away its producer to better palates than I possess is its salinity, which for me is more important in this wine than any fruit. It also has a certain purity which I guess comes from J-F’s experience and philosophy.

I try to buy the odd bottle of this whenever it’s on the shelf, which I’m not sure it is right now. Another wine from Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene.

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BRUTAL CUVEE 15/16, DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)

Unlike Ganevat’s Crémant, this cuvée from Alice Bouvot in Arbois is hellishly difficult to source. The unusual blend for the Octavin “Brutal Wine Corp” label consists of whole cluster Gamay from 2015 with fifteen days skin contact, and Chardonnay from 2016.

Is it a pale red or a rosé? It’s another luminous wine, and surely such colour brings joy even before you taste it? The raspberry and strawberry fruit is gorgeous, the acidity is tart (verging on brutal for some), but it’s so refreshing and juicy. Don’t let me forget to warn you it’s going to be a little bit cloudy by the time you reach the final third of the bottle. No added sulphur, no filtration. It won’t likely convert a single conservative drinker, but if you want to find the essence of glou, then look no further. There are two possible reactions to this…tears of joy or tears of despair. I hope most of you are with me and unbridled joy. There are actually far more frightening wines than this, folks.

Purchased in Arbois in 2018.

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LES BARRIEUX 2014, JEAN-YVES PÉRON (Savoie, France)

Savoie has come a long way in the past decade, even since I remember nagging Wink Lorch to write a book about the region just as her Jura book was being published. That book is hopefully due to see the light of day later this year, and I’ve been trying to hold back a good stash of wines from that disparate amalgamation of terroirs with which to celebrate its publication. But a friend was finishing a wonderful stint at a wonderful restaurant and I thought I’d open this (and the L’Octavin) to help us mark it.

Jean-Yves farms biodynamically at Conflans, near Albertville, by the confluence of the Arly and Isère rivers. His vines, especially the white varieties, are up to 120-years-old, situated between 300 metres and 600 metres altitude. The estate seems relatively new on the scene, yet is now in its nineteenth year. Jean-Yves specialises in very small production vins parcellaire.

“Les Barrieux” is a skin maceration wine made from white grapes Jacquère, Roussanne and Altesse in the “orange” style. What is most unusual about this singular wine is not the two weeks skin contact, but the fact that it ages under a thin layer of flor. This might shock the unsuspecting. The bouquet is a mixture of orange citrus and rusty metal. The texture is pronounced, and the structure is firmish on the attack, but then you get this extremely long finish which has an entirely unexpected gentleness to it.

In some ways I’d say this is a difficult wine, but for me, genuinely satisfying getting to understand it. I think this came from Gergovie Wines, unless I bought it in France.

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HINTERHOFKABUFF 2016, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Elgin, South Africa)

Pieter Walser is a Stellenbosch boy, but this is Elgin Riesling from a small block, crafted in Pieter’s inimitable style. It’s obvious what the variety is, and you even get a little bit of petrol on the nose to confirm it. But this weighs in at 14% abv, and although Pieter’s wines never appear as powerful as this would suggest, it does boast a weight and breadth you rarely (if ever) find with Riesling.

It’s so enjoyable that it ought to come with a warning on the bottle. You won’t be doing any work if you drink this for lunch, but you’ll have a warm glow as you snooze it off. Instead you get Pieter’s wonderfully demented rendition of the winery shack (hinterhofkabuff) described by a German journalist in a Stern article, which inspired the cuvée’s name. If you didn’t read my article on a man who is very possibly South Africa’s most interesting winemaker, indeed interesting on so many levels, and one of wine’s finest story tellers, then check it out (Blank Bottle at Butlers – Pieter Walser Fills us In – 3 June 2019).

Blank Bottle is imported by SWiG. This (blank) bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar down in Brighton.

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“SIMONE C’EST MOI” VIN DE FRANCE (2014), JULIE BALAGNY (Beaujolais, France)

Very sadly this was my last bottle of Simone. I only really comment on that because I love Julie’s wines and this was a particularly interesting, as well as enjoyable, bottling at every stage I’ve opened one. It is in effect declassified Fleurie, declassified because it took too long to ferment. It’s pale with the most adorable fragrant cherry bouquet, with additionally raspberry fruit on the palate. Light, fresh, quite acidic and with a tiny whiff of volatility (which I think gives it a racy excitement).

For once I think someone has described Julie’s wines far better than I can, so I hope UK importer Tutto Wines doesn’t mind me quoting them. “Like all great wines, there is something about Julie’s not easy to put into words. They are marked by gorgeous aromatics, their delicacy and an almost ethereal quality…” All three poignant observations take the words right out of my mouth. If an artisan could also be described as a poet you have her here.

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Posted in Arbois, Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, Beaujolais, biodynamic wine, Champagne, Czech Wine, German Wine, Greek Wine, Jura, Loire, Natural Wine, Savoie Wine, South African Wines, Swiss Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Flor Hove

I was recently lamenting Brighton’s loss (soon to be London’s gain) of one of the city’s leading restaurants, but true to form as one door closes another door opens. Wild Flor in Hove has been open about four weeks, and we managed to get down to try it out on Sunday evening.

The young team behind Wild Flor (Olie Darby leads the kitchen, whilst Rob Maynard, Faye Hudson and James Thomson head front of house) boasts experience from Brighton & Hove’s Ginger Group of Restaurants, with an ex-Butlers Wine Cellar employee in charge of the wine. I say “young team”, because you can see that extra touch of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in the cooking and the wine list, but one grounded totally in sensible ideas about what will work, commercially. Olie Darby knows that his food needs to have something extra, because Wild Flor is on Church Road, Hove’s restaurant mecca. There are well know places to eat like Forth & Church and Café Malbec among dozens of others within a few hundred metres.

The food is traditional but with innovative touches, and the wine list is extensive, covering most bases. The weight is towards classics (in the widest sense), but Rob Maynard has the kind of depth of knowledge, coupled with a sense of adventure, which has helped him seek out the names that will excite wine lovers like me. Perhaps the wine we drank, from the long by-the-glass list, will show what I mean.

We started out with what might be, in my eyes at least, the best aperitif by the glass in Brighton right now, Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs. This is unquestionably one of my very favourite Champagne producers on the Côte des Blancs, at Mesnil-sur-Oger. The fruit comes from four classic villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant. Bottled as an Extra Brut at just 2g/l dosage, it is dry, with floral and citrus notes giving way to a little toasted hazelnut, and a nice creamy palate has more toast on the finish. It’s such a good wine. I think £14/125ml glass is not outrageous for such a good Champagne, and I’d rather pay that than see something disappointing listed for £9.

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On Sundays at Wild Flor you get a set price menu with two courses for £28 or three courses for £33, but this includes a selection of hors d’oeuvres. These are currently crispbread with romesco, sea bass brandade with Arbequina olive oil, and brisket with spiced tomato and cumin. You could pretty much call this an extra course.

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For my starter (entrée, if you insist, but thankfully they go with the former) I went for citrus cured Loch Duart salmon with fennel and orange, which I paired with François Cotat Sancerre Rosé 2016. This is is such a lovely example of pink Pinot Noir. François Cotat only makes a little rosé, from less than half a hectare at Chavignol. It has a good bit of colour (salmon pink), scents of light raspberry, contrasted with a broader palate of peach and raspberry, with a sprinkling of spice. I don’t know how they tracked down this wine, but putting it on the by-the-glass list was a great idea, and generous. £10/glass.

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My main course was effectively a choice between hake, a mushroom risotto or roasted baby artichoke, or a traditional roast (beef or pork), which is a specific Sunday option (lunch and dinner through the rest of the week offer a wider selection of dishes) . Feeling hungry I went with the roast (beef option). This was accompanied by two reds, a Lignier Gevrey and a Brezza Barolo, again by the glass.

Gevrey-Chambertin “La Justice” 2012, Hubert Lignier is from a lieu-dit to the east of the village, on flat but well draining soils. This has a lovely colour and a scent of intense raspberry, which is just starting to turn with the introduction of a slightly gamey note. The palate is not yet completely mature, with fruit still dominant, but it isn’t tannic. Drinking beautifully now, but good for four or five years I think. £16/glass.

Barolo “Sarmassa” 2011, Giacomo Brezza Brezza has this southwest facing site at around 300 metres altitude, on sand and silt at Barolo itself. The grapes are given a long maceration and a traditional ageing in old wood. Initially you notice, after the fragrant bouquet, that the tannins are soft and smooth. This wine does indeed appeal early in most vintages, but it is quite structured. Cherry and spice dominates the palate. I think this is a really good Barolo, but even though 2011 was quite a hot vintage my own preference would be to drink this after maybe another year in bottle. Still, 99% of drinkers would enjoy this now. £15/glass.

Both reds illustrate one of the pleasing things about the wine list here. There are some bottles with a bit of age. So often you peruse a list and your eye hits on a name you fancy, especially among the classics, only to find that it’s the latest vintage and it’s not ready to drink. The Gevrey was drinking now, and the Barolo too for most people’s tastes.

