Swiss Wine by Sue Style

To give it its proper title, Sue Style’s latest book is The Landscape of Swiss Wine – A Wine-Lover’s Tour of Switzerland. Now you all know that I’m a bit of a fan of Swiss Wines, and from time to time I do ask my readers to indulge me in reading about them. It must be difficult because until recently Swiss wines have kept a fairly low profile on export markets. Once-upon-a-time that was no bad thing. With no competition, Swiss wine used to be made up almost entirely of inexpensive (well, inexpensive to the average Swiss) bulk wine, with producers going for as high yields as possible. A few oldies still retain a fondness for those days, but thankfully such wines are as rare as a top Graubünden Pinot nowadays.

Many people will be aware that many of Switzerland’s wine regions are breathtakingly beautiful, as you will see from the few shots of the book reproduced here. Terraces of vines cling to precipitous slopes in several. In the modern world of viticulture such winemaking is expensive, and around the late 1970s and early 1980s many producers began to realise that survival rested upon being able to charge more for their bottles, and charging more meant a focus on quality. If Switzerland has had a revolution since the Protestant Reformation, then the modern Swiss wine scene (I hesitate to say “industry”) has seen one.

With raising quality comes the desire for confirmation, and so the past decade has seen increasing numbers of Swiss wines reaching foreign shores, albeit in small quantities. At the same time we now see Swiss wines entered in international wine competitions, and unsurprisingly they are making their mark on the world stage. The relatively small volume produced doesn’t mean we will see an avalanche of these wines in the UK, but aside from the UK’s one specialist mail order merchant, Alpine Wines, we are also beginning to see Swiss wines on some retail shelves, whether they be smart department stores or the kind of small independent wine merchants who are also doing so well selling natural wines.

I’m grateful to Wink Lorch for making me aware of Sue Style’s book, because I’d neither read nor heard anything about it. I do know Sue’s work, however. She’s written nine books, including The Taste of Switzerland, and writes for Decanter Magazine and The Financial Times Weekend. She is based in Alsace, so has been well placed to travel throughout Switzerland for the required research.

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Well, what did I think? It’s a book which I admit I didn’t find perfect, but those quibbles were minor and personal. I think it’s great. If you have the slightest interest in jumping on Swiss Wine before everyone else does (the natural progression, after all, following Wink Lorch’s books on Jura and French Alpine Wines), then you should seriously consider reading this. Not that its £35 cover price is an easy stretch for everyone.

Sue constructs her narrative around a clockwise path, beginning in the Valais (being the valley of the River Rhône) in Southern Switzerland, and taking us on a journey through each of Switzerland’s regions which make wine, finishing in Ticino, the Italian-speaking Canton which specialises in Merlot.

In doing so she introduces a host of wonderful autochthonous grape varieties, including the rarities Completer, Plant Robert, Räuschling and Diolle, along inter alia with Humagne Rouge and Blanc, Chasselas, Cornalin, and the wonderful Petite Arvine. We also get to meet some outstanding classic imported varieties. Sharing the limelight with Merlot, there’s Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay, and others, some planted for decades, and making genuinely world class wines (like the Pinot Noir of Graubünden, especially those of Daniel and Martha Gantenbein). She also introduces us to the Swiss PIWIs (pronounced “Pee-Vee”). These are disease resistant crossings developed in Switzerland especially to help combat the various rot diseases, and which have been taken up, enthusiastically in many cases, especially by those producers eschewing synthetic vineyard treatments. The most well known include Gamaret and Garanoir.

There are, if I have counted correctly, profiles of fifty producers and wineries. The largest number, quite rightly, are from The Valais, Switzerland’s largest region for both volume and quality (18 entries). Vaud has seven entries, Geneva Region three, Graubünden gets three, Ticino Five, and the other regions just two or three entries each. For every producer there is sometimes a photo of a favourite bottle, always some lovely photographs of the winery or their vines, though all too rarely a photo of the winemaker (but I’m sure that it’s just me who likes to see the woman, increasingly a woman in this often male dominated nation, or the man, who makes the wine).

I should note that there are other entries of a similar size covering subjects as diverse as Swiss wine competitions, wine organisations, special events, and one on Switzerland’s ubiquitous Chasselas grape variety, all illuminating.

Do I agree with Sue Style’s choices of producers (she’ll wonder who I think I am)? Well broadly, yes, although there are one or two cutting edge producers not included. The example I’d give which my regular readers may well know is Mythopia. This Valais winemaker probably has the biggest profile of anyone making wine in Switzerland among certainly the more adventurous London and metropolitan crowd in the UK, and to be honest, they have done more than any other to “popularise” Swiss wine in small UK independent wine shops and restaurants of the type frequented by you lot. But the wines are very “natural”, perhaps a bit too edgy for many, including the Swiss Wine authorities. They are also perhaps less well known in Switzerland itself than in London, New York, Berlin and San Francisco.

The book was published with “generous support” from Swiss Wines Valais, and the publisher, Bergli Books, received a structural grant from the Swiss Ministry of Culture. There’s nothing unusual in this. I have French books and CDs which received similar funding, and it’s good to see projects which promote culture receiving such support elsewhere in Europe. I’m not suggesting that those getting an entry were in any way prescribed to Sue, but most of them happen to be members of a key Swiss Wine organisation, Memoires des Vins Suisse. 

This organisation was founded in 2002 as a way to illustrate how well Swiss Wines can age. Each member (there are currently 56) supplies sixty bottles of one wine every vintage, a wine which is in some way unique, or typical of a style, grape variety or terroir. There’s a big annual tasting, remarkably free to the public (but you need to book), which examines a selection of vintages of these wines in order to prove the point. It’s a big deal in the country.

Another objective of “Memoirs” is to facilitate interaction between Swiss producers. In the past a certain insularity, possibly built into the temperament and loyalty to Canton, was made even more pronounced by the difficulty of physically getting around and between the mountains. But the modern Swiss winemaker has probably worked abroad, perhaps in France or Germany, but equally likely, also in California and New Zealand. Sharing ideas, and goals, has recently become much easier, and is very common among the best.

Each featured producer gets two pages, setting out their philosophy and way of working (increasingly organic, biodynamic and even “natural” in some cases), introducing their terroir and their wines. A silhouette map pinpoints their vague location, and a panel lists Sue’s favourite wines, full contact details, information about buying the wines and visiting (many Swiss wineries helpfully open their doors for tastings on Saturday morning, others just for the annual portes ouvertes events). Another wonder of Switzerland in general is her well-signed walking paths, and the vineyard trails in some regions are near legendary. Information on these is provided in brief on local paths worth following.

I could list all my favourite producers, but that wouldn’t really help a lot. Wine legends like Marie-Thérèse Chappaz and the Gantenbeins are very hard to source (although the abovementioned Alpine Wines does manage to plead tiny quantities of Marie-Thérèse’s wines, you just need to catch them swiftly when they land). I have the advantage of close friends in Geneva, whose own wine region boasts a few more worthwhile domaines in addition to those which appear in the book (although the featured Domaine Les Hutins is remarkably good). But the city’s wine stores are equally a good source for bottles from other Swiss regions, including those you won’t find outside of the country (it’s certainly the only place I’ve personally seen bottles of the Completer variety).

I will list a few which you might be able to track down in the UK – Albert Mathier (amphora wines), the Mercier family, Domaine des Muses, Simon Maye and Germanier (all Valais),  Badoux (Vaud), and Peter Wegelin (Graubünden)…and if I may, one more that doesn’t appear in the book, Domaine de Beudon (Valais). But going on the many other producers I know that are featured, I think you can try any of them with confidence.

What were my quibbles? Well, my main one is maps. I’m a stickler for maps in wine books, even if they are not incredibly detailed. They put the different regions in a geographical context. I’d have liked more producer profiles too. But in both cases I can see why those things didn’t happen. I’m thrilled that we have this book, in English, at all, without wishing upon the project what could have been prohibitive costs and time constraints. Anyway, the new “Wine Atlas” is due to be published in October and that will give us some cartographical context.

If you happen to be in Switzerland try to seek out the wines from producers Sue recommends from the smaller wine regions, especially those of the north, which even in enlightened markets don’t often get a look in. The German speaking Cantons in particular are top-secret suppliers of some thrilling Pinot Noir. If you are in or around Geneva and have a way of getting out into the vineyards to the west of the city, a visit to the wine villages around Satigny (where the Cave de Genève co-operative is based) and Dardagny (one of the villages best endowed with good artisan producers) makes for a pleasant afternoon, or Saturday morning.

Equally, if you have a few days in Geneva, get the train out to the UNESCO-listed vineyards of Lavaux (between Lausanne and Montreux). They vie for the title of the most beautiful vineyards in the world with those of the Valais (Martigny to Brig), the Douro and Ribera Sacra, perhaps. There’s an excursion you can make, by car or train, to the Lavaux Vinorama near the village of Rivaz (which you can read about in my 2017 article here). As usual, there are well signed vineyard paths nearby, on the terraces which drop alarmingly in some places to the glinting Lac Léman, below.

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There’s equally plenty to see if you find yourself in Basel or Zurich (though if in the former, do pop over the German border to visit Ziereisen, won’t you!)

Sue Style’s “Swiss Wine” is published by Bergli Books (2019, paperback/soft cover, 188pp), and is available (currently) for £35.19 from a popular web store, or CHF34,90 from Bergli Books’ own online store.

Alpine Wines (online and mail order) has the largest source of Swiss wines in the UK, although their focus is perhaps slightly more on the French-speaking regions (not exclusively).

Newcomer Wines 5 Dalston Lane, London E8 and online) imports Mythopia, and is increasingly another great source for Swiss wine.

Other than the above, check out independents, who often surprise with the odd Swiss producer. I am positive we shall see more. You almost never saw a wine from the French Alps ten years ago, after all.

Geneva has a branch of the famous Lavinia chain, but the top department stores usually have a good basement wine department. Other cities likewise. As the book says on the title page, its a “guide to tasting, buying, and experiencing the best wines of Switzerland”. I’d add that it’s the best guide there is for those purposes. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m sure a few likeminded wine lovers reading this review will enjoy it too.

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Grape Varieties, Swiss Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Go Mad In Islington – Nekter, Roland, Modal Portfolio 2019

The three dynamic, young and small importers featured here have not chosen a pithy name for themselves, like the “Dirty Dozen”, so I’ve kind of done it for them in my title (sorry chaps). Nekter Wines, Roland Wines and Modal Wines held their annual Portfolio Tasting once more at The Duke of Cambridge, in Islington, London, on Tuesday 17 September. It’s a small and intimate venue but the event once more seemed to attract the numbers of tasters that these wines deserve.

NEKTER WINES

Nekter Wines specialises in organic and low intervention producers from California, Australia and South Africa. They have around thirty estates on their books, and bring in a range of wonderful rarities, often in very small quantity, selected with passion and a deep knowledge. That is reflected in the wines I have chosen to highlight here.

It may be a good time to note that quite a few wines showed reasonably high levels of alcohol, as one might certainly expect from some of these sources. Maybe the pendulum is swinging back a little, but despite my general aversion to high alcohol wines as I get older, it’s all about balance. If I’ve selected a wine to comment on, you can be sure that if a high alcohol level is noted, it didn’t detract from the wine for me. So long as the wine is sitting up with a straight back, rather than slouching on the sofa (as I’m told I do regularly), then it doesn’t seem to matter.

Keep Wines Delta White 2018, Clarksburg (USA) – A 50:50 blend of Falanghina and Cortese from fruit grown on the Lost Slough Vineyard in the Sacramento River Delta in California. It is made by Jack Roberts (also assistant winemaker with Steve Mattiasson) and Johanna Jensen, a couple who, rather romantically, met on their first day travelling in Napa a decade ago, and are now married. The blending of this pair of varieties, one which performs best on the hills of Southern Italy, and the other a ubiquitous Piemontese (Gavi etc) has a past tradition in California among Italian immigrants. The marine deposits of the river delta site are mirrored in the wine’s minerality, and assist with the texture cultivated from four months on lees whilst ageing in stainless steel. A lovely style, balancing some weight with elegance. A juicy opener. £28.

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Pasarene Chardonnay 2017, Elgin (South Africa) – I am always impressed by this Franschhoek wine from Martin Smith and Ndabe Mareda. The 2017 underwent a gentle pressing (0.2 bar max) over seven hours at very low pressure to obtain the purest juice which glints bright green in the sunlight. You get 14% abv, not as low as some wines from cooler Elgin (this is exclusively Elgin fruit grown up around 300 metres ASL on mainly red clay with plenty of iron ore deposits coming through). There is certainly a richness. But somehow it is still incredibly fresh (not just fresh). It also shows a definite savoury side, and the fruit and savoury combination lingers for a long time.

Aged in new, tight-grained, French oak, the freshness may in part come from 5% topping up with the new vintage during the 16 months spent there. It is then kept in bottle a further 10 months before release. Retailing at £45 it’s not cheap, but it is rather fine. It was the first wine Nekter ever shipped, so it has a special place in their portfolio.

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Benevolent Neglect Submerged Cap Ribolla Gialla 2017, Oak Knoll, Napa (USA) – This is quite an unusual wine. In 1972 George Vare, president of Geyser Peak and others, brought back some Ribolla cuttings from Josko Gravner in his suitcase. The results of these surreptitiously sneaked in cuttings were eventually grafted onto vines in the Bengier Family Vineyard at Oak Knoll in 1999, and have thrived.

The vineyard, at the foot of the Mayacamas, benefits from cool air blowing in from San Pablo Bay. The wine is called “submerged cap”. This translates to 15 days skin contact/cool maceration, before fermenting and ageing in neutral oak on the lees for fifteen months. The only point at which sulphur is added is a tiny amount at bottling. The wine was not fully topped-up during this time and a little flor formed. Savoury, with the slightest note of deliberate oxidative/biological ageing, textured, almost tannic, this is a glorious alternative to Friulian Ribolla (or Slovenian Rebula). Around £38 retail.

Keep Wines Counoise 2018, El Dorado (USA) – The specific site for this rare “Châteauneuf” variety is the Girard Vineyard, close to Placerville in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, east of Sacramento. The wine underwent whole cluster carbonic fermentation in a sealed vessel before transfer to neutral oak for just six months ageing. No sulphur was added at any time. It’s quite a pale wine with lovely red fruit scents (pomegranate and redcurrant jelly) with a waft of violet or lavender. The palate produces a little fine grained tannin and a herbal element adding a savoury, bitter note which makes the finish more interesting. This was poured chilled, which worked well. £32.

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Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown Prêt à Rouge 2017, Beechworth and Alpine Valleys (Australia) – Tessa and Jeremy Schmölzer farm 18 hectares south of Beechworth, perhaps the one part of the State of Victoria from where I don’t think I’ve ever had a less than exciting wine. If I tell you that Tessa has worked at Kooyong, on Mornington Peninsula, and closer to home at Sorrenberg, you will immediately sit up. The Alpine Valleys part of the wine is 60% Syrah, from Whorouly South, in the Ovens Valley. Beechworth is represented by 40% Pinot Noir, three quarters their own fruit and a quarter from a neighbour. The cool climate element comes through nicely with juicy and sappy red fruits. It’s an approachable wine with nice acidity, grounded with the smallest hint of tannin. Excellent for £34.

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Benevolent Neglect Whole Cluster Syrah 2016, Sonoma/Carneros (USA) – Las Madres Vineyard is a hillside site resting in a bowl, with the vine rows orientated to allow prevailing winds to flow down them. It’s a clever way of cooling the grapes and limiting disease in this dry-farmed vineyard. We have whole cluster fermentation here, the fruit being basket pressed into a decade old large puncheon. The result has 14.8% abv, which might in part account for the rather amazing bouquet of dark olives and crushed black fruits. Astonishing. The palate shows spicy blackberry and blueberry with dark chocolate and fairly firm tannins (still). It’s certainly a big wine, but equally, a fine wine, for ageing. £60.

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Keep Wines Carignanne 2015, Contra Costa County (USA) – From the famous Evanghelo Vineyard, these Carignanne vines claim to be the oldest in existence anywhere (130-to-140-years-old). The sandy soils here have kept phylloxera at bay, so they are on their own roots, remarkably rare in California. The vines are farmed organically by Morgan Twain Paterson. 100% whole clusters are pressed early and fermented in old oak. Ageing is one year in similar. This is so complex. There’s dark bramble fruit, but also balsamic notes and there’s something almost North African. I’m thinking pair this with a good tagine.

Expensive for Carignan at £44? Not really for a wine as special as this, and with all that history. Talking of which, the Nekter folks are rightly happy with the new labels from Keep Wines, but this one retains the old black & white pic of Beverstone Castle, an 11th Century Norman Keep in Gloucestershire. I rather like it, and it reminds me of when I first tasted Jack and Johanna’s wines, three or four years ago.

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Ferdinand Wines Tempranillo 2014, Amador County (USA) – Shake Ridge Vineyard, near Sutter Creek, sits up at over 1,700 metres ASL. The soils are red volcanic, with lots of quartz, and it has been farmed by one (now) elderly lady in her eighties for the past 27 years. Evan Frazier, who works as an assistant winemaker at Kongsgaard, makes Tempranillo and Albariño as his side project. Fermentation is in stainless steel, and ageing is 20 months in oak (10% new) with malo.  Red fruits and plum dominate a wine that has a smoky touch, and a pert freshness possibly brought out by the 5% Graciano fruit added to the Tempranillo. At 14.1% abv it is perhaps more Ribera than Rioja, but perhaps a bit less tannic. That freshness is nicely complemented on the nose where we have more floral scents, quite haunting. £36.

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From Sunday Lucky’s Red 2018, NSW (Australia) – This is a Syrah-Pinot Noir blend again, the Syrah from Orange and the Pinot from Hunter Valley. This was one of the three wines paired with food on a separate table. It’s popularity was assured for those of us tasting around lunch time, and the pairing in this case, of quail rillette on toast, worked very well (as did all the pairings). This is a wine of juicy, expressive fruit, inexpensive at £20, and not surprisingly Nekter’s best selling red wine. From Sunday is a partnership of three guys who met at university, who make different series’ of wine around Australia.

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ROLAND WINES

Roland Wines perhaps flies under the radar a little, possibly on account of their preference for Facebook and Instagram, rather than an active web site, as their contact point. They specialise in low intervention wines from Central and Eastern Europe, and their reputation to a certain extent has grown on the back of some of their star producers like Strekov1075 and Klabjan. I tasted wines from Slovakia, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia.

In a small tasting venue the Roland Wines table was awkwardly placed, and consequently quite crowded. I found it difficult to “get in” and I was very disappointed on leaving to find that I’d forgotten to ask to taste the Serbian wine on show, Maurer’s Kadarka 2017 from Szerémség. I know it’s a light red but with a big punch of flavour, excellent for summer barbecues and dried meat and cheese…and it’s Serbian! You don’t get the opportunity to try Serbian wine all that often.

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New Boy Emidio Russo

Strekov1075 HEION 2015 (Slovakia) – Probably Slovakia’s best known cult producer, the project of erstwhile drummer Zsolt Sütó. HEION is a Welschriesling cuvée made from young vines. Fewer than 1,000 bottles were produced in 2015. The grapes go into open top fermenters for two weeks on skins, and the juice is then aged on lees for nine months. It sure is a different kind of wine. To appreciate it you need to leave all your prejudices behind. If you can do that you almost attain an enlightened state. Well…it’s cloudy with a predominance of sour stone fruits, but it is flavoursome, juicy and long. Bottled without sulphur and sealed under crown cap, a wine for those looking for something new, pure, wild perhaps.

