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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old VJ – 1973 at The Pig and 1959

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Desert Island Dozen

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

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

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

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

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

The order below is random.

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

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

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

UK Importer – Dynamic Vines

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

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

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

UK Importer – Tutto Wines

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

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

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

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

UK Importer – also Tutto Wines

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

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

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

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

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

UK Importer – Newcomer wines

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

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

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

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

UK Importer – Vinetrail

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

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

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

UK Importer – Wines Under The Bonnet

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

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

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

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

UK Importer – Dynamic Vines

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

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

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

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

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

UK Importer – Newcomer Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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10. Meinklang Konkret Rot, Pamhagen, Burgenland, Austria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK Importer – Alliance Wine is the agent

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

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

 

 

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Jura Dinner at The Pig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Wines of the Year 2018 and stuff like that

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Oh, then there was this!!!

 

and these…

 

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

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

 

 

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

Recent Wines October/November 2018 #theglouthatbindsus

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

Apremont 2017, Domaine Giachino, Savoie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grand Cellier d’Or 2006, Vilmart, Champagne

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

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

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

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

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Zibibbo in Pithos 2014, COS, Vittoria, Sicily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bulles de Minière among the Bonfire Night selection chez nous

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

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

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

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

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Irouléguy 2009, Domaine Ilarria, Pays Basque

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

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

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

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

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

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Les Caves at Pew Corner

Everyone knows Les Caves de Pyrene, right? Celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year, it is easy to forget, in a country awash with fine young importers of natural and biodynamic wines, that Les Caves were the pioneers. Their portfolio is now available far and wide. They are probably the company who people go to first for natural wines if they own a small independent wine shop or a restaurant. It’s easy to forget that once upon a time their wares were much harder to track down…until I discovered Pew Corner, that is.

It was back in the 1990s, and I’d just moved down to the South Coast from Oxford. Back in those days it was pretty dire for anyone who loved the “out of the ordinary” wines. If you didn’t get your wine from the supermarket, it was more or less Oddbins or Majestic in Oxford, but somehow I found the wines of the Sicilian producer, COS, in a wine bar in the north of the city. My introduction to “natural wine” had been in Paris, via L’Insolite (rue de la Folie Méricourt, close to Oberkampf), but finding those wines, even in London, was very hard. COS was an instant passion, and I soon found out where it had come from.

Back then Les Caves was less focused on purely natural wines than perhaps they are now, but they did have a selection of French Regional Wines which was quite literally a hundred times better than anyone else’s, not to mention the Italians, Australians, even wine from Luxembourg.

Way back in the day I’d spent some months travelling in rural France, sampling wines from Irouléguy, Marcillac, Cahors, Estaing, the Auvergne, Jura, and so many others. I’d discovered Aosta and Liguria in Italy, and “El Bierzo” (as it was then called) in Northern Spain. My dream had been to write a book called The Lost Vineyards of France. It didn’t happen, and in fact today most of these vineyards are very far from “lost”. But here was a wine merchant selling exactly the same wines as I’d discovered a few years before.

I said that everyone knows Les Caves, but what many may not know is that they have a warehouse-come-shop which is open to the public. It’s on a small industrial estate at Pew Corner, Artington, which is just on the south side of Guildford, and finding it is helped by the fact that it is also home to South Guildford’s Park+Ride. The warehouse itself is tucked away round the back of the site, but it seemed easy to find even before a small sign was erected to guide the observant driver.

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I remember that first time I nervously entered the wooden building, to be warmly greeted by Virginie Champelou (yes, same as the Vouvray clan), and when I went back last week I got that same friendly welcome, even though it must be eighteen months since I last saw Virginie at the 2017 Real Wine Fair. It is quite a bit longer since I’ve visited Pew Corner.

There are rows and rows of bottles on shelves inside. You really need to make time to browse, but the thing to remember is that at least half the stock (probably much more, I’m sure) isn’t on show. The range has grown so much that it would be impossible to put everything out, but it was always so. I think the disadvantage of this is that without prior research you are going to forget things you wanted.

I’d compiled a list before I went, but I still forgot to put on it some Palari from Sicily, and a few other things (Fumin from Aosta, something from Nicolas Carmarans from Aveyron, and a few North Americans…). I’d say that whenever I visit at least half the wines come from the part of the warehouse which is not open to the public, always willingly retrieved by whoever is serving me, but browsing always alerts me to other things I’d not considered.

The best advice I can give to any visitor, aside from going with a list, is to go with a fully charged wallet or credit card. Every visit I spend more than I intended, every visit I get home (thankfully only just over an hour for me) and kick myself that I didn’t buy just a few more bottles. But there’s no limit, large or small.

Of course they charge full retail price so there’s no saving going there if your local wine shop has (or will order) what you want. It’s the main reason I’d not visited for a couple of years – I have one very good merchant (Solent Cellar in Lymington, Hants) who will happily add a few bottles onto their next Les Caves order, and most of the portfolio isn’t too hard to track down in London. But in this case I wanted to grab a few Georgians, a country in which Les Caves has become quite the specialist, and a little extra advice in narrowing it down from a list of Georgian wines kindly supplied by Doug Wregg was needed. And I always come away with something I didn’t know from a staff recommendation (this time Matthias Warnung‘s Esper Grüner Veltliner, thank you Daniel, we’ll be drinking that tonight).

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Virginie (shop manager) and Daniel (her deputy) on duty last week

You can see my stash in the photos below. A modest set of purchases, half-a-dozen from Georgia, two different Belluards from Savoie, Sepp Muster, Aostan Petite Arvine, Schueller Pinot Noir from Alsace, and said Grüner. To be fair, I didn’t have room for any of them. No Jura some of you say! Well, Les Caves does have an exceptionally good Jura offering right now, but I’m off to Arbois myself very soon (just thought I’d whet your collective appetite).

For everyone within driving distance, Pew Corner is waiting to welcome you. It’s like Santa’s Grotto but without the tinsel for any true wine obsessive. Come on down.

