Mood Indigo – Indigo Wines Portfolio 2018

The Vinyl Factory is a nostalgic venue for any music lover. Even the entrance has its charm because you go in via Phonica Records on Soho’s Poland Street, past the vinyl and CDs, before descending. I always enjoy an event there, and the Indigo Wine Portfolio Tasting yesterday was the best yet. Indigo’s portfolio contains so many brilliant wines that I was forced to leave out some old favourites. You’ll have read about some of Indigo’s stars several times on this Blog before, so whereas a few old friends appear below, I’ve tried to introduce many new names as well.

I plan to run through the producers in the order in which I tasted them, but some of the best discoveries are towards the end. Javier Revert was massively impressive in his first solo vintage, and Eulogio Pomares makes some of the best Albariño wines I’ve tasted…ever. A wine of the day is really difficult to isolate, but Frederick Stevenson (aka Steve Crawford) makes some particularly impressive stuff, and his Barossa Grenache gets my vote among a host of great wines snapping at his heels.

 

Hoffmann & Rathbone, East Sussex

We begin close to home with an impressive small producer of English Sparkling Wine, based at Mountfield in East Sussex. They make an excellent Classic Cuvée 2013 from the three main Champagne varieties (60%PN, 30%CH, 10%PM) which sees around three years on lees. There are nicely developed flavours of orchard fruits with a touch of the more exotic peach and ginger spice.

Rosé Réserve 2011 blends 85% Pinot Noir with 15%  barrique fermented Chardonnay, and this has been given 40 months on lees. The lovely salmon pink colour comes from a little skin contact. It combines genuine depth with massively impressive freshness. The fruit has a little plump weight, but is well balanced with lifted red fruit flavours on top, and real length. It retails for around £50. Whilst it is so much more difficult to judge a wine on two sips than on a bottle with food (I see this as an excellent gastronomic sparkler), I was extremely impressed by the quality here, and the attention to detail. Definitely one to watch, and try.

There is also a Blanc de Blancs which was not on taste.

 

 

Fossil Vale Da Capucha, Lisbon

Pedro Marques makes lovely, terroir driven, wines, so I won’t hold it against him that he has seemed a little bored and disengaged on both occasions when I have tasted with him (here, and at Real Wine last year). The wines are also very inexpensive, and come from a part of Portugal from which we rarely see wines with this much interest.

Fossil Branco 2016 blends Arinto, Gouveio and a little Fernão Pires into a very mineral white with a bitter herby twist on the finish. Fossil Tinto 2015 is largely composed of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz, with 10% Syrah. Dark coloured, it has nice peppery fruit with a touch of tannin and texture. Again, this is a wine focused on savoury minerality, with a bit of grip.

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Eduardo Torres Acosta, Etna, Sicily

Eduardo has a fascinating CV. Born on Tenerife, he decided to make wine on Sicily after a stage with Arianna Ochipinti, followed by a winemaking stint at Passopisciaro. I tried three superb wines, all Terre Siciliane IGT (the vines are all parcels on Etna but the wine is made outside of the DOCG).

Versante Nord 2016 white is made from a mix of co-planted varieties up to 700 metres on volcanic ash – five north facing sites, as the name suggests. This is a typical Etna white with zip and a herby focus.

The red Versante Nord is a year older, from 2015. It is made from 80% Nerello Mascalese with 20% Nerello Cappuccio (with a few stray old vines from other varieties in the mix). This has nice high-toned cherry fruit in a tasty pale red. Pirrera 2015 is a single vineyard wine, again at altitude on the slopes of Etna. The varietal mix is the same, but with the Nerello Mascalese upped to 90%. It has a deeper and more powerful nose, bigger tannins at present, and a bit more concentration. Potentially impressive but needs a little time.

These are wines to watch. An interesting guy with a clear talent, who knows what he wants to achieve. Probably Tenerife’s loss and Sicily’s gain.

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Vina Čotar, Kras, Slovenia

Many will probably have tried these beautiful wines from the chalky hills of Slovenia, mirrored in Friuli’s Carso Sub-Region, over the Italian border. A large range is produced here, from both local and international varieties. All of them are good. If you want to taste a very different interpretation of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, you could very well find the Čotar versions, always sold with a decent amount of bottle age, a perfect place to start.

This producer makes an additional interesting red from the local variety, Teran (also found in Croatia and, as Terrano, in Italy). Teran 2015 saw ten days on skins followed by thirty months in big old oak. A deep colour gives out a bouquet of perfumed blackcurrant, gorgeous but easy fruit on the palate, matched with high acidity and low (11.5%) alcohol. Perfect with fatty dishes.

The reds are very good but for me it is the whites which hold the greatest interest. Malvazija 2016 (a sample) saw a week on skins. Its nose is exquisite, already showing plenty going on in there. Rich but dry, textured rather than tannic. Vitovska 2015 is less fragrant with a greater citrus element, but like the Malvzija, it is dry and textured from one week’s skin contact. I finished with a Malvazija 2015, which seemed a little paler than the 2016 but had already developed more depth.

All of these wines taste super pure. The terroir clearly dominates, but they are all unsulphured and their vibrancy is in part down to that. They are classic examples of how no-sulphur wines can age. All of these would go 20 years…but why would you wait?

 

 

Weingut Georg Breuer, Rüdesheim, Rheingau

I’ve been a fan of this estate for some years, and I won’t deny that it was exciting to meet Theresa, who had to take over the estate in sad circumstances in 2004, aged just twenty. Her story is one of determination leading to well earned success. The philosophy here is no herbicides, organic manures, low yields and largely old casks made from German oak. Every wine in the range exhibits a vibrancy which one doesn’t always find in the Rheingau, yet they don’t lose their regional identity, especially at “Grand Cru” level.

The entry level village white is simple but refreshing, dry and 11.5% abv, setting the tone for Terra Montosa 2016. This cuvée is a dry blend of the “second best barrels” from Theresa’s top sites. Here you get more weight, depth and texture and, if I’m honest, great value too.

The single site dry wines are a big step up in quality, of course, and the price leap isn’t as significant as it might be, but you do have to pay for the best. Two of them were available to try. Berg Rottland 2015 is pale and green-flecked, has a well defined Riesling nose, and crystal clear fruit, with even a hint of lime. It’s both mouthfilling and delicious.

Nonnenberg 2015 is a Rauenthal site, a monopole of just under six hectares on loam over slate, planted with old vines. For me this is Theresa’s most impressive wine, but of course it needs time and yesterday the nose was, as one would expect, more muted. The slate seems to give this dry wine a firmness and structure, but it will develop more exotic notes with the years. Of course, I’m speaking subjectively, as a fan.

 

 

Birgit Braunstein, Purbach, Burgenland

I’d not tried Birgit Braunstein’s wines before, but I knew her as a member of an Austrian Association of women in wine. Heidi Schroeck, who I have visited, is also a member, and I wasn’t aware that they are good friends (both have twin sons, another point of contact). I could really see some acute similarities between the two women.

Birgit runs a little over 20 hectares in the part of the Leithagabirge on the northwestern side of the Neusiedlersee. She farms organically and biodynamically, using minimal sulphur at bottling. Indigo don’t import her range of exciting looking amphora wines (perhaps they will…hopefully), which see eight months in Tuscan terracotta buried in her garden. The wines on taste were described by Birgit as her “more classic range”.

Welschriesling 2017 was a lovely start, fresh and zippy, perfect summer drinking (as this variety often is from this region). Chardonnay Felsenstein 2017 is a mineral, dry, savoury wine made interestingly on a similar latitude to Chablis (hint!). With Pinot Blanc 2017 you get even more of that terroir texture, but the fruit is more rounded here. The finish has bite.

A very nice Rosé 2016 is made from a blend of equal proportions of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. I think this simple wine has the fruit and zip to make a perfect summer sipper, though I’m quite a fan of pairing Austrian pinks like this with a plein-air schnitzel.

Pinot Vom Berg 2015 is of the lighter, cherry-fruited style of Pinot Noir, hand punched with minimum cellar work. A nice wine, but I could not help finding Birgit’s Blaufränkisch Heide 2015 even more impressive. White pepper and cherry fruit from vines planted on that chalky limestone which this variety so loves. A characteristic purity is always found in these Burgenland Blaus, with great acids and freshness. Gorgeous.

The final red, Wildwux 2015, is a project on biodiversity, where cherry trees are being planted at the end of vine rows, chickens roam the vineyard and nesting birds are encouraged, among a raft of measures to enhance nature. This Zweigelt/Blaufränkisch blend is lovely and precise.

I was very happy to make Birgit’s aquaintance. I felt a positive passion coming through for what she describes as a “perfect place to live”, which is something that I can honestly agree with one hundred percent.

 

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Peter Wetzer, Sopron, Hungary

Peter Wetzer farms just five kilometres from the Austrian border, and I realised we have therefore cycled so close inside Hungary that we could have visited him. I’d previously tried his Kékfrankos (the Hungarian name for the Burgenland classic, Blaufränkisch), so it was great to meet him and try a few more wines. Peter pretty much uses natural winemaking techniques, an old family press and open-top fermenters, and there is no doubt that his wines have real personality.

Furmint 2016 is slightly unusual – whilst this Hungarian grape can be found all over Burgenland (of which Sopron is geographically part), the grapes here come from friends in the Tokaj Region. The wine is fermented in new oak and is pale and fresh, with a mix of herbs and underlying citrus. Very good.

Kékfrankos 2016 has more bitter cherry fruit and less of the pepper than some versions. It’s a grape that can perform as well in Sopron as it does in Austrian Burgenland. Very characterful and quite an individual expression of the variety, plus a natural wine vitality.

There were two vintages of Pinot Noir. The cuvée comes from two sites, on limestone and slate, which both add very different characteristics to the wine. The fruit (30% whole bunches used in the fermentation) is clean and precise in the 2015. The 2016 definitely seems younger on the nose but has a translucent quality to it. The tannins are more youthful and grippy.

Peter says he just wants to make wine as naturally as possible, wine which exhibits a sense of place. He surely achieves this.

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Pax, California

Pax Mahle, with his wife Pam, source fruit from organic vineyards largely in Mendocino and California’s North Coast. Winemaking is based on low intervention, letting old vine fruit speak for itself.

Buddha’s Dharma Chenin Blanc 2015 is a good example. It doesn’t really taste like a lot of Loire Chenin. It is very fresh, acidic and bitter-savoury (it comes off volcanic soils, which of course you don’t find in The Loire). It’s a wine full of life, which sees just a tiny bit of sulphur added at bottling.

Carignan 2016, like the Chenin, comes from Mendocino fruit, this time from the single site Testa Vineyard. Again, we have very old vine material, planted in 1912 on light volcanic sand. A touch of earthy/iron texture complements carbonically macerated fruit. A lovely wine, I really like it.

There were three Syrah on show. The Hermit 2014 is from the North Coast. It’s amazingly fresh with a bouquet of violets and lavender. Sonoma Hillsides 2016 is a carbonic maceration cuvée which has been aged in concrete. It has a dark, dense but vibrant colour and real fruit intensity. Both are different but equally exciting. The one bottle of Griffins Lair 2013 had all gone, but Pax told me this was 100% whole clusters off alluvium (coarse sand and gravel) at San Pablo Bay (Sonoma Coast), crushed by foot. It used to be a Wind Gap wine, which is Pax’s other label (and some of you will know I’m very partial to the Wind Gap wines). Superb low intervention winemaking characterises all of Pax Mahle’s cuvées.

 

 

Raúl Pérez and César Márquez, Bierzo

This set of wines spans the Castro Ventosa label (the Pérez family estate), those made by Pérez and Márquez as a joint venture, and the wines César makes on his own. César was there to show them all.

From Castro Ventosa you get two extremes in a way. El Castro de Valtuille Mencía Joven 2016 may come in at 13.5% abv, yet it happens to be an excellent, refreshing, example of this fantastic grape variety, and makes lovely summer drinking with berry fruits to the fore and just a slightly bitter texture on the finish. In contrast, Valtuille Cepas Centenarias 2014 is a classic old vine cuvée where the concentration comes through. At 14% abv it only has half a degree more alcohol, but it feels a bigger wine, albeit more tamed than some of Raúl’s other efforts.

Of the joint project, there are three 2015 single vineyard Mencía reds (La Palousa, El Rapolao and Las Gundiñas), all finely crafted with textured acidity and tannins, almost chiseled in fact, and all capable of a rest before drinking. There is also a white from Godello, La Vizcaína “La del Vivo” 2015 which struck me as very refreshing, but with a little depth to it as well.

César Márquez’s family vineyards are at Villafranca del Bierzo. Their first vintage was 1989, which by coincidence was the year I visited this beautiful part of Northern Spain, when the wines of Bierzo, and the Mencía variety, had no profile beyond the region.

Tasting César’s Godello, La Salvación 2016, was a good contrast to the jointly-produced white. It is slightly more fruity with a nice citrus finish. The name reflects the old and almost lost strains of the variety rediscovered by César and the vines here are as old as 120 years of age. All four Mencía reds are equally good, my favourite being El Llano 2016. Velvety texture in the mouth finishes with a tannic bite.

All César’s wines are microvinifications from tiny vineyard parcels which reflect the different soil types around Villafranca and Valtuille, and as others have said, this young man is a rising star of the region.

 

 

Eulogio Pomares, Rias Baixas

Eulogio Pomares is the winemaker at Bodegas Zárate, and Indigo imports some of those wines. The wines below are Eulogio’s personal project.

There was a very nice pair of reds here, Caiño Tinto 2015 (zippy acidity and ribena fruit) and Penapedre 2015 (blending Mencía, Palomino and others, fermented in open-topped vats, just 1,600 bottles, really vibrant and also grippy). Fine and interesting wines, both of them (and worthy of exploration).

Eulogio has been called the “King of Albariño”, an epithet of which in my humble opinion he is wholly deserving. Carralcoba Albariño 2016 is the wine I’ve tried before. Made from 70-year-old vines it is magnificent. Good as that wine is (and it is extremely good), Maceración con Pieles 2016 was a revelation. Four weeks on skins, then nine months in acacia barrels, it’s a wine of some complexity and real presence, with a fascinatingly soft sour note on an incredibly long finish. I’m not a wine scorer, but these would be up there with the best of the best. In some ways it’s pointless to say more. The wines speak eloquently enough for themselves.

 

 

Envínate (Tenerife, Almansa, Ribeira Sacra)

Envínate is pretty well known now. The projects of four friends who met at university in Alicante centre on “Atlantic” wines. Roberto Santana leads the Tenerife winemaking and produces wines which highlight what the Canaries are capable of just as well as Suertes del Marques, the bodega which put the island on the viticultural map. All wines shown were 2016 vintage.

There are red and white wines named Táganan, which is a vineyard on the north side of Tenerife, on volcanic soils close to the Atlantic Ocean. Both are blends of several local grapes from vines grown between 100 to 500 metres altitude, and both see 8 months ageing in stainless steel and neutral oak. They are fantastic drinking wines.

Benje also comes as white and red. The white is mainly Listán Blanco and the red, mainly Listán Negro, from old vines grown at even higher altitude, up to 1,000 metres. Like Táganan, these are wild vines, untrained. Fermentation is as natural as possible, using ambient yeasts.

They are characteristically textured like all volcanic wines, but they are also complex. If you look at the photos of the wild landscape of Tenerife in John Szabo’s book, Volcanic Wines, you can almost taste the terroir. If you haven’t tried them (and I’m guessing many readers will have), then do so.

 

 

Javier Revert, València

Javi Revert was my “producer find” of the day. He’s the winemaker at Celler del Roure, but 2016 is the first vintage for his solo project. He was showing four wines, though sadly Clausus (amphora aged Tortosi and Trepadell varieties) was all gone when I got to his table.

Micalet is a five grape field blend which Javi’s grandfather planted in 1948 on white chalk. There is citrus here, but the overwhelming quality is salinity. It is one of the most arresting first tastes of a producer I’ve had for some time, I think.

Sensal is made from Garnacha Tintorera with Monastrell. It’s a one hectare single parcel of old vines on limestone aged in neutral old oak. Only 1,200 bottles made. Simeta, by contrast, is a parcel on sandy soils planted in 1970 at around 650 metres. The grape here is 100% Arcos, which I don’t think I’d ever tasted before. Ageing is in demijohns and earthenware jars. The fruit intensity is superb, acidity is fairly high, but there is a nice roundness as well.

Javi is a new grower for Indigo, and his production is fairly small so I don’t know how much wine they will be allocated. But he is a real find for the importer and I have no doubt he will be just as big a star in the future as some of their bigger names. Pricing is currently pretty reasonable, especially for the quality. The labels, not that it should matter, are fantastic too. As well thought out as the wines themselves. Again, I should caution that a few sips are not the best circumstances in which to make a reasoned judgement like this, but I feel sure these wines will be highly sought after in a year or so.

 

 

The final tables at this Tasting were lined up with “free pour” wines – a selection of bottles where the producer wasn’t present. These tables were crowded, but rightly so because there were more gems here. I tasted through a lot, and feel bad that I can’t list them all. But in a long piece like this, the few wines mentioned below deserve a big plug.

Mother Rock Force Majeure Semillon 2017 gets a mention for delicious Swartland fruit, more concentrated than the wine’s sub-£10 trade price suggests.

A wine of contrast to the fruit in the above is Channing Daughters “Clones” 2013 from Long Island, New York State. Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Tocai Friulano and Muscat Ottonel makes for an interesting blend aged in French and Slovenian oak hoggsheads, and majors on spice and texture.

Ochota Barrels is a fantastic Adelaide Hills producer who seems fairly well represented in UK independents and you can’t go wrong with their innovative wines. Three wines were on show. Weird Berries in the Woods 2017 is Gewurztraminer from Ironstone and red clay with two-to-three days on skins. It’s dry but with some weight (but just 11% alcohol), and rather than the more traditional flavours of the variety, it majors on nutmeg and ginger.

Texture Like Sun 2017 is presumably Taras Ochota’s ode to the substance described in the lyrics of the Stranglers song “Golden Brown”? Another unusual blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Grenache and Gewurztraminer. It’s a field blend off clay over limestone, just 12.2% alcohol, and it really maxes on full fruit refreshment.

The Green Room 2017 blends 82% Grenache with 18% Syrah from a McLaren Vale single site (planted 1947) of mixed red loamy clay and ironstone sitting above a limestone base. Fermentation is 85% whole bunches which, depending on batches, see between 30 to 90 days on skins. It’s another massively fruity wine, but with a little more depth and spice than “Texture Like Sun”. You cannot go wrong with Ochota.

 

 

I’m finishing here with the wine I’ve already described as my “WOTD”, Frederick Stevenson Hongell Grenache 2016. This is classic Barossa old vine Grenache from a vineyard south of Tanunda, off clay. It’s initially very fruity, then a hint of pepper, then a snapping crocodile of a bite and grip as it pulls you under. At 14.3% abv it has punch, but it’s in perfect balance and doesn’t taste at all that strong on account of the bright fruit. A fantastic wine, as is everything of Steve’s I’ve ever tried. The label here is also beautiful. It’s designed by Lucy Bonnin, but all of the Frederick Stevenson labels are excitingly different.

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I’m very impressed with the wide range imported by Indigo, who continue to seek out innovative new producers when, with some stars in the portfolio, they could easily rest on their laurels. A lot of importers might look at them with a degree of jealousy. I will end with a list of  Indigo producers I’ve not mentioned here, but who I think are special. Some you may know better than others:

António Madeira, Alvaro Castro, Evening Land, Coto de Gomariz, Fedellos de Couto, Daniel Landi, Celler Pardas, Nin-Ortiz, Terroir Al Limit, 4 Kilos, Jamsheed, Rafael Palacios and (I had no idea Indigo imported his wines) Antoine Sunier, whose 2016 Morgon I somehow forgot to taste. I’m sure there are other producers in the portfolio who I have criminally forgotten to mention.