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Johannes Zillinger White Revolution Solera and Pink Revolution Solera NV, Weinviertal (Austria) – This pair was a bit of a revelation to me. From the Austrian wine region to the northeast of Vienna, and approaching the Czech and Slovakian borders, they were both aged in amphora. The white is co-fermented Chardonnay and Scheurebe, with back vintages of Riesling from a solera added. A light (12% abv) wine, but with texture, it has notes of orange zest and stone fruit. No sulphur is added. It was paired with a fresh and tasty crab and fennel salad on the food matching table.

The pink version is similarly vinified, with a long maceration in amphora, but the grape varieties are Saint-Laurent, Syrah and Roesler, the latter a grape I know from Gut Oggau in Burgenland. It’s pale with ethereal red fruit notes, dominated for me (I can’t help being specific here) by Scottish raspberries…you know, the fresh and slightly more acidic ones with a bit of bite. The acids are really crisp and refreshing. Both were quite revelatory, but if I had to choose a favourite, then the “Pink” would edge it.

Strekov1075 Fred#3 NV (Slovakia) – There’s a little bit more of Fred than the HEION, thankfully, but not a lot. “Fred” is (actually a surprise to me) short for “Friendly Red”, but it certainly is. Number 3 is blended from 50% Blauer Portugieser, 25% Dunaj (A St-Laurent/Zweigelt cross) and 25% Alibernet (Alicante x Cabernet Sauvignon). After two weeks fermenting in open vats the Dunaj goes into stainless steel and the other varieties into old oak. The wine is dark in colour with vibrant berry fruit plus some lovely “autumnal” flavours (hard to pin down exactly). A fruity wine but with just a twist of bitterness. Serve chilled with a cold platter, lip smacking stuff.

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Vinarja Križ Trica Plavac Mali 2016, Pelješac (Croatia) – Križ (pronounced “Krish”) makes lovely wines. This red is from dolomitic sand and limestone close to the sea near Prizdrina. It tastes quite old fashioned in a way, none the worse for that, of course. It has dark fruit and a meaty side as well, plus 14.5% alcohol. The fruit on the nose smells so sweet, a major part of its charm, I think. It ferments in open top vats for two weeks, then a year in old oak, only being released after a further six months in bottle, with a dash of added sulphur. It has bite, texture and tannins that give it a hard edge, but yet it is so packed with flavour.

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Klabjan Refošk “BL” 2011, Istria (Slovenia) – The Refosco variety does well in Slovenia, and this estate makes a cracker of a version. It is no shrinking violet, spending a long four weeks in open top fermenters and then three years in 1,500-litre casks of Slavonian oak. Bottled without added sulphur, it is a full-bodied wine coming in at 14.5% abv. Black fruited, with even more “meat and gravy” than the Croatian wine above, it is rounded with smooth fruit, yet grippy tannins, and a certain (expected) astringency. Keep for a few years and serve with game or full-flavoured dishes. This is the “black label”, which I think is a kind of reserve cuvée…there’s a “white label” which is, I think, generally more approachable in its youth.

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MODAL WINES

Modal Wines perhaps has less of a specific focus than the other two importers, yet has a dynamic range of yet more low intervention wines. I last saw Nic Rizzi at the recent Vicky Torres tasting at Ten Cases. None of those rare wines were on show here, unsurprisingly, but some fundamentally great wines were. The new ones never cease to surprise me (especially that final wine, below), but equally I can’t resist my old favourites. When an old favourite like Joiseph brings out a new wine, jackpot.

I tasted a lot of wines here, so the trade-off will be slightly shorter notes…perhaps.

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Entre Vinyes Cava Gran Funàmbul 2014, Penedès (Spain) – This wine deserves its place because although less rare than it once was, artisan Cava from a small family estate is still not all that common. About 3,000 to 4,000 bottles are made of this Xarel-lo and Chardonnay blend. All the Entre Vinyes Cavas are vintage dated wines and this spends four years ageing on lees in bottle before disgorgement. It shows. The wine has a gentle palate on which the fresh bubbles ride. There’s complexity, but not solely from long lees ageing. The vines are very old. With zero dosage the result is savoury and gourmande, and also pretty concentrated.

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Schenter Schönberg Riesling 2018, Kamptal (Austria) – I’ve never seen this producer on the Modal list before, but this is from the Nibiru stable of Josef Schenter and Julia Nather in the Danube region of Kamptal, east of the Wachau, and also one of the dynamic Austrian wine zones where younger producers are settling, unable to afford land west of Krems. The grapes are off schist but you’d not immediately recognise that. The fruit is soft and the bouquet quite floral. But then there’s a piercing mineral note which comes through on nose and palate, like a thin line running down the wine’s spine. The grapes have actually gone through malolactic but it’s still mighty fresh, and just 12% abv. Super value too.

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Sota Els Àngels “Flow” Blanc de Noirs 2018, Empordà (Spain) – This estate is in an idyllic location inland from the Costa Brava, surrounded by a Mediterranean cork forest. Farming is biodynamic and winemaking is simple. Here, fermentation and ageing (6 months) is in stainless steel with gentle batonnage. The variety is Carignan Blanc and the wine is clean and fresh. It’s the freshness that sells it, although it isn’t over acidic (it goes through the malo). There’s a whole range of fruit flavours, right from pomegranate to peach, but as it tails off it is the wine’s salinity which lingers longest.

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Slobodne Veltliner 2017, Zemiansky Sady (Slovakia) – A favourite producer, not just of mine, but of so many frequenters of cutting edge small restaurants in London, where you see this star producer listed. The Veltliner comes from vines about an hour east of Bratislava. It’s a new wine from the estate (with a new label too) where the fruit has spent seven days on skins (these people are masters of skin contact, as we shall see below). The next stage is ageing…a year in concrete egg. It has a pure scent, quite floral and (white) peachy, a bit of texture, and a good dollop of pepper and spice. A lovely addition.

Slobodne Cutis Deviner 2016, Zemiansky Sady/Hlohovec (Slovakia) – If you really want to try orange wine, come right this way. The colour, for a start! It’s almost like glowing caramel with orange flecks in the light. The grape, Deviner, is a cross between Devin and Traminer, the latter being exceptionally well disposed to making skin contact wines. It is aged not in amphora or egg, but for 18 months in old Hungarian oak. It’s super aromatic, obviously unfiltered (lots of fine lees sediment) and has explosive flavours of oranges, cardamom, cinnamon and more. Very complex and textured, but somehow easy to drink at the same time. For me, glorious stuff. Others might shudder just to look at it, and prefer some Chilean Cab.

Fattoria di Sammontana Primo Fuoco Bianco 2018, Tuscany (Italy) – This is a fourth generation 13 hectare wine and olive estate, now biodynamic, on the east side of the Arno Valley near Montelupo, about 20 km from Florence. Primo Fuoco is a Bianco Toscana IGP wine made from the much maligned Trebbiano Toscana variety. Vinification is in large (500-litre) amphora with three months on skins, after which the wine is drawn off and put back into amphora, minus skins, for a further six months. It’s a cuvée made from the estate’s best Trebbiano, from vines up to 50 years old. Quite golden, it’s another savoury, textured, skin contact wine, and certainly the best Trebbiano Toscana I’ve tasted this year, if not longer.

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Joiseph “Fogosch” 2017, Burgenland (Austria) – The rising star young winemaker (and one of three partners, based at Jois, just north of the Neusiedlersee) is Luka Zeichmann, who only began making wine in 2015. His wines made their mark with me from the beginning, but I only met him for the first time early this year. What a nice young man! Fogosch is Grüner Veltliner which saw 24 hours on skins, being both fermented and aged in neutral oak. Luka achieves the near impossible task of integrating suave fruit with grippy texture. I’m going to steal a perfect description that I cannot better for a wine like this from my IG friend Valerie Kathawala: “animated tension”. That sums up this deceptively simple, yet ultimately sophisticated, wine perfectly.

Malinga Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Kamptal (Austria) – That same wine writer was mentioning the often remarkable Sauvignon Blancs from Styria the other day. I’ve enjoyed a few of those, but what I don’t think I’ve ever tried is a Sauvignon Blanc from Kamptal, though not labelled with the DAC. It’s a bit “out there”, you see. Christoph Heiss added 20% Welschriesling (in 2017, sometimes a little less) as whole clusters to Sauvignon Blanc that had already macerated on skins for ten days. I think it all comes through most on the nose, which is very unusual for SB.

The fragrance of the nose is mirrored in the lovely brightness of the wine. You get something akin to a mix of tropical pineapple with apple/pear and lemon citrus. There’s something deeper too, like blood orange. It’s all wrapped up in freshness that isn’t too bracing, and there’s also a touch of minerality and texture, from the terroir, and from the skin maceration this undergoes. Definitely one of the most multi-dimensional SBs you will taste, although you can imagine a Show Judge noting “lacks varietal character”. Hmm!

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Fattoria di Sammontana Alberese 2018, Tuscany (Italy) – Alberese is not a grape variety, of course, it’s the name of the famous soils in Tuscany’s Chianti Region. The main grape here is Sangiovese, with around 30% Trebbiano, vinified as a light bodied (and pale coloured) Rosso Toscano, intended to be served chilled. Both grape varieties are co-fermented and then aged in stainless steel. It’s a lovely easy drinking wine, with light cherry fruit, hi-toned, and yet with identifiable Sangiovese character. Quite inexpensive but a great little light red.

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Joiseph Piroska 2018, Burgenland (Austria) – This looks new, but I think it’s the new version of Roter Faden. It’s a blend of Zweigelt from the Trift site and Pinot Noir from Langen Ohn. It has a bit of the white wine about it in its crispness, and yes, there is a dash of Welschriesling in here, and allegedly a tiny bit of Blaufränkisch as well (but I’m confused by the “GS” on the back label). Luka likens it to a red gemischter satz (maybe that’s it?). It certainly cries out to be chilled. The scents are light and fresh red cherry, mirrored on the palate. The fruit is pure, concentrated and smooth, and you get a little tannin too. A lovely wine, sealed under crown cap. So good! Damn, I want some!

The “food match” wine from Modal was Cascina Borgatta “La Milla” 2013, Piemonte (Italy). This estate is at Tagliolo Monferrato, near Ovada, just east of Acqui Terme. We are in the far south of Piemonte, bordering on the Ligurian Mountains here, and many of you will know that Ovada is one of the zones renowned for Dolcetto. This Dolcetto ferments in cement tanks with 20 days left on the skins. It then ages for just a few months in second and third year oak barrique. It’s not complex, but is quite concentrated, with soft cherry fruit and a spicy twist to it, finishing pleasantly bitter. It went well with stuffed pepper Panzanella.

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There’s one more wine to mention here, which I’d never tried before, but that was frankly sensational. Clos des Plantes Whaka Piripiri Mai 2018, Anjou (France) is, as far as I can tell, a previously undiscovered gem from Olivier Lejeune, who makes only around 3,000 bottles of wine each vintage from Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay (close to the River Layon, and indeed to Domaines Oggereau and Mosse). This is a new producer to Modal, and Olivier (I saw a photo, he does indeed look very jeune) also has a Grolleau and a Cabernet Franc off his miniscule two hectares. This is a gorgeously pure pear-drop Chenin, bottled as Vin de France. I know almost nothing else about this, but it was shockingly good.

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This was a great tasting, and provided all the evidence one needed that keeping up with this trio of small importers is pretty essential. I did notice that the members of the trade tasting here, pretty much most of them already customers, were remarkably young. I felt obviously the oldest in the room. That is not a rare thing, but it was very noticeable here. It’s an interesting point to note, and it actually felt good…that there’s a willingness to try new wines from less well known producers and regions. That said, some of these wines are not available in huge quantities, some merely a case or two. With the quality on show, I doubt they have too much trouble shifting them when tasted, even though a good number are from producers you may never have heard of.

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Recent Wines August 2019 #theglouthatbindsus

August is traditionally the month when people head off on their holidays, but we were at home, drinking our way through a host of wonderful wines as usual. I’ve cut this down to twelve bottles, assisted by having written a separate piece about the new wines from Alex and Maria Koppitsch, which I’m sure you’ve read (2nd September). I’m sorry to publish two articles in a day, but I’m off tasting again tomorrow (Modal:Nekter:Roland Wines) and I don’t want to get behind.

Looking through the selection, there are a few wines from The Jura, but we also have appearances from England, Germany, Greece, Austria, and Czech Republic. One or two of these might be new to you, so I hope you might be tempted to seek them out.

ARBOIS-PUPILLIN “CÔTE DE FEULE” 2012, DOMAINE HUGHES-BÉGUET (Jura, France)

This is “old school” Patrice, I think the last remaining bottle from my first ever visit to him, some years ago, when he suggested I see how this beautiful Pupillin vineyard ages. Things have changed chez Patrice, but this wine comes from one of Pupillin’s best sites. It’s pure Ploussard, pretty mature now for sure, but it has become a mellow red, still vibrant but with added complexity. There’s orange scents, autumnal leaf notes and tea leaf. The acidity remains to ensure freshness. It’s a haunting wine, a memory of when this domaine was one of the new stars of Jura wine. Patrice is easy to find, beside the church in Mesnay, just minutes outside Arbois (direction Les Planches).

For current wines from Patrice Béguet, try Les Caves de Pyrene.

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COL ’17, TILLINGHAM WINES (East Sussex, UK)

Ben Walgate is creating a boutique wine estate not far from Rye, where you can dine and will be able to stay. You’ll walk amongst the newly planted vineyards, visit his burried qvevri “plantation”, and perhaps take a peak at his gleaming winery. Don’t be fooled. Everything here is done in a true artisan fashion, with a focus on biodynamic practices. But more than anything, the focus is on innovation. Expect lots of different experimental cuvées made in small batches. The grapes are all bought in from local organic and biodynamic growers whilst Ben waits for the estate fruit to come on tap.

“Col” references the “Col Fondo” style of cloudy Prosecco, so different to the industrial version of the famous Italian fizz. The wine is bottle-fermented but without disgorgement, so it retains the cloudy lees in the bottle. It is bottled in spring with a little sugar to enable a second fermentation, but no sulphur is added. Despite the nod to Italy, the grape blend is pure “Champagne” – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier. Crisp, frothy and with mouthfilling freshness, sealed under crown cap. ’18 is the current version.

Relatively limited availability, but you can find Tillingham wines in a surprisingly large number of small independents, distributed by Les Caves de Pyrene.

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GOLDTROPFCHEN KABINETT 2014, JULIAN HAART (Mosel, Germany)

We are going a little “trad” here, but you probably know I like my German wine, especially the refreshing Kabinetts. Haart is a rapidly up-and-coming star. Three quarters of his four hectares are in the vicinity of Piesporter (as with this wine), with one hectare at Wintrich.

This is mature Kabinett. The acidity level has decreased, and the residual sugar seems slightly more emphasised as a result. However, it is still light and elegant, nothing like Spätlese levels. It still retains freshness as well, and comes in at a dainty 7.5% abv. This 2014, from a vintage which was largely cool and wet in the Mosel, shows just how good Haart is becoming. And he’s a relative bargain at the moment.

This was purchased from the region (Weinhaus Porn in Bernkastel), but Howard Ripley Wines stocks a very good range from this producer.

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PATA TRAVA 2016, KTIMA LIGAS (Pella, Greece)

From Paiko Mountain at Pella,  in Central Macedonia, Northern Greece, Domaine Ligas makes some of the very finest wines in the whole country in my opinion. This is Xinomavro, vinified en blanc, but with enough skin contact to give the wine some colour, a mix of pink and bronze. They make a little under 4,000 bottles of this, and it is one of the Domaine Ligas wines which is approachable young, yet will happily age a few years too. The scents and flavours here are complex and beguiling. Victoria plum, orange marmalade, pink grapefruit and a mineral note that shouts “big boulders”, not your mere gravelly grit. The bouquet reminded me just a little of Malvasia di Lipari, yet the wine is clean with a certain linear spine to it as well. That keeps it together nicely. No added sulphur, 12.5% abv.

It’s an unusual wine, and one which will benefit from a carafe, but the passionate wine lovers who shared this adored it. It came from Burgess & Hall (Forest Gate, London).

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BEAUJOLAIS 2014, YVON MÉTRAS (Beaujolais, France)

This is a remarkable drop of cherry juice from one of the region’s superstar natural wine pioneers. It was a bit reductive on opening, with a tiny pinch (or two) of volatility, but a few good swirls sorted it out. A very pure wine, with a ferral edge adding considerable interest, unless you are of a squeaky clean disposition. This truly is the glou that binds us. I drank his Fleurie “L Ultime” 2014 with friends about a week after, and it was not really ready, but this was singing. A joyful wine.

This came from Paris, either Caves du Pantheon or Verre Volé. Sorry not to be more specific.

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SAVAGNIN 2016, DOMAINE DE LA LOUE (Jura, France)

Catherine Hannoun is well under the radar in the UK, but her tiny estate in the very north of the region, at Port-Lesney, makes wines every connoisseur wants to get hold of. In a clear case of “the pupil becomes the master”, some friends beat me to her door, pulling off a visit last year, but they didn’t forget me. This is the first of two wines from Catherine here from August. We didn’t strictly drink this at home, but no way is it not going to be included!

We have a gentle, svelte, Savagnin, smooth-fruited compared to many. The wine’s nutty character seems almost like a fading image on a screen, which considering Catherine was a film producer, is remarkably apt. She actually decided to stay and make wine in the region after working on Jonathan Nossiter’s Mondovino film. Catherine learned her second trade with help from Manu Houillon and Pierre Overnoy, and in fact her Savagnin is usually sourced from her plot of vines in Pupillin (see label below), where the Houillon/Overnoy domaine is famously situated. This was gorgeous. Truly, honestly. I’m told it’s a notoriously fickle wine, but we hit the jackpot.

This wine, and the petnat which follows, were sourced at the domaine. Visits welcome strictly by appointment. Quantities are tiny.

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PETNAT 2018, DOMAINE DE LA LOUE, (Jura, France)

A few days later we drank Catherine Hannoun’s petillant naturel, also made from Savagnin, although if you thought you were drinking a racy Chardonnay I’d not laugh. There’s a bit of ripeness and great bubbles. This and the Koppitsch “Pretty Nuts” I reviewed recently are the best two petnats I’ve drunk this summer…it is stunningly good. The bottle wasn’t even labelled (they were yet to arrive at the domaine) so it was a gift of a gift, so to speak. It felt as much a privilege to drink this as any fine wine.

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SAV ‘OR 2017, VIN DE FRANCE, DOMAINE DE LA PINTE (Jura, France)

This bottle was given to us by Laura Seibel, well known to any Jura fanatics, who used to work at La Pinte. The domaine was the first to go biodynamic in the region and has mentored so many of the first generation of natural winemakers in the Arbois area (see my article following a visit last December, “It Comes in Pintes”, 18-12-2018). This is a relatively new departure for them (though I have tried it before), a skin contact Savagnin. It had just a week on skins, in concrete, prior to destemming/pressing. It has a nice texture and, as is so often the case with orange wines, has hints of orange citrus, specifically tangerine here. The finish is savoury and pleasantly bitter. I should mention the 14% alcohol. Don’t let it worry you, seriously.

It’s not one of the domaine’s most expensive wines and I strongly suggest you try it if you are in the vicinity of the Domaine de la Pinte shop in Central Arbois (where many of their wines are on taste). Thanks, Laura.

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“EX MONTE LAPIS” 2015, DVA DUBY (Moravia, Czech Rep)

Dolni Kounice, close to the Austrian border in Southern Moravia, has been famous for its wines since medieval times, principally Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch) grown on volcanic magma 700 million years old, called Granodiorite. This wine is from another Austrian variety, Saint-Laurent. Just as this variety is gaining renewed interest in Burgenland, so here in the Czech Republic, in the hands of the local artisans, it should have a great future.

