Recent Wines (September 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

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

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

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

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

Importer: Modal Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distribution is through Les Caves de Pyrene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Les Caves de Pyrene.

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

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

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

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

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

Imported by Newcomer Wines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Doctor (Carlo) and Andrea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Moldova – Didn’t See That Coming

It’s fair to say that many wine lovers would be hard pushed to pinpoint Moldova on a map, let alone realise that it is a country with a very long winemaking history. Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, most of Moldova has a continental climate, influenced by the Black Sea just to the south (though Moldova has no coastline, another part of this small country’s history at the hands of bigger neighbours).

What Moldova has, a shock to most people, is 112,000 hectares of planted vineyards, 81,000 hectares being “noble” varieties, where fifty different grape varieties are grown, a mix of indigenous and international. That actually equates to more vines per person than anywhere else in the world.

There are only three  designated Moldovan wine regions, however, and those were only recently mapped and delineated as protected geographic origins. These are (see map below)  Codru, the largest, in the north, Valul Lui Traian in the south, and Ștefan-Vodă (central southeast).

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Why all these vineyards? After all, the Republic of Moldova is Europe’s smallest country. The history of Moldova as a wine producer, the reason why we never heard of her wines even as Bulgarian wines, and then Romanian bottles, hit our shores after the fall of Communism, is one that is linked to Russia. Back in the early 2000s 60% of the wine drunk in Russia was from Moldova, which in the Soviet era was a major supply source for the “mother” country.

In 2006/7 there was a clampdown, following which the amount of wine exported to Russia fell dramatically. Then, in September 2013 Russia banned the import of all wine from this small and very poor country. Ostensibly it was because of traces of plastic in wine, but it has been pointed out that these levels were lower than those found, and tolerated, in Russian drinking water. Of course, it was for more political reasons, similar reasons to those that leave Moldova without any Black Sea ports. Muscle flexing is always the way, it seems, in this region. Nevertheless, this ban had a devastating effect on a country reliant on agriculture, and where wine formed a major part of the agrarian economy.

Moldova has had to adapt, and quickly. It’s quite amazing that it has done so. A London Tasting on 10 October showed just how far Moldova has come, but of course it also showed what needs to be done to really break through in European markets, emulating the success of other countries formerly in the Communist Bloc. I’m thinking particularly of Georgia.

The Tasting was organised by Novus BH Magister, set up in 2016 to bring the wines of Moldova to the UK. They were assisted by Caroline Gilby MW, well known regional expert, whose book The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova was published this year. Caroline conducted two masterclasses during the course of the day. Novus, based in Guildford, brought seven producers and their wines to show to trade and press. I’ll let you know how I think Moldova needs to take the next step later, but if these are the best producers in the country, then the potential for sales into Western Europe should be high, especially as the prices seem extremely reasonable.

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This is a large producer with 300 ha in Codru and Valul, although as a sign of what size can mean in Moldova, they are internally described as “small”. They are privately owned and began production in 2004. If they have a philosophy, it is to hold back on the oak (commendable), in order to produce fresh-styled wines, where possible from autochthonous varieties.

Fetească Regală-Riesling 2017 is clean and well made, more stone fruit than pure Riesling character. It has a dry texture. Rara Negră-Malbec-Syrah 2016 is nice and bright, brambly on the nose with deeper plum-plus-pepper on the palate. Smooth but bitter, 14% abv.

 

CRICOVA

Double the size of the previous producer, with 600 ha in the same two regions, this is one of the country’s largest wine estates. They have a production facility described as an “underground city” about 100 metres below the surface, with streets named after grape varieties and wines.

The conditions are said to be perfect for the ageing of sparkling wines. I tried “Moldova” 2012, an aged bottle fermented blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Most of this age must be post-disgorgement because it only claims nine months on lees. I’d have liked to have seen more ageing sur lies, because it was a little fat and lacked the precision of a good French Crémant, but perfectly well made and drinkable. The alcohol was quite high (13%) for a wine from the traditional bottle-fermentation method.

Fetească Albă Limited Edition 2017 had a lovely floral nose, reminiscent of spring blossom. The palate begins softly but then you get a lick of grapefruit acidity. Simple and clean but nice. Viorica 2017 is quite different, with a deeper nose, broader and with less acidity. There’s a touch of Muscat about it, but also stone fruit with a little mineral texture. It finishes with a hint of bitter quince. Viorica is, as those who follow Eastern Europe’s politics, a female first name. Viorica Dăncilă became Romania’s first ever female Prime Minister in January this year.

Fetească Neagră 2016 comes from a 8ha vineyard on the black soils, for which Moldova is famous. It has a deep colour, good legs, and a big dark fruited bouquet…and 14% alcohol. It scores first for its unusual, bitter but ripe, black fruits. It finishes quite tannic, but could be broached now, or aged. It also scores on price – £8.90 to the trade. None of the Cricova wines top £9.

 

EQUINOX

This is the estate of Constantin “Costia” Stratan, one of the country’s pioneers of modern viticulture. His Elemente 5 2015 is pretty expensive by Moldovan standards, £15.50 to the trade. It’s an extremely tiny production too, just 3,400 bottles of a blend of Carménère (49%), Merlot (17%), Shiraz (sic) (15%), Rară Neagră (12%) and Malbec (7%).

There’s the rich vanilla smell of new oak which immediately sets this out as a “modern” wine. In fact, there is only 25% new oak, but it comes through very sweet. The fruit is nice and smooth, but the tannins suggest that it is well equipped to age. It’s not really my kind of wine, but it’s very well made and could go head-to-head with many Bordeaux-style blends from Chile, or anywhere else for that matter.

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FAUTOR

There were some very good wines here from this Valul lui Traian producer, with 350 ha at their disposal from the Tigheci Hills. The two Altitudine wines are fresh and simple – the white (2017) blends Chardonnay with 20% Fetească Regală, and the red (2016), Cabernet Sauvignon with Fetească Neagră.

Aurore white (2017) is a characterful blend of Albariño and 45% Sauvignon Blanc. The red Aurore (2016) is comprised 100% Rara Neagră. One of my favourite wines overall, and under £10 to the trade, it sees six months ageing in assorted new oak, but that doesn’t dominate at all. I loved the bouquet, reminding me somewhat of Nebbiolo. A touch of tannin stiffens a very good long, savoury, finish.

The top white was, surprisingly, not a local variety here, but Sauvignon Blanc, fermented and aged (with bâtonnage) in new oak again – this Fumé Blanc 2016 has the distinction of being a rare wine made in this style that I like.

The most expensive red (£14.55) is called simply Negre. This 2016 is made from native varieties Fetească Neagră (70%) and Rara Neagră from a small six hectare plot on clay/sand. It is made using micro-oxygenation techniques, fermented in steel and then given the same six months in new oak as the previous two wines. It shouts out bramble fruit on the nose, but more oak seems to come through than on the previous red. Rich, tannic and spicy, impressive, but I preferred the style of the Aurore red, personally.

 

POIANA

This estate owns just 20 ha in Codru, all farmed organically. The wines are very well made, although the local varieties are clean and do seem almost international in style. This will appeal to the vast majority of drinkers, although the opinion forming minority might look for something a little different.

That said, of the two whites my preference was for the single variety Fetească Alba 2017 (pale, floral with green apple freshness) over the version blended with, and dominated by, 70% Sauvignon Blanc.

A 2017 Rosé was pure Cabernet Sauvignon, from 10-y-o vines on fertile black soil, well made although like many pink wines, it didn’t aspire to more than pleasant dry freshness. Fetească Regală 2017 had an altogether deeper bouquet, quite a broad wine (13% abv) with a stony, mineral, texture.

All these wines are fairly low production, 6,500 to 6,800 bottles, and all are made in stainless steel. I think these would have appeal despite them seeming quite “clean” (or perhaps because of that).

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SALCUTA

Sometimes it’s hard not to be affected by the way in which a producer or their representative attempts to engage. Of course, the language barrier got in the way in some cases at this tasting, but Dina Pîslaru spent more time than anyone else explaining the wines of Salcuta, and Moldova in general, to me (thank you, Dina).

Salcuta owns 400 ha of vines in the Stefan Voda Region, the sunniest and driest wine region in Moldova, divided between three sub-zones: Salcuta (after which the estate is named), Tenetari and Ucrainca. Founded in 1995, they are intent, despite their size, on making wine just from their own vines. To this end they have established their own nursery for plant propagation.

With such a large production Salcuta makes many different cuvées (quite a few semi-sweet wines of both colours, presumably for local markets), six of which they brought to the UK. Four were white. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were all well made, my favourite there being Pinot Gris 2017, which at £6.20 (to trade) I felt was way better than any similarly priced Pinot Grigio. Sixty days on lees gives it a brightness and texture, whilst it has that pear drop flavour with a touch of richness (13% abv) which seemed to combine a touch of Italy with a hint of Alsace or Baden.

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My favourite white, indeed possibly my favourite wine, from Salcuta was Riesling & Traminer 2017. Made from 70% Riesling and 30% “Traminer”, it nevertheless tasted a bit like a nice Alsace blend. They kept it simple (stainless steel throughout). Production is a quite high 25,000 bottles, but it’s fresh and nice.

Their pink wine, Tamaiosa de Salcita Rosé 2017, won a Gold Medal at the Mondial du Rosé 2017 in France last year. It blends Pinot Noir (70%) with Muscat of Hamburg, and sees two months on lees, which I suspect is where this wine’s extra mouthfeel and character comes from.

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The one red shown was a very interesting blend, Cabernet and Merlot (40% each) with 20% Saperavi, the well known Georgian red variety. After 18 months in new French oak it gets a year in bottle before release. I tasted Reserva 2015, which had a lovely rich nose with a palate that was spicy, rich and smooth.

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TIMBRUS

The final estate is also based in Stefan Voda (the Purcari sub-zone, very famous in Moldova, where you will also find Château Purcari, now a massive wine brand in Central and Eastern Europe and a destination for coachloads of tourists). Timbrus is a little smaller that Salcuta (150 ha under vine). There is international input here, via Spanish co-owner Manuel Ortiz, who is also a renowned oenologist in Spain and south America. Ortiz professes to bring a European approach to all aspects of production, from vine planting to bottle. We certainly have an estate with ambition here, although prices (all under £10 to trade) are realistic.

Timbrus makes a single varietal Saperavi, and Saperavi 2015 (18 months in new oak) was dark and densely fruited. A bit oaky, but ridiculously cheap for the quality. Viorica 2017 is a 100% varietal from that grape variety, which I found tasted a little like Viognier, but with greater acidity and freshness. Rara Neagră 2016 comes from youngish vines, and is a pale and low alcohol (12%) red. Frankly I’m surprised this sees 12 months in new oak (apparently), as it spoils the balance for me of what otherwise I’d have expected to be a quite lovely wine. Fetească Neagră 2016 has 12.5% abv, and is pale as well. There’s a little more body, but also a fair bit of oak (same regime as above).

 

To summarise what I experienced here at this Tasting…well, I think you can guess.

  1. The wines really were quite astonishingly good for the money in many cases. There were several wines I’d buy, which you can probably guess from my descriptions. I think that the vast number of hectares under vine in Moldova mean there’s massive potential here, especially for really well made wines aimed at those wanting quality and value combined.
  2. Why the obsession with new oak? I suspect that when the pendulum swings for Western markets its movement is slow and takes a while to spot. I’m convinced that by dialling back the oak, wines of greater freshness and personality could be made. The formula of taking autochtonous grape varieties and covering them with new oak does rather hide their unique personalities, and new oak is not, in my view, the answer.
  3. It’s probably all too clear from my notes that I found the native varieties more interesting than the international ones. Every wine producing country on earth is trying to make Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and so on. Moldova (as with neighbour Romania) has some wonderful local varieties that absolutely deserve to have a place on the shelf, and they also show a point of difference, not to mention regional typicity. I suppose the producers are fixed on the international market, but there’s a lot of competition out there. But remember, I’m writing here as a wine lover, not as a consultant on what the market wants.
  4. Where are the real artisans? Reading around the subject I notice that production is rather dominated by very big estates. Some articles virtually suggest that, as in Napa, many of these are geared up for coach parties rather than independently travelling wine lovers. After the fall of Communism it looks like land distribution saw much of Moldova’s agricultural acres, the large state-owned collective wine farms, falling into the hands of relatively few individuals, the opposite of what happened, to a large extent, in much of Central Europe. Georgia’s Qvevri tradition may in reality be just a tiny part of that country’s output, but it has attracted attention from wine experts and aficionados alike. This has led to a greater focus on the country, and we even have qvevri wines in a couple of UK supermarkets. Communism’s attendant effects here in Moldova mean that, unlike Czech Moravia, or Slovenia, there are no old guys making wine the old way, farming a few hectares in the hills, who can be wheeled out to excite wine writers. Everyone right now wants to be squeaky clean and modern.

So with Moldova we have a country with a vast vignoble, with genuinely massive potential. Whether they can live up to that potential depends on whether they can accurately judge what their target markets (certainly no longer Russia, but clearly the rest of Eastern and Central, as well as Western, Europe, the USA and beyond) want. Hopefully ultra-modern wines will give them an entrance to those markets, but I think that long-term success will depend on finessing what’s on offer. I think this can be achieved through offering regional typicity from local varieties. I do wish them well. They have come a lot further than I think most people realise.

 

Caroline Gilby MW’s book The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova was published by Infinite Ideas in July 2018 as part of their Classic Wine Library.

Posted in Eastern European Wine, Moldovan Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bruno Paillard and Dosage:Zéro – A Fascinating Release

You may have read my last roundup of the best wines I drank at home during August, under my usual hashtag #theglouthatbindsus, and you might recall that one of them was a Champagne that I readily admit surprised me by its quality. That was Bruno Paillard‘s Première Cuvée Extra Brut NV. As a result of what I wrote (I think) I was invited along earlier this week to the launch of the new cuvée from Bruno Paillard, Dosage:Zéro. All well and good, you think, but as luck would have it, tasting this wine provided not just an insight into a brand new wine from a Maison de Champagne, but also gave me a lot of food for thought on broader issues in Champagne, which actually make for a far more interesting article.

I would suggest that “dosage zero” is in some ways a red herring here. This cuvée is a bit of a departure for Paillard (though a non-dosed wine was made, briefly, some years ago), and is a very welcome addition to the debate about what Champagne is capable of being as we approach the third decade of our millennium. It will help if I get to it and give you some more detailed information about Dosage:Zéro, but for me there’s another angle, and that is more subjective, and has a lot to do with the people.