 

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Great Exhibition 2018 – with the emphasis on Great

Yesterday was the Winter 2018 Great Exhibition Tasting in the arches under Holborn Viaduct, this time featuring Winemakers Club and Carte Blanche Wines. These Tastings are always good, but there must have been something in the air yesterday, because there were some truly astonishing wines on show. Although I’d love to mention a lot more wines than I have, I don’t have the time to do so, and you might not have the patience, so I plan to give each winemaker a little sketch this time, rather than a tasting note for every single wine.

Note on the photos: If you’ve been under the viaduct you know that it’s quite dark in there. Some of the photos below are not all that good, and where they are missing it’s because they turned out too poor to include.

THE SPARKLERS

Perhaps the most exciting part of the show was tasting the fizz. We have four Champagne producers, one Welsh producer, and a guy from Sussex who you are going to hear a lot about, certainly on this Blog, over the next few years. Of the Champagne producers below you will be pushed to find anything written about three of them, even in the latest books on the region. Things are moving so fast in the world of Grower Champagne that it’s difficult to keep up, even for those with both eyes focused on it.

Adrien Dhondt (Dhondt-Grellet), Avize

Adrien Dhondt took over the family’s six hectares in 2012. They have vines around Avize, Cuis, down at Sézanne and up in the Valley, with their oldest vines at Cramant. Adrien uses wood, around 25% of it new, and the results certainly show a bit of this character. The other notable thing about this estate is the use of a “solera” system for ageing wines, and Adrien is one vigneron who doesn’t mind using that term.

I tasted six wines, getting off to a very good start with the non-vintage Dans un Premier Temps Brut, which blends all three main grape varieties from the range of Adrien’s sites, and is dosed at 5g/l, a disgorgement here of July 2017. Lovely and fresh. 2014 base with 30% from the solera reserves.

All the wines here were very good, but I really have to mention the Rosé Brut Premier Cru NV (Pinot and Chardonnay) from the same 2014 base with some Coteaux red added for colour. A lovely gastronomic pink with a strawberry/raspberry bouquet. Pick of the whole range was unsurprisingly Le Bateaux Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs 2013. This was a sample but it had deep fruit and arrowroot biscuit developing into something deeper. Made from the oldest vines Adrien owns in Cramant, it had real punch and it will be interesting to try when bottled. The presumably less expensive Vielles Vignes 2011 from Cramant (also 100% Chardonnay) looks great value.

These wines might not yet be in all the books, but Adrien’s customers include some very smart restaurants. They are highly recommended.

Benoît Déhu, Fossoy 

Fossoy is in the Valley of the Marne, and I must admit I’d never heard of it until I came across Benoît’s biodynamic wines a while ago. He took over the long running family estate in 2000 and although he owns around 12 hectares of vines, he only makes his own wine from barely three hectares. The unusual thing about him is that as far as I am aware, all he uses in his wines is Pinot Meunier.

All three Déhu wines on taste are called La Rue des Noyers, named after the walnuts which used to line the road beside this site. The whole of the left bank of the Marne here is Meunier country. I had a rare conversation recently where I was asked why top producers bother with Meunier. Generally my reply is that if it’s good enough for Krug (who obtain Meunier from Leuvrigny a little way east of Fossoy)…but to be frank it is the Growers who are transforming the image of this one time heavy cropper, supposedly only planted for its frost resistence, into a variety capable of producing wines of singular character..

The proof is in the drinking. La Rue des Noyers Brut Nature NV is brisk (no malo) but is a fantastic, dry, food wine par excellence. Benoît’s Rosé de Saignée is even better. He gives it an eight hour maceration for colour and it’s an amazing bright pink. Quite broad and “winey”, another food wine, albeit with great delicacy.

There is also an unusual Coteaux Rouge Pinot Meunier (2013 here) from the same site off Marnes Gris (with sand and clay). The red is certainly not cheap, but it has a singular savoury and mineral quality which makes it very different to any Coteaux Pinot Noir red wine, and indeed to any Pinot Noir.

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Benôit Déhu

Éliane Delalot, Nogent L’Artaud

Nogent L’Artaud is also on the Left Bank of the Marne, but much further west than Fossoy. The extreme west of the Marne Valley actually lies in the Aisne département, and the vineyards are not too much further from Paris than they are from Epernay. The small (1.07 hectare) vineyard Éliane farms is on the Coteaux de Charly (Charly-sur-Marne) and Saulchery.

Éliane farms organically, but the philosophy goes way beyond organics. Labour is manual and almost petrol free, Steiner’s biodynamic preps, and essential oils, are used on the vines and animals keep the grass down. Each cuvée is a tiny production, just a few hundred bottles.

There were just two wines showing here, Pléiade Extra Extra Brut (sic) Blanc de Noirs NV (very fruity), and a vintage Brut Nature 2013 which is contrastingly savoury. Both blend Pinots Noir and Meunier and the vintage costs about twice the price of the NV. Both are pretty special, the vintage being easily in the same league as the best wines of Dhondt and Déhu.

Olivier Horiot, Les Riceys

So at last a producer we know, and indeed one I know very well. There was a time when this Aube/Côte des Bar producer claimed he really only wanted to make still wines, but I have always loved the Pinot Noir cuvée, Sève (here presented in the 2010 vintage) since he began making it in 2004.

My picks of the day would first be Soléra, which is a new wine which I’d never tried before. It is a blend of seven varieties, including the rare Arbanne, and Pinot Blanc. It sees a year in oak before it goes into a solera. Off grey marnes soils over Kimmeridgean limestone, it is singular and quite profound, but with notable solera characteristics which make these wines a little less clean for some drinkers (slight oxidative quality with truffle and curry spice in this case).

I’m also a big fan of 5 Sens which we had from 2011. It’s a Brut Nature and includes 20% Arbanne in the blend. This has a savoury nose, and a similar quality on the palate, but there is a fruit-driven quality to it as well. A very individual Champagne, but so are all of Olivier’s cuvées.

The Horiot single vineyard Rosé des Riceys were shown, both En Valingrain (with bite and fresh acidity) and En Barmont (softer). Both require ageing to get that tea-like quality which this rather special (if obscure) appellation can take on with time. Valingrain is the sunnier site, yet as true terroir wines, the rich soils of En Barmont result in the softer wine with more body. The En Valingrain 2006 I drank in December last year had taken on the wonderful, ethereal, perfume for which this vineyard is justly renowned, even though 2006 produced some plusher wines.

Ancre Hill, Monmouth, Wales

Ancre Hill Estate currently farms around 13 hectares in the Wye Valley, and Richard and Joy Morris are currently doing everything they can to double that. Why? Because their biodynamic wines are gaining the reputation they deserve, and if we are honest, probably have not had due to them being somewhat remote from the epicentre of “English” viticulture on the South Coast. Right now they can sell all they can make.

Ancre Hill is not exclusively a sparkling wine producer. They do make still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the former made by carbonic maceration followed by a period in Austrian oak, the latter 50:50 in tank and barrel for 12 months. If you like your Chardonnay “Tasmanian” in style (very pure), and your Pinot light and fruity, these are well worth a try, seriously.

Blanc de Noirs NV is based on 2013 and 2014 fruit (’13 is organic and ’14 is also biodynamic) with two years on lees, zero dosage, and only disgorged three days before the Tasting (a sample). Fresh, lively, very dry, delicious. An equally good Rosé 2012 blends 60% Pinot Noir with 40% Chardonnay and is packed with fresh red fruits. The colour comes from a six hour cold soak.

Ancre Hill has previously made a still red from Triomphe (aka Triomphe d’Alsace), a riparia/rupestris/vinifera cross which does well in cooler climates. Last year a little CO2 remained and it gave them the idea to make a petnat. And very successful it is too. It’s a mix of 2015/16 fruit, blended before the end of the latter’s fermentation so that the 2016 remained sparkling. The pressure is around 3 bar. Quite floral, deep red, and fruity, it’s a fun wine which I’d have no hesitation buying on those terms (and hope to do so). It’s also half the price of the Blanc de Noirs.

Tillingham/Ben Walgate, East Sussex

Originally from a farming family, Ben Walgate has been working in wine in various capacities most of his life, and not so long ago headed up Gusbourne as its CEO. He has now flown solo to create what I think is an inspirational vineyard outside Peasmarsh, in Sussex. At the moment Ben is buying in grapes from half-a-dozen local sources, whilst preparing the ground to plant his own vines in May (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, plus, as Ben says, a load of Germans like Bacchus, Siegerebe and Ortega, and then a little Gamay too will be part of a larger mix).

Ben’s big project is a qvevri (well, two in fact) full of Ortega which he’s opening with some ceremony next week, but he’d slipped into Winemakers yesterday to show two still wines along with his rather marvelous petnat.

The still wines are a Chardonnay aged in second fill Mercurey barrels, fermenting on gross lees and going through full malo. It is lean but fascinating and quite unique, in a good way, very much out on the edge. Ortega (not the qvevri version) is incredibly fresh on the nose but a five day maceration gives a little waxy texture on the palate. No doubt the chalky soils of the South Downs play their part as well. No sulphur is added.

The undoubted star wine of the moment is Ben’s petnat, PN17. Two-thirds Dornfelder and one-third Ortega, or not quite. As both fermented to dryness whilst Ben was waiting for his bottle delivery, he added some Pinot Noir (still fermenting) to give it some sparkle. This is a delicious wine (you can almost tell that just from the photo below). Ben is really just getting to grips with what he wants to do at Tillingham (there was also a very natural cider last year), and he’s a very creative and intuitive winemaker. Potentially a fantastic talent in the making.

The still wines were samples, however PN17 is available from next week via Les Caves de Pyrene. But sadly you will need to be very quick – just 600 bottles were made. I’m having several!

Moving more swiftly through the rest of the producers…

I am increasing impressed by La Grange de L’Oncle Charles, the Ostheim (Alsace) domaine of Jérôme François. Ostheim is in the Haut-Rhin, a little north of Colmar and east of Beblenheim and Riquewihr. Jérôme farms three hectares which produce for him a meagre 5,000 bottles every vintage. Sittweg 2015 is a blend of 30-year-old, co-planted,  Riesling and Pinot Gris on granite, from a warmer vintage. It’s clear that the Riesling adds freshness here to the slightly fatter Pinot Gris, but the wine’s component parts sit well together. It’s basically dry, but with a little gras.

You’ve probably read enough about Domaine des Marnes Blanches, Pauline and Géraud Fromont’s brilliant rising star of a domaine at Saint-Agnes in the Southern Jura. I drank their super Pinot Noir very recently. Yesterday it was the turn of the whites, Chardonnay En Levrette and Savagnin Muscaté En Jensillard (both 2016). Both could benefit from a little time in bottle, but they are hard to resist. I do recommend trying this producer if you haven’t already. They are joining the Revermont firmament.

Likewise, you’ll know the Beaujolais wines of Karim Vionnet. Both Du Beur dans les Pinards and Chiroubles “Vin de KaV” are available in magnum from 2016, and are great in that format if you can get some. But Beaujolais-Villages 2016 must on no account be dismissed. Pure glouglou!

On the same day I first tasted Jérôme François’s wines a couple of years ago, I also tried those of Stefan Vetter. He runs just 1.5 hectares in three leased plots at Iphofen, in Franken (Germany), although after Geisenheim he began his winemaking career working for Nittnaus in Burgenland (Austria). All his wines are wonderful, but a little unusual too – most Sylvaner is pretty bracing with high acids. Stefan makes a more chalky version, but it isn’t at all one-dimensional, it’s almost complex and simple at the same time. Subtle, in other words.

Of two Sylvaners, Longue Tongue 2016 is lovely, but Rosenrain 2015 is, wow! A step up for Sylvaner fans who are not afraid of something different. His Spätburgunder Steinterrassen 2016 is a wine in the same vein, a pale bright wine, with haunting red fruits filling out the bouquet. I don’t think any of Stefan’s wines reach a thousand bottles per cuvée.

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From Australia you’d be surprised if I didn’t mention Tom Shobbrook of Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley. Unlike so many producers here, Tom manages around 80,000 bottles. These are spread all over the world. Few natural wine hangouts want to be without one or two. But we do at least get a good sniff of the range in the UK, thanks to the Winemakers Club connections, through all those who made wine with Sean O’Callaghan at Riecine over the years.

Of the four on show my favourites were Sammion 2016 and Novello 2016, although I love all his wines. Last time I bought a few bottles I had to toss a coin between Sammion and Giallo and Sammion lost. Undeserved, but one can’t have everything. The vines for Sammion are all between 65 to 110 years old. It gets a 15 day skin maceration in 2016, followed by seven months in concrete egg. The wine builds slowly…wait for it, and you do…into something long and profound.

Novello 2016 blends Nebbiolo, Grenache, Syrah and Muscat. The perfume is so good, gorgeous floral notes, then sweet cherry. It makes for a characterful, yet easy drinking, red.

Winemakers Club’s selection ends with Hungary. Every single wine from Hegyikaló deserves a try. If you follow me on social media you’ll notice I drank a skin contact “Zold Veltlini” 2014 the other day, and we tried the 2015 Zold Veltlini on Friday night after the Sherry Lunch. It is impossible for me to choose between all their wines, but if you want a slightly more straightforward Blaufränkisch, go for Orökségül Voros 2011, which blends Kékfrankos with some Turán (quite peppery with bright cherries). For something further along the curve, perhaps Czeresznyeérés 2015. It’s made from the unusual Medina variety and has a pale pinkish hue. It tastes of bitter macerated cherries.

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Meinklang is Austrian of course, but Pamhagan is on the border, and their brilliant H15 Hàrslevelu 2015 is from the volcanic vineyard they have at Somló in Northwest Hungary. It was the pick of their wines on show, but I didn’t find the listed Foam 2017. If you find this blended petnat from the same vineyard, grab one.

Alma Pálinka, an apple grappa of 44% alcohol, comes from Pelle Pince in Tokaj. Fresh, clean and appley, rather smooth and rather more powerful. Will aid digestion, toothache and overwhelming sadness.

Moving swiftly(ish) over to Carte Blanche (though we’ve seen their Ancre Hill Estate already), one of the wines which struck me out of the blue was Christelle Guibert‘s Itata Muscat Orange Wine. Christelle is Tastings Director at Decanter Magazine, but she has also been making rather good Muscadet. In 2016 the frosts made this impossible, but with the help of Leo Erazo, she sourced fruit from some amazing 150-year-old vines from Itata, Chile (Leo works in Argentina, but it helps that he is an Itata native and knows the region as well as anyone).

Christelle wanted to do something “out of the ordinary” and she has. The grapes come off granite and after six weeks on skins they are made in a concrete sphere (eggs are so 2015). The nose is floral and fruity and it doesn’t particularly smell like an orange wine. The palate has great texture, but it isn’t too tannic. Another low production wine, just 900 bottles made. For me, at least, I thought this was astonishingly good.

Vincent Caillé makes some excellent wines in the Muscadet Region under the Domaine Le Fay d’Homme label. The “Melon” wines are all superb, but I’d seen a new label on Instagram and here I had a chance for a first taste of it. It turns out that Je t’aime mais J’ai soif is a Vin de France “Melon” that Vincent makes for a local wine merchant friend. Pure glouglou and great fun.

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Fred van Herck now runs Domaine L’Ecu (made famous by Guy Boissard) in the same region, and also largely eschews the Muscadet AOPs in favour of the freedom of Vin de France. The estate, around 22 hectares, is fully biodynamic, and as far as I’m aware everything is bottled without sulphur. There are few domaines in the world who can match the beauty of L’Ecu’s labels, and the wines live up to the same kind of excellence. What to select from a range where I like every single wine I’ve ever tried (and eight were available to try).

If I had to select one of the Muscadet-like wines it would have to be Carpe Diem. On taste we had a 2013 which sees 15 months in amphora. Quite a musky perfume overlays a soft texture in the mouth, with rounded acidity. It’s a pretty complex wine.

Of the reds, I’m going for a tie between Astra 2016 (amphora Gamay, quite big and certainly textured) and Mephisto 2014 (a floral Cabernet Franc). Nobis 2015 is Syrah. To me it doesn’t particularly smell like Syrah, but it tastes like it. Very fresh. But to be fair, all of these wines are really good.

Some readers will know the wines of Maxime Magnon who is based in Corbières. I’ve written about his white cuvée, Le Bégou, in the recent past. He farms around eleven hectares split into almost as many parcels, on steep slopes at altitude. All Maxime’s wines are made using biodynamic methods, though I’m pretty sure he’s not certified, and the terroir really seems to shine through.

Rozeta 2016 is an old vine field blend (mainly Carignan, but with Grenache, Syrah and even some white varieties) off limestone and schist with vines over 50 years of age. Campagnes 2016  is also a field blend, but 95% Carignan off clay and limestone. Both wines have their grapes fermented together, after which ageing is in old Burgundian oak.

The methods chez Magnon are exemplary, with, in addition to biodynamics, the use of sheep in the vineyard, all vines planted separately en gobelet, and vinification is with whole clusters for these reds. Maxime trained with Foillard, and Jean was something of a mentor to him. So it’s not surprising that his reds are deep and bright fruited, but with a depth as well as a pinpoint vitality. Great wines, and personally I think the whites are perhaps even better (though not everyone will agree).

Fabien Jouves is almost a legend now, though I’m not sure he’d be happy being called that. Well, he did choose to call one of his vins de soif You F**k My Wine, which has led to a certain notoriety. His glugging wines are indeed brilliant. You F**k… 2016 has a bright new label and is a bright blend of Malbec, Merlot and Jurançon Noir. It’s superb value, as is the Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc Tu Vin Plus Aux Soirées 2017 (fruity Merlot nose with a bit of grip on the palate).

The Cahors wines begin with an easy to drink Les Escures 2016 (aged in concrete), before getting more serious. La Roque 2016 and Les Acacias 2015 differ in soil type (marnes versus red clay/limestone) and vessel (concrete versus foudre), making for two well differentiated cuvées. Basically the first is like pure metal and the second has greater depth and richness (the vintage style difference and the extra year of age must play a part, but La Roque is showing great purity).

These wines from Cahors are all from fruit grown at several hundred metres altitude up on the plateau. They are also all made from Malbec. B763 2014 is Fabien’s best parcel of this Cahors signature grape. From red clay/limestone, it’s made in concrete egg. It has amazing fruit concentration and a rich intensity, but right now it is tannic. Give it 5 to 8 years, says Fabien. Only 3,000 bottles made.

Les Agudes (Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Chardonnay and Semillon) and Les Pièces Longues (Chenin aged in foudre) are the delicious whites, both Vin de France. They should not be overlooked, despite their plain labels, as Fabien evidently knows full well how to make white wines as well as magnificent reds.

I want to just make time to mention that Carte Blanche are now working in association with Gudfish Wines. Gudfish is the baby of Thor Gudmundsson and Bobby Fishel, who are bringing in the wines of the so-called Swartland Revolution. A lot of the wines will be completely new, even to those who have a passing interest in the New South Africa, and they are generating a fair bit of excitement.

One of the producers who has piqued my interest over the past year, ever since I ended up sharing a few quips on social media with “Bob” (real name: Craig Sheard) is Elemental Bob. Craig has gained an image as a skateboarding winemaker out on the edge of what is happening in Swartland…and that is a very precipitous edge, to be sure, especially for the flat earthers of the classical wine world. Craig describes the philosophy he follows as “old world style with new age attitude”.