The wine is zippy and dark-fruited, with grip and texture. You’d call the fruit crunchy. But it’s not “tannic” as such, and served ever so slightly chilled it makes a very tasty summer red. Jirí Šebela’s Frankovka is impressive, but don’t ignore Ex Monte Lapis. It’s a cracking little wine, in the image of some of those crunchy reds from the northern side of Austria’s Neusiedlersee.

Available from Basket Press Wines.

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PETNAT [2018], OFFBEAT WINES (Dorset, UK)

Offbeat Wines is the side project of Langham Estate’s Winemaker, Daniel Ham. The fruit comes from Solaris grapes grown on clay and flint soils over Greensand, by Kathy Archer, at Ottery Saint Mary in Devon. She farms with no chemicals and Daniel bottled it without sulphur. Two things to note with this wine. First, around 10% of the very ripe grapes developed noble rot, adding a honeyed richness here. Second, the wine developed just 2-bar of pressure, so it is fully, yet gently, sparkling. It was disgorged, but only to get rid of the gross lees. There is still some finer sediment remaining in the bottle.

The whole package is excellent, with a great label. Although like most petnats, it has a degree of simplicity to it, so many things (the botrytis element, the grape variety and the lower pressure) put this up there with the other finer petnats I’ve drunk this summer in terms of interest. It’s a shame only 360 bottles were made, but I’m sure you will find the odd one still knocking around. The word hasn’t really got out, I don’t think. Yet.

Mine came from Solent Cellar in Lymington, who also sell the Langham Estate wines.

“PAMINA” VIN DE FRANCE [2015], DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)

This Arbois domaine is right up at the forefront of experimentation in the region. Alice Bouvot makes such a wide range of wines it’s hard, if not impossible, to keep up. All those “gnome labels” (well, nearly all) are made from grapes purchased from her many friends around France. Pamina, though, is one of the original estate wines. The variety is Chardonnay, from old vines in Arbois’ “La Mailloche” vineyard, which have always been farmed without synthetic pesticide sprays. Wink Lorch has called it L’Octavin’s “most serious white”.

It sees direct pressing of the fruit, then a year in older oak from various locations. It’s a savoury wine, almost salty. It starts a little reductive but we gave it the respect of a wide bottomed decanter where, after some vigorous swirling, it opened its petals to reveal an extraordinary wine, one of the finest whites I’ve drunk this year in fact. It starts out lean, and although this is the leanness of a thoroughbread, it does put on a little flesh as it opens out. Scents of heaven with a very long finish, suitable for food (including Comté), or to be savoured on its own.

This bottle was purchased from the domaine, but Tutto Wines is the UK importer for Alice Bouvot’s remarkable creations. They currently list the 2016.

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MASKERADE WEISS [2018], GUTT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)

Oggau is a small village on the Western shore of the Neusiedlersee, just north of Rust. The estate and its wines have to rank among my top six wine estates. I’m not talking just Burgenland, although heaven knows there are plenty of contenders there, but I mean anywhere. This cuvée has sparked plenty of excitement because it, along with a red version, is new, from 30-y-o vines Eduard and Stephanie acquired and have converted to organics/biodynamics.

These wines are made available in litre bottles and the characters (rather, family members) on the labels are masked because they/the wines have not yet revealed their true personalities. The white version is a field blend of Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Welschriesling and others, grown on gravel, limestone and slate. Vinification included a couple of hours skin contact before direct pressing into older oak for fermentation and ageing.

The wine is dry, saline and fresh, with a pronounced savoury note, not unlike a Wiener Gemischter Satz. It is in some ways simple, but so satisfying, quite light but gourmande too. It will be interesting to see how the personality of this wine is revealed in the future, but I really like it, and I hope “she” doesn’t grow up too quickly.

This wine, and its red counterpart, cost close to £30/bottle, but remember that is for a litre…£22/75cl is pretty cheap for Gut Oggau. Grab these whilst they are still around. The importer is Dynamic Vines, whose Bermondsey shop is open on Saturday mornings. However, I bought this one from the new wine shop upstairs at Antidote Wine Bar (12A Newburgh Street, close to Carnaby Street, London).

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Before I sign off, I just have to mention something else. We have been enjoying a lot of Vermouth over the summer. I do love a negroni, but specifically we have been drinking vermouth on ice with a drop of orange and mint leaves, topped up with tonic water (mostly Fever Tree Mediterranean). It makes a wonderful long drink as an aperitif. Occasionally, if I have one to hand, I liven it up with a small squeeze of lime.

The two vermouths of choice have been Partida Creus’s MUZ from Bonastre in Catalonia, and Vermood from GP Hahalis/Tentoura Castro distillery in Patras (Greece). The latter is sweeter, made from Rhoditis and Mavrodaphne, aromatised with saffron, bergamot, artemisia and other ingredients, plus the added delight of Greek honey, which really dominates the bouquet. I can’t find a current stockist for MUZ, which sells out like wildfire. Vermood is available from Greek wine specialists Southern Wine Roads (£28). Thanks go to sommelier and wine consultant Ania Smelskaya for sharing this with us.

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Wild Flor Hove Again

Friends and acquaintances in London are increasingly asking me where to dine in Brighton, and I always come up with two recommendations now. I say to them that if they want a buzzy atmosphere and cutting edge natural wines, within walking distance from Brighton station, then head to Plateau. If they want something slightly more sedate, head to Wild Flor, which is not in Brighton, but “Hove Actually” (as they say over there). The contrast between the two is perfect if you are down for the weekend.

Last time we were at Wild Flor, in fact our first visit to this relatively new restaurant, was back in June, and on a Sunday, when the menu is geared towards a more traditional approach, serving an all day Sunday Lunch. Having allowed the summer to zip past, we were back there on Saturday night to sample their à la carte menu.

The food at Wild Flor is excellent, but one of its draws, rather like Noble Rot in London, is the incredible wine list, put together by co-owner and passionate wine lover Rob Maynard. I’m not talking dull classics, but an adventurous list with a good number of wines with a bit of age. Of course, buying small batches means the list changes and evolves. As people get to know Wild Flor as a place geared towards wine lovers, then Rob can become even more adventurous, but there’s plenty for averyone, including a wide range by the glass thanks to a good supply of Coravin wine preservers.

As I sat down to write my monthly article about what we drank at home in August I thought I’d just put up a very short piece, mainly to give you a photographic taste of what Wild Flor has to offer, first. The wines were all drunk by the glass. Naturally, this does bump the price up considerably. You can dine here for about £35-£40 each for three courses, so our £170 bill (for two, including service) is a reflection of the number of glasses we consumed. You can have a great evening for less, but the temptations are there.

I’m not going to give any notes for the wines, but they were all very good.

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We drank:

  • Champagne Michel Gonet “Les 3 Terroirs” BdeB 2010 (£12/glass)
  • Lustau Palo Cortado “Cayetano” £10
  • Riesling Auslese Trocken Kallstadter-Saumagen 2014, Koehler-Ruprecht (Pfalz) £13
  • Bourgogne Blanc “Les Chaplains” 2015, Simon Bize £8.50
  • Marsannay “Clos du Roy” VV 2013, René Bouvier £12
  • Grenache-Syrah “Classe” 2017, Jeff Coutelou (Languedoc) £7.50

 

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Smoked chicken and duck terrine, plum and brioche (£9)

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Roast partridge, caramelised celeriac, lentils, pickled pear and walnut pesto (£19). I ate this with a side of crushed new potatoes and “honey and cumin” roast carrots.

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Comté and Stichelton. £12 for the two, or £20 for four cheeses.

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I couldn’t resist the lovely rich Coutelou.

Wild Flor is at 42 Church Road, Hove (01273 329111) or check out their web site here.

Highly recommended on your weekend away in sunny Brighton (Hove Actually). They also do an excellent Vegan Menu.

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Dirty Dozen Tasting 2019 (Part 2)

I wrote about some of the wines tasted at London’s Dirty Dozen Tasting in Part 1, here. Those importers covered were The Wine Treasury, Roberson Wine, Howard Ripley Wines, Raymond Reynolds, H2Vin and Flint Wines. Follow the link above to see what I liked most on their tables, and for any introductory comments. This second part covers wines from Astrum Wine Cellars, Clark Foyster, FortyFive10°, Indigo Wine, Maltby & Greek and Swig.

ASTRUM WINE CELLARS

Astrum typically seeks out artisan producers, not exclusively from Italy but that’s where much of their focus lies. Two of the wines below are made from Piemontese Nebbiolo, fine wines providing a nice contrast with the 2013 Barolo I chose (from Flint Wines) at the end of Part 1. The other two wines were Austrian and Northern Italian. I’m a long-standing fan of the first wine, below.

Kerner 2018, Abbazia di Novacella, Alto-Adige By a coincidence some friends have been in Northern Italy and whilst they were near to Trento I tried to persuade them they should visit the Abbey, up at Novacella/Neustift, or at least look out for this wine in particular. Why? Well you don’t find the Kerner variety very often, and great Kerner is a rarity. The Abbey is by no means the only good producer, but who doesn’t like a beautiful old abbey that also makes lovely wines? The scents of Alpine meadow flowers and wild grasses are palpable (if you let your mind wander on a dull London day). But it’s fruity too, with stone fruits to the fore. You also get texture and length, and it must be said, 14% alcohol. Don’t let that put you off.

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Barbaresco Gallina 2016, Oddero (Piemonte) Oddero is, of course, based in the Barolo zone (La Morra) but this Barbaresco is a fine addition to their portfolio. A 25-day fermentation at 28° is followed by ageing in 40-hectolitre French oak. The elegant bouquet is lovely, and it even has that elusive hint of rose petals. Is there tar? For me, it does have spice but my nose rarely detects any deep tar these days. It’s certainly savoury and firmly structured. In good 2016 fashion it has more acidity than most 2015, and probably more tannin as well, a wine to age, certainly.

Barolo 2015, Francesco Rinaldi (Piemonte) We are with one of the greats here, a traditional producer from the town of Barolo itself. Paola Rinaldi runs things today, pretty much along the same lines as in the past. There is a clutch of famous sites, producing wines of genuine class, but here we are taking a look at the straight DOCG Barolo. It’s paler than the Oddero, undergoing a slightly shorter (20-day) fermentation, then spending three years in older Slavonian oak. It’s a wine to age, whatever its designation. It has real depth despite the tannins (prominent for the vintage), and as I suggested, it truly needs time to show its class. Impressive now, but not for drinking for well over a decade, I’d say.

Cuvée Auslese 2017, Weingut Tschida Angerhof, Neusiedlersee This is “the other Tschida” estate in Illmitz, on the eastern shore of the Neusidlersee. It’s flat land and reed beds, along with the shallow lake (hardly more than a metre deep at any point, despite its size) have always made for excellent sweet wines. This cuvée is harvested in late October and consists of 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Rhine Riesling and 30% Welschriesling. Some of the fruit will have differing degrees of botrytis. The result here is very sweet, not over complex but with rich honey and apricot flavours. The same is mirrored on the nose, with added florality. It has some acidity, not as much as you expect from German Auslese made from Riesling, but it’s there. Who doesn’t like a sticky?

CLARK FOYSTER WINES

Clark Foyster is another of the importers here who I don’t know all that well, and they don’t really specialise in one country or region. But they have some nice wines. I’ve reproduced notes from five, but I could have easily chosen Cretan Vidiano, Georgian wine from the Kakheti Region, Kamptal classics from Schloss Gobelsburg, Vinho Verde and more.

Grüner Veltliner “Rotes Tor” Federspiel 2017, Franz Hirtzberger, Wachau This wine is from Spitz, one of the villages you can reach for lunch on the Wachau cycle trail, if you start from Krems (after an early train from Vienna). It has a castle on a hill, beneath which is a good traditional Weinstube (Gasthaus Prankl), and an even better wine shop by the jetty (Föhringer). And this wine is from one of the Wachau’s finest producers. Although the Smaragd wines from here are rightly lauded, it is the more fruity Federspiel designated wines which are more approachable young, as intended. Don’t dismiss them. This has depth of fruit and lovely balance, plus enough age to show a touch of complexity in what is basically a drinking wine from the producer of some of Austria’s finest wines.

Assyrtiko Cuvée Monsignori 2017, Argyros Estate, Santorini (Greece) As we know, Assyrtiko is the speciality of Santorini, although it also does well elsewhere in Greece. The volcanic soils and windy location (vines trained into a kind of basket shape to protect them from the wind), plus the fact that the phylloxera louse never reached the island (I don’t think it ever established itself on volcanic terrain) gives unmistakable qualities to Santorini Assyrtiko. Straw, lemon, dark textured minerality, fresh salinity and a long finish, is what you get here. Under rated as one of the world’s fine white wines. It ages well, too, but it’s also undoubtedly thrilling in youth.

Riesling Loibenberg Reserve 2015, Rainer Wess, Wachau I drank a Neuburger from Rainer Wess last night, bottled by Somm in the Must, whose Rescued Zweigelt I tasted in Part 1 (at Flint Wines), a nice coincidence. The Loibenberg vineyard is a famous site at the beginning of the Wachau Gorge. Many famous names have vines here. Although Wess is traditionally described as an Unterloiben (therefore Wachau) producer, he now has an ultra-modern winery at Krems (Kremstal), just to the east.  At just 12.5% and really very fruity, it seems to have a touch of richness without too much weight. It’s very much the Wess style, clean, pure and with a touch of the intensity you expect here. It would prefer to be left in peace for a few years, but probably won’t be.

“Hidden Treasures – a Moric Project” Riesling/Furmint, Moric, Balaton (Hungary) Roland Velich is famous in Austria, making wine in Burgenland. This particular part of the “Moric Project” is a collaboration with Villa Tolnay near Lake Balaton, in Hungary. It’s a 50:50 blend of the two varieties, aged in a mix of Stainless Steel and Austrian and Hungarian oak. The fruit is smoothed out, rounded, and doesn’t taste wholly dissimilar in profile to the Ress, above. This wine, though approachable, will also take some ageing.

Riesling RS3 2019, Mac Forbes, Victoria Nice to meet Mac and taste his wines. If I’m honest I could have chosen his Yarra Valley Chardonnay, or the Yarra Junction Pinot Noir, but I picked the Riesling to highlight because it screams out from the glass. It’s made in a very refreshing style, low alcohol (12%) and it is unbelievably bright on both nose and palate. The grapes come from a single site, Antcliffe Chase Vineyard, high up on the southeast side of the Strathbogies, a granite plateau uplifted by ancient volcanic activity northeast of Melbourne and near Mac’s Yarra home. In fact there are granite boulders so big here that they had to plant around them. The vines were planted here in 1982/83 and have always been dry farmed. The wine is made with minimal intervention, de-stemmed, crushed, and aged on lees in wood. A joyful wine.

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Here we have an Italian specialist, so much so that I think I was the only one not speaking Italian (reminds me of my wonderful local Greek bakery where I’m sure I get special treatment because I sadly can’t speak Greek). They aim to import “artisan” wines with “distinct personality”. Hopefully the four wines below provide a snapshot which demonstrates that.

Nosiola 2018, Pojer e Sandri, Trentino Based at Faedo, in Trentino, we are right in the north of the Province, just to the east of the Adige river. Nosiola is one of the autochthonous grapes of the region, and Pojer e Sandri make their version with minimal interventions, not exactly a natural wine but certainly with low sulphur etc. Pale in colour, the bouquet is fragrant and has depth, floral, herbal and grassy. The wine is reasonably light, certainly elegant, but it also has a bit of texture. A very fine example, which would probably age for five years, though I’m sure very little gets to last that long.

Friulano “Skin Contact” 2016, Primosic, Friuli This is made from the variety previously called Tocai Friulano, one of the great native varieties of Northeast Italy and the border regions with Slovenia. It is bottled under the Oslavia DOC. It has a lovely colour, which in a certain light almost looks ivory with a pink tinge. This is from skin contact – eight hours is sufficient. More and we’d be straying into orange wine territory with Friulano. This wine is clean, lightish in body, and with a bouquet and palate that hints at honey and apricot without quite delineating it strongly. So you get personality and a degree of elegance (despite 13.5% alcohol) which suggests a very fine wine. The texture is a little chalky, which should help its gastronomic potential.

Morellino di Scansano 2017, Castello Romitorio, Tuscany Romitorio is owned by acclaimed artist Sandro Chia, and his son. I know their wines from Montalcino (and indeed Sandro Chia’s art from an exhibition long ago in Paris) but I was unaware they had an estate down near the coast at Scansano (purchased in 1999). I liked the smooth bitter cherry of this wine. There’s plenty of body, and alcohol (14.5%), grippy tannins too. What I liked was that under all this there’s such pure fruit, and it’s not a horribly expensive wine, maybe £20 retail.

Valtellina Superiore Pietrisco 2015, Boffaloro, Valtellina (Lombardy) So I have a thing for Nebbiolo made outside of the two “B”s. Valtellina Nebbiolo (called Chiavannasca here), grown on steep slopes close to Sondrio, seems to improve all the time, and I keep coming across new names (at least to me). Giuseppe Guglielmo founded Boffaloro in 2002, with four hectares of vines between 400m and 700m ASL. This single vineyard wine is actually a traditional brick red colour (extra points) and the scent is so beautiful it would get a mention here for that alone. The fruit is quite prominent, and there’s less tannin than you’d expect perhaps from a Piemontese Nebbiolo. This is the epitome of hand crafted, artisan wine. For a first try I was very impressed.

INDIGO WINE

I apologise to the other importers that I strayed here, and have ten wines to mention. I can’t explain why. I’ll just have to be less wordy.  Indigo is what I’d call a non-specialist specialist. They began with a Spanish focus and then grew…and grew. Needless to say, I think they have an impressive range. The disconnect here is that I love the wines but rarely find an opportunity to buy them. Maybe that’s why.

Heavy Petting and Astro Bunny Petnat, 2018, Wildman Wine (from Riverland, Australia) These two pétillant naturel wines are bottled by Tim Wildman MW, who imports them into the UK. Heavy Petting, which is not aimed at animal lovers, is a glowing cherry red colour, and is made from Nero d’Avola (mostly) with some Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) from fruit grown in the Riverland region of South Australia. I happen to have a bottle in my fridge, awaiting a rescheduled drinks session with neighbours. It’s a fun wine with refreshing simple fruit. Invert the bottle to gently shake up the sediment. 10% abv.

Astro Bunny is a pink petnat made from Vermentino with Zibibbo and Nero d’Avola. It’s also cloudy, with soft ripe fruit, creamy and peachy. Both are great fun. Tim has moved his fruit source to McLaren Vale for the 2019s.

Jijiji Chenin Blanc 2018, Gen de Alma, Uco Valley (Argentina) This superb Chenin, always a favourite with me, is made by one of the famous Michelini brothers (Gerardo), and his wife Andrea Mufatto (actually, I think this is really Andrea’s baby). It is made from old vines grown up around 1,000 metres ASL. It gets 20 days on skins and is quite unusual, with plenty of fresh sour apple flavour. Great value.

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Fino Balbaína Alta, Bodegas Riva, Jerez Chalky Albariza soils from a famous site make for a glorious, and characteristically super fresh, Fino made from Palomino fruit. It has had ten years under flor so it has a nutty side, but that freshness dominates. Just one saca made per year. Very Fine indeed. Contrast with…

El Muelle De Olaso, Luis Pérez, Cadiz Here is an unfortified Palomino table wine made as a VdT Cadiz. It’s a single Pago wine from Carrascal. The grapes are 80% fermented in stainless steel, with 20% being sun dried and then fermented in American oak. It’s a deliciously mineral wine. It is unfortified because Luis believes in the great character of the different terroirs he farms (Balbaína Alta, Macharnudo, Añina and Carrascal), which come through when the wine has no grape spirit added and no biological ageing under flor. Palomino table wine seems to be taking off, somewhat, and this is a very fine example indeed.