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As I mentioned, Les Caves is thirty years old this year. They are holding lots of celebrations, with several at Terroirs  Wine Bar near Trafalgar Square in London. You may well have read about their enormous 30th Anniversary Tasting (if not, see here, where I explore a reasonable chunk of the Les Caves de Pyrene portfolio).

I also should mention that the shop at Pew Corner will be open 9.00am to 6.00pm on Saturday 8 December for their Christmas Tasting. There will be a wider selection of wine than usual to taste, along with what they describe as “some festive treats for your delectation”. Sadly I am unable to go, but it will certainly be worth it, if somewhat busier than usual.

For other opening times, especially in the run-up to Christmas, check out their web site: https://shop.lescaves.co.uk/lescaves-shopfront. Usually they open Monday to Friday, 08.30 to 17.00 (closed weekends), but will be open on some Saturdays in the run-up (including every Saturday in November from 09.00 until just 13.00), undoubtedly helpful if you have to work in the week.

For those who would like to get to know the Les Caves portfolio but live too far away to visit, they do offer some always interesting monthly mixed cases. They are currently suggesting a Thanksgiving themed case alongside November’s monthly offering. 15% off shop prices and with free delivery! I know this sounds unusually like an advert from me, but I can’t help salivating at the wines in the Thanksgiving six-pack (that offer is available just until 22 November). If anyone needs some ideas for my Christmas present…

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Tuscan Gems at The Glasshouse

It’s almost two years since I visited The Glasshouse in Kew (right by the Underground Station). On that occasion it was with the same bunch of people who come down to London from all over the UK a few times a year to share their passion for all things Tuscan. These guys even visit Toscana together, and I have to admit they do put my own cellar to shame when it comes to that region’s wines. As was the case on Friday last week.

It’s worth saying a little about The Glasshouse. It is part of the same stable as The Ledbury, Chez Bruce and La Trompette, owned by Nigel Platts-Martin and (in this case) Bruce Poole. Next year it will celebrate its 20th Anniversary, and it gained a Michelin Star way back in 2002. Although you’d describe it as “fine dining”, the atmosphere is nevertheless relaxed and friendly. The food is of a really high standard, as I hope the photos show, but as with the whole NPM stable, nowhere does a wine event quite as professionally as The Glasshouse.

THE WINES

Solosole “Pagus Camilla”, Bolgheri Vermentino 2015, Poggio al Tesoro – What a start. This is stunningly good. The fruit has a touch of ripeness yet it is fresh, dry, stony and aromatic at the same time. The finish shows a lovely salinity. It’s also worth noting the alcohol, 14.5%, but it doesn’t seem chubby in the slightest. The grapes are grown in a seven hectare plot by the Camilla River within the Sondraie vineyard, and the estate has been owned by Allegrini since 2002. I don’t recall a better Vermentino, at least for a very long time. Expect to pay £40+ but the quality is very high.

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Panizzi “Evoé” 2013, IGT Toscana – I’m not sure why this wine is labelled as IGT nowadays. It used to be labelled as Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and it is certainly still Vernaccia. The style here is a long maceration on skins, followed by ageing in wood. These wines were all served blind, always fun, though I don’t claim any major successes (unlike some), but it was very clear that this is a maceration wine. With that texture comes, in this case, a dry minerality, but also an unexpected floral note. I did think this was Vernaccia, but put it older than 2013. In contrast to the first wine, this only showed 12.5% alcohol. Still loved it, though, beautifully balanced.

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Riecine Chianti Classico Riserva 1988 and Riecine Chianti Classico Riserva 1997 – These were two of the stars of the show, for sure. John Dunkley and his wife bought Riecine, or what then was just a 1.5 hectare vineyard, from Badia a Coltibuono in 1971, and released their first (1973) vintage in 1975. Although no longer around at the estate, Riecine became synonymous with genius Australian winemaker Sean O’Callaghan, but he was only taken on in 1991 as a young intern, so only the second of these wines was made in the O’Callaghan years. Before that, the Dunkleys’ friend Carlo Ferrini was advising, and in fact the last vintage with which Ferrini is associated was 1997.

Although most of us felt that the first wine, the 1988, clashed a little with the otherwise superb cauliflower dish (see below, later), the wine itself was singing. Massively fresh, you’d never believe this is thirty years old. That purity which O’Callaghan seemed to make his own was there back then, perhaps showing the quality of the terroir in this corner of Gaiole. At the time of the vintage Decanter Magazine declared it a great year and praised Riecine Riserva in particular.

I have always had a general preference for Chianti Classico Normale, as opposed to Riserva (let alone the Gran Selezione malarkey). The soul of the Chianti hills lies therein, for me. But this astonishing 1988 shows why Riserva is a valid iteration of Chianti…if you can wait for it to mature. It is only then that Riserva becomes something very different. I wish I had a bottle of this. It would be a wine to save for my 60th.

The 1997 might well have seemed dull by comparison, but it didn’t. You’d be forgiven if you expected it to be reasonably mature, yet we all agreed it is really just transitioning to its secondary phase. I reckon that it tied with the 1988, and with the Barice Brunello below, for wine of the day (a closely fought battle of giants). The amazing longevity of these wines is well worth taking note of. It puts Sangiovese right up there with Nebbiolo, and with France’s most famous varieties.

Mastrojani Brunello di Montalcino 1993 – This wine was fading a little. There is still a bit of fruit, but as it sat in the glass a real aroma of vegetal decaying leaf matter took over, developing quite swiftly. At the same time, a few of us wondered whether it was served in the wrong glass for the wine. It seemed, as one person commented, just a little scalped, although not obviously faulty in any way.

 

Fontodi Flaccianello 1999, Colli Toscana Centrale – Flacianello Della Pieve is Fontodi’s 100% Sangiovese “supertuscan”, aged for 24 months in new French oak (Allier and Tronçais). The vines are densely planted and trained in the guyot system in the great amphitheatre of Panzano, the Conca d’Oro. It would come as no surprise then that Flaccianello can be a big wine in its youth, yet the richness and ripe fruit make this 1999 not only approachable, but truly delicious. I’m not sure why, but we all thought there was just a tiny hint of brett on this bottle, but if anything, it just enhanced the wine. Bet Jamie Goode has something to say on this in his new book.