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Alice, with Dosage:Zero

I’d never met any of the Paillard clan before Tuesday, although I know quite a lot about Bruno. He didn’t surprise me at all: tall, distinguished, only slightly reserved, and whatever his background he has a slightly patrician air (as perhaps one might expect from a man who founded a Champagne House at the age of just twenty-seven, back in 1981),…but extremely friendly, knowledgeable, thoughtful.

Alice, his daughter, who is now much more than just a major part of the team at Champagne Bruno Paillard, is slightly different in character. I’m sure she possesses the steely determination of her father, but in her eyes and in the way she expresses herself you really sense her passion for the wines. This is a House that thinks deeply about what they are doing and why.

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Bruno

I have a nuanced view about wine appreciation, and wine writing. Objectivity is naturally important when analysing the wines we taste, but I think a bit of subjectivity helps us to get deep into the soul of a wine (where a wine has soul, of course). Understanding a wine and what its maker is attempting to achieve cannot be ascertained by objective analysis alone. So here’s my take on Cuvée D:Z.

In a way I think its label is slightly irrelevant. Zero dosage, or Brut Zero as some choose to call a non-dosed cuvée, brings out heated debate among more geeky Champagne lovers. Despite climate change and riper grapes, there are many aficionados (I’m not one) who are philosophically opposed to zero dosage. “If only they’d added a little sugar (sic)” they say. And it is true that in the old days some of these undosed cuvées were rather angular and lacking balance. Some still are.

Where Bruno Paillard Dosage:Zéro differs is that I think it is a complete wine. It is also a bit of a red herring to tell you that this is a blend of thirty crus. What I think you do need to know is that it is a wine comprised of fifty percent reserve wines, wines which date back to 1985. You also need to know, perhaps just as importantly, that this wine is comprised of fifty percent Pinot Meunier.

This Meunier is sourced (they own around 35 hectares of their own vineyards) from the area around Cumières and surrounding villages, on the right bank of the Marne, with some coming from vineyards in the northern Montagne. Although when we think about Pinot Meunier the first wine that comes to mind might be Jérôme Prévost’s “Les Béguines“, that wine is made from grapes grown at Geux, on the Montagne. The soils are sand and limestone.

West of Cumières, along the Marne Valley, the Meunier-dominated vignoble is planted on clay-rich soils. Meunier around Cumières, however, is grown on a chalky bedrock (I thank Michael Edwards for this information), where the valley opens out and southerly-exposed slopes allow for a riper style of Meunier as well, especially when care is taken in the vineyard and overcropping is frowned on. Paillard’s vines are all organically farmed, with some parcels under biodynamic conversion.

There is clearly a realisation today that Meunier (or Pinot Meunier if you prefer) is capable of true greatness. When I began drinking Champagne in the 1980s there was a sense, fostered in the wine literature, that Meunier was the runt of the litter, a late budding grape that thereby avoided spring frosts (at least before recent vintages), and a grape which could resist the dampness and cold of this northerly wine region. The wine writers of that time suggested that maybe it was best for packing out cheap supermarket Champagnes and all those unknown labels we saw in the French hypermarkets. Oh how wrong the old scribes were.

I would not go quite so far as to assert that D:Z is therefore a terroir wine, a rather bland statement, but I would assert that it is marked by terroir. This terroir character is merely part of the whole package, which also bears the supporting role of the other varieties and of the exceptional reserve wines. Naturally four years on lees with a further six months post-disgorgement helps rather a lot. It is certainly a wine, though.

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It is made just from the first pressing, giving very pure juice. Fermentation is mostly, but not exclusively, carried out in small oak barrels. Some of the reserves were also barrel-fermented, and then kept in stainless steel. The reserves add the lovely autolytic character which comes through as a savoury umami note on nose and palate. In fact the bouquet is toasty and nutty, but also has hints of red fruits, very complex. The palate is pleasantly rounded. Paillard describe it as “chiseled”, but I think it’s a broad chisel.

I was lucky to taste this wine (very correctly served in a slightly larger wine glass – this is one for your Riedel Riesling glass or Zalto Universal) fresh from a just opened bottle, and also from a bottle almost empty, and from which the bubbles had mostly dissipated by the time I’d finished talking and got round to taste it.

Fresh in the glass the bead was very fine, the mousse frothy. There’s nice definition but what it so obviously lacks is the angular and harsh acids that can spoil an undosed wine. Without bubbles the wine exhibits a unique (I chose that word carefully) personality, and genuine character. The facet of that character which stands out most is a very attractive salinity, which defines the wine as a Gourmande Champagne. Drink it with food, throughout a meal. Let it warm in the glass (don’t over-chill it in the first place) and see how it develops, both aromatically and on the palate.

Analyse D:Z by all means, but allow your senses to float inside the wine, to get a sense of something more than its component parts. Treat it as you would a fine white wine without bubbles, treat it as a wine enhanced by bubbles, but nevertheless as a wine like any other.

Bruno Paillard Dosage:Zero is, like all of Bruno’s wines, mostly available in restaurants. I think this is a shame, personally. As with the finest Grower Champagne, I like to see this as a wine that would demand my full focus and attention, in surroundings devoid of too many distractions. In any event, I wonder how many restaurant customers will be persuaded to drink this with food – something I would advocate, although I’ve no idea whether Alice and Bruno would agree with me.

Dosage:Zéro is available, as of this week, at one store, Hedonism Wines in London’s Mayfair. It can be had for a little under £50, which I don’t think is bad value at all. I’m quite sure that it is not a wine that will appeal in quite the same way to those who have a fear of gourmande, zero dosage, cuvées, but it is completely to my own taste, and I look forward at some point to grabbing myself a bottle.

I think Bruno and Alice have achieved here a Champagne that stands out as being a little different, a Champagne with its own individual personality, and a wine that is no mere box-ticking excercise in range building. They have, I think, produced something which for me is quite special because of this.

We also had the chance to taste Première Cuvée in its white and rosé versions. The tasting and launch took place at Comptoir Mayfair on Weighhouse Street, close to Bond Street Underground.

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Posted in Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Take a Quick SWiG

Back on 25th September I was at the Out The Box young importers tasting and I promised to put up some notes on what I tried from Swig at the end of last week, following their joint Portfolio tasting with Uncharted Wines. That turned out to be yet another fabulous event, so I had to split the two merchants, and Uncharted won the toss. Finally, with apologies to Swig, we have the final article from that frantic fortnight. Last, in this case, unquestionably means  but not least. Swig has a portfolio of wines which stretch the imagination as well as any of the other small importers, and they also have a reputation for excellent customer service. This is just a snapshot, from 25 September and 2 October.

Swig manages, rather like Red Squirrel, who also exhibited at Out The Box, to pull in really interesting producers from all over the world, rather than attempting to specialise. You can understand from stalking them on social media that this is a bunch of enthusiasts who want the excuse to live the dream of constant wine trips (South Africa at present). If they find something good they grab it, and thankfully for sales, they do find plenty of the good stuff.

Whilst Swig is not a specialist, they share with Red Squirrel a great list of those South African wines, especially two producers: Adi Badenhorst and Pieter Walser, or if you like, AA Badenhorst Family Wines and BLANKBottle.

ADI BADENHORST, Swartland, South Africa

AA Badenhorst is one label most people who become interested in South African wine will get around to trying very quickly, very possibly via the Sacateurs pair, the red blend (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut) or the Chenin white. The range at AA Badenhorst is wide, but all the wines are great value, not least the Secateurs. Adi used to work with Simon Barlow at Rustenberg, and the great work he did there twenty years ago stood him in good stead for what he’s doing today. He’s no johnny come lately.

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The first wine tasted was a Chenin Blanc, a variety which Badenhorst seems intuitively to know with great intimacy. Golden Slopes 2017 is a wine that will be available soon. This is a single site bottling, actually the first vineyard on the property which you see on arrival, planted with old vine stock which Adi found in a pretty poor state and nurtured back to health. This is totally beguiling, mineral, Chenin, with real personality leaping out of the glass. It will age, of course, but boy this is good.

Piet Bok se Bos 2017 is another soon to be available white wine made from Chenin, or “Steen” as it says on the label in this case, the old South African synonym for the variety. The wine itself is named after an old winemaker who lived in an equally old cottage by the side of the vines. The soils here are deeper, with a high silt content, and this is hyper-fresh, with very concentrated fruit and an almost tense, bitter, edge. This 2017 is the first vintage Adi has made of this cuvée.

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Papegaai is an incredibly popular wine, and not everyone sipping the white version with pleasure realises it is made, in part, from the Sherry grape, Palomino (there’s also an amazing single varietal Palomino, not shown here, called Sout van die Aarde). But there is also a red Papegaai now, and this is a delicious new 2017 blend (the Swig web site lists it as 100% Cinsaut but I was told otherwise) of 80% Cinsaut with 20% of the Portuguese variety, Tinta Barocca, a grape that has a long history in The Cape. This is another example of the remarkable value Badenhorst provides at the lower end of the range. You get genuine character, and the 14% alcohol just doesn’t show. Crunchy red and darker fruits sum it up nicely.

Yet another wine to look out for soon, which you may not have come across before, is Ramnasgras 2017. This red, as far as I know, is 100% Cinsaut/Cinsault. Although relatively expensive, this is for me a delicious light wine which is best served cellar cool, or even lightly chilled. The colour is a vibrant, palish, red. The nose is quite rich, and fresh. The fruitiness bursts through, strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate, with sweet spice, which gives an all round sweetness to the fruit without the wine actually tasting sweet. Very long, extremely…well, I was going to say impressive, but that sounds too serious. A great wine, but fun as well.

 

I think there were more than a dozen wines on the Badenhorst table, including several new wines, all well worth exploring, obviously, but I’m going to finish with Geelkapel Muscat de Frontignan 2017. Of course the “Muscat” name refers to the grape variety, not the Languedoc AOP.  “Geelkapel” is another name for the highly venomous Cape Cobra, which is able to transform itself into a colour closely resembling the vibrant yellow of the wine.

This is a blend of Muscat (à Petit Grains) and Muskadel (Muscadelle) picked and trodden by foot as whole bunches before a two week fermentation. The wine shows a quite complex bouquet of tropical fruit (mango) overlain with gentle floral notes (rose petal). The palate is smooth with just a little texture and dry extract, and it comes in at 13.5% abv. It combines real freshness, from the new vintage, with impressive length.

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BLANK BOTTLE, Western Cape, South Africa

I’ve written quite a bit about Pieter Walser and Blank Bottle. If you’ve not already read my piece written just over a month ago, it may be of interest – follow the link here. Last week I actually got to meet Pieter, and the experience was just as good as tasting his wines (quite a number of which, I should say, I have in my own cellar). He’s a top bloke. The big problem in tasting (and buying) Blank Bottle is that some of the wines only get made once, so there are a lot on the table at any tasting. I’ve tried (not with complete success) to write just about wines I’ve not covered recently.

Moment of Silence 2017 is a white blend of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc and Viognier (allegedly). It’s not the most complex of Pieter’s wines, but it is super-fruity and quite concentrated, making it a good place to start. It also has possibly the least exciting of the Blank Bottle labels, but I only comment on that because I love Pieter’s labels, some of the most quirky and inventive I know.

Epileptic Inspiration 2016 is a wine with an interesting label, showing a brain scan, and I think it’s a label with very personal connections. The wine is Semillon, fresh and mineral. I think this will also be drinking brilliantly, something I plan to test soon in the comfort of my own dining room.

 

 

Rabbitsfoot 2017 is a cuvée I’ve not tried before. The variety is Sauvignon Blanc, and I’d put it right up there with all the best, and most interesting/exciting SBs I’ve drunk this year (which would include the New Zealand example from Hermit Ram that I tried at the same event). Pieter says he hates “green” Sauvignon Blanc, and this wine seems to prove that point. There’s a bit of tropical fruit, and a bit of stone fruit, in a wine that is lush for the variety, but nothing like most tropically fruited New World versions. One for the disciples of Abe, perhaps. Apparently the wine comes from five rows of vines which are more usually eaten by the baboons. Not this time…thankfully.

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Kortpad Kaaptoe was the first Blank Bottle wine I ever bought. It’s made from a variety I think Pieter really likes, Fernão Pires (aka Maria Gomes in Portugal’s Bairrada). The grapes for the 2017 come old vines on sandy soils in Swartland’s fringe, from Darling (just inland from Grotto Bay). This is quite unusual stuff, and my notes say it has a savoury lush sweetness. Swig, on their web site, go for “turkish delight and crystallised pineapple bashed with quartzy stones”. I truly love it.

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Don’t Look Back 2017 is as yet unavailable, but will be worth the wait. It’s Clairette bottled in a flute (Pieter likes to confuse), nice and fresh with a stone fruit and mineral finish. Manon des Sources 2010 is also yet to arrive in the UK, but note the vintage. After one year in barrel Pieter decided it needed seven years in bottle. Don’t ask me what it’s made from, I’ve no idea (and the whole point behind Blank Bottle is that it doesn’t matter), but it is a stunning wine, really interesting, full and big but with flavours which initially have a hint of Riesling (lime and petrol), but then morph to juniper with a hint of dry apricot.

 

 

The first of three reds was Misfit 2017. I do know what this is, Swartland Carignan from old bushvines, of which 30% was whole bunch fermented. It has a fruity freshness to it, very brambly with a little crunch to the vibrant fruit, finishing with a herby twist. Jaa-Bru 2016 is quite a contrast. It’s a rather big Malbec in a little dumpy bottle that really packs a punch and attitude (though it is only 13.5% abv), yet retains what can now clearly be seen as that trait through the whole range, “Blank Bottle freshness”.

 

 

Last up here, PH.D 2016, which I tasted back at Out The Box. This blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It does seem quite a philosophical wine, though doubtless the name is auto-suggestive. Equally, it does taste like a Bordeaux blend in terms of fruit profile and structure, but it is also very pure and precise. A brilliant wine, and though it ain’t cheap, it’s great value.