Texture Like Sun 2017, Ochota Barrels, Adelaide Hills (S. Australia) If you know Taras Ochota you’ll know that he names many cuvées after favourite bands/songs. This one is named after The Stranglers’ homage to a certain resinous substance (Fugazi must be his coolest choice of name).  The grape blend is long: Mourvedre, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Gamay, Chardonnay and, er, Fragola. It comes off clay soils over limestone deposits at about 550 metres ASL. The mash is given a cold soak for five days, and is then allowed to ferment and age in stainless steel. Oh…So…Fruity! Any Ochota Barrels wine will do, if you see one on a wine list.

Pepe Le Pinot 2018, Jamsheed, Upper Goulburn Valley, Victoria We’re in Northern Victoria here, getting up towards the NSW border. Gary Mills makes a wonderful range of wines, and most are for glugging pleasure, true glouglou wines. This is one. It’s from Yarra fruit, 75% whole bunch pressed, fermented in steel (three weeks on skins) then eight months in new hoggsheads and old barriques. 12% abv gives it that “down like fruit juice” quality (just). There is a tad of concentration which edges it towards proper wine.

Benje Tinto 2017, Envinate, Tenerife (Spain) The wines Envinate labels as Benje are made from tiny plots at, in this case, some of the highest altitudes they farm at (up to 1,000 metres with this red cuvée). The main grape here (though there is, of course, co-plantation in these vineyards) is Listán Prieto (aka Païs), with around 5% Tintilla. The soils are naturally volcanic on all of the Canary Islands, and the freshness the soils give the wines is accentuated here by fermentation in concrete with 20 days on skins, followed by eight months in old French oak. The standout quality with this wine is amazing purity, coupled with unusual but scintillating fruit flavours. The DO is the impossible to spell (for me) Ycoden-Daute-Isora (I think they made a typo in the Tasting booklet).

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Barossa Dry Red 2018, Frederik Stevenson, South Australia I’ve no idea why Steve Crawford goes under the wine name of Frederik Stevenson (I do know someone who knows him really well…I must ask), but I do know that I rate him as one of the best, if most under rated, winemakers in South Australia today. He’s based in Adelaide, and maybe that’s how he gets away with stamping his own style (Elegance and then more elegance) on Barossa fruit, which let’s face it, doesn’t usually do elegant! The blend is Mourvedre, Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache. Winemaking is simple and low intervention, whole bunch fermentation, ageing in used oak and just a tiny addition of sulphur at bottling. A complete wine, and easy to drink. Katie Shriner has produced lovely artwork for the label. I want the Benje but I also want this one really badly!!!

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MALTBY & GREEK

This importer brings in both food and wine from Greece (check out their web site), specialising in usually small, artisan, quality producers. One of them (Kalathas) is one of my two favourite Greek producers.

“Alargo” Assyrtiko 2017, Douloufakis Winery, Crete This new wine is from Dafnes, on Crete. The vines are grown at 350 metres altitude, and are turned into wine by simple fermentation and ageing in stainless steel, but spending three months on lees. Not quite like a typical Santorini Assyrtiko, it has lemon with slightly herby flavours and a chalky texture on the tongue, rather than a mineral spine. Crete is increasingly getting its act together and producing lovely wines if you are prepared to pay artisan, as opposed to bulk wine, prices. In this case about £20.

Aa Assyrtiko-Athiri 2017, Domaine Sigalas, Santorini One of Assyrtiko’s finest exponents here blends Santorini’s signature variety with 25% Athiri. The vines on Santorini, like all of the volcanic islands off mainland Europe’s shores, were never struck by phylloxera, and so are ungrafted. Most observers do accept that such vines are capable of extra depth, particularly if they are also very old, as they are here. It’s all down to the producer. This is a wine of quite intense minerality, with citrus and peach running right through, the latter adding a bit of flesh to a taut frame. The fatter fruit is sensuous and the finish is like velvet.

“O Zontanos” Aspro Potamisi 2016, Domaine Kalathas, Tinos Jérôme Charles Binda established this wonderful domaine on Tinos, in the Cyclades, in 2011. He bottles a number of mainly autochthonous varieties under the Vin de Pays designation, but Aspro Potamisi has to be one of the rarest. I’ve never seen this cuvée before. It’s an orangey-pink wine with 14% abv, a bouquet of ethereal tangerine, with smooth and rounded, almost sweet (the alcohol?), apricot fruit satisfying the palate. Despite that alcohol I’m completely seduced.

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Goumenissa 2015, Chatzivaritis Estate, Macedonia (Greece) Goumenissa is the slightly less well known alternative to neighbouring Naoussa in Northern Greece. The main grape variety is Xinomavro, and here it is blended with Negoska by winemaker Chloe Chatzivariti. Xinomavro is often called the Greek Nebbiolo and there can be similarities, as here. The aromas, however, are for me like tomatoes and olives with a touch of spice, very savoury, very gourmande. There’s a bit of cherry in there to add fruitiness, and certainly a coffee twist on the finish. This is really good, though the 15% alcohol is likely to creep up on you…I didn’t notice it, but I was spitting.

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SWIG

Swig Wine has been around for twenty-two years now and they have a massive reputation among wine obsessives for their well-honed buying prowess. They know their way around South Africa, and I’ve always been an enormous fan of Blank Bottle. I wasn’t going to include them, then I went and found a wine I’d never tried. But I’m no less passionate about Vignoble du Rêveur.

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Vibrations Riesling 2017, Vignoble du Rêveur, Alsace Mathieu Deiss set up with his partner Emmanuelle Milan to farm seven hectares from his maternal grandfather, as a separate project from the famous family firm. This dry Riesling comes from alluvial soils at Bennwihr, with old vines approaching 50 years of age. It is fermented and aged in foudre with 12 months on lees. There is around 40m/g of sulphur added at bottling. Dry and easy to drink, you get genuine Riesling purity. I will buy any “Rêveur” wine I see on the shelf.

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Blanc 2016, Domaine de L’Horizon, Roussillon (France) L’Horizon is based at Calce, on the edge of the Pyrenees. It doesn’t have a great concentration of fine winemakers for nothing (Gauby, Matassa, Pithon and Roc des Anges to name four) – the soils around this village are some of the most complex and exciting in France (it would take a page to list the soil types). Thomas Tiebert used to sell barrels and he came to Calce to set up his wine estate after meeting Gérard Gauby and falling for the place. This white is a blend of 70% Macabeu, 25% Grenache Gris and 5% Grenache Blanc, all biodynamic, much of the fruit off mainly chalk (unusual down here). Ageing is in old foudres. It’s very mineral with a honey and lemon strand, plus your usual garrigue herbs adding interest. Real mineral purity. Only 12% abv, not your usual southern sunshine scorcher at all.

Morgon Vielles Vignes 2017, Guy Breton, Beaujolais We had a wonderful 2017 Morgon from Julien Sunier in Part 1, and now we have another. “Petit Max”, as Guy is known, has a mere three hectares around Morgon, with the VV cuvée taking fruit from 80-y-o vines in the lieu-dits of Saint-Joseph and Le Grand Cras. There’s glorious depth of fruit with a tiny bit of funk (not the whole funk of Funkadelic…the cherries dominate). The granite gives the wine a bit of structure. Different from the Sunier but equally good Gamay.

Red Claw Pinot Noir 2017, Yabby Lake, Mornington Peninsula I’ll be right near Mornington soon but it doesn’t look as if my schedule will take me down there again, unless I’m remarkably lucky. It’s my favourite Australian region for Pinot Noir, and Yabby Lake makes very fine Pinot, the Red Claw coming from Teurong. All the “Red Claw” cuvées come from estate grown fruit, and this is pale and delicious with vibrant cool climate freshness made more complex by the wine’s savoury side. The overall picture is of a bright wine with a silky smooth texture. Classy is a good description.

Little William 2018, Blank Bottle Winery, South Africa Apparently this is Little William’s fourth vintage, I think, but in the time I’ve been regularly tasting Pieter Walser’s wines I’ve never seen it. We have Swartland Syrah from high up a pass on the Ceres Plateau (at 750 metres ASL). The region is very remote. This is an unusually pale, pure, Syrah at only 12.5% abv (a low record, eh, Pieter?). It’s just such a lovely wine, and though I give Pieter far too many plugs (he deserves them), I can’t help really bigging up this wine. One of the very best Blank Bottles I’ve tasted this year. For those who know Pieter, yes, there is a rather long story to this wine, involving a little boy by the roadside, and a snaking mountain pass (on the label). But now isn’t the time, and anyway, it’s the way he tells ’em. Damien, if you can persuade Henry/Cassie to get some in, I’d be grateful.

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That’s the end of Part 2, a few more wines than in Part 1, but if you enjoyed the wines here then do go and follow the link at the top of the page.

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Dirty Dozen Tasting 2019 (Part 1)

September sees so many tastings, too many. A top Sommelier told me yesterday that all the importers think that the sommeliers change their wine lists, starting from scratch, in November, but she also added that this is a complete myth. So apart from everyone itching to get going after their August holidays, there’s no real reason why September should be so packed with tastings that you miss some great events. Graft is a case in point, the new amalgamated Red Squirrel and Knotted Vine, whose portfolio was on show yesterday in another part of London. I shall at least be able to taste those wines later, at Out The Box.

For me, the three trade tastings I wouldn’t want to miss right now are Caves de Pyrene (23 Sept), Out The Box (1 Oct) and Dirty Dozen, which took place at Glaziers Hall by London Bridge yesterday (Tuesday 9 September). Dirty Dozen features twelve small-to-medium importers, some of whom I know well and others who I come across rarely throughout the rest of the tasting year. This tasting was an opportunity to catch up with some new wines from people I know, and to sample the ranges of those I don’t. The standard was very high this year, and my desire to keep the numbers down has been a bit of a trial in some cases.

I originally promised myself that I’d only write about what were my favourite four wines at each table, but of course I failed over all. I will, however, try hard to keep my coverage well short of the recent South African opus. To that end I’m going to split this into two parts, two quite manageable bites. Let’s see how we go…in order of appearance…

THE WINE TREASURY

The Wine Treasury has a wide portfolio, although they say they do specialise in wines from North America, and as those wines tend to be some of the most interesting imported into the UK, it’s a few of those I’ve brought to the page here.

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L’Ecole #41 Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2017 is a perfect example. We’ve probably all heard of this Columbia Valley (Washington State) producer, but you don’t see Chenin from America all that often. But, founded in 1983, Chenin is one of the varieties upon which the Ecole #41 reputation was built. Pale, stony, waxy with citrus and plump peach, it’s both deliciously fresh and a wine of depth…very long. A very good way to begin a tasting.

Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2017, Schug was equally interesting for a Cali-Chardie. Almost unoaked (10% fermented in neutral oak), and aged five months on lees. The vineyard sites used are mostly influenced by the cool winds entering the Petaluma Gap, so the style is crisp, yet with an underlying richness. Pineapple fruit comes through, with peach and citrus acidity. It holds its 14.2% abv remarkably well.

La Pleiade II NV, Sean Thackrey, California Even the importer doesn’t really know what’s in this, except that we do have Muscat, Viognier, Marsanne and maybe Roussanne. Doubtless there’s more. If you know Sean’s wines, it doesn’t matter. This is so delicious, with almost a sour, certainly savoury, quality. TWT has several other Thackrey cuvées, all worth exploring. Unique wines.

Le P’tit Paysan 2016, Le P’tit Pape, California This is a blend of 53% Grenache, 35% Syrah, with  Mourvèdre, Counoise and Cinsault (well, the name gives a lot away). The fruit is sourced from Monterey and San Benito Counties off granite and limestone. It’s bright violet in colour with similar violets and red fruit on the nose, big legs, big smooth fruit and richness. You might be surprised that the alcohol is just 13.2%. That means it’s not over the top, but it’s a lovely plump red, totally approachable.

 

ROBERSON WINE

I truly lament the closing of the Roberson shop in West Kensington. Whilst I made more and more frequent trips there, involving a long walk for me, I seem to buy far less from them now (clue: I have too much wine to be buying cases of it in the UK). Roberson is another USA specialist, in fact at the forefront of the New Wave of California here (see John Bonné’s seminal book The New California Wine, Ten Speed Press, 2013), but there’s so much else they do well, so I only tasted one American wine.

Chalklands Classic Cuvée 2016, Simpson’s Wine Estate, Kent (UK) Roberson lists a number of bottles from this producer in Barham, near Canterbury. Charles and Ruth Simpson have been making wine in Southwest France for approaching two decades, and have now added a 30 hectare vineyard planted with the three classic Champagne varieties on Downland chalk in Southern England. This is the first wine I’ve tried from them and it’s very good. The bouquet is quite biscuity but the palate has broad fruit, with pear and lemon freshness. Not as precise as some, but it’s good to drink a different style. This is well made and expressive, with enough of a point of difference within the genre.

Hermanschachern Grüner Veltliner 2018, Ebner-Ebenauer, Niederösterreich If you know me you know that this estate is on my “to visit” list. Marion Ebner is a wonderful winemaker, perhaps not accorded the praise she deserves in the UK. They are in Weinviertal, the wine region north of Vienna, towards the Czech border. This is a single vineyard wine, a step up from the basic Grüner. You get apple and pear fruit, plus the mineral texture of the limestone terroir. Aged in stainless steel, it has a smoothness which makes it deceptively approachable. It is lovely now, but will age and develop for five years.

Baker Street English Bacchus 2018, London Cru Those who have been with me a long time will remember my visit to London Cru a few years ago, London’s first urban winery. Then winemaker, Gavin Monery, has moved on to make wine with Vagabond, and I was keen to catch up with the London Cru range again, now crafted by Alex Hurley, under Head Winemaker Augustín González Novoa. The bouquet is powerful, gooseberry, elderflower and peach/grapefruit. The palate has a refreshing bitterness, and a little texture is added via 10% barrel fermentation (the rest in stainless steel). It’s a nice summer white (shame to be trying it in autumn), and for under £15 is very good value.

Morgon 2017, Julien Sunier, Beaujolais From three vineyards – Charmes, Py and Courcellette with nine months in oak, this is delicious “natural” (and biodynamic) Morgon. Roberson was an early champion of Julien, and they chose well. This wine is almost luminous. It has a glorious concentrated sweet cherry bouquet, with ripe sour cherry on the tongue. Lip-smacking just came to me, a perfect adjective. The wine is relatively structured, despite being made by carbonic maceration. Highly recommended.

Sonoma Coast Syrah 2016, Arnot Roberts, Sonoma (California) Once more we have cool climate sites to thank for a very pure Syrah from one of my favourite Roberson producers. The prices here are steeper now, but what will you get for your £45? The plum and darker fruits on the nose are concentrated, and there’s an added note. I called it “animal” and they called it “earthy”, but it adds bags of interest. There’s a bit of tannin. You might be tempted to open a bottle now, but it is really a keeper…like a good Northern Rhône, a decade will do it if you want to see how complex it may get.

 

HOWARD RIPLEY WINES

Okay, I’ve just been to a Ripley tasting, but I would like to think that the wines I tasted here complement those at the Army & Navy Club rather nicely. If you think it’s “The B-Team”, think again. The producers chosen here are ones I tasted last week, but the wines show a different facet of their creativity.

Saar Riesling Crémant Brut NV, Peter Lauer, Saar After praising Florian Lauer as one of my very favourite German producers last week, it was nice to get the opportunity to taste the lovely “Sekts”. I think “Crémant” better describes what Florian is aiming for here. Savoury and very fresh, it must be one of the best contemporary sparkling Rieslings coming out of Germany.

Riesling Brut Natur Reserve 1992, Peter Lauer, Saar If you have a chance to grab a few bottles of these older wines, made by Florian’s father and then left to age for, er, rather a long time, then don’t hesitate. This is exemplary, a perfect example of the depth which Sparkling Riesling can achieve. Not to mention complexity. Very fine sparkling wine.

 

Weisser Burgunder 2017, Weingut Wittmann, Rheinhessen I mentioned last week that the only Wittmann I currently own is “Pinot Blanc”, and it is this vintage, so excuse me grabbing a quick sip to see how it’s going. It’s a lovely smooth and dry food wine. The stony fruit has a richness (it’s only 12.5% abv though), but it’s also bright and fresh. Complete proof that you are on safe ground with a great producer. You can purchase this with the same confidence you would have for Keller’s Von der Fels Riesling, for example.

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We now move to three wines from Ziereisen. I make no apologies…

Steingrüble Gutedel Unfiltriert 2014, Ziereisen, Baden Because you read my notes from last week’s Ripley tasting of German GG and Red wines, you will know exactly where Ziereisen is located in Southern Baden. You will also have read my almost gushing praise for the remarkable (and expensive) “ten to the power of four” (10 hoch 4) cuvée of Gutedel (aka Chasselas). You might be slightly disappointed if you tasted this wine side-by-side with the super-cuvée, but this lovely wine costs a fraction of its price. The fruit gets 48 hours skin contact and six months on lees, and with a few years in bottle it is surprisingly in a very good place. A slightly smoky bouquet, a little citrus, some stone fruit, a creamy heart, and a dollop of texture. Gorgeous, or at least I think so. And only 12% abv. And 2014!

Schmätterling Rosé 2017, Ziereisen, Baden This 2017 has gained, not lost, from its time in bottle. We have 90% Pinot Noir with 10% Regent (shock!), and the wine is a pale pink. When you taste it you will be surprised as there is complexity here. The fruit is both smooth strawberry and cranberry with bite. Again, there’s a creamy texture and surprising length. I’d have no fears about keeping this for next summer.

Spätburgunder Tschuppen 2015, Ziereisen, Baden This is really the entry level Pinot from Ziereisen, cheaper even than the “Talrain” I tasted last week. This is my go-to Ziereisen red, and I was thrilled that the sommelier I mentioned at the beginning of this article said it’s the same for her. The vineyard is clay, and it helps make for a really juicy-fruited wine. Maybe there’s not such concentration as in the Talrain, but it is just so approachable and delicious. At £54/6 in bond for the 2015, it’s almost a stupid price. You won’t get the massive complexity and potential of the up-range reds, but you will get every day drinking enjoyment.

 

RAYMOND REYNOLDS

Raymond Reynolds is an importer who I probably only really come across at the Dirty Dozen Tastings. They have built a reputation as a specialist Portuguese importer, with names like Luis Pato, Susana Esteban, Niepoort and various Madeira and Porto producers shining their light. I hope the four wines described here whet a few appetites for Portugal (and Madeira).

Bastardo 2018, Conceito, Douro When I was young I used to joke that Bastardo was the grape variety that would always give you a headache. Of course that was a lie on two counts, first because it never appeared outside of a tiny component in some Port blends, and secondly, Bastardo is a synonym of my beloved Trousseau, from the Jura. Rita Ferreira Marques is the winemaker here. This 5 hectare vineyard of Bastardo was planted by her grandfather fifty years ago. Foot trodden, it produces a pale but almost fluorescent wine with an ethereal scent, light red fruits and a bit of bite. Only a tiny amount of sulphur is added. It has one of the most recognisable labels in Portuguese wine these days. I think the wine is equally marvellous.

Colares Tinto Ramisco 2007, Casal Santa Maria, Colares (Lisbon) These sandy coastal vineyards are legendary in Portugal, and their story is not difficult to find. Historically they produced mostly tannic reds from ungrafted, pre-phylloxera, vines. Today, production is tiny, so much so that they tend to harvest all the grapes together and make the wine in a central facility (but not technically a co-operative), which is then returned to producers for individual ageing and bottling. Ramisco bush vines spread across the sand, bunches propped up with bamboo. This is pale, with hi-toned fruit and a savoury (deliberately slightly oxidative) note. There’s a bit of tannin/texture, but as you’d hope, fourteen years or so ageing has softened it. A museum piece for the adventurous and those who seek learning at the altar of tradition.