 

 

Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 1997 – Two or three years ago people were saying that this vintage was either at its peak or just over. In 2018 I would suggest that it probably does need drinking up if you have any, although of course it will vary from bottle to bottle. There’s a touch of spice but the fruit has largely faded. Initially you get a stately wine relaxing for an afternoon snooze, very pleasant, but to be fair, it did begin to dry out as it sat in the glass.

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Baricci Colombaio Montosoli Brunello di Montalcino 2008 – Although one of the youngest wines on show, this really shone and I’d put it up there as one of my favourite wines of the day. The estate lies in the north of the DOCG, with vines on the famous Montosoli hillside. Interestingly, 1988 was not considered a stunning vintage for Montalcino. There were some contrasting views, with many commentators suggesting they were wines to drink early, but Jancis Robinson astutely noted that it was a vintage in which the best terroirs shone. Well, there are few Montalcino terroirs better than Montosoli.

The colour is lovely. The palate has a hint of dryness, but there’s still classic cherry fruit, silky as well. It’s very “old school”, suggestive of a wine aged in larger and older botti (Slavonian oak, maybe?). If it didn’t quite top the Riecine pair, certainly a WOTD contender.

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Biondi Santi Rosso di Montalcino 2008 – Another 2008, and sadly this was the wine I took along. I say sadly because it was corked. I had figured that despite the vintage, this Rosso is well known to be long-lived, and of a high quality (low yields, 12 months in Slavonian oak). In fact I’d been looking forward to revealing that it was only a Rosso. Who knows what it might have been were it not for cork taint.

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La Porta di Vertine Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 – This is another Gaiole estate, or rather I should say was. After less than a decade, La Porta di Vertine was (I believe) sold in 2016. By this time it had achieved a fine reputation, if perhaps a little under the radar in the UK, for low yielding Sangiovese wines made “naturally”, without additives.

The estate’s vines are on shale and limestone at around 500 metres altitude. The Riserva saw eighteen months in old, large, oak followed by a further year in bottle before release. The 2010 still has a fairly youthful, tannic, structure, enhanced I suspect by being served out of magnum. It’s rich and spicy, and alongside red and darker fruits, it has a lick of mocha or coffee grounds. There is, I understand, 5% Canaiolo blended in with the Sangiovese. Another impressive wine on which to finish the reds, but it will certainly blossom with further age.

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Riecine “Sebastiano” IGT Toscana 2001 – This really is becoming a bit of a Riecine-fest! Sebastiano is a Trebbiano-Malvasia blend from old-ish vines (25-to-30 years plus) at around 450 metres altitude on limestone and clay. Biodynamically grown, as with all of Riecine’s production, the wine is made by two different harvesting methods. Some grapes are cordon-cut, on the vine, and left to dry before late harvesting. Other grapes are harvested early and left to dry indoors.

Although labelled IGT, Sebastiano is like a rich Vin Santo, showing lovely deep colour. Where it really scores is in its blend of honeyed roundness and fresh citrus peel acidity, absolute perfection. I used to always drink Vin Santo on Christmas Day, and I wish I had some of this for the next one. Sebastiano is only produced in exceptional vintages, and spends about a dozen years in oak. This 50cl bottle is from a production of just 2,500 litres. An expensive and amazingly complex treat with which to end a brilliant lunch.

THE FOOD

Despite a few wines not showing their best, this lunch was such a pleasure. I know I said that there was an issue in matching the 1988 Riecine with the food, but these things happen. The standard of cooking at The Glasshouse is more than deserving of a Michelin Star. I know I eat “Michelin” far less than I used to, but I can still tell a good one when I see it, and you don’t need my inexperience to tell you how good The Glasshouse is.

We began with a starter of Orkney scallop sashimi with yuzu, white soy, enokis, sesame, ginger and chilli. All the flavours blended well in a deliciously fresh and palate cleansing whole. The sesame oil and soy dominated at first and then other elements, especially the ginger, came through.

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Second course was a nice touch. One of us is vegan, and ate a vegan menu, but this vegan course was served to everyone. Roasted and shaved cauliflower with cashew milk, black truffle and soused king oyster mushrooms was a treat for us all, a range of subtle flavours. I thought the cauliflower’s well roasted flavour was outstanding, but this may have been what tipped the balance viz wine pairing with very old Chianti.

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The main course of Lamb à la Niçoise, with olive oil (and olives), creamed potatoes and violet artichokes shone for me. The lamb was delicious, perfectly cooked, and textured. Pity me though. I have just come back from Yorkshire, eating what are openly described as “Yorkshire portions” on some menus. My stomach is consequently somewhat stretched. My eyes wanted seconds, though my head tells me I need to work on eating less for a while. Those artichokes were delicious too.

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Dessert was chocolate, banana and pecan éclair with dulce de leche ice cream. I love dulce de leche, a confection which is made by heating sweetened milk with sugar until it reduces and caramelises. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s certainly one to increase the heartbeat of any devoted sugar lover. Add in a fresh éclair and, well…late lunch today and I almost can’t look at these photos.

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Of course, this was an organised wine event with a set menu, and byo on the wines, but the standard of cooking here suggests that we should all try to get down to The Glasshouse more often. Check them out here. Whilst you are there, don’t forget to check out The Good Wine Shop, Kew, literally a two-to-three minute walk away.

 

 

 

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40 Maltby Street

London is full of restaurants which are without any doubt “worth a detour” in Michelin parlance, and despite the pressures on our economy they continue to open, for now. What with trying to keep up, which I am failing miserably to do (yet to get to Leroy and Brat, both unforgivable omissions), old favourites get left by the wayside. Not that I’ve been enough times for it to really count as an “old favourite”, but two years had passed since I’d visited 40 Maltby Street when I met a couple of friends there at the end of September, and that was around twenty-three months too long. The surroundings may be far from plush, but the standard of food here is pretty remarkable.