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VIGNOBLE DU RÊVEUR, Bergheim, Alsace

This domaine encompasses the vineyards left to Mathieu Deiss (working with Emmanuelle Milan who was pouring the wines for us) by his maternal grandmother. He operates out of his famous father’s, Jean-Michel Deiss’s, Domaine Marcel Deiss, in Bergheim, in the heart of Alsace. Most of Mathieu and Emmanuelle’s seven hectares of vines are in the commune of Bennwihr, near Kaysersberg. Mathieu’s dream has one practical side – to explore and fine-tune the art of skin maceration, and to diminish, and then eradicate, the use of sulphur.

Pierres Sauvages Pinot d’Alsace 2016 is a classic Pinot d’Alsace blend, made from Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and some Pinot Noir vinified en blanc. Straight off you can tell this is a terroir wine, one where the variety and winemaking doesn’t intrude. Vinification is in large neutral oak for fermentation and again for twelve months ageing on lees. Saline and mineral.

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Vibrations Riesling 2016 has a deeper minerality and softer fruit which makes it taste quite creamy on the palate, with a nice touch of lees age texture. It is bottled with 30 ppm total sulphur. Vinification as with the Pinot above.

Vibrations Riesling <Nature> 2016 sees a very similar vinification to the previous two wines, but, as the name suggests, this has more of a “natural wine” liveliness about it and is bottled with no added sulphur. That said, the lemon acidity of the Riesling is fresh and the wine is dry (technically 2g/l of r/s). Very precise with a nice clean palate, vivacious.

La Vigne en Rosé Gewurztraminer 2017 is described as a rosé, but the colour comes from the skins of the Gewurztraminer grape, via a touch of skin maceration. The vinification is also carbonic, so the wine is quite fresh and light. None of the heaviness associated with many versions of the variety. The bouquet is of gentle rose petals, elegant and lifted, but the wine is dry, and despite a surprising 13.6%, it tastes light, with an ethereal quality.

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Un Instant sur Terre Gewurztraminer 2017 is a brilliant peak to Mathieu’s range. It is an orange wine, although there is a distinct pinkish tinge from the Gewurztraminer skins macerated in amphora. You’d almost buy it for the colour alone. The bouquet is very complex, sweetish and floral but with a distinct savoury edge coming from the vinification vessel. There is no residual sugar so any perception of sweetness comes just from the richness of the fruit on the palate, and 14.5% alcohol, though do not let that put you off. A marvellous wine.

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Emmanuelle with “Un Instant”

I’ve tasted Mathieu’s wines three of four times in the past eighteen months or so and they are really impressive. I think he has hit upon a style which accords with his fellow young growers (thinking of those in the north of the region), and there is a clear point of difference with his father’s wonderful wines. A name to follow.

CHAMPAGNE COLLARD-PICARD, Épernay, France

Olivier Collard and Caroline Picard sound as if they may be a new tiny “Grower” making wines from a few hectares, but they are actually a “Maison” (founded 1996). They occupy impressive premises on Épernay’s Avenue de Champagne, although the cellars are actually at Villers-sous-Châtillon, not far from Châtillon and Mareuil in the Marne Valley. They farm 15ha which is spread over the Marne Valley (for the two Pinots) and the Côte des Blancs for Chardonnay.

There are eight cuvées in the range, five of which I tasted last week. The range starts with Selection Brut NV, comprised of 50% Pinot Meunier and 50% Pinot Noir. It’s a fruity NV without great pretence at complexity, with a dosage level that’s quite easy to guess (9g/l…I guessed eight). The thing I liked about it was that Collard-Picard make their Champagnes without malolactic, so that even at this level of dosage you still get a nice acidity and freshness.

Prestige Brut NV has the same dosage, but the grape blend is 50% Chardonnay with equal parts Pinot Noir and Meunier. It has four years extended lees ageing, one year in foudres and the rest under crown cap in bottle. There is definitely more elegance here.

Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV is blended from Chardonnay sourced from Oger and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. This is where you noticeably step up to a degree of complexity. The best juice from the first press only is used, and the base vintage in this case is 2014, supplemented with reserve wines. You get some biscuit and brioche, but there’s fresh citrus too. The fruit in this comes through nicely.

Essential Brut Zero NV has the same Chardonnay dominated grape mix as the last wine, but this cuvée only appears in the finest vintages. With a base of 2010, this certainly qualifies under those rules. This wine is given 18 months in barrique, and then four years on lees in bottle, this time under cork, which Raphael Bérêche has convinced me is superior to crown cap, however others may fuss and splutter. It’s a very fine Champagne. Whilst the three previous wines were enjoyable, this is what made me sit up and take notice, and this is the wine that secured the inclusion of Collard-Picard in this article.

Coteaux Champenois Rouge “Terres de Meunier Les Louves” 2014 – Coteaux Champenois used to be a rarity, if not a joke to many, but as with the example of German red wine, the still wines (particularly reds) from Champagne have quietly been improving for some time. Back in June this year I drank Raphael Bérêche’s “Les Montées”, an Ormes red from the same vintage, and it has been one of my reds of the year so far. This Collard-Picard wine, however, is not Pinot Noir, but Pinot Meunier, and a very fine still Meunier it is too.

Les Louves comes from a small individual plot on the right bank of the Marne. This cuvée is only made in very fine vintages, and 2014 yielded only a fraction more than 1,700 bottles. It spent eighteen months in small barriques (both old and new) after very gentle pressing, and there was no filtration. The bouquet is very concentrated, cherry and red fruits, which translates on the palate as very smooth, silky and long.

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Many more Swig wines deserve a mention, but there’s only time for a few. BK Wines is a creative outfit making exciting wines from single sites around the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Everyone knows their One Ball Chardonnay, but of the whites my current favourite is definitely Skin n Bones White 2017. It’s made from Savagnin, you see, though admittedly not Savagnin as I’m used to it, but a truly Aussie interpretation of the variety.

The grapes come from Lobethal, near better known Lenswood, which is over the Basket Range, due east of Adelaide. As the name suggests, there’s skin contact here, one month on skins in fact, then nine months battonage. You get sunshine fruit, but equal amounts of freshness, a twist of lemon on the finish, and a lingering nutty and gingery note. But it’s more fruit than nuts, unlike the standard Jura Savagnin Ouillé. The Skin n Bones Red 2017 is good too, made from Lenswood Pinot Noir which sees 100 days on skins before ageing in mostly older French oak. It’s pale and  has an unusual, almost textured, nose. You get the weight of cherry fruit with the zip and bite of more acidic cranberry. Clean but with a wild side.

Everyone seems to be bringing over something interesting from Portugal these days. The Boina range from the Douro fits this category perfectly. The red and white here are relatively inexpensive, but provide genuine interest, especially for those looking for something a bit different on a bar or restaurant list. The white is a co-fermented field blend of several autochthonous varieties which you almost never see on a wine label: Rabigato, Códego, Códego do Larinho (sic) and Malvasia Fina. It seems to combine apple freshness with a nutty, buttery palate.

The red was, for me, the most interesting, made from the somewhat better known Touriga Nacional, although from a vineyard where, in the old Douro fashion, other varieties are co-planted. The nose was fairly muted, but it was all change on the palate with lots going on. It has body, as you’d expect from the variety, but it is really fresh and frisky too, not qualities always associated with Touriga.

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I also need to give a shout out for Claus Schneider Spätburgunder “Weiler Schlipf” 2015. As Swig justifiably points out, this wine has all the fruit of the excellent 2015 red wine vintage in Baden, but as well as this touch of fatness you get masses of delicious smooth summer fruit. This is in effect an entry level wine, but as well as the fruit you get more, with a touch of orange citrus and a very slight leafy undergrowth hint. A simple wine with a bit of added interest, but with its lush fruit, definitely a wine to convert a few people to German Pinot. It’s funny but an independent merchant in the Midlands was telling me on Saturday that another German Spätburgunder is currently his biggest selling red. Who’d have thought!

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Finally, do take a look at the Guy Breton Beaujolais selection (Régnié, Côte de Brouilly and two Morgons). The wines don’t show on the Swig Web Site at the moment, so perhaps they are new to the list. They are excellent wines, as anyone who has tried them, perhaps in Paris, or perhaps the P’tit Max when Winemakers Club had some, will know full well. Swig also sell one of my very favourite English wine estates, Wiston, from just north of Findon in West Sussex. Their wines need little introduction to aficionados of English fizz, and from June 2018 Swig are their UK agent/distributor for the on-trade.

Contact Swig for further information here.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Alsace, Natural Wine, South African Wines, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uncharted Territory

I had intended to write an article combining the wines from Uncharted Wines and Swig that I tasted last week at Out the Box with those I tasted at their joint portfolio tasting at The China Exchange in Soho yesterday. Looking at the number of wines I want to include (let’s face it, a good sign), I’ve decided I need to split these two importers. This article will therefore cover just Uncharted Wines. You can look forward to reading about Swig after the weekend.

Rupert Taylor set up Uncharted Wines to revolutionise the way we consume wine in bars and restaurants. We had already been seeing different packaging formats for wine evolve in the past few years, the main step forward being, in my view, when people like Le Grappin and others began to put wine of genuine quality into bags. The bag-in-box wines of old were generally very ordinary. The fruity Beaujolais and Macon wines released in “bagnums” by Andrew and Emma Nielsen were pure glouglou and were perfect for the time.

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Uncharted Wines’ Rupert Taylor

Rupert, who despite his youthful appearance has a history on both sides of the trade (sommelier through to account manager with Enotria and OW Loeb), took things one step further by introducing the wine on tap concept. If people are drinking wine in bars like they used to drink beer in pubs, it figures that wine on tap should be convenient and popular. Thirty-, and twenty-litre kegs keep the wine fresh and drinkers can try a good selection of wines.

The genius part of the idea is to fill those kegs with special cuvées made by some of the most exciting producers in the world. Well, almost the world. Getting kegs from South Africa has proved do-able, but Rupert is having to work on the logistics and costs for New Zealand.

The vast majority of the business conducted by Uncharted Wines is the kegs, and this has been an incredible success story, but the strange thing is that quietly, with no fanfare, Rupert and his team have put together a quite astonishing portfolio of producers and wines in bottle, quite aside from the kegs. I shall begin with a few of the keg wines, but I really want to highlight the other side of the business as well. Go into an establishment that has some of Uncharted’s kegs and you can be sure of glugging a fun wine, with personality and excitement. But the rest of the list…wow, some crazy stuff they’ve discovered.

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THE KEGS

You wouldn’t really expect to find Burgundy in a keg, would you? I’ll rephrase that, you wouldn’t expect to find really decent Burgundy in a keg…? Olivier Morin is based in Northern Burgundy, at Chitry, near Saint-Bris and not too far from Chablis. He provided two keg samples, Bourgogne Blanc “Circonstance” 2016 and Bourgogne Rouge “Circonstance 2016. The white is relatively lean for Chardonnay, perhaps erring towards Petit Chablis in style, but it has great freshness. The red is just lovely and fruity, just what you want. It reminded me of the juicy Pinot Noir that I first tasted from Jean-Paul Brun (Beaujolais) in the 1990s.

Somewhat more serious, and pretty classy, is Le Grappin Bourgogne Aligoté “Skin” 2017, which I’ve written about from bottle. The fact that Andrew is so generous in sending this wine to keg is why there’s so little to go round the rest of us. There’s great texture, richness, and less acidity than in the Aligotés of old, though again, it is fresh. I would love to wander into a bar where this is on tap.

Raphael Saint-Cyr farms the largest organic domaine in the far south of the Beaujolais Region, at Anse. He is therefore well placed to provide a juicy Beaujolais for keg. Domaine St-Cyr Beaujolais “Kanon Keg” 2017 is purest cherry fruit in a glass, and lovely. It’s the first wine here to come in the larger 30-litre format, just as well because I bet this flies.

I tried a few other keg samples, many of which I’d happily drink, such as Domaine de Séailles “Presto” 2016, (a Gascogne white made from Sauvignons Gris and Blanc), but I’m going to move on to some fantastic South Africans. Adi Badenhorst has provided kegs of AA Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs 2017 Chenin and Secateurs 2016 Red (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault) which taste no less good than from bottle. The white has pear, quince and mineral freshness, the red is grippy but concentrated.

Pieter Walser’s Blank Bottle Winery has likewise provided two cracking wines. White KegWyn 2017 blends 50% Fernão Pires with Chenin and Roussanne, whilst the red, from a wider blend of Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Shiraz, Roussanne and Pinot Noir, is lovely, and it does show a bit of structure.

Another vibrant South African is a Sauvignon Blanc from the 2018 vintage, from Duncan Savage. It was just a tank sample, Western Cape fruit, but I loved the soft lemon on the nose, coupled with a grassy note. Such a fruity Sauvignon Blanc is hard to find. Two wines (white and red) produced by Craven in Stellenbosch were also 2018 tank samples, but look very promising, and will appear under the Yellow Belly by Craven label.

THE BOTTLES (fizz first)

First in the lineup at China Exchange, as at Out The Box, were some Sparklers. Last week I’d been most impressed by Maison Nicolas Morin “Intrabulleuse” 2016, a petnat from Chardonnay. Although this particular Morin is based in Nuits, on the Côte d’Or, the fruit is sourced in the Jura and it has a real focus and spine.

Vigna San Lorenzo “Col Tamarie” 2016 is a Col Fondo wine from the Veneto. It comes off high altitude limestone soils, a blend of biodynamically, and “homeopathically” farmed Glera, Boschera, Perera, Biancetta, Grapariol, Verdiso and Marzemina. No wonder they call Italy Enotria! If you love a leesy col fondo, this takes the style to another level. Yet it does not lack focus.

One of the star fizz’s yesterday was Huis Van Chevallerie Filia Brut 2014, a Kap Klassiek from Swartland. This is astonishing Chenin, which has a touch of old Loire about it (anyone tried any old Huet Vouvray Mousseux?). Golden colour, zero dosage, a bit of fat, dry.

Also full and fruity, in fact mouthfillingly so, was the brilliant Westwell Wines “Pelegrim” NV, a traditional method wine based mainly on the two Pinots (Noir and Meunier), with 15% Chardonnay. Just 11% alcohol, but a big impact. Fresh apple dominates, with red fruits playing a supporting role, a touch of chalky minerality finishes things off. More of Westwell later.

Check out those lees in the Tamarie!

I remember when OW Loeb began importing Château Yvonne, a producer in Parnay, overlooking the Loire half way between Saumur and where that river is joined by the Vienne, to the southeast. They produce stunning Chenin, and their Saumur Blanc 2016 has concentrated pear and quince flavour. Saumur-Champigny “La Folie” 2015 is quite purple, and has a concentrated cherry nose. The fruit on the palate is more brambly with a bit of bite, an excellent drinker.

