Recent Wines December 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 2 of my “Recent Wines” for December 2021 covers the more interesting wines we drank at home over the latter part of the month. This includes Christmas and New Year’s Eve, although you wouldn’t know…a dearth of posh wines with maybe one exception. You just get the usual eclectic bunch. Three Germans (all different regions), two English wines (one sparkling, one still), and one each from the Jura, Burgundy and Czechia.

SYLVANER “ZÖLD” 2018, BIANKA & DANIEL SCHMITT (Rheinhessen, Germany)

This dynamic couple from Florsheim-Dalsheim make their “Sylvaner” using the variety’s French name, and the Landwein designation, despite their famous location. The wine is made with minimal intervention, the fruit grown biodynamically, the only input really being the decision to macerate for four weeks. Sylvaner does enjoy a bit of skin contact if the fruit is ripe and clean.

The wine starts out in the glass with a touch of froth, and a colour almost resembling cloudy apple juice. The apple colour is mirrored very much on the nose, with a striking fresh apple bouquet. The palate runs the spectrum of green and yellow fruits with some noticeable texture coming from the skins. However, with all that fruit balanced by the textural element, the finish is more savoury than sweet.

B&D call this a “green, filigree, fruit bomb” and it certainly is. At just 11.5% abv you can imagine how easily it goes down, but at the same time it’s maybe one for those seeking joy rather than seriousness. Truly fun.

From The Solent Cellar. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

PINOT NOIR “TSCHUPPEN” 2015, ZIEREISEN (Baden, Germany)

Located in a sheltered spot close to the Swiss border in the far south of Baden (at Efringen-Kirchen), Hanspeter Ziereisen produces several of Germany’s finest wines, at least in my opinion. People often comment that the conditions here are similar to Burgundy, but that’s a bit of a red herring. Ziereisen has moved away from Burgundy clones and small oak in recent years and these wines can be a kind of German/Swiss hybrid in terms of their taste profile.

This cuvée is very far from being expensive, released as a Bädischer Landwein and described, in actual fact, as a Blauer Spätburgunder. It comes from young vine fruit grown in a pretty cool terroir (Tschuppen is a single site), yet protected from the winds that whip down from the northeast.

The soils are a mix of jurakalk mit löss and when the grapes came in around 70% were destemmed in 2015. A spontaneous fermentation took place in stainless steel, the wine seeing six weeks on skins, then ageing took place in large oak füder for 24 months. The wine was bottled unfiltered and sulphur limited to just 0.7g/l.

The bouquet is gorgeous cherry fruit, balanced on the palate by the remains of the wine’s tannic structure, now much softened after six years post-harvest (but still evident). The fruit on the palate is in the dark cherry spectrum, and the wine overall has a nice velvet texture. This really is a bargain at around £20, though of course availability in the UK is reasonably limited.

This bottle came via Butlers Wine Cellar, but Ziereisen is imported by Howard Ripley.

CÔTES DU JURA « POINT BARRE » PLOUSSARD 2016, PHILIPPE BORNARD (Jura, France)

One of the star names in the village of Pupillin, just outside of Arbois, the domaine is now being run by Philippe’s son, Tony, who last time I looked was building a new winery, the domaine having outgrown the family home now. Tony’s father was something of a legend back in the day though, but all the stories which echo around his presence shout joyous fun. Of course he’s still very much there in the background.

Point Barre is made from vines over sixty years old, the fruit being destemmed but fermented as whole berries. It starts out quite feral in the glass (same as the previous two bottles I’ve drunk of this) and one wonders how it passed the Côtes du Jura appellation panel. Perhaps they are more open-minded in the Jura? You would probably guess this was a “no added sulphur” wine.

If I haven’t lost you there, then you would certainly enjoy this great example of natural Ploussard. The bouquet shows ethereal red fruits, with a definite strawberry note, for me. If that suggests a greater softness than some more cranberry-inflected Ploussard, you’d certainly notice that softness on the palate. The texture is faint but dusty, and therein you do taste a bit of cranberry and redcurrant in the zippy acidity. If I were to sum up this wine in a couple of words, I’d use soulful and pensive, which is how the best Poulsard/Ploussard ought to taste.

Another purchase from Solent Cellar, imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

DORSET CHARDONNAY 2018, LANGHAM (Dorset, England)

This is Langham’s first still 100% Chardonnay and they did choose a rather fine vintage from which to release it. The vines grow on south-facing chalk in their Crawthorne vineyard, off the A354 between Dorchester and Blandford Forum (not far from Puddletown and Milton Abbas). The approach here is fairly low intervention with spontaneous fermentations, no fining/filtration and no animal-derived additives (so the wine may not be a “natural wine” in some people’s book but it is vegan).

The style is deliberately “fresh” and remains so even after three years ageing. The lemon freshness is enhanced by some more exotic fruits creeping in. This fruit is bright but also creamy and the texture is dry with a little bit of extract.

It’s a wine that’s not aiming for Burgundian complexity or weight but is perhaps, with its summer freshness, something uniquely English and all the better for it. A wine with its own unique personality. I’m impressed with this, really enjoyable on its own terms. I’m a fan of the estate’s sparkling wines and I shall certainly try to buy the next vintage.

Another wine from The Solent Cellar, also available from other independents including Lea & Sandeman in London.

“CUVÉE DAVID PEARSON” 2015, BREAKY BOTTOM (Sussex, England)

I would challenge anyone to name a more perfectly situated English wine estate, sitting as it does, enfolded within a hollow (“bottom”) of beautiful Sussex Downland just south of Rodmell, and a longish pebble’s throw from the sea. Peter Hall has turned his small start-up estate, which he planted in the mid-1970s, into one of a handful of the finest wine producers in the country.

You will most likely have seen me post reviews of other Breaky Bottom wines, including cuvées containing Seyval Blanc, a variety which the Hall family has elevated above any other English example I can think of. “David Pearson” doesn’t contain any Seyval Blanc, instead being a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Peter generally makes two different cuvées per year and the names are a nod to family friends. David Pearson was a long-time member of the BB team who sadly passed away in 2019.

This is a very pure example of a wine which, despite extended lees ageing of around four years, has a purity and freshness off the scale, a trait of this producer, which is why I love the wines so much. The blend is 70% Chardonnay, the Pinot varieties adding 15% each to the whole. Of course, along with the freshness you do also get that creamy brioche of aged traditional method sparkling wines. I’d go so far as describing this as magical now, but you can certainly see the path to further ageing.

This came from Butlers Wine Cellar, straight from Breaky Bottom itself.

CORTON GRAND CRU LES MARÉCHAUDES 2006, DOMAINE CHANDON DE BRIAILLES (Burgundy, France)

The de Nicolay family estate has grown in stature over the years. Always providing stunning value, with some hidden gems (like the tiny “ Île des Vergelesses” vineyard), this century the quality has progressed even further, as have the domaine’s green credentials. This is good news for one of the most maligned sections of the Côte d’Or’s Grand Cru terroirs, Corton. They are one of the few producers which have made genuine terroir wines from the hill.

Their progress has been a result of increasingly low intervention viticulture and winemaking. This is a wine fermented with whole clusters in wooden vat, undergoing gentle pressing and ageing in mostly older oak (maybe 20% new oak at Grand Cru level).

Maréchaudes is situated just below Bressandes on red soils with limestone. It tends to drink a little sooner than the other GCs here, but this shouldn’t make it of lesser quality. My take on this bottle is that, rather nicely, it combines, or perhaps juxtaposes, the velvet smoothness of some Beaune wines (thinking more the Premiers) with the texture of Côte de Nuits limestone. This makes for a delicious and interesting bottle, although there’s that niggle with me that, as with a lot of 2006 wines I’ve drunk, they are not quite able to give as much as I fervently hope the 2005s will…at some point in their evolution. And guess what folks, this is a “natural wine” (well, they add a tiny bit of sulphur but nowt else). Don’t tell your conservative drinking friends, because they will never guess.

I’ve had this a fair while in the cellar but I’m pretty sure I purchased it from Berry Bros & Rudd.

“MAD DOG WARWICK” 2019, MADAME FLÖCK (Mosel, Germany)

Madame Flöck is the creation of two guys, Rob and Derek, who come from the US and Canada respectively. They met in the Barossa when making wine there in 2016…so the Terrassenmosel  at Lehmen and Winningen was the obvious place to set up a partnership together, right? Well, the guys do look a little crazy in their photos, but I think as one married a Mosel fräulein from the winemaking Schmitt family (Materne Schmitt, Winningen, I think?), at least reading between the lines, such a move wasn’t so crazy.

What really matters is that these guys really know how to do exciting stuff with Riesling. Mad Dog comes from just a couple of terraces at Winningen. This is how they tend to measure their vineyards, not in hectares. The cuvée is named not after someone like the infamous Aussie Bushman, Mad Dog Morgan, but “after the bloke who introduced us”. The vines, aged between thirty and eighty years old, are at the top of a hill in a small side valley, facing west. The westerly winds keep the vines disease free, and minimise botrytis, at the same time ensuring a longer, cool, ripening. The guys have repositioned the shoots and retrained them to assist in retaining acids, very much what they are after.

Limpid green-gold, the nose is almost as limey as a Clare, a really deep-rooted lime bouquet. There’s more lime on the palate but before you hit lime overload some nice grapefruit pops its head up. Ooh, and is that quince as it tails off? That’s mingled into the textured, mineral finish, long and dry with a lick of acidity to balance a hint of richness which shows up late in the day but adds an extra dimension.

Like another young winemaker with talent, Jas Swan of Katla Wines, Rob Kane and Derek-Paul Labelle are making good use of the opportunities to create truly exciting wines in the Mosel. I remember Rudolf Trossen telling me a few years ago that the Mosel is ideal for young winemakers because no one wants to farm the steep sites anymore and they can be had “almost for free”. It seems that a few intrepid souls have taken up the challenge and boy is the wine world better for it. I cannot wait to try more Madame Flöck.

This bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar. They’ve sold out, I think, but may have some of the Schmetterling bottling, which I am yet to try, a blend of Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Kerner.

“IT’S ALIVE” 2020, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)

I imagine a few people might raise an eyebrow at me drinking Czech pétnat on New Year’s Eve, rather than some fancy Champagne, but to be fair this was with dinner, not to toast the New Year. I’m far too old now to be bothered to stay up past midnight…most years. In any case, the Champagne rack is getting increasingly empty and most of the stuff is too expensive to replace, but that’s not the reason we drank this. Koráb makes some of the best wine with bubbles in Central Europe, especially if you are a fan of natural wine.

This particular bottle is made from a field blend of a number of varieties, including Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Neuburger and Grüner Veltliner, situated on Petr’s four-hectares near the family winery at Boleradice. Winemaking is simple (if biodynamic methods can ever be called simple) and non-intervention in every respect where possible, especially in keeping this pétnat’s sediment in the bottle. Pre-bottle ageing is in robinia casks.

The fizz here is gentle, more akin to a frizzante than a fully sparkling wine. We have a simple wine in some respects, but take that as a compliment. There’s no autolysis or any of that. The sediment provides texture in the glass, unless you stand the bottle up for a few days and pour it carefully, but I like a bit of gunk in the glass. It adds to the fun. And it is fun, a juicy, fresh, reasonably acidic wine but tempered by a softness on the finish. I certainly enjoyed my last wine of 2021.

Koráb’s UK importer is Basket Press Wines.

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Recent Wines December 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I love writing about wine, more than any work I’ve done in the rest of my life, but like everyone else, it’s still hard to start tapping out on the keyboard after a long Christmas break. The weather, too many mince pies, Covid blues (and I haven’t even caught it yet), whatever the reason, I can’t even feel the effects of my morning mug of strong black coffee. January is surely the time to hibernate (or ski if you can afford to). However, looking at the wines I need to tell you about today, in the first part of my December roundup, the sheer excitement of them certainly helps to generate some much-needed enthusiasm for the task.

Eight wines here and eight more to come in Part 2, we have a Pinot Noir from Eglisau, a strong start, you will agree, no? We then look at one of the new-wave of Jura producers, then my first 2020 from Annamária Réka(-Koncz), and a Grower Champagne that everyone loves. Next, the wine I chose as my “Wine of the Month” in my Review of 2021, a rare appearance of Bugey-Cerdon, a deliciously different Barossa red and, to finish, a well-known Tuscan producer’s attempt to work outside of the box, using amphora.

BLAUBURGUNDER 2018, BECHTEL-WEINE (Eglisau, Switzerland)

This comes from the tiny Deutschschweiz appellation of Eglisau, not too far from Zürich, and is made by one of German-speaking Switzerland’s rising stars, Mathias Bechtel. A few of you will have noticed that his Räuschling white was one of my wines of the month in my Review of 2021, published just before Christmas.

Blauburgunder is the Swiss (and Austrian) name for Pinot Noir, and although you will find some wines using this nomenclature in Northeast Italy too, more producers, even in these regions, will stick to the French name. What I’m unsure of is whether the Blauburgunder name is developing an identity for local clones (cf producers in Germany increasingly using Pinot Noir or Spätburgunder to denote French/German clones).

Whatever the case, this is another lovely wine from Mathias, and one which very much has its own personality. There is a touch of richness and smoothness, but it isn’t in any way weighty, this despite a surprising 14% abv on the label. The cherry-dominated bouquet is fascinating. There’s a little spice and grip but no tannins to speak of, yet you would call it well-structured. It lingers on the palate. I have a couple more of these so I shall try to save one for a few more years to check how they age.

Find Mathias Bechtel’s bottles, when available, at Alpine Wines. He doesn’t make very much.

SAVAGNIN OUILLÉ “LA PIERRE” 2017, CÔTES DU JURA, LES GRANGES PAQUENESSES (Jura, France)

Winemaker Loreline Laborde describes this exquisite gem as evoking “the duality between minerality and exoticism, tension and generosity”, and there in one short sentence, you have it. Loreline started out just over a decade ago with a couple of hectares and it would be fair to say that her reputation has gone stratospheric in that short decade, although she hardly makes enough wine to hit superstar status, despite having doubled her vine holdings to 5 hectares in the years since.