40 Maltby Street isn’t the easiest place to find if you’ve never been, sitting between London Bridge and Bermondsey Stations, among the bars, breweries, distillery, bakers and wine merchants which have congregated around the narrow streets and railway arches south of the London Bridge terminus. It’s a tiny place too, or at least the bit you eat in. The restaurant is actually part of the original warehouse (since moved, I think) for its sister wine merchant, Gergovie Wines.

Gergovie is the icing on the cake here for lovers of natural wines. It’s not just that they specialise in natural wines, but Gergovie only sell wines which are wholly of that genre, shunning all additives including sulphur. It is worth noting that as a consequence the wines here will be suitable for vegans. The Gergovie range is available to purchase on site, and can also be sampled in the restaurant.

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The Wines

Explosive Materials Brut Nature, L’Égrappille, Auvergne

This just seemed the obvious place to start here, what with Gergovie Wines being named after an Auvergne plateau ten kilometres south of Clermont-Ferrand. We have a sparkling Gamay from the most happening wine region in France, made in the same locale, near Blanzat, on the edge of Clermont.

This producer is quite typical of the region, having taken time to amass just 3.5 ha of vines on the rich basalt which underpins the rugged hills here. The Auvergne was once an enormous viticultural area, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, but rural depopulation did for the Auvergne as it did for much of France’s sources of cheap wine. That left great opportunities for those seeking cheaper vineyards in many such regions, but the spanner in the works here has been the growth of Clermont-Ferrand.

Although Michelin is no longer the great employer it once was (at one time Michelin employed 30,000 people in Clermont), the city has diversified, and its engineering industries still thrive. This means that there are always pressures on land prices, and if you are an older ex-vigneron with a hectare or two of vines, you’ll get a lot more money from a developer than from a young couple hoping to start a vineyard.

I only mention this history because it is important to realise that those who are making a go of wine in the Auvergne are doing so facing many difficulties, and it puts their hard work in context. Those lucky enough to get hold of a hectare or two are able to benefit from very old vine stock, especially probably the best Gamay outside of Beaujolais. At least there is also a local market, although the wines of the Auvergne are now reaching places those original old timers could only have dreamed of.

Explosive Materials is a delicious sparkling Gamay from Chateaugay, one of the best known (at least among wine obsessives) of the communes of the Côtes d’Auvergne appellation, which just bursts with life…and fun. Auvergnat Gamay often tastes quite different to what we are used to from this variety, with more strawberry and raspberry fruit than cherry. There’s a lightness here, coupled with just 11% alcohol, which makes this a genuinely delicious aperitif. The bottle had 2016 stamped on it, and yet it still seemed remarkably fresh. Highly recommended.

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L’Éphémère Blanc 2016, Julien Peyras, Languedoc

Julien Peyras has been farming at Paulhan, in L’Hérault, just a little to the northeast of Beziers, since 2007, family vineyards whose fruit previously went to the local co-op. From the outset Julien ditched the chemicals. In fact he’s a member of several organisations which promote fully natural production methods, including zero sulphur.

The grape mix here is Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Roussanne, which is one of the classic white blends of the region. Rather than pure fruit flavours, you get a wine that’s more in the mineral spectrum with herby notes dominating, along with some stone fruit. That doesn’t mean that the wine itself doesn’t taste pure, because it does, remarkably so. It’s quite dark in colour, showing the patina of some bottle age, but it doesn’t fall into the oxidised camp. Instead, the flavours are complex and elusive as the wine changes in the glass. An impressive wine, made by a man who by all accounts is one of the region’s most thoughtful. As Gergovie say on their web site, Julien’s wines show a maturity beyond his years.

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Brân “L-16”, Raisin et L’Ange, Ardèche

Raisin et L’Ange is the name of the small negociant business run by Gilles, and his son, Antonin, Azzoni. They are based, with a small vignoble of their own, in the Vallée de L’Ibie in the Ardèche. I’ve actually been not too far from here, the closest town being Aubenas, and it feels pretty remote, west of the Rhône, more or less on a level with Montélimar.

Antonin has pretty much taken over making the wines from his father now. They buy in most of their needs, all organic, and as you will now have come to expect, eschew all additives in the winemaking process. Brân, which presumably is not named after the Giant in Welsh mythology, is a blend of Merlot and Gamay off schist. Winemaking is as simple as possible, with spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel, but the wine’s own simplicity is its major plus point.

There’s a mix of red fruits with cherry here, plus a touch of bitter pepper, a little weight (13% abv) and a silky texture. A lovely wine which just slips down nicely. I’m not sure of the exact percentages in the grape mix, but there does seem to me a little more Gamay coming through, with Merlot (or at least typical Merlot) playing a supporting role.

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That’s three wines which fall into the category of “drinkers”. I know you’ll read restaurant reviews in which people order smart wines, for which they pay three times retail price, to go with their justifiably lauded Michelin-starred cuisine, but the food here seems to cry out for wines which “accompany”, rather than fight for supremacy. There was also no doubt about it, three of us demolished these wines without any problem. In fact I think we had a glass of something else afterwards, but I have no notes and no recollection, so the wines I’ve listed obviously went down very well indeed.

The Food

Well, I won’t say a lot about the food. I mean, I’m here to tell you about the wines, but the food as I have said was more than excellent. In fact before I went to 40MS this time I was reading around and came across a review by that most reliable of restaurant critics, Marina O’Loughlin. Writing in The Guardian back in 2014, she said “The food that issues from the postage-stamp-sized kitchen is all pretty much faultless”, and I can say without caveat that the same is true today.

There were highlights, of course, and I’d say that the game sausage roll was unmissable, but the long menu chalked up by the bar has the sort of selection where even with a few people sharing, you never exhaust the possibilities. That is especially true of the desserts, which are certainly not an afterthought here, so leave some room. The menu also changes pretty much daily, so there’s little chance of getting bored.

The cooking style here is what I’d call “East London Small Plates”. Sometimes the small plates concept is just annoying, especially when sharing, as there’s never enough and whatever the number dining, if you share there’s always a dish or two with too few pieces. But here, the dishes are substantial enough, so long as your friends are not too greedy. Selecting as many as you can eat soon becomes the main consideration.