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I drank most of the Barolo with my cheese course. You can select one of four cheeses as part of the set menu (in place of a sweet dessert), or take all the cheeses with a £10 supplement. I was too full for that, so I went for Comté (I had to restrain myself from being super geeky and asking the age and affineur – only where there’s a Michelin Star is that perhaps acceptable outside of Jura). It came with biscuits, grapes and jelly.

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Wild Flor also offers a vegan menu (the two extra hors d’oeuvres in the first food photo above were part of the vegan package), which my wife was extremely impressed with. The food was really good all round, and I’m not sure how they manage to offer such a large list of wines by the glass, which are also available as a carafe (twenty-three, plus several good beers). Although the wines we drank were towards the more expensive end of the by-the-glass list, you can drink decent Muscadet at £5 and Saladini Pilastri Rosso Piceno for the same.

The longer by-the-bottle list contains some gems. I would have been tempted by Peter Lauer’s 1988 Sekt on another occasion, and if you see that as one of the sparkling wines listed you really know that the person in charge of the wine knows their stuff. Other names on the list include Goisot, Wittmann, Craven, Montenidoli, Keller, Argyros Estate and Guiberteau (the only typo I found on the list). There’s also a cellar selection, one that actually includes two Lopez de Heredia whites (Gravonia and Tondonia), which again shows a knowledge of wine which I sincerely hope doesn’t exceed the demands of their customers down in Hove.

Oh, and even the music was good!

I think it’s fair to say that we shall look forward to going back, and hopefully before too long. Maybe there will even be some of that Sekt left that I so stupidly mentioned. We spent £140+ including service, but the food (one three course menu and one vegan three course menu) came to £61 of that, so you can easily do dinner for a lot less. Two courses of very good food and a glass of wine for £33!

Wild Flor is at 42 Church Road, Hove. They are closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Check out their menus and opening times here.

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Blank Bottle at Butlers – Pieter Walser fills us in.

Blank Bottle Winery was established in an old shack (a hinterhofkabuff, so the “story” goes, see later on) in Somerset West, South Africa, …something like  maybe fifteen-or-so years ago, according to legend (bare with me here). I will briefly relate the “story” (you might know it) of how Pieter Walser had a woman come and ask him for some wine, “anything but Syrah, I hate Syrah”. All Pieter had at that point was some unlabelled Syrah, but she tasted it, loved it and bought it, filling her boot. He never told her. It’s a good story. Is it true? As I’ve got to know Pieter a little, I’m very much inclined to believe it is.

You see, Pieter Walser is the best story teller in wine. His Winery is called Blank Bottle in part because of that story, but also because Pieter refuses to put the grape varieties on his label. He wants people to approach the wine without prejudice, but that does mean that nuisance wine writers like me are going to mess it all up for him. There’s not really any way I can get around telling you the grape varieties in each wine. But like the woman in the story, you can be sure that the wine won’t taste remotely as you might expect.

Furthermore, each wine has its own little histoire, a little story about its origins most likely. I’m not kidding, but you could listen to Pieter all day telling his stories. People would pay good money to listen, and I reckon his UK importer, SWIG Wines, is missing a trick. This tasting, though “tasting” hardly describes it, took place for various trade customers at the Kemp Town store of Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton. Butlers has a special connection with Blank Bottle, because Pieter has made some special cuvées exclusively for them.

The Blank Bottle portfolio now contains something like forty-five wines. Some wines are made every year, but a lot aren’t, either because Pieter gets the opportunity to purchase batches of grapes from random sources, occasionally as a one-off, or sometimes because interesting parcels of less popular varieties which estate owners were happy to get rid of are increasingly ripped up by the money boys to be replaced with international varieties. People like Pieter are keeping alive some of South Africa’s old bush vines by paying good money for grapes few of the big boys would otherwise condescend to pick, or blocks which some old timer farmers would otherwise grub-up if they were only getting the going rate.

* Any prices given below are Butlers’ retail prices. Butlers (no apostrophe) is probably one of the biggest retail stockists of Blank Bottle wines in the UK, although they don’t nearly have them all. I’ve reviewed just nineteen of them here (if I can count). I think the prices are pretty reasonable for the level of excitement in the glass.

Offspring 2017 is an interesting wine to begin a tasting with. If you know that the name means something, and that it doesn’t refer to the 1980s/90s Californian “punk” band (not a possibility to be dismissed, knowing Pieter), then you begin to wonder what it means. This is a cuvée which is habitually made from all the bits and pieces Pieter hasn’t crafted into other wines. It’s his big experiment, the offspring of everything left in the cellar each vintage.

So at least for this first white wine, I won’t be elaborating all of the grape varieties. I do know there’s some Darling/Wellington Chenin, Verdelho from Voor Paardeberg and Elgin Semillon, but that’s all, blended together only at bottling, with minimal added sulphur. It’s a multi-varietal white grape blend, very bright, amazingly so, and a well chosen wine for a 10.30 am opener. The bouquet has fresh, fragrant citrus and stone fruit, and the palate has a nice waxy and stony texture. A simple, refreshing, wine, and at £17.49 just sneaks in as, I think, the second cheapest in the range.

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Orbitofrontal Cortex 2018 is made from fruit from the Western Cape, never the same from year to year, but simply a choice by Pieter of his favourite white wine of the vintage. This vintage the wine contains Verdelho and Palomino from Robertson, Chenin, Háslevelü, Riesling and a few other bits and pieces. It has pale green glints reflected in the light of a low morning sun. We have a complex array of taste components here – hay, baked apple, pear, richness, yet only 12.5% alcohol. Everything is grounded by a crunch of texture and balanced acids. £24, a total bargain (as they say).

The story of the name relates to an experiment about taste perceptions, which involved Pieter being connected up to a brain scan whilst he made subconscious blend selections of his wines, which were then compared to a consciously selected control sample. It sounds very complicated, but I think Pieter managed to prove that his focused palate works differently to the selections of a group of scientists who used the data from his subconscious to suggest blends. Well, Pieter tells it better, but I’m sure he had loads of fun with the experiment, and he got a cracking, and I’m sure soon to be iconic, label idea for his pains.

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It’s worth elaborating a little bit on how Pieter works. Grapes often come to him by word of mouth. He drives thousands of kilometres around harvest time in order to collect fruit, harvesting at optimum ripeness (definitely not over ripeness), often driving up to a farm having heard the grower has a batch for sale. He pays good money, and people get to hear that, and it works in his favour, usually. Because everything is in small batches, he can get the grapes back to the winery swiftly. Almost everything is fermented in small French oak with no additives, other than a bit of sulphur at bottling. Pieter claims he’s way too busy not to let the wines just make themselves, and he realised early on when he had little money that you just don’t need all the chemicals the wine schools suggest that you require.

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018 The name means “fastest route possible” in Afrikaans. Asking for directions from a farmer, they were “take a right after the Shiraz and Carignan, and then left after the Fernão Pires”. Fer…what? he thought. The grapes were his now! This was the first of Pieter’s wines I ever bought.  The variety is Portugal’s Fernão Pires (aka Maria Gomes), planted by a producer in Malmsbury who then decided he didn’t want it. Pieter has a deal to buy the whole lot. This wine, unusually at Blank Bottle, is fermented in tank. It’s another wine that majors on vivacity, with lemony zip over more than just fruit. You get all those savoury elements you might find in a Portuguese white, but with, unquestionably, a touch of sunshine richness as well. £21

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Ultra 2018 There once was a pot maker, famous for his artistic work. But one day he was persuaded to make some amphora-like pots for a wine producer. He layered the clay, building up the vessels in the traditional Georgian way, placing ring upon ring. This way a large pot can be made that would be too big to throw on a wheel, but it takes a long while to form each pot. Several of them ended up leaking, and the producer was angry. It upset the potter so much that he never made a pot again. Pieter had one or two of the pots, which he’d eventually persuaded the producer to sell, and then after a long tale of detective work, tracked the pot maker down to a hermit shack. Pieter is a persuasive guy, and now he has a great relationship with the potter, who is not only making more amphorae for Pieter, but for other producers too.

This wine is a juicy Chenin, all full of unmistakeable orange marmalade fruit (but it’s dry). The farmer who owns the vines is three hours out of Jo’burg, in the sticks. He’s a quiet, unassuming, guy who has a secret. At the weekend he heads for the city where he goes to raves. Pieter said his neighbours have no idea about this guy’s secret life. The label depicts the farmer, in the crowd, at a rave. The wine occupies the amphorae , and it has the texture and salinity that conjures up the outside of the vessel that gave birth to it. £24

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Hinterhofkabuff 2018 I can say honestly that I like every one of Pieter’s Blank Bottle Wines that I’ve tried, but I do have my favourites. This is one, so much so that I drank a bottle of the 2016 vintage a week ago, you may have seen my Instagram picture. This is Riesling from Elgin, off a steep slope with very rocky soil. The wine has breadth, and relatively high alcohol (that 2016 reached 14%), but there’s depth too, and as with any good dry Riesling, there’s plenty of acidity to balance everything nicely. £27.50

Pieter did an interview with the German magazine, Stern, in which the writer described his office-cum-winery as a backyard shack (hinterhofkabuff), so Pieter latched onto this for the name of this stunning wine, and the shack, or maybe an imagining of it in Pieter’s head, appears on the label.