Loreline comes from Southern France and cut her teeth in the Rhône, most notably working for Laurent Charvin in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. She naturally fell in love with the Jura, as we all do, and bought her small farm in the relative backwater of Tourmont, west of Poligny. Here, as well as tending her vines “naturally”, without chemical inputs, she reputedly looks after goats and chickens…and Amazone, her horse which ploughs the vine rows. Thanks to Laurent Charvin, her exports began to take off before any local trade, but the French, especially the Parisians, have caught up.

It’s an “ouillé” cuvée, ie topped-up rather than aged oxidatively, here in barrels which are a few years old. At four years old this wine is still packed with freshness, starting with the lime zest on the nose, underpinned by acidity and two other notable elements on the palate: a slightly salty taste and a mineral texture. Forget about fruitiness, this is all about the tension. But, a big but, it is also unquestionably a sensual wine. Above all, it’s a thrill to drink and worthy of all the plaudits others have heaped upon it. This is certainly one of the most exciting producers in the whole Jura region at the moment.

Loreline’s wines are imported by Vine Trail.

“A CHANGE OF HEART” 2020, ANNAMÁRIA RÉKA-KONCZ (Barabas, Hungary)

Okay, so if you don’t know that this winemaker in Eastern Hungary is one of my favourite new names of the past couple of years, then I apologise for not repeating for the umpteenth time her biography. This bottle was the first I had drunk from her 2020 vintage, newly imported a month before. I’d had to wait a while because, despite buying a good few ARK wines, they disappeared swiftly. You won’t thank me for saying that the first shipment this year has more or less sold out already and I wonder whether the importer might wish I hadn’t been such a stalwart supporter of this producer in print?

The colour really hits you, a beautiful, luminous, cherry red which appropriately hits the nose with a deep and vibrant cherry bouquet. It promises such pleasure…and then actually over-delivers on the palate. Zippy but not frivolous, and yet another unique view of Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch).

I would say that Annamária Réka appears to gain confidence with each vintage I have tasted. It seems to me that the winemaking is under control, yet Annamária is not afraid to push the boundaries. This is such a joyful red wine, more than anything else. Then comes the deflating realisation that this small producer made only 1,750 bottles of this cuvée in 2020.

Basket Press imports ARK, and I do hope that they can squeeze another shipment for the UK. These wines are becoming very popular indeed, not least in my household, but I hate to see them all snapped up by restaurants where, of necessity, they will cost at least double the retail price. I’m all for sharing.

BULLES DE COMPTOIR #9 “TRADITION” MV, CHARLES DUFOUR (Champagne, France)

This Champagne is adored by so many people in the trade who I know, and part of the appeal must have something to do with Charles being a great person. Charles really got hold of his own destiny when the family estate he had run since 2006 was divided up amongst the family four years later. He wound up with six hectares, which he farms from his base at Landreville, in the Côte des Bar, more specifically in that part of the Barséquanais which lies on the right bank of the River Seine.

Bulles de Comptoir is Charles Dufour’s entry level wine, an Extra Brut but unusual perhaps in that the current vintage is combined with wine from a solera-style perpetual reserve. Number nine (each Bulles is numbered) is from 2018 fruit harvested across several sites, and containing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and some rare (in Champagne) Pinot Blanc.

These 2018 grapes were blended with wine from a perpetual reserve which at that time contained vintages 2010 to 2017. It was bottled in October 2019 and disgorged in January 2021. If this degree of multi-vintage complexity were not enough, Dufour has magically united different terroirs around Landreville, Essoyes and Celles-sur-Ource, all with varying shades of clay and limestone. Dosage is less than 2g/l (Extra Brut).

Dufour is, despite what some have portrayed as a slightly rebel image, one of the most thoughtful young growers in the Aube. His focus is very much on the soil, not only as terroir, but as a living ecosystem. The result is beautiful. Darker than some wines from 2018, doubtless because of the reserve wines here, you can convince yourself you are tasting terroir, even at this level and knowing it is not a single site wine. And “wine” it is, vinous but fresh and lovely. I think, in fact, this is a wine where you can taste its soul.

This bottle came from Littlewine, although I’ve more frequently bought Dufour in France, in times when they actually allowed us into the country. I may also have found his wines in The Good Wine Shop (Kew branch), but certainly at Les Papilles (Paris). Although Grower Champagne is becoming horribly expensive in the UK, this is one great wine that remains affordable (for a few) at £42.

“IS THAT THE MILKY WAY” 2019, DARREN SMITH (La Palma, Canary Isles, Spain)

Darren Smith made this wine, released under his “The Finest Wines Available to Humanity” label, at Vikki Torres’s winery, but not from her grapes. The name comes from the clear night skies so common on the south side of La Palma (apparently, according to friends who are there as I type, it’s cloudier and wetter in the north most of the time). The photo on the label gives a good idea, and it reminds me of the skies I have seen from the Himalayas, with millions of stars visible to the eye.

The grape variety here is Albillo Criollo, most of which does grow in the north of this small volcanic island (a volcano currently active, as you may well know). However, this batch was purchased from an old-time grower in the south, from a vineyard called Barranco Pinto. At 1,000 masl, the grapes cling to the side of a steep ravine-like gash of volcanic rock, with little topsoil.

The wine, which I chose as December’s wine of the month in my Review of 2021, was a revelation. It’s most certainly savoury, yet with a hint of exotic fruit as well. Its slightly darker hue is suggestive of some maceration. It begins life in the glass, on pouring, as something quite remarkable…and then just gets better from there on in, assisted by a finish as long as the Mont Blanc Tunnel.

I chose this to serve to a well-known wine consultant friend. You know, choose something offbeat, that they wouldn’t have tried before. I think they liked it no less than I did. A brilliant wine, but a unicorn in a true sense. Only a few hundred bottles were made and I’m led to believe that they are all gone. I don’t know whether Darren will return to work with VTP again, but he continues to travel the world making truly exciting wines, so far, a little under the radar.

Darren Smith’s wines are mostly sold online, direct, via his TFWATH web site: https://www.tfwath.com/ and also on Saturdays at Westgate Street Market in London Fields, but check before travelling because, you know, it’s winter…he may not be there. Also try The Sampler, Leroy in Shoreditch and Spring Restaurant at Somerset House.

The magical wines of Victoria Torres Pecis are imported, in equally finite quantities, by Modal Wines.

BUGEY-CERDON “RÉCOLTE CÉCILE” NV, DOMAINE PHILIPPE BALIVET (Bugey, France)

I imagine that a few years ago only a tiny number of people in the UK would have tried Bugey wines, but they have unquestionably become a little better know more recently. I got to know them because Geneva friends have a weekend place over the border in a village blessed not only with a cable car, but also a small restaurant around ten minutes staggering distance away. A nice place to eat, but with a generally uninspiring wine list, Bugey being an exception. My first taste of this tiny region in Eastern France were bottles of red, mostly Mondeuse, but slowly I got to know Bugey-Cerdon, an appellation for sparkling wines made by the Méthode Ancestrale, which makes them, of course, a very early type of Pétnat.

Wink Lorch’s book, The Wines of the French Alps, is the only true fount of knowledge for the region. Today you zip past on the impressive A40 between Lyon and Geneva without noticing it (although I do recall one of the autoroute service stations along the stretch near Bourg-en-Bresse sells an assortment of local produce, including Bugey wine), but as the map in Wink’s book shows, you can still pass through Cerdon, and indeed Mérignat where the Balivet family farm 7 hectares, if you exit onto the old N1084. The slow route goes through what can still properly be called “Old France”, with steep wooded slopes and ancient farms, tranquil being the operative word.

Vincent and Cécile Balivet, brother and older sister, now run the estate. What is unusual about Balivet is that they still have some Poulsard planted, which makes up around 10% of their vignoble.  This Jura variety used to be more widespread in Bugey but it has become all too rare to find it now. “Cécile” in fact blends a small amount of Poulsard with the far more common Gamay. The vines are grown up to 500 masl on steepish slopes, with no synthetic chemicals used (Wink suggests that father, Philippe, blames chemical treatments for his own health issues).

Bugey-Cerdon is usually off-dry, something accentuated in this case by the wine’s extraordinary fruitiness (strawberries and raspberries), and by the low alcohol (7%) leaving residual sugar unfermented. However, the wine also has a lightness, freshness, acidity and vivacity which counterbalances any sweetness. No sulphur was added to this particular bottling. The pinkish colour is remarkably attractive, it must be said.

A good Bugey-Cerdon, which this undoubtedly is, makes a perfect accompaniment for lighter desserts, especially if red fruits are involved, but the wine is very versatile. Who doesn’t wish for a light, low alcohol, wine with small bubbles to refresh the palate on a hot day, not to mention to drink in the hot tub if you are so-inclined.

I try to grab a bottle or two of this whenever I’m in Eastern France, Vagne in Poligny often being a good bet for a couple of different Balivet cuvées. In England the wines are imported by Vine Trail. I’ve been trying to get hold of another producer’s Cerdon for some years, Renardat-Fache. I finally managed to squeeze a mere couple of bottles into a friendly retailer’s order just after I got back to the UK in November, so watch this space, and get to know Bugey.

DRY RED 2018, FREDERICK STEVENSON (Barossa, Australia)

I’ve no idea why winemaking genius Steve Crawford goes by the name of Frederick Stevenson, but he’s not alone in the alias game, so maybe it’s an Aussie thing and we are left out of the joke? But he is a genius of sorts. It’s not merely that his wines are always rather good. In this case, the wine is not one bit a stereotypical Barossa, and it’s all the better for it.

This cuvée is usually known as “Piñata” after the lovely label. The grape mix is a good wedge of Mourvèdre, slightly less Cinsault and Syrah, and about 5% Grenache, planted on wind-blown sand over clay, the grapes being dry-farmed biodynamically on the Ahrens family’s Ahrens’ Creek property at Vine Vale. The juice is vinified in concrete tank using whole bunches and native yeasts.

The result has that “made in concrete” feel to it. Lighter than pretty much any Barossa red wine you’ll find, it majors on crunchy fruit. The weight (and the 12.5% abv) is perfect to go with the crunch. The effect is accentuated by the two months the juice spends on its skins, but there is no heavy extraction at all. Steve is all about texture, and this wine has plenty.

You get gorgeous red and darker fruit flavours. There’s a little tannin, but the wine is just alive and leaps onto the palate without the tannins restraining the fruit. Added to this, I reckon you might find a whiff of nutmeg, and a perky herbal note. The feel (but not the taste) of the wine reminds me of really good Loire red wine with an Antipodean twist. Steve clearly learnt a lot about these varieties working in France (he also worked in Germany, but that’s another story), and that knowledge and experience has been put to good use and built upon back in South Australia, where he’s been for a decade now.

The bottle came from Seven Cellars in Brighton. The importer is Indigo Wines.

DA-DI 2019, IGT TOSCANA, AVIGNONESI (Tuscany, Italy)

I drank so few Tuscan wines in 2021 I could never reveal the shameful number. It’s embarrassing because twenty years ago people knew me as something of a fan. I think the slowness of the region to take up the low intervention torch has had something to do with it, that on the back of an increasing “internationalisation” of the region’s wines, including some estates I used to follow. A lot of Merlot and small new barriques.

That said, I bought this wine from a producer who definitely makes a mix of international-style and more traditional wines because I’d heard it was not only worth trying, but also great value.

Da-Di is made from organic Sangiovese in amphora. I think it’s not hard to see that this Tuscan variety is not just suited to clay, it’s probably a lot more suited to it (at this level) than some form of vanilla oak flavouring. The vessels are actually made from Tuscan clay, and the name supposedly means “earth” in Mandarin (though not on my version of Google Translate, it must be said). I don’t know whether this means that the wine is aimed at that market, but I’m glad some came westward.

I am not sure this can truly be called a terroir wine, because we have no indication of the terroir from whence it came, but no mind. The fruit spent 45 days macerating on skins and then a further 90 days in amphora. The result is not really any significant complexity, after all, it cost just under £20. That said, I thought it was rather nice, hence inclusion here. Cherry fruit predominates, with some other supporting red fruit flavours.

The amphora gives the wine a characteristic freshness which disguises the alcohol (13.5% abv). This means it’s pretty refreshing and easy to glug back all too quickly. It wasn’t perhaps as obviously an amphora wine as, say, a COS (Sicilian). That said, for the price I can say that this was pretty interesting and well worth trying. There’s plenty of wine that’s way less interesting in this price bracket.

Purchased from Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton and online).

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Review of the Year 2021

My Review of 2021 will be a little different this year. It has been a tough year for many parts of the wine trade, especially so for small and specialist importers, not to mention restaurants and the rest of the hospitality trade. Dealing with smaller harvests from your producers, persuading them to continue to export to the UK with all the added hassle and paperwork now involved, and then the delays in receiving wine due to shipping and Customs problems are all bad enough. Add to that a downturn in restaurant trade and poor importer, you are probably tearing your hair out.

For many wholesalers and retailers their business has changed. Wholesalers have (mostly) embraced selling to the public, whilst many retailers I know have somehow managed to build a successful online presence, enough to offset lost restaurant sales. Equally, with people dining out less, they have been drinking more at home. A small ray of hope, especially as retail customers pay before delivery, not (in some cases) too many months after.

You won’t be surprised that I am not going to offer up any wine merchant of the year awards. Frankly they are all working very hard to keep the UK market almost as vibrant as it was before the pandemic (and Brexit). I must say, though, because I know these folks will be reading this article, that I am nothing but apologetic for my pathetic purchasing. Last year, and it seems in the first part of 2021, I bought quite a bit of wine. Of late I’ve been able to buy almost nothing. If I did buy wine from you in the second half of 2021 you are lucky. If I didn’t, then (you all know who you are, I hope), it is me who is unlucky.

Trends for 2022? I don’t really care. All I know is that there are areas of my cellar which need replenishing badly. These are Grower Champagne, Alsace, Jura, Bugey, and in general Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Northern Italy. However, as with my “want list” of records when I was a teenager, and my travel plans as they stood on the cusp of 2020, many of these wishes have slipped beyond fulfilment now.