There are 3,600 bottles of White Blend 2016, which contains 44% Chenin Blanc with Semillon, Roussanne and Verdelho in descending order. Three days on skins, it’s a savoury, “natural”, intriguing, wine. A touch of plumposity too. I’m not a points man, as you know, but I can see why Tim Atkin scored this 94 (and it’s cheap, trust me).

“Bob” (or Craig, if you prefer) is possibly best known in the UK for his Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir 2016 blends equal parts of fruit from Hemel en Aarde and Overberg, with sixteen days on skins, then into old oak with the lees for ten months’ maturation.

Basically, if you can grab anything by Elemental Bob, do (there’s also a  80:20 red blend in 2016 from Cinsault/Pinot Noir, and white varietals from Grenache Blanc and Chenin). The wines are a bit mental, but completely in a good way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sherry Baby (Pizarro Sherry Lunch)

At least once a year the treat of a Sherry-focused lunch comes around, and I’m sure some of you have read tales from our “Fish & Fino” lunches in the past. This week we went to Pizarro, one of José Pizarro’s venues on Bermondsey Street in London, for a lunch covering all the Sherry styles and more. With so much alcohol on the table (twelve bottles between eight diners), we were glad of a fairly prodigious quantity of food to soak it up. The fact that the food was delicious and well matched, and that the service was warm and attentive (though we had to use a rolling pin on the crab), was an added bonus. We were so unfathomably sober, and the food was not too heavy, that a few of us even managed a couple of glasses over at Winemakers club afterwards.

Tio Pepe Una Palma Fino, González Byass

Tio Pepe is probably the most famous name in Sherry (at least to my mother). On the market since 1844, there are more than 30,000 casks in the Tio Pepe solera. Most goes to produce that well known Fino, but some sees a different life. There is En Rama, of course, and there are also the Palmas, of which we were opening with the first of four. Una Palma is the youngest, with around six years of age. This was a winter bottling (25 October 2017), and like all of the Palmas, it is bottled without (or with a light) filtration.

Although relatively light as a wine as well, there is a hint of richness, with a bready/nutty note adding to its savoury character. A serious aperitif, but also a fine accompaniment for the first of our pica picas to share, the padron peppers. Una Palma should not be ignored in favour of the more complex (and complicated) older Palmas, especially as it’s pretty good value and relatively inexpensive.

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Inocente Fino, Valdespino

Inocente may not be as famous as Tio Pepe among the general public, but I’m sure it is among Sherry lovers, and I’d wager that many who discovered the delights of Fino did so over a glass of Inocente and a few salted almonds and olives. As with all the Valdespino soleras, Inocente’s now resides safely at the Grupo Estévez bodega on the edge of Jerez.

The wine in the Inocente solera has traditionally come from Jerez’s fine, chalky, Macharnudo Alto vineyard, undoubtedly the region’s most famous site. With an unusually high number of criaderas for Fino (ten) and the very pure albariza soils in Macharnudo Alto, the wine is singularly pure, perhaps less obviously biological in character than many Finos, yet also showing the depth of its average ten years of age when bottled.

This bottle tasted very fresh, without especially pronounced flor character. It was restrained, with a touch of glycerol showing, doubtless as it was left “uncovered” by the wine’s finesse. It gives a dry wine with a glimmer of false sweetness, which is very attractive.

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Manzanilla En Rama “La Gitana” Aniversario, Hidalgo

La Gitana is Hidalgo’s classic Manzanilla, and its label is possibly the most easily recognised in the whole region, equally a classic. Aniversario is a limited edition (fewer than 2,000 bottles), released to celebrate the 225th anniversary of Hidalgo, founded in 1792. The average age of the wine is 15 years.

This is easily the most striking wine on the nose so far, very concentrated. It has a real saline character (it is aged very close to the sea at Sanlúcar), but also real almond nuttiness and something almost bitter-sweet. The other quality, perhaps the most noticeable of all, is a genuine smoothness which sets it apart. A wine of real complexity, and although unusual for a Manzanilla, it is extremely good, and indeed it excelled at the table with food.

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La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 59 “Capataz Rivas”, Equipo Navazos

This was the first of three EN wines on the day, and a fine start, of course. I won’t repeat the EN story here, but it is clear that when Jesús Barquin and Eduardo Ojeda are selecting wine for bottling under this label, what they are looking for above all else is wine of a singular character and personality. That does mean that some bottlings can be very intense, yet others exhibit finesse and a lightness of being which you rarely find. All are, in my opinion, of genuine world class.

Bota 59 comes from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín in Sanlúcar, and 3,500 bottles were filled from 15 butts in June 2015. The uniqueness of this wine, which has an average age of around fifteen years, is in its slightly different method of production. The casks were filled higher than usual for the style, and so the flor layer is thinner, allowing for the wine to take on slightly more of an oxidative character. Add that to its strong salinity and you get something very complex, which almost approaches an Amontillado. Concentration, complexity, yet freshness. Stunning.

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La Bota de Amontillado 37, Equipo Navazos

From the same source as “59”, this is from a run of 3,000, bottled in August 2012. Twelve butts out of 100 were selected from one of the solera’s criaderas. The average age here is eighteen years, but in style it leans back towards the previous wine in some respects. By that I mean that whilst there is a caramel note on the finish, and an intense nuttiness which is a step up in style terms from the Finos and Manzanillas, it is also a wine of exemplary restraint and aromatics (almost herby, which I don’t often find showing above the nut intensity). We are talking about a wine here which is complex and long, and very elegant too. I don’t think I’ve owned any “37” so I was very happy to drink it.

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Amontillado 30-year-old, Bodegas Tradición

Bodegas Tradición is a specialist in fine old Sherry. It is perhaps no coincidence that this is the Bodega chosen by The Queen’s grocer, Fortnum & Mason, to represent their own label Sherries. The label itself only came into being in 1998, with the first releases in 2003. All the bottles released by the bodega itself are hand numbered, as you will see in the photo below (this was 1,576 of 3,600).

As old wines go, this lacks none of the concentration you’d expect, but there is also a fine spine of acidity which gives it structure.You can add to that acidity a eucalyptus note on the finish which is very distinctive. This is an expensive wine, perhaps around £60 retail, but one well worth seeking out. There is also a 40-year-old.

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La Bota de Palo Cortado 72 “Pata de Gallina”, Equipo Navazos

The last of our three EN wines, 2,100 bottles were filled in January 2017 from butts at Rey Fernando de Castilla. The wine is about 30 years old and it is almost a classic rendition of Palo Cortado, sitting between Amontillado and Oloroso in style. As you might expect, there is concentration here, but not at the expense of elegance. What really makes the difference is that finesse, expressed through very fine citrus notes of orange, lime and waxy lemon peel. This gives the very long finish something different and special. It also made a wonderful contrast to the other Palo Cortado which was paired with it, and with the exquisite slow cooked lamb (which, as a very rare eater of meat, I can taste even now).

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Lustau “Fine Old Rare Sherry” Palo Cortado Vides, Bottled Berry Bros & Rudd

This is an almacenista Sherry, which originates, according to the label, “from the solera of Vides”. As we know, the Almacenitas were the wholesalers who maintained their own stocks. They are declining rapidly, but Vides (founded 1958), from whose butts this wine comes, is still going. When Lustau release this wine under their own label, the average age is twenty years, and presumably this is the same wine as released as a 37.5cl bottle under  BBR’s own-label. Lustau has specialised in the release of wines from individual almacenistas, and although the wines vary in style, and perhaps quality, this Palo is quite a bargain in this BBR bottling…if you can still find some.

As I said, it contrasted well with the Equipo Navazos. It’s a smooth wine with hints of caramel and a tiny suspicion of sugar, even. What leaps out of the glass on the nose is a hint of apricot, and on the palate, deeper toned nuts, with coffee/caramel and a salt and pepper finish.

Although difficult to pick out the best flight, I’d be tempted to select this one for class, contrast and food matching. I’m drinking more Palo Cortado than I used to, and this is down to my increasing delight in the style for drinking with food. I’m sure most wine lovers would think of something very different to accompany lamb, even if limited to Spain. But Palo Cortado makes a surprisingly good match. The alcohol is high, of course (19% for the Lustau and 20.5% for the Navazos), but it is both savoury, and a surprising aid to digestion.

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“Medium Old Harvest”, Ximénez-Spínola

What is this? Amazing, that’s what. And, well, it does say “made respecting family rules” (emphasis added). It is unfortified PX grown in Jerez, produced by a bodega which has the reputation of producing the tiniest quantities of wine in the region. This is doubtless why it isn’t a producer I see very often. In fact one might almost suspect that they want to remain a secret.

“Medium Old Harvest” was certainly one of the wines of the day. You don’t often see dry PX from Jerez itself. Some people will try to tell you there isn’t any. I know that the famous “Añina” vines once owned by Hidalgo are gone, but there are still a few hectares owned by González Byass in its “Esteve” vineyard, and there are probably other patches. But X-S has a whole 16 hectares, allegedly, in two vineyards, Carrascal and El Tablas. In fact, they only grow Pedro Ximénez.

This particular wine comes in at 17% abv, and how one would classify it, I’m not sure. Is it dry or not? The palate gets slightly confused by the  prominent drying ginger spice, but technically it has 45 grams of sugar. Of course it is (yet again) complex etc (which can sound like a sticking record at a Sherry lunch, but it’s no less true), but this wine is also just so drinkable. I’m not sure I’ve had a wine at this high alcohol which is so damned gluggable before.

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Old & Plus Oloroso, Romate

Bodegas Romate’s oldest wines appear under the “Old & Plus” label (formerly “Sacrista”), and they are marketed in an unusual bottle shape (as you will see below), in an antique style which reminds me of an early Port bottle, and similar to a wide-bottomed ship’s decanter.

The wine inside is something special. Around 30 years plus, it is dark mahogany in colour with enormous legs and 20% abv. It is aged in American oak. Here we are into new olfactory territory. Figs are not so unusual, but there’s also leather and wood smoke on the nose, and a touch of coffee bean on the palate, leaving it to trail off with intense nutty notes. You are probably looking at paying about £50 for this, although I can’t find any current UK stock. But it would be well worth the punt if you find one. A glorious wine.

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Antique Oloroso, Fernando de Castilla 

The wines of Fernando de Castilla are reasonably easy to source on the UK market, which kind of belies their immense quality. They produce a small range of exceptional wines. The Antique Oloroso contains wines of at least 20 years of age, and so it loses nothing in elegance and finesse whilst providing just the right degree of complexity, intensity and drinkability. It was interesting to see the bottles of Fernando de Castilla arrayed in a cupboard in the room in which we were dining.

I’ve read the word “burnished” used to describe this wine, and it fits very well. My notes use something very similar, “polished” and “classy”. In some ways these descriptions make any other adjectives redundant. But it is important to clarify a little. It is neither too light, nor too heavy. It has character, but not a personality that dominates. It has length, but length which diminishes on a gentle curve, without falling off a precipice. I think that “classy” sums it up.

Pairing these wines with the cheese course really highlights how well they perform with such a match. Rather as Vin Jaune is perfection with walnuts and Comté, a selection of Spanish cheeses, almonds and cubes of quince jelly provide all the flavours to set the Olorosos off rather nicely. We could have stopped here…but we didn’t.

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Solera Fundacion 1830 PX, Navarro, Montilla-Moriles

I last drank this wine just over a year ago, and it is interesting to read my notes from that occasion. I wrote “how can a wine with so much sugar, velvety rather than acidic, not be cloying?”. The same question is just as pertinent today.

This wine from Bodegas Navarro comes from Montilla-Morilles, a good 100 miles to the east of Jerez, but source of most of the Pedro Ximénez grapes grown in Southern Spain. This bottle contains wines with an average age of 25 years, although from a solera founded in 1830 there will be small but concentrated quantities of much older juice.

Indeed, the wine itself is very concentrated, but we all noticed how well it poured. Some PX can seem hardly a liquid at all. So as well as the intense sweetness you get something fresher, which I would describe as a note of bitter orange. It balances the sweetness on the nose, though the palate is dominated by rich caramel and toffee. It was very much at home with the unusual cream cheese ice cream Pizarro served up before a reviving coffee.

I know plenty of Sherry lovers who won’t touch PX, but this has the kind of extra dimension that just might change the minds of one or two of them.

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As I have already intimated, this was a fantastic lunch, one of the highlights of the year so far. I certainly couldn’t do this once a fortnight, but once or twice a year is not really enough. Although I knew several of the wines, others I didn’t, and there must be some gems out there for us to discover (one or two at the lunch are regular visitors to the region). Not only was the company congenial, but the breadth and depth of knowledge around the table was impressive. And to repeat what I have said before, the restaurant did us proud in quantity and quality. I would be very happy to go back there for another lunch or dinner.

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Les Vignes Retrouvées – The Story of Plaimont

If you remember the commercial wines of the Plaimont Co-operative in France’s Gers Region from back in the 1980s (okay, well maybe your parents drank them), when Colombard made in almost a New World style hit our shelves in the generic Côtes de Gascogne, you might decide to look away, but don’t. Those wines were commercial, but they were part of a longer and more complex story, one which highlights a miracle of rejuvenation for some of the poorest winemakers in France, but even more importantly, one which tells a tale of a rediscovered ampelographical and viticultural heritage from which we need to learn lessons for the future.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a Tasting and two Masterclasses at Carousel Restaurant  in London, organised by Westbury Communications and the Plaimont Producteurs. The first of these, facilitated by Jamie Goode, with Olivier Bourdet-Pees (Plaimont MD) and Nadine Raymond (Plaimont Technical Co-ordinator/Oenologist) looked at the Heritage of Saint-Mont. The second was an instructive, hands-on, blending excercise led by Christine Cabri (Plaimont Oenologist).

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The foothills of the Pyrenees were climatically perfect for the rapid spread of the wild grape vine, and it made its home climbing trees in the forests there long before it was discovered by humans. Its roots competed hard for nutrients, its bunches sought sunlight in order to ripen, and there were plenty of birds to spread its seeds far and wide.

The Côtes de Saint-Mont, where the Plaimont co-operative is based,  lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees, west of Toulouse and north of Tarbes and Pau, and sits adjacent to Madiran. The region benefits from very sandy soils. We know how phylloxera devastated the vineyards of France in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, but we also know that the phylloxera louse cannot live in sandy soils. This is one reason why The Gers has such a wealth of pre-phylloxera vine material.

The Gers has always been one of the poorest regions in France, with an agricultural economy close to subsistence level before the latter part of the 20th Century. The nature of viticulture, with much of local wine production being geared towards home consumption rather than commercial sales, means that older, often less productive, vines were not pulled out in favour of more famous, more hardy, or more productive, varieties. This leaves many old varieties dotted around the region which, in more established viticultural areas have long been grubbed up. It also means that the region still has some of the vinifera hybrids planted after the eradication of phylloxera.

The region’s producers embraced modern viticulture and winemaking in the late 20th Century, but some obstinate individuals kept their strange old vines. Seen as mad men then, they are now hailed as heroes. Why is it important that this great heritage is preserved?

  1. In 1958 twenty well known grape varieties occupied 53% of the French vignoble. By 2012 those same 20 varieties occupied 91% of the vineyards. So much for diversity.
  2. With climate change comes greater ripeness, something which is being experienced throughout all of Europe’s vineyards. The Southwest’s viticulture is based, especially in red wines, on varieties like Tannat, whose alcohol content at ripeness is increasing. If there are autochthonous varieties which will help freshen the Tannat, these need to be discovered.
  3. Diversity is a wonderful thing. When we visit a French region we enjoy regional foods, like cheeses for example. No matter how good Comté and Roquefort may be, we still want our Mont D’Or, Livarot or Abondance. We should embrace the diversity in regional grape varieties too. It’s all part of culture.

Although Gers had a winegrowing history going back even further than when Benedictine Monks planted a vineyard for the Abbey of Saint-Mont in 1050, when the Plaimont co-operative was founded sixty years ago the region was in a poor state and the future looked grim. Even the local mainstay, Armagnac, was falling out of favour.

But in the 1970s André Dubosc, who had studied in Bordeaux under Emile Peynaud, came back to the area with a plan to breath life into Saint-Mont, and today the co-operative group has 800 growers producing 40 million bottles of wine a year. Much of that is good commercial wine, but some of it is quite special. Saint-Mont took a big step with the granting of VDQS in the 1980s, and became full Appellation Contrôlée in 2011. In 2012 the historic, 200-year-old Sarragachies vineyard within Saint-Mont, source of many of these old grape varieties, became the first piece of agricultural land in France to be designated a “Protected Historic Landmark”.

The main grape varieties of the region are Gros and Petit Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac for white wine, plus Tannat and Pinenc for red (Pinenc is a local synonym for, and mutation of, Fer Servadou/Mansois/Braucol as seen in Aveyron (eg Marcillac etc) and Gaillac). These varieties possess great individuality, but equally, they are capable of making wines of genuine class. This is especially the case with the Madiran AOC (Plaimont makes 55% of all Madiran), but the best wines of Saint-Mont are not far behind.

I’m going to run through a selection of Plaimont’s top wines, then take a look at some of the micro-vinifications made from the long lost grape varieties, before finishing with some notes from the blending masterclass.

Dr Jamie, Olivier and Nadine (note beret and scarf obligatory at Plaimont)

The Top Wines of Plaimont

You might have seen the bottles with a wooden label, called Le Faîte. I will admit I always thought this was just a marketing gimmick, but in fact these wooden blocks, attached to the bottle by wax, have an historic precedent. In the past when wine was mainly drunk from cask, wine was set aside in bottle for future special occasions, such as a wedding or baptism. The region didn’t have cellars (probably all that sand) so bottles were burried, to be dug up when needed. The wine was well conserved in the cool earth, but paper labels would not have survived. A wooden one served perfectly.

Le Faîte Blanc is a blend of Gros and Petit Manseng, Petit Courbu and around 2 to 3% Arrufiac, grown in the best terroirs of Saint-Mont, Aignan and Plaisance. A little cold maceration (8-12 hours for GM and 2-4 hours for the others) is followed by vinification in stainless steel tanks, followed by six months on lees (with stirring).

The 2014 is yellow with green glints showing a lovely lemon freshness from the Gros Manseng, with the grapefruit flavour characteristic of this variety (which adds a lovely bitter touch and salinity on the finish). It is a remarkable wine which on first taste I had as a kind of cross between Chablis and a Clare Valley Riesling. Delicious, but with the obvious potential to age. The 2010 still has that trademark freshness, but the nose is more developed with complex notes of other fruits and herbs. The palate shows impressive depth. Of all the wines tasted, Le Faîte Blanc was the one which surprised me most with its quality and potential.

Le Faîte Rouge blends Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinenc, aged in 225 litre oak (30% new). It’s a classy wine, though I was more impressed with the white version, but even the 2010 was still developing, with soft but persistent tannins. Among the reds I preferred Monastère Rouge, a mix of Tannat, Pinenc and Cabernet Franc. It sees similar oak treatment (eleven months, 40% new) and the 2014 was dark, with big legs and tannins galore, yet it has nice fresh dark fruits as well, plus some peppery spice on the finish. Tannat is very high it rotundone, which gives a characteristic (green) pepper note.

Les Vignes Préphylloxériques Saint Mont “1871” is a very special wine. It’s made from 99% Tannat and just 1% Pinenc, from a vineyard of just under half a hectare, planted in 1871 on soft gravelly sand, with two vines per stake. Propagation is by layering. Fermentation is in oak with regular oxygenation (syphoning), followed by ageing in oak for a little over one year before bottling.