With such quality on offer there is a down side, and that is that 40 Maltby Street soon gets packed. I don’t just mean at the weekend, when the surrounding area is a buzz of food and drink lovers and the place is rammed. Even in the week it gets full, the answer being to get in early before all the hard working people fall out of their offices and studios.

Open Wednesday to Sunday, but check times on their basic web site here. No reservations are accepted, so bear in mind what I said about dining early, or at least turning up for a bottle before you order food.

Posted in Dining, Natural Wine, Vegan Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Bars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines (September 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

September saw Southern England’s summer continue (as it has done up until this weekend, but though I type in glorious sunshine the wind has turned and the Nebbiolo season may be about to start). The wines here are therefore still quite summery, but I’m increasingly enjoying lighter wine styles throughout the year. As I get older, less alcohol and refreshment seem to be preferable to inky wines which come as thick as soup. I’ve been restrained and only selected ten of the wines we drank at home last month, but every one is a genuine cracker.

Shan Pan [2017], Cascina Zerbetta, Piemonte (Italy) – This might just be the most unusual wine here. Paolo Malfatti and Anna-Maria Zerbetta farm just three hectares at Quargnento, just west of Alessandria. This is a col fondo sparkler, but we are not in Prosecco here. Nor, indeed, are we drinking Cortese, Arneis or Moscato, but Sauvignon Blanc.

I first tasted this back in May at Modal Wines’ Plateau event in Brighton. I was impressed enough to include it in a few wines I subsequently ordered, not because I thought it complex or anything, just that it seemed a perfect summer wine, which is exactly what it proved to be.

Definitely worth going for the “shake it up” approach to distribute the lees, making the wine cloudy but (in this case, for sure) infinitely more flavoursome. It’s “frizzante”, light, and zesty with a little mineral texture and mouthfeel. The bubbles are quite fine, and light. There’s acidity but it’s far from rasping. We took this to an open air theatre event (an excellent “The Crucible”) and it was picnic perfection. Just 11.5% abv.

Importer: Modal Wines

Bourgogne Aligoté <<Skin>> 2017, Du Grappin, Maconnais via Beaune (France) – As Andrew and Emma Nielsen stray further from their original “Le Grappin” cuvées, from the Côte d’Or, I get more and more excited. Of course the Beaunes, Santenays and others are as wonderful as ever, but Andrew and Emma Nielsen seem to be saying to their biggest fans “okay, we know a lot of you can’t really afford these wines any more but we’ll give you excitement and innovation to compensate”.

That is certainly the case with their Beaujolais cuvées, but this particular Aligoté is perhaps their most exciting wine under the “Du Grappin” label to date. The straight Aligoté, which I’ve written about before, is really good, but this skin-contact version just takes things a small step further. There is no doubt that Aligoté is getting more and more fashionable, and less and less gratingly acidic, but Andrew has hit upon a vinification here that adds even more to the variety.

The grapes come from Perelles-le-Haut in Macon Roche-Vineuse, from south-facing alluvial Bathonian limestone. The vines are 80-years-old. A ten day carbonic maceration, skin contact and nine months resting on lees in old barrels, and bottling without fining nor filtration, gives a wine that has a touch more colour than the straight Du Grappin Aligoté, but nothing extreme. We are not in “orange wine” territory. The nose is pure Aligoté, gently appley with a little lemon citrus. The palate has a bit of grippy texture, without anything like the acidity levels you found in Aligoté of old. In fact, I’d go as far as to say there’s a little richness to it.

It’s hard to describe how fabulous this wine is, because its qualities come through as being just a little bit under-stated, not at all in your face. The texture, and that tad of richness, make it an ideal food wine, rather than anything in the aperitif style (and, heaven forbid, keep it well away from crème de cassis).

The only negative, from my point of view, is just how little Andrew bottled. Most went into cask for Uncharted Wines, so if you see it in a bar or restaurant which is serving it from keg, grab a few glasses. I tasted it from keg at the recent Uncharted Wines portfolio tasting, and it tasted every bit as good from that format as from bottle.

Availability: almost non-existent. Contact Le Grappin direct, or contact Uncharted Wines to find out who has it from keg.

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[Chardonnay] Vin de France 2015, Philippe Bornard, Pupillin (Jura, France) – I have been quite lucky in bagging a few of Philippe’s wines recently, though none as good as his elusive pétnat, which I also drank in September, at Solent Cellar with a slice of Comté tart. It’s not that I don’t try to buy some wine every time I’m in the region, but he’s invariably sold out. Somehow Simon at Solent Cellar managed to get hold of a selection of Bornards, and what I picked up from him included two Chardonnays from 2015. One is labelled as “Côtes du Jura Les Gaudrettes” and the other just “Vin de France”. My understanding is that they are actually the same wine, but I’ve no idea why the different labels in one vintage. Can anyone enlighten me?

Okay, this is a 2015 and shows 13% alcohol. You just don’t expect such a zippy entry on the palate, but the marls of the Jura, and the additional limestone found in Philippe’s Pupillin parcels, often give that freshness even in a warm vintage. In fact this is very much a Jura wine, especially on the bouquet. You get citrus, but it’s also quite (lightly) nutty, and that woodsmoke you immediately notice in the region when you visit somehow comes out in the wine as well…just a hint. It’s also as close to a pure fruit juice as you can get. You really don’t notice that it’s alcoholic on the palate.

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Klevener de Heiligenstein 2016, Domaine Rietsch, Mittelbergheim (Alsace, France) – My visit to Jean-Pierre Rietsch was one of my highlights of 2017. Indeed, it was my first visit to the region, which I know very well, for quite a few years and all the feelings I have for Alsace came pouring back. I brought back a mixed case from Rietsch. Jean-Pierre makes many different wines, as is the way in Alsace, so I only brought back single bottles. That has its advantages, you get to try more of the range at your own table, but it’s quite heartbreaking to drink a wine like this and know you don’t have any more. The good news – Wines Under The Bonnet are importing Rietsch since the beginning of this year, so the wines are finally available in the UK again.