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Pieter enjoys drawing the labels for his wines, but he’s increasingly getting his kids to do it. He pays them, sensibly not until he finally gets paid for the wine himself, so it can be a nice little pocket money earner. The only problems arise over who gets to design for the bigger cuvées. He pays a royalty, not a flat fee, and if one of his children gets a lot more money he might need a rethink.

Moment of Silence 2017 Pieter first made Moment of Silence in 2007, and it’s currently the wine he’s been making longest. It’s also his wine with the biggest production. There’s a very strange connection between Pieter and this wine. Although none of his parents’ generation are involved in wine, Pieter discovered that his family actually owned the farm where these Wellington grapes come from 240 years ago. There are four blocks of old vine Chenin in here, plus one block each of Grenache Blanc and Viognier. The result is ripe, tropical (mango), creamy and zesty, massively refreshing, but with a nice smooth mid-palate. £17

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B-Bos I 2018 Sauvignon Blanc with some Semillon, both from Cape Agulhas, makes this wine, or rather it very much made itself. It’s a cool climate wine with good acidity, and great potential ageability. The alcohol is up at 14.5%, but with all of these wines, you really can’t tell, unless you drink a whole bottle and try to get up, which Pieter did once after disbelieving the lab analysis.

The wine is great, but the story is just as good, if perhaps the most offputting of all of Pieter’s tales. There’s a spider which particularly infests the town of Baardskeerderbos, much as the Funnel Web infests Sydney. This spider has the nickname B-Bos. It’s an ugly orange thing which builds its nest from human hair, allegedly creeping into bedrooms at night to steal hair from men’s beards. The label below is Pieter’s take on the ordeal. £24

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The Empire Strikes Back 2018 A white blend of Verdelho (35%), with more or less equal parts Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc in 2018, all from Stellenbosch. You’d be reasonably likely to nail the origins of this, a satisfying, ripe fruited, slightly textured blend of flavours with a decent dollop of acidity. The label has a red star for the “Swartland Revolution” (the Swartland Rhône guys) and the stripes representing the Empire of South African Wine, Stellenbosch. Pieter felt it was time that the bastion of SA conservatism hit back with something edgy, though this wine isn’t really out there at all, but it is dynamic…and different. £24

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Give and Take 2017 This is one of the wines exclusive to Butlers. The grape variety is Pinot Blanc from Stellenbosch which has had a year in 400-litre French oak. It’s fairly rich, with a bit of weight, and at 14.5% is not the shy and retiring type, but it has a great savoury quality which makes it ready for food. Pieter wanted to get hold of some Pinot Blanc but the winemaker told him the estate owner had said he wasn’t allowed to sell grapes to him. A bit random, and Pieter has no idea why. However, the winemaker needed some more Semillon and a “swap” could take place under the radar. Hence the name. The label depicts Brighton’s iconic ruin of the West Pier. £22

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Manon des Sources 2010 “Manon des Sources” is the nickname of Pieter’s daughter. She drew the label, a self-portrait, aged seven. The grapes are Riesling, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc which comes in at an eye-watering 15.6% abv, so why does this not taste especially alcoholic? The answer lies with more than just acidity. Picking hours before supposed optimum (sic) ripeness may be key, and the low sulphur regime may also play a part. It just seems to be able to handle the alcohol. It’s a bottle to share, though, and maybe between three in this case. I have to say that “Manon” deserves her royalty for the label. £21.99

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69.99999 2016 is, here, a magnum of a wine made by Pieter since 2014, and which has now changed its name to Oppie Koppie because the wine always got named by the percentage of stems used to make the wine (depending on their ripeness…ie almost 70% in 2016, but 80% in 2017). Customers sadly found it hard to cope with a name change and a long number every year. The label depicts a camera photographing the stems. This is majestic 100% Syrah from Paardeberg (Horse Mountain) near Kimberley, site of a famous Boer War battle in 1900 but now site of some fine viticulture. This wine is all about structure and tannins, though the tannins are ripe and elegant. There’s more than a hint of Northern Rhône to this, and putting my money where my mouth is, I lugged one home with me, a thing of beauty. Bottle of 2017 = £25, Magnum of 2016 = £50

Retirement @65 2018 This is a quite different red. The main variety is Cinsaut from 65-year-old bush vines on a mountain slope at Darling. For the new vintage 2018 a tiny dash of Syrah was added. The wine is a little rustic, in a good way. Dusty, perhaps, certainly savoury with some herbs in with the black fruits. A lighter red, which could be best served cool. Pieter reckons Cinsaut is a challenging variety but I’m increasingly finding that more and more South African winemakers are able to rise to the challenge. I think it has an interesting future in the Cape. The label? The first crop Pieter was going to buy was eaten by birds, so he invested in nets, only to find a flock of sheep got in and ate most of the grapes the following year. £27

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Myköffer 2017 “My suitcase”, signifies a suitcase full of memories. The first guilty pleasure of wine over indulgence for Pieter, as a student, was Tassenberg, a commercial red of which over 4 million litres is made each year. Cheap but quite decent, I’m told. His first winemaking job involved actually producing it, where he discovered that the sweet strawberry fruit component he loved as a student was the Cinsaut variety. Pieter had bought that variety on several occasions after setting up on his own, but he could never find Cinsaut with the same profile. That was until he discovered a vineyard in the relatively unknown area of Breedekloof (Darling), up in the mountains east of Paarl, where the grapes had previously been going to a large co-operative.

The vineyard itself is comprised of former bush vines, since raised up on wires and trained on low trellises, on a flat and rocky river bed on the valley floor. Pieter exercised forty pickers to selectively choose ripe bunches in a vineyard that would otherwise have produced quantity over quality. The pale juice went into open top fermenters as whole bunches for foot treading,  before ageing for one year in French oak. The result is a juicy wine with up-front fruit and 13.5% alcohol. It really is another delicious Cinsaut, with a bit more body than Retirement @65. £26.50

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Wolf Alaser 2017 This is very possibly a one-off cuvée. Pieter reckons he’s not sure what fruit went into this wine, perhaps 20% being Syrah from Oppie Koppie. It’s odds and ends that were used for topping up other cuvées, from which a single barrel was left, just 300 bottles. It was pretty tasty with nice sappy fruit and whilst you might wonder at the higher price if it really is merely some odds and ends Pieter threw into a barrel, you just need to taste the result. And, of course, it’s pretty rare stuff. The label was designed by Pieter’s son, who invented “Wolf Alaser” as a graffiti tag. £35

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A Sigh of Relief 2017 This is the second to last vintage of this cuvée, because the vineyard has been grubbed up. Why? The owner bought a “Merlot” vineyard on Helderberg Mountain, but it turned out that the top part of the site was actually Cabernet Franc, as discovered by a well known viticultural expert who noticed the vines’ bronze growth points in the morning sun, something unique to Cab Franc. I’d have rejoiced, but not so the owner. The nursery probably received a rude email.

The first thing you notice is the amazing bouquet, essence of ethereal violet. There’s a little bit of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in here too, but this is in essence a Stellenbosch Cabernet Franc, of both power, concentration and elegance. £23.99

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It is What It is 2016 The second of the wines exclusive to Butlers is based upon another now ripped out Stellenbosch vineyard, pulled up by their owner on a whim in just one day. I think it’s important to say, for a second time, at this point that there’s a part of the South African wine industry, based on money, which follows wine fashions. This is leading to the destruction of valuable old vine stock capable of making lovely wines.

This one is not aiming at greatness, nor profundity. It’s just a super-interesting mix of Tempranillo from that site, with some Nebbiolo from Goudini in the Breede River Valley, plus a bit of Tulbach Carignan. Aside from being a nice glass, it’s stuff like this, an unusual if not a unique blend, that excites the vinous explorer in me. It’s like discovering a new plant in the Himalayas, or a new species of moth in Uzbekistan. But it’s never going to be repeated, so it is what it is. The label depicts Henry Butler. I think Pieter has captured his essence there…£22

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Pinotage 2018 Actually, this wine doesn’t have a name yet (nor a label, hence the photo of the wine instead). It will be the next of the exclusive Butlers bottlings. I will admit I’ve not been a fan of Pinotage in the past. I grew up on all that burnt rubbery stuff. This is just fruity and juicy. Pieter says the key is to treat it like Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir, of course, being one of the variety’s parents, along with Cinsaut). With this particular wine you might even think it’s a pure Pinot, with its high-toned  ripe fruit, powdery tannins and prickly acids. It suggests it might age well for a year or two, in the unlikely event it gets the chance to.

The fruit here is from Darling, and grows below the vineyard from where Pieter sources Retirement @65. This is old vine Pinotage grown on decomposed granite with a year in oak. I shall look forward to this wine arriving, hopefully, by the autumn. I don’t know the price yet. It should provide a replacement for the Tempranillo blend, though I think there’s still some of that left to grab if you are swift.

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But Why? 2016 The penultimate bottle from this long and extensive tasting is a Cabernet Sauvignon, which grows on sandy soils just below the 750 metre contour in Stellenbosch. The first thought that might come into your head is how on earth they ripen Cabernet at 740 metres above sea level? Temperatures can indeed be low, but the key is the unbelievable levels of radiation (sunlight), way higher at the top than at the bottom of the mountain. The vines do indeed produce mature fruit, but with lower alcohol levels, the result of slow sugar accumulation from a long hang time. There’s no greenness either. The sand adds to the wine’s elegance. There will be no Cabernet Sauvignon from this site in 2017 due to smoke taint, but the vines survived the bush fire and But Why? will make a return in 2018. No price available.