Pure fruit combines on the nose with flowers and iron filings, with a hint of red meat juice for good measure. It’s tannic but pure. It certainly tastes different to the other reds, that is in part down to the varietal mix. But the difference must also be in part down to the pre-phylloxera vines, which remain on their original root stock.

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Château de Sabazan is run along the lines of a Bordeaux château, with nine of its eleven hectares under vine reserved for the Grand Vin. Around 80% Tannat is seasoned with Cabernet Franc and Pinenc, with each plot vinified separately. It is château-bottled after 12 to 15 months in oak (30% new). We were treated to a taste of the 1998 vintage, which had a lovely deep claret colour and an almost floral bouquet. There is some maturity as one would expect in a 20-year-old wine, but it has a dense, firm, spine which with good ripe tannins suggests it will improve further. Quite majestic.

There are plenty of other wines of note, including an attractive Madiran Plénitude (Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc). The 2012 (14.5% abv) had some meaty complexity on the nose, with violets following. Tannins are silky, and it’s a big wine. But that’s Madiran. You have to wait, as the 2004 Château d’Aydie I drank back in December last year proved.

There was also a sample of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh “Saint-Albert” 2014. Saint Albert’s Day is 15 November, and it is around this day that the final trie for this cuvée is picked. Produced by fifteen growers from the AOC, Saint-Albert is sold by lots at a charity auction. It is pale, with green glints, which is a little deceptive because the nose is powerful – exotic apricot jam and sweet confit lime with a touch of honey. There is a nice saline quality about the finish, which goes on and on.

Madiran Plénitude and Pacherenc “Saint-Albert”

The Long Lost Vines

These lost varieties are the heart of the ampelography work going on at Plaimont. They classify vines (DNA analysis is used where necessary), grow cuttings, and make microvinifications. The aim is not just to conduct research for fun. One of these varieties, Manseng Noir, has gone from one vine to 20 hectares, and will have a commercial release in May of this year (100 hectares are planned). Yielding a wine of just 11.4% alcohol, it is clearly an insurance against climate change.

Morenoa means “brown-black” in Basque, but the grape is related genetically to Cabernet Franc. With Pédebernade 5, discovered in that historic Sarragachies vineyard (mentioned above), it shares a very fresh taste. The latter variety is strong on black pepper, on both nose and palate.

The nursery has 37 vine varieties in all, seven of which were completely unknown and unidentifiable. One of those, Dubosc 1,  has been named after the co-operative’s founder as it was discovered on his 150-year-old vineyard at Viella in Madiran. It is related to Gros Manseng, but is a black variety. Like several of these long lost vines, it is a female plant, so very difficult to propagate. It is again incredibly high in rotundone.

The Manseng Noir mentioned above was also discovered in that same Dubosc vineyard at Viella and is genetically linked to the abovementioned variety. The name “Manseng” is linked to “Manse”, manse varieties generally making wines reserved for sale rather than merely home consumption in the past. It is currently being used in the red blend “Moonseng”, but as I have already stated, release of a 100% Manseng Noir is expected this May.

It has a deep colour which stains the glass, a lovely floral and fruity perfume, and concentration, but it isn’t at all heavy. It should release for around £12 retail and will be well worth seeking out.

Even more interesting, for me, was Tardif. This was also discovered in Sarragachies, and is related to another Pédebernade variety, Pédebernade 4. It ripens late and at lower alcohol levels, and also exhibits the spicy, peppery, results of high rotundone levels. There are currently a mere 20 vines, propagated from just one parent, and the 2017 microvinification was just 12 bottles. Alongside the massive pepper aromas it is eye-openingly fresh (but not over acidic). It has obvious potential as a blending partner for the bigger varieties, but even though not especially multi-dimensional, it was strangely attractive on its own after all those tannic reds.

Blending Les Vignes Retrouvées Blanc 2017

Of the white varieties, Petit Manseng is the best known, and perhaps wrongly, the most highly regarded. Its fame rests on the glorious late harvest sweet wines from Jurançon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, but it fares so well in these wines partly because it is prone to high alcohol levels (it also needs masses of rain). When the juice is concentrated and the sugars do not ferment to dryness, this is not an issue, rather something of a plus. But in a dry wine, not so good. So the backbone is formed by Gros Manseng in the dry wines, fleshed out by Petit Courbu and spiced up with a little Arrufiac.

Arrufiac was described by Olivier as “horrible” and “a monster”. It has high yields requiring green harvesting one year, and low yields the next. It tastes of green apple and is acidic. Growers always want to pull it out, yet it has been proved to contribute something to the blend in small proportion and the co-operative insists growers all keep a little.

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Christine takes us through the blending process

We sat down with oenologist Christine Cabri to play around at blending a white. We had three grape varieties to play with (Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac, which we tasted as individual components first), and samples of some older vintages to inform our experiment. The aim was to blend a wine not for immediate consumption but for ageing. This was the difficult part. It isn’t difficult to blend a wine that tastes good now, but it takes experience to know how each variety fared in each vintage, and what it can contribute to the blend for the future.

This was clear when we discovered from Christine what her 2017 blend is comprised of. In between we had considerable fun trying to put together something creditable…and being rebels, my blending partner and I found a great deal of interest in trying out blends that were obviously wrong. Well, that is surely how you learn?

This was best illustrated when we tried 30% Arrufiac, though little did we know that the final blend for 2017 would include 15% Arrufiac (more than usual, along with 65% Gros Manseng and 20% Petit Courbu) because “this year it was quite mallic, neutral and balanced”.

I’m not sure our results matched the experienced palate of Christine Cabri, but the potential of the grapes was shown when we tried the 2007 vintage of the Vignes Retrouvées. It was shockingly fresh for a ten-year-old white wine, quite brisk even. But it had also become deeper and more complex. The nose showed white truffle and the finish had a gentle chalky texture. Astonishing for a wine that is pretty cheap (around £11 retail in the UK for a current vintage).

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The rest of Plaimont’s portfolio

I tasted my way through a couple of dozen Plaimont wines before the Masterclasses. Of course it’s easy to dismiss them when set against the more serious, and interesting, wines mentioned here. But we shouldn’t be snobby about it. These are extremely well made commercial wines which are affordable for all wine drinkers. In white, pink and red, they provide accessible drinking and expert modern winemaking. There isn’t time to talk about them here, but I think if you were to try one when you come across them in a chain restaurant, local bistro or supermarket, you’d be quite pleasantly surprised.

Someone said on Twitter that yesterday’s Tasting was a “perfectly pitched piece of brand promotion”, which was true. But marketing will only get you so far. Sometimes it is easy for the so-called expert to see the marketing and to ignore or dismiss it. But in getting to know the wider story of the Plaimont co-operative, as well as marveling at their commercial transformation and success, it is impossible not to be impressed with the work they are doing, both to preserve their viticultural patrimony, and to plan for their future in an uncertain world of changing climate and destructive weather events. They gave me a fascinating insight and an afternoon of discovery.

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Austria at the IOD

As with the Australia Day Tasting the other week, I’d not been to the annual Advantage Austria London tasting for a couple of years, but the 2018 event seemed to suggest a few of the newer, exciting, producers were attending alongside the established classics, making for a potentially more varied and interesting day. And that proved to be the case.

Still, events like these are not without their problems when it comes to writing about them. I counted 95 producers in the catalogue. I marked 38 of them as those I’d have liked to taste, and of course I tasted fewer than that in the four or five hours I had at the Institute of Directors. I’ve distilled it down to a dozen estates here, and at most of these I tasted all the wines on show. There were a number of star wines, but I think my absolute favourites, which you may look out for, were Ebner-Ebenauer Sekt and their “Black Edition” Grüner, Kracher Zweigelt Beerenauslese, Arnold Holzer’s “Orange” and Leth’s Roter Veltliner Fussberg.

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Günter & Regina Triebaumer, Rust

There are two Triebaumers in Rust, and I shall cover the other one later on. Günter and Regina, along with the Waldschütz estate below, are represented by Alpine Wines. Although not certified organic, the Triebaumers say they engage in “low-tech” winemaking over more than 20 different cuvées, from over 25 hectares of vines. All of the styles from Rust, Burgenland and the Leithaberg DAC are represented across 45 different parcels, but Blaufränkisch dominates, with 8 hectares.

Although not the most expressive of their wines in terms of bouquet, their 2017 Furmint (a fairly common variety here, just over the border from Hungary’s Sopron region)  has a lovely firm hit of herbs and fruit on the palate. But after that white opener we moved on to the Blaufränkisch with the Rosé von der Blaufränkisch Reserve 2016. It’s made from free run juice from the red reserve and it’s fresh and zingy (and hides its 9g/l of residual sugar).

Of the four Blaufränkisch wines I have to admit that I like the entry level Burgenland Klassik 2016 the best because there is no oak to obscure the fruit. It’s still quite big (and 14% abv), but the fruit wins through. There’s a Burgenland Reserve 2015 which blends in some Cabernet Sauvignon. It is softer, more blackcurrant, still attractive, but 14.5% in 2015. There is also a straight 100% Blaufränkisch Reserve which has some elegance and although oaked, it doesn’t dominate. The single vineyard Burgenland Reserve Blaufränkisch Ried Plachen 2013 is, despite its age, big and tannic, though the fruit is mega-concentrated (it has very big legs). It is actually unoaked, but shows all the chalky minerality of its low hillside location. One to age.

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Waldschütz Weinhof, Sachsendorf

This winery is based in the Strass Valley in Kamptal, with wines from here, Wagram and Niederösterreich. Again, no certification here but Reinhard Waldschütz  (who makes the wine with son Markus) says his goal is to be “ecologically friendly”.

There is an entry level Kamptal Klassik Grüner Veltliner, but the Wagram Reserve “Fels am Wagram” 2016 from the same variety had more depth and elegance. The wine I found most interesting here was the Niederösterreich Klassik Frühroter Veltliner 2016. The nose was spicy and fresh and it tastes mineral and dry with a tiny bit of texture. It both ripens and “redens” (a white fleshed, lightly pink skinned, variety at full ripeness) sooner than your standard Roter Veltliner. 

There was also a Kamptal Riesling, a pink Zweigelt and a nice icewine. Wagram Eiswein Grüner Veltliner Ried Hammergraben 2016 (half-bottle) has a very fresh nose, quite exotic. The freshness and acidity balances 223 grams of sugar. At around £20 retail for the half, it represents really good value for the style.

Knoll and Nikolaihof, Wachau

Both of these estates are grandees of the Danube. Knoll, based at Unterloiben (near Dürnstein) is something of a cult producer, at least with regard to some of their smaller production wines. These include some from the terraced hills around Loiben where the rich and ageworthy Smaragd bottlings come from. Emmerich Knoll distills the house style as “detail”, meaning that rather than the ripe and fleshy wines some produce in the region, he aims to express the detail of each specific terroir. The wines are consequently well differentiated and very ageworthy at the top level. Knoll is my own subjective favourite estate in Wachau.

Concentrating on the Rieslings here, and at Nikolaihof, Loibner Federspiel 2016, effectively a village wine for short-term ageing, has massive fruit initially, in a good “federspiel” style. It is light in comparison to the “cru” wines, but exudes class nevertheless.

By way of contrast, Riesling Loibner Ried Loibenberg Smaragd 2016 is quite rich on the nose, but there is depth too (some straw, herb and smokiness). The fruit on the palate is already rounded and very classy, but this is a wine to age.

It is worth noting here that 2016 was, as throughout much of Europe, extremely frost affected. Yields may have been down, quite considerably in some cases, but quality is high and wines like the best of the Wachau should age well. Despite the frosts, 2016 was Austria’s second warmest vintage year on record by harvest time, yet there is no lack of elegance in the best cuvées. Some wines are potentially outstanding from the best producers.

Nikolaihof claims to be Austria’s oldest recorded winery, with 2,000 years of winemaking, according to a document from AD 470. Today the estate is run by Nikolaus Saahs along biodynamic (Demeter Certified) lines. I’ve never visited the estate because of its slightly awkward location on the “wrong” side of the Danube, at Mautern just outside of Krems. One day I shall right that wrong. I have, however, drunk some of the Rieslings from the early and mid-1990s which the estate holds back and releases late, so I know what these wines are capable of. The philosophy here is exemplary and the wines can be truly beautiful.

Nikolaihof produces some delicious Grüners, but for me it is the Rieslings that are the domaine’s standard bearers. Two 2014s were open to try. Riesling Ried Steiner Hund is showing complexity already, maybe more forward than expected, though it is gently made, like all of the Nikolaihof bottlings, which gives it great appeal. Riesling Vom Stein Smaragd is very pure, with rounded fruit surrounding a good, firm, spine. Lime acidity dominates, but there is flesh beneath, and complexity will build as it ages.

That said, the 2014s from Wachau may not be candidates for extended ageing as both 2015 and 2016 might. Vom Stein may go to around 2030 as this is a fine wine from a very fine site, but it will also be drinkable sooner than that.

Wieninger, Vienna

I became a fan of Vienna’s wines many years ago, and I recall a very fine article in World of Fine Wine by Jon Bonné on Wiener Gemischter Satz which turned me on to the region’s amazing traditional field blends. It was actually the wines of Fritz Wieninger which were my first taste of the style, and despite subsequent visits to Austria’s capital and her vines, I have yet to visit Wieninger. I do hope to put that right on my very next visit though.

The basis of the traditional Wiener Gemischter Satz (now DAC, and which Fritz was instrumental in rejuvinating) is the field blend. There can be many varieties co-planted together, up to fifteen in some cases, always a good insurance policy against variable weather in times past. They are all harvested together (at different levels of ripeness), and are processed together in the winery (co-fermented etc). The wines are usually fresh, exotic, sometimes a little spritzy, always unique and highly expressive of Viennese culture – these, at their simplest, are the wines served in the city’s Heurigen bars serving simple food, which are so much a part of the lighter months here.

Vienna has many vineyards around the city but the two hills of Nussberg (limestone with clay) and Bisamberg (sandy loess) are the icons. Nussberg sits on the Danube’s west bank, above the suburban village of Grinzing. Bisamberg, where the Wieninger winery is situated, lies on the east bank.

I tasted three Gemischter Satz wines, though Wieninger makes a much wider range than these. Nussberg Ried Ulm 2017 is quite creamy, with moderate acidity. Alcohol levels here are higher than you might imagine, 14% in this cuvée. Bisamberg 2017 has more of a linear feel and greater freshness. Both wines show what we have come to call mineral characteristics in terms of mouthfeel. Nussberg Rosengartl 2016 is from a particularly fine, old vine, parcel within the Nussberg site. Like the other two wines, it has a very attractive green tinge and citrus notes, but here the nose has an added floral dimension and greater concentration.

These wines are the “crus” of Vienna. There are many lighter examples of Gemischter Satz, which are none the worse for their attractive, spritzy, gluggable nature. These are often described as “Classic”. The three wines above are examples of the more full-bodied, site-specific, wines which will gain in complexity with a few years in bottle. More contemplative. Both styles are delicious, especially in-situ.

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Nussberg Ried Ulm, Bissamberg and Rosengartl from a parcel within Nussberg

We now come to two of my favourite producers, both from Wagram, and then to a couple of new discoveries.

Martin Diwald, Grossriedenthal, Wagram

Martin’s wine has been a regular purchase for me for a few years, and regular readers will have seen pictures of his bottles before. I even came across several in Tokyo last year, so his fame is spreading. Two of the best value wines available are his Grossriedenthaler Löss Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt. The Grüner is dry, light, fruity and savoury. Simple but really good. His Zweigelt is aged in neutral acacia and is all cherry and red fruits. Lip-smacking summer drinking.

Wagram Reserve Grüner Veltliner “Altweingarten” 2015 has a year on lees, half in old oak and half in burnt clay vessels which came from a gin distillery. The result is a little texture/mouthfeel and more complexity.

Martin is also a fan of Riesling and makes a Wagram “Fuchsentanz” from the variety. The 2016 was fermented in stainless steel. At the moment there is citrus and honey, but it ages well, usually taking on a little hint of petrol, but it is subtle and elegant.

Grüner Veltliner “Zundstoff” 2015 had ten days skin contact and just a tiny bit of sulphur. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered. The colour and texture point to the skin contact, but the fruit is there in abundance too. A sort of nice half way house if you are unsure about “orange” wines.

Last but not least is Diwald’s Österreich Sekt 2015. Pure Grüner Veltliner, which some naughty people say doesn’t make good Sekt. Martin gives it 18 months on lees. It is bottled with just under 4 g/l of residual sugar and comes in at just 12% alcohol. A light wine, great fun, but also with a savoury side to balance the fruit, making it very good with the kind of light dishes you might pop a petnat for. I think I drank four or five last summer, which is quite a few bottles of just one wine for me.

       Lisanna of Red Squirrel with Arnold Holzer

Eschenhof Holzer, Grossriedenthal, Wagram

I won’t deceive you, Arnold Holzer is one of my favourite Austrian producers. This may seem odd when he’s not all that well known. But he’s a really nice guy, an intuitive winemaker, who makes wines which all seem to attain a harmony and balance which belies his relative youth and inexperience.

Like his old school friend and neighbour, Martin Diwald, Arnold makes two cracking entry level wines, very cheap for what they are. They are wines I regularly take to non-wine-geeky friends to show what you can get for just over a tenner outside of the supermarket, as well as showing what Austria can do.

I tasted the 2016 Wagram Klassik Grüner Veltliner, although I understand that the 2017 is already on sale. 12% alcohol, fruity Grüner with fresh but smooth fruit. Wagram is known as loess central. Centuries of sandy silt blown from the Alps coat the region’s gentle hills and the terroir produces wines which always have a certain softness.

There was a single vineyard Grüner to try, Ried Altweingarten 2016. This is more peppery with a more finely delineated backbone, but then the fruit really smacks you after the attack and on the finish.

Arnold specialises in Roter Veltliner. As you will know, this variety is not related to the Grüner, and it is a white variety, not red (the bunches do turn pink at harvest time, though). Roter Veltliner Ried Eisenhut 2016 has a richer, spicier, feel than the previous wine. A tiny bit of r/s (3.2 g/l) adds some of that richness, but the frosts in 2016 concentrated the fruit sugars and Arnold says the 2017 is drier. But it’s a delicious wine.

Roter Veltliner seems to lend itself to skin contact, and “The Orange” is one of my all time favourite orange wines. This is a 2015. It is a wine which is liable to sell out pretty swiftly, but it isn’t for the faint hearted. The nose is enormous. Citrus peel and spices like clove and cardamom dominate, and perhaps a smoky essence, or perhaps sandalwood. Three weeks on skins then 18 months in small French oak. Despite all that texture it is also fine and elegant. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m sure some of you will think it’s just as brilliant as I do.

A mention for the Zweigelt Ried Eisenhut 2015 before I leave Holzer. Vibrant bright red from a cool 14 day ferment on skins. Few tannins make this a great summer wine to drink cool. Simple…in the best possible sense. A great advertisement for his region and indeed country.

Weingut Leth, Fels am Wagram

So, I mentioned loess soils in Wagram. Leth is to be found right in the heart of the loess terraces and their wines, new to me, display all of the classic character attributed to this special terroir. Even in the generic Wagram Grüner Klassik 2017 you get more peppery spice than in some regions. It is in the single vineyard wines, Ried Schafflerberg 2017 and Ried Brunnthal 2016 where this concentration is dialed up a notch. The former is almost like a federspiel style, for drinking within five years. There is freshness in the fruit but a little depth as well. The Brunnthal cru, designated 1ÖTW (erste lage), is made from vines over fifty years of age which undergo a further strict selection. Aged in large old oak for a year, it shows fine definition between fruit and terroir.