Heiligenstein is a village just a little way to the north of Mittelbergheim and Barr, in the lee of Mont-Saint-Odile. The village is unusual because it has its own speciality. Klevener is confusingly not the same as “Klevner”, the latter being a synonym of the Pinot Blanc family. Klevener refers to Savagnin Rose (or Roter Traminer in Austria). It’s a white grape with a reddish-tinged skin which does really well on the argilo-calcaire soils of Heiligenstein.

This is one of Jean-Pierre’s zero sulphur wines, wholly “natural” in every way. Vinification includes eleven months ageing on lees in demi-muid barrels. It comes out sunset yellow in colour, and it is pure, focussed and dry. Its characteristic is a nutty, savoury edge, with a tiny bit of richness. There’s a miniscule 0.4 g/l of residual sugar, which perhaps is too small to notice, but perhaps this is what hints at that latter quality. Amazing! I’d actually put this up there among my wines of the year so far (crazy guy), it’s that good. Philosophical winemaking of a very high order.

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Artego [2017], Tillingham Wines, East Sussex (UK) – Ben Walgate is building what is potentially going to be one of the most exciting vineyards in the UK, along with a restaurant, visitor shop and rooms to stay in, at Peasmarsh, near Rye. As his own eclectic vignoble matures, and as his new batch of Georgian qvevri are buried, he’s been sourcing grapes for his initial cuvées.

Artego is, as the name so obviously alludes to, Ortega, which Ben scrounged from Westwell Vineyard, a near neighbour, close to Ashford in Kent. This is the batch which didn’t go into what, at the time, was his only Ortega qvevri. The grapes were lightly crushed into open fermenters and macerated twice-daily by foot for five days. Then the fruit was pressed in small batches in Ben’s basket press. Half of the juice was aged in old Burgundy barrels and half in stainless steel. A tiny bit of sulphur was added, as little as Ben felt he could get away with.

Whereas the qvevri version of Artego has all the texture of an orange wine, with its inherent complexity, this version is quite zippy and fresh. The acidity is reasonably high and the fruit is all apples, with perhaps a tiny lick of grapefruit. Ortega, a Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe cross, is generally quite a low acid variety (high must weights make it a sure bet for very sweet wines in some German regions) but I think this fruit was picked reasonably early, preserving a wonderful level of balanced acidity.

It may be that the real geeks among us will find the ever so slightly challenging, certainly complex, Qvevri Artego ultimately more satisfying, and even exciting, but remember, this wine retails for a little more than half the price of the Qvevri version. Only a little over 1,000 bottles were made, so snap it up and enjoy some deliciously fresh Ortega.

Distribution is through Les Caves de Pyrene.

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Deviner 2015, Slobodne, Zemianske Sady (Slovakia) – You don’t see many wines from Slovakia’s Carpathian Mountains this good, but I’ve drunk this 2015 Deviner three times this year and I can say quite honestly that it is stunning. Deviner is a blend of Devin (a Traminer/Roter Veltliner cross) with Traminer itself. This wine is grown in Slovakia’s western hills about an hour from Bratislava.

Unlike in some of the former Communist states, when the Wall came down over Europe, in Slovakia agricultural land was redistributed back to its original owners…if you could prove title. Thankfully for sisters Agnes Lovecka and Katarina Kuropkova, they could, from papers that had been hidden away for decades.

Although Slovakia’s reputation currently lags a bit behind that of near neighbour Moravia, in the Czech Republic, there is hardly less of a natural wine movement growing here than in that exciting region. There’s a triangle of concentrated natural wine activity which also takes in Northeastern Austria, though the influences on Slobodne are perhaps primarily more local (in particular from Zsolt Sütó at Strekov 1075).

Six weeks on skins for the destemmed fruit gives this Deviner its flavour, along with what seems like just the right amount of texture. The colour is more straw-gold than orange, and the aromatics combine citrus (grapefruit and lime) with stone fruit (mainly peach). It’s dry and freshly acidic and a real find.

Imported by Modal Wines in the UK (with seemingly good US distribution too).

Côtes du Jura “Balanoz” 2015, Domaine Berthet-Bondet, Château-Chalon (Jura, France) – Another 2015 Jura Chardonnay, this time from further south of Arbois-Pupillin, in the middle of the elongated Jura region, hailing from one of Château-Chalon’s finest producers. I opened this after seeing how well it was drinking at the Jura event I introduced at Solent Cellar in Lymington back in September, from whom I had previously purchased this bottle.

Balanoz is a parcel selection of topped-up (ouillé) Chardonnay. Recommended drinking suggests three-to-five years, but this 2015 has a rounded richness that makes it worth drinking right now in my opinion. It’s a good bit fatter than the Bornard (above), but it does still have acidity to balance it out. It’s more rounded than that leaner wine, and is quite savoury. It also has very good length. Age will mellow it further but personally I think it seems good to go. I hate to use descriptions suggesting this is more “Burgundian” in style than Philippe Bornard’s Vin de France (see above), but I suppose many people would describe it that way.

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Gentil de Katz 2015, Clément Klur, Katzenthal (Alsace, France) – Katzenthal is just south of Ammerschwihr, and west of Colmar, in the southern, Haut-Rhin, part of Alsace. It’s a “Gentil”, the modern name for an Alsace blend, with perhaps more of a quality ring than the older “edelzwicker”.

The blend in this case is made up of 50% Pinot Blanc, with 25% each of Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The bouquet is quite floral and exotic, grounded by a little soft pear aroma. The palate is quite rich and only just dry, and very fruity (peach/apricot perhaps), finishing, well, as the name ironically suggests, gently. This is a wine I come back to from time to time. Klur makes wines that are more sophisticated (he has vines on the Grand Cru Wineck Schlossberg), and he makes a damned good Crémant d’Alsace as well, but somehow this wine just reflects the beautiful scenery from which it comes, whether in springtime or autumn. Soft, gentle, satisfying…and pretty widely available via Alliance Wine (though probably now in a later vintage).