BOOKS

I continue to read voraciously, and this year I have been able to read some great wine writing. As those who read my last article will know, every year yields up a few gems from the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library. For me, the pick of the bunch would be Anthony Rose’s Fizz (which I reviewed last week) and Matt Walls’ book on The Rhône (reviewed in March). The series isn’t always on the nail, but the sections of my wine library where these books reside grows every few months.

Another couple of books deserve mention, although the second isn’t a wine book. Camilla Gjerde’s self-published book We Don’t Want Any Crap in Our Wine is a focus on a selection of women natural winemakers. It was a joy to read, helped by an excellent selection of subjects (including Alice Bouvot, Elena Pantaleoni, Catherine Hannoun, Jutta Ambrositsch and Ariana Occhipinti), plus some lovely photos. The author is well worth supporting (camillagjerde.com, £26 UK).

My other mention is a book on cheese. I’ve read many books this year but I’m not going to tell you all of those I liked the best in other subject areas. However, cheese kind of goes with wine, and Ned Palmer’s A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles (reviewed last February) is a story-based paperback which I am pretty sure to read again next year. Trust me, it will make you buy cheese, unless you are vegan.

Whilst we are on the subject, it is frustrating that European readers can’t get a copy of Max Allen’s latest book. “Intoxicating” is a brilliant look at the wider Australian drinks industry, booze culture and its history. You would find it fascinating and, in my opinion, there’s no better writer in the Antipodes writing today when it comes to drinks.

If have to name my Wine Book of the Year, then there is only one real candidate. Already a previous winner for his Amber Revolution (annoyingly now out as an updated second edition with, inter alia, fourteen new producers added, which I will have to find the money for next year), Simon J Woolf has joined with Ryan Opaz to write Foot Trodden, another self-published book, on the wines of Portugal.

First, this work is immaculately produced and special mention must be made of the brilliant photography of Opaz. Woolf is a compelling writer on any subject, able to blend a story with the required facts and analysis. But most of all, this is a wine book which is just right for the time. Always under-appreciated, Portugal seems finally to have gathered a critical mass of younger artisans who have a focus on their country’s traditions, whilst equally having learnt lessons from modern European wine. This is the perfect time for these stories to be told. I am sure that Foot Trodden will do the same for Portugal as Amber Revolution did for “orange” wines. Especially if it persuades more importers and retailers to give the wines a go.

I should perhaps also mention Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution. Certainly not new, I wrote about this wonderful little book back in August, yet the review still managed to make it into my top ten most read articles of this year (see below).

WINES

At Christmas time you will see every wine writer on the planet listing their wines of the year. Many of them will be boasting of the fabulously expensive bottles they managed to consume, most of these totally out of reach of mere mortals. You will know, because you read my “Recent Wines” articles every month, that I was no less guilty than any in drinking the odd bottle of Dom Pérignon, Langoa-Barton or Clos des Epeneaux. You really don’t want to read about that kind of stuff, do you!

This year I plan to simply list a wine of the month, so twelve in total, and in the spirit of those monthly Recent Wines articles, the wines I choose will not be the most shouty, expensive or boastful bottles, but those which were the most interesting, stimulating and joyful. Don’t worry about December, I’ve already drunk the wine I know I would choose, and anyway, we might open Grand Cru Burgundy on Christmas Day (move along, nothing to see…).

Why the musical pairings? Well, music means no less to me than wine. The pairings are purely an emotional response to the wine, a mood thing, nothing more. Nor are the tracks all new. They are merely pieces I seem to have listened to a lot in 2021.

January

Just one month in and this is going to be difficult, isn’t it! But no mentions in despatches, one wine only or else we’ll be here all month, so here we go. Actually, it wasn’t too hard. “The Wizard” 2018 by Annamária Réka-Koncz was the last bottle of this wonderful winemaker’s wines I was to drink before her UK importer, Basket Press Wines, was able to bring in the new vintage this autumn. Off volcanic soils in Eastern Hungary, it’s a field blend of local white varieties plus Rhine Riesling with one day on skins in cask, finished in tank. Bitter orange with a mineral tightness. I think I am my own worst enemy because I feel I have contributed to these wines selling out all too quickly. Imported, as I just said (but worth repeating) by the always exciting Basket Press Wines.

Musical Pairing: Sad Waters (Nick Cave, Idiot Prayer)

February

Joschuari Rot 2011, Gut Oggau. Oggau lies north of Rust, a couple of kilometres as the bicycle pedals. On the Nieusiedlersee’s western shore. This red wine is made from Blaufränkisch on a mix of limestone and slate. Forty-year-old vines give complexity whilst the terroir gives the wine an almost-frightening freshness. Ten years old and life affirming. The vines for the “middle generation” wines are maturing and although the wines are getting correspondingly more expensive, they are increasingly capable of ageing to near perfection, never dulling from their vibrant youth. Dynamic Vines and Antidote Wine Bar fly the flag for Gut Oggau in the UK.

Musical Pairing: Mcdonald Trump (Lowkey, Soundtrack to the Struggle Part 2)

March

“Cul de Brey” 2015, Domaine de la Tournelle. I have been a passionate advocate for this Arbois domaine for a very long time. My sadness at the loss of Pascal Clairet was palpable, made worse because I saw him not all that long before his passing. However, I don’t select this wine out of sentimentality. It’s a unique blend of Trousseau, Petit Béclan and Syrah which underwent a light press before an extended 30-day maceration. The result (with zero added sulphur) is a pale, red-fruited, cherry bomb of a wine, soft fruit with perfect texture. By coincidence another wine you should find at Dynamic Vines or Antidote.

Musical Pairing: Cold Genius Awakes (the Frost Scene) (Henry Purcell, King Arthur)

April

“Commendatore” 2013, Domaine de L’Octavin. We drank a good few of Alice’s wines this year, but this one had rested in the cellar since my first visit to her old garage winery in an Arbois backstreet very early in the morning a number of years ago. Remember my article “The Visitor”, from August? Well, this is one wonderful person I desperately want to visit again but whether she will ever have the time to see me, who knows? Commendatore is Trousseau from 50-y-o vines in “Les Corvées”. Eight-month maceration in tank, mellow and stately, very contemplative in its softness. Alice’s UK importer is Tutto Wines.

 Musical Pairing: Zombie (Fela Kuti, from the album Zombie)

May

Grauburgunder 2019, Renner und Sistas. Just over half way through May we opened a new wine from the Renners. Although they have professed an interest in exploring blends more, this Grauburgunder is a new varietal. Four days on skins, my bottle was a bright cherry red but it tasted almost like a white wine. Pure Heaven, for just £24. It was an absolute certainty that I would have been in Gols this year were it not for Covid. At least moments like this can still happen. Purchased from Littlewine, also imported by Newcomer.

Musical Pairing: Damaged Goods (Idles, from The Problem of Leisure, A celebration of Andy Gill & Gang of Four)

June

Schilcher Frizzante [2018], Österreicher Perlwein, Ströhmeier. In some ways Styria (specifically Südsteiermark) has been a forgotten region within Austria, but lately that has changed…big time. Yet there remains a quintessentially Austrian grape variety grown in tiny quantity there, Blauer Wildbacher. The wine it makes, Schilcher, is an acquired taste for some but I love it and no more so than in this “frizzante” version from Franz and Christine Ströhmeier. Macerated ten hours for a rusty hue, second fermentation in bottle, this gentle sparkler hits you with red fruits and girders. Dry, saline…drink the first glass clear and then agitate for a cloudy second. Periodically available via Newcomer Wines and Littlewine (littlewine.com).

Musical Pairing: Fists of Fury (Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth)

July

Räuschling 2018, Bechtel-Weine. If I went for a Swiss wine in 2021, despite some gems from the Suisse Romande, then it had to be a wine from Deutschschweiz. Its time has surely come. Mathias Bechtel makes wine in Eglisau, one of Switzerland’s smallest appellations (15 hectares) not far from Zürich. This man is one of the country’s rising stars, most well known internationally for his Pinot Noirs, off complex soils at approaching 500 metres above sea level. However, this white variety is Eastern Switzerland’s maligned grape. Bechtel makes something fairly unique out of it, more fruit, more weight, a hint of arrowroot, stone fruit and pear. As usual, taking an unloved variety seriously, treating it with respect, pays dividends. Alpine Wines imports Bechtel.

Musical Pairing: Mushroom (Can, Tago-Mago)

August

Rakete [2019], Jutta Ambrositsch. Jutta makes wine from a patch of soil which ranks among my favourite four stretches of vineyard on this earth. Of course, I love all her wines but Rakete is one which I would aim to drink every year. It’s a field blend, of course, and it comprises of St-Laurent, Rotburger, Blauburger, Merlot, and assorted white grape varieties. They are all close to 50 years old, on Vienna’s Kahlenberg. A four-day maceration in steel tank, no filtering and the admonition to shake before opening. Pure cranberry juice. Chill it well. Littlewine/Newcomer again. Okay, they are getting a lot of hits but don’t blame me. These genuinely are my WOTM choices.

Musical Pairing: Eleggua (Daymé Arocena from the album Cubafonía)

September

Si Rose [2016/17], Christian Binner. Most people drink Binner’s two-vintage blend on release. How would this old vine (PG 35%, Gewurz 65%) cuvée age? Christian uses 100-y-o large oak casks and each element is treated differently as to time on skins, from eight days to eight months. The colour is pale orange, fruit is peachy, maybe apricot and citrus, and powerful (I don’t just refer to the 14% alcohol here). Complex, a wine for reflection and surely one of Alsace’s finest? This time we turn to Les Caves de Pyrene for acquisition.

Musical Pairing: Alabama (Neil Young and the Stray Gators from the live album of 2019, Tuscaloosa)

October

Red Z’Epfig [2019], Lambert Spielmann. Another Alsace wine, but this time from a new rising star, one from the north of the region. He farms a mere 2.5ha around Epfig. The focus is ecology, looking at the terroir as one living ecosystem. In this wine he takes Pinot Noir off limestone and blends it with Pinot Gris off clay. A two-week maceration (whole bunches), then nine months in large old wood results in a gorgeously scented wine, red berries and spice. The lightness of touch in the winemaking in this fruity and zippy red cloaks 13.5% abv. A producer to follow. Another import by Tutto Wines.

Musical Pairing: Wetin Man Go Do (Burna Boy, African Giant)

November

Khukri Rum XXX. For much of November I was in Nepal. I drank some wine, but not really the kind of wines you want to read about. I did drink a lot of Khukri Rum though, and although they make finer versions with greater age, this standard version is the equivalent of Beaujolais here – something to glug (though I’ve never drunk hot Beaujolais and a hot rum punch really does banish the cold in the hill country). It has quite a hit of vanilla sweetness and 42.8% alcohol. As they say, made with fresh Himalayan spring water, matured in wood “amidst the cool highland climate”. “The original Himalayan dark rum”. Produced in Kathmandu since 1959.

Musical Pairing: 108 Decapitations (Ugrakakarma, Mountain Grinders EP (vinyl only) but also on a Metalhammer Magazine Sampler CD  #296)

December

Is That the Milky Way? 2019, Darren Smith. I’m writing this in the week before Christmas, but with all due respect to what might be opened over the somewhat muted (it seems) festivities, this bottle gets the final nomination for 2021. Darren made this wine at Vikki Torres Pecis’s winery on La Palma (Canary Islands) from fruit he bought from an old timer. The Albillo Criollo grapes were growing in a steep ravine in the south of the island (this variety is usually only found in the north). Released under Darren’s frankly exciting “The Finest Wines Available To Humanity” (TFWATH) label, it is both savoury and just a little exotic too. It begins great (ie not merely good) but then gets even better over the course of the bottle. Sadly, it is all gone, but Mr Smith is doing exciting stuff in some of the wine world’s farthest corners. Watch this space.

Musical Pairing: Pick Up Your Burning (Sons of Kemet, off Black to the Future)

I hope the music wasn’t too obscure to some of you. It’s just a bit of fun. I want to finish with a look at my Blog. Wideworldofwine exceeded my expectations this year. From a fraction under 40,000 views last year my stats have taken an even bigger leap, currently set to top 52,000 today. That is a number I’d never have dreamt of when, in my first full year of writing (2015), I managed 7,188. A little more than half of those visitors are from the UK but I have also built a healthy audience in the USA (a big increase these past 12 months), France, Australia and, of course, Nepal (which is not a country particularly well represented in the drinks writing fraternity).

Fifty-thousand is a milestone, I think. Perhaps I should quit now, whilst I’m on top. The longer Covid continues to impact my own writing, both around events here at home and from a travel perspective, it becomes harder to find inspiration, or at least inspiration of a kind that will equally inspire my readers.

I thought I would finish my Review of 2021 by listing my ten most popular articles over this year. The month/year, in that order, in brackets is when I published the article. I guess that in theory this list should be informative as to why an amateur like me has a readership, and perhaps what makes my articles different to others. A few older articles really are perennial favourites, but equally many here were written in 2021.

  1. Extreme Viticulture in Nepal (11/19)
  2. Tongba – A Study in Emptiness (01/16)
  3. Victoria Torres Pecis – The New Star of the Canaries (08/19)
  4. Pergola Taught (02/21)
  5. Paradise Lost – A Eulogy for Two Great Natural Winemakers (06/21)
  6. Central Victoria Part 2 – Bindi (12/19)
  7. Field Blends and Gemischter Satz – Why Should We Get to Know Them? (03/21)
  8. The Collector (05/21)
  9. Grower Champagne… (01/21)
  10. The One Straw Revolution – Masanobu Fukuoka (Book Review) (08/21)

Although it didn’t hit the Top Ten in terms of the numbers, the article “Appellations – Who Needs Them?” was only published on 6 December, and has seen the kind of reader hits which, had it been published earlier in the year, would almost certainly have seen it race up the charts.

What I hope, more than anything, is to have entertained you throughout the year, and helped affirm that wine is a joyous thing, food for the heart and the soul. Even more so in the very difficult world in which we seem to live now. One in which, for me, sanity is only retained through sharing the joy of food, wine and music with family and friends, even if it has sometimes only been on a tiny screen. And indeed, sharing these things with so many loyal readers. A very big, genuine THANK YOU! And Cheers!