Saumur-Champigny 2015 tout-court is more tannic. It’s a vin de garde with the richness of the vintage. In a period where there are now some star estates in the region whose wines have become hard to source, let alone afford, names like Yvonne (and indeed Antoine Sanzay) merit immediate attention.

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MAISON NICOLAS MORIN, Côte d’Or (Burgundy)

I mentioned the petnat of Nicolas Morin earlier, which I tasted last week. Yesterday I had the chance to try his negoce range. Morin is an ex-cooper, turned negociant, in Nuits-St-Georges. There are negoces aplenty these days, but Morin has carved a name for himself among aficionados for the obsessive nature of his winemaking philosophy. He lacks his own vines, so he can’t make the same wines every year, but there is a stylistic thread running through what he does produce.

Bourgogne Blanc 2016 has colour and richness not always found at this level, yet the finish has minerality as a nice contrast. It is a wine of ambition for a mere BB. The next three wines are reds, and all of them show more class than their appellation might suggest.

Santenay 2014 is fairly pale, and the fruit is smooth, but there’s grip on the finish. About 20-30% of the fruit is destemmed and it goes into 40% new oak. Hautes-Côtes de Nuits 2015 is darker, is all destemmed, and all sees new oak, not all that common to say the least for wines from the hills above the Côte. Bottled with minimal sulphur, the fruit is sweet on the nose, quite rich, but you can taste that it has had a little bit of whole berry fermentation to round it out.

The top red on show came from less fashionable Monthélie, too often forgotten by the Burgundy buffs (well, has anyone tasted Roulot’s Mothélie Blanc?). Monthélie 1er Cru “Les Riottes” 2016 is not cheap (£46), but it’s serious and becoming more complex. The fruit is great, but there’s a bit of added spice as well. One to keep a while, I think, but impressive…and I’d say that about all these wines. A genuine discovery in a region where you don’t expect to find a lot of new blood. The micro-negociants continue to come up with the goods.

There was one more wine from Nicolas Morin, a Vin de France sourced from the Rhône, Intrépide 2016. This has very plump Syrah and Grenache fruit, from Ventoux, with whole bunch vinification and bottled with low sulphur. It has a gorgeous bouquet and a savoury finish. Richer than you’d expect and quite big (14%). I preferred the Burgundy bottles, and loved the petnat, but I am still impressed by this red.

DAVID CHAPEL, Régnié

David Chapel is another coup for Uncharted, a man whose star has risen faster than anyone’s in the Beaujolais I can recall for a while, and we all know it’s a region packed with rising stars. I got to try the Juliènas Côte de Bessay 2017 twice in nine days and both times I was super impressed. It has a savoury side to it, and is a genuine terroir-defined parcel wine (from vines on pink granite, close to Saint-Amour). It is just the second vintage of the first wine David and partner Michele Smith-Chapel made. This also comes in magnums and double-magnums, for those after an impressive bottle.

Beaujolais-Villages 2016 is lighter, of course, but shows the fresh, smooth, fruit of the vintage, and it’s a few quid cheaper. David Chapel’s dad knew all the greats, and this is why David ended up working at Domaine Lapierre. The domaine is actually based in Régnié, and lucky for us, since 2017 they have managed to add three hectares in Chiroubles and Fleurie.

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Although everyone is talking about Domaine Chapel, Rupert has also got hold of more Beaujolais domaines: Thillardon, Saint-Cyr (as we saw in the keg section), Château Grand Pré, and Damien Coquelet, whose wines I also like. He was represented by another nice Beaujolais-Villages 2016 and a classic Morgon Côte du Py 2014. This is from a beautifully fresh and classic vintage. The Coquelet Py has a touch of the funkadelics, but it’s a biggish wine with fresh acidity. You could drink it now with food, thanks to this freshness, but it’s not going anywhere soon.

Moving South, the next truly impressive producer was Jean-Baptiste Souillard. I’d never tried his wines, though I was just beginning to see them on my radar. Seven wines were shown, starting with some single varietal Marsanne and Roussanne, but at the top of the range the class here became evident. Côte Rotie “Coteaux de Bassenon” 2016 was deep purple, dense, tannic, but the bouquet of violets was elegant and ethereal, pointing perhaps to this wine’s future. Cornas “Les Côtes” 2016 was once more very tannin-dominated, and needs a lot of time. But the rich fruit underneath was very impressive and will come out, with complexity, when the mask of oaky tannin slips. Not as difficult to taste as some young Cornas.

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A quick diversion is required before we leave France. I’ve seen bottles of Domaine du Petit Août before, but I can’t recall where [thank you Wink Lorch for reminding me when I tried this producer’s rare Espanenc]. Yann de Agostini started this domaine with two hectares of old vines in 2009, and in nearly a decade has increased his vines to six hectares, at Théüs, which overlooks the River Durance southeast of Gap, near the large Lac de Serre-Ponçon, in the southern region of the Hautes-Alpes.

“Sous le Fil” 2016 is a gorgeous, simple, white from Roussanne and Clairette, made with the freshness of vines grown at 600 metres altitude. “Le Poids du Superflu” 2016 is 100% Roussanne. The nose is exotic, the palate mineral and stony. Just 11.5% abv. Not fine wines but well worth trying if you see one on a wine list or on the shelf. I was quite taken with this pair.

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WESTWELL WINES, Kent

Westwell Wines is on chalk terroir on the south side of the North Downs, just north of Ashford in Kent, and close to the old Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury. There are around nine acres planted to the three classic Champagne varieties, along with four acres of Ortega. I’ve had a good taste already of some of that Ortega, because part of it went to Ben Walgate, for the Tillingham “Artego” cuvées.

Around 18 months ago the estate was taken over by former record company owner and music business figure, Adrian Pike, perhaps best known for founding the successful record label Moshi Moshi (that’s until you see him modelling a Throbbing Gristle t-shirt in the photo below…respect!).

I’ve already mentioned the “Pelegrim” English Sparkling Wine earlier in this article. I started off here with Adrian pouring me Westwell Ortega Classic Ferment 2016, a very nice wine with excellent freshness, but then Adrian was able to grab me a glass from keg of the 2017 Ortega, of which more is also about to go into bottle. This was very lively and vibrant, all aged in stainless steel. There are tropical notes, but grapefruit comes through on the finish. I must say I felt the 2017 is a step up.

Westwell Amphora 2017 was a sample, the wine will be available in November. It was fun to contrast this amphora-aged Ortega with Ben’s Tillingham Qvevri version. This is a bigger and more textured wine than the keg sample, but it is fresher, with less deep texture, than the qvevri wine from Tillingham. Adrian destemmed the grapes into steel vats but it unexpectedly began fermenting, so he left it on skins there for three weeks before pressing into amphora, where it spent eight months. It was bottled with just a tiny bit of sulphur. I’m certainly going to head out to visit Adrian some time. The wines are a great addition to the English artisan winemaking fraternity.

Adrian Pike sporting his fabulous TG t-shirt

SYBILLE KUNTZ, Lieser, Mosel

There are two women winemakers I really admire in Germany, Theresa Breuer and Sybille Kuntz. Sybille farms from the village of Lieser, and in fact shares the great Grand Cru Niederberg with Thomas Haag, of the Schloss.

An indication of the steely determination Sybille has to succeed lies in the story of how she opened a wine shop to help finance her studies in business administration. She effectively tasted half the stuff she was selling and thought “I can do better than this”. She can, but she is blessed with parcels on one of my favourite Mosel sites, the Niederberg, and some old vines to boot. She is certified fully biodynamic (since 2016) and has vegan certification too.

I tasted half-a-dozen wines, the Riesling QbA Trocken 2016 last week (off quartz and slate), and the following five wines yesterday. We begin at Kabinett Trocken 2015, a wine off blue slate which is richer than a Kab Trocken often appears, and it is lovely and long. Spätlese Trocken 2012 shows the soil really coming through, as does the intensity of 80-to-100-year-old vines from Niederberg. It has Spätlese richness without sweetness. It also comes, in this case, out of one of the world’s most elegant magnums.

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Dreistern Goldkapsel 2003 from Niederberg Helden is bottled with 14.5g r/s and 14% alcohol, and has genuine richness, but also a slatey mineral intensity. Fresh for a 2003 too, it oozes class. If that were not spectacular enough, Scharz 2007, is a parcel wine from that part of the Niederberg (Scharz is an old German word for slate), from 80-y-o vines. It is bottled with 25g/l residual sugar, but it also has a very definite savoury side. Auslese Feinherb 2011 is from the Helden parcel of the Niederberg, also farmed by Thomas Haag. It’s a steep slope (a 70% incline) requiring hard manual labour. Bottled with 50g/l residial sugar, it rewards the work with a deep richness, fabulous.

These are magnificent wines, and Sybille Kuntz is not sufficiently recognised as one of the great winemakers on the Mosel. Her wines are truly expressive of a special site, reflecting the terroir, but they also show great intensity and presence. They are among my personal favourites from the region.

Sybille Kuntz

Sybille’s husband, Markus Kuntz-Riedlin, took over his parents’ vines near Laufen, in Baden, in 2009, where he specialises in Spätburgunder. Sybille was showing his rosé (2016) and red (2014). The pink is very fruity with lively acidity, the red sees 15 months in old oak. It’s not as structured or big as some Baden reds, but it is savoury and has bite. These wines are not, for me, as truly exciting as Sybille’s wines, but they are still pretty good. The labels show a 1950s chalk crayon sketch by Adolf Riedlin.

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We now reach the last two producers who I must mention in more than just passing from yesterday’s tasting.

SUCCÉS VINICOLA, Conca de Barbera

This is a new estate in Conca de Barbera, the hard work of Albert Canela and Mariona Vendrell, who met at wine school and formed the domaine (and a more romantic partnership) from vines owned by Albert’s family in 2011, at only twenty years of age. It’s hard to believe this obviously still young, but highly engaging, couple (Mariona is the most chatty, perhaps with the best English) are making such super wines. They have since unearthed some very old and neglected parcels in the hills.

Experiència 2017 is 100% Parellada, a lovely sappy and juicy white, 50% direct press and 50% skin contact, but the real gems here come from a local grape I have written about elsewhere, Trepat. This was once a workhorse variety, and as I mentioned last week (Out The Box) in relation to Lectores Vini’s Pomagrana (from Modal Wines), around 1,500 hectares of Trepat are still planted, for fairly ordinary rosado wines. The grape, when handled carefully, can actually make a brilliant glouglou red in the old clarette style. La Cuca 2016 is just such a wine, deliciously fruity, crunchy, and just 12% abv.

What I didn’t expect was El Mentider 2016. This is a darker, more serious Trepat from a single vineyard, and vines aged between 80 to 118 years of age. Darker, with 14% alcohol, it has body and depth, and no rusticity at all. I was astonished by the quality, although I lost my heart to the lighter version, for sure. I truly wish these lovely young people every “Succés”.

Albert and Mariona and their wines

THE HERMIT RAM, Canterbury, New Zealand

Talking of losing one’s heart, I had waited a long time to try these wines, and only broke my duck last week. Everything that has been said about Theo Coles’ South Island estate is true. These are the most exciting wines from NZ I’ve tried since I tasted Kusuda and Bell Hill some many years ago now.

Yet again, I’m about to shoot myself in the foot. I never, ever, ask for free wine, but I do sometimes wish some importers would just keep aside the odd bottle for me to buy. If everyone who reads this buys just one bottle of Hermit Ram, there will be none left in the UK well before you are all done, and it would not be the first time I’ve plugged a wine/producer only to leave myself empty handed.

Field Blend Skin Fermented Rosé 2017 does what it says on the bottle, then more. Half the blend is Riesling, picked at spätlese ripeness. The rest is 35% Pinot Noir and 15% made up from Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon. Old oak, no sulphur, a textured and savoury pink with genuine personality.

Sauvignon Blanc 2017 also sees skin contact, and this really exemplifies why so many forward thinking producers are giving this technique a go with a grape that seems to turn off so many wine obsessives, or at least did until Abe Schoener gave us his cave-dwelling prince. It’s a gravel and limestone parcel which gives a wine that’s grassy-fresh and saline. The nose is unlike any NZSB you’ve smelt before. If I buy some of this it will be a NZSB first for well over a decade (though to be fair I did enjoy someone else’s Seresin SB last Christmas).

You know I love a wine which pokes people in the eye, and the next wine does just that. Before we saw the first acclaimed Sauvignons from New Zealand in the 1980s, the country was famous, or rather infamous, or maybe just not very well known at all, for dull Müller-Thurgau, vinified in their stainless steel dairy vats. Europe, mainly Germany and Austria, has seen something of a minor M-T revival, but this is the first NZer I’ve seen with the balls to highlight this grape. And you know what? It may just be my favourite wine from yesterday’s Hermit Ram offering for that reason.

Müller-Thurgau 2017 comes in at a low 9% alcohol, and sees three weeks on skins. No sulphur is added. The vines are a very old parcel. The skin contact seems to have given the wine an odd colour, almost pale caramel, which is immediately appealing to me, doubtless not to more conservative palates. The fruit smells sweet, with lovely high floral notes, but it’s another of those wines where you think you begin to pick up the texture through your sense of smell, even before sipping. There is a certain sour nature to the palate, which is not uncommon as a result of skin contact, but there’s characteristic freshness to balance it. Lovely juice.

Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2017 is truly lovely. 70% whole bunch fermentation, six weeks on skins, gentle handling into old oak, and just 20 ppm sulphur added to finish. 12.5% alcohol, great legs, a fragrant and fruity Pinot nose, what more do you need? I forgot “concentrated”. It’s very concentrated. And long.

Apparently Theo is sending us two single vineyard Pinots soon, which he describes as “more graceful and delicate”. How good will they be, for god’s sake, because this Whole Bunch job is good enough! Now I know who I’d like to spend my winter holiday working for. Shame all the NZ family is way up in Auckland.

Theo Coles of Hermit Ram

One final quick shout for Celler Frisach in Spain’s Terra Alta. Three producers get together to make some delicious wines, here represented by a 2017 rosado, made from skin contact Garnacha, Garnacha Blanca and Garnacha Gris, plus 3 Porcs, a golden Parellada, savoury, bready and really unusual (in a good way). Both were poured out of magnum, and although Louise Holstein of Uncharted got me to try them right at the end, they were really interesting and I hope to taste them at leisure another time.