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Jaaa Bru!!! 2017 We finish with one of Pieter Walser’s most captivating wines to look at. It comes in a stumpy bottle with a label depicting a fearsome open mouth with a protruding tongue. The variety is Malbec, which by coincidence translates in Afrikaans as “crazy mouth”. “Ja Bru” is a common Afrikaans greeting, “yes brother”. It’s Stellenbosch Malbec, picked early so that it only reaches 13.5% abv (!). It has a real minty, eucalyptus, profile over dense and darker fruit. Quite a big wine, but uniquely South African. I really like it…really. And of course I love the bottle too.

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I hope I was able to convey just a little of the ambience at the tasting. Around twenty wines were sipped (and spat, but I was next to the spittoon and it didn’t see a lot of activity) in a little over a couple of hours. I really can’t begin to tell ’em like Pieter does, so if you ever have the opportunity to listen to him, take it.

He’s not the most socially extrovert person making wine in the Cape. I think he’s far more at home trekking after grapes, or out on the surf. But he has a canny knack for marketing, and if you produce thirty different wines each vintage you need a bit of sales patter. I know that really he does enjoy telling these stories, and I can think of no one better at doing it.

I’ve not even related his best story, which has nothing to do with wine. Ask him whether when out surfing he’s ever met a shark!

For what it’s worth, I think he’s a great guy and fantastic company when mixing with people who truly appreciate wine. As for his wines, how would it be possible to read this and (aside from the stories) not conclude that Blank Bottle Winery is making some of the most exciting wines in South Africa today? That’s a pretty big claim from me. You just need to try a few bottles to see if I’m on the mark.

Butlers Wine Cellar has two shops in Brighton, at 247 Queen’s Park Road, BN2 and 88 St George’s Road, Kemp Town, BN2. See their web site here and check the Contact Page for opening hours.

Other retailers see SWIG‘s Blank Bottle page here.

Wine labels as shirt cuffs, a first for me but Henry’s a stylish guy.

Posted in Artisan Wines, South African Wines, Wine, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

London Wine Fair 2019, Part 2

My coverage of the London Wine Fair 2019 continues here in Part 2. If you did happen to miss Part 1, you will find it (along with any introductory and more general comments) here. This second part covers some wines from Red Squirrel, Modal Wines and The Knotted Vine, along with the new Rhône estate I mentioned in Part 1, and a brief visit to the Nyetimber Bus.

RED SQUIRREL WINE

Although only founded as recently as 2012, Red Squirrel has made a very big impact on the market. Their portfolio, growing all the time, has topped fifty producers. There’s no specialisation of country or region here, but they are pretty good at finding stars that have not yet been discovered, such as their Etna producer below.

Black Chalk Wild Rose 2016 (Hampshire, UK) I’ve got more than a soft spot for Black Chalk, which is why I’ve written about them a few times. It’s hard to believe they only launched at LWF2018, and one year on they are garnering praise as one of England’s best up-and-coming new wine ventures. The inaugural Black Chalk Classic 2015 was on show, but I wanted to try the new vintage Wild Rose 2016.

The grapes for both the Black Chalk wines are selected by Jacob Leadley from local friends, all off Hampshire chalkland sites. The breakdown is 41% Pinot Noir, 38% Meunier and 21% Chardonnay for the 2016 Rosé. Fermentation is in a mix of oak and stainless steel, after which it spends 20 months on lees in bottle. It was dosed at 7g/l after disgorgement in November 2018, so it has a little post-disgorgement bottle age too.

There are gorgeous ripe red fruits on a wave of crisp acidity. Freshness and elegance helps this pink stand out. It’s not remotely clumsy. Retail you should pay around £40. Some may suggest English Sparkling Wine is getting close to Champagne pricing, but we should remember that the costs of making sparkling wine in the UK are at least as high as doing so in France, probably more. And in any case, the quality definitely warrants it. For me, this is worth a premium. A lovely, lovely wine.

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Beaujolais Cuvée Kéké 2018, Kewin Descombes (Beaujolais, France) Kewin “Kéké” Descombes is one of the new breed of Beaujolais winemakers (I think he’s still under thirty) who have a family history in the region. In fact few could claim ties as strong as Kewin’s, being the son of Georges Descombes (of Gang of Four fame), and the half-brother of Damien Coquelet, another feted young producer. He farms around six hectares in the vicinity of Morgon.

This Beaujolais cuvée comes off a 1.2 ha site Kewin rents, farmed organically like all his vines. Winemaking is simple, full carbonic and almost no sulphur. The result is a magically fruity and ultra-fresh Beaujolais at a just perfect 12.5% abv. I’ve liked this cuvée since I first tasted it, but this new 2018 is really good. Sells for around £24.

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Etna Rosso “Navigabile” 2016, Ayunta (Etna, Sicily, Italy) Filippo Mangione rescued a mere three quarters of a hectare of vines on Etna’s northern slopes above the town of Randazzo. The grapes for this Etna Rosso are mainly the pair of Nerellos, Mascalese and Cappuccio, with other stray varieties in a traditional field blend. Fermented in open topped vats, the wine is then aged 14 months in a mix of oak and cherry casks.

The wine has red fruits, cherry and strawberry to the fore, with herbs and the faintest touch of something more meaty (not volatility). It’s moderately tannic for now, but it has the bright acidity to allow this to age for a year or too, and it’s not jammy as some Etna Rosso can be. Alcohol is a balanced 13.5%. For just over £30 this is really outstanding. I described this producer as my find of the day at the last Red Squirrel portfolio tasting.

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PN/16, Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2016, Vinteloper (South Australia) David Bowley set up as a winemaker in the Adelaide Hills in 2008. He has around 3.5 hectares to farm and his reputation hit the starry heights when he won the People’s Choice Award of best Pinot Noir in Australia at Pinot Palooza 2016. He was runner up again in 2017. Although a self-confessed Pinot Noir obsessive, David does make other wines, including (I must mention) the brilliant little stubbies called “Park Wine”. David’s wife, Sharon, designs all the beautiful labels.

Looking at PN/16 you would have to call it one of the palest wines of the day, even in an era where pale Pinot is quite the rage. Crushed by both hand and foot, you’d be surprised, I think, to be told this sees eleven months in oak, of which a third is new. So the wine has some structure, but less than you’d expect. The fruit is complex already, mainly in the cherry spectrum, but you get tagine-like spices coming through, and that seems an apt description for a wine which also has something of smokey merguez sausage about it. I hope I’m not putting off the vegans among you. It’s a lovely wine, and at 14% abv it probably needs something substantial to accompany. Mechoui agneau, perhaps?

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MODAL WINES

Modal is another non-specialist when it comes to countries or regions, but Nic Rizzi does specialise in hunting down some quite unique wines. He’s not hung up on winemaking methods, yet because he has an eye for wines of freshness, personality, and above all, drinkability, the wines he imports tend to be low-intervention wines.

Oranzista 2017, Slobodne Vinárstvo (Lesser Carpathians, Slovakia) You might have seen what I’ve written about a number of Slobodne wines from Zemianske Sady in Slovakia over the past couple of years. I drank the Cutis Deviner quite recently, and Slobodne does list a Cutis Deviner orange version, but this one is brand new to me.

Oranzista is made from Pinot Gris. The 2017 vintage saw five weeks on skins during a semi-carbonic fermentation and then one year in tank. The result is not the tannic sandpaper cuvée that some skin contact wines can become. It’s altogether gentler, which makes it an ideal summer wine with a good range of food pairing options that you might eat outdoors. The flavours are an unmistakable mix of peach and tangerine, with zesty fruit and zippy acidity. Alcohol is a restrained-tasting 13%. I’d like some of this.

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Funàmbul Cava Brut Nature NV, Entre Vinyes (Catalonia, Spain) Maria Barrena has a new organic Cava project from her family’s vineyards close to Barcelona. The vines are over 50-years-old, some up to 80-years, on deep clay and limestone at around 300 metres altitude. The varieties in the blend are the Catalan classics, Parellada, Viura and Xarel-lo. The wine is bottle fermented with about 20 months on lees, with zero dosage.

A glorious bouquet leaps from the glass here, very pure. The dry palate is layered with apple acidity with nuanced stone fruits (peach and apricot). It’s not massively complex, majoring on freshness and liveliness. The alcohol level is just 12%, but its dryness does mean it will accompany food. This is a really good organic Cava, new to Modal.

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Kröv Steffensberg “GeGe” 2015, Staffelter Hof (Mosel, Germany) So, as you will surmise, this is Staffelter Hof’s dry Riesling from the Steffensberg site at Kröv, between Erden and Traben-Trarbach. This is perhaps the most famous stretch of the Mosel, although the site isn’t one of the most famous on the river. Nevertheless, this wine, and those made there by Daniel Vollenweider, are bringing it to the attention of Mosel lovers.