Posted in Artisan Wines, Christmas and Wine, Natural Wine, Review of the Year, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fizz! – Review of Anthony Rose’s New Book on Sparkling Wines

Christmas is always a time when people like me and you turn to new wine book releases. My trip overseas meant I wasn’t able to review this book in time for most people’s Christmas lists, but for those reading in more affluent countries this might be in time to prompt you as to where you might spend any welcome book tokens, or to cheer you up with some wine reading to compensate for the Christmas jumper or the three chocolate orange gifts.

Anthony Rose is both an established and highly accomplished wine writer, in print almost everywhere from Decanter to The Oxford Companion, as well as being a senior wine judge at home and overseas. Perhaps eclipsing all this, for thirty years he wrote one of the best three wine columns in a UK newspaper, in The Independent. He’s equally a skilled photographer as well, and all the pictures used in this review were taken by him and used with his Copyright Permission.

Anthony is also an expert in sake, and in 2018 he published “Sake and the Wines of Japan”. I recommended this at the time and three years later I would repeat that it would, with ease, be in my highly personal top ten wine-related books of the past five years. That book was published by Infinite Ideas, and it is to this publisher’s “Classic Wine Library” series that Rose returns for Fizz! – Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the World.

This Classic Wine Library seems to grow and grow, replacing the old Faber series in covering the breadth of the wine world. The books in the series tend to follow what I call the “student textbook” format in most part. By this I mean that they start off by addressing the subject generally, including history, regulatory frameworks, viticulture and winemaking perhaps, before delving down to specifics via countries, regions, appellations etc, as appropriate.

Such a format could be rather dull, as with some of the texts I had to use for my WSET Diploma in the 1990s. These books are no less informative than any required textbook, but the best works in the series combine facts with a compelling narrative. It is this which makes a clutch of books in this series stand out from the others. Rose’s Sake book stood out as being of this type, a godsend for me as I am a big fan of Japan and had really just set out to try Japanese table wines. In fact only Covid stopped me attending the sake course Rose ran in London, and from visiting London’s own sake brewery, Kanpai (in Peckham). This book is just as easy to read, obviously written by an author with journalistic credentials, and with a nose for a story as well as for a good wine.

One word about books on sparkling wine in general. Lovers of these wines are blessed with a number of accomplished writers. Some of us wish Tom Stevenson hadn’t completely turned his back on Alsace after writing the seminal work on the region in 1993, but he remains one of the most well-regarded writers on sparkling wine, to many perhaps the most prominent. Peter Liem’s boxed tome on Champagne (with its wonderful maps) remains essential too, as in my opinion does Michael Edwards’s sensitive and deeply knowledgeable work in World of Fine Wines’ “The Finest Wines of…” series (Aurum Press). Many books circle the periphery of this core, like, to mention but one, “Bursting Bubbles” (2017) by Robert Walters (which covers part of the so-called Grower Revolution).

So, what Anthony Rose needed to achieve to enter this crowded field is something different. What he attempts to produce, and I will say now, succeeds in doing admirably, is a work which covers this increasingly broad (we are talking both geographically and stylistically) subject area via both a convincing overview and a concise drilling down into the detail. He does it within this broadly textbook style, whilst taking the reader along via a strong narrative.

Fizz! begins, as one would expect, with a brief history of bubbles in wine. This introductory section, which also covers winemaking techniques, aspects of sparkling wine viticulture (including a really useful summary of grape varieties used for sparkling wine production, very useful if like me you rate Trepat or Pinot Blanc as a sparkling wine variety), and an overview of wine styles within the genre, is excellent. It somehow seems concise and focused but at the same time broad in scope. The author achieves this through text, very good diagrams where useful, and the text boxes highlighting both central and peripheral aspects of the story which we have come to expect from the Infinite Ideas format. This takes up the first seventy-five pages.

The remaining 280-or-so pages before the Glossary and Bibliography come under the umbrella of “Country introductions and profiles”. Here, Australia/New Zealand, England, France, Germany and Italy all have their own chapters, along with Central and Eastern Europe, South Africa, Spain and Portugal, USA and Canada and, importantly, Japan and China. For completeness the book ends with some appendices on Champagne.

Sheep in Nyetimber’s Tillington Vineyard, West Sussex

First up, in each chapter, you generally get a survey of the sparkling wine regions within each country followed by a segment on the major producers. By major I don’t mean in volume terms. I think that Rose’s primary focus is on quality, though many large producers do require coverage. I would say, for example, that in the chapter on England Rose includes all of my favourite producers, none of whom are large in volume terms…although he does miss out a personal favourite, and important name, in Wales. However, a book like this has to have some element of personal selection, so it is good fortune that the author’s opinions do more than broadly concur with my own here. If you want to read just one chapter (as opposed to a whole book) on English Sparkling Wine, then this is your man.

The chapter on France is by its nature very broad. Here we get Champagne in all (well most of) its glory. The hardest job in this book must have been to fit Champagne, a wine on which countless books have been written, within a work on the whole world’s sparkling wines. To his credit, Rose manages to do this pretty well, giving prominence without allowing it to both dominate and overshadow the rest, despite its obvious pre-eminence within the genre.

Without doubt the producers included, or excluded, in the profiles must have given the author nightmares. We get prominent Houses like Bollinger, smaller Houses like Veuve Fourny and Growers. Now inexplicably Anthony doesn’t include a producer profile for Bérêche, although joking aside, they do get a couple of mentions elsewhere, in particular within the boxed text on perpetual reserves for which this producer is notable. This is an example of how Rose does have his finger on the pulse of what’s happening within the region, though equally within the limits he must surely have been told to impose by his editor. In a region with thousands of producers of all sizes he includes those whose contribution goes beyond merely the wines they make.

Champagne at its most bling! Armand de Brignac at Cattier

Anyway, there’s still space to run through the rest of France in this chapter, although as a fan of many of this country’s Crémant wines, I might have hoped for the inclusion of a greater number of producers. Whilst books on Champagne will continue to appear, books on other French wine regions often treat sparkling wines as an afterthought, and as books on Jura are rare, and Alsace non-existent, the often-brilliant sparkling wines from these regions get hardly a look-in. That said, Rose does include the finest fizz in the Jura, from Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot (in Arbois). Missing, however, are the finest sparkling wines of Alsace, perhaps because they are made by small producers up in villages like Mittelbergheim (Jean-Pierre Rietsch and Lucas Rieffel, to cite two examples), the very talented equivalents of the Champagne Growers in comparison to the Dopff et al “Houses”.

Italy is covered in as much detail as this great sparkling wine producing nation demands. With such a diversity of styles and regions, Italy’s chapter is, I think it fair to say, more evenly covered than the chapter on France, dominated by the long shadow of Champagne.

Other parts of Europe are generally seen as less important so I have no intention to criticise the commensurate size of the chapters here. The geek in me wants to moan that the author didn’t highlight the best Sekts in Germany (the wines made from Riesling in the Mosel by Florian Lauer’s father in the 1990s and released over the past half-dozen years or so would, for me, give Weingut Peter Lauer a right to a profile) and the finest Sekt made in Austria (for which I claim validation of my opinion from Gault-Millau) in Marion Ebner(-Ebenauer)’s 2010 Chardonnay.

Nor does the author take full account of what I see as a remarkable revolution in artisan natural wine pétnat production, specifically that taking place in Czech Moravia, led perhaps by the unstoppable Petr Koráb (though mention is given to Czechia’s exciting developments). But here we are speaking of the outer fringes of the wine world, areas undoubtedly for further research and study by the totally obsessed (meaning me).

Pétnat does get covered, largely in the early sections on winemaking methods. Bottle-fermented, often using the “méthode ancestrale” or variations thereof, Pétillant Naturel has become an important style, not only in France but increasingly in almost every place which puts bubbles in wine. With its often-natural wine aesthetic, it is reeling in young consumers for whom anything approaching truly fine Champagne has become economically unviable, with even good Grower Champagne topping £50/bottle now. However, if you want a resumé of the best petnat wines on the market you will need to look elsewhere (probably, to be fair, by being a regular and attentive reader of Wideworldofwine). I might be slightly prone to overestimating its importance in the future of sparkling wine.

I feel bad about making even some tiny criticisms of this book. I feel especially cagey about commenting on Anthony Rose’s approach to petnat sparklers because he did tap my brains on the subject (for which he kindly acknowledges me in the “Thanks” section, which the overly keen-eyed may spot). So blame me if you disagree with anything thus related. Of course, the temptation of any reviewer to express their own views and to supplement the author’s observations with some of their own is irresistible. My book reviews, as regular readers will know, are never purely focused on the work reviewed. I do like to spill out over the edges.

The main point to remember is that I didn’t spend months researching and crafting a work which an editor may well have asked me to cut down into a format that would be economic to produce and which would avoid getting bogged down in debate and detail which would not assist its attractiveness to the general reader. This whole series attempts to cover subjects in a way which would interest both the expert and the novice, the wine obsessive and the casually interested.

We must step back from minute detail and look at the book as a whole. In doing this, we see that Anthony Rose’s new book on sparkling wine covers all the bases in a thoroughly approachable and readable way. It should be essential reading for all WSET students, not least because of the breadth of coverage and the clear explanations of everything you need to know about production methods and the increased spread, and popularity, of fine sparkling wine throughout the whole wide world of wine. It is equally manageable for those merely interested in enjoying, and exploring further, perhaps the fastest growing and most successful wine style of the 21st Century.

So that’s a “definite buy” then. The combination of an excellent overview with drilled-down detail when required is certainly “a winner”, as one might say. It’s yet another book from this series which I would imagine few serious wine lovers would want to be without, especially when combining subject and author.

Fizz! Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the World by Anthony Rose is published by Infinite Ideas Publishing as part of their Classic Wine Library Series. It has a publication date of 2022 but I believe it has been available since 29 November this year (2021). It will appear in major book stores with a decent specialist drinks section, probably less so outside London, but it is equally available on the Infinite Ideas web site.

Important Note: This Review used a pdf file of the book kindly supplied by the author in order that I might publish the review before Christmas. My own hard copy has been ordered but is yet to arrive. Reading a pdf is not my favourite way of enjoying a book, but my point is that in this format it’s easy to miss things. If any of my minor points of difference with the author’s coverage are as a result of missing anything, I apologise sincerely.

Posted in Champagne, English Wine, Petnat, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Appellations – Who Needs Them?

I was reading an article on the Littlewine web site the other day, about the group of excellent biodynamic producers they currently stock from Steiermark (Styria), in Austria, and I was struck by one comment, that all of these producers’ wines are by-and-large bottled simply as table wines (Landwein in German), existing outside of the Austrian appellations for the region. This is equally true in many other Austrian regions, Burgenland is a good example, where many of the finest, and certainly most innovative, producers are outside the supposedly prestigious DAC regime.

The phenomenon is far from being restricted to Austria. France has long been at the forefront of appellation rejection. Whilst many other countries in Europe are seeing the same phenomenon (German producers really have embraced the idea recently), taking a look at France is a good way of beginning to explain what is going on.

The appellation system, originally known in France as Appellation Contrôlée, came about in 1935 when the INAO was formed within the French Agriculture Ministry, and in 1937 when Baron Le Roy, a wine producer (and by coincidence a lawyer) in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, proposed a series of rules for producers in the Côtes-du-Rhône. This formed the birth of a system, based of geographical boundaries, which became the template for controlling most aspects of wine production throughout France. This would include rules on grape varieties, ageing periods and so on.

Germany, of course, had a very different system based on a mixture of grape ripeness (Prädikats) coupled with an array of confusing names which sounded like vineyards (though some were and some weren’t). A digression down this path would take us way too far off-topic. In many other parts of Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal and so on) rules came to be developed along similar lines to the French concept.

Such rigid rules in France were supposedly aimed at protecting the consumer, so that if a wine said “Burgundy” on the label, it came from Burgundy, as defined by its many and various appellation boundaries. Such a claim was a nonsense because as well as failing to address quality within these rules, neither did they address fraud. Wine adulteration was ubiquitous, at least until the EEC (and then the EU) more or less curtailed such activities. But maybe not, if we believe the CRAV activists in the South of France.

Whilst the appellation system didn’t address quality as such, it did address “typicity”. Local tasting panels for each region or appellation would assess the wines in order to determine whether each wine was typical of the appellation. As the panels tended to be made up of big-name producers, co-operative winemakers and negotiants in large part, what was “typical” would certainly often exclude innovation, and may well enshrine mediocrity.

Does anyone recall the new appellation of Buzet, in Southwest France, appearing on our UK shores in the late 1980s or early 1990s? If I recall correctly, the only commercial producer at that time was Les Vignerons de Buzet, the local co-operative cellar. There was nothing wrong with their wines, and they represented decent value, but they were not remotely as innovative back then as perhaps they are today, or claim to be.

Knowing the Tissot family in Arbois a little, I became aware of the wine made outside the co-operative in Buzet by Magali Tissot (a cousin of Stéphane) and her partner, Ludovic Bonelle. The red wine in question, from their Domaine du Pech (planted by Magali’s father in the late 1970s), was originally bottled as a Buzet AOC until it was refused the appellation. As a natural wine, it is certainly different to the Buzet norm, but I have never drunk a faulty bottle. In fact, I would say that this wine stood head and shoulders above what the co-operative was producing when the wine was first rejected by the region’s supposedly skilled tasters. One might wonder what we should surmise by lack of typicity? In any event, the wine’s name changed to reflect its rejection: Le Pech Abusé?

Nowadays it is, as I have already said, pretty common for French producers to make wine outside of the appellation rules. This has been dramatically assisted by the replacement of the lowest level of wine, Vin de Table, with the “Vin de France” designation. Vin de France was originally viewed with some suspicion by consumers. It was brought into being largely as a result of pressure from France’s major volume producers (the big producers always have the greatest influence and run the show, pretty much).