I’ve been going through my notes, and there are a few more wines I’d love to write about. But I think I’ve exhausted myself, and very probably my readers. This won’t be the last time I get excited about Uncharted Wines, I am certain. Rupert, Louise, Angus and the team have made such a big splash and a spectacular start in the wine trade that I only hope they can continue with their current success.

 

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Out the Box 2018

September is a busy month for Tastings, so I apologise that this article is appearing, unusually, almost a week after the event. I’m covering five importers here: Maltby & GreekModal WinesThe Knotted Vine, Basket Press Wines and Red Squirrel Wine. I simply didn’t have time to get to Nekter Wines and Roland Wines. I did taste rather a lot of wine, and spent a long time, with Uncharted Wines, and perusing at my notes it looks as if I tasted rather more wines with Swig than I thought I had. But I’m off to their joint tasting in London tomorrow, so they will get a piece to themselves, a blend of the two events.

In his welcome to Out the Box 2018 David Knott (of The Knotted Vine) stated that he has one goal: “to bring together the most exciting group of young importers focused on importing minimal intervention wines in the UK…”. There is no doubt in my mind that he has succeeded. Out the Box is, for me, one of the most exciting Tastings now established on the London circuit. It contrasts with other similar Tastings in that pretty much every wine has some sort of individual personality, something to say for itself. The wines are not “safe” and none are boring, and I’m sure not all of the wines will appeal to all palates, but a wine that has little to say for itself here is a rarity.

In exploring the importers here you will doubtless come across wines you’d never think of trying. The advantage of attending is that you can explore some pretty obscure wine regions, and try some producers from more well known regions who you may never have come across. But in purchasing these wines from such a group of young importers you are also supporting the future of the wine trade, and supporting those who, in pushing the boundaries, are creating the mainstream of the future.

There have been people predicting wine trends for as long as there has been wine writing. I think that Out the Box is always one of the places to spot future trends, or certainly to have them confirmed. It’s not hard to see that the wines of Central Europe and The Balkans are making great strides, and at the very top of the pile for excitement I’d place Moravia in the Czech Republic, in whose wines Basket Press specialises. I’d also suggest that the time for Greek Wine to finally break through might finally come in 2019. We shall see.

South Africa, of course, continues to grow beyond expectations, finally, and Swig is right behind this groundswell, as also is Red Squirrel. It’s pretty clear that wine on tap is a big thing, largely the result of the catalyst effect of Uncharted Wines, but that will have to wait for my next article.

MALTBY & GREEK

Maltby & Greek has been going for about six years now, based originally in the wonderful market in Bermondsey’s Maltby Street (now in Arch 17 of the Apollo Business Park). They supply a wide range of Greek produce, including a good portfolio of Greek wines, of which just shy of forty were on show last week.

Douloufakis Winery Sparkling Vidiano 2017, Dafnes, Crete – Three sparklers were on show to kick things off, all good, and all of which I’ve tried before. My favourite, though I like this grape variety anyway, was this Cretan Vidiano. Very frothy, but underneath the intense mousse and bead there is bags of fruit and citrus flavour. Just a little complexity balances the freshness, but this is at its core a delicious thirst quencher.

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Other M&G highlights included reds from the Peloponnese and Tinos. Rouvalis Winery “Tsigello” 2017 is made from one of Greece’s finest red varieties, Mavrodaphne, in Aigion, in the far north of the Peloponnese, not far from that grape’s natural home of Patras. Tsigello is actually a top quality Mavrodaphne clone. It’s a dark wine, as Mavrodaphne habitually is, with 13% alcohol. It combines freshness, possibly a result of the vines being at 650 metres altitude, with lovely sweet fruit. It finishes with a touch of tannin and texture. Ageing is in a mix of French oak and amphora. Extremely good value at just under £10 to the trade, I thought.

Vapistis Winery “Vapistis Red” 2016 is an altogether more serious wine. The varietal mix is listed as Mavrothiriko (70%) and Mavrotragano (30%). It comes from Tinos, an island in the Cyclades, and it sees a 12-day maceration followed by six months on lees in stainless steel. Then it is allowed four months in bottle before release. The wine has a very moderate 11.5% abv, and I caught a bit of reduction on the nose. But this is really promising. The fruit in this ruby wine is really intense. Beneath the fruit is a spiciness, certainly nutmeg (I adore nutmeg), and the wine has a sweet and sour richness to the finish.

My favourite wine from M&G at this tasting comes from one of my two favourite Greek producers, Domaine Kalathas, also from Tinos (my other favourite is, for the record, Ktima Ligas). Domaine Kalathas “Sainte Obéissance” 2016 is an old vine Aspro Potamisi-Rozaki blend (indeed!). The Aspro Potamisi (80% of the final blend) is initially vinified in stainless steel, and then it sees “a refermentation and reduction of 10g of sugars the following spring”. Then, after malolactic, 20% of the same vintage’s Rozaki is blended in. It might sound complicated, but the intense nectarine bouquet and really fine fruit are all you need to fall in love with this. There’s a touch of salinity as well. Try it with a saffron monkfish stew with fennel and couscous. One of my wines of the day. #tinoseveryday!

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MODAL WINES

Nic Rizzi has built up a wonderful portfolio of “small-batch” (as he calls them) wines in a short time. None is more wonderful than the guys I headed here to taste, though I do somewhat shoot myself in the foot for plugging them – JoisephLuka Zeichmann only founded Joiseph a couple of vintages ago, at Jois near the top end of Austria’s Neusiedlersee in Burgenland. A young man, still well in his twenties, Luka is potentially a future star of the region.

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Nic Rizzi

Joiseph Mischkultur 2017 blends Grüner Veltliner, Traminer and Welschriesling and other varieties in tiny quantity. There is a little skin contact for some varieties, and it sees élevage in old oak. It’s a slightly cloudy wine but massively flavoursome.

Rosatant 2017 is a pure Blaufränkisch rosé. The fruit gets a six hour maceration for colour and then gets popped into just two 500 litre barrels. It’s a pale wine, very good fruit, lively, but with a lick of spice to add interest.

Roter Faden 2017 is Luka’s current red blend (I should say that he still only has around three hectares of vines) in 2017. Zweigelt (50%), Pinot Noir (30%) and Blaufränkisch (20%) gives a palish but bright wine, where the Zweigelt is given a ten day maceration (the rest just three days). The result is a fruity wine with a sour cherry finish.

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Very good indeed as all these three are (all bottles I’d go out of my way to buy), another of my wines of the day was Luka’s Tannenberg from the badly frost hit 2016 vintage. This 100% Zweigelt comes from the vineyard (sort of) depicted on all the Joiseph front labels (photo above). It’s Luka’s best parcel, on schist. Fifteen months in 225 litre oak after the grapes have undergone a light infusion on the skins, following destemming, gives a wine with a lifted, slatey, nose and bags of concentrated red fruits. There’s acidity to match. It’s a genuine terroir wine, but reflecting a cold vintage in its tight focus. Stunning!

Sadly only 300 bottles were made. Please save me one, Nic, or failing that, just save me anything from Joiseph.

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Modal Wines is not just Joiseph. Slobodne, from Hlohovec in Slovakia, is another of my favourie Modal producers. I recently drank their gorgeous Deviner (see here, in my review of Modal Wines at Plateau Brighton back in May). That wine was on show at Out the Box, but I’m going to mention two others here.

Jantara 2017 is a blend of 70% Pinot Gris with 30% Grüner Veltliner, where the former sees five weeks on skins, the latter variety two weeks. A mineral core is surrounded by savoury fruit. Rebela Rosa 2017 is a pinkish-orange colour, containing equal amounts of Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Sauvignon. It gets directly pressed and then sees eight months in vat. This is a fairly soft wine with a mineral grip and texture, and a 13% alcohol content which you don’t really register.

Finally from Modal, a wine from a producer I’d not tried before, Lectores Vini “Pomagrana” 2017. This comes from Conca de Barbera in Spain, and although there is 10% Grenache in here, the rest is made up from Trepat. Now Trepat is quite common in Conca de Barbera and neighbouring Costers del Segre, and there are still around 1,500 hectares planted. This is because it is used largely to make rosado wines. But one or two forward-thinking producers are starting to make promising reds.

Pomagrana sees a two-week maceration to gain more colour and some texture. The grapes are then pressed and returned to stainless steel. There’s no carbonic here. The fruit is a frankly delicious redcurrant, pomegranate and cranberry mix, with added spice. I’ve tried a few Trepat reds and I think this crunchy red fruit thing it has going for it will make it popular with anyone looking for this kind of style. A great wine for bar drinking.

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THE KNOTTED VINE

David Knott is passionate about his growers, but he’s also one of the most astute of the small importers. He’s got a number of really good European producers on his books, but perhaps he truly excels in picking out a small number of Australians who, when you try them, you wonder why no one has got there first.

It’s a close call but I am picking out here the producer I think just about tops the list. It is also a producer who does seem to be starting to get recognition this year (I keep seeing bottles in restaurants, if that’s anything to go by). Koerner is a Clare Valley producer run by brothers Damon and Jonathan Koerner. But their wines don’t necessarily fit the standard mould of the region. This is largely because I think they reject the idea that especially Clare white wine needs to age for a decade or so.

Koerner Watervale Riesling 2017 is therefore very different to the “Grosset” ideal. The skins macerate over night and then the juice is pressed, half to amphora and half to stainless steel. This is much richer and softer than anything you’ll have tried from the region, a wine full of new flavours and textures. Try it.

They produce a couple of Vermentino wines, differentiated by cuvée names which don’t necessarily reflect their styles. Pigato 2017 is another nicely rounded out wine, always slightly cloudy, richer and more textural than much of the Ligurian version, after which it is named, will be. It has three weeks fermenting on skins. Rolle 2017 is named after the Provençal version of Vermentino, which I usually find rounder and softer than the Ligurian. Here, we see a cuvée that is made by macerating the skins overnight and then it goes into big slavonian oak foudres. It has a certain Riesling quality and as much as I’ve enjoyed bottles of the Pigato, this is impressive.

La Corse 2017 is a mixture of Sangiovese, Malbec, Grenache and Sciaccarello, which sees two months in new oak and amphora. Quite inspired, this is a lifted, pale red with a fresh and slightly dusty nose. Picked early, it exudes freshness, and I think the Sangiovese fruit shines here.

The Clare 2017 nods towards Bordeaux, blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, with the (increasingly common) twist that it has ten months in amphora. There are intense fresh acids and dusty tannins again, a powerful wine in many ways, yet still light in others.

Nielluccio 2016 is a Clare Valley 100% Sangiovese this time. The cuvée name is inspired by Corsica, of course, and it does have a rugged quality. “Light and bright”, say my notes. Just chilled, this was delicious, showing good fruit but a bite on the finish.

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I wanted to try the wines of Noelia Ricci, having heard good things about them. The original Tenuta Pandolfa was created by  Noelia’s father, Giuseppe Ricci, who revived winemaking after the destruction of WW2. After he died in 1980, Noelia took over with a strong vision to make exciting wines. This Emilia Romagna estate is now in the hands of her granddaughter, Paola Piscopo.

Bro Bianco Forli 2017 is made from the humble Trebbiano grape. It’s clean, fresh and simple, a wine perhaps for simple pasta dishes such as ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and herbs. An unloved variety, but a nice wine.

Godenza 2015 is, despite some bottle age, still remarkably fruity. The fruit is super-concentrated, but it isn’t heavy, nor is it complex. It’s a very nice, slightly different, interpretation of Sangiovese. Both wines show a simple purity that is quite beguiling.

Also from Italy, but quite different, is Albino Rocca. This is a name you might know. They used to be imported by a bigger name agent, but they were dropped. Under biodynamic conversion, and with a real focus on quality at every level, the rejuvenated Albino Rocca has been snapped up by David Knott.

Langhe Chardonnay “da Bertu” 2017 was very good, in a fresh and lighter style with a medium body (for Chardonnay). Barbaresco 2015 is an ageable wine, palish (as I like my Nebbiolo), with a clearly defined varietal bouquet showing a nice, haunting, florality. It has a 2015’s body, with a touch of muscle and quite youthful tannins still.

Barbaresco Vigneto Ronchi 2009 is a single vineyard lying east of Pajé, on the border with Nieve. The vines are old here, between fifty and seventy years, on chalky clay. This is quite old school, bright in colour, concentrated and still young. This estate is one that perhaps would have been listed among the modernists in the 1980s, but the oak is being dialed back these days and, as biodynamic conversion illustrates, a far more thoughtful approach to viticulture is also being brought in. This 2009 could be drunk now, but it does have the potential to get even better. An estate on the way back to greatness?

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David Knott delves into the Iberian Peninsula a fair bit, and I was able to chat with one of his producers on the stand, Gorka Mauleon of El Mozo. This is a producer from Lanciego, in the Rioja Alavesa sub-region, the smallest of the three, just north of Logrono. They own some lovely old vines which the family planted in the 1930s. There are around nine hectares in total, spread over 18 plots, and Gorka calls the wines produced “microwines”. The project Gorka has embarked on since taking over is to make wholly natural wines with no added sulphur, and where possible using carbonic maceration to make vibrantly fruity wines.

Herrigoia 2017 contains both red and white varieties, very common at El Mozo, and traditional in Rioja Alavesa. In this case it is Tempranillo with Viura and Malvasia. It’s a fruity red in the aperitif style, very easy to drink.

El Cosmonauta is a wine you may have seen, the brightly coloured label (it comes in a number of different cuvées) depicting a cosmonaut spacewalking. This pale red is in the “clairette” style, and is based on the kind of wine Gorka’s grandfather, Teodoro, made. The grapes (Tempranillo, Garnacha, Viura, Malvasia and Torrontes) come from over 600 metres up Monte Viñaspre, just north of Lanciega. Pure glouglou, or whatever the Spanish/Basque equivalent is.

BASKET PRESS WINES

Czech Moravia has, for me, been my most exciting wine discovery of the past twelve or so months. I had no idea that such exciting quality wine was being made by artisan producers not all that far north of Vienna, over the border in the Czech Republic. And it’s not as if these wines have just started being made. The natural wine movement in Moravia has been going a good few years.

Jiri and Zainab of Basket Press Wines are not the only people importing from Moravia, but they are true specialists with deep, on the ground, knowledge. I first met them at Plateau (again) in Brighton, for a Tasting back in February, which you can read about here. These wines are seriously exciting and worth getting to know.