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Pink Bulles Vin de France “XVII” [2017], Jean Maupertuis, St-Georges-sur-Allier (Auvergne, France) – The Auvergne is definitely one of the most exciting emerging wine regions in France. Once massively covered in vines, rural depopulation emptied it (as did war) in the 20th Century, and even before that rural poverty made life difficult here. Cheaper vineyard land has made it a destination for young vignerons starting out with little hard cash but plenty of attitude, talent and an aptitude for hard work.

Jean Maupertuis was one of the first, although he’s hardly that young. He worked in computer science, got interested in wine and left. At wine school in Macon he met Eric Macé, who introduced him to the world of natural wine (via Lapierre, Thévenet and others). He was lucky to be able to rent 3.5 ha of vines around fifteen-to-twenty kilometres south of Clermont Ferrand, back in the 1990s from a vigneron who was soon to retire, and it is these vines which form the core of his small estate today.

Pink Bulles is a pétnat made from Gamay vines over fifty years old. It’s a particular strain of Gamay, known as Gamay d’Auvergne. It has the pale colour of pink grapefruit, and a strawberry scent, mirrored on the palate, rather than the cherry characteristics of the grape in Beaujolais to the north. The bubbles are focussed, quite tight, and this complements the lighter fruit. It finishes fruity and just off-dry. Another brilliant summer fizz, “exquisite” seems the most appropriate description I can come up with. Grab the last few bottles if you can whilst the sun lasts. I’m guessing this is so fresh that any bottles left over until next spring will be pretty interesting as well.

Contact Les Caves de Pyrene.

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Schieferstern “Purus” 2016, Rita and Rudolf Trossen, Kinheim (Middle Mosel, Germany) – Kinheim is one the less fashionable villages of the Middle Mosel, yet between Urzig and Erden on the one hand and Traben-Trarbach on the other, anyone who has cycled along here will know that these vineyards, on weathered slate, are still part of that same impressive stretch of vines. What is more, the Trossens have the benefit of owning a large proportion of ungrafted vines over a hundred years old.

Rudolf Trossen has the weather-worn face and classic, permanently affixed, felt hat of one of the older Mosel winemakers, and with the history of wine here, it surprises many to learn that the Trossens have been farming biodynamically since the late 1970s. Few people outside of wine have heard of this estate, but Rudolf has become something of a guru for those wishing to follow a more sustainable, and eco-friendly, path on the river.

Winemaking here is by no means static. The Trossens’ “Purus” range of wines, which have no added sulphur, only date from 2010, initiated as an experiment which worked. Rudolf believes that by giving these wines extended ageing on lees, this helps to stabilise them, something a lot of makers of skin contact and lees aged wines the world over are discovering, to our benefit.

This 2016 Riesling is even more stripped back than the norm on the Mosel as a result of this zero sulphur regime, and seems very precise. And as the name is intended to suggest, it tastes very pure indeed. There’s acidity and dryness, held together by a mineral structure and texture. But there’s also another dimension to the wine, something different, which I can best characterise as “vivacity”. It really does taste alive, as all the best biodynamic wines do.

Is this for everyone? I sincerely hope not, because there’s not enough to go around. But my friends who are more into classic Mosel producers do, on the whole, find these wines as fascinating as I do. Kind of Riesling on the edge.

Imported by Newcomer Wines.

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Canevel: It Really Is Time To Take Another Look At Prosecco

Prosecco, what, that cheap supermarket mainstay of every vodka and coke drinker’s Friday night? Has he gone mad? Well, actually, no! A long time ago I used to drink Prosecco from time to time. It actually provided a nice contrast in style to the many bottle-fermented (which in those days we used to call “Champagne method”) sparkling wines, the ones we now know as Crémants, which were produced all over France.

Back in those days, the cheap supermarket fizz of choice was Cava from Spain, especially the black bottle of Freixenet Cordon Negro. These days you’ll pay £8.50 for that particular Cava in Tesco, but a bottle of Prosecco can be had for £6.25, and I’m sure that something will be available for under £5 when the Christmas offers kick in.

Prosecco used to be a grape variety, but they renamed it Glera in order to head off those who would wish to make “Prosecco” in other parts of the world. Prosecco is a lucrative business. But Prosecco is also a wine region. As DOC it can come from any of nine provinces in Northeastern Italy, but as a “Superiore DOCG” it can only come from the hills between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (north of Treviso) and from Asolo, both in the region of Veneto.

Those hills are especially steep and stunningly beautiful. I’ve never visited, but I can recall quite well how it was photographs of these vine-clad green hills which were a catalyst for my early interest in the wine, before it shot to infamy. The particular bottle I sought out, and subsequently drank many times, was Bisol’s Cartizze (although Carlo, see below, will I hope be pleased to note that I also drank Canevel’s “Vino Spumante Aromatico La Vie” several times around the turn of the Millennium)…along, I will readily admit, with the odd Bellini cocktail, for which Prosecco was famous.

Although Prosecco is tank fermented, by the Charmat method (known regionally as the Martinotti method), often looked down upon by those who ferment in bottle, Cartizze was one of what turn out to be several special crus (effectively large single vineyards) where grapes ripen slowly on complex soils. This Bisol wine, with its almond and pear fragrance, acidity balanced with softness, and around 25g/litre of sugar back then, ensuring it was off-dry, made it stand out against any of its more acidic competitors (Bisol Crede was, and remains, by way of contrast, a rare Prosecco Brut, at 10 g/l sugar).

It was with wines like that in mind that I headed off yesterday to meet Dottore Carlo Caramel (current family head of Canevel) and Andrea Dal Cin (Technical Director and Director of Winemaking for Masi). The 2016 purchase of a 60% stake in Canevel, a great family firm in Prosecco, by the famous quality Veneto producer Masi Agricola, created a stir in the industry.

Masi has its roots in the finest wines of Valpolicella, and more recently is famous for projects in Tuscany and in Tupungato, Argentina, but it also has a green agenda which involves sustainable viticulture, with the removal of synthetic herbicides and pesticides and, over time, decreased use of sulphur in winemaking, along with all sorts of other interesting experiments…more on this later on.