The 1980s onwards saw a big expansion in the production of Vins de Pays, a tier (once two tiers) below the AOC (and now falling under the EU’s IGP rules). Vins de Pays were often wines made in a similar region to one or more AOC wines, but perhaps aside from higher allowable yields, the big difference pertained to grape varieties. When Vins de Pays took off in Languedoc and Roussillon they were predominantly a vehicle for planting the so-called international grape varieties in regions where the appellations restricted producers to traditional varieties.

So, even though we did see Vins de Pays made down there in the south with local varieties such as Terret, which might not be allowed in the local appellation wines, the big swell in planting was of grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. It’s fair to say that the south has pulled back somewhat on these so-called international varieties as many producers realise that, as global warming kicks in, there are more drought resistant varieties to play with.

Yet Vins de Pays failed to tackle one issue which the larger wine producers felt was putting them at a disadvantage in global markets. That was regional blending. Remember, this was the time of the great expansion of Australian wine across the globe. Australia was the bright star everyone wanted to emulate, and Australia had no laws in place stipulating that a bottled wine needed to come from a specific location.

Of course, many Australian wines did, with prestigious estates situated in named wine producing regions like the Hunter Valley in NSW or Yarra Valley in Victoria. It was simply that Australia’s larger producers would source wine from wherever they wanted, using any fantasy name they chose. Such a name could point to a particular vineyard site, Jacob’s Creek being a prime example, but the wine didn’t have to come from that site.

If this sounds like a recipe for dodgy dealing, it wasn’t. Jacob’s Creek was, and always has been, a pretty decent commercial wine, and certainly labelled more honestly than “Burgundy” or “Claret”, a great Aussie wheeze for many decades. But where the Aussies really scored was with their top wines. The old “Grange Hermitage” (now simply “Grange”) developed by Max Schubert through the 1950s does still contain fruit from the original Magill Estate, home of Penfolds in South Australia, but the largely Shiraz (with some Cabernet Sauvignon) fruit has always come from other sources as well, some from the vineyards of wider South Australia and a little from out of State.

It was this inter-regional blending which attracted some of France’s big names, but many of these were volume producers who perhaps wished to hedge against the weather and fluctuations in grape prices. It’s possible someone wanted to make a French Grange, but I’m not sure one has emerged, at least in the sense of which I am talking, since Vin de France came into use just over a decade ago.

Vin de France has two possible advantages over Vin de Table for the producer, and these apply equally for the large negotiant and the small artisan. Bottles of Vin de France are allowed to be labelled with both vintage and grape varieties. This was not allowed for “Vin de Table”. Vin de France is, nevertheless, still not allowed to say where the grapes came from (although the producer’s name and address, or at least their postal/zip code, will appear).

Vin de France has been a saviour for many innovative, small, producers, principally for three reasons. First, if your wine doesn’t fit within the stylistic brief of “typicity” as dictated by a regional panel (occasionally out of mere jealousy for your methods and philosophy, because some fellow vignerons are occasionally capable of pettiness) then Vin de France is a refuge, and one not usually a disadvantage to well-known artisans who have a faithful following.

Secondly, as recent vintages have dealt many smaller producers a really poor hand of frost and hail etc, Vin de France has enabled them to purchase grapes from friends in other wine regions. Some producers, like Ganevat in France’s Jura, have developed a negotiant arm, producing AOC/now AOP wines from their own vineyards whilst making Vin de France from bought in fruit. Ganevat’s bought in fruit often comes from Alsace (although not exclusively), but he also uses these cuvées for the wonderful, rare, autochthonous varieties with which the Jura region is scattered and which have escaped the Jura’s appellations. The De Moors in Chablis follow a similar path.

Others, such as fellow Jura artisan Alice Bouvot with her Domaine L’Octavin, have removed all their wines from their respective appellations. Alice’s bought-in grapes (often but not always from Savoie and Alsace) and her fruit from her own vineyards around Arbois are all labelled Vin de France. This is for the third advantage of the VdF designation…bureaucracy. If you are a regional star with a no-compromise philosophy, and especially if you can sell your output with relative ease, then why bother with the form-filling, and with the animosity from those whose methods you don’t agree with and whose wines do not get the attention yours do on the international stage?

Alice is always out

In fact, many producers who reject AOC in favour of Vin de France sell more wine internationally than they do in France, where a more conservative and ultimately less educated (though they don’t think so) wine public is still largely wedded to the appellation as God. It is not unusual to see some French Vins de France made by artisan natural winemakers more frequently in Tokyo, Berlin, Melbourne and San Francisco than in much of France, although there are exceptions. There are plenty of bottles in Paris of course, but they are all hidden under the counter for wine bar owners to share exclusively with their mates.

The UK has been remarkably receptive to “Vin de France”. Of course, it’s not all good news. The whole Brexit situation has turned some producers away from we Brits, mostly because of extra paperwork but occasionally for other more personal reasons (when you have little wine to sell then the easiest avenues to market appeal more). Others, thank goodness, have stood by the supportive small merchants (and of course, Les Caves) who import them, even though allocations may be tighter now. Yet the key to success for these appellation-rejecting producers is new consumers.

Younger wine lovers are less bothered about classic wine appellations, which they sometimes wrongly tar with the brush of fusty conservatism. They base their purchases on what appeals to them, which may sometimes include the packaging, but their critics are way off the mark when they suggest that such younger drinkers are merely slaves to fashion and marketing, and a colourful label (as if your average small artisan has more astute marketing nous than the agency employed by the massive producer, hey folks, surely not?).

So, what is the future of the wine appellation? I think a world where appellations have a role to play will be with us for a long time. Where they work well, they really help the budding wine lover explore a region, and this is as true for Bordeaux as it is for Burgundy…BUT (in my opinion), at the top level. Differentiating Pauillac from Margaux, or Meursault from Puligny, is a worthwhile pursuit for anyone lucky enough to be able to afford the wines of those appellations. It’s just that you can’t tell me that any given wine labelled Chablis is better by definition than any Vin de France emanating from that particular part of France.

I would respectfully suggest that the concept of Appellation in France (and by extension elsewhere in Europe) needs to evolve to remain relevant to new wine lovers and producers alike. If Appellation remains a refuge granting unearned prestige to under-performing wines, then today’s better educated consumers with their fingers on the pulse will simply reject them. This will not only damage dull wines and their makers, but will ultimately damage the reputation of all producers and wines within an appellation.

Appellations need to find ways to include a region’s best (or at least most internationally lauded) producers, should those producers wish to be a part. In some places the horse has well and truly bolted, but in others (Bordeaux, Piemonte and parts of Germany provide examples) there are still producers who would wish for inclusion rather than rejection. Appellations, for all their faults, do nevertheless signal a certain prestige, and acceptance, for many producers.

Not all Bordeaux is fusty and crusty

They need to professionalise their appellation tasting panels to ensure that petty rivalries and overly conservative attitudes no longer prevail. They also need to consider the place of innovation. Is fermenting in a concrete egg so different to the concrete tanks used widely in the 1970s? Is the freshness of ambient yeast strains, the liveliness of a wine protected perhaps by a little carbon dioxide rather than sulphur, and the texture imparted by a little skin contact or an amphora, going to make a wine so atypical that it cannot be admitted to an appellation, no matter how good or exciting it might be?

In Italy’s Chianti Region the DOC(G) rules were modified to allow a number of non-autochthonous grape varieties into the blend of Chianti, even into its “Classico” heartland. Many would argue that in an attempt to placate modernist producers, the authorities allowed a traditional wine to be changed in what many considered a negative way. Did Merlot strip Chianti of its tradition and soul? To cover the arguments would take a page, but many would say that in allowing Merlot in the mix (and in the introduction of new oak barriques), making Chianti “relevant to the modern world” was a bad move. So the arguments are not always straightforward.

How far to allow modernisation and innovation is undoubtedly a question for those who formulate the rules, in the case of French wine the INAO. It probably doesn’t matter a lot to the new consumers, but it is those very consumers who will be the future, who will make or break appellations. Fashions may come and go, but if you make a wine like Muscadet, you may well only remember the last part of that statement. Recovering a reputation can take a generation.

Prestigious wine regions do not feel challenged right now, yet as their wines leap in price, out of the reach of we mere wine obsessives and into the realm of just the wealthy collector, a time may come, sometime in the future, when very few people will know the best wines from the classic regions. If all that remains for younger wine lovers is to get to know a region or appellation through its cheaper wines, then what future do those appellations have? Certainly consumers, robbed of the most prestigious bottles, will only be able to taste wines which may conform to appellation rules, but which have no built-in requirement to be, frankly, any good. In such cases the Burgundian-related adage of “producer, producer, producer” is the best rule anyone can follow.

Me, I just buy any wine that’s good, whether defined by an appellation or designated as a table wine. But then I’m not the kind of consumer appellations are aimed at. However, all is not lost for the appellation as a concept. Despite the rejection of appellation by so many innovators in Europe, the “New World” has begun to embrace it. Canada, the USA, New Zealand and even, to an extent, Australia, have all moved at least in part down a path leading from complete freedom to some appellation strictures, even if it is left to producers as to whether they choose to work within them or not.

That sounds positive, surely? But South Africa, that hotbed of innovative winemaking in the twenty-first century, does provide a different approach, perhaps nuanced, but one that might act as a warning to those whose first thought is not directed merely at making the best wine possible from a unique terroir, without recourse to the constriction of rules for rules sake. It’s a topic which will doubtless provide hours of future contemplation for those of us inside the bubble, and perhaps less so for your average wine drinker, who probably could not give the proverbial two hoots. And that, Mr appellation administrator, is your potential problem.

One of the producers who inspired this article, Ewald Tscheppe (Werlitsch) from Styria

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Food for a Change…the Wonderful Cuisine of Nepal

As some readers probably know, I’ve been in Nepal, hence the quiet month of November. It was a last-minute rush, to see family, as soon as the country came off the “Red List”, and perhaps timely looking at how the pendulum of travel restrictions seems once more to be heading in the wrong direction again. Now, I did drink wine in Nepal, but (aside from the home made) it was all from Chile.

I don’t want to disrespect Chilean wine, but these few bottles were all of a type we might have been drinking twenty years ago (and others doubtless still are). They were rich, oaky, bottled in heavy glass and none were below 14% abv. All decent, even good within their context, but wines I’d call higher end commercial examples.

We did drink plenty of alcohol, however. Nepal has its own “craft beer” industry, making increasingly good examples to supplement the brands I’ve written about before (Gorkha, Sherpa, Everest…). No Tongba this time but we did buy a brilliant home-made Chang from a farmer’s market. Rum is a Nepalese speciality and the more I drink the Khukri brand, the more I like it. It may not be in the mould of the fine old rum many will drink back home, but as one rarely consumes fewer than two bottles in one sitting, just as well. A hot spiced rum (cloves, ginger) is very effective against the cold winter nights (daytime temperatures in Kathmandu in November hit 22/23 Degrees Celsius, but drop thirteen or fourteen degrees below that when the sun goes down around 5.30pm).

One new addition to evening drinking was Nepal’s first blended malt whisky, Bandipur, named after a rather beautiful hilltop village on the way to Pokhara. Expensive for Nepal, but still under £30/bottle and it was excellent. These various beverages all made up for being unable to source any Pataleban wine. Everything seemed to be sold out, and the past couple of vintages have had their problems. Seems we were too early for the 2020s.

The alcohol aside, the real star of our trip was, as always, the food. I’m a fan of all Asian cuisines, but that of Nepal is vastly underrated, usually forgotten overseas (as is that of Pakistan) amid the domination of the Indian cooking (both regional, and the generic) which we see so much here in Great Britain. There are actually some rather exciting Nepalese restaurants in the UK. Edinburgh in particular has many, and in Gautam’s and Solti, owned by the same family, two I can recommend highly having dined in both this autumn.

Several people asked for more photos from our trip. I’m reticent to put up too many tourist snaps, but I feel confident that some regular readers will be interested in some of the dozens of dishes we ate, both in Kathmandu and at the Namobuddha Resort a few hours from the capital, where we stayed in small cottages on a hillside with perfect views (not always guaranteed) of the Himalayas spread before us. I hope you enjoy them.

Kathmandu nightscape from the roof of Craft Inn, Panipokhari

The classic

Namobuddha Resort and the road to Dhulikhel. Namobuddha Resort grows almost all of its own organic produce on a nearby farm. In Nepal terms it provides enough luxury with far more authenticity than many grander spots, set in a beautiful hillside garden with the finest views you could wish for (weather permitting)

Craft Inn, Panipokhari. Very spicy Keema Noodles, vegan burger and battered mushrooms. Not all food is vegan but they make their own seitan (and Kombucha, hemp milk etc). Check opening, currently only for bookings.

Siddhipur Sweets & Chat House (Lalitpur)

A Chat House isn’t somewhere you go to talk…the centre of the nine photos above is a “Samosa Chat” (sometimes Chaat), basically chickpea curry on an open samosa, one of Nepal’s classic styles. Below it sits a plate of momos, Nepal’s (and Tibet’s) national dish and one of the world’s finest foods, deceptively simple but very addictive.

This shop and cafe is probably a little out of the way but the food, and sweets (mithai in Nepali) are genuinely sensational.

The dishes above are at C-YA Vegan (@amruthaz_vegan_food_service), certainly Kathmandu’s finest fully vegan restaurant, in Jhamsikhel. There really is no meat in the dishes above.

Bandipur Whisky and Chang (in Nepal most often just brewed with rice, brown rice in this case. At 6-7% abv it can creep up on you, especially as a good one goes down like fruit juice).

Sam’s Bar in Thamel (Kathmandu). It’s my favourite bar in the city but it is usually rammed, a sad sign of Covid’s effect on the tourism industry in that part of Kathmandu which is tourist central.

The Walnut Tree in Lazimpat, an excellent new discovery.

One of the finest maize-based snacks on the planet

There are many photos on my IG feed if you need a Nepal fix…

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Recent Wines October 2021 (Part 3) #theglouthatbindsus

This is the last part of my resume of interesting wines drunk during October. This half-dozen bottles, all gems in their own way, travels around a fairly small part of Europe, with one exception, but they are all from different countries. We travel to Alsace (one of the coolest wines of the year), Slovenia, Tenerife (Spain’s Canary Isles), Burgenland (don’t I always), Baden and Piemonte.