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Jiri

Ota Ševcik makes brilliant Frankovka, which is the Moravian name for the better known Austrian variety, Blaufränkisch. I’ve tried that before, and also his excellent Pinoty, but I very much wanted to try out his Neuburger. This is a 2015 wine made from a variety which is not considered very wonderful by more conservative Austrians (and doubtless Czechs as well), it’s a cross of Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner. Often criticised for being too full bodied, carefully nurtured it is capable of producing quite elegant dry whites. This version is soft, juicy and rounded with nice peppery notes. It does come in at 13.5%, though it’s far from ponderous.

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Richard Stávek is, since the mid-1990s, one of the first pioneers of natural wines in Moravia. His winemaking philosophy came from his whole attitude to mixed farming, pursuing a holistic approach to the wellbeing of his land and his animals. I think his field blend skin contact Špigle-Bočky is one of my favourite half-dozen Baskett Press wines, so here I will tell you about a new discovery for me, Divý Ryšak 2016. It is also a field blend which includes Grüner Veltliner and also the hybrid Isabella (cf a Proibida from the Azores Wine Company). There’s also some Blaufränkisch, St-Laurent and Blauer Portugieser in the mix.

This is beautiful. I’d call it a cross between a light red and an orange wine, initially showing a lovely lifted strawberry bouquet, with deeper mandarin, orange peel and spicy citrus on the palate. Spice kicks in on the finish. Mind blown! Want!

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Jaroslav Osička is another of the founding lights of Moravian natural wine, a former wine professor turned producer. In his case he looks the part with his grey hair and trimmed moustache.  He makes another of my favourites, Modry Portugal (the Czech name for the Blauer Portugieser variety), but here I’m picking out Tramin Ceverny 2015, made from Gewurztraminer. The variety is pretty obvious from the nose, so it’s floral with exotic fruits. An attractive wine, pure gold colour reflecting greenish glints, quite autumnal.

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Petr Koráb “Cremant” 2017 is actually a petillant naturel made from 100% Pinot Noir. I’d describe this as a winter sparkler, orange in colour tinged with red. It’s incredibly fresh, but with a warming bitterness. Unusual, yet very appealing.

I tried two wines I’d not remembered seeing before from Krásná Hora, based right near the Slovakian border close to Dolno Poddvorov. These five hectares were originally planted eight hundred years ago by Cistercian monks. Eschewing all synthetic products from the beginning, they are well on the way to being fully biodynamic now.

The specialities here are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Sekt Brut Natur Blanc de Pinot Noir 2016 is a delicious Sekt (I think Jiri also has some 2014 which I recall shows nice complexity on top of the freshness here). I was slightly reluctant to try Chardonnay 2016 at first. You see, it is supposedly the favourite wine of John Cleese who, having tried it in a restaurant, came back and bought it in large quantity. Despite its celeb endorsement, I was won over.

The wine is actually a blend, with (in this vintage) just 57% Chardonnay, along with 43% Pinot Blanc. Partially fermented in stainless steel, partially in open old oak vats, it is also aged in a steel and oak combination. There is smooth fruit with a slight plumpness (13% abv) and a fresh finish, very attractive and a wine with its own personality. Which obviously can also be said of John Cleese.

Petr Kočarík Hibernal 2015 is made from a Riesling x Seibel cross (Hibernal). After a year on lees in barrel it still has a very pretty nose, and it reminds me of the bouquet of some English white wines, with just a hint of grassy Sauvignon Blanc style, and an even fainter hint of grapefruit. The palate is very gooseberry, and it has a bit of melon and apple in there, plus some body too (13.5%).

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Jakub Novák is another name to look out for, as much as Joiseph, the Austrian producer at Modal Wines. One wine only was on show last week, I’m sure because Jakub’s production is equally tiny, and his wines hit the UK only intermittently. Muller Thurgau 2016 gets a day on skins and then is aged in 500 litre acacia barrels for eight months, on lees with occasional stirring. Fruity but intense is how I’d describe it, but one of the best Muller-Thurgau wines I’ve tried (and there are, as some of you will have discovered, a few very good ones these days).

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Magula Family Winery is not Czech, but Slovakian, based in Malokarpatská, or the Lower Carpathians to you and me. Frankovka Modrá 2014 (not 2015 as listed) is, as we have already learnt, Blaufränkisch. They make several cuvées with this variety, but this one is light-to-medium-bodied, quite pale and bright. The fruit is elevated on the nose, and it shows intensity on the palate, but not massive weight. There’s a nice bit of grip to ground it and give a little structure. Tasty stuff, basically.

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RED SQUIRREL WINE

You’ve had the Red Squirrel Portfolio tasting to digest recently (early September, see here if you missed it) but don’t worry. The RS folks have such a varied portfolio, of which I’ve extolled the virtues quite enough, that I can happily fill in on some wines here that have missed out on recent occasions.

The main producer I want to cover is South Africa’s De Kleine Wijn Koöp. The cooperative is based in Stellenbosch, but sources grapes from all over the country. This producer has always gone a little under my radar, though I’ve tried their wines before. What has grabbed my attention is that they are producing a couple of wines for their UK importer under the Eekhoring label…eekhoring means squirrel in Afrikaans.

Eekhoring Wit 2017 is a Swartland blend based on Chenin Blanc with other varieties (including Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Viura). It is deliciously simple, crisp and quite floral, but with a beeswax texture as well. Eekhoring Rooi 2018 (yes, 2018) throws together Cinsaut, Syrah and Pinotage. It was only bottled in august, and it is also lively and fruity with a bit of texture on the finish. Both wines are great fun, and they have a well designed label, which really should make this fly off any restaurant wine list.

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There’s a bit more seriousness to Kreatur “Die Synachin” 2017. More body, more weight, and more on the nose than the previous wine (flowery, with tea leaf aromas). It has pretty smooth dark fruit yet it’s grippy as well. The label depicts a fictitious composite creature which changes every vintage. Just 3,000 bottles made.

Ou Treffer 2017 is pure Cinsaut, a variety which has only come to the fore in terms of quality wine in recent years, formerly being consigned to the heap of “workhorse varieties”. The very best South African Cinsau[l]t is every bit as good as the much more trumpeted Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah, as the Sadie Family’s Pofadder attests. Open top fermenters and old oak is the regime here for a wine that is smooth, rounded, and like so much of the “new” South African Cinsaut, bears a passing resemblance to Pinot Noir for some reason. Just over 600 bottles of this were made, but the UK was lucky enough to receive 200 bottles. Snap ’em up.

Lke Ou TrefferKnapskêrel 2015 is a Stellenbosch wine, from the Polkadraai Hills to the west of the town. The wine is made, in this case, from Cabernet Franc and it’s a biodynamic wine, just 700 or so bottles with 200 in the UK (thankfully a little more abundant 1,200 bottles were made in 2016). The grapes are farmed by Johan Reyneke and Rosa Kruger, and see whole berry fermentation before ageing in 225-litre, third fill, oak for 18 months. This is like a very ripe Loire red, with a lovely lavender and violet bouquet framing raspberry and a little blackcurrant fruit. 13% alcohol, a juicy steak wine in my book.

The last KWK wine was the pure Cabernet Sauvignon Heimwee 2015 from Stellenbosch. It comes from the same block as the Cabernet Franc and is made in a similar style, quite intense but that fruit intensity is not drowned by oak.

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I was taken through the wines by Faan Rabie, a videographer and one of the co-op’s partners, whose detailed explanations were much appreciated. The wines are really good, and I’m not sure why I’d not really focused on them so much before.

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Faan Rabie with the Squirrel cuvées

Before finishing I must give a shout out for a few more producers I’ve missed out in previous pieces on Red Squirrel, and which I tasted last Tuesday. Château de Bel I have mentioned before, and have secretly been drinking their wines. But the one I’ve only had once before, as far as I recall, is Bel en Blanc. Like the red Cabernet Franc, this is a Non-vintage wine, a blend of vintages. It is also unusual in that the variety is Muscadelle, usually a real bit player in Bordeaux.

The nose is quite exotic. I get greengage, a touch of mown grass, and some tropical fruits. The palate combines those tropical fruits with a touch of nuttiness. Truly one of the most fascinating Bordeaux producers around, well out of the ordinary for the region. The Cazenave family farm at Arveyres, southwest of Libourne, but they also have vines in wider Saint-Emilion, plus a third of a hectare in Pomerol. One to explore if you haven’t already.

I spotted Tenuta di Angoris Schioppettino 2016 because I like the grape but rarely get to try one. This was very fruity with fresh acidity, plus a bit of brambly grip. Not a complex wine, but a nice red for autumn, and deceptively alcoholic (13.5%).

I have one or two Valdonica wines in my stash at home. This Tuscan producer has scored a spectacular coup by enticing Tim Manning, Sean O’Callaghan’s right hand man at Riecine when he was there, as head winemaker. I’ve bought several of Tim’s brilliant Vinochisti wines from Winemakers Club and they really are some of the most exciting wines in Tuscany. At Valdonica, Tim is ploughing a similar furrow.

Mersino 2015 is a beautiful Vermentino, for sure, but I slightly preferred Arnaio 2015 this time, which is a Sangiovese/Ciliegiola blend. It has an orange/brick tinge to the colour and a savoury nose. Juicily plump fruit has great acidity, making for a wine which is fresh and long. I have a bottle of this from the 2013 vintage which I shall open soon.

The last producer for this article is from a country that is all too unfashionable, but Red Squirrel has (if you count Azores Wine Company) managed to snag four really good new ones. Morgado do Quintão is in the Algarve, let’s face it, not Portugal’s most famous wine region. But not for Filipe Vasconcellos the school of bung ’em in rotting old oak for a decade and let them dry out good and proper. That’s not to say he’s a modernist. Actually, he wants to revive traditional varieties, and these are what he has planted alongside the vines his grandparents farmed sixty years ago.

The white 2017 here is made from the Crato Branco variety, and is a simple wine in some ways, yet that fantastic salinity gets to you as you sip on it. It’s oyster fresh. The 2017 red is a “clarette” style (paler red), made from Tinta Negra Mole. Be honest, who doesn’t want to try a Tinta Negra Mole these days, especially those of us who were assured by the Madeira buffs that the variety was a disgusting weed. Here, it makes a light wine which mixes red and darker fruits into something just a tiny bit exotic, finishing with crunchy acidity to refresh the palate. They say a rosé is coming soon.

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Out The Box really delivered, as I expected it would. It’s one of the best tastings of the year now, and the organisation is pretty good too. Make it a date for the diary in 2019.

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Downstairs at Eric’s (and Doug’s) Part 2 – Wines Under the Bonnet in the Basement at Terroirs

This is the second part of our Yazoo-themed coverage of the joint Tasting held by Otros Vinos (Part 1, here) and Wines Under the Bonnet. Whereas all Fernando’s wines are Spanish, the wines I picked out here are largely from France, with the interesting and fascinating exception of the Chilean producer at the end.

JEAN-PIERRE RIETSCH, MITTELBERGHEIM, ALSACE

I began with what I consider a bit of a coup for the WinesUTB boys, a producer who I visited last October, when he told me he didn’t currently have a UK importer. I doubt that Basile and Alex made the decision to visit J-P on the basis of my write-up, but you can read it here. Visit him they did, in December, and now the UK has access to a producer I consider right in the front rank in the region.

Jean-Pierre is what I (not he) would call a philosophical winemaker. I mean that he does seem to think deeply about what he is doing, and why, and he is keen to produce focused wines of great purity. He makes wines both with and without skin contact, and with and without added sulphur. I know one or two people who have issues with some of these sulphur-free wines, but not me. I’ve not yet had any wine from this producer showing the slightest fault, bar temporary, removable, reduction.

I didn’t taste all the wines, trying to recall what I’d tasted and bought when I visited, but there were some I’d not tasted in Mittelbergheim. One such wine was Blanc au Litre 2017. This is a gentil-style blend, 80% of which mixes Riesling and Sylvaner, along with 15% Auxerrois and 5% Gewurztraminer. It’s well priced for a litre, and is fruity with a touch of florality and a savoury edge. The Gewurz doesn’t come through more than a little and the Sylvaner and Riesling give acidity and freshness. Simple but great glugging for two people.

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Demoiselle 2016 is a wine I’m very much taken with. It’s a maceration Gewurztraminer (16 days on skins and then six months in tank). It comes off the argilo-calcaire soils of the Zotzenberg Grand Cru. Forget the Gewurztraminer flab effect, which has certainly turned me off this variety on many occasions, this is really focused. The florality of the bouquet is delicate, not over blown. Pale and fresh, with light acidity, it nevertheless finishes round and long. “Elegant” doesn’t often apply to this variety, but I think it does here.

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The next wine on the list was J-P’s Savagnin Rose Klevener de Heiligenstein 2016. Well, I drank this wine a couple of weeks ago so you’ll have to wait for my roundup of September wines (#theglouthatbindsus) to read about it. But as a teaser, my notes say “one of the wines of the year so far”…but then I do have strange tastes 😉 .

Rietsch bottles two versions of Pinot Noir. The first is the Rouge au Litre 2017, which is very pale, the way Alsace reds used to look. But it doesn’t taste like they used to. It undergoes a 22-day carbonic maceration and then sees six months in cuve. It was bottled with a moderate 12.5% alcohol and no added sulphur. Its light sour cherry fruit is balanced by the right amount of fresh acidity, very well judged, to create another great wine for knocking back.

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Some people say that Jean-Pierre makes one of the best Pinot Noirs in Alsace. This was only the second time I’d tried his Alsace Pinot Noir, although I’m very lucky – it was sold out at the domaine but Jean-Pierre let me have one out of his own stash. But that is a 2016. This is the 2017 vintage, which had a 16-day carbonic of grappes entières followed by six months in cuve. It has an extra half-degree of alcohol over the red litre, and again, no added sulphur.

This has a pale garnet colour, very vibrant, but not as pale as the litre (see photo). The bouquet is sweeter cherry, and whilst it is still very fruity, and quite lively, it has more presence than that wine. It’s made entirely from Mittelbergheim grapes.