Jan Mattias Klein took over from his father, aged 28, in 2005. He has since moved from the classic Mosel style to a more minimalist, low intervention model, which includes minimal added sulphur in the wines. Why “GeGe”? The wine is bottled as a QbA yet it has the sugar and acidity of an Auslese Trocken. It’s a play on the “GG” (grosses gewächs) classification for dry wines from top sites for members of the German VDP wine association.

This is built like a wine from a top site, and deserves some years in bottle to age. The ripe grapes give the wine a tropical dimension, lots of peach, but also, as it’s more complex than that, salinity, minerality, florality and spice. That said, it is starting to drink now, so opening and drinking it with food would not be a terrible idea. Although I don’t know the producer that well yet, it tastes like a top Riesling.

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Naturaleza Salvaje Blanco 2018, Azul Y Garanza (Navarra, Spain) This organic Garnacha Blanca is grown in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in Navarra, at San Isidro del Pinar. The thirty year old vines are planted around 550 metres above sea level on calcareous limestone. It’s very dry here, hot during long summer days, but with contrasting cool nights. The wine is made naturally, with no synthetic additives in the vineyard, a spontaneous fermentation and minimal added sulphur, you know how it goes by now. The fermentation lasted ten days, five days of that on skins. Then the interesting bit…ageing was in amphora for six months.

For White Garnacha, this is very aromatic. The fruit is concentrated but the wine is crisper than you’d imagine for the variety, down presumably to those cool nights. Although you get “fruit” here, greengage and yellow plum perhaps, there are also notes of sweet almond blossom and almond, with a green herbal texture, slightly waxy. It’s a wine that works on two levels, both refreshing and multi-dimensional.

Müller Thurgau “Kids Version” 2016, Nibiru (Kamptal, Austria) Julia Nather and Josef Schenter began collaborating on their Nibiru project in Austria’s Kamptal Region in 2015, working out of Josef’s parents’ winery at Schönberg Am Kamp. Nibiru is, according to Sumerian legend, the name of a planet which appears in our solar sytem every 3,600 years with an orbit around our sun in the opposite direction to all our other planets. That appealed to the philosophy of Julia and Josef.

The cuvée name? The grapes were foot trodden by “the kids”, all five of whose names appear on the label. They love this grape variety here, using skin contact to make a dry and waxy wine which has more than one dimension, and is totally unlike the Müller Thurgau of old. In fact this couple have everything in common with the new breed of MT producers in Germany. Think more “Hermit Ram” than sugar water. It’s clean and crisp and (for the variety) has really nice length and mouthfeel. It helps that we are tasting old vines cropped at low yields and made with “natural wine” methods (including very little sulphur). This is a wine of great purity, and a gastronomic wine as well. Both exciting and interesting.

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Safràn 2016, Cascina Zerbetta (Piemonte, Italy) This estate is at Quargnento, in the Monferrato Hills, west of Alessandria. Paolo Antonio Malfatti and Anna Maria Zerbetta farm just three hectares of formerly abandoned vineyard using biodynamic methods. Their main crop is Barbera, for which Monferrato is justly famous, but they also grow Sauvignon Blanc.

From this variety they make a sparkling col fondo wine called Shan Pan, which I’ve both drunk and written about at least twice in the past twelve months. This wine is also a Sauvignon Blanc, but is very different. It’s a late harvest wine, aged in a one year old barrel. It fermented to 15% abv naturally, after which the fermentation stopped of its own accord, leaving some residual sugar.

The colour is darkish red-brown, but bright, like cherry wood. It’s aromatic, with oxidative, nutty, notes on the nose, but also plenty of freshness. A quite unique bouquet. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might think. Yes, gently sweet, slightly nutty, with a hint of caramel on the palate, not remotely cloying. Worryingly moreish with that alcohol.

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THE KNOTTED VINE

David Knott imports minimal intervention wines which he will happily say are aimed at “wine geeks” obsessed with purity. He’s not especially focused on any one country, although the Australian part of the portfolio always throws up some genuine gems that most people have never heard of.

Druida Branco Encruzado Reserva 2017, Vinos Mira do Ó (Dão, Portugal) The grapes for this wine are grown on a 500-metre high plateau on the right bank of the River Dão. As the name “druid” suggests, there’s an air of mysticism to the project. The grapes are crushed in a stone building in the midst of the vines, something like a traditional Sicilian palmento, I imagine. The rock here is granite, and the wine has a fresh bouquet and a fresh mineral texture on the palate, with a touch of salinity. The overall impression is of a well rounded wine with the textured rough edges of, well, granite.

Ageing is in old oak for nine months, and like a traditional, artisanal, Dão this has a touch of austerity to it. It’s certainly not fruit driven, especially with all that citrus and mineral texture. Yet in being so different, it draws you in. You realise you need to pay attention. You realise pretty soon that this is a wine that has the structure to age and all the components to become more complex over time, as those individual parts spread out into a broader palette of flavours.

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Long Gully Road Semillon 2017, David Franz (Barossa, South Australia) Peter Lehmann’s son is making increasingly beautiful wines in South Australia, but they still fly a bit under the radar in the UK. Take this Semillon. The variety has had a tough time on the UK market, the result of all those “South Eastern Australia” Semillon-Chardonnay blends which flooded in during the 1980s and 90s.

This wine is made from 130-year-old, dry farmed, vines grown by Steve and Rebecca Falland in their Long Gully Road Vineyard in the Barossa Hills (Eden Edge). The intention with this wine every year is to pick at exactly the right moment, where ripeness does not diminish acidity.

Here the success of that policy is plain to see. The wine has a brightness. That’s what hits the nostrils first. It’s grassy enough to warn hayfever sufferers, but then the waxy lemon hits, more Mediterranean than Barossa. It has a classic Aussie Semillon profile with lemon on the attack and hints of honey on the finish, with something herbal in between. It’s about textures and depth, with the ancient vine fruit giving the wine some class. And length.

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A Veredas Blanco 2016, Bodegas Nestares Eguizàbal (Rioja, Spain) This is not your average White Rioja in that it is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, not the traditional white varieties of the region. The grapes come from a single vineyard in Rioja’s Ocón Valley, near the village of Galilea. It’s certainly a far cry from the dull and oxidised version of white wine we have known from some of the bigger producers, yet neither is this wine something that comes across as a bland, modern, substitute.

A Veredas was fermented in, and then spent eight months ageing in, new French and American oak before both lots were blended. Bottling was without any added sulphur. The fruit is predominantly textured pear with herbs and a little gentle spice, from the wood. It is oaky, for sure, but the fruit is delicious. I still think it needs time for the fruit and oak to integrate, but I think it will before long.

This is, I have to say, a wine style I don’t normally go for. A relatively oaky white in an equally relatively inexpensive price bracket. What impressed here was the brightness and depth of the fruit, and the proof that very good white Rioja is becoming more widely available from more than a handful of producers now.

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A Bright Red Blend 2018, Rasa Wines (Barossa, Australia) Andy Cummins makes small batch wines at Angaston, starting formal training after a long love affair with wine led to a job at Barossa Valley’s famous Rockford Wines, following a couch-surfing tour of Europe’s vineyards. The blend in this 2018 is Cinsault (67%) and Grenache (33%) from Tanunda. The fruit comes from old vines, between 80-years-old for the Grenache and 95 for the Cinsault. I think the blend in 2017 was very different.

This is a pale red with a sweet fruit fragrance smelling of amazing raspberry cream. The fruit on the palate is plump and rounded, with great acids, a little bit of crunch on the finish, plus a lick of savoury salinity. It has a nice restrained 12.3% alcohol, not always common in the region, and it’s an altogether perfect summer refresher of a wine. Looks good, smells even better and tastes fantastic. This should arrive on our shores some time in June. It should be here just in time to establish itself on the pavement tables and in the parks of London, assuming the sun returns.

Grenache 2017, Ministry of Clouds (McLaren Vale, Australia) Ministry of Clouds is a virtual winery, a moveable feast when it comes to sourcing grapes, but their broad focus is on fruit from Clare Valley, Tasmania and McLaren Vale. The “they” here  is Julian Forewood and Bernice Ong. If you haven’t heard of them, they have certainly garnered enough top level plaudits in Australia to suggest you should.

Dry farmed Grenache can be very special grown in The Vale, tending to have accentuated fragrance and a succulence of fruit that is synonymous with the region. This wine comes off two blocks of 80-year-old Grenache bush vines, going into old open top fermenters, ageing in three-year-old hogsheads and larger oak tanks. The old vine fruit responds with purity, floral beauty, and a bit of structure, accentuated by nice dusty tannins which turn this into a perfectly balanced wine for the table.

Like every wine I taste from this producer, it is both impressive and highly enjoyable at the same time. There’s just something about this that oozes class, so if you like juicy Grenache, try some. It’s one of those perfect examples of a wine with reasonably high alcohol (13.9% on the label) that nevertheless tastes fresh and if not exactly light, in no way heavy. Grenache done well has that almost magical quality.

Atractylis 2014, Floris Legere (Aragón, Spain) Villaroya de la Sierra is a tiny village near Calatayud, inland from Valencia and Tarragona, and due west of Zaragoza. It’s the unlikely place in which wandering Frenchman Ludovic Vino (this must be the best bit of nominative determinism yet) settled down to farm a small plot of 70-year-old Garnacha and Syrah.