RED Z’EPFIG VIN DE FRANCE [2019], LAMBERT SPIELMANN (Alsace, France)

My first ever trip to Alsace was rather a long time ago, but we stayed in Itterswiller, only just up the road from Epfig. It’s a beautiful part of Alsace, and the villages here and to the north (Andlau and Mittelbergheim, to which we walked on that trip) are now the location for some of the whole region’s most exciting wine. Epfig was a bit of a backwater, except that it was, and is, the home of the Ostertag family.

Now, Epfig has a new wine name. Lambert is not from a wine family, so he didn’t inherit vines. He’s put together around two-and-a-half-hectares whilst at the same time doing what most young people do in the region, picking up work with more established names who can pay him a wage whilst teaching him along the way. As a musician as well as vigneron, he not only makes superb wines which are already garnering plaudits, he’s adorning the bottles with striking labels which reflect his wide musical tastes (see “This is Muska”, Recent Wines January 2021, Part 1).

Lambert was lucky to purchase vines which had already been farmed organically for two decades. This allows him to follow his Slow Wine and biodynamic methods using zero intervention where possible. Having vines over a large number of sites and different terrains does allow him both diversity of fruit, and a hedge against climatic threats like frost, hail and rot.

Red Z’Epfig is a homage to Led Zeppelin. I think, however, what goes for the label does not necessarily go for the wine, because although this red weighs in at 13.5% abv, it isn’t “heavy”. Unusually, for red wine from Alsace, this is only 50% Pinot Noir (off limestone), the other half of the blend being made up from the pink-skinned Pinot Gris, off clay. The grapes all see a two-week whole bunch fermentation followed by nine months in old wood.

The wine is gorgeously scented with red fruits. The palate echoes red fruits with a spicy finish and a mineral texture despite the richness (and alcohol). That alcohol is well hidden by this evidently very good winemaker’s lightness of touch. It’s more “fruity and zippy” than heavy metal and Zeppy.

Imported by Tutto Wines. They generally place a few of the Spielmann wines in their online public shop, Tutto a Casa. It can be hit and miss as to what’s there (rarely the whole range), but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see this one when looking the other day. However, it’s always worth contacting Tutto. This merchant has some stunningly good producers in their portfolio.

RENSKI RIZLING “DOLIUM”, ZORJAN (Tinjka Gora, Slovenia)

Božidar Zorjan is perhaps one of the great mystics of wine. His whole philosophy and the way this interacts with his farming (not just winemaking) is fascinating. A lot of cosmology is involved but that’s not the half of it. There’s an excellent post on the Les Caves de Pyrene web site from 13 August 2018 which is far too long to paraphrase or quote from here, but I would recommend it if you have time (the link is here). He is one of the few producers I know, for example, to ban mobile phones in the winery. He farms with his wife, Marija, in the Stajerska region of the part of Styria which lies within Northern Slovenia (the greater part of Styria/Steiermark being within Southern Austria).

Božidar uses a whole selection of different vessels in which to ferment and age his wines, but those under the Dolium label all see clay qvevri for fermentation. These clay vessels used to be outside, under the stars, buried in the vineyard, although it might have been Simon Woolf who told me he’s since brought them indoors (?).

This is the second “Dolium” I’ve drunk. The first, way back in December 2019, was made from Muscat Ottonel. This wine is made from Renski Rizling. The name kind of gives it away that this is classic Rhine Riesling, as opposed to Laski-Rizling, or Welschriesling as it is better known in Austria.

The bouquet unfurls slowly on opening but it’s worth waiting for the herbs, orange and grapefruit citrus and apricot which follow. The colour is a rather spectacular orange-bronze in the glass. The palate is orange and apricot, smooth and rich. Long, complex, remarkable (it truly is special). I don’t know the vintage, but there’s a Lot Number, L01/900. Perhaps someone out there knows?

Les Caves de Pyrene is the lucky importer.

TÁGANAN TINTO 2018, ENVÍNATE (Tenerife, Canary Is., Spain)

The four young people who formed Envínate after graduating from university together have joint projects in several parts of Spain, but I think their work on Tenerife is what they are currently best known for. One of the four, Roberto Santana, is from the Canary Isles and in fact made wine for the other great producer on the island, Suertes del Marqués, so perhaps it was natural that they explored the viticulture there. They did so at just the right time, with the wines of Tenerife literally bursting onto the Spanish, and international, wine scene on the back of the natural wine movement.

Envínate make a number of wines on Tenerife, but Táganan comes from one of the wildest and most inaccessible parts of the island. Anaga is a small region up in the northeast, and Táganana is a small village up in the mountains, very difficult to get to. The great thing about the vines here is that phylloxera didn’t even get a sniff of the place, so all the vines are ancient, and on their own roots. The slopes, at over 300 masl, are steep but the soils are sandy volcanic bassalt, which the louse doesn’t like in any case. Some vines are over 300 years old, but none are said to be younger than seventy.

The first Táganan wines were produced from the 2012 harvest but they have quickly made a great name for themselves. Intervention is minimal, the Listán Negro and Malvasia Negro (with other assorted varieties popping up in the field mix) grapes are placed in open fermenters as whole clusters. Ageing is for a little under a year in 500-litre oak.

The result is soft, haunting, fruit. The wine has a ghostly lightness on the palate via red fruits, but a little bite comes in by way of developing herbal notes and the faintest whiff of espresso. Sort of elegantly light on the palate but ever so slightly raw.

Envínate is imported into the UK by Indigo Wine. See also, perhaps, thesourcingtable.com.

“INTERGALACTIC” 2020, RENNER UND SISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)

I don’t plan to re-introduce the Renners of Gols here, Rennersistas Stefanie and Susanne, along with brother Georg now on the team. I drink their wines as often as any, and write about them frequently. This is one of those wine producers whose wines really mean a lot to me. I’ve been with them, so to speak, from the start and I truly believe in what they are doing. I won’t pretend I can be very objective when describing the wines. I’m afraid you’ll have to accept that. But they have become well known enough that my voice is now just one among many, and of course their place among some very influential women winemakers in Camilla Gjerde’s new book can only cement that position.

Intergalactic is one of the new cuvées from the Renners, a kind of white brother or sista to the red “Superglitzer”. Susanne and Stefanie planted this vineyard as a field blend in 2017, after they took over from their father. Their early wines were made as single varietals in the main, as they wanted to get to know their varieties, but blends are what have always interested them most.

We have Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Gewüuztraminer and Muskat Ottonel, plus a tiny bit of Chardonnay. Four days on skins and then ageing on lees in old oak. Carbon dioxide protects the biodynamic fruit in place of sulphur. The cuvée is well named. It’s like a blast through the universe on the tongue and feels like you are colliding with the stars. Vibrantly fresh and soulful. Simple in some ways, yet like a good Gemischter Satz, it is deceptively beguiling.

This will cost £22 at Littlewine, or you could try importer Newcomer Wines.

GUTEDEL 2019, BÄDISCHER LANDWEIN, WASENHAUS (Baden, Germany)

Wasenhaus is the project of Alex Götze and Christoph Wolber who met not in Germany but in Meursault. They got together to make wine in Baden, in Southwestern Germany, at Staufen-im-Breisgau. We are in a land bounded to the west by the Rhine and Alsace, and to the east by the protective mass of the Black Forest, southwest of Freiburg (im Breisgau) and the Kaiserstuhl.

Gutedel is, of course, known as Chasselas in the francophone world, but the wine I consider to be possibly the best Chasselas I know is made under its German name, a little further south in the same region by Hanspeter Ziereisen.

Alex and Christoph, like the Ziereisens, have some very old vines. Two-thirds of the grapes for this entry level bottling are direct pressed to ferment in old wood whilst the remaining third are allowed eight days skin contact. Everything then goes into old wood for just six months before bottling fresh.

The wine is very savoury and it has just a touch more weight than the 10% abv on the label might suggest. It’s very different to the zippy and light, prickly Chasselas of the closest regions in Switzerland to plant it. It’s not rich as such, but the old vines and skin contact give it a bit of complexity, an extra dimension perhaps. It shares the savouriness of Chasselas from Switzerland. There is a tiny citrus element, perhaps distant lime, like a pinprick, but the overall impression is herbal and slightly biscuity.

This wine can also be had from both Littlewine and Newcomer Wines.

BOCA 2013, VALLANA (Piemonte, Italy)

Okay, this one sneaked into November’s drinking, you only saw a picture of it on Instagram this morning, but it makes up a neat half-dozen wines for Part 3, so a bit of cheating is fine, okay? It means you get a glimpse of Alison Bolton’s lovely cornflowers twice in one day.

Say “Piemonte” and most wine lovers will think of Barolo and Barbaresco and then move on from Nebbiolo to Barbera and Dolcetto. But Piemonte covers a vast area, most of Northwest Italy, and as Nebbiolo from those two famous regions becomes as expensive as fine Burgundy, so people have begun to look further afield. Some ripe pickings can be found in Roero but one doesn’t have to travel far from the Nebbiolo heartland to get there.

It’s quite a drive to the northern appellations of Piemonte, and I think perhaps the northernmost of all of these is Boca. Boca sits just to the north of Gattinara and Ghemme in an area known locally as the Colline Novaresi, but the Boca DOC sits within a UNESCO Biosphere Park based around an ancient volcano.

This is the region of Alto Piemonte which you will hear more and more of as small importers like Ultravino discover the hidden gems away from most (not all) of the prying eyes of Barolo producers eager for inexpensive but promising vineyards. As Jancis et al point out in the current World Atlas of Wine (8th edn, Mitchell Beazley), Alto Piemonte was once, albeit a long time ago, “more highly regarded than the then-emergent Barolo” (p156).

Antonio Vallana’s company is famous among lovers of Piemontese wines. His bottles from decades old vintages were still available until quite recently, and in the good old days (1990s) his “Spanna”, sold with decent bottle age, was a regular in your local Majestic Wine Warehouse.

Spanna is the name up in the north for Nebbiolo, but this Boca pairs that variety with 30% Vespolina, a variety also known as Croattina. It has a parent or offspring relationship with Nebbiolo and is thought to be autochthonous to the wider regions of Piemonte and Lombardy. The grapes see 18 months in large oak, but it is usual for Vallana to give the wine good bottle age before release. I think the current vintage, at least the one I bought most recently, is 2016.

The colour is brick red, unmistakably that of Nebbiolo. The scents mix quite strident red fruit with an ethereal rose petal bouquet. Deeper and darker scents follow, perhaps coffee. The texture is tannic, that of a still youthful wine, but the tannins are not abrasive. In fact, with food (including some nicely roasted assorted vegetables with a nice bit of browning) it went splendidly. I’d call it a delicious, mouth-filling, winter wine.

The back label quite rightly claims that this wine will age for decades. But do we want to keep our Boca as long as a famous producer’s Barolo? I think we should, as a rule, but I’m now too old to buy any wine which is going to sit beneath the ground for thirty years. For me, this is a wine to savour and enjoy in its primary state, with good hearty food.

There may be a little 2013 around, and probably more of 2016. I bought mine from The Solent Cellar, but I think they only have some left as part of one of the excellent mixed cases they do (a Vallana six-pack for just under £160, which includes a bottle of their excellent Nebbiolo Metodo Classico, well worth a sniff, I promise). No luck there, then try Butlers Wine Cellar (which has always been hot on Piemonte). I’m sure that the Vallana wines are also available in many other independents.

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, German Wine, Natural Wine, Piemonte, Slovenian Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines October 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

As I said yesterday, I’m publishing October’s “Recent Wines” in three parts, six wines in each. Part 2 here represents six wines, or rather five wines and one bottle of spirits we finished, drunk on one evening in mid-October, with two very good friends whose wine passion mirrors our own. We drink a lot of natural wine with these particular friends, but at the same time we do like to raid the cellar for a few classics, and that is what we did. Four of the wines are French, the other being a rather desirable Austrian. The spirit was rum, a rather special Spanish one.

CAMPANIA REMENSIS 2015, CHAMPAGNE BÉRÊCHE (Champagne, France)

In a world where Champagne is getting more and more expensive by the year, Bérêche has become a rare treat, at least at this level of their portfolio. For a few years after I first discovered this Grower Maison on the crest of the Craon de Ludes at the top of the Montagne de Reims, I was lucky enough to visit them most years, until just before Covid intervened. I was always extended a warm welcome by Raphaël, or occasionally his mother, which makes me genuinely sad that I’ve not been able to return for at least three years. I worry that they will not remember me because in terms of fame, Bérêche has moved on (and up).

Campania is firmly among my half-dozen favourite Rosé Champagnes, as it deserves to be on any list, on merit. Only 5,416 precious bottles were made in 2015, and I had just two. This one was disgorged in May 2019 and dosed Extra Brut, at 4.5g/litre. The grape blend is slightly towards Pinot Noir (60%), with 30% Chardonnay and 10% Meunier. Raphaël and Vincent grow exceptional Pinot Noir, their Coteaux Reds being among the very best in the whole region. Around 5% of the final blend consists of the same Pinot Noir for colour.

That colour is on the pale pink to orange spectrum, elegant and very attractive to the eye. The bouquet is light but concentrated, with notes of pomegranate and raspberry. The bouquet in itself is enough, but the palate has zippy red fruits and lovely salinity, bound together around a stream of fine bubbles which spiral into the space above the elegant liquid. A star of a wine. Stellar, in fact.

The UK agent for Bérêche is Vine Trail.

GLÜCK 2015, WERLITSCH (Südsteiermark, Austria)

Ewald and Brigitte Tscheppe are the dynamic yet thoughtful couple behind Werlitsch. They are star biodynamic winemakers, although they do not appear in the first edition of Stephen Brook’s book on the Wines of Austria (perhaps the second edition rectified that omission?).