Two Roter Veltliners were both good. The “Klassik” from 2017 was a tasty introduction, but Roter Veltliner Ried Fussberg 2016 is a real step up. Ironically the organisers had made an error in the catalogue. Leth has produced a famous Roter Veltliner from the Scheiben vineyard for many years, and that was what they “corrected” it to, but the “Fussberg” is a new cuvée from a hill where the vines reach 350 metres (quite high for Wagram). It gets 12 hours on skins which gives some structure and texture but not colour. Small bunches result in real concentration of fruit (vines are 50 years old or more), and acidity is overlain with a velvety, plush, mouth feel. Altogether impressive, with real potential to age. I loved it.

I did also like (quite a lot) Wagram Reserve Riesling Ried Brunnthal 1ÖTW 2016 but it was rather overshadowed by the Roter from Fussberg.

                        Franz Leth manning the table

Ebner-Ebenauer, Poysdorf, Weinviertel

Sometimes you kind of know an estate’s wines but not all of them, and it’s the new ones that astonish. I’ve had wines from Marion Ebner and Manfred Ebenauer before, and I mentioned very briefly the Grüner Veltliner I had from this estate at Noble Rot only a couple of weeks ago. So it was really good to meet Marion and let her take me through the range.

Weinwiertel is not one of Austria’s most famous regions. It lies up near the Czech border, on the route between Vienna and Prague, and interestingly not far from Czech Moravia, whose wines I tasted at Plateau last week. The estate was formed in 2007 when well known negociant Marion Ebner (who began working with Fritz Wieninger at the unbelievable age of sixteen) married Manfred Ebenauer, whose family own 15 hectares around Poysdorf.

The wines show startling quality, and the rise of this estate has been swift. But it seems I’m just a little slow to realise quite how good they are. Other more famous critics have beaten me to it. A friend in Austria suggested we drive up there next time I visit. Whilst all the wines tasted on Monday were white, the suggestion by an older writer on Austrian wines that the reds are “elegant [but] they lack some stuffing” actually made me want to visit even more. My kind of reds, you see, less of the old school heft.

We start with the entry level Grüner Veltliner Klassik 2016 which is Weinviertel DAC. This is a delicious opener which hints at the house style…which is indeed elegance. Then comes Niederösterreich Klassik Grüner Veltliner Ried Hermanschachern 2016, from a single vineyard, showing greater concentration, and a long salty core.

There then come four Reserve Grüners. Ried Bürsting 2016 is made from vines over 50 years old now. With 24 hours on skins it has lovely precise fruit, acidity and structure. Ried Sauberg 2016 comes from a vineyard not owned by the domaine but by the Catholic Church. Vines are also over 50 years of age, on a clay and loess mix. The nose seems deeper and the palate strikes with bigger but softer fruit. Alte Reben 2016 has a very mellow bouquet. The vines here are even older, 60 years plus (they survived the devastating frosts of 1985). The soils are different, with more gravel and stones so the roots burrow deeper. The wine has great old vine depth and nascent complexity, but like the Sauberg, softness too.

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Last of the Grüners is “Black Edition” 2015. This has very different winemaking, an experiment Marion said. After two days on skins it was pressed and the cloudy juice fermented in 500 litre oak casks. After seven months it underwent a further ten months of lees stirring. No sulphur was added. There’s a green tinge to the wine’s yellow hue, and a lovely nose of deep citrus, ginger and herbs. There’s also the same sandalwood note as we saw on Arnold Holzer’s “Orange”, although this isn’t an orange wine. The palate already has some exotic notes (mango and orchard fruits). Quite stunning, but in a subtle way. The experiment certainly worked.

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“Black Edition” Grüner 

Finally out from under the table came the masterpiece which had so wowed one or two people on the Sekt table in another room. Blanc de Blancs Zero Dosage 2010 is a bottle-fermented Chardonnay Sekt which sees seven years on lees and yet tastes so majestically fresh and alive. I’m told that the UK allocation is about two cases, and that the retail price (it goes into restaurants) would be around £75. My wine of the day, it was just so good.

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Marion Ebner and her rather wonderful Sekt

To sum up Ebner-Ebenauer, elegant wines, really stark vineyard delineation and definition, and an obvious total aversion to anything second best. There is drive and dedication, yet the wines are given as long as they need, without rush.

Bernhard Ott, Feuersbrunn, Wagram

I am not all that familiar with Ott, despite his fame, the fact that friends rate him, and his very attractive labels (always looking like a woodblock print, since 2016 they have really been reproduced from wood blocks) which are hard not to notice. He’s a Grüner specialist of some repute, making quite singular organic wines. One reason he’s able to do this is the siting of his vines on particularly deep loess soils. “Grüner heart loess” is probably graffitied all over the Wagram region. But he’s also sussed how to make a range where every wine works, whichever end of the price range it represents. All the wines below are from this variety.

Niederösterreich “Am Berg” 2016 is a blend from various sites, fresh and pure. Wagram Klassik “Fass 4” 2016 is often cited as the mainstay of the range and is said to perfectly combine easy drinkability with elegance, which it does. This is a good wine to try to get to know Bernhard Ott. “Der Ott” 2016 (also Wagram) comes from young vines from the three single vineyard sites. It concentrates on the spicy aspect of the variety and has more body than Fass 4.

All three single vineyards are classified 1ÖTW and are all from the 2016 vintage. Ried Feuersbrunner Spiegel has a high tone comprising freshness, clean acids and a mineral-like finish. Ried Engabrunner Stein at 13% has an extra 0.5% alcohol. This site is in Kamptal. It has a more herbal bouquet, and on the palate is rounder and slightly bigger (I noticed the slight step up in alcohol). It has a touch less residual sugar and a touch less acidity than the previous wine, but does seem a touch dryer on the finish. Ried Feuersbrunner Rosenberg takes us back to Wagram. There’s real depth here, a bigger wine, mouthfilling, more spice, and with definite dry texture on the finish. The apple-fresh acidity combines with peach flavours and a salinity which I’m sure would become even more impressive over a bottle, especially one with some age to it.

Kracher, Illmitz, Neusiedlersee/Burgenland

Vineyards on the eastern side of the lake are on flat land, close to the reed beds, and the shallow water creates a perfect microclimate for these concentrated botrytis wines from the master of Austrian stickies. Gerhard is now in charge at Weinlaubenhof Kracher. There are still dozens of cuvées with different levels of sweetness, most within the two categorisations “Zwischen den Seen” and “Nouvelle Vague”. The former wines are traditional, made in a more reductive style and aged in neutral acacia, whilst the latter follow a more “international” path, aged in new oak.

The key with these wines isn’t to obsess too much over what you are drinking and to enjoy the wines for their diversity in style as well as quality…for the quality will always be high. Especially if you can blag a magnum or two.

There are dry wines here too. I’ve drunk a lot of Kracher, and own a number of bottles, but I’d never tried the dry wines. Gerhard’s Welschriesling was listed but not on the table, but I did taste a very nice Burgenland Grauburgunder 2016 before hitting the sweet stuff.

This journey begins with Auslese 2016 and Beerenauslese 2015. The former blends Welschriesling and Chardonnay to give a wine with 84g/l r/s and 11% abv, whilst the latter has 133.5g/l of sugars. Next, a Trockenbeerenauslese 2015 is labelled “Nouvelle Vague” and given the indicator “6” and the epithet “Grande Cuvée”. Every vintage the “most harmonious wine” is thus named. The number represents fruit concentration, so this is very concentrated. You can get the same bottling with different numbers sometimes, very confusing, so that’s why we just go with the flow. This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Welschriesling and Traminer.

For example, you may see in the photo below that Muskat Ottonel TBA 2001 is made in the “Zwischen den Seen” style, and is a number 2, ie lighter with less fruit concentration (and just 9.5% abv). Still, it has 211 grams per litre of sugar left in it.

The last wine of the Tasting here was one I’d not tried before, hence it being one of my wines of the day, and my first sweet red from this producer. Zweigelt Beerenauslese 2016 is just gorgeous, all concentrated but light at the same time. There is little I can say other than that I love these wines. Whenever I taste them I’m transported to a place I know (a little) and love, and you can’t get better than that.

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Gerhard and his Zweigelt BA 

Ernst Triebaumer, Rust, Burgenland

In a sense we finish where we began, both in Rust and with a Triebaumer. Whereas Günter and Regina are represented in the UK by Alpine Wines, Ernst currently has no UK distribution, though I think that may be about to change. I’ve passed the premises of Ernst Triebaumer in Rust, but didn’t visit, so I was happy to be pointed in his direction. I should rather say in Herbert Triebaumer’s direction, because he and Gerhard have taken over from their father, Ernst, now.

The motto here is “work hard in the vines to do less in the cellar”. Their brochure is titled “Holistic Growing”. Green is firmly the colour here. They remind me of André Durrmann who I visited in Alsace last October. They use sheep in the vineyard and trees play a role too, in the concept of “terra preta”, a circular economy where wood is turned into charcoal which is put back into the soil as a form of “climate farming” – a complex process which I sadly don’t have time to bore you with here, but the philosophies chez Triebaumer are well worth exploring further. Oh, and like the Durrmanns, they also have an electric car…and an electric forklift truck. They walk the talk.

Winemaking is as simple as possible. The family have 20 hectares, mostly on the southeast facing slopes behind Rust, with some vines down near the lake. Local varieties and some of the international ones form the core of their viticulture. I tasted nice whites from Grüner and Traminer, the latter Traminer “Urwerk” Reserve 2014 fermented on skins for 14 days giving a wine of darkish colour yet very fresh (no sulphur added).

Herbert was showing three Blaufränkisch. The village wine, named Rusterberg (2016) is full of dark cherry with black pepper, fruit forward and with bite. Ried Gmärk 2016 Reserve comes from a vineyard quite close to the lake with a predominance of limestone. The fruit is rounded and concentrated. Ried Oberer Wald 2015 is off limestone at around 200 metres altitude, with a high gravel content on top, but also high active lime, great for Blaufränkisch which likes limestone as much as Grüner likes loess. This was the finest, certainly the most serious, of the Blaufränkisch tasted here, but all are good in their own way.

There were two sweet wines on show. First is a generic Burgenland Beerenauslese Cuvée 2013 composed from Welschriesling, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner. It’s delicious and fairly concentrated, but not over complex. Then, finally, the speciality of Rust, Ruster Ausbruch. The Ausbruch style is supposed to lie between a BA and a TBA in terms of sugar levels. Traditionally, botrytised grapes are fermented with some fresher grapes that have less rot. The style originated perhaps in the Sixteenth Century and has a similar fame to Hungary’s Tokay within the region, if not in the wider world.

This 1999 version blends Welschriesling with Chardonnay and Weissburgunder (I’ve seen it written that sometimes this last variety is replaced with Sauvignon Blanc). The colour is quite dark but the nose is complex: toffee, smoke, as well as rich stone fruit (I’ve read “apricot jam” in one of the wine guides, which fits well) and oranges. It all finishes with a lick of sweet lemon on the palate, like a lemon sweet, along with more toffee as it tails off like the last note on Sergeant Pepper’s. Acidity is still pretty concentrated, as is everything about it, including its length. These wines may be niche, but I love them. Their price is the only reason I own just a couple of Ausbruchs.

                        Herbert Triebaumer

And that is it. Hopefully not the end of Austria for me in 2018. There’s another big Austrian Tasting I hope to make it to in March, very different to this one. I’m also angling hard for a trip out there within the next twelve months. Wish me luck.

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Posted in Austria, Austrian Wine, Neusiedlersee, Rust, Vienna, Wachau, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wieninger, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Basket Press Wines at Plateau

Even I, known for my terrible puns, was able to avoid using some awful pun about czeching out Basket Press Wines and Plateau, Brighton’s brilliant natural wine bar/restaurant in The Lanes, in the title of this article, but I would seriously suggest that you do so.

Plateau has been developing a reputation as a lively bar with inventive food, not exclusively but largely based around a pescatarian ethos, but with plenty of vegetarian options. But where it really scores is as a natural wine bar, with an all naturel list containing bottles you’d be happy to light upon in London (you can check them out, and the wine list here). The take away wine prices seem pretty reasonable too.

I was at Plateau to taste a selection of wines imported by Basket Press Wines (contact via Facebook), which Jiri and Zainab bring in from Southern Moravia in the Czech Republic. Basket Press has been going for around a year and I first met them at the Out of the Box Tasting in Clerkenwell which I wrote about back on 5 October 2017 (Out of the Box 2017, Part 2).

Plateau was humming, crammed full downstairs in the bar/restaurant on a Wednesday in February (pretty good), and the Tasting was sold out too, with several dozen attendees.

A bit of background first. Moravia is the main wine producing region in the Czech Republic (with around 20,000 hectares under vine), based around the country’s second city, Brno, in the southeast. The region borders Slovakia and Northeastern Austria. The climate is continental, similar to Alsace but sometimes with much colder winters. Soils are mixed too, with loess and limestone dominating rolling hills with south facing slopes planted to vines.

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Grape varieties tend to lean towards Austrian and Germanic for whites with a mix of red varieties, Pinot Noir being quite a speciality. French grape varieties have been in the region for centuries, brought here by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 14th Century.

We tasted eight wines – one sparkler, two whites, two orange wines, and three reds. Naturally I had my favourites, but the wonder of this tasting was that I’d be extremely happy to buy any one of them. The quality of the wine was good, but even more interesting, every wine was stimulating and different, which made the evening exciting (as did the whole atmosphere at the Tasting, a great crowd of people).

The photos are a little grainy/blurry. It was very dark, but they give a flavour, do they not!

Krásná Hora Sekt 2014

We started off with this méthode traditionelle sparkler, which has seen nine months on lees. It was disgorged in November 2016 (so it has had another 14 months in bottle after disgorgement), and has zero dosage. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, it’s a Blanc de Noirs, very fruity indeed with just a hint of toast. Apparently they also produce a version with a little less than two years on lees, but I really enjoyed the fresh, palate cleansing, fruit of the younger cuvée here.

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Dobrá Vinice “Kambrium” 2014

The first white comes from right down on the southern border with Austria, and it blends Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The Grüner adds a touch of peppery spice, the Riesling a spine, and the Sauvignon Blanc a fresh grassy/citrus note. I’d describe this as a lightish, aperitif wine, suitable for lighter dishes, very well made.

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Ota Ševčik “Pinoty” 2015

Adding a “y” in Czech creates a plural, I’m told, and this white, my favourite of the two, is assembled from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and (Pinot) Chardonnay. Ota Ševčik farms just 2.5 hectares, producing 5-6,000 bottles each vintage. Each year the wines he makes are different, but they all endeavour to reflect the terroir, especially of the limestone hills.

The nose is smoky and the wine is relatively low in acid, but the palate is very interesting with building complexity beneath the soft exterior. It sees 24 hours skin contact followed by ageing in acacia barrels (for their neutrality – acacia is commonly used instead of oak in Moravia). It finishes smooth with a tiny bit of residual sugar. Most of his wines go to the USA, Japan and Scandinavia, apart from the little Jiri manages to bring to the UK. A lovely wine.

Ota was a founding member of the Czech Autentisté movement, which promotes natural winemaking and sustainable vineyard management in the country, with a focus on autochthonous and regional grape varieties.

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Petr Koráb “Natur Ryšák” 2015

This is the first of two “orange” wines. It’s fairly pale and you can smell the texture and anticipate the mouthfeel before you sip. Very dry with that orange or mandarin citrus that I always think must be some kind of auto-suggestion with wines like this. Quite gentle with a haunting bouquet that builds slowly into something more exotic (cardamom, perhaps).

The blend is Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Grüner Veltliner, grown on the southern slopes of gently rolling hills between 200-300 metres altitude. The Gewurz comes out as a spicy, floral core. Cold maceration on skins is fairly long at 4 months.

Koráb is a mixed farmer, and also specialises in artisan cheese production.

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Richard Stávek “Špigle Bočky” 2015

My favourite of the orange wines, and probably my overall favourite of the night, this has just two weeks on skins before nine months in used acacia barrels. The nose is much more immediate than the previous wine, with hints of clove, smoke and mandarin. Despite having less time on skins than the previous wine, this had more colour and was more like a full-on “orange” style.

This is a field blend of (we think) eight varieties all co-planted in a couple of plots. They include both Grüner and Roter Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Welschriesling. Grapes are foot stomped to extract the juice.

The label (below) is fascinating. Printed on handmade paper, the script comes from a document found by the family, which dates back to the 16th Century, which has been reproduced by hand for printing. The wax on the bottles comes from Richard’s own bees, and he also keeps sheep and goats, and manages a forest. Richard was also, along with Ota Sevčik above, a founder of the Czech Autentisté group in 2008.

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Stapleton & Springer Pinot Noir “Ben’s Reserve” 2014

Jaroslav Springer is the producer imported by Basket Press who I’ve tried most often. Not only did I meet these wines at the Out of the Box Tasting mentioned previously, but a couple of them (Blanc Pinot Noir and Orange Pinot Noir) made their way to one of our Oddities lunches in 2016. The first “S” here is Craig Stapleton, who used to be US Ambassador to The Czech Republic. He so liked Jaroslav’s wines that he hooked up with him to produce a range based around different interpretations of Pinot Noir. The domaine is fairly big, around 25 hectares of vineyard.

“Ben’s Reserve” is a fairly pale Pinot which has seen a year in barrique. There is good cherry and raspberry fruit on the gentle nose, good fresh acidity and a bit of grip from the wood ageing. It’s a slightly lighter interpretation of the grape, but given a bit of structure from the oak. It will doubtless soften further in time, but personally I’d drink this now with food, served cool. The 14% abv shows just a touch on the nose, but not on the palate.

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Jaroslav Osička “Modry Portugal” 2016

Modry Portugal is the Czech name for the Blauer Portugieser variety which, despite its name, is often found in Austria and Germany. Jaroslav Osička has been a pioneer of natural wine in Moravia since the 1980s, and is very much looked up to in the region. His whites are made with full-on skin contact and often in an oxidative style which some have likened to Jura wines. This red is a little different.

First we have more colour than the Pinot above. The fruit is really crunchy and juicy. It sees six months in used wood and then is stored in inert fibreglass tanks to retain freshness before bottling. Another wine to glug slightly cool, perhaps, despite the darker hue.

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Tomás Čačik “Cabernet Moravia” 2015

On balance, my favourite red of the night, Cabernet Moravia is a 1970s Czech crossing between Cabernet Franc and Zweigelt. This wine sees 12 months in large oak. It has a much deeper nose than the other two reds, is smooth fruited, with a good smack of acidity and spice to finish.

Čačik is interesting because he trained as a lawyer before switching to being a chef. When he started out making wine, he did it the “wine school” way, using technology. But he just wasn’t happy with the results, so slowly he began to strip everything back, eventually arriving at natural wine, and presumably a degree of contentment. I tasted a few other wines of Tomás’ at Out of the Box and he’s definitely an interesting producer, worth keeping an eye on.

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After the Tasting I had a chance to chat with both Jiri from Basket Press, and Ania from Plateau, and a group of eight of us moved down into the restaurant/bar to eat, and drink more wine. I contributed what was their last bottle of Catherine Riss “Dessous de Table” (sic) 2015 which is a co-fermented Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois blend from Reichsfeld and Nothalten, which sees ageing in old barriques. This is a glorious wine from one of Mittelbergheim’s finest producers, fresh and yet with a touch of stone fruit richness too, really interesting, and way more complex than a lot of Pinot Blanc.

Regular readers will probably be aware I was in Alsace in October and Riss was the one vigneronne I really annoyed myself by not having time to visit. But I did buy up a few Pinot Blancs/Auxerrois, because they (along with the quality of the reds) appeared the most improved grape varieties. I drank a magical bottle from Antoine Kreydenweiss (La Fontaine aux Enfants 2016, from the top of Andlau’s Kastelberg) just a fortnight ago.