 

LA DERNIERE GOUTTE, CYRILLE VUILLOD, VAUX-EN-BEAUJOLAIS

Cyrille Vuillod is a name I’d never come across before. He farms 4.5 hectares around Brouilly, and is also new to WinesUTB, who more or less came across him accidentally. He’s apparently around forty years of age, from the Alps, a former ski instructor who discovered wine when first picking for, and then working with, the Lapalu family. He’s been going on his own for three-to-four years. All the wines are bottled as Vins de France, with no AOP applied for.

Tisane de Bois Tordu XVI Vieilles Vignes (effectively 2016) comes from 80-year-old vines. The grapes undergo a three week carbonic maceration before going into concrete tank. It has amazing colour, and the nose has that slightly dusty, almost textured quality which you often get from cement. On the palate the fruit is amazing, really zippy and alive.

Tisane de Bois Tordu is a 2017 cuvée made from earlier ripening plots. It’s also incredibly fruity, if with a little less depth than the Vieilles Vignes. La Baleine Ivre is another 2017 bottling, which in fact was the first of these wines I tasted. A great start, it sees an eight-day whole bunch maceration and has exciting (not just nice or lovely) fruit.

Sang Neuf (2017) is made in a concrete egg. It retains the signature zippy fruit that seems to be Cyrille’s calling card, but definitely has an extra dimension. Delicious. That would have been a good enough place to end, but there was still Dolia (2016) to try. Every individual berry for this cuvée is hand-destemmed. I know how that must feel, having hand-destemmed the fruit for just five litres of juice a couple of weeks ago.

The pampered berries get a whole-grape maceration in amphora for 50 days, are then pressed, and go back into amphora. There’s a sort of CO2 zip to the fruit, which is big and rounded, but the wine has plenty of texture as well. You might think that an amphora Gamay off granite might not taste like your normal Beaujolais, and you’d be right. This is an astonishing wine, but it might scare some people as much as it would excite others.

On the basis of what I tasted I think this is a real find for WinesUTB, although the fresher bottles did taste more lively than those which were down to the last couple of centimetres.

 

LANDRON CHARTIER, BEN AND BERNARD LANDRON, LIGNE, NANTES

Basile comes from the Muscadet Region, and so there is a sort of Loire focus within the Wines Under the Bonnet List. Bernard Landron moved northeast of Nantes in 2002 when he stopped working with brother Jo, and bought 20 hectares of vines in the Ancenis region. His son, Benôit, did his travels abroad before coming back to join and then take over from his father.

I tasted one wine from this exciting venture, a wine which has already had a bit of social media coverage, Naturlich Petnat Rouge 2017. It’s one of several exciting sparkling Gamays to emerge from the natural wine movement, and it’s really grapey, and “winey”. This was initially tasted from a flat bottle, almost empty, but a second bottle opened for me had great bubbles and a frothy head, wonderful. In fact, in that context, I’d suggest that this wine is amazing. It has no added sulphur, and was machine disgorged, but it’s a relatively cheap sparkler made for fun drinking, not cellaring. Just dry and fruity. I think there’s a bit of Folle Blanche blended in with the Gamay. Go (Gamay Go) for it!

 

DOMAINE DES COGNETTES, VINCENT & STEPHANE PERRAUD, CLISSON, NANTES

This is a domaine run by two brothers in the southeastern sector of the Muscadet region, about 15 to 20 kilometres outside Nantes. Eguor is an amphora wine, blending Pinot Noir with Gamay and Cabernet Franc. Some whole Cabernet Franc berries are added in to the fermentation at the end.

Twelve months in amphora rounds out a very interesting red wine which is not quite what you’d expect from the region. It has a lovely savoury quality with texture, but fruit too.

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MELANIE HUNIN & AYMERIC HILLAIRE, LE-PUY-NOTRE-DAME, SAUMUR

Domaine Mélaric is a compound of its owners’ first names. Their 4.5 ha of 50-year-old vines are on the steep chalky hillsides near their base at the Château de Baugé, not far from the impressive Château de Montreuil-Bellay, in the far southwest of the appellation.

Saumur Clos de la Cerisaie Blanc 2015 is a lovely “natural” Chenin Blanc. The nose is fresh, but then savoury notes follow, and it has old vine depth. A very tiny bit of volatility helps lift and freshen it. “Volatile” will signal a fault to many, and some people are massively sensitive (philosophically as well as in terms of their senses) to volatility. But many argue that a tiny bit can add character and personality. It’s all about degree. It works here, for me, for sure. I like the leanness as well. You might wonder where I’m going with all these potential negatives, but the wine is just really good. Not the same old same old.

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CHATEAU BAROUILLET, VINCENT ALEXIS, POMPORT, BERGERAC

You drink nothing from Bergerac for years and then several come along in quick succession. Eight generations of the Alexis family have farmed this large Bergerac estate, based south of the town within the Monbazillac zone (they also make a sweet Monbazillac), but they also have vines up in Pécharment, to the immediate east of Bergerac, too.  Vincent only joined the family operation in 2010, and began releasing domaine bottled organic cuvées in 2012.

Vincent is in his early forties. He got into wine working in London, allegedly for the Nicolas chain, and got into natural wine totally by accident, without knowing this was what he was enjoying. He was originally going to go to work in Chile but ended up staying at home, and he intends slowly to change the direction of the family estate.

Bergerac Rouge 2017 is a blend of four out of five Bordeaux red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. In my humble opinion this is just the kind of wine the Bordelais should be thinking of putting out. The fruit is fairly lightly extracted, and the cuvée sees only stainless steel, no oak. It has all those classic flavours of a balanced Bordeaux blend without the encumbrance of over extraction, over cropping and over oaking. This is just simple, pleasurable wine.

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ROBERTO HENRIQUEZ, NACIMENTO, BIO-BIO, CHILE

Roberto trained as an agronomist and oenologist in his native Chile, worked for a few commercial wineries, and then headed off to Canada and South Africa, before a stint in the Loire turned his mind and palate towards a more natural approach. He now farms (since only 2015) 6 ha in the up-and-coming Bio-Bio Valley (only three hectares of which he owns). After trying the stunning Argentinian wines of Pol Opuesta a week or so ago, this is yet another revelatory South American producer, wholly new to me.

Rivera del Notro White 2017 is a blend of Moscato, Semillon and Corinto, the latter being the same variety as Chasselas. The grapes originally rocked up in Chile from the Canaries and the resulting wine here is exciting stuff. It undergoes a gentle maceration giving a wine which is almost smoky rather than fruity, on the right side of unusual.

Rivera del Notro Red 2017 is made from Pais. Basile drew my attention to a Decanter Article (current edition) which covers the Criolla varieties. I wasn’t aware that this term covers a list of grapes (not just one variety) which came to South America with the Spanish invaders in the 16th Century. Many of these vines arrived from the Canary Isles, or occasionally from the Azores.

Pais used to be Chile’s most planted variety, even up until this century, but in the past eighteen years it has been supplanted by Cabernet Sauvignon. It was especially found down south, in Bio-Bio (and Maule, and the Itata River regions). A thin-skinned grape with low acidity, it was usually over cropped and over extracted to make a thin jug wine. Recently, pioneers have discovered that as with so many disliked varieties, if you keep yields low you can work wonders. Another bonus is that the vineyards up here have often seen no chemicals put on the soils, ever. What is more, many of the vines are really old, some over 200 years. This gives some special plant material to convert into wine.

So, this particular cuvée comes from grapes Roberto buys from friends, off alluvial soils washed down from the Andes. Hand destemmed (very traditional, part of an historic range of winemaking practices called pipenos), the grapes see an eight day maceration and ageing in stainless steel. Every stage sees the material worked lightly and the result is a wine with surprisingly rounded deep cherry fruit and just a little grip, with a hint of beetroot on the nose. Any hint of rusticity is avoided. Tasty and sappy.

Santa Cruz de Coya 2017 is also made from Pais. This is from Roberto’s own vines, three hectares at 350 metres. This is one of those 200-year-old plots I mentioned, all on granite, forgotten and never grubbed up or grafted over. The vinification begins as with the previous wine, but this one goes into new oak (although Roberto plans to put some of this cuvée into amphora as soon as he can afford to buy some). This is wonderful stuff, very pure, and almost certainly the best Pais I’ve ever tasted.

Roberto has gone from someone who learned to make commercial wine to someone with a real interest in keeping historic vines alive, and keeping historic winemaking traditions going. He deserves our support. His wines merit it.

 

 

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Downstairs at Eric’s (and Doug’s) Part 1 – Otros Vinos in the Basement at Terroirs

September is Tastings Month. There are several events almost every day, so it’s impossible to get to them all. It’s also impossible to keep up my usual timely posts, splitting writing with sipping wine all day. For those who have asked, this two-parter will cover the event at Terroirs on Monday. Part 1 for Otros Vinos and Part 2 for Wines Under the Bonnet. Then I’ll begin work on Tuesday’s Out the Box Tasting in Shoreditch, but I might leave out Uncharted Wines and Swig. You see, they have a joint Tasting in Soho next week and I may well cover both events in relation to those two importers in one article. I must say that there were some astonishingly good wines at Out the Box, and my introduction to Uncharted’s portfolio (I already knew Rupert) was mindblowing.

I have written about Otros Vinos several times before, but for anyone who hasn’t already come across them, Fernando brings in a small but wild and wonderful selection from across Spain, working with winemakers who occupy the fringes, usually in terms of winemaking, but often in terms of location too. His list contains some of Spain’s least known stars, some young and some not so young. Here, I’ll mainly look at a few new wines, but I can’t resist commenting on one or two favourites as well. If his wines appeal, search my site for more notes. A selection can be had at Furanxo, the Spanish grocer’s/bar on Dalston Lane in London.

The title? Excuse my music obsession. Upstairs at Eric’s was the 1982 debut album by Yazoo on Mute Records. Eric and Doug are the guys behind Les Caves de Pyrene, who own Terroirs Wine Bar. But you knew that…

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Ancestral, Fuente Guijarro, 2017 – Fuente Guijarro is a producer based within the boundaries of the Sierra Nevada National Park in Andalucia. Their location means that they are not allowed to use any machinery in their viticulture, so they harvest in the cool of night using horses to transport the grapes. When your vineyards are at 2,000 metres altitude this is no mean feat.

Although the days can be hot, it doesn’t take a genius to work out the kind of wine you can make with the enormous diurnal temperature shifts they get. This is an ancestral method bottle-fermented sparkler which sits on its lees and is disgorged, in the spring following the harvest. It’s uncomplicated, but also focused, and immensely zippy and fresh. I loved it.

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Atardecer en el Patio, Vinos el Patio, 2017 – This is another sparkling wine fresh on our shores from the current vintage. Samuel Canos farms a relatively large 35 hectares of vines in La Mancha, but he sells 90% of his grapes to the co-op and keeps back just 10% for his own interesting projects. I say interesting, all the vines are sprayed with cow’s milk against fungal diseases (I guess that may make them not vegan?), and every wine Samuel makes is aged in square containers. It’s his thing.

Before you decide this guy’s a nut job, try this amazing wine. The colour is a wild pink. The grape, Tinto Velasco, is pretty exciting. Once, it had a good reputation in the region, but as is always the way, it is now down to fewer than 50 hectares planted anywhere. He harvests twice, in August for this rosado, and then in October to make a red from the same vines. This sees whole bunch fermentation, followed by direct press into stainless steel, kept at 7 Degrees. It is bottled with a little residual sugar.

It’s very fruity, but with a kind of tea leaf note on the finish, adding an unusual savoury touch to the sweet fruit. Pretty delicious, less delicate than you might think, but very nice. For me, an aperitif or refresher, but at 13% perhaps not one for breakfast.

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Monteplas, Marenas, 2017 – José Miguel Márquez is a young grower starting out in the Montilla Region, better known for its wines made in a similar (but not identical) way to Sherry. This is hot country, where summer temperatures can reach up to 50 Degrees, though the sea does provide some cooling breezes. This is another region where harvesting is done at night…a 2 a.m. start for José Miguel.

“Monteplas” is the wine and the subtly different “Montepilas” is the white grape variety. Seven-hundred vines are planted at Cerro Encinas, at 350 metres altitude, all hand grafted. The wine itself is subtly different too. A very natural wine which despite being close to the edge in some respects, has a genuine purity and life to it. Herby and nutty, but still fresh.

Blanco de Negra, Viña Enebro, 2017 – This is an estate at Bullas in Murcia, with around seven hectares under vine on sand and clay with a high lime content. Bullas has very low rainfall, creating serious vine stress, but the young Juan Pascual López Céspedes seems to enable them to thrive, along with apricots, figs, olives, almonds and peaches.

Speaking of peaches, this wine has a slightly sour stone fruit palate. As the name suggests, it’s a white wine from red grapes, in this case the rare, indigenous, Forcallat which has the benefit of being a drought resistant variety (how nature adapts if left to its own devices). Whole bunch, then direct press, no sulphur. Another “just fermented grape juice” operator.

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Metamorphika Sumoll Blanc Brisat, Costador Terroirs Mediterrani, 2016 – This has been one of my favourite Otros Vinos estates since I first came across Fernando’s portfolio two or three years ago. The Brisat (skin contact) wines are bottled in wonderful terracotta flasks, similar to those used by Sepp and Maria Muster in Austria for their skin contact cuvées. Winemaker Joan Franquet says he wants to sell the wines in the same material as they were made in.

Costador is based in Conca de Barberà, in Tarragona Province, high up on limestone hills, inland, above the Mediterranean, where incidentally Torres makes its Milmanda Chardonnay. The Costador vines lie between 400 and 800 metres altitude. Sumoll, which is best known in its red form, also appears as a rare white variety, which lends itself perfectly to skin contact, rather like the Ribolla/Rebula variety of Italian Friuli and Slovenia.

This has a nose to die for, amazing. It has the soft texture of clay which just smothers your smell receptors, and it does the same on the palate. If you like skin contact/orange wines, try it. There’s lots of texture, for sure, but the fruit is rounded and not lacking in freshness. This is the new vintage of this cuvée, just arrived.

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Metamorphika Sumoll Amfora, Costador Terroirs Mediterrani 2015 – This is the red cousin of the wine above. The mountain vineyards ameliorate the heat and so the grapes are picked fresh. They spend around six weeks or so in clay amphorae for fermentation, and are then transferred to clay tinajas for ageing.

The bouquet here is quite different in style to the white Sumoll. The fruit has an intense sweetness on the nose, and the concentration is reflected on the palate. You get texture, but maybe less than you might expect. This could be down to that beautiful fruit intensity. It finishes dry, and very long. It’s a wine I find too hard to spit, and if you read this, Fernando, I must get a bottle somehow. I was sorely jealous of the guy I saw leaving with one.