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The Doctor (Carlo) and Andrea

Canevel was founded in 1979 by Carlo’s grandfather, and from the beginning he wanted to establish a fully integrated production chain. Unusually for the region, when Mario Caramel didn’t own the vines in question, he worked with selected growers to oversee their work in the vineyard, and dictated when to pick. This gave Canevel a level of control over the grapes unlike almost any other producer in Valdobbiadene.

Another unusual step taken by the company was to put the year of production, or vintage, on the label to “inform the consumer”, a rare thing in a region of year-round fabrication for the cheaper wines. Canevel now owns 15 hectares of vines on an estate of 26 hectares (around 25% of its own requirements), and along with the grapes from its fifty chosen partner farmers, now produces 850,000 bottles each year.

With an emphasis on the quality wines of the Valdobbiadene district, Canevel purchased the cru of Faè in 1994, and in the following year they built a new production centre at San Biagio, since updated, in the heart of Valdobbiadene, just a few hundred metres from Cartizze. The whole ethos of Canevel has always been to concentrate on the premium end of Prosecco, and the new joint venture with Masi aims to develop that ethos in a number of different ways. These include single vineyard wines, zero-dosage Prosecco, and organics. Of course, the dream is also to re-inforce the preception of Prosecco, perhaps re-establish it in some markets, as a high quality terroir wine in the eyes of more discerning consumers.

Before moving to the DOCG wines it is worth mentioning that Canevel produces a Prosecco DOC Extra Dry. This soft, refreshing, wine is in some ways astonishing. It tastes not remotely like the Prosecco one usually finds at this level, although it is fair to point out that it would retail at around £11, twice the price of your usual supermarket fare…interestingly when Mario founded the company his wines were always around twice the price of the average bottle on the market.

The wine is typically pale straw in colour and is noticeably more frothy than many sparkling wines. But the bead is fine, it is aromatic and fresh, with 11% abv and just short of 13 grams/litre of residual sugars (the allowed range for Extra Dry is now 12 to 17 grams). A versatile wine, very pleasant. It doesn’t take much to realise that this is a well made wine from a quality producer, despite its apparently lowly appellation.

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The next wine we tasted together was Canevel’s Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry. This is the wine which from the very beginnings of the company topped the range. This is also emphatically a wine of the hills, hills with an average height of 300 metres, steep conical slopes to which the vines cling precipitously. The soils here are formed of conglomorates and shallow sandstone, which are especially free draining.

The wine is made by an initial fermentation in stainless steel at a controlled 15 Degrees Celsius, with refermentation taking place in November, similarly cooled over 15 days. This wine exhibits very fresh apple on the nose (rather than pear), with prominent floral, blossom, notes. Coming in at 11.2% abv with 16 g/l of sugars, this has a gourmande quality to it, a wine ideally suited for fish and seafood (and, we discovered, English cheeses). Less dry, but still dry (surprisingly), mineral and balanced.

It is marketed in the embossed bottle of the Confraternita of Valdobbiadene, which is only authorised for used by producers whose production is at least 51% or more of Prosecco di Valdobbiadene.

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My special interest was aroused by the third wine I tasted, Spumante Dosaggio Zero Vigneto Del Faè. This is a Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG from a single vineyard at 220 metres above sea level, near Refrontolo. High density planting is on clay, sandstone and marls. The wine is dry, of course (there is no dosage but a natural 3 g/l of sugar remains in the wine), and there’s plenty of dry extract.

The retention of proteins in the wine (always an aim at Canevel) helps to create a lovely mouthfeel, and one-and-a-half months on fine lees rich in aminos (released into the wine by daily stirring) enhances the profile and structure. So this comes across as finely crafted and an excellent example of a classic wine style.

The bouquet here is very fragrant, more apple blossom and a little hint of very fresh apple. The acidity is slightly enhanced, or rather one’s perception of it (total acidity is around 5 g/l), although Prosecco’s characteristic lower acidity does help make it even more food friendly. The finish is long and dry. It is a remarkably versatile wine in my opinion, one made (again) for food, and I wouldn’t restrict this to fish. I think it would go well with rabbit, and other game.

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Bottling of this cuvée is with minimal sulphur, which brings me onto a topic close to both Masi’s, and Canevel’s, hearts – the Masi Green Project. The idea is to work progressively towards a green and sustainable operation at all levels. Working organically in the vineyards, no herbicides nor pesticides are sprayed. They are instead using plankton preparations, pine oil, and grapefruit oil as fungicides to great effect.

There are also long-running experiments isolating native yeasts for potential future fermentation. Using small 45-litre stainless steel tanks, they isolated 128 strains from their vineyards, over a six year period, with so far one of those strains appearing more promising than any others. In Prosecco production it isn’t really possible to leave fermentations to chance, so using completely random wild yeasts is not really an option, but using selected strains instead of commercial yeasts is the way forward.

The most tangible product of this green project in Valdobbiadene is called Campofalco. It’s a second single site Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG cuvée, and a Brut wine, which was released at Vinitaly in April this year. Campofalco is the product of the Monfalcon vineyard which, surrounded by woodland, is the perfect subject for totally organic production (no chance of another farmer’s sprays drifting over the Canevel vines). Whilst all of Canevel’s other wines tasted above are made from 100% Glera, Campofalco has 10% Verdiso added. That’s another nice touch, using one of the varieties which (along with Bianchetta, Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga and others) used to cover the hills around Treviso in the days before Glera gained dominance.

Campofalco isn’t (as yet) available in the UK, so I was unable to taste it, but it does represent a major step for Canevel in further establishing the environmental credentials which have so far been lacking in much of the region, at least at the level of the main players (we know about the Col Fondo wines of those smaller artisan producers with “natural wine” leanings) . They are also more than well on their way to shining a light, through these quality-focused wines, on the soul of Prosecco, and it is something very different to what many UK consumers have seen Prosecco become. Something altogether finer.

The three Canevel wines tasted yesterday are distributed in the UK (exclusively through restaurants, it appears) via Berkmann Wine Cellars.

For more information on Canevel, visit their own web site here.

 

 

 

 

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