Ewald makes biodynamic wine from around Glanz an der Weinstrasse, in South Styria. It’s easy for those of us who love this region to forget that many may not know where it is, let alone have drunk wine from there. Styria (Steiermark) hugs the southern border with Slovenia, west of both Burgenland and Slovenia’s border with Hungary. Eight hectares of Chardonnay (known here as Morillon), Sauvignon Blanc and Welschriesling are planted on the local “opok” marls, and the beautiful wines which result are made with minimal intervention, a path the couple have been following since 2004.

Glück blends Morillon with Sauvignon Blanc, a variety which the region does especially well (Styria is perhaps the hidden gem of Sauvignon Blanc). This cuvée sees serious skin contact. Initial ageing is in large old wood but it is “bottled” in a ceramic flask, which those who use such containers (quite a few Austrians these days, and Metamorphika in Catalonia) do so with great results.

We get a complex mix of yellow fruit with citrus aromas along with a little tannic texture. It’s a wine which gains complexity in the glass, but I still suggest serving it just cool rather than cold. Savour it almost as you would a Vin Jaune, although subtlety in this case is its greatest asset, easily lost if washed down straight from the fridge. Of course, everyone raves about the wonderful “Ex Vero” cuvées from Werlitsch, rightly so, but ignoring Glück would be a terrible shame.

Available on occasion from both Newcomer Wines and Littlewine.

POMMARD CLOS DES EPENEAUX 1er CRU 2002, COMTE ARMAND (Burgundy, France)

This Monopole Clos has been in the family of Comte Armand since 1826, but in 1999 winemaking was taken over by the now very famous Benjamin Leroux, who has taken the domaine into biodynamics from field to bottle. The 5.5-hectare vineyard, which was the only site owned by Comte Armand until more vines were purchased in the mid-1990s, sits on the Beaune side of the village, above the D973, close to where it splits from the D974.

Of the vintage 2002 I’d like to quote Jasper Morris (Inside Burgundy 1st edn 2010, BBR, 2nd edn just published). “This has always been a favourite of Burgundy professionals. The whites are fine and crisp and show their vineyard characteristics. Those comments go for the reds as well, which are pure and precise – without the weight to be considered among the great vintages, but nonetheless a year to give real pleasure.”

How do those comments stack up here? This bottle was magnificent, at least to my palate, one which used to drink fine Burgundy with some regularity until a decade ago, but less now (it’s basically down to the few cases left in the cellar, cost again you see). It had certainly retained a touch of youthfulness by way of structure, yet it developed well until, typically, it really began to hit its stride as the bottle was almost empty.

Very plummy, I’d say, with some darker fruit emerging, followed by winter spices. Another wine which is both concentrated but elegant (more elegant than can sometimes be the Pommard norm). I would argue that it may not be a truly great vintage, but this could be almost a great wine. It’s certainly a wine which will age further, but it gave immense pleasure to the four of us who got to drink this solitary bottle.

Originally purchased from Berry Brothers & Rudd, I believe.

CHÂTEAU LANGOA-BARTON 2001, SAINT-JULIEN (Bordeaux, France)

Langoa was purchased by Hugh Barton in the 1820s just before he became owner of the more famous Léoville estate. I say more famous, because Léoville was classified as a Second Growth in the Médoc’s 1855 Classification and has gone on to be considered a “Super Second”, a member of that elite group of Deuxieme Cru estates which consistently challenge the Premier Grand Cru Classés. Langoa-Barton was classified Third Growth (Troisieme Cru) in 1855 and whilst always being acknowledged to be great value, a firm favourite in Britain, it has never reached the same level as Léoville in popular mythology. Or has it?

This bottle was not decanted, and initially I thought this a sound decision as I’d say that the fruit seemed a little attenuated. However, with time the fruit actually built in the glass, accompanied by some very nice tertiary elements. These I would characterise as classic cedar wood aromas, delicious savoury notes, and a noticeable lick of either mint or eucalyptus (noticeable but not pronounced). My initial thoughts were turned on their head as, instead of declining, the wine flourished when poured (into, unusually, Zalto Universals, the heathen you may say).

I understand that Neal Martin gave this vintage of Langoa 93 Points (FWIW) in September this year, and apparently (I am told) wrote that the 2001 Langoa matches Léoville from the same vintage. It was a very lucky bottle.

I don’t suppose you’ll find a 2001 that easily, though buy it if you do. Justerinis sell Langoa, but I’m pretty sure this bottle came from the “factory outlet” (aka warehouse) of Berry Brothers at Basingstoke. In any event, it had been in my cellar a long time.

VIN JAUNE “EN SPOIS” 2005, STÉPHANE & BÉNÉDICTE TISSOT (Jura, France)

I first met Stéphane Tissot just after he’d returned from overseas to the family domaine, A(ndré) & M(ireille) Tissot at Montigny-les-Arsures, just up the road from Arbois. I watched this talented young man transform the wines of this domaine from very good to great, as well as expanding production into what seems like an almost infinite number of cuvées.

Amid all of these wines there are four things this great winemaker does, in my opinion, better than anything. First, he makes some Chardonnay which wholly merits the description “great”. Second, he makes some of the very finest sweet wines in the whole Jura region, in my opinion only rivalled by three or four other producers. Thirdly, he has been broadly responsible for the introduction of amphora into the region, something he’s maybe not had the credit for. Fourthly, he makes some amazing “sous voile” wines.

In the latter style there are several Vin Jaune plus, in more recent years, wine from a parcel at Château-Chalon. This wine featured here comes from an Arbois vineyard called “En Spois”, one of the first sites Stéphane planted in the early 1990s, whose vines are now nicely mature. Wink Lorch rightly says (Jura Wine, 2014, Wine Travel Media) that the Savagnin turned into Vin Jaune from this vineyard is usually the first of the domaine’s Vin Jaune wines which enters its drinking window.

It’s worth making a few comments on Vin Jaune drinking dates. These wines are aged under a thin veil of flor for between six and seven years before bottling, the wine being released at a ceremony, La Percée, held at the beginning of the February of the seventh year after harvest. This means that when young, just released, Vin Jaune appears on a restaurant wine list the consumer often imagines they are getting an “older” wine with greater bottle age.

As a rule, Vin Jaune needs ageing, and occasionally with top wines, literally the longer the better. Some smaller producers in Arbois are now making Vin Jaune which is remarkably appealing when young. So, whilst this cuvée will drink well younger than, say, Stéphane’s Château-Chalon, or more oak-influenced Vin Jaune “Bruyère”, it’s all relative.

“En Spois”, the site, is made up of clay/marl soils, not easy to farm biodynamically, as Stéphane Tissot does. The result is very elegant, a wine which is medium-weight despite a higher degree of alcohol than some other Vin Jaune (15% here). It is still youthful but also becoming complex with a remarkably long finish. My taste impressions are of walnut and ginger, dry, textured, a little saline. As always, serve at room temperature and sip, so that complexity builds on your tongue. Once opened it will last days, and a good long period to breath beforehand would be a good call too. Many people will open a Vin Jaune in the morning before drinking, occasionally the night before. Nothing goes better with nicely aged Comté.

Purchased at the domaine’s shop in Arbois, on the main square (Place de la Liberté). Note that there are a number of Tissot domaines, also with Arbois shops (as indeed there is more than one Overnoy in Pupillin). I have seen a UK wine merchant calling one of the others by just the Tissot surname, which could at best be confusing to consumers, considering that without dismissing the other Tissots, this one (also known still as Domaine A&M Tissot) is the world class address.

LA BOTA DE RON 65, BOTA NO SINGLE CASK, EQUIPPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)

This release from Equipo Navazos is one of a line of crafted artisan spirits, of which I managed to obtain, in the end, three bottles, along with a single Gin. This was the last bottle of rum, and indeed the last of the last bottle, as we drained what little there was left at the end of this long evening of food and wine (lots consumed, but I think I was saved by avoiding a cigar to go with it).

The rum was aged in a single Oloroso cask and bottled in Jerez in the spring of 2016. I am not sure of the origin of the sugar cane, but the spirit is “Muy Viejo”, aged between fifteen and twenty years. The whole of the butt was emptied to fill just 800 x 70cl bottles. Alcohol was reduced to 44%, more balanced than the cask strength of 50%.

Complex, smooth and with such depth to it, remarkably elegant aromatics but a punchy palate, which tapers to great length. No additives whatsoever were introduced and unlike most rum, no chilled filtration took place. A very complete product of stratospherically high quality.

A direct purchase, but Alliance Wine is EN’s UK agent. Some of the Equipo Navazos spirits are released from time to time, including from the very latest releases, single cask malt and grain whiskies (Botas 104 and 105).

As all of these wines were consumed over something between four and five hours on one day, it’s worth saying something about the appreciation of multiple fine wines. Occasionally I might go to a dinner or lunch for ten or twelve people, and more often than not these days the rule is to bring two bottles each. Such events can be spectacular, especially at a special restaurant (like the Sportsman, which I’ve had to pull out of this week for family reasons). But I’m frankly more often than not a little inebriated after such events and sometimes the wines can be a blur.

With a dinner such as this one, for four close, wine loving, friends/partners, the wines fall more into focus. There may have been plenty of alcohol consumed, but not too many bottles to blur (in both senses) the distinctions between them. Even if some are drinking less than others, I would still end up drinking less than two bottles. Equally, the pain that is loading the dishwasher and hand washing all the glasses is definitely less onerous than getting a couple of trains, with taxis either end, home again. However, some such meals are still worth it.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Fine Wine, Premium Spirits, Rum, Spirits, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines October 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

I have eighteen wines to tell you about from October’s home drinking, and to help my own logistics I’m going to change the format for this month and split them into three, not the usual two, parts. Short and sharp. We are going to begin with a half-dozen from Czechia, Wales, Northeast Italy, Austria, Slovakia and Germany’s Mosel. Although that’s six wines from six different countries, with the exception of the Welsh offering, they are all in some ways like distant cousins of each other.

“HELENA” 2020, DLÚHÉ GREFTY (Moravia, Czechia)

This is a new producer for me. Jaroslav Tesarik and family farm a small estate of just 2.5 hectares at Mutěnice. The organically farmed vines are split among eight different plots. “Helena” is a pale red pétnat made from the Austrian variety, Saint-Laurent, bottled on its lees so that you get that typical pétnat sediment left in the bottle. Stand it up if you want a clean (sic) wine, lay it down in the fridge for a more textured, cloudy, experience.

Helena is one of the Tesarik daughters, and I wonder whether this wine in any way mirrors her personality? It is slightly wild on the nose, but also floral. The palate bursts with strawberries and other zippy red fruits. The acids are fruity but there’s also a steely backbone here to set them off. That texture I mentioned sort of grounds the wine. It is bottled with no added sulphur. As I said, it does have a wild side without going completely AWOL. Very nice.

A new producer from Basket Press Wines.

“ORANGE WINE” ALBARIÑO 2018, ANCRE HILL (Monmouth, Wales (UK))

Ancre Hill was founded by Richard and Joy Morris in 2006. I have no idea whether they have, wishing to retire, found a buyer for the estate yet, but I keep enjoying their exciting biodynamic wines when I can get hold of a bottle or two. Especially as I presume 2021 will have been a challenging year, even in that sweet dry spot of South Wales.

These 12 hectares of south-facing slopes are planted to an incredible diversity of vines. This cuvée is principally made from the Galician variety, Albariño, vinified as 100% whole bunches. The fruit receives a 30-50-day maceration (long) and the wine is finished off in a mix of oak and stainless steel, on lees with no added sulphur.

The resulting colour is a fairly dark orange-bronze. There is real depth in the bouquet, and complexity, everything from lifted orange citrus to deep and rich butterscotch. The palate is dry and textured. It’s a real “orange wine” but the time spent in bottle has undoubtedly made it smoother, I would guess. It still retains fine acidity. It’s a complex wine, potentially challenging if you don’t like the true orange style, but very rewarding if you do. It was a good accompaniment to one of my curries, a role which for my palate orange wines often enjoy.

Of course, the label has to be a modern classic.

I pounced on this at Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton) the minute I saw they had some. You might find some via Les Caves de Pyrene. If you fancy owning a Welsh vineyard, contact Savills.

“SONNTALER” VERNATSCH ALTE REBEN 2019, KELLEREI KURTATSCH (Alto-Adige, Italy)

I’ve been trying to put right my drift away from the wines of Italy’s Südtirol over the past couple of years, purely I must stress due to availability, but I must say that it’s a long while since I’ve drunk Schiava. This regional mainstay of Northeast Italy, or at least its Adige Valley, is also known as Trollinger in Germany, but its one-time ubiquity has faded fast. Except that it can make lovely wines which are very much underrated, especially when taken a little more seriously, as with this Alte Reben (old vine) cuvée from the Kurtatsch (aka Cortaccia) co-operative.

The vines are grown on picture postcard slopes, usually basking in sunshine at reasonable altitude (I say usually because I do remember the autostrade running like a river and snow on the Brenner one June). The key to this wine’s success is a mix of clones (including some rare Schiava Grigia) and truly old vines. Vine age in this wine is between sixty and ninety years. The soils are sandy, and prone to erosion up here at around 400 masl.

Fermentation is in stainless steel before five months in 6,000-litre Slavonian oak casks, during which time it undergoes malo. The result is a wine that is a little different to the international norm, and all the better for it. The clean red fruits are vibrant and darker cherry adds a slightly lower note. The more unusual character comes from orange citrus underneath a floral (rose perhaps) note on the bouquet. I’d say it errs towards a leaner rather than fat style, which has a little (but not too much) in common with Touraine Cabernet Franc (in style and weight, not flavour).

Available from several independents, mine came from Butlers Wine Cellar, but if they don’t have any left, Solent Cellar does (£23).

NEUBURGER 2017, WEINGUT KISS, LEITHABERG DAC (Burgenland, Austria)

Neuburger is another variety which has virtually lost even the tiny bit of popularity it may have had until fairly recently, when it has seen a modicum of a renaissance. Those producers who do bottle a varietal Neuburger often charge a decent price for its rarity value, so the chance to drink one for less than £20 is an uncommon experience.