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The next wine was served blind in carafe. I did guess Gamay/Pinot Noir but could not guess the wine (I did hazard Auvergne or Ardèche as a second guess). It was actually a bottle from a producer I’d tried to make a repeat purchase of last weekend, but his “Pink Bulles” had sold out, so karma was working in my favour.

Jean Maupertuis farms around four hectares at St-Georges-sur-Allier and to the really geeky natural wine crowd is one of the most important winemakers in Central France, not least because he has been one of those instrumental in reviving viticulture in the Auvergne, from a state of near extinction.

This cuvée, Les Pierres Noirs, is a name reflective of the black volcanic rocky soils on these high altitude slopes. The grape variety is Gamay, but a strain of “Gamay d’Auvergne”, which Jean insists is different from the Gamay of Beaujolais. The wine has a most striking strawberry glow. There were definitely some noticeable reductive notes initially, quite farmyardy. These blew off to scents of strawberry, gentle cherry, and floral notes. A fun fizz made by the Ancestral Method, reinforcing my increasing view that Gamay is a cracking good variety with which to make fun sparkling wines. Hopefully I’ll drink this again, soon.

I had a brilliant time at Plateau, not least because of the friendliness of strangers, and the genuine warmth and hospitatlity of the staff. Not only that, the Moravian portfolio of Basket Press Wines was, even though I’d sampled some before, quite eye-opening. I seriously suggest that they are worth dipping your toe into if you are looking for adventurous drinking. Everything we tasted retails between £20 to £35, with most within the lower half of that range. I think several will be on the list at Plateau soon.

 

News just in today that Noble Fine Liquor is to close its Farringdon Road shop on Saturday 10 February. The space is owned by Quality Chop House and was always on a kind of short term loan. Broadway Market and P Franco carry on as usual, and hopefully NFL will have plans for further expansion in the near future. For me it’s especially sad because I’ve heaped the place with such praise recently, naming it as my joint Wine Shop of the Year for 2017.

For those of us who live outside of London, the increasing concentration of the best bars, wine shops and restaurants in East London’s “bus-land” makes for greater effort required to visit them. But I’d like to say thanks and cheers to Ben at Farringdon Road (who has been given a bus map and will be transferring over to Broadway Market once he discovers which routes to alight upon). I’m hoping to make a trip one last time next week, and to discovering the many delights around NFL’s main store (Broadway Vegan Market, folks) as soon after I return to the UK as possible, next month. Goodbye Farringdon Road (“Where the dogs of society howl…”).

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Alsace, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Bars, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s a Wonderful Life (That You Bring)

I’ve been up to a few things this month that didn’t really fit into any of the other articles, and I thought I’d mention them here. They do amount to a free plug for the places mentioned, but I don’t get anything in return, so the praise is genuinely due to these folks. As the New Year begins,  it can seem like life is tasting after tasting (I have four in the next two weeks and have had to turn down two more because I’d not have time to write them up). I also have a Sherry lunch next week, the first of the year, which I’m very much looking forward to. Then I’m off to Berlin for some natural wine. Life can seem pretty good if you write about wine. Sometimes it’s nice to acknowledge that.

Winemakers Club

I think that Winemakers Club is the most relaxed place to drink wine in London, and if you only want to eat a plate of charcuterie or cheese it’s easy to spend an evening there. The nice thing to do is to rock up, drink a beer, try some wines by the glass with a few nibbles, and then remember to purchase some bottles to take home.

I did just that earlier this month, and bagged a couple of bottles from Domaine des Marnes Blanches, one of the rising stars of the Jura region. We drank the pale, 11.5%, 2016 Pinot Noir last night. Delicious.

Winemakers hosts their next Great Exhibition Tasting on February 12th (Trade etc only) which has become unmissable (and with great luck on the travel front, I am not going to miss it).

Noble Fine Liquor

Right next door to Quality Chop House on Farringdon Road, every visit is a delight. Why? Because it’s one of those rare wine shops where if they don’t have what you came for, there’s always plenty more to tempt you. The only difficulty lies in the wine budget.

Especially good for Loire, Jura, Austria, New Spain and Grower Champagne, this photo is what I picked up on my last but one visit…Péron, Lassaigne and L’Octavin. The Péron wines need to be grabbed as they appear.

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67 Pall Mall

It’s good to see how the other half live, isn’t it. 67 Pall Mall is the exclusive Member’s Club for wine lovers in Central London’s Clubland. If you attend one of the tastings there, as I have, you are gently escorted to the basement via a different entrance, keeping you away from the members’ areas, so when an invitation came to go as a guest after the Ozgundians Tasting a couple of weeks ago I won’t lie, I jumped at the chance. Partly because just about everyone I know has already been.

If you are expecting attentive service in comfortable surroundings, this is exactly what you get. In fact it’s the kind of attention you get dining at The Ledbury and other such establishments. The wine list is very long, but does contain a separate and quite reasonably stocked natural wine selection. Prices seemed remarkably reasonable too, although members also have the option of choosing wine from their own private stash, kept in the cellar.

We began with a glass of Knoll Pfaffenberg Grüner whist waiting for another friend, after which we managed bottles of Franck Balthazar Cornas “Chaillot” 2015 (surprisingly approachable) and a very nice Ochota Barrels “A Sense of Compression” Grenache 2014.

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Noble Rot

The best lunch this month was at Noble Rot. Normally I would recommend their set lunches, which offer good value for the standard of cooking, but I was there with someone I’d not seen for a while and we decided that as the January set lunches are themed as “Cuisine Minceur” (as a tribute to Michel Guérard), we would plump (sic) for a few more calories.

But not too many. My own choice enables me to point out that the Slipsole and Smoked Butter starter here bears a conceptual resemblance, and an equally close one in terms of quality, to the signature version made by Nobrot’s Consultant Chef, Stephen Harris, at his Sportsman in Whitstable. This delicate but fresh and tasty dish is a must try. Exquisite in its simplicity and as close to perfection as one could expect.

Turbot in London is usually expensive. At Noble Rot you can get a reasonable chunk of it without paying posh prices, if it’s on the menu, of course, which thankfully it was.

We drank another Austrian wine, Ebner-Ebenauer Grüner Veltliner, throughout the first two courses, but with a cheese course we drank the recommended accompanying wine flight – Thomas Morey Bourgogne Blanc 2015El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry, and Cypres de Climens Barsac 2011 (all 75mil).

The wine list is very extensive, and this includes a blackboard of extra “by the glass” fine wine selections (Puffeney Vin Jaune was tempting, and there was Château-Grillet and Buçaco Palace Hotel among others) at fair but not inconsiderable prices.

Noble Rot was very busy the other week, so that means it’s quite noisy (oddly enough the bar area, where snacks are available, can be quieter) and the tables are pretty small, but it doesn’t bother me. I’ve managed to walk in without a reservation if early enough, though perhaps I’d not chance it. If someone suggests lunch in the week, this is almost certainly where I’d suggest we go.

Solent Cellar, Lymington

Another of my award winning wine shops. I thought I’d back up my frequent claims for this place with a little more evidence. I know people were paying attention when I mentioned they had a little of Martha Stoumen‘s “Post Flirtation” Napa Blend, and that they have become known as somewhere to chance your arm for a few Ganevats, but to show they are ahead of the curve for outside London I thought I’d show a photo of what I picked up this weekend.

Five of the bottles were from Dominique Lucas’ Les Vignes de Paradis. The estate is actually split into two, with Chasselas (along with some Chardonnay, Savagnin and others) grown in Savoie, around the southern shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), within the AOP zones for Crépy, Marin and Marignan. These are stimulating wines, fermented creatively – forget your amphora and concrete eggs (which Dominique does use), there’s a cement pyramid here, in which the top Kheops Chardonnay is fermented. I think Les Caves brought only a very few into the country, so I was lucky. But all of the Vignes de Paradis wines are delicious, including those from the other half of the estate, in the Côte de Beaune, above Pommard.

The Burgaud in the photo is the Morgon Côte du Py Réserve 2010, which is drinking superbly, along with a Guiberteau Saumur Blanc 2015 and a not always easy to find Biondi Santi “Rosso” 2008 (the fine wine cabinet is always worth perusing here). Fuchs & Hase you know, I’m sure. This is “Vol 4”, based on Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner.

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The Shipyard, Lymington

The next day we had a visit to The Shipyard in Lymington. The fish here is very good indeed, thanks in part to their partnership with one of the local boats. I’m always grateful to be able, sometimes, to take a few bottles along, and we get looked after tremendously well here by Paul and Lucie, usually with gin in some form or another. They do a truffle gin if you are adventurous.

We began with a really good pét-nat from Bergerac/Monbazillac. Château Barouillet is now under the winemaking hand of Vincent Alexis, who took over from his father in 2010. The estate makes a large range of wines from the wider region in all the local styles, but Splash is a recent addition, a pétillant-naturel wine made from Semillon. It’s dry and cloudy, and very impressive in context. More than that, it provides as much fun as any petnat I’ve drunk in the past year. I know that Wines Under the Bonnet brings in some of Vincent’s wines. I’m not sure whether they import this (friends had brought it back from a domaine visit) but they should.

An old Vouvray from me was next up, Huet “Le Mont” Sec 1995. This was darkish in colour but fresh on the nose with that characteristic appley/tarte-tatin note which older Chenins serve up. It was a good bit richer than I expected of a “sec”, but amazingly fresh as well. You get honey and a touch of waxiness on a very long finish. Exceptional, and drinking well now. Keith Levenberg said of this in 2016: “Spectacular, absolutely lights-out stuff, one of the greatest bottles of Huet I have ever had”. Well Keith, it’s still going strong. My greatest Huet? The 1959 Demi-Sec version of Le Haut-Lieu, drunk at RSJ (we miss RSJ) in 2009, at fifty years of age (but just £125 off the list).

Despite the sheer class of the Huet, it was matched by the last wine, Ganevat Vin Jaune 2006. This is undoubtedly young for this wine, and for Vin Jaune in general, but the bottle had been open for a couple of days. This had really allowed the contents to open up. The lemon acidity and any hardness had disappeared, and a nutty complexity was beginning to accompany a smooth palate of rich citrus fruit. Three ages of Comté would have been perfect, but The Shipyard’s cheese platter was a good second best. The real test of quality for Vin Jaune lies in its length, and this went on for an age.

The beauty of my approach to wine, which looks at what is in the glass rather than what is missing, means that I can sign off Saturday’s wines as absolutely perfect. They will remain unbeatable until the next wonderful meal with wine mad friends. But I do know how lucky I am.

“It’s a wonderful life that you bring, It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing” (Nick Cave, Wonderful Life)

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Recent Wines (Dry January 2018, not a sticky in sight) #theglouthatbindsus

Those seekers of a life without fun, who believe all alcohol consumers are binge drinkers, have no time for those of us who wish to sample exciting wines during the dullest month of the year. In the same way as those who break their Lenten fast with wanton feasting, so many will hit February in a frenzy of consumption, whilst those of us who continue as normal find the hangovers far less painful. But “Dry January” seems to have assumed a new interpretation among members of the wine trade. Perhaps it is after all of the calories taken on over the festive season that we try to cut out the sweet wines, in an effort to participate along with the puritan elite? So, here is my Dry January – not a sticky in sight.

The following  wines were my favourites consumed at home during January, except for the first wine, which we drank on Christmas Day.

Unione Nero di Wongraven Barolo 2006

Sigurd Wongraven is the man behind the great Norwegian Black Metal band, Satyricon. Luca Roagna, aside from being one of the great producers of Barolo and Barbaresco, is his mate. Wongraven now has his own range of branded wines from several European countries/regions, including a Champagne (well, why not, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, The Grateful Dead and others have beers and whisky), but he began with Luca, sharing their joint passion for loud music and wine. About six or seven years ago I managed to track down some of the results in Oslo. The branch of Vinmomopolet closest to our apartment stocked the Barbera, and I found some of the Barolo in the main branch in Central Oslo. As I’m a fan of the work of both of these guys, I was thrilled. This was, sadly, my last bottle though.

In the decanter this blossomed. Not complex in Barolo terms, but beautifully scented with varietal typicity, the palate having more delicacy than power. A lovely wine in this moment, both for the occasion, and just as a reminder that Nebbiolo provides such pleasure in all its forms when it gets it right. It doesn’t have to be a big name single site wine to provide a thrill.

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La Grande Pièce “Vin Rouge” [2015], Mai & Kenji Hodgson, Rablay, Loire

Mai and Kenji were originally residents of Vancouver. They came to France on a twelve month working visa, and then obtained a “Skills and Talent” visa (they keep these quiet, don’t they) enabling them to start their business, with tremendous help from other Loire natural winemakers.

This is made from Grolleau Noir and the palate is really fruity, fresh cherries with good acidity which complements the bouquet of sweet cherry. Production is tiny and I think there may be just a few odd bottles around. This is not the easiest variety to like, according to some (so be warned), but I had no difficulty. I just love this kind of thing, pure “glou”, plain and simple.

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La Bota de Fino 54, Equipo Navazos, Jerez, Spain

Dry January would not be the same without some Sherry. This is a Saca of June 2014 with fruit from Macharnudo Alto, aged at Valdespino in Jerez. As this is an older bottle it has a darker colour, the nose is deep and nutty with an orange citrus twist. Age makes it complex and profound, but it remains incredibly fresh, and goes to prove how wrong the suggestion that Fino Sherry should be consumed quickly can be. A wine to savour slowly with food. Also a reminder that if you have some older bottles of EN knocking about, fear not, but instead, rejoice. Oh, and it’s very dry.

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Vino Blanco 2014, Navazos-Niepoort, Jerez, Spain

Equipo Navazos has established a real reputation among connoisseurs of both natural wines and Sherry for its Florpower table wine, but before those wines were released, their collaboration with Dirk Niepoort hit the shelves. Take Palomino grapes from impeccable sources, ferment, and then age under flor without any addition of spirit.

In 2014 the resulting table wine has a golden-straw colour, and a nuttiness from the flor on the nose. The palate, by way of contrast, hits you with a citrus freshness. It’s so alive, and despite 13% alcohol, has a lightness and elegance, with a gentle, almost Chablis-like texture on the finish. It’s not difficult to imagine crushed marine organisms in the bottom of the glass. Superb! With a profile more “classical” than Florpower, it shouts out class, even to those drinkers for whom the funkiness of Florpower might be a little scary.

This 2014 was also bottled in magnums and I bagged a few. The 2014 in bottle is so good that I’ll probably open one of these in the summer. Cannot wait!

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Post Flirtation Napa Red 2016, Martha Stoumen, California

I have already mentioned this wine recently (First Impressions, 8 January), but I make no apology for doing so again. Martha made just 330 cases of this blend of Carignan (65%) and Zinfandel (35%). It wins hearts on colour alone, but the bouquet of raspberry and rhubarb intrigues and draws you in.

Just 11.3% abv, but packed with vibrant fruit which almost explodes in the mouth. I think it is absolutely brilliant. The sad thing is that you may not find any around. I know that Solent Cellar, where I found my bottle just sitting innocently on the shelf, had a few enquiries after I wrote about it, but it’s still up on the web site (£22.99)…perhaps if you are swift.

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“Orra” 2009, Wind Gap, California North Coast

This blend comprises almost 70% Grenache to which is added 10% Counoise and the rest is Mourvèdre. It starts off very bright on the nose but the palate is rich and spicy, with red fruits, and a hint of orange citrus or maybe iron. Although this is now eight years old, it still has grip and tannins, and this, along with the freshness, balances the 14% alcohol. In fact the odd thing here is that, whilst we are not looking at a low alcohol wine, the fruit was certainly harvested before it became over ripe, hence that great fresh taste. It’s a wine that will benefit from pairing with something like couscous with a touch of harissa, which is what we paired did.

You can pretty much rely on the wines of Pamela and Pax Mahle to come up with the goods at a terrific price, whether their more classic Pinot and Chardonnay, or their more esoteric Trousseau Gris (which I’ve enjoyed a few times). I’m not sure whether Orra is currently produced – this was picked up last summer from Butlers in Brighton. Roberson usually have a few wines from Wind Gap. Indigo import the “Pax” label.

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Bourgogne Chitry 2015, Alice & Olivier De Moor, Courgis (Chablis)

The De Moors are based in Courgis, southwest of Chablis. Producers of “natural” Chablis (when the frosts stay away), they also farm in Saint-Bris and Chitry, producing wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Aligoté (they make some of the most beautiful Aligoté in Burgundy).

This Chitry is a Chardonnay from one of the Bourgogne villages allowed to add its name to the Bourgogne Blanc AOP. If you draw a line directly southwest from Chablis to the River Yonne you pass through Courgis before hitting Chitry, followed by Saint-Bris and Irancy. The terroir is all limestone here, so the wine shares a little bit of the Chablis style, and crafted by such masters, this Chitry is exceptionally good.

There is lemon and a touch of butter, wrapped in a crisp wine which, whilst not complex like a fine Chablis, gets ever more serious as it warms in the glass. It comes from peasant roots, but it shines. I really do think that the De Moors are genius’, and if I were compiling a mixed case of wines from all the nicest vigneron(ne)s in France, they would be near the top of the list.

Their wines are reasonably well distributed, but 2016 was especially bad for the De Moors, who were pretty much wiped out by the frosts which have dogged them over several vintages. They have consequently been producing wines from bought in grapes, largely from Southern France, all organically grown by friends, under the Le Vendangeur Masqué label, which Les Caves de Pyrene bring in, albeit in tiny quantity. You probably read about Melting Potes last year, and now a new cuvée, d’une si belle compagnie méridionale has landed.

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La Fontaine aux Enfants 2016, Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss, Andlau, Alsace

This is one of the wines I picked up in Alsace on my October road trip to Eastern France. In fact, the domaine was just a few doors away from where we stayed in Andlau. It is run by Marc’s son, Antoine, who is one of the most gifted biodynamic winemakers in the Bas Rhin. The grapes for this bottling come from the very top of the steep, granite, Kastelberg Grand Cru, which rises above the small place we rented in the village. Those grapes are Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, hence this is not a designated Grand Cru wine, but it certainly is a terroir wine.

Not pale (as Pinot Blanc can be) by any means, the nose has a smokiness which truly reflects an early morning stroll up the hill to sample the breathtaking views of the village and the dense forest beyond. Think fresh dry acidity with a little mouthfeel of dry extract and then, as it sits in the glass, just a touch of  fruit richness coming through.

This is easily the best Pinot Blanc I’ve drunk in a long time. I regretted just buying the one bottle of this, although I bought a few Pinot Blancs whilst in Alsace. I’d say its main characteristic would be its precision, all through a good length. With only the greatest of restraint do I hold back from using the term “mineral”.

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Poulprix Vin de France, J-F Ganevat, Jura

Despite my campaign to convince Jura neophytes that there is more to the region than Overnoy/Houillon, Puffeney, Tissot and Ganevat, I still seem to drink J-F’s wines with some frequency. For me, the estate wines are the world class, serious, numbers (with prices to match). But the negoce wines, under the Anne & J-F Ganevat label, are such fun.

Usually, the negoce wines allow wild experimentation with interesting blends, and here I may need a little help. I was reliably informed that Poulprix blends Jura Trousseau with Mondeuse from Savoie and Syrah from the Rhône, and it certainly tastes like it. A vibrant, palish mid-red which almost glows, it is scented with red and black fruits, and dark cherry, the palate showing rich, ripe fruit and a nice line of acidity running through its spine. Delicious. But just as many sources claim this is Gamay blended with old Jura varieties as suggest the Jura/Savoie/Rhône source.