This wine is a pure Syrah, aged 15 months in second- and third-year French oak barrels. The wine has a scented cherry bouquet with darker fruits and a Syrah peppery spice note coming through later. There’s power here, but without compromising real elegance. I think that with the oak regime this will benefit from some age, but I also think the wine has the potential to be quite astonishing after a few years. We shall see.

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Famille De Boel (Rhône, France)

In Part 1 I mentioned the “Wines Unearthed” section, up on the gallery floor opposite Esoterica. It was here that I was nudged towards Famille (Nelly and Arnaud) De Boel. Working with other Rhône wineries from 2011, they managed to start their own domaine in 2016, based at Lemps, a little north of Tournon, on the right bank of the Rhône. They own vines at Cornas and Saint-Joseph, and in the Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Appellation (old vine plots at St-Cécile-des-Vignes).

The vines are farmed biodynamically, and typical of many young winemaking couples who have small children, they are completely focused on not only making low intervention wines but also on encouraging biodiversity in the vineyards. Nelly and Arnaud are also great food lovers, a passion they share, and so they aim to make gastronomic wines at each level. I tasted three wines, a Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages from Uchaux, a Collines Rhodaniennes, and their Saint-Joseph. Their Cornas vines are not yet mature enough to produce wine.

Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux “Aleph” 2018 comes off silex/slate in hills surrounded by woodland. It’s a blend of Syrah and Grenache. The micro-climate is relatively cool and the wine has nice berry fruit (blackcurrant, mainly) and black olives, with great freshness, plus a little bite. It’s a really nicely made CDR.

Collines Rhodaniennes “Les Voraces” 2018 is pure Syrah off granite, a plot right beside the family home, with its élevage in stainless steel. No oak is used, so this is refreshing Syrah with zip to it. But it still retains a bit of grip. Not complex but vibrant and lively, helped by a sprinkling of black pepper spice.

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Saint-Joseph “Rue des Poulies” 2017 and 2016 The 2017 was a sample as the wine is not yet bottled. It comes from a south facing vineyard on the purely granite soils of the best part of the appellation, and after fermentation it is aged half and half in stainless steel and used wood (six to seven years old). The fruit is both red and black, the wine deeply coloured, but the overall impression is of the dominance of crisp minerality with ripe tannins. The 2016 bottle was more of the same, but with a touch greater depth and suppleness around the fruit. There’s plenty of body, so this is a fairly serious St-Jo.

I said in my introduction in Part 1 that I liked everything here – the wines, the people (well, Nelly, at least, who I chatted to), and the overall philosophy. For what it’s worth I also liked the labels too, each of which depicts something specific. The Uchaux for example is called Aleph, which is the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet and means “beef”. That label shows a print which depicts the “Ceremony of Beef” where the butchers paraded their oxen.

It is not easy to asses a range from a brief encounter, but I thought, at least on first acquaintance, that on the basis of what I tasted these wines really deserve some UK representation.

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Nyetimber (West Sussex, England)

Nyetimber is a very old estate, named in the Domesday Book as “Nitembreha”. Nine hundred years later it has established itself as probably the most famous wine estate in the UK, producing award winning classic sparkling wines from the rolling green sand and chalk hills of the South Downs. Cherie Spriggs is Chief Winemaker, assisted by her husband Brad Greatrix, and a focus on quality has allowed the brand to go from strength to strength over the past decade or so.

One of the unmissable sights at London Wine Fair now is the famous Nyetimber Bus, a refurbished old double-decker from which samples are dispensed, parked-up in the newish part of the Fair called Drinks Britannia (with its focus on sparkling wines, gin, craft beer and all things artisanal). I don’t envy those working on the bus, as the queues are pretty long for most of the day, and they must get through a fair number of bottles, generously poured for what is, for most people, more a free glass or five than perhaps a serious attempt to taste the wines.

I tasted, and spat (despite the near impossibility of pushing through the throng to find the awkwardly placed spittoon) five wines. The Blanc de Blancs 2013 comes from Chardonnay vineyards in Hampshire and West Sussex and sees four-and-a-half years on lees. The colour is gently golden, from a bit of age, and the initial citrus and floral notes are lovely. That lees ageing results in a toasty brioche finish. The BdeB has consistently been my favourite wine at Nyetimber, although I don’t count the single vineyard wine (below). I’ve only tried it two or three times.

Rosé NV is currently a blend of Pinot Noir (61%) and Chardonnay (49%) which smells of summer pudding with cream and shortbread biscuits. It’s a lovely aperitif wine whose qualities, above all, shout “refreshing”.

The Nyetimber most people know nowadays, the wine poured on Brighton’s i-360 and at Glyndebourne, is the Classic CuvéeClassic Cuvée is a multi-vintage blend of all three classic “Champagne” varieties, and is very much Nyetimber’s flagship. Bottled with 10g/l residual sugar, it’s an easy drinking wine which has now achieved a high level of consistency. There’s fresh apple fruit, spice notes and honeyed “sweetness” (the wine is obviously dry but the dosage is slightly higher than many passionate wine lovers may be used to these days). The most exciting thing is to taste this from magnum. The magnum effect does work here, so much so that the larger format would be a strong recommendation from me.

Tillington 2013 Nyetimber’s single vineyard wine is produced in small quantity when the vintage warrants it. The 2013 was a run of somewhere between 5,000-to-6,000 bottles, I’m told. This wine blends around three-quarters Pinot Noir with Chardonnay from a fine single site in West Sussex. It sees almost six years on lees, which does explain its price, often grumbled about but perhaps without foundation for one of the finest English wines on the market.

The wine still has a fairly high dosage of around 9.7g/l, but there’s a genuine elegance to the predominantly red fruits with citrus, which overlays vanilla and very gentle caramel. You would definitely say it is Pinot Noir-driven. As the wine lingers on an impressively long finish, you get that autolytic character, with arrowroot biscuits and fresh brioche.

Finally I tasted Cuvée Chérie, Nyetimber’s Demi-Sec multi-vintage, designed originally to accompany “delicate British desserts”, though we are perhaps less wholly patriotic to suggest restricting its use just to home grown fare. It’s 100% Chardonnay and benefits from around 20% reserve wines. From what I know, or have been told, about Nyetimber, it is the building up of reserve wines which has transformed the quality at this producer. Any serious English Sparkling Wine needs the addition of some reserve wines to make a multi-vintage blend which can transcend the ordinary, unless the fruit of a given vintage is really special. The addition of even a small amount of reserve wine adds depth.

Chérie balances its sweetness (38g/l r/s) with its fresh orange and lemon acidity and a nice mineral texture, with even a tiny hint of salinity, which results in just the faintest savoury touch. I can see why they recommend “fragrant and gently spiced dishes” as a food match along with the desserts, although “gentle” and “spiced” are not words which are normally paired in my kitchen. “Generously spiced” is more the order of the day, and I don’t think this wine is meant to go with three or four red chillies.

The Nyetimber Bus is great fun, but I must try to taste some of these wines in circumstances which less resemble the Crush Bar at the ROH during the short interval some time. But that’s not what the bus is really there for. Nyetimber should be noted for their generosity in pouring so much stock into the cuckoo chick mouths of thirsty and expectant UK wine trade stalwarts.

I like to end my LWF coverage with a few pics from the rest of the fair. I may not toil around the main floor very much, but largely that’s because time just doesn’t permit it. I’d love to go for a second day, and maybe one year I’ll manage to. I would have loved to spend a morning at the IWC Sake Pavilion. Next year, perhaps. Regrets…I had a few. Not tasting at the Château Musar stand, and having too little time to hit the New Wave of South Africa tables were my biggest, but when you get home and discover a host of other delights you missed you understand why some people do go for all three days.

 

 

 

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London Wine Fair 2019, Part 1

London Wine Fair is a large affair, to say the very least. It’s the largest of the wine events I attend every year, but that doesn’t mean it’s where I taste the most wines. With a few exceptions, the main trading floor is, as its name gives away, where some of the bigger players do their commercial business. Many of the areas down there are devoted to larger producers and importers, alongside a healthy smattering of national and regional pavilions.

The event is also famous for its masterclasses and industry briefings, but if like me you are there for just one of the three days this time, then there’s no time for all that. I have begun to hang out, increasingly, up on the gallery floor at Olympia, in the section named Esoterica. The name betrays a certain pejorative attitude, rather like the old “Country Wines”, used to gently put down a wine from outside the classic regions. I think they should change the name to “The Exciting Bit”, but I guess those paying for the event via their lavish pavilions downstairs would get upset.

I’m only joking, though. This is a very important event for the UK wine trade, which is far more valuable, economically, than the selection of small importers I follow. I’m grateful that the event recognises the part these innovators will play in the UK market’s future. Downstairs discovers the trends, whilst upstairs we are discovering the groundbreaking new wines.