Tinto 2012, Quinta do Mouro, Alentejo This estate was an Alentejo pioneer, Luis Louro planting in this arid region in Southern Portugal’s interior from 1989 and releasing wine from the mid-nineties. The varieties for this famous red are Aragonez (aka Tempranillo), the teinturier Alicante Bouschet (which does well here), Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira. I was told there’s some Cabernet Sauvignon in there now, as well. From foot trodden grapes grown on schist, this wine is quite tannic still, and concentrated, but at the same time retains a remarkable elegance. Ageing is in a mixture of French, and unusually, Portuguese, oak. It’s a very traditional estate, but one that’s wine shows a modern side as well.

The Atlantic Rainwater, Barbeito, Madeira Madeira isn’t all about venerable old vintages, or at least not any more. Barbeito has added a bit of excitement to the brand at wholly affordable prices, and this “Rainwater” is just one example. This is surprising, coming from one of the smaller houses, founded only in the mid-20th Century. This is the style of fortified wine once so loved in pre-, and post-Revolution America. The name is said to derive from its dilution, by the rain, when awaiting shipment across the Atlantic. It’s a lighter style, with dried fruits complemented by lemon freshness and almost Sherry-like salinity. It ends with a hint of freshly-sawn timber. Another hint…Christmas is coming and as well as your well aged vintage for sipping at home before you go to bed, this is one to add to someone’s Christmas stocking.

 

H2VIN

H2Vin does not specialise in any region or country. They do have an excellent French portfolio, and three of the wines reproduced here are French. But they are also lucky to import one of New Zealand’s stars, well represented by their entry here.

Champagne Dehours “Terre de Meunier” Grande Réserve Extra Brut NV It doesn’t seem that long ago that I wrote about this wine in my monthly roundup of wines drunk at home (it was in fact the June selection). This is pure Pinot Meunier, in this case from 2015 with reserves from 2014, mis en cave July 2016 and aged on lees until disgorgement in October 2017, with zero dosage. So it’s not a wine with long lees ageing. Jérôme is aiming for a wine of freshness and fruit, but there’s a bit of spice too. For me it makes a good aperitif style, and a more affordable Meunier than some.

Jurançon Sec “La Part Davant” 2018, Camin Larredya, Jurançon If you want a well priced dry but interesting white wine, Jurançon in Southwest France, close to Pau, is a good place to sniff around. This is one of the top producers, and this cuvée is a blend of 50% Gros Manseng with Petit Manseng (35%) and Petit Courbu (15%). This is not quite typical Jurançon Sec, in that the high proportion of Petit Manseng adds finesse, and it is also richer than many examples of the dry appellation wine. That richness puts it on the verge of sweetness on the nose. It is very good, and it’s not going to cost a lot more than £20.

Old Weka Pass Road Pinot Noir 2016, Bell Hill, North Canterbury (NZ) The Canterbury revolution has seen this South Island Region go from nothing to super fashionable in a short space of time, and Bell Hill was one of the major drivers. The home vineyard is an old limestone quarry on the Weka Pass, which now has a little over two hectares planted. The mantra here is quality above all, and the method is Burgundian. Pale, bright and frankly stunning, this wine has close to the best bouquet of any at the tasting. The cherry fruit is equally floral and very pure. Savoury notes kick in after half a minute. It’s a wine we all should get to try…but quantities are tiny. It is on allocation, price on application (which means if they’d printed the price it would have been upsetting). But I’d love one. It’s that good. So is anything from Bell Hill,

Chinon Rouge 2018, Philippe Alliet, Touraine/Loire My old friend (I mean from a buying point of view) Philippe crafts his complex wines at Cravant-Les-Coteaux, a short drive east of Chinon. He makes some of my favourite Cabernet Francs (something about this village and its south-facing slope to the River Loire because Bernard and Matthieu Baudry are based here too). The key with Alliet, apart from being very much a stickler for how things are done, is generally old vines (and he makes a VV cuvée too). The colour is vibrant cherry red with darker hints. The bouquet is sweet fruited, classic ripe Cabernet Franc, but as with all Alliet wines, there’s genuine personality too. It’s not squeeky clean, neither is it “natural” (forgive my choice of word, friends). And let’s not forget to mention the grip. His wines age well.

 

FLINT WINES

Flint Wines has a reputation as one of the UK’s best importers of interesting, occasionally (once) under-the-radar Burgundy growers. Now they offer so much more, but in expanding they have retained an eye for the interesting, and a focus on what is good, with no “fillers”. The first wine below is a good example of this.

Petite Arvine 2017, Elio Ottin, Valle D’Aoste If you have drunk Petite Arvine it is most likely a bottle from Switzerland’s Valais, but the variety actually originated over the Saint-Bernard Pass in Aoste/Aosta (whatever you read to the contrary). The valley is a source for some wonderful wines, only unknown because there is a ready local market. Mirroring their Swiss neighbours, the Aostans are now focused on quality, and several independent winemakers are making news, Ottin being one. This screams out freshness (the slopes are generally less baked than in the arid Valais) but the fruit is plump, with lots of pineapple, grapefruit and grassy herbs. There’s a nice salty edge, just evident.

Bourgogne Rouge “OKA” 2015, Domaine Arlaud, Burgundy Cyprien Arlaud took over a family business, created during WW2, in 2013, which used to be based in ancient cellars in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Winemaking has now moved to more modern premises in Morey-Saint-Denis, with Nuits being retained as an ageing cellar. I’ve always liked the Arlaud wines. They have four Grand Cru sites, but yet they have always made excellent Bourgognes tout-court. I’ve never had OKA, being more familiar with the “Roncevie” cuvée, but this is very good indeed. Fresh, smooth, with a bit of structure and ripe 2015 fruit, yet it only shows 12.5% abv.

Rescued Zweigelt 2005, Somm in the Must, Kremstal (Austria) I can’t find much out about this wine. In the tasting booklet it says it comes from Burgenland, yet I believe the source of the grapes the guys here used is Manfried Felsner, and his vines are, as far as I know, on the north side of the Danube near Krems. I was also wholly unable to discover why this cuvée is “rescued”, though the vintage (2005) must be the key. This wine is dark with nice bass notes, but otherwise oozes the bramble freshness of this under rated variety. Smooth fruit and typical zip. Slightly more alcohol (13%) than you get on the palate. A shame the guys on the table didn’t know more about it, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I thought it was pretty exciting and worthy of mention here.

Barolo Cascina Nuova 2013, Elvio Cogno (Piedmont) I like the style of a lot of 2013 Barolo (doh!). A cooler year, ripeness was harder to achieve without limiting the crop, so some producers (despite the hype…there’s a lot of hype which puts the ’13s up with 2010) did better than others. This wine carries the perfume of the nicest wines of the vintage. That goes with the territory, a 2.5 ha site at 380 metres ASL between Monforte d’Alba and La Morra. The tannic structure of a wine requiring ageing does hide the fruit, but it’s there and this should age beautifully. It is fermented in stainless steel, but aged 24 months in large old Slavonian oak (six months on lees), and given another six months in bottle before release.

This is where I shall end Part 1. Part 2 will feature my selections from Astrum Wine Cellars, Clark Foyster, FortyFiveTen°, Indigo Wine, Maltby & Greek and Swig, and hopefully will follow tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

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Howard Ripley 2018 GGs and ’17/’16 Pinot

No one in the UK has a range of German Wines that outstrips that of Howard Ripley Wines. Although they could not supply all my German requirements, if I had to I could live off Ripley Riesling (and Spätburgunder). They import and sell some of my absolute favourite producers. I’ve always had a passion for the purity of the Kabinett wines, and sometimes for the concentration of the sweeter Prädikatswein, yet every time I attend this particular tasting I’m more and more impressed with the dry whites and reds.

I was not slow in coming to appreciate and enjoy the Grosse Gewächse wines, unlike some of my friends, who remain passionate for the Prädikats. These are wines of stature and structure, at least at their best. But many will know by now that I have also not been slow to trumpet the Pinots, or Spätburgunders, if that is what you prefer to call them (there’s a logic as to which name to use, if only the producers would follow it). The best thing about the tasting in London last Thursday was that a number of producers had made a genuine step up, in fact in one case I’d suggest a leap, in quality. So we start on a big positive.

Don’t come looking for “Burgundy”. There is no single iteration of German Pinot Noir, and you can find light and shade, or perhaps perfume, fruit and structure, if not always in the same wine. But don’t be taken in by the myth that Spätburgunder is expensive. Some are, reassuringly so one might add, but the cheapest here can be had for £54/6 bottles in bond. I’d be happy drinking that, though the cheapest Howard Ripleys sell is £45. I would be more than happy to buy the Schloss Lieser for just £75/6, although my favourite wines in the whole tasting were a little more expensive.

A note on what I didn’t taste. I’ve had a very busy few days and this event, at The Army & Navy Club on Pall Mall, was the most relaxing afternoon I’ve spent for days. I decided not to taste the wines of JJ Prum. From Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett up to the Auktion wines, these are for me amongst the finest wines of Germany (and trust me, I do adore the more fashionable producers as much as the next man). I have more JJ Prüm in my cellar than any other producer. If you love German Prädikat wines, you don’t need me to tell you to buy them.

Well, I lied a little. Before I left I did persuade my palate to take a couple of sips of the JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese LGK Auktion wine, close to the pinnacle of  sweet, glorious, concentrated grape juice. I can never buy this so I count it a privilege to taste. I did not spit. It would have been both rude and disrespectful.

Equally, I didn’t taste the selection of VDP Auktion Wines on show (Trier 2018). Only the finest and rarest wines are sold at the VDP Auctions. These barrels are something different. There are people I know, surprisingly a fair few, who buy these and know them as I know perhaps Jura Wine or Burgenland. I frankly don’t have the experience to assess them in any way useful to my readers, and I suspect there are not many of you who would be able to buy them.

The Vintages:

2018 – is the vintage of almost all the Grosse Gewächse white wines shown. It has been categorised as a warm year, one “where the sun shone from April to October”, but as always, one should not believe any generalisations. As with Burgundy, German Riesling is always about the producer. There were wines here with the zip you’d expect from a cooler year. There were equally some big, savoury, Rieslings, and indeed one or two that were quite plump and less “dry” (I mean “tasted less dry”) than one might have expected. I personally found some glorious wines, approachable but ageable. Acidities varied a lot, and one would need to match the wines with one’s own tastes. Personally, I like the acids.

2017 – The majority of the reds were from 2017 (with a smattering of 2016s). 2017 appears to be shaping up as one of those years where all sorts of producers excelled. I have long seen a positive trajectory in the quality of German red wines, as exemplified by the tasting of only the red wines Howard Ripley put on in London a couple of years ago. But I would argue, on the basis of the red wines tasted here, that 2017 has provided an opportunity for some to make something more than merely an incremental advance, and a few have taken that chance.

THE WHITES – Grosse Gewächse 2018

The wines here are mostly Riesling, with a few exceptions at the beginning and the end. Prices are per case of six bottles in bond. Take it as read that the wines I review are the wines I liked most, although sometimes I will show a preference within those of a particular producer.

Himmelspfad Silvaner GG, Rudolf May (Franken) – May now has 14 hectares at Retzstadt, north of Würzburg. He’s included here because Rudolf undoubtedly makes some of Germany’s finest Silvaner off very poor soils, rich in fossils. Winemaking here is organic, and with minimal interventions at every level. This wine has real depth with tamed acids. It’s even a little biscuity, stony, bitter on the finish, but there’s a good helping of yellow fruit to balance. £150

Rothlauf Silvaner GG, Rudolf May (Franken) – This is a cooler site with sandstone mixed in with the fossil-rich limestone of the previous wine’s terroir. It’s a bit more racy, very much to my taste. The mineral element comes through as a nicely defined spine to the fruit which hangs off it. It is aged in a mix of stainless steel, concrete, wood and egg, but it seems to me to be nothing if not a wine of the specific place where its grapes were grown. My favourite of the two, and impressive. £150

Saarfeilser Fass 13 GG, Peter Lauer (Saar) – Florian Lauer is one of my favourite three producers in the wider Mosel Region. He farms 9 ha at Ayl, on that big bend in the Saar, where it turns sharply southwest, and then north, towards Trier. If I say this is Florian’s warmest vineyard, you are going to expect ripeness. That would be true – to anyone who knows these wines it’s perhaps not as racy as usual. But there is minerality with the fruit. This seemed dangerously popular, as all of the Lauer wines seem to have become, for which in part I must blame myself. £132

Schönfels Fass 11 GG, Peter Lauer (Saar) – For me, this sits stylistically between the wine which precedes it and that which follows. It has a lemon freshness and a whiff of classic gunflint slatiness, and a bit of salinity as with the Fass 18 below. This might be the most elegant wine of the three here, and possibly, as a result, in some ways the one with the most restraint (well, to me it was perhaps less fruity?). £132

Kupp Fass 18 GG, Peter Lauer (Saar) – This wine seems fresher. The citrus acidity is evident, but it does also have weight and texture. This comes through as a hint of crisp apple underneath the characteristic yellow plum. What you also get, which I think you don’t in the Fass 13, is some saltiness, not a lot but it’s there. Very nice balance, for my palate. £132

Herrenberg GG, Maximin Grünhaus (Ruwer) – As I never stop mentioning, the lovely man that is Carl von Schubert was instrumental in getting me back into German wines a long time ago, since when I’ve tried to hide my secret passion from all my hip amigos. The estate at Mertesdorf is quite large (34 ha), divided into its famous parcels, with the old monastic manor sitting below the duvet of vines like a sleeping head on a pillow. But I digress, wistfully…the Herrenberg is a dry, textured wine of only 12.5% abv. It is mineral, salty and dry, with less fruit than most of the Mosel wines. But that does bode well for the table. £138

Abtsberg GG, Maximin Grünhaus (Ruwer) – The Abbot’s parcel has older vines. The acidity is a little more defined and its salinity just outweighs the fruit. For me it is also more savoury, and I preferred it a little. I’m not sure why both parcels are the same price? £138

Juffer Sonnenuhr GG, Schloss Lieser (Mosel) – Thomas Haag is another of my favourite German producers, and his wines are in no way reminiscent of the dark and brooding Schloss on the banks of the Mosel a little upstream from Bernkastel. Thankfully Thomas lives in something less oppressive and grand. The wines have become stars since he purchased the estate in 1997, and it’s a miracle how such quality is achieved, considering his now 24 ha of vines are spread around 180 diffefent parcels. This example is pale and expressive with a floral nose, elegant but restrained citrus acidity, and a fine mineral finish. £144

Wehlener Sonnenuhr GG, Schloss Lieser (Mosel) – This site rarely fails to get my pulse racing, whether drinking it or merely gazing wistfully at the sun dial down the river from Bernkastel. This is another wine brimming with elegance in a warm vintage. For me, the main added extra here is its saltiness, adding to the intense minerality. Perhaps there’s also a little more gras. £144

Niederberg Helden GG, Schloss Lieser (Mosel) – Undoubtedly less famous than the Sonnenuhr, this is Thomas Haag’s biggest vineyard. It sits as a slope above the river just to the east of the village of Lieser and at a guess rises to about 250 metres. I’ve stayed in Andel, across the river, so I remember it well. It’s the source of some of my favourite Lieser wines. Sybille Kuntz also has vines here. Somehow this wine combines lightness and intense concentrated stony power at the same time, hinting at real complexity to come. I love it. £144

Himmelreich GG, Willi Schaefer (Mosel) – Christoph and Andrea Schaefer may farm a mere four hectares at Graach, but they have a fanatical following. Rightly so, because especially in recent vintages, the wines from this estate have been pretty universally praised as stunning. The labels may look old fashioned but the wines are not. All musts receive the gentlest of handling here, and the aim is to make wines of pristine clarity. This is Christoph’s first dry GG since 2012, but in this warm year he felt the acidites were not too high. Auslese’s loss is Grosse Gewächse’s gain. Creamy and juicy yet salty and mineral. So tempting. £132

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Ellergrub “Grosse Eule”, Weiser Künstler (Mosel) – Konstantin Weiser and Alexandra Künstler set up their estate in 2006, having purchased an Ellergrub parcel whilst working at Immich-Batterieberg. They still farm fewer than five hectares of vines, yet their Mediterranean-blue label is gaining quite a reputation. This is quite a structured wine with slate, salt and citrus. It’s really vibrant, and the acidity is at the higher end. However, these are wines built for ageing, though if you do love the freshness you could just throw it into a carafe or decanter for earlier drinking, giving it time to breath. £135

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Uhlen-Laubach GG, Heymann-Löwenstein (Mosel) – I’ve not drunk a wine from H-L for a very long time. I used to pick them up at the Berry Bros Factory outlet (as we used to call it) outside Basingstoke, mainly wines like the Von Blauem Schiefer. Uhlen, right up near where the Mosel joins the Rhine at Koblenz, has some of the steepest vineyards on the whole river, yielding wines of smoky minerality from its fossil-rich slate. The small slices of terracing look frankly frightening, but the wines are worth it. This is superbly balanced and I reckon the quality here has risen even more in recent years, on the basis of this wine (a step up from the slightly less expensive Uhlen-Blaufüsser Lay). £180

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Felsenberg GG, Schäfer-Fröhlich (Nahe) – Tim Fröhlich has farmed these 24 ha for around 36 years. He still looks impossibly young, though he was only nineteen back then. His Rieslings, from the Upper Nahe at Bockenau, are among Germany’s most graceful. This style is evident in the wine here, less powerful than some 2018s. It’s vibrant, lighter, quite zippy even, with a spine of lime and grapefruit. A star, for me. £210

Stromberg GG, Schäfer-Fröhlich (Nahe) – The vines here, on volcanic soils, are Tim’s oldest, many over 85-years-old. The wine seems drier, with a grapefruit zip to it, but also a smoky intensity. You get a long mineral finish here. £228

Felseneck GG, Schäfer-Fröhlich (Nahe) – This is probably the pinnacle of the Schäfer-Fröhlich holding, a source not only of fine Grosse Gewächse wines, but also Trockenbeerenauslese when nature provides. The GG is both floral and herbal. Right now you could say it’s tightly wound, but it is mineral, saline, ripe and the epitome of elegance. What length! £246

Dellchen GG, Hermann Dönnhoff (Nahe) – There may be geographical distance between the Dönnhoff estate and Tim Fröhlich, but sometimes it’s hard to judge any quality difference these days, although the Dönnhoffs certainly possess the fame among most Riesling lovers I meet. I think that fame has led me to buy fewer wines than I should. The holding here is 25 ha, and spread widely as the vineyards are, I believe Helmut and his son Cornelius have eight sites able to produce Grosse Gewächse. Dellchen is generally a lighter wine and this has nicely weighted yellow fruit, but it does finish with an almost crunchy mineral bite with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Hermannshölle GG, Hermann Dönnhoff (Nahe) – I’m getting peach fruit here. There’s more weight and a mineral texture. It’s often one of my favourite Dönnhoff dry Rieslings. Despite the weight it also has a liveliness that lifts it and it’s the tension between those two traits which makes it quite thrilling for me.

Ölberg GG, Kühling-Gillot (Rheinhessen) – Carolin Spanier-Grillot is in charge here. “Here” is Bodenheim, in that part of the Rheinhessen closer to the river, southeast of Mainz, and neighbour to Nackenheim, as opposed to the more southerly part of the region, closer to Worms, home to Keller, Wittmann et al. She controls 12 ha (only 60% of which is Riesling). On the famous Roter Hang limestone, between Nackenheim and Nierstein, Carolin has some of the finest Riesling sites in the Rheinhessen (including this Nierstein vineyard). This is a very steep, almost south facing, slope which generally gives dry wines of some body. Yet this wine has a lightness of touch and is both fruity and refreshing. Very appealing. £180

Hipping GG, Kühling-Gillot (Rheinhessen) – I can never fail to picture Hugh Johnson when I taste this vineyard (I bet a few of you know why). It is above all a lovely terroir wine, more floral on the nose, but on the palate it is saline and citrussy. It’s hard to explain how very expressive this wine is. £216.