I’d love to know the answer – but it’s a delicious wine anyway. It also comes in magnums, you know!

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Collita Roja 2012, Celler Pardas, Penedès, Spain

This is the last bottle of a pair a friend sold me about a year-and-a-half ago. It’s made from Sumoll, a wonderful Catalan native variety. I never seem to find a wine made from Sumoll that I don’t adore. This natural wine is full of lifted red fruits with herbs and a touch of bitter spice. As with so many of the wines here, where there is richness and alcohol (14%) it is balanced by freshness and vibrancy. On the finish you get just a touch of earthiness, characteristic of the variety.

This comes from the Cellar Pardas estate, Finca can Comas, at Torrelavit, inland from Sitges and Vilafranca del Penedès. Their philosophy, alongside biodynamics of course, is quite unusual for the region – all their vines are dry farmed, the ground is left untilled, and no fertilizers are used. The wines as a result combine the richness associated with the region with a certain pleasing austerity, though perhaps not quite so much austerity in Collita Roja as some other cuvées. If you spot any of their wines (Indigo Wines is the UK importer) they are certainly worth trying.

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Blaufränkisch “Rusterwald” 2011, Heidi Schröck, Rust, Burgenland

Plenty of people know I have a soft spot for Heidi’s wines. She may be better known out in the wider world for her dessert wines, both under her own label and for her collaborations with the late Alois Kracher. She also makes a range of red and white dry wines, including a couple from Burgenland’s signature red variety, Blaufränkisch.

Rusterwald is dark-fruited and classically peppery, the fruit concentrated and smooth. Of all the wines in this article it is the most classical in terms of proportions and flavour profile. Heidi’s wines are quite different to the natural wine norm around the Neusiedlersee, but as with all of Heidi’s bottles, there is something about the vitality of the winemaker transferred into the wine. I’m not really sure why these wines are not more widely known? It could be my own subjectivity, although I liked them before I met the producer. But I don’t think so. Alpine wines imports them, though they might only have the Blaufränkisch Külm, from this variety, at the moment.

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May February be even drier…and not too cold.

 

 

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The Power…and the Glory – Australia Day Tasting, London 2018

I hadn’t been to the annual ADT event in London for a few years and coming back to it didn’t really feel like being away. Crowded (okay, really popular), quite hot (an issue for some of the red wines, with high alcohol wines showing less well as a result), and with plenty of the cliché red wines which put power above all else. But having got the negatives out of the way, there was plenty to try and to like. Some glorious wines alongside the big, powerful, ones.

I’ll start off with what for me were the most interesting and exciting tables, which by odd coincidence were grouped together in a corner of the same room. After that I’ll look at some of the classics, or at least those classics which interest me (those showing subtlety and finesse, perhaps), with a few more new discoveries merged in as well.

The ADT is always a great social event, but quite a few people greeted me with “I didn’t expect to see you here”. I think I’m getting a reputation for writing about natural wines, but I’d like to say that I’m no fundamentalist when it comes to added sulphur. I’d also like to point out that a fair few of the producers I’m covering here are what one might call “naturalistas”, certainly low intervention winemakers, and most of the rest I mention have at least some consideration of what they are using out in the vines and in the winery.

DAL ZOTTO

Christian Dal Zotto was over to help Red Squirrel promote his, and brother Michael’s, delicious wines, both sparkling and still. Christian’s father, Otto Dal Zotto, grew up in Valdobbiadene and when he emigrated to Australia Prosecco was always on his mind. Now, two of his sons make some of the most exciting sparkling wines in Australia, not least because they don’t blindly follow their adopted country’s blind affair with “traditional method” fizz. Dal Zotto are based in Whitfield, Victoria, with all fruit coming from the King Valley.

Pucino Col Fondo 2016 is a traditionally cloudy wine made from the Prosecco grape (now known as Glera in Italy). It’s a fizzy fruit bomb, a delicious wine. I’d go as far as saying forget Prosecco and buy this, though you’ll pay almost £30 for this level of quality…and sheer fun.

If fun is the object, Pink Pucino NV is certainly up there too. This gentle sparkler blends “Prosecco” with Moscato. Its 16.5g of residual sugar makes it seem off-dry, but this is also down to the Moscato element adding light fruitiness – “Extra Dry” is the traditional designation of Prosecco in Italy, rather than the dryer “Brut”, and that allows up to 17g/litre r/s. So whether you say off-dry or fruity, it’s a great hot weather fizz, and only 9.1% abv (the white Pucino runs with 11.4%).

There were two dry whites on show, a lovely, refreshing stone fruit and pear flavoured Arneis (more fruity than your average Piemontese version), and an equally fruity Garganega. The red Sangiovese (all 2016) is fruity too, probably shockingly so to a Tuscan native, but with a nice long textured finish. A very Australian interpretation.

Christian is a great bloke and a very enthusiastic advocate for his family’s wines. If you want to head somewhere else in Australia in terms of sparkling wine, this is one route which you should consider picking up.

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Christian, with Nik (of importer Red Squirrel)

PIZZINI

Pizzini are based in the King Valley too, and lo and behold they are cousins of the Dal Zottos. The wines in this case are imported directly by Vagabond Wines and before writing about the wines on taste, I’d like to mention that Vagabond are also bringing in the wines of my mate Brad Hickey of Brash Higgins (or at least some of them at this point). They are currently on the ocean, so were not available here, but the Brash Higgins range is one to try when they do finally arrive.

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Pizzini King Valley Arneis 2016 is a little bit of a contrast to the Dal Zotto version. It has a very big, perfumed, bouquet and finishes with an edge of bitter quince. Different styles but the same quality. The next white is made from the traditional Veneto variety, Garganega (2017). The nose is, by contrast to the Arneis, more closed, but the palate is subtle with nice rounded fruit and another bitter touch on the finish.

Four still reds were on the table. Sangiovese “Nonna Gisella” 2016 is quite intensely meaty with something resembling iron. But there’s fruit too. Sangiovese “Pietra Rossa” 2015 is a year older, spending time in old oak. It has more structure than the previous wine but is actually quite elegant too. I’d give this a little time.

There is a King Valley Sagrantino 2012 which, despite its age (spent in old oak), has been no more tamed by time than you’d expect a Sagrantino from the motherland to be. Deep-coloured, with spice and length, big legs, 13.8% abv, and abundant tannins. Nebbiolo from 2013 is a typical brick red colour, very much varietally recognisable on the nose, and polished. It also still needs time, though. The Nebbiolo is the oldest fruit on the estate, planted in the 1970s, and of course King Valley is an important location for this grape variety in Australia.

Last, but by no means least is King Valley Brachetto 2017. I have a big soft spot for Brachetto, partly from Piemontese holidays, and partly because a 5.5% off-dry fizz makes a perfect lunchtime palate tickler for those who need to hit the keyboard again in the afternoon. Precise and fresh, red-fruited, really very good indeed, and only around £15.

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THE KNOTTED VINE

This is a merchant’s table, and you may remember that I first tried David Knott’s portfolio at the Out of the Box Tasting in Clerkenwell last year. David imports a lovely small range of low production, artisan wines, with real excitement on offer. I’m only going to mention five wines, due to space, but if you’ve not tried any of the Knotted Vine wines, take a look. The names will be completely unfamiliar to most people, but bravery and a spirit of exploration is exactly what I know my readers possess.

Koerner is a Clare Valley label, and David was showing a 2016 Sangiovese labelled by its island iteration, Nielluccio, along with a younger Pigato 2017, which I tasted. Pigato is, of course, the Ligurian name for Vermentino (though some Ligurians bottle both, just to confuse us). This was a good opener, fragrant on the nose but with a little more body than the bouquet suggested. Less acidity than your average Ligurian too.

La Violetta “Spunk Nat” 2017 is a pétillant-naturel style of fizz which is a wild blend of Shiraz and Riesling from Mount Barker in Western Australia. It’s basically just a good fun, cloudy glass of wine. At £26 it might put a few people off (and maybe the name might shock a few of the more conservative wine buyers), but that would be a shame. Wine like this, which provides straightforward, yet exciting, drinking pleasure without commercial blandness should be encouraged. £26 for all that pleasure is no big price to pay.

Pick of the still whites for me was David Franz “Long Gulley Ancient 129 Year Old Vine” Barossa Valley Semillon 2015. David Franz is Peter Lehmann’s youngest son and he’s making some cool wines. This has nice rounded mouthfeel, plump fruit and a delicious savoury quality. I also enjoyed his Barossa Valley Grenache 2015 which sees French oak. It had a savoury quality, like the Semillon, with an additional touch of eucalypt.

By way of contrast, the last wine I’ll mention here is arriving in the UK soon, Flor Marché “Longley” Pinot Noir 2015, from Margaret River. Elizabeth Reed Graduated in 2001, and established a wine project in Montsant (Spain). She began working back in Australia in 2010, building a range of wines from around WA. This 2015 is quite classical – earthy, savoury, quite meaty and dark for Pinot, with enticing fruit. It’s something I’d very much like to contemplate a bottle of, rather than a mere tasting sample.

GARAGISTE

Garagiste is a new label to me, from Mornington Peninsula. They produce relatively small batches of sub-regional specific varietals, and I tried three whites and one red.

Côtier Sauvignon Blanc 2016 has a lovely nose and some depth on the palate, with toned down acids. Côtier Gewurztraminer 2016 has a pale bronze colour and is clearly Gewurz on the nose, but the palate is clean, no hint of the confected quality that can mar New World versions (perhaps underlining that the Peninsula can be quite “cool climate” for Australia).

My favourite of the whites was La Stagiaire Chardonnay 2016. The region produces some very good Chardonnays, slightly leaner than the Australian cliché, but not too lean. This has a balance of calm acidity and good fruit, with length.

La Stagiaire Pinot Noir 2016 is on the bright cherry spectrum, good fruity young Pinot with a bit of grip. The range is not cheap (all wines £25), but the way Mornington wines seem to be going (see later), they are relatively cheaper than most. Alliance Wine is the importer.

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LARRY CHERUBINO

Having enjoyed a number of Cherubino wines over the past couple of years, especially the Fiano below, I thought I’d try a few here. First, the Apostrophe Stone’s Throw White from Great Southern Region, WA. It blends Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, is fresh and lively and very good value for £13.49 rrp.

The Cherubino “Laissez Faire” wines combine reasonable commercial quantities with a little artisan flair, and they are all recommended at under £20. The Fiano here was a 2016, which is nicely aromatic and with a little body, and hails from the Frankland River Region. In the same range is a Porongorup Riesling 2015 which has varietal character and depth of fruit. A Laissez Faire Field Blend 2016 seemed the most interesting of the three. The constituent parts are Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Gris. The acidity is fresh to brisk (maybe from the last variety?) and it has a tiny bit of residual sugar. Yet there’s also a teasing hard edge which suggests it might get some interesting complexity in a few months.

I also tried Fox Gordon Adelaide Hills “Princess” Fiano 2016 as a contrast to the Cherubino. Difficult to say which I liked most, but if you want a little more freshness in your Fiano, this is the one to choose.

Hallgarten Druitt import Larry Cherubino and Fox Gordon.

ENOTRIA AND COE – KOOYONG, HENSCHKE and MOUNT PLEASANT

Kooyong is without doubt one of my favourite producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, not just on Mornington Peninsula, but in the whole of Australia. Today I had the chance to taste their two entry level wines, which retail around £20. This pair don’t serve up great complexity, but I think they offer pretty good value for Aussie cool climate wines.

Kooyong Clonale Chardonnay 2016 has a certain lightness to it. There’s freshness, and you could say it lacks a little depth, but remember the price. It will also improve a touch, even though the wines at this level are not intended for cellaring. Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2016 is a wine with high-toned, tasty cherry fruit. There’s a bit of tannin and it finishes well for this level.

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Henschke is a name which needs no introduction, one of the family estates at the pinnacle of Australian wine. We all know the famous wines, but I’ve always had a thing for Julius Eden Valley Riesling. Here we were trying the 2016, which shows off this vintage well, 2016 being described by most commentators as a great classic Riesling vintage in South Australia. This is very young, and such Rieslings should never be consumed at this age, but the concentrated lime and citrus peel is there, with mineral depth (off loam, gravel and clay). Cellaring of up to 25 years is recommended, but being serious, please give it ten, at least.

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Mount Pleasant is the family homestead in the Hunter Valley of McWilliam’s Wines. This Pokolbin winery was one of the first wine properties I ever visited in Australia (it was either this or Tyrrell’s on the same day), and looking back on it I had a cracking tasting of some aged Hunter Valley classics (which they always seem to pull out if they know you are passionate about wine).

The Hunter is of course the home of a fantastic, and unique, style of Semillon. Mount Pleasant Elizabeth 2007 is always released with age. For me this is often one of Australia’s best value white wines. Whilst others have rocketed in price, this is still available for under £20. Refreshing lemon and lime flavours  (a touch of Rose’s Lime Cordial – they always used to call this Hunter Valley Riesling in the bad old days and you can see why) are matched with extract and a certain presence which is so hard to describe. Quality has gone up and down, but this is good. The Lovedale Semillon 2011 is altogether bigger, finer, more impressive, but is more than a little more expensive…though still very decent value at £35, for cellaring.

I’d not tried a Philip Shiraz for many years. Named, along with Elizabeth, after our current Royal Family’s first visit to Australia in 1954, it is a small batch cuvée which is said to exhibit the Hunter Valley style. Whilst there is a certain meaty quality to it, there’s also more plum and dark fruit than I recall of old. There’s peppery spice, and a bit of oak. The 14% alcohol actually seems to add character. It’s quite difficult to believe that it comes with a RRP of £14.50.

I’m not sure Scott had a beard when I was at Mount Pleasant, Hunter Valley!

I apologise for passing Tyrrell’s, who had half-a-dozen wines on show, including The Hunter’s other great Semillon. With 77 crowded tables, many with multiple producers, it’s difficult to try everything.

TEN MINUTES BY TRACTOR

I visited TMBT on Flinders Road, Main Ridge, a decade ago, when they seemed a relatively new name on Mornington Peninsula, but I’ve not drunk any of their wines for a couple of years, so I thought I’d go through the whole range. I began tasting with Julia from importer Bancroft Wines, then owner/winemaker Martin Spedding came back from lunch and I continued with him.

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The range roughly divides into three – 10X is a Mornington Peninsula brand, then we move a step up for the “Estate” Pinot/Chardonnay, using fruit just from Main Ridge. Finally we have three single block wines (Judd, McCutcheon and Wallis) for both varieties, with the addition of Coolart Road for Pinot Noir.

The two 10X bottlings are nice entry level wines, the 2016 Chardonnay in a lighter style (though it does show 14% abv on the label), and the Pinot Noir showing pleasant high-toned fruit. The Estate Chardonnay 2015 is a little more serious but also needs time. I noticed the alcohol slightly more, but you also get a lot more for your dollar. The Estate Pinot Noir 2015 seems more serious, and in terms of quality is a step up on the 10X.

All seven single vineyard wines express their terroirs differently. I preferred the Judd Chardonnay 2015 which did feel like a fine wine from a relatively cool climate region (2015 seems to have been hailed as a very good vintage for both varieties on the Peninsula). McCutcheon seemed more mineral and perhaps Wallis showed more fruit?

For Pinot, Wallis 2015 had a breadth of lovely fruit as well (a vineyard characteristic?), McCutcheon had nice fruit too but more grip, and Judd won me over by its latent complexity…but it may need more time than the others. Coolart Road is a vineyard down at Moorooduc/Teurong (“down the hill”), with well drained, warmer, soils and fruit that ripens a little earlier. This is quite different, obviously more accessible with slightly stewed strawberry fruit and an earthy quality.

The Coolart Road wine certainly has appeal, as do all the other single vineyard wines from TMBT, those others perhaps requiring some bottle age to show their complex best. But the prices are eye watering now ~ £30 for the 10X wines, £40 for the estate bottlings and £55 for the single vineyards.

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There is also a multi-vintage bottle-fermented Chardonnay sparkler (not listed) now as well (which I never knew existed). Quite full in body and dry (3g/l dosage, Extra Brut style), it’s a little different, and I’d say probably very good accompanying food. I enjoyed my small taste and would be tempted to try a bottle if I saw one.

I should mention, for potential visitors to the region, that the restaurant at TMBT has a very good reputation, and its wine list has won awards (including three stars in the World of Fine Wine Wine List Awards since 2015). The TMBT web site also contains many suggestions for other dining options, cellar doors, and “things to do” on Mornington Peninsula, well worth checking out (and perhaps noting their warning about local taxi services). On balance, considering the food and the beaches as well as the wines, this is probably my favourite Australian wine region to visit, though when in Melbourne I’d not miss Yarra as well.

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HOUSE OF ARRAS

On the subject of sparkling wines, Fine Wine Partners were showing House of Arras Grand Vintage 2008, an award winning Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend which I think I saw three times, dotted around the tasting halls. It has real class and focus, genuine lees ageing style and at around £35 is another sparkler well worth checking out. A very different style to the TMBT wine above. It was also, sadly, the only Tasmanian wine I got to try, although from previous experience I can recommend Ministry of Clouds Chardonnay (imported by Knotted Vine) as a left-field choice. I missed Dalrymple, and was otherwise engaged on the Liberty Wines spread of tables, where Tolpuddle was located. But with all the press Tasmania is finally getting, a Tasmanian Tasting would be seriously interesting.

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LIBERTY WINES

I can remember a long time ago, when David Gleave left Italian specialist Winecellars (which eventually, down a long road, became Enotria and Coe), he founded Liberty Wines. Almost immediately one saw some great Australian additions in the range, and their continued strength here was plainly evidenced by them taking several tables along one long wall of Room 2 at the ADT. One of the more recent additions to that portfolio is LAS Vino.

LAS Vino is the label of Nic Peterkin (son of Mike Peterkin, of Pierro, and nephew of Vanya Cullen). Some readers may recall I enjoyed one of Nic’s wines at Brunswick House back in December, his “CBDB” blend of Chenin, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. I was therefore looking forward to a taste of the pair Liberty was showing.

LAS Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 is largely fermented in stainless steel, with 15% in new oak, and is bottled unfiltered. It tasted quite “natural”, with a very tiny bit of volatility, but lots of character and I liked it best out of the two on show.

“The Pirate Blend” 2014 takes three Portuguese varieties, Tinta Cão (for aromatics), Touriga Nacional (for elegant depth) and Souzão (as Nic says, the darkest berries give the sweetest fruit). It is sappy, textured and a little tannic right now. An interesting wine, but a little hard to judge on account of the slightly hard edge there. I’d like to try this with a bit more age, a vigorous decant, and/or something “meaty” to eat. LAS is definitely a name to check out if you haven’t already.

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There are a few producers who you have to try at a Liberty Tasting, but here I had to make some choices. So no Shaw + Smith, Tolpuddle, Charles Melton, Cullen…but I did taste Grosset, SC Pannell and Clonakilla.

Jeffrey Grosset has long made my favourite Australian Rieslings, and I do have one or two older wines secreted away. It is well worth making sure that you don’t drink these wines too young, especially the Polish Hill bottling. Back in December I drank a 2013 which a friend brought to lunch at the Draper’s Arms in Islington, which I think was very young. By contrast, I took a 2004 to dinner in August, which was singing.

2017 is yet another in a line of superb vintages in Clare and Watervale, it seems. Polish Hill Riesling is incredibly youthful, as expected, with extract, texture and the most concentrated lime fruit imaginable. I heard someone say they didn’t like it, but you can like Grosset PH at less than a year old no more than you can truly like Chateau Latour at the same age. Likewise, the Springvale 2017, except that this wine always drinks sooner, ages hardly less well in my experience, and as the price seems to become more differentiated over time (£26 as against £34 for PH), there’s a lot to be said for looking here for value.