 

Even in the “Esoterica” section there are more than fifty tables, occupied mainly by small wine merchants/importers. It is a number of these which I shall focus on in my coverage of LWF 2019, with only a few diversions into other areas. On the opposite side of the gallery there is a section called Wines Unearthed. This is where you can find producers who are hopeful of finding UK distribution. After tasting the stars of the Esoterica tables it can range from tiring to, occasionally, soul destroying (no, I’m being too harsh) to taste through these wines. But I did find a very interesting Rhône producer here (for inclusion in Part 2), admittedly because of a tip from a wine merchant friend. One of those domaines where you like everything…the wines, the philosophy and the person.

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NEKTER WINES

As with all of these people in Part 1, I have tasted the wines of Nekter already this year, but there are always new wines and new vintages, and I do specifically ask to taste things that are new to me. I don’t think I’ve written about any of these wines before.

Pret-a-Blanc 2018, Schmölzer & Brown, King Valley (Victoria, Australia) This region of North East Victoria comprises the high hills along the King River Valley as it flows from Australia’s Alpine National Park. Tessa Brown (ex-Kooyong and Sorrenberg, eyes immediately light up), along with her husband Jeremy Schmölzer, have recently planted 2 ha of vines at Beechworth, but the bulk of their production comes from a neighbour’s vineyard over the road whilst the couple’s vines come on stream.

This is a blend of 70% Riesling with Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, whole bunch pressed into stainless steel. It’s an aromatic wine, a genuine Aussie take on an Alsace blend. There’s a floral (jasmine?) element to the bouquet, and the palate is soft, dry, saline and mineral, the latter via a slightly dusty texture. This is really good, and a very nice start at the Nekter table. The 2017 UK allocation of this all went to The Fat Duck, I believe. There will hopefully be some 2018 for the rest of us.

Brunnen Pinot Noir 2017, Schmölzer & Brown (Beechworth, Victoria) This comes off Beechworth’s Ordovician mudstone and shale, the grapes being destemmed and macerated for three days. They then hit the basket press before seeing French oak, six barrels of which one was new. The wine is pale and smooth, scented with strawberry and cherry, and some earthiness on a very long finish. Very fine. Not cheap (£46), but yes. impressive. Everyone is predicting stardom for Schmölzer & Brown, so perhaps it’s worth getting in quick here.

 

Voetstoots Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016, Stand Alone (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Alexander (Xander) Grier’s own personal project makes wines using traditional methods with as little manipulation and intervention as possible. It’s a contrast to his day job with Villiera Wines, where he makes wine in somewhat greater quantity. This is his first own label Chenin from a very old block. He gives the fruit six hours on skins after which it follows the time-worn route of basket press to old oak. This is a beautifully fresh wine with so much depth, which will surely increase over a year or two. It’s not heavy, but it does have a bit of weight, assisted by a lovely texture.

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Stand Alone Gamay Noir 2018 (Stellenbosch) This is the only Gamay I currently know of in South Africa, and it is far more than a mere rarity. Just three barrels of this were made, after layering the bunches in the tank alternately, destemmed and with stems, to create a more complex carbonic fermentation. This is the wine’s first vintage, and the bottle was an under the table jobbie which is not yet up on Nekter’s web site. Grippy cherries, zesty acidity, but also, unquestionably, serious stuff, 13% abv. I would recommend snapping this up as I reckon it will fly out.

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“The Bear” 2016, Donkey & Goat (Berkeley, California, USA) Jared and Tracey Brandt make these natural/biodynamic wines in Berkeley, taking appropriately grown grapes from Napa, Mendocino and Sierra Nevada. The Bear is a single site wine from the Fenaughty and Lightner Vineyard, at altitude in the El Dorado AVA (Sierra Nevada foothills). The grapes are all loosely Rhône/Southern French varieties, Counoise, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Roussanne. We get both dark blackberry and red strawberry fruit with gentle nutmeg spice. It’s basically a pale wine packed with flavour and just enough grip. Excellent.

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Seaside Cabernet Franc 2017, Geyer Wine Co (Adelaide Hills, South Australia) Fascinating to taste an Aussie Cab Franc after all those excellent Canadian versions I tried a few days before LWF. Dave Geyer’s take comes specifically from the Sellick Hills area. Half of this wine was originally intended to be a rosé, fermented accordingly. The other half was treated to ten days on skins. Liquorice, blueberry tart, saltiness and a fresh sprinkling of newly sharpened pencil lead, this wine majors on freshness and elegance and tastes remarkably Loire-like in some ways, especially the violet and lavender bouquet. The 13% alcohol doesn’t show at all.

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Charbono 2015, Calder Wine Company (Napa, California, USA) Rory Williams is Frog’s Leap’s Vineyard Manager, using his middle name for his own small scale wine project. Charbono is a synonym for Bonarda, a grape which originated in Savoie, but may be better known to readers from the satellite DOCs of Northern Piemonte. This first vintage (the vines were planted by Rory himself in 2008) was fermented with 25% whole bunches for twelve days and matured 18 months in French oak (25% new). You get plum and cherry concentration in a fairly light red, with a minty freshness. The fruit has amazing concentration, enormous, seriously. There are (or maybe were by now, it has been a week) a thousand bottles of this. £38 for an obscure variety? In this case, a definite yes.

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SOUTHERN WINE ROADS

Southern Wine Roads is a specialist importer for Greek wines, with a focus on small estates making wine from autochthonous varieties. Their portfolio seems to me to be improving every time I taste here. I’m not an expert on their whole range yet, not by a long way, but as with Alpine Wines (below), I’m convinced that we have here a small importer who it’s time to take a little more notice of.

Assyrtiko “Unfiltered” 2015, Papaioannou Estate (Peloponnese, Greece) The fruit for this white comes from Nemea, known for its often lovely red wines from the Agiorgitiko variety, but it is labelled PGI Peloponnese. It’s very different to the better known Santorini style of Assyrtiko, which is off volcanic terroir. In Nemea the soils are on clay and limestone, usually either side of the 300-350-metre contour line. This is scented with lovely fruit, a certain softness and a bit of mineral texture. It is aged for twelve months in new French oak, which stamps its mark, but I still found it oddly very attractive.

Assyrtiko 2018, Gavalas Winery (Santorini, Greece) You probably don’t often get to taste two completely different Assyrtikos together? Nor do I. But doing so allows you to understand what elements of the grape relate to terroir, and also what a great variety Assyrtiko can be. The vineyard here is claimed to be the oldest currently in Greece, some vines reputedly five hundred years old. These vines are trained in the traditional way, curled and furled into protected balls of wood which crouch low to avoid being blown away. The wine is tank fermented, exhibiting a wild freshness that must come from the sea breezes and rocky volcanic soils of that beautiful island. Pear and lemon with a delicious tropical fruit juice finish.

 

Litani 2013, Afianes (Ikaria, Greece) Ikaria is an island in the Southern Aegean about ten miles or so southwest of Samos. It’s a small Island but it rises over 1,000 metres in the centre. Its small population inhabits mainly fishing villages on the coast, but winemaking is getting a reputation via this quality estate, run by local pharmacist, Nikos Afianes.

The single variety for this white is Begleri, indigenous to the island. It comes off granite and sand at 400 metres altitude from very old vines (some more than 120-years-old). Made by foot stomping in a granite trough, it is fresh and herby, stony, mineral and with a twist of lemon zest. In fact it’s just as you would imagine a really good wine from the Greek Islands might taste.

There’s also a brilliant red wine which I tasted later but I’ll include it here, Icarus 2014, which is made from another variety peculiar to Ikaria, Fokiano. It’s made in mixed oak with 12 months ageing. It runs out at 14% abv, but it’s pale and has the most beautiful scent of aromatic cherries and red fruit. It’s very dry and it needs time, like a good Barolo needs time. I was genuinely surprised just how much I liked these Afianes wines. This red was one of my wines of the day, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to knock it back alone, in one go.

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Paleokerisio 2016, Glinavos Estate (Epirus, Greece) We are up in Northwestern Greece here, on the mainland. I’ve tasted some Glinavos sparkling wines before, but this one is a bit different. It’s an off-dry, semi-sparkling, orange wine. The grapes are equal parts Vlachiko and Debina, the latter being a major variety for this producer’s wines. It’s a bronze skin contact wine with a mineral texture accentuated by the gentle bead, smelling and tasting of oranges, herbs and exotic Middle Eastern spices. The spice element grows on the palate as the fine bubbles fade. In one respect it’s really weird, yet it’s more than just interesting. If you, like me, are also adventurous I reckon you might actually adore this.

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Lola 2017, Aoton Winery (Attica, Central Greece) This unique wine is labelled PGI Peania. The grape varieties are Mandilaria, Savatiano and Roditis. They are picked in the cool night air to preserve freshness. The Mandilaria has pine resin added during its separate fermentation, but the resinous flavours you usually get in a retsina (which this technically is) are somehow swallowed in the vat and you are left with the merest hint of pine. The result is just about pink, and really quite delicate. It’s dry too. Only around 4,000 bottles are made.

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Naoussa 2015 and Paliokalias 2013, Dalamara (Naoussa, Greece) This is an old estate, dating from the 19th Century, in Northern Greece’s most famous, and perhaps traditional, PDO, but one where the new generation is beginning to raise its reputation even further. Naoussa makes deep reds from Xinomavro. The unfiltered entry level wine is made in quantity (in a Greek context, around 10k bottles), but after a year in oak it even has a touch of seriousness to it. It’s dry, savoury and herbal. The Peleokalias is a single vineyard wine which is showing greater depth and complexity, but leave it to age. It’s pale and quite Nebbiolo-like, but has heightened fruit as well. Another stunning wine.