Aulerde GG, Weingut Wittmann (Rheinhessen) – Philipp Wittmann converted this estate to biodynamics from 2004 (Demeter Certified), and has never looked back. There are 25 ha, with two-thirds planted with Riesling. I adore this producer, but I only currently own some Weisser Burgunder (which is superb). The village is Westhofen, with the famous Kirchspiel to the north and Morstein to the northwest. Aulerde is Kirchspiel’s eastern neighbour. This Riesling is nice and dry with mineral texture from what is an early ripening site on deep clay, and a good price for very old vine fruit. £162

Kirchspiel GG, Weingut Wittmann (Rheinhessen) – Unfortunately, for those after a bargain, which Aulerde may be, this is a definite step up in structure and everything. There is limestone in this vineyard and the wines tend to be more defined, and perhaps spicy. A wine of true stature. £204

Morstein GG, Weingut Wittmann (Rheinhessen) – And so to Morstein, a south facing site rising to just under 300 metres on limestone with overlying clay, but rocky in parts. It’s hard to describe a wine like this but it kind of has everything you dream of from dry Riesling, even in a warm vintage (remember, producer means everything). The price jump to £258 is justified, though the site’s fame plays a part. If you can afford it then buy and age. If not, the other two will not disappoint, unless you are already very familiar with the Morstein, of course.

Jaspis Gutedel 10 hoch 4 Alte Reben 2016, Ziereisen (Baden) – Something different to finish the whites on, and a 2016. This cuvée is called “ten to the power of four”, referring to the dense planting achieved by interplanting between the original rows in this part of the Steingrüble vineyard. So don’t fear, the wonderful “Gutedel” (aka Chasselas) you know and love hasn’t suddenly taken off in price, although I think Hanspeter once told me that in the early 20th Century the Gutedel here achieved a higher price than Mouton-Rothschild. Ziereisen is in the far south of the Baden wine region, in the hills around Efringen-Kirchen, just a few kilometres from Basel.

All the vines are at least 40-years-old and the wine is a gorgeous savoury surprise, all umami, juniper and bitters, but there’s apple-fresh fruit too. The texture is likely from lees ageing (the normal Gutedel usually has eleven or so months on lees) and also a little skin contact pre-fermentation. It’s quite extraordinary, and I think only Dominique Lucas (south of Lake Geneva) makes comparably fine Chasselas.

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THE REDS – PINOT NOIR/SPÄTBURGUNDER 2017 AND 2016

Pinot Noir Niederberg Helden 2017, Schloss Lieser (Mosel) – So this site has some red grapes! I don’t know how this wine is made but I do know that Thomas Haag usually likes to use stainless steel. This is a pale, light, wine with strawberry and raspberry scents. It has a lightness and freshness, and after the plush gentle fruit you do get a little bite. I always love this cuvée, when available. It’s a fun wine, just 12.5% abv, and only £75 per 6 IB.

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Spätburgunder 2017, Jülg (Pfalz) – Jülg is at Schweigen, right on the border with Northern Alsace, opposite Wissembourg, and like Fritz Becker, they have vineyards in both Germany and France. In the past I’d have put Becker a clear head above Jülg, but I am reassessing my views. This entry level wine is relatively simple, with a bit of bramble and more colour (and a degree more alcohol) than the Lieser, and whilst nice it is well worth going up the range here. But the price…just £54

Pinot Noir Herrenstück 2017, Holger Koch (Baden) – Koch’s 8.5 ha of vines sit on the Kaiserstuhl, the famous volcanic lump to the east of the Rhine, near Freiburg-im-Breisgau, and in fact pretty much over the border from Colmar, in France. Holger’s great task has been to replant the family vineyards with better clones, and this he has achieved. This wine shows quite pale fruit but with concentrated sour cherry as well as strawberry purity. Very interesting, quite spicy as my wife might say. There is some tannin, but it feels much more velvety, with a lovely mouthfeel. £72

Talrain Spätburgunder 2016, Ziereisen (Baden) – Ziereisen is my favourite red wine producer in Germany. You should know that in case my objectivity is called into question. But I’m pretty confident in recommending this wine on the basis of both quality and price. This vineyard is quite high (up to 500-metres), surrounded by forest, but it gets the prevailing wind up through the Mulhouse Gap, which helps negate disease. It sees 24 months in 225-litre oak, but it comes out with just 12% alcohol. It may be quite concentrated (almost plump) and dark on the fruit side (even a touch of unusual blackcurrant), but it is also racy and refreshing, the limestone element giving great freshness. It should be noted that Hanspeter is actually a big fan of Swiss clones for Pinot, and has replaced many of his French clones with Swiss. £75

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Spätburgunder Sonnenberg 2017, Jülg (Pfalz) – Johannes Jülg has had an interesting education, working at Clos des Lambrays in Burgundy, and with Fritz Keller. His time in Burgundy, and probably his experience at home, made him determined to replant with French clones, and with denser vine spacing. It’s interesting because neighbour Fritz Becker has a more nuanced view on clones, French and German, but at Jülg there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that as newer vineyards have matured then quality has really taken a leap forward. There’s finer to come, but this wine from the German side, off loam and limestone, is very tasty with deeper fruit and a step up from wine number two, above. £93 *Note to readers…if you visit Schweigen, then the Jülg Weinstub is the place for lunch.

Spätburgunder Sonnenberg “WB” 2017, Jülg (Pfalz) – This is actually made from one of the French vineyards. The German producers here are not allowed to use the French vineyard names, so “WB” is used to denote Wormberg. There’s an ongoing battle between local producers and the authorities over this, which periodically flares up with some muscle flexing and producer bashing. This wine is more red-fruited, strawberry dominating, but with a little spice, minerality and tannin. Keep a while. £114

Spätburgunder Sonnenberg “KB” 2017, Jülg (Pfalz) – The “Kammerberg” is one of the most famous sites in the area, a steep slope above the (French) Abbey of Wissembourg. I think the French clones here have improved since replanting and they produce a wine which has even more potential than in the past. The best thing about this wine is its savoury spice on the bouquet. The fruit almost appears sweet and it is approachable, but it’s a classy wine that will gain in complexity with time, if you let it (please). £174

Rhini Spätburgunder 2016, Ziereisen (Baden) – This is an even more protected parcel than Talrain, in a limestone dell in the forest which has some influential ferrous deposits in its soils. It is made via whole bunch fermentation and then goes into oak (Hanspeter is continually reining back the percentage of new oak). The result is a wine which needs ageing. The fruit is beautifully smooth and rich, and the tannins seem perfectly judged. There’s both freshness and depth, a wine which truly does have iron in the soul. £144

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Pinot Noir 2017, Shelter Winery (Baden) – Relatively new to me, I’ve only been aware of Shelter Winery for a couple of years. Hans-Bert Espe and Silke Wolf bought what is now 5 ha on the Kaiserstuhl in 2005. As well as Pinot Noir, they also have Chardonnay, possibly because Hans-Bert did a stint in Oregon. They have crept under the radar until recently, but Howard Ripley has picked up and run with them. This wine is pale but has a standout smokiness, coupled with a silky mouthfeel and a slightly bitter and grippy edge to the finish. Although the winery is only fourteen years old, they are playing with 40-y-o vines, a big advantage. £156

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Pinot Noir *** 2017, Holger Koch (Baden) – The three stars show this is the finest Pinot Noir here, off volcanic soils on the terraced Halbuck, where the fruit ripens later than most other local sites.. This is quite pale, with hi-toned cherry fruit. The finish is, once more, very savoury. Right now, the new oak (50%?) is prominent, but this really is a wine to keep for at least a decade, I think. It is impressive. £174

Jaspis Pinot Noir 2016, Ziereisen (Baden) – This cuvée is possibly the one that made me take notice of German Pinot Noir. It is made from old vines which, if my memory serves me right, were planted in the 1950s and 1960s. It is fairly restrained on the nose, because we are dealing with a fine wine made to age. The fruit is quite chewy but class shines through. It’s a mix of mainly raspberry with a little cherry, dense and heading towards complexity, but it will be a long road. If you can’t wait, buy the Talrain. If you are young and rich, then buy the usually astonishing Alte Reben Jaspis cuvée (the best barrels). But otherwise, this should satisfy most fanatics of this glorious red grape variety. £180, a price I double checked. It’s pretty good value if you compare it to the price of good Premier Cru Burgundy.

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Spätburgunder “Opus Oskar” 2017, Jülg, Pfalz) – I’d kind of thought nothing would challenge the last wine, but here we have the evidence for how far Jülg has come, especially over the past couple of vintages. This is admittedly a “selection”, coming from the best parcels on the Kammerberg. It has more smoky depth, silky sensuous fruit and breadth of bouquet and flavour…from Pinot Noir’s raspberry spectrum to almost Syrah-like violets. If you are able to go with £450 for a six-pack, in bond, then Ripleys say “will reward cellaring”. It would be pretty silly not to cellar a wine like this. I’d truly love to be able to try a bottle in fifteen-to-twenty years.

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Another great tasting finished. I used to feel ever so slightly smug that I appreciated both of the styles on show here, dry whites of “Premier and Grand Cru quality”, and the once dismissed Spätburgunders. But every year this tasting seems to gain more support, and more minds have become open to these wines. I suppose one could say that this is the future of German wine (well, to be frank, it sort of has been for a fair while), but it just proves that the country really just has something for everyone. How things have changed…for the better.

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New Wave South Africa 2019

The New Wave South Africa tasting was held on Tuesday this week, at The Vinyl Factory, the basement under Phonica Records in Poland Street. As always, there was a buzz going around long before this event, as there always is these days when the South Africans come to London. However, I don’t think the organisers were quite expecting not far short of a thousand trade registrations. It meant those of us arriving around mid-day had to queue, but that did mean that the venue’s fire capacity was adhered to, the consequence being that there was at least room to breath down below ground.

Despite the initial crowds and the rather high level of background noise, the tasting certainly lived up to the hype. Fifty-plus producers had turned out, some being established superstars and some being people I hadn’t even heard of before, let alone tasted their wines. In some extreme’s producers showed well over a dozen wines (Pieter Walser had lined up closer to twenty), whilst at the other end of the scale Sam Lambson (Minimalist Wines) lived up to his label’s name by bringing just one (but what a wine, see below).

I reckon I tasted a little over a quarter of the producers. If I missed your favourite, I’m sorry. Whilst at one or two tables I didn’t try every wine, once you get into a conversation it’s hard not to go with the flow. I think that if I mention every wine I tasted the article would just become a boring list. I hope that what tasting notes there are will generate a flavour of it all. What I really hope to convey is the excitement inherent in the wines.

Each producer was asked by the organisers which three records, one book and one single luxury item they would take to a desert island. Quite a nice window into their tastes. I’m going to share at least one record/band for every producer, so you can see how cool these guys and ladies are.

NEWTON JOHNSON

This is a family setup located in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, south of Caledon and north of Hermanus, on the Southern Cape Coast (near Walker Bay). It’s effectively a cool climate terroir and winemaking here is described as being “as natural as possible”. A beautiful range of wines is made, and their reputation precedes them these days, but I do think that they make truly outstanding Pinot Noir.

Resonance 2016 is a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon, under the Walker Bay appellation. It’s a good place to begin, a blend we used to see a lot from Australia but one which works so well in cool climate South Africa. The Semillon sees some wood so it adds depth to the freshness of the Sauvignon’s grassy citrus acidity.

Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2017 is a very good example of what you can get for under £30 from this producer. Off decomposed granite and clay comes elegance, a blend of lemon and lime acidity and nutty nascent complexity. Rich but not fat, the steely acid structure lifts it nicely, and grounds it at the same time.

There are a range of Pinots. The equivalent Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2018 is deliciously fruity but equally has good grip. It’s a very nice bottle, but the two single vineyard Pinot Noir I’ll come to next are quite sensationally good.

Seadragon Pinot Noir 2018 is noticeably bright and has a remarkable balance between fruit and acidity. 2018 is only the second vintage for this pair. It is a nice contrast with the Windansea Pinot Noir 2018. Both come from hillside locations in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, but this latter wine is Newton Johnson’s highest vineyard, at around 350 metres above sea level. The soils here are darker clays, and the wine has the vivacity and freshness of a cooler site with added structure. It has more bass notes.

Bevan and Gordon, Dave Johnson’s two sons, were on hand to pour. They chose records by The Pixies, The Black Keys and Linton Kwesi Johnson, so that’s three points, plus a bonus point for LKJ, taking them right to the top of the coolness chart.

UK Importer – Dreyfus Ashby

 

 

Bevan Newton with his rather classy lineup of wines

THE FOUNDRY

Chris Williams was on hand to show The Foundry wines, and this is another beautiful range. I began with the Viognier 2018 from Stellenbosch (all the wines are from Stellenbosch, with the exception of the next wine, which comes from Voor Paardeberg). The thing I like about the Foundry Viognier is its acids. Although it hits 13.5% abv, it retains genuine freshness. It both smells and tastes fresh and avoids the blowsy weight of a lot of Viognier found outside the Northern Rhône. Maybe not quite as elegant as a Clonakilla but a lot cheaper.

The whites here are worth exploring. Chris wasn’t showing Chenin, but there was a Grenache Blanc 2018 and a Roussanne 2017. The former, fermented in older oak, was paler than expected but had some depth to it. I liked the bitter twist on the finish. The Roussanne was quite waxy with rounded fruit showing through, again good acids, and just enough weight.

The reds are all a little more expensive than the whites, and they possibly lack those wines’ freshness, but they do all have the kind of acids and tannins which will help them to age. Even the Grenache Noir 2017 was still tannic. Fermented half in older oak and half in concrete, it is quite a big wine (14.5% abv) but it does show nice high-toned fruit.

Tasting two vintages of The Foundry Syrah was instructive. 2016 was aged in oak, around 10% new oak. Compared to the Grenache, it has less weight and is still pretty youthful. 2012, bottled in September 2013, had developed a lot more fragrance, but it is still tannic and needs several more years unless you like your Syrah quite grippy. I felt this 2012 benefited from half a degree less alcohol here (14%), but that might just be my own sensitivity and reading of balance.

Chris went for Talking Heads, Pink Floyd and Bach (cello suites), a solid set of options. His luxury item was a telescope, which hopefully is suggestive of his vision being wide.

The UK importer/agent is, once more, Dreyfus Ashby.

 

THE LIBERATOR

The Liberator is a label put together by Richard Kelley MW, who is the man behind Dreyfus Ashby. So far these past twelve months I’ve managed to drink a couple of these wines, both very enjoyable. They tend to be small but interesting batches Rick picks up or hears about when he’s out on tour around The Cape. They all have the added bonus of really well thought out labels, some of them being hilariously funny, at least to me…I’m not sure Johnson and Gove would fully appreciate the humour of “Episode 23” (see below).

I’m going to skip through all nine of the wines on show because, well, they are all worth a plug. Most retail around the £20 mark, with a couple of exceptions, and all provide a talking point at the table. Episode 16 (“Perfectly Flawed) was not shown, but if you spot one of the few thousand bottles of this Tulbagh Chenin aged under flor, grab one swiftly.

Excuse me giving you a label photo for every wine…I just love the labels as well.

Episode 11 – Homage to Catalonia 2016 is Viura from Franschhoek, the first crop of fruit from Solms Delta. It’s waxy with simple pear and quince, but long and tasty. Just 672 bottles made. It may possibly be the first varietal Viura (aka Macabeu) out of The Cape.

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Episode 19 – Teeth of the Dog 2017 This Chardonnay from Paarl-Simonsberg almost tastes like it is blended with 50% Chenin. This is very good but also a little different. 300 cases came from Glen Carlou, originally destined for their Cellar Club until a change of ownership. The name is, of course, a nod to a certain vineyard on the Côte de Beaune, though the wine’s richness is more Meursault than Chassagne, as Rick is happy to acknowledge.

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Episode 23 – The Odd Couple 2012 This is your Gove/Johnson label, the name channelling the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau classic of 1968 (nice choice, Rick) . The blend is Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, not completely unknown but still rare. The bouquet is more Chardonnay for me, and it’s another waxy wine with acidity just on the right side of thrilling.  The blend is 60:40 in Chardonnay’s favour and Nederburg is the source, in the Western Cape. I want a couple of these, at least in part for the label, but there are a mere 672 bottles, or at least there were when bottled.

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Episode 18 – PS I Love You 2016 Petite Syrah (aka Durif) from De Morgenzon in Stellenbosch. 650 cases here. The label painting is by the American Impressionist artist, Julian Alden Weir. The wine is deep and bright, very fresh on the nose and palate, with nice fruit and the added complexity of a savoury finish. Only 13.5% abv, ie restrained for the variety.

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Episode 20(/20) – Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics 2016 This Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, the most expensive of the “Episodes” I’ve found, is an elegant and classy cuvée of just 300 bottles made at Vergelegen (so no wonder it’s not cheap). It is in fact a classic savoury Cabernet (with 10% Merlot). It has 14.5% alcohol on the label but in this case it honestly doesn’t really show. What does show is the skill and contacts that have enabled Richard Kelley to get hold of this very posh wine for his own label. The name does not relate to brexit skulduggery, in case you wondered after Episode 23, but rather to “score inflation”, a subject close to both Rick’s, and my, heart.

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Look, Rick gave it 110 points, LOL!

Episode 21 – MSG 2017 550 cases of Swartland Mourvedre (80%), Syrah (10%) and Grenache (10%) from Lammershoek. Quite pale, rounded smooth fruit dominates here. The cuvée was assembled in 2018 and bottled in June this year, and it has a lovely freshness right now. Rick says it goes well with Chinese food. I think that is a joke!

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Ooooops, blurry, sorry…

Episode 22 – Blood and Chocolate 2003 This is the label that worries me most, largely because of my career before wine writing. The blend is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 60% Syrah, made again by Nederburg in the Western Cape. 372 cases nod towards one of Rick’s musical heroes, Elvis Costello, but you can’t deny that it does taste pretty much of chocolate (of a rich and dark nature, perhaps a little creamy). For some reason this cuvée was destined for a Nederburg Auction Lot, but never made it. It now has a new life with a classic red and gold label.

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Episode 12 – Napoleon Bona Part 2 2018 Muscat de Frontignan is the grape variety, 1,300 half bottles which came from Nederburg, another batch destined for the Auction before it passed into industry hands. It’s an intensely sweet wine, low in alcohol (9%) but rich in barley sugar and honey…it’s also nice and long. The Napoleon connection? The wine was made in the classic Constantia style by Nederburg winemaker, Günter Brözel, a master of these wines. Of course we all know that during his exile on the island of Saint-Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte drank a bottle of Constantia every day (allegedly). I think it was the wallpaper which poisoned him, not the wine. There is also a “Part 1”.

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Episode 9 – The Bishop of Norwich 2016 This is a Cape Vintage wine made in the Port style from a large blend of “Portuguese” grape varieties. Its creators are Carel and Margaux Nel of Boplaas. Based in Calitzdorp, they are true specialists in the genre. This has a deep smoky bouquet, is sweet but also concentrated, and it will age. “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” is a euphemism for bl**dy well hurry up and pass the port, will you! Those tiny glasses used to get drained swiftly…I know.

No pic of the bishop, damn, how did that happen?

I’m hoping that the long section above does give some idea of the fun behind these wines, but don’t ignore the fact that they are also very good indeed. Richard Kelley MW knows how to sniff out good wine.