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Iradei, Cauzón, 2017 – If a few of the winemakers here are very young, that cannot be said of Ramon Saavedra Saavedra. After a career as a well known chef at Can Roca, on the Costa Brava, he returned to his family village, Graena, on the north side of the Sierra Nevada to make wine from vineyards at over 1,000 metres altitude, in some of the most hostile terrain in Spain. The red sandy loam soils are baked dry in summer, but in winter are often covered in snow.

Saavedra is perhaps something of a magician. All his wines taste magical, anyway. They seem to combine initial simplicity with something much more, that you often notice on second or third sniff or sip. Iradei begins with a high register bramble nose, from darkish vibrant fruit. In this case, you begin to notice the interesting bitter streak later…it’s initially covered by the fruit.

There are no tricks, and nothing obscure. The oldest, ungrafted, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon planted on Ramón’s six hectares go into this. The concentration comes from ridiculously low yields. This is the first year he has used only stainless steel for this bottling, and whether or not this, or the vintage, is the cause, the wine does seem to have greater freshness. I don’t think the Cauzón wines hang around, on the shelf or in the rack, but Iradei is a cuvée that should age.

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Cabernet Amfora, Clot de les Soleres, 2014 – Carles and Montse Ferrer make wine on the edge of the Vals de L’Anoia, not far from Barcelona. Their range is quite eclectic, and I’ve drunk their petnats quite a lot over the past two years. This wine is an unusual iteration of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is actually fermented in stainless steel before going into amphora to age for a little over a year (13 months).

I last drank the 2015 version, which at 14% had a degree more alcohol, and I found this 2014 a little more balanced. It’s almost a black wine, and very clearly Cabernet Sauvignon. It tastes at first like a modern Cab, with concentrated blackcurrant fruit, enormous fruit in fact. But the fruit is allied to the texture given by the amphora, and the one can take the other. I’d really love to know what people who buy Californian Cabernet think of it? Impressive stuff.

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Alpine Wines at SITT

SITT is the Specialist Importers Trade Tasting which groups together a number of both large and small wine importers who seem mostly to fall outside of the regular London circuit. Just under forty importers were grouped together at the Honorable Artillery Company barracks on City Road in London on Monday. I made this my first port of call simply to taste what Alpine Wines were showing, but I ended up tasting a few Bordeaux as well.

As you know, I count myself lucky to be independent and able to choose what I write about. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t take the opportunity to say what I like over and over again. I buy far less wine than I’d like to from Alpine Wines, but I think their range is one of the UK Trade’s best kept secrets. I discovered them for their Swiss wines, and in fact as far as I know they are the only specialist Swiss importer in the country. I also think their Austrian wines are worth exploring, and as the wines shown here prove, they have diversified into other parts of the Alps (and fringes) with some success as well.

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Robb Nebbe and Joelle Nebbe-Mornod of Alpine Wines

Ten wines were shown on Monday: five Swiss, two Austrians, two Italians and one from France. This is but a tiny snapshot of the Alpine Wines portfolio and, as this event is often seen mainly as a way in to the restaurant trade, the wines shown were (on the whole) towards the entry level (most of these wines sell to the trade at around £10 or just over, with three exceptions, the last two wines being closer to the £25-£30 price point).

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Domaine de Montmollin Chasselas Non-Filtré 2016, Neuchâtel, Switzerland – This is a style of wine that was once just released early as a sort of late primeur, in January, but has been so successful it is now available all year round. It’s in no way a complex wine, but it is fresh and has punch. The palate is lively with a bit of stone fruit and a herby bitterness on the finish.

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Cave de la Côte Uvavins Doral Expression 2016, Vaud, Switzerland – Uvavins is the large co-operative which dominates this part of Lake Geneva’s north shore. It’s massive by Swiss standards, but as with other Swiss co-operatives (Cave de Genève, for example), you’d be surprised at the quality of wines at all levels.

Doral is a grape variety which seems to combine the fresh minerality of Chasselas with a more aromatic quality which some liken to Chardonnay, although apricot notes are quite common (Doral can be used for sweet wines to good effect). This wine is on the light and fresh side, with that mineral texture.

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Provins Petite Arvine Grand Métral 2016, Valais, Switzerland – Provins is also a co-operative, this time from the Valais Region. Provins is in fact the largest wine producer in the country, based in Sion, and if I say that this was one of my favourite wines tasted you might want me to justify that.

First of all, I think that Petite Arvine is the most interesting of Switzerland’s autochthonous white grape varieties. Secondly, there are thousands of smallholders in the Valais, and Provins takes grapes from 3,300 of them. Their oenological team needs to be very strong to turn the produce of all of these growers, many just weekend farmers, into wine that will satisfy the very exacting standards required by their Swiss customers.

This is actually really lovely entry level Petite Arvine and a good place to come to try the variety. It doesn’t have the genuine complexity of versions produced by the top individual growers, such as the highly ageable wines of Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, but aged in stainless steel on its lees it does show what the variety is made of. Fresh, a little texture, a wine for seafood or oysters. There’s a lovely touch of characteristic salinity on the finish.

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Weingut Waldschütz Riesling Classic, Kamptal, Austria – Anton and Elfriede Waldschütz are based in Sachsendorf in Wagram, but also have vines in neighbouring Kamptal. They farm around 16 hectares, mostly on sandy loam and loess. Their son, Ralph has joined the business, and looks like taking the domaine to another level.

The entry level Kamptal Riesling is pale with genuine Riesling character and definition on the nose. There is perhaps a touch of stony pear fruit on the palate, and this is another wine with a bit of a saline lick on the finish. Very clean but not lacking character.

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Mamete Prevostini Nebbiolo Botonero 2017, Valtellina, Italy – Alpine Wines describe the Valtellina as the most Swiss valley in Italy, and to an extent they are right. It certainly exudes Alpine charm, although the region’s main grape is the very Italian Nebbiolo. Sales in Switzerland, just over the border, are so high that relatively little Valtellina wine travels outside of the wider region. We get to know the famous producers in the UK, but their wines tend to be for long ageing, whereas the wine tasted here is more accessible in its youth.

Mamete Prevostini began making wine to serve in his restaurant in the early Twentieth Century, and his grandson (also called Mamete) took over here in 1995. This wine is actually made from grapes grown just outside the DOC and is bottled as an IGT wine. It is pretty fruity for Nebbiolo, yet the nose does easily give the variety away. You do get a little tannin here but it merely underpins the fruit. Tasty.

So far so “what’s the big deal”? Well, Mamete’s top Valtellina Cru, Inferno Superiore, won a Platinum Medal/Best in Show Award at the Decanter World wine Awards 2018. So if you want an affordable entry to this up-and-coming producer, try this.

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Cave de la Côte Uvavins Pinot Noir Suisse Vin de Pays 2015, Switzerland – This is another wine from Uvavins, one that may not appeal to the private customer so much, but if you want a Swiss wine on your restaurant list, it might. The grapes here are actually sourced from all over Switzerland, depending on the vintage.

This 2015 contains grapes from Pinot specialist Graubunden in Eastern Switzerland, but also from La Côte in the Vaud, and from the Valais. It has a nicely lifted cherry fruit bouquet, rounded and smooth on the palate, finishing with a bit of bite and grip. If you want a handle on Swiss Pinot in its simplest form, this is a good, well made, example.

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Kellerei Kurtatsch Lagrein DOC, Alto Adige, Italy – Kellerei Kurtatsch (Cantina Cortaccia in Italian) is one of the smaller Alto Adige co-ops, here with vines between 200 to as high as 900 metres on the sunny plateau and hillsides which overlook the Etsch Valley.

This is a lovely deep purple and the nose is quite intense, a deep and dark scented black and red fruit combination. The palate is densely concentrated, but this is not a heavy wine even with 13% abv. The brambly finish is refreshing, complemented by a little tannin. Very enjoyable, as well as being a grape variety which deserves to be better known.

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Domaine de la Croix Barraud Chénas Vieilles Vignes Cuvée Prestige 2014 – Alpine Wines moved into Beaujolais a few years ago. “Alpine” is stretching it a bit, but the region has granite hills and it is sort of in the right direction, so we can allow them a bit of leeway.  I’ve never tried the wines from this producer, but I am enjoying the 2014 vintage generally at the moment, a vintage which I find far more typical than the rich, and often alcoholic, 2015s.

This is a lovely mid-purple wine from Franck Bessone, and the cherry nose has obviously mellowed now, but there is a nice floral note which was described to me as peony, not that this is a scent I can readily summon to mind. The palate has a little spice. There is actually a little tannin left as well, and this Beaujolais Cru is definitely a food wine (a plain steak or perhaps with a harder cheese). Old vines off highly decomposed granite suggests that it will last a while, and it does seem to me a genuine terroir wine.

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Domaine des Muses Cornalin Tradition 2013, Valais, Switzerland – If Petite Arvine wins out as Switzerland’s finest indigenous white variety, then Cornalin may well fit the bill for her finest red (though some Humagne producers may beg to differ).

Domaine des Muses is based in Sierre, in the heart of the Valais, where the River Rhône passes southwest towards Martigny, before it turns north towards Lac Léman. Robert Taramarcaz (the “az” is not pronounced locally) took over here in 2002 after training in Dijon, and almost immediately became one of the most “awarded” and highly regarded young winemakers in the whole country.

The Cornalin is the product of the special climate here, one either in the grip of the warm Foehn,or the cold Bise, winds. They make for healthy vines and when you add in the passion of the winemaker you have a recipe for something special. The nose has a meaty touch, and also an elegant floral note, and the two combine surprisingly well. The palate is tannic, even for a 2013, but it is beginning to drink well with intense sweet cherry combining with fresh red fruit notes. It comes in with 13.5% abv.

This is a wine of character, and Robert is without doubt a winemaker to watch. As the big names (Chappaz, Gantenbein, Mercier etc) become all too unaffordable, this is a young man to watch.

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Gunter and Regina Triebaumer Blaufränkisch Reserve 2014, Burgenland, Austria – These are what some people call “the other Triebaumers”, less famous than Ernst, perhaps, but their reputation is building. They are (like Ernst Triebaumer) based in Rust, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee. They have around 25 hectares of vines over 45 different parcels, with eight hectares of their signature Blaufränkisch.

This estate produces a lovely cherry scented entry level version of Blaufränkisch, but this is the Reserve wine, which is altogether more serious. The bouquet is lifted spicy cherry, and spice is a theme of this wine. 2014 was not considered the finest year in Burgenland, and so the Triebaumers didn’t make their single vineyard wines (their Oberer Wald off chalk is famous in Austria). All the best fruit (from both chalk and limestone sites) went into the Reserve, and as a consequence this is a very fine wine with some ageing potential. I can say that this is the best Reserve Blaufränkisch of theirs I have tried. Concentrated and savoury with spice to the fore. 14.5% abv, but still with freshness, which I think totally disguises the alcohol here. Very good indeed.

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PLANETE BORDEAUX

This table focused on Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, the unsung part of the vast Bordeaux vignoble.

 

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Why here, you may ask, as I’m not known for drinking gallons of Bordeaux. Actually, I do own a small but well formed collection of Bordeaux, and I do wonder whether it doesn’t get drunk so much because I baulk at the price of those bottles of cru classé now.

But Bordeaux isn’t just the 1855 Classification, which is just a tiny part of the region’s production. If Bordeaux is to regain its position in the hearts of younger drinkers, it is these simpler wines, rather than the very fine wine only now available to wealthy collectors, which need to excel.

So what did I try? Four white wines, all Sauvignon/Semillon blends, were attractive and fresh but not simplistic. I remember when there was a vogue for single varietal Sauvignon Blanc in the region, with pretty tasteless wines often coming out of the Entre-Deux-Mers. What they had going for them was a cleanness which was not always there before the mid-1980s. I think Semillon (and indeed Muscadelle, where it is used) adds a little depth and interest.

The first wine was my favourite, but was also the most expensive, at £16.99 (prices to trade), Domaines Martin, Bordeaux de Gloria 2016. It had a bit of colour to it, and although made by the large negociant, SOVEX, it was a nice new direction. Just more presence and fruit along with the freshness.

Château Vircoulon Nektart Bordeaux Supérieur 2015 is a wine that would probably have its appeal enhanced by its attractive label, designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. There is a touch of 2015 richness here. By way of contrast, Château Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux 2017 had the freshness of this most recent vintage. I think that White Bordeaux is ripe for a surge in interest. Finding whites of character here is becoming increasingly less difficult.

I also liked Château Jean Faux “Les Pins Francs” 2016. Its rather traditional label is attractive, but I do wish that Bordeaux would appear less conservative and appeal to a younger audience. Labels don’t make a wine, but they can do a lot to grab our attention, as the label immediately below does. Perhaps. It’s not perfect, but tell me which one your average 25-year-old from a non-wine background would be drawn to.

I also tasted a couple of reds. I don’t need to tell my regular readers what a difficult sell Red Bordeaux at this level is in the more exciting and contemporary part of the London restaurant scene, so this is where we need to see well priced wines, with good fruit, using the classic Bordeaux varieties to best advantage. Past problems would probably best be described by dilute wines (over-cropping) with stalky notes (over-extraction or stalks and pips). Trading on the Bordeaux name may be okay for some markets, but the UK has matured.

The reds I tasted here were free from any such problems. I’d probably single out a couple of wines. From the rich 2015 vintage Château de Beauregard-Ducourt 2015 was straight and juicy with a nice grip, not too hard. I thought it was a good example of what I was looking for, though again, the rather conservative label will appeal less to younger drinkers.

Château de Parenchère Cuvée Raphael 2016 comes from a large 67 hectare vineyard on clay-limestone. This is their top cuvée from older vine plots (from 40-years-old upwards) at Ligueux, north of Duras. The grape blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, so a lower Merlot to Cabernet ratio than most wines in the wider Bordeaux region. Nicely dense, the tannins are smooth and don’t smother the fruit.

This is a more ageable petit-château wine than the previous red. It will probably benefit from a decade in the cellar to reach full maturity. In a way, what Bordeaux needs at this level is more gluggable wine, but nevertheless, you can’t argue with quality, and a wine like this shows that you don’t only find seriously made wines in the Haut- Médoc, Pessac and Saint-Emilion.

 

 

 

 

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