It doesn’t have pretentions to great complexity, undergoing a fairly simple vinification in stainless steel, with no oak. However, it’s far from being a simple wine. It hails from a single vineyard, it has some skin contact to add texture, and you will notice it has some bottle age. It is also from fruit grown on a prime site within the Leithaberg DAC, hilly terrain around the north of the Neusiedlersee, close to the Kiss family’s base at Jois. Of course, the skin contact has allowed them to use minimal added sulphur.

This is what Joelle of importer Alpine Wines said: “We looked for a good Neuburger for three years until we found this…we met Verena Kiss at ProWein…this is how it should be done”.

I’d agree, especially for £19 retail via Solent Cellar, who seem now to be out of stock (and possibly for a little bit less direct from Alpine Wines, currently £16.80 on offer…something to help alleviate the cost of purchasing a few of their superb but rarely cheap Swiss wines).

Joelle calls this an orange wine. It’s not a long way along that spectrum compared, say, to the Ancre Hill, mentioned above. But it does have that medium weight, texture and unoaked complexity which, as Joelle rightly says, makes it a good accompaniment to foods which are difficult to pair with wine (a genuine orange wine trait, which is why I often drink orange wines with my Indian cooking). Layered flavours include both crisp and fresh apple and stewed apple, with a notable mineral salinity.

“BACCARA” 2017, VINO MAGULA (Slovakia)

I seem to drink a lot of different bottles from this Slovakian producer, in the same way that I drink lots of Petr Koráb from next door Czech Moravia. This talented family manages to farm around ten hectares now, all biodynamically, around Sucha Nad Parnou. The soils are deep loess packed with minerals, including a high proportion of calcium. Very low rainfall also stamps its mark on the terroir.

The grape blend in this cuvée contains, as the main component, Rosa (a variety I’d never heard of), with Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch), Modry Portugal (aka Blauer Portugieser) and another obscure variety, Dunaj. The result is a lovely rose-scented palish red, but the palate has more weight than the colour and scent suggest. You get crisp black fruits, some crunchy tannins and some bite. It’s structured but massively fresh, and a long way from heavy. One of those lighter reds (12.5% abv) which is just gorgeous with food. It has a beautiful, almost ethereal, scent which enhances what’s on the plate, but with the grip to match anything which is not too overpowering.

In some ways this wine is made in a style which has been disappearing, not helped by the passion for thick and soupy wines since the 1980s. Lighter reds are now fighting back in many of the regions of Central Europe, and now almost everywhere else. It is perhaps one of the great legacies of natural wine.

The beautiful label (Magula have been upping their game here, embellishing their vine concept with colour) shows the Black Baccara rose after which the cuvée is named.

Imported by Basket Press Wines.

“LITTLE BASTARD” LANDWEIN [2020], JAN MATTHIAS KLEIN (Mosel, Germany)

Always one of the most interesting wines from Kröv’s great experimenter, Jan makes this provocatively named gem from vines between ten and forty-five years old. It’s a white blend of Riesling (55%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%), Müller-Thurgau (10%) and 5% Muscat (although we need to find room for a splash of Bacchus, apparently).

The fruit is spread around the village, but most comes from Kröv’s Letterlay site. It’s not a vineyard which sits alongside the Mosel’s great names, but the terroir is grey slate. The Sauvignon Blanc comes off Kinheimer Hubertslay. I bet not many of you knew there was Sauvignon Blanc in the Mosel, but you may well know that Jan has been planting all sorts of varieties as a test to see what may work with climate change. This is why his wines, other than those under the Staffelter Hof label, are all Landwein.

The regime here is stainless steel for purity of flavour but a little skin-contact for added complexity. CO2 is added in lieu of sulphur. You don’t need any florid language to describe this wine. It’s just a zingy glass of pure joy, Joy as an Act of Resistance (to coin an album title). I think the label and name tell you enough about what the wine inside the bottle will be like. One look and you’ll pretty much know whether you will like it. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of JMK.

Jan Matthias Klein is imported by Modal Wines.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austria, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, German Wine, Italian Wine, Mosel, Neusiedlersee, Slovakian Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Don’t Want Any Crap in Our Wine by Camilla Gjerde (Book Review)

Over the past several years I have noticed something interesting. Not only am I buying more wines from women winemakers than I was, but some of those women would count firmly among my very favourite producers. I’ve tried to work out why this is, because I can categorically say that it’s nothing to do with the style of the wines. I don’t go for all that “feminine wines” crap, and in any event, some of those wines are pretty damned assertive.

Women have been making wine forever, of course, but wine has, until relatively recently, been very much the domain of the male ego. There are some great partnerships in wine but not every one of those partnerships has been the kind you see at places like Gut Oggau in Burgenland, a partnership of true equals. The traditional role for the female half of a wine partnership in a male-dominated profession has been sitting at the kitchen table, doing the paperwork, or occasionally making lunch when your husband’s (sic) male importer comes to visit. Or, in some cases I know, going out to work when lean harvests mean just too little money is coming in. In many wine regions, the role of the wife is also one of the mother as well, with child care near the top of the job list

Occasionally an untimely death throws the wife, or daughter, into making the wine. There are plenty of sad stories of winemakers passing away during harvest, giving other family members no choice but to subdue their grief and forge ahead. But it is probably only in the last twenty years that there has been a real groundswell of women winemakers starting out alone, from scratch. It is especially true that many of them are very young, new blood joining the likes of pioneers like Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Birgit Braunstein or Heidi Schröck. (As an aside, have you noticed how many women winemakers succeed in Austria, especially Burgenland?).

There have been books and articles aplenty in recent years on the phenomenon of “women in wine”. It has become an even bigger topic of late, with stories of misogyny and worse coming to light, usually the result of male dominated power structures. The latest work on women in wine has been written by a Norwegian almost turned Swede, Camilla Gjerde.

Le Reine d’Arbois graces the cover, capturing Alice so well

Born in Norway, Camilla was awarded a PhD in Political Science from Oslo University and worked as a civil servant, but has lived in Sweden for the past twenty years, recently moving from Stockholm to Malmö. Her own life- and career-changing moment came when she tasted Arianna Occhipinti’s “Il Frappato” in 2008. She became completely hooked on natural wine. This led her to a WSET Diploma and a change of direction into wine writing. Her book, many years in the planning, chooses for its title a quotation from one of the women it profiles – We Don’t Want Any Crap in Our Wine and is subtitled The Women Behind the Bottle.

Within its two-hundred plus pages it profiles nine women from seven estates who have between them not only evolved a great reputation as wine producers individually, but who have also done so much to change perceptions of what women can achieve in wine. All of them are uncompromising individuals, and they have had to be. Of course, any difficulties they have faced have not all been down to the male of the species. Many are down to weather. Nature’s way of throwing the unexpected your way at the worst possible time is always going to be an issue when you don’t want any crap in your wine.

Of the seven estates profiled, I know the wines of all but one of them (Fonterenza in Montalcino). A couple of producers I know fairly well, I mean personally as well as their wines. Others I’ve met once or twice, either at wine fairs and or on visits. Others, I just know their wines and have read about.

Those who I do know do seem to have some appealing character traits which help warm me to the wines. I’ve said before that if I like the winemaker and respect their working methods, that is a major step towards my appreciation of their wines. You can learn a lot about a person which ultimately enables you to trust them and their wines.

All of the women profiled have a very steely determination to make wine, and to make it on their own terms. This has led to great difficulties for all of them to greater or lesser degrees. And going back to the child rearing aspect of their lives, at least three of them have children to look after on top of the hard physical work and long hours of the vigneronne.

Of those I know in the book, and indeed other women winemakers of my acquaintance, there’s definitely a warmth and openness, even if one or two are quite shy. In the world of the male winemaker, there can often be a certain, well, if not exactly macho stance, certainly an ego present. This is even evident with some of the men making natural wines.

So, who do we get to read about?

Elena Pantaleoni makes wine at La Stoppa, in Emilia-Romagna, as well as in Chile now, as well. Her wines were always among my purchases in the early days of Les Caves de Pyrene, her UK importer. Francesca and Margherita Padovani are twins who share responsibility for the Fonterenza estate at Sant’Angelo in Colle (Montalcino). Jutta Ambrositsch is the ex-graphic designer who ploughs her own furrow on the hillside vineyards of Vienna. For me personally, her wines are sensationally exciting.

Alice Bouvot (Domaine L’Octavin) is, whether she likes it or not, the Queen of Arbois, making some of the most radical, challenging, yet satisfying and in some ways “perfect” wines in the Jura Region. “Rennersistas” Stefanie and Susanne (recently joined by their brother, Georg) took over running a long-established family winery in 2015/16 and, as the author quotes, had to tell their father to “back off, we have a plan”.

Catherine Hannoun (Domaine de la Loue) has gone it alone at Port-Lesney, the Jura’s northern frontier. She used to be a film producer and has brought knowledge from that métier to bear fruit (in both senses) as a winemaker. Catherine has in some ways faced the greatest wine-related problems of all the featured women here, but she makes truly wonderful wines simply because she makes them on her own terms. I wish they were less difficult to source, and she is one winemaker I shall be even more reticent to visit now I know how little time she has to waste.

Arianna Occhipinti is also a veritable star, who decided to go it alone at the age of only twenty-one, in one of the places you’d probably least expect to be a hospitable environment for a young woman to make wine, Sicily. Her advantage was, perhaps, having a famous (well, to me) uncle who is part of the COS setup. COS, like Arianna, close to the south-eastern town of Vittoria, was one of the first natural wine producers I got to know.

I wondered why Camilla had wanted to set out to write this particular book. As she says in her Preface, only about 14% of all winemakers are women, and she wanted to give them a voice. The voice she gives them is not quite the one you might expect in a wine book. Let me explain. As a political scientist, Camilla is most interested in the people and what makes them tick. Of course, the wines they make are ever present, but aside from broad descriptions you won’t find too many technical details about how the wines are made, nor a string of tasting notes. What you will find filling the pages are the philosophies of these winemakers, coming from their own mouths. They are remarkably similar.

It would be a crass cliché to draw gender-related conclusions from the fact that all of these women are wholly in tune with nature, and their own terroir (ecosystem). This is not purely a feminine trait. Neither is the passion these women have exclusive to the female sex. Plenty of blokes (Jeff Coutelou, André and Yann Durrmann, Pierre Overnoy, and a hundred others) understand how nature works and how dead soils lead pretty swiftly to dead wines. Yet throughout the pages of this book, the winemakers say pretty much the same things, within the context of their own story and circumstances. And it is their story which comes through clearly…it is what makes the book so interesting.

Of course, passion so often leads to experimentation. All of them are inquisitive. Such people are always going to be at the periphery of their profession, quietly pushing boundaries, so that the experimental might one day become the mainstream. If it is true that classical modern winemaking, the type taught by scientists in universities and regional wine schools, and which became entrenched by the likes of Robert Parker’s wine criticism in the 1980s, and if it is true that the revolution in the application of synthetic agri-chemicals in the years post-WW2, were both largely driven by men, men who believed they could conquer nature, then it is now true today that natural wine is something which is being driven by women as well.

This doesn’t mean that the world of natural wine is especially egalitarian. I know plenty of natural winemakers who still have, shall we call it, a “traditional view” of a woman’s place. Heaven-help these ladies when their wines come in front of conservative, cliquey, male-dominated appellation tasting panels. It’s not only those who go in for a certain kind of (c)rude wine label whose views may not conform to what we should expect in the modern world.

Jutta Ambrositsch prefers to be in the vines rather than the cellar but her wines are electric

However, plenty of men are supportive as has been the case for some of the women in this book. That said, what does come through is that every one of the winemakers here has had to develop the confidence to trust their knowledge and instinct, something their male counterparts have often approached with fewer worries. There’s a funny story in one chapter where a male colleague told one winemaker that she was macerating a wine on skins for far too long. Her reaction, to give it an even longer period on skins than she had done in previous years!

The book is a labour of love, self-published and greatly enhanced by the lovely photographs of Cecilia Magnusson. Cecilia’s bio says that her passion is taking photos which capture the moment, and she genuinely does that here. These pictures were taken as the pair cycled to and from the wineries in a trip which took them from Arbois to Sicily (well, a few other modes of transport may have been involved as well, as revealed in the preface, as Camilla obviously didn’t manage the whole journey on her fold-up Brompton commuter bike).

The Author leaving a well known Viennese natural wine store with her trusted two-wheeled partner on this project

The photos do play a major part not only in conveying the passion of the winemakers but also that of the author. It’s a warm and personal account. It’s not a book which will end up on a WSET syllabus, but it is one which will appeal to lovers of natural wines, and who want to read the stories of these women and to discover what makes them need to make wine.

Do I have any criticisms? Well naturally I’d have loved to go on reading, and I can think of a whole host of women winemakers who would have been a good fit here (certainly Julie Balagny in Beaujolais and perhaps Catherine Riss in Alsace). Of course I’m not the one who had to put in the leg work, so as complaints go, it’s a positive that I wanted more. There’s a helpful list of more women natural winemakers towards the back of the book.

I would say, as a writer myself and well aware of my own limitations, that as with many self-published books, in places it does read as if the overview of a professional editor might have helped eliminate the odd clunky sentence or repetition, but I would stress that I only make these comments to show that the book isn’t perfect. Such instances are very rare, but interestingly perhaps come closer to the beginning than the end. But take note – I don’t think, for one minute, that such very minor points would diminish anyone’s enjoyment, nor do they diminish Camilla’s significant achievement in researching, writing and publishing this book.

We Don’t Want Any Crap in Our Wine is self-published under the Now What Publishing imprint (2021), written by Camilla Gjerde with photographs by Cecilia Magnusson. It’s a good, solid hardback. It is available from camillagjerde.com (£26 for UK plus shipping, but posting worldwide). I know that Camilla has signing sessions planned back home.

Ultimately, it’s a feel-good book with an emphasis on passion and success, but not before the book’s subjects have faced very steep learning curves and a host of obstacles, which in the case of some of the women featured, still persist. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I know many of my friends in wine will too. Go out and buy it if you feel remotely interested. There is no question that the women within are inspiring, and for me, this does come through clearly in the text. Just don’t expect a textbook.

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