Rick imports his own wines. He chose The Beatles, Tom Waits and Joe Jackson, an atlas (book) and a record player (luxury…bet his wife will be mad after reading this!). Kudos for the music and book, though.

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Rick and Sarah (who I’m sure he’d take, really)

THORNE & DAUGHTERS

John and Tasha Seccombe set up their label in the Western Cape in 2012, and are possibly best known in the UK for their Rocking Horse Cape Blend, named after their daughters’ toy rocking horse they made for them. I drank a glorious 2014 vintage of that wine back in June, and it ages magnificently. The daughters are now eight and ten, and the wines have moved on too. The following three are highly recommended.

Tin Soldier 2018 is a Swartland skin contact Semillon Gris, as lovely as the variety is obscure and rare. The vines were planted in 1964. A week on skins, the wine is savoury and textured, and also very dry. To pick out two flavour descriptors, I’d go with waxy lemon peel and marzipan, but there’s more. If I saw it on a shelf it would be a definite purchase. Paper Kite 2018 is the more common Semillon Blanc variety, from Swartland (like the Semillon Gris). It’s an old vine cuvée, made from heritage vines well over fifty years old. Again, it is savoury, fresh and smooth, with the faintest hint of oily gras. There’s a biscuity and nutty element, with a bit of pain d’épice too.

Wanderer’s Heart 2018 is a Cape Red Blend, here 34% Grenache, 26% Cinsaut, 17% Grenache Gris, 13% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah. The savoury nature of the whites carries through in this red and you get plums for fruit, with fig and classic fresh wood aromas. It’s labelled Western Cape, the grapes coming from a variety of plots from Voor Pardeberg, Bottelary, Bot’s River and Wellington, off varied soils including granite, shale, limestone, and a clay/gravel mix. It’s my first taste of a Thorne & Daughters Red and I like it.

John’s main coolness points come from his choice of something by The War on Drugs, and selecting coffee as the luxury item.

Imported by Dreyfus Ashby.

 

 

The real Thorne (John Seccombe) with the red. There were a hell of a lot of Thorne & Daughters t-shirts being worn by exhibitors for some reason.

MINIMALIST WINES

Minimalist Wines, minimalist entry, because Sam Lambson currently only makes one wine, called Stars in the Dark (expansion is planned, fear not). It’s 100% Syrah made simply via whole bunch fermentation in large format old oak. Both fermentation and malo are spontaneous, and the only addition is a touch of sulphur in winter.

The wine is rich, savoury, fine, and fundamentally stonkingly good! Only 800 bottles were made in 2018, although I was told that 600 are for the UK. We are looking at perhaps 1,500 bottles for 2019. Sam wants to focus on cool site Shiraz and to this Elim cuvée will be added fruit from Elgin and Stellenbosch.

Every time I see Colin Thorne at a tasting (he’s a buyer at Vagabond Wines) he seems to tip me a wink towards a real star. He did that again here. Thank you Colin, both for your great palate and your generosity, much appreciated.

Imported by Dreyfus Ashby, records selected are by Chilli Peppers, Bob Marley and John Mayer, very sound.

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JESSICA SAURWEIN

No, never heard of her. Why? Jessica comes from a family with a great winemaking heritage in Austria, but her career took off in sales and marketing. She began making wine part time in 2015, and then went full time only in 2017. There are just three wines here. One is a lovely Riesling, the other two are sensational single vineyard Pinot Noirs.

Chi Riesling 2019 is from Elgin fruit, sourced close to the ocean off rocky loam. It’s fashioned in a fruity and crisp style, avoiding petrol notes deliberately. The nose and palate have a citrus core. The bouquet has a hint of geranium and ginger spice and the palate is quite lemony. Just 12% abv.

The first Pinot Noir I tasted was Om 2018, a wine named for universal peace (something most people in wine hope for). The vines are at 700 metres ASL on granite, with clay. They are relatively young, planted in 2006, mostly on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. The bouquet is red fruited with rose and cherry, but the palate has darker fruits, beetroot and a bit of tannin.

The similarly named Nom Pinot Noir 2018 is from Kaaimansgat Vineyard, Elandskloof Valley, Villiersdorp, and is mostly shale, but at a similar altitude. This is very concentrated and aromatic (orange citrus, coffee, cherry), is darker fruited and has clear umami elements. “Nombulelo” means gratitude in Xhosa. Nomkhubulwane is a forgotten African goddess of Agriculture.

I was pretty blown away at this table. The importer is Swig Wine. Jessica’s musical tastes don’t exactly accord with mine, but never mind, the wines emphatically do.

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METZER WINES

Another recently established label, Metzer Family Wines began in 2006 in Somerset West. Wade Metzer makes half-a-dozen wines, including a petnat from old vine Chenin which disappointingly wasn’t on taste. There were three glorious wines which all look good value for money despite hardly being cheap as chips..

Maritime Chenin Blanc 2017 is from a vineyard of old bush vines planted less than 5km from the ocean at False Bay. It has a salty bite, whether auto-suggestive or not. The soils are sandy and they yield an aromatic Chenin.

Montane Chenin Blanc 2017 is from vines planted higher, at 250m ASL. The vines were planted in 1964 so they have a nice age to them. The bouquet is apple and ginger but the palate has a mineral spine. It kind of combines a floral element with some stone fruit as well. It gains texture from eight months lees ageing in barrel (10% new).

Shiraz 2017 is sourced from a Helderberg parcel of old vines on a windy site with complex soils which led to a picking of four tries over two weeks. It’s an oak aged wine (11 months, 10% new oak) which tastes good now, although it does have potential to age if you let it. Wade called it a “feminine Shiraz”, which to an extent I suppose it is, if that sort of analogy is your thing. But it is both supple and subtle.

Metzer Family is imported by Indigo Wine. Here we have yet another Beatles fan with a penchant for The Rolling Stones and QOTSA!

 

 

MULLINEUX & LEEU

I’ve known the wines of Chris and Andrea Mullineux for a long time. I still have a single bottle left from what I believe was their first vintage (though for the life of me I can’t find it), and only last year drank my last 2006s from Chris’ previous stint at TMV (Tulbagh Mountain Vintners). Since those early days they have moved on. To the original wines have been added “Kloof Street”, the limited production “Granite” and “Schist”, and the “Leeu Passant” pair.

Schist Syrah 2017 is from that famous Swartland fruit which has seen Chris become one of the finest winemakers in South Africa. The wine off the schist has real bite, with a graphite mineral core. It is reassuringly very expensive though. Granite Syrah 2017 seems to me to have more amplitude. It’s a very powerful wine (14% abv, but that’s not what I meant) yet loaded with bags of fruit and mineral freshness. Both are magnificent wines, but they are too expensive for me to buy and age, now.

At a little over £50/bottle the next pair are perhaps a little more affordable. Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2017 is still remarkably classy. It has weight yet it is approachable. However, it should be given the chance to age to get the most out of your money. It was barrel fermented, 20% new, which will integrate with time as it is on its way to doing now. Only 700 cases were made, though.

Leeu Passant Dry Red 2017 is deeply coloured Cabernet Sauvignon with the addition of some Cinsaut (a more generous 1,100 cases here). It’s a smoky wine, quite big and needing time, but it has classic structure. The Leeu Passant wines are made at Chris and Andrea’s winery in Franschhoek (the original winery is still at Riebeek Kasteel in Swartland) and are a collaboration with Analjit Singh. They are multi-regional blends (hence Western Cape designation) which nod towards the classic, ageworthy, South African wines of particularly the 1960s and 70s.

I couldn’t pass by on a sip or two of Mullineux Straw Wine 2017. I’ve consumed quite a few of these half bottles in the past, some young and some old. My conclusion is that they are possibly better young, when they are full of vibrancy. It’s basically sweet Chenin, very rich and with around 240g of residual sugar. The key to this wine is that it always has good acidity, and the grapes are dried outside but in the shade, so the process is slower. You get peach, apricot and marmalade. Classic, very concentrated and long.

Importer is Fields, Morris and Verdin. Chris likes Bob Marley, a South African favourite among a certain generation, I feel.

 

 

Chris and his wines, a man I’ve not seen for many years and at the top of his game

AA BADENHORST

It is often difficult to get close to the AAB table at any tasting, and this was no exception. Anyway, I know the wines pretty well. The Secateurs wines are some of the most remarkable value bottles from SA and I’m not averse to grabbing a few. However, my tasting intentions were quite specific.

First of all I wanted a taste of Sout van die Aarde Palomino 2018. In some ways Palomino seems one of the grapes of the moment. Whether by this name, or as Listán Blanco, we are starting to see some stunning examples. This one is delicious, quite fruity (more so than most), with plenty of fruit acids.

My other desire was to try a particular pair of Cinsauts (the usual SA spelling loses the “l” of the French). Ringmuur 2018 is fragrant, pale, yet plush. The fruit is dry but you think it’s sweet at first, know what I mean? Then the finish, an unexpected bitter twist. Ramnasgras 2017 (2018 in the tasting book but 2017 on the bottle) has a bit more spice, but these are basically one gorgeous pair.

I’m drinking more and more SA Cinsaut. Most, like my precious 2014 Pofadder (which I’d love someone top tell me when to open?) is resting. This former workhorse grape (cliché) is now coming into its own and I wanted to see what a master does with it in Swartland. Well, plenty, but you probably knew that. I’d say that for around forty quid, these are still good value, as I think is every wine made here.

Swig Wines import AA Badenhorst. We get Paul Simon, and a little more from the left field, Edith Piaf as the music choices.

 

 

BLANK BOTTLE 

Pieter Walser’s Blank Bottle Winery is a frequent visitor to the pages of wideworldofwine. If you want to read a longer piece about him, assuming you haven’t already, then follow this link here to a recent article from June this year. Okay, blowing my own trumpet, but it’s worth it. Pieter is one of wine’s great story tellers. I told him he ought to write a book and I truly mean it. Each wine has a tale to tell.

You can find out all you need to know in that article. Pieter had fifteen wines listed, and more under the table. How he makes them all so different I genuinely have no idea. All I shall say here is that I tried the delicious B-Bos II 2018 Semillon (the creepiest spider story ever) which is beautifully textured and savoury and a deceptive 14% abv. I tried the very different Semillon, Epileptic Inspiration 2018 which has always been one of my favourite Blank Bottle wines from the beginning. Then I tasted Nothing to Declare 2018, which hints at Pieter’s relationship with authority. It’s a Western Cape blend of the Rhône classics, Marsanne and Roussane.

Im Hinterhofkabuff 2012 is, you will note, a well aged Riesling, weighty (again, 14%) and dry, tasting as if it’s blended with Chenin (it isn’t), pale but almost tannic with texture. Stern Magazine wrote a piece about Pieter living in an old shack (not exactly true), that’s where the name comes from. Last up, Searching for Le Strange, a new wine to me (unlisted, and I didn’t get the vintage). It’s another example of stupendously good SA Palomino, in this instance made on skins in a beeswax-lined clay pot.Ever the innovator, this wine is a must-buy for me. But I do love all of the Blank Bottle output, despite my general fear of wines that make my legs give way after a bottle.

Swig Wines is the importer once more. Pieter chose Leonard Cohen and Nirvana, plus his wife as a luxury item (well said, sir, but who has the kids?)…but if his wife wasn’t allowed, then his surfboard.

If you are flagging, well only five more producers to go. I did consider splitting this, but then September is a busy month.

 

 

LUKAS VAN LOGGERENBERG

Lukas has only been making wine since 2015, but he’s beginning to get noticed and is seen by many as one of the rising stars in south Africa. I tasted four out of five wines listed (not sure how I missed the fifth, but never mind) and they tended to prove that he is indeed very talented.

Kameraderie 2018 is the current vintage of the first wine he ever made, named for the great help given to get his label up and running by his friends. It’s a single vineyard Chenin Blanc, from fruit planted way back in the 1960s. It sees some oak and it has great freshness, but the old vines do give it bags of depth.

Break a Leg Blanc de Noir 2019 is a savoury rosé made from slightly younger Cinsaut, planted 1992. It’s not all fruit, having some of that ethereal tea-like quality which a few more savoury pink wines around the world can exhibit (aged Rosé des Riceys, for example).

Geronimo 2018 is also Cinsaut, bright red in colour and in a fresh style, not really showing it had nine months in oak (so presumably old wood). It’s a nice wine, very nice indeed and well priced for the quality (c £25). Much as I am loving SA Cinsaut, there’s an even better wine to come.

Lukas is a big fan of Loire Reds, and he made a trip there in 2014 which in part inspired him to make wine. Breton 2018 is Cabernet Franc which saw eleven months in wood. It definitely reminds you of Loire, not Bordeaux. It’s a lighter style, quite fragrant, fruit driven but with crunchy tannins. A wine with a strand of crispness running through it. “Breton” is, of course, a Loire synonym for Cab Franc.

Lukas likes War on Drugs (never knew this band were big in SA but well done), Nirvana and Muddy Waters. Imported by Dreyfus Ashby.

 

 

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ALHEIT VINEYARDS

The first wine I came across from Chris and Suzaan Alheit was Cartology, and it’s fair to say that it has become a South African wine more and more people know. Its fame is deserved, but after starting out in 2011, Chris has built an even more impressive portfolio. Part of his success has been helped by using South Africa’s great grape detective, Rosa Kruger, whose knowledge of the topography of The Cape vineyards is probably unequalled. But you have to allow those grapes to express their place in the winery, and that’s what this couple do so well.

Cartology 2018 is mainly Western Cape Chenin Blanc (with Semillon) with brightness and zip, one of the most “alive” wines in the room. Huikrans 2018 is effectively a single vineyard expression, from grapes grown at 450 metres ASL on the Citrusdal Mountain. It has much more depth. As Jamie Goode said once in an article, the points givers need to be careful what they give Cartology or they’ll soon run out of points for the rest (or something like that).

Magnetic North 2018 is made from ungrafted vines at 550 metres, above the previous plot. It simply oozes presence and concentration. But if you think the Alheits are all with the Chenin, don’t forget the Semillon. La Colline 2018 is made from old vine fruit, planted in 1936. It’s just simply the epitome of a complex white wine yet tasting modern at the same time.

Winemaking here is identical for all wines. No enzymes, no sulphur during winemaking, whole bunches, neutral vessels (whether eggs, clay pots or old oak), and everything gets bottled after 12-to-14 months with no fining, nor filtration. There may be a tiny bit of sulphur at bottling but only if they deem it absolutely necessary. So you just get the terroir and the fruit of these old vines in a bottle. It’s like magic.

Dreyfus Ashby is again the lucky importer. Chris chose an interesting and thoughtful selection of music: Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Bruce Springsteen. He’s another winemaker who would take his wife as a luxury item.

 

 

As you can see, the photos go downhill a little. The light wasn’t good in this part of the small studio annex.

RALL WINES

Donovan Rall is a giant, not just physically (though he is), but a winemaking giant too. A relative newcomer, he began making wine in Swartland in 2008, a location so many young winemakers have gravitated towards, on account of some lovely old but under-appreciated (and therefore relatively cheap) vine stock. The Swartland Revolution, as it came to be called, was not however built on cheap vineyards. Rather, it was built on young winemakers paying over the odds for this great fruit, as a way of ensuring the old timer farmers didn’t rip up all those wonderful bush vines.

Donovan Rall is always described, in almost everything you read about him, as being “well-travelled”. That may be, but in the old vines of Swartland, it is South Africa’s viticultural heritage which interests him.

All of the Rall wines are exceptional, but I will pick out four here. Cinsault Blanc 2018 (French spelling here) is fragrant, with grassiness, herbs, waxy citrus and white flowers. Not a mere oddity, cépage-wise. Ava Chenin Blanc 2018 is a cuvée of 1,340 bottles showing real presence and amazing purity.

Red 2017 is a Syrah/Grenache/Cinsault/Carignan blend off mostly shale and sand. It has a cherry red colour, 14% abv, and a real purity. I don’t know a lot about the winemaking for this, but I’m guessing that despite the alcohol, the fruit was picked early, or perhaps stems were included. You get a very appealing freshness with this wine.

Ava Syrah 2018 is off straight schist and is aged in oak (second fill, I think). Just 1,273 bottles were filled. The nose is quite stunning, big but all pure fruit. It tastes big too, but the alcohol is a nicely balanced 13.5%. It’s quite majestic, though it will set you back over £50 (so, as with all the more expensive wines here, it was a privilege to taste it).

Chris’s musical tastes are loud(ish): Nirvana, Offspring and Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Colie… is certainly the best Pumpkins album, Donovan). Another coffee lover too.

Indigo Wine imports Rall.

 

 

MOTHER ROCK/JH MEYER

The Mother Rock label now has many, many, fans in the UK, and along with Craven it’s also one of the South African labels I find most natural wine lovers seem familiar with. Johan Meyer makes the Mother Rock wines as a collaboration with Indigo Wine founder, Ben Henshaw. Five of these were shown, along with three wines under the JH Meyer Signature label.

The Mother Rock fruit is sourced in Swartland, and Johan is another winemaker who values his very good relationships with his growers. There are three Mother Rock wines labelled “Force Majeure” which exemplify the value of these relationships, “value” very much crossing over into price. We get a Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Cinsault, all 2018 and all worth trying. The delicious Chenin is only 12% abv, the Semillon is clean and tasty and the Cinsault is really refreshing with good acidity (some might even say high acidity, but just try drinking this a little chilled).

There’s also a single vineyard Chenin Kweperfontein 2017 and a Mother Rock Grenache Noir 2017. The latter has nice juicy fruit but a bit of grip too.

In the Signature Range we get Palmeit Chardonnay 2017 which was one of the cleanest and brightest Chardonnays of the day; South Coast Pinot Noir 2017, which like the Chardonnay, is made from Elgin fruit and is a bright cherry-flavoured wine with a good backbone, classy; and the slightly more up-market Elands River Pinot Noir 2016 – this last wine is from a mountain behind Franschhoek, off sandstone. It’s quite pale, 100% whole bunches, a few weeks on skins then into 2,000-litre foudres and bottled with no added sulphur.

In fact, no wines have had any added sulphur since 2017 here. For relatively inexpensive wines they show bags of personality and charm. A beautiful range at all levels.

Imported by Indigo Wine.

Johan’s musical tastes are largely beyond my knowledge, aside from Springsteen. Imagine Dragons and Vem Daysel, anyone? He does seem to have a thing for thick lamb cutlets, though (his luxury item).

 

 

We end this long article with one more producer. Yes, I know there are some glaring omissions, from the great value wines of Mick Craven to the delights of Crystallum, personal favourite Boekenhoutskloof (no, not left out because it’s a b*gg*r to spell), Porseleinberg and Reyneke (to mention a few). But time and the crowds worked against me.

DAVID AND NADIA SADIE

David Sadie is a Swartland native. He met his wife Nadia at Stellenbosch University, where he was studying Viticulture and Oenology and she was studying Viticulture and Soil Science, a nice combination. They take half of their fruit from their Paardebosch farm, and buy the rest from close contacts in the region. They made their initial wines in 2010, but it became a full-time project for David in 2013. Nadia, who he married in 2009, joined her husband full time in 2016.

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Aristargos 2018 is a Cape Blend based around Chenin Blanc (just over 50%) with Clairette, Semillon, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne making up the rest. Much of the vine material here is on either granite or clay, but it includes the oldest Chenin vineyard they work with, planted in 1962 on schist underlying a gravelly and sandy river bed. It’s smooth, svelte and surprisingly complex for a wine that’s not very expensive compared to many tasted on Tuesday. Aristargos means something like “the best leader” in Greek.

Chenin Blanc 2018 is waxy with quince flavours and shows a different side of the variety. This comes from a mere seven vineyards (the previous blend is, I think, fifteen) and just ten different pickings. Again, we get a range of soil types (granite, shale/schist, clay and iron-rich soils) but they are all old bush vines (1962-1982). It sees eleven months in neutral oak, which keeps its freshness and fruit driven qualities.

Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2018 is a glorious single vineyard expression with vines planted on an outcrop, or “hill of shale”, surrounded by granite on the home farm. The vines were planted in 1985, and David and Nadia have been farming them since 2013. This is just such an exciting wine, full of presence, tension and depth and breadth of fruit. Amazing.

 

The first red was the varietal Grenache 2018 off granite and clay. Palish, it has a nice soft strawberry flavour. It sees four weeks on skins before and during fermentation, with 60% whole bunches, then into neutral 500-litre oak for a year.

Elpidios 2017 is a blend of five varieties – Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsaut and Pinotage. Grenache is described as the lead variety, though in this 2018 we get almost as much Syrah (31% versus 30%). It does get a little more age (18 months), but otherwise it’s made pretty much the same as the straight Grenache. Its differentiation comes through the subtle influence of the other varieties, which do add nice complexity, but it’s also another delicious, soft-fruited, red.

Topography Pinotage 2018 is made from a variety I almost never buy, but if I do have prejudices I think they should have been jettisoned long ago. This wine scores for its fragrant bouquet which leaps from the glass. It has a nice cherry palate too, and it finishes well. The bush vines were planted both at the beginning and the end of the 1990s, on pure granite higher up the mountain and on decomposed granite further down. Fermentation (with 20% whole bunches) was split between a vertical wooden foudre (4,000 litre capacity) and concrete tanks. Another similar foudre was used for ageing, and 5,695 bottles were produced.

The importer for David and Nadia Sadie is Justerini & Brooks. David plumped for Bruce, Eagles and Cat Stevens (I Can’t Keep It In – a real blast from the past on which to finish).

 

 

~ Well, that was a great tasting, perhaps as tiring to do as it has been to write about. I hope you didn’t find the article too long. After typing it over eight hours I didn’t really see the point of splitting it. After all, I’m off to taste some Germans tomorrow, and I know some people appreciate me getting these things out as swiftly as I can. The tasting has certainly increased even further my appreciation of these wines, and whetted my appetite to drink more. But I came away with something else…what an amazing, kind, friendly and supremely talented bunch of people are making wine in south Africa today. It’s proof that a nation can, at least in part, turn itself around. Perhaps there might be hope for us here, one day.

 

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Koppitsch Summer Update

I’ve been drinking a few of the new wines from Alexander Koppitsch recently, in fact three of them in only the last month. I thought rather than save them for my “Recent Wines” article, I’d write a short stand alone piece. Not only does it help me in my choice of wines to write about when the September tasting schedule allows, it also means I can give them a bit of a plug.

Alexander Koppitsch farms five-and-a-half hectares of vines around Neusiedl-am-See, a small town (or large village, perhaps?) just north of the Neusiedlersee, in Burgenland. I can’t imagine any regular readers are unaware of the Koppitsch family, because after meeting them a few years ago at Raw Wine I have followed them, and indeed got to know them very slightly. My biggest regret is that despite having been at Neusiedl last summer, I wasn’t able to visit (I’d planned to do so on a trip in January/February of this year, but in the end we met up in Vienna: see “Koppitsch Party” here).

“Yeah! You do seem to write about these guys a lot”. It’s true, but then a few years ago I was shamelessly plugging the Rennersistas, and a few years before that the incredible wines of Gut Oggau. There is hardly a village around the Neusiedlersee now where someone isn’t doing something special, and I just like the vibe here. It’s as much about the philosophy as the wines, if I’m honest, but these are very much “honest” wines, very pure.

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Alex and Maria in Vienna, O’Boufés, January 2019

Alex took over his family’s vines in 2011, and immediately began to bottle himself. His mission, largely based on his wish to make a safe environment for his young children to grow up in, was to do away with synthetic chemical treatments (which his father had pretty much rejected) and to pursue minimum intervention viticulture and vinification. Biodynamic methods are followed here, and I definitely get a sense that nature has a spiritual side for the Koppitsch family.

There has always been in effect two main ranges of wines produced here. There are what I might call the more serious wines (perhaps a very poor choice of word, but they are wines which will benefit from age), and the fun wines. The former undergo a more lengthy fermentation and are bottled free of added sulphites, and are still known as “Perspektive”. The latter is an updated range, with fun, pastel but bright, labels which reflect the glugging qualities of the wines. These are, or were, called “Authentisch”.

A friend described one of them as “smashable”, a phrase I actually like to stand up and defend. It is perfect for a wine you are happy to knock back with friends and then order another bottle. The opposite of a wine you have to describe in a voice which sounds as if you’ve got a cork wedged somewhere uncomfortable. It’s four of these wines, which all have Hungarian names in order to give a nod towards the Hungarian heritage here by the lake, that I’m going to describe. A petnat, a rosé, a white and a red. There are more wines in the range, some of which, if you click on the link in the second para, above, you will find.

Pretty Nats #1 [2018]

I’ve seen this called “Pretty Nuts” because the u/a is actually an inverted “v”, and pretty nuts is indeed what this pink petnat is (in a good way). It’s made from an equal proportion of Blaufränkisch and Syrah grown on rubbly, sandy, soils. After harvest fermentation starts in fibreglass tanks before transfer to the bottle. There’s no temperature control, but in the early spring the bottles are taken outside to benefit from the cool nights before hand disgorging. No sulphur is added. 11% abv.

It’s a good rich coral pink in colour (less red to my eye than the photo below suggests). The bouquet is dominated by strawberry fruit, but bearing in mind both of the grape varieties, you expect that small hit of black pepper on the back palate. Otherwise, the fine bead gives a hint of minerality and it finishes dry. It’s a fun wine, but at the same time its joyfulness does make it something special. It needs to be drunk in sunshine, but I suspect it might cheer any of us up in the rain. It also comes with four different labels. I’ve only managed to find two of them, but more of that later.

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Rosza [2018]

You’ve probably sussed that the vintage date is in square brackets because these are all bottled as Table Wines (Wein aus Österreich) and Alex doesn’t use any sneaky Lot Code to let us know which vintage is. That said, production isn’t enormous for these wines and I don’t think there’s a lot of chance any of these will be left on the shelf by the time the 2019s come on tap.

Rosza is another wine made from relatively youthful vines (if 25-year-olds sound youthful, in vine terms). This blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch (both 40% each) with 10% St-Laurent and 5% each of Pinot Noir and Syrah comes from pretty much all of the family’s vineyard sites, off a mix of clay, limestone and sandstone. Whole bunches are co-fermented and the only addition is a tiny bit of sulphur.

This is probably the most beguiling still rosé I’ve drunk this summer. It’s light with soft red fruits and it goes down just like fruit juice (though there is a beautifully balanced 11% of alcohol in there). It’s another happy wine. There were 6,000 bottles of this produced in 2018. Despite its simplicity, which for me is very much a positive, it is a great calling card for Alex and Maria.

 

Homok [2018]

I believe this wine comes from one site, with limestone underlying sand. It’s a white blend made up of three varieties: Grüner Veltliner (60%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%) and Weissburgunder (10%). There’s about four hours skin contact before direct pressing, and then fermentation lasts about seven days. Three different kinds of fermentation vessel are used – acacia for the Grüner, stainless steel for the Sauvignon, and fibreglass for the Pinot Blanc. The wines stay in the same vessels they were fermented in for nine months before the three cuvées are blended together. As always, there’s no fining or filtration, and I believe that unlike the Rosza no sulphur was added.

The best way I can describe the taste of this, and the closeness in flavour is uncanny, is like alcoholic pear juice. It’s a glorious wine. Immediately on drinking it, it was my “favourite”, though on reflection I believe all of these four to be just as good as each other. 3,600 bottles, 11% abv.

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Rét [2018]

Rét is mainly comprised of Zweigelt (80%) with Saint Laurent (20%). Both varieties make gorgeously fruity natural wines on the sandy rubble around the northern side of the lake (cf Claus Preisinger and Rennersistas). The grapes are fermented, with a few hours initial skin contact, for ten days before being pressed into a mix of acacia and stainless steel, where the must sits on its gross lees for fourteen months. Sulphur addition is tiny, alcohol is, again, a moderate 11%. I think they also made 3,600 bottles in 2018.

The result is a slightly brambly, cherry juice, red with just a bit of acidity, bite and texture. As a perfect summer red serve it quite cool, and in autumn, just a little cool. This emphasises the bags of freshness. It’s the wine a friend called smashable. The alcohol, acidity and fruit are in that perfect balance which makes a simple wine so wonderful to enjoy.

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Now the slightly more difficult bit – how to get hold of some. If you are in Vienna you will see these wines around, especially on restaurant lists. They are pretty well represented in the USA as well. Jascots was the first to import Koppitsch in the UK. I’ve not bought from them, and they want the whole name, rank and serial number thing to look at their Wine List, which just puts me off.

I’ve made a couple of Koppitsch purchases from the very nice people at Fresh Wines, up in Kinross (Scotland) and they’ve given me excellent customer service. However, they are a very small operation and their web site currently shows them as being out of stock of these wines (I understand I managed to snaffle their last couple of bottles of the petnat). There, when in stock, they retail from around £16 (Rosza) up to £21 (the petnat). I hope they will get some more in stock soon, but they are only a small company, fairly new, run by a couple called Neil and Kristen. See the contact page at freshwines.co.uk .

I did spot a bio for Alex on The Wine Society’s web site but no wines on the list. Perhaps someone can tell me whether TWS is importing Alexander Koppitsch. I’m not going to bother Alex and Maria with an email during harvest. If you do manage to find a bottle or two, I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. The 2019 harvest looks to be going well.

 

 

 

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Victoria Torres Pecis – The New Star of the Canaries

A couple of years ago a friend visited La Palma, the most northerly and one of the smaller Canary Islands. At the time I had no idea any significant wines were made on the rather barren looking volcano of La Palma, but I was very much excited by the prospect after a few years previously gaining something more than a mere interest in the stunning wines being produced on the largest island in the archipelago, Tenerife. That friend knows his wine, and when he came back praising the wines of “Vicky Torres”, I knew I’d go out of my way to taste them one day.

That’s exactly what I did on Tuesday this week. Hearing only on Monday evening that her UK importer, Modal Wines, was going to open each one of the new releases he brings in, I hastily changed my plans and headed up to Covent Garden’s 10 Cases. Last year, Nick Rizzi managed to get minuscule quantities of these wines out of La Palma. This year he has a little more (not a lot more), despite 2017 being a vintage of very low yields (mainly hail, the same old story). There’s still very little to go around, but I warn you…the wines are quite astonishing.

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The saintly glow of a man who imports Victoria Torres Pecis

First, an introduction to the Canary Islands. Most Europeans will probably be aware that this is an island chain (seven islands, to be precise) in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately sixty miles off the coast of Morocco, and ruled by Spain. Producers such as Envinate and Suertes del Marqués have made the islands famous in the past decade or so, but they make their Canary Island wine on Tenerife.

La Palma is at the far west of the chain, more recently formed than those islands in the east (Lanzarote and Fuertaventura). It is perhaps even more obviously volcanic than some of the other islands, much of it being covered in black ash. From the air it looks like one large volcano, but in fact a ridge runs along the island’s spine which is pock-marked with craters, and it is, like the whole archipelago, still classified as “active”. The last major eruption was in 1971, and actually took place during the harvest. The island has somewhere close to just 600 hectares of vines in production.

Victoria Torres Pecis took over from her father (Juan Matías Torres) when he passed away in 2014, so 2015 was her first solo vintage. Reassuringly, she had been working with her father for some time before. The estate used to be called Matías i Torres, but I understand that discussions took place with the Catalan producer, Torres, whose lawyers approached everyone using that name in their estate. As a consequence, the wines formerly labelled Matías i Torres now bear no estate name on the front label, although the back label does state “Produced and Bottled by Victoria E Torres Pecis”. The older sweet wines available will still bear the older domaine name on their original labels.

The “Torres” bodega is at Fuencalliente, at the very southern tip of La Palma, on that pure black volcanic ash. However, Victoria farms vines all over the island, all ungrafted (phylloxera never reached The Canaries) and consequently very old (the oldest being more that 130 years of age). The vines are also at greatly varying altitudes, with the highest at 1,500 metres above sea level.

I was stunned to be told that the harvest takes up to three months because of the varying altitudes and micro-climates. I was equally surprised to hear that there are eighteen people producing wine on the island, but Victoria Torres Pecis is the only one being exported outside Spain. She farms a little under five hectares of vines herself, around two-fifths owned and the remainder, rented. There are also some bought in grapes, from farmers with whom she works very closely.

What about the grape varieties? Winemaking on the Canary Islands began with the discovery, by Europeans, of South America (the islands made an ideal victualling station) and really took off in the nineteenth century. However, the islands were originally famous as a source of Sack, a name derived possibly from the Spanish “saca”, meaning to draw out, now used to describe bottlings from a Sherry solera.

The white grapes in use at the Torres Pecis domaine are familiar both from the Canary Islands as a whole, and indeed from southern Spain. These are Listán Blanco (aka Palomino in Jerez) and Malvasia. The main red variety is Negramoll (aka Tinta Negra Mole in Madeira). There is also, unsurprisingly, some Listán Prieto, perhaps better known as a variety which has recently been revived in South America, where it is called Païs (Chile), or Criolla (Argentina), having been loaded on the ships of the first conquistadores.

Victoria possesses one of only three working pine wood lagares on the island, dating from 1885, about which more later. That does suggest that she follows a traditional winemaking methodology. Indeed, her sweet wines taste quite traditional, and she does follow pretty much a natural winemaking philosophy as well (she does use sulphur, but sparingly, the maximum in any wine being under 40 mg, and usually far less). However, her dry wines do combine tradition and modernity. With one (perhaps deliberate) exception, they don’t appear remotely rustic.

Eight cuvées were opened by Nick Rizzi, three dry whites, three dry reds and two sweet wines. This tasting was well worth changing my plans for. The wines are quite amazing, and I think special. I’m doing myself no favours in saying this because I’m yet to get hold of a few bottles for myself, but I just can’t help sharing my excitement. These wines are one-offs, unique in so many ways. Victoria appears to know exactly what she is doing, but at the same time she hasn’t really been exposed to a breadth of international winemaking. That has certainly helped allow her wines to retain a personality of their own.

And so, the wines…

Las Migas 2017

This is made from Listán Blanco. The name means “the crumbs” and the grapes derive from fifteen plots, all on black volcanic ash at a range of altitudes. The grapes take three months to harvest at optimum ripeness, and they are added to the concrete fermenting vat as they come in. The result is a pale wine, intense and linear, but it has a lovely long mineral finish, and a texture born out of nine months on lees. Just 2,600 bottles were made and few of them have made it to the UK. 12% abv. Circa £30 retail (all retail prices quoted here are my own very rough estimates).

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Monte 2017

There’s a plot Victoria usually bottles as a single site wine, called Las Manchuqueras, but in 2017 it yielded too few grapes, so she decided to promote “Monte” to single vineyard status. This is a vineyard pretty much on the southern tip of La Palma, immediately below the winery, comprised of more Listán Blanco. Again, we are on black ash, and a hot site (I’m told pineapples grow here). Just one barrel was produced, but the vines here are 120 years old, naturally all ungrafted, and it shows. It has greater depth than “Las Migas”, and astonishing energy. It’s a beautiful wine. Maybe around £38-£40 retail.

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Malvasia Aromatica 2017

This is the top wine. It’s made in a restrained style from Malvasia vines up to 130 years old, again in the south of the island. The key bit of winemaking information you need here is 48 hours skin contact. It doesn’t really colour the wine, which is pale and glinting brightly, but it does add weight and some texture. The bouquet begins quietly, although these wines do need a little time to allow them to open out. The palate, however, is explosive. What you get is even more minerality than the Listán whites, and salinity too. A saline note pretty much runs through all these wines, but here it is quite pronounced. Stunning! 13.5% abv. Should be on the shelf, albeit briefly, at around £45.

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Negramoll 2017

This isn’t quite a single varietal wine because 15% Listán Prieto (Criolla/Païs) is added here. The grapes are sourced from sites all over the island, at altitudes ranging from 300 metres to almost 1,500 metres. The wine is aged in forty-year-old American oak and comes out pale, fruity and very fragrant. It has that lovely haunting quality, but that really isn’t to discount the fruit in there as well. It has a lovely lightness. 13.5% alcohol and approximately £34-£35-ish retail.

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Sin Titulo 2017

This is the cuvée which comes with the red jeep on the label which perhaps makes it more recognisable than some of this producer’s more restrained labelling efforts. Victoria makes a “Sin Titulo” bottling every vintage, but the wine is always a one-off. In 2016, Sin Titulo was an oxidative white, but in 2017 it is a red made from Negramoll. The idea is to blend grapes from the first plot harvested (August in 2017) and then from the last plot picked (October/November). The first goes into oak barrel and the second into stainless steel. Both see nine months on lees, where they pick up some colour and texture. The fruit is high-toned cherry, raspberry and a touch of cranberry bite, all with what I’d describe more as “mouthfeel” than tannin. A super-gorgeous wine which weighs in at 13% abv. There were a mere 300 bottles of this, and to own one will take, in addition to real haste, a mere £36 or so.

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Vino de Mesa 2017

When Modal’s Nick Rizzi helped with the harvest in 2018 he noticed a 600-litre barrel at the back of the winery which restaurant owners appeared to come and take wine from. He asked whether he could have it bottled. It’s not usually part of the Victoria Torres Pecis range, but she gave him what she had as an exclusivity. I think he managed 250 bottles, which is a massive amount compared with his other allocations.

It’s another Negramoll, a table wine outside the La Palma DO. It’s basically fairly simple, fruity, and showing a bit of volatility, yet it is very tasty, has the advantage of greater availability, and should cost around £28 or less. I would not say it’s wholly representative of Victoria’s wines, stylistically, but it is a nice glugger. Everyone around the tasting table when I was there said they liked it, despite its difference to the other dry wines.

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Malvasia Naturalmente Dulce 2013

The two older sweet wines here are labelled from when Victoria’s father was still alive (Matías i Torres). This first bottle is what I suppose would be called the traditional wine of the island, or at least certainly in the style of centuries past. Malvasia grapes raisin on the vine, usually with just a touch of botrytis. The grapes are destemmed and then foot trodden. Here it is in a traditional pine lagare called a Tea. Traditionally, Vino de Tea was sold straight from the barrel on the island, but there are now only three of these troughs in use. The problem is that if they are not used every year they dry out. Luckily the one at Victoria Torres Pecis has been in constant use since 1885. Traditional, or what?

The grapes only receive a few days maceration before they are pressed. Foot treading actually helps to rehydrate the grapes, which in turn assists the slow fermentation. Where the wine departs from tradition is in the next stage, where the must goes into stainless steel. Fermentation stops naturally, when it feels like it. What you get is richly sweet, but also salty, with quite a thick texture. 14.5% abv, bottled as 50cl, and if it really costs what my maths tell me, you’d be looking at £80. I say “you”! It’s out of my league, but needless to say, I didn’t spit. A privilege to taste.

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Negramoll Naturalmente Dulce 2013

The sweet Malvasia is made every possible vintage. This red sweet wine is a one-off. A heatwave in 2013 left a parcel of Negramoll a bit over ripe to make a dry red table wine from, a hazard of having such a wide spread of plots at different altitudes. The decision was made to allow the grapes to ripen further, and one barrel of sweet red was the eventual result. It is made just like the Malvasia, except for that change of vessel. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in richness and depth. For a sweet wine it has bags of character. Just 470 half-litre bottles were made. It might not be quite as sensational as the sweet Malvasia, but it is very good indeed, and can be had for a more affordable £44-£45, or thereabouts. 15% abv for those who are interested.

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