Alea is the newest addition to the Grosset Riesling range, and they claim that the 2017 is the best yet. It comes from a tiny Watervale vineyard called Rockford, said to measure just 23×30 metres, on red loam. They claim it is a more “European style” and in fact according to The Wine Society, Jeff says it’s his “most Germanic” wine. Right now it is dominated by more of that classic lime acidity, but the technical details suggest that may be hiding a little residual sugar. Very impressive, another great advertisement for the vintage, and as this comes in at just 12% alcohol and a full quid less than Springvale I will be looking out for a bottle or two.

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Why SC Pannell you ask? Because way back when, this producer introduced me to my first Australian Nebbiolo, and I bought it regularly for a time. Every occasion when I drink a SC Pannell wine I generally think it pretty good for the money. And remember that Steve has been Australian Winemaker of the Year (2015), and is a Jimmy Watson Trophy Winner (Adelaide Hills Syrah 2013). So with three wines to try here, I ploughed in.

The SC Pannell “The Vale” McLaren Vale Grenache/Shiraz 2016 rather ploughed into me, if I’m honest. I know balance is what’s important but as a lily livered drinker of low alcohol reds, the 14.7% of alcohol (that, at least, is what the label said) was not really for me. But lest you think me a weakling, the other two wines were labelled at 14% and were much more to my taste.

These were McLaren Vale Grenache-Shiraz-Touriga Nacional 2016 and McLaren Vale Tempranillo-Touriga Nacional 2016. I favoured the latter, the perfumed and sweet fruited Tempranillo balancing a bit of heft, and tannin, from the Touriga. This particular wine, winner of many show medals in the past, does have a good long life ahead of it. It retails for less than £20. You can still get the Nebbiolo, but at twice the price.

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If you were to ask me to name my favourite “classic” Australian producer I won’t say it would be easy, but I’m reasonably sure that Clonakilla would be my answer. I’ve followed this estate for decades, since a visit to the Canberra Region back in 1988. For many years I was lucky enough to buy the famous Shiraz/Viognier from Adnams of Southwold, then later the wine that became Hilltops, with fruit from Young in New South Wales (just over the State border). A beautiful Viognier (previously, but possibly no longer, seen in Fortnums in London) is one of Clonakilla’s best kept secrets.

Liberty Wines were showing the two reds plus Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2017. This is beautifully defined, young but one of the most approachable Rieslings I tried at the ADT this year. It’s not the cheapest at around £30, but if you fancy a change from Grosset…

Hilltops Shiraz has had its ups and downs, especially with regard to fruit availability in the more distant past. It’s also fair to say that some critics have passed Hilltops over when praising the more famous estate wine. This is somewhat unfair. Hilltops will set you back £25 for this 2016 –  high toned, black fruited, spicy Shiraz which is usually relatively easy to drink at just a few year’s age.

Contrast that to the £90 you will pay for the Canberra District Shiraz/Viognier 2016. For me, this is one of Australia’s finest wines, even if it doesn’t have the cachet of a Grange or a Hill of Grace in some quarters. A well aged example is so complex, and it is oddly enough one of the few wines of this type where you truly do see the Viognier influence in both lifting the palate as well as in the perfume of the wine.

It has a much bigger nose than Hilltops for starters, with, most noticeably, more spice and greater depth. I doubt I will be buying this again at this price, but I wish I could. Just a couple of older bottles left chez-moi, and I will have to savour them. Back in 2016 a 2005 vintage was more than sublime.

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That’s almost the end of the Tasting. I did visit the room of Australia’s Top 50, a merchant led selection, whittled down from 200 supplier recommended wines. Almost all the bottles were empty. The one I most wanted to reacquaint myself with was Pike’s “Traditionale” Riesling 2016, which I recall used to knock me back about a tenner not too many moons ago (£18.75 now from Seckford). But whilst there were undoubtedly good wines there, the room was full of young men attacking the bottles like the starlings attack the fat balls on our bird feeder, and what summed the room up for me was hearing a couple of guys saying how they’d always wanted to taste Mollydooker “Two Left Feet” (“a regular top-scoring wine with Wine Spectator”).

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I’m being unfair, so unlike me. There were plenty of good wines in that Top-50, just not on the whole my kind of kit. Yet the conclusion I would draw is that (I suppose unsurprisingly) the Australian Export Bodies do favour a certain traditional view of their country’s wine, in particular their red wines. What are perhaps the most exciting wines from Australia are often hard to get hold of. They come in through specialist retailers in small quantities.

But we have seen a lot of great wines here, both from among the classics (Clonakilla and Grosset are just two examples of truly world class producers), and some of the new producers (Dal Zotto, Pizzini and the almost obscure producers The Knotted Vine and others are bringing in), which at least show the wider trade that there is a different kind of thrill to be found, if you dig a little. Perhaps we should be happy that the wild men of the Adelaide Hills and elsewhere are, in fact, still under the radar. But if you ask your trusted small independent they will surely have a few tips.

 

 

 

 

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Ozgundy 2016 (16 January 2018)

This is the time of year when London is awash with Burgundy Tastings as all the agents wheel out their portfolios for the newly bottled vintage, 2016 in this case. There is a lot of positive noise from those who have ever increasingly expensive wines to sell. The general view of the critics is fairly nuanced with the reds getting plenty of highish marks from the best producers, with less enthusiasm in some quarters for the whites. The overall warning, however, is more about price.

What the wines hide well on tasting is the devastating frosts, in particular, of 2016. Frost and hail have hit the region badly for some years, and 2016 was one of the worst. Vineyards were wiped out from Chablis in the North to the Beaujolais Crus in the South, with some pockets of total carnage in between. I know producers, like the De Moors in Chablis, who lost everything, and likewise in Morgon and Fleurie in the far south, where whole hillsides were affected. So even after bigger crops generally in 2017, the 2016 wines will be expensive of necessity. Too expensive for some? I have no doubt that overall, prices present a serious barrier to some people. I hope that those who can afford to support producers in this difficult time will do so.

One of the highlights of the winter tasting round for me is that hosted by Mark Haisma and Andrew and Emma Nielsen of Le Grappin. With Jane Eyre they have collectively become known as The Ozgundians, although the Tasting also includes the wines of two young Burgundian producers now, Jeremy Recchione and Jane & Sylvain Raphanaud, along with a taste of Vincent Paris Cornas and the Romanian wines of Dagon Clan, with whom Mark Haisma is associated.

The London Tasting is always organised by the producers and now seems firmly planted upstairs at Vinoteca, on Beak Street in Soho.

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The 2016s provided an interesting contrast to the often fuller wines of 2015. From what other people have said of the event, I think my views are broadly in concurrence with the mainstream, but with perhaps one or two differences of opinion. If you read this and do disagree with my own opinions and assessments, please do feel free to leave a comment. I’m not Robert Parker. I will excuse the fact that this article is rather long, but I’m sure those who are seriously interested in these wines will cut me some slack.

LE GRAPPIN

Andrew and Emma suffered from the weather and therefore had to cut their main Côte D’Or offering to four wines rather than six in 2016, but there were a couple of the 2015s on show to compensate, plus a few extras from outside the region. They produced two whites, Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” and Santenay 1er Cru “Les Gravières”. The contrast was quite significant. Both wines are very good, to my palate, but the St-Aubin is leaner, more citric and mineral, whereas the Santenay is noticeably fatter. Andrew seemed to think people were preferring the second wine, but I really liked the St-Aubin, as indeed did one or two friends. Andrew, of course, shares with me a love of a lick of acidity, but I suppose many like the fatter style. Take your pick.

The reds contrast as well. Savigny-lès-Beaune has a high-toned cherryish scent and freshness with a little grip. Beaune 1er Cru “Boucherottes” has a bigger bouquet (beautiful) but structure to age well. I have a strong attachment to this vineyard, it being the first of Andrew’s wines I bought.

The two 2015s were Beaune Grèves Blanc – developing beautifully on the nose and with the palate not far behind…some complexity but still grippy. One to keep, despite the obvious temptation. Beaune Boucherottes Rouge 2015 shows quite a contrast to the 2016 and may be developing quicker, but it also seems a bigger wine. I’m less sure of where the drinking window will appear at the moment. The 2016 is the prettier wine at the moment.

Of the other wines, I find the 2016 Macon-Villages Blanc Chardonnay a simple wine, but none the worse for that. Simple and refreshing. Côtes du Rhone 2016 in bottle is very juicy with good acidity and fruit (100% Grenache). Of the two Beaujolais, I know Jancis appears to be a fan of the Fleurie-Poncié, but the Côte de Brouilly is actually my favourite of the two, nice and punchy whereas the former has finesse and prettiness without lacking a certain strength.

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Don’t forget the bagnums which are not only perfect picnic/beach wines, but also a cook’s delight in the kitchen, a preprandial lubricant for the one doing all the hard work. The Syrah-Grenache (below) is really tasty. For the next vintage, 2017, also look out for some Aligoté and Saint-Amour, the latter adding to the Nielsens’ growing Beaujolais arsenal.

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Emma Nielsen and bagnum

Andrew and Emma always give off a really calm vibe. I’ve no idea whether they tear their hair out in the winery? I know the frosts saddened them greatly. These are beautifully crafted wines, often showing great delicacy, always showing a preference for freshness, but I did mention cost? You will pay between £150 and £200 for a six-pack of the Côte d’Or wines if you buy them now, as primeurs. The mixed half-dozen pack they do is a great way to acquaint yourself with these lovely wines, and if you can afford them they are well worth the investment.

JANE EYRE

Jane actually began her winemaking career in Burgundy back in the late 1980s, before returning to Australia to take a course in Wine Science at Charles Sturt University, Melbourne. Moving back in 2004, Jane worked for Dominique Lafon and Domaine de Montille, and now works part-time at Domaine Newman as well as making her own wines.

Fleurie 2016 is Jane’s first foray into Beaujolais and she’s come up with a cracking wine. Jane looks for perfume and elegance, so this Cru was the obvious choice, but she nevertheless managed to blag some seriously old vine material (from “La Madone” and “Les Labourons”). It sees 500 litre old oak following 18 days in tank and is bottled under screwcap (surprised the AOP allows that, but there you go!). Ten barrels (ie 5,000 litres) made.

A cherry-nosed, savoury, Côte de Nuits Villages 2016 comes from a new grower at Comblanchien. There’s no new oak and 10% whole bunches and it’s a wine which will drink reasonably soon.

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Gevrey-Chambertin 2016 is altogether more serious, and comes from old vines (up to 55 years old) in one of Gevrey’s most northerly village sites. The fruit is darker on the nose but smooth bright cherry on the palate. Just four barrels were made. This will probably drink magnificently when young but will also repay keeping, probably longer than the six or seven years some big league critics suggest (in my very humble opinion, that is).

Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses 2016 is from an excellent location, which along with the neighbouring Île, is one of the most under rated sites on the Côte, in the right hands of course. I think this wine is lovely, and it was the first site Jane worked with when she set out as a negoce. 100% destemmed fruit, no new oak, 3 barrels only. Characteristic Jane Eyre elegance, Le Grappin levels of freshness, a touch of spice, but bags of raspberry and a little tannin for grip and structure. Actually my favourite of the bunch.

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There is also a Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru from Les Corbeaux, which sits almost right beside Mazis-Chambertin on the south side of the village. Here, Jane breaks the embargo on new oak and slips in 25%. If this was available to taste, I didn’t see it.

A very nice set of wines. Jane isn’t the only producer here who seems to impress more and more each year, and I have no doubt that her reputation will grow to the level where she is much more widely known, as Andrew and Mark’s reputations have. Intuitive, measured and expressive winemaking.

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Jane

MARK HAISMA

Mark has so many wines on show at these events that I find it really difficult to do them all justice in print. I would say that there are no wines I’d not be happy to own here, although some unquestionably require more time than others. Mark Haisma is also not necessarily the man to go to for “typicity”, whatever that may be. But this uniqueness to his range is what makes for star quality. His “style” is one I find appeals a lot to a younger audience (by that I mean really that traditionalists might pass him by, though I’m probably talking rubbish as there are always plenty of, shall we say, older gents, around the Haisma table). Certainly his loyal fans are legion.

I often joke that Mark’s best wine is his Aligoté. I don’t mean that, of course, but the comment underlines just how brilliant this wine is. Aligoté 2016 is atypical in that there isn’t the searing acidity that even some reliable producers get with the grape. It doesn’t need cassis, being a very fruity version, albeit with fruit that is pretty lively. Did someone say it had a New World quality to it? Purity is the key word here, and just 12.5% abv. I love this year in, year out.

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Mark’s Viognier is also a wine made in the fresher and lighter style that avoids the oily apricot which can put some people off the grape. It reminds me a little of Stéphane Ogier’s white La Rosine. It comes from Flaviac, in what Mark calls the “Middle Rhône” (on the way to Privas, if you know the region).

New for 2016 is a Saint-Peray. Blending 50:50 Marsanne and Rousanne, this manages much of the weight of a good Saint-Peray with a mineral freshness and acidity that many lack (Saint-Peray was always quite old fashioned and Mark’s is modern without being bland). This wine did divide a few opinions at the table, but I am a big fan and this would be in my mixed case.

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From the Côte d’Or 2016s we kicked off with a Saint-Romain which had almost sherbert fruit, with a fresh acidity which went “pow!” on the palate. Like Andrew’s Saint-Aubin, a wine with a touch of texture which many call minerality.

Of the reds from the Côte, if I am going to stick my head above the parapet and say which I liked the most this time around, I’d go with Nuits-St-Georges (elegant but tannic, with hints of the iron in the soil and very old vines, lots of lift), and the Gevrey-Chambertin, which is bigger, silky, and a good prospect to age, again. That’s not to dismiss Pommard Les Arvelets and Morey-St-Denis Les Chaffots.

Mark was showing Cornas Les Combes 2016, which is beautifully perfumed. It grows in the glass, but is still closed somewhat on the palate. I’m not so sure I find this wine easy to judge. It needs time, but it is more a tenor than a bass. I think it will develop more elegantly than many Cornas, and indeed into a fantastic wine (I still have some 2010/2011 I’ve not touched). If you are looking for beef and bacon it may pay to look elsewhere, but this is very classy stuff. It deserves its undoubted popularity.

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Last, probably least, but really worthy of a good look, is the Syrah-Grenache Vin de France, which like the Viognier (with which it pairs) can be had for just £16.50. A fun wine, plenty of juicy fruit but with that signature of skillful attention which Mark gives to all his wines. Throughout the range this is assured winemaking from a true pro in his prime.

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Mark

Next we come to the two young Frenchmen.

JEREMY RECCHIONE

Jeremy’s winemaking is definitely showing the increased confidence of a young vigneron a few vintages in, who knows what he wants to achieve, which certainly includes quality and sustainability (he’s effectively biodynamic by practice but not certified).

There are two wines with no added sulphur in the range now. A 2017 Gamay comes from whole bunches and tastes like concentrated cherries. From the same Hautes Côtes vineyards above Nuits is an amazing Aligoté 2017 (both are Vin de France) which Jeremy gives three days skin contact at 12 degrees and then barrel fermentation. Appley and peachy, it has a little stone fruit texture and is a real contrast to Mark’s version. Yet another fine example of Aligoté, but not as we know it. This wine was proving very popular indeed.

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There are three wines from the Côte d’Or in 2016. Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay is very fruity indeed. The grapes come from a vineyard sited just above Meursault Charmes and are sold to Jeremy as an act of generosity by his former employer. This wine sees just a touch of sulphur after the malo. I’d say that overall it’s quite simple, but nevertheless you can see that it is made from really good material. There’s a certain restrained weight there, which might even lead an expert to guess the source.

Gevrey-Chambertin 2016 comes from Creux Brouillard, sited just east of the D974 on the southern side of the village. The grapes are sorted intensively and dry ice keeps them cold before fermentation starts naturally. The wine has less power than the Gevreys already mentioned, but still has structure.

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Jeremy’s Premier Cru is his Fixin “Les Hervelets”. This is a site a little under 4.5 ha, with sandy, stony, soils. The wines can be supple and approachable early (some Fixin vineyards can produce wines which do need more time than you think). This wine is indeed quite supple, but concentrated too.

The main disadvantage is its price- £53/bottle. Call me old and out of touch, but £50 for Fixin is hard to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, much of the northern sector of the Côte d’Or is producing truly excellent wines now, and you would certainly place this wine alongside many Gevrey 1er Crus, but if this is £50 we begin to lose hope for remotely  affordable Burgundy at this level, though it is hard to blame the producer in these times of low crops and rising costs.

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Jeremy

JANE & SYLVAIN RAPHANAUD

The Raphanauds are new to me. The domaine was formed in 1993, and the “Jane & Sylvain” label in 1999, so I’ve obviously been wandering Gevrey (where the domaine is based) with my eyes and ears half closed. They have only around 4.5 hectares to their names, of which over half is on some sort of rental agreement. Practices are organic.

I tasted three wines. Côte de Nuits Villages was from 2015. It has some development already, a touch of farmyard funk on the nose but quite rich and smooth fruit for the appellation. Gevrey-Chambertin 2015 had nice fruit and a higher tone coming through. Structure too. Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Fontenys” 2015 is similarly priced to Jeremy’s Fixin 1er. The best part of this almost four hectare site (the top part) is all owned by Bruno Clair, but it all has a sunny aspect on a very hard limestone base. A wine with more structure than the village wine, probably requiring patience, even with the warmer 2015 fruit.

DAGON CLAN, ROMANIA

The Dagon Clan wines are quite different to Mark Haisma’s French wines. Although we are not talking massive commercial quantities, there is a really wide appeal to them, and their pricing is very competitive with less well crafted wines from Western Europe.

Of the two whites, Clar 2016 is fruity and fresh, whilst Clerstar 2016 is a field blend, bottled with a tiny bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity of the Feteasca Regala, Feteasca Alba and Sauvignon Blanc varieties. It is fresh, but well balanced and more rounded than Clar.

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There are two versions of Jar which blend Feteasca Neagra, Romania’s most highly regarded red variety, with French grapes. The blend with Pinot Noir has mouthfilling cherry fruit and a brambly finish. The second blend, with Cabernet and Merlot, has quite a bit of plummy Merlot showing through, despite the blend being 40:40:20. The Merlot is also picked a little early to avoid high alcohol. The other grapes contribute a nice black fruit lick on the finish.

The third red from Dagon Clan is what they call their “estate wine”, Orama, and is 100% Feteasca Neagra. This native grape is planted on the sandy soils of Valea Nucetelui in the famous wine region of Dealul Mare (north of Bucharest). Only one 500 litre barrel was made (it’s the wine in the photo below with a temporary label), in which it was aged 16 months. At the moment it has an elegant nose and a good tannic structure.

This more serious wine aside, the Dagon Clan range should have wide appeal and I’m quite surprised not to see it in more small independent wine shops. There may be a slight prejudice against Romanian wines among the wider public, yet this beautiful country has a long tradition of viticulture, and has at least as much potential (if not more) than any other Eastern European wine producer. The wines clearly show the hand of Mark Haisma, with an understanding of the New and Old Worlds. And the prices are still very attractive.

The Annual Tasting of the Ozgundians et ors is now one of the exciting wine fixtures of the New Year. It’s always somewhere I bump into people I rarely see, but I can be sure they will be there to taste what they have already ordered with confidence. Without exception, there are wines from all of these producers I’d be very happy to drink and own. That is really the problem, how to choose, which can only lead to head scratching, soul searching, and looking deeply into the communal purse.

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Mr Andrew Nielsen himself

 

 

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