This was my best tasting yet with Southern Wine Roads, and the best overall selection from them I’ve tasted. I know that they were selected for me as the best wines on the table, but if I were to buy a half case I’d be seriously pushed to leave out any of the eight wines above, certainly choosing all the reds, Lola, the Paleokerisio semi-sparkling orange wine, and the Litani, but then the Assyrtiko…

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ALPINE WINES

Alpine Wines sells wine from several countries and regions which are broadly Alpine, or maybe Sub-Alpine at a push, but although this includes a good range from Austria, they are the only really decent source for Swiss wine in the UK if you need a fairly wide selection.

I keep ramming it down people’s throats that they should try Swiss Wine. I know the best is expensive. Even the second best is expensive. But it’s usually different, not the same old same old. I’m tempted to say that it’s no more expensive than a bottle of good Burgundian Chardonnay, except that if that’s all you drink then your palate may not be ready for a Heida, a Petite Arvine, or a Fendant. Yet in truth they are not remotely scary. For starters, whilst some Swiss wine is natural wine, most is not. Just unfamiliar is what I’d suggest. Most of the wines I tasted here were Swiss, with a couple of ringers thrown in. The first of these is from Vienna.

Weissburgunder “Der Vollmondwein” 2017, Rainer Christ (Vienna, Austria) Christ’s wines are less well known overseas than his larger neighbour on Bisamberg, Fritz Wieninger, but he runs a reasonably sized operation. I had to try this a week last Monday as I was aware that several people I know tasted at his place last week. This Pinot Blanc is grown on limestone on the individual Bisamberg cru of Ried Falkenberg, one of the higher sites on the side of the hill facing the city and the Danube. Harvested under the full moon (Vollmond), this is beautifully fresh and vibrant, lemony with a textured, bitter, finish. Yet for all that freshness it does not lack body, and in fact packs 13% abv, so it has a Chardonnay-like weight. A food wine.

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Petite Arvine 2017, Jean-René Germanier (Valais, Switzerland) If you read my blog regularly you’ll have come across this producer before. Jean-René and Gilles Besse make their wines above the Rhône Valley, between Martigny and Sion, close to Vétroz. Petite Arvine is the Valais white grape par excellence, out of several fine competitors. It’s one of the Germanier wines I didn’t see at the Swiss Tasting I went to near London Fields back in April. This pale yellow/golden wine reflects yellow fruits and lemon freshness. My notes say “dry, dry, dry” but it is also unquestionably thirst-quenchingly fruity. The dryness balances it out.

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“Les Murailles” Rouge 2013, Badoux Vins (Aigle, Vaud, Switzerland) Aigle is in that part of the Canton of Vaud which lies to the east of Lac Léman, off to your left after you leave the lakeside if you are following the motorway towards Martigny. Badoux is a well known company which makes, in the white (Chasselas) “Murailles”, perhaps the most widely recognisable label in the country. This red version, similarly attired, is made from Pinot Noir. Actually I’m told 95% Pinot, but I have no idea what grapes make up that other 5%. A bit of the ripasso technique is used here, and the semi-dried Garanoir/Gamaret grape skins used add weight, and possibly alcohol (13.5%). So we have a wine that is not typical Pinot, especially on the nose, but overall the fruit is much darker, and richer. Quite a big wine really, so something different. Around £33.

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Syrah Réserve 2013, Domaine des Muses (Valais, Switzerland) This is a top domaine at Sierre, further up the river Rhône than Sion, and sitting below the ski resort of Crans-Montana. I tasted the 2016 of this wine at the Swiss Tasting I mentioned above. I said 2016 was young, so the chance to try the 2013 was welcome. It still has the bite and structure of new oak, but as with the Canadian Cabernet Francs in my previous article, it has that signature freshness of Valaisin Syrah. There is still the same spice and liquorice I found in the 2016, whilst the plum and darker fruits are a little more juicy and softer. But being a reserve wine, one should expect to age it.

Sonntaler Grauvernatsch 2017, Kellerei Kurtatsch (Südtirol, Italy) Kurtatsch is about half way between Trento and Bolzano/Bozen, in Italy’s dual-language northeast (so it is also alternatively known by some as Cortaccia). This is one of Italy’s great co-operative wineries (Kellerei or Cantina, take your pick), and to be sure, that adjective is not misplaced in this part of the country. Grauvernatsch is also known by another name, Schiava Grigia in Italian.

The wine is a palish red with high-toned, concentrated, raspberry fruit, acidity and grip. Not a complicated wine, it nevertheless has a delicious savoury side, a finish of decent length, and a moderate 12.5% alcohol level. If some of the wines above are “finer” (and indeed all of the wines from the producer who follows), then this simple wine is nevertheless one I’d buy, and enjoy, for what it is. And hey, it’s Grauvernatsch and I bet you’ve never tried one!

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Marie-Thérèse Chappaz (Fully, Valais, Switzerland)

Marie-Thérèse is unquestionably one of Switzerland’s foremost and most famous winemakers. Her wines are appreciated by the points-spouting classicists, who habitually spout a lot of points at her, and by lovers of artisan biodynamic winemaking, in equal measure. She has won more awards than she has had the time to attend their ceremonies, but she is a member of the highly regarded organisation of top Swiss estates, Les Artisans de la Vigne et du Vin, which she helped found in 1999.

I tasted four Chappaz wines at the Fair, and I know that Joelle at Alpine Wines brought them along, with her Coravin, in part for my benefit. I’ve never tried more than one of these wines at a time before, and they are sufficiently rare and expensive that I’ve never had more than one at a time in my cellar either.

Grain Nature Champ Dury 2017 is a truly gorgeous blend of Pinot Noir (90%) with Gamay off limestone and made in old oak. The “young vines” are around 25 years old. It is redolent of bright quetsch plum and cherry, big fruit and firm minerality. There’s no added sulphur, and in this case it’s absolutely bright and beautiful. £50 a bottle.

Dôle “La Liaudisaz” 2017 Dôle is much maligned, as perhaps is Bourgogne-Passetoutgrain, which conceptually it resembles. The best Dôle, like this one, will blend 85-90% Pinot Noir with the legally required Gamay component. The wines are rarely complex, but Chappaz does make a wine that is several steps up from the norm. Limestone soils and very low sulphur add an almost magical degree off freshness, in what is otherwise a simple wine. The fruit is crunchy, but there’s a meaty edge to the Pinot which transforms the wine when it kicks in. There’s no fireworks, just hard work resulting in a strangely satisfying bottle. Circa £31, cheap for Chappaz.

Grain Ermitage 2017 This is one of the stunners in the range. It’s made from 100-year-old Marsanne vines on one of the steepest slopes in the region, and an homage to the Northern Rhône, the French wine region way downstream. The wine is big and waxy, with lemon and lime acidity, and it weighs in at 14.5% abv. This means you need to be wary of it, but a little goes a long way, and like Hermitage Blanc, you don’t need to drink it all at once. If I was to try to say how it differs from that French region’s whites, I’d say this has a touch more fruit and perhaps less of the herby thing going on. It sees 18 months in oak.

I don’t think you need to give it the very long ageing that a White Hermitage requires, but you should nevertheless give it the due respect of ageing, a decade perhaps. I think Joelle’s recommendation to partner it with cheese is a very good one, though a perfect match might also be found with a Poulet de Bresse (maybe herbs and lemon, and roast potatoes). £69.

 

Grain Noble 2016 Marie-Thérèse is best known for her sweet wines, though I refuse to accept that the best of the dry reds and (especially) whites are any less good. The grape here is 100% Petite Arvine. I think the grape is one of the great underrated varieties for sweet wine in the world, and this is a world class wine. The old vines yield tiny quantities of grapes, which are picked berry by berry, with some botrytis. Spontaneous fermentation takes place, after which it is aged in old oak for 24-to-30 months.

The fruit is exotic, complex and complicated (you really don’t want a list of everything that’s in here). What’s more important is the minerality, and the fact that I’ve never come across this degree of freshness in a Swiss sweet wine before. Added to the fruit, it’s explosive, but not “shouty”. 12% abv means it’s neither light nor heavy but a wine with heavenly balance. But before you get too excited, you only get 500 ml for your £75.

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Don’t despair though. The Dôle I tasted earlier, and her Fendant President Triollet (which is my sole representative) both sit just either side of £30, and are both very good wines, if lacking the ability to quite scale the heights of the top wines. These wines are exported in tiny quantity, a bit like the low yields of the Petite Arvine above. Alpine Wines has recently taken a delivery and their web site, at the time of writing, lists eleven Chappaz wines. You may even be too late if the Michelin-starred boys have pounced, but do check out their wider Swiss range. They don’t give me anything for my kind words, of course, but my passion for some of these wines makes me continue to plug them vociferously.

Part 2 will follow later this week, with more Esoterica, the “Unearthed” Rhône estate I promised, and the Nyetimber Bus. You have to visit the Nyetimber bus at London Wine Fair (and I’ll tell you, everyone does!).

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